Saturday, June 26, 2010

How AreThe Episcopalians Doing In the Diocese San Joaquin?

Glad you asked! What follows is an excerpt from a M.Div. study by Angela Guida. Ms. Guida interviewed San Joaquin Episcopalians during the first official convention of the diocese after the split. This study, answers among other things, the issue of "reclaiming Episcopalianism" that was spoken about in a prior posting.

At some point during the period of time I was conducting interviews, I began to realize that even though I was uncovering plenty of testimony about sadness, loss, pain and confusion, I was not exactly finding what I had expected. That is, I did not uncover signs or symptoms of post-traumatic syndrome in anyone; nor did I have the sense that any of the interviewees were plagued with negative or residual emotional fall-out.

Rather, I noticed that what I was hearing most strongly, and what impressed me as overshadowing the so-called negative emotions I expected to undercover, was:

· Pride for standing up for what they believed in,

· Commitment to their new congregations and the Episcopal Church,

· Love and concern for their sister and brother Episcopalians; and often for their former co-congregants,

· A clear sense of what they believe and of their Christian identity.

I am not implying that the stories I heard did not contain feelings of sadness, loss, pain and confusion; but what I am saying is that during every interview and by the end of every interview I was left with a sense that I had been with a person or people that were, as someone in the trauma field might say, “thrivers, not just survivors.” Unlike what I had expected, as I mulled over and internally debriefed each session, most of my thoughts whirled around the strength, the faith, the triumph and victory I had been a witness to.

Was there pain expressed? And sadness, loss and confusion, and even anger and profound disappointment? Yes, you bet, there was. Did I leave feeling that I had been with a sad, confused or angry person? Absolutely not. I did often feel that I had been with a disappointed person. But not a person in whom her or his disappointment was keeping her or him from moving forward into a future filled with hope, love and faith. In fact, I mostly left feeling that these were some of the most courageous, faith-filled and loving people I had ever met in my life. A fair number of them I have added to my “heroine/hero list.”

Some of the questions I had when what I heard and observed was different than what I had expected were: Why? Why was I not finding more “broken” people? Did they not exist? Did they exist, but somehow I was just not connecting with them? I came up with the two types of hypotheses for answering these questions:

1. I just happened to end up only interviewing highly functional, surprisingly well-adjusted people, or,

2. The Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin now exists primarily, if not exclusively, with highly functional and surprisingly well-adjusted people.

My analysis of these two hypotheses follows:

One: I was only able to interview (formally) twenty people. The people I interviewed came from probably only a half-dozen congregations in as many communities. I was given dozens of additional names to contact, and at least another one to two dozen people consented or signed up to be interviewed. Had time and other necessary resources not been a limitation, I believe I could have easily interviewed 40-50 people. In that scenario, perhaps I would have found some people that at least partially bore out my original notion of finding lingering feelings of pain, sadness, loss and confusion, or even signs and symptoms of post-traumatic syndrome.

Two: The people who ended up resisting the tide of their congregations moving out of the Episcopal Church, who took a stand against the prevailing “wind” and who took proactive steps to create new Episcopalian congregations, even at great cost to self, were leaders. That is to say, they either already possessed well-developed leadership skills or they found that they could and did develop latent leadership skills, that they felt compelled to bring to bear when their values were threatened. They also perhaps more strongly identified their Christian faith with the Episcopal Church and an Anglican ethos than did those who chose to stay with the congregations that became part of the Anglican Diocese of San Joaquin.

I now believe that the latter hypothesis best represents reality.

Prior to the Split, feelings of confusion, frustration and even anger seemed to have predominated. There were a number of times when interviewees also expressed strong senses of incredulity (as to what was happening or what was being said to them or was being said at meetings and conventions). At times these feelings of incredulity increased and transformed into anger, even outrage. Several people spoke of embarrassing situations that their priest had placed them in, and it sounded like these situations were hurtful, or even very hurtful, to them. Most of the people I interviewed seemed to try to focus on the positive things that they were experiencing in their lives or in their ministries within the Diocese, even as they also felt distressed, disappointed and confused.

The individuals that I spoke to all seem to be doing “fine” in terms of moving forward, maintaining their faith and a deep commitment to inclusion and to their worshipping communities. A number of people have found new and exciting ministries, and several people expressed a confidence that in the future they would be even more prepared to stand up for what they believe in. One woman in particular related surety about how she responded and spoke up at an event and how that had given her a new sense of self-confidence in living out her faith.

In talking with and observing people in this Diocese, one senses that they have a strong and unwavering commitment to living out their baptismal vow of respecting “the dignity of every human being.” They each seem to take seriously that they are personally responsible for promoting the Gospel value of love. They each seem to feel that they are called to use their own initiative, gifts and talents to create church spaces and communities that are welcoming and inclusive of others. For the individuals I interviewed, realizing what they value, and finding and creating a community that embraces those values has been healing.

What do they need to continue the healing process? All other things being equal, I would say that one could apply the truism “a tincture of time” to this situation. Though the things and people that they lost in the process of “before” and “during” the Split cannot be replaced, the people I spoke to are resilient, with deep faith, and a commitment to continue an Episcopal presence in San Joaquin. Continuing to bond with each other, to enjoy the support of each other and from the Diocese are all important in the continuation of healing. Having a strong and thriving Diocese would be, in itself, healing.

We are doing very well, thank you very much!

Thank you Angela Guida!

I forgot one thing. How are we doing in San Joaquin? Well, we grew by at least one last week and here she is:

You may recognize the Presiding Bishop's right hand person (he is now wearing glasses) but the one you do not is Kiera Lindsay. She joined us just last Wednesday.

Hat Tip to Mimi, I think it was she who once said "If I knew how much fun grandchildren would be I would have had them first".

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