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Friends sustain each other, Anderson tells California seminary gathering

By Mary Frances Schjonberg

ENS Photo by Mary Frances Schjonberg
House of Deputies President Bonnie Anderson, left, and Presiding Bishop-elect Katharine Jefferts Schori listen to announcements before Anderson delivered the third annual St. Margaret Lecture October 13 at Church Divinity School of the Pacific, the Episcopal seminary in Berkeley, California.   (ENS Photo by Mary Frances Schjonberg)

[Episcopal News Service]  House of Deputies President Bonnie Anderson told those gathered October 13 for the third annual St. Margaret's Lecture at the Church Divinity School of the Pacific (CDSP) in Berkeley, California, that friendship is a mysterious force that is part of our journey toward reconciliation with God.

Anderson said she has "come to understand that friendship, and the way in which we individually embrace it, contains windows into our spirituality and our soul and our relationship with God."

Using as a backdrop the friendships formed by the women who were trained at St. Margaret's House, a historic CDSP-associated training school for deaconesses and lay women, Anderson said friends sustain each other.

"What must it have been like for these women? How much their friendships must have meant to them and what value those friendships must have held for them," Anderson said, noting the 1934 refusal of General Convention to modernize and "regularize" deaconesses. (The deaconess canon was eliminated by General Convention in 1970 and women were included in the canons pertaining to deacons.)

"The God that called them into ministry gave them to each other for support and for sharing the joys and sorrows of life in friendship," she said.

"So there you are, a woman, called to minister, committed to a Church that is ambiguous, at best, about the ministry of women, the ministry to which you have been called," Anderson said of the women at St. Margaret's House in the mid-1930s. "You find your way to St. Margaret's House and there you find affirmation in your ministry from an institution. But you also find friends."

She told the more than 300 people attending the lecture and lunch that "on this life journey friends are guides, guardian angels, mentors, role models, truth tellers, comforters, comic relief and side kicks."

"Someone once said that there is an open window before us between the time we realize that we are ‘sinners,' and the time we have to be reconciled to God," Anderson said. "I think that open window is called ‘life.' That open window called life is a process. Perhaps how we spend our time trying to be reconciled to God and to get to heaven is a crucial and important part of the actual getting reconciled and getting to heaven."

Anderson said the "getting there" is how we "live out our quest for heaven, coming face to face with the Glory of God and reconciliation. It is in the ‘getting there' that we live out our friendships."

Warning of the dangers of having friendships become "virtual friendships," but praising the value of email as a way to stay connected, she said noted that "the nature of friendship is changing as our world becomes more complex, global and technological."

"Church services compete with soccer games, and friendships compete with other primary relationships, family and work," Anderson said.

Anderson was introduced in her lecturer role by Presiding Bishop-elect Katharine Jefferts Schori, a member of the CDSP Board of Trustees and a CDSP alum, class of '94, and '01.

Jefferts Schori, noting Anderson's "technical expertise in managing change," said that Anderson's ministry calls everyone "to be a friend to all of creation, to change and to all those in the world who are seeking Jesus."

The annual St. Margaret's Lecture supports the Berkeley, California seminary's efforts to establish the St. Margaret's Chair for Women and Ministry. The lecture series is sponsored by Every Voice Network.

The St. Margaret's Chair will be the first faculty position of its kind in an Episcopal seminary or the Graduate Theological Union, the country's largest ecumenical and interfaith consortium of seminaries and graduate schools, of which CDSP is a founding member.

The chair will continue the vision of St. Margaret's House, founded in Berkeley, California in 1909, 16 years after CDSP's founding. St. Margaret's House trained women for the church work of the day - as deaconesses and lay church workers. The permanent faculty position will focus on women's lay and ordained leadership in the church.