Letters to the Editor
May 2001

 ‘Faithful, not excellent'

I do not believe in "excellent" congregations ("Churches named as excellent," March issue). I believe in "faithful" congregations.

Suzanne de Dietrich, one of the most important theologians of the 20th century, described what faithful congregations are like: Congregations with the humility to confess a) their little faith, their lack of vision; b) the sin of knowing God's Word and not proclaiming it with boldness; c) their readiness to accept half-truths and to be carried away by every wind of doctrine; d) their drifting into ease and compromise, becoming slack in the fight against evil. How grateful we can be for faithful congregations and pastors (there are many of them in the UCC), who have the grace to confess their weakness and to turn their faces to the One who brings renewal, refreshment and reformation.

The future of the Church is not tied to our "excellence," but to the grace which gives birth to faithfulness in things big and small.

The Rev. Frederick R. Trost
Middleton, Wis.

Evaluate the congregation

Regarding the article in April, "Don't evaluate your pastor as an employee," I've been in my church for going on seven years. I'm secure in my abilities and encourage communication with me. After some time, people are seeing that they actually can come to me directly and discuss a concern.

At this point, I'm more interested in evaluating the ministry of the congregation, with the pastor being a part of the whole, rather than evaluations that focus solely upon me, my strengths and weaknesses, and what people do or do not like about my personality or theology.

The Rev. Dale Proulx
Community UCC
Ashburnham, Mass.
from a Discussion Forum

Ministry not a job fair

It isn't the fault of congregations that they regard their pastors as employees. It is the fault of the wider church and of pastors themselves because of the language we use.

Why is the publication United Church Employment Opportunities named that? Far better to name it United Church Call Opportunities. Our insurance forms all refer to the pastor as the "employee" and the local church body as the "employer."

And, in regard to the pastoral search process, I recently heard a senior pastor use "hire" and "employee" language.

Local churches regard their pastors as their hired employees because pastors and the wider church have taught them to think this way. Until we clergy begin to think it through and formulate a sound theology of church and ministry, we will continue to pass ourselves off as employment applicants at the church job fair.

The Rev. David Boda-Mercer
Calvin UCC
Toledo, Ohio

Team needs to play

Here are some thoughts of a layman after 50 years in a congregation:

The pastor is also a member of the congregation. This is important! Pastors need love and caring, too.

The pastoral relations committee should meet regularly, probably quarterly, even if there are no problems.

If you wait till there is a problem, the meeting is probably doomed. If you meet regularly, there is a chance. If there are no problems to discuss, ideas for the future of the church can be floated and discussed.

If the congregation isn't willing to get out and help, it is doomed. The pastor is the teacher, leader and coach, and the building is the headquarters of the congregation. If the team won't get out and play, the coach is helpless.

Irv Chidsey
from a Discussion Forum

Tell those stories

With a majority (53.2 percent) of UCC congregations reporting the Bible as "absolutely foundational" (United Church News, April), we are moved to lift up the Network of Biblical Storytellers. As members, we have just completed telling the story from Abram and Sarai to Lydia and Paul over five Lenten Thursdays at the invitation of Pastor Ed Evans of First Congregational UCC in Vancouver, Wash.

Although members are scattered across the USA, many will converge near Atlanta from Aug. 1-4 for the 14th annual conference, "Storyvangelism: An Invitation to a Storied Spirituality."

To contact this resourceful group, write NOBS, 1810 Harvard Blvd., Dayton OH 45406; 937-278-5127 or toll free 800-355-NOBS; or email: nobsint@nobs.org; website: www.nobs.org.

Ginny Caine Burnett
The Rev. Jim Burnett
Vancouver, Wash.

Be above reproach

While I oppose capital punishment, I must protest the Rev. Sala Nolan's statement in the April issue that Philip Workman's death penalty case "parallel(s) the story of the falsely accused Jesus..."

When did Jesus rob a fast food restaurant at gunpoint, then fire on police officers, wounding one and missing a second?

How will others regard our cries for mercy-tempered justice if we engage in such misleading, manipulative hyperbole?

Nolan's statement damages our cause. It is neither our calling to provide spin for violent offenders nor Christ's will to rescue only the innocent. It is our mission to end the carnage of capital punishment. We must be above reproach and put away exaggeration and falsehood if we are to speak the prophetic truth to our neighbors who support the death penalty.

May God richly bless with success the Rev. Nolan and all who work to end murder by the state.

The Rev. Corey Keyes
West Bloomfield, N.Y.

It was worth the trip

When I heard that UCC General Minister and President John Thomas was going to be the keynoter, I decided to do the 10-hour, 650-mile round trip to Traverse City (Mich.) from Ann Arbor (Mich.).

The keynote was OK. But when he started answering the unrehearsed questions from the floor, I knew I had made the right choice to come.

He answered tough questions unafraid and with spiritual answers. He showed compassion for the staff members worried about their future. The theological content of his conviction about the future of our United Church of Christ was heartwarming.

I didn't get to meet him personally but my spirit was with him. It was worth the trip!

Betty R. Kemnitz
Church of the Good Shepherd UCC
Ann Arbor, Mich.