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Hallo again to all.

Some years ago, when North American churches were beginning their once-noisy process of schism, we recall having been surprised by hearing a participant in that schism explain that he felt the need to join the Anglican Church in North America because 'There is no place for me in the US Episcopal Church. I am not welcome there.' Further conversation coaxed from him further explanation, which in summary was (approximately) 'I need the church of which I am a member to condemn the people I believe need to be condemned, and the US Episcopal Church is too inclusive.' It's not that he didn't feel included, it's that he resented the inclusion of those he found abhorrent, and he felt voiceless and powerless in his attempts to explain why it was necessary for his church to condemn certain people.

This comes to mind because today we attended Sunday worship in a church that is part of the ACNA rather than being part of the Anglican Communion. When traveling, we make a point of attending different churches, and this time the church hosting our morning worship was Not in the Communion. The service was held in a shared chapel in a housing project constructed from a long-abandoned factory. A pleasant worship space on a beautiful sunny day, a decent-sized congregation, good music, and liturgy from the US 1928 Book of Common Prayer. We spent a good while at coffee hour, mostly listening. The congregation doesn't get many visitors, so nearly everyone there made a point of coming over to say a friendly hello. Our only complaint is that the coffee was terrible—you could see right through it.

We heard today at coffee hour the same earnest explanation that 'I came here because I am not welcome in the Episcopal Church.' We tried to be non-judgmental, but remembered the blue sign outside the Episcopal church we passed on the way, saying 'The Episcopal Church Welcomes You'. If you've ever been to an Episcopal church in the USA, you've seen those signs, even if you didn't believe them. It didn't take much effort to get the coffee-hour conversationalist to explain what he meant, and the reason was the same. He wanted to be part of a church that exercised power over people he judged to be sinners.

In the years between the first time we heard this explanation and today's version of it, we have watched a lot of church news and church politics go by. So many angry communiqués, so many summit meetings of worried archbishops, so many press conferences. But the event that crystallised our understanding was last week's news report of Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby announcing that the Church of England will ban protests at the consecration of female bishops. There has been a 'serial disruptor' who has gone from one consecration of a female bishop to another attempting to stop or disturb the ceremony. He wants to protect the world from the outrage of having women be bishops.

People who have power want to keep that power, and want to prevent others from getting power, because that would diminish theirs. You see this phenomenon in business, in politics, and in everyday life and culture. When you challenge someone's disempowering behavior in business or politics, you often get told 'that's just business' or 'that's just politics'. Of course you want to disempower your opponent: that's how you win. Alas, when you challenge someone's disempowering social behavior, you often hear 'that's just what I believe' or 'that's my sincerely-held faith' or 'my religion teaches that'. For millennia social rules have been codified into religious rules because they are easier to enforce that way. Most people who haven't thought much about it genuinely believe that religious prohibitions are somehow different from social taboos. Perhaps the Ten Commandments were different, but most everything since then has been taboo disguised as dogma.

We had to work very hard to suppress a giggle when, in clear violation of Leviticus 11:10-12, there was a tasty shrimp salad served at today's coffee hour. Shrimp are almost never a threat to established power*. But letting a woman become a bishop, and thereby acquire power, could ruin your life, couldn't it? But you can protect yourself against the wrong people coming to power by being a welcomed member of a church that condemns those wrong people, can't you?

It's important for those who have power to be aware of the problems experienced by those who don't. Fighting to preserve your power might be biblical, but we don't think it's Biblical. We don't think that abdicating power will help either, but surely something will. Making more women bishops does feel like a good step in the right direction. It starts with awareness, but continues with empowerment of the disempowered. Will you Tell us your tales of power?

See you next week.

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21 August 2016

*Save perhaps in the movie Forrest Gump.

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