Diversity, Change, and Reconciliation

by the Rev. Robert Woody

core-reconc-for-webLiving out our Core Values and Purpose as a diocese and as the Church means being deeply committed to the value and practice of reconciliation. We know as Christians that seeking a reconciled relationship with God, overcoming our sinful nature, has to be a priority.

But are we as focused on and aware of the critical importance of reconciling our broken relationships with fellow parishioners, fellow members of our diocese, the Episcopal Church, the Anglican Communion, the Church Universal, and brothers and sisters of other faith traditions, and even atheists and agnostics – i.e. “all people”?

Reconciliation is critically important to fulfilling our Purpose and Core Values because of the reality of both diversity and change.
God loves diversity. God’s Creation is incredibly diverse. Even identical twins grow up differently and follow different paths. Life would be so much simpler if we all were painted with the same brush — if we all looked the same, acted the same, thought the same, and experienced life in the same way – and it would be incredibly boring. God’s diversity requires love. And love requires reconciliation.

God also loves evolution and change. The prophets and Jesus were sent by God not to take us backwards, but to lead us forward. Change and evolution are always challenging and difficult and can cause different perspectives and even disagreement, conflict, polarization, and segregation. We cannot survive change and evolution without love and reconciliation.

In the midst of this diversity, and in the culture of change in which we find ourselves, we frequently have to consider what we should hold on to and what we must let go of. For instance, in liturgy do we hold onto Rite I and the traditional hymns of the 19th century? Should we continue in the traditional model of church that seems to be shrinking and crumbling and is often unattractive to most of our kids and grandkids and their peers? What parts of the traditional model should we let go of?

And as we face diversity and change, how do we bring about reconciliation with those within our families and faith communities with whom we disagree on many challenging issues?

Reconciliation does not mean “conversion.” The point of reconciliation is not for one side to successfully convert the other. Reconciliation means, in times of change and controversy, to be willing to listen respectfully to one another, be willing to agree to disagree, and be willing to experiment on often difficult and controversial issues, such as interpretation of Scripture, styles of worship, models of church structure, social justice focus, etc., so that we can continue to walk together on the more important principles of loving God, loving one another, and loving our neighbors.

The “Body of Christ” cannot function without the practice of reconciliation among its diverse members. If we can only work together with those who agree with us on all the issues we consider important, then the “Body of Christ” is no longer a body. The diverse hands and feet and eyes and toes aren’t working together on a larger scale, and therefore, they cannot have a major impact on the world.

Here’s an example of practicing reconciliation within our diocese: About five years ago, when the issues around homosexuality and the blessing of same-sex unions were causing anxiety and division within our diocese, I could feel the tension among our sister parishes in the Northeast section of San Antonio — Church of Reconciliation, St. David’s, Church of Resurrection, and St. Matthew’s. So we decided to invite these diverse parishes to come together in the celebration of Holy Week. Each parish hosted one Holy Week service, and another planned and provided the clergy, lectors and lay Eucharistic ministers. We worshiped and broke bread together on each other’s campuses, heard a variety of sermons, and experienced a diversity of liturgical practices. We still have very different perspectives on some difficult issues, but we love one another and know we can, despite our differences, work together as the Body of Christ.

At our 2013 Diocesan Council, Bishop Lillibridge encouraged parishes “to engage in a prayerful, careful, and intentional conversation about homosexuality” (Bishop’s Address 2013, par. 39). And, if there was not a diversity of perspectives within a parish, the bishop asked them to come together with other parishes to create a diversity of perspectives “so that we aren’t simply creating ‘councils of the like-minded’ ” (Bishop’s Address 2013, par. 42). He also requested that the Reconciliation Commission prepare a format for facilitated conversations and be a resource for guiding the conversations.

The group of Northeast San Antonio parishes, which had begun collaborating on Holy Week, were the first parishes in the diocese willing to come together for facilitated conversations about homosexuality. The first conversation was in November of 2013. At the second conversation, in January of 2014, two more parishes, St. Paul’s and St. George, joined us. These conversations were so successful that Bishop Lillibridge asked the Reconciliation Commission to plan and facilitate similar conversations at our 2014 Diocesan Council, which were also very successful.

Although there is still a diversity of opinions within our diocese on these issues, because of these successful, intentional conversations — which helped to promote reconciliation within and among our congregations — when Bishop Lillibridge did grant permission to a few parishes to bless same-sex unions, our diocese did not fracture or split.

As we move forward into an increasingly diverse and rapidly changing world, we, as followers of Christ, as diverse congregations, as the Diocese of West Texas, as the Episcopal Church, the Anglican Communion and the Body of Christ, are called to continue to intentionally pursue and practice reconciliation

core values card
core values card

 

For your own reflection:

Consider the five diocesan core values and the core purpose. Do these guide your life and the life of your congregation?

The core values are available on a full-color 5″ x 7″ card. If you would like a copy, send an email to marjorie.george@dwtx.org. with your name and mailing address. They are also available on the diocesan website at
www.dwtx.org/about-the-diocese/core-values/

To what extent are you pro-active in being a person or a community committed to living in reconciled relationship with God and all people?

 

woodyrobert-2013-for-webThe Rev. Robert Woody is rector of Church of Reconciliation in San Antonio TX and previous chair of the diocesan Reconciliation Commission. Reach him at
Robert@cor-satx.rr.com.

For your spiritual journey from The Episcopal Diocese of West Texas

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