Friday, January 05, 2007

Three Poor Choices – the Same Fate

At the Mercy of the Sea, by John Kretschmer, looks at three sailboats and hurricane Lenny. Lenny was a late-season hurricane in November 1999. Lenny did not behave like the “normal” hurricane. Kretschmer looks at three sailboat captains, their boats, their decisions and their fates.

One sailboat (I will call this boat 1) was single-handed by a fairly novice sailor. His boat was an excellent off-shore boat. It was rigged for single-handed sailing. The skipper had a passion for sailing. The skipper did not have significant heavy weather sailing experience.

The second sailboat (I will call this boat 2) was single-handed by an experienced racing sailor. He was bringing the boat from Europe to North America. The boat was a smaller racing boat and not really equipped for off-shore sailing. This boat was not designed to face hurricane force winds and waves.

The third sailboat (boat 3) was captained by a very experienced sailor. This captain took groups out on day sails. He was a native of the Caribbean and an excellent sailor. His boat was well equipped and a fairly good off-shore boat. On this occasion the boat had the captain and one crew member on board.

The captain/owner of boat 3 took off for South America for fear that Hurricane Lenny would hit its island base. The captain knew that hurricanes generally turn to the northwest in the Caribbean and ultimately turn to the northeast to eventually die out in the Atlantic. After sailing south for several days the captain turned boat 3 around and headed for home. He figured that Lenny would turn northwest and miss them. HE WAS WRONG! The hurricane didn’t turn and he sailed right into the heart of the storm. His boat was lost and the captain died. The crew member was found several days later in a life raft.

Boat 2 sailed into the storm. His boat was sinking when he put out a distress call. Fortunately (?) boat 1 was only a few hours away. Boat 1 heard the distress call, altered course and went to assist. Boat 1 was able to find boat 2. In a daring move, the captain of boat 2 abandoned ship and boat 1 was able to rescue him – in the midst of the horrible hurricane!! They were able to radio authorities and tell them that the rescue had been successful.

Some time later all radio communication with boat 1 ceased. The boat had sunk and both sailors died. No one knows exactly what happened.

Here are the problems:

  • The captain of boat 1 had a good heart, was willing to leave his comfort zone to assist others, but he did not have the experience to deal with his boat in a major hurricane. His new “passenger” was exhausted/fatigued from his ordeal and unable to offer needed assistance in handling boat 1.
  • The captain of boat 2 had lots of experience but went to sea in a boat that was not designed for that type of sailing. His skill was insufficient to keep the boat afloat and he would have died had boat 1 not been in the vicinity. He was unable to assist the captain of boat 1—boat 1 would eventually be lost.
  • The captain of boat 3 had a good boat and lots of experience. His poor choices led to his death.

These three boats represent some of our Presbyterian churches. Some churches are like boat 2—just fine in regular conditions but not designed for extremely rough conditions. They struggle in the face of difficulty, give a valiant effort and some do not survive. Some churches are like boat 1—captained by a well-intentioned person but unprepared to deal with extremely difficult situations. And finally, some are like boat 3—very seaworthy but poor decisions are their downfall.

I believe that the PCUSA is a cross between boats 1 and 3. The PCUSA was a strong denomination through the 1950s. The waters were calm and the sailing was easy. Even a semi-competent person at the helm would have done just fine. The waters became confused and rough as the battles on the authority and interpretation of scripture were going full force. Add to this the cultural shift from a churched culture to an unchurched culture and we had the makings of a full hurricane for the PCUSA. Some denominational leaders were (and are) not equipped to deal with these difficult situations. Others, might have been (or are) skilled enough to deal with the unsettled waters but they have made poor choices – threatening to sink the good ship PCUSA.

Every year sailboats face hurricane conditions. Survival is largely dependent on a skilled captain and crew, a well-built boat, wise decisions and some good luck! Churches and denominations also face hurricane conditions. Survival is largely dependent on skilled and gifted leadership, a biblical theology, Spirit-led wise decisions and the grace of God.

The mainline denominations are in big trouble. Will they survive the hurricane they are facing? The Episcopal Church is being squeezed out of the Anglican Communion due to issues dealing with the ordination of non-celibate clergy and bishops, gay marriage and the authority and interpretation of scripture . The United Methodist Church is experiencing catastrophic membership losses. The American Baptist Church is so small that it is basically a non-player on the Christian scene of the United States. Similar things could be said about the other mainline denominations. All mainline denominations need to pull into dry dock to face major repairs before continuing the journey through the hurricane.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

The Good Ship PCUSA – Day 5

For several days we have been looking at the “unsmooth sailing” in the PCUSA. Let’s be honest… the PCUSA is in the midst of a Category 5 hurricane! Today we will look at strategies on saving a damaged sailboat while in the midst of the storm.

Heave to: Most sailboats are designed so that they can “heave to.” “Heaving to,” without going into all of the technical sailing stuff, allows the boat to point just off the wind, slow to an almost stop and make the motion of the boat more bearable. The crew can go below and get some rest. This is a good way for a crew to battle the fatigue that accompanies sailing through a storm. The PCUSA needs to “heave to” for a period of time. This period of time can allow the church to pray about the future, plan, rest, make difficult decision and then get under way again. This period of time can allow a close inspection of the good ship PCUSA to see the true state of the ship—what kind of damage has it sustained and how should that damage be dealt with.

Keep water out: It is imperative to keep water out of the boat! A broken hatch or missing companionway boards will doom a sailboat to the bottom of the ocean in a hurricane. A hole in the hull requires immediate action in order to have a chance of saving the boat. The PCUSA has been “taking on water” during the thirty-year ordination battle. By the way, the battle isn’t about ordination—it is about the authority and interpretation of scripture! In preparation for delivering the sailboat to Belize a thorough inspection was done of the boat. A very small leak was found—it allowed about a quarter cup of water into the boat every 24 hours. This was a new boat! While making the boat a worker mistakenly used the wrong screw to secure a bathroom (called a “head” on a boat) fixture to the floor of the bathroom. The tip of the screw just barely penetrated the hull of the boat. That entire section of the hull had to be repaired before we could make the journey! Such a small hole could eventually cause a catastrophic failure of the hull. In the PCUSA we keep “turning a blind eye” to small amounts of water entering the hull. Some will argue that it is only a few Presbyteries or churches where this is happening. It makes no difference if it is one Presbytery or ten Presbyteries. The hole will eventually cause catastrophic damage to the PCUSA.

A sea anchor or drogue: There are times when storm tactics require that a boat slows down. In extremely steep seas it is very dangerous to have a boat racing down the face of a wave--at the bottom of that wave the bow of the boat can be buried into the base of the next wave. Very bad!!! There are various devices that can be deployed to slow the boat down so that this doesn’t happen. I know that the Presbyterian Church moves forward about as quickly as a glacier. Yet, when making decisions that could cause the PCUSA sink the denomination needs to move very slowly. It has been said that most American families are two pay checks away from being homeless and on the street. The PCUSA is one General Assembly decision away from being blown apart! If such a decision is to be made it should be made only after prayer and careful thought.

Keeping damage from causing more damage: Many a sailboat has lost its mast and rigging while at sea (sometimes in very calm conditions). Those broken parts need to be secured so that they do not cause more damage. The jagged end of a broken mast can put a hole in the hull of the boat. If the broken parts cannot be secured then they must be removed from the boat. In the PCUSA this would be called church discipline. When a church or Presbytery breaks one of the “rules” of the denomination it needs to be dealt with quickly and severely. It may be necessary to remove the “damaged” part.

An emergency patch for the hull: A hole in the hull of a boat is VERY serious and demands quick action. There are various ways to slow down the amount of water entering through the hole. Large holes below the waterline cannot be fixed while at sea. It is possible to deal with smaller holes and save the vessel. This last General Assembly put a hole in the hull of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). It is infuriating to see how the “crew” of the PCUSA is dealing with that hole. Our moderator openly says that the PCUSA is experiencing major difficulties. Good for her!! The rest of the GA leadership has done basically nothing to deal with that hole!

The PCUSA as we know it has been damaged. It is possible that it can be saved. A “wait and see” attitude will allow that damage to spread and eventually sink the boat. Repairs need to be made immediately.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

The Good Ship PCUSA – Day 4

For several days we have been looking at the “unsmooth sailing” in the PCUSA. Today we are going to look at how “the crew” has an impact on sailing the boat.

There are many world cruisers who have never encountered a major storm. These cruisers do their research concerning yearly weather patterns, they track current weather and make wise choices as to when and where to sail. Having said this, there are still unexpected storms which must be dealt with. The “crew” will play a HUGE role in how the boat makes it through the storm.

Training: It is amazing how many incompetent sailors there are. To be sure, most of these folks can get the boat from “Point A” to “Point B” – at least under normal conditions. These sailors have minimal skills when it comes to navigation, knowing the laws governing vessel traffic, safety equipment, crew-overboard rescue techniques, storm tactics, etc. Did you know that most men who drown are found with their zippers open—they fell overboard while taking a pee. It is frightening how many people boat without wearing a PFD (personal flotation device). Too many people drink alcoholic beverages while the boat is under way. Poor decisions. Poor training! Proper training is important – in fact, crucial! Most pastors in the Presbyterian Church are not trained to guide a local church through troubled waters—let alone the hurricane the PCUSA has been experiencing for the past thirty years! I do not believe that the leadership of our denomination has any more skills for facing the hurricane than the average pastor in our churches. I have been assured that the national staff is well aware of the fragile state of the PCUSA but nothing they are doing communicates that fact. They lay off staff and reorganize the remaining staff—without substantial changes in how we go about being a church! It is time to bring in people to head up this denomination who have expertise/skills to lead us through the hurricane.

Failing to Check the Forecast: Too many boats experience rough conditions because the crew failed to check the weather forecast. Years and years ago I was a college student at Sheldon Jackson College in Sitka, Alaska. The student government had a skiff that students could check out. Three of us headed down to Silver Bay to go salmon fishing. It was a beautiful day—part of the day we fished with our shirts off. The problem was that we had failed to check the weather forecast. Our beautiful day quickly became a stormy mess. I got us back to the harbor in one piece—but it wasn’t fun! General Assembly delegates and staff members need to do a better job of checking the “forecast” on key issues. There will be times when God leads them to make difficult decisions. They should know the “cost” of their decisions! This is not to say that God will never lead our denomination to make decisions that cost us 25% of our churches. We just need to be aware of the costs before making those decisions. Church and denominational leaders need to check the forecast!

Fatigue: Fatigue causes sailors to make poor decisions. When I helped deliver a sailing catamaran to Belize we were on watch four hours and off four hours—for four days. You never get more than three-and-a-half hours of continuous sleep. Staying constantly alert while experiencing sleep deprivation causes fatigue. I am experiencing fatigue with the PCUSA. The thirty fear fight on ordination is taking its toll. People on all sides of the fight are experiencing the fatigue. Marge Carpenter (on the floor of this past General Assembly) said she was tired of the fight. The time has come for the PCUSA to decide once and for all whether we are going to ordain those who are sexually active outside the bounds of a marriage between one man and one woman. Last year I was secretly hoping that the GA would vote to ordain those folks. I could then leave the PCUSA in good conscience because the PCUSA would no longer be a Christian church. Fatigue has set in!

The navigational chart on today’s blog shows how to navigate Beef Island Passage in the British Virgin Islands. The channel is not marked. There are coral heads that must be avoided. An experienced crew, in the right conditions can make it through the passage. A fatigued crew could easily put their boat on a coral reef!

The PCUSA needs to be concerned about its “crew.” We are in reef filled waters!

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Evergreen’s “Barn/Stable” Late-Night Christmas Eve Service

Here is a photo of our 2005 Christmas Eve service at the barn. We cannot use real candles for obvious reasons. So, we use glow sticks! It is a great service!! Your church should try it!

Hint: If you are going to use glow sticks—get them early.

Evergreen’s Manger Scene

I finally got a picture of how the front of our sanctuary was transformed into the stable from The Nativity Story. I am disappointed that the manger isn’t in the photo—it was taken to the “barn” for our late-night Christmas Eve service.

Monday, January 01, 2007

The Good Ship PCUSA – Day 3

The combination of wind and current can make dangerous sailing conditions.

Sailing across the Gulf Stream can be a pleasant, gentle sail or it can be a nightmare! has an excellent article on crossing the Gulf Stream. Think of the Gulf Stream as a river of very warm water flowing through the Atlantic Ocean off the east coast of the US. The Gulf Stream becomes a nightmare when the wind is blowing in the opposite direction that the Gulf Stream is flowing. No sailor wants to be caught crossing the Gulf Stream when these conditions exist.

I believe that the rough waters the Presbyterian Church has been experiencing illustrate this same type of situation. The “current” of our culture is to let anyone believe and do what ever they want. The Presbyterian Church has accepted much of this belief. The PCUSA has drifted away from the foundational beliefs of the Christian faith. We have many in the PCUSA that believe:

· There are many ways to God;

· Sex outside the bonds of marriage is not a sin;

· Jesus was not born of a virgin;

· Everyone is going to be in heaven;

· Jesus had a sexual relationship with Mary Magdalene;

· Jesus did not bodily raise from the dead;

· Etc.

This current is contrary to the wind of the Christian faith and the Holy Spirit.

The Old Testament if full of examples of what happened when God’s people drifted away from the beliefs spelled out by God. God’s judgment was often swift and powerful. God would use prophets to warn the people to return to God—that message would contain a powerful “or else.”

Attempting to cross the Gulf Stream in adverse conditions has caused the demise of many vessels. The Presbyterian Church has been caught in these “unsettled adverse conditions” over three decades and it is taking a heavy toll on church membership, local churches and the denomination. Some churches and members are breaking away from the pack and seeking a church “current” that is flowing in the same direction as the Spirit of God. The denomination is beginning to sink. I do not believe that is it too late for the PCUSA—however, failing to take swift, appropriate action could begin the end of the PCUSA as we know it.