Execution: One Hundred and One Redundancies
If there had been a prize for the Most Miserable Job of 2003, it would have to go to the unfortunate Administrator of the London and U.K. churches, a kind and humble man who had no idea what the fulfillment of his duties would entail by March of that year. Amid the clamour and frustration of the failed ‘rescue op’, the failed negotiations, and the subsequent disillusionment of the church members, Henry’s letter had – surprise! — little to no impact in London. It was as if a manifesto had been delivered after the revolution was in full swing: nothing could stop the implosion now. The members had completely withdrawn their financial support and the writing was on the wall. Our hapless administrator was left to deal with the fallout.
Here’s the part that still shocks me: all but one of the 102 people on the London and UK church payroll were laid off. Or, as they say in England, “made redundant”.* Our Administrator had the unpleasant task of going to every individual to formally deliver the news and disclose their severance package. I must say he did this with kindness, sensitivity, discretion, and valor. The last person he ‘executed’ was himself. The one person left standing was the Children’s Ministry Leader – I often wonder how he felt, finding himself spared – and alone. He too was a humble man, in a lonely place once the dust had settled.
The severance packages worked out to one month’s pay per year served in the ministry, enough to keep families afloat for a while, but hardly a golden parachute. For Henry and me, the conditions were different. Because we’d only been in London for a year, we received one month’s salary, plus moving expenses, even though we’d both served in the fulltime ministry for twenty years. This wasn’t a punitive action on the church’s part; we understood that funds were limited. Some generous members gave money out of their own pockets to help us out, particularly one amazing brother who gave us a substantial chunk of the proceeds from selling his house. We were humbled by these kindnesses, and the money went a long way as we started a new and very uncertain chapter in our lives.
Being made redundant affected the ministry staff in different ways. I think all of us were stunned that things could go from ‘pear-shaped’ to ‘completely disintegrated’ so quickly. While in our “stop doing the ministry” holding pattern, we still got together to talk about the state of affairs, and sometimes discussed the “What would you do if you weren’t in the ministry?” question, not realizing this would indeed become our next real-life decision. Most of us had half-baked, vague or fantastical ideas, because the full-time ministry really was our first choice. I used to say I’d become a counselor, so I could still work closely with people. (By the time I actually was rethinking my career, I was so shattered that the last thing I wanted to do was listen to other folk’s problems.) Most of us couldn’t imagine doing anything but the ministry, even in our pain. We still loved God and we still loved people.
Someone in the States has written that Henry and I were “fired” from London. This is patently not true. In fact, members of the zone we led asked if they could independently rehire us. (This happened in other regions and zones, too. Not right away, but I heard that quite a few staff members were rehired by their own groups.) We did consider staying, but by then my spirit was broken. I was weary of the drama and intensity, and tired of living under visas. After so many moves, the prospect of going back to our own country – where no one could kick us out or refuse to let us back in – was enticing. Our son was miserable in his brats-with-neckties school, and wanted to live in one place for his final three years of high school. We’d been away from Canada and our families for more than twenty years, except for two years in Toronto. For these and other reasons, we turned down the invitation, and began looking at Canada, our home and native land.
As for the rest of the London staff, they were scattered like popcorn in a wok. Some moved away, erasing themselves from the scene. Observers might consider this evidence of guilt or wrong motives, but don’t be so quick to judge: for those in the epicenter, the implosion was devastating. The staff had been judged with broad brush strokes, not as individuals with different leadership styles. Some were intense leaders, but many were not. Each one had begun the journey as a disciple intent on the Great Commission (Matt. 28: 18 – 20). But the loss we each experienced was immeasurable. To lose your spiritual base, career, friendships, reputation, livelihood, identity and aspirations in one fell swoop is no small thing. I know this firsthand. To want to take cover and disappear for a while – or longer—is a very human response to loss, shame and blame. Moses did it. He came back stronger, a changed man, but it took forty years. I hope we can witness the same power at work in those who fell hardest. May we extend grace and the benefit of the doubt to those who need it most. In the end, only God can know our true hearts, and only He can judge in absolute truth.
This is not the end of my series, although it is the end of the London Story from my firsthand perspective. I welcome those from the U.K., who lived the rest of the story and are still living it, to share what happened next. As my next few articles will demonstrate, I did a stellar job of isolating myself after we moved to Canada. So I too would like to know the silver linings and the surprise ‘endings’ in the London/UK part of this saga.
If you want to email me at email@example.com, I’ll be happy to include some highlights with my future posts.
My own story will continue in upcoming posts. I’ll be sharing about starting over and the long process of acknowledging, grieving, and grappling with shattered faith and trust. I’ll try to keep it real and include a little levity when needed. Please keep reading! And keep commenting – your comments keep me strong!
*The terms “laid off” and “made redundant” have such different connotations for me. “Laid off” sounds like you’ve been turned into a slacker; “made redundant” sounds like they didn’t need you in the first place. Neither sounds nice, or feels fair.