Church the Morning After a Schism

This morning I got called a goat, but I still loved the man who called me that.

Let me explain, the Diocese of South Carolina has been having issues with the Episcopal Church for years because of the Episcopal Church’s actions to be open and affirming of people who are not heterosexual.  The last straw for them, it seems, was TEC’s approval of same-sex unions in this past General Convention.  Recently, based on charges brought up within the Diocese of South Carolina, the Episcopal Church suspended Bishop Mark Lawrence’s abilities and privileges as a bishop of the Episcopal Church.  Lawrence, based on the knowledge of other diocesan fights with the Episcopal Church, was attempting to hand out quitclaim deeds to parishes within the diocese that the Episcopal Church no longer claimed those churches as their property.  Yesterday, the Diocese of South Carolina met in Charleston, South Carolina and voted by a large majority to reaffirm its relationship with Mark Lawrence and to sever all ties with the Protestant Episcopal Church of the United States of America.

As you know, I recently joined the Episcopal Church.  Just a few days after making this decision, I searched for a church near my home that I could attend.  None of the Episcopal churches I found online reflected the values of the Episcopal Church I had come to know and join.  I was confused and curious, so I searched out the diocese online.  I found all the news articles about the bishop and the diocese’s anti-TEC actions, and I entered into a seething rage.  I did not rant or rave.  In fact, I hardly spoke about it at all, but I was angry.  I had found a church home.  A church home that had made a serious commitment to follow the second greatest commandment,[1] and, of course, of course, the diocese that my hometown is a part of was making an ass out of itself on the national stage.  I was angry, and every time I was connected, wrongfully, with that diocese it was like salt in a wound.

Fast-forward to yesterday, the Holy Spirit was being a nagging, pain-in-the-neck again.  I knew that the meeting was taking place in Charleston.  I knew that in all likelihood, they would vote to leave the Episcopal Church, and I wanted nothing to do with it.  I washed my hands of them.  I wanted nothing to do with them.  I do believe that God was laughing at my resistance.[2]

This morning, I attended worship at Prince George Winyah Episcopal Church.[3]  This semester, I actually read about the church in one of my history books of the Episcopal Church.  The sanctuary certainly feels as old as the church is supposed to be.  After experiencing worship there this morning, my anger was reinforced, yes, but I also confronted what I had not before, my grief.

The two are not easily separated.  This morning was the first time I realized that my anger was so deep because it is laden with grief.  Obviously, I did not appreciate the rector of the church calling me, and the rest of TEC that affirms the place of the non-heterosexual in TEC, goats.[4][5]  The sermon was about how the Diocese of South Carolina is choosing the right side of the division with the Episcopal Church and how the Episcopal Church is a part of the general moral deterioration of society.[6]  It was raining this morning, and it was interesting that at the moment that the rector began pronouncing the Biblical justification of division in the church, the floodgates of the skies opened.  I watched the heads in the church turn to look out the windows as it really began pouring.

Part of my grief and anger is the Diocese of South Carolina walking away from being a voice in the wilderness for non-heterosexual inclusion.  In this part of this state, there are no churches who are preaching love for this constituency of the Kingdom of God.  In fact, I noticed during the service how much the church had made an effort to conform to the churches and the culture around Prince George Winyah Episcopal.  The Bibles in the pews, unlike every other Episcopal church I’ve been in, are NIV, not NRSV.  The churches in the area will easily recognize NIV Bibles whereas they would not with the NRSV.  Also, I noticed that the rector was rushing through the service.  Pauses in the Nicene Creed and Prayers of the People were conspicuously absent.  Then, I realized what was happening.  The rector was doing his utmost to make the liturgy fit within an hour, something that the liturgy of the Holy Eucharist in the Episcopal Church is not written to do when combined with a fifteen to twenty minute sermon.  However, all of the churches in this part of the state get out within an hour, and it is an important part of the culture that one is able to get to one’s regular table at the regular restaurant at a little after noon.  The Diocese of South Carolina could have made the decision to be witnesses for the kind of message that I never heard in my part of the state growing up.  They could have been that witness for the radical love of Christ that I did not hear until I was in college.  They’ve walked away from that.

But Prince George Winyah is clearly an Episcopal church.  We still pray the prayer of confession.  We still pray the prayer of thanksgiving.  We still recite the Nicene Creed.  I may be angry with them.  I may be hurt that they have decided to leave the Episcopal Church, but the Diocese of South Carolina is still a part of my family.[7]  I realized that God had led me to Prince George Winyah Episcopal so that my anger could be tempered with the grief of realizing what I was losing.  A part of my family has decided that they cannot be a part of it, and dammit, it hurts.  There was a moment in the Prayers of the People that I choked up and could hardly get the words out:  “For the peace and unity of the Church of God/For all who proclaim the Gospel, and all who seek the Truth.”  This morning the rector said that all of the apocalyptic messages in the Bible are clear:  There will be clear division in the end times.  There will be a clear division between those who live into the Kingdom of God and those who do not.[8]  However, amidst the coming of the Advent season, I prefer to think of the divisions amongst the church in this way:

 

“O come, Desire of nations, bind
in one the hearts of all mankind;
bid thou our sad divisions cease,
and be thyself our King of Peace.”[9]

 

I may be a fool, but I still have hope for the reconciliation of the Episcopal Church and the Diocese of South Carolina.  I have hope in that reconciliation in the same manner that I have hope in the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  I have hope because when I went up to receive the Eucharist, the same man who had called me a goat before, smiled at me and said, “The body of Christ broken for you” as he gave me the wafer.  And you know what?  By the time of the Eucharist in the service, the rain outside had lessened to the point of being little more than drizzle.


[1] “When the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, and one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. ‘Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?’ He said to him, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”  -Matthew 22:34-40

[2] God does this routinely with me and my ideas.

[4] Matthew 25:31-46

[5] I had the thought of standing up in the pew in shouting, “Baaaaaaaaaaaaah, bitch!”  I am now glad I made the decision of not doing this.

[6] Obviously, I think that having the full inclusion of non-heterosexual people in the church is just one more part of the witness of the radical love of Jesus Christ.  Clearly, however, the Diocese of South Carolina disagrees.

[7] On Nov. 13, 2012, the eminent Anglican scholar Emilie Finn referred to the Anglican Communion as a family.  Families, as she astutely pointed out, can be functional and dysfunctional.  Families can be angry with each other, they can even hate each other, but they can’t change the fact that they’re related.

[8] Although I think we will be very surprised at who we will see among us on that fateful day in the Kingdom of God.

[9] “O Come, O Come Emmanuel”