Being Part of a Global Family

by Dean Shambaugh

My siblings and I grew up surrounded by stories from around the world: tales from my parents who had lived in Taiwan and traveled around Asia and postcards and stories from my aunt who ran a school in what was then known as Bombay and traveled around the globe. 

All five of us have traveled, lived, and worked abroad and passed the same sense of adventure and global identity to our kids. I have traveled extensively, lived abroad twice, and connected with clergy and church missions around the world. 

For the ten years, before I came to Maine, I helped run African Palms, which kept me in touch with Anglican Bishops and Development Officers in Eastern Africa on an almost weekly basis. 

All this has given me a profound appreciation for the worldwide Anglican Communion, and a deep sense of understanding that the Episcopal Church is part of a global family. 

Family is an interesting metaphor. 

The political divides in this country mean that gatherings like Thanksgiving dinners have become a great challenge, with many families struggling to figure out how to stay together despite profound differences. 

The church family is very much the same. 

Yesterday, the Archbishop of Tanzania used the message frequently heard on British subway/tube lines “Mind the gap” as a metaphor for working together. “Mind the Gap” is a reminder that there is a gap that travelers need to be aware of. The existence of the gap, however, doesn’t mean that the tube doesn’t run, or take people where they need to go. 

Follow the Lambeth Conference.

Over the years, my position on all this has evolved. On the one hand, I have come to understand there are historical and cultural reasons for the conservative theology in the developing world, many of which are the result of the actions or inactions of the Episcopal Church. (We, for example, did not fund missionaries, leaving this to far more conservative “societies” which chose their missionaries. We also allied ourselves with colonial and business interests, keeping Europeans or Americans at the top of the church and dictating how we thought things should be.) 

On the other hand, I have also reached the point where I realize the importance of standing up for what we believe and not compromising who we are and what we are called to be. Integrity matters. The full inclusion of LGBTQ members, women, and people from a wide variety of backgrounds and points of view matters. We have come a long way and will not go backward. 

All this said, however, I still believe that we work better together than apart, that God’s mission and God’s love are greater than any differences we might have

We are part of a global communion, a worldwide family. 

Is it possible to stay together, united in a common mission and bonds of love, without sacrificing who we are and who we believe God is calling us to be? 

Can we “mind the gap” and still get on the train? 

These are good questions for our bishops gathered at Lambeth. They are also good questions for us right here at home.