Cromey Online

The writings of author, therapist, and priest Robert Warren Cromey.

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Location: San Francisco, California, United States

Friday, April 16, 2010


Telling a Parishioner to Leave the Parish

I have always been proud to say the Episcopal Church must take anyone who wants to be a member or attender. We are not a private club. All are welcome to worship with us.

Events have occurred where a decision had to be made.

In 1959 a parishioner and his 14-year-old son came and said our organist had made a sexual overture to the boy on an outing for the choir and acolytes. The organist said it was true and apologized. The father wanted me to fire the organist. I refused. The man and boy left and both returned and the boy is now a priest of the church.

One member of our church cut off the foot of his lover with a rented chain saw. When they recovered and served their time in hospital and prison they returned to take the Eucharist. No one asked them to leave. They were not deemed to be a threat to the congregation.

In the 1980’s a woman in a study group loudly proclaimed week after week that gays are evil and were going to hell. The parish was 85 % gay men. No one thought we should ask her to leave the church.

An irate vestry member threatened me and other members of the vestry with a cane. We ordered him to leave the meeting. He came back to church and no one suggested he should leave the church.

A group of ten women who did not like something I was alleged to have said about lesbians staged a kneel-in when I was in the pulpit. They were not disruptive of the service, merely annoying to many people. They stayed for many weeks until they left of their own accord.

A convicted child molester was a member of Trinity and came to the church several times after he had served his time.

Two priests of the church who had been convicted of smuggling cocaine served their sentences and came to the church regularly. I welcomed them.

A man who had spent twenty years in prison for abetting a murder was welcomed into the church where I had served. No one asked him to leave.

Several times I defied the bishop’s ban and performed a dozen same gender marriages. I was not deposed or asked to leave the church.

A member of one parish was accused of taking money from an elderly parishioner whom he had visited regularly. The rector wardens and vestry told him to stay away from the parish for two years or he would be removed by the police if he came on the premises. I did not think this action was justified.

In seminary we were taught that the only grounds for excommunicating a person in the Anglican Communion was that they were “Open and notorious evil livers.” The Duke and Duchess of Windsor were held up as the only example one could think of.

I’d love to read comments on what you think are grounds for telling a parishioner to stay away from the parish.


Anonymous Michael Reardon said...

Dear Fr Cromey,

You are a pastor. You are a priest. You are a prophet. You are a Christian.
I am humbled to be your friend.

9:49 AM  
Blogger M. said...

Dear Fr. Cromey:

I fully support what Michael said. In 1977, the church secretary where I
was serving as organist and choirmaster suggested that I go to St. Paul's, Oakland and hear you preach. She said that I would like what I heard. She was right. I liked what you said and how you said it. I've never missed an opportunity since to hear you preach, if it was possible for me
to do so.

When I count the Saints that I know and have known, the true followers of the word of God, those
who walk the walk and not just talk
the talk, I count you among them.


10:52 AM  
Blogger Chris said...

Geez, Robert, you like to ask hard questions. I second and third the previous comments. But I'll need to think about the answer to your question.

I think that if someone who attends a church (any church) is a proximate clear physical danger to people in the church I'd be inclined to tell him or her to stay away until they were not such a danger. Hard to think of a good example. Someone who has a virulent form of TB and who refused to get medical treatment I might have difficulty with but would try to accommodate through, for example, giving him/her communion by intinction.

I would be inclined to be wary of people who carried weapons openly into church. This would be harder in the US where guns can often be carried legally.

I would not ban someone who was merely disruptive, unsightly, obviously deranged but not a physical danger. Lots of people try to bar strangers who haven't bathed for a while, for example. How sad. I don't suppose that Jesus and the disciples smelled very good when they would arrive at a town after a long sweaty walk.

At the parish where I preach, St. John's Larcom Street here in Southwark, there is a young lad who is severely autistic and who often cries out and acts out during Mass. I would no more ban or treat him any differently than I would anyone else who was acting out. Sometimes he's hard to preach over--I manage. God wants him close to his Christian community. There are people who have suggested to the Vicar that he do something, but to his credit, the Vicar tells them there is no problem as far as he's concerned.

Oh, and I wouldn't have banned the Duke and Duchess of Windsor at all. He was a twit and she was a brazen social-climber, but there are lots of twits and social climbers in the Church and we survive.

Blessings on you and Ann and your family and I hope that you will come over to London (should the ash disperse from the stratosphere) and allow me to buy you lunch.

2:40 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

An Episcopal priest at a church I was attending 15 years ago once noted that church is a place for sinners. Any time I start start to think otherwise, I hear those words. They pretty much sum it up.

5:58 PM  
Anonymous Beth said...

As a parent, I am appalled that anyone who knew that a parish child had been molested by a church employee would not press charges. By refusing to fire the organist, you ensured that other children would be molested. Why is this any different than what the Catholic Church did?

The other examples do not seem to me to merit banning a parishioner, except the final one. A private lovers' quarrel, however violent, does not violate others in a congregation. Nor do loud proclamations, cane-wielding threats (arguable, but if no physical assault was made, it's just words), kneel-ins, people who have served time, or performing gay marriages. However, the organist in your first example and the parishioner who stole in your final one, were explicitly entrusted by the rector (on an outing in your first example and in a caretaking position in the second) with the well-being of someone unable to meaningfully consent (a child in your first example and an elderly woman with dementia in your second). When a violation of that officially sanctioned trust occurs, I believe the church administration must act on behalf of the vulnerable ones, not the perpetrator. That means banning the perpetrator from that particular community, which is NOT the same as excommunication (he is free to go to another parish), and contacting legal authorities. To do otherwise is to abandon the Christian, not to mention the legal, principle of safeguarding the weak.

Compassion would say that the one who violated is also weak, in the sense of being mentally ill, so I would hope that the rector in both cases would seek psychiatric help and outside pastoral care for the "sinner." But that could be done without endangering the parish children and old people.

Yes, I am a parishioner at the church in the final example. No, I am not a member of the vestry or clergy there, and I had no part in the decision to ask the parishioner to leave.

8:01 PM  
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10:52 PM  

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