Step by Step

With no less than three certificates declaring me a member of the Anglican Church now, it was very moving to be formally welcomed through the Rite of Reception in a beautiful celebration of the Easter Vigil – Christ is risen, alleluia!

So, you may ask — how am I doing in all this? Extremely well, thank you. This entire experience continues to be a fascinating school in spiritual lessons and especially, in discernment. The fruits of these lessons are God’s gracious gifts. Could it be that fruits such as these further authenticate the path now embarked upon? Could it be that such lessons can serve as markers in any situation, a way of assessing whether important life steps are truly being taken honestly and thoughtfully, with both personal and communal integrity? I’m sharing some of these lessons below, inviting you the reader to find parallels in your own ways of making life choices. This sharing is not an end in itself nor a way to draw attention to myself. Rather, my prayer and hope is that the sharing can help all of us develop healthy and wholesome pathways to fullness in Christ, which is the baptismal call of all God’s holy people.

I sensed the authenticity of this call into the Anglican family of faith from the moment this new beckoning began over one year ago; its time had truly come, it was for real, and it originated in God. That certainty never wavered – each day in this past year of preparation peace, clarity and joy were my constant companions. Even when faced with seeming “setbacks” or unexpected challenges this threesome provided an anchor, orienting me gently and surely to the learning and the growing here and now. There is a calm wholeness to the current move that was noticeably absent ten years ago when I first considered turning onto this Canterbury trail. God is so very good and full of surprises …

Honesty, intentionality and integrity are among the primary values I strive to live by. That is why the denominational transition did not proceed 10 years ago; I knew in my heart of hearts that proceeding then would have seriously lacked the personal and ecclesial integrity both I and the Anglican tradition deserved despite all my best efforts (and the support of many) in that intense love affair. I know others who have changed traditions out of frustration and anger; that did not sit right for me. I couldn’t ground such a switch in motives that were too mixed and utilitarian, in energy that was too negative, with too much unresolved ecclesial baggage tagging along like a stowaway. Even if no one notices on the outside, the fact is that I would know on the inside. And it would feel way too much like building my house on sand … Maybe that’s why I received three certificates — just to make sure the Anglican piece sticks this time … 🙂

For today is a different story. Don’t get me wrong though; the past ten years have been filled with rich ministry opportunities, both in RC and ecumenical circles, and I am deeply grateful for God’s faithfulness in all these years. But today is a new day, a new invitation. There is a distinct qualitative shift to the way the Anglican beckoning entered my life’s orbit this time: unexpected, unbidden and undeserved, yet playing intimately and skillfully the strings of my desire in ways calling forth the very best I can be for God and with God’s holy people. The beautiful gift of today’s undivided heart now makes possible a new capacity to embrace and surrender to whatever the future holds in peace, trust and joy.

Every Sunday, for two whole months before Easter, I made a 215 km round-trip to go to the mother church in this Anglican Diocese, St. John the Evangelist in Saskatoon, along with my sponsor. We joined other adults with their sponsors who were preparing for their final step in joining the Anglican Church (Confirmation in their case). After having coordinated RCIA in my years of RC pastoral ministry, it was interesting to now find myself on the other end of that process, and I am immensely grateful for the opportunity.

Every Sunday we began the Eucharistic service with the entire congregation until, after the homily, the priest would call us up, pray a blessing over us and dismiss us. We would then go to the adjacent parish hall where we would have our catechetical session for the day. We shared prayer, our lives, our questions and thoughts about how to grow more fully into our common baptismal calling as Christ’s disciples. We learnt about the distinct features of Anglican discipleship in the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church of Jesus.

I thoroughly appreciated this preparation process; it was exactly what my heart and spirit needed, making the journey towards formal reception in a spirit of community and prayer. On the outside it maybe looked tiny and insignificant, esp. for me who has studied and ministered so extensively in many church settings, both Roman Catholic and ecumenical. I discovered and experienced the gift of slow, the meaning and power of an incremental and ritual “yes” Sunday after Sunday. Each deliberate step into this yes deepened and strengthened my decision in a most inclusive both/and way, i.e. without denying any of what was before but bringing it along in a new configuration – how very Anglican. And each Sunday my joy, peace and clarity grew in depth and breadth, enabling me to make the Anglican tradition my new home. Ritual truly does deepen one’s experience.

Hard as it was, I fasted from receiving communion for the two months of preparation at the Cathedral along with the other group members. This made Holy Communion at the Easter Vigil extra special, almost as a “first communion” all over again. What a nourishing gift the Eucharist can be to famished souls and parched spirits. This awareness grew steadily in the weeks of Eucharistic fasting. Sometime in early March, I attended a Eucharist on a weekday. I had become acutely aware of my hunger for the Bread from Heaven; here was an opportunity to receive and I so desired to do so. Yet receiving would have broken my solidarity with the group and would undoubtedly have affected my experience of receiving Holy Communion at Easter. I struggled in the pew with my famished spirit; even when I went up to the communion rail I still didn’t know what I would end up doing. But then I knelt down, crossed my arms across my chest, received a blessing,  and thanked God for the depth of my Eucharistic hunger – what a beautiful gift this awareness is now.

On Good Friday I sought out the sacrament of Reconciliation (yes, Anglicans can do this and some in fact do!). It was an emotional experience to name and leave behind all the hurts of the past, all those I have hurt and to forgive those who have wronged me. It was an opportunity to check for unwelcome and unhealthy stowaways in heart-mind-spirit, and to seek God’s mercy in ridding myself of these. I even asked forgiveness for things that happened ten years ago which, I learnt recently, have sown distrust in some Anglicans about today’s denominational change because of memories of feeling used and betrayed by my transition struggle at that time. Through tears of repentance God’s mercy flowed generously, setting me free for this new leg on the journey.

And so, my joy was full and deep in that Easter Vigil, fueled not only by a renewal of faith in the risen Christ, not only by the gracious hospitality of the Cathedral parish, but also buoyed by the supportive presence of my RC spouse, my oldest son, members of my Anglican home parish who made the 215 km round-trip just for me, and several Roman Catholic friends. How important community is …

Each step savoured and cherished,
each word pondered and chosen to perfection.
No running and rushing, no tripping or regrets …
Slow motion in momentous choices
adding spice and reflection, depth and meaning
while sprinkling clarity and peace
in heart and mind.
Infusion of courage and patience
in a spirit trembling in fear and joy …

Each slow step affirming yes
falling into a future known
only by tomorrow
featuring glowing colours
of pregnant promises of life
ever green, ever fresh, ever new…

And so, in confidence and trust, I surrender to a future known only to God. That is okay, for surely it is God who saves me; I will trust and not be afraid. For the Lord is my stronghold and my sure defense, and he will be my Saviour. (Isaiah 12:1-2)

Prairie Encounters

For previous reflections pertaining to my experience of denominational transition, see the following blog entries:

A Time of Transition

Transition Continued

Transition: The Inside Story

Transition: The Outside Story

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Love – an Orientation

This past week the 38 Primates of the Anglican Communion met in Canterbury to engage in some controversial conversations. As a result of these painful deliberations some disciplinary “consequences” were meted out to The Episcopal Church (TEC) in the USA over its practice of sanctioning same-sex marriage without adequate consultation with the worldwide Anglican family.  This decision, along with a warning to other Anglican provinces considering a similar move (which includes the Anglican Church of Canada), is making blood boil on all sides.

When we feel chastised over something that is deeply woven into our personal and collective identities and lived reality, emotional fallout can easily blind us to Christ’s command of discipleship of love, mercy and compassion. In the midst of emotional storms it takes enormous willpower to resist our hurting heart’s desire to slide down the slopes of anger and frustration, to vilify enemies and to succumb to despair. Equally, if the stormy winds blow in our favour, making for our own smooth sailing, it takes enormous willpower to resist wallowing in smug self-righteousness and judgment, inadvertently dismissing the need for respect and dignity amidst conflict, thus blatantly betraying the need for compassion and solidarity with hurting sisters and brothers.

In the western world, we live in a socio-political cultural climate that now considers same-sex relationships as normal. Those who struggle to accept this are often considered homophobic and judgmental, deficient and grossly outdated. Such labeling can easily result in a reverse discrimination of sorts, as if relieved that the shoe’s on the other foot now. Is it still possible to engage in compassionate and respectful conversation on same-sex attraction and relationships without sliding into emotional mud-slinging or risking glib but unhelpful labels and judgments no matter what perspective is voiced?

The Anglican instinct of inclusiveness and embracing diversity is being tested severely at this time. Every denominational strength comes with its accompanying weakness. Yet it is that particular Anglican expression of discipleship that constitutes one of the Anglican gifts to the Christian family. As recently as a couple of months ago, Father Raneiro Cantalemessa, the Vatican’s papal preacher, pointed this out in his homily at the Church of England’s General Synod: The Anglican Church has a special role … . It has often defined itself as a “via media” (a Middle Way) between Roman Catholicism and Reformed Christianity. From being a “via media” in a static sense, it must now become more and more a via media in a dynamic sense, exercising an active function as a bridge between the Churches.

In the case of same-sex attraction and same-sex marriage discussions, the difference, for example, between Roman Catholic and Anglican conversations is that, while these discussions are taking place in both traditions, they occur of necessity below the radar in RC circles while they occur in the open in Anglican circles. However messy and chaotic, painful and challenging, I’d like to think there is something healthy about the open nature of such discussions.

There’s a popular quote that says, when the student is ready the teacher appears. I am in a season of spiritual learning that makes me open and deeply receptive to this Anglican inclusive and “middle” way. And so my new Anglican spirit prays fervently: can we in the Anglican expression of Christian discipleship, do better than parting ways, tolerating underground and unhealthy ecclesial discussions, or debasing ourselves by mutual mudslinging? Can we keep walking and talking together in love or will we succumb to society’s favourite sport of dismissing and labeling those who disagree with us, shutting them out of our lives? Can we foster together a spirit of mutual learning and correcting as part of our common call to holiness?

Just as none of us are innocent of sin, so none of us are outside of God’s mercy: I think we are people who, on the one hand, want to listen to Jesus, but on the other hand, at times, like to find a stick to beat others with, to condemn others. And Jesus has this message for us: mercy. I think — and I say it with humility — that this is the Lord’s most powerful message: mercy. ~ Pope Francis, March 17, 2013

Loving as Christ loves us is demanding and painful and sometimes distasteful. Dorothy Day, founder of the Catholic Worker movement, used to echo St. Teresa of Avila when she’d tell Jesus: “No wonder you have so few friends!” Yet Jesus loves each of us, sinful creatures who, by God’s crazy design, nevertheless walk around with God’s dream imprinted on our souls. Loving in Jesus’ name involves deep listening — why else do we have two ears and only one mouth? Divine loving requires living humbly and open-mindedly, patiently and graciously with everyone, but especially with those whose lives are most different from our own, never forgetting that “there for the grace of God go I.”

Back in August I wrote with great affection about my dear friend Jordan who became the new Moderator for the United Church of Canada (Holding Tension). I expressed my desire to be a bridge of reconciliation and healing, striving to grow my capacity to love. I am copying here some of those August words as we, in the Anglican Church of Canada, continue a most difficult conversation at General Synod this coming summer.

As a new Anglican, still green, I desire to take part however difficult that might be. I appreciate the weariness by many on both sides of the question and who feel that they have been discussing this “ad naseum.” Yet in a tradition that discerns over and moves in centuries, the conversation has barely begun. And it deserves the very best we can be for and with one another for the sake of the entire Christian family and for the sake of our beautiful yet broken world:

Love is an orientation, the foundational orientation: God is love, and those who live in love, live in God (1 John 4:16). Such is truth — a relationship of love: “Truth is a relationship. As such, each one of us receives the truth and expresses it from within, that is to say, according to one’s own circumstances, culture, and situation in life.” ~ Pope Francis

Whether we are right or wrong on the question of same-sex marriage, can we entrust this to our loving Creator and to the future? Each one of us receives the truth and expresses it from within, that is to say, according to one’s own circumstances, culture, and situation in life. Falling and rising, we can only do our best with what we have been given. And as far as being right or wrong: “Naming anything as prophetic is dangerous and fraught with the potential for hubris. The Spirit of God and time determine whether our acts are prophetic or corporate ego run awry.” (~ Sr. Janet Mock, LCWR 2015 Assembly)

Thanksgiving Collect for Primates 2016
January 17, 2016

Gracious God:
Your people found wisdom in the wilderness
and faced challenge in the promised land.
We give thanks for the many signs of your presence
with the leaders of your church
as they sought to discern your spirit
amid tension and conflict, humility and grace.
Sustain them as they return to their people;
renew them in mission and ministry;
comfort and encourage any who find themselves
hurt, disappointed or dismayed;
and restore the unity of your Spirit
in the bonds of our peace.
Through Christ our Lord.
Amen

Update February 8: Numerous commentaries can be found on the Primates’ Meeting by now, each revealing their ideological bent in how they perceived what happened. Among these I’ve selected one for my readers: Perspectives on the Primates Meeting

Prairie Encounters

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