Yesterday, as part of our didactic discussion with our Saint Hilda’s interns, Fr Bob Griffith of Saint Paul’s Carroll Gardens led us in a discussion of self-giving leadership and what it means to be community in light of both the needs, rights, and claims of the individual versus the identity, cohesion, and goals of the community.
He left us with the notion that there are two things that we should always take into dialogue and disagreement. The first is that the other person could absolutely be right. The second is that Jesus is always the third way.
In a piece I wrote the other day, I commented on the utter sadness of the impasse in the Diocese of South Carolina as its leadership squares off against the Presiding Bishop’s office. A couple of folks have said, “yes it is sad, but what do we do?”
In our current discussions we have to be willing to admit that we could be wrong. We could have an opinion that is utterly contradictory to the will of God and the movement of the Holy Spirit. Thank God for grace. A good exercise for me is to periodically go back and read old essays, journal entries, and the like that I have written. I always marvel at just how obtuse the guy that wrote those was! The exercise often serves to help me frame my opinions now – I could be, and probably am on many subjects, just wrong.
In seeing that we could be wrong, we need to be very, very careful of moves, actions, and statements that cut off the possibility for either deep relationship or reconciliation. We could be the party that has this wrong. Thus, with care and great trepidation, we should nurture and facilitate ties with those with whom we disagree – especially with those with whom we disagree.
There is our way. There is their way. And there is the third way that Jesus offers. His example of self-offering, of pouring out his whole self in service to God, is our model for dialogue, debate, and argument. Jesus is always offering us a different path than the one that society and our ego encourages. He is offering us the path of self-giving.
So. It is sad. But what do we do?
I keep on pondering a movement in Germany that has been around for centuries. The Simultaneum or Simultankirche are churches in which both Protestant and Roman Catholic congregations worship. They are churches which recognize that the witness to Christ transcends their differences.
In those areas where agreement and partnership are possible, there is cooperation. For example, there are often shared mission trips, evangelism, and outreach. In those areas where cooperation is not possible, there is flexibility. So they do not have joint Eucharistic services and the like.
They share the same building but worship at different times.
In many places, these churches have been signs of reconciliation. They often have “hospitality agreements” that spell out how they will partner and cooperate with one another serving as both guest and host in the same space.
We should be considering how to live with such a model in our churches. It would be more than possible for a continuing congregation to share space with a congregation that found itself unable to be, in whole and good conscience, a full part of the Episcopal Church.
Bill the church as “S. Cuthbert’s Anglican-Episcopal.” Share the cost of upkeep, do chores around the church together, polish silver together, trim hedges together, do all those small tasks that are acts of prayer for the glory of God. S. Cuthbert’s could host a shelter together, build a soup kitchen together, do Habitat for Humanity together.
Laboring together and learning to live in the midst of conflict together are the very stuff of prayerful self-offering. None of this requires anything more than patience. And it certainly does not require doctrinal agreement.
I realize that there would be a host of legal, ecclesiastical, and logistical challenges and yet I have to think that this kind of generosity of spirit (admitting we could be wrong and looking for a third way) can help us weather the storm – not for the sake of compromise but so that we can proclaim the unity and reconciling grace of the Body.
We would be able to offer a witness to the grace of Christ amidst strife. We would demonstrate what it means to love one another even (and especially) in difficult times. We would alleviate questions over who gets the property and the silver. We would allow relationships between those who, in good conscience, disagree to continue and even to deepen in the service of Christ. It prevents us from, in our conviction that we are right, shattering a Communion that has withstood greater threats than these.
This may be naïve, but I keep thinking that if Roman Catholics and Protestants can do it, we can too. My hope is that we can find creative solutions to remain in relationship – to remain in Communion. Jesus is always calling us to a third way.