Saturday, September 12, 2009

A Tale of Four Emails ...

This is Lingelbach United Church. It stands in rural Ontario on the north side of Hwy 7&8 between New Hamburg and Shakespeare. The year 2010 will mark Lingelbach's 170th Anniversary as a worshipping community. The year 2010 will also mark Lingelbach's LAST year as a worshipping community.

In the grand scheme of things, the pending closure of Lingelbach United Church is just the loss of yet another rural pastoral charge that can no longer sustain itself. But on a personal scale the loss of this worshipping community renders me completely homeless spiritually.

Kitty corner to the Lingelbach Church is the Cemetary where my father, my uncles, my cousin, my grandparents, my great-grandparents and numerous members of my extended family rest. Across the road from Lingelbach, opposite the cemetary is the rolling farm that my paternal family called home for close to 150 years before it passed from our family hands ... Lingelbach is where my Grandparents were married, my father was baptized, my parents were married, my brother was baptized, my father was buried, I was dedicated in the Evangelical United Brethren Church, my grandparents were buried, and my extended family marked all of life's passages from burials to baptisms to weddings, and attended Church, Sunday School and other special events for decades ...

And soon, it will be yet another foot note in history ...

As I learned of Lingelbach's fate joining the other significant sanctuaries in my life that have moved from real to memory, I read an astounding column from Michael Coren in the Toronto Sun. Coren wrote of the election of the new Moderator for the United Church, noting the failure of the Church to be a Church.

Read the article by clicking here.

I was struck by the line in Coren's column that read:

"Behind the smiles and the hugs is a nasty, exclusive ideology that speaks of tolerance and love but is in fact rigid and harsh."

When I read that line I laughed and I cried ... it rings too true, and for many of the folks in the United Church, particularly the leadership - they fail utterly to see the truth of this statement. A statement offered by a voice from OUTSIDE. We ignore such warnings at our peril.

I wrote Mr. Coren to thank him for his thoughtful and thought-provoking piece and received a prompt reply. Coren noted in his email to me: "The response to my column from the United Church was quite abusive. Says a great deal."

Yup. Abusive replies from within the Church who would all fociferously deny that they are nasty, exclusive, rigid or harsh doesn't surprise me in the least. I've lived that journey for the last three years, and any time I open my mouth, or put words to "paper" that imply that the response is swift, brutish and nasty.

The notion of owning up to the short-comings of the Church is simply and utterly lost on the leadership, both lay and clergy, in the United Church of Canada. Yet the evidence of this reality is compelling and enormous.

Some of this evidence arrived in my inbox within minutes of the reply from Mr. Coren when I recieved an invitation to the ground-breaking for the new Minnedosa United Church.

Aside from wondering WHY??? I had to shake my head in sadness.

Minnedosa United Church has become a shadow of its former self. The planned building is a fraction of what could of, and would have been if JUSTICE had prevailed instead of a biased, one-sided dog and pony show that was designed to remove me and appease a toxic leadership that had once again decided it was time to heave a minister who could not be tethered and controlled by them ... Instead of wrestling with the inter-generational conflict and toxicity that marks Minnedosa United Church, the Church took the easy road and piled the sins and misdeeds on MY shoulders and drove me out into the wilderness ...

The proof of this was underscored in a third email I received today from a friend in Minnedosa who chronicled the repeating pattern of a "gentleman" in Minnedosa who is nothing short of a toxic Drama Queen who has become very edept at blaming everyone else for his failures and short-comings rather than taking a much needed look in the mirror and owning his crap. Once again, rather than owning his responsibility and involvement in the miserable outcome of his life, he is again blaming someone else for what's wrong in his life - choosing to spread his toxic nonsense around by trying to destroy the reputation and life of another person ...

As I read the email I couldn't help but think of the line delivered by Kevin Klein in "My Life as a House" when he notes of his character's father "It didn't matter how small he was, he had to tear me down lower than he was ..."

This clown falsely blamed me for everything that was going wrong in his life instead of going and getting the help he needed and his wife and children deserved. He was instrumental in destroying my reputation and my career by falsely accusing me of things ... I am pretty sure he was responsible for the violence against my house, my van and my person ... and he was quietly supported by the leadership of the Church who not only listened to him, but actively encouraged him, all the while denying any contact and/or involvement with him ... and when the moment came when the Board and Leadership of the Church SHOULD have stood up and said - "Enough, this is false and we'll have none of it ..." THEY instead shrugged and went on spreading these rumours, and falsehoods at the curling rink, the hockey rink, coffee row, and wherever they could find an opportunity to spread their salacious crap.

And ALL the while, the Greater Church did nothing ... they chose to ignore the blantantly obvious, and continue to pretend Minnedosa was fine and the problem rested solely on MY shoulders ...

Well people of the United Church - today we have proof that the source of information about ME is clearly a deeply troubled and likely disturbed individual who is STILL spreading lies and nonsense about ANYONE who he deems "responsible" for his pathetic existence. The good Church folks who listened to him and his family, and who took what they had to say seriously should be deeply ashamed of themselves, and should be asking some hard questions of themselves, their leadership and the outcome of the kangaroo court that began by noting many pre-existent problems in Minnedosa and ended 48 pages later by blaming me for EVERY problem past, present and future ...

Then came the fourth email, from one of the few colleagues I respect and love in the United Church. They noted dryly of my reply to the invitation to the Ground Breaking in Minnedosa:

"Your bitter bone is poking through. Sorry about that but this is one of those times when you have to lose your life to find it, I think. Let it go and bless them in their efforts. God doesn't judge nearly as harshly as you do."

I'll own that my bitter bone is poking through.

AND I know why.

I can look back on a 40 year history with the United Church and count too many moments when the Church has utterly failed me ... my home congregation of Centennial United Church in Stratford was simply awesome. They were a rag tag group of loving and lovable mis-fits who
wrestled with thier demons and struggled with their issues and at the end of the day LIVED THEIR FAITH with humility, love and care. They set me up for failure because they were NOT like any Church Congregation I've encountered since save one.

Since then I've been battered, beaten and bloodied by the United Church, and through it all I've picked myself up, wiped my wounded, and gone back in the fray committed deeply to the Gospel and to sharing my faith through the Ministry I've been called to. And every step of the way the Church has repeatedly failed me, itself, the people I've been ministering amongst, and those who seek something more than warm pink fuzzies from the Church ... and instead of doing ANYTHING to address those failings the Church blames me for having expectations that are TOO high, or denies its mis-deeds and failures.

I remember being TOLD that I couldn't preside at a wedding happening days after my disciplinary process had begun because "rules are rules." The outcome of that daft decision by the powers that be, was not justice. It was adherence to an archaic rule that left a Bridal couple, their family and over 300 friends and family members laughing at the STUPIDITY of the United Church ... Any outreach among that group of close to 350 people would now be pointless. They've witnessed what the Church is about, and they want NONE OF IT.

It is this very thing Mr Coren is speaking of. So obsessed with the latest cause, fad or how-to-process, the Church has lost sight of its mission to be the living Body of Christ to the World.

Rather than wrestling with the cries from the margins, and hearing the prophetic voices amongst us, the leadership instead demonizes those who ruffle feathers and who make the status quo untenable, and we drive out those who won't simply play nice.

Instead of seeking justice - true earth shattering justice - we smile nod and do NOTHING.

My reply to my colleague was as follows:

One day I would like you to read the Friedman book Generation to Generation - AND - some of Bruggemann's stuff on prophetic preaching ... when you read Friedman ask youself 'what could Presbytery have done DIFFERENTLY in Minnedosa ?' that wouldn't have left half the community and congregation sighing and saying - "here we go again ..." while the SAME three or four families invoke THEIR will on the rest of the congregation ...

My bitterness is about the FAILURE of the Church at ALL levels to truly wrestle with the issues that were unfolding in Minnedosa ... I was the lightning rod - NOT to sole problem ... I did what was asked of me - but NO ONE else was CALLED to task for thier sins ... where's the justice in THAT?

I had people --- standing in thier self-righteousness judging me ... the whole concept of speck, log and eyes comes into play ...

I bore my sins ... I still bear my sins ... I've been driven out like the good and dutiful scapegoat, and like J.H. said - the difference between me and the biblical scapegoat is that I refuse to bear my load with graciousness and subservience AND I refuse to just wander off and die ...I'll gladly bear my sins - I've taken my lumps, I've watched as almost everything has been stripped from me ... but I WILL NEVER stand silently while others who are equally culpable and responsible are left free of consequences.

Minnedosa deserves better than it has gotten. ---- has been co-opted by the very process -- should have been confronting - but then -- is of the opinion that Friedman and his view of the generational transmission of conflict and victimizing doesn't happen in the UCC - and sadly they are NOT alone ... --- shares that view as do others ...

I will say it AGAIN - listen to the voices of those who are broken and hurt by the "good church folks" in Minnedosa and hear what they have to say ... Gord Turner outlined in his work in the 80's when he struggled with the concept of "outside looking in" - and listened to the stories of hurt, alienation and outright ABUSE that drove people away.

The Church is NOT a democracy.

Just because a small segment used fear and gossip to prevail doesn't make them right. Just because they are still the Board doesn't make them just.

The Church is about being faithful - and God's judgement is harsh - read the Prophets, read Jesus' own words - read Rabbi Heschel ... a church that tries to pretend everything is warm and pink and fuzzy WILL die ...

Sometimes we have to be harsh to be faithful ... we of the UCC have generally forgotten that - we've become a nice country club for complacency that says swilling a couple of bottles of wine every night in your hot tub is fine and NOT problematic and NOT a sign of alcoholism and dysfunction ...

Instead of holding a morality everything has become relative ...

Funny, but when I read the Scriptures, I don't see a relative Gospel - I see a Gospel that calls people to transform their lives, their relationships and the world to what GOD wants, not what our egos want ... but that's just me.

Today I'm in a good place ... the four emails I've received over the last 24 hours have shown me that the Truth WILL in time prevail and those who believe they have been faithful and loyal will be surprised ... My one regret is that Minnedosa and Minnedosa United Church was never given the help it needed and deserved to overcome the hurt and grief that has marked the last twenty or thirty years ... If the United Church was truly a place of tolerance, acceptance and faith Minnedosa would be breaking ground on the building they DESERVE not the building the current Board and Leadership can afford ...

Me thinks they ousted the WRONG folks ... but what do I know ... I'm no longer welcome in the Inclusive and Friendly United Church !!!

Fortunately, all of this in the hands of the Holy Spirit ... thanks be to God !!!


Adam said...

I should say that I really love how you look at the Church. To me it seems as though you take Holy Scripture seriously and aren't afraid to show the Church its own magic mirror to its own face. It's a peculiar tradition that we belong to in which we're supposed to pull the log out of our own eye before noticing the speck in yours.

Thanks for this note.

Anonymous said...


I never thought I would see you throw your support behind Michael Coren. His regular commentary about the world and Canadian society is racist, sexist and nasty. He stands behind ideas that you would have vociferously lambasted in the past.

Your anger and bitterness have blinded you. Your resistance to God's healing seems to cause you to lash out at anyone who tries to engage you in discussion.

If in fact you once loved the people of Minnedosa it seems to me it is time to recall that love and wish them well, move on, and find a future - as they have - and let go of the past.

Someone once said - can't remember who - if you cuddle a poisonous snake you will will soon be injected with the poison. Let the snake go.

shawn said...

Hey anonymous poster ... I still have great love for many of the people in Minnedosa. Those who have NOT been held accountable for thier behaviour and their complicity in what has transpired - I have no affection for. Those who have allowed the toxicity to continue to fester untreated - I have no affection for. Those who hide behind anonymity and claim to offer dialogue when they seek only to pour oil on the waters and PRETEND that things are fine and wonderful - I have no affection for.

One need not be in full agreement with someone to value their ideas.

I have no affection for many of Coren's ideas, but in this column he hit the nail on the head.

The poisonous snake being cuddle here is not being cuddled by ME ... look closely at the history and patterns and habits of Minnedosa ... the poisonous snake lies there, not in finding truth in a single column by Michael Coren.

I admit that I am hurt and still angry - but my anger is at those in the Greater Church who will cast a blind eye on the unfaithful toxicity that continues UNCHECKED in places like Minnedosa. For a Church that claims to be all about justice, the United Church can nary see the log in its own eye.

I have reason to be hurt and angry - what happened to me was UNJUST, BIASED, and incredibly ONE-SIDED - and NO ONE in the United Church will own up to it and the response is consistent - "Move on."

Funny, I remember Willie Blackwater lamenting the SAME treatment when he came forward with his story of abuse in Alberni - my lesson here is that if we can't embrace and love and care for someone as horridly wounded as Willie, I shouldn't expect fair and just treatment either ...

HOWEVER, I WILL NOT GO QUIETLY ... justice, even in the small things demands accountability, and thus far there has been none invoked on the OTHERS involved. The 333/363 clearly outlines THAT.

But then, My anonymous poster - I DOUBT you can see that because you are so focused on keeping the warm pinky fuzzy crap perpetuated ...

J said...

While I'll reserve comment on the dialogue of this post, I did want to comment on your picture of the Lingelbach church.. it's absolutely beautiful. I'm sorry for you for the loss it represents.

Euonymus said...

"when I received an invitation to the ground-breaking for the new Minnedosa United Church.

Aside from wondering WHY??? I had to shake my head in sadness."

I have to shake my head in sadness to think that you can't find any joy in your heart the time you spent in that community. For you to throw it all out as garbage seems like you're cutting your nose off to spite your face.

You not showing up tells me two things that
1) you're not over it (your bitter bone might be more than one)

2) you're not willing to be the bigger man. Can't you go to model Christian compassion and forgiveness?

Or don't. What do I care?

Anonymous said...

you couldn't perform a wedding?

big whoop in the grand scheme of things. if you would were in jail, you wouldn't have been able to perform it either. or sick and in hospital. just because you have someone to blame, doesn't make it better, and it doesn't help you sleep at night.

"Today I'm in a good place ..."

not from what I see

shawn said...

What great pastoral care and understanding gets extended by the anonymous posters around here ... I can ONLY HOPE they are NOT in positions of care and responsibility for others ... gawd help those who are given such supportive and understanding counsel ...

For the record - not that I feel compelled to defend myself - I can't and won't be attending the ground breaking because I will be busily ministering in an other community and an other denomination, and couldn't go even if I wanted.

I also can't celebrate the outcome of a biased process that has left OTHERS hurt and wounded and badgered into silence ... I'm glad others can check their conscience at the door - I CAN'T and WON'T - EVER.

As for the wedding ... hmmm, when you've planned for two years with someone who has for over two decades been a friend and family member only to be told "NOPE" within DAYS of the CEREMONY, for no good reason except archaic rules that were being unevenly imposed, there is reason to be ticked ... the Church triumphant showed its care in THAT ONE.

But as the anonymous comments clearly show - if you won't quietly obey the rules and go along with things the "way they are" you are no longer regarded as one of the "family" ... pastoral care in such a setting is remarkable - "suck it up ... get over it ... move on ..."

Now I understand what Willie and his sisters and brothers went through ... when the church can't offer care and WON'T say "I'm sorry" it is no longer being faithful to the Gospel ...

I stand on the Gospel and I can sleep well at night, I am supported by many who have been hurt by the UNITED CHURCH OF CANADA and its wonderful inclusivity, AND I can look in the mirror and KNOW I've been faithful to my calling ... I've been rejected by the Liberal, Open, Caring and Inclusive United Church of Canada, and in THAT I am NOT ALONE ... I wonder what that reality says about the United Church???

Anonymous said...

shawn, again, when i see you model pastoral care and understanding, care and responsibility, then maybe i'll learn enough to teach others.

"I can ONLY HOPE they are NOT in positions of care and responsibility for others"

ditto :)

Euonymus said...

"I've taken my lumps, I've watched as almost everything has been stripped from me ... but I WILL NEVER stand silently while others who are equally culpable and responsible are left free of consequences."

Seems to me in that Gospel you're standing on, someone took the lumps of the rest of the world, and didn't shame or guilt or blame the rest of his friends that were just as guilty for inciting change in their culture.

Not that you have a Christ complex or anything.

I still don't think I care.

Anonymous said...

You certainly love attention Shawn

Anonymous said...

this does beg the question of those who have been hurt by your bitter, angry words. Those colleagues you accuse of not standing on the Gospel, those who call warm, pink and fuzzy having never heard what they have to say Sunday after Sunday.

Of course there are no conflicts that are one sided and your assertion that you are the only one who has been hurt or called to account in the situation in Minnedosa or other pastoral relationship of which you have been a part is patently untrue.

Let it go. Move on. The scab isn't getting smaller, it's growing and growing.

shawn said...

And the JUDGEMENTAL United Church opinions (every one of them offered anonymously) weigh in ... I always marvel at the ferocity United Church people have when they can hide their identity and are NEVER held accountable for their two bit opinions based on lies, rumours and innuendo and topped with gossip and a whooping big "woe is me" pity party.

Over and over the very things I've maintained about the Church are reinforced and revealed.

Thanks to my anonymous posters for their petty opinions and input. You gave me my smiles for the night !! Too bad you're SO WRONG.

Anonymous said...

Me thinks that you should leave the United Church. You seem to be so angry with it. On the other hand, you seen so angry with the church you seem to say you love -it's probably better that you stay there. Who else would want to put up with you?

Anonymous said...

Well, Shawn... commenting on this blog is certainly all the rage. Is 12 a record for 48 hours? You know that I've held off for years now responding on your big issue, but as I see your anger being sustained rather than diminishing perhaps it's time for a few words.

Your sweeping disdain for all the churches and most of the church members you've encountered since Centennial saddened me. "They set me up for failure because they were NOT like any Church Congregation I've encountered since save one."

I recall your early Ministry in Bella Coola with great fondness; the latter part, maybe not so much. You embroiled yourself in issues which sometimes caused more harm than good, and rejected any efforts of counsel from some of us who have lived longer and perhaps knew a little more than you did. Many of the good, gentle people of our church were afraid of you -- or at least of your reaction to any real or imagined criticism.

Are we now part of the great lump of "self-righteous", "complacent", "warm - pink - fuzzy crap" that you rail at fairly often? Many people who aren't able or willing to take up your cause are not bad people; but I think with you Shawn it's the old "if you're not with me, you're against me". I bet I could really get you going if I mentioned that this attitude was one of the (many) things I detested about George Bush (so I won't go there).

I understand why you are so reluctant to "move on" and why you get tired of hearing that suggestion. At the same time I do question your "I'm in a good place" statement, when every challenge of your statements and attitude is met with a vitriolic response.

I wonder if you've read "Walking After Midnight: One Woman's Journey Through Murder, Justice & Forgiveness" by Katy Hutchison.

At first glance, there's seems to be little connection; but if you've suffered the ultimate hurt for which you would want retribution -- the parallel is obvious.

Years ago, when I wanted to sue a particularly nasty man who had defamed me, a very good friend gave me some very good advice: whenever you make a public issue of defamation, you usually lose more than you gain. The defamation becomes fixed in people's minds -- the defence not as much. I met that friend when I started high school fifty years ago, and he still gives me good advice.

None of this is intended to excuse the bureaucracy of the United Church, with whom I've had many differences. But as a result I've resigned from "official" church positions and led worship instead (in fact, one of your "meditative moments" gave me inspiration). It's been much more fulfilling than constant frustration at the dumbness of the decision-making processes and lack of administrative common sense.

Nevertheless, I believe, and will continue to believe, that the United Church is still the best there is. Is it the best it could be? Well, you got me on that one Shawn.

So even if Google Blogger rejects my password as usual, and labels me "anonymous"....

I remain,
John Morton.

bill said...

Wow, you sure do lump all us United Churchians together in being JUDGMENTAL (for goodness sake man if you're going to yell something at least spell it right). And especially in this case, after reading this post and YOUR comments, is this not the pot calling the kettle black?

shawn said...

John ... your note I can and will respond to ...

To much of what you've observed I can only say - Yup.

I'll own my part in this and in other conflicts - but accountability can never be onesided.

thanks for taking the time and for offering this ... I DO appreciate it.