In the wake of the General Convention, a small tome was brought to my attention. The Archbishop’s Test by E.M. Green, written in that terrible year of 1914, is a cross between the Hundred Acre Woods and C.S. Lewis. It posits that one morning the Archbishop of Canterbury is moved by the Spirit to suggest to his, what we would call, Canon of the Ordinary to end all committees. No Women’s Auxiliary. No boys groups or girls groups, This would free up time to return to prayer from the prayer book. In a series of simple and not very 21st century anecdotal chapters the result of this becomes clear and in the appointed two years all of England has becoming the Kingdom of God. Prayer, devotion to God, and kindness to each other has replaced the busyness for all, from Vicars to farmers. Oh, that it were true. Priests and curates would have time for their flock. Not just an hour shoe-horned into a busy day. Time to pray. Time to care. Think of it. Spirit driven formation. Scriptural driven faith. The Peace that passeth all understanding.
I am writing a week ago for you, Labor Day. I have just had back surgery. The past months, actually years, I have been in terrible pain from a stenosis in my back which constricted my spinal cord to a point where, week by week, I was less able. The nerve pain was excruciating. Finally, I was unable to put any weight on my left leg. Thanks be to God, I never fell away from prayer, nor from the Holy One. Week by week I went to every healing service (as midweek MC), and never asked for healing per se. I knew what was wrong, and was working to get on a surgical rota to fix it. I only asked for anointing and prayer so that I could struggle through another week, and another week. And so it went, and last week I had the surgery. By then I was a cripple, unable to serve at the altar, or wash dishes or laundry, or scoop out the cat boxes, or much of anything else. I have learned to be cheerful in my pain. And now the surgery is done, and I discover that it was too long, perhaps not too late, but for the next weeks I have more pain, weakness, helplessness, and waiting.
There is holiness in yielding to God and sharing what we have learned. We have a good and friendly parish. We have gone the way of the modern church. We are deep into the business methodology of the College for Congregational Development, and creative (canonically legal) liturgy, and a bluegrass band. And people smile at one other. Purchased internet packages have replaced intimacy of genuine study. And a lot of interest keeps people coming back to the next social justice rally, and “doing” ministry. How much of it is self-reflective and not the love of the Spirit spilling out into the incarnate world, I cannot answer. I have little use for identity theology or politics. Paul sorted out race and gender. They don’t matter if Christ is at the center of our lives. Protests only make rifts – us vs. them. Fewer rallies and more human kindness might be a better marker for a Christian community. Bigger is not always better. I think that we have lost our way in a panic to find it. To find infallible answers.
The Gospel for Labor Day reads, “Jesus said, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
“The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light; but if your eye is unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!
“No one can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.” (Mt. 6:19-24)
What do we store, what do we see, whom do we serve? Has the Church become anew its own idol? We broke from the liturgical formalities in the 1960s and 1970s. And created a new one. We really don’t need novelty. The message is clear and true. We don’t need pabulum fed to us with rock masses. I love studious new liturgy, but we don’t need it unless it feeds the people in the Spirit. And we don’t need to modernize the prayer book to reel in more restless youth. We are not in competition with game and reality shows. And, yes, we know that God is not a human male. And we know that the Incarnate One was male and addressed his God as Father, as an obedient 1st century son should.
Through MealTrain, my parish rallied around and the loaves and fishes poured in, in such abundance that I was feeding others from the bounty. I am thankful and my only wish was that anybody had allowed herself a few minutes to visit, share a cup of tea. My neighbors rallied around me, doing the things that others didn’t do. Help me bathe, change my dressing and my sheets, do laundry, scoop the cat boxes, encourage me out of bed to walk and begin to reclaim my life. And they stayed to visit, just visit. Apparently the Ministry of Personal Care hasn’t been created, approved, printed out, and distributed. Maybe my church friends worried that I was not ready for a real visit, but no one asked. I think we have become too busy. I think we have to stop doing and start praying, listening, with open eyes and ears. Maybe the Archbishop’s test isn’t just a naive period piece. Perhaps there is deep spiritual truth lurking in those gentle words and sentimental stories. I will rest, and pray, and watch British mysteries on TV, and drink tea, and wait to heal, and see what God has for me next. I love my Church. But I want to preach. I want to bring us to the next level of discernment that I have learned, through prayer, Scripture, and through dependency on others. I want to bring us closer to the church Jesus taught, to care for the poor, widows, the infirm, with love, not duty. Yes, the Church corporation stepped up to the 21st century mark, but what have we lost along the way? I know that I have found it in our little neighborhood village up here on the hill where we live.
Dr. Dana Kramer-Rolls is a parishioner at All Souls Parish, Episcopal, Berkeley, California and earned her master’s degree and PhD from the Graduate Theological Union, Berkeley, California.