Friday, December 20, 2019

We’re Episcopal, Aren’t We? Is Grace an Episcopal Church?



There’s a good article on the Wartburg Watch this week, in which friend and fellow blogger Dee Parsons asks the question, why are so many SBC churches in the closet about their SBC affiliation? That got me to thinking—-what about churches that claim to be part of a denomination, but really aren’t? In other words, is Grace really an Episcopal church?

To be sure, at first blush Grace would appear to be fully an Episcopal church. Its governing documents, as poorly done as they are, contain the accession clause required under church canons. Most clergy are Episcopal. The hymnal and Book of Common Prayer are Episcopal. The bishop visits once a year and has to approve clergy hires. Even the sign out front says Episcopal.

But scratch the surface and things aren’t so clear. Given its size, the parish makes only a token financial contribution to the diocese. Similarly, during Bob Malm’s tenure, the diocese did little to address issues in the church, thus allowing problems to fester for decades. (Ironically, the diocese is now in court trying to defend this situation, inter alia claiming that Bob Malm took me to court on his own. That ignores the more than 18 times Bob contacted the diocese about doing so, as well as his claim that the decision to take me to court was a form of  “discipline” that he and other parish leadership decided to implement. Additionally, Bob received legal advice and other diocesan support for his efforts, including a letter of endorsement from Bishop Shannon Johnston.)

True, the church is inclusive in the sense of welcoming gays and lesbians. But it has never welcomed non-gender binaries or transgenders, and Bob Malm is very uncomfortable with these issues.

It is this latter aspect that is particularly troubling, and that is Bob Malm’s role in the parish. During this tenure, more than 1 out of every 5 dollars in church revenue went to Bob. Bob personally chose the executive committee, in violation of church canons. Even the nominally self-governing school allegedly restructured so that Bob could send his son James to school there—a claim that, if true, would be highly unethical.

Similarly, the demolition of the rectory—a decision made at Bob Malm’s insistence—wound up costing the church more than $2 million in the years that followed. And Bob was ruthless in ensuring he took every bit of leave available to him, with no regard for the welfare of the parish. Indeed, he once told me that issues with the parish administrator would have to wait, as he was going on vacation.

And so it is with Bob’s claims that I am mentally ill. While few if any parishioners knew or cared if I blogged about my experiences at Grace, Bob worked the traps hard to stir things up at the school, the diocese, and within in the parish with his fabrications.

At the very heart of the matter is Bob’s ongoing effort to obtain recognition and adulation from parishioners. While a healthy pastoral relationship points people to God, Bob points people to himself. In so doing, he routinely undercut relationships amongst parishioners, using derogatory language about almost all parishioners at one time or another. (Recall his references to Jan Spence as an “asshole,” and to Lisa Doelp as “like a little spy.”)

It is this paradigm, in which Bob created a parish in his own image, to reflect his personality and to meet his own needs, that led me to dub Grace Church “Planet Malm.” 

In short, while the church is nominally Episcopal, its real reference point is Bob Malm. It is nothing more than a cult of personality, now missing the underlying personality. As such, it is not a church, but rather a religious club organized within The Episcopal Church.