Note: Apologies for not getting this up sooner, life has interfered and it’s taken me longer to transcribe the notes I wrote on the paper materials. You can see my earlier posts regarding the Bishop election here: “And they’re off!” in which I discuss some of my hopes for the next Bishop of Tennessee as well as my impressions of the candidates in the following, “First Impressions: Fr. John Bauerschmidt” and “First Impressions: Fr. James Burns.” Given that they’ve withdrawn from the process I won’t be posting thoughts regarding Frs. Russ Levenson and Thack Dyson.
Fr. Cater Paden:
First off, it may be a little disingenuous to call this post “First Impressions” in regards to Fr. Paden because I have met him in the past, and spoken with him a little in the course of a Restorative Justice class in seminary. I will say that he struck me as a personable, kind and from what I could tell, pastoral priest. I know that he has a heart for restorative justice and for giving people (especially youth) a chance to change direction, as embodied in his involvement in the “VORP” (Victim-offender reconciliation program) in Chattanooga.
I appreciated the tone of Fr. Paden’s opening and found myself resonating with certain aspects of it as I had with Fr. Bauerschmidt’s. With Bauerschmidt I connected in terms of an affinity for “Mere Christianity” and the view of the faith encouraged by that work, as well as through a similar experience of coming into the life of the church at a time when many of our contemporaries were checking out. With Fr. Paden I find a shared experience in the way he experienced his the Eucharist for the first time at an Episcopal Summer camp as a Presbyterian from a family of devout Presbyterians. Paden describes his experience thusly:
The great words of the Prayer Book were etched into my heart, and I felt deeply the sense of God’s mercy, forgiveness, and love—something I hadn’t experienced in the stern tradition I knew until then. Kneeling in the sand between the split logs of the pews in the A-frame chapel that had no walls with the sun just coming up over the mountain and filling the lake with fire, I knew myself to be in the Presence of God.
This description is similar not to one, but to two different experiences I’ve had, one that brought me into the Episcopal Church and the other that brought me to Sewanee for seminary. Like Fr. Paden, I knew in each instance that I was in the presence of God. What I appreciate most about Fr. Paden’s writing is that it tells a story about his experiences: about what he’s done and where he’s been, and that opens up a little more of who he is, and what sort of Bishop he might be. His experiences at various Episcopal parishes are interesting. It is interesting that he once worshiped and was confirmed as St. Andrew’s Church, Nashville, considering that his relationship with this parish as a member of Forward in Faith will no doubt be complicated by any decision a Bishop Paden might make in terms of the oversight of the Presiding Bishop elect. This brings up an interesting point… one may well desire to avoid bitterness–the comment of Paden’s conservative old farmer is a good one, i.e. that remaining bitter is “like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die.”, yet still feel bound by the faith to take certain actions–on both left and right–that furthers the gaps between all “sides” rather than working towards reconciliation. The real question for Paden and the other candidates is how they are going to handle the current conflict… what leadership will they display and what decisions might they make. Will they be legalistic or magnanimous… can they afford to be gracious…
I think it is particularly interesting to note how Fr. Paden so often refers to “our call” in reference to the call that God has placed upon both he and his wife. I find this refreshing to a degree, and believe that it reveals a truth about a married priesthood, i.e. that no call or vocation can be pursued without the support and agreement of one’s spouse–if God has called you to marriage, then he’s not going to call you to anything that would sever that relationship, though there may be times when we need better communication with one another– yet I would like to see more detail about Fr. Paden’s particular call. (Something he addresses a little more further on…).
Another place that I felt a strong kinship with Paden was in his discussion of his ambivalent feelings toward the institutional Church. With an honesty that I admire in this time–it can be detrimental in some quarters these days to admit to having negative feelings toward the institution, since paranoia seems to have set in about how to preserve it–Paden discusses his mixed feelings of frustration and joy with the institutional church…feelings of frustration “when it fails to embrace opportunities I feel would serve the Lord and joy when the presence of God shines clearly forth in its worship.” Continuing he notes–rightly–that the Church has never been free of struggle, and (my perception is that) he is saying that it’s not our job to separate the wheat and the tares, something I agree with. At the same time, I think there is some danger is the understanding of the Church as semper reformanda, i.e. always reforming, and instead have more affinity to what Ithilien describes as semper renovanda, or always renewing–but that’s a personal peeve and I don’t know that we would disagree if Fr. Paden was allowed more time to unpack that statement..indeed, I tend to agree with what many people mean when they talk about the Church being always reforming. I find Fr. Paden’s rhetorical emphasis on the Church as servant community encouraging, as is his statement that “nothing someone else can do elsewhere that can prevent one from being a Christian here and now.” Additionally, I felt that Fr. Paden strongly noted why he would feel call to minister specifically in Tennessee. This is something I find very helpful.
In regards to Leadership I appreciated what Fr. Paden had to say about leadership being based on trust, and trust being based not on any given authority, but on relationship and experience. I believe such an understanding of leadership and authority as something to be lived into rather than conferred is one that might help in the current situation if there is a recognition of the need to make some decisions that some people will inevitably disagree with and be troubled by.
One thing I would like to know more about are the circumstances surrounding the departure of some within his parish to found another parish–first as an independent Anglican entity and later as an AMiA parish:
One of my achievements was to work with my current parish St. Peter’s to develop a long range plan for the church in 1997, and then the following year to develop a long range plan for the school. These are two very different constituencies and two very different organizations. Having set forth the long range plans, we accomplished the goals of each within three years, and these successes led to the joint $4.5 M expansion that we dedicated in September of 2005. This was accomplished despite the withdrawal of a significant number of communicants in 2004 who founded an AMiA church in Chattanooga. Those who left did so without rancor, and although they no longer pledged to St. Peter’s, the vast majority of those who left fulfilled their pledges to the building fund. St. Peter’s School now serves twice as many children and the Church has a facility that supports its missions rather than hinders them.
I have many questions as I read this, but primarily I’m interested in why, given Fr. Paden’s leadership, this group of parishioners felt led to leave St. Peters and found another congregation? I appreciate the fact that there was no rancor or negative feeling (if only that were more often the case!) but I wonder what the issues were that led to this decision, and why Fr. Paden was unable to satisfy this minority (not that one can run one’s ministry like a focus group… God forbid it… we don’t need any more people pleasers in the ministry (Gal 1:10). I wonder also if Fr. Paden would consider this departure failure of his leadership… was this one of the situations resulting from a “failure of process or communication?” These are the sorts of things I wonder about…
Considering the late unpleasantness
As I mentioned in my previous posts, question three is one where a lot of emphasis will be placed by people. In his discussion of the current conflicts in the Church, I am thankful to see that he highlights the fact that our mission has been all but hamstrung by our in-fighting, but I wonder if he perhaps gives short shrift to the importance of the issues that divide us. While one can agree with his statement that “it seems a little disingenuous to point only to homosexuality or to fundamentalism as the issues,” and it is positive that he questions the widespread acceptance of premarital sex, abortion and other attacks on the human person, i.e. slavery, sex trafficking and tourism etc.., what he doesn’t say is equally interesting. For instance, while he discusses the methods he employed at St. Paul’s, inviting:
those in [the] parish to listen to one another and to check their knives at the door. For some the discussion was too intense and they had to leave. For those sacrificially committed to more than a false community based on preferences, it became a place of beginning. How do we listen to one another? What part of this is about justice? What does holiness of life look like now? Who is called to lead? How will we choose? How do we all stand beneath Scripture for encouragement, and how does the plummet of God’s righteousness judge us all? It is not either/or—there is a continuum of opinion, and there is a shadow to each side that must be acknowledged honestly.
While we have been fighting among ourselves, our worship and mission have been neglected. We have neglected to plan for tomorrow which is the cost of reactivity.
One almost gets the impression from this that Fr. Paden bears some resentment toward those who found the discussion “too intense,” since he follows that with a compliment toward those who stayed, calling them committed to “more than a false community based on preferences…” This makes me wonder on what terms these folks left. Were they more liberal or conservative? Were they truly obsessed only with their only preferences, or did they have convictions that made it impossible for them to engage in such a discussion. One can imagine people on all sides of the current conflict who hold their convictions so closely that they find it painful to discuss them in such ways–does this mean they are uncommitted to community? Sometimes… but more often it means the wounds are still raw and many times “reconciliation” and “healing” are approached in such a way as to rub salt in fresh wounds. That said, the questions Fr. Paden asks are appropriate: “How do we listen to one another? What part of this is about justice? What does holiness of life look like now? Who is called to lead? How will we choose? How do we all stand beneath Scripture for encouragement, and how does the plummet of God’s righteousness judge us all?” But I would challenge his assertion that “it is not either/or” in the sense that there are certainly opinions and beliefs that are at odds with one another in today’s Episcopal Church… the question is either/or in regards to what the institution will present as truth, what will be official and what will be recognized as legitimate, not as personal opinion but as corporate expression, and certainly as Bishop Fr. Paden would have the responsibility of making either/or decisions that may be seem to be covered in shades of grey when one is a priest or a lay person. Also, while I understand where he is coming from when he discusses how our worship and mission have been deleteriously effected by an obsession over our disagreements, some of these questions must be resolved, at least on a parish and diocesan level, before mission can be usefully engaged in.
I am thankful that Fr. Paden expressed his desire to see people work together to ensure that the Episcopal Church remains a part of the worldwide Anglican Communion, and to see such an emphasis on the importance of scripture in his response. I also appreciate his citation of the Windsor Report’s section on the reading and interpretation of scripture, one of the strongest sections of the report. As with others, and with the same caveats about understanding the limits of time, space and knowledge, I would have liked to see more practical discussion of where Fr. Paden believes we are as a church, and where he would like to see us go. How, in other words, will he begin to direct the Diocese of Tennessee in the current situation in the Church should he be elected on the 28th.
What about being a BishopI liked Fr. Paden’s reflection on what it means to be a Bishop… I especially appreciated his observation that scripture focuses on their “character rather than their function,” in a time when we seem to overemphasize function to the neglect of character. Additionally, I liked what he had to say about the Bishop as a “person for others,” I would have liked more discussion of what motivated us to serve others though, i.e. a short summation of his understanding of the Gospel imperative to do good… why do we do good… how does Jesus fit into the picture. The social gospel is great as long as it is more gospel than social, which sadly is often not the case (though certainly there are Christian communities that are overflowing with things to say about Jesus but whose fervor rarely translates into action… we don’t want to be caught in that trap either). I especially appreciate the time Fr. Paden took in explaining why he felt these qualities to be important for a Bishop, rather than simply listing them.
I enjoyed the glimpse at Fr. Paden’s humor during his discussion of his fishing trips with his father and brothers…
Once a year for the past twelve years, I have spent a week fishing with my father and two brothers. Brother Tom is a song writer and adds much humor. Our only major disagreement on these outings occurred during the first few years. A few days into the trip, Tom would casually inform the guides and other anglers that I was a priest. This revelation created some unfortunate results—counseling and hearing the guides apologize for every profane word they had uttered. We agreed after the fourth trip that Tom would tell everyone that I was a “fire insurance salesman,” and that ended all the hypocrisy and allowed me to enjoy our time together.
No one wants to talk to an insurance agent while fishing.
Fire insurance salesman indeed! I’m of the opinion that a sense of humor is one of the gifts of the Spirit, and anyone who hopes to be successful in the Episcopacy in these trying times will need one. I think Fr. Paden has one, for which I’m grateful… (after all, I’ve taken upon myself the writing of reviews of men, one of whom may one day soon be my new boss!).
All-in-all I enjoyed Fr. Paden’s responses and am glad he’s one of the candidates. I think I’m still leaning toward Bauerschmidt, but were Paden to be elected, I would be hopeful as well. My prayer is that the will of God be done for the Diocese of Tennessee and the the good Lord will anoint a true leader for this diocese.