Saturday, December 29, 2007

Christmastide, San Joaquin, and the power of lay people

This has been a lovely few days since Christmas Day. I've had some rare "time off" to do all the things I put off in other more frantic times.

Some of these are necessary -- as well as wonderfully satisfying -- chores such as cleaning out and organizing closets, bathroom shelves, and storage rooms. I've accumulated lots of clothing and other items to give to various resale shops run by Safe Haven and The Women's Center, as well as all those paperback books we seem to acquire in airports during delays and layovers.

I've needed these soothing chores because I've also had time to read and reflect on the happenings in the Diocese of San Joaquin, a situation we here in Fort Worth are watching closely because it's like watching our own future unfold -- a very unsettling experience, by the way.

We were probably less surprised than most at the actions of their former Episcopal bishop, John David Schofield, in announcing his takeover of St. Nicolas Church in Atwater, CA., and the firing of the rector, Fred Risard. [The best coverage of all this at Jake's place, here.]

We've witnessed -- and actually personally experienced -- equally brutal behavior on the part of our own bishop on more than one occasion. But I have to say that John David Schofield has outdone Bp. Iker in his masterful use of timing. What better way to win hearts and minds than to close a church called St. Nicholas on Christmas Day?

No, I'm not being sarcastic. Remember which hearts and minds he's trying to win. Not those of loyal Episcopalians. No, he's out to the win the steely hearts and tight little minds of THOSE-WHO-KNOW-THE-MIND-OF-GOD and who want to live in safe purity among others who agree with them -- or who will at least obey them.

If there is one piece of advice I have for the larger church, it is to please not forget who these people are.

They do not "play fair" and they follow only the canons, rules, and regulations that they find convenient at any particular time -- but they will scream to the high heavens if anyone opposing them overlooks the tiniest jot or tittle of a canon, rule, or regulation.

They are bullies, and like all bullies, they can dish it out, but they can't take it. Any one who "pushes back" is persecuting them. They have perfected the roles of victim and martyr --indeed, they relish them.

They lie.

They steal. The ones in San Joaquin are obviously are willing to steal property from a church with which they are no longer affiliated. Here in Fort Worth, Bishop Iker is consolidating his position to be able to do the same thing after the second reading to "leave" TEC.

These are people who love using warlike metaphors and who describe differences in the church as "epic battles," all-out war," and "major warfare." These are Manly Men and the Women Who Admire Them. They love cowboying swaggering princes of bishops who fear no man, and certainly no woman.

Indeed, these are men who really like women only in their "proper place," which means subservient to men and "under their direction." Like the Southern Baptists, they expect women to "submit graciously" to men in authority.

They will turn on their "own" in a nanosecond if they think a person has "betrayed" the cause of patriarchy. These events are not pleasant to witness.

Does this mean we should fear them?

Absolutely not. We should have compassion for them, love them, and wish them well as they go the way they have chosen.

Then we do what we have to do to make sure they don't take things that belong to The Episcopal Church and her members.

John David Schofield is no longer a bishop in The Episcopal Church, no matter what smarmy letters he writes or how many ways he tries to stretch the truth. He's made his choice, and now he must deal with the consequences.

One consequence is that he no longer has authority over parishes and missions of The Episcopal Church in the Diocese of San Joaquin. But even as I write that, I know that Fred Risard's position as an ordained priest puts him in a terrible position.

This is not the case, however, with lay people.

And that's the thing -- it is the lay people of San Joaquin and soon, the lay people of Fort Worth, who will have to lead the struggle to reconstitute our dioceses.

Clergy have too many career issues at risk, and it's clear from watching San Joaquin that they are being left in a no-man's land right now while the national Church leadership wends its way through the canonical processes dealing with a bishop who abandons his see.

But while The Rev. Risard may be stymied for a time, the laity of St. Nicholas are well within their rights to ignore orders given by a bishop and a canon of the Southern Cone.

They may indeed want to change their locks and bank accounts, but they should do so only to prevent theft by foreign prelates.

I pray God will grant them the courage, heart, and will to prevail.

I don't know how it is in San Joaquin, but I know how it is here. Bishop Iker has worked long and hard to create mistrust and suspicion of those who are loyal to The Episcopal Church. By publicly humiliating those who speak out against him, by allowing others to ridicule those who disagree with him, by retaliating against clergy who have dared disagree, he has created an atmosphere of fear. This has been fertile ground in which to sow his seeds of alienation and isolation, resulting in a terrible passivity on the part of the clergy and the laity. It's like rabbits in a field hoping that if they are still enough, the predator won't notice them.

If you think I am overstating, just remember that Bp. Iker has made it clear in more than one convention address that those who oppose his policies are "demons."

Indeed, at the very first convention over which he presided, in October 1994 [just before his Recognition and Investiture as the Third Bishop of Fort Worth on January 7, 1995], he laid out the course he has followed ever since:

"But of course, there are always a few who seem to thrive on conflict and sow seeds of discord and suspicion at every turn. There is always an element of the demonic at work deep in the life of the Church --forces of destructiveness and enmity, rather than of reconciliation and healing."

In case there was any doubt to whom he was referring, he went on to say, "I will not allow the General Convention to set the agenda for this Diocese. Nor will I allow the radical feminist lobby [The Episcopal Women's Caucus] to dictate to me the priorities of this diocese. I do not need the proposed expansive language for God, because I believe in the sufficiency of the revealed religion of the bible and that Jesus taught us how to address God and all that we need to know about the nature of God. When we pray, He taught us to say "Abba," Father, and that is sufficient enough for me. Post-Christian theologies and terminologies continue to sound more like New Age Religion than New Testament Religion."

He went on for several more paragraphs, ridiculing inclusive and expansive language, and then returned to his description of how he was going to protect us all from the heresies of the awful national church.

". . .The so-called "liberal' coalition that so manipulates and controls the agenda of General Convention and the 815 establishment is not going to be imposed upon the mission and work of this Diocese. We have one agenda and one priority: the proclamation of the saving Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ to the whole world, in word and deed. We will minister with love and compassion for all people, of whatever persuasion or orientation, calling them to repentance and newness of life, inviting them to become partakers with us of the risen life of Jesus Christ, our Redeemer and Savior.

". . . However, I want to be very clear that the lesbian-gay rights group called Integrity, which orchestrated so much of the General Convention, is not going to play a tune to which I will dance as the Bishop of Fort Worth. There will be no blessings of same sex relationships, nor even the study of the development of any such rites, in this Diocese. We cannot condone or bless that which God forbids. There will be no ordinations of practicing homosexuals in this Diocese, nor will such persons who have been ordained in other Dioceses be permitted by me to exercise any sacramental ministry in the Diocese of Fort Worth. Furthermore, I want to go on record today as stating that any bishop of this Church who advocates, practices or allows same sex blessings or the ordination of practicing homosexuals will not be permitted to exercise any ministry as bishop here in this Diocese. I regret to have to draw such lines in the sand, but these are painful realities of the impaired communion brought upon us by their actions, in violation of the clear teachings of this Church.

". . . the diocese is the basic unit of the Catholic Church, not the congregation, though the diocese is meant to enhance and support the work of every local congregation. The diocese, quite simply, is wherever an orthodox bishop is found, surrounded by his faithful clergy and lay people. We are a Church under the authority of our Bishop as our Father in God.

"This is our theology and that is our ecclesiology; it is an Episcopal polity, not a congregational one. We must resist efforts which seek undermine this understanding of the Catholic nature of the Church, and we must work together, all of us, to help keep this diocese sound and solid and orthodox. "

See? Jack Iker was George Bush before George Bush was George Bush.

I know this is not going to be easy, but I remain hopeful. As we move into the new year, I pray that God grants us the strength, courage, patience, compassion, and wisdom we are going to need in the coming months.

12 comments:

SUSAN RUSSELL said...

Bless you, Katie! You rock!

Thomas B. Woodward said...

Katie, this is said as well as it can be said. Duncan, Iker and Schofield can talk warfare, but St. Paul reminds us that we are armed with the breastplate of righteousness, the sword of truth and all other things necessary for our spiritual survival.

Thank you for this analysis - it will provide sustenance and courage and hope for those who need it.
Tom Woodward

Ann said...

Thanks Katie -- uppity laity unite!

Barbi Click said...

Katie, You are so beautiful.
Keep on keeping on...keep on speaking out, speaking loud and making the good old boys as nervous as a bunch of long tail cats in a room full of rockers.
:-)

Kirstin said...

Thank you, Katie. Keep the faith.

cp said...

Many people of good faith in our country have been systematically mislead and demoralized by a moneyed right wing noise machine. Fortunately your voice is another of encouragement in the wilderness for those (and there are many) who are starting to question and say: "Enough.!"

Thank you for helping turn that tide. Truth and love WILL win out.

Beryl Simkins said...

Keep speaking out, Katie. I think your blog provides a wonderful rallying point for those who do not want schism in your diocese. I like to think it might have helped us in San Joaquin if we had such a centralized blog to rally together those who disagreed with our exBishop's actions. We did have Remain Episcopal, of which I am a member, but I think one other issue was that so many did not believe in the reality that this would occur. It is really difficult to be in defiance of your bishop, or to be in defiance of your priests. These are your spiritual leaders. But it is time for lay peole to come forward.

It all looks so different now in San Joaquin, and it is painful for the loyal Episcopalians in this diocese who cannot worship in their local churches and who have lost the weekly fellowship so important in our spiritual lives. Lost is choir paractice, Bible studies, Daughters of the King groups, even the fellowship of altar guild members, etc. And now we are really angry and upset at the result.

What do you do in your diocese to stop the train wreck that is happening? Keep speaking out at every misstatement and clarify the issues. These hate mongers, and that is what they are, twist the truth frequently and use fears and prejudices to their advantage. Keep pointing out the the beauty of our national church and its wonderful 400 year heritage in our country. The Episcopal Church is the best kept secret in this USA of individualists, who want to think for themselves and come to their own understanding of issues of church doctrine. We believe in the use of reason, and are allowed to disagree, but come together in our statement of the Nicene creed, and at the communion table of our Lord. Why have these three bishops forgotten that?

I pray for uou and for your church and ask for continued prayers for us in the Diocese of san Joaquin.

Josh Indiana said...

Beryl's statement is very affecting. I absolutely agree that a well-run blog, frequently updated with lots of links, is an incredible asset when a church body is facing schism. One problem with the Remain Episcopal website is that until very recently, no one has stepped up to post up-to-date information as it comes in. The same is true for the website "Grace Concerns" in Colorado Springs. These are old fashioned websites when blogs would better serve. The harvest is plenteous but the workers are few.

So I have to echo Beryl's praise for your efforts, Katie. (Besides, you're such a clear writer and thinker.)

I wonder if those of us in more "broad church" dioceses, without a long tradition of undue reverence for the clergy, don't have a bit of an easier time of questioning and even resisting the clergy when they start playing power games. TEC now has chasubles, copes and candles on the altar coast to coast; I'm not aware of any avowed Morning Prayer parishes anymore. In that sense the Anglo-Catholic movement has triumphed completely and has never been more influential. Reverence for the Sacrament is at an all-time high.

But of course there's "liberal" Anglo-Catholic and eww-no-girls Anglo-Catholic, and we're seeing how that divide plays out.

I agree with you, it will be the laypeople in Fort Worth and San Joaquin who provide the post-schism leadership, for just the reason you say; it's our Church, not our paychecks. Laypeople are freer to act than clergy, and that means we're freer to lead in a crisis. After all, the Church has a priesthood of all believers.

Or as Fr. Jake often says, God put him in a collar so as to be able to lead him with a leash. It was for his own good (and ours).

Fr. Stainbrook said...

As the area dean of East Fort Worth I am pleased to inform "Josh Indiana" that one of the largest parishes here (St. Andrew's, downtown Fort Worth) is proudly an "avowed Morning Prayer parish" in our Anglo Catholic Diocese.

Thank you, Katie, for printing Bishop Iker's first convention address. I had forgotten how powerful it was! In re-reading it, I am even more convinced that it is due to Bishop Iker's candor and conviction, combined with his own personal courage and charisma, that almost 90 percent of the elected delegates from our 54 congregations voted again at this year's Diocesan Convention (as they have for over a decade now) to support his vision and follow his leadership.

With best wishes for a Happy New Year,

The Very Rev'd Christopher C. Stainbrook

Binx said...

ah one of those times where the folks to claim to know the mind of Jesus would not know Him if he walked up to them and kissed them.
In fact they would most likely have Him arrested for such a dastardly deed as a kiss.

David Walker said...

Josh,

I think the militant Morning Prayer parishes are a reflection of the incumbent rector and whatever his (used intentionally) theology may be. I do know that, many years ago, I was called to, and accepted the call to, a thoroughly "MP" parish where my predecessor had been rector for 49 years (yes, you heard me right). Although this was 1976, the altar was still up against the wall (for those rare, quarterly, occasions when it was used for something other than a flower stand), there were no Eucharistic vestments, and the parish had never been encouraged to look at any of the various trial Prayer Book publications. Indeed, the year before he retired, the Rector bought all new 1928's and had each one given as a memorial to a loved one.

Several people asked me, "Are you *sure* you know what you're getting into, David?"

Within a year, we'd joined the 20th century. They never looked back and, with one or two exceptions, embraced the new PB and it's liturgies enthusiastically.

It *can* be done. The laity are smarter and more adaptable than some clergy think!

Lionel said...

Well said, Katie, as usual.

We here in Pittsburgh also are watching a possible future of ours play out in San Joaquin. It is reason to hope that Bishops Duncan and Iker will be removed from TEC before they can do the kind of damage Schofield has done there. The church is working hard to put Humpty Dumpty back together in San Joaquin. Why did he have to fall off the wall in the first place, however?

—Lionel Deimel