I do not think this neglect comes because he doesn’t care. I do think he does not take time to know or care for his own garden because of the nature of the Episcopal responsibilities and the nature of our structure.
The gardens are wilting
He does send out his undergardeners, but they themselves, burdened by unending reports, meetings and paperwork, rarely walk the gardens either, except for the annual Charge Conferences, which probably function more like Potemkin villages than realistic assessments of the situation at hand. The gardens are wilting, and the main response from on high: either figure out your own problems and bear fruit or get ready for the consequences.
It won’t work in the long run. Not for gardens and not for churches.
Let us not forget that clergy do the same thing in our own parishes. We expect people who are wilting and ailing spiritually and finding themselves unable to thrive under our pastoral leadership to speak our language and tell us so. But they can’t, and we find ourselves shocked to discover that the virus that infected one plant, one plant could have been brought back to life by good attention, suddenly took over much of the church, which now needs expensive and often fruitless life-support treatment just to survive.
I’ve done it myself, way too many times. I am busy with my reports and my plans and my messages and administrative details and Conference business and trying to make sure my numbers get bigger each year, because that is the only language I can use that the District Superintendents (the undergardener) and Bishop will understand. That is my official language; no one else in the local church can speak it fluently.
The language of those in my care is one of pain and brokenness and occasional desperation. Theirs is of family problems and intractable illnesses and economic pressures and teen pregnancies and destructive addictions. They need tending and watering and good care so they can bend and not break in the midst of the storms and rise the next day to greet the sunshine with ripening fruit of righteousness.
When I don’t take the time to wander quietly and unhurriedly through their lives, when I expect people to come to me with the problems they are having with me rather than noticing the wilt myself, then I get slammed, sucker-punched, and emotionally devastated when someone says, “I’ll never return to that church as long as she is pastor.” This, I believe, is what happened to our Bishop.
I am the one at fault where my church is concerned. I must take responsibility for my own actions and neglect. I have not loved them enough to learn their languages fluently and to observe adequately their need for support and nurture. I have too often refused the message of Pentecost for the least of these under my care. I expected my plants to start speaking the Queen’s English, when the only language they know is to wilt and die and spread their infection to neighboring plants.