Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Curtain Call

I got to spend another week supply priesting in Grand Island, Nebraska. I guess it was more or less a curtain call because they asked me back after the supply priest they had scheduled had a conflict. I must say its kind of fun to supply priest. You get to do all the fun stuff of a Sunday morning without having to deal with the local church politics.

I have found that small towns, not that Grand Island is really that small of a town, as it is about the 3rd largest city in the state (4th if you count the Husker Football stadium during a home game). But however you want to classify it size-wise, towns that no one from out of state has probably heard usually have problems attracting sane priests who aren't 100 million years old and looking for a retirement income supplement. They are always so thankful just to have someone come out, even though Grand Island, Nebraska, is not out in the boondocks by any stretch. In fact, its easy for me and my wife to get out there as my wife is originally from a town about 30 miles south of Grand Island. We can just stay with her folks and we don't even have to fuss with renting a hotel room or anything.

I have also found as I begin the search process for a new church (my contract at my current parish is only a two year gig as an assistant), that churches in small town or rural contexts, at least in the Episcopal Church) are largely desperate for clergy. Unfortunately, I saw this attitude by Anglican clergy numerous times when I was in seminary. People want to get the nice cushy priest job in the suburbs. Occasionally, someone might say they wanted to do urban ministry, but very, very rarely did I meet people who said they wanted to do small town or rural ministry (my former roommate and best man being the exception to that prevailing attitude.)

My experience is that the Episcopal Church (and Anglican church in general) has always been a bit uppity, something that drives me bananas. To be fair, I think we come by that honestly, descending from the Established Church tradition of the Church of England. I know when I was in England, the Methodists largely hated the C of E for that reason of looking down their noses at what used to be called "nonconformists."

I fear that has filtered down through the centuries to the modern day Episcopal Church USA clergy to a church that is completely urban-centric. That makes me sad because I think we are playing into the cultural trend of what I call Small Town Necrosis, that view that small towns are just hickvilles and the "real world" begins inside major city limits.

I think that is sad, and I for one think the Episcopal Church can do better.

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