BISHOP'S ADDRESS TO SYNOD

SEPTEMBER 23, 2010

MANCHESTER, NEW HAMPSHIRE

Let us pray: O God, forasmuch as without thee we are not able to please thee; Mercifully grant that thy Holy Spirit may in all things direct and rule our hearts; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

 

My dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ: welcome to this, our Nineteenth annual diocesan synod.

 

This is the second of three addresses that I, as your bishop will deliver to synod this year. I say the second, because the first was distributed in your packets when you registered. But, relax, I won't read that one. And the third will last about two minutes. This one is the longest. And it won't be that long, because I want to see and hear the entertainment, too. We have a world premier play. With music. And, of course, the singing of our Bishop Emeritus, Bishop Langberg. So, we will begin our synod festivities with song. What is it that Martin Luther said about hymn singing?...

 

Many of the details of our very busy year are contained in the report package and I won't repeat them here. Instead, I will address the theme for this year's synod and propose goals for the future.

 

The theme for this year's synod is: “Unity in Jesus Christ.” You may remember that the theme for last year's synod was “Embracing the Great Commission.” Four days after that synod ended, something called the Apostolic Constitution was released by the Vatican. Was that in some way related to embracing the Great Commission? Well, maybe. One clergyman in our diocese, who shall remain nameless, seemed to think so. He said to me: “be careful what you wish for, bishop.” Well, I am not quite sure what the Apostolic Constitution has to do with the Great Commission, but that document has certainly made this past year very interesting indeed.

 

It has been a remarkable year in many ways. It has been full of surprises, most of which have been very good surprises. One or two we could all probably have done without. But, through it all, our diocese remains united, strong in the faith and committed to grow and share the treasures of our Anglican ethos.

 

Unity has been a theme of our activities during the past year. It will be the theme of our work during the years to come. But before we can approach the task of unity, we first need to reflect on what unity is. And, secondly, how we can help bring it about. Richard Hooker, the great Anglican divine, once wrote that, when we are baptized in the Name of the Father, the Son and Holy Ghost, we are already unified spiritually. Consider that; all who profess the faith of Christ crucified and who believe in the Trinity are already in unity. Unity has happened; it already exists. That was unity for Richard Hooker, one of the great Anglican theologians. He identified precisely the Anglican way of unity. And the simple formula he calls attention to includes most Christians in the known universe. Over a billion of us. In spiritual unity. Even more, when we consider the gospel of St. John, we learn that Jesus wants his people to be one, “as I and the Father are one.” Perfectly unified in love. We are pretty close to that now, especially when we seek to live our Christian lives in the fullness of Christ's mandate. And it is a goal that we can always aspire to reach. Just as we, as individual Christians, can always aspire to do better at loving God and loving our neighbors as ourselves, we can all aspire to reach out, in unity, to other Christians.

But, sadly, our political divisions continue to separate us. Our jurisdictional and denominational walls keep us apart. Although we may be unified in the Holy Spirit, we continue to be separated by boundaries that sometimes make no sense. We need to do our best to fix that. God demands no less of us; we should, at the very least, try.

 

A few events have taken place this year that seem to suggest we are movin in the right direction. Last February, as many of you know, our diocese joined with the Roman Catholic diocese of Maine in a prayer service that was truly memorable. This was an event that had been planned long before the Apostolic Constitution was released. It had nothing to do with that document, but was envisioned as a simple joining together of Christians in a event dedicated to prayer. And what an event it was. Those of us who were there will never forget the joining of Anglican and Roman Catholic clergy in a service of unity that had everything to do with living out the Christian mandate to love one another. Most of us who were there surely felt a wonderful sense of the Holy Spirit working in and through our lives. For a moment, barriers came down and we were able to greet each other as brothers in Christ.

 

But that is not all. Within the Anglican Continuum, the Holy Spirit has been working as well. As most of us know, the Church of the Holy Spirit (I suspect the name is no accident) has, for the last several years, been served by both the Anglican Church in America and the Anglican Province of America. Holy Spirit, the parish, has made history and we can only marvel at how the Holy Spirit, God, is working, yet again, to move us toward unity.

Three years ago, The Church of the Holy Spirit lost its longstanding rector to retirement. There were no APA clergymen in the area. In fact, the nearest APA parish is some five hundred miles distant from Pepperill, Massachusetts where Holy Spirit, the parish, is located. So, we were contacted. The Diocese of the Northeast provided several supply clergy to the parish and assisted the parish to continue its active ministry. The parish seemed to like some of our clergy. In fact, they extended a call to Father Ted Bolduc, who answered that call and has been serving the parish faithfully ever since. It has certainly been a happy ending.

But there is more to this story. That initial call did present us with a problem. How does a clergyman of the Anglican Church in America serve a parish in the Anglican Province of America? No one seemed to know. The two jurisdictions are not in communion, at least not officially. So your bishop did something that seems pretty obvious, at least in retrospect. He picked up the telephone and called Bishop Walter Grundorf, the Presiding Bishop of the Anglican Province of America. That began a series of phone calls that has resulted in a wonderful friendship between Bishop Grundorf and myself. It has prompted my invitation to he and his wife, Mary, to attend our synod and speak to us at tomorrow's synod banquet.

During that phone call, Bishop Grundorf said at one point: you have a clergyman; we have a parish. You're there in Massachusetts; why don't you visit the parish? Let's combine forces. And so we did.

 

That is an example of how God the Holy Spirit, working through the Church of the Holy Spirit in Pepperill, has helped us make history. It is, after all, God's work. We have simply responded to what seemed appropriate, what seemed Anglican, what seemed Christian. This modest adventure in inter-communion was accomplished simply and clearly and without breaking anything; it was accomplished in peace and harmony and it has served both of our churches well. No church building was abandoned, no lawsuit instituted, no one was cast out, no one was harmed. No one was harmed. God's holy church joined together in an act of mutual respect and love. That is, I believe, the way God wants us to come together.

 

The two events, just noted, have indeed drawn us closer together. We have shared moments of fellowship. We have shared an instance of inter-communion. It is an example of what our churches may become. And I pray for a closer bond with the Anglican Province of America. But the dialogue with the Vatican will continue, as well it should. There is no good reason to close the door on that initiative. Continued discussion among Christians will lead us toward greater understanding of each other. And, eventually, we will find the way, with God's help, to join together.

 

But timing is everything. We must avoid any fragmentation. We must avoid broken parishes and broken relationships. God does not want us to seek some form of imagined unity when such efforts result in harm to His people. It is never appropriate for us to split apart; one parish going one way, two going in a second direction, yet more seeking out a third path. God has put us together in this church because He wants us to be together. And so should we. Better for us to stay together, to act as a unified body. In this way, I firmly believe, we will know when true inter-communion is offered. True inter-communion is not for some; it is for all. The concept of unity should never be limited to one church jurisdiction, but must be approached broadly in a spirit of generosity and love. God will show us, as He is already doing, when inter-communion is truly here.

 

There are those who say that our church is very tiny indeed. If we count the numbers, they are absolutely correct. But if we are, as a church, one of the smallest of God's children, do we believe that God loves us any less? We know the answer; God loves all His children. Even so, we do know the power of joining with others, with reconciling with other Christians.

 

There are many examples of reconciliation in Holy Scripture. Truly, the Scriptures are all about reconciling ourselves to God. From the earliest stories in Genesis, we hear of the story of Joseph. Fiercely beaten and left for dead by his brothers, he comes to show them the healing power of forgiveness. The smallest of the brothers becomes the powerful viceroy of Egypt wielding the power of life and death over all. The smallest leads the way. Will this be our story? Oh, God, you know.

 

The Prodigal Son returned home when he had lost everything. Knowing, finally, what had been given to him, he returned seeking reconciliation. And there, he was greeted with love and given, once again, all that was important and necessary in the world. In each of these stories from Scripture, nothing was broken, nothing scattered. In the end, all was gathered in. Is this our story? Oh, God, you alone will know.

 

The Apostolic Constitution has been released by the Vatican. It is a document, written in ways that may confuse us or anger us or even surprise us in its generosity. But it is a document only. We will never find unity in a document alone. We will find that essential unity, that unity that God wishes for us, in the gradual drawing together, Christian to Christian, in a spirit of love. It is not in any coerced political unity that we will find each other once again. Rather, it will be in the availability we show in the love of our hearts to the God who has given all to His children on earth. And we will know.

 

In the valley of dry bones in the book of Ezekiel, we are asked: “will these bones live?” God, alone, knows the answer. But for those bones to live, they must be put back together, they must but filled with life, the life that God alone can give.

 

Those of us who have lived within the Anglican continuum know the difficulties of fragmentation, a valley of bones, dried and scattered. Only God can breathe life into the dried bones scattered on the desert of our world. Jurisdictions that have fragmented. How many Continuing Anglican jurisdictions exist today. A dozen? Thirty? Fifty? Perhaps only God knows the answer.

 

But we can, if we will, begin to put those pieces back together, to grow the church, to reverse the trend set so many years ago. God Himself will cause the dry bones to live if we only take the first steps. That part is up to us.

 

As the twelve tribes of Israel came together in unity to do God's work perhaps we, too, can join together to breathe life into our churches. It will begin when we say, in each small way, we seek to do God's will.

 

Unity does not exist in the dry documents that we study for their content. It is not in some remote region of the earth that we will find unity. The promise of unity may well be present with us right now. God's work is here. In this place, where we gather to do the temporal work of our church, where we gather to do the visible and practical work of God.

 

My Brothers and Sisters in Christ, let us all, during this time be open to the promise of unity in Jesus Christ and join with those who seek to make the journey with us.

But, perhaps, in way, my brothers and sisters, inter-communion is already here. And all we have to do is to know its presence.

Let us pray together the prayer that Jesus taught us: Our Father...