The Church of the Blessed Sacrament held its annual meeting on Sunday, January 14. During the course of the Rector’s address, I said the following:
On Sunday, December 10, I began an announcement by saying, “Let this day be remembered as the day I call the parish to a process of discernment regarding our place in the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion.” I said that at the Annual Meeting I would ask for volunteers who were interested in serving on a committee that would be charged with doing a careful, thorough, and informed discernment on the issues facing the Episcopal Church and the place of our parish in it.
As Senior Warden Robert Bell said to me just a few days ago, “there is a storm coming. We need to decide whether we shall attempt to weather it or change course. But we can’t ignore it.”
In recent years, I have taught repeatedly that “you don’t change the faith, and you don’t break the Church.” Heresy and schism are both great wrongs—they always have been and always will be. But there is a storm coming. Indeed it has been blowing and growing for some time. As its intensity increases, I think that it is now beyond my ability and responsibility to decide alone what course we shall follow.
There are many times in a parish family when the father decides, and is charged to do so and has authority to do so. But there are other times when the family must come together. I believe we have come to that time. Many in this parish are concerned and affected by what is confronting worldwide Anglicanism. Though we cannot ever regard schism as acceptable, when, beyond our control, the Church itself is poised to fragment, one must choose a home. The primates of the Anglican Communion will meet next month and quite possibly take action on the status of the Episcopal Church within the rest of Anglicanism, and that action may well include serious discipline to the point of some measure of removal.
If we do nothing, then our individual members and families will decide on their own, and our parish leaders and I will have abdicated leadership and proper pastoral care. I know that there are some members who have been greatly alarmed and affected by recent events within the Episcopal Church; I ask all individuals and families to stay with us during this time of discernment. I realize that whatever decision the parish family comes to, it will likely not be unanimous, and that having raised the question, whatever happens the parish family will not be the same.
I think this parish has only two options, though discernment may look more thoroughly at what we face. Those choices are either to stay where we are or realign with an emerging, redefined worldwide Anglicanism. This redefinition is already occurring within Anglicanism. Realignment may be very costly to us in a number of ways.
I am well aware of the stresses this parish underwent in 1978 when a previous storm hit the Episcopal Church. Four parishes left the diocese at that time, and though this parish did not secede, half or more of its members did so. There are still many here that remember the stresses of that time. I do not raise the issue of discernment lightly.
But having raised the issue, we need people to serve on a Discernment Committee. Are you called? What kind of person should be on the committee? We need our past, our roots, our history, our experience. We need people who have been members here for 30-50 years. We also need our future, our hope, our upcoming leaders. We need young people who call this parish their home.
We need people who are open to the working of the Holy Spirit—that is, probably not those whose minds are already made up. One may certainly have a preference and even a firm commitment to one way or another, but discernment means seeking the will of God—not coming to the table with a mind already made up and hoping only to persuade others.
For discernment to be genuine, I believe that we must involve others beyond ourselves in our process, including the Bishop or his representatives, and members of the Episcopal Church who differ from the convictions of the majority of our own members. We have enormous support in these quarters, and they have much of value to contribute. I think that the Episcopal Church is in crisis now mostly because people—on both sides of the divide—stopped listening to those who disagree with them. We are not facing the issues alone, and genuine discernment will not happen if we try to do it alone. We have always listened to others, and now is not the time to stop doing so.
Some of those on the committee will need to do the research to get first-hand, verified information: documents, statements, guidance from others who are in leadership in the realignment.
There need to be people on the committee who are versed in theology, especially in understanding the meaning of family—who realize that the Church is not merely a loose confederation of individuals but a communion, a bonded family, as was taken for granted in the days of the Apostles.
We need people who know the Scriptures and can apply them to our situation. Indeed, the three young people who spoke at the forum on December 10 did an astonishingly good job of this.
I suggest also that a special Lenten program be devised and offered to the entire parish to work alongside the Discernment Committee: Fr. Earle wants to offer a program on apologetics, and I want to offer a program on the nature of Church and the Catholic Faith as held within Anglicanism: we will address history, theology, the strengths and weaknesses of Anglicanism, its traditions of liturgical and personal spirituality, and its deliberative or decision-making structure both past and potential. Before we can decide where we live, we need to know who we are.
I would charge the committee to reflect, discuss, pray, research, interview, consult. The work is to be done peacefully, without urgency, without acrimony, and not in secrecy. The charge and its conditions, as well as the membership of the committee, may be subject to refinement. The method I have in mind is deeper and more thorough than most, but not all, of such processes I am familiar with. At all times, they are to seek the will of God.
The committee will eventually give us a thorough picture of what is going on within Anglicanism, what are our options, and perhaps make a recommendation with solid reasoning behind it. Perhaps they will go to the Vestry when their work is finished, and then the Vestry will call a special meeting of the parish family for a time of prayerful discernment and finally a decision to be made by consensus.
Membership on this committee will likely be time-consuming but of critical importance. If you want to serve, let me know in any way that you want—just give it to me in writing. I want to have a working list of names by the end of this month. I will take counsel with our new Wardens, whoever they may be, to form the initial membership. It may be that not everyone who volunteers will be selected to serve, for I want to guarantee that we have a balance of membership and voices. The committee itself, once formed, will be given authority to chart its course, though I will reserve to myself certain givens.
About fifteen people signed up after the meeting to serve on the Discernment Committee. There will undoubtedly be others.