Thursday, 20 June 2013

Comments on the Departure of Sr. Susan Clark

It might be helpful to read the history of Community of St Peter before reading the article below which speaks of the latest blow by the diocesan authorities.  It comes from their newsletter for 16 June 2013.

Comments on the Departure of Sr. Susan Clark 

As a child the first book I took out of the Franklin Sylvester Library in Medina was one by Dr. Seuss. Like so many other children, the odd rhythm of the words and the strangeness of the artwork fascinated me. Later in life, I reflected that there was so much more to these books. Like all classic fairy tales, they helped children to face and negotiate a world where there was beauty and horror, goodness and evil, kindness and meanness, generosity and selfishness, togetherness and alienation, acceptance and isolation. So it was not altogether surprising that in the midst of this most distressing time I was reminded of one of Dr. Seuss’ works: How the Grinch Stole Christmas. The Grinch hated the Who down in Who-ville and their celebration. He hated the noise and the feast. But most of all he hated the singing.

“And then they’d do something He liked least of all! Every Who down in Who-ville, the tall and the small, would stand close together with Christmas bells ringing. They’d stand hand in hand. And the Who would start singing. They’d sing! And they sing! And they’d sing! Sing! Sing! Sing. And the more the Grinch thought of this Who-Christmas Sing, The more the Grinch thought, “I must stop this whole thing!”

Few things mark the unique gift of this community more that its full, conscious and active participation in the liturgy. Few things bring us more joy than singing together and hearing the beauty of our choir. This community has weathered much in these past three years. We have stayed together, continued to worship, maintained and enlarged our ministries, and welcomed new members who enhance and expand our history to make something that is continuously old and new at the same time.

When it became clear that our initial efforts to remain together as a community were not going to fail, and that members were more committed than ever to stand up a sign of both hope and resistance, it was necessary for the powers that be to take more drastic measures to dispirit and scatter this community. When initial threats to our salvation were unsuccessful, they trucked excommunication out of the dustbin of medieval sanctions, in hopes of discrediting me, and shaking the well being of our members.

Now, having seen that such ancient draconian measures have little effect today, they have resorted to hitting at the heart of our life together: the liturgy, and specifically the music which inspires, consoles, comforts and binds us as a community at prayer. They know that the ministry of Sr. Susan Clark is in large part responsible for the joy of our liturgical life together and the success of our wonderful choir. As was stated in our newsletter: Sr. Susan had to leave because, “she was giving scandal”, and because she “was helping us to succeed against the direct wishes of the bishop.”

We cannot begin to express our gratitude to Sr. Susan for what she has shared with us over the past two decades. Far from giving scandal, she has given us beauty, hope and joy. If there is scandal in that, then perhaps those who are so scandalized might want to look elsewhere in the church to see what real scandal looks like.

Unlike most of the members of this community, however, Sr. Susan risked much in making a decision to remain with us. As a religious, her vow of poverty means that she has little or no resources of her own. Very few members of us risk losing our jobs, our homes, health care and so much more by making the choice we have made.

But she was forced to make a choice which pitted her commitment to her order, and her very livelihood and well being, against her love for this community and her ministry. Such a dilemma should give us all pause, and help us to realize how much she and others are risking to remain members of this community. In the gospel today (11th Sunday in Ordinary Time) we encounter first hand the systematic devaluing, marginalizing and condemnation of women by a duplicitous religious system. And Paul warns the Galatians about the dangers and weaknesses of using the law to ensure salvation. Unlike so many in authority today, Jesus confronts the rejection of this woman with great compassion and love, and Paul proclaims the primacy of love over the law. Sadly, Sr. Susan was confronted with only the law and judgment as the means to force her compliance.

I am most grieved that Sr. Susan had to be threatened in this way as a means of getting at our community. It was cowardly, mean spirited, and it revealed the desperation of a system which places power above the needs of people, conformity before compassion and blind obedience over the primacy of conscience. And it revealed once again the real end-game: the destruction of the Community of Saint Peter and the scattering of its members.

Sr. Susan remains a loved and valued member of this community. Much more than a music director she is our friend. Nothing and no one can take that away. Her superiors may be able to force her to no longer share her gifts with us, but it will be a hollow victory. People will see it for what it is: the abuse of a faithful woman of the church in order to placate the insatiable appetite for power and control. I ask that every member of this community write a card or letter of support to Sr. Susan and that we continue make every effort to include her in our life and welcome her into our homes. She will need our support and love now and in the weeks and months to come. We must not fail her.

In the face of all of this, our work is to continue to worship and pray and sing and sing and sing! The Grinches of this world may be able to take everything else from us in the hope of making us afraid and sad and unable to celebrate. But that will be up to us and not up to them. They cannot take away our joy. Only we can allow it to falter in the face of loss and threats to our well being.

In Dr. Seuss’ tale the Grinch, having stolen all the presents and the food for the feast, waits to hear the sound of the Whos down in Who-ville crying BOO-HOO!

“That’s noise I simply must hear. So he paused. And the Grinch put his hand to his ear. And he did hear a sound rising over the snow. It started low. Then it started to grow. But the sound wasn’t sad! Why this sound sounded merry. It couldn’t be so. But it was merry. Very! He stared down at Who-ville! The Grinch popped his eyes! The he shook! What he saw was a shocking surprise. Every Who down in Who-ville, the tall and the small was singing! Without any presents at all. He hadn’t stopped Christmas from coming! It came! Somehow or other it came just the same.”

The removal of Sr. Susan from our community and from our weekly liturgy is a horrible loss. Yet, she will always be with us every time we sing and sing and sing! Her gifts are within us. We may have weeks and months of struggle. Our timing will be off and the perfection we have become accustomed to may have to be replaced with something more normal and imperfect.

I would like to believe that the Grinches in our story, seeing this community’s commitment to keep cele- brating, will then have hearts that grow three sizes and that they will join the feast. I have no idea if that will happen.

For now I say to those who are responsible for inflicting such pain and sadness on Sr. Susan: Shame on you! And to all of us gathered here: I say: we must keep singing. How can we not? We know and have experienced the deeper meaning of what we do here each Sunday through Sr. Susan’s ministry. We know that it is something internal, and not dependant on anything external. So let us keep singing: today and every Sunday. Strong enough and loud enough to be heard in Chardon or down on East 9th and Superior. For in the face of all we have been given and all we have shared and all we experience in this moment and in this time: How can we keep from singing?

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