It was a standing-room-only-event and it was clear that the vast majority of people in the room were Episcopalians. They had a lot of questions, really good questions, thoughtful and passionate, and it got me to thinking about the current state of the "Communion Partners" who have not yet held such meetings with the laity.
I've been supportive of Communion Partners, those bishops who feel at this time that they should remain within the structures of The Episcopal Church and witness from within. There is certainly a biblical precedent to do that, to be a remnant, and God does have a track record of bringing dry bones to life. There's no doubt about that.
But what caused me to pause today is that it's clear that up to this moment the Communion Partners have overlooked an important key to any hope of success they may have. Almost all the attention, all the discussion, all the papers, all of it - including the name itself - have overlooked the laity remnant. There may be an assumption, an erroneous one if today is any indication, that the laity will just sit idly in the pews and wait for some voice from on high to say something at some point, or will just require them to sit still until retirement age comes along and the clergy and bishops call in the cash cow of their pensions and waddle off into the sunset. The laity are expected to still be there, sitting in their pews, looking at the walls, and wondering what in tarnation just happened and where did everybody go?
In fact, the laity are reading - they are reading the newspapers and the diatribes the come out of 815 and their diocesan headquarters. They get the quizzical stares at the office and out on the golf course and down at Starbucks. They are watching old friends they've known from prayer groups and Bible Studies getting sued and defrocked. They watch their own bishop sue homeless ministries because they just might be preaching Jesus to the poor while housing an Anglican church. And they see that their church - for some the only church they've ever known - is leaving them and though they desperately want to stay, their church is leaving them out in the cold. They can feel it, they can see it slipping away and when they bring it up it's like inviting a skunk to the Sunday picnic.
Sitting with them today, in this packed room in the heart of the DC metropolitan area, listening to their questions, seeing the pain in their faces, the frustration in their voices - it brought back memories of similar gatherings on Sunday afternoons not all that long ago over on this side of the Potomac. I could see today, as they sat with every chair taken, that they are trying to hold on, but they can feel it. They can see it. Something is not right. They feel isolated, left behind. And the "Communion Partners" has very little to do with them. Their own voices are not being heard. I spent two hours listening - and the pain is as real now as it was three years ago.
There are times when I cross over the Potomac, leaving Virginia for Maryland and it feels like going to a foreign land. But not today, not this afternoon as Phil Ashey brought them news of hope - that the laity do have voice, the laity can do something about it, the laity do not just have to sit quietly with their hands folded and pretend it's all going to be all right. I'm reminded what we hear often from the lips of bishops. The laity is the first order of the church, they say - the ministers of the church. This was an impressive crowd gathered on a busy Friday afternoon, the traffic wailing by outside on Connecticut Avenue, the storm clouds passing over as the cherry blossoms danced in the wind through the streets. Yes, they are the first order of the church.
We learned this afternoon that Mary Haines, widow of the former Bishop of Washington, Ronald Haines, passed away last week after a long illness. I remember her. She was one of the voices that stood out from the crowd, that was determined to stand for biblical Christianity in the Episcopal Church even when it took her to the opposite side of the fence than her own husband. She never missed a meeting and was fervently prolife. I thought of her as well today, of all the hours and years she spent working hard to see the church come back from the brink. I just know that if she was still here, she would have been in that room today.
It was clear those those that gathered today love their church - they love their church, but not at any price and it would be wise for the Communion Partners to not assume whom they speak for, not at this late hour. The days of assumptions are over. We must work together.
It makes no sense that while the leadership of the Anglican Communion meeting together in Alexandria, Egypt in February was calling for restraint - at that very hour a rector and his flock in Binghamton, New York, were being ordered out of their church home and the rectory, even the poor and the homeless they served in their soup kitchen. The signs they left behind at the old church now closed pointed the poor and homeless to the soup kitchen's in their new location, rented to them by the Roman Catholic Church - but even those signs were pulled out of the ground, leaving the poor with no where to go.
How odd that in many ways those gathered in the room this afternoon identified with that story, even as we sat in the high brow, well-heeled digs of a Chevy Chase country club - that even while calls of restraint continue from those who call themselves Communion Partners, the signs that point the way are being pulled out in front of them. And the shades are drawn and the clock is ticking. They know from the papers they read and the sermons they hear and the proclamations that are made, they know, they know that the church they once knew is gone, gone just like that old friend who once sat amongst them and who's voice they hear no more.
Buried in the Communique that came out of Egypt was a phrase that told those gathered today more than the rest of the Communique put together. It was inserted from the Windsor Continuation Group and put in the footnotes:
Any scheme developed would rely on an undertaking from the present partners to ACNA that they would not seek to recruit and expand their membership by means of proselytisation. WCG believes that the advent of schemes such as the Communion Partners Fellowship and the Episcopal Visitors scheme instituted by the Presiding Bishop in the United States should be sufficient to provide for the care of those alienated within the Episcopal Church from recent developments.The audacity that this kind of pronouncement can be made as if we are living in a Royal Colony and the King has made it so. Has anyone actually talked to the laity who are feeling alienated? Anyone? The poor who can't find their meal? Anyone? As evidenced today, that answer is quite simply - no.
To late, my brothers? Too late - but never mind? All our trials, Lord, soon be over?