Messy Church

The persecution that took place under Diocletian (303-313) was especially severe in North Africa. As a result, the question of how or whether to re-admit Christians to worship who had recanted their faith, was a very difficult pastoral question, especially when they were priests or even bishops.

Some insisted that lapsed believers could not return, or if they could, only after a protracted and public period of repentance. Priests and Bishops, if readmitted to the community, could never return to their former roles. Others were more lenient. After a period of repentance, mercy and forgiveness should determine the course. Priests and Bishops could also return to their ministries.

By the time of the fifth century, the positions had become so polarized that the North African Church split into two competing churches. On the one side, the Donatists insisted that the Church, and especially its leaders, must be pure. On the other, the Catholics held that before the kingdom of God came in its fullness, a certain amount of messiness was unavoidable.

St. Augustine was convinced by his reading of the parable of the wheat and the tares (Matthew 13:24-30), that the Church would never be pure until the Final Judgment. Until then she would be a mixture of sinners and saints, people resisting grace and resting in it. Communities should not be too quick to judge who’s in or not, even among the leadership.

I wonder whether some of my friends on the religious right and the red-letter left could learn from Augustine’s reluctance to rush to judgment. On just about every hot-button issue today, we find Christians divided amongst ourselves. To our collective shame, we far too easily call down the judgment of God on those who disagree with us. We do so with particular verve in social media, where one’s enemies are anonymous and therefore demonized—that word is used deliberately–much more easily.

We act in this way because we want a pure church. We want to presume upon the judgment of God; we want to short-circuit the path to the Day of Judgment. We want, if I may put it more provocatively, to present God with a holy Church of our own making all the while refusing to receive the holiness that is God’s gift in Christ to his Church. We act this way because we are sinners as much as our opponents are.

Already I can hear my neo-Donatist critics sharpening their rhetorical swords. “Christians should not tolerate [insert preferred ideological opponent here]! We need to exercise discipline! We need to call them to repentance!” I have no answer to that, because I largely agree. When the behaviour of believers become a scandal to their unbelieving neighbors, the Church needs to discern the source of the scandal. If the scandal is rooted in fidelity to the Gospel (as with Stephen in Acts), then the Church celebrates this believer as a prophet, or a saint, or possibly a martyr. If the scandal is rooted in persistent sinfulness (as with the immoral brother in 1 Corinthians), then the Church disciplines even to the point of exclusion from the community.

Here’s my point: what is lost in so much debate today is precisely the wisdom and time needed to discern. We want to identify who’s right, and who’s not and pass sentence right away. But that is not how the Church should work. Discipline working rightly recognizes that every situation is different, and even someone caught in serious sin (like those who lapse under persecution) may need restoration with a gentle hand rather than condemnation.

So before you share that next meme that so skewers Focus on the Family or Sojourners, ChristianWeek or Geez, for their latest failure, remember Augustine and the Donatists. Leave room for the Church to be messy. Leave room for the Church to discern. Leave room for the judgment of God.

Algoma Synod Day #2The

The second day (and first full day) of Synod began at 8:00 with worship led by the Rev. Ed Swayze and with Primate Fred delivering the homily. The Primate was simple and searching in his reflection on Matthew 6, and Jesus’s injunctions on fasting, prayer and almsgiving. The Primate focused on the relationship between authentic gratitude and humility. It was an excellent orientation to a full day.

Following worship, the Bishop gave a charge to Synod oriented around building partnerships with the Diocese of Big Beaver House and Bishop Lydia, building partnerships with the Diocese of Tarime and Bishop Mwite, and the Lift Up Your Heart initiative following the conclusion of the strategic plan. There was far too much in each point to fairly summarize here. I am bringing home a copy of the charge to share with you and hope that I will have an electronic version to distribute broadly. Suffice to say that at each point we were called to an expanded vision of generosity, including (but certainly not limited to) our money. We will be implementing the Lift Up Your Heart initiative through the month of September. Please watch for special updates in ETW about this important initiative.

The morning concluded with a report on the Tarime trip made by a delegation led by +Stephen and Fawna and a final exercise from the Strategic Planning Committee to help them advise the Executive Committee on ways to continue developing the work begun with the S.P. as we move into the future.

After lunch, I attended two breakout sessions. One, again, dealt with the winding down of the current Strategic Plan and building on it for the future. The discussions were particularly concerned with Youth ministry and its ongoing importance in our deaneries. This will be an interesting conversation for Executive to take up. There seemed to be a consensus that Youth work should be funded, even as we also agreed that a uniform pattern of funding and job descriptions across the deaneries might not be the most effective way of ensuring the continuation of good ministries. We’ll see. . . . I also expressed a concern that at least some of the resources recouped from the closure of parishes and the sale of buildings be set aside for new ministries, and especially church planting. Again, we’ll see how that goes.

The second breakout session was led by +Stephen and was a reflection on the repeated cycle of sin–grace–faith in the Prayer Book Holy Communion service. It was, as you can imagine, an intense and important time to meditate on how the pattern of our worship is meant to inspire gratitude toward God for his great gift to us by the Spirit who draws us into the life of Christ. A particular stress for +Stephen (and following from his charge) is that the sacrament can never be divorced from Word read and proclaimed. Without the Word, the sacrament is a mute sign. I think he’s right.

After a quick dinner with Jay to talk more about church planting, I went with the delegates to Algoma U. for a tour of the archives, the residential school, and the chapel. It was a very good (and plain spoken) articulation of our history, warts and all.

Well, my friends, that was today. Tomorrow, we are into a legislative session. Hopefully not too tense. We’ll see. . . .


Algoma Synod Day #1

We arrived at the Water Tower Inn at 3:30 and checked in. Then, it was off to the Synod office beside the Cathedral of St. Luke to register for the big event!! After a lovely dinner at the Delta Hotel (with a fabulous view across the water) we walked back to the Cathedral where Rachel, Derek (our summer intern) and Aidan (the MacGregor Bay intern) took their pew and I vested for a very long (and very, very hot) ordination service.

It was a BCP service and was excellent. The Ven. Peter Smyth (Algoma) was the emcee and +Stephen presided. Primate Fred Hiltz is with us all week as our Bible Study leader. Tonight, he gave the sermon–a rousing reflection on mission, which embodied all that was best about the Anglican tradition–Gospel proclamation issuing in works of justice and mercy–and all that is, um, not so best–Gospel proclamation is works of justice and mercy. This is a hard balance for the very best homilists to strike and I do not wish to judge the Primate too harshly. For the weakness is not his, but is woven through Anglican piety. It is our besetting sin. Ah, “til we shall build Jerusalem in [Canada’s] green and pleasant land.” A hymn sadly Pelagian from top to bottom all-too-accurately expresses what happens when Anglicans go theologically wobbly.

I am grateful to the Primate for his emphasis on mission, however, and thrilled that Gospel proclamation did indeed make it into his homily. For that’s what it’s all about at the end of the day. Without the preaching of the crucified and risen Lord, ascended to the right hand of the Father as the King of the Universe, we really are just the Kinsmen in fancy dress.

This was my first Book of Common Prayer Ordination. What a heavy service in every stretch! (A huge thanks to James Mosher, our newest Deacon, who asked for a BCP service. A King’s College Halifax man, this can hardly be surprising). The charges to James and Charlene were weighty and appropriately reflected the challenges of the ministries to which they are now ordained. I found myself at once wishing that I could have been charged with those words back in 2009-10 and wondering whether, had I been, I could have gone through with the rest of the service. It really was powerful!

The business begins tomorrow with a full agenda of largely  “house-keeping” motions that will tidy up some canons and hopefully make them consistent. We’ll see if anything interesting comes from the floor. I’m on the resolutions committee so you’ll know soon enough!

Hey, follow us on Facebook, whether on my page or at Epiphany Sudbury, and keep abreast of things on Twitter, @RevTimPerry. Everything will be under the hashtag, #AlgomaSynod2015. Shaping up to be a good time.

In all seriousness, please pray for us as we seek to discern God’s will for our Diocese as we end one strategic plan and enter into a year of Thanksgiving under the theme “Lift Up Your Hearts.” Pray especially for the Epiphany delegates, Gilles and Remi, who are thrilled to be here, but nervous too.



On Slavery

The rabble among them had a strong craving; and the Israelites also wept again, and said,

‘If only we had meat to eat! 5We remember the fish we used to eat in Egypt for nothing, the cucumbers, the melons,

the leeks, the onions, and the garlic; 6but now our strength is dried up, and there is nothing at all but this manna to look at.’

(Numbers 11:4-6)

At its most recent meeting, Sudbury City Council passed a motion to de-regulate store hours entirely. Within 2 days of the vote, our local SuperStore announced that it would be the first 24/7 store in Greater Sudbury. I have not commented on the matter up to now, except to say that I voted against this in the referendum included on the ballot in the last municipal election. Well, now that the matter is settled, the battle lost, I’d like to highlight a couple of silly reasons attributed to those of us who voted in opposition, then explain why I did vote the way I did and finally, what I will do to express my deep concern that this is a mistake.

First, the non-reasons. I need to highlight these because throughout the campaign, people who opposed the measure were caricatured as “anti-choice” and “religious zealots.” Both charges are false. I did not vote to oppose the change because I am anti-choice, but because retail workers, among the most vulnerable workers in our economy, need to have space to make choices. The deregulation of store hours effectively removes some of those choices by now making every hour of every day a potential work hour, controlled by someone other than retail workers, namely their employers. Second, I did not vote to oppose the change because I am a religious zealot. I do care about this issue in part because I am a clergyman, but not because I desire to force my faith on anyone who does not want it.

Now the reasons. The first one is a desire to protect a vulnerable segment of workers in our community, namely, retail workers. I have no desire to take away their choice to work, nor to prevent them from being paid a greater hourly wage for working difficult hours. I doubt, however, that the people who work retail have the freedom to regard the question of whether or not to work a graveyard shift with such dispassion. Because of the crap wages they are already paid, some will feel compelled by “market forces” to “choose freely” to work such shifts. I can’t see that as a good thing. An employer might not be saying, “work these shifts or I’ll fire you,” but the market exercises control over all of us in much more subtle and insidious ways. And those ways are every bit as compulsive to their victims as they are unseen by many of us. In deregulating store hours, our city council has promised our most vulnerable workers “meat and fish” but at the cost of “making bricks without straw.” (That’s religious language, of course. It comes from the Exodus narratives in the Old Testament and I’ll come back to that in a minute). For now, I want to say that there is a general principle in the religious language here that has to do with markets. The deregulation of store hours effectively says, there is no time that is not potentially work time. The market will decide whether a worker gets leisure space or when or how much. But if the market is deciding, then workers aren’t. And if workers aren’t then, all the while using the rhetoric of choice, we’ve taken choice away from them.

Now, to the religious language, and the second reason. I don’t expect WalMart or Superstore workers to come flocking to church because I spoke out against 24/7 shopping. I grimly note that that battle was lost long ago in hockey arenas across the country. My concerns have nothing whatsoever to do with protecting my own turf. But, the critics are right to point out that it is a religious argument. Here’s my response: So what? If my faith teaches me to care for the poor and disadvantaged and vulnerable, how is that a bad thing? And why is it ruled out of public discourse before hand? My concerns flow out of my faith, and are directed toward care for the community, not putting bums on pews. What is often missed, here, is that the pro-market arguments are every bit as religious. They speak of “the market” as having agency. The market will decide. The market will regulate. Let the market preserve freedom of choice. How the hell (yes, really) can “the market” do those things? The market can only do those things if, in some way, it is given personal agency by those who serve it. Hmm. A disembodied person who demands allegiance and who makes decisions for people. Sounds like a divinity to me. And an enslaving one at that. It seems to me that the pro-market arguers must explain why their arguments are not finally religious in just the same way mine are, why it is not the case that our arguments simply happen to serve different deities.

So, I continue to remain opposed. I will no longer be shopping at SuperStore. And as the list of 24/7 retailers grows, so will my list of places I will not patronize. It is a small and finally meaningless gesture. My grocery bill is not going to affect anyone’s bottom line. But for the sake of my conscience, I have to keep one day in seven when someone will not have to serve me. Because everyone deserves a Sabbath. Everyone deserves a rest from work. And I cannot see how this isn’t a return to Egypt, an embrace of slavery.

The Awkward Days of Christmas

[In an effort to publish here more regularly, to increase traffic, and hopefully to start conversations, I will now regularly post my weekly parish newsletter as well as my sermons. Please let me know what you think.]

This weekend, we celebrate our patronal festival—the Feast of the Epiphany—and with it, draw our Christmas celebrations to a close. I confess that I am ambivalent about Christmas time. And no, while I deplore the ever new lows people can plumb as they pursue material excess, I’m not talking about the shopping. For myself, I worry far more about temptations to sentimentality and nostalgia than to crass materialism.

My Christmas, for example, is never complete until I see Alastair Sim reprise his role as Ebenezer Scrooge. It always involves at least one extended family meal. And of course, my brothers and I share memories, some of which that predate us, about our grandparents, uncles and aunts. I have a ball seeing my kids learn the stories as they sit with their cousins. I have no idea what your favorite Christmas memories are. I hope, like me, you have had good opportunity to indulge them this year.

But the temptation for me—and perhaps for you?—is that these wonderful experiences will move from being some of the trappings and rich decorations that come with Christmas, to being the core. They become Christmas.

Christmas, however, rightly exceeds all of those things. It is higher, deeper, and wider for Christmas is about the entry of God into history. It is about the incarnation of God as Jesus of Nazareth. It is about the God’s taking up of human nature, as a human individual, in order to heal, rescue and redeem the creatures he loves.

So, today, I want to commend to you the awkward parts of the Christian calendar that fall during the 12 days of Christmas. Remembering them helps me keep Jesus at the centre of my celebrations for they pry my gaze away from the sentimental and nostalgic and direct it again toward the Lord. St. Stephen’s Day, Dec. 26 and The Holy Innocents, Dec. 28 remind us of the cost of discipleship in a world that, while being redeemed, remains fallen, in thrall to powers hostile to the reign of God. The Name of Jesus, Jan 1 (at least when it goes by its older name, the Memorial of the Circumcision of Jesus), reminds us that this story is one that is at several key places, bloody.

Even on the Epiphany, we are reminded that of the four kings who sought “the child and his mother,” Herod was the one who truly grasped the significance of the birth of the King of the Jews. If the King of the Jews had been born, then Herod was King no longer. And Herod would not limit the reach of his violence in order to remain on his throne.

As very realistic reminders that “this is the world God has chosen to love,” (Flannery O’Connor), these days are not intended to rob us of our Christmas joy, but to deepen it, by pointing us to its true source. To the God who so loved this world that he gave his only Son that whoever believes in him would not perish, but have eternal life. They make our Christmases authentically Merry.

On Francis and Benedict

Well, Pope Francis’s America interview has caused quite a stir, again leading in some media sources to rave reviews, and triumphant pronouncements about how different Francis will be from his two immediate predecessors, John Paul II and Benedict XVI. I am noticing a curious pattern emerging which has little to do with the Popes, and everything to do with their coverage in the Western media. In short, the media quickly (subconsciously, I expect) decide on the “papal narrative,” and then over-report the stuff that fits and under-report the stuff that doesn’t.

So, for example, during Benedict’s pontificate, any item that reinforced the narrative of “God’s Rottweiler” was accentuated (for example the investigation of American nuns) while other items that challenged the narrative went almost unremarked (for example, a speech from 2006 which included a very “Franciscan” section on segments of the Church’s excessive preoccupation on gays and abortion in 2006). Only once do I remember this narrative being challenged, when Benedict suggested (as an academic theologian well might) that the use of a condom, while less than entirely virtuous, may reflect a turn away from a greater sin and a turn toward righteousness. Headlines screamed that the Roman Church was revisiting its stance on contraception. Which, of course, it wasn’t. Once that became clear, Benedict went back to the dogs, so to speak.

Now Francis. We are hearing from pundits on the right and on the left that he is soft on gays, abortion, women’s ordination. Again, the entirety of his remarks suggest otherwise. For example on the hypothetical case of a gay priest, Francis says, “If a man is repenting of his sin and has a good will, who am I to judge?” What is reported: “Who am I to judge.” Or, when Francis says , “I will not talk as much about abortion, gays, or women’s ordination because Church teaching is settled on these matters,” the reports only cover up to the “because,” while the remainder, if it is reported at all, is buried several paragraphs down. At the same time, that Francis’s first encyclical was actually written by Benedict, completed by Francis and signed by both has been rarely talked about. Largely because this suggests a measure of continuity that runs against the grain of the narrative. As does, for example, Francis continuing the investigation of American sisters that his predecessor began. This suggests to me that the collective consciousness of the media has decided that Francis is the liberal anti-Benedict. Every quote will be filtered through this narrative and exaggerated or ignored accordingly.

Of course, the narrative can change over a long pontificate. Few probably remember how John Paul II was the darling of the media for his support of workers’ rights, Solidarity, and so on in Poland. It was only in the latter half of his papacy, as his body failed, and as he began to teach powerfully on matters of human sexuality that the narrative changed to the substantially less positive one now enshrined. For the briefest of months following his funeral, the original narrative seemed to take the stage again–who can argue with a million pilgrims shouting “Santo Subito!”?–but that is now a memory. I wonder whether there will be a narrative change with Francis. We’ll see.

A final thought. Much of the fawning seems to reflect a sincere attraction not to Francis, but to Jesus and to the Gospel. And that is good. At the same time, though, it also reflects a fundamental attitude toward Christian faith in the West these days: “I’ll become a Christian when the faith agrees with me.” So much for conversion. I am tempted to quote Flannery O’Connor out of context here. “If that is all it is, then to hell with it.” The fawning, in other words, reflects the truth of every human heart that instinctively knows the Gospel is good news, but recoils at the fact that part of that good news is the exposure of sin. It is therefore fitting to end with Francis’ own self-description–again under-reported outside Christian media. To the question, “Who is Francis?” he replied, “I am a sinner.” Just so.

No Eulogies, please. . . .

“After the storm of a life lived in the heat of political controversy, there is a great calm. The storm of conflicting opinions centres on the Mrs Thatcher who became a symbolic figure – even an ‘ism’. Today the remains of the real Margaret Hilda Thatcher are here at her funeral service. Lying here, she is one of us, subject to the common destiny of all human beings.” (+Richard Chartres, Bishop of London)

I write neither to praise Mrs. Thatcher, nor to bury her–both have been done. And though she has been decried also, that is not my purpose either. Rather, this sentence, which began the funeral homily, got me to thinking about a common practice with which I have never been comfortable–the eulogy. There were no eulogies at Mrs. Thatcher’s funeral–did any of you notice that?–because, as the good bishop would say later in the same homily, what was happening there was not a memorial service, but a funeral. A funeral, in his estimation was to be about something different. Something that didn’t simply grate against, but was actually at cross-purposes with eulogizing the deceased.

I am not talking here about “bad” eulogies. Dear me, examples abound, but I’ll mention only two. How about eulogies that are a rehash of clichés? ones in which the speaker sounds as though s/he has simply cut-and-pasted the well-wishes of 15 Hallmark sympathy cards together on one page only to read them to us. I do not say this uncharitably–I least I hope I don’t. For such eulogies are invariably the result of someone so close to the deceased as to be dumbstruck with grief, who nevertheless wants or feels obligated to give expression to that grief, to the love for the person who has died, being unfairly or prematurely pushed into the job. It is a shame to put that person in a place where words should fail us, for that person must in that place resort to someone else’s saccharine sentiments to get through an impossibly difficult time. Far better, it seems to me, to let such a person be quiet, to be on the receiving end of words that are neither new nor hackneyed, contemporary or clichéd. Or how about the eulogy that is, really, a pretty good retirement roast? Why, by the time it’s over, we are so lost in happy half-invented memory that half the congregation has forgotten the deceased has, well, died. If it weren’t for the urn or coffin right up front. . . . We’ve all been on the receiving end of a bad eulogy. Some of us have even given them.  No, I am talking about good eulogies–eulogies that remember accurately a life lived. Eulogies that do not manipulate or manufacture. Eulogies that invite all to consider our own mortality and the legacy that we will leave behind. Even these, do not belong at the funeral.

Eulogies do not belong at a funeral because eulogies are about the deceased and the funeral is, like all services of worship, about God. It is about bringing the experience of death within the common life of God’s people, and so reminding us that even here, in the most shattering of experiences, God is present. It is to remind us that the deceased really is deceased (not “gone home,” “not in heaven,” “not passed over,” but dead). And it is to remind us that the deceased, even as deceased, remains united to Christ. Immortality, if it exists at all, is to be found in that union and no where else. It is because of our common union with Christ that all of us, living and dead, remain members of the church, that body that transcends the boundaries of time and space, life and death. And so at the funeral, we approach God in song and prayer, we hear from God in Word and Sermon, and we receive from God in bread and wine. Throughout, the triune God is at the centre: the Father who would not give his creation over to death; the Son who through his death destroyed death and by rising again opened the way to life everlasting; the Spirit who so unites us to Christ in baptism and sustains us in the Eucharist such that even death cannot separate us. The funeral is not about me and my need to grieve. Nor is the funeral about the deceased and my need to remember him or her. It is about God, who has declared himself the enemy of death, and who has, by raising Jesus from the dead, robbed death of its sting and it is about my need to hear again this incredible Good News.

Is there a place where eulogies belong? Oh absolutely! I come from a Northern Irish heritage which made much of “the wake.” Before the funeral, for two or three evenings, families and friends would gather in the funeral home, or family home, to remember the dead. To give good words (eu-logoi) about the deceased to each other. To remember. To grieve. To comfort. Another possibility is a memorial service which might follow some time after the funeral, after family and friends have grieved together and can honestly move from grief to celebration for life that God had given.  There should be space to do all those things that do indeed need doing, including those things that only a good eulogy can do, but which cannot and ought not to be done in 1 hour so at the funeral service.

I don’t know if my family will wake me before or celebrate me after. I hope they do one or the other. Who doesn’t want to be remembered? But it is my express wish that my funeral be like Mrs. Thatcher’s–a funeral.



Eulogies–before. After. Yes please.


The Cranmer Conference 2012

If you really want to attract disaffected Anglican youth back to church, get out the thurible, the maniple, the cope, crank up the organ (and hide the guitars), find lots of candles and incense and, of course, dig the red books out of storage. That’s the takeaway from the 2012 Cranmer Conference.

I write as a low-church evangelical with a preference for the Prayer Book. That’s my formation thanks to the Rev’d. Dr. David Widdcombe and St. Margaret’s Anglican Church, Winnipeg. That’s my continued preference for worship, and I don’t apologize for it. But I thoroughly enjoyed a very different, yet thoroughly Anglican expression of worship as led by Mr. Aaron James and Rev. Andrew Nussey. We were a smaller number than we had hoped to be–I think around 16. But what we lacked in size, we made up for in enthusiasm!

Anyway, back to my original (and I hope just a little outrageous) declaration. Making our worship as other-worldly as possible is an authentic means of outreach to our youth and young adults. Why? Because if the youth are at alike any of those I met at the Cranmer Conference, they know–instinctively–that worship should take them to another place. It should be enchanting. It should lead them to the throne of the transcendent. And having been raised in a multi-sensory world where all the senses are being engaged all the time to promote indiscriminate consumption–all the noise noise noise noise–these young people are ready for worship that engages all their senses, but refuses to collapse into crass consumerism. Oh, they know they come to consume. But they also know they come to consume a gift, something that cannot be bought. Namely, the life of the Blessed Trinity as it is communicated to them in Word and Sacrament, the means by which Christ through the power of the Spirit, is savingly present.

I left the conference encouraged. If you are 19-29, are interested in themes of worship, enchantment, and anti-consumerism, I hope you’ll consider coming to the 2013 conference! You’ll find yourself among like-minded people. By the way, the invitation is not for Anglicans or Christians only. It is for all who wish to “come and see.”

I was blessed by the opportunity to speak to this remarkable group of people over this weekend on “the politics of worship.” Beginning tomorrow, I’ll be post my sermon from yesterday’s morning Eucharist, and follow it with my talks in text format.

I hope that conference participants have a chance to reflect on what they heard and I hope that those who have yet to come to a Cranmer Conference find in them a reason to consider coming!


One Year In. . . .

It has been 1 year and 1 month since I moved in to the office at the Church of the Epiphany. The dynamic at this point is a whole lot like the dynamic of being a parent.  I know that there was no Hugh Perry, for example, six years ago. And yet, when I remember 2006, somehow, he’s there. I can’t remember a time when there was no Hugh. Same’s true for Calvin and Sara. I know and recall the days when I was not a parent. And yet, when I think of specifics, it’s hard to remember my life without the kids in it. So, I know I’ve only been at the Epiphany for a year. I know that for 13 years previously, I worked and lived in some fashion or other at Providence College and Theological Seminary. And yet, I find it hard to remember that during those days, I was not a priest in Northern Ontario. This feels like it has always been, as it should be. It feels more like home than anywhere since I completed my Ph.D.

Why is this so? A few reasons. Chief among these is the support of my leadership in the Deanery and Diocese. Archdeacon Anne is a good pastor and pastoral mentor for a young priest and I have benefitted from her wise counsel as I’ve navigated the sometimes choppy transitional waters. Bishop Stephen has been a true father-in-God, who at once inspires and terrifies me. Not because he’s scary, mind. (How can any one who wears purple crocs be scary?) But just because he’s really good at his job. You might even say he’s been called to it. Well, I would say that. Because it’s true. And I am blessed by that call as a result.

Another reason ist he support of the people in the Epiphany. It’s been a challenging year in many ways, with significant deaths, other departures, and some financial challenges. Not, so I’ve been told, a good first year for a honeymoon. Yet, through it all, the people here have been very kind and supportive and willing to risk a great deal on a green priest. They have also been very willing to exercise their own gifts and callings as these have emerged. We have seen new people rise into leadership and veterans move into new roles. We have also seen seasoned members continue on in familiar tasks with new energy. All of that has made my job much more fun than it might otherwise have been and I am grateful to God and to the parish for that.

A third reason has been the opportunity to apply theology week in and week out through the discipline of preaching. Sunday morning, well in my case, Saturday night, comes once/week whether I want it to or not. And I have to have a sermon ready. I’ve found, ironically, that Tuesday is my sermon-writing day. Not quite sure why it works, but it does. Anyway, the task of bring forth treasures new and old, even as I remember that it’s God bringing his saving Word throught Spirit, does force me to think through my theology in a more pastoral and concrete way than I have had to in the past. And to do so over a longer period of time. Right now, for example, we have been immersed for six weeks in the unravelling of David’s life as it is recounted to us in 2 Samuel. I don’t think I would otherwise have spent this much time with David had the lectionary (and my commitment to preach through the OT lections for a good long while) not called for it.

I have no idea what the next year will roll out for us here in Sudbury. I fully expect there will be opportunities for growth–personal and congregational, spiritual and possibly numerical. I also expect there will be serious challenges–because there always are. But I’m glad I’m here, tasked to preach to, to pray with and to care for these souls. I’m glad I’m doing so with the support of able and generous people both above and below me on the episcopal ladder (that doesn’t sound quite right, but you know what I mean).

Canterbury Trials #12–On Forgiveness (Or the Nettle Part 2)

Michael Battle today led us in a series of discussions on conflict resolution and forgiveness. Again, much of the material was very good. And again, I found myself wanting to say “yes, but.”

I would say a hearty yes to the notion that forgiveness is not simply a discreet act or acts, but is in fact a way of life that is best defined as participation in the life of God. It is a cycle that is continuously on the move from contrition to forgiveness to repentance (note the order–that’s on purpose) to reconciliation and reunion only to start again. Short of heaven we are never at the stage where it forgiveness is completed and done.

I was particularly taken with the ordering of repentance Battle’s description–placing it after forgiveness. Repentance is a response to forgiveness not its predecessor. It is the re-ordering of the mind, heart, and act as a grateful response to the grace of God.

My caution here is similar to that expressed in my blog on petitionary prayer. Namely, while it is right and proper to name forgiveness as a way of life, it is also a discreet act, or series of discreet acts. And like petitionary prayer, those acts can be presumptive (as when one presumes that forgiveness automatically restores intimacy) or abused (forgiveness is misused as a means to gain control over another) and so on. But abusus non tolit usus, or so it seems to me.

Anyway, throughout, our time together focused on the subject of forgiveness (i.e., the person doing the forgiving). This makes sense given Battle’s notion of forgiveness as a lifestyle that is participation in God’s life. I wish we had had the time to talk about two other matters–namely, what it’s like to be the object of forgiveness, and the challenges and obstacles that lie in the way of asking for forgiveness.

What is it like to be forgiven? I am not talking about the weepy scenes of reconciliation on Dr. Phil, here, where all is made well just in time for the cameras to fade to black. In fact, I can imagine many scenarios where the experience of being forgiven is not pleasant at all. For to be forgiven is to have a judgment passed on one’s behaviour and one may not necessarily agree with that assessment. Of course, there are times when the assessment is wrong, but even when it is right, when it is an accurate statement of affairs to say, “You sinned against me; I forgive you,” I can easily imagine someone bristling against those words. Not least because many times that someone has been me.

The challenge of asking for forgiveness is similar. Again, it is very simple to craft scenarios where one may need to say, “I have sinned; please forgive me,” and yet have those words choke in one’s throat. A victim takes revenge on her abuser for example, in a way that cannot be justified by notions of justice or retribution. Here is a situation where power dynamics and history involved work against someone asking for forgiveness even if  that one can mentally recognize the need.

The point being, forgiveness is a whole lot harder than we want to think. And as Anglicans, seems to me at least, we’re pretty good at talking about how important it is to be forgiving, but not as as good at reflecting on what it means to need to ask for forgiveness and what it means to live as the object of another’s forgiveness when we’re convinced we haven’t done anything wrong. But those dynamics are precisely what need to be proclaimed, reflected upon theologically, and held before us if the conversation we know we need to have is going to go somewhere.