One of the great pleasures in my life is making music. Specifically, singing with the Unisingers, my church choir. I like bringing what I can to our services and events, and making them more enjoyable for the congregation and visitors, and maybe, maybe touching someone or giving them pause or making them think.
Last night I almost quit.
A couple of years ago, our church bought a second building downtown in a depressed neighborhood. We had been going back and forth over relocating and building on a new site to accommodate our growing numbers. Then this "opportunity" came along, and after a close vote, we bought this 1912 brick church instead.
The place is a money pit. It's unbearably hot in the summer, cold in the winter, and it costs a fortune to heat. We are one of the wealthiest per capita congregations in town, and yet between our two buildings, not one of them is air-conditioned. Money that could have been spent on improving our original space has been spent on new roof, mold remediation, asbestos tile removal, flooring, etc., etc, ad nauseam.
The big attraction of the new location seems to be taking over the community work done by the original, now-dwindling congregation. Which is fine. Many of our members seem called to work down there, cleaning up alleys, preparing meals every other week (and serving them restaurant-style instead of in a soup kitchen-type line), donating clothing, helping kids with homework, and so forth. Again, this is fine. If you are called to it.
Last night the choir was "volunteered" by our Music Minister to prepare a meal for 30-odd people, cook it, serve it, clean up after it, and provide child care during it. We weren't given a vote, or a choice, or an option, apart from paying $175 each to get out of it.
One of the founding principles of Unitarian-Universalism is congregational polity. WE GET TO VOTE ON WHAT WE DO.
I didn't get to vote on anything. I will do my share at this event, minimally, because the friendships I have in the Unisingers are ultimately of more value to me than the inconvenience of giving up one night in service. But I want to make it clear that I resent the hell out of it. I feel called to make music, and I want to make that music, and so I joined the Music Ministry. I do not feel called to work in a soup kitchen, no matter how "family-style" it's made to ease the feelings of the poor and the homeless. If I did, I would join the Feeding the Poor Ministry. Instead, I chose to sing.
I want to make it clear that I have been dirt poor in my life. I came within 24 hours of homelessness and lived hand to mouth in a rat-infested tenement in South Philadelphia for a couple of years. My family had very little growing up. My father worked for the A and P grocery store; my mother didn't work at all; we had four kids and we lived on beans and pasta and endlessly recycled leftovers, and when the mortgage money was tight, we ate at Grandma's because our parents didn't have food. Later on, as an adult, I relocated to Philly to manage a business and when it failed, I lost everything. I had to sell my possessions, move to the rat trap mentioned earlier, and scramble to find work during the 1970's recession. I took what work I could find. I went from being an office manager to cleaning toilets and waiting tables and washing dishes for cash. I get it. Poverty's no picnic. That's why I left Pennsylvania for Virginia, janitored and bartended to get myself an education in library science, and bootstrapped my way out of poverty and into the middle class. Ultimately I married, returned to Pennsylvania, and found meaningful work again before my health issues forced retirement on me. It's not impossible, even in today's trying economic circumstances, if you have wit and determination.
Again, the people who are called to help those in dire circumstances are good people doing good things. But I'm simply not one of them.
If anything causes me to leave my church, it'll be having this type of forced "charity" shoved down my throat. Besides, I hate our downtown building; it's too effing "churchy" for a lapsed Catholic like me. I walk into it waiting for a nun to smack me with a ruler.
I know I would have lost the vote if the issue had been put to one, but at least I would have been given the chance to cast one. I wouldn't be going into this with such a huge chip of resentment on my shoulder. There is a theory that Unitarians need to be dragged kicking and screaming into doing good works. It's crap. We have plenty of people who are called to do this and who are down there every day, not just in Harrisburg, but in poor neighborhoods all across our nation. This work does not, however, fill the void for the spiritual in my soul (speaking metaphorically, of course, since I believe in neither spirit nor soul.)
I simply must be a terrible, awful person....