Cromey Online

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

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Location: San Francisco, California, United States

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Why We Left the Church

Facing the Music

A letter was read to the congregation of Church of St. John the Evangelist, San Francisco on Palm Sunday telling us the one of our members, Michael Music, has been banished from the church and grounds for two years. If he comes on the premises, the police will be called to remove him. He is charged with taking money from an elderly parishioner. I was aghast and appalled, speechless, in fact, an unusual thing for me.

Ann too was shocked. I wrote the following letter that afternoon.

Palm Sunday

To: the Rector, Wardens and Vestry of Church of St. John the Evangelist

Re: Michael Music

Your action in regard to Michael Music was difficult for you, for Michael, and for me.

I presume a person is innocent until proven guilty. Michael has had allegations made against his behavior. There is no proven crime committed by Michael. There are suspicious circumstances only.

I do not believe any person or group should judge a person guilty without hearing his or her side of the story.

To my knowledge members of the vestry have not spoken to Michael on this specific allegation. John Kirkley talked with me about it. Michael Music has told me his side of the story.

The idea that our community needs protection from a member is patronizing. Perhaps it is true that some very vulnerable people need extra protection. That can be handled in a case-by-case situation. The rest of us are responsible people who can handle difficult people and situations.

I hope the Rector, Wardens and Vestry will reconsider their harsh and unnecessary treatment of Michael Music.


Robert Warren Cromey

This letter caused me to ruminate on a number of issues of how people in the church have been dealt with.

They gave Jesus a trial and then crucified him. They gave Joan of Arc a trial and then they burned her at the stake. They gave Bishop Pike a trial and then let him go.

Michael Music never had a chance to face the music, play his tune before the vestry. He was tried, convicted and punished. He was not present at the vestry meeting. No one heard his side of the story.

Michael admits he took the money, he admits he regrets not to have had a written agreement with Barbara to use the money. He says Barbara told him to use the money. Now I am told Barbara cannot remember giving that permission. It is his word against hers. He has agreed to repay the money and has made two payments. I have seen the cancelled checks.

The vestry says there was a report from Adult Protective Services outlining what Michael did. One of their staff had an interview with Michael. They did not press criminal charges. The APS heard Michael’s side of the story. The vestry did not.

The vestry did not listen to Michael’s side of the story. I did. Michael has been tried convicted and punished and he has not had an opportunity to testify in his own behalf.

The day before the Vestry meeting John Kirkley called me and outlined the charges and indicated what he wanted to happen. He did not mention any proposed punishment to me.

The vestry has punished Michael by banning him from the premises for two years. I think this is unjust, harsh and unloving.

It astonishes me that a Christian community banishes a member resulting in his exclusion from the sacraments in his own parish.

Ann and I have informed the vestry that we withdraw from the parish. If anyone asks why we have done so I suggest you say that Robert and Ann disagree with the action of the vestry concerning Michael Music. Anyone wanting to talk with us about that is welcome to do so.

I have directed that I be removed from the healing and preaching rota and the church mailing list. Our pledge is cancelled.

Background and Motivation.

I do not put much worth in motivation, but in this case the harsh treatment may stem from some items in Michael’s relationship with the leadership of the parish. Most recently Michael has stood vigil outside the church calling for a buzzer system for the front gate and a pastoral care team. Some have said his vigil has kept people away from attending the church.

In the past his keys to the church have been retrieved from him because he has used the kitchen without permission, stored things in the building and abused privileges. He has been forbidden to lead or attend groups in the church because he talks too much, does not listen to others and is not caring about other people’s feelings.

When I led meetings and study groups and had people who talked too much. I would take them aside, chat with them and make it clear what the specific problem was and ask them to be careful in the future. If they continued, I would simply, gently yet firmly interrupt them. The trouble is most leaders do not know how to conduct and lead groups and handle alleged difficult participants.

In a private conversation with Michael one time I interrupted him a couple of times and asked him not to digress and be more succinct. After our time together Michael said, “Cromey, you should give a course at St. John’s on how to interrupt Michael.”

Two basic principles about church life that I think are very valuable.

1. The church is not a private club; she must take all who want to join.

2. The church’s glory is you can’t avoid the person you hate.

-Jason Byasse as quoted in The Christian Century magazine

One of my clergy friends on hearing me tell Michael’s story asked, “Did this happen in this country?”

One vestry member in an East Coast church said, “I thought we were supposed to love and forgive sinners.”

I say a person is innocent until proven guilty. A person deserves a hearing before being tried, convicted and punished.

This episode reminds me of what happens in many parishes and dioceses even today in the Episcopal Church. If a person is reported to be gay or lesbian or is accused of sexual harassment the bishop steps in and the person is removed from his or her job. No innocence until proven guilty, no trial, no confronting the accuser, no listening to another side of the story. Just get out.

Our church can and must do better than that if we truly care for love, forgiveness and justice.



Blogger Mark said...

Well said, Robert.

8:40 PM  
Blogger Christopher said...

Robert, I could not agree with you more and have decided to leave St. John's for this reason and others I wish not to share. I am not sure where you are currently attending, but if you could provide some recommendations, that would be wonderful.


Chris Noceti

9:37 PM  

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