Saturday, August 04, 2007

The "Welcome Home" Plan

In a conversation being held elsewhere, some suggestions were made regarding how to "welcome home" those who may become disillusioned with the apparent splintering that has begun among the secessionists. Here is a paraphrased version of the four suggestions:

1. Seek ways to remove clergy from their posts who need to be removed without humiliating them, and reconsider previous removals as generously as possible.

2. Offering DEPO (Delegated Episcopal Pastoral Oversight) to any congregation or clergy person that requests it.

3. Implement a non-biased way to identify conservative congregations so that they can be more easily found by those seeking them.

4. Make a commitment to not hinder a congregation that seeks only male clergy.

The above is, of course, a compromise. I think it was proposed in good faith. If we are honest, something like this is probably the bare minimum that would have to be offered to "welcome home" some of the more extreme elements that were previously aligned with the Network.

Can such a compromise be offered? I don't think so. For the reasons why, I offer you the thoughts of the Rev. James V. Stockton, Rector of the Episcopal Church of the Resurrection in Austin, Texas, reproduced here with his permission:

I suggest that the reality of the situation requires that we acknowledge some truths. These may be uncomfortable for some, but ultimately, no tongue in cheek here, the truth really does set us free.

First: those who wish to come home will do so. No one is making this difficult for anyone to do so. Therefore, measures taken to cajole the malcontents, beyond a reiteration of the welcome that exists already, are simply undue and inappropriate. The Church has nothing for which to apologize, especially to those who have gone widely and wildly outside the structures by which they have vowed to abide. The democratic governance of this Church is a strong appeal to people who appreciate the many strengths of the Episcopal Church. So, token measures will be wholly unnecessary for anyone who truly wants to return; and will meet with only suspicion amongst those who do not trust the Church, and so will not be swayed by our good intentions.

Second, DEPO options that are possible under our polity exist already and have already been rejected by the malcontents.

Third, it is, in my humble opinion, hazardous to the health of the Church to participate in any way in the false dichotomy of 'conservative' and 'progressive,' or 'orthodox' and 'liberal.' One person's 'conservative' is another person's 'liberal.' To pretend that these monikers represent defined categories is too simplistic to be helpful. In addition, it's liberality is the very virtue of this Church that enables the healthy inter-relatedness and coexistence of congregations and dioceses that differ in their theological convictions. It is this commonality that all of us need to experience and to invite more people to experience with us. Thus, if someone looking for a new church home happens across a congregation that happens to be a relatively poor match, so much the better. The seeker is free to continue seeking, but in the meantime, experiences the challenge and the blessing of the breadth this Church. Folks who simply refuse to tolerate their kindred in Christ who hold views differing from their own will likely not be comfortable in the Episcopal Church, and will be more comfortable in a more monolithic denomination. All of our congregations are Episcopalian. I suggest that this label is ample identification, indeed.

Fourth, to 'permit' congregations to restrict their clergy hiring to men only is to sanction sexual discrimination. This is morally and spiritually wrong, and the Church does well to name it as such. Pandering to the impulse to practice discrimination, whether based on sex, gender, age, race, ethnicity, disability, marital status, or other abstract and morally neutral descriptors is sin. For those who know it is sin to teach others to do it, it is a sin greater still. Validating discriminatory practices is not being truly kind. It is condescending, manipulative, and deceitful. Here again, the Episcopal Church is what it is; we are who we are. We need to be honest with ourselves, with one another, and with others. The truth is the greatest kindness we can offer.

No one is barring the door to the return of those who are realizing that they've been taken in by the ACN. The Church's welcome home that existed before they began their departure is still there, now. Those who want to come home, will do so. In the meantime, for the sake of all those not yet a part of this Church, we will do well to be frankly honest about who this Church is and about the Gospel truth that has gathered us and set us free.

Jim Stockton
Priest, Diocese of Texas

Powerful words. Thanks, Jim.

A tip of the saturno to David Charles Walker for this. BTW, do visit David's new blog.

Your thoughts?


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