Another crossposting: my chance to spout off about the disgraceful battles in the Anglican Communion.
In my sixty years I cannot recall ever being part of a congregation where I agreed with everything that was taught or done, even when I was the priest in charge (since the congregation was not an autocracy). Certainly there were situations where I felt more or less comfortable, thus I affiliated where my participation could be more wholehearted than it might be elsewhere. When it comes to my ability to worship, I try to keep focused on whom I worship, and that is always God and never the Church.
This has meant violating all manner of technicalities, such as when I attended Mass at Nôtre Dame de Paris as a student in 1967. At that time I was formally a Baptist but a very sacramental one and I took Communion, fully aware of the Roman Catholic position on what I was doing. No one else knew that, so the conscience of the priests could remain uncompromised. I certainly did not believe everything the Catholic Church taught and practiced, though I did believe in the Real Presence and quietly insisted on my right to be fed with Christ.
Since then I have worshiped in a far greater variety of circumstances, keeping my heart focused on the presence of God. [This includes sitting on the earth during sacred pueblo dances, joining in prayers at a mosque, listening to hours of song in a Sikh gurdwara, and rejoicing in the marriage of friends in a synagogue.]
Many persons have experienced superficial welcome in churches where the spoken "how wonderful to have you with us" is accompanied by an unspoken "so long as you are and act like our kind of people." What "our kind of people" is varies from time to time and place to place. I felt it when I arrived at the Anglican cathedral in Cuernavaca, Mexico, as the English service ended. When the English-speaking ex-pats at the door realized my friend and I had come for the Spanish service the warmth in their welcome froze over in an instant. We were clearly not their kind of people. The welcome we received from the Mexican congregants there, however, was warm and genuine.
So I find that we all need to work on the nature of our hospitality. We shall never match the gracious welcome of God, nor shall we ever perfectly embody the work of God's reign. Still, we cannot cease striving to do so.
Were Jesus not a social activist he would have had far fewer conflicts with religious and political authorities. His refusal to dissociate himself from sinners shocked the righteous and his concern for the poor and the powerless--in clear conformity with the tradition of the Torah, the prophets, and the writings--did not sit well with social and political structures of his time. Social activism in churches is not the issue, so the crux must lie elsewhere, perhaps in our tendencies to exclude those "not like us."
There are clear divides in how people understand the Good News of God in Christ: how they do theology, how they understand scripture, how they practice spirituality, how they proclaim Gospel.
I am one who came to the Episcopal Church and found The Book of Common Prayer and the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral a very comfortable framework in which to be Christian. Within that framework I can comfortably worship and join in mission and ministry with others, whether I agree with their theology, piety, or politics or not. Adding new criteria for being orthodox or Anglican makes it harder for all of us to get along and be about "kingdom work," and this would be true whether one's new criteria be "conservative" or "liberal" or "other (specify)."
I recall one Lent when I was in the church parking lot, hosing down palm branches that would decorate the church for Palm Sunday. Some Jehovah's Witnesses came by and asked whether I thought everyone would worship the same way in heaven. What an odd question! As my best friend commented, "Why on earth would God desire that? It would be like a symphony with only one type of instrument."
Now, some of us are especially fond of brass, others of winds, some of strings, yet others of percussion. All play a part. Music lovers include those who are into chamber music, vast romantic symphonies, dixieland, hip hop, chant, and the incredible varieties of music across the globe. To me, this variety is a great gift of a gracious God. I have my own strong preferences and dislikes. You will find me either shaking my body to "world music" with its polyrhythms or grooving on Bach rather than listening to rap or heavy metal. Similarly, I will usually be worshiping in a context where a strong emphasis on the sacraments and the mystery of the Trinity blend with very liberal social views. That's where I fit in. But I see no need
to disdain or excommunicate those whose expression of Good News and personal comfort zone differ.
A reality of our limitations and brokenness (and yes, let's include our willful proclivity to sin) means that we will not be comfortable in every situation. Can we avoid demonizing each other and reinforcing polarization? Anglicanism has traditionally been very broad, and consequently damned by Catholics and Puritans, though it can accommodate great variety in both those directions. I would like to think we can provide a broad enough umbrella for Christians of many styles to flourish in its shade. This may be one of the reasons we have been gifted with an image of a local church that is not the parish but the diocese. A variety of congregations within a diocese allow us to sort out where we thrive best. There is no reason these congregations should all be alike, think alike, or minister alike, because God has not made us all alike.
I sympathize with those who sense that there are churches where they would not feel welcome no matter how warm the greetings at the door. I have experienced the same reality in many settings.
I recall an older woman standing up at a parish meeting (in another state) and saying "everyone who comes in those doors and wants to worship with us is welcome." As frustratingly vague as that might sound at times and as imperfectly lived as it was, we all knew she had spoken of the God-given reality we yearn for and could agree on.
When it is my part to open that door and speak welcome, I try to embody God's welcome to all. Conversely, when I am the one coming in a church door, I try to remember God's welcome. The welcome I give and the one I receive will both be imperfect, but they all are grounded in and challenged by God's welcome. I want to put my energy on what God is up to.
On a larger level, several provinces of the Anglican Communion have already declared they are not in communion with a huge portion of the Episcopal Church. Since, so far, the provinces are autonomous, they cannot yet enforce an interdict, though this means that I, by their definitions, have already been excommunicated in some parts of the world.
I, as a proud liberal, cast my lot with Edwin Markham.
He drew a circle that shut me out --
Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout.
But love and I had the wit to win:
We drew a circle that took him in.
Returning to the title of this post, I wish to cite my bishop, the Rt. Rev. Marc Handley Andrus, eighth Bishop of California. In response to the communiqué of the Primates in Dar es Salaam, he wrote the following:
"... our task in the Church is not actually to include or exclude anyone, but to show forth an intrinsic co-inherence that simply is, created and sustained by God."
THAT is grounded in the lifegiving mystery of the Most Holy Trinity: our source, our goal, the ground of our being and becoming. Preach it, Bishop!