It is somewhat in that spirit that I take on what is by any estimation a big event in the development of Anglican Christianity. Tomorrow, in Wheaton, Illinois (part of the greater territory of my old childhood stomping grounds), representatives of a variety of ecclesial structures populated overwhelmingly by former Episcopalians and Canadian Anglicans will assemble and constitute themselves as a church--one with a unified structure, a constitution and canons, liturgical formularies (one presumes), and methods of discipline; in short, all the institutional paraphernalia of a church. In Anglican parlance, they will style themselves a "province." Their undisguised intention is, in time, to effectively replace the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada as the holder of the Anglican "franchise" in North America.
I will not be there, even though I'm only some 150 miles away. I am, for the foreseeable future, an Episcopalian, and this is a decision I have made for reasons that range from the sublime to the mundane, from the principled to the practical. For me, this is the path of obedience. Moreover, I wish they were not doing what they are doing. As one who says the creeds enthusiastically without crossing his fingers and who does not believe any church is at liberty to recast the vision of marriage that "was established by God in creation" (Book of Common Prayer, p. 423), I continue to believe that it was a mistake, both theologically and strategically, for those who will form the new province tomorrow to have left the Episcopal Church. If I were in a position to wave a wand and dictate my will, they would all return.
But among those who gather in Wheaton (or who at least will be represented by those who gather), many are my friends. Per the Psalmist, "we took sweet counsel together, and walked with the throng in the house of God." (55:15) These are people with whom I have labored side by side in a number of contexts for the sake of the gospel. And my own vision of that gospel generally accords much more closely with theirs than it does with the that of the regnant leadership of my own church/province. So I am experiencing what I learned in my Psych 1 course nearly four decades ago to call "cognitive dissonance." I may as well come out with it: Even though in my mind I am persuaded of what I wrote in the above paragraph, there is no small part of my heart that is envious of those who are part of the new province. I won't bother to catalog the reasons for my envy; just stating the fact is sufficiently cathartic. (Aside to MBTI-philes: The fact that I am an INTJ explains why my head trumps my heart in this and just about every other matter.)
So, even though I would have it some other way if I could, the fact remains that I cannot, and that being the case, I find it in my mind (and my heart, truth to tell) to offer a valediction of sorts to the "Council of Wheaton." I have hopes for their project, even while I am not part of it:
- I hope that will find a way to emphasize the joys and the truths that they are affirming, and minimize any rhetoric about the sorrows and falsehoods they believe themselves to be leaving behind.
- I hope they will not surrender a commitment to communion with the See of Canterbury as a determinitive mark of Anglican identity.
- I hope they will not lose sight of the traditional Anglican value of comprehensiveness and diversity within the bounds of creedal orthodoxy.
- I hope they will maintain a spirit of respect and fraternal love toward those whose call is to maintain a witness within the Episcopal Church.
- I hope they will open themselves to the notion that those who are mistaken on certain questions of sexual morality are not thereby necessarily heretical and/or apostate, but simply wrong.
- I hope they will quickly overcome the differences between the divergent ecclesial cultures that have grown up even during the short time that extra-mural North American Anglicans have sought refuge in a number of different ports.
- I hope they will embrace humility and gentleness of spirit with such abandon that the hearts of any detractors will melt in the face of such resistless love.
My friends, in the words attributed to Luther, "sin boldly." If you are going to indeed do what you have evidently put your minds to, do it well. If it turns out you are wholly wrong (and the Spirit will make that clear over time), I will personally leave the light on for you here. If it turns out I'm the one who's whistling in the dark, save me a spot.