Some time ago we were at one of those Church forums at which we heard a report about "life in the parish" - viz the parts of congregational life which parishioners like and value; and the parts of that congregational life which give pause for thought.
We learned that on the whole roughly 80+% of our congregants value the music, the preaching, the liturgy and the outreach highly or very highly - and that they think that we do those things well.
(The pity was that the one hundred or so parishioners who had contributed their views had evidently not been asked why they thought highly about these aspects of parish life. If they had been asked this it was not reported at the Forum).
None of these figures surprised me. I think that they are typical for most congregations of whatever ilk.
In fact when I was the parish rector in four different congregations I had a theory which went like this:
"In each of these congregations as many as 90% of the active worshippers would be more or less satisfied with my ministry.
About 5% would think that I was the "best Rector ever" (these were the most dangerous. Their frustration and ire reached epic proportions when I failed go live up to their unrealistic expectations. They were often the first to leave the parish, but their initial praise had been incredibly seductive!)
And about 5% believed that I was an utter disaster as their Rector, but they were ornery or stubborn or wise enough to stick it out, knowing that I would move on long before they did!"
So the reports I heard yesterday did not surprise me. Most congregations will fall into the 80/10/10% or 90/5/5% range.
The congregation in question is also proud of its self perception as being "inclusive". This perception was called into question at the Forum. We were able to be honest and acknowledge that this "so-called" inclusivity had simply to do with the fact that we have some gay and lesbian members who feel at home in the congregation.
That may be all well and good, but as was pointed out by the Rector, this inclusivity is very narrow. In truth the congregation has very few congregants who are poor, and next to none ( maybe five or six individuals) who are from racial or ethnic minorities, e.g African American people, Hispanic people, Asian People, or Native American people.
We should have left it there! We should have acknowledged that our primary ministry is with prosperous and middle class white people. (They too need to hear the gospel message of repentance and faith!)
But we did not leave it there. One parishioner went on to say this (in so many words):
"Most of them (African Americans, Hispanics, Asians) do not have cars, so they cannot get to us".
As he said this my blood began to warm up. He was asserting that the parish has few minority members because "most of them do not have cars".
This is friggin' baloney. It's the kind of baloney which raises my blood temperature, for these and other reasons.
1 Who are "they/them"? I believe that any statement that refers to others as they or them is inherently dangerous, and most often leads to a false , denigrating or dangerous stereotyping of any particular groups of people.
2 "Most of them do not have cars" - this is utter nonsense, it is not true. I wish that the parishioner who made this fatuous statement could visit two churches within walking distance of my home.
(a) The "The Word of Life" Church attracts very many African Americans. The parking lot is filled to overflowing most Sundays.
(b) St. Jude's Catholic Church has a Mass in Spanish every Sunday afternoon. The parking lot is also filled to overflowing most Sundays.
3. Most African Americans live in Newtown - Sarasota's de-facto "Black district" (segregation lives). Newtown is 8.3 miles from the white, prosperous and middle class Church which was holding the forum.. If you believe that "most of them do not have cars" - that might explain why African Americans are not flooding to worship with us!
4. Many Hispanic Americans live in the Kensington Park area of town. Kensington Park is about 10.3 miles from my parish Church. If you believe that "most of them do not have cars" - that might explain why Hispanics are not flooding to worship with us.
Please enjoy my sarcasm. And please recognize the unconscious or ill-informed prejudices which lead to statements such as "most of them do not have cars".
So now I will allow my blood to boil in response to the fatuous statement at the forum.
It boils to the point where I assert this: "African Americans, and Hispanic Americans, and Native Americans, (and poor White Americans) are not absent from the congregation because most of them do not have cars".
Maybe this is why
because our particular Episcopal form of worship is deeply rooted in an Anglo-American culture which often has no vision beyond itself, and is mostly unwilling to learn from other cultures.
because our parish membership (for good or ill) is utterly white and middle-class, and mostly wealthy.
because few of we well meaning white liberals have dear and trusted friends from outside our safety zones: friends who we would invite to join us for dinner, or to a movie, or (gosh darn it) to Church.
because they would never see people like themselves in the pews, or in leadership ministries in our congregations.
because of our unconscious and ill-informed prejudices.