Occasional thoughts of an Anglican Episcopal priest

We Are One . . . NOT! – From the Daily Office – June 4, 2014

From the Letter to the Ephesians:

There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.

(From the Daily Office Lectionary – Ephesians 4:4-6 (NRSV) – June 4, 2014)

Fractured SocietyHere is another piece of Paul’s writing that the Episcopal Church has lifted out of the bible and plugged into The Book of Common Prayer. It is used as the opening dialog of the church’ baptismal service. After a seasonally appropriate greeting, the presider and people converse:

Celebrant — There is one Body and one Spirit;
People — There is one hope in God’s call to us;
Celebrant — One Lord, one Faith, one Baptism;
People — One God and Father of all.
(BCP 1979, page 301)

I must confess that every time I engage in this dialog I am reminded of, and (almost) have to stop myself from singing, a particularly bad example of the sort of music the church produced in the late 1960s, a song entitled We Are One in the Spirit:

We are One in The Spirit,
We are One in The Lord.
We are One in The Spirit,
We are One in The Lord.
And we pray that all unity may one day be restored.
[Chorus]
And they’ll know we are Christians by our love,
By our Love,
Yes they’ll know we are Christians by our love.
(©Peter Scholte 1966)

I don’t think that song is bad musically: the tune is catchy; the accompaniment is rather easy; congregations (even those who don’t read music) can pick it up quickly and sing it with gusto. What’s bad about the song is that it’s what I would call ecclesio-narcissistic: it’s all about us! There’s not a single word of praise for God, of thanksgiving, of intercession or petition. It’s all “we are” . . . “we will” . . . we we we: “aren’t we great?” As if we are capable of attaining unity on our own . . . . which is, thank heaven, not the overt message of the baptismal service (although it may be its implication).

Unity, however, is not something human beings seem capable of achieving unaided, especially not the unity-in-diversity which is supposed to be the hallmark of the Christian church. Remember, Paul again: “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” (Gal 3:28)

This is also supposed to be the strength of the United States. We are supposed to be the great “melting pot” society, a nation of immigrants coming together not around ethnicity or some other ancient exclusive and divisive characteristic but around notions of freedom and justice. But just look at us! Torn apart by wing-nut ideologies on both Right and Left. We can’t even be united about the retrieval of an American soldier from enemy hands: I believe that every American, regardless of their politics, should be overjoyed that Bowe Bergdahl is out of Taliban captivity. But that ain’t so . . . and it isn’t so because, left to our own devices (and now we have so many of them) we not only can’t achieve unity, we revel in our fractured disunity. (A friend whose politics are on the Left published a Facebook link to what she call an “epic rant” on this subject, and it is something. Although politically I agree with its premise, as a Christian American I’m saddened by the witness it makes to our brokenness. I’m sure there are equally visceral rants from the Right; I just haven’t seen them. For any who want to read it, here is the link, Stonekettle Station. A word of warning: it’s heated, it’s vulgar, and it’s long.)

In a recent conversation with some members of my parish’s Altar Guild about attending funerals and weddings in other denominations, one of the ladies asked why some (particularly the Roman Catholic Church and the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod) exclude non-members from Holy Communion. As we explored the meaning of the Eucharist, I suggested that (among other reasons) it might be because in such churches Communion is seen as a sacrament of unity achieved while in the Episcopal Church it is considered a sacrament of unity hoped for. If it is the former, then someone not a part of that “unity” is not welcome; if it is the latter, then everyone who comes seeking Christ, whether member or not, is accepted at the Table.

This can be, should be the churches’ great witness to a fractured secular society, that unity is possible through the grace of God, “who is above all and through all and in all.” Alas, in our fracture ecclesial state, contrary to that ecclesio-narcissistic song, we are unable to make that witness. We are not one! Although we keep hoping . . . .

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Father Funston is the rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Medina, Ohio.

1 Comment

  1. Rob Scot

    Though I like the song generally, I agree with your criticism of it. I’ve also always disliked the verse, “And we’ll guard each man’s dignity and save each man’s pride.” I get what it’s attempting to convey, the worth and value of each human, and I don’t disagree with that at all, but no matter what positive connotation one means to attach to the word “pride” I can’t get past the feeling that it is the root of all vice.

    “As we explored the meaning of the Eucharist, I suggested that (among other reasons) it might be because in such churches Communion is seen as a sacrament of unity achieved while in the Episcopal Church it is considered a sacrament of unity hoped for.”
    That’s a helpful insight. Though I tend to think of the Eucharist as a sacrament of “the unity of the Church of God that is a perpetual fact”, as William Temple phrased it. I don’t think we should seek to downplay or disregard the scandal of our sad divisions, but I do believe that there remains always a profound unity in Christ, despite our institutional segregation and doctrinal disputes.
    Peace.

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