A small note on not losing heart.
I find myself oddly at peace in spite of the recent events in Anglican-Land that continue to reveal a mire and pit from which there seems to be little of comfort. Recall:
- The ordinations in Virginia of new bishops for the effort to rescue and restore Anglicanism in America;
- the bolt to the South of the Diocese of San Joaquin, complete with untrue assurances by Bishop Schofield and Bishop Lyons that all is well;
- the murky Advent Letter of the Archbishop of Canterbury;
- and the meeting this week of the Common Cause Council the outcome of which spells more problems in the year to come.
I am reminded of the saying, "he can't see the forest for the trees." In Anglican-land where so much attention is given to the forest the situation is almost reversed. In Anglican-land we sometimes can't see the trees for the forest. Too much of our seeing is directed to such grand things as Provinces, Bishops, Primates, and the Anglican Communion and too little of our gaze is directed to the life in community that constitutes the local church. When my gaze is directed to life here in place I am hopeful for the church in ways that are almost beyond measure.
For all the imperfections of parish life, and there are many, it is church in the most immediate and meaningful way. We Anglicans have a goodly heritage in our life of worship and action. And in our good moments we are a community that is truly inclusive, not because we are better than we used to be (a progressive mistake) or more orthodox then them (a conservative mistake) but because we have our gaze on something other than ourselves, our fears and prejudices, or even our righteousness. We become inclusive when our gaze turns to God among us in Jesus Christ and reflected in the face of all people. So on some level we stop having our own agendas - the dissenters agenda, the gay agenda, the progressive agenda, the majority agenda - a take on the Gospel agenda.
Life in community, in the parish as community, gives me heart. More precisely life in the community of St. Peter's, Lewes on the edge of big waters, where the Delaware Bay meets the Atlantic Ocean, gives me heart.
I presume that for any Anglican thinking about the forest, the big picture, it is the same. We draw strength and courage for the days ahead from a community of worshiping folk always highly local.
All Church is local. When we have the children's pageant at St. Peter's it is local. When we gather for Eucharist at 8 and 10 on Sundays for Eucharist, it is local. When the Diocesan Convention has its Eucharist, it is local. When Executive Council meets and prays, it is local. When the Pope gathers with his Cardinals and other potentates it turns out to be local. Local is what there is. All action, including prayer, is local. All the rest is part of that almost impossible task of thinking globally.
I have been particularly moved this Advent by some reflections by Elizabeth Kaeton, Dan Martins, Susan Russell and the Archbishop of Canterbury. (How's that for a grouping?). Elizabeth writes about a funeral, Dan about being snowed in from going to church, Susan about preaching peace, bringing hope, proclaiming love, and the ABC about identifying with those who are shamed or of whom we are ashamed. What got me about each of these is that they were fine words spoken in community, mostly in a parish context, the Archbishop's words being the furtherest from that as a letter to the Communion, but even there from the heart to the heart.
So I take heart in the life the local faith community.
I also take heart in the younger of the young people. One of the blessings of life at St. Peter's is that I get to be with the children fairly regularly for a children's version of the first half of the Eucharist - where the gaze is on the Word and the World in need of the Word. We sit in a circle, say our prayers, listen to the Gospel or one of the other readings, and talk among ourselves. This last Sunday in our prayers various children asked for prayers for all sorts and conditions - for grandmothers who had died; for prisoners, particularly those who had done bad things, because prison was really really awful; for peace in the world; for people in the church who worked with them; and one child chirped up and said, "for woman's rights." Ho, ho, ho....who wouldn't take heart! One child did pray for a particularly upscale bit of electronic game stuff, but why not? Christmas is a'coming and you might as well hedge your bets. Then we all trooped over to the Church at the time of the offertory where one of the children bring their offering forward with that of the congregation. They were a gift to me, and I am younger for it.
The parish is by no means perfect but it is real and it is working at being a community of faith. We don't all agree on the big issues, but we seem to have some clarity about the direction of our gaze... we would see Jesus.
I suppose I take heart because the local helps me see the trees for the forest. Our tree, this parish, is pretty good at being the Church, local, feisty, able to celebrate, able to mourn. We are not The Episcopal Church, but we are Episcopalians, we are not the Anglican Communion but we are Anglicans in communion. We have a pretty good Shepard and follow the Good Shepard. It turns out that we followers are gay and straight, young and old, crabby and optimistic, opinionated and forgiving, immensely able to give but still able to be stubborn when the occasion requires. We are in some odd way the body of Christ.
We are in most ways like every local community of faith. We are Church.
I take heart in knowing that the feast of thanksgiving found in this community is everywhere to be found and that even across the seemingly great divides in the Anglican Communion there is a settling into the church as experienced, and that that settling will bring peace.
Sometimes the local church is referred to as the grass roots, sometimes action from the local church is talked about as being "from the bottom up." I think all that is a mistake. The local church is not the "grass roots" it is the full grain; it is not the bottom, but the top. Taking the fullness of the grain is taking the bread; taking in the experience of community as the top is what turns hierarchy into servanthood.
So this Christmas I hope the Lion of Nigeria and the Lamb of New Hampshire stop for a moment and eat a bit of hay together, perhaps by the manger, even if separated by a great ocean of differences, and that all the rest of us can turn our gaze from the forests of Anglican-Land to the Tree of Life.
Then when we look again at the forest, perhaps it will not seem so dense and full of wild obscurity.