The Isn’t Your Father’s Anglican Communion

I had a delightful Saturday morning.  I hope you did as well.  I spent mine at Christ Church, Pensacola, FL, with their Chapter of the Brotherhood of Saint Andrew.  We worshiped together, had a solid southern breakfast, and then I presented on the assigned topic, which makes up the title to this blog post.  I had all sorts of positive feedback on the morning, so I’ve decided to post my homily here on the blog, and then link you to the slideshow and notes for my presentation.

Download the PDF of the slideshow THIS ISN’T YOUR FATHER’S ANGLICAN COMMUNION.

And now, the homily:

Variety’s the spice of life, / That gives it all its flavor.

So wrote the poet William Cowper in his 1785 poem “The Task,” a six book, three-hundred-fifty-nine page, six-thousand line tome that tests fully what is most certainly the author’s most famous line.  In the Preface, Cowper explained how such a rambling text came to be:

A lady, fond of blank verse, demanded a poem of that kind from the Author, and gave him the SOFA for a subject.  He obeyed; and, having much leisure, connected another subject with it; and, pursuing the train of thought to which his situation and turn of mind led him, brought forth at length, instead of the trifle which he at first intended, a serious affair – a Volume.[1]

Cowper lived by his bit of wisdom: variety being the spice of life, that is, writing a large collection of poetry, but thanks to his friendship with John Newton, author of “Amazing Grace,” Cowper also ended up writing fifteen hymns for The Church of England’s Church Hymn Book 1872.

I can’t help but wonder if Saint Paul didn’t sit down for tea with William Cowper upon his death in 1800 and say, “I really wish I had come up with that variety line before you did.”  The New Testament lesson for this morning comes from Paul’s First Letter to the Church in Corinth and is itself full of variety.  The Corinthian Christians were great at arguing with one another: over communion, over giving, over idolatry, and yes, even over spiritual gifts.  Paul wanted them to know, very clearly, that variety of gifts was a gift from God.

Not everyone is called to preach.

Not everyone is called to heal.

Not everyone is called to administrate.

Not everyone is called to speak in tongues.

The Spirit divvies out these abilities, in their great variety, for the “common good.”  New Testament scholar James Boyce sums up Paul’s argument well when he writes,

The allotments of the Spirit are not arbitrary or willy-nilly. They are given with particularity and with purpose “for the common good.” Of course that “common good” is not always transparent; it has to be negotiated in practice, again by the use of the gift of wisdom, in consideration of what it is that “builds up the community.”[2]

As we gather this morning to ponder the development of the Anglican Communion, I can’t help but be excited by the great variety that Paul lays out before us.  Christians from over 165 countries make up the Anglican Communion.  We are diverse in every way: culturally, socially, politically, economically, ethnically, and racially; but this variety, this spice of our common life, is not something that should make us fearful.  Instead, we should be seeking how our great variety can lead to common good for all Anglicans: Global North or Global South, rich or poor, liberal or conservative.  For it is in our God given variety that hope for a better future rests.

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