A MONTH IN THE LIFE OF THE ADVENT
The month of May is coming to an end. And, what a month it has been at the Episcopal Cathedral Church of the Advent, in Birmingham AL. Fatigue might be the best word to describe the state of affairs there now.
But then, fatigue might be the best word to describe all of our lives after more than a year of the worst pandemic in a century. We are all exhausted and ever so strongly yearning for a return to normality. First, we mourn the 600,000 Americans, and the millions beyond, who have perished in the plague and we weep with their heartbroken survivors. I think most of all we miss being with one another.
Humans are social animals, not meant to live in isolation. A few days ago, a much beloved family in my little town celebrated a high school graduation and invited everyone to their house. Well, just about everyone showed up. It was the first social occasion here in over a year. Once there, no one wanted to leave such was the joy of long-missed fellowship.
So, on top of the pandemic and its dreadful effects, the good people of the Advent have endured a hard month. A brief summary:
---1 May. News broke in public that Andrew Pearson, the dean and rector since 2014 had suddenly resigned. The two wardens sent a letter to the parish in late April announcing the resignation by mutual agreement of the dean and vestry. Pearson was not fired; he left of this own accord.
---16 May. In his last day the Advent, Pearson preached a sermon with a scarcely veiled, if slight, swipe at the bishop, Glenda Curry. Otherwise, Pearson left on pleasant terms.
---17 May. Pearson sent a letter to a select group of people at the Advent inviting them to follow him out to form a new church.
---17 May. Pearson asked Bishop Curry for a Release and Removal from Holy Orders in the Episcopal Church.
---17 May. Pearson was received as a priest in the Anglican Church in North America, by the archbishop, Foley Beach.
---19 May. Bishop Curry granted the Release and Removal to Pearson.
---19 May. The Rev. Zac Hicks, canon for worship, distributed a 26-minute video he made to the vestry, clergy and a few others, arguing to keep Pearson's "Our Liturgy." He denounced Rite I in the Book of Common Prayer as anti-Christ. The video soon spread widely. I obtained a copy.
---23 May. Bishop Glenda Curry presided at the Advent for Confirmation. Her presence and sermon reminded the parish of its Episcopalian nature.
---28 May. Hicks deleted his video of 19 May from the Internet.
Meanwhile, two important movements continue in May. In one, the vestry is working with the bishop toward a covenant between parish and diocese that would restore good relations with the diocese while keeping an evangelical identity at the Advent. The covenant is still in the works but reportedly may contain a return to corporate worship in the Book of Common Prayer (rather than Pearson's Our Liturgy), and restoration of normal financial arrangements between parish and diocese.
The other movement is internal. Reportedly, the clergy, staff, and vestry are working to define an evangelical identity for the parish while restoring some common norms of Episcopalian worship.
So, to describe the state of the Advent his month, the word unsettled would too mild and chaos would be too strong. Things are in flux but the clerical and lay leadership in the parish is working hard to steer this big ship through the stormy and perilous seas toward home. Things are looking up.
Now, a couple of prayers for the Advent from the BCP.
For the Parish, paraphrased (p. 817):
Almighty and everliving God, ruler of all things in heaven and earth, hear our prayers for the parish family of the Advent. Strengthen the faithful, arouse the careless, and restore the penitent. Grant them all things necessary for their common life, and bring them all to be of one heart and mind within your holy Church; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
For the Unity of the Church (p. 818):
O God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, our only Savior, the Prince of Peace: Give us grace seriously to lay to heart the great dangers we are in by our unhappy divisions; take away all hatred and prejudice, and whatever else may hinder us from godly union and concord; that, as there is but one Body and one Spirit, one hope of our calling, one Lord, one Faith, one Baptism, one God and Father of us all, so we may be all of one heart and of one soul, united in one holy bond of truth and peace, of faith and charity, and may with one mind and one mouth glorify thee; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
My interest in the Advent stemmed from my study of the schism in South Carolina. In 2017, after four years' work, I published a long and detailed scholarly study of what happened in the Diocese of South Carolina. What led me to the Advent were the ties between each of the last three deans and the anti-Episcopal movement in the lowcountry. The last dean, Pearson, came straight from St. Helena's, of Beaufort, a hotbed of schism. In fact, a year after Pearson moved to Birmingham, St. Helena's helped lead the break from the Episcopal Church. My fear was that Pearson, and others, might foment a schismatic movement in the Advent that could potentially tear up the Diocese of Alabama. A repeat of what had happened in South Carolina would be the worst nightmare imaginable for the Diocese of Alabama.
We now see that the anti-Episcopal Church movement over the years at the Advent failed to gain a strong enough momentum. It seems to me that after years of going along with radical changes at the Advent, the lay leadership finally decided these changes were too much and they agreed with the dean to part ways. Pearson's failure was the failure of the likelihood of schism in Alabama. Hicks's video was the parting shot in the retreat of the anti-Episcopal Church forces.
Now, reports I am hearing say the vestry has rejected Hicks's video plea to keep Our Liturgy. The lay leadership is ready to re-embrace the church's Episcopalian nature while keeping an evangelical identity. In my view, this removes the possibility of a schism developing in Alabama. As far as I am concerned, this is an enormous relief. Schism would have decimated this diocese, the way it did South Carolina's.
It is a holiday weekend. I suggest we remember the people who gave their lives for their fellow human beings. You might want to revisit my blog piece of two years ago about Memorial Day. Find it here .
Finally, whatever is happening in our lives, we must go forward with confidence and optimism. I try. A few days ago, I had a new roof put on my house. In dealing with the roofer beforehand, I splurged and chose a roof guaranteed for 50 years. At the age of 77, I bought a roof to last 50 years. How is that for optimism?
As always, remember we are here for a purpose. It is to be God's people in the world whatever awful and unwelcomed events are happening around us. Peace.