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Hallo again to all.

We were when young taught that Easter is the central celebration of Christianity. Despite that training, as adults we seem to reflect more upon the feast days that will shortly be upon us, those of All Saints and All Souls. Those days and the following Octave of All Souls are darker, more mysterious, less obvious, and far less taken for granted than Easter. Jesus died for our sins, it's true; but Joe died believing that he owed us money and Marie died believing that we thought ill of Votive candles lit in memoriamher; we'll never get a chance to tell Joe that we've long since forgiven the debt or reassure Marie that we love her. Nearly everyone who dies leaves links to the living as their soul passes from this world to the next.

All souls. The living and the dead. People whose lives are linked with ours, and people that we've seen for a few moments and will never see again. Yes, all souls. We have attended worship services in little churches and huge cathedrals in several continents, joining corporate worship (sometimes in a language we do not speak very well) with a congregation where we know no one, yet among whom we are welcome. Even stuffy dying congregations that don't want members who aren't like them will welcome diverse visitors (as long as those visitors don't get uppity and try to join).

But what does 'join' or 'member' mean? Not long ago we took it on ourselves to make a photo directory of all the souls in our parish. We wanted everyone's picture. We set up a camera in a corner of the parish hall, and for a while, every Sunday, after each service, we cajoled people into sitting down to have their pictures taken. Most looked wonderful; we presume that the joy of having just taken the eucharist was still showing on their faces. The pictures that we collected are a treasure, both for now and for the ages. But we didn't get 'everybody'. We couldn't. After that Skulls in an Irish cryptproject, when visiting another congregation we found ourselves compulsively looking at their faces, thinking about how he or she would look in a portrait and whether we could capture the joy we saw. We felt silly because those people were not part of our parish, but realized that we couldn't draw a line. They were us. They were part of 'everybody'. We were one. The notion of 'getting everyone's photograph' is impossible, because there is no limit to the concept of 'everyone'. We are the Body of Christ.

There is so much talk these days of impaired communion, of 'instruments of unity', of the forced breaking of unity that is called schism. Congregations deny their bishops; bishops punish their congregations. Whole countries declare that they are not 'in communion with' another country because of some doctrinal issue. Fie! These are all issues of authority, church governance, and brand management, not of faith, and they are fought by church leaders and would-be church leaders. We're just the bums in the pews.* We are certain that if we were to attend a worship service in Abuja or Point Loma or Brompton or Singapore or Burlington or Sydney or Vancouver, that we'd be welcomed and treated like one of the flock. That's because we are. Our identity as the Body of Christ, as the community of all souls, ultimately trumps the incessant bickering of our church leaders. No statements, position papers, presentments, reports, covenants, or condemnations can change that.

May the peace of the Lord be always with you.

See you next week.

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Last updated: 22 October 2006

*The word 'bum' is British vernacular for the part of one's anatomy with which one contacts the pew while sitting in it.

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