By Douglas LeBlanc
Friends of The Living Church packed into an upstairs room designed for 175 people to hear Episcopal leaders speak of their faith and how it affects their work. Speakers at the July 6 Conversation on the Church, which convened at the Adobo Grill near the Indiana Convention Center, sat beneath a bright yellow wall decorated with a vivid crucifix in the style of Mexico’s Día de los Muertos holiday.
The panelists were mostly from higher education: the Rev. Michael B. Cover, a doctoral student at the University of Notre Dame; the Very Rev. Thomas Ferguson, dean of Bexley Hall; the Rev. Canon Mark Harris of the Diocese of Delaware; the Rev. Canon Victoria Heard of the Diocese of Dallas; Steven Horst of Wesleyan University; the Rt. Rev. Daniel H. Martins, Bishop of Springfield; the Rev. Ruth Meyers of Church Divinity School of the Pacific; and the Very Rev. George Sumner, principal of Wycliffe College, Toronto.
Canon Harris had to leave early because of his duties on General Convention’s World Mission Committee, which is discussing the proposed Anglican Covenant. He praised his experience on that committee as a model of what it means to be Christians in the Episcopal Church: “I think the business of struggling with people we disagree with is not a bad idea.” Such struggle, he said, cuts through surface conflicts and leads to deeper discussion.
The remaining panelists spoke with a simplicity and directness encouraged by questions from Christopher Wells of TLC: their favorite books of the Bible, their favorite theologians, their concept of mission.
The discussion became most lively, however, when turning to the charisms of Anglicanism and the importance of creating new congregations:
Sumner: Apostolicity, catholicity, recognizability.
Martins: “I think Anglicanism is kind of an accident. … God is an opportunist, and exploits human mistakes. … God is in the business of redeeming mistakes.”
Heard: A Pauline understanding of grace, which Roman Catholicism embraced 400 years later.
Horst: Grasping that there are truths in life that we cannot fully understand.
Meyers: “I have come to appreciate more deeply the ties that we have through historical accidents and through baptism.”
Cover: Anglicanism “presents a Catholic possibility, and it’s only a possibility.”
Ferguson: “Anglicanism may have run its course. … The fact is that Anglicanism is constantly reinventing itself as a new way of being Catholic.”
Canon Heard had an immediate response to the question “How do we plant churches?”: “As often as possible.”
Some dioceses have no memory of creating new churches, Heard said, adding: “Less than 5 percent of new suburbs have Episcopal churches in them. That should scare us.”
“We don’t know how to think of Christians as being anything other than the privileged majority,” Bishop Martins said. “If people who walk off the street unformed are not baffled and repulsed by the Eucharist, we’re probably not doing it right.”
Horst said that if he speaks with someone about Jesus and that person feels most at home in a Baptist church, “It’s a good day’s work.”