Wednesday, January 10, 2007

A Waldensian Adventure: Fleeing to Rennie's Hill

For Jeff and I the words hung low over our heads like a smoky night sky with the sounds of whistling shells, periodic bursts of light and bone shaking blasts. The tension wound tight in our chests, and we were expecting something to drop on us with destruction and death at any moment.

"I will be sending two District leaders to discuss your future in the Salem (attach denomination here) Church." That was the sentence in the e-mail we received which told us that our District Supervisor was going to attempt to shut me down, and have me removed from the church.

Our counsellor from the denomination who followed us through the whole event, called immediately after I forwarded the e-mail to him.

"Phil, whatever you are going to do, Do it now."

We made appeals to the necessary people, but it was Friday, and no one would get this info until Monday or Tuesday morning.

Over my twenty years in the denomination, I had heard stories of District Supervisors coming to churches on a Sunday and taking over the services. We were meeting in the newly leased outreach center on Sunday evenings, and wondered whether this District Supervisor, who had shown no evidence that a decent discussion could be held with him would attempt to pull off one of these hostile take-overs.

It was only two days until Sunday, and after 5 months of struggling, we weren't up for a battle.

We talked to the church council, and came up with a plan. We called every person in our little church. We e-mailed those who had an e-mail addresses. On Sunday evening at 6pm, when we met for services, we posted someone at the door, just in case an individual was missed in our contacts.

Meanwhile like fleeing Waldensians, we found a cave in the hills and meet there for church. In truth it was Rennie's house, but she does live on a hill. About 35 of us were packed into the two rooms which made our catacomb sanctuary. We were seated on floors, and laps, and standing in the hall.

My old friend from California, Steve Maddox was there with some of his troup who came for the trip. This was adventure at its best: a sense of danger, and a need to hide from a stronger enemy. Is this how the first-century church responded to persecution? Is this how the Chinese church lived? Were we walking the path of the persecuted Waldensians? Okay, maybe not, but we felt the sense of danger, and adventure that night.

We were being a bit dramatic, but still we faced a very real threat of being shut down as a church, and our people were up for the adventure.

It might not have been the mountains of Northern Italy. We might not have been meeting in a cave, but we ran and hid to save our little fellowship that day.

The District leadership never did show up that Sunday evening, but the adventure was worth the effort. We discovered that we were a real church without that fancy old bank building.

If you are following this blog, you will notice that here, and at Square No More I will be retelling tales of our adventures last year. I am currently compiling information for a book proposal, and so any input you can give as I put small vignettes of our story together would be appreciated.


Adam Gonnerman said...

I've mentioned before that I had my own problems with a church and ended up practically fleeing from New Mexico to New Jersey and then collapsing spiritually and emotionally after getting here. At least I wasn't dealing with an entire denomination. In my fellowship (independent Christian Churches/Churches of Christ) there's no official denominational structure, so there's no one to come in and take over worship services. That's okay though. The people on the local level are often mean enough to make up for any lack of overbearing denominational leaders. Chuckle. No, I'm not as bitter as I may sound...not any more, anyway. I feel for you.

Pastor Phil said...

The balance between retelling a story which has potential for helping people who have been through the same stuff, and retelling it with a "twist of bitter" is the paradoxical tightrope of the Christian walk.

I find myself struggling with that tension as I write through this stuff, but the more I write the better I get at not being angry it seems.

Marieke said...

I have to say, I am pretty impressed with how well you're balancing on that tightrope. I can't imagine being in your position (and sometimes it scares me a little to be a part of the denomination that caused all this), but you seem to have come to a place where you can look back and see that God had a purpose in all this.

I'm not directly related to the situation and it makes ME mad for you sometimes. But I have to remember that denominations are made of people, and people do mean and stupid things sometimes. I have to give the denomination grace as well, and recognize that while mistakes may be made (even big ones), I shouldn't throw out the baby with the bathwater.

I can't imagine what it must be like for pastors within the denomination who are more "on the edge" in their practices!

Also, as far as the actual story is concerned, I love that your church is so committed to what God's called you to do and to encouraging and supporting each other and that vision.

I believe that God's going to do a lot more through your church now that you don't have the ties that got broken.

Pastor Phil said...

We have to remember that a church is not a denomination, and even a denominaiton is not the leadership who run that denomination, but the fellowship of all the churches that make it up. So even the most tweaked leadership is part of a good church.

So methinks.

Marieke said...

I totally agree.

Maybe my thoughts were a little muddled in my attempt to avoid directly naming the denomination, since I noticed you gracefully avoided that in your post.

or maybe I'm just confused and my brain hurts...

Pastor Phil said...

Actually I named it initially when I posted the quote, then realized what I did and had to go back and fix it. It was not that I wanted to name them, but simply forgot, and had to backtrack. Perhaps forgetting was a good sign in itself.

Webb Kline said...

More grace than I'd givem, partner.

Scalawags, I tell ya. Yeah, God loves 'em. He loved the Pharisees too, but he wasn't afraid to put them in their place, either.

Turn your cheek, shake the dust,
The works of their hands,
It's all a bust.

Pastor Phil said...

It doesn't take much digging to find the name of the church. I just choose to show grace, because "to the merciful God will show Himself as merciful."

Mike said...

dude i was all in a panic and a little pissed until i read the end where you say all this happened. i was like, "dude, leave the guy alone you have already thrown him out"

good luck on the book man.

Pastor Phil said...

Well, that does give me a sense for how people will react to the story. :-)

Thanks Mike

Webb Kline said...

Yeah. I could chose to 'show' grace too, but it would be along time before I could have peace with it in my heart. It took me years, and I still see the ramifications it had on not me, but man others, and I still ask, "Why?"

Pastor Phil said...

I know what you mean. I write for others too. That is a big reason for showing grace as I do it.