Ft. Worth Supreme Court Decision Should Be a Governance Wakeup Call to TEC

Ft. Worth Illustrates Need to Improve TEC Governance

Earlier today, the US Supreme Court declined to grant certiorari to loyalist factions seeking to maintain Episcopal control over church assets in the Ft. Worth area. As a result, dissident factions how have unquestioned control of formerly Episcopal assets, thanks to a Texas Supreme Court decision that grants property to the dissidents. While the outcome is painful for many, and wrongheaded, for it overrules the ability of the Episcopal Church to manage its internal affairs, the decision should be a wakeup call for the denomination. Specifically, the denomination needs to clean up its feckless approach to governance.

History of the “Dennis Canon”

The so-called Dennis Canon was passed by General Convention in 1979, and was named after an attorney, Walter Dennis, who late became suffragan bishop of New York. In a nutshell, the measure established a trust interest in parish and diocesan property in the larger denomination.

The move made good sense. While such an approach was traditional, the matter had been left largely to chance prior to passage of the measure. At the same time, it was a much-needed provision, for it is difficult to plan, for example, to leave one’s estate to a parish if there’s no assurance that the assets indeed will remain Episcopal.

Implementation — About What You’d Expect

The problem comes in the implementation and deployment of the Dennis Canon.

Under the church’s constitution and canons, all dioceses must adopt an accession clause, in which they agree to, and adopt by reference, the national constitution and canons. Thus, to my belief, all the dioceses require parishes to adopt their own accession clauses.

But in true Episcopal Church fashion, many dioceses pay scant attention to this issue. Indeed, in the South Carolina litigation, a number of parishes were found to be operating without any accession clause in their governing documents. Nor were these recently established parishes; most had been around for quite some time. Similarly, TEC for many years ignored, without objection, changes to the Ft. Worth canons, as recognized by the Texas Supreme Court:

Episcopal church ignored canonical violations

And while it is clear that adoption of an accession clause would not, in itself, have been adequate to prevent the Ft. Worth debacle, nothing prohibits dioceses from going further in ensuring that Episcopal assets remain Episcopal. The Diocese of Virginia, for example, specifically requires that trustees be named in favor of the diocese, and that the ecclesiastical authority or bishop may take action to recover property that may be at risk.

Nor is there anything to prevent a bishop from exercising her authority to issue pastoral directives requiring all rectors, for example, from sending her a copy of church governance documents. Or to execute deeds specifically in favor of an express trust interest to the diocese.

And while I’m often aghast at feckless attitudes and behaviors at the diocesan level, as someone whose will used to leave the entire remainder interest in my estate to my former parish, I would not see this as an inappropriate exercise of episcopal authority. Indeed, I would find it reassuring to know that my testamentary intent would likely be fulfilled.

Meanwhile, it is quite common to see dioceses ignore the national canons with impunity. Indeed, here in Virginia, one of the bishops sat on the tribunal that tried the ironically named Bishop Love for his refusal to implement same-sex marriage in his diocese, even as the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia blatantly ignores the clergy disciplinary provisions of Title IV. Not a great precedent if the diocese again skids into court over property issues, or any other issue involving enforcement of church canons.

For the Record

For the record, I did provide financial support to loyalist factions here in Virginia during the property recovery litigation, doing so both openly and anonymously. And my heart aches for generations of faithful Episcopalians whose generosity has been undone by a bunch of dissidents.

I also recognize that, representations to the contrary notwithstanding, the issues with the dissidents often have little to do with those of us, me included, in the LGBTQ+ community. Yes, we are a favorite scapegoat, and no doubt there are many among the dissident factions with no great love for us.

But my experience is that the issues usually transcend LGBTQ+ equality. Indeed, at the Falls Church and Truro, both near my home, my interaction with their rectors over the years suggested that the real issues involved power and control. That became particularly clear after John Yates, the long-time rector of The Falls Church Episcopal, was allegedly passed up for a bishopric—which in hindsight seems a prescient decision.

The Blind Eye Continues

And while I certainly am not privy to the internal discussions of all the dioceses, I see no sign that most dioceses have learned anything from this debacle.

Indeed, this is an appropriate role for the creaky old heap that is church headquarters, otherwise known as 815, after its street address in Manhattan. Given the huge chunk of rapidly dwindling revenue that church headquarters consumes, addressing these issues would, if nothing else, be a matter of self-interest.

Meanwhile, the larger church dithers over revisions to the Book of Common Prayer, which at this pace never will happen given the current rate of decline in TEC membership.

How might the church address issues involving property ownership?

  • First, it’s time to revisit the Dennis Canon and take action to strengthen it. For instance, establishing a church tribunal to adjudicate property disputes would make clear, as a First Amendment matter, that the church wishes to decide such issues for itself, without resort to the secular courts. Similarly, given the aging demographics of the denomination and thus the amount of wealth set to pass in the next 20 years, it makes sense to require all dioceses and parishes to execute and record deeds in favor of the denomination, so that there is a clear mechanism for the passage of wealth.
  • Second, we need to look at ways the national church can hold bequests and other assets for dioceses and parishes in a way that ensures mission integrity. This includes strengthening the Episcopal Church Foundation (ECF), which in my firsthand experience doesn’t even reply to requests for additional information. (Yes, at one point I tried to set up a bequest to ECF in my will. Having never heard back, that option now is off the table.) Thus, if the ECF doesn’t already have this set up, there should be a dedicated, restricted trust for each and every diocese. Meanwhile, ECF needs to act in way that shows it takes its mandate seriously.
  • Third, bishops need to take seriously implementation and enforcement of the Dennis Canon and other provisions that ensure that parishes truly are Episcopal. Over the years, I’ve been a member of more than one parish that flagrantly ignores church canons, with one openly flouting canons regarding the election of vestry members. This sort of thing is easy to ignore, but doing so can readily lead to later regrets. And some parishes have been at odds with Episcopal polity for decades, with zero consequences. That simply cannot continue.
  • Fourth, dioceses need to be open to vestry members and other leaders who raise concerns about parish governance. In my experience, many bishops refer such concerns back to local vestries, but that is basically a non-starter, for far too many vestries are nothing but rubber stamps for clergy who have settled in to become little mini-monarchs. A bishop, however, has the ability to handle such issues with courtesy and discretion, especially if the expectation is set in advance that the diocese pays attention to such issues. Indeed, one bishop whom I generally hold in high regard expressly cautions clergy that he expects churches to comply with diocesan audit requirements — and a failure to have a clean audit can and will be regarded as a canonical offense.

Of course, challenges with good governance in the Episcopal Church extend beyond just the Dennis Canon. The Ft. Worth debacle illustrates the importance of paying attention at every level to good governance, and the perils when these issues are ignored.

Thus, bishops as a group, the presiding bishop, and the church as a whole have an obligation to model good governance, to set high standards of good governance, and to insist that church leaders act with honor and integrity. That means vestries that are accountable and empowered, that understand Episcopal polity (a great many don’t), and clergy and staff that are held to the highest standards on every front.

The current paradigm, in which corporate America consistently displays standards that exceed that of the church, simply has to end.

Good governance simply is not too much to ask.

 

 

Further Reflections on the Max Debacle

Arrogant Randy Hollerith

Earlier today, I was a participant in the Zoom meeting with +Budde and Randy Hollerith over the Max Lucado debacle. Here are my thoughts:

  • Bishop Budde was far more convincing than Randy Hollerith. Specifically, +Budde opens up and becomes vulnerable as she discusses this mess. Randy seems very much the narcissist who has learned responses by rote, and lacks real understanding of the underlying issues.
  • My feeling is that +Budde is spot on when she says she is not the person she thought she was. And that’s probably true for many of us—we reach inflection points in life where we realize that we are blind to our own shortcomings.
  • Randy Hollerith in particular does not appear to understand a Christian theology of forgiveness. Indeed, while he repeatedly said he was sorry, at one point he says there is nothing he can do to undo the hurt he has caused. And while for many, myself included, that is true, neither does it give him a free pass. And forgiveness and reconciliation by definition require reparation. Indeed, Randy appears to fall into the cheap grace camp so common in TEC.
  • There was considerable tension in the chat room. Some were quite angry, including at the fact there was no time for Q&A; others drew criticism for immediately saying, “Thanks for the apologies, everything is fine.”
  • While +Budde talked about how this is just a beginning, and the virtual meeting was undeniably a necessity, the whole thing feels like too little, too late.
  • While Hollerith acknowledged his arrogance in pressing ahead with Lucado despite myriad warnings, he still doesn’t appear to grasp just how incredibly arrogant he was and is to lecture others on being open to other viewpoints, even as he refused to listen to others who warned him of the impending danger.
  • I am reminded of the incredible arrogance and stupidity of his wife Melissa Hollerith in her role as President of the Virginia Disciplinary Committee. This is a woman who can look you in the eye and say that illegal behavior by clergy is okay as long as criminal charges are involved. This is a telling barometer of the narcissistic thinking that appears to be front and center in the Hollerith household.

We also have not meaningful change. Yes, lots of references to doing things differently going forward, but very few details, and Randy Hollerith has not offered to step down. Given the pain he’s caused to so many, resigning would be the courteous and right thing to do.

In short, if Randy Hollerith doesn’t have the common sense to avoid going over this cliff in the first place, we shouldn’t run the risk that’s going to show such remarkably bad judgment a second time.

What if Churches Took Lent Seriously?

What if Churches Took Lent Seriously?

From the earliest days of Christianity, the church has treated Lent as a time of prayer, penance, and preparation for the Paschal feast of Easter. But in recent years, it seems like Lent has become much like making New Years’ resolutions: A sort of whimsical exercise where, for example, we give up chocolate for a few weeks, safe in the knowledge we’ll be up to our ears in Easter candy before too long.

But what if we really took the notion of repentance seriously? What if one Sunday in Lent were a time when we really sought to repair relationships, both inside and outside of the church?

I’m thinking, for example, of the recent Church of England study that examined how the church responds to victims of abuse; the study is available in PDF here. Among its findings was that survivors overwhelmingly reported being dissatisfied with the church’s response to their reports of abuse, with a large number saying they received no meaningful response at all. Indeed, the reports notes what while the church purports to offer an outstretched hand of partnership to those it has hurt, its processes, attitudes and actions often inflict “further abuse, betrayal and conflict.”

At the same time, the report found that abuse is widespread. Indeed, so much so that the report recommends publishing the intake number for making reports every single Sunday, in every single church bulletin. In addition, the report suggests placing contact information in church bathrooms and other high-use locations, so that it will be readily available. The fact that these suggestions are even on the table is damning, and anecdotal evidence suggests that The Episcopal Church is no different.

What’s interesting too, is that the Church of England increasingly is moving beyond The Episcopal Church in recognizing that abuse need not be sexual. Abuse can be spiritual, emotional, relational, financial and more. But the key, the study finds, is making it easy for survivors to come forward.

So what if Episcopal churches made it easy to come forward? Right now, in this time, in this place, during this Lent? What if one Sunday were a Safe Sunday, dedicated to hearing, with an open heart and mind, of sins within the church? Not just sexual abuse, but of the backbiting, gossip, abuse of power, bullying, and myriad other issues that go on in all churches sooner or later? Of the re-traumatization that happens all too often when people turn to the church in good faith, only to find that their concerns are brushed off, dismissed, or ignored?

What if, right here and now, all involved made a meaningful effort to welcome these reports and begin the process of repentance and possible reconciliation?

Of course, it might take a while for people to come forward. The disincentives to disclosure that have built up over the centuries won’t be washed away in a single Sunday. But as clergy and lay leaders begin to share their experiences with sin, abuse, and trauma, all evidence suggests that there will be plenty of people who will be able to join the discussion.

So, as the church discusses the #metoo and #churchtoo movements, my belief is there’s no time like the present to take action. Instead of waiting for reports from various church committees, or the next general convention, why not make next Sunday your safe day for victims of abuse to come forward? Why not pick up the phone to invite people who may have left the church due to conflict or misunderstanding to share their experiences, and maybe even come back? Even if they say no, having made a sincere effort is better than sitting in silence and hoping for the best. And it adds credibility to the language that will be heard in many churches this Easter about “respecting the dignity of every human being.”

Isn’t real repentance what Lent is really about?

 

 

 

 

Online Services will Be Suicide for Many Episcopal Churches

Online Call to Action at Kings College

One of the moves many churches, in all denominations, have made in response to the pandemic is the move to virtual services, either streamed live or pre-recorded. But there is reason to be wary, for some, myself included, believe that streaming services will, in the not-distant future, prove fatal for many parishes.

Origin of the Parish

Before we go further, let’s take a look at parishes, and how they are part of the picture.

The notion of a parish, long rooted in churches with an episcopal polity, goes back to at least the sixth century.

Tied to Anglo-Saxon notions of townships as local units of governance, the eighth Archbishop of Canterbury, Theodore of Tarsus, is thought to have formally implemented the structure in the English church. As a result, local clergy were assigned to each local township, where they acted in concert, and often were, local government officials.

This structure was increasingly formalized over the centuries that followed, and is today formally recognized in the statutes pertaining to the Church of England, as well as church canons in the US.

Role in the Modern Church

Of course, in the modern church, we see that the notion of a parish already is a little shaky.

No longer closely aligned with geography, many churchgoers choose a parish not based on geography, but instead on the fit and feel of a particular church, its particular form of piety, the fellowship opportunities it affords, and more. That’s even true in the far more rigidly hierarchical Roman church, where suburban worshippers often choose a parish based on whether it is perceived as liberal or conservative, family friendly, etc.

Hand in hand with the decline of the parish as a quasi-geographical construct is the notion that church membership is no longer normative.

Indeed, I remember as a child moving to a new town, and immediately getting the question, “Where do you go to church?.” While such a question today would be unusual, if not downright weird, in those days one could infer a great deal about one’s lot in life from the church she or he attended.

The result is that today we can pick and choose, and there is empirical evidence to suggest that people have much less loyalty today to one particular parish or denomination. And that’s a good thing, because it provides an incentive for churches to engage with their members, to act with integrity, and to not take parishioners for granted.

Online Business Model

But things get complex, if not downright ugly, if we take a look at the business model behind online worship, or lack thereof.

Of course, right about now, there’s more than one reader gnashing their teeth and saying that church is not a business. And while we can debate that point endlessly, the reality is that churches have bills to pay, just like other non-profit organizations.

For starters, we need to recognize that the Internet is the great equalizer, providing access to information in ways that would have been unimaginable 50 years ago. Indeed, while 50 years ago church might be one of the few outlets for socialization outside work, the internet and social media make it possible to interact throughout the week with friends and family. Thus, church already has lost one of its key selling points for previous generations.

Meanwhile, there’s plenty of opportunity for online worship already out there.

One can jump online and quickly do a virtual visit to King’s Chapel in England for a quick redux of Lessons and Carols, followed by Mass with the Pope, then on to a Pentecostal service marked by speaking in tongues. One can even pursue some of the murkier corners of Christianity, including content from places like the hate-filled Westboro Baptist church. (More on that later.)

But behind the scenes we see a different, larger problem, which is that many of the ostensibly free services that online consumers take for granted have deployed highly effective strategies to monetize their online users. Whether it is the all-pervasive data profiling and reselling of data via Google, Facebook, Twitter and other social media giants, or the ad sales that support small sites, like Episcopal Cafe, there is relatively little on the web that actually is free.

Thus, churches have blundered into a space in which consumers typically have the expectation that the goods or services they receive are free. And much like Amazon Prime, the online world is all about quick results, with overnight delivery, easy returns, and more. In short, it’s almost the opposite of traditional church life, in which cancel culture collides with notions of long-term church membership and support.

To make matters worse, online worship is nice. Really nice. All of the taste, none of the calories of “real” church.

This morning, for example, I attended virtual services at a nearby Episcopal church in my ratty bathrobe and fuzzy wool socks. A long string of announcements in the middle of the service allowed for two warm and absolutely delicious sticky buns. And I loudly slurped down four Monster energy drinks, a throwback to years of getting up at 4 AM to trudge off to work.

In short, this morning was wonderful. Beautiful music, a great sermon, a delicious breakfast.

But I’d be less than honest if I didn’t admit that what was missing from virtual church added to my pleasant online experience.

No wailing children whose parents don’t want to ask them to sit still.

No catty remarks or evil looks from ladies in the altar guild.

No having to overhear ridiculous gossip at coffee hour about alleged extramarital affairs by parishioners, speculation about the sexual orientation of others, critical comments about the deteriorating parking lot, or any of the other silliness that mars in-person worship.

In short, all good, no bad.

And since I’m not a member of that church, I don’t particularly feel the need to donate. Indeed, nothing in the live-streamed service asked me to do so. I might go back later this afternoon and see if I can donate. But knowing that church and its website, the online donation form will be hard to find, involve filling out all sorts of information, and doom me to a lifetime of the parish’s badly written newsletter in my inbox. And for sure the church doesn’t take Apple Pay, which I love. So I’ll swing by the website later today, but I’m not making any promises.

In the meantime, those of us attending online worship services like it so well, we may never be back for the “real” deal, even when the coast is clear due to COVID-19.

The Episcopal Church and the Big Ask

All of that implicates another issue, which is one baked into the very DNA of the Episcopal church. That is the dreaded need to ask for money

Let’s be honest: It’s an issue at every church, and one where even the most gregarious priests suddenly act like the 18-year old at McDonalds, asking for a raise, when facing requests to support a stewardship campaign.

In fact, if you’re lucky, you may even get a priest who mentions a specific revenue goal, and apprises of efforts to reach that goal.

Nor are lay “leaders” any better. They may be perfectly comfortable (real life example) gossiping at coffee hour about a member who allegedly had a penile implant, or speculating about other’s personal lives, but asking for money? That is a step too far and one likely to be met with stiff resistance.

Indeed, asking for money is like the old joke about Episcopalians and fishing: Put a bucket by the ocean, pour a stiff drink and wait for the fish to jump in.

In fact, the best you can hope for in most parishes is the relatively lame, “There’s still time to make your pledge for 2021.” And that is true even in parishes facing dire economic pressure.

Of course, that contrasts sharply with evangelicals. Yes, the money may be going to pay for a private jet, a big house, or other inappropriate expenses, but quite a few will stand in front of the TV cameras, tears pouring down their faces, as they beg, plead, and entreat you to further the work of the Lord by sending cash. NOW.

Do I espouse an evangelical model? No, of course not. But unless churches have the courage to say upfront what they need, they probably will not have their needs met. And churches that are bad about these issues in person are even worse when they are online.

Online Engagement, Content and Revenue

That raises another question, which is how much demand is there for online services? The answer, I suspect, is relatively little.

We already know of several churches that have long had a vibrant online presence. St. Thomas’ Manhattan, St. John the Divine, Trinity Wall Street, and the National Cathedral all offer glorious  settings, beautiful music, and high-end videographers. Indeed, many of these churches have been online for years, have amassed large audiences, and know firsthand how to produce not only an excellent online service, but how to pull in donations as a result.

That leaves the average suburban parish at a profound disadvantage. Equipped with volunteer videographers, often mediocre audio-visual setups, no existing audiences, and no concept of online presence as inherently interactive, far too many resort to their usual trick of putting a bucket by the ocean and waiting. As a result, they have little or no concept of how to draw revenue from their online worship.

Nor is the Episcopal liturgy particularly suited for live-streaming.

Devoid of personal participation and community, ancient forms of worship may become nothing but tired rote when broadcast online.

Similarly hymns, often dating from Victorian times and sung by a choir and congregation with the help of a massive pipe organ, can sound trite when posted online.

In short, evangelicals have long known that online survival goes to the fittest, which often comprises the most colorful, the most engaging, and the most interactive. Indeed, we may laugh at images of folks like Tammy Faye Bakker, but there were solid business reasons for her garish makeup and clothes.

Nor does online attention necessarily align with the quality or truth of one’s message.

Consider Westboro Baptist, an otherwise small and relatively inconsequential church, with its ugly anti-LGBTQ showmanship. We may loath the message, but the in-your-face rhetoric has given the church worldwide name recognition far beyond that of most Episcopal churches, or even cathedrals. Indeed, absent punitive damages or some other major misstep, the media savvy of hatemongers like Westboro Baptist may well result in that church outliving the Episcopal Church.

Compounding matters is the fact that the average 20-something is used to getting Twitter, Snapchat, Facebook (if they still bother with the latter) and other online services for free. Few, unless they are in the industry, could tell you where the money comes from, let alone what the underlying business model is, even as their fingers dash across the screens of their iPhones, sending out selfies on Snapchat. Thus, young people, the future of the church, are unlikely to see a connection between pledging and their ability to attend virtual services, even as many will find that streaming services don’t provide the stimulation that are used to getting from online media.

Nor do the mainline churches have social media influencers who can help. Yes, there are thousands of talking heads on YouTube offering everything from fashion and beauty tips to live-streamed funerals and the ever-popular top-ten lists, and more. But even among young Episcopal clergy there’s relatively little social media presence.

As for older clergy, many have only the vaguest idea of social media and how it works. Indeed, we get a wry chuckle out of middle-aged clergy who proclaim their passion for evangelization and outreach, yet haven’t updated their Facebook page in six months. And forget Twitter or Snapchat. Such cluelessness means they don’t even know what questions to ask, let alone the answers to those questions.

Neither is our average vestry member going to offer much help. Older and often resistant to change, the notion of social media is alien for most, and there are very few within the Episcopal Church who can discuss with any authority things like the freemium model so common for online services today.

Thus, looking around, we see little to suggest that the Episcopal Church even understands the contact in which it streams online services, let alone the implications for parishes, or steps needed to prevent their online presence from eroding what little revenue stream many parishes have left.

Other Asks

Beyond the need for most churches to figure out how to ask for money online, there’s another issue that slaps even the casual observer in the face when viewing online services. That observation is that virtually all services omit even the most basic thing in marketing and fundraising, which is an ask.

Specifically, when someone is done watching the service, what would you like them to do? Email the church office? Subscribe to the church newsletter? Volunteer at your food pantry? Come back next week?

And in every case, effective marketing stands traditional writing on its head. In other words, traditional writing removes redundancy. Marketing copy lives and dies by redundancy.

Because viewers may tune in at the beginning of a service, mid-stream, at the tail end, or via an archived copy, it’s important that the ask be repeated multiple times. Thus, an effective video features a welcoming lead-in, a trailer, and at least one reference during the video, probably during the announcements. And ideally, it should have appear via popup or ticker tape several times during the video.

It’s also important not to turn off comments. Far too many churches worry they’ll get online trolls and haters commenting. And while there are strategies and software to reduce the risk, the reality is it will happen. And that’s okay, because we cannot grow the church if we are afraid to get our hands dirty. Indeed, young people, and those fleeing evangelical churches, want an experience that is authentic. So if all we can offer is a thoroughly sanitized version of stained glass, flowers, music, sunsets and Chardonnay, folks won’t be interested. So better to deal with the trolls and grow the church, than offer an inauthentic and dying vision of the church.

On a related note, a vibrant online presence means we will get haters. But that is okay too, as it means that our message is getting out there. On the other hand (and yes, I am thinking of specific churches here), we try to shut down free speech, we will discover that denizens of the Internet relish freedom of speech and a diversity of opinions. In other words, churches that try to suppress criticism by going to court, counterattacking, and the usual bag of tricks will discover that the last laugh is on them, as people quickly turn their backs on an organized church that is too precious and narcissistic to deal with the reality of life online.

Nor is it okay to sit in splendid silence when your church draws reviews, positive or negative. Comments are like an online focus group, and prompt, thoughtful, courteous responses show that you take reputational issues seriously and are open to engagement. As one expert says:

People who read blogs have a lot of power – the power of influence. I can’t think of a single thing that a business needs more than the regular input from their customers. After all, businesses need is to know what people will buy, right?

Similarly, while this applies to all churches, those that want a cyber presence need to be especially careful to be on their good behavior. Gone are the days when church bullies can act badly towards someone who sits in their pew, says or does something they don’t like, and more, and think that the person on the receiving end will just quietly slink away. Indeed, a single negative Yelp review can profoundly damage a church, and Forbes reports that 94 percent of consumers avoid for-profit businesses with bad reviews, while two-thirds of consumers check out online reviews before making a purchase. Ibid. That percentage skyrockets when looking at younger consumers.

Given that many Episcopal Churches already are dying, and the fact that there are plenty of other choices out there, we cannot afford to have people leave the church, let alone leave and be unhappy with their experiences.

Going, Going….

There’s an old adage, profoundly relevant to the Episcopal Church, which is that if we don’t know where we are going, that is exactly where we wind up.

That adage is painfully true when it comes to online services. Far too many churches turned to virtual services as a survival strategy for the pandemic, with zero thought to the larger implications of this tactic. And while for some churches there may still be time to think through their online strategy and business model, the reality is that the advent of online worship will be the decision that causes a great many churches, already struggling to survive, to collapse.

As for those churches not in near-term danger of financial collapse, the message is this: Sit up. Pay attention. Think through your online presence. Draw on those who can help you be successful online. Don’t assume that just streaming services will save your church, or even that steaming services are inherently a good thing.

As for churches that don’t, it’s a safe bet they are goners.

More on Max Meltdown

Arrogant Randy Hollerith

There have been some recent developments in the Max Lucado debacle at the National Cathedral, which I like to refer to as the Max Meltdown.

And while those developments seem well-intended, they may prove to be too little, too late. These developments include apologies from Cathedral Dean Randy Hollerith and Bishop Mariann Budde, as well as a listening session to be held on February 21 at 7:00 PM eastern.

History

For those not already following the Max Meltdown, the National Cathedral recently had Max Lucado, a prominent evangelical preacher, deliver a sermon via the Cathedral’s livestream. Standing at the pulpit, Lucado spoke about the power of the Holy Spirit.

So far, so good.

But the problem was that Lucado has a long history of anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric, including claiming that sexual minorities are outside God’s saving grace, and comparing same-sex marriage to bestiality.

The result, not surprisingly, was uproar within the Episcopal church that included not just the LGBTQ+ community, but also many who value diversity and inclusion.

One prominent critic was Jim Naughton, former canon for communication to the Episcopal Diocese of Washington (EDOW), now a partner in Canticle Communications, who was quoted by the Episcopal News Service:

“I just think this is a staggering display of presumption on their part,” said Jim Naughton, a former canon for communications with the Diocese of Washington who served under then-Bishop John Chane from 2002 to 2009. Naughton, now a partner in Canticle Communications, spoke to Episcopal News Service by phone on Feb. 5.

“Max Lucado does not have any problem making himself heard. He does not need the cathedral, the pulpit of Washington National Cathedral, to reach his audience,” Naughton said. “The issue is whether Washington National Cathedral wants to give its imprimatur to him and wants to extend the prestige of its pulpit. … I find it incredibly disrespectful.”

Warnings of Danger

Nor were Naughton’s comments the only warning that trouble was lurking.

In the run-up to Lucado’s sermon, social media lit up over the topic, with posters on Facebook overwhelmingly criticizing the decision to invite Lucado.

Other notables, including the Rev. Susan Russell, an activist, Episcopal priest, and ardent supporter of equality, also weighed in. “Everyone is welcome in the church, but not every perspective is welcome in the pulpit,” she said.

Nor were Randy Hollerith or +Budde unaware of the looming danger of a Max Meltdown. Indeed, both have acknowledged they got numerous phone calls and emails expressing unhappiness with the decision, which they brushed off or ignored.

Indeed, even as a petition ramped up on change.org, Hollerith tried to hold the line, sending out the following missive to those who contacted him, which basically said, “Thanks for nothing. Now shove off.”

First, I want to thank you for writing to share your thoughts about our upcoming guest preacher, Max Lucado, and for sharing the petition and signatures with me. I value your feedback as a member of our Cathedral family.

I also want to underscore that our commitment to our LGBTQ brothers and sisters is unshakable and unchanged. As you know, this Cathedral has long been a beacon for LGBTQ inclusion, and we believe in that because we believe the Gospel calls us to nothing short of full embrace and inclusion. That said, I understand why Max’s earlier statements  on LGBTQ issues would cause concern, and I want you to know that I share your concerns.  As an ally of the LGBTQ community myself, it grieves me when churches or religion are used as weapons against God’s LGBTQ children.

Let me share why we invited Max to preach. We have to come out of our corners, find common ground where we can, and find ways to live with and see each other as the beloved children of God that we are. We have all grown too accustomed in our silos and echo chambers. In order to start the process of rebuilding, we need to hear from each other.

That does not mean we will always agree. In fact, I don’t agree with Max’s views on LGBTQ issues. We can still hold our convictions and cling to our values in the midst of disagreement. But the work that we cannot ignore is the vitally important task of what Isaiah called “repairing the breach.” That starts, first and foremost, with those with whom we disagree. When we only engage with those with whom we agree on every issue, we find ourselves in a dangerous (and lonely) place. My hope is that all churches and faith communities will find ways to open their doors to perspectives different from their own.

This Cathedral is a house of prayer for all people, proudly so. That means this Cathedral, and this pulpit, are big enough and strong enough to welcome pastors, rabbis, imams, clergy of every faith. It does not mean we agree with everything they might believe, but it does mean that we exhibit and inhabit a sense of open handed welcome.

Again, thank you for writing. I do appreciate it, and I do hear you. I hope you’ll join us on Sunday, and I look forward to remaining in dialogue with you.

The Very Rev. Randolph Marshall Hollerith

Dean

WASHINGTON NATIONAL CATHEDRAL

Additionally, at the 11th hour, Hollerith pulled Gene Robinson into the fray, with the latter offering a short but impassioned homily in defense of the decision to invite Lucado that centered primarily on supporting the overall mission of the Cathedral. Thus while I, like many, have great affection for Gene Robinson, I saw his defense as one that suggested that the end justified the means.

Hedging from On High

Even after Lucado preached, the initial discourse from Hollerith was a case of too little, too late, wrapped up in a nice shiny layer of clueless arrogance.

On January 9th, +Budde and Hollerith began talking about a “teachable moment” for the church, while expressing regret for the pain that they had caused to the LGBTQ+ community. Backpedaling anyone?

For many, though, the conversation seemed like a hedging of bets in which church leaders wanted to split the difference, partially acknowledge problems, and keep on truckin’ with a call to discourse. Per the Episcopal News Service:

Last Friday, as criticism began to mount, Hollerith acknowledged those concerns while framing Lucado’s invitation as part of the cathedral’s efforts to encourage openness to different perspectives. He again responded to the controversy in his opening welcome to viewers of the Feb. 7 online service.

Lucado “has said some things in the past about the LGBTQ community that have caused deep pain,” Hollerith said. “I don’t agree with those statements, and the cathedral does not agree with those statements. Our LGBTQ brothers and sisters and siblings are the beloved children of God just as they are.”

He also announced that Lucado had agreed to join him and others for “a public conversation” about the hurt caused by Christian churches and opportunities for healing. Details about that conversation, including a date, have yet to be determined. (Emphasis added.)

Or as one commenter on social media put it, “This is not a teachable moment. This is a slap in the face.”

Apologies from +Budde, Hollerith

By February 10, facing what was by then a massive storm surge of anger and dismay from persons all across the country, +Budde and Hollerith finally backed away from the defense of the Cathedral’s decision and issued simultaneous apologies.

In doing so, +Budde acknowledged that she had not listened to those who asked the Cathedral to reconsider, adding that she is listening now. And she added that she seeks not offer not just an apology, but to make amends.

Meanwhile, Hollerith apologized for his “mistake,” and said he was wrong, even as he recited something remarkably similar to comments from the Rev, Susan Russell. His remark:

In my straight privilege I failed to see and fully understand the pain he has caused. I failed to appreciate the depth of injury his words have had on many in the LGBTQ community. I failed to see the pain I was continuing. I was wrong and I am sorry.

That sounds suspiciously similar to Susan’s comment:

It is unexamined privilege writ large when straight people don’t even get what they don’t get about the toxic impact on queer people of someone like Lucado in the pulpit. It is a bad decision, a sad day and a huge disappointment.

And while I agree with Susan that neither Hollerith or +Budde even know what questions to ask, I believe there are two key points missing from the conversation.

Mistake? Not So Much

First, I do not believe we are talking about a mistake.

Simply put, an mistake is when we don’t intend to do something.

Consider:

If I am pulling up to a stop sign, and intend to press the brake, but hit the gas instead, the ensuing accident is a mistake. My insurance company may wind up paying damages, and I probably need to apologize to the other driver, but there is little doubt that I have made a mistake.

If, on the other hand, I am approaching the stop sign and my passenger says, “Hey be careful. There’s a stop sign approaching,” but I ignore the passenger and knowingly tramp the accelerator, only to hear even more fervent warnings, is it a mistake when the inevitable happens and I blast into the intersection, thus causing an accident?

Of course, one may argue that the conduct in question is a mistake in judgment. But when so many voices are sounding warnings, and Hollerith tramps the gas anyway, at some point the question becomes one of character.

Or, as Maya Angelou famously put it, “When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.”

As for +Budde, her point about not being the pulpit police is fair, and I expect and hope she has many more things on her plate than to worry about sermons at the National Cathedral. But, as with Hollerith, at some point the sleeping beauty defense simply doesn’t cut it and only adds insult to injury.

Are Amends Even Possible?

The other concern I have is that it is not clear to me that +Budde and Hollerith even understand the extent of the debacle, or that for many, no amends are possible.

To be clear, I don’t oppose trying to make amends. Indeed, a faith-based perspective requires that one try.

But at the same time, all involved need to understand that there are some situations that cross the line into abuse, and in which the underlying issue isn’t one of forgiveness and repentance. Instead, the church’s actions force the victim to take steps to move towards health and wholeness, to protect those they love, and to find peace.

As someone who has heard horrific, homophobic slurs and rejection from family members, I can personally attest that even going to church and forming the relationships of trust and vulnerability essential in a healthy faith community were a challenge. It took me many years to get to that point, and many fits and false starts.

And when I ran into really egregious bad behavior at a previous parish, those gains were more than erased. Indeed, the sense of hurt and betrayal has often felt overwhelming, even though I have tried to learn positive lessons from my experiences.

And so it is with the outrageous decision by the National Cathedral to invite Max Lucado to preach. Just like sexual abuse in the church, there are some situations in which the injured person needs to just walk away, try not to feel disgust, and seek safety elsewhere. Again, this has nothing to do with forgiveness and reconciliation, but instead with safety and survival.

To be sure, there are hints that +Budde and +Hollerith are beginning to understand these dynamics, particularly in +Budde’s apology.

But at this point we’ve already run the stop sign and totaled the car. No amount of apology will ever repair the car, and for many, this will simply prove to be the end of the line in a church that talks a good game, even as it displays incredible incompetence, arrogance, and oftentimes just downright cruelty.

If It’s Inconceivable, It’s Inperceivable

The Rev. Robin Hammeal-Urban, canon to the diocese of Connecticut and one of the most astute persons in the church on the issue of abuse, has a saying that is all too applicable. “It it’s inconceivable, it’s inperceiveable.”

In this debacle, Hollerith was convinced he knew better, even in the face of warnings. Yet at the same time, he himself admits that he didn’t know that Max Lucado has never retracted his hateful rhetoric about the LGBTQ+ community. In other words, he didn’t do his due diligence, yet he insisted on moving forward.

Indeed, Hollerith initially made a thoroughly stupid statement, one that largely contradicts his assertion of the sleeping beauty defense. Per the Episcopal News Service:

Hollerith continued that he understands the concerns about Lucado’s past statements on LGBTQ issues and doesn’t agree with those views, but “repairing the breach” starts with listening to people who disagree.

“When we only engage with those with whom we agree on every issue, we find ourselves in a dangerous (and lonely) place,” Hollerith said. “My hope is that all churches and faith communities will find ways to open their doors to perspectives different from their own.”

Thus, while he may not have known about Lucado’s hate-filled rhetoric at the time the invitation to preach was extended, he certainly knew and professed to understand these issues prior to Lucado’s sermon, even as he clearly demonstrated that he lacked even a rudimentary understanding of baseline questions.

In short, Hollerith and +Budde could neither conceive nor perceive the underlying issues, even in the face of a hurricane of warnings from within the church. And Randy Hollerith’s superficial charm and lack of introspection sound for all the world like the classic narcissistic clergy member, telling folks what he thinks they want to hear.

Healer, Heal Thyself

Ironically, understanding the Max Meltdown is possibly best accomplished by looking at Hollerith’s own words early in this disgraceful chapter in the life of the Cathedral.

Specifically, Holleriths’s comment about being open to other ideas and perspectives is exactly where Hollerith is profoundly lacking:

When we only engage with those with whom we agree on every issue, we find ourselves in a dangerous (and lonely) place. My hope is that all churches and faith communities will find ways to open their doors to perspectives different from their own.

By deciding that he knew better, and that he would lead us ignorant laity into the ways of truth and life, Hollerith closed himself off from the feedback of the faithful. In his comfy office on the Cathedral close, surrounded by sycophants and convinced that he was doing the right thing, there simply was no room in his calculus for other points of view. Yes those viewpoints might warrant a token acknowledgement, but the bottom line is that, in Hollerith’s little world, they carried no real weight.

And while that at first seems surprising in a church that prides itself on the via media, my experience is that it’s all too common. Folks in diocesan offices sit in splendid isolation, hearing only what they are told by other clergy, and utterly clueless about the realities of day-to-day life in the church. And they instinctively surround themselves with empaths, supporters, allies and admirers, thus further building walls of isolation that become nothing more than a Q-Anon style echo chamber.

Even +Budde’s statement that, in retrospect, she should have consulted LGBTQ+ colleagues really doesn’t cut it. Yes, colleagues may share their concerns, but when confronted with the so-called Power of the Purple, or the prerogatives that even in a dying church many Episcopal bishops hold, many whose careers may be affected by the possibility of an irate bishop are going to pull their punches.

Nor does a progressive perspective align with integrity. While I view +Budde’s intentions as good, one has only to look at the years of bullying, dishonesty and deceit associated with progressive bishop Jon Bruno to know that bishops have far too little accountability in the Episcopal Church.

In short, next time the Hollerith and the good Christians of the National Cathedral decide to man the ramparts and start belting out “Onward Christian Soldiers,” perhaps they would be better served by taking a deep breath, looking around, and asking some tough questions. A whole lot more listening is needed, and a whole lot less talking.

And while they’re at it, I am going to offer a suggestion that will be utterly ignore and dismissed, but would be profoundly helpful to the church were it to adopt it. It’s a suggestion that I learned years ago, working at AT&T. Specifically, oftentimes the most helpful people to involve in decisions are our most ardent critics.

Yes, doing so takes the hide of a rhinoceros, many a deep breath and numerous sleepless nights. But these are the people willing to tell us, rightly or wrongly, what we don’t want to hear, but need to hear. They are the John the Baptists, the prophets, the persons willing to speak truth to power. They are the people who shove us out of comfort and into action.

Thus, both +Budde and Hollerith would be well advised to set up an email listserv, bulletin board, chat room, or other quick, easy and safe way to solicit feedback on issues like this. In short, if it touches on hot-button topics like race, sexuality, or politics, there should be a way to solicit feedback and comment, before we have another Max Meltdown.

And in saying that, I do not in any way retract my recommendation that it is time for Randy Hollerith to resign.

What are your views? Is there hope for the future? Or have we just seen the consummate expression of a clueless church, wading into issues about which it has no clue, only to cause lasting harm? And are there lessons here for the church when it comes to racial reconciliation?

Diocese of Washington Budget Illustrates Pandemic Pain

Dark Times for the Episcopal Diocese of Washington

The Episcopal Diocese of Washington (EDOW) recently published both its projected 2020 year-end budget numbers, as well as its approved budget for 2021. The numbers are a frightening illustration of just how hard COVID-19 is eroding income for many Episcopal entities.

Background and Context

EDOW is a study in contrasts.

On the one hand, it is a relatively small diocese, with 38,000 members or fewer. Contrasting with that is the elevated public visibility of the diocese, including the National Cathedral, St. John’s Lafayette Square, and several other well-known parishes.

At the same time, the diocese overall is highly affluent, including as it does Georgetown, Chevy Chase/Bethesda, and many of the more affluent suburbs. At the same time, there are swaths of the diocese that face profound socio-economic challenges, including large portions of southeast DC, the Anacostia area, and sections of Maryland.

The presence of the national government, the relatively stable, robust local economy, and ongoing population growth also afford the diocese advantages that don’t exist in smaller, more rural dioceses.

EDOW has a further ace up its sleeve in the form of the Soper Trust, a gift from the late Ruth Gregory Soper. Originally controlled by PNC, the diocese managed to take control of the trust several years ago via litigation. On the one hand, this removed PNC’s burdensome management fees from the mix. On the other, by taking over ownership of the asset, the diocese renders the corpus of the trust susceptible to legal judgment — never a good thing in these litigious times.

Be that as it may, the trust throws off about $1.27 million a year in operating income for the diocese, accounting for about one-third of total diocesan revenue. Thus, this income remains stable, and has increased in recent years due to the surging stock market. Thus, while affording a measure of stability to the diocese, these funds can be excluded when considering the financial health of the diocese and the affect of the pandemic.

Congregational Giving

One key indicator of diocesan health is congregational giving. Originally projected at $2,600,000 for 2020, diocesan projections show a decline to $2,231,043 for the year, accounting for a roughly 14% decline.

But this number is undoubtedly cushioned by parishes that have done their best to honor their commitments, despite the trying times. While it is not possible to quantify this, every parish leader and clergyperson I have spoken with has said they would do their utmost to continue to provide support, even as many indicate that giving in their churches has declined by more than 14 percent.

Bishop’s Appeal

The other indicator of diocesan health — and one that speaks more loudly to the true state of affairs in the diocese — is the annual bishop’s appeal, which is largely used as operating income.

The appeal involves funds given directly by church members to the diocese, and involves no prior pledge. Thus, it is immune from the cushioning effect likely to occur when giving flows directly from parishes.

For 2020, the bishop’s appeal was projected to bring in $180,000. In reality, it brought in just $68,000, or just 37.78% of anticipated revenue. Thus, it’s safe to conclude that parishioners are fearful for their financial future — not to mention possibly unhappy at the ongoing closure of EDOW parishes. (For the record, I support the closures. Dead parishioners generate little operating income, not to mention the underlying ethical issues.)

2021 Budget

There’s good news and bad news about the 2021 EDOW budget.

On the good news side, the diocesan budget contemplates a further decline in congregational giving, to $2 million for the year. And other numbers are, generally speaking, realistic. Thus, it is clear the diocese hasn’t resorted to fictions on either the revenue or the expense side — a favorite game of far too many vestries faced with making hard financial choices. And while we probably would all hope for an increase in income, failing that, it’s best to be realistic.

But the bad news is that the diocese may not be sufficiently pessimistic, particularly in light of the fast-spreading, more infectious strains of COVID that are now emerging.

Specifically, the precipitous decline in giving to the bishop’s appeal suggests that the average person in the pews may not be willing, or able, to donate at a level that allows parishes to pony up $2 million in 2021. That’s particularly the case when COVID is known to have disproportionately high mortality rates for older Americans, of which Episcopal parishes have much a much greater percentage than the population at large.

Not only that, but forecasting a return to the $180,000 projection of 2020 for the bishop‘s appeal appears misguided.

Right now, we are in the eye of the storm, but the rapidly spreading UK COVID variant, which may be up to 75 percent more transmissible than the previous strain, portends a difficult spring for much of the nation. Thus, there are two safe bets:

  1. Churches will not be reopening any time soon.
  2. Things will get worse before they get better.

As a result, I strongly suspect we will see a decline in congregational giving below the $2 million mark, as well as continuing erosion of giving to the bishop’s appeal.

It’s also worth noting that, earlier in the pandemic, the diocese talked about drawing on investments to preserve its human capital. That clearly was the case with the 2020 draw on Soper Trust retained earnings, which came to almost $71,000. While there’s no plan in the 2021 budget for further draws on retained earnings, it is clear that staff cuts occurred anyway. Indeed, while some salary and compensation categories went up in the 2021 budget, most notably in the area of congregational development, overall salary and compensation is projected to decline by $450,576 this year. And while the closing of many churches undoubtedly has led to some cost savings, given the relatively modest salaries of most church jobs, total salary cuts of this magnitude suggest multiple positions have been eliminated.

No one can predict the future, but despite what the SEC says, the past indeed is a pretty good indicator of future results. And based on 2020 numbers, 2021 is not going to be a great year for the Episcopal Church.

Governance geeks like myself can access the 2021 EDOW budget here.

What do you see in your diocese or church? How is 2021 shaping up? And do you think EDOW’s forecasts are realistic.

 

KKK Preaches at National Cathedral. No, Actually It’s Just Max Lucado

Washington National Cathedral

Let me cut to the chase: It’s time for the Dean of the National Cathedral, Randy Hollerith, to resign.

It’s no secret that, as a progressive, I often find myself unhappy with recent decisions in the Episcopal Church, particularly when those decisions evince a lack of leadership. But when it comes to stupidity and downright meanness, nothing holds a candle to the recent decision by the National Cathedral to invite homophobic bigot Max Lucado to preach. And while we all make mistakes (despite my efforts to corner that market), the fact that the Dean of the Cathedral, Randy Hollerith, is doubling down on dumb in defending this decision reflects a profound lack of common sense and disrespect for the LGBTQ+ community. So much so that it’s time for Hollerith to exit, stage right.

Do not pass go.

Do not collect $200.

Background

By way of background, Lucado is pastor of the evangelical Oak Hills Church in San Antonio Texas. He’s also the author of books that have sold more than 11 million copies.

Particularly of note are Lucado’s comments about same-sex marriage, which can be found here. There, he alleges that same-sex marriage will lead to polygamy and incest, while elsewhere he compares it to bestiality.

Cathedral’s Response

In his written response to those who have expressed outrage about Lucado’s invitation, Hollerith reaffirms the Cathedral’s commitment to LGBTQ equality and inclusion, while saying that he has no plans to withdraw the invitation to preach. He then goes on to note that Lucado is not preaching about marriage, but rather on the workings of the Holy Spirit. Hollerith goes on to argue that this invitation is a move towards healing and reconciliation, by engaging in discourse.

My Reaction

I call BS on Hollerith’s email.

There is a profound difference between engaging with a hater and lending one’s seal of approval to the hater. Preaching from the National Cathedral does the latter, while ignoring those who have been hurt by Lucado and those of his ilk.

Would Hollerith invite David Duke to preach? I hope not, but increasingly I get the feeling he would.

What about Q-Anon advocates? Should the Cathedral offer them an opportunity to preach, just so long as they don’t talk about their belief that Democrats eat babies?

And how should those of us who have been rejected by family and friends over our sexual orientation respond?

How does Hollerith think this decision feels to the parents of Matthew Shepard, the young gay man beaten and left to die alone, in a desolate field, tied to a fence? His ashes are interred in the Cathedral crypt, and I’d be prepared to bet that his parents aren’t exactly feeling the love just now.

For the record, as someone who has experienced hatred and rejection from family members over his sexual orientation, I am shocked, appalled, and outraged.

I fully recognize that Hollerith may not have personally extended the invitation to Lucado. But when confronted with outrage over this ugly and mean-spirited decision, Hollerith ran the Jolly Roger up the mast, and basically told LGBTQ+ persons, their friends and allies, to pound sand. And no, saying that the Cathedral remains firm in its commitment to our rights doesn’t cut it. Not even close.

In fact, if this is Randy Hollerith’s vision of what an inclusive church looks like, no thanks. He can keep it.

Hollerith History

Nor is this the first instance of unethical and clueless behavior on the part of the Holleriths.

In a 2019 decision involving me, Melissa Hollerith, an Episcopal priest, wife of Randy Hollerith, and then an ethics instructor at the Episcopal St. Alban’s school, affirmed in her role as chair of the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia Disciplinary Committee a decision that the diocese would not address illegal conduct by clergy unless criminal charges are involved.

Melissa Hollerith

So, if you are a child molester, a thief, a bank robber, a murderer, or in this case a perjurer, you are welcome as clergy in the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia. Just don’t face criminal charges and we are good. (For the record, I sent a scathing response to Ms. Hollerith saying exactly that, and then some.)

False Inclusion

All of this points to one of the great problems in the Episcopal Church today. That problem is not just a profound lack of common sense and a broken ethical reference point, but a lack of self-awareness and understanding around inclusion.

What does that mean?

It means that folks, myself included, don’t want inclusion if the underlying terms and conditions involve abuse or lack of respect. In other words, when I attend church, even if it’s virtual, I don’t want to deal with bullying altar guild members. I don’t want to deal with an abusive priest. And I sure as heck don’t want to see a hater in the pulpit.

That means if the person preaching thinks women are second-class citizens, I don’t want to see him there, regardless of the topic on which he’s preaching.

I don’t want to see a racist there. If that person advocates racism, I don’t care what the topic is. I don’t want to see or hear her.

Same goes for those who espouse Q-Anon.

Or who are anti-Semites.

Or think that storming the US Capitol was okay.

Would I be okay with a one-on-one conversation with that person? Sure I would. In fact, I’d probably enjoy it. As Hollerith rightly points out, it’s a dangerous world view when one excludes other viewpoints. But that’s not the same as inviting that person to preach.

Have I attended church with Q-Anon conspiracy theorists before? Regrettably, yes I have. But so too have I attended church with people who are mentally ill, who are homeless, or who face other major challenges.

In other words, there is a huge difference between inclusion in the life of the church and offering a hater a pulpit from which to preach. I welcome all persons to worship and serve with me. I do not afford all persons the opportunity to preach, nor do I want my church to provide an open forum for haters of any ilk.

The Bottom Line

The bottom line is this.

Any church official who is so clueless as to invite Max Lucado to preach has made a serious error. But that error becomes a profound lack of judgment and disrespect for LGBTQ+ members of the church when, as here, Hollerith tries to defend his decision.

Fortunately, Ash Wednesday is not far off.

Hollerith can lead by example, withdraw his invitation, and apologize to those who have been hurt.

Or if he wants to stick to his guns, he can do all involved a favor and resign. And if Hollerith does rescind his invitation and apologize, he shouldn’t conclude that this precludes the possibility of resigning. In fact, I encourage him to do both.

In the meantime, you can find Randy Hollerith on Twitter at @rhollerith. Bishop Budde, in whose diocese the Cathedral is located, can be emailed at [email protected]

And in case you need an example, below is my email to +Budde. I copied Melissa Hollerith on it, so no one can say they didn’t hear it directly from me.

Bishop Budde Email

Reinstatement of Lord Carey’s PTO is Shocking and Appalling

Lord Carey

Over the past year, the Church of England has faced its own sexual abuse scandal that in many ways mirrors the horrific accusations swirling through the Roman Catholic church. And while most observers agree that there has been little accountability, and myriad instances of questionable veracity, extending all the way to Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, there were signs that the church was finally taking abuse seriously.

That is, until the recent announcement that former Archbishop of Canterbury, Lord Carey, whose license to officiate had been suspended for turning a blind eye to sexual abuse in the church, was reinstated and allowed to return to ministry. The move is a slap to victims worldwide and shows that the good old boys network at the top of the Church of England is alive, well, and looking out for its own. In short, that it’s back to its usual tricks.

Peter Ball

For those not familiar with the Peter Ball scandal, Ball was a Anglo-Catholic bishop who, with his brother, organized a monastic order, the Community of the Glorious Ascension (CGA). In keeping with his leadership role within the order, Ball worked closely with novice monks, many of whom were under age 18.

Eventually it came to light that Ball was using the CGA to groom, manipulate, and sexually abuse young men, including individuals under the age of consent.

This in turn led to criminal charges, with Ball serving jail time for three incidents of sexual abuse.

Subsequent government inquiries concluded that the Church of England, including multiple senior officials, had engaged in coverup for Ball. This including bullying and silencing whistleblowers and victims.

Coming in for particular criticism was Archbishop of Canterbury Lord Carey, who was found to have received seven letters from Ball’s victims and their families. Only one of these, the least alarming, had been forwarded to police, and Carey did not add Ball to the Lambeth List, which is the Church of England’s central watch list of clergy who may have engaged in inappropriate conduct. Moreover, Carey provided financial support and ran interference for Ball, saying that he believed him to be innocent.

For many, Carey’s actions were pretty rich, given his ardent opposition to LGBT rights. Over time, Carey has resisted marriage equality, including in the House of Lords, and has inappropriately interfered in the independent American province of the Anglican Communion over its decision to ordain openly gay bishops. And yet Carey is willing to run interference for a bishop, a convicted criminal, who is known to have engaged in serial sexual abuse of young men below the age of consent. How does that work?

Meanwhile, government inquiries expressly found that Carey had not only colluded with Ball, but engaged in cover-up of Ball’s crimes. Carey eventually apologized to victims and claimed he accepted responsibility for his inaction, resulting in Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby asking Carey to resign as an assistant bishop in the Church of England. Welby also withdrew Carey’s license to officiate, or PTO, but a replacement PTO was issued not long afterwards by the Diocese of Oxford.

But other actions were taken, including the criminal investigation many survivors have requested, and to this day Carey retains his seat in the House of Lords.

Suspension over John Smyth Affair

Then, in 2020, another wave of scandal hit the Church of England. John Smyth, an evangelical leader of Church of England summer camps, was found to have imposed severe, brutal, sadomasochistic beatings of adolescent boys. And, much like the Peter Ball affair, it turned out that the matter had been known in some church circles for years, decades even.

The ensuing investigation revealed that while Carey was not accused of abuse, he had ignored complaints about Smyth’s behavior. As a result, in June 2020 the Diocese of Oxford, suspended Carey’s PTO, even as Carey claimed he didn’t remember Smyth.

Reinstatement in 2021

But Carey’s second suspension didn’t last long.

In early 2021, a National Safeguarding Team of the Church of England concluded that Carey indeed had seen the reports about Smyth’s abuse and failed to report them to authorities. The team further concluded that it believed that Lord Carey now would forward any reports of abuse that might arise. Shortly afterwards, Carey met with the Bishop of Oxford, who reinstated Carey’s PTO.

Meanwhile, a full report on the church’s handling of the Smyth affair is due later this year, and many believe the findings will be every bit as ugly as those set forth in the Peter Ball report.

Ensuing Uproar

The results of Carey’s reinstatement have been rapid and predictable.

On the one hand, members of the Church of England, ones I both trust and know to be far more knowledgeable than me of the specifics of Carey’s situation, feel that Carey has been treated badly.

On the other hand, victims of abuse feel that the church has done everything in its power to bully them, to discredit them, and to silence them. They further believe the fact that any bishop would welcome clergy who colluded with Peter Ball speaks to the utter breakdown of ethics in the Church of England.

To be sure, there are others, every bit as culpable as Carey, who have behaved badly, but have suffered no consequences for their conduct. That includes Justin Welby, who has at best a questionable recollection of own conduct in these matters. Indeed, we know for a fact that Welby has ignored myriad letters from victims of abuse, yet still gets to serve as primus inter pares of the English bishops.

But that approach also creates a logical fallacy.

If we argue that bishops should not be held accountable because no one has previously been held accountable, then we are externally locked into the status quo, unable to ever address abuse within the church. Thus, the question might appropriately be framed in terms of why not do more to discipline feckless bishops, versus why impose discipline on Carey?

Looking at the Episcopal Church

Nor is the Episcopal Church any better. Over the years, I have come to know many victim’s advocates, including my late friend Anne Fontaine, who locked horns with more than one bishop over similar issues over the years, and reported that there are hundreds of abusers who remain active within the church.

I’m also friends with numerous men and women in the Episcopal Church who have suffered sexual harassment and abuse, but have yet to hear anyone say that their complaints were handled well. Let me reiterate: I have never yet heard anyone say their situation was handled anything but poorly. Not one.

Indeed, the reports of authorities bullying and silencing whistleblowers and critics is, in my experience, normative in the Episcopal Church.

It also is worth keeping in mind that, in every single instance, #metoo legislation that was passed by the House of Delegates during the last General Convention was dumbed down, weasel-worded, or rendered illusory when the measure reached the House of Bishops. Indeed, the latter has proven to afford world-class expertise in protecting its episcopal prerogatives and shielding abusers, all while hiding behind a smoke screen of fine words, lofty ideals, and truly hideous vestments.

Looking Forward

The situation of the Church of England, with its role as the state church, resulting layers of bureaucracy, and quasi-government commissions may seem foreign to Episcopalians. But when it comes to abuse and the response of church hierarchies, things are every bit as bad in the Church of England as they are in the United States.

And no matter how we parse the specifics, we need to be clear on one thing: Carey’s losing his PTO is hardly commensurate with his egregious collusion and coverup in the Peter Ball case and the human suffering it caused. Indeed, if collusion and coverup indeed occurred, as appears to be the case, criminal charges, including conspiracy, are appropriate, and survivors of abuse have every right to be outraged at the Church of England’s horrific indifference to their suffering.

Masks Save Lives

Masks Save Lives

While I am working on my next post, I thought you might enjoy this.

Due to the technology of the time, masks were not effective in preventing transmission of the so-called Spanish Flu. But even in 1918 we understood the simple reality behind the transmission of viruses, which is that we can do a lot to prevent transmission.

And yes, the person wearing the sign on the right likely would have been me!

 

All Souls DC — Reconciliation Done Right

All Souls DC Seeks Health and Wholeness

If we’re honest with ourselves, conflict is inevitable in all areas of life, and church is no exception. But my experience is that churches are particularly bad at conflict. Perhaps it’s because we hope that church will somehow be immune from strife. Or maybe we feel that we need to be all “churchy nice.” Possibly it’s that churchgoers tend to be conflict avoidant. Whatever the reason, churches love to sweep conflict under the rug, slap a fresh layer of nice on it, or ignore it and hope that it goes away. As a result, conflict lurks right beneath the surface in many parishes, growing, festering, just waiting for an opportunity to come roaring back, destroying everything in its path.

But I recently came across a good example of a diocese and church that is handling conflict in the right way. The Memorial Church of All Souls in DC, lovingly referred to as the “Church of all Sorts” for its long history of inclusion, is working through a tsunami of conflict. And the way it’s going about it is a refreshing change.

To be sure, conflict at the church goes way back. Indeed, living close to the parish, I’ve long been on the periphery of parish life, well aware of the ebb and flow of life at the church, while having had my own experience with possibly snotty behavior in the church that led me to keep my distance.

It’s also fair to say that the issue was not on the diocese’s radar, even though it should have been long ago. Indeed, the diocese only sat up and paid attention with the recent departure of the church’s rector, Jadon Hartsuff, who took over the helm just four years ago. His decision was neither a resignation nor a termination, but as he put it, a decision to step away for the wellbeing of the church, and as a matter of self care.

As a result, the diocese stepped in, and is pursuing a formal reconciliation process. To the church’s credit, the written proposal and timeline is available on the church’s website, and can be found here.

The church has already begun work towards next steps, including discussion about potentially calling a priest in charge. As part of this, leaders have been clear that the church would:

1. Need to call a priest with the skills needed to affect change.

2. Need to recognize its DNA, including the notion that, “We are a parish that is understanding and very tolerant AND we have a history of conflict and aggression seldom addressed and often glossed over.”

Of course, if you are Episcopal, you may well already be scratching your head and saying, “What the heck?” I mean, as God’s frozen chosen, we never complain, never explain, and we sure as heck don’t post stuff like this online.

But doing so recognizes that, for healing to occur, conversation needs to happen. Specifically, people need to listen, acknowledge the hurt they’ve caused, sincerely apologize, then figure out how to engage going forward. And they need to do it without trying to explain or justify their conduct, or to attack the other person, or to claim that people’s recollection of events is faulty.

In my experience, those behaviors are uncommon in Episcopal churches. Indeed, I have seen myriad instances in which clergy and parishioners alike will lie about their conduct and that of others. Or in which they will simply attack someone they don’t like. Or play the Mean Girls/Boys game.

In addition to the participation of the diocese, which in my experience is unusual, and the involvement of professional facilitators, also unusual, it’s noteworthy that the reconciliation documents talk about doing the heavy lifting of preparing for a new rector. My experience is that many dioceses hire transitional clergy who are nothing but glorified benchwarmers, often with little understanding of reconciliation, and even less interest in pursuing that goal. Yes, they may slip the occasional hint into their sermon about kindness and compassion, but very few do more than that. Or the diocese sends some aging narcissist by to turn on the charm and flirt with the old ladies, even as they do very little else.

But perhaps the most promising sign is that the parish already already has a commitment to openness.

Indeed, when was the last time you saw a “governance” section on a church site? This non-anxious transparency bodes well, especially since the usual church response is to deny everything, or behave like it just killed the Lindbergh baby. There’s also a lot of information on the church’s website about the causes of the current conflict and underlying concerns.

I feel very optimistic about the efforts at All Souls and will be watching closely as the reconciliation process moves forward.

In the meantime, I encourage you to check out the church’s website and, if you are so inclined, offer your prayers or financial support.

I truly believe we are going to see great things at All Souls.