Snapping turtles

By Adam Thomas

Snapping turtles live in the muddy water underneath a dock that extends into Lake Kanuga. I know this because I have been slowly fattening them up with Wonderbread since I was eleven. I’m 26 now, and (while I’ve doubled my body mass in the intervening years) the turtles remain – stubbornly – about the size of my hand. All but one. There is the “Big One” that rises Kraken-like from the depths and that you only ever see out of the corner of your eye.

For years during the last glorious week of July, my friends and I have gone down to the water’s edge to feed the turtles. We used to sprint to the dock. Now we amble. Once there, we untwist our ordnance and pass out the sliced, carbohydrate projectiles. Some employ the patented tear-and-toss approach, which maximizes the number of pieces for the turtles to eat. Others drop whole slices of bread into the water and count the number of bites necessary to consume each piece.

Within seconds of the bread hitting the water, the turtles surface. Plop. Snap. The first breadcrumb disappears, and ripples are the only evidence the turtle was ever there. Plop. Snap. The second piece vanishes. Plop. Snap. We keep a weather eye out for the Kraken. Plop. Snap. There he is, the Big One, the Leviathan that God has made for the sport of it. Plop. Snap. No, it was just the way the light hit the water. Plop. Whoosh. Snap. Missed him again. Maybe next year. Plop. Snap. Plop. Snap. Plop. Snap.

The turtles propel themselves out of the depths, eyes on the dark spots on the surface. They trap the bread in their little, beaky mouths, and they dive again. They stay on the surface just long enough to snap up their sustenance before retreating to the darkness of the brackish shallows underneath the dock. After years of dropping bread to the turtles, I’ve realized that we do the same. We never stay topside in the sun for too long. We prefer the anonymity of the murk. We prefer to focus only on that bit of bread, a floating shadow above us. We prefer to surface only at feeding time, lest the daylight expose us to all the pesky problems of the world.

Now, I’m pretty sure that the above metaphor is thinly veiled enough that my impending addition of the Holy Eucharist to this discussion will seem both appropriate and timely. Here goes. All too often, we approach our worship with a Plop. Snap. mentality. For an hour and fifteen minutes on Sunday morning, we notice the Wonderbread falling from the sky, and we surface to snap up our fill. Then we dive until next week. Same time. Same place.

The trouble is twofold. First, the Wonderbread, heavenly manna, God’s grace – call it what you will – does not descend on us at predetermined times once a week. However, we condition ourselves to notice it only during those times we’ve set aside for God. We kneel at the altar rail. Plop. We lick the bread off our palms. Snap. In seven days time, we’ll commune again. In the six days in between, we are more than a little oblivious to the fact that God wants to commune with us every day. Indeed, we may say “daily,” but too often we mean, “Give us this day our weekly bread.”

Second, the surface is where the action is. The psalmist prays, “Out of the depths have I called to you, O Lord; Lord, hear my voice.” God’s grace pulls us out of these depths, out of the brackish water underneath the dock. We surface in the brightness of day. As our eyes adjust, we notice all the injustice and desperation and fear that the murk makes easy to ignore. And as we share the bread and cup, we remember that the Body we ingest connects us to the greater body of Christ in the world. Jesus says to his disciples, “ If you walk in the darkness, you do not know where you are going. While you have the light, believe in the light, so that you may become children of light." Being children of light means remaining on the surface, knowing we share our lives in a larger community, and addressing those inequities that the light throws into sharp relief. We can accomplish none of these if we dive back to the depths – back to anonymity and ignorance – immediately after receiving our nourishment.

When we begin to notice the abundance of God’s grace around us, which pulls us to the light of the surface, we can break out of the cycle of the Plop. Snap. mentality. Silent ripples should not be the only signs that mark our ascent to the surface. Just as God blesses Abraham, God blesses us so we can be blessings in the world. God nourishes us with the bread of heaven so we can nourish others.

At the end of July this year, I will once again amble to the dock to feed the turtles. I will toss the bread into the water. Plop. Ever vigilant for signs of the Big One, I will watch the little, beaky mouths spear the soggy pieces. Snap. And I will pray to God that we can all remain on the surface, paddle there in the light of the sun, and serve our Lord.

Adam Thomas, one of the first Millennials to be ordained priest, is the curate of Trinity Episcopal Church in Martinsburg, WV. He blogs at

The Anglican Communion as airline map

By Frederick Quinn

What does the Anglican Communion’s actual operating structure look like? The question is important because each person holds in their head an implicit diagram of the power structure of any organization of which they are a part. Who is in charge? Who decides policy? The question frustrates Episcopalians because no ready “wiring diagram” exists about the Anglican Communion. And the top down centralized model currently being test driven in the draft covenant proposal doesn’t work either, in part because historically power has always been diffusely distributed in the Anglican Communion, through what has come to be called the via media or middle way. But what does such an actual middle way look like on a diagram today?

An aviation model of church structure was sometimes employed in discussions at the Anaheim General Convention of the Episcopal Church in July 2009. In one version, if the left and right wings pull against one another the plane will spiral downward and crash. In another, the plane shakes as it approaches the sound barrier, but once it pushes through, a smooth flight usually follows. Possibly a third aviation-related model might describe the Anglican Communion at work, day to day.

On the ground the Anglican Communion in action resembles the route maps in airline magazines where hundreds of thin, graceful semicircles connect points all over the globe, London with Shanghai, Jakarta with Singapore, and a thousand other in between points as well. Such an image suggests a horizontal model of widely diffuse power sharing, not a vertical one of concentrated power. In this “many arcs” model young people, laity, and congregations are recognized as the principle focus of mission power as they build churches, teach classes, distribute antimalarial nets, exchange life stories, and share prayers and the holy meal in a hundred different languages. Each congregation and diocese establishes its own connecting routes, and when counted, they will number in the thousands. A business representative who regularly visits Brazil fills his luggage with supplies for an Episcopal school there. An energetic group of young people from New York City’s St. James’ parish work purposefully with a diocese in rural Malawi to build a clinic and a rectory and share meals and pray with the mothers of H/AIDS infected children.

Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori described this mission model of Anglicanism in a July 12 Anaheim sermon at the United Thank Offering ingathering, “All over this church, and beyond, God's people are feeding, and healing, and announcing peace and the reign of God. The First Nations Kitchen in Minneapolis welcomes Native Americans to a meal of traditional and healthy foods, in a healing community. Teaching ministries heal deprivation and hopelessness in Boston, Taiwan, and Quito. Physical illness is being healed in the clinics of la diocesis de la Republica Dominicana y la diocesis de Honduras, in the nursing school of Haiti, through elder care in Native communities in Alabama and Minnesota, in the hospitals in Oregon, Texas, Long Island, and Jerusalem. Camping ministries in the Central Gulf Coast, West Texas, California, and Mississippi teach children and adults to travel light and to eat whatever is set before them.” What is the policy message? “Mission is our life, and it is a life spent on the road, traveling light, anticipating hospitality, and sharing what we have.”

Recently I spent a week at a Christian educational center in the Philippines where lay and ordained representatives from at least twenty Asian countries gathered to study and pray together. The shelves outside the center’s chapel were filled with treasured handicrafts left by earlier participants, a carved water buffalo, a small national flag, an elaborately stiched piece of lace, a cross made from local wood, etc. We sat in a circle on cushions in the chapel as prayers and chants were offered in various Asian languages, and after the service walked about the spacious grounds and shared stories. When I boarded an airplane for the long homeward journey the Asian airline route maps with their arching points of origin and destination somehow connected with what I had experienced. “Yangon ” became a lay teacher’s face, “Chang Mai a medical missionaries’ story, “Columbo” an orphanage, etc. The hundred blue semicircles of the route maps took on new meaning. They visualized a model of wider mission and ministry suggestive of the Anglican Communion -- where constant, grace-filled power flows horizontally, not vertically.

The Rev. Dr. Frederick Quinn writes extensively about world Christianity. His most rcent book is “The Sum of All Heresies,” The Image of Islam in Western Thought (Oxford University Press, 2008).

We pray together. And that's enough

By W. Nicholas Knisely

A few months ago one of the staff here at the Cathedral forwarded an email to me with a request that I answer the question it posed as he had no idea what he should say. The email was very simple. It was from a person in the community who was looking for a new church home. But, before he would consider a congregation, it was very important for him to know where we stood on the question of blessing same-sex couples.

There wasn’t any hint in the email about whether or not the sender wanted us to say we were for blessing same-sex couples or opposed. Just that it was critically important to him that we give the right answer so that he wouldn’t waste his time unnecessarily.

I get letters or questions like this quite commonly. I think most Episcopal clergy do these days. It’s the BIG question that seems to be used as a way to sort through congregations and dioceses so that we can determine which ones are right-thinking and therefore worthy of support and which ones are wrong and worthy of nothing. What was different about this letter though was that I simply couldn’t figure out what the person wanted me to say.

So rather than trying to be pastoral and sensitive in trying to respond to the question behind the question (as is my wont), I decided to be bluntly honest.

“There are people in this congregation who are fully supportive of the Church’s blessing of same-gender unions. There are people in this congregation who are opposed to the Church’s blessing of same-gender unions. While the Episcopal Church as a denomination is on record as calling for equal protection under the law for all citizens, if you’re looking for a congregation that is of one mind on this issue, you’re going to be disappointed with this one. We don’t have agreement internally on this particular - or many - issues. Instead, we just agree to pray and worship together”

We don’t agree with each other. We pray together.

Friends of mine who are involved in the church growth movement offer me their sympathy every three years or so following our denomination’s General Convention. “It must be really hard to grow a church that spends so much time fighting” they say. In the past I’ve agreed with them. But I think I’ve decided that it’s time we as Episcopalians tell the truth about who we are though in a way that tries to explain to others why our struggles are not a “bug” - they’re a “feature”!

The Elizabethan Settlement, which for me is modeled at every Eucharist when I present the host to a communicant with the paradoxical words (to a person of Tudor England) “the body of Christ, the bread of Heaven”, is fundamental to our identity as Anglicans. We are willing to be in relationship with people who will gather with us around Jesus; whether they by free or slave, man or women, Jew or Greek. We are the anti-puritans caring less about clarity of theological categories than we do about loving relationship. “If you will pray to Jesus with me, I will pray to Jesus with you.”

At least we try to when we’re at our best. Which isn’t always that often admittedly.

In my mind, as an Episcopalian of catholic leanings and ecumenical enthusiasm, if there’s one thing that argues for the continued existence of an Anglican witness in the Universal Church - it’s our charism of holding firm to praying with those with whom we disagree no matter how hard that is to do.

Eusebius writes that in the latter days of his life, St. John the Evangelist would respond to repeated requests of visitors to “tell of us of Jesus” by only repeating again and again “Little children, love one another.” When asked by those caring for him why he would only say that he is supposed to have responded “Because if they do only that, it is enough.”

Episcopalians don’t agree to agree. We pray with each other. Because if we can manage to just do that, it seems to me, that we will have done enough.

What happened when I responded to my inquirer wanting to know where the Cathedral I serve stood on the question of same-gender blessings? I sent my short note off fully expecting to never hear from him again.

I got a note back a day later; “That’s so awesome. I’ll be there this Sunday.”

The Very Rev. W. Nicholas Knisely is Dean of Trinity Cathedral in Phoenix Ariz. He served as Chair of the Standing Commission on Episcopal Church Communication, is active in ecumenical works and was originally trained as an astronomer before he was ordained. His blog is Entangled States.

Picked and chosen

By Lauren R. Stanley

A little while ago, I went into my family’s backyard here in Southern California, where the sun is shining bright and there’s a delightful sea breeze to keep me cool, and began picking tomatoes from the garden.

I’m cooking tonight. With my family on a low-carb diet, I had to wrack my brains to come up with a Sudanese dish that met their requirements and tasted good as well. Finally, I remembered a delightful dish we called salata, which is not salad per se but is chopped up tomatoes, cucumbers and green onions in a peanut-butter paste. I loved eating that in Sudan, and thought my family would enjoy it here as well.

So to the garden I went, on this calm, quiet day, to get tomatoes.

My sister-in-law has two kinds growing: grape and Better Boys. I thought that perhaps I’d get a few tomatoes, maybe a dozen of the former and one of the latter, and that I could buy whatever else I needed at the local grocery store.

But to my delight, the plants were full to bursting with tomatoes, so much so that I could literally pick and choose, reaching in, trying to find the ripest, the reddest, the most succulent-looking. For 20 minutes, I stood out there, delicately reaching for only those ready to be consumed, holding them up, admiring, judging, telling the ones I thought were ready, “You are so beautiful. I’ll pick you.” And the ones that were not quite ripe, not quite as red as their neighbors? Those I left behind, giving them small caresses and asking them to ripen some more. “I’ll come back for you another day,” I whispered to them. (And yes, lest you think you’ve misread, I actually do talk to the plants; my mother’s husband taught me that, and it always worked for him …)

As I searched, I was surprised to find brilliant red ones buried deep in the middle of the cages; how, I wondered, could they have ripened so beautifully, with so many leaves and other tomatoes blocking out the sun?

As I picked these deeply buried tomatoes, I realized that they blossomed, they ripened, because that’s what they are supposed to do. Defying horticultural logic, they took what little light they received, and turned it into something beautiful, a fulfillment of God’s design and wishes for them in creation. It didn’t matter whether anyone found them or not, ate them or not, admired them or not; their reason for being was simply to blossom, to ripen, to the best of their abilities, according to their genetic makeup.

And then it hit me: What happened with these tomatoes in my family’s backyard is the same thing that is happening in the Episcopal Church right now. Those who have been buried deep, lacking sunshine and warmth and all the blessings of the Church community have, despite all those handicaps, flourished. For the first time, the Church has reached down deep and unearthed those people and welcomed them and celebrated them and said to them, “You are so beautiful.”

Ecclesiastes tell us that for everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven.

The Church, it seems, has finally listened. With the passage of two resolutions at The General Convention – one making clear that the process toward ordination is open to all, the other authorizing the collection and development of theological and liturgical resources for same-gender blessings – the Church at last has reached deep down to those places where gays and lesbians and bisexuals and transgendered peoples have had to exist for so long, seen that these people have blossomed and ripened despite being buried so deep – because that’s God’s will for them -- and proclaimed: We’ll pick you.

Just as I gently ran my hands through each plant, over each tomato, the Church at General Convention did the same. There was so little acrimony, so much graciousness and holiness, so much listening, so few accusations during those 10 days in Anaheim … it was as though the deputies and bishops were out in the garden, seeking the best and finding that sometimes, the best was right in front of them, just buried deep.

In Conventions past, it seemed we in the Church were more focused on the time to kill, instead of on the time to heal. Some were determined to make these past six years in particular a time to break down, and not a time to build up. We spent more time weeping, and less time laughing, more time mourning and less time dancing. We threw stones constantly, instead of gathering them up.

As for those buried deep, they had to spend far too much time keeping silence, and were not given enough time to speak.

But now? Now? Well, now it seems is the time to pluck up what has been planted, to celebrate that which is flourishing, to end our wars with each other and to focus on peace.

For far too long, we have taken that which God has planted – very good men and women – and condemned them to darkness, ordered them to flourish as best they could without light, without love, without even much hope. Some hoped – some even prayed vociferously – that these people, our brothers and sisters in Christ, would fail to flourish, would die on the vine, would simply go away.

But like those tomatoes in my family’s garden, they have steadfastly refused to fail. They have flourished even in the darkest places, and only now are we finding them, only now are we saying to them, and to the world: “You are so beautiful. We’ll pick you.”

The Rev. Lauren R. Stanley is an Appointed Missionary of the Episcopal Church. For four years, she served in the Diocese of Renk in Sudan. In late August, she begins her new assignment in Haiti. She has covered four General Conventions for Center Aisle, the daily newspaper produced by the Diocese of Virginia for General Convention.

Moving beyond Us v. Them

By Marshall Scott

I've been home for about a week now, and I've been trying to think how I might express to folks, and especially here at the Café, my feelings about the General Convention just past. It was a long, complex event; and it will certainly take a while to process.

This was my first Convention as a Deputy, but hardly my first Convention. I've been an Alternate twice, and either a Visitor or an Exhibitor more than once. However, I felt a different sense of participation and of responsibility as a Deputy. I can't say how often someone made a reference to "what we do here" – that corporate "we" that is invoked to unite our attention and our efforts – and each time it certainly did catch my attention and my efforts. If participation in the Church provides a general sense of participation in "something bigger," serving as a Deputy in General Convention provides a very specific sense of that participation.

This was enhanced, I think, by a comment I heard again and again: "The atmosphere is so different than in 2006: so much less tension, so much less confrontation." Everyone knew that it was in no small part because of those who weren't there. Still, everyone was quietly grateful.

At the same time, serving as a Deputy I sensed several different polarities, several different categories of "us and them." Some of these were predictable. In an odd but meaningful way, those who had departed were still having an effect. While there was only one explosive outburst on the floor of the House of Deputies about those who had departed the Episcopal Church, there were enough small side comments, enough small inferences to create that sense of "us and them."

There was also a certain sense of "us and them" about those in the Anglican Communion who have sought to isolate the Episcopal Church. This was expressed in a certain ambivalence to the presence of Archbishop Williams. There was a great sense of appreciation that he had come, that he seemed willing to listen. At the same time, there was some anxiety, some anticipation that he would not hear, would not budge from his conviction that a Communion unified and centralized was worth the loss of a few Episcopalians.

Finally, there was a certain internal polarity of "us and them." That was between the Senior House and the Junior House – the House of Deputies and the House of Bishops, respectively. I heard about a certain amount of tension even before business got up and running. However, it came up early and often. Would the bishops insist that "Right Reverend Father knows best?" Or, would they recognize the Spirit moving in the work of the assembled lay and clergy Deputies?

I would expect that different participants, both bishops and deputies, would prioritize these differences differently. There were certainly those from the rebuilding dioceses for whom the first polarity was painfully current. Those who argued for a more traditionalist stance to sustain relations in the Anglican Communion were acutely aware of the second.

My own thought is to worry most about the third, tensions between deputies and bishops. We have defended our unique and uniquely American polity for its incorporation of all orders of ministry. Ours is not the only church in the Anglican Communion that includes bishops, other clergy, and laity, nor the only one whose decisions require consensus of all three. However, our bicameral structure also provides a distinctive opportunity to divide. Our Church cannot make decisions if we become separated.

There have been those both around us and among us who have wanted to divide us, to isolate us from one another. Whether intended or not, those bishops from other parts of the world who did not understand our polity, who asked our bishops, "But, if you were really being a bishop, how would you act?" – those bishops were suggesting that division. And let's face it: they struck a chord with a few of our own bishops. There were indeed a few who seemed at least intrigued by a "Right Reverend Father knows best" sensibility.

There were certainly also those in among the deputies who were preparing for such a tension. There was clear resistance to the idea that resolutions that started in Deputies somehow needed tweaking, sometimes by as little as a word. Each change, no matter how small, was time lost, time that might not be recoverable. And as Convention went on, each small change raised the question of, "Are they trying to kill this, to stall until it is lost for lack of time?"

This tension between orders of ministry is hardly new. I haven't worked in a diocese yet whose living memory didn't include a time when trust was low between bishop and clergy, between clergy and laity, or among all three. We can perceive differences in vocation as differences in power. Sometimes those perceptions are all too accurate. When we aren't conscientious about working together, about transcending especially differences in power, we risk falling into divisions that undermine our relationships and, very quickly, our mission.

And yet it was on this very point that I brought home from this convention a sense of hope. In fact we got a lot of work done in both Houses. Indeed, for the first time in anyone's memory both Houses completed their work before the scheduled time. We could not have done so much if we weren't largely in harmony.

This was even more clear when I looked at the results in the hot-button resolutions of D025 and C056. In both cases the percentages by which these resolutions passed in both Houses were remarkably consistent. The percentages were roughly 67%/33% for each resolution in each House. In one sense that might be predicted, assuming that in each diocese the deputies and the bishop or bishops were in concert. However, I don't think we can assume that. I think instead that this speaks of broad similarity between the two Houses. If that is supported broadly by agreement in each diocese, all the better. Disagreement in General Convention is important but relatively infrequent. Disagreement in the life of a diocese is, as has been noted, an more immediate and arguably more inhibiting problem.

And so, as I process my own experience of another General Convention, I am hopeful for this Episcopal Church. We certainly have differences within the Church. They are, though, the kind of differences of opinion and interpretation of the faith that we say repeatedly we want to include and even embrace. The metaphor of an airplane came up again and again in our debates, to illustrate the fact in the Church, and the need in the Church, of both our "left" and "right wings;" but those differences were bearable, because each "wing" expressed its own determination to stay the course and its desire to stay with the other.

On the other hand, the differences that would truly debilitate us, differences of distrust and struggle for power, did not turn out as great or as immediate as they might have seemed in the moment. For all the anxiety, the differences that would reflect distrust, that would destroy relationships, were overcome. We did not all agree, and yet between and among the Houses of Bishops and Deputies there was demonstrable consistency and coherence. For me, this is a relief, and even a promise. For if, after all our difficulties over the last nine years, we are so consistent across both Houses – and for that matter across all Orders – we have what we need to come together again. We make our decisions in two Houses; but after this Convention I think we have some real hope that we can be once again one Church.

The Rev. Marshall Scott is a chaplain in the Saint Luke’s Health System, a ministry of the Diocese of West Missouri. A past president of the Assembly of Episcopal Healthcare Chaplains, and an associate of the Order of the Holy Cross, he keeps the blog Episcopal Chaplain at the Bedside.

My first Baptism

By Joy Caires

On my first day in the children’s hospital my only experience with pastoral care in the clinical setting was eleven weeks of clinical pastoral education--in a geriatric psychiatric unit. My seminary education was heavy on scriptural work and theology—light on pastoral care courses beyond the required. I had worked with children as a youth minister, as an assistant teacher at a daycare center and as everybody’s favorite babysitter. At the time, it didn’t particularly occur to me that accepting a position as the only pediatric chaplain at a 244 bed children’s hospital was, well, kind of crazy. But, even if it had occurred to me—well, what else was I going to do with my newly minted collar and newly minted seminary debt?

Minutes into my first day my pager sounded for the first time. The pediatric intensive care unit needed me. I walked briskly towards the elevators, I had not yet found the stairs that were the most direct route from the first floor of the hospital to the pediatric intensive care unit. My heart was thumping in my chest as the elevator doors opened and I swiped my keycard to access the unit. The unit secretary pointed me towards the room where I had been requested. The nurse, who had never seen me before (I had only been in the PICU once before on a quick tour) hastily filled me in on the situation. A car accident late the day before, his mother had died on impact—it would have been better if he had died then as well.

I drew a breath before I entered the room; the child lay prone in the hospital bed. A young woman was at his side. She glanced up, taking in my collar, before turning her face back towards the little boy. I stepped closer to the bed side, his body was connected to IVs, his breathing controlled by machines. But, the tubing was not the worst of it nor was the steady hush of the vent. His head and face were completely covered in gauze-- gauze that despite the best efforts of the doctors and nurses was slowly filling with blood. He had no face. I took a deep breath and my nostrils filled with the tangy iron smell of blood.

“I’m Reverend Joy, the chaplain here…” The woman at the bedside paused and looked at me again…”I’m his aunty.” And, as he lay dying I learned about his life--the bicycle he loved to ride, the video games he played and his easy smile and affection for his family.

Throughout the day, relatives gathered and he continued to bleed. The doctors looked weary and drawn and the smell of blood haunted us. Later in the afternoon the pastor who had come the night before returned. The room ‘s air was thick with grief and I struggled to find my place within that grief--to offer love, perhaps comfort but mostly to be a non-anxious presence in the midst of the pain. But, that was in retrospect, at the time all I knew was the taste of blood and the clear sense that I was needed and wanted in that room. The other pastor was older than me by a couple of decades and I was shocked by her own level of need and her palpable anxiety. As his heart rate continued to drop she turned to me in the midst of the now crowded room. “I think we should baptize him”.

I had never baptized anyone before but I felt very strongly that I would never bring up baptism, much less baptize, unless the family initiated the request. So, I whispered back to her—“we should discuss this outside of his room”. Because she had been there the night before, because it was my first day, because she had been a pastor longer than I, I conceded—she could ask the family.

As we entered the room the boy’s grandmother looked up at us, questioningly. And in response to the question about baptism she replied, “if you think we should”. To which the other pastor perked up and announced that I would baptize him. I hope now that my face did not reflect my anger in that moment….I felt trapped and manipulated. Yet, there was no turning back as I gathered the family around the bedside. I glanced at his covered face and quickly looked away, not wanting to see the ravages where the gauze had slipped. I poured the sterile water into a shell and then slowly let three drops fall into his open palm.

Welcome to the household of God.

I can still taste blood when I think about him.

He died within the hour.

The Reverend Joy Caires, a graduate of Episcopal Divinity School, is currently the Associate Rector at Church of Our Saviour in Akron, Ohio. Joy's first call, after ordination, was as the pediatric chaplain at Rainbow Babies and Children's Hospital in Cleveland, Ohio.


By Ann Fontaine

General Convention 2009 adjourned – what are my highlights and lowlights of this scene? General Convention 2009 was my ninth convention as a Deputy, four as a Lay Deputy and five as a Clergy Deputy. When I began I was one of the youngest at age 40 though that would be considered middle aged now with deputies as young as 17.

Best finds:
Oatmeal at Starbucks – a container of hot oatmeal for $3 with packets of mixed raisins and craisins, nuts, and brown sugar – add a large (is that grande or mucho grande in barista speak?) cup of Sumatra coffee and one is set until lunch. They also had great turkey sandwiches I often bought at the same time to keep me until dinner.

Best free swag:

Flash drives from Church Pension Group complete with carabineer for one’s keys or to clip on the belt for the nerd look or for emergency mountain climbing. Another group gave out flash drives too – I predict it will be the most popular item in 2012.

Plastic cups from the Vergers Guild. Fun for kids of all ages – they turn purple with iced drinks – endless fascination. A version of the beer bottles with mountains that turn blue when chilled just right.

Best comment on the important work of General Convention:

Our 18 year old Wyoming Deputy when asked what she thought would be the most important resolution of General Convention, replied: ““I think from day three it is impossible to say what the most important thing that we will accomplish will be because by the time next Friday, or even in the next three years ensuing, and looking back on this Convention, the most important thing, from where I stand at the moment, may appear to be something relatively minor.”

Best learning moment:

Younger deputies teaching me new tech tricks – like T9 Word for the cell phone – text messages made simple.

This is my last visit to General Convention as a Deputy. It is time for others to continue the work. I was encouraged by the new young deputies who are so in love with and committed to the church and so hopeful about its future. The church is in good hands. This is the first time that I feel my voice will be heard even though I am not in attendance.

The resolutions on sexuality are a leap of faith or maybe a step off the cliff. I believe we reached the point of no return in the direction that I favor of full inclusion of our gay, lesbian and transgender members. Access to the ordination process and rites for marriage equality and blessings are not complete but fully launched. As I said in my sermon yesterday – we pray the angels will bear us up as a church, but if not – we believe in resurrection. The future will prove whether we were right or wrong about our discernment of God’s call to our church.

The resolutions to cut the budget are painful, especially for those who will lose their jobs – mostly those who can least withstand that loss. Support personnel with minimum wage jobs, often women and minorities, are taking the biggest hit. A few program staff members will be leaving – mostly those who have been recent hires and only just relocated their families. Two programs that need funding were cut: Evangelism and Hispanic ministry. The two areas where the potential for sharing the Good News is most urgent will have to depend on volunteers. Women’s Ministry and many of the ethnic desks were also cut.

The good news of the budget is restoration of the line item for the Millennium Development Goals. We did not balance the budget on the poorest of the world. With an actual line item, Episcopal Relief and Development will be able to leverage that money like the loaves and fishes and reach beyond the 2.5 million lives already touched. If all the dioceses send in the funds asked of them we would not have to make any cuts. Our investment income is down due to the economy but the commitments by dioceses to the ministries of the Episcopal Church are the heart of the matter. As it was we cut back on the amount asked to help those dioceses hurt by the economy.

The Denominational Health Plan should help lower health insurance costs, increase portability and make it available to more employees. The Lay Pension plan will make the church’s great pension plan for clergy available for lay employees. Justice and fairness for all who work for the church is the rationale for these moves. Title IV revisions of the disciplinary canons will hopefully provide a more reconciling process while providing justice for those abused by clergy.

This was the best convention in my time of service. What made it the best?

Worship was a mix of new and old. Although held in what became known as the world’s largest bat cave – black curtains decked the background – the projected reredos were lovely and the music was inspiring. The high point of services for me was Bishop Prince Singh, Rochester, chanting the Sursum Corda in a lovely melody unlike any I have heard. Not a part of the worship but of our daily sessions, the three--part blessing by men representing Muslim, Jewish and Christian traditions, singing individually and then intertwining words and voices of our Abrahamic faiths.

Legislative sessions led by President of the House of Deputies Bonnie Anderson. Her non-anxious presence and calm demeanor, openness to challenge without defensiveness, mix of humor and firmness –offered a space for passion to be heard and decisions to be made. The Deputies changed their rules to allow for 5 minutes of debate before amendments and procedural motions which increased the sense of allowing voices to be heard and not cut off. All had been heard in legislative committees so 5 minutes was often enough to summarize the arguments in 1 minute speeches. For items of more passion – we set special rules for longer times of debate. Best of all was the Rev. Winnie Varghese, the voting secretary, who led those of us who are technically challenged through the varieties of using the voting machines (hand held voting thingies). Her clear and concise directions combined with wry humor: “deputies report being unable to hear me when they are talking to other deputies,” or “those who have not turned on their voting machine report being unable to vote,” made Deputies learn quickly while laughing. The Rev. Gregory Straub, Secretary of the House of Deputies, was a fount of knowledge and voted the nattiest dresser of the convention. We even had a Gregory Straub look alike day. Wyoming gave him our cowboy boots to add to his sartorial splendor.

Meeting friends, old and new is always one of the best things about our triennial meet up. I hope the ECW does not move its convention to another time, as it would end the balance they add to our time together. Many of new friends came as “virtual friends” on Facebook or through blogs – seeing them in “real” added another dimension to our friendships. Some are people I met in my first time as a Deputy and who continue to be leaders in the church. A funny thing I discovered is that many whom I have known and thought much older than I – are actually younger in years although not in experience and wisdom. Although there is the desire to see distant friends, this time I spend more time with our own Deputation – we had a Diocesan suite for meetings at the end of the day and it had a view of the Disneyland fireworks each night. We also ate meals together on occasion.

My husband and I are moving from our Diocese so each moment was bittersweet as I remembered the future loss while enjoying the present moment. Most of the resolutions I have been working for the past 9 conventions passed so I am content. I know others are now suffering as we did for many years, as their concerns were not passed. For that I am sad and hopeful that they will remain within the Episcopal Church as we have many concerns in common that we can do together better than apart.

I hope everyone in the church attends General Convention at some time. Even one day will amaze you. The diversity of the exhibit hall with its display of ministries and merchants, the worship in English, Spanish, and some of the other languages of our church, the challenge of sermons and statements all add to the mix and show forth a vital church. In the words of the old country music song:

Life is a dance
With steps you don’t know
Join the dance
Learn as you go.

The polity of the Episcopal Church is more a dance than anything else – hopefully we dance with the Spirit. Some of us love the dance of General Convention - others not so much. It takes all of us – those at home supporting us with prayer and funds, those who make it all happen from behind the scenes, those who report it like Episcopal Café and the myriads of bloggers and tweeters. Now it is over for another 3 years and over as a Deputy for me. Blessings and prayers for all of us now and always.

This is where the author's ID line goes, but, hell, you all know who Ann Fontaine is.

Artificial devices

By Sam Candler

A few days ago, I was leaving Anaheim, California. The work of the General Convention of the Episcopal Church was good and important, but I was ready to depart that region. The setting –a convention center in Anaheim—seemed artificial and unseasoned, without a history or developed character. In fact, the character of the place was Disneyland; how much wisdom or character can one hope to imbibe from an amusement park?

Nevertheless, that setting was my home for two weeks. My routine was the same. Rise early, prepare for committee meetings, encounter ideas and faith and people and agendas, walk from one air-conditioned room to another, ride on escalators and elevators, eat processed food quickly and absently, sit on the legislative floor and pay attention, do all this some more, and then try to be asleep by 11:00 so I could rise again at 5:00 am.

I must admit that, for all its sterility, the Anaheim Convention Center, with two central hotels, was a comfortable place to gather and do business. Yes, it was artificial; yes, it was also mechanically efficient for us.

Then, one day after I left Anaheim, I was sitting on a dock in Canada with my father, just after sunset. Since my childhood, I have traveled annually to that lake, with its rustic cabins and primitive challenges. The deep green hemlocks and pines, the rich white birch trees, the cold black water, the open sky, all overwhelm any human activity; artificial devices are weak and meager here. It is easy to be mesmerized by the sky.

With a few others, my father and I peered eagerly into the northwest horizon, waiting and watching. A slight cold front was breaking up the overcast day. The air was chilly, but the sky had cleared above some post sunset clouds.

Then, suddenly, we saw it. The International Space Station was soaring over the north. The orange white glow was speeding at 17,000 miles per hour, 405 miles away from us. In the twilight, only Vega and a couple of other stars were beginning to appear. But, as we focused on this man-made intrusion into space, we also made out distant objects way beyond humanity’s foray into the heavens.

I have watched that northern horizon many a night here in Ontario. I have seen amazing light shows from the Aurora Borealis. It is always beautiful. If “artificial” means man-made, or simulated, or forced, or contrived, then this part of God’s creation is the very antithesis of “artificial.”

But for humanity, “artificial” is all we have. All we can muster, by definition, are man-made attempts and offerings. In fact, the International Space Station, a true modern marvel, is the very height of “artificial.” It is a man-made contrivance, inserted into the far reaches of God’s creation. Though it is the result of creative science, it is also a piece of art, like a paint stroke across the sky’s canvas.

Yes, the International Space Station is a work of art. It reminds me of a deeper meaning to the word “artificial.” Etymologically, “artificial” can mean “belonging to art,’ or “made by art.” At our best, we human beings create from artistic desire. We plan, and build, and explore, with artistic visions.

One of the many marvels about the space station is that it is also a work of art by committee. It has been added to, and revised, and corrected more times than…well, more times than an urban office building, or an old house, or… a piece of government legislation.

The old adage is that one will never eat sausage again after one has seen the inside of a sausage factory and how the stuff is actually made. One will never want to enter politics after witnessing the journey of a single piece of legislation. One will never want to go to church again after serving on a vestry or board of elders.

But those factories and legislatures and vestries are all we have. All we have are artificial attempts, human-made pieces of art, often assembled by committee, to witness to truth and grace in the world. That’s what the General Convention of the Episcopal Church was. Yes, it was set in an artificial place (a place designed to work!), it was committee after committee, it was the work of humanity. I hope and pray, nonetheless, that it has served us well.

Artificial devices are all we have on this earth, and all we have above the earth. At their best, they are truly works of art, inspired by glorious visions. For all our foibles, the Episcopal Church has a glorious vision; we want to be orthodox and generous, faithful and honest. We want to be true to God and to God’s creation. We are human beings, but we are on the dock straining to see grace over the horizon. We are human beings, but we have glimpsed divine grace in the twilight.

The Very Rev. Sam Candler is dean of St. Philip's Cathedral in Atlanta. He chaired the House of Deputies' Committee on Prayerbook, Liturgy and Church Music at the General Convention. His sermons and reflections on “Good Faith and Common Good” can be found on the Cathedral web site.

"Rowan Williams's game is up"

By Adrian Worsfold

The reality of meeting only once every three years has its own effects for a governing body. For those matters that are pressing, and really cannot wait another three years, taking action might be seen as hurrying things up. For other matters that can wait, waiting another three years might look like being slow - even deliberately slow.

The pastoral realities after three years of an observed 'nearly moratorium' have built up, as has the frustration of observations of the other actors of the so-called moratorium ignoring their side of the deal. Not only did the border crossings go on and on, but they turned into a competitor Church that seeks the approval of the Anglican Communion. So the once every three years moment arrives and it is time to act and not just to let things drift by waiting three more years.

So it was time to move on - just a little. The resolutions D025 and C056 have been passed, that mean the resistance and disagreement about the place of people in stable gay relationships being accepted into any level of ministry has been decentralised. Assuming the process of discernment goes on, the Church itself will not resist such appointments. It would take another convention for a clearer policy of non-discrimination down in the various sections of The Episcopal Church. Even more reserved is the decision to gather liturgical resources for same sex blessings, and that any of these must be about pastoral sensitivity in the meantime. Whether prayers are offered for such couples or not, there is no approved liturgy of the Church for at least three more years.

On the other hand, frankly, the proposed Anglican Covenant can wait. It is not ready yet, and was subject to shennanigans at the recent ACC meeting in Jamaica, where the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, puzzled everyone by seemingly facing this way and then that way, ending the whole session with a Presidential Address that likened the Anglican Communion to the Arab-Israeli dispute, and verging on the hopeless.

Well, hopeless for him maybe. Because surely his policy of centralisation has now come to an end. His policy was this: in the face of difference between Anglican Churches he wanted to try to unite them more centrally by finding ways and means to bang in rivets between the Churches and the centre (rather than just between the Churches) to the point where he combined 'a common reading and understanding of Scripture' between the Churches, as the condition of mutual recognisability, with a Romanesque view of bishops and him as a worldwide Church that allowed him to praise and incorporate some loyal Communion (and therefore disloyal elsewhere) bishops in TEC as a 'not monochrome' body. This was in his low point of the Advent Letter 2007 that managed to combine biblical near-fundamentalism with Catholic authoritarianism all in one go and gave justification to all kinds of malcontents to go on with their complaints and actions, as he himself was effectively picking off only some bishops in TEC.

The man who was once in a public minority in the hothouse atmosphere of Lambeth 1998 was now writing:

that the 1998 Resolution [1:10] is the only point of reference clearly agreed by the overwhelming majority of the Communion. This is the point where our common reading of Scripture stands.

Of course, as Archbishop himself, his Lambeth Conference would have no such resolutions: he would not be captive to any rush to a collective view by the bishops with whom he was communing. One has to marvel at his management of the Lambeth Conference in 2008, that the (suggested from within TEC) half-indabas (the process with the resolution making chopped off) produced all sorts of opinion and togetherness, whilst committees and groups out of reach around it continued the main direction of the Communion under him.

But the policy of keep listening and keep talking and push things along has now failed.

He reminds me still of Mikhail Gorbachev. Let's recall the condition of the Soviet Union at the time Gorbachev came to power. After a succession of duff General Secretaries Gorbachev took power and established himself as a reformer. Moves were made for more representation and criticism as a means of change, and he understood the realities of what could be afforded by a bust economy. But, as was always argued by conservative opinion there, if you started to reform, the ship itself would start to break up. Nationalisms would arise, and indeed they did, and when Gorbachev approached the nationality question the powers that be and the interests within all these structures were scared that the whole lot would crumble.

Gorbachev ran out of allies, except at the frustrated liberal margins - and if he went with them the demands would be overwhelmingly market based and democratic and the vast powers and bureaucratic interests still existing would overrun him. So what did he do? Like the Archbishop of Canterbury, he made a shift to the right. He was ducking and weaving but eventually threw his lot in with those who opposed change.

Yet there was still potential policy direction towards limited reform, particularly regarding the constitution and the nations, and the old right wing he publically rejoined effectively dumped him. The right locked him up, and then took control. There would be no change at all. However, this bunch of old men had nowhere to go in State already loosening its chains. The liberals then proved more nifty and pushed through, and the coup crumbled. But when Gorbachev came back, a free man, and according to law, he was finished, because his job was simply ended by the nationalities, and the Soviet Union came to an end. Not just Eastern European satellites had jumped free, but so did some nationalities of Russia, those that since Russia would have tried to claim as within itself. They are now safely in the European Union (despite ongoing interference) while Russia still lurches regarding its longer term political future.

Now there is no doubt that the Advent Letter of 2007 was written by Rowan Williams to appeal to the right wing of the Anglican Communion: it was to get as many to the Lambeth Conference as possible. It did not work, and neither did it stop the border crossings. In signing up to the right, in a way he could not as a theologian (knowing full well a critical approach to the Bible), he tried to pull in the hard right. But they effectively said thanks and dumped him. The Jerusalem Declaration produced by a few ideologues and presented to GAFCON effectively (for them) leaves the office of the Archbishop of Canterbury hanging in the air: that in their skewered view of orthodoxy he only matters if he agrees with them. Of course, in his weakness, he has declared how he agrees with the declaration though not in setting up a different place of authority in the Primates Council - the new legitimising international oversight of Anglican bishops from beyond any dioceses until some alternative Church is set up. Not only that, but his new non-friends have set up a Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans for the United Kingdom and Ireland, ready to pronounce on which bishops are orthodox and which are not, and already active in their marginalising of Open Evangelicals as part of their taking direction of the policy of all Evangelicals. The man, then, who was at the founding of Affirming Catholicism is being dumped by those that include Catholic traditionalists in transition (and they are, including in ACNA too: we shall see this).

Well, The Episcopal Church has not quite done a standing on a tank outside the White House (the Russian version) because its actions have been far more careful than such drama. But the effect has become the same.

For the policy of centralisation is now finished. It is finished when it comes to the hard right, and it is finished when it comes to the more progressive and Western Churches. These have been the reason why the Covenant has been so slow, and why, in the end, the Archbishop looked to be in a spin in Jamaica and ended with such a pathetic Presidential Address.

He took this policy on himself. He crafted it and designed it, and actually pushed it far further than any Archbishop of Canterbury should have been able. What lies behind this policy is not his apparent liberalism, because in the end (and not unlike Gorbachev's outlook) Rowan Williams was and is a Catholic: almost Orthodox in much spirituality and even Roman leaning in ecclesiology. Catholics can and do criticise the Bible, and Catholics can and do favour inclusion of peoples the Evangelicals exclude. Whereas, for some, Affirming Catholicism is just a front for a bunch of liberals who like to dress up and use smoke, Williams brought to Affirming Catholicism real Catholic gravitas. But as Archbishop he did several about turns, and ended up tying himself in knots.

So his intended legacy was, though all this crisis, to make Anglicanism more of a world Church, and indeed he wanted to say to the Pope in Rome, 'This is the Church I represent.' He wanted to say, 'It has its differences, but now it has an overall consistency, as in this Covenant.'

But to do this he had to bring along the Evangelical hard right (whereas the Fulcrum/ Anglican Communion Institute type people are more like lapdogs, who'll be along anyway) and this was his undoing.

In fact what was his undoing was that, when taken as a whole, the Anglican Communion contains Churches that are just too diverse in their cultural settings. They each - except for the Church of England - have their own internal consistency if minority variations, but taken as a whole they simply span too large a space. He thought he could pull them all in, and it is something of an achievement that he got so far. Indeed he was concerned that if he didn't pull the Communion inwards, the Church of England might move outwards - and it very well might, if stuck inside establishment buildings, structures and national laws.

But he didn't get far enough, because the hard right did their own thing as they always intended. Western Conservative Evangelicals, who represent a very small faction in their own cultural settings, lined up with Africans in particular as ballast. They all sidelined Rowan Williams and they have gone to town on their near Evangelical neighbours, ready to see the Anglo-Catholics wander off (to their own, to Rome, to Orthodoxy, to oblivion) and then to take on what they regard as all the liberals. The Archbishop of Canterbury has just been swept aside.

Well the Anglican Communion has not gone the way of the Soviet Union, and had Gorbachev also been President of Russia he'd still have had a job (but then no one would have stood on a tank). Rowan Williams is still Archbishop of Canterbury, and he still has a job, but his policy is finished and the direction of the Anglican Communion is bust. It is bust and he is sidelined because the hard right did him in, and then The Episcopal Church had had enough, and at this point in the three year cycle tentatively resumed the direction it had been going before it put the brakes on. And with this, Rowan Williams's game is up. He might still listen, but another policy - if there needs to be a policy at all - would need another person.

Adrian Worsfold (Pluralist), has a doctorate in sociology and a masters degree in contemporary theology. He lives near Hull, in northeast England and keeps the blog Pluralist Speaks.

General Convention: Embracing the status quo ante

By Greg Jones

With the passage of D025 and C056, many are wondering: What does it all mean?

In a nutshell, it seems to me that what D025 and C056 mean is that The Episcopal Church has told the truth about who and where it is on the controversial issue of fully including gay Christians living in nuptial unions into all orders within the priesthood of all believers. It also tells the truth about where the Episcopal Church is as regards our desire to remain in full communion with the other churches of the Anglican Communion.

The truth on both questions is this: we are not exactly sure yet.

We are not exactly sure what the future will bring for us on both things. We recognize that within our own body is a degree of opinion that varies from staunch support/opposition to staunch ambivalence. As such, D025 essentially upholds a degree of local option on the question of ordaining Christians in same-sex marriage-like unions. It does not in any way guarantee that all or any dioceses will be open to calling and ordaining such persons. (Yes, God calls through the Church.) It does say, however, that the discernment for such is entirely entrusted to dioceses provided they conform with those national canons which are pertinent. In other words, the resolution affirms the status quo ante (before 2006) of how discernment for clerical orders is done.

Does D025 have the effect of 'over-turning' B033? Hard to say in actual fact. B033 was not a 'rule' or a canon, it was a form of urging. Likewise, D025 is not a law either -- it simply reaffirms the sufficiency of the canons vis a vis discernment processes. When it comes right down to it, if a priest were elected to the episcopate whose 'manner of life' was likely to cause difficulty globally, D025 would not have any necessary effect on whether or not said person was consented to by the Standing Committees/House of Bishops and/or General Convention.

Does D025 have the effect of 'looking like' a repudiation of the so-called 'moratorium' sought by Windsor? Of course it does. And likely, in a way, so does C056, which has to do with marriage equality -- which similarly brings us back to a kind of status quo ante 2006. Again, it is a resolution which suggests that we support local pastoral options, and are continuing to examine what if any liturgical/canonical revisions would be made at the General Convention level down the road a stretch.

Both of these resolutions, however, will be perceived globally as some kind of repudiation of the Windor moratoria. The real question though is, "Does this matter?"

If D025 and C056 represent an effort for the Episcopal Church to tell the truth about where we are (as messy as that is) then truth-telling is called for as to the state of the Anglican Communion.

The fact is that those who most demanded the Windsor moratoria did not accept that we had abided by them -- and they have never made any sincere attempt even to look like they were abiding by the moratorium that applied to them. Indeed, when it comes to facts on the ground, the movement that has never done a single thing to abide by Windsor, has many more of them. If The Episcopal Church has one openly partnered gay bishop, and an ongoing practice of local option regarding blessing same-gender couples' unions, the GAFCON movement has created dozens of separatist/schismatic bishops, and have created a continent-sized new province which is actively soliciting recognition by the Church of England synod to be fully recognized as a province in full communion with the See of Canterbury.

Moreover, if we are telling the truth, whereas The Episcopal Church has essentially gone not forward but "back to where we once were" -- with D025/C056 largely looking like a return to the kinds of resolutions which passed in 1991-2000 General Conventions -- the GAFCON movement has gone way off into an anachronistic future whereby the faith is expressed according to the epistemological, theological, cosmological mindset of late 17th century Britain. Notably, we have seen the full-fledged launch of what will likely be an alternative Anglican communion devoid of those developments in Anglicanism which have arisen since the Oxford Movement.

To be sure, The Episcopal Church is not an exemplary model of the Gospel and the catholic church either. I still hold that we are now, perhaps more than ever, a church convinced of the priority of our autonomy - and I find that troubling at times.

Then again, on the other hand, I also recognize that while neither salvation nor discernment of God's will are individualistic endeavors -- there is a part of the process which requires the individual (person or church) to perceive God's vocation even against the opposition of other perso's who likewise are seeking to be faithful.

I do believe that the witness to Christ given by many gay Christians (in various orders of ministry) is a fact in our midst. Their witness to so many of us in the Episcopal Church is also available to many around the Anglican Communion -- and I do believe that people will increasingly come to see that they are proclaiming Christ -- born, crucified, risen and ascended. By being a place where such witness is fostered, the Episcopal Church is, I believe, doing the hard thing (in fact) by standing for a discernment of God's will which does not yet meet easy and widespread approval.

In this, of course, it will remain to be seen whether we are doing something prophetic, or not. If we have decided to stake our selves, our souls, and our bodies on this sense that God is indeed calling for a new thing, (thereby we are perceiving ourselves to have a prophetic vocation), then of course we must do what we believe God is calling us to do. We may of course know that it won't be well or widely received by all. We must of course know that there will come pain and reaction. We must know that -- unlike the people whom Jonah spoke to -- the whole place will not immediate change their ways. We must be willing to receive the reaction against what we perceive to be true -- and to do so graciously and humbly.

Indeed, if we are acting in any way prophetically by passing D025 and C056, we must be prepared to turn the other cheek when the slaps come, and continue to maintain the posture of faithful witnesses to Jesus Christ, Lord and Savior, who was born, died, rose, ascended and will come again as part of the fulfillment of God's plan before the worlds began, to make all things well.

The Rev. Samuel Gregory Jones ('Greg') is rector of St. Michael's in Raleigh, N.C., a trustee of General Seminary and the bass player in indie-rock band The Balsa Gliders — whose fourth studio release is available on iTunes. He blogs at Anglican Centrist.

Not a pretty sight

By Donald Schell

Peter is twenty-eight now. This memory must be almost twenty years old. It was Christmas. I’m guessing we were home between the early Pageant Liturgy and the Midnight Choral Eucharist on Christmas Eve. Peter, just beginning to grow into his manhood, took an elegant nonchalant stance leaning against the mantle over the fireplace when a tea-light on the mantle ignited his t-shirt. He felt heat on his back glanced over his shoulder and did what any of us might do seeing fire - he ran. His mother, the nurse, did what she knew to do – though I don’t remember her telling us that she’d been trained as a tackle in nursing school. She ran after him to the dining room, threw her arms around him, and slammed him against the dining wall, smothering the flames. And when the nurse had dealt with the first stage of the emergency, his mom reappeared to comfort him and calm him enough to get the t-shirt off and survey the damage.

Between Peter’s shoulder blades, he had a blistered area about four inches across, second-degree burns. Some small areas were charred, third degree burns. My dad, the physician was there and Ellen and Dad cleansed the wound and Dad set out the twice-daily protocol for debriding the wound. For the next several days I was her assistant.

A serious burn destroys our body’s most powerful defense against infection, our skin, and to make matters worse, dead skin in a moist wound is particularly hospitable to airborne bacteria. Debriding is tough love. Twice daily with a sterilized pair of tweezers Ellen methodically pulled dead skin from the wound. Dead skin is attached to living skin. It hurt Peter. My job was to help him lie very still on his stomach while she worked. I say ‘help him’ because Peter proved a brave and cooperative patient. Step by step Ellen told him what she was doing, and when she was about to pull. He did his best to steel himself and not to jump or pull away from her. My pinning his shoulders down was his back-up. Because sometimes he had to flinch, and then, without my hands on his shoulders holding him still, he would inadvertently poke himself on the tweezers or break his mother’s grip on the scrap of skin she was pulling away. Sometimes too, Ellen asked me to help by pulling the healthy skin on either side of the wound taut to make a dead skin fragment yield an end she could grab.

My role was mostly silent. For the first couple of days I thought of what an unlikely nurse's assistant I was. Growing up with both father and grandfather physicians, I lost track of how many people had asked me if I wanted to be a doctor. Usually I just said, ‘no.’ Sometimes I might venture a boyish imagining of vocation as ‘a preacher.’ But either way, my unspoken response was a forceful ‘NO,’ imbued with the painful knowledge that not only didn’t I feel called to medicine, but that I couldn't do it. Visible wounds made me queasy. Injuries to my own body frightened me. I was convinced I was too squeamish to be a doctor.

When my firstborn was coming and dad heard that her mother and I were taking birthing classes and that I planned to be in the delivery room, he wondered whether my presence there was a good idea. ‘Birth can be a little startling,’ he said. ‘It’s messy. There’s blood.’ But I was determined, and was glad to be present, and am still very glad for that experience. It was also my first hint that I’d outgrown some of the old un-ease at how raw bodies can be.

Then in my Clinical Pastoral Education at St. Luke’s Hospital, New York, I saw some badly battered bodies, some living, some dead, and I did my job all right, helped families talk to staff, stood by the body, said prayers, touched when it was helpful and appropriate. For my C.P.E. summer I’d been assigned to be the student chaplain on the Intensive Care Unit, which included burn patients.

Eighteen years later, as Ellen and I began our twice-daily routine with Peter, I remembered St. Luke’s burn unit. The memory of a child on the burn unit, most of his body burned, no one knowing whether he’d live or die, helped me with context and focus as we worked on Peter. Where, I wondered, was God in such suffering? I wasn’t satisfied with any answer I could offer to that question, but ‘where is God,’ resonated in this work, the painful and more hopeful treatment of my son. My job was to watch closely to anticipate when Peter's taut muscles would jump or lurch. As the delegated minister of stillness, my task was to watch, to hold a steady gaze as Ellen’s tweezers patiently took us to lower layers of Peter’s burn.

In the second day of this gazing as I watched Ellen’s meticulous work, I saw in Peter’s wound what Symeon the New Theologian called, ‘the impossible beauty of the life in Christ,’ or, to put it in plainer language, the awesome beauty of Life.

So soon after the burn “the wound” that I’d begun to know well from steady scrutiny through twenty minutes of teamwork unexpectedly showed a wholly different face. Just hours before I’d seen only ugly disfigurement, an opening to infection, damage, and grave risk to his health. Now healing was visible. In that same place where old skin was dying, brand new skin was beginning to appear. It felt so much like seeing healing in the moment that I wondered whether we’d actually see new cells or fresh patches of healthy skin move into place as Ellen worked. Peter’s body’s own work healing itself from session to session presented greater changes day by day. I was astonished. Watching the wound was moving me to a kind of joy. I loved gazing at it.

Had I not loved my work as a priest, that gazing spoke deeply enough to prompt a vocational crisis. Why had I imaged I couldn’t bear doing what my dad loved so much? Being a physician, seeing healing happen – ever – was an amazing privilege. Did Dad have to get over his own queasiness? Gazing at the wound, I understood something of my father’s heart and of his joy in his work. My Dad was an often skeptical Christian, but he did insist Life and God did the real work of healing, which he said made his work simpler and humbler: doctors could remove obstacles, sometimes clean things up or put them back together, keep them clean and in their right place, and watch healing overcome disease while trying to prevent complications.

Those days of watching my son’s very ugly wound heal I experienced, saw, and felt beauty where I’d imagined nothing was possible but ugliness. I’m not saying I found the idea of healing beautiful, not even my own thoughts observing the process of healing, but rather seeing Life present as Peter’s body healed, I felt the radiance of the Life that is the Light of humankind.

Culturally, but also religiously, we have a hard time with beauty. Sometimes we explain that difficulty in economic terms. When we’re working for justice or any pragmatic alleviation of human suffering, we mistrust beauty, suspecting it’s a luxury or a distraction. By common cultural consent we reduce beauty to a purely subjective, personal, and even idiosyncratic matter of taste.

But theologians as diverse as Jonathan Edwards (who calls the Spirit “the beautifier, the one in whom the happiness of God overflows … the one who bestows radiance, shape clarity and enticing splendor.” (Paraphrased by David Bentley Hart in The Beauty of the Infinite, the Aesthetics of Christian Truth). Or Gregory of Nyssa (“Human nature’s perfection is nothing but this endless desire for beauty and more beauty, this hunger for God.” From Gregory’s Life of Moses, quoted in Hart) Or Hans Urs von Balthazar,
Or – liberation theologian Alejandro Garcia Rivera whose work, The Community of The Beautiful, Jesuit James Empereur draws on so heavily in La Vida Sacra, Contemporary Hispanic Sacramental Theology.

Ancient theologians, a famous Puritan in New England, a Roman Catholic teacher beloved by Vatican conservatives, a Jesuit, and new work in the tradition of liberation theology all tell us beauty drives it all.

Gregory of Nyssa describes the engine something like this:

God creates life, Life beholds Beauty, Beauty begets Love, Love of the Life of God.
(Paraphrase from Gregory’s On the Soul and the Resurrection by Scott King who set this text as a four-part canon in Music for Liturgy)

Just as ‘love is stronger than death,’ beauty, the real thing has power enough to include and transform the raw suffering of a healing wound.

Beauty makes our world radiant with the life of God.

Some recent discussions here at the Café focused on verifiable truth claims got me thinking about Peter’s burn and healing and prompted this piece. Watching my son’s wound heal doesn’t prove the existence of God. In fact those who play the game of proofs, sooner or later will admit that none of the proofs give us a loving, forgiving God; it’s simply not possible

Love proves nothing, and watching that wound heal wasn’t an experience of proof or testing but one of simpler knowing: in a community of love facing a hard task, I was seeing the love that sustains our every moment in Life doing its work. It wasn’t a pretty sight, but it was simply beautiful.

The Rev. Donald Schell, founder of St. Gregory of Nyssa Church in San Francisco, is President of All Saints Company.

Resolution C056: it's our job now

By Rebecca Wilson

Yesterday morning, on the last day of convention, the House of Deputies passed Resolution C056 on Liturgies for Blessings. The House of Bishops passed this resolution overwhelmingly on Wednesday afternoon.

The final resolution was a substitute for the original C056 and was crafted by a small group of bishops informed by a larger Indaba-style conversation that took place on Tuesday evening and Wednesday morning.

C056 begins the process for the Episcopal Church’s response to various kinds of same-gender unions: committed relationships, domestic partnerships, civil unions and marriages. It also contains a provision for pastoral generosity in states with legal status for same-gender couples.

The ultimate power of this resolution will be determined by the strength of the process it sets in motion. That process—to collect and develop theological and liturgical resources for the blessing of same-gender relationships—will be developed by the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music, in consultation with the House of Bishops.

According to the resolution, the Standing Commission will “devise an open process for the conduct of its work inviting participation from provinces, dioceses, congregations, and individuals who are engaged in such theological work, and inviting theological reflection from throughout the Anglican Communion.” The resources developed by the process will be reported to the 77th General Convention in 2012.

In speaking to the resolution this morning, Deputy Ruth Meyers, secretary of the Prayer Book, Liturgy and Music Committee, emphasized that the process would be “open and transparent” and that it would “expand the circle over the next triennium.” Supporters of C056 are particularly enthusiastic that the process encourages participation from people at all levels of the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion: individuals, congregations, dioceses, and provinces.

By casting such a wide net, the Commission can include the work of other churches in the Anglican Communion, including New Zealand, Canada and South Africa, that are considering theology of and liturgical rites for same-gender relationships. Through those conversations, the Episcopal Church can continue to demonstrate that moving forward on inclusion actually strengthens some of our relationships in the Anglican Communion.

Thanks to the work of those who crafted C056, the Episcopal Church now has the chance to make progress toward full inclusion in the best possible way. Whether or not we take best advantage of the opportunity now before us is up to the Standing Commission, of course, but it is also up to people all across the church who care about both inclusion and communion.

We need to spend the next three years contributing to the process, fostering conversation, encouraging reflection and paying attention to the work of the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music. Throughout this Convention we’ve seen the Holy Spirit working through prayerful conversation, public narrative and Indaba-style groups. If we carry that spirit home and into the work of the next three years, we can both realize the promise of what has been accomplished in Anaheim and strengthen our relationships with one another and our sisters and brothers across the Anglican Communion.

Rebecca Wilson is the director of communications for the Chicago Consultation.

What young adults need

By Otis Gaddis III

In previous postings, I have argued that forward movement on LGBT issues is essential for creating the environment in which we can effectively engage young adults. As the final passage of D025 by the House of Deputies indicates, The Episcopal Church is making progress in doing the hard work of revealing ourselves as accurate reflectors of the message of Christ. But it is important to understand that making the Church a safe place for LGBT people is only the beginning. That movement simply opens the door for young adults by signally that the Church is a safe place for the authentic development of one’s personhood. In order to get people to actually move through the door, we must seriously begin to develop the competency of not only being safe but of actively fostering that authentic personal development.

In the post-modern world, which is the only world young adults have ever known, the central question is the search for an authentic self. Post-modernism as a philosophy teaches that everything is influences by everything else and thus nothing is of itself, nothing is truly autonomous. In a culture that values the authentic individual, the result of this understanding of reality is that one many not have a true self to find. One is left adrift in a swirl of commercial, ideological, and institutional forces, none of which can be trusted and none of which can be “authentically” resisted.

In this emerging narrative of the self as utterly socially constructed and produced by outside sources, LGBT people provide a useful counterpoint. LGBT people point to the possibility of an authentic self that cannot be suppressed by therapy, law, or even religion. That authentic self is revealed by the persistence of desire. And it is authentic desire, passion, and longing that young adults really want to find. In asking the question “who am I?” young adults increasingly believe that can found by asking “what do I really want?” It is for this reason that LGBT persons are (welcome) social metaphors of authenticity. They represent the possibility of an authentic self “discovered,” revealed in the light of one’s persistent passions, passions that come from within.

Thus, in a post-modern worldview, the existence of LGBT people speaks to the possibility of an authentic self underneath all of the layers of social construction and linguistic mediation, and thus reconstitutes the possibility of something given, something from God. If one’s passions for erotic partnership are responsive to a particular gender and that is a given in one’s self then what other kinds of desires are a given? What about life vocation and purpose? What about one’s values? What about the kind of spiritual practices best suit one? In other words the possibility of an authentic sexual orientation, gender identity or range of gender expressions begs the question what other parts of our self we can also discover through our desires, what else can we authentically be. And those are the kinds of questions most young adults are swimming in right now. Do we have a safe harbor for them? I think we do.

As Christians we can boldly say that the internal passions that lead to an articulation of LGBT identity point to the reality that human beings are made in the image of God and that image has a core that cannot be fully suppressed. Indeed, that core divine spark, the presence of the Holy Spirit in our being breathed into us at the Creation, is revealed in our deepest desires just as someone’s sexuality is revealed inductively by one’s erotic desires. Thus, as Christians, we would contend that the core of our humanity that the existence of LGBT people are bearing witness to is none other than the reflection of Christ, refracted through our unique personalities formed in our social contexts. Just as the Church should be a safe place for LGBT people to come out, so also it must be a safe place for people to come out as authentic persons, that is, as reflections of Christ and live into that authentic identity.

When we place the Gospel in the language of authentic personal development, we understand that bringing people to Christ to be the process of helping people express the special and unique way they are a reflection of Christ. This process, Christian Formation, is about creating the environment and providing the tools for people to mature “into the full stature of Christ” (Ephesians 4:13). As the Church, our theory is that one’s authentic self is found in Christ and that one’s attributes and identity markers are a means of expressing that Christ nature in ways that can help other people express theirs. To paraphrase Rev. Dr. Michael Battle, our identities are not for ourselves but for others. As Christians we are to draw out Christ in each other’s personalities through our unique way of being like Christ, to reveal in each other that we are what we eat: The Body of Christ, the Gifts of God for the People of God.

When we delve deeper into the metaphysics of what we are talking about here, we can see that taking seriously the existence of LGBT people the context of a post-modern worldview requires having a different conception of evangelism. If there is an authentic self and that authentic self is a given (in spite of what post-modernism asserts) and finally that authentic self is the presence of the Holy Spirit in the human being longing to grow that person into the full stature of Christ, then our way of doing evangelism and Christian Formation changes. Instead of a Calvinist project that assumes that people are “totally depraved” have nothing in them that longs for God, and thus we (who have God) must supply God to them, we have an Anglican project which assumes God is already present, in the authentic self of the person, and our job is to evoke that authentic self to the surface and help it “come out” in a world that is hostile to living an authentic life: a life lived for others, a life lived with God, a life lived liked Christ’s.

If evoking the passions of the Divine Spark in someone is now the goal of evangelism, then listening becomes the most important skill in doing evangelism. We now are listening to the core passions of others and then try to create spaces in our Church for people to live out those passions in a way that helps reveal themselves to themselves.

A practical example of this kind of evangelism is The Diocese of Massachusetts’ Relational Evangelism Project administered by Rev. Arrington Chambliss. This program offers a year long young adult service project (part of the Episcopal Service Corp) that trains young adults in community organizing skills (one-on-ones, discerning community needs through active listening, leadership development etc.) and then attaches them to congregations and chaplaincies. They then create spaces inside those church structures that match the passions of those outside of them.

For example, are there people who have a passion to express in song and poetry they dreams for their neighborhood and that nation? Through community organizing offer the local Episcopal Church as a gathering place for such artists and work along side them to create the space that they want. As they offer their hospitality, creating space, for the expression of their artistic passions these relational evangelists are able to reveal in normal conversation their own core passions and how through them they found in Christ an authentic archetype of themselves, someone to whom they closer they get the more of their authentic selves they discover.

And the great thing is that the Relational Evangelism Project is working. Last year was its pilot year. This year they are doubling the number of young adult relational evangelists. The young adults and their work sites are prayerfully assigned and they live in intentional Christian community during the year. Of course, when you look deeper you can see that for the young adult relational evangelists, this project is itself a space that allows them to live out their passions to serve in the name of Christ, a place to actualize a passion for Christ that has developed into a desire to be a public embodied witness. They are discovering that by living into their passion to be witnesses of Christ they are becoming more aware of their own authentic person.

Now, this kind of evangelism works by eventually inviting people into a process of Christian Formation, a space where people can interact with the received wisdom of the Christian Tradition in perceiving and discerning their own passions, thereby making Christianity a helpful path to self knowledge and an authentic way of being.

If who people truly are can be accessed by looking to what people truly desire, then spiritual discernment becomes the gateway to Christian Formation. This is especially true for young adults who are seeking to discover our authentic selves so that we may begin to live into ourselves in earnest. And when one really starts to listen to young adults it become apparent that there are themes that keep coming up where spiritual discernment is necessary: personal values discernment, vocation discernment, partnership discernment. Furthermore, we need to be able to grow in theses various discernments in the context of authentic Christian fellowship of both peers and mentors. These three themes are probably preoccupations for young adults no matter where they are in the country. Thus, it behooves the Church to at least create spaces within the church that address these needs for spiritual discernment.

Of course, young adults will be suspicious that institutions that offer to assist us in discovering ourselves are simply trying to conform us to their own agenda. One of the greatest examples of this kind of experience has been that of LGBT people in anti-LGBT religious environments. In those environments, the answers to the question “who am I and what do I want” was answered for people in a way that prevented them from actually being authentic people.

Fortunately, our work on supporting LGBT in being authentic people signals to others that we can do that work with them as well. But we must follow through. We must offer the spiritual wealth of the Church in a manner not unlike how a one would offer a pallet of oil colors to a painter so that she can express herself on the canvass. We can offer to show how to use the brush (our ways of accessing God) while encouraging young adults to be free to paint what comes to them (that is to express what they perceive to be the authenticity of their lives). What we find when people experience spirituality as a path to freedom and accurate self-understanding people begin to come alive. And as Saint Irenaeus said, “The glory of God is a human being fully alive.”

An instance of offering spiritual discernment as a lens to access Christian Tradition is a class on spiritual discernment for young adults that has been happening at my parish of Saint Mark’s Capitol Hill during on Wednesdays this month. Led by Prof. Katherine Staudt, the class began with the help people articulate when they are the most passionate both in what they do an in what they want for the world. From there, she offers a series of Christian spiritual disciplines gleaned from the core of the Christian monastic and contemplative traditions to help people discern God’s authentic call to them in their passions. The class has maintained a good balance of peer conversation and instructive lecture allowing young adults to find their own voice. In the class, you could feel how excited people were as they explored who they were in Christian community. For us, our spirituality, our Christianity, was working for us on a very practical level. And that is what young adults really want.

As we start clearing away the barriers that have been keeping people out of our Church we must also do the work of making the Church a place where people are not only safe spiritually but grow spiritually. When that happens, people are transformed and they will get excited and they will want to be witnesses to that they have experienced. Creating that environment for growth is deeply connected to the work we have been doing on LGBT issues. It is through that work that the church as an institution is starting to intentionally respond to the post-modern world that now surrounds us. The fact that we are one of the first denominations to “get it” on LGBT stuff means that we are much, much closer to getting what young adults really want and how to offer them the gospel in their social context. Right now we are focusing on how we include LGBT people in the life of the Church, but as I have suggested in this article, as we theologically and philosophically contemplate what it means that we desire to fully including LGBT people, we will also begin to access new ways of seeing the world that will give us a leg up for evangelism and Christian Formation in our emerging social context. And that is exciting.

Otis Gaddis III is a lawyer and young adult minister at Saint Mark’s Capital Hill in Washington D.C. A postulant from the Diocese of Washington, he will be attending Yale Divinity School this Fall.

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the story of me, the story of us, the story of now

By Ann Fontaine

As a child I loved comic books. Our grandmother gave us money every week to use however we wanted. We would usually buy comic books. My favorites were Captain Marvel, Wonder Woman and Classic Comics. I spent hours saying SHAZAM – hoping to be transformed into a super hero and my brother and I would jump off the garage roof with capes tied around our necks trying to learn to fly. It is wonder I survived childhood.

It was Classic Comics that fired my imagination about what a “real” person could do to make the world a better place. One comic was about Jane Addams, founder of Hull House. The story as I recall told o her compassion for immigrants in Chicago. How she and Ellen Gates Starr founded a settlement house to respond to the needs of migrants and immigrants who came seeking a better life in the city. According to the Jane Addams-Hull House web site:

“Social settlements began in the 1880s in London in response to problems created by urbanization, industrialization, and immigration. The idea spread to other industrialized countries. Settlement houses typically attracted educated, native born, middle-class and upper-middle class women and men, known as “residents,” to live (settle) in poor urban neighborhoods. Some social settlements were linked to religious institutions. Others, like Hull-House, were secular. By 1900, the U.S. had over 100 settlement houses. By 1911, Chicago had 35.In the 1890s, Hull-House was located in the midst of a densely populated urban neighborhood peopled by Italian, Irish, German, Greek, Bohemian, and Russian and Polish Jewish immigrants. During the 1920s, African Americans and Mexicans began to put down roots in the neighborhood and joined the clubs and activities at Hull-House. Jane Addams and the Hull-House residents provided kindergarten and day care facilities for the children of working mothers; an employment bureau; an art gallery; libraries; English and citizenship classes; and theater, music and art classes. As the complex expanded to include thirteen buildings, Hull-House supported more clubs and activities such as a Labor Museum, the Jane Club for single working girls, meeting places for trade union groups, and a wide array of cultural events.”
The story of this work was inspiring to me.

In the meantime, as a teen, my “clergyman” asked me if I wanted to go to church camp. I had loved attending Camp Fire Camp as a child so I thought it would be fun and the church paid my way. I discovered there that the church was more than half an hour of Sunday School followed by a long service from the BCP. But after high school, like many I drifted away. I was not really anti-church – I just did not see any point to it. I thought it was fine if you liked it but for me it held no attraction.

One day – I read that the Episcopal Church had done the most amazing thing. In 1969, Presiding Bishop John Hines challenged the church. According to the Archives of the Episcopal Church:

Following an eye-opening tour of Harlem with African American activists, Presiding Bishop John Hines pushed through the regularly convened General Convention of 1967 a “Special Program” (GCSP). The program was intended to respond to the poverty and injustice of the American ghetto. Executive Council re-directed the Church’s funds to community organizations and grassroots efforts aimed at the urban underclass throughout the United States.

I was stunned – the church of my birth and the dreams of my childhood of what to do with my life were merging. I returned to church and became active in all areas of church life. I had found a community of support to go out into the world. We founded the Food Bank in Lander in the midst of an economic downturn caused by US Steel suddenly ending 600 jobs that employed people in our town of 9,500. The widening circles of unemployment spread as those jobs disappeared and took the average of 5 jobs for every mineworker job, eventually taking the population down to 6000.

Recently, I was asked by The Living Church to review The Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori’s new book Gospel in the Global Village: Seeking God's Dream of Shalom. It is a book of some of her sermons and talks since she has been Presiding Bishop. As I read the book I was reminded of the connection between my dream of making a difference in the world and my faith.

As I write this I am attending General Convention for the 8th and last time as a Deputy. My heart leaps up with yes to the Convention’s response to the challenges and cries of our world. Though our income projections may be down – we do not need to live into those projections. I pray that the church will also respond with the abundance that is within our power to show forth.

Vitality and the small church

By Kathleen Staudt

For the past few summers, with funding from Lilly Foundation, Virginia Seminary has hosted a 10-day Summer Collegium in support of pastors of small membership churches and their spouses. These are pastors of churches in mainline denominations with average Sunday attendance under 100. I’ve participated in the program in various leadership and teaching capacities and always come away with a sense that there IS good news about the church, less about numbers than about spirit, commitment and ability to embody the presence of Christ.

The people I meet at these gatherings are good, grounded pastors, many in very challenging practical situations. Some are at multi-point charges, some are bi-vocational; all are in churches with various kinds of financial struggles. But they do not see growth in numbers as a major goal, though they do see the importance of helping people be open to change and growth in spirit and in community life. What I find inspiring when I spend time with these pastoral leaders is their dedication to being with their people and “helping them to ‘be the church’” – I hear that language across denominations, and regardless of the pastoral and personal challenges that small church ministry presents.

Small mainline churches offer the continuing presence of a thoughtful, practical Christian faith in their communities, and the people in them are formed by their lives together. There are churches represented here that are focal points of their local communities, engaging in genuine, effective, heartfelt mission work both locally and nationally. They understand about mission and faithfulness; they have a vision of themselves as the People of God in their contexts. Perhaps most important, they are small communities but they persist, they are still there – and expect to be remaining where they are even as the broader, wider church changes.

Since our job is to support the pastors, we do hear about their pain, their challenges, the splits and controversies that plague our congregations. But running through all of this is a sense that the Church of Christ is still alive, still present in these communities, and seeking ways to be faithful in the face of challenges that have been there, off and on, for generations and sometimes centuries. For these congregations, controversies within and across denominations may affect their histories some, and there are sometimes histories of conflicts and regroupings, but there’s a ground base of continuity that really has nothing to do with the Great Issues of judicatories and church conventions . There’s simplicity of focus: people are involved in their churches as a foundational part of their family and community life. They are worshipping and doing ministry where they are, and their pastors know them, love them, pray with them and walk with them while they are there, recognizing that congregations persist and pastors nurture and lead them for a time. These leaders know that there is something bigger about being the church than the individual pastor, even as they also know how to be “wise as serpents and innocent as lambs where evil is concerned.”

There are many ways to be church, and not all of them are large and well resourced. Indeed, when I look at the way that these gifted, dedicated people are managing, I sometimes wonder if I am looking at least in part at the Church of the Future, where some of the norms of institutional survival that we now hold may just have to change. Small churches (which make up the majority of most mainline denominations) know the truth of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s statement that “the church of God takes up space in the world.” Those we hear about here continue to embody a living faith, expressed in the struggle to be a faithful and loving community even when the struggle is difficult. Spending time with these pastors always leaves me with the feeling that the Church, the body of Christ, is real, carrying out its mission in homely and human ways that are profoundly incarnational, and that whatever challenges we face as big denominations, the lives of congregations find ways to continue, testimony to the presence in the world of persistent, faithful Christian faith and practice.

Dr. Kathleen Henderson Staudt keeps the blog poetproph, works as a teacher, poet, spiritual director and retreat leader in the Washington DC area. She is the author of two books: At the Turn of a Civilisation: David Jones and Modern Poetics and Annunciations: Poems out of Scripture.

Getting out of God's way

By Marshall Scott

The robins are eating my blueberries.

This is not a new problem. It was something of a surprise to me when my wife first pointed it out to me a number of years ago. In part I was surprised because the bushes had born for several years, and no robin had appeared. But I must admit I was more surprised because of all those coloring book images of happy robins tugging struggling worms out of the ground. I had seen them pick at worms. I had even seen them poking through the grass, picking up insects. I had no idea that robins ate berries, much less that they would eat mine.

In years past, I’ve been able to prevent most of their predation. I’ve taken time to build a frame – really, a cage – of concrete reinforcing bar and bird netting. I built it large enough that I could move under it to pick myself, and tight enough that birds couldn’t get in. On the rare occasion one did, it was generally sorry enough not to come back.

But this year the cage didn’t happen. This year the spring rains always seemed to fall on Saturday, or at least on every Saturday when I didn’t have another commitment. Too, my wife is lead gardener for the parish’s new vegetable garden, with the produce committed to another parish’s soup kitchen. So, there wasn’t as much time this year to get the cage built.

And another thing: this year the robins waited. They didn’t show up when the bushes bloomed. They didn’t even show up when the berries first became distinctive. No, they waited. They waited until the berries were full sized, and starting to take on some color. Even then they hung back. I took off the first cup of ripe (or at least ripe enough) berries. And suddenly the next day they were there.

And, to make matters worse there are more of them than ever before. In the past it’s been one, and occasionally two. These days it’s three and frequently four. If I’m outside at the right time, I can scare them off with the solid bang of a deadfall peach thrown at the fence behind them. But of course with more rain and less time I’m not out there enough; and like as not that one cup of blueberries will be all I harvest this year.

I find myself wondering if I didn’t teach them this persistence. Several years – probably several generations - of robins have grown up lusting after my berries. For most of those years they’ve been prevented, stymied by the barrier of net and steel. Did they wait to be sure what I would do? Did they wait, holding back so as to lull me into a sense of security; and then swarm in when, caught by time and hoping they really weren’t coming, I didn’t put my guard up? Indeed, did I teach them to want the berries all the more because they were for so long out of reach?

I have to wonder. That seems too much intelligence, too much planning, to attribute to a robin. On the other hand, there have been those remarkable reports about the ability of some parrots to synthesize spoken concepts. So, who knows? Maybe I did teach them or inspire in them the persistence to wait and seize that which had long been forbidden.

I have occasionally wondered if we needed to do the same thing with the faith. We worry about the next generation of Episcopalians. At our lowest we worry about whether there will be a next generation of Episcopalians. I sometimes wonder whether that would change if we made participation in the Church somehow forbidden.

What if, for example, we barred everyone under sixteen from worship? I don’t mean just making them wait for communion. I mean not allowing them in the door. Can you imagine the young teens trying to sneak into church, instead of sneaking out for an illicit drink? Can you imagine them trying to sneak into the side doors of the transepts instead of the side doors of movie theaters? Can you imagine them surreptitiously reading the Prayer Book under their covers instead of one or another sensational magazine? “Reverse psychology” is largely the stuff of cartoons and situation comedies; and yet there’s enough apparent truth in it that virtually every parent has tried it at least once. Think what might happen if we did that in the Church.

We could think of it like so many other things in life. We hold some things apart as “adult,” things which we forbid to “children,” even children of relatively advanced age. And after all, the one thing that every child wants is to be an adult. If we made Church “adults only,” wouldn’t they clamor to join in?

And, you know, there’s precedent, at least of a sort. In early Eucharists the Peace was the point at which those who weren’t going receive left. Those not yet baptized and those under discipline weren’t just prevented from receiving. They had to leave the building. I have to wonder whether some, at least, didn’t look for a window to at least peek in. Couldn’t that work now?

Well, maybe it could; but, not for us. Oh, it might well get and hold the attention of a number of folks; but I don’t think we could take that step. You see, it may be good marketing, but it’s bad theology.

It is bad theology first because we are called to be people of light, and not of darkness. Certainly, Christ is the Light of the World, but there’s a lot more to it than that. The Gospels call us to put our lamp on the stand, and not under the bed or a bushel. They tell us that what is hidden in darkness will be exposed in the light. They call us to walk in the light.

It’s bad, too, in that we have been shaped, perhaps more than we know, by the same desire as the author of Proverbs. Many times that author speaks of raising children. We know best, “Train children in the right way, and when old, they will not stray;” but we might also claim “And now, my child, listen to me, and do not depart from the words of my mouth.” And how shall the child listen to our words if we haven’t shared them?

And so we model ourselves on Peter when Christ called him to evangelize Cornelius. When he spoke to Cornelius, Peter said, “I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.” As he reported when he returned to Jerusalem, Peter understood God’s intent to be that Cornelius and “all [his] house will be saved.” In light of that mission, Peter asked, “Who was I that I could hinder God?”

This is, after all, the foundation on which we baptized infants. We want them to grow “in the right way,” a way that we publicly proclaim and in which we want them to participate. To that end we make explicit our expectations of parents that they will see “that the child you present is brought up in the Christian faith and life,” so that “this child [can] grow into the full stature of Christ.” To that end we all commit to support them; after all, we all say, “We will!” We seek to bring them into life in Christ, and not simply the club of Christ.

It is also the foundation on which many of us call for full inclusion and full participation of all the baptized in the life of the Church. Until we see the Kingdom, we will all still have room to grow in the knowledge and love of the Lord; and we pray often enough for our departed brothers and sisters that such growth can continue in the Kingdom as well. The Holy Spirit fell on everyone in Cornelius’ house who heard Peter. So it was that in the face of criticism from the circumcised believers, Peter said, “If then God gave them the same [Spirit] that he gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could hinder God?”

And so we could not in good faith keep the faith from our youngest, whether they are young in years or simply young in faith. Withholding might make for good marketing in its way. It might even teach some to long for something they cannot have. It just wouldn’t reflect God as he has revealed himself in Christ. It wouldn’t express our call that all participate fully in Christ’s Body, the Church. In short, it wouldn’t demonstrate the faith as we have received it.

This is not to say that we can’t help our newest and our youngest siblings to appreciate the wonder and the value of life in Christ, and so inspire them to live in the Body more fully. I think, though, that we will do that more faithfully and effectively by what we give than by what we withhold; by what we demonstrate than by what we hide. It has been said before, but can bear saying again: if we commend the faith that is in us, if we allow the love of God in Christ to shine through us, we won’t have to worry about the next generation of the Episcopal Church. Living in Christ to the best of our ability will so shape our community and our communion that we are able to welcome our newest and our youngest, and to offer them all the opportunity they can desire to grow in grace and to participate in the life of the Church. They will certainly desire, as we desire, to do more and to know more of life in Christ. It’s just that they will desire it, not because it’s been hidden, but because they will see, first in us and then in themselves, the wonder and the mystery of the love God has for us, and the possibilities to know more, to do more, and to be more.

The Rev. Marshall Scott is a chaplain in the Saint Luke’s Health System, a ministry of the Diocese of West Missouri. A past president of the Assembly of Episcopal Healthcare Chaplains, and an associate of the Order of the Holy Cross, he keeps the blog Episcopal Chaplain at the Bedside.

When tradition and modernity collide

By George Clifford

Raffaellino Del Garbo’s painting, "Resurrection of Christ,” hangs in the Academia Gallery in Florence, Italy. Painted about 1500-05, this piece depicts the risen Christ's empty tomb and beatific face, the soldiers’ faces and arms, Mary’s face and attire, and the surrounding scenery in early16th century Italian imagery foreign to first century Palestine.

On the one hand, the painting seems a giant non-sequitur. Jesus and Mary were both first century Palestinian Jews; the soldiers, perhaps ancestors of sixteenth century Italians, were certainly first century Roman legionnaires; the surrounding area and tomb were in the environs of Jerusalem, not Florence.

On the other hand, paintings that translate biblical scenes and events into the painter’s locale and historical period remain a popular genre because of our need to make the Bible and its stories contemporary. Mid-twentieth century American art portraying a black Jesus echoed this aim. Making the Bible contemporary is important because one function of much Christian art is to invite the viewer (or listener, reader, etc.) to enter into the biblical story, to there encounter God, and through a dialectical process to experience an inner transformation.

The controversy that swirled around portrayals of a black Jesus illustrates how the powerful – in this case Caucasians – can misuse Christianity, seeking to force the marginalized and disempowered to accept the image of Christ, along with its associated theology, sanctioned by the powerful. By controlling what constitutes acceptable art, the powerful attempt to protect their privileged status, ensuring that for whatever experience the art may be a catalyst, the experience will reinforce or at least not undermine the elite’s dominance. Thanks be to God, the Episcopal Church has largely progressed beyond the era in its history when it unofficially and yet powerfully promoted Caucasian dominance.

Like oil paints or watercolors, theological language and liturgical actions are artistic mediums. Christian religious discourse and worship sketch pictures, inviting hearers to enter into the biblical story, to there encounter God, and through a dialectical process to experience inner transformation. At its best, Christian worship, for example, is a drama that invites participants to enter into the Jesus story. Couching the drama in contemporary language, as preachers through the centuries have discovered, makes the story feel more relevant, more inviting to those present. Rafaellino Del Garbo understood this. The artists who portrayed Jesus as a black man understood this.

William Young understood this when he wrote his novel, The Shack, casting God as a black woman. While certainly not great literature and arguably reflecting poor theology, this bestseller did not unleash a torrent, or even trickle, of criticism for Young portraying God as either black or a woman. Admittedly, the pervasive masculine terms for God found in the Book of Common Prayer, much theological discourse, and too many sermons underscore the distance we have yet to travel before fully dethroning masculine dominance from Christianity.

The Episcopal Church sits at a crossroads. The Church, on several fronts, must choose between a static, centuries-old portrayal of Jesus and the Bible, a perspective increasingly remote from twenty-first century American life, and a dynamic portrayal of Jesus, retelling his story in images and language relevant and comprehensible to post-moderns. Cutting-edge challenges exist not only with respect to human sexuality but also at other points at which theology collides with advances in science.

Will the Episcopal Church succumb to fundamentalist pressures from within and without the Anglican Communion to become a Church that seeks creedal uniformity? The cost of choosing that direction is to concretize Jesus’ charisma, the vital Spirit of the living God. This displaces risky personal encounters that can lead to life-giving transformation with safe and standardized creedal orthodoxy. Such formulas are like good Christian art: appropriate to a particular moment in the spatio-temporal matrix and not eternally definitive.

Alternatively, will the Episcopal Church continue down the risky but exciting and dynamic path that is consistent with our time-honored Anglican tradition: praying together, living in unity in spite of theological and ethical diversity, preserving an openness through our linguistic and liturgical art to God's ongoing revelation? One cost of choosing this direction is that the Episcopal Church may not move, as it strives to be faithful to the mind of Christ, in concert with other members of the Anglican Communion. A potential cost of choosing this direction is that the Episcopal Church may misunderstand what God is saying and move in a wrong direction. True discipleship always entails that risk. Thanks be to God we serve a loving, forgiving God who is bigger than any possible mistake we might make.

Choose this day whom you will serve: the dead, institutionalized idol of time-bound religion or the living God that no earthly artistic image, regardless of the medium, can faithfully depict? That choice confronts the Episcopal Church at its 2009 General Convention in Anaheim. I pray that the Episcopal Church will wisely avoid unnecessary votes, harmful posturing, the temptation to reject the new in favor of the time-bound, and the temptation to reject fresh insights into the depth of God's all-embracing love for ephemeral firework

The Rev. Dr. George Clifford, Diocese of North Carolina, served as a Navy chaplain for twenty-four years He taught philosophy at the U. S. Naval Academy and ethics at the Postgraduate School. He blogs at Ethical Musings.

Open to the Thrust of Grace

By Heidi Shott

Each evening, until my twin sons were ten or so, I gathered with them at bedtime to say our “thank you” prayers, which ended with a recitation of the Lord’s Prayer. One night after the Amen and the last ten kisses of the day, I began to tiptoe out when a seven year-old head popped over the top of the upper bunk.

“What is it, dude?” I asked, tired and ready for a few, yawny hours in grown-upland.

“Whoever wrote that last prayer was a chump,” said Colin. A barky laugh escaped me. Never before had the words Jesus and chump come together in my mind.

“Jesus made up that prayer. You think Jesus is a chump?”

“Well, Mom, how can things possibly be the same on earth as they are in heaven?” I won’t embarrass myself by trying to recount the answer I gave. In fact I don’t really remember what I said, but I do remember the question. On some level it’s one I ask myself every day.

On a recent Friday, after lying awake for 30 minutes, I turned to my alarm clock to discover it was 4:30 a.m. I’d been thinking about 53 different things I had to do. Rather than do any of them, I put a sweatshirt over my pajamas and set off for a walk around my neighborhood.

Two hundred and fifty years ago, early settlers here saw the value of the setting and set up a mill at the head of a tidal river along the coast of Maine. Our small village of colonials and capes grew up along the millpond at the base of the lake that pours into the salt river below.

As I ventured into the early morning, the alewives had begun the day’s run up the fish ladder on the other side of the millpond. Gulls, osprey and cormorants were fishing for breakfast, making noise and swooping low across the water.

“Pretty nice,” I sniffed to myself as I walked across the bridge that separates the lake from the pond. I was too deeply engaged in thinking about the logistics and politics of Thing-To-Do #14 to be moved by any early morning beauty.

But as I rounded a corner and a vast field of lupine unfolded with the head of the river in the distance, God got me at last. And I thought suddenly that the answer to Colin’s long-ago question lay in a moment like this.

Earth is like heaven when you can recognize God’s grace in the midst of the most stressful week. A line from a song by the Canadian songwriter Bruce Cockburn buzzed in my head: “One moment you’re waiting for the sky to fall; the next you’re dazzled by the beauty of it all.”

My pace slowed. Mist rose from the bay and I gave the geese and their goslings that stake claim to the roadway at the lower end of the Mills wide berth. At the top of the dam, I stopped to see how many alewives had made their way to the last barrier before the lake, their spawning ground. From there I completed the circle back home by trespassing on hydro company land and into my own backyard. My sneakers were wet with dew and spider webs in the tall grass shown in sparkles as the sun began to rise.

As I approached the back of my house, I thought of my sweet menfolk still deeply asleep, my husband, those boys – now teenagers in the prime of their sleeping years. None of my 53 Things-To-Do seemed quite so important, even though about 40 of them involved the Diocese of Maine.

My reclaimed calm wasn’t about church or work or anything remotely Episcopal. It was about God’s loving voice saying, “Here it is. Here it’s always been. Here it will be. All of it, for free.”

By the time I made my way up the hill to the kitchen, the early light revealed a fine day ahead. I turned on my computer and did 12 or 15 things before it was time to make lunches and whisper, “good morning,” in everyone’s ear.

May God’s kingdom come that way more often.

*Title from Bruce Cockburn’s “Lovers in a Dangerous Time.”

Heidi Shott is Canon for Communications and Social Justice in the Episcopal Diocese of Maine.

General Convention, Young Adults, and Mission

By Otis Gaddis III

Increasingly I am convinced that this General Convention could unleash the great potential the Episcopal Church has to effectively reach the unchurched and dechurched in the United States. I was drawn to come here because I wanted to be part of the story of that transformation of potential energy into kinetic energy. My passion is for evangelism, and particularly evangelism to young adults. It is a passion that inspired me to start a young adult group at my parish of Saint Mark’s Capital Hill, to do organizing work in my diocese in support of young adult ministry and recently to seek ordination as an Episcopal priest. And it is that passion that inspired me to come to General Convention with Integrity, the national fellowship for LGBT Episcopalians.

There is a very serious link between our capacity to do effective work with young adults and where we are on affirming lesbian and gay people as equal members of the Church. I think it is necessary to place the work of this General Convention in the context of how young adults view the relationship between an institution’s understanding and treatment of lesbian and gay people and its moral legitimacy.

In 1999 Eugene Rogers published a book entitled Sexuality and the Christian Body: Their Way into the Triune God which offered a Christian defense of gay marriage by claiming that the purpose of Christian marriage was the sanctification of Christian couples through the performance of a lifelong embodied spiritual covenant. From that premise, Rogers argued that marriages of Christian gay couples cannot be justifiably excluded, on Christian grounds, from Christian marriage. The assumption of the book is that the reader is comfortable with the moral legitimacy of Christianity but is questioning what if any place gay people’s marriages have in the Church.

But a decade later the situation is radically different, especially for young adults. People are becoming much more supportive of gay rights generally and marriage equality specifically. Among young adults (those who are 18-34), 58 percent believe in full marriage equality. The trend in favor of marriage equality for college age adults is even stronger. As of 2008, 66% of college frosh supported marriage equality. In other words, the younger you go the higher the chance that a person views gay people as equal to everyone else.

And this shift is starting to change attitudes and perceptions of what is morally legitimate. An entire generation of people is coming of age where they are much more confident in the equality of their lesbian and gay friends than they are about the moral legitimacy of institutions and people who are against gay people. In other words, many of these same young adults see one’s views concerning marriage equality as a litmus test of the morality of social institutions including churches.

To get a handle on the impact of this sea change, consider what happens in contemporary life when someone declares that they are a racist. Now, most people do not take seriously that racism could be a legitimate worldview; instead that person who reveals herself as a racist has actually simply declared herself to be an immoral person. She has said much more about herself than whatever negative view she may have about another race or ethnic group. The same thing is now happening on the issue of gay rights and marriage equality among an ever increasing majority of young adults. Saying one is anti-gay really is the same as declaring that one is an immoral person. To claim, as so many are doing, that one must continue to be an immoral person because Christianity mandates that one be anti-gay does not legitimate the immorality but simply implicates Christianity as an immoral worldview that should therefore be distrusted, criticized or outright rejected. What needs to be understood is that a substantial and increasing number of young adults judge Christianity through the lens of justice for gay and lesbian people rather than judging the value of gay and lesbian people in the light of a homophobic social code that dons the mantle of Christianity. This dynamic occurs even when anti-gay people claim to be the only “orthodox” representatives of Christianity.

The devastating effect of asking people to choose between being a good Christian and being a good person is revealing itself in recent polling of young adults.

According to a study reported, in September 2007, by the Barna Group, a well respected evangelical polling group, 40 percent of young adults (ages 16-29) did not identify as Christians, a substantial increase from previous generations. When they inquired as to young non-Christians’ perceptions of Christianity they found that “a decade ago the vast majority of Americans outside the Christian faith, including young people, felt favorably toward Christianity’s role in society. Currently, however, just 16% of non-Christians in their late teens and twenties said they have a ‘good impression’ of Christianity” (emphasis added).

So what has been happening over the last decade that could possibly have cause this shift? Although I am sure that it is a combination of factors, it is clear form the report that American Christianity’s reputation as the primer source of anti-gay activism is one of the most important causes as indicated in the same Barna Group study which says, “Interestingly, the study discovered a new image that has steadily grown in prominence over the last decade. Today, the most common perception is that present-day Christianity is ‘anti-homosexual.’ Overall, 91% of young non-Christians and 80% of young churchgoers say this phrase describes Christianity” (emphasis added). Keep in mind that the majority of young adults believe in marriage equality.

In other words, non-Christians may not know much about what we believe about Jesus, the path to salvation, or what we believe God desires of us in our relationships with others. But what they do know is that we are anti-gay.

What this practically means for someone like me, a 29 year old, who regularly strikes up spiritual conversations with other young adults in the gym, my local café, at bars, and well basically anywhere, one of the first things I encounter is the other person’s belief that the Church is anti-gay. This is especially true if they have at least some college education. As a black gay man, I am usually able to remove that barrier by saying “I am gay and I am a Christian; in fact I am Episcopalian.” After explaining the positive experience I have had in my parish, the person is usually not only more favorable but now curious as to what this “Episcopal Church” is like. My ability to point to out gay bishops and to gay people being married in my church radically distinguishes the Episcopal Church in the minds of young adults in a positive way.

Of course, since most Episcopalians are not gay, they cannot vouch for the Church without proof. One has to be able to show that a reasonable gay person would actually feel comfortable and affirmed in the Episcopal Church in order to rebut the presumption that the Episcopal Church is just like other anti-gay churches. Their ability to point to out and married gay bishops and to gay people being married in the church would equip the vast majority of straight Christians to radically distinguish the Episcopal Church in the minds of non-Christian young adults in a positive way.

As people begin to really study young adult views of Christianity and how gay and lesbian people fit into that story, I think we will find that young adults are not rejecting Christianity simply because it is perceived as anti-gay but that they are viewing gay people as the canary in the mine. Culturally, the gay experience has become a metaphor for the journey of self-discovery and a willingness to be true to one’s self in spite of persecution. And this is what young adults are, in part, looking for spiritually, places where they can connect to their true selves. If we listen they might tell us, “If a place is not only safe for gay people but is affirming of them, then perhaps it will be safe for me. Perhaps, I will be affirmed by this spiritual community when I find myself. Maybe this community is capable of helping me get there.”

It is perhaps because of this logic that Bishop Gene Robinson’s speech yesterday in the Exhibit Hall was so powerful. During his speech he spoke about the anxiety of some people that the Episcopal Church will be identified as “the gay Church.” He responded to that anxiety by saying, “You bet! We are the church for gay people, women, people of color, people in wheelchairs, the mentally ill, for everyone.” As he explained that the Episcopal Church is the Church of God’s Inclusive Love, I could feel an energy in the crowd, and energy of realization. The woman next to me, who I believed to be straight, told me, “I feel a chill up my spine, when I hear this.” I replied, “I know, it is like we are finally going to be a Christian Church.” She nodded, “Yes, that is what this is about, that is what this is about.” My feeling is that we were not the only people who were feeling that our own capacity to witness to God’s love, as Episcopalians, was what was at stake in this conversation about the place of LBGT people in the Church.

Otis Gaddis III is a lawyer and young adult minister at Saint Mark’s Capital Hill in Washington D.C. A postulant from the Diocese of Washington, he will be attending Yale Divinity School this Fall.

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Becoming Episcopalian: one priest's journey

By Donald Schell

The church where I was baptized and grew up hovered on the edge of mainstream. Officially we were part of the Presbyterian Church, USA, but we were taught that we were Evangelicals, solid on our fundamentals and so confident that our personal decision for Christ made us Christian in a way that liberals (despite what they said) were not. Our youth group activities took us to Baptist and Independent Fundamentalist churches. I sat through a lot of altar calls. A spirituality of ‘knowing Jesus’ was deeply rooted then and still lives for me. But ‘Making a decision for Christ’ and the horror story version of atonement that I heard preached did not fit.

In one dark day in Sunday School, our teacher told us this story of a hanging judge in the Old West:

“There was a judge who was bringing peace to a land ravaged by cattle rustlers and gunslingers. More often than not the judge’s passion for justice in that lawless land moved him to condemn the guilty to death by hanging. One day a man was found guilty of stealing a horse and the judge condemned him to be hanged by the neck until dead. The town was appalled. There were extenuating circumstances. The man was their neighbor, married with children, their sole support. When the condemned was a dangerous stranger, the respectable townspeople were glad for the hanging judge, but this time they were horrified. They begged the judge for mercy. The insisted the condemned man was a good neighbor. It was his first offense. “No,” the judge thundered, “justice must be served; a horse has been stolen, so someone has to die.” A stranger stood near the back of the courtroom spoke with startling calm, “Your honor, hang me, and let the condemned man go free.” The judge seemed caught off guard, paused, frowned, and said, “Son, do you understand what you’re doing?” “Yes, your honor. I have no family. I will die for this man’s freedom.” So the judge ordered the horse thief released and the stranger hanged by the neck until dead. And when they cut the stranger down, the judge stunned the whole town by asking all, including the horse thief to join him at the funeral for his only son.”

The story made me angry. My Sunday School teacher assured us it was a true story, and I did understand it was meant to teach us something about Jesus’ death on the cross, but the father/judge was a monster, and the son was a fool. One pointless death replaced another. The townspeople should have done whatever they needed to do to stop the judge from murdering in the name of ‘Justice.’ I took the story home and told it to my parents, lifelong members of this congregation. My mother said, “The story is not right, and God didn’t kill Jesus.”

I’m thankful today that even as a child, I recoiled from that ugly story, and I’m thankful for my mother’s response. She didn’t offer an alternative atonement theory, but she did model that a story of heartless retribution wasn’t pointing us toward the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. The ugliness of the story was an assault on faith, and my aversion to such a monstrous story was a theological response. Why is this adamant ‘NO’ theological? Because, like mathematicians and physicists, beyond mere logic, we test our theology for elegance and economy. Gregory of Nyssa says God’s beauty makes us long for God, moves us to fall in love. If this story were really ‘it’--the Good News-- I could only say ‘NO!’

As a kid, I loved Bible stories and found some big parts of what I was offered for theology off-putting. The community of people in the church obviously cared about each other and gave generously of themselves for the church’s work. I loved them. I also loved music (including ancient and renaissance church music and global music), old church buildings (like California’s adobe mission churches and the Orthodox log church at Fort Ross), so loving the community of people I longed for worship that invited real participation from all of us.

In the turbulent 1960’s after the deaths of John Kennedy, Martin Luther King and Malcolm X, I entered Princeton Seminary. Leaders of our Presbyterian church (like many denominational leaders and activists then) were actively working for peace and racial justice. I was deeply relieved finally to be in a church where people didn’t think Martin Luther King was a communist--some walls had come down. It would be possible to explore and deepen faith. In the openness of my first year at Princeton I first met and fell head-over-heels in love with the writings of the early church fathers like Irenaeus and Gregory of Nyssa. I heard a new voice determined to describe how human experience and faith-in-community could lead to ongoing formation and growth in Christ. The seminary professor who was offering us these riches from Christian tradition was a Russian Orthodox layman who had been a minister in the United Church of Christ. For most of 1968-69, I thought I was going to follow his lead. I’d found in Russian Orthodoxy a church that could give me a more coherent answer, a church that knew what it stood for. I planned to complete my year at Princeton, become Orthodox, transfer to St. Vladimir’s Russian Orthodox Seminary and spend my ministry with a community I understood and that understood me.

I applied to St. Vladimir’s and was admitted pending a face-to-face interview with the seminary’s dean. I drove from Princeton up to Crestwood-Tuckahoe, New York and spent a wonderful hour talking with John Meyendorff. Fr. Meyendorff quizzed me on theology, seemed satisfied at what he was hearing, and then asked where I was going to church. I told him the Episcopal Church at Princeton (the University Chaplaincy). Did I receive communion? Yes. He said, “Then you are an Episcopalian, and you don’t have to become Orthodox. You may be where God wants you to be.”

This was the year I read and re-read The Brothers Karamazov. I felt myself in the presence not just of a scholar, but a staretz, a spiritual elder with a good dose of the wisdom of Dostoyevsky’s Fr. Zossima. This saint was telling me I might already be home. He said I was welcome at the seminary if I chose to come, but he had a request first. ‘Your vision of this church has been formed from reading our ancient teachers and their best modern interpreters. But we’re a church with a lot superstitious immigrants. Go the bookstore and buy what the store manager can sell you of Orthodox Sunday School materials. Don’t come unless you understand who you will be working with if you become an Orthodox priest.’

The bookstore manager greeted me jovially, heard my story and congratulated me. "‘I’ve walked this path too. Welcome to the truth faith. You will come to loathe the Presbyterians and regard the Episcopalians as clowns." I was taken aback at his mean-spirited response. Presbyterians had taught me to love Jesus. In the Episcopal Church I’d begun to understand common prayer. These communities had given me a priceless foundation. After my conversation with an open-hearted saint and that bookstore manager who I feared might be me in a couple of years, I took my Sunday School books and drove home talking to myself, elated, weeping, perplexed, and trying to find where in this conflicted experience God was speaking.

My Italian landlady in Princeton had a good Catholic answer for a good Evangelical. ‘Go to Sacred Heart Church and pray before the Blessed Sacrament. Jesus will tell you what to do.’ I was shocked at it, but Jesus seemed to want me to accept that I’d already found my home in the Episcopal Church. For good measure, I left Sacred Heart to go spend a little more time on my knees at Trinity Episcopal in Princeton. Jesus was saying the same thing there. I phoned John Snow, the Episcopal chaplain, my pastor, and one of the best preachers I’d ever heard (or have heard since). “John, I need to talk to you. I think I’m becoming an Episcopalian.”

John and I had a great conversation. I told him all the theological stuff I was working on and he said, ‘We’ve got plenty of room for you.’ I told him I thought the Episcopal Church was actually a mess theologically, a church without a backbone, incapable of standing for anything. He smiled and said, ‘maybe you’ll come to appreciate that.’ I have.

John helped me make a very late transfer application to General Seminary. I went home to California to work that summer in the Presbyterian Church where I’d grown up. It was a good summer; I was glad not to be making a conversion that stripped away and repudiated the good people who had taught me to love scripture, community, and an abiding, mystical friendship with Jesus. Starting General Seminary in September, almost the first thing I discovered in the theological mess I’d now embraced was that my professor for the Pauline Epistles, a priest who seemed to be an existentialist agnostic, was with us in the chapel daily praying Morning and Evening Prayer, and he came faithfully to the community’s weekly Eucharist. Remembering John Snow’s words I wondered at my new professor’s faith. Could this be how my new church’s theological messiness was a holy gift? Maybe there was some grace in sharing prayer and Eucharist with Christians I didn’t understand. Maybe the gift was praying with this priest I didn’t understand and (still not understanding him) discovering he was my brother in Christ.

The Rev. Donald Schell, founder of St. Gregory of Nyssa Church in San Francisco, is President of All Saints Company.

Hey friend, got 80 cents?

By Lauren R. Stanley

My mother always told me: Be careful what you ask for, because you might just get it.

Since she was always right in the past, I’m hoping that she will be right once more.

And what was I asking for this time?

A mere 80 cents – per person – per year – from every Episcopalian in the United States.


So we can double the number of missionaries serving Christ in Christ’s far-flung world.

See, it turns out that the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society, also known as The Episcopal Church, also known as us, only has about 80 missionaries serving overseas at any given moment. Some of those missionaries serve for one year; they belong to the Young Adult Service Corps, a special program for young adults ages 22-30. Some are Volunteers in Mission, and serve for one or two years. About 30 of our missionaries are full-time, long-term missionaries, like me, who serve for three or more years overseas.

Did you notice that I mentioned we – the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society, a Church with more than 2 million members – have only 80 missionaries?

What has happened to us?

Why are we, as a Church, not supporting more people who are willing to go to the ends of the earth to preach the Gospel?

Well, there are a variety of reasons, from a bad economy (a most recent development) to a growing interest in short-term missions to a decision that perhaps full-time, long-term missionaries no longer are needed.

Whatever the reason, the fact remains: We have too little money invested, as a Church, in preaching the Gospel in all of God’s very good creation.

But if each of us gave a mere 80 cents per person per year, we could double the size of our full-time missionary corps, and go to that many more places, doing that much more of God’s work among God’s beloved children.

I related this fact to a small parish in the Diocese of Southwestern Virginia, St. Luke’s in Hot Springs. This parish has been supporting me, along with many other parishes and individuals, as a full-time missionary in Sudan. I was with this parish in late May, and we were talking about how we were going to continue working together on God’s mission, now that I am not in Sudan any longer. I mentioned that we don’t have enough missionaries, and that it costs nothing – nothing – to fix that problem.

“Eighty cents per person per year,” I said. “That’s all it takes.” Light bulbs began to go off over people’s head at that moment, although I have to admit, I missed them.

But by the next morning, I couldn’t avoid seeing them. Members of St. Luke’s started phone calling and e-mailing, and by Monday afternoon, a new mission had formed for them:

They would lead the effort. They would challenge the entire Episcopal Church to participate in “The 80-Cent Solution for World Mission.” They would coordinate the whole thing, help get out the word, send a resolution to General Convention, work with the Church’s treasurer to get the right kind of account set up so that money coming in could only go to new missionary endeavors.

By Monday night, the people at St. Luke’s had asked another small parish, Christ Episcopal in Buena Vista, Va., to co-sponsor the effort. Within days, invitations went out to two other small parishes, St. John’s in Glasgow, Va., and Good Shepherd in Blue Grass, Va. All four of these parishes qualify as small congregations, with average Sunday attendance at 40 or fewer people. But their small size isn’t deterring them from taking on this large task.

Within two weeks, all four parishes had signed on, and were gathering support from other parishes.

Their idea is that because they are small parishes from a small, rural diocese, they best represent the mustard seed approach to mission. Like that small seed, they intend to grow and grow and grow, until not only the birds of the air but the entire Church can nest in its spreading branches.

The 80-Cent Solution for World Mission is simple: Each person gives 80 cents per year. The money is collected by parishes and sent directly to the Church Center in New York, where it goes into a trust fund that can be used only for new missionaries. The money is not intended to support current missionaries, who are in the triennial budget (although they deserve more support, too). No, this effort is geared toward returning the Church to its historic roots as a mission church. Not a mission-oriented church, but a church that exists explicitly to spread the Gospel to the ends of the earth. That’s what the Episcopal Church used to do … we used to have hundreds of missionaries out there. Now, there are only 80.

Already, we’ve been asked: Exactly what would all these new missionaries do? They would go forth, on behalf of the entire Episcopal Church, to preach the Gospel, care for those in need, feed the hungry, give water to the thirsty, visit the sick and those in prison. They would teach and build and most important, they would be present, showing the Episcopal Church’s love for all of God’s very good creation.

What does the 80-Cent Solution for World Mission mean to those who give? It means they, too, can be the missionaries they are called to be. They, too, can go out into the world, through these missionaries, and partner with their brothers and sisters in Christ around the world, people who are related to them not by the blood of their birth but by the waters of their baptism.

We are all, by definition, missionaries. Jesus told us that. Our very name as a Church tells us that.

All it takes is 80 cents – per person – per year – to participate in this answer to the Great Commission.

If you or your parish would like to learn more about this grass-roots program, or want to participate, contact Jean Seymour at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, Hot Springs, Va., via e-mail:

It will only cost you 80 cents.

The Rev. Lauren R. Stanley is an Appointed Missionary of The Episcopal Church. For the last four years, she has been serving in Sudan. In August, she begins her new assignment in Haiti.

Change or wither

By Nigel J. Taber-Hamilton

We Christians face an uncertain future. Not just those of us who are Episcopalian – all Christians. All Christians and especially those of us who live in the North Atlantic Community, the old First and Second Worlds.

The evidence is overwhelming – dramatic shifts in human identity and understanding have been taking place for a very long time, and the pace of change has picked up very significantly in the last fifty years. A paradigm-shift is taking place and the Church is swept up in it. No one – no faith community – is immune. The truth is that the future will be very different than the present, and will require a dramatically different way of being “church” if we are to last more than a couple of decades into the 21st Century.

Throughout our culture old patterns of relationship, old iterations of institutional identity, old ways of believing are passing away.

They are not passing away easily. Retreats into absolutism, hierarchy, and paternalism abound, especially in Mainline faith traditions.

In many ways deep denial exists in all corners of faith communities. Denial no only among those who seek to retrench, who believe it is possible to turn back the tidal wave, but also among those who have some awareness that change is inevitable, but believe that, in the interests of community and unity, the change needs to be – can be – managed.

When tidal waves arrive it does not matter what groups and individuals believe – whether they are in denial, or are being co-dependent – they are all going to be washed away.

The Episcopal Church faces just such a time.

All Mainline denominations face this dramatically different future, of course. We share the path with other Mainline denominations, such as the Presbyterians and Methodists and the ELCA Lutherans, seeking to respond to these dramatic changes.

We flatter ourselves if we think the world is watching us while we decide how to embrace the inevitable future – and make no mistake, it is inevitable. On the whole, the world outside does not really care very much – most folk are struggling with their own issues and responses.

The world outside could care, of course. It could care if it sees a faith tradition not just struggling with these issues that are metaphors for the change but responding in healthy ways.

Whether we should be concerned about the response of contemporary society is an open question, but it is also moot. The changes will happen whether we like it or not.

Now, at General Convention, we face decisions about one such metaphor for change. What will we do?

As we decide we need to remember that the blessing of same-sex unions or the consecration of those persons who are in committed same-sex relationships is not the issue in front of us but simply a presenting event of the deeper struggle over the future – just as the ordination of women to priesthood and episcopate has been.

It is time to move on.

All change results in loss, and it is, perhaps anticipatory loss that most of all drives those who resist change. While it is important – vital – for all of us to offer compassionate responses to those experiencing profound loss it is not for us to be co-dependent.

We cannot make any decision based on what others might (probably will) do.

We cannot betray good and holy Christians because of what others claim about their identities – claims we know to be – at the least – questionable.

We cannot allow those who claim the exclusive right to interpret biblical truth to control how we understand biblical truth.

And we cannot allow those who claim some authority – even as a first among equals – to influence our decision-making solely through their role.

Were we to do any of these things – were we to continue down the same, appeasing path – we betray our own faith, we betray the way we have come to be faithful Episcopal Christians, we betray Jesus.

Nigel J. Taber-Hamilton is rector of St. Augustine's-in-the-woods Episcopal Church on Whidbey Island, Washingtonand a former alternate deputy to General Convention. Contact him at

Meanwhile in England: FoCA on the rise

By Adrian Worsfold

Today a new group will be launched in the UK called the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans (FCA). It is the organisational expression of the Global Anglican Future Conference (GAFCON) in the UK.

It is a group that without doubt intends to legitimise some bishops in the English, Scottish, Welsh and Irish Anglican Churches and attempt to delegitimise others. A parallel group, the Fellowship of Confessing Churches, using the Jerusalem Declaration's words as relevant, has already got to work on the (Presbyterian) Church of Scotland. Combined with the self-selecting Primates Council, and the decision making that takes place behind that, this FCA is a grouping that is not just another Anglican pressure group (of which Anglican Evangelicals have plenty) but one with the potential to provide international oversight. In other words, entryism always leads eventually to replacement. Replacement is what has happened in the US and Canada, rather too quickly, in terms of a province of GAFCON, but entryism comes as a threat and the threat is realised in institutional difference - usually by the effective collapse of an institution and its decision making centres into the entryist's arms.

Entryism needs to be explained. It comes from Trotsky and his French turn in 1934 when he dissolved the ineffective Communist League to join into the more successful French Section of the Workers' International (SFIO). In other words, a small, unrepresentative and otherwise unsuccessful group burrows itself into a more moderate and broader successful organisation, and its own leadership acts to bend the larger host in its direction. A few 'Intellectuals' choose the strategy that ought to influence the ballast of workers' organisations. The best example is more recent in the political memory of the UK. Militant Tendency was a hardline Trotskyite group that placed its people wherever it could throughout the Labour Party in order to influence its policy direction. Militant was never going to attract support openly for itself, so it hoped to draw on the habitual popular Labour vote and manipulate expressions of socialism towards its own purist brand. However, despite always the need for tactical flexibility, its inevitable confrontational tactics both within the party and in society meant that a Labour Party wishing to moderate itself to be re-elected had to root out Militant and expose them to their own political existence. Once it was removed from the host it soon died.

Incidentally, the entryist group, despite the need for secrecy, deception and flexible footwork, often makes howling errors, and the most obvious is the leaking of actual intentions around all the presentation.

Conservative Evangelicals have been a small part of US Episcopalian life and they are also small in the Church of England (and smaller still in the Church in Wales and the Scottish Episcopalian Church). In order to raise their power and influence they have essentially gone abroad; they have used the idea of the Anglican Communion, but selectively: going south and then part of that south, that is within Africa for their ballast. Inventing international oversight and criticising 'Anglican nationalism', they have intended to start directing the Evangelical traffic their way. They have also co-opted, temporarily, the most strident (and transient) end of traditionalist Anglo-Catholicism. This is a grouping already defensive and marginal that will have nowhere to go but out when the British Anglican Churches start ordaining women bishops. It adds weight - adds the appearance of breadth despite consisting of two extremes. Such a sharp division is there in the rushed US/ Canadian replacement strategy.

Back in 2006 a leading British Conservative Evangelical made a defining speech of the Religious Trotskyite entryism that is now being launched in the UK . Richard Turnbull was clear that Evangelical identity had to be made correctly defined before it could be successful, and this of course was in the context of continuing divisions in UK Anglican evangelicalism between what are called Conservative and Open Evangelicals. Turnbull was clear that the first target had to be what he called Liberal Evangelicals, and this means Open Evangelicals (they don't themselves use the term 'liberal' for fairly obvious reasons). He talked about the "strategic nature" of theological colleges. Indeed, as a new Principal of one of them, he was active in staff replacement when many Open Evangelicals found themselves going elsewhere. Only when the Open Evangelicals are marginalised will the real enemy be tackled, the Liberals proper. He gave this view in typical reverse-speak or mirror language that the skillful political operator used in groups like Militant (that is, accuse the other of doing what you need to do):

I need, also want to warn against the nature of liberalism within our own midst. What I mean by that is this whole idea of what it means to be evangelical being broadened so that it encompasses everybody and everything. If the liberals seek to capture the theological colleges in order to exercise strategic influence, the first step will be to encourage liberal evangelicals to capture the evangelical colleges. And I just want to draw that challenge to your attention and not overlook it and not to think all is well.

He said as well:

I view the post [of Principal] as strategic because it will allow influence to be brought to bear upon generations of the ministry. Now, you put yourself in the shoes of the liberals and you capture the theological colleges and you have captured the influence that is brought to bear upon generations of future ministers.

Recently leading Open Evangelicals have been writing much more definitely on their opposition to the stance of FCA. Their question is why the FCA should be set up now, when (from the viewpoint of Open Evangelicals) the Church of England is not like The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada. There is something naive, even deliberately naive in the question, because they already know the answer. GAFCON happened and the FCA is intending to frame the evangelical agenda!

Two articles have recently appeared on the Fulcrum (Open Evangelical) website that are clearly opposed to the FCA despite the apparent shared headline evangelicalism. One is by the new Bishop of Sherborne (promoted by an Affirming Catholic diocesan bishop and with a fascinating consecration sermon given by a theology textbook theologian) and another by one of those ordained theology teachers who left Richard Turnbull's theology college, Andrew Goddard. In my view, one of the best articles on this division with Open Evangelicals has come very recently from a certain Rev. Charles Raven, one of the Conservative Evangelicals who represents the potential nature of the entryism/ replacement to come. It is a very good explanation of why FCA will want to spread its tentacles into the UK from the Western Conservative Evangelical 'intellectuals' and the ballast in Africa and pick people off into its own membership who might now be at the more conservative end of Open Evangelicalism - in other words to make Open Evangelicalism more institutional, more liberal and therefore to be opposed, and move towards becoming an evangelical rump.

Charles Raven himself is a most interesting character. The previous Bishop of Worcester was opposed to the manner and result of George Carey's badly-handled and over-excited Lambeth Conference of 1998 and the resolution that was Lambeth 1:10. This evangelical priest and his church decided to dissociate from his variant bishop, at which in all effect he was told to go. His congregation did not take the property! This now independent Anglican is fully part of FCA, and of course he would be inside any replacement Church ACNA-style. Note how he writes (and does so consistently) against 'Liberal Evangelicalism' and the stance of Fulcrum, the Archbishop of Canterbury and even the Evangelical Bishop Tom Wright. I think this most recent of articles is one of his best and is as revealing as the Turnbull lecture of 2006.

Let's be clear. This all-guiding 'Jeruslalem Declaration' was prepared and leaked before the GAFCON conference made it apparently its own. The plan was ready and unfolded, and a small number of people take the real decisions. The FCA is not going to be another pressure group, or seek to engage in another split. It won't take in members to divide it or change its agenda. It aims first and foremost to weaken away Open Evangelicalism. With the Catholic traditionalists gone (leaving those Affirming Catholics that are anyway regarded as 'liberals') the FCA intends to be an organisation to take on the liberals proper, whatever their institutional position, to divert funds, to move people, and to undermine a whole Church. If you don't replace a Church by a parallel one, and then try and suck people over, you do it from within, weakening and dislodging until the rot you intend to bring about falls into your hands, and then it is all yours.

As GAFCON said about itself, these folks are revolutionaries and they mean business. Anyone with any sense would do all they can to stop them. That's what the Labour leader did with the Militant Tendency, but the Archbishop of Canterbury has compromised with them and grinds on with the cold "glacier" of the Anglican Convenant proposal, about which the GAFCON people have blown hot and cold as it suited them - making the surface as slippery as possible for all these institutional people

Adrian Worsfold (Pluralist), has a doctorate in sociology and a masters degree in contemporary theology. He lives near Hull, in northeast England and keeps the blog Pluralist Speaks.

The God of open water

By Greg Jones

I am basically a first-class coward when it comes to boats on open water in bad weather. My grandparents sent me to sailing camp in Maine for years as a boy, and most of the time I dreaded it. On the Maine coast, where we sailed, we were on a large bay at the foot of the Appalachian Mountains, and the winds would just come whipping down and cause all sorts of trouble. Seems like we capsized our sail boats all the time.

We used to have drills where you'd have to jump in the freezing Maine water, fully dressed, and swim under a boat and come up on the other side, or swim under a capsized-sail, or take your pants off and tie the legs closed, and wave 'em in the air to create a make-shift life preserver. We had to get up early at one camp and swim 'Polar Bears' -- from dock to dock in freezing water.

All of this was sort of cool in retrospect, but at the time I was pretty scared most through most of it.

I remember at one camp, in addition to ragged long hikes through the mountains -- which I liked a lot more -- we also went on very long canoe trips in the Maine wilderness. When I was 12 or 13, we took a hundred-mile plus trip across river and lake, up near Canada -- and I almost died of hypothermia.

Yes, I was in my canoe with another kid in the scariest thunder storm ever, with giant waves, and literally miles to go, and I thought I was done. The boy supposedly steering our canoe had pretty much become catatonic from fear behind me, and there I was just paddling for dear life trying to drag us both to the other side of the shore. Our little flotilla of other canoes had become scattered, and the lead canoe was WAY ahead.

I recall looking overboard and contemplating jumping in -- somehow thinking that this would be preferable. I recall vividly staring at the water next to my gunnel, and considering how relaxing it would feel to just jump in. I was on the edge of hysteria, for sure.

What brought me back, was a song; a little song I learned at St. Columba's in Washington, D.C. when I was about 8 or 9 years old. Written in 1977 by Carey Landry, "Abba Father," saved my life. I sang it over and over until we made it, to the shore on the other side.

I say that little song got me through...but really, what happened was, God did. Yes, God got me to shore on the other side. Sure, I still had to paddle, but it was God that got me through. That's what I believe.

And aren't we all in situations like this -- one way or another? Aren't we all on the edge of hysteria sometimes, with fear of -- well -- death? Ours, or somebody we love's? Like the disciples on that lake that day -- aren't we all afraid of death? And isn't our response so often to go through life like that kid at the back of my canoe --- in a trance-like state, dragging our paddles, largely unresponsive?

Rings true for me anyway, even still. That is -- that is -- until remember that the Son of God is on this boat with us.

Until we remember that he is on this boat with us, our fear of the deep cannot be quelled. Sure, there are times when it looks like God is sleeping. After all, Genesis says pretty clearly that the Lord rested on the seventh day, and who knows, maybe that should be understood quite literally. But I don't believe that. No, I believe that God will get us through to the other side.

And that though we will be rocked by wind and wave, and we will have lots to fear, and that death is sure, God will guide us through. We need to keep on paddling, but the Son of God will get us to his eternal shore.

The Rev. Samuel Gregory Jones ('Greg') is rector of St. Michael's in Raleigh, N.C. and the bass player in indie-rock band The Balsa Gliders — whose fourth studio release is available on iTunes. He blogs at Anglican Centrist.

The great gift of grandchildren

By Margaret M. Treadwell

“Being a grandparent is the only condition on earth not overrated,” a newly minted grandfather declared. A decade later, he still acknowledges the mystical bond he shares with each grandchild, but muses that the condition isn’t always predictable and covers a wide breadth, as do other relationships. He tries not to take personally perceived slights and neglect now that his grandkids have grown older. What are the views of other grandparents who have gleaned their wisdom through trial and error?

One woman started a Grandmother’s Group where one member, a former head of school, mentors them through rough spots like inter-grandparental jealousies, the different ways not to give advice, how to strategize long distance grandparenting or just say “no” to grandchildren living nearby.

On a recent trip to care for her three grandsons, a friend reported that she experimented with four simple concepts during her time with them:
• Be present
• Never rush your grandchild
• Play
• See what grandchildren can teach you rather than vice versa

She is the eldest child in her family and has found that her oldest grandson has a harder time than the other little ones. “He gives me an opportunity to do things better than I did as a parent. When I’m with him, he teaches me about myself and my first-born son,” she says. She believes everyone suffers from attention deficit, so she gives each grandson one-on-one time doing exactly what they want to do (if it doesn’t cost money). “What’s the matter with ice cream every day after school or golf in the snow?” she chuckles.

When I asked a step-grandmother how her stepdaughters and their children became so fond of her, she explained, “It was mostly their father who involved his daughters in the death of their mother. They heard her say to him, ‘Make sure in choosing a new companion that our daughters have a say.’ What helped most with the grandchildren was their mothers’ decisions to incorporate me into their lives early on; it didn’t matter by the time they were born whether I was a ‘step.’ ” She acknowledges the situation would be more difficult – but not impossible – with a divorce.

A social worker said, “If you’ve loved your children and they’ve grown into healthy, well-adjusted adults, you can’t make many mistakes as a grandparent. It comes from multigenerational models of good parenting. Our children watched me include my parents in their upbringing, and my mother used to say, ‘don’t just talk about it; set a good example!’ I’ve tried to pass that along in my work to less fortunate families.”

How best for grandparents to function when there’s a crisis in the family? One set of grandparents who raised their grandson while his mother struggled with substance abuse told the story of falling in love with the baby at their first meeting and how they had worked to be an oasis of calm. Their key as he has grown up is never to assume primacy in his life or say anything against his parents.

What about the worst possible experience of losing a grandchild? Grandparents invited their pregnant daughter, son-in-law and 3-year-old granddaughter to live in their home upon their return to the Washington area. When the baby was born compromised genetically, mentally and physically, the family set about loving, supporting and simultaneously setting appropriate boundaries with each other as the parents grappled with the question of extraordinary measures to keep him alive. With the help of doctors, they decided that the baby would go home with hospice care, and the family invited the other set of grandparents to come and stay with them during the 10 days before he died so that everyone had a chance to say goodbye.

A close friend spoke about the baby’s death in the context of his entire family during the lovingly planned funeral. When she had finished and beautiful music filled the space, the small granddaughter spontaneously rose, walked to the front and began to dance, slowly at first and then with energy and purpose. How she comforted the congregation with her unconscious message, “Life is for the living and will carry on!” Multigenerational healing continues since her parents had the faith and courage to conceive another baby full of happy health and the family emerges stronger from their suffering.

One of the most fulfilled grandmothers revealed her secret mantra for her grandchildren: “Leave them alone.” Then she confessed to a careful balance between involvement and disengagement, keeping her own creative life thriving rather than letting her children or grandchildren become her sole focus.

Margaret M. (“Peggy”) Treadwell, LCSW -C, has been active in the fields of education and counseling for thirty-five years. Following a long association with Dr. Edwin H. Friedman, during which she served on his faculty, she co-edited and helped posthumously publish his book, A Failure of Nerve: Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix.

Faith that is stronger than an iron curtain

By Martin L. Smith

I was clearing out a drawer the other day and came across a stray slide from my travels to Russian and Ukraine in 1972. At this time the state was still relentlessly choking the churches to death with every kind of constraint and harassment and subjecting the entire population to atheist propaganda. Seeing the picture of myself as a rather nervous young man sporting his first moustache, I remembered my feelings of terror as I passed through customs in Leningrad with 20 copies of the New Testament in Russian concealed in my luggage, and my relief at getting away with my smuggling. It wasn’t until I reached Yalta that I finally passed them on, at the church where my grandparents had met. I suppose that impulse arose out of a grateful sense that I wouldn’t be here if my grandmother hadn’t left the family dacha to go to the service there one Sunday in 1914 and been noticed admiringly by my vacationing grandfather. But I could have left them in a church anywhere, since the state permitted so few Bibles to be printed that they were desperately sought after by spiritually parched Christians.

It’s hard for us to imagine the straits to which the church was reduced. Every kind of overt Christian activity was banned except the holding of church services. And what was most demoralizing were the consequences of the KGB policy of infiltrating its agents into the clergy at every level, from bishop to parish priest, in order to sap the church’s strength from within. Regular applicants to the few seminaries permitted to limp on were vetted to weed out the strong and bring forward the shaky, whose vulnerabilities could be exploited in due time. I remember comparing notes with an old mentor of mine, Dr. Nicholas Zernov, after he had returned from a visit. He told me he had visited a parish in Moscow and noticed after the service that everyone seemed to be very friendly to the young priest who had just been the chief celebrant, while coldly ignoring an elderly priest who had assisted. He asked one of the ladies of the congregation why this was so, and she replied that their new parish priest was an atheist KGB agent who had been planted on them, while the old priest was beloved, a man of God to his fingertips—but if they had appeared in any way to favor him, he would have been taken away.

Imagine worshipping week by week in the calm certainty that your parish priest had made hypocrisy a career and was a cynical enemy of the church! Perhaps we wouldn’t have the kind of faith that believed that the mystery of the Eucharist so entirely depended on the living action of the Holy Spirit that the celebrant might actually be an atheist and it wouldn’t matter!

Few people, however hard they prayed back then in support of their suffering fellow Christians behind the Iron Curtain, who had endured decades of persecution, could have predicted the reversal that lay just ahead. Now the churches are in full spate of revival, and it is the vast machinery of atheist propaganda and materialist ideology that has come crashing down into ruins. Not all is rosy: Russian Orthodoxy is always in danger of trying to gain a spiritual monopoly and revert to old authoritarian ways. But the historic reversal is staggering in its irony and its scale.

I think about these things under the heading: The Astounding Resilience of the Christian Faith. And they feed my reflections on a noticeable recent phenomenon, an outburst of books furiously denouncing religion as a toxic relic of the past and extolling the saving power of atheism. We all have seen them piled up in the mass market bookstores. Even those whose writers have the most intellectual credentials display a remarkably similar tone to those that are more propagandistic. They are strikingly shrill and caustic. They vigorously repudiate any kind of empathy with the religious impulse.

The content of these books have much to say that Christians must both hear and answer. But the tone is also fascinating in itself. Perhaps it is one sign that secularists are in fact baffled and exasperated by the fertility and resilience of religion. Shrewd observers are already talking of our contemporary world as the scene for a “crisis of secularism.” Those who dreamed that enlightened reason and science would be winning the day by now have to face a great deal of evidence that they have been just dreaming. In reality, spiritual belief and practice is proving to be globally resilient. The scathing tone of this “new atheism” might be the symptom of insecurity and frustration, rather than the confidence of those who have victory in their sights.

Martin L. Smith is a well-known spiritual writer and priest. He is the senior associate rector at St. Columba’s, D.C.

A shift in consciousness

By Frank Dunn

Church and society seem to be stuck on issues of human sexuality. Washington, DC, now faces a controversy regarding whether to sanction marriages for partners of the same sex.

Accustomed as they are to being the gatekeepers of marriage, Christians are likely either to favor or to oppose such marriages as a matter of morality. It is a moral issue, but not necessarily for the reasons that proponents or opponents frequently state.

Our ideas of what is moral have roots in large frameworks that include what we think is true and what we believe to be the consequences of human action. These “frameworks” are structures of consciousness. While the debate rages between the notion of eternal rightness of marriage between one man and one woman and the belief in the justice of extending civil benefits of marriage to partners of the same sex, we perhaps miss what is happening all around the debate. For in the bigger picture, the “framework” itself is changing. A new consciousness is clearly emerging.

This new consciousness is far deeper than any one issue. In general, a shift is happening in the direction from competition towards cooperation, from nationalism to global connectedness, from “scientific” rationalism to a re-appropriation of myth and symbol, from insistence on cultural conformity towards honoring dissidents, from exclusivity to a greater toleration, indeed appreciation, of differences. At the center of the new consciousness is a reassessment of the place of the individual in community, including the worth that societies assign to individuals and communities.

Shifts like the present one can sometimes be dated, such as 476 CE when the Roman Empire collapsed. Another shift came in 1492, when Columbus discovered the New World. Still another came on November 24, 1859, when Darwin published The Origin of Species. We can point to a cluster of developments that have ushered it in the present shift. One was the summer of 1989 when thousands of East Germans went on vacation and refused en masse to return home but flooded into Hungary, Austria, and West Germany, thus effectively beginning the fall of European communist domination. Another was the appearance of the internet as a popular means of connection and communication, in or about 1995.

Human beings evince a tremendous reluctance to become a conscious species. Whether we are going to participate in the shift, or wait it out, or spend our energies joining the forces of reaction (always an integral part of a shift) is a live question for the Church. Religious communities are among the best—maybe among the only—places where people can gather to look intently at the implications of deep cultural changes affecting the entire planet.

Some of the dimensions involved in the emerging consciousness are
 the transition from top-down leadership to dispersed leadership
 profound exploration into the nature and location of authority
 growing understanding of the interrelatedness of everything on the planet
 communication enabling immediate interpersonal and political connection
 limitations of free-market capitalism to solve world economic problems
 re-emergence of the Feminine and its effect on the exercise of power
 awareness that a finite supply of oil dictates re-thinking energy
 boundaries of power and the failure of coercion.

None of these things taken singly is new, with the possible exception of the revolution in communication. But together they are forcing us to confront the fact that some of our cherished narratives, such as the notion of the exclusive appropriateness of heterosexual marriage, are inadequate to address the multiformity of human experience in the 21st century.

There is gospel in all of this. While many narratives, including those believed by some Christians (e. g., “marriage has always been between one man and one woman”), are headed for the dust bin, the core of our faith is that God can never be contained in any cultural or creedal formulation. And at the heart of our Story are the words to shepherds, to disciples, and to grieving women: “Fear not.” As a people, we keep celebrating Easter and Pentecost, affirming not only a Risen Lord who does not abandon us to muddle through on our own, but a Holy Spirit—God present among us here and now—guiding us into all Truth.

That message is one that might not only comfort us but inspire us to help shape the conversation around a rapidly changing earth, beginning in our own assemblies of faith.

The Rev. Frank Dunn is senior priest at St. Stephen and the Incarnation Episcopal Church in Washington, D. C.

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