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I work as a teacher, poet and spiritual director at a number of institutions in the DC area. My teaching focuses in various ways on writing, poetry, Spirituality and Christian vocation and ministry - especially from the point of view of the laity. I also offer classes and retreats encouraging people to explore their inner lives, engage their creativity and reflect on their beliefs about God, vocation, and how we can discern and pursue new ways to transform our broken world. I enjoy speaking of faith in the secular academy as well as reminding those preparing for ministry in the Church that our primary purpose is to love and serve the world beyond the church's doors. I love helping people to grow in faith and to find their own voices, and I also love encouraging them to use their minds. I see no contradiction between these impulses, believing as I do that faith, reason and creativity work together.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Mission, Money, and the Church

Front page news in today's New York Times: the unspoken reality is that the Episcopal Church is the largest donor to all the mission efforts -- feeding the poor, working to cure AIDS, supporting the needs of women and all the Milennium Development Goals and Anglican missions all over the world. That is, doing what we're called to do as followers of Christ who are among the privileged people of this world. Something we need to do more of, not less, certainly. The article is at http://www.nytimes.com/2007/03/20/us/20episcopal.html It speculates about what would happen to the Anglican Communion (which has been meeting to debate over whether to expel or discipline the American Episcopal church because of our agreement to the ordination of a gay bishop, among other matters of Biblical interpretation and practice). Several times in the article the point is made that no one in the Episcopal Church is suggesting such a cutoff, but the journalists still speculate on the "what if." It's kind of a tricky spin, and is likely to get misrepresented. The "what if" is coming from the journalists (("Money Looms" it says in the headline), not from the Episcopal church as a body.

The expectation in this world is always that people will use money as political leverage. What if we were to actively resist that temptation, as a church, recognizing the counter-cultural call of Christ? I hope that's the plan: to keep on giving to the worldwide mission of the Anglican communion and to keep clear of, and deflect, accusations that we're doing this in order to gain political influence. Mission should have nothing to do with politics or doctrinal disputes, from the Episcopal Church's point of view.

It seems to me this is an opportunity for us Episcopalians to offer a quiet witness to what is really important in our life of faith. I certainly hope we'll continue to resist any temptation to use our important work of mission -- something we're equipped for because of privilege and a large infrastructure in the world -- as any kind of political tool. So far, we are resisting that temptation. We need to persevere in this. If we are treated badly, we are treated badly, but that should not affect our commitment to mission. Surely the gospel is clear on this (especially Luke, which we're reading just now): Given a choice between ideas of ritual and doctrinal "purity" on the one hand and care for the poor, the excluded, the marginalized and oppressed on the other, we are to make the choice for caring. I hope we'll continue to keep ourselves focused on this mission-focus within the Anglican communion, especially during this time of division and fighting within the churches.

The article records one heartbreaking case where contributions from the Episcopal Church were refused by a church in Uganda because of issues with our doctrine and practice. And innocent people suffered for that. We must NOT respond in kind to this if it happens more. Mission is one of our important reasons to stay connected to the Anglican Communion on some terms if we can, unless and until we are actively rejected and our money (which is God's money, really) refused. It's an opportunity for Episcopalians to think about what we mean by discipleship, in our corporate life, and even when we're not treating each other very well. Let the world see us primarily serving those in need. Jesus said "as you did it to one of the least of these, you did it to me" (Matthew 25: 40). Let the world see us serving the needs of the world, following Jesus, rather than fighting among ourselves.

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