Alice C. Linsley
I conclude this account of how I came to be an Episcopal priest and then left the priesthood and the Episcopal Church by recounting the final months of my parish work. I will also write about my conversion to Orthodoxy.
My Last Months in Parish Ministry
The last parish I served as an Episcopal priest was an African American congregation in downtown Lexington, Kentucky. I was their first female priest and they decided to call me “Mother Alice.” It was a small parish and because it couldn’t afford fulltime clergy, I served as a bi-vocational priest. My primary income came from teaching Spanish at a private school.
When I began there were about 20 people on a Sunday morning, but by the time I left there were regularly around 50. We also renovated the parish hall, building a Sunday school room, putting in new windows, a new floor, fresh paint, and installing the first ever centralized heating and air conditioning system. The total cost was about $40,000, but we paid as we went so we never had to borrow money. It took about 18 months to finish the project. Having renovated several houses, I served as the project manager.
In the last 18 months of my parish work, the bishop appointed a deacon to assist our growing congregation. Neither he nor the deacon told me that she was a lesbian. She did many good things in the parish and the people came to love her.
When in June 2003 General Convention approved the election of Gene Robinson, I was devastated. To me this seemed an inconceivable departure from Scripture and Tradition, though I shouldn’t have been surprised. Most people in my parish seemed hardly concerned about this development. I realized that many simply didn’t know what the Church taught and so I set about to preach and teach why this was wrong, stressing that this innovation would ultimately split the Anglican Communion.
The Sunday following General Convention, I spoke to this issue in my sermon. I told the congregation that I could not support General Convention’s action and that the decision underscored the need for thorough catechesis in the Historic Faith and Practice of the Church. At the passing of the peace, the deacon literally hissed at me, telling me that I would have her resignation immediately following the service.
That didn’t happen, of course. Instead she called the bishop, who wanted her to stay and who certainly would have offered his support to her should she stay and fight. Fighting was not in the woman’s nature and she seemed to be depressed by her situation. At this time, her mother was dying and this contributed to her misery. She had told me that she wanted to return to her former parish, which is where her parents were members, and so I wrote a letter to the Bishop asking him to consider moving her back to her former parish. It seemed the most compassionate thing to do for her, and since she was being used to divide the parish, it addressed one of the causes of division, which it was my responsibility to do.
That private letter was to contribute to my undoing. It somehow came into the hands of members who supported the bishop's radical agenda. The private nature of my letter should have been evident, if nothing else by the pleading tone with which I asked him to repent and return to the true Faith (for God would surely bless him and use him, should he do so). This letter was used as ammunition against me, but to this day I have no regrets about writing it.
First they called all the members of the congregation and informed them that I was trying to get rid of their beloved deacon. Then in a parish meeting, they read aloud my plea for the bishop to repent, representing it as disrespect and insubordination. At that parish meeting, I looked around at the faces of the people I had served for 3 years, to whom I had preached the Gospel in and out of season, and I realized that most were against me, a handful were clueless as to what was happening, and only a few were on my side. One rose to speak in my defense. She was a pillar of this African American congregation, respected and honored by all except a newcomer who, as it turns out, had a history of causing dissent in churches. As Elva spoke in my defense, this brash young man started to shout her down. Everyone was stunned. Someone told him to sit down and be quiet. Elva, standing under 5 feet, straightened her shoulders and seemed to grow in stature. She had her say and sat down again. The lot was cast. Clearly, my days at that parish were numbered.
This was early September 2003. I continued to serve the parish, though each week there were bigger fires to put out. I prayed hard, kept my head low, and waited until God gave me the go ahead to resign. After one especially difficult week, I decided to pray and fast. I took a day off from work – it was a Friday - and I prayed and fasted over the entire weekend. I finally fell asleep about 4:00 am on Saturday morning and when I awoke around 9:00 am I knew exactly what I was to do.
I called the members of the Vestry and asked them to meet with me on Sunday morning (the next day) before the service. I told them that I would be submitting my resignation. None seemed surprised, though a few seemed sad.
The next day I presented my letter of resignation, effective immediately following the service. After the service a woman on the Vestry who had been an outspoken opponent, feigned sadness at my departure and offered to throw a farewell party if I would come back the following Sunday. I declined the offer.
After the service that last day, I went with Elva and her children to a picnic at another church where people loved each other. It helped me to regain perspective and Elva and her daughter Olivia eased my aching heart.
It wasn’t until I arrived home that afternoon and turned on the television, that I realized that I had resigned on the very Sunday that Gene Robinson was consecrated Bishop of New Hampshire. So it was ironic when I was accused of grandstanding by resigning on the Sunday of Robinson’s consecration.
That action drew a good deal of fire! I received hate mail, threatening phone calls, pornographic e-mail, and I lost friends. It was a difficult time, and things were to get worse before they got better.
When I left parish work, I took a $10,000 cut in pay, but at least I had income from teaching. As a single person this was adequate to pay the mortgage on the house I had built for my retirement, if I tightened my already tight budget. I didn’t know that within 5 months I would lose my teaching job and would have to sell the house. I didn’t know that I would not be able to find employment for almost 2 years. I didn’t know what God had for me, but I trusted Him because He had always faithfully led me step by step.
In prayer one morning when I was feeling especially insecure, He spoke to me through Scripture about hiding me in the cleft of the rock. At the same time I had a vision of a white cottage on a lake. My first house had been a white cottage near a lake and I always regretted that I had to sell it. It turns out that when my house sold, and no one would rent to me because I didn't have employment, a dear Christian family offered me a tenant house on their farm. It was a white cottage on a lake and it was set in a geological anomaly, rather like a cleft in the earth. I've been living there for the past 5 years and this home has become the base of my new life and ministry, both of which God has blessed and expanded beyond my ability to ever imagine.
Many traditional Anglicans are at the point where they may be faced with hard decisions. I want to encourage you not to be afraid to leave the Episcopal Church, or the Anglican Church of Australia, or the Church of England, if that is what God is directing. As you consider what lays ahead, don't be anxious about what you will eat, or what you will wear, or where you will live, only continue to feed on Christ, to put on Christ, and to make His eternal Kingdom your home. He is faithful and rewards those who love Him above their comforts.
Going Home to Orthodoxy
At a recent Forward in Faith Conference in Victoria (Australia) Bishop David Chislett spoke of how former Archbishop of Canterbury Robert Runcie regarded Anglicanism as "transitional." That has certainly proven the case for many people who have passed through Anglicanism on their journeys from Protestantism to the catholic Faith. Some have gone to Roman Catholicism, others have gone to Orthodoxy.
As I considered where God would have me go, I looked first toward Rome. I had visited a local Roman Catholic parish and found the Vatican II liturgy confortable. I could see how the Eucharistic liturgy of the 1979 Book of Common Prayer was in debt to the Roman liturgical reforms of the 60s and 70s. Liturgically going to Rome would have made for an easy adjustment. However, there were certain doubts that I wanted to address before making the decision. So I entered a class taught by a liberal Roman Catholic nun who asked me to read a book written for Americans converting to Roman Catholicism. I read the book and found within it every destructive seed of liberalism that had come to fruition in the Episcopal Church. I also wasn't comfortable with the innovations of Papal infallibility and Rome's insistence that the Papacy has primacy of jurisdiction over all other churches regardless of whether or not this is officially recognised. In the end I just couldn't jump from one body that freely innovates to another that also innovates (though less often and with superior theological statements to support the innovation).
That left only Orthodoxy. It was at this exact moment that a perfect stranger emailed me with the website for an Antiochian Orthodox Church that he encouraged me to visit. I went the next Sunday and I knew I had come home the minute I entered the church. I began to worship every Sunday, attending Matins and Divine Liturgy (though without receiving the Sacrament). After some months the priest began to catechize me - a process that lasted almost a year - and I was chrismated in February 2007. Ironically, I was not rebaptized because I had been baptized at a Baptist church by full immersion using the Trinitarian Formula at age 14. If I had been baptized in the Episcopal Church after about 1968, Father Tom would have rebaptized me, which speaks about TEC's slide into heterodoxy, even heresy.
I laugh when I hear TEC's claim of diversity and inclusion. Episcopal churches are populated by a predictably narrow segment of American society. That became more obvious once I came to Orthodoxy. My parish is a United Nations and in addition to English, parts of the liturgy are sung in Russian, Greek, and Arabic.
While I've always had great respect for the scholarship of Roman Catholicism, I've sensed through the years a dis-connect between the Roman and the Semitic worldviews, yet when I read Scripture I hear Semitic tones. This is another reason that Orthodoxy, and especially the Antiochian Church, appeals to me.
Finally there is the matter of Holy Tradition. While this is an oversimplification, Roman Catholicism views Scripture as a complement to Tradition; Scripture AND Tradition. Orthodoxy views Tradition as the vessel that carries Scripture; Scripture IN Tradition. As I came to understand Holy Tradition better (from the perspective of anthropology), the balance tilted to the Orthodox view.
Along this journey I have made both friends and enemies. To my enemies I say "Forgive me if I have offended you." To my friends, especially the former women priests who have come into Orthodoxy, I say "Rejoice with me in this wondrous Love of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Rejoice with me in His Resurrection!"
(Part I of this series is here. Part II is here.)
NOTE: I'm in Australia and it is Saturday morning here. I've just received news that Father Dan Sullivan has died. May his memory be eternal!
The Parish Administrator at the Church of the Good Samaritan, Jeff Moretzsohn, reports that Fr. Dan and Adele were vacationing in Conneticut when Dan came down with flu like symptoms. He spent a week in the hospital was released and two days later was admitted when he had a "neurolgical event". Fr. Dan seemed to improve and then came a swift decline. He slipped into a coma on Monday and the passed Wed. morning. There is to be a memorial service at Good Samaritan in Paoli, PA. Jeff writes, "We've lost one of the best."
Into thy hands, O merciful Saviour, we commend the soul of thy servant, now departed from the body. Acknowledge, we beseech thee, a sheep of thine own fold, a lamb of thine own flock, a sinner of thine own redeeming. Receive him into the arms of thy mercy, into the blessed rest of everlasting peace, and into the glorious company of the saints in light. Amen.