Choirs and The Family Business (Part Two)

Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them.  Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant
 
 
When we left off in part one, it had become evident that the dad pastor had listened to untrue gossip and was determined to act upon it, even to the extreme of coercing one of his youth workers to make accusations against our children. My son was dating my friend’s daughter and the gossip was that they had begun a physical relationship. When the youth worker came back into the meeting room and admitted that he’d been pressured by the pastor to lie, all bets were off. 
The son assumed that the issue would be dropped. He somehow seemed to not grasp that the dad had pressured the youth worker to lie about our kids. But, the dad, even with the curtain now drawn back, would not be deterred. He told us that, for the good of the church we should force our kids to break up for six months so that the youth ministry workers wouldn’t look foolish. And, to this day, I really believe that he thought we would do it. He thought we would sacrifice our children on the altar of his church’s reputation. How surprised he was when we both said no. We would not make it look like our kids were guilty in order to make his church look right.
The dad still had a bullet left in his gun, though. “Ross,” he said. “it occurs to me that I have to start being very careful about who I allow on stage with me to sing before the message. I don’t want people in the congregation to be asking why I let people sing if they don’t agree with Biblical teaching on dating, marriage and the authority of the pastor.”
I didn’t respond. There was nothing to be said. He held all the power in this case. He’d made it clear that, if I didn’t cave, Liz would no longer have a ministry in song at his church.
This was on November 22. I remember that so clearly because he made a big show of opening up his Franklin Day Planner and saying, “I’m writing down that on November 22 you refused to obey the authority of your pastor.”  Liz was not asked to sing for quite awhile and I didn’t tell her why.  The winter and spring went by without Liz either singing or mentioning to me that she wasn’t. It seemed to not have an effect on her. The climax though, was when she didn’t sing on Mother’s Day. And, the pastor’s daughter did. Yes, he chose a single, childless family member to sing on mother’s day rather than have Liz sing.  He was punishing Liz for something she didn’t do and didn’t know about all because he was upholding the reputation of his church.
That was when I told Liz what happened. She was so hurt. “But, I didn’t do anything wrong! I’ve been praying all these weeks and asking God to show me the sin in my life that was disqualifying me. And it wasn’t my sin!”
No, it was his. he used the power he thought he was entitled to and waged war against my wife. He’d listened to gossip. The gossip was untrue. he tried to bully me. He hurt my wife. Not, in the name of Christ, but in the name of his church business. And who was there to make it right? No one. He answered to no one because he was the business owner. It was the family business.

How Was Your Lent?

I spent a lot of Wednesdays and Sundays in a church that really didn’t recognize Lent. The pastor preached instant forgiveness and promised that God could not even remember your sins once you confessed them mentally to Him. He preached about Lent, Confession, Penance, and other Catholic practices only to mock them. He had a special vendetta against Catholicism and preached against it often. Until I entered the Church I always bought the story that, for Catholics, Lent was a dark time. It was a time for self flagellation. You beat yourself up for your sins. I was taught that Catholicism provided no outlet for the forgiveness of sins.

After being received into the Church I began to see the beauty in Lent. I saw that Lent was also a time for deeper praying. Our Lenten journey was to allow us to walk closer to our Lord and to hold Him all the closer. We do that through those Lenten sacrifices and through a deepening of our prayer lives. And, alms giving. That’s such a beautiful and sacred part of Lent. and, so fitting that a church which shares God’s special love for the poor would prescribe a season of charity so that we might enrich our own hearts by giving.

Lent was always important to my mom and me. She was a single mom and took me to church often. She sang hymns around the house during the day and quoted Bible verses to me that, I now realize, were learned directly from her Small Catechism. She grew up in a Lutheran Orphanage, the daughter of a Lutheran minister.

Her father had a brutal effect upon her life. Not only was he a bad father, sending her and her twin sister to live in an orphanage, but he was a terrible minister. He was defrocked due to poor moral conduct and ultimately wound up working on the custodial staff of the very home where he’d sent his daughters. For some crazy reason, my mom grew up distrusting ministers. Even crazier, I think, she grew up without her faith in God shaken.

One Lenten Wednesday night my mom took me to church. The lesson was about Jesus’ agony in the garden. It was told using a slide show. I can remember to this day a slide that was shot from above, through the trees, of Jesus praying while the disciples slept a short distance away. Something stirred in me at that time. I still cannot put it into words but that feeling has stayed with me. Today, writing this and seeing the picture once more in my mind, I am stirred with a desire to walk with Jesus.

But, Lent was also a time of mild fear for me. I knew very little about it but I knew that there was a time during Lent where the congregation washed each others’feet. Believe me, I wanted no part of that!

It was during Lent of 2013 that my RCIA course drew near the close and I prepared to enter the Church. It was a turbulent time for me, a pretty staunch Protestant, as I came face to face with the reality of what the first fifteen hundred years after the Cross meant. I realized that, if the Holy Spirit was real, and in charge of guiding the Church into all truth, Catholicism had to be the right choice for me. Otherwise, I thought, the first thing the Holy Spirit would have done after being charged with leading us to truth would have been to guide us into error. That just could not be. So, during Lent, I took the plunge into the Tiber and swam to the other side.

It was as Lent ended in 2014 that I sat in our congregation on a Holy Thursday and was swept up to heaven in worship as the choir filled the church with beautiful notes. Those notes seemed to swirl upward toward the great vaulted ceiling and were joined there with angel voices. It was the most beautiful time I’d ever experienced in church.

And, this Lent is sure to be a special memory for me, too. As I was on the handshake line after Mass, my priest asked if he could have a word with me. Was I planning on coming to the Holy Thursday Mass? Even though I knew immediately what was coming next, I admitted that I was.

“Would you be willing to have your feet washed?”

 

 

 

Choirs, Churches, and The Family Business

I don’t want my wife to become a Catholic. Not, as in the Seinfeld episode, that there’s anything wrong with it. While she finds Catholicism to be meaningful and beautiful, she gets a personal fulfillment from another type of ecclesiastical community.

I’ve become a Catholic recently. But, that isn’t my heritage. My heritage, my lineage, is that of a Protestant. My mother was Protestant. My father was Protestant. My grandfather on my mom’s side was a Lutheran minister. It gets pretty muddled beyond that. Although I was baptized and confirmed as a Lutheran, growing up I went to a Methodist church. And, like any self-respecting teen, as soon as I was confirmed, going to church was over for me.

When I was a young adult, I began to feel a very strong desire to return to church. My wife, Liz, shared that pull. We didn’t know where to go at first but I remember saying that I didn’t want to waste our time by going to a church where the people weren’t “all in.” We decided to go to a nearby Assembly of God church. We had been married there and had no doubt that the pastor was fully committed to the Bible.

I was the only male younger than sixty in that church so, with the pastor’s support, we began attending (ultimately joining), an Inter-Denominational church. Our Assemblies pastor didn’t approve of that particular church but we were sure we new better. The twenty two years that followed were more like being customers of a family owned and operated business than being members of a church. And, for that reason, please cut me some slack when I describe my Evangelical Protestant experiences.  They come mainly from one, off the track, church.

This was a church that was formed when the founding pastor had a disagreement with the church he was pastoring. It’s actually a fairly stereotypical illustration of how many Protestant churches begin. There was a squabble (this one happened to be over money), and the pastor convinced 16 people from the congregation to come with him so he could start his own church in the basement of a bank. There, he could lead his new group unfettered, not controlled by anyone else. I was a member of three Evangelical churches during my 37 years as a Protestant. But this one, a family owned and operated enterprise, formed most of my understanding of Protestant churches. So, I do realize that the picture is clouded.  After the family owned one I went to two denominational churches, both within the Evangelical Free denomination. They were not too similar to each other, oddly. One seemed to be a traditionally styled EFC congregation and the other clearly borrowed the playbook of the independent one. One thing the three of them shared was a right leaning political position. They sang patriotic songs on US holidays. They had the United States flag on the “platform”.

Liz became a soloist at the first church as it grew. She was one of the very few singers in the regular rotation who was not a family member. I’m going to get a little “churchy” and say that, when she sang, the Holy Spirit moved. It was never a performance. What came out of her mouth on Sunday mornings clearly was more than the sum total of her ability. Grown men often wept, they were so deeply touched.

The church continued to attract new members and was about to outgrow the building they’d bought. They added onto it but the building was too small the moment the doors opened on each new section. My wife was ministering in song, I served as a deacon, and my son found his first girlfriend. And, that’s when the wheels came off and I first peeked behind the curtains and saw the wizard.

Someone in the youth group told a “youth worker” that my son and his girlfriend were going “too far.”  The youth worker did what was protocol in that church and told the pastor without confronting my son or his  girlfriend. So, the other father and I were called into a meeting where we were ambushed by the pastor, his son, and a few witnesses. The pastor presented his concerns and then two youth witnesses came in to tell of their fears. The pastor told s in grave tones that we, as fathers, must order our kids to stop seeing each other.

Perhaps it had never happened before but, the pastor was pretty shocked when both fathers refused to break them up. Just as he really began to heat up, one of the youth worker witnesses came back into the room and recanted! He said he’d been pressured into saying there was an issue when he really didn’t see one. even the son now realized that there were no substantive complaints about our kids. But, when he said that to his father the dad shut him down. obediently, he hushed himself.

What happened next was beyond the pale. Realizing that nothing untoward had happened between our kids and knowing that many people were aware that this meeting was happening (although we didn’t know) he tried a different tact. Rather than being the righteous judge, he petitioned us to break our kids up so the reputation of these two respected youth leaders would not suffer. That’s right! As loyal church members we were to make our kids appear guilty in order to protect the youth workers reputations, even after one had admitted that he was not telling the truth.

What happened next was really crazy. It’s the type of thing that could only happen in a church where the pastor is CEO and answers to no one.

Part Two is coming your way soon.