Friday, March 02, 2007

A Case in Point

In my morning batch of email was a message from an informal listserv to which I subscribe containing a link to the website of the (Episcopal) Church of the Redeemer in Morristown, New Jersey (Diocese of Newark). First, let me observe what a beautiful church building it is, and illustrate with this picture:

What follows is a long excerpt from the site. I believe the content justifies the length. Hang in there. I'll have some comments afterward.

Specific Ways our Worship Reflects our Vision

  • The signboard in front of the church states the Redeemer vision: "We Are One Family." A picture of this signboard is found on the home page of this website.
  • A large painted banner often hangs in front of the church, advertising: "It's a Come as You Are Party."
  • The Rainbow and Black Liberation flags are prominently displayed in the church.
  • A large picture of Martin Luther King, Jr. hangs on the back wall of the church.
  • Both the Episcopal Prayer Book and an Inclusive Language Eucharist are celebrated each Sunday.
  • All people, regardless of their tradition or age, are invited to receive Communion.
  • No formal church instruction is required to receive communion.
  • Grape juice is consecrated in consideration of those people who do not wish to receive wine.
  • One of the three Sunday lessons is taken from either a secular source or from the sacred writings of a tradition other than Christianity.
  • Collects in the inclusive language service are taken primarily from Janet Morley's All Desires Known and often end with the wording "through Jesus, our Christ."
  • Rather than the Nicene Creed, the inclusive language service often includes a musical setting of the very first Christian creed, "Jesus is Lord," as a meaningful way of expressing our belief.
  • During the liturgical seasons when a confession is used, the priest first absolves the people and the people then absolve the priest.
  • The celebrant always receives communion last to model servant leadership and to discount images of hierarchy.
  • Female imagery and references to God are used in conjunction with male imagery and references.
  • The United Church of Christ hymnal, The New Century Hymnal, which intentionally uses inclusive language, is the pew hymnal at Redeemer. Specially written inclusive language hymns are also used.
  • Redeemer intentionally uses the traditional form of The Lord's Prayer, but begins with the words, "Our Mother, our Father." People often join hands during this prayer.
  • Redeemer's stated music policy requires inclusive language and images God in both male and female forms. At Redeemer, language is seen as a justice issue.
  • Lay and ordained people from various religious traditions are invited to preach in the Redeemer pulpit. In addition, members of the parish, on a regular basis, tell stories which illustrate God's liberation within their lives. They speak as women, African-Americans, people in recovery, Holocaust survivors, Gays and Lesbians, and people living with AIDS.
  • Contemporary Maundy Thursday and Good Friday services have been created so as to honor the Christian tradition and at the same time speak to the issues confronting the modern world.
  • A series of Liberation Holy Days are celebrated. These make clear that God's work of liberation continues into the present time. Examples of these days are Martin Luther King, Jr. Sunday, Recovery Sunday, Holocaust Remembrance Sunday, Celebrating Women's Journeys Sunday, Gay and Lesbian Liberation Sunday, Celebrating Men's Journeys Sunday, and Blessing of the Animals Sunday.
  • The liturgical year has been altered to include an eight-week Creation Season, which points to the presence of God within all of creation, not just within human history.
  • At all holiday and special services, the loose offering is given to a designated outreach project.
  • Redeemer performs sacramental marriage for both same-sex and opposite sex couples. These events are duly recorded in the official parish registry, which the bishop examines. The Vestry resolution regarding same-sex weddings reads as follows:

    We, the Vestry of the Church of the Redeemer, support the inherently sacred nature of the covenant and commitment two people make to one another to enter into a life-long relationship, regardless of the gender makeup of the couple. Therefore, we the vestry, recognize the commitment of any two people in a life-long relationship, be they of the same or opposite sex, to be a Sacramental Marriage."
    adopted at May 10, 1999 Vestry Meeting

  • The Redeemer Church School Curriculum emphasizes our Judeo-Christian roots but also includes more contemporary liberation stories. Although Christianity is taught as our family story, other faiths are also honored. Emphasis is placed on the fact that the same God is the source of all major religions.
  • The Adult Forum is a discussion group which grapples with theological and social issues.
  • The Racial Dialogue Group meets monthly to name racism and white privilege in our midst and to promote
  • Leaders and members of Redeemer may come from traditions other than Christian and Episcopalian.
  • Outreach plays a crucial role in ministry at Redeemer, such as the Eric Johnson House, the Community Soup Kitchen, and the Interfaith Hospitality Network.
  • Groups at Redeemer include both gay and straight members. Each group - Men's Group, Women's Group, Partners' Group, Zen Meditation Group, Racial Dialogue Group, and the Book Discussion Group -- is a safe place for those who participate.
  • The Church houses an AIDS Chapel where people who have died from AIDS are remembered.
  • Members of the parish, both gay and straight, march behind the Redeemer banner in the New York City Gay Pride Parade.
  • Redeemer does not designate senior or junior wardens, nor rector's or people's warden.
  • Both hymns and liturgical music have been crafted by members of the Redeemer community.
  • A Worship Committee reviews and revises the contemporary liturgies, ever striving to make them speak more clearly to Redeemer's mission and vision.
  • During the Creation Season, gifts from nature - water, rock, grasses, fire, earth, branches, vegetables and fruit -- are presented at the offertory. Gifts of nature remain on the altar.
  • The Blessing of the Animals Service takes place as part of a Sunday morning Eucharist in the Creation season. Animals in attendance at the service each receive a blessing. An Animal Memorial Garden has been created on the parish grounds.
...aaaaaand we're back.

Now, does that seem like a caricature of itself, or what?

I've got two messages about this, one to those who call themselves "progressives" (aka Liberals and Re-Appraisers), and one to those who call themselves "orthodox"--my very own amigos and amigas (aka Conservatives and Re-Asserters). These are secret messages, OK? So pick your category and just read yours. No peeking!

To the Port Side:
This is the Mother Lode of source material for those across the divide from you. This is a feeding frenzy for conservatives, rabid and otherwise. This is a "See what the Episcopal Church is really doing?!" moment. I can hear all you liberals who don't cross your fingers when you say the creed, who are "actually quite traditional, liturgically," etc. saying, "That's just one parish, and it's not my parish." I hear that. But hear this: You're still getting tarred with the same brush. Guilt by association, and all that. The fact that places like this are able to flout the "doctrine, discipline, and worship of the Episcopal Church" with such apparent impunity robs you of any moral authority when you try to hold conservative feet to the fire over constitutional and canonical correctness. For instance, the Standing Committee of the Diocese of Newark covers itself with shame by withholding consent (and I realize I'm making an assumption here, which I would love to find out is inaccurate) to the election of Mark Lawrence in South Carolina for allegedly not giving sufficient assurance of his commitment to that constitution and those canons when they permit what's happening in Morristown to continue. Lots of shame.

To the Starboard Side:
Remember that Redeemer, Morristown is not the Episcopal Church! They are a distortion of the Episcopal Church. Please do not simply absorb this sad parish into the standard angry litany about the Presiding Bishop's impoverished christology (which it is) and the Bishop of New Hampsihre's unexemplary domestic arrangements (which they are) and the scurrilous behavior of General Convention (which it is) and everything else that makes those with an orthodox vision of Anglicanism froth at the mouth. Let's not make Redeemer the latest poster child for how TEC is headed straight to Hell without passing Go or collecting $200. Not everybody who disagrees with us about sexuality would be comfortable there. I suspect that the overwhelming majority would not.

To All Readers (you didn't peek, did you?):
It would really help if we could avoid broad generalities, extrapolations, and inferences as much as possible. About most anything. The recent exchanges I've had with my Bay Area Blogging Buddy Richard, while they got a little arcane in spots, are a sign that reasoned discourse is possible. I don't think either of us thought we would change the other's mind, and we didn't. But I know my own thinking was stretched and challenged, and that was good. I think Richard would say the same. One might ask, Doesn't that just leave us in the same place? No. It may seem that way, but it doesn't. Every time there is respectful discourse between Christians under the cover of the mutual affirmation of the Lordship of Jesus Christ, it provides our opportunistic God with raw material which He can them employ toward His redemptive purposes. Richard and I both think what we thought a week ago, but we think it slightly differently. I have faith that God can do something with that. I don't know what, or I would be God! It was worth the effort.

Let's all stay sane.

1 comment:

Charles said...

Yikes!

First, I want to affirm the human value of each person that attends Redeemer. Second, I want to say that anyone that swallows whole that Litany from their website and what it implies, is just not a practicing Christian.

My Unitarian mother and her partner are self-consciously not Christians, they are "Unitarians". There really is no need to hijack a Church building, just be honest, that without a overwrought theological primer, no one at any time till now could recognize this a Christian Church. At least Gnostic sects had some pizzazz and a nifty cosmology. This dashing around trying to maintenance every social justice issue on the planet, minus abortion, is just wacky -- and it gives me the schpilkas!