The following is my report to the People of Christ Episcopal Church at our Annual Meeting, held January 17, 2021.
If you’ve heard me say this once, you’ve heard me say it a dozen times. The mission of the Church is to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ. I believe in that mission with all my heart. Seeking unity has been an overarching principle in my ministry since the very beginning. Bringing reconciliation to our sinful world is at the heart of every sermon that I preach. Consensus building is how I choose to lead. For the entirety of my ministry, however, disunity has defined the world in which we live. In our nation, forces of evil have been stoking the fires of division since at least 2001. In The Episcopal Church, those same forces of evil have been trying to rend us asunder since at least 2003. I’ve seen, on too many occasions, faithful, thoughtful, considerate siblings in Christ choose to walk away from unity for any number of reasons, and I can say, without a shadow of a doubt, that God’s Spirit is grieved every single time. The painful and sometimes violent discord we have experienced over the last ten months is nothing new, but rather, the next logical steps in the Devil’s desire to sow division and destroy the Kingdom of God.
Fundamentally, as a part of the Image of God within us, I believe we all desire to work toward unity. It is core principle of the Judeo-Christian tradition. Shalom – peace, wholeness, unity – is said to be the foundation upon which the Torah is built. After his resurrection, in John’s Gospel, Jesus appeared to his disciples in the upper room, he breathed the Holy Spirit upon them and said, “Peace be with you.” The Greek word translated as peace is Eirene, which is built on the root word meaning “to join” or “to be united.” Unity may be at the center of who we are as human beings, but it is hard, and because it is hard, we often try find ways to make it easier. When we “agree to disagree,” we cheapen unity. Unity that says, “I’m ok, you’re ok,” is not unity at all. True unity names evil when it exits, it calls out sin when it is apparent, and it invites all of us to take stock of the role each of us plays in causing division in our households, in our church, in our community, and in the wider world. True unity is not possible without accountability, confession, truth-telling, and repentance.
The Catechism goes on to say that the Church pursues its mission of restoring unity as it prays and worships, proclaims the Gospel, and promotes justice, peace, and love. In our corner of the Church, Christ Episcopal seeks to restore unity by way of worshipping God with joy and wonder, learning and growing together, and radiating God’s love to all. In my written report for this Annual Meeting, I noted that I had long hoped to use John 20:21 as a theme for this year. Sent in Love would have been a great rallying cry for 2021, but the ongoing pandemic makes that difficult. Rather than lament this, today, I find myself grateful for it. Over the past ten days, I’ve come to realize that by focusing on the second half of Jesus’ commission, I missed the more basic call, Peace be with you. Shalom. Eirene. Wholeness. Unity. This is our mission. This is the work to which we are all called.
We, as individual Christians, as members of Christ Episcopal Church, and as citizens of the United States, have an opportunity, in the face of a pandemic that has exacerbated the forces that separate us, a racial reckoning that has highlighted our historic division, and an election cycle designed to profit off of pushing Americans further to the extremes, to model a turn toward unity. I believe that we are called in this moment to repent from the echo chambers of intentionally divisive social media and news networks that profit off our disunity, and to turn toward God’s dream of shalom.
In conjunction with our 2021 theme, Peace be with you, today I invite every member of Christ Episcopal Church to take part in The Episcopal Church’s newest campaign in pursuit of restoring unity, “From Many, One.” Formally launching tomorrow, on the day our nation sets aside to remember the legacy of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., “From Many, One” is a process for listening and sharing across the many differences that would seek to separate us. Echoing the Latin phrase on the seal of the United States of America – E Pluribus Unum – and following in the footsteps of Jesus, the spiritual practices of conversations across differences laid out in “From Many, One” can help to knit us all into a diverse, more perfect union. In his invitation to this practice, Presiding Bishop Michael Curry affirms that “Conversation with others across difference is not just a nice thing to do. It is a spiritual practice of love in action.”
More details about the ways in which Christ Church will facilitate these conversations are forthcoming, but you don’t have to wait for formal plans to begin to engage in “From Many, One.” All you have to do is to pick up the phone and talk to someone. “From Many, One” is a series of intentional, one-on-one conversations based on four questions:
- What do you love?
- What have you lost?
- Where does it hurt?
- What do you dream?
What do you love? What do you value? What will you struggle to protect? So much of human action and thinking is driven not by hate or anger but by the urge to protect what we love. By asking and sharing our answers to “what do you love,” each of us has a chance to name and to hear what matters most to us and why. It’s harder to argue when we start from what we love.
What have you lost? What keeps you up at night? What do you miss? People across the spectrum understand the experience of loss: the loss of money, jobs, status, national identity, cultural identity, a sense of security, a sense that they matter, etc. By asking and sharing our answers to “what have you lost,” we become curious about what each of us has lost, what we’re grieving, and perhaps what we’re trying hard to get back.
Where does it hurt? How have you been wounded by life? What makes you angry? Regardless of our race, gender, age, ballot choice, earnings, or location, we all know what it is to hurt. By asking and sharing our answers to “where does it hurt,” we become curious about how each of us has been wounded by life, by others, and by social forces, instead of assuming “others” are fine and only I or my group is hurting. We offer up our experiences and learn to offer one another compassion.
What do you dream? What do you hope for the future – for yourself, your family, our community, and our nation? We all dream of a better world, as we imagine it from our own personal perspective, but we don’t get to hear or share that vision very often. Instead, people often assume that their own ideal picture of life, community, and society is shared by everyone or that certain others can’t possibly want the same kind of future they do. By asking “what do you dream,” we become open to hear and share each other’s dreams for our families, communities, society, and ourselves.
I am under no illusion that simply by talking to one another, we will fix the divisions that exist in our society. I am convinced, however, that every time we hear the story of another, we move one step closer to unity and that in understanding where another is coming from, we are able to begin the process of reconciliation. In so doing, we roundly reject the forces of evil that would tear us apart and instead embrace our calling in Christ to a ministry of reconciliation by reaching out to our neighbors and saying “Peace be with you.”
 These four paragraphs outlining the questions are copied from ibid, page 2.