In Part 1 and Part 2 I talked about my life in the Episcopal Church. It was my Church, and even though it was not perfect (what church is?), I loved it deeply. But sadly, my time in the Episcopal Church was coming to an end. It is hard to know exactly where to start the story. I could start with Bishop Pike in the 1960s or even Bishop Spong and Bishop Righter in the 1980s. But, for the sake of brevity, we will start with Bishop Robinson. In 2003, Gene Robinson was elected as bishop of the Diocese of New Hampshire. The novelty of his election was not the fact that the new bishop was gay. There had no doubt been gay bishops before him. What made him unique at the time is the fact that he was the first openly practicing homosexual to be elected bishop. While this is no big deal in today’s Episcopal Church, in 2003 the official policy of the Episcopal Church was that all clergy had to be married and faithful or single and celibate, and at this time neither the state nor the Episcopal Church had officially recognized same sex marriage.
In July of 2003, the General Convention of the Episcopal Church, held that year in Minneapolis, consented to Robinson’s election. Traditionalists in the Church were saddened but not surprised. After all, this move came right out of the progressive’s playbook. Officially, changes to things like the liturgy, canons, and official doctrine needed to be approved by General Convention before those changes could be implemented. However, in the 1970s progressives learned that it was easier to just go ahead and make the changes themselves on the parish or diocesan level and then dare the House of Bishops or General Convention to stop them. When that didn’t happen, they would make a case to the General Convention that the changes were now normative and they had to officially approve them. The consecration of Gene Robinson was just such a move. It was a line in the sand. The liberals in the Church said, “This is where the Church is going,” and the leadership consented.
2020 is a year that, for most of us, will not be remembered fondly. Sure, the Chiefs won the Super Bowl in February, but it seemed like it was all downhill from there. We had a pandemic, civil unrest, and one of the most contentious elections that most of us can remember. As I reflect on this past year, I’m reminded of the book of Esther. This relatively short book in the Old Testament tells the story of a young Jewish woman in the 5th Century BC named Esther who becomes queen and saves the Jewish people from destruction at the hands of the evil Haman. One of the themes of the story is that God calls this ordinary woman during extraordinary times to do extraordinary things to save his people. One of my favorite verses comes from chapter 4, where Esther’s uncle Mordecai persuades her to help her people by telling her, “And who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?”
This past year we have seen so many ordinary people step up and do extraordinary things for the life of our church. And while it is always difficult to give recognition to a few people for fear of leaving others out, I am going to nevertheless give it a shot in what I am calling “The 2020 Esther Awards.” The following people, listed in no particular order, have been selected for going above and beyond the call of duty in service to All Saints in 2020.
My childhood and youth in the Episcopal Church was a wonderful experience for me. As I said in Part 1, that little Episcopal Church in Lewisburg, WV was like my second family. I loved everything about it. Church was my “happy place.” When I was 13 years old, my family moved from Lewisburg to Newtown, CT. When we were looking at houses the realtor showed us one next door to Trinity Episcopal Church and I thought, “This is where I want to live!” My parents chose a different house, but Trinity very quickly became our church home. There were certainly more Episcopalians in Newtown than Lewisburg, and Trinity reflected that reality. It was much larger and had an active youth group. The building was beautiful and iconic, sitting in the center of town right across from Newtown’s trademark “flagpole.” My twin brother and I got involved with the youth group and started acolyting. A young priest named Bob O’Connor arrived shortly after we did, and we formed a very deep bond with Fr. Bob. He more than anyone else was responsible for forming and discipling me during my formative high school years. Fr. Bob taught me what it meant to have a personal relationship with Jesus, and for that I will be forever grateful.
Over the past week I have seen a number of people share on social media a letter written by Roman Catholic Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò to President Trump. Since a number of people have asked me for my thoughts on the letter I thought I would take a moment to respond. If you would like to read the text of the letter itself, you can find it by clicking here.
I am not coming at this article with a political axe to grind and will not be addressing the political tone in the letter. Instead, I want to look at it from a theological perspective.
Archbishop Viganò begins his letter by stating, “In recent months we have been witnessing the formation of two opposing sides that I would call Biblical [emphasis his]: the children of light and the children of darkness.” The idea of “children of darkness” and “children of light” are certainly biblical concepts. We see it in places like 1 Thessalonians 5:5, Ephesians 5:8, and Luke 16:8. Without going into full Bible study mode here, the biblical idea is that those who are in Christ Jesus are “children of light.” 1 John 1:7 states, “But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.” So the “sons of darkness” are those who are not in Christ, who still walk in darkness. So my initial concern with Archbishop Viganò’s opening statement is that he proposes that these two “opposing sides” have just formed in recent months. Is he suggesting that until recently there was no such distinction? I would argue that this distinction is much older than our own days. So the question we must ask is, how is he defining these terms? I would propose that it isn’t in a strictly biblical way as he proposes, because all who are or have been in Christ throughout history are the biblical “children of light.”
Alleluia, the Lord is risen! It is hard to believe that it has been an entire month since we have worshiped together. For my entire life Sunday worship has been a given, and not being able to meet and worship with everyone on Sunday feels like a part of me is missing. I wanted to take this opportunity to share with everyone how we are doing and what we are hoping for the future.
Current Sunday Worship: Thank you to everyone who has given us feedback on the Sunday morning worship videos. I know it is not the same as being together, but at least we can still feel like we are all worshipping together from afar. I will admit that it has in some ways been fun for me. I have really enjoyed thinking through not only how to do it, but how to improve the video production. Each week I learn something new and hopefully the quality of the videos reflects what I have been learning. It has also been a bit of a challenge learning how to preach to a camera instead of a congregation, but just know that I am imagining all of you out there as I preach.
March 13, 2020
Dear All Saints Family,
As I’m sure most of you know by now, we have had a presumptive positive test for coronavirus in Springfield now. At All Saints we want to continue doing what Christians do, which is worshipping the Lord and helping those in need. However, we also want to be responsible in helping to slow the spread of this new virus. During such a time it is important to “flatten the curve" of the spread, which not only protects ourselves and others, but also ensures that our healthcare system is able to adequately address the crisis. Thus, in obedience to our Bishop, and in accordance with CDC recommendations, we will be implementing the following changes effective immediately. The Vestry will be in continual contact with me and we will determine how and when to update our procedures. We are hoping that this will only last for a week or two, but we don’t feel comfortable putting a time frame on it at this time.
“I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.” Romans 12:1
When we hear the word “worship” in our modern church culture, many people today think of music and singing. The people who lead the music are known as “worship leaders.” When it is time to sing, someone will say, “Let’s worship now.” I will readily admit that this drives me crazy. It’s not that I don’t like music or singing. Quite the opposite in fact. But why have we reduced “worship” to only this one act? I have always said that our worship includes everything we do throughout the church service. Certainly singing praises to God is worship, but so is listening to Scripture and the sermon. Saying the prayers and reciting the Creed are worship as well. And of course the Holy Eucharist, receiving the Body and Blood of Christ is worship.
However, there is a part of the service that we sometimes forget about. The offering. It is easy to look at this portion of the liturgy where we take a collection as purely practical. The church has to pay the bills, so everyone is asked to chip in a couple of bucks and we’ll move on to something more important. I want to challenge you to look at it in a different way.
Recently at a confirmation and reception retreat, I had people share their stories of why they have chosen to be Anglican Christians. Although all of the stories were different, there were some common themes that emerged. Most had come from non-liturgical backgrounds and had been drawn into the Anglican Church by the liturgy, the connection with history, and the Sacraments. As a (nearly) lifelong Anglican, I get excited when I hear others talk with enthusiasm about this wonderful treasure they have discovered. When everyone was finished I was so inspired that I decided to share my own story of why I have decided to follow Christ in the Anglican way.
What do these three things have in common? I’ll admit, not much. But they are all practical issues we are dealing with All Saints. So rather than inundating you with countless emails, I thought I would just post it all to my blog so that everyone is aware of what is going on.
Praying for our Children
When a child is baptized in the Anglican Church, his or her parents and godparents make certain promises on the child’s behalf. However, they are not the only ones assuming a responsibility. At one point, the celebrant asks the congregation, “Will you who witness these vows do all in your power to support these persons in their life in Christ?” Our response is a resounding, “We will.”
It is a wonderful liturgical expression of how the church is a community of people who live out their Christian faith together. But as with everything in the liturgy, it needs to have an expression outside of the liturgy as well. We must ask ourselves, how can we support these children as they grow and mature in their Christian faith?
Holy Week is the climactic week of the Church Year, and it culminates in the final three days, known as the Holy Triduum. Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday are some of the most important days of the Church year, and we will have services on each of those days to mark our journey from lent to the glory of Easter. I wanted to take this opportunity to invite everyone to join us for these services and to give you some insight into the special nature of each one.
The Rev. Eric Zolner
Father Eric is a 3rd generation Anglican and the Rector of All Saints Anglican Church in Springfield, MO.