Friday, September 19, 2014


A Good Way For A Priest To Kill An Episcopal Church. I have not got this diatribe against romantic individualism completely out of my system yet. Partly that’s because it’s killing the Church I love. Partly it’s because I serve in Nevada, which is America on steroids. Hence, we have our own Homeric bards to sing our faith. We call them “the rat pack” and their songs are our creed. The most explicit are Sammy Davis, Jr. I Gotta Be Me
and Frank Sinatra I Did It My Way. (Old Blue Eyes even called it “the national anthem.”)
I have already “stated my case” against the personal shallowness, the psycho-spiritual inadequacy, and the philosophical banality of romantic individualism. If you missed it, this is it.
But a story last night stirred me to write again about how the romantic individualism of a priest can kill a congregation, while making the priest look good as he does it.

I had dinner with a priest here who served as a non-stipendiary assistant at a congregation in the USA. It was a muddling-along not-doing-all-that-well sort of congregation until they got an entrepreneurial charismatic young rector. He attracted new people to the congregation in large numbers with his good looks and style. But he did little to teach core Christianity and very little to teach Anglican identity. While he did not actually depart much from our worship practices, and when he did it was only with the permission of his bishop, he represented to the congregation that he paid no attention to canons or rubrics. This thing they were doing in the congregation was all his choice, his creation, an expression of his own Acibiadean spirit.[i]

The result: the congregation bonded primarily to him, secondarily and weakly to each other, but not to the Episcopal Church at all. When he left, they were bereft and fell apart in rancor. They are to this day unable to call a new priest. What, or more aptly whom, had they been worshiping?

We call certain factions within congregations “priest killers” and rightly so. But there are clergy who are “congregation killers” and that is a more insidious problem. The romantic individualist is not the only kind of unhelpful priest. But in our time, romantic individualism often creeps into the ministries of even essentially good priests. Even some bishops encourage it in their clergy. So I may be beating this drum again from time to time.

Laying On Of Hands. Yesterday, while standing in line to receive communion, I felt the hand of the Bishop of Rochester resting kindly on my back. Today as I stepped into the line to receive communion, the Bishop of Utah patted me encouragingly on the back. After communion, I was sitting at my table. I felt the hand of the Bishop of Alabama kneading my shoulder. A couple of minutes later, the hand of the Bishop of Olympia was rubbing my old bald head. It’s an incarnate supportive caring we give and receive here. Blessed.

The Cross In Asia. Our House of Bishops program today was from bishops, priests, and professors serving in Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Pakistan. Being a Christian in Asia ain’t for sissies, especially in South Asia and the Middle East. The question that leaps out at me is: so why do it? These are people who know they need Jesus like they need air to breathe, and they believe that other people need Jesus too. I wonder if we might not model our faith more on their example.

As some of our Churches focus on their own survival, their project strikes me as incoherent. We follow a savior who did not attempt to survive but rather to give himself as a sacrifice. A Church that seeks to save its life will lose it. Only the church that loses its life for Jesus’ sake will find it. That is the way of the cross. The Primate of Pakistan said today, “A Church without a cross is not a Church.” He did not mean an altar cross or a processional cross. He meant a sacrificial calling. What is ours?

What will I “bring back” to Nevada from Taiwan? Some disturbing questions.

[i] Alcibiades was the charming but narcissistic Greek anti-hero who was admired and wanted by all of Athens, even his teacher, Socrates, but whose pride made him a traitor.

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