Thursday, June 29, 2006

Standing in the Presence....

This is a story almost thirty years old now; but I continue to remember and to tell it.

I was a student in my first unit of Clinical Pastoral Education, during the summer between my Junior and Middler years of seminary. That was a difficult summer, and a rewarding one, and both in many ways.

I was on call for the day. Late in the afternoon the pager went off. I was paged to one of the intensive care units to support a family after a patient’s death. I made my way to the unit down the back stairs so that I could speak with the nursing staff before meeting with the family. It turned out that the patient was the husband of a staff member, a unit clerk of long tenure. I prayed at the bedside for the departed, and then went to the waiting room to meet the family.

I walked into a waiting room, a room perhaps twenty feet by twelve. One wall had been painted with a mural. All the seating, a small couch flanked by side chairs, was spread along the opposite wall, the better, I suppose, to view the mural. And in those seats was the patient’s family, his wife flanked by children and children-in-law. I walked into the room, faced the wife, and introduced myself. She looked up and said in a flat, strained voice, “I know you.”

Her tone terrified me. I didn’t know how to interpret it. Was it “I know you and I’m relieved”? Was it “I know you and I want you to go away”? I was stunned, uncertain. I had no words. I wanted to flee. The best I could do was to stand at parade rest, my feet shoulder-width apart, my hands behind my back, and my back to the painted wall. I stood there, silent, stared at by the family, for at least three days.

Or perhaps it was only a few minutes. Soon another chaplain arrived, a second-year CPE resident who knew the wife well and had followed the patient’s illness. She settled down in the midst of the family, and said to me, “Why don’t you go into the unit and stay at the bedside? You can support family in there and I will support family out here.” I walked when I wanted to run; but in any case I was so very glad to be rescued! Between the two of us we cared for the family, and I managed to stumble silently through the family’s grief.

Several weeks later, the CPE resident came to me. “Mrs. So-and-so is back at work. You need to go see her.”

Go see her?!?” I asked, incredulous. “I can’t go see her. I was helpless, useless, a failure! I certainly didn’t care for her then, and I can’t go see her now.”

The resident insisted. “You need to go see her.”

So, I girded up my loins, at least emotionally, and I went to her unit. She was at her desk, working, as I approached. “You wanted to see me?”

“Yes,” she said, “I did want to see you. I wanted to tell you how much I appreciated your presence the night my husband died. Just your being there meant so much to me.”

I was floored, metaphorically, and almost literally. I had little more sense what to say then than I had had the night of the death. This time I did manage to thank her, and to tell her I was glad I could help. She returned to her work, and I made my way back to my own unit, confused, amazed.

As I said, I have told this story for almost thirty years, and to this day I cannot tell it without reliving that sense of awe and wonder. I had not a word, not even a thought, to offer in that crisis, and yet I had demonstrated care – the care I wanted to offer, the care God had to offer through me, all by grace. In all the years I’ve been in this business I have seen again and again that in fact this is true: it is presence, first and foremost, that demonstrates the presence of God. Any technique beyond that is simply detail, nuance. It is the fact of compassion made incarnate, made solid and tangible in caring presence, even helpless presence, that shows the presence of Christ in the midst of suffering.

And so I continue to tell this story to CPE students, many of them at the beginning of their experience. “Don’t worry if you don’t know what to do. Be there for them. Be there for them, loving as best you can. And never underestimate the power of simple presence to show the love of God.”

Friday, June 23, 2006

The Episcopal Church and Plymouth Rock

As I’ve been mulling over the consequences of General Convention, and looking at what others have written about it, a thought struck me. There is a way in which both sides in the American church are reflecting our “Puritan heritage.”

Now, before someone jumps all over me to say they he or she is not Puritan, but their opponent is; or that reference to Puritans is offensive; let me say more about the source of the idea.

I’m not talking about the Puritans of history, but the Puritans of American civil myth. The “Puritan heritage” of America as I was taught it, long ago, was of a people who were oppressed because they were religious nonconformists (only later would I learn that they were non-Conformists), a counterculture group if you will, and so they were forced to flee, to find a safe place where they could build “the city on a hill.” I know that in recent years we’ve been much more aware of how they established their own conformity, and oppressed their own victims; but in my childhood the model of victims seeking religious freedom was what was taught. Now, remember, too, that the vocal participants in these arguments – on both sides - are my age, near enough, and rarely much younger.

Now, how does this play out? One set of neo-Puritans recapitulates that vision as they seek to purify the American mainline tradition, the received tradition in which they live – in this case, 20th century liberal theology based on trying to balance 19th Century modern theology with existentialism and Neo-orthodoxy. They don’t particularly want to go, but feel forced to flee to establish their own purified community of faith.

Another set of neo-Puritans (in this limited sense) recapitulates that vision seeking to purify the American evangelical tradition, the received tradition in which they live – in this case, American religious exceptionalism overlaid with 19th century evangelicalism and Biblicism. To do this they must flee from the larger community into the Episcopal Church as safe place, and seek to build in it the “city on the hill.” They want to live safely in their counterculture.

Both sides embrace their own awareness of being victims (and whether one agrees or not, both side do express that awareness) and their mission into the wilderness to create the holy city. Each alleges the other is allied with an oppressing establishment. Each feels threatened by displacement, being forced out, when all each wants is to live out the Christian faith as each sees it.

These difficulties are, perhaps, so very American in concept, at least within the Episcopal Church. We are all, I think, caught up in this reliving of a foundational American myth. I don’t think we really recognize how that has shaped both sides. I don’t think our colleagues around the world even have the thought that this might be how we see ourselves, whichever side we’re on.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Goodbye, Columbus; Which Way to Anaheim?

Well, the 75th General Convention of the Episcopal Church is done, as are most of those who were participants - done as in "done in." It is a long process. As is always the case, there were matters that were not attended to. By action of the House (at least in Deputies), resolutions scheduled but not completed were referred to interim bodies - the Commissions, Committees, Agencies, and Boards (CCAB's) that generated the "A" resolutions in the Blue Book.

However, the most important matters were addressed. They were not necessarily addressed in the forms originally submitted. Most of the resolutions of the Special Commission on the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion were changed and changed again before they were acted on. There will, of course, be many comments about who won and who lost on those actions. I don't know that any statement would be trustworthy that asserts clarity on that. I think many people were sad at some things and relieved at others. I think the Convention did respond to the Windsor Report as best this Convention could, and indeed responded more than adequately. I don't think there's any real ground for triumphalism on anyone's part.

As for my own concerns? Well, Resolution D023 on Principles on Decisions at the End of Life was passed by the Conjoint Education Committee, and was passed in the House of Bishops, but could not be addressed in the House of Deputies before the time for Convention ran out. This wasn't the only resolution to suffer that fate, nor even the most important, my own interest notwithstanding. I expect it will be referred to an interim Commission - hopefully the Commission on Health, although I don't know for sure yet whether the Bishops passed that.

There were a number of resolutions related to health care that did pass, and as I spoke to some before Convention, I will, over the next little while, speak to some of those that did pass. In the meantime, like many others, I will be working on processing what was accomplished, and preparing for next steps.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

The New Presiding Bishop

No doubt by now you've heard the news: the new Presiding Bishop-elect of the Episcopal Church is Katharyn Jefferts Schori, currently Bishop of Nevada. This is, to say the least, a surprise; for some, probably a great shock.

Let me say two things. First, as far as I know this was not expected by anyone. That's not a question of her qualifications, but of the current concerns in the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion. After all, those in the Communion who were disturbed with the American church about GLBT persons and relationships were already disturbed with the American church about the ordination of women. No doubt that this will be seen by some as an affront, if not a specific confrontation. So, many of us have thought that, whatever her qualifications, the bishops would not make that choice lest it create even more tension (although some would say that's not possible). For many the very unlikeliness of this will be an indication of the Holy Spirit at work. The American church as a whole is not, as near as I can tell, looking to make an "in your face" statement for its own sake. So, this seems new enough to suggest the work of the Spirit.

Second, from everything I have heard and read she is very qualified. Indeed, I have heard hearsay of bishops who, thinking her unlikely, have said that in any case she was certainly qualified.

So, what will this do to the Episcopal Church and to the Anglican Communion? Some will certainly be upset. This will not do much to quiet those most angry voices. This will do much to please those who feel the Gospel imperative for justice has been given more lip service than true notice. As for the rest: we'll just have to see what kind of Presiding Bishop she is. If most of the world will give her a chance (acknowledging that there will be those who don't), I think they may see that we indeed want to be in the Anglican Communion, and that we want our context for ministry to receive as much respect as that of our brothers and sisters in the Third World. If we will respond with prayer, and give ourselves all a chance, this may well be the best evidence we can provide of our experience of God's grace in the ministry of all God's children.

Friday, June 16, 2006

The Prayer of the Whole (Episcopal) Church

Ever Episcopalian should spend some time at the General Convention. The fact that it only happens once every three years makes it more complicated, but it also gives plenty of time to make plans.

I have been known to say that attending General Convention can make or break one's faith. There is an awful lot of what we would decry as bare (and sometimes bare-knuckles) political activity. So, there's an awful lot of boredom interspersed with moments of rhetorical fervor and sometimes rhetorical fireworks. It sometimes seems there are backroom deals (I'm not saying there aren't any, but I haven't been invited to any myself), and there are certainly enough conspiracy theorists to express that concern. There is plenty of procedural machinations, and sometimes some procedural artistry so great that you have to appreciate it, even if you don't appreciate the result.

At the same time, if you spend time at a General Convention, you will discover it is not primarily a political event, either in form or substance. Yes, legislative sessions happen. After all, this is the central event for governing what we have come to see is a global church, with churches from Germany to Guam. However, the context is and remains prayer and worship. The central event of the day, to which everyone is invited, is the Eucharist. The prayers change, and the music changes, and even the languages change (and, yes, all us English speakers happily cope); but it is always Eucharist. And even the legislative sessions stop for offices at Noonday. In addition, this year they've added, at least in the House of Deputies, speakers to address their own lives and histories of faith. Imagine: in an Episcopal event the most important testifying isn't before legislative committees, but before the House gathered.

Even the Exhibit Hall waits. Participants don't get to browse through the publishers or check out the vestments until Eucharist is over, and the legislative day is begun: all things in proper order. And the best thing about the Exhibit Hall isn't the books (and this from someone who could accumulate them entirely too happily). It is the many ministries of the church - chaplaincies, religious orders and communities, services to the poor at home and abroad - that are the highlights of the Exhibits. At home and abroad we are seeking to give care or to support care both inside and outside the church. There is a breadth of ministry in this Church that one can only really get a glimpse of when they're all collected at General Convention. It is eye-opening and exciting. And this, too, will not start each day until after Eucharist and prayer.

For all the attention that the world will give to our struggles to express where we see God leading us in the Holy Spirit, and to somehow invite everyone to walk with us, even if not in the same rhythm - for all that, this is the Body of Christ, or at least our member of it, gathered to pray and worship and ask God's guidance; and then only in that context, that environment, to make decisions.

I've been told that watching laws made is like watching sausage made: most people would really rather not really know what went into it. In General Convention, however, I'd like to show it off. Here all the members of this part of the Body - lay folk, bishops, priests, and deacons, the Youth Experience and the Senior Deputies, the ministries of prayer and the ministries of publishing - here they ask first for the blessing and the guidance of God; and then they move forward, as best they can.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Protecting Subjects in Emergency Research

This story was on the front page of the news section of Usa Today yesterday. It addresses an important ethics issue: how to do research important to patient populations that can't consent.

The PolyHeme Study is being carried out in the Kansas City area, among others. There the researchers made an effort to seek community support, and to get some sense of "community consent." In essence, community leaders stand in for individuals for tests that offer real community benefit. That means the product is being tested in some areas and not in others. It also means that some patients might receive the product without individually consenting. If they benefit, that's a manageable problem. If they don't, it's a real headache.

How do we protect the rights of research subjects where the nature of the problem addressed and the product tested define a context where consent is virtually impossible? And yet these contexts exist, and need the benefits of research.

I've worked with researchers addressing needs in emergency cases in the field. These issues were difficult then, and they're difficult now. At the same time, they need to have our attention. As in these studies, we need to work continually to both meet the immediate medical needs, and also to protect the human rights, of those who may find themselves in those times of need, with no capacity to consent.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Waiting for the Storm That Isn't in Florida

There will be many reports from Columbus. They will focus on the exciting - or, more accurately, the tittilating - and the potentially scandalous. Even that is problematic: for some, things may be scandalous that are for others reasons for pride. In any case, those things seen in the news media will be those that seem to create the most problems. Remember how often the theme in news media, any news media is, "If it bleeds, it leads."

All of which is belied by the actual tone and environment of Convention. Built around daily Eucharist, focused on prayer for the presence and guidance of the Spirit, the mood here is one of waiting. Some are a bit anxious, perhaps; but most are simply patient, waiting to see what actually happens, and not what will create the most excitement.

Now, there will be time and space for people to express themselves on those issues - especially around the Report of the Special Commission on the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion, and around our relations with the larger Anglican Communion. I have heard some question - at least once, anyway - as to why we would have those open forums - fora? After all, we've been chewing on this for some time. Many, if not most, have come to some preliminary conclusion. So, why not just get on with voting?

But, while I understand procedurally how we might jump to that, pastorally I have a different perspective. We must, I think, have these discussions, in public and out loud. I will admit that I love well stated rhetoric, and there will certainly be some of that. However, I think there is a more important reason. People feel uncomfortable and angry about these issues, and they interpret discomfort and anger as injury and pain. And pastorally they need to feel their pain has been heard and acknowledged. There is something cathartic going on, and it needs to be allowed to happen. Pastorally, I understand this well.

Now, it won't be fully satisfactory. One can be heard without being convincing, and I think that will happen a lot. The Spirit will be moving, and some hearts might be changed. But we are almost (almost?) as stiff-necked as Israel in the desert, and there will be many at both ends of the spectrum who will not be moved. However, it is necessary to allow the cry, to hear the pain, even when we can't do anything about it, or when what we can do about it will address only the symptom and not the cause. We are first and foremost a worshipping community, a pastoral people. We need to have a place to allow that cry.

And so the Convention will have those opportunities - committee hearings, public fora, and floor debate. Parts of this will be no fun at all. But our willingness to set aside political efficiency and expediency to allow all those who feel injured to express their pain - our willingness to hear that pain and acknowledge the humanity of the person who feels it - is fundamental to who we are as a church. We proclaim that God has come for all people. We need to be prepared, even if sometimes we don't look forward to it, to hear all people, each person, out.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Final Thoughts on Health Care Before the 75th General Convention

Let me share some final thoughts about this 75th General Convention and issues of health care. I have highlighted a number of health issues rising from reports of Commissions, Committees, Agencies, and Boards, “A” resolutions from the Blue Book. However, there are some other resolutions that address health issues, and it will be interesting to see what comes of them.

One is Resolution D002, submitted by a lay deputy from the diocese of Iowa. It is as follows:

Title: Affirming Support for a Public Policy on Tobacco

Resolved, the House of _____ concurring, That the 75th General Convention reaffirm the Church's commitment to work against the devastating effects of both the use of tobacco products and of secondary smoke, and strongly urges that the Episcopal Church be encouraged at all levels to advocate for proven and effective ways to reduce the deadly toll of tobacco; and be it further
Resolved, That the Washington Office of the Episcopal Church, the Public Policy Network, and other appropriate agencies at the Episcopal Church Center facilitate the implementation of this resolution at the federal level; and be it further
Resolved, That the Episcopal Church be encouraged at all levels to partner with appropriate public health and community organizations working to reduce the health impact of tobacco.

We should all be informed by now of the hazards of tobacco smoke, whether inhaling one’s own or inhaling secondary smoke. We should be, but that doesn’t seem to stop young people from starting. Her explanation points out that smoking “is responsible for over 400,000 deaths per year - more than alcohol, AIDS, car accidents, illegal drugs, murders and suicides combined.” She also notes that “The 73rd General Convention affirmed its understanding of the dangers of secondhand smoke when it passed legislation declaring all church buildings "tobacco-free zones." “ I’m not sure how many of our congregations are even aware of this. You can look for the resolution and her full explanation here.

Another is Resolution A138. It is submitted by the Executive Council Committee on the Status of Women:

Title: Domestic Abuse Training

Resolved, the House of _____ concurring, That the 75th General Convention provide for the development of a standardized curriculum in the area of domestic and intimate partner violence for clergy and lay professionals; and be it further
Resolved, That all clergy and lay professionals be required to take a minimum of six hours of such training by the year 2012; and be it further
Resolved, That the General Convention request the Joint Standing Committee on Program, Budget and Finance to consider a budget allocation of $5,000 to the Committee on the Status of Women for the purpose of development of materials and a training program, to then be implemented by each Diocese.

Now, there are many ways to identify the problem of domestic and intimate partner violence, and one if them is certainly as an issue in health care. That is where many victims are identified – sometimes, sadly, too late – and where many of them find their first opportunities for support. While there is no direct reference to health care in the resolution, those of us “in the business” are aware of how often it is a factor in patient care, and how many women tell us in the process of other care that they have been abused, in the past if not recently. My only concern about this resolution is whether there would be support for training. We are all required still to be trained on clergy sexual misconduct and on racial and ethinic issuse, and a resolution from the Committee on HIV/AIDS is also calling for mandatory training. As worthy as this would be, I don't know how much support there would be for making it mandatory. The text and explanation are here.

Finally, there is Resolution C032, submitted by the Diocese of California:

Title: Health Care for All Americans

Resolved, the House of _____ concurring, That the Episcopal Church call upon all its dioceses, parishes, and members to work towards the goal of accessible, adequate, appropriate, high-quality, effective, efficient, affordable, and sustainable health care for all Americans; and be it further
Resolved, that the 75th General Convention of the Episcopal Church re-establish the Standing Commission on Health as a means of fulfilling this goal

I have noted in an earlier post that General Convention has called for this before, and has described characteristics of “quality health care.” This would certainly be an important initiative for a revitalized Standing Commission on Health. You can read the resolution and explanation here.

There are other resolutions as well, seeking to address various issues that affect health and health care. We need to be aware of these concerns, and how they are addressed in General Convention. These are opportunities for us as a faith community to bring the faith as we have received it to these issues, and to bring the Gospel, made incarnate in service, to the people who face them.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

General Convention 2006: End of Life Resolution

I made reference in this earlier post to the discussion of medical futility in the Report to General Convention of the Standing Commission on National Concerns. I am happy to report that the following Resolution with Explanation has been submitted to General Convention. It has been submitted by the Rev. Fred Mann, Deputy from the Diocese of West Missouri, based on my original draft. It has not yet been numbered nor been assigned to a committee, but it has been accepted.

Nota Bene: As of today (6/7/06) this resolution has been designated as Resolution D023. It will be considered first in the House of Bishops, and will be sent to the Education Committee.

As is often the case, this is a short Resolution with a long Explanation. That is preferable to a long series of "Whereas" clauses. In any case, I believe this short Resolution can point diocese and parishes to valuable resources for providing support to Episcopal patients and families making decisions about the end of life. I certainly hope to see it approved in Columbus.

Resolved, the House of _____ concurring, That the 75th General Convention reaffirm Resolution 1991-A093a of the 70th General Convention, as amended in Resolution 1994-A056 of the 71st General Convention regarding Principles With Regard to the Prolongation of Life; and be it further
Resolved, That this 75th General Convention calls on dioceses and parishes of this Church to become informed of the laws of states and policies of health care institutions regarding decisions at the end of life and regarding medical futility; and be it further
Resolved, That this 75th General Convention commend chaplains endorsed by the Office of the Suffragan Bishop of Chaplaincies, members of the Assembly of Episcopal Healthcare Chaplains and of National Episcopal Healthcare Ministries, and chaplains certified by the Association for Clinical Pastoral Education, the Association of Professional Chaplains, or the College of Pastoral Supervision and Psychotherapy as appropriate resource persons for discussions regarding ethical care, medical futility, and decisions at the end of life.

The text of 1991-A093a as amended by 1994 A056 is as follows:
1.Although human life is sacred, death is part of the earthly cycle of life. There is a "time to be born and a time to die" (Eccl. 3:2). The resurrection of Jesus Christ transforms death into a transition to eternal life: "For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead" (I Cor. 15:21).
2. Despite this hope, it is morally wrong and unacceptable to intentionally take a human life in order to relieve the suffering caused by incurable illness. This would include the intentional shortening of another person's life by the use of a lethal dose of medication or poison, the use of lethal weapons, homicidal acts, and other forms of active euthanasia. Palliative treatment to relieve the pain of persons with progressive incurable illnesses, even if done with the knowledge that a hastened death may result, is consistent with theological tenets regarding the sanctity of life.
3. However, there is no moral obligation to prolong the act of dying by extraordinary means and at all costs if such dying person is ill and has no reasonable expectation of recovery.
4. In those cases involving persons who are in a comatose state from which there is no reasonable expectation of recovery, subject to legal restraints, this Church's members are urged to seek the advice and counsel of members of the church community, and where appropriate, its sacramental life, in contemplating the withholding or removing of life-sustaining systems, including hydration and nutrition.
5. We acknowledge that the withholding or removing of life-sustaining systems has a tragic dimension. The decision to withhold or withdraw life-sustaining treatment should ultimately rest with the patient, or with the patient's surrogate decision-makers in the case of a mentally incapacitated patient. We therefore express our deep conviction that any proposed legislation on the part of national or state governments regarding the so called "right to die" issues, (a) must take special care to see that the individual's rights are respected and that the responsibility of individuals to reach informed decisions in this matter is acknowledged and honored, and (b) must also provide expressly for the withholding or withdrawing of life-sustaining systems, where the decision to withhold or withdraw life-sustaining systems has been arrived at with proper safeguards against abuse.
6. We acknowledge that there are circumstances in which health care providers, in good conscience, may decline to act on request to terminate life-sustaining systems if they object on moral or religious grounds. In such cases we endorse the idea of respecting the patient's right to self-determination by permitting such patient to be transferred to another facility or physician willing to honor the patient's request, provided that the patient can readily, comfortably and safely be transferred. We encourage health care providers who make it a policy to decline involvement in the termination of life-sustaining systems to communicate their policy to patients or their surrogates at the earliest opportunity, preferably before the patients or their surrogates have engaged the services of such a health care provider.
7. Advance written directives (so-called "living wills," "declarations concerning medical treatment" and "durable powers of attorney setting forth medical declarations") that make a person's wishes concerning the continuation or withholding or removing of life-sustaining systems should be encouraged, and this Church's members are encouraged to execute such advance written directives during good health and competence and that the execution of such advance written directives constitute loving and moral acts.
These principles continue to be appropriate regarding decisions at the end of life. As noted in the Report of the Standing Committee on National Concerns, the issue of medical futility has become an important part of ethical discussion at the end of life, and a matter of great controversy in some situations. Many health care facilities and some states have established specific policies and practices regarding medical futility, policies and practices with which patients and families may not be familiar. The Church is in an important position to provide support and moral reflection regarding care and futility at the end of life
Professional chaplains and other ministers in health care and specialized ministries are specially trained and experienced both in the moral principles of the Church and of health care, and in interacting within the structures of health care institutions. Thus, they are particularly prepared to serve as resource persons in discussion of and in decisions regarding appropriate care and futility at the end of life.
The Office of the Bishop Suffragan for Chaplaincies has the responsibility of endorsing Episcopal chaplains for specialized ministries in military and federal positions, and in health care. The Assembly of Episcopal Healthcare Chaplains (AEHC) and National Episcopal Health Ministries (NEHM) are organizations within the Episcopal Church supporting health care ministries in health care institutions, and in parish-based ministries, respectively. Both were recognized in General Convention resolution 2000-A079s as "Episcopal healthcare groups." The Association for Clinical Pastoral Education (ACPE), the Association of Professional Chaplains (APC), and the College for Pastoral Supervision and Psychotherapy (CPSP) are national, multifaith organizations that certify chaplains for pastoral practice and education. Episcopal chaplains have been active as members and leaders in all three organizations. All are committed to supporting persons from all faith backgrounds in pastoral care and in decisions at the end of life.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Worth Repeating

Usually I've been sharing my own reflections. However, I was bouncing through the blogs this evening, and ran across this. The blogger who recovered this gem is Bob Griffith, from his blog, and by my reckoning, ordained on this day to the sacred order of the priesthood. The article Bob has recovered is worth reading and reading again in light of the current difficulties in the Church. Thanks, Bob, for recovering something delightful.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Varieties of Gifts

Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good….All these are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses.

For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body-- Jews or Greeks, slaves or free-- and we were all made to drink of one Spirit. I Corinthians 12:4-7, 11-13

I have just spent time reading blogs, checking in on those places I think interesting. I ended up on Praeludium, the blog of the Rev. Mark Harris. It’s an interesting place to see reflection on events in the Episcopal Church and in the Anglican Communion. And, yes, I largely agree with his perspective.

Of course, to read that site, or any site where such issues are discussed can leave me, on a given evening, with the feeling that there’s no hope of retaining the Communion as we have known it in the past. The extremists (choose your own favorite heroes and villains) will not allow that to happen. Between the “you can be as autonomous as you like, as long as you do it in a way that we agree with” crowd, and the “of course we need to agree on essentials, as long as we have freedom to interpret those essentials as we need” crowd, things will not be the same. Yes, for purposes of full disclosure, I’m closer to the latter than for former. (I suppose that leaves me feeling that losing the Communion as we have received it may be a loss to grieve but it’s not a ditch to die in.) I think the Episcopal Church in General Convention will work for a “moderate” stand that will not fully abandon justice for GLBT people, but will try to show enough remorse for poor communication to be acceptable to most other Anglicans around the world. We will not satisfy the extremes; and some who already say “communion is broken” will go on to say “and cannot be repaired.”

Which led me to a new, and probably unacceptable, view of Paul’s discussion in Romans 12. We have always looked at Jesus in John, praying that “all may be one as You, Father, and I are one,” and held that to mean, ultimately, an institutional unity. But what if Jesus meant an organic unity? After all, Paul’s image is, again and again, of a body, with many members. Suppose that when Paul talked about “many members” he wasn’t talking about individuals, but about whole churches – congregations, or the city-churches that paralleled the city-states in which they functioned.

We’re clear that all early Christian congregations did not agree in everything. (My professor of Church History noted that the classic Vincentian Canon of high esteem – “what has been believed always, by everyone, everywhere” – was never accurate in concept in the first place, because there was so little about which everyone was agreed, even in that generation.) Paul was pretty clear about what was necessary to be believed, and it was pretty basic: believe in Jesus, in his death and resurrection, and that through his death and resurrection God has saved us from sin. Surely that left a lot of details to be debated and worked out.

So what if Paul understood the members not simply as individuals with discernable vocations, but whole churches with discernable and different vocations? That body image also allows for a lot of diversity. You don’t want the skin on the back of your hand to weep moisture, but you don’t want the membranes in your mouth to be dry. The digestive acids in your stomach will, if forced out of place, painfully damage the tissues of your esophagus. The bacteria that are perfectly safe, and indeed necessary, there in your colon will cause life-threatening disease if let out into your viscera.

Perhaps that would suggest that denominationalism is not the scandal of the Church, but a provision – providential! - for reaching more of us unique, individual, and individualistic human beings. We have long held, we Anglicans, that we did not hold the keys to the kingdom exclusively. We have understood that churches with the historic episcopate were certainly part of the Body, whether they recognized us or not. We have understood that baptism with water in the name of the Trinity cleansed from sin and admitted to the Body of Christ, whether by immersion, pouring, or just a damp touch on the forehead. It has allowed us to talk at the same time with Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, the Mar Thoma Church, the Assyrian Church of the East, Lutherans and Methodists. They would not all recognize each other, perhaps; but we recognize all as “within the Body of Christ,” or in that old pastoral image, “different parts of the vineyard.”

What if, then, Pentecostal Churches were those with a special vocation to reach some folks, and formal liturgical churches had a special vocation to reach others? What if each of us was called to reach those whom we could reach with the Gospel, allowing God the latitude to reach others in another style? I have said consistently and in various places that those Anglicans who choose to walk apart from the Episcopal Church – apart from me – would still be siblings for whom Christ died; and whether or not hey would see me within the faith, I would still see them. What if, like different organs, different Christian communities were indeed different in vocation, even to the point of being incompatible on some issues?

Then the scandal of denominationalism wouldn’t be that there were so many, but that we were so contemptuous of each other, so quick to anathematize. Our ability to function within the body would indeed be reflected in the relationships we maintained, and not in the identities we shared. It would be our capacity to interact for the good of the whole Body, of sharing the Gospel, and not our consistency in covenants or catechisms.

Does that mean a return to a church of “people like us?” I would hope not. Yes, some of that would happen; but our call would not be to create folks like us. It would be to proclaim the faith as we have received it to all who would listen. Some would hear the faith most clearly from us, and others somewhere else. We would trust that God continued to care for them, and we would do our best to cooperate with their community to show that we continued to care for them, without requiring that they be some sort of adaptation of “folks like us.” It would call for us to proclaim, without worrying too much who was coming and going. It would call for us to bless those who left, encouraging and even helping them to find a place they could hear the Gospel more clearly. Would some churches grow and others shrink? Probably; I expect there would be an ebb and flow. But that, too, would be consistent with an organic image of the body. In our lives and in our growths things do not stay the same. The teeth we used as children are discarded in favor of other teeth more suited to adulthood. The digestive system changes as we move from milk-feeders to omnivores. We don’t give these changes a second thought, unless they somehow get stifled. It is in fact the failure to change that causes problems.

And in our current crisis? I have read of one commentator who thought that the Episcopal Church had perhaps 30 years before it would fade. If that is God’s will, let it happen. I would hope we would trust God to care for us as long as we continue to proclaim the faith as this church – this Episcopal Church – has received it and as we see opportunities to share it in new ways with new folks. Do we have faith even to die as an institution, committed not to institutional size but to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, who calls us to lives that include both discipline and justice, both stability and prophecy? That would not be my prayer; but it wouldn’t be inconsistent with the image of the Church as Christ’s Body, not static but living and flowing and acting in the World.