I have always been fascinated with ancient history. One of the most intriguing bits of research I explored while completing my undergraduate degree was examining whether people in ancient societies had the abilities to read silently. Did all texts have to be read aloud? It amazed me that scholars would debate and challenge presumptions about such things as whether Scriptures could be read silently, or whether Homer’s Odyssey could only be spoken aloud.
This question enters my consciousness every once in a while, especially in the context of the liturgy. This week, while bringing the sacrament to parishioners in their homes, I found I had company in the prayers for communion. In the silence and holiness of the moments, I heard the words, “Blessing and glory and thanksgiving . . .” (B.C.P. 82). There was no doubt as to the sincerity and sanctity of the prayers offered by those who could not be physically present with our main worshiping community.
There was a time early in my ordained ministry, when I was a bit put-off by parishioners joining with me in prayers that according to the liturgy are to be spoken by the priest. Yet the prayers that are offered by the community, whether spoken or silent, are by the community as a whole, not by one individual. It is somewhat sad that sometimes we get so caught up with matters of tradition and pattern, that we do not recognize the intentions of the hearts and souls of those worshiping. I am glad to be free of this concern in these situations, as I thank God for the blessings that are present in the holiness of these moments.
Whether we strictly adhere to the traditions and patterns of life and ministry in the Anglican Church, or whether we respond pastorally as the need presents itself, for me there is a further question. The church needs a way to express itself, many times beyond the confines of what are traditional patterns of response. Perhaps the age old methods do not completely incorporate the relationship between God and the parishioner. Members of the faith community have need to express their love, frustration, joy, anger, hope, and questions.
I see this also in the recent happenings in our diocese. Here, in Eastern Newfoundland and Labrador, we are preparing for an Episcopal election. In all of the busyness that this entails, there are many things happening. There are prayers, both corporate and individual. There are whispers and stories, anecdotes and warnings, statements, hopes, and presumptions. In all of this I find my prayers invoking the presence of the Holy Spirit. Not all of these pieces fall within the traditional patterns of leading to an Episcopal election. The whole diocese is caught up with the mechanism that will lead those to vote, and make for us, our new bishop.
In my silence, my whispers, my tales, I hope for transformation and joy. I hope that we both with the privilege to vote and also the responsibility to offer leadership in this, Christ’s Church, may have the openness to be present with God, and be present with the whole community of faith.
Before making decisions based on personality, relationship, or demeanor, let us consider the diocese as it is now. What are our strengths? Where is God calling us to be? What qualities would we consider essential for leadership in this time? What needs to be explored? What needs to be embraced? What needs to stop? What needs to be transformed?
I will be trying to hear the voice of the silent, the whispers, and the tales as I prepare for this time. I will think of those who whisper with me in the Eucharist, knowing that the Holy Spirit is as present to them, as she is present to any of us.