A New Azimuth
By Web Ruble
Web writes: "Having been a lay leader for more than 30 years at my suburban church, I have migrated to the inner circle. I have witnessed and felt a pastor's disenchantment, disappointment and agreement to resign. I both favor it and not like it."
Looking out the window he could see the traffic on the Schlecter Boulevard.
Life goes on, he mused.
From his office perched on the bluff above the road cut he could see East Multnomah County life as it is and probably always will be in the future, even though it hasn't always been so in the past.
He DID take reflective moments like this now and then. Perhaps he needs to take more.
The Rev. Nathan T. Carrington, pastor of East Meadows Presbyterian Church, seldom has paused for such congregational navel gazing, as he is break-neck busy. Going here. Doing this. Going there. Doing that. Yet the congregation has complained -- some members have done so vehemently.
He simply wasn't doing the job, they said.
Never mind the high-quality, soul-stirring, entertaining, modern-tinged (non-traditional and somewhat expensive) music he often imports for Sunday services.
Never mind the fact that he has gotten far more ink in the press about the church (and himself), than the church ever has had.
Never mind the meet-'em-where-they-stand charismatic sermons that has smacked parishioners in their soulful dustpans.
Never mind a modern approach to the Gospel in line with today's living. Never mind the exhaustive drag of "old-bones parishioners" into the lively, bright realm of the 21st Century.
However, no matter how he rationalized, there was voluminous complaining. Why?
Oh, he had heard parishioners say he did too much night club singing and too much work on Portland's Planning Commission, and too much of bringing the Gospel to the heathen by playing rugby for a team called Dead Bawdy House. Moreover, as one friendly parishioner had said, the Rev. Carrington also has talked too much about it from the pulpit.
He has had a good 15-year ride at the helm of forest-fringed, cathedral-like East Meadows, with leaded windows, vaulted roof, and a fireplace where congregates could warm their flagging soul, and chilly viscera on east-windy days.
Nathan Carrington had been able to light that fire and make a hit in the entire Portland area. He was quite popular among a handful of secular, jazzy entertainers across town.
The pastor of the off-white church just off the road that chucks beneath "the bluff" has envisioned becoming a sparkling persona in Portland entertainment, as negative old timers might have grumped. Well, he has sort of done that, marginally. After all, he has been known as "Nathan Nightlife," and "the Musical Minister" in some quarters.
He chuckled at that.
How has he been able to do all this, anyway?
Well, he mused, I've pushed aside some nerd-ly time-consuming duties, like keeping office hours (in the off chance that someone may want to pop in for a visit), visiting the lame, ill and the dying, and paying rapt attention to the ruling Session's constant demands to follow what I call the dusky Presbyterian Book of Order.
Look at what else is being done.
To accomplish all of that other nonsense, there simply isn't time. I want to do the essential charismatic stuff. Moreover, I'm reasonably paid for it. Though I haven't had a raise lately, it has given my family solid income while I seek God through music and charisma. It's been a good situation.
Now, however, it would appear that all of this is about to change. Toiletsville. Call it ecclesiastical re-plumbing.
The disenchanted of the ruling Session "went upstairs," a few months ago, contacting Presbytery. That overseeing body -- enveloping more than a dozen Presbyterian churches in the Cascades region -- dispatched a retired dude of the cloth and his dudette to take full measure of the situation.
The Presbytery couple surveyed congregates, collated the information, analyzed it, and finally produced a 30-page report. 'Twas not favorable to me at all. And it caused my wife to cry.
"Lousy ingrates," she sniffled, referring to the church's congregation. Well, that's not my exact reaction. However, I am a little disturbed.
I didn't want to get into dialogue with my detractors about it -- it would seem too much like whining and begging -- so I told the Session last week I would resign. It will be to our mutual advantage, mine and the church's. It saves church powers from forcing the issue in an ugly, non-Christian way. And it'll save me from probable embarrassment and humiliation.
However, it won't be to the church's advantage at first, as I will draw full pay and benefits for another half year.
The Session accepted my resignation -- so did the Presbytery even though I thought I had taken Presbytery biggies into my camp earlier. I reasoned: If I'm not wanted, there's no point in prolonging a sour situation. Then came the congregational meeting, and the reaction to my resignation was mixed. Nevertheless, the dye was cast. Out I go . . . after a few weeks.
It makes me sad. It sort of lines up as a failure. However, it allows me to progress into the political (planning) arena, and pursue my music ministry. Now I am free to do it (without feeling guilty and without being challenged about it), and it'll be full-gas ahead. Methinks there's a whole world out there, just waiting for my happy, grooving message in these troubled times.
However, I seek counseling on attitude. Maybe I'm missing something here.
I select the Rev. Jim Morrison, an old friend from Fuller Theological Seminary days who is retired from the Free Methodist Church of Milwaukie. He agrees to see me - over lunch. I select the place -- Helga's Divine Eatery. So we meet in the parking lot, exchange back slaps, don hallos, and enter in.
He chooses from the menu Helga's Divine Stew. I select St. Paul's Repentive Soup. We slurp and chew, and then get down to ecclesia.
I explain that in order to bring my truly brave, soul-saving message, "I have to push aside some of this archaic stuff that irritates in the deepest ancient bowels of the Presbyterian church. I simply don't have time. . ."
He interrupts: "What was the job extended to you? Was there a contract?. Did it spell out the specifics of the job and the expectations?"
"Er uh, yes," I say, "...it was all the traditional stuff. But I figured that once I bopped 'em (the congregation) in the tum with this beautiful, groovy, advanced musicale approach to the Gospel, they'd let go of the ancient. I was wrong, I guess. They're just too old bones."
"Well," he says. "One way or the other, you probably need to make some changes. For instance, has your sojourn with the rugby titans brought any converts or new members?
"None," I admit. "I am dropping out . . .for a variety of reasons. Me body aches and my knees are ready for the Smithsonian."
"Has your singing in those two night dives brought you any new attendees?"
"Two or three," I say. "They show in church -- sometimes -- on Sundays."
"How about veteran parishioners? he asks. "Have any of them left?"
"Oh yes," I say. "Seven or eight. And the humiliating thing is that some are my age. You might say the one or two have replaced the seven or eight."
"Hmmm," he says. "Sounds like tradition prevails. Well, it's too late to make adjustments now, anyway. You have to think future. My advice is to get out of the traditional pastor-like ministry and get into something else.
"In other words, search your soul - ask God -- about where you're supposed to be and what He wants you to do - THEN DO IT. Don't let anyone else interfere and argue you out of it."
"Gotcha," I say, flippantly adding, "sometimes I think I'd rather be in Hoquiam (on the Washington Coast)."
"Better than Aberdeen," Jim jokes, but adds seriously, "Truly, though, I'd rather be in the New Jerusalem."
(© 2012 Web Ruble – All rights reserved. Written material may not be duplicated without permission.)
Return To Christian Short Stories
Return to Praise and Worship Home Page