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Lambeth Part 2: Electric Boogaloo

Well, the Lambeth Conference train has shuddered to a halt, and as we emerge, blinking confusedly into the sunshine of this unfamiliar railroad station we have arrived at, it might be worth glancing around and figuring out where we are.  Are we somewhere new?  Or was this an elaborate fever dream where we fell asleep and actually didn’t go anywhere at all?  What even is life?

When we last left off, the conference was convening with the Archbishop of Canterbury promising that he was Very Sorry about the changed language in the draft of A Call for Human Dignity, No Idea How That Happened, and Of Course, You Can Vote No, Sillies.  

The draft was in fact changed, to now reflect the state of affairs around the communion: many provinces continue to see marriage as being between one man and one woman, while many others, after long processes of study, prayer, and reflection, now have more open views of the sacrament.  This doesn’t seem like an earth shattering statement, but it was the first time that any “official” Anglican Communion type person had admitted this sort of thing.  

As for voting….

Things started off strangely with a vote on the Call for Mission and Evangelism (which was not considered controversial).  Everyone had their electronic thingies, everyone was set to vote.  Over 40% of the bishops just didn’t do it.  Around 30% voted firmly in favor, another 30% voted kinda in favor, and then the ABC reported this vote as passing by over 60%.  

From the outside, it wasn’t clear why so many people didn’t vote.  Confusion with the electronic thingies?  Wifi failure?  Boycott of voting?  Covid?  I am aware of some rumblings that a few bishops thought voting at all was inappropriate, and so didn’t do it, but it’s unclear how widespread that was.  

In any case, the next day, the ABC decided to take another tactic.  No more voting! We’re done with voting now! Instead, the bishops would be quiet and prayerful, unless they disagreed with a call, in which case, they would say NO forcefully to signal their discontent.1 

This worked for one of the calls but fell apart on another one.  Refusing to be defeated, the ABC then decided that votes would now be taken by a show of hands:  options to be given were “yes”, “no”, and “Eeyore”.  

I am not making this up.

I am told that the Eeyore thing is a reference to a sermon given earlier in the day wherein the ABC confessed to being much more of an Eeyore person rather than a Tigger type person2.  Thus, we can surmise that “Eeyore” here stands in for “I am not sure about this Thing, but I guess so.  Thanks for noticing.3”    We can also surmise that the organizers were possibly running right out of voting mechanisms and just reached for the nearest thing in their heads. 

We have all been there.

If you’re wondering “ok, but the gay people thing!  How did they vote on the gay people thing?” The answer is “They didn’t.”  After all of that, the ABC discerned that voting in any manner, with any reference to Disney characters, would not go well, and so the small groups of bishops just discussed the call.  And lo, it was discussed.  That was it. No voting, no decisions.

Afterwards, predictably, Statements were Made.  The Global South bishops made a statement being angry that the progressive provinces were not cast into the outer darkness as they wished.  They did receive a letter from the ABC stating that 1998 1.10 was still valid but I welcome you to figure out what exactly that means4

Our own Presiding Bishop filmed a video message assuring our LGBTQ+ folks that we weren’t going back, that no matter what came out of Lambeth the commitment of TEC to our LGBTQ+ siblings was absolute, and indeed, he thought progress had been made.  There was also a statement released from progressive bishops around the Communion affirming their own commitment to affirmation of LGBTQ+ Anglicans.  Notably, this was signed by the primates of Canada, the US, New Zealand, Wales, Scotland, Ireland, and many other bishops from around the world.  

Where does all this leave us?  Was it all pointless?  

I am going to argue that no, Lambeth Shambles is not pointless, but that is utterly in spite of our best efforts. 

While the bishops were trying to not get covid, and to figure out how to vote this time, they just hung around each other.  They ate together, they walked around Kent together.  They took a lot of selfies, if Twitter is any indication.  They compared stories from back home.  They worshipped and prayed together.  (I know the conservative bishops made A Statement about not receiving communion with progressive bishops, but from most reports, that does not seem to have actually come to fruition.)  I am going to hazard a guess and suggest that they may have bonded even over the ludicrous voting procedures together5

The thing is, the only way to get people to stop making statements about a sort of people they’ve never encountered is to make them encounter those people. Make them eat dinner with the friendly bishop of Maine who is gay.  Have them do Bible study with the bishop of Central New York who will explain at length the grace that LGBTQ+ clergy have brought her diocese. 

Will it always work?  No.  Sometimes people act in bad faith, and that is how we have the US Congress.  But the Anglican Communion is mostly not Congress—mostly, it is a group of people who honestly want to do the right thing.  And it becomes much harder to dismiss someone else’s humanity when you are seated across the table from it in good faith.  In 2008, TEC didn’t have anyone to sign a statement of affirmation with us.  It was us on an ice floe with a Canadian diocese, all by our lonesome, holding onto inclusion as best we could, with our presiding bishop who wasn’t even allowed to act as a bishop within England at the time6.   Today?  So many people.  So many bishops.  And next time the list will be longer. And then longer.  Then longer after that.

The besetting sins of the Communion—the colonialism and the racism it was founded in—still cause it to try to make pronouncements and make statements, when what we actually need is the tea party from the 1880s, ironically.  Any time we try to pull off more than that, the domestic politics of England overrun the whole endeavor and no one is happy.  (Example: only two English bishops signed the affirmation statement and the domestic English press has spun the whole conference as “Anglicans throw the gays under the bus again.”  From their perspective, that’s an easy conclusion to draw; the Church of England doesn’t have marriage equality, and being as the ABC just spent the last 2 weeks trying to placate a bunch of very conservative provinces, I’d be mad too.  And yet—there are a fair number of progressive CofE bishops pushing for change, whose jobs are infinitely harder because of the ABC’s responsibility for Lambeth.  See?  Colonialism is a bad time for everyone.)

The more we try to make Lambeth Mean Something, the less helpful and meaningful it is.  The more we try to make it legislate and pronounce, the more we issue Statements, the farther away we get from the helpful gift it could actually offer us–A chance to see Christ in one another.

1Which is really a great plan.  Nothing says “Bringing the worldwide communion together in peace” like asking a ton of bishops to shout at each other when they disagree. Stellar. No notes.

2 I too am an Eeyore, sir. In that, we are the same.

3 This is only a guess, because voting Eeyore is, by nature, a complex signifier. Could it mean you are depressed by the options given, and decline to participate? Could it mean you feel like a little grey rain cloud? SO MANY OPTIONS.

4 Did it happen?  Sure!  What binding influence does it have on anyone?  Not much!

5 If someone could confirm this, it would gladden my heart enormously.  Til then, I will just envision the bishop of Jerusalem rolling his eyes at the bishop of Tanzania when ++Justin referred to Eeyore voting.  Please let me have this.

6 Someone correct me if I’m wrong about this, but I believe 2008 was the visit to England where Katharine Jefferts-Schori (who was our Presiding Bishop at the time) wasn’t allowed to wear her mitre in the cathedral because of girl-cooties. Might have been on an earlier trip, but it definitely happened when she was primate.

What is up with Lambeth?

Over the next few days, there is a possibility that you will hear in the news something about the Anglican Communion saying…something.  Or not saying something.  Or doing something.  And that, when you hear this, you will think, “Huh.  Isn’t that us?  I wonder what’s going on.”  

Here’s what’s going on!

The Archbishop of Canterbury (currently, a guy named Justin Welby and his ill-fitting collar) has the authority within our Anglican Communion to call Lambeth Conference—a global meeting of all the active bishops in the Anglican Communion.  This is really the only authority he has outside of the Church of England itself, and it is a recent development, all things considered.  The first Lambeth Conference was in the late 1880s, when it became clear to the English bishops that the colonial endeavors of their nation had led to the spread of their church such that it had grown far past the stage where everyone knew everyone else from Oxford.  Thus, the ++ABC of the time convened a conference and invited all the bishops to tea at the palace.2  

And this—and literally only this—has been what held the Anglican Communion together for these many years.  The Lambeth Conference has been convened more or less every ten years, and if your bishop is invited, then behold! You too are a member of the Anglican Communion.3 

Traditionally, while assembled, the bishops do not make pronouncements or take any sort of action—as one province of the Communion has no power over another, neither does one bishop have power over another province.  This gained the semblance of changedness in 1998, when the assembled bishops voted out a statement on human sexuality.  The statement was controversial at the time, and has only gotten more so.  It stated that “marriage is between one man and one woman” and that “homosexuality is incompatible with Scripture.”  At the time, this was not a statement that all the bishops agreed to, nor was it passed overwhelmingly.  However, as soon as it was passed, it began to be referred to as if it was authoritative in some way—which led to the already-present conflict growing deeper4.  

Right now, the Conference has not met since 2008.  It was intended to meet in 2020, but the pandemic scuttled those plans.  For the past few years, the current ++ABC has taken pains to rebuild the Communion, and has been explaining the conference as a peaceful time to be together, promising no voting, no controversy—only togetherness, prayer, Bible study, and reflection.  


Roughly a week before the conference started, a 58-page document called Lambeth Calls ended up in the hands of every bishop attendee, with a notification that the bishops would be asked to vote upon its 10 included statements, on topics from Climate Change, Gender Equity, to Human Dignity.  A bishop could vote “i affirm this call and will take action upon it in my context” or “I commit to further discernment”. There was no opportunity to vote “No.”  While the writing groups for the calls were described as diverse within the document itself, only the lead drafters were named, and they were all male, and all but one were English.  

Included in the calls, in the Human Dignity call, was an explicit reaffirmation of the 1998 document that stated “marriage is between one man and one woman” as “being the mind of the Anglican Communion.” 

This was received….poorly.

The majority of our American bishops had already left for Europe, and so mostly hadn’t checked email.  However, for the first time in Lambeth Tea Party Messiness, the Scottish bishops and the Welsh bishops (both churches having affirmed gay marriage since 2008) stepped in to release statements saying that they would be calling for a rewrite, and also what on earth was any of this5.  

A day or so later, a Canadian bishop announced on Facebook that in fact, he had been one of the drafters of the statement on Human Dignity, and that he did not recognize the version of the statement that had been published.  That in fact, the final draft he saw did not include a reaffirmation of the 1998 statement, because he would have raised holy hell.  

This revelation led to another round of additional bishops (who were now coming back into email range from their travels) asking what the heck kind of process any of this was, and stating their firm annoyance with whoever was responsible.  

The Conference coordinating subgroup then released a rewrite of the offending call, and offered a way to vote “This call does not speak for me” as “a response to the feedback we have received”—both of which are decided improvements, but do not provide clarity on the process, why the voting returned in the first place, or why Lambeth thinks it can make pronouncements at all.  

That is where we currently are, as of 2:30pm on July 27th.  

It is unclear to me why, having achieved at least a baseline level of compliance from a majority of bishops, ++Justin wanted to suddenly strive to unify them all in distrust of what he was doing.  Aside from the (incredibly bad idea) of reintroducing 1998’s statement on marriage, it’s bad leadership to scrap a process you had been advertising for literally years, a week ahead of an international conference.  Whatever the goal is, unless it is to unify the worldwide bishops in frustration with him, ++Justin seems as capable at achieving it as he is at wearing a collar that fits.  

On gay marriage: I also don’t know what the goal could be here.  No matter what Lambeth ends up doing, or voting, or discussing, or meditating on—the Episcopal Church, the Scottish Church, the New Zealand church, and the other provinces who have so discerned will have same-gender marriage.  That horse has left the barn.  We have seen the Spirit moving and so have enlarged our understanding of God’s grace alive in the sacraments of the church.  Will other provinces follow us?  I don’t know!  They get to sort that out.  I can’t force them to do anything.  In fact, as a female priest, I can’t even force them to recognize my ordination, so I find it downright curious when conservative male priests talk about how we are “forcing gay marriage on the world”.  (Really.  Would you like a list of the MANY PROVINCES that do not have women clergy, and would not allow me to stand at an altar?) 

At its (yet-to-be-achieved) best, the Anglican Communion is this group of autonomous churches that have a common history, and freely choose to claim one another, for no other reason than that we believe Christ has given us to each other.  We disagree on a lot (a.  Lot.). but we choose to cooperate where we can, for the sake of each other and the world. Voting, and unpredictable processes, ultimately doesn’t help any of that, but I am not the Archbishop of Canterbury, so I am not in charge.

What does help that is partnering with folks around the world and praying for each other, and building friendships with other people around the world, built on stuff we care about. Refusing to abandon one another, even when other people make decisions we disagree with. Gently reminding one another that even when we disagree (especially when we disagree) we aren’t leaving, and we’re going to have to deal with each other.

Harder–yet more fruitful.

2 Literally. I’m not making this up.

3 No, do not start about the 39 Articles or the 1662 BCP. Neither one ever held sway in the Episcopal Church, and we can discuss that later. Right now, we are discussing Lambeth Tea Parties.

4 The conflict at the heart of the Anglican Communion has been over colonialism and authority. It is not really over gay people, women, or how to read the Bible–and this is a hill I will die on. The conflict is over who gets to tell anyone else what to do, and how we are in relationship with each other. Remember, for most of its history, the Anglican Communion just was the British Empire. Now that everyone has departed that empire, what are we to one another? We have yet to really nail that down in practice.

5. Said statements in early drafts possibly also included aspersions such as “Typical English arrogance,” “Not being funny or anything, but this is why no one likes you”, “Keep this up and we will vote for independence next time, you absolute turnips”, “Swear to God, you’re going to get a bagpipe outside your window at 5am for this,” etc.

Do you want to be healed?

Do you want to be healed?

Most every time Jesus encounters someone who is wounded or ill in the Gospels, he will ask them, “What do you want me to do for you?”  Or “Do you want to be healed?”  I think it’s a way of preserving the person’s agency, yes—but also a recognizing that one person’s diagnosis of a problem is not another person’s.  (Also: a decent set up for the Life of Brian gag where the healed leper resents being healed because now who will donate money to him at the city gate?) 

This morning, the Executive Council, the Joint Committee for Planning and Arrangements, and the presiding officers met on Zoom to discuss whether and how the 80th General Convention would move forward. The meeting was called, as I understand it, by several members of Executive Council, resulting from some ongoing discussions in Puerto Rico.   (I’m also aware that the blog post I wrote last week made the rounds and may have also helped.)

The two presiding officers began the meeting (which you can find here, because they chose to leave it archived) by reading separate statements which said basically the same things:  “The Church has committed to having the Convention and must have it.  But also, we realize that there are some problems and so we are asking Planning and Arrangements to give us a plan in which Convention becomes shorter and smaller, focused only on essential business.”  The public health professional retained by the president of the House of Deputies also spoke (the document he prepared for ExecCoun is here).  Afterwards, there was much (MUCH) discussion.  Lots of really good questions posed by Executive Council members, and precious few answers.

The morning ended with nearly nothing decided:  the Planning and Arrangements group passed a document of guidelines (which is here).  But to my knowledge, there is no published timeline for when we can expect a revised schedule, an explanation of what “essential business” will entail, revision of safety protocols, details about daily rapid testing, etc.  It WAS clear, however, that there will be no movement forward on any sort of virtual or hybrid option at this time—and also that options like convening a small group to suspend the rules of order, then validate what we’ve done later, are off the table.  

So, that’s what’s happened.  Again, check the links above for the documents and the video.

I am struck by a few things: first of all, that we seem to have had no contingency plans at all for being unable at this stage to hold a full, in-person General Convention.  We’ve been in a pandemic for over two years, we already postponed the convention for a full year (which reasonably could have been used to formulate a Plan B.) I take seriously what the chancellors said at one point—that allowing for a virtual Convention would also mean deconstructing part of our self-understanding as a church—I think that’s probably true, but it also invites the question as to why, when we had the opportunity a year ago or even earlier, we didn’t begin this work thoughtfully.  

Which actually points to the larger issue:  who are we as a church?  And who do we want to be?  For a long time, part of our self-understanding has indeed been that we have this particular style of governance, that we honor all voices and orders of ministry because we gather in this particular way—and we have been led by that.  Beloved in Christ, there have been signs in the sky and in the sea for a while, but that identity no longer works for us.  Because in this moment, we find ourselves unable to figure out how to get our structures to meet a challenge two years in the making, and at the very real risk of harm to actual people. That way of seeing our identity is about to cause a whole lot of damage.

And at the same time, we have told ourselves that we are a welcoming, inclusive church that cares for the lost and the least (as the guidelines make clear.) We have passed countless resolutions about ending racism, honoring our indigenous siblings, and ending poverty.  But in this moment, how are we actually caring for the most vulnerable if we are willing to hold an event where the retained expert has informed us that if we follow all our protocols perfectly, we can still expect at least 10% of attendees (not counting the staff we encounter) will get sick?   How are we actually honoring all voices when if a deputy gets sick, they have no way to vote while quarantined?  Or if someone judges it too great a risk for their own health, we tell them to give their seat to someone healthier or younger?  We’re about to hold a meeting where only the healthiest, the most privileged can safely attend, and even they will have a 1 in 10 chance of getting sick.  

We have got to decide who we are as a church.  Do we want to continue to be a church that talks a really good game about Jesus, but will cheerfully sacrifice its members so it can gather to pass a budget because figuring out another way is really hard?  

Or do we want to be brave, and actually do the things we pray about?  Can we be bold enough to do something new and to invest our identity in the call God gives us instead of the way we decide things? To actually give up those things we used to do that we adored but no longer work?  To believe we can live like Christ calls us to, even without the fancy structures we built to shelter us?

I don’t know what will happen with Convention—at the moment, I think they should call an audible, admit they don’t have enough time to make the needed changes, and postpone another year while they come up with an actual feasible plan.  

More to the point, I really hope we figure out what church we want to be soon.  I want to be the church that is healed, the church that heals in turn. But in order to do that, the church needs to realize that we have a real problem, and it won’t go away, no matter what happens in July.

Life or Death (or Cake)

I call heaven and earth to witness before you today that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life, so that you and your descendants may live. Deuteronomy 30:19

I remember hearing this reading from Deuteronomy when I was in middle school.  At the time, I was befuddled.   How was this even a question, I wondered.  Who would possibly choose death?  Who would, when given a choice, look at Life and Death, and think—Oooh.  Death looks lovely today.  I’ll go with that.  (I hadn’t heard Eddie Izzard’s “Tea and Cake or Death” but if I had, I would have appreciated the sentiment.)  Wouldn’t everyone want to live?  Moses was clearly being a tad dramatic.

But it’s been over two years of a global pandemic, and I can now say that Moses was badly understating it.  PLENTY of people are excited to choose death.  It turns out, a great number of people are happy to embrace death, both for themselves and for those around them, if it means they can remain comfortable.  People, as we have now learned, have a frightening capacity to waltz blissfully into the maws of destruction, even consciously, rather than do something they are convinced they would rather not do—be that get a vaccine, wear a mask, or change their plans.  

I mention this, because it is again that time when we Episcopalians turn our attention towards General Convention.  General Convention was scheduled to occur last summer, but—there was a pandemic.  So, the leadership postponed it to this summer.  We now appear poised to convene in Baltimore in a few months, for our usual 10 day Episco-fest of resolutions and merriment.  Thousands of us will descend on the city, in the way we usually do, to take over hotels, shops, restaurants, and ballrooms.

And to be clear—I love General Convention.  I have been attending these since I was 12 when I volunteered in Philadelphia.  I love the debates and the weird motions and the legislations and the intensity for stakes that seem absurd to outsiders.  I embrace how nerdy this makes me.  I love the whole thing.

But I cannot see a way in which General Convention convening right now is not a huge mistake.  If we meet, we will be putting a lot of people at risk, in ways that are not compatible with the Gospel, and frankly, we should not do it.

First, let me say that the work the leadership has done to mandate masks and vaccines, and to utilize air purifiers is good work, and should be commended. It is not like our church is unaware of the pandemic; I believe the leadership is trying to address it while also trying to convene Convention.  

The problems, though, are legion, and do not disappear because of those good intentions.  

First of all, we are not mandating boosters for everyone, only the first and second vaccine (if the Pfizer or Moderna sequence), and “boosters where recommended”.  This leaves out the increasingly-vital boosters that fight the omicron variant, not to mention the other variants we now face.  (My own pocket of upstate NY is currently dealing with an upsurge that seems to be a subvariant of the BA+ strain.). Also, we have a lot of deputations coming from overseas, where FDA-recognized vaccines are not available.  Data on how those vaccines deal with our locally-spreading variants isn’t established.  It’s not at all clear how GC will determine who should have gotten a booster, and hasn’t gotten one, or who needs two and has only gotten one. Is GCO going to be checking everyone for chronic illnesses or risk factors that enables us to qualify for a booster, aside from being over 50 years old?**

That introduces a justice issue:  people attending this convention do not have equal access to healthcare and paid sick leave, either now, or when they return home. Some deputies (like me!) have adequate health insurance, paid time off if we get sick, and the possibility of accessing good anti-virals if we get sick.  Many other deputies, however, do not have paid sick leave, and are already taking their vacation to attend General Convention.  We are asking them to risk the loss of more income if they get COVID.  Other deputies don’t have health insurance, and/or come from places where they won’t have ready access to a doctor, or to the latest COVID treatments.  Even if everyone quarantines in Baltimore, not every deputy can afford $200 a night in a Convention hotel, or the price for a local doctor or treatment.  

Also, we have known for a while that our Convention population trends older.  Some deputies no doubt can breeze through a COVID infection with no lasting effects; others no doubt are at greater risk because of age or chronic illness.  The increased risk factors for COVID are as common as depression or being overweight.  That right there is a staggering amount of people, and there is no guarantee who will be fine, who will develop Long Covid, and who will become so ill that they need hospitalization.  

We also need to recognize that Convention isn’t a hermeneutically sealed container.  While masks will be required in the Convention space (good!), we will all be going to restaurants, and eating without masks.  We will be interacting with the staff of the hotels, and breathing in our rooms, without masks.  God forbid, if we get sick, we will quarantine in hotels.  We will travel through airports and airplanes—spaces which now do not require masks, and all of which could allow transmission.  

Even if we could work out a way to provide excellent medicare care, and paid vacation time for every deputy and Bishop at Convention, we would not be able to provide the same for the minimum wage workers at the hotels, airports, and restaurants we encounter.  All we can do for them is expose them to COVID, or not.

The fact is, we will spend a great deal of time discussing legislation at Convention about racism, economic inequality, healthcare, and colonialism.  Yet the very sins we have spent years legislating against, we are about to enact on a grand scale.  We are about to talk about how we cherish and protect the vulnerable while we literally expose them to something that will disproportionately hurt and possibly kill them through our actions.  If we hold Convention, it’s going to be privilege in action.

Lest you think I am being dramatic in the vein of Moses, consider:  ENS has reported that Navajoland is currently not allowed to gather in groups of more than 25 people, because of how devastating COVID has been to indigenous people here.  But we’re about to ask them to come across the country to sit with a few thousand for 10 days.  The Diocese of Pennsylvania just had an in-person clergy retreat, with required vaccinations and boosters, but optional masks.  Of the 150 clergy who attended, as of this writing, 41 now have COVID.  

This pandemic has taken from us many things: security, safety, routine.  But it also has given us an opportunity to be the church Christ is calling us to be: one that actually does the things we say we believe in.  A church that acts to protect the vulnerable we encounter and that sit in our pews, and doesn’t just talk about it.  

We need to cancel Convention. Until we can do it safely. Until we can do it without being hypocrites. Until we can do it within the Gospel.

ETA: This post has been edited at 2:26pm to reflect that 41 clergy in PA have COVID now, not 27. Math is hard and not my forte.

ETA again!: It was pointed out to me by Smart People on Twitter that the guidelines adopted by the Planning and Arrangements Team do require “boosters where recommended.” But that language is from a few months ago, before the rollout of the fourth shot, and again, it’s not clear how GCO is going to figure out who needs a booster and who doesn’t, aside from the honor system. (And how widespread has communication been about the availability of the fourth shot in your area?)

Cathedrals, Deviled Eggs, and Unity

I have been pondering the nature of unity of late.  From the new president’s inauguration speech, to the pleas of the National Cathedral when they invited a conservative evangelical to use their pulpit, unity is the new trend.  We want it very badly. (It has crossed my mind that what we actually want is boredom, and a break from the constant existential crisis, but I digress.)

This makes sense—unity has long been one of the particular loves of the Anglican world.  I remember being told in confirmation class, as a teenager, how we were the only American Protestant church that didn’t divide during the Civil War, and wasn’t that lovely?  Because we believed in maintaining unity so much!  This went into the file of the Elizabethan Settlement, and the utility of the prayer book—both things which allowed for people to believe whatever they wanted, so long as we could all stay together, because staying together was Most Important.  So it likewise makes sense that in this time of increased division and tension, some in the church would see it as their duty to facilitate this unification.  Let’s bring people together!  We are good at that.  We are the party-planners of the Christian World!  EVERYONE INTO A ROOM, AND FIND THE DEVILED EGGS.

But, if you will recall, gentle reader, then came 2003, but really, 2006—and the limits of staying together were illustrated.  It became apparent that we could not, in fact, stay together at this particular party when the presiding bishop was a girl, or a bishop in New England married another man.  What 250 years had not done to us, some cooties managed to do, and the church split. 

And yet, there was that the insistence again—that this was a horrible tragedy because  our goal was to maintain unity.  Everyone should be together at our party!  And unity, as it played out, appeared to be making sure everyone at this party stayed put, and did so happily.  So it was important to appease everyone here.  Regardless of the cost.  Maybe some barring of the doors.  But this is our party, and Jesus says you can’t leave.  

If we want to get dogmatic about it, the emphasis on church unity is scriptural.  Jesus prays, in John’s gospel, that “they may be one, as you and I are one”, and so from that, the church has taken our instruction.  See?  We should stick together!  

What has become apparent to me, however, is how quickly unity transforms from a means into an end.  When Jesus is praying, he is asking God that his followers to come may be united in their proclamation of the Gospel, so that their witness isn’t diluted.  He’s not merely praying that God would have them all stick together forever….just because.  Unity is a means to an end.

We tend to forget when we envision unity, that Christ doesn’t call us to unify around ourselves. We’re not the thing the church is meant to point to.  Who cares if we manage to create an organization where everyone gets along always, and no one dissents?  That’s not a church; that’s a cult.  (Or the mob.  Either way—call the authorities because you have a problem.). What we are called to do is come together around Jesus’ good news—and that necessarily entails making people mad.  Often people inside the church.  

Back in ye olden days of 2003/2006 when the splits were happening, we spent a lot of time worrying about the people we were losing.  And we lost a fair number!  Buildings and real estate, and angry parishioners.  Hearts were broken.  It was rough.  People celebrated Ash Wednesday in August.  The party broke up, and there was lots of crying, and it was awful.  

  But what we didn’t talk about enough was that other people came.  

Some people left, but God sent us others, who for the first time could believe in a God of love because of our welcome.  God sent us people who needed the gospel we were beginning to gingerly understand.  God sent us people who had been longing to hear about how all people were beloved of God, and were necessary to the salvation of creation.  God sent us so many amazing people, because we—for a moment!—were beginning to head towards the gospel.  

In all of our Episcopal cultural emphasis that Church-is-a-party-everyone-should-stay! We forget that this world is not a party for a great many people.  This world is a horror show for a lot of people.  For a lot of people the world tells them that they are worthless, that they are despised and wrong, and that God is out to get them.  For many—In fact, I’m going to say, most—people, life is not a choice of parties to attend, it is a series of traps to avoid. A series of hurdles to overcome.  For those people? They don’t need to know that Mary Sue is willing to sit next to them under protest, because Party Manners.  They need to know that this is a place that fully and firmly offers them safety and salvation in the name of Christ, and will work with them to make the rest of creation that way, too.  

For people of color, for LGBTQ+ folks, for women called into leadership (and/or just called to be very opinionated), we do not need another party, full of smiles that may or may not be fake, and passed appetizers that may or may not be leftovers, while the real good stuff gets eaten by the important guests.  We need a church.  We need a church that comes together around the gospel, not around an agreement about how nice to be to its members, and how nice they should be to each other.  We need a church that proclaims us as beloved of God, that celebrates what we bring, that honors us in safety and that stands with us in solidarity against a world that frequently would leave us for dead.  

The besetting sin of the church is not disunity—the besetting sin of the church is our trading this party we like to pass off as church for the fullness of the gospel.  We aren’t called to offer people a party—we are called to offer people salvation in the name of Christ.  We are called to offer them life abundant, and all too often, we hand them a stale sandwich, and tell them to be nice, because they’re lucky they got invited here at all.  

It makes no sense to me to unify as a church.  It makes no sense to me to unify for the sake of this party.  It only makes sense to me if we are unifying around the gospel as we understand it, having discerned and listened together for Christ’s call to us, and having borne witness to the work the Spirit is doing in our midst.  We aren’t throwing a party—we are throwing a new world, and Christ calls us to it.