My bishop and the bishop of the diocese south of us have blurred our boundaries as far as pastoral care of the region. I am the only Anglican priest on highway 14 between Saskatoon and the Alberta border. There are two priests on highway 7 between Saskatoon and the Alberta border. It is a large area for three priests to cover and when one is away it makes it difficult for those south of me to arrange for pastoral care coverage. I'm fortunate because I work closely with the Lutheran pastor and, if I am away, he automatically covers for me. The blurring of the boundaries means that we no longer have to go through our respective bishops to arrange for one of us to look after another's parish for things such as holidays, illness etc.
I was called to do a funeral in one of the communities south-west of me. Their priest was at a wedding in Ottawa. I had met the woman who had died a couple times in previous visits. With a bit of adjusting of time on their part, I was able to do the funeral. There were a few things that were different.
First of all, I couldn't do the interment because I had a previous important commitment here - a 60th anniversary and I was asked to bless the couple. Arrangements were made for the pastor of an evangelical denomination to do the interment. As I have been involved with that particular denomination before, just briefly when I attended a workshop of Natural Church Development they were sponsoring, I was very aware that they did not ordain women. As well, I was aware of the discomfort some of the pastors felt when having to work with me. I wasn't sure how the meeting with the family and the pastor would work. It went well. I behaved, but then nothing was said that made me have to bite my tongue in front of the family.
That was the first edge of this experience. The second was that the woman who had died had such a strong faith and had found so much that was life-giving in that faith (naturally) that she wanted everyone to have a chance to experience a closer relationship with God. She wanted the prayer of salvation at the end of the service. First of all, not being from the evangelical branch of Anglicanism, I had to ask which particular prayer of salvation. I told them that I could not do it at the end of the service but I could work my sermon around it and have it at the end of the sermon. That's a bit of a stretch for me but I, too, have found so much in my faith and do love to share it so that others might know it too.
I researched evangelical prayers of salvation and the theology behind them. In general I certainly had no problem with them. I discovered four basic elements behind them.
1. God's love for us
2. Our separation from God through sin
3. The cross as penalty for our sin
4. The restoration of our relationship with God through confession and prayer.
I have absolutely no problem with elements 1,2, and 4, but my theology of the cross is not one of penal substitution. I could not stand in the pupit and say that I believed that Jesus died on the cross as a penalty for my sin and mean what I knew was the intent behind the prayer with any integrity. I'm not sure which theory of the atonement I embrace but I do know it is not that one.
(Actually, I am reading The Anglican Communion and Homosexuality. What Ian Douglas has to say about the atonement may come closest to the way I understand it.
"The ultimate act of Jesus' self-giving participation in God's mission is his sacrifice upon the cross and the victory over death. The joining ofJesus' pain and suffering with our pain and suffering on the cross is where we are passionately connected with God, with one another and with all creation. On the cross is where this new relationship, this right relationship, with God and each other is effected. In Jesus' resurrection three days after the agony of the cross, we are given the promise of restored life in him. Jesus' atonement for the sins ofthe world is our 'at-one-ment': our "at-one-ment with God, and our 'at-one-ment' with each other through the power of the Holy Spirit. In Jesus' death and resurrection we are given the means by which we become one with each other and with God. In the death and resurrection of Jesus the divisions between God and humanity are overcome, and the promise of reconciliation is made real."
I find even the above rather limiting as it only speaks to the cross and resurrection rather than the whole of the Incarnation and I see the 'at-one-ment' as taking place in the whole, not just part.)
Anyway, I did manage to find the words and thoughts to do an evangelizing sermon while speaking with full integrity to God, with the person who had died and with myself. I didn't do too badly, even my husband listened and learned (although he found the sermon a bit longish which it was compared to my usual funeral sermons.) The evangelical pastor read the eulogy and did the prayer of thanksgiving for the life of the person and read another gospel passage (John 3:1-17) just before I did the blessing and dismissal. All in all, the service went quite well and many people were touched by it.
The fun came at the luncheon afterwards. After most of the people had left, except for family, the pastor and I were talking. He touched on the current situation in the Anglican Communion. He told me about his time in Prince Albert (Diocese of Saskatchewan). He had met and worked with a number of the Anglican priests up there and found them to actually be more evangelical and conservative than he was. He would not have a problem with any of them preaching to his congregation. But those "liberal Anglicans" on the other hand...
I looked him in the eye, smiled sweetly and said: "Well you know, I am one of those "liberal Anglicans". If you were to invite me to preach in your church, your congregation would also find nothing to object to." He did not carry that conversation any farther. I wish he would have so we could once again find common ground in our service to God. Now, I am labelled in his mind as unfit to preach, as a teacher of a false gospel.
Labels - human-made, divisive, and limiting. "Liberal Anglican" does not really descibe the whole of who I am. Who knows what possibility for ministry and service could exist for me and the evangelical pastor. Certainly before that conversation at least one other person sensed possibilities. That labeling may have closed the door on that possibility. I realize that, in this case, geography plays more of a factor, but this conversation could have just as easily taken place here where I live. Certainly it is taking place in the world-wide Anglican Communion.
In general I don't have a problem with someone from elsewhere on the spectrum preaching to my congregation. I sincerely believe they need to hear from a wide range of understandings. I had a bishop from Tanzania speak to them 1 1/2 years ago. Now there was an evangelical sermon. As I listened I thought how good it was for my people (and the Lutherans and Presbyterians) to hear the message this man brought. I didn't worry about where our theology diverged. Actually, I can't even remember looking for points of divergence. And even had he preached something to which I took total exception, I would have embraced it as a chance to explore our faith more deeply in future conversations amongst ourselves.
But that isn't even the whole point. I have talked about the possibility of pulpit exchanges here among the ministerial. I am well aware that three of the eleven of us are from a more "liberal" background. If I were to end up in one of the more "traditional" congregations I am going to respect where they are at. I am going to respect that it is one time only proposition. I am not going to try and ferment trouble. We do have common ground and common understandings and this is where I would preach not in our theological differences.
I know that world-wide we have major differences. I know that they are important differences to all invovled. Just as I could not give up my stance for full-inclusion, I can respect that others cannot accept it. But why should this one factor determine whether or not we can journey and work together? Why are we making it the make or break proposition? Why are we, in the local church, letting the divisions at higher levels affect how we live and work together? Why am I considered unworthy because of something I have come to believe? I didn't come to that belief lightly but those who judged me have never asked me why I have come to believe as I do. Most of them don't want to hear. (Plus I grant you, it is a long, long story -pages and pages covering more than 20 years of study).
I know I am idealist but why can't we play nice like good little girls and boys?
Love and Prayers,