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Conservative Parish Votes to Stay In TEC

St. Paul's, Hudson, WI. Fairly new building, cost more than $1 million.

I got a notice from a deacon today; “please take our church off your prayer list, we voted by 70% to stay in The Episcopal Church.”

So I took them off the list and tried to send some support either way.

I’m glad they stayed in, but 30% voted to leave.

It’s St. Paul’s, Hudson, in the Diocese of Eau Claire, Wisconsin.

Eau Claire is known as conservative and Catholic. It’s also isolated, out of the way and has never been very big. There aren’t any major cities there, and TEC skews urban. I should know, it’s hard to be a smalltown Episcopalian. My home parish is 50 miles away in another time zone.

Hudson’s website is one of the stranger ones I’ve seen. They have a link to a missionary-musician’s website, and “Youth Program” takes you to a Myspace page that hasn’t been updated in years, but cheerfully informs you that Tom has been kicked out for not showing up. “Eat it Tom!”

Evidently the administrator stopped showing up too.

You can also see documents on parish votes, all heavily in favor, on such topics as the Authority of Holy Scripture, the Lordship and Uniqueness of Jesus Christ, the Anglican Communion and Marriage and Blessings. Evidently these were submitted as resolutions to the diocesan convention, where four out of five were voted down.

They were all upset that TEC wasn’t complying with the anti-Gay Windsor Report, which never had any force or authority in this Church.

But in 2010 the parish took another vote and 70% of them want to stay Episcopalians. The other 30% do not.

I ought to keep them on the prayer list, don’t you think. But the deacon wrote to say, stop praying for us, we voted.

I’m glad they didn’t walk out. But I don’t understand anyone who wants to walk out in the first place, much less agitates sufficiently to put it to a vote.

My parish has never voted on queers; has yours?

It’s insulting to assert that we have to vote on the authority of Scripture, or the Lordship and Uniqueness of Jesus Christ. It’s somebody standing up and yelling in the parish hall, “These people in TEC aren’t good enough Christians!”

Or “I’m holier than thou.”

Lord have mercy. Please, God, spare us these people.

(But maybe with that statement I just kicked out Tom.)

It makes me wonder how a particular place, a parish or diocese, takes on a flavor of churchmanship or theology, incorporates that into its identity, develops a self-reinforcing reputation for it, and then fights off all challengers real or imagined.

To most of us St. Paul’s, Hudson looks fairly fundamentalist. How did that happen in the Episcopal Church? But it’s in an Anglo-Catholic diocese, so there’s more to the story; how did the diocese go Anglo-Catholic?

How does it happen that we have liberal dioceses, Broad Church/mainstream dioceses and conservative dioceses?

I live on the border between the dioceses of Indianapolis and Northern Indiana. One place hates Gay people; one place loves Gay people. What the hell is that?

Indy is Broad Church, Northern Indiana is High Church? How did that come about?

Was it some kind of Cult of the Leader? Why would a whole diocese be one way or the other?

How does it happen that parishes develop along ideological/theological lines? Why is Sydney, Australia more Calvinist than Calvin was?

Maybe it’s helpful to look at Smokey Mary’s in New York.

Do you know you can actually Google that, and the first thing that comes up is “Church of St. Mary the Virgin”?

Erwin De Leon documents a visit here, quite a lovely tribute.

It’s the most famous Anglo-Catholic parish in the United States, and its history is unique. It was founded specifically to be the highest of the High Churches, and incorporated to protect itself from anyone’s opposition or intervention, especially that of the Bishop or Convention of New York. Smokey’s going to do what it wants to do, and fuckyew if you don’t like it.

They love incense at Smokey Mary's; I envy them, because we don't get it.

Other parishes and dioceses, it’s less clear how they came to their current character.

The Diocese of Indianapolis ordained the first woman priest on the first day it was legal, the Rev. Jacqueline Means on New Year’s Day 1977. That was obviously a conscious decision made by “my” Bishop John Pares Craine. (Other women were ordained “irregularly” starting in 1974.) DioIndy is a Broad Church, mainstream, liberal diocese. The current bishop is Our Gal Cate™.

I’m fond of saying we wouldn’t give her up for anything. People love her. She’s not a cutting-edge national leader on any issue I can think of, but she fits this place, and when she talks, we listen. Our diocese will host the next General Convention in part to honor her. The whole Church likes her; she’s Our Gal Cate.

But ten miles up the road in the Diocese of Northern Indiana they’re scared to death of queers. How did that happen?

It fancies itself an Anglo-Catholic place, better and wiser than the hicks down south who don’t know anything; they’d never say it that way but it’s the truth.

They are far smaller in miles, dollars and numbers, but they do carry on proudly. More power to ’em.

How did they come to decide, “We shall be High Church, male, Catholic, anti-Gay and in a horrible panic over the ‘future of the Anglican Communion'”?

They’re not schismatic; the current Bishop Ed Little gets credit for that. But oh, he does agitate against homos because the pope told him to or somethin’.

I paint with a broad brush; Ed doesn’t hate people. But he seems not to realize all his agitation has the same effect as hating people.

Northern Indiana’s never had a woman bishop and maybe never will. They got all excited when a previous bishop’s consecration was held at Notre Dame University, which is like the U.S. home of the pope!

Sorry, kiddos, compared to you I’m a Protester.

When the Diocese of Northern Indiana was carved out, the sitting Bishop of Indiana John Hazen White moved from Indianapolis to South Bend. That’s probably what started it. Maybe he was disgusted by the Low Church attitudes of the hicks and farmers he was dealing with. He knew better, so he started over in a new place. The people he attracted coalesced around his preferences, they followed where he led, and Northern Indiana differentiated itself, took on a Catholic identity that way.

It hurts me that they’re anti-Gay; it hurts Lesbian and Gay kids in their hometowns, their parishes and families.

This is what is wrong with these cults of personality. White must have been the finest guy around. But it didn’t mean his shit didn’t stink.

We mistake the founder’s prejudices for the truth.

Or, in the case of Bishop Craine, we go along with the Head Man’s beliefs because we like him. I remember Jackie Means, the first “regular” woman priest. She was a working class gal, not conventionally educated, and her big thing was prison ministry. She was superb at it, and Bishop Craine believed in her. There’s now a John P. Craine House in Indy which provides transitional housing and support services for female nonviolent offenders on release from prison. I support it financially and commend it to all; I’m proud of it, and of the success of its residents. It’s a worthy tribute to the man, and hardly the first thing that comes to mind when considering the mission of the Episcopal Church.

But I seriously doubt Jackie Means would have won a plebiscite on ordination; I might not have voted for her either. Bishop Craine solved that by not putting it up to a vote. Yet here’s this parish in rural Wisconsin voting on whether queers can get married. Big surprise, they voted like Republicans; it’s a small town, how else would they vote?

But they also voted 70-30 to stay with us, and wow, am I impressed.

I read an attack the other day on the Broad Church; the first time I’d ever seen that. A conservative (Catholic? Protestant? I don’t remember) claimed we ruined everything theologically—although they always argue “theology” when it’s really “politics.”

Some of our inclinations simply arise from demographics; no one looks to the Diocese of Quincy for original thought. Ditto San Joaquin and Fort Worth. Pittsburgh, though, is another matter, the epicenter of Anglican schism.

It’s been clear since at least the 1970’s that Pittsburgh was going fundamentalist. “Trinity School for Ministry” (formerly the Church Army Training Center, before they kicked out all the queers) is located in that diocese. It now advertises on schismatic websites. What happened in that place to send all the swine off the cliff?

A bishop gets elected; he doesn’t have much formal power, but he’s certainly influential, so he influences. He favors a certain theology or practice; he surrounds himself with staff members, and makes appointments, favors some people and disfavors others, and gradually gains sway over every major decision. Rectors do it too; it’s expected almost. The laypeople are not by and large paying attention.

Then one day you wake up in a homophobic diocese—or New Hampshire, with a Gay bishop. It could go either way.

Eventually that bishop retires, but the people he’s put in place keep running things, so all the replacement nominees are basically People Who Agree With That Guy, and the tone of the diocese or parish starts to turn to stone.

Fort Worth “always” elects conservatives. Quincy “always” elects Anglo-Catholics. Indianapolis “always” favors women’s ordination. Northern Indiana “never” does. It’s an insidious process that depends on laypeople not paying attention.

It’s aided and abetted by the deference many people still give to the clergy. I’m not saying they don’t deserve it; I know lots of great bishops, priests and deacons.

But never bow down to them in procession; that was not Jesus Christ who just walked by. She may be his representative, but that’s all. (Anglo-Catholics teach you to defer to the priest; Protestants refuse to, and they’re right.)

So here we are, 2010, Anglican Wars are dying down, liberals are in and conservatives are out; I like it that way because it means some Gay kid in Plymouth, Indiana is not getting battered by his or her church. Or Hudson, Wisconsin or Quincy, Illinois. Child-battering is a sin, and this applies to Gay issues!

But I’m very pleased to hear from St. Paul’s, Hudson; they think we’re wrong but they don’t want to leave. Hallelujah!

What they do with the 30% who voted to leave is probably just watch them go.

Eau Claire can’t afford that. The Episcopal Church can’t afford that. Who died and made us prophets, y’know?

But it’s what we’re called to, so it’s what we’re doing, hesitantly and not very well; and it’s not like homophobes in Hudson can’t find another place to go.

It isn’t easy being a prophet, though; it’s a crucifixion.++

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