To the Church at Plymouth


Your senior pastor has been with you for eleven years; your assistant pastor, five years.  Within four months, you will be losing both of them.  Who will you call to replace them?  Will you call a gay or lesbian pastor because you have always stood as a leader in the ministry to gays and lesbians?  Will you choose a leader in social justice because you are an activist church?

            Or will you call a pastor who will lead you to care for one another? 

You “are recruiting Plymouth people who are interested in participating in Acts of Kindness Weekend on Saturday, September 11 to work with the InterFaith Works project of sending ‘Cards for the Coast.’  This is a project to show children and families in the Gulf Coast region that they are still in our thoughts and prayers.”  But do you keep your own members in your thoughts and prayers?

It is easy to “care” for strangers; it is hard to care for one’s own.

During the past year at Plymouth Church, I attended worship service almost every Sunday and served as both greeter and liturgist.  I was an original and continuing member of the Prayer Group.  I met with pastors, deacons, and various congregants as I moved on the path toward commissioned ministry.  I served on the Forum Committee both in planning and presenting forums.  My name and phone number were published to coordinate transportation for others.

I worked with the Vitality Team, including hosting one of the Lenten groups and leafleting for the Strawberry Parfait Festival.  I both attended and led Womyn’s Spirituality meetings.  I participated in Saturday morning workshops for discussions on race, and building usage.  I was present for several Living the Question sessions.  I attended ACTS meetings, including its annual banquet.  I went to some bible study meetings, worked at the Heifer Festival, wheeled in the Pride Parade, and attended Cinema P.

Then I became sick and ceased to be present at any Plymouth Church activity.  I sent some emails to the pastor, noting my illness and expressing my regret at missing scheduled activities.  I did not receive a single email, phone call, card or visit from anyone at Plymouth.  I was absent for three months before I received any contact from a congregant.

What does it mean to be a member of the body of Christ?  If an eye be cut out or an arm be torn off, does the body not notice?  Are the parts of the body too numerous to be counted?  If a foot is lost, can an ear replace it?  Each member of the body is integral to the body’s function.  If God knows every sparrow that falls, how can the church not notice that an entire person is missing?

The Caring Committee is losing membership.  Why is that?  Why is your priority not caring for one another?  The argument has been made that because of HIPAA, you cannot talk about a person being ill.  Since when is the Christian heart governed by the law of Congress?  If the church cannot lead in talking with respect and compassion about a person who is ill, then how can we ever expect the medical industry to do so?  It is not about turning inward for privacy; it is about reaching outward in love.

A local church gathers in used manual wheelchairs, rehabs them and ships them to Africa.  When I asked them to bring me and my manual wheelchair to worship on Sunday morning, they could not do it.  It was too hard to be personal.  What if a person with a disability asks more of you than you are willing to give?  Oh God!  How would you cope with that?

You could cope with it by asking God for leadership.  How shall I serve, Lord?  Who needs me?  What would happen if I just said, “Use me, Lord?”  I have come to do your will.  The deepest happiness lies in being of service, and letting God decide what you should do.

White people have learned to talk to black people.  Straight people have learned to talk to gay people.  When are all people going to learn how to talk to the poor and sick and elderly?  Whether the divine nature bears the name Brahman, Yahweh, God or Allah, it always calls for care of the poor and sick and elderly.  When are you going to answer that most frightening of calls?  When are you going to face your own frailty and vulnerability?  As goes my sister, so might I go.

You have taken the leadership to open the church to people of nontraditional sexuality, and to people of color.  Will you now be leaders in transforming the church into a personal church?  Will you turn and look at each other, instead of standing shoulder-to-shoulder and looking out at the world?  Can you dare to reap the rewards of service to your own people?

When you call new pastors to lead, what will you ask them to lead you to?

About annecwoodlen

I am a tenth generation American, descended from a family that has been working a farm that was deeded to us by William Penn. The country has changed around us but we have held true. I stand in my grandmother’s kitchen, look down the valley to her brother’s farm and see my great-great-great-great-great-grandmother Hannah standing on the porch. She is holding the baby, surrounded by four other children, and saying goodbye to her husband and oldest son who are going off to fight in the Revolutionary War. The war is twenty miles away and her husband will die fighting. We are not the Daughters of the American Revolution; we were its mothers. My father, Milton C. Woodlen, got his doctorate from Temple University in the 1940’s when—in his words—“a doctorate still meant something.” He became an education professor at West Chester State Teachers College, where my mother, Elizabeth Hope Copeland, had graduated. My mother raised four girls and one boy, of which I am the middle child. My parents are deceased and my siblings are estranged. My fiancé, Robert H. Dobrow, was a fighter pilot in the Marine Corps. In 1974, his plane crashed, his parachute did not open, and we buried him in a cemetery on Long Island. I could say a great deal about him, or nothing; there is no middle ground. I have loved other men; Bob was my soul mate. The single greatest determinate of who I am and what my life has been is that I inherited my father’s gene for bipolar disorder, type II. Associated with all bipolar disorders is executive dysfunction, a learning disability that interferes with the ability to sort and organize. Despite an I.Q. of 139, I failed twelve subjects and got expelled from high school and prep school. I attended Syracuse University and Onondaga Community College and got an associate’s degree after twenty-five years. I am nothing if not tenacious. Gifted with intelligence, constrained by disability, and compromised by depression, my employment was limited to entry level jobs. Being female in the 1960’s meant that I did office work—billing at the university library, calling out telegrams at Western Union, and filing papers at a law firm. During one decade, I worked at about a hundred different places as a temporary secretary. I worked for hospitals, banks, manufacturers and others, including the county government. I quit the District Attorney’s Office to manage a gas station; it was more honest work. After Bob’s death, I started taking antidepressants. Following doctor’s orders, I took them every day for twenty-six years. During that time, I attempted%2
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