Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Fr. Timothy Fountain - Stay or Go?

HI THERE. I NOTICE THAT ONE OR MORE PEOPLE IN SIOUX FALLS VISIT THIS POST DAILY. SO HERE'S A MESSAGE FOR YOU (APRIL 1, 2009):
  • + THIS POST IS ABOUT A YEAR-AND-A-HALF OLD. SOME OF MY THINKING HAS EVOLVED, SOME IS STILL IN PROCESS. I'M STILL RECTOR OF AN EPISCOPAL PARISH. THERE ARE POCKETS OF HEALTH IN THE DENOMINATION, AND GOOD SHEPHERD, SIOUX FALLS IS ONE.
  • + THE EPISCOPAL CHURCH HAS PUBLISHED ITS OWN "STATE OF THE CHURCH" REPORT, ADMITTING TO A NUMBER OF THE PROBLEMS I TALK ABOUT HERE. IT IS A CONFLICTED, MESSED UP ORGANIZATION BY ITS OWN ADMISSION.
  • + IF YOU ARE READING THIS TO NURSE A GRUDGE OR YOUR HURT FEELINGS, GET OVER YOURSELF.
  • + NO, I DO NOT MEAN THAT THE CLERGY DEPLOYMENT GUY GOT HIS JOB BECAUSE HIS WIFE DONATED A KIDNEY. BUT I STAND BY WHAT YOU WILL READ HERE - HAVING THREE RELATIVES RUNNING A DIOCESE IS NOT HEALTHY AND THE SOONER IT ENDS, THE BETTER FOR THE PEOPLE OF THE DIOCESE.
  • + AREN'T YOU GLAD I'M NOT LIKE THE BISHOP NOMINEE IN NORTHERN MICHIGAN? AS SOON AS PEOPLE BEGAN INVESTIGATING HIS SERMONS, HE TOOK THEM ALL OFF OF THE WEB. I STAND BY WHAT I WRITE, AND AM NOT ASHAMED OR AFRAID TO HAVE IT OUT HERE. I RECOGNIZE THAT I AM AN IMPERFECT, SIN-TAINTED MAN, BUT IN JESUS CHRIST I AM SAVED AND I LOOK TO HIM TO BRING OUT WHAT IS GOOD IN MY WORDS AND TO FORGIVE THE REST.
January 23rd will be my twentieth anniversary as a priest. When it comes to questions about staying in TEC or getting out, the blogs are full of commentary by folks I respect and upon whose ideas I can’t improve. What I offer here is a bit of personal perspective. As will become clear, I don’t have the final answer, but I hope my thoughts will be useful to others who are grappling with a decision, and especially to lay people who are praying and talking with their conflicted clergy.

The Limits of “My Congregation is Orthodox”

As a priest, I have spiritual needs that will influence my decision – needs that cannot be met by my relationship with my congregation. I cannot seem to get that reality across to my current TEC parish, which is overwhelmingly orthodox by just about any measure and which shows me great affection.

A spiritual leader needs to be under Biblical oversight. Without this, a rector or vicar is more vulnerable to temptations of various kinds. Pride becomes a great danger – “We don’t worry about the rest of the church – we have you” is one of things I’ve heard from well meaning parishioners here. That is dangerous to my soul, however lovingly intended.

A spiritual leader needs to have a trusting relationship with overseers, colleagues, mentors and other leaders. “Just me and my people” is inadequate, because I am inadequate. I need guidance, spiritual direction and pastoral care from Godly leaders. That is the Biblical design and Anglicans have written tons of stuff about “sacred orders of ministry.” But I need those over me to be under the headship of Christ, which is not assured with current TEC leaders. Here in South Dakota, half the diocesan budget is a grant from General Convention. The Bishop here called for a “new American revolution” against the Anglican Communion. The head of the Standing Committee is a priest who donated a kidney to the bishop (an act for which we all gave thanks) and has been adopted as his sister in a recent Native American ceremony. Her husband is now the Clergy Deployment Officer for the diocese. Even beyond my theological differences with them, I am an intruder in a closed “family” subservient to the TEC bureaucrats; in a diocese that loses the equivalent of a congregation per year in ASA. My isolation is painful and spiritually unhealthy.

A spiritual leader cares about the people. I care who confirms them and what kinds of things they hear from sermons, news statements and pastoral letters. I care about the deployment process they will be under should anything happen to me. The congregation’s continued assertion that TEC problems are “out there, not here” is a terrible case of denial. The denomination and diocese walk into a parish at some very important points in its life. And TEC’s continued centralization and tinkering with Canons will lead to more bureaucratic, revisionist intrusions.

A spiritual leader cares about the mission. I want to lead people in the cause of Christ, not some poor substitute. I care that our resources are going to an organization that is suing faithful Christians. I care about us being used as propaganda – “See? We have a ‘conservative’ congregation in Sioux Falls. Our diocese is a happy family.” I care that our growth (ASA up from 42 in 2004 to over 100 today – in August with no air conditioning!) will be used to demonstrate “health” in a diocese that is aging and shrinking at rates beyond alarming, or for a denomination that has repudiated the cross of Christ.

Look, Good Shepherd, Sioux Falls, is a joy – a gift from God. They have grown numerically and in God-honoring ways. We have people of different races, ages and life situations (we have cops and people with “records” at the altar together). People are engaged in prayer groups, Biblical learning and serious servanthood (they are developing a major initiative to meet an unmet need expressed by city leaders). As a perk, they treat me with great love and respect. But my ability to be their spiritual leader is daily damaged (“corroded”, to use Fr. David Baumann’s memorable word) by continued contact with unfaithful TEC.

The Limits of “You Must Get Out.”

Because I want to be part of a church that is led by Biblically faithful overseers, and because Good Shepherd has neither the inclination nor the resources to litigate its way out of TEC, I have made personal application to Common Cause entities outside of TEC and this diocese. This earned me a grim email from the Diocesan Chancellor (never heard from the Bishop), but all was well once I assured them that they would lose only Tim Fountain, not any buildings or bank accounts. But as I explore the realignment route, I do so with humility. There are limits to zealous claims that it is the only way.

Spiritual leaders persist in many imperfect situations. There are valiant Christians living under hostile governments. There are faithful saints under Muslim “dhimmitude”, forced to pay special taxes to Christ-denying religious leaders. Do they have to emigrate to be considered true Christians, or are they the body of Christ right there in an imperfect setting? Be it “Windsor compliant” TEC entities or simply faithful parishes in hostile dioceses, make room for “dhimmi” Christians within TEC. Pray for them, don’t dump on them.

Spiritual leaders have overlapping Biblical responsibilities. Family is a big one. Some Old Testament priests brought disaster on the people by neglecting their family responsibilities. I Timothy 5:8 says, “If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for his immediate family, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” I give these Biblical examples for those (usually lay people) who grouse, “Clergy won’t leave TEC because they only care about pensions and mortgages.” Well, maybe they care about those for whom their finances provide. In my case, I have a disabled wife and an autistic son, as well as a high schooler (who by God’s grace is a healthy and wonderful young man). Refinancing our house to cover some huge medical bills has us “upside down.” Should I take an out-of –state parish, we will have to live separately for at least a year. We will do that, and accept the freeze of my TEC pension, if God opens the way out of TEC. But I would be “worse than an unbeliever” to impoverish and neglect my wife and kids.

Spiritual leaders do not create churches without practical help. Two African models I hear about are a) lay people form a congregation, get things up and running, and clergy are deployed when the community can support them; b) a province or diocese provides a period of support for missionary clergy, who devote their efforts to building up a congregation or diocese that takes over their support. I’ve heard people argue, “Just start something new. God will provide.” Well, God uses supportive people to provide in the most vibrant missionary settings. Don’t harangue clergy about leaving unless you are active in a body that can help them. If you can’t subsidize them, make it the congregation’s work to find them secular employment. And if you are not part of an actual Anglican church that is trying to grow, just save your words. Don’t lecture clergy about their duties when you’re not being a disciple yourself.

Conclusion?

I don’t have a conclusion. What’s next is in God’s hands.

I’m reasonably certain that institutional TEC will not rejoin Christianity any time soon. That means a) I will be out of TEC altogether or b) I will remain in it under some kind of dhimmitude. I have made preparation either way, and will walk through whatever door God opens. I am blessed by my family’s courage and support in this – they will endure whatever sufferings or sacrifices come.

A few weeks ago, as we prayed together, my wife and I were drawn to Romans 5:8 – “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” The seemingly trivial word “while” is what caught us. We are in Dr. Seuss’ “Waiting Place”; or sitting like explorers on a becalmed sea. “While” we wait, “while” God’s plan unfolds, we’ve done all that we can to argue points, explore options, and make choices. We’ve done all we can to warn Good Shepherd about TEC’s corruption (and we’ve been clear and emphatic about this). We’ve knocked on other doors. “While” the conclusion remains open, there’s no more to do.

“While” we wait for what’s next, we rely on what Scripture tells us: God does not need us to force a particular outcome. “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” And it is on the cross – the one that TEC rejects but that still “towers over the wrecks of time”- where God will always show his love for us, wherever we are.

Timothy Fountain
Sioux Falls, South Dakota
August 28, 2007

17 comments:

Chip Johnson+, cj said...

Fr. Timothy,

We have NEVER met, we have only spoken by phone once, I believe; yet you have been a true brother in Christ since BEFORE you came into South Dakota. I well remember the exchanges we had on several of the blogs and boards and by e-mail, when you were 'coming2dakota'.

I missed the opportunity for fellowship when your parish hosted Sarah Hey last Spring, and I regret that, deeply.

When you 'came2dakota', I left TEC, and our paths therefore never crossed -- at ministerial meetings, Convocation, diocesan convention, ministry weekends, etc. ...my loss.

My prayers have been, and will continue to be, with you, Melissa, and the boys (young men), as you wrestle with the decision that you alone must face. We have been in a similar situation, and chose, for a series of reasons, to exit the Episcopal Church and find a home elsewhere in Anglicanism.

I grant, we sometimes question or regret our decision, but then we realise the peace we have found (even though we know we will NEVER pastor a full congregation, and especially not a 'high-church' one at our age), and continue on for God...right now completely outside the Anglican umbrella, since we are also awaiting the 'fall of the die' for our Province and full Common Cause Partnership.

My brother, stay gracefully; or go in peace. Know also that thre is a great amount of confusion and discontent within some of the greater Anglican community, waiting to see what WILL happen post HOB and 9/30. Either way the prayers of those who love you will accompany you and your family.

There is not much I am in position right now to do, but whatever I can, I will. Just write or call.

Your sincere brother in Christ's love.

Anonymous said...

Fr. Tim, Being two parishoners of Good Shepherd and proudly calling ourselves Anglican, we wish we could help shoulder the worry and pain you carry. We can't so we pray daily for you and your family.
I myself have been wrestling with my "church" in a different way. After reading a wonderful book by a young man who is considered a "radical christian" I feel Jesus is asking me to do more then sit in my "velvet pew". I feel the pull to leave the comfortable box of organized religion and head out with Ipod and bible and help the poor, get my hands dirty, do missionary work with my blood,sweat and tears.
Of course, I step back and wait for God to give me that sign. A friend told me I was doing His "dirty" work already. I disagree with her, respectfully.
So as you and I stand here and wait for our prayers and pleas to be answered we will continue to worship our God and pray and bring more people to those "velvet pews" in Good Shepherd. We love you and your family and as my beloved Sexton says, "We have your back, Fr. T".

Anonymous said...

Fr. Johnson,

Thank you for writing what you did. Prayer is what we need now. It would be a blessing to pray together, along with your wife, for God's continued grace and for His guidance in this time in which things are happening that we never would have imagined, at least not to this extreme.

We are in the middle of a fascinating time in history, just a few of God's little soldiers.

We have built strong affection toward so many in our parish and are saddened to know of the likelihood of having to leave them. Yet, we must "fight the good fight" and that is what we work toward, same as you.

Even with my disability, I can nap when the kids are in school. I know that, should we be apart for a year or so, God will be at our sides. We won't really be apart, we are a team working toward the same goal, to serve the Lord as He would have us do, and to faithfully carry the burdens that come along with it.

Who, amongst those who have left TEC to be under the "Anglican Umbrella", hasn't sacrificed in some way, and why should we expect to be any different?

Whatever God has in store, we will accept, even if we do not understand it. Your prayers are sufficient, your words comforting.

...also it would be a great excuse to invest in "webcam"!

You continue to fight bravely for the Lord, we admire you, and everyone else who is doing so.

I look forward to see what God's will is for us in the coming year and after that.

Blessings, brother!

Melissa

Laocoon said...

Tim+,

We're praying for you and wishing we could do more. We knew what TEC was like when we joined it, and are not blind to what's going on in it right now, but don't plan to pull out. Still, having been campus ministers, we both know how important it is to have spiritual oversight from people who know you, love you, and share your beliefs. We are remembering you and your faily in our prayers tonight and always.

Laocoon

Alice C. Linsley said...

God is able to communicate clearly and as long as you continue to listen and be willing to obey, the One Holy Triune God will guide you. You can take it to the bank.

Pay attention to your dreams. God shows us things we need to see through our dreams.

Anonymous said...

Fr. Tim: We have never met but thank you for your personal perspectives and articulation of what spiritual leaders care about. As a rector I identify with all of them. I am right were you are in spirit though a little behind in the actual decision point, however, I can not deny that my heart has left TEC. I am in the midst of making preparations. I like you am waiting 'while' the present institutional and communion events unfold. I know I can not fall in line with an apostate leadership, nor remain silent with those who think all this will pass in time. I can not serve two gospels and this has become the fundamental and essential factor for doing anything remotely related to staying or leaving. I serve a congregation that is a thousand or so miles away from yours, and who share the same dynmaics as yours and are growing in their awareness of a two gospel church. I am blessed with a united vestry who share my conviction.

I am not much of a blogger, hardly make comments, but I do read a fair amount of what SF and T19 contain. I want you to know how much I appreciate your courage and boldness in the face of a tough diocesan situation, your servant's heart and ministry to Good Shepherd, they are fortunate to have you as their spiritual leader. I wanted you to know that the very same Lord Jesus who is at work in you and bringing you and your family to the point you have reached, is the very same One who is doing his work in me and has brought me and my family to the same point of choosing to follow him, and I do not say the following lightly, whatever the cost. By His grace, God has called each of us to these particular parts of his vineyard, and so we wait while He unfolds his plans.
Bless you brother as you wait. I hope to meet you some day.
In Christ,
WillyBill in TN

Michael said...

Fr. Timothy,

Psalm 139 and Psalm 143 have been on my mind and heart for several years. Fr. Timothy, He, YHWH, IS with you and yours wherever - WHEREVER - you are, wherever you go. You are YHWH's servant. He WILL provide. Always has. Always does. Always will. Always! Prayers ascending in your behalf. Grace and peace in overflowing abundance be yours.

M.S.

NORTHERN PLAINS ANGLICANS said...

WillyBill & Michael - bless you for your encouragement - and God reward you many times over with unexpected blessings when you need them most!

Thank you, Chip+, Laocoon, Alice and anonymous for your faithful support and prayers. They are having a powerful impact - this "hurry up and wait time" is fruitful plowing and planting time for God. I can feel things happening in my spirit, and your prayers are part of it all.

Who's Melissa? J/K - that is my wife, and I know that these expressions of love and support mean a great deal to her, too!

Anselmic said...

The Lord Bless you and keep you, the Lord make his face to shine upon you, and give you his peace.

Josh Indiana said...

Your paragraph, "Spiritual leaders do not create churches without practical help," seems to blame everyone else for not handing you a living.

Is that really what you mean?

Perhaps it would help to describe your ideal situation, and then examine what it would take to create that. This need not be public.

I hear you say that you feel enmeshed; that you cannot stay and you cannot go. That is a bad place to be. So I pray for your freedom.

I'm one of those "heretic apostates" you can't stand, but that's okay; God doesn't want you trapped.

Sad Lad & Lassie said...

Blessings, Fr. Timothy. Few there are who choose and are willing to "walk in light, as He is in the light.." (1 John 1:5-7) as you have. And that is the problem with everyone, inside or outside TEC, who walks in darkness--we have lost our way--and our fellowship with one another. Thanks be to God that the Global South churches know all of this through their sufferings and are willing to walk with us, though the way is the Way of the Cross and costs us everything! Keep your eyes always on HIM, for HE careth for you. "Life is sad, man is sinful...there is something better beyond." Love, Joy and Peace our brother.

Anonymous said...

Fr. Timothy, I have appreciated your thoughtful comments on Stand Firm and was very grateful for the posting this morning.
I am commenting on your blogsite because it seems less exposed than Stand Firm. I was brought to tears as I read your words, in the same way I was brought to tears this past week when a faithful orthodox priest in my diocese announced that he must withdraw his candidacy for election to the Standing Committee because he could not make vows he could not keep. I am deeply grieved that the church I love has come to such a place that faithful clergy are left in such a place of desolation.
I would never have wished for his death, but I am grateful that my husband, who was a faithful priest for twenty-six years before his death, does not have to endure the anguish of this time. I am not an ordained servant but I struggle with some of the same issues about whether I should stay or go. (I am making an assumption that a decision either way will not affect my widow's pension! In that regard I am much freer than you are.) I know the Lord is guiding me step by step if I remain obedient to walking in his light and not go crashing off into the darkness because I am so distraught over the "next thing" TEC has done.
My heart and my prayers go out to you and to your family as you struggle to discern the Lord's direction. I pray that you will be drawn closer together in this crisis and that you will experience and recognize God's provision at each point along the way. It sometimes comes in surprising ways!

Your Sister in Christ's great love,
OW

NORTHERN PLAINS ANGLICANS said...

OW - thank you for your kind words and for your decades as a clergy wife. We don't always acknowledge the unique path that spouses walk. I am sorry for your loss but grateful that you would take the time to share kindness with me.

Josh Indiana - every description of the church in the New Testment describes an organic or communal venture - the body of Christ, stones being built into a Temple, etc. "Enmeshed" is a psychological term, and just as you might not like my implications of apostasy or heresy I do not buy the idea that my disagreement with TEC is born of neurosis.

And my criticisms of the "You must get out" position were aimed in the main at so-called conservatives, many of whom drop out of church life altogether and grouse from the sidelines. They are the ones who can be most ferocious about telling clergy to drop everything. But a clergy person worth his office doesn't just think in terms of me/myself/I. We think of people - even people with whom we disagree. This can be called enmeshment, or it might be seen as love, committment, vocation.

But I do thank you for commenting. The responses I am getting, both via blog and email, show the breadth of the hurt going on in the church. It is not limited by theology or politics - people of all sorts are torn up right now, and this speaks to truly wretched "leadership" from General Convention, the House of Bishops and their bureaucracies.

billguerard said...

Dear Timothy,
Thank you for expressing so eloquently what I have been going through in my parish and have been so over stressed that I couldn't put it into words. You gave me words, and that is a precious gift. I will pray for you. Please pray for us. My family and I are on our way out of TEC, unless a genuine revival breaks out at the HOB in Sept. What the parish will do I don't know. It' sin God's hands where it has always been. He never promised any of us an easy life, or easy decisions. HE did promise that "to him who stands firm I will grant to eat from the tree of life."
God Bless You,
Bill Guerard
Helmetta, NJ

NORTHERN PLAINS ANGLICANS said...

Bless you too, Bill. And I will be praying for you and your family.

I think what happens in some of our congregations is that they like what we do, but think that our faith is something separate from some kind of technical proficiency. They don't understand that the good fruit of our work comes not from us, but from Christ.

It's too bad - too many churches want to settle for an in house chaplain rather than a spiritual leader.

Anonymous said...

Fr. Tim

Your description of the spiritual need that clergy have for oversight was wonderful. My husband chose to leave his Diocese a week before his diaconal ordination and begin the ordination process all over again because he could not accept ordination from someone who was not willing to act under the spiritual headship of Christ, His church and her Holy Scriptures and Tradition. It took us a year of living with his family and working in marginal jobs to get through the second ordination process and find a priestly call. Still, we have never regretted it. I pray that you will find yourself similarly blessed in whatever your circumstances turn out to be.

All I can say is that your people are blessed to have you and that our Diocese is in need of holy and faithful priests at this time! Currently, I am a Deaconess and clergy spouse of a young, unvested priest in the Diocese of San Joaquin. Where the Lord will have me in a year is at this time a complete unknown. Like you, I can only pray for His providence towards our family to continue.

In Christ

Deacon Erin Giles
Manteca, CA

Anonymous said...

Father Tim:

I regret that I have not looked at this site before today. Please know that you are not alone. As you know, I was so troubled by the decision of our Church that I went to the UK to speak with the bishop within weeks of the decision to break from the teachings of God. Please know that God will provide us a way. Just as God did for his children at the Red Sea. We do not currently donate to Good Shepherd in protest of TEC, but if we must abandon the building we will not abandon the church (people of God). There will be a great need in South Dakota if the Episcopal Church decides to split from the Anglican Communion.