Thursday, September 3, 2009

Telling My Story - Coming Home

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.

20 comments:

Ed said...

Wow... Thank you, Alice. Your story almost made me cry.

I also have known what it is like to love a "church" that in the end proved itself unworthy of my love.

I thank God for leading me to Holy Orthodoxy.

Thank you so much for your witness and testimony.

Shelley Mikhaila said...

I am still rejoicing that I've come to the truth and witness of Orthodoxy, and left behind the Episcopal Church and renounced my vows of ordination!

Alice C. Linsley said...

Shelley, you are in the company of blessed women who have come to repentance and joy. We live across this nation from Maine to California. Once you've tasted the good fruit of righteousness, you can never again stomach the rotten.

Thanks, dear sister!

rich said...

Alice, I am happy that you have found a refuge in Orthodoxy. Now to take the leap to your real home in the Catholic church.
I am saddened that a liberal nun led you astray about the Catholic Church.
There is no discrepancy between your new view of Holy Tradition and Scripture and the view of the Catholic Church. The Church came before the New Testament.
The Pope is the unifier of the church.
Ask your Orthodox friends how many times in the first 1000 years of the church were all the Eastern patriarchs in heresy at the same time! Study church history. The pope has never been in heresy. The pope cannot be in heresy. The pope is the unifier

Alice C. Linsley said...

"The Church came before the New Testament." True, and Holy Tradition came before the Church, if we think in terms of chronolgical time, which is not all that helpful when we are speaking of the Eternal Son.

Anne said...

It is very difficult to see so many churches fall away in these last days - even though we were forewarned. As you know, for that I left the PCUSA over 15 years ago, though the reformed tradition has never left me. But regardless of church home, I rejoice in being a part of the Body...those who are called by His name.

Ed said...

Rich,

You're in denial dude. The Romanist Church is changing constantly, especially since the '70s. Your churches openly hold conflicting doctrines (cf. Melkites and Uniates who claim to be "permitted" to hold to different doctrines than "Latins").

Moreover, your popes have openly contradicted one another time and again. Perhaps the most notable from an Eastern perspective would be the outright rejection and then adoption of the filioque by a series of popes. If the later popes were right, why did the former go so far as to have the text of the creed without the filioque published on silver panels in Rome?

And that is not to mention all of the moral and philosophical lunacy of the later Medieval popes...

Monk Michael said...

Dear Alice,

A while back I commented on an earlier part of your story, via Virtue Online. I said that I also had renounced my ordination in TEC to become Orthodox, and you kindly replied.

My Abbot has also been following your story. Last night, he expressed an interest in communicating with you, so I am giving him information on your web site. Could you perhaps share with me a way he could contact you directly?

My personal email is:
northwest.monk@gmaill.com

God bless you and the other women (and men)who have had the faith and courage to leave ordained ministry and come to Orthodoxy.

Your servant in Christ,

Father Michael ("Orthomonk")
Monastery of Christ the Savior

Anonymous said...

I admire your courage, Mother.

Truth Unites... and Divides said...

Hi Alice,

Thanks so much for sharing both the exquisite pain and joy of your spiritual journey. I'm not EO, but I really appreciate what the Lord has done in and through you.

All the Glory to God in the Highest.

Pax.

DebD said...

Dear Alice,

Christ is Risen!

I just finished reading your series on coming to the Orthodox faith and am quite moved by it.

One of the first things you wrote really resonnated with me. It is the paragraph that ends with:

Perhaps we can agree at least on this: that God does desire the health of our souls. And it is in this spirit that I offer what I am about to say.

I have a few Protestant friends who have become women pastors and as much as I would love to share with them the joy of my Orthodox faith, I know they are deeply offended by anything that denies them what they consider "their rights". Sigh. But, I would rather that they come to healing in God's time and not mine. I love them and love my faith and wouldn't want to be the source of a possible wedge between them and Orthodoxy. I appreciated your kindness to those who may disagree...it speaks volumes. It's also very refreshing in this day of internet polemenics between Protestantism/Orthodox "dialogs"

Fr Petroc said...

Dear Alice, I've been very moved by all three episodes of your pilgrimage to Orthodoxy. Thank you for your honesty and sharing with us all that you have endured. I'm still a priest in the Church of England and did seriously consider becoming a Roman Catholic some years ago. I even resigned my parish and for two years received instruction from the local Catholic priest and attended Mass at his Church. However it just didn't seem right to convert. The great stumbling block for me was papal infallibility and remains so.

Alice C. Linsley said...

Father, May you receive grace upon grace, mercy upon mercy, in your journey. Christ our God is your Guide.

pn@abarministries said...

Thank you for sharing your story.

I can identify with your journey and self-discovery.

I'm am now more encouraged to pursue who and what GOD has called me to be:an ambassador-teacher (apostle), a role that He has been preparing me for, by His Holy Spirit, as He did the Apostle Paul.

To GOD be the glory!

Alice C. Linsley said...

God in Christ redeems our lives. Nothing of His is lost.

Jim Fogerty said...

Alice, kudos to you for standing firm in the word of God, which clearly states that a woman is not to be the leader of a church. The apostasy in modern churches is sad and look at the result. I was a graduate student at Fuller Theological Seminary, where I maintained an A average in the M.Div. program. I left because of how much false doctrine was being taught and because I was often mocked in class for my literal interpretation of scripture. I was initially very discouraged about the decision but then the Lord revealed to me that man-made credentials are not a prerequisite to doing His work. Billy Graham never went to seminary and he turned out okay! And look at the apostles. Most were uneducated. Keep fighting for truth! The time is short before He returns. too share your grief over the loss of Dan Sullivan. He was my pastor and friend for 25 years and will be missed. God Bless you.

Wading Across said...

Wow. Wonderful story, all the more-so to see your commitment to Christ and the Gospel in truth.

I must say, your blog(s) this evening have kept me up well past when I should. I just could not stop reading!

To be sure, I don't know that I can wholly agree with you on some of your anthropological conclusions, but I admit I'm ignorant - though loving history (especially Biblical, and having a degree in social studies - though my interests lay more in geography and politics and history, not anthropology).

My mother grew up Roman Catholic but we "converted"/became saved when I was young and joined the Southern Baptist church of my soon-to-be step-father. I never viewed myself as a Baptist, just as a Christian with Baptist leanings.

The Emergent movement has been sweeping Protestant (and I guess even some of the catholic churches) and over the years I felt less happy with the SBC and many of the churches I'd attend.

So, several years ago, my family and I joined an Evangelical Free church that had historically been a UCC church (the congregation left eventually because the UCC had become too liberal for them).

We have at least a couple of members like my wife and I who came from the SBC (interestingly my wife had been a Roman Catholic prior to salvation as an adult). More importantly, and related to your story, our pastor and his wife grew up Episcopalian and as adults in the late 80's/early 90's left the denomination and joined up with the EFCA.

To be sure, I'll be reading more of your stuff and passing it along to friends.

Lastly, as another related aside, years ago I had an online acquaintance who came from an Amish/Mennonite background. Through his own study and involvement he felt led to the Orthodox church. Needless to say it came as quite a surprise to all who knew him.

True faith transcends denominations. Denominations do not save, Christ does. There are many Episcopalians, Baptists, Catholics, E-Free'ers and even Orthodox people who're going to hell.

In Christ,

Traff, aka Wading Across

Ρωμανός ~ Romanós said...

Alice, I have just finished reading your testimony in three parts, but I will go back and reread it, so I can be sure I haven't missed anything.

I am happy to have met you through blogging, and I hope someday I can meet you in person. I'm not sure where you live, in the States, or in Australia, because I haven't read enough of your blog yet, only these testimonies and one or two other items.

This is just to thank you for your witness, which is very much like mine. It is an unexpected blessing, as the prophet says, 'like finding grapes in the wilderness,' to know that you exist. God is faithful.

Glory to God.

Alice C. Linsley said...

Romanos,

Thank you for the kind words. I am glad to make your acquaintance. I'll be in touch after final exams, which begin next week. Until then, I'm swamped with work.

Alice C. Linsley said...

Romanos, I've lost your email address. Please contact me at aproeditor-at-gmail-com.