Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Ate logo...

...which is Portuguese for "hasta luego"--until then.

"Then" in this case is the middle of next month. In a few hours we board a plane for Brazil--Sao Paulo, to be specific (not the scary airport, but the other one)--then on to Iguassu Falls for a couple of nights, back to S.P. for the weekend, and a week in Salvador. When we return, we begin our trek to Indiana, where I begin my new ministry at St Anne's, Warsaw on the Feast of St Mary the Virgin.

So I will be incommunicado, blogwise. But, like the Governator, I'll be back.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Sauce for the Gander?

When Father Mark Lawrence was elected (by an overwhelming majority on the first ballot) Bishop of South Carolina more than ten months ago, the required consents from Bishops and Standing Committees were abnormally slow in coming, for a number of reasons that are already familiar to most readers of this blog. When the deadline approached this past March, a concerted effort was made to push him over the top.

By all accounts, the effort was successful, albeit narrowly. However, the Presiding Bishop--into whose court balls of this sort are eventually thrown--determined that some of the Standing Committee consents were defective in form. Substantively, then, Fr Lawrence received the requisite number of consents. Technically, he did not. Bishop Jefferts Schori chose to be a strict constructionist in this case, abiding by the letter of the canonical law. She declared the South Carolina election null and void, allowing the technical to trump the substantive. South Carolina has been forced to call a new electing convention, in which the only nominee is, to no one's surprise, Mark Lawrence.

This decision was within her prerogative, and is not inherently questionable. Not technically, at any rate. I tend to be a strict constructionist sort of guy myself. Rules, after all, exist for a reason, and in the absence of compelling moral exigency to the contrary, they should be kept.

But they should be kept consistently, not applied selectively. With the permission of the Diocese of San Joaquin's Standing Committee (of which I am no longer a member), I am sharing here a letter from them to the Presiding Bishop expressing concern about apparent selective application of the canons with respect to the election of bishops--in particular, the election of the now-consecrated Bishop Coadjutor of Virginia, Shannon Johnston:

Standing Committee
Diocese of San Joaquin

4159 E. Dakota Ave.
Fresno, CA 93726-5227

Third RequestJuly 20, 2007

The Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori
Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church
815 Second Avenue
New York, New York 10017

Dear Presiding Bishop:

Please review our correspondence sent to you, your Chancellor, and the Diocese of Virginia on May 31 and June 18 regarding consent to the ordination and Consecration of The Very Rev. Shannon S. Johnston as Bishop Coadjutor for the Diocese of Virginia. The matter of the Diocese of Virginia using a defective testimonial is of grave concern. We asked you in writing, within the 120 days from the date of notification of election, to confirm that a properly worded consent form was returned by a majority of Standing Committees. Now it is 6 weeks past our original letter to you and there has not been a response from either you, your Chancellor [David Booth Beers] or the Diocese of Virginia. Your failure to even acknowledge our written concerns leads us to believe the testimonials used by the Standing Committees did not conform to the requirements of Canon III.11.4.b. [printed here]

(b) Evidence of the consent of each Standing Committee shall be a testimonial in the following words, signed by a majority of all the members of the Committee:

We, being a majority of all the members of the Standing Committee of ______________, and having been duly convened at ______________, fully sensible how important it is that the Sacred Order and Office of a Bishop should not be unworthily conferred, and firmly persuaded that it is our duty to bear testimony on this solemn occasion without partiality, do, in the presence of Almighty God, testify that we know of no impediment on account of which the Reverend A.B. ought not to be ordained to that Holy Order. In witness whereof, we have hereunto set our hands this _____ day of _________in the year of our Lord _________.

(Signed) _______________

The testimonial from Virginia reads:

Having been duly elected on January 26, 2007, at the Annual Council of the Diocese of Virginia.

We, being a majority of all the ____ members of the Standing Committee of the Diocese of ____, having been duly convened at ____, give our consent to the ordination and consecration of the Very Rev. Shannon S. Johnston as Bishop Coadjutor for the Diocese of Virginia.

In witness whereof, we have here unto set our hands this ___ day of ___, 2007.

As you can see the Diocese of Virginia form for Standing Committee testimonial is defective on many counts. Since Canon III.11.4.b is crystal clear that the only evidence of consent is a testimonial in the canonical words, the Virginia documents do not constitute evidence of consent.

How did you “proceed to take order for the ordination” without evidence of consent from the Standing Committees? If you do something that is not canonically permissible, isn’t that a violation of the canons? Should you not have declared the election null & void as required in III.11.5? If you fail to do something that is canonically required, isn’t that a violation of the canons? I believe you are familiar with the requirements of both canons III.11.4.b and III.11.5 as you used both to declare null & void the recent election in South Carolina.

Without your confirmation of receipt of proper consents, we have a very uneasy situation. First we have what appears to be your unequal application of the same canon in two separate cases within months of each other. Second we potentially have the irregular consecration of Bishop Johnston [without consents from Standing Committees], calling into question his Episcopal acts. Third we may have before us a Canon IV.1.c liability on your part for violation of the Constitution and Canons of the General Convention. Since you are the person to inform the review committee if there is sufficient reason to believe that a Bishop has committed an Offense [IV.3.23.b], how do you suggest others can clarify the conflicted situation within the Church?

We began this inquiry within the 120 days from notification of election of Bishop Johnston. We ask again Presiding Bishop, David Booth Beers, & the Diocese of Virginia, for the third time, to confirm the canonically required consents, in the words as required by canon, were received prior to consecration of Bishop Johnston. Failing to make such confirmation, please advise as to what steps can be taken to have these matters forwarded to the Review Committee and resolved.

Because we have not had a response from our two prior, private, requests, we feel compelled to involve a wider audience in our concerns. The Standing Committee of San Joaquin is hopeful your written reply will appear soon.

In Christ,

Third Request

Jim Snell

President of the Standing Committee

Diocese of San Joaquin

cc: David Booth Beers

Diocese of Virginia Standing Committee

It is my hope that someone will suggest a plausible benign construction of the Presiding Bishop's decision to enforce canon law strictly in one case and generously in another. This is what I want to see.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

680 Sundays

...or thereabouts; I didn't do a precise count, but that's pretty close to the number of Sundays in thirteen years. And I didn't even do a rough count of the eucharistic celebrations over which I presided, though it has to be over 2000.

70 baptisms (mostly children), 56 candidates presented for Confirmation or Reception (mostly adults), 112 burials on my watch (86 of whom were active parishioners), 21 marriages (I don't run no stinkin' wedding chapel, apparently).

Oh...and around 150 vestry meetings, give or take. But who's counting?

Perhaps the most gratifying statistic of all is that there were a third again more people present for my last service than there were for my first on August 13, 1994--and even more than showed up for my institution three weeks later. I'm not sure what that says, but it's probably something good.

How does one measure a ministry? With numbers like these? Partially, I suspect, though the numbers leave a lot unsaid. Yesterday it was measured with love and gratitude, cut with a good bit of grief and some fear and anxiety all around. But mostly love. Love from and toward those who have been my strongest supporters, love from and toward those whom I have known to be my detractors, and (most surprisingly), love from and toward a whole bunch of people whom I have not known to be either allies or antagonists, but just there. It was luminous, it was mystical, it was unlike anything I have ever experienced.

The choir--including several "alumni" from over the years--came back together from their summer hiatus to honor their director from Pluto, who is accompanying me on this Indiana odyssey. They sang John Rutter's setting of "The Lord bless you and keep you..." right before the post-communion prayer. Not a dry eye...at least not mine, and I don't ordinarily "do" crying.
In the evening, after a meal and a long nap, I came back alone to finish moving out of the Rector's office. With that task complete, and my small SUV loaded, before walking away, I let my memory race over the array of conversations and confessions and even some confrontations that had taken place in that room. Then I repaired to the dimly-lit church, fired up the organ, and slipped a disk into the digital sequencer containing the MIDI files from the dedicatory recital in 1999. The Barber Adagio seemed to strike the most appropriate note for the occasion.

I listened. I remembered. I wept some more. And I prayed. Lord, you know I love these people, and I know you love them, because the sufficiency of your love has compensated for the inadequacy of mine. Love them still, Father. Love them still. Supply their needs from the abundance of your grace. Prosper the ministry of this parish.

One last time, as I have done on countless Saturday afternoons, I stood in the crossing, right under the center of the lantern tower, and lifted my hands toward the altar, holding up before the eyes of the One from whom no secrets are hid the souls committed to my charge, and asked Him to take them and do for them more than I even know to ask for.

And having done that, I now stand relieved, ready to take up my new assignment.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Why I Do What I Do

Apropos of the post prior to this one, and in the category of bittersweetness:

After the principal Mass this morning there was a festive brunch in honor of my Plutotian spouse and me--the second part of a double whammy that began last Friday evening with a dinner. Today we were presented with a memory album that is too incredible to describe, expect to point out that it took two dedicated individuals more hours than they would want to document putting it together--truly a labor of love before which I stand humbled. On Friday, in addition to some extraordinarily thoughtful and generous gifts, they showed one of those slideshows with music that are vitually guaranteed to leave no dry eyes in the house--including mine.

What I share now, I choose not because it's the only instance of the sentiments it expresses, but because it summarizes those sentiments in a particularly moving and compelling way. Among the many cards we were presented with both this morning and on Friday, was this note:

Dear Fr Dan & Brenda:
The news of your resignation came as quite a blow to [my husband] and me. While we fully understand and appreciate the processes of church leadership and all its implications, we selfishly want you to stay. In fact, at different times over the course this past month (after hearing your news), we felt like begging you "Please don't go!" On the other side (those warring sides of our nature are ever evident) we pray that you have a tremendous ministry in Indiana.

Over the course of the past three years, we have come to realize the fullness of your ministry to us. We arrived at St John's back pew about three years ago on a whim. To be honest, our initial motivation was to get a peek at the inside of "that really cool old church by the theater" and check out a liturgical service. From the first Sunday, we both felt an overwhelming sense of safety. Looking back now, it is obvious that God directed us to you, Fr Dan and Brenda. Between the two of you, we have once again experienced the grace and comfort of our Father God through your messages, kindness, and music. Fr Dan, we'll never forget that you visited my dad in the hospital and prayed for him. That was the day you became our pastor. We also consider the service when you washed our feet as a hallmark event in our Christian lives. Brenda, your talents and leadership have restored our ability to truly worship, once again, in a church through music. You have the ability to point us to the cross, and keep the focus there.

We only have one regret, and that is that it took us so long to finally commit to the fellowship of St John's. Our only explanation is that we have needed these few years to get it right and figure it all out. We have never claimed to be a genius!

With much love and gratitude for your faithfulness,

I have my share of regrets about things I've done and things I've left undone in the ministry I am about to take my leave of. But those regrets pale into insignificance when I read something like this. To be able to touch lives in such a way is a privilege too precious to even speak about.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Occupied (& Terrified)

There is a great deal going on in my life, much of which deserves to be written about. Some of it is so weighed down with meaning, so rare and precious, that it feels as though any attempt to capture and confine it in words (in prose, at any rate, and my poetic Muse is unreliable, tending to show up only under the most extreme conditions) would somehow dishonor it. Virtually all of it has to do in some way with the impending relocation of my household and ministry from Stockton, California to Warsaw, Indiana. Suffice it to say that I am experiencing new dimensions of bittersweetness--bitterness that is nearly unbearable, mingled with sweetness that actually is unbearable. In time, I may be able to give more verbal substance to this experience.

There are also many items that cross my personal radar screen on a daily basis that make me think, "I should blog on that." The Anglican soap opera continues to play out, with all new episodes regularly hitting cyberspace even during the dog days of summer. There's a lot of stuff I would like to weigh in on.

But here's the reality: In eight days, I conclude a thirteen year ministry at St John's, Stockton. It is--what shall I say?--a rich emotional atmosphere. Nine days later, on 24 July, we board a plane to Brazil--two days at the majestic Iguaçu Falls, a long weekend in the megalopolis of São Paulo, and a week or so in the old colonial capital of Salvador--hopefully all a nice balance of touring, resting, and visiting with family. We arrive back in Stockton on 6 August. On the 7th, the professional packers do their thing. On the 8th, they load the moving van. On the 9th, the four of us--Brenda and me and her two quadrapeds that I can't talk her into leaving behind--head out in my Ford Escape hybrid for a scenic tour of Interstate 80. Sometime on the 12th we expect to pull into Warsaw. If the moving gods smile on us (I wouldn't attribute such caprice to the actual God), our household goods will arrive the next day. On Wednesday the 15th I expect to show up at St Anne's and occupy the Rector's study.

But before we can get on that plane to Brazil, we need to examine, sort, and cull all our worldly goods. Until we started this task, I had no idea we possessed so many worldly goods. I have reached a stage in my life when I am no longer interested in being a collector, no longer interesting in acquiring stuff just to have it ... and eventually move it. And, all along, our house also has to be ready to put on the market--and what a market it is! My, how things have changed in the past two years. It's too depressing for me to talk about. Think about it: Getting ready to move and getting a house ready to show are not compatible projects. They work against each other. Yet, we are Anglicans, so we will no doubt find the via media...or, failing that, somehow muddle through.

Grace abounds. But I'm not sure it is so abundant as to allow for the level of regular blogging to which I aspire. I'm sure you understand.

Monday, July 02, 2007

A Valediction Forbidding Whining

(...with apologies to John Donne)

As small as the Episcopal Church is, there is rarely more than a degree or two of separation between any two Episcopalians who are active in leadership at a trans-parochial level. Even so, I do not personally know Al Kimel, and I doubt he would recognize either my name or my face. For the last year or so, Father Kimel has been a Roman Catholic priest, but prior to that he exercised presbyteral ministry in the Episcopal Church for two decades. Since 2003, his blog Pontifications has attracted a wide following, especially as it chronicled his journey from Anglicanism to--as Anglo-Catholics of yore were wont to express it--the Roman obedience.

I was not even a regular reader of Fr Kimel's blog. But when my attention was drawn last week to the announcement that he is giving up blogging, I took a look at his farewell post, and found it quite moving. As one who has, over the last fifteen years, and in direct response to the seemingly inexorable degradation of Anglicanism in this country, taken several long hard looks at said "Roman obedience," I have more than a passing interest in the experience of Anglicans who swim the Tiber. My intuitive hunch is that, were I to do so, it is too late in my life for me to completely "go native." I would always be an immigrant, one who speaks with a thick Anglican accent. "By the waters of the Tiber we sat down and wept...'Sing us one of your Choral Evensongs!' they said, but we could not."

Reading between the lines, at least, Fr Kimel seems to bear me out:

Becoming Catholic has brought many blessings, but it has not healed the sorrows of my heart. Indeed, in some ways it has intensified these sorrows. But this is all very private. All I need say is that I often find them overwhelming. God is silent. I am reduced to silence.

This is the testimony of a grieving heart, even as there is more left unsaid than is actually spoken. He continues with an apt quotation from Tolkein:

On the way home to the Shire, Gandalf sees the discomfort of Frodo:

Are you in pain, Frodo?”

“Well, yes I am,” said Frodo. “It is my shoulder. The wound aches, and the memory of darkness is heavy on me. It was a year ago today.”

“Alas! There are some wounds that cannot be wholly cured,” said Gandalf.

Then he drives his point home with excruciating transparency:

Over the past few years God has stripped away the loves and passions of my heart. Even the words seem to be disappearing. Writing has become impossible—and prayer, difficult.

There is palpable holiness here, and I stand humbled by it. There is also palpable suffering. But the suffering will, in time, melt away, and only the holiness will remain.

Those of us who are involved--in varying degrees and varying ways--with the struggle for the soul of Anglicanism (some of us, like myself, because we feel we have no choice), might do well to practice more of the classic Christian virtue of detachment. We remain substantially invested in the infrastructure of our ecclesial lives, the fabric of our praxis--for those of us who are ordained, the literal tools of our trade. We are not keen on being stripped of everything we love. We love it too much!

One of the truly liminal moments of my spiritual experience occurred in April of 2005, on a Saturday afternoon in London. I was finished with the conference that was the primary impetus for my trip, and was finally free to be a tourist. I happened upon Westminster Abbey just as they were admitting people, not for tours any longer, but for Evensong--that is, to worship. Having been cued by a travel guide, I asked to be seated in the choir (the actual choir doesn't require all the space in the area that is designated by that name). The Office Hymn was Love Divine, All Loves Excelling sung to the Welsh tune Blaenwen, with which I was familiar through recordings, but had never actually sung. I joined in with all my heart and all my voice (inspired by the example of the man next to me, who, as a youth more than half a century ago, had been a boy chorister). On the final verse, in classic cathedral fashion, the organist "kicked it up a notch" and indulged in some subtle reworking of the harmonies. I cried real tears. I was in Heaven itself--my own personal Heaven, at any rate. When I say that I have an Anglican soul, that moment is the sacramental sign of my conviction.

Am I willing to be stripped of that--that which I love, that which lifts my soul to God? Have I made the Anglican ethos an idol? These are hard questions. These are good questions. I may be glad that Father Kimel is not blogging anymore.