February 4, 2017, William Jay Lambert, Bishop of Eau Claire
Dear Family and Friends of the Episcopal Diocese of Eau Claire,
For some time I have wanted to write you regarding the current political climate in our nation. Regardless of how each of us voted back in November, we can all acknowledge that we are going through a period of significant transition. There is an East Asian proverb that says change brings both danger and opportunity. On what basis do we point to danger or proclaim opportunity? Change forces us to examine our values as a primary foundation for appropriate response. Reassessing our values is a good thing, so change while uncomfortable is not necessarily bad. I have had difficulty writing an appropriate article on this topic. Yesterday, I read Father Mike Greene’s article from the Cathedral Spirit. The Spirit is Christ Church Cathedral’s newsletter. I found his writing very helpful. I hope you will as well. As he indicates, the Church has a definite role in encouraging healthy dialog. The call for us to listen to one another in respectful tones is part of Christian reconciliation. Supporting or challenging various governmental officials or policies should also be appropriately measured by the Baptismal Covenant of pages 304 and 305 of our Book of Common Prayer. I hope you will read or listen to Father Greene’s article and use it as a basis for discussion either informally or as part of an adult class in your congregation. With my love and best wishes, I am,
Your brother in Christ,
William Jay Lambert, Bishop of Eau Claire
February 3, 2017, The Very Reverend Michael Greene
Dean, Christ Church Cathedral, Eau Claire, Wisconsin
Dear Cathedral Family and Friends
Like most of you, I have been watching the political news lately, with a certain amount of trepidation and a great deal of concern. I know that this concern is shared by a great many in our congregation, as many of you have spoken to me about it and have urged me to speak more openly about it. This concern has been articulated in a number of different ways, but it has been clear since last summer that there is an increasing fear about the direction and level of our civic discourse, our moral standards, and a lot of questions about how faithfully to follow Jesus during divisive and confusing times. Things are tense, and tense times necessarily involve questions of our spirituality and our faith. Since election season, I have gotten a lot of phone calls from people who are in need of spiritual counsel, almost five times the usual number. Fear has been the most consistent source of spiritual trouble in these conversations: fear of change, fear of division, fear of war, fear of authoritarianism. Many people have had their worldview radically challenged, and the question of who to believe and what to do next are questions that loom large in the minds of many of our neighbors. They are looking to the Church for comfort, for solidarity, for leadership. They are in need of our ministry. They are in need of Jesus, and they are looking for him.
There is good news in the midst of all this confusion and strife. Our mission as the Church has not changed. We are still bound by our Baptismal Covenant to do the work that God is, and always has been, calling us to do here. Christ is still present with us, filling us with his Spirit to be his hands, and heart, and voice in the world; and so fear should be the farthest thing from our minds. We were always called to be examples of charity, mercy, forgiveness, and ethical living, in a world which doesn’t seem to give much value to these things — that has not changed. We were always called to be outsiders, protesting against the unjust and un-Christ-like examples the world sets before us, prophetically proclaiming a different path than the way of the world — that has not changed. We were always called to call all of our brothers and sisters to lay down their grievances and come together in reconciliation and mutual repentance, breaking down the walls that separate us from one another and from God — that has not changed. The only thing that has changed is perhaps our own consciences are urging us to live that call more genuinely, and perhaps people from outside our community are looking to us more than usual.
Of all the people who have expressed concern, or urged action, there are two very clear messages that have arisen from the congregation. As I said before, they have been articulated in a variety of ways, and with different emphases. I believe that these messages are prophetic gifts of the Holy Spirit, given to the hearts of the faithful people here, for the benefit of us all.
The first message is that we must stand together. Division is the work of the devil. Jesus warns that a house divided against itself cannot stand. The work of the Church is to build all of us up into the one Body of Christ. The sacraments that we celebrate and honor are symbols and tokens of our unity in Christ. We pray that Christ will increase our unity, not limit it. The atomization of the individual, making one feel that he or she is isolated or alone, forsaken or abandoned is therefore anti-sacramental and anti-Christian. Torture in any form is anti-Christian. Intentionally proclaiming falsehoods that are intended to divide or mislead are anti-Christian. Cutting someone down because of their beliefs is anti-sacramental and anti-Christian. We are called instead to persist in standing together, working together, and growing together, even when the world around us is full of those who would divide us with falsehoods, even when the world around us is busy with torture and enslavement and contempt. How can we do this? How do we stand together in the face of such things? The answer is simple. Show up. Don’t allow yourself to become isolated or atomized, but participate fully in the life of the Church. Make it a priority. Come together and talk to God and to one another. If you’re feeling ill at ease, we have a sanctuary of peace; if you are full of fear, let your love of your brothers and sisters, and your service of them quash it. If you feel the Spirit is calling us to stand together, you are right. The easiest way to respond to that call is to come to church, and pray with others, and invite them to pray with you. We’re open every day.
The second message is that we must do the right thing — we must act. Paying mere lip service to God is no kind of faith, warns Jesus, actions speak louder than words. We must reach outside of the walls of our church to help those who are marginalized, excluded, and victimized. This is the same challenge that we have always had, and we are always at work to figure out just what it is that God has called us to do. We do this primarily by listening to one another. This is the work the Church calls ‘Discernment’ — listening for the directing and guiding voice of God in our conversations with one another. This discernment has been going on for millennia, and we have a record of much of it in the scriptures. So when we gather together, we focus ourselves on listening to the voice of God first in scripture, and then we tune our ears to hear it in the stories of others. We deliberately make space for the noise of the world around us to die down so that we can immerse ourselves in silence and peace in order to do our best listening. We practice this listening so that when we go back out into the noise, we can still hope to hear the voice of God calling us. In a particularly important example in the current environment — scripture calls us to care for the refugee, the orphan and the outcast as one of its central themes. We have discerned together that an important part of our ministry is to host and work in deep partnership with the Literacy Volunteers of Chippewa Valley, who work extensively, but not exclusively with refugees and outsiders. In the wider church, Episcopal Migration Ministries has helped to relocate thousands of people in the past fifteen years alone. These things are done not because we have the permission or mandate from the powers of the world, but rather because God is calling us to do them. If you feel that God is calling us to commit to any particular action or ministry, then you must find a way to give voice to that feeling in the congregation. It is a challenge to quiet the voice of your own ego and will, but it is necessary to do so that you don’t distort or color the message that God has given to the congregation and the world through you. God has already been preparing the hearts of your brothers and sisters with the same message, and if you can pass it on faithfully, you will find that it catches on and grows. If instead, you pass on a message of self-interest, desperation, or discord, people find reasons not to follow through on your ideas.
There it is: We are called to stand together. We are called do the right thing. This is Christ Church Cathedral’s moment to shine. If we are faithful and diligent in offering ourselves and in listening to one another, people will see what we do and what we strive to do as balm for their souls, a relief from their angst and upset, oil on the troubled waters of our times. They will see Jesus at work in the world even today.
The Very Reverend Michael Greene
Dean, Christ Church Cathedral, Eau Claire, Wisconsin