Friday, December 5, 2008

Why I left Grace-St. Paul's

{edit: I know that she is entitled to change things, and writing this has already helped begin healing}

I remember when I
fell in love the with Episcopal Church.

Grace-St. Paul's was not the first church I had ever attended: I had gone to church with friends many times in the past.

But I remember going to church Christmas Eve and being surrounded by the warm glow of candle light. There was beauty, solemnity, and yet a strong, joyful feeling of family in the air. There were copes and a shiny cross, excited children, and a time to kneel in front of the crèche, to the newly born Jesus. There was beautiful music, and feeling of acknowledgement that this had been done for over 1000 years and in this way for hundreds.

I had also found a place were people cared about the world and each other. Where Sunday School taught about unconditional love, and you were encouraged to question and try to make sense of things. I found an extended family which I had never had before.

Over the years I've interned, preached at, and attended over 15 Episcopal churches - at least 7 more than twice, but as people kept moving and the crowd changed, in the end it was the worship the kept me coming back to GraSP. It was what I could best describe as "upper broad." It embraced the beauty and meditation of a sort of traditional worship without being high church for high church sake (although we could do high church when we wanted too). The liturgy was both neat and uncluttered while still embracing a prayerbook and music driven service (with decent preaching). There was a respect and reverence of the sacraments. Not all the services were the same, and the parish was very progressive without being hypocritical. It was also the highest thing in the area. And it is what can calm me down enough to stop and worship. It's what worked for me.

I came back from Lambeth with my already shaky faith in fragments. While my own theodicy issues had left me angry at God, after Lambeth I was simply in pieces. After enduring weeks of mediocre worship and feeling a bit lost in the crowd, I was excited to come home to GraSP.

Mind you, I knew we had a new priest (an interim). I was more excited that anyone. I knew the parish needed new blood and new ideas. I was hoping to find new flavor. What I found was a new dish.

Within two weeks the worship was completely changed. Not only was it lower, but it was sloppy. It was the reasons why I had chosen not to go to some of those other parishes. I find saying page numbers (or pausing after them) a distraction. It is a break in the worship experience for me. Pages are in the bulletin. I actually did like some of the changes she made, but when she decided to consecrate three chalices at once (rather than one and a cruet as the prayer books rubrics state) I wasn't upset at the act, so much as that being something that separates us from what the other Episcopal Churches are doing... the prayer book is what we have in common... Common Prayer.

When I spoke to her about it she said I should "try new things." I felt like I had been slapped in the face. I had tried new things. I started out Jewish. I kept coming back because this was how I best worshipped God. She never asked me what my experiences were. She assumed that because I was young I didn't have any. And now, she was telling me that my already shattered faith was wrong. That the way that I can worship God isn't correct.

And she told a friend of mine the same thing, that he wouldn't like GraSP anymore - we were both the two young adults in the parish who were interested in ordained ministry. An interesting move for someone claiming to be interested in Christian education and formation.

I don't feel like I can go back. Not because of the changes in worship, but because I feel unwelcome. Every time I think of that church I still get angry... and hurt. Before I left I tried to contact a few Vestry members who I felt like I could talk to, but no one responded.

When I left I told a few people that it was just too far to commute. And this was true. I found a parish near my university that I really like. It is a nice broad church with a diverse population and a great music program. When I want Anglo-catholic I have friends who like going to St. Clems, Philadelphia and St. Thomas, 5th Ave, and the rest of the time I have a new parish family where I'm trying to find a place.

But it still hurts. I didn't want to start a scene when I left. I didn't tell anyone that I was moving my membership I just dropped off of a few lists and tried to find replacements. I rather abruptly had my letter of transfer sent. I never heard from the interim at GraSP. Not ever. I knew she was upset with some thing I said and she snapped at me on the altar, or any other time. I never heard from anyone really. I had thought they found a new youth group leader. She never contacted me that they didn't. I heard through the grapevine that she was wondering if there was a list of youth group members. She never asked me.

I suppose I can't quite keep quiet any more. I can't pretend that it isn't eating away at me and keeping me awake at nights months later. That it still doesn't make me cry, that I lost a family, and I don't feel like I can go back... at least not until there is a new priest. That my faith still isn't in pieces.

I've been told that people there like her now. That she is open to things. And that the parish might want to take things in new directions. But this is my experience. And I am writing this for my own healing. Take it as you will.


FranIAm said...

I understand that you are writing for yourself... I do that too.

I just wanted to let you know that I was here and that your words and feelings seem very clear.

As ever, I am astounded at how churches hurt people and push them away.

Allie, I wish you peace.

Allie said...

Thanks. I think it also helps to be putting it in public. I've been carrying it, and I think getting it out there helped too.

Anonymous said...

Allie, just to let you know that I had a similar experience nearly some twenty years ago and lived to tell the tale. It hurts terribly when you are going through it. After joining a number of other parishes of various denominations I finally found a home at Trinity Cathedral. When you are back in the Trenton area, I would love to have you join us for worship. No pressure... just a warm, welcoming invitation to have you experience us.

Allie said...

Thanks Dot. I feel better already. I think getting this out and sort of publicly stating and rereading has helped me sort of put thing into a bit better perspective. I can sort of step back and see that moving on really was what I needed to do, and that this might be what the parish really needs, and that there isn't anything wrong with their needs changing, or mine.

I wish I had gotten off to a better start with the interim, but I've found a new parish that's working for me a bit better and I'm getting the time to church hop.

I've been meaning to visit the cathedral on a Sunday for a while now, but it keeps not happening. Thank you for the invitation though:-)

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

I know, as a priest, I've hurt people. I didn't intend that, but it was the impact, none the less.

How did I do that? Well, by moving the baptismal font instead of using the rickety movable stand and wheeling it to where I eventually moved the beautiful baptismal font, which had been kept over in the corner. By refusing to do private baptisms except in extraordinary circumstances. By saying, "Abba / Father/ Mother" instead of "Our Father" (didn't change the prayer book. Didn't ask anyone to say it with me. Just said it out loud). By chanting the Sursum Corda ("too Catholic," they cried).

Oh, there's more. Lots more.

It's a difficult thing to try to be authentic AND serve a diverse group of people. Some will leave. Some left when my predecessor left and rejoiced to return when I was called. Others left because I wasn't anything like my predecessor. Some still can't wait for me to leave.

I am not discounting your pain, Allie. I'm saying many share in it. And, I am confessing to you that I was, inadvertently or blatantly, a part or direct cause of that pain.

It's the church being 'in the world but not of the world.

I'm sorry for your pain. I'm glad you've found a new church home.

I pray you never forget the pain you are in so that one day, by the grace of God and the consent of the people, when you are ordained and are the cause of pain for others, you remember this pain now.

Allie said...

I think much of the problem was feeling like I had been told to f* off.

Today I went back for my godmother's father's funeral. I am now convinced that she is fabulous for the parish... just not for me.

A friend pointed to a sermon that talked about the interim period as "separating the wheat from the weeds." To me, that wasn't an apt metaphor, because I feel that I found a corn field, and praise God that the wheat field is doing well.

Paul (A.) said...

I lived through a "separate the wheat from the weeds" interim (who for some reason decided that the choir was weeds).

Evidently he missed the Gospel lesson that that is not his job!

He chased the Youth Choir and its director to another parish and was poised to break up the Adult Choir. While strongly tempted to leave the parish, I concluded that priests come and go, but the laity is the congregation. And I refused to give him the satisfaction.

I have dealt with several interims since then, in my own parish and elasewhere, but none so arrogant. Your experience may, however, have matched him.

Since you didn't get support from the GraSP laity, and since you are in a transitional stage of your life, relocation is clearly the best path for now. Welcome!

And enjoy your trip!