Rector's Ramblings June 5, 2014
I’ve decided that I like air conditioning. I suppose it’s not a new realization, but rather, a reassertion. Sometimes we take such things for granted, at least I certainly do. What brought it to mind was the opening worship of the Province IV meeting of the Episcopal Church (more on that in a moment). We are meeting at Kanuga, the Hendersonville, NC Episcopal camp and conference center of Southern lore. It is a beautiful mountain haven, and on my first visit I’m quite impressed. With one exception. There is no air conditioning in the chapel!
Granted, the mountain mornings are relatively comfortable, even in the heat of summer, and yet the June evening upon which our conference started this week found almost 300 people sitting shoulder to shoulder without the aid of cooled air. It didn’t help that I was coached to wear jeans instead of shorts either (never mind the fact that upon arrival I was greeted by our bishop…in shorts). It wasn’t torturous, it was just uncomfortable. Fortunately it was a good, hearty gathering of devoted Episcopalians – the sort who stand for election to things like General Convention – so that largely made up for it.
Some of you may be asking what a Province is, so I’ll remind you. The basic unit of the Church in our tradition is the parish, which is in turn part of a diocese, which is in turn part of a province, which is in turn part of the “national” Episcopal Church (we don’t use that term anymore because we’re actually international), which is in turn part of the Anglican Communion, 85 million people strong in total. Of all of those levels of organization, the Province is the most confusing in terms of its role. Most of us don’t know what Provinces do.
Basically, the nine provinces are geographic groupings of dioceses, with the intent that the diocese grouped together can help and support each other by sharing resources and ideas, etc. Our province, Province IV, is made up of twenty dioceses in the South. Conferences like this one are opportunities to learn about what is going on in the wider church, hear from Episcopal Church officials, prepare for things like General Convention, and share thoughts and ideas as a larger body that can be conveyed to the House of Bishops and Episcopal Church staff. Our next General Convention is in 2015, so next year’s meeting will have a lot more formality to its agenda. As an elected alternate deputy to General Convention for the Diocese of GA, I am here representing our diocese.
This is how I found myself in the chapel at Kanuga realizing that I take air conditioning for granted, particularly in worship. It’s been a long time since I worshipped in a church without it (although my home parish didn’t have it until I was out of seminary and on the staff!). We tend to miss such things when we don’t see and hear and feel them. Provinces and Diocese are much the same. It is easy to forget that we are a part of a much wider communion of believers who share the same foundation and grounding in the Anglican Tradition. Sitting in a church full of Episcopalians who come from all over and represent the wide and big tent of the Church is always a great reminder that I tend to take our breadth for granted in between such meetings.
It is always powerful to gather with a larger, different group than the one we see on Sunday mornings. Think about the mixing of our own parish last week at Honey Creek for our service in the chapel; think about when we gathered with other local congregations on Ash Wednesday; think about gathering as a diocese of south Georgia parishes. Each one is an occasion of grace and power when the work of the Church becomes a bit more readily apparent. How fitting a consideration when we remember that we are about to celebrate the birthday of the Church on Pentecost.
I don’t know if our structure is what Jesus had in mind. I highly doubt it, in fact. But for all the things we struggle to understand about our structures and institutions, if nothing else they are important reminders to us about the scope of the work of the gospel and keep us from taking that work for granted. We are the Body of Christ, many members, but one body. We may be spread out, broken into our own congregations on a regular basis, and we may even sweat out our worship in different ways, but we are one body; we are the Episcopal Church. Thanks be to God!
Gracious Father, we pray for thy holy Catholic Church. Fill it with all truth, in all truth with all peace. Where it is corrupt, purify it; where it is in error, direct it; where in any thing it is amiss, reform it. Where it is right, strengthen it; where it is in want, provide for it; where it is divided, reunite it; for the sake of Jesus Christ thy Son our Savior. Amen.