Thinking Out Loud

June 5, 2016

Pastor’s Legacy Transcends Doctrine

Rev. Bob Rumball

I never met the Rev. Bob Rumball and know nothing about his theology, but given his training at Northern Baptist Seminary, we would probably agree on a lot of things.

On the other hand, while I can’t discuss his orthodoxy, his orthopraxy was known to all the world. His obituary, following his passing on June 1st, says it well: “He is recognized as the individual who had the greatest impact on the quality of life, human rights and services for the Deaf, Hard of Hearing and Special Needs community in the past century.”

Growing up in Toronto, I was aware of the Bob Rumball School for the Deaf (pictured below) which was about a half dozen miles west of my home. I had always assumed that some personal or family connection propels people into certain areas of ministry, but according to his Wikipedia article, “He was introduced to Deaf culture while preaching at the Evangelical Church of the Deaf, located at the time in downtown Toronto, and began a lifetime of advocacy. He learned American Sign Language to communicate with Toronto’s Deaf population, and give their needs a voice.” They had been hoping for a deaf pastor, but couldn’t find one. The former Canadian Football League (CFL) player accepted the invitation in 1956.

In the 1950s, Christian ministry, especially in Baptist culture, was all about proclamation. The sense of social justice which has now swept through Evangelicalism had not yet arrived, even though Christian church history and missiology is filled with stories about the founding of hospitals, hospices, schools and a multiplicity of other avenues for social concern. I’m sure that in the elites of conservative Protestantism, there are those who would see working with the deaf a ‘lesser’ ministry calling when compared to orating the great truths of the gospel to a packed Sunday morning congregation.

In this writer’s mind however, we need to celebrate the exceptions to that mindset. The Henri Nouwen type of thinking that challenges a career path in academics to serve the developmentally handicapped, one person at a time. The William and Catherine Booth type of thinking that stands up to the religion of the wealthy, and offers an alternative worship venue for the poor (and much more). The Bob Rumball type of thinking that challenges the assumptions of what it means to be a Baptist-trained preacher and instead devotes a lifetime to serving an easily marginalized segment of the population.

It was those people who became his congregation. In a 2009 The Toronto Star article marking the 30th anniversary of the facility which bears his name — as well as his 80th birthday — he describes his flock: “The prisoners who could not talk to their jailers. The sick who could not explain their pain. The mother wrongly convicted of murder because she couldn’t be heard in court.”

The article documents overcoming the greatest roadblock “…He had zero experience in sign language and no concept of the distinctive deaf culture it helps create. But with the nimbleness that allowed him to play both sides of the line in his journeyman football career, Rumball took easily to the fluidly lovely language, which he mastered within months.”

Finally, on the facility itself The Star noted that today it “includes a 75-room residence for seniors and special needs adults, a daycare, a non-denominational church, a library, a skills-training facility, sign language classes for new Canadians, a host of community service programs and a welcoming space for social functions of all kinds.” Not onsite is a summer camp founded in 1960, about two hours north of the city.

Bob Rumball found a need that was not being met and filled it. What needs and missed opportunities which lie around us can we fill?

Bob Rumball Centre for the Deaf - Toronto

Learn more at BobRumball.org

 

 

February 12, 2011

Justifying Your Paid Ministry Position

I want to return to something that was in the link list on Wednesday; and I’ll simply re-post the item and then if you didn’t read the pieces you can skim them and we’ll meet back here:

  • Okay this one was overdue.  Fox KTLA’s report begins: “Crystal Cathedral’s chief financial officer –- who received a six-figure housing allowance from the now-bankrupt church –- has retired after 33 years with the organization. Fred Southard, 75, said he believed it was time to let someone else have a chance at his job, and that he wanted to help the ministry reduce expenses.”  Yes.  Definitely.  Give that six-figure job to someone else now that there’s probably not enough money to support a four-figure job.  Of course, Southward justifies himself as the job was once “a ministerial function” albeit in “the early days.”

So what was your reaction?

Richard Deitrich (click image) writes: According to the LA TIMES this is Fred Southward's home, so you can see what $132,019 in housing allowance a year can buy - must be a pretty expensive pool guy!

This is a job that probably started out, as stated, with “ministerial function.”  There was probably a lot of contact with other church staff and many opportunities to interact with parishioners.

And I’m 99% sure I know what happened next.

Everybody got really, really comfortable.

The paychecks kept coming in.  Or maybe, in this case, the housing allowance continued. The calls got screened. The travel junkets increased. And that became the status quo.  It then continued the way it had always been and since the ministry was growing and flourishing, there was no scrutiny, no belt-tightening, no need to rethink everything.

On the other hand, I love how the guy spins it so he looks like a hero in his retirement, “I have to do all I can.”   That of course, needs to be weighed again what 33 years at the church as brought him; note the statement, ‘He owns a home in Newport Beach assessed at $2.3 million, property records show.’

Nice non-work if you can get it.

Ever since King David mentioned the gladness of going to God’s house, actually getting to serve in the temple has been a privilege.  Should there be term-limitations?  An insistence that all ministry positions be bi-vocational?

In this story, you can’t miss the irony of this statement:

“The cuts made by the church were not done quickly enough and they were not deep enough,” he said Tuesday. “There were a number of factors that snowballed to get the church to where it is today.”

Remember, Fred Southward was the children’s pastor, no wait a minute, he was the choir director, no he was Chief Financial Officer.  If the cuts weren’t made fast enough, it’s because they weren’t made fast enough by him.  That was part of his job description. That’s what executives get paid (and get housing allowances!) to do; to see the trends, to forecast the budgeting, and to make the required adjustments. Ahead of time.

In the comparison of Crystal Cathedral staff and supplier winners and losers, Fred Southward was a winner.

Bankruptcy court filings also showed that the cathedral paid out more than $2 million to 23 insiders, mostly members of the Schuller family, over the 12 months leading to the cathedral’s Oct. 18 bankruptcy. The church’s revenue dipped by about 25 percent, more than 150 employees were laid off and numerous creditors went unpaid.

…So let’s return to this article’s title.

How many other people are there out there who are on the payroll of a local church or Christian organization who have a nice gig with a plush office and would have no problem if asked to justify their salary and perks?

Bible College students are graduating and — with no experience — walking into full-time Youth Ministry positions that start at $48K.  No salad days.  No need for a second job. No dues to pay.

No wonder it’s so easy to get your ministry motivation corrupted when you’re doing it for pay. Also, let’s face it, any one who starts comfortably will expect regular pay increases; they’ll expect future placements to come with more money and benefits.

The Apostle Paul continued to ply his trade while singlehandedly spearheading efforts to take the gospel to the farthest parts of the known world. He does ask churches to set aside money to support those who preach God’s word to them. But he doesn’t seem to, as the saying goes, quit his day job.

Pastors in the third world church know nothing of salaries and housing benefits. (‘Yes, I’ll travel for three days through the jungle to attend that conference, but it’s going to depreciate my sandals and I’ll expect a mileage allowance.’)

So why do we not only do it that way here in North America, but do it to excess?


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