Commonality in the Body of Christ: The Church after the Haiti Disaster

Reports of the earthquake in Christ Church, New Zealand and the reports in the past two weeks of the flooding in Pakistan drive home the reality that we are indeed in a global community of care and concern.  

In The Episcopal Church we are blessed to have a way of responding to relief and development needs - Episcopal Relief and Development. We can also have considerable confidence that the people of the United States of America, through our governmental structures, respond as a people to disaster relief where it is necessary. Relief and Development work is a sign of our commitment as a people and as a church to an ongoing desire to be part of a world wide community of care and concern.

What happens, however, when the repair, restoration, rebuilding, reemergence is not about public sector structures and programs but about specifically church related buildings and programs? What happens when the devastation essentially exhausts the funds for clergy or lay salaries? Who does the Church go to for the repair specifically of church buildings?  Where are the funds to underwrite lay workers salaries when schools and hospitals are not functioning and bringing in income?  What happens to the life of a congregation when it needs to start all over again - prayer books, bible, seats, altar?  Most of all, what does a diocese do when the needs of the moment exist along side the needs of the long term?  The long term needs get met by funding as part of the budget, or from special fund raising efforts that themselves take time and funding. But the short term needs, what happens with those?

Where is the immediate short term surety that there will be support for the Church as it begins the effort to resurrect its life from ruin?

In Haiti, following the January earthquake, the immediate relief needs and the longer term development concerns are well under way. But what about the immediate need to give the Church a starting place for the rebuilding and rebirth of the church itself?  

To this end an effort is being mounted to assure the Diocese of Haiti of $10 Million for the beginnings of this effort to rebirth the church. The ENS report of the Executive Council resolution on this is HERE.

As part of a follow-up to this resolution I have written a thought piece on the "why" of this effort.  Here it is:

Commonality in the Body of Christ: The Church after the Haiti Disaster.

 I.  We are one Body.

As The Episcopal Church began to take form as a church conscious of being a body of Christians from many states and dioceses, it grew to understand that Paul’s concept of the church as a body applied to its own life.  From 1789 to 1839 The Episcopal Church moved from being a frail union of churches organized in the various states to a stronger, more expansive union of dioceses committed to mission on the frontiers of America and overseas. The primary markers for this change were the missionary use of the Book of Common Prayer, the development of the missionary episcopate and the ordering of a church wide mission society in which all members of the church were part.

In several decisions from 1821-1839 The Episcopal Church made the bold assertion that all its members constituted a Missionary Society and that just as it is with God’s Mission in the world, so it is in the Mission of the Church: Mission is one.  

Distinctions were made between domestic and foreign mission, and between dioceses and missionary districts, between the work of The Episcopal Church and that of other churches, but the mission was one.  There is One Mission, for it belongs to the One God who calls us all to reconciliation.

This sense of the mission of the Church as one has remained a touchstone for the work of The Episcopal Church in its efforts in the world to proclaim and promote the reconciliation of all people to God in Jesus Christ. 

When we have forgotten this sense of mission as one we have failed our calling.  When mission to particular peoples, societies and nations was viewed as mission to some “other” outside our “normal” body, rather than mission of one part of the body to another, we found ourselves engaged in prejudice, pride and actions unworthy of the Body of Christ.  Our history as a Church is littered with the failures to adequately address the missionary needs of this or that part of the church because of unwillingness to see this Church as a whole.

And yet our history as a Church is also consistent in its movement towards a vision in which the life of all is bound up in the life of each of us as faithful Christians. In this we have become more and more universal in our sense of body and more global in our sense of responsibility one for another.

The primary missionary motivation in The Episcopal Church in the 21st Century is the vision that grows from the baptismal covenant the baptismal acclimation that “there is one Body and one Spirit… One Lord, one Faith, one Baptism.”  From the insistence that we are one Body arises our sense of the inter-connectedness of all peoples and particularly in the Church itself.

II. When the Body is in Distress.

In biological organisms distress of one part of the body calls all the rest of the body to its aid. This is also true of the church as well.  We are called in our missionary vocation and baptismal covenant to respond to the distress of the bodies to which we belong in various ways. The Episcopal Church participates in relief and development work throughout the world, contributing our part to the relief of the distress of nations and peoples as circumstances require. 

We are particularly aware of the distress that occurs from time to time in our own church and which particularly affects the health and welfare of church members. Sometimes such distress is due to a common calamity – a war, disease, earthquake - but resulting in particular church related calamity – destroyed schools and churches, ruined hospitals, congregations whose leaders are either exhausted or who have abandoned them, breakdowns in sacramental life.  The social relief and development agencies come to the aid of many of these peoples as members of society but do not address the church related distress.  That particular effort – the relief of the Church – remains for the Church to address.

When a diocese is in distress the rest of The Episcopal Church brings its resources to the aid of that diocese.  We see an example of this in the fact that dioceses in distress following abandonment by leadership and many congregants have received major help from our common resources.  At other times, when particular efforts in mission falter the whole is sometimes able to provide renewed energy to that mission.  For example, both campus ministry work in the early 70’s and the engagement in mission overseas in the 90’s were re-energized by additional attention and funding.

The Episcopal Church has for a long time affirmed that missionary dioceses are fully dioceses of the Church.  At the same time The Episcopal Church has offered sustaining grants for the work of such dioceses, so that they can concentrate on the evangelistic tasks they face in their locations.  But for many of these dioceses the ability to deal with great natural, social or ecclesiastical disaster is minimal.  Our sustaining support is sufficient for normal times, but not for times of crisis.

It falls upon the whole church, The Episcopal Church, to come to the aid of those dioceses when they experience distress and need support beyond sustaining grants.

III. The Episcopal Church IS the Diocese of Haiti in Distress

 Just as the early Church came to the aid of the Church in Jerusalem in a time of famine, so we too come to the aid of any of our dioceses in a time of distress.  It is an extension of our pledge to stand with one another as members of one Body.  By doing so we proclaim that we are one, parts of the same body, bound together in baptism and in mission, engaged in the work of reconciliation.

The Episcopal Church is the Diocese of Haiti in its distress, borne of the earthquake of January 12, 2010, and the mission to come to its recovery is a mission to part of the body of which we are all members.  We must be committed to our own renewal and rebirth in this effort, for Haiti is us.

Our common health depends on our support of a renewed Episcopal Church in Haiti.  When they see what we have done, one for another, perhaps they will say, “those Christians, see the love they have for one another.”  Perhaps they will also find in that love some sign of our commitment to a Church in which we are all members one of another.

Let us pray that action is taken on this resolution to come to the support of our own body in its destress and find in doing so the health of the whole.

1 comment:

  1. Mark, thanks for writing this, and for reminding people that we cannot walk away from our sisters and brothers in Christ in Haiti, even when Haiti no longer is on the front pages of our lives.
    I've posted your column with links as well on GoIntoTheWorld.net.
    Lauren Stanley
    Former Missionary in Haiti


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