• Going Deeper: Growing in Faith and Knowledge

Conclaves

The Rev. Patrick Ward
February 21, 2019

The Copley Westin this snowy Thursday morning is slowly filling with Episcopalians.  Approximately 700 of us from around the country are arriving in Boston for the annual CEEP (Consortium of Endowed Episcopal Parishes) Conference as I write.  Exhibitor set-up and "pre-conference" sessions were already in full swing yesterday afternoon and about a dozen of your fellow parishioners were already on site as volunteers, cheerfully welcoming and guiding. Sessions in the next few days will cover topics as varied as Presiding Bishop Michael Curry's new initiative, The Way of Love (more information here), parish communications, preaching, building security, worship, music, stewardship and fund management. 

 

Even as I negotiate the Android app for this "paperless" conference, I am mindful of two other denominational gatherings this week. I know from several anguished conversations around Trinity in recent days that many of us are thinking of a bishop's conference opening today in Rome to address sexual crimes against children and other vulnerable people by clergy.  No small number of Boston-area Episcopalians have faith roots in the Roman Church. Others of us have witnessed the pain of colleagues and friends who have left church or clung with straining faith to their communities. LGBTQ Roman Catholics I know, and those with LGBTQ family members, fear that conservative elements in the Roman Church will precipitate a retaliatory "witch hunt" seeking to blame gay men exclusively for an ancient legacy of violent abuse and mismanagement. "This is one big reason why my children and grandchildren are not in church, any church at all" wrote a parishioner to me this week.

 

This coming Sunday, the United Methodist Church (America's second-largest Protestant denomination) convenes its legislative assembly in St. Louis for a three-day meeting. Lay people and clergy will deliberate the ordination of LGBTQ clergy and consider several plans. It seems certain to me that people will leave the Methodist Church regardless of this gathering's outcome.  We have lived through and continue to bear this pain ourselves as Episcopalians.

 

I don't here wish to give further vent to my own feelings about these gatherings, as much as I wish to remind myself and you, if you need the reminder, of two truths. The first is that we are in a particular "kindred" relationship with all Christians:  those with whom we agree, those who disagree with us or even wish us harm, and even those whose actions and pronouncements would seem to be destroying the church. Kindred relationships are not about enforced uniformity, but they are about recognizing a particular share in the well-being of the other. "Every 500 years," said a friend to me recently, paraphrasing the late Phylllis Tickle, "Christianity holds an enormous garage sale."  This is a light manner of sharing a deeply serious truth:  we kindred Christians are together living through a new period of reformation. I believe that the Spirit is at work somehow in all of it. I believe we are in for pain and loss as well as new life. The church of the future will be different from the church any one of us holds close in nostalgic reverie.  And the church of the future will, I believe, more faithfully witness Christ's body in the world. This hurts as much as it inspires. 

 

And here's the second truth. Since the Last Supper, hardly a day has passed when the outline of Christ's life has not been recalled and remembered with bread and wine by those who are longing to be counted as part of his body in the world.  Our fighting and our factionalism, the church's most grievous sins, will not change this because, in the end, we have a Savior who is neither you nor me.

 

Please pray with me for all of those coming to Boston for CEEP. For our Roman Catholic sisters and brothers. For all members of the United Methodist Church. For all who have been harmed and broken and abused by the Church over centuries. For new life out of suffering and death.

 

Have mercy on us Lord, and form your church on earth more and more in the image of your free and fearless and creative love. AMEN.

 

See you in church,

 

 

Patrick

The Rev. Patrick C. Ward

Associate Rector

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