The Advent season is upon us. This year it feels like a circus elephant has wandered into our already congested household. The circus elephant is in the form of a tree–a ten-foot Frasier fir. Even in our high-roofed living room, it is a formidable intrusion. Furniture is moved to accommodate the tree.
The tree upstages everything and everyone. It needs lots of water. It takes two or more people to attach the unusual ornaments. There is the annual debate about what belongs on the tree and how the ornaments should be more . . . well . . . ornamental. This tree is the complete opposite of what droves of people witness at the downtown civic center’s Festival of Trees. Our tree is not a sparkly, be-ribboned, flashy, shooby-dooby tree. Our tree is a messy, hilarious, creepy, emotional tree. It’s an exploded scrapbook of events, people, testimonies, failures, births and deaths going back nearly fifty years! From a child’s lost binky, to a teenage girl’s underwire, to objects like a mouse-chewed electrical cable found during our renovation, a rock from a creek near where my grandfather was born, our five-year pins from a corporation which we gratefully left behind in New York City, badges from trips to Grand Canyon and the Cincinnati Zoo, swizzle sticks, name tags from conferences, business cards. You get the picture, right? Messy. It gets harder and harder to do every year. It’s just a physical and spiritual struggle.
In the midst of all the annual tree-passion, we took time to go to Bethesda Episcopal Church in Saratoga Springs for the annual Evensong of Advent Lessons and Carols. Usually these events are unevenly attended. The challenge is to have more people in the congregation than in the choir. This year for Advent, Dean Vang, our interim priest, invited two other clergymen to be lesson readers: one was the Baptist pastor from the church up the street; the other was a Roman Catholic priest from the church farther downtown. Because of this outreach, our old historic church was crowded with people. The church was packed!
The choir outdid itself. This elegant show of Anglicanism in a purt-near 200-year old structure, doesn’t often meet with such enthusiasm from anyone else in town. And after, as always, there was a lovely high tea with sherry and warm spiced cider and delectable sweets. It all seems to be a bit anachronistic on the surface.
Intermingled with the crowd was a parishioner whose beloved dog died recently and had brought his new puppy to show. Also present was a former denizen of the streets, who, after years of wandering, has found a job, an apartment, good advice and assistance from our parish. There is in our church a woman with no hands in a wheelchair, another who is given to frequent outbursts until the music starts; then she stares agape, enrapt. The church is an exploded scrapbook of diversity, unity, inclusiveness, and it’s very messy and ailing. There are fewer and fewer young families and young children. There used to be a treble choir and an active junior youth group. There isn’t any longer. We barely have a Sunday school. We cling to and embrace everyone. Especially, against all odds, a devoted and enthusiastic group of LGBTQ members.
This is notable because our bishop of the Albany diocese wishes that particular group would just become magically neutered. He is the last Episcopalian bishop in the United States to stand against the sacrament of marriage for same-gender couples. This is in spite of a recent ruling by the convention of American Episcopal churches to allow such unions in parishes that believe that all persons are worthy and welcome to marry, even if their bishop does not agree. We would like to be one of those churches. But Bishop William Love stands firm in Leviticus and St. Paul against same-gender love and sexuality. He forbids such marriages or blessings in any church in this large upstate New York diocese.
I believe a bishop, of all people, should never deny any sacrament to anyone.
Our parish has not accepted this quietly. We are searching for a new rector, but very few priests (count ‘em: only three have applied) want to serve under Bishop William Love. The Presiding Bishop of the American church, Michael Curry, who spoke so forcefully of love at the royal marriage in England this year, has intervened. Soon there will be some kind of decision made. We hope. What will be done about or with Bishop William Love. Will he resign? Will he refuse to budge? Will he bear down on his interpretation of the Bible with an iron clad devotion to a lost cause?
The church household is equally messy to our own home. The tree is just a portion of all of that. So it’s Advent. We await the revelation.