Tuesday, August 16, 2005

John W. Fountain

I read in the Sunday, August 14, 2005, edition of the Orlando Sentinel, an article titled, "Black Men Disengage From Church," by John W. Fountain. I read this with great interest and a strong feeling because I can relate to most of what he said. Although I am white, his words ring true in my heart.

My grandfather, like his, was a preacher. He was with the Church of the Brethren for sixty some years, until his death at 93 in 1998. The Amwell Church of the Brethren, in Sergeantsville, New Jersey, welcomed people of all faiths and ethnic backgrounds. I grew up with strong feelings of, "...Be they yellow, black or white, Jesus loves the little children of the world." That is what was taught to us. All were welcomed here, rich or poor. I have no reason to believe it is any different today.

My grandfather went to his grave with the same Spirit that chose him to preach the word of God. He was a simple man, in that, he never aspired to a higher calling from the god of material wealth. He lived off meager wages. The church, every ten years or so, would buy him a new Mercury. The material things he took from the congregation were very tangible. Every once in a while, some of the ladies would bake my grandmother and him a pie or two. He did enjoy his 10 or 20 percent discount that stores and restaurants bestowed upon all men of the cloth.

As a child growing up, a majority of the congregation consisted of women. I remember it has always been like that. Not 75%, though. That is high. The women would fan themselves during hot summer months with the church bulletin. I remember mothers making excuses for their husbands, too, why Daddy didn't go to church. Daddy's got too much work to do.

Many years ago, back in the early 60's, my older brother and I belonged to some type of boy's group, similar to the Boy Scouts, but, not that organization. I don't recall the name of it, but, it was church-based and the meetings were held in a nearby church basement. One time, the preacher came out the front door as my brother was attempting to enter. The preacher told him to step aside. Do you know who I am? It was like the CEO telling the mail room clerk how unimportant he was. That impacted us. We were not brought up in a world of egotistical pastors. We stopped going.

I have lived in the Orlando area since 1981. There are many huge churches here. This is the south and there are many denominations that support large congregations. One that was under construction had massive pillars. Someone spray painted in large letters, "God is not impressed" on one of those pillars. I kind of got a chuckle out of that. Many of these preachers live in multi-million dollar mansions, drive expensive and exotic cars and enjoy the finer things of life, along with maintaining strong bonds with local politicians. This is why I left that realm of religion behind. My faith may still be here, but, this is not the God I know. Not all churches and their ministers are like that, either. Some grew because their congregations grew, also. They had no choice but to expand. They still embody the same visions that came with their inception, only on a larger scale. But, many times, along with that growth comes power, and power is one of the most corrupting things on earth.

Many churches have turned away from their humble beginnings. I think they inherently mean well, and they still do many wonderful things, but, they have somewhat turned away from the underlying message of faith, love, hope and charity, and turned it into some sort of distorted greed. They still preach the message and the flocks still follow, but, the larger and more indulgent mansions of God they build move them farther away from the people they are there to serve. Many members of these churches expect their leaders to enjoy upper class living. But many do not. Are they as active in the community as they could be? Or are they above that now? Do they help the alcoholics, drug addicts and indigents as strongly as they can or do they shun those who do not live up to their standards of God? Dear Lord, don't let them near me. It's like politicians. They are there to serve their constituency, not themselves, whether those in need voted for them or not, and whether they support them or not, too. The church is a servant of God and God ministers to the needy. Church leaders should never rise above that precept.

Why is it that people scrutinize charitable organizations about how high their administrative costs are before making donations, yet these same people do not question what happens to what they drop in the offering plate week after week?

Unfortunately, smaller churches don't have the working capital to help as much as the larger ones. I wonder if smaller community churches could band together to help those in need? Ten small churches offering $100 a week would be $1,000 to charities of their choosing, or whatever they all agree they can afford. Every week it could go to a different cause or outreach program.

I hope his article is read by many. This is a powerful message for people of all faiths and ethnic backgrounds. It's an especially excellent read for those sitting in the hot tubs of their giant mansions, sipping on cold glasses of expensive bubbly, while watching themselves on giant screen televisions. In high definition.

His article can be read HERE .

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