Remember Whack-A-Mole? The amusement park game where you earn points for hammering moles back into their holes before they can hide from your rubber mallet? As fast as you can knock one down, another pops up in its place, and that process is never-ending.
Rumors are like that. And right now, St. Paul’s is like a Rumor Whack-A-Mole on overdrive! Which of these rumors have you heard lately?
- “They” are going to make St. Paul’s and All Saints’ Cathedral merge.
- “They” are cancelling Christmas Eve services at St. Paul’s.
- “They” are closing our Thrift Shop.
- “They” want to merge the dioceses in Wisconsin because they want to consolidate power.
Rumors are toxic and unsettlingly common in faith communities. In his letter to the Romans, St. Paul writes, “Those who suppress the truth by their wickedness are filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, covetousness, malice. Full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, craftiness, they are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, rebellious toward parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. They know God’s decree, that those who practice such things deserve to die—yet they not only do them but even applaud others who practice them.” (Romans 1:18b,29-32)
For some, engaging in gossip and lies, even (especially?) in a church, is a deeply entrenched habit. And it destroys congregations. “The disciples became greatly distressed and began to say to him one after another, ‘Surely not I, Lord?'” (Matthew 26:22)
In an October 7 communication to the Cathedral, my colleague Dean Kevin Carroll wrote:
[The Cathedral is] continuing to be in conversation with our counterparts at St. Paul’s. For the past several months we have been exploring way that our two parishes can share resources and support each other in mission and ministry. Their interim rector, Father Lane Hensley, and I have been talking on a regular basis. The leadership of the two parishes have met informally. We are currently sharing an office administrator. Father Lane and I shared pulpits this summer and he filled in during one of my sabbatical Sundays. Our sexton John Semon has consulted with them on some building and grounds issues. We are also looking at how we can combine forces to offer a robust schedule of adult formation—both in-person and on-line.
Just to be clear on a few rumors that are floating around. The Cathedral and St. Paul’s are looking for ways to leverage our resources to help each other. We are looking at ways to support our fellow sisters and brothers in Christ to share the message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and to be a pastoral presence in our neighborhood and city. We are not talking about merging. And while we do have the support of Bishop Lee in exploring how the two parishes can help and support each other, we are not being coerced into this process by Nicholson House. If you ever have any concerns, please don’t hesitate to contact me or one of the wardens. Our goal is to be 100% transparent in all that we do.
As most people in both congregations know, the clergy, wardens, and governance boards (the Cathedral Chapter and the St. Paul’s Vestry) have been in conversation about collaborating in ministry for several months. It’s been the subject of multiple Interim Rector Forums that have included open and candid discussion of exactly what is and isn’t going on, and those open and truthful conversations will continue, though rumor mongers tend not to participate, preferring darkness, whispering, and fear mongering.
Though he and I are of one mind in our many direct conversations, I will quibble with Kevin’s message on a very minor point: Of course, we ARE, in fact, TALKING about merging, as one of many possible outcomes of effective collaboration in ministry, worship, and administration. We are talking about a number of possible outcomes. Neither Kevin, nor I, nor Bishop Lee ever have proposed merger as the GOAL of that collaboration. The goal is and always has been about finding ways to be better stewards of the gifts and talents of both congregations and be more effective stewards of our shared tradition and ministry in central Milwaukee. “For [Christ] himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility.” (Ephesians 2:14)
Some of the work Kevin and I have pursued in consultation with ministry leaders in both congregations is how we can more effectively celebrate holidays and other high-profile public church events (like Christmas Eve worship? yes!) as a unified presence of the Episcopal Church in central Milwaukee. The reason announcements have not been made is because plans are not yet in final form, largely because Kevin has been away on sabbatical for two months.
This Sunday, Oct. 16, at the Interim Rector forum and in worship, I’ll share more about our thoughts, the results of our conversation with our bishop and with Canon for Ministry Scott Leannah, and invite your feedback and participation more fully. And I’m looking forward to it.