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Monday, August 15, 2011


Years ago – just as “The Great Troubles” about the ordination of women and Queer people began – I heard a bishop of the Church, now numbered among the saints, talk about conflict in congregations.

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".


Anonymous said...

I agree that TEC needs to do a better job during its' membership classes. As a perspective new member I went though several weeks of classes. (I think about 6.) But I remember feeling rushed. I was struggling with several differences between the RCC and TEC. At one of the last classes the Associate reactor hurridly went through the structure of the church and the purpose of the GC. I remember asking her to slow down. She looked a bit surprised and said, "Look its just like the US Congress." Ok, I thought, but that is not at all like the RCC. Looking back, I still think a bit slower approach would have been better as I still had a greater expectation that the priest would lead more than the vestry. It seems to me that the vestry is a wee bit stronger in TEC than the parish counsel in RCC. And I really do not like the idea that if there is not a rector that the senor warden is in charge when an Associate rector is still in the church. I do not understand this at all. In my church the senor warden had not even gone to seminary. Why should I follow someone that knows perhaps no more than me? Yes, the Catholic thought is still strong in me.

Bill said...

What I remember about the “Melting Pot” by Nathan Glazer and Daniel Patrick Moynihan was firstly that it was required reading in 200 level history course I took, once upon a time. The second thing was that the two authors admitted after the fact that there was no melting pot; that each ethnic group retained its individual identity. I don’t want to date myself, but when I read “The Melting Pot”, Dan Moynihan was still the Senator from New York. This is why we had “Little Italy” and China Town, not to mention a certain area in the Bronx where you could find an excellent assortment of Irish Pubs. When I was working in Manhattan for the “phone” company and taking classes at night at Pace University, I used to walk home. Walking home meant walking across the Brooklyn Bridge and then through some decidedly gay but trendy areas in Brooklyn Heights and then through the Middle East area of Atlantic Ave, finally arriving in my section, Carroll Gardens. I’d stop at the little Deli where you really had to know a little Italian if you wanted to order something. Then I’d walk down President Street where you would find at least two or three Madonnas on the half shell, some of which had little fluorescent lights to make them glow.
The point is, there was no melting pot. Each neighborhood I walked through retained its individual ethnicity. The Episcopal Church is no different. Now that members of other faiths have joined the Episcopal Church, they bring with them special characteristics which set them apart. This is why some like High Church while others like Low Church; some like music and some don’t; some kneel and some stand; some love liturgy while others would prefer a 20 minute service and a “cup of joe” to go. Someone once told me that all the division and strife over the centuries in the church was not caused by theology but praxis. For years, the Catholics and Anglicans ended the Lord’s Prayer differently. …..and lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil - THE END. To Anglicans, this was absurd. What about “For thine is the Kingdom, the Power, etc. etc. In the mind of Anglicans, the Catholics cut the prayer short. In the mind of Catholics, all that stuff at the end wasn’t part of the “Our Father”. I know this, cause I used to be a Catholic before I came over to the dark side. :)
The Episcopal Church should take a lesson from the American story. It is the differences which make us great. It is the differences which enrich our faith. It is the differences, the diversity which should be celebrated.

Muthah+ said...

Maria, as a former RC I understand your confusion, but we are a church that is deeply ingrained in looking to elected leadership. Your wardens and vestry are elected and so is your rector. When the elected rector is absent, it is you elected warden who assumes the leadership along with the vestry. The assistant is chosen by the rector and not elected. H/she is directly responsible to the rector, not the Vestry.

It is just one of those things that your assistant should have taught you in that hurried inquirers' class.

For RC's the primary virture is obedience. For Episcopalians, it is being responsible for one's own faith and equality. They are important distinctions and core to one's understanding of how we are.

Elizabeth, this is an important post. The Hybridity of the Church is what is going on all over the world. And it is why there is so much unrest. We tend toward the familiar. But less and less is familiar in the world these days because of the continual insertion of the new. It is this way in business, in the church, education, etc. Also, I find classes like you describe good for the larger churches and not so helpful for the smaller ones.

But just those classes belie the call to diversity. I have heard lots these days about 'radical hospitality'. I am wondering if making Anglicans out of those we invite into us takes away from that hospitality. It says 'you must be like me in order to be one with me.' And Anglicanism at its finest is NOT that. The problem is that for a while now, we haven't been at our finest.

Matthew said...

This is such an important issue and one we must wrestle with. As one raised Lutheran and raised in a church that no longer exists because it was before the merger, these tensions were very much part of the early years of the ELCA when we were trying to figure out who we were and some clinged to the old denomination and what it was about. I think this made Lutheranism stronger and more flexible. I suspect the same thing happened with the United Church of Canada when it formed. I read a few years ago that in the Netherlands, the episcopally led Lutheran church merged with the calvinist and congregationally led Reform church.

walter said...

Dancing in the Growing Edge of the Brink of Darkness of Elizabeth Kaeton & Walter Vitale’ Anglo-American Intentional Religious Post Colonialism: Joyful Time has come to us to dance on the brink of darkness, just enough to fully experience it and to offer it online in the Eucharist Sacramental Moment to our God of Life Inherent. Well, done! Now Teach us Lord to integrate in our Queerful Christian Family of faithful Inherent Logic that Affirmative Diversity’ Acceleration beyond continuous examination of conscience that bodes well to hybridity; but do not stop here Lord, continue outside of the boundaries of our new inherent hybridity that we may overcome ego centered individualism so that You and Me can meet the Outrageous Grace, a Grace that condescendingly humbles the negative memories and glorifies the positive memories-our personal histories-experiences of Christianity. May these words enfold the silence of Outrageous Grace and may it continue to speak truth to power so that we will leave the new deeps of life untouched because they will be sacred. I 4 my Portuguese Girl, my Little Girl and my Brother. In the name of the One who keeps us centered and focused, Jesus the Christ. Let Us be thankful for how Elizabeth nurtures by Telling Secrets Blog, may her silver spoon never wither. May we visualize my pink thread around the right wrist which, I assure you, will bring us to genuine Christian immortality on Earth as it is in Heaven. Please do trust my God of Life Inherent.

Walter Vitale

Anonymous said...

Thank you Elizabeth, Maria, Bill and Muthah for your comments. I am former RC. When I, with great trepidation and uncertainty crossed the TEC threshold, our rector listened very carefully to me. She offered an opportunity to meet with several former RCs. She organized a luncheon forum after a Sunday service, during which everybody was invited to speak. It was immeasurably helpful to me to tell my story and hear others' stories. I think THAT is the foundation on which to build an understanding of our ecclesiology. My six-week class felt rushed, but with ample time for discussion it was profitable.
Lou Poulain
Sunnyvale CA

Anonymous said...

Thank you for your clarification regarding the loyalty of the Assistant Rector. I did not realize the reactor picked this person. However, it still seems to me that the Assistant probably knows more theology than the Senior Warden. I am trying to learn new ways of thought but sometimes those memorized thoughts creep in.