November 12, 2010

Cornucopia / Cynthia Dewes

It’s the Christian thing to do … and the Catholic thing, too

Cynthia DewesA dear Methodist friend recently told me about a growing rift at the church that she attends and loves. It seems that the new pastor there is trying to “modernize” their worship with increased technology.

Unfortunately, he is doing it at the expense of beloved traditions and without much tact.

For example, rather than produce a church bulletin to be handed out at each service, he puts a weekly church blog online. He does this even though at least half the people in his congregation don’t even own a computer. He is

unintentionally driving away the core group of his church. These are the folks who volunteer the most, who contribute the most money, and who most often represent the Christian faith in their community.

This is not a generational thing, although that is often the case in such disputes, especially over technology. Rather, it seems to be arrogance on the part of the pastor, as in “I know what’s best for you.” And it is also impatience on the part of the disaffected members of the church or even unwillingness to “give the guy a chance.”

My friend said she thought the Catholic Church does it better in such cases because parishioners do not choose or hire their pastors, something which is done at the diocesan level. While it is true that pastors are assigned to parishes, that can lead to other conflicts when pastors and parishioners are suspicious of each other.

After thinking about this, I decided that the problem—as it so often is—is one of authority. This is not just an American thing, although as a people we are historically opposed to authority.

My friend’s story sounded familiar since I have heard the same scenario expressed about situations in families, workplaces, schools, government or other communities we belong to. We tend to resist authority when we think it impinges on our needs or rights.

Of course, success in any organization comes only when those in authority are just, as God, the supreme authority, is just.

Like God, the Chiefs must consider the abilities, needs and aspirations of those whom they lead, and act accordingly. Those Indians who follow must consider fairly the reasons for the directions they are given. And finally, dialogue and compromise are essential between both.

This is the same dynamic that should exist in a family between spouses, and between parents and children. When family members are open with each other about expectations and decisions, they are apt to get along.

Secrecy leads to brooding over real or imagined slights, conspiracy theorizing and creating an atmosphere of suspicion. It just ain’t good for parents, children or relatives in general.

Naturally, all families are not the Waltons or the Brady Bunch, but if the desire for a wholesome life together is there, reasonable success will follow. The same is true of work environments, classrooms or church families. The Boss and the Worker Bee must act together.

Ditto in the Church, as my friend knows. While the pastor is the nominal leader of the congregation, he is still answerable to the authority of God and the mission of the spiritual community that he leads. And the parishioners are similarly subject to God’s plan for our salvation. On both sides, this includes listening with love to the other and praying always to follow God’s will.

One of the greatest joys in life is harmony, indeed love that is a reflection of God’s love, in our relationships with others.

(Cynthia Dewes, a member of St. Paul the Apostle Parish in Greencastle, is a regular columnist for The Criterion.)

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