Chicago Anglo-Catholic meltdown — update

A.S. Haley reports on the latest news from the civil war tearing apart the Church of the Ascension

Though there is as yet no announcement on the official parish Website, word has come to me that the Church of the Ascension’s interim pastor, Fr. Shane Patrick Gormley, circulated the following email to the members of his parish earlier this afternoon:

The Church of the Ascension 

Today, at a meeting of the Vestry, I tendered my resignation as Priest in Charge of Church of the Ascension, effective immediately. In the following comments, I have attempted to balance speaking the truth in love and telling it “like it is,” along with respecting multiple sides of a disagreement and my own sympathies.

It was revealed to me this week that our Special Parish Meeting was orchestrated by members of the “Save Ascension” group, a faction that has existed within the parish since earlier this year. Their goals have changed over the course of this year, but have generally centered around the rehiring of former staff members, defaming previous and prospective clerics, and the restoration of what they call “catholic” liturgical practices. Although the Special Parish meeting did bear some fruit, and gave many a chance to be heard, the facts are that the meeting was approached by a majority present with an agenda to usurp my role as Priest in Charge of the parish, and therefore chair of the meeting.  

Members of “Save Ascension” include many who have already dissociated themselves from this parish, vestry members, and still some whom I believe to be genuinely concerned about the state of the parish. For any good intentions that may have led some to join “Save Ascension,” they have been muffled and silenced by the procedure which “Save Ascension” has followed–a procedure marked by rumor, speculation, gossip, name-calling, and bullying. I am very quick to acknowledge that these same hallmarks of un-Christian behavior have not been limited to “Save Ascension,” but may be found in many members of the parish. Not all members of “Save Ascension” are guilty of this, nor are all those who oppose the actions and mindset of “Save Ascension,” but nevertheless, the parish has become a battleground, which is far from how a Christian Church should or can function. Again, not everyone is guilty of poor conduct, but there are some voices that have drowned out those who would speak softly.

Emails presented to me have revealed the desire of some, including vestry members, to usurp the authority entrusted to me as a priest to lead the parish in understanding the will of God for this community. This parish has become a toxic environment, in which the bullies are allowed to speak freely and without consequence, and the apathetic have hoped for resolution without action. I have discerned that there is no way for me to exercise my calling as a priest in such a situation.

I value my time at this parish. I have learned much. Many curacies last no longer than two years, and I by no means regret the nearly two and a half years I have spent here, first as an assistant, then as Curate, and finally as Priest in Charge. That said, I am strongly convicted that the parish is unable to move forward in its current state. Some have explicitly stated that “growth” does not matter to them. Many have lauded the attempts to bring younger families into the parish, yet have done nothing to contribute to creating a liturgical or social space wherein this is possible. While many have been concerned about what will (re)make this a “catholic” parish, the answers to what makes one a “catholic” have differed from person to person. More importantly, many have forgotten that before we may be “catholic,” we must be Christian.

Catholic Christianity is not measured by the length of a solemn procession. It is not encapsulated by a biretta atop a priest’s head. It does not major in minor propers being sung a certain way. It cannot be proclaimed by a lone voice in a pulpit, no matter his or her quality as a speaker. C. S. Lewis puts it this way, on what true catholic faith consists of: 

You must keep on praying for light: and, of course, even in the hall, you must begin trying to obey the rules which are common to the whole house. And above all you must be asking which door is the true one; not which pleases you best by its paint and panelling. In plain language, the question should never be: ‘Do I like that kind of service?’ but ‘Are these doctrines true: Is holiness here? Does my conscience move me towards this?’

I pray that Church of the Ascension will flourish–I truly do. But my conviction (which guides my prayers, my preaching, and my passion) is that it will not flourish as long as individuals within the congregation demand their own way, and insist on the superiority of a time past. From my first sermon on October 13, 2013 to my last sermon on December 6, 2015, I have never stopped asking us to consider, “What is God doing?” I hope you will pray this as I take my leave of this cure, whether for the first time or the hundredth. I hope, and pray, that this parish will seek how it may witness to Christ as his disciples in the world, a world that so desperately needs the love offered on Christ’s cross, and the life offered in His resurrection.

In Christ,

Shane Patrick Gormley +

The oblique references in this email to how “the parish has become a battleground, … a toxic environment, in which the bullies are allowed to speak freely and without consequence” are indeed disturbing. At the same time, the allusions to the necessity of change appear to imply an insistence upon acquiescence in the changes begun by the Rev. Cobb, which are viewed as irreversible. Such a viewpoint cannot be reassuring to those who disagreed with what he set in motion — those in the Church who, apparently, “demand their own way, and insist on the superiority of a time past” [emphasis added].

The Anglo-Catholic tradition in ECUSA is under heavy assault, as indeed it is in the Church of England. Those who are leading the assault have no heed for its consequences for their Churches’ relationship with the Roman Catholic or Orthodox denominations. Those two denominations will never, in the foreseeable future, introduce the departures from orthodox ordination standards which ECUSA and its companions in liberalism have embraced in an effort to “stay relevant” with the changing mores and times. Accordingly, those who part ways with them are parting ways with the church universal — the church catholic.

Father Gormley quotes, appropriately, C.S. Lewis’ Preface to his Mere Christianity. But it behooves both sides of the main point at issue in the Church of the Ascension imbroglio to examine carefully the answers they give to Lewis’ questions: “Are these doctrines true: Is holiness here? Does my conscience move me towards this?” Such questions cannot be answered in a vacuum; nor may Anglo-Catholics answer them without reference to the faith once delivered to the saints.

This is indeed a turning point in the history of the Church of the Ascension. Episcopalians have been facing similar turning points for years, now — and many, like myself, have been forced to pull out of the denomination in order to avoid compromising “the faith once delivered”, as we learned it at our forebears’ knees, and grew up with it, so that we could pass it on in turn. I pray that God’s Holy Spirit will provide the guidance and generosity of Christ’s true faith to all who truly turn to Him in these days of doubt, strife and temptation.]

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