Thursday, December 21, 2006

Fare Thee Well

ENS has just a released a disturbing report on the departure of the congregation of St. Stephen's, Heathsville, Virginia, as it joined with 15 other churches in the Diocese (including Truro Church and Falls Church who have been all over the media), most of whom are becoming part of CANA, a missionary district overseen by the Archbishop of Nigeria that, despite apparent aspirations to becoming an alternative Anglican Province in North America, enjoys no clear sanction from the Anglican Communion (see here and here). Mark Harris has an excellent take on the bigger churches' departure as well as the ramifications, but having grown up in a small Midwestern church, my heart is most immediately drawn to the fragmentation of the smaller communities involved in this schism.

30-or-so members of St. Stephen's are seeking a way to remain part of the Episcopal Church. According to canon law, they should be able to inherit the property, but Bishop Lee of Virginia has suspended legal proceedings for thirty days in order to provide time for both sides to seek a negotiated settlement. Fr. Jake has posted comment on the clericalism that appears to have been in high gear at St. Stephen's leading up to the decision.

Also among the more notable quotes from the ENS article is this:

"Two of the speakers who wished to secede from the Episcopal Church told those of us sitting in the congregation that if we voted 'no' we were imperiling our immortal souls, and that was hard to hear," said [Sandra] Kirkpatrick, describing a discussion held during the week before the voting began. "This was said lovingly by people who have been my friends - dear friends - for over 10 years but they are very, very, very convinced that they are dong the right thing in leaving the Episcopal Church and they are acting genuinely worried about those of us who are not."

I found this deeply distressing pastorally, as it amounts to a form of spiritual blackmail. That Ms. Kirkpatrick took it as a sign of concern is a deeply loving and understanding, and dare I say Christian response. Prayers remain with her and everyone at St. Stephen's as they seek a way forward.

But this quote also signifies to me the isolating nature of the theology behind much of this schism -- a sort of shrinking border around those who believe themselves righteous and who tend towards fearfully shutting out all those who dare to openly disagree, let alone those who are different.

I would wager this does not bode well for the future of CANA or any number of the other schismatic groups. Once the apostate Episcopal Church is out of the picture and the unifying force of a common heretical enemy is no longer present, will there be another manifesting heresy within the breakaway group itself to lead to yet another schism?

I am reminded of the arguments that arose amongst the first disciples:

Then Jesus and his disciples came to Capernaum; and when he was in the house he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the way?” But they were silent, for on the way they had argued with one another who was the greatest.

Before we hold each other's immortal souls in judgment, let us remember Jesus' words to his followers that turned the whole argument about power and righteousness on its head:

He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.” Then he took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them, “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.” Mark 9:33-37