Getting the Stories Straight

What are you telling me? Ecumenical dialogues have been taking place for 50+ years?! And have produced substantial officially recognized agreements?! I have heard these questions, with the exclamation marks, too many times from well-meaning and committed Anglicans, Roman Catholics and others. Yes, we have been in conversation with one another for a good half a century; yes, we have published official statements on several aspects of our faith in Christ Jesus. And yes, this growing ecclesial relationship is bearing profound positive fruit in both our churches. After frozen relations of several centuries, we are finally recognizing in one another the presence and witness of our risen Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. We are also recognizing the serious need to walk together as an expression of faithfulness to our Lord’s dying wish that we all be one. It is only in Christian charity and unity that the Gospel can be credibly preached into a hurting world.

The above questions point to the ongoing challenge of Reception, i.e. the process by which official statements trickle down to the ordinary people in our pews to be embraced in their local context. This challenge was once again the subject of the most recent National Anglican-Roman Catholic Dialogue (ARC Canada) meeting in Ottawa.

But this time there was good news to share. For the past two years the ARC Canada group has been collecting stories of lived ecumenism on the ground between Anglicans and Roman Catholics.  New Stories to Tell was launched in conjunction with the 2019 Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. The collection is a rich tapestry of inspiring accounts in which individuals from both traditions rediscover our common heritage in Christ Jesus, thus contributing in no small measure to healing the wounds of our historic ecclesial divisions. Each story is followed by a brief theological reflection with references to one or more ARCIC documents, and by study/discussion questions.

The collection is dedicated to a renowned theology professor and ecumenist, Dr. Margaret O’Hara, who is considered a giant in her long-standing involvement in Anglican-Roman Catholic relations. Stories include experiences of interchurch families, bishops befriending each other and in some cases sharing living quarters (!), encounters at the TRC hearings, covenant agreements between dioceses, joint work with refugees, ecumenical retreats and parish missions, theological study groups etc.

Here is the opening story of this lovely new collection:

An Anglican priest shared the following experience: He had not come to this Truth and Reconciliation hearing with anger, and he had not come with blame. But he said that he wanted me, a Catholic priest, to know that he was not afraid anymore, nor ashamed of who he was. He was confident and secure and even proud of his identity as an Indigenous person, and he wanted me, wearing my clerical collar, to sit with him and hear that from him, because he had never been able to say that to any priest before.

It became clear that there was a misunderstanding. He had attended a school operated by the Roman Catholic Church in Canada, not the Anglican Church of Canada. I was an Anglican priest. So what were we to do? Should I offer a word of apology anyway? Or should we find a Catholic priest and start the process over again? Before I could decide, the man uttered: “Catholic… Anglican… It’s all the same. It was Christians who ran these schools and who did these things to my people. You are all responsible together. You all need our forgiveness. Maybe you should get your own stories straight before you talk to us.”

This encounter speaks clearly about our shared identity as Christians in the present, and about our dividedness in the past. It speaks clearly about our need for right relationship with Indigenous neighbours, as well as with one another, and about the way one relationship affects another. It points to the work of reconciliation as the way forward for healing. The Indigenous man in the above account speaks prophetically when he challenges us to “get our own stories straight” as churches. But already back in 1848, our divided heritage discredited us as messengers of the Gospel:

“Mr. Rundell (Rundle) [Wesleyan Methodist] told him that what he preached was the only true road to heaven, and Mr. Hunter [Anglican] told him the same thing, and so did Mr. Thebo (Fr. Thibault, Roman Catholic), and as they all three said that the other two were wrong, and as he did not know which was right, he thought they ought to call a council among themselves, and then he would go with all three; but that until they agreed he would wait.” [Great Plains Cree chief, Maskepatoon, in conversation with Paul Kane in 1848; James G. MacGregor. Father Lacombe. Edmonton: Hurtig Publishers, 1975]

We arrived in Canada as divided churches. Our separation was transmitted to Indigenous people during the earliest missions in New France and British North America. It was a stark reality in colonial life, as a Catholic majority came under the rule of an Empire whose established religion was Anglican. It continued to resonate in the ways the Protestant population expressed prejudice towards Catholics (who gladly returned the favour) and in the separateness of our educational, language, and legal identities.

That separateness is a reality which looms large in our present-day experiences as Christians together, and which affects the perceptions our society has of us, the stereotypes we have of one another, and the ministry we can offer. The work of ARC Canada, the Anglican-Roman Catholic dialogue, and the stories of people and communities encountering one another in new ways, present a way forward. The path involves facing and reconciling memories, and making new history together.

The language of reconciliation and of right relationship is a gift we are learning, ever more deeply, from people like the Residential School survivor who challenges us to “get our stories straight.” The broken relationships which we Christians brought with us continue to affect the way we relate to the land, to its First Peoples, and to one another. Yearning for and coming back into right relationship involves all these aspects.

Ironically, in many other ways the world sees us as one even before we see our own unity. When it comes to negative press about one of our churches, we are all perceived in the same light. When it comes to martyrdom, we are not asked first whether we are Anglican, Lutheran, Catholic or Orthodox.  As Pope Francis stated a few years ago, to those who persecute and kill we are simply Christians.

Would that the world could see positive signs of our unity! For the sake of right relation and the integrity of Christ’s message of salvation and reconciliation, let’s get our stories straight.

New Stories to Tell, published by ARC Canada, can be accessed at www.churchesindialogue.ca

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Ready for Christmas?

It doesn’t matter where – in the checkout line-up, at the pool, at the post office, even in church. Everyone asks the big question, often in a hurried tone of voice: so,  ready for Christmas yet? I’m supposed to answer: no I’m not, too many gifts to buy and wrap, cards to write and to send, goodies to bake and decorations to hang up. I’m not ready!

Odd isn’t it? I mean this type of reply. I’m ready for Christmas, because I take the question to mean something quite different. Quiet daily prayer is enriched with the Advent wreath – lighting one more candle each week, keeping me anchored in essentials without drowning in waves of excessive consumerism. Dreams and yearnings are allowed to rise up in my heart, as God’s gifts growing in the womb of my spirit. Christmas baking gets done by loving hands way more competent than my own from annual Christmas bake-sales, filling the freezer (and eventually our tummies) while supporting a good cause.  We strive for quality time with our adult children and their families even with the challenge of irregular work hours; looks like a chess tournament is on the radar this year. Yearly donation checks are off to various charities, however small. Sharing is good for the soul and a blessing to others. Ready for Christmas? Yep.

Because our family Christmas takes place when everyone can make it, Jim and I have become regulars at the annual Community Christmas Dinner on December 25, organized by our friends from the local Soup Kitchen. A weekly meal free of charge is hosted throughout the year for anyone who needs food and company. You can find us there most Tuesdays, hanging out with a motley crew. We go not because we are “hard-up” but because we eat with friends who’ve expanded our notion of family. Helping out at the Christmas Dinner therefore is not only a great way to spend the holy day of Christ’s birth, but it is truly a day with family.

We do appreciate receiving Christmas letters from beloved family and friends; letters full of the latest travel adventures and the year’s achievements of children and grandchildren, and sometimes including the latest health challenges. Such letters are a great read. It’s the yearly catching up on news in the lives of loved ones.

But we don’t travel a whole lot anymore, and don’t even miss it. There’s hardly anything left on our bucket lists. We are most content and comfortable in our own bed, our own home, our own routines, our own garden and backyard (not fancy, just … lush). Do we sound like old folks set in our ways?? Or is it the quiet contentment and joy that comes from truly living a simple, modest life we both love and have no need to get away from? We do regret not seeing our granddaughters as often as we would like due to distance and work commitments. They are each growing way too fast into three lovely individuals, each with their unique personality. But we are grateful for photos on Facebook and video-calls. And we’ve been relatively healthy (not counting the hearing aids I’ve had to acquire this year), rarely accessing the health insurance we’ve been paying into for so many years — touch wood! So there isn’t much news to share.

Or maybe there is …

We learnt new things this past year, found new questions, gained new insights into relationships and into living a full life. We enjoy many blessings, right in our own home and community, even in the hardships. Once again we learnt that it’s not what happens to us that brings blessing or curse, but how we live what happens to us:

  • Ordinary days in our prairie towns (Humboldt and Watrous) burst with extraordinary little rays of light and joy, of love and of mercy. The abiding faithfulness of friends is nourishing food for the soul. New friends keep sprouting from the stubble of prairie fields, each one bearing gifts of vision and compassion, of invitations into new discoveries and into exploring different worlds.
  • On the other hand, our quiet community was rocked to the core last April by the Humboldt Broncos bus crash. Shock and grief have never been so close to home, never been so deep and so widespread, galvanizing the attention of the world. But even in the darkness of that tragedy, blessings were hiding: see Grieving in Community and April in Labour. For the first time I preached on empty, only to nd discover that tears in the pulpit sometimes preach more effectively than words.
  • We learnt that discord with loved ones, whether friends or family, is best lived as an invitation to look inside — how have we contributed to the breakdown? The resulting honesty, vulnerability and humility can then turn into a healing blessing. Own up, fess up, repair it — these virtues are keepers. Or when unjustly accused or treated, draw the boundaries firmer and forgive; don’t let anger poison your heart.
  • Just because it’s legal, doesn’t make it moral, ethical or desirable. We’re keeping our fingers crossed about legal pot, and other questionable practices. The best (and healthiest) highs come through healing hurts, cultivating a curious and open mind, and from seeking meaning and purpose in all things every day, good and bad, ugly and beautiful.
  • In our age of fake news and the crumbling of old certainties Pilate’s ancient question, “what is truth?” is ever so relevant again. Even the Church is not spared this piercing question as it grapples with massive loss of members, credibility, and revelations of abuse. What if truth resides in the quality of relationship — to life, to this planet, to one another? I’m trying this out for awhile.
  • Electing our new Indigenous bishop Chris was a great experience; his arrival as a messenger of reconciliation and a bridge-builder bodes very promising for our Anglican diocese and beyond.
  • Living below one’s means creates a freedom the world truly cannot give. It’s oddly easy to stay clear of the traps of over-spending and consuming when it’s an attitude/perspective fostered over a life-time, not to mention the light ecological footprint and the effect on the wallet. It does lead to an odd problem, though: we don’t create enough garbage or recycling materials to fill the bins we pay the city for! But we admit, it takes all kinds: the economy would be in even worse shape if it depended on frugal spenders such as us!
  • Being a country priest with a dedicated band of Anglicans and Lutherans is all and more than I had imagined, and Catholics are coming along for the ride. Weekly Eucharist and preaching, ecumenical studies and worship, baptisms and funerals (no weddings yet), hosting weekly (free!) summer BBQ suppers for the town, pastoral care and counseling — a rich spiritual harvest. Good energy among parishioners, renovating the church hall, planning for great things in the new year.
  • Not everything was roses. The murder of our cousin Kim’s husband shook us all to the core. No amount of tears can hold the sorrow and loss.
  • Our God-daughter Josephine married Brody this past summer, inviting me to preach holy words at their celebration. Blessings of joy galore and a great wedding party on the farm.
  • Jim is still helping Rachelle with the seed business, but managing a slower pace while mentoring his young, energetic and passionate successor. Some of our kids have discovered a new role for their night-owl Dad: they phone him on late nights, sometimes  to be accompanied on long drives.
  • I saw signs of limits to inclusiveness; some call them boundaries, others call them barriers. Why does including some often seem to happen at the exclusion of others? There’s got to be a better way.
  • Year-round exercise of choice: lane swimming. I’m the slowest swimmer in the pool, so every 20 lapse feels victorious, rewarded with time in the hot tub!
  • Two weeks in Israel with my bishop and clergy colleagues was a true gift — walking where Jesus walked, getting to know my colleagues better (a glass of wine in a warm climate does wonders!), and growing a disturbing realization of the plight of our Christian sisters and brothers: The Not-So-Holy Land.
  • Even with my Sunday church duties, Jim and I enjoyed a record number of four Christmas concerts in one weekend, each one outstanding. What a talent on the prairies!
  • My first meeting with the national Anglican-Roman Catholic Dialogue of Canada (ARC Canada) in Ottawa was substantial, inspiring and so much fun, including a surprising renewal of old friendships. Working for Christian Unity continues to be my passion, integral to my ministry and my vision of church.
  • The best bread in town is still the one kneaded with my own hands, with flour milled from Jim’s home-grown grains, and coming out of my own oven — oh, that smell … it’s the one foolproof baking I can muster.
  • Praying for others is powerful and rich, esp. when writing down the daily intentions and mentioning others by name. Pray for people far and near, for victims of disasters and violence of all kind, and for friends and family struggling with too much, helps keep helplessness and despair at bay. Praying for others grows our heart softer, bigger and more compassionate, fostering real-time connections, collapsing all distance.

We are painfully aware that life delivers too many blows to too many people, stretching to the breaking point one’s capacity to see and savour blessings. In this year’s season of Advent waiting in hope, we have learnt of a suicide, a stripping of job and reputation, legal challenges in a custody case with devastating effects on the children, a tumbling back into alcohol and drug abuse after a 10+ year sobriety, betrayal by church leaders, painful diminishment in aging, terminal diagnoses, all within our own circle of love. Not to speak of the horrors millions face daily across the globe. Life is fragile, vulnerable as we all are to unexpected and unmerited chaos and disaster. And yet, as I wrote in my previous blog post, we need a vision to inspire us, to motivate going on living. The birth of Jesus still gives us this vision.

As we celebrate Christmas this year, we hold in our hearts and minds both the pain of the world and the vision of God in Jesus. In the birth of Jesus God became one of us – that is the most radical and most beautiful gift the world has ever received, no matter how much the Church has tainted this message with its own sinfulness. Divinity came among us as a tiny, helpless baby for whom there was no room anywhere. Born to a young teenage virgin and a dedicated foster father forced to take his little family to Egypt to protect the child from brutal murder — not unlike millions of refugees on the run today. A teenage mother, an outcast from birth, a refugee in infancy – that is our God, throwing in his lot with all the scrawny and needy ones among us.

This is the vision going with us into 2019. This vision is our prayer and our wish for us all. Ready for Christmas? You betcha!

Marie-Louise and Jim

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Transformed Lives

In the past few weeks I have been following the discussions between the Vatican and the German Bishops’ Conference on Eucharistic hospitality towards interchurch couples. This question concerns me quite directly as I am Anglican and my husband is Roman Catholic.  Bishops, cardinals and theologians spend endless hours, months and years debating whether or not to open the table of the Lord to Christians not in communion with Rome, but whose baptism is nevertheless recognized by Rome. Jim and I are united in two sacraments: baptism and marriage. But the Church separates us at the table of the Eucharist. This cuts deep, undermining the integrity and ecclesial value of our marital union.

I have profound respect and affection for the Eucharist. Participating in the Eucharist, consuming the Body and Blood of Jesus has been pivotal in my own faith formation. The centrality of the Eucharist has continued in my new Anglican discipleship. But from this Anglican perch, I am becoming more and more puzzled and saddened at the sacramental antics in Rome. It seems that for Rome institutional communion trumps unity in faith and in Christ Jesus. It also seems that the table of the Lord is being treated as the table of the Church. Finally, it seems that a medieval philosophical category (transubstantiation) trumps transformed hearts and minds.

I don’t in any way intend to be disrespectful, but my deep love for the Eucharist and for the church prompt some serious questions. Is Jesus more fully present in a Catholic Mass than in an Anglican Eucharist or Lutheran service of Holy Communion? When I moved into the Anglican tradition, one faithful Catholic lamented that I was leaving the “Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist.” This betrays not only a lack of ecumenical knowledge, particularly about the Eucharist, but also a limited understanding of Christ’s Real Presence. I moved so as to grow more fully into Christ’s Real Presence in the world and in the church by living out the priestly vocation God had placed in my heart (despite my objections, I may add).

If the Roman Catholic sacrament of the Eucharist is truly superior to anyone else’s celebration of the same, then why does this not show in a multitude of changed lives on fire with Jesus? Does the transubstantiation of hearts not take priority over the philosophical minutiae over how the bread and wine are changed into the Body and Blood of Jesus? *

I know the theological and ecclesial arguments well: it has to do with validity of Holy Orders, Apostolic Succession and visible ecclesial unity. But each of these terms suffers from a constraining definition, as Avery Cardinal Dulles pointed out so succinctly in his seminal work Models of the Church.

In a 1993 letter to a Lutheran bishop, Joseph Ratzinger wrote: If the actions of Lutheran pastors can be described by Catholics as “sacred actions” that “can truly engender a life of grace,” if communities served by such ministers give “access to that communion in which is salvation,” and if at a Eucharist at which a Lutheran pastor presides is to be found “the salvation-granting presence of the Lord,” then Lutheran churches cannot be said simply to lack the ministry given to the church by Christ and the Spirit.

Holy Communion is meant to change us, Pope Francis said recently. Echoing St. Augustine he stated: Christ gives himself to us both in the Word and in the Sacrament of the altar, to conform us to him. This means to allow oneself to be changed as we receive. Just as the bread and wine are converted into the Body and Blood of Christ, those who receive them with faith are transformed into a living Eucharist. You become the Body of Christ. This is beautiful, very beautiful. … We become what we receive!

How beautiful indeed and how powerful if this was really happening! In fact, we invoke the Holy Spirit upon us God’s people to effect this transubstantiation in our own lives as part of every Eucharistic Prayer. Instead, a Catholic Mass can be as mediocre as any celebration of the Lord’s Supper in another church. Worse even, studies have been done on why Catholics arrive in church late and leave early.

I have been at many a Eucharistic celebration in Anglican and Lutheran churches, and now preside at the same in both. Never have I seen people leave before the end of the service. Moreover, every hymn gets its full verses sung as an expression of praise rather than only a couple of verses serving as “traveling music” for the priest. There is a gusto and an engagement in these services that I wish more of in a Catholic Eucharist. If the Catholic Eucharistic sacrament is somehow more whole, more authentic, then why does this not find expression in all who receive the true Body and Blood of Jesus in radical lives of service to others, simplicity of lifestyle, outreach to the poor, and advocates of justice for the oppressed?

It would behoove us all to sprinkle our private and institutional judgments of one another with a good dose of humility and self-examination, especially when it comes to the Eucharist. The Gospels are embarrassingly candid about how little the disciples actually understood Jesus during his ministry. None of us, not even a Pope, should place higher demands on one another than Jesus ever did for those who broke bread with him.

Clearly, none of us fully grasp the meaning of Christ`s sacrifice any more than the first disciples did. And none of us can add anything to our worthiness in receiving Christ’s sacred Body and Blood in the Eucharist than what Christ has accomplished in his suffering and death for us. In fact, the seventh century mystic St. Isaac of Nineveh is quoted as saying, ‘Did not our Lord share his table with tax collectors and harlots? So then — do not distinguish between the worthy and unworthy. All must be equal in your eyes to love and to serve.

What would happen if the validity of the Eucharist was determined by “discerning the Body” (1 Cor. 11:27-29) and measured by transformed lives instead of institutional membership?

  • I highly recommend Gabriel Daly’s paper Eucharist: Doing the Truth with Christian Faith
  • Excerpts from a summary of the RC position on Eucharistic sharing:
    The norms published by the Diocese of Rockville Centre, New York, in 1999 stated, “Episcopalians and Lutherans can be presumed to believe in the real presence. For members of other communions there may be need for some further discussion concerning their belief in the Eucharist.”
    At the same time, the 2008 guidelines of the Diocese of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, said, “the Church does not require other Christians to have more knowledge of the sacrament or more faith and holiness than the Catholic faithful have. This principle is particularly pertinent in applying terms of the law that speak of the other Christian ‘manifesting Catholic faith’ in the sacrament, having the ‘proper disposition’ and being in ‘spiritual need.’”
  • The final reporting on the meeting between the German bishops and the Vatican can be found here. Interesting to note that Pope Francis did not give the bishops a final answer, but sent them home with — work it out, boys.
  • Update May 12, 2018. Cardinal Willem Eijk from the Netherlands (my country of origin) has unleashed a sharp critique on Pope Francis about the matter. Dutch friends have been sending me responses appearing in Dutch publications, fiercely criticizing the cardinal, summed up in: dear Cardinal, close the book and open your heart.
  • Update May 28, 2018: This interview with Archbishop Charles Chaput is well worth reading and pondering for both Roman Catholics, Anglicans and Protestants alike. Again it raises the question: what is non-negotiable in ecclesial unity and what is acceptable diversity? Rome approved the Eucharistic Prayer of the Armenian Church which does not have an Institution narrative or consecration of elements. What will it take for Rome to accept the Eucharistic prayer of other Christian traditions?
  • Update June 4, 2018: Pope Francis seems to claw back his command to the German Bishops Conference’s to “work it out.”
  • Update June 12, 2018: RC German Bishop Gerhard Feige of Magdeburg responds to Pope Francis’ most recent decree.
  • An interesting article sharing the story of a Lutheran-Catholic couple in Germany.

And the beat goes on …

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Examining Difference

We have 80% agreement, the article states, between the two churches that both claim a Catholic identity. Anglicans and Roman Catholics are indeed so very close in liturgy and prayer, Scripture and Gospel discipleship, sacramental practice and spirituality, the historic three-fold order of bishop–priest–deacon, Mary and the Saints. Truly close siblings holding each other in deep affectionate regard. Then comes Bishop Linda Nicholls’ question: “If we’ve come to so much agreement … why is it we’ve arrived in such different places?” Why indeed … ???

In this question lies the enigma that is the Anglican Church to Roman Catholics. Now that I am swimming in Anglican ecclesial waters, some answers to Bishop Nicholls’ question are slowly floating to the surface. In his book The Anglican Moral Choice Paul Elmen formulates the difference as follows: The Roman Catholic view in general seems to be that a principle must be affirmed without exception; and that thereafter exceptions can be dealt with, without modifying the principle. The view natural to the (Anglican) mind is rather that a principle must be framed in such a way as to include all allowable exceptions. It follows inevitably that the Roman (Catholic) Church must profess to be fixed, while the Anglican Church must profess to take account of changed conditions. The (Roman Catholic) Church thereby conceives of and treats human nature in vastly different ways than the Anglican tradition, and that difference goes deep. (pg. 118, 1983)

In other words, the Roman Catholic point of departure leans more towards a legal authority model that allows exceptions in pastoral situations. The Anglicans acknowledge the grey and ambiguous spheres of life upfront, motivated by a deep concern to make room for every possible situation people of good will with a sincere desire for God may find themselves.

I appreciate the RC Church position. We need clear moral and spiritual markers to help develop our conscience and guide our life choices.  Like a good mother, Rome indeed strives to guide her children in upright and moral goodness. But I also appreciate the Anglican instinct of radical hospitality, the kind Jesus extended so freely in ways that scandalized the religious establishment of his day.

There is a real danger in an overly firm grip on the legal side of things. Once we become grown adults in faith, with capable and critical minds, life itself teaches us that we cannot always apply neat legal categories of right and wrong. The more we live, the more grey appears (despite our colourful experiences). This is where Anglican discipleship shows greater hospitality. While the Anglican approach can be criticized for its apparent inconsistencies, the Roman Church gets criticized for its inability to accommodate those same inconsistent and grey areas of life.

The Comments section of a recent NCR article included the following by a Catholic reader: To be fair, as much as I admire Anglicanism, the subject of homosexuality has long vexed the world-wide Anglican Communion, with some member bodies supportive of LGTB people and others, like the church in Africa, being solidly against. But that’s what I admire about Anglicanism: it’s messiness. They at least are willing to air out arguments in the light of day with considerable lay input. Within Catholicism it’s trickle-down all the way, and nothing ever sees the light of day.

While criticism can be swift over the Anglican storm around homosexuality and same-sex marriage, Catholicism has its own challenges when it comes to moral teaching and practice. The Church’s official teaching against artificial birth control has failed to persuade many married Catholics. As much as it tries to remedy and show contrition, the clergy sexual abuse continues to deliver serious blows to Roman Catholic moral credibility. Moreover, the Catholic Church is struggling mightily with how to welcome its gay and lesbian members.

Both moral approaches come with merits and risks. While the Anglican position risks allowing too much latitude (fueled by a radical trust that God will sort it all out in the end), the Roman position risks stifling pastoral accommodation, thereby alienating those whose lives do not neatly fit the legal ecclesial boxes. A superficial understanding of the Anglican position can lead to the notion that it stands for nothing, thereby completely missing its profound and robust relational and incarnational ethos. Roman Catholics can be criticized for trying to squeeze life’s ambiguities into a greater rigidity than life itself can tolerate, thereby ignoring its noble commitment to moral guidance.

Anglican ecclesiology and polity can look incredibly attractive, fueled by the Christian ideal of communion. But I do wonder if this makes Anglican spirituality and praxis an adult-church, “X-rated” so to speak. In other words, the Anglican tradition is not for children or the faint-hearted. A mature faith is required, an ability to engage in thoughtful dialogue without fear, reserving rash judgments and legalistic categories. However, I don’t think it was an Anglican who said recently: “Who am I to judge?

In one of his columns, Ron Rolheiser wrote: “What’s needed today is not less freedom but more maturity. We don’t need to roll back freedom in the name of God and morality: we need to raise the level of our maturity to match the level of our freedom. Simply put, we are often too immature to carry properly the great gift of freedom that God has given us. The answer to that is not to denigrate freedom in the name of God and morality, but to invite a deeper maturity so as to more properly honour the great gift that we have been given.” (May 21, 2006)

In light of Rolheiser’s words, it seems that both traditions need to be accountable to the other. Only in this tension of mutual accountability can the fruits of our witness mature in our common pilgrim journey in Gospel faithfulness.

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Ordination Musings

I cannot help but share some musings on this coming Pentecost Sunday when I will be ordained a deacon in the Anglican Church (priesthood in late fall). This has been a long journey, some 25 years! But I would not have traded it for anything. Because through all the seasons of faithful and at times painful obedience, of death and newness of life, I have grown a solid relationship with God through Jesus Christ – oh happy fault. It is this intimate faith relationship that has helped me say ‘YES’ to God over and over again:

[Our] ‘yes’ to life may initially be a passive ‘yes’, born of lassitude and of regrets, but it can eventually become a ‘yes’ of openness, of acceptance, a ‘yes’ of joy. This ‘yes’ to life, which springs from the deepest part of us, is not a naïve or idealistic ‘yes’’; it is not saying yes to a dream or illusion. It is a ‘yes’ to our deepest self, a ‘yes’ to our past, to our body, to our family, a ‘yes’ to our inner storms, our winters, our pain; a ‘yes’ also to the beauty of life, to sunshine, to fresh air, to running water, to children’s faces, to the song of birds. It is the ‘yes, to our destiny and our growth. It is the ‘yes’ to our own true beauty, even if, at certain times, we cannot see it.  ~ Jean Vanier

It is mightily unsettling for a faithful Roman Catholic woman to encounter a deep intimate call to preaching and to priestly ministry. For a long time I made heroic efforts to talk myself out of it, dancing circles around it in persistent and creative ways – lay ministry is a valid contribution to the church (I still believe that), I had simply been among the Lutherans (and Anglicans) too long for my own good, I was not at the seminary for political reasons (e.g. advancing the cause for women’s ordination in the RC church) but to obtain a post-graduate degree in Pastoral Counselling etc. etc. Every lame explanation concealed my heart’s cry, echoing Jeremiah: do not call me, O God, I am only a Roman Catholic woman. Believe it or not, but for too long I placed ecclesial belonging before God’s will, even though fullness of life lie waiting in the embracing of the priestly vocation.

No surprise then that none of my escape efforts, or the labels I attempted to give my inner experience,  or the feedback from the faith community, or the response I tried to give God, succeeded in fulfilling the desire inside; in spite of that I soldiered on claiming a “call within a call,” i.e. to live an ordained calling/reality in a non-ordained capacity in the RC church for prophetic reasons; it was noble and took courage grounded in prayer.

A dozen years ago I stepped back from my RC involvements to enter an intense love affair with the Anglican tradition, in the hope of finding a new church home and to fulfill my calling. However, while the call to ordained ministry enjoyed strong affirmation, the denominational transition did not. In my heart of hearts I simply could not transfer with the integrity both the Anglican tradition and myself deserved. So after a 1 ½ year discernment period I re-entered RC professional ministry, hoping against all hope that there was more that God needed me to live as a Roman Catholic woman in ministry, however challenging that would be. But God indeed is faithful. Sure enough, there was more …

Yet even in the six years of rewarding pastoral ministry in a large RC parish, ecumenical engagement remained my primary nourishing and affirming faith community. I contended myself with a wide range of ministry opportunities from preaching in Protestant churches to offering retreats at a RC retreat center. And I enjoyed some extremely respectful and supportive friendships with Catholic priests and bishops with whom I worked well and could share details of my inner priestly landscape.

Despite a wide range of ministry opportunities, which afforded much joy and satisfaction, the priestly nature of the call continued to assert itself. Consciously grounding my ministry in the priestly charism, a charism which grew stubbornly in my heart in near-desert conditions, directly increased my capacity to love all people, to serve all people, to offer wise, patient and compassionate counsel to those in need. I derived a deep and abiding joy from my ministry which, while not sacramental in the traditional sense, nevertheless provided profound sacramental moments and dynamics.

The priestly charism served as a guiding light, providing rich soil for my personal prayer life; it provided the locus of meaning and purpose as I reflected on, prayed with and interpreted my ministerial experiences; finally, the faith community always managed to recognize, call forth and affirm the priestly nature of my being. I discovered the ontological nature of this sacred calling and that I could live it creatively even in a non-ordained capacity.

While settling into this reality as permanent, God was clearly not finished with me yet. A few years ago, I gladly accepted to lead worship and preach in my local Anglican parish (to which I remained very close since that first Anglican courtship) when its priest retired. My heart leaped for joy and lo and behold, the deep desire for ordination, to preside at the Eucharist and celebrate the sacraments, once again rose to the surface like cream on fresh milk. Its perennial newness and depth, beauty and intensity caught me off guard, revealing a sweet authenticating power pressed from the many years of cross and resurrection this calling had challenged me to embrace.

Ten years had passed since that first Anglican love-affair; I was now in a different place spiritually, emotionally and psychologically, with a lot more pastoral and ecumenical experience under my belt. This time God and my own heart released me; I fell into an unreserved yes with such fullness and joy, the likes of which I had not tasted since I uttered the “yes” to my spouse some 38 years previously. The joy, peace and clarity moved in swiftly, communicating an unmistakable affirmation and blessing.

I am discovering that nothing is wasted for our God whose love and guidance is steadfast and reliable, provided we keep our hearts open and soft to God’s merciful touch. But a priestly calling is never intended for the person nor for personal holiness; it is instead intended to serve the faith community. I have been acutely aware of this constitutive aspect of my vocational experience, and thus suffered from the withholding of that ecclesial blessing despite the manifold surprising ministry opportunities I have enjoyed over those same years. So to now receive the much longed-for ecclesial recognition of this vocation is overwhelming beyond words.

Moreover, I am profoundly grateful for my new ecclesial home in the Anglican tradition while I continue to cherish deep affection and healthy relational ties with my Roman Catholic faith family, my ecclesial birth home. The Anglican tradition has ample room for my Catholic heart and for my Protestant leanings. The Anglican expression of Christian discipleship has gifts and challenges that I need in my spiritual walk at this time. At the same time, I come bearing gifts of my own along with a willingness to serve the Body of Christ in the Anglican church family as well as continue to give my best efforts to the quest for UNITY in this same Body of Christ, the church universal.

DeaconMLT4

Finally, I am immensely grateful to our local ecumenical Women-in-Ministry group. This group of valiant women are faithful servants of Christ who serve in a variety of ministry roles across a wide denominational spectrum. Their friendship and support, their joyful witness and disarming capacity for mingling both sad and happy tears have been a source of soul-food, joy and inspiration to me. I am amazed that we are in our tenth year monthly lunches! Many friendships and professional partnerings have had their genesis in that small dining room at Queen’s House. And it doesn’t look like the lunches will cease anytime soon!

 

Diaconate_1And so my soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour.

For God has looked upon this lowly servant
and called me blessed.

(adapted, Luke 1:46-48)

For more photos of the ordination, go to my Facebook Page

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Mysterium Tremendum

It’s that time again — musing about Eucharist, ordination and church. After all, my own ordination to the diaconate is approaching. It has been a long journey to this time and place; a deep joy and fullness is overtaking my heart. At the same time, I find my heart super-sensitive to critical comments. I was stung by one recently that went something like this:

A friend cited two reasons for not taking communion in an Anglican church. First he highly doubted whether Anglicans really believe in transubstantiation, i.e. that they truly believe to receive the actual body and blood of Christ. Second, he feels that he cannot receive in a church that is not “in communion” with Rome.

I replied by referring to the substantial agreement on the Eucharist that exists between Roman Catholics and Anglicans. The following excerpt is taken from one of these agreements: “We believe that it is of utmost importance for the clergy and laity of our two Churches to acknowledge their substantial identity in the area of Eucharistic doctrine, and to build upon it as they go forward in dialogue. Whatever doctrinal disagreements may remain between our Churches, the understanding of the sacrificial nature of the Eucharist is not among them.”

“I’m not interested in ecumenical documents,” my friend fired back. “I’m interested in the actual beliefs of the people. A lot of Anglicans don’t even think it is a Mass. And the idea that the Mass is a sacrifice is not one of the key elements of Eucharistic theology as far as I am concerned. You either believe in transubstantiation or you don’t. And the Anglican church, as a whole, does not. Individuals within it do. That’s not a position that makes any logical sense as a basis for inter-communion.”

The exchange stung, piercing the bone of my heart. The above comments cut to the heart of my own experience of and faith in the Eucharist as well as my 25-year journey with a priestly calling. In less than eight months, I will be presiding at the Eucharist as a priest in the Anglican Church, pronouncing the sacred words in the community of faith: “This is my body, my blood.” I continue to cherish my Catholic faith, especially in the Eucharist.

First of all the argument about being “in communion” with Rome. While respecting the RC position on this, I also know there is no Scriptural foundation for the ecclesial communion concept the way it is applied to receiving the Eucharist in one another’s churches. I know that Rome consistently holds that unity at the Eucharistic table can only arise as a result of ecclesial unity. But that does beg the question: how do we know that we have achieved enough unity to share the table of the Lord? And who gets to determine this? We now have some substantial and significant ecumenical agreements between Roman Catholics, Orthodox, Anglicans and Lutherans that clearly state that the current differences no longer need to be church dividing.

Moreover, the Gospels portray Jesus as sharing himself indiscriminately with all types of people, regardless of criteria for full communion. It is Pope Francis who insists that we trust the unifying and healing power of the Eucharist as a “powerful medicine for the weak.” So continuing to limit access to this unifying and powerful medicine in one another’s churches seems to set up a contradictory logic. The Eucharist is Jesus’ banquet of complete self-giving; he is the host, the church is merely its servant.

The fact that some Anglicans deny the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist does not make it official Anglican theology nor is it an exclusively Anglican phenomenon. Roman Catholic theology holds fast to the same understanding of Real Presence in the Eucharist, yet some Catholics are sharing the same doubt and ignorance that my friend is so quick to place at the feet of my Anglican sisters and brothers. Is Jesus really more fully present in a Roman Catholic Eucharist than in an Anglican one? Both traditions cite the literal Words of Institution within Eucharistic Prayers that bear close family resemblance. Rather than argue about which Eucharist has more of |Jesus, should we not be more concerned with “reverse transubstantiation” as Kelly Pigott explores so poignantly in an article with a rather misleading title?

And what role does the faith of the communicant play in grasping this concept of Real Eucharistic Presence? The Anglican reverence for the individual’s capacity of faith allows for the person to appropriate the Eucharistic mystery of Real Presence in whatever way they can. This comes through in lovely language in the prayer that accompanies the distribution of Holy Communion from the Book of Common Prayer:

The Body of our Lord Jesus Christ, which was given for thee, preserve thy body and soul unto everlasting life. Take and eat this in remembrance that Christ died for thee, and feed on him in thy heart by faith, with thanksgiving. The Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, which was shed for thee, preserve thy body and soul unto everlasting life. Drink this in remembrance that Christ’s Blood was shed for thee, and be thankful. (Order for Holy Communion, Book of Common Prayer)

In her seminal work The Interior Castle St. Teresa of Avila said: Let us look at our own shortcomings and leave other people’s alone; for those who live carefully ordered lives are apt to be shocked at everything and we might well learn very important lessons from the persons who shock us. Our outward comportment and behaviour may be better than theirs, but this, though good, is not the most important thing: there is no reason why we should expect everyone else to travel by our own road, and we should not attempt to point them to the spiritual path when perhaps we do not know what it is. Even with these desires that God gives us to help others, we may make many mistakes, and thus it is better to attempt to … try to live ever in silence and in hope, and the Lord will take care of His own.

Do any of us really and fully grasp Jesus Christ’s self-giving to the point of death? I do not expect to ever fully exhaust the meaning of this profound mystery. Growing into Anglican spirituality is fostering within me a deeper humility along with a greater reticence to pass judgment on how others understand and live their Christian faith. Some will call this wishy-washy and “Anglican fudge.” But maybe one person’s maturing in faith only looks wishy-washy to those who feel overly secure in their own convictions. When all is said and done, I can only stand humbly before a mysterium tremendum.

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Anglican Echoes

Sometimes the best words come from elsewhere and there’s nothing to improve upon, only to reflect on their significance. So it is this morning. I invite you to join me in pondering the implications and potential for church unity of the following:

As reported in CruxNow on December 8, 2016:

In the interview with the Belgian weekly Tertio, released on Wednesday (Dec. 7, 2016), Pope Francis was asked about his attempts to “renew the Church” inspired by the Second Vatican Council. In his reply, the pope distinguished what he called the ‘synodal Church’, which he contrasted with a pyramidal, or top-down, model.

“The Church is born from the communities, the bases, baptism, and is organized around a bishop that convokes it, strengthens it,” he said. “The bishop is the successor of the apostles. This is the Church. But in the world, there are many bishops, many organized churches, and there’s Peter.”

Hence, he continued, there’s either a “pyramidal” Church, where “what Peter says what to do,” or a synodal Church, where “Peter is Peter but he accompanies the Churches and makes them grow.”

The richest experience of the latter, Francis said, were the two synod of bishops on the family, which took place in October 2014 and again in 2015. During them, he continued, all the bishops of the world, representing their dioceses, made their voices heard.

“From there we have ‘Amoris Laetitia,’” the pope said, referring to the apostolic exhortation he released earlier in the year, as the fruit of the synods.

The richness of nuances present there, he added, is part of the Church: “Unity in differences. This is synodality. Not to go down from top to bottom, but to listen to the Churches and harmonize them, discern.”

Everything which is present in this document, Francis continued, was approved in the synod by two thirds of the bishops, and this is a “guarantee.”

Synodality, the pope said, is something the Catholic Church still has to work on and not to be afraid to embrace, adding the Latin phrase that says that the churches are always with Peter and under Peter, cum petro et sub petro, make the pope the “guarantor of the unity of the Church.”

End quote …

I cannot help but recognize in the above words from Pope Francis strong echoes of the Anglican model of being church — a synodal model. Pope Francis acknowledges that the Roman Catholic Church has work to do to recover the spirit of synodality. Is it possible that, now more than ever, Rome seems ready to learn from Canterbury? In turn, with Pope Francis’ efforts to reclaim and recover the synodality of the Church, is it possible that Canterbury could become more amenable to embrace the bishop of Rome as the “guarantor of the unity of the Church”?

I am not claiming that the Anglican governance and authority structure of synodality is in any way superior or flawless. Both models will always fall short of their ideal since our fallen humanity prevents perfection on this side of heaven. I have reflected elsewhere on this blog about this very issue. But both models also need one another to remain healthy.

In any case, whenever we see signs of “rapprochement,” a growing appreciation and understanding between Christian traditions, we need to lift those up in gratitude and hope. And I’d like to think that this morning’s reporting was one of those signs.

(Photo: Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby blessing Pope Francis)

Update Dec. 20: An in-depth treatment of the above subject can be found in Richard Gaillardetz’ recent article here.

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