Lifting the work of Vida Dutton Scudder, an 1800s Episcopalian union organizer, House of Deputies President Bonnie Anderson asked in her sermon, "Do we want to be raised up as Church witnesses after the example of Vida Dutton Scudder? Do we want to stand firm in the power of the Gospel?"
Anderson was the preacher at the October 8 Eucharist at Executive Council, meeting in Memphis, TN.
The following is the full text of Anderson"s sermon.
Executive Council Sermon at Closing Eucharist:
Feast of Vida Dutton Scudder
House of Deputies President Bonnie Anderson
We ask for significant things when we pray. But if we don"t really want what we are asking for, then it doesn"t matter what we say, does it?
"Raise up in your Church witnesses who, after the example of your servant Vida Dutton Scudder, stand firm in proclaiming the power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ."
That"s what we prayed in our collect today. We prayed together asking that Church witnesses are raised up after the example of Vida Dutton Scudder to stand firm in the power of the Gospel of Christ Jesus.
Do we want to be raised up as Church witnesses after the example of Vida Dutton Scudder? Do we want to stand firm in the power of the Gospel? What exactly is the example of Vida Dutton Scudder? What are we asking for? What do we pray for?
Let"s start with the concept of standing firm. The words "stand firm" may conjure up thoughts of inflexibility and rigidity. The visual image is, back straight, maybe hands on hips, but definitely looking straight ahead, chin out. Planted. As in, "You can pick me up and carry me anywhere you want to and when you set me down, I will be in exactly the same position I was in when you picked me up." Undaunted. Unchanged. Unbending and determined to remain that way.
Over the years, in society, ours and others, the words "stand firm" have been used in many ways. It has been claimed to represent some form of righteousness that can only be obtained by digging in and protecting against threatening forces. "Stand firm" has been used traditionally by unions in negotiation preparations, as in "stand firm on no wage concessions," by social movements, as in "stand firm on busing," and even most recently by China as in G20 to "stand firm" on economic gains.
Raise up witnesses, who after the example of your servant Vida Dutton Scudder, stand firm ..So what does that mean to us, an example is given to us by Vida Dutton Scudder and how do we measure up?
Well, I can speak on behalf of Vida Dutton Scudder because I know her. I met her when I became a member of the Society of the Companions of the Holy Cross in 1988. The Society of the Companions of the Holy Cross is a group of Episcopal women dedicated to intercessory prayer and reconciliation. She joined the Companions in 1888 and, even though our physical membership as Companions was separated by a mere 100 years, I met her through reading, I met her through oral history, and I met her through her books and memos she wrote.
Vida Scudder was a scholar, one of the first American women to be admitted to the graduate program at Oxford University. She later became a professor at Wellesley, eventually becoming professor emeritus. She taught at the New School for Social Research in New York.
Vida Scudder was a union organizer. A woman union organizer in the 1890s, she helped to organize the women"s trade union league. Think about that.
Vida Scudder was a writer. She is the author of The Church and the Hour: Reflection of a Socialist Churchwoman.
She was a committed and faithful Episcopalian, for the most part was a thorn in the side of the Episcopal Church. She did not separate her work in the world from her commitment to Jesus Christ and the institution of the church, in fact, the Episcopal Church, was her venue. Calling the church always forward to what it should be, calling the church to be the world as it should be. Here"s an example of what I mean:
After founding the Episcopal Church Socialist League, Vida Scudder, standing firm, but not standing still. Planning and organizing for two years, in 1913 on the night before the 44th General Convention to be held at St. John the Divine in New York City, she organized Episcopal clergy and lay men, 99% men, to protest the coming convention as a "rich man"s affair, and an aristocratic institution in which the rank and file of the church took no interest and had no representation."
The press rang with the headlines "Demand Made On Democracy in Church" as the media had a field day with the protest and the names of every protesting layman and clergyman were listed in the New York Times. Vida Dutton Scudder"s name was not on the list. She was a great organizer.
At the age of 81 she earned an LLD degree from Nashotah House. That"s a brief summary of the person we commemorate.
Raise up in your Church witnesses who, after the example of your servant Vida Dutton Scudder, stand firm in proclaiming the power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Stand firm, in that context, gives us new meaning for today.
Unless it is to literally stand beside the oppressed and injured where we can touch each other and put our arms around and comfort each other, to stand firm in proclaiming the power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ does NOT mean standing still.
To stand firm in proclaiming the power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ means to pick up the cross and to go and to do it. To stand firm in proclaiming the power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ means to go inside the Episcopal churches where 2 million ministers are asleep and wake them up. It is God"s Church, the organized institution, that is the resting place of the sleeping giant.
The ministry of the laity.
So my friends, in the library at the home of the Companions of the Holy Cross, with her book on my lap, where I first got to know her through her writing, my friend and companion on the way, Vida Dutton Scudder once told me, "The Church must not only call to action, she must show the way to it." (from The Church and the Hour: Reflection of a Socialist Churchwoman. New York: E.P. Dutton, 1917)
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The Episcopal Church: www.episcopalchurch.org
President of the House of Deputies Bonnie Anderson: http://www.episcopalchurch.org/phod.htm