Friday, July 27, 2007

An Anglican Non-Anxious Presence

My original plan for my Sabbatical was to take a break, or Sabbath rest, from news of the Episcopal Church. I unsubscribed from the Episcopal Life Online (ELO, which still makes me think of the group Electric Light Orchestra, but that's beside the point...) and vowed that I would avert my eyes from the news of the wider church in the interest of escaping from what seems the continual bad news emerging from various parts of the Anglican Communion.

That Sabbath lasted about a week.

There are two reasons that I decided to re-engage with the news events of the church. Initially it was because, frankly, I couldn't help myself. I hated being out of the information loop. However, in the wake of my experience at CDI-Seattle, my second reason (far better) was that simply running away, even for a time, from the conflicts raging around the church (or even the inevitable conflicts within my own congregation) increasingly seemed to be to be bowing to fear and a spirit of worry and anxiety. This is in sharp contrast to being what the late Edwin Freeman, in his book Generation to Generation, referred to as being a "non-anxious presence" in any given situation. As I see statements and counter-statements rage across blogs, church newspapers, and even the secular press, it strikes me that there is often precious little reason (the third leg of the Anglican three-legged stool) associated with them, and a substantial dose of either fear or anger. My newly-accepted challenge for my life and ministry is to remain present in the midst of national, diocesan, and congregational conflicts while not being overly anxious about those conflicts and discerning where God may be speaking through them.

In that spirit, I ran across the following blog entry on The Episcopal Majority blog. The author, The Reverend Matthew Dutton-Gillett, remarks on the recent essay by the Most Reverend Henry Luke Orambi, Archbishop of Uganda. on the topic "What is Anglicanism?" Fr. Dutton-Gilbert writes, in part,
"Debate about sexuality, or more precisely, homosexuality, is not really the issue; it is, rather, a very significant symptom. The real issue is this divide about how the Bible is to be interpreted and understood, and its place in the life of the church."
That is, in my opinion, indeed true. However, you rarely, if ever, see any sort of debate on that issue. Couple that with the current manifestation of the debate regarding homosexuality, with all the strong feelings and cultural issues that brings up, and you have a very challenging situation.

He also quotes what he takes to be Archbishop Orambi's central point:
"In the Church of Uganda, Anglicanism has been built on three pillars: martyrs, revival, and the historic episcopate. Yet each of these refers back to the Word of God, the ground on which all is built: The faith of the martyrs was maintained by the Word of God, the East African revival brought to the people the Word of God, and the historic ordering of ministry was designed to advance the Word of God."
Thus the entire Church of Uganda apparently stands or falls solely on scripture, and thus the "correct" interpretation of scripture. It is little wonder, therefore, that differing interpretations of scripture would have far more significance for them than for us in the Episcopal Church.

Contrast those pillars with the fourfold pillars of Scripture, Creed, Episcopate, and Sacraments in the Chicago/Lambeth Quadrilateral and you begin to see from whence the divide emerges. Arguably, we in the Episcopal Church have been marked by only one of the three "pillars of Anglicanism" at work in Uganda: the historic episcopate. Our martyrs are few and far between, revival has occasionally quickened the church but not often had a lasting impact, and we do not operate in nearly the sort of adversarial environment that the Church of Uganda does. Similarly, they do not operate in the sort of pluralistic, individual rights-based environment that we do. In the past, that was fine--without instant communication via the Internet, we could pretty much live out our faith in relative isolation. With the rise of globalization, that is no longer possible. So, how then do we live together?

For me, and I suspect for a great number of others, it comes down to what is essential to our Christian faith as opposed to what is important, but non-essential. Doctrines such as the Incarnation, Resurrection, and the Trinity as well as Holy Scripture as "the Word of God [containing] all things necessary to salvation" (Oath of Conformity, BCP, p. 526) seem like basic foundations on which most Anglicans and Episcopalians can agree. Even if that is not the case, all we can really do that is productive at this point is take a deep breath, pray, pray again, and then be as faithful to our own call from God as congregations and individuals as possible.

So, I will, with God's help, continue to be present to congregational, diocesan, and national church concerns, hopefully without giving in to the temptation to be anxious in the midst of inevitable conflict. After all, God is still in charge and it is God's church, not mine.

No comments: