The last week in September, I had the privilege to attend the annual Dubose Lectures Sewanee’s School of Theology sponsors for alumni who gather for soul-food and a reunion. This year’s lecturer was Dr. Rowan Williams, former Archbishop of Canterbury until 2014, and arguably the most distinguished and wide-ranging theologian of our time.
A couple of weeks ago, I was invited to attend a symposium at Belmont University. The invitation I received described a round-table discussion of pastors of churches under the aegis of a new initiative out of Belmont called the Institute for Innovative Faith-Based Leadership. The first such conversation was called “LGBT issues and the local church.” I had planned on attending to listen; I had no intention of speaking, as I did not know where the conversation would go, who would be there, and what, exactly, would come up. I know what the Episcopal Church has said and done at its General Conventions and what our bishop has decided for this diocese, but I did not think these things would inform a discussion amongst pastors of churches.
What I discovered when I showed up for that roundtable a couple of weeks ago was that I was one of 25 church ministers, two of whom (I being one) were female; the other is a United Methodist pastor. Another attendee is a friend who pastors a Disciples of Christ church. The rest, I discovered, as we introduced ourselves, are Baptist – not great diversity in the room.
Quickly the “conversation” began to take shape as LGBT problems for the local church, and not how the church ministers with, to, and on behalf of, LGBT members. Pastors of at least two corporate-size Baptist churches indicated that their leadership had drafted written official policies about LGBT people: that they cannot be married in their churches, but also that they cannot hold leadership or teaching positions, among other rules and regulations devised for “clarity” or to “live out the biblical witness” about “homosexuality.”
I found that I actually had some things to say in that conversation. I found myself correcting language that I thought was not helpful – indeed, was biased toward LGBT people as “problems” and not people – and near the end of our time of discussion I put forth a picture of my congregation as a way to show how the Church, the Body of Christ, IS the church. Here’s something of what I said that day:
"Imagine a congregation in which all kinds of people come in on Sunday mornings and any other time the church is open for programming – politically conservative and politically liberal, gay, straight, people of all shades of color, young, old – all sitting haphazardly next to each other on a pew. Imagine that these people at one time might not have chosen to associate with one another outside of their places of work or in their neighborhoods, but here they are, choosing to sit beside each other to be the Church. Imagine that these folks might not, at one time, have believed that they would work and pray and sing and visit with people so different from themselves, but at my church they have moved beyond accommodating - and even just accepting - to welcoming, befriending, and choosing each other."
I was asked if we had discussed this in a leadership meeting or church-wide meeting to make this decision, or had we drafted some kind of policy. I replied, No, to the amazement of some of those large-church types. I explained that I believed what happened in my congregation was that we simply understood our role as broken and beloved people bound together in the love of Jesus Christ, and we had simply come to living out what we believed to be the Good News of Jesus Christ and to live out gospel hospitality with one another. With everyone.
Something that Dr. Williams said in his second lecture on Wednesday, September 28 resonated with my picture of St. Philip’s and the difference between us and some other churches in the room on that day of roundtable discussion. His lecture was entitled “Christ For Me,” as he unpacked Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Christology. Rowan said, and I paraphrase slightly, “For the Church, there can really be no strategies for either humiliation like Christ’s, or for success, for that matter. The Church can only repent, and point the way to repentance and salvation by being Christ and Christ’s gospel.” He went on to say this – this statement that is resonating with me about who we are: “When the Church becomes the subject of itself, the subject of its own thinking, it is not Christ’s Body. It is not the Good News…. We strive for the Church to be focused on Christ and not itself!”
Thank you, St. Philip’s, for believing with me that that is the only prize on which we keep our eyes. Policies about to whom and how we minister are not who we are as Episcopalians but particularly not who we are as St. Philippians. Keep on being Christ and Christ’s Good News.
LGBT community, we stand with you in shock, outrage and grief. You are members of my congregation, members of my neighborhood, my community, members of my own family.
The unfathomable toll of death and injury perpetrated by a gunman in Orlando, Florida, moves us to tears. Moves us to prayer. And more: must move us to action.
Like the prophet Habbakuk, we wonder, “O LORD, how long shall I cry for help?” (Habbakuk 1:1). And he goes on: “O Lord, how long shall I … cry to you ‘Violence!’ and you will not save? Why do you make me see wrongdoing and look at trouble? Destruction and violence are before me; strife and contention arise. … The law becomes slack and justice never prevails. The wicked surround the righteous— therefore judgment comes forth perverted.”
We are not alone in outrage and grief. Not only is there a groundswell of prayerful support for the families of those killed and injured in Orlando, there is widespread disbelief that there is nothing we can do in our society or through our government to address gun violence. Huge numbers of people are coming together via social media and in their own church communities. Many are asking the basic questions about how, after not one but at least 7 mass shootings since the one at Columbine High School in Littleton, CO, how can we not find a way to make this stop? Guns in the hands of unhinged men have been aimed at innocent people in an elementary school, a movie theater, an Army base, a university, and more.
What do we do? Being at some distance from the tragedy, we wonder: what can I do? Yes, we faithful people pray. We pray for the repose of the souls of those whose lives were cut off much, much too soon. We pray for their families and friends in their grief. We Episcopalians even pray for the shooter; as impossible as that seems, we ask for strength to do so, because Jesus challenged his followers about the extent of his commandment to love your neighbor: "You have heard that it was said, 'Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven" (Matthew 5:43-45a). See the Book of Common Prayer, pp. 815-816 for two especially appropriate ones, “For Peace” and “For our enemies” http://www.bcponline.org/ under the heading “Prayers and Thanksgivings.”
But we faithful people, we followers of Jesus Christ, are to be his agents of peace, his hands and feet in the world. So along with our prayers, what will we do to bring about God’s kingdom, God’s justice, in our world, in our time? For me, it specifically involves an end to gun violence because, simply, it’s with guns that someone going off the deep end can kill so many in such a short time.
For all of us followers of Jesus, we go with Him to stand with those who mourn, those who are cast out, those whom others target and vilify. Stand with them and use the tools the Church gives us to heal, to bind together, to build God’s vineyard in God’s kingdom: water, wine, bread; oil of unction; laying on of hands; blessing; Word and Sacrament.
What will you do? God bless you in your prayers and acts of peace.
The Third Song of Isaiah Surge, illuminare
Isaiah 60:1-3, 11a, 14c, 18-19
Arise, shine, for your light has come, *
and the glory of the Lord has dawned upon you.
For behold, darkness covers the land; *
deep gloom enshrouds the peoples.
But over you the Lord will rise, *
and his glory will appear upon you.
Nations will stream to your light, *
and kings to the brightness of your dawning.
Your gates will always be open; *
by day or night they will never be shut.
They will call you, The City of the Lord, *
The Zion of the Holy One of Israel.
Violence will no more be heard in your land, *
ruin or destruction within your borders.
You will call your walls, Salvation, *
and all your portals, Praise.
The sun will no more be your light by day; *
by night you will not need the brightness of the moon.
The Lord will be your everlasting light, *
and your God will be your glory.
...ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto me above all people, for all the earth is mine. Exodus 19:5 KJV
Dear Fellow Peculiar Treasures,
Summer is upon us! Christian Ed for adults is on hiatus for a few weeks, but I expect a new offering to appear on the horizon: Centering Prayer. This focused, peaceful, contemplative practice can be transformative especially for those of us feeling caught in too-fast, too-furious lives. Stay tuned for more details and the start date.
Children’s Sunday School is also on hiatus for summer, but the playground is open and available for an after-coffee break on Sunday mornings… or any time! Watch for a new installation to come in the future – Junior Warden Ben Rice is exploring options for fun new play equipment designed for our toddlers and younger children! There were funds left from our last play equipment purchase and install so we’re going to put that to good use.
Watch for a Stewardship program we’re planning on bringing to you. No, I don’t mean a pledge drive – that will come, as usual, in the late fall. I’m talking about the theological idea of taking good care of ALL that God gives us. The Canons of the Episcopal Church charge the Rector of a parish to discuss, in addition to the biblical standard of the tithe for financial giving, Christian stewardship thus: “reverence for the creation and the right use of God's gifts, and generous and consistent offering of time, talent, and treasure for the mission and ministry of the Church at home and abroad.”
There are opportunities open NOW for you to do something new at church or, if you haven’t offered your talents before, to do so in one of these areas of real need: Lay Readers, Lay Eucharistic Visitors (who take communion to those who are homebound or assisted-care-bound).
Adults are needed who would like to offer a series of classes in September: we’re hoping to offer short runs of classes on topics of current interest (what are some of the topics that are difficult to talk about that we SHOULD talk about in church?) or a short Bible study.
Most of all, we’re looking for a crew of about 6 to 9 who are called to teach children’s Sunday School. If you hadn’t noticed, we have a LOT of children in our midst. They don’t all come up to the step on Sunday mornings for the “Children’s Word”: some are a little too old and prefer to help with Children’s Church or stay in the pew; some aren’t ready to make that walk up the aisle; some don’t come regularly because we don’t offer a class to suit their age group. That last statement needs addressing: we need to offer age-specific classes here for the first time in a several years! Hallelujah! So we’ll need at least 3 Sunday School classes to offer age-appropriate material and activities for the many wonderful young people here. Is that you?!
I hope you find fullness of life through your worship, fellowship and social justice activities at St. Philip’s. Your kindness, friendliness, compassion and acting-out of gospel living are what let others know we are Christians: they’ll know us by our love, eh?