Wednesday, June 10, 2009

What is it really about?

I really enjoy Madeline's Egg. I can't tell you how many times I start to comment on one of his posts and it's gets so long I realize, "Hmm...I need to put this in my blog." It's happened again and I think he has started an important conversation about the the current schism in the ELCA and other denominations. "It's always about sex. Except when it's not" Is it really about sex? I think not.

One thing I learned quickly in parish ministry is that when people were unreasonably angry with me about seemingly trivial things, it was not about me or the thing at all. The church and clergy are a bulls eye for a lot of anger. Which makes sense. We represent God. And ultimately we are all pissed off at God for one thing or another.

Ages ago back when I was an intern I proposed to change the language in a song in choir to make it more inclusive. I would NEVER do that again. I just have other battles to fight these days than worrying about the word "men" in a song. But I was young and strident and foolish. And a woman in the choir confronted me about it and told me it was silly and the change was awkward. And she was right. But then her voice got shakey and she began to sob and tersely said to me "And when YOU PEOPLE changed the Apostles Creed - you took God away from me!"

And I thought "This cannot possibly be about language!" And it wasn't.

It's frightening how little it has to do with what we say it is about. I also find it frightening how much power we clergy have in swaying a church to leave or stay.

It's become kind of the *in* thing around these parts to leave the ELCA or threaten to leave the ELCA. So we were at a meeting and someone suggested "Maybe we should leave the ELCA."

Now I was prepared to give a lot of good reasons as to why that was not a good idea. But the first thing I said was, "Well I would be sorry if you did that because I really like here"

"You would leave if we did that Pastor?

"But of course"

The suggestion to leave has never been brought up again. They may be tempted to revisit the issue depending on how the sexuality vote goes this summer. But I don't think they will leave. And not just because they love me so much, although the influence I have over that decision is a heady somber responsibility. But because they are essentially a healthy congregation, they love each other, they have work to do and in the end, as Father says over at Madeline's Egg disagreement over genital matters is not important enough to disrupt their relationships and work.

But it again emphasizes the important mantra clergy need to keep in our heads "It's not about ME" - When the folk are unbearably cruel, that mantra keeps the personal hurt feelings from keeping us from doing our jobs and when they get very admiring and flattering, that mantra helps keep our eyes on the prize - Jesus Christ and the Church's mission to proclaim the Gospel of love, forgiveness and acceptance for all people.


  1. Very insightful and on target about the misplaced aggression stuff. In that sense, it's never about what it seems to be about, so it's best to sit back and shut up and wait. You ahould be skating if you up this early...

  2. They should teach that in school and I need that as a poster on my wall.

    I just read the Egg and followed your link here, but I read you anyway. Near by here, there was a two point parish where one left the ELCA, leaving the other high and dry, as both seemed to be too small to survive alone. The pastor who was there didn't discourage the move away. But the remaining church started sharing a fill in pastor with another small church. Then the leaving-church called a pastor who had also left the ELCA. He seems to be a fine fellow and, although I don't know how that church is doing financially, it does seem to be having some interesting services and programs. Now one of the other two churches also called that pastor, so that church has been kicked out of the ELCA.

    Seems like it is way too easy to get kicked out....Is leaving also so easy? I'd guess that there would be people who wouldn't want to leave. And what do we lose when we leave, especially if the pastor doesn't want to leave? When would a pastor want to leave, but is reluctant due to financial issues, pension and health care coverage? Complicated, isn't it.

  3. I don't think it's that easy to be kicked out. There is a process. And if you choose to call a pastor who is not in the ELCA then YOU are choosing to leave the ELCA. But even then what I found happens is that the congregation in question chooses to forgo the process, they simply leave and then claim they were kicked out.

  4. a wise post, Joelle! and much food for thought both here and in the comments.