Wednesday, August 26, 2009

A Sad Farewell

A mentor and friend once told me, “There is no easy way to do a hard thing.” In the August Associational Meeting we voted to cease operating the UBA Center for Counseling on September 30, 2009. This action will likely come as a surprise to many, and, personally, it was a difficult action for me personally. My first connection with UBA was through the Center for Counseling as a part-time therapist when I came to Houston in 1988. From 1991 to 1993 I served as the director for the Center.

So why close the Center? Let me share some background. The Center for Counseling has struggled financially for almost twenty years. When I first came to UBA as the director of the Center for Counseling, the Center was in severe financial straits. Expenses exceeded revenue and the Center went heavily into debt. It took several years to recover. Changes in the health care industry — managed care, HMOs, reduction of benefits — and other factors made it harder and harder to survive. (In 2008, for example, income from therapy was less than half of what it was ten years ago: 1998 = $414,926; 2008 = $207,078. Income through June of this year was $36,769 behind last year.).

We took a number of steps to keep the Center operating through the years. We cut back on personnel. We reduced the director from full-time to half-time to quarter-time. We moved our offices from leased office space to donated space in churches. We raised money through the golf tournament and TalentFest.

Things were looking enough better in 2007 that we started to have hope that things were finally turning around for the Center, but that was not to be. Enter stage right the great recession. Suddenly, therapists hours were down significantly (thus operating capital for the Center) putting more pressure on the Board to raise money. When this year started the board was responsible for raising over $150,000 to meet this year’s budget. The reduction in income from fees meant the board would need to raise even more money. One of our prime fund raising initiatives — the UBA Golf Tournament — brought in a little over half what it did the year before. We finally reached the point where the income generated by fees and the money we raised through fundraising events were simply not enough to keep the Center open.

While there is no joy in the decision to close the Center, I do take great joy in remembering all the good work done by the Center for over three decades. The positive impact of the Center is incalculable, but if we had to put a monetary value on it I can say the Center gave away over $1.5 million in therapy in the past ten years. Many, many folks today could testify to how their lives were enriched by the work of the Center. Families have been knit back together. Lives have been changed. Relationships have been restored. Desperate and despairing people have found help and hope through this ministry. (Watch our website. We are setting up a place for folks to share testimonials of what the Center meant to them.)

I am grateful for those joined with me serving as directors of the Center: Howard Hovde, Mike Horton, Joan Neal, Darlene Ham, and especially to Dr. Kathy Galvin. Her leadership in these last few, difficult years has been heroic. I am thankful for the many board members who served, especially for those who have served in these last days. Jim Herrington has been chairman of the CFC board for the last three years and done a fantastic job. Last, I want to say thanks the the therapists of the Center, most of whom I have known and worked with through the years, for your ministering spirit, professional competence and outstanding work.

There is some bright lining to this otherwise dark gray cloud. While shutting the Center down, we are retaining the corporation and perhaps, at some point in the future, we will be able to begin again. And, and this is a big “and,” the therapists who have worked with the Center will still be seeing folks, just not through the Center for Counseling. The Center will send out letters to all former clients notifying them of the change and how to get in touch with their therapist in the future. Also, all calls that come into the Center through September will be referred to a therapist in that part of the city just as before.

So how do you wrap up an article like this? I began quoting one of my mentors: there’s no easy way to do a hard thing. But there are some ways that are better than others. The closure of the Center, while difficult, is the right decision and has been done well.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

There Probably is No God . . .

There probably is no God . . . if you believe the advertising on buses, that is. Late last year a group of folks began purchasing advertising space on buses and in tube stations across the UK. The ads said: “There's probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life.” Ads are now appearing in other countries across Europe and in major cities here in the United States. (For more on this story including a video go to http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/7813812.stm.)

There’s more. Have you heard of de-baptism? I hadn’t until recently when my son directed me to an article in USA Today. The article featured a 32-year-old medical transcriptionist who decided to renounce her faith by being de-baptized … all part of her Atheist Coming Out Party. According to the article, within the past year, "de-baptism" ceremonies have attracted as many as 250 participants at atheist conventions in Ohio, Texas, Florida and Georgia” and now it is spreading to other countries. In Britain more than 100,000 people have downloaded de-baptism certificates. (Go to
http://www.usatoday.com/news/religion/2009-07-21-atheists-debaptism_N.htm for the story.)

Atheist ad campaigns? De-baptism certificates? What’s up?

Obviously, these articles are just a reminder that the greatest wars are not fought with sticks and stones. They are fought with words and beliefs. Sticks and stones can break your bones, but beliefs will determine your eternal destiny.

Jesus once told a parable about a man who sowed good seed in a field. Over night an enemy came and sowed weeds in his field. When the seeds germinated and began to grow, he realized what had happened. “An enemy did this,” he rightly surmised. What to do? Jesus said “It’ll all come out in the wash” - okay “harvest.” (See Matthew 13:36-43)

But there’s another point, a poignant reminder, one we’d do well to remember: not everyone is sowing good seed, at least, not from our perspective. We share the gospel; they preach atheism and encourage de-baptism.

Churches across the city are in the middle of an important initiative. . . gearing up to share the gospel with everyone in the city in their own heart language by Easter Sunday, 2010. We want to saturate Houston with the good news that God loves us and offers salvation and eternal life through Jesus Christ. But not everyone will be happy about this. Some will take a very contrarian point of view. Some folks, even in the church, might suggest we don’t need to do this because not everyone will respond positively. (I’ll address that in another article.)

What should we do? Retreat? Be silent? Not do it because someone won’t like it? Not at all. When you have the truth, you need to share it. Freely, but not forcefully. Graciously, not aggressively. That’s what our Pentecost Houston / Texas Hope 2010 initiative is all about.

Just know, there are others with a different agenda. That just makes what we have to do more urgent because, contrary to the ads, there really is a God and knowing Him is the key to really living.



For more information about Union Baptist Association and its ministries, view our website at
http://www.ubahouston.org or call 713.957.2000

Our Vision:
Healthy, reproducing congregations cooperating to transform
our communities, Houston, and the world!