[You should really go back and read the previous parts of this.]
I was scheduled to preach.
I'm only telling you this so that you'll understand the context in which all of this happened for me. See, despite that I had been working with the teenagers for... well, if you start counting at the point I began teaching (when I was a teenager)... something like eight years and specifically working with the youth group as "director" for more than four years, I had never been allowed to preach. Not in "big church," as the adult service was referred to by the youth. I'd been trying for years...
There's a whole other story here, but I'll boil it down to the fact that I wouldn't let them ordain me. I wouldn't let them ordain me for the sheer fact that I lacked respect for the whole lot of them, and I was not about to be ordained by anyone I had no respect for. I don't know if they knew that or not. I think they thought I was just stubborn and that this extended from my lack of acquiescence to being a ministerial student.
But, finally, they'd agreed to let me preach in the adult service... on a Sunday night. Because, you know, there weren't as many people there. But, still, I was going to get to preach, and I had my whole Good Samaritan sermon already worked out. [And I'm not going to go into why that was the appropriate message, at the moment.]
However, the Sunday before I was going to preach, we were scheduled to have a church meeting about the upcoming merger proposal because, yes, it had become a merger proposal. It was to be a time for the congregation to ask questions, voice opinions, and whatever else people might want to say. It was no secret at that point how I felt about the whole business, and my mother had been receiving warnings that she needed to get me to quit "mouthing off."
She, in turn, counselled me to keep my mouth shut because nothing I was going to say was going to change anything. I knew nothing I said was going to change anything, but I wasn't going to sit by and say nothing, either. What they were doing was wrong, and I wasn't going to let that go unspoken. Basically, what they were saying was, "We would rather close our doors than have to be in the same building with 'you people.'" The whole thing disgusted me. It still disgusts me, now.
The meeting was the most highly attended thing we'd had in years, probably something like 500 people. Basically, all people to show support for the merger. Sure, there were questions, but they were all self-serving questions. Things like, "Will there still be a van to pick me up on Sunday mornings?" and "Will I get to keep my same Sunday school class?" [Yes, these are questions from adults.] The pastor fielded the questions but, after the questions, anyone who wanted to speak was allowed to. And, if you wanted to speak, you had to go up to the pulpit to do it (because that's where the mic was).
Which led to my first time in the pulpit. [Now, you really have to pay attention to this to understand the richness of it.] Most of the people getting up to speak (by "most," I mean "all") were talking about all the good things that would come from the merger with the larger, older, richer (and even more white) church. Some of these people (because, remember, there were people like the little old lady in the congregation) went so far as to say how glad they were that they would not have to share a church with "the blacks," although most of them (not all) added something like, "They're okay and all, but I don't want to have church with them." [Now, why don't you just move to the back of the bus and go use that other drinking fountain, because this church is for white folks only!]
The more I listened, the angrier I got. Every time they asked if there was someone who wanted to speak, my hand went up. They avoided calling on me as long as they could. My mom leaned over at some point and said, "If you go up there, they're not going to let you preach." I didn't care. I mean, I did care but, if that was the price I had to pay, then so be it. [It occurs to me only now that the offer to preach in the first place was probably some attempt at buying my silence. But old age and treachery will beat youth and enthusiasm every time.]
Eventually, they had to let me have a turn. It's not like everyone in the church knew what was going on between the leadership and me, and this was an open forum, meaning anyone that wanted to speak got to do it. And there was my hand every time. If they didn't let me speak, there would (amazingly enough) be questions. People did, after all, know who I was. So I took my turn in the pulpit, the only time I would ever stand at the pulpit in the church I grew up in. [Well, during a service, anyway.]
I let them have it. Both barrels. All the barrels. Any barrel I could find. It was definitely what you would call "righteous anger." Unfortunately, I don't really remember exactly what I said. I pointed out, though, how I had grown a youth group from, basically, nothing into being something living and growing from the neighborhood around the church, and I told them how ashamed they ought to be of themselves for just abandoning people. And, this part I do remember if not in exactly the right words, I told them they should be ashamed of themselves for just sitting on their butts for more than a decade because they would rather the church withered and die than reach out into the neighborhood around the church.
There was complete silence when I was finished. I walked back down to my seat and sat down and, still, no one said anything. For minutes. Everyone stared at me, and I just glared back. The meeting wrapped up not long after that. I suppose I was a bit of a hard act to follow.
The call was almost immediate. As immediate as it could be, anyway. Within a couple of hours of me getting home. [Remember how I said to pay attention?] Officially, the reason they gave me for telling me that I wasn't going to get to preach was that I said the word "butt" while in the pulpit, and that was completely inappropriate. I mean, if I would say the word "butt" while in the pulpit, there's no telling what I might say.
The pastor we had throughout the 80s used to say "peckerwood" from the pulpit all the time. When I was a kid, I didn't know what it meant; I just knew it was derogatory. Also, every so often, he'd say "dickhead."
But I couldn't preach because I had said "butt." I'm fairly certain that I am not the first person to have said that from that very pulpit, though I can't point to a specific instance. I just find it hard to believe.
Sometimes, in even the most serious of situations, there are those things that are so ludicrous all you can do is laugh. And that's what I did. Not while I was on the phone (with the head of the deacons); no, on the phone I just shrugged it off with an "okay." After I hung up, I laughed. And I laughed more when I told my mom. She was all concerned, "I did warn you." She didn't understand that I really didn't care at that point. Why would I want to be involved with people as petty as that?
A few weeks later, there was a meeting for the vote. It was anonymous, which was ridiculous, except that very few people that weren't me would have been brave enough to raise their hands on a "no" vote. Not that it mattered. Even blind, there were less than 10 votes against the merger.
Don't worry. It gets worse.