7/05/2009

All Church is Local: Just a Reminder....

All Church is local. There it is. The reality is that The Episcopal Church, the Anglican Communion, the Roman Catholic Church, the Church of the Saints of the WestBoundBusses, every "Church" or ecclesiastical formation pales by comparison in its power, prestige, value and final victory over death compared to the congregation at prayer, in place, wherever that place may be.

Grounding in church then is always an affair of the body. It is incarnational. It is where you put yourself in place with others for Thanksgiving, Adoration, Prayer and Praise, being open to repentance and release, and on and on. But mostly it is the place where we offer and present ourselves, a reasonable, holy and living sacrifice.

I come together usually with others in the little town of Lewes, Delaware, a village on the edge of the bay where it meets the big waters. In the morning when I can I check in with the sun, and again in the evening, noting the seasons and the times.


And on Sundays, and sometimes Wednesdays, and in odd still moments during the week I find myself at St. Peter's Episcopal Church, and I sit in a pew, or in a clergy seat near the altar, and it is CHURCH. All church is local, and most of my locality is there and in that place. It is CHURCH defined and incarnate, and no high uppity big audacious and even elegant place not local is church.

In answer to the question, "Do you believe in the Church?" I suppose the answer is, "Believe in it? Hell, I go to one!" All Church is local. Here is my local church most of the time.

Now, however, I am at General Convention where with some 1000 other lay people, clergy and bishops we constitute the legislature of The Episcopal Church. General Convention is an odd sort of gathering, part legislature, part educational and inspirational event, part tribal gathering, part focus for energies - joyful and angry, good and bad - that have arisen from experiences of church elsewhere. Everyone brings a bit of their local church with them to this ten to twelve day meeting. There are lots of agendas, not all easy to fulfill or pleasant to behold. But we are here, along with hundreds more who are drawn here by the light, or smoke, or cloud.

The thing is, while we are here, and when we gather for prayer and praise, for struggle and delight, we are church here. For those of us at General Convention, this is church. All church is local and oddly and strangely, our meeting at General Convention becomes church. It is a short lived experience, and perhaps we can be forgiven if, in trying to cram so much into so little time, the experience of church seems grand, sometimes glorious and sometimes silly. It's a big church gathering, but it is after all local to those of us there. It is where we go to church.

In all the run up to General Convention, with the reporters and the prophets on hand to tell us just what strange, wonderful, or awful things are going to transpire, there is little mention of what seems to be a well kept secret: It is just Church. Nothing you can't find in your own church. I find that assuring.

In a way it is like the assurance that comes with the Book of Common Prayer and the burial office. The deal is, the Queen gets more music, bigger choir, more processions, greater thunder, etc, at her funeral than I do at mine. But we get buried with more or less the same words and are commended to God with the same finality. It is, after all, church, and all church is local.

What we do at General Convention has effect on what we do in our local parishes and what the whole Church does in its witness, but what we
are at General Convention is no different than what we are werever there is church. And we will learn to pass the peace and share Eucharist with the same range of peculiar people we find wherever two are three are gathered, even if in this case there are two or three thousand gathered.



9 comments:

  1. "The Queen"? They've crowned Michelle Obama? Nancy Reagan? Hilary?
    Didn't we become a republic about 230 years ago?

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  2. Mark, well put. All church is incarnational. All church is local.

    I hope to meet you during my time in Anaheim.

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  3. I read this piece with interest and agreement. "Church" is indeed the community in which we live and worship. Mine is a small, close-knit, rural, "broad church" parish in a Network diocese. Most of us are moderate to progressive with no interest in radically changing the way we worship.

    Our quandary: How do we do church when our diocese is trying very hard to distance itself from the denomination we love; when we liberals and moderates are shut out of leadership positions; when every dollar we give to our parish is taxed to support an organ-ization that is striving to be Anglican but not Episcopalian?

    We follow the rebuilding of San Joachin, Fort Worth and Pittsburgh with interest and some envy. We watch as friends leave the church for other denominations and gifted progressive priests leave for other dioceses. Folks like us cannot bear to go to the heavily evangelical and expensive Diocesan Convention because it is so unrepresentative of the Church as we know it. The Bishop's obsession with "healing" homosexuals and excluding them from discernment for ordination is infuriating. There are a number of homosexuals in our parish family and they are valued and loved.

    We hope that General Convention will stand up firmly for inclusion, justifying our pride in our Church and encouraging those of us who are stranded in the remaining Network dioceses.

    Mary A.

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  4. Which is why the ultimate evil in 2003 was the too holy to commune types flitting off to another site so that they could avoid praying and communing with the evil ones they disagreed with and why even the 39 articles they so loudly proclaim condemn the conduct. Sad that some of them will probably do the same this time.

    FWIW
    jimB

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  5. "All church is local"; yes, but most pension funds and benefits come from central office.

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  6. "The Queen"? They've crowned Michelle Obama? Nancy Reagan? Hilary?
    Didn't we become a republic about 230 years ago?"

    I think he meant Queen Elizabeth II, who on her passing will be entitled to RAF fly-overs, lying in state in Westminster Hall, a huge procession with sailors pulling the Gun Carriage with her coffin, gun salutes, bells tolling, and burial in St. George's Chapel in Windsor Castle.
    The actual burial service itself will indeed be largely the same as for any other member of the C of E, great or not.

    I agree. I think that the church is primarily local. For most, it is their own congregation. And that's as it should be. It is my local parish (and the fond memory of others over the last 25 years) that keeps me with the Episcopal Church and the Christian Faith. I've been privileged in those 25 years to meet so many people who preached the Gospel by living it out. There's no better witness than to see love and resurrection played out right in front of you. The Christian Faith is not a text or a set of abstract concepts, or wishful thinking for the hereafter. It's flesh and blood in the here and now.

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  7. Well said, Mark. See you soon.

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  8. Mary A:

    The same way orthodox do in the way more prevalent liberal dioceses, which they feel are trying to distance themselves from the Gospel.

    Peace,
    JB

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  9. Oh, that queen. Could've been Margarethe II or Beatrix for all we know.

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