Word of the Week

Preacher Goes to Court

Today, I spent the morning in court. . . .courtroom

No, not because I had a traffic ticket to contest.

No, not because I was supporting a church member facing a trial.

No, not because I was having lunch with a friend who happened to be a lawyer.

But, because of the strangest, strangest case that I still don't understand in itself and also am not quite sure why I was a good witness. Yet, I received a subpoena so off I went this morning to the little compound known as the Fairfax Circuit Court.

To protect the privacy of the closed case, I won't share details (though I really know few myself). Only that there was a person in a custody or domestic dispute with the Department of Child and Family Services that dragged our church's name in to the mix.

When I got the call from the Associate District Attorney, I was baffled really by her questions. I didn't know the person she asked about. I had never heard of her or him. Thinking that it was a detail I might be missing (still new and all), I quickly talked with the Church Administrator and the Chair of the Board of Trustees. Neither of them had heard of the person in question either.

Yet, the Associate District Attorney insisted on our help and kept calling . . .

Come to find out the case had something to do with our church, but not anyone associated or connected to the membership of Washington Plaza Baptist Church (the congregation that meets on Sunday mornings). But, the situation referred to a person connected with one of our former renters: a hispanic congregation that met in our building on Friday nights.

Because no formal partnership was signed between this church and Washington Plaza, we related to them like any landlord would. They paid rent and agreed to be good to our building. And, we went about our own business. In fact, this church stopped using our facility before I even had a chance to meet with their leaders!

So, it seems logical, right,  that I as the pastor of Washington Plaza would have nothing to do with the matter involving this trial? Wrong.

Even though we faxed over the District Attorney's office all the paperwork we had on the lease agreement between this former tenant and our congregation (something the Trustees take care of), I still was "asked" to come to court by a blue piece of paper that was hand delivered to my office last week.

After waiting through an hour and a half of people getting uncontested divorces, opening statements and another witness before me, I was called to testify.

I was asked several simple questions by the prosecution about whether or not we'd received a piano donation between the time of November 2008 and February 2009. I said to the best of my knowledge no.

What followed was a string of silly questions from the defense about my job status, what type of building our church is in, if the renters have space to store things and strangest of all if any pastor lives at the church (though sometimes it feels like this pastor lives here).

And, then came the best question of all, showing what a poor witness I was. The defense asked how long I had been employed as the Pastor of the church. I said since January. (Thus, proving that I was being asked to speak to a circumstance when I was not even at the church!)

All in all, my 10 minute on the witness stand took four hours to get through start to finish. And, it was not how I would have chosen to spend my Monday.  . . .

However, in speaking on the church's behalf, I learned how "figurehead" like my position is now more than I realized. Even though one of the trustees would have been much better witnesses than me, people always go back to the pastor as the head of the church (though this is not true at all in congregational polity settings).  I guess today I spoke for the church and somehow for one that is not even my own. No matter if I think it is correct or not, I seem to be the face associated with WPBC.

I was saddened today how little the state understands about the church and how we operate.

But, I reminded by Ernie, the chair of Trustees, who sat with me as I waited to be called to testify, "There is a bright side to all of this, Elizabeth."

"What?" I asked.

"At least you are on the right side of the table today."

And, this preacher hopes to keep it this way.

And, yes, this is good news indeed.