“The unity of the Church of God is a perpetual fact; our task is not to create it but to exhibit it.”
Archbishop William Temple of Canterbury
I write to you all at the conclusion of a Consultation on When Churches Disagree. The consultation was held at Virginia Theological Seminary(VTS) and hosted by the Center for Anglican Communion Studies, which is housed at VTS.
For two days, a small group of Episcopalians and Anglicans from across the globe gave and received papers on how to live in Eucharistic communion in the midst of conflict. The papers set a framework for deeper discussion.
One of the papers, given by The Right Rev. Bill Franklin, bishop of Western New York, resigned, focused on the important work of one of his predecessors, The Right Rev. Charles H. Brent. Brent served as an early leader in the Faith and Order movement, which dealt with attempts to produce a more visible unity amongst Christian bodies in the early 20th century.
In the process of exploring Bishop Brent’s work and ministry, Bishop Franklin quoted from some of Brent’s writings. Brent contrasted the spirit of Controversy with the spirit of Conference. Brent said, “Controversy runs to printer’s ink…(while) Conference seeks personal contacts.”
Nearly 100 years later, the same can be said. In the midst of conflict, the temptation is to rush to the reply all e-mail or Twitter feed. However, there is another way beyond immediate reaction. The response of Conference, of seeking the personal contact, takes more time but it also holds the possibility of deeper healing and transformation from brokenness to mended relationship.
In less than a month, we will gather at Diocesan Convention at St. Paul’s Chattanooga. We will do so under the theme, Reconciling All Things in Christ: Broken and Mending. It will be an opportunity for personal contact—to be together for conversation, business, worship, election, and sending forth.
Our hope is that the time together will be time well invested in each other, time spent learning and practicing the healing art of Conference. It will also be time spent unlearning the spirit of Controversy, of no longer assuming the worst in each other, of not tearing down instead of building up.
The ministry of Reconciliation is a work performed by the Christ on the cross. Our work is not to make it so, but to exhibit and show that it has been made real by the Risen Jesus. My prayer is that our Diocese will live differently in a divided time. Our call is to listen, to exhibit wholeness, to hear experiences of brokenness, to remember that as the Body of Christ, we need each part in order to witness to a fuller wholeness.
2020 is still a new enough year for us to consider a new resolution or two. Choose to be a people marked by careful and compassionate response, not anxious and immediate reaction. Let your neighborhood know that, as Episcopalians, we are known by our love. The more that is true of us, the more the Good News of Jesus is known through us.