It was a church once upon a time, and soon will be again. Between the times, it was a bar where the Chippendales pranced like Pan at the Bacchanalia; a coffee house with a damn fine French press, but lousy bagels; a restaurant; and finally, a sad, empty husk. In a few days, it will become one of the new “Anglican” churches which are not in communion with the See of Canterbury, but which nevertheless claim to be the true possessors of St. Augustine’s mantle. (That would be Augustine of Canterbury, not Hippo…)
The bishop will come, amidst purple and pageantry, sprinkling holy water and “separating it henceforth from all unhallowed, ordinary, and common uses.” And once again, people will worship there with a dedication born of a devotion to pure religion, undefiled by the world.
I’m not invited.
My vestments are not white enough, nor my faith sure enough. This is a congregation who will tolerate none of the wishy-washy, liberal, Jesus-of-the-margins crap that they heard from the pulpit at the Church of the Resurrection. In fact, I was one of the reasons that they left the Episcopal Church and affiliated themselves with the not-quite-Anglican-Anglican Church. I am too “tolerant.” I believe in salvation by grace. I exhibit a Deacon’s disregard for structural authority. I believe that God is on the side of the poor. That God is on the side of the Chippendales. That God is on the side of gay and lesbian people. That God is on the side of miserable, addicted, faithless, doubting, fallen, lost people. That God, in infinite Grace, has redeemed the world.
Many of these people are dear friends of mine who no longer take communion with me. Their departure has impoverished our little Episcopal congregation, and robbed us of the most precious thing in all the world: one faith, one Lord, one baptism, one God and Father of all. Schism breaks God’s heart as surely as it breaks ours: it is the eye telling the foot, “I don’t need you.” It is the body literally killing itself. It is a neo-Gnostic denial of redemption: that only a chosen few, a blessed remnant, an elect elite, are loved by God.
Last week, in response to the schism that is shattering the Anglican communion, retired Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu said: “Jesus did not say, ‘I if I be lifted up I will draw some. Jesus said, ‘If I be lifted up I will draw all, all, all, all, all. Black, white, yellow, rich, poor, clever, not so clever, beautiful, not so beautiful. It’s one of the most radical things. All, all, all, all, all, all, all, all. All belong. Gay, lesbian, so-called straight. All, all are meant to be held in this incredible embrace that will not let us go. All.”
The radical reality of Jesus’ incarnation, death and resurrection are meant to show humanity not how much God loves religious people, but how much God loves the whole world. While that’s good news for a wretched, sinful world, it’s bad news for religious people who believe that they alone are saved out of a wretched, sinful world.
I’m not going to be at the consecration of the Anglican Church of St. Andrew. I’m going to be doing what I do on my weekly Sabbath afternoon: reading the Sunday New York Times. I have a feeling that I’ll learn a lot more about the world that God loves than I would trying to pray the archaic liturgy being chanted a couple of blocks away.
But that doesn’t mean I’m happy hobbling around on one foot.