In reaction to comments on this story being posted on TitusOneNine, Fr. Rob Eaton writes of his and his parish's ongoing struggle and discernment in San Joaquin - important words and an important perspective (I have prettied up the formatting a little, and boldface is mine):
. . . Well, let me help you out with that for next year’s link to our stats, and be pleased with this foreknowledge: this is information for you at least 9 months ahead of any official reporting through the Congregational Development office. And I will provide some background information on who we are, where we are, and why you should be praying for us.
Next year’s report will show a decline in ASA and membership. As of this point we have had around 16 or 17 people, maybe a couple more before the dust settles, all active folks, who have stated in some way they are leaving the congregation due to the congregational vote on February 17th. This won’t show up until next year’s parochial report. So there you go.
Further, we had 15 active folks 2 years ago who left the parish for non-related reasons: deaths, movings out of the parish, marriage and finding a compromise spiritual home, etc. That was very tough, as any small, median-size parish knows.
You can count.
And the Lord has been good to us.
Now forgive me for taking your comment as impetus.
Since you are interested in statistics, perhaps you will be interested in the larger “narrative”, as Hauerwas says.
When I arrived as the first rector, the new parish was in a demise dive following almost exactly the trajectory of the Episcopal Church in membership and ASA from about the zenith of 1963-64. 42-44 on Sundays in two services. The retiring vicar held the place together with his firm but caring hand. I came in with specific calling to “see what the Holy Spirit could do in a small congregation that had been around for a hundred years and was dying.” I also came with a very strong calling to be a priest in the Episcopal Church, complete with a very strong interior challenge to leave already, but God’s challenge back of His Will over mine. Jesus is the Lord.
Even before I got here, the Lord was preparing the way for resurgence and renewal. We rode that with strong direction in parish vision, and biblical teaching and preaching, through the year we were on track to double the aforementioned ASA. And then TEC stuff began hurt us. It didn’t help that I had wavered myself in thought, word and deed.
When I woke up from my own fog in confession to my Lord, my family and my church, the Lord reaffirmed His calling upon me (and then again in 2005, and again in 2006, and again in 2007). And just in time to begin to see others wavering in their Faith, not only in the parish but throughout the Church. The Lord affirmed with healings, prophecy, words of knowledge, empowerments in the Spirit, maturity in discipleship with people who had been in the congregation for - yes - 50+ years.
Throughout ALL of this, the Lord led me into leadership positions in the diocese where there were obvious holes, not waiting for someone to appoint me because they thought I might be worthy. Like Nehemiah recognizing holes in the wall of Jerusalem. A ministry gift from early on, even before ordination.
I suppose it should be said at this point that we left the Diocese of Oregon to come to Tulare, not because of a need to escape something there and find the coverage of a strong, conservative bishop - Bp Schofield, who became the Ordinary 8 months before - but because the Lord had directed me to go to “the land of Goshen”. And as I found out 6 months later after that word of knowledge, it would be in Tulare, in the diocese of San Joaquin, 8 miles from a little community named “Goshen.”
So now after our congregational vote, which focused on a proper addressing of the parish bylaws by applying the action of diocesan convention in December as a proposed amendment in accession, and to which the congregation responded by voting with a variety of leading, discernment and reason, we find ourselves as a “stand firm” (if you will, SF), “sure word as has been taught” (if you will, T1:9), kind of TEC parish. And deeply in need of every step provided to us by the Lord.
We recognize that (if you will, Neal) we are “Beyond Business as Usual”, and that we may intentionally have to “fight our way to Christ”, as I said on Sunday about the healed man found from Lent4 Gospel. Even though fellow conservative Episcopalians (and from other denominational backgrounds) will and have come to us anew, we will not boast of growth by transfers. In fact, we will be wary that those who do come to us bring any other agenda than to serve the Lord Jesus Christ and follow in His way, His Truth, His life, and His teaching.
We will grieve and mourn; we will continue to strive to reach out in love to those who have departed; we will affirm our status as a Family in Christ. At the same time, we will commit ourselves again to the basic building blocks of the Church, small groups and families, reaching out to the unsaved, the unchurched, and the dis-churched, especially with the given vision ministry of intercession.
Robroy, I love you in the Lord, I admire your commitment and dogged focus (that is not a putdown). You didn’t define ‘limbo.’ However, denigration, in whatever form, is not acceptable. Rather, we need your prayers. Your prayers for us are valid in the sight of the Lord, if only because we are fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. But even more so, because if the Lord’s leading Himself is for His People such as myself - and I will only implicate myself here - to still be part of TEC, then it is by default a valid spiritual, physical, mental and emotional option, and not one that can be dismissed out of hand.
As our great conservative angst evidences, the Bible encompasses both dis-association, and continued association if for the purpose of distinct proclamation of the Word of God and the repentance and salvation of all. I am asking you to no longer consider and denigrate the “if”, but to allow for and bless the “it is.”
It is now time - and has been - for all who uphold the ministry of the unfailing Word of God, no matter what strategy of association, to carry on if so called, but at the same time to intercede for each other across those strategies. To pray for each others’ victory in the battles against the World, the Flesh and the Devil. To pray for each others’ proclamation of the Kingdom of God to result in repentances, and individual and mass conversions to Jesus as Lord. To turn the expenditures of our time and energy from critical, satirical and condemnatory comments against each other, into a sharp, clear, profound, Spirit-led apologetic of the Faith once received for the purpose of renewal and reformation of the Body of Christ on earth, and the “new every day” announcement of the Good News of Jesus Christ to the world that has yet to hear of it.
Beyond the justification of “steel sharpening steel”, let us now renounce that which results in “friendly fire”, and the intentional and unintentional casualties on the same side of the battle. As I have just spent time talking with and praying for a parish family who found themselves in the middle of a neighborhood gang war, there are too many wars out there already, domestic and foreign, without us taking each other out.
I call us all to join in rebuking, in the Name of Jesus, the work of the World, the Flesh and the Devil which have and are causing so much confusion and implosion.
Robroy, may your ministry in Colorado be a blessing to the Lord; your Church doors be open to a steady flow of those seeking answers only the Lord can provide; abundant provision be given to extend that ministry and outreach. Your parish will find a faithful pastor and priest, and you will find encouragement and strength in leadership in the Lord.
Read it all.