Friday, July 7, 2006

+Marc Andrus on Communion and the Particular

Following the Episcopal Church's General Convention, many of us in the Diocese of California disagreed strongly with the way in which some arguments about the relationship between our Province and the rest of the Anglican Communion were framed: either affirm justice for LGBT people and "walk apart" or continue to work to address global human suffering by remaining in the Anglican Communion. Surely these are not mutually exclusive, and so a group from our diocese is working to develop specific global mission initiatives that hold both commitments together. Our new bishop, +Marc Andrus, has written the following piece in response to our efforts, which I believe are worth sharing more widely.

Communion and the Particular

One of the questions that were asked over and over in the walkabouts in the Diocese of California had to do with the tension between inclusion at the local level, and the coherence of the Communion. As you know, my answer was that we need the Communion in order to address, from the stance of people of faith, challenges that have global dimensions, e.g. the environmental crisis. It is my belief that we do not need, though, to let go of our commitment to justice and being swept up in Christ’s great project of embrace at the local level in order to stay part of the same project at the level of the world.

If our commitment is to the relief of global human suffering, locally and globally enacted, we will have a communion. When we baptize and confirm it is into the Body of Christ, not into the Episcopal Church. The remembering of this may help us recognize a communion that may be given to us by our common commitment to the reconciling work of Christ in the world; that is, those who are also engaged in this ministry, or who recognize in it the traits of Christ’s ministry, will recognize us as brothers and sisters. We will have surprises in this, and there will be tears of repentance as all see what could have been but for our self-imposed barriers, and laughter at the gift of shared life.

In the closed discussion of consents to the election of candidates to the episcopate, on the day before we saw Resolution B033, there was much talk of sacrifice. What, numbers of bishops asked, must we sacrifice in order to preserve the Communion. My contribution to this discussion was to share what I told the California deputation after B033 passed: for over a year I have been meditating on Jesus’ words, “Go and learn what it means, ‘I desire compassion and not sacrifice.’” More and more I believe that Jesus was invoking two whole worlds of thought and resultant action. One derives from a false idea that there is not enough, that we must guard what we need and want, and that this guarding includes, paradoxically, giving up something proximate in order to preserve that which is most valuable.

The other life-world, that of compassion, is the world of abundance. In the phrase of mathematical cosmologist Brian Swimme, the source of this abundance is the all-nourishing abyss. The face of Christ may be understood as the doorway into this abundance for us, making particular, familiar and accessible that which is universal and beyond description in language.

It is my belief that the new Christian era involves a call to live in awareness of the all-nourishing abyss, the mediating face of Christ, and the abundance of compassion that flows into life through this channel. This is not really a new message, except in its reference to the whole world.

I was an elementary school student when I first saw the achingly beautiful photographs of the Earth as seen from space, from the Apollo spacecrafts. My consciousness has been shaped by the presence of these images, but it is the generations born after me, my daughters and their cohorts, in whom the new consciousness of the whole is blossoming as naturally as their sexual orientations, or their right or left-handedness. So, it is to this new consciousness that our Gospel must be proclaimed.

The response to the need to be in communion and to hold onto our local commitment to justice and inclusion by this group of California Episcopalians is really brilliant. It confirms Sheila’s and my hopes yet again for ministry among you as your bishop, and fans the fires of the imagination for ministry. Let me offer a beginning dream that might contribute to your efforts.

One of my priorities in beginning my episcopacy with you will be the establishing of vital companion diocese relationships. It is my belief that it would be best if we were in two relationships at the same time, forming a kind of microcosm of the Communion (or the round dance of the Trinity!). I understand the Diocese of Indianapolis has done this. I suggested it in Alabama, but for various reasons the usual dyadic relationship has just been initiated there (and there is much good in this beginning, to be sure). I would think that we might look to Central and South America for one diocesan companion, and to Asia for another.

The relevance of this idea to your great work in progress is that I would hope that the microfinance of projects by marginalized LGBT people could be undertaken as completely normal ministry in the circling flow of love between the Diocese of California and its potential companion dioceses. By normal I don’t mean at all submerged, or hidden, but a recognized part of such mutual ministry.

The potential of this ministry being undertaken in a coordinated, diocese-wide way is that we in California not only gain a broad and in-depth understanding of these Communion partners, but, I think, we will also gain knowledge of ourselves as a whole. So, while I honor and encourage the already existing relationships between parishes in the Diocese of California and parishes elsewhere in the Communion, I hope we could focus considerable energy on the identification and encouragement of these new companion relationships, within which your efforts would, I trust, flourish.




Neil said...

This is great, John, and thanks for sharing it. My one reaction is that we should definitely seek out a companion diocese in Africa, instead of Asia (South America makes sense because of our strong ties there already). Africa is where most of the Anglicans are in the world, and I am sure there must be a diocese there that would want to be our companion.

Fr. John said...

Neil, I believe the choice of Asia for a companion diocese reflects the demographics of our diocese and our location on the Pacific rim. I don't belive it at all precludes mission work in Africa.

janinsanfran said...

I have to respond to this as I often do to much discourse in contemporary U.S. Christian life: I am made very uneasy by the use of the word "abundance" to describe God's love. "Abundance" is so very much the experience of life that we in the rapacious rich world enjoy -- at the expense of everyone else. Our abundance is most humans' deprivation and death.

God's love is there with those others far more immediately than with us and for them there must be other language -- perhaps justice, certainly solidarity. Our miracle is that Gods' love is with us as well, if we will listen and respond.

None of which really contradicts anything +Marc has written -- I speak to the language, not the substance.

Fr. John said...

Jan - I wonder if the language of "plenitude" might work better here. It has a slightly different connotation in my mind than "abundance;" a sense of overlow, of dynamism, of that which envelops you and is shared. "Abundance" has a more static feel. One thinks of the rich man who built many barns to store his abundance, and then died that night. Just a thought.

DF in Massachusetts said...

"As you know, my answer was that we need the Communion in order to address, from the stance of people of faith, challenges that have global dimensions, e.g. the environmental crisis." - Marc Andrus

I'm glad Marc Andrus dissented on B033. But I have to point out that it's a lie that we need "the Communion" in order to address, from the stance of people of faith, challenges that have global dimensions.

There are far too many people of faith doing far more to overcome challenges of global dimensions than we are in The Episcopal Church. And these people of faith rarely have "a Communion" to facilitate their work.

Although I'm sure Marc Andrus doesn't have ill intentions, his quote above illustrates how straight liberals are doing a disservice to GLBT Episcopalians by thoughtlessly furthering the argument that it's OK for GLBT Episcopalians to be sacrificed so that mission work can be kept as easy as possible for our dainty straight Episcopalians.

Well... mission work is being done by GLBT Episcopalians, and it's not easy being authentic about oneself while also doing the real work that needs to be done locally, nationally, and globablly. It's time straight liberals started doing the same.

Fr. John said...

DF, my sense from +Marc's essay and conversations with him, is that the Communion of which he speaks is the Communion of those committed to Christ's work of global reconciliation and healing. I believe we do need that Communion, and that it may subsist in the Anglican Communion but is by no means restricted to it.

DF in Massachusetts said...


I hope you are right about what Marc Andrus was thinking.

What was written in your preface, however, and what Marc wrote in his first paragraph, make it very clear that "the Communion" you both referred to was specfically the Anglican Communion.

What I find alarming about Resolution B033 is that it passed in large part due to the argument that we need to be in "the Communion", specfically the Anglican Communion. And the "need" for us to be in the Anglican Communion was often cited as due to our inability to effectively do mission work should we be outside the Anglican Communion. That flawed and inacurrate take on what is currently going on will come back to haunt us when it is used again to justify taking away the right of GLBT Episcopalians to have same-sex blessings or be ordained as clergy.

I'm just trying to point out that there's a big difference between "a communion" and "the Communion". Not being attentive to the difference is going to prove even more costly to GLBT Episcopalians in the years ahead.

If what you and Marc Andrus wrote actually meant that "the Communion of which he speaks is the Communion of those committed to Christ's work of global reconciliation and healing. I believe we do need that Communion, and that it may subsist in the Anglican Communion but is by no means restricted to it.", then it needs to be written exactly like that. Otherwise, those who could be our allies in defeating potential moratoriums on ordaining GLBT people as clergy and the performing of same-sex blessings could be swayed (again) to vote in favor of future moratoriums.

I just think it's time for all of us to be honest and clear about the processes that make possible the mission work we are already doing. Let's give credit where credit is due. But let's not pretend that our ability to be engaged as people of faith is limited to what was possible in the 19th century.