I have been a player for “Team Church” for over forty years. There have been several “victories,” some which even made me feel like a champion. However, more and more I wonder where the Church is headed, and why it chooses to do nothing about it. Many seem to recognize the institution know as “Church” is in a downward spiral. The main line churches seem to sit stunned and silent, not understanding why young people are frustrated with orgainized religion.
Young people have been telling us for years why they’re not at church, but the Church has been too defensive to hear them, too stubborn to consider a change. Young people have been telling us they are bored by Church, weary of the ruts and routines which define the focus on worship versus religion. They’ve made it clear they’re not getting what they need from the Church, at least nothing which might impact their daily lives. They’ve been upset with the Church for being hypocritical and self-righteous, or for their inability to address sexuality with openness or depth.
For every born-again Christian, there are others who have been badly scarred by the Church. Some of the damage has been caused by an inability to listen to doubts, answer questions, or respond to creative ideas for transformation. Other issues stem from those wounded by religious intolerance, with refusals to welcome, baptize, marry or bury. People are also put off by elite Church “cliques” who serve the Clergy more than the congregation. Mostly, I feel it is Church protocols which turn most off, members of congregations being treated more like children than spiritual beings.
When I retired from serving my home church, it was a difficult and troubling time in my life, having just lost my second wife after a long battle with an illness. In addition, I had begun caring for my ailing sister, whose health had become a “Demolition Derby.” One day, I received a call from the Bishop of my old church, a friend of mine, who asked if I could meet with him that day. At that meeting, I was confronted with reported “sightings” of me with some of my former parishioners. This was against Church protocol. Did I really do something wrong? Had I become an enemy?
I explained I had supper with a couple of high school students who needed college scholarship recommendations. I apologized if this broke any “rules,” but who better to write these recommendations than someone who really knew them. I was also confronted about a brunch I attended with five ladies from the church, with whom I had shared life and ministry with for over fifty years. I’d taken them out for a Christmas meal and to give them gifts, a practice I’d consistently done for years.
Protocol! Does it truly serve Jesus Christ? Does it truly serve the members of the congregation? I admit, I felt stymied by my visit with the Bishop, though I respected his role and awkwardness in having to “warn me” of my need to sever all pastoral connections. I even reminded him that I had just completed recommendations for both of his children. We both smiled and shook hands, but I could feel deep frustration building in me.
Was I truly interfering with the new Pastor? How could a new Pastor have written a recommendation for youth they simply did not know? Was the giving of Christmas gifts to folks who had helped pay for me to attend Seminary now taboo?
Like the Pharisees of old, whenever the Church gets caught up in keeping the letter of the law, the passion and compassion ceases to flow. The truth was, there were those at my home church who simply wanted me to disappear. I knew and understood the protocol, I just don’t believe protocol should come before loving and helping others in the name of Jesus Christ.
Too often, protocol seeks to prevent what seldom happens, and serves instead to arouse suspicion and inspire those who are looking for something wrong. Church needs to encourage adults to work out their differences rather than to argue over protocol. Nothing improved during my meeting the Bishop, nothing accomplished.
I am sure those who wish me to disappear will have a different perspective, and will cite protocol to support the accuracy of their critique. What I would say is, “Do you have any idea how many people are turned off to the church by using protocol as a door, not a window?
Young people have been saying for some time they have no interest in organized religion. In their eyes, organized equals too many rules, regulations, creeds, doctrines and dogmas, and not enough spirituality. Yet the Church keeps defending their structure, even as people are less drawn towards it. A little less protocol and a lot more loving would keep many churches open, possibly thriving.
I find it amazing how little forgiveness we see coming out of the Church. I fear this could be impacting relationships with those who left, claiming spiritual damage, but who are now seeking a possible return. What are the structures of forgiveness in the denomination? How are we encouraged within the Church to be a merciful body and people? Where is the polity which requires us to discuss and even debate the spirit of the Law? If there are any, they are seldom used or actualized.
I would have welcomed the opportunity to sit down with those from my old church who wished me to disappear, and discussed with them a way to find a middle ground. I was met instead with protocol, which has no heart, no soul, and fails to realize the raw pain I was in at the time. No matter what, I know that what would have happened would be more in keeping with the ministry of Jesus Christ, than offering the black and white correctness of those who hold the power.
Reverend William R. Grimbol has spent the past 30+ years helping people create and develop strong spiritual connections with loved ones and God. He is also a published author, with over a dozen books to his credit.