Thursday, December 4, 2008

Bare ruin'd choirs

That time of year thou may'st in me behold
When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang
Upon those boughs which shake against the cold;
Bare ruin'd choirs where late the sweet birds sang.

(Sonnet 73) William Shakespeare

If you have ever traveled through the breadth of Great Britain you can see the “bare ruin’d choirs” that Shakespeare speaks of in this sonnet. While he is talking about his own mortality, he makes an allusion to the churches, monasteries and priories that were standing idle in his time a generation past the Reformation.
Henry the VIII had taken over the papal lands when he had separated from Rome in the 16th century. He sold the lands to fill the coffers of the crown. But the buildings remained. They stood only to be taken over by the rain and the birds. Today they can be found still standing, a Romanesque arch here, a gothic stair there. Their stones still can be found in the foundations of barns throughout the country.

The Reformation in England took place in the midst of a fit of pique by a king. But the theology of the Church in England was ready for it. While the divorce was the excuse, the sea change of faith had already occurred. The Church of England went its way and today we have an Anglican Communion, the third largest Christian presence in the world.

The present schism is providing the same “bare ruin’d choirs” in our diocese. Churches are being taken over by the diocese as those who cannot commune with Episcopalians any longer get honest that they cannot continue to worship in Episcopal space or spend Episcopal endowments. The faithful remnants have moved on to other Episcopal parishes that provide continuity, community and faith.
Now numerous Episcopal properties stand empty. No attempts at rebuilding Episcopal communities of faith are being attempted. No new theology is being proclaimed. No reforming effort is being offered the people who cannot attend the schismatic rhetoric.

If the sea change of the emerging church is upon us in Central New York as our leadership proclaims, then why cannot these buildings be places where such kinds of ministry could be started? Need our Episcopal lands be scavenged for spare parts? Need our once consecrated buildings be secularized? Is there no one willing to start anew with a Gospel that the young can hear?