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Rev. Robert Black: Unity in discernment

Unity in Discernment 

“Almighty God, may you guide us to seek the Truth: come whence it may, cost what it will, lead where it might.” That subversive and bold prayer, attributed to Phillips Brooks, has always resonated with my sense of discipleship. The tone and substance of that prayer have been at the center of a discernment process at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in downtown Salisbury.

Discernment is a powerful and helpful tool to use when we are searching for such Truth. “Discern” is from a Latin word, meaning to “separate” or “perceive.” As we all know, there are competing truths and agendas in our world. It seems that our culture is filled with disagreements and battles. Civility and genuine dialogue are too often absent from our public discourse, so it should be no surprise that results are also lacking. We are frequently torn apart by our divisions, entrenched in our sense of right and wrong, and restrictively defined by labels like “conservative” or “liberal.” Discernment is a deliberate process in which many voices are considered, with a goal of coming to a peaceful resolution.

Few of us will ever be in complete agreement on all points of theology, and to lay claim to the fullness of Truth is to create an idol. Our divisions can offer us a glimpse into the depth and breadth of God, giving us a healthy sense of humility. Our disagreements can be the start of a rich dialogue. Or, as they often do, these controversial topics can work against God’s desire that “we all be one” (John 17:21) and cause division. However, the Good News that we proclaim at St. Luke’s is that what unites us is stronger than those things which seek to divide us. God’s love and mercy are more powerful than our fears and differing beliefs.

Discernment is a tool that can be used when conflict arises. At St. Luke’s, we see conflict not as a negative, but rather as an opportunity to engage each other in dialogue about topics that we are passionate about. There are no questions that are too big to be asked, and no topics that are off limits. Our society is in desperate need of such conversations that involve true discernment – whether that be about balancing individual rights and the good of the community, racial reconciliation, or social inequality. Discernment is not about reaching unanimous consensus or having “winners” and “losers,” but rather seeks to understand God’s will in a community of faith. At St. Luke’s, we recently applied this tool of discernment to the topic of same-sex marriage within the context of Christian marriage.

In our discernment process, which started last October, we prayed, we studied Scripture, we considered theology, and we consulted sociology. We have discerned that as a community of faith, we are called to include our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters in the Sacrament of Marriage. This is Good News, and so I want to share it. It is Good News that the Holy Spirit is still speaking and still moving in our world. It is Good News that love and commitment can be celebrated in our community in a fuller way. It is Good News that a community can come together to discuss a divisive issue and remain together, even if not everyone agrees with the outcome. Not everyone at St. Luke’s has felt this call toward marriage equality, but yet we remain one community of faith. This is a testament to God’s grace and a story of unity that is newsworthy.

What our world needs most right now is not division, but more love; not exclusion, but welcome; not static dogma, but transformative mission. If two people wish to commit themselves to one another in Christian marriage and are seeking God’s blessing, we are glad that our Church can respond with grace, and that the laws of our nation grant them equal rights. At St. Luke’s, all are welcome. We take all Sacraments to be holy moments of life, and do require that all persons are adequately and duly prepared to enter into them.

If this news is something that makes you glad to read, then know that you are welcome to join us at St. Luke’s. If this news challenges your conceptions of what the Church is all about, you are welcome to join us at St. Luke’s to learn more. If this news frustrates or angers you, then you are welcome to join us for dialogue, or at the least, to consider the Spirit’s movements in your own life. If you want to learn more about discernment, you are welcome to talk to us more about our process. You are welcome to join us for worship on Sundays at 8 and 10:30 am. There is a wonderful hymn (“Ubi caritas”) that states “God is love, and where true love is, God himself is there.” To that, we say “Amen.”

The Rev. Robert Black is the Rector of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church.

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