The Episcopal Church: An Establishment Player in the Kingdom of God
I pray a lot for the Episcopal Church. Some of you lifelong Episcopalians may understand why. There was a day when, as a denomination, the Episcopal Church was considered the nation’s church. The National Cathedral in Washington DC is a permanent emblem of this historic past. The Episcopal Church wasn’t perfect in those days. While it was open and inclusive in our theology then as now, and while we didn’t stumble into division as so many mainline denominations stumbled during the Civil War, the Episcopal Church was the church of the establishment. This had its upsides and this had its downsides. It had power to effect change and a general reservation about doing so. This made it paternalistic in many way, and many bristled against this, as children bristle against their parents. And that is okay if there is a reasonable hope of the children growing up to be who the parents are. But as the country changed in how we saw the world—that is, through the eyes of science and the ears of globalization—and in who we were becoming as a melting pot, the Episcopal Church began to bristle against its own identity.
The Vietnam War was a significant catalyst for change in the Episcopal Church. Young people viewed the Episcopal Church as they viewed other establishment institutions: as things to push back against and to break down. Now the church, being what it is, took this charge seriously. It reflected on war and peace and the place of power, both moral and practical. It sought to integrate these ideas and include these passions in the hope of inviting young people to see the significance of the church as a place that could deal with all of life as it is. But I fear that in the milieu of this messy time the Episcopal Church began to lose its way. Others will most certainly disagree with me, but let me state my case and then invite alternative views.
The fundamental theological question for me in the face of any issue-based movement is this: What is God inviting us into? What is God’s hope for us in this situation? What is the Kingdom-of-God framework under which this issue is to be situated? What would Jesus do in this situation? Actually that is four questions, but they cluster around a God center. I believe that when the issue is set within the kingdom of God framework, not only can it be talked about, but many are made better by the process and the issue at hand becomes less divisive than it had been or could become. What happened around the Vietnam War and other rapidly following issue-based movements is that the issue itself became the point, and the Episcopal Church, like other churches and institutions, was lining up on one side or the other.
So words like “liberal church” and “conservative church” came into vogue as pseudonyms for political parties and lines in the sand. And thus the Episcopal Church remains a church prone to chasing issues as a way of articulating its relevance, ignoring the reality that this creates an environment of insiders and outsiders. The legacy of this is the loss of a Kingdom-of-God perspective and an atrophying church. We have forgotten our purpose and the point of our being, and the result is that we are afraid to be world-changing leaders. We are afraid to step into causes, wrestle with issues, and impact thinking, because we have forgotten the framework. We have forgotten that God is the God of all things and all people and that Jesus is strong, sure-footed, and courageous. And so are we—as long as we remember who we are! That is who I believe Epiphany is and that is where I would like us to continue to go—toward becoming a world-changing, sure-footed, and courageous church.
Let me say what this doesn’t mean. This doesn’t mean we will take on causes. You will never see us support an I-issue, ballot initiative, political party, or particular cause. What this does mean is that we will absolutely discuss issues. We will bring up issues like the Middle East, racism, gun control, poverty, incarceration, and whatever other issues come our way. We invite these issues because they are real issues in the world God has made, so they are not to be sanitized or looked at through a fifty-thousand-foot lens. Jesus walked in the world, and so will we. But make no mistake about it, when Jesus walked in the world, he walked with everyone. That includes people who love Israel and who love Palestine. It includes people who want to abolish guns and who want to carry guns. It includes people who have money and people who do not. It includes the dumb and the smart, the funny and boring, the religious, the irreligious, and the anti-religious. This is the Kingdom of God, and God is here, and God is near, and because of that we can be world-changing, sure-footed, and courageous.
Jesus did not come to make us comfortable. Nor did he come to make us uncomfortable. He came to teach us how to see the world from God’s center, and he promised to never leave us in the process. Sometimes this makes us comfortable, and sometimes this makes us uncomfortable, but “be not afraid!” So please, step into tough issues and conversations. I will always do my best to ensure that leaders of any discussion group have in the forefront of their might the truth that “Wherever you are on your spiritual journey, you have a place at Epiphany.” That means your story is always worth hearing in the context of a particular issue. It means others’ stories are equally valid and true, and that we will listen to one another, and we will ask, over and over and over again, what is God inviting us to see? What is God inviting us to see in a kingdom where relationship is primary?
If we can remember this and implement it here at Epiphany our leadership may be helpful in positioning the Episcopal Church as an establishment player in the Kingdom of God.
Last Chance to Take the Worship Review Survey!
The online Worship Review Survey will close on September 30! This is a transitional year in the life of Epiphany. Construction will start on a number of our church buildings in January, and we’d like to take the opportunity to brainstorm some new ideas for worship. Will you help us brainstorm? Fill out the Worship Survey online here or the paper copy you will find in your bulletin on Sunday. We want to hear from you!
New Rehearsal Times for Choristers
If you are still planning to enroll your children in choir this year, there has been a slight change to the Thursday choir schedule. Choristers-in-Training (CITs) meet from 4–5 pm followed by a short dinner break. Choristers rehearse at 5:30–6:30 pm. Hope to see you there!
Looking for Volunteers to Bring In Coffee-Hour Treats
If you enjoy drinking coffee and munching on a snack in the Great Hall between Sunday services, consider providing some treats to share with the congregation! It’s a great way to be welcoming and hospitable to each other and to newcomers in the parish. Families, ministries, and small groups may want to consider committing to providing treats at regular intervals. Contact Amanda Eap if you’d like to help out!
An Update from the Building Team
We have received the building permits from the city for Phase 1—an exciting day indeed! The Building Team spent last week going over the preliminary pricing information provided by our general contractor. We continue to meet with John Nesholm to finalize design details, mostly regarding the Church and Chapel at this point. We have received a design for the St. Francis Garden plantings and continue to have conversations with the landscape designer.
The Next 100 Years Building Team
Ed Emerson, Laura Blackmore, Bob Barnes, Jim Marlow, Ben Bradstreet
Contact the Building Team at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Parish Prayer List
To download a PDF of this week’s parish prayer list, click here.
Sunday Lectionary Corner
September 28, 2014
Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Upcoming Events in the Life of Epiphany
The details and descriptions of upcoming events at Epiphany and in the community can be found here.