Living Out Our Call To Common Mission

 

One of the ways we live out Jesus’ prayer “that we all may be one” is to accompany one another as churches, to stand in solidarity with one another, and to “bear one another’s burdens.” Four of us from the Episcopal Church have been attendance at the Churchwide Assembly (“General Convention”) of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. Today is the last day and tomorrow I will comment on some of their more important decision — such as the election of a new Secretary (“Vice President” of their church), decisions on issues of  human sexuality, and a new statement on the Israel/Palestine conflict. For now, these are the formal “greetings” I brought on behalf of the Episcopal Church:  

 

“First of all, let me bring greetings from our Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, from the other members of her staff at our Church Center in New York, and from the people of The Episcopal Church, your full communion partners in common mission!  It’s a joy to share this time with you.

I bring greetings too from the members of our Lutheran Episcopal Coordinating Committee. In our meetings around the country it has been most encouraging to experience the many areas of that common mission from joint congregations to ministry with young people to theological education. And, by liaison members from the Joint Anglican Lutheran Committee in Canada, to know that we are part of a world-wide rapprochement between Lutherans and Anglicans within the one ecumenical movement!

I was asked to speak to the question of “How the Episcopal Church is addressing the place of Scripture in the life of the church” in these remarks this afternoon – and it’s a joy to do that!  While the centrality of Scripture was uppermost in the English reformers minds in the 16th century, I think it’s fair to say that – until fairly recently, at least in this country – Episcopalians were formed by Scripture mainly read and expounded upon in community through the liturgy.

The old saw was that, when Episcopalians *got* introduced to personal Bible reading and study we were surprised at how many passages from the Prayer Book were actually incorporated in the Bible!  Well, of course, it’s the other way round – the Book of Common Prayer has sometimes been described as “the Bible arranged for prayer” and whole sections of it are indeed made up of scriptural texts and scriptural allusions.

But certainly, in the latter half of the last century and into this one, Episcopalians have become more comfortable with, engaged in, and challenged by Holy Scripture – in personal devotions, in small groups, and in formal study.  Lots of reasons for this: The widespread availability of accessible translations, the “Vatican II” emphasis on the Bible (which affected us as well), the popular “Forward Day By Day” pamphlets based on the daily lectionary which many lay people and clergy use, the influence of charismatic and spiritual renewal across the Church, and attention to the catechetical process in forming and welcoming new Christians. I’m particularly moved by the fact that the meetings of our General Convention and Executive Council have, for years now, included daily bible sharing among clergy and laity in small groups.

While some of us continue to be envious of the kind of Christian education and formation Lutherans almost seem to take for granted, we are increasingly working toward a sort of “cradle to grave” formation process as well. From early childhood experiences such as “Godly Play” and “Catechesis of the Good Shepherd” to programs like “New Beginnings” and “Happening” and “Journey to Adulthood” for teenagers and the four year course for adults known as “Education for Ministry” pioneered by one of our seminaries – all these are scripturally based and designed to deepen our appreciation for, and understanding of, the Word of God.

But, we have a long way to go, and I hope we can travel that road together for we have much to learn from you…and perhaps some things to share as well. God bless you in this Assembly. And thanks for giving us this time!”              

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