Convocation is always a disorienting time for us lowly seminarians. The campus suddenly becomes awash in the purple and black and green of our Trustees, who almost seem to out-number the student body. Our quiet, insulated little life of study and prayer is suddenly punctuated with unfamiliar faces, jitters of anxiety and anticipation, community functions of various kinds. In the midst of such a blur of activity, one often feels alternately totally overwrought and overwhelmed, or totally ignored.
But if convocation is a disorienting time, it is also a necessary time. It’s all a part of the big F – word we like throwing around at Nashotah House – Formation. We need to be reminded, from time to time, is there a world outside the seminary to which we will be ministering, there is also a Church in which we will be ministering. And that Church is populated – strangely enough – not with ideas, but with people: with Bishops, Priests, Deacons, and laity.
Anglicans, it seems, are a read-y people. We like to read stuff. It’s a good thing, mostly – but it can be dangerous; particularly in the e-world of the interwebs, where there’s always another blog out there, just waiting to excite our passions and fill our heads with chatter. It only gets worse when you’ve also been given a bunch of great books to read and a bunch of great
tools to think about “lofty things; things too marvelous to behold.” It’s rather easy to get lulled into a false sense of being “in the know,” when really all you’ve done is sit in front of a glowing rectangle for a couple of hours.
But spend a few days quite literally rubbing elbows with the guys in purple shirts, and all that information you’ve assimilated suddenly seems to dissipate back into the ether from which it came. It seems too obvious to be worth pointing out, but ideas don’t wear mitres: only men do. And people are subtle and tricky, more challenging and messier to deal with than ideas.
When it comes down to it, the Church is a bunch of folk, doing the best they can with what they have been given, and what they have been given to do. It doesn’t
really matter how much you know or how doggedly you cling to Christian orthodoxy if you don’t know how to cooperate with the Spirit of God and speak form into that chaos of ecclesial structures and ecclesial relationships.
It was our particular privilege this year to get convoked by the old ABC, George Carey. With such a caliber of guest wafting around (to say nothing of the added events of dedicating a new building and installing a new dean!) the normal anxiety was cranked up a notch or ten. But never fear! Our local Southern personalities rose to the challenge: and the refectory was transformed into a grand mingling hall, and wine did flow, and our palates were tickled variety of Salmon-themed consumables.
It was a great honor, naturally, to have Archbishop Carey present in our midst and to share our life and our studies with him for a few days. I was a little disappointed, though, when it came time for him to share a few of his opinions. He seems to be generally in line with the kind of modern, liberal Evangelicalism that I (as a young fogey with an obstinate tendency to pine after classical Christianity) find neither particularly helpful nor particularly interesting.
But if I didn’t gain much from Archbishop Carey’s point of view, I did learn something from the way he shared it.
Lord Carey was gentle, firm and bold with what he shared with us (even when he knew it would cross lines with some of the more crotchety of us Anglo-Catholics) and insisted that we all just stay calm and stay in the conversation. This is important. Conversation is an essential discipline. If we’re ever going to work out the meaning of communion, we need to have better tools for talking to one another than blog-comment flame wars.
Conversation is not the ultimate good, of course. Neither are trustee meetings. The ultimate goal is mutual love and common discernment of the work of God in our midst. But conversations and trustee meetings are as good a place as any to start growing toward that, by God’s grace. And by God’s grace, and by the godly wisdom and counsel of our new Dean, I do indeed think that this year’s palette of Convoking activities was a Formative experience, and not a deformative one.