Tuesday, September 10, 2013

All Aboard the Emerging Church!

All Aboard: Everyone is Welcome!

For my birthday, I wanted to take the Salem Ferry to Boston and have lunch at Durgin Park. My wife and I did that. It was a fun day. As we gathered at the Dock we anxiously awaited the invitation of the boat staff; "All Aboard"

When I was a child, I loved vacations with the family. I particularly loved seeing those "Episcopal Church Welcomes You" signs wherever we went. Every time I saw one, it was as though God spoke a kind word in my heart. I felt as though God actually welcomed me. I took this whole religion thing very personally. It was for me the ecclesiastical equivalent of the welcome words dockside at a ferry boat; "All Aboard!"

But then I discovered along that way that it was going to be a real battle for the church to mean what it said, and to say what it meant. I've been a priest for over 40 years now and what a struggle it has been.

There was the business of race for instance.

When I went to seminary, we had to do battle for civil rights in this country. I lived and worked in Harlem to try and understand what was wrong with the soul of this country. I discovered that the problem was not in Harlem. It was in White America. I have spent the rest of my life trying to deal with that reality within me and within my church. We are still struggling with that. One of my classmates, previous to me by two years, paid the price of the struggle with his life. Jonathan Daniels took a bullet for a young black girl in Hayneville, Alabama during the Civil Rights Movement. Now it appears that we have to fight the whole battle all over again as America's signature stain on her shoul rears back it ugliness in so many ways.

There was the business of our common worship life.

We went on to make the Liturgy more accessible to the contemporary world, and this was especially difficult in a church hide bound by tradition. Many, many folks treasured the language of our Elizabethan liturgy and rightly so. It is a treasure. But most of our contemporary world speaks a very different English. And the proof of the pudding is that most of our churches celebrate the Eucharist in the contemporary idiom, while still reserving the traditional mass for the early service in most places. It is an accommodation that makes good sense. Still we lost many to schism during this difficult period.

Then there was the business of gender.

It became clear, in fact it became obvious to most of us that there really should be no distinction between us based on gender. In fact Paul made it clear that when we are in Christ we are a new creation and that "there is no longer Jew or Greek, male or female, slave or free" ~Galatians 3:28. This notion, as obvious and clear as it now seems, was a matter of great controversy to the church and again many left for more traditional congregations and denominations. When we elected our first woman bishop, Barbara Harris, it was just the icing on the cake for many, many more, and even to this day, many in the Anglican Communion still refuse a place at the altar for women.

And now more recently there is the matter of sexual orientation.

Then on the Feast Day of Pentecost in 2003, the Diocese of New Hampshire elected Gene Robinson as bishop, the first openly gay man to serve in that position anywhere in the Lutheran, Episcopal and Roman Catholic circle of faith. Mind you, there have been many gay folks serving as bishops and priests in all three but not so openly. All hell broke loose as many of you will know. The Anglican Communion was ripped apart in controversy. People threatened to kill Bishop Robinson. In fact he had to wear a bullet proof vest at his consecration. Christians can be hot headed about these things as others can be. It is no wonder to me why so many turn away from "organized religion". But we held to our position that the church is called to be inclusive.

We believe that when Jesus was among us, he went out of his way to include folks who had been specifically excluded from the Temple Precincts.
Excluded were Prostitutes, Tax Collectors, The Blind, The Maimed, Poor Beggars, and just plain fisherfolk. Eunuchs were also specifically excluded but Jesus specifically included them. You will no doubt remember that it was exactly to this crowd that Jesus reached out his loving arms. This got Jesus into lots of trouble. 

What sealed his fate then was his "Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem". He entered the Temple Precincts, saw the moneychangers and dealers in pigeons. In a rare demonstration of rage, he overturned their tables and said "My house shall be called a House of Prayer for ALL people, but you have made it a den of robbers."

In a few short days he hung upon a cross reaching out his arms of Love upon the cross so that everyone might come within the reach of his saving embrace. 

So why is this concept so difficult for so many Christians to understand? Why do Christians erect barriers along definitions of race, ethnicity, gender, class and orientation? Obviously there is much fear still of those who differ from "us" whoever we happen to be.

But it is my birthday. I have worked a lifetime on all of the above issues. I was born into this church; the Episcopal Church, and I feel blessed on my birthday to have been born into it.

We are becoming a "House of Prayer for ALL People". I am grateful too that there is an emerging church that no longer adheres to strict denominational lines but along the lines of Christ's all encompassing love of everyone.

It makes for a very Happy Birthday indeed.

Blessings to you all,
Fr. Paul


Barbara Foster said...


Blaine Rittenhouse said...

You area treasure. So glad you shared time with us.