At 9:30a.m. every Wednesday morning, a wonderful group of ladies gather together to study Holy Scripture at my parish. They are kind enough to allow me to join them at this gathering and they even humor me with polite laughter when I say something that probably makes absolutely no sense at all. They are a great bunch and I look forward to my time with them every week.
A couple of weeks ago, the discussion got a little sidetracked, as Bible studies tend to do from time to time. We landed on the subject of some of the current issues in the Episcopal Church. The ladies in the group turned to me and asked some very pointed questions about what some recent declarations made by some bishops other than our own would mean for us here in Fort Worth. As I looked around the room, I saw faces of perplexity. One of the ladies even turned to me and said, “How can they do that?”
I so love the simplicity of that question. It shows both a naiveté and a profound sense of faith simultaneously. Oh that I should regain the former and be comforted by the latter! Here was a beautiful woman who couldn’t understand how a bishop, a supposed defender of the faith, could make a statement that was so contrary to what has always been taught throughout historic Christianity. She was confused by what she had read and yet so secure about what she should measure that bishop’s statement against.
We muddled through several more questions that morning. But we finished up with one final question that I have heard asked several other times. The woman sitting across the table from me looked directly at me and said, “What does this mean for us in the Diocese of Fort Worth?”
I paused for a moment as I tried to consider what she was really asking me. Was she curious how my pension would be affected by what was going on? Did she want to know how property issues were going to play out? Was she asking me about lawsuits or impending litigation?
As I considered how to answer, I realized that her question was about none of these. What she was really asking was, “What is going to change in this parish and in the diocese?”
My answer to her---“Nothing.”
This woman had no concern that she would be chased out of her parish which she has attended for the last 20+ years. She had no fear that somehow a judge or a court would be able to decide who owns this little piece of property. She wasn’t even asking, much to my consternation, about how my retirement would be affected. What she really wanted to know was how we will go forward contending for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints.
God has blessed me in so many countless ways. I count being a priest in the Diocese of Fort Worth among those blessings. And I am asked from time to time, much like I was by this dear woman at the Bible study that morning, about what will be new in our diocese. What will be different about how we teach, preach and proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ in this diocese? My answer now is the same as it was to her—not a thing.
The overwhelming majority of clergy and laity in this diocese boast not of so-called “new things” that they can bring to the table. Most have no aspirations of developing something innovative in the world of theology. Instead, there is an almost uniform and sincere desire to devote themselves to the apostles' teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.
As we approach our Diocesan Convention coming up on November 14th-15th, people have inquired of me about what they can expect on November 16th. I give them the same answer as that of the Rector of the parish at which I serve. On the day after our Convention at this parish, as well as at most parishes throughout the diocese, you can expect to hear the Gospel of Jesus Christ being preached. It will be the same old story that has been told for almost 2000 years- And the Word became flesh and was made Man. The incarnate Word of God was crucified for our sins. He died, was resurrected, has ascended into Heaven where He now sits at the right hand of God.
You can also expect the Sacraments to be administered. The Holy Eucharist will be celebrated that day and all baptized Christians will be able to receive the true Body of our Lord Jesus Christ which was given for the nourishment of our souls and His precious Blood which was shed for the forgiveness of our sins.
Does this make us ecclesiastical or theological dinosaurs? I suppose it might in some people’s eyes. The fact that we desire not to come up with or peddle the newest innovations about the faith may lower our standing in some circles. But our job is not to be inventors. We are not called to be on the cutting edge of theological innovations. Our job, as both clergy and laity, is first and foremost to proclaim Christ crucified.
What will change about what we teach, preach and proclaim in the Diocese of Fort Worth? Absolutely nothing if I have anything to say about it.