The Discussion Continues

After church today, several people asked me if it was my blog that Pastor George Hinman had referenced in receiving over 13,000 hits in matter of days. Unfortunately, my blog only gets around 600 hits a day.

However, I have noticed that my blog does get a fair amount of hits from people searching for things related to UPC, Jason Santos, and YMM. So I figure that I should also share the love and point you guys to what your are probably looking for, which is the place where you can “[Continue] the conversation about Jason Brian Santos, the June 12 vote, and the health of UPC.”

Please point your browsers to The JBS Discussion ( and continue the dialog, the issues we face don’t stop with today’s vote1.

I will probably have more to say at a later date, but for now, I’m just really exhausted. In the meantime, please continue to pray for the Church, Jason and his family, the students, parents, and staff of YMM, and for the long journey all of us have ahead.

JBS Discussion graphic by the always talented Shannon Erickson

  1. For those curious, the final vote was 245 For, 151 Against, and 24 Abstain 

Divergence with Hope

Events of the last few weeks, and in fact, the last few months have left me feeling uncertain at best about the church I grew up in as a kid and decided to return to as an adult after college. While I can see the path that has been laid out before us, I am not completely sure how I got on it or why it looks so strange to me. Today1, we, the congregation, will vote on the following motion2:


That the congregation of University Presbyterian Church approve the request of Rev. Jason Santos and the Session to dissolve the Associate Pastor relationship with the church.

Jason himself has noted, “I am, therefore, submitting my resignation and would ask that you would honor this decision.”

This leaves me at a divergence of two roads in a yellow wood, with both paths sucking hard-core. On the one hand, I want to honor Jason’s decision. However, I also do not believe that I can, in good conscience, vote to accept the recommendation of Session to dissolve the pastoral relationship.

In many ways, I feel like I can sympathize with how Pontius Pilate3 must have felt:

24 When Pilate saw that he was getting nowhere, but that instead an uproar was starting, he took water and washed his hands in front of the crowd. “I am innocent of this man’s blood,” he said. “It is your responsibility!”

Matthew 27:24

I so very much want to be able to wash my hands of this situation — and of this vote. Things have been done that I’m not happy with and that I don’t agree with. I want to be able to distance myself from this so I can say, “Ah ha! See! I told you so.”

But that would be the easy way out, and Christ never promised me an easy life.

Sometimes I wish Pilate would have done more. And yes, I know that Pilate plays a critical role in Christianity in this regard, he’s even mentioned by name in the Apostles’ Creed, which is significant. But I still imagine Pilate feeling helpless, and frustrated, and sad, and maybe even a little bit sick to his stomach — as I am now, because I don’t know what to do, I don’t know what to vote.

But I can’t simply sit on the couch and let the vote pass me by. Instead, this is where I take the road less traveled, the road that Pilate chose not to take. I’m choosing not to wash my hands of this.

If I could be awesome, like Paul was4, I would have written a letter like this to the congregation of UPC:

12 Now we ask you, brothers and sisters, to acknowledge those who work hard among you, who care for you in the Lord and who admonish you. 13 Hold them in the highest regard in love because of their work. Live in peace with each other. 14 And we urge you, brothers and sisters, warn those who are idle and disruptive, encourage the disheartened, help the weak, be patient with everyone. 15 Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always strive to do what is good for each other and for everyone else.

16 Rejoice always, 17 pray continually, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

19 Do not quench the Spirit. 20 Do not treat prophecies with contempt 21 but test them all; hold on to what is good, 22 reject every kind of evil.

23 May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 24 The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do it.

25 Brothers and sisters, pray for us. 26 Greet all God’s people with a holy kiss. 27 I charge you before the Lord to have this letter read to all the brothers and sisters.

28 The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.

1 Thessalonians 5:12-28

I know this letter doesn’t say anything about how to vote. That would be easy. Instead, I see this letter as a reminder of how we are to act. We are to be supportive and patient, thankful and prayerful. We are to check out everything and not be gullible5. We are to remember that our God is faithful and he will do what he said he will do.

Tomorrow’s vote isn’t going to be easy. It’s going be hard. The next several months, and probably even years, are going to be hard and they’re going to require hupomeno — perseverance under misfortunes and trials while holding fast to one’s faith in Christ.

Maybe it’s for the best that I’m not Pilate. My hope is that if I don’t wash my hands of this, I can somehow do something good in the long run. My hope is that I can be part of the healing process, even if I was part of the problem.

Hope is a pretty powerful thing. I know God has a plan; and I know it wasn’t his first plan because we screwed that one up a long time ago, but I choose to believe that this plan will still be awesome.

  1. Sunday 

  2. Under what I’m assuming to be G-14.0612 in accordance with G-7.0304(a) of the Presbyterian Church (USA) Book of Order — which is the constitution of the church  

  3. and I’m not trying to subtlety suggest that Jason is Jesus Christ. If you think that, you’re missing the point 

  4. you might also remember that Paul’s life was not easy either 

  5. as Eugene Peterson’s The Message puts it 

YMM Root Cause Analysis

A few weeks ago, I was invited to participate in a Planning Meeting for YMM:

UPC Senior Staff have asked a team from the Human Resources Committee to look at the current situation in the YMM Department from an HR perspective and make recommendations for a framework to move toward near-term resolution of key issues so that YMM can focus on effectively moving forward in its ministry.

The process will include a Planning Meeting facilitated by Jeff Trautman to identify compatible action steps that could be taken to meet the goals of faith development and outreach for YMM.

My desire to participate in this meeting was not to have a say about what we should be doing (e.g. planning day-to-day, month-to-month, etc), but to be present as a reflection of what is going on (i.e. the process) as I see it.

This reflection includes my experience as a former student and as a current sponsor and member of UPC. I also believe I bring a unique view to the situation, in part because of how I experience and analyze things with an engineering mindset.

The mission of this Planning Meeting was to “explore and seek our shared voice regarding the framework of YMM.”

Our process was to “consider 5 questions1 as catalysts for achieving this mission this evening”:

  1. What relationship or experience was formative in your pursing a relationship with Christ?
  2. Who do you believe YMM is called to serve, primarily?
  3. Where along the faith discovery/discipleship journey do you think YMM should be most intention in its efforts?
  4. What is a fundamental strategy YMM should embrace to fulfill its calling and reflect the overall ministry of UPC?
  5. How will the vitality of this ministry be sensed by those who are not directly involved with it on a week-to-week basis?

A “summary of our findings will be submitted to the YMM elders and staff for consideration in their discernment and development of the ministry going forward.”

We answered the questions in diverse (parents, sponsors, staff, students) groups of about five people. Each group then presented a summary of their discussion, to which the group responded and debated as a whole.

I would like to take a sentence or two to note that of the roughly 40 people present, there were ~5 elders (not all attached to YMM), ~4 students, ~4 sponsors, ~2 staff, and zero interns. It’s also worth noting that all sponsors and students present were male, and all students were either Juniors or Seniors in high school2.

On the whole, I felt the discussion was good when compared to many of the other “events” I have been to before. In comparison, I felt like people were finally norming, instead of storming. To me, that’s positive progress. For the first time that I have been able to directly observe, people weren’t visibly agitated and while emotions were definitely present, they were also appropriately in check.

However, I still feel like something is missing. We, as a church, seem adamant on addressing a perceived fault or failure of man who was called by the Holy Spirit, presented by the Pastor Nominating Committee, and unanimously3 selected by the Congregation.

Why do we find ourselves in this position? Why do we find ourselves in such a polarizing and divisive place? I think it’s easy to point to the top of the local food chain and say things to the effect of, “Why haven’t you lead us? Why are we still in disarray? Why does the philosophy of YMM seemingly keep changing? Do you even have a philosophy?”

These are all good questions to be asking, however I do not believe that they are the appropriate questions to ask at this time from this local person.

In engineering, we generally look at failures from at least two points: what is the immediate failure noticed (e.g., the display has funky characters) and what is the root cause of the failure (e.g., poor workmanship, incorrect documentation, etc). Often times, we can fix the immediate failure without having to understand the root cause, knowing that the root cause will be addressed by the established process.

That is to say, how you fix something doesn’t affect why it happened and why it happened usually doesn’t affect how you fix it. Because at the end of the day, the problem will be fixed and we will know why it happened.

This is a great method for solving issues that involve inanimate objects without feelings or memories. So when it comes to dealing with people, I think we need to take a different tack; we need to be asking ourselves is this a locally isolated issues, or is this a systems issue?

My biggest concern — and one that I’ve heard a few other people share as well, but not a lot — is that what we are observing with YMM is indicative of a much larger and systemic problem with UPC, one that I believe ultimately leads us to a lack (or an abundance) of je ne sais quoi in the upper echelons of the pastorships. This is not something that all of a sudden happened when the change in YMM leadership occurred, this is something that has been brewing and building for years. In fact, the issue may even predate the presence of some of the current pastors. This is a culture problem and it points to a gross procedural failure that is preventing us from accurately and effectively evaluating anything substantive.

And the thing is, I’m scared. I’m scared because we seem to only be focusing on what is right in front of us and not what is ahead of us. I’m scared because we have a seemingly lack of trust and faith in a system that demands4 we have both trust and faith. I’m scared because while we might “solve” this problem, that doesn’t guarantee that we won’t have this problem again in YMM or elsewhere.

I’m hurt because there has been a lack of genuine conversation and there has been little or no explanation of what is going on (at both the local and the system level), and that leaves me feeling alone and left out of a group I care deeply about.

Whatever this je ne sais quoi is — it could be lack of leadership, it could be lack of communication, it could be lack of council…these are all guesses — we need to understand the root cause and we need to do it in a way that is loving and gratifying to the Lord.

  1. The questions were formulated by Jeff Trautman, a who I felt did an excellent job of moderating the discussion and keeping things on track, if even I didn’t always agree with wording or the outcome 

  2. despite the fact that YMM serves grades 6th through 12th 

  3. save a single abstain 

  4. Hebrews 11:6, Luke 17:6, James 1:6, etc 

Passion: The Intersection of Communication and Intent

The PNC1 nominated Jason Santos as the next YMM2 Associate Pastor. Last Tuesday (a week ago yesterday), Session allowed the nominee to proceed for a vote. Session wanted to hold the vote last Sunday (i.e. three days ago) because UPC was already having a town meeting and it would be simple enough to vote on the position. However, the Book of Order states that the congregation must be given at least two weeks notice. Thus, May 16th was chosen as the date since that would be the first Sunday after the two week notice given from last Sunday.

It also happened to be the only weekend that Jason Santos could come back out to give a guest sermon (although he’s not required to give a sermon, nor is the sermon linked to the voting in any way, nor do prospective YMM Associate Youth Pastors typically give sermons to the congregation…voting is all that is required) within the next 6 weeks or so because of obligations he already had.

If Session had decided to postpone his visitation until after he calendar cleared, some of the staff would have already left (because they were leaving after the end of the school year) and it would be nice to have some interchange between the outgoing staff and Jason Santos.

So the decision was made to hold the vote on May 16th after the 11:30 am service, which would put voting at 12:45 pm, or so. On paper, this seems like a great plan. Except that The Edge3, of which I am a sponsor4, is going to be at camp. The Edge makes up roughly half the constituents of the YMM, the other half being The Rock (the middle school youth group).

This problem was first brought to my attention by my friend and fellow sponsor, Jesse, on Saturday on the way to a Mariners’ game. She briefly explain her disappointment in not being able to vote to me. I knew about the vote and I knew about the retreat, although I hadn’t connected the dots until now – the retreat started on May 14th, and that’s the day I had in my head. I called my local elder, who also happens to be my Mom, to see if she knew anything about this and to hear what her thoughts were (Mom happens to be very good in these regards). She pointed me in a couple directions and I continued to mull over what the best course of action was.

Later Saturday night, I also bounced the issue off my friend Tad, another great resource and future pastor (he’s starting seminary in the fall).

By Sunday evening, I decided to talk with our Senior Pastor, George Hinman. He was very patient in listening to my concerns and in pointing me to the appropriate people: Tim Snow and Juli Lorton.

I went to join my parents for dinner upstairs at church, and when I caught with them, they were already talking with Juli! How fantastic. I talked briefly with Juli who assured me that the point had been brought up and that a solution was in the works, possibly involving some sort of Skype or Justin.TV solution and a proxy vote of sorts where members who were on the retreat would be able to watch Santos’ sermon and then vote. I also told her what I thought to be a complete lack of communication from the PNC, Session, or YMM on this issue. I let her know that we had a Sponsor meeting on Monday (the next day) and perhaps she or someone else could attend to help explain what was actually going on, field questions, and report back to whomever needed to know.

I also talked with Jennie, the Interim YMM Associate Director, and mentioned to her that I thought it might good if Juli, Tim Snow, or someone else intimately involved with the process to be able to come to our Sponsor meeting, even for just a few minutes.

I emailed Juli later that night:

I believe that this would be a very good opportunity to address some of the people who have a very vested interest in what is going on, to be able to communicate what the scenario actually is (versus what the rumors are, and trust me there are still some rumors), and to be able to interact with the people, many of whom honestly have felt very left out of this important process.

As I’ve stated, and would like to reiterate, communication (and dialog) is key. Can we continue to keep in touch throughout this process?

My biggest frustration up to this point was that there was a HUGE disconnect between what the intent of the PNC/Session was and what they were communicating (or not communicating). The intent was along the lines of: We’ve found an amazing pastor! Let’s get this guy in and going! What was essentially communicated was: We don’t care about you as long as we get our guy.

Dave Hill, another elder (of the YMM, no less) and member of this PNC, was able to come to our sponsor meeting. He spent some time explaining the process and then turned the flow over to us. After a few beats of silence, I tried my best to gracefully lay out what my feelings were of the situation, the great work that the PNC had done so far (they’ve been at this for about a year now), and the seemingly utter failure in this last home stretch to reach out to some of the people who matter the most (i.e. the students, sponsors, and staff of The Edge).

Other people brought up some great points as well, including the fact that if you look at the demographics of the people who probably care the most (i.e. students, parents of students, sponsors, and staff), most of them trend toward going to the evening services, not the morning service. Dave held a belief that if people really cared about voting they would show up to the morning service, to which I paraphrased an interesting observation about organ donations:

When organ donations are a check box on a form where you opt into it, the rates of opting in are 25-30%. There’s an asymmetry here. If you start where the default is to opt out, then the organ donor percentage is 85-90%. We’re not sure why, but it’s completely different. It’s opting in versus opting out; in-group out-group distinctions.

My point was this: yes, people do care about being able to vote. Will they care enough to change their schedules? Probably not as much as we’d want them to.

By this point, it seemed like the best option would be to hold a second vote after the 7pm service. The idea of having a remote broadcast and proxy vote seemed unviable and overly complex. The third idea of post postponing the vote until another week also seemed more like the first idea, but more complicated.

I asked Dave to keep us in the loop, wanting reemphasize that communication is key. We prayed and that was that.

As I write this, the official word is that a second vote is going to be held after the 7pm service:

Dear UPC Family,

As you know, our candidate for Pastor of Youth Mission & Ministry, Jason Santos, will preach at the 11:30 am and 7 pm services on May 16. The original plan to hold one congregational meeting after the 11:30 service to elect Jason would have left out UPC members–YMM staff, sponsors, and students–attending the Edge spring retreat that weekend. In order to welcome their participation, we are expanding the congregational meeting into two parts.

Apparently, this may not be the kosher solution. But I think it’s the best solution, and I think this is a great solution that works for everyone. I just wish it had started out this way.

I debated whether it was even worth posting this. I decided it was, because it’s a great example of how something that had great intentions had some poor execution. I want this to be an example of why communication is so important. I want this to be an example showing that if people have passion, things can change, but someone has to speak up. I want this to be an example of how we can do things better next time.

Finally, to be clear – since we’re talking about communication – this was never about whether I (or anyone else) thought Jason was a good candidate or not. From the cursory research I’ve done so far, I think Jason is an excellent candidate and when I vote, I will be voting to affirm him. This was about making sure that everyone had a chance to have their say in the matter, regardless of what their say was.

Pre-emptive snarky comment: If only wishes were horses.

  1. Pastor Nominating Committee 

  2. Youth Mission and Ministry 

  3. The high school youth group 

  4. basically a mentor/Bible Study Leader