Monday, January 14, 2008

I will, with God's help

NOTE: The next Fort Worth Via Media meeting is Monday, January 28 at 7 p.m. at the Southwest Regional Public Library, in the 4000 block of South Hulen [north of I-20]. It was originally scheduled for Jan. 21, but since that is Martin Luther King Day, the library will be closed.
---------------------------------

I've been thinking a lot about baptism lately. This Sunday's lessons about the baptism of Jesus added to my sense of urgency on this subject.

Why?

Because I've been listening to a lot of lay people in my diocese who are feeling helpless, who feel they have no voice -- nay -- no right to speak up as our diocesan leadership steadily increases the pressure on clergy to commit to the bishop's plan to leave The Episcopal Church and take the property with him. In turn, the clergy are increasing the pressure on the lay people in their parishes.

These lay people are struggling against an epidemic of learned helplessness, a condition carefully cultivated by the clergy here. There are several ways the clergy do this:

There is the "Father knows best" group, who pat lay people on the head and tell them to sit down and be quiet.

There is the "How dare you question me/the bishop" group, who are much more forceful in their silencing techniques, using public shaming and even verbal abuse to shut people up.

There is the "Heads in the Sand" group, who have dealt with the conflict in the diocese by pretending it's not happening. They have allowed no discussion of it in the parish, they have held no forums on it, and they quickly label as "troublemakers" those who try to discuss it, or to ask questions. These well-meaning rectors see this as being "neutral," while the reality is that their silence has helped maintain the status quo; ie, the bishop's position.

Lay people are not without responsibility in this.

Many have assisted the clergy in this by declaring they "don't want to get involved in church politics." They have been doing the equivalent of putting their fingers in their ears and humming every time someone tries to talk to them about it. They don't want to know. It's too painful. They have friends on "both sides." They just want to go to church and worship, not fight.

Well, can you blame them? It IS painful. It IS more peaceful to just worship and not struggle with political decisions. And who wants to take on their priest week after week, much less their bishop?

All this has essentially reduced the role of the laity here to that of children doing what the adults tell them to do, a situation that suits most of the clergy here just fine.

But a whole lot of the "children" have finally had enough. They are finding their voices, and they are seeking ways to speak up. And as they do, they are taking on the mantles of their baptisms.

Then they wonder, "What do I do now?"

The answer is, pray and pray and pray, get informed, and then get political.

Because what we are facing in this diocese is a political struggle, for all the bishop tries to frame it as a theological battle with the forces of "good" [Bishop Iker and his allies] ranged against the forces of "evil" [TEC].

Make no mistake.
This is a struggle for power and control with issues of
scriptural interpretation being used as weapons of mass distraction.
This is a question of church governance and as such, it is political. I believe that to opt out of that political struggle is to abdicate part of our baptismal vows. The catechism teaches us that "Holy Baptism is the sacrament by which God adopts us as his children and makes us members of Christ's Body, the Church, and inheritors of the kingdom of God."

As members of the Church, we have a responsibility to help govern it. By virtue of our baptisms, we are one of the four orders of ministry. Indeed, we are the first order, and the largest. But in this diocese the role of the laity has been largely reduced to rubber stamping what the bishop and the clergy have decided.

We can change that. Our baptisms don't just confer responsibilities on us. They also confer authority. Baptism is an ordination we share with Jesus himself. It is the ONLY ordination Jesus had before he began his public ministry.

I have pasted the Baptismal Covenant below. Please take time to read it, think about it, pray about it.

Fellow blogger Marshall wrote, "There is a distinct contrast between seeing faith primarily in action, as in the Baptismal Covenant; and in seeing faith primarily in acceptance of the necessary content."

Faith primarity in action can include challenging clergy, including bishops. Disagreeing with Bishop iker is NOT disobedience. It is NOT a sin.

This is the month we have our annual parish meetings in this diocese. At those meetings vestries are elected. Delegates to convention also are to be elected at these meetings, although at some parishes the delegates are elected from among the vestry by the vestry. Budgets are approved, reports are given. At some parishes, awards are given out. Some are held as business meetings, some are banquets.

For years, in most parishes here, rectors have essentially appointed vestry members, since people weren't standing in line to be candidates. In fact, that was discouraged. Rectors preferred to have only enough candidates to fill the empty slots, so if there were three vacancies, there were three candidates. The excuse given was that it prevented hurt feelings. It also prevented discussion and diversity.

One of the biggest tools the clergy use to control vestries is the Bishop's Customary. The customary, which you can read here, is interpreted by most rectors as giving them the right to "strike" any candidate with whom they feel they cannot work. This provision has been used almost always to keep people who disagree with the bishop off these slates of candidates. These rectors also do not allow nominations from the floor.

Now are you begining to understand why votes at diocesan convention are so lopsided?

But the people elected are delegates, not deputies. They are delegated to be the voice of their parish -- ALL their parish -- at diocesan convention. So no matter who is elected to your vestry and no matter who is elected as your delegates, you have a right to talk to them, to express your opinions and to expect that your views be heard and represented.

Yes, we are heading into unknown territory. But be of good cheer. Remember-- there WILL be an Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth no matter what happens.

Once Bishop Iker and his followers leave, those of us who remain will reconstitute our diocese. We will be given an interim bishop by the presiding bishop who will help us reorganize and eventually elect a new bishop. The diocese may be smaller at first, but it WILL grow. We may not all be worshipping in the buildings we are used to, but we will be worshipping.

There will be court battles, and there will be loss. We will have much to grieve over. But we also will have much to celebrate. We will survive, with God's help.

So if your rector won't let you have informational meetings at your parish, have them in your homes. Invite your fellow parishioners to come listen to a speaker, read a book, or discuss blogs.

Use the Internet. There are vast resources for you out there. Set up a yahoo group for your parish, so those of you who want to stay in TEC can find one another and support each other.

If you are in the north part of the diocese, attend the gathering "You Can Choose to Remain Episcopalian" in Wichita Falls on Friday, Janaury 18 at 7:00 p.m. at First Christian Church, 3701 Taft, Room 1-A, Wichita Falls. Use the Chapel Entrance, South Doorway. It is sponsored by North Texas Remain Episcopal. The Rev. Tom Woodward will speak and several members of Fort Worth Via Media will be there. There will be a Q&A session after the address.

Or come hear "WHAT IS AT STAKE FOR EPISCOPALIANS IN THE DIOCESE OF FORT WORTH?" at 2 p.m., Saturday, January 19, at the Sid Richardson Hall, Lecture Hall 2, TCU. It's at 2840 W. Bowie Street. The Rev. Tom Woodward will speak. His address will be followed by a Q&A session.

Come to Fort Worth Via Media meetings. The next one is Monday, January 28 at 7 p.m. at the Southwest Regional Public Library, in the 4000 block of South Hulen [north of I-20].

Join the FW Via Media Yahoo Group. Send an e-mail to Barbi Click at bgclick@gmail.com and ask her to add you to the list. It's a great place to stay informed and find like-minded souls.

Note: Fort Worth Via Media is an organization of lay people and clergy who intend to remain in The Episcopal Church. You don't have to agree with everything TEC has done. You don't have to agree with everyone in the group. It does not matter where you are on the theological spectrum. The only "requirement" for membership is a desire to remain in The Episcopal Church.

From the beginning the move to separate this diocese from The Episcopal Church has been a clergy-led movement. It is well past time for the voice of the laity to be heard.

---------------------------------

The Baptismal Covenant

Celebrant: Do you believe in God the Father?
People: I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth.

Celebrant: Do you believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God?
People: I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord.
He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit
and born of the Virgin Mary.
He suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried.
He descended to the dead.
On the third day he rose again.
He ascended into heaven,
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again to judge the living and the dead.

Celebrant: Do you believe in God the Holy Spirit?
People: I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic Church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting.

Celebrant :Will you continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers?
People: I will, with God’s help.

Celebrant: Will you persevere in resisting evil, and, whenever you fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord?
People: I will, with God’s help.

Celebrant: Will you proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ?
People: I will, with God’s help.

Celebrant: Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?
People: I will, with God’s help.

Celebrant: Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?
People: I will, with God’s help.
-------------------------------------
Here was yesterday's Collect

Father in heaven, who at the baptism of Jesus in the River Jordan proclaimed him your beloved Son and anointed him with the Holy Spirit: Grant that all who are baptized into his Name may keep the covenant they have made, and boldly confess him as Lord and Savior; who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.

We CAN do this -- with God's help.

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

If you don't agree with the church and are unhappy, just leave. That's what my family was told by our liberal church in 2003 (and is frequently told to those of orthodox faith when trying to tell their position - some listening process). Why doesn't it go both ways??

Muthah+ said...

The diocese has made the differences between Iker and TEC faith issues, but they are not. They are ideological issues, to be sure, but not faith issues.

Our faith is a relationship between God and ourselves. I protested against Iker's election when he was elected. To disagree with a bishop is just that: a disagreement--something that has been a point upon with the Episcopal church has prided itself since its founding.

I am so glad to hear that those who have been oppressed are beginning to stand up for themselves, their parish and their faith againt those who have manipulated the elections in their diocese to grab power.

Katie Sherrod said...

I don't want anyone to leave. I WANT to be in a church that includes Jack Iker AND Gene Robinson. Gene Robinson has said repeatedly that he wants to be a church with Jack Iker. The problem is, Jack Iker doesn't want to be in a church with us.

SUSAN RUSSELL said...

Brilliant, Katie! I hope this gets wide distribution ... I think it's a real eye-opener for those who don't "get" how systematically dissenting voices in your diocese have been suppressed.

And before there's a piling on of "yeah, well, conservatives are suppressed in liberal dioceses, TOO!" may I just note that last Saturday Bishop Bruno ordained nine new priests in the Diocese of Los Angeles ... two of whom are graduates of TESM (yes, THAT Trinity School of Ministry.)

Finally, here's a quote from Ed Bacon from my sermon yesterday: "Faith in action is called politics. Spirituality without action is fruitless and social action without spirituality is heartless."

Keep it up, Katie ... and I know you will ... with God's help!

the Reverend boy said...

You make me proud to be an Episcopalian. God bless you.

johnieb said...

You are a one woman celebration of the Power of the Spirit of the Laity!

Aghaveagh said...

Katie,

A very perceptive and sensible outline of the situation.

And perhaps now it is clearer to some how "an entire diocese can vote to leave" when in fact, that's not the case; the delegates are hand-picked by the clergy, or have had undue pressure put on them to vote the same way. Those of us in San Joaquin only hope that if it comes down to the second vote, your work and that of other faithful Episcopalians may tip the scales. Be of good cheer!

If not, well, the phoenix rises from the ashes. We will be there to help. Carry on!