Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Greetings in Christ. This pastoral letter is the bookend for the recent period of reflection on General Convention Resolution B012. Please make it available to your parishioners this Epiphanytide.
Who are we as the Episcopal Diocese of Dallas? Every Sunday we stand together in Church and say, "We believe in the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church." When we say this, we are affirming that we are Communion Christians, koinonia believers. We define ourselves by whom we are:
together by grace and adoption with the eternal life of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, known through God's Word.
together with the apostolic inheritance of the faith, as symbolized by the bishop.
together with the Anglican Communion throughout the world.
together with fellow Episcopalians in patience, charity, and humility.
together at the altar as a 'priestly nation' through the gift of Prayer Book spirituality.
together in hope and baptism with fellow Christians of all denominations.
together with the generation to come as witnesses and teachers.
together in solidarity and the divine image with all races and nations, especially as we serve the suffering and vulnerable.
together in care and groaning with all of God's fellow creatures.
together with that far wider communion, with saints and angels, with loved ones on that further shore, with that innumerable throng, with whom we too shall stand in glory.
The aftermath of General Convention 2018 has involved some uncertainty, debate, and differences among our parishes. While I believe we have worked through this period without anger or rancor, three of our parishes have opted for alternative Episcopal oversight. At one of my last vestry visits, a member said it was easier to explain oneself as a straight-forward progressive Episcopalian, or as an Anglican who has left; but being a traditional Episcopalian takes more work to explain! It is important to say not only what we aren't, but what we are, and to do so clearly and compellingly. This short essay aims to do just that. It also aims to express a shared identity for all who remain under the oversight of the See of Dallas.
First, however, a word about the time and place we live in may be in order. Ours is a culture of individualism, in spite of which, and because of which, we long for a lost togetherness, human solidarity. At the same time, we minister as divided denominations of the one body of Christ. It is significant that the most robust reflection on ecumenism in this era has centered on the theme of koinonia,Greek for Christian fellowship.
In this spirit I offer a definition of our shared identity as Episcopalians in terms of whom we are with, of the web of relations in which we exist. I offer the affirmations of who we are together. Think of these affirmations not as inventions of mine, but as explications of our standing together in church and confessing the Creed in unison, and in particular the line in which we describe our church life as "...one, holy, catholic, and apostolic... ." How is this so, since we seem divided, worldly, often parochial, and self-directed?
Faith in the church begins as a grateful reception of our koinonia with the Triune God, about whom the Creed foremost speaks. Note also that our togetherness concludes in the widest imaginable way, in the kingdom of heaven itself. In the middle, we offer five communities with whom we are together. Some we share with all other Christians, which others are particular to us as Anglicans. Also note that questions of church teaching fall under the heading of our apostolic inheritance. This counsels patience and unity even in times of debate and testing for which this definition leaves room. I am grateful for our clergy whose view of the question of marriage differs from mine, but who hold to the gratitude, patience, and sense of solidarity valorized here. By this they show an appreciation of the purpose and meaning of the episcopate.
Finally, our 'togetherness' definition offers three wider communities in whose life we share - the coming generation, the diversity of humankind, and the creation. We rejoice in our own Presiding Bishop's corresponding advocacy of evangelism, racial reconciliation, and creation care.
This description of our common life has a direct connection to our sacramental life. Obviously, we as Communion people are Eucharistic people: our togetherness with Christ is celebrated every Sunday at the table of our Lord in our churches. Our baptismal liturgy, opens with these words from Ephesians 4: "There is one Body and one Spirit; there is one hope in God's call to us." Our togetherness with the apostles is symbolized by the bishop; our togetherness at the altar by the priest; our togetherness with this suffering world by the deacon. But these are gospel truths that pertain to all of us joined with one another and with Christ as the Body.
Questions naturally occur to us. Why are so many of our statements of relational identity not unique to us? Because nothing is more Anglican than leading with Mere Christianity, (C.S. Lewis). But isn't much of this observed in the breach? Yes indeed, for the Church is a broken pot whose glory is not in itself but in the treasure it contains (II Corinthians 4:7). At our best, we are most ourselves reaching out beyond ourselves to different cultures in mission, to sibling Churches, to those who still yearn for God, to creation. But doesn't a self-understanding, based on togetherness make us depend on others? Indeed, for such is the life of forgiven, mortal, social creatures such as we are.
The Rt. Rev. George R. Sumner
Bishop, The Episcopal Diocese of Dallas