I had a birthday party yesterday with a few good friends, most of whom I don’t see very often if at all. We got together and laughed and talked and enjoyed a lovely English tea. I thought it was a very classy birthday party and I enjoyed it. The neat thing was I didn’t have to worry about an extensive guest list.
There’s always a question of “Who do we invite?” when we’re having a social event. Of course, there’s always the family, but then there are events with friends, coworkers, people from church, or the people we feel we owe an invitation to because they have been gracious enough to invite us. Each category is its own brand of intimacy or congeniality. So who we invite seems to be a matter of with whom we feel comfortable.
We talk a lot about evangelism in the Episcopal Church. Yes, our numbers are down a bit, and we have people scratching their heads as to why. Growing up in a more evangelical church, it was not uncommon for people to invite guests or people that they knew to come to church with them and then come over to the house for lunch, which in the South, meant a full-blown dinner with a lot of food. The point was that you invited folks. Episcopalians are noted for their politeness, their beautiful liturgies, and often hospitality to people who find their way into the doors of their churches. Yet if you mention inviting people to come to church, it’s like the suddenly the collective jaws drop and someone will often remind the others of the old saying, “But we’ve never done it that way.”
But now it’s a new day, and now we’re being advised to invite people to church. After all, how are they going to get to know us if they haven’t been invited into our churches and congregations.? And how does this fit in with the commemoration today of the martyrs of the Reformation era?
Wars have been waged, often over religion, since Cain and Abel. After Jesus’ ascension, the disciples in Jerusalem had disagreements with Paul and the Greek Christians. As the movement spread, differences appeared, and schisms took place. While not actual warfare per se, the stresses between factions grew. Christianity spread throughout Europe, northern Africa, and as far as India. The church in Rome considered itself the true church, which they still claim today. In the British Isles, Celtic Christianity existed before the Romans invaded and the Roman church began to exert its power, but finally made some compromises that at least allowed for some religious flexibility, but the struggle continued for centuries.
Eventually, another schism took place in several areas that changed the religious landscape. Martin Luther posted his ninety-five theses on the door of Wittenburg Cathedral in an attempt to purify the church. Anabaptists, Calvinists, and other groups began in Europe, while in England, Henry VIII sought approval for his divorce from Katharine of Aragon. Thus it began—first Roman Catholics killing Anglican heretics, and then when the Anglicans came into power, they began killing the Roman Catholics. Sadly, that warfare continued in Ireland until a few decades ago. There are still tensions between the two, although armed conflict has lessened considerably.
The Roman Catholics celebrated the martyrs for the faith between the years 1535 and 1679 for centuries. Much more recently, the Church of England began the commemoration of the martyrs of the Reformation era, including the Roman Catholics and Anglicans. Going one step further, they included fellow Christians such as the Anabaptists and the Quakers who also died for their faith. In a sense, the Anglicans invited others who had suffered to join with them not necessarily join them but to worship with them to remember how hard it can be to be a Christian accepted by everyone.
All this brings to mind the talk of the 2020 Lambeth conference in Canterbury, where the Archbishop invites all active Anglican and Episcopal bishops to Cantebury every ten years to work together for unity and focus on ministries. Invitations have been sent out to the Roman Catholics and several other denominations to send observers to listen to the sessions and talk to the bishops and archbishops to create a sense of collegiality among them all despite their differences. It’s an opportunity to find where common ground exists and where divisiveness is still present.
I think it’s a good thing to hold such a conference. It gives a level of transparency and the way the Anglican Community functions, a much different process than many of those in the observer churches and denominations. But the Archbishop of Canterbury has thrown a cat among the pigeons by refusing hospitality to spouses of LGBTI clergy in attendance. They have not been invited because the Church of England feels it might be divisive and unsettling to other denominations which do not accept either LGBTI ministry or marriage. If you welcome non-Christians as well as Christians of different understandings to a conference but exclude certain spouses who are baptized and support the work of the church but who are LGBTI, how can you express any sort of unity within your own gates?
It disappoints me greatly that once again LGBTI brothers and sisters who are in stable and loving marriages cannot be accepted as a couple because it makes others uncomfortable. Isn’t one of the points of being a Christian is to follow the Jesus who gave clear instructions about so many things that we seem to ignore but using the Bible as a cudgel over something Jesus never mentioned?
So who do we invite? Are we inviting people into our churches and our conferences to make them comfortable or are we doing it to expand their understanding to know better why we are doing what we do? Are we planning to live a Christlike life or are we planning to have a nice get together with peace and harmony and love feast going on all over the place? Or are we there to, as someone once said, comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable?
Who should we invite? Who would Jesus have on the guest list and why or why not? Think about it.
Image: Welcome mat from my parents. Author: The McClouds. Found at Wikimedia Commons.
Linda Ryan is a co-mentor for an Education for Ministry group, an avid reader, lover of Baroque and Renaissance music, and retired. She keeps the blog Jericho’s Daughter. She is also estate manager and administrative assistant for Dominic, Phoebe, and Gandhi.