Portland Parish Protests POC Priest

Portland Parish Protests POC Priest August 11, 2019


Here’s an article at TheDeacon’s Bench that caught my eye:  “Revolt: parishioners protest changes at parish in Portland, Oregon.”  As is generally the case for this blog, this is largely an excerpt from a report from a news report with a link to “read the whole thing.”

In this particular case, the link to The Oregonian leads to a story about the parishioners of St. Francis of Assisi Church in Portland, Oregon, in open revolt against their newly-installed (a year ago) pastor.  The parish, which has a strong social justice bent, including a soup kitchen ministry, had had a tradition of rewriting the scripture texts to replace any male pronounces/references with neutral language, e.g., “God” or “Creator” instead of “Lord” or “King,” and they recited their own parish “profession of faith” after the Nicene Creed, and they stood during the Liturgy of the Eucharist rather than kneeling — two practices which the new pastor put an end to, or at least tried to.

It came to a head this summer, when liturgical vestments were found discarded in a trailer headed for the dump; the new pastor apologized and said this was a mistake and, while it was intended that these would be put in storage as he wouldn’t be wearing them, the box in question made its way to the trailer accidentally.  (There’s a photograph showing a white vestment with rainbow stripes; did the new priest reject this because it was intentionally meant to communicate LGBT support? Out of a belief that white vestments should be, well, white?  Because he’s just got his own set he prefers?)  And on June 30, the parishioners went beyond complaints before or after but during Sunday mass and immediately after its end, with shouts and “boos” and protest signs.

The Oregonian reports:

At the end of Mass, Karen Mathew, former music director at St. Francis, took the pulpit to lead the congregation in song. The song began, and Kuforiji walked away.

On one side of the aisle, parishioners shook maracas, hit tambourines and clapped their hands. They sang loud. On the other, parishioners were quiet.

After the song, Melinda Pittman, a parishioner who has been at St. Francis for 30 years, took the pulpit. She said she had walked out to talk with Kuforiji when the song began.

“I said that for the last year we have been wanting real dialogue,” Pittman said. “I said we are being abused. We are being abused in the Catholic church by this priest and by this archbishop.”

“Boo,” a man yelled from behind the pews. “This is a holy priest.

“You don’t belong here,” parishioners yelled back.

Kuforiji was near the back of the church. There, another long-time parishioner, Rebecca Boell, confronted him.

“How can you be a priest?” she said. “I’ve been here over 15 years. You’ve been here a year.”

“Do you have reverence for God?” Kuforiji asked her.

Parishioners say they’ve shown it is the authority of the church they do not revere. They resist authority and find God in their resistance.

Then, later:

Despite such losses, parishioners have continued to resist. They sang songs they had used for decades and passed out instruments for people to play in the pews. They said their community commitment after the Nicene Creed, creating a discord of voices between them and the newcomers. They stood when told to kneel.

And finally:

At this Sunday Mass, however, there was practically no one left to resist.

New faces were scattered across the church. Tom Hogan said many were either recruited or from the neighborhood.

The music was subdued, reverent. People held songbooks and sang. They didn’t clap. No one shook maracas or hit tambourines.

After the Nicene Creed, no one said the community commitment.

As Kuforiji began to consecrate the bread and wine, kneeling cushions creaked as worshippers pulled them down from the pews.

They knelt.

Tom Hogan and five others stood.

As the reporting continued, it became more and more apparent that the reporter, Peter Talbot, aligned himself with the protesting parishioners.  The “community commitment” and the practice of standing were good and right things to do; the removal of the post-creed profession and the introduction of kneeling were alien practices wrongly imposed by a pastor who was disruptive of the community that “owned” the congregation.

Even the new faces are not being given any recognition — they’re treated as outsiders, “recruited” (by who? isn’t that evangelism and a good thing?), or “from the neighborhood” (the article makes clear that longtime parishioners were not), almost invaders, rather than welcome in the community.

Of course, it is the nature of a Catholic parish that it must follow the norms of the Catholic Church, read from a common lectionary, follow the prescribed order of mass, and so forth.  Catholic parishes are not independent in the manner of Protestant churches.  They simply don’t have the right to choose to design their liturgy how they wish.

And, what’s more, well, The Oregonian link includes a video, which is instructive.  Not only are the protesting parishioners white, but they are, by and large, grey-haired.  The priest? Perhaps his name might provide a hint:  George Kuforiji.  Yes, he’s a Person of Color, and, what’s more, a literal African-American, that is, an immigrant from Nigeria if this redditor’s research is correct.

So maybe it’s just ironic that a group of social justice advocates ends up in a battle against a black immigrant priest.  Or maybe it’s more than that — and their opposition is actually hardened by a feeling, however much they might proclaim that they welcome immigrants, that this particular immigrant is “not one of us.”



the parish website contains downloadable bulletins — three of them, all prior to the date of this protest, so I guess the webmaster and/or bulletin preparer also left.  There are two noteworthy bulletin items:

From the June 23 bulletin:

*From Tricia [Z]

On Sunday June 23rd women who want to protest the male dominance of church are asked to wear white and stand in silent protest in front of their church a half hour before mass. They are also asked to strike from June 22nd to June 29th by not performing the regular duties they would perform for their parish.

The bulletin was dated June 23 so I’m not sure of the timing here, but the women protesting in the video were indeed wearing white.

And from the June 9 bulletin:

*From Jan [R]

Some of you may already know this, but we keep a little bit of Father Bob with us during every Mass. A few months ago, Father told me that he had written our addition to the Apostles Creed:

“As a community of disciples:

We believe that Jesus reveals a God of love & compassion.

That in solidarity with the poor & the oppressed, & without violence, Jesus worked for justice & freedom.

For this reason we pledge to be his faithful followers in our lives.


Father also said that Valerie added this sentence:

“We believe that Jesus called His followers to the same mission of love & compassion for all creation.”

It gives me a bit of joy to know that Father is with us every Sunday that we say this prayer. I hope that it does the same for all of you.

From elsewhere it appears that Father Bob is the longtime, beloved, recently deceased pastor.  But “addition to the Apostles Creed” sure as heck sounds as if this is not simply an extra prayer which might have placed in the Prayers of the Faithful but something they see as on par with the Apostles Creed.  (And, by the way, does this really mean that they replaced the Nicene Creed with the Apostles’ Creed in the first place?)  And to take their new creed literally, they proclaim that it is because of Jesus’s message of social justice (rather than, oh, that he is the Son of God and Redeemer of All Mankind) that they pledge to be followers of Christ.  And, even so, they seem to miss the point:  Jesus said “take up your cross and follow me” and called for repentance and conversion, but did not take it upon himself to lead the Jewish people to freedom in a secular sense.



Image:  from pixabay: https://pixabay.com/en/priest-catholic-mass-host-chalice-1588892/; public domain.  No, that’s not the parish in question or the priest in question.

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