Confusion & Uncertainty   (by Jon Shuler​​)

Looking back after nearly fifty years it is plain that the next few months would have been a time of confusion and uncertainty in the parish. When there is a confusion about vision and direction there will always be difficulties in any organization. Most especially in a family of people that make up a Christian congregation. For many months, the epicenter of relational ministry and excitement had centered around the flat and family of the curate. Public liturgical life centered around the rector and his family. When the two were not in one accord the fabric of the renewal began to unravel.

At first there was an uneasy truce. Superficial order and agreement was maintained, and the renewal life of the parish seemed to go on as usual. But everything had changed in the – at first – unseen realm of relationships. Where there had been laughter and free flowing joy in decision making and ministry, things began to have a certain edge. Politeness and English decorum started to characterize the meetings of the leadership team, and there began to be less and less eagerness to meet together. Gradually the decision making apparatus that had emerged in the early days of the revival returned to a very top down style. Decisions were made and announced, when they had earlier been discussed and prayed through until a general agreement was reached. With every such occurrence, the underground disturbance grew.

The Lord Jesus taught his disciples that when there is ought against another, the one perceiving the problem must go and seek to resolve it. Or when there has been a sin committed, the one who erred is to go and seek forgiveness and restoration. But in the circumstances of that day, these lessons were hard to live. Face to face meetings were held, and opposing positions and understandings were aired, but the situation only seemed to get worse. The rector was experiencing disagreement as rebellion, and the majority of the leadership community were experiencing his behavior as un-pastoral. Without competent outside help, the leadership was unsure what to do. As before, the two sides looked to two different sources for help. But there was only rector, one ruler, as centuries of church life had long decreed, and his voice was primary.

Fr. Stephen turned to Graham Pulkingham, the American clergyman stirring up a great deal of new life, new worship, and new ministry practices throughout the British Isles. His fame was widespread at that season, and he seemed to many to have been sent by God for the renewal that was occurring inside parts of the Church of England. And the rector had been seeing his counsel for quite some time. Asked for his opinion about what to do in the situation he gave it: the young curate should be sent home to his own country. This “younger’s” time of learning and supporting the renewal was over.

Telling these things now still reminds the writer of the pain of it. A season of wonder and grace, filled with love and learning was suddenly brought to its conclusion for him and his family, and those closest to them. Yet nothing learned since suggests that this was a mistake. It was clearly the right thing to do.


Next Week: A New Arrival in Town


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