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Hallo again to all.

On those occasions when we can afford the time and money, we so enjoy going to places that are very different from our home, to see what we can see and learn what we can learn. Since airplane fares are cheaper that way, we try to stay over a Saturday night. That means that often, whether travelling on business or on holiday, we are there on a Sunday morning. Over the years we've managed Sunday worship in a substantial number of Anglican churches far from home. We do this for many reasons; one of those reasons is to get a broader understanding ofFlags on a church flagpole what Anglicans worldwide think that they are. People of high rank such as bishops and archbishops and primates often tell us what Anglicanism is or what they think it should be. We prefer to ask questions of people sitting not in thrones but in pews.

Recently while worshipping away from home we were at a charming Episcopal church high in the mountains of the Western USA. It was full to bursting with worshippers; the ushers set up several rows of folding chairs after the pews filled, and there were folks standing in the back even then*. It was quite exhilarating to see an Episcopal church with standing room only. The worship service was very well done, though we could have lived without the hymn praising 'loud boiling test tubes'.

In front of the church, we had noticed the flagpole shown in the photograph at the right. After the service we went to socialize at coffee hour, and found someone whom we felt comfortable asking about the flags. This chap's answer was

'Our former bishop hated inclusiveness, and during one visit he said to the rector "Dammit, why don't you just put a flag out front saying 'Fags welcome here!'?". The rector replied "Because we didn't think of it. Thanks for the idea." '**

We learned that after some discussion and reflection, that parish decided to put up the rainbow flag, and it is still there despite occasional vandalism and periodic theft. We were told 'Never once have the folks at this church wavered in their resolve to keep it flying.' Clearly this parish is populated with people who believe in inclusion despite the disapproval of their former bishop. The world being what it is, there is probably a nearby parish that believes the opposite, but this is the one we stumbled across.

Here is yet another example that the nature of the church as seen by its powerful leaders and its humble pew-sitters can be very different. It seems to us that all generalizations about what people believe and what the church stands for are false. We've noticed that telling people what to believe rarely works, and teaching them about beliefs different from their own sometimes results in them changing their beliefs and sometimes doesn't. This thriving mountain parish with the rainbow flag helps us understand that ultimately this decades-long dispute in the Anglican world is likely to be settled by some combination of money, power, and democracy. If a church splits, it needs two buildings instead of one building, and that takes money. We've watched church leaders adjust their public stance so as to maximize their power over their dominion, and we know that ultimately a church will succeed if it gains members and fail if it loses members.

We felt very welcomed and included at that parish, are quite confident that the promise of Matthew 18:20 was kept, and trust that someday Anglicans can read Matthew 18:19 and smile.

See you next week.

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Last updated: 29 April 2007

*Perhaps to accommodate the SRO worshippers, or because it was Eastertide, the service leaflet did not use the word 'kneel' anywhere.

**In the United States, this word usually means 'homosexual' rather than 'cigarette'; the rainbow flag is often used as a symbol of inclusion with respect to sexual orientation.

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