Thursday, November 13, 2014

Why I'm an Episcopalian

Here is a sermon I preached well over a decade ago. And I stand by it yet. This messy, confusing, fragmented church is the one I still stand with. Mostly because it is 'messy, confusing and fragmented'. Go figure.

Why I’m an Episcopalian….
July 27, 2003

This little book is called 101 Reasons to be an Episcopalian. Since much of what I want to say today is about the Episcopal Church, I’m going to read several of them to you as we go along.
# 87 by a woman priest from Florida: “We don’t have all the answers and we welcome others who love the questions.”
# 86 by a laywoman in Rochester: “Catholic, without the pope and with women; protestant without the gloom….”
Tomorrow at 9:55 a.m., God willing and the creek don’t rise, I’ll be on an airplane headed to Minneapolis, Minnesota and the General Convention of the Episcopal Church as one of our Diocese’s 4 clergy deputies.
I want you to know this: I am both proud and humbled to be one of the four priests representing the Diocese of Connecticut at the General Convention. Proud and humbled—both at the same time…. Both together…. Just like that….
Reason # 52: “this is the only church that is as lovingly loony as your family.” Mary Lyons, Diocese of Olympia
#80—a layman from Atlanta: “We don’t quiz you on your beliefs before worshipping with you.”

What I want to tell you about the General Convention of our church is this (it’s a quote from Dame Julian of Norwich): “All will be well and all will be well and all manner of things will be well….”

That’s not the message you will hear in the news media about the goings-on at General Convention. What you will hear—unless you log on the St. John’s web site and get my “reports” from the Convention—is this: the church is in a mess it can’t get out of…everything is falling apart…the Episcopal Church is about to split asunder and blow up like a cheap balloon.
My advice is this: don’t listen to that negative stuff.
My mantra is this: “all will be well….”
In today’s gospel, Jesus walks on water.
Twenty years ago or more now, one of my favorite poets, the late Denise Levertov, said this: “The crisis of faith is the crisis of imagination. If we cannot imagine walking on the waters, how can we meet Jesus there?”
Denise Levertov said that at a conference of poets and theologians. For my money, you couldn’t beat that combination—poets and theologians…people who anguish over “language” and people who fret about “God”. Poets and theologians—now you’re talking….
Let’s cut to the chase—the real issue facing the General Convention, in one way or another, is the issue of homosexuality.
There is a remarkable amount of disagreement within the Episcopal Church about homosexuality. And that disagreement will come to the General Convention in several ways. It will come up over the confirmation of the election of Gene Robinson as the next bishop of New Hampshire. Gene Robinson has been a priest for 30 years. He is currently the assistant to the Bishop of New Hampshire. He heads committees for the national church. He happens to be a gay man in a committed relationship with another man.
There are 10 other elections of Bishops that will come to the General Convention. Not since the 1870’s has the larger church overruled the choice of a Diocese as their bishop. And the 10 other bishops elected in the last 3 months will be approved by General Convention without debate and unanimously. But not Gene Robinson….
If I were a betting man, I’d say the odds of Gene Robinson being approved by General Convention are 4 to 1 in favor. And when that happens you will read and hear how the Episcopal Church is about to fly apart and self-destruct.
I would urge you not to believe that.
I would urge you to believe this instead: “all will be well….”
One thing the Episcopal Church is blessed with in abundance is “imagination.” We will walk on the waters…. And all will be well….
#32 by Elizabeth Geitz, a Canon at the Cathedral of the Diocese of New Jersey: “The Episcopal Church taught me that Jesus came to challenge, not just comfort; to overturn, not maintain; to love, not judge; to include, not cast aside.
Most likely the Convention will also vote on whether or not to ask the Standing Liturgical Commission to prepare a ritual for the blessing of committed relationships outside of marriage. No matter what you hear in the media—General Convention is not voting to approve “gay marriages”.
“Marriage” is a function of the state, not the church, so General Convention has no say in “marriage law”. Because of Connecticut state law, an Episcopal priest can legally sign a marriage license as an “agent of the state”. What I do, as a priest, in a marriage, is ask God’s blessing on the commitment and fidelity of the man and woman. What General Convention will most likely consider is whether there should be a service to bless the monogamous, faithful, life-long relationship of two people that is not marriage. The resolution is, in one way, separating what the “church does” from what the “state does.” If that resolution passes—and I’d put the odds at 2 to 1 in favor of it passing—the church will develop, over the next three years, a ritual to bless “relationships” other than marriage.
If that resolution passes, you will hear that Liberals and Conservatives are about to tear our church apart. I’d urge you to suspend your judgment and remember this: “all will be well, all manner of things will be well….”
# 11, Barbara Ross, Diocese of Oregon: “At our best, Episcopalians can respectfully disagree about a great many things—and still break bread together.”
#13, by Carter Heyward of Massachusetts, one of the first 7 women ordained a priest…before the General Convention approved women’s ordination: “We believe that love without justice is sentimentality.”
There is a sense of daja vu about all the media hype about this year’s General Convention. The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion, critics said, were about to implode and fragment a quarter of a century ago over revision of the Prayer Book and the ordination of women.
And it is true that a small number of Episcopalians chose to leave the church after those changes. But the great schism nay-sayers predicted did not happen. We had the patience and imagination to walk on stormy waters. And, if we in the Episcopal Church can find—in the midst of great conflict and disagreement—if we can find “our better selves” we can walk on waters again.
The secret to our “imagination” as a church is that we Episcopalians—deep-down, value “each other” more than we cling to our divisions. And we are, as a church, dominated by a commitment to Justice.
Reason #62 of the 101 reasons to be an Episcopalian comes from Nancy Vogel of the Diocese of Vermont: “Despite or perhaps because of our present disagreements in the Episcopal Church I am reminded that God calls us all together because we aren’t WHOLE without each other.”
Reason #68, a lay person from New York: “I love our church because we don’t think UNITY means UNIFORMITY.”
“All will be well” with us, if we can cling to our passionate commitment to “be together” in the midst of deep differences. We Episcopalians are the only denomination that is practiced at that. Somehow, over our history, we have found the imagination necessary to “belong to each other” even though we disagree. This is a “lovingly loony” church. You don’t have to leave your questions or your intellect or your deeply-held opinions outside the door to be here and share in the sacrament with each other.
We Episcopalians define our “identity” by our worship instead of our dogma. When Queen Elizabeth the First was asked, centuries ago, if members of her church should cross themselves during the Eucharist, she said, wise beyond words: “none must, all may, some should….”
That is the openness and inclusiveness that is one-half of the genius and glory of our church. The other half of that genius and glory is this: we are the most “democratic” church in Christendom. We make our decisions on small matters and great matters by “voting”.
I was “elected” nearly 15 years ago to be your Rector. We “elect” our bishops. The Presiding Bishop of the Church is “elected” by the other bishops. The deputies to General Convention are “elected” to vote for their Dioceses by their Diocesan Conventions. You “elect” the vestry members that make the decisions about St. John’s. And the Vestry makes decisions by “voting”.
The Episcopal Church is a unique American institution, formed at the very same time as our nation by some of the same people. And the founders of our Church understood the wisdom of the founders of our nation—the way to make decisions is by voting…majority rules…. Here in the United States and here in the Episcopal Church, we don’t believe “unity” means “uniformity”. We vote on difficult issues. Then we move on, unified but not uniform. And we deeply, profoundly value the “loyal opposition”.
An “inclusive democracy” is what the Episcopal Church is. The “loyal opposition” is greatly valued by the majority. That was true for those who opposed women’s ordination and the 1979 Book of Common Prayer. It will be true two weeks from now toward those who are disappointed, broken and angry about whatever happens at General Convention. They will be loved. They will be comforted. They will be included. Without them, the church will not be whole.
“All will be well…” It will take a while and some few may choose to leave the church if I’m correct about how the votes will go. But those who are happy about the “votes” won’t want anyone who is unhappy about the “votes” to leave. If they leave it will be their choice and their leaving will be mourned greatly.
And this church will go on. We will welcome all to taste and see how sweet the Lord’s Body and Blood truly is. We will value everyone, no matter what they think or believe. We will never require “uniformity” to have “unity”. And we will stand for love and justice—love and justice and the wonder of God.
That will not change. Not one iota, not one jot.
And all will be well, all will be well, all manner of things will be well….

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About Me

some ponderings by an aging white man who is an Episcopal priest in Connecticut. Now retired but still working and still wondering what it all means...all of it.