Just about every day, Facebook pops up on my personal page a post & photo from this date some year in the past, as a memory.
The other day, a photo came up on FB of me, taking nap recliner, while mischievous granddaughter, seven, piling stuffed animals and stuff on my torso to see how much she could stack up on me before the weight woke me up.
This happened one year ago during a family reunion over an extended weekend in Las Vegas, where my daughter works as a nurse. It was silly scene, but showed we were having a fine time, so it was worth a passing remembrance.
Then I realized something else about it. That trip and gathering marked the end of the world.
Well, not the end of THE world, but surely the end of A world: the pre-pandemic world, the demise of what can be called the Good Old Days. And so that silly photo of me asleep with odds and ends piled on my belly in late February 2020, also marked the anniversary – better say the first anniversary — of the era of Covid.
After that family weekend, within just a few weeks, schools were closed, unemployment swept through us like a tornado, markets crashed, toilet paper disappeared and lockdowns were coming, and the last time I was able to worship in person at our meetinghouse until – when?
And on this unwelcome anniversary, I realized a couple other things: one is that it’s not over; far from it. The other is a strong suspicion, that even when it’s declared to be over, it may be impossible to go “back to normal.” At least not entirely.
Christian churches all over the world are having Christmas services this weekend, and into the coming weeks. It’s a tradition almost two millennia old. But for some churches, it’s a pretty bittersweet occasion.
The Friends Church of Midway City, in Orange County California is one such. After 85 years, this Christmas weekend is to be their last in the church they built and paid for, and pursued their vision of evangelical Quakerism.
Many readers have asked about the outcome of the dispute between Midway City Friends and their evangelical overlords, reported here in widely-read blog posts almost a year ago, here and here.
The overlords announced in May 2018 that they were going to shut down the congregation, take the church and its property, and fire the pastors. The Midway City Friends filed a lawsuit in 2018 to stop their expropriation.
It didn’t work out. As the church announced on its Facebook page above, they lost their case. The defendants, leaders of Evangelical Friends Church Southwest (EFCSW; neé California Yearly Meeting), argued that changes in Faith & Practice they had engineered a decade earlier made the EFCSW Board of Elders the supreme rulers, with ultimate ownership over all their member churches’ property. After months of mainly Covid-forced delay, last summer the judge agreed.
Midway City’s deposed pastor Joe Pfeiffer put it this way in a September Facebook post:
What we have discovered through the legal process in the last two years is that a small group who want to adopt a megachurch-satellite model with a centralized corporate structure basically circumvented our denominations governing bylaws to orchestrate a take-over. Though a lot of pious and spiritual language is being used (as often in church settings) it really comes down to power and money.
Early on, I started to publicly question this trend, as well as some of the ways our denominational budgets and nominations were being handled, and basically became a target, and then our church as a whole.
Our hope above all in this, is to continue to speak truth to power, and testify to our experience. Our aim is that truth will lead to conviction and ultimately reconciliation and healing in our broader body of Friends in Southwest.
But a third goal of their EFCSW antagonists went beyond grabbing the Midway City property and terminating Joe and his wife, co-pastor Cara Pfeiffer. They also want to make the whole episode disappear into oblivion down the legal memory hole. When a “settlement” was reached in November, it included nondisclosure clauses which forced the Pfeiffers to clam up, and relieved the EFCSW rulers from having to make any comment.
So no one has actually told me any of the settlement details. But key parts of it, e.g., the evictions, are outcomes that can’t actually be entirely concealed. After all, your basic big closing-down-and moving-the-church rummage sale announce-ment is pretty much a dead giveaway.
Their forced move is also a public reminder of how this whole affair started, when the Pfeiffers yielded to the quinte-ssentially Christian impulse to help a few homeless people who showed up on their doorstep in early 2018. That, and Joe’s record of daring to question EFCSW’s dedication to secretive top-down rule which brooked no questions or protest — that is, acting as if Friends were supposed to be a community of equals, was simply beyond the pale. They had to be stopped. The support the Pfeiffers had from the church was intolerable; all had to be stopped, and the memory expunged.
Now EFCSW has sort of got their way: they’ll get the property, which if the economy rebounds could be worth a bundle, and the Pfeiffers and their four foster children, are now mum about the lawsuit, and face an uncertain pandemic-haunted future.
Yet there are a few loose ends. For one, the church, while small, has refused to die. Yes, it will be homeless a few days from now; but this is the year of worship-by-Zoom, so they will still meet, as they have done since the pandemic arrived, until they figure out where they can land next. There are, after all, Friends meetings in their area which are not under the hegemony of EFCSW.
Further, last spring, well before the gag rule was drafted, Joe Pfeiffer published “Engaging Homelessness Behind the “Orange Curtain,” a detailed, searing and trenchant critique of the entire “church growth” theology that has driven EFCSW for more than fifty years. The piece exposed its deep-seated roots in defensive white normativity and the preservation of class privilege.
For its part, EFCSW issued a short letter addressed to pastors in its 45 churches, noting the settlement, and underlining its confidentiality. In a possible bow to criticism that may have been evoked by wide attention to the Midway City property grab, Rick Darden, who signed the missive for the Elders, said of EFCSW’s leaders that
“we commit to improving our efforts in communications and relationships among our pastors and churches.
We believe that EFCSW has acted graciously toward the people of FCC Midway City and Joe and Cara Pfeiffer and their foster children in this settlement . . . .”
I couldn’t help it. The cluelessness here forced a laugh.
Here’s the leader of a so-called Christian church, parading his “graciousness” while marking the occasion of the birth of his church’s acclaimed messiah, whose infancy was spent as a homeless refugee, and one of whose commands for salvation was taking in the homeless, by having it coincide with making homeless refugees of one of their own congregations.
Further, Darden & Co. are expelling them from a church which the mostly non-affluent members of built, paid for, and maintained. Their only “crime” (besides wanting to think and speak freely) was trying to help a few of the thousands of homeless people with which Darden’s home county abounds.
(The last homeless count in Orange County was over 7000 in 2019, up from 4800 when this whole fiasco began. A 2020 count was canceled by Covid, but homelessness is widely assumed to have ballooned with the associated economic crash and its joblessness.)
Darden and EFCSW’s flagship church in upscale Yorba Linda (self-styled as “The Land of Gracious living”) include on their megachurch staff eight staffers assigned to “Marketing,” and a dozen more to a “Creative Team.”
Evidently none of these twenty noticed that both the timing and what political pundits called “the optics” of this expulsion event are, to put it mildly, beyond terrible. After such a move, any EFCSW efforts at “improving [their] efforts in communicationsand relationships” as Darden’s letter pledged, would seem to be, as the pundits also say, “due for a reset.”
Darden’s letter closed by assuring that EFCSW’s leaders were offering the Pfeiffers and the Midway City Friends their thoughts and prayers.
Of course. As Christians today, it was the least they could do.
There’s a very interesting commentary on the Bulwark blog, about Pfizer and its new vaccine. Not about the medical aspects but the financial side: Pfizer completely steered clear of the administration’s “Operation Warp Speed,” with all its hoopla and federal money, paying for all the experimentation and trials solely with its own funds.
why Pfizer opted to front its own costs when the federal spigot was open, and why it raced to distance itself from Operation Warp Speed once the clinical trial findings were released. For answers to those questions, we have to review the long, sad tale of the Trump administration’s mishandling of the COVID-19 crisis over the past nine months.
You know the outline of what’s next, but bear with us:
Except for brief interludes, President Trump more or less fumbled pandemic policy and communications from the get-go. In service of his re-election campaign, he sought to downplay the seriousness of the threat. He has encouraged resistance to public health measures like masking and business lockdowns, leading to huge, rotating disease spikes first in the South and more recently in the Midwest.
His overheated rhetoric against social distancing and restrictions on business (“Liberate Michigan!”) culminated in FBI-thwarted plots to kidnap the governors of Michigan and Virginia. Finally, his resolute refusal to adhere to, or allow those around him to adhere to, basic disease mitigation practices resulted in a mini-epidemic for the first family and dozens of members of his administration. Back in August, even Mitch McConnell started avoiding a White House that looked every day more like a scene from The Hot Zone.
Eric Trump was one who sneered at the pandemic in late Spring, and said media attention to it was no more than a Democratic Party campaign ploy. As reported in Forbes(a respected, business-oriented journal):
During an interview with Fox News host Jeanine Pirro on “Justice with Judge Jeanine,” Eric Trump, the son of President Donald Trump said, “And guess what, after November 3 coronavirus will magically all of a sudden go away and disappear and everybody will be able to reopen.”
The following tweet includes a video of this segment: [ text: “Biden loves this,” @EricTrump says, talking about agonizing shutdowns during the pandemic… “They’ll milk it every single day between now and Nov. 3, and guess what. . .”
He repeated the talking point in a TIME report:“They think they’re taking away Donald Trump’s greatest tool, which is being able to go into an arena and fill it with 50,000 people every single time…,”Trump said. “And you watch, they’ll milk it every single day between now and Nov. 3. And guess what, after Nov. 3 coronavirus will magically, all of a sudden, go away and disappear and everybody will be able to reopen.”
Trump added in the TIME report that that Vice President Biden “loves this” because [Biden] is not able to draw comparable crowds to his campaign events. He said that Democrats are trying to take away the President’s “greatest asset”— his ability to connect with the American people, and appear at campaign rallies.
If you drove west on the Chapel Hill-Greensboro Road through Snow Camp, North Carolina on Sunday, November 1, 2020, at about eleven AM, you would have passed a white chapel-looking building on your left. A few cars were parked outside, on the grass under the big old trees, which are shedding their wrinkled brown leaves after a hot green summer.
That was Spring Friends Meeting. From the outside, it looked quiet, secluded, and almost deserted. Easy to miss amid the wooded stretches and dairy farms of southern Alamance county.
But inside, it was none of those. Yes, just a handful of Quakers, or Friends, were sitting, widely-spaced and mostly masked, on its long benches. And they weren’t loud. But a lot was going on.
Hundreds of people said “Yes!” to my Facebook call for North Carolina officials to keep our citizens safe by standing firm on pandemic safety policies relating to the planned Republican National Convention set for Charlotte in August.
Thank you to everyone who “Liked” or commented on it. Now I have a request for followup:
Please send this message to Governor Roy Cooper. It only takes a moment or two.
Governor Cooper has an online email form, right here.
Folks from out of state can also use it (we want visitors to be safe here too!)
I just sent this message myself:
Dear Governor Cooper:
I strongly urge you to strictly enforce all pandemic safety policies applicable to the proposed political convention in Charlotte in August. This health crisis will not be over. Please keep Charlotte and North Carolina Citizens (and any visitors) SAFE.
Use your own words. If you prefer the phone, here is the office number listed on the Governor’s web page: (919) 814-2000.
The pandemic continues to spread in North Carolina. Confirmed cases, hospitalizations & deaths are all at new highs.
At least 627 people were hospitalized with COVID-19 as of Monday, the highest daily total state officials have reported since the pandemic began. The number is up from 587 the day before.
The N.C. Department of Health and Human Services on Monday also reported 742 new coronavirus cases as testing ramps up throughout the state. It was a jump from 497 new reported cases on Sunday.”
This graph, from Reuters, shows the steady, rapid rise of virus cases in the state, as of Mid-May. The total has continued rapidly upward since then. Unlike some other states, NC a peak or leveling off is not yet in sight here.
This worsening situation only heightens the risk of large mass gatherings , both to residents and visitors. And it won’t be over by August. It makes such policies as social distancing and wearing masks even more a matter of life and death.
Republican party leaders have threatened to move the convention from Charlotte unless Governor Cooper lifts pandemic policies from the venue. I believe this would be a very dangerous mistake. Cooper should Resist such threats and pressure.
if you share this view, tell Governor Cooper so. Politely and persistently. And please pass this message on.
Unfortunately, due to a late start, inconsistent state actions and a lack of federal direction, most states have yet to see a consistent decline in cases, much less reduced them to low enough levels for [the lockdown] to work.
No state has achieved sufficient testing and contact tracing.
Reopening under these circumstances means we are giving up on containing covid-19.
In a time of all-encompassing catastrophe, bad news comes at us from all directions. But insight can comes form anywhere as well. There’s much of this in an editorial in the April 17-30 issue of the liberal Catholic paper, the National Catholic Reporter, (NCR) entitled “Catholics and Trump, areckoning.” I believe it calls for Quaker attention.
Not that it’s about or for Quakers. But reading it, though, I kept seeing a different name in place of “Catholic” — Quaker. More specifically, Evangelical Quaker. A sample of the editorial will show why.
But first, a bit of context. Here in North Carolina, much of the evangelically-oriented Quaker population is found in three counties: Surry, Randolph and Yadkin counties. And these three counties have a distinctive record in national politics: twice, in 2008 and 2012, they voted against Barack Obama by a three to one margin. And in 2016, they voted for the incumbent president by three to one. Continue reading A Catholic Reckoning? How about an Evangelical Quaker Reckoning?→