John Ralston Saul describes Canada as an Métis nation, not European: a coming together of diverse people in a great circle, sharing and contributing to a common bowl. This is a potential image of the Anglican Communion in general, and the Anglican Church of Canada in particular, that resonates best with me. The arms of the church are open wide enough, and are roomy enough, to embrace all diversity. We are within a great circle. I believe this must become the shape of our narrative, the circle not the continuum. We have allowed the Communion’s conversation to become partisan: liberal or conservative, Book of Alternative Services or Book of Common Prayer, gay marriage or straight. There are people of deep faith on both sides of these conversations, but we have misplaced the understanding that we should not be engaged in the “or” conversation but rather in the “and” conversation. I have rarely heard the Spirit when we speak words of exclusion but always hear the Spirit in words of inclusion.
I recognize that outside the doors of our churches the world is changing. Canadian society is secularized. We are in a dangerous place, this post-Christendom world. It is so easy to become paralyzed by fear, to become enmeshed in nostalgia. Where once the twin pillars of the Church and the State held aloft Christendom we are now adrift. How can we move forward? How can we adjust to an uncertain future? How do we carry out our mission as baptized Christians? How do we answer declining attendance? My answer is in Jesus’ call to “feed my sheep.”
Enacting the Missio Dei must begin inside our buildings before we can take it outside. In my experience, when one is faced with a restaurant that is going under the answer is rarely anything “sexy” or radical. The answer is always basic: food, service, and hospitality. Feed my sheep. This is easy to forget. Let us look around us and see those we are called to serve, first in our pews, encourage those who do come to share their experience and bring a friend. Celebrate our Liturgies with care and joy so those we only see occasionally at Christmas and Easter may come more often. Inviting people to be who they were made to be – people made by Love for love. Look for every opportunity to refract our baptismal covenant to each other.
Then we look downstairs and outside and make those we find there welcome, “feed my sheep.” It has been my experience that we don’t do a tremendous job in that area. In all of the hundreds of AA meetings that I have attended in church basements across Toronto I have never seen a member of ordained clergy from the host church (of any stripe) at an Open Meeting reaching out a hand to invite the members upstairs. Nor, sadly, are “Out of the Cold” guests often invited and truly welcomed on Sunday mornings. This is what we are called to do. “Feed my sheep.” Now, the broken and the poor make us uncomfortable but this is where we see the face of Christ. Even though it is hard, this is where the Body of Christ is, in the places that make us feel uncomfortable.
I don’t know if this is the solution to what the Anglican Church faces in dwindling attendance, but I suspect that this might be a new beginning, a grassroots, in my backyard approach to offering hospitality, dignity and shelter to the disenfranchised. “Feed my sheep”… “Welcome”, “Hello, welcome home”, “What’s your name? Mine is…” This is where I will start. In AA we say “do the do things,” Do what we do inside the doors of our church with true hospitality, with love, care, joy and welcome. Do this so that we will be able to remember our baptisms and bring the outcast and find the lost. This is a time of opportunity for all Christians. “Feed my sheep.”
This post-Christendom Canada is a place of great humility. Without the armour of our privileged place in society, as Christians we are gifted with the prospect of encountering our Lord, as He was, vulnerable, humble and compassionate. Will we be able to free our arms to take up our cross and follow Jesus? This is, I feel, what our ministry is calling us to do. All baptized Christians are called to include not exclude, to bring the outcast, and to feed His sheep. We Christians have the chance to reconnect with the revolutionary aspects of our faith. Following the lessons of the First Nations, we must open our arms and hearts and invite all to share in the common bowl.