My friend, Winfield, was in town this weekend. He was set to preach for youth day at the faith community of St. Sabina. But Father Mike, St. Sabina’ s pastor was suspended last week from pastoral responsibility. And when the cardinal sent over the substitute for Father Mike, the expectation for Sunday’s homilist was changed as well. Instead of preaching, Winfield met with family to discuss an upcoming reunion and with a circle of friends for pizza. He spoke briefly to some of the folks at St. Sabina; that was it.
I’m told that in general it’s not acceptable for non-Catholics to preach in Catholic churches. There must be wiggle room because St. Sabina has a long history of non-Catholic preachers preaching on Sundays. In fact, another church on the south side has the same. I preached at St. Ailbe’s mass once a couple years ago as has other folks I know. Nonetheless, Winfield was politely uninvited for his spot this weekend. The media showed up. Thousands of faithful members from St. Sabina came as well, of course. I wasn’t there. I was at my own church. I haven’t spoken with friends from the faith community about being in church without the pastor. But I can imagine some of the mixed feelings which were likely running through the place on Sunday.
The suspension of Father Pfleger became a, perhaps, unsurprising spectacle over the last few weeks. I know that the cardinal was taking care to work through another round of decisions concerning St. Sabina and, more specifically, Father Pfleger’s role as pastor of the church. Even in the letter Cardinal George publicized, you can hear his intention, some of the process, and, of course, his decision. We’ve been around this block before when the priest was suspended last time. The community’s support for him was large and wide–“community” here means his church, Auburn-Gresham (the neighborhood), and a host of others who are familiar and impacted by the work of Father Pfleger and St. Sabina.
I know that the people in and around St. Sabina has many feelings when it comes to their pastor. I have them. I grew up listening to Father Mike from time to time. When the Soul Children rehearsed in the church’s fellowship hall, we came up greeting him, hearing devotionals and lessons from him, being prayed over by him. I watched and participated in many services at St. Sabina and personally witnessed and was impacted by an exceptional priest who has served longer in one place than, I’m sure, the overwhelming majority of Catholic priests in Chicago. I have reflected as a Protestant pastor and come to more questions but much less clarity on the number of concerns wrapped up in being a part of a black neighborhood that was, for all practical purposes, forgotten by Catholics before a great leader committed to it thirty years ago.
Have you ever been a part of a pastoral suspension? Are you familiar with some of the pain involved? Anything to add?