Prayer is a good thing. So pray for the Primates and their meeting, or better yet, pray for the Church, or best yet pray for all those who are in need of the Grace of God known in Jesus Christ.
An on the odd assumption that grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ is mostly a local and specific phenomena, pray for people in the day you have just had, and it will all come out just fine.
As some who read this blog know I spend an inordinate amount of time trying to make sense of all the goings on. Sometimes what I pursue is helpful, sometimes it is not. There are a number of signs of anxiety about it all. See HERE.
There are several wonderful signs that we need not be anxious at all: The Presiding Bishop is interviewed by the New York Times, and after a few interestingly querky beginning interviews, this one is absolutely on target. She is clear, she is realistic, she is ready. Read the whole thing Our prayers for her are met by her prayers for gracious presence in harm's way.
SHEILA MCJILTON wrote this prayer for use in our daily prayers:
Prayer for the Primates in Dar-es-Salaam
O Holy One, you who have created the heavens, the earth, and all who dwell therein. We come before you in humility and with faithful expectation this day (night). We lift to your holy presence our brothers and sisters, the Primates of the Anglican Communion, as they meet this week in Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania.
You are the God who creates out of nothing. You are the God who redeems all whom you have created. You are the God who makes a way for your children when there seems to be no way. This week, we ask you to make a way for your children. As the leaders of the Anglican Communion gather, we ask that you open their ears, their eyes, and their hearts to what you would reveal, and that they would gather at your table as one body in Christ Jesus.
We pray especially for the physical safety and spiritual well-being of our own Bishop Katharine as she represents the faithful in the Episcopal Church. We pray that you will grant her courage to face these days, in the knowledge that your holy angels and our prayers surround her with mercy, grace and love. We ask these prayers, not because we are worthy, but because you are merciful, just and gracious, O Lover of our Souls. In the name of your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
That's a good prayer.
But behind that prayer is the day to day life in the Episcopal Church, a community of amazing breadth and astounding solidity. It is that breadth and depth that gives our Presiding Bishop the support. Prayers, yes, but life even a greater YES.
Today, Sunday, I got up and went to St. Peter's in Lewes, Delaware, a parish in a small town on the cusp between the Delaware Bay and the Atlantic Ocean. At the 8 AM Service the Rector of all Lewes preached on the close relationship between renewal and resurrection, between what we think of as living out the Gospel now and living into Resurrection. He too asked us to pray for the Primates and their meeting, and for the Church. At that service our newest Associate was the celebrant. I provided the sacrament of unction for those who wished to receive it. One way or another this was a quietly inclusively led and participated in gathering for worship.
Because it was a Sunday that all three clergy were around I asked to be excused from the 10 AM service in order to go to St. George's African Methodist Episcopal Church at 11:00 AM. Such a possibility on a Sunday Morning arises from a sense of abundance: there are more clergy than are needed; there is an opportunity to spread connections and engagement ecumenically; there is openness to such engagement on a Sunday Morning, when Clergy are often considered locked in to their parish responsibilities.
I wanted to go there because for some years I have been concerned that our primary questions of communion have been about communion with "the northern tribes" – the Lutherans, the Methodists, etc. – but less so about communion with the African-American counterparts to the Episcopal and Methodist denominations. And here, literally around the corner from St. Peter's, Lewes, is St. George's Lewes – TEC and AME – and very little connection between the two. So it was time to renew or begin relationship.
So I went. That service was more or less based on Morning Prayer. Episcopalians would recognize the order (remember African Methodist Episcopal Church). But it was very much its own thing. All went as expected until the sermon hymn, meant to prepare the preacher and us for engagement with the Word and the word. What happened then had its roots earlier, in what we would call the prayers of the people, or they the pastoral prayer. At that time a woman began to unload a fearsome load of grief. That grew and overcame her. With the aid of two others in the congregation she began to let it all come forth, all the grief, all the pain, all the fear. And she was overcome. The Pastor invited her forward, along with any others who began to feel the release and the possibilities through that of redemption to come forward. There was an anointing for healing, right on the spot, not in the order of service. I was impressed into service and took part in the healing, laying hands and giving oil and saying prayers. And the woman whose release started it all began to collapse and finally did on the floor before the altar and the two that were with her and I were her comfort and guides through the expression and then the release of her burden.
At the end of this strangely wonderful sacramental event, the Pastor called us back to order to sing a final doxology and in a large circle to say together a final blessing of us all. And we went out.
I was accepted there, and my ordination (or at least my office) was an accepted accreditation among them. I exercised a sacramental ministry in that Church without suspicion, without distance of race or possible position on social, religious or political matters. What mattered was my willingness to care. I have no idea what they think of the ordination of gay or lesbian persons, the war, or any other matter of that sort about which I am strongly opinionated. I was welcomed in my ministry and served.
The service was almost two hours long. I left that to go to the Line, the weekly gathering of people who stand in Silent Vigil on a street corner in Lewes to remember the human costs of the war. We have been doing this for two and a half years now. The war still goes on. The numbers climb. And we remember.
There has always been a smaller minority of persons across the street supporting the troops, and who think that we in the Silent Vigil are against the troops, even as we clearly say again and again that we are remembering the human costs of war. But now there is a third group, on another of the four corners calling for the impeachment of President Bush. Some of that number have come from our group and we see them there doing something we knew would arise from our group, namely reflective action in a new way.
We who continue in the Silent Vigil do so knowing that our ministry is to do what we are called to do, and knowing that others will be called from that to new and different things.
Later this afternoon three friends, a poet, a therapists and a community organizer, came to dinner. We were not all of one mind spiritually, religiously or philosophically. But we were at table together. We were committed to engagement, not to shunning. It was a peaceful and good evening. Reflecting on it I am aware again how blessed we are that our communion with others is local, creative, lively and deeply intentional.
On one very important level what happens in Dar Es Salaam is much less important than HOW it happens. We pray that what happens is indeed a product of intentional community across wide and deep differences, that it is a meeting that honors the ministry of all, that it is open to new possibilities; that it will be sacramental in surprising ways.
The salutary real counterpart to the meeting in Dar Es Salaam is the incredibly local expression of life in the Episcopal Church, or any other Province of the Anglican Communion. In the local there is hope.
What I am more and more aware of is the extent to which our representatives in high places, by which I primarily mean our Presiding Bishop, Katharine Jefferts Schori and our President of the House of Deputies, Bonnie Anderson, are grounded in exactly the same experiences. In some ways all church is local. What happens in Dar Es Salaam is that a local church gathering, this time made up of Primates of the Anglican Communion, meets for prayer, reflection and conversation. May it be as fruitful as Communion this morning at St. Peter's, Worship at St. George's, and dinner at home with friends.
Our prayer is an easy one: May their gathering be simple and local, and may everything else flow from that.