Envy, Affection, Among UCC-Episcopal Clergy

Envy, Affection, Among UCC-Episcopal Clergy

On May 23, Massachusetts Conference Minister and President The Rev. Dr. Jim Antal and Western Massachusetts Episcopal Diocese Bishop The Right Reverend Dr. Doug Fisher, convened a group of UCC and Episcopal clergy to come together for dialogue. They met at  St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Longmeadow.  ​

Two UCC Pastors, Marisa Brown-Ludwig, Chair of the MACUCC Task Force on Ecumenism & Interfaith Relations and Interim Associate Pastor of First Church of Christ in Longmeadow.​ and Corey Sanderson, Pastor of the Second Congregational Church UCC of Greenfield, wrote reflections about the experience. Read them below. 
By Marisa Brown-Ludwig

I am honored to be part a growing friendship and spiritual collaboration among UCC and Episcopal pastors here in Western Massachusetts. At one time I might have described us at being at opposite ends of the Christian spectrum, (High Church vs Low!)  but never have I found our approach to living out our Christian faith more compatible.

As one of the “pairs” of pastors working together in a town, my ecumenical partner Rev. Derrick Fetz of St. Andrew’s Episcopal and I were invited to this gathering at his church on May 23.  We joined pairs of our colleagues from Stockbridge, Greenfield, Northampton and Wilbraham and our regional associate conference ministers to explore and celebrate and dream!

We opened by getting to know each other using a symbol of our ministry to introduce ourselves, which gave us a glimpse into the heart of each of us.  Then we entered into a time of sharing Holy Envy, in which we celebrated and affirmed parts of each other’s practices, liturgies, mission work and theology.  We found there was as abundance that we admire and enjoy about each other’s faith communities.  UCCers lifted up the beauty of Episcopal liturgies and rites, and Episcopalians lifted up UCC justice work and creative prayers that are not bound by a daily book. We share already ardent activism on the part of climate justice, racism, the homeless, refugees and more. 

We shared stories of our collaborative ministries already going on, such as two churches considering “co-locating” into one church building; shared worship like Ash Wednesdays, Easter Vigils, Election Night Eucharists, Thanksgiving services;  clergy support for each other;  putting together vigils in times of trouble; working on mission partnerships like building a Habitat for Humanity House together or youth groups doing the CROP Walk together, and in Greater Springfield, forming UCC/Episcopal pastor partners for each weekend to lead the Church Without Walls for the homeless or unchurched. 

Later after a delicious lunch we dreamed how we might spread what we are doing to other places, to our sister churches?  We talked of UCCers inviting Episcopal partners to talk about our relationships at upcoming Super Saturdays or local Association meetings in the Massachusetts Conference; and about publications in which to share stories in our church regions.  We explored the UCC - United Church of Canada Recognition, Reconciliation of Ordained Ministry, and the Episcopal-Methodist Full Communion proposal.

The conversation continues and we have agreed to look for ways to grow this from the ground up, tell our stories, share this with other denomination friends and neighbors, and look for ways to spread the word and work of our partnerships.

We ended with prayer and much affection. 
By Corey Sanderson

Envy. It’s just the sort of thing we’d normally eschew, right? Along with twin siblings, jealously and coveting, we all know that envy can get us into a heap of trouble. But what happens when what we envy inspires us to live more fully into our faith? Could envy even become a gateway to a God’s-eye view of the ministry to which we are all called? 
These were a few of the core questions that lay on the hearts of western Massachusetts clergy who belong to The United Church of Christ and The Episcopal Church. We had gathered to explore what the late Lutheran Bishop of Sweden, Krister Stendahl, called ‘holy envy.’ Bishop Stendahl taught that when you find things in another person’s faith tradition that are beautiful, inspiring, and that you wish were part of your own tradition, you have reached a place of ‘holy envy.’ This ‘holy envy’ can then become a bridge to deep collaboration and true partnership.
We began our time together by exploring the ‘holy envy’ we had for each other’s traditions. We spoke of prayers and architecture, pastoral leadership and covenants. It was a tender conversation rife with heartfelt longings, wise observations, and much laughter.
We continued by sharing stories of how some of our neighboring UCC and ECUSA churches have already been collaborating. Have you ever heard of a Twelve Step Eucharist service for people in recovery? I hadn’t. Nor had I ever considered the power that a joint church press release statement could have when two churches stand in a shared steadfast witness against the atrocities of continued gun violence.
What about our theological convictions? As churches that are self-admittedly ‘solid in the core, but fuzzy on the edges’ we explored our shared non-creedal approaches to local church polity. We explored our views of the Eucharist, how social justice stems from our prayer lives, how common missions emerge from our deepest values, and even looked past attempts at ecumenical relations that never quite took.
What might it look like to take seriously Jesus’ plea ‘that all may be one’? What would it look like to live and love and serve together? What could a new trans-denominational partnership bring to our hurting world? These were all questions to ask, not to answer. Like the earliest disciples who left the empty tomb that first Easter morning, with nothing more than a hunch that God was now loose in the world, so too did we depart more aware than ever that a future with God always beckons us to unknown and unexpected places.

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