Dear Friends and Colleagues,
I realize it has been a very long time since I last wrote you. I have, for the past year, been devoting my energies to making as much in person contact as possible after the long separation of Covid. During this time I have had my focus on listening rather than talking. In September last year I visited the Diocese of Aberdeen and Orkney where the Bishop had invited me to spend time with some small congregations who have no priest and where their future life is filled with uncertainty. This was a distressing experience and one where my ‘listening heart’ had to be attuned in a whole new way. The questions about the church’s future and purpose were as immediate and as real as are the questions of life and death at a funeral. While the Aberdeen visit had a very specific focus and was therefore intense, my ‘listening’ in our own Diocese has not been altogether different. We are facing a future in our church’s life that calls in question many of the ‘norms’ that we are accustomed to in both lay and ordained ministry. It is encouraging to see that our bishops, our commissions on ministry, our seminaries and our discernment processes are taking very serious account of this and that they are increasingly open to creative and imaginative ways of going forward. Our own Bishop recently used the quotation ” bless the intention and ordain the fruits” to describe this approach.
One of the ways in which I have become better able to ‘listen’ is being given the opportunity to work as a placement supervisor, tutor and mentor to a number of students in the Episcopal/Anglican Studies Program at Candler. I have been very grateful for this chance to hear of the hopes and dreams of those seeking ordination – to be able to challenge where appropriate and to rethink some of my own long-term assumptions and biases.
Whatever the future may hold for us, as those ordained to priesthood and diaconate, we remain key figures in the dialogue between the Christian community and the world in which we dwell. And what a world that is. During what we call Holy Week we saw a former President become a criminal defendant, we saw three Representatives expelled from the Tennessee Assembly for vociferously advocating gun control, we learned that the major cause of child mortality is shooting, we saw the three Abrahamic Faith communities engaging in violent confrontation in the Holy Land even as they coincidentally celebrated their most holy seasons of Pesach, Easter and Ramadan, we saw a worsening of conflict in Ukraine and Syria as well as in Israel and Lebanon and yet more…….
The Life, Death and Resurrection of Jesus are an enfleshed WORD of God – a WORD that declares a new and radically different Creation. As Jesus lay in the tomb on Holy Saturday we observed a New Shabbat. His words from the cross “It is finished” proclaimed the completion of God’s New Creation – a world with a new ‘deal’ – a world with the promise of Life overcoming death, Forgiveness overcoming sin and destruction, Grace and Mercy opening the way to renewal, over and over again. On the first day of that New Creation – Easter – we were given that promise and that hope to take into a broken world. My friends, however we are given the means to do this in a changing and renewing Church – the Body of Christ – we are AGENTS of that promise and that hope.
I join you in prayer and in intention – striving to be brave enough to speak this truth in love to those who look, often desperately, for a better WAY.