Wednesday, 28th March, 2001: In which George is translated, I am removed from and returned to my project, and receive a letter
A very great deal has happened in the last week and a half. Not the least has been the news of the last 48 hours--the “promotion” and “translation” of Archbishop George Pell to the seat of Sydney. Quite a shock for everyone to be sure! More about this later.
On the evening of Tuesday 20th of March, Fr John Fleming was in town. So we had a very pleasant get-together at P’s place. Peter and I came along, and Fr Greg [Pritchard] brought Fr John, and a couple of bottles of red wine. It was a real “bloke’s” night with a wonderful blend of good company, food, wine and conversation. The next day, Greg rang me to say that it had been a long time since he had enjoyed a evening “among priests” so much.
On Friday, Cathy and [baby] Mia headed off for two nights down at Philip Island with the “college mob” girls--minus children. Maddy and I looked forward to a “Daddy and Maddy” weekend. On Monday 19th, I had completed all the Worship Resources work for the next and final package. I was just beginning to think ahead to the revision that was necessary, when, on Friday night after putting Maddy to bed, I received a phone call from my seminary professor/mentor [chair of the LCA Worship Commission at the time]. We had a wonderfully long chat, I was really enjoying it. Then Maddy began to stir, and I said to him that I had to go to attend to her. He then said that there was something he had rung to say (luckily Maddy settled again on her own). Apparently I was [taken] off the revision [project]. The Victorian President had told him to make sure that I was removed from any further work on the resources, because of the problem of “perceptions” that may attach to the project.
This bit of news hit me in stomach like a cannon ball. The President had actually gone out of his way to remove from me the final few months work on the resources that was required to complete the project that I had begun four years ago. Worse still, he was knowingly depriving me of the source of income that would enable us a living in the first few months after my resignation came into play.
The fact is that any “perceptions” that small minded people may form against the project because of my involvement would already have been formed and attached to the work long ago, since my finger prints are all over it, and I am still the same person I was last week. Short of a public announcement that I was off the case, most people would simply assume that I was still continuing, so where was the benefit?
I pointed all this out to my mentor, plus the fact that I was financially dependant upon this work, and that I was the only one who could really do it. Truth be told, I broke down in tears over the phone. I could tell that he did not want to be the messenger of this information. Moreover he said that it was not a fait accompli, as he still had to speak to the General President. I implored him to beg the General President on my behalf to let me continue. He said that the GP was to be out of office until the beginning of this week, so I would have to wait.
I was furious when I hung up. But a phone call from Peter Holmes calmed me down a little. I rang and told Cathy of the development. Then I went to bed.
The next two days were full for Maddy and I. 9:15am Mass Saturday morning at Our Lady’s, followed by Martin Luther Homes Easter Fete where Herta gave Maddy some biscuits and a chocolate egg, and Maddy bought a white easter rabbit soft-toy. Then on to a “Dorothy and Friends” concert at Knox Shopping Centre, and the Library. Then off to swimming at Ringwood. Back to Martin Luther Homes for some lunch and afternoon tea, and then home for Maddy to go to bed. Then in the evening we went to the Vigil Mass at Our Lady’s, where Maddy (and I) were delighted to see Isaak and Matilda with Suzie and Peter Holmes. After Mass, we stayed on for coffee with Fr Greg.
Next morning, Maddy came to the Eucharist with me down to Knox (a member of the congregation looked after Maddy during the service), then I bundled Maddy off to the 11am Mass at Our Lady’s. What a trooper! Four Masses in one weekend! But I wanted to see all the different musical usages at Our Lady’s. We had a small snack with Fr Greg, then bought some fish and potato gems for lunch. Maddy slept in the afternoon while I watched a movie. Cathy and Mia arrived home just in time for me to head off to address a combined Anglican and Uniting Church group on Lutheran doctrine of baptism. I was very good at this event and did not once mention my conversion!
Monday morning, I received this letter from the General President:
So often we take for granted the extra service our folk provide.
Please be assured [that] the fine and valuable work you have done in contributing to the worship life of our church as you have drafted our Worship Resources, has not gone unnoticed nor unappreciated.
So much research, and so much original work has been a special contribution on your part, and it is acknowledged as such.
God has been good. You have excelled. The church has benefited.
The Lord bless you and your family as your continue to seek to do his wil.
To God be the glory.
This letter was written on the 21st of March--two days before my call from my seminary professor/mentor on Friday. The positive tone was confirmed by another phone call from the latter to say that the General President had reversed the decision to remove me from the revision project. My relief is enormous. I wrote to to the General President:
Thank you for your kind and gracious words with regard to the work that I have done for the Worship Resources. I told [my Seminary mentor] this evening that I have felt greatly privileged to be involved in the liturgical work of the church over the last fifteen years. I regard the advances that we have made in that time to be monumental--fifty years in fifteen, small steps for a Commission, giant steps for a church. In that time, I have been able to contribute with original research and drafts for both the Church Rites and the Rites and REsources for Pastoral Care--two publications that will continue, God willing, to enrich the LCA for years to come.
But I must confess to having a special affection for the LWR project. Even though it has been a project of the Church, through its commission, I have nevertheless regarded it as "my baby", since the very first pilot attempts back in 1995. I am therefore immensely grateful to you for approving my continued role in the final stage of the project. Although I have resigned as project manager--which position [my seminary mentor] now holds--yet I have been working over the last three years with a view to completing a final revision. It would have been a great shame to end my association with the project so close to the finishing line.
But above and beyond that, as I am only a few weeks off beginning my "leave of absence", and do not yet have full time work, I am dependant upon this work to provide for my family. I am therefore greatly relieved to know that I can continue to earn a living in this way, while I continue to seek full time work.
Although [the Victorian President] has asked me to resign fully from the ministry of the LCA, I have not yet done so. I am not fully aware of my reasons--suffice it to say I am not ready to take this step. I wish to assure you that I will abide by the conditions that he has set upon me--I will not function in any way as a Lutheran pastor during this period, nor will I attend pastor's conferences or other gatherings of pastors.
I have been offered a small position, with a small stipend, working as Liturgical Music Coordinator for Our Lady's Catholic Church in Ringwood. This is a special kindness shown by the parish priest there. However, let me assure you that I have not been, nor will be (in the forseeable future) received into the Catholic Church. I do not receive (nor will receive in the forseeable future) any of the Catholic sacraments.
This position does allow me, however, to consider the issue that is before in a real, practical context.
I continue to pray for you, your ministry, the LCA, and all the pastors. I pray that good will may continue to exist between us.
Yours in Christ,
With the same post that the General President's letter came, came a critical letter from the son of a deceased but dear pastor of the Lutheran Church who was once a close associate of Fr Fleming. This man was also now a pastor of the Lutheran Church, having graduated some years after me. The letter accused Peter Holmes and I of bailing out of the Lutheran Church over the issue of the ordination of women.
Peter had recieved a similar letter and responded by phoning the sender, and correcting a number of misunderstandings. For a start, that the issue was far broader than women’s ordination, and secondly that it was far more a conversion to the Roman Church than a bailing out of the Lutheran ministry.
I responded in this fashion:
I understand that Peter has already spoken to you on the phone, and cleared up a number of points. So I will make my letter brief.
Thank you for your forthright comments. I regard nothing as worse than people who hide their true thoughts at times like these.
However, you will have realised by now that the issues are far broader than the ordination of women. I had made my own mind up to investigate entering communion with Rome at least three months before last year's Synod.
The major issue for me was that the Lutheran Church was going to decide a matter of interpretation of scripture--with regard to an issue of ecumenical significance--by a vote. Which ever way this vote went, I had to question a number of things:
a) the authority of the Synod of the LCA to overturn a doctrine that was affirmed as "binding on all Christendom" by the 1966 Theses of Agreement,
b) who in the LCA has authority to make such decisions, and
c) how is the authority of Christ incarnated in the LCA today?
In the end, I discovered that I was (and had been for almost 15 years) more truly Catholic than Lutheran. My attempts to live as an evangelical catholic have failed. If I want to be truly Catholic, I must be Roman.
Mind you, this is not the "easy" path for me. Both myself and Cathy have been married previously. If I ever wish to be received into the Catholic Church (ie. ever wish to receive the sacraments of reconciliation, confirmation or Eucharist) it will be necessary for both Cathy and I to receive annulments. This is far from a foregone conclusion that our applications will be granted. I could indeed spend all the rest of my life as a penitent and catechumen in the church.
Secondly, I, and not my wife or family, am considering joining Rome.
Finally, it has meant that I have lost all my ambitions for advancement in the little pond of the LCA. It has meant that I am losing house, income, health insurance, car, and just about every other material benefit.
Why am I doing this? Because I believe that once we come to recognise something in our hearts as true, we are bound in conscience to follow where it leads, and to conform our whole lives to it. This is a matter of conversion and repentance.
In the end, any other road that I would have taken would have been the cowardly road. I had the best job ever offered to me when I was called to be the second pastor at Hope Valley in SA. I wanted that job desparately. It would have fulfilled all my dreams. But it would have meant that I would have continued to live a lie.
For my own integrity, I resigned my parish, although as you have noted, I have not yet resigned fully from the Roll of Pastors.
My District President has requested that I do so, but I have refused. However, in accordance with his instruction, I will not attend pastor's conferences or act in any way as a pastor of the Lutheran Church during my period of "leave".
In fact this "leave" is a bit of a legal fiction, as I have probably already "left".
Please also note that I have realised that the Lutheran Church will never be the Roman Church, and I do not want to make the Roman Church like the Lutheran Church.
All the best for your continued ministry in the LCA.
P.S. John Fleming visited us recently, and we all drank a toast to the memory of your dear father. The man who is preparing us for entry into the church is Anthony Fisher, who was also a one time protege of your pater, and who has a very "catholic" understanding of Lutheranism as a result.
And in the middle of all this, Fr Greg called with the news of Pell’s elevation! What a night!!
Today was a big “catholic” day for me. This morning, Peter and I began the first of what will probably be a new pattern for us: meeting at Our Lady’s for 11:15am Mass, then talking with Fr Greg for an hour or so, and followed this with lunch over in the food court in Eastland Shopping Centre.
Over lunch we discussed the relationships that had formed during our conversions--with eachother, with P, with Anthony, and with Greg. Fr Greg has been both a good pastor and a good friend during this time.
I also visited Fr Anthony at the Priory today. He seemed a little tired today--but that could be his sadness at the decision regarding George. I found that I feel a very strong bond of brotherly love for that man. This is perhaps not surprising--he has a warm personality, and he has been there for me in one of the most emotionally turbulent periods of my life.
We talked a little about where things stand at the moment, and then we began to discuss Paul VI’s Credo. We focused on discussion of grace, and of the place of Mary in the faith, particularly the historicity of the Assumption.
Then it was back to Knox church for the last First Communion class.
Tonight I attended my first Music Team meeting at the Presbytery at Our Lady’s. It was an interesting experience. I was quite struck by the fact that I was entering a new pastoral situation that would need to tap into every bit of my experience over the last decade.
It felt very similar to the initial meetings with folk down here at Our Saviour’s seven years ago. The organist could very well be [one of my old ladies] in a new manifestation! Still, I am also very glad that I have this opportunity to find my way into the church through a parish in which I have a meaningful contribution to make.
So there it all is. Cathy and Mia are at home again and we all ate breakfast at the table together. Maybe life is looking up afterall!