Even as we celebrate the birth of a child venerated through two millenia as the Prince of Peace, conflict rages among the Christians who are the heirs of that first Christmas. In Virginia last Sunday, nine Episcopalian congregations voted to secede from the national Episcopal Church over a variety of issues that might be characterized as a liberal trend in the national Church: the election of a gay bishop, ordination of women priests, approval of same-sex relationships. Now, as often happens in nasty divorces, battles are likely to rage over money and property.
Catholics — not-so-distant cousins from Episcopalians — might view these developments with mixed feelings. Knowing of our own deep disagreements over some of the very same issues, we might wonder whether some of the Catholic faithful might take their arguments to the point of schism. At the same time, we also know that Catholics have a remarkable resilience to fractious arguments — like some of the very loud conversations that can go on in our great big families, we may holler and stomp our feet and wave our arms wildly, but at the end of the day we are all still at the table of faith. And we keep coming back. Catholics are the single largest American denomination and growing.
The Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church is the first woman ever to hold that position, Dr. Katharine Jefferts Schori. She has pointed out that there are 7,200 Episcopalian congregations, and these nine in Virginia are a relatively small group. She said in a statement on the website of the Episcopal Church: “There’s plenty to heal in this world of ours,” she said. “Most of us are concerned about that and are working to follow Jesus’ call to love our neighbor. At this time of year it’s appropriate to remember that Jesus came among us and he wasn’t welcomed everywhere he went. If some people feel some rejection in these actions, it’s not unlike that which Jesus experienced. That’s part of the Christian journey. It is what it means to pick up your cross.”
This is a sacred time of year for Christians, a time to reflect on the true meaning of faith and how we practice that faith through the organizations we call church. The true meaning of Christmas is not about power or authority or proof of one form of righteousness over another. The real meaning of Christmas is found in the ways we serve others and live in true Christian community, offering hope, working for justice, extending our charity and bringing peace to our contentious world.
See Episcopal Church