Our Future Together as a Church

We’ve been having an ongoing series of conversations this fall at Berkeley Divinity School, loosely about splits within the Anglican Communion and Episcopal Church. It’s called “Our Future Together as a Church.”

Last Friday, there were eight of us who were asked to address the question, “How do you see your ministry in the future of the Anglican Communion?” Here’s what I said:

The question is how do I see my ministry in the future of the Anglican Communion. I want to frame this question with another question. It’s a rhetorical one that a friend of mine and I discussed this summer. “If Peter Akinola said that he would let Episcopal missionaries into Nigeria so long as Gene Robinson quit as bishop of New Hampshire, what would you say?” This is a purely hypothetical question for so many reasons and the issues at hand could never be resolved so easily. It especially puts too much weight for our current troubles on Gene Robinson, when I believe he is simply a symbol of deeper divisions. But I want to pursue this question because I think it helps frame how I think.

On the one hand, everything I believe to be true about the Gospel, the workings of the Holy Spirit, and church governance tells me Gene Robinson’s consecration was holy and true.

On the other hand, I have a deep and abiding commitment to and love for the Anglican Communion based on my own experience and life. I have been an active member in congregations in three of the Communion’s 39 provinces – the United States, where I was raised; Canada where I was both baptized and then later went to university; and South Africa, where I was a missionary of the Episcopal church these last two years and attended an overflowingly large Xhosa-language church where I was the only white face in a congregation of 400. I’ve been a visitor at the cathedral congregation in Gulu, Uganda and was warmly welcomed there, even after they knew I was an American Episcopalian. So I think I have a sense of how Anglican liturgy, sacraments, and theology are played out in different cultural and linguistic contexts. What I’ve learned is the truth of something that Max Warren, the former head of the England’s Church Missionary Society, once said: “It takes the whole world to know the whole Gospel.” It does.

I grieve that provinces like Nigeria, Kenya, Uganda, the Southern Cone, and others refuse to work with the Episcopal Church and accept missionaries from our province. A central belief of mine is the importance of Christian unity and I hate how our sinfulness breaks down the Body of Christ and the Kingdom of God. I know “grieve” and “hate” are strong words – I use them intentionally.

So I’m a little stuck here, between Gene Robinson and Peter Akinola. A possible way through has to do with the other part of this question, the word “ministry.” I actually would prefer to use another word and that is “mission.” Mission is at the core of my faith. I believe that the central theme in the Bible, the strand that unites it all, is the story of God’s mission of reconciliation. God longs for us to live in right relationship with each other and with God and has been acting to make that happen throughout history. Our task, as followers of Christ, is to discern what role we are privileged to play in this mission of reconciliation, both individually and in our church. It was this mission theology that I took with me to South Africa. It is what allows me to call myself a missionary, despite the loaded history of that word. It is why I believe American missionaries in Nigeria – and Nigerian missionaries in the United States – are so important. Mission is what allows us live into the unity to which Christ calls us and know the whole Gospel, despite the multiple ways we find to divide ourselves.

I believe my future ministry to be closely tied to both the Anglican Communion and the mission of God. But I don’t have a good answer to the question I posed at the beginning. The truth is that this is a question that tears me apart and I’m not kidding when I say this is something that keeps me up late at night. And that is largely how I feel about my future ministry in the Anglican Communion – both committed to the question and also torn apart about the answer, but dedicated to living the question and perhaps, together, living our way into an answer.

As an addendum, I said all this before Mary Glasspool was elected. I would add that since her election, in what I’ve read, I haven’t seen a lot of people interested in “living the question.”

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One thought on “Our Future Together as a Church

  1. Robin Denney

    Here’s to living the question!
    Great thoughts Jesse.
    As we feel the pain of the tears in the Anglican Communion, I pray that somehow, someday we will live into our calling as Christians to be reconciled before God in Christ.
    Thank you for keeping the discussion alive stateside!

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