Tuesday, 16th January, 2001 – Part D: In which Cathy herself gives me an ultimatum!

(Still working from notes about the past week)

The next day (Friday 12th January) I spoke briefly to my second Frankston elder on the phone. He said that the other elder whom I had visited the day before had filled him in on the situation (I had given him permission to do this). All the second elder could add is that he agreed with the congregational chairman, that this was not quite the right time for me to go, and another two years would be good. He said that, in the 53 years he has been a member of the Lutheran Church, I was the best pastor he had ever had.

Friday afternoon, Cathy had invited her counsellor/spiritual director (who is the wife of another Lutheran pastor) to come over to talk through a range of issues through with her, including this call issue. I sat in for about half an hour with them. The counsellor tended to agree with Cathy’s assessment of the situation, and she pointed out all the biblical cases where people were called to leave home and family to follow the call of God with no assurances of the destination.

This rather forcibly reminded me of the words with which I began this journal (more than 38,000 words ago!). As a result, I decided to spend Sunday afternoon re-reading this journal from the beginning.

So now it is my intention to consider all that I have written so far, and to ask how (if at all) it can help me in the current crisis. Before I begin to do that, however, I will just add that yesterday afternoon (Monday 15th January), I went for a walk with Maddy and my dog Misha on the beach down here at Cowes. On the way, I realised that if my Spiritual Director were in favour of my turning down the call to Adelaide (as everyone else of significance seems to be), then I would not find it difficult to accept that I should stay. On the other hand, if Cathy had been in favour of the call to Adelaide (out of consideration for the well being of our family rather than wanting me to stay out of consideration for my conscience) then I would have no hesitation in accepting the call.

I told her this when I got home, and she said:

Make no mistake. I want you to stay here and sort out the Catholic thing precisely for the well being of our family. This issue has taken up too much of your time and energy. It has actually taken you away from time with Maddy, and Mia and me. All that time talking with P. and Peter Holmes on the phone, and late night meetings, and journaling and so on. I want it to be resolved so that we can get you back. If we went to Adelaide, things would be worse and not better.
I asked the question of why this call now, and not four years ago. I also asked her how she felt when she had to make big decisions such as leaving teaching. She said:
It didn’t occur to you then because you wanted a family and children [‘and you’, I added]. Now perhaps God is offering you the chance to have wife, and children, and the catholic church and priesthood. You may end up with everything you want, just because it all happened in this order. You just have to take one step at a time, that’s all.

Tuesday, 16th January, 2001–Part C: In which Fr Fisher confirms the President's Ultimatum, & Parish Leaders offer their 2 bobs worth

(Still working from notes about the past week)

The next morning (Thursday 11th January) began with my scheduled meeting with Anthony Fisher. I ran the whole story past him, reminding him that it was during a period of instability and stress that I made the decision to become Catholic, the way in which I had been challenged by the vacancy, and now by the call which I did not seek, Cathy’s reaction and John Fleming’s reaction; then my interview with the District President and the ultimatum which he put to me. I told him that I would enter Catholic Church here and now if I could, and that I could not imagine myself having to make the vows of the Lutheran ministry again (something that taking this call would require me to do).

He pointed out that

  • it was not canonically possible to go to Adelaide and continue the process of entry into the Catholic Church with Melbourne.
  • if I were to take the call to Hope Valley, it would not be just (to my new congregation/employers) to do so while continuing a process of entry into the Catholic Church.
  • to continue the process while ministering at Hope Valley would only increase my current “schizophrenia”.
  • therefore I could not really go, as the District President had pointed out, unless I could fully affirm my Lutheran identity.
  • if I were to decide to make such a reaffirmation, I could no longer continue such discussions as I have been used to having with Fraser, Peter, John Fleming and himself; in short, I would have to cease doing theology, because it would always bring me back to where I am now.
  • everything that I had related to him was fairly as he had expected it would be, except Cathy’s reaction. That was the most significant thing: that Cathy herself is now at a point where she fully supports me continuing my process into the Catholic Church, and has accepted her own part in it, regardless of the material and financial hardship that this will cause. This, he said, was most unusual in cases such as mine, especially given Cathy’s initial reluctance to be involved in the annulment process. (He pointed out that St Thomas More’s wife and family did not share his enthusiasm when he took his stand against Henry VIII).
  • it would be very strange if, in the process of my conversion, I did not have to face considerable threats and temptations, both internal and external, along the way.
  • they obviously have recognised my “quality” and want me to stay in the LCA, since they are offering both threats and prizes; if I were a complete nong, they would be saying, “Good bye and good riddance”.
  • to continue to serve in my current position for any considerable amount of time (eg. even for only one more year) would see an increase in the “schizophrenia” from which I am currently suffering, and, accordingly, an increase in stress.
  • Ultimately, he agreed with my District President. I either have to say “no” to the call, or I have to say “yes” wholeheartedly. I know for certain that I could not say “yes” with all my heart. With most of it, perhaps--but not with all of it.

    He also said: “I don’t personally believe in limbo, but you will, if you take this path, because you will be experiencing it first hand.”

    I finished by saying to Anthony that now seemed to be the time to invoke those “full episcopal assurances” they are always telling me that I have. Would Archbishop George [Pell] be willing to extend such help to a person who was not yet a Catholic, and may not ever be able to be a Catholic? Anthony said that he would now speak with George for me and see what he could do. I am not hopeful! In the mean time, I said, I will start reading the Saturday newspapers employment section! (There was nothing in this Saturday’s paper).

    Then I went down to work at Frankston. It was a 39 degree day, so I worked in the church hall where there was an air conditioner. One of the older members of the congregation came in for a chat. He said that however much he would like me to remain, St Peter’s would survive if I went. They had weathered worse crises than this, he said. That was very good of him.

    Then the congregational chairman came in to have his say. He was the most unhelpful person I have had to talk to yet. In Cathy’s words, “he hasn’t got a clue”—which really isn't his fault. He began by saying “You really have ask yourself what your personal goals and ambitions in the church are. Where do you want to be in the Church hierarchy in ten years time? For instance, do you want to be president of the district, or general president? [Seriously—he said this!] What about what is best for your family? Do you really want to be stuck in a dead end boring job working with old people where you would have no chance to exercise your talents in preaching, worship or teaching?” You get the picture... I wasted some breath challenging his perception of pastoral care of the aged, but so that he got the picture a little more clearly, I told him (in confidence) that there are other things going on in my life between me, God and the church that at this point could lead me to neither Adelaide nor continuing at St Peters. I did not elaborate—this seemed to confuse him, and he couldn’t really handle it. He went on to say: “I don’t think its time yet for you to go. Perhaps in 18 months, or two years, but not yet.” I was glad when he left. He was making me angry.

    Then I had an appointment with one of the two elders of the congregation and his wife. His wife had just had a cancer scare, but an operation a few days earlier had determined that it was a hernia in the lymph nodes, not a cancer. So I called on them with the thought that she would be confined to bed, and I could spend some time at her bedside, but then I could talk to the elder alone for a while. I have always valued his opinion. He is part native American, part French in his heritage, with the result that he has a different way of looking at the world. I also I trust his confidentiality. I planned to tell him the full story so that I could have at least one lay person's balanced view of things. In the end though, his wife was up and about (they were out in the heat smoking cigarettes—so much for the cancer scare!!!) and so they both joined in the conversation. Still, about 10 minutes into the conversation, I realised this would go nowhere if I didn’t give some evidence of the real problem, so, without naming the actual issue, I pointed out that there was a personal issue in my life, “between me, God and the Church” (as I had told the chairman) which demanded attention as a third option to either staying in my current position or going to Adelaide. This then, was a fairly profitable discussion. They at least realised that it wasn’t as straightforward as doing “what was best for my family”, and that really no extra offers of salary rises or other financial incentives (which they said they were going to offer me) would do anything to help me decide one way or the other in this case. In this discussion, the elder's wife helped me to realise for the first time that of the two options I was facing, continuing my process into the Catholic Church required faith, whereas going to Hope Valley would require no faith at all—one could say that the latter course of action would be almost "faith-less".

    It was a busy day, because after this visit I had a Berwick congregational council meeting at the Berwick chairman's home. I managed to address the call issue only from the point of view that a) if I did go they would be quite capable of coping with a vacancy, and b) whatever I do it is absolutely essential that they make putting call/parish arrangements their highest priority.