Friday, May 28, 2010

Tearing Down the Rumor Mill - Sunday morning worship at Nashotah House

"There’s an element of gossip present in every social enterprise. And while light office gossip and a few comments here and there probably won’t hurt anyone, a pervasive culture of rumor-mongering and trash-talking is detrimental to everyone." So begins an article by Margot Carmichael Lester, on the job website.

The article continues:

“Gossip destroys morale, creates negative energy and stops coworkers from becoming a united team...” says Judith Orloff, MD, the author of Emotional Freedom: Liberate Yourself from Negative Emotions....

But in the world of office politics, gossip is prevalent, particularly in times of uncertainty, because people are scared and insecure. The folks feeling the greatest anxiety often tend to be the most fervent gossips.

I have had experiences with the rumor mill at various times in my life; but perhaps none more vexing than the episode in which I am enmeshed at present.

Nashotah House has had a daily celebration of the Eucharist (including Sundays) since time immemorial. It is one of the very fine aspects of being an Anglo-Catholic institution. Sometimes in the long history of the House the Sunday Eucharist has been in the morning; sometimes it has been in the evening.

In the 1970's and 1980's, when Fr. Louis Weil was Liturgics professor, there was a congregation named St. Silvanus, because it met in the historic Red Chapel also named for that saint. A few years ago, we moved the Sunday Eucharist to the morning and held it in St. Mary's Chapel, but the service never developed a sizeable congregation; so, after several months, we moved it back to the evening.

This semester we tried another experiment with having a Eucharist on Sunday morning. Some friends, trustees, and supporters of the House said they would be interested in worshiping with us if we had a Sunday morning service. We talked about it over a period of a few months, assessed the strength of the interest, and began to make plans. We saw some real advantages for Nashotah House as well as those who might wish to attend worship here.

Going all the way back to its founding in 1842, Nashotah House has always been as much a spiritual community as an educational institution. But one of the difficulties of being a seminary is that the student body turns over by 1/3 to 1/2 each year. This means that our devotional societies (Society of Mary, Confraternity of the Blessed Sacrament, Guild of All Souls) as well as our chapters of the Brotherhood of St. Andrew (evangelism among men and boys), the Order of St. Luke (healing ministry), and Daughters of the King (prayer and devotional society for women) all wax and wane as the student body turns over. In addition, Nashotah House has had a youth ministry which has served not only the youth of our community, but the youth from surrounding parishes that did not have enough youth to have their own youth group. Sometimes these ministries would die and have to be reborn because of the turn over in the student body. Opening the ministries of the House to a worshiping community of the seminary's friends and supporters could mean that these ministries might be maintained with continuity. The integration of the practical dimensions of a worshiping community with the academic side of our life would also move the House away from the "ivory tower" image of which seminaries are all too often accused. As we looked at the benefits both for Nashotah House and for those who might attend worship here, it looked like a "win-win" situation.

There is one other piece to the story you have to understand. While the Diocese of Milwaukee has been a moderate to conservative diocese and not a part of the divisive actions that have occurred in other parts of the Episcopal Church, the Diocese does not exist in a vacuum. The tensions in the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion have not gone unfelt in the Milwaukee area. Some people, unsettled by these tensions, look to Nashotah House as both a lighthouse and an oasis.

A few of the people who said they would be interested in attending worship at Nashotah House might well have preferred to leave the Episcopal Church. As we talked over a period of many weeks, those of us who represented Nashotah House made it clear that the seminary could not be a part of establishing a congregation of another entity. This is true because: (1) While the seminary may receive students from a variety of traditions, including other Anglican bodies, the Trustees, administration, and faculty of Nashotah House have no interest in changing the historic relationship of Nashotah House to the Episcopal Church. (2) Those of us on the faculty who are clergy of the Episcopal Church could not celebrate the Eucharist or function canonically at a worship service of another denomination. (3) The Sunday morning service, like any other worship service of Nashotah House, occurs under the authority of the Dean, who is designated by the Statutes of Nashotah House as the Ordinary, who himself functions under the authority of the Statutes and the Board of Trustees. (4) The Sunday morning worship service and those who attend it (even if they take a name, like St. Silvanus, St. Mary, St. Michael, Christ Church, etc.) do not constitute a congregation in the canonical sense, since Nashotah House, while it has always performed baptisms, weddings, funerals, and invited bishops to hold confirmations, does not receive or issue letters of membership, or function in any other way as a congregation, as defined by the Canons of the Episcopal Church.

So, on April 18, for the fifth or sixth time in Nashotah House's history (according to research done by some of our Trustees), we began Sunday morning services.

And the rumor mill began its work. Before the day was over, one attendee (who was unaware of the painstaking lengths to which we had gone to discuss what this service could and could not be) had e-mailed some old friends that Nashotah House was starting an ACNA congregation. The Southeast Wisconsin chapter of the American Anglican Council (SEWAAC) mischaracterized what we were doing in their newsletter. And the rector of a nearby Episcopal congregation (a graduate of Nashotah House) sent an e-mail to fellow alumni stating that we had started an ACNA congregation and provided the e-mail addresses of the bishops on our Board of Trustees and encouraged alumni to contact them with their concerns. This e-mail "went viral" and has spread all over the Episcopal Church, reaching students in our distance education and graduate programs and distressing them about the future of the House.

The rumors came full circle and upset current students at the House. To paraphrase the article I mentioned at the beginning of this piece: "particularly in times of uncertainty... people are scared and insecure. The folks feeling the greatest anxiety often tend to be the most fervent gossips." No one ever started rumors about the other times Nashotah House had held Sunday morning worship, including the previous attempt during my deanship to hold a Sunday morning Eucharist. But the current political tensions in the Episcopal Church mean that none of us, even in an oasis like Nashotah House, can count on doing "business as usual."

Today, I received an e-mail newsletter from an organization I had never heard of called "Wisconsin Anglican." (This link is to their website, which unfortunately does not contain the newsletter to which I am referring.) The newsletter heading says this issue is "Volume I, Issue 4." (I never saw issues #1, 2, or 3.) The newsletter claims to be "The Voice of Orthodox Anglicanism in the Badger State." I called the leaders of SEWAAC, who are certainly orthodox Anglicans living in the Badger State, and they never heard of this organization either, but they had received the same newsletter I did. We don't know who is behind this.

This newsletter has a large article about my being nominated for bishop in the Diocese of Springfield, obviously picked up from other news sources. It mentions Nashotah House's Commencement last week, in a story obviously taken from Nashotah House's own website. But, in a sidebar about "Impact in Wisconsin" it states: "In addition, the Rev. William Beasley, a priest of AMiA serves the new outreach meeting at Nashotah House Episcopal Seminary, St. Michael’s at the Mission."

Did these people bother to call to check their information? Of course not. The rumor mill is running, who has time to stop and check the facts? The Rev. William Beasley is a very fine priest from the Chicago area who loves Nashotah House and has spoken at SEWAAC meetings several times. But he has absolutely nothing to do with Sunday morning worship or any other "outreach" at Nashotah House.

The rumor mill is running—and it's out of control! To quote Lester's article again: "Gossip destroys morale, creates negative energy at work and stops coworkers from becoming a united team..." says Judith Orloff, MD, the author of Emotional Freedom: Liberate Yourself from Negative Emotions. "It impacts productivity by taking a worker's mind off the task at hand." Yeah, tell me about it!

So what am I going to do? Well, first of all, I am not going to give up the things I am doing that are "right and a good and joyful thing" for many people. And I am going to continue telling the truth about what we are doing at Nashotah House until we tear down the rumor mill.

We will celebrate the Eucharist at Nashotah House on Sunday, just as we do every other day. The service is at 10:00 a.m. Everyone is welcome!


Anonymous said...

Well done, Bob. My prayers for a quick unraveling of the coil.

TLF+ said...

Praying for you all this morning.

Thank God you have folks like Dan Martins on the House team - he can get the truth out in front of the HOB/D listserve.

The Archbishop of Canterbury's Pentecost letter faults the Communion for failing to receive the Holy Spirit. Isn't this rumor madness just another sign of that? Nashotah has established something of a demilitarized zone for North American Anglicans - a place where those suffering division can come together from time to time in peace, in Christ. And our response is to tear it down?

Anonymous said...

We live in fear of this political turmoil. Turmoil feeds that fear.

Please forgive them their understandable fear.

George Mims said...

This explanation is thorough and complete and clear. I pray God's protection over the House against the adversary . I pray that all members and friends of the House bond together to live into the clear purposes set forth by this community for the Sunday morning worship the relationship of the House to the Episcopal Church as well as all Anglicans throughout the world.Peace in your hearts be present this day and in the future.

Unknown said...

Dean Munday, why are you not addressing the situation at Zion Episcopal Church in your article? The rumor mill seems to me, unfortunately, to be correct this time around, for the timing of this new service, the rapid departure of SEWACC people from Zion, and the communications that have taken place at Zion as bulletin inserts [COME TO THE NEW SEWACC WORSHIP SERVICE - ST MICHAELS - AT NASHOTAH HOUSE! (paraphrase mine)] are all too carefully timed to be coincidence. While you might be telling the truth, you are leaving out a very significant part of the story. Zion has been faithfully and unashamedly preaching the gospel. This new service has instilled fear in its members, split families, and dealt a real blow to the proclamation of the gospel in Oconomowoc. I am heartbroken, as I am one who has loved both Nashotah House and Zion for many years.

A faithful Christian who loves Jesus and is an Episcopalian in the Diocese of Milwaukee.

Alexi said...

Sorry to hear the rumor mongering is going full force up there. Perhaps if more of your faculty would follow your example and become canonically resident in the Diocese of SC, maybe we could send a delegation up there and start a church plant ? ; )

Really and truly, I am sad to hear that this is being met with such resistance and rumors.

I agree with Rob Eaton+. May the rumor mongering stop ASAP and the House continue with its great work glorifying God.

SC Blu cat Lady

Peg Perry said...

Just recently, your blog was brought to my attention because something had been said in it that pertained to my job as Parish Administator of Zion Episcopal Church in Oconomowoc.

I see where "joe" thinks he knows what has gone in the weekly bulletins of Zion. I have been the PA for 3 1/2 years at this writing and I can tell you, NEVER has the name "St. Michael's" been written in the bulletin of Zion. NEVER has there been an invite to any Sunday service at Nashotah House.

The only time there was any mention of SEWAAC and any Eucharist being celebrated was when the organization sent their monthly bulletin insert to us, as they did with many other churches, asking if we would put the announcement in our next bulletin.

Being a PA, I have put numerous inserts in from organizations in the community. I also send out an all membership e-mail with the diocese newsletter or needs for the Food Pantry or Free Clinic. Personally, I am a communicator and do my best to keep the people that I serve informed of all that is going on that would be of value to them. That being said, at no time has there been a goal to persuade anyone to worship at Nashotah House.

I ask "joe" to kindly drop the dates and/or copy of the bulletin that you have with the invite to St. Michaels that you mention in it, in the mail to Zion - 135 Rockwell St, Oconomowoc, WI 53066. I don't think that you have anything of the sort as it NEVER happened.

I suggest that you get your facts correct before you start accusing people to make your point sound even better.

Keep in mind, God knows what Fr Thad and Zion has done and is doing. God has led us every step of the way.