A note from a pastor of a wounded congregation

June 4, 2012 — 3 Comments

A few days ago I posted a link to a website which shared some information from members of a congregation who felt that they have been marginalized by the denominational hierarchy in their annual conference. As I stated in that post I fully recognized that they represented one side of what is very likely a complicated issue, and I invited others to share information that would be helpful to understanding the situation. As the comments have rolled in from folks on both sides of the issues, its clear that there are hurts and misunderstandings from all directions, which is often the case in broken church relationships. My own experience in serving a wounded congregation is that the factors that contributed to the issues at hand here will be surfacing for years to come.

Last month, on May 1, the Rev. Matt Lacey was appointed to serve as the Senior Pastor of Church of the Reconciler. Matt has a tough assignment ahead of him, and he absolutely needs to be in all our prayers.

This afternoon, Matt sent me a note which he has given me permission to share:

Jay,

We don’t know each other but have some mutual friends.  And, as one would expect, when those friends saw your post about Church of the Reconciler, they had some questions concerning pastoral changes, the Bishop, cabinet, a group of people who were hurt at Reconciler, etc.

Suffice it to say, it is not an easy situation to explain or navigate through, but I wanted to reach out to potentially clear some air around the subject.

I want to be perfectly clear: even in the midst of all this controversy the ministry here at Reconciler has not missed a beat.  No one has missed a meal, addiction class, worship service, housing meeting, medical check up, hospital referral, or a ride on one of our vans.  I owe this to a group of great volunteers and staff who’s primary focus is on ministry.

Has all this controversy made my job harder?  Sure.  Has it caused there to be questions among the staff and volunteers? Absolutely.  But at the end of the day, we have realized that we are reaching out in radical hospitality because we believe that is the work of dedicated followers of Christ.

I also want to make another thing clear: it is evident there was a group of church members and non-members who were hurt by the transition.  I have promised them, as their pastor, that I would listen to them and speak with them about their hurt, and have been doing so.  I care deeply for the spiritual and emotional needs of whoever walks through our doors.  However, their fight is not my fight, and they do not speak for me or anyone else at Reconciler, only themselves.

I think the fact that ministry carries on here is a testament to the power of the Holy Spirit even in the midst of uncertainty and brokenness.  I encourage anyone and everyone to participate in the life of our ministry.  Lives are being changed everyday at Church of the Reconciler.  I hope folks will keep up with us online at facebook.com/churchofthereconciler or contribute via our website at churchofthereconciler.com

–Matt

Matt lifts up the thing that grabbed me the most in the open letter that the wounded members of the congregation sent to the North Alabama Annual Conference — the willingness to remain engaged in spite of their perceived attacks. In a world in which consumerism rules supreme, and in which people often leave churches at the drop of a hat for a round of “church shopping,” it speaks highly of the culture of Church of the Reconciler that folks are so committed to the ministry of that congregation that they remain and provide financial support no matter what happens. I trust that Matt will be with them as a pastor and friend through it all, and that God is already engaged in redeeming hurt and pain into something miraculous.

May God’s Spirit be with all involved in this situation, and may his glory be revealed in spite of our brokenness.

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3 responses to A note from a pastor of a wounded congregation

  1. 

    My name is Roger McClellan. I am a volunteer and contributor to Church of the Reconciler. I assisted Malcolm Strausser in his computer ministry at Church of the Reconciler. I donated almost every computer in use at Church of the Reconciler. I am writing to respond to the comment made by Rev. Matt Lacey that “Church of the Reconciler has not missed a beat,” implying that the ministry is somehow just as strong now as it was before all of this chaos began. From my perspective this is completely totally false. I am shocked that Rev. Lacey would dare make this comment. Even in my role as volunteer and contributor I am aware of the following tragic, damaging consequences of the removal of Rev. Dr. Lawton Higgs, Sr., and Rev. Dr. Kevin Higgs:

    1. Housing Ministry: Rev. Dr. Lawton Higgs, Sr. was the gateway/supervisor of Church of the Reconciler’s Housing ministry, providing the link between the City of Birmingham Housing Authority and the homeless. Because he was removed, that ministry was lethally wounded. Dozens of people lost their housing; even more never received housing because he was removed. This ministry has not recovered.
    2. Day Program: The Day Program at Church of the Reconciler has been severely damaged. Without the three pastors who were previously at Church of the Reconciler, there is a greater incidence of violence and far less intervention in the daily trauma of the homeless. Some churches who previously served meals at Church of the Reconciler have stopped because of the chaos this transition has caused. The pastors who have come after the removal of the Higgs family have not engaged the homeless at the same level of response. The Coalition of the Homeless, an organization made up of the homeless, who respond to their own needs, has rarely met because of the chaos caused by this transition.
    3. Advocacy Ministry: The Rev.’s Higgs were constantly seen at City Hall,the Police Station, the Bus Terminal, Cooper Green Hospital, in the City Parks, and many other places, as vocal advocates for the homeless. They organized the homeless to be present and speak at City Council meetings on issues related to them. This ministry has seemingly completely disappeared.
    4. The Committee To Protect The Homeless, an organization begun by the Higgs’ to respond to police brutality and provide a liaison to The Birmingham Police Department, has been kicked out of Church of the Reconciler. Because of this, the only organization/ministry present to provide communication/negotiation with the police is gone.

    5. The Committee To Protect The Homeless, an organization begun by the Higgs’ to respond to police brutality and provide a liaison to The Birmingham Police Department, has been kicked out of Church of the Reconciler. Because of this, the only organization/ministry present to provide communication/negotiation with the police is gone.
    6. GLBT Support: Rev. Dr. Kevin Higgs was a participant in Birmingham Pride, as a speaker and leader seeking hospitality and inclusion for the gay and lesbian community of Birmingham. Dr. Higgs was one of the few clergy supportive of gay people in Birmingham. Dr. Higgs didn’t just have a progressive opinion about GLBT issues, he was present, active, and supportive, inviting people, especially Methodists who had given up on the church, to come to Church of the Reconciler.
    7. Music Ministry: Before the removal of Rev. Dr. Kevin Higgs, Church of the Reconciler had a full, active music ministry. Dr. Higgs, a musician, provided the use of his own instruments for the homeless to play. Each Sunday, a large Praise Team of 8 or more homeless individuals played organ, guitar, bass, drums, and vocals, singing songs of faith and hope. Some of the songs were written by the homeless themselves. They performed at other churches/events, they regularly played concerts in the city parks. Dr. Higgs was completely responsible for this ministry, providing rehearsal times and leadership. Now this ministry is gone. Now, many Sundays there is no music at Church of the Reconciler.
    Matt, were you even aware of these ministries?
    Was D.S. Ron Schultz aware of these ministries?
    Was Bishop Willimon aware of these ministries?
    From the comments on this blog, it appears that the leadership of the North Alabama Conference was not even aware of the great things happening at Church of the Reconciler. Matt, I am greatly offended by your claim that “The ministry here at Reconciler has not missed a beat”, even if that is what your bosses tell you say. From my perspective, and from the marginalized that call(ed) Reconciler home, I can assure you this is far from true.

    Matt, I understand that you are only serving Church of the Reconciler “part time” while also serving as the Mission Coordinator for the entire North Alabama Conference of the United Methodist Church. How can you possibly do the work listed above? How can you possibly be fully engaged in a ministry to “The least of these” at Church of the Reconciler while serving part-time?

    Ah. Who cares, right? It’s just the poor, the widow and orphan we are talking about.

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  1. Pastor’s Letter for July 2012 – Refresh, Renew and Respond « Nealand Ministries: A Ministry of Revitalization - June 30, 2012

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