Leaving the Church or Leading the Church?
Many struggle with the traditional church these days. Attendance is markedly down in the Roman Catholic Church in the USA and Ireland and in all of the major Christian denominations in the USA as well. Some of the key issues are issues of injustice- the sex abuse scandal especially in the Roman Catholic Church where until Pope Francis recent strong stands massive abuse was hidden and the offenders passed along from community to community; the denial of complete acceptance to the LGBTQ community in Catholicism and recently in the major decision by the Methodist Church where 53 percent of the clergy voted not to give full access and acceptance to the LGBTQ community members and to clergy who are in that community and the denial of ordination and clergy membership to women in Roman Catholicism and some of the other Christian denominations.
In a world already full of injustice, conflict and violence the church should stand , as Jesus most certainly did, for the acceptance and inclusion of all, including the outcast and the stranger. Thereby it should attract a variety of members, young as well as old, and of all social classes, races, cultures and orientations and identifications. On Ash Wednesday (this year Weds. March 6th) we are told to “turn away from sin and believe the Gospel”. ( I actually say “turn away from sin and believe and live the Gospel”. In the passage from the book of Joel (2:12) we are asked to return to God with all our hearts. The 40 days of lent are then an opportunity to take stock of ourselves, move away from preoccupations with self and give ourselves away to the poor, to those who are mourning and those in need of healing and to all those who need a word and act of love and compassion. That is we are to return to “increasing Christ within us” “living Jesus” (as the Salesians say). As part of this many need to take stock of how they feel about the traditional church and its subtle and not so subtle decisions to become an exclusive group. If we are to include all who are excluded as Jesus did, where and how can we best do that.
Some have decided to do that by leaving the RC church per se becoming a part of independent Catholic churches, or joining other Christian denominations,and some continue under the Roman Catholic rubric, following the best of the traditions and yet breaking the man-made laws that exclude. Roman Catholic WomenPriests are in this latter category. We like to say we are not leaving the church but are risking criticism and, yes, ostracism, to lead the church in a new era of true Christ-like inclusion at the Table and at the altar. Whatever you discover this Lent about the direction of your journey to the cross and to the resurrection,it is important to join with other believers as you journey for it is the community that brings the living Christ in our midst and forms the mystical body of Christ that lives and gives hope to our lives.
Here is a link to a NCRonline article written by NCR Staff (National Catholic Reporter) where several people including some women Roman Catholic priests give their thoughts on leaving the church. Leaving or leading- it is up to you to be Church. Blessings to you as you walk this Lenten journey.
Love and blessings,
Rev. Dr. Judith Lee, RCWP
Pastor and Director Good Shepherd Ministries of SW Florida and
The Good Shepherd Inclusive Catholic Community, Fort Myers, Fl