Sunday, May 04, 2008

More Church Chat

Well, I went to my first ever congregational meeting today. I avoided them up to this point partially because I still feel like an interloper and partially because I hate the politics that go along with being church.

But I've been praying hard since my pastor announced that he was leaving, and I really feel a call to end my exile from organized ministry and to actively help my congregation through this transition. Part of me worries that it isn't a true calling, that it is ego and vanity, but I think the fact that I can ask that question means that it isn't.

Anyway, this is the first church meeting I have ever been in that is run by Robert's Rules of Order. That in and of itself was very weird.

But apparently, there has been some kind of tension and division within the congregation that I had no idea existed. When we got the official letter informing us of the pastor's last day, it mentioned something in there about allowing time to heal. I thought that just refered to the kind of healing any organization has to do when it goes through a transition period. but apparently I was wrong.

I have no idea what the issues are, or where they came from, and I'm not sure I want to unless I wind up in a role where I need to have that information. But when the time came for council nominations, I sensed that there was definitely a "faction" at work. I also got the sense that at least one of the nominees that faction put forward didn't know anything about it (I was sitting next to him, and he mentioned during lunch that he was going off council and that he was ready to go off).

Let me backtrack for those of you who don't know how things work at my congregation (as I didn't until this week). The nominating committee spends time prayerfully considering the places where there are openings on council. They come up with names for those positions, and ask people if they would be willing to serve. Those names are then put forward to the congregation, and if there are no nominations from the floor, they are appointed.

Back to the story, today there were three nominations from the floor, all of whom have served on council for many, many, many years. Apparently this has never, ever happened in the history of this congregation. The pastor was really upset by that, and he let it be known that he was upset. This sparked all kinds of discussion.

Now, an interesting thing to note is that two of the members of the nominating committee joined our congregation from New Orleans following Katrina (they became members the same day I did). I'm wondering if there is some kind of tension because of that? One of those people was also on the ballot.

I ended up voting for the people the committee put forward because...well, because. And I did that despite the fact that one of them (the one who chaired the nominating committee and joined after Katrina) makes me really nervous - more on that in a moment.

As I considered everything I observed this afternoon while I drove to work, I think the big issue is a fear of doing anything new, and a fear of being challenged. That is fairly normal, I think, but it is frustrating, too. It's the reason why, despite the fact that I have been attending church there for nearly three years, I still feel like an outsider. That makes me sad.

I'm really hoping and praying that the call process we are about to undertake and everything that goes along with that will provide some kind of revitalization in the congregation, where the people doing everything won't be "the usual suspects." But that is going to take a willingness to change and grow that I'm not sure is there yet. I'm praying that the Holy Spirit works thoughout all of this, and that we come out of it more aware of God's Grace than we seem to be right now.

Oh, and why that woman I wrote of before makes me nervous - she has a really...Southern Baptist theology working. She uses buzzwords that they and other fundamentalists use all the time, things like "making a decision to accept Christ," "personal relationship with Jesus," "gave testimony" and things like that. She was also the one who I wrote about in my last post, who led a devotional that had a very fundamentalist overtone in the spiritual gifts assessment thing that we did last Monday. Now, I looked up the church she came from in New Orleans, and from what I saw on their website, that's pretty much where they are. They don't celebrate the Eucharist every Sunday, decsion-theology and the prosperity gospel creep into their pastor's sermons pretty much weekly. And she gave the members of the nominating committee this book, which is written from the Southern Baptist perspective.

Now, if she were being tapped to lead the business committee, that wouldn't concern me. But she is being asked to lead the Faith Formation committee, and that does worry me. I have no problem in saying that we, as a mainline denomination that believes that faith and reason can live side-by-side, should be using anything published by a denomination that believes in complete Biblical literalism and that outright condemns people who disagree with them. The theology just isn't compatible.

Now, I have a feeling, based on that gifts assessment, that I'm going to be asked to serve on the Faith Formation committee. And if I am, I'm truly torn about whether or not to accept. On the one hand, I'm reluctant to accept because I'm afraid that butting heads with this woman over themes, materials, curricula, etc. will cause more divisiveness, and that is the last thing we need. On the other hand, perhaps I could use my background in theology (granted, most of it is Roman Catholic, but it is similar enough, plus I have been doing a heck of a lot of reading lately) to kind of temper any...unusual materials, etc. she suggests.

Sigh. I don't know why we can't let go of this human need of ours to conform our church (and our Church) to our vision instead of living the way Christ has taught us. We impose so many rules and hierarchies, and other crap on church, that we forget that the real reason church (and Church) exists is to come together as a community to worship the Living God and to share the Good News with the world.



LutherPunk said...

Yikes! If your church is in the mainstream of the ELCA, this person has the potential to be very divisive. I sure hope that it doesn't turn out that way. I wrestled with some of the crytpo-fundy stuff at my last church, and it is tough to deal with.

Sheryl said...

It's not really that big a surprise, I guess, given that the major influences in this region are Roman Catholic and Baptist, and most folks in mainline Protestant denominations tend to drift toward one of them.

And honestly, most people in my congregation probably wouldn't pick up on some of this stuff, so I don't know that the theology is the source of the division so much as the "interloper" status of a couple of people on the nominating committee. People in BR still have issues with people who moved here after Katrina from Orleans, Jefferson, or St. Bernard parishes.

Nonetheless, it worries me to see that kind of theology creep in. I've seen it happen in Catholic churches, where it is a little easier to quash. Fortunately, I think the interim pastor (we haven't been told who it will be, but I think it will probably be the guy who preached a few weeks ago - he's a special assistant to the bishop who has been working on Katrina recovery stuff, most of which is wrapped up now) is very mainstream, and while I have no idea how much influence he will have (because I'm used to a system where the Bishop makes all the decisions with very little input from the congregation), I think that may keep things on an even keel.

If you happen to come back and read these comments, LP, I'm thinking of e-mailing the council president, sharing my observations (about the congregational meeting in general - not that one person), sharing my background and experience as a member of a church staff and as someone who is really skilled at building consensus, and offering to help however I can during this transition.

Do you think that would be presumptuous? I don't want to offend anyone, but I don't want to see this congregation fall apart, either.