Saturday, August 25, 2018

Good Read: “For Such a Time as This” by George Clifford

There’s a good article on Episcopal Cafe by my long-time co-contributor, George Clifford, a retired military chaplain. I commend it to those who may be interested, as it both discusses the continuing decline in The Episcopal Church, and articulates a number of good questions that must be considered as St. Dysfunction, aka Grace Church, considers its future. Find the article here.

George raises some interesting points in his article, including the fact that the recent General Convention largely was an exercise in introspection. Even those votes that seemingly looked outside the organization — like support for peace in Palestine — were often in reality internal measures, as they authorize action by church lobbyists. At the same time, he notes that no one tackled the elephant in the living room, which is that The Episcopal Church is dying.

To George’s point, Episcopalians stink when it comes to outreach, and Grace Church is among the worst. Art on the Avenue and a few banners, as I have said before, don’t outreach make. And I well remember the reaction when I proposed inviting neighbors to Founders’ Day — not quite a skunk at a wedding, but the response wasn’t far off. But why not invite others? Isn’t that the thing about the joy of community—it’s even better when shared?

George also raises the issue that most church entities, including local vestries, have no plan for the future, but instead just focus on keeping on keeping on. On that issue, Grace excels. It not only has zero plans beyond scheduling the current program year and keeping the HVAC on, but it passionately resists suggestions that it plan for the future. Mixed in with that are the lies and self-deception, such as the comments of one long-time parishioner that there is “complete financial transparency.” If that’s the case, then one wonders how one parish employee, not exactly over-compensated, was overpaid for many months, and was forced to repay the funds. Must have been intentional, I guess. Similarly, it must have been intentional that church financial records were a complete shambles for many years. Again, complete financial transparency.

Similarly, the notion that church members will continue to underwrite Grace Episcopal School, which produces zero tangible benefit for the church, is questionable. I have yet to see any of the students or their families truly engage with the parish, so wherein lies the benefit?

Nor are folks keen on paying Bob Malm almost 200K a year — a level of compensation commensurate with that of top church officials. Throw in the defined benefit plan, the more than 6 weeks of paid leave every year (plus whatever Bob slides in on the side), the utter lack of accountability, and the ongoing violations of church canon law, and it’s a tough sell to convince families who may not have had a vacation in years that they should give generously to support Bob in the manner to which he is accustomed, especially when he’s never yet helped at Carpenter’s Shelter or other — there’s that word again — outreach efforts.

On one point, George somewhat misses the mark in my estimation, though, which is the importance of unconditional love. While he mentions this and its importance to the long-term growth of the church, it is a tough sell in any environment in which shunning, abuse, harassment, bullying, and other misconduct are acceptable. And, of course, in my case, the Diocese of Virginia has said that these are not matters of “weighty and material importance to the ministry of the church.” 

Meanwhile, Jeff Chiow and the Grace Church vestry are engaged in trying to drag a dying woman into court and lying about my departure from the church by claiming that I left on my own. Even Jeff Chiow’s over-the-top, inflammatory rhetoric and various questionable assertions — like a purported church shooting in a town in Texas that doesn’t even exist — speak to Bob Malm’s ethics, the church’s ethics, and Jeff Chiow’s ethics, or lack thereof. Nor can you convince me that, for example, Jeff’s fictional town is a matter of sloppiness. Jeff has been in practice for a number of years, and well understands the importance of being absolutely accurate in the representations you make to other parties, and to the court.

As I’ve said on this blog many times, “Any church that feels it needs to lie, to bully others, to drag a dying woman into court, to engage in shunning, to accuse others of being mentally ill, and to otherwise act unethically in order to survive is not a church worth having.”

And that, in a nutshell, is why Grace Episcopal Church is in decline.