A reflection on the Propers for: August 2, 2009, Ninth Sunday after Pentecost Ephesians 4:1-16 by The Rev. Margaret Rose
This week The Presiding Bishop was the celebrant at the regular week day Eucharist at the Episcopal Church Center. We were remembering William Reed Huntington, who as the de facto leader of the Episcopal Church’s House of Deputies made bold proposals for women which finally resulted in the canonical authorization of deaconesses in 1889. Passionate about Unity and reconciliation in an earlier time of stress and threatened schism in the Episcopal Church, he was the reconciling spirit even as the schismatic Reformed Episcopal Church was becoming a separate entity. In her homily and in another sermon in Anaheim, Bp Katharine suggested that Schism is not a Christian act. She commented that Philip Jenkins in a recent editorial in the Wall Street Journal (July 17) disagreed with her. Jenkins noted the current controversy is not unique as Christian groups have been branded as schismatic or heretical since the 4th century. He writes, “At no point in Christian history has one single church claimed the authority of all believers.” “Is schism really so awful?” he asked. He suggests that the answer depends on the outcome—if a movement fails it is schismatic, if it succeeds, it becomes another mainstream denomination.
I suspect however that it is our understanding of unity which we ought to explore. The One True Church may be the issue here. For if unity has an underlying message of conformity, then it is little wonder that many are breaking away. What the Episcopal Church –and others--- have been struggling with is how we can find unity in a diversity of understandings. We don’t have to think alike in order to be together. Is there some way to be unified in the love Christ and the love of God’s people and yet stay together. And what does together mean anyway? That is the hard question. It is not so difficult when one is in accord with the direction of the institution. I am grateful for work of the General Convention and the courageous work of our leaders. But what of Jimmy Carter and some Elders of the Southern Baptist Convention who officially left the Southern Baptist Convention this month stating that the doctrine of subservience of women was untenable. I understand and applaud his move as well as the many years he stayed in the Convention in the hope of reform from within. If thousands had left with him, would that have been a schism?
Maybe the One True Church is not anything we now know but includes a much larger body than we have ever envisioned? And perhaps it is already emerging in places we have not usually imagined on Sunday morning or as the church at all. Bodies, knit together for the work of ministry.
The Epistle text, Ephesians 4, for Huntington’s day is the same as for Sunday, August 2. Unity in the Body of Christ is its overriding theme. There is the vivid picture of the body parts knit together for the equipping of saints for the work of ministry and unity in Christ. So it seems to me that our knitting together comes from the work of ministry. Could it be that the work of doctrine or “right belief” is the result of the work of ministry?
I have often noted in this blog, that the women from around the Anglican Communion who have gathered for the last six years for the United Nations Committee on the Status of Women, have been very clear about the work of ministry. It is in their hearts and communities and the hard work of their hands. It is undergirded by such biblical passages as Matthew 10—giving the least of these a cup of cold water, Amos 5—let justice roll down like the waters, or in Mary’s voice in the Magnificat. The Anglican women claimed the Millennium Development Goals and found their unity not so much in faith and order but in the work that bound them in the love of Christ. Their oft repeated statement is a tribute to Sisterhood and the Baptismal covenant.
The women who gathered this year reaffirmed their commitment to unity in Christ:”We remain resolute in our solidarity with one another and in our commitment, above all else, to pursue and fulfill God's mission in all we say and do.Given the global tensions so evident in our church today, we do not accept that there is any one issue of difference or contention which can, or indeed would, ever cause us to break the unity as represented by our common baptism. Neither would we ever consider severing the deep and abiding bonds of affection which characterize our relationships as Anglican women.
This sisterhood of suffering is at the heart of our theology and our commitment to transforming the whole world through peace with justice. Rebuilding and reconciling the world is central to our faith.”
Paul’s word about unity is spoken with regard to a rebuilding and reconciling faith. But it is not about conformity. Rather it is love which calls for speaking the truth. The point of the body’s growth in all its parts is for the work of love. Ephesians does suggest that we ought not be tossed to and fro by every wind of doctrine or people’s trickery, or craftiness in deceitful scheming. But then again. Who could disagree with that.
As the struggles of our Communion continue, I am praying that we can seek a deeper unity which binds us together and opens us to the ways of love and the work of ministry and to building the Body of Christ in all its parts.