A series of essays in the Episcopal Church
By The Rev. Dr. James Bradley
Ok, I’m not a life-long Episcopalian. I found and was found by God through this church as a college student. And what struck me most profoundly about Anglicans was that we could fight like cats and dogs (or Sunni and Shiites, or Dempsey and Louis, or the Red Sox and Yankees—choose your metaphorical poison) about anything and when someone said, The Lord be with you”, all the conflict ended while we leafed through the Book of Common Prayer and did what we DO and what “defines” us. Praying together was the only “bottom line” in the church where I found God and God found me. The other stuff was interesting and kept our hearts pumping, but all that mattered was being able to worship together—break the bread and pass the wine in spite of (perhaps “because of”) our disagreements.
Now, all these years later, I am a Deputy to the General Convention of the Episcopal Church and when I suggested we begin the six pre-Convention gatherings around Connecticut with a short, simple Eucharist, the initial response was this: “that might be divisive.”
The point was that there are Episcopalians who don’t want to break bread and pass wine with other Episcopalians because they may not be “doctrinally” pure. (Read between the lines: they may be in favor of the full inclusion of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered folks in the mission, work and worship of the church.) Well, pinch me awake and call me Rip Van Winkle—when did we reach this point and why didn’t we know it?
I can tell you this much for sure: at the General Convention in Minneapolis there were three people—a bishop, a priest and a lay person—who were supposed to be at my worship table for Eucharist every morning who were never there. About half-way through Convention I figured out they were all members of the American Anglican Council and were having their own Eucharist somewhere else lest the Body be moldy and the wine be sour because heretics like me were at the table. So this “divisiveness” of the one thing that defines us as a church and makes us who we are is nearly three years old.
And I think the time has come for people like me stop being polite and start claiming the banner of Anglicanism before people who aren’t Anglican at all drag it away into a new church I would not recognize as the one where I found and was found by God. There’s all this buzz that the boy’s club we call the House of Bishops has sworn a blood brothers’ oath to each other to keep the Episcopal Church firmly within the Anglican Communion even though it will require them to regret, repent, and never be naughty again by approving a duly and canonically elected bishop who loves and is faithful to another person of their own gender. I pray devoutly that this rumor is only that and that our bishops have enough gravitas and faithfulness to not make Gene Robinson’s episcopate something to be apologized for and “regretted”.
I voted to consecrate Gene Robinson. I voted to approve the blessing of same-sex unions. I did it because it was appropriate, right, just and holy. I do not “regret” my vote and I certainly don’t intent to “repent” about it. The God I found and was found by as a college sophomore led me to cast that vote. The God of the Anglican Church I became a part of and have been a priest in for 30 years guided and inspired me in what I did in Minneapolis.
Now the Fundamentalists of the third world who call themselves “Anglican” want to destroy the ethos and genius of Anglicanism by making us a church based on doctrine and hierarchy rather than worship and equality. And I’m sick and tired of listening to them and those in the Episcopal Church who ride on their coat tails. The Windsor Report, besides slapping the hands of the American and Canadian Church for the offense of believing all people are God’s children, would turn the so-called Anglican Communion into a “little Rome” with the Pope in waiting (the Archbishop of Canterbury) ready to head the “curia” (the Primates—all men and all Archbishops) and the house of Cardinals (the Lambeth gathering of world-wide bishops). We would become a church burdened and oppressed by bishops all who would determine what the 39 previously independent churches could or could not do before being disciplined and brought into line.
The European Provinces are so gun shy that no one wants to stand up to the bullies in Africa lest they be accused of “racism” or “colonialism”. Here’s what I think—the church in Africa is no more truly “Anglican” in terms of openness, acceptance, calmness, tolerance and true Christian charity than my friends up the road in the Assembly of God Church. Anglicanism is not a doctrine, creed or confession—it is a Book of Common Prayer and a remarkable dose of “common sense”. Several of the Primates from Africa and other parts of the third world refused to participate in a service of communion at one of their gatherings (imagine the secret hand shakes and code words and tree houses the Primates’ Boy’s Club could come up with!) because Frank Griswold was simply present. There is no way that having the Eucharist be “divisive” is part of the Anglican ethos!
I am sick and tired and beyond exhausted at bending over backwards to appease fundamentalists masquerading as Anglicans, whether in Africa or in the American Anglican Council. I’m ready to stand up straight and say, “Ok, you say you are Anglicans, let’s do this the way Anglicans always have. You have your opinion and I’ll have mine. It complicates both our lives but it is just the way it is. Now let’s break the bread and pass the wine because that is the only thing that defines us as a church and the only way we know who we are as a people of God. You turn from the table because someone is there who doesn’t agree with you…fine, you’ve made the choice to leave this fragile communion of Anglicans. God bless you. We’re here if you want to come back and join us and you will be welcomed back with joy and wonder like a lost sheep, a lost coin, a lost son/daughter. But don’t try to turn my church into a mini-Roman Catholic Church. That’s not who we are. That’s not who God is calling us to be.”
I became an Episcopalian in my heart when someone told me that old phrase: this is the church for all sorts and conditions of men (sic). Sounded a lot like the Kingdom to me….
I am not willing to have anyone undermine that and refuse to share the Table with me and tell me I’m not an Anglican.
I’m the Anglican here. I’m the “big tent” guy. I’m willing to be in communion with anyone who will come to the Table. I am waiting patiently, compassionately, lovingly, ready to break the bread and pass the wine. Join me if you can. If you can’t…well, god’s speed and good luck…know you can always “come home” when you want to.
The Rev. Dr. James Bradley, Rector of St. John’s, Waterbury, CT 06702
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