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.

Review, Pandemic: How to Prevent an Outbreak

By John Ruberry

“While we can’t predict where the next influenza pandemic is going to come from,” Dennis Carroll, the director of the emerging threats unit of US Agency for International Development, says in the third episode of the new six episode Netflix documentary series Pandemic: How to Prevent an Outbreak, “there are certain places that you want to pay particular attention to–and China is one of those, that’s the place where we’ve seen the emergence of virtually all of the deadly influenza viruses over the last half-century.”

Carroll says this while images of a Vietnamese wet market, where live chickens are sold and slaughtered, are shown.

“We know that viruses move from wildlife into livestock into people,” he says early in that same episode.

I’m writing this from home in Illinois, where I am living under Governor JB Pritzker’s shelter-in-place order because of the COVID-19 coronoavirus outbreak. While the origin of this disease is still being debated it is likely, according to experts, that it did first infect humans at a wet market.

I saw Pandemic last week on my Netflix welcome screen and at first I looked away and said to myself, “If I want to know about pandemics I can switch on the local news–or cable news.” And I was concerned that this was, to use the legendary chant from Monty Python and the Holy Grail, a “bring out your dead” series. And it starts that way, with Carroll, at a mass grave in western Pennsylvania, one that is marked by a single crucifix. The site contains the remains of victims of the 1918 influenza pandemic. Yes, not only can it happen here–but it has happened here.

And the “not-if-but-when” pandemic has arrived, only it’s coronavirus instead of influenza.

The focus of Pandemic is on the scientists, the aid workers, and the doctors on the front lines of disease prevention and cures. People like Jake Glanville and Sarah Ives, the scientists who are working with pigs in Guatemala to develop an all-strains flu virus, as well as Dr. Dinesh Vijay, who treats flu patients at a crowded hospital in Jaipur, India. But disease isn’t just an urban phenomenon. In Pandemic, we meet Holly Goracke, the sole doctor at tiny Jefferson County Hospital in rural Oklahoma, who works 72-hour shifts. And we also become acquainted with Dr.Syra Madad, the director of the special pathogens program of New York City Health and Hospitals.

Along the way we are introduced to anti-vaccination activists in Oregon, health care workers at an Arizona border detention center, and World Health Organization disease fighters in the Democratic Republic of Congo, who not only face the risk of contracting the extremely deadly Ebola virus, but also getting murdered by gangs.

Surprisingly, religion is viewed favorably in this scientific docuseries. Madad, Goracke, and Vijay all rely on faith to strengthen them as they battle disease.

Not surprisingly there are a few knocks in Pandemic over lack of funding from the Trump administration. Including from Madad. But she’s not infallible. In January, in a CNBC interview shortly after the debut of Pandemic, Madad praised China’s efforts to slow the spread of COVID-19, although she did parse her statement with, “It’s too early to tell.” I wager she’d like to take that praise back.

If you are suffering from anxiety over coronavirus, you may want to stay away from Pandemic. The same goes if you are an anti-vaxxer–you’ll just get POd. Also, I suggest if you decide to view Pandemic: How to Prevent an Outbreak then take it in just one episode at a time. At times the series is emotionally exhausting.

Pandemic is rated TV-14, Netflix says, because of foul language and smoking. And there are some disturbing scenes.

John Ruberry regularly blogs at Marathon Pundit.