THE CHURCH’S RESPONSIBILITY
As a community of reconciliation, the Church’s mission is to “restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ” (Book of Common Prayer, “Outline of the Faith,” page 855). The Church pursues this mission by “praying, worshiping, proclaiming the Gospel and promoting justice, peace and love.”
This mission is carried out “through the ministry of all the Church’s members.” It is the particular ministry of a bishop. . . “The ministry of a bishop is to. . . act in Christ’s name for the reconciliation of the world and the building up of the Church. . .” (BCP p. 855)
Said differently and pointedly, reconciliation is not an option for the Church, it is the very essence of the Church’s mission. At times such ministry is painful and controversial. However, if we recognize that the Church is called not to be popular but to be faithful, we realize our baptismal responsibility for “continual repentance, proclamation, service and striving for justice and peace among all people and respecting the dignity of every human being.” (BCP p. 417).
Christian identity grounded in our baptism and our understanding of our ministry and mission, as taught in the “Outline of the Faith,” clearly points to the need for the Church to carry out its prophetic witness in the world and the communities of which we are a part. When there is racial tension and strife, as has characterized our life here in South Dakota for the past century, it is the obligation of the Church to address such strife and call for healing and reconciliation.
It is the further obligation of the Church to avoid partisan politics in the exercise of this ministry of reconciliation in calling all citizens to transcend partisan identity in seeking the common good.
The powerful and at times controversial witness of the prophets in both Hebrew scriptures and the New Covenant clearly supports such a ministry of repentance and reconciliation. Nowhere is this more clearly seen than in the ministry of Jesus. His call for reconciliation was finally realized at the cost of his life. It is important to note that even as he was dying he implored the Father that such reconciliation might be accomplished. How can we follow his example? This question leads me to some concluding thoughts and a request.
BEING AGENTS OF RECONCILIATION
If we turn to that pastoral office in the Prayer Book called, “The Reconciliation of the Penitent,” found on page 447, we find that reconciliation begins with prayer and confession. Following absolution there is a call to new life. In an attempt to better understand our role as agents of reconciliation, I am asking that the ordained and lay leadership of the Diocese call together our churches as communities of theological and moral discourse to better understand our shared ministry of reconciliation. In so doing I offer the following method as a way of exploring and discussing this vital aspect of the Church’s mission. The following questions are offered as discussion starters for such group reflection:
1. Describe a personal experience of reconciliation. What has been your experience of reconciliation within the Church and larger community?
2. What is the meaning of reconciliation? What are your feelings and thoughts about this aspect of our shared ministry?
3. How does your experience and your attempt to define the meaning of reconciliation help you understand the need for reconciliation in the state of South Dakota? Why has our Governor called for the extension of the Year for Reconciliation to the need for a Century of Reconciliation?
4. What is your particular responsibility as a follower of Jesus Christ in your community and in your Church to be an agent of reconciliation? How can you embody the truth as love in professing the teachings of the Church in living out your baptismal vows and promises?
5. How can the Episcopal Church and Christian Churches in the state of South Dakota continue to provide effective leadership in calling for reconciliation within our state? How can we avoid some of the past misunderstanding within and outside the Church in these efforts? How can we encourage others to be a part of the process for reconciliation?
There are times and moments in the life of the Church, often referred to kairotic moments, when God intervenes in history calling His people and created order to repentance and reconciliation. It seems that in our day and time such a kairotic moment is upon us.
The fourfold call for reconciliation within in our churches and state is urgent. God is judging our unfaithfulness and calling us to repent and to be reconciled with and to Him through reconciliation with others. In an age filled with racial strife arid tension, God calls us to repent of institutional racism in all its forms. We are summoned to see our diversity as a source
for celebration rather than the state of separation that we name sin.
Such judgment and calls for repentance and reconciliation might well be signs that God is calling us to a deeper reconciliation within ourselves as individuals, a reconciliation that calls us to a renewed community and corporate ethic which promises that peace that we all search for in our own individual lives, that “peace that passeth understanding.”
I bid your prayers, reflection, sharing and action as God’s people, the Church, the community of reconciliation. I shall look forward to discussing any and all parts of this article or other aspects of the Church’s important work in this regard in my upcoming visitation with you and members of your Church family.