Saturday, March 17, 2007

St. Patrick's Day Then & Now

From Lesser Feasts and Fasts: Patrick was born into a Christian family somewhere on the northeast coast of Britain in about 390. When Patrick was about sixteen, he was captured by a band of Irish slave-raiders. He was carried off to Ireland and forced to serve as a shepherd. When he was about twenty-one, he escaped and returned to Britain, where he took holy orders both as a presbyter and bishop. A vision then called him to return to Ireland…

In my day school chaplain days, every time I told this story to the kids gathered for morning chapel I would pause at this point and ask them if they could imagine that … IMAGINE what kind of vision it must have been to convince Patrick to go BACK to the place – to the people – who had held him captive in order to bring them the good news of God in Christ Jesus. For of course we remember Patrick as the great evangelist whose missionary journeys spread Christianity all over Ireland – and today we celebrate his life and ministry AND the vision that sent him back to Ireland -- which is why we wear green to school today and eat corned beef and cabbage for dinner tonight. (And one of the mysteries of life I've yet to figure out is how corned beef got to be an icon for evangelism but there it is!)

In 2003 I was in New York City on my way out to meetings on Long Island along with a train full of revelers returning from the annual St. Patrick's Day parade. One of those revelers was a NYPD officer who had sprained his ankle marching in the parade and was heading home for an icepack and some Advil. I must have been traveling in my collar because the conversation turned to church stuff and I found myself telling him about my ministry – at the time I was the Executive Director of Claiming the Blessing – and about the work we were doing in the Episcopal Church. He had been raised an Irish Catholic – and his partner was Puerto Rican – and it had never occurred to either of them that there might be a church where they would be welcome.

We talked some more and exchanged cards and I promised to email some folks to connect with and he said, sprained ankle notwithstanding, that he felt like running into me on the train was a St. Patrick's Day dose of the luck of the Irish. And when we came to his stop and he stood up to limp off the train, he took the big, green plastic shamrock from around his neck and gave it to me. And he told me to remember there were plenty of other people like him out there who needed to hear what we had to say about a church that welcomed everybody and that I should take some of his Irish luck with me for the work in front of me. And I still have it.

And it reminds me every time I see it of the New York cop who is part of the mission field out there longing for the good news we have to offer – yearning to know that the "Episcopal Church Welcomes You" signs really means him.

And here we are in 2007 -- a church continuing to wrestle with whether or not it is going to fulfill its commitment to the "full and equal claim" promised the gay and lesbian baptized since 1976. On this particular St. Patrick's Day I believe asking gay and lesbian Episcopalians to hang in there and continue to take the vision of a Body of Christ that fully includes all the baptized BACK to the church that still holds their vocations and relationships hostage is almost as hard to imagine as asking Patrick to go evangelize the Irish who enslaved him.

And yet that's the vision we've been given – that's the call we have received.

Our witness of God's inclusive love is not just a witness to the presence of the holy in our lives and our relationships and our vocations but a witness to the power of God's love to transcend ANYTHING that holds us captive or enslaves us. So let's remember on this St. Patrick's Day that the same God who inspired a former captive named Patrick to return to his captors and evangelize them in the 4th century is working in us as we work to call this church and this communion to wholeness in the 21st.
And let's remember that it is that power working in us that can do infinitely more than we can ask for or imagine. And then let's get on with the work we have been given to do. (After we have a little corned beef and cabbage!)

Happy St. Patrick's Day!


Ann said...

There some lessons about hanging in from the civil rights struggle - that went on for generations with no sign of ending and even now is not finshed. A powerful witness to this is Bernice Johnson Reagon (of Sweet Honey in the Rock fame) - her presentatioin to Trinity Institute this year. Click here to listen.

Unknown said...

What an excellent post, and something our brothers and sisters need to hear. we have been called to evangalize -- the great commission. to leave the church now, over this seeming setback, would be to turn our backs on that commission.

this past summer I spent time walking the land of Slemish where Patrick wasa slave. Reading your post, i could see that landscape of mountain and valley -- we are just in the little valley at the bottom of Slemish now. The road lies open before us -- we just have to keep walking up the mountain!

Anonymous said...

This can be a useful metaphor for some TBLG folks in the church, but there is another way to look at Patrick, too.

Those in Ireland for whom he returned were not members of the Roman church, as he was. In returning to the land of his captives, he was taking the message of God's love to those who were outside the church.

Some today may be called to work for reform within the Episcopal Church, much like Martin Luther tried with the Roman church. Others may find that being associated with an institution that chooses to discriminate against gay people is a barrier to evangelizing those who desperately need to hear the Good News of God's inclusive love. They may discern that they are called to continue their journey apart from TEC until she chooses to once again join them on the path of inclusion.

Anonymous said...

"Would you go back to the place where you were a slave, at risk to your life, because you think you can bring good to the lives of your captors and make them better people?"- that's the question I ask my public school 4th graders. Most of them say yes.

Snakes, leprechauns, banshees and 3&4 leaf clovers get their time (all done in brogue), but I also include how the Irish potato famine led to a belief in the government responsibility to help out which is why they have free lunches.

Last I explain the flag as a symbol made in a time of "troubles" calling for peace between the orange and the green, a plan for the future, something to live into.

They get it.

JimB said...

"Preach it!" as our Baptist friends say.


David@Montreal said...

Thank- you Susan for this reminder that what's happening in our communion right now is about a lot more than just the full and glorious birthright of our LGBT sisters and brothers.
Even we are being called out of our fearfulness to God's greater glory.
Thank-you Susan, once again. Your St. Patrick'd post is right up there with +Gene's 'Word of Hope' posted on this same site as one of the great acts of witness in all this noise and confusion

Anonymous said...

We have come to far to give up now. I look forward to May 12,2007 (Confirmation Day at All Saints Pasadena CA), I will be received or welcomed into the Episcopal Church. We love all at are church, heavy, small, tall, funny, sassy, fussy, calm, excited, old, young, green, blue. We are Christians and they will know us by our love. Oh, I happen to be a human being, gay, hispanic, American, Veteran of the Vietnam Era, and have always loved God and I know, I go to a church where we truly love all and do the walk not just the talk. And let us forigive Luna as she has not learned how to read yet (otherwise she would not have chewed the Lenten booklet), my 14 yr. old kittygirl is right here while I type she thinks she is a real girl.