Monday, October 19, 2009

On Communion

In the diocesan newspaper of the Diocese of Louisiana, Bishop Charles Jenkins published this. “On Communion”

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 Katrina.

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

Response: I wrote +Charles this morning thanking him for this article and sharing my experience in MS while doing relief work.

Dear Bishop Jenkins,

Today Bishop Righter posted your statement "On Communion" on Hob/d. We have never met but I was one of those many volunteers who came following Katrina--I went to MS because that was as close as I could get to New Orleans that October. I stayed two months and wore out a couple of knees in the process, but I have never experienced "Church" like I did at Camp Coast Care. I want to thank you for your wonderful communication about the world-wide Anglican Communion. I had a similar experience.

At the time I was very angry. I had experienced the backlash of +Robinson's election. I am a lesbian priest and have been a vowed celibate since I joined the Ursulines in New Orleans in the early seventies. The fear of having a gay rector had been raised and I lost my parish. I was not permitted to work in my diocese after having been a priest for almost 30 years. I went to help along the Gulf Coast because I couldn’t figure out how to exercise the priesthood to which I had been called by God.

I worked with those who came from all over the country to help people we didn't know, who were connected only by compassion. Each night when we arrived back from a day of digging people out of debris, copperheads and mold, we would gather for evening prayer. We prayed for the families that we had served. We prayed for those at home. We prayed each in our own way. We were Episcopalians and Lutherans and every other denomination. The BCP served to unite us and gave us structure in our prayer. We were also Jewish, Muslim and Buddhist. We all gathered to unite us to give us strength for another day to carry on. It was a sense of community that I have never had in religious life or parish life. It was a glimpse of what I hope heaven will be like without the damage and loss that gave us the reason to come together.

I doubt if you or I could find a reason to agree on much theologically or politically (I, being a faithful graduate of EDS ). But that is not the point. If God can call us into such a rich fellowship in times of abject humiliation, I do believe that we can come together in the name of Christ and the Church. It is Christ's communion, not the Anglican, Episcopal, or whatever. It sometimes takes "acts of God" to bring us to that place where we find our common ground. You found the common ground in Christ as shown forth from your brothers and sisters of the Anglican Communion. I too found that common ground in Christ through the work of the anglican communion.

I am distressed that there might be a two-tier communion--that is not a communion but a heirarchy. But whatever the way that is decided, you and I, for whatever reason can never say that we are not part of one another. We have met the common ground of Jesus in the midst of the flood waters. We have known the love of Christ through the hands of those who share that communion from all over the world. We will never be the same. Thanks be to God.

1 comment:

SCG said...

Wow! That is a great letter!