Another Untruth from the Poorly Named UCCTruths
John Dorhauer printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Tue Aug 28, 2007 at 10:09:26 AM EST
In my capacity as member of our Conference Staff, it was an honor for me this past Sunday to attend the final service of Holy Ghost, United Church of Christ in South St. Louis.

This is an historic church: the first of our denomination formed in St. Louis  - in 1834; the site of the historic wedding of Adolphus Busch (founder of Anheuser Busch); site in the 1930s of a then illegal marriage between a black man and a white woman.

Read on the learn why I find this story so sad; and why it must be written about here.

For many years, the congregational leaders have deliberated about their collective life together. Their current pastor, I. David Thompson - a fine man, a beloved pastor, and person of the highest integrity - has forestalled his retirement to serve them, and to make possible their continued effort to sustain themselves.

But it became clear to all that when David would finally retire in August of this year, the church (sadly) would not be able to continue, and they would have to close their doors.

While I don't want to overstate my role in these deliberations, I will point out that on a number of occasions in the last three years, I have met with the Council of this historic congregation to talk about all of their options. David and I met personally on a number of occasions, and we talked not only about the options, but about the appropriate steps to be taken should any one of them be chosen. I shared printed resources with him that helped him, and the leaders of the church, make the best decision. When finally it became clear that closing the church was their only option, I provided them with counsel and resources that covered both the legal steps to be taken and choices they might make that would help the church `die with dignity.'

I must say, it was an honor - truly it was - to participate with them throughout this journey. They deliberated long and hard; took every step with great care and with all the attention you felt such a moment deserved; and in the end made prayerfully, and - yes - somewhat reluctantly what they thought was the proper decision.

Their last service was this past Sunday. Tears were shed. Stories were told. Gertrude Scheible announced early in the service that she would -as she had throughout most of her 98 years - take the children out of the service for Sunday School. News reporters, photographers, and videographers were there to record the event - it was a big deal for the city of St. Louis.

Gifts were given in the service, an act that truly honored their ancestors for whom mission was one of the primary pillars upholding the congregation (and was their way of answering the question: "How do we die with dignity?") Recipients of their beneficence included: The Missouri Mid-South Conference, Eden Seminary (monies would fund an annual scholarship for one seminary student, and Ryan Otto was there in attendance to receive the first such one); Emmaus Homes (a mission agency for adult with disabilities); Evangelical Children's Home (for abused and neglected children); and many others. The Kaiser Bible (given in the early 1900s by Kaiser Wilhelm II to honor this historic church) was given as a gift to one of the history libraries in the city.

I stood next to the President of the church as the last hymn was sung: "How Great Thou Art." Tears were streaming down her face.

And for one last time, the faithful gathered for donuts and coffee.

Why do I tell this story?  

Because the telling of it brings shame and scorn to one who thought he would, should, and did take advantage of this situation without knowing the first thing about it. And because what he writes about this situation, and about my role in it, is so blatantly condescending, factually inaccurate, and disgustingly opportunistic that my weekly discipline of first reading, second laughing, and finally ignoring all he that he writes about me and the United Church of Christ would have to be abandoned this week.

That what he wrote pisses me off is irrelevant.

That what he wrote is not true is a bit more relevant, but not the purpose of writing this piece.

That what he wrote is harmful, shameful, and hurtful to those who agonized over this decision and came to embrace it because it was the right thing is a little more relevant - but not ultimately the point.

This site is dedicated to exposing the lies, the manipulations, and the tactics of those who dedicate themselves to attacking mainline churches in America. That what this man writes exposes the appropriation of available information for his purposes; the twisting of context and meaning; and the use of `facts' not in evidence IS what is relevant and revelatory - and therefore becomes the reason for writing this article.

His name is James Hutchins. His readership is so small and insignificant that I am loathe to widen it by mentioning it here. Though I am a frequent target of his ire and irritations, I choose to ignore for that very reason. But this act is so shameful and disgraceful, and so insightful - that I share it with you.

Here is how he uses this moment to create an impression for his readers.

First, two headlines on successive days:

Another UCC church closing it's doors
Sunday, August 19, 2007

Yet another UCC church closing it's doors
Monday, August 20, 2007

Next, a musing (rhetorical and demeaning in nature):

Maybe it's just coincidence, but two churches in two days? And these are just the ones getting press. Is this a bigger problem?

And finally, a conclusion:

What makes this all the more interesting is that while UCC Missouri Mid-South Associate Conference Minister John Dorhauer is running around the country trumping up a bogus conspiracy theory about UCC churches being stolen by other denominations, churches like Holy Ghost United Church of Christ are closing their doors. This doesn't mean the Conference isn't conscious about the loss of aging churches, but the emphasis publicly has clearly focused on Dorhauer's conspiracy theory.

For the record:
*    though beginning Saturday I will begin a two-month, now eight city book-signing tour (modest by book tour standards, and never once losing a day to my work and responsibilities here in the office, or to the churches I am called to serve) - I have not yet started that, and therefore it cannot be stated that such efforts have compromised my ability to staff the eventual closing of Holy Ghost church.
*    The closing of aging churches is as much a priority and an occupation of the office I occupy as the disruption of church life by outside attack agents. What James Hutchins has done is ASSUME that because he read my book, he knows what fully occupies my time.
*    ALL of the work done writing my book Steeplejacking, by directive of my Head of Staff and governing body, was done OUTSIDE of the time I spend in my office, and with and for the churches I am called to serve (that is, after the 12-14 hours a day I put in serving them).
*    By `publicly,' Hutchins must be referring to his limited capacity to know that about which I do. I assure you the churches I serve are as aware of the work I do with aging churches, with conflicted churches, with transitioning churches, and with succeeding churches (we happen to have quite a few of those) as they are of the work I have done with attacked churches.

This is a sad and regrettable attempt to defame me and my denomination; and what makes it so is the way he has taken advantage of and made assumptions about an honorable people who did an honorable thing. That some aging churches are going to close is inevitable; that people like James Hutchins are going to take advantage of them for his own ends is also inevitable.

I am hard pressed in the moment to decide which is sadder- though I surely know which is more disgusting.

By the way - be sure and log on to UCCTruths in the coming days - Hutchins will not let this article go without response. It, too, could prove just as insightful.

I know from my friendship with a pastor who helped a church in the Massachusetts Conference UCC "die with dignity" how hard that decision is for everyone concerned. As Holy Ghost did, her church gave gifts to several local programs and ministries, including significant seed money to a new church start fund that gave each member hope in the midst of their grief. As she told her story, I couldn't help but think of the hope of resurrection that we speak of at funerals. I am sure that the UCC[un]Truths website could have had an equally vicious field day with the closing of this church.

I wonder what that awful website would have said about the creation of a NEW UCC church out of 4 small congregations from 4 different denominations (one of them UCC from the E&R tradition). I am fortunate enough to be the pastor of this 43 year old church in the Penn West Conference, where 4 congregations, each in a multi-point charge, made the choice not just to "die" but to be "reborn" as something completely new with much guidance from synod and conference staff representing the UCC, the Lutheran Church, the Presbyterian Church, and the Methodist Church. Rather than die or merge with churches in other towns, these congregations came together and formed what is one of the only moderate to liberal churches in the area. The National Council of Churches hoped that we would be the forerunner of a national movement to strengthen small churches so that none would truly die, they would evolve with the times to continue to meet the needs of people in small towns across the country. That we are still to the best of our knowledge the only church of our kind saddens me, particularly when the IRD and contributors to sites such as UCCTruths take such pleasure in the closure of mainline congregations and in the departure of congregations from mainline denominations.

by RevRuthUCC on Sun Sep 02, 2007 at 06:43:51 PM EST

John, Thank you for posting this detailed  history and account of what went into the decision of Holy Ghost UCC in St. Louis.  I've yet to pastor a church that had to make this sort of painful decision, but have certainly been around ones that have closed.  That is enough for me to know how sorrowful and painful it is for all involved, from Conference Staff down to the person who takes the kids off to Sunday School.  It confirms what others and I who posted rebuttals to James article on this; that the Conference and other UCC staff are more than conscious of the loss of aging congregations, but are actively trying to help and mourning when they get to the point of closing.  

I became more shocked and dismayed as the conversation continued on UCCtruth's message board that people joined and used as another chance to attack the judicatory of the UCC.  James didn't put it in the blog posting but in discussion within the message board associated with it, he says that "no one" is aware of these losses or they are turning their heads the other way, despite the protests from others who work as volunteers at Association/Conference levels that all levels are aware, painfully, of these losses and trying to address them.  Thank you for this piece that gives the facts, and not just insinuations, behind this situation.  It not only gives those of us who defend our denomination information to put out there to counteract these sorts of postings, but to also reassure us that we aren't crazy or naive in our support of the UCC.  And in the age of the internet, where anyone can have a blog, I think it is important to provide this sort of accounting to point out when there are holes in someones conclusions.  

And btw, he's already posted his reply on the blog.  
God's grace and peace, Deb K
by Pastordeb on Tue Aug 28, 2007 at 02:06:58 PM EST

and you are so right: we are very painfully aware of these moments.  In almost every case, we are present in these churches long before they close. Recently in St. Louis, the byproduct of our consultation helped one such aging congregation to close, and to have them consier taking the proceeds from the sale of some of their property to do a new church start. Of all the options with which they were presented, this is the one they chose. They called an evangelist, a dynamic UCC pastor with outstanding organizing skills and a passion for new church starts, and they are trying to make a new life come to be from the remnants of the old church that died.

And we have not even begun to talk about the churches that, on the edge of survival, have taken counsel and guidance from Conference staff and covenant partners, taken risks, and found a whole new life to sustain them. One such church is Immanuel UCC in South St. Louis. Under the creative leadership of Rev. Deb Lawson, this church that - when I arrived - had about 20 active members and was wondering when they were going to close has since more than quadrupled its membership, has found new life, and is planning in two weeks a leadership retreat I will be leading to talk about their newfound sense of vision and mission.

We do indeed pay attention, and mourn when a church like Holy Ghost closes.
Shalom, Rev. Dr. John C. Dorhauer "Time makes ancient good uncouth; we must onward still and upward who would keep abreast of truth." from Lowell, "The Present Crisis"
by John Dorhauer on Tue Aug 28, 2007 at 04:50:00 PM EST

I sympathize with your irritation (using the polite word). Fellow St. Louisan here.

It's a melancholy thing to see a congregation fold. Our MCC congregation's landlord and neighbor, St. John's Methodist on Kingshwy, just folded due to retiring pastor and very much aging population, with a few young families but no middle-aged people. The two congregations had little in common other than hellos at the coffee table, but I think both liked seeing the church fully used, and the arrangement was financially good for both (kept doors open).

It seems so clear to me, an urbanite (CWE), that neighborhoods  have life cycles and so do their churches, and it's just plain difficult to attract members of the 30 to 60 year age range when most are moving out to the suburbs and have nearby shiny new churches with reliable HVAC and sound roofs. These are the folks who are likely to have roots and commitment to a particular church, plus the energy and the finances to keep it running. (I am not dissing the over-60s, who do a lot of work and are keepers of local tradition and networks.)

It seems likely that rescue or recycling of old churches requires some targeted audience or a significant change to accomodate people in the immediate area. Rev. Deb Lawson has done a good job of the former. We (MCC) are looking for a home of our own, and are likely to be in the recycling business of a church its denomination is planning to sell.

by NancyP on Fri Aug 31, 2007 at 11:02:45 AM EST

I know well of St. John's demise. I am a board member on the RCRC, and have been meeting with our board there for almost 8 years now. Its mission was clear, and its closing saddens all of us who benefitted from the beneficence, vision, and commitments of its Pastor, Rev. Wally Shearborn. Thanks for tuning in.
Shalom, Rev. Dr. John C. Dorhauer "Time makes ancient good uncouth; we must onward still and upward who would keep abreast of truth." from Lowell, "The Present Crisis"
by John Dorhauer on Mon Sep 03, 2007 at 09:31:46 PM EST

Hutchins has posted his reply. Didn't take long. I want to be clear about one thing: what pisses me off is not the repeated attacks to my charachter. I don't have enough respect for Hutchins personally, nor do I place enough (not any) credibility in his writings to be affected personally by what he writes. What pissed me off was his use of this painful moment, approached with dignity and grace by the members at Holy Ghost, in order to try and further his twisted agenda. THEY deserve better than that, and every one of them would take offense at the implication that the efforts of their Conference staff were compromised because of other interests; or that their closing was the result of other work their Conference staff undertook. Without knowing any more than that a church closed; and with no other motivation that to sully my reputation, Hutchins implied that other work I had done led to the demise of this and other churches. Again, the good people at Holy Ghost do not deserve to be used by him in this matter. That is a disgrace; and whether he sees it, knows it, or can accept it, Hutchins comes out looking like an opportunistic bully. I have ignored a number of personal attacks - but this I could not ignore. Andyes, I'm pissed.
Shalom, Rev. Dr. John C. Dorhauer "Time makes ancient good uncouth; we must onward still and upward who would keep abreast of truth." from Lowell, "The Present Crisis"
by John Dorhauer on Tue Aug 28, 2007 at 05:03:25 PM EST

The faithful, witnessing her for the final time really summed up how emotional would their encounter really be for one another. I better go get the rush essay writing service to complete my research papers now.

by Richard Guiness on Thu Dec 01, 2016 at 11:09:24 PM EST

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