Sunday, June 23, 2019

On Thin Places, the Bishop of Maine and Strength for the Journey

There any number of definitions of the term "thin place" but here's the one I like:
Thin places are places of energy. A place where the veil between this world and the eternal world is thin. A thin place is where one can walk in two worlds – the worlds are fused together, knitted loosely where the differences can be discerned or tightly where the two worlds become one.
On Saturday, June 22, 2019 at St. Luke's Cathedral Church in Portland Maine we got ourselves a new bishop. God willed, the people consented and with all the pomp, circumstance and liturgical panache that our brilliant preacher du jour Barbara K. Lundblad fondly described as "weird," Thomas James Brown became the 10th Bishop of the Diocese of Maine.

People came quite literally from sea-to-shining-sea to join the good people of the diocese -- adding some Big Fat Episcopal Family Reunion energy to the gathering. It was grand and glorious and there were moments when I literally felt the thinness of the veil between the two worlds of where we've come from and where we're journeying to -- of the power of the ancestors on whose shoulders we stood on Saturday in St. Luke's Cathedral and of the hope of those who come after us trusting us to keep up the work of fully becoming the church we have been called to be.

In that thin place I remembered another consecration down the road in New Hampshire in November 2003 -- where instead of a cathedral with a Pride flag out front we were in a hockey arena with bomb sniffing dogs, metal detectors and a scrum of international news vans out front. Nevertheless, we persisted.

I remembered flying to Nottingham in England with Frank Griswold and other members of our TEC team -- summoned to the 2005 meeting of the Anglican Consultative Council to offer "To Set Our Hope On Christ" as our response to the Windsor Report in the days when it looked like price tag for the full inclusion of LGBTQ people in the work and witness of the church was going to be getting voted off the Anglican Island. Nevertheless we persisted.

I remembered the month we spent at Lambeth Conference in 2008 as part of the Inclusive Communion witness and the fears that our bishops had "drunk the purple Kool-Aid" and LGBTQ Episcopalians were going to end up as sacrificial lambs on the altar of global Anglican politics. Nevertheless we persisted.

And we have continued to persist -- weathering the storms of backlash and the threats and the challenges of "the inclusion wars" to arrive at a moment during the consecration of Thomas James Brown as the 10th Bishop of Maine when the packed cathedral sang this verse of "The Church's One Foundation" ... and it felt like a very thin place indeed.

Tho' with a scornful wonder,
we see her sore oppressed,
by schisms rent asunder, 

by heresies distressed,
yet saints their watch are keeping,
their cry goes up, "How long?"
And soon the night of weeping
shall be the morn of song.

This beloved old hymn -- which I proudly memorized all five verses in 3rd grade at Lutheran Day School and remember them all still -- was a profound reminder that the foundation of this church of ours is Jesus ... not some dogma, doctrine, council or confab. It was a reassurance that we have weathered storms in the past and will weather storms in the future -- and a moment to be grateful for the "morn of song" we had together at St. Luke's Cathedral on a beautiful June morning in Maine.

Make no mistake about it ... we have not yet "arrived at destination." We have miles to go before we rest in the work of being a church that fully lives up to former Presiding Bishop Ed Browning's dream of being a church where there would be no outcasts. And there will be nights of weeping aplenty before as we complete our journey along that arc of history that is long ... but we are promised bends toward justice.

And when  those nights come -- and they will -- I pray we'll remember morns of song like we had at St. Luke's Cathedral on Saturday June 22nd ... moments when we could feel the thin place between the world we've come from and the place we're journeying to and could feel the saints surrounding us. And I pray the gift of that morning will continue to give us strength for the journey. La lucha continua -- the struggle continues.

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