All of my life, I have been a loyal member, followed by devoted minister and pastor in the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church. In fact, I’m fourth generation. When I was younger, I could think of no place I wanted to be more than my church in Detroit.
There were so many programs for the children and youth. I had the comfort of my biological family and church family to make me feel secure. That was then…and I was young.
As with all Methodist, Episcopal, Lutheran, Catholic and probably Presbyterian denominations, there is this mandate called “assessments,” that is charged to each congregation nationwide to support the bishops, executive officers and more. The amount can be as low as $500 or, as in the case of my previous church, $48,000, to be paid annually.
The money is itemized for a variety of needs. In the case of the CME church, one of the big line items is support for its five (5) historically black colleges, all located in the south, except Texas College in Tyler, TX.
Yet, yesterday, I stumbled across an article saying one of these five schools, Paine College, in Augusta, GA, is at risk of losing accreditation due to financial problems, including not returning federal financial aid for students who had withdrawn and attending students’ financial aid checks bounced. I was not surprised, but disappointed.
The churches are charged with these assessments based on what the heads of the denomination (bishops) deem as their ability to pay with a constant reminder that it helps to support the CME colleges. Rarely are these numbers reduced, regardless of the grossly diminishing memberships or the obvious fact that the majority of most congregations now consist of senior citizens on fixed incomes.
So, why is another CME college in dire straits? This bad windfall seems to blow in every direction, At one time, it was Miles College in Birmingham, AL in trouble. Then Lane College in Jackson, TN was struggling. A few years ago, the only seminary, Phillips School of Theology in Atlanta was in major debt and I can’t count the number of times Texas College has had to be bailed out.
What is going on with our churches? I’m sure the AME, AME Zion and Baptist denominations have their own share of woes. But this is the one I know that causes me pain, which I could no longer contain.
Where is the focus beyond immediate greed and power? Some leaders who refuse to accept change, or the fact that they’re out of their league, need to take a seat for fresh, aware AND conscientious blood. Some simply need to stop stealing from the church.
Where could the church think this path is headed?
We know where it’s not going.
With the inconsistent programs for children and youth, they have gone elsewhere, taking their able-bodied, employed parents with them.
With nothing to offer Millenials and the church’s delay in catching up with the 21st century, they left long ago.
My passion has always been children, youth, seniors and the disabled – those who can not speak for themselves. It has broken my heart to see the recent state of a denomination built by former slaves with a mission to serve and educate.
Somehow, this century-old spiritual message has gotten lost in selfish agenda.
Several of our churches have become staffed with pastors who are ill-equipped, ill-trained and uneducated, who spend more time figuring out how they can siphon as much money as possible from their poor congregants, than caring for the naked, the hungry, the sick and the lost.
Black women, who now make up 70% of these congregations, give the male pastors a pass because “he’s the pastor,” while they’re neglected and robbed with their eyes wide open.
The church has been guilty for years, but allowed to slide by because at least they were doing work in the community.
The Black church has been a perpetrator of both #metoo and #timesup. Unfortunately, because there is no effort to heal the broken from church abuse or “church hurt,” it is not surprising that the amounts of sexual assault, sexual harassment and gender bias go unaddressed. What can the local church do when some of its leaders are guilty of these same offences?
As an ordained pastor in the CME church, I am ashamed of my denomination. After 30 years in ministry, I had to step away. Our Los Angeles-based church received a pastor with no formal education, whose management style is to get all the money he can and bully anyone who challenges him. I was his first victim, followed by at least six others, including an 80-year-old male member he threatened to “put my foot in your butt” in the sanctuary, immediately following Sunday morning worship service.
When I asked about the pastor’s neglect to visit the sick and take communion, one woman on the stewardess board (those who assist with preparing communion) said “that’s just not his thing. He’s not like the previous pastors.” And that was acceptable to her. I guess it didn’t matter that this is the first line item for responsibilities of pastors in the CME Book of Discipline.
Here we go back to giving the men a pass!
After being bullied, watching the mishandling of funds and the pastor’s misdeeds, I thought it couldn’t get worse. Then, the presiding elder ejected me from a church meeting, where I sat quietly, saying this was not my church. He had already told me to pack my office at the church and provided no explanation to the members for my departure. This is the same man who, at a district-wide service, put his arm around my waist, pulled me close to him, while looking me in the eye and flirtatiously said “you’re a pretty girl, you know that?” I share this because this behavior happens in so many places. But for me, it happened at church and I’m sure that I’m not alone.
In this patriarchal structure still resting on a patristic foundation, women in ministry face continuous challenges with women members as the majority. The boys look after one another, whether right or wrong and we’re ignored.
So what do we do? The challenges are even greater with what we experience from our federal government daily. The church was where we went for help, solace and our voices in an oppressive society.
Today, Blacks are still struggling to hold to middle class status. We still have a disproportionate number of Black men and women in prisons, while reaping profits for major corporations, Our men and boys are still being killed by the police at staggering numbers and killing one another at a more elevated level. Our girls and women are still fighting for fair treatment and fair pay, while our neighbourhood secondary schools are still passing students who can barely read or sign their names.
#blacklivesmatter stepped in to fight police-involved shootings in the absence of the space where our churches once stood en masse.
Sure, hope is never completely lost. There are always a few bright lights in our community and overachievers to surface. We have our heroes and heroines who raise their heads, fists and voices.
However, if denominations like mine, continue traveling down this twisted path, all of this progression and more will be in spite of them.