Wednesday, June 13, 2007

What I Did on My Summer Vacation

Last week I went to Summer Seminary way out in the Black Hills of South Dakota. It’s at a lovely old church camp out in the Hills. It's in a thin place. You can feel the Spirit there. And also the spirits of the Native peoples that have walked that land for centuries. The trees never stop whispering. The sky is large. It snows in June. It's a land that keeps you wondering.

And on top of the place the program itself is topnotch. This was my second year there, part two of The History of the Episcopal Church. Both years were taught by the Rev. Dr. Don Armentraut of the School of Theology at the University of the South at Sewanee. Last summer, we had covered the history of the church in England and this year, the topic was the history of the church in America.

Early in the week Dr. Armentraut made the comment that one of the reasons that it is important to understand history is to get perspective, to have a big picture. I kept thinking of that through the week, as we learned about all of the times through the years when the church came dangerously close to slipping out of existence, then suddenly, fired by the Sprit, through some wonderful prophetic voice or amazing circumstance, it would come alive again. Or when we learned about how during the Civil War, when of necessity, we had to separate into two churches, North and South, we were able to come together again with grace because the center held. I loved hearing the story about the Northern Bishops simply marking the Southern churches “absent” for the General Convention that occurred during the war years. Then when the war was over, and two of the Southern Bishops came north for the next GC, they were met and warmly welcomed back. Or when we learned that we integrated our seminaries because it was the right thing to do, not because the law said we had to. So many times last week, I felt this sense of pride in “us” that we have so often done the right thing, the generous thing, the inclusive thing. I felt like, as I did last summer, I really “got it” in terms of why we are who we are as a church. . . . That the Via Media comes from somewhere, that we are congruent and make sense in our theology and identity. The other piece of what Dr. Armentraut does that really made this course so meaningful for me is the way he connects history to theology and Christology. We spent almost an entire afternoon talking about Incarnational theology. He puts it so beautifully as he says that, “Jesus was the great both/and, showing us both who God is and who we can be.” I’d say that will preach!

Another thing Dr. Armentraut said really resonated for me. He talked about how important it is that we be able to articulate our theology, to be able to talk about why it is that we draw the circle wide, that it is not about being wishy-washy but about making a path that can draw in rather than exclude, that can make it possible to have conversations with as many people as possible around the table. And without some sense of history this is not possible. Of course we talked about the current situation in the church. As an historian, he has a perspective that is refreshing. He sees this as one more situation that we will survive as we have all the others in our hundreds of years of church life. He explained for us the understanding of scripture and of polity that informs the African Primates’ worldview. This helps take some of the “stridency” out of my own reactions to them, which I hope I can in turn communicate to some of my congregants who are struggling to make sense of what is going on in the Communion.

And beyond the classroom, there was the fellowship of my classmates. Not having been to seminary, this is my taste of that community. Learning, praying, laughing and sharing together for a week is so restorative and wonderful. The folks in my “day job” wonder about me when I tell them this is how I spent my vacation. But then, they wonder about me anyway, this strange hybrid many-hatted bivocational person among them. And it’s my idea of a good time!


Tandaina said...

I love your picture of snow on the green grass. It sounds like a wonderful time, I totally get wanting to spend your vacation doing something like that.

My ears perked up when you noted that the class was in a "thin" place. Isn't that amazing? I've been to a couple such places now. It really is awe inspiring.

Thanks for the bit of history, too!

Grace thing said...

Thank you so much.