by the Rev. Mary Lee Wile, Deacon
St. Paul’s, Brunswick
My very first auditory memory involves lying on the wooden pew in St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church in Evanston, Illinois, listening to the sound of the liturgy wash over me. I’ve spent my life as an Episcopalian, and now serve as a deacon here in our diocese, so you’d think I would have a pretty good sense of what the Episcopal Church is all about.
But I have to admit that my understanding has been stretched and liberated and challenged and energized, first though taking part in General Convention this summer, and then by attending the recent Installation of Michael Curry as our 27th Presiding Bishop. In his sermon at the National Cathedral, Bishop Curry said: “God has not given up on the world, and God is not finished with the Episcopal Church.” I would add that he made it clear that God is not finished with any of us as individuals, either.
The comfortable, crowded suburban church of my childhood gave me a solid grounding. I think of my participation in that church as a safe, meandering journey to the center of a labyrinth. Standing in the line that wrapped itself around the National Cathedral on the morning of the Installation, I thought again of that image of a labyrinth, this time with the Installation itself as the center – the centerpiece – before we would all head back out into our own separate lives, challenged and changed. To mix metaphors, the Cathedral breathed us in, held us, and breathed us out again.
What was so exciting was knowing, even as it was happening, that in that center, in that held breath, the Episcopal Church was being reborn. As Bishop Curry said, “The Spirit has done evangelism and reconciliation work through us before. And the Spirit of God can do it again, in new ways, now beyond the doors of our church buildings, out in the world, in the sanctuary of the streets, in our 21st Century Galilee where the Risen Christ has already gone ahead of us.”
That was his challenge. That is our call: of course to stay grounded in this Church that we love, but to take our love of God and our decision to follow Jesus out into “the sanctuary of the streets.” He spoke with passionate eloquence about evangelism — not a comfortable word for a lot of Episcopalians, he admitted, but an evangelism that involves “sharing good news…deeply grounded in the love of God…listening and learning…helping others find their way to a relationship with God without trying to control the outcome.” In other words, we’re not to try to “catch” or “create” more Episcopalians, but to follow Jesus and serve our neighbor, and leave the rest to God.
I loved being there, surrounded by thousands of Episcopalians as well as ecumenical and interfaith leaders (and members of the press, hanging over high balconies), singing together, praying together, and sensing a seismic shift as this extroverted, passionate, evangelical bishop became our 27th Presiding Bishop. As a deacon, I’d been delighted by his focus on the word “GO!” in his sermon at General Convention, his injunction to go into the world beyond our red doors to share our good news and take compassionate action. With the Most Rev. Michael Curry as our leader, our encourager, our role model, more of us might just do that.
(And that’s what he and I were talking about after the service – “go” – be willing to make the journey out of the labyrinth – go out and share the good news. – And in case you can’t tell, I think Michael Curry’s leadership of the Episcopal Church is good news, indeed!)