IN WHICH MADPRIEST TRIES, AND FAILS (AGAIN)

I tried to go to church this morning. In fact, I tried to go to two churches. I got up early, washed (yes, washed), put on my "go to church Sunday" best, got in the car and drove eight miles to a church I thought might be friendly. But when I got there I couldn't walk through the door. So I drived another eight miles to a church quite close to where I live. But again I could not walk through the door. This is by no means the first time this has happened. It's happened so many times that Mrs MP doesn't even bother locking the front door behind me as she assumes I will be back very quickly indeed.

It's difficult to walk into a church for the first time. I think it is actually even more difficult to walk into a church if you went to church in the past. When you haven't been going to church because the people of the church have hurt or abused you in some way it gets nigh on impossible. When, like me, the important people of the church have made it perfectly clear to you that they would rather you just disappear and not darken the doors of the church ever again it is one of the most terrifying things in the world, especially if you are a wimp like me. And, yes, they did make it obvious that I was out on my own. When the bishop of Newcastle ended my ministry he did not mention anything about my spiritual wellbeing after I left his employ and he certainly didn't get in touch afterwards. Nor did the archdeacon. I asked him much later why he hadn't been in touch and he told me that it was because he thought I might be angry. And the only one of my colleagues who invited me to his church was an evangelical. All the others, even those I regarded as my good friends, even those I still keep in touch with, were very careful not to mention the subject of where I was supposed to worship from then on.

When I was a parish priest I often came across people who had left the church for one reason or another (usually because of some perceived, often real, offense). I would always try and persuade them to return. But I never, ever expected them to just walk in on their own. If they showed any interest in returning I would arrange for some trusted member of the congregation to make contact with them first who would actually walk into church with them. In fact, if possible I would do that job myself as I had already formed a friendship with them.

When I went to see the bishop of Jarrow last Monday I asked him to send me to a church. He would have none of it (do bishops promise never to make a definite decision  about anything, or answer a straight question with a straight answer, when they are ordained?) I had to twist his arm to give me the name of a church that might be appropriate and, even then, he would only suggest the Cathedral. (I like cathedral services but it's not church. A cathedral eucharist  is a concert with a buffet at the end.) It was obvious that I was supposed to sort myself out even though I had made it perfectly clear that I was having huge problems about returning to church. Even though he had refused to give me the one thing that might have made it easier for me, his blessing by way of permission to officiate.

So, if there is anyone out there who worships at an Anglican church within a radius of about ten miles from Chester-Le-Street (the higher the better but free from misogyny and homophobia) and who is prepared to hold my hand, please drop me an email.

Comments

IN WHICH MADPRIEST TRIES, AND FAILS (AGAIN) — 58 Comments

  1. Gotta tell you, Jonathan, that this is the way in goes when you become a persona non grata. When Vyckie Garrison left (http://nolongerquivering.com/) the church after almost 2 decades of abuse she also lost her friends and support group. A person for who’s magazine, SALT, she had written articles in the past even declared her dead (spiritually speaking) in an article in her magazine.
    Not a lot of fun to find out how unchristian so-called christians can be, eh?
    John

  2. It seems a lot of difficulties people have going to church are based in expectations. Expectations that we’ll be mistreated, expectations that we won’t get a lot out of it, expectations that that we will receive a wonderful spiritual lift, etc. What would it be like if the only reason to go would be to worship – no expectations. The hurts you bear are real and deep; still, it seems you feel a deep need to worship. Serving in a downtown parish we have many people every Sunday drop in just needing a place to be – a place to worship. They don’t want to join our committees, sing in our choir, or fill out our visitor form. I’ve always been a defender of people’s right to do this – people just have a need to worship. Perhaps letting go, just the slightest bit, of any expectations that people will be waiting to welcome you with open arms and begin the process of helping to heal the terrible and real rejection you’ve experienced would be a place to start. The biggest problems with the church began with allowing people into it. If they aren’t as welcoming as they should be it doesn’t mean they don’t care or aren’t good people, it just means we all live within our own skin – people are thinking about what they’re going to have for lunch, worrying about why their marriage seems loveless, or the failures in their own lives. I doubt that the soul-wrenching abuses you’ve suffered will be addressed in a single church service – that’s just not something church was designed to do. It is simply a place we come together to express our need to worship and slowly, oh so slowly sometimes, begin to develop a community of caring – that sometimes takes a long time. While I don’t know what’s waiting for you when you go to church, I do know you well enough to know what you have to offer: You’ve been through fire and deep waters – there is no one better equipped than you to give that kind word or touch to someone at that church whose soul is aching. As a complete stranger, you may need to go to church simply because you have a type of compassion few people ever develop – you’re needed. If you’re not there, that lonely person seeking just the tiniest evidence of God’s unconditional love might miss out on the unique gift you have to offer. As you offer up your own pain, and instead, just go to worship and look for an opportunity to make just the smallest exercise of your unique gift, you may find your own pain receding.

    You, like me, have probably been at the hospital where a person cannot receive communion, and you have assured them that whether they can receive the elements or not, they have received the full benefit of the body and blood of our gentle Lord. Whether you are able to attend church on your own today to receive or not, this morning in the Mass, I will be taking a moment to offer you the bread and wine from across the continent and ocean that divides us. Know that you will receive its full benefits, my friend. Today we celebrate St. Francis day, blessing everything from dogs to cats to horses to snakes. I will also be saying a special blessing for your little furry companions, Jonathan. I will continue to hold up your pain to God in my prayers.

  3. I am hesitant to say much of anything following this beautiful post by Fr. Rick, but there is something that I think needs to be said and I hope it will help: The Church that u r a part of is a hierarchical church. You, an ordained priest, recently went to see a bishop and requested permission to officiate. You also asked his advice about returning to church attendance.
    He gave you a suggestion (the Cathedral). Probably for several reasons…but a very big part of that suggestion probably was that it is sort of anonymous, but also I think, he wondered if you really would follow his suggestion, mild as it was. From an earlier post I seem to remember that he suggested that you return there as an “inhibited” priest, so apparently that is part of a process of reconciliation already established.

    Reconciliation has to be an effort on both parts. Based on what u perceive as your own needs, you seem to have rejected his suggestion almost automatically….
    But,as the old saying goes, it takes two to Tango.

    Anger is a useful defensive emotion, but in its extreme form it clouds our decisions. Every bishop is not an enemy. The question I am trying to ask is – do you really want to work in a hierarchical church?

    You have so much to offer the church, but you need to seriously consider whether life and work in a
    structured church is something that you are willing to work towards.
    It is a serious question that seems pretty basic and I hope that u will give it some honest thought.

    nij

  4. I do wish I lived and worshipped up there, Fr. MadPriest. You wouldn’t like the church I attend in London, although you might like the one that I preach at. If you ever find yourself in London over a weekend, do get in touch. I’ll pray for a spiritual communion with you every Sunday.

    The previous commenter who suggested that perhaps you might not be well-suited for a structural church was interesting, but the question I’d ask: “Does the institution of the C of E work hard enough towards including you?” I know what I think the answer would be.

  5. What the hell are you on about, Nij?!!!

    I tried to go to church this morning to jump through the bishop’s hoop.

    I have tried over and over again to go towards them but they have not once made any effort to come towards me and they are the ones who fucked up in the first place.

  6. Wish you were near here. I’d happily call to pick you up on the way to our 8:00am service of Holy Communion. If they’re well-behaved, you could even bring your dogs.

    Then, when you and Mrs MP felt up to it, you could join Sue and I at the 10:00am Eucharist. Sue sits at the back, in the side aisle, so if you sat with her it would easily be possible for you to could sneak out if you feel at any point. Goodness. We might even take you out for lunch at the Four Seasons afterwards…

  7. MP, I’m right beside you. After my initial, unpleasant foray into the nearest Episcopal church here in my town, it’s been almost 10 years since I darkened a church door. I lost count of the Sunday mornings I got up, showered and shaved, dressed, drove to the parking lot, and turned around and came home.

    I’ve tried RC churches (I’m a former RC), United Methodist (I was raised in the UMC), and even other denominations. I’m simply not able to do it and it puzzles and vexes me since the best memories of my life are from the long periods of time when I was actively engaged in a church, whether UMC, RC, or Episcopal.

    Rick and Nij, I have no doubt that you are well-meaning and are reaching out from your hearts but I cringed when I read your postings. You are speaking from a position of power and comfort from inside. You clearly neither one understand how this feels and the difficulty in overcoming this horrible fear.

    Reasoning, shaming, guilt, challenging, and such have no effect on me but to cement my decision to quit trying. I would imagine they have the same effect on Jonathan. I can’t speak for MP but for me I don’t want or need somebody to “do” something or “say” something, I need a helping hand offered with no judgement or commentary, something I hear Jonathan pleading for at the end of this blog post.

    When I returned to the church many, many years ago it was because a sweet lady I knew invited me over and over and over. No pressure, no hard-sell, just a gentle “If you want to go to church with me this Sunday I’ll be there outside the door 10 minutes before the service starts. I’ll look for you.” After about 100+ invitations I actually took her up on her offer. I had to take my younger cousin with me for moral support. I ended up beginning RCIA a few weeks later and spent several years deeply involved in that church.

    The scars and the pain and the fear are very, very real. I am in good relationship with God, I have a very healthy and active prayer life, I read my bible daily and seek out spiritual inspiration and support on these blogs.

    It’s not God I have a problem with — it’s overcoming the fear of being used and hurt again by another church after experiencing that twice in the past and the sadness of losing an anchor in my life when people I love and cherish move away, die, or leave for another journey in faith. This combines with all the other hurt heaped upon me in life and paralyzes me with fear. There are many, many, many of us and we are the people who no longer appear on church rolls and the big “C” Church has not figured out how to reach out to us yet or we wouldn’t be staying away in droves and claiming to be “spiritual but not religious”.

    I’m not proud of it but there it is. I trust that eventually something will give and change. Until then I thank God for St, Laika’s, Jonathan, Elizabeth Kaeton, Margeret, Ellie Findlay, and Grandmere Mimi, all of whom are my church for now and, I hope, for the rest of my time on Earth.

    I wish peace for all of you and for me and Jonathan and those like us as well. Come Holy Spirit! Fill our hearts with love for one another and forbearance for each other’s failures and weaknesses. Amen.

  8. After reading more comments, I suddenly remembered the moment that I decided to attend my first Integrity/New York eucharist, more than 23 years ago. St. Luke-in-the-Fields was two blocks north of where I worked, and the service was at 7 pm (I seem to recall). They put an ad in the gay rag in New York, and every week that ad nagged me to go to church. I had not been to church for many years at that point, as a former RC I preferred to eat doughnuts and read the New York Times on Sunday morning.

    So I walked north to St. Luke, and instead of going in I walked around the block. When I got to the front door again, I walked by it and around the block yet AGAIN. I finally walked in the front door on the third try, and was greeted by the most wonderful man I have ever met in the church: Nick Dowen, then the president of Integrity/New York. He welcomed me in, sat me down, and was very kind. I had to leave right afterwards as the speaker at the coffee hour was someone I knew from another context who wasn’t very nice. I returned the next week.

    And thus, today, October 2, is the 23rd anniversary of my reception into “this branch of God’s Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church”, as my certificate (on my wall) says. Every journey starts with a couple of laps around the block, it seems.

  9. This is why I’m very glad to have the Mary, Queen of the Universe Shrine near me. I can go there from work, on my lunch hour, and sit and meditate before the Blessed Sacrament for a while, then go back to work. It is not a parish church, so there’s no official “membership,” but it’s there and a great place to pray and be silent and alone with God for a while, without the pressure of a congregation. Most of the time, there is maybe 1 other person praying in the sanctuary when I am there during the day, on weekdays.

    Would taking small steps like this help at all, Jonathan? Going to a church in the middle of the week, right around lunchtime, and just having some quiet time alone with God in the sanctuary? Could Mrs. MP go with you once in a while if you do this? Sometimes it’s nice to be completely anonymous in that way.

    Admittedly it’s not Eucharist, but it’d get you in the doors and used to the surroundings on a physical level, and you can accomodate yourself at your own pace.

    I hope I’m describing these occasional midday meditations adequately…

  10. To be honest, and I know this is wrong and all that, but what I’m most afraid of is being looked down on for being a priest who is not allowed to preside at the sacraments. People always ask what you do for a living and nobody would believe my story. There will always be doubt along the lines of gross misconduct. That’s why I wanted permission to officiate before going back to church. As I said, silly and wrong, but I am only human. I even told the bishop that I would agree not to officiate even with the permission to officiate. But he wasn’t buying it. To be honest I think he was just looking for an excuse to keep me out. I shouldn’t have told him about my fears in the first place.

  11. Jonathan, that strikes a chord for me. You are afraid of going to church and being honest about who and what you are. Pride? Maybe. But there’s something deeper working there too I would guess.

    I realize that my fear is based in being afraid to be honest too. As a gay man in a Southern diocese, who works in a profession that being openly gay can cause loss of career and persecution, I think I am just not willing to go to church and lie or hide who I am.

    Perhaps I am grossly misjudging but there is a real risk for me in being openly who I am and a greater risk in hiding and lying about it. Sigh.

    Thanks for this post. It has provoked a great deal of soul-searching and prayerful thought in me. See? Even in your weakness and “failure” you manage to minister as the priest of God that you are.

    Peace.

  12. Is it necessary to bring up everything in your past right off the bat when going into a new situation?

    Why not just go in, be you, and let it come out IF it ever does so, in its own time. Then, by the time anything DOES come up, they’ll know you as you first and be less quick to judge.

  13. Have you considered St Ives, Leadgate? This is a serious question. You have things in common.

  14. After I left Unitarian College, and finished loose ends (to preach here and there), I had no contact with any religion for one and a half years. 21 years later I am now applying again. Looking over the form, I am quite pessimistic about how it will be received given what there is after the training. But that’s on the level. If I am called for interview with an intention to proceed, it is because they know what they’ll get and they want it, and if I am not called for interview it is because they know what they’d get and there is no place for it.

    After UCM and a gap I attended a Buddhist group and the C of E and did these until moving from Derbyshire.

    You won’t allow for transition, for change, for pausing: you don’t like the idea of independence. The C of E has a hierarchy and it acts like it doesn’t want to touch you. You have to find a way around that or to pause until it also changes.

    When I left UCM I said to myself this will take 10 years to come right. It didn’t. It took 21.

  15. Thanks, anon. That’s just the sort of info I need as I have no idea about the churches in Durham diocese and there’s guide to churchmanship on Google. I checked out St. Ives on facebook and it certainly seems up my street. I’ll do some more research. Thanks again.

  16. Thanks, Brian, but in all honesty I think you’re potential problems on being found out are a lot bigger than mine. It’s just pride and fear with me. With you it’s commonsense.

  17. Thanks, Rick. To be honest I think my problem with going back to church is less complicated. It really is just a matter of fearing being looked down and people thinking I’ve been naughty with a choir boy. I can’t be bothered to avoid questions or lie but at the same time I can’t be bothered to explain and then worry if people believe me.

  18. The former blogging Vicar of Leadgate has just left the parish. It is now in an interregnum and no new priest is to be appointed.

  19. “IN WHICH MADPRIEST TRIES, AND FAILS (AGAIN)”

    That’s called “being a Christian” (or, JMO, “being a human”). Take it easy, {{{MP}}}.

  20. Failure is not an option. You haven’t failed. Period.

    Hm, I’m reminded of Dory in Finding Nemo: “Just keep swimming, swimming, swimming …”

  21. “This is why I’m very glad to have the Mary, Queen of the Universe Shrine near me.”

    Hey, I think I’ve seen that place! Just off the freeway, in Orlando? [It left an impression on me 6 years ago, during my one and only trip to Florida]

    ***

    what I’m most afraid of is being looked down on for being a priest who is not allowed to preside at the sacraments. People always ask what you do for a living and nobody would believe my story.

    It seems to me that this—and not “going to church” or “worshipping in church”, per se—is your problem.

    If you can just develop a strategy for dealing w/ it (and I imagine there would be many different strategies: you might want more than one), then all the rest of the process (washing, dressing, driving, getting through the door into the pew) should shrink into proper perspective.

    Just one thought:

    It’s happened so many times that Mrs MP doesn’t even bother locking the front door behind me as she assumes I will be back very quickly indeed.

    Can Mrs MP not be persuaded to come along and run interference? [Y’know, the way a friend gets one out of a bad date! ;-)]

  22. I may simmer but Mrs MP bears a grudge. She will “never darken the inside of a church ever again.” To be honest, I think the destruction of my wife’s faith is the nastiest thing the bishop of Newcastle did. I can separate God from the church and I can forgive. Mrs MP has trouble with both.

  23. @JCF: Yes, the Shrine is west of Orlando, just before the exits off of I-4 going to Walt Disney World. If you were heading westbound towards Tampa, you’d see it on the left.

    They have a very nice Rosary Garden there, a museum, a little gift shop and a Mother & Child chapel outside. Inside, just to the left as you walk in the doors, is a small chapel with a big beautiful mosaic of Our Lady of Guadalupe, the patron saint of the Americas. Then of course there’s the cavernous sanctuary with a sculpture of Mary holding Jesus on her lap. I have taken several shots of this sculpture because something about it utterly SANG to me. I have an 8″ high version of it on my computer desk.

    I’ll post some pics of the Shrine. It’s quite lovely.

  24. Dear Jonathan+ It really broke my heart to read that you tried to go to church and could not get thru the front door…you are in my prayers.

    and just to be clear; any feeling of shame rightly belongs to bishops who discriminate and take a punative stance rather than a stance of grace and justice. This thing about inhibiting you from celebrating Mass is just bs. If they believe that you are not suitable for the Priesthood, they should defrock you and be done with it…not play these games.

    and just to be clear; if one holds up a mirror of Jesus to a church that is more about just playing church, one should not be surprised when the church reacts negatively. We tend to think of the church as being about Easter…which it is when it is being true to its calling, but often, a wayward church is more about crucifixion.

    my heart and prayers goes out to you
    blessings danielj

  25. Well, I would think that if Mrs MP came along, it would be for the state of your soul (to be in church), not hers [Which is to say, you’d have to make it up to her some way, AND how! ;-)]

    But please DO give some thought to the rest of my analysis: you don’t have a “Going to Church” problem, you have a “What’s My Narrative?” challenge. [And believe me, I can very much RELATE to that challenge. Unemployed over 4 years, I have it, too.]

  26. MP,
    Tracie asked a good question earlier – why do you feel the need to tell everybody that you haven’t got PTO at the moment?
    Most of the retired priests I know simply turn up at another church eventually, possibly say that they are priests but that they are definitely NOT working at the moment.
    That’s it.

    Could you not do that? After all, none of us walks into a new place and immediatley announces our deepest anxieties and weaknesses straight off.

  27. People always ask you what you do for a living. Always.
    I’m a bit tattered around the ages but I don’t look like I’m old enough to retire.
    It would be wrong to enter another priest’s church and not tell them you’re a priest.

  28. 2 comments:

    1: Ok, if that’s the case, tell the priest you’re a priest, but tell everyone else you’re between jobs.

    2: Tell everyone you’re a priest but you were laid off. Which is true. You can’t control what any person thinks of you no matter what, and somehow I doubt anyone is going to be rude enough to say “oh, what, did ya molest some choir boy” or some such stupid thing. They’ll keep that to themselves, if they have any sense at all. Let ’em wonder. Meanwhile, drive them berserk by smiling and being friendly and charming and personable, as we all know you are. They’ll go nuts trying to figure out just why you were laid off. Play a wee bit of a mind game with people, and have a laugh as you do it. wtf, it just might be worth a giggle.

  29. Tell them that you’re a priest who has just left his last parish.
    They might then ask you if you want to help out at their church and you simply say that you’re not ready for a new role yet.
    Everyone knows how priests burn out in parish ministry, this is a fairly standard reply.

  30. Up to a point, yes. You could say “you were not able” to help out. That would not be a lie.

    You go to church to encounter God, and if the current way of doing church makes that impossible for you, then be a little more careful initially. If it’s the right kind of church for you you can still tell the truth to the right people later.

  31. I am having to go to church because I’ve been told by the suffragan bishop that I will never get permission to officiate unless I do. If I do manage to go through with it and encounter God just 1% as much as I do everyday among my internet friends I will be more than satisfied.

  32. In that case, and if you’re not going for yourself but just as a means to an end, why not follow your bishop’s suggestion and go to a cathedral? Once you got your PTO you can go somewhere else.

  33. Good morning, everyone. I have just now read this thread. I started it last night but was just too tired to read it all the way through. There’s a lot here – from everybody – and I’m truly moved by the comments.

    Jonathan, as I think I’ve mentioned to you before (but I’m not really sure), when I go to church, I arrive late and leave early ON PURPOSE so that I don’t have to talk to people. I completely understand your aversion to explaining yourself. And people often say and ask really tactless things and I don’t even think they often intend to.

    Oh, and Pluralist: thanks for saying that it took you 21 years. That is very helpful to me because sometimes I am bewildered that two years after having been dumped by my bishop (in a particularly cruel fashion) I’m still uncomfortable with church. That helps. Bless you.

    And Jonathan, I’m SO in your corner. You know that.

  34. Oh, and with regards to this statement: “I need a helping hand offered with no judgement or commentary, something I hear Jonathan pleading for at the end of this blog post.”

    Well, given that I live in Florida and Jonathan in northern England, that’s kinda hard. I think every person here would do it in a heartbeat if we lived near him, but most of us don’t.

    And we ladies know about being “fashionably late.” We’re good at it. 🙂

  35. My brother, if I could I would definitely be there. Little details like my passport needing renewal and airfare make it impossible. As things stand, all I can do is pray for you and that I already do, as does my parish here stateside.

    I wonder, is there a parish nearby where they do daily offices on a regular basis? Could you begin by attending that? If I understand how little attendance CoE parishes get for the offices, you could meet the clergy and probably start small and work up to Sunday.

    Yes you need to attend, yes I get the issues. (I was a dismissed postulant once: I really relate. Going to the church door the following week brought me to sobs of pain.) But perhaps baby steps rather than strides?

    FWIW
    jimB

  36. Thanks, Jim. I agree. That is why I asked for local advice in the post. I was hoping some sympathetic, priestly soul would see it and get in touch with just such a plan.

  37. Sorry, arrived late to this thread via Lesleys blog. I know the churches in Darlington area fairly well, but that’s a bit of a hike.

    St. Anthonys Priory in Durham is a good place for a retreat, and you can worship with the (small) community too. http://www.stantonyspriory.co.uk/ if they insist on you paying then send me the bill. And you can have the satisfaction of seeing what they’ve done to the place since George Carey left it.

  38. A lot of us have been in the same situation. it took me nearly 10yrs to go back to Church and take up my calling, The best thing I ever did was become independent. If your ever in Sheffield 1st Sunday of the month let me know we would welcome you with open arms…

    Suz+

  39. St Margaret’s, Crossgate, Durham is a good church (we go to it). The building itself is beautiful. The liturgy is high-ish. The small congregation is fairly mixed. People are kind and certainly not homophobic, indeed positively homophile. It’s our harvest service and harvest lunch tomorrow.

  40. Thanks, John. St. Margarets was one of the churches where I managed to get to the front door but no further. In fact, I mentioned your church to the bishop of Jarrow but he wasn’t exactly enthusiastic in his response. From this I assumed that you must be doing something right.

  41. Well, come then. Give us a go. We certainly need people. We aren’t choosy! We have lots of damaged people – indeed, I am one myself.

  42. Perhaps I got the tone wrong. I understand your problem – I have it myself in a different context. I am more than happy to meet you in advance and then we could try to walk up the steps and through the door together. I am on: john.moles@newcastle.ac.uk. Or: (0191) 384 8301. My partner, son and dog are very pleasant.