Declining an Invitation
I just spoke on the phone to a very nice man named B--. He called me up last week to invite my congregation to participate in an event designed for Episcopal laymen. When he first called, I told him I didn't really know what to say, but I would get back with him. I fulfilled that commitment this afternoon.
I decided to decline his invitation. One reason I declined is that we are not an Episcopal church. While many of our members, myself included, used to be Episcopalians, we are not any longer.
I could also say that the event didn't seem to offer much that I perceive that our congregation needs right now. Certainly there would be relationship building, as at any event. However, as a pastor, I am constantly being asked to present conferences, events, retreats, organizations and the like to my congregation. I generally decline most of these unsolicited invitations. I don't do that because these things are bad, but because I prefer to focus on fewer and more important events.
There is another reason that I declined. The event would feature communion services led by Episcopal bishops. My Anglican Province, the Province of the Church of Rwanda, is not currently in communion with the Episcopal Church in the United States.
While all baptized Christians, including Episcopalians, are welcome to receive communion in our church, I am not allowed by my Archbishop to receive communion in their churches. And while it is up to any individual's conscience where and when they participate in this crucial act of worship, I am would not steer members of my congregation to participate in that particular context.
Would I forbid a member from going to this event? No, I would not. I have too much respect for other adults and their relationships with Christ to manage their lives like that. But I can not recommend it, either.
When I called B-- on the phone, I did not get into all of this. I simply and politely declined. I also told him this truth. In almost three years since leaving the Episcopal Church, this was the first time that a representative of that denomination reached out to me or my congregation in any way.
I actually told him I have been pretty well shunned by Episcopalians since that time. I do have a couple of friends in that denomination, but I have many, many more "former friends." Men and women whom I counted on, whom I loved, have not spoken to me in three years.
When I was preparing to leave my last job in an Episcopal Church, I asked the Bishop of Tennessee to transfer my ordination to Archbishop Kolini of Rwanda. He refused, saying that if he did the "liberals" would bring him up on charges. He wasn't going to go through that in order to protect me. So, instead of agreeing that my ministry was best lived out elsewhere, he officially had me "deposed." Even though I had moved on to another province of the Anglican Communion, I was charged with, and convicted of, having "abandoned the Communion."
One of the darkest parts of that whole event was the letter I received from the Diocese of Tennessee. I did not receive an original, but a photocopy of my "letter of deposition." It had been signed by the Bishop. It had also been signed by two men whom I had considered friends. These two men are "conservative" pastors of Episcopal churches in the Nashville area. In signing the letter, they were testifying that I had abandoned the Communion and was no longer a priest in good standing.
On a side note, now the entire Episcopal Church seems that it is about to finally "abandon the Communion." I wonder if they will all write letters to each other?
In any case, this is simply one of many, many things that happened, and continue to happen. I believe that I made the right choice back then. Part of why I believe I did the right thing is how quickly and easily I was rejected by my clergy friends. It showed their hearts, I suppose. Our relationships were, from their point of view, institutional. I had left the institution, and therefore our relationships were over. At least, that is the message I continue to receive.
Every time I think of this, it makes me very sad. Angry too, but mainly sad and hurt. Of course, I'm sure I hurt plenty of people myself--back then as I do now. So, I'm not claiming some special woe-is-me status.
Talking to B-- brought all this up. So, I thought I would write a quick post. It wasn't as quick as I thought.