Coming soon to Canada: Rate your Pastor

Sometime in the spring there may be a site available for Canadians to have a say in how well or poor their pastors are doing. Germany is ahead on this with their “Hirten Barometer — Shepherd Barometer, in English” and according to the Toronto Star:

It’s much like sites that let people rate their teachers or doctors. But this one gets to the spiritual heart of the matter, rating priests for their services, credibility, how much their finger is on the pulse of their community and how they work with seniors and youth.

“We think it’s positive thing for both sides,” Fabian Ringwald, the site’s CEO and co-creator told the Star. He says the site is moderated to prevent abusive comments from making it online.

“Potential community members can get a first impression on what to expect when attending a service by a priest. And since congregation members don’t often speak up about their priests, the priests can now get feedback about their work.”

The Pope’s got a poor rating: 3.84 out of a possible 6. John Paul II rates marginally better.

The group that runs this thing doesn’t want to push an agenda; their aim is just to “give churchgoers a voice,” and I think that’s awesome. If a pastor or priest is doing a terrific job in a community and being incredibly positive and supportive then he should get props for that. Maybe knowing this site is around will vastly improve the ministering done by the rest who may have been slacking off and getting selfish with their time and commitment levels.

“Quite a few priests are huge fans of the site. They like it and see the value of it, how it has the potential to improve their daily work by giving them feedback they’d otherwise never get,” he explained. “And then we have high-level bishops that tend to be more concerned that it might lead to witch hunts, that the quality of the feedback isn’t sufficient enough for a priest to actually benefit.”

I say give it time. People aren’t used to publicly reviewing the quality of sermons and community outreach. A lot of people are shit at explaining themselves, too, or simply have a poor grasp of the notion of constructive criticism. Sure, there are liable to be people who’ll give a priest a bad score due to some personal vendetta but I’m sure more aim to use the site as it was intended to be used – to help leaders become better leaders by pointing out the weak spots. Are they doing enough to help the hungry or homeless? Are they improving the lives of the youth at risk for joining gangs or getting into drugs? What services do they offer the elderly and housebound? Is the church atmosphere comfortable and welcoming to strangers or insular and anti-social? What sort of long-term goals are they working on that will benefit their congregations and parishes on the whole? Is the pastor someone people do feel they can talk to about important issues? What’s his or her stance on homosexual rights or contraceptives? That might matter to someone looking for a church to call home. How forward thinking? How backwards?

Father Thomas Rosica, CEO of Toronto’s Salt and Light TV network, is no fan.

“Public polls and mechanisms like that are not the way that we evaluate the life of the Church or the effectiveness of ministry,” said Rosica, former papal appointee as media attaché to the Synod of Bishops at the Vatican.

“We’re talking about saving souls, about very deep things that aren’t often obvious. So while this may sound enticing and exciting, that’s not how we rate things at all.

“The real question is whether pastoral ministers are bringing people closer to God. Only God knows that.

I’d disagree with that last statement. I think the person brought closer to god by a minister knows as well, and, even as an atheist, I’d argue that anyone who believes his pastor’s ministry has changed him for the better should have the opportunity to praise that pastor publicly. Commend him or her for a job well done. I’m sure there probably are pastors who sit after a service and wonder if their words had any real impact on the audience. Seeing their rating on a site like this might improve their own confidence in their work and role in the world at large. Seeing a bad rating would hopefully encourage them to improve themselves. They do themselves and their church and their faith a disservice if they choose to disregard and ignore what’s said there, especially if the intent was to help, not pastor-bash.

“Priests must be accountable for their preaching, but we don’t evaluate that by blogs. Preaching and church and liturgy are not entertainment reviews. It’s about living, breathing communities of faith.”

Father Peter Watters, recently retired from Oakville’s St. Andrew Catholic Church, agrees.

“I think it could lead to significant amount of abuse . . . people who will blame the priest forever and ever because of some little thing that has happened to them in the past,” he says. “It might not even be the same priest, they just feel that way about clergy in general.”

Some people have trouble getting over things so priests should forever be immune from public criticism? That’s flawed logic and a bad idea all around. Priests and pastors should be held accountable. They’re the public faces for these belief systems that believers hold near and dear to their hearts. They are the public voices of these beliefs and if they are doing a shit job of upholding the beliefs that are tantamount to living wholly by that faith in God and Jesus then believers need a place where they can call them on it, without risking ejection from their churches or losing their families and friends on account of those opinions.

Leaders have to care about how people view their leadership, otherwise there’s no real incentive to be good role models. If they’re not going to give a damn about what people think of them, then why should anyone choose to follow them? If the people aren’t going to be allowed a voice, then the people will have no ability to enact useful change and improve their situation. That’s a bad arrangement and not one I’d willingly sit quiet by and put up with. No one should.

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