Means of Grace, Hope of Glory

Thursday
Oct102019

Saint Wilfrid

This Saturday is the Feast of Saint Wilfrid. He was for a time Archbishop of York. He had messy beginnings and endings in York. He refused to be consecrated by Celtic bishops and so went to France for the consecration. That took two years. When he returned to claim his see, Chad, had been appointed in his place. In 669 a new Archbishop of Canterbury decides that Wilfrid is really “York” and so Chad withdrew, and Wilfrid was installed. Later, after a bit of ecclesiastical gerrymandering by Canterbury and the King, Wilfrid’s diocese was divided into four dioceses. After more time in France, Wilfrid ended up with the Pope taking his side. That did little good and Wilfrid was banished from the area of his diocese. After a reconciliation with the Archbishop he again served as a bishop only to be deposed. He ended as Bishop of Hexham.

Wilfrid’s troubles seemed to involve weighty matters such as whether Celtic or Roman liturgical customs would be followed and whether the Queen could leave, her husband, the King, and become a nun. There was also something about making fishing nets and making it rain in Sussex. 

He was among the 1% and rather flashy about it. But just to note how jumbled humans are, he may have been the first to introduce the Rule of St. Benedict into English monastic life. He also left his money to the poor. Kiefer’s write up on Wilfrid underlines the untidiness of humans by noting that he also left his money “to the abbots of the various monasteries under his jurisdiction, ‘so that they could purchase the friendship of kings and bishops.’ ”  His support of Benedictine monasticism was in part because he “regarded it as a tool in his efforts to "root out the poisonous weeds planted by the Scots.’ ”  He died on October 12 at the age of 75 (which I find slightly unsettling).

How has history dealt with all this? The list of Archbishops of York has Chad from 664 – 669 and Wilfrid 664 – 678.  The church canonized both.

I should note that Wilfrid seemed to do well for periods of five years, once for nine years, before things went south on him—being gerrymandered, banished, excommunicated, and deposed.

I mention that because a good friend is being installed in her parish this Saturday. I will pray that she avoids being gerrymandered, banished, excommunicated, and deposed. I’ll also pray the collect for the day which should bring her to faithfulness in the care and nurture of the parish.

Heavenly Father, Shepherd of your people, we thank you for your servant Wilfrid, who was faithful in the care and nurture of your flock; and we pray that, following his example and the teaching of his holy life, we may by your grace grow into the stature of the fulness of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.

 

A few reflections

We only get saints that are human. We only get bishops, parish priests, and members of the Eucharistic community who are human. They are to be sure redeemed sinners but the fact of human limitation and sin needs acknowledgement. All the saints, all of us, are imperfect and redeemed.

Getting hit with a Title IV complaint isn’t a nuclear disaster. Nor would being banished, excommunicated, and being deposed. The story of the church is one of conflict and disagreement. The losing side often punished. People are shunned out of their beloved parishes. Clergy are restricted. There are winners and losers. And sometimes, in God's time, the first are made last, and the last first. All the saints, all of us, are offered a participation in the Divine Life that invites growth in perseverance and courage, humility and wisdom.

The holy harmony of the church is by way of pain and death. Wilfrid disrupted the settled way. God used that disruption for holiness. We can do little more than share the truth as we see it. We lay our lives upon the altar, pour them into the cup, and God takes, breaks, blesses, and makes use of them. All the saints, all of us, get used by God for God’s purposes, in God’s time.

 

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Tuesday
Oct082019

Lectio Divina

 A slow, meditative reading of scripture. At a time when we are alert. In a quiet and restful place. You need time enough so there is no sense of being hurried.

1. Select a passage; possibly in advance, the day before. Possibly a section of a reading from the Daily Office readings or next Sunday’s Eucharist.

2. Lectio Read the passage slowly, pause as you want. Read slowly, gently listening for God's word for you. Read it again, and possibly again. Notice the phrases and words.  What word or phrase draws your attention or touches you?   Possibly read it aloud. Let the facts settle in; brood over them, allow them to enter imagination & memory. It is a matter of our spiritual development to cultivate the ability to listen deeply, to hear "with the ear of our hearts.”

3. Meditatio - Reflection on the text. Bring to mind memories and associations related to the text. Allow the reading to sink into your heart and mind. Join Mary "pondering in her heart." Gently repeat the word or phrase, allow it to touch your thoughts, longings and hopes. 

4. Oratio - Listening & responding to God. Respond silently or aloud with thoughts, words, desires, feelings, commitments, sorrow, and gratitude. Are there major concerns or joys in your life at the moment that this reading is addressing? Is there some area of your life where God may be inviting you to grow? 

5. Contemplatio - Sit and enjoy the presence of God. Allow God to enter a deeper place in us.  Trust that God is working within even if we do not notice. Rest in God's presence

Do not be overly tight about the steps. In practice they may flow from one to another; may happen at the same time. It may be a useful learning method to stay with the steps as separate acts for an initial period. 

Variations on use

Lectio is most frequently used as a standalone activity. There are also other uses.

I use it as a way of preparing for the Sunday Eucharist. I’ll arrive early, settle myself, look up the readings on a lectionary website, select a reading, and do a short lectio. On occasion I’ve done the same in saying the Daily Office on my own.

It can also be used in a group setting. Maybe something like this –

Lectio One person reads the passage aloud, slowly. Each person listening for God's word. Read it again, possibly by another person in the group. Is there a word or phrase that draws you?

Meditatio – Set what the time will be for reflection on the text. Have a time in silence for each person to bring to mind memories and associations related to the text. Allow the reading to sink into your heart and mind. Silently repeat the word or phrase, allow it to touch your thoughts, longings and hopes.

The group: Each person might share their word or phrase. I’d suggest that you simply go around the circle just sharing that much to begin with. Then you might go around the circle a second time with each person sharing something from their reflection. Then the group returns to silence and engages in a time of Oratio.

Oratio – In silence -- Listening & responding to God with thoughts, words, desires, feelings, commitments, sorrow, and gratitude.

Contemplatio - Sit and enjoy the presence of God. Rest in God's presence

The group: You may want to allow time for each person to share what they want to share. Suggest 2 or 3 minutes/person.

The Rhythm of Christian Life and of Lectio

The Christian life can be seen as a cycle between being renewed in out baptismal identity and purpose and an apostolate in which we are instruments of God’s love in the world.  The cycle is between a conscious and intentional attention to God, prayer life, our relationships, Christian formation and a subconscious reliance upon God as members of the Body of Christ, in the workplace, family, friendship, civic life and congregational life. (See Fill All Things, Robert A. Gallagher, Ascension Press, 2008)

The practice of lectio divina depends on that cycle. It is grounded in our developing the capacity for a gentle oscillation between resting in God in the spiritual practices of the Christian community and allowing ourselves to be instruments of God’s love in our daily life with family and friends, in workplace and civic life. In the one we are being transformed into the likeness of Christ. In the other we are actively cooperating with God’s grace in human life.

For priests and religious the cycle is the same yet with a slightly different expression. In Eleanor McLaughlin’s Priestly Spirituality she offers this understanding of priesthood: “traditional sacramentalism begins with participation in the divine life and moves into the world in mission as the fruit of that Meeting.”(p. 6) Sisters and brothers who are life professed would, in my view, share in that vocation. Mother McLaughlin calls it Anglican Incarnationalism.

It is the legacy of Thornton and Leech, Ramsey and Herbert, Underhill and deWaal, Ailred and Dame Julian, Anslem and Charles Williams. It’s Thornton’s understanding that “the center of priestliness is participation in the life of God for and with the people.” (p. 5) It’s Archbishop Ramsey’s call of “Being with God with the people on your heart.” A way of redemptive suffering that “avoids the archaic, the authoritarian, the socially irresponsible as well as the bureaucratic and professional model.” (p. 5)

                  Page numbers are from Priestly Spirituality, Ascension Press, 1983

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  A PDF of the posting

 

Monday
Sep302019

Episcopal Style Shunning

The first rule: don’t call it shunning. In fact, don’t call it anything; pretend it’s not happening.

The second rule: nurture a shunning/abusive climate in a manner that is at arm’s length.

Shunning

Shunning is cutting off or reducing the normal social interaction with a participant, or group, in the parish’s life. When we do it in Episcopal parishes it’s usually an informal action. When it’s among a small group it’s an important pastoral concern. But when it is broader, more systematic, an expression of parish culture, it undermines the parish’s identity and integrity.

It most often takes the form of a significant reduction in the normal social exchanges and pleasant relationships of parish life. The target says, “Good morning” as usual and is met with averted eyes and a mumbled response. People who would in the past have come over to chat skitter across the room to avoid direct contact. And it happens again and again; week after week.

It gets directed at people in the parish community seen as dissidents, resisters, and whistleblowers. Anyone, who in the opinion of the priest or other key leaders, disrupts the harmony of the community may find themselves made a target. It’s only possible for leaders to nurture a shunning environment if they manage to blame the conflict or disruption on the target rather than on the response being made by the leaders.

Shunning often has severe psychological effects on the people targeted. We need to be clear shunning is a form of abuse and bullying. Leaders who facilitate it have engaged in an abuse of power.

Those who are shunned may suffer a deep sense of loneliness, helplessness, depression, and powerlessness. Some will consider suicide or other forms of self-harm. The impact may be long term, a pain carried for the remainder of the person’s life. Shunning often damages friendships and families, the economic life of the victim, and the person’s reputation. It’s a form of trauma.

When seen in an Episcopal parish shunning is most likely rooted in a desire to reduce or eliminate a person’s or group’s influence in the parish. It’s part of discrediting and isolating a person and in so doing undermining whatever the person’s actions were that caused the leaders distress.

Over the long term it also damages the well-being of the parish—a parish that shuns always lacks faithfulness and health. Parishioners and staff who participate in the shunning will suffer shame that they may later understand and acknowledge or forever carry. In the short term they are likely to justify their actions to themselves and others.

Low, middle, and high approaches to set-off shunning in the parish 

Shunning is enabled in a variety of ways by parish leaders, usually the priest and/or wardens, but occasionally a long-term member with significant informal influence. They create a shunning climate that can become part of the parish’s culture.

People don’t like admitting it, but the research is rather clear--most people are inclined to obey those in authority. We seek to please the priest. We want to be approved of by the priest. People will obey even though their actions will cause suffering for the person being targeted. Their annoyance with the victim for disrupting the parish, and their inclination to do what they think the priest would approve of, justifies their behavior.

Most of us know of the experiments seeking to understand how otherwise good and reasonable people can act in abusive and even sadistic ways. Stanley Milgram’s work had instructors ordering the subjects to administer shocks to a “learner” who gave a wrong answer. The shocks started at 15 volts and went up to 450. In spite of their belief that they were seriously hurting the person 65% of the subjects would continue to administer the shocks up to the highest range. Milgram wrote, “A substantial proportion of people do what they are told to do, irrespective of the content of the act and without limitations of conscience, so long as they perceive that the command comes from a legitimate authority.” More recent experiments suggest that people see themselves as less responsible if they are following organizational policy or obeying orders of someone in authority. Philip Zimbardo’s Stanford Prison Experiment had some students play guards and others prisoners. The experiment was cut short when the researchers became disturbed by the extent of degrading behavior the “guards” where willing to inflict on the “prisoners.”  “Zimbardo concluded that the effect of power over others can become so intoxicating that (1) power became an end in itself, (2) the power-holder developed an exalted sense of self-worth, (3) power was used increasingly for personal rather than organizational purposes, and (4) the power-holder devalued the worth of others.” By comparison it’s easy to shun people we had previously had good relations with.

Low approach to enable shunning – I’m not sure it exists. But maybe we see it in actions such as removing the person’s name from various lists that had routinely appeared on in the past. It’s a form of “disappearing” people.

 Middle approach – The leaders nudge the person out of roles they have played, e.g., the person who for many years had been in charge of a feeding program for the homeless gets removed, or people who had been functioning as lectors or servers are cut from the rota, or a retired priest who had been filling in during the week in celebrating the Eucharist is dropped from the list.

 High approach - This involves making direct and public comments disparaging the target. It may show up in sermons and announcements. The statements are clearly directed at particular people in the parish.

Washing your hands

It’s a trick leaders have long used as they try to avoid being blamed for an action that some might disapprove of or that after some time elapses may appear malevolent.

They profess innocence in some way. They may make a show of saying how they want the people of the parish to deal with the offenders in a courteous and kind manner. But the primary message has already been sent and received.

Options for dealing with shunning

For parish leaders -- 

We need to recall that major shunning doesn’t occur without some endorsement from the top leadership in a parish. So, this has to do with what can those who are responsible for setting the climate in the parish do when shunning is taking place? Sadly, the most likely option such leaders engage is to double down on what they have set loose. The shunning is ignored, and the rationalizations increased.

The other option is from Ezekiel: “A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will remove from your body the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.” (Ezekiel 36:26)  Leaders can open themselves to God’s grace.

 

For those being shunned --

You can “gird on strength,” put on your perseverance and self-care. Stop obsessing about what you may have done or not done and how hurt you are by the acts of parish leaders and former friends. Move on.

Don’t collude with the shunning. You are likely to be tempted to avoid coffee hour and other contacts with those doing the sunning. It’s understandable that you’d want to avoid the pain. Don’t do it! Continue to be present. Don’t allow them to make you invisible and silent. Continue to greet people even if they don’t respond appropriately. If they are not already doing it, ask your friends to sit with you during worship and stand with you at coffee hour.

Have a courageous conversation with those whose shunning is most hurtful. Share the behavior you see going on and the impact on you, e.g., “When you walk pass me, avoid eye contact, and give a halfhearted response to my greeting, I feel hurt and discounted. I’d really like to understand. Will you tell me what’s happening from your end of things?”

Get a lawyer and take legal action in regard to the leadership’s nurturing the climate. A case might be made on the basis of the harm being done and a court weighing the free exercise of religion rights of the person being shunned vs. the rights of the church.

Publicly challenge the shunning. Confront the parish leaders at a vestry meeting or parish meeting. Start a web site and post your experience. Communicate with the rector and wardens pointing out the impact of what they are feeding and ask that they act to turn things around. File a Title IV Complaint against the rector—the abuse of power and the harm done by nurturing a shunning climate is “conduct unbecoming a member of the clergy.”

Engage appropriate spiritual practices. In the coming days I’ll explore how we can make use of Henri Nouwen’s Reaching Out model (loneliness to solitude, hostility to hospitality, illusion to prayer/reality).

 

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In the coming days

Part 2 -- Episcopal Style Shunning: Responding with spiritual practices

Monday
Sep232019

Thriving Communities

This posting is to point you to "Faith & Leadership" a resource of Duke Divinity School. You may recall that they took over much of the work of Alban Institute. The links below are from "Thriving Communities." 
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What is Christian about Christian leadership? »
Theologian L. Gregory Jones, the dean of Duke Divinity School, says it is our purpose, our telos. And that is to cultivate thriving communities that bear witness to the inbreaking reign of God that Jesus announces and embodies in all that we do and are. This should shape the way we think about our lives, our institutions and the way we lead our institutions.

The pattern of life in thriving communities »
In a seven-part series, New Testament scholar C. Kavin Rowe writes that the Acts of the Apostles pressures us to see six features that are the essence of the church.

Networking: Early Christians built communities where resources were plentiful »
The early Christians used the advantages of such places to develop communities that could have easy contact with one another and could become, by means of their communication and interconnection, “brothers and sisters” in Christ, Rowe writes.

Visibility: Early Christians did not separate their public and private lives »
Rowe writes that in Acts being Christian is by its very nature a public confession and identity. Contrary to what we might normally think, “Christian” was not first used as an internal self-designation. It was instead a term coined by outsiders, by those who could see a thriving community and needed a word with which to describe them.

Thriving includes provision for and inclusion of the weak and the downtrodden »
Making room for the weak is not a kind of “add-on” to the central mission of the church but is something integral and internal to its identity, Rowe writes. Acts displays what becomes a central feature of the thinking of the church’s leaders: they look beyond the need to “fix” a problem (of which there are several in Acts) and instead think about thriving in a much longer-term perspective.

Incorporating conflict and disagreement into a community »
Rowe writes that such work entails the intertwining of the powerful work of the Holy Spirit, the prefiguring and confirming role of Scripture, and the discerning work of the community’s leaders.

Learning to articulate why your community exists »
A thriving community is one that knows why it exists at all -- the content of its being as a community -- and is able to articulate to others this reason for its existence, Rowe writes. It has developed ways of teaching this articulacy to the new people who join the community so that there is a transmission of and continuity in community identity and mission.

Suffering is part of thriving »
The Book of Acts portrays Christian communities that thrive despite suffering -- not because of an affirmation of the meaningfulness of all difficulty but because of the hope they know from the pattern of Jesus’ life, Rowe writes.

Saturday
Sep142019

Follow up on St. Paul’s: Growth and Decline

It’s been almost two weeks since we shared the article on growth and decline.

We had promised a follow up. Here it is. 

There are three segments:

            -Responses received

            -Events

            -Our reflections

Responses received

We’re trying to provide an accurate impression of the range of responses without covering every comment or quoting people.  We were especially struck by, and appreciative of how, responders mostly avoided blame and defensiveness—that can sometimes be difficult and it’s a hopeful sign of capacity for meaningful conversation. 

Most people were appreciative of the article and the attempt to begin a conversation. There was a mixed response regarding finding fault—some agreed with us that fault finding wasn’t useful, others found fault with one or the other of the rectors, though that was generally limited to some specific areas. One found fault with us. There was general affirmation of the article’s position that dealing with the issues belongs to all of us, not just the clergy.

We were surprised by one type of response that came from most (but not all) of those who had read the article and took the time to write or have a long conversation: Hurt. For some the hurt was in the past, and for some it was more recent. All of those responses, though, were thoughtful, full of love for the parish, and often touching in their vulnerability. In a variety of ways, some people wrote of their hurt—being rejected or not accepted, not having their needs heard or addressed, and not being allowed to offer their vocation and gifts in the community. One wrote of talking with two people who had left and their dissatisfaction with things. Two wrote of how the analysis confirmed their own sense of things.

A few long-termers offered insights grounded in their many years at St. Paul’s. One especially liked Fr. Campbell’s “Five Apes” story as a way of understanding parish culture. The “acceptance” issue mentioned above was seen by one person as being long standing in the parish. Another noted there being high attendance with another rector some years ago and a fall off when he left. So, is there a pattern of some sort? One noted that the parish didn’t have a history of being rector driven and another that rectors had made it a point to accept the Anglo-Catholicism of our tradition while rejecting any form of clericalism. There was also some recognition of a broader base of skilled leaders not being formed along the way

From some we heard a sense of resignation, but those responders had all decided they were staying in the parish. There was too much they loved, e.g., liturgy and the music of liturgy, friendships, community, and roots. And there was fatalism and submission, patience and fortitude. There was mention of a lack of energy in the parish.

A couple of people wanted to attribute all the decline to forces outside the parish’s control. They thought that the parish needs a serious conversation about these matters but they wondered if there was some other way to get at it. They didn’t have anything specific in mind about what that way might be.

Overall the comments about what caused the growth and decline were congruent with what we had written but with interesting “takes” and some nuance on the history. Some placed an emphasis in a different place than us. 

A few commented on how the decline begins just after Mother Melissa leaves. One thought there was an over-focus on the rector’s personality involved for some of those people—that the parish in itself wasn’t enough to hold them.

Some noted the rector’s agitation. Some thought it an overreaction and misreading of the article. 

People offered thoughts about what we need to do now—have the conversation, create a new path, build upon our existing strengths, create slow growth, etc.

Some seemed pessimistic about being able to face into this, others less so noting that we have beat the trend before. People’s love for Saint Paul’s comes through again and again. 

Events

On the Sunday after the article was published there were three responses from those in positions of authority. In the sermon we heard the implication that a concern about “numbers” was choosing death and was church killing. It was brief and only those who had read at least some of the article would have caught the meaning. At both coffee hours there was an announcement with comments along these lines—no one requested it, we don’t know how many people have seen the paper, it wasn’t reviewed by anyone in authority, etc.  And in the worship bulletin the clergy prayer list (with the names of all clergy in the parish) and the list of retired clergy had been removed. We believe this was a way of removing Robert's name. The last time this happened the rector just removed Robert's name and the Bishop objected. So, this time everyone's names were removed.  On Friday the rector and vestry sent an e-mail to everyone on the parish list. They said, “[that they] did not request the creation of this document, nor have an opportunity to review or discuss it prior to publication, nor approve of its contents or its publication. … We believe the document is not only an inaccurate picture of our community and its leaders, but also may be harmful to the fabric of our common life and ministry together."

Our reflections (just a few of them)

As said above, the number of people noting their hurt was a surprise. Our approach to addressing that would be a structured, thorough, respectful and timely, parish wide conversation. It was rather clear to us that a number of people have not felt heard in earlier attempts to speak about this with parish leaders, past and present. We’d caution that this doesn’t mean that leaders have been ill intended, unwilling or unable. There are many reasons in a parish system why such matters get missed.

In doing this we've recalled story of the blind men and the elephant. They each touched a different part of the elephant--the tusk, the side, a leg. "The moral of the parable is that humans have a tendency to claim absolute truth based on their limited, subjective experience as they ignore other people's limited, subjective experiences which may be equally true." What we have touched in the article is just one piece of St. Paul's life. The parable on Wikipedia

Our writing is a form of independent journalism with professional analysis. As with earlier articles on St. Paul’s it wasn’t approved or reviewed by those in positions of authority. Our practice is that in our books and blog postings we don’t submit articles to others asking for their approval or allow them to edit the material. We do, however, invite people to offer facts we may be unaware of and alternative assumptions and viewpoints. We also encourage others to help us expand our own frames of reference and gain insight into our blind areas. All that might well change our perspective.

We think that what is needed is not a conversation about our article, but a conversation about what the article is about. The beginning point isn’t: What do you make of what Michelle and Robert wrote? Rather it’s more along the lines of: What do you want Saint Paul’s to be in the coming years? What are the gifts that God has given the parish? How might we build upon them? Enhance them? How might we share them with others? What is our blindside? How might that be understood and healed? We know others would add to these questions.  

We continue to hope that parish leaders will lead us into the needed conversation and engage a path of reconciliation and de-escalation. We continue to take responsibility for our own views and actions and welcome conversation with anyone who believes we have made misstatements. If we’ve been clumsy about some of it, we are sorry. We believe that what Christian communities most need is that “perfect love which casts out fear”—it’s a love that is founded on truth and compassion, willingness to stand together in difficult times, and openness to repentance, forgiveness, and continuing to move forward together. 

 

Michelle Heyne, OA and Robert Gallagher, OA

 

Background articles

The Church's Way of Reconciliation and Forgiveness    

 Bonding: Priest & People    

Transitions in Parish Size: Part one

Transitions in parish Size: Part two

Conversations parishes need to have: Three Things