This article, “The Widowmaker Repents“, recently appeared in my Facebook Newsfeed. It’s a couple years old, but still well worth the read.
One of the challenges of Orthodoxy in America is that so many of our parishes were founded out of schism. Whether the split was from Rome (as is the case for so many parishes now with the OCA, UOC-USA, and Carpatho-Russians) or not, the legacy of division is often generations of toxicity, oppression, and martyrdom. While we often celebrate these conversions and church plantings, I fear this leads us to overlook some of the consequences of their genesis.
Schism creates a class of agitators and opinion leaders… their divisiveness becomes set into the organizations and standard operating procedures of the church. The issues in toxic parishes come and go, but the acrimonious factionalism remains, becoming the “filter” through which every topic is encountered and the pattern for every decision. Even simple issues can quickly become amplified and provide an opportunity for further polarization, the hardening of hearts, and the digging of ever deeper trenches. This is certainly not a new issue (both the Old and New Testament provides plenty of case studies), but it is a corrosive one. (I talked about this in the podcast “Understanding Parish Politics”).
It takes patient, intentional, and sometimes very direct action (and, of course the grace of the Holy Spirit) to change such a culture and to heal the damage it has done. The Pentecostal church described in this article has begun that process.
Here is my favorite quote from the article:
“The roots of the problem went all the way back to the beginning of our church in the 1950s. From the start, there were factions within the congregation. A few influential people in the church—big tithers, and people with big opinions—became increasingly important. Eventually, it was literally their way or the highway for pastors. Their divisive nature patterned the DNA of the church, and no one dealt with it. It festered, and grew, until eventually, it seemed normal.”
Obviously this article is not about an Orthodox parish, but many of you will recognize its symptoms.
Divisiveness is not a new problem, and there is no need for us to create new rituals and the like to solve it. Orthodoxy has institutionalized the grace of reconciliation in ceremonies like the “Sunday of Forgiveness” and individual Confession, and you can see where a corrosive “priest-killing” (“widow-making” is the term the article uses) parish is in the healing process based on how these rituals are observed (one of many indicators!).
May God protect the clerics and lay-leaders who serve such communities, heal all who have been harmed by them, and grant repentance (and mercy!) to those who have succumbed to their temptations. – Fr. Anthony Perkins
The Widowmaker Repents
After decades of dysfunction, one church publicly confessed its mistreatment of former ministers.
by Paul Pastor, Christianity Today (Winter 2014)
Roving journalist Charles Kuralt once called Madison, Indiana, “the most beautiful river town in America.” It’s a little place—just 13,000 people—across the Ohio River from Kentucky. If you walked along the riverfront, you’d see quaint shops, a marina for passing boaters, and established trees lining the street. For decades though, the beauty masked an ugly truth. Madison First Assembly of God, one of the town’s key congregations, was rife with toxic church politics that hurt and expelled minister after minister. Four successive pastors had come and painfully left the congregation. The church earned a reputation—in their town and denomination—for backstabbing and hypocrisy.
That’s hardly news. But unlike many similar stories, there’s more to this church’s tale.