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THE SAME BUT DIFFERENT

In Norfolk, England, where I spent most of my teens, there’s a saying. “It’s the same but different.” I’ve never fathomed quite what it means but I find it delightful. We have stumbled into a world where difference is in style. Tomorrow the Scottish electorate may well decide that being different is the way to go, as they dream dreams of William Wallace defeating the English (the cinematic Wallace, of course, was played by an American-Australian of Irish ancestry).

I was contemplating just how different I am from my brilliant colleagues on Covenant. I’m much older than they are. I’m not an academic. I’m not a convert. I’m not an American. Unlike most Brits, my father was a West Indian. And he was unlike many West Indians because he was of French, African, and English ancestry. By the time I’ve considered all the elements in my make-up that are unlike yours, I’m unique, sui generis, one isolated being seated in my recliner pecking away with two fingers on my laptop.

I have favorite parts of my being unlike you. Except in Lent, when the missions I serve struggle through Rite 1, I usually reflect that the worship forms I use remain foreign to me, even after years of use. When people, be they ever so brilliant, present me with reasons for changing long-used, evocative rites and ceremonies on the grounds that the Early Church did something different, I reflect that Campbell used the same logic when he founded the Christian Church – now there’s an exclusive title – as did the Anabaptists and Presbyterians. No, I’m not getting into an argument with you. I’m just showing you how different I am.

The Episcopal Bishops are meeting in Taiwan as I write this. One of them wrote today that being there reminds him that TEC isn’t just a national church. It’s an international communion all on its own. It’s different. It’s not like other Anglican Provinces. It’s exceptional, prophetic, inclusive, and modern.

Many of my friends left the Episcopal Church over Prayer Book revision, the ordination of women, same-sex unions, and “heresy.” They now belong to a number of different ecclesial bodies. They can tell me why they left, why they belong where they are, and why they don’t belong in another similar group. They are different.

That great hope of the twentieth-century church, the Ecumenical Movement, has foundered on difference: different claims, different structures, and newly adopted different practices. The appalling element in all this is that we don’t really care enough about any of this difference to repent and change. We were told that globalization was the trend of the future, and, in response, we’ve opted for nationalism and regionalism. We were told that ecumenism was the only reputable response to Christ’s prayer that we may be one to reflect the unity of the Trinity, and, in response, we rejoice in our separation and even when we adopt ecumenical partners we do so on the basis that we will remain just as we are.

The Covenant blog began in support of the ideal of an Anglican Covenant, a binding agreement between the Provinces of the Anglican Communion to a common set of principles. The tragedy is that many Provinces that agreed with these basic principles refused to back it, and in its place created their own exclusive association of churches and advertise just how they are unlike other sinners.

Jesus wept. He came to restore unity between God and the world God created and the people he made. He came to enfold a newly chosen people and commissioned them to announce the victory of Calvary, the absolution and remission of sin, the breaking down of barriers, justice for all, and the promise of a newly restored heaven and earth.

All my reflections on how different I am pale in the light of my sameness. I am a child of God, as are you. I am saved through the Cross of which my baptism is the symbol. I am fed with heavenly food. I am strengthened for service. I am not unlike non-Christians. I belong to the priestly-servant community called to stand for every human to the Father and to stand for the Father to every human. To keep this in mind is to arm myself against exclusivity, judgmentalism, bigotry, and vainglory. For those sins are the sin of pride: the deadliest of sins and the cause of all division. God help me, I’m not different in any important aspect. God has made me the same.

RE-STRUCTURING THE CHURCH

The Task Force charged with reforming the structure of our church has just issued another of its reports.http://episcopaldigitalnetwork.com/ens/2014/09/04/trec-issues-a-letter-to-the-episcopal-church/.The framers assume that the only people to whom they need to speak are those with MBAs or JDs or those benighted souls who revel in topics surrounding structure. It is just this sort of elitism which marginalizes most Episcopalians, turns them off from bothering whether structure is the handmaid of the Gospel and the Catholic Faith or its boss and induces most of us to leave “important things” to our betters. Perhaps this committee might consider translating their turgidity into plain English in order to enlist the opinions and input of those who pray, worship, give and work in our congregations day by day?

Having said that, it would perhaps have been a salutary exercise for the Task Force to consider a simple question, “Why the Church”? I don’t mean “Why the Episcopal Church,” at least not at first. Unless we have some clear understanding about how the Church fits in to God’s purpose, we won’t begin to understand how one fragment in the tragically divided state of Christ’s Church can reflect, albeit brokenly, that will and purpose which undergirds its nature and mission.

The Church exists in God’s will. That’s a beginning, one to which we should return when we get too caught up in the political and structural aspects of the organization. The Church is the aggregate of those, living and departed, who do God service in worship and in embracing God’s world. That purpose is true whether it is expressed in the daily work of a Primate, a Convention, a diocesan office, a parish office, whether in a General Convention at worship or in the offering made by a dozen people in a tiny mission. All is to the greater Glory of God as we serve the world in every age and generation.

If you will, the true nature of the Church may be found in some simple elements, material creations, natural and refined, in water, bread and wine, and oil. They are readily available and cost very little.Through water the Church reminds itself that it has come through water, has died and risen, expressed in its story of the parted water of the Red Sea, in the poured water of the River Jordan, to which we return every time a new child of God is baptized, every time a well is dug in a remote village, every time a drink is given to the thirsty in the name of Christ. Water is the element of redemption, restoration, a promise of the coming of the Kingdom, a sign of God’s love and care for the world in Jesus. The Church exists to make visible the Living Water of the totality of Christ’s mission. Every agency of the Episcopal Church from bottom to top exists to be an efficient Fountain.

Bread and Wine. These elements represent the basic elements of life. We need to eat and drink to live. Even the most elaborate meal is at base participation in life. For the Church Bread and Wine is a tasted and ingested vehicle whereby we participate in Christ’s essential being, his coming, his ministry, his death and passion, his resurrection and ascension, his eternal offering of himself in our place to the Father. Because God has “Spread a table in our sight” so the work of the Church is to spread the Table in plain sight, offering the meal in Christ to God for the world and offering the world God-Food on his behalf. This priestly work -for the Church is a Priesthood – is always the same although it is expressed in many ways and contexts. At the Table, the altar of Calvary, we offer the whole world to God in Trinity, its beauty, its marvels, its triumphs, its tragedy, its folly, its cruelty, its life and its death. At every level of organization, the Church and our church exists and proves its authenticity in that constant repetitive offering of that once offered. And in that sacrament, the Church and the church is fed, restored to life and vitality, enabled to offer food which is both spiritual and material to the world God created and wishes to restore to himself.At the Eucharist the called and vivified are then sent to feed a hungry world. Here in that priestly offering of God to the world the church demonstrates its authenticity. Both aspects of this priestly vocation are expressed through love by the Church’s use of these basic elements of human existence.

Then there is oil, olive oil, an element which stirs our memories of where we come from, wanderers brought through water to the oasis of God healing care. This is the oil of kingship, of priesthood, of baptism, of healing, of dying in order to live. As we touch foreheads and hands, we represent Christ’s rule, his Kingship, His priesthood, his healing life, his raising the dead. At every level of the Church’s life and of our church’s life, we anoint to reconcile, to forgive, to make disciples, to raise those who are dying, physically or mentally, to new life.

None of these elements are for us alone. They have been given as the tools by which the Church and our church demonstrates its loving, effective authenticity to the whole world, in every age and generation until he comes again. When the church lives for itself and hordes these elements for it own use, it ceases to be constructively authentic and loses its energy and effectiveness. It is by reflecting on just how our church employs these elements at each level that we can begin to assess our faithfulness and utility in fulfilling God’s will and mission. Structure is the handmaiden of the church’s authenticity and its use of the Gifts of God for the People of God.

HUH?

Dear Episcopalians. The Task Force charged with reforming the structure of our church has just issued another of its reports.http://episcopaldigitalnetwork.com/ens/2014/09/04/trec-issues-a-letter-to-the-episcopal-church/. I comment not on its contents but on its language. The framers assume that the only people to whom they need to speak are those with MBAs or JDs or those benighted souls who revel in topics surrounding structure. It is just this sort of elitism which marginalizes most Episcopalians, turns them off from bothering whether structure is the handmaid of the Gospel and the Catholic Faith or its boss and induces most of us to leave “important things” to our betters. Perhaps this committee might consider translating their turgidity into plain English in order to enlist the opinions and input of those who pray, worship, give and work in our congregations day by day?