Thursday, November 30, 2006

Body Parts

Rusty Palacios, special to the Gazette

As chicken magnate Frank Perdue used to say, “parts is parts.” That was the theme of a recent message by southern California United Methodist Bishop’s Assistant Clement Baker. Baker wrote in the June issue of Way Out West, the denomination’s regional publication. It is known widely as a source of encouragement and hope for United Methodists in several communities where such churches can still be found.

Baker began his message with a joke from his brother-in-law. A man goes to see his podiatrist with problems with his toes, ankle and foot. The podiatrist says “The good news is, we can save the toes. The bad news is, you’re going to lose the foot!” As Paul himself might well have said – if his brother-in-law had also been a podiatrist – “without the foot, the toes don’t do so well.” That was the encouraging word for any congregation that might previously have thought it was healthy, in the face of the precipitous decline across the rest of the denomination. It may look OK right now, but it’ll never last. Gangrene, presumably representing other congregations, has set in and will soon be taking the rest of the body with it.

“The churches really don’t do anything important anyway,” Baker added. “All the really cool stuff takes place at the Conference level.” Such achievements as the Civil Rights Movement (40 years ago), and the founding of hospitals (50 years ago) and universities (even longer!) were cited to prove his point. “All the churches really do is help people discover the grace of God in their daily lives. That’s just not a big deal any more.” He also quoted an anonymous (!) expert in the field of engineering, who stated that it is the organizational structure of the United Methodist Church that is our “competitive edge”. Others, who might point instead to the grassroots nature of the movement’s founding, rather than its bureaucratic organizational structure, were not quoted in Way Out West. No actual expert could be found to corroborate Baker’s anonymous attribution. Several were offered money to do so, but none was willing to go on record with anything so obviously stupid.

The health of the Annual Conference would seem to rely on the health of its many members. One could even be allowed to wonder, without its parts, whether there even IS such a thing as an annual conference.

Coming as it did on the eve of the annual meeting, and right before Bishop Vonda Woodward’s famous “honey or vinegar” postcard, Baker’s editorial brought a tear to the eye, and bile to the throat, of several readers who previously had thought they had seen it all. Or, as one quick thinking church secretary observed, on reading the article, “At least we know who the heel is!”

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