Tuesday, February 26, 2019

An Appeal to Justin Welby

27 February 2019

The Most Reverend and Right Honourable Justin Welby
The Lord Archbishop of Canterbury
Primate of All England
Lambeth Palace, London, SE1 7JU

Your Grace:

Many of us in the Episcopal Church first greeted the news of the upcoming Lambeth Conference with great excitement. When I was in England this past summer and visited Canterbury for the first time, I was deeply moved by the palpable bonds of kinship and affection created by our shared belonging to the Anglican Communion. I felt incredibly proud and connected. It was with great sadness and distress, therefore, that I read the recent statement from Dr. Josiah Idowu-Fearon, Secretary-General of the Anglican Communion, announcing that same-sex spouses of active bishops would not be invited to attend the 2020 Lambeth Conference along with opposite-sex spouses.

I am, of course, keenly aware that not all Anglicans are of the same mind on issues of human sexuality, as well as a wide range of other issues. We are living in an age, however, in which the Church stands largely discredited among the people to whom we are called to bring the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Having often found ourselves on the wrong side of history, the Church has developed a reputation for being prejudiced, retrograde, and oppressive, a reputation that, I fear, is well justified. How are we to look people in the eye and say that our God is a God of love, and the Bible is the divinely inspired container of God’s loving Word, when the leaders of the Anglican Communion countenance and perpetuate the homophobia and discrimination that hurts so many LGBTQ members of our Christian family? How are we to defend the Church against the legitimate claims of outmoded and pharisaical legalism?

I know that you, like I, take seriously St. Paul’s affirmation in his Epistle to the Galatians (Gal. 3:28-29) that “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. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise.” Are LGBTQ people not also heirs of Christ’s promise, Your Grace? I came to the Episcopal Church in 2004 after having wandered for twenty years in a spiritual wilderness following a traumatic departure from the Judaism of my upbringing. I fell in love with the Anglican form of Christianity, because I witnessed in Holy Scripture and experienced in the embodied life of the Church a Jesus who loved and fully included the poor, the marginalized, and the rejected without any qualification and in defiance of the religious and civil authorities of his time. And I fell so in love with Jesus that I have dedicated my life to him as a priest.

The Sunday lectionary recently included the Sermon on the Plain from the Gospel of Luke, in which Our Lord says, “blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets” (Lk 6:22-23). Our Lord did not judge us worthy of being hated, excluded, or reviled. Must we wait for heaven to see our Lord’s promise of inclusion fulfilled? Are we to be bullied, as the prophets were, by people who are ignorant and frightened by the ongoing revelation of God’s truth, as Our Lord said in the Gospel of John:

“I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come” (John 16:12-13).

God is speaking to the world; but many do not want to listen. As the spiritual head of the world’s 85 million Anglicans and Episcopalians, Your Grace, please guide me: what am I to tell my flock? When the chips are down, and we have to choose what is just and what is expedient, how am I supposed to defend the Anglican Communion? Must I tell my LGBTQ folks that Cantuar believes them to be expendable, or will I be able to say with pride that you and other Anglican leaders stood up for them? I hold out the deepest hope that you will take a courageous stand and echo the resolute words of the Most Rev’d Edmond Lee Browning, 24th Presiding Bishop and Primate of the Episcopal Church, who said “I want to be very clear – this church of ours is open to all – there will be no outcasts – the convictions and hopes of all will be honored.”

I have great compassion for the very difficult situation in which your find yourself, Your Grace, in trying to keep the Anglican Communion together, as did your predecessors in office. I will pray for you in love for the formidable vocation which has been entrusted to you, as I hope you will pray and advocate for all those who have been materially harmed by the Church’s exclusionary policies. With this in mind, I implore you to consider adopting the fairer and more equitable policy of inviting no spouses of active bishops to the Lambeth Conference, if you do not feel you can invite the same-sex spouses. This would at least mitigate the sting of our continued exclusion from full membership in the Church at the highest levels. It would remind me and others of why we are still proud to be Anglicans.

I thank you, Your Grace, for your consideration of my comments. I wish you and all of our family in the Church of England and the Anglican Communion a transformative Lent.

Your humble servant in Christ,

The Rev’d Ethan Alexander Jewett, SCP
VIII Rector, St. Helena’s Episcopal Church, Burr Ridge, Illinois
Episcopal Diocese of Chicago
The Episcopal Church

Saturday, February 23, 2019

Bless Those Who Curse You

Last Sunday, Deacon Daryce and Deacon Miguel led us in reciting the Litany in the Wake of a Mass Shooting to commemorate the victims of the 38 mass shootings in our nation's recent history, including the one last Friday in Aurora, IL. Many people said what a moving and overwhelming experience it was to bring to mind so much wanton violence within the context of the church's worship.

This week's readings likewise address a variety of human tragedies. The reading from Genesis recounts Joseph and the Israelites' want during a period of famine. The psalm acknowledges human anxiety in the face of wickedness. The epistle reading from 1 Corinthians confronts head-on the reality of physical death and the promise of resurrection. And finally, our Gospel reading from Luke offers encouragement to those who are the victims of persecution and oppression.

In each case, the author tells us not to lose heart; because the moment we give up on hope and goodness, evil wins. The way we vanquish wickedness is by being kind and loving ourselves, by not letting ourselves be corrupted by the influences that destroy God's creation. If we rely on God to sustain and support us in the midst of adversity, if we follow God's guidance for a virtuous life, we will bring more joy, peace, justice, and mercy into the world to defy the evil forces that separate us from God and each other. By being faithful to the teachings of Jesus, we will offering the best, most effective resistance to the powers of darkness.

Abundant blessings,
Fr. Ethan+

Friday, February 15, 2019

A Blessed Sacrifice

Lent will be upon us in a few weeks, and sacrifice will be a key theme of the season, as you will see in the Lenten news items below. I realize that sacrifice is not a popular concept, because it communicates suffering and deprivation. But the fact of the matter is that in this Sunday's Gospel reading from Luke, Jesus openly acknowledges the reality of human suffering in the world. Jesus never tries to avoid talking about difficult things, like sacrifice.

In his "Sermon on the Plain," like his "Sermon on the Mount" in the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus heals the sick and addreses a large crowd of people to offer them comfort and hope in the midst of their very real suffering. Recalling the words of the prophet Isaiah, Jesus assures the poor and downtrodden that their suffering will not be eternal, and that the wealthy and powerful will cease to enjoy their undeserved privileges. What Jesus is doing here is reminding everyone--rich and poor alike--of God's mercy and justice.

But we will not be passive observers of God's mercy and justice, Jesus teaches us, but rather, the agents of that mercy and justice. We are preparing for the Lenten season when we will be asked to repent, to "turn back" toward the path of God's mercy and justice, to mete it out to those we meet, and to embrace them as our fundamental values, the values that will drive our thoughts, words, and deeds. As followers of Jesus, we are called to a good kind of sacrifice by risking something precious of ourselves to alleviate the suffering of others. By denying ourselves on occasion, we make room for the other, that he or she may have enough, too. The Lenten disciplines of fasting, almsgiving, and prayer are intended to teach us to make due with less, so that others might enjoy relief from suffering, have full bellies, and find cause to laugh and rejoice.

Abundant blessings,
Fr. Ethan+

Friday, February 8, 2019

Candles, Throats, and Confirmation

This week's reading from Paul's First Letter to the Corinthians emphasizes the faith in Christ that Paul received, which he has in turn passed on to them. He gives a very short summary of the foundational beliefs of Christianity, or as the Jesus movement was originally known, "The Way." The Church has a word for this handing on of the faith from one generation to the next, paradosis. It is a sacred process that continues to this day.

Last Sunday was an abundant example of paradosis with the full panoply of ancient rituals that embody that faith that Paul is describing to his friends in Corinth. Our Candlemas Masses in English and Spanish included festive processions with banners, lit candles, and incense to remember the presentation of the infant Jesus by his parents in the Temple, a ritual in which they offered their first-born son to God's service in observance of Israelite tradition. We also blessed throats to commemorate the Feast of St. Blaise, a fourth-century martyr, bishop, and patron saint of illnesses of the throat to ask for God's protection from sickness over the coming year. In the Spanish liturgy, we blessed a statue of the Christ child and placed him on the altar, followed by a wonderful feast of tamales.

Christian communities across the ages and throughout the world have enshrined rituals and traditions like these to give substance to their faith in Christ. In March, we will enact another series of rituals to mark the solemn season of Lent: the imposition of ashes, walking the stations of the Cross, and the intense liturgies of Holy week, among many others. We will also be fortunate to greet our bishop, the Rt. Rev'd Jeffrey Lee, on the Second Sunday in Lent, when we will confirm and receive people into the Episcopal Church. In this very moving ceremony, the bishop will very visibly pass on to new Christians and Episcopalians the faith of which he is the steward, as the successor of Paul and the other apostles. This Sunday, I will preach on the sacrament of confirmation and offer some thoughts on how we might understand it within the larger scope of our daily life as Christians.

Abundant blessings,
Fr. Ethan.