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Nostalgia is a powerful force in our society. We have marketers who want to recreate experiences in our lives. If it not for nostalgia how would anyone explain the Rolling Stones’ touring success late into their geriatric career? For every baby boomer who sings, “I hope I die before I get old” while reading the risks of taking that next Viagra pill there is a cash register ringing. While nostalgia may sell Elton John’s 14th Greatest Hits album, but it is certainly not a good strategy for the church.
In the Presbytery that I am currently residing we are skirting perilously close to bankruptcy. It has reached the point where we no longer can use any money for mission, development or any new ministries in the future. Some of us have wondered if default happens how that will effect individual congregations? We are assured in public that nothing negative will happen to individual congregations. Yet, with our leadership’s lack of transparency and obfuscations on the facts in the past there is a definite credibility gap.
So, how did a powerful and influential Presbytery in the PC (USA) find itself in this position? The main problem of our financial problems is encapsulated in a disaster called Meadowkirk.
Meadowkirk is a state of the art camp built way out in the country when the presbytery’s inside the beltway camp, Glenkirk, was sold. After it was completed the Presbytery found itself owning the debt on a camp far exceeding its value by over $10 million. Unchecked cost overruns, shady banking practices, naïve fiduciary stewardship, an economic downturn, incompetent administrators, lack of financial transparency, lack of presbytery oversight, loans signed without presbytery votes, overly optimistic reservation goals, the national decline in church camps and a complete lack of any business plan all contributed to an over $20,000,000 debacle.
Yet, there is one overlooked reason a group as smart and filled with powerful people would make such an unwise investment. It was nostalgia. Although smart people believed that leaders had the best plan together for a successful camp it turned out that there was no real plan, but a lot of false faith. Many of the clergy who opposed this boondoggle recount that some of the counter arguments they received on the floor of presbytery for this camp amounted to little more than tearful remembrances by elder and minister’s of their own formative days at camp.
“What about the children?” can often be more of a rallying cry for the validity of our memories than anything to do with the well being of our children. This is a tough lesson for a proud presbytery. It is the power of our emotional memories over having the essentials to pay for the ministries that will touch our children’s futures. It is a sad commentary on looking back instead of forward and this is just one of the church’s grossest examples. It happens all the time in denominations, judicatories and individual congregations. It is time for us to change this and look toward the ministries that bring Jesus to new generations and not remind us of when we met Jesus so long ago. Maybe in doing so we will meet Jesus again.
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