Sibling Rivalry

As an only child, I never really understood the whole issue of sibling rivalry.  I grew up with my own room.  My toys were safe from the hands of younger siblings who might play with them and perhaps break them.  I had the attention of my parents and maternal grandparents, without the competition of siblings.  Then I married an only child as well.  We are a good match because we understand the other’s need for space and independence, even though I have no sister-in-laws to share stories with or nieces or nephews to dote on. Two years ago, we gave birth to our child, who is still an only child herself and an only grandchild on both sides.  She has our attention, her own room, the loving attention of four sets of grandparents and one Busha (great-grandma).

Fal004 In our home of only children, I still have not had a need to understand sibling rivalry.  That is, until I became a pastor, called to serve a yoked, 2-point parish in the central Pennsylvania mountains.  At that time, my husband served a 2-point parish, I served a 2-point parish, 2 young clergy friends served 2-point parishes, and one of our very daring and patient friends served a 3-point parish.  We shared a lot of stories together.  Quickly, I came to understand that a yoked parish is a lot like a family. My two churches, one bigger and the other significantly smaller, relate to each other like siblings.  The churches are together out of stark necessity and sometimes love.  Their histories together often date back longer than some sets of siblings will ever live.  Each church has its own personality including different traditions and favorite hymns.  They share a common mission, but often squabble over the details.  In good times and hard times, they are in ministry together.  They were loving and supportive of each other on their best days, competitive and jealous when the road was bumpy.  So what did they possibly have to compete over?

One of the major sources of competition between yoked churches often revolves around the role of the pastor.  Which church is the parsonage/manse closest to?  In the case of my previous churches, the original parsonage was next to the larger church, but a new one was built in the 1970s halfway between the churches to make the situation more equitable.  How is the pastor’s salary shared between the churches, and how is that negotiated when one of the churches might be having budget problems?  Which church gets more of the pastor’s time and attention?  Sometimes, by virtue of necessity, in a given week or month, one church will receive more pastoral care and time, but my conviction is that it balances out in the end.  And the biggest struggle that keeps resurfacing, does one church feel that it is the pastor’s favorite and the other feel that it gets left out?  (Just a side note, I have learned that though difficult at times, it is my call to make each church feel like the favorite, for they are both precious in God’s eyes.)  A practicality connected with sharing a pastor was schedule-related as in the following touchy question: Which church gets the coveted early service on Christmas Eve?

Another wave of envy seems to focus around new members, most especially young families joining one church instead of the other.  Each church in the parish would say that they wished the best for their partner church, but it is hard to watch one church welcome new members and grow.  It is especially hard when the youth and young families are joining one church rather than the other.

A third area that seemed to be sibling-like was the issue of blame and finger-pointing.  At budget time or when a pastor would leave for a new call, the question would occasionally surface about whose fault any event might be.  Most often, it was most convenient to blame any problems on the other sibling/church.

Still, with all the challenges and nuances of serving a 2-point parish, my husband and I have chosen to do it all again.  In this call, we share a 2-point parish between us.  We have found that there is much joy and blessing in a call like this.  Though we have double the council meetings each month, we also have 2 Sunday School Christmas programs and 2 Vacation Bible Schools each summer.  We have 2 unique communities to call home and that we relate to differently.  We have noticed a blessed balance that when life is more difficult at one church, it is more joyful or easygoing at the second.  Just like parents who may face arguments about toys or antics to capture their attention, but would never trade their children for anything in the world, we are blessed by our sibling churches, for they are partners for each other and for us in spreading God’s love.

Heather Culuris is an ELCA pastor sharing a call to two churches in the lakes country of Minnesota with her husband.  She is also mom to a talkative 2-year-old whose favorite words are "RIGHT NOW."


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