March 9, 2009 – So now I better understand the frequent complaint of Parker Williamson arising from times when he has been excluded from meetings that seemingly should be open to the press. I’ve been excluded from a meeting announced as open to the public.
Irony of ironies, those excluding me include Parker Williamson.
The Association for Church Renewal kicked off two days of meetings this morning (March 9) in Arlington, Va. Given that their Web site issued a wide-open invitation to all who wanted to come, I made my plans to attend. I sent a courtesy e-mail to the organization’s president, David Runion-Bareford, March 5 to let him know I would be attending as press.
He responded by saying, “Thanks for your interest. We cannot invite you to join us. Our meeting this week is a membership meeting which is not designed to be available to the press.”
Sounded nice enough, except those words run contrary to the Web site’s invitation, posted November 2008:
Dear Companion in Christ,
We are writing to you today as brothers and sisters in Christ who share our passion for the renewal of the mainline churches in North America. …
… The next meeting of the Association for Church Renewal is scheduled for March 9 & 10, 2009 at the Holiday Inn, Key Bridge, Arlington, Va. (Washington, D.C.) from 9:00 A.M. Monday until Noon on Tuesday. It is our prayer you will join us. …
…We strongly invite you as the Executive of a Renewal Ministry, a Renewal Leader, or simply a passionate renewalist in one of the mainline churches of North America to join us for this important meeting!
In the years I served as moderator for the Presbyterian Coalition and as president of the board for Presbyterians for Renewal, I heard many times of the Association for Church Renewal, a gathering of executives and other renewal leaders from the PC(USA), the United Methodist Church, the Anglican Communion Episcopal Church, the Disciples of Christ, the United Church of Canada, the American Baptist Church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the United Church of Christ, and the Church of the Brethren. Various renewal leaders in the PC(USA) have attended from time to time over the years, including Betty Moore, Paul Detterman, and Terry Schlossberg, but all have withdrawn except Parker. Apparently he often has been the only Presbyterian to attend. Nevertheless, I’ve wanted to attend at least once, but the opportunity never presented itself.
Now in my role as editor of The Presbyterian Outlook, as someone who still works and prays for spiritual renewal and reformation in my denomination, and as one who recognizes the pivotal role that the ACR performs in shaping such efforts across denominational lines, I have wanted to better understand and faithfully tell the story of ACR.
When I saw the wide-open invitation to attend their meeting, I jumped at the opportunity. So when I was told I was not welcome, I challenged Mr. Runion-Bareford.
… The Web site says nothing about “members only.”
Are you saying that everyone who wants to be there is welcome except for the press?
You operate behind closed doors? You hold secret meetings?
My friend Parker Williamson would never abide having meetings closed to the press; I am copying this letter to him, given that he is quoted extensively on your Web site.
Parker, editor emeritus of The Layman, long has championed the open meeting policy in our denomination, as have Jerry Van Marter of the Presbyterian News Service, and all my predecessors here at The Outlook. He has been quick to cry foul whenever he has run into resistance from denominational entities, most especially the Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy. Admittedly, when the Task Force on Peace, Unity and Purity in the Church (of which I was a part in 2001-2005) was granted special permission by the GA to hold some of its sensitive discussions in closed session, it did so to the consternation of Parker and other press members, although it held scrupulously to the guidelines as stated, and it kept 80-90% of its meeting times open.
In the light of his strong convictions on doing work in the light, I did send a copy of my note to Parker. He responded graciously, drawing a distinction between meetings of “official church gatherings that were funded and presumably accountable to the people in the pews”, and meetings “of any private, membership organization” such as “board meetings.” He concluded, “So I think David’s response to you is appropriate, and I hope that on reflection, you’ll think so as well.”
While I agree with such a distinction, on reflection I did not and do not think David’s response is appropriate. I wrote back:
Thanks, Parker, for your response. I certainly respect the right of organizations to have closed board meetings. It’s just that this meeting on Monday-Tuesday is being marketed on the ACR Web site as an open meeting. That sounds like a newsworthy gathering. To specifically exclude only the press sounds unethical and irresponsible to me.
Indeed the exclusion of this editor is particularly stunning in the light of the fact that on at least one occasion, the March 2003 meeting, the press was allowed to cover the meeting, for the Layman itself did report about it: http://layman.org/News.aspx?article=12483
Nevertheless, Mr. Runion-Bareford closed the door:
Having carefully considered your e-mail and your correspondence with Parker, I have to insist that you do not attend our meeting. The integrity of a meeting where those who are serving Jesus Christ in Renewal come together to share their common vision and challenges requires a trust and openness that precludes the presence of press. The invitation we made is clear in its intent. I do not, upon reflection, believe your desire to attend this meeting has the integrity and best interest of renewal at heart. If you do come uninvited the membership of the ACR will decide whether to permit you to be seated in the room or not – but my expectation is that your journey would be in vain. This is not a personal matter, but the wellbeing of our membership must be assured.
So trust and openness is precluded by the presence of the press? Rather, it thrives under a cloak of secrecy?
And, this fellow whom I’ve never met has passed judgment upon my motives, deeming them to be sinister, and then he adds, “This is not a personal matter.” Huh?
Irony of ironies, every one of these reasons he outlines for excluding this member of the press echoes the reasons that have been used in the past to exclude other members of the press, including Parker, from what should have been open meetings of General Assembly entities.
Recognizing the handwriting on the wall, I decided to save my gasoline and stay home.
So now I better understand the frequent complaint of Parker Williamson arising from times when he has been excluded from meetings that seemingly should be open to the press.