July 12, 2018
JoAnne had a disturbing experience walking Abby last week. They had been in Katonah walking about and doing whatever Border Collies and their adopting moms do on a “girls day out” when, as JoAnne relates, they came to a particular street and Abby just froze. She became fear filled. She whimpered. She refused to walk down that street – no way no how! She dug her paws in, engaged her brakes, lay down in defiance, and did whatever other doggie type cliché you wish to conjure up. Fear had her paralyzed. And what was most confusing was that there were no overt signs of any trouble ahead. There were no aggressive dogs (or persons) lurking in the shadows (because last week’s blistering noonday sun had eliminated them all). There was no rational “reason” to explain her behavior, but freeze up – she did! And it took all sorts of cajoling, bribes, and pleading to cross the road and move beyond that street in order to return to the car. I’m not asking you for solutions to Abby’s issue. Maybe she has a memory from her puppy wandering days down south that this street brought to mind. Maybe, she was just tired and played JoAnne for sympathy. We’ll never know.
But this experience can be a metaphor for parish life, small Episcopal Church 2018. We, like too many other small parishes in our small Communion of less than 2 million members nationwide, are approaching unknown avenues, having to make decisions, planning for an uncertain future and looking out on unfamiliar paths, and there is the temptation to just freeze. It’s always easier to claim that the past was “Utopia”, and it is better to return to what “was” than to face the uncertain “now” (or future). Some parish communities get trapped in an ideological quicksand of inaction because folks claim that they want to change or grow, but they want things to stay the same as when they were perfect (or at least “better than this”) in the past.
The questions we, as a small parish, must be asking ourselves are just what is it Christ wants us to be and where does Christ wish us to go? In the end, it’s not about institutions, or buildings, or “things”. It is about discipleship. It is about love being manifested. It is about not being afraid to do whatever we discern God is calling us to do. Dogs (usually) are motivated by food or play. Christians must pray, and struggle, and discern and then must act in love. Only then can we avoid being frozen in fear.
July 5, 2018
Today is not only the day after Independence Day, but it is the day that the Episcopal Church will begin its 79th General Convention –the highest legislative and moral authority of this Church. This body meets every three years. Every Bishop (hundreds active and retired) is expected to attend. 4 clergy plus 4 lay representatives from each and every diocese of our church will be present – totaling ALMOST 1000 PEOPLE when one includes alternates, youth, vendors, guests and speakers. (By contrast, both Houses of the United States Congress do not total 600 people)!
There will be hot button issues (as usual). Issues of sexuality and same sex marriage rites never go away. There is a mandate to come up with a process for possible revision of the Book of Common Prayer (currently in use since 1979), and our Hymnal (1982), and there are calls for reform but also to “leave it alone.” Other liturgical books, are in need of refinement, of examination, of possible reform – always to engender debate. There is a budget to be examined and passed. And then, how do we as a Church face the issues of racism, institutional violence and also what appears more and more a secular culture that has paid lip service to gender equality but really raised (well, actually lowered) the level abuse of women to practically an art form of “normality” in some professions! There is the thorny issue that the single most important and responsible non-bishop of our church, the President of the House of Deputies, has never been a salaried person. The demands of the office have grown over the centuries. The traveling demands in and out of NYC alone are enormous. To this date, one cannot have a full time paying “job” or a “life” while serving as President of H.D. Therefore it is forever been a person who either is retired, or crassly put, so wealthy that he or she can afford to do this job without pay. Many believe this must change. Most bishops oppose this being a salaried position and have voted down this request each and every convention it has been raised.
I am hoping that among the hundreds of proposed resolutions (most of which may not even see the light of day), among all the political and moral posturing regarding the reform of “Title IV” canons (the disciplinary procedure for clergy who have done wrong), I am hoping that instead of ecclesiastical chest bumping” over the success of our Presiding Bishop’s preaching at the last royal wedding, those who deem themselves (and whom we commission as) our leaders will in the informal gatherings, at the dinners, in walking to and fro, at times of prayer (informal and liturgical) will start to do some really serious soul searching and brain storming regarding who we are as a church and where is God calling us to be. I spoke in this past Sunday’s sermon that what the scriptures seem to make (uncomfortably) clear is that Christ never promised to accept us as we are! In fact, he seldom does that with those whom He calls. Christ always calls us to be better than we think we are capable of being. He calls us to higher and deeper and better. And I, who entered this Episcopal Church by choice so many years ago, am praying that we, as a Church, listen to what our God is calling us to do – of who and what we are meant to be in Christ Jesus. It just seems that the “Kingdom of God” that Jesus preached and calls us to be and to serve is so far away. There is so much work, in Christ’s name and empowered by His Holy Spirit, that we need to be doing.