[Europe.justus] To thine own true self, be

Pierre Whalon bishop at tec-europe.org
Wed Nov 3 09:29:00 GMT 2010


To thine own true self, be

For over six years, happy years, I was Rector of All Souls Church, North Versailles, Pennsylvania (yes, it’s pronounced “ver-sales” — one of God’s many jokes on me). It is a very traditional Anglican name for a church, but it is rather difficult to celebrate as a patronal feast. It is known in Spanish-language countries as El Día de los Muertos, the Day of the Dead, a real festival of life after death.

So what is a “soul”? It is the quintessence of who you are, what remains after the Holy Spirit, life, and death brew and then distill you down to the foundation of your being. It is generated by your body, and it too dies when you die. But Christians believe that “when our mortal body lies in death, life is changed, not ended” (Burial Office, Book of Common Prayer). Changed because after death comes resurrection, the re-creation of You in the image of Jesus Christ, the firstborn of the dead. (Read more about this in N. T. Wright’s Surprised By Hope.)

Churches have souls too, which the author of Revelation calls “lampstands” (see Revelation 1) that are before the throne of God. (Each church has an angel too, called a “star,” but that will be for another blog entry.) When a church is planted, we can imagine a light lit before God’s throne. When it closes, we can imagine that light transfigured, not extinguished, for every church, not matter what its size or lifespan, contributes in some way to the accomplishment of God’s plan for humankind.

It stands to reason, then, that a diocese has a soul as well. For the diocese is the local church, made up of several outcroppings or congregations in a region under the oversight of a bishop. The bishop is less important than some think (principally bishops), and more important than others believe (like, say, some of the clergy or lay leaders). The soul is what is generated over time by the action of the Spirit and the response of the congregations and leaders, which determines how and to what degree the diocese shares in God’s mission in that area.

How would you define your diocese’s soul? It is always a good question to ask a parish who would notice were it suddenly to disappear. What would be the consequence if your diocese were suddenly to vanish? Who would notice? “The Church is the only society on earth that exists for the benefit of non-members,” Archbishop William Temple famously remarked. What “non-members” would be affected?

Another clue to a diocese’s soul is the joy with which it gathers. I was greatly heartened at the consecration and enthronement of the Right Reverend Michael Vono as IX Bishop of the Rio Grande on October 22 and 24, respectively. This diocese, which has seen a lot of trouble, gathered in joyous expectation of their future together with their new Bishop (my sermon on the 24th can be accessed here). The annual convention or synod of the Convocation of Episcopal Churches in Europe was also marked by great joy in celebrating our common life together, thanks be to God.

Yet another clue to the diocesan soul is the diversity of its parishes. The local church should be a patchwork quilt of congregations whose souls are distilled from the very fabric of the lives of their various communities. A quilt of parochial souls, a cluster of lamps shining forth from the heart of the Holy Trinity, a mass of different people who together have discovered and lived out faith in Christ, and so experienced Resurrection, starting in this life and perfected in the next.

On this All Souls Day, I invite you to an inventory of your soul. Whom do you love and who loves you? This is all we take with us. 

How does your parish prepare people to discover and grow their souls? 

A diocese exists to meet the needs its congregations cannot meet for themselves — the first of which is unity in Christ through the communion of the saints. What does your diocese do so that its congregations may grow and flourish?

Bishop (Mgr) Pierre Whalon
Convocation of Episcopal Churches in Europe
23, avenue George V
75008 Paris France
+33 1 53 23 84 06  (tel)
+33 1 49 52 96 85 (fax)
office at tec-europe.org

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