Baby Bean is Growing

 BabyFruit Ticker

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Sunday was our annual parish meeting at church. Brandon and I have been attending our church for about two years now, and we haven't gone to a single parish meeting yet. This one was different.

Let me start by saying that we attend a fairly liberal Episcopalian church, and when the gay bishop was elected, a few members left the church because our rector publicly supported him. According to insiders, some of the older members of the church have been wanting to get rid of the rector since he got there because they find him too liberal.

In addition, last year, the very conservative assistant priest resigned. I learned only recently that it wasn't really a voluntary decision. She was told she could either resign or be fired. It wasn't a happy time.

So. Apparently, when pledge time came around at the end of last year, a small but affluent group of church members refused to pledge anything to the church until "changes were made." The loss of their pledges caused a shortfall of almost $35,000 for the church's annual budget. That same group of people then apparently started showing up to vestry meetings, demanding that the vestry come up with a balanced budget, and saying that the only way to do so was to fire our choir director. Thankfully, the clergy stepped up to the plate: our choir director cut his salary in half, moving to half-time, another of our assistant priests volunteered to cut his salary in half, and our rector took another large pay cut to make up the difference.

Now, I know I am biased, because I love our choir director. He is an amazing man and a very talented musician. He is also an ordained priest and leads the high school youth group program. He is a wonderfully warm person with a passion for his calling. He is also gay.

According to my inside sources, no one ever played the gay card when they suggested he should be cut from the program, but I have a feeling it might have been a factor. What I was told was that many believed that if they couldn't oust our rector, they would oust his supporters, starting with the choir master.

It came down to a bloody campaign between the two camps. There were 13 people running for 5 spots on the vestry -- something I am certain is fairly unusual (especially when people normally have to be bribed to even run!). People were passing out flyers, campaigning, calling church members on the phone to entice them to vote a particular way.

The meeting itself was fraught with ill feelings and there were several shouting matches. Several people got up and said that they had heard rumors of a coup and did anyone want to answer them? No one did. No one came out and publicly said what their agenda was. The only person who spoke frankly was the Senior Warden when he announced that several people who were running for the vestry would NOT be found on the list of pledging households, and that it was his opinion that that was hypocritical. There was a great deal of shouting after he said that.

But, in the end, I think we prevailed. My inside source provided us with a cheat sheet of who was on which side, and our side was elected save one. Our choir director's job is safe, for the time being, and if our congregation can come up with just an 8% increase in giving, we can have him back full time.

I just have never felt LESS like a part of a Christian community than when I was sitting in that room, ready to cast my vote to save the job of someone whose work I believed in. Thank God for the power of democracy. I couldn't believe how cynical, how hypocritical, and how duplicative those few members could be -- not even owning up to their own agenda! -- and still sit there and say that they had the church's Christian mission at heart.

Our rector gave a very moving sermon before the meeting, and one part of it stood out for me. He said, this isn't my church, or your church, or our church, it's GOD'S church. And he will do with it what he will.

We just helped it along in the right direction.


Charlie said...

Yeah church politics are facinating to me. I usually stay out of meetings and stuff, mostly because I'm overly simplistic when it comes to my faith. We go to church (a church that we agree with all of their core values) because God says we need community, we give money because God says to give and I think whatever happens beyond my end of the deal is His business. Not because that's a Biblical point of view, just because I hate conflict.
It breaks my heart when people within a church argue and butt heads but I guess that's what all of Paul's letters to the early churches were addressing, so I guess it's been going on for about 200 years and I shouldn't be surprised. Human nature. I suppose this is how we got all these denominations because it keeps the arguments to a minimum, heh.

Charlie said...

ahem, that was supposed to be 2000 years. :)