Eastertide Facebook Conversations

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Easter Greetings!

In an effort to promote dialogue and fellowship, while also helping us get in the spirit of our 2016 Conference, the Board Members of the Society of Scholar Priests will be hosting a series of Facebook conversations on the theme of Right Action during Eastertide. Please come join us!

Facebook URL: https://www.facebook.com/scholarpriests

Each Tuesday a Board Member will start the discussion off, and we hope you will join in! In order to promote a healthy and lively discussion, we ask that all participants abide by the following covenant:

1. This is a sacred community space.

2. As the apostle Paul reminds us, we have a variety of gifts, a variety of calls, and a variety of ways of faithfully serving God. Please respect each other and our diversity as we support one another in our ministry. Since our intent does not always match our impact, please try to be sensitive to how your comments might be received by someone in another context.

3. While this is a place where we are free to be honest, we ask that we all please be sensitive to *how* we express our emotions, particularly anger, as for some the use of all caps or profanity can be off putting or offensive. The use of an *asterix* or two can be a good alternative.

4. Please note that images posted here become part of our collective “library” on Facebook. We ask, therefore, that you do not repost images that you find offensive, as they are not representative of our collective identity, and it is likely that many other participants will also find them to be offensive.

We look forward to sharing in this conversation on topics such as: Liturgy, Preaching, Politics and Gossip.

Please join us! https://www.facebook.com/scholarpriests

A Young Scholar Priest Reflects on the 78th General Convention

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A Reflection by Molly James 

One of my favorite moments at General Convention was when the President of the House of Deputies invited all the deputies who were born in the 1990’s to come forward. I stayed in my seat, being a child of the 80s, and smiled. I was at a church meeting, and I was not the youngest person in the room. Even though I have been ordained for ten years, my relative youth is often still a novelty in the Church. It was, therefore, quite exciting to see that beginning to change. That moment when there was a crowd of people under 30 on the stage was, for me, an emblematic moment of our 78th General Convention. It was a Convention that was forward looking and one that exuded a theology of abundance.

Forward Looking

It could have been a Convention of looking back. It could have been a Convention full of lament on the decline of membership and the end of Christendom. It could have been a Convention full of gloom and doom. But it was not that. In fact, in so many ways it was a time of celebration and a time of hope. The 78th General Convention looked to the future with hope. Many of the resolutions we enacted were ones that focused on the promise of a new day and a new way of being Church. Perhaps most significantly for our tradition, we passed resolutions that authorized the beginning stages of revising our current Book of Common Prayer and our current Hymnal. Following on my reflections on youth above, it was interesting to note that those who sounded notes of caution about BCP and Hymnal revision were mostly people under the age of forty. Now, you could chalk this up to our own fear and anxiety, or those of us who are under forty have never known anything other than the 1979 BCP nor the 1982 Hymnal. We have never been through a process of Prayer Book revision and what is unknown can be anxiety-provoking. That may be part of it, but I do not think it is all of it. Many of the young people who spoke up sounded words of caution around being too cavalier or quick to jettison pieces of our tradition.

Those words of caution spoken by our younger people – in the House of Deputies and in the Twittersphere – are important. Given the collective anxiety in our system and the fear of the future, we should not be quick to jettison our tradition in the hopes that doing so will somehow make us more relevant or appealing to the masses. On occasion there has been a perception that having a rock band or hymnody that sounds like the Top 40 will somehow make Church more appealing to young people. That maybe true for some, but for me and many other “young” people that I know that is not at all the case. We would rather hear Bach or Rutter. We love ritual and tradition. We love saying prayers that have been said for centuries. Some of us even like Rite I. That is our word of caution about revision. Let us not lose the heart of our tradition of common prayer in our desire to be contemporary and relevant. Are we in need of updating our liturgical resources to be more inclusive of the diversity of who we are – racially, culturally, linguistically, etc – as The Episcopal Church? Absolutely. Are we in need of language that helps to undo centuries of patriarchy? Of course. It’s my hope and belief that the tremendously gifted and skilled individuals on the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music can do that and can do so in a way that maintains the beautiful essence of our tradition. The wonders of digital technology mean that our next BCP need not be a literal “book” at all. It can be a library of liturgical resources from which we can draw the appropriate liturgies and music for the contexts in which we find ourselves – to provide familiarity and new ideas. How Anglican to allow the contexts we serve to shape our practice of common prayer.

The other resolutions that I found to be particularly forward looking were those that funded Latino Ministries, Church Planting and Evangelism efforts. The Episcopal Church has much to offer the world, and so it was tremendously exciting to see the support and enthusiasm for these resolutions. The fact that additional funding for Evangelism was added to the budget from an additional endowment draw was particularly notable. It is my understanding that it has been many decades (if ever) since an amendment to the budget actually passed. How wonderfully emblematic of what we can be going forward to be willing to risk a bit more of our treasure to share the gift of our tradition with future generations.

Then there were incarnational moments in which it felt as though we were not just looking forward or planning for the next triennium; we were actually living into our new vision of the future. This was evident on the Saturday afternoon that we elected and confirmed a “Chief Evangelism Officer” as our next Presiding Bishop. We elected a remarkable leader who is going to share the fire of the Holy Spirit, who will share his passion and bring others into this Jesus Movement. His passion is joyfully infectious, and he incarnates the joy and hope for the future that was palpable in the halls of Convention. Bishop Curry’s election was also, of course, a historic moment as he will be our first black Presiding Bishop – another barrier, another vestige of the great sin of racial discrimination has come down. We have a tangible, visible reminder that racial reconciliation is possible.

Finally, the other moment in which we lived out our hope for a new future was the march against gun violence on Sunday morning. Hundreds of people came out at 8am on a Sunday morning to worship, walk, witness and pray for an end to the epidemic of gun violence that is plaguing our country. That march showed us the pervasive and horrific effects of gun violence on the lives of so many millions of our brothers and sisters. That march also allowed us to live in hope, to live in the hope that together we can make a difference, that it might actually be possible to create a future where innocent lives are not tragically cut short by gun violence.

Theology of Abundance

One of the challenges I sometimes encounter in my ministry is that we can operate from a theology of scarcity. We can get caught up in the cultural message that we do not have enough, that we are only valuable if we buy more and do more. Yet our faith teaches the opposite. We have and we are enough. God is with us. God’s love is abundant and overflowing. There is more than enough to go around. We need not fight with each other. We need not fear each other. We can see the world through a lens of abundance, not scarcity.

I saw this theology of abundance manifest in a number of ways, particularly in some significant resolutions. While it is certainly true that many of the sweeping changes recommended by TREC did not happen, we did pass a number of resolutions that make more room for and begin the process for some substantive changes in how we govern ourselves. We provided a clearer articulation of the purposes of Provinces and established a Task Force to study them and to come back to the 79th General Convention with recommendations of alternative mechanisms for networking at pan-diocesan level. As those involved in Acts8 have noted, one of the great blessings of the 21st century is that we have many ways of connecting and collaborating with each other, and social media can help us to bridge vast geographical distances. So, our churchwide structures ought not to be limited by geography and ought to be flexible enough to allow a variety of ways of networking.

Secondly, General Convention passed a constitutional change that (if approved in 2018) would allow for joint deliberative sessions with the House of Bishops and the House of Deputies debating and voting together. The Legislative Committee on Governance and Structure heard a fascinating presentation from our friends in The Anglican Church of Canada on their fifty year process of moving from a bi-cameras to a uni-cameral system. It remains to be seen if we will go all that distance, but we have at least begun the work of creating structures with more flexibility and more room for collaboration as we do our legislative business.

A third structural change was the elimination of all but two of the Standing Commissions. Now, astute observers will note that many were replaced with Task Forces and that other new Task Forces were also created . . . So what has really changed? Well, for one thing, Task Forces are not permanently enshrined in our canons. They are short term bodies that exist only for a triennium, unless renewed. In theory at least, this allows for a more responsive governance structure and will save us from having groups that continue to meet long after their work has been accomplished because no one knows how to acknowledge that they are no longer needed.

It is interesting to note that one of the ways we lived out a theology of abundance was in what we decided not to do. We did not shrink the size of a diocesan deputation to General Convention. Now it may seem as though I am labeling that as an act of abundance because we simply maintained our status as giant parliamentary body of over a thousand people. No, abundance is not just about numbers. Maintaining our size also helps to ensure an essential breadth of voices at the table. The Legislative Commission on Governance and Structure heard powerful testimony from those representing racial and ethnic minorities. Statistically, a deputy of color is often the 3 or 4th deputy. If we shrunk the size of the deputation, it might very well mean that we would be undoing the excellent work of recent years that has helped the House of Deputies more accurately reflect the marvelous diversity of The Episcopal Church. Of course, the other house at General Convention also has much work to do in terms of accurately reflecting the marvelous breadth of humanity in The Episcopal Church, but that is a topic for another day.

One of the most challenging and most beautiful expressions of a theology of abundance was in the changes to the marriage canon. Challenging because the legislation that was passed does not reflect the view of everyone in The Episcopal Church. Beautiful because no one walked out of Convention. Those who disagreed had a place to make their views heard and they were listened to with love and respect. Provisions were made to honor the diversity of views. There was a palpable sense of abundance, not just in the fact that our rites of marriage were made accessible to couples who had been desirous of change for so long, but in the fact that we lived out the profound truth that we are all in this together and are better for our diversity. You could have heard a pin drop as the results of the vote were announced. Our collective respect for each other was such that we were able to honor our Christian commitment to one another more than our own feelings of joy or sorrow.

Finally, as noted above we added money to the budget for Evangelism and racial reconciliation. Let me say that again. We added money to the budget. In a time when fear and anxiety are often the dominant emotions in church meetings. When scarcity seems systemic and we who have had so much historical privilege are being challenged by our move to the margins in so many ways, it was a great act of collective faith to to chose to draw more from our endowment. It would have been easy to let that narrative of fear and scarcity win out. To think that we must save our resources because we do not know what the future holds. It would have been easy to stay inwardly focused. But we did not. We stepped out in faith. We made a bold statement that said we were more interested in investing in the future. For some it might seem that we were acting out of our own fears of our increasing irrelevancy, but I prefer to see it as a step toward living out the belief that we, The Episcopal Church, have unique and desperately needed gifts to offer the world. And I don’t just mean our money. We may be the most historically powerful and privileged mainline denomination, and we are blessed with tremendous financial assets. Yet what we have to offer the world is not just cash. It is a deep and abiding faith in Jesus. A faith that testifies to God’s presence, to God being with us, even in the incredible messiness and painful realities of the human experience. It is a faith that takes seriously the intellectual life and does not shy away from the challenges of our faith or our lives. It is a faith that is complex, nuanced and unwavering in its affirmation that God is with us. The future is bright because our God is a God of abundance.
Molly James is the Dean of Formation for the Episcopal Church in CT. She also serves as an adjunct faculty member at Hartford Seminary and The University of St. Joseph. She serves as the co-chair of The Young Clergy Women Project. She is a board member for the Society of Scholar Priests.  She is married to Reade, a mechanical engineer. They have two children, Katherine and Halsted. Molly enjoys cooking and eating good food, reading, writing and the splendor of God’s Creation. 

 

Sharing the Society of Scholar-Priests

In my last post, I described some changes in direction for SPI/SSP. But now, in my new role as communications guy, I get to do what I love best: sharing SPI and the Society of Scholar-Priests.

What do I get to share? I get to share a vision. SPI exists to welcome theology home, back into the life of the parish. We all know the suspicion of theology that hangs like a ghost in our parishes’ hallways. We’ve all been in the Adult Education class where Jesus’ radical social ethic and St. Paul’s call to holiness are dismissed with the “eschatological hand wave.” We’ve all seen clergy and parishioners alike who find no solace in the great spiritual resources of the Christian faith because they have been told that none exist there. When we welcome theology home, when we rekindle theological vocation and imagination, it’s not about dogmatics. It’s about finding in the spiritual riches of our common past the lanterns we need to illumine spiritual pathways for the journey ahead.

I get to tell the story of the Society of Scholar-Priests, a society full of great people from across North America. We have had over 120 members from The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada. They are rectors and postulants, seminary professors and PhD students, all pastors and teachers in what we’re calling North American Mainline Anglicanism. They have committed themselves to a life of both academic inquiry and pastoral presence. The deep exploration of theological waters happens right alongside the warm embrace of people longing to find the peace that Christ offers.

The Society is, and is becoming, a place of mutual encouragement and support. It’s true that we meet once a year for a conference, but we also help out in smaller, more personal ways. We have two writing groups running that gather weekly to talk about their research progress and their upcoming goals. Another group will meet for lunch at this year’s AAR/SBL. We know that scholar-priesthood is an uphill climb. We’re here to bear one another’s burdens along the path.

And we have a lot of fun, as we learn to live into our mission and values. What SSP reminds us is that scholar-priesthood is possible. Theology done for the parish can once again be done in the parish. SSP is already welcoming theology home. Why not join us?

“Gossip is My Fault”

 

I became rector of the Episcopal Church of the Holy Spirit in Waco, TX a little over a year ago. I believe that the biggest part of my work is empowering the ministry of the people in my congregation. I have stressed this point repeatedly with the congregation, always asking people to come to me with feedback, questions, and concerns.

That was all well and good. People nodded and smiled.

No one came.

The dread started slowly creeping up my spine, until, several months ago, I got wind of rumors circling around a vital ministry. I will spare you the details, but they came down to stories that I was acting intentionally and deceptively to kill the ministry. These stories were being told at several hubs – around tables during coffee hour, at the knitting group, and in a few other places that people who care about the church gathered.

Wow. It stung when it came out. I hurt. I blamed others and raged to myself.

And then I realized something fundamental. As rector, gossip is my responsibility. At root, when the congregation runs away on its own, piecing what it knows together into wild theories, the first problem is not the gossip. The first problem is that the rector failed to tell the truth in the right places. I’m only the rector. I will never be able to dismantle the grapevine.

So, I began a process of repentance. I talked with the vestry about the issues, asking again that people come to me with question and issues, but I also took responsibility. I sat down with the ministry and gave them the opportunity to ask questions. It helped address the specific issue, but there was more to be done.

One Sunday after a particularly big Vestry decision, I went to see the knitters at their weekly meeting. I read them the congregational letter that was being sent that day. I answered questions and had a chance to talk in broad strokes about the future of the parish.

And, then, as if the sun had appeared in a cloudy sky, it started to happen. One morning, hidden in my office, getting ready for Sunday service, I overheard some of those same words I shared being shared around the Narthex.

Gossip is destructive because it fills the air with false facts and distrust, but no rector has the power to dismantle the grapevine. All one can do is find the hubs and go there to tell the truth about what’s going on, not being defensive or cagey, but genuinely sharing vision and mission with the people we are called to serve.

When people learn to trust us, that’s when grapevine starts to produce good fruit, the fruit of the Spirit, and we together learn to live into the mission of God.

The Rev. Jason Ingalls is the rector of Holy Spirit, Waco, TX and recently served as the Executive Director of The Scholar-Priest Initiative. He now serves on the Board of the Society of Scholar Priests. 

Ping Pong and Spiritual Friendship

In July 12th’s Waco Tribune-Herald, local luminary Jimmy Dorrell wrote an editorial entitled, “Conquering the World through Ping Pong.” Jimmy plays in a city table tennis club and writes about the way ping pong has broken down barriers across the world, including the instrumental role it played in the normalization of relationships between the US and China. Having just returned from the Society of Scholar-Priests Conference on “Unlearning Partisanship” in Milwaukee, one paragraph jumped out at me:

Through the years, we’ve played thousands of games of serious table tennis. Yet at those same tables, we have talked about moral issues, religion, local community issues, family life and personal concerns. We can even disagree about these. . . . Most of all, we have become friends.

The Rev. Dr. Andrew Davison spoke to us Saturday morning about friendship in Christian theological reflection. He discussed the spiritual friendships he has developed that have aided him in his own theological reflection over the years. As we discussed, we realized that at least part of the antidote to the destructive partisanships that wreak havoc in our churches and nations is just simple friendship, rooted in the Gospel, enacted at Table. We point at this reality by playfully advancing the Beer Principle as a rule of thumb.

The Scholar-Priest Initiative exists to welcome theology home. The Society of Scholar-Priests exists to support scholar-priests in their unique vocation. We are realizing more and more that deep personal friendship is the precondition for both of those nested missions.

So, anyone up for a beer?

Why the Trinity?

A Reflection by Matthew Kemp
The church is out of touch with contemporary culture.  We know this from a very recent study released by the Pew Research Center titled, “America’s Changing Religious Landscape.”  It surveyed people across the nation on their religious affiliation, and then compared these numbers with a similar survey taken in 2007.
Most noteworthy of this study’s findings is that it identified the fastest-growing religious expression in America.  It is not Christianity or Islam or Hinduism.  No, the religious group which gained the most adherents  over the past seven years are:  the Unaffiliated.  Those who claim no religious identity whatsoever now make up 22.8 percent of the American populace, up from 16.1 in 2007, and beating out even the Roman Catholic Church (at 20.8), the nation’s largest single religious organization.
Who are these “Unaffiliated?”  A small chunk of them (3.1 percent out of 22.8) are atheists, and a slightly larger chunk (4.0 out of 22.8) self-identify as agnostic.  But the majority simply checked the box marked “nothing in particular” (15.8 out of 22.8).  For some this means they live a completely secular lifestyle in which religious questions do not even arise.  Others might describe themselves as “spiritual, but not religious,” that is, open to the reality of God and eternity and transcendent purpose, but unwilling to commit to any particular set of beliefs, practices, or organized community.  Think of it as a sort of cafeteria approach to faith–take a bit of everything you like, leave the rest behind, and don’t let anyone make the decision for you.
At one fifth of the American population, these “Unaffiliated” are all around us:  they are our friends, our neighbors, our co-workers.  But not only is this group of people growing across the board; most of them come from younger population demographics.  For the moment at least they represent the future trajectory of American culture.
The church is out of touch with contemporary culture.  For in the face of this national trend, here we are celebrating Trinity Sunday.  It’s bad enough that we all came together as a group to worship with a highly ordered liturgy led by people wearing strange clothing that signify their office–the very sort of “organized religion” that is losing ground among our fellow citizens.  But on top of that, we have the audacity to assert, and even celebrate, not just belief in God, but a very specific doctrine of who God is.  We believe in the Trinity, that there is one God who exists in three equal, eternal persons: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  This understanding of God, along with the incarnation of God the Son in the person of Jesus Christ, is what sets Christianity apart from all other faiths.
And while we only mark one Sunday each year as “Trinity Sunday,” the doctrine itself permeates our worship, from “Blessed be God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit” at the beginning to “The blessing of God almighty, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit” at the end–not to mention the explication of this doctrine known as the Nicene Creed which we recite weekly.  The Trinity is central to Christian belief and practice.
But in light of where American culture is heading–away from defined dogmas and religious labels and toward more individualized expressions of spirituality–isn’t this all a bit much?  Wouldn’t the church do better if it let go of its creeds and teachings on who God is?  Wouldn’t it appeal to more people in our society if they could just be part of a vaguely defined spiritual community where you believed whatever you wanted to?
As tempting as this line of thinking may be, there is one simple reason that the church has held to the doctrine of the Trinity–a doctrine which, we should note, has always caused scandal to non-Christians and occasionally controversy within the church.  But we have held to this belief because this is how God has revealed himself to us:  as one God, made known in the incarnation of Jesus Christ, by the power of the Holy Spirit.  What we call dogmas and creeds are simply shorthand ways of making sense of how Christians have encountered God for 2,000 years.
Yet we might ask,  Why does all this matter?  Why can’t we just believe whatever we want about God?  It matters because God loves us far too much to leave it as a matter of indifference.
You see, God makes himself known to us so that we can be in a relationship with him.  “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life” (John 3:16).  Eternal life means sharing in the life of perfect love that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit have enjoyed for all eternity.
Out of this perfect, self-giving love the Father begets the Son; the Son returns this love to the Father, and out of their relationship the Holy Spirit proceeds, binding the 3 in unity.  All of this happens eternally:  God’s very nature, as Scripture tells us, is love.
And it is out of this love that he created us; it is out of the same love that he sent his Son into the world to redeem us when we refused his love;  and out of the same love he offers us the Holy Spirit, by whom we are “born from above” (John 3:7) in baptism, “that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ” (Romans 8:17).
This is why we proclaim the doctrine of the Trinity, even in a society that is not interested  creeds and defined beliefs.  This is why we are committed to the church as God’s own creation where this relationship with him takes place, even when those around us are not interested in organized religious communities.  And this is why we seek to bring others to know God as we have come to know him in Christ, even–perhaps especially–those who describe their relationship with him as “nothing in particular.”
The church is out of touch with contemporary culture.  But this may not be a bad thing.  What is far more important is that we are in touch with the Triune God who has created us, redeemed us, and now sanctifies us.  And if this is the case, then we must seek to bring others in touch with him as well, because this is the reason for our existence as the church, to continue to reveal the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit to the world around us, regardless of its cultural trends.  Because while many Americans may be losing interest in the God whom we know and proclaim, he has not lost interest in them.  And neither should we.
Matthew Kemp is the Director of Education and Outreach at Christ Cathedral in Salina, Kansas.  He has a M.Div. from Nashotah House Theological Seminary and is a Candidate for Holy Orders in the Diocese of Western Kansas.  He and his wife Alethea have two daughters, Theodora and Macrina.

Fight Like Family: A Hope for General Convention

GC logo15_colorA Reflection by The Rev. Jason Ingalls

General Convention is almost upon us, and it’s the first since the Scholar-Priest Initiative and the Society of Scholar-Priests started up. What might we want from General Convention this year? While I can’t speak for everyone involved in SPI/SSP, I can answer for myself:I hope we’ll fight like family.

We all remember the run-up to that Thanksgiving. The family came together, and we all knew the smackdown was coming. Eventually, it all came out. We called each other names and stated our sides. Decisions were made that not all of us could agree on, but we cleared the air. And then we sat down at the Thanksgiving table and reminded ourselves we were family, and that family always comes first. This is what I hope for General Convention this year.

First, I hope we’ll recognize each other as family. No matter our political or theological perspectives, no matter our subject positions, no matter our age, race, sex, gender, or orientation, we have each one of us come out from the waters of Baptism, claimed as Christ’s own forever. Nothing can change that we are the adopted children of God, and co-heirs with Christ. Since we are God’s children and Christ’s siblings, we belong to one another. For us, water is thicker than blood. More importantly for us in this season, water is thicker than party.

Second, since we are family, I hope we’ll avoid the othering and demeaning labelling of the world’s power politics. We might believe that a brother’s or sister’s decision to vote a certain way represents ignorance or stupidity or bias, but as soon as we start calling one another ignorant, stupid, or racist/ sexist/ homophobic/ liberal/ conservative/ backwards/ progressive/reactionary/ fill-in-the-blank-with-your-favorite-epithet, we have sinned against one another and against the God whose children we are. When family fights, they stick with it long enough to clear the air. When God’s family fights, they sit down and wait for one another. They walk the second mile. They turn the other cheek. Why? Because they are family, and God’s children do not vilify their siblings.

Third, I hope we’ll break bread together. The Eucharist unites us at God’s Table. The Passing of the Peace is a ritual enactment of Jesus’ command that we leave our gifts before the altar if our sibling has something against us. Avoiding our political opponents during these times sins against the God who has made us family in Christ. Beyond that, refusing to share actual meals with our opponents belies a deeper problem. When we refuse to break bread with those we disagree with in the church, we are denying what we all hold as true in our Baptism. If we cannot seek peace outside of the token passing during Convention Eucharist, then we have to wonder if our other actions, including our voting, really are a move of the Holy Spirit.

The Catechism asks how we know the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives. It responds that we do “when we confess Jesus Christ as Lord and are brought into love and harmony with God, ourselves, with our neighbors, and will all creation” (BCP 852).

My hope for General Convention is that we Episcopalians will fight like family, the Family of God. When we do the hard work of clearing the air and then sitting down at Table together, reconciled with one another despite our differences, then, and only then, will we be able to claim the Spirit’s work in our dealings. May it be, by God’s grace.

The Rev. Jason Ingalls is the Executive Director of The Scholar-Priest Initiative. 

General Convention: More Than Technical Change?

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A reflection by The Rev. Molly F. James, PhD

I am often asked why I am priest. The short answer is that I had an incredibly inspiring parish priest when I was a child. The longer answer is that I had bone cancer when I was thirteen. That experience made me profoundly aware of my own mortality at an age when most of my peers were just testing to see how far they could push the envelope and see if they really were invincible. The experience of becoming aware of my own mortality at such a young age left me longing to spend my life working in a community of people who understand the sacredness and fragility of human life. While there are certainly many places where this could be true, for me it was the Church. I love that Church is a community that has deep and meaningful conversations (all the time!) about what really matters. It is a community that understands the sacredness of life. It is a community that seeks to live most of the time at a deeper level than much of secular society. People of faith are often less concerned with the superficial and more ready to engage with the questions of what gives life meaning.

Having experienced profound suffering at a young age, I treasured the opportunity to be a part of, to spend my life serving, a community that shared my values and believed that it is possible to make meaning out of our experiences of suffering. The story at the heart of our faith, the story of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, does just that.

As I prepare to head to General Convention in just over a week, I have been thinking about why I love The Episcopal Church. Why have I given my life to serving this institution? I have been thinking about the joy and the gratitude I feel for the privilege of being a part of a community of faithful Christians who daily challenge (in a good way), comfort and inspire me. I am grounding myself in all that joy and gratitude because I want them to be my guiding principles as I go about the legislative business of General Convention.

I want to stay focused on what I love and what draws me into The Episcopal Church. I do not mean that I should be fiercely hanging on to things of the past – far from it. I think we very much need to be willing to do our common life in new and different ways. I do believe that if I can keep myself grounded in the gifts of my faith life, if I can keep focused on that deep love of God in Christ which makes me smile and gives me peace, then my time in Salt Lake City will be remarkable. It will enable me to leave feeling as though I have been a part of a celebratory gathering that has inspired me to a new way of being about God’s work in the world. It will be far more than just a political gathering of a parliamentary body.

It is my hope that General Convention will be transformative for those of us gathered and for the Church.

Molly James is a clergy deputy to General Convention and the Dean of Formation for the Episcopal Church in CT. She also serves as an adjunct faculty member at Hartford Seminary and The University of St. Joseph. She serves as the co-chair of The Young Clergy Women Project. She is married to Reade, a mechanical engineer. They have two children, Katherine and Halsted. Molly enjoys cooking and eating good food, reading, writing and the splendor of God’s Creation

 

Of What Partisanship are We Post?: Reflections on the Beer Principle

A Reflection by The Rev. Jason Ingalls

We want to be the party that votes against itself.

The Scholar-Priest Initiative has three core values. We are rooted in Scripture and Tradition, post-partisan, and oriented to wise action.

Post-partisanship, our second value, raises some eyebrows. This post is to answer a few questions around the partisanship of which we are attempting to be post.

What can you possibly mean by “post-partisanship?”

To say we are post-partisan in the first place simply notes our relationship to a history of divisive partisanship. We stand against it in time and in principle. To say we are post-partisan orients us in time. We are quite literally living in the wake of that divisive partisanship, but we also stand against the partisanship that can cause one of the world’s Christian Communions to eschew its ties of mutual affection and retreat into like-minded enclaves. Post-partisanship is framed in the wake of division.

Is it that we think that all Episcopalians or members of the Anglican Communion should approach Scripture and Tradition in the same way?

Absolutely not. We believe that there is more than enough space for Catholic, Broad-church, and Evangelical Episcopalians and Anglicans. Of what partisanship are we post, then? We stand against the partisanship that tries to elide our particular differences into “progressive” and “traditionalist” voting blocs. As a result of our essentially “two-party” ecclesiastical system, real difference is lost and consciences are marred as the loud (and funded) voices from either extreme polarize the discussion and therefore flatten the difference that Anglicanism is called to protect.

But, come on. You’re really just creating another party, right?

Absolutely. We want to give voice to the vast middle of our church that is drowned out by the partisans on either side. We want to be a place where real difference is seen, where real conversation happens, and where real disagreement can be charted. As we come up to another General Convention, the Scholar-Priest Initiative isn’t about creating another voting bloc. Of course, we want our members and those in their congregations voting, but we want them voting against one another, after doing the hard work of finding their roots in Scripture and Tradition and pushing forward in good work for the church.

If you’re not trying to do partisanship the old way, how are you trying to do it?

In a previous post, I described the Beer Principle. It goes that if you openly disagree with someone on the floor of convention or synod, then you owe that person a beer. Of what partisanship are we post? We are post the partisanship that thinks that publicly stating our position is the end of our responsibility. We are post the partisanship that retreats back into a hovel after a hard day of disagreement. We are the partisans who know it is our responsibility to take the next step to mend and maintain relationship. Jesus called his disciples friends. Post-partisanship as an idea, and the beer principle as a practice, help us do the same for one another, no matter how we vote.

The Scholar-Priest Initiative’s second annual conference meets in July and has the theme “Unlearning Partisanship.” Click here to learn more.

 

Trinity Sunday

A reflection by Jonathan Stepp.

Consider the following statements:

  •  There is no God but Allah
  • God Bless You
  • May the Force be with You
  • Blessed be God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit

Depending on one’s definition of “Allah” or “the Force” or “God,” each of these statements might be referring to the same divine being and simply using different words to do so. On the other hand, they could each be making radically different statements.

Gregory of Nazianzus is famous for saying “when I say God, I mean Father, Son, and Holy Spirit” (Oration 38.8). Perhaps Gregory has a point, perhaps we need to be careful to be clear about what we mean when we say “God.” If we are speaking of the God who is incarnate in the person of Jesus then we are speaking of the God who is Triune. To speak of the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ is to speak of the God who is loving relationship, the God who doesn’t just “do relationship” but is relationship. The God who doesn’t just love but is love. When we speak of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, we are speaking of the God who is personal, connected, and relational, and we are therefore not speaking of God as merely an impersonal force at work in the world.

We see this in the story told by our liturgical year. It tells the story of the Father sending the Son to descend into our existence, take hold of us, and then ascend, taking us with him into the relational life of love he shares with the Father. As the Father’s children through the Son we now share in the life of the Spirit who proceeds from the Father, through the Son, and baptizes us with the Son into his relationship with the Father.

This is the significance of Trinity Sunday. It is fitting – having celebrated this story of our adoption over the course of the last six months – that we should now have a day dedicated to God’s life as Trinity. That Triune Life is not something we could have known if we had not known this story of the Son’s descending and ascending to take us into God’s life. But now that we have heard and believed the story, we have an idea of what it means to say “God.” When we say “God” we mean “the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.”

Jonathan Stepp serves as Youth Minister and Chair of Adult Formation at St. James Episcopal Church in Hendersonville, NC. He enjoys hiking with his wife Beth and his kids, Emily and Lewis. Prior to coming to the Episcopal Church he spent 12 years as the pastor of an evangelical congregation in Nashville, TN, and was an Adjunct Instructor in Church History at Grace Communion Seminary, an online theological program. He earned his M.Div. from Campbell University Divinity School in 2000.