Sunday, April 08, 2007
Church of the Annunciation, New Orleans
When a group of us from the Church of the Resurrection, Franklin, Tennessee, were in New Orleans working with the Church of the Annunciation the other week, there was a crew from PBS there doing some coverage of this and a Methodist church in another part of the city.
Jerry Kramer, Rector of Annunciation, has just sent me the link to the program, and it gives a very fair idea of the challenges that are still facing our brothers and sisters in Christ down there in what was once the Big Easy but what is now a big mess that is taking a very long time to rehabilitate. The mindset in the video gives an idea why folks from Resurrection, Franklin, are already eager to go back to support Annunciation in the near future.
You can find the text and the video that PBS aired today on their Religion and Ethics program at http://www.pbs.org/wnet/religionandethics/week1032/cover.html#, and be ready to be challenged.
The years that I have spent ministering in the Episcopal Church have been a mixture of agony and ecstasy -- in recent years there has been more of the former than the latter. However, the images that nourish me as I look back on my thirty-one years as a priest of the Episcopal Church are less those of garbled theology and confused ethics, ecclesiastical politics that are out of control, and a seemingly endless procession of specious bishops who wrapped themselves in today's chaotic zeitgeist, and more those of which this little video is a sample.
Jerry Kramer, and his wife, Stacy, are, in effect, saying that what is before us is not about the declining institution that is the Episcopal Church, but is about the Kingdom of God. They haven't got time to play the messy game of church politics in order to get their own way regardless of the consequences, rather they are dealing with issues of life and death. They and their colleagues and congregation are an example of those who are prepared to minister faithfully in the hardest place and not to give up, even when the going gets tough. This gives us a pretty fair reflection of what the Gospel is all about.
Most of those pushing agendas in the Episcopal Church today are saying that the Christian faith is about me, my preferences, or the concerns of my particular bias or pressure group. This is in contrast to the faithful, bold witness of the likes of the Kramers who are saying, "No, there is much more at stake here -- people's lives and people's souls, and we are called to stand with them and help rebuild this place in Jesus' name. We surrender personal preference in favor of serving Christ our Lord."
Actually, from my many years of experience there are a good few such folks in the church with the same determination to faithfully serve Christ, but most of them do not find themselves in the sort of circumstances that the Kramers are, and able to get media attention. Nevertheless, they get on and do what is required regardless.
The people in New Orleans have been pushed into a situation where the option was to launch out into the deep of faith or go out of business. Dozens and dozens of churches in New Orleans already have, and more will follow, Episcopal congregations among them. What Annunciation is seeking to do is more than rebuild a congregation in a marginal area of a devastated city. They believe the Good News is about the people of the Church of the Annunciation rolling up their sleeves and getting on with the work of rebuilding, organizing, and being a beacon of hope amidst so much devastation -- whether the television cameras are there or not.
These and many life them are the true faces of the Episcopal Church, and are building as Paul put it, not with that which is transitory, but that which reflects the eternal. The Apostles said, "For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw-- each one's work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done"(1 Corinthians 3:11-13)
In Christ's name I honor them, give thanks for them, and ask that I might be able to emulate their faithfulness.