Two different Bishops believed that I had the skills to follow long tenured Rectors. As you might imagine, it didn't take long for a small group in each parish to radically oppose me and try to force my resignation. How well I managed these situations is debatable, but here are some strategies I learned along the way. If you are or ever have been in this awful nightmare, I hope they help.
1. Forget all you know about consensus management and group process. These methods are effective when leading any group where the goal is to resolve differences in an open and creative way. All get a say and in the end there is usually a consensus or unanimous vote. When the goal of some is to "kill the Priest," no amount of discussion is possible.
2. Bishops may not be much help. In my ministry, one Bishop supported me and the other didn't. As pastoral as we expect Bishops to be, many don't have the intervention skills to provide the appropriate leadership. Some are likely to take a "wait and see attitude." Others may abandon you entirely.
3. Cultivate support. Engage parishioners in conversation. Visit every member of your vestry and as calmly as possible let them know what is going on. Listen and then ask them for their support. You will survive if 80% of the vestry supports you. I managed it with 60%. Visit every stake holder, those who have existential power in the parish, and follow the same strategy. If the hate group is small enough, you may take it to the congregation, perhaps even in a sermon or special parish meeting.
4. Call in a consultant. This is a popular way of making everybody temporarily feel good. The Bishop and Vestry think they are doing their jobs and the Priest appreciates the reflective pause. But in level six conflict situations, consultants are not likely to work. The Priest's enemies have already made up their minds. They want to Priest out. But a consultant does give folks the time to sort things out and chart a course. If the Priest comes out ahead, the offending parties will leave the church. This is what happened in both of my situations.
5. Resignation. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this. You may be fed up or you may be very sensitive, discouraged, depressed and feeling rage. There may not be enough people on your side so you may be forced out. Sometimes it's best to "let go and let God." Holding on is not for everybody and your spiritual and mental health are the most important things, let alone the sickness that invades the marriage and the family. Besides, you have probably lanced a boil that has been festering in the parish for many years and needs to be healed. When we are scapegoated without cause, it is usually indicative of a long term systemic issue in the congregation's life.
While none of us ever wants to be in this situation, sometimes it just happens. The Kingdom of God has not yet been consummated and the Father of Lies is still meandering through the universe and the church. C. S. Lewis had something to say about this.