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A series of essays towards General Convention in 2003

Peace! Be Patient!

Peace! Be patient!

Pentecost B
June 22, 2003

By The Rev. Ruth Bradbury LaMonte
Grace Church, Birmingham, Alabama

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen,

“Peace! Be patient!” These words of Jesus, which calmed the stormy sea, are Speaking to us today. We are living in a stormy time, a time which is tempest-tossed by decisiveness and war, both in our secular life and our religious life. There are those who are angry and feel betrayed over a war fought to rid the Middle East or Iraq of weapons of mass destruction, none of which have heretofore been found and others who say, “Big deal! We got rid of Saddam and brought freedom to the Iraqi people.” But there is another war, a war being fought inside our very church, not only here in the Episcopal Church in our country, but in Canada and England, as well. A big war. And, furthermore, there is maybe not a war, but battle being fought right here, right here in our own parish. A battle, which, thanks be to God, has not been rife with fatalities, albeit there may have been some; but some parishioners feel hurt or wounded by the liturgical forms followed in the church.

So today I will not try to solve the Middle East Conflict, or discuss the church wars in England or Canada. Others, more knowledgeable and powerful than I are working on those situations. But what I will do is talk with you about the severe thrunderstorms in the Episcopal Church USA and the thunder showers at Grace Parish.

First, let us look at our national church. As you know, the ECUSA’s ruling body, or parliament , is the General Convention, which is held every three years. Each diocese in the church sends elected representatives, from both clergy and laity, as deputies to the convention. Bishops, both current and retired, are expected to attend and to vote; that is, on all issues except one, which is the confirmation of the election of 10 diocesan bishops who have been made bishops in the last 120 days before convention. Normally, Bishop-elects are confirmed by the Standing Committee of Bishops. But this year there are 10 who have been elected in this 120 day period. These persons must be confirmed, not only by the Bishops, but also by the deputies to General Convention. (By the way, deputies are elected at Diocesan Convention). Now all of this would be simple enough, but…The Diocese of New Hampshire overwhelmingly and on the second ballot elected Gene Robinson, a Canon to the current Bishop for the past 17 years, as their new Bishop. Gene is hailed as a wonderful priest by all who know him and his work… So what is the problem? The “problem” is that Gene Robinson is not a heterosexual. After trying to live his life as a husband and father of who now grown children, Gene realized that he was living a lie. So in pain, anguish, and love he and his wife were legally divorced, after which they went to the church and had a ceremony to let each other go. They jointly reared their daughters and remain close, loving friends.

So Gene has lived with partner Mark Andrew for eleven years now. And I would like to quote what Gene has said about himself:

The people of the Diocese of New Hampshire have known me for 28 years, 17 of them as assistant to the bishop. They have known me married, single, and faithfully partnered. I have been in their congregations to preach the good news from their pulpits, to talk about faith with their youth groups, to assist in dealing with conflict, and to help vestries plan for the future of their congregations.

Only once or twice, and only at their request, have I ever talked about being a gay man.

The people of the Diocese know that I have only one agenda; the saving good news of Jesus Christ. They know that my passion is for our becoming the community of faith that God would have us to be. They know that I have experienced the Living God in my own life and long to tell others about that experience. They know that I want the church to be concerned with acts of mercy and with working for justice.

But some in the church view what has happened in New Hampshire, and I’m quoting now, “as a provocative action.” And they say that the “unity and order of the church must be upheld.” I am not here to argue any position. I am here to preach the Gospel and impart the doctrine and dogma of the Episcopal Church as is set forth in the Book of Common Prayer. Please this afternoon look in your BCP on pp. 304-5 and review what you convented to in baptism. Please remember that our church is not a confessional church like the Baptist, Methodist, or Lutheran, but it is a sacramental church. Our church is built on the mystical union of Jesus Christ and his children experienced through baptism and the Holy Eucharist. We are not a confessional church; we do not require the signing of a particular confession or an emotion-laden born again coercion experience. We meet Jesus Christ in the sacraments, but, as a matter of practice, we have an altar call every Sunday at Grace Parish when all children of God come to receive the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. Baptism and Eucharist are absolutely necessary parts of one’s life in the Episcopal Church.

The question is this: Did Gene receive a lesser baptism? Was Gene not created in the image of God? Is he somehow less worthy because he was created a homosexual instead of a heterosexual? He himself states:

I know that my election has caused pain and confusion to some. I want no one to leave our beloved church because of this. I think that would break God’s heart. And it is so unnecessary. One of the gifts of the Anglican Community is the ability to find our unity in our love for and service to Jesus Christ and in coming around the Lord’s table to share in his body and blood. We can disagree about all kinds of things-abortion, war and peace, homosexuality-and still find our unity in our love of Jesus, whom we have come to know in our lives. Some day we’re all going to be in heaven together, and we will all get along there-because God will have it no other way-so we might as well practice getting along while we’re still here on earth. Wouldn’t that gladden Jesus’ heart?

And you say to me, “Ruth, why are you wasting your time and ours with this? It doesn’t affect us. Where is New Hampshire anyway? It’s just another one of those damned Yankee places!

But I say to you, it is the heart of us, the heart of our church, the church of “unity and order,” yes, perhaps. But from my perspective it is also the church of truth, justice, and compassion.

Our bishop and deputies vote on these persons to be confirmed bishops. Please pray mightily for them that God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit will guide their thinking and their actions.

And now for the thundershower or the tempest in the teapot. During the past three months as your interim rector, I have made the decision to have sung services, to have incense during Christmas-Epiphany; Easter through Trinity Sunday; and on feast days throughout the church year. I want you to know that this liturgical form is not followed just because I like to sing or that I like to smell incense. It has to do with the theology that I call my own as an Angle-Catholic Episcopalian.

I have mentioned already that we are a sacramental church and not a confessing church. Now let us think together about piety, the piety of various churches. Dennis R. Maynard in his little book, Those Episcopalians, sets up three models of church piety. The first he calls the Good Citizenship Piety. This piety is past oriented and equates being a good Christian with being a good American. And humanity is totally depraved. Only by the grace of God can man help himself. And one is personally responsible for his/her morality. I remember a jump-rope rhyme from childhood that fits this model. It went like this, “He don’t smoke; he don’t chew; he don’t go with the girls that do.” And women-women need to be submissive. There is a fundamentalist interpretation of the Bible which is literally true. The Good Citizenship Piety is found in a confessing church.

Maynard’s second model is called the Saved Piety. This piety puts its emphasis on getting people saved. Why? Because we are living in the last days, and Jesus will likely appear at any moment to gather up the saved; and the rest of us will be left behind. This is a Bible-thumping future oriented piety which uses quilt and fear to bring people to Jesus. The primary reason they live is to die, so they can go to live with him in heaven. This, too, is a confessing church piety.

The third model is Sacramental Piety which is present oriented. Life is good and living is a gift from God. The Kingdom of God is within our midst-God comes to us in a thousand different ways everyday. We simply need to be open to Him. This piety believes that we are on a journey, a “spiritual journey.” We can’t travel alone though; we need fellow travelers-a community-a community called the Church which gathers to worship and to give thanks for God’s goodness-the incarnation-his very Son who came to live among us as one of us. As Rite II A says, “to share our human nature, to live and die as one of us, to reconcile us to you, the God and Father of all.” And the church’s job is to tell the story of God’s love for all people, to care for one another, especially those who are ill or in need. The church exists to serve those who are poor and needy. And the church exists to invite others into relationship with Jesus, and to their companionship on the journey.

Furthermore, worship in this type of church is visually full of aerobic activity. It is participatory. It is not a spectator sport. The leaders of worship are not entertainers but leaders of people engaged in the act of worship. And in this church, all the baptized are considered to be members of the household of God. It’s not a church to showcase saints. It’s a church that acknowledges all as sinners who need to grow and mature spiritually as we continue our life’s journey. And in case you’ve missed it, this third piety model is where the Episcopal Church fits.

So what does that mean for us? First, let me remind you that 80% of today’s ECUSA were not born into it. Yes, only one in five Episcopalians is a cradle Episcopalian. So we have Catholic Episcopalians, Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian, Jewish-you name it; we’ve got it.

Now, if you are one of these, were you running away from something? Or were you running to embrace something? And do you expect this Episcopal Church to be like your old one?

Let me tell you a few things about Episcopalians and some of why we do what we do.

  1. We are a global communion, so we tend to see things globally, not just locally.
  2. We celebrate diversity; we go beyond tolerance. We celebrate.
  3. We are non-competitive; that is, we don’t try to sheep-steal. That is, we don’t try to convince others that they are wrong and should believe exactly as we do.
  4. We are idealists. We take words like mercy, grace, equality, justice, and peace making seriously. We reject knee-jerk TV evangelism and believe in living into the ideals of Jesus Christ and receiving forgiveness when we fail.
  5. We are content to live with questions. (Sometimes) We don’t have to have the answer for everything. We realize that many mysteries of the universe are beyond our ken. We are not opposed to knowledge; but what the psalmist says of peace, we can say of knowledge: seek knowledge and pursue it.
  6. This spiritual journey of ours is a communal one. We don’t walk it by ourselves. Our church family is with us. As Don Armentrout at Sewanee always says, “ You can’t be a Christian by yourself.”

But what about our worship? Our liturgy? Why do we have all that ritual and all that stuff? Someone wrote “Worship is the attempt to create an atmosphere in which we can know God’s love and make God’s love known.” We try every Sunday to create such an atmosphere. If you have trouble conjuring up a sacred, glorious atmosphere, think of what you do when a special guest is coming to your home for dinner. You use the good china, the crystal, the real linens, the sterling. And you make sure the house is clean and the furniture polished. You want the house to smell good, too, so you put out the potpourri and turn the lights down low just enough to create the right mood. Well, at this parish church we are always expecting. Expecting not only a guest, but the guest whom we meet and with whom we participate in the sacrament of the Holy Eucharist. We use candles on the altar, even though 125 years ago priests were not permitted to do. Why do we use them? We have electricity. We can turn on the lights. We use them because they are symbolic. The flame suggests life and its movement and the flicker add mystery. The candle represents Christ as the light of the world. And the big candle? The Paschal candle? It is lighted at Easter Vigil to symbolize the risen Christ. And it is always lighted at baptism to symbolize the death of the old and the birth of the new through water and the Christ.

Flowers, too, are symbols. Those of you who attended last week’s workshop know all about that. Why do we use cut flowers? Because they represent sacrifice and their beauty won’t last.

And the cross itself, It reminds us of our Savior who was born, died on a cross, and rose again.

And singing the service, not saying it? We set aside normal, everyday spoken language and sing or chant, as did the ancients, to the glory of God.

Finally, what you’ve all been waiting for: Incense! When my daughter Jennie and I went to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher or the Church of the Resurrection, as the Orthodox call it, in Jerusalem, Jennie took a deep breath and said, “Mamma, this is where myth becomes history. It smells just like St. Andrew’s.” Neil Alexander, my homiletics professor and now Bishop of Atlanta, admonished us his students. You must remember. There are holy smells. The liturgy should appeal to your senses-sight, hearing, feeling, tasting, and smelling-so you are shielded, or enshrouded, set apart from the world outside, holy smells. But there’s a history behind it. Incense was used in Judaism and other ancient cultures as a means of sacrifice, purification, and veneration. Frankincense-pure incense-was one of the gifts of the Magi to the Christ child. Today incense is mostly associated with prayer. (Check BCP rubrics for Evening Prayer.) We know incense was used early in Christian times because Egeria, a third century nun from Spain or Gaul mentions its use in Jerusalem when she is on her pilgrimage, and John Chrysostom, at Antioch, where were first called in. Now, why incense? It is a part of our tradition; in early days it overpowered other smells-body odor and garbage-and made the worship space perfumed and glorious. Using incense reminds us that we are putting on our best even our best fragrance, for our God who is in our midst.

Not everybody agrees with the rationale or the practice. But it does have scriptural references in John’s revelation and the Psalms, especially. We can disagree. But only in a welcome shower, not a raging thunderstorm. And even if we do differ and we argue, we know that Christ is in our midst, saying to us all; “Peace! Be still.”

And in closing, listen to the words of Gene Robinson for he is speaking to us all:

Everyone seems to be focusing on how many people may leave the Episcopal Church over my selection. I want to focus on how many people may come to the church because of this. Only hours after I was interviewed this week on the Today Show, priests around the country were reporting people showing up at the doors of their churches, saying, “Is this the church that that guy from New Hampshire belongs to? I want to belong here, too.” People who have never gone to church, people who are estranged from and feel excluded from their church, people who never felt “good enough” to be in church. Isn’t that what we want to be about?

If we are serious about “What would Jesus do?” then we will do what Jesus did: reach out to the marginalized, the oppressed, the poor, the outcasts, and bring them to the center of the church and God’s love. Wouldn’t Jesus want us to proclaim that no one is outside the Father’s love? Wouldn’t Jesus want us to live as if God loves all of us beyond our wildest imagination?

If my service as bishop can bring the good news of Jesus Christ to even one of those “outcasts,” if I can help just one broken person know God’s love, then I will have lived up to my calling and gladdened the heart of God.

Let us return to today’s Gospel: “Peace! Be still! Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?

And they were filled with great awe and said to one another, who then is this that even the wind and sea obey him?”

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Ruth Bradbury LaMonte
Interim Rector
Grace Parish, Woodlawn
Birmingham, Alabama

The ten bishops who will need consents from GC 2003:

  1. C. Franklin Brookhart, Jr., Bishop-Elect of Montana.
  2. Joe Burnett, Bishop-Elect of Nebraska.
  3. George Edward Councell, Bishop-Elect of New Jersey.
  4. Rayford High, Bishop Suffragan-Elect of Texas.
  5. Samuel Johnson Howard, Bishop Coadjutor-Elect of Florida.
  6. Jouncy Itty, Bishop-Elect of Oregon.
  7. Steven Andrew Miller, Bishop-Elect of Milwaukee.
  8. Robert O'Neill, Bishop Coadjutor-Elect of Colorado.
  9. V. Gene Robinson, Bishop Coadjutor-Elect of New Hampshire.

  10. Bishop-Elect of Kansas (Election scheduled for July 12)

You are welcome to submit your essays for consideration for this series. Send them to Identify yourself by name, snail address, parish, and other connections to the Episcopal Church. Please encourage others to do the same.


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