Sunday, January 28, 2007

Learning To Keep My Mouth Shut

The "Letter From the Rector" in the current newsletter from my church seems directed to me, as a result of a conversation we had on the Alpha Series, which our church will use during Lent.

At "Of Course, I Could Be Wrong" we had a lively discussion about Alpha after I mentioned it. I printed the comments to give to my rector, after editing out MadPriest's comments, which were a little over the top.

My rector's letter is titled "Does Not Follow Directions." He goes on to quote from Mark's Gospel the story of Jesus healing the man with the withered hand on the Sabbath, making the point that sometimes the right thing to do is not to follow directions.

He then goes on to say that he will celebrate 25 years as a priest in March, and he is learning to discern better "when directions should be followed and when not."

About the Alpha series, he says:
I embarked on this train of thought recently when I was thinking about the Alpha course we will use in Lent. I have used it many times before and although I think it is a strong curriculum, it is not perfect. (What is?) A good teacher does not slavishly stick to a curriculum as if it were a recipe. I will use what I think is good and either not use the small portion that is weak or teach over against it, if and when it appears.

Nothing is for everyone. However, I think Alpha is orthodox Christianity served up with humor and profundity.
The short form of this statement, as I read it is, "June, I heard what you said and read what you gave me to read, but I'm going to do this anyway. If you feel it's not for you, then you needn't come." I wonder why he didn't tell me this. What do y'all think? This is not the first time that I have felt he was responding directly to me in the newsletter. Why not just talk to me?

Of course, I may be inflating my own importance and taking what he says much too personally. Anyone who cares to weigh in in the comments, please do, and don't be concerned about disagreeing with me.

It is my impression that my rector strives to avoid confrontation, and, perhaps, that's why he would respond in the newsletter, rather than directly to me.

By the way, if my rector ever makes his way to my blog, I am sunk.


  1. You understand, of course, that MadPriest is likely in regular communication with your rector.

    Obviously, I do not know your rector, but in reading the statement, it looks similar to what he told you in person, and he likely concluded this your concerns might reflect the concerns of others since the curriculume is widely used in evangelical churches.

    The only way to know for sure will be his reaction when you show up for the class. ("Oh, Mimi! How delightful!)

  2. KJ, I doubt that anyone else in the congregation has ever heard of Alpha. I had not until he mentioned it.

    I have the sense that he views me somewhat in the nature of "a thorn in the side" and that he fears that I might "make waves".

    The only folks I talk to about the current situation in the Episcopal Church are the gay and lesbian members of the congregation, because I don't want to "make waves". No one brings up the subject with me, so I don't talk about it. I truly don't want to be an annoyance to my rector.

    I could speak frankly to the two rectors who preceeded the present rector, even the one who was an extreme conservative. We had some good go-rounds, but there were no hard feelings afterwards.

    This rector seems to want everyone to get along. He never mentions Bishop Katharine's name, because someone in the congregation complained to him about her just after she was elected PB.

    I complained about her being "she who must not be named", but apparently the other member has more influence, because she is still not named except by a few brave souls who read the "Prayers of the Faithful" and call her by name.

    I will attend the series, and I will speak my mind, in a nice way, of course.

  3. Alpha was a real blessing to two of my children. BEfore Alpha, they had attended church regularly. of course, but Alpha really helped them to connect with Christ in a personal way.

    I don't agree with everything in the Alpha course, but I'm very grateful for what it did for my kids.

  4. Tim, I'm glad to hear that. It might be good for members of my congregation, too, and - who knows? - even for me.

  5. Mimi
    I am worried that you are finding special and private messages in public material. Do you get the same feeling from newscasts or newspapers? Does Matt Lauer ever seem to be talking directly to you? Does the Donna Summer song On The Radio ever feel like it explains your current experience?

    this could be a sign of trouble, you know.

    I would suggest that you speak with a wise and caring person about this. Someone who can listen and offer good advice. May I recommend a certain MadPriest?

  6. Sometimes making waves can be a good thing, but it doesn't always feel good when the repurcussions hit.

    Just from what you've presented, at first blush it sounds to me like your pastor took your comments seriously, and perhaps was trying to make you (and others who might find out about the course and be hesitant) feel a bit better about it, and let you know that there will be some "wiggle room" in the course.

    I hope you will keep us updated on the course and your impressions of it. :)

  7. I think you will find that my gripe about Alpha had nothing to do with it's teaching or even its teaching methods. I said it should be avoided because it is connected to an earthly power, namely the HTB franchise. This franchise is closely linked with the political manouvrings of the evangelical right. It costs money and HTB use that money for all sorts of things you would not approve of. Let's face it if any of the churches represented in our neighbourhood came up with a similar course they would shove it on the internet for free - we are talking about salvation, here. Actually, that's not a bad idea - perhaps Tim and Sam could get together and come up something both orthodox and inclusive.

  8. Back in the days when I was still allowed to teach and minister (even though not ordained), I considered the Alpha course for Lent and ordered all the books. After a good look at it, I rejected the idea because like Education for Ministry (the extension course from the University of the South), it was too didactical. I guess I've been too universal to accept pap/porridge when I want steak.

    Priests, pastors and ministers needs "a thorn in the side" to keep them alert and thinking. It's easier for some people to respond in a non-threatening way like the newsletter - or to take the comments seriously enough to think that others might be concerned.

    I would be far more concerned if you weren't "a thorn in the side", and I'm dreadfully concerned that you value MP's opinions too much and others. You can't believe everything we write - We're the "haggle over coffee group" that would support you in even peace marches.

  9. Dennis, perhaps you're right. Could be that paranoia is setting in. I'm going to put on my tinfoil hat.

    Suzer, I'll keep you posted.

  10. MadPriest, you had me fooled. "Kill the vicar! Burn the church!" is pretty strong. I did not take from what you said that it was only the source of the series that was the problem.

    It's not so much the Alpha course, it's the rector's answering me in the newsletter - which he may not even be doing.

    It's that the presiding bishop's name cannot be mentioned. It's feeling alienated from my church in a way I have never felt alienated before, even with a rector who was extreme in his conservative views. At least we talked and argued.

    It's as though the rector wants us all to make nice and not "make waves" or talk about controversial matters, and pretend that there's nothing at all happening in the wider church.

    It's my "Windsor-compliant" bishop who will not permit the ordination of a lesbian member of the congregation, but has no problem going to bishops' meetings which include foreign bishops, but to which Bishop Katharine is not invited

    My "Windsor-compliant" bishop also seems not to feel a need to have a "listening process", which is called for in the Windsor Report.

    I don't think I will like the Alpha course much, but as you see with this rant, my unease is not really about the Alpha course.

    Share Cropper, I don't think it's that I take the advice other people too seriously. Right now, I just feel so damned stifled in my own church that I'm beginning not to want to go there any more.

  11. MadPriest says: Let's face it if any of the churches represented in our neighbourhood came up with a similar course they would shove it on the internet for free - we are talking about salvation, here. Actually, that's not a bad idea - perhaps Tim and Sam could get together and come up something both orthodox and inclusive.

    Actually, I've already done it (well, in book form anyway, not video). You'll find it here.
    However, it's not free I'm afraid. This will confirm all your worst fears about me. Please buy my book so that my franchise will get rich. Every one I sell gets me enough royalty money for one cup of fair trade coffee at my local coffee shop.

  12. "It is my impression that my rector strives to avoid confrontation...."

    Like 89.5% of clergy IMNSHO. 'Can't we all get along?' And I do speak for myself though this spring I am going to be stirring up royally the waters in my bog.

    "orthodox Christianity." That phrase sends me running in the opposite direction. Who has the corner on what is 'orthodox'? Fie.

    Keep praying for Katharine by name out loud in the prayers of the people as possible.

    And I will pray for as you walk this period of exile.

  13. A free (and open source) course (alpha like - for seekers and newbies) is Connect from Klesis. John de Beer of EfM fame (he and Patricia Killen developed the 4 source model for Theological Reflection) and Dylan Breuer (Sarah Laughed blog). Good basic stuff - one of our congregations used it this fall and said it was great.

  14. Tim, shall I buy you a cup of coffee?

    Caminante and Ann, good to hear from the other side - the other side of ordination, I mean. My rector has many gifts. He's a good man, very gentle and loving, very pastoral.

    Thanks for the prayers and the course suggestions.

  15. Caminante, in case you come back here, I read your sermon from today. Since I did not go to church but did read the readings from the lectionary, I was prepared.

    The sermon is lovely and it spoke to my heart, and I had my sermon even if I did not go to church. Thank you.

  16. Well, Tim.
    That's evangelicals for you. Just be very careful as you drink that coffee, fair trade or otherwise. I wouldn't want you to choke on your earthly wealth.

    Seriously, a book has to be published and I was talking about the internet where there is no capital outlay involved. So there was no need for your confession and the subsequent destroying of our faith in human nature.

    Mimi. Sharecropper is talking out of her backside. You cannot "value MP's opinions too much" - I'm English, a man and a priest which makes me more infallible than the pope (unless, of course, it was an English pope).

  17. Mimi, I'm going to share my deep, dark secret with you: I came into the church through an Alpha course. It was God pushing me in, but Alpha was the vehicle, IMO. I still think it's a great course for someone totally unchurched, as I was.

    The reactions of delight from the rector and chief hoo-haws at this conversion they could claim turned to dismay after a bit.

    I read the Gospels for the first time while I was in the Alpha course, and began to apply Jesus' teachings to life. My attitudes changed on a number of things.

    After +Robinson's consecration, the hoo-haws at church were all having hissy fits, and the rector was sneaking off to the AAC convention in Plano. (For some reason, he didn't want to be identified with them publicly.)

    When the **stuff** hit the fan, I prayed about all of it, and concluded Jesus' great commandment doesn't exclude anyone. I also came to the conclusion since grace is a gift freely offered to all (taught in the Alpha course), no one is excluded from God's grace, either.

    It was then I became a real thorn, one of a number of them around, in fact.

    It was to the outcasts Jesus held up hope. He didn't say anyone had to sign confessions of faith before he'd help them, either. He healed people who didn't even know him or anything about him.

    He made an offer, and like the rich young man, we have a choice, to follow or not.

    Why should anyone who chooses to follow Christ, and strives to follow his teachings with all his or her heart, soul, mind and strength be excluded from the Communion rail, the vestry, or the priesthood because of some superficial characteristic such as sexuality? If we believe Paul's teachings there is none in heaven; there's not even male or female, and it will matter not!

    It matters how we treat each other in our relationships. I would not want a priest who chases skirts or pants either one, whatever that priest's sexual orientation.

    I read the Gospels and saw such radical thinking coming from the personhood of Jesus, yet some in the church want to keep us bound up in rules -- their rules -- not Christ's -- and that's exactly why Jesus came: to offer us a new covenant.

    I changed parishes and became a thorn in the side to a new rector. Now, he's just left. Hmmm....

    So, anyway, I don't diss the Alpha course. It's a tool that can be used for good or ill. A lot of dfferent viewpoints come up in group discussion (hint, hint).

    Probably Alpha is where some of my Charismatic orientation came from, but I've always been a mystic at heart.

    Your rector is like many, I think, terrified of confrontation and arguments. It might become unpleasant. Gently inquire of him what he really thinks. I bet he'll turn tail and run.

    He'll be especially uncomfortable with anything that goes against what his bishop says.

  18. Maddie: Keys to Lambeth AND the Vatican are under the mat.

    Please explain HTB franchise.

  19. Pat, HTB is Holy Triniity Brompton, the folks who sell Alpha.

    As you can see from my rant, it's not really about Alpha. Thanks for the good words.

  20. Oh, of course, Holy Trinity Brompton. Duhh.

  21. Mimi,

    Alpha? I have no experience with it but don't like the overall tone (based on the sound judgement of an Englishman who shall not be named). Heck the DVD of Via Media even had me break out in hives. But then of course as a child I even dropped out of cub scouts because they felt like a bad fit for anyone who had a mind of his own! I understand the issue is not the program, but rather your relationship with the priest, and for that I feel bad for you... I am blessed to have a priest who I can also call a friend, and who has a sense of humor about most of the Episcopal Church. Let us all know when you want to start looking for a new place to live!

  22. Clumber, don't you know about family in south Louisiana? I couldn't find another place to live unless I could convince my extended family to move with me.

    My most distant child lives 45 minutes away.

  23. I understand completely, Mimi, and I am afraid that although you probably would love our church community, you would find our cuisine and winters decidedly less hospitable!!! I envy your family closeness! Alas, planning visits to grandchildren is a much more difficult process for us.

  24. I know nothing about the Alpha stuff. From what I've read and seen, I doubt it will be given at Christ Church in the near future.

    I would not be interested in joining any local church discussion under ordinary circumstances. But if I were in a parish where I disagreed with the priest, I'd be sorely tempted and make sure I was prepared. Somebody has to offer a different perspective. Gently and carefully.

    One of our supply priests never mentioned ++Katharine either. We took care of it that Sunday and pray for her every week except this morning when the parish's idiot was the LEM. Wish we could trade you for him. You'd both be more comfortable. But your church needs someone with mature faith apparently.

    Prayers for your courage and success at "growing" your parish.

  25. Pseudo, we few, we do what we can. I'll be attending the Alpha series during Lent, because I like Evensong and the soup and sandwich gathering afterward. I will be ever so nice and gentle with criticism, however, I will try to go with an open mind.

    Thanks for the prayers.

  26. Mimi,

    I'm coming a little late to the discussion and as usual much of what I would say has been said. I think you're probably right if you think the rector views you as a thorn is his side. And I agree with sharecropper that rectors might need a thorn in the side. But I know that it's an uncomfortable position to be in. Hang in there. We're with you.


  27. Like MadPriest, I'm a pretty straight down the line Apostles' Creed sort of Christian, and when I preach, I preach from that perspective. But when people come to me and ask me "What's the Anglican Church's position on XYZ?" I find that more and more often I'm saying, "The Anglican Church's position on XYZ is that God gave you a brain, and we'll be delighted to help you use it. We'll give you resources to think about that issue, if you like we'll connect you with other people who want to think about it together, we'll pray about it together, and at the end of the day you might come to a different position on it than your rector. And as long as you're happy to stand up with me in the church and say the Apostles' Creed and the Nicene Creed, and pray and share communion together with me, that's fine with me".

    Funny thing is, a lot of people seem to have a really hard time believing that. I think I do my level best to actually live it, but there are still people seem to be afraid that if they disagree with me, I'm going to have a hissy fit and excommunicate them or something. Maybe I'm not doing as good a job at being open and welcoming as I think I am - I don't know...

  28. Grandmere Mimi - Have you ever read a book called "How to Become Bishop Without Being Religious"? It is one of the funniest books on the church out there, hands down. Long out of print. Anyway, it advises the young clergyman to aviod getting into battles with the resident thorn in his side because he can never win those fights.

    So, my advice is to claim your title as his thorn-in-the-side and onward to victory!

  29. Grandmère Mimi, ma chère (Michelle, ma belle...)

    Glad you were able to find my sermon and that it spoke to you. There's stuff I ad-libbed in but haven't put into the text. Soon, we'll be podcasting them!

    I have been reduced to tears of laughter by the 'blowhoring' thread over at MP's place... a sign of Sunday fatigue. I'll look at it tomorrow and say huh?

    Say a prayer because tomorrow is my 13th anniversary of ordination to the priesthood. God knows priesthood is a communal endeavour and a priest is nothing without the people of God.

  30. Grandmère Mimi, if you have any trouble finding the book, please email me at tim dot chesterton at gmail dot com and I will try to help you. That way we can avoid getting off topic in each other's comment boxes!!!

  31. Dennis, I have not read the book. I guess you're right; I should wear my "thorn-in-the-side" mantle proudly. The trouble is that I don't really want to be the thorn in the side.

    Tim, I'm down with the creeds, too. I think that your answer to your people about the position of the Anglican Church on this or that is wonderful. I'll help you with material, and then you use your God-given brain.

    I buy from Forward Movement, so I should have no trouble finding the book.

    Caminante, Happy Anniversary! Have a blessed and beautiful day. You are in my prayers.

  32. What do y'all think? This is not the first time that I have felt he was responding directly to me in the newsletter.

    Could be. Priests are human, after all (except for the MadPriest! Who's English. And male.). Not unreasonable to think he's responding to what you put in his head. Gotta have something to say in the newsletter, after all.

    But that doesn't make it your fault.

    As for the virtues of Alpha, well, MPriest (being English and male) is obviously right. Otherwise, I know nothing about it. Maybe it's good; maybe not.

    But probably, it's not my cup of tea. Then again, what is?

    Mostly, I drink coffee.

    As for How to Become Bishop Without Being Religious, I actually have a copy. How I acquired it I can't remember, but I'll try to post some choice excerpts for your edification.

    In the meantime, remember that, except for the MP, priests are human, too. Which means they should watch what they publish, like the rest of us!

  33. Mimi - I know what you mean - I don't like to be a thorn in the side either - very uncomfy. But, an irritating grain of sand eventually can make a pearl - without the irritant, you get no thing of beauty. Try to remember that.

    Caminante! - Congratulations on your 13th ordination anniversary. Priests work hard, and don't get near enough recognition. A hearty three cheers (and some extra catnip for your loves) for you!

  34. Rmj, when I post this sort of thing, I tend to forget that pastors may read it.

    As I said elsewhere, my rector is a good man with many gifts. I think I frighten him a little, and I don't mean to.

    He's even used things that I have said in his sermons. It's scary to know that my words can have such an effect. It makes me want to keep silent, but silence is probably beyond me.

    I'd appreciate quotes from the book, How to Become a Bishop.... Not that I want to be a bishop.

    Eileen, careful there. You may be on the other side.

  35. You admit outloud you might wanna be a priest, and they never let you live it down!

    Believe me Mimi. I'm trying to keep my thinking cap on about this one!

  36. Mimi, being a thorn in the side is often uncomfortable. Think of it as being the voice of conscience. The Holy Spirit uses people like you, you know. You have a gift for saying truth in a kind way, and that is a real gift.

    Courage, ma chere amie.


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