On Parish Loyalty and Voluntary Exile

While I’ve been off doing hour upon hour of lab work this week, some thoughts have been percolating in my head. It’s amazing how much thinking you can do while doing repetitive tasks. I should be working, but things are going to come to a boil if I don’t get them out.

My current pondering was precipitated by a post by Jeff Culbreath, “On Loyalty to One’s Parish,” wherein he discusses the steadfast loyalty of some folks to awful parishes, contrasted with his own prudential decision to take his family away from his local parish because of the abuses therein. He concludes with this:

Therefore, without necessarily faulting others for their decisions, I am a proponent of “voting with your feet” whenever possible. Let every Catholic participate in the life of the nearest church where the Catholic Faith is plainly taught, lived, and easily recognized. In these dark days, that might require a two-hour drive each way to a Latin Mass – but in so doing, you will give your best to God while nudging the Church towards the recovery that is so desperately needed.

I want so much to agree with Jeff. I respect his decision, and I suppose that if I had children, I might make the same move. I may yet if things in my parish do not improve with our new bishop, or if I’m unable to be even remotely effective as a catechist. However, right now, I am unwilling to leave. Jeff argues that “voting with your feet” is a good move because it will “nudge the Church toward the recovery that is so desperately needed.” I don’t see that happening, at least not in this left-wing corner of the U.S. There aren’t enough feet. If all the outspokenly orthodox folks at my parish left, quite a few parish groups would be without leadership, and they’d have to find new youth ministers, but on the whole, things would continue without a hitch. Mass attendance wouldn’t be much different, since we’re a relatively small minority. No, the flies in the ointment would be gone, but there’s plenty of liberal life left in the ointment around here. To leave would be to concede defeat.

When should we concede? I can think of a few reasons. First would be if I had a wife and kids, which I don’t. If my family’s faith were imperiled by what is taught at my parish, it would make much more sense to leave. We can’t risk our salvation to stay on a sinking ship. However, one of Jeff’s commentators makes a valid point:

Everyone (particularly in the SSPX camp) is quick to point our the danger to a family. Certainly there is. But fathers who are strong, intelligent men (Kirk, and many others like him who aren’t so well known) can guide their families through it. It’s a risk that families like that can take–which means it becomes for them a prudential decision. One I won’t make with my kiddos, but a prudential decision.

Fathers who are strong, intelligent men can guide their families through the mess. I am witnessing it with my good friends and former sponsors, who have four (soon to be five) wonderful kids, the eldest of which takes almost too much glee at debunking liberal nonsense at her school and with her peers. It is possible to raise a faithful family in the midst of a liberal parish; it is more difficult, to be sure, but it is possible. In fact, I would go so far as to say that such families are an even better witness to the Truth than us single folks, and there is a toughness to faith formed in adversity that is an awesome thing. But, if there were any doubt as to whether parents could counter the insidious influence of liberalism, I would say it is prudent to leave. More than prudent–necessary.

Second would be if my own salvation were imperiled by what is going on around me. I do not think this to be the case, but I do fear that if my anger gets the best of me–if I become cynical and jaded about the prospects of my parish, and cannot see through the nonsense to the Sacraments and grace that remain, then I should leave. Right now, I worry about things, and wonder if there is any way to effect change. But, I think what I should be doing is praying more, and remembering more often that the gates of Hell will not prevail. It’s hard to do, though.

So, I’m not ready to bail yet. But, it is time that I set a boundary which, if breached, I will go. If in future years, my kids are at risk, and in the more immediate future, if I am unable to handle the pressures personally, it’s time to skip town. I’ve got high hopes for our new bishop, but it will take a lot of work on his part to turn things around, and I hope I can hold out until or if he does.

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6 Responses to “On Parish Loyalty and Voluntary Exile”


  1. 1 Steve July 3, 2006 at 3:04 pm

    Does this advice work for those of us in liberal protestant denominations? Is it better to stay in the PC-USA, and work for reform, or is it better to find a more reasonable brand of protestantism? How about those in the Episcople church right now?

    It is easy for Laura and I to stay at our church right now, but in three years we will move, and we have to re-think everything.

  2. 2 Edmund C. July 3, 2006 at 3:15 pm

    I have no idea, Steve.

    I was wondering about your church just today, when thinking about the awful dilemma of being a faithful congregation in a denomination that is rapidly losing its way in the PCUSA. I would not want to be your Elders or Pastors right now. Will they leave the PCUSA?

    What is quite different about our situations, though, is that they are almost exactly inverted. I’m in a liberal parish in an institution that is not liberal, and it is extremely unlikely (if not impossible) that the Catholic Church is going to go back on traditional teaching. Parishes can and do, but the institution as a whole is another story. So, I can look beyond, though it can be really difficult to do so, what I see every week to what I know is actually taught. And, things could change radically now that we have a supposedly conservative bishop coming into town.

    My big concern (and I am really biased…) about “finding a more reasonable brand of Protestantism” is that the more “reasonable” denominations, like the PCA and AMIA, could in the future follow the same path. The only barrier that I see is allegiance to traditional understandings of Scripture, but I’d imagine that there are folks in the liberal wings of the PCUSA and ECUSA who appropriate passages to justify their positions as well.

  3. 3 dymphna July 9, 2006 at 10:22 pm

    I have no problem with leaving a bad parish and getting in the car to find a good one. If I’d stayed with my geographic parish I wouldn’t be Catholic today.

  4. 4 Dino July 10, 2006 at 4:45 am

    During the twenty years I was an usher for my parish’s noon Mass, finding a pew for a “little old Lady” sometimes almost needed Divine intervention. A year ago we were sent a new pastor, and six months ago I was removed from the usher team with no explanation.
    Today that same Mass was at about 50 percent capacity. No, I am sure this was not caused by my removal. But I have met many of my old friends attending midday Masses in neighboring communities. They say it is their preference for reverence rather than cheap showmanship, and the new pastor’s description of the Body and Blood of Christ as a “sign”.
    My family and I have attended Mass in the Maronite Rite where we didn’t understand the language, but had no problem with the rubrics and the devout reverence, and the pastor of a Ruthenian parish welcomed us as “lost Latins”.

  5. 5 ARAD August 6, 2006 at 11:50 pm

    I’ve left 2 parishes. One after 2 weeks in Greensboro, during grad school, and found a wonderful parish at Our Lady of Grace, and the second being St. Francis Catholic Community of Raleigh. It got to the point that I onetime had tears of pain after submitting myself to Holy Mass at St. Francis. After feeling pain for months I decided to begin discussion with the pastor. After 3 visits he asked me to continue on as a 28yr. old special designate to the parish counsel. I decided to leave, and headed to a better, slightly more traditional parish. I too have hope for our diocese. I attended the Instillation Mass, and came away impressed. By the way, have you heard of Handicapped Encounter Christ? We’re always looking for good volunteers in the Raleigh area.

    Don’t forget to ask for help from your patron saint in making these types of decisions. You may be surprised by an answer!


  1. 1 The Road Well Traveled » To Stay or Go Trackback on July 3, 2006 at 6:46 pm

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