Monday, February 05, 2007

The Churcheth that Emergeth

What the MadPriest said:

I am great believer in the proposition that God is unfailing in his redemption. But the speed at which good is coming out of bad at Falls Church is pretty fast even by The Father's standards. Ok, there aren't 2800 of them but the non-defectors are experiencing being church for the first time in many, many years. Small in number but they are a church - they are not having church done at them by power mad, authority craving egomaniacs.

And, as has been hinted at elsewhere in the neighbourhood over the last 12 months, the defection of the ultra-conservatives is allowing a return to the Church of all those faithful Christians exiled from the parish churches because they refused to accept the commands of the cult leaders who had taken over the churches.

And, the forced removal of the Episcopalians to the Presbyterian church hall has resulted in a weekly ecumenical get together that would have took years to arrange if left to the normal burocracy of the denominations involved.

In Falls Church a true Church is emerging. This will happen wherever those who hate try to extinguish the light. Let them do their worst - we have nothing to lose except all the stuff we should be getting rid of anyway.
I know of a UCC church here in Texas which loudly and publicly withdrew from the denomination over similar issues to those now roiling the Virginia churches. In a congregational polity, this move provoked no lawsuits or lingering church issues, but it was clearly done with an eye to provoking the formation of a new denomination of disaffected UCC churches from across the South, if not across the country.

It didn't work that way. The other UCC church in town, which had long lived in the shadow of the larger church, suddenly became "the" UCC church in town. Life otherwise went on as it had, and despite pastors "trained" in that church which actually went to other rural Texas churches seeking sympathy and schism, nothing took root. Why? Because, fundamentally, as MadPriest would say, most Christians are "bog standard" about it. But also because, despite the cries of a minority in any congregation, most people hate change, even if it means the change will "restore" the church they think they are used to. Which explains comments like this:

Meanwhile, the News-Press has learned of some dissention among the ranks of those Falls Church Episcopal members who voted to defect, claiming they’d been led to believe they were only choosing an alternative, more conservative leadership within the denomination, and that the denomination’s leadership would cooperate with their wishes to continue as usual at their current location. “We were brainwashed,” one such person was reported saying.
These things are never simple, and they are always about power as much as they are about identity:

More is also coming to light about the roots of Nigerian Archbishop Peter Akinola’s violation of the Anglican rules and traditions by claiming authority over elements of the denomination outside his jurisdiction. The Anglican Communion office in London has issued a terse statement saying Akinola’s U.S. group, calling itself the Convocation of Anglicans in North America (CANA), had not been granted “any official status within the communion’s structures, nor has the archbishop of Canterbury indicated any support for its establishment.”

According to 2003 and 2004 reports in the New York Times and the Tribune Newspaper of Nigeria, Akinola reacted forcefully against the elevation of the openly-gay U.S. bishop Gene Robinson in November 2003, and set up his U.S. organization in July 2004 as a specific reaction to it.

According to the Tribune, Akinola resolved to inaugurate an American diocese “to effectively cut off Nigerians from gay bishops in the United States,” saying he “cannot do the work of God with gay clergymen.” He called it “the Convocation of Anglican Nigerian Churches in America.”

Getting his foot in the door in the U.S. by claiming to represent only Nigerians, Akinola subsequently morphed his organization into CANA, a receptacle for dozens of defecting U.S. churches with no relationship to Nigeria.

At the time of the Robinson consecration, Akinola’s Nigerian Anglican Church had strong things to say, as well. “We totally reject and renounce this obnoxious attitude and behavior,” the church said in a statement, according to the New York Times. “It is devilish and satanic. It comes directly from the pit of hell. It is an idea sponsored by Satan himself and being executed by his followers and adherents who have infiltrated the church.”
Of course, the ugly of this has yet to come. As the article notes, the Diocese of Virginia has filed for a declaratory judgment (or something similar) to argue out the ownership issue, but has also asked for a restraining order to remove the "defectors." This is where things get interesting.

I had a member of my first church who was causing a bit of a problem, at least for the "leadership" of the church. At one point, that "leadership" told me to consider banning the man from the church, which as a bit sticky, not least because his wife was a member of the church. But the hardest part, of course, would be to actually block him from entering the building. Not only was I not going to do that as a minister (the request was outrageous), but it was an unenforceable principle absent some showing of criminal conduct (in Texas, it would have taken a peace bond to get police to bar him physically from the building). Needless to say, police blocking someone from entering your church is not a situation you ever want to have.

How, then, does this work? I assume the "defecting" priests will decline to force their way into the sanctuary to fight out who gets to serve the eucharist. And also, the Diocese can control the building by changing the locks. But what does the congregation do? Grumble? Protest? Leave quietly?

There is no ending to this story that doesn't look very ugly. It's a pity that this is what it takes for "the true church" to emerge.

I might as well add, again from the venerable MP, that the Revs. Underhill and Jabobs are right, too (there can be more than one!):

While he acknowledged that what had been happening at All Saints was distressful and painful, he reminded parishioners that they were not alone, and that both God and the diocese were supporting them.

"God is with us," Underhill said. "He has given us the mission to re-establish the congregation and the parish."

Jacobs told returning parishioners Sunday to leave the financial worries to the diocese and the church vestry, the parish's governing board, and to instead turn their attention to rebuilding the congregation and inviting others to join.

"Reach out to those who used to come here, and those who never came here," he said.
And, in a contrast of attitudes, note how many people returning to All Saints describe it as "coming home." Home, of course, is the place that, when you have to go there, they have to let you in. But it's also the place where you get to be yourself, rather than be so worried about who everyone else is. Or, as one church member puts it:

Nancy Leper of Attleboro said she has been a member of All Saints nearly all her life, and was very active in the parish, but stopped attending services there in recent years because of what Giuffrida was preaching. "He has these people mesmerized," she said of the Anglican congregation.
May the Falls Church story end on as quiet a note as this one.

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