Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Places and People

Because I’m the worst blogger in the Independent Sacramental Movement, I only today discovered a very interesting conversation in the comments to my last post between Rev. Sharon and Lyngine. There are two particular issues which Rev. Sharon raises that I would like to raise up – the issue of where churches meet and the issue of “treading gently and compassionately” and of “bad priests”.

+Alexis Tancibok has addressed the issue of church buildings on his blog Boze, and I want to throw my two cents in as well – which is to proclaim the not such good news that there is no perfect situation for a church community. Here is a very partial list of pluses and minuses:

House church – pluses: warmth, intimacy, a chance to build very close ties of community, the integration of spirituality and daily life (as Lyngine mentioned about the Christmas Day mass), and the similarity to the first Eucharist celebrated by our Lord
minuses: intimidating to newcomers, risk of becoming a cozy inbred community without a sense of mission to the world, may be hard on the host to constantly host (or, if there is rotation, lack of stability), “ownership” of the community by the host, risk of losing a place to meet if schism occurs and host is on one side and others on the other side (I know of one local community that disbanded in just such a case)

Renting space – pluses: advantages of church space without obligation to assume all of cost and risk, flexibility to move if circumstances change, possibility of collaboration with host community
minuses: conflict with host community leading to sudden need to move, being “bumped” from space to space given [understandable] needs of host community, must conform service times to needs of host community, may be need to conform to policies of host community (e.g., lgbt-friendly congregation renting from United Methodist church – which may not permit any same-sex couple blessings on premises, regardless of local UM congregation’s views)

Owning space – pluses: space available for needs of one’s own community, ownership and pride and stability, ease of recognition by potential newcomers to get them in the door minuses: very high costs, lack of flexibility to change, possible need to rent to outside communities (leading to some of “renting space” problems), danger of “maintenance” taking precedence over “mission”

So, there is no “perfect” situation, because we have not here an abiding city. Every community has to determine what space situations will best suit its needs at any given time, and take special care to avoid falling into the particular traps inherent in its particular situation.

As for the issue of “treading gently and compassionately” – it is important to realize two things – first, NO ONE enters ministry for purely healthy reasons. All of us who are ordained have dysfunctional and unhealthy aspects to our vocation. The real key is to both recognize one’s own “besetting sins” and to help candidates and new clergy to develop the tools to look at themselves and assess what is healthy and what is not and take steps to address that which is dysfunctional. The real danger is from clergy who do not recognize the unhealthy parts of themselves, or worse yet, don’t realize they have any. And the reason I specifically raised issues of gender and sexual orientation is to point out that often it is not the noticeably unhealthy things that get us down – adultery, etc. – but rather dealing with a broken church in ways that are broken ourselves. In other words, to use myself as an example, as a gay man, I must be careful about not attributing everything that goes wrong with my ministry to “homophobia” – just because I’m gay and believe there is nothing wrong with being gay doesn’t mean that I am not still a sinner, or that I am immune from expressing my God-given gay sexuality in a broken and sinful way.

The second thing is that, coming from a Sacramental/Catholic perspective, ordination is a sacrament that places an “indelible” mark on the soul and provides grace, regardless of the unworthiness of the person being ordained. And that is very good news, because the fact that someone who shouldn’t be ordained (perhaps ever, perhaps at a given time – and we all know that this happens far too often in the ISM) doesn’t mean that Christ’s redemptive work can’t come into play and transform a “bad priest” into “great priest” – so the key is to work for the transformation of the clergy into those clergy that can best serve Christ. (Of course, that does not mean that there are not sometimes situations in which a bishop/church community must remove a harmful clergyperson – but it does mean that, even in those cases, there can ultimately be redemption, if the person repents, and there can once again be a fruitful ministry, even if in some cases it may only be a private hidden one.)

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