Tuesday, July 17, 2012

All Creatures of Our God and King

Many good rebuttals have already been written in response to the vitriolic op-ed piece in The Wall Street Journal following the 77th General Convention in Indianapolis. Links to several very good responses can be found on The Episcopal Cafe. I also commend to you Bishop Wolfe of Kansas and Winnie Varghese's piece, "The Glorious Episcopal Church" on the Huffington Post blog.

I don't need to repeat here what has already been said, other than to reiterate that while Jay Akasie is entitled to his opinions about The Episcopal Church, he isn't entitled to his own facts. I was there, and yet somehow missed out on the "sheer ostentation and carnival atmosphere." I was invited to one seminary gathering which was quite nice, and the company was great. But it was hardly a "lavish cocktail party"- unless one considers Woodbridge Chardonnay and a cheese platter "lavish." And for the record, our Bishop didn't use a dime of diocesan funds to order us any wine; fine or otherwise.

So as far as I can tell, Jay Akasie is just making stuff up. (I believer there is a commandment against that if I'm not mistaken, and since Akasie claims in the by-line to be an Episcopalian he really would do well to review page 350 of the Book of Common Prayer, in particular the part about "not being a false witness.")

But in addition to so many outright falsehoods, Akasie writes these (callous) words: "[the House of Deputies and the House of Bishops] discussed such weighty topics as whether to develop funeral rites for dogs and cats..."

In fact, we did do that. A link to a PDF of the precise resolution can be found here; A054, from the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music. We did in fact authorize rites and prayers for the care of beloved animals, including these prayers:
God, your blessed Son, Jesus, told us that not even one, tiny sparrow is forgotten in your sight. Strengthen our confidence in your love for all your creatures; in your goodness...
Blessed Creator, hear our prayer.

Loving God, you brought this beloved animal into the life of N. [and N.] to share kindness, joy, and faithful companionship: Receive our thanks and praise for the community between your animals and your people, and all the ways in which we
bless each others lives; in your goodness,
Blessed Creator, hear our prayer.

Gracious God, you have given us the blessing and responsibility of caring for animals: If in any way we have failed in that responsibility, we ask for your pardon and trust in your mercy; in your goodness,
Blessed Creator, hear our prayer.
Now I happen to be allergic to animals, and so I've never had a pet. I am a pastor, however, and for the past fifteen years have served a congregation that takes its name from Francis of Assisi. Each October, on his feast day, we offer a Blessing of the Animals Service in our community. Always there are people who come from other congregations and people who come who are without a church home. Sometimes they bring a puppy or kitten new to their family. Sometimes they bring an old animal, knowing that their friend is not long for this world. I see how important these pets are to the families that love them.

When a child loses a pet, it is very often the first time that she or he confronts death. They really do want to know if "all dogs go to heaven." I often tell parishioners who are grieving that grief is cumulative. Each new grief opens up all past griefs. So sometimes a person will lose a job, a marriage, and a parent in quick succession and they somehow manage to hold it all together. And then the cat dies. And they break down. I can appreciate how that happens even if I am not exactly an animal lover. As a pastor, I respond to people's needs and concerns and as an Episcopalian that always includes liturgical prayer.

So yes, Mr. Akasie, we did discuss such "weighty topics" at General Convention. It was one conversation among many at an eight-day gathering but I, for one, am both glad and proud that we did so. It helps us to more faithfully be the Church and to respond to the grief and loss that are so much a part of people's lives. That's part of what we are called to do, with God's help: to be instruments of God's peace, and to sow joy where there is sadness. It's who we are. I'm sorry if that offends you.

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