Some of you will remember that I was in the deacon discernment process for the Episcopal Church. This means that I believe (and the priest believed) that I was being called by God to serve “the least of these” – the poor, the homeless – those who have no one to serve them. Some of you have been reading along since April of this year, when I stopped going to church. The part that is interesting to me is that only a handful of people have even seemed to notice I’m gone.
I’ve recently written to the team that was involved in the process. It took me this long to get over my anger at and sense of betrayal by the priest. I didn’t want to write an angry letter. There are/were (what tense do I use?) nine people on that team, all trying to “listen” with me to see if it was a call from God. None of them have written back. I then sent a copy of the letter to the Bishop. Nothing, again. I feel like I’m standing at the front of an auditorium and the microphone isn’t on so nobody can hear me. Or maybe they are ignoring me, hoping I’ll go away. But the weirdest part is that more people from a church that prides itself on being welcoming and friendly hasn’t contacted me.
I was very active in this church. I was there every week. I was the leader of the team of lectors and chalice bearers. I was also an acolyte. I served up front as part of the worship team nearly every week. It is a small church. I’m hard to miss.
To be a deacon in the Episcopal Church is a big crazy process. It takes years. It takes homework and meetings. You have to submit your transcripts. You have to submit your baptism and confirmation records. You have to submit to a physical and psychological exam. Basically, you have to submit. They want to make sure that you are hearing from God, sure, but they also want to make sure they can control you. They want to make sure that the Church is safe by not signing off on a wacko, sure, but they also want to find out if the priest or the Bishop tell you to do something, you’ll do it.
The odd part is that you have to go through all this for an unpaid position. You are expected to keep your day job. You have to do more at church and in the community, but you don’t get paid for it. They have this whole multi-year process to shape you into a deacon. The process is arduous.
But it turns out that they don’t really have a framework to teach you how to follow God when the Church isn’t. That’s the scary part. There’s a group in the Catholic Church that embodies this blind faith in the Church. The Jesuits say that if they see that something is white, and the Pope says it is black, they are to say it is black.
I’m not about that kind of obedience. I understand it, somewhat. We humans are fallible. I entered into this process because I know of my weakness. I’m bipolar. So I wanted training and oversight. I wanted to make sure that if I thought I was seeing white, it was indeed white. It is my greatest hope that I not deceive or mislead anybody. I think it is really important to make sure it is God’s voice I’m hearing and not my own imagining.
I left church because I could see white and everybody else was doing black. The more I read of the Gospels, the more I realized that what we, collectively as a Church, are doing, is wrong. It isn’t about building church buildings or having ordained ministers. It is about building up the Body of Christ – by teaching every person who is called to be a Christian how to be a loving servant of God and how to hear the voice of God. Everybody. Not the elect, not ordained people – everybody.
I think everybody needs to go to Cursillo and be woken up to the Holy Spirit. I think the homework assignments for the deacon process are very helpful for helping people “hear” their calling. I think small groups where people “listen” to each other and keep each other accountable are useful. I think reading books by progressive Christian authors about their struggle to integrate the ways of God with the ways of the world are helpful. I think we all need to work on our faith rather than take it for granted.
Perhaps this is what they are afraid of. Perhaps this is why they haven’t contacted me. I represent a total upheaval of the way things have always been done. No more church buildings. No more vestry. No more priests. Church isn’t a social club but a way of life – and that life is service. Perhaps this frightens them.
It is like the early Christians, who knew in their hearts that what they were doing was right, was in fulfillment of all the promises that they as Jews had been told. They knew that Jesus was the Messiah. But everybody else railed against them. How dare you upset the way we’ve always done things? How dare you tell us that we are doing it wrong?
I get that. People are like that.
But white is white, and black is black, and the blinders are off now.