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"If you are a dreamer, come in. If you are a dreamer, a wisher, a liar, a Hope-er, a Pray-er, a Magic Bean buyer; if you're a pretender, come sit by my fire. For we have some flax-golden tales to spin. Come in! Come in!" -- Shel Silverstein

Monday, March 05, 2007

A Season of Fasting.

Note: This painting is entitled, "Madonna Crucifix." I wish you could see it in greater detail. It hangs in the Chapel of the Cathedral of St. Luke, Portland, ME, the congregation that sponsored my ordination.

I have spent many, many hours of prayer in that chapel and in meditation in front of this painting. I first met my ordaining bishop, Fredrick Barton Wolf, while I was standing on the altar in front of this portrait, having been instructed by the drill-Sargent of a director of the Altar Guild, one Ms. Ruth Pillsbury, to dust it.

"Hello, Bishop," with a false bravado, as if everything were perfectly normal.

Fred looked at me for a moment, slack-jawed, and then said, "Ah, our Ruth has you dusting, has she?"

"Yes, your grace," I responded, as I had been carefully trained to do.

"Do you know that I take great offense at anyone standing on that sacred altar?," he continued, his brows furrowed in dismay.

"Oh, no your grace," I said, greatly distressed. "I'll get down right now."

"Wait!" Fred called out, "How else will you dust that magnificent painting?"

"I'm sure I don't know, your grace," I said, deeply perplexed.

"Hmm," said Fred, "Well, carry on then," and just before he made his way to the sacristy stopped, turned 'round and said, "You would do well never to cross Ruth Pillsbury and do everything, exactly, precisely as she tells you to do, even if that is in conflict with what your bishop has said. Do I make myself clear?"

"Yes, your grace," said I.

Later when we were in spiritual discernment together, we would recall that moment of our first meeting and roar with laughter. Both Ruth and Fred have gone on to glory. This story is now a treasured memory I will share with them when I meet them in that Great Bye-and-bye.

It was to this chapel, in front of this very picture, where I fled and prostrated myself in grief after my daughter's death. I have never found another place which brings me such solace, nor a picture which speaks more powerfully to my soul.

The Cathedral's support of my ordination was not without difficulty, however.

Indeed, the preacher of this sermon was President of the Standing Committee at the time. My ordination process was delayed because Stephen insisted that they needed time to pray before a decision was made.

The newly elected bishop, one Ed Chalfant, had expressed that he was afraid my ordination would be "an embarrassment to the church." Some reading this post will remember Bishop Chalfant's resignation about a decade later.

That was then. 1985 This is now. 2007.

This is clear, indisputable, undeniable evidence of the working of the Spirit. As such, it gives me more hope than I have a right to have. I'll be able to rejoice once I stop weeping in amazement and joy at the goodness of our God.

Sunday, March 4th, 2007 The Second Sunday of Lent
Very Rev. Stephen W. Foote


This sermon may contain language that will confuse or upset listeners who are not aware of the controversy which rages in the Anglican Communion and within the Episcopal Church in America. Let me summarize the dispute so that a visitor this morning doesn’t feel as if they have been dropped into the second act of a play.

The conflict has to do with the progress which has been made in the American church in the last four years to include Gay and Lesbian people as full members of the church by authorizing rites for blessing same-sex unions (not marriage) and, by consenting to the election of the current Bishop of New Hampshire, Gene Robinson, who is openly gay and living with a partner. This long overdue action by a majority in the church, in General Convention, is more than just inclusivity; it is an act of justice and compassion toward our own.

The resistance and objection to this progressive action has been harsh and angry and full of threats from a minority in the American church as, some members…some bishops… some parishes… and some dioceses, have begun the process of separating from the larger church in order to adhere to “traditional views” and practice. And, the reaction of many parts of the Anglican Communion, ( some 36 countries around the world), has been equally harsh and threatening as the Primates threaten to exclude the American church from its place around the table of the Anglican Communion. Into the middle of this controversy, which has all the characteristics of religious war, (as if to throw salt in the open wound) the recent General Convention elected (the first woman) Katharine Jefferts Schori, to be our Presiding Bishop. Katharine has been baptized by fire.

Returning recently from a meeting with the Primates of the Anglican Communion in Tanzania where she heard what amounted to demands and threats, Katharine addressed the American church by asking that there be a “season of fasting” from further performance of same-sex blessings, or consecration of openly gay bishops, as well any further actions by other members to confiscate church property and “ leave the church”. In so doing, she has allowed the need for unity to trump the card for justice.

Are we to stop accepting gay and lesbian people as full members of the Body of Christ? Will we stop “respecting the dignity of every human being” and balance so-called “sacred unity” on the backs and shoulders of gay and lesbian members? One has only to surf the web of church-opinion to feel the rage and hurt this has created for both gay and straight church people.

Given what has been going on under the banner of “ Religion” all over the world, our conflict does not surprise me, but, this effort to reverse new hope and historic progress makes me troubled and sad and very aware of the hurt that has been inflicted.

Our own Bishop, Chilton, will meet informally this week with clergy as a time to share her views about this matter. Martha and I will attend and report to you what we hear. Let us plan, next Sunday, March 11, to allow time, after the 10:00 am service, for a parish discussion to share our reactions and hear one another.

When I am confronted by a difficult situation, especially where there is conflict and anger, at first I am less concerned about how I will react so I can be more in touch with what I bring to the conflict. Not my slings and arrows and offence- strategies… but, on that which equips me in terms of the judgment that frames my action. What grounds me in this dispute? On what do I stand in order to lift this heavy load? What do I bring to this official request for fasting?

I bring a heavy dose of respect and support for the Presiding Bishop who has had, on our behalf, to hear the angry threats of fellow Anglicans. I also need her bigger ‘read’ of what’s going on in the American church. But, I respectfully disagree with her call for fasting in terms of abstinence or refraining. While I am familiar with St. Paul’s more pastoral teaching to the early church about fasting, what I bring to Bishop Schori’s call for fasting is Isaiah’s prophetic understanding of fasting which was just read as today’s Old Testament lesson:

Such fasting as you do today will not make your voice heard on high. Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the throngs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke. Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house, when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin?
Isaiah 58: 4, 6-7, NRSV

God’s pleasure, according to Isaiah, is not in our refraining or abstinence, but, in our actions of compassion and justice and the breaking of yokes and the loosing of bonds.

I also bring to this moment how profoundly effected I was, as a young priest, by a phrase that became a hallmark of the Episcopacy of Presiding Bishop Edmund Browning when he described his vision of the Episcopal Church as a “Church that has no Outcasts.” His book about his years as Presiding Bishop is titled No Outcasts. A church with no outcasts must find other ways than abstinence in order to bring in and welcome those who, for so long, have waited outside the gates.

Moreover, I bring to this moment the courage and will of the great Emancipator, Abraham Lincoln, who, in a critical moment during the war that threatened to divide this nation forever, proclaimed freedom to the captives of slavery. While this nation teetered on destruction, with the stroke of a pen, Lincoln freed the slaves.

I also bring to this controversy what I believe to be at the very heart of the Anglican Spirit…that which was the essence of Elizabeth’s historic Settlement which enabled the Reformed Church to survive at all…that to demand strict, rigid conformity in Church practice would destroy the synthesis (see note).

If we must damage or even sacrifice a fragile and frail unity which was born in another age… if we must see our own American church divided and in turmoil…may it be for the right reasons. Not because we refused to abstain for a season, but because, in so refusing, in a critical moment, we chose to act in ways of Compassion and Justice and Unconditional Love, at any cost. That, I believe, is the fast that is pleasing to the Lord.


Note: We must be reminded that the Second Lambeth Conference 1873 recommended that “duly certified action of every national and particular Church, and of each ecclesiastical province (or diocese not included in a province) in the exercise of its own discipline, should be respected by all the other churches, and by their individual members.” This has guided Anglican Communion relations for more than a century and is the reason for its survival…until now?

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