Monday, October 30, 2006

Those Who Leave...

Sometimes men leave the holy ministry. I can’t say how many leave because it’s often hushed up, appearing as quiet notices in the Lutheran Witness, usually months after the resignation happened, and notices of vacancies filtered through congregational grapevines. It seems somehow shameful, unless the man goes to something glamorous, like a “call” to administrate at a District or Synodical level, or a teaching position within the system.

We are speaking not of them, however, but of the ones who are not suited or whose conscience leads them elsewhere. How many leave the ministry for these reasons? Many of them scatter, leaving quietly. They do so because of the scarlet letters thrown at them, or because of the pursed lips and shaking heads of pastors and laymen. Those who are “left behind” feel betrayed. Sometimes for good reason. Oftentimes out of ignorance.

Fr. John Fenton of Zion Lutheran Church, Detroit, announced his resignation yesterday and posted a copy of his letter on his blog. Fenton has a well-known reputation in the LCMS for the liturgical life of his congregation. He often reminded others that he inherited such a liturgical and Lutheran congregation–most of Zion’s practices had been in place long before he arrived, and all of them were once well-known and used among Lutheran Churches (e.g., calling the pastor “Father.” This neither originated with him, nor is it un-Lutheran. Luther’s flock called him “Father Luther” Generations of Lutherans addressed their own pastors this way). He is not an innovator.

But he is a publicist, in the best sense of that word. He shared the fruit and richness of Lutheran doctrine and practice at Zion with the entire Synod, frequently speaking and publishing. He opened the eyes of many congregations, pastors, and future pastors. He also caused great consternation, as he challenged the LCMS to look harder and more critically at our Confessions and how we “believe, teach, and practice” according to them. Lutherans are not good at change, nor are we gifted with humility. When someone shows us possbile errors, we tend to get frustrated and angry. Fenton took a lot of abuse for following his conscience and faith. Yet he remains a friend to many. He may say otherwise, but I get the feeling he is a friend to everyone who comes knocking.

The reasons for his departure from the LCMS come best from him. Do click on that link and read his letter.

I wish to commend him for his honesty and for following his conscience. To many of us, it would have seemed a natural thing to simply remain in his parish where so many things were done well, and where he was insulated from the abberations of the LCMS (to some degree), where he had the support and love of his people. Why didn’t he? Read his letter.

God bless you, John! You will be heartily missed in the LCMS. But as the Orthodox say, “Many years!”