Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Signs of Healing at St. John's, Bristol

Most likely you recall the story from last July of the inhibition of Mark Hansen, rector of St. John's, Bristol, by the Rt. Rev. Andrew Smith, Bishop of Connecticut. At the time there was quite a bit of outrage and many ugly words aimed at the bishop because he not only inhibited the rector, but also made a personal visit to the parish, installed a new priest and changed the locks. My understanding is that there is still a court case pending against the bishop and the diocese for those actions. The Rev. Susan McCone remains priest in charge as the parish seeks an interim.

According to a recent article in the Hartford Courant, there are signs of new life at St. John's:

...Over the weeks and months, after the TV cameras left and the church's troubles faded from the headlines, members began to trickle back. The services grew larger little by little, and by late fall there finally were enough people to hold two services on Sundays.

"There had been all kinds of rumors circulating about what kind of a priest I was," McCone recalled. "It took those 39 people to come and say, `She's a traditional priest who preaches the Gospel and says the Mass and gives communion.' And gradually, it just started to increase."
There are some troubling parts of this article, however:

...That Sunday morning, McCone spoke of her fears. She said she had been called by the bishop to lead the church temporarily, "but I also believe I was called by God. And during this week, at times when I was alone, I asked, `Why, God, why me?"'

In the days that followed, she realized those fears were warranted. One day someone threw rocks at the church. McCone also had to cope with telephoned death threats, both at her home and at the church.

"I know there is evil. But I felt it close to me in a personal way that had never happened to me before," McCone said. "And it really does seem to have a physical and a certain mental toll that you're not even aware of. It's a kind of exhaustion."
Multiple death threats. And she stayed anyway. An amazing priest.

Seven months later, how do the members of the parish view the events of last Summer?

...Looking back, some members of the church say their church was irresistibly pulled along by forces inside and outside. One of the first actions of the newly elected church vestry was to withdraw from the Anglican Communion Network, a national organization of conservative parishes that consider themselves more "biblically orthodox" than the U.S. Episcopal Church.

"That was a point of dissension with a lot of people," Demarais said, adding that many members were actually relieved when the diocese took over the church. "There are folks who are conservative, but there are just as many who don't feel that way. We were never unanimous about that. A lot of people just kept their mouths shut. We're relieved to have sermons on the lesson that are not related to the gay bishop in New Hampshire."
Pray for this parish, and pray for their courageous priest, Susan McCone.

This is but one example of why parishes must be required to attempt, for a prolonged period of time, to be reconciled with their bishop through some process, instead of being given the option of realignment with a foreign bishop. So much of the current tension is initiated by the clergy, who use the pulpit to fan the flames.

Death threats. Unbelievable. I think I'll be making a visit to the local Army/Navy store. As a Christian, I don't fear death, but have an aversion to pain, so here's some helpful advice to any extremists who might want to hunt down Jake; I'll be wearing body armor under my alb, so aim for the head.

We live in bizarre times.


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