Katharine Jefferts Schori: God is found in patient work of conversation

Posted by Kendall Harmon

I read a fascinating book recently that touches on several of these themes: The Friend by Alan Bray, University of Chicago Press, 2003 (there is a paperback edition from 2006). Bray explores the history of friendship in Europe and the British Isles from the 11th century into the 19th and points to the ways in which public and private concepts of friendship historically have varied from our own.

In earlier centuries, friendship had public expectation and meaning that often was rooted in a shared baptismal bond. Members of the body of Christ had a duty to each other, and such duty might be more strongly recognized through vows said at the door of the church and then sealed in the Eucharist.

The peace we share in church today is often a pale imitation of such a deeply meant promise to uphold the other, even in the face of potentially competing claims. It is that willingness to stand together in difficulty that we are continually challenged to relearn.

Bray's explication is academic and carefully dispassionate, but it has a number of surprises. He documents vowed friendships, sealed in church, between men and a few between women. The vows they made to each other usually were made at the church door, as was similarly the custom for those entering marriage, and then followed by Eucharist in the church. The process of making those vows was in the English vernacular called "wedding," and the result in the context of vowed friends was sometimes termed "wedded brothers."

Read it all.

Filed under: * Anglican - EpiscopalEpiscopal Church (TEC)Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori

17 Comments
Posted September 29, 2009 at 5:43 pm [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]



1. Phil wrote:

Interestingly, Schori nominally intends a column on a potentially useful topic for Christians (the deeper possibilities of conversation, seeing the image of God in others) and somehow works it around to sex.  This seems to be something of a pathology in Episcopalianism.  (Well, what the heck: that is Episcopalianism.)

One also can’t miss the irony of Schori lecturing others on “imputing misleading, erroneous and even evil motivations; instilling fear.”  I would offer as examples of those behaviors the lazy charge of bigotry against mainstream Christians, for the former, and the filing of strike suits against uppity parishes, and even individual vestry members, for the latter.  I guess she doesn’t “have a better way,” after all.

September 29, 5:59 pm | [comment link]
2. Intercessor wrote:

The peace we share in church today…
ahhh…I don’t think that is where you want this “conversation” to go Dr. Schori. It is not your best subject.
Intercessor

September 29, 6:12 pm | [comment link]
3. Journeyman wrote:

Bray’s explication is academic and carefully dispassionate, but it has a number of surprises. He documents vowed friendships, sealed in church, between men and a few between women. The vows they made to each other usually were made at the church door, as was similarly the custom for those entering marriage, and then followed by Eucharist in the church. The process of making those vows was in the English vernacular called “wedding,” and the result in the context of vowed friends was sometimes termed “wedded brothers.”

I wonder what she is getting at here?

September 29, 6:32 pm | [comment link]
4. Pageantmaster ن wrote:

This past General Convention actually saw some of that kind of conversation. It is an art and manner that the church can model and offer to the larger culture.

Yes indeed, you told the Communion where to go.  A fine example.

In earlier centuries, friendship had public expectation and meaning that often was rooted in a shared baptismal bond. Members of the body of Christ had a duty to each other, and such duty might be more strongly recognized through vows said at the door of the church and then sealed in the Eucharist.

The Baptismal Bond was between the members and Christ as was the Eucharist.

He documents vowed friendships, sealed in church, between men and a few between women. The vows they made to each other usually were made at the church door, as was similarly the custom for those entering marriage, and then followed by Eucharist in the church. The process of making those vows was in the English vernacular called “wedding,” and the result in the context of vowed friends was sometimes termed “wedded brothers.”

Vows of friendship are a fine thing; quite distinct from a Civil Partnership with all that they are taken to involve by people on all sides of the issue.

Those assumptions were far less pervasive in earlier centuries, though tension may have remained about the possibility of a sexual relationship.

Um, you seriously did not want to get caught having a sexual relationship out of wedlock in the Middle Ages.

What I would like to leave with you is this: How often do our assumptions lead the argument? The kind of patient, time-consuming conversation that our forebears and spiritual guides knew and still know can bring unexpected discoveries about our neighbors, ourselves and our purported enemies.
God is to be found in that patient work—which is more often called prayer. It is the kind of conversation that Jesus had with his disciples, albeit often to his frustration!

Prayer is worship or petition of God by His people, not a conversation between His people, let’s be clear.

What a lot of rot!

September 29, 6:49 pm | [comment link]
5. Harry Edmon wrote:

God is found in patient work of conversation - too bad there are so many that refuse to listen to God as He speaks to us in His Word.  They are too busy tell God what He “really meant”.

September 29, 7:31 pm | [comment link]
6. archangelica wrote:

KJS is very clear that this is not about sexuality per se but about friendship. In fact she laments that same sex friends have to worry about being thought of as gay.
Postmodern Christianity is in dire need of a biblical recovery of the lost art of friendship. Too often, our friends, are as disposable as are our marriages. Deep, faithful, and holy friendships should be a hallmark of Christian living. In the Celtic tradition, a novice monk was assigned a “soul friend” (anamchara) to befriend him deeper into the Faith. We have so lost these bonds of connection that we now pay people to be our soul friends and call them our Spiritual Directors.
What are some of the best books on Christian friendship that others have read and would reccomend?
Lonliness is epidemic in this country, in the ordained ministry (according to studies) and in the Church.
How to recover it?

September 29, 7:39 pm | [comment link]
7. driver8 wrote:

Bray’s work is cautious and interesting. One the one hand it charts the persistence of vowed same sex celibate friendships. On the other it marks a configuration that same sex desire could take in pre modern christian society. (A fuller picture might include the formal teaching of the church, the actions of church courts, confessor’s manuals etc. etc.). His evidence is not easily used as “ammunition” by any party in the current debacle.

FWIW I actually agree with the PB that words are not enough to create friendship. So it is not enough to say “democratic polity”, “General Convention”, “diverse church” when anyone truly desiring to make friends should see that in many places even those traditionalists who might be filling to be befriended are too frightened speak or fear ostracism simply for attempting to join the conversation.

September 29, 7:43 pm | [comment link]
8. RalphM wrote:

To KJS, “conversation” usually consists of TEC vs. clergy, vestry members and trustees appearing on the same page of a lawsuit.  That’s the type of conversation where she really excels!

September 29, 8:37 pm | [comment link]
9. A Senior Priest wrote:

Can I have a conversation with Mrs Schori about the ordination of women? Can an aspirant to Holy Orders in her organization get ordained if that person does not approve of women being ordained? Nope. And she’s not going back on any of her already accomplished innovations, either. So, whatever would be the worth of conversation, except to share some feelings?

September 29, 8:44 pm | [comment link]
10. Undergroundpewster wrote:

Friendship is important, vows of friendship are interesting, and friendship patterns do vary from culture to culture, but why in the world does she pull out the wedding word for broadcast on Episcopagan Life Online? IMHO, it was used to ease the concept of modern SSBs into the minds of the readers (not that the typical reader of that site needs any help in that department).

Or perhaps it is another lame attempt to justify the non-existent theology of SSBs.

September 29, 9:57 pm | [comment link]
11. Ken Peck wrote:

Part of the Art of Conversation is the ability to shut up and listen to the other person.

That isn’t the same thing as constantly harping on the “listening process.”

Neither is, “I’m going to ask you to sit down (and shut up)” isn’t conversation, either.

September 29, 11:00 pm | [comment link]
12. Jill Woodliff wrote:

Because of the rise of racial tension in the nation, a group of 40 intercessors gathered in a field today to pray that there would not be a flashpoint of racial violence in Mississippi.  Invitation was not be e-mail lists but by personal relationships.  The intercessors represented different races, geographic regions, and denominations.  It was called a solemn day of prayer and fasting, but there was joy in God’s presence.  There was a time of solitude to hear God’s voice, and this was shared.  I don’t know the names of most of those present, but because we shared our hearts in prayer to God, a bond was created.  In Christ, all things are held together.

September 29, 11:39 pm | [comment link]
13. Barbara Gauthier wrote:

archangelica,  the best discussion I’ve seen on why true Christian friendship is so rare is this article by Anthony Esolen, “Requiem for Friendship,” which appeared in the Sept. 2005 issue of Touchstone. 

Because our culture is so saturated with sex, all relationships tend to be seen as primarily sexual even when they are not.  Deep friendships, like that between Sam and Frodo in LOTR, are virtually impossible in our hyper-sexed society.  Men in particular are hesitant to develop such close friendships because of the sexual overtones that society will inevitably read into it.

September 30, 8:32 am | [comment link]
14. teatime wrote:

Exactly, Barbara.
When I first saw this article, I was hopeful that she was going to touch on that and lead it to a different conclusion. For many reasons, the strong bonds of friendship that used to exist, particularly between men, have gone by the wayside and some believe that this acceptance of homosexuality has filled that void in some cases. It’s a shame.

Luckily, I didn’t hope too much in the case of the PB’s arguments, sigh. Is she really as esoteric as her writings seem to be?

September 30, 10:15 am | [comment link]
15. Hursley wrote:

#14. Ah, yes. She is. This accounts, in part, for her spectacular blindness to what is happening around her and what she and her ilk in TEC are doing to it. Too much “gnosticism,” not catholicity.

September 30, 12:39 pm | [comment link]
16. Laura R. wrote:

archangelica, I would recommend the chapter on Friendship in C.S. Lewis’ book The Four Loves.

September 30, 12:54 pm | [comment link]
17. dwstroudmd+ wrote:

Well, I think the PB forgot to mention that one spells conversation as L-a-w-s-u-i-t and that the lapse between her words and her practice speak volumes.  Why can’t we all just be friends as modelled by the GC response to the Anglican Communion and ABC?

September 30, 6:53 pm | [comment link]
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