The Anglican Communion not Empire, not Commonwealth, but a fellowship, and probably a historical accident.

The Archbishop of Canterbury has called a meeting of the Primates (the lead bishops) of the national and regional churches that together constitute the churches of the Anglican Communion. The agenda of this meeting will provide a context for rethinking the way in which Anglicans think of their "Communion" as well as the way others understand the Anglican Communion.  The meeting is widely understood to be an effort by the ABC to keep the Anglican Communion going in spite of the disintegration of full communion among its members. 

There have been many responses to this announcement, and in particular to the "meaning" of the meeting for the future of the Anglican Communion and the extension of an invitation for the Primate of The Anglican Church in North America to attend part of the meeting.

Two responses, one an article by Ruth Gledhill and the other a response by the GAFCON (Global Anglican Futures Conference) leadership are of particular importance.  Ruth Gledhill's article in Christian Today is about the best summary of the reason for the meeting from a CofE viewpoint. Read it HERE

The GAFCON statement makes it clear, from the viewpoint of those Primates that have broken communion with The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada, that they remain committed to the principle that they are unwilling to attend a meeting where The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada are in attendance.  The GAFCON statement can be read HERE.

Full attendance not likely.
There one point on which the proposed meeting is likely to fail to materialize as planned. 

The ABC is inviting the heads of all the Anglican Communion members (the list of such members being that promulgated as Anglican churches with which the Church of England is in full communion).  

That list does not include the full participation of The Anglican Church of North America, a church formed from a collection of clergy and people, some of whom left The Episcopal Church because its actions and theology had moved and they had not. Others in ACNA came from other parts of the communion and still others of earlier breakaway groups. The Archbishop of Canterbury's invitation to ACNA is for part of the meeting (which part is unspecified). This signals that ACNA is not a member church of the Anglican Communion by the ABC's standards, or at least that he stands by the niceties of the Anglican Communion as those churches in communion with the CofE. 

The Primate of ACNA knows that and takes his marching orders from GAFCON, the organization of Anglican Provinces that does recognize him, and does not recognize TEC or the Anglican Church of Canada.

The Primate of ACNA has stated that "If my fellow GAFCON Primates accept the invitation, and I am expecting that they will, then I have also pledged to attend."

ACNA then appears positive about going. But the statement from the Primate is an "If - then" statement.  "If GAFCON primates accept... then I accept." 

The GAFCON statement gives a less positive sort of response. 

"We are now a global family standing together to restore the Bible to the heart of the Anglican Communion with a strength and unity that comes from our common confession of the Lord Jesus Christ, not merely from historic institutional structures.

It is on this basis that the GAFCON Primates will prayerfully consider their response to the Archbishop of Canterbury’s letter. They recognize that the crisis in the Communion is not primarily a problem of relationships and cultural context, but of false teaching which continues without repentance or discipline.

Consistent with this position, they have previously advised the Archbishop of Canterbury that they would not attend any meeting at which The Episcopal Church of the United States or the Anglican Church of Canada were represented, nor would they attend any meeting from which the Anglican Church in North America was excluded."

The meeting invites (for a time) ACNA. It also includes (for the whole of the time) TEC and ACoC. Apparently the meeting fails the criteria for purity set down by GAFCON.  

Unless GAFCON leadership changes its tune, some eight or so primates will not attend, nor, if that is true, will ACNA.

Is such a meeting the proper venue for exploration of reunion or reconciliation?

Bringing ACNA into the meeting might well be an effort towards reconciliation, however the focus of such reconciliation rests with the churches where communion is already broken - namely TEC and ACoC, and possibly the Church of England itself - and the Churches aligned with GAFCON. This is not an agenda that can be handled within a Primates meeting. I believe the possibilities for reconciliation rest not at the top, but at the bottom, with local churches finding ways to relate across the divide and ways to reestablish trust.

Matters have already proceeded beyond disagreement among Primates. There are now two distinct communities of Anglican Churches where formerly there was one. Now the efforts towards reconciliation will have to be direct and differentiated: (i) efforts need to be initiated by two groups of churches in communion with Canterbury, but not with each other, an (ii) efforts need to be initiated between ACNA, not in communion with Canterbury and TEC and ACoC which are. Even on the level of provinces the front edge of ecumenical conversations will need to be below that of the heads of churches.

This meeting of the Primates will likely get caught up in thinking of models for the future - Federation, Communion, World Wide Church.  

That is a losing proposition and will be a thankless job, possibly costing Archbishop Welby his spiritual sanity, for most of the models are based on past experiences in the divisions that constitute the Church in modernity. It makes little difference if the churches are in the "first" world or the "developing" world, across cultures and across the world Christianity exists in the modern world of denominationalism and its models reflect denominational concerns for place and power. For the Primates, the question as to what sort of thing the Anglican Communion is to be will be filled with the subtexts of the power issues of the churches as they exist in modernity.

Giles Fraser, in a short and quite fine piece in the Guardian outlines outlines another possibility - that the church of the present and future is based on the  "hypertext church – connected horizontally," based on a model derived from the Internet, and not on hierarchical authority models. This of course will be far from the Primates minds since they are the prime examples (pardon the "prime" thing) of people who get to speak on matters of governance because they govern.  Fraser suggests that they can go ahead and govern as they will, the matter is already out of their hands. True interaction and governance will reflect practice, which is much more based on a neural network and less on a organizational chart. 

This is, of course bad news for episcopal churches (churches with bishops) because we have mostly forgotten any other way of thinking about ecclesial roles than in terms of hierarchy and power. But I believe that can be turned. 

I am an Episcopalian because I continue to believe that the fourth element in the Lambeth Quadrilateral - bishops whose roles are molded to local needs and times - is still of the essence of church. It has nothing to do with bishops as "princely powers." It has little to do with bishops as administrators. It mostly has to do with persons called by God and community to reflect with us on how the Holy Spirit works in our midst.  Bishops might be thought of as pastors or maybe guides, rather than as kings or queens.

In an Internet sort of way we would begin to sort out those who provide this guidance and their ordination would be by acclimation or recommendation or more importantly USE. 

I wrote in "The Challenge of Change: The Anglican Communion in the Post Modern Era," about 20 years ago now, that the Anglican Communion is an organic thing, and as such came into being (about 175 to 200 years ago) and will do its work and will eventually die. At least we can hope it will in its present state, die. 

The future does not belong to a church modeled on the British Commonwealth of Nations any more than a church modeled on the Roman Empire or one modeled on Greek City State ideas.  The future belongs, as does the present, to the church as neural network, with some really fine people emerging as guides while we work out how to be the church in place and for the time to come.

Will there be an Anglican Communion in the future? Yes, but not this one. This one is falling apart. The one to come may consist of people informed out of Anglican Churches by Anglicanism, churches who find their spiritual and social energies informed by the their predecessor church - the Church of England and its pastors and thinkers.  These churches may or may not get along with each other. They may not hold together as one in various jurisdictions. But their members will strive to be members of a way of being Christian, sort of a religious order, one called Anglican, and who we will recognize as cousins, sometimes twice removed.

It will be alright. Really alright.


Art as Participation in the Creation of the World.

(This was a talk given at St. Peter's, Lewes, Delaware, in their "Summer Spirituality Series" this year.)

August 27, 2015

“And he that sat upon the throne said, Behold, I make all things new.”  Revelation to John the Divine, 21:5

The spiritual life, to which art belongs and of which she is one of the mightiest elements, is a complicated but definite and easily definable movement forwards and upwards. This movement is the movement of experience. It may take different forms, but it holds at bottom to the same inner thought and purpose.”  Wassily Kandinsky, Concerning the Spiritual in Art.
What am I doing?

This is a meditation on participating with the Divine in making all things new. The shorthand for this is that Art is participation in the creation of the world, which means that you and I as artists are the divine creative energy made flesh, incarnate. This is of course a well known spiritual experience, one which is both empowering and potentially heretical in the extreme.
The basic idea is that in our participation in art we are participating in the remaking of the world, in the broadening of our world and our ability to connect to it, speak of it, live in it. Ancillary to this is that creativity in art is the work both of the artist, composer, musicians, painters, printers, cooks and so forth, AND the persons who listen, look, see, taste, and smell.  That is art is a participatory affair in which people of very different levels of artistic engagement create a new world, in which all things are made new, if only for a brief while.  In the process of making all things new we all have creative roles.
That being the case, what then of art as participation in creation, along with the creator of all, and the created, namely the world itself? What follows are some hints about the relation between the creator, the creative and the created.
A graphical rendition of the question

Note that I have placed Creator, Creative, and Created all in the same “sphere”, the world of actualized or realized “things.”  This is not about creation from nothing, but about creation from “stuff.”  It is all incarnational.
Biographical beginnings to what I have learned.
 I have been writing poetry for most of my life. Here is an early poem, from my mid teens – some sixty years ago:
“When I die,
the earth my bed,
I shall have acted once in life,
As if it were a retribution
For things unsaid.”

Not bad for a teenager… thoughts of death, of limitations, of overcoming those, of “getting even.” Just a touch of anger, a touch of hope. Good, maybe not great, but good.

My first efforts in writing poetry were related to two things: My seeming inability to speak clearly about, act definitively about, or even engage with out great awkwardness, in anything having to do with sexual feelings; and my distress at injustice and war making in the world.  I wrote essentially, about sex and politics, looking in both places for a new world, a new creation.  I still do.

More importantly, I discovered the world of music, musicians, artists, poets, street performers, shouting preachers, divine wackjobs… the workers making the new world. (It helped to be young in New Orleans.)  The thing is, it was not only contemporary poets, musicians and visual artists that were making this new world, it was also ancient artists as well, which made me believe that artists were “making all things new,” in part because you and I, so called “consumers” of art took it all in and informed our lives by that. So I began to answer the question, “When did you become an artist?” by saying, “as soon as I could reach into the words and pictures and experience new life in the making.” 

Observation I.  Participation in the arts by being present as receiver - seeing, hearing, touching, tasting, smelling, “getting”, gronking…. is itself participation in the creation of a new world.  Artistic endeavor then includes the appreciator as well as the maker, for it is art to experience the created as well as to create.  Creatives then include both artists and those who engage the art.


“A long time ago in China there were two friends, one who played the harp skillfully and one who listened skillfully. When the one played or sang about a mountain, the other would say: “I can see the mountain before us.” When the one played about water, the listener would exclaim “Here is the running stream!” But the listener fell sick and died. The first friend cut the strings of his harp and never played again. Since that time the cutting of harp strings has always been a sign of intimate friendship.” From Zen Flesh, Zen Bones,  collected by Paul Reps, Charles Tuttle Co, Rutland, Vermont.

I have been, if you will, an art consumer all my life. I have been engaged in presenting artistic “objects” – poems, songs, watercolors, prints – for most of my adult life.  I am convinced that Art, and my participation in it, make me (and you) creative partners with what we have come to think of as the Creator, and with the whole world, which we often think of as the created.

I agree with Marx: “The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways; the point is to change it.”  But don’t hang that on the philosophers alone. Much of the reaction to art is to see it as something to be understood, and see it as a way of interpreting the world. But I believe the object of art is to make the world new – that is, to change it.

So dumb as a post (as teenagers often are) I think I did hit on something… the payback for “the unsaid” is to speak, write, paint, print, whatever… the new, and to experience the new in the work of others.

Now to the meat of the matter:  I’ve several propositions, growing from recent work as a printmaker, poet, and preacher (gasp, even that). They are pretty simple and many of you already know them to be true, or worse, know them to be limited. I am accompanying them with images and poems. That’s it. This is my defense of the notion that art is a means of changing the world (or at least my world), and my defense in saying that we are the incarnation of the divine when we do so.

A Creation Poem:

Grass And Stars

Longing to be fecund
in Spirit and in Truth,
the Source of everything
surged and boiled over.

Ideas poured out onto the grass
took form,
and began the long dance
towards the present,

giving us the wilds of the Amazon,
the silence of permafrost,
the cities of the lost past
and more by chance, Chicago.

Verdant gardens and steamy nights
gave Way to logic, tight pants
and circumscribed thoughts.

If we must give thanks to God,
give thanks that nature’s complexities,
great as they are,
are not made Worse
by unbridled production
of lush ejaculations,
surprises of momentary excess.

For, in true fecundity
the unexpected outcomes
rapidly expand
with the madness of passion,
and one fine afternoon,
while on a country ride,
we might make a turn
and find a vista with two suns,
or the beasts of The Revelation
ready to destroy one in three.

Perhaps we might also see
a small band of beings,
like ourselves, but with wings
and faces that shine,
come to take us home
to newcreationville,

where cats finally speak out loud
of higher things,
and dogs of other dogs,

where no mystery is in the stars
that cannot be explained by any child.

Yet even there, love
will remain as arousing
as in the first,
or even this world

and deep green and damp
we will,
as did the original mind,
birth ourselves a new creation
between the grass and stars.
From SHARD, poems by Mark Harris, 2008, Preludium Press.

Four Women:

                                        Woman from the Sea, linocut 8 x 10 in, 2014

Woman, linocut 8 x 10 in, 2014

unknown woman, engraving, 2 x 3 in, 2015

Mary, from icon, linocut, 10x 12 in., 2014

These images are of unknown women, who are apparently part of my new creation. Two have the marks of holiness… the halo, two do not.   In creating these images, I am, of course, making things new. It is unclear how much is projection, how much is wish fulfillment, how much is just curiosity. But there they are: Four women.


When she smiles
white herons
lift into the night.

Two blue moons of Mars,
the golden shore,
the wild creatures
of the coastal plain,

all, all quiet:
we wait the sounds to come.

Observation:  Art is about waiting on, with, for what might call us, urging us forward to what is to come.
Creating the world to come…the “new world,” is no easy thing.  If we are caught up in making all things new, perhaps we might begin by listening to the sounds that come in what already is.
In this poem written sometime before 1980, I tried to be clear about waiting. Waiting for the creation itself to inform us of what we ought to create is participation in divine action, and is one of the practices of incarnation.
Image the Divine One, at the end of each day of creation, waiting to see what the created has to say about what ought to happen next.  Suppose creation was from the beginning a dialogue with what is not yet fully realized and what already is present.
A cautionary note: I speak as if my statements about art were definitive…they are not. Rather they are in a sense a “program” of my own choosing. They are statements about what I think art is about.


St. Martha, pissed,
3x5 in. linocut, 2014

“Jester,” monoprint, 12 x 18 in, 2015

Two images, both of real people, imagined. One Saint, Martha, whose grousing comment is remembered forever, the other an icon of a woman, or at least an androgynous, jester, whose features we have seen before.  In creating, even in making all things new, we drag the past with us, for nothing is forgotten.
Observation: Art, as creative of the new, is so in part because of the experience of what has been.  It is not that there is no new thing in art, but rather that all art builds on the whole of creation before, and all the reaction to it after, the creative action itself.  Art is finally experiential.
The poems I write (and I write mostly poems that are reports of reality viewed from a political or sensual side) are experientially grounded. They are (I hope) what Ed Sanders called “Investigative Poetry.”  The various visual works I have made find their grounding in images, quite often images of faces.  We look to faces as the first incarnational place where feelings, thoughts, fears, joys, hidden from words appear. As we are more skilled, of course, other body expressions expand on that, but the face is for me the first place of contact with unspoken fears and hopes.
Here are some more faces:

Norman, woodcut, 8 X 10 in. 2014

Jim, Woodcut, 10X12 in. 2015

Olrich, linocut, 10X12 in. 2015

Bonnie, Woodcut, 8 x 10 in., 2014

These are faces of people I know well.  What am I creating here? Images of reality, or of idealized reactions to what I experience in these people?  How much is my creation a product of knowing these people, and how much a product of their forming me and my images of them?  And is there a place for divine intervention in all this… where the Creator engages the artist, the subject of the artist’s interest, and the creative actions themselves?  The questions grow and grow, but I am convinced that these small efforts to scratch out an image and print that image are creative precisely to the extent that the subjects press me to work up the image to some end, some world made new.
An observation:  Art provides a context in which experiencing others becomes a window to a new creation.  The images here are a way of seeing again, and seeing in a new way both.
If you remember my early poems and efforts – sex and politics.  Sensual, sexual, engagement and its wonders are one thing. Political strife and engagement is another. They are windows.
Most of my thinking about political matters grows from living communally for many years and from my engagement with people in Haiti. No wonder then that my creative expression includes themes and questions that arise from those experiences.  Some images:
Yvan the Gardner, woodcut, 12 x 12 in., 2014

Sitting Bull, linocut 10 x 12 in, overlay on linocut background.   Gift to the Council of the Cheyenne River Reservation, Eagle Butte, SD.

His Eye, linocut, 6x8, with type, 2014

The Storm to Come, monoprint with linocut overlay, 12x18 in., 2015

From the beginning poem of Requiem for the Dictator (1992)
[Voice 3]

The death of the dictator
requires that We seek forgiveness
for suffering his rule of arbitrary might,
for not finding new calls
beyond his power,
beyond the President for Life.

[Voice 1]

Our first cry is that the mercy of God
and of his Son,
replace the mercy of the dictator
and his.

From The Octararo Anti-War Manifesto, in SHARD, (1980)

The body remembers love,
without arrogance or pride:
in the body’s streams and rivers,

small creeks and crevasses,

in its thousand hidden places,
in the curve of a shoulder,
in the way the hand spreads
and then grasps,
In the grasses
Below the now rounded belly,
in the tilt of the head,
in a glancing smile -
the body remembers.

The gaze and body
and the love are one.

I suppose
the smells of all the terror
are not to be compared
to the scent of grass
and clear streams
and the glance -
    grace on grace.

From Requiem for the Dictator. (1992)

I believe in only isolation
On Haiti’s southern coastal road.

I feel it,
jarring as the ruts,
delicate as the light on cane leaves
in the late afternoon.

Still, there is the hint of more,
of beauty seen in people
who suddenly appear beside the road -
not seen exactly, but sensed.

Around the edges of reason's limits,
and in the reach across
broad rivers of injustice,
and estrangement,

I see Wood nymphs,
satyrs, Pans,
in Haiti.

Raised on brambles, cactus, sisal,
African born,
borne on Haiti's body -
in them there is the beginning
of the new,
the promised Haiti,
the Republic yet to come.

Isolation,  woodcut, 10x12 in. 2015

The Dictator is not our Friend, woodcut, 10x12, 2014

Seminarian, linocut, 4x6 in. 2014

The Presidential Candidate becomes President, linocuts, 4x6 in, 2014

I see my creative activities as political, that is as building for a new creation as community. So in my poetry and printmaking both I work at images that suggest that from the experience of community arise hints for a new world, a new society. Some of the hints are cautionary:  The Dictator is not our Friend; The Storm of dictatorship can still come.  Some are celebratory: We can find community in places of isolation, our bodies remember the community of one and one.  Some are about having a sense of place and role in change. But again, the connection is between a sense that Creation has purpose or value, and that as creatives we enter into dialogue with the source of creation and with the created universe, always pushing “forwards and upwards.”
Observation: In Art, the good, the true and the beautiful are linked, and thus creatives engage in making the whole creation new.

And, not to put too fine a point on, we creatives are the incarnation of the Creator for our time and place. That is, we are the makers in fact of all things new, and if new, possibly most like the intent of the Creator in their newness.

The Observations:
  1. Participation in the arts by being present as receiver is itself participation in the creation of a new world.
  2. Art is about waiting on, with, for what might call us, urging us forward to what is to come.
  3. Art, as creative of the new, is so in part because of the experience of what has been.
  4. Art provides a context in which experiencing others becomes a window to a new creation.
  5. In Art, the good, the true, and the beautiful are linked, and thus creatives engage in making the whole creation new.


Shameless Commerce Division: Printmakers at Work

Very near the small town by the bay and the big water, aka Lewes, Delaware, there is another small town, Milton,  near the headwaters of the Broadkill River that runs down through the farm lands and marshes of Sussex County to the Bay.  

There the writer of this blog (Mark, myself) is engaged in exploring a new vocation, that of art printmaking, particularly using woodcuts and linocuts as a medium for expressionist work. This printmaking thing is becoming a vocation - and as it is with all vocations the call is tested against various realities, both communal and metaphysical. 

Somehow, as the printmaker, I have to get a sense that this is a calling and not a bit of extraneous fun (not that I am opposed to fun, extraneous or otherwise.) Still, the question of whether what I do has artistic merit, shows technical skill, etc, has to be judged by some larger community and indeed by some appeal to aesthetics. In many ways it it a journey not unlike the discernment to the vocation of priest, only without the .more obvious pitfalls of dogma. I have had pieces in several shows in the area and have been artist in residence at the National School of Arts in Haiti (ENARTS).

Two of the three printmakers in the collection of artists at Studios on Walnut, in Milton, - Mary Ellen Daly and I are having a joint show and reception on Saturday, July 18th from 5 to 7 PM.  Here is the invitation:

Here at Preludium we realize that the readers are drawn by the discussions of Anglican and Episcopal doings, so this announcement may not strike the reader as of much interest. But I would hope that even the most narrowly focused might take a moment and wish us well. As for the rest of you who get this, you are the ones I really delight in, for I am convinced that the vocation to artistic expression using the many senses is closely linked to the praise of God with all that we have. So I take great pleasure in using words and (most recently) graphic marks on paper to evoke some of the wonder that is the source of our praise of God. 

If you are anywhere near the lower county of Sussex in Delaware and near Lewes or Milton, come join us next week end on Saturday, July 18th.  If you are interested in seeing some more of my work, go to www.preludiumarts.net   Most of the prints in the show are not yet on those pages, but they will give you an idea of the work I am doing.


"We are a good and wonderful church."

This is the text from which I preached at St. Peter's, Lewes, the little town on the bay by the big water, this last Sunday, July 5th. The actual sermon can be found here. As usual the preaching and the writing only match up "sort of." I hope you find it useful.

Saturday a week ago Bishop Michael Curry of North Carolina was elected Presiding Bishop.  After his election the House of Bishops sent a delegation to the House of Deputies with the message that he had been elected and the election tally. The message was received and given to a committee who reviewed the election and recommended action to be taken by the House of Deputies. The House of Deputies were then given the name and the recommendation (no surprise, to concur). The house strongly approved, and then in a sort of liturgical / legislative dance, the Presiding Bishop elect and the Presiding Bishop, his family and deputation from North Carolina were ushered into the House, and he was introduced by the Presiding Bishop and finally spoke, for the first time, to representatives of the whole church. His remarks were short and to the point. Near the end he said this:  

“We are a good and wonderful church,

a good and wonderful people.” 

Exactly so.

We don’t often hear that these days. Too often over the past forty years we have heard about The Episcopal Church in difficulties – with great discord within and increasing disinterest from without.  General Convention special programs,  new prayer book, ordination of women, inclusion of LGBT folk, various scandals and challenges in both church and society… and on an on. What we tended to hear was, “ain’t it awful,” and it tended to stick, even with those of us who thought the changes were right and good.   

So it was really great to hear such positive remarks, and then to think… that’s right!

 “We are a good and wonderful church, a good and wonderful people.”

I’ve been to every General Convention since 1969 - sixteen meetings of people from all over the Episcopal Church, both in the US and overseas.  At many of them I was a lobbyist, at six I was a deputy, just as Jeffery Ross is this year, and for four of them I was a staff member of the Episcopal Church Center. So I have been on the margins as a lobbyist, at the center as a deputy, and on call as staff.  Each has been memorable in its own way.

This General Convention elected its first African-American Presiding Bishop, decided to include trial liturgies for marriage that were gender neutral, to change its instruments of governance so that it might better be an instrument of mission, and to begin the process of working towards a new prayer book, one for the twenty-first century. It was a busy, sometimes difficult and often challenging time.

The Episcopal Church has always been for me both local… as a parish and diocesan, and “universal” a national –international body, and I have loved being involved the life of this Church.  So Bishop Curry’s remark was a wonderful and gracious word of encouragement not just for the church at large, but for the church where I am grounded, St. Peter’s.  “We are a good and wonderful church, and people,” says something about our common life where we are – where we are grounded.  In spite of our differences, issues, arguments and concerns, this place, this people “is a good and wonderful people.”

We need such encouragement, both in the church and in the nation. I am conscious that the temptation too is to always carp about the difficulties of being The United States of America and not take heart from “the better angels of our nature.” Too easily we gripe and mutter, rant  and carry on about how awful things are in the United States. Too seldom do we remember that we are at our better moments, a good and wonderful country, a good and wonderful people.

“The better angels of our nature,” is a phrase from the end of Lincoln’s first inaugural address, just as the war (wrongly called civil) was beginning.  It calls up the image of messengers from the core of what we hope we can be, coming forward and urging us on with encouragement to be better.  Those messages have to do with peace, unity, tolerance, forgiveness, repentance, joy.  

Sometimes it seems, as it must have seemed to Abraham Lincoln, that our unity as a nation is about to unravel. At such times an appeal to the better angels of our nature seems in order… that we might hold together with all our difficulties and disagreements and finally say of ourselves, “we are a good and wonderful country, a good and wonderful people.”  Hearing the better angels and acting on their message can involve struggle and resolve, but also finally malice towards none, for the message is finally about moving on to the hope of a better world.

Words of encouragement take many forms.  Today’s readings all have such encouragement.

We have been reading these past few weeks about the real questions about Israel having a king… First God challenges Samuel looking for a king, then God providing a new King instead of Saul, a shepherd David, from the fields. And today we read of God’s confirmation of David as king and his reign of 40 years. David was encouraged by God’s presence with him and with Israel.

Paul writes in 2nd Corinthians, “I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.” He draws courage from the idea that in Christ, even his weakness is a basis for strength.  “I am weak, but you are strong,” and that strength is enough to encourage Paul and each of us in our journey in faith.

And in the Gospel, Jesus , amazed at the unbelief of people in his own home town, none the less encourages his disciples, and they go forth in mission with great success.

Whatever the hardships, the discouragements, the disillusionments, David and Paul and Jesus moved on.  They kept on keeping on… seeking that higher goal to be good and wonder-filled as God’s people.

And of course that is the encouragement for this moment as well, both in the Church and in the United States of America.  “Keep on keeping on.”  We are called to high purpose, to be instruments of unity in a divided country and a divided church, and that unity is all the more important because disunity seems so much the reality. And it helps greatly to have some one say, as Bishop Curry said, “you are a good and wonderful people.”

Both the United States of America and The Episcopal Church are formed in the proposition that out of disunity grows competing claims for what to do as a way forward, and in the struggles that grow from those competing claims comes a new and more perfect union, if only we will keep on keeping on. Sometimes, as with the Civil War, the disunity grows to such force that the end of the experiment of “these united states” seems at hand.  Sometimes, as with the struggles within The Episcopal Church, pitting two sorts of sensibilities about what it means to be Christian against one another, it looks as if dissolving the union that is The Episcopal Church is also at hand.

Of course the two entities – the State and the Church – are different in particular because the one – the State -  is not linked with the other – the Church. One of the things we members of the Colonies were clear about was that there would be no link between the Church and State, such that not belonging to the church would be considered treason, or not being loyal to the State unchristian.  Yet in many respects they are of the same cloth…Church and State are both ways of grounding our selves in the idea of “more perfect union” in which that which is good and wonderful in us finds voice.

It would be naïve to believe that attending to the angels of our better nature comes easily. There is struggle and often amazing disunity, but if we keep on towards the prize all that will pass and we will come to a place where we can remember, or say now, or say for our future, “this is a good and wonderful Church and we are a good and wonderful people.”

I believe we the people and this the country of The United States of America, are indeed a good and wonderful people – when at the last the better angels of our nature prevail.  I believe we the people and this Episcopal Church, are a good and wonderful church, when there too the better angels of our nature prevail.

Let us pray for the Nation on this weekend of the celebration of our independence as a nation, a nation also dependent on God’s encouragement, and let us pray for this church, which relies entirely on God’s grace for encouragement and life.  Let us keep on keeping on… and find encouragement from God’s grace now and always. AMEN.



The Church in Cuba and a non-imperialist future in or out of TEC.

With the renewal of almost "normal" relations between Cuba and the US there has been renewed interest in the Episcopal Church of Cuba becoming again a diocese in The Episcopal Church. 

By a very narrow, and somewhat confused vote, the synod of the Church in Cuba decided to request to join again The Episcopal Church.  That of course has to be further explored, the mandate widened, and conversations begun with General Convention. We can look forward to greater conversations with the Episcopal Church in Cuba about all this, but it will take a while.

While it is tempting to think this is all wonderful, and great that Cuba can again be part of TEC's life, we ought to exercise some care in the matter. And not only us, but The Church in Cuba as well.

The presence of The Episcopal Church in Cuba began in the mid 1800's with missionaries from the US. Following the Spanish American War the work was established as a missionary district with episcopal leadership elected for Cuba by the House of Bishops in The Episcopal Church. Bishops Albion Knight,  Hiram Richard Hulse, Hugo Blankingship, Romualdo Gonzalez are listed as members of the House of Bishops serving as bishop of Cuba. Following the break in relations between the US and Cuba, and under the supervision of a Metropolitan Council, the church in Cuba, under difficult circumstances was able finally to elect a diocesan bishop who is now in place. She is Bishop Griselda Delgado Del Carpio.

It is unclear just how strong the desire to become part of the Episcopal Church is. The church in Cuba has a long history of internal division an no one wants those divisions to reemerge as this decision is made. Hopefully there will be members of the Church in Cuba attending General Convention this year and they can fill us in further on their thinking.  

At any event it seems a declaration of intent might come forward this year, with the next three years as a time to develop further the possibility of re-incorporation into The Episcopal Church.

There remains, however, an important matter which only the Cuban Church can determine. Was the separation from the Episcopal Church, with continued good relations and engagement between the churches in fact a blessing in disguise?  Does the Church in Cuba have anything to gain from becoming part of TEC, when TEC is almost entirely preoccupied with matters internal to The United States and to TEC as an entity in The United States?  And is there any hope that TEC will not act towards the church in Cuba very much as it does with other churches in Latin America and the Carribean that are members of TEC?  Because these overseas jurisdictions receive substantial grants from TEC they ministry and work subject to review. TEC in its review efforts sometimes moves from matters of proper spending of the funds granted to matters of mission and program, from audit to intervention. When TEC, by way of General Convention, Executive Council or Staff action, intervenes, the results echo earlier more forceful imperialist attitudes.

Why would Cuba want to return to being an outpost of an American Church, rather than the presence of its own unique ministry and life. Granted the Church in Cuba was part of TEC in the past, but it was here as a missionary district and missionary diocese with bishops elected by our House of Bishops and funds directed to ends determined by the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society. In the present we have moved away of such obvious imperial presence, but there are plenty of examples of TEC continuing to exercise a controlling interest in matters internal to the dioceses, in ways that would not be tolerated if those dioceses were in the US.

Does the Church in Cuba need to question TEC about what the matter of organic union might entail?  I think it does. My sense is if the Church in Cuba were to become a diocese in TEC again it needs to do so with specific understandings regarding a variety of issues regarding mission and ministry. I believe we in TEC need to carry those talks forward as well.