At this time in our community, we stand at the edge of the opportunity to make choices about how we move forward. As often happens in churches, when there is time of perceived crisis there is temptation to blame, and more often than not that blame is directed towards the minister. “How did we get into this situation?” “It must be because of poor leadership decisions.” “If we had a different minister this wouldn’t be happening to us.” So the next natural step is to find the evidence to support that thought. In the past few weeks the proverbial grapevine has grown thick with misinformation turned supposed fact. The Board members and I have heard many statements that seem to be feeding an energy of resentment rather than Oneness. I’ll call these statements “sour grapes” to stick with the grapevine metaphor, and just as vines require pruning, I thought it was time to pick these grapes so that the healthy ones can be fully nourished. I addressed some of these already, but clearly they bear repeating. These are the big three that keep coming up, and my responses...
Sour Grape #1: “Now that he has moved over an hour away he’s never in the office or committed to us.” Some variations of this put me as far as 90 minutes away. I now live 45-60 min away in Newton, MA. This has caused some to speculate that I'm in the office less or can’t be reached. This is not the case at all. When the church office was open Sunday thru Thur I worked from home one day a week (Tuesdays) which is not uncommon for ministers. We need the isolation time to really prepare the talk, and that doesn't happen when in the office. Now that we're open Sunday thru Wed I'm there on those days, and I prepare the talk on Thursdays from home (naturally there are exceptions e.g. illness, weather, or like this past Wednesday ) The actual times I’m in the office on those days varies based on appointments. Sometimes I make pastoral care visits to congregants in their homes or hospital or rehab facilities. Other times if I have evening meetings after the usual office hours I will come in later that morning. Some days I’m in the office before 9am. Other days I don’t get home until 9pm. Since my move, I have visited some congregants who live closer to Boston and have asked to meet near their homes rather than drive up to Amesbury during the week. There has never been a time when I've been unreachable (unless I'm on vacation or in a meeting), haven’t returned a call, or if someone wanted to see me they couldn't (yes, I’m still working to improve my email response time). I have always made appointments with those who ask, and sat with those who dropped-in unannounced. My relocation has not affected my commitment to this community in any way.
Sour Grape #2: “He didn’t take a pay cut like everyone else.” I am compensated in other ways besides take home pay, such as retirement contributions, continuing development stipends (conferences, books, etc), travel reimbursements, and health insurance coverage. None of these are unusual compensations for ministers of churches our size. As a starting point, each of these have been eliminated or reduced significantly to the tune of almost $10,000. As the year progresses, the board is prepared to make more reductions if necessary. We did not make unilateral cuts to other staff pay, which some might think unfair. The decision was made based on the roles we thought we needed to keep in place for us to function and to maintain best practices, checks & balances, etc. We also did not reduce pay and ask folks to keep working the same hours as before. We reduced hours, which also means less things are being done, but staff are being paid for the hours they work, and above minimum wage. As has always been the case, these are intended to be temporary adjustments. I am still full-time. If anything, I am the only employee who is being compensated less without a change in working hours.
Sour Grape #3: “People left because he was disrespectful to them, especially some of our biggest donors.” I have no idea what anyone gives financially to UOTR. Some ministers believe it’s important to know who the big donors are, and keep those people happy so they keep giving. Others, like myself, believe every congregant deserves the same treatment, access, respect, and spiritual guidance regardless of who they are or what they give (I have spoken before about Implicit Bias). There are a multitude of logical reasons people have left this community or given less (a trend, by the way, that started years before my hire): they moved to another part of the country; they moved to another part of the state (or neighboring state) and they didn’t want to drive so far; they retired and have less income to give from; they lost their job; they have a new job and make less; and sadly, in some cases, they died. And yes, there are other subjective reasons (and yes, I’ve heard all of these): the music’s too loud; the music isn’t spiritual enough; we don’t allow pets on the grounds; the meditation isn’t long enough; Rev Ogun is too political; Rev Ogun isn’t spiritual enough; we’re paying Rev Ogun a full-time salary for a part-time job. Please realize that giving less to the community does not punish me; it hurts the welfare of the community and inhibits what we are able to do. I endeavor to be kind and respectful to everyone. Maybe some of my Caribbean personality quirks were misinterpreted? Maybe the natural introvert in me came across poorly? Maybe I didn’t give the response that was expected? Maybe I wasn’t as enthusiastic about something or someone as others thought I should be? I don’t know. I do know that during the first year or two as I dealt with the emotions of Jennifer's passing, I may not have been at my best every single day, but please know I was doing the best I could. Again, and as always, if for any reason my words and actions do not sit well with you, my door is always open. No issue is too small or too big. I applaud those of you have communicated with me directly and asked for clarity. I know it’s not easy, so if you prefer to not speak with me directly, please talk to a board member.
Let’s turn to the Bible for another grape-related metaphor. When Jesus was asked why his disciples didn’t fast like the disciples of other teachers did, he responded, “...no one puts new wine into old wineskins; otherwise, the wine will burst the skins, and the wine is lost, and so are the skins; but one puts new wine into fresh wineskins.” [Mark 2:22] He was speaking to the idea of hanging from a consciousness of living by public ritual to a consciousness of authentic spiritual life. In other words, you can't put new ideas into old mind-sets, and you can't get new results with old behaviors. Blaming the minister when things go wrong is a reaction as old as time. In the absence of accurate information it is too easy to misuse our Power of Imagination and create stories which we eventually believe to be true. Do I expect you to agree with every decision I make or every word I say? Of course not! But I do hope that you remember that “Nothing and no-one is against you”. Please be mindful with your feelings, and truly ask yourself if they are based on fact or falsehood, on faith or fear.
Can we be the community who lives in Verity (Truth) Consciousness instead of Victim Consciousness? Absolutely! We can only tap into and express the full Divine Power of this community when our spiritual energy is focused and harmonious. As Rev Paulette Pipe reminded us recently with her powerful blessing, WE ARE UNLIMITED!!
Peace & Blessings,