The Bishop’s E-pistle: Civic Liturgies in 2020

I went to the Tucson Rodeo last Saturday, and enjoyed the civic liturgy that is the rodeo: a procession of flags for each branch of the armed forces, carried by women on galloping horses, accompanied by the anthem for each branch (though they played the wrong one for the Coast Guard!), followed by the American flag, Star Spangled Banner, opening prayer, and the commissioning of a class of naval recruits. It was “Navy Appreciation Day–brought to you by Coors.”

The word “liturgy” comes from the Greek for “work of the people” and originally referred to public works such as bridges and aqueducts. We generally use the word in the church to refer to worship; but it is equally applicable to civic actions that engage the people–like the rodeo, and its rituals of patriotism. It was fun to be a spectator at that liturgy of patriotism, prayer, and commercial sponsorship.

As a church leader, I don’t get to just be a spectator very often. My ordination vows require me to be a participant–I have vowed to proclaim the gospel, give voice to the powerless, and consider deeply how our faith in Jesus shapes every aspect of our lives.

This year, we are engaging the civic liturgy of an election. I spoke to our clergy at the Clergy Conference about how we are going to get through what promises to be a year fraught with division and conflict; and will do the same at the Lay Leadership Weekend next weekend.

Episcopal congregations in our diocese have different expectations about where and how our political life and our churches are called to engage one another. We are called–all of us, both lay and ordained–to “proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ,” which is a calling just as vital in the public square as it is within our church buildings. My expectation of clergy–and myself–is that we will preach the Gospel at all times, and testify consistently by word and example to that Gospel message of love of neighbor, love of enemy, and love of God.

My brother bishop from the Diocese of Texas, Andy Doyle, has just published the book Citizen: Faithful Discipleship in a Partisan World. I have only finished the introduction, but I commend it to you as a resource for your own reflection on the nature of being a citizen of a state and a citizen of the Reign of God.