Monday, March 06, 2006

Of all the people in the world...

I didn't think those at our Unitarian Universalist Society of Northampton and Florence would disappoint me. Though I'm hesitant to write about this online, no one over there seems to be listening to me, so I'm putting my opinion out here. Just over two weeks ago we found out during a service that the "lay leadership" and some of the members had come to something of an irrevocable decision to ask our minister to leave, while we had no idea there was even a problem. Suddenly we learn that our minister will be basically kicked out because of some complaints about his performance from certain members and board members. Now, I understand that there appears to be a significant number of these unhappy people, and since we interact with the congregation largely through Sunday services, I concede that there may indeed be areas that are lacking. I just don't know about them. Which is exactly what's wrong. There wasn't even a whisper of a problem (let alone a problem serious enough to fire the minister), despite months and months of this going on behind the scenes. Complaints now seem to be coming from everywhere, about the sermons, the pastoral care, program participation, the membership numbers, and the amount of annual pledges. Every issue is being blamed on our minister.
I want to point out that I, for one, love the sermons. Some complain they are too gloomy about the state of the world and our tumultuous times- wake up, people! We do live in a gloomy, tumultuous world right now, and our minister is exactly right to address the lies and deadly hypocrisy of our present government- he is minstering to a congregation of liberal, caring people who undoubtedly are troubled by the state of the world and the use of their tax dollars. I think the complainers are missing one or both of these things: first, that if they are not outraged, and scared, and sad about our current events then they are not paying attention, and second they miss the whole point of Jay's sermons- that each of us has the power to change the world and we should be hopeful and hardworking and faithful that good will win out. I have never been to a service by him where I did not leave with that hopeful and empowered feeling. Finally about the sermons, this is a UU! Lay people and guests are welcome to design and lead their own service with permission any time! If one is unhappy with the tenor of recent sermons, one should write a sermon of their own- this is not a religion for passive people.
Now, the stuff about pastoral care and program participation, I don't know much about, so I grant there could be a problem there. I do know, however, that our minister is responsible for a 500 member congregation- a huge and complex group of people. In fact, UUA rules say that our congregation should have two ministers. So it sounds to me as if he is being chastised for not being able to do the work of two people. All while he's sick and his mother was dying of Alzheimer's disease this fall. This is similar to the blaming of slightly lower membership numbers solely on him- as I recall, there is a Welcome Committee who is supposed to take care of visitors and new members- what I don't recall is any of those committee members saying a word to me until I finally bugged one of them about it after attending services several times. Maybe other people are also responsible for membership numbers? Like the pledge drives- perhaps the lower amount of money being pledged to the society has something to do with the fact that we are in recession! While not everyone is having a hard time financially, I know a lot of people who are, and I really don't think it's fair to put the blame for a poor economy and unbelievably high heating costs here in the Northeast on the minister. Second, I think the Canvass Committee asks too much. They were actually publicly disappointed that 113 "member units" (families) only contributed $200,000. They wanted $300,000. Excuse me, but exactly what family around these parts has $3,000 to just give away?! It doesn't exactly make me feel good about our piddly little $240. Who do these people think they're soliciting, and why is this our minister's fault? Arrrrrgh!
The worst part, though, is not even about the minister. It's that there is no reason whatsoever that any member should have been unaware of what was going on until an irrevocable decision was made without them. None. There are all kinds of excuses being offered, about meetings that were held (entitled "minister appraisal and congregational self-assessment" not "we need to decide whether or not to fire the minister), trustees calling members (nobody ever called us, that's for sure), and two other UUA ministers being called in to listen to members (as in the very unhappy members who somehow knew about the decision while we happy members did not). I think this whole thing is incredibly unfair and even deceitful- I cried after the last service because I just couldn't focus on it or trust the people around me. After really growing to love the place, this is hard, because if they don't at least rectify the process so that it doesn't happen this way again, I don't think I can go back. This all brings up awful memories of the UCC church of my upbringing ousting the wonderful minister we had there because she stuck up for our gay organist. I know it's not the same thing- it's not homophobia- but it just harkens back. And we're getting married there! I really hope this unique society of individuals can work it out- we're unitarians, after all.


derangels said...

is there any way to redress grievances in the UUA "rules"? can you get a petition or some such going among members such as yourself who are unhappy or at least surprised at this decision? or you could write them a letter stating your concerns and urge others to do the same. i agree that the congregation at the very least deserves a little more in the way of explanation (ok, a lot more).

anyway, just my 2 cents. hope things get better!

starevelina said...

Thanks. I wrote a letter to the Board of Directors, President, and Committee on the Ministry, and we've been exchanging emails with another supportive member of the congregation who actually went to one of those meetings not long ago. If it all really goes downhill, I might try the Greenfield UU. They'd be closer anyway... we'll see. -Kate-