I have announced and asked for prayers in too many places for me to pretend it is still a secret, at least a secret from anyone to whom It would matter. I am actively exploring the possibility of leaving my church of the last dozen or so years for another, yet to be discovered. And I hate the process.
First, please understand that I am a layman; a plain, ordinary pew-occupying church member with no particular role beyond that of any other member of the congregation. The “R” at the front of my name (R. Eric Sawyer) is the first initial (is that from the department of redundancy department?) of my name. It does not stand for “Reverend!” I once read that mistake from someone who either over-estimated the value of my writing, or under-estimated the value of clergy.
Secondly, I am decidedly not leaving the Episcopal Church. I have struggled with that issue for ten years, and am finally at peace. Sort of. I am most assuredly not at peace with the actions of our national church (TEC), and what seems to be the most prevalent theology among her higher leadership. Indeed I barely can regard some of it as Christian theology, even erroneously Christian. And I am certainly not at peace with certain actions of our current presiding Bishop. I am not a fan at all.
But I am again at peace being an Episcopalian. One of the differences between Episcopal Churches and many other protestant Churches is the degree to which the “cult of personality” directed towards the head minister (in our case, called the “rector”) is avoided. The parish is under the headship of God, not that of “the Rev. X” The Church belongs to the Lord Jesus. Alone. The opposite side of that coin is that, as the church is not elevated by any “star-power” of clergy, so it is not to be demonized by the failings of a particular head. The two things go together. If I eschew the thought of valuing a particular church strictly on my esteem for its pastor, so I must eschew the thought of rejecting my national church, strictly on my lack of esteem for its bishop. I may weep for her, and pray for her, do what I can to uplift the Gospel in her midst (and I do all these things), but I cannot say God has abandoned her on the basis of my view of her national leaders. In one of our foundational documents, the “Articles of Religion,” we even address the issue: Article #26, “Of the Unworthiness of the Ministers, which hinders not the effect of the Sacrament.” The Church, even this Church, even TEC, belongs to God. I am at peace.
I can see that I am about to chase an enticing rabbit trail towards my thoughts about the Episcopal Church, and the broader Anglican Communion. Perhaps I should follow that out, but not here. If anyone chooses to comment on that issue, or present a thought or question, I will be happy to respond, but I do have something else on my mind.
One of the reasons I am at peace is that I am in a good church, which I trust, under a bishop who I think I am learning to trust, even through our disagreements. So why up and leave? Main idea is that we are possibly too large a parish for me. I have needed this church as a place to heal and learn, to sit quietly and listen reflectively. I have heard God’s voice. But I have also understood that I should be, I want to be, doing more. If one is in an engineering school, one doesn’t wish to be a perpetual student. At some point, it becomes important to not register for another class on building, but to go out and build something. Living a life for God does not consist only of learning more and more about living a life for God. Working to “be transformed by the renewing of your mind” is a good thing, as St. Paul tells us. But St. James reminds us that there is another shoe… “true religion and undefiled is this…” You can look it up, but James doesn’t say that true religion is to add yet another Bible study.
I find this change hard to do where I am. The biggest way it seems I can contribute is by being part of a doctrinally solid voting bloc, and by contributing funds to consequent programs. I am not particularly well-equipped for that second part, and I think there may be something more valuable than the first.
So I am exploring moving. – to a small church.
I have explored several. And I hate the process!
I enjoy the “getting to know you” part – I really do. I enjoy being with other folks and experiencing how they worship our common Lord, using our common liturgy, but in a way that recognizes their own uniqueness. As one who sees great meaning and wonder in the concept of the Trinity, I like that. No, I love that! But my task is more difficult. I am trying to evaluate that. And that puts the cart decidedly before the horse!
I do NOT want to evaluate a preacher! I want to sit UNDER godly preaching, that it may change me. I do not want to judge music, I want to use it like the Eastern Church uses an Icon, to help me pass through my own spiritual barriers, that I may worship more freely and more accurately the God who is.
Perhaps most grating, I want to be in a place where I can more directly put my hand to the plow, but I do not want this to be about me – my gifts, what I have to offer. I have seen that done, I have seen the results of such a search, of ministry out of a desire to “share one’s gifts.” Often, it isn’t pretty.
It isn’t about me, and I don’t want it to be about me. And yet, I do care about all of those issues. When I “go church shopping” my cart is very much before the horse. I admit it. And I hate it.
I can only pray, with gratitude, that God’s work is not bound by my sin or limitations. He is perfectly capable of directing me as He may wish. Scripture is full of that assertion – even unbelief is not a barrier to God turning my heart as He chooses.
May He lead me quickly! (And may I follow)