Tuesday, May 22, 2007


Another inhibition was handed down this week in our diocese. The priest concerned is a well-respected retired person. No reason for the inhibition was given. Of course, these days the first thought is sexual misconduct, but that is not necessarily so. And I would hope that thinking Episcopalians would avoid such speculation

I emailed the priest and assured him of my prayers. No inhibition absolves me from praying for a colleague, innocent or guilty, in such a situation. I do not believe in shunning. As a part of inhibitions, there is often a requirement that the priest may not speak of the charges against him/her or have contact with fellow clergy. I believe that is a real miscarriage of justice. If the bishop has the obligation according to canon to prevent a priest from carrying out his/her ministry while an investigation is going on, then the charge or the subject of the investigation should be made public. A cleric still needs his/her Church at such a time.

The secrecy of such inhibitions is what separates the church system of justice from the American form of justice. In the secular courts there are important procedures to make sure that one is to be considered innocent until proven guilty. Everyone has access to the same process. The church system of justice does not have such provisions. When secrecy is an element of the proceedings, all do not have access to the truth of a given case. All too often I am seeing people accused, inhibitions pronounced and then nothing done for inordinate amounts of time. Such delays can cause irreparable damage to an innocent priest’s reputation and career. In the ‘60’s we used to say that “justice delayed is justice denied.” And it is true even today. Long drawn out procedures to decide whether or not charges should be made leave the priest unable to clear his/her name.

Also, there is no statute of limitations on any of the canons. Times change and what was acceptable 30 years ago may today be a prosecutable offence. A good example of this: When I began my ministry, many of the priests who were the leaders of major parishes had met their wives in their first parish. In fact, it was considered the parish’s responsibility to find “a nice young woman” to marry to the new curate who came to the parish from seminary. It was one of the ways that the community “took care” of their clergy. Today, if a priest enters into a relationship with a member of the parish, it is considered a boundary violation.

Yes, there are those priests who do abuse their relationship with their congregations and violate all kinds of boundaries. But after knowing some of those who have done so, I have found that they are often people who were basically good people who had lost their way at a point in their ministry. The incident of clergy depression, isolation and fear is endemic as noted by church insurance companies in most denominations. They generally not hardened criminals or blind to their failings.

This does not absolve priests from their responsibility. Clergy who violate their ordination vows should be held accountalble. But it does require some sense of faith to salvage those who have fallen. Clergy are necessarialy community based folks. And isolation from the community of faith brings punishment when there may be no evidence of a crime.

However, when power politics are the name of the game in a particular diocese, the political jockeying to be in the “right” group often isolates some clerics. No longer is the clericus the place where the normal collegiality which should provide a sense of community for a priest or deacon. In our diocese we have other organizations that provide clergy collegial support. But in the past even those organizations were also co-opted by the powers of the diocese.

There seems to be an open season on clergy in the diocese. Even the hint of impropriety can bring a priest to inhibition or shunning. And yet when there was a clear case of repeated abuse by a priest, no inhibition was made. While in some cases, no inhibition is made, just accusations with no opportunity for refutation is given. And if recent cases are to be used as evidence, the lack of promptness in dealing with investigations and legal proceedings lead to the abuse of the inhibition. Hopefully the powers that be in the diocese will see to a prompt resolution of this inhibition. Meanwhile it is my responsibility to raise up such proceedings to the light because it is only in the light do we see the truth.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Mother's Day--a reflection

This year I have been with my mother for Mother's Day. My mother is 94 and is drifting into the kind of dementia that all of us fear. She cannot see, cannot hear well and now cannot speak because the synapses just do not fire frequently enough for her to have a vocabulary. I arrived in Ft. Worth last week so that we could have a Mother's Day together. Something we have not had in many a year.

I found that her wardrobe had fallen afoul of the laundry gremlins at the assisted living place where she lives. So we needed to do something about that. We went shopping. Something that I always dread. We even went shopping for shoes. Through it all, even though she could not see what was going on, she tried on clothes, and shoes with good humor. Shoes are difficult in this part of the country. It is hard to find anything but sandals here. But on Sunday morning I arrived and she was dressed up in her new finery to go to Church.

Off to First Methodist Church. (I wouldn't get caught dead in an Episcopal Church in this diocese.) Mom has been a member at this huge church for many years. There were those who greeted her and were happy to see her. Sadly many of her Sunday School Class have already passed on, but new ones have taken their place. The sermon was on the faith of Lois and Eunice, the mother and grandmother of Timothy. The preacher did a nice job of it. Mom had me sing Faith of our Fathers in her ear so she could hear it.

We went out to lunch to a Mexican restaurant--she liked the spicy food which she doesn't get at the retirement center. And then back home for a nap. She slept for an hour or so but she didn't want me to leave. I watched TV for a while and then she wanted me to lie down next to her and talk. Slowly some of her words came back to her. Snuggled together we journeyed down memory lane remembering the small town in Missouri where she was born, the little town in Illinois were I was born, the time when my brother was born, her high school chums and Topeka, KS where she was married in 1930. She asked me why she couldn't remember the date. And I said that most people couldn't remember things for 77 years. Most people don't even live that long!

It was a tender and heart-warming time. I give thanks to God for a mother who I didn't miss the chance to snuggle with, didn't miss the chance to be mothered by, didn't ignore the chance to mother to and just be friends after all these years.

Alleluia, He is risen!

Thursday, May 3, 2007

Hard Times

It is a difficult time to be in the Church these days. It is hard to be clergy, and it is hard to be laity. I don’t have too much conversation with bishops any more, but I would guess it is hard to be a part of that august body too.

The reading of church news and the blognews of various takes on religious matters makes one weary. There are few stories of goodness and kindness being reported. There are even fewer reports of kindness and goodness being shown anywhere.

Attending church is often a surface endeavor depending on the size of the congregation. We say hello to friends, ask after their families and get the news. We may or may not hear a sermon that touches us where we hurt or where we question. We listen to music that mostly we cannot understand and sing hymns that are not of our era or musical bent. We might stay for coffee hour but generally we get to our cars in the parking lot before someone can enlist our help on a project.

We have failed to understand that we go to church, not for ourselves but for God. We pray to God, not for ourselves or others, but for God. We have a hard time realizing that what we are for is God, not for ourselves.

I do so want to go to a service that speaks to ME, but that is not what I really need from Church. I need a service that is going to keep me in touch with God. The service is for that communication, to keep that conduit going back and forth. The eucharist touches my soul if I let it. The touch of another’s hand at the bidding of the peace reminds me of my relationship with those I have offended and allows me to atone for my sins. The music and color reminds me that I am not just a head person, that God wants all of me.

I am not looking for brownie points in my attendance. I am looking for a connection and at present I have difficulty finding those connections to God being expressed in the Episcopal Church. Don’t get me wrong. I love the Church and I would not think to leave it. It is merely an observation that it is difficult to be constantly confronted with which side you are on, what position you take, your opinion about lgbt issues, women clergy, yadayada...

It is difficult to keep your eyes on Christ in all the kafuffle about who is in and who may not come to church or do things in the church for whatever reason.

The issue it seems to me is not who should be in the church but who IS there and are they hearing the Gospel of Christ’s love and welcome. And is that gospel real or some drivel that cannot be lived?

It is hard to address people each Sunday when those issues cannot be addressed because it isn’t kosher, or it is uncomfortable.

But the Christian life is not easy. And I am tired of those who try to teach that it is easy. We don’t have a crucifix on the wall for nothing. I go to Ft. Worth next week and the issues will all be there in full blown idiocy. Maybe I will find God there and maybe I won't. But on Mother's Day I will go with my mother to her church (not Episcopalian, not Lutheran) and try to make connections with my God.