Monday, October 19, 2009

THIS is what I've been talking about

Many of you know this, but some don't. For those who don't, I should preface the following by saying that I'm an ordained minister in Christ's church, particularly the Anglican variety, more particularly the Episcopal Church variety. I'm a deacon right now, but will be ordained to the priesthood in January.

Anyway, many out there will know the Episcopal Church has been struggling with its place in the worldwide Anglican Communion. There's a lot of history as to why this is so, and there's no way I could spell it out in a blog. Suffice it to say, the issues are complex and not easily resolved. This is made even more difficult by the fact that what the Anglican Communion actually is has been really hard to pin down. There are those who say the Episcopal Church (TEC) should just do its own thing and leave. Some have left TEC because they feel it has strayed from biblical teaching. Others argue that we should have a covenant that describes the Anglican Communion, and that perhaps TEC, because it has continued to do its "own thing" despite the will of the "Communion" should be a 2nd tier member (the quotation marks are not meant in a mocking manner, but rather to denote how slippery these words are when I use them).

My own stance is that communion IS important. I'm not willing to say goodbye to the Anglican Communion. As many more conservative bishops have pointed out (see below, also Edward Little II's recent writing in Christianity Today), Christ calls us to unity and not to division. Somehow this has been forgotten in the recent church debates. But this post wasn't supposed to be mostly my writing, but rather what someone else has written about what communion is.

The bishop of the Diocese of Louisiana wrote the following in Churchworks, the magazine for that diocese. It's food for thought and prayer.

"Reflections On Communion" - Bishop Charles Jenkins

I shall never forget the day the tea arrived. Cases and cases of tea, shipped to us by the Bishop of Ceylon. More tea than I have ever seen at one time donated to us in the wake of Hurricane Datrina.

I remember my amazement when at "Community Congress 1" the realization came upon me that many of the volunteers working there were from London and came as part of the efforts to help of the Church of England.

How strengthened I was when Bishop Josiah Fearon of the Diocese of Kaduna in the Church of Nigeria phoned to say that the entire Diocese was praying for us and he and a group were trying to find a way to come to us. Eventually, Bishop Fearon came and he came to see about me.

The amount of the check may have been small, but how grateful we were for the ordinand in the Church of England who asked that the loose offering at his ordination be sent to us. That check with tens of thousands of others has made a difference.

"Like a deer caught in the headlights" was how someone described me after the levees failed. Then a call came (I wonder how he got through) from Rob Radtke at Episcopal Relief and Development asking what we needed. How the heck did I know? I told Rob we needed him. Though brand spanking new to the job, he managed to get on a plane and come. He brought with him Courtney Cowart and Peter Gudaitis.

It was humbling to be asked by the Archbishop of Canterbury during the Lambeth Conference of 2008 to search out the Bishops from Burma so affected by tsunami and pray with them. Of course, they had been praying for us.

When evil stands before me, I stand not alone, but this fractious, schismatic, heretical, wonderful, faithful, sacrificing, Christ-like Communion stands beside me, before me, behind me, and above me. As lonely as the past four years have been, even in dark nights of depression and doubt, I have not been alone. The last phone message I had before the system went down was from the Rev'd Susan Russell.

The tabernacle would not open in St. Luke's Church, New Orleans, when Frank and Phoebe Griswold and I moved aside trees to get into the church. We had Holy Communion there in the muck, mold, and mud thanks to Senior Warden Elvia James who managed to get the door open to the tabernacle. That Holy Communion pointed me towards our Communion.

Communion is not only about right believing and right acting. When our lives were in the ditch by the Jericho Road, when we had been robbed of life's dignity and much of the material of life, our Samaritan was the Anglican Communion. Rich and poor, orthodox or whatever, conservative and liberal, they came to us. They gave us of what they had and all prayed for us.

This Communion that I have experienced is the Church forced by circumstance to be what I think God has created His Church to be. I warn those who would break down and destroy this tender vessel that they are on the side of the enemy. Whether the iconoclasts be from the left, the right, or from the don't care side of things, let the warning be heard, Communion matters. Communion is not simply a matter of affiliation, or of like-minds; for some of us Communion is life or death. Communion is more than a man-made Covenant between us. We are called by God the Father into a greater Covenant that we dare not break. We are called to be here, together, one, broken, messy and yet strong, faithful, and rejoicing in the Lord.

The issues are many, the disagreements and disappointments many, and the opportunity to each do our own thing (which we suppose to be of God who blesses all our doings) is enticing. Such is not real religion.

Yours in Christ,

The Rt. Rev. Charles E. Jenkins

From Churchwork, Fall 2009, the official publication of the Episcopal Diocese of Louisiana.

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