On the day after California elected its second movie star governor, I wondered if the travails of the Episcopal Church would get a word in edgewise. But there we were, definitely "under the fold," in publicists' terms, but in the news nonetheless: the meeting of the disaffected in Plano, Texas, to decide how to proceed in light of our General Convention's approval of the election of Gene Robinson as the next Bishop of New Hampshire.
They seem to want the boundaries of dioceses to go away, so that individual congregations can order up bishops sympathetic to their views to perform sacramental acts that require bishops, instead of having to welcome the local guy. Or gal. Maybe that will happen. We may be in for a rearrangement of ecclesiastical furniture. I wish we wouldn't, but nobody asks me.
I do know, though, that this would not be the first time people disagreed enough that they just couldn't stand being in the same room. It has happened in churches since there were churches. The Episcopal Church prides itself on being one of the handful of churches that did not split into two denominations during our Civil War, but it was far from untouched. Afterward, we drifted edgily back together, eased in that healing process by not having divided institutionally. Maybe we'll drift edgily back together again sometime. As distressing as a split would be to many, it would not be the end of the world.
In peoples' parishes, the choirs will still sing. The Eucharist will still be celebrated. People will be baptized and marry, and they will bury their dead.
People in hospitals will still need visiting and there will still be youth groups. As always, the adults will teach the children according to what they know and believe.
There will still be parish potlucks and rummage sales.
Some places will call women rectors and some would rather close their doors, so they will call men. Just like now. Some will call gay rectors and some never would. Just like now.
All over this land, people will stumble through the doors of churches after not having set foot in one in thirty years, bleeding from a divorce or the loss of a beloved spouse, knocked to their knees in a losing battle with alcoholism or a terrifying sudden estrangement from a sad and sullen teenager, and they will find Christ again because now they will know that they need Him. The clergy will still do the best they can in their parishes -- some of them will do really well, and some of them won't.
Perhaps we will talk across the gulf we create -- I am sure we will. We will write and publish, and we will read each other. Sometimes we will write a little note of admiration or congratulation. Sometimes we will meet someone in the post office, someone who used to go to our church and now doesn't, and we will catch up on each other's lives. It will be an affable meeting. We won't talk about the split -- just about how quickly the kids have grown up and what schools they're looking at.
If it happens, it will be like a divorce: never God's will for us, but never beyond the reach of God's love and mercy. Neither party will be outside that love. Nobody is outside that love.
Everyone involved in a passionate dispute believes himself to be following the will of God. Mortals cannot see the reconciliation God can see -- we don't see lots of things God sees. Many things look mutually exclusive to us, and God will resolve all of them. Perhaps we are sad and angry about what has happened, about what might happen. But God is still in charge.