Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Leaving (Stockton)

The Reverend James V. Stockton is Rector of The Episcopal Church of the Resurrection in Austin (Diocese of Texas). He posted these reflections on the House of Bishops/Deputies listserv, and has given permission for us to publish his thoughts on The Episcopal Majority site.

This piece comes to us from the Reverend Thomas Woodward along with this note:

I find Jim Stockton's article both comforting and challenging -- and believe it will be so for the whole of The Episcopal Church. We are publishing it at The Episcopal Majority both for its intrinsic value and for what it evokes and provokes. We hope you will engage us and one another with your comments.
We have previously published the Rev. Stockton's essays here and here.

(The Rev. James V. Stockton)

Bishop Cox is 'leaving' for the Southern Cone; Bishop Herzog is leaving for Roman catholicism; the Church in England is leaving Rome to become the Church of England; and the Church of England in the American Colonies is leaving to form the Episcopal Church in the United States of America. The difference between the latter two instances and the two former is that the first two are current and the latter are now history. But they all serve to demonstrate that division per se is not an evil in and of itself. To suppose that the devil is enjoying all this is to presume that the devil is paying attention to any of this and doesn't have more important things to do. I think it's time for a reality check. Division doesn't equal decay. Division is the natural and God-given process that enables growth. So I pray we can all relax the lamentations a bit and bring our reactions into a healthier perspective. Let's make sure not to confuse religion with denomination, faith with Church. Our religion is Christianity, our faith is Christian. Our denomination is the Episcopal Church, and our Church is a part of the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic ideal. When people depart the Episcopal Church, they aren't, unless specifically stipulated, departing Christ or Christianity.

So, where people choose to follow their consciences rather than compromise them, I see God at work in this, not the devil. Where there are available a multiplicity of branches extending from the one tree of the Christian faith, I see God at work in this, not the devil. Where the entirety of Christianity is indeed almost able to be all things in order to reach all people, I see God at work in this, not the devil.

Conversely, where I see a single branch trying to function as the whole tree, I see human pride at work in this. Where I see people unable or unwilling to celebrate one another's progress in relationship with God because that progress draws them out of conformity with one another, I see human pride at work in this. When I see people unable or unwilling to renew and adapt their relationships with one another as they follow their respective paths, I see human pride at work in this.

What is it, after all, that is 'dividing' people? People aren't leaving Christ Jesus; they aren't leaving the Communion of Saints. They are leaving nothing greater than the former structures of relationship; that's all. It is differences around ecclesiology that are causing some people to divide from one another. And this is not automatically a bad or evil thing. Some people simply cannot or will not abide a Church that admits and allows a plurality of theological views on matters beyond the Creeds. Matters of hermeneutics, authority and power, social conformity, all come under the umbrella of definitions of 'Church;' and these are the matters around which some are deciding to leave.

Bp Cox, former Bp Herzog, Martyn Minns, David Anderson, and others are following their hearts and minds to Christian relationships that do not as deeply include some of the rest of us as did our former official relationships. Our own convictions are moving us to remain. Our staying put and their departures are outward and visible signs of an inward and invisible reality. If the adjustments in our relationships help keep us all more honest, then so much the better for all of us. And we will do well then to remember that ecumenism is a fine old tradition of our Church. Wherever there are good, decent, faithful people upon whom we wish to call for the service of our own progress in faith, then thanks be to God, there are simple honorable ways for us to invite one another to share our gifts.

I would encourage us to rejoice that people who choose not to remain under the particular banner of the Episcopal Church are in fact free to exercise their consciences, and that they have available to them fellowships of Christian faith that are better suited to them to which they can go. The real tragedy would be for people to compromise their deeply held convictions in order simply to stay superficially and under duress. What is actually lamentable in some of this is the insistence by some that those from whom they are departing are no longer real and genuine Christians. This sort of Christian-on-Christian sin truly is indeed lamentable. For, while you and I may disagree about the relative gravity of concerns that move people to leave, there is no inherent tragedy in the departure itself. If people are following their consciences, being the best Christian they know how to be, then thanks be to God, and let's stay in touch. All that's happening is some people are "changing their addresses"; they're not dying, for goodness sake. If we're really important to one another, then we'll allow all of this to function only as distinction, not as division. We won't allow it to come between us, but only to draw us closer in the work and faith we share.


Blogger Marshall said...

I agree wholeheartedly. At the same time, I want to claim that it doesn't feel all that good when I hear that they are leaving us because we are dead....

4/04/2007 9:08 AM  
Blogger Jeffri said...

In many cases, I would agree. However, in the cases of Martyn Minns and David Anderson, they are going to another structure that is committed to the complete replacement of the Episcopal Church within the structure of the Anglican Communion.

If you feel called to leave, you have my full support. But if you are going to a structure whose purpose is to subvert or destroy the structure you are leaving, then you have put me in a position of having to defend my branch of the body of Christ.

4/04/2007 9:19 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear Friends,

the Rev. Stockton is quite correct. However, change is always a bit disconcerting. We all believe that we should refer to scripture, in order to find guidance and double-check the correctness of our chosen path. It is a natural trepidation that wells up when we are forced to define our foundation in the intangibility of Faith.

So, when change is forced upon us, undoubtedly through a combination of the living and active Holy Spirit working in concert with our individual misconceptions that must be put aside in order to grow, each of us must look down to affirm that our foot is firmly placed upon the rock of Christ. It is a condition of discomfort as well as a moment of confirmation of our willingness to follow Christ.

I am reminded of certain icons and teachings found in other expressions of faith in the Creator, which demonstrate the commonality of the human experience. In the Hindu view, all must pass through the three stages of creation, sustaining and destruction in order to complete the cycle that leads to rebirth. Is our Lord's life in ministry, crucifixion, resurrection and ascension anything less?

In the ancient teachings of the Tarot, the initial card is the Fool, who leaps into the unknown in a simple act of faith that what comes next is unknown and unknowable, unless and until the leap is made. It is a leap toward simultaneous death and rebirth. This is where we are as a Church.

Where do we assert that Jesus went in spirit when he left the cross and before he reappeared to his disciples on the morning of the third day? Must we, in following in his footsteps, also descend into those regions bearing our own Faith and Cross and carrying our lanterns, showing willingness to go alone and to define our faith and ministry by offerring our hand and heart to the least fortunate, the outcasts, the misfits and the unwelcome? In Truth, we can do no less.

This is the essence of our progression of Faith; the spreading of the Gospel. It can never become too comfortable and the doors to acceptance must never be shut, remembering and offerring salvation and redemption in Christ.

I believe that the Dove of Peace which is our Church is going through a natural change much like all birds do. We are molting. We are temporarily losing our beautiful and well-worn feathers, used so reliably for a time to carry us aloft over mountains of difficulties and valleys of sorrows and fears and oceans of unfathomable impenetrable deeps.
During the process, we will not be pretty and we will not be able to fly confidently. But, as we grow this new set of feathers, more capable than ever of supporting our faith, more beautiful in our acceptance of humans who naturally express themselves in ways other than what we have always accepted as normal in the past and more adept at coping with the changing conditions of a modern world, we will see that our guide continues to be the Holy Spirit.


4/04/2007 10:07 AM  
Blogger Marshall Montgomery said...

I have just posted a long response to this most thought-provoking piece at http://communioninconflict.blogspot.com/2007/04/episcopal-majority-leaving-response.html.


4/06/2007 2:11 PM  

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