The late Rachel Held Evans—a Christian author and an Episcopalian—she wrote a book called A Year of Biblical Womanhood. In it, she recounts the time she vowed “to take all of the Bible's instructions for women as literally as possible for a year.” She grew out her hair, made her own clothes, covered her head; she called her husband, “Master”; she got up before dawn, abstained from gossip, and remained silent in church; she even camped out in her front yard during her period!
At the end of the experiment, reflecting on what it means to “live biblically” she wrote this:
If you are looking for [Bible] verses with which to support slavery, you will find them. If you are looking for verses with which to abolish slavery, you will find them. If you are looking for verses with which to oppress women, you will find them. If you are looking for verses with which to liberate or honor [sic] women, you will find them. If you are looking for reasons to wage war, you will find them. If you are looking for reasons to promote peace, you will find them. If you are looking for an out-dated, irrelevant ancient text, you will find it. If you are looking for truth, believe me, you will find it. This is why there are times when the most instructive question to bring to the . . .[Bible] . . . is not ‘what does it say?’, but ‘what am I looking for?’ I suspect Jesus knew this when he said, ‘ask and it will be given to you, seek and you will find, knock and the door will be opened.’ If you want to do violence in this world, you will always find the weapons. If you want to heal, you will always find the balm.
I open with this quote this morning because I think it applies to any number of the justice or what we might sometimes think of as the political efforts of the church. As a Christian community rooted in the Anglican tradition, we are called to “look for verses”, to look for the theological and biblical texts that liberate and provide healing balm for people.
Earlier this month, I had the privilege of co-chairing the Worship Planning Committee for the national gathering of the Anglican Church and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada. The meeting gathered delegates from coast to coast to coast. We prayed together, we ate together, and we got down to the brass tacks of how the church operates, both collectively as an Anglican-Lutheran Church in full communion, and individually as separate entities. Four highlights from the meeting:
1) The Anglican Church of Canada unanimously received the documents that will govern the self-determining Indigenous Anglican Church.
2) The Anglican Church of Canada approved a permanent, national task force on dismantling racism.
3) The Anglican Church of Canada and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada voted to be in full communion with the Moravian Church, a denomination that has much in common with our churches and much to add. Moravians are grounded in the principle: “In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; and in all things, love”. They have a service called a “Love Feast” where sweet buns are baked fresh and shared around tables while people share stories of where they have seen the Holy Spirit at work in the world.
4) The Anglican Church of Canada approved pastoral liturgies for affirming a community member’s gender and name, liturgies that were then approved for use by Bishop John here in our own diocese.
I am proud to say that all of these decisions were grounded in scripture and theology, in Bible verses that liberate and honour people. They reflect a church that is looking to promote peace, rather than wage war, to bring much needed healing balm to our world.
Today, we will celebrate for the very first time at St Clement’s, one of the pastoral liturgies for affirming a community member’s gender and name. You will notice that the liturgy looks a lot like a baptism, with some important differences. The candidate is asked a series of questions to affirm the promises that were made at their baptism. The community is asked to support and uphold the candidate in their desire to continue their baptismal promises as they affirm their gender and name. The community is asked to affirm their own baptismal promises.
The candidate will pour water into the baptismal font, a symbol and reminder of their baptism. The candidate is not re-baptized; rather they affirm their baptism which was and continues to be indissoluble, a covenant proclaiming God’s love for creation that cannot be broken. The candidate is anointed with oil—oleum infirmorum, to be exact, oil used as a sign of God’s longing for healing and wholeness for everyone. The candidate receives afresh the light of Christ from the paschal candle.
Finally, the candidate is presented to the congregation, their name and gender newly affirmed in the household of Christ. The candidate shares with the congregation the sprinkling or asperges of water from the font and we proceed to celebrate the Eucharist.
I now invite Cam to share briefly with us the story of how they received the gender and name we will be asking God to affirm today.
Rachel Held Evans, A Year of Biblical Womanhood, Thomas Nelson (Nashville, TN: 2012)
The Moravian Church, “About the Moravian Church in America” accessed online on 30 July 2023 at https://www.moravian.org/2019/07/about-the-moravian-church-in-america/
Randy Murray, “Chrism Mass 2022”, Diocese of New Westminster website accessed online on 30 July 2023 at https://www.vancouver.anglican.ca/news/chrism-mass-2022