BISHOP TAKES ON "CIVIC" CONGREGATION

Julie Mack has written a fine piece of journalism for THE KALAMAZOO GAZETTE. Ostensibly a report of a parish priest "doing a football charge" on a 76 year old member of his congregation, her use of phrases such as "community leaders" and "whose family owns Morrison Jewelers" and her reportage of the choirs' antics, indicates exactly what has been going on in this church.

And congratulations to Bishop Robert Gepert for standing up to these pillars of the local establishment.

In September, the lay board turned to the bishop, who brought in people to conduct an investigation of the church’s problems. The conclusion of that investigation: St. Luke’s was “deeply dysfunctional,” both in its finances and its relationships.

On Thursday, Gepert notified church members in a five-page letter that his “godly judgment” was to dissolve the lay board, appoint a new six-member board, and put Lawlor on a four-month leave of absence, with Gepert assuming his duties during that time.

”The terms of this godly judgment will continue until I am satisfied the conflict is resolved,” Gepert wrote. “Further resistance and lack of cooperation, including movement of funds unauthorized by myself,” will result in declaring St. Luke’s a mission church, putting it under indefinite direct control of the diocese.

For a bishop to risk upsetting a nice little earner like St. Luke's is a courageous act. From my experience bishops much prefer sacrificing the priest in such situations, no matter who is to blame.

Comments

BISHOP TAKES ON "CIVIC" CONGREGATION — 10 Comments

  1. Good heavens.

    I read the whole article and what a mess. Yes, good for the bishop to step in and be determined to sort this out rather than merely placate the “pillars” as a default position.

    (Oh, and that’s a funny image you chose for the post!)

  2. Good for him indeed! Mostly they just give in to whoever shouts loudest, and end up making bad situations worse.

  3. MP, are you being facetious? (I can’t tell)

    Prayers for reconciliation at this parish (w/ my former diocese/bishop).

  4. MP,

    I know very well where you’re conming from on this one, but I have to dissent — with the huge caveat that I have no clue as to what happened here, which parties deserve the greater blame, and how it should have been best handled.

    I’ve seen, heard about, and experienced situations with all different kinds of causes, dynamics, and personalities that could have produced this particular outcome. Bishops sometimes get it right; sometimes they get it terribly wrong. Most of the time, even the best-intentioned bishop can only take a wild guess since he or she usually has no in-depth knowledge of the history of the place. I’ve seen otherwise good people, bishops in both the Lutheran (ECLA) and Episcopal churches, get it very, very wrong siding with a priest or pastor against a congregation which voiced little or no dissent and went along with the changes for as long as they could, and who did their best to support their clergy, even when they disagreed with the new direction they were being led.

    Bottomline here is that there are crazy, power-hungry people everywhere who can emerge in any or all of the roles here: priest, music director, long-time parishioners, bishop, others. There is nothing inherently good about someone just because they are in one position or another. And while there are certainly times and places when the Old Guard needs pushing back, and those long entrenched may need to give way to new leadership and ideas, there is nowadays, at the same time, a very dangerous tendency among clergy — priests and bishops — to take the side of the clergy for the sake of The New Ideas. It may be different in the C of E and in some places and times past in the U.S. when there were more parishes with a wealthy upper crust, some families or persons long in power. But today in the U.S. there are too many crazy so-called Progressives afoot who think they know how to save the church and Christianity by barging in and firing everyone and turning everything upside down, who don’t give a rat’s ass about real people, real lives, and real needs for worship, prayer, and pastoral care, and only want to do something New and dramatic out of panic for declining numbers — so the hell with everyone still faithfully attending, suffering unemployement, financial distress, disease, death, infirmities; the hell with their music, their staff, and the people who know (and love) them best — off with the heads of anyone or anything that gave anyone comfort or care or spirtual life in the past.

    Having spent the past year in a parish where out of the blue we saw two terrific priest associates forced out, the parish secretary also forced to quit, our liturgical traditions treated with contempt, the elderly scorned, and much worse — all thanks to a power-mad interim priest recommended by the diocesan staff — there is no way I’m going to jump to any conclusions about whether the priest in Kalamazoo was either wronged or was the chief wrong-doer. Either scenario (and a lot of messy ones in between) is possible. In this one, it sure stinks like it is the priest’s fault, but I admit that I am hopelessly biased by recent experience (as, dare I say, you might be as well in the other direction).

    MP, I love you, and I do support your ministry, and I am very sorry that you have been treated badly by some, but there is hurt all around, from all quarters in the church, and no one is without sin and, in some situations, many are at fault. I can only pray for peace and reconcilation, wisdom, insight, forgiveness, and true learning, wherever strife rears its ugly head, and when, whoever “started it”, livelihoods and reputations are at stake, as well as parishioners’ ability to remain in their home parish without having to cede over all traces of their past traditions for the sake of often empty promises of growth and renewal.

  5. I’m going to get in a lot of trouble with a few regulars for saying this, but here goes:

    Even if they hadn’t have mentioned that the choir director was let go, even if the choir director had never been mentioned, you could have easily guessed that there was a choir director behind this.

    10 years ago I was in a parish here in the diocese of Chicago. St. L’s was in the middle of an ugly civil war egged on by an out of control organist/ choir director. He used his choir the way that a street assassin would use a dirty knife. And after the choir chased away the long serving priest, I was stupid enough to allow myself to be put on the search committee. One of the worst mistakes I ever made. (When I had had enough and left I avoided church until finding OCICBW… in 2006). I still avoid brick and mortar churches.

    Just from my experience, there was a great big red flag in that whole article. Did you see it? It was that harmless little quote: “”This church has an incredibly long history of music,” said Fritz, who is part of the church’s 40-member choir. “Music is a big part of our worship.””

    A perfectly normal statement, and out of context it sounds just peachy. But if you have ever been in one of these sorts of parishes it is a quote that will jump out and grab you. By the throat.

    When I read it I got a chill up my back.

    That awful parish I was in, in the next suburb north of Chicago, is barely hanging on now. I hear that most Sundays the choir far outnumbers the butts in the pews. Though the place will close in a few years, I can only imagine that many of the choir members are very proud of those results. They have a subservient priest and no pesky churchgoers to keep them from running the show.

    I imagine that the same fate is awaiting the parish in Kalamazoo. A choir director of a large choir is never able to share the stage with clergy or other lay people. As far as they are concerned, the whole reason for the doors opening on Sunday is to let people come hear the concert.

  6. My only assumptions here are that there are more of them than him (see my two photoshops on the story) and that the bishop has, after an investigation, decided there is something very sick in the dynamics at this church.

    I find it interesting that nobody in the congregation is taking the side of the priest. Normally, a priest who is damaging a church, gathers a group of people around him or her. It is the creation of factions that cause the hurt.

  7. Dennis, I suspect I have heard about the parish you’ve mentioned. Yes, it was/is a dreadful situation. There certainly are some crazed musicians who have taken over parishes and caused a lot of harm; but I maintain there are just as many (and probably more given the lack of funds for church musicians in many parishes nowadays), clergy who have done the same thing.

    MP, my experience has been that a priest who horrifically damages a church does not necessarily have any supporters — the best people leave and those who stay are depressed, fearful, and silent, obeying the master and praying that someone (maybe the bishop?) will somehow free them. Factions arise when a pastor or priest makes changes and encounters great resistance and/or implements them in such a ham-handed, oblivious and/or arrogant fashion that fuels opposition and ill feelings. A clergyperson who is emotionally disturbed, paranoid, and hell-bent on destroying everything generally does not garner any significant support.

    Unfortunately hierarchal churches, in which lay people are infantalized and are taught to place someone on a pedastal — whether it be the priest or choirmaster – are prone to these kinds of conflicts because there is not a core group of sensible, quietly strong, just, and kind-hearted people who are willing to step in and stablize or even take control of a situation when strong egos clash and fight for control –people who care about the parish community as a whole and can behave as responsible adults. Bishops at best can do little more than clean up the mess and prop up the few survivors of a major battle.

  8. And as for choirs, some parishes, like mine, would no longer exist if it were not for the dedication of the choir members, who attend each and every service, some weddings and funerals, receive no pay, no glory, and put in very long hours of practice. Ours, in addition, contribute in other ways in the parish, organizing social functions, providing food, cheer, good company, and sometimes song, being aunts and uncles to the young choristers, and take great care of both the priest and the choirmaster, and their families. Of late, they also have played an important role in bringing in new members, including children of refugees who are still learning English.

    Yes, we have photographs and portaits of choirmasters going back to the mid 19th century hanging on a wall in the choir room. We once had a large traditional Anglican men and boys choir, which survived the transformation into a fully integrated group of men and women and young people (ages 7 and up), who sing together as one choir on Sundays and Holy Days. And our current choirmaster, who when interviewed by our late rector and a subcommittee of lay people, found him the only candidate to inquire about the spiritual life of our parish. He has been all along at the center of that life, keeper of the defacto super-prayer list of friends, family, and acquaintances in need of prayer far and wide, and mentor to our children, and a great friend of all.

    So forgive me if I don’t jump on the bandwagon and assume that the choirmaster and the choir and their supporters are the bad guys in the Kalamazoo mess or elsewhere. The fact that the “board” (vestry?) and the parish secretary have been booted out, as well, suggests that whatever is infecting this parish is widespread. And while I doubt that the priest assaulted anyone, let alone an elderly woman, he may have intimidated her and even frightened her, as clergy with their backs against the wall can do, intentionally or not. And while there may well be some obstructionists among the laity and some good reasons for making substantial changes in parish life, it is also not uncommon for clergy to be ill-equipped, in terms of both social and managerial skills, to handle conflict or change. Other clergy and the hierarchy may applaud the changes the priest was trying to implement and not have anyway of seeing whether and how it was done.

    There are too many sides to these kinds of conflicts to give anyone a martyr’s crown of thorns, when usually there is much blame to share and, in the end, little to do but try to make peace and, if necessary, remove those most mired in the conflict.

    While I have no reason to doubt the truth of MP’s and Dennis’s experience with musicians who build up their own power centers and terrorize clergy and any laity who oppose them, I must stand up for those musicians who lead only where and how they ought and who are above all faithful and valuable members of parish communities. Ours in particular has held us together during some very tough times with his prayerful example, his care and concern for all, and his tireless and humble efforts to fill in the gaps that have been left with the change in office staff and clergy, quietly and without complaint, although he currently is doing the job of several people (work he will gladly give up and go back to just making music). Thanks be to God for church musicians like him.

  9. I am a member of ST.Lukes choir, and find this article highly offensive as our choir director considered his position not a job but a true ministry. He and his family are truly Gods servants. While St. Lukes is not perfect, I can tell you this Bishop in his “Godly Judgement” has done this to several other parishes, and disgustingly enjoys what he is doing. We may as well have Lord Voldemort in a mitre for all the evil this man has spewed across the diocese. He is evil, warped, sick and needs to be removed, before another parish in the Western Diocese is destroyed.

    I pray to the Lord almighty that you are being facetious. St. Lukes was known for it’s pastoral care of people in the Kalamazoo area. Now it is SLC that needs the care. Shame on you for posting this without knowing all the facts. I highly recommend you reamin quiet until you get all of the facts.

  10. Anonymous, I discovered very early on in my blogging career that nobody takes you seriously unless you are prepared to not be anonymous. That is why my real name is on the sidebar to this blog. Integrity is not cheap, it cost me my job. But, at least people take me seriously now.

    Which is just a long winded way of saying that at the moment you are regarded by us all as no more than a heavy breather phoning from a call box, if you get my drift.