Tuesday, June 16, 2020

I've been in trouble a lot

As a priest, I'm used to hot water.

The Bishop who convinced me to come back to West Virginia after seminary, though I'd been offered a job at a huge Church in Chicago, Robert Atkinson (rest his soul) had two nick-names for me. "My rogue priest" and "my personal fire starter". (I liked both, by the way.)

I came to Charleston, WV, to serve a mostly Black church, St. James in Charleston. St. James sponsored a day care in Institute, where my son went .The kids exchanged Christmas ornaments and Josh got a strawberry. He was gravely disappointed.

It's still on our tree every Christmas.

Anyway, the chancellor of the Diocese (that's the lawyer for the Diocese) told a colleague, also an episcopalian, that the day care was run by 'uppity Negreas'. And she told me.

I told the vestry of St. James and they demanded that the Bishop fire him.

In a meeting with the Vestry, the Bishop told them the chancellor had said "Negeas", not the N-word and that since the man was from South-Western Virginia that was the pronunciation of 'Negroes' there.

I remember a member of the Vestry filling his pipe--people still smoked in public places back then--while saying, "Bishop, 'negreas' isn't the problem. It's 'uppity'.

The chancellor resigned.

Then, at the next diocesan convention, the bishop gave the former chancellor the 'bishop's medal of honor'. I fainted and fell down on the floor. EMT's interrupted the convention to take me to the hospital. J.F. (St. James' representative) and my friend Jorge were at my bedside when I woke up.

"Pretty impressive," Jorge said.

Bishop Atkinson gave me some of the best advice I've ever been given. I called him one day and said "bishop, is it ok if I....". He stopped me right there. "Jim," he said, "if you ask and I say 'no' and you do it anyway, which you probably will, l have to come down on you hard. If you just go do it and I don't approve, I'll just slap your hand."

Great advice. I've followed it ever since.

Then, years later, at St. John's in Waterbury, CT, I had put in the bulletin--"all are invited to receive communion"--which is what I always said, but writing it down really troubled a member of the parish and member of the choir, who complained to choir members who told me.

I went to him (knowing full well that under 'canon law', only baptized people can receive communion) and asked him about it. He denied he had said it and was angry with me.

A week later I received a letter from the bishop telling me to take it out of the bulletin.

I did, but you see, in my first 5 of 21 years there, I had baptized 5 people who came to the font because they had received at the table. If the font leads to the table, why can't the table lead to the font?

By the way, I never again acted on second hand information. If you have a problem with me, tell me.

Then, years later, I invited Integrity (GLBTQ Episcopalians) to use St. John's as their home.

Three (you guessed it) older white men were furious. A retired priest in the parish was Integrity's chaplain and he sat in on my private meetings with them. They were brutal.

So, with the other priest's advice, I drug the whole thing out into the open in parish wide meetings.

At the first one, one of the most respected members of the parish rose and shook his finger at the three. "My son is gay," he said, "and I am horrified that you think my son is evil."

That ended it.

The three left the parish and one came back with apologies I accepted.

I'm used to trouble.

I'm the 'rogue priest'.

I'm the 'fire starter'.

I like that.

(Everything I write here is 'my own opinion" only and does not reflect on the churches I serve.)

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About Me

some ponderings by an aging white man who is an Episcopal priest in Connecticut. Now retired but still working and still wondering what it all means...all of it.