It’s not like Anglicanland is no longer interesting, but it does seem a good bit less dramatic than it has been at most times during the years I have been watching events play out. And my choice of words—not carefully considered in the moment--is a telling reflection of how things are: events are playing out. Most of us no longer expect to be shocked or surprised by anything. Events are playing out. It’s as if they’re following a script leading to a foregone conclusion. We may not have a clear view of just what that conclusion looks like, so there’s still a whole lot to be curious about, but it feels like a conclusion that is nonetheless foregone, inexorable. The bold moves have mostly been made, or so it seems, at any rate. All the sabers that are going to get rattled have been rattled. All the triggers that are going to get pulled have been pulled.
We are not bereft of mystery: How will the various courts decide the pending litigation? Which provinces will adopt the Covenant? At what rate will the Episcopal Church’s financial and numerical decline increase? Will the ACNA become regularized as part of the Anglican Communion? (Indeed, will they be able to form a cohesive provincial church out of their quite disparate elements?) There are probably some I’m forgetting. But more significantly, it seems like all the high cards have been played. The strategic weapons have been fired; only tactical ordnance is left. And while we may not know the precise outcome, there’s not much for most of us to do but watch the hand play out.
I find in all this cause for both consternation and relief. And then some more consternation. Let me explain.
The first wave of consternation is basically withdrawal from the adrenaline rush of sustained drama: constantly “breaking” news, a flurry of press conferences, news releases, dueling blog posts, and always the next meeting of [fill in the blank] to look forward to. It’s a heady atmosphere to which one can easily become addicted. I haven’t exactly had to go into rehab, but there are moments when I miss the drama.
Then comes the relief. I didn’t make a commitment to become a disciple of Jesus in order to fight with other disciples of Jesus. I didn’t embrace (more like yield to the seduction of) Anglican Christianity more than 35 years ago because I thought it would have more exciting conflicts than the Grace Brethren or the Assyrian Orthodox. It is the joy of my life to do what I do as a pastor and priest—to lead God’s people in worship, to serve as a conduit of sacramental grace, to break open the word of God to them, to share their joys and sorrows as we grow together into the image of Christ. So, if the reduction in macro-drama allows me to be more present to the micro-drama of my ordinary life, I’m not going to whine about it.
But the reduction in intensity of conflict is itself cause for concern. If it’s nice to have a break from the clamor of battle, it also means we are no longer engaging our opponents. A few days ago, a former student of mine in my former diocese (now part of the ACNA) emailed me with a technical question about liturgy. In trying to answer, I was struck by the reality that, absent the context of presumed accountability to the constitution and canons of the same church, it’s difficult to talk about faithfulness to Prayer Book texts and rubrics. I felt a divide between me and this person of a sort that I have not felt before, and it was not a feeling I enjoyed. At the same time, while I still subscribe to the HoB/D, I’m feeling more and more disconnected to the people who post there and the things they’re interested in (most recently, the dismissal of nine workers in New York because their employer’s cleaning contract with the Episcopal Church Center was not renewed). We’re supposedly in the same church, but it doesn’t feel like it, and I can’t even muster the energy to tell them that and hope they care enough to ask why. Throughout our conflicts, I have repeatedly urged all parties to “walk apart together,” to burn no bridges, and, when possible, to hold hands even across the divide. Binding ties that can be broken in an instant of passion can take centuries and more to re-grow. Ironically, the very absence of drama enables us to slowly forget about one another, to think in terms of “them” rather than “us,” to let our binding ties atrophy and dissolve from lack of use.
Quick. Somebody pick a fight. We’re family, and if we can still fight, it means we can still love. God help us if we stop caring enough to fight, because it will mean we’ve stopped caring enough to love.