Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Rector Search: How To Wind Up With A Revisionist Rector

Looking back at the decline of the Episcopal church and my sixty years in that organization, I have often tried to analyze exactly what we did wrong. It is far too easy to blame revisionist seminary professors, deacons, priests and bishops. While they own a large part of the blame, it is us who pay their salaries who have to confess that we too are to blame. How many rector search committees and bishop search committees stocked with pewsitters like me have contributed to the decline by making ill informed choices when given the responsibility of selecting clergy?

I continue to be amazed at how thinking Episcopalians on vestries or search committees can be so easily swayed by emotion when selecting a priest in charge or rector.
After having served in such a capacity, let me suggest some reasons for the poor choices that Episcopalians make, but first I would like you to imagine the following dialog from a hypothetical? search committee meeting that I may or may not have participated in once upon a time...

Hypothetical Pewster: "You know, this priest hosted lectures by (liberal) scholar 'X,' quotes (liberal) theologian 'Y' in their sermons, and sponsors a book study using 'Y's' book!"

Sr. Warden: "X, Y, I don't know either of those people."

Hypothetical Pewster: "One says that God is conflicted, and the other says the disciples didn't really meet a resurrected Jesus in the flesh."

Jr. Warden: "Well, I didn't listen to his/her sermons on-line."

Hypothetical Pewster: "They were taken down shortly after this search process began."

Secretary/Treasurer: "That's probably just because the web page was redesigned."

Sr. Warden: "Maybe I have just been too fat and lazy to study 'X' and 'Y', or maybe I just don't care if the new rector is influenced by them. To tell the truth, I don't know much about that kind of thing anyway. "

Hypothetical Pewster: "Theologian 'Y' is a heretic."

Vestrywoman1: "Don't call them heretics. People shouldn't call other people heretics."

Sr. Warden: "I wouldn't know a heretic if I met one."

Hypothetical Pewster: "They tend to be charming and attractive."

Sr. Warden: "I still don't think I would recognize one."

Hypothetical Pewster: "Exactly."

Hypothetical Pewster: "We want the church to grow, their church hasn't grown."

Vestryman1: "Well, I didn't look at his/her parish growth charts."

Vestrywoman2: "All the mainline churches are having the same problem."

Hypothetical Pewster: "He/she said that they would be okay with same sex blessings if the Bishop approved of them!"

Sr. Warden: "I don't see where that should make a difference."

Hypothetical Pewster: "I read that they went to Seminary 'Z'."

Secretary/Treasurer: "Why should it matter which seminary they went to?"

Hypothetical Pewster: "But he/she omitted the Nicene Creed and the Confession of Sins during the Eucharist!"

Vestrywoman1: "I thought he/she was nice."

Vestrywoman2: "I thought they were very spiritual."

Jr. Warden: "The Bishop liked them."

Vestryman2: "I liked their spouse."

Sr. Warden: "Let's vote."

Most vestries in the Episcopal church probably don't have a hypothetical pewster raising such questions, so their decisions are probably even less well informed than the example above.

Imagine the consequences.

The Rev'd Tim Fountain once wrote,
"Many congregations (and in a denomination like TEC, it might be MOST congregations) are, if not revisionist, at least theologically indifferent clubs for people who are comfortable together, who like to accomplish some fun stuff together, maybe build something, maybe even do a good deed or two. But they are not interested in the Gospel that much except as a therapeutic tool for the random bad day. They are certainly not interested in the Gospel going out and changing the minds of those who don't believe it.

And such congregations put forward as clergy candidates folks with whom they are comfortable. And those folks become part of the clergy club that keeps the laity in the dark about spiritual monstrosities in order to maintain the comfortable relationships and pleasant good deeds and building nice stuff."
I said that I would speculate as to the reasons why congregations willfully choose revisionist priests, and while there may not be one unifying cause, let me suggest that people cannot know what they should look for, or look out for, in a religious leader if they have not studied the mistakes of the past as recorded for us in the Bible and in the history of the Church. Generations of American Episcopalians have not been grounded in Bible study or in the study of Church history and doctrine, and therefore are no longer capable of making choices that are truly Spirit led.

In addition, when the list of candidates is supplied by a "Canon for This and That" from the revisionist diocese headquarters, it tends to boil down to a Hobson's Choice.

It becomes a death spiral for the denomination when the keys to the Church are handed over to revisionist bishops and priests time and time again who ensure that the fundamentals of Christianity are not taught to future generations. Those future generations of blissfully ignorant pewsitters will continue to make poor choices, and as long as there are enough of them to pay the bills, the church will stagger on... its doom.


  1. Sounds about right to me. In my parish, currently undergoing this process, the committee is comprised of good organization people. Not a Biblically or theologically knowledgeable or concerned soul among them. And the vestry is composed of good businesspeople and their spouses, for the most part. Maranatha!

  2. From my time on the vestry:
    Our rector was retiring. At the meeting of the vestry, our rector produced a letter from our Bishop, which recommended that we call Fr. Xxxx Xxxx, who had just graduated from seminary, at a salary of $xx,xxx., beginning on June 1, and give him a 2 week vacation , beginning at June 1.
    When a couple of us suggested that we should review our budget and pledges, and perhaps meet him or envite him to preach, there was a period of silence, and then "shall we take a vote?"

    1. Thanks Maxine. I suspect that if we were to collect a book of rector searches, we would have a sad but entertaining anthology.