Let’s suppose…

 Photo Feb 01, 9 13 57 PM Let’s suppose that I am a bishop in the United Methodist Church (quit laughing…anything is possible…but it IS pretty far fetched).

And, let’s suppose that I looked out over the congregations that I administer and see one that I think may be nearing the end of its life. It’s not one that I have ever spent much time in. It’s a church that some members of the cabinet (my assistants) tell me is struggling. I’ve heard that they are financially troubled, although I haven’t actually seen much of the raw data, and am trusting on what others tell me about the status of the place.

Let’s suppose that I think the Tennessee Annual Conference(which legally owns the property) would be better off if we sold this congregation’s property. From what MY people tell me, there doesn’t seem like much of a chance to turn things around at that church, so it makes sense on the surface that we might want to cut our losses and see if we can find some benefit in selling the property.

Just last week I ran into some neighbors who live around the church. They don’t attend regularly, for that matter some have never walked through the doors, but they think that old eyesore of a steeple is ugly and that we should close the church and tear the building down in the hopes that someone might want to come along and put some modern condos on the property. They are passionate, and it’s pretty clear from the pictures that they bring that the building is getting run down and needs some TLC.

Let’s suppose that all of these indicators left an empty pit in my stomach and that I found myself staying up at night worrying about what to do?

Don’t you suppose that if that were indeed the case, it would make sense for me to call the folks who knows the best about the condition of that church – the pastor and his or her staff – to get their input on what’s going on? Don’t you think that I would call Pastor Jones to the office and ask about whether she thinks there is any hope? Don’t you think we would sit over coffee and brainstorm about options? Don’t you think she would have a clearer understanding of the needs of the church, some sort of vision how to move forward, and if there is no hope, some wisdom as to how to best help the congregation transition to a new reality?

That is why Fair/Expo Center CEO Buck Dozier’s comment at the Old Hickory Chamber forum on the fairgrounds today left me flabbergasted. “The mayor and I have never had a full conversation on the fairgrounds?” he revealed to the group.

Huh? Okay, I waded through the e-mails and it was pretty clear that Mr. Dozier and his staff were blindsided by the Hickory Hollow proposal, which originated in the mayor’s office and had little input from Expo Center staff, but I would have thought that at some point in time the mayor would have sat down with the person who has the best perspective on the future prospects for the fairgrounds. Even if he knew that Mr Dozier would disagree with his assessment, it would make sense to take time to gather information to bolster the arguments against the retention of the property. But according to Mr. Dozier, “The mayor and I have never had a full conversation about the fairgrounds.”

I may be a little country preacher, but I learned early on that I better not make snap decisions about stopping something or closing down a ministry unless I have done a lot of legwork. I have to make sure all my ducks are in a row, and I need to make sure I understand the arguments of ALL the stakeholders before I make my pitch. Most of all, I have seen again and again that unless I know all the facts and know all the players, I’m likely to find myself on the floor in a pile of ridicule and anger directed my way. I may be “the spiritual leader of the church” (whatever THAT means) but that title gives neither the power nor the authority to make snap decisions and expect that they will be carried out without question and critique.

Okay, so the fairgrounds bill passed tonight on third reading, and it looks like it’s time for ANOTHER master plan (hopefully one that can gain the respect of Mr. Dozier and his friends unlike the Civic Design Center report).

Don’t you think it might be a good time for Mayor Dean to take Mr. Dozier out for a cup of coffee and talk about the future of the site? Don’t you think it would make sense for the mayor’s staff and Mr. Dozier’s staff to take a day or two to go through all the data we have so far and do some serious discernment about what might make the fairgrounds work, and if it’s totally impossible, develop a clear and transparent report saying so? Isn’t it time for our leaders to be talking to one another to develop real solutions to our problems?

Heck, if it would help, Karl and Buck can come out my way and I’ll provide the coffee.


4 thoughts on “Let’s suppose…

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  1. I would only disagree by saying that Buck is probably not the best person to get this advice from, If the preacher doesn’t love his church and it’s congregation…he doesn’t need to be the preacher.

    We have several members of the save my fairgrounds group that would be much better choices for the conversation.

    Thanks for your efforts, We appreciate it !

  2. I also appreciate the post. It is very thoughtful and insightful.

    Let me suggest a slight alteration to the scenario.

    The church owns an old building that has some history and many memories for people. The present membership is aging and shrinking, and is not in touch with its neighborhood at all. the church building is costing more and more to repair and the heating and cooling costs are through the roof.

    The bishop has some agenda him/herself and wants to close the church. No one has a clue as to why the bishop really wants. The pastor wants to see the church grow in its mission and in its membership, involving neighbors and others — but the bishop has a lot to say about that pastor’s future, so caution and confusion reign.

    However, a consultant from the denomination has done a study, involving church members and those outside, and has said that the traditional church simply won’t work in this location. He cites example after example from across the country that show the ultimate demise of that congregation, unless MAJOR changes are made — possibly even in location. The consultant notes that the congregation and its declining income cannot support the aging building with monstrous heating costs. Meeting after meeting between the church leaders and the neighbors in the community indicate that while the church occasionally SAYS it is open to the neighborhood, it is not willing to change at all to involve that neighborhood. Neighbors say that a new kind of church, like the “emergent church,” meeting in a community center or a bar, would be more to their tastes. They indicate that the “good old hymns” are not what they need — they want something better in music and in worship and the present church membership is not interested.

    The bishop then tries to FORCE the church to close. Former members of the church and adult children of former members rise up in anger. Even though they have not been to that church in decades, they have great memories of it, and they pack the annual conference meeting, demanding that the conference invest thousands of dollars in that small church so that they will not have to change. Any hope of a new ministry for the old congregation dies. There can be no new life, just continuing decline.

    The point to this story is that there is more than ONE point of view here. There is more going on than a battle between the Mayor and the racers — who to their great credit, have done a good job of organizing. The neighborhood has been ignored for decades. They have finally been listened to — by the bishop who wants to close the church — and who has some hidden agenda.

    So — should the bishop get exactly his/her way? Nope. Should the neighbors be ignored AGAIN? Hell, no! That’s why this master plan thing MAY be a way out of this mess. I am not holding my breath, but hey — that’s what hope is for.

  3. Oh, yeah! The cup of coffee idea is still good.

    Dean should have talked to Dozier a LONG time ago, rather than surprising him and the Fair Board by saying the fairgrounds should close. I was at that Fair Board meeting, and they were all surprised. Also, while Dozier is certainly not opposing the Mayor, I watched him at many Fair Board meetings beforehand, and the guy was really working to make the fair much better. He was not just looking for an excuse to close the fairgrounds. And he was making progress.

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