He said that, in his experience, most conflict in the congregation can be directly related to the fact that, in many ways, The Episcopal Church is a reflection of “The Great Melting Pot” of American churches. Fewer and fewer people, he said, were actually “cradle Episcopalians,” and were now coming to us from the baptismal streams of the Roman Catholic, Methodist, Lutheran and Presbyterian Churches.
The problem with conflict in congregations, he said, is that “converts” to the Episcopal Church have not been properly catechized. He made what was - even then - a bad analogy of hegemony about needing an “Ellis Island” for “immigrants” from “foreign churches” to give them a time to “integrate” into the culture of The Episcopal Church and Anglican Communion.
The bishop laid the blame squarely at the feet of clergy who, he said (and included himself when he was previously a parish priest), had not required “New Member Classes” and insisted on attendance at courses leading to Confirmation or Reception of these new members.
He felt an urgency about this, he said, because, when conflict came to the congregation or the diocese, the different understandings of the ecclesiology of the church – how it works out issues of institutional power and authority – led to different expectations and assumptions about how to resolve the conflict.
The bishop urged all clergy to “Anglicize” all members of their congregations and to initiate New Member Classes which would lead to Confirmation or formal Reception into The Episcopal Church.
I have always found his assessment of the problem to have great resonance with my own experience. While I have a few problems with some of his analogies, and, until recently, agreed with his conclusions, I find that I have a new-found ambivalence and discomfort about his approach to a solution to the problem.
First of all, America may have - once, perhaps - been “The Great Melting Pot”, but we have long ago left that metaphor to describe life in these United States. We are, perhaps, better described as “The Great Tossed Salad” – with distinctly identifiable ingredients making up the whole.
We've never been more E Pluribus Unum (Out of many, one) than ever before.
So, too, I think, is the reality of The Episcopal Church - and, for that matter, the Anglican Communion. If the world has become a "global village" then the Anglican Communion has become a "global village church".
Another word for this is "hybridity" - the rise of an assimilation of the diversity, multi-culturalism and realities of pluraform truth of post-colonialism which is, in itself, a critique of imperialism.
Did I just write all those big word? Sounded impressive, didn't it?
Let me give you an image of hybridity as a way of explaining.
When I was in Hawai'i, I always insisted that my friends take me out of the city and into the countryside. In one of our trips, we stopped for lunch at a Surfer Shack - one of the many little roadside restaurants frequented by surfers who are so dedicated to (or obsessed by) the sport, they travel all over the world to "find the perfect wave".
As I looked at the menu, something caught my eye that made me burst out laughing.
There, listed on the menu was "Mahi-Mahi Burito".
As I pointed it out to my friend, he laughed and said, "Yeah, well check out the 'Mexican Bagel'- which features guacamole, salsa, sour cream and shredded cheese. It's right next to the 'Italian Bagel'- which features marinara sauce, peperoni and shredded cheese."
That, to me, are images of hybridity.
In many Episcopal churches today, you'll find copies of "Lift Every Voice and Sing" and "Voices Found" and "Wonder, Love and Praise" and/or "Enriching our Music" (1 and/or 2) sitting next to each other in the pew rack.
In other churches, you'll also find binders or print bound copies with a title that proclaims something like, "St. Swithen's Church Hymnal" which contains hymns from Episcopal Church Summer Camps, "Praise Music", original hymns composed by the Organist/Choir director, and/or those which can only be found in hymnals of other denominations.
More and more, Episcopal Churches hand out service bulletins that contain everything you need for your worship experience - and take great liberty with the liturgy and music.
For example, one of my friends sent me a collect used by the church he attends which was used for Sunday's Eucharistic Service.
“Unclean God, braving defilement, inviting offense, you share your bread with vermin and outsiders; you let the Gentile woman subvert your plans; give us the faith that comes from the heart and walks beyond our boundary posts that we might be surprised by outrageous grace; through Jesus Christ, son of David and light of the world. Amen.I don't know the source, but I'm quite sure it isn't one of the "authorized" collects from the Book of Common Prayer.
My friend wasn't at all bothered by the address to an "unclean God". What jumped off the page and leaped into his heart was the phrase, "outrageous grace".
In a way, hybridty is a kind of "outrageous grace" that allows us to see God through the lens of different cultures and experiences of God.
It's sort of an 'Outrageous Propriety' that preserves the ancient and traditional shape of the liturgy but begins to push us to an assimilation of other experiences of God that leaves everyone changed and transformed.
So, while I agree that we need to do more New Member Classes and need to be much more intentional about incorporating people from different religious experiences into The Episcopal Church, perhaps we need to serve up the pedagogical equivalent of the Mahi Mahi Burrito or Mexican Bagel.
As part of that, perhaps we need some clarity about how it is that we deal with conflict when it appears at our doorstep or in our sanctuary or 'round our Vestry meeting tables.
You know - something that incorporates the principles of good old Anglican, "Big Tent" tolerance, but understands and acknowledges that power and authority ascribed to the institutional church will be experienced differently by different people, depending on their backgrounds and education and experiences.
I'm thinking, if we embraced the reality of hybridity, we just might find the strength and courage to "walk beyond our boundary posts" and be surprised by "outrageous grace".