Saturday, August 22, 2009

Churchwide Assembly Day Five

by Phil Soucy

Well, ok, what to tell you about today? Certainly not THE NEWS! You have by now been fully informed on THE NEWS by 17 phone calls from friends, and, of course, I did send you the press release announcing the outcome. You know the big pieces.

So I thought instead I would just tell you what I had for dinner.

Just kidding.

Actually, this has to go down as one of the busiest, momentous days in life, for everyone, on all sides of the questions. It is impossible to overestimate the significance of what happened today and what it means. Yes, there is the obvious: the ban on dedicated service by ministers in committed, lifelong same-gender relationships is removed, replaced by a single high standard for excellence, right living, and above reproach conduct in the ministerial office for all. The church has said that it wants to find a way to recognize, support and hold publicly accountable lifelong, monogamous, same gender relationships.

But it's the real meaning of this that I am having a hard time envisioning - the size of it, the scope of it. Perhaps it is because it is too big to take in, to wrap one's head around. I know the practical bits and all that will have to happen starting now to flesh out the decisions made by the assembly into workable procedures and policies. But there is nothing in the experience of the movement to full inclusion that includes what to do when we achieve our big goals.

So, if we thought we were on a journey with the church before, that together we both as the Body of Christ were learning and developing, we sure are on one now.

Much work has to be done now. More on that in the coming weeks, months, and years.

For now, today, tomorrow, in the coming days, we can be joyful, prayerful, and sober thinking. We can ponder the meaning of what has happened. We can think on and pray about and for those who are in pain because their understanding does not allow them to support the decisions that were taken by the assembly.

Many of you watched the proceedings, but many may not have. Even if you did, what I am about to share with you is worth re-visiting.

Bishop Hanson comments after the vote were pastoral and an appropriate cap to the momentous day:

"I would like to speak before I call on any mics.

"I want more time to think about words from one you have called to serve as pastor of this church.
I have been standing here thinking about my 23 years as a parish pastor and how differently I would go into a context if I was gathering with a family or a group of people that had just experienced loss or perhaps were wondering if they still belonged, or, in fact, felt deeply that ones to whom they belong had been severed from them.

"That would be a very different pastoral conversation.

"And I would probably turn to words such as Romans 8, "Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus who died, yes, who was raised, who was at the right hand of God, who intercedes for us. Who will separate us from the love of Christ? I'm convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels nor rulers nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus."

"But then I thought, "What if I were going into a family or a group, a community that had always wondered if they belonged and suddenly had now received a clear affirmation that they belonged?"
All of the wondering about the dividing walls, the feelings of separation seemed to have dropped away.

"That would be a very different conversation.

"I would probably read to them out of Ephesians. "But now in Christ Jesus, you who were once far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For He is our peace. In His flesh, He has made both groups into one. He's broken down the dividing wall that is the hostility between us. In Him, the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in Lord. In whom you also are building spiritually into a dwelling place of God. "

"But then I thought, what if those two groups were together, but also in their midst were those who had not experienced loss or the feeling of the dividing wall of separation coming down, but were wondering and worried if all that had occurred might sever the unity and wondered if their actions might have contributed to reconciliation or separation?

"If all those people were together in a room, I would read from Colossians, "As God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness and patience. Bear with one another. If anyone has a complaint against the other, forgive each other just as the Lord has forgiven you so you must also forgive. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything to in perfect harmony and let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body and be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly. Teach and admonish one another in all wisdom, with gratitude in your hearts. Sing songs, hymns and spiritual songs to God.
And whatever you do in word or deed, do everything in the name of Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. "

"That passage gives invitation and expectation that those deeply disappointed today will have in this church the expectation and the freedom to continue to admonish and to teach.

"And so, too, those that have experienced reconciliation today, you are called to humility.
"You are called to clothe yourselves with love.

"But we're all called to let the peace of Christ rule in our hearts, remembering again and again that we are called in the one body.

"I will invite you tomorrow afternoon into important, thoughtful, prayerful conversations about what all of this means for our life together.

"But what is absolutely important for me is that that's a conversation we have together.

"I ended my oral report with these words: "We meet one another finally, not in our agreements or our disagreements, but at the foot of the cross, where God is faithful, where Christ is present with us, and where, by the power of the Holy Spirit, we are one in Christ."

"Let us pray.

"Oh, God, gracious and holy, mysterious and merciful, we meet this day at the foot of the cross and there we kneel in gratitude and awe that you have loved us so much that you would give the life of your son so that we might have life in his name.

"Send your spirit this night, the spirit of the risen Christ that has been breathed into us.
"May it calm us.
"May your spirit unite us.
"May it continue to gather us.
"In Jesus' name, amen."

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