Thursday, July 5, 2007

A Response to Mr. Badger

Stand Firm was good enough to post our article on Church of the Advent. A vestryman from Hudson County weighed in, defending the closure of the church. While we don't want to get into an endless argument with him, there are a few points we feel we must answer.

First, the gentleman objects: Note the past tense. Spong retired what, six, seven years ago? Spong’s SUCCESSOR retired this year. Does your correspondent have nothing to do but live in the past? Let him be assured that Blakeney lives very much in the present. We invite him to look at the earlier posts on the blog--and to pay attention to those that are to come.

Next, he informs us that the Diocese poured enormous amounts of money into reviving and sustaining All Saints in Hoboken, and Grace Van Vorst in Jersey City. What he neglects to mention is that All Saints is an outspoken proponent of the GLBT agenda. Grace Van Vorst has not been shy in that regard, either. If Mr. badger 539 knows of a place where the Diocese also poured money into a traditional parish that was failing, we urge him to let us know.

Interestingly, Mr. Badger brings up the infamous closure of St. John's in Jersey City, blaming it on its origins as a segregated white parish. Perhaps Mr. Badger can explain why this was still relevant in the 1990's, especially since the last rector of the church was a black activist, Rev. Robert Castle. St. John's is, in fact, a stunning example of poor diocesan stewardship. We confess that we don't know whether it was sustainable as a congregation, but we do know that Diocese's treatment of the property has been a notable disgrace.

St. John's was once known as "the millionaire's church", and is on the National Register of Historic Places. It is also on New Jersey's list of the "Ten Most Endangered Historic Sites." After the parish was closed, Bishop Spong removed its full suite of Tiffany windows, and sold them to a Japanese collector. The windows were not replaced with ordinary glass, the church was vandalized,and many of its valuable decorations removed. Many years after Spong's retirement, the government of Jersey City was still pleading with the Diocese to secure the windows and doors, and fix the leaky roof. So far as we know, the structure is still endangered; perhaps Mr. Badger can fill us in on its current state of repair, and Diocesan efforts (if any) to sell a building they clearly have no use for.

While Mr. Badger talks about population shifts, Blakeney wonders about a church which has to pull out of urban areas because it has nothing to offer the poor who live there. We wonder doubly, since Newark always prides itself on its commitment to social justice. According to Louie Crew's invaluable 1996 report on ethnic parishes in the Diocese, at least two of the parishes which Bishop Spong later closed were about 50% black . (St. Stephen's and St. Matthew's).

We do agree that sometimes there are good reasons for closing parishes. We finally found a parishoner from the Church of the Ascension (the other Bloomfield parish that was closed.) Apparently, that parish had been torn for years by a low church-high church conflict, and really was unsustainable. Survivors of Church of the Advent, on the other hand, always speak of their former church with great love.

There may well have been good sense in selling off the unused part of the Advent property to help fund the move to Diocesan headquarters. But selling the smaller secton that this tradtional parish still needed, in order to house the Oasis missioner-- maybe even Mr. Badger can see the cruel irony.