Monday, July 14, 2008

Ties that Bind and Exultant Liberty

As our Bishops gather for the Lambeth Conference, I have been wondering what makes our corner of the Church distinctive.... why are we Anglicans?

Part of this ruminating comes from a billboard on the way to the airport. The billboard says "Come to **** Fellowship--now meeting in two locations. Two locations, still one Church."

I thought to my self --huh. The Episcopal church should pick up that line --in this Diocese we could say "Join the biggest mega-church in the Commonwealth: 181 locations, one Church." 181 is a close enough number what with our breakaway and continuing congregations it's hard to keep might be a greater number than that.

But, unfortunately, we don't think or even act that way. The icon above of the Trinity --of the essence of hospitality and communion, might be seen as a sacrilege in many parts of our 181 locations because of the overwhelming femaleness of the parties seated at the table.... I have always been taught that we are Anglicans because of our worship, our liturgy, our Book of Common Prayer. Is that it?

I quote from Spiritual Traditions for the Contemporary Church (Mass & O'Donnell, Abingdon Press, 1990, p.269-270):

"the Most Reverend Robert Runcie, archibishop of Canterbury, described Anglican unity as a unity of practice: "Anglican unity has most characteristically been expressed in worship, which includes four essential elements: scripture proclaimed, creed confessed, sacraments celebrated, and order maintained through an authorized episcopal ministry." The defining marks of Anglicanism, therefore, do not reside in adherence to a common system of theology or in an experience of divine favor common to each member; they are found instead, in the observation of and participation in public rites with a certain content that are conducted in a certain way."

The parish where I worship and serve the people of God--we definitely share certain content with most of our 181 or so sister parishes, but we don't conform to a "certain way." We have a fairly formal liturgy--not stuffy, but yes, with bowing and kissing of things and persons, elevations, bells, employment of all the signs and symbols --an embodiment and fully sensory experience of what we are praying. And this is more different than the same from other Episcopal parishes throughout the Commonwealth--famous for its "low" church worship. We pray and do liturgy which offers gay, straight, liberal, conservative, street people, black, white, brown, young, old, rich and poor a sanctuary--access to the altar, a place to be nourished.

So, why are we Anglicans? because of our liturgy? as different and diverse as we are? --because our Bishop gets together and shared communion with the archbishop of Canterbury? Is that it?

Perhaps that is only the beginning, but not all. That speaks only of the ties that bind....

I think we are Anglicans because we (usually) don't get mandates handed down from on high; because we fight, discuss, discern outloud--more than just our liturgies are public; because Tradition is a living, growing, changing thing as well as an inheritance; because the crucifixion above might be discussed in all its relevance to the discussion of women in Holy Orders in the Church.

And to do such takes a spirituality which is not afraid to ask questions or experience passionate difference even exultant liberty.


Ruth Hull Chatlien said...

Yes, those are the very qualities that drew me to the Episcopal Church. It is distressing to see the mindset of fundamentalism trying to take over.

Thank you for reviewing what we have in common.

it's margaret said...

Yes Ruth, very distressing indeed!