Other Articles about Throop Church
In 1990 an attempt was made to merge the two Unitarian Universalist (UU) churches in Pasadena, California into one. The large Neighborhood Church was to be merged with the smaller Throop Memorial Church. Throop had only about 100 members as compared to about 400 at Neighborhood. This attempt almost succeeded but left many bitter feelings and disappointments about both the results and the process. The vote was counted on Jan. 20, 1991. At Throop Memorial Church 70% voted in favor of merger while the vote at Neighborhood Church was 62 1/2% in favor. The merger attempt failed because Neighborhood required a 75% plurality for the merger to pass. Throop only required a simple majority vote for passage.
The merger effort consisted of numerous meetings of committees and the congregations. Sermons were given to promote it and the congregations were surveyed. All this effort sapped the strength of Throop Church which was already hard-pressed to get enough volunteers to keep the church running. The result was that Throop came within a hair's breadth of being dissolved after the merger failed.
The merger effort got started in mid-1989 after a majority of people at Neighborhood Church were misled to believe that they needed about a million dollars to repair or replace a church building damaged by rot and termites. It actually turned out that the damage was far less severe than incorrectly estimated and that only about a tenth of this amount was actually needed. A member of Neighborhood Church (Ralph Constantini) attempted to point out the errors in the estimates but most of the other members did not heed his valid objections.
But if a million dollars was needed (and quickly --as some people at Neighborhood thought) where would it come from? Well, there was another Unitarian Universalist church (Throop) nearby with valuable property worth about 3 million and a declining membership. It was only getting about 40 or 50 people coming on Sunday to a church that could seat 300. Why not "merge" with them, sell their church, and then there would be plenty of money.
Merger committees were established at both churches with the first meeting of Throop's "Merger Exploration Committee" taking place on July 17, 1989. Neighborhood's need for money was discussed. At the next meeting (on August 8) it was suggested that Throop needed to merge due to deficit budgets and declining membership. Then on September 11, a "Joint Committee to Explore Merger" was formed with 8 members from each church. A number of subcommittees were also formed later. There was much talk about the two churches getting to know each other better and cooperating in joint programs, but other than a few joint Sunday services, nothing much was permanently achieved.
Since the membership of Neighborhood Church was about 4 times that of Throop Church, the time and effort spent by Throop members on "exploring" merger significantly sapped the strength of Throop while Neighborhood did not suffer nearly as much due to its larger congregation. Instead of directing its efforts towards growth, Throop directed most of its efforts on contemplating merging, resulting in continued decline. It should be pointed out that the "merger fiasco" was only one of several factors in the decline of Throop Church. Unsatisfactory performance of Throop's ministers and lay leaders also played a role in the decline which started in the 1960's.
Unfortunately, almost all of the members of the merger committee were in favor of merger, and why shouldn't they be. If one is opposed to merger, one doesn't have much interest in spending a lot of time working out the conditions for a merger that they oppose in the first place. When the strategy was proposed that the committee should turn their back on any opposition to merger and not become engrossed in conflict and polarization, no one disagreed.
Besides wasting peoples time, the merger exploration process and the result left people with bad feelings towards each other. Vocal opposition to the merger was not forthcoming at Throop prior to the start of voting although 30% voted against it. While there was a meeting of the congregation on Dec. 9, 1990 to discuss the merger, it was announced at this meeting that the purpose of the meeting was to discuss the terms for merger with no debate opposing the merger permitted. This is but one example of how vocal opposition to the merger at Throop was effectively stifled. See Merger Railroading
In local "zip code" meetings at members homes during Oct. 1990, almost everyone seemed to favor merger. It was verbally claimed at Sunday services that a vote for merger was only a vote to become "engaged" and that we could back out later if we wanted to. This was not precisely true. See the full text of the merger resolution: Merger Resolution. However, the final resolution sent out to voters did add a note to the mailing regarding the possibility of backing out of the merger, while still retaining the statement in the resolution that the churches were to merge (i.e. it was somewhat ambiguous). Under conditions of full, honest, and open discussion of merger at Throop, it's entirely possible that a majority would have voted against it.
If this resolution had passed, a great deal of work would have been done after its passage to establish the exact conditions for merger. Once such committees had worked so hard at this effort, there would be strong pressure on the membership not to reject all the work they had put into it. So if this resolution had actually passed, merger would have likely taken place.
The merger resolution established the location of the "new" church at the present Neighborhood campus. Since Throop church was declining in membership and since many of their members would not go to the new church if the merger took place, Neighborhood members would outnumber former Throop members by about 6 to 1 in a "new" church. Thus the "new" church would still be essentially Neighborhood Church in the same buildings with some new members from Throop. It would be almost tantamount to Throop Church selling its property, giving the money to Neighborhood, and then going over to join Neighborhood.
Except for one thing. The resolution specified that the new church would be headed by two co-ministers: Norman Naylor (the Minister at Throop) and Laurie Bilyeu (the Associate Minister at Neighborhood). Some privately questioned the wisdom of selecting these people as ministers and objected to the merger on the grounds that the new church should be allowed to select its own ministers. If it were not for this pre-destination of the ministry, the merger resolution might have passed at Neighborhood. Since the new church would be quite rich from the sale of the Throop property, these two ministers would likely obtain a raise in salary. Their support for the merger thus represented a conflict of interest. Future events reinforced the doubts that people had regarding the above 2 preselected ministers: Norman Naylor was later asked to resign from Throop Church and Laurie Bilyeu declined to be a candidate when Neighborhood was later searching for a new minister.
Another point of contention was that of music in the new church. At Throop, anyone who wished to sing in the choir was accepted while Neighborhood maintained an excellent choir by requiring auditions and paying the choir for practicing. Many members of Neighborhood wanted to retain their excellence in music and used the possibility of an "open" and inferior choir in the new church as an argument opposing merger. The merger resolution seemed to support Neighborhood's desire for an excellent choir by specifying that the Director of Music in the new church would be Neighborhood's esteemed Director of Music, Edward Low.
At a joint service at Neighborhood church on Jan. 6, 1991, William Schultz, the President of the Unitarian Universalist Association, spoke in favor of the merger by telling the audience not to be afraid of a large flagship church. Prior to this I was told over the telephone from Boston that he would take no position on the merger. At the same service, someone from Throop took the liberty to briefly announce that he was adamantly opposed to the merger. The author also passed out some flyers opposing the merger after the service. This did not fully counteract the one-sided arguments of William Schultz who was invited to Pasadena in part for the insidious purpose of promoting the merger.
Thus, in spite of a concerted effort to railroad the merger thru, it failed to pass. Those that had supported it felt bad because it failed. Those that had opposed it felt bad because of the unfair process. After the merger fiasco, there was no more significant cooperation or joint services between Throop and Neighborhood.
Throop and Neighborhood Churches are located about 2 miles apart in Pasadena, California. Since the UU denomination is relatively small (about 0.1% of the population) it would seemingly be better if the two churches were further apart (or merged into one).
UU churches tend to attract well educated people. Fortunately, the area in which they are both located has a high percentage of college graduates. For example, in the Throop Church neighborhood 41% are college grads. If one goes south-east to S. El Monte only 3% are college grads. Thus the demographics tend to favor the current locations although it might be better if the churches were say 4 or 5 miles apart instead of just 2.
An alternative to merger would have been to move the churches further apart in distance by selling one of them and buying a new church. Then people could be encouraged to attend the nearest church. Another possibility would have been to sell one of the churches and then obtain two new ones, say in Glendale to the east and Arcadia to the west, but this wasn't proposed.
The "for" arguments are not yet here. (If you have some, please
contact the author.) Some arguments against the merger (by the
Opposing Arguments-3rd draft and Opposing Arguments-5th draft
The belief that a larger church is more efficient should have been challenged and members should have been given an opportunity to raise such challenges (but they weren't).
In November 1993 a large "options" committee was formed at Throop to consider future options including dissolving or moving elsewhere. Then in April and May 1994 the congregation voted on various options. Since Neighborhood had already rejected the merger, merger was not really an option but write-in votes by the congregation made it an "option" (at least on paper).
There were a large number of options discussed by the committee (and subcommittees). Only 34 of these options were presented to the congregation (in 6 categories) and voters selected one option in each category. Under the category of "facilities" there were ten options. Besides staying in the existing building there were several other options including some options for selling the church. For example, after selling the church one could either buy or rent a smaller church. Another option was renting out the church and meeting elsewhere. One category of options included the question as to whether to retain the current minister, Norman Naylor.
After the first vote in April 1994, the options for which few people voted for were dropped and a list of about half as many options were voted on about a month later. While on the first round of voting 43% wanted to either dissolve or merge with Neighborhood, on the second round only 37% wanted to do this.
The Minister strongly supported dissolution in his sermon on May 15, 1994 and wrote for the June 8 Tidings: "In my considered (and professional, I trust) opinion, I truly believe that if you choose to stay here and try to carry on against all reason, you will be choosing death over life." In contrast to the previous policy of not giving opponents of the merger a chance to be heard, this time the opposition was heard. Articles strongly opposing to dissolution were printed in the Tidings. This was in part due to the fact that the new editor of the Tidings was likely critical of the minister. Previously, when the merger process was underway, the secretary (supervised by the minister) served as the editor of the Tidings.
As for the minister, only 20% voted in favor of retaining him. This (and other reasons) led to the minister's eventual resignation. But since the minister had already agreed to resign prior to this vote, the vote served only to reaffirm the strong desire of the congregation for a new minister.
All the work and discussions about options did not result in any changes at all since 55% voted to stay in the existing building. The church building is quite impressive with it's world-class stained glass windows created by one of the most renowned artists in stained glass. This impressive building helps attract new members and provides rental income. Without it, it's problematical if the church could have survived.
The merger attempt and the subsequent options debate resulted in an accelerated decline in an already declining Throop Church. It didn't hurt Neighborhood nearly as much since it was a much larger church. Feelings were hurt since the proponents lost and the opponents felt bad about an unfair process. As a result of the failed merger, an attempt was made to dissolve Throop church which almost succeeded.