Saturday, August 11, 2007

Square Pegs in Round Holes

Someone referred to “square pegs in round holes” at Council meeting this week. I merely said, “No, it is just putting an Episcopalian in a Lutheran church. May be it is “square peg” me, in a round-hole parish, but there are definitely differences between my Episcopalian self and this Lutheran parish.

One of the differences I really see is the emphasis that is placed upon the Incarnation in Anglican spirituality and the place that salvation by grace alone in Lutheran spirituality. While much of what Anglicans believe is based on Lutheran grace, there is still more than a little Pelagian sense of works-righteousness that hangs around Episcopalians. But more than that is the tremendous emphasis that Anglicans tend to place on Christ becoming human that is so central to Anglicanism.

I have not heard many Lutheran sermons and the ones that I have heard are often heavily theological and are centered in the Cross of Christ. I do not wish to imply that Lutheran sermons center on the Crucifixion, and Episcopalians center on the Resurrection. That would be too facile indeed. But I do see that the place that the Incarnation has among Episcopalians colors how they see the purpose of the Cross and the Resurrection. I am not sure how Lutherans draw out the joy of the Christian life from Death and Resurrection of Jesus, I only know that they do, and it is different. One thing that Episcopalians need to hear that is common to Lutherans is how much God has done for them in the Cross and Resurrection, that the grace that is given is so utterly free and comes to us not because of anything we have done.

BUT, what does seem the same is the need for pastoral care. St. Luke’s has been without a pastor for two years. In the memory of members of the congregation, the parish has gone 18 years without a regular pastor. They did not want to do that again, so an Episcopalian may be good enough. The pastoral work is the same. It is the being willing to listen. It is the willingness to be present and available to not just the parish community but the whole town. It is being the person who works with other churches in the town or their representative at civic events. It is the willingness to laugh when faced with odds that seem to overwhelm and the consolation when there are no words at all that will suffice. These aspects are the same no matter the theology or doctrine. It is what I call the “being there” Christianity that speaks of the Jesus of the Scripture.

This parish seems to have a great deal of respect for the position of “Pastor”. The deference made in the title is not one to be ignored. It feels like a throw-back to days when “Father” was spoken with awe in Episcopal Churches rather than with the kind of folksy familiarity that it is today. “Mother” has never quite caught on with me. I have been comfortable with being called by my Christian name, but “Pastor” has nice ring to it. It speaks more of what I do than what I am. This may be from a Lutheran sense of ordination, but I like it.

The hot topic among the Lutherans about this “Together in Mission” is the historic episcopate. I know that there are those Anglo-Catholics who believe that this is the be all and end all of Episcopal understanding of the episcopacy. I do not subscribe to the historic “laying on of hands from one bishop to the next” as the evidence of the validity of episcopal orders. It is the handing on of the Faith that is implied in that action of the laying on of hands that is important to me. I am not the only Episcopalian that thinks that way. I am also beginning to think that episcopal orders may be conferred for a time too, but I know that I would not get very far in the Episcopal world with that view. I wonder about those who are made bishop who clearly don’t belong there—and find that they are better suited for pastoral work than ecclesial. I think we may have made too much of the ontological issue and not enough of the realistic issue of the action of our spiritual gifts. But this is part of the growing edge of our two communions. And yet I know that there is a change that comes with ordination. I am not sure exactly what kind of change that does come, but there is a grace that comes with the office of priest that I cannot explain.

There will be constant comments like these over the next few years. I invite any who might wish to comment to do so. The journey for Together in Mission is for all to celebrate, not just Episcopalians and Lutherans.

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