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.