On Saturday, I had a meeting (not exactly my favorite way to spend a Saturday, but a good meeting) with Fr. Colbert Estil, the priest who oversees the church and school that St. Andrew’s supports in Maniche, Haiti (http://www.standrewkc.org/social_concerns.html#StAug). It was a rare visit to the States for Père Colbert and a wonderful opportunity to hear from him how the classes and the hot-lunch program are going. Also at this meeting were representatives from three other local parishes that work with Père Colbert to support churches and schools in southwest Haiti – Church of the Redeemer in North Kansas City, St. Paul’s in Kansas City, and Christ Church in Overland Park, which also hosted this meeting.
Now, if you know the insider politics of the Episcopal Church, particularly in the Kansas City area, then you know that “one of these things is not like the others.” A few years ago, Christ Church in Overland Park broke away from the Episcopal Church and declared itself to be an “Anglican” parish now under the oversight of a bishop in Uganda. That process of divorce was long and very hard, particularly for the members of that parish family who felt their church had left them. Anyway, suffice it to say that local Episcopal congregations haven’t had much interaction with Christ Church since it left the Episcopal Church. In fact, I had never even set foot in the building until this Saturday.
But I’m very glad I did because it was a baby step toward realizing Jesus' desire that all his disciples would be one (John 17:20-23). In those two and a half hours on Saturday, no one mentioned Episcopal Church politics. When I came through the door, no one asked me where I stood on issues of human sexuality. (They might have been dismayed to know that I had just come from another meeting, this one as part of the committee in the Diocese of West Missouri planning the process for listening to the experience of gay and lesbian people of faith.) Instead, I was welcomed just like everyone else there, included in good conversation about our schools in Haiti, and served brownies, warm out of the oven. We listened to Père Colbert and shared information about resources we all might tap to improve our efforts to feed and teach the children in these Haitian villages. For two and a half hours, at least, no one worried about homosexuality.
Now, I don’t mean to imply that the place of gay and lesbian people in the Church is not an important issue. It, too, is a facet of the diamond of God’s justice. And I have no delusions that simply by focusing on mission can we instantly put to rest our differences on sexuality. But I do believe that Jesus would like us to give that a try. To me, serving “the least” as agents of God’s reign is our best hope, in the long term, for overcoming the differences that divide believers. There’s nothing quite like serving Christ in the person of a hungry child to make you see where the Church’s focus should be.