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From Here and There – Identity and Openness in Community

When engaging in life in Newfoundland and Labrador inevitably conversation will lead to the question, “Where are you from?” no matter if it is in the context of faith or not. There is a need for us to ground persons in a family, a community, an identity. The question is more than, “Where were you born?”, for it encompasses one’s birthplace, one’s cultural and religious influences, and one’s loyalties.  With the answer to the question, persons in many cases can sort out family histories, common friends and occurrences, the narrative of the personal and communal history of the individual.

If one cannot identify Newfoundland and Labrador as where you’re from, instantly the conclusion is, you are a CFA, (come from away). Many times in this instance, the conversations and sharing changes, for there is little hope of sorting out family history, common friends, or a common history.  Whether we are from here, or from there, however, identity is essential in the Christian journey.

We are a people of faith, in which our baptism crosses the divides of family, culture, politics, economy, history, and geography. Within our identity is wrapped our baptism, our ministry of prayer and service, word and sacrament, our response to God and to the world.  In this framework, then, the familiarity of place and context that is addressed in the question, “Where are you from?” can be both blessing and curse in Christian community.

In the context of ministry, sometimes I have heard the statement, “They would be perfect for this, they understand, they’re from ____.” This is affirming as a person’s capabilities are summarized in one quick way. Conversely, another statement that is sometimes heard is, “They can’t do this, they wouldn’t understand, they’re from _____.” Instantly, in one’s identity is locked the permission to engage and be open. Identity holds the controls for openness, creativity, opportunity.  These preconceived understandings of identity can be the chains that bind the church from its witness in the world. They are quick responses that tend to stereotype and segment individuals, communities and cultures. They focus on the differences and distract from cohesiveness.

We are reminded in the Scriptures and in the liturgy that we are a Christian community struggling together to respond to the revealed Christ in our midst. We must recognize the unique natures of our own narrative, while celebrating the diversity of the community at large. As Paul reminds us, we have differing gifts, and differing roles.

In this milieu then, I am heartened by the eighteen signatures I read recently, of Bishops of the Anglican Communion, from here, and there. Bishops from two of the great continents, North America and Africa, who gathered and shared the statement A Testimony of Hope bring me much comfort and joy.  

Here are bishops, the seats of unity in their specific geography and culture, who differ greatly from each other, who give us an example of dialogue and understanding in Christian community. They pray together, engage each other, and learn. They share stories without judgement, and operate interdependently, in the hope that the church will benefit from their prayer, sharing, and expression.

Each time I am faced with the question, “Where are you from?” I answer, CFE, (come from everywhere). There is a little part of each of the places, cultures, persons and histories I have encountered (even briefly) wrapped up inside of me, all in a human package, blessed and commissioned by God to walk the Christian journey through Anglicanism, here in this place. As we share and reflect on our identities, I pray we take time to sit and listen with those around us, with open minds and hearts.

David Burrows

About David Burrows

David Burrows is a priest of the church, currently serving in parish ministry within the Diocese of Eastern Newfoundland and Labrador, a place he has called home for the past fifteen years. He consistently engages dialogue and action with the wider community through creative outreach projects. Cycling, kayaking, writing, and driving fast cars are distractions in his life.
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  • David Burrows