The Unity of the Spirit?  (by Jon Shuler​​)

From the first days of the new beginning that had come to the parish of St Margaret, the joy that some felt was not shared by all. There was a deeply traditional part of the parish  community which mistrusted the changes that were being made. The parish had existed for well over one thousand years, and it’s building for over eight hundred. Patterns of worship last changed in the upheaval of the Anglo-Catholic Movement of the nineteenth century were not easily altered. Those whose preferences were for the liturgical order of the Book of Common Prayer, or its centrally authorized alternatives, were not eager to arrive at a service where the rector might spontaneously change things. Even so, reason and careful pastoral attention had bridged most of the internal divisions in the early days. Perhaps most of all the rapid growth in attendance had a dampening effect on criticism. In a time of general church decline St Margarets was growing, which made almost everyone pleased. But leadership was the issue that would not go away.

Historically, the rector of an English Parish had great authority and power. For centuries he had been allowed the freedom to shape the life and ministry according to his own understanding. So long as no serious charges were brought against him, his decisions went unchecked. Change was in the air, however, and a national reorganization had created a new system that involved an elected Parochial Church Council, or PCC. The existing PCC (when the renewal first began) was the center of resistance to the future the rector desired. With the efforts of a strong rector, a new system was put in place.

The Eldership, as it was called, comprised four persons chosen by the rector to share with him the spiritual leadership of the parish. The PCC would still have its legal place in the life of the parish, but the Elders would collectively guide the pastoral affairs of the community. And the rector would choose the initial group. Fr. Davis chose his Warden (called in England “the Rector’s” Warden) who held a senior position in the University of Durham, a theologian from one of the Durham Colleges, a registered nurse who was widowed and raising two children, and the young American Curate. Weekly times of prayer and counsel were set, and hope was high.

Many things went well for a season, but little by little the hoped for blessings eluded the new leadership group. The rector never stopped thinking he was the key decision maker, and the other four never stopped believing they had been raised to a position which gave them not only voice but authority. When differences mounted, the rector more and more took decisions outside of the Elder’s meetings, and tensions grew.

Things finally came to a head when a rising chorus of parish complaints began to be entertained by the naive young Curate. With others, he thought the way forward for the parish demanded a shared leadership style. The rector thought otherwise, though he wanted the Curate to be at his side, and asked him to immediately give up his post graduate studies to become a full time priestly leader. When the Curate demurred, with two other of the Elders agreeing, the rector promptly ended the meeting.

 

Next Week: Confusion & Uncertainty

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