Saturday, May 16, 2009

A Deposit of Hope

After a week in Louisiana (at a CREDO II conference), I spent a few hours at home (most of them sleeping), about 90 minutes touching base with my staff in the parish office, then drove about 200 miles northwest to my seminary alma mater, Nashotah House. The occasion was Alumni Day and Commencement, with special festivities among the members of my class (1989), seeing as how it's the twentieth anniversary of our graduation. There were about thirty of us who graduated together, out of which ten showed up for the reunion, four with spouses in tow--actually, not a bad percentage.

It was, on the whole, an energizing and joyful experience. The sheer fun of re-connecting with people with whom we shared a peculiarly intense and formative period of our lives was life-giving. It also reminded us, by contrast, of the dimension of loneliness that is endemic to the pastoral vocation, not for lack of people willing to cheerfully populate our lives, but because we serve those people poorly if we do not maintain the appropriate sorts of boundaries in our relationships with them. It was refreshing to be among peers with whom there is simultaneously the presence of a high degree of mutual empathy and the absence of a need to maintain strong fences.

And this is to say nothing of the transcendent beauty of the seminary grounds; they are luminous in an almost mystical sort of way. One of my "take aways" from the CREDO conference was an awareness of how oriented I am to place, and how nourishing it is to my soul to be able to visit the venues of my various "pasts." In a very concrete way, it keeps the fabric of my life stitched together.

Nashotah House is an interesting place these days, in many ways. I can't think of another institution that has as much of a stake in the unfolding (and eventual outcome) of the Anglican soap opera as Nashotah. It lives right on the fault line. When I matriculated in 1986 as part of a relatively large class (which I don't think has yet been equalled in size), one of us was Moravian, and two of us were Canadian Anglicans. The class two years ahead of us had one member who was African and one from Hong Kong (or was is Taiwan? I forget.). The class two years behind us included a Lutheran. Everyone else was a member of the Episcopal Church. Over the years, the percentage of African students has increased, as has the number of Americans who are members of "extra-mural" Anglican bodies. Still, as recently as a year ago, the clear majority of students and faculty were Episcopalian. But with the departure of the dioceses of Fort Worth, Quincy, and Pittsburgh, the balance may well have shifted.

This was made poignantly clear in the Prayers of the People during the Alumni Day Mass. Every day, the Nashotah community prays aloud by name for about a half dozen of its alumni and benefactors, on a rota determined by alphabetical order. On this particular day, the list included both the Bishop of Fort Worth (Southern Cone), who was present in the congregation, and the rector of one of the parishes that has elected to remain in TEC, and is therefore presently suing said bishop. In what other context than the celebration of the Eucharist could such an anomaly even be countenanced, let alone treated as quite routine? 

Later that day, I was honored to be part of a panel discussion that also included the Suffragan Bishop of Dallas, the Bishop of Fort Worth, and one of his priests (this time one who is accompanying him on the journey to wherever it is they are going). In the audience were some quite "mainstream" Episcopal bishops and clergy, some part of the "realignment," and some who have left Anglicanism altogether and "swum the Tiber." Among the graduating seniors present were some who were being deployed to Episcopal congregations, and some going to extra-mural Anglican parishes. Yet, in spite of these apparent tensions, I have to say, there was a spirit of underlying unity and charity that was, all things considered, quite remarkable. 

The next day, we gathered in the newly-constructed (and quite lovely) Roman Catholic parish church of St Jerome for Commencement and Mass. The liturgy was at the same time solemn and festive, dignified and joyful. One of those in the congregation was a member of the Class of 1999, now a former Episcopal priest and a lay member of that very parish (soon to avail himself of the Pastoral Provision). The preacher, who did a splendid job, was none other than Dr James I. Packer, a scholar and teacher who is in fact an Anglican priest but is more widely known and revered in the wider evangelical world than within Anglicanism. (He's probably still choking on the incense!) Dr Packer also has the distinction of having been recently (and, apparently, without effect) deposed from the ordained ministry by the Bishop of New Westminster (Anglican Church of Canada). Once again, despite cracks in our koinonia that perhaps ought to have utterly dessicated the spirit of the gathering, there was a palpable sense of unity in that eucharistic assembly.

I'm not entirely clear on what any of this means. But I have no intention of surrendering its value as a sign--a sign to me, at least, if to no one else--that there are more chapters to this story, that we know less of it than we think we do, that it's possible for Anglican Christians who have deeply divergent perspectives to be not only civil toward one another, but to outdo on another in showing love, that it is possible, in fact to "walk apart together." I am proud of the larger Nashotah community for allowing itself, even if unwittingly, to be such a hopeful sign.


robroy said...

Who is the bishop of the diocese of Fort Worth?

Daniel Martins said...

The bishop I was referring to in my post is Jack Iker.

Unknown said...

Fr D,

I find this blog interesting, helpful, and moving all at once, on a number of levels. Thank-you for your thoughtfulness and depth and wit, as always. It reminds me, among other things, of the importance of praying for our seminaries; and I take your point about the particular challenge, and opportunity, faced by Nashotah.