Another reading from the Book of Wisdom this morning. These have been very strange readings: today’s ends with comments about “the elements chang[ing] places with one another,” fire and water acting in strange ways, and land and water creatures changing places. But it begins with a verse which once again calls our current Anglican conflicts to mind:
[W]hile they were still busy at mourning, and were lamenting at the graves of their dead, they reached another foolish decision, and pursued as fugitives those whom they had begged and compelled to depart. (Wisdom 19:3)
Of course, the historical reference is to the Egyptians chasing after the departing Hebrews at the time of the Exodus. But what came to my mind is this: what will happen when (or if) the “reasserters” are successful in the Communion and have compelled the Episcopal Church to depart? Might they not, shortly thereafter, find themselves “pursu[ing] as fugitives those whom they had begged and compelled to depart”?
I’m not pollyanna-ish by any means, but I do believe that the Holy Spirit is a spirit of unity, not of division, and that no matter what the outcome of the current conflict, that unitive spirit will encourage reunion. It may take time, but eventually we will find that communion will overcome disunion. As the cartoon says, in another context, “Damn, he’s good” (sic). The Spirit of God is good and just as God could split the sea, God can break hearts of stone and encourage the softening and reconciling of entrenched contradictory positions. Elements can change positions!
As former PB Frank Griswold reminded the clergy group I was with earlier this week, the Anglican Communion is not the Primates. No province of this Communion is monolithic. It is very clear that PB Katharine Jefferts-Schori does not speak for all Episcopalians (witness those requests for “alternative primatial oversight”). It ought to be equally clear that the Archbishop of Abuja (+Peter Akinola) does not speak for all Anglicans in Nigeria.
Communion exists, and will continue to exist, in the relationships that have formed “on the ground” between parishes and individuals, in cooperative ministries, and when Anglicans of various stripes encounter one another in worship while traveling. No matter what may happen in the lofty altitudes of archiepiscopal debate, that communion will continue. And as it continues, it will carry the leadership with it — reluctantly perhaps, but I am convinced that no matter what the polity of a province may be, what the people in the pews do is much, much more important, and much more powerful, than what archbishops and Primates do.
If the people in the pews and the working clergy in the pulpits continue to work together the Holy Spirit will see to it that the archbishops are brought along and eventually those inhabiting the archiepiscopal heights will pursue those they had compelled to depart.