Study Leave Years: post Pantheatre

Near the end of my ten year window I allotted for the study leave to work out, I was testing my return to parish work. Someone I knew working in a parish gave me an opportunity to help work with young people on an Easter presentation. I got to do the beginning which I began in the park across the street from the church. It was centred around the playground jungle gym and the first boys, forgot who they represented, came from across the park towards us. As they approached there was recognition and shouting and cheering at their arrival. The play continued here and then led into a procession into the church proper for other stations of activity. That I felt that work to be outside and across the street I later recognized was emblematic of where my journey had taken me.

in assessing where I now stood, that I would have a place in the church to pursue my work or had to let it go, I went to many church services over a couple of years of many parishes, denomination and even religions. At times I would feel some connection to work being done but it was always a fringe work. I had interviews with a number of bishops in the local area to see how my discovery resonated with their vision for the future of church institution. It turned out to be none at all. In fact they couldn’t connect to the concerns I was trying to address with my work. They had difficulty understanding the importance of my most simple of observations about the way the scripture reading is done in church. I felt if theatre worked hard on practice of text, discovering the resonance of text, preparing the voice and body and mind for performance then surely the public reading of scripture should aspire after the same. It’s not that readers and participants in worship were to be professional actors, but the attention to delivering the reading in a meaningful way for the congregation required attention to expectations approach and preparation of the readers. The bishops did not get this at all, think it was even a matter to work on the quality of the delivery of liturgy. I might have written to my own bishop as well, but I believed I wouldn’t have any different a response. In fact, over the course of my study leave, arranged and planned out with my bishop with the goal of advancing my skills for being a good priest, I reported regularly to my bishop and then two subsequent bishops who knew what I was doing, and by the fourth bishop I’d given up with sharing my journey; not one of them had ever written me back with any encouraging support for the work.

One of the last experiences that resolved in me the need to move on was a public meeting a new Bishop of Toronto was having to inspire his church into a ‘flourishing future.’ He’d had meetings with the clergy and then went out across the diocese speaking to the lay people. His speech began with a cultural analysis of modern society though he stumbled here needing to read the text and not quite demonstrating a confidence with the material. The second part of the speech was reminiscences of his time in parish life, a traditional parish life. His message was for the church to move forward and regain influence in the society, that is get more people to come to church including young people, the church needed new ideas and he welcomed the exploration of any innovation and constructive measures. During the question and comment period, I stood up -he didn’t know me or that I was clergy- and I suggested one new approach that would give a focus to our central act of worship more suited to the thinking of society today. I thought if instead of receiving the Holy Communion in the form of the congregant walking up the aisle of the church, ascending into the Chancel, approaching the sanctuary they were not allowed to enter, kneeling at the rail of the sanctuary in supplication, head bowed and hands raised up to receive the elements of eucharist from the priest who only had the special powers of consecration of the elements, I said, was maybe better reflected as a circle of the faithful with the elements of the eucharist passed around the circle one to the other. The hierarchy of power was not a great form to conceive of our worship today if wishing to appeal to secular society, I suggested. “Well,” he said forcefully without hesitation, “we can’t change that!” And I was dismissed and I knew for certain I no longer belonged in the only world I had known, raised and immersed in as third generation clergy. I moved on. I think back that moment was just finally accepting what I knew on late Friday afternoon, December 24, 1982, after class at the U of Haifa when I was leaving for Jerusalem to attend Christmas Eve services at the Basilica of the Nativity, Bethlehem. On the bed in my dorm, two of my classmates had left me a gift of a pen wrapped in paper and ribbon in recognition of my Christian tradition celebrating Christmas. I knew I could no longer proclaim Jesus is the Way, the Truth and the Life and the only way to come to God.