Volume 9, Number 13, February 25, 2007
From the Rector: No Time for Prelates
Earlier this month I visited Father Ryan Lesh, vicar, Christ Church, Red Hook, for a few days. Many know Ryan is an anesthesiologist and was on the faculty of two distinguished medical schools before going to seminary from this parish. While I was with him I remembered that he had written a paper in seminary on the medical and theological response to the introduction of anesthesia. When anesthesia was discovered, many people were not in favor of its use for surgery or dentistry. Pain was a biblically-sanctioned, spiritual tool for helping people remember their dependence on God.
The idea of the obstetric use of anesthesia caused even greater concern among physicians and clergy (all men in that era), because in Genesis God decreed women are to bear children in pain. Queen Victoria had a different idea. Anesthesia was used for the delivery of her eighth child in 1853. That was that. Reason trumped the ordinary literal and traditional reading of Scripture, not for the first time or the last.
From time to time these past few years I have written about the controversies in the wider Anglican Communion. My guide about when to do so has been when the controversy has managed to appear on the front page of The New York Times. Well, we’re in the news again. The primates of the different provinces of the Anglican Communion met in Tanzania last week. Most of the primates are beating up on the Episcopal Church because we have pressed forward in welcoming all into the Body of Christ. Perhaps most scandalous, some refuse to participate in the Eucharist or to receive Communion when our Presiding Bishop is present in church.
Please don’t let anyone tell you it’s about the Bible. It’s not. Most Christian denominations officially do not permit women to be ordained or invite homosexuals to be in their pews. Despite all of the protestations, this is the inward and spiritual reality of the Anglican primates trying to impose their “beliefs” on us.
After the wives of the archbishop of Canterbury and his fellow primates give up obstetric anesthesia, I’ll try to pay a little more attention to them, but not much. Week after week we read from the Bible on slavery, on God decreeing the slaughter of men, women and children in the lands of Canaan, Jesus on divorce and about Christians having personal money and property. Our daily readings at Morning Prayer, Mass and Evening Prayer regularly make me realize why I value what has been the intellectual and rational tradition of Anglicanism. I really do not have time for a Christianity that is discriminatory, intellectually dishonest and autocratic.
One of my correspondents recently wrote me that his rector had preached a sermon in which he reminded their congregation that it is Christ himself who brings people into community, not them. I would add that this includes our primates: it is still Christ who acts. Christ welcomed sinners to his table and sought out the tables of sinners. I believe that he seeks out and welcomes me and all others.
Many of you know that on Valentine’s Day my stepfather William Knoeller died and my mother Barbara Knoeller was gravely injured in an automobile accident. My mother’s condition remains critical and life-threatening. So far, she has responded well to treatment. I can’t begin to witness to you and others about the sacrificial and loving character of those who responded at the scene of the accident, at hospitals, everywhere.
On Monday we buried my stepfather in the churchyard of their parish, Trinity Church, St. Mary’s City, Maryland. The church is on a bluff over the St. Mary’s River, which flows into the Potomac River near the Chesapeake Bay. It was very cold but very sunny. Men of our family and a next door neighbor carried the coffin from the church to the grave. The coffin was lowered into the ground at the committal. At the end of the service, my stepfather’s identical twin grandsons, who had turned five at the end of January, were the first to cast dirt on the coffin. The Spirit of the Lord was present in the community, the liturgy, the rector’s pastoral care and the gracious hospitality of the parish for all who mourned.
I had gone the day before to Sunday Mass at Trinity. The epistle was 1 Corinthians 12:27—13:13, Paul’s description of love. It spoke to me in so many ways, mostly about my mother. Despite all the ups and downs of life, with all of its twists and turns, I have always known that my mother loves me. She still does and always will, in this life and in the life to come. I heard Paul’s words on faith, hope and love in a new context. I won’t forget that reading at that Mass ever. I experienced that love lived out by the clergy and people of my parents’ parish.
Now, remind me what the Anglican primates were busy with this weekend? I believe we at Saint Mary’s are very much like the people of Trinity Church, St. Mary’s City, who welcomed stranger after stranger last week. (My stepfather’s funeral was the third there in four days.) All were welcome there. All are welcome here. It hasn’t always been that way in the Episcopal Church. There are too many congregations across the Church today which were founded because African-Americans were not welcome in white congregations. The Lord has not abandoned us to those who would take away the liberty with which Christ has set us free. He continues to call us and our leaders to truth and to bring others into a new family.
Remember that the man born blind was rejected by his family, his community and his religious leaders before and after he was healed. His blindness wasn’t really the issue. After he had been healed and rejected, Jesus again sought him out because the old community was not to be the man’s home. I believe we are being called now with a new intention to do Jesus’ work. To the best of our ability, our Episcopal Church really has decided to follow Jesus in a new way and I am proud of it. As the song goes, “No turning back, no turning back.” Stephen Gerth