Wednesday, May 30, 2007

I think I have arrived

I think I’ve arrived. Sunday for the celebration of Pentecost, we did a bilingual service. This is the 4th that we’ve done now and we seem to be getting the balance/rhythm right. (Once a couple years back I had talked with someone from Trinity Lutheran, whose pastor is Heidi Neumark—one of my pastoral heroes and examples, and he had said that it took them 6-8 tries to find the bilingual balance/rhythm that was right for their congregations. So I feel we are doing well and are right on track). We “co-preached”, something my senior and I had only heard of, but managed to pull of anyway and that proved to be inspiring and fun for each of us. Unfortunately, it meant the sermon was all in English, so I tried to compensate by providing a translated manuscript for our strictly Spanish speakers, so they wouldn’t be completely left out of the preaching experience. Nevertheless, the service seemed to go really well. People were participating. There wasn’t a mass exodus. And after the service in the pastoral reception line, there were lots of compliments about the service. I was thrilled!

Then came Tuesday. I was on the church campus putting up signs for a youth event coming up and had my dog with me. The woman, D, who runs our food pantry loves Taylor and took her from me, so I said I would come back for her when I finished putting up the signs. When I got back to the pantry there was another woman there (S, a member of the church) talking to D. I walked up and waited. The woman did not bother to look at me; she just kept telling D that she was leaving the church, she would not be tithing or attending though she wouldn’t be taking her name off of the roles,. (Read here for a general sense of how I feel about things like this). She said the Spanish in the worship service was just too much for her and that she simply can’t worship. (Please keep in mind we only do bilingual services every 8+ weeks—roughly 6 or 7 times per year). She clarified that she doesn’t have any problem with Latinos, just that if they refuse to learn English then they should be “over there” for worship. She’d be perfectly happy for them to use the chapel or the sanctuary for their worship, just as long as they don’t enter into her worship time with that language.

Now D (who is 88) has not been a huge fan of the bilingual services either. She doesn’t understand the Spanish and gets frustrated with how fast it goes. (We’ve tried to alleviate some of the confusion problem by having my senior speak in English and me in Spanish—so the two languages are easily distinguished because of the difference in our voices). But, D has tried to understand and support this act of hospitality in worship. She likes me and wants to support me in ministry, and she “ha[s] never had any trouble with Hispanics” so she’s willing to grin and bear it. In talking with S, D defended the service by advocating both that I am “really sweet” and that she “ha[s] never had any trouble with Hispanics.” S would hear none of it—after all she isn’t prejudiced, she just doesn’t like having their Spanish in her worship service. And she is convinced that if she were to go to “their service” that they would not make a similar effort to make sure she understood in English (it was at that point that I chimed in and said they would—that I had been offered such acts of hospitality all over the world and even when I was the only one who didn’t understand). That was the first time she looked at me, and I am not fully convinced it actually registered with her who I was. She kept talking after D’s remark that I was nice and said, “Well, we just don’t agree.” D looked at me and said, “Well, that’s not a problem, is it?” I shook my head no. S ignored both of us and kept talking, “She’s just too much for them to be the pastor of this church.” Huh.

That’s especially intriguing to me because “them” are a part of our church. The Hispanic ministry is not a separate denomination or even a separate church—we are all a part of HUMC. One church. When you hear such a comment about yourself (and are trying not to engage and hence tear down the person) you pretty much just get stunned. I listened to the two women until they finished their dialogue. (S is sorry it has to be this way, she won’t withdraw her name from the membership, she will find another church, and since she has been a member forever, she hopes maybe she can come back someday (i.e., that I will leave, the Hispanic ministry will be dismantled and all of this nonsense can cease)). S hugged D and left. D then returned Taylor to me and I went back to the office in my state of shock.

I can’t really tell you if I was more hurt personally/directly or more hurt indirectly for what she was really saying about my congregation. I was fortunate that DD, a fellow clergy and friend who shares our offices, was there and willing to listen. We talked for awhile and he passed on wisdom a seminary professor had shared with him: “When the people praise you, they aren’t praising you; they are praising God for what God has done through you. And when they criticize you, they aren’t criticizing you; they are criticizing God and what God has challenged them to do through you.”

After chewing on all of this for awhile, I realized that I should take her statement: “She’s just too much for them to be the pastor of this church” as a compliment. I think this is what I’ve been striving for for years now. You could, hopefully, fill in “them” with a variety of “types of people” and hopefully the statement would remain true. For, I would hate to be confused as too much for “us”, as that would mean I was continuing to be elitist, racist, sexist, and offering justification for the majority. (Now, not that I am free from the binds of these ‘isms. I think we all continue to have stereotypes and prejudices that lay latent until evoked by a particular situation. It’s the nature of the human condition. I’m not sure we ever get out from under all of the ‘isms.) But I would much rather be seen as siding with “them” than with S. (Though I do feel for her. I have had do struggle a lot with my own racist views and insidiously hateful notions. I have been in S’s shoes. The difference is I chose to endure the pain of being transformed rather than walk away to a simpler place).

All of that is the long way of saying, “I have arrived.” I am becoming the pastor I have prayed to be. (Though I am pretty sure that in my prayers I was not imagining how it would hurt to be such a woman).


net said...

If S doesn't show up for three years or doesn't financially support the church for three years, she can be "Removed by Charge Conference Action."

And may the church door not hit her behind on the way out.

It's not your issue. It's hers. Let her and God wrestle it out.

John Meunier said...

I don't share net's enthusiasm for swinging doors and backsides.

But, I wanted to offer my sense of joy and heartache at reading your post.

Keep up the good work and pray hard for God's help.