First of all – to all those who have reached out to me, to my family, and to the Bridgewater COB in love and care, whether you are “with” me/us or not, I want to say thank you. Your kind and thoughtful words are touching and deeply appreciated. I want to assure everyone that I am OK, that I continue to serve in ministry in the Bridgewater COB, and that I was and am prepared to walk this road. My ministry, nor this element of it, has ever been about me. I am called to serve and speak and stand in solidarity with others. I was and continue to be in a privileged position – both as a white, straight, American male, and as a pastor in a supportive, engaged, and faithful community. I consider it an honor and privilege to stand with and on behalf of those who are not so privileged, and to do so in the company and fellowship of the Bridgewater Church of the Brethren.
That said, I cannot deny the emotional and spiritual impact of my defrocking. This is not the first time my ministerial credentials have been questioned or threatened, and therefore the wounds of this action run deeper than this moment. I struggle with anger and sadness and grief; with feelings of betrayal by the church to which I have given my vocational life; and with increased pessimism about the future of the church and its continuing ability to witness to the good news of Jesus. This is not easy by any stretch of the imagination.
But nothing of consequence ever is. So to those who have shared expressions of solidarity and support – friends and family, acquaintances and strangers alike – I extend my appreciation. It is good to know that I am not alone. Many have asked what they can do to be supportive, and to that, I ask that we all remember to speak and share our convictions and support with grace and peace, thoughtfulness and care. In situations of perceived injustice, it is easy to become reactionary, and to blindly and quickly vilify and condemn those with whom we disagree. But as a wise friend recently shared with me, “The best criticism of the bad is the practice of the better” (Fr. Richard Rohr). I would hope that we can trust this to be our lasting and most persuasive collective witness.
To those who disagree with my/our position and/or actions – both friends and strangers alike – I ask the same. A few of you have been kind enough to contact me privately and/or directly, and for that I am grateful. I do not shun respectful debate or honest confrontation and hard sharing. However, I firmly believe that such sharing is best and most productive in a personal, direct, and relational context. I deeply value those who care enough to engage in such difficult conversation, and I will do my best to honor all such efforts with the attention and respect they deserve. While we may disagree, I do not hold all opposing viewpoints to be evil, hateful, or faithless, and I trust that most of you can do the same.
Finally, I feel compelled to offer a public word of grace for the leadership and members of the Shenandoah District. Throughout this process, in the midst of these most difficult conversations, I have been impressed with the honest efforts of most of my sisters and brothers in the district to be respectful, thoughtful, and faithful; and to act with integrity according to their consciences, their discernment of the mind of Christ, and the duties of their offices. I believe that most of my fellow Brethren in the Shenandoah district are motivated by their best understandings of the gospel, and while many of us have substantial disagreements about faith and practice, I hold no ill will for those with whom I disagree. I covet your thoughts and prayers for the leaders of the District as they seek to be faithful in navigating these troubled waters. Through my continuing witness and ministry, I hope to prove that the action to terminate my ordination was wrong, but even more, I hope to be a witness and catalyst for an inclusive, affirming, safe, and more faithful church for all.
~Christopher W. Zepp December 16, 2015
This post is also posted on Chris's blog.