Present: The Reverend Dr. Deborah White (Rector), Lynda Dyer (Sr. Warden) Betty Case, Josh Senn (departed at 6:36), Connie Towey, Pat Hambly, Stephanie Zichichi,
Absent: Paula Menconi (excused), Christina Reich (excused), Jim Maniatis (Jr. Warden),
Guests: The Rev. Walter Ramsey, Marj Leeds (Clerk pro-tem and Interim Treasurer), Jack Case, Liz Charlton
Call to Order and Opening Prayer. The meeting was called to order at 5:07 p.m. and led in prayer by Rev. Deb.
Bible Study. 1 Corinthians 12:1-11. The group read and discussed the passage about spiritual gifts.
Consent Agenda. It was M/S/C (Towey/Case) to approve the consent agenda: Minutes of October Vestry meeting; Rector’s Report; Treasurer’s Report and Senior Warden’s Report.
Stewardship (Building and Grounds) Stewardship – Marj Leeds made a presentation on the current financial status of the parish, including initial discussions regarding the 2020 budget
Follow-up on Michele Lynch legacy – Deb informed the Vestry that we received a check for a little over $89,000 from the estate of Michele Lynch. A motion was made to direct Marj Leeds to work with our advisor at Morgan Stanley on an investment strategy for the money M/S/C (Hambly/Zichichi)
Education Building Remodel Follow-up – The group agreed to table M/S/C (Towey/Case) this item based upon current finances.
Update on Ministry Teams
- Service (Outreach) – The Giving tree is up and going well with most of the gifts claimed. Walter reported on the Deacon’s Pantry. We are sending representatives to the Interfaith Housing Coalition of Martinez. Deb has been approached by the group to consider allowing the Church parking lot to be used for folks to park their cars overnight. The concept is in initial stages with many more details to come. The proposal would go to the Outreach Committee and then to the Vestry for decision and action.
- Worship – There is a meeting of Worship and Liturgy tomorrow to work on Advent, Christmas, Lessons and Carols, etc.
- Education – Lynda Dyer reported that things seem to be going well with Godly Play and Nursery. The backpacks in the Sanctuary have gone over very well. New toys were purchased for the nursery; however they seem to be migrating. Lynda said she is considering a storage cabinet.
- Evangelism-Welcome – Coffee Hour is scheduled through year end and the 2020 sign-up sheet will be posted soon. The committee is developing a new welcoming handbook. Lynda Dyer passed out name tags to the Vestry members who were present. She is looking for a display board and hoping to have it in place by the beginning of Advent.
- Pastoral Care – Connie Towey is currently looking for some special dietary needs casserole recipes. Deb reported that there are several parishioners being supported through difficulties.
- Parish Life – No update at this point. There has been a proposal for a caroling party.
- Stewardship Campaign – This item was covered under item #1 above.
- Fundraising – Catherine Sumner has volunteered to lead this effort. Stephanie Zichichi reported on the Octoberfest. The profit for the event was about $1500. Stephanie asked about the possibility of a pasta feed in December. The consensus was that is a great idea, but someone needs to volunteer to do it!
- By-laws review committee – Connie and Christina met with Rev. Deb and have developed proposed changes to the Church by-laws. There will be further discussion at the next meeting of the Vestry with the goal of having the updates made prior to the annual meeting.
- Nursery Hire – Barbara Brooks has recently taken over as leader of the Altar Guild which will leave her very little time to work this issue. Lynda Dyer will ask Amelia Brooks to pick this up.
- SWEEPS Ministry Fair Forum – Rev. Deb reported on the fair which we are looking to have at the December Faithful Forum.
- New Phone System – Following a HUGE amount of work, over 20 hours of Rev. Deb’s time alone, the phone system is almost working.
- Time of Vestry Meetings – The group agreed to stick with the 5:00 start time. When the new Vestry meets in 2020 this will be revisited.
- Vestry Recruitment – Connie Towey and Josh Senn reported on their progress regarding Vestry nominations for 2020. Amelia Brooks and Betty Case have agreed to run. Connie has contacted Paula Menconi for her input also.
- Thanksgiving Dinner – The dinner is rolling along. Folks are signing up for bringing items. Deb is making flyers with the goal of getting folks to come who would otherwise not have the opportunity to celebrate.
- Deb time off 12/31 to 1/5 – The Vestry approved Rev. Deb’s vacation request.
- Las Trampas Rental – We have been approached by Las Trampas Rehabilitation who are looking for a place to park busses overnight. As we have never rented the parking lot the Vestry discussed the concept. All agreed that the concept is good, but “the devil is in the details”.
Closing Prayer and Adjournment. The meeting adjourned at 7:05 p.m.
Marjorie Leeds, Clerk Pro-tem
Present: The Reverend Dr. Deborah White, Jim Maniatis (Jr. Warden arrived at 5:52), Betty Case, Christina Reich, Josh Senn, Connie Towey, Stephanie Zichichi (left the meeting at 5:56 for her bocce playoff game), Marj Leeds (Clerk pro-tem)
Absent: Lynda Dyer, Paula Menconi, Pat Hambly
Guests: Walter Ramsey, Marj Leeds (Assistant Treasurer)
Call to Order and Opening Prayer. The meeting was called to order at 5:05 p.m. with prayer by Rev. Deb.
Bible Study. Sharing your Faith: Peter Heals a Crippled Beggar
Consent Agenda. It was M/S/C (Towey/Reich) to approve the consent agenda: Minutes of September vestry meeting; Rector’s Report; Treasurer’s Report and Junior Warden’s Report.
Insurance – Marj Leeds updated the group on the requirement that the Vestry determines annually what medical benefits will be offered to employees in the following year. She recommended that the Vestry vote to offer the Kaiser EPO 80 medical plan, not pay for premiums for over-age children, not pay for medical/dental plans for part time employees, do provide EAP to part time employees, and not provide a Benefits Waiver Allowance to those who waive coverage. It was M/S/C (Reich/Towey)
Morgan Stanley Account – Marj Leeds presented a recommendation from the Finance Committee. The recommendation is to direct Marj Leeds to be added to the list of authorized users for the Morgan Stanley Account and then work to have the money currently in the Morgan Stanley account put into a money market, CD or some other very low risk investment option. The precise investment will be determined by the Finance Committee. M/S/C (Reich/Towey)
Stewardship (building and grounds)
Solar Presentation. Deb outlined some potential actions from “go now” to “full stop”. Discussion followed regarding how to communicate regarding this issue with the rest of the congregation. The email from Mr. Ilog was discussed. The general consensus was that while the installation is a good project that would be valuable for God’s creation, it likely does not compete with other identified projects at this time. However, the project information will be retained on file.
Marj Leeds brought up the potential to do a landscaping project that would reduce water usage. Following discussion, a request was made of the Junior Warden to get an estimate to install a lock box on the sprinkler controls.
Education Wing Re-envisioning. On hold pending cost estimation.
Ministry Teams Update
Service (Outreach). Walter and Christina reported that the group has been discussing our commitments to Winter Nights, a shelter program for homeless families. We have also become involved with the work related to the homeless in downtown Martinez. The Backpack project is finished. Work continues on the Deacon’s Pantry with a particular need for meals that are ready to eat.
Worship. The group meets tomorrow and will review our Season after Pentecost liturgies, the
Upcoming Advent season and new Tenebrae and Evensong services.
Education. The backpacks are in place and have been received well. Rev. Deb continues to work on her podcast project. Some delays have occurred due to family health issues. Curriculum for Advent Bible study has been set.
Evangelism/Welcome. The Welcoming Committee is working on new welcoming books. One will be in the pews related to the liturgy. The second will be broader information about our church. Nametags are in our future! The Welcoming Committee is developing a system to welcome/escort visitors and then follow up later in the week.
Pastoral Care. Connie Towey reported that the casserole supply is good. And, four folks have volunteered to do deliveries.
Parish Life. Amy Eudy is working on Trivia Night
Stewardship Campaign. Rev. Deb is heading up the Stewardship campaign. The letters are in production with volunteers standing up each Sunday to speak during announcements.
By-law Review Committee. No update at this time.
Nursery Hire. There have been a couple of false starts on this one as there is some evidence that people do not really read an employment ad prior to applying for a job. Barbara Brooks has the lead on hiring and is working on it.
Parish Administrator Hire. A candidate has been identified. Rev. Deb will be consulting the Treasurer regarding the expense.
Communicating and Supporting Parish Size Changes – Rev. Deb reminded the Vestry regarding this concept.
SWEEPS Ministry Fair Forum. In an effort to help people understand SWEEPS, Rev. Deb would like to hold a SWEEPS Fair on December 15 (as a Faithful Forum). The idea would be for each ministry area under SWEEPS to have a “booth” with information. Helping people understand the variety of opportunities will encourage them to volunteer.
New phone system. Rev. Deb reported that we bundled our phone and internet service (through AT&T). It has been difficult trying to set up the new system, so it’s not up and running yet. Once it’s set up there will be options when calling in to get directions, get service times, leave a message for the Rector, leave a message for the office, etc.
Time of Vestry Meetings. Rev. Deb noted that a 5:00 start time for Vestry may be a barrier to working folks serving on the Vestry. She suggested that everyone consider a later start time.
Vestry Recruitment Rev Deb reminded Connie Towey and Josh Senn that as the “middle class” of the Vestry they are responsible for identifying Vestry Candidates for the 2020 election.
Closing Prayer and Adjournment. The meeting adjourned at 6:48 p.m.
Marjorie Leeds, Clerk Pro-Tem
I have recently found myself fielding questions about what people tend to refer to as “preaching politics.” These queries do not have a simple answer but, given the fact that we will all be hearing more and more about the upcoming 2020 elections, it is worth exploring the nature of political discourse in American religious institutions.
First of all, there is no criminal or civil code that governs the relationship between religious institutions and political campaigns. It has instead been regulated by the Tax Code since 1954. According to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), organizations which are exempt from paying federal taxes are prohibited from advocating for or against a specific candidate or party. “501(c) (3)” groups have to meet a certain criteria in order to qualify for this exemption. Thus, if a religious organization is not a designated 501c3, it is not restricted from any form of political involvement.
The second thing to know is that the code specifically prohibits support of specific candidates. It does not restrict advocacy on issues. Thus, many churches issue statements demonstrating their support for certain types of legislation, including gun control, abortion, and the environment. As they may be significant issues for churchgoers, churches are allowed to host political forums as long as both sides of a debated issue are represented and no candidate is allowed to ask for votes.
According to the Pew Research Center’s “Preaching Politics from the Pulpit,” (2012), a good example of how a church can violate the tax code occurred when, “Four days before the 1992 presidential election, the Church at Pierce Creek in Binghamton, N.Y., placed a full-page advertisement in USA Today and The Washington Times. The ad began with the heading: ‘Christians Beware: Do not put the economy ahead of the Ten Commandments.’ The ad cited biblical passages and stated that Gov. Bill Clinton supported abortion on demand, homosexuality and the distribution of condoms to teenagers in public schools. The ad concluded with the question: ‘How then can we vote for Bill Clinton?’ At the bottom of the ad, in fine print, the following notice appeared: ’This advertisement was co-sponsored by The Church at Pierce Creek, Daniel J. Little, Senior Pastor, and by churches and concerned Christians nationwide. Tax-deductible donations for this advertisement gladly accepted.”
Clergy persons may, like other individual citizens, endorse candidates in their own name, but they may not do so in the name of a congregation or religious institution. This, as you might guess, is a fine line. Other “blurry” situations include when a religious leader suggests that his followers vote for “the pro blank” candidate. If there are only two candidates and one is “pro” and the other “con” on that particular issue, it is clear which way the church leader is suggesting people vote, although s/he may not have named a specific candidate.
The Episcopal Church has an Office of Government Relations which identifies and advocates for the denomination’s positions on issues like immigration, racism, creation care, poverty, and human rights. There is a broad spectrum of both theological and political belief among Episcopalians and civil discussion of the issues that significantly influence our lives is encouraged. The Episcopal Church determines our positions based on our primary vocation of following the Way of Jesus.
Preaching becomes part of political discourse when the teachings of scripture, specifically the words of Jesus, intersect with questions about how we, as his followers, should govern ourselves. To be clear, Episcopal clergy persons do not “preach politics.” We preach the gospel. Jesus frequently commented on the political issues of his own time, including citizenship, taxation, and, most importantly, the need for the powerful to care for the disenfranchised. We believe it is important to assess Jesus’s statements and apply them to our current social, economic, and educational concerns. We do this not by finding biblical quotations that support already existing views, but by reading, studying, and praying about our holy scriptures.
Here is a list of Episcopal justice groups and ministries, as well as statements from various church leaders related to current political issues:
Anglican Peace and Justice Network: https://apjn.anglicancommunion.org. o International.
o St. Mary’s justice Ministries featured in first online newsletter: http://livingreconciliation.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/04/APJN-newsletter-Issue-01.pdf. Episcopal Church News (ENS): https://www.episcopalnewsservice.org. o Subscribe to keep up with the Episcopal Church activities and positions nationwide. Episcopal Office of Government Relations: https://www.episcopalchurch.org/officegovernment-relations. o “The Episcopal Church Office of Government Relations carries out advocacy on public
policy issues where the General Convention has passed resolutions . . [that] aim to
interpret how governments and international institutions can strive for justice and
respect the human dignity of every human being.”
o Provides regular action alerts and information posts to those who subscribe. Episcopal Public Policy Network: https://www.episcopalchurch.org/OGR/eppn-sign-up. o “A network of Episcopalians across the country dedicated to carrying out the Baptismal
Covenant call to ‘strive for justice and peace’ through the active ministry of public policy
o Advices the Episcopal Office of Government Affairs and the Presiding Bishop on public
policy and political (not partisan) positions of the church.
o Areas of particular interest: Migration, refugees, & immigration; human rights and
peacebuilding; ending poverty; racial reconciliation; and creation care. Episcopal Peace Fellowship: https://epfnational.org. o Founded as Episcopal Peace Fellowship on Armistice Day, November 11, 1939.
o Open to lay and clergy.
o San Francisco Chapter Sister Pamela Clare, Convener firstname.lastname@example.org. o Individuals can subscribe to receive period updates.
Episcopal Diocese of California (DioCal) DioCal News and Events: https://mailchi.mp/diocal/signup. (Individuals can subscribe.)
o Weekly newsletter contains news, public positions, and actions of the Diocese of
California, joint positions of all six California Episcopal diocese, and the Episcopal
o Joint California bishops’ statements, as well as Bishop Marc’s positions are published
here. Episcopal Public Policy Network of California (EPPNCA)
o Lay and clerical representatives of the six Episcopal dioceses in the State of California
consider and draft policy positions and actions on a variety of public and justice issues.
o No webpage, as all statements and positions are issued through the respective dioceses.
o All six bishops must agree upon a statement before it is issued by any of them. (This
does not prevent any Bishop or diocese from issuing individual statements and positions
on their own initiative.)
o St. Mary’s parishioner David Crosson serves as one of five representatives of the Diocese
Specific Causes and Actions Death Penalty
o Statement of bishops of six Episcopal diocese of California supporting moratorium on
the death penalty in California: https://diocal.org/news/california-episcopal-bishopsstatement-supporting-moratorium-death-penalty-california. Gun Violence, Racism, and Christian Nationalism
o Bishops United Against Gun Violence: http://bishopsagainstgunviolence.org. Nearly 100 Episcopal bishops organized to take positions and create strategies to
end gun violence and to address its systemic causes. Issues range from anti-Semitism, Christian white-nationalism and other root causes. Includes online liturgical resources for times of mass killings.
o Bishops United Against Gun Violence Statement on Christian Nationalism &
Systematic Racism: http://bishopsagainstgunviolence.org/bishops-united-repudiateschristian-nationalism-systemic-racism. o Bishop Marc Andrus’ statement on gun violence, March 6, 2018:
Introducing the Amazing Grace Youth Choir
Young people ages 7-17 are invited to join in learning to read, appreciate and perform music in a low-stress environment. Rehearsals on Sunday at noon (following our 10 a.m. service and coffee hour). To enroll, see or contact Music Director Arthur Omura (email@example.com)
Your ministries to and with this church are innumerable. I could speak of how you often lead our vestries, and other leadership bodies in the church. I could speak of how many of you organize our liturgies of worship, lift our voices in song, manage church funds, teach and form our children as followers of Jesus, lead congregations, ministries and dioceses. But through it all and above it all, you faithfully follow Jesus and his way of love. And in so doing you help the church, not to build a bigger church for church’s sake, but to build a better world for God’s sake.
During June, Americans and people around the world observe Pride. Today, as we mourn the 49 people who were murdered at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando three years ago, I am mindful that Pride is both a celebration and a testament to sorrow and struggle that has not yet ended. Especially this month, I offer special thanks to God for the strength of the LGBTQ community and for all that you share with your spouses, partners and children, with your faith communities, and indeed with our entire nation.
Information from Office of Government Relations: General Convention policy on abortion, women’s reproductive health
Clergy throughout The Episcopal Church counsel women, men, and families who must make decisions relating to pregnancy and childbirth, adoption, family planning, and who face infertility. Our ordained and lay leaders walk alongside Episcopalians and others who struggle with this intimate and challenging aspect of human life. Over the past several decades, the General Convention has addressed the topic of abortion from a position informed by this ministry and personal lived experience of clergy and laity within their own families. As a result, the General Convention of The Episcopal Church recognizes the moral, legal, personal, and societal complexity of the issue. The diversity of views within the Church represents our common struggle to understand and discern this issue.
The Episcopal Church teaches that “all human life is sacred. Hence, it is sacred from its inception until death. The Church takes seriously its obligation to help form the consciences of its members concerning this sacredness. Human life, therefore, should be initiated only advisedly and in full accord with this understanding of the power to conceive and give birth which is bestowed by God.” Our liturgical text Enriching Our Worship calls for great pastoral sensitivity to the needs of the woman and others involved in decisions relating to “abortion, or mishaps of pregnancy and infertility.” This ministry is particularly important in situations that result in the loss of a pregnancy or inability to become pregnant and as a Church, we have experienced that all of these have “a tragic dimension.”
In a series of statements over the past decades, the Church has declared that “we emphatically oppose abortion as a means of birth control, family planning, sex selection, or any reason of mere convenience.” At the same time, since 1967, The Episcopal Church has maintained its “unequivocal opposition to any legislation on the part of the national or state governments which would abridge or deny the right of individuals to reach informed decisions [about the termination of pregnancy] and to act upon them.”
The Church urges dioceses and congregations “to give necessary aid and support to all pregnant women.” General Convention “commends the work and mission of pregnancy care centers which stress unconditional love and acceptance, for women and their unborn children.” We have urged support of “local pregnancy care centers” that “develop an outreach of love to pregnant women and to mothers and their children.”
At the General Convention in 2018, The Episcopal Church called for “women’s reproductive health and reproductive health procedures to be treated as all other medical procedures.” The Convention declared “that equitable access to women’s health care, including women’s reproductive health care, is an integral part of a woman’s struggle to assert her dignity and worth as a human being.”
We continue to advocate that “legislating abortions will not address the root of the problem. We therefore express our deep conviction that any proposed legislation on the part of national or state governments regarding abortions must take special care to see that the individual conscience is respected, and that the responsibility of individuals to reach informed decisions in this matter is acknowledged and honored as the position of this Church.”
The Church also sees education as an essential component of engaging with issues relating to family planning, child spacing, adoption, infertility and abortion. The global Anglican Communion, of which The Episcopal Church is a member, first supported the use of contraceptives in 1930, and as Christians we affirm responsible family planning. General Convention policy states “it is the responsibility of our congregations to assist their members in becoming informed concerning the spiritual, physiological and psychological aspects of sex and sexuality.” The Book of Common Prayer affirms that “the birth of a child is a joyous and solemn occasion in the life of a family. It is also an occasion for rejoicing in the Christian community” (p 440).
I have many roles. I am a wife, mother, daughter, and friend. I have been married for 30 years, have two children, a mom in her 90s, and a dog. I have done many things. I have been a print journalist, disc jockey, radio newscaster, social worker helping chronically mentally ill people on the streets of Baltimore, psychologist in the California state prison system, forensic psychologist for the Massachusetts Department of Mental Health, neuropsychologist for the California Department of Mental Health, and a forensic psychological expert witness in both state service and private practice. A great deal of what I think and write about come from the many aspects of who I am, and my primary identity now is as an ordained minister of the Episcopal Church. Since I write many of our weekly articles, I wanted you to know what it means to me to be part of the Episcopal Church.
The Episcopal Church is a Protestant Christian denomination which is part of the global Anglican Communion. We are a democratic and hierarchical organization, much like the U.S. itself. We consider clergy and lay people to be equally important to the work of the church, with each group attempting to find and fulfill our specific call to serve from God.
The Episcopal Church has, as a body, made many mistakes. We have been a powerful and privileged group and have used that power and privilege to advance the interests of the few over the many, to hold onto and build more power at the expense of others, and to force our beliefs on other people. We have not only failed to care for those in need and raise up those who are kept low by systemic inequity, but we have helped perpetuate the situations and institutions that have led to injustice and oppression in our society.
Over the last four decades we have changed. In 2010 The Episcopal Church committed itself to: eradicate extreme poverty and hunger; achieve universal primary education; promote gender equality and empower women; reduce child mortality; improve maternal health; combat HIV/AIDS, malaria, and other diseases; ensure environmental sustainability; and develop a global partnership for development.
The Episcopal Church has also recommitted itself to the basic Christian values of loving our neighbors as ourselves. According to our Presiding Bishop, the Most Rev. Michael B. Curry, “in the first century Jesus of Nazareth inspired a movement. A community of people whose lives were centered on Jesus Christ and committed to living the way of God’s unconditional, unselfish, sacrificial, and redemptive love. Before they were called “church” or “Christian,” this Jesus Movement was simply called ‘the way.’ Today I believe our vocation is to live as the Episcopal branch of the Jesus Movement. But how can we together grow more deeply with Jesus Christ at the center of our lives, so we can bear witness to his way of love in and for the world?…By entering into reflection, discernment and commitment around the practices of Turn – Learn – Pray – Worship – Bless – Go – Rest, I pray we will grow as communities following the loving, liberating, life-giving way of Jesus. His way has the power to change each of our lives and to change this world.” The Episcopal Church recognizes the deep suspicion many people have of organized religion. We understand the depth to which many people have been wounded by those calling themselves Christian. We attempt to be vigilant about our own actions that are based on fear or prejudice – and to stop them.
Episcopalians also have a sense of humor, as evidenced by this take on our denomination by Robin Williams, who was raised in the Episcopal Church:
Top 10 Reasons to be an Episcopalian:
- No snake handling;
- You can believe in dinosaurs;
- Male and female God created them; male and female we ordain them;
- You don’t have to check your brains at the door;
- Pew aerobics;
- Church year is color-coded;
- Free wine on Sunday;
- All of the pageantry – none of the guilt;
- You don’t have to know how to swim to get baptized;
And the Number One reason to be an Episcopalian: No matter what you believe, there’s bound to be at least one other Episcopalian who agrees with you.
In other words, Episcopalians are open to questioning and doubt. We welcome all people to our communities. We welcome you.
My husband has taken to telling my children that they would starve in a grocery store. By this he means that for intelligent individuals they often seem quite helpless. Although both can do things on computers that I can’t, they sometimes seem stymied by things that involve the physical use of their own hands and eyes. And they are impatient. Despite being able to conceive creative projects and determine how to make them they sometimes end up with a disappointing facsimile of their idea simply because they are unwilling to let the paint dry between coats. Obviously some of their impulsivity can be attributed to youth, but it seems to me that it is also characteristic of individuals who are being raised in a push-button society.
There is a scene in one of the “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” movies in which a teenager locks his brother in the basement of their home. The younger boy looks frantically around for some way to call for help or escape. There on a table is a telephone. He picks up the receiver tentatively and finds it has a dial tone. He is momentarily elated- until he is unable to find any buttons to use to dial. Tragically, it is a rotary phone -and he can’t figure out how to use it. That episode is, of course, an exaggeration – one at which my own children take great offense. They tell me that they know what such remnants of the ancient 1980s are – but I have observed that asking them to use them is a different story. They are not alone. I see this attitude among many people who would rather wait out a power outage rather than attempt paperwork using actual paper. It’s not that we don’t know how, it’s just that we don’t know why we should.
Perhaps it’s because we don’t have to. When I was a child, my favorite books were about children who found themselves in unusual and challenging circumstances that forced them to be courageous and ingenious. While they inevitably made mistakes, they also invariably triumphed over their adverse situations, emerging from them wiser and more mature. Fiction? Yes – but aspirational fiction. I have heard people argue that today’s fiction for children and young adults is too dystopian and grim, but I don’t think that’s true. “The Hunger Games” and “Divergent” trilogies focus on future worlds that are systemically unjust and casually violent, but they are no more dangerous than Middle Earth or Narnia. They present thorny moral dilemmas and seemingly impossible situations that require their protagonists to ponder moral issues and find creative solutions in the same way that Trixie Belden and the Hardy Boys did. And Tris and Katniss are no more without adults to intervene than pretty much any Disney princess – none of whose mothers appear to survive their childhoods (think about it and wonder as I do if Walt Disney had mother issues). The difference is not in the books. The difference is in our willingness to allow our children to encounter situations that challenge them in similar, if less dangerous, ways.
That’s easy to say but, given the choice of safety or moral learning most parents (including me) will choose safety every time – and I’m sure my parents felt the same way. It is not the value but the definition of “safe” parenting that has changed. When I was a child, I was allowed to “go play” after completing my homework. I knew where I was permitted to go, what I could and could not do – and what would happen if I got caught doing it. Those were my boundaries. Today’s children play in play groups. They are driven to and from structured after school activities. Permission slips are needed for church activities. Some of these changes are good and necessary. It is not unreasonable to refuse to leave your children with an adult simply because s/he is an authority figure. We know that some teachers, scout leaders and priests have abused the trust placed in them. But is our level of caution necessary overall?
According to Uniform Crime Reporting Statistics, between the years that I was five and thirteen years-old violent crime in the United States rose from three-tenths of one percent to two percent. In the state where I lived, it rose from one-tenth of one percent to almost half of one percent. When my daughter was five, the national violent crime rate was four percent but dropped back to three percent by the time she was thirteen. In the state where she lived, it dropped from five-tenths of one percent when she was five to four-tenths of one percent when she was thirteen. Put simply, the national violent crime rate was an average of one percent higher during my daughter’s childhood than my own. So what gave me the idea that she was far more likely to be kidnapped or molested than I had been?
I would suggest that it is the result of something that I (paraphrasing Freud) think of as “media availability hysteria.” While my parents read the newspaper and watched network television, thanks to omnipresent news and opinion feeds, parents today are faced with reports of violent crime everywhere they go. The information highway is one long terror-filled trip for parents who are primed by talk shows, Facebook posts, and blogs to find evidence that they are inadequate to the task of keeping their children safe. FDR told our parents and grandparents that there was nothing to fear but fear itself; we have learned and have subsequently taught our own children that there is nothing to trust but fear itself. We don’t know how to deal with things not because we’re lazy but because we’re frightened.
This is antithetical to the message of Christianity, which is one of faith. In a country in which some religions equate faith with good fortune, we have lost track of the scriptural meaning of faith. Having faith does not mean that bad things will not happen to us if we believe in God. There will be drought. There will be excessive heat and floods. There will be natural disaster; no one will be spared misfortune in life. The difference is how we deal with those hardships, and how we manage our fear of them. We know that fear can be mobilizing and clarifying, but it is also destructive and paralyzing. True Christian community is a place where we can speak our fears aloud to one another and to God and to find solutions for working through them. It is a place where our children can be challenged without being endangered. It is a place where we can struggle collectively with our doubts while retaining our faith.