Saturday, December 16, 2006

Eye on the Ball (II)

Father John Yates, the Rector of The Falls Church in Falls Church, Virginia, said today in the paper that "The Episcopal ship is in trouble."

Well, if all your attention is on the frontal assaults and flanking maneuvers on the integrity and unity of the church by members of that church, I guess that would seem to be so. Between the big votes in several big churches in the Diocese of Virginia to secede and join the Church of Nigeria, the recent statements from the Archbishops of Tanzania and Uganda, and the question of consents for the bishop-elect of South Carolina. When you add these to the recent convention in San Joaquin and the so-called covenant statement from the evangelical wing of the Church of England, one might be thinking that we can think of nothing but schism. If this is all you know, then break out the life rafts.

Well, they have their focus and the rest of us has ours.

For my part, it has been a terrific day. A day of ministry and hope. It has been one of those days where God is so plainly at work, and where God's people are so plainly doing God's work, that as I wind down from it all I can do is sing Simeon's song:

For my eyes have seen the Savior,
whom you have prepared all the world to see.

Let me share with you snippets of my day.

The Big Event of the Day: Our parish's main outreach ministry is the Ark Soup Kitchen. A once per week feeding ministry that normally serves 75-80 people each week. Today was our annual Christmas dinner. People from the parish and beyond have bought and wrapped gifts that Soup Kitchen guests signed up for about a month ago. So today, after a special meal, St. Nicholas of Myra makes an appearance and presents the gifts to our friends in the Ark Community. Today we served over 160 meals. I get to pray, and to go around an meet as many of the guests and volunteers as possible.

(And the Ark Soup Kitchen will do it again next Saturday and on Christmas Day, too!)

After that, I went to the institution of a dear friend, who is the new Rector of St. Thomas Church in Alexandria, New Jersey in the Diocese of New Jersey. The Rev. Cn. Carol Horton is their third rector; their third woman rector; in a parish that has existed since 1723. The place was bursting at the seams! Each pew in the little church was filled, each seat in the parish hall where the service was broadcast was filled. The Delbarton School brass quintet played, their choir of about fifteen sang, and their new children's choir of about a dozen or more also sang beautifully. This was an alive and dynamic congregation if ever there was one!

I came back to Easton, got to greet the Saturday night folks as they left the liturgy, and then went from there to my last Big Event. It was so big, you could fit into a living room. I took part in a house church of fourteen folks who meet every week in this living room. This cell group is one a number of little groups that make up a new Hispanic congregation in Easton. Some members of this group come to Trinity Church and they are praying (as are we) for discernment--as to whether this community will become part of the Episcopal Church in the Diocese of Bethlehem. Every time I meet another member of this growing little group, I discover a new blessing from God.

So in one day: Our Soup Kitchen feeds 160+, a suburban Episcopal parish bursting at the seams, and a cell group of a new Hispanic congregation.

Very different experiences, but with a few important things in common: first, these were places and communities where God's word was shared and Jesus' love and power made known; and, second, they were focused on mission.

And guess how many times people asked me about departing parishes in Virginia or missives from African Archbishops, or theological power politics? That's right: Zero. Zip. Zilch. Nada.

Kendall Harmon, the Canon Theologian from South Carolina said in the New York Times today that when two sides fight, the people in the middle try to hide and feel exhausted. I think that is probably true in those churches and dioceses that have made the fight the center of their lives.

But what if they gave a fight and nobody came? What if people focused on doing ministry: of founding churches, of feeding the poor, of growing congregations, of doing worship and education and service and stewardship? What if people were so busy being disciples of Jesus, letting God take them wherever God leads that there is no energy to give to the fight?

There is another solution to dealing with a family members addicted to disruption. Don't give them any energy. When their behavior forces the family to deal with them, make sure they are the ones who bear the burden of the consequences of their own choices instead of the rest of the family. Sometimes you just have to decide to go about your business no matter how loud and persistent the addicted or disruptive person is.

I think most faithful Episcopalians are not in denial. They have better things to do than fight and so they leave the fight to the fighters. So today, all over the church, we fed the poor, we celebrated ministry, we made Eucharist, we studied the scriptures, cared for the sick and the imprisoned, and we gathered in prayer and discernment.

Tobias Haller
shared with us the advice of one demon to another a few weeks back: if we focus on the institution of the church instead of what the institution is for, then the Evil One wins.

I learned something new again for the first time. If you want to knock the devil for a loop; if you want to recover, reclaim or reform the Church, here is what you do: Keep your eye on the ball.

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