As an interested and concerned observer of the Anglican Communion’s recent goings on, the end result of the recent meeting of the House of Bishops of The Episcopal Church in New Orleans crystallized an opinion I’ve held for quite some time. Regardless of the outcome, schism or no, the conservative, continuing, diehard (pick one) Anglicans (Episcopalians) at the heart of this battle have pretty much themselves to blame. They fought a mighty battle, yes, but for the most part they fought it with their foot in their mouth, one arm tied behind their back and their ears definitely nowhere near the ground.
Since Lambeth in 1998, but more so since 2003 when the world learned that Gene Robinson makes Mrs. Robinson look like a 19th century school marm, I have waited for the other shoe to drop. Well, the thud heard ’round Bourbon Street last week left nothing to the imagination. Ironically, too, this pronouncement came from New Orleans, where, how shall I say, sin is not difficult to find and is also extremely easy to overlook.
My viewpoint in this debate is from the pew, not the pulpit. I have waited patiently the past few years for my marching orders. I knew without being told that the cause was just. I gladly enlisted. Then I waited for word as to where I was going and how I was going to get there. I stood silently by, as good soldiers do, while my colonels and majors got organized. What happened, sad to say, was the generals never showed up.
I heard many voices, for sure; from places like Plano and Dar es Salaam and San Joaquin. Groups were formed and alliances were melded. But no single leader emerged. Not to overdo the military analogy but it’s akin to the captain who chastised the private for saluting him on the battlefield. Even though he’s in charge he doesn’t want to become THE target. As a result, those of us in the ranks has been left standing on the platform, waiting for a troop train that will never come.
Still I waited. Like my ancestors listening to the static-filled airwaves at the height of World War II, many of us huddled in our living rooms, talking to no one but each other. We gathered each Sunday morning for news. But more often than not the pulpit was silent. If, by chance, something was said it was along the lines of “stay the course.”
Occasionally, an out-of-town expert would arise during the Sunday school hour and mumble about this or that. At dinner that same afternoon, I would not be able to intelligently discuss a single thing he or she said. And, of course, the Bishop would drop by once a year. I strained to listen but Bishopspeak is a difficult language for anyone to understand. What is happening to my church, I wanted to know? Is the truth still the truth. Will our biblical standards be upheld? Speaking only for myself, all I ever got back was some vague, obscure and, at times, downright upside down thinking.
Historically, wars are won in the trenches. On the front lines. One foothold at a time. Shoulder to shoulder, with steady hands and thumping hearts. Wars are not won back at headquarters. Battles are planned there, of course, and charts are drawn, But without the foot soldier, in this case the men and the women in the pews, nothing ventured is nothing gained.
The current leaders of The Episcopal Church think, and some have even been heard to say, that those who are unhappy with the current direction of the church are but a fraction of the whole; a scruffy rabble eager for a fight.
They think that because they haven’t been allowed to hear from me, and many more like me. The affected bishops and clergy (our colonels and majors), the ones who attend meetings and draw battle plans, have, for all intents and purposes, excluded us; allowing us no forum other than a vitriolic blog response or an occasional letter like this.
Following a recent pity party, a friend reminded me that The Episcopal Church is based on the European model of doing things. Top down, not bottom up. Indeed the definition of Episcopal means just that. But at such a critical time as this to exclude and, it pains me to say, ignore the voices from the pews is a marketing plan destined for failure.
This past Sunday, the Sunday following the New Orleans meeting, my parish pulpit was once again without voice. To a great many parishioners, to endure this kind of silence is most hurtful.
Esoteric thinking has its place. But when it comes time to pay the church electric bill or put the money in the bank to pay for staff salaries, it’s the folks who sign the pledge cards year in and year out who are counted on the most. The same should apply when the very future of our church home is at stake.
The old saying, “the devil is in the details,” has never been more obvious nor has it ever seemed more ominous.
–Mr David Peek is an Episcopal layman and lives in Sumter, South Carolina