Sunday, March 30, 2008

The 2008 "Annual" Bizness Meeting

It's hard to believe a whole year has passed since that fiasco on March 25, 2007 called a "church business meeting." This morning, March 30th, the 2008 "annual church business meeting" took place. Of course, the church bylaws, abbreviated as they are, call for monthly business meetings, but who cares? Bylaws, schmylaws... rules don't apply to us. They don't even care enough to try to change the bylaws which have remained unchanged since they were penned in 1929. They just ignore them or deny they exist.

For anyone who's interested, the minutes of last year's meeting have been posted here. I believe they may have left out a few minor details... such as when they cut off the microphones while members were calling on them to "divide the house" and how several people, namely CW, were left standing at the microphones... and how non-members were allowed to vote.

Last year's budget (2007-2008) is here. This year's budget hasn't been posted on Bellevue's site yet. Maybe we'll see that soon, especially since it's been approved now.

You can bet after last year that even more controls were in place to avoid a repeat performance, but I'm sure it wasn't nearly as big a concern this year as nearly all the recalcitrants are gone, so of those remaining, either no one cares or they are all in lockstep with the administration. Or maybe they're all in lockstep about not caring. No doubt a few stragglers do have concerns but know that realistically their voices don't count.

The movement toward an "annual" business meeting (in spite of the bylaws calling for monthly meetings) is straight out of the "Transitioning" playbook. But Bellevue isn't going PD. Oh, no.

While last year's "Celebration" was pretty well packed, today's was not. I would estimate the floor crowd at about 60-65% capacity, and the balcony was perhaps 20-25% full. But that was just for the service... the only service held this morning... which didn't end until around noon. (It started at 10:00.) Note to administration: Why not just have one service every Sunday and plow the savings in utilities, etc. back into the budget?

The service was typical for Bellevue today. There was music before the service started, and boy, was it rockin'! It almost scared me away before I even entered the sanctuary. The music during the service was very loud, mostly catchy 7-11 choruses, but I thought some of the music was inspiring, especially The Old Rugged Cross which should have had everyone in the mood to worship. Beautiful harmony, soaring instrumentals, some of the most inspirational lyrics in hymndom.... Then Steve Gaines had to do what he does nearly every week and make it about him. He jumped up and immediately broke into an "impromptu" a cappella solo and the congregation soon joined him. Please, pastor, I'm trying to give you some helpful advice here. It's not about you! (Nor is it about Jamie, but The Jamie Show has become a Bellevue staple.) These little spur-of-the-moment, pastoral solos, tacked onto the end of a congregational hymn or inserted into the middle of a sermon are not "impromptu," they unnecessarily and inappropriately call attention to yourself, and IMO they are not conducive to a positive worship experience.

There were so many ovations this morning, I lost count. There was applause for the pastor's bad jokes, applause for the music, applause several times during the sermon. I've noticed lately the choir even applauds for themselves following their special numbers! I've never seen a choir anywhere do that! Very strange.

I'm not a fan of ovations in church unless it's for a really good reason, and employed in excess, as we're seeing at Bellevue, it just cheapens the whole worship service. (So does the state of dress -- or undress -- of some of the congregants, but I digress.) Some of the things people applauded for this morning were ridiculous. A couple of times -- such as when the Iraq War veteran was introduced -- it was appropriate.

We were treated to a color graphic of the church parking lot on the IMAG, a painful attempt at a stand-up comedy routine about congregational parking habits, and informed that we were sinning if we parked in the wrong lot. Heh heh heh. I wonder if that applies to the people who've been parking in Mrs. Rogers' reserved parking space? News flash: Mrs. Rogers left Bellevue over six months ago! She doesn't need a reserved parking space there now. If one didn't know better, one might think the church is trying to give the impression that Mrs. Rogers is still faithfully attending Bellevue. I'm sure it was just an oversight that the sign wasn't removed.

The sermon seemed to go on forever. I thought at one point surely he was about finished, only to look down at my fill-in-the-blank outline and realize he wasn't even halfway through. Good thing the seats are comfortable! There were two very slick video presentations during the sermon. One on "giving" (what else?) contained some especially impressive (i.e. high-priced) special effects. He made some good points, at a considerably higher decibel level than necessary. (More advice, this to preachers in general: YOU DON'T HAVE TO YELL TO GET YOUR POINT ACROSS!!!) One of the best, I thought, was when he called out Barack Obama's pastor (though not by name) as "the church in Illinois that claims they're 'ethno-centric.' I think that's despicable!" Amen!

In his sermon, entitled "The House of the Lord," with special emphasis on "a house of __giving__," Steve Gaines still somehow managed to bring up the subject of alcohol. I knew the second he said, "Before I go on... I know I've brought this up before... " what was coming. I thought to myself, "Here we go again." I don't think I've heard him preach a sermon in months that something hasn't been worked in about the "eeeeeeevils of alcohol." It's as if he's obsessed with the subject. Keeping a confessed child molester and known sexual predator on staff and allowing him to freely roam the halls of the church for six months is only "a mistake of the mind" and "uncharted waters." Ho hum. But touching alcohol... verily, just having alcohol in your house (even for cooking purposes?) is one of the eight deadly sins. (And for the record, I do not drink alcohol.)

Finally, there was an invitation during which it appeared several people made decisions (and that's always good), some brief IMAG announcements, and the "business meeting" began immediately. Curiously, this year there was no announcement about people going to get their children out of the nursery or only members staying and voting in the meeting, although I seem to recall the pastor saying something along the lines of, "Let's get this over with so we can go to lunch." (So glad to know our pastor has his priorities straight!) As soon as the announcements began, people began streaming out in droves. By the time the meeting started a few minutes later, the floor capacity was probably 25% and the balcony about 10%.

Last year, Bryan Miller, 2007 deacon chairman, chaired the meeting. This year David Coombs performed the honors, there was no sign of a parliamentarian, and there was one microphone set up for people to ask questions. Only two would.

He opened by stating that, for the record, a quorum was present. (Hmmm... Since David Coombs has been ordained for over a year already, I wonder when he's going to take a turn preaching. Oops. Sorry. I digressed again.) Now, I remember last year there was some discussion here about the requirements for a quorum. I believe the number 10% was tossed out. Bryan Miller used that figure when he stated there were 3000 people present last year. Someone else said Robert's Rules of Order don't require a quorum unless one is specifically required by the organization's bylaws. (Bellevue's bylaws don't mention a quorum.) So I don't know if there was a quorum present today or not... or if one was required to be. I would guess there were maybe... I'm being generous here... 1800-2000 people present for the meeting today. If they're still insisting we have over 29,000 members (which is a joke), it wasn't close to 10%.

Each person who approached the microphone was asked to state his or her name and how long he or she had been a member of Bellevue. (Why should the latter matter?) The first person up was a man who prefaced his motion by stating how important benevolence is and that there's not a line-item amount for that in the budget. (I'm not sure I understood his name, so I won't state it until I can confirm it.) He then proposed Bellevue designate 1% of its receipts to be used for benevolence purposes. (Given this year's budget of $24 million, this would come to $240,000.)

Aubrey Earnheart, chairman of the Finance Committee and Budget Planning Committee member, presented a brief summary of the cash receipts on hand as of the end of March. He started to address the man's question when Ed Rollins, chairman of the Budget Planning Committee, interrupted and stated that there is indeed a line-item amount in the budget for benevolence, so I gathered that meant that was the end of the discussion.

Now, I have a copy of the proposed 2008-2009 budget. I could be missing something, and I'll readily admit it if I am, but I've gone through it several times and see only one line-item entry for "benevolence" (or anything close) in the 2008-2009 budget, and that's $36,000 under "Missions" for "Benevolence - Non-member." That comes to 0.15% of the total budget (the number for 2007-2008 was zero) and includes nothing for members. They've budgeted twice that much for "ball field maintenance" alone! The man didn't press the point and returned to his seat.

The cash receipts said to be on hand (rounded by yours truly) as of the end of March were:


Love Offering (2004-2007): $4.8 million

Other: $3.0 million


$10.0 million


$17.9 million (difference due to rounding)

I don't have the breakdown, but I remember they said the total on deposit this time last year was almost $19 million.

A woman named Carla then asked for clarification about whether any of the currently restricted cash deposits were going to be moved to the unrestricted category and freed up for other projects since the Love Offering projects like the prayer chapel and children's center have never materialized. The pastor interrupted and stepped to the microphone. He stated that when he first came he was asked to list some of the things he thought Bellevue should do with the Love Offering. "You know I love prayer, and I know you do, too," so he said he told them he thought we should build a prayer chapel. He said that under the direction of Carolyn Higginbothom, Minister of... er... Director of Prayer... uhhh now just "prayer coordinator," that project was turned over to the Long-Term Planning Committee for their consideration. I guess they're still "considering" because that's exactly where this project was one year ago.

Anyway, Mr. Earnheart explained that the restricted funds were not going to be reclassified and added he thought it was a good question.

Can someone tell me why a church would keep almost $18 million just sitting in the bank? Of course, there has to be a cushion, but just imagine how several million dollars could be used to further the Kingdom of Christ!

The first motion up for a vote was the Committee on Committees'... well... committees. Only Baptists could come up with a term like "Committee on Committees"! Reminds me of the age-old question... how many Baptists does it take to change a light bulb? Answer: At least 15. One to change the light bulb and three committees to approve the change and decide who brings the potato salad and fried chicken.

You can see a list of all the committee heads and members here. As far as I could tell, there were no opposing votes.

Next up was the vote on the proposed 2008-2009 budget. "All in favor, stand. All opposed, likewise." From what I could tell it was unanimous. Apparently the "I don't care" votes weren't counted.

The last order of business was the selection of... actually the rubber-stamping of... the 2008 Bellevue messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention. Who knows how they were selected? You'll no doubt recognize several of the names from last year's list of messengers.

2008 SBC Messengers:

Steve and Donna Gaines
David Coombs
Bart Berretta (Men's Ministry committee chairman)
Darrell Clarke (Minister, Biblical Guidance)
Michael Day
Joe Jernigan
David Perdue (ex BOD member for MABTS & LWF)
Bob Sorrell (brought Claude Thomas to GBC)
Bill Street (Gardendale transplant & son-in-law of the Caldwells - he of fence-jumping fame, she of the pastor search committee)

And with that, the 2008 annual Bellevue church business meeting was adjourned. My, what a difference a year makes! Church life is so much simpler without all those pesky troublemakers getting in the way! I would say the whole "mood" was different this year from last. Last year there was a sense of anticipation, mixed with cautious optimism because concerned members thought they were finally getting the opportunity to be heard and the chance to affect some positive changes. Of course, we know none of that happened.

This year was entirely different. I got the sense, mainly from the mass exodus before the meeting started, but also from the relaxed demeanor of the powers-that-be lined up on the dais, that they were confident there wasn't going to be any opposition (though I'm certain they were prepared for any potential scenario) and that, in general, the people really couldn't have cared less. They knew they were rubber-stamping whatever Steve & Co. wanted to do, and they were content with that. That's fine. More power to them. They got what they deserved. Unfortunately, several thousand of the rest of us didn't. Most of us have (or will) vote with our feet. I guess it's like they say... to the victor go the spoils. Now, will someone please tell me again... who was the victor? And what exactly were the spoils?