Friday, May 11, 2007

Reflections on Reconciliation

The Diocese of Western Louisiana has just completed a Reconciliation Seminar led by Brian Cox and his team and Brad Drell is offering his reflections on his experience with the process on his blog, Drell's Descants.

Good for him.
I'm glad it was a positive experience. I hope it continues to bear fruit for the Diocese of Western Louisiana. And I hope it is a sign of hope that there are still those committed to working through the hard ground of our differences and finding a way forward through the morass of this schism being promoted by those who are committed to splitting the church they can't convince to agree with them.

I had the same hopes back in 2003 when I attended my third Reconciliation Seminar ... also led by Brian Cox ... one billed as a "National Reconciliation Conversation" and held at St. James, Wilshire (Los Angeles). In response to the Seminar I wrote Longing To Hope Again ... a Reflection on Reconciliation. Leadership teams from "both sides of the aisle" had been invited to this opportunity to engage in dialogue prior to General Convention 2003. The leadership of Claiming the Blessing (CTB) was there. The leadership of the American Anglican Council (AAC) was not.

So I was particularly struck by Drell's comment on the first day of the three-day Seminar: I’d say that we would all agree that more of this type of dialogue might have helped the national church from getting to where it is, had it happened a great deal earlier and with a great deal more frequency.

Couldn't agree more. But how do we make "this type of dialogue" happen when only one side shows up? I'm still longing to hope. And willing to show up. And those of us who have been at this for lo-these-many-years are still doing precisely that. Longing to hope. Showing up. Like we have for lo-these-many-years.

I'm thinking tonight about the once-upon-a-time when the Bishop of Los Angeles was longing to hope that if he brought together clergy leaders from his diocese for conversations about faith and theology we'd learn that we had more in common than we did in difference and we'd find a way to heal the breech between us. So we did. Eight of us. Four "liberal" and four "conservative." We met for a year. Twelve months. Once a month. We brought sack lunches and sat around a round table in our Cathedral Center and read the Catechism together -- the Outline of the Faith from the Book of Common Prayer. And we talked about it. About God. About Jesus. About the Holy Spirit. About the Church. About the Sacraments. About Sin.

And we prayed for each others' children and grandchildren. And we found we did indeed have a lot more in common than we did in difference. And in the end three of the four "conservatives" left the Episcopal Church. David Anderson to Nigeria. Bill Thompson to Uganda. Ron Jackson to I-can't-remember-where. In the end longing to hope wasn't enough. In the end their criterion for being included -- being agreed with -- was more important than their commitment to reconciliation.

I'm still longing to hope. I hope the efforts of those committed to reconciliation will be fruitful and multiply in the future. I hope that the extraordinary energy leaders like my bishop applied to making reconciliation happen in the past will be remembered and applauded -- even if they failed. And I hope that those coming late to the conversation will recognize that it is a conversation that has been going on for lo-these-many-years ... and one we're not walking apart from.


Breadandwine said...

I wish I'd had the same experience at Brian Cox's seminars. I attended on in Springfield, Mass., last year and left without a sense of hope, nor any feeling that Cox's work would lead anywhere. In fact, I have to say I felt manipulated by the whole experience. A colleague and I noted particularly that at a concluding worship service we witnessed "participants" break down in tears and confess their need for reconciliation and testify that the seminar experience had been life-changing for them.... only to later discover that they were on the planning team for the seminar and had previously attended or worked one or more similar events with Fr. Cox. That left me with a very sour feeling, as if the whole thing were merely a playing at reconciliation without real change on anyone's part!

Father Doug said...

As a conservative who no longer attends such reconciliation events, I feel that creating "facts on the ground" that openly defy the rules of communion and then demanding that we conservatives simply overlook the infractions while we decide to all find how much we have in common simply cements the irregularities into the common life, assuming (rather than proving or arguing) that they are adiaphora.

To prescind from the gay question, take the matter of so-called open communion. The canons strictly and clearly forbid the practice. We get together to "dialogue" about the practice and are confronted with numerous parishes that are "experimenting" with it. The bishops look smilingly upon this blatent disobedience and the rest of us are all encouraged (browbeaten, really) to "listen to their experience" which is, of course, wonderful and glorious and how-could-we-ever-be-so-glum-as-to-forbid-it. But they are breaking millenia-old "bonds of affection"! Well, no matter, we're told. It feels so right to them. We all simply have to recognize that our position is nothing more than a personal prejudice.

It is exactly like the Israelis coming to discuss the West Bank and, oh yes, we are continuing to develop housing for thousands in new settlements there, but let's talk! Really, let's talk!

Anonymous said...

I had an extremely negative experience with Brian Cox and his Reconciliation team. I would catagorize it as spitirtual abuse. After having attended a seminar and having been asked to enlist my parish in a similar event with another more conservative parish, I did so. The event was considered very successful. After that I was asked to be a "team leader". When I found out that they were grooming a vitriolic conservative priest with a reputation of documented oppression against gays to be a team leader as well, I questioned his ability to be a true "reconciler". I wrote Brian Cox a letter questioning this, which went unaddressed.

When this same priest grabbed a microphone at our Diocesean Ministry Fair and decried homosexulaity as an abomination to God and championed healing for them, I once again questioned his ability to lead a reconciliation team. After all, reconcilers need to hold themselves to a higher standard of public behavior. I would never have grabbed a mic and called this same priest an ignorant homophobic bigot who needs to be cured. Once again, I appealed to Cox. One of Cox's leadership team told me he was too busy to respond but she had prayed about it and decided to keep the priest in question on board because she hoped they'd help him change his views. I said that I could not continue if he was in leadership. I did not want to subject that kind of spiritual abuse and language on people who might be willing to come to these seminars. Not from the leaders. I felt he was welcome at the table but not in a leadership capacity.

Well, Cox then accused me of being out of line. I was expendable. Gay liberals were a dime a dozen. Crazy conservative bigots were a minority in his group. So, he stuck with him. Mr. Reconciliation was unwilling to reconcile this issue. After repeated requests to his leadership team to set up a meeting to work this out, I was told he had more important things to do. It was all a fraud. I wasn't a giddy groupie like the rest of his team. I tired to speak truth to power. I'm glad I tried. I have no respect for this group. They are hypocrites, one and all, because they don't practice what they preach.

My advice, stay as far away from this bunch as you can!