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Hoosier Musings on the Road to Emmaus

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

"Lack of compassion"

A friend of mine just got one of those emails. I suppose clergy all get them at one time or another. I'll admit that it gets under my skin in a way that one sent to me would not. It's harder to see it happen to friends. But this one is a pip.

The email accused the priest of "a lack of compassion," because said priest had the temerity to express disappointment with the vestry's recent decisions-- actions that mean the end of the parish being able to support any full-time clergy person. Did I mention the vestry also lay the blame for their decision at their priest's feet? Of course, they are not responsible for choosing as they have done; it's all the fault of the cleric. They have every right to be angry, it seems-- angry enough to ignore years of faithful, committed service and to disregard any notion of civility, let alone Christian charity.

So, let me get this straight: clergy are supposed to offer the sacraments of the church, plan and lead worship, provide for ongoing Christian education, visit the sick and shut in, take midnight phone calls, bury the dead, and otherwise provide for all the spiritual needs of the parish at any hour of the day or night...
...AND assemble and print the bulletins, shovel the walks, water the lawn, wield the weedeater, sweep up dead flies, run the vacuum, wash dishes and clean bathrooms...
...AND hold their parishioners' hands and tell them everything will be all right, that their precious pile of stone and mortar is the most important thing in the world, and the survival of the church as a thriving part of the Body of Christ is a secondary concern at best...
...AND put up with petty sniping, take all the blame for anything that goes wrong, and accept in silence any rudeness and cheap shots toward oneself or one's family...
...all for compensation (when and if paid on time) only slightly higher (considering hours worked) than one could make slinging burgers at a fast food joint.

Because anything less would indicate a lack of compassion.


Blogger Elaine C. said...

that's the job ...

May 05, 2010 7:47 PM  

Blogger Ecgbert said...

From what I can tell from this and the friend's blog it seems part of the downside of semi-congregational polity (or as the Episcopal Church says, being a democratic church), or the congregation in the form of a council/vestry can and does overrule the rector or vicar so he or she gets burned big time. I didn't think that could happen to vicars (as opposed to rectors) in that system; I thought churches under vicars were more directly under their bishops like RC ones (an RC bishop calls those shots; no discussion).

To be fair to the other side, of course people come first but it's a beautiful historic building anybody'd hate to lose, and IIRC the only church left in that town.

Ironically semi-congregationalism is also why my part-time hangout of several years uses the old Latin Mass and not the US 1979 BCP.

May 07, 2010 6:45 AM  

Blogger Jane Ellen+ said...

@YF: Yes, it is the only church in town. However, barring a faithful remnant, the townspeople have not been inclined to attend or support, despite many years of invitation and effort. The average Sunday attendance has held steady at 10-11 people for several years.

You are also correct that, under Episcopal polity, a mission is more under the control of the bishop than is a self-supporting parish. That said, there is still a limit to what clerical leadership (be it priest or bishop) can do in the face of congregational opposition. I would imagine the same would be true in an RC church: one cannot force people to attend, or to support the church financially, in any tradition.

Of course, just as congregants have the option to leave (but cannot take the church and its property out of the diocese), so too the diocese (in the person of the bishop) has the authority to close a church and dispose of the property. This is a draconian option, and not one to which our bishop is inclined; but it is there.

May 07, 2010 7:12 AM  

Anonymous Jules said...

What are people from my former church doing emailing Episcopalian priests???

May 07, 2010 4:02 PM  

Blogger Ecgbert said...

Yes, in practice the priest can still lose if the congregation vote with their feet including in an RC church.

ISTM if the bishop uses the nuclear option (the same authority an RC bishop has) it would save the friend's job for the time being but if part of the congregation stays and hates the vicar, the vicar probably couldn't really do the job and stay. Catch-22.

And yes, thou shalt not steal the building. I defend all faiths' rights to govern themselves and defend their property.

May 08, 2010 12:02 PM  

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