Church of the 1%


So who signed the letter?” asked my wife, “SATAN?!!!”

“No.” I answered. “It was signed Human Resources.”

“And the difference is . . . .”

“Exactly.” I unfolded the email I had printed out. It read, verbatim:

Dear $applicantname$,

Thank you for submitting your application for the above referenced position. This is to inform you that the search committee is pursuing other candidates at this time. We want to thank you for the interest that you have shown in this position and the United Church of Christ, National Offices.

Sincerely,

Human Resources

“The Dollar Signs bookending the word “Applicantname.” Nice touch. Warm. Personal.”

“And strangely symbolic of something. Not sure what. Maybe I better call in a theologian.”

“Good idea Roger. You do that.”

The United Church of Christ is one of the mainline denominations. There was a corporate merger of two denominations in 1959. The corporate headquarters is in an office building in Cleveland. And, like most all of the mainline denominations, has been loosing members since the 1960’s. The church prides itself on NOT rejecting people. Differing points of view are encouraged by the church. I remember the elder of my own UCC church who once said to me, “You know the problems with this church? They come from people who don’t own property.”

President Obama (when he wasn’t being a Kenyan Muslim) was a member of the largest United Church of Christ in the United States. He was married in a UCC Church.

So was I.

But somehow the irony of being rejected by the church, rejected so profoundly that they didn’t even want to talk, zoomed right past being upset and ended up in a kind of giddy amusement. It really was kind of funny to get a form rejection letter from a church.

And it’s not like I was rejected for all the usual reasons people get rejected from a church. I’m not gay. Poor. From somewhere else.

Of course we had stopped going to our church on any regular basis. Around the time they put the sign up on the side of the church that said, “God loves you. Whether you know it or not.”

We missed the church. Missed it fiercely. But we simply didn’t fit anymore. We didn’t have the 2.5 kids. We were far from the income bracket of most of the folks in the church. We weren’t part of the church of the 1%. We simply couldn’t afford the dues. Not literally. But emotionally. And most of all, the characters of the church, the elderly, the heroes, people who you wouldn’t look twice at if you were walking down the street, they had all died or drifted away. Several of them went to neighboring churches. On a warm autumn day this year, we saw one of them marching in the annual neighborhood Von Steuben Parade—the day Chicago turns German—and we got so excited we ran out into the middle of the street and hugged her. We literally ran out into the parade.

That was church. And that was gone.

No animosity. Or even any ill will. We adore so many of the members. Still call them friends. Still in touch. Maybe we’ll go back and visit someday. As so many others do. But church is something different.

That’s why the rejection from the United Church of Christ for a job was like some sort of joke told by David Letterman on an off night. And no one can really reject you if they’ve never talked to you. They are rejecting a resume. Not you.

The job was called “Director of Publishing, Identity and Communication.” And I probably would have been a bad fit. My first directive would have been, “How about if we edit the JOB TITLES!”

Which would not have gone over well.

They said, in the job spec, that they wanted somebody who could help them tell the church’s story.

I could have helped them with that. I’ve told some stories.

And I thought of comments on UCC corporate that I’d heard first hand from other pastors—I’d done a lot of work with the UCC on their marketing campaign “God is Still Speaking” as well as the years I was with the Faith Consulting Practice for Gallup where I wrote training. There was the UCC Pastor I met on line who told me of Cleveland Corporate, “They ought to blow the whole place up and start again.” The Pastor who told me today, “You know, this is kinda funny.” And then there was the one who told me a few years ago, “I gained 100 pounds during the time I worked in Cleveland.”

My favorite comment though was from my friend Pastor Pete, who said. “This is a blessing.”

And it is. Because here’s the thing. If you are looking for the tired cliché swats at organized religion, the smarmy Bill Maher live from the Playboy Club snark bites, the tortured prose of Christopher Hitchens trying to say something, you won’t find it here.

I understand all the harm that has been done in the name of religion. I understand not wanting to believe in something you can’t see. I have met, at least by email, Human Resources of the United Church of Christ. A demomination known for being reluctant to say the name “Jesus” in services. I’m not even in the income bracket of the people who go to the church I used to attend. I don’t fit in there anymore.

So I get it.

But I also get that feeling in my feet of the worn floorboards in the church I now miss, the creaking ancient echoes of the Christian story. Being part of something that’s bigger than me. A community that takes care of each other. I get that.

That’s what home means to me.

That is my walk down Grace Street in Chicago. In the words of the Psalm:

You have been my help, and in the shadow of your wings I sing for joy. Psalm 63

What song comes to mind first? It’s called “Walking in Memphis. By a guy named Mark Cohn.

I love the part of the song’s story when she says to him, “Son, are you a Christian.” And he answers.

“Ma’am I am tonight.”

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