Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Story Time 2.0

Back on July 17, 2007 I posted a blog entitled "Story Time" -- and today ... the day after the unanimous ruling by the CA Supreme Court in favor of the Diocese of Los Angeles -- it seemed like a good time to revisit that story ... for those who may have missed it or who need a "memory refresher course."

The blog was in response to a commenter named "Jim" who wrote this in response to a story about the ongoing litigation over property in the Diocese of Los Angeles: "It seems to me that there has been little of what might be called Christian charity in any of this prior to the filing of lawsuits."

In response I replied, "If you'd like to email me I'd be happy to give you some of the "back story" of just how far backwards this diocese bent to keep the litigation from happening. What 'seems to you' is not all there is to the story. "

And then I figured I might just as well answer it for all ya'll. So let's have "Story Time."

~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Once upon a time there was a diocese getting ready to elect a new bishop. The Search Committee presented four candidates -- any one of whom would have made a perfectly FINE bishop -- but there were some people in the diocese who thought they needed more diversity in the slate so two other candidates ... both of whom would make perfectly fine bishops ... were persuaded to allow themselves to be nominated from the floor of the Electing Convention.
One of those was a priest named Jon Bruno. I remember returning to town from some meeting or the other to the news [a] that Jon had agreed to stand for election and [b] that David Anderson (then Rector of St. James, Newport Beach) was supporting him in the election.
So I called Jon ... who I'd known for many years in Stewardship and Cursillo contexts ... and left him a message that I had a question for him.
He called me back. My question was ... well, to put it bluntly ... blunt.
"I heard that David is supporting your candidacy and before I can figure out who I'm supporting need to know from you whether you've cut some kind of Griswoldesque deal with him that involves the word "abstain." (This was not long after Lambeth 1998 when +Frank Tracy famously abstained on Lambeth 1.10)
Jon's answer was he had not cut any kind of "deal" -- that David knew where he stood on the issues they disagreed about and the only thing he'd promised was that there would always be a place at the table for people who disagreed with him. And he asked me for my support. And I gave it to him.

So +Jon Bruno became Bishop Coadjutor in 2000 and Bishop Diocesan in 2001 and set about trying to make sure that there was a place for everybody. Even people who disagreed with him. And he brought together people who disagreed with EACH other to try to bridge the gap. I wrote back in May about some of my experience with that process.
Here's a bit from that post about "... the once-upon-a-time when the Bishop of Los Angeles was longing to hope that if he brought together clergy leaders from his diocese for conversations about faith and theology we'd learn that we had more in common than we did in difference and we'd find a way to heal the breech between us. So we did. Eight of us. Four "liberal" and four "conservative." We met for a year. Twelve months. Once a month.
We brought sack lunches and sat around a round table in our Cathedral Center and read the Catechism together -- the Outline of the Faith from the Book of Common Prayer. And we talked about it. About God. About Jesus. About the Holy Spirit. About the Church. About the Sacraments. About Sin.
And we prayed for each others' children and grandchildren. And we found we did indeed have a lot more in common than we did in difference. And in the end three of the four "conservatives" left the Episcopal Church. David Anderson to Nigeria. Bill Thompson to Uganda. Ron Jackson to I-can't-remember-where."
And how much harder could +Jon Bruno have worked to keep that from happening? Where was "Christian Charity" when we could have used it -- back before the lawyers and the courtrooms and the countersuits?
Here's what I know. On Diocesan Dodger Night +Jon took me aside and -- over peanuts and a beer -- told me that he had that very week met with "our brothers" and offered them Delegated Episcopal Oversight (DEPO) from the bishop of their choice. "It breaks my heart, Susan," he said, "that at this point none of the bishops of Los Angeles can meet their sacramental needs. But we have to realize that this is just where we are as a church right now and give them what they need so we can put this fighting behind us and get on with the mission and ministry of the church."
And he said he would keep me posted. And the next thing I heard that "our brothers" told him didn't want another bishop ... that +Jon was their bishop and they loved him. And the following Monday (the bishop's day off) letters were presented at the Cathedral Center saying they were leaving for greener Anglican pastures. Oh -- and they were taking the property that belonged to the Diocese of Los Angeles with them.
And here we are. Story time doesn't have a "happily ever after" ending today, I'm afraid. The bishop who promised that there would always be room at the table for those who disagreed with him before he even WAS a bishop still has a place set at the table for those who have left -- and in my index of gifts and graces that would certainly be listed under "Christian Charity."
I couldn't agree more that the lawsuits are a sad distraction from and a significant drain on the resources we have been given to do mission and ministry.
And I wish with all my heart there had been a way for us to work through our differences or -- lacking that -- to come to a mutually agreeable separation agreement.
And it seems to me that the chance for that was somewhere inbetween "thanks for the offer of DEPO but we want you to be our bishop" and "these are our lawyers."
And the responsibility for that lies firmly at the feet of the ones walking out the door with the silver, the linens and the deeds stuffed in their pockets -- not at the feet of the one still setting a place at the table for everybody.


Wormwood's Doxy said...

A sad story---but God bless +Bruno for being a faithful shepherd.

And God bless the one conservative who stayed!


Father Bob+ said...

Hi Susan:

I guess Jon's approach is taken from the pages of Scripture in which we read about setting such tables for all sorts of people. I have found this gracious invitation throughout my 50 years as an Episcopalian in the Diocese of Los Angeles, even when I did not always agree with everything the church was doing to include all of God's children.

I love that this Table continues to be set for more of God's children. You are right, Jon continues to keep places at the Table for everyone. God bless him and those who still do not wish to accept his invitation.

God's Peace in The Table of our Lord,

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

No, there isn't a "Happily Ever After" to this story. There wasn't one at the cross. That didn't even happen at the tomb. For Christians, there is no promise of "happy". We are promised the joy that the disciples first knew. And our "ever after" is, rather, eternity.

So, here's to Jesus and those who believe in Him and in His joy and the life eternal promised by Him. Like, +Jon Bruno.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Thanks, Susan, for this reminder of the story and the history. Not every outreached hand will be grasped. But the offer was made.

janinsanfran said...

This is very moving actually. And sad.

JimB said...

+Bruno held one of the four in love and fellowship. That is something of an achievement in our day. In fact it is a triumph.

All we can do is invite and welcome. The rest is up to those who can stay or leave. It is a ministry of invitation.