Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Regarding the License of The Reverend Jim Lewis to function in the Diocese of West Virginia

At the outset let me say that Jim Lewis is a friend as well as a colleague, one whom I have known for more than thirty years. I have great respect for him. I should also say that I have met the current Bishop of West Virginia and have great respect for him as well. It is a very hard thing to have hearts rent asunder when two good people find themselves at odds, one with another.

I do not know about the "church policy" which was cited in the Charleston Gazette article of May 10, 2010, as being enforced by the Bishop in Jim Lewis' case, to wit: “Clergy who have formerly had a pastoral relationship with a parish will not continue to minister in the former parish in any way.” Unless I am more uninformed than heretofore I have thought, this must be a local policy of the Diocese of West Virginia -- I do not believe it exists in the Canons of TEC. If I misstate the case, I apologize in advance for any error.

By tradition one does not provide pastoral responses to people after leaving a charge without specific invitation from the incumbent; by tradition, incumbents extend such invitations as a professional courtesy whenever asked so to do. Such invitations are similar to those issued on an ecumenical basis to other clergy in the area when an event includes families from differing religious and/or denominational backgrounds. It is also quite common as a matter of professional courtesy to make church facilities available upon request to neighboring clergy even for events which are not necessarily associated with one's congregation -- for example, a larger church might well agree to permit a neighboring cleric from a smaller church to perform a wedding or funeral. It is also quite common in churches staffed by only one cleric for neighboring and/or retired clergy to be "on call" for one another to meet pastoral needs when one is out of town or incapacitated.

Prior to my recent retirement after nearly forty years ordained service to the Episcopal Church, it was always my policy to invite former clergy back not only upon request for baptisms, weddings and funerals, but on some occasions without being asked simply because I knew of strong ties. On several occasions, I invited former clergy back simply to preach or teach. I never had even a moment's difficulty.

One cannot pass judgment on this particular situation from afar without knowing all of the data, but given the report that Jim worked successfully with the prior incumbent for eight or so years, and Jim's own admission that he most always referred requests for care back to the rector, one does have to wonder why the traditional professional courtesies have not continued to be a matter of routine, one professional to another.