Grace Episcopal Alexandria, toxic church
- Calling members “domestic terrorists”
- Trying to drag a dying woman into court
- Suing members
- Deliberately misusing funds
- Breaching pastoral confidentiality
- Disclosing confidential giving
- Clergy calling members “sick, twisted, dysfunctional”
- Welcoming an alleged child molester
- Urging people to commit suicide
- Naming part of church after perjuring priest Bob Malm
In his most recent sermon posted to the church website, perjuring priest Bob Malm bloviates on about caring for those who feel cast out. So how does that square with Bob Malm forcing Mike out out of the church?
Here is the relevant part of Bob’s sermon:
And here is Bob’s email, in which, in true passive-aggressive Bob Malm fashion, Bob announces that Mike needs to find a new church:
And here is a photo of Mike being received into the church 16 months earlier, along with our friends Tony and Diane. All three have left the church, along with me and the rest of my family.
So, I have this to say about Bob Malm’s sermon: Total BS. Absolute hypocrisy.
On May 21st, 2013, my life changed forever. My house church in Redlands, CA, became a cult, put me on trial, and tried to coerce me to sign a contract that forbade questioning the leadership. They called such questions “slander.”
The antinomian teachings of Hyper Grace had taken hold of this fifty-member community, and they ultimately shunned me, along with their families, friends, and other house churches in the area.
I was devastated, because I knew that this sort of thing—authoritarian dictators running rampant with impunity—happens often in churches. I had been studying it and learning about it. I knew it even had a name: spiritual abuse.I determined to warn others and speak out, even when my vocabulary and composure couldn’t keep up.
As my friends went from drunkenness to drug use, from marijuana to heroin, from twisting the Scriptures to ignoring them entirely, the apathy of so many parents and pastors and onlookers in Redlands matched what I came to understand was the larger Christian world.
Like every victim, my entry into the survivor community was unexpected and involuntary, and every plea for help became a silent scream into a vacuum where no answers come.
Those were my “all caps days,” when I wrote status after status on Facebook—never in a dignified way—seeking to share my experiences of abuse. I thought that if you heard from a person you knew, speaking about how abuse is thriving in churches, you would understand what has been happening for far too long.
I thought you would understand what I was saying about Bill Gothard, Doug Philips, Mark Driscoll, Perry Noble, Tony Jones, Bill Hybels, Andy Savage, Tullian Tchividjian, C.J. Mahaney, James MacDonald, and too many others to mention. I thought you would understand how these leaders and the culture that enables them are not unique or isolated incidents but part of a hellish pattern.
I thought you would see this pattern and understand my burden to stop it.
I was wrong.
Maybe I was naïve, thinking Christians were different from the average person. Your preaching about love and family and commitment gave me the impression you knew what you were talking about. But when push comes to shove, it has actually been the non-Christians in my life who treated me better than the Christians.
The biggest lesson being your friend taught me is how I should not try to persuade people to love me who are committed to misunderstanding me. I will no longer negotiate my worth. Even if you disagree, I deserve to be treated with dignity and compassion because I am created in the image of the invisible God.
Yet you’d rather make me “unhinged,” nothing more than garbage, a Peter who cries “wolf,” rather than consider I may actually know what I’m talking about.
I wish you understood.
I wish you knew what I did about how unsafe Sunday really is.
I wish you knew the many people I do, whose lives stand in sharp contrast to your own.
The subtle biases many of us face is a web of indifference. It is that attitude, that mindset hiding in plain sight, that the Church is somehow immune from evil and that abuse does not happen there.
Instead, the soul-crushing truth is that abuse would not thrive in the Church if it weren’t for the indifference of those whose privilege has isolated them from reality.
I wish instead of invalidating our experiences you could just listen. When we tell you that women experience the Church differently than men, how vulnerable children and the disabled are, how harsh the punishment is for disagreeing with a pastor, or what it’s like when you tell the truth in a community that professes to love truth, you cannot just disagree.
Not only is this insulting, it is dehumanizing. Your denial robs us from the very thing we need the most—a community where we can heal.
Instead, the survivors of the Church have become so numerous that we now have formed a community of our own. I believe it is another revival, but instead of God bringing people to the institutional church, He is rescuing people from it. The industry, the celebrities, the publishing houses and radio stations—the big money that comes from playing along—none of it glorifies Jesus, because there is nothing sacred about an institution that hides evil.
You see these survivors in such places like conferences on abuse—the Courage Conference, the Conquer Conference, the Valued Conference, or smaller get-togethers that are not so public.
You’ll find them in #Exvangelicals, #ChurchToo, and #EmptyThePews. Some of the voices are strident or openly heretical, but I understand that is what happens when faith hurts.
Far from hating the Church or you, I do love you. I wish you were still my friend. But your lack of presence demonstrates the fact you had no empathy to begin with. I was an enigma that you tried to solve, a curiosity you tried to manage, a problem—but never a person to be loved.
You’ve never applied yourself to deeply love the broken or wounded on the roadside. Deep down, you’re so afraid that you could be vulnerable to abuse or assault that you assign blame to the victimized. The randomness of life is so terrible a thing to contend with that somehow we “deserved” what we experienced.
Maybe that’s why you never reached out and said, “Help me understand.” Maybe that’s why you never called to ask “Are you okay?” Your mind was already made up about us, even as we trusted you to love us.
Instead you asked, “Why are you so bitter?” “Why aren’t you going to church?” “Why aren’t you reading your Bible?”
You claimed “no church is perfect,” asked if we were “working toward reconciliation,” and accused us of gossip and slander.
You act as though there is no reason to be angry or hurt by this. You are surprised Bible verses dispassionately recited can harm people. You are offended when we say we aren’t troublemakers because there is already trouble inside your community. The people you are called to love, you refer to as slanderers, divisive, and renegades.
And you say we can go to you for anything.
We see the contradiction. We see no urgency to care. We see you’re just looking for reasons to shove us away and then wonder why we never come to church.
I learned the hard way that when abuse happens in religious communities, a steadfast commitment to truth can be a relational death sentence. Often it is the people in power who abuse, and often it is those very people you cannot question.
The clearest indicator that a community is in dangerous territory is when we cannot question our leaders. Our demeanor does not matter, nor how we frame our words, because this isn’t about how we say it—it is about what we are saying that makes us, somehow, unworthy of your time.
As the years have passed, I not only gained the vocabulary for knowing what has happened to me and others, but I feel what Emily Dickenson wrote when she said, “There is a languor of life, more imminent than pain. ‘Tis pain’s successor, when the soul has suffered all it can.” I understand what Brené Brown wrote when she said, “You can choose courage or comfort but you cannot choose both.” I understand what Fred Rogers meant when he said, “Listening is one of the most important things we can do for one another.”
Far from being angry with you, I read our last emails and messages and sometimes look you up. I often dare to wish you a Merry Christmas or Happy Birthday. I have many such messages in my draft folders. But I know you have not reexamined your position, because you have not reached out to me.
You are enshrined in your certainty that you are right and the many survivors who are speaking out are wrong.
There are so many of us in the Church who remain outside of the sanctuary on Sunday, yet our absence means nothing to you. The show must go on, because pretense matters more than our presence.
In so doing, you scoff at people’s pain. Your silence in the face of our pain makes you complicit for so much of it.
Now, tell us truly: who is the hateful one? Who is the divisive one? Who is the slanderer? Who is unsafe?
I didn’t destroy our friendship. It broke my heart to learn you were not incapable—just unwilling—to truly love me and those like me. When you walked away, I had to learn to do the same. But I never wanted to do that.
If you ever returned to me, having looked into these matters and with a sincere apology were ready to fight for a world without abuse, I would love to have you back.
Sadly, I believe the next time I will see many of you is during the end of all things, when we all stand before Him before whose face the earth and heavens will fade away. There He will tell us that when we gave a drink to the thirsty, when we welcomed the stranger, when we clothed the poor, and when we visited the prisoner, we were doing it to Him.
He will pierce us with His fiery gaze and see when we failed to love others. You will ask when you failed.
And then I imagine He will gesture to us. Those of us who hungered for righteousness and thirsted for justice but were not fed. Those of us who were exiled from our church families and never welcomed back. Those of us who stood naked and ashamed when shame was not ours to bear and yet were not clothed and protected.
Those of us who languished under the weight of chains from oppressive abusers and were not visited or freed, but were looked upon with indifference, if we were ever seen at all.
I’m not sure what will happen next for you at that moment—if punishment comes for those who say they are Christ’s yet lived as though they were not. But I do hope you will then realize what I’ve been trying to tell you all along.
Ryan Ashton is a survivor, advocate, and graphic designer with a BFA in Graphic Design. He is the Director of Technology and Social Media for GRACE and the Creative Director for The Courage Conference. Ryan currently volunteers with Greenville (SC)’s Julie Valentine Center as a sexual assault victim advocate.
Here’s a good one: Mike’s Title IV disciplinary complaint against Bob Malm, after Dysfunctional Bob removed Mike from church membership rolls in order to get at me. Also attached is the church directory from that fall, Mike Jones’ email confirming Bob’s role in these matters, and Bob Malm’s email announcing his decision to force Mike out of the church.
True to form, the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia declined to do anything.
Any priest who would try to force a parishioner out of the church who had been received into The Episcopal Church 15 months earlier is trailer park trash. And yes, that means Bob Malm aka Dysfunctional Bob.
Any attorney who would support Bob in those efforts is trailer park trash. And yes, that means Jeff Chiow aka Sugarland Chiow.
Any vestry that would support Bob and Jeff in these efforts is trailer park trash. And yes, that means the Grace Church vestry.
Meanwhile, Bob will be pleased to know he got his wish. Mike has renounced the Christian faith. No interest in what he terms Bob Malm’s “invisible friend,” or winding up the sort of person that Bob Malm is.
There’s a good article on shunning on the Open Mind Foundation’s website. In the article, the author correctly notes that shunning is often the most obvious sign that a church is abusive—which should be food for thought for anyone considering getting involved at St. Dysfunction, aka Grace Episcopal in Alexandria, and rector Bob Malm’s fun and games, which include trying to drag the terminally ill into court.
Mike sent this email as a result of two events: The deliberate and illegal misuse of the flowers he donated in memory of his mother, which was done based on Bob Malm’s directions (and confirmed by Lisa Doelp) and Amy Medrick’s email telling Mike that the church would no longer accept his donations.
Predictably enough, the St. Dysfunction vestry didn’t even have the decency to respond.
So, next time you hear the BS about Grace Church being a “center for healing and outreach,” you can know that this is a lie, pure and simple.
Also attached is the Fairfax County Office of Consumer Protection printout reflecting its decision on our behalf regarding the misuse of our funds.
As a result of Bob Malm’s actions, Grace Church is the only church with a successful Fairfax County consumer protection complaint against it. And, as a result of Bob’s decision to include Mike in his vendetta, I’m not sympathetic when people argue that Bob’s family should be immune from criticism.
Lastly, Bob still hasn’t learned jack diddly from all this, as he and Sugarland Chiow still think they can bully me into silence.
Over the past several weeks, I’ve provided extensive coverage of the abuse scandal in the Catholic church in other media outlets and fora. As I’ve written about this topic, one thing has become increasingly clear to me, which is that the organizational and interpersonal dynamics underlying the Catholic church’s abusive behavior, and those behind abusive conduct at Grace Episcopal Church, are remarkably similar.
Before we go further, I want to be clear: To date, no credible source has accused Bob Malm or anyone else at St. Dysfunction, aka Grace Church, of sexual misconduct.
So what is the underlying goal of the Catholic church in cases where abuse has been alleged? Far too often, the objective has been the perpetuation of the institution. “We’re a church. Churches are good. Thus, it follows that we should do whatever we need to do to protect the church,” has been the argument. In this, the needs of victims either get dismissed out of hand, or dealt with in a minimal way. Yes, there have been some large cash settlements, but far too often the church pleads poverty, ponies up for a dozen sessions between the victim and a counselor, and that is the end of that.
Similarly, in the case of Grace church, both at the diocesan and the local level, the focus has been on protecting the parish. Even in conversations with Bishop Shannon, he’s talked about the importance of Grace as a “flagship” parish, with zero regard for the faith and ethics behind this particular standard-bearer. Just as the Catholic Church has for years refused to deal with abuse, instead preferring to silence critics, so too has Jeff Chiow’s whole goal been to silence my criticism. In both cases, the approach has been based on the notion that the ends justify the means. Lying in court is okay, even bullying the dying is okay, as long as the desired end result is that Grace Church and Dysfunctional Bob can go back to their usual antics.
In both cases, the behind-the-scenes is illustrative. Smear campaigns, innuendo, and political gamesmanship all come into play. And whether it’s Jean Reed bloviating about being a servant of Christ, all the while claiming that I am defaming the church, or Kemp Williams prattling on about his perceptions that I am mentally ill, the juxtaposition of Jesus-babble and really ugly commentary is strikingly similar to the antics of the Catholic church.
That ability to talk out both sides of the mouth is striking, both in the Catholic church and at Grace Church. In Pennsylvania, the bishops say they want to end abuse, but in the very same breath are trying to limit liability through creation of a “victim assistance fund.” Similarly, with no leg to stand on, Grace Church’s last “settlement proposal” was nothing more than an effort to find a way to silence me, proclaim an end to the conflict, and go right back to business. It’s interesting too: The proposal essentially wanted liquidated damages from me for a violation of the agreement, but referral to an ombudsman for “conciliation” if Grace violated its end of the agreement. And the space where Dysfunctional Bob does most of his nefarious work — behind the scenes, through innuendo and playing people against each other — was pointedly excluded from the agreement. All that begs the question: If Grace is a church in anything but name only, why wouldn’t it hold itself to the same standard to which it seeks to hold me?
Nor does either institution pay any attemption to what I will loosely term “collateral damage.” Mom and numerous other people, including Mike, remain deeply hurt by Bob Malm’s conduct, and indeed, Jeff Chiow’s spate of lies and misrepresentations has only exacerbated that situation. Yet the settlement proposal was silent on that issue. The same is true for the Catholic church, which has rarely done anything to resolve harm to family members and loved ones.
It’s interesting too: Both organizations pounce on issues they will think help their cause, instead of trying to fix the underlying problem. In the case of the Catholic church, folks already are cranking out the spin about how most of the abuse predates current policies, even as new accusations emerge. In Grace’s case, Dysfunctional Bob has been quick to point out that our earlier attempt at what he terms “reconciliation” included being added back to parish emails lists and — get this — being allowed to give money to the church.
I am bowled over by the generosity of Bob’s “reconciliation.”
In all of this, there’s a great irony, which is that Bob has thus far gotten everything he wanted.
Bob wanted Mike and me out of Grace Church. We have both left the Christian faith, so that goal was accomplished.
Bob wanted a protective order and the court awarded him that. No problem there—there’s no sum of money large enough to induce me to go anywhere near Dirtbag Bob.
So what is he kvetching about?
Surely Bob didn’t think that there would be no implications for his reputation and that of Grace Church.
Now, of course, Bob wants those two outcomes, and silence as well. But it doesn’t work that way. It won’t work that way.
One thing Bob still hasn’t learned is that everything in life comes at a price. Sometimes small choices have big implications. For instance, not having a nightlight — a five dollar item available in any supermarket — resulted in Bob’s 2014 accident in which he broke his neck. (With falls being the number one cause of accidental death in the home, it’s also fair to point out that the decision not to take safety seriously was remarkably stupid on Bob’s part, but not inconsistent with his stated proclivity for believing himself to be invincible.)
Other times, it’s more readily obvious that our actions will have consequences. For example, by not acting as a Christian and by directing parish staff to shun and exclude us, and by falsely claiming that things like the name of a Richmond classic rock frighten him, and thus he needs a protective order, it should have been pretty obvious that people would conclude, at best, Bob’s a priest in name only. No surprise there. And it should have been obvious that this would impact the church’s reputation.
So, I am very happy to give Bob both of the original outcomes that he wanted. But having chosen a specific path forward that includes:
Dishonesty, including claiming that Mike and I left on our own, references to a fake church shooting in the equally fake city of “Sugarland Texas,” referring to me as “unbalanced,” “dysfunctional,” and a “sad individual,” lying about my previously having been an attorney and having served as a police officer, and
Bullying, like trying to drag my mother, dying of COPD, into court,
it’s perfectly fair and reasonable to tell the world that these things are all okay and part of life on Planet Malm.
Moreover, by pulling the vestry into things, including through dissemination of talking points that falsely claim we left on our own, Bob has damaged the church’s reputation at every level. These outcomes are part and parcel of Bob’s so-called ministry, and they are a damning reflection of the kind of priest and person that Bob is. Or, as Jesus puts it, “By their fruits you shall know them.” And by aiding and abetting Bob in his follies, Jeff “Sugarland” Chiow is every bit as culpable — and clueless — as Bob.
So, if you’re okay with these things, Grace Episcopal Church may be a good place for you, and Bob Malm may be an equally acceptable priest for you.
If you’re not good with these things, you may want to consider finding a different church, or no church at all.
And if you are presently an inhabitant of Planet Malm, you may want to consider whether these are behaviors you want to support. Personally, I would not choose to invest time, talent or treasure in any church or ministry in which these things are okay. The gospel of Jesus is about radical inclusion, love and acceptance, not about shunning, bullying, and lying. Moreover, Bob’s claims that he didn’t bully me are disproved by his very actions in this conflict. Oh, and remind me again: What did Mike, who had joined The Episcopal Church 16 months earlier, do to deserve to be included in Dysfunctional Bob’s Edict of Shunning? Folks can deploy the Jesus-babble about being “servants of Christ” all they want, but that’s just lipstick on a pig. Bob’s actions speak for themselves.
Finally, if you are clergy and thinking about the assistant position at Grace Church, just know that right behind the ostensibly friendly people and the pretty nave, these things are an acceptable part of life at Grace Episcopal Church, aka St. Dysfunction aka Planet Malm.
I’ve posted this before, but here is a screen cap of Bob Malm’s email announcing his campaign of shunning. In conjunction with that email, Bob instructed church staff, clergy and lay leaders to exclude us from the life of the parish.
A copy of this email was promptly sent to the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia, which took no meaningful action to address the matter.
Note that this email came shortly after the diocese declined to mediate the dispute between family members and Bob Malm. Thus, it was done in retaliation for contacting the diocese, and Bob’s actions would be illegal if he worked for a publicly traded company.
And people wonder why millenials have little use for organized religion.
As Bob Malm and Grace Episcopal Church continue to falsely claim that I left the parish on my own, there is ample documentation to prove otherwise. Among these are the following email, in which I established that Bob had, in fact, instructed church staff to exclude us. Needless to say, no one on staff, from Bob Malm on down, has ever disputed the accuracy of this communication.
So, if you are told that Mike and I left the parish on our own, ask these questions:
If I did indeed leave the parish on my own, why did Bob feel the need to issue such instructions to church staff?
Why would Bob feel the need to include Mike, who had been received into The Episcopal Church just 16 months earlier?
Why would Bob reference Mike in this email when, to this day, Mike remains a member of the parish?
Do you know of other situations in which Bob Malm has taken a personal interest in church membership at this level?
Why would Bob issue such an email when I had not requested a letter of transfer at the time the email was sent? (I am delighted to report that I did send such a request in July of 2017.)
The fact that neither Bob Malm, nor the church vestry, have been honest in their comments about this situation illustrates how dysfunctional the parish is.
Just in case anyone is confused by claims by Bob Malm or the Grace Church vestry about the circumstances of our departure from the church, here is a screen cap of an email from Mike Jones, the person then in charge of the lay eucharistic ministers, confirming that Bob had contacted him to make sure we did not remain involved in the life of the parish.
Do you really want to give your time, talent and treasure to a church where the vestry and rector lie to you? As far as I know, both the vestry and Bob Malm continue to misrepresent these issues.
In all of this, one of the amusing things is that neither Bob Malm, not Jeff Chiow, nor David Crosby, nor the Grace Church vestry, nor church members, get it. That’s right, #clueless.
Newsflash: The problem you have is not negative reviews of your sad church. Nor will efforts to make negative reviews go away succeed. In fact, the more you attempt the latter, the worse you make things for yourself. For example, Bob Malm’s campaign of innuendo about “dysfunction” and “health” is now a laughing stock in some circles, and will be for a long time to come. The fact that, as a church, you buy into his silliness just adds to the amusement.
Newsflash #2: When people look at your conduct, they don’t see anything even remotely Christian, and it has nothing to do with my blogging.
Nor do the following work:
Suggesting that I commit suicide.
Contacting my employer and current church.
Claiming that I am delusional, for there are plenty of original source materials on this blog, with many more to come, including Jeff Chiow’s inflammatory and abusive legal pleadings.
Arguing that there are two sides to every story. The conduct documented in this blog is wrong and un-Christian, no matter how you parse the issues.
Lying about what has transpired.
Threatening me or my family.
Claiming you took Ambien, LOL. (For the record, no one’s tried that line yet, but doing so would be in keeping with Bob Malm’s usual antics.)
Newsflash #3: The reality is straightforward: The only way to have people regard your sad church as healthy is to be healthy. No shunning, no bullying, no parking lot conversations about former parishioners, no emails about your perceptions of the mental health of others, no threats, no innuendo, no lies claiming that I left on my own. When the day comes (unlikely as that is) that I and others who have criticized you can walk into Grace Church and be welcome, then you will be on the road to health. (For those of you who are still shaking your heads, Google “prodigal son.” Yeah, in the Bible.)
Until you change your behavior, Grace Church will continue its precipitous decline. People are not stupid, and they understand that sooner or later they too will experience your toxic behavior if they associate with you.
Earlier today, I received a comment from David Crosby, an Episcopal priest in the area, in response to my comments about the diocese’s decision to terminate its search for a bishop suffragen. Inter alia, David trots out the old line about there being two sides to every story.
That approach conveniently overlooks several key points:
I still have heard no valid reason for Bob’s decision to include Mike in his vendetta. Having joined The Episcopal Church 16 months earlier, Mike now has renounced Christianity as a result of Bob’s conduct. And I’m supposed to smile and be nice? No thanks.
Bob’s ongoing intimations about mental illness, etc., are highly inappropriate for a member of the clergy. Similarly, his repeated falsehoods about what has transpired are inappropriate under any circumstances.
I love how we get the whole notion of clergy as peers when it comes to clergy misconduct, as in the whole “two sides to every story,” argument. But when Bob feels like ignoring the provisions of his letter of agreement, then he is special and treated as above criticism. You can’t have it both ways. Clergy are either held to a higher standard (which is what church canons claim), or not.
While we’re on the topic of two sides to every story, almost 100 percent of my interaction with Bob Malm has been in writing, and that is not by happenstance. Thus, there are not two sides to this tale. There are the facts as documented in writing.
People like David can keep their prayers. I have no desire for prayers from any organization that thinks shunning is acceptable, or from members of such an organization.
I’m sure people in #metoo situations similarly greatly appreciate being told that they are hateful and being prayed for. Hashtag clueless.
Below is a screen cap of my response, leaving out only my parting comments, which mirror what is posted above.
In an announcement that already is getting considerable pick-up within The Episcopal Church, the Diocese of Virginia has announced that it is terminating its efforts to find a new Bishop suffragan, and will not hold an election to fill the slot. The announcement, found here, makes clear that Bishop Shannon may leave his current position sooner rather than later. More importantly, it mentions that the diocese hopes to bring in the Lombard Mennonite Peace Center to deal with serious internal issues. This suggests to me that the diocese has finally realized, at least in part, just what a hot mess it is. (I say “in part” because my experience is that, even when +Shannon recognizes that a mistake has been made, he often doesn’t really understand the depth or breadth of the matter. So, if the Lombard Mennonite Peace Center does get involved, pay close attention to the feedback, Bishop Shannon.)
All of this comes alongside a recent email I sent to Bishop Shannon, which he did not answer. I will treat most of the contents as confidential, except to say that my conclusion, based on my long and sordid encounter with both the diocese and Bob Malm, is that the diocese is morally bankrupt and stuck in a 1950’s time warp. Specifically, the diocese is willing to defrock clergy who have an affair in secret, yet it sees no problem with Bob Malm and his campaign of retaliation after I raised concerns about governance and possible sexual harassment at Grace Episcopal Church. That stands in marked contrast with corporate America, which both requires reporting and protects those who report such issues. (Publicly traded companies are required to do so under Sarbanes-Oxley and Gramm Rudman, among other statutory and regulatory requirements). Note, as well, that I am not suggesting having an affair is okay, merely that bullying and sexual harassment are every bit as important to the ministry of the church as are the moral implications of having an affair.
As a result, we are left with a situation in which The Episcopal Church bloviates about #metoo and #churchtoo and its desire to be part of a solution to these issues, all the while being a major and clueless part of the problem.
On a more transactional level, the announcement that DioVa is seriously screwed up is hardly news. For years, I have been frustrated at the utter lack of resources coming from the diocese. For example, in 2014 I asked the diocese if it had templated development resources to suppport parishes in their stewardship efforts. Given that as much as 16% of parish income goes off to the diocese, this would seem foundational and in the best interest of all parties.Yet I was surprised to discover that, even after 200 years of existence, the diocese has no such materials. Neither is this the first time I have experienced dysfunction within the diocese, nor the first time I have heard Bishop Shannon state that the problem is his responsibility to fix. Yet if the past indeed is a precursor to the future, Bishop Shannon’s solution will be ineffectual and largely meaningless, and skewed in favor of the status quo.
Further, it is well known in church circles that roughly only half of Mayo House (diocesan headquarters) staff are actually churchgoers. I get that, as working for church can quickly erode your desire to be in church on Sunday if you are not careful. But if your reason for working for a church isn’t your faith and your desire to serve God and others, you have an issue, because most church jobs offer low pay, long hours, and no or seriously crappy benefits. In other words, if your motive isn’t your faith, you really should not be in a church job. That also speaks to +Shannon’s comments about the commitment of diocesan staff. The reality is that many are not a good fit for the job.
The article also brings up the recent departure of Canon Pat Wingo. His leaving the diocese is a disappointment, as I have always had the feeling he is more committed to reconciliation and healing than is Bishop Shannon. The latter, I think, is all too willing to invoke his status as bishop, versus focusing on serving others as a priest. Yes, I get that there is a certain willingness to play the game that is needed in order to be elected bishop, but Bishop Shannon has for far too long been willing to tolerate ineptitude and bad behavior, both among diocesan staff and among clergy.
The news from the diocese also underscores one of the serious consequences of Bishop Shannon’s approach of “light-handed regulation” when it comes to diocesan governance, which is that he and other top-level leaders are all too often clueless when it comes to issues in the diocese, even when the issues are close at hand. I mean, I get that the recent litigation with the Anglicans was all-consuming, but that’s been over for quite a while, so that excuse no longer holds water. And after 11 years as bishop diocesan, are we really supposed to conclude that this is the first time that +Shannon is realizing that the diocese is screwed up? That would be hard to believe.
So what next?
In my case, I’d really like to see Bishop Shannon be a bishop in reality, not just title. That means setting expectations that Bob Malm act like a priest, instead of a bully, and stop the rhetoric and insinuations from Bob about mental illness on my part, many of which +Shannon has seen firsthand. That also means making clear with Bob Malm that appropriate behavior is not a suggestion, but rather a requirement. If Bob isn’t willing to do that, then it is time for Bob to retire. +Shannon is the bishop, and it’s okay to simply say, “That is how it’s going to be.” If +Shannon isn’t willing to do that, then he also should retire.
I’d also point out that Bishop Shannon never did follow-up on his offer to keep in touch with Mike. Yes, I get that no one here is falling over with excitement (at least with positive excitement) at the prospect of contact with the diocese, but having caused lasting harm to Mike’s spiritual journey and sense of self, the least the diocese could do is to keep in touch and offer a reassuring, non-anxious presence. Having failed to live up to that standard, the diocese is hardly in a position to complain that relationships are frayed.
Bishop Shannon also really needs to get over his notion that most issues can be solved by local vestries and wardens. Yes, I get that the bishop cannot be involved in each and every issue that comes up (nor should he or she), but it’s also true that a number of parishes here in Northern Virginia, Grace included, have rubber-stamp vestries whose role has been co-opted by the rector and serve only to provide air cover to the rector when, typically he, wishes to avoid ownership of a contentious issue.
On a larger level, this is the time for serious soul-searching on the part of the bishop and other diocesan leaders. The diocese has seriously lost its way, and the bishop would be well-advised to solicit advice and input from me and others with a negative view of the diocese. Yes, the comments may not be pleasant to hear, but that still beats blundering around clueless in the dark.
At the uppermost level, there is considerable healing that needs to occur, and, having created many of these issues, it is incumbent upon Bishop Shannon to work towards resolution. That includes making clear that all really are welcome, not just those who don’t rock the boat. And at all levels, the expectation needs to be set that bullying, shunning, and other relational aggression has no role in the life of the church.There also needs to be a meaningful way to fix the problem early on when clergy and others in positions of authority abuse that authority, including when that abuse doesn’t involve sex or jail time.
The tone and tenor come from the top—that’s a key tenet of real leadership. So Bishop Shannon, it’s time to step up to the plate and make clear that church will be a safe place for all persons, at all levels. If you don’t do so, you are squandering your spiritual and moral authority by virtue of standing idly by. And if that happens, there really is no point in having an Episcopal Church, and it is time for the church to call it quits.
What’s funny is that, this weekend, several Grace parishioners rolled past me while I was protesting. Most just pretend they don’t see me. Some take my picture, no doubt to go to Bob and argue that something needs to be done. A few flip me off. And some try the whole saccharine smile and frantic friendly wave routine.
While the latter is intended to tick me off, it doesn’t. Instead, it just falls into the same bag of tricks as other Grace church antics. In short, behaviors that miss the whole point of being Christian.
Yes, some of these tactics might work in your sorority, or a country club, or similar settings. But they don’t work in a church setting, and they simply underscore how troubled Grace church really is, and just how little real Christian faith there is in the parish. In short, they reinforce the observations of outside observers, which is that members of the church respond to conflict in ways that are childish and hateful. Or as one commenter prefaced her remarks over at The Wartburg Watch, “While this group of parishioners may seem sane to themselves....” The rest I leave to your imagination.
Then there’s the whole issue of Bob trying to convince people that Mom’s blog is somehow threatening. True to form, Bob goes from person to person, trying to stir the pot and create fear where none exists. Because Bob is clergy, people fall for his antics, instead of thinking for themselves. That’s sad, because this buy-in on facially spurious ideas simply accelerates the church’s preciptous decline. Moreover, Bob’s shunning and other misconduct, now widely known, are teeing the church up for long-term problems as millenials look and say, “That is everything I hate about church.” In short, absent a very quick 180, Grace Church is headed for what increasingly looks like it may be a dissolution. It won’t happen right away, but absent big changes, things are not looking good for the church, particularly as older, more generous givers either retire and can no longer give at prior levels, or pass away.