The roomy church: Uniting around what unites us.

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photo credit: Oh My Apartment.

Snark Meter Sorta Snarky.002

A somewhat sarcastic yet serious call to our GC78 delegates to under react.

This post might be the blogospheric equivalent of whistling in the dark. You are pretty sure it won’t really help, but you do it because it makes you feel as if you are at least doing something…

To those of you packing your bags for General Convention let me share a story: Last year I was at the gathering of province VIII ministry leaders. (For non-episcopalians “the province” is episco-speak for one of 9 geographical regions in the Episcopal Church.) At the meeting we were discussing how difficult it is to get folk from the 19 diocese’ and jurisdictions in our province to work together. There was a good deal of frustration at parishes lack of participation in collaborative efforts. We discovered the reason was a lack of understanding of what we were united on. “We aren’t sure other folk are the same kind of Episcopalians we are?” several said. I suggested, “It might help us get buy-in if we had a statement of what we do agree on.” The consensus in the room was that we were such a diverse church that it would be impossible to agree on any kind of a statement. I pushed, “Can the youth people give it a try?” It took one draft and three edits for two liberals, a conservative, and a moderate to hash out a statement of “shared values.” Task completed in one day.

As we showed it around a fascinating thing happened: Other provincial ministry areas saw it and asked if they could use it too. An even more fascinating thing happened when I showed it to two groups of friends. One a group of progressive youth ministers from a variety of traditions (including those the Episcopal Church is in full communion with), the other a group of senior youth directors who lead the group that left us…you know, the grumpy quitters who say we drove them out. Here is where it gets really interesting: Those we are in “full communion” with said, “Those don’t describe us at all.” One, a person with a PhD in theology, said, “I’m not sure I know what half of those points are even about.” The response from the group led by former Episcopalians? “Those are fabulous. Far more descriptive of us than what we wrote!” Now the punchline: The former Episcopalians asked, “Can we use your statement?”

Insert snark: Yes, the theologically pure schismatists asked to use the shared values from a liberal province of the heretic church, while our other pure and undefiled progressive partners, with whom we have so much in common, didn’t even understand the statement.

My point: What unites Anglicans as Great tradition formed, prayer book using, rejectors of the modern pattern of song and sermon for the ancient pattern of scripture and supper, is still far greater than what divides us.

Please remember that as you travel to Salt Lake City. For all of our lawsuits and counter-suits and leisure suits, what unites Episcopalians, even today, is greater than what divides us. That will not be true, though, if you over-define and over-canonicize us. When you go to general convention, do work hard to shrink our national structures to keep resources in the parish for evangelism and discipleship. But PLEASE resist the urge to over-define and consolidate progressive “wins.” Because, as the Reformed Episcopal Church who left us in the 1870’s over two candlesticks and one word (“regeneration” in the baptismal liturgy) show us, what we are arguing about today is not what we will be arguing about tomorrow. Just ask someone from the REC. They put “regeneration” back into their baptismal liturgy in the 1980s. They put the candlesticks back on the altars in the ’60s. No, we will not be arguing about these things in fifty years. Or even twenty. Time will sort out our sexuality stuff. Canonical over-definition and prayer book revision always peels off another 100,000 Episcopalians. And in case you haven’t checked recently, we don’t have them to peel off.

So please, deputies and bishops, as you meet and deliberate our future, please make the hard decisions to shrink our top heavy structures. But when it comes to theological and canonical decisions, especially decisions around marriage, remember that success strategy that you learned in your parish ministry: the power of the under-reaction. You have the votes. You can win. But you can win in a way that creates so many losers as to erase that win. To quote a bishop friend, “Anglicanism, at its’ best is tentative, nuanced and compromised.”

Delegates and bishops, I beg you, under react. Keep us roomy. In a roomy church everyone wins.

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19 thoughts on “The roomy church: Uniting around what unites us.

  1. So love your posts and explanations to our issues!! I also I am so happy that you are coming to the Diocese of Texas!! St John the Divine will be lucky to have you!!

      • No, we live in Lake Jackson,(about 50 miles south of Houston) and attend St. Timothy’s Episcopal church . I follow several episcopal sites on FB and saw your announcement. I was especially excited to see that you have been involved in Young Life for 17 years! One of our 3 children, all of whom have been very involved in Camp Allen and Diocesan youth events, also has been involved with YL at UT Austin! Welcome to Houston and this means you have to make room for being a Houston Rockets fan!

        • Hi Marianne. The conversion to the Rockets will be made easier by the presence of ASU’s James Hardin. Two organizations have blessed my life immeasurably: Young Life which introduced me to Jesus and trained me how to lead people, and the Episcopal Church, with its’ rich discipleship and ancient rhythms which are helping me become more like our Savior.

          Thank you for following. A blog without readers is a journal. 🙂

  2. How refreshing to look at what we have in common rather what we don’t agree on. Looking forward to your joining our St. John the Divine family.

  3. Superb list of shared values, Matt! I wholeheartedly agree with it, too.

    Do you mind if I use it, giving you/your blog/your denomination full credit? I’m currently serving a small Congregational church (basically, UCC/Reformed background) in the Chicago suburbs. I think when I show this to the church council, they will be in agreement with it, too!

    All the best, and God’s blessings, too! Elizabeth @chaplaineliza

  4. Matt: I’m thinking that your “don’t over-canonize” is specifically directed at the revision of the marriage canons. My position is that even if the revisions pass, there will STILL be far more that unites us than divides us. If the shared values really are shared with those who have departed, then why depart at all? Can we agree to disagree on same-sex marriage and move on, whoever “wins” in the next two weeks?

    • Hi Tom, Yep, that’s what I am talking about. And we can agree to disagree. But that sucking sound, that is another 30,000 parishioners silently disappearing out our back doors…and a pile of faithful and effective clergy for whom changing canons represents changing theology away from 2000 years of the tradition.

      Progressive activists seem to want, quoting one of our seminary instructors on the day South Carolina departed, a “leaner, meaner church.” “Leaner”? Undoubtedly. Meaner? I don’t know, but certainly we will be a church a little less tolerant of a dissenting opinion.

      Btw, I have not heard a remaining conservative ever ask to “win” anything. Just not to be handed losses that go beyond their view of orthodoxy. Any conservative remaining does so knowing that the Episcopal Church does and will always support lgbt relationships – Cats don’t go back in bags. But when the canons change then people are soon put in v e r y small boxes…boxes with the words “Title IV Violator” easily affixed.

      I left conservative fundamentalism in which everyone had to walk in lockstep. I think I am seeing more and more progressive fundamentalism…the same my way or the highway, just on the other side of the issues. What happened to the Anglicanism bishop Knisely describes as “tentative, nuanced, and compromised”?

      It seems that what activists are advocating is a very clean, very defined place that everyone knows conservatives cannot stand in…and are in quite the hurry to get to that place.

      John 17, brutha!

      • Well, clearly we disagree. Given that marriage is defined as a sacramental rite (NOT a sacrament) and given that it does not touch on core doctrines of the faith (incarnation, resurrection, etc…) I’m perfectly happy with expanding the marriage canon as long as the exception for conscience is retained, which it is. People keep throwing the “Title IV violator” thing around, but I have yet to see such a witch-hunt materialize. No one is forcing anyone to solemnize the marriage of a same-sex couple, and no one ever will. And, assuming that we don’t revise those canons after decades of discussion, who is to say we won’t lose 30,000 people who can’t stay in a church that won’t affirm same-sex relationships? We’ll see in a couple of weeks.

        • But we have already affirmed same-sex relationships.

          Surely you see that the collision between those who read scripture through the lens of Justice and those who read it through the lens of holiness are going to collide precisely at same-sex relationships. That makes same-sex relationships exactly the place where Anglicans should strive to maintain a roomy, fuzzy center.

  5. I believe the Reformed Episcopal Church was officially organized in 1873 (or 1874) in retaliation of that year’s General Convention rejection of the conservative attempt to ban candlesticks on the altar, Eucharistic vestments, incense, and Baptismal regeneration. Looking forward to your tenure at SJD.

    • Hi Alexander. You are correct. For some reason 1868 was in my brain and I assumed facts not in evidence. Thank you for the correction. I will edit accordingly. Looking forward to being one of you!

  6. Pingback: Uniting Around What Unites Us | JLP Pastor

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