In Lay Terms

Random Ramblings From a Church Nerd

Monday, December 12, 2005

Dysfunction and Prayers

OK - since Fr. B requested a full report (and I'm all about taking requests), I'll give some more details. I realized that my last post was rich with fodder in several different areas. I may have to break these up.

Since it's fairly timely, I'll explain the prayers, and my relationship with this congregation. I don't often attend the church where I am a member. That makes this more interesting. When I was in college, I actually worked there first. I did a youth ministry internship there. It was great. It is a large urban congregation in downtown Minneapolis. The kids were this wonderful combination between rich suburban kids and very poor immigrant, urban kids. They got along wonderfully. It was a very shaping experience. I feel a strong connection to urban ministry because of my work with these kids.

The problem was the rest of the congregation. This is a congregation that has an over-inflated sense of it's own self-worth. It has never been a neighborhood church, like other congregations. It was built to be the flagship church of the American Lutheran Church. It tended to attract high profile members in the Lutheran community. In the 70's they actually wrote a book about the history of the congregation, entitled What God Hath Wrought. Humble title, huh?

In the early 90's, it was discovered that a beloved senior pastor had an affair with some woman (not a member, and not at that time). To be honest, there were probably problems before this, but this is where I can trace a lot of our current dysfunction. Anyway, since then, they have gone through a string of pastors and staff.

When I starting doing stuff with the congregation, I was sort of blind to this. I was loving my work with the youth. They also had a nice gay/lesbian community that would get together. It was nice.

Oddly enough, the day we joined ended up being the day the congregation would vote on adopting the status of Reconciling In Christ. This is the Lutheran version of congregations affirming to GLBT people (back then they only had to be affirming to GL people, but it's since expanded). So, we were received as new members, and then were able to vote in the meeting.

The vote 11 votes (out of about 600 votes cast). This should have been my first clue. Many of us decided that we would "stay the course" (to steal another hopeless phrase). I worked with one of my favorite pastors to formulate a young adult ministry. I was able to handle the ambiguity of the congregation's feelings about me.

What really turned me away was when they attacked the youth program. During the transition between youth directors, they decided to cut the staff person to part-time, and give them no budget. A lot of the budget was spent on the urban kids, so this essentially turned them away. For me, that was the last straw. I decided that I needed to take a hiatus.

Which I have done for the last two years. I have been in several congregations. I've kept my membership, because I'm not quite sure how I relate to local congregations. Since I do a lot of ministry work on my own, I don't think I'll ever be a good congregational member. For my own sanity, I'm learning to say "no". So, that's where I am.

OK - I'll post this and continue with the prayers later. Thanks for listening.


Blogger Vic Mansfield said...

I'm always wondering about what "church membership" really means. Baptism is our entrance into membership with the Body of Christ. And, to be Christian means to be in community. We really must seek a community. But the "membership" thing seems to be something out of the old paradigm of Church from the fifties.

I have more questions than answers. What does it mean?

Ross, I applaud you for staying the course. That must have been really demoralizing.

I am a member of an Episcopal Church that has lost members because of the gay bishop thing. [Why can't Episcopalians play chess? Because they can't tell their bishops from their queens.]

But the number that left was small. Most have stayed, though they are all over the map on opinions on the issue. Mostly, it isn't discussed. There are members of this congregation that go back for generations! And, there are new-just-moved-to-town types. A mixed bag. We are definitely NOT the flagship type of parish, though I know what you mean.

But, right now, most of my spiritual nurturing is on-line, through folk like yourself. Any idea of "membership" i've had is being stretched. Unable to have close ties here with other LBGT people, I am having to find it elsewhere (and thank God, I've been able to).

I am rambling. Thanks for your post. Good words.

Cheers, Joe.

4:20 PM  
Blogger Chad K said...

I have been privy to other info about CLT in the past. The bell tower has been what I have heard about most recently. I also am not a membership person, more of a discipleship person, you know? Following...

I think this may be a very good thing that is coming out of postmodernity--we don't count numbers and we don't pay our dues just because we have to. There is a real sense of authenticity that comes with is and is really refreshing. Paz

5:11 PM  
Blogger Bob Bussen said...

Ok, my e-friend Ross, you've got me hooked. I'm waiting for the next installment. This is getting very interesting.

Fr. B.

6:34 PM  
Blogger Ross said...

Joe and Chad,

I agree with your thoughts on membership. But, at the same time, they do have real implications for where you are and what you do. I probably wouldn't care so much if I didn't work in the church.

My other half suggested just moving my membership back to my home congregation, in Northern Minnesota. The problem is that my hometown is in a different synod. I wouldn't be as well connect in Minneapolis if my membership were somewhere else.

I think that membership is part of an old paradigm. We just need to figure out how to function without working off of a membership.

9:04 PM  
Blogger Ross said...

One more comment to Joe: It's odd because of the RIC vote, it seems that the congregation just lost everyone. The place has been in a decline for a number of years now. They are neither hot nor cold. They are just lukewarm water.

I think that in trying to be everything to everyone, they have become very ineffective in any statement they make (something the ELCA might end up being as well).

9:06 PM  

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