Former Member Speaks Out
This is just a note to commend you for your web page. I was a member of the UPCI for about 7 to 8 years ('83-'91) and within this period I witnessed many of the same abuses mentioned on your site.
The UPC church that I attended had authority problems in the Senior Pastor. The pastor held an almost dictatorial control over every aspect of the church -- No one else had any real say in its administration.
For example, business meetings were simply a joke. Meetings were almost never announced ahead of time. Rather, the Sr. Pastor would usually direct a "spontaneous" meeting from the pulpit in the middle of a regular worship service! The Sr. Pastor would quickly rush through *his* agenda (which he always set beforehand) hardly waiting for discussion or questions from the congregation. Whereas typical church business meetings are formally recorded in minutes, these proceedings were almost never written down. The whole business meeting rarely lasted more than 5-10 minutes.
Throughout these "meetings", our Sr. Pastor joked and mocked the very idea of holding business meetings because it was so "unspiritual", but he claimed that as Pastor he was forced by "oppressive" bylaws. Because our church had been conditioned to accept the proceedings as normative practice, we never questioned any of the Sr. Pastor's proposals and the way in which they were passed. We even laughed along with him regarding the "ridiculous" idea of business meetings. Needless to say, the board, which was elected during these 5 minute meetings, was nothing more than window dressing and upheld whatever the Pastor wanted.
Like all too many UPCs, any dissent from the Sr. Pastor's agenda was frowned upon and publicly ridiculed. I remember once when the Sr. Pastor proposed starting a Christian School in our church, the Assistant Pastor asked a valid question regarding the financial feasibility of such a huge project at that time (we were not a large nor particularly affluent church). The Assistant didn't even challenge the Senior Pastor, he merely asked an honest question. Nonetheless, the Senior Pastor was so visibly annoyed by this "affront" that rather than answer his question, he derided the Assistant from the pulpit as not being committed to his children's Christian education!
Another example of our Pastor's authority abuse occurred whenever someone in our congregation had to leave the church. For whatever reason. Even if someone was moving to another state and had no intention of leaving the UPC, our Sr. Pastor would use just about any means possible to manipulate them into staying in our particular body. It got so bad that once when a young couple, barely in their 20s, met with the Sr. Pastor to announce their calling to minister in another state, under another UPC, our Sr. Pastor physically escorted both of them out of the church building in front of the entire congregation, threatening the ashen-faced couple that he would call the police if they ever tried to set foot in his church again!!
While the UPC is often described as having a "Congregational" form of Church government, I must say that from my experience, it appears that the typical UPCI church body resembles more of a cult-like dictatorship than a true democratic congregationalism.
It wasn't until I left the UPC and began attending a good local Trinitarian church (happened to be an Assemblies of God) that I found out how church business was *really* supposed to be conducted. Meetings announced weeks in advance - and not haphazardly during worship service. Dialogue was *encouraged*, not ridiculed. Formal meeting procedure. Official minutes. And I was somewhat shocked the first time when the AG church secretary handed me an annual report complete with all the income and expenditures for that year -- including the pastor's salary! That was *unthinkable* in the UPC I attended. Not even the board knew how much the UPC Pastor made. Only the church secretary knew and she, of course, was the Pastor's daughter-in-law.
Suffice to say that even though all churches have their problems, I did not encounter the authoritarianism, nor bitter acrimony in my new Trinitarian church home.
I could list many other kinds of abuses that I witnessed, in other UPCs as well, but I'll stop here for now. Maybe in the future I'll send you a more complete story of my experiences in the UPC, but I'm kind of busy at this time. Feel free to reproduce any portion of this letter on your site, if you feel it's appropriate.
Posted February 21, 1999
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August 23, 1997
Copyright © 1997-2010 by Lois E. Gibson
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