Thursday, July 05, 2012

Fasten your seat belts, it's going to be a bumpy ride

by Ralinda Gregor

“This is your captain speaking. There are thunder- storms nearby, and we’re heading into some turbulence, so please fasten your seat belts.”

Even after a 20+ year career supporting navigation in the Air Force, I hate to hear those words. I’m not afraid to fly, and I rarely worry about my husband when he’s jetting your packages here and there during the night, but I don’t like turbulence. Even though I know the captain is charting a safe course through the storms, and we will reach our destination in one piece, I hate the feeling of turbulence.

I know many of you feel the same way, but I need to tell you—the members of our parish family—“We’re heading into turbulence, so please fasten your seat belts.”

Every three years the Episcopal Church convenes a General Convention of bishops and lay and clergy deputies from every diocese across the church. This summer they will meet from July 5-12 in Indianapolis, Ind. where they will finalize a budget for the next three years and will consider more than 200 resolutions on the structure, administration and work of the church.

There are resolutions to form a com- mission that will recommend ways to streamline the administrative and governance structures of the national church to make it more effective and to reduce the huge expense these “overhead” functions cost the church—currently 47 percent of the entire budget.

There are resolutions to delay or suspend the implementation of the denominational health plan for clergy and lay employees that was approved during the last General Convention. It was supposed to provide better care at a lower cost for more employees, but it has turned out to be cost prohibitive for many parishes and dioceses because the plan does not base premiums on the national pool of those covered, but instead varies by the small pool of employees in each diocese. While these will be difficult issues to resolve, they bode well for the future of the business side of church administration.

The turbulence instead will come from resolutions that impact the liturgy and theology of the Episcopal Church. In fact, I should probably remind you that that we have been in that turbulence for about 40 years. You probably felt the biggest jolt nine years ago when the church approved the consecration of New Hampshire’s Bishop Gene Robinson, a non-celibate homosexual, even though leaders from provinces across the Communion warned the Episcopal Church that it would go against Christian and Anglican church teaching and destroy the unity of the Anglican Communion.

This summer, the General Convention will decide whether to approve a liturgy for same-sex blessings. Leaders at all levels from the presiding bishop on down have indicated “it’s a done deal.” Before you read about this resolution in local or national newspapers, the leadership of St Francis in the Fields wants to make you aware of what is coming.

The last General Convention in 2009 tasked the Standing Committee on Liturgy and Music (SCLM) to gather existing rites for same-sex blessings and to come up with a single rite to use on a trial basis. For the past three years, this group has diligently worked to do just that. They have consulted widely throughout the church, even hosting a meeting of two deputies from each diocese to help craft what that rite would look like. The question was not “should we do this?” but rather “how should we do this?” Interestingly, more than half a million dollars was donated to fund the SCLM’s work by two secular foundations that advocate for lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and transgender rights.

The proposed rite is available in the Convention “Blue Book” (starting on page 239) which can be downloaded here. Parishes will not be required to perform same-sex blessings, and those that want to offer them must do so with the approval and under the guidance of their diocesan bishop. Bishops will be authorized to provide a “generous pastoral response” to same-sex couples, particularly but not exclusively where same-gender marriage, civil unions or domestic partnerships are legal. This three year trial will allow the SCLM to fine-tune the liturgy with the expected next step—left unstated—to eventually include a liturgy for same-sex blessings in the Book of Occasional Services or the Book of Common Prayer.

Undergirding this work is a new understanding of baptismal theology espoused by many in the Episcopal Church. Baptism is viewed as full initiation into the church, and by virtue of one’s baptism, all the sacraments—including marriage and ordination— should as a matter of justice, be available to all the baptized all the time. Justice trumps everything, and sanctification—becoming more like Christ in holiness, love and service to others—assumes less importance. It is a “baptismal theology” that has been detached from catholic and biblical doctrine. In following this ‘baptismal theology” to its logical conclusion, confirmation is made unnecessary, and a series of resolutions even propose to remove the requirement for confirmation before one becomes a lay leader in the church, such as a vestry member or lay Eucharistic minister.

The national church may be following this flight path, but the clergy and vestry will continue to uphold the sacrament of marriage and not squander the inheritance of the faith once delivered that has been given to us. We will continue to emphasize personal discipleship through Bible studies, Sunday school, and small group studies. We will continue to be a parish that welcomes people in all walks of their faith journey, trusting that the Holy Spirit will teach, convict and sanctify each one of us who trusts in Christ and his salvation. We will continue to reach out to others in service as the hands and feet of Christ, meeting practical needs and sharing the transforming message of the Gospel. We will stand firm in the faith once delivered with the majority of the world’s Anglicans and Christians who do not accept the innovations of our denomination.

You’ll be hearing more in the coming weeks. Please don’t hesitate to contact me or any of the other vestry members or our clergy if you have questions or concerns. The flight is going to get bumpy, but don’t fear because God is not our co-pilot; He’s the pilot in command.

Ralinda Gregor is Senior Warden of St. Francis in the Fields Episcopal Church, Harrods Creek, KY.

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