- + 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.
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.
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.
Sioux Falls, South Dakota
August 28, 2007