This week I am posed with a question that was bound to arise eventually: am I still a Scottish Episcopalian?
Clearly, I am not living in Scotland, and I am not currently a member of an SEC congregation; which might be a strike against. But there was another time when I lived in England for two years — in the edge-less Midlands– and there was no doubt in my mind that I was a piskie then.
Indeed, that is when vocation stirred, and I had to engage in the repeated explanations of why I was an Episcopalian living in England, called to be ordained in Scotland, rather than a lay-chaplain in England called from within local structures. That was easier than it might sound, really. I had no trouble at all persuading people that I was piskie, not C of E.
And therein lies the rub. For I worship in the C of E right now. Variously. In big churches and small, in one diocese or another; and I thank God for the cavernous space of the Cathedral that calls me back and back again to offer a sacramental home and no shortage of back doors. But I am not C of E. I fear I am too American to ever be C of E. Separation of church and state is deep within my bones, and I never could understand why anyone would add the word anti- to disestablishmentarianism unless it achieved a Triple Word Score.
‘Not’, however, does not define ‘is’. Being a piskie is more than not being C of E. And that too was part of my sense of call: to a whole church; to a brave church that was reaching towards the future; to a church that was small enough that it dare not waste anyone’s talents, and intimate enough to learn what each person might be able to offer. That was the dream, anyway. The reality was sometimes harder.
So, I guess the question ‘am I still a piskie’ is really a question of whether enough of the dream remains.
Two things happened this week to show me that it probably does.
First: I was not at all surprised but terribly disappointed by the offical SEC response to the Consultation on Marriage. Not surprised, because it was the church doing what it does best: dancing around an issue, careful to say nothing and to say it on good precedent, trying to ensure that nothing could cause offence. Disappointed because, while that is a church I recognize, it is not a church I believe in or dream of or long to be a part of. We used to be braver than that. I want us to be braver again.
Today I was reading Hilary Clinton’s UN speech on LGBT rights. In it she says this:
Leadership, by definition, means being out in front of your people when it is called for. It means standing up for the dignity of all your citizens and persuading your people to do the same. It also means ensuring that all citizens are treated as equals under your laws
It’s worth reading or listening to the speech in full, as she also speaks well of how ‘rarely are cultural and religious traditions and teachings actually in conflict with the protection of human rights’. Clinton named for me the shape of my disappointment in the SEC’s official response to the Equal Marriage legislation in Scotland. I know that the church is not of one voice. I understand that most people in most congregations probably spend very little time deciding what they think about equal marriage legislation, and that it is the marginal voices (liberal and conservative, both) that push this issue. But sometimes, the church needs to get out ahead of the majority and do what is right and just and true. Sometimes, the church should lead.
So, I was frustrated. And that is a good sign. It means I still care enough to be frustrated.
Secondly, though, I was proud: proud of the vestry of St Mary’s Cathedral in Glasgow, who let neither difference of opinion nor caution from the central church structures daunt them. Theirs is the response I wish the whole church had made. Theirs is the vision I recognize and want to be a part of. Indeed, that is the understanding of the church I was formed in and was called to. It is good to know they are there.
I suspect I am still a piskie, and always will be. It’s just that sometimes, that’s a rather hard thing to be.