Ecclesiastical Autoimmune Syndrome – Part 4

E.A.S. in Post-Seminary Ministry and Governance

By Ken Howard

Today’s post is the fourth of a multipart series on Ecclesiastical Autoimmune Syndrome
Click here for last week’s post

In this series of blog posts, we are reviewing the signs and symptoms of Ecclesiastical Autoimmune Syndrome so that we can learn to spot it before it becomes terminal. So far, we’ve explored how E.A.S. often works in ministry discernment and in seminary. However, Ecclesiastical Autoimmune Syndrome is not limited to pre-ordination church systems and processes, but remains just as prevalent after ordination.

Post-Seminary Ministry

In the Episcopal Church, clergy ordination vows include a pledge to be loyal to one’s bishop. Unfortunately, a symptom of E.A.S. in Episcopal bishops is that many seem to almost subconsciously think of that a vow of loyalty is a promise never to express unwanted, yet truthful criticism.

Similarly, a curate/transitional deacon will often face a supervising rector who seems to think their job is to re-mold the newly-ordained in their own image. Meanwhile, disciplinary canons are employed against clergy who push boundaries, experiment, and explore new ways of doing and being church. This type of clergyperson is much more likely to find themself dealing with specious charges of “conduct unbecoming” than those who place a premium on playing it safe and offending no one. I can say from personal experience that it can be a huge distraction and enough to make one think twice before sticking out one’s neck.

Ecclesiastical Governance

Another symptom of Ecclesiastical Autoimmunity Syndrome is found in the way that denominational and judicatory governing bodies often operate. Resolutions are passed recommending measures to improve organizational health. But often, before they are passed, the church’s antibodies, now alerted to the perceived invaders, introduce amendments to weaken them with “to the extent possible” language or other weakening wording, or simply find ways to co-opt them after the fact. Which often means that the final recommendations will neither be substantial nor specific enough to turn the proverbial Titanic away from the proverbial iceberg.

In our next post we will discuss “The DMin-ization of the Clergy.”