Note: Probably, you should go back and read at least parts 5a and 5b before reading this one.
Now, we arrive at the problem.
Everything probably -- okay, not "probably," let's say "might have" -- would have been okay if I had just kept the kids out of sight, but, after youth group, I would open up the gym to the kids and let them play basketball. Or whatever. But, you know, basketball. Because it was always basketball. Sometimes mixed with skating. Don't ask. The gym was directly across from the chapel, which was where the adults met on Wednesday nights (the sanctuary, where Sunday service was held, was in the other building). So, basically, I flaunted my youth group in front of the adults. Not that that was the intent, because the intent was to let the kids have some time having fun.
Let me make one thing clear: At this point, the problem wasn't just the black kids; it was almost all of the kids. 90% of my group were kids from low-income or lower middle class families. They weren't the demographic the church leadership wanted. And it was just the kids, meaning that they didn't bring tithing parents along with them. However, it was the black kids that stood out. And, to make things more complicated, they couldn't tell me they didn't like what I was doing because how would that sound? So the message I was receiving was, repeatedly, "Great job! Keep it up!" And I did, because, well, I was young and naive and trusted them.
All of this took place over a few years, and there were other things going on that affected the eventual outcome, but it's way too much to try to cover, so I'll give you the basics:
1. While I was in high school, we (the church) had begun a Spanish mission church. They met on Sunday mornings in the chapel while the main church happened in the sanctuary. The pastor of the Spanish mission was part of the church staff, and his daughter (one of them) was in youth group with me. What I failed to see as a teenager was that having the Spanish mission kept Hispanics segregated from the main church. There was never any overlap or joint activities between the two groups.
2. During the time I was acting as the youth director (because they wouldn't call me "pastor," but that's another story entirely), the church opted to start -- I don't remember what they called it, but it wasn't "African American" -- another mission a few blocks away, one for blacks. They hired a black pastor with the intent of paying him until the church could stand on its own. This, of course, pulled the black kids I had in my group out of it, and they set up a separate night for the mission to use the gym. I think it was Thursdays, the point being that it was a night when the church was not normally in use by any white people. Effectively, they eliminated any "black element" from Wednesday nights. And, actually, from Sundays, because there had been the occasional black visitors on Sunday mornings as the black population around the church grew. They couldn't legitimately just turn them away, so they gave them somewhere else to go and patted their own backs while doing it.
3. Because the "core" church membership was in such a decline, they began to have talks about what to do about that and how to grow the church. Of course, what they wanted was to return it to the state it had been in in the late 60s/early 70s: 1500 white, middle class members including lots of families with children. They had started trying various tactics meant to spur that kind of growth in the mid to late 80s, including hiring a pastor who was supposed to be an appealing preacher, but, despite their efforts -- because they didn't make any substantive changes -- the membership had continued to dwindle. By the early 90s, they were beginning to worry about sustaining the money as the older, rich members died off and ceased to tithe. It's always about the money.
Which brings us close to the end.
As the leadership saw it [I should point out that I was not considered leadership because I was not, technically, on staff. To be on staff and go to staff meetings, you had to be salaried, and they wouldn't do that with me (again, long unrelated story). However, my mother was on staff (church cook and all), so I got to know everything that went on during these meetings. The other leadership was the deacons: old, rich, white dudes one and all.], at the end of it all, the church had two options:
1. Merge with the church that originally planted my church more than 75 years prior. That this even came up as an option should tell you something, but it did come up as an option, and that church pushed for it, because it, can you guess, wanted our money.
2. Open the church to neighborhood surrounding it, which would include absorbing the black mission that we had planted, at this point, somewhere around two years before. That this was spoken of in those terms should also tell you something. "Open the church to the surrounding neighborhood."
"Open the church to the surrounding neighborhood." This all makes me sick and mad just to think about it. I mean, that this ever even had to be a consideration is... wrong. And the debate, as it came down to it, especially among the deacons, was that they would have to share leadership with "those people." And "those people" couldn't be trusted. And won't we lose all of our members if we let "those people" into our church.
And I wanted to scream, "What members?" At this point, it was normal to have less than 200 in the congregation on Sunday mornings, and 30 of those were my teenagers!
Believe it or not, this all resulted in what can only be called a final showdown. Which I'll tell you all about next week.