This post is a follow-up to this post.
Last week, Rev. Wickham finally e-mailed me. Fr. Chalk forwarded him my e-mail, and he basically ignored it for a time. At any rate, we arranged for a get-together today, ostensibly so Fr. Wickham could apologize and elaborate on his initial request.
Ever let your imagination run wild and then say to yourself, "Self, surely I am exaggerating here. It can't possibly be that bad," and then you go ahead and do it and find out it's even worse? Yeah, it was like that.
First, let me be clear. He did apologize. For making me feel persecuted or unwelcome. Not for asking me to go to the back.
After that, we just went 'round in circles. According to Rev. Wickham, this is of his own doing. He, and no one else, feels that I should go to the back. Why? Because I am distracting. Because it is outside of cultural norms (allegedly) to breastfeed a child wherever one happens to be. Because he noticed that "a few" people were looking at me rather than paying attention to the liturgy. (Which, of course, means that the majority of the congregation actually knows how to behave in church.)
And yes, he called me delusional. I don't remember the exact context of that comment, honestly, because it shocked me that much.
The high point? He told this story about some trip he took a youth group on where, when they went swimming, one of the group leaders insisted on wearing a white Speedo that "showed everything he had."
Let me note now that at no point was the suggestion made that I was showing any skin, or truly being indiscreet in anything other than sitting where I routinely sit. I do, in fact, make accommodations for breastfeeding in church. I make a point to wear loose-fitting clothing. I make a point to not wear a dress, as that would require me to entirely expose one breast in order to nurse. As I said in my other post on this topic, I made sure to wear my huge brown shawl the one time I was wearing a shirt that presented a chance of inadvertently flashing someone. That level of discretion was not questioned.
I did not ask, as I now think I should have, whether bottle-feeding parents are also expected to go to the back to feed their children. Again, though, there are adults who drink during this service, and although he tried to make the point that it would be distracting to eat during the service, when last we attended (Easter Sunday, as I had the girls), there were in fact several people eating during the service and no one was distracted.
I did ask whether he had had a conversation with the people who were ignoring the service in favor of looking at me. He had no answer for that, which of course is an answer in itself.
There are exactly two people who are routinely distracted by my feeding Marie during the service. A married couple. I cannot for the life of me think of their names, but I have had conflict with the husband before. Not to the extent that we avoid one another; we just have different opinions on how certain things in the service should be done, and he is the reason I am no longer a lay reader. It is a minor personality clash, and nothing more. I haven't the first clue why he and his wife find Marie that captivating. Maybe they think breastfeeding is gross. Maybe they're merely caught up in remembering the days when she nursed their own children. I don't know. I do know that they're the only people who make a habit of it.
Rev. Wickham said that, every faith community he has ever been a part of has had the custom that breastfeeding women would remove themselves to the back. He takes this as prima facie evidence that it must be this way. I, unsurprisingly, dispute that. My own experience, not just with other churches, but with this church, calls his assertion into question. It cannot possibly be the standard of the community when, outside of this one priest, no one has given any sign of caring. Moreover, I have discussed the situation not just here on my blog but on message boards as well, and have had several other women relate their own experiences at church, and those experiences include no such stricture. As one of my Facebook friends aptly pointed out, it's not as though the ECUSA doesn't make a habit of trampling community norms as a church anyway.
So, this is where I stand. I have a priest who apparently finds me feeding my child to be distracting. I am officially welcome at the church, but it is clear that he is saying this merely to avoid a legal challenge. The fact that St. Mark's has no official policy on the matter was reiterated several times, as was the fact that he could not make me do anything, and that if I am not even willing to consider what he said (side note: consider =/= comply), I could still come because there are several people at the church with whom he disagrees.
I left feeling quite stabby.