I recently had the blessing of taking part in our annual Anglican synod, a gathering of clergy and laity that meets to discuss and decide many issues relating to this part of the family of God, the Body of Christ.
We see old friends and make new ones. We propose and dispose and encourage the discouraged. We listen to one another and support one another, disciplining urges to gossip or belittle. We guard our tongues and speak in charity. All the while, as we mingle as an ecclesial family of many generations, we listen to the voice of God, his promptings. We pray and worship together in a holy communion, allowing the fire of the Holy Spirit to burn bright, inflaming our love for one another and for God’s holy Church.
These synods are times of unifying the disunity that threatens any society of human beings, be it religious, political, or cultural. We come from small and large parishes, separated by space not spirit, and it is good to see this greater network of traditional Anglicans from all over America. It is good to spend time with our leaders, both clergy and lay, who sacrifice their time on this earth for us. They give themselves freely, all for Christ’s flock, all for love of him and he in us.
Time is a terrible thing, an awe-full thing, an awesome thing. It is God’s gift, falling through the hourglass without thought to person or place. Our lives begin. All too quickly, they end. What are we to do with this precious window, this time of our life? Time passes, ticks, slips by, gone. Irretrievable.
Smell the roses, some say. Notice everything and forget nothing. And yet, with time our bodies age and our minds retreat. And so we look to the young, the next generation. What gifts can we leave for them? What can we bequeath them? What is our legacy, their inheritance, that we joyfully pass on?
At the synod last week, I watched the generations mingle. I could see the young absorbing the gifts of the old. I could see that what we elders did mattered immensely. I could see that I could be a part of this great golden chain linking us all, a rosary of souls redeeming the earth. I could mentor as I had been mentored. I was pleased that the Bishop Morse Youth Camp would be held once again, linking the generations, for Bishop Morse founded and nurtured these gatherings, bringing in young people from far and wide.
One of my mentors was the late Archbishop Morse (1923-2015). He was simple Father Morse of St. Peter’s Oakland when I first met him in 1977; I have spoken of him often in these pages. He carried the cross of Christian sacramental orthodoxy through the second half of the twentieth century and into the twenty-first. He bore it as a shepherd bears a lamb, its weight balanced over his shoulders, safe. His vision never wavered, or never appeared to, and I often thought he was listening to the voice of God, a prompting as to where to go and what to say in that time, that moment, given to him. He was ever-present in the present, and people loved his total, undivided attention. They basked in it. He taught me this – the virtue of time, the power of now.
I try and do this today, to listen, listen, listen. Distractions abound and will always dilute our present. So we practice the discipline of listening, paying attention. We are open to change, to pivoting, if required, but always within the orthodoxy of Christ’s Church.
Archbishop Morse’s spirit wove among us in the meetings last week. He was a great blessing to us in some miraculous way. Memory of his mentoring, his shepherding, embraced us. I could see him carrying his cross, his gentle and strong hold on the wooden beam resting lightly on his shoulders. I recalled how he kept his eye focused on the road ahead, a path untraveled by us but well traveled by the saints. It was a path, he knew, rocky with boulders and prickly with thorns. It was a path frequented by hungry lions and venomous snakes. We too, I thought, must do as he did. We must carry this same cross up the road, a bit further into time. We must keep our eye trained on the straight and narrow path, listening for the shepherd’s voice calling us home.
Early Friday morning, we worshiped together in the Synodical Mass at St. Joseph of Arimathea Collegiate Chapel in Berkeley. In this barrel-vaulted space, the red floor tiles shine from decades of kneeling, decades of seminarians praying for discernment of vocation, of choice, of paths forward. The tiles gleam with this devotion; the white stucco walls reflect the clerestory light from high above. On this Friday, as the clergy processed through the doorway on Durant, I was thankful. In the packed space, we sang and celebrated the gifts of Robert Sherwood Morse – this chapel, our faith in Christ, the vision of God that he showed us. The organ boomed. The people sang. Candles flamed before the St. Vladimir icon of Mary and her Son. Candles burned too on the sanctuary altar between white roses, before the simple wooden crucifix on the wall high above. The Paschal candle to the side testified to resurrection, Easter’s and ours, the flame burning not far from Bishop Morse’s episcopal chair, a chair empty since his passing into eternity.
We are all witnesses to love, to the love of God, the love of our good bishops, priests, deacons, and laity, the love of our mentors in time. This is the miracle and mystery of life in the Body of Christ. We carry our crosses along the path of love, singing with all our hearts and souls.
Read Bishop Hansen’s sermon here: The Power of Place, Synod Sermon St.Joseph’s
See video clips of the Synod Mass at St. Joseph’s: St. Joseph’s Chapel Facebook