Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Bishop Marc

When the Bishop visits your church, it used to be that everyone showed up and everyone dressed up. Last Sunday the former was true—attendance was nearly double the average--but the attire was only a cut above average. Teens wore their usual uniform of tee-shirts, jeans, and running shoes, and many of the younger adults did the same. No one frowned, however. With its national membership dwindling to about two million, the Episcopal Church only cares about the number of posteriors in the pews, not how they’re adorned.

I was an usher and didn’t want to dismay the traditionalists, so I wore a sportcoat. Also, I fit in more with the older crowd. The truth may hurt, but it must be acknowledged.

The youngster had acolyte duties and adapted well to the change in routine. He raised the Bishop’s hymnal over his head in the procession. He took the Bishop’s staff and laid it on the altar and went promptly to his station. The young acolytes didn’t always bow at the right times, nor did they place everything where they should have, but the Bishop smiled patiently. He knew that out here in the ‘burbs the standards are a little more lax than at Grace Cathedral.

After the service we filed to the parish hall and helped ourselves to a lavish buffet. Marc Andrus (“Bishop Marc”) got up to say a few words. He discussed his arrest in December for blocking the Federal Building in a protest against the Iraq war. He spoke about his second passion, the environment, and whether the church should be involved in worldly politics (yes, he says). He talked about how gender issues have riven the church and how the San Francisco Bay Area is at the forefront of the struggle.

I thought about how the American administration has been denounced for unilateralism in world affairs, and how the Episcopal Church in the United States has gone off the rails (it seems to most of the worldwide Anglican communion) through its blessing of same-sex unions and the appointment of practicing homosexuals to senior positions within the church. Why is unilateralism okay in the latter context but not the former? (I’ve reflected on this topic before.)

Bishop Marc is not a tub-thumper for his causes. He has a thoughtful, intellectual demeanor. During the Q&A session he recommended a reading list on the various subjects we talked about, quoted theologian Reinhold Niebuhr, and kept asking for more questions.

After three decades of living here, I’ve found that there is greater ideological uniformity amongst the clerics of the Bay Area Episcopal Church (and I have met many of them) than in either political party. That’s something that won’t change in my lifetime, so I must accept that fact as long as I remain a member of this denomination. I did like Bishop Marc. We certainly could have done worse. © 2007 Stephen Yuen

Sheila and Marc Andrus (center) engage one of their flock.

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