Sunday, August 22, 2004

When churches melt down

Well, I've come back from my last Sunday at the little parish that's been my home church for over two years. What a relief to get out of there in one piece.

If you look at the post called "Go all out for the House Blend" you'll get more of a rundown on what some of the problems are. I don't want to revisit them -- I'm just worn out.

The folks at this church (I'll call it St. Nicholas, just to give it a name) are going to hang in there. Our priest has quit, our only deacon is considering a leave of absence, and I'd give us half a year tops before the rest of the money is gone. They wish I'd stay, but I can't tell them the real reason I can't.

I want to go now so that I can grieve. If I stay I have to watch St. Nicholas become truly awful. We say the prayers, we face the icons, some of the men are vested, most of the women wear head coverings -- and then we leave the sanctuary, and we squabble and gossip and complain and argue. It was horrifying at first, then it broke my heart, but now I feel myself developing a coping mechanism I can't stand -- a cynical smirk, a graveyard laugh.

I don't think St. Nicholas will fail because it's finances are irreparably bad, but because there are people involved who would have to completely change who they are. This isn't just a matter for a little course correction; bones would have to be broken. Since there's no one around to break them -- the people involved won their power struggle with the priest -- they will put St. Nicholas on a slow but inexorable collision course. I can't stay and wait for the impact. I'm too cowardly and heartsick.

I'm remembering a story that a priest at another church told. Someone asked a famous monk why it was that going to church made some people better instead of worse. He answered that without the love of God, all the prayers and fasts and feasts make us worse. I don't say that to accuse others. Somehow we all failed. If we had truly had the love of God, the flame of it would've kindled our hearts and driven out lesser things.

I suppose part of the grieving for St. Nicholas is grieving for myself. After 18 years as an Orthodox convert, I'm not the woman I want to be.


Blogger Karl Thienes said...

That is painful...

I remember Fr. Thomas Hopko being asked why some people seemed to get worse rather than better...his answer was that they didn't want to love God. Amazingly simple really...

Every parish has a few of these but it is very sad when a single parish has more than its fair share..

Lord have mercy...

August 23, 2004 at 9:45 PM  
Blogger Matt said...

I won't try to solve your parish's problems, but please tell me that someone has in volved your bishop and/or synod. I will light a candle for you and your parish today.

August 24, 2004 at 12:55 PM  
Blogger Grace said...

Thank you for your prayers. Our bishop got involved when our priest resigned, but there are complications that we could all live without even in that. The chancellor (I think that's who it is) is scheduled to come out in "three or four weeks minimum" and say ... I don't know what really.

By the way, I really don't mean any of this to bum anyone out. But I know of other churches in various degrees of crisis, and I think that people need to understand what can happen.

Hopefully, it will help someone somewhere.

August 27, 2004 at 4:07 PM  
Blogger Grace said...

I wouldn't be surprised if that was the quote I was thinking of. The priest who told the story was bad with names, and I'm worse!

August 27, 2004 at 4:09 PM  
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