PBFrankGriswold Blog

The 25th Presiding Bishop

Griswold Image
February 5, 2018

Griswold book coverFlannery O’Connor once described the serious writer’s task as one of following lines of spiritual motion from the surface of life into that deep place where revelation occurs.  “This is simply an attempt to track down the Holy Ghost through a tangle of human suffering and aspiration and idiocy.  It is an attempt that should be pursued with gusto.”  It seems to me this task belongs not only to the serious writer; tracking down the Holy Ghost is an ongoing work that belongs to us all. 

As long as I can remember I have been following those elusive lines of spiritual motion. They have led me through my own tangle and into places I would never have imagined myself going: from the day of my baptism, through the various chapters of my life as a student, a parish priest, a husband and father, the Bishop of Chicago, until I found myself as Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, and now moving on through a time of continuing discovery.

Though I spend my days as a teacher and preacher, and am thus presumably conversant with theology and the soul wisdom of many who have gone before, at heart I remain a seeker: a person under construction, tracking down the Holy Ghost, and with gusto!  It has become ever clearer to me that all things have the potential to reveal the Divine and the mystery of love that lies at the heart of the universe, a mystery that has been variously named and understood across the centuries.  For me, this mystery bears the name God.

“You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you,” declared St. Augustine of Hippo many centuries ago.  These words capture something of the longing that has been planted deep within us – a longing and a restlessness that, in my experience, finds its truest satisfaction when we are open to the sense that there is something more that draws us beyond ourselves. 

Over the years I have sought to be, in the words of Anglican priest and poet George Herbert, a “tracker of God’s ways,” that is to follow the lines of motion through the seasons of my life, and to record some of what I have learned along the way.  These pages are the fruit of my effort to gather up fragments from what I have learned about myself, about love and longing, about God and God’s ways with us.  If you are drawn, as I have been, to follow lines of spiritual motion, perhaps the stories and reflections in these pages will be an encouragement. You may discover revelatory moments in your own life you have overlooked because they seem so ordinary and mundane or ill suited to our notions of God and how God ought to behave.

In earlier times books were intended to be read aloud. Each word was not only taken in by the eye but also deliberately pronounced.  While speed-reading has its uses, it is not meant to replace the meditative practice that was once the norm.  Baron Friedrich von Hügel, a wise spiritual guide to many of the last century, including the English mystic, Evelyn Underhill, used the image of a cow quietly and unhurriedly munching her way through a field to describe this practice of reading as meditation. I am sure it is not by accident that the ancients often used the verb ruminare, to ruminate, to describe such reflective reading. This book might be approached in that “chewing over” fashion.  It is divided into stories and reflections of various lengths to suggest that you might stop and linger as suits you, allowing you to take in the words more deeply in relation to your own understanding and experience.

I offer these pages to fellow seekers in humble and grateful recognition of the many pilgrims who have sustained and strengthened me through their faithfulness, friendship and wise counsel.  Without their continuing encouragement, and sometimes correction, I might well wander off the path.

Flannery O’Connor once described the serious writer’s task as one of following lines of spiritual motion from the surface of life into that deep place where revelation occurs.  “This is simply an attempt to track down the Holy Ghost through a...
February 2, 2018
Tagged in: Frank T. Griswold

Frank Tracy Griswold served as the 25th Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church from 1998-2006.   Before becoming Presiding Bishop, Bishop Griswold was Bishop of Chicago (1987-1997) and Bishop Coadjutor of Chicago (1985-1987). He was ordained to the priesthood in 1963 and served three parishes in the Diocese of Pennsylvania before being elected bishop.

He was educated at St. Paul's School in Concord, N.H. and earned an A.B. in English literature at Harvard College (1959). He attended the General Theological Seminary and earned his B.A. and M.A. in theology at Oriel College, Oxford University (1962, 1966). He has received honorary degrees from the General Theological Seminary, Seabury-Western Theological Seminary, Nashotah House, Sewanee, Berkeley Divinity School, Virginia Theological Seminary, Episcopal Divinity School, Seminary of the Southwest and Rikkyo University in Tokyo.

Bishop Griswold served as co-chair of the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission and on national and international liturgical and ecumenical/interfaith commissions and institutes.

Bishop Griswold continues a ministry of teaching, preaching, writing, lecturing

and leading retreats, nationally and internationally, drawing on a broad range of spiritual traditions. He has served as a visiting professor in seminaries and universities in South Korea, Cuba and Japan, as well as at the Episcopal Divinity School and the Church Divinity School of the Pacific, Virginia Theological Seminary and Seabury-Western. He also serves as Episcopal Visitor to the Society of St. John the Evangelist. 

His books include Going Home (Cowley Publications Cloister Book) Praying our Days: A guide and companion (Church Publishing Group) and Tracking Down the Holy Ghost (Church Publishing Group).  He describes himself as an inveterate seeker who is both spiritual and religious.

Bishop Griswold and his wife, Phoebe Wetzel Griswold, live in Philadelphia.

Frank Tracy Griswold served as the 25th Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church from 1998-2006.   Before becoming Presiding Bishop, Bishop Griswold was Bishop of Chicago (1987-1997) and Bishop Coadjutor of Chicago (1985-1987). He was ordained to...
July 24, 2008

 

 

Inasmuch as this sermon ad populum is an annual occurrence on or near the Feast of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist, I am sure that across the years there has been a thorough exploration of all that the feast and the man himself have to reveal and teach us. Therefore, it is with some degree of trepidation that I set out this morning to add my own contribution to that already vast store. There is, however, a bit of synchronicity at work here, in that this strange and remote figure has presented himself more than once in the turnings of my life. And now, he does so again in this season and on this occasion.

 

 

His first "appearance,"€ if you will, occurred the day after I was ordained to the priesthood. It was on the 24th of June, the feast of the Nativity of John the Baptist, that with awe and trembling I approached the altar to preside for the first time at a celebration of the Eucharist. Ever after the feast has served to recall me to that first experience of priestly ministry and invite me to ground myself afresh in an awareness of the great privilege and responsibility afforded me of breaking the Bread of Life and blessing the Cup of Salvation.

His next "€œappearance"€ was some years later in the course of a difficult ecumenical conference: again, on the feast of John's nativity. After a somewhat dispiriting morning which had left me feeling out of sorts, following lunch I wandered off for a walk, hoping thereby to alter my mood. My meanderings brought me to a nearby antique shop. The various objects in their cases and scattered about were only of moderate interest until I chanced upon a small Latin American wooden statute of John. As I considered the statue'€™s rustic and primitive features I had a deep sense that John had been sent to console and encourage me. As you might guess, I returned to the conference with the statue in hand, and in a new frame of mind.

Again, years later, I was on retreat at a monastery in the desert of New Mexico. I had come away from the normal routines of my life in part because I was struggling with questions related to the future shape and direction of my ministry. As I sat quietly in the chapel one afternoon I became aware that in a niche behind me stood a rough hewn representation of the patron of the monastery. It was none other than my old friend John the Baptist. At that moment, seeing the statute reminded me of John'€™s description of himself in the gospel as the "€œfriend of the bridegroom"€ who rejoices when he hears the bridegroom'€™s voice. The bridegroom to whom he referred was, of course, Jesus. "€œFor this reason,"€ John declared, "€œmy joy has been fulfilled. He must increase but I must decrease."

The fact that John's greatest joy was to make way for another touched the heart of the struggle I was having within myself. I realized that the ministry I considered my own was not about me but rather a means of pointing beyond myself and making way for Another. John had given me the insight I needed at that very moment.

As we encounter John in scripture, clothed in camel'€™s hair and sustained by locusts and wild honey, he is a complex and somewhat paradoxical figure who prepares the way for God's self-disclosure in the person of Jesus. John continues to be present with us in the communion of saints and to play his role of preparing the way. Men and women, who through their presence and words, turn the soil of our lives and make us ready to receive God'€™s mystery in fresh ways are continuing in the ministry of John the Baptist.

The commemoration of John'€™s birth is very ancient. Many centuries ago Saint Augustine of Hippo preached a sermon on the subject in which he made a connection between the feast and the summer solstice. He noted that in the wake of the solstice the length of the days decreases. He also observed that following the winter solstice, which occurs as we prepare to celebrate the birth of Jesus, the days lengthen. The words of the Baptist, "€œI must decrease and he must increase,"€ thus find confirmation in the turnings of the natural world.

It is interesting to note that in the Christian ordering of the Hebrew scriptures the last words before we turn to the gospels are those of the prophet Malachi, through whom God declares "Lo, I will send you the prophet Elijah"€ before the day of the Lord comes. Then, in the Gospel of Luke, the angel of the Lord who visits Zechariah, John'€™s father, declares that the child yet to be born will possess the spirit of Elijah and will "€œmake ready a people prepared for the Lord."€ It is clear too from Jesus'€™ own words about him that we are to see in the person of John the Baptist the promised return of the prophet Elijah.

And yet, later when John the Baptist is asked directly, "€œAre you Elijah," he answers, "I am not."€ This discrepancy between Jesus'€™ view of John and John'€™s own self understanding suggests that those who serve as forerunners or turners of the soil in our own lives are often not aware of the role they are playing.

T.S. Eliot in Four Quartets observes, "€œHumankind cannot bear very much reality."€ Too much reality – too much new and unprepared for truth –€“ can overwhelm us. We may try to keep it at a distance, push it away or deny its existence in sheer self-defense. We therefore have to be led –€“ bit by bit –€“ into enlargements of perception and understanding which allow us to absorb new dimensions of reality. John the Baptist and others like him thus serve as preparers of the way rather than as ministers of full disclosure. Their task is to ready us for the challenges of new aspects of truth that may, at first, seem foreign or threatening. They dislodge us from our present certitudes and open the way for us to move forward, step-by-step into new realms of growth and discovery.

Here I am put in mind of the words of Jesus in the Gospel of John in which he says to his disciples, and thus to succeeding generations: "I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth…He will take what is mine and declare it to you."€

With these words Jesus makes clear that the truth he seeks to reveal through the agency of the Spirit is constantly unfolding in ways which may stretch us but will not exceed our capacity to receive it.

It has taken us centuries to come to our present understandings of the workings of the human body and the causes of various diseases. Our knowledge of the cosmos is still evolving. Science and other disciplines are continuing to discover things unknown or only dimly understood, things veiled in mystery.

The path of divine self-disclosure is not always straight. "€œConsider the work of God. Who can make straight what God has made crooked!"€ as we are told in the book of Ecclesiastes. It took centuries for the children of Israel to move beyond their understanding of God as a fierce warrior whose care and concern extended only to them. The specific historical events of deportation and exile expanded their understanding of God's ways and became the medium for a new awareness that God'€™s care and concern extended to the Gentiles as well.

So too with us. The specific historical events of our lives challenge us, stretch us and break us open in order for new dimensions of truth to find a home in us. For example, I think of how my views on the ordination of women have changed because of events and encounters within my own life. In 1964, now some 44 years ago, while serving as a curate in a large parish near Philadelphia, I was assigned to serve as chaplain to Episcopal students at a nearby women'€™s college. At a weekly discussion group a young woman asked: "€œCan women be ordained to the priesthood?"€ "€œOf course not,"€ I replied, laughing at what I then considered to be the ridiculousness of the question. At that time I felt no need to pursue the matter any further.

Several years later as the church began to discuss the possibility of women'€™s ordination I found myself of two minds. Part of me could see the reasonableness and rightness of such a possibility while the other part felt that the catholic tradition within Anglicanism which had shaped me was being threatened by such a possibility.

At about that time I had become rector of a small parish. One day a young woman I had recently baptized and presented for confirmation came to see me in my office. She told me that she wished to enroll in a theological college, but she did not believe she was called to be ordained. Under those terms I wrote a letter of recommendation for her. A year later she returned and shared with me her sense that she was called to be a priest. She was so clear and forthright, and faithful in what she set before me, that I was obliged to accept the validity of her call.

She was subsequently ordained deacon and priest and is now a bishop. I have always been grateful for the fact that her presence helped me to see that what had been for me an abstract theological question was an authentic and faithful response to a sense of call. Her journey became my journey as well, in which my limited understanding of God'€™s ways was expanded to embrace something new.

The truth of which Jesus speaks is not confined to a religious sphere. It is truth in all its manifestations. Inasmuch as the second person of the Trinity, whom we know as Jesus the Incarnate Word, is described both in scripture and creed as the agent of creation –€“ the One through whom all things have come into being –€“ the truth of which Jesus speaks is to be found everywhere and in all things. The divine imagination knows no limits.

For persons of faith, truth is also a matter of relationship: more specifically relationship with Christ, who declares himself to be the Truth –€“ the Truth apprehended not by way of cognition alone but by way of love, a love worked into the depths of our being by the Holy Spirit who pours the love of God into our hearts, thereby making it possible for us to love. We must, therefore, be ever expectant and ready to receive, by way of "€œhints and guesses"€ as Eliot has it, the One who is the truth and seeks through the motions of the Spirit to dwell among us and within us.

Apprehending truth, therefore, involves not only the mind but also the heart: the heart understood in its biblical sense as the core and center of our personhood and not simply the seat of emotion. We might say then that the function of a university and its halls and colleges is to educate both the mind and the heart in such a way that what St. Augustine of Hippo calls "€œthe taste for truth"€ is nurtured within its students. It is this taste for truth that then carries them beyond the formality of their university years and renders them expectant and permeable to new manifestations of truth.

In this regard I note the practice of this University in allowing graduates, after a certain period, to supplicate for the Master of Arts Degree. Additional formal education is not required. Rather, what they have learned in the course of their university years is allowed to mature and bear fruit through various experiences and challenges that lie beyond the boundaries of the university.

We might say then that one of the functions of the university is to play the role of John the Baptist –€“ that is to prepare the way and to sensitize minds and hearts to be ready for encounters with ever unfolding truth which may disconcert and unsettle, as well as surprise and enrich.

Let us give thanks this day for John the Baptist, and for those who play the role of John the Baptist in our own lives, though they may not appear to us in camel's hair eating locusts and wild honey. They may, in fact, be colleagues, students, teachers, spouses or friends. They may be companions of our heart or fierce critics. The divine imagination can make use of any and all to draw us beyond the confines of our present knowing into the vast forcefield of a truth that is ever expanding and unfolding, ever old and ever new.

Amen.

    Inasmuch as this sermon ad populum is an annual occurrence on or near the Feast of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist, I am sure that across the years there has been a thorough exploration of all that the feast and the man himself have to...
July 24, 2008



One of the great pioneers in the area of mental health in the United States was a man by the name of Karl Menninger. His research and his findings regarding the causes and treatment of mental illness are widely respected. On one occasion Dr Menninger was asked what, in his vast experience, did he consider to be the primary cause of mental illness in the United States. A friend of mine, who was the questioner, reported that the great man paused in thought for what seemed to be a very long time. He then looked up and said “The primary cause of mental illness in this country is neither genetic nor traumatic, but rather it has to do with people’s inability to forgive themselves for being imperfect.”..our inability to forgive ourselves for being imperfect!
Yet at the same time we have Jesus in the Gospel urging us to be “perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Here it important to note that the word we translate as “perfect” can also mean “complete”. Instead of being faced therefore with some absolute and fixed notion of perfection which we can never attain, we are caught up in a continuing and dynamic process of becoming, and moving toward a completion of personhood which lies hidden in the mystery of God in whom alone is fullness and completion of being.

Cumbered by myrid ‘oughts’, and ‘shoulds’ and ‘musts’ and ‘not good enoughs’, many of us live in a world of self-judgement and self-castigation or as a variant reading of a passage in the letter to the Hebrews has it, hostility against ourselves.
The stark language of St Paul in our first reading this morning, which the apostle uses to provoke us into mindfulness and lead us from bondage to freedom and from death to life in Christ, can also lead us back into a preoccupation with out faults and imperfections.


Paul himself was no stranger to this preoccupation. After his conversion and the collapse of his self-constructed piety, he discovers a whole new life and a whole new Paul not of his own making. He cries out “If anyone is in Christ there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see everything has become new”. Yet in the midst of his awareness of being made new he encounters the dark guest who has lived so long within him. He discovers the “thorn in the flesh” which animated so much of his previous piety and his desire to exceed his contemporaries in righteousness, that thorn, that abiding imperfection and source of shame, is still very much with him. He then turns to Christ asking to be delivered from his affliction, whatever it may have been. He prays: Lord, take this burden away and my then sense of being made new will be complete. But what does Christ answer? “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” In other words the risen Christ says, “No, the blot, the blemish, the imperfection stays. It is part of you, it is part of the Paul I dearly love and in whom I now live in the power of the Spirit.” Then, delivered from this preoccupation with his “thorn” and the guilt of his persecuting past, Paul is able to cry out, “By the Grace of God - not through my own agency- I am what I am.”


This brings me to today’s gospel which is about the reward or blessing that accrues to those who welcome Christ’s disciples, for in so doing they welcome Christ himself and – love the one who sent him.


Last evening I attended a concert at St Martin’s church here in Salisbury. The programme included Ralph Vaughan Williams Five Mystical Songs drawn from the poetry of George Herbert. Four of the songs, calling for a solo voice, were sensitively sung by Rory Waters a member of the Cathedral Choir. As many of you know, Herbert was a 17th Century priest-poet, a self-styled country parson who, with great care and devotion served as Rector of St. Andrew’s Church in nearby Bemerton.


One of the things that drew me to him many years ago was the fact that his poetry, though filled with deep faith, is also the record of an intense struggle. Sometimes the struggle and interior wrestling involved his vocation in as much as his earlier life and the traditions of his family had prepared him for much more than the obscurity of a country parish. At other times the struggle had to do with his inability, or, perhaps, unwillingness to yield his self-judgement and sense of imperfection to Christ’s insistent and unrelenting love and compassion. In Herbert’s case, the pattern of today’s gospel is reversed and it is Christ who seeks to welcome and embrace him – his resistant disciple. This struggle is wonderfully captured in one of Vaughan Williams Five Mystical Songs, the text of which is a poem entitled Love. Let me now read it, and then let us examine the struggle it describes in relationship to our own lives.


Love bade me welcome, yet my soul drew back,
Guilty of dust and sin.
But quick-ey'd Love, observing me grow slack
From my first entrance in,
Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning
If I lack'd anything.


"A guest," I answer'd, "worthy to be here";
Love said, "You shall be he."
"I, the unkind, the ungrateful? ah my dear,
I cannot look on thee."
Love took my hand and smiling did reply,
"Who made the eyes but I?"


"Truth, Lord, but I have marr'd them; let my shame
Go where it doth deserve."
"And know you not," says Love, "who bore the blame?"
"My dear, then I will serve."
"You must sit down," says Love, "and taste my meat."
So I did sit and eat.


Love in the poem is the risen Christ. And yet the poet draws back from Love’s welcome fixing instead on his guilt and sin. Love perseveres and still the poet resists, invoking his lack of worth and ingratitude. Love presses on and the poet now draws upon shame as a protection against Christ’s insistent mercy. Finally Love backs the poet into a corner and the poet’s last defence is to say, “My dear, then I will serve.” What he is saying is that if he, Herbert, is able to do something of merit which will justify him in his own eyes, he will then consider himself worthy to accept Christ’s love.


At this point, Love will have no more of the poet’s preoccupation with his own faults and imperfections: “You must sit down and stop resisting and taste my meat, my all embracing love.” In exhaustion the poet submits: “So I did sit and eat.”


Herbert is not suggesting here that we deny our sins, our guilts, our besmerchments, our marrings of the life that has been entrusted to us, but rather than cling to them and use them as a wall of defence, we allow Christ’s wild and unimaginable mercy and compassion, Christ’s deathless and liberating love, to confute and overrule our resistance to yield them up.


Julian of Norwich, one of the great women of the church, understood this struggle as well. Writing from her anchorhold at the beginning of the 15th Century she observes: “In God’s sight we do fall, in our sight we do not stand. As I see it, both of these are true, but the deeper insight belongs to the God.” Though a faithful daughter of Mother Church, Julian was not shy about speaking with her own authority: an authority which was fruit of her deep mystical encounters with Love in the person of Christ.


Put succinctly, what she is telling us is that God’s mercy, Christ’s love, trumps our self judgements and preoccupation with our own failings and imperfections. Indeed, we might say that the sin against the Holy Spirit of which Jesus speaks is the Gospel and for which there is no forgiveness, is to refuse God’s mercy, because in refusing God’s mercy we refuse to be forgiven. And so it is that Christ bids us to sit down and taste his meat: the meat of his healing, reconciling and life giving love.


In a few minutes we will give thanks over bread and wine and hear the invitation to “sit and eat”. Herbert’s poem can also be read, in the light of the Eucharist as an invitation to communion with the risen One, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, as he is named in the Book of revelation, who bounds into our lives, into our consciousness, into everything within us that seems “dark, harsh, shameful, maimed, ugly or inseparably damaged” and says with gentle fierceness, “enough, enough, enough – stop chewing on your old sorrows, your old guilts and shame. You must sit down and taste my meat: my body broken and my blood, my love, my life poured out for you.” Are we ready, on these terms, to sit and eat or do we still resist?


If so, Christ has other ways, as Herbert well knew. In another poem entitled The Holy Communion, the Rector of Bemerton addresses Christ observing that “by the way of nourishment and strength, Thou creep’st into my breast; Making thy way my rest, And thy small quantities (the Bread and Wine) my length; Onley thy grace, which with these elements comes, Knoweth the ready way, And hath the privie key, (the secret key) Op’ning the souls most subtile rooms;” what Herbert is describing here is the cumulative effect of the eucharist. Christ under the forms of bread and wine, ordinary food, enters into the depths of our hearts and minds and slowly over time, a life time – with great care and patience – opens with the secret key of his love our soul’s “most subtile rooms” where we store our guilt and shame, our shouting sins on whispering sins, our thorns and hostilities we direct against ourselves. As Christ’s compassion finds its way into the secret rooms within us, and even those places we dare not acknowledge, all is drawn together and caught up into Christ. Our thorns are not necessarily taken away but instead they are transfigured in such a manner that we come to know with the whole bent of our being, our imperfections in full view, that Christ’s grace, Christ’s love, is indeed sufficient and able, beyond all understanding and reasonableness, to embrace and cover all.


And so it is my brothers and sisters, once again, on this day and at this hour, in whatever state you find yourself – Love, with his “privie key” bids us welcome.


May we indeed sit down and taste Love’s meat.


Amen.

One of the great pioneers in the area of mental health in the United States was a man by the name of Karl Menninger. His research and his findings regarding the causes and treatment of mental illness are widely respected. On one occasion Dr...
July 23, 2008
Tagged in: Sermons

Isaiah 61: 1 – 3a
2 Corinthians 5: 17 – 6: 2
John 20: 19 - 23          

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,” cries the prophet Isaiah in our first reading.

It is not that the prophet, after calm and careful consideration, has decided to speak on the Lord’s behalf, rather he has been pounced upon, tracked down, riven through by God’s insistent urgency. This call is nothing Isaiah has sought or asked for. And the task the Spirit sets before him is overwhelming: bringing good news to the oppressed; binding up the broken hearted; proclaiming liberty to captives and also proclaiming the year of the Lord’s favour. This last, the Year of the Lord’s favour, is a reference to the Jubilee Year described in the Book of Leviticus: a time yet to be realised in which land is allowed to lie fallow and to rest from use and exploitations; slaves are given freedom; debts are cancelled and all the patterns of relationship that constitute human community are reordered in an all-embracing act of release and reconciliation. All structures of bondage or oppression are dismantled, and God’s justness and compassion are allowed to run free – building up, healing and making whole.

When Jesus, at the beginning of his ministry enters the synagogue at Nazareth and is invited to read, it is this same passage from Isaiah that he chooses, declaring when he has finished reading, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” Through the words of the prophet Isaiah, the Spirit who bore down upon Jesus at his baptism as God named him the Beloved, and then drove him into the wilderness to be formed and made ready for al that lay ahead, including the Cross, bears down upon him once again.

“It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God,” we are told in the letter to the Hebrews. No one knew this better than Jesus and the Prophet before him. To say yes to the Spirit is always costly, however the Spirit may approach us. This call can take many forms: sometime it is the fruit of careful consideration, sometimes it is suddenly thrust upon us, and, in the case of Isaiah, it may overwhelm us.

And yet, at the same time, if a particular vocation is meant for us, it will, as one of the characters in a contemporary  novel, Evensong, observes, “keep making more of us.”

Paradoxically, however, this process of being made more of involves not only possession: new skills, greater competency, an increase in knowledge and wisdom, but it also requires relinquishment and letting go of familiar patterns of thought and action which cannot contain what is new.

At the heart of all genuine vocation, priestly and otherwise, we find a dynamic of taking on and casting off, or in classical Christian terms we must lose our lives in order to find our lives, we must relinquish in order to possess, we must abandon our effort at self-construction in order to gain entry to the self we, in grace and truth, are called to be. This occurs, in large measure, through the givenness of our vocation in all its demands and complexities. This is true if we are a barrister or a bishop, a deacon or a dentist. Through the choices and challenges that life sets  before us the Spirit shapes and forms us and confirms us to true self that God, in his loving desire and imagination is calling us to be. For Christians the discovery of the true self involves companionship and union with the risen Christ.

The Spirit who bore down upon Isaiah and Jesus is the same spirit who blows freely through our lives sometimes as a breeze but then again at gale force making what may seem to us to be impossible demands. No wonder Isaiah cried “Woe is me, I am lost,” upon his first encounter with the Divine. “O Lord, you have enticed me, and I am enticed,” declared Jeremiah (not without resentment). “You have over-powered me, and you have prevailed.” Jonah fled in order to avoid the burden of carrying God’s word. Mary was deeply troubled by the Angel’s announcement and Jesus, in the Garden of Gethsemene struggled intensely to remain faithful to the one who called him beloved: “Father,” he prayed, “if you are willing, remove this cup from me - spare me – yet not my will but yours be done.”

In the fullness of his humanity, Jesus yields to the demands of the present moment to which fidelity to his sense of being called by God  has brought him. Undefended in the face of divine inscrutability, he hears deep within the recesses of his heart an echo of that baptismal declaration: “You are my Son, the Beloved; With you I am well pleased.”

In the strength of that echo he is then able to embrace the fact that his vocation, his being made more of, involves death on the cross. The new creation of which our second reading speaks, is not entered into lightly or without cost. It presupposes our baptismal identification with Christ in both his dying and his rising.

The gospel too speaks of a new creation.  In an act reminiscent of God at creation breathing life into humankind, the risen Christ breathes upon the disciples and in the power of the Spirit transforms a gaggle of grief-struck and terrified men into participants in and agents of his risen life and continuing work of reconciliation. They become in an act of radical recreation “ambassadors for Christ”. And so it is that this work of reconciliation continues and is carried out not just by the ordained, but by all who have been baptized into Christ and, in many cases, by those whose faith is known to God alone.

I have had the great privilege over these last few days of being with the ordinands on retreat. When we first met, I asked them to share something of their experience since being ordained deacons. Again and again, they spoke of you present here this morning as well as of others, and of the support and encouragement they had received from their families and friends, and from the congregations and communities from which they had come and to which they had been sent. They spoke also not only of their ministry to you, but your ministry to them, and of the way in which, in the body of Christ, roles can be reversed and the ministers find themselves ministered to. As one who was ordained priest 45 years ago Monday last, I cannot begin to count the number of times God’s word has been proclaimed not by me but to me. Sometimes it has been a word of encouragement, and sometimes a word of criticism which, though painful to receive, contained within it necessary truth.

The priestly ministry, to which these men and women, gathered about the altar, are to be ordained this morning is a particular articulation of Christ’s eternal priesthood and ministry of reconciliation which belongs to all who have been baptised into Christ. All of us, whatever our vocation, are called to be ministers of the Gospel, and ambassadors for Christ: that is agents of God’s all-embracing love and profligate compassion in an anxious and fear-filled world in which the dignity and well being of its people are sacrificed again and again to political and economic  expediencies.

“Enable with perpetual  light, the dullness of our blinded sight” we will sing in the ancient hymn to the Holy Spirit prior to the ordination prayer. Acuity and clearness of sight are gifts we will ask the Spirit to bestow upon our newly ordained priests and upon us as well, living as we do in a world which prefers unawareness and not seeing, lest the awful burden of knowing and therefore being obliged to speak or act overwhelms us.

Isaiah might have been overwhelmed, and Jesus as well, had not the Holy Spirit, who bore down upon them,  companioned and sustained them in all that was set before them. The challenges rooted in their sense of being called made more of them, and allowed them to be the persons God most deeply desired them to be, for Jesus being made more of involved treading the way of the cross, passing through the narrow door of death and entering into the forcefield of resurrection, and thereby becoming  the risen Christ.

In true Bishop’s address which immediately follows this sermon, the ordinands will be reminded that at the heart of the priesthood to which they are about to be ordained, is their willingness to be formed by the Word, that is the risen Christ, in order that they may, along with others, grow up into Christ’s likeness.

The church may solemnly ordain and authorise its ministers but there is also an authority and authenticity which is the fruit of intimate and personal companionship with Christ. To be sure, such companionship is enabled by the Spirit, but it requires the willing collaboration and sustained availability of those who have been ordained otherwise they are in danger of becoming “technicians of the sacred” rather than ministers enlivened by the very gospel they proclaim in word and sacrament, or, echoing St Paul, lest having proclaimed to others, they find themselves disqualified.

In a collection entitled Fragments of a Diary, Alexander Yelchaninov, a Russian Orthodox Priest reflects upon his experience of priesthood. He writes: “Priesthood for me means the possibility of speaking in a full voice.” What I think he means by “speaking in a full voice”, is that priesthood is an integral part of who he is: it keeps making more of him. In no way does it eclipse or devalue other dimensions on his being or jeopardise the relationships which have shaped and sustained him, rather priesthood confirms and deepens all that he has been.

It is therefore my prayer for you, my brothers and sisters, who are about to be ordained that, in the days ahead you may indeed speak in a full voice, and that the particular articulation of Christ’s own priesthood to which you are being ordained will, well past your imagining or expectation, or even your perceived capabilities, keep making more of you. 

Amen.

 -- Bishop Frank T. Griswold is the 25th Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church.

Isaiah 61: 1 – 3a 2 Corinthians 5: 17 – 6: 2 John 20: 19 - 23           “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,” cries the prophet Isaiah in our first reading. It is not that the prophet, after calm and careful consideration, has decided to speak on...
October 31, 2006
Tagged in: Frank T. Griswold

I write these words aware that this is my last column for Episcopal Life. The last nine years have flown quickly by and have left me with a vast store of memories and reflections that I will sift and sort for quite some time. And since I believe that my public ministry is far from over with the end of my term as presiding bishop, the experiences and insights I gained doubtless will inform what I may say and do in what lies ahead.

What most stands out as I look back is a sense of gratitude for how we as a community of faith have struggled to discern the mind and heart of Christ. Though this season has been far from easy, it has brought with it learnings and affirmations.

One of these is that discernment only can be accomplished when we are deeply grounded and available to God’s unfolding purposes. Essential to our grounding is a radical availability to Christ who is God’s Word. We must be truly rooted in the one who declares himself the Way, the Truth and the Life.

The risen Christ meets us in many forms, most obviously through Scripture. Through the words of Scripture, the risen Christ addresses us and, as he does so, like the disciples on the road to Emmaus, “our hearts burn within us.”

Within each of us is to be found what we might call, as in the Letter of James, “the implanted word” -- that is, the dimension of the word that is worked in us by the Holy Spirit and that often takes the form of an unexpected insight or a deep knowing beyond any conscious reasoning.

Christ also meets us, as St. Ambrose tells us, “face to face” in the sacraments. Through the sacraments, the risen Christ encounters us and draws us into his ongoing life and work. The sacraments are the word enacted: an outward and visible sign of the reality of Christ’s healing and reconciling presence.

Even through the most ordinary circumstances of our life, Christ the Word manifests his presence. In fact, one might even speak about “the scripture of my own life.” Again and again, Christ comes to us clothed in the things that happen to us.

Often, as we struggle through the events of our lives, we find our hearts and minds broken open in new ways to the mystery of life and to God’s paradoxical and unexpected workings. We discover Christ as companion, not only in our joys, but also in our struggles and dark nights. There he comes to us, not to rescue us, but to share our burdens and declare them his own.

Just as God refused to remain an abstraction but pitched his tent among us in the flesh and blood of Jesus, so are we pierced again and again by the overwhelming reality of Christ present in the flesh and blood of the men and women “whose lives are closely linked with ours.”

Like it or not, we are bound together through baptism in union with Christ, whose tenacious love will not allow us to separate ourselves from him and therefore from one another. Baptism reveals to us that our lives are inextricably bound up with one another and that together we form one body, the body of the risen Christ.

And it is often through “the other” that we understand more fully the ways of God and come to see more clearly as God sees. This was the experience of Jesus, whose own sense of his mission was challenged and expanded by those he met along the way.

I am sure we all can recall times when our understanding of God’s ways has been expanded by “the other.” At such moments, we are obliged to let our previously held judgment or opinion be shattered to make way for the dimension of Christ’s truth represented by the one who stands before us.

An expansion of consciousness happens to communities as well. I give thanks that such an expansion has happened to us as a church and continues to happen. Corporately, we have been challenged again and again to enlarge the boundaries of our understanding, as we will continue to be challenged in the days ahead.

The Letter to the Ephesians tells us that we must grow up in every way into Christ. To do so involves risks and requires courage. To yearn for the day when strain and tension will disappear from our midst is to yearn for the full realization of God’s reign.

Until then, we are called to live the struggles that are part of life on this earth. We are called to a stance of availability to all that God most deeply desires for us and the world. Only by being united with Christ can we come into such a stance of receptivity. And it is only through prayer that the mind of Christ can be formed in us and become our own.

May we indeed be people of prayer, and may Christ the Word speak to the depths of our hearts. And may we as a church continue to grow into the full maturity of the one in whom all has been reconciled and made whole.

I write these words aware that this is my last column for Episcopal Life. The last nine years have flown quickly by and have left me with a vast store of memories and reflections that I will sift and sort for quite some time. And since I believe...
October 29, 2006
Tagged in: Frank T. Griswold

Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold presided and preached at St. John's Anglican Church in Notting Hill, London, on October 29, the last Sunday of his nine-year tenure as Presiding Bishop, chief pastor and Primate of the Episcopal Church. The full text of Griswold's sermon follows:St. John's

Notting Hill

October 29, 2006
The Most Rev. Frank T. Griswold
Presiding Bishop and Primate of the Episcopal Church

Job 42:1-6,10-17
Hebrews 7:23-28
Mark 10:46-52

I am very grateful to your vicar, Father Taylor, for the invitation to preside at this morning's Eucharist and to break the bread of God's word. I do so with a mixture of emotions on this, the last Sunday of my time as Presiding Bishop, chief pastor and Primate of the Episcopal Church. Next Saturday my successor, Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, will be formally proclaimed Presiding Bishop during a liturgy at the Washington Cathedral.

My reason for being here in London has been to introduce Bishop Katharine to his Grace, the Archbishop of Canterbury. While I have known Archbishop Rowan for many years – our friendship dating back to his days as a professor at Oxford – my successor had yet to meet him. It was an immensely positive and fruitful exchange. During our meeting we were able to share mutual concerns and hopes for the future of our Communion and its ministry of service to our broken and needy world.

The Anglican Communion, through its international consultative council, has committed itself to gender equity in all of its representative and consultative bodies. The election of Bishop Katharine to serve as 26th Presiding Bishop, and therefore Primate, is a first step toward bringing gender balance to what until now has been an all male preserve.

There are those who have indicated that they will not sit at the same table with her. I do hope that once they meet her as a person, rather than as a fabrication of the Internet, they will be able to sense the depth and authenticity of her faith, and to recognize her as a sister in Christ and a fellow bishop.

It is ironic that though women represent the majority of the Anglican Communion, their voices and their reconciling views are woefully underrepresented. In so many situations of conflict and division throughout the world it is women who, because of their passion for life and the wellbeing of the family, are the peacemakers. It is women who courageously refuse to play the largely male power games of who is in and who is out, who is strong, who is weak. These invidious games afflict not only nations but the church as well.

Today's gospel reading presents us with blind Bartimaeus who encounters Jesus making his way through the town of Jericho. If today you visit Jericho you will be shown an ancient tree in the center of town, and told – confidently – that it is the very tree under which blind Bartimaeus sat on that fateful day.

There is, however, another way to approach today's gospel. While it is clearly an account of Jesus healing a blind man, it can also serve as an invitation to explore blindness as a spiritual condition in which we see but do not see. Here I am put in mind of John Cosin's paraphrase of Veni Creator, the hymn sung at ordinations in which we pray to God the Holy Spirit "enable with perpetual light, the dullness of our blinded sight."

How easy it is for us – personally, ecclesially and nationally – to live with blinded sight. Unquestioningly and uncritically we accept prevailing attitudes, opinions and biases as self-evident, as true. The dullness of the familiar can so easily keep us from seeing the inequities, the untruths, the injustices that surround us.

In my own country the naïve belief on the part of many that the United States can only do good in the world meant that many of us who spoke against the impending invasion of Iraq were labeled unpatriotic. Now, as this unconscionable war drags on and on – costing thousands of lives due to deception and a president's blind insistence on the rightness of his course – the eyes of many have been opened. Now, a season of sober self-examination has begun. But, alas, how quickly we forget what we have learned. How easily we revert once again to blinded sight. How eagerly we wrap ourselves again in the security of old chauvinisms and certitudes and the dark comfort they afford.

Nowhere is this danger more present than in the life of the church with its built in bias toward the past and the continuum of tradition regarded as fixed and immutable. Of course, tradition itself is made up of a series of provocative inbreakings of divine outrageousness focused for us as Christians in the scandal of the Incarnation: God's pitching his tent and dwelling among us, as one of us, in the person of Jesus, paradoxically both fully human and fully divine as the Council of Chalcedon declared in 451.

It was that same Jesus who said to his disciples "I still have many more things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth…He will take what is mine and declare it to you." The historical Jesus has ascended as the risen Christ to the Father and is no longer with us. Therefore, wristbands which you see from time to time in the United States bearing the letters WWJD – What Would Jesus Do are irrelevant. The proper question is: what is the risen Christ up to right now through the agency of the Holy Spirit – unsettling, prodding, challenging, stretching, illumining and sometimes causing havoc?

To be delivered from blinded sight involves a cost. For Bartimaeus to cry out after Jesus involved a risk. The safety provided by his status in the community as the blind beggar under a tree was cast off, along with his cloak, as he rose up over the objections of the townspeople who saw him only as a familiar passive and dependant fixture within their limited landscape. They were not prepared for his transformation and liberation at the hands of Jesus. Nor were they prepared for a change in their perceptions. Neither, quite frankly, are we. Nor is the church, as Christ animates his risen body and us – its members – with his death-defying life which makes all things now. This is not a newness we are always ready to receive, but a newness that is being worked among us by the Spirit.

"Unawareness is the root of all evil," observed one of the Desert fathers of the fourth century. And how true this can be. The tactic of the evil one whose nature, Jesus tells us, is to lie, to keep us from the truth, invites us not to notice certain things, or – if we do take notice of them – to deny their reality or not to give them room in our consciousness.

"Me racist? What do you mean?" This is the offended outcry sometimes heard in the United States, which, in spite of advances in the area of civil rights, is still profoundly racist. And here I am obliged to acknowledge the historical complicity and studied unawareness on the part of the Episcopal Church, which we in recent days have publicly acknowledged and are seeking, with the help of the Spirit of truth, to overcome. The pain of that acknowledgment, particularly in the North – which is having to own its long overlooked participation in, and economic benefit from, the slave trade – is difficult to bear because it calls into question much of the presumed virtue of our forebears.

Two days ago I presided at the Eucharist in Christ Church, Philadelphia standing over the tomb of Bishop William White, the first Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, whose own views on the subject of slavery or the status of his domestic staff are in dispute. It is always easy with hindsight to see what those before us should have seen and been able to acknowledge. Rather than condemn them for their blinded sight we should ask ourselves what is it that I am afraid to see or to acknowledge? We ask this recognizing that if we did see clearly, the status quo would be threatened or undermined.

How many families or relationships survive only because truth is not told and dysfunction remains unacknowledged? And how frequently the one who tells the truth is castigated and declared an enemy and disturber of the peace.

Jesus declared that the truth will make you free. This text serves as the motto of the Anglican Communion. In reflecting upon these words Archbishop Rowan has observed that, in actual fact, the truth can make things very difficult.

What are the many more things the risen Christ – who is himself the Truth – seeks to reveal to us through the workings and motions, the proddings and promptings of the Spirit of truth? How do we distinguish the authentic manifestations of the Spirit from those that are false? Are we able to recognize the fact that the Spirit of truth is not confined to the church and is involved with things secular? The changing role of women in society, and more particularly as they ever more assume positions of leadership, leads quite naturally to the same changes in the church. At times the secular challenges the sacred and becomes the means by which the Spirit of truth stretches and expands the church's consciousness.

In the Acts of the Apostles, which is an account of what happens when the Spirit of the risen Christ is unleashed in the world, we find the apostolic church challenged in its Jewishness by the Spirit who ignores the boundaries established by the law and descends upon the Gentiles – those outside the law and therefore outside the community of faith. The church had to struggle, therefore, with the provocative and unsettling fact of the Spirit's presence in the lives of those heretofore considered unredeemed. The church, faced with this new reality, found itself challenged and obliged – not without struggle and debate – to modify the law, and therefore its self understanding, in order to make way for those whom the law would exclude.

The result was not simply a compromise, but a new way of seeing: the marginalized and excluded and unclean were now regarded as brothers and sisters held fast within the arms of Christ's saving embrace. Is it not possible that the Spirit of truth is profoundly present in our own day in the struggles and tensions we are experiencing in the life of the Anglican Communion?

To be faithful to Scripture requires a willingness, indeed an eagerness, to follow the Spirit of truth wherever we may be led. However, to pray Come, Holy Ghost…enable with perpetual light the dullness of our blinded sight is dangerous and involves risk – the risk of being obliged to change our opinions, to cast away protective biases, to make room for the unfamiliar and sometimes unwelcome. This is what it means to bear the cost of unblinded sight. And yet, as painful as this may be, as our certitudes are challenged and purified by the Spirit of truth, there is worked within us an increasing ability to see as God sees and to love as Christ loves.

Therefore, my brothers and sisters, let us dare to rise up with blind Bartimaeus. Let us dare to cry out to the risen and ever merciful Christ, "I want to see."

Amen.

Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold presided and preached at St. John's Anglican Church in Notting Hill, London, on October 29, the last Sunday of his nine-year tenure as Presiding Bishop, chief pastor and Primate of the Episcopal Church. The full text...
September 30, 2006
Tagged in: Frank T. Griswold

During October, we remember the life and witness of St. Francis of Assisi. In many congregations the observance includes the blessing of animals. Churches normally filled with the murmur of human voices find themselves enlivened by the various sounds, and other sensory manifestations, of the animal kingdom.

As expressive of the compassionate spirit of St. Francis as such occasions are, they don’t do him justice. It is insufficient for him to be remembered solely in terms of his love for creation and revered in the form of a garden statue adorned with birds and rabbits. Francis is more properly remembered as a witness to the transformative power of the gospel.

Francis underwent his transformation in part through the means of an unexpected encounter. Francis, we are told, had an especially strong aversion to lepers, who were perhaps the most isolated members of medieval society.

Because neither the cause nor the cure for leprosy were known, lepers were feared by all. At the first sign of the onset of this disfiguring disease, its victims were expelled from the community and forced to live in the virtual prison of a leprosarium. There are medieval liturgical texts for the committal of lepers that show little mercy and are undergirded by the assumption that leprosy was the fruit of sinfulness.

Then one day Francis found himself face to face with what he so feared. Instead of drawing back, impelled by a force beyond his own understanding, he found himself embracing and kissing the leper. At this point, it seems his heart must have been broken open, and the mercy of Christ flowed forth. Francis emerged from that encounter able to embrace not only the leper but also all that God had made.

His indiscriminate love for all creatures, including those regarded as the refuse of humankind, created antagonism and opposition. His father disowned him, and many former friends thought him insane. Ecclesiastics who viewed the church and their ministries largely in terms of power and domination felt called to account by a love so fierce and transparent that its very presence served as a judgment.

Francis also attracted disciples who looked on him with awe and respect, and learned from his example. Among his disciples was Clare, a young noblewoman of Assisi who had been deeply affected by Francis’ preaching and manner of life. Clare went on to become the prioress of a convent of nuns who joined Francis in his embrace of poverty as a way of life that bound them intimately to the Lord.

Another transformative experience for Francis occurred one day as he was praying in the crumbling church of San Damiano before a Byzantine representation of the crucified Lord. In this icon, Jesus is depicted with arms outstretched, not so much in a gesture of suffering, but rather as a way of gathering and embracing. Under each arm are figures representing all sorts and conditions of humanity.

As Francis prayed, he heard Christ speak to him from the cross. Christ’s words were: Francesco va, ripara la mia chiesa. Francis, go rebuild my church.

Francis at first responded to these words quite literally and set out to repair the church of San Damiano and various derelict chapels in the surrounding countryside. As worthy an effort as that may have been, the deeper meaning of Christ’s words revealed itself over time.

What became clear to Francis was that rebuilding and repair had to do not with stones and mortar but with the human heart. The compassion and love of Christ, which found a home deep within Francis’ heart, were the very energies by which Christ himself was rebuilding the church.

In the homily I preached on the occasion of my investiture as presiding bishop in January 1998, I told the story of St. Francis praying before the crucifix and the words addressed to him by Christ: Francis, go rebuild my church. I said that rebuilding the church was our challenge and that the church is a relationship to be lived: a relationship of the communion established by God through Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit, which finds expression and is made incarnate in our communion with one another. Therefore, the church is always, in every age, being rebuilt and renewed out of the struggles and witness and fidelity of its members.

I said that this was true then and that it still would be true at the end of nine years. And, my dear brothers and sisters, nine years later it is still true: The church is being rebuilt and renewed. And the love that unites the persons of the Holy Trinity worked into our hearts by the Spirit is the energy by which this is accomplished.

Contemplating the San Damiano crucifix, I am reminded that the figures standing beneath Christ’s arms represent all of us in our various singularities and ways of being. As we look to the future, it is my prayer that the life of our church may be ever more fully grounded in that same love that flowed so freely through the words and deeds of our brother Francis.

During October, we remember the life and witness of St. Francis of Assisi. In many congregations the observance includes the blessing of animals. Churches normally filled with the murmur of human voices find themselves enlivened by the various...
August 31, 2006
Tagged in: Frank T. Griswold

One of my great privileges serving as your presiding bishop and primate, and indeed one of the things I will miss most once I relinquish this ministry in November, is my unusual opportunity to come to know something of how God acts in the lives of fellow Christians who are seeking, in a wide variety of contexts, to be ministers of Christ’s reconciling love.

Near the end of July, I participated in a conversation with a cross-section of other heads of provinces of the Anglican Communion. We gathered at Coventry Cathedral under the auspices of the Community of the Cross of Nails, a worldwide organization committed to the ministry of reconciliation. On Nov. 14, 1940, this industrial city in the Midlands of England was almost obliterated by bombs and the cathedral was reduced to ruins. Its ancient walls still stand, but beside them a new cathedral has risen up as a sign of and center for reconciliation.

The conversation amongst the primates was first conceived last January as a way to reflect upon the future of our shared life of communion and ways in which we within and among our provinces can enable an ongoing ministry of reconciliation. Over the course of several days, we spoke candidly and listened carefully to one another.

As we parted at the end of an extremely fruitful time to return to our very different contexts, we agreed that our days of conversation had been a positive contribution to the future of the communion. The day after I returned to the United States, I traveled to a gathering of alumni who have participated in our Young Adult Service Corps, a program of the Episcopal Church that offers one-year missionary assignments in various parts of the Anglican Communion.

The purpose of the gathering, at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, was to provide an opportunity for those who had participated in the program to reflect on their experiences. What struck me most as I listened to these dedicated and faithful young men and women was that, though their assignments had taken them in different directions around the globe, their experiences had a remarkable similarity.

In spite of whatever difficulties they experienced, whatever dispossession they had undergone in terms of attitudes and ideas, they viewed their term as a life-changing time of growth and transformation. They spoke of the sense of hope in those they worked among: hope often in the midst of seemingly hopeless situations of poverty and conflict. Such hope was a stark contradiction to their outer circumstances and revealed a capacity for endurance in our Anglican brothers and sisters.

This spoke profoundly to the young adults from the United States, who had not been obliged to put their own endurance to such severe tests. At one point a young man made the following observation: “The purpose of the church is to guard hope.” I was struck by this comment. What does it mean that the purpose of the church is to guard hope? It certainly doesn’t mean the church is meant to be cheerfully optimistic in the midst of life-denying circumstances.

I believe it means that the church is obliged to live in such union with Christ that Christ’s hope becomes our own. Just as the Spirit weaves the love of Christ into the depths of our being, so, too, that same Spirit works in us the mystery of hope. I came away from my time in Amherst pondering the mystery of hope and reflecting back on my conversations with the primates in Coventry. The primates’ conversations brought us to a shared hope in the future of our communion and its mission to the world.

Our sense of hope had nothing to do with optimism or trying to avoid a difficult reality at hand, either by denial or the projection of some happy and pain-free future. It was not based on a superficial spirit of polite cordiality, but rather was deeply grounded in our union in Christ.

“The answer is in the pain” is a principle of spiritual growth. And indeed, often in the midst of the most desperate of situations a confidence and a deep knowing emerge – beyond how or when – that, in the words of Julian of Norwich, “All shall be well and all manner of things shall be well.”

Curiously, we find our spring of hope in the midst of what is seemingly hopeless. Hope is a gift bestowed when we most deeply and truthfully confront and acknowledge the very things that seem to us to leave us in dark despair.

I have been richly blessed in these two experiences, one after another: meeting with the primates and the young missionaries. In both of these groups of faithful and struggling Christians I saw a spirit of candor and receptivity and a willingness to face into things that we find most painful and difficult.

I also saw wellsprings of hope. As I gave thanks for this, I found myself recalling St. Paul’s prayer: “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”

This is my prayer for you, for all of us, for our church and our communion.

One of my great privileges serving as your presiding bishop and primate, and indeed one of the things I will miss most once I relinquish this ministry in November, is my unusual opportunity to come to know something of how God acts in the lives of...
August 10, 2006



Note:
An audio file of the following reflection appears at . The text is the Presiding Bishop's column for the upcoming September issue of the churchwide Episcopal Life newspaper.





[ENS] One of my great privileges serving as your Presiding Bishop and Primate, and indeed one of the things I will miss most once I relinquish this ministry in November, is my unusual opportunity to come to know something of how God acts in the lives of fellow Christians who are seeking, in a wide variety of contexts, to be ministers of Christ's reconciling love.

Near the end of July, I participated in a conversation with a cross-section of other heads of provinces of the Anglican Communion. We gathered at Coventry Cathedral under the auspices of the Community of the Cross of Nails, a worldwide organization committed to the ministry of reconciliation. On November 14, 1940, this industrial city in the Midlands of England was almost obliterated by bombs and the cathedral was reduced to ruins. Its ancient walls still stand, but beside them a new cathedral has risen up as a sign of and center for reconciliation.

The conversation amongst the Primates was first conceived last January as a way to reflect upon the future of our shared life of communion and ways in which we within and among our provinces can enable an ongoing ministry of reconciliation. Over the course of several days, we spoke candidly and listened carefully to one another.


As we parted at the end of an extremely fruitful time to return to our very different contexts, we agreed that our days of conversation had been a positive contribution to the future of the Communion.


The day after I returned to the United States, I traveled to a gathering of alumni who have participated in our Young Adult Service Corps, a program of the Episcopal Church that offers one-year missionary assignments in various parts of the Anglican Communion.


The purpose of the gathering, at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, was to provide an opportunity for those who had participated in the program to reflect on their experiences. What struck me most as I listened to these dedicated and faithful young men and women was that, though their assignments had taken them in different directions around the globe, their experiences had a remarkable similarity.


In spite of whatever difficulties they experienced, whatever dispossession they had undergone in terms of attitudes and ideas, they viewed their term as a life-changing time of growth and transformation.


They spoke of the sense of hope in those they worked among: hope often in the midst of seemingly hopeless situations of poverty and conflict. Such hope was a stark contradiction to their outer circumstances and revealed a capacity for endurance in our Anglican brothers and sisters.


This spoke profoundly to the young adults from the United States, who had not been obliged to put their own endurance to such severe tests. At one point a young man made the following observation: "The purpose of the church is to guard hope."


I was struck by this comment. What does it mean that the purpose of the church is to guard hope? It certainly doesn't mean the church is meant to be cheerfully optimistic in the midst of life-denying circumstances.


I believe it means that the church is obliged to live in such union with Christ that Christ's hope becomes our own. Just as the Spirit weaves the love of Christ into the depths of our being, so, too, that same Spirit works in us the mystery of hope.


I came away from my time in Amherst pondering the mystery of hope and reflecting back on my conversations with the Primates in Coventry. The primates' conversations brought us to a shared hope in the future of our communion and its mission to the world.


Our sense of hope had nothing to do with optimism or trying to avoid a difficult reality at hand, either by denial or the projection of some happy and pain-free future. It was not based on a superficial spirit of polite cordiality, but rather was deeply grounded in our union in Christ.


"The answer is in the pain" is a principle of spiritual growth. And indeed, often in the midst of the most desperate of situations a confidence and a deep knowing emerge – beyond how or when – that, in the words of Julian of Norwich, "All shall be well and all manner of things shall be well."


Curiously, we find our spring of hope in the midst of what is seemingly hopeless. Hope is a gift bestowed when we most deeply and truthfully confront and acknowledge the very things that seem to us to leave us in dark despair.


I have been richly blessed in these two experiences, one after another: meeting with the primates and the young missionaries. In both of these groups of faithful and struggling Christians I saw a spirit of candor and receptivity and a willingness to face into things that we find most painful and difficult.


I also saw wellsprings of hope. As I gave thanks for this, I found myself recalling St. Paul's prayer: "May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit."


This is my prayer for you, for all of us, for our church and our communion.

Note: An audio file of the following reflection appears at . The text is the Presiding Bishop's column for the upcoming September issue of the churchwide Episcopal Life newspaper. [ENS] One of my great privileges serving as your Presiding Bishop...