Sunday, September 21, 2008

One Lord, One faith . . .

     I think I learned last night why the Celebration of New Ministry is meant to be held early in the pastoral relationship between a congregation and its newly called priest:  it is so the priest can get through the prayer where we pray for God's grace to properly care for those whom He has entrusted to our care without crying.  I can imagine it is a much easier prayer to say without tearing up when one does not really know the church.  But, here I was, saying that prayer as my mind flashed to various brothers and sisters (parishioners seems so impersonal) and some of the road we had trod over the past couple of years all the while trying to hold back tears.  At least I was not alone.
     I had asked my bishop for permission to let one of my best friends preach during my installation.  Bryan had planned to be here for a mission trip to Waterloo to help flood victims, so I thought it was maybe a Godincident.  Given how tired the bishop sounded and looked, I knew that it was.  It saved him one more bit of work for a difficult week.  Yet, I may have caused him far more problems than really assisting him.
     As we gathered before the Eucharist, Bishop Scarfe was nearly moved to tears.  Now, I sometimes have that effect on people, but this seemed different.  Bishop Scarfe paused before he began, and then he began to share.  Gathered at the table were a priest and a bishop who are on opposite sides of the presenting issue of the church, but we have none of the bad relationships that are so common throughout our communion right now.  As Bishop Scarfe has remarked on more than one occasion, we both try to serve the same Lord faithfully.  But also gathered at the table with us was a priest of Tanzania who is currently serving at a church in CT under the authority of a Kenyan bishop whose consecration is recognized as valid but irregular by the Archbishop of Canterbury.  Knowing and loving Bryan as I do, I had simply forgotten that he was a Tazanian priest serving in a Kenyan church in CT.  I do know Bryan, as I do know my bishop, to be a faithful laborer in God's harvest.  There was no political statement being made; there was no begrudging acceptance of one another's presence.  All, including the congregation there present, were gathered in light of Paul's ethical "therefore."  And Bryan had been there to remind me and my parish and my bishop of the cost of those demands and the demands of Paul's therefore.
     Bishop Scarfe remarked that the gathering was significant as I had been one who was able to walk between both "sides" with a graciousness which embodied the priestly call of reconciliation.  I do not know that I would go that far, but I do recognize that God has given me a voice and an ear with some of the leaders on both sides of our current discussions throughout our communion.  And I do hope and pray that I have spoken with His voice and listened for His voice in those various discussions.  No doubt some have been as angry with me after our discussions as I have been with them.  But, I like to think that those who serve Christ as do I have been able to continue those discussions, however heated, in a context of mutual respect.
     So here we were, three ministers gathered before a congregation of God's calling, preparing to serve His body and His blood.  And Bishop Scarfe made note of the gathering.  It will not get covered by the press.  It will not be discussed at the next Primates' meeting.  It will not get him elected as the next Presiding Bishop.  It will not be discussed anywhere significant; except perhaps only in God's kingdom.  But, I think that Bishop Scarfe was right to note it.  I certainly did not realize what I had done until he made his remarks.  And I am certain that the congregation did not realize that they were witnessing a remarkable event which occurs far too irregularly in our communion nowadays.  How far have we fallen from His command that we love one another as He and the Father love each other that our bickering is the rule, and such a joyful gathering as we experienced last night is the exception.  Lord have mercy.
Christ's Peace,

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