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.