"Household" and "mystery":
thoughts on being a Church

By Kathleen Staudt

“Good Morning, Church!” This greeting has become familiar in my congregation. Members who originally come from West Africa are accustomed to beginning announcements that way. And it’s catching on. “Good morning Church!” the lay leader says.

“Church.” That would be us. And we respond heartily “Good morning!”

In the aftermath of Lambeth, and Archbishop Rowan Williams’s suggestion that a Covenant might make us “more like a church”, I’ve been musing about my own sense of what it means to “be a Church,” and where it comes from.

I came into the Episcopal Church in 1978, as the “new prayer book” was just coming into use. Coming from a Reformed and Confessional tradition, I was drawn by the beauty of liturgy and what I understood us to be saying at worship about what it meant to “be Church.” What holds Anglicans together, I learned in confirmation class, is not set doctrine but common worship, though of course we are always in conversation about doctrine and tradition. That has been what I’ve understood about being Anglican, and that’s been my experience at worship. So some of what’s coming out of Lambeth about being “more like a church” seems befuddling to me. I had thought there was consensus that as church we are not unified by doctrine or discipline sent from on high, but by our practice and worship. That’s what I take people to mean, discussing Lambeth, when they say we are “a communion, not a church.” But of course we are a church (as in “the Church, the people of God” to use Verna Dozier’s language). We’re not “not a church.” Clearly much remains to be discerned.

As is my habit, I go to back to the liturgy for help, to see what poetic images have rooted themselves into my imagination and memory. And here I find some metaphors that seem worth pondering in these times. They are from important prayers that I think are not always as familiar as they might be to people in congregations – and now might be a good time to revisit them in our corporate life in congregations.

The first comes from the baptism service, a passage that sometimes gets lost in actual practice, when the priest says “Let us welcome the newly baptized” and the congregation responds with applause. (I’ve seen this happen at a number of baptism services, in a number of congregations). But the words of welcome are Biblical, and important:

We receive you into the household of God. Confess the faith of Christ crucified, proclaim his resurrection, and share with us in his eternal priesthood.” (BCP 308)

The “household” of God. Yes. A good image of the Anglican Communion right now, as well as of many a congregation. We live together, we share the same food, and we have conflicts and celebrations, upheavals and challenges. But we belong to the same household. The rest of the welcome prayer is a catechism in itself – worth spending years unpacking: Confess, proclaim, share. We live out a “priesthood” as Christians, a life that involves bearing the Holy into the world, and sharing it with others, as Bill Countryman has described so well in Living on the Borders of the Holy. We are carrying out into the world the transforming love that is expressed in the faith of Christ crucified and the good news of his Resurrection. Being church means being the presence of Christ in the world, or in another metaphor I like, from Robert Capon, to be the Church is to be “the hat on the Invisible Man” for the world.

The fullness of that calling is expressed in my favorite prayer in the book, which I often use when I teach workshops on discernment and discipleship:

O God of unchangeable power and eternal light: Look favorably on your whole Church, that wonderful and sacred mystery; by the effectual ordering of your providence, carry out in tranquility the plan of salvation; let the whole world see and know that things which were cast down are being raised up, and things which had grown old are being made new, and that all things are being brought to their perfection by him through whom all things were made, your Son Jesus Christ our Lord; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. (BCP 280, 291, 515, 528, 540)

This prayer is appointed for Good Friday, just after the solemn collects, and Holy Saturday, just before the baptism service. We also say it at ordinations. (Marshall Scott has a good discussion of this in an earlier post on the Daily Episcopalian). It’s worth pointing out and holding up this prayer in a time when we’re reflecting on “being Church” because people who don’t attend a lot of ordinations may not be aware of having heard it or offered it.

I love the poetry of this prayer: the suggestion that radical transformation – things cast down, raised up, grown old, made new—can be carried out “in tranquility.” That in itself is a prayer for a miracle! This prayer acknowledges that our life as Church is held in the Divine life. To acknowledge this requires humility, as we craft ways to be together as the “household of God.” That’s why I also love the prayer’s description of the Church as “that wonderful and sacred mystery.”

The scrappiness and challenge of a “household”, held in “that wonderful and sacred mystery.” Holding these two metaphors together may help keep us open and humble, in this time after Lambeth and in the lives of our churches generally. as we continue to discern together what it means to “be a Church.”

Dr. Kathleen Henderson Staudt (Kathy) keeps the blog poetproph, works as a teacher, poet, spiritual director and retreat leader in the Washington DC area, and teaches courses in literature, theology and writing at Virginia Theological Seminary and the University of Maryland, College Park. She is the author of two books: At the Turn of a Civilisation: David Jones and Modern Poetics and Annunciations: Poems out of Scripture.

The Lambeth Conference:
The turning point that wasn't

By John Bryson Chane

The 2008 Lambeth Conference, the once-a-decade gathering of bishops from around the Anglican Communion, can best be described in two words; optimistic and troublesome.

I have always believed that relationship building must be at the center of all we do in the life of the Anglican Communion, and this year’s conference, which drew more than 650 bishops to the University of Kent in Canterbury, provided a great opportunity for this to begin in a way that was not the case at the previous gathering. The non-legislative nature of this conference was in many ways a success.

The first three days, which had been set aside as a retreat for the bishops at Canterbury Cathedral led by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, set a reflective tone. Following the retreat, each day began with a celebration of the Holy Eucharist hosted by one of the Communion’s provinces. Daily Bible study in groups of around 12 persons from diverse backgrounds followed, and then we met in Indaba groups of about 40 bishops (Indaba taken from the African experience of meaningful conversation between people of good will.) These groups engaged in discussions ranging from the role of bishops in the Communion to the Millennium Development Goals, and sharing our experiences of ministering in our own dioceses and provinces. Afternoons were spent participating in programs covering everything from the MDGs, human sexuality and canon law to hearings on the drafting of the proposed Anglican Covenant and the ongoing work of refining the Windsor Report. Then came Evening Prayer, followed by special presentations by the Archbishop of Canterbury and outside guests on topics such as evangelism, respectful dialogue, the environment, ecumenical and interfaith issues and the challenges that are present in the life of the Communion.

A powerful “coming together event” involving the bishops and their spouses was a mile-and-a-half march through central London in support of the MDGs, ending at Lambeth Palace where Prime Minister Gordon Brown, Williams and Hellen Wangusa, our Anglican Observer to the United Nations, gave impassioned addresses, challenging the Communion and our respective countries to engage in a more meaningful effort to end poverty and to take seriously the call to halve poverty levels globally by 2015. The event was followed by a luncheon on the grounds of Lambeth Palace, and concluded with a garden party at Buckingham Palace hosted by Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip.

All of this was mostly positive, and it gave me the opportunity to describe the polity of the Episcopal Church to bishops from other provinces – how we are governed by the voices and votes of the laity, clergy and bishops and not by the solitary decision making of the bishop or primate of the province. Some African bishops expressed wonderment that American bishops had very little decision making and enforcement power and saw our system as difficult, if not unworkable. One bishop from Sudan came up to me after I spoke at a hearing on the Windsor Report and apologized for his primate’s position on human sexuality. He told me he had been threatened with losing his diocesan oversight if he attended the Lambeth Conference. Others from Africa, India and Asia had not been aware of the incursion of primates and bishops from overseas jurisdictions into the Episcopal Church and were saddened to learn that such behavior was seemingly tolerated by some in leadership positions within the Communion.

It was reassuring to me that many bishops, even those who do not share our understanding of human sexuality in the life of the church, said their disagreement with me and the Episcopal Church was not a “breaking point” in our relationship. Some said they knew in time they would have to be facing the same issue in their own countries, and we all needed to have more conversation about human sexuality in a non-legislative format. All of these reflections, although problematic in some instances, were centered on an optimism that can hold us together as a Communion if we continue to work at it and not remain in isolation from one another. I came away from these engagements with bishops from other provinces with a far clearer understanding of the challenges they face and their near total lack of basic resources to care for their people; resources that we in the West too often take for granted.

What I found troubling was the manner in which the reports from the Indaba and Bible study groups were given, and how the hearings on both the Windsor Continuation study and the Covenant were finally presented by the Archbishop of Canterbury in his remarks toward the end of the conference. I was troubled because what was reported did not seem to capture the real flavor of what had been going on during the almost three weeks of our time together as bishops. I have always believed that politics plays a huge role in the decision making of the Communion, and the close of the Lambeth Conference was a clear indication that politics trumped the power of conversation, reconciliation and hard work that so many bishops exerted in their time together.

It is my opinion that in order to placate those primates and bishops who chose to absent themselves from the Lambeth Conference and instead attended the GAFCON gathering in Jerusalem, and to quell the growing dissension within the Church of England over the recent decision to ordain women bishops, and the issues of human sexuality in Holy Orders, Archbishop Williams sought what he believed was a middle way that unfortunately continues to marginalize the Canadian and American churches. Once again, more emphasis was placed on the sexuality issue as being the “line drawn in the sand” that threatens Anglican unity, with little attention paid to the invasion of primates and bishops from other provinces who continue to wreak havoc in some dioceses within the Episcopal Church. There was no discussion of the struggle for power within the Communion, so evident in the rhetoric of GAFCON, that would marginalize the historic roots of Anglicanism and the unifying role of the Archbishop of Canterbury. There was far too much recognition of those who chose not to participate in this Lambeth Conference and far too little recognition of those bishops who chose to come; among them some who did not want to have their names released to the press as participants for fear that their boycotting primates would punish them when they returned home.

I believe that this gathering had a great chance to move forward in relationship building, and to some extent, as I have mentioned earlier, it did. But when it came to addressing the pressing needs of the Communion to develop a global Anglican strategy to address the issues of disease, poverty, illiteracy, the environment and state-sponsored violence against civilian populations, this conference succumbed to “blaming the victims.” As in 1998, the victims are those whose sexual orientation happens to be different from the majority. It is far easier to blame our divisions and our inability to act as a united Communion to address pressing global issues on those least able to defend themselves. Blaming the least among us continues to divert our attention away from the issues that threaten the very existence of humankind and the environmental health of our planet.

The Archbishop of Canterbury has called for sacrifices to be made to keep the garment of the Communion together. And for the American and Canadian churches, that clearly means sacrificing once again the full participation of gay and lesbian persons in the life of our church. I for one will not ask for any more sacrifices to be made by persons in our church who have been made outcasts because of their sexual orientation.

This Lambeth Conference could have been a positive turning point for the Anglican Communion, but instead the powers that be chose to seek a middle way that is neither “the middle” nor “the way.” It will therefore be up to bishops from around the Communion who have continuing partner and companion relationships to work toward a more holistic view of the church. The Anglican Communion must face into the hard truth that when we scapegoat and victimize one group of people in the church, all of us become victims of our own prejudice and sinfulness.

In Christ, all things are made new. May the living presence of Jesus Christ empower us all to be a part of this new creation and may the Anglican Communion become a new creation, filled with the courage to lead, and an unfailing trust in the Gospel of Jesus Christ that calls each one of us to be part of a new journey, knowing that to fear in such an effort is to be unfaithful to the one who reminds us, “be not afraid for I am with you always, even to the end of the ages.”

The Rt. Rev. John Bryson Chane is Bishop of Washington. This column originally appeared in the diocesan newspaper, the Washington Window.

Anglican Balkanization

By Adrian Worsfold

Like other leading modern theologians of the first half of the twentieth century, Paul Tillich had difficulty relating Jesus as the Christ to history and also found culture problematic, compared with those nineteenth century liberals that the moderns reacted against. Whereas Karl Barth developed what was identified as a narrative theology, or "history-like" - but not of this world, Tillich early on had an aesthetic theology for his Christology. He wanted a historical rooting, but realised history could not deliver - but the analogy with art did the job. There is form, and content, and something that hits us from the art itself, which he called Gehalt and cannot be fully translated, but it means something like dynamism or power or impact.

The Lambeth Conference in 2008 can be seen on similar lines to Tillich's theology. Its form was all important, because there could not be a repeat of the bad feeling of the 1998 Conference that some likened to the Nuremberg rally.

Its form was the Indaba groups, except they weren't. A real Indaba group has a group of elders come together to solve a problem. They listen hard, certainly, and take a lot on board that may not be their own view and their own position. They thrash out the problem, and it comes to a resolution that they all own. Lambeth had cut down indabas where there was no time to thrash things out and no resolution. Nevertheless, the form was to allow bishops to get to know each other, starting with a retreat, and keeping up the atmosphere of mutuality for as long as possible.

Then there was the content. The content was the difference of stance between one end of the Anglican Communion and the other. It was unlikely to be bridged, and probably will not be bridged. GAFCON has happened, a new province in North America of GAFCON is due to be formed, and it will be primariy interested in its own survival and growth. The drive in North America and elsewhere towards inclusion is powerful, because it is that connection between Christ and culture (H. Richard Niebuhr) that Anglicanism produces in its Churches. Rowan Williams would centralise, via several Instruments and some new ones (this Pastoral Council will prove most contentious as it will do the work of the Covenant even before one), and he talks quite openly of the Anglican Communion being more like a Church.

Then came the Gehalt: and what was it? Well, some of it centred around the lecture of the Chief Rabbi, who did give some bishops an impetus for Communion, the 'good feeling' that allows many to keep talking. That largely comes from the form. Yet the Chief Rabbi was quite clear, whatever his own good feeling about his upbringing via Church of England involvement in schools. He spoke of the difficulty today with Covenants of Faith: due to differentiation and specialisation (I would put it) religious bodies are in effect dividing, so they cannot be made; however, Covenants of Fate involve people of difference coming together to serve the world in need. An example was the bishops and others walking in London to push for reduction in world poverty.

The problem with the Gehalt was, at first, the noises off. We had strategically timed statements and press conferencing from GAFCON. Then we also had the statements from Michael Poon and Terry Wong of the Global South - non-GAFCON people who were most unimpressed. There was a bit of a slide - not much - towards 1998 pressures towards the end of this Lambeth Conference too, and it seems that Rowan Williams's own push towards centralisation and asking the same people to do the sacrificing for the sake of his Communion-into-a-Church did once again annoy. The Canadians felt they were relatively unheard, and as nothing in content had changed, the Americans started to feel somewhat cheesed off at the end.

The Gehalt just may not last very long. The form may have been good, but the best Gehalt comes from the content. In the end, the upshot of Lambeth in centralising terms was where it was at the beginning. Rowan Williams is still actually pushing his agenda, and this Windsor Continuation Group will be all the busier.

For this reason my thoughts have ended up being the same as they were. A sufficient number Churches in the West at least will not be able to accept either centralised meddling or a Covenant that intends to discipline or produce a two-speed communion. The Global South outside of GAFCON may have all the works: Covenant, Catechism, co-ordination, and the GAFCON group can knock up its own Covenant, if it sees the need to put others on the spot, quickly. There won't be a centralised Communion: it will balkanise.

Lambeth had a good flow of information outwards: officially and via blogs. Two quotes sum it up for me, one from a blog and one from the Concluding Presidential Address of Rowan Williams. The first is from the blog of my nearest bishop, David Rossdale, the Bishop of Grimsby:

In my Indaba, one thing about which there was unanimity was that our attitude to homosexual people must be positive, generous and full of Christian love. There, however, the unanimity ended. In my Bible Study group there had been a recognition that we are each trying to be faithful to God and to our understanding of the nature and authority of scripture. By the time we came to the Indaba I detected the underlying presumption that a ‘real Christian’ is essentially fundamentalist when it comes to using the Bible.

Rowan Williams put it:

..in the Zimbabwean woman beaten by police in her own church, in the manual scavenger in India denied the rights guaranteed by law; in the orphan of natural disaster in Burma, in the abducted child forced into soldiering in Northern Uganda, in the hundreds of thousands daily at risk in Darfur and Southern Sudan, in the woman raising a family in a squatters' settlement in Lima or Buenos Aires. This is the Catholic faith: that what is owed to them is no different from, no less than what is owed to any of the rest of us.

No mention of the gay person beaten up in Nigeria, no mention of asylum granted to Davis Mac-Iyalla; rather these are the excluded people that a Communion becoming a Church is based upon: and for me, this stinks.

I hope that Western Anglicans reject this Catholic fantasising and have nothing to do with it, and build their relationships on informal friendlinesses where possible, where a Covenant of Fate brings people necessarily together. That would be an Anglican Gehalt worth having.

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 ABC and "facts on the ground"

By Marshall Scott

This is the peach season at our house. Last year a late ice storm destroyed the peach crop – and the apple crop and the blueberries and other things – from Nebraska to Georgia. The peach tree in my back yard was somewhere in that range, and so last year there were no peaches at all. This year, perhaps in consequence, the tree has borne, and borne abundantly beyond our expectations.

And so now it is the peach season. Just about every evening for the past week has included washing or blanching peaches, to be sliced, dipped, and then sugared for the freezer or spread for the dehydrator. I have been picking peaches, but we have collected as many or more from those that have fallen to the ground. However gently I try (we call it “tickling the peaches”), two or three will be shaken loose for every one I take in hand, to be collected before I move on to the next branch. And, of course, among those that have fallen to the ground there have been some more beneficial to wildlife from ants to squirrels than they have been to us.

Anyway, all of them have been valuable to someone, and many of them to us. That’s not to say that any of the peaches is perfect: none of them is. We seem to have largely beaten the fruit moths this year – only a few worms hunkered around peach pits – but we’ve had a banner year for bacterial spot. It affects the skin of the peach, and sometimes the flesh immediately beneath it. It doesn’t affect the bulk of the peach; it just has to be dealt with. The same is true of the bruises from falling on deck or driveway, and the occasional small nick from bouncing from one branch to another while on the way down. It’s true, too, of the occasional small bite – squirrels are bad about sampling several peaches before choosing one to steal away with. All of those things affect the peaches, but they don’t prevent most of them of serving for our winter storage; and they don’t affect the concerns of the butterflies or the chipmunks at all.

That got me thinking about our efforts at evangelism. We have long talked a good game about evangelism, we Christians (for this concern isn’t specifically Episcopalian or Anglican). We talk about welcome, and we talk about new tools and new technologies, and we talk about reaching the world for Christ. All the same, we fall all too readily into the same rut, and start looking for some group or some person with pretty specific characteristics. At our best we think about how we can get the message out to new communities, new people; but even then it never really rises to the level of really beating the bushes and clearing the streets. And at our worst, we get stuck reaching out to “folks like us.”

Which brings me back to the peaches. I wonder how often we actually study our growth, and whether we pay attention to those who might fall past us, even as we appreciate the new persons in hand. None of them is perfect, of course; but, then, none of us is, either. Some of them may be pretty battered and bruised. They may actually take a good deal of attention before they can live into their spiritual potential; but with care and attention they can be part of the present and future of the Church, bringing flavor and richness and nourishment for us. Some will find more to give and to receive in other communities than ours; but none should be considered beyond value for God’s purposes.

And that brings me now to the recent Second Presidential Address at Lambeth of Archbishop Rowan Williams. In the address, delivered to the bishops gathered on July 29, Archbishop Williams tried to speak, as he said, from the Center:

I don’t mean speaking from the middle point between two extremes — that just creates another sort of political alignment. I mean that we should try to speak from the heart of our identity as Anglicans; and ultimately from that deepest centre which is our awareness of living in and as the Body of Christ....

And, as I suggested in my opening address, speaking from the centre requires habits and practices and disciplines that make some demands upon everyone — not because something alien is being imposed, but because we know we shall only keep ourselves focused on the centre by attention and respect for each other — checking the natural instinct on all sides to cling to one dimension of the truth revealed.

He sought to articulate “what people on different sides of our most painful current debate hope others have heard or are beginning to hear in our time together. I want to imagine what the main messages would be,” and to place those “main message” within the context of the experience of the Anglican Communion over these past few years.

I will admit to mixed feelings about his descriptions of each side; and I am hardly an impartial observer. But what concerned me immediately was his hope for this Lambeth Conference:

Can this Conference now put [this] challenge? To the innovator, can we say, ‘Don’t isolate yourself; don’t create facts on the ground that make the invitation to debate ring a bit hollow’? Can we say to the traditionalist, ‘Don’t invest everything in a church of pure and likeminded souls; try to understand the pastoral and human and theological issues that are urgent for those you are opposing, even if you think them deeply wrong’?

It seems to me that the Archbishop has missed an important point in his challenge to both sides. It seems to me that the most important “facts on the ground” aren’t institutional. They aren’t bishops, however they may be shaped or partnered. They aren’t rites, however and for whomever they may be intended. They aren’t church structures, whether sustaining tradition or “offering refuge” for “pure and likeminded souls.” The most important “facts on the ground” were not created by us, whether “innovators” or “traditionalists,” whether primates or bishops or synodical structures. The most important “facts on the ground” were created by God. They are the men and women whom we might serve, to whom we might reach out, and whom we might invite into our midst. They will, most assuredly, not be “pure,” or even “likeminded.” They will be battered and bruised, all needing some care and attention before they can live into their spiritual potential. We might have to watch as some find their place somewhere else; but none of them should be beneath our attention. And no structural issue, no internal debate, can be more or even as important.

My point is not so much that “my” side has grasped this and “their” side hasn’t. As I said above, I think this is one of the more visible places where “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” On the other hand, it will trouble me if the Archbishop hasn’t grasped it. A challenge to each party in the fight to be generous to the other is nice but no real challenge. A challenge to both parties in the fight to be generous to those around them, and especially to those battered and bruised, those not “pure” or “likeminded” would be a prophetic call from Christ, just in a time and setting when a prophetic call from Christ might meaningfully be heard.

Jesus said, “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath.” By the same token, the structures of the Church were made for the souls we might serve, and not those souls to fit the Church. Even those fallen and scattered on the ground are among the fruits of Christ; and they are worth our time and attention.

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.

Passing the peace at Lambeth

By Luiz Coelho

As a steward for the Lambeth Conference, my days have been filled with all sorts of random activities. I have carried luggage for bishops and their spouses. I have riden a bicycle around campus carrying conference materials from building to building. I even led a workshop on art and prayer in the crypt of Canterbury Cathedral. The experience has been more than a day filled with work, however, including a “garden party” with the Queen of the United Kingdom (not that she spent much time with us) and the opportunity to meet in person so many men and women of God, which has given me much hope for the future, in spite of our current controversies and divisions.

However, I would say that the high moments for me were the worship services. They varied in range, scope and organization from happy clappy evening prayers at the “Big Top”, to an intimate Anglo-Catholic Mass organized by the stewards in the Cathedral's crypt. It is impossible to forget the magnificent Sunday morning Eucharist at Christ Church Cathedral (which had a procession of hundreds of bishops and officially opened the Conference), and the simple daily night prayers in the chapel with the chaplaincy team comprised of religious from around the Communion.

The second Sunday of the conference was the one which marked me the most, though. It was an ordinary Sunday Eucharist at Canterbury Cathedral (if anything in that fantastic church can be considered ordinary). That day I had to wake up extremely early, since I was one of the people invited to read the Intercessions for the BBC-broadcasted service at St. Dunstan's. Nevertheless, I decided to go to the cathedral Eucharist afterwards, as some other stewards did. We arrived very early, so we spent some time walking around that magnificent building, and then went back to our seats. Next to us was a man who looked familiar. He smiled to us and said “Good morning”. Something deep inside me told me I knew him. However, it was only after the service actually started that I realized who he was.

This man is one of the leading conservative media writers. His thoughts and writings represent, in fact, many of the offensive values that I oppose in the Church. I frequently use his news group as an example of what I understand to be an unchristian way of communicating (and please do not misunderstand me; I recognize that there are progressive media writers in our church who unfortunatley share his same unchristian rhetoric in their own communications, so I am not singling him out because he is on the far right.) Still, he was there, next to me – as vulnerable as he could be – taking part of the same liturgy I was.

Several thoughts crossed my mind. What would I do when it was time to give a sign of peace? Should I make myself known and tell him how much I abhor his style of communicating? Should I point out how evil I believe his news group is? Should I make a statement by refusing to be in communion with a person that has hurt me – and many of my brothers and sisters – several times, through his vitriolic style of writing?

But I knew that I could not make any of those choices, because none were faithful choices for a follower of the Prince of Peace. So, I decided to exchange the peace with him. After all, in spite of our disagreements on some issues and methods, I knew he was just one more child of God – made in His image and likeness; and, I realized that we did share some things in common, like the creeds and our common desire to love Jesus. Not sharing the peace with him would represent a dinigration of the Good News in Christ that I to proclaim: that the Church is for all, that all can repent and change their lives, that the Sacrament of the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ preserves us in everlasting life, that we must seek Christ in every human being... So, I decided to do what I believe we are supposed to do if we are faithful to the Great Commandment. He smiled – totally unaware of who I was – and shook my hand.

I do not know if anything changed in his heart. I do not even know if he received communion, or just a blessing. Most likely he was not radically changed at all after that service, and many of you readers will keep “fighting the good fight” against his oppressive rhetoric in his writing. But maybe... maybe that moment changed him, even just a tiny bit. Even if it did not, it changed me; as for me, it changed everything.

The peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in the knowledge and love of God, and of his Son Jesus Christ our Lord; and the blessing of God Almighty, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, be among you, and remain with you always.

This blessing has always been one of my favorite ones and is one of the reasons I am so fond of the Book of Common Prayer. Through my experience last Sunday the Holy Spirit once again offered me a glimpse of what that “peace which passes understanding” means. As we exchanged Christ’s mysterious gift of peace, I felt an immense relief in my heart, and a renewed sense of hope for our Church. I understood a bit of the essence of Jesus' teaching to love and pray for those who persecute you. It is a liberating love, by which Christ empties us from all hatred and prejudice, and fills us with an everlasting peace. Amen.

Luiz Coelho, a seminarian from the Diocese of Rio de Janero, spends part of the year in the BFA program at the Savannah College of Art and Design. His Web site includes his art and his blog, Wandering Christian, on which he examines "Christianity in the third millennium, from a progressive, Latin American and Anglican point of view."

Sandwiches and Reconciliation

By W. Nicholas Knisely

A few years ago, not long after the events of General Convention in 2003, the sexton in the parish I served came to tell me that he was being yelled at as he worked in the front yard on the parish. Apparently there were kids driving by regularly, who when they saw him or anyone else out front, would roll down the window of the car and yell “Gay Church!” or “You’re going to Hell!”. The sexton didn’t like being yelled at, but his real concern was that these folks would start vandalizing the building. I suggested we let the local police know. He rolled his eyes.

I didn’t understand what was with the eye-rolling until a few months later when our secretary buzzed me in my office to tell me there were some police officers here. I’d better come out to her office, *now* was what she said as I recall.

We were well known in the community for a Soup Kitchen that served food daily to whoever showed up at the parish at lunchtime. That ministry had been going on for a long time due to the work of a number of committed laypeople and the extraordinary Deacon Liz. The rule in the kitchen was that if you were hungry, we would feed you, no questions asked. Sometimes we had some unsavory types coming in to eat, but as long as they were hungry and didn’t cause trouble, they were welcome to eat with the rest. The police knew this and would occasionally stop by looking for someone for whom they had an arrest warrant. We generally asked them to keep a distance, and talk to the staff first before they went in. I thought this was one of those situations when I was called to the office that particular morning.

Turns out it was something totally different. A police officer was there. But instead of a warrant, he was there with a bag of sandwiches. Someone had apparently made them for the officers on duty that day and they couldn’t use them all. So he decided to bring them by the church to give them to the soup kitchen to see if we could hand them out for them. It was a lovely gesture.

But what brought me up short was what the officer said when he gave me the bag. “I don’t agree with you folks. I’m not even sure you’re a real church. But you’re doing good work feeding these people. I figured this might help.”

Somewhat taken aback, I thanked him, we shook hands and he left and I took the sandwiches inside.

It was later on that I remembered the conversation I’d had with our sexton about letting the police know about the verbal taunting. I think I understood the look the sexton gave me.

But more importantly, I recognized that something was now different too. An important bridge had been built in passing over the food from the officer to the people who needed it. The person who brought the food to us didn’t agree with us - but he was willing to cooperate with us on acts of mercy. Our relationship changed, a bit anyway, in that simple act of giving. There was no great climatic moment of reconciliation. There wasn’t any sudden dropping of scales from his or my eyes. But there was a mutual recognition that something good was happening and that we were going to try to find a way to work together - to fan a small ember at least - to see what might happen as a result.

I’ve been thinking lately about that moment and how it changed a relationship. It seems to me that there are some pretty obvious parallels between it and what is going on in the Anglican Communion at the moment. We have people who disagree. We have people who are not sure that they can recognize Jesus in each other. We have people who are in broken relationships with each other because of actions that one group or the other have taken.

What I’m pretty certain about is that explaining patiently and in great detail why the other side is wrong isn’t going to get us anywhere. It hasn’t as yet, and I’m pretty confident that we can project the present success rate well into the future.

So what should we do?

When I was the President of Diocesan Council in Pittsburgh, and Alden Hathaway and Bob Duncan were our bishops, we had the same sorts of conflicts in the diocese that we now have writ large in the Anglican Communion. And it was pretty clear then and there as it is now and here that talking wasn’t going to get us out of our bind. So we didn’t try that.

What we did try was to find the sorts of mission things that we could agree on, And then we did them. We made sandwiches and delivered them to people sleeping under the bridges in the city. We worked together with partnership dioceses in Africa, and in Uganda particularly. We reached out to the developing countries in Central and South America. The point was to find something we could agree upon and then to do it with each other as best we could. It helped a bit.

It didn’t fix everything. In fact looking at the division in that diocese now I can say that it could be argued that it didn’t fix anything. But it was worth trying then. I think it’s worth trying now. Jesus calls us to be reconciled with each other. Even when groups are unwilling to reconcile, Jesus doesn’t seem to give the option of not trying. According to the prayerbook, reconciliation between God and creation is the central mission of Christ’s church in the world.

I guess that this same impulse of trying to find a way to be reconciled to each other is at the heart of what I saw happening in Canterbury at the Lambeth Conference this weekend. The bishops of the Anglican Communion are not of one mind. They are trying to find ways to be reconciled with each other. They are trying to do that by starting with the simple steps of building relationships marching in the streets with each other and in conversations formally and informally with each other.

Will this solve the problems in the Communion? Probably not. Our disagreements are multi-layered things and our bishops are not the only parties involved.

But it’s a start. It’s like those sandwiches the police officer handed me. It’s a recognition that even if I don’t agree with you, I respect you - at least in part. And perhaps out of that small flame, we can grow a deeper respect that can, someday, be the driving force behind a deep and real reconciliation of voices striving for justice and holiness in the Church.

And for that small start I’m grateful.

The Very Rev. W. Nicholas Knisely is Dean of Trinity Cathedral in Phoenix Ariz. He serves as Chair of the Standing Commission on Episcopal Church Communication and was originally trained as an astronomer. His blog is Entangled States.

Against centralization

By R. William Carroll

Those of us who are not bishops have little choice but to watch the torrent of news coming out of the Lambeth Conference, and much of it is discouraging. Rowan Williams continues to support the general direction of the Windsor Report, including the call for an Anglican Covenant, an idea that many of us consider to be a terrible one, one which would jettison the freedom and decentralized structures at the heart of historic, normative Anglicanism. In addition, the rumors of a Faith and Order Commission, which some have rightly equated to the Holy Office (of the Inquisition) point us in a similarly depressing direction.

The usual calls to resist giving in to our anxieties and to "trust the process" are well taken. For what it's worth, with the single exception of the shameful exclusion of Gene Robinson (I still maintain that were I a bishop, I wouldn't attend under those conditions), I think that the process at Lambeth has been exceptional. The decision to go forward without resolutions (which may see attempts at sabotage) was simply a stroke of genius. The focus on anti-poverty work and the environmental crisis is also welcomed. Despite the absence of resolutions, I hope the bishops will find a way to issue a strong statement about wars of aggression and torture.

It is not mere anxiety, however, to have substantive concerns about the direction in which the Anglican Communion, under the questionable leadership of Rowan Williams, seems to be headed. Indeed, too many let themselves be bullied by those who insist that everything would go to hell in a handbasket if we didn't give in to the radical innovations advocated by the Windsor Report. (Or at least head fake, a la B033 that we might be willing so to do. No one seems to believe this ruse, and I take comfort in that.) This seems to be a solution that only a power hungry primate or bureaucrat could love, and despite the hype it will do little to advance God's mission. What the bishops of the Episcopal Church need to understand (some of them no doubt do), is that backing down on our commitment to the full inclusion and ministries of all the baptized would be (in Michael Hopkins phrase) "evangelical suicide." I trust that LGBT bishops and allies have communicated this to the other bishops at Lambeth.

Centralized structures may for the moment serve the perceived needs of evangelicals and traditionalist Catholics, as well as churches in parts of the world that retain cultural opposition to same sex relationships. They will choke and kill the Church's mission in our context, where we really need alternatives to the theocratic religious right.

It is up to us, who value historic, normative Anglicanism to push back against these developments with all our strength. The strategy of appeasement, embodied in B033, was never a good idea. If we buy our "place at the table," by sacrificing the principles of the Baptismal Covenant, it is too high a price.

In the months and years to come, we will all face choices. These choices are framed by our baptismal vows. At present, the Lambeth Conference doesn't have any more power than we give it. We need to keep this in mind. In the aftermath of the Conference, we should all do our best to make it clear that, if forced to choose between our Baptismal ecclesiology and the ecclesiology of quasi-papal centralization, we will choose the former every time.

God is indeed still in charge. While there is much to be concerned about, we should never be anxious. In our polity, bishops cannot make any decisions without the House of Deputies. Not even General Convention can stop God from loving God's LGBT children or keep the Kingdom from coming. Jesus Christ is our guarantee. But if General Convention does not pay attention to the Baptismal Covenant, it can make a huge mess of the Church. It is up to each one of us, once these conversations return to their proper venue in Anaheim, to do all in our power to keep the Episcopal Church as close as we can to God's dream of a table at which all are welcome.

Ultimately, the only process we can trust without qualification is God's process. And in that process at least, each one of us is welcomed with open arms.

The Rev. Dr. R. William Carroll serves as rector of the Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd in Athens, Ohio (Diocese of Southern Ohio). He received his Ph.D. in Christian theology from the University of Chicago Divinity School. He co-edits The Covenant Journal with Lane Denson.

A good gripping story

By Heidi Shott

Already I’m worried about General Convention in 2015 because a pattern seems to be developing between every third major Anglican/Episcopal event and a loved one dying of cancer.

Two years on the job as a diocesan communicator, my plan in early 2000 was to go to General Convention in Denver to learn, to report and to hang out with my communicator buddies. But then my father’s lung cancer returned with a vengeance in the spring and it became obvious I wasn’t going anywhere. I reported on the events in Denver from afar, and he died on July 23, a week or so after convention packed up.

While I’ve written a lot about those summer weeks over the past eight years (links below), it’s been hard – as both as a communicator whose salary is paid by people putting money in the plate week after week and as a person of faith – to put into words the conflicted-ness I feel about the “big” doings of the Church like General Convention and Lambeth and the “big” doings of sitting at the bedside of a dying loved one.

Which is bigger? Which is more important? Which is of greater consequence? Which is the greater story to tell?

As the Lambeth Conference was about to commence and I was giving Flip Video lessons to our bishop and bishop coadjutor – who are, by the way, doing a dazzling job at www.ourlettersfromlambeth.blogspot.com - I was also worrying about my next-door neighbor and good friend, Martha.

Two years ago, Martha was standing at the local Memorial Day parade next to her husband of 53 years and a friend who happened to be a nurse. It started with the nurse saying, “You look yellow.” A month later it continued with an extraordinarily complicated surgery for pancreatic cancer called the Anglican-sounding Whipple procedure. Though she was in the hospital for most of the summer it was, ultimately, a success. Then a good year. An excellent, normal year. But last fall during a routine check-up, the bad news arrived that the cancer had returned. Months of chemo ensued. Besides this nasty form of cancer, Martha was the healthiest, busiest, most vital 79 year-old we know, so to see her slow down was hard.

Though we live in a rural little village surrounding a millpond and a fresh water lake at the head of a tidal river, our house, a big 220 year old mishmash, and their house, a winterized, expanded cottage, are no more than 30 feet apart. The daughter of a former owner of our house built the cottage for her young family in the 1950s. It resembles a family compound and in the ten years we’ve lived here, that’s increasingly how we’ve crafted our lives in relation to Martha and Roger. Martha shares our twin sons’ New Year Eve birthday. With no children of their own and no close family nearby, they keep close track of our lives and we keep close track of theirs.

Her illness is awful. It’s wrong and painful and it’s coming to its conclusion.

Late in June, we were about to go camping and hiking in Acadia National Park. Before we left, I stopped by to check on Martha who had called off the chemo and was feeling poorly. “Go to the hospital,” I said. “I’m worried about you.”

“I’m worried about me too,” she said from the sofa where she cradled her painful belly.

When we returned four days later, Roger called to say she had been admitted.

“She doesn’t want phone calls or visitors,” he told me. After a few days of that nonsense, I stopped in early one morning and sat with him while he ate his Raisin Bran before going to the hospital.

“Roger, don’t leave until I give you a note for her,” I said, whipping out their back door. “I’ll be right back.” If there’s just one thing I can do, it’s write a damn good note.

At noontime, my husband Scott came home for lunch and picked up the ringing phone. He called out the window to me on the deck where I was reading. “Roger says Martha wants you to visit. Afternoons are good.”

When I got there I saw that the week had taken its toll. She was on a morphine pump and had lost weight. Over the next few hours and on several visits since – first at the hospital and now in a skilled nursing unit – I’ve pushed her morphine button, put the straw to her mouth, applied blistex to her chapped lips, held her hand, stroked her shoulder, kissed her and chatted with Roger about everything imaginable.

Unlike my father, the cancer has not reached her brain, so when she’s awake she’s fully herself.

“I wish something miraculous would happen,” she told me the other day when Roger left the room to get some tea, “but I know it’s just a matter of time.”

“We’ll be right next door.” I said. “I don’t want you to worry about anything. We’ll spoil him.”

She looked at me, so clear-eyed, so present, so close to something that’s hard to understand. I looked back and we smiled at each other with love.

And I thought, this is the most important thing happening in the world.


This morning – or last night, who knows when people are blogging from England – Jim Naughton, editor-in-chief of Episcopal Café, wrote

“My concern for the Lambeth Conference is that a critical mass of reporters—or perhaps just a handful of influential ones—will deem the conference a failure if it does not produce the sort of stories that they want to write, that they will say so repeatedly in the pages of their papers or on their blogs, and that this perception will become reality.

The only inoculation against this outcome that I can perceive—outside of an unexpected outbreak of forbearance from the British press—are vivid daily media briefings that feature bishops with good gripping stories to tell about how the conference’s theme of the day figures in their lives and ministries, and the lives and ministries of their people.”

As an Episcopal communicator, and as often as I could in the years I worked as a mainstream reporter, I’ve worked to tell “good gripping stories” because they are what people really want to hear. I believe well-told stories move people and engage people and change people. Why do you think Jesus spoke in parables? Why do our little children lie in bed at night and ask to hear tales of their parents’ and grandparents’ childhoods over and over again?

The story of our family’s love for Roger and Martha and our sadness in Martha’s illness is a real story. It’s one we’re living tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow.

The Lambeth Conference will be important to the Church and the world only to the extent our bishops sit with one another and listen closely, lovingly and compassionately to the stories each has to tell. Then they need to return to their homes to share the news with their people. It won’t be the same as hearing for ourselves, but it’s a start.

It occurs to me that after my father died in 2000, just after General Convention, I thought and wrote something similar to this. I really hope I get it right this time.

Links
My own private Denver -

Holding hands at the comma

They’re onto our game

Forty percent in the loop

Next month, Heidi Shott will begin work as canon for communications for the Episcopal Diocese of Maine . Her essays about trying to live a life of faith may be found at Heidoville.

Goooooooooooal!

By Peter M. Carey

It should be of no surprise to anyone who reads the Episcopal Café that this summer is the once-a-decade gathering of Anglican bishops in Canterbury, England for the Lambeth Conference. Much has been written about this conference this year, and the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion are surely picking up more than our share of headlines. I have been thinking about this gathering of bishops and their spouses and thinking about both the turmoil and the possibility that exist for the Anglican Church at this moment in our history.

I was reading last month in Ed Friedman’s posthumously published book, A Failure of Nerve, that one sign of overly reactive and anxious organizations is that there is a lack of playfulness. Is the Anglican Communion displaying the tell-tale signs of an overly reactive and anxious organization? Is there playfulness and humor at each level of the body of our church? I hope there is more playfulness than I am sensing in what I read and see.

While I know that the lack of playfulness and humor is the result of the reactivity and anxiety, I wonder if play and humor may also be a solution. I wonder if play and humor might help heal some of the wounds in the body of our church.

I have noticed that there is time set at Lambeth each day for Bible Study, in which, I imagine, bishops will meet with their counterparts from around the globe, to pray, to reflect, to study, and to build fellowship. In addition, I imagine there will be worship, and there will be time to eat and drink together. There will be meetings, and speeches, and press conferences. All these items are to be expected. I have also read that Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams is asking bishops to join him on a walk through the streets of London to highlight the issues of poverty and hunger. There will also be some discussion groups made up of bishops from different perspectives which sound very interesting. I give the plan for the conference high marks, but if I could time-travel back a few years and bribe the right people I would get on the planning team and propose something else.

You see, I’ve been spending my summer watching my three children in the city of Manhattan while my spouse is working on coursework for a master’s degree. I have spent countless hours in Central Park, in Riverside Park, and also on the streets of this great city. After spending the day watching the playfulness of children (and adults) in the parks, I spend time in the evening reading about GAFCON and Lambeth, and Covenants, and “emissions.”

What I would propose, if I were to time-travel back several years and get on the Lambeth planning team, would be to plan some playtime. And, I don’t mean drinking cocktails or tea or coffee. I would get the bishops together, count off in teams to get some good diversity on each squad and play what we Americans call “soccer ” (football, in most of the world). At first, the “games” would be to play “possession” in which there are no goals other than just trying to keep possession of the ball, what we might know as “keep away.” I would pay a fortune to see our bishops running and playing and sweating and laughing and learning how to work with one another. After a few days of “possession,” we would turn to games with two goals, and we would keep score. I am not one of these people who think it dehumanizes people to play something competitively, and I imagine that the egos on the field would want to keep score anyway.

So, you say, we are dealing with “serious business,” this business of the church, and we are dealing with deadly serious issues, and we should have greater formality, and the bishops’ time is too valuable for such things. These are childish things, and adults don’t “do” such things. And, if fun is to be had, it should be had over a glass of sherry and not over a soccer ball. Maybe yes. Maybe no. In my thinking, it’s worth a shot; doing the same old things will most likely get us the same old stuff. Who knows, maybe injecting some playfulness into the scene might just help to transform this church body by getting the bodies moving together, having some fun.

It’s not too late to smuggle a soccer ball and some short shorts into your bishop’s suitcase!

The Rev. Peter M. Carey is the school chaplain at St. Catherine's School for girls in Richmond, Virginia and is also on the clergy staff at St. Mark's Episcopal Church in Richmond. His theological assumptions are challenged and strengthened while leading services for over 800 young people each week and at home with his three children under 5 years old. He blogs at Santos Woodcarving Popsicles.

Advertising Space