There is always a choice.
Parker Palmer calls it the "divided life" and notes, "The divided life may be endemic, but wholeness is always a choice (pg 17, A Hidden Wholeness).
Parker's work has been in recent years, working with teachers and the academic world. As he talks about the divided life in A Hidden Wholeness, the divided life issues are found not just in the teaching profession but in financial and business sectors as well as in the governmental fields. So I appreciated greatly the issue of trust that John Meunier wrote about regarding the UMC and the Call To Action.
Building trust within congregations and the broader connection, I would argue, is the first order of business for our denomination. Without trust everything else we do will be an exercise in raw power and manipulation and public relations.John also observes, "I think it is no coincidence that the biggest cheerleaders for Vital Congregations are those with power and authority and influence in the system now." It isn't about pointing blame but it should be noted there IS a neglect that does require us to stop and call a spade a spade.
John of the Cross knew the power and authority others had over him and he experienced it first hand. Noticeably absent from his experiences was any thought to pastoral care by his "superiors." If you've read any of the reports and results from the Vital Congregations you may or may not have noticed that the discussion or practice of pastoral care or soul care is absent.
My own conversations and some observations also coincide with concerns surrounding large membership churches that Jeremy Smith raised. This isn't so much a condemnation of said large churches, but it is a concern for the model surrounding the UMC and the mega-churches many of our clergy are enamored with. Churches who are looked to as "models" and "experts" also have made very specific choices to not concern themselves with pastoral care and soul care. These churches do not "do weddings." They do not "do funerals." They don't "do infant baptism" so new births are not any big deal at all. Hospital visitation is left to small groups.
But the choices of clergy and churches to not do certain things says something theologically. When push comes to shove, there is a real need people have to spend time with caring clergy in these points of life transition. Our UM churches DO get these phone calls and we act. Are these the churches we are looking to model off of as well? Let us be real - we are listening to them after all. To work on trust issues, we need to start being honest with ourselves.
But this issue of trust means all the card have to be put on the table by all involved. We have to set down at the same table and learn to listen for the Holy in our midst NOT just one another's ideas. There are ways of doing this. We have centuries now of Christian practices which can be helpful and effective for us. Parker Palmer has been doing this work in his "Circles of Trust" with teachers at his Center for Courage and Renewal.
For us as Christian people however, I have to wonder if the trust issue starts with God since it is God who appears to me to be absent from our conversations and our reporting processes. I mean, there is nothing wrong with changing our reporting methods. I should HOPE this means charge conference reports and end of the year reports can now be done away with entirely since we're reporting every week. But reporting and lording said reports will not help build trust or any organization, especially the church. As Rose Mary Dougherty notes, "Ordinary ways of evaluating success don't apply. We are...talking about God's work and we don't know enough...to evaluate it".