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The Starting Place — An Attitudinal cure
by The Rev. Andrew Gerns
Episcopal Diocese of Bethlehem (PA)

...The underlying question before the Eames Commission is not new. While the
current problem arose of the consecration of V. Gene Robinson, a gay man in
a committed relationship, as Bishop of New Hampshire, and the creation of
rites for blessing same-gender unions in a diocese in Canada, we have seen
this before. In our recent past, in the ordination of women, of developing
contemporary prayer books: and before these, the ordination of
African-Americans, slavery, how protestant and how catholic the church
should be. If you go back far enough, we find in scripture that people chose
up sides over what meat they ate and whether Christians ought to be Jews
first. In other words, The Windsor Report tries to address an old problem in
a new global, Anglican context.

The challenge is where do we discover Communion when we do not see eye to
eye on everything? How does the Church stay together as we address a
changing culture? A good place to start is at the Communion table around the
Body and Blood of Christ. This report does not go there.

I've only read through this 96-page document once, and I am disappointed
because one underlying assumption steers the whole document. If we don't
address that assumption and respond to the recommendations reactively then
we as a church will end up chasing our tails.

That assumption is this: the report sees an institutional symptom and tries
to cure the symptom instead of the problem. The symptom is institutional.
The cure is attitudinal.

The symptom they address is that thirty-eight Anglican churches all over the
globe exist in different cultures and contexts (not even counting
congregations and dioceses within them) so we all approach fundamental
pastoral and theological problems differently. The real, underlying problem
is that we don't know how to live together when we disagree. We must learn
once again for the first time how to be the Church.

I believe that one’s focus becomes one’s reality. The situation of our
disagreement has become the reality of those who put together this report.
Starting here, then what is likely to come out will be institutional fixes
for attitudinal problems. The suggested institutional fixes (Listed ... in
the summary of recommendations) do nothing to solve matters of the heart.
They may instead create the basis for political positioning and struggles
for power.

You can see where this is going. If all the findings are followed as
written, then we will set up mechanisms that rely on bureaucracy and shame
to enforce an outward compliance. It will make a hurting system a sick
system. In the name of Communion, we may end up substituting Communion for
compliance. We may burn the village to save it.

Well, one might ask, what is the alternative? How do people who disagree get
along, especially in churches?

One option, especially on the level of parishes, is simply to move to a
place that seems more compatible. Actually, humans have this built in-if we
ignore the problem maybe it will go away. We've been doing this-it's called
denial-and we've only perpetuated injustice. Instead, if we intentionally
and in faith gather around what we share as Christians, real healing and
spiritual growth will take place.

Except for a tip of the hat, The Windsor Report does not begin with an
appreciation of what all of us share and bring to the table. By making the
focus "The Problem," the group lost focus on the many more things we members
of the Anglican Communion do well.

Since some in our several churches seek punishment and a realignment of
power, this is understandable. Still, I wish there were more fortitude in
insisting that we must begin with what we share and what we do well.

Real "bonds of affection" and effective "instruments of unity" are spiritual
and are only imperfectly reflected in the institutions we set up on earth.
We do the best we can, but we are always in need of renewal and reform.

Looking at the breadth of the Anglican Communion from where I sit, here are
few places where I would begin:

* We share a common heritage and ethos with the English Church and the spirituality behind it.

* We share baptism into the Body of Christ.

* We share Eucharist.

* We have a common faith in Jesus Christ.

* We share an appreciation of beauty, participation and intellectual engagement in our liturgy.

* We take the Bible seriously.

* We listen to catholic tradition.

* We have a sense of mission-we know that the Gospel is not for us alone.

* We know that our worship and common life is connected with the whole Church-in all times and places.

You could add to that list, but I hope that you see what I mean. The
starting place, for me, is what draws us together. The starting place is
what we do well. The starting place is an appreciation of who we are
together.

An appreciative approach does not mean that we gloss over the hard stuff.
It's just that the hard stuff takes on new meaning. Instead of being
obstacles to overcome, crosses to bear; our diverse approaches to the Gospel
become the things that mold us and teach us and show us what God would have
us be.

Many in the Church have defined us in terms of problems, failures, and
things done wrong or badly. The solutions some have devised focus on
punishment, correction and rehabilitation. Some even wanted the Episcopal
Church summarily ejected from the Anglican Communion and something new put
in its place. That did not happen, thank God.

But I can't say right now that this would never happen because once one
starts down a path that places compliance over communion, someone, somewhere
is going to get punished. Someone, somewhere, has to be made an example.
There are recommendations in fact suggest that. Personally, I don't believe
that the groups that must always be "right" will ever be satisfied.
Appeasing the violent with punishment only stretches out the pain.

What matters to me, finally, is the ministry that happens on the ground, in
Easton and places like it all over the globe. What matters to me is the
transformation of ordinary people into extraordinary vessels of God's grace,
power and love. In this parish, we have been blessed to see signs of
Christ's power to draw people together over and over again. We are forming
new groups for prayer and spiritual growth (e.g. Daughters of the King and
the Spirituality Group); we are always looking for ways to share God's
blessings on those in need (Ark Soup Kitchen, Habitat, CROP, Mission of the
Month), we are looking for ways to deepen our worship and increase our joy,
knowledge and love of the Lord. I have seen people care for one other when
times are tough. We still laugh and cry together and play and work hard in
Jesus' name.

We are not alone. Our experience is like that of dioceses, parishes and
people all over the world. God is doing great and marvelous things!

As long as we keep our focus on what God is doing right with us, lift up to
God our deepest yearnings and give our hearts over to God as friends and
apprentices of Jesus, we will both see and experience deep blessing in real
living.

When we focus on and expect the miraculous, then we will resist the
temptation to fall into judgment, bickering and institutional fixes for
attitudinal problems.