Wednesday, February 6, 2013

The Timeline At The Freedom For St Mary Blog

is sketchy for the last years of Fr Gregory Wilcox's roughly 20-year tenure there. Since the timeline indicates that the vestry recommended hiring Fr Kelley in early 2007, Wilcox resigned as Rector in April 2006, having come to the parish in 1987. (He is now at St Joseph's Anglican, an APA parish.) I wasn't around for the last controversy involving him: I'm told that he had joined one of the cult-like movements derived from est, either Landmark or Lifespring depending on the account; he had moved out of the rectory in connection with this new association and was neglecting his pastoral duties. There were one or more highly contentious parish meetings, and the parish was deeply divided over whether to terminate him, but it eventually did. This was the proximate cause of Fr Kelley's hiring as rector.

That the parish would have been as divided as I've been told it was over what should have been a simple issue -- est and its derivatives are clearly an alternate, non-Christian belief system, and a Christian clergyman who embraces them has abandoned Christian communion -- goes, I think, to one of the unfortunate strains in St Mary of the Angels Hollywood's history. (If anyone can provide additional information on the circumstances of Fr Wilcox's departure and the surrounding controversy, I'll be eager to hear it.)

Sin, conscience, repentance, and their relationship to the Church work in mysterious ways. Since none of us is without sin, we're all troubled in conscience. The route away from a troubled conscience is repentance, which takes various forms in the branches of Christianity. Where repentance is incomplete or nonexistent, all sorts of problems develop, ranging from hypocrisy to overcompensation to double lives. Jesus of Nazareth understood the working of hypocrisy very well when he urged his followers not to make a big display of religiosity in public, drawing a clear distinction between projecting an image and living out a reality.

Unfortunately, Anglo-Catholicism presents a real temptation in this regard, because its elements -- elaborate vestments, punctiliousness over liturgy, a sense of exclusivity -- offer ample opportunity for ostentatious display. This is one reason I've found it extremely refreshing to participate in Ordinary Form masses at a real Catholic parish, and it's created a new sense of perspective on the mass at St Mary of the Angels, which is about as high-church as anyone can get. I certainly don't think all Oxford-Anglican style liturgy is hypocritical -- I think Fr Kelley is a devout and sincere man who follows liturgical propriety from a sense of high duty.

On the other hand, as far as I can see, there have always been parishioners at St Mary's who for whatever reason find liturgical ostentation a temporary salve for whatever is actually ailing them, and I'm sure that whatever it is, it isn't the same with any two people, and it may often not be all that bad a thing -- it's just ailing them, and it isn't getting fixed. What they're after is basically a phony church. What they'd really prefer is someone who will at least tacitly endorse the phoniness: thus the support for a rector who makes it plain that he doesn't actually believe any of that stuff, and the unwillingness among a certain faction of the parish to clean house.

I think this is one factor, though not the only one, at the root of the bitter opposition among an angry core minority to Fr Kelley and the move to join the Ordinariate. The Catholic Church is a real denomination. For 25 years previously, St Mary's had been drifting between two tiny "continuing Anglican" splinter denominations, with minimal and ineffective episcopal supervision, to the point that the rector was becoming less and less Christian in any actual set of beliefs. There were people who liked it that way, and they bitterly resisted any move to make St Mary's less about image and temporary salves to conscience and more about real religion and real repentance.