Sunday, December 21, 2008

A Letter to the People at Stand Firm in Faith on the Occasion of My 45h Anniversary of Ordination to the Priesthood

On this, my 45th anniversary of ordination to the priesthood of the Episcopal Church, I want to share with you a couple of reflections - mostly in response to direct questions from several of you "Why do you continue to post to Stand Firm?"

My first introduction to Stand Firm was when Matthew featured his four part response to an article I had written for The Episcopal Majority, "Falsely Accused." In the back and forth with Matthew (and later) I found the basis for discussion and dialogue. I think most of my time here has been with the hope of that in mind.

So, why continue? A major element of my service to the church over the years has been my work in building bridges between the church and groups of people outside the church (that has always been part of the church's charge to our deacons) and between groups within the church. This ministry has been a traditional part of our campus ministries -- so with 23 years in campus ministry it is part of my being.

I don't think I have been successful here at Stand Firm, but in other venues I have. At the last General Convention the Network endorsed my candidacy for Trustee of the Church Pension Fund -- I was also backed by the Deputies of Color and the consortium of liberal groups such as Integrity, The Episcopal Peace Fellowship and the rest. I have relationships of trust with Kendall, Chris Cantrell, Dan Martins, several of the most conservative bishops in TEC, Don Perschall, John Liebler and many others. Needless to say, we all have had to work at this and be committed to building and maintaining relationships of trust and respect with those with whom we differ most. It probably goes without saying that in the heat of things we all say or do things that threaten those relationships. As an example, my choice to post "An Ode to Stand Firm in Faith" on my blog rather than deal with my anger with Sarah Hey and others directly (actually there is no means for doing so really directly) resulted in hurt in people at SF who have reached out in kindness and respect -- so I am taking it off by blog and not posting it elsewhere.

There is something in this that is very important. One of my heroes in the life of the church has been Will Campbell. He is a modest Southerner who came out of the Southern Baptist tradition into the Episcopal Church. As you look at some of the old pictures of the civil rights marches involving Dr. King, you can usually find Will on the first or second row. In the early 70's Will addressed the national gathering of Episcopal campus ministries. He began his talk this way: "The only reason I've come here to talk with you all is that I want to remind you that Spiro Agnew (much hated by liberals of all stripes) -- Spiro Agnew is your brother." We were furious at Will for that – absolutely furious – but we knew that he was right. No human voice has touched me deeper. So I have continued to post at Stand Firm because Greg and Matt and Mousetalker, Sarah and Jackie and all the rest of you are my brothers and sisters in Christ. I have not always lived up to that -- and neither have you all. When Will Campbell was not walking with Dr. King, he was often waiting tables at a KKK gathering -- because, as he said, even though we despise what one another does, we are still brothers in Christ.

Neither I nor you is the KKK -- and neither of us is MLK, Jr., but we are all part of the Body of Christ through His invitation and incorporation. It is through the adoption as His children and His continuing grace and forgiveness that we continue in that embrace -- even as we too often believe that we, alone, belong. I believe the Anglican tradition is the best incarnation of that reality -- even as we struggle for what we believe is the best in that tradition.

To paraphrase what Sarah observed a couple of days ago, we seem to believe in different emphases in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I admire the way you represent the tradition of holding the purity of the church and its individuals as primary. That strain has not always been visible in the Episcopal Church -- as it has been visible in the peace churches, the early Methodists and the Assemblies of God and the Church of the Nazarine. That, I believe, is a crucial part of the Gospel, but is not all of the Gospel. I come out of a different, but equally important strain of Anglicanism – one that values the sacramental presence of Jesus Christ in the world and is focused on being the hands, legs, vision and heart of Jesus Christ as we interact with the world around us, often moving beyond comfortable boundaries in His service. Again, that is a crucial part of the Gospel, but not all of the Gospel. The better each of us does our calling and vocation, the stronger the church will be -- and the more praise to our Father.

So, when I return to SF, it will be to discern what I can appreciate in your vocation as fellow members of the Body of Christ – not to defame or demean you. I will leave the wisecracks behind. That is all I can control. If some of you reciprocate, so much the better. I can assure you that my faith is strong and it is deep -- and I have been teaching the Nicene Creed longer, I think, than most of you have been alive. Like it or not, I am your brother.
Tom Woodward

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