Social etiquette for mooching a ride, church edition
February 9, 2024 7:09 AM   Subscribe

My sister has a disability. She is physically mobile, but cannot drive. I was providing her rides to Catholic church every Tuesday morning (I am no longer Catholic; I wait in my car) but I had to change that to every other Tuesday morning. The counselor that is assigned to my sister is putting pressure on her to secure transportation for the days I can no longer give her rides.

(My sister does not want to secure other transportation, and wants to just attend church every other week, instead.)
1) How does one go about securing transportation?
2) Is the counselor overstepping?

Every other Tuesday, our library's bookmobile stops within blocks of the adult group home where my sister lives. I asked her counselor if she would be available on a Tuesday morning to accompany my sister to the bookmobile to orient her on how it works and make her comfortable doing it independently. I said I thought that would be a nice substitute for the Tuesdays that I can't give her a ride to church.

The counselor replied that there is absolutely no way the bookmobile could ever be any sort of substitute for church, as, in the counselor's words, "church feeds one emotionally and spiritually and raises ones mood and decreases anxiety". The counselor also said she is not available to accompany my sister to the bookmobile.

The counselor is putting pressure on my sister to attend church weekly. She is pressuring her to utilize transportation provided by my sister's insurance company. However, the transportation is not available until 8:00 a.m., and church begins at 8:00 a.m. and only lasts for 1/2 hour, so my sister would have to walk in in the middle of the service, and she would miss the first portion of the service. She does not want to do this, but the counselor continues to put pressure on her to do so.

The counselor is also putting pressure on her to use another option, which is, in the counselor's words, "Have one of the church ladies give you a ride." My sister said to me, "How do I do that? What church ladies is she talking about?" The counselor has provided no advice as to how to secure transportation from a "church lady".

What are the proper/acceptable/effective steps for securing a ride from a "church lady"? I did call the church's volunteer chore services organization, but they only provide transport to people who are living in their own homes rather than a group home.

Does my sister go the the church office and ask if they know of anyone who can provide transport? She, along with a few other people, stays after church to make sandwiches for the homeless. Does she call out during the sandwich making session, "Hey, is there anyone here who can give me a ride to church every other Tuesday?" Personally, I think that would feel very socially awkward and I would be embarrassed to do that. I would feel more comfortable gradually getting to know my fellow parishioners before I even brought up the subject of asking for rides.

(Taxi, Uber, bus are not options.)

The counselor texted me, "Your sister is exhibiting childlike behavior, including tantrums. When I was urging her to find transportation to church, she covered her ears and yelled, 'My sister wants to take me to church!' " I texted back, "My sister is correct. I do want to take her to church. I want to take her to church every other Tuesday. I don't think you should talk to her about church anymore."
posted by SageTrail to Human Relations (29 answers total)
I am not sure what sort of "counselor" with any sort of professional training grounded in ethics would ever consider pressuring someone without consistent transportation into going to CHURCH, of all things. Is the group home where your sister lives run by a faith-based organization of some sort? Is the "counseling" religious in nature? I'm a RN case manager with experience working with clients residing in group homes/adult care homes, and I've never heard of this kind of dynamic. It sounds inappropriate AT BEST.

What are the consequences of your sister not going to church every week? If there aren't any, then simply keep doing what you're able to do-take her there every other Tuesday. It doesn't sound like your sister wants to go more often than you can take her, so just stick with that plan.
posted by little mouth at 7:19 AM on February 9 [55 favorites]

I'm only going to tackle part of this problem: arranging for a ride.

Call up the pastor/priest and say, "My sister would like to attend services every week and stay around to make sandwiches after. I can only give her a ride every other week. Is there somebody from the congregation who would be willing to driver her on alternative weeks?" Then it's in his/her hands. The pastor can put the notice in the bulletin, or make an announcement at the service or afterwords during the sandwich making session. This should be part of what he does to ensure his flock attends service and that members support each other.
posted by sardonyx at 7:21 AM on February 9 [97 favorites]

Yeah the people at the church who are so kind and loving and following Jesus' teachings should pick her up if she wants to be there. Pick up the phone and call the church. If they are any good at churching, they will help make it happen.

Set aside the councilor perhaps pushing church etc. If your sister does want to be there that's fine. Getting a ride with someone will probably be good for her.
posted by SaltySalticid at 7:21 AM on February 9 [7 favorites]

The counselor is absolutely overstepping in a major way. Is there any way to assign her to a different counselor, or even find a different church if necessary? This is really inappropriate behaviour from the counselor, and it is not helpful at all for your sister.

If switching isn't feasible, I definitely would help your sister stand up for what she wants, which she seems to have clearly expressed is going every other week.
posted by randomnity at 7:22 AM on February 9 [20 favorites]

#1: "Hi Counselor. I and my sister have made it very clear that the desire is for her to only attend church every other week with me providing transportation. If you continue discussing this with me or my sister I will be contacting your supervisor" and put it in writing.

#2: If your sister does decide she wants to go to church when you are unable to take her, yes, email the priest or some other church leader and ask to put the word out.
posted by greta simone at 7:27 AM on February 9 [35 favorites]

(Taxi, Uber, bus are not options.)

In addition to the idea of asking the church group if they can assist with rides, does your area offer a version of paratransit? Where I live, this is offered through the same local government agency that operates the regular bus system, but you have to apply and medically qualify (i.e., prove that not only you can't drive, but also that for whatever reason the regular bus routes won't work for you). From what I understand, the criteria for qualifying can be quite different place to place, so you have to look at your local rules; however, from what you describe your sister would qualify here. With the paratransit, they send a van to pick you up and take you to your destination.
posted by Dip Flash at 7:31 AM on February 9 [7 favorites]

The counsellor is overstepping by far. I have no idea what kind of "counsellor" this is, but I would consider reporting them to whoever one reports such things. WTF. It's not up to her to decide who should go to church when or how often. As for the rest, your sister doesn't want it, so it's moot. Call the library and ask if it's possible to have a volunteer help your sister access the bookmobile or skip church one of your alternate Tuesdays and take her yourself the first time if you feel like she just needs orientation.

Oh, and besides overstepping, it's incredibly insulting and condescending to hear your sister's attempts to assert herself and make her desires known and respected and to portray that as "tantrums."
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 7:46 AM on February 9 [38 favorites]

What are the proper/acceptable/effective steps for securing a ride from a "church lady"?

Whoever organises pastoral care in the church would usually be the right person to ask. Sometimes that's the priest, sometimes there are other organisations.

However, it is definitely possible that there is no one in the congregation that is going to mass on a Tuesday morning who could give your sister a lift. It's not normally well attended. If you wanted to make an extra effort, you could go in to the church yourself at the end of the service, see who is there and whether you think any of them are likely to be in a position to help.
posted by plonkee at 7:46 AM on February 9 [4 favorites]

What sort of counselor is this? What organization are they coming to you from? The only way any of this makes any kind of sense is if they're assigned by the church itself (for spiritual growth of its members?! I have no idea) or some other religious program. Barring that, they're absolutely overstepping and (imo) violating ethics of care and I'd be reporting them to their organization and requesting a replacement without an agenda other than helping your sister in the ways she actually wants to be helped.

If they are from the church or another religious program, I would still talk with the program's management and see if the counselor is acting according to their guidelines or taking their own rogue approach. If it turns out what they're doing is by the(ir) book, I would see if leaving the program is an option.

As for "how to ask for a ride" - what plonkee said. Also if the group home has any kind of bulletin board or other community announcement system, you could consider asking them to put out a message that in case anyone's interested in attending Tuesday services at this church, your sister would be happy to carpool alternate weeks (and hopefully the other week would be provided by the other attendee's support system). Not too likely to get results, but you never know.

If finances aren't an issue there are also specialized transportation service providers and private drivers that can be hired and paid for out of pocket, but you probably know that already.

Does she call out during the sandwich making session, "Hey, is there anyone here who can give me a ride to church every other Tuesday?" Personally, I think that would feel very socially awkward and I would be embarrassed to do that.

The above aside, if your sister actually wants to just go ahead and ask, I personally don't see any problem with it - you might find it awkward (I would too, because of social anxiety), but plenty of people wouldn't and if she doesn't that's fine. If you can't just go ahead and ask in a community volunteer group you're a member of then where can you? But it should be something she actually wants to do, and she should do it with the understanding that probably no one will be able to and that's fine and something to accept gracefully.
posted by trig at 8:05 AM on February 9 [9 favorites]

(Per the OP the paratransit option is not available early enough in the morning for their sister's needs)
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 8:06 AM on February 9 [1 favorite]

To answer one piece of this, yes, either you or your sister could call the church office and ask if they could help find transport.

I don't know if this counselor is terrible; one can make the point that church is different from other activities and not be an over-stepping zealot.

It seems like your sister is fine with going to church every other week, but wouldn't mind going every week if you could take her?

So, the counselor could be thinking, here is a great chance to for Sister SageTrail to practice making phone calls, which is something we want to work on. (This assumes part of the counselor's role is trying to help your sister gain skills and learn behaviors that could genuinely improve her quality of life.) In that context, the going to church is not the point, it is solving problems without throwing a "tantrum". Which I'm not clear if you think it is an issue or not. You seem really annoyed that it is about church, but I think this interaction would be just as annoying if the activity was something other than church.

I'd say try to find another counselor, but I don't think that is always an option, and I don't know if another person would be much different.

Take care.
posted by rhonzo at 8:08 AM on February 9 [3 favorites]

Nthing that the counselor is seriously overstepping. A therapist did that to me years ago and it was a sign that she was controlling and she ended up showing other unethical behaviors. Is your sister able to ask the counselor to move her boundaries back to more neutral territory?

Sardonyx's suggestion of asking the church to help is great, and they could help with Tuesday, Thursday or another day depending on various schedules.

Church also provides community for many people. I grew up Catholic and it's often not great at community. Unitarian-Universalist, United Church of Christ, Friends Meeting(Quaker) are all welcoming and socially progressive. Fundamentalist churches certainly can be, but I think they are not okay for mental health. Maybe your sister would consider alternatives to Mass every other week. And it's very kind of you to take her as often as you do.
posted by theora55 at 8:17 AM on February 9 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: Per Dip Flash's does your area offer a version of paratransit?
Our city does does, and it is available beginning at 6:00 a.m. (church begins at 8:00). We applied, but my sister was denied because the city decided that she was able to take a standard city bus (she is not able to!).
posted by SageTrail at 8:37 AM on February 9

Is it possible your sister only wants to go to church if you're driving, but for reasons doesn't feel comfortable if someone else is driving? I can very much appreciate that, if perhaps thats part of the problem. (I'm ignoring the counselor aspect here, others have covered that) I think part of finding a successful ride to church will also need to include making sure your sister is comfortable enough with the ride provider itself.

I relate to it as myself going to the dentist. If i can drive myself, or have a family member drive me... fine, I'll go. If i have to deal with public transit or something less nice/convenient/awkward/whatever... chances are I'm not going to go, good dental hygiene be damned.
posted by cgg at 8:39 AM on February 9 [4 favorites]

Nthing that this counselor is way overstepping.

But if you want to proceed for some reason, the priest should have "office hours" of some kind (not confession). Go to them and explain your difficulty. If you can't find out the office hours, just speak to him briefly after the service (they usually stand somewhere right afterwards to greet parishioners) and ask him when you can talk in a little more detail. The church probably both has some form of physical/electronic bulletin board or newsletter and may make announcements at some point in the service (more controversial than you'd think). It's true that weekday Mass tends to be lightly attended, but those people are both hardcore and have time on their hands. My mom is the kind of person who attends weekday services and she would love (if it were feasible) to do this sort of thing.
posted by praemunire at 8:43 AM on February 9 [5 favorites]

I'd talk to your sister before talking to the church. But giving rides is a very very normal church activity. They will need contact information, because rides also fall through with some regularity, and only you and your sister know if that would be fine or really upsetting.

The counselor seems very out of line. But there may be an underlying reason for it, so one approach would be to say "I'm working on my sister around church and also hoping to find a solution to the bookmobile. But I'm quite curious, why is it that you seemed so concerned about her missing church?"

And then keep asking why, like

"Well your sister needs the community/etc" - "I see. Well she is still attending, just a bit less regularly. Can you tell me why you have concerns about her connection to community/spiritual needs? Is there something you can share with me that I should be aware of?" Etc.

I'm guessing it's just a weird person, but it could be that there's some information you're missing. I'm not sure what the counselor can ethically share with you, but it might be worth one more conversation.
posted by warriorqueen at 9:46 AM on February 9 [2 favorites]

I don’t think this is actually about church attendance specifically. The counselor is trying to push your sister into solving a problem on her own. (There’s a whiff of behaviorism in the counselor highlighting your sister’s tantrum.) But - is your sister capable of that level of problem-solving on her own? (And safely?) There’s a lot of steps involved in “finding a church lady to give you a ride” (just as your question shows!) and your sister might need more coaching from you (or the counselor) on how to navigate those steps. Or maybe the counselor can find another way for your sister to practice problem-solving. You don’t have to tie yourself in knots figuring this out. Just be your sister’s ally.
posted by stowaway at 10:12 AM on February 9 [3 favorites]

I work at a church and would probably be the person to answer the phone if you called to ask about getting your sister a ride. It's not in any way a rude or unusual thing to ask. It's very common for church members to do this type of thing for each other. The people in the church office would know who to connect you with to help make this happen. There's probably either some group or ministry that would take on the responsibility, or someone working at the church who knows of some individual members who might appreciate company and a regularly scheduled useful task.

But I don't know if your sister would like that. It seems like her counselor is pushing her into doing something she doesn't really want to do.
posted by birthday cake at 10:18 AM on February 9 [6 favorites]

(My sister does not want to secure other transportation, and wants to just attend church every other week, instead.)

She does not want to do this, but the counselor continues to put pressure on her to do so.

Your sister has agency and this counselor is stepping into malpractice here.
posted by archimago at 12:00 PM on February 9 [19 favorites]

Either the counselor believes in her clients’ ability to make their own choices or she does not. It’s her job to help her clients work with their own decisions. And in this case, she is attempting to push her own choices and beliefs on your sister. If it were my sibling, I would call the supervisor and ask for a different counselor. The fact that this person is describing your sister’s behavior as “tantrums” suggests to me that she lacks experience and training, so some input from a higher-up would probably be doing her (and her other clients) a favor.

But yeah, definitely go through the parish office to ask about rides. They’ll know what to do. There may be delightful people ready to jump at the opportunity, provided that’s what your sister actually wants.
posted by corey flood at 12:36 PM on February 9 [6 favorites]

the reason counselor gave for the bookmobile being an unacceptable solution was way out of line....and is reminding me strongly of my father's evangelical bigot caregiver telling me that I "must accept Jesus into my heart" right after she'd seen me praying with my family's rabbi.

Even if counselor is also Catholic, this is completely inexcusable.
posted by brujita at 1:07 PM on February 9 [5 favorites]

Calling the church office to ask if there is anybody who could give your sister a ride on alternate Tuesdays is no big deal, and would be the way to go if she wanted help to attend church every week. They would either have a volunteer available who could do it or not. There are people who very much enjoy helping out in that way if they can.

But, it sounds like your sister doesn't want to do that, and by pushing, the counsellor is definitely way overstepping. In your shoes I'd say something along the lines of "I've discussed the issue with my sister and she wants to attend church every second week when I can drive her. That's what will be happening from now on. There will be no further discussions on the subject so stop bringing it up please."

And then just ignore any further messages on the subject, and if they continue beyond one or two, talk to the person's supervisor.
posted by rpfields at 1:53 PM on February 9 [1 favorite]

I'm going to assume the counselor has the necessary consents from your sister to communicate to you about her care. However, "Your sister is exhibiting childlike behavior, including tantrums..." feels like a red flag to me. Is your sister developmentally disabled or otherwise someone who periodically engages in childlike behavior due to her disability? Because if so, that shouldn't surprise the counselor and it's odd she would text you about it this way. If not, the counselor should speak about your sister more respectfully (e.g., "Your sister became dysregulated while we were talking about X. I wasn't able to continue that conversation with her today, so we'll need to follow up at a later time."). I'm wondering if this counselor is either an intern or recent grad, or some kind of non-licensed peer counselor. The pushiness around the importance of church and the vagueness of "ask one of the church ladies for a ride" feel both unprofessional and frankly naive. Definitely consider speaking with the counselor's supervisor, and it would be reasonable to ask that your sister be reassigned.

I do agree with other commenters that a call to the priest or an outreach person at the church (if it's large enough to have that type of staff) will probably connect you with someone who can provide your sister with a ride to church on weeks when you can't--if that's something your sister would want. Among the type of people who are attending Tuesday morning mass, there are certainly going to be some who would love the opportunity to volunteer to drive a fellow congregant to services. It wouldn't be a bad idea for your sister to practice receiving help from (safe) new people, with your support (maybe you, your sister, and the volunteer have a cup of tea after church one day when you're able to be there, before they start giving her a ride). Maybe she was reacting to the counselor's pushiness (which I wouldn't blame her for), but if the thought of getting a ride from someone else is genuinely dysregulating for your sister, that's a skill worth working on.
posted by theotherdurassister at 2:28 PM on February 9 [5 favorites]

The variance in the comments here from "getting a ride is no big deal, one of you should ask" to "OMG, way out of line" is wild. On reread, though, this thing stood out:

I did call the church's volunteer chore services organization, but they only provide transport to people who are living in their own homes rather than a group home.

What do you suppose that's about? I'd ask some follow-up questions, if I were in your shoes. Could it be that your sister, disabled or no, actually has a correct understanding about her ability to ask for favors in this community?
posted by eirias at 4:31 PM on February 9 [5 favorites]

There’s not much variance in the answers— asking for a ride is no big deal, AND a the counselor is being an asshole or worse. I’d keep a super close eye on them, very little that you’ve described here is appropriate.
posted by stoneandstar at 4:49 PM on February 9 [16 favorites]

The church lady you need to talk to is the one in charge of the sandwiches. She probably also attends 8am mass, as do others of that group. And you said that you were outside waiting in the car. Can you go in to the sandwich room and talk to them with your sister?
posted by CathyG at 6:02 AM on February 10 [1 favorite]

I would tell the counselor that “reading books feeds one emotionally and spiritually and raises one’s mood and decreases anxiety.”
posted by elphaba at 9:11 AM on February 10 [3 favorites]

Very brief note from a 60 year Roman Catholic, but EVERY Sunday at Mass we pray for the sick or disabled of the Parish who are unable to attend, and at the end of the Mass the Eucharistic Minister(s) come to the Sacristy to receive consecrated hosts to deliver in person to the sick or disabled of the Parish. This should take a lot of pressure off the situation, for this I pray seriously. I want to apologize that this has gotten to this point.
posted by forthright at 9:41 AM on February 10 [6 favorites]

Its possible that this staff person has an (un)spoken agenda and the church has instituted a policy of not transporting from that place because of this staff member or another incident in the past. I guarantee you that the church doesn't want a bunch of people from the group home who are at church simply because the worker wants them to be there and not because it's where they want to be. As you reached out and the chore group said no I would concider options exhausted and move on.

These church politics are extremely subtle and unless you know you don't ever know. It's just a possibility I wouldn't have any way to know for sure.

As a reminder group homes are fairly unregulated bunch so the counselor title could be pretty much meaningless in term of education, experience and professionalism. If this person has a supervisor it is worth mentioning, but it's likely this person is just going to be this way and I'm sorry that the staff there is really unprofessional. Yes church can be a great activity for people but so can walks, movie nights and volunteering.

The counselor could be working to try to appeal the paratransit denial would be benefical for all involved, so I think suggesting that every time you get push back about activities would be appropriate.
posted by AlexiaSky at 11:27 AM on February 10 [5 favorites]

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