Per my promise to my friend Lori, why I ended up leaving Trinity United Methodist Church in 2000.
The story really started in 1997 or 1998. The UM hierarchy had allowed churches to change its governance to something more compact than the Administrative Board we had. Our congregation had a meeting. Some folks, notably the late Bob Pennock, noted that he couldn’t see the checks and balances in the proposed new structure. But others argued, “Give it a chance.” The motion passed. Notably opposing the action were several members of the choir, including me.
In 1999, the church got a new choir director. His name now escapes me, but I know he was from Brazil. It became clear early on that he just DID NOT want to be there. Albany was too parochial, and as fall turned to winter, too damn cold.
The Brazilian wasn’t stupid, though. He needed a way to get out of his contract. So he claimed that a member of the choir had said an ethnically offensive comment to him. (I wasn’t present, so my information is second-hand.)
As a result of his allegation, the Pastor-Parish Relations Committee (PPRC) – which had no authority to do so – nevertheless suspended the choir in January 2000. The choir was so angry that some of us at least considered populating the choir loft in defiance. But we opted against that.
Meanwhile, our church had a Spanish-language congregation that met in the chapel, slightly earlier on Sundays than the English-language folks met in the sanctuary. The Anglo church had voted overwhelmingly in November 1999 to continue the relationship.
Yet, later in January 2000, while I was attending the Spanish-language service, the pastor, Mariana, circulated a letter to her flock. It was from the District Superintendent saying that they would be moved to Emmaus UMC in Albany the following week! The group was stunned. But I was furious! I took copies of the letter and started handing them out to the Anglo congregants who were sitting near the back of the church, who would otherwise have had no idea this displacement was going on.
For the next two weeks, I attended the Spanish-language service in the basement of Emmaus. The facility had two distinct disadvantages. It was not accessible, which involved some of us carrying a man in his wheelchair downstairs. And it was cold, damn cold, with my feet getting numb.
Mao would be proud
As I noted, I started singing at First Presbyterian. But my wife was still going to Trinity, so I’d walk over to meet her after services. One time, a Trinity member asked me, “What IS it with the Gang of Six?” I knew that the PPRC had dubbed Bob Pennock and his wife, plus two other couples with this moniker. But the gossip mill must have been at work for HER to have heard the term.
In March, there was a meeting called by the chair of the PPRC. Judy was also the woman who coordinated Carol and my wedding at Trinity only months earlier. The gathering was billed as an opportunity for the choir to have its say. Alas, untrue. Judy did most of the talking, which included the idea that the choir members sign a loyalty oath to the pastor. Ultimately, only one person eventually signed it.
At the end of the meeting, Judy was looking all self-satisfied. She took the tears of some choir members as a sign of their remorse. Instead, they were the tears of the unheard. As we walked out of the church, I said to a smiling Judy, “That was B###S###.” She was both crestfallen and confused.
And the sign said…
I did attend a congregational meeting in May at Trinity. The cabal around the pastor wanted to have a sign that read: “Trinity: A Multicultural Congregation.” Seriously, after chasing away the SECOND of two Spanish-language groups in about four years? After some machinations, we were able to defeat the motion. But did I want to spend all my energy at Trinity trying to STOP things from happening? I did not.
Ultimately, I didn’t leave Trinity because the choir was suspended, or because of the ouster of the Spanish-language group. It was because there was no vehicle for recourse. The old Administrative Board was gone; these issues would certainly have been addressed there.
The pastor’s cabal allowed a meeting on a specific topic only with a petition signed by 10% of the membership. Since there were plenty of older members on the rolls but not attending services, this would have been a daunting task, not just on these issues but any future conflicts.
I had avoided talking about this topic, just referring to them as The Troubles. So now you know.
10 thoughts on “The Troubles: Leaving Trinity in 2000”
My family moved around a lot when I was a child and wherever we moved, I would get involved with the church, always Methodist, long before it became “United” Methodist .
We lived out in West Sand Lake and I couldn’t have been more involved, faithfully and happily, a member of the MYF. We moved to Round Lake in late 1964 and I started to go to church there. I was going to join MYF there, but found that their group was only for Junior high kids, even though there were a number of senior high kids, in addition to myself, who wanted to join and were discouraged, by the church, from doing so. One my neighbors, an older woman who lived a couple houses down from where I lived, took pity on us and allowed us to meet at her house. She served in a true leadership capacity, but the church had determined that we could not be called MYF or even senior MYF. We became the Challengers.
There is a lot more to this than I have time to type right now, so I will get back to it a little later in a second comment.
Sometimes bad things happen even with an intact Administration committee. Transparency, kindness, and possibly some good old Christian values would have made a difference in my case. I take comfort in this Camus quote I read after I left First Pres: “One can be right and yet be beaten.”
Finishing up the comment that I started before I had to leave, I found that the Methodist church in Round Lake was little more than a social club that you either belonged to or not. When I moved out on my own, I wasn’t involved with any particular church, but took a “Comparative Religion” course in college, only to discover that all of the different religions that we studied were actually based in the same philosophy, but seemed to be social organizations, each catering to certain segments of the population. I didn’t care much for that and dropped out of the social club scene and today, would be considered to be one of those folks who is more spiritual than religious.
The point of all this being that each church, temple, synagogue or whatever of any organized religion, mainly represents its members and mainly serves its own community. Being free of that allows me to function freely as a member of the human race without the preconceived religious notions on anyone’s part, including my own.
I have a close friend in 5 towns who though raised Jewish converted to Catholism (long before we met).
She also loved her church where she’d need a member for decades. She had to leave owing to Federal election & pro life people in church willing to eat sxxx to get conservative judges on supreme court. It was disseminated dated from the pulpit: no recourse. hate replaced love
I remember talking politics in ’16 with a couple about 10 yrs older than me, and was shocked that they were going to vote for someone so arrogant with no family values whatsoever. the just said… “the courts, we need the courts”.
(Indeed, Congress isnt speaking to each other & have lame ducked it for so long that the courts are making law as well as ruling on current law.)
We gave no more church / state boundaries.
We gave Aguilar free rent for six months in Willett Street, and even helped him with furniture. We took him out to The Orchard for wings and beer after every Thursday night rehearsal, but once he had to pay his own way (rent), he ran home to his mama in Brazil, leaving behind a trail of alligator tears.
Aristotle (Ari) Aguilar.
This is an old, old story at this point. I hope retelling it helps you, but I can say with confidence that your description bears no resemblance the Trinity Church of today. Part of the Christian story is that of forgiveness and reconciliation. Perhaps getting this off your chest will help you begin that process for you, so here’s to that. We’ve spent significant time working through the implications of the story you tell and those who have kept at it have arrived at a very different place: a place where we care for one another, share leadership and responsibility and strive to be an inclusive, affirming and loving community. Those values and qualities have nothing to do with an administrative regime pressed down from above. They have to do with people of good will doing our best to do well and be a community of faith.
Jeff- I’m just telling a story here, by request of a former Trinitarian, no less. The place’s toxicity for me has dissipated over time. When Mortimer was still there, I eschewed going to FOCUS services at Trinity. And it’s still weird being in that building, where I had been a member for 17 years. I mentioned that earlier this year. https://www.rogerogreen.com/2020/02/25/20-years-at-the-new-church/ And in any case, there’s no proper timeline for grief.
@Russ Schnoop That is also my insight: Religious communities are often only a social community, religion is tradition and poetry. True religiosity and spirituality is individual and often has to be lived not with but outside the churches and religious communities. And I say this as a Theologian;-)
Very interesting blog!
Sorry for my bad English.
Greetings from Wernigerode/Germany