This is an article written by Dean Mark Goodman of the Episcopal Cathedral of St. John in Albuquerque, NM (Diocese of the Rio Grande), which is the Episcopal church where attend. His intended audience is his congregation and this was originally published in the weekly “Cathedral News.” It has been reposted here with the Dean’s permission. The Dean also has a blog of his own: fromthedean.wordpress.com.
I believe this article speaks to both elements of the “Episcopal Drama” to which I alluded in my first post with far more clarity, grace and eloquence than I could muster. I have edited it only in that I have left out items which are of interest mainly to the Cathedral congregation and do not address the topics at hand. I have also taken the liberty of placing in bold a few comments that were especially meaningful to me. Please enjoy.
I write this while still attending the General Convention of The Episcopal Church, meeting in Anaheim, California. If you have been following the work of the General Convention, you will know that it has been extensive and varied. Not only are there legislative sessions, there is also a daily Eucharist, including a grand Sunday liturgy, as well as committee meetings and hearings, gatherings to share collective ministry, and social times to deepen relationships. It will also not have escaped your attention that there is a certain level of tension that exists at General Convention. That is, one level, inescapable when you get so many people together in one place. On another level, it is a result of good and faithful people diligently trying to discern God’s will in the actions and decisions of this council. People disagree, and that’s a good thing. However, when disagreements touch deeply held convictions and challenge them, that can become very uncomfortable, even painful. As at many General Conventions, it is that sort of disagreement that has been experienced this past week.
I don’t enjoy being in that sort of atmosphere. I go to General Convention to see colleagues in ministry, share ideas with them, and meet new people from around the Episcopal Church and the Communion. I go to share in the councils of the Church and add my voice to our collective work to discern the leading of the Holy Spirit. I don’t go to observe wrangling over issues, and when it happens (which, as I said, it almost always does), the very real temptation is to become discouraged and disheartened. I felt that temptation most keenly last week, on Tuesday, after the deeply serious discussions that took place earlier in the week. It was a temptation that was given a keener edge by the acrimony that began to be displayed by various groups around the Communion in response to important decisions that had been made. “What am I doing here?” I thought. “Why don’t people just trust God to lead us and focus on ministry?” “Why must we fight with one another?” was what I felt in my heart.
It was on that same day that I attended a gathering of some of the international guests of the President of the House of Deputies, Bonnie Anderson, for an interview. These individuals included Dr. Jenny Te Paa, the Principal of St. John’s Theological College in New Zealand; Dr. Victor Atta-Baffoe, Dean of St. Nicholas’ Seminary in Ghana; Dean Rowan Smith, Dean of St. George’s Cathedral in Capetown, South Africa; among others. In answering my questions, and those of the other interviewers, these leaders spoke of lived ministry in challenging local settings. There was discussion of issues of poverty, HIV-AIDS, indigenous peoples being included in the life of the Church, raising the awareness of the status of women in areas where they are no more than property, the difficulties of funding and communications. The divisive issues of General Convention were not center stage. I was thankful for that and realized that it is this focus on mission and ministry that keeps us rooted in God: hopeful and energized, not fearful and discouraged. I came away from that interview renewed in my understanding of why I am here.
I also came away from that interview renewed in my determination that the hot-button issues of the Church cannot distract us from the work of mission and ministry that God has set before us. This has been my intention in every church I have led, and it will be my intention here, at the Cathedral of St. John. The Church has struggled with thorny questions in every age, and God has always shown the way through them; he will do so in this instance, too. I don’t have the answers to some of these questions of our life together, nor is it up to me to state with certainly the mind of God. Our calling as Christians, I believe, is to live in faith, which means we don’t always see where we’re going. This calling is given beautiful expression in the ethos of Anglicanism, an expression of Christian discipleship that enables us to live in the midst of creative tension, wherein we go about the work we have been given to do while believing, patiently and faithfully, that God, through his Holy Spirit, will lead us where we need to go. I don’t always like living this way, but I believe it, with all my being, to be our calling.