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My churchHallo again to all.

This morning we happened on to a radio programme* about the investiture of the new Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church in the USA. After a minute or so of description and audio snips from the ceremony, the radio cut to a comment by Robert Duncan, Bishop of Pittsburgh, described as 'part of the marginalized and vocal minority'. The first words from Bob Pittsburgh (as he signs himself) were:

'I have this sense and this grief that somehow our church has been taken away from us'.

We had to switch off the radio to leave for Divine Service, so the remainder of his comments were unheard. But +Pittsburgh's startling comment stayed with us for most of the day.

We found ourselves pondering the (to us) strange concept that a church can be 'taken away'. And then 'our church' struck us as even stranger. The church is not ours, but God's. Its Anglican forms throughout the world are a multicoloured mosaic, shaped by local cultures and practises, holding to the framework of Catholic liturgy that has been the genius of the Ecclesia Anglicana for more than 500 years.

What church has been 'taken away' from the Bishop of Pittsburgh? The Episcopal Church of the 1950s, the one in which he spent his young years? The chapel he experienced as a student at Trinity College in Hartford, College in the late 1960s? That church which forbade women deputies to General Convention? Or an earlier Episcopal Church, where divorce was all but forbidden, except in cases of adultery? The keys to the kingdomWhere remarriage was impossible, even for the innocent party? Perhaps the church that was taken away was the atmosphere and ethos of the mid-19th-century Church of England, where marriage to a deceased wife's sister was forbidden and punishable by law? Or the mid-19th century American church that turned a blind eye to the practice of slavery?

That abbreviated litany of 'churches that have been taken away' could be extended nearly indefinitely. Every age has brought change to the church, beginning as innovation, often proclaimed as heresy, and eventually becoming tradition. And it is no less true that each change brings unsettlement and pain. Yet 'the Gospel in the Church' cannot be stagnant, for the Holy Spirit has been pledged to lead us into all truth. Were the church to have remained the same in structure, form, and practices as it was in the first centuries of the Christian Church, would there be a church remaining in this year of grace AD 2006? Stasis, in creation, is death. We think it no less so in the church.

Dr Jefferts Schori concluded her investiture sermon with these words:

Let us join the raucous throngs in creation, the sea creatures and the geological features who leap for joy at the vision of all creation restored, restored to proper relationship, to all creation come home at last.

A Scottish poet, Robert Crawford, echoes this:

Let there be braziers, holophotal lenses,
Polished golden flags, champagne and candles,

Let rays shine through the rose window of Chartres,
Let there be cowslips, myriads splats of rain,

Trilobites, new parliaments, red neon,
Let there by twin-stone rings and mirrorglass

Skyscrapers, glinting jumbos, Rannoch lochans
In which huge skies can touch down in the sun.

Let there be Muckle Flugga's phallic pharos,
Bug-eyed, winking tree-frogs; let there be

Grand Canyons, fireflies, tapers, tapirs, matches
Good and bad, simply to fan the flames.

Let there be lasers, Fabergé crystal eggs,
Hens' squelchy yokes, birch-bark's thin,


Diaphonous scratchiness, let there be you,
Me, son and daughter, let the Rhine

Flow through Cologne and Basle, let there be
Victoria Falls, Great Zimbabwe, hornet's wings,

Angels, cardboard, zinc, the electric brae.
Let there be both stromatlites and cows,

Llamas and zebras, dromedaries, cats,
Bens, buns and banns, let there be all,

End all, every generation, so the whole
Unknown universe be recreated

Through retinal cone and iris and religion.
As been said before, let there be light.

Fiat Lux, Robert Crawford

See you next week.

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Last updated: 5 November 2006

*The entire five-minute segment can be be heard here.

Credit: The artwork in this letter is by Tony Meeuwissen.

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