(Trinity-Kirksville's newest of the newly baptized, along with Bishop Stephen Dokolo and Bishop Wayne Smith, photo by Julie Seidler from Trinity-Kirksville's photostream.)
O God, you have bound us together in a common life. Help us, in the midst of our struggles for justice and truth, to confront one another without hatred or bitterness, and to work together with mutual forbearance and respect; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
--Prayer in Times of Conflict, Book of Common Prayer, p. 824
Sunday, December 11 was a magic day in the life of my little parish. Not only was it the day of our annual Bishop's Visit (it's always fun to have our bishop here to preach and preside,) he brought along three special guests--his wife, Debbie; Bishop Stephen Dokolo of the Diocese of Lui, in the Republic of South Sudan; and Bishop Stephen's wife Lillian. The Diocese of Missouri and the Diocese of Lui share a companion relationship. It was especially exciting that our visitors sparked something in us--a desire to connect with our companion diocese in a closer way. There was talk at coffee hour of connecting us with a particular parish in Lui, and even more exciting talk of us asking ourselves if we dare consider the possibility of a group of us going to Lui in the future.
There was one moment I actually felt a little sorry for our bishop. We had two Communion stations so that Bishop Stephen could help distribute Communion. I'm afraid most of us dissed our bishop to get in Bishop Stephen's line. (I did. I'm pretty sure Bishop Wayne likes me anyway.) But it was important to me. Many of you have heard the high stock I place on human hands when it comes to the Sacraments--I've blogged on it in all sorts of contexts. It was important to me to have our visitor's and my hands and the consecrated bread to all have those few nanoseconds together.
Now back up a bit and you'll see why.
Y'all did hear me mention South Sudan, right? As in the Episcopal Church of Sudan? You know, those guys. However, it's important to know that Bishop Stephen has a personal connection with the Diocese of Missouri. As part of our companion relationship, he was brought to Missouri to Eden Seminary for part of his education a few years ago. He lived in our diocese for a spell.
It's also not a state secret that Trinity-Kirksville is an Oasis congregation in the Diocese of Missouri. We are very much an LGBT-affirming parish in every sense of the word.
Yet, there we all were together, in the same worship space, at the same holy table, at the same coffee hour table, and talking of more possibilities of ways to share and learn from each other--because really, when you come right down to it, the things that Lui needs to be more present in God's world are things like water wells, and teachers, and health education regarding childbirth, infectious disease, and HIV, and grinding mills so women don't have to grind grain for hours on end in order for their families to eat. Truthfully, I'm not sure the average Christian in Lui would think much at all about homosexuality except for certain people in their own church keeping it on the radar. There are far bigger fish to fry in Lui, it seems.
I don't know what this most recent development between the Archbishop of the Episcopal Church of the Sudan and our own Presiding Bishop means, just a mere week after South Sudan met Kirksville; nor can I possibly know what it means in terms of the future of all companion relationships between ECS and TEC. I am sad--incredibly sad--about the news of our Presiding Bishop's "disinvitation" from the ECS--but it does not erase what I saw in my own church one week prior.
It's a complex and convoluted thing, this relationship our two dioceses share. It was an issue at our Diocesan Convention in November--whether we wanted to continue this relationship--not just because of "the Sudan thing" but simply because some asked if the money wasn't better spent at home, or whether it is effective. I wasn't at Convention, I can't speak to it first hand. But what I've learned from someone who has had a dog in this hunt for a long time, my blogging colleague Lisa, is that her trip to Lui in 2006 transformed her--and she would have had every reason in the world not to be transformed. One of the more eloquent explanations I've ever seen of why this relationship is valuable is this post she wrote in 2009. Granted, it's a little dated, but I've yet to hear anyone explain it better.
I'm also going to be up front that "the topic" never came up at our coffee hour forum, because, frankly, people were more interested in the relationship we were having with Lillian and Bishop Stephen. We are who we are at Trinity-Kirksville--if you didn't know it outside the door, you'll know it in the narthex, because our Oasis proclamation is on the south wall of the narthex, right inside the door, in front of God and everyone. On Sunday, December 11, it just didn't matter to the Dokolos and it didn't matter to us.
No doubt--it's downright crushing to see what is going on between these two churches at a level far above me, because what I see from the altar at Trinity-Kirksville is that all things really are possible with God. I can only ask God to hold all these things in his hands--hands big enough to hold the joy of Dec. 11, 2011 and the animosity of this shunning that ECS has inflicted on TEC.
What mattered to me personally was simply for our hands to briefly meet between a little hunk of consecrated bread, on a Sunday in Advent--the season of crazy, unreasonable hope--and what's crazier than thinking something like that has the power to do what all the press-inches online and purple shirt proclamations cannot, in bringing the Reign of God to this weary old planet?