Shelter in the parsonage: Case by case

Congregational life presents a broad range of conflicts and dilemmas in which theological and ecclesial issues are entwined with the complex drama of human relations. Such challenges are also moments in which Christian witness can be clarified. This fictional narrative, which is followed by an analysis, is the fourth in a series.

Ian and Abigail had been copastors at Elm Street Church for about three months. This urban congregation with about 200 in worship each Sunday morning was the most problematic place of service that either of them had ever experienced. One difficulty—though by no means the only one—was the congregation’s continuing attachment to Bradley, the former minister. The Elm Street congregation had been established five years previously through the merger of two other congregations, and Bradley had served as its founding pastor.

The long list of severely troubled parishioners they were encountering included Roberta, a woman whom Abigail judged to be in her late thirties, just a few years younger than she and Ian. Roberta was about three years into a second marriage; it was also a second marriage for her husband, Hank. There were no children from any of these unions.