series of essays towards General Convention in
Peace! Be Patient!
Peace! Be patient!
June 22, 2003
By The Rev. Ruth Bradbury LaMonte
Grace Church, Birmingham, Alabama
In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen,
“Peace! Be patient!” These words of Jesus, which calmed the stormy sea,
are Speaking to us today. We are living in a stormy time, a time which is
tempest-tossed by decisiveness and war, both in our secular life and our religious
life. There are those who are angry and feel betrayed over a war fought
to rid the Middle East or Iraq of weapons of mass destruction, none of which
have heretofore been found and others who say, “Big deal! We got rid of
Saddam and brought freedom to the Iraqi people.” But there is another war,
a war being fought inside our very church, not only here in the Episcopal
Church in our country, but in Canada and England, as well. A big war. And,
furthermore, there is maybe not a war, but battle being fought right here,
right here in our own parish. A battle, which, thanks be to God, has not
been rife with fatalities, albeit there may have been some; but some parishioners
feel hurt or wounded by the liturgical forms followed in the church.
So today I will not try to solve the Middle East Conflict, or discuss the
church wars in England or Canada. Others, more knowledgeable and powerful
than I are working on those situations. But what I will do is talk with you
about the severe thrunderstorms in the Episcopal Church USA and the thunder
showers at Grace Parish.
First, let us look at our national church. As you know, the ECUSA’s ruling
body, or parliament , is the General Convention, which is held every three
years. Each diocese in the church sends elected representatives, from both
clergy and laity, as deputies to the convention. Bishops, both current and
retired, are expected to attend and to vote; that is, on all issues except
one, which is the confirmation of the election of 10 diocesan bishops who
have been made bishops in the last 120 days before convention. Normally,
Bishop-elects are confirmed by the Standing Committee of Bishops. But this
year there are 10 who have been elected in this 120 day period. These persons
must be confirmed, not only by the Bishops, but also by the deputies to General
Convention. (By the way, deputies are elected at Diocesan Convention). Now
all of this would be simple enough, but…The Diocese of New Hampshire overwhelmingly
and on the second ballot elected Gene Robinson, a Canon to the current Bishop
for the past 17 years, as their new Bishop. Gene is hailed as a wonderful
priest by all who know him and his work… So what is the problem? The “problem”
is that Gene Robinson is not a heterosexual. After trying to live his life
as a husband and father of who now grown children, Gene realized that he was
living a lie. So in pain, anguish, and love he and his wife were legally
divorced, after which they went to the church and had a ceremony to let each
other go. They jointly reared their daughters and remain close, loving friends.
So Gene has lived with partner Mark Andrew for eleven years now. And I
would like to quote what Gene has said about himself:
The people of the Diocese of New Hampshire have known me for
28 years, 17 of them as assistant to the bishop. They have known me married,
single, and faithfully partnered. I have been in their congregations to
preach the good news from their pulpits, to talk about faith with their youth
groups, to assist in dealing with conflict, and to help vestries plan for
the future of their congregations.
Only once or twice, and only at their request, have I ever talked about
being a gay man.
The people of the Diocese know that I have only one agenda; the saving
good news of Jesus Christ. They know that my passion is for our becoming
the community of faith that God would have us to be. They know that I have
experienced the Living God in my own life and long to tell others about that
experience. They know that I want the church to be concerned with acts of
mercy and with working for justice.
But some in the church view what has happened in New Hampshire, and I’m
quoting now, “as a provocative action.” And they say that the “unity and
order of the church must be upheld.” I am not here to argue any position.
I am here to preach the Gospel and impart the doctrine and dogma of the
Episcopal Church as is set forth in the Book of Common Prayer. Please this
afternoon look in your BCP on pp. 304-5 and review what you convented to
in baptism. Please remember that our church is not a confessional church
like the Baptist, Methodist, or Lutheran, but it is a sacramental church.
Our church is built on the mystical union of Jesus Christ and his children
experienced through baptism and the Holy Eucharist. We are not a confessional
church; we do not require the signing of a particular confession or an emotion-laden
born again coercion experience. We meet Jesus Christ in the sacraments,
but, as a matter of practice, we have an altar call every Sunday at Grace
Parish when all children of God come to receive the body and blood of our
Lord Jesus Christ. Baptism and Eucharist are absolutely necessary parts
of one’s life in the Episcopal Church.
The question is this: Did Gene receive a lesser baptism? Was Gene not created
in the image of God? Is he somehow less worthy because he was created a homosexual
instead of a heterosexual? He himself states:
I know that my election has caused pain and confusion to some.
I want no one to leave our beloved church because of this. I think that
would break God’s heart. And it is so unnecessary. One of the gifts of
the Anglican Community is the ability to find our unity in our love for and
service to Jesus Christ and in coming around the Lord’s table to share in
his body and blood. We can disagree about all kinds of things-abortion,
war and peace, homosexuality-and still find our unity in our love of Jesus,
whom we have come to know in our lives. Some day we’re all going to be in
heaven together, and we will all get along there-because God will have it
no other way-so we might as well practice getting along while we’re still
here on earth. Wouldn’t that gladden Jesus’ heart?
And you say to me, “Ruth, why are you wasting your time and ours with this?
It doesn’t affect us. Where is New Hampshire anyway? It’s just another
one of those damned Yankee places!
But I say to you, it is the heart of us, the heart of our church, the church
of “unity and order,” yes, perhaps. But from my perspective it is also the
church of truth, justice, and compassion.
Our bishop and deputies vote on these persons to be confirmed bishops.
Please pray mightily for them that God the Father, God the Son, and God the
Holy Spirit will guide their thinking and their actions.
And now for the thundershower or the tempest in the teapot. During the
past three months as your interim rector, I have made the decision to have
sung services, to have incense during Christmas-Epiphany; Easter through
Trinity Sunday; and on feast days throughout the church year. I want you
to know that this liturgical form is not followed just because I like to
sing or that I like to smell incense. It has to do with the theology that
I call my own as an Angle-Catholic Episcopalian.
I have mentioned already that we are a sacramental church and not a confessing
church. Now let us think together about piety, the piety of various churches.
Dennis R. Maynard in his little book, Those Episcopalians, sets up three
models of church piety. The first he calls the Good Citizenship Piety. This
piety is past oriented and equates being a good Christian with being a good
American. And humanity is totally depraved. Only by the grace of God can
man help himself. And one is personally responsible for his/her morality.
I remember a jump-rope rhyme from childhood that fits this model. It went
like this, “He don’t smoke; he don’t chew; he don’t go with the girls that
do.” And women-women need to be submissive. There is a fundamentalist interpretation
of the Bible which is literally true. The Good Citizenship Piety is found
in a confessing church.
Maynard’s second model is called the Saved Piety. This piety puts its emphasis
on getting people saved. Why? Because we are living in the last days, and
Jesus will likely appear at any moment to gather up the saved; and the rest
of us will be left behind. This is a Bible-thumping future oriented piety
which uses quilt and fear to bring people to Jesus. The primary reason they
live is to die, so they can go to live with him in heaven. This, too, is
a confessing church piety.
The third model is Sacramental Piety which is present oriented. Life is
good and living is a gift from God. The Kingdom of God is within our midst-God
comes to us in a thousand different ways everyday. We simply need to be open
to Him. This piety believes that we are on a journey, a “spiritual journey.”
We can’t travel alone though; we need fellow travelers-a community-a community
called the Church which gathers to worship and to give thanks for God’s
goodness-the incarnation-his very Son who came to live among us as one of
us. As Rite II A says, “to share our human nature, to live and die as one
of us, to reconcile us to you, the God and Father of all.” And the church’s
job is to tell the story of God’s love for all people, to care for one another,
especially those who are ill or in need. The church exists to serve those
who are poor and needy. And the church exists to invite others into relationship
with Jesus, and to their companionship on the journey.
Furthermore, worship in this type of church is visually full of aerobic
activity. It is participatory. It is not a spectator sport. The leaders
of worship are not entertainers but leaders of people engaged in the act
of worship. And in this church, all the baptized are considered to be members
of the household of God. It’s not a church to showcase saints. It’s a church
that acknowledges all as sinners who need to grow and mature spiritually
as we continue our life’s journey. And in case you’ve missed it, this third
piety model is where the Episcopal Church fits.
So what does that mean for us? First, let me remind you that 80% of today’s
ECUSA were not born into it. Yes, only one in five Episcopalians is a cradle
Episcopalian. So we have Catholic Episcopalians, Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian,
Jewish-you name it; we’ve got it.
Now, if you are one of these, were you running away from something? Or were
you running to embrace something? And do you expect this Episcopal Church
to be like your old one?
Let me tell you a few things about Episcopalians and some of why we do what
We are a global communion, so we tend to see things globally, not
We celebrate diversity; we go beyond tolerance. We celebrate.
We are non-competitive; that is, we don’t try to sheep-steal. That
is, we don’t try to convince others that they are wrong and should believe
exactly as we do.
We are idealists. We take words like mercy, grace, equality, justice,
and peace making seriously. We reject knee-jerk TV evangelism and believe
in living into the ideals of Jesus Christ and receiving forgiveness when we
We are content to live with questions. (Sometimes) We don’t have
to have the answer for everything. We realize that many mysteries of the
universe are beyond our ken. We are not opposed to knowledge; but what the
psalmist says of peace, we can say of knowledge: seek knowledge and pursue
This spiritual journey of ours is a communal one. We don’t walk it
by ourselves. Our church family is with us. As Don Armentrout at Sewanee
always says, “ You can’t be a Christian by yourself.”
But what about our worship? Our liturgy? Why do we have all that ritual
and all that stuff? Someone wrote “Worship is the attempt to create an atmosphere
in which we can know God’s love and make God’s love known.” We try every
Sunday to create such an atmosphere. If you have trouble conjuring up a sacred,
glorious atmosphere, think of what you do when a special guest is coming
to your home for dinner. You use the good china, the crystal, the real linens,
the sterling. And you make sure the house is clean and the furniture polished.
You want the house to smell good, too, so you put out the potpourri and
turn the lights down low just enough to create the right mood. Well, at
this parish church we are always expecting. Expecting not only a guest,
but the guest whom we meet and with whom we participate in the sacrament
of the Holy Eucharist. We use candles on the altar, even though 125 years
ago priests were not permitted to do. Why do we use them? We have electricity.
We can turn on the lights. We use them because they are symbolic. The
flame suggests life and its movement and the flicker add mystery. The candle
represents Christ as the light of the world. And the big candle? The Paschal
candle? It is lighted at Easter Vigil to symbolize the risen Christ. And
it is always lighted at baptism to symbolize the death of the old and the
birth of the new through water and the Christ.
Flowers, too, are symbols. Those of you who attended last week’s workshop
know all about that. Why do we use cut flowers? Because they represent sacrifice
and their beauty won’t last.
And the cross itself, It reminds us of our Savior who was born, died on
a cross, and rose again.
And singing the service, not saying it? We set aside normal, everyday spoken
language and sing or chant, as did the ancients, to the glory of God.
Finally, what you’ve all been waiting for: Incense! When my daughter Jennie
and I went to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher or the Church of the Resurrection,
as the Orthodox call it, in Jerusalem, Jennie took a deep breath and said,
“Mamma, this is where myth becomes history. It smells just like St. Andrew’s.”
Neil Alexander, my homiletics professor and now Bishop of Atlanta, admonished
us his students. You must remember. There are holy smells. The liturgy
should appeal to your senses-sight, hearing, feeling, tasting, and smelling-so
you are shielded, or enshrouded, set apart from the world outside, holy smells.
But there’s a history behind it. Incense was used in Judaism and other
ancient cultures as a means of sacrifice, purification, and veneration.
Frankincense-pure incense-was one of the gifts of the Magi to the Christ
child. Today incense is mostly associated with prayer. (Check BCP rubrics
for Evening Prayer.) We know incense was used early in Christian times because
Egeria, a third century nun from Spain or Gaul mentions its use in Jerusalem
when she is on her pilgrimage, and John Chrysostom, at Antioch, where were
first called in. Now, why incense? It is a part of our tradition; in early
days it overpowered other smells-body odor and garbage-and made the worship
space perfumed and glorious. Using incense reminds us that we are putting
on our best even our best fragrance, for our God who is in our midst.
Not everybody agrees with the rationale or the practice. But it does have
scriptural references in John’s revelation and the Psalms, especially. We
can disagree. But only in a welcome shower, not a raging thunderstorm. And
even if we do differ and we argue, we know that Christ is in our midst, saying
to us all; “Peace! Be still.”
And in closing, listen to the words of Gene Robinson for he is speaking
to us all:
Everyone seems to be focusing on how many people may leave the
Episcopal Church over my selection. I want to focus on how many people may
come to the church because of this. Only hours after I was interviewed this
week on the Today Show, priests around the country were reporting people
showing up at the doors of their churches, saying, “Is this the church that
that guy from New Hampshire belongs to? I want to belong here, too.” People
who have never gone to church, people who are estranged from and feel excluded
from their church, people who never felt “good enough” to be in church. Isn’t
that what we want to be about?
If we are serious about “What would Jesus do?” then we will do what Jesus
did: reach out to the marginalized, the oppressed, the poor, the outcasts,
and bring them to the center of the church and God’s love. Wouldn’t Jesus
want us to proclaim that no one is outside the Father’s love? Wouldn’t Jesus
want us to live as if God loves all of us beyond our wildest imagination?
If my service as bishop can bring the good news of Jesus Christ to even
one of those “outcasts,” if I can help just one broken person know God’s
love, then I will have lived up to my calling and gladdened the heart of
Let us return to today’s Gospel: “Peace! Be still! Why are you afraid? Have
you still no faith?
And they were filled with great awe and said to one another, who then is
this that even the wind and sea obey him?”
In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
You are welcome to submit your essays for consideration for this
series. Send them to firstname.lastname@example.org
Identify yourself by name, snail address, parish, and other connections to
the Episcopal Church. Please encourage others to do the same.