I recently had lunch with several clergy friends of mine. It was a good time and I was careful not to bring up the matter of Grace Church, for fear of putting friends in an awkward place.
That said, it was not long before the topic came up. I played fair and tried to remain non-committal, instead listening carefully, acknowledging what was said, and hoping not to incentivize further conversation on the topic. Yet the topic quickly grew legs and took over most of our time together.
The upshot was that the more experienced and knowledgable the speaker, the less willing they were to even consider an interim call with the parish. “The place needs a whole lot of work,” said one retired priest. “But those of us who know how to do that sort of work have been there, done that, and have the scars to prove it. At this point, I don’t feel like dealing with the legacy of Bob Malm.”
Younger clergy took a more nuanced approach. “I think it could be a good place to cut your teeth,” said one priest, a former mental health professional. “But it could go south quickly and it would take years to recover,” she quickly added. “You’d probably have to transfer to a diocese on the west coast to rebuild your reputation.”
An older priest, one with ties to Grace Church, quickly shot the notion down: “Bob’s never been popular with the Mayo House crowd, and he’s been getting away with murder for years. Your situation was inevitable, in that we all knew sooner or later Bob would go too far and self-destruct. But I’d be crazy to wade into that mess. No thanks! And you’d be crazy too. I’m just surprised it took so long for Bob to get to that point, and that he was so effective in pulling Mayo House in on his side.”
Later, she added, “It’s interesting. The diocese views [Eric] in many ways as public enemy number one, but in many ways you did them a big favor. The challenge is that the diocese now has to sort things out and so far it remains pretty damned clueless. I just don’t know what’s going to happen.”
Several thousand calories per person later, as we made our way to the door, one very introspective priest said, “It’s just so sad. Such a beautiful church, friendly people. And so thoroughly messed up. I don’t imagine the coming few years will be pretty.”
I finally responded, “Yes, the building is beautiful. The church, not so much. But yeah, people are friendly. At least, right up until you disagree with them.”
And that in a nutshell is Grace Church.