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H.E. Baber criticizes The Episcopal Church for being closed-off in an interview on her faith

H.E. Baber criticizes The Episcopal Church for being closed-off in an interview on her faith

Helen De Cruz, Asst Professor in philosophy at VU University Amsterdam, interviewed H.E. Baber, Professor in philosophy at the University of San Diego, for a series on how the religious practices of philosophers influences their academic work.

Baber, an Episcopalian who doesn’t attend a church, speaks about the difficulties outsiders face in joining the Church, and the many ways it can feel unwelcoming or inaccessible., and the frustrations she experienced as a lay-person trying to engage actively with the Church.

From the interview:

Insiders don’t appreciate how remote churches are to outsiders or how difficult it is to get in. Churches don’t signal that they’re semi-public places, like supermarkets or movie theaters, where anyone can go no questions asked. As an outsider, I was too shy to visit any church—afraid that it would be going into a private space where I didn’t belong, afraid I’d be noticed as an intruder, or asked embarrassing questions. There was no easy way of applying to join a church. When I joined the Episcopal Church as an undergraduate I didn’t know any churchgoers: religion simply wasn’t done among people I knew. It took me months after deciding to join to get up the nerve to call the local church and ask to see a priest. I wondered why churches couldn’t make things easier—why, e.g. they didn’t put ads in the college newspaper or leave flyers with forms one could fill out to request information or apply for membership.

Baber was frustrated by confessional asides from Episcopal Priests who assumed that, as a philosopher, she shared their skepticism or outright denial of the existence of God; she was seeking moving, transcendental spiritual existences, not personal denials of faith by the spiritual leaders of the congregations she joined.

She sought ordination for years before finally being rejected affirmatively, and was frustrated when they told her that they had decided against her seven years prior. She had wanted to be involved in important aspects of the Church, but found no structure in which she could influence matters or affect change as a lay person; she sees this as a critical failing of the Church, and believes that the Church is in active decline as a result. This leads to her most scathing criticism of the Church.

Again from the interview:

I am disheartened by the decline of the Church and frustrated because, as a layperson, I can’t do anything about it. In spite of the officially democratic structure of the Episcopal Church, and rhetoric about lay ‘ministry’, laypeople have no voice in matters of importance. The agenda is set from the top, laypeople are heard only when they echo the party line, and priests as well as laypeople are marginalized, beaten down or squeezed out if they don’t go with the program. This has driven some to join break-away groups. That isn’t an option for me because I have no sympathy with the conservative moral positions these groups take and, most especially, because the view that gender is in any way theologically significant is a deal-breaker for me.

Ultimately, these experiences lead her to focus her previous Church energies in The Society of Christian Philosophers. You can read the entire series of interviews on The Prosblogion.

Can you relate to her experiences? Do you think the Church isn’t democratic enough? Do you see value in the hierarchical structure the Church operates from? Do you think her experience of being strung-along is common in the Church, or was she an outlier?

 

Posted by David Streever

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Larry Kruse

I firmly believe that what the Episcopal Church is lacking, as well as so many other churches, is a means by which young people can contribute financially and thus feel compelled to adopt a more active role. Since our church installed a donation kiosk (www.myofferingkiosk.com), we've seen contributions increase dramatically from young people, who so often don't carry cash or checks. Most importantly, these same young people really seem to care about the goings on of our church.

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Laura

Sorry for the misspelling of Baber.

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Laura

The church where I currently serve as Vicar is holding a Lenten conversation about welcome in the church. We are looking seriously at TEC practices that could be seen as or are unwelcoming, asking some of the questions that Prof. Haber has asked. It is a challenging conversation, but it invites us to see TEC from an outsiders perspective. I am grateful for the article and the comments. My husband who also read the article and I were struck by how many of the comments are about the ordination process. While the entire interview had more to say about one person's experience as an aspirant, that was not our takeaway from the interview. Rather we appreciated the invitation to hear a critical perspective about TEC, one that even suggests simple ways of reaching out - which we intend to do! The professor's presence and perspective would be most welcome in Carlsbad.

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H. E. Baber

If you're interested, invite me to speak. I don't charge for church-related programs.

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Jon White

Hi Laura,
Thank you for commenting. We usually ask that people use their full names when commenting. Thanks!
Jon White - Editor

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H. E. Baber

Hey there--appreciate your comments! I don't doubt in the least that I shouldn't have been ordained. I just wish that they'd been straight with me sooner.

So, tell me, why don't your churches do forms, posted on websites or on paper, where inquirers can ask to join, or get information? That's one reason why I wanted to get ordained--to see that stuff like this could be done. As far as my role in the church, I am not called to 'ministry' and never thought I was: I have no interest in 'helping' work and made it clear that I was never interested in any sort of pastoral ministry--paid or unpaid. However I do believe that the Episcopal Church, which I love and to which I remain comitted, has screwed up in a variety of ways and I wanted to help set thing straight.

Thanks for the comments! And please--think about more effective ways to pursue evengelism

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Jerald Liko

Thanks for joining in!

Could you be more specific about what kind of information we should be offering on our local websites? People can get a general sense of what TEC is about from a handful of Google searches, but I think you're suggesting something more specific. I'm a bit involved in my congregation's launch of a new website. What do you think we should include?

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H. E. Baber

I meant, first of all a form, with boxes to tick for things like joining the church, getting an appointment to talk to a priest, arranging a wedding in the church, getting information about volunteer programs, pre-school, or whatever. Forms like this should also be in paper and widely distributed--put in people’s doors, left in stacks and posted on bulletin boards.

In addition, a website should include a list of contact people in the church with annotations, describing what you would contact them for: who arranges weddings, who to contact about joining the church, who runs what volunteer program, who does the youth group and, most importantly, who a person can talk to about religious matters. This would be along the lines of, e.g. a human resources website that tells you who to contact about benefits, who to contact about your W-4 form, who to contact about jobs, etc. Clergy should be available for email correspondence with inquirers and others.

General information about the Episcopal Church and the Anglican tradition is easy to find. It’s harder to find information about what to expect at church, how to dress, how to behave. Will I look out of place in jeans? (no—or, sadly, yes) Will I be asked whether I’m saved? (NO!) Will I be attacked by greeters, made to wear a visitor’s badge and asked to stand and introduce myself at the service? (I sure hope not!)

Some websites are so busy, so packed with pictures, rhetoric and news that it’s difficult to find this kind of information—if it’s there at all.

Thank you for your interest! And…back to the day job for me.

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Chris Harwood

The idea that one must join the priesthood in order to have a place in the church is widespread here, and has been encouraged in the push for women priests. I know women who were interested in becoming nuns and were told to become priests instead. Others involved in prison or homeless ministries were also encouraged to be ordained and "have a real voice" for the church.

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