The ecumenical movement is showing signs of new life. If we are to fully embrace it, we have to begin by developing a firm understanding of who we are. The Episcopal Church is a part of the Anglican Communion. Anglicanism adds a distinct flavor to Christendom. If we are to work for Christian unity, it is essential that we have a good grasp of what it means to be an Anglican so that we do not have to constantly be on guard against the loss or dilution of our traditions through close contact with other denominations. If we have a firm grasp on who we are, we won't have to weigh and sift every prayer, statement of belief or theological stance to see how and if it fits within our tradition. We will know, because being a Christian within the Anglican tradition will be part of the very essence of who we are. Then, instead of being defensive, we can freely share with others the gifts that Anglicanism has to offer.
What does Anglicanism offer to Christendom? We have a rich tradition, which I cannot do justice to in this article. But let me mention just a few of our unique contributions:
1. We worship God in Word and Sacrament. To understand Anglicanism, one must worship in an Anglican Church. Our liturgies are the clearest expression of who we are. As we offer our praise and thanksgivings our focus is on God, Worship is never seen as a form of entertainment!
We believe that through the Incarnation, the "Word made flesh," God has proclaimed that all of creation is not only good, but holy. Consequently, we do not hesitate to use the material realm to point to God.. We use many concrete symbols that speak to us at a deep level about our faith; bread, wine, water, liturgical colors, vestments, the Paschal candle, just to name a few.
We also worship God with our whole being, including our bodies, through the "Episcopalian's Sunday morning calisthenics (stand, sit, stand, kneel, etc.), processions, and forms of personal piety, such as bowing, genuflecting and making the sign of the cross. We worship God by hearing, reflecting on, and "inwardly digesting" lessons from the Holy Scriptures. We worship God by stating what we believe in the creeds. We worship God through prayer, sometimes extemporaneously, but usually from the Book of Common Prayer, a repository of our faith with tried and true forms that connects us with all those who have gone before us, those who have prayed these same prayers for many years, and all those around the world that pray with us today. We recognize that as we offer our worship to God, we break the bonds of time and are surrounded by a "great cloud of witnesses," as the saints who have gone before us join us in offering God praise and thanksgiving. We worship God through receiving the Body and Blood of Christ, through which we are assured of God's grace, God dwelling with us and in us, and are united with one another as we share in this foretaste of the heavenly banquet.
Much of this is foreign to some of the Protestant traditions, which is all the more the reason why we had better understand it! We cannot allow our foundation of worship grounded in "word and sacrament" to
be replaced by the currently popular worship in other traditions that is more rooted in "word and music."
2. We offer a spirituality that embraces all of creation and is quite comfortable with quiet and solitude. Our tradition finds its roots in Celtic Christianity, which flourished in the British Isles prior to the invasion of the Angles, Saxons and Normans. It is a spirituality that recognizes the holiness of all of creation, stands in awe before the mystery of God, and encourages spiritual growth through times of quiet, contemplative prayer, regular corporate prayer, guidance through Spiritual Direction, and living a disciplined life of prayer, study, and action
3. We find our source of authority in Scripture, Tradition, and Reason. Affirming the importance of having a "reasoned " faith puts us at odds sometimes with other denominations. We have found that God did not quit revealing truth when the canon of the New Testament was closed. For example, even though scripture and tradition affirmed slavery, it became clear to many Christians that God had revealed a new truth; slavery is an evil institution. We continue to combat racism and affirm the dignity of every human being today. Another example would that even though scripture and tradition affirm the subservient role of women, we feel that God has revealed to us the importance of recognizing the gifts of leadership many women have been given by God, and to go even further by recognizing the feminine and the masculine side of each one of us. Women are now exercising leadership within the Church, and have deeply enriched the ministry of us all. Watch out for groups attempting to "enable men to assert their spiritual leadership in the home and church." This is nothing more than an attempt to try and return us to the patriarchal model of men running everything. We've been there, done that. Now we have moved on. We have many excellent women in our Church who are lay leaders, deacons, priests, and bishops. Clearly, women can indeed effectively exercise spiritual leadership.
We continue to dialogue on human sexuality issues, seeking God's guidance as we struggle to know the heart of God in regard to relationships that fall outside the parameters of Holy Matrimony. This is a difficult topic, as we are each already strongly biased by how we understand ourselves as sexual beings. This is a complex issue as well, because it is related to so many other aspects of our lives. We do not accept simplistic, black and white answers to complex ethical questions. As an example, consider the loose affiliation that calls itself the "Pro-Life Movement." With our rooting in the Incarnation, we certainly affirm the sanctity of life. But this issue is about much more than just abortion. It is connected to capital punishment, just war, euthanasia, and other ethical concerns regarding one human being taking the life of another. Most ethical considerations have to include the unique factors of each situation as well, making the majority of ethical decisions beyond the reach of "absolutes."
4. We are a part of a worldwide mission. We play a role in the ministry of the Anglican Communion throughout the world. This allows us to avoid the self-centered narcissism of parochialism (our parish is all that matters) nationalism, (our nation is all that matters), and other false gods that tempt us to legitimize our own self interests. We are part of a cause that is big enough to embrace all people and affirms that God's Spirit is moving throughout the world, not just in our little corner
5. We strive for justice and peace among all people. Again, because of our focus on the Incarnation, we seek to affirm the dignity of all people. We minister to the poor, not because they deserve it, but because they are human! We stand against injustice, not because we are more just than others, but because we see how God has responded to us with justice and mercy. We seek peace because our mission is to be ministers of reconciliation, helping to bring ourselves and all people to be reconciled with God and one another.
Let us continue to try to understand, live into, and celebrate who we are as Anglicans, so that at the ecumenical table we may be gracious rather than defensive, offering our gifts instead of issuing ultimatums, and being willing to listen rather than needing to debate. It is my hope that one day all Christians will be able to join together to work, pray and give for the spread of the kingdom of God. Until that day, let us not shirk from our responsibility to offer to the world the unique combination of gifts that a Christian of the Anglican tradition has to offer to the glory of God.