Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Hampering the Holy Spirit.


One of the first things I learned about the politics of the institutional church was when a deployment officer said to me about another priest, “I’ll make sure she never again works in this church.” That’s a lot of power for one person to have over another person’s life and vocation. Not a lot of room for the Holy Spirit there, let alone forgiveness for whatever wrongs had been done, or for differences of opinion about someone’s work as a priest. After that incident, I’d heard the same line a number of other times in other situations and, at one point, I was one of the priests who was the target of such an effort.

I’d done a pretty good job forgetting about this kind of tactic until recently when I found that I had been denied a seat on a diocesan committee because of the word of one person. I thought about my own extensive qualifications and experience for sitting on this committee, and how sad it is that one person could hamper a group that is set up for the good of the diocese. It’s even sadder that the leadership would allow this to happen.

I wonder about the role of the Holy Spirit when it comes to making decisions in the context of our religious life together. And I’ve thought about whether I’ve done this kind of arbitrary exclusion of others. Beliefnet.com has an interesting little forgiveness ‘quiz.’ http://tinyurl.com/nul93v Turns out I’m a Balanced Forgiver: “You're a basically kind person with a sense of balance and boundaries. However, you're no Mother Theresa.” The question that brought this whole topic up is one I answered with “You say the person would do a good job, but mention that you had a few personal issues with him.” I consider that honest but not getting in the way of the discernment process/greater good/Holy Spirit.

This kind of thing happens too often in the discernment process for ordination, as well. Biases, axes to grind, personal clashes, personality differences, all tend to get in the way of openness to the guidance of the Holy Spirit. It happens in rector searches for parishes. Whether it’s a deployment officer with second- or third-hand information or with a grudge, whether it’s someone who knows someone who had a bad experience with a priest, whether it’s someone who didn’t like a priest in seminary, we can all name a similar experience – so much gets in the way of allowing the Holy Spirit to drive a discernment process.


These kinds of personal issues are not uncommon in the corporate world. Who you know and what others know and think about you and who you’ve offended all play into your access to higher levels in your field. But there’s no expectation for trusting the Holy Spirit in the corporate world. Decisions are based in the world, not in the guidance of the divine.

But the church? We tend to forget that discernment is not about us as individuals, it’s not about getting back at someone or demonstrating some level of power. Discernment is about allowing the Holy Spirit to guide us in a way that benefits the people of God, regardless of our own feelings. Our own challenge as leaders is to not allow decisions to be made on personal biases, and as participants, our challenge is to get out of the way with our personal stuff, intentionally listen for the Spirit, and make room for Her to do Her work.

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