Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Late San Joaquin Buckshot

The departure of the Diocese of San Joaquin from the Episcopal Church has been the lead story in Anglican cyberspace since the vote was announced last Saturday afternoon. It hits me more personally than it does most others, for reasons that I explained here. With a distance of three days now, I'm ready to do some disparate debriefing.

I would have thought that, if the constitutional amendment passed, it would do so with a narrow margin—2 or 3 votes in the clergy order. As it turned out, the margin was some 12 votes. The number of vocational deacons—each of whom has a special relationship with and affection for the Bishop--in San Joaquin constitutes a real political wild card. If only presbyters had voted, the margin would have been much closer.

I caught the last five minutes or so of Bishop Duncan's after-dinner speech on Friday night, and it's possible that he's responsible for some aye votes. He is a very winsome speaker, quite compelling in a very soft and gentle and humble way. At times, he almost had me! But the mistake both he and Bishop Schofield make, as was pointed out during debate by one of the clergy, is to ignore or downplay the fact that "there are a great many good and godly people in the Episcopal Church." It is a fallacy on many levels to paint the entire Episcopal Church with the broad brush of its most radical members and leaders (including, of course, the Presiding Bishop and the Executive Council). This is precisely what my friends in SJ have done. It's a mistake to do so, but it's a very tempting and understandable mistake.

I like to think that, were I still there, I would have been lined up with the Nays, but to do so would have meant standing alongside those whom I consistently opposed on contested questions for all the years I was in the diocese, and I would have felt tremendous pressure (most of it internal) not to do so. I'm wondering how many others voted more out of response to pressure than out of conviction. And even having voted in the minority, I would, just to keep a paying job, feel pressure to go with the flow into the Southern Cone, and would probably have rationalized my way into doing so.

This is all very depressing and very disintegrating for me personally. I believe my former companions have made a tragic mistake, but at the same time I wish them well. They have an impoverished ecclesiology, but if their action has the effect of nudging the process (whatever that may be!) along a little further, then so much the better. In any case, I hope the significance of the vote margin is not lost on the Presiding Bishop or her staff or on Executive Council (or on the Archbishop of Canterbury, for that matter). The level of alienation toward the Episcopal Church in San Joaquin is astonishing. It was in the Red Zone a decade ago, and has only been escalating since. Even some who voted against the constitutional amendment are thoroughly alienated. Responding to alienation of that sort with blame-casting and clich├ęs ("dioceses and parishes can't leave TEC, only individuals can") and canonical and legal maneuvers will represent a squandered opportunity of monumental proportions. Even the Pope did not excommunicate (i.e. take canonical action) against Elizabeth I and her subjects until 1570—eleven years after she failed to re-affirm her sister's "unqualified accession" to Rome. Maybe '815' can wait that long as well. Will what is happening, now in three dioceses, cause them to "get it"? Hope springs eternal.

As I hope is abundantly clear, as one on the "orthodox" side of the equation, I thoroughly disagree with the decision of my former diocese. It grieves me no end. I cannot see it as in any way righteous or just. Yet, I just as thoroughly affirm their right to make the decision they made, and believe it is one that should be respected. Denial and word games ("individuals have left") are no help, and only delay the happy issue out of our afflictions for which we all yearn and pray. The Diocese of San Joaquin has left the Episcopal Church. It's a done deal, and that's the basic fact that we should all have in mind as we consider what comes next. There are, to be sure, some details to be worked out with respect to those parishes and individuals who wish to remain connected to the Episcopal Church, some of whom will be exercising the promised "period of discernment." But what happened last Saturday is the most significant event in the history of Anglican Christianity since the consecration of Samuel Seabury.

But they haven't just left. They have gone to a particular place--namely, the Province of the Southern Cone. And Southern Cone is a province of the Anglican Communion, in full communion with the See of Canterbury. The Episcopal Church is also a province of the Anglican Communion, in full fellowship with Canterbury as well. As a priest of a diocese of the Episcopal Church, whose bishop has an invitation to Lambeth sitting on his desk, I am also in full communion with both Canterbury and the Southern Cone, and, hence, with my brothers and sisters in San Joaquin. To say that they have departed for "another faith community," as the Bishop of Lexington did in a letter released today, obfuscates and distorts the truth.

Finally, amid the calls for prayer and support on behalf of those in San Joaquin who have been "left behind"--calls with which I concur--let me observe that, metaphorically speaking, the "poorest of the poor" in this whole mess are those who are conservative in their theology and view of Christian morality, but who are nonetheless conscientiously unable to follow the pack to South America. They are by no means eager for the warm embrace of '815,' and are as embarrassed as anyone by the conduct of the mainstream of the church. To whom shall they turn? Who will speak for them?

7 comments:

Alan said...

Even the best organizations have a few bad apples. Even the worst have a few good people. There is one person who was a member of the Waffen SS who was given a clean bill by no less than Simon Wiesenthal. However many good people are left in TEC, it is effectively run by the spiritual bad apples. Far too many who are not active supporters of the new religion are simply complicit, and thus fellow travelers.

Anonymous said...

Dan+

Only 12 Clergy voted against the Amendment. Over 70 voted for the Amendment. There aren't enough of those "vocational" deacons to have made a difference in the outcome. Even if there were 40 vocation deacons (and there aren't anywhere near that many) the vote still would have passed. What about those 8 who abstained? It doesn't appear the deacons who support their Bishop were much of a wild card.

Fr. Anonymous+ (for now) said...

Dan
I am one of those who did not vote. I did so as a statement from the Windsor mind. The Windsor process is that classic Conflict Resolution process that one can find in Acts 15. As a priest, I believe it is our role, like James, to mediate the conflicting factions towards reconciliation. That is what Rowan Williams is doing. It is why Jesus Christ died on the cross: To forgive everyone, to reconcile us to Him, and each other. It is in His image that we priests must follow. I could not vote either for or against the issues of separation. It would not be the role of mediator.

So, how do we cast the clergy who did vote in their roles? Simply as mistaken in understanding their role. Simply mistaken that the vote was legitimate. Simply mistaken that John-David is in control of his senses. (Ironically, his senses are the one thing that he does not control.) He controlled the clergy through his abuse of power, a sacred power that he received when God's grace was poured upon him in his ordination as deacon, priest, and so much more important, his ordination as Bishop; one of those in the Holy Historic Episcopate. He brings shame to the Church, to Christ the head of the Church, to the Father, and to his Mother. And he brought shame to the clergy, who trusted him to shepherd them in their pastoral work.

The Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin continues to exist. Her See is now vacant. The clergy who elect to follow John-David abandoned their flocks. They abandoned Jesus in His work.

And what of the flocks? The flocks at the various parishes, and missions will be pastored by a repentant priest, or a new priest at some future date. Patience, and time will take care of that. But, in the meantime, they will suffer the spiritual ravages of clergy who fail to love fully those whom Jesus Christ commanded us to be: friends.

The abuse of power by John-David, and the blind following of his clergy, is what the events of Friday and Saturday were all about. That abuse of power is a failure to follow Jesus in His command of us to love one another as friends.

I lament: Friendship, Dan. Whatever happened to the love of friends? Why have we lost this love? Why can we not do what ought to be the easiest thing that we ought want to do? I suppose it is why Jesus had to command us to love one another. It really does not come easy. Giving of oneself does not come easy.

I ask so often, in sermons and discussion: Why cannot people respond to God's love? Is it not what we want so desperately with one another? Yet, when we think we have it, we abuse it. My lamentations are really about the lack, or loss, of love as friends.

Look it up, what does friendship have? Well, according to the Greeks it has Compassion. It has Intimacy. It has participation. Familiar Biblical concepts.

We Christians, as friends ought want to care about each other, and the world we live in. We seek intimacy, so that we may find trust, and share our concerns. We participate because we are social. We want to do things together. As Christians, together we want to worship God, in our response to His love for us. Out of that worship we want to come away transformed in love of God, and of neighbor. Desiring to go out into the world participating in the care and transforming of others in God's loving ways.

I move on:

Some comfort that I find after Saturday is that the actions that took place at Convention are not canonical. The manipulation of the Constitution and Canons in no way justify the claims of separation. And, by the way the Constitution and Canons only serve to govern us as a body. The Constitution and Canons do not make up the Church. The Body of Christ is the Church. And it will go on even without the legal system which some hold much too highly. We must avoid being too legalistic. Paraphrasing Jesus: We ought to be looking at the Spirit of the Law; which is Love.

This legal fight is simply over property. (I believe that Duncan really meant it when he told someone that it is about property. That without the property battle he would not get the public attention he seeks. Too bad he lacks the guts to admit he meant what he said.) The property is being held illegally by a now departed Bishop and clergy.

I also find it ironic that even those who oppose John-David put so much in what he says is now the process of discernment. As if it really meant anything cononically. I don't need a discernment process to be released by John-David. He released himself. The burden is now lifted. I now seek a Bishop who will be my pastoral leader. I seek someone to occupy the Cathedra in San Joaquin, who rather than seek to divide the Church, will seek to reconcile us all to each other, and God.

Peace to you, my friend.

Kirstin said...

Alan, if you come back to this: I am what you consider a "bad apple." I am a faithful Christian. And I believe that all of creation will be redeemed.

I am a good person, Alan. As, I'm sure, are you. Why the hatred for people like me? Let God be the judge.

Aghaveagh said...

I wish you had been there, Fr. Dan. I, for one, felt that your presence might have made a difference. I still remember that eloquent speech you made at last year's convention about the "sinking ship."

Being a longterm reader of your blog I feel that you and I are in about 94% agreement in theological matters (I consider myself Anglo-Catholic) and in fact I do not agree with many of the statements made by our leaders in TEC. But I firmly believe it is our duty to remain and work to change the Church from the inside. For Alan, and all those who despair of the possibility of such a change, remember, for God, all things are possible.

Anonymous said...

Fr. Anonymous,

I appreciate your pain, much like the pain I knew when I was fired from my diocese seven years ago and then blackballed, but at least you are still have a church and remain a priest in good standing with Bishop Schofield, even though you reject his authority and that of this diocese, and that he is willing to respect your convictions to serve in TEC with his blessing. That is more grace than most TEC bishops would ever extend.

I hope we are still friends. I have tried to extend kindness to all of you who have dissented, but I am not sure you want to receive it. You call for friendship, but you call the bishop "out of control" and "abusive", and then you refer to me as "blind" for supporting him. These are not friendly or compassionate words, but I suspect you are speaking out of your pain, and for that I will pray for you all the more.

Despite complaints of "abuse of power", I have yet to hear a compelling case for it from anyone in the diocese. Churches that have closed did so becasue they either starved away their clergy or shrank to a level unable to ever support one, but the bishop would have kept them open if their members could support their clergy. Some dissenting clergy complain about the loss of a diocesan teaching role or appointment, but why feel punished for it? We need not seek affirmation from our positions anyway.

I for one would be your friend even though you might sue me, my bishop and my diocese as part of TEC's strategy to evict our churches from their properties.


Dan,

I know I could never convince you that what we did was right or necessary, though I believe it was both. Wait for Bp. Little to retire and see what it is like with a new bishop and you might then understand. Unlike Fr. Anonymous, orthodox clergy are being forced out of revisionist dioceses, while faithful churches in them are being denied orthodox clergy to replace those who leave. Moderate dioceses are being taken over as only two faithful schools supply clergy, and their graduates are often blackballed as I was.

TEC's doctrinal changes arrive through what is denied or redefined. You have read the modern theologians, and you have seen how GOE's and commissions on ministry are weeding out Evangelicals and Catholics, so you know how this is happening.
I applaud your faithfulness and hope for TEC, but I ask you not to disparage our attempt to build a home through a new province in the communion for you when you and your diocese need it.

I hope your Christmas is beautiful!

In Christ,
Fr. Wes

Beryl Simkins said...

When you ask for a single abuse of power, I will tell you the story of what happened at St. Francis. As you may know, our priest left a year ago for another position outside the diocese, and we were a very divided parish. There were 5 of us on the Vestry who wanted to remain with the national Episcopal Church. Supply priests were sent to our parish, with variations in who was sent. Then a relatively young man was sent whom no one knew. It was not long before some of the congregation were considering him for the position of interim. However, others of us began to look into his background and learned that he was up for an Ecclesiastical trial, and during the consideration of him, he was found guilty of the charges, and then was deposed by his former bishop. This is all public knowledge. There were 5 of us on the Vestry who opposed his placement in our parish given these circumstances. The others, who were in constant contact with the bishop's office, made statements that they were told this is no problem, the man is still an "Anglican priest." Do you think loyal Episcopalians can stomach that argument? We protested mightily, but the rest had the majority vote, and he was instated in our parish. We resigned in protest; we wrote in complaint to the bishop who did not respond. Now honestly, don't you believe that this was a good way to remove the opposition? Does it seem as though any consideration was given to loyal and faithful Episcopalians who had served in that church for many decades?
I have loved the Episcopal Church for 40 some years since I chose this church as a young college student. I am a mother, a grandmother, a retired teacher, and yes, also a liberal, though that has become a dirty word. There are so many of us who oppose the outrageous actions of John David Schofield, who has spent years undermining the national church. I will never understand those who follow him so blindly.
I pray that some of us will be able to rebuild the Episcopal Church in the Diocese of San Joaquin. It is such a beautiful church with its 400 years of history in our country. In the meantime we have lost our local church, and the fellowship that is possible when you worship together and share in the service of the church.

I always believed that in the Epsicopal Church, we were allowed to think, to discern, and in some cases, to believe differently, but we knew that we stood together in our belief in the Nicene Creed and in our love of Jesus Christ. That ought to have been enough.