Thursday, August 6, 2009

Objections to the "diversified parish" at Blessed Sacrament, Placentia

This is my take on my parish’s plan for a “diversified parish”, outlined in this blog entry by our rector, Fr. David Baumann. (Fr. Baumann also wrote about this plan in the Living Church, but the only copy of that article which I could find online looked like it had been illegally copied, so I won't link to it here.)

Since I'm going to be explaining why I disagree with this plan, I want to preface it first with this: from everything I know of him, Fr. Baumann is a good man, who cares deeply about his parishioners and loves the Lord Jesus. Though I disagree with him on this matter, I want to emphasize that he's a good pastor, and I have no doubt he means the best by everyone he meets. He also has years more experience than I do in the Episcopal Church. Though I’ve done my best to study everything that’s come into my hands about this situation, it’s almost certain that I’m still ignorant about parts of it, and likely that I’m ignorant about my ignorance.

Enough to say that:
1) I don’t doubt Fr. Baumann’s good intentions, or those of the discernment committee. These are good people, and being in a parish with them has been a blessing in our lives. We’re sorry to leave. We'll keep praying for them and I have no doubt they'll continue to hold us in their hearts.
2) I hold my opinion firmly, but I know that I’m not an expert in ecclesiology. Please don't take my words on this as the final words on the subject. It's very difficult, and my guess is that I'm not right about everything. Forgive me for anything I get wrong.

I am deeply affected by my parish’s plan though, and that’s why I’m posting my take on it. Sometimes I feel like I oughtn’t to have an opinion on it, but that’s like being in the 13 colonies and not having an opinion on the Revolution. Hopefully this post will be helpful to other people as they think about these issues (I know my thinking has been clarified by talking to and listening to people I disagree with).

Also, going back to my first point above, it’s my impression that this plan was adopted precisely because the leadership of our church cared so much about the community. It seems to me that the desire to hold the community together was what led them into this plan. Because of that, I’d be interested in hearing what readers who don’t share that motivation (i.e., don’t know the parishioners involved, and so don’t feel motivated to keep them together) think about this plan.

(In my opinion, this plan fails partly because it puts community above theology, when community can only come out of a shared theology. But, again, I could be wrong.)

[edited to add: comments on thos post have already taught me that I put the above statement badly. Please see below comments - especially comment 4 - for clarification.]

If that sounds like a lot of caveats, well, it is. I'm trying to say "I love you" and "I disagree with you" at the same time, and I'm not sure that's ever easy.

I suppose the first thing to say is that I believe that the Episcopal Church, the Anglican Church of North America (ACNA) and the Roman Catholic Church are different entities for profound theological reasons. I think the biggest problem with the “diversified parish” is that it assumes that we can meld these three entities into one simply by saying that we’re going to do it. I don’t think a church can simultaneously be Episcopal, ACNA and Roman Catholic, and I don’t think that Blessed Sacrament has the ability to make it so just by saying it’s so. Our fiat doesn’t have that power.

I think my friends who disagree with me would say, “but we’re not all one church; we’re just one parish.” And my answer to that would be that one parish ought to all be one church, or what’s the point? We meet every Sunday because we like each other? (That sounds sarcastic, but it's not meant that way - I really don't understand my friends' reasoning at this point.)

“’I have consistently rejected the common but always ill-fated rationale, "Their heresy demands our schism.’”
←I have disagree, because I don't think that a Christian who is not a Roman Catholic or an Eastern Orthodox can logically call schism because of heresy an "always ill-fated rationale".

“We have had about half a dozen vocations to ordination in the past four years.”
←We have, but he fails to mention that in at least two of those cases the candidates were unable to be ordained in the Diocese of Los Angeles precisely because of the candidates’ orthodoxy.

“We recognized that putting the decision to a vote would be disastrous. Voting assumes at the beginning that there must be a division with "winners" and "losers. We rejected any decision in which there could be winners and losers. "

<-- My experience as a member of the parish was that "rejecting any decision in which there could be winners and losers" wasn't possible. I believe that the leadership really wanted it to be possible, so they declared that it was. However, refusing to hold a vote didn't get rid of the disagreement, it just disenfranchised those of us who disagreed. In essence, it meant that, denied a vote at the parish meeting, the only option we were left with was voting with our feet.
-Also, refusing to have a vote meant that those in favor of the "diversified parish" had only to present their plan; they did not have to vigorously argue for it. Voting would have subjected the plan to rigorous examination. However, instead of working on convincing people of the wisdom of this plan (as would have been necessary if it was going to be put to a vote), the plan was simply imposed.
I can see how such imposition would sometimes be necessary in church governance but I wish the leadership would have called this what it was.

although details still have to be worked out"
<-- this one phrase masks a load of difficulties. The truth is that, at the present time, only one group of the three really has a home at Blessed Sacrament, and that group is the Episcopalians. Everyone else is being asked to be happy with less than a whole church. To my knowledge, the ACNA group has so far tried at least two different ways to be in ACNA and still at Blessed Sacrament, and neither has worked out. It's still unclear if anyone in ACNA will be willing to take this part of the parish under its wing, while still being willing to let them be part of an Episcopal church. Maybe it will happen, but hasn't yet.
Also (and I know less about this), as far as I know, the Roman Catholics in the parish, while they have priests who are willing to let them take communion in an R. C. parish but attend mass (without taking communion) at Blessed Sacrament, are permanently stuck as half-members, unable to take communion with their fellow parishioners.
So, while those remaining Episcopal have a home, the other two groups do not. In other words, the idea of a "diversified parish" has yet to prove itself possible in real life.

-Also, it’s not mentioned in this article, but most of the people I’ve talked to who are in favor of the plan admit that it’s a temporary solution; the consensus (!) seems to be that it’s going to buy them about five years at most, and that will only be true as long as we keep the same rector and the same bishop.
The problem with this is twofold:
1) Five years is a long time to spend with such a makeshift solution. How many kids is that going through adolescence in a compromised parish? How many people is that that I don’t invite to my church because I feel it’s not a good place for new converts? Those two reasons alone – the hostility of this environment for new Christians young in years and the hostility of it for new Christians young in the faith – should be enough to push us to find a permanent solution. If we stayed under this model, at the end of five years my eldest would have spent half her life under this “temporary” solution. Half a lifetime is a long “temporary”, yet that’s what the leadership has imposed on the children of the parish.
2) Why wait five years? What changes in those five years? Other than our rector retiring and the situation in the Episcopal Church getting worse, I can’t think of anything.

Finally, there are some things very right about this article. Just one, for instance, is Fr. Baumann's suggestion that those staying act like the ancient prophets in uncompromisingly bearing witness is an apt analogy, I think. I pray Blessed Sacrament will be a very great witness indeed; God bless them as they engage in this ministry.

I guess I would finally add that this remark seems strangely ironic to me:
"The Church that had touted itself in 1992 as being a Church of “no outcasts” has self-contradictorily engaged in “theological cleansing” of traditionalists to the point that its inherent fatal flaw has become obvious."

I find it ironic because for my family, Blessed Sacrament's refusal to either be a traditional Episcopal parish, or a traditional ACNA parish, or even a traditional Roman Catholic parish - in interests of keeping the community together - is part of what has made it impossible for this very traditionalist family to stay there.

Again, I welcome comments, but please keep them civil; everyone involved in this is very dear to me, or very dear to those who are dear to me, and I'd like to keep the discussion centered on the merits or demerits of the plan itself, and not the people promoting it. Thanks.

peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell


kindar said...

Well, since you asked for responses, I can make a few comments that I hope might clarify somebody's take. Maybe even mine.

You note at one point that "community can only come out of a shared theology". How much theology must be shared? I don't think any body of believers, even down to any given pair of folks, has completely identical theology at all levels. Where is the cutoff point?
But more importantly in my mind, I think real community can and certainly does arise out of disparate theologies. Some of the strongest communities I've ever heard of are Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, where theologies can be quite diverse. The best community arises because of love, and we are (hopefully!) known as Christians because of our love for one another. You later say, as if it were foolish, "We meet every Sunday because we like each other?" Almost. A body that loves one another well while differing in secondary theological stances, I think, is probably doing better than a body that ignores or fights among themselves despite a nearly identical theological stance. Yes, I want the theological fundamentals of Christ to hold true, but after that, I'm more concerned about how a body loves one another. And I know that much of BSac generally does that well.

You said you assume your disagreeing friends would say, "We’re not all one church; we’re just one parish." Actually, I wouldn't say that. I might even reverse them, but that gets into semantics, honestly. One way or another, for the ACNA folks, the idea is not to stay a part of the BSac parish. Fr. David has, amazingly and generously, been searching for a pastor to lead the ACNA group as a separate church. That church may meet on BSac grounds, but that doesn't make it part of BSac any more than the Korean church, Clay Jars, is part of BSac. The church is to be removed out from under Fr. David's authority for anything save rental agreements. But at the same time, this body would retain fellowship with BSac just as other bodies are already doing, just in a more frequent manner. For example, folks from The Gathering are meeting with SLOBS, but they're still part of their own church. This is the hope for the ACNA body.

I'm confused as to what makes an RC member of BSac a half-member due to their decision to not take the Eucharist at BSac. If they continue to regularly attend, commune with, have a say in the community, and love and be loved by the community, I feel like they remain part of the body. Perhaps we share very different perspectives on what membership means. BSac seems to have a less formal definition of membership than many, I'll admit.

I'm not going to say that everything that Fr. David has done has sat well with me. Though I had heard bits of this coming beforehand, his initial presentation of his plan in his homily was very disconcerting to me for a number of reasons, and the process, while it has been handled very well in some instances, has been handled very poorly in others. You make some quite valid points in your post (as has Adam elsewhere), and I haven't heard any good response to them, which is a shame. Some issues like these feel like they're getting swept under the rug, which is problematic to say the least...

What I also hear in your post (and in conversations before) is hurt in various ways, and I'm sorry that all this has left you that way. Apparently the love in the BSac community botched it there. Sorry. I hope you know that you are being heard, even if it doesn't always lead where you'd like it to.

We can't leave right now, and Monica's talked to you a bit about why, so I'll spare the blogosphere that. But we're sorry you're leaving, and we're sorry if we've added to that impetus. You matter.

Jessica said...

Thanks for the comments; I really do appreciate it. And for the kinds words, which matter too. You're right that there's hurt in there (I don't see how there couldn't be), and like I said in the previous blog, this has been a pretty awful time for us, as I'm sure it's been for others. Words like yours (and Monica's) make it less awful; thank you.

Your AA analogy is interesting; I guess maybe the idea is that community comes out of shared purpose, and I'd say in a church, that shared purpose is contained in its theology. (Like Sayers said: the dogma is the drama.) So in your AA example, you have a shared purpose that the community is built on. And the love and the shared purpose intertwine there, just like they do in church.

I think you're right in pointing out that there are always secondary theological stances people have differences about, and where you draw the line is something people have fought about for centuries. There are huge eucemenical (sp?) debates on that every year. I don't think I'm going to solve that fight for the world; mostly I wanted to explain why our family drew this particular line.

The "we meet every Sunday because we like each other?" was, as I admitted, something I know I don't quite understand. I can understand meeting because we love each other, but I guess I see love as including telling the truth, not saying, "it's not that bad" or "it hasn't effected us", when it has. (Maybe this is some of the "sweeping under the rug" stuff you mentioned?)

To put it another way: I think this "diversified parish" plan is going to end up being a bad thing for the folks and BlSac, and because I care about the folks there, I want to point out the trouble, so that maybe something can be done about it.

And it sounds, from what you've said, that the plan is still changing and maybe morphing into something better. That's wonderful, and I'm glad to hear it. Last I'd heard, the plan was still to share masses, not just buildings, but if that's changing, I think that's great. I hope the best for that new church. We've given it as long as we can with our kids the ages they are, but I'll look forward to hearing more good things about the ACNA group, and I hope you guys are blessed in your work there. (Who knows? maybe we'll end up in the same place after all. God speed the day!)

I think we do share different views on the RC members; I think you ought to be taking communion with your church community - it seems like that's the sacrament at the heart of life of the church. As I understand RC theology, that's not possible for them at anything other than an RC church. So to me, it seems like they'd be missing an essential connection which is, at the least, kind of sad.

Again, thanks for the comments. I hope it came through that though I know we have to go, we still care very murch for the people who are staying, and hope the best for all of you. I know you guys have a calling there, and I think it's honorable of you to stay and obey it. Again, also, I hope it comes through that while I do disagree (and am, as you say, hurt), I really do believe everyone's doing their best, and isn't acting out of malice. I think God will sort us all out in the end, and in the meantime, we'll just keep trying to balance truth and love. (And when Jesus comes back, we'll finally have truth and love not balanced, but present together in the person of our Lord. Lord Jesus, come soon!)

Thanks again.

Gabe said...

I won't say much in defense of the the diversified parish. There is much not to like about it, and as I've explained elsewhere it's not the reason I'm staying. But I wanted to comment on this:

In my opinion, this plan fails partly because it puts community above theology, when community can only come out of a shared theology.

Taken one way, this is clearly false (God help us if Christian community required uniformity of belief!). Taken another it is no threat to the diversified parish (we all share the faith handed down by the apostles, and confess the Nicene creed). The sticking point is over how much we must share.

It may be that genuine Christian community can't exist between (say) Protestants and Catholics, and we shouldn't allow our Roman converts to attend both BSac and their Catholic parish for a season, with the blessing of both priests. But I'm glad I don't think so. Sheldon Vanauken (who did exactly this after he converted to Catholicism) says in "Under the Mercy" that it seemed to him to be real ecumenism. It recognizes unity not by ignoring the very real differences between the churches (which we are reminded of every week at the Lord's table), but by recognizing that the same Spirit is at work in each of us.

Also, I think you do yourself (and us) a disservice to frame the disagreement as "community first" or "theology first". The fact is that your theology of community (and ecclesiology, and heresy) gives specific answers to questions like "under what circumstances do I remove myself from an orthodox (if grievously mistaken) parish?", "How do I best respond to widespread, systemic heresy?", "when is schism or a church split the right thing to do?", "what is the nature of the spiritual authority of bishops and priests?" and others.

Fr. Baumann and those who are staying have different answers to these theological questions than you do. All of the questions, of course, can be influenced in either direction by sentiment. And you are free to believe, if you must, that those who are staying at BSac believe as they do because they just want to keep people together and not because of careful theological reflection. But don't imply that the value of Christian community is not a theological issue.

Jessica said...

Hi, Gabe! Thanks for the comment.

You're right, of course, Christian community is a theological issue. I think I must be putting what I mean badly.

Firstly, I didn't mean that all of those staying at BlSac were putting theology over community. That musing was specifically addressed at the diversified parish plan, not at every single person staying at BlSac. I know there are a diversity of reasons that people are staying.

The "theology over community" musing was part of my best guess at the motivation behind developing the "diversified parish" plan.

And the reason I'm guessing at it is that I can't see the appeal of the "diversified parish" plan, unless it's that it might keep the parish together a little longer, so I'm theorizing that that's why it's been adopted.

From my point of view (and I understand people disagree with me here), the "diversified parish" plan is very convoluted and doesn't make much sense. Since that's the way I see it, I've been trying hard to understand why it looks attractive to others, and the "it keeps the community together" aspect is the most probable appeal that I can see.

Again, from where I'm standing, if you think the correct thing to do is stay in TEC, you'd just stay. If you thought the correct thing to do was go to ACNA, you'd go. To me, the "diversified parish" looks like indecisiveness, and pretty terminal indecisiveness, because we can't stand our ground and fight the good fight in TEC (we've disassociated ourselves from them!), but neither can we stand our ground and fight the good fight in ACNA (we haven't actually joined!). Do you see what I mean? I think the diversified parish puts us on shakey, shifting ground, and I don't understand the appeal. Again, unless it's because you have this deep, dividing desire not to do anything at all that would offend anyone. (Not saying this is you, saying that this seems to be the nature of the plan.) So, the "community over theology" theory is me trying to understand a motivation that I'm pretty sure I just don't get.

From both your response and Matt's, I'm getting the picture that "theology over community" was a bad way to put it! I'm sorry about that.

Hopefully this is more clear: the "diversified parish" plan seems to come out of a motive of keeping the community together. However, in my view, I think it's unlikely the community of the diversified parish will have enough theological uniformity to accomplish its goals. I think in sacrificing those shared beliefs about the nature of church (among other things - like the list you mentioned), the diversified parish will have growing lines of stress that will make it very difficult to maintain the community that it values so highly.

Hope that's a bit more clear. And I am sorry, I didn't mean to be insulting; thanks for sticking with me as I puzzle this out.

Rev Dr Mom said...

Hi Jessica,

If I may, here's my impression as an Episcopal priest who does not believe that TEC has become "apostate" (and I wish we could have a conversation about that, b/c outside of the issue of sexuality, you might be surprised at how close our beliefs are!)

I think you make good points about the diversified parish actually being an indecisive parish, but I think your commenters make some good points about theological uniformity (or the lack thereof).

The Anglican way has always been the via media; there has always been room for theological diversity, at least on issues outside of the creed. But there are limits--and I just don't see how a parish can be both in TEC and endorsing alliance with ACNA or the RC church. At some point you have to "fish or cut bait." Community cohesiveness cannot bridge the differences in theology and practice between TEC and the RCC, never mind ACNA.

I hate to see churches split or leave--I do believe in the "big tent" but when theological differences are so great that some feel the need to disavow the others or align with another group, then leaving seems like the only logical solution.

There is one parish in my diocese that has decided to align with ACNA while leaving behind a significant portion in TEC. In outward appearances at least they have worked this out as well as anyone I've observed. If you'd like a link to that parish just to see how they've handled it, email me at revdrmom (at) gmail (dot) com.

I hope that you can find a church home where you will be comfortable.

Peace to you.

Jessica said...

Hi Rev Dr. Mom,

I'd be interested in seeing how the parish you know about handled all this; please do send me the link.

Though, I admit, now that we've left, I'm finding a great deal of peace in not thinking so much about TEC, so I might not read it all as closely as I once would have.

It'd be interesting to hear what you think about TEC being or not being apostate; I hope you know that I certainly don't mean everyone in TEC is apostate. I think there are many faithful believers there. (And even if I thought differently, it wouldn't matter, because I'm not the judge of who is or is not apostate!) I do think that TEC's official doctrine is slipping away from what is recognizable as Christianity, and becoming an offshoot religion, much like Mormonism, or the Jehovah's Witnesses. Certainly a religion that came out of Christianity, but not one that holds to the Creeds, the way Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy and classical Protestantism do. (Thi thought about offshoot religions, though, is just a musing - not totally sure about it yet.)

I don't know what your views on sexuality and marriage are, but I wonder if maybe we differ in how much we think you can separate issues of sexuality from issues of theology. I think our faith includes our bodies and what we do with them, and that you can see our beliefs in our actions, even though you'll often also see our actions fail to carry out our beliefs. You'll see my body be lazy even though I believe in diligence, much as you'll see someone else's body sleeping around, even though she believes in chastity. But if you see us both truly sorry and humbly repenting afterwards . . . and you see God's grace intervening to give us the strength to try again to follow him . . . I think in that dance of obedience and love (and sin and repentence and forgiveness), you'll see Christ. I guess I'm saying I don't think you can separate sexuality from theology, because you can't separate us from our bodies, and w ecan't be in relationship with God with anything less than our whole selves

thanks, as always, for the conversation.