A note from
Rev. Rob Warren
A church received a donation that was "just enough money to get us in trouble." It was enough to start major projects but not finish one. The Session had discussed the issue every month for 13 months before deciding to wait until the new pastor arrived. Three months in, they asked the new pastor what they should do. He suggested selecting two people from the congregation who had proven over time to make wise financial decisions but who disagreed on as much as possible. The Session appointed two former treasurers. One believed strongly that the church should never budget to spend more than the amount pledged during the stewardship drive. If it's not pledged, it's not spent. He'd resigned as treasurer years before, when the church began to budget withdrawals from reserves to cover operating expenses, but had remained a loyal member of the church serving on committees and singing in the choir. The other, the treasurer that replaced him, believed that churches shouldn't need budgets (which was odd for an accountant) and if the church needs more funds, you just ask the people and they will come forward with what is needed. They would disagree about the color of the sky. The chair was a person who had been before Session many times to propose projects that would benefit from these funds - at least as a starting point.
Two months later, they came back with a unanimous recommendation. The chair presenting to Session was ready for a fight. But the moderator looked at him and said, "I'm not going to ask for you to have privilege of the floor, and I'm going to tell you why. The Session trusts all three of you, and I'm going to present the item as a simple action item. This thing has gotten lost in conversation for almost two years, and I want it settled tonight. I'll ask for you to gain privilege of the floor if you're needed." What came back to the pastor was a tirade of "Session better do this or..." and the moderator said, "Which is precisely why you're not going to speak without privilege of the floor." The Moderator gave the motion to the members of Session one week prior, conversations took place that week, and when it was presented to Session, the Moderator said, "As we know, will Bill and Ray agree on anything related to church finance, it must be the intervention by the Holy Spirit... but to make sure, I'm going to open the floor for discussion." And there was none. Everyone respected at least one of the two men not to go against what they proposed, and questions had been answered before the meeting. The chair was visibly upset when the motion passed unanimously, without discussion; during the break, the moderator asked why.
"Because I wanted to tell them why they had to agree with what Bill, Ray, and I proposed."
"But they already did."
The chair complained, "But I didn't get to speak."
"But the motion passed unanimously - you didn't have to."
"But I wanted to tell them they HAD to..."
The moderator interrupted. "Which is why I couldn't let you speak." After a pause, the moderator explained. "The discussion became too personal for everyone. They'd invested in one idea or another, and lines were drawn. What happened to the money had become about the people, not about what God could do with it. In order to be the church, we had to get the people out of the way and let the Spirit work. Let people get creative, let those that disagree agree; then come with a recommendation. Everyone in that room had already voiced their opinion at one time, but we allowed God to work."
The chair left the church rather irritated.
As Paul Harvey used to say, Here is the rest of the story (warning: the following contains a discussion about sewer systems).
Years later, the Session was discussing an issue that was taking up a lot of time in the meeting. Using 1-ply or 2-ply toilet paper. The issue was contentious, there were raised voices, and here is why. In the original design of the church, the sewer system ran out through a large pipe and into a septic tank (that was "somewhere under the ballfield - we think"). When the city came through with a sewer system, the church opted to be connected, but the issue was, the church's waste-water pipe was 2 inches larger than the city’s line. So, a fitting was used that matched the pipes up "on center."
Now, if you've ever driven through road construction, you may have noticed that it is easier for cars leaving the construction in one lane to split into two lanes than it is for cars in two lanes to merge into one. That is the basic problem with these pipes being "on center." The waste from the building was hitting that spot where the gravity fed system had a sharp one-inch rise, and materials were collecting there. That was not a regular issue when 60 people gathered for worship once a week. But, when the church decided to open a day-care center, suddenly we had 60 people in the building every day. The devoted members of the buildings and grounds committee were working on a regular schedule to pre-emptively snake that drain. They had even installed access points (at significant cost to the church) along the pipe's lines to drop a snake in closer to the mess.
The argument? One-ply toilet paper was harmful to the children, both of the daycare center and of God. But two-ply was causing an issue with the pipes, requiring people to do things that go well beyond "foot-washing" in the service to God department. As the Moderator, the pastor sat there wondering what to do. In his right ear? The former chair of the subcommittee, now clerk of Session whispered. "Does the Holy Spirit do plumbing?"
At that moment, the moderator realized we were spending more time debating the ply of toilet paper than we did with a five-digit memorial gift.
Then someone proposed something so crazy it almost made sense.
"Why don't we just change the pipe out of the church?"
Of course that was immediately dismissed by another member of the church because it was too expensive.
The moderator looked back at the chair and said, "Should we call Bill and Ray?" But the conversation continued.
"But how much does a coupling cost that would move the pipe so that they would line up better?"
And silence fell over the room.
Hope these stories made you smile. – Rob
(Incidentally, I'll be officiating "the chair's" daughter's wedding in September - he still calls me "Mr. Moderator.")