These are a series of reflections on my decision to seek Holy Orders in the Episcopal Church
3 September 2006
There's that saying about not being able to go "back home". That's probably true, because one can never go back even while living there. Life, relationships, history they are all in a flux. As the fountain in our back yard states: "You cannot step twice into the same river." The journey back, however, is always an intriguing attempt. I left Saint Francis on The Feast of Pentecost 2004, when I said my last mass there, and moved on. With the exception of one marriage ceremony, and a couple of concerts, I've not been back since that time.
The intervening period has been filled with all of Kübler-Ross' stages. There was immobilization (I don't think I'll go anywhere to church anymore), denial (I'll apply for the Sr. Pastor position), anger (I don't want to be around those people any longer), bargaining (what if I set up a semi-monastic group of men for prayer and Eucharist), testing (let's try out the Episcopal Church you've been wanting to do that since forever), acceptance (going back and seeing that it's not home any longer). It has been a fruitful period in which I have been able to truly think through what I believe, what my ecclesial values are, and how I see my future going. This was the one step that helped confirm all of this.
A few days ago, at dinner with my good friend Tom Tragardh, we discussed my progress. He thought, and stated it rather bluntly (which is why I love Tom so much), that I had been too unbending in my staying away. "It's time to go back." And as he stated that, I realized that a great deal of my exile was really a manifestation of my anger at the situation, an emotion that had faithfully accompanied me my last two years at Saint Francis. The anger has dissipated, as well as the grief itself. I did want to go back really I just wanted to sit next to Arthur in church again, and to see what it all felt like.
So Sunday, I went back. I knew that I had reached a stasis when I found the usual critique mode that almost always accompanies me when in any church, was absent. There were no mutterings under my breath about the liturgy, nor did boredom set in with the onset of the Sermon. There were, however, emotions. What truly overwhelmed me was how claustrophobic the whole place felt. Broader and bigger places (both physically and emotionally) had taken the place of St. Francis in my life. It was truly a curious sensation, not as if I were "slumming", but rather that my mind and soul were centered elsewhere. The usual was to be found elsewhere not here.
In the last sermon that I preached at Saint Francis, as in several of them following the departure of Pr. DeLange, and Pr. Stabb, I had urged the congregation to press for a more catholic approach. Not of form and ceremony, but of pursuing a sense of being involved in the wider church of not "going it alone, being fiercely independent". That is a difficult task. I find the current impasse in the Anglican Communion over the growing African and Asian Churches and the Episcopal Church in the US almost refreshing. These are not parochial concerns that grab at my consciousness, but rather the emotions that surround the question of "How can we be the church?" "How can we walk together?" The claustrophobia of being an independent church is quiet and intimate, but it avoids the neighbor's religious issues.
I'm glad I went back. It helped me realize what progress I have made, made me see that I love all of those people in a totally different manner, and helped me to realize that I'm on the right path. There is a prayer in the Daily Office of the Lutheran Church. I'll close with it, because it is spot on. And I'll thank the new pastor and the people of Saint Francis for just being there the place from where a new me has sprung!
Lord God, you have called your servants to ventures of which we cannot see the ending, by paths as yet untrodden, through perils unknown. Give us faith to go out with good courage, not know whre we go, but only that your hand is leading us and your love supportin us; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen
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