Wednesday, April 8, 2015

A Not so Epic Encounter

As I mentioned in yesterday's post, Mindy had an awkward incident with a staff member last Sunday. It might not have been worth mentioning, but it does raise issues of our goals and methodology for this project, so...this post.

Usually we try to seat in the back of the sanctuary. We like to be inconspicuous and able to observe all that's going on. And for our statistics at the end of the article we include our count of attendance, so we often need a vantage point to do that counting. Last Sunday at the start of the service, the back rows were roped off, so we took seats toward the front. But a family was looking for seats together, so we moved to an alcove area.

Midway through the service, Mindy walked to the back of the sanctuary to get a count. Later, she noticed an usher was taking his own count, so she went out to the lobby to ask him about it (as we've done a time or two before at other churches). She gave him our card and asked him how many people he'd counted. A staff member joined them before he could answer and asked Mindy what she was doing. Mindy fumbled for a card and the usher offered his. The staff member took both and said she was concerned about worship being disrupted and about the privacy of their congregants (I don't see what an attendance count has to do with privacy, but...). Mindy agreed and explained that we, too, wanted only good for the Church. The staff member gave Mindy her e-mail address and said that she could provide any information we needed. Mindy returned to the auditorium. After the sermon and the baptism, this staff member made an announcement about small groups.

The encounter threw Mindy off for the rest of the service. She felt like she'd been reprimanded by the vice principal. It's odd, too, because in all our other interactions with folks in the church, including a brief conversation with the senior pastor, I sensed a desire to be open and genuine about the ministry of the church.

As Christians, Mindy and I want this blog to do good things for the church as a whole, not harm. The two concerns the staff member addressed are concerns of ours:
·        We don't want to violate the privacy of people worshiping, especially in a church with a number of "seekers" (people exploring church and faith). We avoid using photos of congregants' faces, though we do sometimes take photos of pastors and the worship team, since they've chosen to be in front of a group of people. We avoid using full names of people we meet while visiting, except when we have explicit permission (usually friends of ours).
·        We also try not to disturb worship. We do, at times, take pictures during the service but we try to keep that to a bare minimum. We have a quiet camera. We usually snap one quick photo and hope it comes out rather than standing up and taking a series of shots. That's one of the reasons the churches we visit look so empty in pictures -- the photos are taken before or after the service.

I'm sure there was another concern that wasn't explicitly raised. I'm sure the staff member was concerned about our motives for blogging about the church. We live in a culture full of agendas and outrage. For all the staff member knew, Mindy was from another church jealous of the success of Epic and anxious to take it down a few pegs, or Mindy might have been someone who views religion as a disease of the culture that needs to be cured.

We live in a culture where a school board may decide to change "Christmas Break" to "Winter Break," and someone will tweet about it, and a talk show host will talk about it, and all of a sudden some poor school secretary receives dozens of screaming phone calls denouncing her "secular humanism."

So I understand the staff member's desire to control the information that goes out about the church. Sadly, it's just not possible unless every cell phone (i.e. camera and audio recorder) of every person is confiscated -- and then you'd have a whole new P.R. problem.

We don't ever want to use this blog to attack a church. We try to be as positive as possible when we write about churches, but there are times when we hear or see something we don't think is so great. When that happens, we recognize we are visiting on only one Sunday and have a very tiny glimpse of the life of the church. But sometimes we still feel obligated to report on negative things. When we do so, we try to report in as straightforward a manner as possible with a minimum of editorializing.

So we'd like to ask you, kind readers, to please never take anything we write as an issue for outrage. We may have got it wrong. And even if we accurately depict something bad, please don't tweet about how horrible some church is, because you (and we) really don't know that church or the people in it.

I'm sure we'll make mistakes as we continue this church visiting pilgrimage, but as we move forward together, let's all try to live out the words of I Peter 4:8: "Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins."

-- Dean (and Mindy)