Odd lots and remnants

By Howard Anderson

I was down in Louisiana at a CREDO conference, earlier this week, and it has occurred to me that as the House of Bishops was sequestered with the Archbishop of Canterbury (the ABC) over in New Orleans, his task in trying to be a unifying force in the life of the Anglican Communion was not one that is to be envied. Archbishop Rowan Williams has four, maybe five Primates colonizing the United States, in an interesting kind of reverse colonization. He has The Episcopal Church. Yup, he’s stuck with us.

TEC has several bishops (to read the press accounts you would think it is dozens of bishops) vying to be the “one true Anglican Church” in the U.S. Further, he has a group of Primates from the Global South demanding that TEC “do what they say,” or be expelled. And they are being led by a Primate from Nigeria, Archbishop Peter Akinola, whose province is no longer in the Communion by virtue of a change he had made in the constitution of the Church of Nigeria, taking out all references to being in communion with The See of Canterbury (The Archbishop of Canterbury), the only sure fire way to be in this Communion.

Within the Church of England, the ABC (I have a friend who is a Buddhist priest who refers to him at the ABCdefghij…) has a very muscular evangelical party threatening to make more trouble themselves if he does not take a firm stand on the side of a conservative sola scriptura decidedly not mainstream Anglican stance which, if a student of his had written such a thing, Professor Williams would clearly have failed them. And yet, he is required by his position to doff his miter and politely listen to their demands.

I could go on with the issues that face our much maligned archbishop, who seems at present to be pleasing no one, but I won’t. If the ABC has a sense of humor, (he may well have, I don’t know him) he would have to laugh at the absurdity of it all. There was a grizzled veteran priest friend of mine in Minnesota who used to intone this little ditty every time there was a church fight. “Onward marches the Church of God, trampling each other into the sod.” And it does appear we seem intent on trampling one another into the ecclesial sod. Whatever is happening at the House of Bishops, I suspect that it is not easy for anyone.

But being down here, I have been given inspiration and it’s not just the chicory coffee and Cajun cooking. This time of year in Louisiana, is a time of love. The “love bugs” are mating, and they are everywhere, on everything and everybody, totally oblivious to their impending doom at the hands of whomever they land on. There are piles of them everywhere, joined together in an embrace that will end in the death of the male, I am told. They are so intent on their connubial task, so creative in their spiraling, helicoptering copulating, that nothing else matters. It may well be a metaphor for the Church and its various parties. You see, the life cycle of the love bugs is less than a week. But they are so focused on their mating that they are not paying attention to anything else. It almost seems as if, like the love bugs, traditionalist and progressive Episcopalians are so locked in our struggles, so sure of the rightness of our positions, that we are oblivious to the consequences. And it seems that it is who mates with whom that is the presenting issue. So much energy, money, time and emotional labor is being expended in this love bug dance, that despite our Presiding Bishop’s attempts to keep us focused on mission, we are spiraling toward the same fate as the benighted love bugs.

My friend Margo Maris, a very astute theologian, is here in Louisiana, too, as part of the CREDO faculty. Today I saw her scribbling something on a napkin, her face alight with what was clearly an “I have a good idea” look. I’ve known her long enough to know that when she has a good idea, it usually is A REALLY GOOD IDEA! What it said on the napkin was, “What we all have in common is that we all call ourselves the remnant.”

I think she is right. The archbishop needs to point our to bishops like Keith Ackerman in the Diocese of Quincy, and Robert Duncan in the Diocese of Pittsburgh, and their fellow aspiring schismatic bishops that they are, indeed, a saving remnant of orthodoxy in the Episcopal Church. Then he needs to point out to the progressives that they are, indeed, the remnant in the Communion that is still open to the movement of the Holy Spirit who has a nasty habit of “making all things new.” Then he can tell the disgruntled Primates from the global south that they are, indeed, a remnant people (and majority) that God will use to grow and shape the Church. Margo is right. We need to celebrate our remnant identities. While already the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan slipped into a phone booth and put on his mild-mannered Professor Williams hat, and wrote a wonderful collection of essays entitled Anglican Identities. Note the plural: identities. He understands that the whole universe has changed. Is light a wave or a particle? The answer is “yes.” Just as the mysterious three-in-one, Triune God is both one and three, so too, in the post modern era we can have more than one way to be a remnant. Maybe there is common ground after all.

After sleeping on her ideas, Margo said I should add a postscript. She had a wonderful image come to her. She said that when our foremothers looked at all the remnants they had left from years of sewing, they pondered what to do with them. None of the remnants were identical. They were all different colors, shapes, sizes and of different cloth altogether. “How will we make use of these pieces?” they asked. And with other women bringing their remnant pieces, they made quilts for warmth, pot holders to be able to pick up hot pots and pans, and they braided pieces into rugs that we could walk on to keep our feet from getting cold. Hmmm…how will we use our varied, beautifully-colored, odd shaped remnants? Only God knows. And I heard God was a very fine quilter indeed.

The Rev. Dr. Howard Anderson is Warden and President of the Cathedral College at Washington National Cathedral. He was a long time General Convention deputy.

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