I was immediately captivated by this expression the moment I heard it proceed from the mouth of the Bishop of Rome as he addressed a gathering of ecumenical leaders in New York City a couple of weeks ago. While he never mentioned the Episcopal Church by name, it seems scarcely imaginable that he was not speaking directly to "this church." His plea was that we pay attention not simply to our relationships in community (koinonia is the New Testament ecclesiological term for communion, deep fellowship, within the Body of Christ) with other Christians at this moment in time, but with those who lived--or will live, presumably--at other moments. Reconciliation needs to occur not only with our contemporaries, but with those who have gone before us and will come after us.
Nearly four decades ago I had a college professor who never tired of railing against what he called "present-mindedness," a habit of thought that magnifies the insights and attitudes of the zeitgeist, and heavily discounts those of earlier eras. Is not present-mindedness surely the besetting malady of the Episcopal Church? We are veritably amnesiac. We have forgotten who we are. I was raised in midwestern free-church evangelicalism, a subculture that, in my youth, was so amnesiac that it almost believed the doctrinal content of the Christian faith was dropped by parachute on Wheaton, Illinois sometime around the turn of the last century.
So it was a liberating moment for me when I knelt before the Bishop of Los Angeles (33 years ago last month) for the sacramental rite of Confirmation. Without losing anything that I had embraced in my Christian journey before that point, I gained the wisdom and coherence of 2,000 years of Christian tradition. I accepted the givenness of Christianity. It was not my possession, my personal intellectual toy. It was something that had been "handed along" (Greek paradosis--"tradition") to me. As a pastor, all these years later, it is my solemn obligation to "hand along" what we have received to others--intact. I have neither the burden nor the authority to re-invent it.
This is the practice of diachronic koinonia. Until recent years, one could make a plausible case that such practice was in the DNA of the Episcopal Church. Lately, not so much. We are, in fact, rapidly mutating. Bonnie Anderson's assertions (in her message to the House of Deputies this past week) that there is a theology behind TEC's polity, and that such polity is the vehicle for Divine revelation are among the signs of the ongoing mutation. The Presiding Bishop's Pentecost message that speaks not of the Holy Spirit, but simply of "Holy Spirit" is another. Pope Benedict, in his New York remarks, was lovingly and generously holding us accountable to our own identity. We have quite forgotten ourselves.