Thursday, December 27, 2007

Plastic Man

Plastic Man and his Evil Brother Struggle for the Church
by the Rev. Thomas B. Woodward



About the Author: Thomas B. Woodward, a Board member of The Episcopal Majority, is an Episcopal priest who has served the church over 23 years as university chaplain at a number of campuses and as rector of St. Paul's, Salinas, California, John Steinbeck's parish church. He has written two books for Seabury Press, Turning Things Upside Down and To Celebrate. He and his wife, Ann, now live in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Lateral thinkers are those whose minds often roam from one idea or image to another and then to still another – most often with connections between the ideas or images known only to themselves. We often end up confused by all the non-plussed reactions of others, but on the other hand, sometimes we see connections that others miss.

For example, this morning while preparing to pay some bills I discovered that the only stamps we have left are the recently issued “Superheroes Series” and there, in a prominent position, was my favorite Superhero from my youth: Plastic Man. My Superhero could twist himself into any configuration that would serve the cause of justice or the public order – and best of all, he could stretch out one of his arms to incredible lengths in order to accomplish his will. More than once, I thought of the absolute disaster that would follow if Plastic Man were to defect to The Other Side.

Given all that, it was easy to make the connection between my superhero Plastic Man stamps with the recent actions of my old seminary classmate, John-David Schofield. John-David announced recently that he is now not a bishop of the Episcopal Church, but of the Province of the Southern Cone (which consists of Anglicans in Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Paraguay, Peru and Uruguay – and having once flown from the United States to Argentina, I can assure you that is a long, long way away, even for Plastic Man).

Here is the connection: What was the first episcopal action to be taken by the Southern Cone’s newest bishop, the former Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin? It was to reach across nearly all of South America, all of Central America, up through Mexicali and Calixico and the San Fernando Valley, up through Bakersfield and Fresno into the small town of Atwater, California, to jerk the much loved vicar of St. Nicholas Episcopal Church there out of his pulpit and toss him into the street. (Go to Father Jake's place to catch up on all the fast-breaking news.) That’s right: Schofield has been bishop in the Province of the Southern Cone for less than a month, and he reached across two continents to dump a priest of another Province who had hosted him as an honored visiting bishop from a foreign jurisdiction less than a week ago.

What are we to make of this? Has my old seminary classmate become a twenty-first century reincarnation of my childhood Superhero? If so, isn’t this a stretch way, way beyond the abilities of the Plastic Man honored on my stamps? And is there anyone in or out of the D.C. Comics crowd who would dare to imagine that Fr. Fred Risard, the Vicar of St. Nicholas (Atwater, California) is really the immoral equivalent of a Martin Manhunter or a Queen Bee, those dastardly representatives of the Forces of Darkness and Evil who used to do monthly battle with the real Plastic Man?

Knowing John-David’s near worship of the church’s tradition and what he and others mistakenly refer to as “the faith once delivered by the saints,” I can only conclude that what we are dealing with here is not a reincarnation of Plastic Man, but of his evil twin brother, known only to a few as Blast-ic Man. But how can we tell the difference between Plastic Man and Blastic Man? Let me try:

Plastic Man serves the cause of peace and justice;
Blastic Man talks of “battle” and “warfare” while serving the cause of male privilege.

Plastic Man extends his arms to ward off those who would punish;
Blastic Man extends his arms to swat those who disagree with him in order to punish.

Plastic Man extends his arms to embrace those who have been pushed to the margins;
Blatsic Man extends his arms as a shield to repel those he does not understand or respect.

Plastic Man takes responsibility for his actions – and responds in the light of day.
Blastic Man blames everyone but himself – and responds by hiding behind others.

Now as I try to find some appropriate way of ending this piece, my mind goes to another movie, which is about a comic book anti-hero who lived his early life as a gentle, caring fellow but then turned into a force of malevolence and retribution, punishing all who had dared to challenge his own, small world.

I know the image is unfair. I know my seminary classmate has a reputation as one of the best retreat leaders in the country and as a fabulous pastor to those who have not challenged or disagreed with him. Even so, his taking revenge against Fr. Risard has all the marks of the work of that other comic strip character, The Toxic Avenger. Even non- linear thinkers can jump to this conclusion. After all, his recent actions have been both toxic and avenging. What more do we need? Even so, many will continue to harbor their doubts about my classmate’s true identity: after all, that reaching across continents to jerk a pastor away from his people sure sounds like Blastic Man.

You and I live in a church that affirms that we are the Body of Christ – and that those who attack and invade the Church which is the Body of Christ must be identified as such and resisted with all the force we can muster. That is so whether their names are Schofield or Akinola, Kolini or Lyons. We do not need to wait for Batman and Robin, Plastic Man or Wonder Woman to front for us or to save us. Our willingness to stand together in defense of what God has given us in the Episcopal Church will be more than adequate. We have, after all, been marked with the sign of the Cross, evidence that we have been called and chosen by God to be the real Superheroes. Our armor is as St. Paul describes it, the breastplate of righteousness and all the rest. Our powers are not the usual ones, but faithfulness to a Kingdom based on the Beatitudes, the Comparison of the Sheep and the Goats, and the inclusive, all-embracing love of the Good Shepherd.

The power of a Blastic Man or a Toxic Avenger is, in the end, nothing but wind, sound and fury to be sure – but in the end, only wind.

24 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Said above: jerk the much loved vicar of St. Nicholas Episcopal Church there out of his pulpit and toss him into the street.

Please, this is a mission in which the Bishop is Rector. He fired a priest who challenged his authority.

12/28/2007 7:38 AM  
Blogger Mark Harris said...

Ho Ho Ho....Tom Woodward is Santa. Finally a present for Christmas and not a lump of coal!

12/28/2007 8:50 AM  
Blogger Thomas B. Woodward said...

Dear Anonymous,
I agree that the bishop of a diocese is rector of the mission; however, John-David Schofield publicly renounced his authority as a bishop of The Episcopal Church and, thus, as rector of St. Nicholas. Even Plastic Man has been unable to maintain two simultaneously separate identities, continents away. Perhaps we need to recognize a new superhero: Orthopox Man, "able to leap over several dioceses, even provinces and continents to work his mischievious will."

12/28/2007 9:11 AM  
Blogger Ann said...

Dear Anonymous - perhaps if you signed your name it would help.

I am a fan of Captain Marvel - SHAZAM! and Wonder Woman (now a photoshop of that with ++???)

12/28/2007 9:38 AM  
Anonymous leslie said...

Dear Fr. Thomas,
I enjoyed the article so much. I am from the D of SJ, St. Francis in exile, Turlock. The pain we are feeling is over powering and it helps so much to be able to read about other's thoughts concerning the ex-Bishop Schofield. Fr. Risard is a good and kind soul and did not deserve for this to happen to him. Please continue to pray for us. Visit the reaminepiscopal.org website to read the story of St. Francis.
Christmas Blessings,

12/28/2007 9:44 AM  
Blogger Tom Rightmyer said...

The situation in San Joaquin is like that in Connecticut, Virginia, Florida, etc. A priest and some of his supporters leave a parish and plan to gather for worship somewhere else. In this case it is in a gated community.

The Living Church calls the San Joaquin situation a tragedy. This is more like farce.

12/28/2007 10:32 AM  
Anonymous hound said...

Blastic Man also sounds like another "leader" known as "W".

I cannot even imagine an actual bishop of TEC going into a dioces in this country and firing a vicar.

And here we have a bishop from a different province doing that.So I say again, he seems to have lost his mind.

Thanks Tom for your apt use of the comics for a less than comic situation.

Doesn't John David know about the commandment, "Thou shalt not steal"?
Jim Prevatt+

12/28/2007 11:26 AM  
Blogger Tom Rightmyer said...

Study of the church membership, attendance, and income charts at http://ps_charts.dfms.org/charts.aspx for the Diocese of San Joaquin shows a number of small churches with average Sunday attendance less of than 50, of which St. Nicholas is one. There appears to be a congregation in Merced, not far away which is larger and has a larger income. The bishop's stated reason for withdrawing support was the small size of the congregation and its limited income. Dioceses make decisions about allocations of limited missionary funds all the time.

Tom Rightmyer in Asheville, NC

12/28/2007 12:13 PM  
Blogger Beryl Simkins said...

Tom Rightyer,
With all due respect, you do not know all the facts. You have a bishop in a diocese who has been preaching schism for years. He has undermined the Episcopal Church continuously, deriding the other bishops in the national church, and more recently, Presiding Bishop Schori. How are churches to grow when the faith is maligned by the bishop. Who would want to join us when he advocates splitting and joining a foreign denomination, and when he tells everyone that the Episcopal Church has abandoned the historic faith, and that the majority of the provinces in the Anglican Communion are against us. He makes statements over and over again until people believe them. Our priest in Turlock, CA left the diocese to take a psoition in another church, and we were a very divided parish. John David Schofield placed a recently deposed priest in out parish as supply, and a majority on the vestry voted to keep him as interim. Do you think that was a fair thing for the bishop to do???Needless to say, those of us who still love the Episcopal Church could not continue to go there under these circumstances. How can we take communion from a deposed priest? There are many stories in the Diocese of San Joaquin. These are just a few of them.
Beryl Simkins

12/28/2007 12:30 PM  
Blogger Tom Rightmyer said...

Those of us who accept the teaching of Lambeth resolution 1.10 and live in dioceses where we are in the minority can sympathise with the feelings Beryl Simkins expresses.

And her comment, "How can we take communion from a deposed priest?" is very like the ones I have heard from others. Articles 23 and 26 of the Articles of Religion may be helpful. The canons assign to the bishops the responsibility for the discipline of the clergy, and if a priest is acceptable to the bishop we in the pew are obliged to accept that person as well. To do otherwise is to undermine episcopal authority.

12/28/2007 2:34 PM  
Blogger Beryl Simkins said...

Mr. Tom Rirhtmyer,
I checked your references. Articles 23 and 26 are, of course, from the Anglican Articles of Religion. Article 26 does not apply because if it is an evil man, not what I said anyway, efforts may be made to depose him. The fact is that he was deposed.

I refer you to the canons of the Episcopal Church, my church I say proudly.

Check Title III, Canon 4 section 5, e.

Also check Canon 9, secion 6, c and Canon 10, Section 2, a., 2.

12/28/2007 3:45 PM  
Blogger Matthew Dutton-Gillett said...

Sadly, it is becoming more and more common on both sides of these issues to invoke episcopal authority when it is convenient, and ignore it in the name of our own version of "Truth" when is it not convenient.

It is very much like what we do with Lambeth: giving authority (which it does not canonically possess) when it's convenient, and not giving it authority when it's not convenient. Do not forget that Lambeth also said that there are to be no incursions into foreign dioceses without consent of the local bishop -- no exceptions.

The problem with Bishop Schofield attempting to discipline this particular priest is that this priest would no longer seem to be under his canonical authority, just as St. Nicholas would also no longer seem to be under his canonical authority, because Bishop Schofield has by his own admission left The Episcopal Church. But, the canonical situation in S.J. is currently confused, and it will take time to sort it out.

The Articles of Religion have the status of historical documents in The Episcopal Church -- they do no longer carry canonical authority.

And how can it be that since all this has happened in S.J., the Archbishop of Canterbury remains silent about it?

Peace,
Matthew

12/28/2007 3:49 PM  
Anonymous robroy said...

Tom Woodward makes a big deal about distances from primatial oversight yet the TEC has a diocese of Taiwan. The distance from San Joaquin to ++Venables is less than 815 to Taipei.

One has to laugh (or cry or both) at the question, "How are churches to grow when the faith is maligned by the bishop?" Numerous people have stated that liberal churches don't grow, they shrink. Look at the disasters of the "inclusive" United Church of Canada and United Church of Christ. What folly to blame those who offered advice that would have prevented this mess.

12/28/2007 4:29 PM  
Blogger Matthew Dutton-Gillett said...

It is a common assumption that conservative, traditional churches are those most likely to grow, and that thus movement of the church in a more "liberal" direction must explain declining membership. Actually, however, an ecumenical study reported on in February of 2007 indicated that the churches most likely to grow were those on the two extremes of the spectrum. I quote from an article in a British church newspaper: "The report notes that 'when all congregations are combined, there is very little relationship between growth and theological orientation. In fact, the proportion growing is highest on the two end points: predominantly conservative congregations and liberal congregations (growth rates of 38% and 39%, respectively).'"

In fact, the report also indicates that clarity of mission and purpose and absence of conflict are much more important factors in determining whether a church grows.

12/28/2007 7:25 PM  
Blogger Tom Rightmyer said...

Various folks here have decried the actions of the bishop of San Joaquin, but they don't make reference to the action of diocesan convention. The whole diocese acting through its clergy and lay delegates voted to renounce the authority of the General Convention. The authority of the bishop of the diocese did not change. He is as free to exercise his episcopal authority after the convention vote as he was before it.

I think the vicar of St, Nicholas was not wise to issue a public letter prior to the bishop's visit. I hope some gay-friendly diocese will offer him an opportunity to exercise his ministry.

12/28/2007 8:03 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What strikes me when I read these blogs that I read as self-congratulatory is that they rarely, if ever offer anything from the gospel, nothing uplifting, just a lot of accusations and very little to bolster the "new things" that have little semblance to the message "once delivered by the saints" that got mocked here.

12/28/2007 8:57 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Delivered to the saints."
It's queer indeed, (no pun intended) that Elizabeth Kaeton and Susan Russell have such difficulty saying anything with a base in scripture without adding their own discount. Note: so-called liberals invariably try to use secular warm fuzzies like miltary attatchments and Howdy Doody to endear simple Christ-like minds and push forth the agenda that selfishly rips to smithereens the institution representing the faith of our fathers and our souls in order to further an agenda they believe will somehow save their sinfull, unrepentant souls.

12/28/2007 9:14 PM  
Blogger Beryl Simkins said...

Anonymous,
Do you know how much a number of us in the Diocese of San Joaquin would like to get back to the fellowship of church again? Do you know how much we love the lord, and that many of us believe the national church is trying to represent the inclusive love of Jesus Christ in the stand that they are taking? I only now openly argue points because we in the Diocese of San Joaquin have lost so much. I have been one of those quiet, unassuming Christians, who just wants peace in the world, and in my reticence to do battle, I have lost my local church. John David Schofield and the priests who he has brought into San Joaquin during his tenure here, have preached anger and schism for years and years, and no one really believed it would come to this. When it did, I swore I would no longer leave erronous statements unchallenged, including yours. A number of us love the church, and love scripture, and love God, and would like to do God's work in this world. I do not believe those of us who oppose John David Schofield are the ones who have gotten the uplifting values and the message "once delivered by the saints" off the rails. You are another one of those who has not lived in the Diocese of San Joaquin. You do not know of that which you speak.

12/28/2007 9:18 PM  
Blogger Lisa said...

Anonymous1, kindly define for me the "faith once delivered to the saints." I know that's a beloved catchphrase in some circles, but I can't get anyone to define it for me. In my parish, we define it by the Nicene Creed (which we recite weekly), the Baptismal Covenant, and the Scriptures we read every Sunday. I sense that yours has some other codicils attached to it. What are they?

Anonymous1, if you're not hearing the Gospels at this site, then you're not reading through our 300+ essays.

BTW, Anonymous1, please give me one concrete example of "the message 'once delivered by the saints' that got mocked here." That's your charge. Give me examples, please.

Anonymous2, I fear you took a wrong turn somewhere, if you think this is the blog of Susan Russell or Elizabeth Kaeton. Whoo-boy! You are just cruising for a fight, aren't you? Well, you won't get it on this blog, which glories in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

12/28/2007 9:38 PM  
Blogger Lisa said...

Beryl, thank you for visiting here. My prayers are with you and all the Episcopalians in San Joaquin. The Episcopal Majority sent a note of support to Remain Episcopal, and I hope you know we stand ready to do what we can to help the Episcopal Church survive and thrive in central California.

I am grateful for your willingness to tell your stories about what has been happening in the Diocese of San Joaquin over the past two decades. I can only imagine the courage and the energy this is requiring of you. I am thankful for your witness, and I pray for your steadfastness.

12/28/2007 9:48 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

lisa:
I got it from this bit of what I think is a silly essay about plastic man.
Knowing John-David’s near worship of the church’s tradition and what he and others mistakenly refer to as “the faith once delivered by the saints,” I can only conclude that what we are dealing with here is not a reincarnation of Plastic Man, but of his evil twin brother, known only to a few as Blast-ic Man. But how can we tell the difference between Plastic Man

I'm leaving the discussion here. I'm sorry I even tried. I didn't see that Fr. Rightmyer, my hero, voice of reason and common sense has come to explain it.

12/28/2007 9:53 PM  
Blogger John B. Chilton said...

Very much "on topic."

Welcome to those readers and commenters who disagree with the moral sentiments of the majority at Episcopal Majority and who wish to defend the actions of Schofield.

12/28/2007 11:14 PM  
Blogger Fr. Tony Clavier said...

The whole story is tragic made not much better by the manner in which we instinctively take sides and uncritically damn each other.

The unfolding story of schism is a tragedy in which many people stuck in the middle are the ones most hurt; many of whom give up on the church altogether.

I would rather see us seeking to walk the extra mile in our brothers' and sisters' shoes, those on both "sides" of this internecine
fight. I would rather see us praying for each other. I would rather see us even at this late moment seeking ways to reach out in reconciliation.

"Pie in the sky"? Maybe. But after all we are Christians.

12/29/2007 9:57 AM  
Blogger Tom Rightmyer said...

The following appeared on Fr. Jake's blog. Early in my ministry I served a small mission and I can appreciste the difficult decisions dioceses have to make about the best use of limited mission funds.

The letter indicates that the decision to end Fr. Fred's paid ministry was made well before Christmas.

This is an excerpt from a letter to Father Fred Risard of Atwater's St. Nicholas Episcopal Church from
Anglican Bishop John-David Schofield

Dear Fr. Risard,

As the Bishop of the Diocese of San Joaquin I grant your request that you be allowed to remain a Priest within the Episcopal Church. Up until the end of the Eucharist on Advent IV, December 23, 2007, I had hoped there might be a way for us to arrive at some form of reconciliation. Your statement made so vividly in front of the congregation at that
Eucharist left no doubt that you would not want to represent me as vicar in any church in this diocese. It is plain that you do not wish to be part of this Diocese. Please notify me to
which Episcopal Diocese I am to forward your letters dimissory.

Despite compensation extending to December 31st your final day of service is to be December 25, 2007.
Arrangements will be made for you to remove personal effects from your office and the sacristy of St. Nicholas' Church.

I thank you for your service to the Diocese of San Joaquin as both Deacon and Priest and particularly for your time deployed as Vicar at St. Nicholas, Atwater. You will recall clearly your meeting with me at my office on November 6th of this year when you were
accompanied by the Bishop's Warden, Jo Sadler and the Canon to the Ordinary. At that time you were notified that your tenure at St. Nicholas would end on December 31, 2007 due to insufficient attendance and contributions from the congregation. I remind you that
this meeting was subsequent to the one held at St. Nicholas on May 29th, where you requested a three month extension of your ministry in Atwater. You argued that this
extension was necessary to provide sufficient time for you to reverse the decline both in attendance and contributions. In actual fact, the extension I granted amounted to more than five months. According to the statements you made to the congregation on Advent IV, the numbers attending St. Nicholas have decreased, not increased. It is clear, too, that there is not sufficient financial support for a full time priest.

Any requests from congregations in the Episcopal Church who would like to interview you will be given immediate response, and I pray that you will be granted the desires of your heart as you seek to serve the Lord Jesus Christ in your next calling.

12/29/2007 6:07 PM  

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