Thursday, July 20, 2017


What does one do with parishioners who really don’t fit in?

I was getting out of the shower in the morning and my phone rang.  Not a good sign.  Somebody is sick or something big is broken.  The call came from the church.  A visitor was there who was demanding to read (even though we had someone already), refused to leave the sacristy, and was calling out quite loudly.

When I arrived we were able to ease our way outside to talk.  She was on a mission that God sent her on and everybody that was in her way was possessed (particularly me.)  There was no progress or grounds on which we could meet talking so I just started praying Hail Marys out loud.  That seemed to defuse the situation after a while and then it was possible to invite her in to attend Mass. 

Then the police showed up in droves.  They were very kind and responsive and understood the situation and that any further action might just escalate things again.  So they promised to stay in our area for a little while just to make sure nothing happened again after Mass.  (Thank you SO much!)

So our houses of God are to be open to all of God’s children.  What do you do when one of His children can’t get along with others?  Volunteers are not trained to help extraordinary persons of every stripe though we try to train as much as possible.  Someone can say that everyone should just get over it and learn to live different people around us and I am an advocate for this most of the time.  But I also understand people who are afraid for their children or for themselves.  Imagine you are alone in the church cleaning or decorating or practicing . . . 

It would be easiest if A) such person stayed on their meds or B) we just kept them out legally.  But we have no right to demand A and spiritually does B work?  And thank goodness God does not give up on me when I am not easy.  It would be nice to spend all the time needed to care for such a person but time is limited when you have a church full of people and a Mass to start, or a couple waiting for you in the rectory, or, or, or . . . 

Fortunately this morning there was time and we had what was needed to deescalate the situation and all was fine.  What is the policy in your parish?  What do you do when you have a pickle in the Maraschino cherry jar?


Stephen said...

Thursday 20 July 2017,

Dear Fr. Valencheck,

I am sadden and dismayed that you, a pastor, were not already trained in handling
people in that situation. How sad.

30 years ago, I was trained how to assist “People in Church in Crisis” by Fr. James Schleicher, G.P.E (Greatest Pastor Ever) of St. Francis De Sales in the Portage Lakes. Dear God how I miss Fr. Schleicher.

Anyway, any one in church who is yelling, causing a scene, pulling attention to themselves and being disruptive are out of control and need to leave NOW. If that person does not leave the church building and grounds immediately after the first time they are told leave, CALL THE POLICE. Do not speak with nor touch the disturbed person. However, do not let them out of your sight. That is the best option to protect the disturbed person and everyone else present.

Trying to talk to them, cajole them or calm them down only feeds that person and hands over total control to them. BAD! This is not the time nor place to be NICE.

Police Officers are TRAINED, EXPERIENCED AND AUTHORIZED to handle out of control people.

If anyone asks you why you called the police, you answer, “ I called the police to protect the person in crisis and anyone else in the area from any possibility of harm.”


You’re Welcome Father.

Anonymous said...

God bless you, Father. It is wonderful she was able to stay for mass.

Anonymous said...

You could make a policy no one should be alone in the Church when it is open. That won't work for visitors but any workers or volunteers would always have a buddy.

Cyndy said...

I think you handled the situation perfectly, Father, with patience, common sense and compassion.

Anonymous said...

Fr Valencheck,

Great Job. You are intuitive, smart, and a great example of Christ. Keep up the good work.


Learn how to shut up, Fr Valencheck does a better job daily than most priests worldwide. I've been all over the world...

Anonymous said...

My sister belongs to a parish where there was a member with some serious mental health concerns. At first he was disruptive, but some staff and parishioners worked with him to get him the care and medication that he needs, and now he is a fully-functioning member of the parish, grateful to the people who cared enough about him when he was down, to get him the help he needed.

We just had a meeting of staff and volunteers at our parish regarding a disruptive person. The meeting was necessary because this person's behavior was detrimental to a number of parish groups and ministries. People were starting to quit some of our parish groups because of the problems. It was really helpful for us to be filled in on the nature of the problem, to be given direction about what to do in the future, and to be told that there is a key staff member with whom we can communicate about future challenges with this person. Many informal efforts had been made over the years, but now the person will be sent a letter with clear expectations and consequences for not complying (up to the possibility of removal by the police) and will also have a follow-up meeting with a parish staff member explaining the expectations and the need for such measures. I think things will be better as we move forward because now everyone, including the disruptive person, is on the same page.

It is hard to balance charity for someone who clearly has some mental health issues with concern for the well-being and smooth-functioning of the rest of the parish. Few parishioners know how to relate effectively to a person with mental illness, and it can be frightening. It is our hope that this person in our parish will be able to be obtain the needed mental health care so that some of the restrictions can be lifted.

In the case of the visitor of whom you wrote, since she is not a regular parishioner, it may be the case that a multi-parish collaboration could be needed. It seems that this person needs more than just distraction and kindness, but direction to the help she needs.

If you do a Google search for "disruptive," "person," and "church," you'll find lots of information. Churches of all stripes have been thinking a lot about these sorts of things. Doesn't the diocese have policy?

There is a well organized plan listed here, with a nice outline that helps you think through a situation. For example, they start out advising you to ask the questions, "Is this dangerous, disruptive, or offensive?" See halfway down the page, under "Policy Regarding Disruptive Behavior" for a Unitarian Universalist church:

Then here is a a list of instruction for ushers on dealing with disruptive behavior:
They wisely recommend that there are always at least two people together with the disruptive person.