Ready, set, ...

by Marshall Scott

Well, it's almost here. In a few days, we'll be getting started. Let's get started.

Of course, I'm referring to General Convention. Much has been written about the debates and decisions of Convention, and those are important. Still, there are other aspects of Convention that I'm more conscious of. I don't know that they're more important, but they're more immediately real, if you will.

The first is simply that the days are long. Legislative committees start their work at 7:00 a.m. Evening events run until 9:00 p.m. or later. In between, there will be the Eucharist, legislative sessions, and other meetings. If you're organized, there will be lunch and/or dinner over which business will be done. There might be time spent at the Registration and Certification booth. There will also be a lot of walking; but more about that in a minute. The point is the days are long and full, running to sixteen hours or so.

And there will be lots of walking. Convention centers are the only places large enough to hold our regular gathering. (Over the years there has been discussion about college campuses; but if you think about it you’ll see that it wouldn’t change the distances we need to walk.) So, even when hotels are close – indeed, even when they’re attached – there will be lots of walking. For almost two weeks, thousands of Episcopalians will be power-walking, as it were, because most of us will be carrying some additional weight – cases with laptops, armloads of paper, bags of stuff from the Exhibit Hall. This year it will be somewhat less, because the Blue Book is available electronic, and many of us will have downloaded it to the device we plan to use. That’s a good seven or eight pounds saved there. On the other hand, there will still be the printed forms of resolutions as they come from legislative committees, and as they get reviewed and revised in debate, and as they show up on the agenda. Too, we will be walking fast. With all those activities and all that distance, getting where one needs to be won’t allow for much leisurely strolling. So, yes, we’ll be power-walking.

There will be new ideas and new information. I have long said that any Episcopalian who can should try to spend at least a day or two at a General Convention. More especially, as much as I value the discussions in the two Houses, I think every Episcopalian should see the Exhibit Hall. In the Exhibit Hall an Episcopalian will see a breadth and diversity in the ministries of the Church that few would ever imagine. Where else would most Episcopalians get a chance to meet Episcopal religious, whether at the booth of the Conference on Anglican Religious Orders in the Americas (CAROA), or with the National Association of Episcopal Christian Communities (NAECC)? Where would folks learn about the Kiyosato Educational Experiment Project (K.E.E.P.); or about the Anglican Communion Office at the United Nations, or the Bishop of the Armed Services and Federal Ministries, or so many other ministries that are part of the life of our Church?

I continue to see the Spirit working in the Exhibit Hall, too, in that organizations on opposite sides of a given issue will often find themselves on opposite sides of the same land on the Exhibit Hall floor – or at least within line of sight and earshot of each other. In years past that would have been Associated Parishes and the Evangelical and Catholic Mission; or Associated Parishes and the American Anglican Council (yeah, I realize how that dates me). It will be interesting to see how that works out this year.

There will certainly be worship. The daily Eucharist is an interesting experience, introducing participants to new texts and new hymns. Yes, I’ve struggled sometimes with worshipping in another language. That seems only fair, and at least a small taste of how my siblings from other cultures can experience worshipping with me. More to the point, once again we see a breadth that most of us do not regularly experience. We hear - more, we have the opportunity to participate in – worship in Spanish and French and Creole and Lokata and Mandarin. I don’t think we touch on all the languages in which Episcopalians worship, nor that we even try to do that perfectly. However, it becomes another living experience of just how broad is our life together in the Episcopal Church.

There will be opportunities to participate that many folks don’t know about. When legislative committees meet to discuss resolutions, meetings include time set aside to hear people testify about the topics. And while we talk about the participation of Bishops and Deputies serving on those committees, anyone registered with the Convention can testify. That includes Bishops and Deputies, certainly; but it also includes Exhibitors, Volunteers, and Visitors. Indeed, to be a Visitor is a registered option, with access to all the activities of Convention, from early Committee meetings to daily Eucharist to the galleries of both the Houses of Deputies and Bishops to the Open Hearings about particularly important issues. And anyone can volunteer. Indeed, the Convention runs on Volunteers. They will handle registration and assist with exhibits and serve in the Houses. Episcopalians have opportunities to participate in the structures of our Church governance of which few are aware.

And most importantly, there will be people. There will be friends new and old and unexpected. Some time ago, when asked what brought Anglicans together, Bishop Desmond Tutu said, “We meet!” The value of General Convention is perhaps most powerfully in the many connections that get made and sustained. Some of those connections are expressed in the legislative work, certainly. More, though, are expressed in the new thoughts and insights we gain as we walk and talk and eat and worship with folks we haven’t met before, or haven’t seen in years. We are a Church for which the Incarnation is a central theme; and there is no experience like discovering the Episcopal Church incarnated in all those many and varied and different and interesting people.

These are the facts, the experiences of General Convention that have meant the most to me. Yes, expressing the mind and the will of the Episcopal Church through the legislative process is important. I wouldn’t have run to be a Deputy if I thought it wasn’t. But it’s all these other experiences that make General Convention rich and moving for me. It’s these experiences that I would encourage every Episcopalian to pursue, whenever the General Convention seems at all within reach. These are the things that have drawn me again and again throughout my years in the Church.

And now it’s almost time! So, let’s get started.

The Rev. Marshall Scott is a hospital chaplain in 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.

Baptism and Communion: identity and inclusion

by Maria L. Evans

"Scripture itself provides no unambiguous or explicit guidelines on the question of communion of the unbaptized. It could be argued that the question never arose. However, baptism clearly plays an important and foundational role in the community that gathered around John the Baptist and later Jesus."
--Tobias Haller, BSG, from the book, Water, Bread and Wine: Should we offer communion to people before they are baptized?

Hopefully, the statute of limitations has run out on what I'm about to confess. Many of my best friends growing up were Roman Catholic, and when I would go to Mass with them, I went through a period where I became more and more curious about "just what was in that Sacrament from which I was excluded"--and more in more intent on getting it in my mouth to see just what the fuss was all about. So, I enlisted the help of one of my friends, whom I was pretty sure he would not worry much about being consigned to Hell for being the accomplice in my scheme. It was a subterfuge that only a pair of adolescents would think was plausible (or even desirable,) and we pulled it off with all the finesse of the theft of the Crown Jewels. He was to go up for Communion like always. When the bread was popped into his mouth, he was not to swallow it, but bring it back in his mouth and deposit it in my hand while he was kneeling in post-Communion prayer, and I could see for myself. (I always knelt with him during his post-Communion prayer, even though I wasn't post-anything.) The fact that it was slightly tinged with the sip of wine he consumed, and a little soggy from his slobber didn't seem to matter. I had eaten from the table from which I was excluded.

I doubt the church in Rome would have been too happy about me, but I'm pretty sure Jesus chuckled.

Now, my story isn't really an exact parallel to the question raised in the book from which I quoted above (I was baptized, but in another faith tradition,) but it does illustrate the level of desire the Sacraments induce in people, and the more I read the various opinions "for" and "against" Communion Before Baptism, the more I'm convinced this is not a question that needs to be answered this week. If I have one criticism of this book (and it's worth a read, if you haven't read it) it is that the premise of the title itself frames for debate rather than discussion. The title asks the reader to say "yes" or "no" to the question, but after reading this book, I think I can say "yes" to every single person's essay in this book, no matter which "side" they were asked to champion. There's another parallel in real life. Most of us would say baptism and catechesis is important--very important--in framing our understanding of our rich Anglican traditions. Yet most of us also know that this issue is the equivalent of "don't ask, don't tell" in the Episcopal Church. Everyone in the process for ordination knows what the "right answer" is in front of the diocesan Commission on Ministry, but we also know this canon is broken all the time, and for many plausible reasons. Sara Miles' book Take this Bread is a perfect example of how the Sacraments have power within themselves to change people in a way we can only hope formal catechesis changes them.

In short, it's a balancing act between identity and inclusion.

Perhaps the real task before us in the Episcopal Church is to meet the challenge of how to change the canon to hold it all--to make it clear that baptism is the fundamental statement of community in the Christian faith, yet at the same time leaving room to let priests be priests, rather than bouncers, and to free them from the fear of canonical and ecclesiastical persecution by a hypothetically capricious bishop. It should not--and does not--have to be a situation where priests are held in tension between two aspects of their vows--to "conform to the doctrine, discipline, and worship of the Episcopal Church" while they simultaneously endeavor to "minister the Word of God and the sacraments of the New Covenant," and to "be a faithful pastor to all whom they are called to serve." After all, being a faithful pastor has elements of all three.

Our canons are not set in stone--we have changed them many times in the life of this church. Nor is the path to the Eucharistic table. It was only until the 1979 Prayer book came along that we fully changed from being a confirmation-minded community to a baptismal-minded one in terms of how we saw access to the Eucharistic table. We've paid a lot of attention to the Eucharistic table in our Anglican tradition, and rightly so. In the secular world, whether it's on vacation, or during a hospital stay, or during our years in school, the one thing we react to most viscerally and sticks with us the longest are our feelings about the food. Our holy food and drink deserves no less attention.

Maria Evans, a surgical pathologist from Kirksville, MO, writes about the obscurities of life, medicine, faith, and the Episcopal Church on her blog, Kirkepiscatoid

Sacramental Theology 101: Baptism and Eucharist

by Derek Olsen

The Episcopal Church is a big-tent organization when it comes to theology. This is often a good thing as it allows a whole bunch of us who don’t necessarily agree on everything to come together, worship, and proclaim Jesus together in the world. On the other hand, when we do need to sit down and sort something out theologically, we’re sometimes at a loss for how to do it because of a fundamental lack of agreement about terms. This has been my experience around the “Communion without Baptism” debate. I come to the table from a Prayer Book Catholic perspective; certain words, terms, and ideas mean certain things to me and those with whom I live and worship. But when I talk with other Episcopalians, I sometimes get the sense that we’re talking past one another due to a lack of shared conceptual framework.

The “big tent” brings us together despite our differences; but can it help us understand each other? Actually—I think it can…

The prime mechanism of the “big tent” is the Book of Common Prayer—this is what we use together and what does give us a set of shared expressions (even if we don’t always entirely agree on what those expressions mean!). Likewise, it contains a variety of materials that I think can assist us when we try to talk God with one another.

Towards the back of the prayer book is a catechism (pp. 845-62). It’s a brief little thing, just under twenty pages, but it provides a basic outline of the faith that is fundamental enough that all Episcopalians—no matter their party affiliation—can get behind it.

Working solely from the catechism, I’d like to explore what the prayer book says that Episcopalians believe about the sacraments—particularly Baptism and Eucharist—and see if these can help us get a better sense of the issues surrounding a church policy that programmatically ignores Baptism when it comes to eucharistic distribution.

First, a quick word about the catechism: we must note what it is, and what it isn’t. The brief introduction on p. 844 clarifies this for us: “It is a commentary on the creeds, but is not meant to be a complete statement of belief and practices; rather, it is a point of departure for the teacher…” It’s not intended to be comprehensive and there are important parts of Christian theology that it either glosses or skips over entirely. Nevertheless, being yoked to the creeds, it touches on essential points and gives us the best possible opportunity for broad buy-in.

We have to start at the very beginning and go from there:

Q. What are we by nature?
A. We are part of God's creation, made in the image of God.

Q. What does it mean to be created in the image of God?
A. It means that we are free to make choices: to love, to create, to reason, and to live in harmony with creation and with God.

Q. Why then do we live apart from God and out of harmony with creation?
A. From the beginning, human beings have misused their freedom and made wrong choices. (p. 845)

So—all humanity is created in the image of God. God loves us all. Period. Full stop. Furthermore, God wants us to “live in harmony with creation and with God.” God is attempting to reconcile us all to himself and, through that reconciliation, to the whole created order. God calls to us in a variety of ways and through a variety of means. Despite this, we find through the pages of the Old Testament that there is one particular method that God continually chooses to use in the task of reconciling humanity back to himself: the covenant.
Q. What is meant by a covenant with God?
A. A covenant is a relationship initiated by God, to which a body of people responds in faith. (p. 846)

God calls us both individually and collectively, but in particular God likes to make covenants wherein a whole body of people respond in faith. There are a number of important covenants in Scripture: God’s covenant with Noah and all flesh, the covenant with Abraham and all his descendants, the covenant with Moses and all Israel, the covenant with David.

God’s ultimate act of covenant-making, however, was a covenant made in and through the blood of Jesus and his victory over the grave:

Q. How can we share in [Jesus’s] victory over sin, suffering, and death?
A. We share in his victory when we are baptized into the New Covenant and become living members of Christ.

Q. What is the New Covenant?
A. The New Covenant is the new relationship with God given by Jesus Christ, the Messiah, to the apostles; and, through them, to all who believe in him.

Q. What did the Messiah promise in the New Covenant?
A. Christ promised to bring us into the kingdom of God and give life in all its fullness.

Q. What response did Christ require?
A. Christ commanded us to believe in him and to keep his commandments. (pp. 850-1)

Many of the early covenant communities were something that you had to be born into; the New Covenant through Jesus is different. We enter into it through Baptism.

Now—stop for a second. Look back up the page. We said at the outset of our catechism crawl that God made us all in his image, that he loves us all, and that he is seeking our full reconciliation back to him. None of that has changed here. No one is saying that God only loves the baptized. What the catechism is saying is that Baptism ushers us into a particular covenant community. As such, it is a particular community who has chosen to acknowledge a certain kind of relationship with God that both claims a specific promise from God (“a new relationship”, “coming into the kingdom of God”, “life in all its fullness”)and that in response the community takes upon itself certain obligations (“believe in [Christ]”, “keep his commandments”). Baptism, therefore, is a deliberate and public change of our relationship with God by entering into a specific covenant community.

In case there’s any question we’ll pick up this one just to connect all the dots:

Q. What is the Church?
A. The Church is the community of the New Covenant. (p. 854)

No surprise there!

Since we’re getting pretty deep into Baptism, it’s time to focus on the sacraments themselves:

Q. What are the sacraments?
A. The sacraments are outward and visible signs of inward and spiritual grace, given by Christ as sure and certain means by which we receive that grace.

Q. What is grace?
A. Grace is God's favor toward us, unearned and undeserved; by grace God forgives our sins, enlightens our minds, stirs our hearts, and strengthens our wills.

Q. What are the two great sacraments of the Gospel?
A. The two great sacraments given by Christ to his Church are Holy Baptism and the Holy Eucharist. (p. 858)

Ok, we need to be quite careful here about exactly what is and isn’t said—this is where some major confusion can come in. First, it’s worth repeating this line again: “Grace is God's favor toward us, unearned and undeserved; by grace God forgives our sins, enlightens our minds, stirs our hearts, and strengthens our wills.” (The former Lutheran in me loves this line!) Second—and this is really important—note carefully this wording: “The sacraments are…given by Christ as sure and certain means by which we receive that grace.” The key words are “sure and certain means.” What we never ever say here or intend here is that the sacraments are the only or the sole means by which God dispenses grace. To say that is truly to put God in a little box! God is free to dispense his free, unearned and undeserved gifts of grace in any way that he sees fit. It’s not our job to oversee this. What it is our job to do, however, is to “believe in him and to keep his commandments.”

What is particular about sacramental grace is that it is a “sure and certain means of grace.” We don’t know all of the ways and means and methods through which God dispenses grace—however we do know for sure that the sacraments are channels that God has given to us as a covenant community to convey his own grace. We don’t own it, but it has been promised to us, it has been given to the Church—the covenant community—that we might be stewards of it according to God’s commands.

Q. What is Holy Baptism? A. Holy Baptism is the sacrament by which God adopts us as his children and makes us members of Christ's Body, the Church, and inheritors of the kingdom of God.

. . .

Q. What is the inward and spiritual grace in Baptism?
A. The inward and spiritual grace in Baptism is union with Christ in his death and resurrection, birth into God's family the Church, forgiveness of sins, and new life in the Holy Spirit. (p. 858)

Baptism’s grace brings us into a particular instantiation of God’s family, the Church, among other things. This family is not a generic group that includes all the created but is a specific grouping of the covenant community as made clear in the identification of the communion of the saints which shares with the previous point the terminology of God’s family:
Q. What is the communion of saints?
A. The communion of saints is the whole family of God, the living and the dead, those whom we love and those whom we hurt, bound together in Christ by sacrament, prayer, and praise. (p. 862)

What distinguishes this family is precisely the bond with Christ through “sacrament” (pre-eminently Baptism) as well as “prayer, and praise.”

The Eucharist, then, is described thusly:

Q. What is the Holy Eucharist? A. The Holy Eucharist is the sacrament commanded by Christ for the continual remembrance of his life, death, and resurrection, until his coming again.

. . .

Q. What is the inward and spiritual grace given in the Eucharist?
A. The inward and spiritual grace in the Holy Communion is the Body and Blood of Christ given to his people, and received by faith.

Q. What are the benefits which we receive in the Lord's Supper?
A. The benefits we receive are the forgiveness of our sins, the strengthening of our union with Christ and one another, and the foretaste of the heavenly banquet which is our nourishment in eternal life. (pp. 859-60)

The language here is the language of building on something previous. The Eucharist is the gift to Christ’s people who are best understood not as “everybody” or “those whom Christ loves” (which is, again, “everybody”) but more specifically those “[united] with Christ in his death and resurrection, [born] into God's family the Church” (p. 858)—i.e., the baptized. Following on the language of union in Baptism is the statement that the Eucharist is a “strengthening of our union with Christ and one another” (p. 860); what was begun in Baptism is nourished and nurtured in the Eucharist. The language here concerning the Eucharist assumes Baptism in both the identification of the community and the benefits of the specific Eucharistic graces.

I would be remiss if I did not include one more section on the Eucharist:

Q. What is required of us when we come to the Eucharist?
A. It is required that we should examine our lives, repent of our sins, and be in love and charity with all people. (p. 860)

On one hand, I know that some will point out that “being baptized” is not included in this list; that’s true. However, the items on this list are not a set of ecclesial pre-conditions, but rather a set of spiritual dispositions. (Indeed, they were pretty much taken directly from the Exhortation to confession on p. 330 which itself was taken directly from earlier prayer books that explicitly required Confirmation before receiving the Eucharist.) On the other hand, while Baptism is not mentioned explicitly, we must ask ourselves if the casual un-churched attendee has had the time and opportunity for the examination and repentance directed here. Repentance for sin in particular is largely a spiritual discipline of the Church.

This having been said, I believe that we can construct from the catechism a set of basic principles around our use and practice of the sacraments that all Anglicans can agree on. I’ll number them for ease of reference:

1. God loves all who were created in his image—period.
2. God calls us to reconciliation with himself and with creation.
3. Historically, God’s preeminent channels for calling humanity to reconciliation are covenants through which covenant communities are created.
4. A covenant community is a deliberate body that has taken upon itself obligations as part of recognizing a particular relationship with God has initiated and that the community has both recognized and accepted.
5. The Church generally and the Episcopal Church specifically is a covenant community the entrance into which is Baptism.
6. Baptism is not a sign that God loves the baptized more than other people, nor is it a denial that God loves those who are not baptized. 7. Baptism is both a sign and an agent of a changed relationship with God wherein the baptized community recognizes a particular relationship with the Triune God through Baptism into the death and resurrection of Jesus and takes on the obligations that Jesus laid upon us (preeminently, to love God and love our neighbor and to keep his commandments—see p. 851)
8. Eucharist is the Body and Blood of Christ that itself points back to the Body of Christ entered into through Baptism.
9. There are sacramental graces conferred through Baptism and Eucharist that aid us in living deeper into the covenant relationship established with the Triune God through Baptism into Jesus and the on-going reception of his Body and Blood in the Eucharist.
10. Sacramental grace is not the only kind of grace there is, but is a sure and certain means of grace given to a particular covenant community for the strengthening of the bonds of that covenant.
11. Reception of the Eucharist occurs within the covenant community and within the context of the spiritual disciplines of the covenant community.
Now, as a self-professed Anglo-Catholic, there’s a whole lot more that I’d want to say and add in—but I won’t; I’m not trying to lay out an Anglo-Catholic theology of the Sacraments but a broadly Episcopal one which I can live with as can my Evangelical and Broad-Church friends.

That having been said, I can’t and won’t resist the temptation to throw out these few points:

A. The Church is the covenant community entered into through Baptism.
B. Apart from the covenant in Baptism, receiving the Eucharist just doesn’t make much sense! Why would anyone want to be strengthened in a very specific kind of relationship that they have not chosen to be a part of?
C. The call for Communion Without Baptism fundamentally confuses our understanding of both God’s love and God’s grace. People don’t need Baptism or the Eucharist to be loved by God—God already does that. Nor is the grace given in the Sacrament some kind of generic “divine good favor.” Rather, Sacramental grace is grace to better inhabit and more fully embody the covenant relationship created in Baptism.
D. I don’t control God’s grace distribution; he does that as he pleases. However the sure and certain grace in the sacrament is given to and embodied within a particular covenant community. We don’t possess it, per se, but we are stewards of it. We dispense it as we have received it—within the covenant community.
E. What we are called to do—one of those pesky commandments of Christ, in fact—is to invite people into the covenant community so that they can share in this particular relationship with God and be nurtured into reconciliation with God as we know and grasp the Triune God revealed in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20a).

Dr. Derek Olsen has a Ph.D. in New Testament and Homiletics at Emory University. Currently serving as Theologian-in-Residence at the Church of the Advent, Baltimore, he leads quiet days and is a speaker to clergy groups. He has taught seminary courses in biblical studies, preaching, and liturgics. A layman working in the IT field, Derek created and maintains the online Daily Office site The St. Bede's Breviary. His reflections on life, liturgical spirituality, and being a Gen-X/Y dad appear at Haligweorc.

Q and A with Bonnie Anderson

Episcopal Café interviewed Dr. Bonnie Anderson, President of the House of Deputies about her life and work as President. She is not seeking re-election at General Convention 2012:

Café: What was your biggest surprise?

Anderson: It never occurred to me that the existence of the House of Deputies as we know it would be in jeapordy. The liturgical life is of primary importance to me, but after that, one of the reasons I am an Episcopalian is because I believe what it says in the BCP about the ministry of the laity (page 855 of the Book of Common Prayer). The Episcopal Church since 1785 has valued the voices of all the baptized in the way we make decisions. We make decisions together, clergy, laity, bishops all. This democratic decision making occurs in every venue of our life as Episcopalians; on vestries, at diocesan conventions and General Convention. I have been surprised at, what I perceive to be, an increase in the autonomy of some bishops and the willingness of the laity to disenfranchise themselves. Clergy are in a difficult position on this one, caught between bishops and laity. Verna Dozier called the laity “the sleeping giant”. It’s time for us, the lay people, to wake up, now.

Café: What do you wish you had known before you began this ministry?

Anderson: I wish I had known that there would be no Vice President of the House of Deputies during my second term of office. With no procedure in the canons for filling the vacancy, my great plans for dividing up the ministry between the PHOD and VPHOD during the 2010-2012 triennium did not happen. There were some super volunteers who “stepped up” to help, and if not for them and my assistant, I would have been completely under water.

Café: What is the funniest thing you experienced?

Anderson: There are many really funny things that happened. Our church has a good sense of humor, most of the time. Laughing at ourselves is one of our many strengths, I think.

I was in Memphis for a meeting and I was checking into a local hotel. The lobby was crowded and there was a line at the hotel registration desk. When it was my turn at the registration desk the woman next to me was in a “conversation” with the hotel clerk. It appeared that her reservation had been misplaced and the clerk was explaining to her there was no room for her at the hotel. She was understandably becoming frustrated and finally said, “Sir, I am with a group. We are the Daughters of the King.” He responded by saying, “Ma’am, I don’t care what Elvis group you are a part of, there is no room”.

I told this story at a meeting of the Daughter’s of the King at Kanuga, where I had stopped by to greet them. They laughed until they were crying!

Café: What is the personal attribute that you have that you feel was the most helpful throughout your time as President?

I believe in building strong relationships and I like people. Although my “Myers-Briggs” says I am an introvert, I like to be with people, cultivate new friendships and maintain long-time friendships. The other side of that same coin is that I need “renewal time” just to be alone. I love to read. Finding a balance as PHOD while maintaining family, friendships outside church, digging in the garden and doing other activities I enjoy, has been a challenge.

Cafe: What are some things the church needs to thrive?

As Episcopalians, we are spiritual AND religious. I think that when people say they are spiritual BUT NOT religious it likely means they don’t want to do the hard work of being in community. We are part of a religious community, the Episcopal Church, and our more intimate community is our worshipping community. I believe that God wants us to become the whole persons we were created to be. The best way I know how to move closer to wholeness is via the Christian life lived in community. In order to be truly authentic, we need to have a common language for telling the truth to each other. I don’t think we have that.

Café: Did you have any specifics that you hoped to accomplish during your tenure as PHOD? If so, what were they and have you accomplished them?

Yes. I had three primary goals.

I wanted to assist deputies in understanding their role. I wanted to be sure they know that there are always deputies in place. Deputies hold their office until they are not re-elected or choose not to stand for election. In that case, other people are elected to take their place. There are always deputies and we are leaders in our dioceses with opportunities for leadership in mission and ministry.

It has also been a goal of mine to increase the numbers of the people of color in leadership positions in the House of Deputies legislative committees and the committees, commissions, agencies and boards. I have been invited to many diocesan events across the Episcopal Church. The generosity of the dioceses, laity, clergy and bishops has enabled me to meet Episcopalians and to always keep my “antennae” up for people with particular gifts and skills that could enhance the ministries of governance, which, in turn, enable God’s mission. I have been successful in bringing the numbers of appointed leaders closer to the realities of church demographics.

I hoped to awaken our hearts to the call to ministry of all the baptized. From that understanding, there would be fertile ground for a new vision of a circular model of leadership and ministry for our whole Church. Some small steps have been taken, but we have a ways to go as a Church.

Read more about the life and work of the President and the House of Deputies here.

The Feast of the Unclean

by Sara Miles

By ancient tradition, June is the month of Gay Pride. My people celebrate it as the Feast of the Unclean: the feast of the unnatural and unlawful, of foreigners and whores, lepers, sissies, faggots, drag queens, bulldykes, trannies, leather daddies, butch girls, queer boys, intersexed teenagers, lesbian mothers, gay bishops and all the rest of us whose bodies and desires have long been despised as disordered, or hidden away as contaminating. It’s the thrilling festival of the unspeakable, now spoken and embodied. It’s the transforming Passover of the scary, freeing things that happen whenever God’s truth is proclaimed aloud.

But the whole idea of gay pride still makes my skin crawl. I’ve got a problem with gay pride.

Because pride is what sustains me in sin. It sustains me in the ways I distance myself from God by separating myself from others, thinking I’m better than my neighbors: those disgusting sexual perverts or those stupid fundamentalist Mormons or that obtuse Archbishop. Pride is my insistence on a private, special self. It’s my faith in my own ability to save that self. Pride is what keeps me in bondage.

Freedom springs from a completely different understanding. Back in the day, before our parades were sponsored by banks and beer companies and pandered to by politicians, nobody called it “gay pride.” It was simply “gay freedom” or “gay liberation.” Gay liberation: when you realize that love is more powerful than law. Gay liberation: when you realize that the oddest, most shamed, most stigmatized children of God are beautiful and beloved. Gay liberation: when you watch all kinds of unlikely strangers become a family, without boundaries. Gay liberation: when you understand that whoever you are, you belong to a larger body.

That sounds pretty Gospel to me. I believe it is the liberation of Christ Jesus.
And so I believe queer people, too, have a gift to offer to the Church. Unsurprisingly, it turns out to be the gift of scandal; the gift of the cross.

And this gift is not about making queer people and our allies feel better. It’s not about making the Church fair and liberal and modern. It's so that the whole Church may truly embody the folly and the scandal of Jesus, in witness to the world.

Scandal, Jesus teaches, shows us how to see. If we look only upon what seems right, correct, familiar and lawful, we see the tiniest part of God’s handiwork. We must gaze, as Jesus gazed––foolishly and with love––upon every person who seems sick or wrong or just plain outlandish. And when we actually dare to touch that person, then a little more of God’s enormous, disturbing mission is revealed. We see how God is always at work restoring creation to wholeness. “Whoever welcomes you,” says Jesus, “welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me.”

By welcoming the scandalous we can begin to glimpse that our ways are not God’s ways. And by willingly submitting ourselves, gay and straight, to be the scandal, and to bear it without rancor or blame, we can discover what it’s like to live in freedom, outside the law––in the liberation of the cross.

Which obligates queer people, as we become cleansed in the eyes of the world and of religious authorities, not to fall into the sin of pride; it obligates us to give up our sense of specialness and self-aggrandizing victimhood. It requires the progressive straight people who support us to stop feeling superior to their conservative brothers and sisters; to actually talk and eat with their enemies. And it requires us all to continue holding the doors of the Church open to strangers, to other people we don’t approve of or like, so that the Church can be blessed by more and more of the dirty; the foreigners and sinners and unbelievers God sends us.

A discourse about “rights” misses this point. Of course gay people, like straight people, remember how we were slaves and foreigners in Egypt. Many of us are still slaves and foreigners. And so whenever the Church talks to Pharaoh, we must always fiercely work for and demand justice, especially on behalf of the weakest among us.

But the mission of the people of God is not to claim “rights” as dispensed by the state, or by our own religious laws. We cannot give or get from any human being the “right” to receive communion, the “right” to be baptized, the “right” to accept suffering on a cross. These are not rights but free gifts from God, through the love of Christ Jesus.

And that love reveals, if we’re not too proud to see it, the Gospel. How your salvation is inextricably bound up with that of an angry, foul-mouthed atheist drag queen. How my salvation’s irreversibly connected with that of a mean-sprited Nigerian bishop or an Indiana housewife who believes gays are going to hell.

“In his flesh,” says St. Paul––who might, after all, be the patron saint of gay liberation–– “he has broken down the dividing wall between us, that he might create in himself one new humanity, through the cross.”

Our mission is to give thanks. Because liberation doesn’t depend on our individual goodness or pride. It doesn’t depend on our rights or status in the world. It comes from Christ Jesus, who restores us all into his one body: gay and straight, Jew and Greek, slave and free, male and female.

This body suffers scandalously. It loves foolishly. And it frees us, eternally.

Sara Miles is the author of Take This Bread: A Radical and Jesus Freak: Feeding Healing Raising the Dead. She is Director of Ministry at St. Gregory of Nyssa Episcopal Church in San Francisco.

The Open Table: Where Jesus’ Grace Happens

by Stephen Edmondson

In their report to this summer’s General Convention, the Theology Committee of the House of Bishops committed themselves to formulating “a renewed and fundamental understanding of the Eucharistic assembly and of Eucharistic celebration as the quintessential gathering of the people of God.” (Blue Book, p. 52) This understanding, they surmise might reframe the controversy over the practice of inviting all of God’s children to Jesus’ table. I’ve spent the last several years crafting one such understanding, and I’m hoping for my work to be published soon. In anticipation of this, I want to share some reflections as they bear on this question of the Eucharistic assembly as the “quintessential gathering” of God’s people.

The Eucharistic assembly is quintessentially a place where grace happens—or more specifically, where Jesus happens. Open Table congregations are acutely aware of this happening. Their practice is shaped by it. That’s why I’m wary of the tendency of those struggling with the practice of the Open Table to file it under the category of “pastoral” practices, by which they mean a practice that is sensitive to hurt feelings and raw edges or is only necessary in occasional situations like weddings or funerals. (See the article by the Bishop’s Theology Committee in the Winter 2011 Anglican Theological Review for an example of this.)

The church’s pastoral call is a deep one, but too often those who invoke the “pastoral” in this context limit the scope of the practice and diminish its power. The grace of the Eucharistic assembly is not particularly sensitive, nor is it valid only in limited occasions. It’s the grace to which Augustine testified:

You have called, You have cried out, and have pierced my deafness. You have enlightened, You have shone forth, and my blindness has vanished. I have tasted You, and am hungry for You. You have touched me, and I am on fire with the desire of Your embraces.—Confessions

It is the grace that Sara Miles experienced,
And then we gathered around that table. And there was more singing and standing, and someone was putting a piece of fresh, crumbly bread in my hands, saying “the body of Christ,” and handing me the goblet of sweet wine, saying “the blood of Christ,” and then something outrageous and terrifying happened. Jesus happened to me. –Take this Bread

The Eucharistic Community is quintessentially a place where Jesus and his grace happens, and we learn something about the community if we pay attention to the character of that grace. We are essentially relational people, and in our encounter with Jesus in the Eucharist, we are touched by the power of grace to resurrect and reform within us our essential truth—that we are persons created for God. The grace we encounter at the table is the grace of embrace that awakens us to our desire for God and to the consummation of this desire in our fellowship with God through thanksgiving. In the context of the open table, grace is understood less as an infused quality of the soul and more as a renewal of relationship. Grace is relational, just as human persons are in their essence---just as God is in God’s eternal mystery.

This relational understanding of grace first became evident to me in the descriptions of the Eucharistic liturgy offered by several parishes that practice an open table. Members of these communities placed great emphasis on the practice of circling the altar to receive the bread and wine, and everyone remains in their place around the table until the entire group had received. This practice makes a statement about the presence of Christ in the Eucharist. Christ, in this practice, is experienced richly and deeply in the community gathered around the meal as an integral part of the partaking of the meal. Here, the invitation to communion becomes not simply an invitation to receive the bread and the wine, and Christ with and in them, but an invitation to stand in the circle and receive Christ with, in, and through them.

This relational understanding of grace is not a simplistic reduction of grace to feeling welcome. It’s a more complex reality. First, it is the grace of reconciliation. The inclusion in the circle of grace of those who experience themselves as outsiders breaks down the barriers of rejection, fear, failure, and unworthiness that we bear from our sojourn a world alienated from God. The invitation to the Eucharist instigates reconciliation between persons and God, while it also can reconcile persons to the Christian community. Often, those who are most profoundly affected by the invitation are not the unbaptized, but those who have become alienated from the Church after experiencing it as a destructively exclusionary and judgmental community.

Second, and perhaps more significantly, the grace of communion is experienced in the practice of the open table as the grace of sanctification. The fundamentally relational quality of our humanity is a theological reality. Modern individualism, which sacrifices the relationality of communion at the altar of unencumbered freedom, has deformed persons and mistaken true freedom. Invitation to the Eucharist and inclusion in communion, then, offers the opportunity for the remaking of the individual into the “ecclesial person” that lies at the truth of our being. This truth is not fully transacted until we take the steps—baptism and membership in a Christian community—through which this fundamental relationality is integrated more fully into us. Opening the table, nonetheless, allows participants a foretaste of this transformation, even as it invites them more deeply into it.

If the Eucharistic community is the place where Jesus and his grace happen, and if that grace is fundamentally relational, then that tells us something about the community. I’ll explore that in my next post.

The Rev. Dr. Stephen Edmondson is the Rector at St. Thomas Episcopal Church in McLean, VA. Before returning to parish ministry Edmondson was an associate professor of Church History at the Virginia Theological Seminary.

Fathers, fathers and Father

by Linda Ryan

Over the course of my life, I've had the benefit of a lot of fathers. I had the father who gave me life, the father who gave me shelter and family, the surrogate fathers who fostered and nurtured me in various ways, and the Father who was both boss, friend and mentor. Now if that isn't a bounty of fathers, I don't know what is.

The father who gave me life also had one of the hardest decisions in the world to make concerning me. Being a single father and in the military, should he keep me with him and raise me as best he was able, or should he send me to people he knew would care for me better than he could and yet still allow him to be part of my life. He chose what was best for me under the circumstances, and I'm grateful for that. He was part of my life and also the life of my son until the day of his death in 1998. I thank him for being a gentle presence and for the sacrifice he made for me.

The father who gave me shelter and family also had to raise me as a single parent for years. It was hard for him; he was older than most fathers and to have a rebellious teenaged daughter surely was a trial for him. Still, he did his best, even though he had to sacrifice to feed, clothe and educate me, and I was hedonistic enough to feel it was probably my due. Still, he was "Daddy", and remained loving and patient with me until his death nearly 25 years ago. I thank him for watching over me, teaching me, and supporting me in decisions he might not have agreed with but which he still allowed me to make on my own.

I had surrogate fathers -- folks like Frank, Tom and the man I called "Papa." For a time and at various times, each of them welcomed me into their families, treated me as another child of theirs, fed me, entertained me and taught me about life in families that were what seemed more "normal" than mine was much of the time. I should include my brother as well, my "big" brother, who teased me, roughhoused with me and became a rock for me when various things in my life fell apart. I thank them all for loving me and caring for me in their various ways.

And then there was the Father -- although I never called him that. I only worked for him for a year, but it was the richest year I ever spent as an employee. He consistently drove me to a dictionary at least once a week, and I already had a fairly decent vocabulary. He preached in such a way and with such a turn of phrase that not only did I remember the sermon when I hit the front door on the way out, but I often had things to think about throughout the whole of the next week. He was the kind of priest and person who could make me think without making me think I was stupid because I had to look up a word he'd used or had to ask what something meant. That was a rare and wonderful gift, but so was his friendship, along with that of his wife and his much-adored cat, Emerson. I was honored when he trusted me to try new things and to stretch my wings on projects outside my job description. I thank him for so many things, most of all for encouraging me to try unfamiliar things, for giving me validation and approval, and for being a good friend -- all of which he still is and does.

All of my fathers had one thing in common and that was whether or not they were church-going folk or not, their walk and their talk were the same. There was no artifice, no "say one thing and do something else" with any of them. What you saw was what you got, and on the whole, I got the benefit of all of them. And even though there is only one candle still lit among all those which have gone out over the years, I remember and I am thankful for each life that the candles represent. The memory of their bright flames sustains me and comforts me.

Every girl should be as lucky as I have been with my fathers. Really and truly.

Linda Ryan co-mentors 2 EfM Online groups and keeps the blog Jericho's Daughter

Parable of the equine mis-adventure

O God, by whom the meek are guided in judgment, and light riseth up in darkness for the godly: Grant us, in all our doubts and uncertainties, the grace to ask what thou wouldest have us to do, that the Spirit of wisdom may save us from all false choices, and that in thy light we may see light, and in thy straight path may not stumble; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. ~Prayer for Guidance, Book of Common Prayer, p. 832

Mule.jpgMules are nosy by nature, but I believe I have the nosiest mule in four states.

Since the day my mule Mel was born, there isn't a thing in creation that he doesn't think he shouldn't pick up and put in his mouth, nor any door or window-like shape that he shouldn't insert his head. He was born curious, and on any given day he can be on that spectrum from "a little curious" to "downright nosy." He loves items in boxes. I've seen him remove items from cardboard boxes in the pasture, and take all the files out of my farrier's tool box. He stole a screwdriver out of my own toolbox once and engaged me in a game of keep-away that lasted 45 minutes, and ended with him dropping it in the grass, kicking up his heels, and running off, flinging his head in victory.

So I was not surprised when I awoke one morning to the concerned whinnying of his horse compatriot Windy. For all of Mel's curiousity and bravado, Windy is the equine equivalent of the prissy old lady clutching her pearls, about to succumb to an attack of the vapors. It was clear why she was upset. Mel had somehow ripped the plastic trough from his upright aluminum free-standing feed bunker and was standing in the feedlot with the frame of it on his back and his back legs entangled in the frame. For some reason unbeknownst to me, he had stuck his head through the opening made by the missing trough, then lifted up and was wearing it more or less like a harness...but with his legs straddling one of the legs of the frame. It had him entangled in such a way that he could only move his back legs a few inches at a time.

He was in over his head--literally--and he knew it. So much so, that he knew all he could do is stand still and wait silently.

Mules are clever. Unlike horses, when they find themselves entangled, they won't thrash and make it worse. They go into standstill mode, or sit down mode. The problem is, they often also go silent. Something in the donkey half of their DNA says "Don't make noise, or you will attract predators." Truthfully, he could have been that way all day--I could have left for work and never seen him there. Horses, however, for all their skittishness, have no problem making noise when concerned--hence his equine girlfriend's frantic pleas.

I approached calmly and cautiously, speaking in steadying tones of voice to both Mel and Windy. I considered the possibility that Windy might hinder my approaching Mel. Even though we are on very good terms, she might be protective of her friend. Mel simply nuzzled my hair and continued to stand still as I gently slid the metal frame over his rump and he calmly stepped out, acting like he knew how to extricate himself all along. Once free, he followed me back to the gate like a lost puppy. ("Mama! You SAVED ME! I love you!") When Windy excitedly came up to him, he whirled and bit her on the rump.

Well, that's gratitude for you.

As I finished my coffee and got ready for work, I wondered how many times God discovers us hopelessly entangled in the things we stuck our own noses in and found ourselves over our head. Like Mel, how often do we go in standstill or sit down mode, never uttering a peep, unable to bring ourselves to ask for help? I'm sure that like Windy's nickers, grunts, and whinnies, it's the prayers of others that catch God's attention when we are too fearful, too prideful, or too whipped to pray. We may well be thinking, "Don't be praying for me--it's not THAT bad--others need it worse," but we have no control over the prayers of others.

For that matter, when we find ourselves finally extricated from our predicaments, it's a natural reaction for us to praise God and/or Jesus from the rooftops. We tag along just as closely as Mel tagged behind me. "Thank you Jesus! I'll follow you anywhere!"--but sadly, we also sometimes turn around and bite the people who had been loyal to us in the name of God, rather than embrace them, because we didn't like the way they did it. We didn't like being powerless. We nipped at them for being "the other" and that they couldn't possibly understand our situation. We become embarrassed by their show of love and push them away.

The Parable of the Equine Misadventure in the Feed Lot, perhaps, is just another reminder that we all need each other in this quirky family of humankind, despite our differences. Where do we feel called to reach out to "the other" today?

Maria Evans, a surgical pathologist from Kirksville, MO, writes about the obscurities of life, medicine, faith, and the Episcopal Church on her blog, Kirkepiscatoid

Being There: At the Diamond Jubilee

by Deirdre Good

The remarkable thing about the recent Diamond Jubilee is the number of people that joined in the celebrations. After all, Britain is secular and racially diverse—unlike the monarchy. Jubilee memorabilia described that institution as “steadfast and true” -- words that couldn't be applied to the banking sector, or the media, or the NHS for that matter. Maybe the Jubilee celebrations reflected enthusiastic support of someone, some institution, that can be trusted to be steadfast and true. Maybe Brits are simply in the mood to celebrate and enjoy national dressing-up and processions. I saw republican sympathisers in demonstrations with placards but they were drowned out by the millions who joined street parties, went to London for the Jubilee weekend of June 2-5, as we did, or celebrated in their home communities. Celebrate they did: in Kent and the Brecon Beacons of Wales where my mother and I were before the Jubilee weekend, where bunting was already up across streets and in pubs (of course). While the big Jubilee Lunch was on Sunday June 3rd, local notices announced celebrations and StreetParty estimates that 2 million people had a street party of some sort over the weekend. As of May 26th, 9,500 road closure applications had been received, according to the Local Government Association. It was a good time to leave the car at home.

Even the weather didn't stop the celebrations: someone tweeted that anyone can enjoy a carnival in the sun but only the British can enjoy a carnival in the rain.

Sunday was also the day of the 1,000 boat flotilla down the Thames to Tower Bridge. The day before, I went with my mother, my niece and a friend to Hammersmith Bridge in hopes of seeing a few boats in waiting. We had our own picnic near the river bank and were thrilled to see boats go by, including the Jolly Brit, one of six open launches used on the Royal Yacht Britannia. It was used as a jolly boat (a boat that takes people from ship to shore) for the Royal family’s trip ashore for picnics or walks while cruising round the Highlands and Islands. Perhaps the name comes from the old Dutch word jolle, meaning a small boat. Quite a few people were doing the same thing as we were, and in good spirits. A jogger stopped by and offered to take a photo of us.

Sunday's Diamond Jubilee Pageant on the river Thames was extraordinary. An island people, Brits have always had boats and flotillas: whether to warn of the Spanish invasion during the reign of Elizabeth 1, or to rescue trapped armies in WWII. But on Sunday, a million people stood on the river banks between Chiswick and Putney bridges all the way to Tower Bridge to watch the boat procession past the Queen and members of the royal family on their barge. Here's a time lapse video which conveys the scope of it. As the video progresses you can see the weather worsening. The procession included historic boats (some used in the evacuation of British forces at Dunkirk, and others that saw action in the Battle of Britain), passenger boats, leisure boats and working boats. There were kayaks and schooners, tugs and barges. There were boats and barges with musicians playing traditional music and world premieres. Here's a list of flotilla participants. We saw some of them going under Hammersmith Bridge on Sunday afternoon before we retreated from a cold and increasingly wet viewpoint to join millions watching the spectacle on TV.Thames.jpg

The BBC's flotilla coverage, which the Daily Telegraph characterised as “inane and insulting” and which covered everything but the flotilla, was unfortunate for those who couldn't be there. But if you were standing in the rain on the banks of the Thames, you might well see printed lists of boats many brought to share with their neighbors to identify what went by. At least before the rain came down and lists became soggy. Where we stood, people called out which boat passed under the bridge and who was on it. I could identify several from the lists including The Dove from the Worshipful Company of Tallow Chandlers in the category of the Thames Watermen Cutters. At least the images of the flotilla on TV were better than the BBC commentary.

2,012 or more beacons were lit across the land on Monday June 4th from Hadrian's wall and Britain's highest mountain peaks to churches and buildings of all faiths and denominations. Beacons were also lit as far away as Australia and Tristan Da Cunha. But these weren't distant images from far away places: where we stayed in Wales, several communities were planning an evening gathering on the highest nearby hill in order to see lit beacons on surrounding peaks.

DiamondJubilee.jpgOn Tuesday, we went to stand with hundreds of people at Ludgate Hill near the west entrance of St Paul's to see the royal family arrive by car for the service of thanksgiving that drew the Jubilee celebrations to a close. Neither my niece nor I had seen the Queen in person and we were keen to do so. We arrived by Tube along with people whose attire indicated that they were going to the service. None of the chosen looked at each other or the rest of us as they joined the queue to enter St Paul's. Moving away from them, I found two policewomen. “Where can we see the royals arriving?” I asked. “Do you want to see the service or watch the royal family?” they asked. I smiled and pointed to my niece. “She wants to see the Queen,” I said.StPauls.jpg They told us they'd just come from the top of Ludgate Hill where there was no one. “You'll see it all from there,” they assured us. “Turn left through the arch and around the corner.”

We stood right behind the police barriers and gradually we got into conversation with others around us, particularly when well-known people went by. “Wasn't that the Archbishop?” I said to one neighbor after the first large black car went by. She agreed. Someone from a nearby café walked up and down the line offering us tiny snacks. Behind us, a group of women with plummy accents analyzed the events of the weekend, speaking in a way that encouraged us to contribute our own opinions. Thanks to cell phone updates from a friend watching TV, my neighbour on the other side provided a live order of appearance commentary about the cars we were about to see. When the Queen's car was imminent, my neighbour's young daughter said that she hoped the Queen would be accompanied by her corgis as she was lonely (Prince Phillip had been admitted to hospital after standing for hours in Sunday's rain watching the boat procession). “Did you know she has named one of her dogs Griffindor?” someone asked. “Better than Slytherin,” another commented. Gradually the cheers increased and when the Queen's car went by, we caught an image of her wave on my iPhone. Queen.jpg She was accompanied by one of her ladies in waiting. Afterwards, our gathering drifted apart. “Thanks for your help,” I said to my neighbour. “Not at all,” she replied, “enjoy yourself!” As we left the area where not so long ago Occupy London camped outside St Paul's, we could hear the words of the Archbishop's sermon broadcast for those outside the cathedral: “We live less than human lives if we think just of our own individual good.” They seemed a fitting paraenetic observation on the communities formed by encounters with strangers that made up our Jubilee weekend.

Dr. Deirdre Good is professor of New Testament at The General Theological Seminary, specializing in the Synoptic Gospels, Christian Origins, Noncanonical writings and biblical languages. Her blog is called On Not Being a Sausage.

Who's invited to the communion discussion?

by Andee Zetterbaum

Just in time for Pentecost, the new banner went up. Made by an extraordinarily talented fabric artist, it showed a streak of light swooping down to Earth: the gift of the Holy Spirit.

Or so we all thought.

It took a 10-year-old boy to correct us. "Isn't it great," he said, "that our God is powerful enough to swat away that comet that's about to destroy the Earth?"

It's been nearly 20 years since this incident, but I've been thinking about it - a lot - as I read the various postings about the pros and cons of welcoming the baptized and unbaptized alike to the communion table.

You see, I think we're discussing this with the wrong people.

In the times and places (even now) where Christian worship had to be held secretly, for safety ... in the times when newcomers weren't even allowed to witness the sacred mystery until they were baptized ... in the thousands and thousands of villages over the ages where the population was so homogeneous that non-Christians in church were almost as unlikely as unicorns ... in all those times and places, the Church had the luxury of being able to define the theology of baptism and communion. The Church - those inside the faith - could decide what baptism and communion are supposed to mean, confident that they would have the opportunity to instruct all into these meanings - before they ever witnessed the sacraments.

We no longer have that luxury.

We lost the ability to define the theology of communion the moment churches started publicly inviting people to come in. The Church didn't plan to lose the right to be the one to define this, but we did - by the very presence of our public buildings, our signs, ads, blogs, and campaigns urging members to bring a friend.

The overwhelming majority of our unbaptized church visitors will never cross the threshhold of this particular church ever again. They are the relatives and friends of the bride and groom, the mourners at a funeral, occasionally the friends and relatives of one who is about to be baptized. A few are the unchurched or anti-church or other-faithed relatives of our members, who may come a couple of times a year, at best.

You won't find most of them joining your next inquirers' class, or spending weeks learning about the Scripture, tradition and reason that led us to require (or not require) baptism as a prerequisite to communion. They won't care what General Convention decides the canons should be. They won't tell you how glad they were that they waited to receive communion until after baptism and how deeply meaningful that was to them; nor will they relate the story about how taking communion, even though unbaptized, gave them the joy and strength to embark on the voyage that led to their eventual baptism.

Instead, for them, the theology of communion will be decided, on the spot, by the gut-level reaction of each visitor who witnesses it. Their desire to know God-in-Christ in community may be stirred up - or utterly destroyed - by that moment.

And that takes this discussion to a whole different level. The question we need to be asking isn't what SHOULD the theology of baptism and communion be, it's what is the PERCEIVED theology by the outsider who is present at our worship. And the people who need to be involved in that discussion are:

The 8-year-old who comes to church with her best friend after a sleepover

The grandchildren who are only here twice a year when they are visiting their grandparents

The 11-year-old who often comes with his grandmother and has been leaving love notes to Jesus on the altar since he was first old enough to write, but whose parents won't allow him to be baptized until he turns 18

The teen who is clearly uncomfortable being here, but wants to be with her boyfriend

The anti-church spouse

The Muslim grandmother from another country who is here for her grandson's baptism

The Jewish son-in-law who comes with the family on Christmas

The 'spiritual but not religious' 20-something who has moved back in with his parents after college, and only comes to church on Easter to keep the family peace

The homeless person who wanders in off the street

Those who come to share with and honor their loved ones at weddings and funerals

What do our communion practices say to them about the nature of the God we worship? What does God say to them, through the way we share communion?

Does God say the same thing through the way we celebrate communion to the unbaptized who are present at a Eucharist in memory of those who died of AIDS, or violence, or the latest war or natural disaster? If the Eucharist is held in a federal prison, or nursing home, under the bridge at the homeless encampment, or among the migrant workers during the annual blessing of the fields and forthcoming harvest?

Because, you see, I think God has cherished and adored all these persons since before they were born. Has been in relationship with them, all along. And is longing to be closer to them, speaking to them through our worship, even if they only once step through our doors.

And before we make a decision about whether God wants us to change the relationship between baptism and communion, I think it's time for us to listen in - and honor - and then with deep awe, join in that conversation.

Andee Zetterbaum is a member of St. John the Baptist Episcopal Church in Lodi, CA, Diocese of San Joaquin, Founder of World In Prayer, a few years ago she taught an online course through CALL on "Meeting the God We Worship"-- how exploring perceived theology among members and visitors can help ease worship wars.

What's missing in the budget?

by LeeAnne Watkins

I’ve been following the train wreck called the budget process. There’s lots to be said, and many are saying it.

But there is something almost comically absent in this latest round of blogospheric commentary.

40% of our dioceses do not pay their full apportionment*. We all know it.

Try this. Print a map and then color in the dioceses who don’t pay. It’s a striking image for a visual learner like me.

Go ahead, get out your crayons, make a pretty picture. Have it sitting in front of you as you sit on the floor during convention. And when someone goes to the microphone you can look on your map and determine for yourself how much weight or credibility you can give the speaker when it comes to budget issues.


There’s even more we can do, though.

What if there was a resolution that said that deputies and bishops from dioceses that do not pay their full share do not get to vote on how our money is spent? That seems more than fair.

And yes, I can guess your next question: what about dioceses that don’t pay out of hardship? Sure, there are a few dioceses in that position. We can create a panel, perhaps a sub-set of PB&F, who could hear their case and make exceptions. That’s how we’ve done it here in Minnesota, and it works well.

Here’s another thought. What if the House of Deputies refuses to consent to the election of bishops in dioceses who do not pay their fair share? That could change the conversation pretty quickly, yes?

So we have a choice. We can spend our breath complaining about the process that produced this budget. We can lament the dire nature of the expense side, competing and bickering for the tiny bits of dollars we can spend for mission. So far this hasn’t, shall we say, brought out our best selves (how’s that for an understatement?).

Or we can start having the conversation we’re avoiding – holding each other accountable for the income side of the balance sheet.

We are parts of a body in need of each other. We are all in mission together. So let’s hold our brothers and sisters accountable for their fair share of money.

*numbers are rounded off and any math errors are accidental not intentional.

The Rev. LeeAnne Watkins is the rector of St. Mary's Episcopal Church in St. Paul, MN. She is a Clergy Deputy from the Diocese of Minnesota 19%.

Who is doing the work of God?

by Murdoch Matthew

On the Episcopal Café recently there have been several mentions of the work of the people as basic to the church. And not just church – a posting on how young atheists are organizing to improve their communities had me thinking, They’re doing the work of God. My husband, Gary, has commented on the Baptism/Communion controversy by putting his emphasis on “building communities in which people would truly care for each other as God cares for them.”

And now Diana Butler Bass lectures from her new book, promoting the idea that Christian belief comes after membership in the community and taking part in its work. (In a previous book, Christianity for the Rest of Us, she talked about revitalizing the local parish as the basic unit of faith.) "It's our awakening. It is up to us to move with the Spirit instead of against it, to participate in making our world more humane, just and loving," she writes.

Ms Bass's work sounds like we're re-entering a world similar to that of the early church -- pluralistic, many faiths, many stories. Earthquakes aren't the only forces shaking beautiful old cathedral churches.

Gary and I attended an exhibition at the Onassis Center in New York City, The Transition to Christianity, 3d to 7th Centuries. It gives a much richer picture of the development of Christianity than the standard Early-Church/Church Fathers/Medieval/Modern storyline. The church grew up in a very rich stew of spiritual movements, with much cross-fertilization. The current faith seems too tradition bound, too set in its ways, to easily benefit from contemporary intellectual ferment.

In the first three centuries of its existence, Christianity was only one of many religions in Rome, a small but rapidly growing cult in an empire whose religious practices were as diverse as its populace. The Persian savior Mithras was the focus of a mystery cult whose initiates were primarily military men, and fertility cults, such as those of Isis and Magna Mater, had spread throughout the empire. Many other gods,
especially local and household deities, fulfilled a variety of supernatural roles, overseeing the welfare of the living, from marriage and childbirth to illness and death. These gods rest firmly outside the Greco-Roman pantheon that we associate with classical antiquity.

Into this cultural milieu arose Christianity, which incorporated and adapted a number of artistic forms and subjects. Portrait statues, sometimes reworked from antique sculptures, and the re-use of building materials served practical concerns, but they also demonstrate an openness to diverse styles.

Over the course of the 3rd and 4th centuries, the apostles of Christ acquired a status similar to that accorded to pagan philosophers as venerable teachers and spiritual leaders. The portrayal of the apostles in art adopted the characteristics that best suited their function as Christianity’s first teachers. Philosophers were usually depicted bearded, sometimes balding, wearing undecorated togas and holding scrolls. These attributes signified to the viewer that the subject was a contemplative man.

As late as the 6th century, groups of philosophers could be found decorating civic monuments. Portraits of prominent figures were not merely set up for commemoration, but they were sometimes actually venerated. Pliny (1st century AD) writes that disciples of the philosopher Epicurus carried his portraits in procession at collective celebrations and privately kept his image in their households. The emperor Alexander Severus (d. 235) is said to have honored portraits of gods, deified emperors, philosophers, and even Christ. Saint Augustine of Hippo tells us that his friend Marcellina, a Carpocratian
Gnostic, burned incense and kneeled in front of the images of Christ and the apostle Paul, along with those of Homer and Pythagoras.

Unitarians are trying to honor Jesus along with contemporary exemplars, without much popular success. Can it be done? Culture is changing. Will Church follow, or join Mithraism in the attic of history?

Recently, Amazon tried to sell me an anthology of non-theist essays, which actually looks interesting. The sample chapter they included, The Cultures of Christianities by David Eller Ph.D., makes a point crucial to our current discussions – we argue over “faith” and doctrines, but we actually belong to a culture:

Charles Kraft describes culture as “the label anthropologists give to the structured customs and underlying worldview assumptions [by] which people govern their lives.” . . .

Culture “provides a total design for living, dealing with every aspect of life and providing people with a way to regulate their lives. [Culture] is a legacy from the past, learned as if it were absolute and perfect. [It] makes sense to those within it. [It] is an adaptive system, a mechanism for coping. It provides patterns and strategies to enable people to adapt to the physical and social conditions around them.” . . . It grounds and explains “our perception of reality and responses to it.” Its basic assumptions “are learned from our elders, not reasoned out but assumed to be true without prior proof. We organize our lives and experiences according to our worldview and seldom question it unless our experience challenges some of its assumptions.

We’re working to adapt our culture to contemporary experience. The problem is that experience differs. Some are struggling to reconcile medieval worldviews with the scientific culture that has followed Galileo, Newton, and Darwin, but this is an intellectual exercise. Gays, lesbians, and feminists find that their experience challenges basic assumptions of the tradition. Indeed, their experience has been left out of the tradition, and treated not as aspects of the human experience, but as individual aberrations or flaws.

Eller makes the point that Christian missionaries quite consciously work to supplant native cultures with Christian variations, adapting as necessary, but wiping out what went before if they can. Western culture seems to be returning the favor, at the moment, supplanting Christian culture with an empirical approach. Ms. Bass seems to
advocate leaving behind the old theological structures and plunging in to the work of community that needs doing. She thinks good behavior and belief will follow. I’m more sanguine – I think that the work of community is worth doing, and I rather distrust “belief,” which often seems a self- or group-serving made-up story. Stick with the need and the evidence. Common ground with community-minded atheists is probably safe territory.

Murdoch Matthew wrote for The Anglican Digest and the Episcopal Book Club in the 1960s and edited many scholarly books for university presses in the 1970s and 1980s . He retired as a copy editor for Random House Children's Books and now lives in Jackson Heights, New York City.

Mission: finding grace at the garbage dump

by Jesse Zink

She was leaning on the door of our clinic for support, weak, gaunt, and emaciated—the first time I laid eyes on Pakama I knew she had AIDS. Her collar bones poked through her shirt and she labored for breath. Pakama lived in Itipini, a shantytown community on a garbage dump outside Mthatha, South Africa, one of the poorest parts of a country that has more HIV-positive people than any country in the world. I was working at a community center in Itipini as a Young Adult Service Corps missionary of the Episcopal Church.

Pakama did, indeed, have AIDS, along with tuberculosis. She had come to our clinic for help in getting started on both the life-saving anti-retroviral drugs and the simultaneous treatment for her TB. Starting TB treatment was a relatively easy thing for our small clinic to do. Starting ARVs, however, is a complex process involving a labyrinthine health system, one nearly impossible to navigate for someone like Pakama whose health had deteriorated so far.

But it was not so impossible a process that we gave up hope. Even though there was a fairly substantial language barrier between the two of us—she spoke Xhosa and I was still barely functional in it—over the next several weeks, I helped Pakama get to the various appointments necessary to be given the ARVs—chest x-rays, blood work, counseling sessions. Taking ARVs is a significant commitment—patients take them every day for the rest of their life—and the appointments were to ensure she knew what she was getting herself into. But as the weeks passed her condition continued to worsen. She lost the energy to walk and I had to lift her in and out of the car and carry her to appointments. She lay in bed in her shack the rest of the day, complaining about the cold.

In the eight months I had been working in Itipini before I met Pakama, I had known many other patients with AIDS. All who had been as sick as Pakama had died before being given ARVs. Indeed, not two days before Pakama walked in the clinic the first time, another patient had died after a difficult—and unsuccessful—journey through the health system. The longer I worked with Pakama, the more I began to worry Pakama wouldn’t make it through the system in time. Each morning, as I drove to Itipini, I mentally prepared myself to hear the news that she had died the night before.

When it finally happened—in the midst of a busy day at the hospital from an overwhelmed doctor—receiving Pakama’s ARV prescription was somewhat anticlimactic. But we had it! We filled the prescription and headed back to Itipini. There was no sudden shift in her condition, however. She was still weak and thin—but alive. Soon, other patients in similar situations began to occupy my attention and I saw less of Pakama. Then, I was away for a few weeks. When I returned, the first thing I did was seek her out.

I found her in front of her shack washing clothes. She smiled broadly to see me again and asked how I was.

“I’m fine,” I said. “But I want to know how you are. Can you walk?”

“Yes,” she replied, clearly somewhat embarrassed to recall the time she had been so sick. As it was, she was supporting herself just fine washing the clothes. Still, I needed to see for myself.

“Show me,” I said.

She rolled her eyes and gave me a look that said, “What does he think? Of course I can walk by myself.” But she humored me. Without struggle or undue effort, she casually sashayed down one side of the shack and back to the door. She turned to look to see if I was satisfied. I was. She was like a whole new person.

That evening, I thought about Pakama’s improved health. As much as I had wanted her to get better, I actually hadn’t done all that much for her. I like to think I had been a supportive presence at times. I pointed her the right direction in the hospital at times but more often than not she could read the signs and knew where to go. Her sister and mother cared for her in her shack, not me. The fact is, Pakama and I were pretty different people. We spoke different languages, came from different cultural backgrounds, and a hugely different set of life experiences. If I had done anything, it was the only thing I could do: accompany Pakama on her journey from sickness to health.

Journey is one of the oldest metaphors for faith, and for good reason. Abraham set out for a land he did not know, Moses and the Israelites wandered into the desert, Jonah took off in the wrong direction, Naomi returned home after years away, Paul sailed around the Mediterranean. As I reflected on my time with Pakama, journey seemed an apt analogy as well. We had been on a journey together, her and I. When I knew the way, I took the lead. When she knew, she led. When both of us were lost, we moved forward together, confident in the knowledge that we were not alone.

In the months and years I spent in Itipini after first encountering Pakama, I accompanied many other people on journeys. Not all of them had nearly as successful outcomes and I can count more people I’ve known who’ve died of AIDS than are still alive. But I don’t consider myself a failure as a missionary. What makes the experience missional is our initial willingness to set out on the journey, to accompany someone who is different, to be converted by the experience.

The word mission is more and more a part of conversations about the future of the Episcopal Church. As I’ve watched the conversation unfold, I think back to my weeks driving Pakama to her never-ending string of appointments. Mission begins when difference is engaged—whether on a garbage dump in South Africa or just down the street. Where it ends up, we cannot control. But it is the fact that we are willing to render ourselves vulnerable to God’s guidance on a journey whose destination we may not know that makes our life as Christians missional. None of us will ever live to see the perfect peace of the kingdom of God on earth. But perhaps if we set out on the journey, we’ll find that the journey of mission truly is its destination.

Jesse Zink is author of Grace at the Garbage Dump: Making Sense of Mission in the Twenty-First Century (Wipf and Stock Publications, 2012), from which this essay is adapted, and is a deacon in the Diocese of Western Massachusetts. More information is at his blog.

Freeing butterflies

Into your hands O Father
I give my spirit to you
Into your hands O Father
I give my spirit to you
~English Translation of the Taizé song, "In manus tuas"

It has finally been warm enough in northeast Missouri to put the weekend laundry out on the line on a regular basis, and one of my favorite things to hang on the clothesline are my bed linens. There's just something wonderful about sleeping under a sheet that smells like a real breeze as opposed to a fabric softener that claims to smell like a breeze. So you can imagine my surprise when two Red Admiral butterflies suddenly flitted out of the sheets I had just brought into the house.

Feeling sorry for their plight, I tried to free them...and spent the next thirty minutes chasing them all over the house, cursing and yelling at them for their apparent stupidity. More than once I considered just smashing them with a fly swatter and putting them out of their misery...but I have a soft spot for butterflies. I'll be honest, I generally have no sentimentality when it comes to flying insects. But butterflies are different. Butterflies, to me, represent the wonderful intersection of vivid and delicate--their colors are often loud, almost neon, yet they battle heavy breezes with onion-skin-thin wings. Their flight seems erratic yet purposeful. They are so constantly at risk of destruction, yet they boldly perch on humans if they happen to be wearing the right color of clothing that mimics food. Red Admirals are especially one of my favorites, because of the striking color difference between their dorsal and ventral surfaces.

My first goal was to try to herd them into my bedroom with a broom and shut the door. (If you think herding cats is hard, try butterflies.) Once I got them in the bedroom, I opened the windows and took a pillowcase, shaking it at them in an attempt to shoo them out. "Surely they feel the outside air and will take the hint," I thought. But no dice. They kept flapping around my four-light fixture on my ceiling fan. The fan wasn't running, so to rest they'd hide on the top side of the blades. After catching their breath, they'd then flutter around the lights. All my best efforts at snagging them in mid-air were failing miserably.

All of a sudden I got a goofy idea. What if I stopped chasing after them and grabbing at them, and simply held up my cupped hands under the light fixture?

I stood there with my hands stretched aloft for a good minute or two, thinking what an idiot I must look like. The butterflies continued to bang themselves against the fixture, obsessively trying to get inside it, but always coming back out because the light was too hot. Then, without warning, one suddenly stopped--right in the middle of my cupped hands. I quickly scurried to the open window and gently tossed it out. It hastily few out of sight, to parts unknown.

"It CAN'T be THAT easy," I thought to myself. "That has to be a fluke."

I returned to the light fixture, repeated the process, and within another minute or two the other butterfly did the exact same thing. If I would have been smart enough to do that in the beginning, it would have taken far less time, and with far less drama.

As I looked out my open bedroom window and smelled the breeze, I thought about how those butterflies illustrated some patterns in our relationship with God. How many times do we find ourselves entangled in the fabric of the world? When we are released from those entanglements, how many times do we discover we are in unfamiliar territory? How many times is our response to that unfamiliar territory to fly around aimlessly? When we finally catch a glimpse of the light of God, how often do we proceed to bang our heads against the light fixture and get so close to the light it singes us? Most importantly, how many times have we discovered, heart pounding and breathless, as we fall wearily from over-exerting our stubborn, prideful selves, we land smack dab into God's outstretched, cupped hands, whisking us to safety?

Then I thought about it in reverse fashion and pondered those times we angrily chase after God, reaching, straining, and pawing at the tiniest recognition of the holy, and cursing when our hands come up empty. Had we only stood still and reached for God, the delicate healing beauty we sought, would have flown right into our hungry hands.

Who are you today--the butterfly, or the butterfly chaser?

Maria Evans, a surgical pathologist from Kirksville, MO, writes about the obscurities of life, medicine, faith, and the Episcopal Church on her blog, Kirkepiscatoid

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