As I wrote a while back, this year’s convention had no “sexuality” resolutions, nor contentious resolutions dealing with our relationship with the Anglican Communion. The program was all about our mission work in this part of the world. The presentations we heard were inspiring. Our delegates left convention inspired about how we can (in the words of our diocesan mission) “make disciples … build congregations … for the life of the world.” We wanted to bring some of the joyous spirit of the convention back to our parish.
And so we did. I think folks enjoyed it.
I was the third of our three delegates to speak. I began with my reflections and telling some stories about convention, and especially about our bishop’s address. I acknowledged that he had announced his plans to appoint a task force to study the proposed Anglican Covenant and expressed his views on the Covenant. I asked the folks of our parish whether they wanted to hear about his stance. Frankly, I assumed that most of our parishioners don’t even know that an Anglican Covenant is being considered … much less what it includes. But they wanted to hear! A good number seemed aware of it and eager to hear Bishop Smith’s perspective.
And so I launched into it. I think I did a good job of speaking moderately, reflecting our bishop’s own moderate voice.
Somewhere in the midst of it, one parishioner launched into a harangue. [You can call him "Jim," though that's not his real name.] He said that the threat of TEC being “kicked out” of the Anglican Communion was only a fair come-uppance of what we have done to parishes that have resisted the general direction of the Episcopal Church. He said that our diocese had “kicked out” a parish that objected to the general direction of our diocese, had sued them and hounded them out of their church building … and that this was part of a nationwide strategy of the Episcopal Church to “kick out” all dissenters and sue them into bankruptcy.
I was surprised to have a parishioner go off on this weird tangent … but I wasn’t really surprised to hear him spew this stuff. Every time conversations about the diocese, TEC, or Anglican Communion arise, he gets red in the face and spews stuff like this. (Fortunately, he is just about a minority of one in our parish.)
My challenge was to respond to him calmly. You know and I know that what he stated were lies. (And I suspect they are lies he has drunk from the ill-named “Virtue” website.) The Episcopal Church has never kicked a parish out of its building. We have never sued a congregation for disagreeing with what this man likes to call “the party line.”
I replied as calmly as I could to him. I pointed out that TEC had never kicked a parish out of its building. I reminded him (and the other attendees) that the diocese has acted when Episcopal congregations have claimed to leave TEC while retaining the property held in trust for our church. I was able to remind him that a couple of our smaller congregations, who are adamantly opposed to the current directions of our diocese and TEC, receive tens of thousands of dollars from the diocese to help those small congregations remain viable and support clergy to serve them. Far from quashing dissent, the diocese is spending serious money to keep those conservative parishes afloat.
One of the things he claimed was that our diocese is stuck with an “empty building” after the one parish left our diocese back in 2003. Thanks be to God, one of our parishioners pointed out that – far from being an empty building – that congregation is now growing again. And I think it’s growing because it has moved back into the Episcopal mainstream, after a schismatic priest fomented anger and schism and led a rump group out of the Episcopal Church.
Despite my statement of the facts, this man persisted in saying that the diocese had hounded the congregation from its building. I gently responded: “Tthose are not the facts.” I wanted to say: ”You lie!” But I did not. I just tried to insert some facts into his lies.
He is by no means a stupid man. He’s quite bright. But he is also, obviously, angry. It’s also obvious that he has swallowed the lies of the “Virtue” website.
What in the world are we to do when otherwise intelligent people swallow and spew the lies told about our church??
I did the best I could. And several folks told me afterwards that I had handled it well, handled it calmly.
But, for the life of me, I do not understand how people like this can – in good conscience – spout those lies as “fact.”
I suppose my job is to remind the parish, as calmly as I can, of the facts of the situation – despite those who swallow the “Virtue” lies hook, line, and sinker.
Your thoughts? Could I have handled it better? How do you handle those angry people in your parishes?