LIke the Episcopal Church, Mormonism is a branch of the Christian faith full of wonderful aspects of human life but run through with the frailties and insecurities and narcissism of its organizational leadership. One of my best friends is Mormon and his family is as tight and kind and loving as a family could be in even the most adjusted super-society. The financial giving in Mormonism is off the charts; giving as they do, a percentage of their income to their local church which is 9 times what Episcopalians give and given that no clergy or teaching staff are paid – money is spent on outreach. Mormons were formed in a situation of Western travel and settling which demanded that they work together, follow the rules and remain kind towards each other to develop deep community. We like to demonize other religious expressions out of our own insecurities. I get that. At least we no longer run Crusades – at least “Onward Christian Soldiers” are not butchering whole middle eastern cities pretending to do so because God said to, when in fact it was about money and power all along. We have made some progress, we Christians. Some.
The home from which the Mormon Church was run was called the Beehive House and had a beehive like this one on the very top of the cupola of the house. It was a symbol of the power and impact of community life and the ideals held up in bee hive systems. But, on the other hand, it was also designed to show authority, hierarchy and structure. The Queen rules, alone. Rival queens are murdered. The workers work until they die. The queen kills every bee with whom she procreates and the majority of the bees work to produce in the summer and then die of cold in the winter protecting the Queen and her attendants with their warmth. So no. No Christian group is ideal and neither is the bee hive. But both have evolved to produce an outcome and that is the question of any church. What is our outcome product? Is it what we spend so much time discussing and measuring? Is it money? Is it membership? Is it power and influence? And what do executives do when the church exists to produce love and kindness only to find that it is harder to measure than the charts and graphs which show income? What is a vestry meeting were spent discussing human lives changed in the previous month? What if the graphs and charts were about how many meals were fed to the hungry and how many sweaters given to the cold and how many conversations held with the lonely and confused and how many small groups met for prayer or to tell their stories and get real-life-help?? What if our vestry meetings looked less like boards of directors and more like the rag-tag ravings of St. Francis’s group of misfit saints?
When I came to Denver, I remember the movers coming into the farm house to tell me that the van was packed and that it was time to pull out. I ran out past the bee balm, past the pottery studio, past the pond and the pumpkin patch to the back pasture and began dismantling one of the bee hives. My sister thought I might be having a nervous breakdown. She looked concerned and gentle like the attendants in an asylum. As the movers looked at each other and their shoes in stunned disbelief, I pulled apart two of the four bee hives (they were still empty of bees from a bear attack – somewhere in those woods was a happy well-fed bear) and started placing the bee hives on the truck. There were tears streaming down my face. I could leave my pottery and even my friends but damn if I was leaving my bee hives. They are now in Golden, at my friend Rebecca’s house waiting to be populated by new colonies in May. We will raise the bees to gather, me Rick and Rebecca.
And I have begun conversations to see if it is possible to raise bees on the cathedral towers. We could fit with – four on each tower. As Canon Steward, part of my job is the stewardship of the building. It is being used well? Bees love quiet and they hate traffic because the wind created by the cars messes up their flight patterns. But from the tops of our towers, they can come and go and never come near humans or cars ten stories down on the ground. They can help pollinate our gardens, Capital Hill gardens and those of the Botanical Gardens nearby. And we can one day harvest rich, dark honey for sale to our congregants and the bees wax for candles on our altars.
With all of its metaphorical imperfections, the bee hive is an excellent icon for community, collaboration, self-offering and a product which is “good” on too many levels and in too many ways to even list. And since scientists have determined that without bees, the planet will cease to have life on it in four years, well, having a few bee hives is a contribution to planetary existence. It is funny that if churches ceased to exist, not much would happen. People would adjust. Prayers would be said on long walks. Connections would be made in other ways of group-making. But the planet would be just fine. Bees on the other hand…