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One tap on, another off?

A wealthy member of the congregation where you are a minister plans a gift that will sustain the church for many years. There’s a catch: he wants you to cancel “Spirituality and Suds” pub nights that are popular with young adults from the church and the community. Do you turn off the tap?

By Lee Simpson and Kevin Little

Rev. Lee Simpson is a writer in Lunenburg, N.S. New posts of YBN will appear every other Friday. You can also check out a short documentary about Lee at http://www.ucobserver.org/video/2014/04/ybn/.

There is an easy “Get Out of Jail Free” answer to this question. As minister, you are not the sole authority over congregationally sponsored activities. Did you take it upon yourself to single-handedly arm-wrestle an unwilling faith community into hosting pub nights? Clearly, this is an outreach program of the church; you didn’t have much to do with it, beyond leading the initial soul-searching of its appropriateness. Perhaps you even inherited the events? Judging by the subsequent popularity of Spirituality and Suds with young adults, you are not going to easily talk your church Board out of this membership-building initiative. If there is anything harder to do than starting a new program, it is stopping a successful one.

You could make the argument to your wealthy member that without pub nights there might not be a future church to require his sustaining gift. You could add up the combined potential givings of all the Spirituality and Suds attendees and prove you don’t need his gift.

But let’s take the price tag off the question. Never mind WM and his bucks: should you attempt to stop the pub nights? There are many who see sanctioning liquor consumption as contributing to a great societal ill. Every homeless shelter is testament to the evils of alcohol abuse. Every family bears the bruises of at least one person who daily hurts themselves and others with their drinking.

How can any leader with a moral compass set on “good” navigate toward any activity that condones alcohol consumption? Can the good we do by bringing members and dollars into the church offset the damage we do by giving even one person a church-sanctioned excuse for alcohol abuse? Your duty must be to persuade the Board that it is time to review its ongoing commitment to Spirituality and Suds. Persuade WM to audit that meeting.

Hmm. Chai Lattes and God Chat, anyone?

Author's photo
Rev. Kevin Little is a minister at St. Luke’s United in Upper Tantallon, N.S.

One of Jesus’ best stories involves feeding hungry people on the Sabbath. In my own childhood, I remember the obsession with locking down our church when rental groups wanted access to the kitchen. As a minister, I have seen user groups evicted because they left dirty dishes in the hall.

I think the failing of clergy is less our inability to have the grand confrontation with wealthy patrons and more the lack of clarity we provide to our church councils. I can imagine myself and my colleagues rising up to this challenge to say, “We will not be intimidated; we will not be moved; we cannot be bought.” But we fail to confront the insidious sin of the social club when we stand by as the church of Jesus harasses, shames and evicts outsiders.

Fifteen minutes out of every Sunday morning, we preachers get to talk about priorities. We get to name the necessity to feed on the Sabbath, to unlock the door on our cabinets, to welcome the outsiders who don’t always follow our tidy middle-class conventions.

Ethics is about priorities. It’s about what offends us most — young adults at a bar or a church that rests comfortably with a higher average age than the local nursing home?

I have no problem with church fights or big pressure from donors. What bothers me most is that when we do experience conflict or lobbying from our members, it is about such trivial matters. We worry that so-and-so said and did this or did not say or do that, but we spend almost no time worrying that on the big issues of our day, in our community, we say and do nothing.

When our toughest ethical calls in churchland are likewise about nothing, we offend not only our founder but also our best hope of new life.
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