September 24, 2018
Dearly Beloved in Christ:
A parishioner last week, reflecting on this tragic moment in the life of our Church, called to mind an event in St. Francis of Assisi’s life. It is worth retelling:
“One day when Francis went out to meditate in the fields he was passing by the church of San Damiano which was threatening to collapse because of extreme age. Inspired by the Spirit, he went inside to pray. Kneeling before an image of the Crucified, he was filled with great fervor and consolation as he prayed. While his tear-filled eyes were gazing at the Lord’s cross, he heard with his bodily ears a voice coming from the cross, telling him three times: ‘Francis, go and repair my house which, as you see, is falling into ruin.‘ Trembling with fear, Francis was amazed at the sound of this astonishing voice, since he was alone in the church; and as he received in his heart the power of the divine words, he fell into a state of ecstasy. Returning finally to his senses, he prepared to put his whole heart into obeying the command he had received. He began zealously to repair the church materially, although the principle intention of the words referred to that Church which Christ purchased with his own blood, as the Holy Spirit afterward made him realize….” From Bonaventure’s Life of Francis
A spiritual commentator reflecting on this, said: “For the record, the moment recounted above took place in 1204… and then as now, the call of the Cross remains the challenge of our time.” This was said in 2010, more than 800 years since the time of Francis. It especially speaks to us today. Christ Himself speaks to us today, again from His cross, this time, one made by the Church: “Repair my house.”
The purpose of my writing this letter is to update your awareness of how our local Church, here at St. John’s, has been actively engaged in meeting this crisis and in seeking to insist on justice for its victims and healing and repair for them. We also must acknowledge their hurt, and our hurt, before we can seek to heal, or else how can we know where our wounds are… wounds of the Church, wounds of Christ? In doing so, we seek repair to our Church. Repair of trust, repair of our sense of belonging, repair of our faith. We know we can only seek to do this together, and to do it openly and honestly.
On the back of this page is a copy of a letter which I sent to members of our parish who gathered on August 30th to plan the format of a parish “town hall” meeting. The letter speaks for itself and describes what we forcefully learned from that initial meeting. Please do read it. That meeting has given us an insight and a direction to follow in our way forward. As more than one participant insisted at that meeting and in follow up conferences with parish lay professionals guiding us in this: “First, do no harm.”
My guiding intention in our parish responses to this crisis has been two-fold. One, have our parishioners decide on our process rather than have it presented to them. Two, do this in the most informed and responsible way possible seeking professional consultation and guidance. It has taken us some time to attempt to honor these principles, however busy we have been in seeking to create this process. I also acknowledge that this was going to be a long-term effort, for it to be successful. We are only just beginning to uncover the depth of this crisis, but I trust that openness is the beginning of healing and repair.
Today, I saw a large, freshly painted tugboat guiding an older ship to safe anchorage. The tugboat was emblazoned with bright white letters against the red hull. It was appropriately named “FAITHFUL’”.
In the love of Christ,
Rev. Gerard J Bowen