For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of yourself more highly than you ought to think, but to think with sober judgement, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. . . 6 We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us.
Romans 12:3-4, 6
I learned a long time ago that it’s never a good idea to compare the worst of one faith tradition with the best of another.
Meeting with people exploring membership in the Episcopal Church, I would often hear stories of hurt and disappointment that caused some to leave the churches in which they were raised: Roman Catholics furious about their church’s position on women; Baptists angry at their pastor’s biblical fundamentalism; members of large churches disliking the impersonal feeling of worship; and those of small churches weary of serving on every committee. And so on.
While I was always glad to hear how much better they thought our church was than the ones they had left, I had to remind them that every church has its weaknesses. It wouldn’t take long, I told them, to discover ours. If you come into the Episcopal Church angry at the one you left, I said, you will likely be angry at us within six months. And, as one married to one from another tradition, I’ve learned that it’s always better to celebrate the best of other traditions and allow those from within to point out its faults. What we share as Christians is of far greater importance than our differences.
We have much to learn from others. That’s why I study the strengths of other traditions–not because I want us to be them, but to learn from them. Roman Catholics know how to live among poor people, not from a posture of benevolence but in Christian community. Baptists and others on the more evangelical end of the spectrum are comfortable speaking about Jesus in personal terms and they know how to read the Bible with the eyes of faith. Megachurches know how to bring ministry to scale and reach rising generations. Why should our differences keep us from learning from them?
We in the Episcopal Church also have wonderful gifts to offer and a way of being in the world that is of priceless value: At a time when people all around us hunger for meaning, we offer beautiful and thoughtful worship, grounded in both intellect and mystery. At a time when young people seek authenticity, we offer personal relationships and the space to ask questions and explore doubt without fear. At a time when all Christians are asked to live in a multicultural, pluralistic world, we offer an expansive understanding of God, a faith rooted in Christ and yet appreciative of other traditions. At a time when our society is increasingly polarized, we offer a respectful way of engagement with those who see the world differently.
After General Convention 2003, I remember speaking to one of my mentors in another tradition from whom I was learning how to grow the congregation I served. He thought we were being terribly foolish to endorse the election of an openly gay bishop and affirm the full inclusion of LGBT persons in the church. He didn’t disagree with us, he quickly assured me, but he warned that it would hopelessly divide our church. Someday, I quietly responded, you will thank us.
That’s why I’ve dedicated my life to the growth and vitality of the Episcopal Church. We have so much to offer and to share. And I am grateful to those of other traditions who generously offer to teach us what we need to know, so that we can become stronger and offer in the same spirit of generosity the priceless gifts entrusted to us.