Monday, January 08, 2007

Be Careful for Nothing

The experience of parish ministry has made me a believer in thinking systemically. The late Rabbi Edwin Friedman is the godfather of applying family systems theory to congregational life. His prime directive for leaders is: Be a non-anxious presence. Stay authentically connected to the system, but don't amplify and transmit its anxiety. The undoubtedly more accurate RSV translation of St Paul's admonition to the Philippians about rejoicing reads, "Have no anxiety about anything." The KJV, which sticks in my mind probably because of the Henry Purcell anthem on that text, reads, "Be careful for nothing."

I strive religiously (after all, how else would a priest be expected to strive?!) to follow this advice. Sometimes I do well. At other times I don't. But I keep trying nonetheless. It's important. And it's difficult. In my effort to be non-anxious, some might think I don't care. The temptation is to get sucked back into an anxious state. Anxiety, like misery, loves company. My job in those moments is to have a high tolerance for people's disappointment with me. I serve them best as a leader and pastor when I don't come to the rescue--theirs or my own.

The Anglican world will be a source for plenty of anxiety over the next few weeks for those who are looking for it. Today it was announced that the heretofore do-nothing Panel of Reference actually did something. It essentially vindicated the Diocese of Fort Worth with respect to their position on the ordination of women to the priesthood and episcopate--in short, that their position is within the bounds of Anglican theology, that they have the right to hold it and practice it without being subject to sanctions from the Episcopal Church, that they have the right when the time comes to elect a bishop who will continue that position and to have that election consented-to by the rest of the church, that their arrangement with the Diocese of Dallas for assisting women with their discernment of a call to priestly ministry is a commendable example, and that the matter itself is indeed in a process of "reception" that will probably not be concluded during the lifetime of anyone currently active in the debate.

This is fairly big, but its bigness has to do not so much with the actual issue of women's ordination, about which nothing will really change, as with the notion that offshore Anglican authorities (such as, in this case, the Panel of Reference) are acting legitimately when they hold particular provinces (such as, in this case, the Episcopal Church) accountable to a measure of discipline that transcends that province's own constitutional formularies. The predictable voices are already crying "Foul!" They are anxious, and understandably so. This is not a defining moment of mega-importance, but it is one more link in a chain of events that bolsters my continued confidence that real Anglican realignment is in the offing, and that a new thing is being done.

The second Camp Allen meeting of "Windsor Bishops" has come and gone, with only a brief and not very informative statement finally being issued today by Bishop Wimberly, the host and convener. Speculation is rampant, but futile. I'm not showing up to that party. It does raise anxiety all around, however.

But the real anxiety producer at the moment is now scarcely more than a month away, and it's the next meeting of the Anglican Primates, in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. Many are expecting, and many more are hoping, that this will be truly a defining moment. Decisions are being delayed in view of potential outcomes from that meeting--decisions by individuals, decisions by congregations, and decisions by dioceses. We now know that the Presiding Bishop has been invited. But, once there, will she be allowed to stay? What effect will the Dromantine Statement have on the level of her participation? We now know that there will be a "pre-meeting" involving TEC bishops other than the Presiding Bishop. Who will they be? Will they include Bishop Duncan, the putative "shadow primate" of the Network? Will the larger group of Windsor Bishops be represented? Once the actual meeting begins, will either or both of these be invited to stay? Alongside Bishop Jefferts Schori? In place of her? Will there be some formal word of "discipline" for the Episcopal Church? Will any details from the developing Anglican Covenant be revealed? Will there be any hint of who will and who will not be invited to the 2008 Lambeth Conference?

Can you feel the anxiety rising?

I think those who are looking for Dar es Salaam to be an unmistakable watershed in Anglican history will be disappointed. Important things will happen there, but the sort of unambiguous clarity that many are looking for will not materialize. Rather, it will be another link in a long chain. When we look at history, we find that, in the vast majority of circumstances, clarity only emerges in retrospect. We look back at events and can discern directions and trends and patterns. But we don't know it in the moment. There will be no moment when the Anglican world holds its breath and experiences realignment. It will not be either a Pauline "Damascus Road" experience or a Wesleyan strange warming. Instead, somewhere in the process of muddling through, it will dawn on Anglicans--not all at the same time, no doubt--that things have changed, that the shift has occurred.

I am on record as believing that it will be a good shift. I continue to hold that hope. I'm trying not to be anxious.

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