Friday, May 22, 2009

Little Big Foot: The Congregational Meeting

The Reverend Gene Young stood in the rear of the North Woods Chapel sanctuary gazing forward at the pews. A good number of people had come out for the meeting, and he noticed that the four deacons were all near the front and that each one's spouse was present. Good.

The long sanctuary windows were open to the late-summer breeze. The pleasant sound of crickets filled the room and a red-tinged sunset lit the sanctuary with a rosy glow. After the initial rustle of people entering, signing a roster, greeting friends and shuffling into pews, it had grown unusually quiet.

Deacon Jim rose from his seat on the aisle and moved to the front of the room, standing near the altar table at a lectern that two teenage boys had brought up from a basement classroom. Jim seemed relaxed. He rubbed the top of his head as he began to speak, but only his wife, Lorene, and a few who knew him well realized that he was not quite as composed as he would like. He welcomed the gathered congregation, thanked them for coming and called the meeting to order. He briefly prayed for God's blessing on the meeting that was about to commence and introduced their guest. He asked Brother Young to explain the evening's proceedings and to serve as the chair for the meeting.

Gene Young was in his mid sixties, with thick silver hair, a ruddy complexion, long arms and legs and large hands and feet. He also possessed a warm smile and affable manner that sometimes, along with his Texas drawl, concealed his brilliant mind. His blue eyes, wrinkled at the corners by years of sun and wind, missed little. He moved to the front and prepared to begin the meeting.

"What a beautiful evenin' the Lord has given us. And what a great turn-out! Thank you, friends, for taking the time to be here. We all are aware that this church has been without a minister for some time. Many have been praying earnestly for the Lord's direction as we go through the process of discerning who should be your next pastor. It has been a privilege and a joy to work with this great board of deacons." He paused to glance at the four men seated to his left. "Thank you, each one, and thank you to your lovely wives as well. I know you ladies have had to give up your husbands quite a lot more than usual." He paused, gazing intently at the congregation and then went on, "I hope all of y'all had a chance to meet Dee Anna Hanson a few weeks ago when she led your Sunday morning worship. I know that Lee and Jim have already reported to you regarding the Sunday they all visited Eastside Church in Madison. I have spoken at length with your deacons. I have also spoken at length with Pastor Dee Anna."

On the second row, hands clasped, sat Dennis and Marla Whitewater. Marla smiled and nodded slightly. Jim and Lorene sat near them. Chad sat just behind Dennis, looking intense, as usual, as he tossed his hair back from his forehead with a nervous gesture. "Dee Anna was right," Gene Young thought. "He really does look like a young Donald Trump." Next to Chad sat Lee and Mary Coats. Lee' s arms were crossed and Mary looked at her lap. He went on, "Most of you know that North Woods Chapel operates under what is called a 'congregational' form of government. This means that those of you who are members of this church will be voting this evening. Your deacons have had many questions for me and for Dee Anna Hanson, and they all know that some of you may have questions as well. Please be courteous." He spent a few more minutes talking about Robert's Rules of Order and outlining the agenda for the meeting. Then he walked to the front of the center aisle as he said, "I'll be frank. Reverent Dee Anna came here at my urging. As many of you know, she is the pastor of Eastside Methodist Church down in Madison. Her husband was the senior pastor there until his tragic death a while back. The congregation asked her to stay on, and she has done so, serving with distinction."

He stepped over to the pew were Jim and Lorene were seated and briefly put a hand on Jim's shoulder. "I suggested to your board that they invite Pastor Hanson to come in view of a call." He smiled as he added, "I suggested the same thing to Dee Anna, but she was not enthusiastic." A few people frowned slightly. "However, after several weeks of prayer, conversations, and a second visit with these men," he gestured towards the deacons, "she has agreed to consider serving here. As I said, the board had many questions for me, and there were some concerns." He paused, and took a deep breath. "However, they wisely decided to put the matter before you for a vote, after time for discussion." He stopped, allowing them to absorb his comments.

At the rear of the sanctuary, sat a group of about 15 teenagers. They were quiet and seemed to be listening carefully. There were several others who looked to be in their 20s. Brother Young was a little surprised to see so many young people present. There were some couples, a few people who sat alone, and a group of elderly women. Behind Lee and Mary Coats sat a couple who were both wearing overalls. A few people appeared to be Native American or perhaps Hispanic, a Black couple sat across the aisle from the teens. Two middle-aged women sat together on the front row. "An interesting bunch," thought Gene Young, as he asked for a reading of the roster. Next, he asked Dennis Whitewater to read a statement from the deacons. Dennis stepped forward and in his characteristically direct way began to speak. "I want to tell you that we did not come to this position hastily. We met at length. We were not all on the same page, it seemed." He looked straight forward, avoiding eye contact with any of his fellow deacons. "We agreed to a sort of compromise. We would meet with Brother Young here and ask him some specific things. One of those things was about the biblical stance on women preachers. After asking him many questions we decided to speak to Pastor Hanson once more. Then we went to Madison as I think you all know. We watched her with her congregation, took her to lunch, questioned her some more. We prayed, and prayed, and then we prayed some more. Only then did we determine, even though we were still not in complete agreement about everything, that it seemed the right thing to do to commend her to this congregation. Since things are a little unusual this time, we asked our brother presbyter here," he nodded at Gene Young, "to come as a representative of the district."

Dennis paused, and Marla nodded at her husband encouragingly. He went on solemnly,"In Acts, chapter 15, the early church had a problem. At first the followers of Jesus were all Jewish. But then many non Jews became believers. That was good, of course, but questions and disputes arose. Some people were upset that these new believers were not circumcised and did not follow the Jewish laws. The apostles themselves did not all agree about what to do with the Gentiles who were becoming Christians. The church was changing. At the end of what was probably some pretty heated debate, they decided to write a letter and send it out to all the people. Here is what they said, 'Therefore we are sending Judas and Silas to confirm by word of mouth what we are saying.' Dennis paused once more. "This is powerful stuff, I think. Listen to this next part...It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us." The people in the pews were silent, gazing at him. "Did you catch that? It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us. We believe that whatever else she may be, Dee Anna Hanson is a remarkable woman of great strength. We believe the anointing of the Holy Spirit was evident when she was here with us. We welcome your questions but we believe we must allow the Holy Spirit to guide us in what might be an unexpected direction. We are not certain what will come, but we believe that you, the people of this church, will try to do what is right. If we follow the leading of God, well, it will be good to the Holy Spirit and to us."

Dennis returned to his seat. He let out a long breath. He hadn't realized he'd been holding it. Marla squeezed his hand. "Good job," she whispered softly. Brother Young returned to the podium and after a few more remarks, he opened the floor for questions. There was a long moment of silence. Just as it was getting uncomfortable, a short blond man stood to his feet abruptly. "Well, I will get this started," he stated. "Somebody has got to." He glanced around for a moment, and then he looked at Brother Young." Why are we talking about a woman as our pastor? Wasn't there any man who wanted to come here?" Chad frowned and abruptly shifted in his seat. Marla glanced at Dennis. Mary twisted her hands in her lap. Lee remained expressionless, and Jim and Lorene both sighed quietly in unison, turning towards the speaker. Most in the congregation looked uncomfortable. A few nodded, and a few frowned. A teenage girl made a not-quite audible comment to the boy sitting next to her.

"Well," thought Gene Young, "might as well get right to it." Before he could speak the man blurted, "And another thing, why are we considering a...a Methodist? Those Methodists are all a bunch of liberals!"

"Well," said the chairman calmly, " let's take the second question first. I believe that in the question-and-answer session you had when she visited here, Reverend Hanson spoke about this with those of you who were present. Isn't that rignt" Several heads nodded. Pausing, he looked intently at the blond man, who sat down. "As I mentioned, her husband, Michael Hanson, was the pastor at Eastside. I met Pastor Michael several years ago." He stopped abruptly. "Brother Jim, please come to the podium. I would like to briefly turn the chair back to you. I would like to speak from the floor."


Auntie Knickers said...

Can't wait for the next installment! What struck me about this episode was the realization that all the deacons were men. When I was confirmed, we still had deacons and deaconesses (and guess who did the scut work), but by the time I was a grownup and back in church, deacons and all other church committees were coed. I can see the challenges in being a woman pastor with all-male committees.

Dorcas (aka SingingOwl) said...

I never attended a church in my life that had a woman deacon. My (former) church, Jubilee) was the first one. The church we attended before coming to Jubilee, and will likely be attending now, has one woman, but that happened relatively recently. A woman deacon is still a rarity, sadly. It was only relatively recently that woman USHERS started becoming pretty common.