I am a Scottish Episcopalian. That means that I like traditional things, and here are a few that I like very much but that seem to suffer from a considerable degree of neglect right now. I mention them not to have a go at anyone but myself and to remind myself of the things that I consider important but that I don't make enough time for.
Here are some of my cherished traditions. I didn't make them up - most of them were started by Jesus of Nazareth, many of which he inherited from the prophets who went before him, all of which were continued by the apostolic work of those who followed him. Every day we acknowledge our unity with these apostles and prophets in our church's central, defining prayer, the Eucharistic anaphora. They are our living tradition.
Prophetic Speech. My church has a tradition of saying difficult things, things that are so obvious that we risk losing sight of them. Things like the uncomfortable truth of God's preferential option for the poor. Things like the dangerous capacity we have to let wealth dull our senses and narrow our horizons. Things like the honoured place we must make in our communities for the stranger, the refugee, the outsider. Things like the deep fraternity we share with all living beings.
- Loving Service. Our words can never be seen in isolation from our deeds. They are simple things, but they seem to be rather powerful. They are things like spending time with the vulnerable, like listening to the voices of those who thought they had been forgotten, like organising ourselves to meet the material needs of those who suffer. They are unshowy acts of community-building, solidarity and help. We call it 'pastoral care'.
- Not Judging. We get things wrong a lot of the time. That makes us hesitant, very hesitant indeed, about getting uppity when others get things wrong too. And it's not just about getting things wrong. We have a deep intuition that our view of the world is incomplete, so that makes us equally hesitant about excluding people on the basis of opinions that do not conform with the majority view. It's a rather fundamental principle of the Gospel that, if we do not judge others, we will find our lives greatly enriched. Judgemental stances diminish us.
- Subversive Leadership. Scottish Episcopalians don't operate on the basis that those who wear the fanciest clothes or bear the grandest titles have the biggest clout - Most Reverend is not Most Important, Right Reverend will not always be Right, Very Reverend is not more to be revered that Miss or Mister, Reverend Canon is not a Big Gun. Those who bear these titles and who carry the heavy responsibility of leadership do so in such a way as to subvert expectations of authority - wisdom rather than executive power, service rather than privilege, affection rather than obligation, sacrifice rather than security, engagement rather than splendid isolation, the bowl and the towel rather than the Blackberry and the tablet. We make decisions together and don't tell others what to do. We think that the best way to encourage others to do the right thing is to do the right thing ourselves.
- Prayer. Our chief 'activity' is non-activity. It is the patient practice of nurturing attentive openness. It is the way of silence. It is the habit of seeing material things as bearers of eternal truth and means of unity. It is the humility of letting go of our addiction to achievement, prowess and progress. If we don't 'do' this, all the other stuff is impossible.
When I became an Episcoplian, it was for all of these reasons. I started out in a church that was more keen on remaining 'pure' and unstained by 'the world', that was at least as interested in the damnation of the heretic as the salvation of the righteous. I joined up because I saw something of Jesus in this funny wee church. Dear Lord, forgive us when we get self-important and start closing doors that you are struggling to hold open, when we start to feel cosy about our club. And when we get anywhere near notions of purity and self-righteousness, remind us of the places where you are to be found - in the filth of the stable, in the disgrace of the cross, in the company of sinners.