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The Vestry Meeting, by Archdeacon Stringfellow

The Vestry Meeting
Beyond Majority and Dynamics to Functioning Up
6 April 2010

“Although you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and rejoice with an indescribable and joy, for you are receiving the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls” (1 Peter 1:8-9).

Every Eastertide, I seek this passage out though the lectionaries put it forward during the season. It seems to describe our circumstances perfectly: we do not see the resurrected and ascended Lord except in the Sacrament and in peoples’ lives transformed by his Spirit, yet we love him and are joyous, and we receive and look forward to the salvation of our souls.

That is quite a lot, more than enough to see the dots of life most every day and to connect them to the resurrection of Jesus. The Epistle is addressed to people in provinces of Asia Minor (1:1), and the head note in a Bible I have suggests it may have been written in Rome for the people in those comparatively remote places.

Again, I think the Epistle describes our circumstances exactly: we do not see the Lord; we were not there when they crucified him or when he appeared to the disciples afterwards. But we know him, and we love him. As we receive the consequence, the result, of our faith, we follow his guiding through his Spirit. The distances, in time and space, I mention are bridged by fidelity to the Lord and by living the abundant life he came to give us and to open to us. All of this remains true any day of the year on any day of any of the seasons of the Church Year.

And so all of it was true when I attended a meeting several months ago. The theological and experiential context I’ve tried briefly to set is true of any of the many meetings I attend. But this context contrasts sharply with what happened, what went down, we might say, at this particular meeting.

Three members of the clergy attended, and five members of the laity were present also. And as often is the case (but often is not understood to be the case), the clergy had a specific role, a role not to take the decision or to determine the outcome of the meeting. Our role was to provide the context as described as an elaboration of the verses from 1 Peter and to try to encourage the people to see their decision as part of the way forward for all the people concerned, a way forward that bridges the distance in time and space between all of us and the Lord, a way forward that we all can see as a step toward salvation, the abundant life that Jesus died and rose to bestow upon us.

The role of laity was no less specific; they were to take the decision, and by that decision they were to take that step toward salvation and abundant life. The decision (I believe) that was in the air, hovering about the heads of us all that would take that step, was a decision that three of the five were prepared to make. Two of the five were not prepared to make that decision, and they found pleasant and affective reasons not to make it. And those two, the minority, held the emotional valence in their hands. To be fair, the majority, the three prepared to take the decision and to move forward, had given them that valence. And there the matter stood for the meeting. Nothing could be done, and nothing was done. We left the meeting accomplishing very little (I thought) except participating in an exercise that was to me an example of what life is like when we let the distance between Asia Minor and Rome, between our direct experience and our spiritual experience of the Lord, and the empty tomb and the recognition of the Lord in the breaking of the bread prevent us from taking a step toward our salvation.

Well-meaning and sincere people may disagree about the issues present at this meeting (or any meeting). But what Christians, I think, should agree upon is that the resurrection of Jesus improves the quality and increases the possibilities in our lives. We are “delivered from the gloom of sin, and are restored to grace and holiness of life,” as we heard proclaimed at the Easter Vigil (Prayer Book, page 287).

A crusty and flinty Scottish headmaster used to admonish with a pithy proverb me and all of my fellow urchins in elementary school: “You can lead a horse to water, but you cannot make him drink.” This may very well be true of dumb animals, but let it not be true of us, the resurrected and ascended humanity of God.


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