On Friday night I had a long, interesting, but in the end, disappointing and saddening discussion with Pastor DB on the phone. I had rung him to let him know that I was sending through the service outline for Knox for Sunday (today – he is taking the service there today while I go down to Casey and Frankston). Then we got into a discussion regarding what to expect from Friday’s summit, and finally we got into a discussion of the issues that are at stake. We talked from about 9:30pm to just after midnight.
During the phone call, he told me that in his opinion I should not be currently exercising my ministry, since I believe that the ministry of the Lutheran Church has no validity. He also criticized the way in which I made my resignation, and the fact that I am continuing to work as a Lutheran pastor, when everyone knows that I have already decided to join the Catholic Church. I became very angry at this point and said that I was completing this three month period in obedience to the President and at the express request of my congregation. At the same time, this was my employment and I currently had no other economic option for supporting my family. Furthermore I pointed out that I had not wanted my desire to enter the Catholic Church to be generally known, but that the President himself had broken confidence and made it known.
But when I got to the point that I had first concluded that I would need to become a Catholic 11 months ago, he said “I wish you hadn’t told me that--you have just fallen in my estimation”--as if this was a conclusion that could be acted upon as suddenly as it was made! When I defended my current ministry on the basis that I was doing what was required of a Lutheran Pastor, he then brought up the subject of the sermon I gave in my parish last Reformation Day (October last year—I had sent him a copy at the time). He said he had never intended to tell me this, but he was very disappointed at with it. It was, he said, an “historical lecture defending the Catholic Church” rather than preaching the gospel, and that I had misused the pulpit.
I hardly slept that night. I was so angry at what I took to be his unfair treatment of me. The next day I sent him this email:
Here is the service order.
With regard to last night's phone conversation, I apologise for keeping you up so late and for pushing the issue so far. We should have terminated the call at the first instance, and we would both have left it with a much higher regard for one another than I now fear we have reached.
Several points I feel I should make now, with the reflection of half the night behind me.
1) I obviously believe in some way that the ministry I am now exercising is "valid", or I wouldn't be doing it.
Your assertion that I do not consider what I am doing "valid" and that I am just "playing church" was wide of the mark. The word "valid" holds a certain meaning for me which I do not think it means for you, so we misunderstood each other when you asked whether I consider my current ministry "valid" and I said "no". I do consider my ministry as a Lutheran pastor to be valid for the remainder of the period between now and when I undertake my "leave of absence." I also consider it "efficacious". I consider it to be both these things on the basis of a) the external word of God, b) the external call of the LCA through its president and the congregations, and c) because this ministry is received in faith by the members of my congregations.
You cannot charge me with dishonesty or a lack of integrity in what I am doing. In a perfect world, one would naturally, having made a decision to change denominational allegiance, immediately retire from the one and enter into the other. In a slightly less than perfect world, in which such decisions (even once made) need time to grow and take time to act upon, one would immediately retire and go into "retreat" for the period between the moment a decision is first formed in one’s mind until the time when one can fully enter into the new reality.
But I am living in a far from perfect world, and I am a far from perfect person. The decision I made 11 months ago needed a great deal of thinking and praying through. It needed talking with colleagues (such as yourself), a testing of the waters, and a re-testing. It needed investigation. Whatever was in my heart needed to be tested against objective reality. In this time of testing, I had to continue my ministry, whatever I thought of it.
In a word, I was called to be faithful--to lash myself to the wheel, and do the job that God had given me to do "while it was day", whatever I was beginning to think of it. It may seem incidental to you that in all this I had to act as a married man with a young family to support, or that you may think that on this basis I was "just in the job for the money", but this would be very unjust--and unpastoral.
I had to weigh up all sides of the decision. I couldn't just "drop everything" and follow my hearts desire because that would have been unjust to my family. When the fulness of time came, and it came before I was ready for it, but I recognise the hand of God in that, I did make the decision to resign. I made this decision freely. The President did not force me to make it. It was a decision between the call to Hope Valley that would have required me to affirm my Lutheran ministry, and resignation. The only thing I could do with integrity was resign.
So I did resign, and I did it in accordance with the directions the President gave me. I intentionally did not go into the issues behind my resignation, because I knew this would cause insurmountable pastoral problems of the sort you have identified. Unfortunately, the President himself--without my permission--chose to tell all the pastors in the Victorian District of my issue. Once this matter was out in the public arena, there was no way it could be stopped. It was better that I told my congregations myself before they heard on the grape vine.
In all this, I don't know how I could have acted with greater integrity toward either my congregations, the LCA, my president, my family, my self and my God. I feel it is grossly unjust of you to lay upon me the burden of instant cessation of all pastoral duties. This is taking things in such a black and white way, when indeed, it is all a messy gray. I am neither at A nor at B, but in a wide chasm or limbo between the two. I became angry on the phone with you because you were not taking into account the reality of my situation. You were dealing with me as a theory, a theological problem, and not as a real human being in a real human situation. You were seeing one side of the story only. Besides all this, I AM resigning. What more can you truly want from me? What other blood do you want to squeeze from a body that is already almost fully drained?
2) My reformation sermon.
Your assertion that in the last 12 months I have been acting as something of an undercover agent for the Roman church in the Lutheran church is unjust. Yes, of course, you can see in my preaching and ministry over the last 12 months an attempt to work out my inner struggles. It is partly because I have realised I was doing this that I have accepted resignation, when many people urged me to continue on in my ministry and work it out with my hand to the plough.
But can't you see in that Reformation Day sermon a sincere attempt to find a Lutheran approach to the problem of catholicity? This may not be obvious to you, but to me I can clearly see elements of that sermon that I could not affirm as a Catholic because I was preaching as a Lutheran. Yet at that time I was preaching what I believed to be the truth.
You say that I wasn't rightly dividing Law and Gospel. Well, fine, you have every right to say that. You say that I wasn't preaching Christ. Well, fine, you have every right to that opinion too. Perhaps all this proves is that I am perfectly suited for a Church which, in the opinion of many Lutheran theologians, errs in the fact that it doesn't rightly divide Law and Gospel and doesn't preach Christ.
I preached the sermon that I did then because a) I believed it to be true, b) I believed it to be God's word for that situation, c) I believed it had to be said, d) I was confronting what I regarded to be a sin in the Lutheran church, namely, an uncharitable celebration of Reformation Day that attacked the "straw man" of the Catholic Church, when Catholics are and should be regarded as brothers and sisters in Christ. Now this probably does not justify me in your eyes, and fair enough. I say only that I am glad you are not my eternal judge.
My spiritual director warned me that there would be a change of relationship between me and others. I have strongly attempted to avoid this on my part. But I have already noticed it happening. First with one of my elders, and now with you. I guess I should expect this and I can be thankful that this problem is not more widespread than it currently is. But I am disappointed that you felt you had to say the things you did on the phone last night. You were kicking a man who was already down. I don't know about rightly dividing law and gospel, but I thought a part of that doctrine requires, not only in preaching, but in pastoral relationships, to recognise when someone needs the law and when someone needs the gospel. Right at this time, I am grasping for every bit of gospel I can get my hands on. Only the gospel can enable me to complete my ministry and make the transition that lies ahead of me. I feel like a drowning man--I am getting weary of the long swim until my resignation becomes final and I am trying to keep my head about water. What I need now is help to reach the finishing line, not someone dragging me under just a few metres from the end of the race.
That email expresses well the emotion that I was feeling at the time. I then went on an all day ride with my motorcycle club--for the first time in about three months--and got it all out of my system. Or so I thought. I woke this morning thinking to myself, “How can I celebrate the Eucharist with this ill will toward DB on my heart?” Then God stepped in.
I was running close to schedule on this morning. At 8:10am, I went down to the Knox Church office with my sermon and service order on my floppy disk to print it out on the office computer. I still needed to buy the bread for the service at Casey. I waited for the computer to boot up (a long process down there), put in my disk, went to print it off and it said "Disk error". I could not access my document, so I had to rush home, copy it off again onto a new disk, and back down to print it out (after rebooting the machine). This time it began printing out, so I rushed down to the shop to buy a roll of bread, and got back to find the machine had stalled after one page saying "Disk error". By this time it was 8:35am and I had to be at Casey by 9am, so I rang ahead to tell them I would be late. I put the phone down, grabbed my gear (I realised I would have to preach ex corde and minus manuscriptus), and as I was heading out of the door it suddenly occurred to me that if I didn't hurry up, I would run into DB arriving to take conduct the service here.
I didn't feel in the emotional state to be able to handle a meeting at that point. I turned for the car, and there he was, getting out of his car. I couldn't just drive away--that would have been utterly unforgivable, so I went to him to shake hands and wish him God's blessings for the Eucharist. But he wouldn't let go of my hand, and he told me he had been trying to send me a letter via email which he had written the night before at 3am. He couldn’t get it through, so he had posted it. As he was talking I was thinking "I want to hug this man just to show him that I do love him and I don't hate him"--but I didn't have the guts. Then suddenly he hugged me, and planted a great kiss on my cheek. That he did have the guts is something that I am very grateful for. That "holy kiss" brought tears to my eyes. When I got into the car and it suddenly occurred to me that without all that hoo-hah with the computer I would have missed him. I began to cry and I think I cried half the way to Berwick.