I taught a class on Barth last night. Going over the “Barmen Declaration” made me remember the last time I studied the document with a church, following a fitful night several years ago….
I put my daughter to bed, and fell asleep next to her (I’m telling you, the whole bedtime story thing is a trap. She never falls asleep, and I always do). Suddenly, I heard my husband whispering to me from the doorway: “Carol. R’s on the phone.”
“R’s on the phone.”
“Tell her I’m asleep.”
“I did. She said to wake you up.”
I sprang up from the bed, immediately. My dozy confusion turned into dazed panic. I knew that R was in the islands on vacation. There must have been a terrible emergency for her to call me so late, and demand that I be woken up.
I ran upstairs, grabbed the phone and greeted her with a worried, “Hello?”
She wanted to talk about the flags. She put a halt to her vacation and woke me (the working mother of a toddler who really, really needed any moment of sleep that I could possibly get) to discuss the flags in the sanctuary. The same flags that we had been wrangling over for the last six months in session meetings.
I had actually been proud of my church for talking about it openly. Before my arrival, they had a very strange history with those flags that involved all kinds of late-night shenanigans. The flower committee chair wanted them up, the former pastor wanted them down. So, from what I could glean of the oral history, they made an informal compromise: six months up and six months down. Although the flag factions never actually discussed it with each other.
Here’s the interesting part. After the flower committee chair would leave on Saturday night, setting up the arrangements and the flags for Sunday morning, someone would enter the sanctuary late at night (the former pastor?) to take down the flags and hide them for Sunday mornings.
When I came on board, it was shortly after September 11, and the flags just stood there as permanent fixtures. I didn’t know any better. That’s when I was told that it was my duty to be breaking into the sanctuary in the middle of Saturday night and taking down the flags for six months out of the year. To which I responded, “You’re kidding, right?”
They weren’t kidding.
Ordinarily, I would side-step a flag issue early in my tenure, but it was obvious. This issue had been avoided for the past twenty years. And that’s how I found myself in the middle of a flag debate within the first six months of my ministry there. I was knee-deep in New England patriotism, proper flag placement codes, hours of debate, and late-night phone calls. In addition, I found out the frightening history of the Christian flag. Read it and weep.
The end result? The Christian flag got the boot. The American flag was left up, all twelve months of the year, but in a less obtrusive place (it had been practically standing in the pulpit with me when I preached. It ended up next to the organ somewhere…).
Our current sanctuary at Western has no flags. But the HOS said it took rebuilding the entire sanctuary for them to be taken down.
So what about you? Ever get in the Nation vs. God debate? How’d it end up?