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Dear Friends,

My undergraduate degree is in History. I didn’t get through my Bachelor’s until I was the ripe old age of 40. In fact I graduated from College on May 13th and left for Seminary 6 weeks later. While I was wrapping up my Bachelor’s an old priest in my sponsoring parish asked me what I was majoring in. “History!” I replied proudly.

“What era?” he asked.

“Twentieth Century American History!” came my enthusiastic reply.

He sort of chuckled and said, “My dear young man, that barely qualifies as current events!” His view was History was something that took a while. Perspective and reflection were always the measure of Historical accuracy and interpretation on what the signs of the times might really have meant.

I’ve never forgotten that, especially when (in whatever context) people say one of two things:

1. Things have never been worse!

OR

2. I really miss the good old days!

Generally speaking there is always some point in history that we can point to to learn about the current state of affairs. Sometimes what we learn is simply that ‘it’s not so bad, after all.’ I have to say that we in the Church get caught up in hand wringing from time to time. When that happens what always suffers is the Mission of the Church (look up p. 855 BCP again!!!).
I genuinely believe we’re on the cusp of losing focus again. Don’t get me wrong, I believe that the current climate in the Anglican Communion over issues of Women’s Ordination and Human Sexuality are important and that the Communion is in a fragile state! What I would hope we could remember is that this is not the first time there have been profound disagreements about doctrine and it won’t be the last!
What I believe would be a real shame is for us to act as though we are at the make or break point with regard to the work of the Church. And I don’t mean the Episcopal Church, or even the Anglican Communion. I mean the Mission of Jesus. That will go on until the Kingdom comes on earth again.
One of my favorite websites, Anglicans Online, published the following bit of historical perspective on their homepage this week.

Hallo again to all.

April 1874

Then the Vicar of Fordington told us of the state of things in his parish when he first came to it a half century ago. No man had ever been known to receive the Holy Communion except the parson, the clerk and the sexton. There were 16 women communicants and most of them went away when he refused to pay them for coming. They had been accustomed there at some place in the neighbourhood to pass the cup to each other with a nod of the head.

At one church there were two male communicants. When the cup was given to the first he touched his forelock and said, ‘Here’s to your good health, Sir’. The other said, ‘Here’s to the good health of our Lord Jesus Christ’.

One day there was a christening and no water in the Font. ‘Water, Sir!’ said the clerk in astonishment. ‘The last parson never used no water. He spit into his hand.’*

Fast Day
A fast day in the early 19th century
in the Church of England

There is much at present in the Anglican Communion about which we can be gloomy. But since the 19th century, in matters of church basics, we’ve made enormous advances. We take for granted an understanding of the importance of the two dominical sacraments of baptism and Holy Communion in parish liturgical life. To a greater or lesser degree, parishioners have an informed understanding of those sacraments. The primacy of the Eucharist is established in most parish churches; just a short time ago, historically speaking, it was likely a four-times-a-year occurrence or, in advanced parishes, perhaps once a month. From Kilvert’s Diary again:

The Archdeacon on a Visitation tour came to a small upland parish in the diocese of Salisbury. He asked the clerk how often the Holy Communion was administered in the year. The clerk stared. ‘What did you please to say?’ he asked. ‘The Holy Communion,’ repeated the Archdeacon. ‘How often do you have it in the year?’ The clerk still stared open-mouthed in hopeless bewilderment. At length a suspicion of the Archdeacon’s meaning began to dawn faintly upon him. ‘Aw,’ he blurted out, ‘aw, we do never have he. We’ve got no tackling.’*

‘Tackling’ is assumed in most parishes now! Yet it’s easy to forget that our present liturgical state is the result of hard-won victories. From the early high-church heroes who risked gaol (in England) and presentment, trial, and opprobrium elsewhere to advance the understanding of sacramental liturgy, to the Oxford movers-and-shakers whose concentrated energies burst onto the world and made theological tracts best-sellers, from clergy who daringly risked for the ‘adornment’ of churches and argued a return, to more historically correct ecclesiastical vesture — all these made the parish church the place we know today.

When we’re tempted to be glum and weary about the struggles and strife in the Communion in our own time, just remember that not long ago, in the mother church of the communion:

  • people could be paid for coming to Holy Communion;
  • spit could be used in baptism;
  • clergy could ‘forget’ Ash Wednesday, or not offer Divine Service on rainy days;
  • livings and advowsons could be bought and sold;
  • the Bishop of Bristol, Dr George Pelham, could send his butler to ordination candidates and tell them to ‘write an essay’ (1807);
  • churchyards were let for grazing animals; at Chipping Norton, Oxfordshire, one lady refused to buy mutton that had been grazed there, for it ‘had a deathly taste’§ (1856);
  • the Reverend Sydney Smith could be offered the parish of Foston-le-Clay in Yorkshire, where there had been no resident parson since the reign of Charles II (1809); and ‘when he thumped the cushion of his pulpit he claimed that the accumulated dust of 150 years made such clouds that he could not see his congregation for several minutes’§;
  • more than twenty parsons in Devon kept packs of hounds (1860s).

Take heart! Life is better now. Whatever our problems be today, they seem more refined than those of a century or two ago. Perhaps the source of the problems will never change — human nature — but the problems themselves do evolve.

This week let us not ‘forget’ Candlemas. And we’ll see you next week.

Our signature

I for one am not looking forward to going back to these ‘good old days!’ That being said, continue to pray for our Church and particularly the sinful human beings (that’s all of us) that call it home!

—Warren

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The only purpose of the gospel is to reconcile people to God and to each other. A gospel that doesn’t reconcile is not a Christian gospel at all. But in America, it seems as if we don’t believe that. We don’t really believe that the proof of our discipleship is that we love one another (see John 13:35). No, we think the proof is in numbers … Even if our “converts” continue to hate each other, even if they will not worship with their brothers and sisters in Christ, we point to their “conversion” as evidence of the gospel’s success. We have substituted a gospel of church growth for a gospel of reconciliation.

– John Perkins, from “With Justice for All”

I will freely admit to ‘lifting’ the above quotation directly from the God’s Politics Blog (http://www.beliefnet.com/blogs/godspolitics/) hosted by Jim Wallis and Sojourners. As I think you all might be aware, I am not above ‘stealing’ good ideas if they help in proclaiming the radical grace of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Mr. Perkins, in my view, hits the nail on the head when identifying reconciliation and the chief work of the gospel. In fact it sounds very much like (almost verbatim) to the Episcopal Church’s own view on what is the Mission of the Church.

Q. What is the mission of the Church?
A. The mission of the Church is to restore all people to
unity with God and each other in Christ.

I sometimes get in trouble when I critique the ‘Church Growth’ movement of the 1990’s. Don’t get me wrong, I would always like for there to be more folks in Church. What I will challenge is that the notion that any growth is good growth. After all the work of the gospel is to bring folks to Christ, so what could be wrong with more people in Church? The answer, I believe, lies in what sort of fruit shows up on the tree. I am deeply troubled by any community that proclaims to have such a clear vision of God’s heart and mind so as to pronounce that there are those who ‘don’t belong’ in the family. That goes for all faith communities–Churches, Mosques, Synagogues—take your pick.

At the end of the day, all of the three Abrahamic Religions (those claiming Abraham as a common ancestor)—Judaism, Islam and Christianity—seek to faithfully respond to a God whose chief characteristic is love. How then can we ever justify any ‘violent’ act in the name of a loving God? You should know that there are a great many plausible answers to that. I believe that none of them faithfully captures the essence of God, that is reconciliation.

To love those with whom we disagree is hard. But it is the Gospel. To love those who don’t look like us can be hard. But it is the Gospel. To love those who experience God in a different way than us is hard. But it is the Gospel. As the heading of this post indicates, the Gospel is hard, but it is simple. The commitment to living Gospel truth is costly, but it is worth it. Maybe it can be summed up like this, “The Gospel is loving when loving seems to be the hardest response to the realities we face”.

Perkins is right. John’s gospel is right. It’s all about reconciliation and that is hard!!

The core message of Christianity is simple. Bono of U2, puts it like this, ““I love the bit when Christ asked for his greatest hits and he says, ‘OK, love God, and love your neighbours as yourself.’ Christianity is not complicated, that’s what it is.”

With a deep and radical commitment to that sort of simple love that is among the hardest things to do in the world, the love of Jesus and the power of God will reconcile the world and bring about the healing of the broken nature of human relationships on every level.

Let’s start in the Church. Let’s show the world that we can love in disagreement and seek ‘a more excellent way’ of being (see 1 Cor 12:31-13).

Quoting the first letter of John let this sentiment be our guide as we simply do the hard work of the Gospel,

“Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us.”

Warren +


Today we celebrate in the Episcopal Church the life and witness of Julia Chester Emery, a native daughter of Massachusetts and one at the vanguard of opening the ministry of the Church to all regardless of their gender.

Born in Dorchester, Mass in 1852, Julia embodied the Missionary zeal of a the Episcopal Church. At the time of her birth, the Episcopal Church was known as the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the USA. Ms. Emery took very seriously both the Domestic and Foreign aspects of Missionary work. At the age of 24, she took over the Chair of the Women’s Auxiliary of the Church and traveled to every domestic Diocese in the Church and to many foreign dioceses as well. In the forty years she was chair of the Auxiliary, the role of women in the life of the church grew and became critical in ways both tangible and spiritual for the life of our church. She represented DFMS at the Pan Anglican Congress (an early meeting of the fledgling Anglican Communion) in 1908 bringing the voice of Women and their concerns and points of view before the entire communion nearly 100 years ago!

Under her leadership the Auxiliary broadened its vision and the vision of the Church with regards to issues of education, social ministry and perhaps most importantly the establishment of the United Thank Offering. For all these and countless other faithful responses to God’s call to be present and push forward the cause of ministry of all to all, I encourage you all to drink from the well of Thanksgiving that so obviously nourished Julia Chester Emery throughout her 40 years of faithful ministry to the Church.

—–Warren

Philippians 2:5-11

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,

who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death–
even death on a cross.
Therefore God also highly exalted him
and gave him the name
that is above every name,
so that at the name of Jesus
every knee should bend,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue should confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.


Greetings to one and all on this the first day of the New Year according to the Gregorian Calendar. In the Church Calendar, however, we celebrate the Feast of the Holy Name. It is on this day that we Mary and Joseph presented Jesus at his Jewish naming day. It was not until this day that the charge laid upon Mary and Joseph was fulfilled. Jesus was named before God on this day. What does that mean for those of us who have been brought into the family of God through the birth of Jesus? The Incarnation marks the coming of Jesus, the Light of the World, to be our guide, our God and our brother.

As we live into the remainder of this Christmas Season and celebrate the dawning of the new light of Christ in Epiphany, I pray that the newness of the work we have been given to do might inspire us to deeper faith, more regular prayer and heightened sensitivities to the challenges of living out our faith in the world.

That we have brought into the Holy Family is not cause to relax and feel as though we’ve ‘arrived.’ Just as Paul says in the text from above, whatever relationship we have with God by virtue or Jesus’ invitation into the Holy Family, is ‘not something to be exploited’. Rather, we are to empty ourselves of personal and community agendas and focus squarely on Jesus and his will for the world.

Happy New Beginnings to you all!! May the Dream of God become the most fervent desire of our hearts as we move into this next chapter of Mission and Ministry in the name of God Incarnate, Jesus our teacher, our Lord and our Brother.

Warren


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