Monday, May 28, 2007

Of Thresholds and Welcomes

Fr. Jake's blog always makes me think. A prime example is his latest post, discussing a book by Sara Miles entitled Take This Bread. While this is obviously yet one more book that I need to add to my "to read" stack (and actually get to reading it!), it also brings to mind a tension in my own life which challenges me. Sara's initial moment of conversion was when she received the Eucharist at St. Gregory of Nyssa Episcopal Church in San Francisco, California. Having grown up in the Diocese of California, I know St. Gregory's is a decidedly non-traditional Episcopal church. However, the non-traditional part of this story for me was that Sara was both offered and received the Eucharist prior to being baptized, which is both a rubrical and canonical no-no in the Episcopal Church. Not that it isn't done, it just isn't supposed to be done! Yet, this non-rubrical, non-canonical reception of the Eucharist was the occasion for a person's conversion.

Now I'm not planning on sparking a conversation about who should and should not receive the Eucharist (unless someone would like to do so). However, the tension this brings up in me is that I am, by personality, a rule-keeper. I don't generally break the rules and am acutely uncomfortable in the current ecclesiastical environment where some people and congregations seem to think they can do their own thing in a whole variety of areas (ecclesiastical, theological, liturgical, etc...) and yet remain part of the Body of Christ. On the other hand, I'm living, preaching, and pastoring in a church with many, many rules and lots of people who seem to like the letter of the law far better than the spirit of Christ. I guess the question for me is, how can we maintain some sort of identity, some sort of boundaries, and yet make those boundaries porous enough that they don't become high walls that close people out?

I want the church to be a place of conversation. I want the Eucharist to be an instrument of conversion. I also want Baptism to matter and the basic creeds and formularies of our faith to mean something and not just be window dressing or frosting on the cake. Perhaps I'm both too ancient and too future and uncomfortable with both!

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Ecclesiastical Wrangling and Time Away

It has been several weeks since I've posted, and the ecclesiastical wrangling in the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion continues on unabated. Invitations to the Lambeth Conference 2008 went out and neither The Rt. Rev. Gene Robinson nor the Rt. Rev. Martyn Minns were included on the guest list. This has evoked a plethora of reactions on both sides, with some calling for the entire House of Bishops to boycott the meeting if Bishop Robinson is not invited, and the Archbishop of Nigeria saying that if Bishop Minns is not invited, there is the strong possibility that the delegation from Nigeria will not attend.

Now, I'm not a child of divorced parents, but the above seems to mirror the experience of a vast majority of my generation--two parents, who are equally loved, wrangling about who gets the house (read: church buildings) and who gets the children (read: title of "true Anglican") while the aforementioned children simply watch their world disintegrate. I know I should be concerned about the state of gay rights in Nigeria. I know I should be concerned about Bishop Robinson not being invited to Lambeth 2008. I know I should be concerned about a lot of things. Right now, though, all I am is tired of the fight.

It has gotten so bad that I am routinely NOT visiting various blogs and informational web sites because I'm simply tired of seeing the same old people post the same old things and the same old reactions to them. I'm due to go on Sabbatical for three months less than a month from now. Though it will be difficult, I am going to try very hard to impose a "news sabbath" on myself and disconnect from news of the Episcopal Church and the wider Anglican Communion for the time I am away. I'm sure I'll miss many items of news. I'm also sure that my blood pressure and general state of mental and physical health will be the better for it. So, this will be the last post to reference such things. In the coming weeks I hope to post about Sabbatical preparations and then will post periodically about what I am learning and doing (or not doing) on my sabbatical time. Stay tuned!

Sunday, May 06, 2007

The Die Is Cast, at least for a few...

As those who have been tracking such things are aware, on Saturday, May 5 Archbishop Peter Akinola, Primate of the Anglican Church of Nigeria, Installed The Rt. Rev. Martyn Minns as a Missionary Bishop of the Convocation of Anglicans in North America (CANA). Numerous articles have been written and blog entries have been made (on PRELUDIUM, Episcopal Cafe, etc..), and no doubt the buzz will continue for some time to come.

My particular favorite quote of all of this is from Archbishop Akinola himself: "'The Church of Nigeria itself has almost nothing to offer,' he said, although the church is the largest in the global communion. 'We are doing this on behalf of the Communion. If we had not done this many of you would be lost to other churches, maybe to nothing at all.'" That would be well and good if not for the fact that the Archbishop of Canterbury, head of the aforementioned Anglican Communion "on behalf" of which this act was done, specifically told Archbishop Akinola not to do this. The word "lost," especially in regards to other churches sounds like a very fundamentalist, narrow, and decidedly un-Anglican version of Christianity. Heck, if people can find life in Christ in the Lutheran, Presbyterian, Roman Catholic, or other Christian church, more power to them! The point is life in Christ, not which color your jersey is!

Archbishop Akinola, in presuming to speak and act for the Anglican Communion, is setting himself up as an alternative to Archbishop Rowan Williams as head of the Communion. What, now are we going to have the Abuja Conference rather than the Lambeth Conference? In any case, it appears that the die is cast and that some disaffected members of The Episcopal Church will now move to the new "missionary diocese" and attempt to take their church buildings, documents, and names with them. Let the games begin (wait, they already have...)! Now I'm waiting for someone from the Episcopal Church to found a missionary diocese in Nigeria...

Seriously, folks, I need to remind myself constantly that all of this affects but a tiny percentage of churches, most of which are quietly, without fanfare, doing what God has called them to do, as our Presiding Bishop pointed out recently. I still plan to visit the homebound this week, preach on Sunday, and administer communion, regardless of convulsions of the wider church. Christ is STILL risen!

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Gloom or Gospel?

As I troll the various blogs (including the always informative Fr. Jake) whose authors opine about the state of the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion, and as I keep up with the various news stories (via the episCope blog), I am hardly encouraged. Yet, I find myself wondering if the current state of dis-ease and anxiety is simply a symptom of a larger problem: We have forgotten the good news! Unlike more evangelical churches, a sizable majority of the Episcopal Church does not subscribe to the idea that folks that do not declare faith in Christ are "lost", much less destined for hell. Because of this, we do not have the evangelistic fervor of people on a divine rescue mission. Rather, we seem often to be more like a server at a buffet or, at most, a street vendor hawking our wares. Our favorite quote is the one widely attributed to St. Francis: "Preach the Gospel at all times and, if necessary, use words." The caveat to this is that, at least in the Episcopalians I've met, the necessity for using words is rare!

My point in this is that I have for a long time felt that the greatest threat to the health and wellbeing of the Episcopal Church is not schism or even heresy, but silence. Most people I know are not even able to begin to articulate their own faith story, have little concept of God's ongoing work in their lives, and often come to church "because that's what you do on Sunday morning!" Even if they do have a healthy, vibrant faith and story, they are reluctant to share it, as if doing so would somehow be rude, gauche, or intrusive.

The question I have posed, and which I have never really received a satisfactory answer, is "What is our motivation for evangelism?" If we do not see ourselves on a divine rescue mission, if the concept of Jesus as Savior, much less Lord, is not something with which we are entirely comfortable, then what is the driving force behind Episcopal evangelism? Regardless of what happens in the Episcopal Church or the Anglican Communion, if we cannot answer that question with something compelling, then we risk sliding into moving from being the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society (the legal name of the Episcopal Church) to the Society for the Preservation of Nice Buildings.