This past summer, I joined my 14-year-old son, Isaac, in a hot, dusty field outside Georgetown, Texas. He was competing at part of the U.S. Junior National Team in the World Space Modeling Championships. I had no idea what to expect. I’ve been to international church gatherings, but never anything like this. It was a truly remarkable experience. The competition took place during the first week of July, which meant that (a) it was going to be painfully hot, and (b) Independence Day would be on the second day of competition.
The mothers of kids on the U.K. team went to Walmart the night before to purchase cowboy hats covered in red, white, and blue sequins, which they wore out on the competition field, raucously telling everyone who might possibly be an American, “Happy Independence Day!” The organizers purchased a block of seats for everyone involved at a local AA baseball game that night, which afforded everyone a chance to enjoy a classic slice of Americana, complete with free hotdogs and fireworks.
We happened to be seated next to the team from Ukraine at the game, which made for the most unusual fireworks-viewing experience of my life. I can recall observing veterans on more than one occasion who found the fireworks display much less cheerful than the children, to say the least. But it was an altogether different experience to watch people experience fireworks while their country was actively being bombarded. The bombs bursting in air indeed.
The experience also gave proof through the week of something just as profound. I could not help but think of a thesis that was ever-present during my time as an ecumenical officer and a member of the Anglican-Roman Catholic dialogue in the U.S. An animating principle in ecumenical circles for generations is that personal relationships are essential for true ecumenical dialogue. Deep relationships light a fire in the belly that really cannot be ignited any other way. The fire is a realization at the deep, human level that the communion I share with this Christian sister or brother is deeply wounded — so tragically, in fact, that our forebears found it church-dividing. Dialogue with other Christians is easy to wave off as idealistic drivel. But the reality is that I am bound to them because I am bound to Jesus Christ.
The week in Texas, while hot, was also beautiful. I watched the kids and their coaches on the field, and there was a kind of pure joy as competitors connected with folks from other countries, sometimes even trading team jerseys. Just as beautiful was the way people stood so respectfully at the medal ceremonies, when gold, silver, and bronze medals were presented on a raised dais and the gold medal winner’s national anthem was played. They were as respectful of each other’s national song as their own, always careful to remove their hats.
Many in the audience cried when the Ukrainians would win in the same event as members of the Chinese team. Despite China’s reticence to support those whose home has been invaded, the Ukrainians always walked directly to their Chinese counterparts to congratulate them. And I realized it was not idealistic yearning that made friendship between nations one of the key goals of the Olympics.
Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful; and let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. (Heb. 10:23-25)
Central to the vocation of the Living Church Foundation from the very beginning has been the pursuit of real unity, the sort that is grounded simply in the Person of God in Christ. This is because the foundation has taken seriously St. Paul’s words that the work of Jesus Christ can be properly described as “reconciling the world to himself.” If we are in Christ, this can only mean that we have been entrusted with the message of reconciliation (2 Cor. 5:18-20). It also means the gospel can be described with great simplicity: “Be reconciled to God.”
It can be very easy to dismiss church meetings and gatherings described as “dialogue” as something weak, an act of compromise that obscures the clarity of the “faith once delivered to the saints.” I have heard such sentiments, especially in the wake of serious disagreements between Christians and in the wake of real ecclesial ruptures, both within and beyond our church. But this critique cannot be true if the Scriptures are to be believed. For the One into whom we have been incorporated in baptism is not only the ground of our earthly existence. Jesus Christ is also the head of the Church, the author of our salvation, and the Person within whom we find each other, whether they be far off or those who are near. We sometimes speak (understandably) as if we can be “out of Communion” with another Christian. But to speak in this way makes it immediately clear that not only can one part of the body never say to another, “I have no need of you.” We are also bound up together by God and in God, which means that it is folly to speak as though the will of this God could be thwarted.
The fire of this vision is in my belly and has been for years. And so I almost “disbelieved for joy” that God might call me to play one small role in this work in the particular church in which God has planted me. I have been given a tremendous gift to be called as the leader of an organization which holds a singular vocation within that particular church. The mission of the Living Church Foundation is bound up in and in service of this central Christian affirmation. We exist to serve this Episcopal Church and the wider Anglican Communion in which God in Providence has planted us, outfitted for ecumenical service; to actively gather its people together for equipping, for fellowship, and for encouragement in Christ; to be a winsome servant of the doctrine, discipline, and worship of Christ as this church has received it; to conceive of this inheritance in the richest way possible; and to work tirelessly for unity between all those who call themselves Anglicans and Christians.
I am grateful that God has called me to this work in this place. I will have the chance to talk to many of you personally in the coming months, and I look forward to hearing what God is doing in your part of the vineyard. I see myself as a steward of something that has been handed down, in this case, since 1878, and it is an honor to be entrusted with such a legacy.