These are a series of reflections on moments in life, shared from time to time, through out the year.


13 March 2006

 

Why I am becoming an Episcopalian, Part I

I have really been wandering for some time, when I really think about it. My journey in ministry began in the Lutheran Church ­ Missouri Synod (LCMS). It was the national church that my father and my mother belonged to. It was the church into which many of my ancestors were ordained as pastors, or had served as teachers. My great grandfather had left the old Ohio Synod to join the Missouri Synod, so movements out of this particular church were not looked on too kindly, especially by my groszmama, his daughter. When my brother and I finally chose to leave, it was news that grieved my father, and by extension, my mother. Tom left in the great exodus from Concordia Seminary when the praesidium of the church began its investigation of the faculty there. I left while serving as pastor of the Lutheran Church of Saint Ambrose in Pennsville, New Jersey. My parish was ready to leave as well. The issues centered around the concept of "close communion", a practice of the Roman and Orthodox churches as well, in which a person must be in communion either with the Bishop of Rome, or Orthodox, or (in the LCMS) situation, in full agreement with the doctrines of the church before being able to receive the Eucharist.

That was my first leaving. We joined the American Lutheran Church, a church body made up of the remains of immigrations from Germany, Norway, and Finland. I soon learned to be a non-entity. Even though I served as a Conference Dean, it never really felt like home. When I moved back to California, without call, I soon joined St. Francis Lutheran Church in San Francisco. In 1984, they voted to call me as a non-stipendiary pastor, an action that required ratification by the Conference of Bishops. Happily they granted that. So there I was ­ a German boy in a congregation of Norwegians, Danes, and Finns.

My second leaving was not a matter of my control. In 1989, St. Francis called two lesbian women to serve as adjunct pastors. They were irregularly ordained in January of 1990. There was a church trial later, and the church was suspended, and then expelled from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) in 1995. Alone again, naturally. And this brings me to my central point.

I have for most of my life thought of the Lutheran Church as a part of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church. That is fundamental to me, and that is what I really find attractive about the Episcopal Church. It understands that yearning for unity ­ although the recent difficulties over the election of Bp. Gene Robinson, and the continuing difficulties over the ordination of women in some dioceses give one pause. Even those conflicts reflect that yearning for unity. Missouri Synod types expressed in terms of absolute agreement among parties. Episcopalians say it all in the title of their worship book, The Book of Common Prayer.

So it is not leaving that I am doing so much as joining ­ joining with those who feel unity not only with themselves but with others in the Church. The expression of that unity is seen not only in its liturgy, but in its ministry ­ in the differentiation of bishops, priests, and deacons. It is proud to be the Church, and to act like the Church. It stands proudly in the public place and offers commentary on society and flag in the light of the Gospel.


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MTH 3/5/06