A New Direction

Two police officers were shot, one killed, at the doughnut shop across the street. Around the block, an armored truck guard was shot. This was the neighborhood where the church I was accepting a new position for was located.

San Jose State University was four blocks away. An urban elementary school where ninety-percent of the students had one or both parents in prison was across the street. More registered sex offenders resided within a one-mile radius of the church than any other area in the entire state of California. The homeless and mentally ill “resided” nearby. Men released from jail and prison were dropped off almost at the church steps.

As the first Protestant church in California, this church had a rich heritage and legacy. As prominent church members moved to the suburbs, this church provided the people and capital for most of the United Methodist Churches established throughout Silicon Valley in the 1950s and 1960s. A Who’s Who of prominent business and government leaders grew up attending this church.

The sanctuary burned completely to the ground a few months before I arrived. The rest of the church facility still occupied most the the city block owned by the church. The congregation was comprised of mostly elderly who still lived in the area and a few families who came twice a year. Us staff of two had our work cut out for us!

I found myself reflecting back on this church as a result of all the recent news about American nuns and the national budget. The Vatican is on an active mission to rein in American nuns, accusing them of going against Catholic doctrine and promoting feminist ideals. As if rank-and-file sisters aren’t bad enough, the Vatican has also censured two prominent theologians, a professor emeritus at Yale Divinity School and another professor at Fordham University who are also nuns (this article gives a brief overview).

The Sisters of Charity, Daughters of Charity, and Sisters of Social Service are countering the Vatican’s retort with a bus trip through nine states, stopping at homeless shelters, food pantries, schools and health care facilities run by nuns to highlight their work with the nation’s poor and disenfranchised.

The sisters plan to use the tour also to protest cuts in programs for the poor and working families in the federal budget that was passed by the House of Representatives and proposed by Representative Paul D. Ryan, a Wisconsin Republican who cited his Catholic faith to justify the cuts (read the whole article).

It’s a very sad state of affairs when nuns, women who have dedicated their entire lives to serving those who others will not, are condemned, chastised, and censured. I will restrain myself and stop there. Of course, I do have a whole lot more to say about the subject!

The Ryan budget is also a damning statement about how a nation views it’s citizens. There is no doubt that reform is needed. However, a budget is a moral document. What does it say about a nation that allocates unlimited spending in defense and military and severely slashes spending in education and health care?

That church in San Jose had to face reality. The landscape of the congregation, the neighborhood, and city were very different than when the church was at its peak in the 1940s and 1950s. It had adapted many times since its beginnings in 1850 and I had no doubt it could adapt again. We couldn’t hold on to we’ve never done it that way before mentality and survive. I can think of a couple of other institutions, like the Catholic Church and the federal government, that might also want to consider a new path.

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