Saturday, July 24, 2010
Sittin' in the pew in Ft. Worth
I am not preaching this week. I am going to sit in the pew and listen to a sermon and find out what it means to be retired. I am not sure if I am overjoyed at this or fearing it. It has been a long time since I have sat in the pew regularly with nothing to do. For me, church has always meant community—the gathering of the community in which I live and move and have my being. It has always been the place where I share in Christ’s ministry with others. Seldom have I had a hard time getting up and going to church. Going to meet Christ in my fellow Christians has always been something I looked forward to. It is the community of the faithful who make Christ present for me.
The bishop has asked us to attend churches throughout the diocese so we are trying to get to as many as we can. So far we have visited three different churches in this ‘recovering ‘diocese. Women clergy have been scarce in this diocese and many of the parishioners have limited experience of women with collars. Also, this diocese has been woefully clericalized—all ministries had to be moderated by the clergy and especially the bishop. The provisional bishop wants to help the laity to take back their churches and learn how to do things for themselves. So we go and visit with wonderfully welcoming people but cannot set down roots in a community yet. We are an advertisement that the Episcopal Church Welcomes You. We tell them of our ministry throughout the Church, how life has been for the past 30 years with women priests working alongside our ordained brothers in harmony and joy.
Some of these churches are continuing in their own buildings with called rectors who chose not to leave with the schismatics. Some are constituted by many who have experienced the Episcopal Church in other places and refused to cast their allegiance with the Southern Cone. These churches are meeting in various places. One is meeting in a community theater. One is meeting in a Wedding Chapel; another was meeting in someone’s home until they became too large. Now they gather in one of the churches that did not leave while they decide what to in the time before they get their building back. Some of the displaced parishes have found that they may not want to return to the albatross buildings that suck the life and finances from them. Some want to replicate that “churchiness’ that they once had. And no matter how long the emphasis on lock-step thinking has exercised authority in this diocese; good ole Anglican diversity rears its head. It is just not in us Anglicans to be romish in the way we gather. This may be attributed to just good ole Texas ‘ornriness’, but it is going to serve the diocese well for the future.
The spirit among these folk is really quite affirming and the diversity of theology is AMAZING. There is everything here from 1928 BCP to Borg and Crossens. And though they claim themselves as Anglo-Catholic , the liturgy I have experienced here has been solidly broad-church. I am sure that they bring out the incense on high holidays but not in July.
We had lunch with a gathering of the “Collared Ladies”--A wonderful group of women priests and deacons who work here. There is also a clergy bible-study that the bishop comes to if he is in town. Collegiality is growing here after 30 years of “divide and conquer” leadership. The previous leadership set priests against one another by encouraging tattling and the invasion of family boundaries. The bishop dictated everything in a priest’s life down to what clothes he was allowed to wear and the proper attitudes of one’s spouse. If the clergy ever recover from the kind of abuse of leadership in this diocese it is going to be because of those of us from other dioceses sharing our experiences of healthy ministry and healthily-lived priesthoods in other places.
But most of all we hear a gospel of joy here. The folk here, both clergy and lay, feel like they have just been liberated. I see in them the kind of bewilderment that the Children of Israel must have felt when Cyrus liberated them in Babylonia. Some want to return to Jerusalem and some do not. But together they are going to make a new church here, one that proclaims the liberation and the freedom that comes in living the Christ life. I like this bunch of Texans who can say “Yes, we can” in a climate of naysayers. They are well on their way to imaging the kind of diversity that has always characterized TEC for me. It still is a place where there is hard work to be done and perhaps we will be able to contribute to it. But for this Sabbath we go to another parish and share with them the joy of what it means to be alive in Christ.