It’s Halloween, and I’m thinking about church spooks. No, not ghosts, exactly. I don’t really think churches are literally haunted. But sometimes the ghosts of the past are present in the life of a congregation.
A few examples:
- A founding pastor who didn’t work out well.
- A powerful treasurer who embezzled money from the church.
- A beloved pastor who died suddenly.
- A pastor emeritus who more literally haunts the hallways while still living.
Sometimes the stories are well known, and sometimes they are secrets. When churches talk about the “ghost story” all the time, or they never talk about it, they are overly bound by the past. A more mature institutional response is to be candid about past realities, without letting past events fully define the church’s identity into the future.
One positive way to acknowledge the ghosts is to celebrate the strengths which allowed the church to get through the past difficulty. “We are still a community, still worshipping, still paying our bills. God has been with us all along the way, and is with us now.”
What if the “spook” is still living – the treasurer is still in town (or even in the church), or the pastor emeritus is stirring the pot? Stay connected, and don’t get defensive. You may need to set some boundaries, but do it in a calm and clear way. Don’t get too reactive.
Church spooks, whether living or dead, have more potential for damage when we are anxious or afraid about them.
How have you handled the ghosts in your own congregation?