Memorial Day and The “National” Church

We’ll see a lot of flags out on this Memorial Day. The houses on our streets are lined with them (a service provided for a small fee by a local service organization on major national holidays like this). I must confess I love our flag. I used to argue that we should carry it in civil rights and anti-war processions in the 60s because we shouldn’t let “them” have sole possession of the flag.

I don’t even mind flags displayed in the sanctuaries or naves of our churches (I know, heresy!). Of course, there are limits. When I was a curate, the parish I served processed the flags (US and Episcopal) right after the cross and torches on Sunday mornings and the acolytes would even flourish them after the first hymn while we sang the fourth verse of “America.” Now that’s over the top!

But I am not ashamed of our church’s role in the nation. Our “mother” Church of England is an established national church. I don’t agree with that polity because I think a certain separation of church and state is important at least in this country.  Yet, the Episcopal Church functioned as a quasi-national church for decades supplying more than our share of congressmen, judges, and even a few presidents.

I even believe that the Episcopal Church is a national church despite our last Presiding Bishop’s insistence that we not be identified as such because we have a presence in many countries around the world (even though we have always encouraged these formerly missionary dioceses to attain independence as autonomous parts of the Anglican Communion as soon as they can). Even our diocese in Europe is showcased by the “American Cathedral” in Paris. Oh, and isn’t our cathedral in Washington DC known as “the National Cathedral?”

I prefer the traditional designation Episcopal Church (USA) to the more-recent and to my mind presumptuous “The” Episcopal Church — as though there were no others, i.e. The Scottish Episcopal Church. What? A national designation? Shocking! I’m even OK with the preferred title in our Canons — The Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America (PECUSA)

So, call me a conservative, but I’m fine with churches becoming incarnate in a particular national heritage and identity. I think that’s what the Anglican Communion is all about. As long as that identity doesn’t numb us to our responsibility to be critical of our nation and government when gospel principles call for it.

In fact, that’s part of what it means to be a truly “national” church!


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