From the Rev. Doug Scott, interim rector at St. Luke’s, Gresham.
I recently celebrated my 43rd ordination anniversary. It’s safe to say that the Church I was ordained into has undergone dramatic transformation during those years, and while I welcome many of those changes, the one that leaves me with a sense of profound sadness is the troubling reality that others find the Episcopal Church so easy to leave.
I find that in each of the parishes I have served there is a sad history of people leaving abruptly and without appropriate closure. Membership has always been fluid – people come and go frequently, often without explanation, leaving remaining members in a congregation with a feeling of loss and uncertainty. In a recent discussion with colleagues both lay and ordained of the reasons why it is so easy for people once deeply involved to depart without a word, some theories were put forth, but there seemed to be no definitive answers.
Simply put, we have all been affected by conflicts in the past. People get upset, people leave. It happens. The net result, of course, is that those who stay tend to be constantly on edge, fearing the next departure, never really confident about the church’s long term survival.
The Episcopal Church has lost a third of its membership over the course of the last thirty years, partly because of internal theological and doctrinal disputes, partly because of the increasing secularization of our culture, partly because of dramatic demographic shifts in urban and suburban areas, partly because of the loss of credibility of ordained Christian ministry due to scandal. The rise of the consumer culture has contributed as well with “brand loyalty” a thing of the past. If someone is dissatisfied with their church, there are plenty of others from which to choose, some conveniently offering black and white answers to complex questions. Times change, and churches are changed as a result.
But if we have lost friends and family in the new world of shifting allegiances, we have lost something else just as vital – our commitment to the ministry of reconciliation.
Some years ago, Rodney King famously lamented, “Why can’t we all just get along?” But living in community isn’t about just “getting along” – it is about being reconciled to each other. It is about recognizing that intended or not, we often hurt one another, and that we are responsible for those hurts – responsible for creating them and responsible for repairing them through forgiveness of others, forgiveness of self, and earnest effort to make amends.
It is not easy work. It requires courage to admit when we were wrong, courage to embrace an attitude of humility, courage to embrace one who has wounded us, courage to move forward together in relationship realizing that relationships are always fragile and must be tended with consummate care.
Living in a reconciling community demands that we find Christ in the other, even when that other has behaved in non-Christlike ways. It requires that we be considerate of the differences that exist among us, recognizing that the one who is completely different than me is just as valuable as I am, just as precious in the sight of God.
Living in a reconciling community means acknowledging that, as Isaiah says, “all we like sheep have gone astray. We have turned every one to his own way, and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.” (Isaiah 53:6) It means that having been quick to accept God’s grace, we must be quick to offer it to others, even those who may not deserve it, knowing that we ourselves are not worthy of the Grace of God.
Living in a reconciling community means that we accept our own brokenness and allow for the brokenness of others, treating them as fellow wounded rather than as intentional combatants.
Living in a reconciling community means taking St. Paul seriously when he insists that “love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful…it bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things.” (I Corinthians 13:4-7) Living in a reconciling community means that its members strive to grow into their full stature in Christ (Ephesians 4:13), rather than insisting on staying where they are emotionally, relationally, spiritually.
If I have a dream as we move into 2018 together, it is this – that we embrace not a new way, but rather a very old way of being together – one that is marked by a hunger to bind up wounds we have caused, to accept one another with a quick and ready spirit of humility and patience, striving to love one another as He loves us.