Some decisions are harder than others. In life we do our very best to make good decisions and then we seek to carry out our decisions. We tend to think that good decisions will bring about peace and calm but sometimes they don’t. In making decisions, it is best to seek peace and calm first and then allow our decisions to come from that place. Then, after we make decisions, we carry them out the best we can. When those decisions affect people we care about in a negative way, we recommit with those folks and do our very best to care for them. Maybe there is no such thing as the perfect decision yet we are required to make decisions on a regular basis. The more responsibilities we have the more decisions we have to make and the harder we have to work before, during, and after those decisions.
Recently the Vestry of St. John’s made a hard decision. We chose to move the Jefferson Davis Plaque and Pew from our worship space to our archives department. We made that decision in an attempt to be more hospitable and inviting to all God’s people. The decision was well-considered and, while not every member of the Vestry agreed, we made the decision from an overwhelming consensus. We then carried out our decision and I informed the parish.
Our decision has been hurtful to certain members of our parish. The vast majority of the parish has expressed appreciation for the decision. But some have been deeply hurt, all of them people that I care about and with whom I have enjoyed a long and close relationship. I have spent many hours visiting with people who disagree with our decision or the manner in which it was made. Some healing has taken place but I write today knowing that there are a number of people who continue to be hurt.
No one that I have talked with believes that I or the Vestry set out to cause a rift or to do harm to anyone in the parish. Some do believe that we have made a mistake. Some disagree with the decision. Others have said they understand the decision but wish they had been informed before the decision was made. While our decision was carried out in accord with Episcopal polity and the way we make all decisions, some have thought we should have altered our practices and asked for feedback from the entire membership.
In my announcement of our decision, I stated that “the pew was not recognized or dedicated to Davis’ memory until 1925.” Since then I have discovered that a marker was put on the pew in 1890. While the Vestry’s decision primarily had to do with an event held in 1925 where the plaque was dedicated and the pew commemorated, I want to be clear about the history of the pew and plaque.
Here is the history of the pew we now believe to be most accurate:
1861: February to April –Davis family worships at St. John’s
1890: Designation by pew marker of the Davis Pew
1908: Moving of the Davis Pew to the Narthex with new pews replacing original ones
1925: Dedication of the Davis Plaque and Commemoration of the Davis Pew
1931: Moving of the Davis Pew back to the worship space
2019: Moving of the Davis Pew to the Archives of St. John’s
My hope, following the Vestry’s decision in February, was to explain our action in such a way that every member of the parish might be able to see the wisdom of our decision and be fully supportive of our action. For a number of you, I have failed in that attempt and I am deeply sorry. I stand by our decision and believe it to be in the best interest of St. John’s. I also realize our decision and my communication of our decision has become a stumbling block for some of our members. If we had informed the parish of our decision prior to carrying it out, our decision perhaps would have been more fully supported. Perhaps it would have received less support. The Vestry considered a recommendation from me and did their best to make a good decision. I have done my best to communicate to the parish the reasons for our decision. To those of you who continue to be hurt by our actions, I wish to apologize. While I believe our decision to be wise, I am not willing simply to say to those who are disaffected that they just need to get over it. I want you to hear that I am sorry for hurting you. I want you to know that the Vestry and I were doing our best. And I want us all to be able to gather in worship in this holy place and continue the good works that we have done for so many years together.
Your parish leadership has made a hard decision, one that we believe to be right and good. Through my own failings that decision has not been carried out in such a way as to allow us all to be unified in our support. I now pray for God’s grace to bring about what the Vestry and I hoped to accomplish and to weave us together in unity of love for Jesus Christ and one another.
Robert C. Wisnewski, Jr.