Reporter Learns About Christian Mercy

The new head of my church body instituted a new emphasis for us around the concepts of “Witness, Mercy and Life Together.” As part of this approach, my congregation just went through a Bible Class at church learning about how the church lives and works together to proclaim the Gospel and to provide for our brothers and sisters in our congregations, communities and throughout the world.

This is about as ancient as it gets in Christianity. But it might be news to the Los Angeles Times. Former GetReligionista Brad Greenberg pointed out this story that ran there that was just weird, frankly.

Officials at the Crystal Cathedral told elders and other congregants that they could help founder Robert H. Schuller’s wife, who is recovering from pneumonia, with food donations in lieu of cards and notes.

An email sent by Pastor Jim Kok said that Arvella Schuller has been “very weak,” but that church staff and the Schullers wish to keep her situation “under the radar,” so they don’t want get well cards.

“However they would appreciate meals over the next 3-4 weeks,” the e-mail reads.

It also specifies food guidelines such as no salt, fruit plates, meals with protein, no sweets and specifies that egg dishes such as quiche “would be good.”

Um. There is an angle to this story that makes it potentially newsworthy — it comes later in the story — but this part? This sounds like Tuesday at your average church. I mean, one of the things we like to do in my congregation when someone has surgery, prolonged illness, a deployed spouse, a baby, you name it, is to offer meals for them. And we don’t means test this service — it’s available for any and all.

Having been on the receiving end of this after the birth of my second child, I can assure you that it is just awesome to be loved by your fellow parishioners in this manner. (Side note to just tell you that if you haven’t had a kid and you’re wondering what to get someone who has just had a kid, the answer is: a meal. I don’t know why no one told me that, but I should have been making or purchasing meals for all my friends when they had kids. It takes weeks to get to the point that parents can take care of a new arrival and feed themselves decently.)

In any case, sometimes when members of our congregation pus the word out for meals, they come with other notes about discretion (say a woman doesn’t want people to know she had a miscarriage or hysterectomy or something) or about what the meal should include. Guidance is helpful, obviously.

OK, the weird part to this story comes when we learn that the person requesting meals included a bizarre line about how the meals would be picked up at church and delivered by limo to Arvella Schuller’s residence.

Sure, that’s weird. I don’t even know why they would have a limo or why someone would mention it in an email. It’s odd. But that piece of information doesn’t come until after the above.

Bob Canfield, 73, of Yorba Linda said that the action is another example of wasteful spending by the church administration.

“We’re just tired of it,” said Canfield, a congregant who was involved with an online petition to rid the church’s board of Schuller family members. “We’re just tired of them taking advantage of us.” …

Church spokesman John Charles said the meals are a way for the church to reach out.

“It’s a way of giving back, that’s what churches do,” he said.

Yes, providing meals for sick parishioners is standard. But did the reporter even ask about the limo? If so, why isn’t his response included? If not, why not? That’s the only interesting part of the whole story!

Also, for people curious about the escalating bidding war over the property belonging to the church known for its “power of positive thinking,” you could do worse than this Associated Press report on the latest.

Photo of a limousine outside a more modest church via Shutterstock.

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  • Ryan

    Perhaps the writer does know about church and that is why they think nothing of the limo… My immediate reaction to that was, oh it’s some guy in the congregation that owns/ runs a limo service. Many churches have small business owners that donate time or their specific services/equipment or expertise as needed.

  • R9

    Is that Schuller’s own Limo? In which case the implication would be, I guess, that someone rich enough to afford a limo and driver can pay for meals for their wife.

    Or has he rented a limo just for food delivery? (weird choice)

    Or does a church memeber just happen to be a limo driver (still odd to use the limo itself tho.)

    Missing some info here!

  • http://www.getreligion.org Mollie

    Well, I find the limo potentially newsworthy, depending on the answers to those questions but …

    even wealthy people can be served by fellow parishioners.

  • R9

    The general concept of rich people getting charity can be objectionable, and I think that’s the angle being taken.

    We don’t know the particulars, and maybe it was just a matter of concerned friends helping out. I wouldn’t require my friends to be poor and starving before I helped them make dinner. (then again none of them are at limo+driver levels of wealth either. It would be a bit weird if they were and still asked me.)

    Still if that is the angle it’s being taken in a kinda half-hearted way.

  • Matt

    Part of the joy of bringing meals to fellow parishioners in this kind of situation is the opportunity to interact with them, encourage them, and share their suffering or joy (as the case may be). In a word, it’s fellowship. Asking people to drop off meals with your chauffeur strikes me as a bit out of touch.

  • http://www.getreligion.org Mollie

    Matt,

    Of course, one of the downsides of accepting charity after surgery is the trouble of entertaining people when you’re in no condition to do so …

  • Matt

    Don’t get me started on how the American obsession with Martha Stewart-quality living spaces prevents them from engaging in hospitality and fellowship. But I digress.

  • http://www.getreligion.org Mollie

    Matt, I once wrote “I Give My Friends The Gift of a Messy House” on just that point!

    But I’m just talking more about the need for rest after surgery. I loved receiving hospitality after my surgeries but just really dreaded the loss of rest. It’s a tricky thing.

  • michael henry

    I just can’t get around how the limo smacks of making the poor guy move when the rich guy comes in so he has the special place.
    Yes, in the Church even the “rich” can and should be served. However, the limo bit on the part of the recipients was tasteless, boorish and in your face. It’s the exact opposite of humility.
    And it may have been that the rich lifestyle the Schullers lived was such a given that to a reporter didn’t think twice about it being unusual. From a news angle, I would have thought a reporter had the intuition to see the huge possibilities of pursuing this angle. Look how far the government muffin cost thing was taken recently.

  • http://www.getreligion.org Mollie

    michael,

    exactly! I mean, all I cared about in that story was the limo. You could write many paragraphs about just that point. I am in no way — no way at all — surprised or interested, even, that parishioners might provide food for someone who is ill. That’s so standard that the only way it would be interesting to me was if it were somehow prohibited.

    But the limo? That’s the story — or might be. Of course, it’s somewhat unfair to speculate on all this without hearing from the other side. Perhaps there’s a totally innocent explanation — such as some of the “best constructions” we saw above.

  • Matt

    Of course, Muffingate should be remembered as a cautionary tale of how the media will run with a story without getting the facts straight, and then neglect to correct the record.

  • Matt

    The main issue to me is that a rich person asking for charity has a special obligation to make it an occasion for fellowship; otherwise, it risks looking like avarice. The limo is only a symbol of the problem here, but a powerful symbol.

  • Matt

    The limo made an appearance in this follow-up story, with a USC religion scholar commenting, “I mean, how out of touch can you possibly be?”


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