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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