Reflection by Mark Lloyd Taylor, Ph.D. (Faculty, Seattle University School of Theology and Ministry)

“…unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies…” (John 12:24)

A transformative moment of self awareness came for me when I realized my greatest gifts as a person and my most impactful limitations do not lie separated from each other, on opposite ends of some spectrum, but in closest proximity, like two sides of the same coin. My ability to keep calm and look out for the needs of others in times of crisis, for example, born out of the experience of caring for younger siblings when I was eight and our little baby brother was so gravely ill and in the hospital, that ability comes at a high price, for I sometimes find it difficult to feel my own feelings deeply as I squelch what’s inside to deal with the chaos outside.

Something similar can be said, I believe, of the gifts and limitations of our various ecclesial communities – they lie in close proximity. I am an Episcopalian. Public, corporate worship represents the center of gravity for my ecclesial community. Important gifts flow from this center: the Episcopal way of being Christian is highly communal, fiercely embodied, elemental, dramatic, beautiful, tolerant of ambiguity, and adverse to doctrinal rigidity. But limitations lie close at hand as well: we Episcopalians can devolve into liturgical fundamentalists, or worse, we can fail to connect our worship to the transformative work of justice and peace in the world to which we are called by our baptism. I wonder how you would describe the gifts and limitations of your Roman Catholic or Presbyterian or American Baptist or ______________ ecclesial community and whether you experience them as two sides of the same coin?

“Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies,” Jesus says in John’s gospel, “it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.”

My almost twenty years of association with Seattle University’s School of Theology and Ministry have taught me that ecumenism, Christian unity, requires all of us – Episcopalian and Roman Catholic and Presbyterian and American Baptist and ________________ – to undergo a kind of death. Like Jesus’ grain of wheat, we must die to our “singleness,” the illusion that my way of being Christian is the only way, or the best way; the illusion that I can be a healthy Episcopal Christian without the distinctly different ways of worship and witness represented by my Roman Catholic, Presbyterian, and American Baptist sisters and brothers. But also like Jesus’ grain of wheat, which does not cease to exist, does not cease being wheat, when it falls into the earth and dies, so Christian unity does not ask us to negate the particular gifts of our ecclesial communities; to the contrary, they contain the germ of new life. For like Jesus’ grain of wheat, much fruit is borne when our greatest gifts are liberated from the prisons of our singleness, our most impactful limitations. Then they truly become gifts offered to all, instead private possessions to be hidden and hoarded.

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