I feel like a character in the novel Perelandra, the second in C.S. Lewis' Space Trilogy. On that fictional planet, there is no firm ground. It all consists of floating islands, constantly rising and falling, making it difficult for one to keep one's footing.
When I was ordained a priest nearly seventeen years ago, I promised to (among other things) "take [my] share in the councils of the church." I didn't give it an inordinate amount of thought at the time. Of course I would go to conventions and councils and meetings and the like. It comes with the territory.
In time, I have more and more learned experientially what I would have known then theoretically, that participating in the councils of the church is more easily said than done. The work I did last summer at General Convention, serving on a hot-button committee that was constantly in the spotlight, was one of the most demanding and exhausting labors to which I have ever given myself. I have still not completely "processed" what went on there, and the meaning of my own share in it.
This coming weekend, the diocese in which I serve as part of the "college of presbyters"--an ancient expression that is worth recovering, with its image of wise "elders" standing alongside the bishop and together leading the people of God in discerning God's vision for His church--as I said, the Diocese of San Joaquin will be convening and considering what is arguably the most important question in our 95 year history; to wit: whether to take a large step in the direction of dissolving our formal relationship with the General Convention of the Episcopal Church. Some would contend that we are considering doing something that is quite outside our competence. We'll find out, I guess. In any case, we're not pulling the trigger this time around. That opportunity will come at next year's convention, at the second reading of the constitutional change that I expect we will pass on Saturday. So, for now, we're just taking the safety off and cocking the gun.
I have very mixed feelings about this. At one level it's terrifying and sobering beyond words. If we do this, we will be entering uncharted territory, and it's impossible to predict what the consequences will be, especially the unintended consequences. We will also be taking very real leave of some very real people who, while they may have done foolish things that irritate and annoy us no end, are also our friends--people with whom we have worked and prayed and laughed for years and years. This is sad. Sadder still is the fact that we will also be taking our leave of people who have not particularly irritated or annoyed us, and who have not necessarily done foolish things, but who, for various reasons, are not going to accompany us as we step out into the abyss. Anyone who is not brought up short by this fact isn't really thinking.
At the same time, the prospect of breaking free of the madness that has slowly but inexorably tightened its grip on the Episcopal Church for the past 35 years or so is bracing and irresistably attractive. As I have previously written in upstream posts, I believe a realignment of Anglicanism is taking place that will produce structures of interdependence and accountability across provincial lines such as we have not seen before, and which the General Convention will most likely opt not to be part of. So, this weekend, we will hasten the inevitable.
I have also made it clear that I see no necessity of doing what we're about to do at this time. I would have preferred to wait, and let events take a more natural and organic course, and in the end produce pretty much the same result, only with wider buy-in. I can still serve in the Episcopal Church with a clear conscience. Moreover, I am mortified by some of the rhetoric that has been used by many of my colleagues as they have argued for haste in this matter. I fear that we are using an axe for a job that requires a scalpel, casting a wide net when a rod and reel are called for. But even though it's the wrong time, it is the right thing. Strategically, we've passed the point of no return. To back off now would send precisely the wrong message, both to our friends and to our adversaries. God help us, and God save us.