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Today and tomorrow, we will be returning to two earlier posts, i.e. The Dignity Snatchers – Part 1 and Going Down with the Neo-modernist Ship. The subject matter of both posts is intentionally similar, describing two situations in which a “church” (actually, a diocese in the case of the latter) are in danger of disintegrating. Both individuals who head these respective “churches” are aware of the situation and have been aware for quite a number of years.
What we will do in today’s post is examine how one of these two individuals, Reverend Mike Mather, understands his respective situation. We will also examine the types of process that he put in place to rectify the impending collapse of his congregation. And finally, we will assess the implications of the course of action that this individual undertook.
Tomorrow, we will deal with the Methodist’s counterpart in the Diocese of Scranton.
So let’s get started.
In The Dignity Snatchers – Part 1 post, we present the situation at the Broadway United Methodist Church.
As we explained in this previous post, the Methodists were also impacted by the “new springtime of the spirit of Vatican II” and were forced to react to the changes that were implemented in the Catholic Church. Since part of the protestant’s raise de etat was the “rejection of Catholicism”, and since the post-conciliar church transitioned to a protestant “look-alike” theology, this deprived the protestants in general and the mainline protestant sects, such as the Methodists, in particular, of one of the two pillars on which their sect was based.
And as opined in that post, one can get a good idea about just how important the “rejection of Catholicism” was to the Methodist’s (protestant’s) raise de etat by observing that they were forced to undertake their very own version of an “aggiornamento”. However, since the theological “positive elements” of Protestantism are quite meager, not to mention false as we have already noted throughout this blog, the protestants had no choice but to expand their religiosity into what the author of the Acton blog article termed “traditional charity”. Another way to look at this situation is as follows: the theology of the protestant sect was not strong enough, to be able to stand on the other leg of its foundation, i.e. the “positive elements”, or what John Lamont terms “justification of faith, and the like”. (see here)
It needs to be stated here for the record that Reverend Mather claims that it was “white flight” that created the “economic problems” for this particular congregation in Indianapolis. However, if one reads the original article carefully, (see here) one sees that the situation in the South Bend congregation was very similar. Therefore, the problem is much more general and affected all the mainline protestant churches, regardless of the economic environment in which they operated. Excuse the digression…
Back to United Methodist. From the operational side, the situation with respect to the attendance was as follows: (see here)
By the mid-1990s, weekly attendance was down to 75. The pews were empty. The Sunday school was dark.
So the new “positive element” that the Methodist’s introduced to offset the loss of the“rejection of Catholicism”, i.e. “traditional charity” and how Rev. Mather went about introducing it is set out below:
– These “traditional charity” programs were introduced in the late 1980’s.
– By the early 2000’s, these programs were composed of: “a food pantry, after-school program, clothing ministry and a summer youth program that served up to 250 children per day.”
– These above mentioned programs were “killed off” and none exist today.
Here is how this passage ends:
“In many cases, they were buried with honors. But those ministries, staples of the urban church, are all gone from Broadway. Kaput.”
The reason that the Methodists have “killed off” these programs is that:
“The church, and me in particular,” Mather said, “has done a lot of work where we have treated the people around us as if, at worst, they are a different species and, at best, as if they are people to be pitied and helped by us.”
Here is how the “Reverend” explains why he took this decision:
For 30 years, Broadway had tutored neighborhood kids after school. And for 30 years, the neighborhood dropout rate kept climbing higher. So Broadway stopped tutoring.
For decades, the church had been feeding people out of its pantry. But local health officials were telling Mather that the No. 1 health problem facing the neighborhood wasn’t starvation.
It was obesity — often leading to diabetes.
To Mather, it made no sense to hand out carbs in a box and peaches in cans of heavy syrup to people who were overweight.
“We’re not only not helping,” he concluded. “We’re actively making people sicker.”
On an aside, notice dear reader how Rev. Mather’s thought process follows an objective and logical methodology. He is actually identifying causal relationships between his programs and the effects that those programs are having on the intended targets.
Please hold that thought. And now back to the story.
So how did the Reverend Mather come to his new awakening? Well, as he tell it, it went something like this:
At a congregational meal after the service, a parishioner asked Mather pointedly,
“So how come we don’t treat people like that?” [ As per bible passage: “(Acts 2:17-18 NET)”]
Mather didn’t understand. Then the woman explained that she was talking about the government food giveaway hosted by the church. To get food, participants had to fill out a form that basically asked, “How poor are you?”
Nowhere on the form were there questions about people’s gifts.
“If we believe that God’s spirit is flowing down on all people, old and young, women and men — and on the poor,” the woman continued, “why don’t we treat people like that’s true?”
Now I am assuming that this is referring to is the protestant’s understanding of “Grace”. But let’s get back to the story:
Mather saw where she was going. He put aside the government form and, in a number of ways, began asking people new questions. One of his favorites: “What three things do you do well enough that you could teach others how to do it?”
Once again, an objective and rational approach.
So what new
strategy “Lord’s pastoral call” has the good “reverend” instituted as a result of this process of inquiry?
With respect to the context of this post, it would appear that the Methodists have put in place “an objective” process to resolve the knock on effects that arose from the “new springtime of the spirit of Vatican II”. Their process is designed around individuals meeting with members of their congregation to discern what kind of “services” can the Methodist Church offer to either keep the members and to attract lapsed or new ones.
In summary, it is pretty obvious that the Methodists have given up on basing their “restructuring
strategy Lord’s pastoral call” on any legacy “positive elements” that may exist in their religious identity. What they have done is the transition from what can easily be identified as a “religious NGO” business model to more of a “co-operative member exchange” model. The “co-op” model appears to be based on an association of individuals who support the economic activities of other members of this congregation. Part of this business model revolves around individual members “specializing and excelling” in specific business activities so that the “goods and services” that they produce can meet a “quality at price” level that will make them attractive for their co-congregationists. This is strictly an economic model, however it can be argued that the protestant’s have a long track record in applying a “particular” Benedictine “work ethic” to their religiosity.
However, the takeaway from the above post is nicely summarized by the Acton blog and reads as follows:
The new approach has led to people rediscovering and harnessing their God-given gifts, sharing in various services and activities with those around them, uncovering a renewed sense of dignity and purpose, pursuing paths to new businesses or livelihoods, and discovering an overall sense of community connectedness and flourishing.
In other words, this new “objective, logical and rational” approach that Rev. Mather introduced has returned to the congregation their dignity.
The real shame for Rev. Mather and his congregation is that extra ecclesiam nulla salus.