Report from Louisiana: Turmoil in the Church

By:  Pat Austin

SHREVEPORT – Few things have the potential to divide a church congregation more than a change of leadership. This sort of thing can be so complicated.

Full disclosure – I was born and raised in the Episcopal church, married there, but then life happened and for no single reason I can name, I quit attending. Then it just got easier and easier to sleep in on Sunday and I did not attend for many, many years. Even still, my rector was right there when I needed his services for my mother’s burial. That meant a lot to me.

Just under a year ago my husband and I started attending church once again; he had always been more avid about going than I had been, and he really missed church.

The second Sunday we attended the assistant rector announced he was leaving; he’d been offered a church in another state and he and his family decided to accept the offer. We were crushed: this fellow is young and is smart as a whip. But we wished him well and forged ahead.

The very next Sunday, our rector of many, many years announced his retirement. Vowing not to take this exodus personally, we took the news with some trepidation, knowing how tumultuous a decision on a new spiritual leader can be.

To assist with services, our Rector Emeritus was called back into service. This is a man who served as rector of our church for years before the current rector and the word “beloved” barely describes how much everyone in the church loves him. He is a kind, gentle soul. He has a voice that resonates and absolutely instills joy and comfort. Just hearing his voice restored calm and consistency to our services while the rector search committee does its work.

So, the date came for our current rector to leave. We gave him a lovely sendoff, shed some tears, and wished him well. Though he remains in the area, by the rules of the diocese, he cannot attend services with us for one year. Theoretically this rule aims to give any new guy a fighting chance to build his trust and rapport with his new congregation.

But we don’t have a new guy yet. Priests are in short supply, apparently.

We’ve been working with our beloved Rector Emeritus and a series of fill-in guys – guest preachers from various churches. The first guy who came was very different from what we have been used to and while he is not a candidate for us, we are grateful that he did come to lead our services.

We had yet another guy this past Sunday – one we know and like, but also not a candidate. Just a guy helping out.

Now we have heard from a very credible source that our beloved Rector Emeritus has been asked by the bishop to disappear because he “was trying to run things in the church.”

Devastated is too soft a word for how I took this news.

But, after I calmed down, I have to realize that however credible this source, it is still just a rumor. I don’t know for certain what transpired. But our beloved guy was not there Sunday. The congregation was told “he is taking some time off.”

Maybe.

But to leave us completely without a rector? None? That’s not like him.

Speculation is dangerous and I am working very hard not to do that. We will know more in the coming days.

There has been a great deal of turmoil in the Episcopal church in recent years as liberalism creeps in more and more. When the church codified and approved gay marriage in 2015 many conservative members left. Some were even outraged when women were allowed to become priests. Theological changes and doctrine has changed as well.

And there is still the search for a full-time rector. Inevitably someone will be unhappy with the choice. It’s all very upsetting, especially for someone who doesn’t do change well!

If you’re the praying sort, say a little prayer for our little church in Shreveport as we go through difficult times.

Pat Austin blogs at And So it Goes in Shreveport and at Medium; she is the author of Cane River Bohemia: Cammie Henry and her Circle at Melrose Plantation. Follow her on Instagram @patbecker25 and Twitter @paustin110.

3 thoughts on “Report from Louisiana: Turmoil in the Church

  1. I’m sorry for your trouble – and grief at the loss of a newly found connection. I will pray for you and for the search group, however structured, in your parish. It’s a sacred responsibility and also a LOT of work.
    I’ve served on several rector search committees in a couple of diocese, although not in a long time and much has happened in ECUSA. It seems seriously deficient on behalf of your bishop to have not identified a – long term – interim rector to serve and support your parish while search is on going. There is often a cadre of priests in the diocese who for whatever reason are suited for or prefer interim callings. Interim being usually 18-24 months. It takes that long to let go of the prior relationship and be ready for a new relationship. The search committee – not the vestry alone – has a role to communicate and reassure the congregation at each step of the process. Ask for updates. They help.
    It’s a time of anxiety to not know your shepherd and to feel without leadership. Pastoral care is so important. It’s likely that the Associate knew of the rector’s plans and knew he would not be considered for the rector position, and found a new calling near what is now home. He would probably have left during the interim, but the early timing was unfortunate. But he looked after his family as well as he could.
    Do not fear – the priest who is right for your parish will find you all. And you will find him. Or her.
    Don’t forget tp breathe. Many will be praying for you.

  2. I too was raised in the Episcopal Church. My father was, in fact, an Episcopal priest. I served as acolyte for him at early morning weekday mass more times than I can count, many times when he and I were the only two people present. Those are my most treasured memories.

    I became disgusted with the changes in the church, particularly with the removal of the grace of humility from its teachings. The last straw for me was the removal of the Prayer of Humble Access from Holy Communion. “We are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under thy table. But thou are the same Lord whose quality is always to have mercy.”

  3. I am not an Episcopalian but this sounds the same as the stuff that is going on in the Methodist Church. Clergy are getting harder to come by and that is leaving a mark on many congregations. We (in my congregation) have decided to do without an official paid pastor, and are operating with part time, semi volunteer leadership. So far it has worked, mostly because we are so small that we have totally dispensed with the church bureaucracy that larger congregations are saddled with. And our ministry team is closely aligned in theological outlook. Good luck with your dilemma. Remember, the church is the people, not just the clergy persons.

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