Tuesday, September 25, 2007
Public Rites and Pastoral Care: Reverend Elizabeth Explains It All
Okay, boys and girls. There appears to be some confusion - even from some bishops (God love 'em) about Public Rites and Pastoral Care.
Take out your Book of Common Prayer - that's the red book in your pews. (Yes, the one that says '1979'. I know. Grandfather refers to that as "THAT New Book." Yes, he does seem a bit angry, doesn't he? We'll have a talk about that later.)
Okay, now turn to page 13. The title on that page should read, "Concerning the Service of the Church."
Everybody got it? Matt? Jon? Greg? Jackie? Sarah? Brad? Oh, hello, little 'Anonymous'. That's become quite a popular name. There seem to be so many more of you signing in these days. Welcome.
(I know, Brad. You rarely pray with the BCP. It's hard to hold onto a book while your hands are in the air, isn't it? Or to read the words when you've been 'slain in the Spirit'. I know. Just try to pay attention and follow along. There's a good lad.)
Okay, everybody read aloud with me the third paragraph on that page. Ready? Okay, all together, here we go:
"For special days of fasting or thanksgiving, appointed by civil or Church authority, and for other special occasions for which no service or prayer has been provided in this Book, the bishop may set forth such forms as are fitting to the occasion."
This means that the bishop can authorize priests, and when appropriate, deacons and members of the laity, to develop and preside over liturgical rites that have not been authorized by the General Convention of The Episcopal Church which meet the pastoral needs of the people we are called to serve.
For example, 'The Blessing of the Animals' which we do out on the Great Lawn of The Church on the Feast of St. Francis is not a public rite which appears in either the Book of Common Prayer or the 'Book of Occasional Services'.
We do it, however, because there are many people who love their animals so much, they consider them members of their family. So, as matter of pastoral care, the bishop allows us to provide a public rite of blessing that suits the particular needs of the community the priest is called to serve.
Reverend Elizabeth did the same thing when the Smith's got that wonderful, shiny new Mercedes Benz convertible from their children and grandchildren on the occasion of their 50th Wedding Anniversary. You remember that Greg, don't you?
And, remember when Reverend Elizabeth blessed and commissioned the Youth Group on their Car Washing Fundraiser? I developed that whole public rite of blessing. Yes I did. Yes, it was pretty good. Thank you, Jackie.
I also like the blessing of the Day Care and Pre-school here at St. Paul's. Yes, I developed that one, too. Thank you, Sarah. I liked the blessing prayer for the Macaroni and Cheese, too. Yes, it did taste good.
And yes, I also developed a public rite of blessing for heterosexual couples. Why? Well, remember Steve and Mailin? Well, Mailin comes from China. She needed to have a marriage certificate for the deadline set by her immigration papers. So, with the bishop's permission, I did a "civil marriage" and then, 6 weeks later when we could get the families here, I did a public blessing of their marriage.
Yes, that was fun, wasn't it, Jon? Everybody got all dressed up and the bride looked beautiful in her wedding gown - even though she was already married.
That's just a few examples of a pastoral concern that turns into a public rite.
Understand now? I know, Greg. But, you don't have to like it. We're Episcopalians who are members of the Anglican Communion. Well, it's like this:
Who remembers the author of the book, "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe"? Good man, Jon. That's right! It was C.S. Lewis. Yes, Matty, he was a fairly conservative evangelical. Good remembering! So, you'll be glad to know that C.S. Lewis once said that of all the rooms in the household of God, the Anglican church was the 'roomiest' of all.
That means that there is room in our church for disagreement. We call it the 'Anglican Spirit of Gracious Accommodation'. Can you say that, boys and girls?
'Gracious Accommodation'. Good job! Please try to remember that in the future.
Oh, Little Anonymous, what's wrong? You've been pouting the whole time and now you are making quite a fuss. I know. It's hard to be one of the few who disagree. But, if you are going to behave in this way, you are going to have to leave the room.
Oh, I see. You are going to transfer to another school anyway? And, Matty, Sarah, Greg and Jackie are going with you? Well, okay. That makes me sad, and I'm sorry to see you leave, but one of the rules of this place is that it is safe to ask difficult questions and for all of us to disagree on the answers.
I know. That's a difficult thing to do. No, it's not "duplicity," Matty. It's a little something we call 'Spiritual Maturity.' It means that we can hold in tension two different thoughts, two truths, that seem quite opposed to one another. That's known as a 'paradox.'
We even tolerate things that are not always crystal clear. We call that 'ambiguity'. In the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion we have a high tolerance for paradox and ambiguity because we understand that God is a Great Mystery.
In order to do that, you have to develop something called 'Spiritual Maturity.' Can you say that boys and girls?
'Spiritual maturity'. Good job! Well done.
Now, Brad, you must stop singing, "Liar, liar, pants on fire! Your nose is longer than a telephone wire." That's not an example of 'spiritual maturity.' That is an example of 'bad behavior' and, as tolerant as we are, we do not allow bad behavior to go uncorrected.
I see. Well, if you want to go with Sarah and Greg and the rest of the other kids, you may. Yes, I know. Africa does seem to be very far away. Not to worry. I understand the African bishops are only as far away as a phone call or an email.
What's that? Is Africa farther away than heaven? I don't know for certain, but I have a hunch that it's no farther from America to heaven than it is from Africa to heaven. I've never been to heaven, but I have been to Africa, and I can tell you that it is a long, long way from America - in almost every way imaginable.
I do know this: as beautiful as both places are, we may not all get to go to Africa, but we're all going to heaven. Jesus promised us that.
Okay, class dismissed. Please put your Books of Common Prayer back in the pew where you found them. Neatly, please. Our theology may be messy, but we do like to keep some semblance of order in the house.
Thank you. Have a great day!