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By the Rev. Randy Alexander
Deputy, Diocese of Virginia
In college, when I first worshiped in the Episcopal Church, I was struck by the title of the prayer book, The Book of Common Prayer. Did that mean ordinary prayers that perhaps weren’t that special, maybe sort of a rainy-day backup for when the priest was having a bad day? I soon learned, of course, that it meant anything but. It referred to the other meaning of “common,” namely what we hold together. That is quite a clue to our theology and our way of being in the world as Anglicans.
I find it helpful to start from the most obvious place. Many in our world do not believe in God, do not believe that there is an intelligent, powerful, loving, creative force behind all that we see. Obviously, we differ from them, and that starts to pull us together.
Then, among the major religions of the world, we believe with Christians around the globe that God became one with us and for us in the Incarnation of Jesus of Nazareth – teaching us, healing us, dying for us, rising from the dead, interceding for us now, forgiving us, and calling us to eternal life. That pulls us a whole lot closer.
And then, among this family of Christians, we find ourselves part of the great Anglican sub-family, descended from the Church of England, and part of that rich tradition of Common Prayer. Our theological life is defined by Scripture, as interpreted by the great tradition of the Church and our own God-given reason. We just got pulled together further.
Then, we are part of that great Anglican heritage as it has been received and lived in the United States and the other countries that are part of the Episcopal Church. We are held together in the solid belief that we are not the whole Church, but we humbly stake our claim within the larger family and witness to the gifts God has given us—within the Jesus Movement. We value shared decision-making among laity, bishops, priests and deacons. We pray together, even as we might struggle about what words to use. And we submit graciously (at least on a good day!) to compromise for the good of the whole. We invoke the Holy Spirit to guide us, to challenge and direct us, and to lead us on. We believe that we are called to cooperate with God, to be instruments used by God to spread the Kingdom, drawing people and all of Creation into a healed and reconciled relationship with God.
Finally, we might be utterly perplexed about what the next life might look like (and for good reason!), but we believe, at the end of the day, that all that we see here is most certainly not all that there is. We experience glimpses while we’re here, a foretaste of the heavenly banquet, of what will be in the life eternal. Those glimpses, and our faith and hope, draw us all together and relativize so much about which we might otherwise fret and worry.
These are just a few thoughts over morning coffee about what holds us together. In fact, maybe I should have mentioned coffee.
The Rev. Randy Alexander is the rector of Immanuel Church-on-the-Hill, Alexandria, Va. He’s a graduate of General Theological Seminary and has served parishes in New York, Baltimore and London.
Photo credit: Celal Kamran (GC79 worship photos)