What did the Décor Committee know, and when did they know it?
Once in a while he would wonder aloud to me about whether there was a group of people orchestrating events. Several intelligent people he knew believed that a secret group called the Illuminati was behind the wars and rumors of wars, the coups and the oil prices, terrorist attacks and assassinations. (The movie Angels and Demons, coming out this month, postulates an Illuminati plot to destroy the Vatican.) My dad and I would talk about the conspiracy theories and sigh, knowing that it is comforting for some people to believe that people who are hugely intelligent and capable are in control, whether or not they are actually good.
I thought about the Illuminati the other day when I was talking to the minister of another Unitarian Universalist congregation. He told the story of standing between pews after the Sunday service. A few people were still in the room, milling around. He was having a conversation with a couple of members about a piece of donated art. Should they display it? Everyone loved the donor, but opinions were mixed about the piece of art. “We should let the Décor Committee decide,” one of them said.
The next Sunday after services, the minister was buttonholed by two members who looked upset and angry. “We have been talking about this all week, and we thought it was time to get the whole thing out on the table. You need to come clean with us right now about it, because the way this church is doing things is not right! You can’t have things run by some secret Core Committee that only some people know about, and that no regular members know how to get on, and it’s not even democratic, to have this secret committee that makes all the decisions while the rest of us just twiddle our thumbs and read the board minutes like that’s going to give us a real picture of what’s going on!”
Stunned and mystified by this request, the minister struggled to find a way in to the conversation.
“What? What makes you think there is a secret committee that runs things?”
“We heard you talking about it last Sunday after the service. You stood right there with Mable and Henry and told them the decision needed to go to the Core Committee, and when I heard that, I knew that what I’d always suspected was true, and that there was a group of people who run this place and that everything else is just for show.”
The minister thought to himself, “Core committee . . . core committee, Mable and Henry . . . What were we talking about after church last Sunday? Oh! The donated art that nobody likes! And what did we say about it? That the decision should be made by the Décor Committee . . .”
“Décor Committee!” he cried out. “We were talking about that lovely piece that was donated and what to do with it, and we said the decision should be made by the Décor Committee.”
It was good for him to find out that there was a strong feeling in a couple of members of his congregation that things were being run by a small group of people behind the backs of the committee chairs and the board. Once that is out in the open it can be examined with reason and compassion.
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The Rev. Meg Barnhouse, a UU World online columnist, is senior minister of the First Unitarian Universalist Church of Austin, Texas, and the author of several books, including Broken Buddha. She is also a humorist and singer-songwriter. (Author’s website.)
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The first time, I emerged merely breathless, wet, and cold.