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He Said-She Said.

For my sins and iniquities I read the “evidence” placed before the General Synod of the Church of England as it debated a private motion which sought to recognize ACNA’s desire to be in communion with the English Church. ACNA, “The Anglican Church in North America” sent one of its bishops and others to watch the debate from the gallery. The proponent of the motion told the tale of ACNA from its point of view. TEC, “The Episcopal Church”, countered by providing position papers putting forth its version of what has happened to cause the rift.

Although the motion was part of General Synod business, it reminded me of the sort of goings on one hears of in divorce courts. By the time the matter has reached the court, each side in the divorce has retreated into its own world, sure of its own position, with not a shred of sympathy for the partner with whom they may have spent many intimate years. The deciding factor in granting the divorce will be an interpretation of law, plain and simple. Into that law is squeezed and shaped a story of two lives, two loves, two moments of joy, and often the lives of children and an extended family. The law does its job calmly and coldly.

The two partners to the divorce have failed to reconcile, and failed to agree on what is now termed a “no fault divorce” .  In the firm knowledge of their righteousness, each partner defends its position and in the process discounts and ignores all promises made, all experiences shared and every moment of happiness experienced. There is a sort of madness about the exercise, a madness of selfness and introspection ruthlessly applied. This does not mean that there may be grounds for the divorce, sometimes frightful grounds. It may well be that the two need to be apart and their relationship legally severed.

So in London, last week, the two sides aired their differences rather oddly before a group of people, most of whom have the vaguest knowledge of the American context. In typical English fashion, the motion was amended to a “take note” and “report back” status, the usual way Brits delay matters and avoid adopting harsh resolutions.

Yet the venue and the passions expressed in the position papers offered to  the English bishops, other clergy and laity have some significance. In a way, the Americans went home to “mother”, and by extension, to the wider family of the Communion. The tale told was hardly edifying, often immature and devoid of sympathy for their former partner.

Because of this, those responsible for a final decision on the status of ACNA are not only confronted with the dilemma of two entities in one place each claiming to be Anglican, but of the probable effect on the general public in North America if the Gospel is to be presented by two “individuals” sure of their righteousness and equally convinced of the perfidy of the other. “See how these Christians love one another.”

The question of who is right or who is wrong, of evaluating the “he said, she said” evidence becomes secondary to a basic Christian concept. Could not provision have been made, a settlement agreed upon, an untidy preservation of a unity while perhaps living apart for a while?  The answer usually given is that attempts were made but one side or the other couldn’t be trusted. But had there been trust, there would have been no need for negotiation. In such circumstances a neutral mediator may often help to overcome mistrust enough to reach a settlement which would be best for the well-being of each side.  It is because trust evaporated that we have reached this point of schism, the technical word for a frightful ecclesiastical divorce, a split not primarily of entities and property, but of people, real people, who have lived and loved together and who now invoke amnesia about the past in order to justify the harshness of their demands.

Yet in this Lenten season it is not too late for TEC and ACNA to take up the offer made a few years back by the Communion to provide neutral mediators to assist a settlement more honoring to God and better for the two entities than the probable outcome of this unholy struggle.

Where is Jesus in all this?  He is dying on the Cross.

THE TRIVIAL ROUND

There is no greater privilege for a priest than “The Cure of Souls”.  There’s a monument on the wall of the church here in memory of William Franklin, who served this parish as rector for two years in the 1850s. He died young and was obviously loved dearly. His name is on a stained glass window, once in the old church and now in the sacristy. Only three clergy have monuments in the “new” church, built in the 188os. One was a former dean of Nashotah House, then bishop of Northern Indiana and finally an assistant priest here. The other is to Father Eyrick who was rector for thirty-six years.

In differing ways and times these men earned the affection and respect of parishioners. They did so by simply being that which God called them to be. They were merely human, set apart to handle holy things. In an age when we concentrate too much on what we fondly believe to be the “particularity” of our times, it is good for me to remember the “trivial round and common task” embraced by those called to priesthood through the ages. The Ordinal identifies these common tasks.

The Church sets before us our job description. We are to pray, study, teach, minister to the sick and dying and those who mourn. We are to baptize, prepare candidates for Confirmation, preside at Weddings, commend the dead in Burial; we are to teach and preach. We are to counsel and absolve the penitent. Above all we are to open the windows of Heaven, as in identifying the Eternal Presence of Christ in Bread and Wine, we enable the community to offer to the Father, through the Son, by the Holy Spirit, in the company of the hosts of Heaven, the honor due to His Name.

In every age, the business of enabling the people of God to experience the reality of Otherness involves the priest keeping the experience of the Holy intact. That has never been an easy task, for we are as much worldlings as those to whom we minister. The more our attention strays from the work of Holiness – and the word holy in Hebrew has at its root the concept of being set apart – the more we fail in our priesthood and we fail our people.

“Apartness” easily slides into self-esteem and self-righteousness. It creates the obsession we have with our being something special, in ownership of the church building, in priestcraft, churchism, denominationalism,  a selfish delight in the institution, its preservation merely for itself. The struggles within Anglicanism today, as always, are centered in making the church our own and resisting that which we believe threatens that in which we delight. The need to “control”, to manage, typified in the struggles experienced in Synods and Conventions and the agendas of vestry meetings, or the subjects we blither about on the phone and internet illustrate vividly a reluctance to let go. We want to manage the Holy and thus we transform the Holy into an idol.

I am convinced that our present concentration on what we term “The Real Presence” and what Jesus, aka the Church can do for us is a perversion of the Sacrament, and its effect secularizes all we do. The offering of “ourselves, our souls and bodies” in Christ in the eternal worship of the Triune God, and in that offering our absorption into the purpose of God in love for the world is the common task of the church at every level.  As we are drawn into the “apartness” or difference of the Holy, we surrender our obsession with those churchy things which turn us on. No this isn’t powerless pietism. It is only in the power of the Holy that we are enabled to care for the poor and those “other” than ourselves. God’s justice, unlike our own, is synonymous with a mercy our falleness cannot begin to contemplate. Our humanity makes us bigots towards the bigotted, unmerciful towards the merciless and controlling of those who lack control.

There is nothing new about all this. In this constant context the priest is called to summon the people of God into that experience of the Holy which enables our surrendering ownership of the church to the God who called it into existence. God empowers the church to be the church as the church dares to step beyond its context into the eternal Presence by participation in that worship into which we are drawn as we lift up our hearts and lift them up unto the Lord.