Tuesday, January 4, 2011

writer's block

I have gotten stuck working on a chapter of memories from my priesthood. I'm not sure why so I thought I'd write about it here and see if I can either understand my stuckness or move through it.

The chapter is about events from my first parish. St. James in Charleston WV is now merged with another parish, but when I was there it was a separate mission church. A 'mission' merely means that the congregation is not self-supporting. In a diocese like WV there is a much different way of doing business than in a diocese like CT where there are more self-supporting parishes than mission congregations.

When I was in WV, there were 80 churches--30 were self-supporting. The other 50 were 'missions', which meant the 30 helped support the 50! I hear people complain about the voluntary 'assessment' of the Dio. of CT of 12.5% of total income. In WV in the 1970's the 'apportionment' the Diocese required was between 25% and 30%. And no one complained. "We were all in it together". The self-supporting congregations saw the mission churches as extensions of their mission and ministry. We all hung together. The attitude of many of the wealthier churches in CT is that we should all hang separately!

Anyhow, St. James eventually, years after I left, reached a self-supporting status for a while. It could have done so much sooner except for what I considered an obvious, if not intentional, plan by the diocese to keep the Black church in it's place. The two pockets of black population were in a certain area of Charleston and in the town, some dozen miles away called Institute, where WV State College, a historically black college, was located. By the time I got there, WVSt. was integrated by, mostly, white commuter students. Many of the black students were residential and much of the staff and faculty was African American.

The original St. James was in the black community of Charleston, near other black churches and black owned businesses. The Institute community was more mobile and affluent and could get to church. So, about a decade or so before I came to be the Vicar, the diocese built St. James a new church building--not in downtown Charleston OR in Institute--but in North Charleston, a mostly industrial neighborhood that was almost totally white in population. It was as if the Diocese wanted to 'split the distance' between the two communities. In fact, what happened, was the church was located where neither community wanted it.

Conspiracy theorist that I am, I decided the Diocese didn't move the church to Institute or keep the old church down town to intentionally keep St. James from thriving. That's just me thinkin' outloud, but it seemed--and still seems--true to me.

Anyhow, I have this chapter called "Of Clarity and Justice" written. It's about 15 pages long, but as I try to put it in a final draft, I'm just stuck.

Perhaps it is that I don't trust myself to be objective. I loved that church and those people. It was the best possible place to begin my ministry. I was the third white priest, I think since black priests were rarer and more expensive! My family and I were so totally and completely welcomed into that community in ways that a black priest would have never been in a white church. Both my children were born in Charleston and started life in the St. James community. In fact, they were so accustomed to being around black people that when we moved to New Haven and lived in a yuppie neighborhood, my son saw a black lady on the Green and ran over to hug her....

And I was fortunate beyond measure to serve three integrated churches. St. James was integrated while I was there by mixed race couples and white folks who really wanted to be there. St Paul's in New Haven was integrated both racially and socially and St. John's in Waterbury was the most diverse parish, I believe, in the diocese--especially after the Spanish congregation was formed. The old saying was 'the most segregated hour of the week is at 10 a.m. on Sunday morning." That's never been true for me and I am both humbled by and proud of that fact.

Anyway, besides being afraid I won't be objective in writing about what happened between the Diocese and the congregation, I think it makes me look a little too good. Most of what I've written has had a degree of self-effacement that isn't as present in this chapter. What happened was, for the most part, extremely good and the real work of transformation was done by the folks at St. James, not by me.

Maybe I'll move on to the next chapter and come back. That might be a way to get loosened up about it. Thanks for listening. This has been helpful....

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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.