I was reading Ezekiel 8-10 this morning in my devotions. God took Ezekiel, in a vision, to all the places in and around the temple where the elders and the people were worshiping false gods and idols, thinking that God wouldn’t see them. He knew all their hiding places. In the vision, Ezekiel watched as God slowly got up from the mercy seat of the Ark of the Covenant and removed his glory from the temple.
It made me sad.
The other night, I got a phone call from my former pastor here. I am in the process of transferring my membership from Reedwood Friends Church here in Portland to Community Friends Church in Sturgeon Bay, WI. The reason I am transferring my membership is because of long-standing problems at Reedwood.
When Mark and I started Workamping over four years ago, I was secretly happy to have a good excuse for leaving Reedwood. I had been a member there for nearly 6 years, and the reason I joined was in part because of how the pastor, Ken Comfort, had responded when my stepmother died in 2008. He had sent me a bouquet of flowers. Ken had grown up in Peru with his missionary parents and he has a real pastor’s heart. He was good with the Hispanic church that also met at Reedwood, he was good with the children and they loved and trusted him (even coming to sit on his lap when he wasn’t preaching), and he was good with the homeless who came to the Wednesday evening meals. Ken is the one who married Mark and I on the very day we decided to elope, and his wife, Tonya, prepared a wedding gift to send with him as soon as she knew we were getting married.
However, some of the older members of the church have never seen a pastor they liked, at least not since one suddenly died in an accident a number of years ago. Reedwood has a reputation of chewing pastors up and spitting them out. In the time I was attending, they got rid of a popular youth pastor (supposedly due to budget cuts), they cut Ken’s pay, took away his health insurance, stripped him of his title as pastor, and told him to stop preaching a sermon series he was giving from Paul’s epistles regarding issues that should have brought them to repentance. I am sad to say that one of these elders was a man I called my “other father” because he took good care of me when Mark was driving long haul.
I once asked Ken if he had ever considered leaving and he said he couldn’t till God released him. He believed that God had called him to try to break Reedwood of their poor treatment of pastors. Then last spring, I got an email from Ken saying that he finally felt that God was releasing him to leave if he wanted, and not long after, the church administrator wrote to tell me that he was packing his office and she didn’t think he was coming back. No one had informed her what was going on and she was so sad to see Ken leave.
I didn’t get the whole story until Ken called me the other night. He said that last February, he and Tonya returned from a visit to Peru, and the elders said they wanted to meet with him and his wife. They came to the meeting not knowing what to expect, and the elders told Ken that they believed his ministry was over and they wanted him to resign. He agreed to comply, but on the condition that anyone who asked why he was resigning he would tell the truth to. The elders weren’t happy about that.
Many people left Reedwood when Ken did. Some decided they never wanted to step foot in another church. The Bible says it would be better for someone to have a millstone tied around their neck and be thrown into the sea than to hurt one of these little ones. The elders will be held accountable for the loss of those with less faith.
Just before we returned to Portland, I heard that Northwest Yearly Meeting (NWYM) had been called to step in and take control of Reedwood until certain issues could be straightened out. NWYM set up a series of interviews with anyone who wanted to talk about what was going on. NWYM is charged with taking in all the information they can get and coming up with some form of resolution. All committees and appointments have been disbanded for the interim. I made an appointment for an interview with them the first Saturday I returned and I gave them the history I was aware of. I was surprised when they asked me if I knew of a young woman named Jade Souza and what I thought of her. She had joined the church a short time before I left, and she was enthusiastic and eager to pitch in wherever she could. I was impressed with her. In the time I’ve been gone, she was called to be the children’s pastor and another man was called to be the youth pastor. Ken and these two pastors had a good team going. When Ken left, the youth pastor also left, and apparently the elders were beginning to exert pressure on Jade.
When Ken and Tonya left Reedwood, they started quietly attending another Friends church closer to where they lived. Ken and his wife and daughter have deep wounds left from their experience at Reedwood. But the new church, Clackamas Park Friends, is a very friendly church. Mark and I visited there last Sunday and both commented that it was the first church in a long time where many people came up to introduce themselves to us and ask us about ourselves. Ken wasn’t there that day, but when folks found out we knew him, they told us what a wonderful preacher he is and how blessed they feel to have him as their pastor. (They called him to be their pastor a couple months ago when they finally found out he was a pastor.) When I spoke with Ken, he said he feels very comfortable there, but he has gained wisdom from his time at Reedwood and he feels he has been able to help Clackamas Park Friends avert some issues.
I see Reedwood as being like America right now, with all the pre-election divisiveness continuing post-election. We Christians need to become more like Clackamas Park Friends… a place of healing and encouragement to each other, a place of welcome. We need to be a light shining on a hill for all to see. We need to model for the country what it means to be united in love. I call on American Christians to confess to one another and to apologize to one another for hurtful things said during the campaign and since the election. We need to “reach across the aisle” and begin working together to spread God’s healing and love to the people around us. I beg of my Christian brothers and sisters to be an example to the nation and to the world of what a body of believers with Christ as the head looks like. Let’s not drive the glory of the Lord away from our churches and our nation.