My friends in 12-Step Recovery Programs tell me that 'Coincidence' is the name God uses when S/he wants to remain anonymous.
Within the space of twenty four hours, I received three articles/emails which have inspired me to walk around the house singing in my very best Ethel Merman, "There's no business like church business like no business I know."
That's on a good day.
The first was this blog post, "Ten Highly Effective Strategies for Crushing your Pastor's Morale," by retired UCC Pastor, Richard Floyd.
These hit a nerve:
7.Whenever your pastor goes away and returns from denominational meetings or continuing education events never miss an opportunity to ask, “How was your vacation?”Cue the choir: "And they'll know we are Christians by our love."
8. Make sure the pastor is made aware of the two biggest complaints, namely, that he is never in the office, and he doesn’t make enough home visits. That the two cannot both be true will not diminish their use as morale crushers.
9. Tell the pastor that there are anonymous complaints that a. your sermons are too long; b. your voice is too soft to be heard (especially by the deaf); c. your spouse is not involved enough (or too involved) in the life of the congregation; d. your child shouldn’t have been given the lead in the Christmas pageant; e. your lawn needs mowing; and f. you were seen in shorts at the supermarket. This is just a sample list. Use your imagination.
10. Constantly compare your pastor to his long-tenured saintly predecessor, with special attention made to his never asking for a raise for himself or his staff.
When I was in Provincetown last week, the Provincetown Banner had a story on page three which ran the headline "Hyder to take her leave from meeting house congregation".
I couldn't find a link for it, so you'll have to trust me on this (If anyone does find it, please let me know).
The story is about 52 year old Alison Hyde, Provincetown's UU Meeting House minister, who is leaving the church after 11 years.
The first paragraph reads:
"Resigning ahead of what she believes to be a pending request for her to leave by the church board of directors, Alison Hyder has given notice to the Unitarian Universalist Meeting House here after 11 years as is minister, the longest term served by a full-time pastor in the 181 year old church's history."Why? You ask.
"I came across as too jocular. I'm not formal enough. I go to piano bars.They want the image of the meeting house to be more uniformly grand," she said.There were also complaints that she "focused more on serving the Provincetown community than the UU members," even though board of Director's Chair, Barbara Loren-Murphy is quoted as saying that the UU Meeting House has been searching for a more community-oriented identity for more than a decade. The article continues,
"The church has a long history of community involvement. During the influenza epidemic of 1918, it turned its first floor into a hospital. Eighteen years ago it started the Soup Kitchen in Provincetown, which today serves lunch to about 80 people in need a day throughout the off season. And the church was deeply involved in the AIDS crisis in Provincetown, helping the community learn how to support the infected men who came here to die. But post-AIDS, the church has had difficulty finding a new mission, Loren-Murphey said.Which, apparently, Ms. Hyder was trying to do. Except, apparently she wasn't doing it 'formally' enough - and, doing it while not taking care of some members of the community and the board. At least, not to their liking.
"We as a congregation lost our outward focus. We didn't have any committees. We've had some issues," she said. "There were some, not nearly a majority, that really felt Alison wasn't ministerial enough. Their sense of ministerial was she was not formal enough. I personally did not agree. I thought she was wonderful for both the congregation and the community."
"Instead of a small family, which we've been, we want to be a moral beacon to the community. You need a leader (to do that), said Kujawa (another member of the board). "There are people with no place to live. People with no jobs. We would like to be more than just a very pleasant coffee hour."
See also #8 in Reverend Floyd's 'morale crushers'.
The third came from a clergy colleague - very intelligent and very wise - who wrote in response to Reverend Floyd's article:
"Interestingly, I think all these issues are addressed in stories in Exodus and Numbers about various challenges to Moses' authority. Two stand out. The Golden Calf (let's take a vote and redesign our liturgy to make it more celebratory and give the congregation what makes sense and do what all the growing congregations are doing) and Korah's Rebellion (Why should any one person in the community have a special status. Are not all the people equal before God and cannot we all come before God on our own?)"His particular take is that clergy have not been allowed - or have abdicated - our leadership role given to us at ordination. He continues:
"I wish we could have a forum for a further conversation about what it means in practical terms to say that we believe in "one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church" and to reflect on what we think actually happens at (and in) ordination. If clergy are given the Spirit, then clergy are different from people who have not undergone that same process and experience; if clergy are not given the Spirit, what do we think we are doing when we lay hands on someone and ask that God give God's Spirit to them?"I'm sure he's right and his point is a good one, and, in fairness, he was responding to Reverend Floyd's blog post, but I don't think authority is the entire problem.
"Our theology of the Trinity becomes active here--if the Spirit is an equal partner with the Father and the Son, someone in whom the Spirit dwells in an extraordinary fashion is significantly different from someone without that gift. If the Spirit is just a metaphor for some vague feeling of well being, then special possession of it does not matter so much. Every time we fudge the Trinitarian formula with various functional descriptors instead of names, we undermine the authority of ordained people."
We do seem to have lost our moral compass as a people, and clergy do not seem to be able to step up to the plate and provide direction. We've all caved in, it seems to me, to a "consumer model" of religion.
If "The customer is always right," then the business of church seems to be less about being "the church militant here on earth," leading us "nearer my God to thee" and more to a fast spiritual food franchise where "The King" let's us "have it your way."
In the midst of all of this, I came across an article by Methodist Minister Dan R. Dick in this month's Progressive Christian, "Measuring Faith: Metrics are no way to assess spiritual vitality."
He writes from his own denominational experience, but what he has to say is applicable to the experience of many, many institutional religions. He writes:
"Mainline denominations are in a panic. They’re losing members and resources, and they’re responding to the crisis with the best models that business schools can buy. The trouble is, the church of Jesus Christ isn’t a business, and to run it like a business may be one of major reasons that Protestant churches are in trouble numerically, and have so little moral influence on society today."He makes the point that we confuse "indicators of vitality" with "activity" and they are not the same. Let me give you an example from the article. The first "indicator of vitality" in the Methodist Church is "Average worship attendance as a percentage of membership":
"This will not tell you anything more than how many people attend worship. True measures of spiritual growth and development must measure how a person is progressing in his or her relationship with God and Jesus Christ. This requires a set of standards, of which, worship attendance should certainly be one. But this should also include some measurement of prayer, study of scripture, service to others, relationship to the covenant community, etc.Reverend Dick ends with this important thought:
“Membership,” as it stands in the current United Methodist Church must be evaluated in relationship to the clear promises we ask people to make. Until we are monitoring, assessing and evaluating how well people are growing in their commitments to “prayer, presence, gifts, service and witness” (the United Methodist membership vows), we have not measured anything truly valid or valuable. Survey after survey shows that people attend worship that they “like,” but very few evaluate the impact of worship on the gathered body. The much more compelling “percentage” measurement in vital churches is the percentage of active participants (members and regular “friends”) engaged in some form of ministry each week. The most vital churches I visit no longer count only Sunday morning worship attendance, but participation in Sunday school, Bible studies, church ministries, events, training, etc."
"Vitality is all around us, but we are going to continue to miss it if we continue counting what we have been counting through the past four decades of decline. Doing more of what we have already been doing that hasn’t been working seems like poor stewardship to me. We know what we should be measuring, but we don’t do it because it is more difficult. But until we suck it up and do the difficult work, nothing much is going to change. We have got to start looking at ourselves in a new light. What actually is changing in the church due to our best efforts? How much more “open” are we after a decade of “open hearts, open minds, open doors,” to quote the United Methodist Church’s 10-year-old tagline. How much church has been “rethought” to date and what difference did it make?Reverend Dick makes a good point. It's much easier to count than analyze. It's much tougher to measure the impact we've made on the transformation of people's lives in bringing us closer to the Realm of God.
What we should be measuring is how well people have been equipped to live their faith in the world, and how our world is being transformed."
But, isn't that what we're supposed to be doing?
And, if we're not, perhaps we invite the very morale crushing behavior that knows no limits of denomination or creedal statement or liturgical expression.
Time for some 'tough love', I'm thinking. Jesus was always dishing it out to his disciples as well as those who sought him out for healing and pastoral care.
When his disciples complained to him that a large crowd - a few thousand people - had gathered to hear him as the hour grew late and there was nothing to feed them.
"Send them home," one report claims a disciple said. "Shall we go to town and buy food? Where will we get the money?" asked another. Yet another whined and said, "There's a little boy here with two fish and five loaves, but that's hardly enough."
You can almost hear Jesus sigh and say, "What do you have? Go and see."
That Jesus! Always empowering people. Always inspiring them to bring what they have to him - even the smallest amount - to be transformed.
"I obey all the laws. I'm a good, generous person." said the rich man, "what must I do to inherit eternal life?"
Jesus said, "Sell everything you have, give it to the poor, and follow me."
I can't imagine saying that to a parishioner. Can you?
No wonder they wanted to kill him. He was lucky the rich man just walked away.
Then again, I don't recall Jesus having "office hours" much less an office. No pension plan or 401K. No car allowance or housing equity plan. Didn't even have a Temple. Just went to where people were.
Perhaps it is time to "suck it up" as Reverend Dick says. Unless we "do the difficult work," of going behind the numbers and evaluating ourselves and our churches "nothing is going to change."
There's another wise aphorism from the 12 Step Program: "Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting something to change."
Vitality is all around us.
I'm haunted by the story of the feeding of the five thousand and these words of Jesus "What do you have? Go and see."
That's when I'm not doing the same thing over and over while singing my best Ethel Merman like a crazy person.