March 17, 2009
At a meeting of Rectors of Endowed Episcopal Parishes with Kenneth Kearon, the Secretary-General of the Anglican Communion the question was asked as to how we move forward as a communion ‘with the mess we are in’. The answer apparently in the view of many is some kind of ‘covenant’ of which the critical and controversial section of proposals thus far involves how to manage disagreements in the communion. It is believed by many that some kind of juridical solution is necessary in the form of centralized adjudicating or decision-making ‘process’.
I don’t share this worry. It seems that for those who prefer that communion be defined by common intellectual assent to propositions of faith have a number of perfectly good Roman Catholic and Protestant (Missouri Synod Lutherans for example) options. For those who believe that the effort to be a catholic communion of faith that is based in the reality of living toward right relationship through common story then living with mess is a way forward. The way we can decide to do that is by accepting the oddities and apparent contradictions inherent in our particular history and continuing to affirm the possibility and desirability of common prayer around the Lord’s Table with a generous understanding of baptism as God’s gift open to all people as the normal (or normative) admission to that Table.
Those who then decline to come to the Table because they disapprove of others who might be in attendance either because of their beliefs, sexual orientation, gender, odor, social status or any of the other and innumerable ways we have of separating ourselves one from another are declining our Lord’s invitation and effectively withholding themselves form the full transformative reality and power of the sacrament in favor of some notion of a ‘pure’ church.
I’m reminded of the struggle of many teenagers to accept that someone they don’t like might be invited to their party by a parent only to discover that the party is really just fine with those people whether present or choosing to decline the invitation.
The direction of this argument will sometimes leave a critic wondering whether I believe that if someone rejects the Episcopal Church in favor of another denomination or even a particular parish in favor of one more to their liking for whatever reason that I believe they are rejecting faith. And the answer is ‘of course not’. I assume that God can and does work with any and all expressions of Church. At the same time I have come to believe that some people leave a particular community of faith for good reasons, in the nature of a call to something new and that others leave when it would be better for them and for the Church as a whole if they made a different choice.
The notion of refusing communion with the Lord because we believe that we should not be ‘endorsing’ something we find sinful rather flies in the face of all Jesus’ teaching about the Kingdom, the people with whom he chose to eat and drink, the vision he both inherited and held of the future banquet and so on. Why can we not and should we not choose to live with the mess and set aside this hand wringing worry about control?