So late last night the local news broke that the interim priest at St. Mark’s Episcopal had been arrested earlier this month on charges of smuggling contraband (controlled substances) into a correctional facility down to the coast. The links don’t go to the newspaper that allows anonymous commenting, because that has turned into the kind of cesspit you would expect when misconduct by religious persons makes the headlines.
I grieve for the congregation at St. Mark’s – they’re a relatively small church with a strong community ministry, and we work with them and support them, since we’re practically next door. They have the space and the structure, we have a lot of willing hands to contribute work. I grieve also for the priest involved – I’ve met him once or twice, a gentle soul who projected a kind of holy innocence, and when I read the original article I really hoped he wasn’t the person involved because I could totally see the situation as the end result of a chain of bad judgement and good intentions gone catastrophically astray. But I was wrong.
It’s unfortunate that when this sort of thing happens it casts a long, deep shadow. Aside from what’s likely to be the tragic end to a career of religious service, it wounds the reputation and ministry of the congregation involved, sends echoes of shock through the wider community, and darkens the name of the Church (and religion) as a whole – something I wouldn’t have given a damn about a year ago. But I have changed, or am changing at least, and if I have grown a wider vision the consequence of that is that there are things I can’t un-see. And so I write.
We are all human beings. We fail. Times we fail publicly and in a chain-of-dominoes sort of way. I woke up this morning really hoping that the right person at the right level of authority sat this human being down across a table, looked him gently in the eye, and asked something like “Rev, what the fuck were you thinking?”
I can’t do that, of course. I’m a lay person in a different denomination entirely. Under the law, the accused is innocent until proven guilty in court; if the description of events in the newspapers is within appreciable distance of accurate, well, I still don’t know what the individuals involved may have been thinking at the time. But in my heart I can very easily build the sequence of events by which I could get into a similarly compromised position. I hope – I pray – that when the opportunity for error arises, I will have the wisdom to make a better sequence of mistakes.
May the Power that knows Justice and Mercy have mercy upon us all;
May the Holy show to us more mercy than we show to one another.