Anger. Hostility towards the Opposition.

Recently, the Presbyterian Church (USA) Board of Pensions, my current denomination, released a plan to change the current medical coverage plan in a radical manner.

 

I have to disclose something’s for you first. I am not officially a member of clergy of the Presbyterian Church (USA). I was baptized in a Presbyterian Church that merged to become the Presbyterian Church (USA) on November 02, 1975. I was raised in the Presbyterian Church for a good part of my youth. I joined a Presbyterian Church in 2002 and was under care at that church until 2008 as I attended and finished seminary.

 

I left the Presbyterian Church to serve a Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) congregation, where I was licensed and ordained to ministry. [Why I left the PC (USA)] After three years of service in the DOC [Why I left the DOC, for real.] I left to follow my PC (USA) ordained wife to her first call. During those three years out of the PC (USA) I still maintained my connections with the PC (USA) and continued to serve her through the Young Adult Volunteer program as a mentor, small group leader, and friend. I also contributed to many discussions in and around the future of the church.

 

I have invested in the future of the PC (USA) with all my heart, all my might, and all my soul. I currently serve a Presbyterian Church (USA) as a designated part time pulpit supply. In this call I am contracted for ten hours a week and have no benefits. I agreed to this role because my wife has benefits from her full time ministry position at her church.

 

As long as I serve this Presbyterian Church (USA) congregation in the manner in which I do now I will not qualify for benefits. This is not a matter of me transferring my ordination over to the Presbyterian Church (USA). I am prayerfully considering transferring my ordination to the Presbyterian Church (USA). Even if I did transfer my ordination to the Presbyterian Church (USA) and served this congregation as I do now for the next seven years I get no credit for serving it in the pension plan. I also get no medical coverage.

 

My congregation in the only African-American Presbyterian (USA) Church in Oklahoma, we do not have a very large budget. I took this call knowing that they are offering me as much as they can. If they had more they would offer it to me. I know we struggle to maintain and fashion a budget of faithful action in out community.

 

I feel guilty writing this post, as the neighborhood directly surrounding our church is one of the unhealthiest zip codes in America. There is plenty to be done around access to medical care here. I write this to share with you who are managing the Board of Pensions and its future. This is how your proposed plan will affect my wife and I.

 

We as a couple are currently over $100,000 in debt to student loans, with 70% of this due to the cost of seminary. My wife is a full time pastor and the primary wage earner in our family.

Earlier this year (2012) I injured my shoulder and sought treatment through our health insurance. I stopped going to doctors’ appointments and other medical appointments due to the high cost of them. We could not afford the co-pays and co-insurances of the existing plan.

 

I was unemployed for over six months and was underemployed for three months prior to being relived by attending another graduate school to be retrained for a career in which I might make a living, outside of ministry.

 

The proposed changes you offer would burden us with an additional 45% of dependent cost of medical coverage, in addition to any additional dues my wife’s congregation cannot or will not cover.

 

We have put of starting a family for a few years now and in light of these proposed changes I cannot imagine us starting a family would be assisted by remaining a part of your proposed system. If we started a family under your proposition we would incur a great inability to meet the fragile limits of our current budget. In other words, this proposed change will have a deep and profound impact on our ability to be well and to lead others to physical, spiritual, and emotional health.

 

You are certainly making it harder for me to find value in being in communion with the Presbyterian Church (USA). You speak of the need to youth in the church and for new, innovative ideas and then you burden us with student debt, high medical coverage, and churches in which we are blamed for the lack of growth.

 

I pray for us all. Something has to give. In my prayers I ask for God to kill this system and replace it with one of justice. One in which humanity and care is given precedence for all. I pray that we take this moment in time to act like Christians and advocate for medical coverage for all in this Nation. I pray that we advocate for living wages for all. If we managed to advocate for healthcare and living wages for all my work may be done at my congregation. Here is a moment for the church, for the Presbyterian Church (USA) to be leaders again and do something this world gives a shit about.

 

I would be willing to pay more and do more if it meant that the Kingdom of God was visible in what we do in this world. I would sacrifice and die for a better world. A world that puts its weapons down and has compassion to others. I began this with a worry and concern about how this proposed action who effect my wife and I. I end with the effects this will have on our ability to be light in this world and what that will do to the soul of the Presbyterian Church (USA). Hot or old, there is no room for lukewarm in the eyes of God.

Death is Art: The Church needs a mess of artists.

I have had a hunch for the last ten years or so that something has been going on in the church. I remember the early post Y2K era. I was spoon-feeding my faith on church hopping. I was on a mission to fins a church home.

I went to mega churches, house churches, mainline denominational churches, non-denominational churches, and once went to a Messianic Temple that meet in a strip mall. I went to a lot of churches.

I was like an addict searching for a fix. Only my drug was Jesus H. Christ. My gear included a well worn NIV Bible, a hunger for the Word, and some clouded ideas of a faith beyond my fading evangelical norms.

I wore costumes to these various churches. I took out all of my piercings and covered my tattoos with a new GAP button-down shirt and a pair of chinos the first time I went to the Presbyterian Church that eventually became my church home. I raided Barry Manilow’s closet as I sported a look to numerous churches in hopes to be accepted and loved.

I can say with the benefit of hindsight that I was accepted in most places. I would be greeted and introduced to who ever had some kind of connection to prison or recovery ministries. Unfortunately, for that person I was not in recovery or have I ever been to prison. I once saw a film about Naval Aviators but that does not make me a sailor.

My point is my physical presence somehow challenged the folks that were already there at the church. The church I ended up hanging my hat at loved me. The pastor did all they could to reach out to me and shepherd me to health. The congregation loved on me very much. I fondly remember them and the relationships I was blessed to forge.

There were some strange folks that had no idea how to engage me. It was no different than my real life strangeness that hung on my family tree. Not everyone can have a moped-riding cousin with a jacket that has elastic bands that hold a twelve-pack! We are just lucky like that.

This church was the first time as an adult I was able to engage in a healthy way the church as a family, with all its bumps and bruises. I still long for that church and those people where my faith was refined and I first awakened to this hunch I am talking about.

There was a sense of adventure and daring. This church was heavily invested in the youth around it. Youth played a heavy role in the life of the church. I would say that the congregation was entirely oriented around the youth that lived in the community and hung out at the church.

The budget reflected its commitment to the youth and to the future church. There was never a difficulty in finding volunteers to cook meals, chaperon events, or mentor the faith of the youth at the church. As part of the staff there I was supported well. I got affirmation and love t-from the oversight committee all the time.

I accepted this as the norm and expected that this is how the church must operate. If the church wanted to bear witness to the Kingdom of God it would need to stay serious about investing its resources to the youth. This was proven time and time again in my time there.

Then I became a missionary and went to seminary. I talked shop for a few years. I volunteered here and there. I even helped plant a church my senior year in seminary. I interned at a couple small rural churches in Central Oklahoma. I got exposed to realities that differed from my almost Pollyanna vision of the church I encountered in Los Angeles.

That hunch awakened and I realized I was not alone in that hunch. The church wanted me to be a leader. The church wanted “us” to come in, bring our friends, marry and have families, and take over the beautiful churches that they had built. There was only one problem, when we came we were not all that welcomed. Well, we were welcomed but we were not invited to be a part of the church as much as we were expected to come in and replace the aging cogs of church with our new, youthful, spirited cogs and do the work of the church.

When that happened we left. Not just laity but clergy has left. We do not have the energy to continue to serve two masters. We do not have the ability to work two full time jobs. We are being asked to maintain the church of yesterday as we plant the seeds, nurture the seeds, and harvest the seeds of tomorrow.

This does not describe all the churches out there. It does describe enough situations out there that I pray we as the church pays it mind. That hunch I have had for the last decade is real. The church is killing itself. The church has been slowly asphyxiating itself on the traditions of the past.

As we struggle and seek that answer to fix the decline of the mainline church we have forgot to invest in the leaders, the people of the church of tomorrow. I know there are programs that offer education and support to some that may equip them to do great ministry. I love these programs. I am not sure it is enough.

What would happen if we focused on digital first? What would happen if we focused all of our resources towards the next generation of faith?

We are operating out of fear of provision and serving a church that has little chance in reaching out in to the great digital divide. We focus on maintaining and supporting the systems we have in place. “If we do X we will lose donors.” I have bad news those donors will die and be lost and when they are who will stand in the gap?

My hunch is that the church that shall exist in the future will be small, socially active, intentional, intimate, low-cost, and have little overhead. I am sure there will be churches that will not look like this. I think there will always be a place for big ass churches. I am sure that new growth will not emerge until the old passes on and fertilizes the seeds they have planted. I pray the Reforming Church does not forget the Always Reforming part and death is part of that reforming.