Monday, May 19, 2008

Body Parts

an essay by John C. N. Hall

You shook my hand hard at the door of the church, leaning your face too close to mine, and waving your index finger at the corner of my eye. “Just visiting from Virginia,” you said. “I am an Anglican. Always have been. Always will!” you assured me. “I’m a cradle Episcopalian, but my Church has left me. My Church has left me. You and your church have gone too far. You have left me,” you accused.

“Nice to meet you,” I smiled. I wondered what you thought of the service we had just shared. I doubted you had really heard any of the sermon I had just preached about unity in Christ. I assumed you felt uncomfortable as you exchanged the Peace with someone in your pew. I suspected you missed the warm words of welcome I offered to all of our guests and visitors during the announcements. I thought you might have questioned the validity of the sacrament we had received, since I, a priest in this wayward church, had presided at the Eucharist.

“I’m here this week visiting my sister,” you went on. “I have left the Episcopal Church. In fact, most of my whole congregation has left,” you explained. You spoke louder, as if I couldn’t hear, and barked, “What with the bishop in New Hampshire. The new woman elected as Presiding Bishop. And now the General Convention denying Christ.” With a final squeeze of my hand you reached your crescendo, “I have left this church, but I’ll always be an Anglican!”

Your grip finally loosened and my fingers recovered as the blood-flow returned. My eyebrows rose a bit. “You’re welcome to join us for coffee and refreshments,” I said, offering a toothy smile.

Just then, your sister bumped you with her elbow as she took my hand and greeted me – another parishioner in the line at the door, another member of the Body of Christ.

I have thought of you often since then. Our encounter clings to the folds in my brain. It saddens me when one is so sure of truth that there is no alternative but to cut off the community of faithful seekers. Had you not read Saint Paul’s wonderful description of the Church as the Body of Christ, complete with eyes, ears, nose, and hands, in his first letter to Corinth? How Paul writes, “The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you’”? Why would you sever yourself from the Body? Or, why suggest we removed you?

I wanted to acknowledge before you that we are not perfect, but you wouldn’t understand. I wanted you to know that we are not all in agreement, but your mind was already made up. I wanted to suggest that there is room for questioning, but you already had all the answers. I wanted you to remain attached to the magnificent-awkward-astonishing-embarrassing-beautiful-warty-flexible-Body, created in the image of God, but you would have no part of it. Most of all, as a nose, or a kneecap, or a middle toe, or whatever I am, I wanted you to know that I need you – we need you – but you had already gone to the Coffee Hour to corner and excise another body part.