Print edition: Issue Five, for Sunday, June 28, 2015
In this issue:
“Can’t Stop God’s Love: Michael Curry Elected 27th Presiding Bishop”
By Center Aisle
“Hospitality in the Cheap Seats”
By The Rev. James Papile, Rector, St. Anne’s Church, Reston, Va.
“Love Comes Unbidden: In Defense of Open Communion”
By The Rev. Susan Buchanan, Rector, St. Thomas’ Church, Richmond, Va.
“Humans of General Convention” (separate blog post)
By Center Aisle
“A Letter to the Editor” (online only)
Responding to “TREC’s Seminary Proposals? They Are Already in Place”
“We’ve got a God and there really is a Jesus. And we are part of the Jesus movement. And nothing can stop the movement of God’s love in this world.”
Feel that gale roaring across the Utah desert? It’s the wind of possibilities. Through the sheer power of his spirit, the Rt. Rev. Michael Curry can help Episcopalians touch the hearts of people all over this land – all over this world.
The presiding bishop-elect will begin his service on a firm foundation. With her profound intellect and humble spirit, the Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori has pushed boundaries for the Church without losing her reconciling spirit.
Now comes Bishop Curry of North Carolina – a preacher whose very presence can excite a room. His message that “nothing can stop the movement of God’s love in this world,” delivered in a voice that sings with authenticity, will resonate far beyond our congregations and ministries. It can touch the broader community. It can connect with those millions in search of something bigger than themselves. To put it simply, Michael Curry speaks in a language that the culture can understand.
And so the first African American presiding bishop will succeed the first woman presiding bishop – a scenario few would have foreseen a decade ago. But then this is no time for business as usual – not in the aftermath of the tragedy in Charleston, not when the gap between haves and have-nots has grown to grotesque extremes, not when refugees from violence live from day to day in overgrown shantytowns.
But let us not fall into the trap of thinking that one dynamic leader can do it alone. The presiding bishop-elect is all about community – all about us. He prays for a church “passionately committed to making disciples.”
Michael Curry wrote a book a few years ago called “Crazy Christians” – a subject he addressed the last time this General Convention gathered in 2012. The title alone is a reminder of something we too often forget: Christians are “crazy.” We are countercultural. We are called to a radical mission of loving God and loving one another. That’s a calling that nothing can stop.
The Episcopal Church has a ways to go in hospitality, and we should begin with how we treat visitors at General Convention.
Think of yourself at the back of your church on Sunday morning. Feeling very virtuous, you walk up to a new family and hold out your hand. “Welcome.” Then you hear the line you get all the time: “So nice to meet you. At the last church we visited, we were there for three weeks, and nobody ever seemed to notice us.”
Yes, we’ve all been there – many times. So Friday morning in the House of Deputies’ visitors section was really ironic. I have been a member of Virginia’s deputation for five conventions. This is the first time I have sat on the other side of the barrier. Now I know how those visitors feel.
The visitors gallery is behind where the deputies sit. There is a waist-high barrier that separates the deputies and visitors, and the water coolers are on the deputies’ side of the barriers—all of them. It’s a pretty clear message.
The deputies began a conversation on the work that had been done over the past three years concerning the structure of the Church. A series of questions was proposed for small group discussion. They were on screens up front and paper copies were provided for the deputies. But for the visitors, the type on the screens was too small to read and there were no paper copies available. There had been no invitation for the visitors gallery to form small groups to discuss the questions. Quickly, the gallery cleared out.
The deputies were encouraged to tweet responses. There was discussion on whether non-deputies should be allowed to tweet, which, thankfully, was shot down, but it filled the hall with a feeling of unwelcome. It would have been simple for visitors to have input, through Twitter and Facebook. The question of “authority” missed the point, and the opportunity to hear from even more Episcopalians on a most important issue was lost.
We talk a lot about being inclusive – encouraging everyone to be a part of the conversation. We want to be known as “big tent” people, acknowledging that everyone’s input is essential to who we are. But our seriousness on this self-understanding is severely compromised when here at our General Convention we disregard input from faithful, dedicated people – dedicated-enough-to-come-to-Salt-Lake-City brothers and sisters.
Yesterday, Center Aisle published an article on a rector’s account of how baptism before communion works in his parish. Today, we bring the counterpoint.
She is crying as she kneels. I place the bread in her hand. “The body of Christ. The bread of heaven.” She is still crying as she approaches me after the dismissal. “I hope I haven’t done something wrong,” she blurts out. “Done wrong?” I ask. “What could you have done wrong?”
“I’ve never taken communion before. I’m Jewish.” I motion toward the front pew: “Would you like to talk with me about your tears?”
And we sit, and she speaks of the urging she has felt for a long time, drawing her toward walking through our doors and sitting with us in worship. She speaks of how she had heard in my sermon about Jesus who lived fully the message of God’s love. The message of the Jewish prophets, her prophets, lived in the flesh. And she heard me say that this was God’s table, God’s meal, for all of God’s people. And that welcome touched her in a way she did not understand. But she brought her hunger for God forward. She held out her hands, and the filling overflowed into tears she could not stop.
God proves his love for us in that “while we still were sinners Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8)
I serve a parish that is filled with people (and I am one of them) who have been told in the past that there is some impediment to their being one of “God’s beloved.” Told that they may come in the door, but no closer. They are divorced and remarried. They are gay or lesbian or transgender or queer. They have been willing to voice their questions and their doubts, and as a result found themselves rejected.
Yet they, and I, have discovered in The Episcopal Church what I think is one of our particular charisms – the charism of welcome. I serve a parish that is committed to fully living that welcome. And to do that, such a welcome must be present every week as we gather for communion. Every week, every gathering, my parish welcomes all to God’s love experienced in bread and wine.
God’s love for us happens – just because God loves us. “While we still were sinners.” Christ’s body and blood are given for us in death while we are sinners, not after we are somehow made more worthy. Love comes unbidden, unmerited, and without prerequisite. I know that the tradition and the norm of the church throughout history is that we are first immersed in that love in baptism before we feed upon it in communion.
But it is not the only way that God moves. The book of the Acts of the Apostles is filled with stories of God’s spirit pouring out grace in unexpected, unsettling, and unorthodox ways and times. And so, too, today. I believe unmerited love and grace was as available in the bread and wine for that Jewish seeker as it was for me. In her hands were the outward and visible signs of the inward and spiritual grace that God was pouring out upon her.
This week our Sunday lectionary offers us the story of the woman, bleeding for 12 years, who breaks through all traditions and norms and rules because she knows where healing is to be found. It is not in following the rules that she is saved. It is in the faith that she brings as she, against all rules, reaches out her hand to touch Jesus.
If I and my parish fail at anything, it is in not yet exploring ways in which we might make the welcome to the waters of baptism, and the grace available there, as clear and visible as we make the welcome to the table. But that in no way negates the amazing power of the sacrament of bread and wine to bring healing to whoever reaches out their hands in faith to take hold of it. “Daughter, your faith has made you well. Go in peace.”
I appreciate the comments in Center Aisle of the Very Rev. Roger Ferlo of Bexley Seabury Federation on the proposed resolution (A001) related to the Episcopal seminaries drafted by the Task Force on Re-Imagining the Episcopal Church (TREC). As the vice chair of the Board of Trustees of another of our seminaries, the Church Divinity School of the Pacific, and as an alternate representing the Diocese of Virginia, I have been following this resolution closely. President Ferlo rightly points out that the seminaries (including CDSP) are engaged in creating new ways of delivering seminary education and reformulating how our curriculum meets the leadership needs of the Church in the 21st century. He is also correct in pointing out that the language on accountability in the resolution could be improved. However, the crux of the resolution calls upon the seminaries “to work collectively in creating, and developing a culture of collaboration among them.” Candidly, our seminaries have a distance to go in learning to collaborate. On that basis alone, I would urge support for A001.
The Rev. James Richardson
Rector, St. Paul’s Memorial Church, Charlottesville, Va.