Monday, January 21, 2008

More From San Joaquin and Some Personal Soul Searching

Dan Martins has offered this update regarding the dismissal of members of the Standing Committee in San Joaquin. He identifies the source of the quote in his previous post as being the Rev. James Snell, President of the Standing Committee and Rector of St. Columba's, Fresno. He also provides a quote from another priest which offers a second verification that resignations were not offered, in spite of Bp. Schofield's claim that they were.

I knew both Dan Martins and Jim Snell in seminary. They were a year ahead of me at Nashotah House.

Before saying anything more, let me stop and offer just a few words about Nashotah House. I became active in the Church after a long absence in 1979. I entered seminary in 1987. I was a postulant from the Diocese of Fond du Lac, known at that time as a very conservative, high church diocese. My bishop didn't give me much choice of seminaries. He said that I already knew how to be a good Evangelical, and it was time I learned how to be a good Catholic. So off I went, with no real knowledge of the Church beyond my local parish.

At times, the "politics" at Nashotah House were awful. But that was by no means a part of the day to day experience. Jim Griffiss, Joe Hunt and Louis Weil were still teaching there. In other words, a quality theological education was offered. The small community (rarely more than 75 of us) was nestled in a beautiful setting about thirty miles west of Milwaukee. We gathered together for chapel twice a day, and usually shared breakfast and lunch together in the refectory. Most of our social events were sponsored by the House.

In such a setting, you get to know each other pretty well. I developed four close friendships during those three years. I also began to question some of the stances of the House on various issues, specifically regarding the ordination of women. Some of my friends disagreed with me. All four of them would disagree with my support of Bp. Robinson. But they are still my friends.

I don't hear from them much anymore, but when I do, we pick up right where we left off. Sometimes we argue, but rarely, and those arguments do not change the friendships. They came to expect me to be a little radical, as that was their experience of me in seminary.

Maybe radical is too tame. They knew I was a bit crazy. Here I use the term "eccentric." Same thing. Out of those four friends, only one of them still picks up the phone to give me a call on a regular basis. He is the other "crazy" one from our group. He disagrees with me on many things, and usually ends up trying to convert me back to the "true faith," while I try to make him "see the light." But, there's a lot of laughter mixed in between our conversion attempts, so we still part as friends.

You see, none of my four friends are part of this new breed of "extreme conservatives" that gets so much press today. We could strongly disagree, but when Michael (the chapel bell at the House) called us to prayer, the argument ended and we knelt with one another to offer our praise and thanksgivings to God.

Since Dan and Jim were a class ahead of me, I didn't get to know them that well. But I can tell you that they were not among what I would call "the extremists." Dan was an exceptionally bright seminarian, and would get passionate about things theological, but I can never recall him engaging in any form of personal attacks. Jim liked to laugh, and was quick with a story or a comment that would make you chuckle. He was one of those people whose mere presence was cause for you to break out in a smile. I suppose they don't qualify as friends, but they are certainly two priests whom I respect, even when we disagree.

And so, I have a bit of a dilemma. I don't want Dan, Jim or my four friends to leave the Episcopal Church. And I don't think there is any reason for them to do so. But some days I feel that by encouraging the kind of radical (ok, crazy) conversations that we sometimes have here at Jake's Place, I am helping push them out the door. That troubles me.

Don't misunderstand me. I'm not going to backpedal. I am convinced that the Episcopal Church is fulfilling her vocation by moving forward toward full inclusion of all God's people. And, because of that conviction among many other Episcopalians, there may come a day when my friends will decide that they have been called to no longer be a part of the Episcopal Church. That will be a sad day for me, personally, and I will sincerely wish them Godspeed as they set out on their journey. But that would not be cause for me to compromise what I believe to be God's call.

We must defend the Church from those who seek to destroy her. But in our zeal, let us take care to not attack those with whom we simply disagree, yet conduct such disagreements with an absence of malice.

And, yes, I'm preaching to myself as well.

Pray for the Church.


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