A church is a body of believers, and its strength comes from the solidity of the shared beliefs. So, I suffered some distress this weekend when I thought about the parish church that I attend, and whose congregation and clergy (through its many recent changes) I admire very much. My distress focused on those who were no longer present, having volunteered to leave the congregation.
What does it take to turn a regular parishioner away from his or her parish? A feeling of alienation is certainly deep in the decision. If you are someone who has put a lot of time and energy into participating in services; or participated in much fellowship; or participated with financial contributions; or participated with ideas; or participated in many more ways, why would you leave?
Some of the discussions that have gone on in the Episcopalian Church in recent years, especially with regard to same-sex unions, have deeply divided the congregation at large, within countries and between countries. The resonance at local level has involved a lot of personal pain for some. Whatever the reasons for opposing the acceptance of such unions, those who do oppose have had to decide whether to do so in silence. I pondered whether some of those who have left our congregation for reasons related to the stance on issues such as same-sex unions have had a chance to express their views–openly, if they wished–in a way that would show their wounds and see if they could be healed.
Much faith revolves around forgiveness and healing. But to be forgiven you should know that a wrong has been done. To forgive you need to appreciate that seeing the wrong done has to move beyond thinking of who to blame. As people try to feel their way to a new normal, a risk exists that those who have taken the decision to vote with their feet will be noticed but not noted. Who is trying to understand the why of the decisions to leave and has forgiveness had its chance?