Wednesday, August 5, 2009

COMMENTARY: Memo to Canterbury: Episcopalians have a life

c. 2009 Religion News Service
(UNDATED) Now that the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, hasslapped my church's wrists for refusing to marginalize homosexuals and hasthreatened to have us become second-class citizens in the AnglicanCommunion, I say this to Archbishop Williams:

The Episcopal Church has a life. Not a perfect life. In fact, a messyone, a life that could be more than it is. But we do have a life. That lifepreceded the formation of the Anglican Communion. That life will survive ourbeing marginalized within the Anglican Communion.

There's nothing we do in our congregations that depends on the AnglicanCommunion. You have become a weapon in a siege war being waged by a minoritywho has been resisting change in the Episcopal Church for 50 years.

The first votes were close, but the anti-change position has steadilylost ground. Not because the church came under an evil spell, but becausepeople's minds and hearts shifted and their understandings of God andmission changed. That happens.

The anti-change minority fights on, however, for by now their fretfularguments against changing "Thou" to "You" and "he" to "he or she" haveadvanced to holy war against homosexuals.

The battle isn't about God. It's about fear, control and property. Theanti-change minority wants to reclaim a world that no longer exists. Theywant to seize property that doesn't belong to them. Archbishop, you arebeing used.

If it's any consolation, Archbishop, I don't like some of the changes inmy church, either. I think we have rewarded institutional tinkering andstopped dreaming. We depend on style and not substance. We worry aboutinherited property and not about the world outside our doors. We fuss aboutwho is ordained when we should be nurturing healthy congregations.

Fear abounds. Fear of offending longtime members and deep-pocket givers.Fear of speaking freely and dreaming grandly. Fear of trying hard and maybefailing. Fear of preaching a Gospel that is far more radical than anythingwe have said.

But many are determined to get beyond fear. Not by instilling more fear,but by taking one brave step at a time, learning to be nimble and to listen,learning from our failures, taking risks.

The dilemma facing Episcopalians is that "soon and very soon we aregoing to see the King." Our buildings may crumble, our endowments maytumble, and all we have left is each other and our faith. We could beworshipping in open fields and strip malls.

Will we have any song to sing when the great pipe organs are stilled?Will we have any prayer to say when comfortable pews are gone? Will we sitin circles of love when nice parlors are sold? Will we love our neighborswhen we cannot hire staff to do it for us?

I think we will have that faith. I think we already have it. It's justhard to see when so much energy goes into institutionalism and fighting.

I think our best days lie ahead. I doubt that our future will bear muchresemblance to our past. But we will discover, once the burden of inheritedoverhead is lifted, that we have much to give.

And so, Archbishop, rather than try to stir even more fear in a churchstruggling with fear, I suggest you join Jesus in the commandment heactually did give: "Do not be afraid."

(Tom Ehrich is a writer, church consultant and Episcopal priest based inNew York. He is the author of "Just Wondering, Jesus," and the founder ofthe Church Wellness Project, His Web site is.)

No comments: