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A series of essays toward General Convention 2003 and beyond

Unity May Seem Tenuous

Unity May Seem Tenuous

By The Rev. Sheila Nelson-McJilton.

Proper 12, 7 Pentecost Year B

Proper 12, 7 Pentecost Year B                                                27 July, 2003

Readings:                  2 Kings 2:1-15                   Ps 114                   Eph4:1-7, 11-16                       Mark 6:45-52


            On Wednesday of this week, the 74th General Convention of the Episcopal Church will convene.  113 Dioceses from nine Provinces—which actually extend beyond the geographic borders of the United States—will gather.  Each diocese will be represented by eight deputies: four lay and four clergy. This House of Deputies will be balanced—much as our Congress is balanced by the House and Senate—by a House of Bishops, comprised of 113 active bishops,

as well as a number of retired bishops. I have the privilege of being one of the clerical deputies

who will represent the Diocese of Easton.  While this is my first time to attend the General Convention, I understand that a wonderful experience awaits me.  I have been told that one of the most exciting experiences is simply to see the breadth, the depth, and the rich variety of Christians who make up the Episcopal Church.  All colors, all shapes and sizes, all ages. 

People who come from all over this country, as well as Haiti, the Virgin Islands, the Convocation of American Churches in Europe, and the extra-provincial areas of Venezuela and Puerto Rico. 

            And so when we gather this Wednesday morning for the opening Eucharist, I will see a regal procession of God’s people from many places. We will sing glorious music, enjoy rich and diverse liturgy, and every day, we will pray and read scripture together in small groups.              In one huge Convention Center, one small part of the Body of Christ will bring a diversity of gifts to bear on God’s work. The gifts themselves will not necessarily be as obvious as the colorful vestments or music. The gifts of God in the people of God.  Some of God’s people in Minneapolis are apostles.  Some are prophets.  Some evangelists.  Some pastors.  Some teachers.  Some are musicians.  Some are peace-makers.  Some are pray-ers.  Some have the gifts of oratory.  Some will have the gift of a listening presence. 

            If you turn on your computers this week and log onto the National Episcopal Church website:, you will see evidence of the rich diversity and gifts

within our national Church.  There is a link that gives Episcopal Churches different ways

with which we can welcome newcomers—signs like “The Episcopal Church Welcomes You.” 

There is the 20/20 Project, whose goal is to double the membership of the Church by the year 2020.              Information about Episcopal Relief and Development, formerly called The Presiding Bishop’s Fund for World Relief.  You can read an account written about prison chaplaincy.  Preview a new national ad campaign for the Episcopal Church, designed to welcome folks and make disciples for Jesus Christ.  There is even a link for the Episcopal Church and the Visual Arts.  God’s people offer their many and diverse gifts for the work of ministry.  And why? 

As the apostle Paul notes, it is “so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith.”  

        Unity in the faith.  Now if you have been reading the newspapers in the past couple of weeks, you may well wonder about unity in the faith.  If you have listened to special NPR programming this past week, you may wonder whether there is any unity in the faith.  The House of Deputies and the House of Bishops will reflect upon, pray about, and discuss many important issues in the next ten days. Possible revision of canons which affect how we ordain priests in the Church.  Budgets and our stewardship of our finances.  Our larger stewardship of resources for “this fragile earth, our island home.”  Congregational growth and development.  Children’s ministries and Christian education.

            And yet unity in the body of Christ may seem tenuous when it comes to two issues which have commanded national and international attention outside the Church.  Issues that have caused bitter quarreling and division among groups within the Church.  The first of these two General Convention actions will be whether to authorize the Church’s Standing Liturgical Commission to develop an optional liturgy for the blessing of same sex unions.  A second, controversial action will be whether to confirm Canon Gene Robinson as Bishop of the Diocese of New Hampshire. This confirmation—one of many for a group of new bishops—has stirred a storm of controversy because Canon Robinson, a gifted and talented priest, has lived for years as an openly gay man with his life partner.

            As a Deputy to General Convention, I am on a listserve for the House of Bishops and Deputies.  Recently, as I have read letters flying back and forth in cyberspace from arch-conservatives and ultra-liberals in this Church, I must confess something.  I read some of these letters, and I am profoundly grateful to God that many people—especially non-Christians—do not see them.  If people outside the Christian faith did, they would never want to walk through the doors of a church,             much less become followers of Jesus Christ.  (If that’s Christianity, forget it.  I would rather play golf or work in my garden. . .) And of course, as the dates for General Convention have approached, these diverse opinions have become sharper, the attacks more ferocious.  If I were in any way agnostic, nothing I have heard recently would welcome me to the Body of Christ.

        “We must no longer be children, tossed to and fro, blown about by every wind of doctrine, by people’s trickery, by their craftiness in deceitful scheming.”  It makes one wonder if the apostle Paul is standing with his ear to the door of the Episcopal Church this morning. 

Paul writes to the community of faith in Ephesus.  He could just as easily be writing to the laity, clergy, and bishops who will gather this week in Minneapolis.  He could just as easily be writing to the bishops and primates in the world-wide Anglican Communion, of which our Episcopal Church is a part. Paul encourages all of God’s children not just “to talk the talk but to walk the walk.”  God calls all baptized Christians to be humble and gentle.  To make every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit. 

            God has given us many gifts, and none of those gifts came from us. Each one of those gifts have been given because of, and through, the life of Jesus Christ.  Some of us are called to be apostles.  Some prophets.  Some evangelists.  Some pastors and some teachers.  Some of us can sing.  Some can be lay readers or chalicists.  Some of us have the abilities to minister to sick people, some sit with the dying.  Some of God’s children have a gift for organization and administration.  Others have a gift of working with developmentally disabled children or adults. 

Whatever gifts we have, we have because God gave them to us.  And if we have gifts—whatever they are—God calls us to use them, not to destroy each other, but to build each other up.  Just as every human being has different body parts which have different functions, so does the Body of Christ. 

            As human beings, we hope that the children whom we know and love will grow up physically, emotionally, and psychologically.  Our Christian hope is similar: We hope the children whom we bring into this community of faith to experience one Lord, one faith and one baptism will grow up spiritually.  Yes, we want our children to grow up into mature men and women, in every possible way. How do we help them do that?  We build up in love.  Paul reminds us that in Christ, we are called to love each other, and to build up the community of faith.  Regardless of our diversity, we are called to unity.  One Lord.  One faith.  One baptism.

One God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all. 

            Whether we agree with our brothers and sisters on particular matters, it is important that we make the real thing the real thing.  We are called to love the Lord our God with all our heart,

all our mind, all our souls.  We are called to love our neighbor in the same way that we love ourselves.  We are called to grow up in the faith.  And growth never happens with hate.  Hate does not build up. Hate distorts.  Cripples. Stunts growth.  Love is what enriches.  Supports.  Builds up.  Gives new life. And while it is sometimes difficult to know what the Truth is, Christians are given some guidance about wise discernment.  One way is to stay centered in prayer.  To stay in relationship with our God who brings us together. Another way is to be humble:  to keep enough of our own human selves out of the way in order to discern God’s wisdom.  Another way is to be gentle, to have a listening attitude. 

            God calls us to open our eyes, our ears, our minds and our hearts.  God calls us to look into the faces of our brothers and sisters, regardless of their nationality, color, gender, socio-economic status, political beliefs or sexual orientation.  Those faces are not issues.  They are human beings. Those faces represent God, because every one of us has been created in the imago Dei—the image of God.  And we have a calling—yes, even an obligation—to build the Body of Christ, not to destroy it.  It is in building unity that we will witness to the love of Jesus Christ in a world that so desperately needs both unity and love.   If we really believe that, and act on such a calling, I wonder how our convictions might build the Body of Christ at Christ Church in Stevensville?  I wonder how it might build the Body of Christ in the Diocese of Easton?  I wonder how it might transform and build the Body of Christ that will gather in Minneapolis this week?  The Gifts of God.  For the People of God.  Amen.


You are welcome to submit your essays for consideration for this series. Send them to Identify yourself by name, snail address, parish, and other connections to the Episcopal Church. Please encourage others to do the same.


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