This post is not specifically about racism, but it would hardly be fair to not tell how it all ended.
After the church made the decision to merge, I went into damage control mode in order to protect my youth group. I mean, I knew I wasn't going to have a job anymore once all the merger stuff happened, but I wanted to make sure my kids were taken care of.
Wait, let me back up a step:
What they tried to tell me (and kept telling me over the few months that all the legal stuff for the merger took place) is that I would be necessary through the merger and beyond; they would need me to help integrate the two groups of kids. "Don't worry; you're not going to lose your job." But I knew that was bullshit. Not that it mattered. There was no way I was transferring to the other church.
We set up some joint events between the two youth groups... you know, so they could get to know each other. Yeah, it sounds like it would be such a great idea. Except, well, the other group, being the teenagers of upper middle- and lower upper-class parents were completely dismissive of my group. And my group tried. I had a couple of very outgoing kids, and they walked right up to some of the other teens to introduce themselves, and the kids from the other group would just turn and walk away without saying anything. Basically, at each event we had set up, my group got shunned by the other group. And their youth pastor did nothing about it. Each event, within 20-30 minutes, my kids were saying to me, "We don't want to be here. They won't talk to us."
And here's the complication:
I spent a few years working as a substitute teacher during this time (because I wasn't on staff at the church, just an hourly worker), so I knew a lot of the kids in the other youth group. I was a well-liked sub. In fact, I was the favorite sub of at least two schools because, as the administrators said, I was one of the very rare subs who was liked by both the students and the teachers. So I knew the kids in this other group, and they already knew that they liked me. Many of them liked me more than their own youth pastor (who, honestly, wasn't a lot of fun).
At the very first joint event we went to, a social event at their youth center, within 10 minutes of us being there, a girl from the other group, a girl that I knew, walked over to me where I was standing with a couple of my kids and said to me, in front of them, "Why are you hanging out with these losers? Come hang out with us; we're better." After I recovered from my disbelief, I made it clear that my kids were not losers, and I wasn't going to have anyone talking that way.
Yes, the other pastor and I had a discussion, though it was less discussing and more me just telling him like it was. This guy who was a decade older than me. But he didn't argue. It also didn't change anything.
Which mostly brings us up to the week of the merger. There was a last Sunday at the church I grew up in; that was the day they announced the merger was official and that the next Sunday would be at the other church. The other church was supposed to send one of their buses around to pick up my kids for the Sunday morning youth stuff on that first Sunday. That was the only thing I was concerned with.
Now, you have to understand that on the Sunday of the announcement, the last Sunday in our building, they were still telling me, "We need you. We need you." Technically, we didn't become part of the other church until midnight, so Monday. Monday afternoon, I got a call, a call I was expecting, "We just wanted to let you know that your services are no longer required." That's pretty close to the exact wording, "Your services are no longer required."
I called everyone I knew that week, everyone with any power to affect the first Sunday of joint services, to make sure that they picked up my kids. "Yes, yes. It's all fine. We'll pick them up." Sunday morning came. My parents and brother went to church. I was somewhat livid over that fact. My mom, I suppose, was trying to keep her job. At least, at the time she was. They went; I stayed home. Sometime around mid-morning, I got the first call, "No one picked me up."
"No one picked me up."
"No one picked us up."
"What do we do?"
"What do I do?"
It's what I knew was going to happen. I was full of rage and tears, and there was nothing I could do about it. Again, on the Monday, because I had made some calls on Sunday knowing I wouldn't be able to get anyone, I got a call, "We've decided that it's not cost effective to pick up your kids. You'll have to find some other place for them to go."
And I did try. But these kids had just had their home ripped away from them, and for some of them, my group was almost literally their home. The only place they felt safe. Including the kid I had to kick out of service about once a month whom I never expected to keep coming back, the kid who, when picked up by the cops one night, had them bring him to me, not his parents, and who did, always, keep coming back. And their home was just... gone. Because it wasn't "cost effective."
Of the three dozen kids, only three of them allowed me to get them situated in another group. My old youth pastor's group at the church he'd moved to when I was graduating from high school. Just three. The rest... just quit church.
What they learned was that churches couldn't be trusted. Churches were full of hypocrites. Churches only wanted you if you had money and wore the right clothes. The people in churches were worse than the people not in churches so why bother to go. There was no, "They will know you are Christians by your love."
Now, it's easy to say at this point, "Well, that was just a bad church," but I have worked with and in a substantial number of churches across three states, and they were all essentially the same. Except one. That one was a church composed of homeless people and existed through donations to keep it running. "Keep it running" meant enough money to pay to rent the space they used on Sunday nights and to feed the homeless people who came. Yes, they came to eat, but they also listened while they were there. There was no salary for the pastor or any staff or deacons. Just some people who volunteered to help make sure people were getting fed.
All of the other churches where very much about looking the part if you wanted to attend. The right color skin (white or, maybe, slightly "tanned" (meaning there might be someone of Asian or Pacific Islander descent, but there were no black people)), the right kind of clothes, and, most importantly, the right kind of money. You know the focus is wrong when, during a social event, the pastor turns to you and says, "Hey, by the way, how much are you tithing, right now?" [True story.]