Tuesday, June 08, 2010

2010 is a tough year for the Church...and the church...

From my point of view, the past two days have been somewhat memorable for the church at both the global and local level. At the global level, I have seen the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Presiding Bishop trade multi-page barbs regarding who has the authority to tell who is welcome at which meetings that will determine the shape the Anglican Communion takes in the next couple of years. At stake are two things, I think: the first is an attempt by those who have enjoyed a "first among equals" status moving toward a more codified place of authority; the second is an attempt by many to frame just how global Anglicanism can be defined-is it liberal and inclusive (allowing many cultures, many perspectives)-or is it trending as many large religious bodies are nowadays toward a more mono-cultural stance? The stinger is not the trading of letters between primates, but rather the action of the Secretary-General of the Anglican Communion's office decision to unilaterally dis-invite delegate members of the Episcopal Church from consultation and dialogue groups, challenge the Anglican Church of Canada to clarify their stance toward same-sex unions and open ordination; and then to request clarification from the Primate of the Southern Cone regarding episcopal incursions...all while somehow neglecting to call other primates to task for their own roles in the episcopal incursions. I sit in my office in New Jersey and wonder just how much thought, time and air are being given to these issues. The more I read these news items, and the more I look outside the doors of my church I see a dissonance growing. +++Rowan, ++Katharine, et al...speak first to our mission to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ, to care for the poor and to console those in need. Instead, we seem to be spending more and more time and money on the battle of, and over, a new politics of identity. While we are arguing about who we are going to be, we are starting to loose sight of who we are called to be, the Body of Jesus Christ given to the world.

That's the global perspective, but I don't live and work there. I live and work in New Jersey, and I serve a parish that is a member of the Body here in the Diocese of New Jersey. We have our own challenges to address and seek God's guidance to overcome. The Diocese is stressed financially. The Parish is stressed financially. Its members are stressed financially and those are the chief worries of the day. How can we get through this year into next and keep the proverbial ship afloat?

So, politics on the global, economics on the local...and all of us wondering just how we are going to be able to not only BE the church into next year, but also HOW we are going to live out our mandate to love our neighbors as ourselves while striving for justice and peace. Not easy...and Trinity has its challenges. Our ability to lean back into resources (sources of income outside the pledge commitment of our members) is not atypical for churches. Some call those resources "endowments" and others "fundraising" or "rent," but they all amount in the end to a subsidy of material support that prevents us from living out the challenge of being all we are called to be, today, as God's fulfilled dream for the Church, for the world.

Rather than being liberated to do more, I see these outside resources as ways for us to instead enter into dependency and reliance on something outside ourselves. Hence, the tendency toward anxiety. I can "control" what I have, to some extent...but when I depend on someone else for the essential elements of my being, then I lose "control" and thus anxiety and fear take the place of faith and confidence.

How do we resolve this conundrum? Ah, that's the big challenge.

As I sit here ruminating on that question, I keep going back to Israel's first weeks in the wilderness as they journey from the point where they crossed the Red Sea and begin their journeys with God-first to Sinai and then to the threshold of the Promised Land. God promises that they will not be starve, nor will they die of thirst. Still, as the provisions they took from Egypt run out, the anxiety of wondering where the next meals, the next sources of water would be begin to rise. The result is murmuring and dissent, fear and an expressed desire to go back to the slavery they knew before-at least under Egypt's domination they had meat, garlic and oil! God doesn't open up a cornucopia of abundance in the wilderness for Israel. God gives them manna-enough for the day. God gives water, even from flint rock-enough for the day's journey. Each night, the people lay down and were challenged to have faith that tomorrow there would be manna on the ground and enough moisture on the rocks that they could have enough strength to continue on, and on. God doesn't provide us a cushion, a nest-egg that will keep us safe and preserved from harm, anxiety or fear...God gives us enough for today's journey. Our job? Keep moving forward, keep praying, keep on in faith and humility that it is God that provides for us.

In a world that seems to be quickly spinning out of control, it would be easy to fall back on panic...to build high walls, to cut the budget down to bare bones, to cancel work/ministries/services in order to balance out the books. But, once we do all that, will we have anything left to offer up to God for what Jesus continually calls for from us? We are to feed the hungry, shelter the homeless, console those who grieve and give comfort to those bound and imprisoned. If we keep what we have to ourselves so that we might survive, what happens to those whose need, really, outweighs our own?

I got word today, in the midst of my own worries and stresses, that a colleague who is the pastor of a church in Guatemala has seen his community devastated by tropical storm Agatha. Members of his own church and family have been swept away in the flood. I can only imagine the expenses of the damage his parish membership have sustained to their homes, their gardens and to the loss of work as businesses recover from the storm. His grief, their losses, cause my own concerns to pale a bit, believe me. For now, in my church, we have a roof over our head, the bills are paid and the ministries are stable and even growing. Attendance is up, giving is stable and we seem to have a moment-if only that-to be able to give thanks as the next hard challenges to our worldly peace are "threatened."

I look at 2010 as a year of evolution for the Church. We can no longer assume that any one else BUT Jesus is at our back. No human plan, resource or skill is a substitution for the grace of God working through us "infinitely more than we can ask or imagine." When challenged with despair, frankly, I choose to put my hope in Christ, because in my life that is the one resource that has gotten me through every desert I have encountered. When I was hungry, he gave me food. When I needed help, he sent the faithful to deliver me to safety. When I was poor, he gave me just enough to continue to serve him....that is my Lord.

It will do well, for me, for Rowan, for Katharine and all of us in leadership in the Church to remember that our greatest sin is committed when we think that we can do anything under our own power, with our own will or under our own steam and forget that it is ALL for Christ.

2010 is a tough year for the Church...and I pray that when we look back on it, years from now, we will see this desert passage like Israel did their time in the wilderness: the hunger, the thirst, all of that formed us into who we are now, today...a people who actually trust in God while working hard for the fulfillment of the promises offered through Jesus Christ that all will find life in God's embrace.

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