The following anonymous letter was sent to several parishioners in St. Isabel envelopes to discourage them from resuming the parish ministries.
Anonymous Letter to Some Parishioners
The letter above, anonymously sent from the parish of St. Isabel to some parishioners who had the generosity (or, gall?) to ask to return to active ministries in the church, is wrong on so many levels.
It is deliberately meant to be unclear who sent the letter, and one is lead to wonder whether no one on the small parish staff or in the Diocese had the courage to claim ownership. Did someone feel it was not a message they wanted to be associated with? The letter carefully quotes a USCCB document which quotes the essential characteristics of those who present themselves for lay ministry, characteristics that would have made it impossible for the present lay staff to continue to be working at St. Isabel. Regardless, the letter points its finger at the ill-defined group of people who withdrew from ministry, left the Church to celebrate Sunday Mass elsewhere, some even celebrating Sundays at a church not in ecclesial communion with the Catholic Church. While the last group might give one pause, how can Parishioners be considered not fit for ministry when they have only done what the previous temporary administrator Fr. Joseph Gates recommended: “if you are angry, go somewhere else, and come back when you have cooled off.”
Who at St. Isabel possesses the balanced wisdom and the insight for determining which of the four categories any parishioner falls into? For weeks, if not months, St. Isabel has been begging for people to volunteer for lay ministry. What does this total rejection of people who are willing to return to ministry, people well known to the extremely divisive staff left at St. Isabel, look like with St. Isabel’s almost constant pleas for help with ministries of all kinds?
The letter is correct when it states that everything we are as Catholic Christians “flows forth from the Altar of God in the Eucharistic sacrifice,” but it doesn’t flow only from the altar that happens to be in St. Isabel Church. It flows from all altars, and should any parishioner decide for any personal reason that it would be better for their spiritual growth to celebrate the Eucharist at another Catholic Church they are always free to do so. Parish boundaries are never meant to prevent people from worshipping where they want, for whatever reason.
It is no secret that dozens, if not hundreds (not “several”), of former parishioners left St. Isabel over the past three years, for they were made to feel unwelcome and they desired to make a strong statement about the mistreatment of their pastor, Fr. Christopher Senk. They were not being fed spiritually, and the parish was slowly morphing into something barely recognizable. They left with great sadness but of necessity to be true to the gospel. While this letter is the first time in three years that anyone has admitted to noticing their absence, placing all who left St. Isabel into one large category does all of them a great disservice. Further, who is it who concludes that “we can see how anyone who falls into such categories” is not fit for ministry? What? Who and when is someone going to make a judgement that a person is worthy of returning to ministry? Will it be based in the next year on the memory of the new Parochial Administrator recalling who and how often someone has been in church? Any pastor starting out in a new parish knows how long it takes to truly get to know an entire parish, especially one where people come and go on a regular basis. Will their return to ministry be based on the amount of money in their envelopes? Even more frightening, will their return be based on the whims of the present staff who have clearly shown their prejudice. It is surely hoped that the present Parochial Administrator is not entrusting the untrustworthy staff with such important decisions.
Whoever has authored this letter has not taken into consideration that so many of the people he/she has been talking about have faithfully been in St. Isabel’s church on Tuesdays for the last three years, praying for their pastor. Many of them have been in church far more times than people on the staff. Further, these same people have continued to provide bereavement luncheons for the deceased of their church, and they have happily done that, even when it was often made difficult for them to do.
It is abhorrent that this discussion is even happening, since the model of what should be done is embedded in the gospels and in the teaching of Jesus, something far more important than any document of the USCCB. We are clearly talking about a Lord who surrounded Himself with outcasts and sinners. There was no qualifications for God’s love and mercy, it was lavished on the worthy and the unworthy. This response of the present church’s administration bears no resemblance to the gospel, and could have been a source for good and healing had they chosen a different course. Their model should have been the father in the story we call the Prodigal Son (not that parishioners who left were involved in “dissolute living”). In spite of the sons’ unworthiness, the father wrapped his arms around them and embraced them. He threw a party for the younger son, and is left waiting for the older son to come in and celebrate. Because what was lost had been found there was reason to celebrate. There was no criticism or categorizing by the father. Whoever is responsible for this letter should be ashamed of themselves, and in the future should look to the gospels for an answer to whether those who left St. Isabel should be welcomed back. They need to think as God thinks, and not act as man thinks.