Tuesday, February 9, 2010


February 9, 2010

I am using a weekend off to lead something styled “A Workshop in Christian Community” for members of three parishes in Eastern North Carolina. I will offer three presentations along with exercises and Q and A on Friday and Saturday and will preach in one of those churches (yet to be revealed, but probably a parish in Morehead NC) on Sunday before coming home for a ‘Valentine’s Day Dinner’. How this came about is a long story, but with all such stories has to do with personal relationships and old friends. A group of people there has been reading Raymond Brown’s The Beloved Community about the Christian Community of John’s Gospel and its relationships with others around them. They have also read Dietrich Bonheoffer’s Life Together, theological reflections on the practices of Christian Community.

I have fairly free rein given that and intend to follow a trajectory looking at some of the bases for (or assumptions I make) about our communal nature as people made in the image of God revealed as Triune. This will be a kind of anthropological effort that is intended to get us thinking about who we are, what makes us a ‘self’ in relation to others and so on. We will look at how we like to be treated by others in light of how God treats us and in light of the reality of differences in power in many of our important relationships. The second section will focus more on the practices of community especially what is going on when we gather around the Lord’s Table (with Bonheoffer as the subtext or context for a discussion of worship.) Last we will look at the community’s relation to other Christian communities, other communities of faith and people who claim no faith (with Raymond Brown as subtext or context) and the assumption that God’s hope or end is that we find ourselves in common humanity beyond, but with full appreciation for our particularities. I have some ideas for a sermon coming out of this with texts for the Last Sunday after the Epiphany in which we hear the story of Transfiguration, but am going to let the conversations we have shape the final form of the sermon for Sunday.

I’m looking forward to seeing what unfolds and the preparation has been fun. Where I am stuck however is in thinking about the other subtext that will shape our conversation even if we never make it explicit and that is the reality of tensions within the Anglican Communion. I’m not planning to take this head on in any presentations but will probably address the issues in terms of Christian Practice in community. We sometimes hear that the proposed Anglican Covenant is about strengthening ‘interdependence’ over ‘provincial autonomy’. A newish English Suffragan Bishop called Graham Kings is also leader of the group called Fulcrum. Has recently suggested that this is his view of things going so far as to say that if TEC moves forward with confirming the election of Mary Glasspool as Suffragan Bishop of Los Angeles, and if our Presiding Bishop participates in the consecration, she will have made it impossible for herself to serve on this new animal called the ‘Anglican Standing Committee’ with any integrity as a result of her actions. You can read his comments here.

Regular readers of my opinions on this will not be surprised that I disagree with Bishop King’s (and the proposed Covenant’s—much of which is simply a well thought out expression of Anglican Ecclesiology and no problem--) assumption that interdependence means ‘gracious restraint’ in the living out of principles of the gospel which have become clear to this province but are matters of debate in others and simply ‘beyond the pale’ and not even worthy of discussion in yet others. Restraint sounds very reasonable when discussed as a theory and simply wrong when thought about in terms of sisters and brothers in the pew who have by presence and conversation over a long period of time have helped the Church gathered around the Table and under the Holy Spirit to come to a new assessment of what it means to be human. (Obviously this sentence can be debated and in itself does not constitute an argument). Why can ‘interdependence’ not mean recognizing, understanding and even appreciating difference? And why can Episcopal leadership, especially in those parts of the Church who grant bishops ‘high’ and even ‘autonomous’ privilege, not mean insisting that such decisions as that made by TEC with regard to the full humanity as such of lesbian and gay people be ‘respected’ or ‘given room to develop’ or ‘be one more manifestation of cultural difference’ rather as we live with differences over the status of women in the Communion? Instead we have brothers and sisters (and a pride of male bishops—lions of the Church?) who see interdependence as essentially expressed in ‘majority rule’. Is that really the proper consequence of the ecclesiology of the ofrst three sections of the proposed Covenant?


Lionel Deimel said...

Thank you for this reflection.

“Interdependence” has become an assumed good, yet it is nowhere defined, nor is there explication, theological or otherwise, of what makes it a desirable goal.

Gracious attentiveness might be a more worthy goal than gracious restraint. Churches should attend to what other churches are doing, not simply to correct them—that might be necessary from time to time, though there is danger that that comes out of arrogance, rather than love—but also to contemplate whether there is something to be learned from the well-intended but unanticipated actions of others.

Hank Harris said...

This is very thoughtful stuff. But I am reading this while sitting in the upper deck of The Tabernacle on Luckie st- it is neither an Episcopal nor Anglican tabernacle. But the couple sitting next to me is having a religious experience with the two catalysts of the music of a band called "them Crooked Vultures" and a joint the size of a Monte Christo.

I asked them if they were OK with gay bishops in the episcopal church and they said that was fine as long as they were good- looking. They asked me if I wanted any weed and I told them that I had given it up for Lent - they pointed out that Ash Wed wasn't until next week so the rest of this message will be less clear.

Will report further in a little while - going to get a brownie.