“Send lawyers, guns, and money” is a repeating lyric in a late 1970’s song “Lawyers, Guns, and Money” by Warren Zevon. Unfortunately it also seems to describe the current needs of our Regional Church – the Christian Church in Ohio. Not the guns part hopefully, but certainly legal advice, and definitely money.
I know that some of you have received one or another email from the Chair of our Regional Church Council lifting up part of the story. He is among those tasked with steering our Regional Church through some turbulent times, and it won’t be easy.
Few of the details have been shared – whether on the advice of lawyers or out of a sense of propriety - but as best I have been able to discern from my “out of the loop” position as a local church pastor in Akron, Ohio - the past decade or so at our Regional office has been allegedly stained by that age old and yet always popular mixture of the misuse of power and of money with a few other ingredients thrown in that I hesitate to mention. I don’t share this news lightly but sadly.
I’ll be honest – I have a whole lot of feelings about this situation – sadness, anger, outrage, disbelief, confusion, disappointment, and maybe even a bit of fear. Though not a member of any Regional Council or Committee, I wonder if I could have done anything to prevent it. I am still working through my emotions and my possible culpability. And I know that a lot of other people are sorting through this wreckage as well.
When such a thing happens – and supposedly occurs not once but for years – it speaks to more than one person behaving badly. It indicates that an entire system has failed to prevent such abuse. It also suggests to me that the cleanup from this situation involves a much more extensive remedy than a single staff member moving on.
I am reminded of the flooding that occurred in the town where I live in the summer of 2003. As a result of historic amounts of rainfall, torrents of nasty water containing some very bad things flooded many residents’ basements not once but twice. I remember people’s ruined carpets and other possessions piled high on the devil strip, and I also recall scrubbing our basement with bleach to try to remove the germs and the odor. But we had it easy – two local men, one a teenager, were killed by rising floodwaters. None of us felt truly safe until the city redesigned the sewage and storm drain systems to reroute the water if it ever came at that intensity. Yet even now when heavy rains come, we check the basement just in case.
I have the feeling that a thorough scrubbing is needed for our Regional Church – maybe more than once. And a redesign of our structure is needed as well so that such a thing doesn’t happen again. Yet even after a new system, I think we’ll need to check in from time to time just in case.
What does all this mean to us at the New Horizons Christian Church?
For one thing, it should serve as a reminder for us to be as open and transparent as we can possibly be especially in matters related to finances as well as other significant decision-making opportunities. Some of my colleagues in ministry have been surprised to learn that we publicly post our local church operating budget including salaries. I think that people have a right to know how their offerings are spent.
As far as our relationship with the Regional Church is concerned, our denominational structure is not a top-down system in which our Regional or General church leaders give us orders. Disciples of Christ have always been fiercely independent and even a bit suspicious of authority. We participate freely with other churches because we know that together we can create ministries that we cannot do by ourselves. Our Regional ministries to young people and children – especially our ministries at Camp Christian - are the most visible manifestation of our cooperation with other churches in Ohio. It is not yet clear how the troubles at our Regional office will impact our shared ministries, but we have been assured that Camp Christian will be open and running once again this summer.
Ministries of the Christian Church in Ohio have transformed my life. My experiences at Camp Christian helped lead to my call to ministry as well as connected me to Holly. We will celebrate 36 years of marriage in a few months. And our children have also been touched by Camp Christian as have many, many of the young people at the New Horizons Christian Church. For the third year in a row, we’ll be sending a large group to Camp this summer. It would be difficult to overestimate the positive impact that Camp Christian and other Regional programs have had on so many people especially young people.
I would ask that you keep our Regional Church in your prayers in the coming months. We are all part of the Body of Christ. As Paul wrote centuries ago in 1 Corinthians 12:26, “If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoice with it.” There is no quick fix for what has happened, and it will take time for the restoration of healthy behavior and healthy relationships. It may get worse before it gets better. But I am hoping for some better days ahead – some days of rejoicing ahead - even if it takes some time for those days to come.