The Importance of Identity


As many of you know, last week I celebrated a birthday.  Like a lot of people, with the advent of Facebook, I received a number of greetings from folks who have been a part of every chapter of my life. Those chapters become particularly obvious as you look at the different ways people referred to me: Bishop, Brian, BP and a whole host of others.

Different context, different times, and different communities all provide a different backdrop for people to relate to us. Interestingly, there is much of who I am today that is the same person that friends and family knew growing up. And yet I have clearly grown and changed significantly in the ensuing years. One of my spiritual directors always said, “God uses our history.” That certainly has been my experience. And that history, combined with our present reality, forms our present identity.

At our recent convention, I suggested that it is critical for every faith community to be clear about what its unique identity is. I believe the manifestation of this identity comes through clarity in three things: our history; our present reality; and the collective, unique gifts that each of us bring to our community. It is essential that we understand that each faith community has its own unique identity. It is just as essential that each of our faith communities also embrace our collective Episcopal identity. (We certainly can improve on “Catholic-light” or “Because Henry VIII wanted a divorce.” Because neither is true or particularly clear in describing who we are as Episcopalians.)

To this end, for quite some time I have been inviting a variety of groups to participate in what we call the Purple Card Project. It’ a very simple process to begin the conversation about our Episcopal identity. All of these cards are added to a Wordle that begins to highlight words that represent who we believe we are.  I invite you to look at the most recent rendition.

The Episcopal Church (TEC) is also working on clarity around our Episcopal identity. At our recent Meeting of Elected Bodies, our own Dwight Zscheile — who serves on The Restructuring of the Episcopal Church (TREC) committee for TEC — facilitated a process to assist us in getting greater clarity on our collective identity as Episcopalians.  I invite you and your faith community to participate in this process.

The clearer we become in our unique identities as individual faith communities and as Episcopalians, the greater impact we can have on how we can meet the specific needs of the world in our context.

1 thought on “The Importance of Identity”

  1. Brian, alternatively don’t we also learn about the relinquishment of identities from some of the great Christian mystics in order to find our common ground in relationship with one another and God that can serve as a greater tie that binds and propels us forward? While I appreciate unique identities and diversity both individually and collectively, I think its important to be wary when identities (egos) are left unmanaged and untethered to Divine wisdom and guidance because they can run amok and further categorize, divide and separate us. The tightrope balance between the two takes a lifetime to master.

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