Pau is a fun Hawaiian word meaning “something is done or finished.” It’s one of those words that is overused but incredibly useful.

I’d like to use it here to describe my present relationship with the institutional church. I have been an Episcopalian for my entire 92 years, even for 3 years in college when I decided to be a “nothing.” Professionally, I have been an Episcopal priest for 67 years, 15 of those years on a full-time basis, 49 years as a Sunday fill-in. But being on the outside for all these years has allowed me to look at the church much more objectively and not lose my paycheck.

When I went to seminary in 1957, I felt that the institutional church in our country was a leading force advocating a high standard of ethics, morality, justice, and love. For the past 30 years, I’ve lost that feeling.

In my early life, almost everyone was involved in a church or synagogue. Not to be involved implied decadence. After WWII, that stigma faded away and took many “church people” with it.

Also, some places had “blue laws” that prohibited any activity other than church on Sundays and major feast days. When those laws went away, in came professional sports, youth sports activities, and open malls. More church folks pulled away.

In the 1970s, when the church accepted gay people and women clergy, it experienced another exodus. In the ’80s, people left because of the Roman Catholic priest sex scandals, the ordaining of members of the LGBTQIA+, and the legalization of gay marriage.

With the rise of Christian fundamentalism and its unyielding support of Donald Trump, as well as so many churches struggling to keep the doors open, I now feel the institutional church is a negative force. I’m not alone. Some four thousand churches a year are closing down, and I don’t see their leadership that concerned.

I also feel we are in the midst of a long-overdue Reformation (they happen about every five hundred years), which is quietly calling for radical changes in the Christian institutional church. The old ways aren’t working, and it’s killing them.

My Anglican priest and poet friend David Keighley* wrote a poem called “Leaving Home” and stated that he is no longer interested in “moving the chairs on the decks of an ecclesiastical Titanic.” David calls himself “a believer in exile.” Me too.

I have belonged to a UCC (United Church of Christ) for the past fourteen years. I joined because I saw the people who are in charge as somewhat progressive, maybe even willing to try some radical changes. That stopped when a new pastor came in, and they are now simply putting new covers on the Titanic’s deck chairs.

While in France last October, away from that church, I made the decision that I’m pau. I’m finished straightening the deck chairs. I am no longer a member of any church.

That’s painful, especially because I can envision a great future for the institutional church, but only if radical changes are made.

Where are you with straightening deck chairs?

Peace Love Joy Hope Kindness


*David John Keighley’s book Poems, Piety, and Psyche is available on Amazon.


Photo courtesy of BiblioArchives / LibraryArchives (CC BY 2.0)

2 thoughts on “Pau!”

  1. That was a long time coming, and I salute you. You have always been courageous )and in trouble because of it). But i wouldnt have you any other way.


Leave a Comment