Sunday, April 20, 2014

Signs of Resurrection in the Episcopal Church

"I admire your enthusiasm, young man," a former senior warden at a church in Southern Indiana said to me as I spoke at coffee hour. "But I'm a realist. We simply have to accept that we're going to get smaller."

I appreciated being called young - the Episcopal Church is one of the very few contexts where that adjective still applies to me. But the reason he was saying this to me was that I was explaining that the perspective of a diocesan task force on which I serve is that the Episcopal Church is not in fact doomed to shrink - a conviction born from the fact that not a single member of the task force is a cradle Episcopalian (and also that Great Commission thing). Several, including me, would not have identified as Christian before coming to the Episcopal Church.

Caught off guard, sheepishly disabused of my naiveté, I proceeded with my presentation and discussion with the church, with perhaps a little less of my admirable enthusiasm than before.

The Acts 8 Moment has challenged the blogosphere to list the top 10 signs of resurrection in the Episcopal Church. To be sure, some things look grim, but remember, the resurrection happened not in triumph but in the darkness of the tomb. Some of my listings may look small-bore, but the bodily resurrection of Jesus means restoring not just a mighty heartbeat but severed nerves and withered capillaries, blind eyes and parched tongue.

Also, for reasons that will become obvious below, I only have energy for a top five list.

  1. Reconciliation of a Penitent: This sacrament, better known as private confession, much more strongly associated with our Roman Catholic brothers and sisters, and commonly associated with guilt (wrong), is nothing new. But at my church this year, instead of only offering it by appointment, our rector sat in a side chapel every Monday during Lent, offering it on a walk-up  basis. Some days she had no takers, some days she did. But for my own part, I participated for the first time in my life and found unexpected release and freedom.
  2. The Easter People podcast: This is my new favorite podcast because it's a group of Episcopalians talking in a lighthearted way about faith and pretty much ignoring the big church fights that have consumed so much energy in recent years (decades). We should have been doing this all along.
  3. The Restoration Project: A program of discipleship based on small groups and Benedictine spirituality. The concept of discipleship - as in a disciplined rhythm of life focused on prayer, worship, and service - is having a comeback in the Episcopal Church. At my church, our Lent program on Basic Discipleship had 17 participants - this in a church with average Sunday attendance of 80-90. The hunger for a deeper experience of faith is exciting.
  4. Media coverage for things that aren't about sex: whether it's Lent Madness on Fox News or Homeless Jesus on NPR, it's great to see the Episcopal Church getting noticed for creative approaches to deeper spirituality and witnessing to the need for economic justice.
  5. The Liturgy. No really, the liturgy. My mother died suddenly on Wednesday, halfway around the world from me. So instead of spending Holy Week at my church, I spent Maundy Thursday and Good Friday traveling to Kuala Lumpur; and Holy Saturday sitting with my father and brother and friends in a Chinese funeral parlor keeping her body company. My rector coached me from afar in constructing a lay-led funeral liturgy based on the Book of Common prayer that would also accommodate my mother's simple Quaker sensibilities, which I officiated this afternoon - Easter Sunday - with as much dignity as I could muster. I cannot assign any meaning to all of this yet: this is still a raw, bleeding wound and I will not rush toward healing or that awful word "closure". But what strength I have comes from a faith steeped in scripture and worship, and the peculiar synchrony of Jesus's walk to the grave and new life, and the hope I have for one I love and will see no longer.

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