Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Pondering Separation

I have been thinking about Malcolm's comment on the post below. He brings up a concern that I shared when I first saw the idea a few months back. If we were to separate, even for a brief time, we give a free playing field to those who would work to change this church into a more narrow minded entity.

I vividly remember a certain week at seminary. We had a retired bishop from the States as a guest lecturer for a class on evangelism. Ash Wednesday also happened to fall in that same week. Three things stand in my mind about that week. First of all, the retired bishop, in a response to one of my direct questions, told me that he would never have considered me for the priesthood based on the fact that I have no management experience. I pointed out that I was in the process of raising four children and have been involved in numerous executive positions in a variety of community groups - President/Chair, Secretary, Treasurer etc. (Let me tell you that dealing with mothers about a dance recital or skating carnival is not an easy task - it requires many skills of management and diplomacy.) Anyhow, these experiences count for nothing apparently. In order for this bishop to accept me, I would have had to have a piece of paper to give value to my skills and learnings.

During one of the sessions we were discussing how to deal with issues. At least that is what we were suppose to be discussing. We divided into two groups of about 5. I was all set to give an example from my recent internship. My supervisor/mentor was quite conservative, which could have led to a few problems if any of our parishoners brought up the issue of human sexuality. She and I sat down to discuss how we would deal with this. Both of us realized that we were not going to change the other's beliefs on this topic. We agreed that if the issue came up, we would explain where we stood and leave it at that. No critisizing the other's stance. For us the more important work was to look after our people. Instead of focusing on the issue and letting it stress us and our relationship, we chose to focus on the tasks that we believed God was calling us to do in the parish. I shared this experience with my group, hoping it would lead to some discussion of how we work together with differences.

Instead, what the group focused on was my support for full inclusion of all people, in this case, specifically GLBTs. A discussion then followed about how the church should draw doctrinal lines and people who believed as I did placed outside.

Have I mentioned before that I am a feminist. I'm sure you would never have guessed unless I stated it outright. That Ash Wednesday, we had Imposition of Ashes in the evening. This was the winter after my internship so I had been somewhat out of college life and hadn't fully entered back into the life of the community - so many new people and being past Senior Stick (head of the Theological Students Society) I was trying to stay in the background, especially because there were decisions and things happening on TSS with which I was in a fair amount of disagreement. I looked up at the front and all of a sudden realized that all five of the ministers invovled with leading the service were male. This in spite of the fact that there were a number of capable females available.

I was not in a good space that week to begin with. But these three instances really had me questioning whether or not my call was in the Anglican Church in general and in my particular diocese to be more specific. I called up my Dad and we met at Timmy's (Mom was having a bridge night at their house). Dad did his best to help me deal with the feelings and questions these three instances had fostered. He kept pointing out to me that although I might have been somewhat isolated in my current situation there were others who thought as I did. He used the example of a diocese that I had lived in back in the mid-nineties, which had just elected a new bishop. That wasn't much help though as it did not give me the community support I needed then and there.

Shortly after that, I led a seminar in my Anglican Church and Soceity class. I had chosen the seminar on Anglicanism in other parts of the world. That was when I first realized the possibility for what is happening now. I read up on the African provinces and their growing influence with a theology and vision that did not mesh with mine. I remember speaking passionately about my concerns in that class. (I do get quite passionate which turns people off - they think that I am getting emotional - it's more that I get very intense about what it is I am speaking on). After class my prof suggested to me that I consider a call in another denomination. (I will admit to a bit of elitism in my response to that suggestion. I am a cradle Anglican - never lapsed and he came to the Anglican Church in his adulthood.) I think that he mistook the reason for my intensity in the class.

I went through a tough period of discernment that winter and spring. Was the Anglican Church the place for me? Was my sponsoring diocese the place for me? I chose to stay with both because I believed it was important for my voice to be heard. Not "my voice" specifically but the things I had to say. I knew that there were people who needed to know that they were not alone in their thinking, that needed to know that there are other possibilities and understandings within our faith, that needed someone to care and voice their concerns.

These instances and my reflections in the post below highlight a tension in my life in the church. I can see the benefit of not being so emeshed in our communities - in being able to stand back and objectively work together. It is possible as my supervisor/mentor and I proved. But I agree with Malcolm as well. If we leave we give free reign to those who would shape the church in the image they desire. I have remained in this church to be a voice for those who do not have a strong voice. When I considered leaving either this denomination or this diocese, I have always hesitated for who would then speak of the possiblities that are offered. (This particular way of thinking is a legacy from my Dad. He had burn out in the early '80s. He returned to ministry because he felt his particular voice was needed.)

So yes, separation might be healthy. But what do we stand to lose? Is there some other alternative that gives the benefit of stepping back without the loss of our voice in the wider community?

Love and Prayers,
Ann Marie

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