Imagine Being Part of a Church

Imagine Being Part of a Church November 27, 2020

Imagine being part of a church where your baby could be baptized by a priest or deacon who would hold your baby in her arms, with all the tenderness with which she has held her own children, as she welcomes them into God’s sacramental family.

Imagine being a part of a church that holds open nominations and elections among its lay members each year to be part of the parish council. And imagine when there is a personnel or policy question for the parish, the parish council decides, and the priest (if any at the moment) has just one vote.

Graffiti on front steps of St. Paul’s Church / author’s screen capture from Zoom meeting

Imagine being part of a church where the priest discovers “I can’t breathe” graffiti on the front steps of an urban parish when he arrives on Pentecost Sunday, and sees this as the Holy Spirit’s breath being given a chance to speak to us and convict us, and the parish council votes to let the graffiti remain as an ongoing witness.

Imagine being part of a church where the men’s group in a suburban parish votes to disassociate from a national fraternal group because of their failure to take a stand for racial justice, and continues their charitable work under a new name, honoring a late African American Bishop.

Imagine being part of a church where the Bishop is a spiritual leader with only modest administrative duties and authority, and where only a handful of people work in the diocesan offices. Imagine that the Bishop exercised little control over your own parish, and that diocesan involvement was mostly limited to ministries that could not be self-sustaining, such as campus ministries and newly-formed and poor parishes. Imagine, however, that the Bishop was concerned that parishes might not have the right incentives to stay safe in a pandemic, and so set strict diocesan rules and oversight regarding the safety of liturgical practices and building usage during this national emergency.

Imagine being part of a church that convenes annually all the clergy in the diocese, and lay delegates from every parish, to set policies and the budget of the diocese. Imagine any one of these hundreds of participants could offer resolutions or amendments, even overriding the will of the Bishop by their collective votes. Imagine this convention voted down the proposed budget because it did not sufficiently prioritize the needs of poor and largely-immigrant parishes in a time when collections are down but community needs are high.

Imagine that the convention considered a proposal to recommend that all parishes provide paid parental leave not only to female clergy who had given birth, but to all clergy and lay staff who give birth, or their partner does, or who adopt a child. Imagine that the concern was not over the cost or incentives of such a policy, but whether it was written so as not to reduce the benefits of anyone who was already receiving paid maternity leave.

Imagine being part of a church in which most administrative decisions of the diocese were made by an executive committee consisting of the Bishop and clergy and lay members elected by regional groupings of parishes. Imagine that the convention electing at-large representatives voted overwhelmingly for lay candidates who were ethnically diverse and clergy who were outspoken about social justice issues.

Imagine being part of a church that asks you to promise to proclaim by word and example the Gospel, seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself, strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being.

Would you think being an active member of such a church would be worth your time? If you found out a priest in this church had committed sexual abuse, would you consider it a stain on the entire church, or would you seek to restore the church community by supporting the victim and supporting removal of the offender? If you felt that a church policy didn’t go far enough in supporting those in need, would you despair of it ever changing, or would you have hope that you could work and organize to change it in the near future? Would the saying “we are the Church” ring true for you?

Does this all seem too far-fetched to hope for? These are all things I have actually witnessed this year in the church I now attend. Not a hope, not a dream, but a reality.

There is nothing in Catholic dogma that precludes any of this becoming reality in the Catholic Church, if only the Pope would allow it. So what conclusion do you draw?

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