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Father K. Brewster Hastings: In Memoriam

I have known The Rev. K. Brewster Hastings for many years.  He was an Anglican Christian priest, the rector of Saint Anne’s Church in Abington, PA, and my pastor for the several years I spent as a parishioner there.  Tragically, after heart surgery to repair a heart valve, he passed away suddenly (see here) aged only 55.

Fr. Hastings was more that just my priest.  He was a novelist (see here).  He did my premarital counseling.  He preached the homily at my wedding.  We worked together on the Templeton Committee.  He was my friend.  We shared a similar sense of humor, love for serving the church, bookish interests in theology and philosophy, and a fashion sense that would fit in well in English academia.  We were allies fighting the good fight to preserve, protect, and advance traditional Anglicanism.

Although Fr. Hastings was my pastor and friend, he was even more than that.  I met Fr. Hastings as I was entering into adulthood and in the process of maturing my Christian faith accordingly.  God placed Fr. Hastings into my life at just the right moment.  Fr. Hastings understood me.  He could speak “my language.”  He was the perfect person for me who could speak God’s Word into my life in a way I could hear and accept at a time when I needed it.  I tend to intellectualize everything, including my faith, and while Fr. Hastings could meet me there, he also had a faith that was much deeper than simply intellectualized faith.  It was in this way Fr. Hastings could help me progress.  He could relate to intellectualizing faith, but also to moving it to the next level.

One of the areas of ministry Fr. Hastings focused upon was healing.  One of his gifts was his way of penetrating someone’s problems and drawing God out from them.  When I told him about my struggles – whether that was emotional struggles or struggles with friends and family or with my career or marriage or what have you – he could meet me there.  Not just meet me there, but able to fully invest himself and go with me, into the depths, and validate the struggles and being a conduit of God’s grace and mercy.  Fr. Hastings was loving, but that love was not simply soft and Milquetoast.  He could be stern and offer discipline or correction when needed, but it never seemed like a punishment.

Fr. Hastings’ prayers were powerful.  His faith was deep and penetrating.  He looked, of course, to the Bible, but also to the lives of the Saints through the centuries.  He always could find wisdom from the teaching of the Church to apply to one’s life.  Through his ministry, Fr. Hastings was instrumental in taking my faith to much deeper and more profound place.  He helped me learn to pray.  He helped me learn how to read the Bible more effectively.  He helped me understand that praying and theology and liturgy were more than just doing something spiritual and/or asking for things and/or knowing things.

One recent event sticks out for me.  Although I have not been a member of St. Anne’s for a number of years, I could still call Fr. Hastings when I needed him.  Two summers ago, for various reasons, I was experiencing a dark night of the soul as never before.  I sat on my deck at 9:00pm in the middle of the summer and called him and, as he always did, he spoke to me about whatever it was I needed to discuss.  For over an hour we spoke, prayed, and cried, and he helped me through it and, because he was a great pastor, was sure to follow up with me.  I will be forever thankful for him that night.

So, it is with a heavy heart that I say good bye to you Fr. Hastings, my good Father in God.  Thank you for your friendship.  Thank you for your teaching.  Thank you for helping me learn to pray and read the Bible and worship.  Thank you for helping take my faith from just knowing and doing and believing to a faith that is much deeper, profound, visceral, exposed, and vulnerable.  You have helped me know God in new and deeper ways.  You have forever changed my life.  I thank God for you and your blessing on my life is incalculable.  May God bless you, have mercy on you, have grace upon you, and usher you into your greater glory and heavenly reward due to, and found only in, God’s presence.

Requiesce in pace

Book Review: A Certain Kind of Affection by the Rev. K. Brewster Hastings

I have recently finished reading the latest work by the Rev. K. Brewster Hastings entitled A Certain Kind of Affection (you can find this book on Amazon here).  This is his second published book of fiction, his first is a novel entitled The Only Way Out for Henry Clatt, and is a collection of short stories.

I have known Father Hastings for many years.  He is an Anglican Christian priest and the rector of Saint Anne’s Church in Abington, PA, and was my pastor for the years I spent as a parishioner there.  As it turns out, Fr. Hastings is the only published author of fiction whose works I have read that I have known personally.  I believe that this affords me a unique view and perspective of his writing that another reader may not have.  While another reader may appreciate his writing in his own way, I find Fr. Hastings’ words a little more intimate and personal than I would of other writers.  I have spoken with Fr. Hastings many times and have been blessed to hear many of his sermons over the years.  As a result, when I read his fiction, I cannot help but recognize many of his word choices or turns of phrase or descriptions of people, places, and/or things as something that can only be described as “very him.”  Indeed, my internal ears heard many of the lines of his books in his voice while I read them.  Perhaps knowing Fr. Hastings personally colors my view of his writing, but rather I think it allows me to appreciate his writing in a deeper way.

This brings me to A Certain Kind of Affection.  The book is a slim volume which consists of several short stories.  As one reads through the stories of the book, each story presents a main character different from the previous story, ranging from a monastic novice, to a disabled man, to a little girl, to a thirty-something woman, to a bishop.  Perhaps expectedly, considering Fr. Hastings is a clergyman, each main character encounters with God/spirituality in his or her own way in his or her own circumstance; through this device, Fr. Hastings draws out the reality that, whether one wants to admit or acknowledge it or not, God will meet someone where he is no matter who or where he is in a way that speaks to him.

The real strength and attraction of the stories lies in the emotional and spiritual depth of the characters.  It would seem Fr. Hastings’ experience in pastoral contexts over his many years in ministry helped him understand and really bring out the emotional and spiritual reality of the characters.  Further, if I may say so as someone who was once in Fr. Hastings’ spiritual flock, one of his strengths as a pastor is his ability to empathize with the emotional states in which people find themselves, and this strength is on display in this book in how the characters are presented.

I found it interesting that the stories did not preach or judge the characters regarding their spirituality.  In other words, the flaws and/or imperfections and/or misunderstanding (or whatever term one wishes to use) the characters have regarding God and/or spirituality is presented merely as the reality of that person at that moment without a judgment on it.  Instead, the stories present people, in their individual context and extent of spiritual development, honestly and realistically wrestling with his or her own spirituality in his or her own way, each revealing God intervening in their lives in ways unique to each character.

Interestingly, the various stories do not really come to a tidy conclusion that ties up all of the loose ends of the plots.  Instead, each shows a window into someone’s life at a specific moment in a person’s spiritual development, but leaves the reader to wonder how the characters will wind up at the end.  This seems intentional as the purpose of the book, and its stories, seems to be, as implied above, simply giving a vignette of various people of various types in various times and situations encountering God and spirituality and working through it in those brief moments.  It allows the reader to identify with the characters as, I would think, most people have found themselves with the thoughts and feelings presented in each of the characters at one time or another.  The stories, I think, help the reader identify the moments of his own spiritual life and development in those of the characters in the stories.  The encounters with the divine in the stories are sometimes obvious and other times subtle, but always identifiable and relatable.  At the end of each story, the reader is often left with a knowing recognition of the spiritual component in each story as something he can identify with in his own life as well.

Ultimately, I would recommend this book of short stories to anyone who is interested in reading short, compelling, punchy stories which involve realistic people encountering God in ways that should seem familiar to us all.  May God have mercy on us all that when he does encounter us, we respond to him with acceptance and surrender.

Episcopalian In-fighting Spreads to Montgomery County Courthouse

In October 2008 a Montgomery County jury ruled in favor of former Episcopal Bishop of Pennsylvania, Charles E. Bennison, Jr., and against the Rev. David Moyer, Rector of the Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd in Rosemont, Pennsylvania.

Fr. Moyer and Bp. Bennison have had long-standing theological differences with Fr. Moyer being a traditional Episcopalian and Bp. Bennison holding to extremely liberal theological positions.  Their dispute was more than a private one, but also affected their professional relationship.  For example, Fr. Moyer prevented the Bishop from visiting his Parish, as required by the Canons, because Fr. Moyer believed such action was necessary to defend the faith he swore to adhere to in his ordination vows, as he believed the Bishop would inevitably preach things outside the bounds of traditional Episcopal faith.

Their dispute came to a head in 2002 when Bp. Bennison deposed (i.e. defrocked) Fr. Moyer from the priesthood without a trial.  Bp. Bennison deposed Fr. Moyer under a church Canon allowing for removal of a priest based upon “abandonment of communion”.  This Canon does not provide for a church trial before removal.  It essentially permits a Bishop to summarily remove a priest if certain criterion are met that signify that the priest is no longer in communion with his bishop.  The essence of Fr. Moyer’s claim was that the Bishop’s removal of him as Rector and as a priest in the Episcopal Church was fraudulent when the Bishop used the “abandonment of communion” Canon as opposed to a more typical Canon such as “conduct unbecoming of clergy,” which requires a church trial before the removal of a priest. Fr. Moyer asserted that he never abandoned the communion of the church, and that the Bishop had a personal vendetta against him and was intent on removing him by any means possible. Fr. Moyer, finding no relief under Church Canons, in regard to his removal, brought a civil suit against the Bishop for the alleged fraud, among other things.

Along with the fraud claims, Fr. Moyer also attempted to turn his deposition from the priesthood by his ecclesiastical superior into a case of unlawful termination from his position by his employer, the Episcopal Church.  In so doing, the issue could be framed not as an interchurch squabble over obscure, perhaps medieval, Canons, but rather as an employment matter between an employee and employer and the work rules that govern their relationship. Work rules, handbooks, or work policies are generally viewed as terms of a person’s employment and violation of the same by an employer allows an employee to bring a claim against that employer for the said violation.  It could be argued that as a priest is merely an employee of a diocese (and, by extension, the national church), his bishop is his “boss” and the church Canons are analogous to work rules.  As a result, if one finds this sort of framing convincing, the dispute between Fr. Moyer and Bp. Bennison was not a dispute between a priest and his prelate over church Canons, but between an employee and his employer over work rules.

Despite attempting to frame this issue as an employment issue, the fact remains that the review of interchurch rules, policies, and decisions are protected by the free exercise clause of the First Amendment.  In order to ensure adequate protection under the First Amendment, while also allowing a Plaintiff such as Fr. Moyer an opportunity for redress, the fraud claim was established as the gateway claim.

Although Montgomery County Court Judge Joseph Smyth voiced his concern  that the lawsuit crossed the line from civil to church issues protected by the First Amendment, he permitted the case to proceed out of respect for the judge previously assigned to the case who had permitted the lawsuit to continue.  Although Fr. Moyer brought a variety of employment and civil claims against the Bishop in addition to the fraud claim, Judge Smyth, due to his First Amendment concerns, instructed the jury that if Fr. Moyer’s evidence did not meet the fraud burden of proof, all of his remaining claims must be dismissed.  Indeed, the Judge indicated that fraud had to “pervade” the Bishop’s decision-making process to depose Fr. Moyer in order for some or all of Fr. Moyer’s other claims to be successful.

After deliberation, the jury found that there was insufficient evidence that the Bishop committed fraud in his deposition of Fr. Moyer.  The jury’s decision can be interpreted as determining that the Bishop acted well within his rights under the Canons, despite the evidence presented by Fr. Moyer that the Bishop had a personal vendetta against him.

The conclusion to be reached from this lawsuit is that the First Amendment protects the actions taken within a religious body and the actions of the Bishop in deposing Fr. Moyer were not so egregious that the protections provided by the First Amendment would be insufficient.

This article was originally published in “Upon Further Review” and can be found here and on my website here.

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