Wednesday, August 28, 2013
Monday, August 26, 2013
Monday, August 19, 2013
Tuesday, May 28, 2013
That’s right: Brother Mark has left the building.
The stated reason for my decision was that the demands of my secular job (the one that actually pays real money) was hindering my ability to adequately perform the duties of my ministry job (the one that cost me twice as much in taxes and gas money than I was being paid.) While that is true, several people asked if that was the only reason for my decision to vacate that position. My only answer to that is a phrase that has served me well during those 37 years in the ministry: “That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.”
(For the record: If “lay” person means someone who can lay in bed on Sunday morning instead of being in the sanctuary before God wakes up, I now understand why folks want to be lay people.)
I will admit that I have really missed being in the pulpit the last three months and there have been some withdrawal symptoms. I occasionally try to get our four dogs to sing a quartet, but they end up wandering off to randomly mark their territory; a problem I actually had with several choir members over the years. Also, on the Sundays that I’ve stayed home I completely lose track of what day it is and I forget that I need to try to beat the Methodists to Panera Bread.
One of the main things I miss is that I started every service by introducing the “theme” for the day with a story. My reason for doing this is that I tried my best to preach the entirety of our pastor’s sermon in three minutes. I did this because:
1. When I was successful, it annoyed him, and that made me happy.
2. To prove that all sermons can be preached in three minutes or less and the rest is just fluff.
The real question now is whether or not I’m going to make a good church member. To be honest, I don’t really have a good answer to that question yet. Whether or not I end up being in a pew every Sunday or being someone who goes to brunch at Piccadilly’s at 10:00 a.m. and then goes home to watch PGA golf remains to be seen, but I’m going to give it my best shot.
There are some things about being a civilian I am looking forward too. For example, I can actually say what I think now. If you think that church staff people can actually say what they think, you are probably riding the short buss to Sunday school. To be somewhat free of the bonds of church politics excites me, and makes my pastor very, very nervous. I’m also looking forward to randomly sitting in pews that church members have had staked out for decades just to watch their heads explode because they can’t stand change.
Yes, Brother Mark has left the building, and I miss him...
...and I don’t.
Wednesday, December 5, 2012
Tuesday, October 25, 2011
I remember the fall of 1980 being warm and dusty in southern Oklahoma. The leaves that were supposed to be at the peak of their color during the last week in October had instead turned brown from lack of water and littered the ground like millions of dead locust.
In retrospect, I should have seen the withering foliage as a metaphorical harbinger of things to come, but I was too preoccupied to notice. I was 22 and had graduated from college that spring with a degree in Church Music. A month later I was called as the “Minister of Music and Youth” at the largest church in a very tiny town.
I should have guessed that something was up at this church when the pastor refused to call me by my name and instead spent my entire tenure there referring to me as “college boy.” I discovered later that he had dropped out of school in Jr. High. I certainly didn’t care, but it was clear that he did. Proud of my newly acquired moniker, I jumped into my responsibilities like the zealot that I was.
The rule among protestant churches in the south at the time was that Youth Ministers were to host an event after every home high school football game and that event was to be called a “Fifth Quarter.” I did not make up this rule, but I followed it religiously (har). For homecoming week I decided to combine the Fifth Quarter with an equally revered institution called a “Lock-In." For the uninitiated, a lock-in is an all night party in which the teenagers are locked inside the church building in much the same way the clinically insane are locked inside an asylum.
I was determined that my first lock-in would be the greatest lock-in in all of recorded Youth Minister history and I began planning accordingly. I rented the high school cafeteria to hold the event in. I hired a Christian Rock-Band and a Christian Magician (In case you’re wondering, a Christian magician still pulls rabbits out of a hat, but the rabbits have been baptized.) I had arranged for movies and tons of food and I put out the word and hoped kids would show up, and show up they did.
Perhaps it’s only because there was nothing else going on in this one stoplight town but pretty much the entire high school showed up. We had 176 teenagers spend the night in the high school cafeteria. That may not sound like a large number for many churches but that was significantly more than the average Sunday morning attendance at the church.
The town had a large African-American population. I had been told when I was hired that there was some racial tension but I had not seen any real indication of it. The mix that night was about 50/50 between black and white students. The event ended the next morning with me thinking I was a cross between Billy Graham and Martin Luther King Jr. I had not only planned and hosted the highest attended event in our churches history, but I had single handedly healed any racial divide in our community.
The kids left at 7:00 a.m. and after cleaning up, I stumbled home and into bed about 9:30 a.m. At 10:00 a.m. I was awakened by a phone call from the chairman of the youth committee. He said the committee had called an emergency meeting and that I was to be there at 11:00 a.m. I went to the meeting thinking that they were going to give me a medal for being the greatest Youth Minister in the history of the congregation, but that’s not exactly what happened.
I walked into the living room of the chairman’s house and sat down in the only vacant chair in a pre-arranged circle. After an awkward silence the chairman finally spoke: “We’ve asked you here because we’ve decided that we can’t allow you to have any more activities like the one you had last night.” I was dumbfounded. “Why?” I asked. “We just don’t think it’s the direction our youth ministry needs to be heading.” “Why?” I asked. “Well, it’s just not what we think is in the best interest of our church.” “Why? I asked. (Even at 22, I knew when I was listening to bull shit and I thought if I asked the same question enough times I might finally get a real answer.) Finally a woman in the group, who also happened to be the church secretary, spoke up: “We don’t want them black kids thinking they can come to our church.” Finally, the truth had been spoken. (In reality, her English was probably better than that but I like to attribute bad grammar to her because it helps me continue to vilify her in my memory.)
My soul died a little that day, and that was probably the beginning of my bizarre love/hate relationship with the ministry. In the 31 years since then I’ve learned that there are assholes in all walks of life and in all professions but in that moment I was convinced that God had called me to the only church in the world that had mean people in it.
I know literally hundreds of people in the ministry and every single one of them have a similar story. That’s because churches are made up of imperfect people of which I am the chief among them.
This event in my life has been on my mind lately because I was sitting in the international service that my church launched recently looking at the faces around me. There were 11 countries represented and I’m pretty sure I heard at least that many languages being spoken in the hallways after the service.
During the service I kept thinking back 31 years to the moment in that living room when I heard the words “we don’t want them thinking they can come to our church.” Well, now “they” ARE my church.
And in that moment I’m pretty sure the part of my soul that died 31 years ago was restored.