Monday, July 28, 2008

Seeing the Whole Board

In a particularly fine episode of The West Wing (which, for the record, I still miss), President Bartlett is playing chess one evening with Deputy Communications Director Sam Seaborn while frequently stepping out of the room (Sam's office) to play "chicken" with China, which is gearing up for a military confrontation with a U.S. aircraft carrier off its coast. The chess match becomes a microcosm of the international crisis, and the discussion of one leads to a discussion of the other, and vice versa. The President's sage advice to his protégé is, "See the whole board. See the whole board." In other words, don't think simply in terms of your next move (and still less of merely reacting to the moves of your opponent). Think several moves ahead. And see the whole board.

It was an eventful day at the Lambeth Conference. In this final week, substantive issues are finally floating to the surface. The Windsor Continuation Group has released all sections of its report, and the bishops have had an opportunity to discuss it in what amounted to a plenary session (though I don't think that's what it was officially). It reaffirms earlier calls for moratoria on the consecration of non-celibate homosexual bishops and on the blessing of same-sex unions. The Episcopal Church has arguably already agreed to the former (B033 from GC '06). As to the latter, some (namely, the Joint Standing Committee of the Anglican Consultative Council and the Primates' Meeting, and, according to his remarks in an interview at the outset of the conference, the Archbishop of Canterbury) have contended that it was also agreed to at the House of Bishops meeting in New Orleans last September. However, this interpretation has been expressly denied, many months ago by the Bishop of New Hampshire, and only today by the Bishops of California and Washington.

The proverbial other shoe, of course, is that those who have become involved in ad hoc episcopal oversight arrangements (let's call them the GAFCON Community) need to assume the "parade rest" position and stay there for a bit while the dust settles, then start thinking in terms of reconciliation with their proper geographic provinces—the implicit assumption, of course, being that these provinces will have committed themselves concretely to the other moratoria.

As a means of facilitating the implementation of this scheme (and I use the term in the non-pejorative British sense), two new bits of bureaucratic infrastructure are envisioned: a Faith and Order Commission, which will presumably be the arbiter of just where the theological boundaries of the Anglican big tent actually are, and a Pastoral Forum, which would effectively be a Court of Appeal which would assist (and I'm honestly not meaning to be cynical here) in the process of reconciling parishes and dioceses that are part of the GAFCON Community with their respective provinces by creating what has been likened to an "escrow," a sort of holding tank for these entities to live and move and have their being while everything is being sorted out.

And while this is all taking place, the Anglican Covenant would be developed and adopted, and thus provide the context and framework in which everything can play out safely.

This is a broad stroke summary, I realize, but ... hey … anyone reading this blog has probably already digested the primary sources anyway, right??!!

Well, response from the left—which is to say the mainstream of the Episcopal Church—has been swift and predictably adverse. I could have told you that without even reading any of the responses, but, in fact, I have—on blogs, on the HoB/D, and from some of the American bishops themselves. Response from the right, particularly the "GAFCON Community" right, has ranged from immediate howls of ridicule to cautious appreciation for the content of the proposals clothed in deep skepticism about their implementation.

Nobody in Canterbury, or anywhere else in the Anglican world, is seeking my advice tonight. For pretty much precisely that reason, I'm going to give it anyway. Not so much to my friends who hold what they believe are "inclusive" and "progressive" positions—I cannot presume to advise my worthy opponents—but to my GAFCON friends, whom I esteem even as I do not share some of their perceptions. And my advice is this: See the whole board. See the whole board.

Rather than indulging in dismissive reactivity, look a few moves ahead. Let's assume, for the moment, that the Lambeth Conference formally approves and commends something that looks pretty much like the Windsor Continuation Group's proposals. (I don't know whether it's safe to assume that or not, though I hope it is.) It would mean that there would be great pressure on Fort Worth and Pittsburgh to hold back from pulling the trigger on their separation from the Episcopal Church as they commit themselves to the care of the Pastoral Forum and allow the process to work itself out. That will sting, and will require some maturity and restraint.

But hang with me here. What happens next? The General Convention, less than a year away, will act on these proposals in some fashion. Everyone who believes GC will respond positively please raise your hand.

I don't see any hands.

So where does that leave us? It is now worth observing that the WCG report specifically mentions the Communion Partners Bishops in TEC as … well, let's quote them exactly:

We are encouraged by the planned setting up of the Communion Partners initiative in the Episcopal Church as a means of sustaining those who feel at odds with developments taking place in their own Province but who wish to be loyal to, and to maintain, their fellowship within TEC and within the Anglican Communion.

Anyone want to connect the dots? My GAFCON Community friends are keen on seeing TEC "disciplined" in some concrete way. So am I. So are most other "communion conservatives." What the Lambeth Conference is, one hopes, on the brink of setting up is the instrumental means by which the Episcopal Church will be the agent of its own discipline. (For the record, I have seen this one coming since virtually the last day of General Convention in Columbus two years ago.) By rejecting (what I might, in an anticipatory fashion, call) the Lambeth Plan, TEC will be "self-selecting" itself right out of the full membership in the Anglican Communion. And what is now known as the Communion Partners Initiative will form the safety net into which parishes and dioceses (and possibly individuals?) who find themselves in the Episcopal Church but who do not wish to be of it in the sense of its reduced status within the Communion may allow themselves to fall.

For orthodox Anglicans in North America, the end game envisioned by the GAFCON community is not all that different from the end game envisioned by the Lambeth Plan. The latter is just a whole lot better, because it has the potential to preserve the Anglican Communion in some semblance of continuity with the form in which we already know it and love it, and preserve the highest level of unity among the highest number of Anglicans.

See the whole board.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Expecting, Hoping, Wishing

The Lambeth Conference is now well underway--though still in the 'retreat' phase--as is my vacation--though not yet in the 'retreat' phase. I've got some down time on my hands before dinner plans materialize, so here I am in my daughter's apartment in the Atlanta area skimming the avalanche of news and blogs emanating from Kentish regions. Rumors are already flying, but there's nothing yet to get worked up about, in my not-necessarily-humble opinion.

As I try to get in touch with my own expectations, hopes, and wishes about Lambeth, I'm aware of the necessity of maintaining precisely those distinctions--expectations, hopes, and wishes.

What do I expect? I expect, at the very least, that the Archbishop's Indaba groups will indeed have the desired and intended effect of strengthening the bonds of affection and respect among bishops of the Communion. This would be a good thing. Not a sufficiently good thing, one might argue, given the imperiled state of Anglicanland, but, nontheless, in itself a good thing. It will do no harm, and may plant the sort of seeds that can yeild unexpectedly fruitful harvests at time and under circimstances that we cannot presently imagine.

What do I hope for? A hope is more ephemeral than an expectation but more substantive than a wish. I believe that there is reason for hope that the bishops will give the Anglican Covenant development process a steroid shot, and that the process will continue with renewed energy. I have always advocated an organic resolution to our afflictions, and a Covenant is in my opinion (once again, not so humble) the most salutary route to that destination. I am saddened but not surprised, by the GAFCON response, just made available to day, to the St Andrew's Draft. I agree with those critics who remind us of the need to address the present crisis, but I respectfully take issue with their contention that the St Andrew's Draft fails to do so. Perhaps the Appendix needs to be given some more heft in some way, but the tools are all there. For precisely this reason, the response of the great majority of Episcopal dioceses that have responded (Northern Indiana being a notable exception) has been overwhelmingly negative. What are they seeing (and not liking) that our GAFCON friends are missing? At any rate, I have hope that the bishops assembled at Lambeth 2008 will turn up the flame under the Covenant process.

What do I wish for? Now we're into more nebulous territory, but a wish left unarticulated will almost certainly be a wish left unfulfilled. What I wish for is that the bishops read and take to heart the open letter from the Reverend Dr Ephraim Radner. This is would be the best news possible for Anglicans, for other Christians , and even for Episcopalians, though it is medicine that many among us will find bitter to the taste. We would find, in time, however, that it is sweet to the stomach. Of course, this is not something I am either expecting or hoping for. It would require a sovereign move of the Holy Spirit. Veni, sanctae spiritus.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Schofield Update

Last night I thought I was giving up punditry for a while, but ... oh well.

The archbishop's letter is a pretty masterful example of walking a fine line. It can be parsed a number of different ways, depending on what one wants to hear, as is already amply evident in blogland comments.

But once in a while, I have access to information that enables me to be more of a journalist than a pundit. So the question arises, Is there a backstory? Could it be that the letter that was made public today did not appear ex nihilo, but represents the fruit of some rather complex negotiations? Could it be that, while the Archbishop was never of a mind to rescind Bishop Schofield's Lambeth invitation, that the Bishop's last-minute decision to cancel his travel plans represents more than his health-based aversion to overseas travel (which is quite real), but, in fact, is at some level an acquiescence to Rowan's express preferences?

On balance, I would tend to score this one: Advantage Schofield (and, by extension, Venables, and by further extension, GAFCON). Not point or set yet, and certainly not match. But the Archbishop of Canterbury has manifestly declined to recognize Bishop Schofield's deposition by the Presiding Bishop, and has held open the possibility, through the ongoing work of the Windsor Continuation Group, of in future recognizing the relationship between San Joaquin and the Southern Cone.

Moreover, the strongest negative statement the Archbishop was able to make was that Bishop Schofield's status "remains unclear on the basis of the general norms of Anglican Canon Law." While that may at first blush have an ominous aspect, upon closer inspection it is quite harmless because it is not only true, but completely self-evidently true in a manner that no rational person would contest it. Hence, it isn't even controversial. Not even the most diehard GAFCON-ite would disagree that a province in South America having a diocese in central California is outside the "general norms of Anglican Canon Law."

That's tantamount to saying that rain in the San Joaquin Valley in July is "outside the general norms of local weather patterns." The question is, does such an outside-the-norm arrangement contribute to the greater good of the Anglican Communion. The jury's still out on that one.

Rowan on San Joaquin

These are the words of the Archbishop of Canterbury, as quoted in a letter from Bishop Venables to the (Anglican) Diocese of San Joaquin:

I understand that Bishop John-DavidSchofield has been accepted as a full member of the episcopal fellowship of the Province of the Southern Cone within the Anglican Communion and as such cannot be regarded as having withdrawn from the Anglican Communion. However, it is acknowledged that his exact status (especially given the complications surrounding the congregations associated with him) remains unclear on the basis of the general norms of Anglican Canon Law, and this constitutes one of the issues on which we hope for assistance from the WindsorContinuation Group. Bishop Schofield has elected to decline the invitation to the Lambeth Conference issued to him last year although that decision does not signal any withdrawal from the Communion. I hope there may be further careful reflection to clarify the terms on which he will exercise his ministry.

There is obviously some "music" behind these words, but I'm not yet sure what the tune is. Undoubtedly, it will become more distinct in time.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Plain Logic

The Lambeth Conference begins in earnest this week. I'm on information overload. And if I try to be a pundit, I'll just be contributing to everyone else's information overload. Fortunately, my vacation also begins in earnest this week! This coming weekend will find us in Atlanta, if all goes according to plan, then three nights at a B&B on Tybee Island, Georgia, where, if God is merciful, I will not be able to find an internet connection.

I'm not swearing off making comments about Lambeth during Lambeth, but I very well might not. For the time being, though, I'm going to confine myself to a subject about which I have some more specialized knowledge--namely, my old diocese of San Joaquin.

First, my usual disclaimer: I'm an Episcopalian. I joyfully serve an Episcopal parish as Rector. I have no plans to become anything else. I deplore the action that the convention of the Diocese of San Joaquin took last December. I think it was a huge and destructive mistake.


So ... last week, the putative bishop of the putative "Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin" wrote a letter to all the clergy who were on the rolls of the diocese as it was constituted prior to December 8, 2007. He basically offered them three choices: 1) Pledge me your fealty, 2) Renounce your orders in TEC "without prejudice", 3) Be deposed from the ordained ministry. Oh ... and I need your answer in three weeks. Oh ... and I'll be in England for three weeks. But if you can catch me, I'm certainly eager to sit down and talk with you.

Strange timing.

Now, aside from the ... what shall we say? ... ungenerous ... tone of the missive, it raises some curious issues. It comes as no news that, for a number of substantive technical reasons, I recognize neither the constitutional foundation of the "Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin" nor the authority of Bishop Jerry Lamb. By any rational reading of the Constitution & Canons of the Episcopal Church, we're talking about a bogus diocese with a bogus bishop, though they have some impressive-looking stationery. That they exist at all, and are able to maintain the chimera of legitimacy is a result only of the raw exercise of naked political power on the part of the Presiding Bishop. She is manifestly guilty of presentable offenses, but it will never happen because the political calculus just isn't there. At least four Standing Committees, and their bishops, agree with this assessment, and this doesn't even count the standard "bad guys" that are all set to follow San Joaquin out of TEC either sooner or later. These are dioceses that are playing ball inside "this church."

Anyway ... follow my thinking here: Bishop Lamb's letter was addressed to a bunch of clergy who have already chosen Door #3 and aren't looking back. Yet, he addresses them as clergy of the Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin. Presumably, then, they should be counted in the number of clergy that forms the basis for the determination of a quorum at a convention of the diocese. Yet, how many of the "leavers" were present in Lodi last March when the Presiding Bishop called to order a "convention" that called Bishop Lamb to serve as their provisional bishop, and elected a new Standing Committee and a new Diocesan Council?

How 'about: Zero.

Zero is a pretty safe bet on that one.

So if these clergy, whom Bishop Lamb presumes to be in good standing until August 5 unless they signal otherwise before then, were not present in Lodi last March, how could there possibly have been a canonical quorum to validate the actions that the conclave took?

The answer is simple: There wasn't. There was no quorum. Bishop Lamb's own letter knocks out the scaffolding from under his pretension to be the Bishop of San Joaquin.

Not that this glaringly obvious fact will matter to anyone in power.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

A Shameless Personal Plug

It's not like this is an uneventful week in Anglicanland. As if, in the light of GAFCON, the bishops beginning to gather in Canterbury for the decennial Lambeth Conference were not already operating in a sufficiently drama-charged environment, the shadows are lengthened by what happened earlier this week in the Church of England's General Synod. It isn't so much what they did that adds fuel to the flame--that much was a foregone conclusion--it was how they did it. The devil, as we know, is in the details.

But I digress. I'm not going to get into all that right now, mostly because, if I have an ounce of marginal influence in things Episcopal, I have not the wisp of any influence across the sea. So I shall keep my own counsel until Lambeth gets going.

Back to my personal plug.

For the last eight years, I've been working on a novel. Writing one, that is, not reading one. That it took me that long is no testimony to its length--it's a relatively modest 100,000 words or so--but simply to the fact that it was very much a "spare time" project, maybe like restoring a classic car in one's garage. Or building a robot, perhaps.

Anyway, it's done. It's been proof-read. It's been gone over by an independent editor to whom I paid actual money, and I have made a good-faith effort to incorporate her suggestions in revising my work. The book is finished. I'm ready to (please don't shoot me for saying this) "take it to the next level."

Which is to say, I need an agent. One who will find me a publisher. It's not best-seller material, and nobody's going to be able to retire off of this deal, but it's a story that deserves to see the light of day, and the writing is occasionally surprisingly good. At least that's how it strikes me when I look at a passage I haven't seen in five years and think to myself, "Damn! Did I write this? It's actually not bad." And I bet there are some people who would pay money to read it.

So if you know an agent, or better yet, if you are an agent, you know where to find me. I will be more than happy to zap you two or three chapters so you can get a taste.

My high school English teachers always said "Write about something you know." So I wrote about an Episcopal priest who's about to turn fifty, because that was me when I started writing. But the story is assuredly not autobiographical (something which I have to constantly reassure my wife of, since the narrative begins at the main character's wife's funeral.) But, of course, I do exploit my knowledge of what the daily life of a member of the clergy is like in order to give veracity to my story.

If I could bottle my aspirations as a novelist, shake them together and pour them out into a glass, we would have a hybrid that represents a cross between an American Susan Howatch and an Anglican Andrew Greeley. I would not presume to put myself in the same league with those accomplished authors, but I like to think I'm worthy of at least swimming in their wake. It's about real stuff that happens to real people. If it were a movie, it woud be R-rated--not more than that but not less--in spots.

The working title is from St Paul to the Corinthians: "This Slight Momentary Affliction."

OK people, work your networks.

Saturday, July 05, 2008

York Lauds Canterbury

(To the cognoscenti, there's a level of pun-ditry in that title that was unintentional, but it's too delicious to remove.)

Rowan Williams has taken flak from all sides pretty much from the beginning of his tenure. He inherited the helm of the Anglican Communion at a particularly difficult time. I've confessed before that I was disappointed at the news of his appointment; I had preferred Richard Chartres--then, as now, Bishop of London. But my estimation for Rowan has only grown as I have watched him handle himself in this ongoing drama.

With a hat tip to Fr Tony Clavier, I quote below the remarks, just given in the C of E's General Synod, of the #2 prelate, John Sentamu, Archbishop of York:

It has grieved me deeply to hear reports of the ungracious personalisation of the issues through the criticism and scapegoating of Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury.

Rowan Williams exemplifies that quest of holding together holiness, truth, love and unity.

The accusations and inferences of what has been said by some are not only ungenerous and unwarranted but they describe a person I don't recognise as Rowan. He demonstrates, in his dealings with others, the gift of gracious-magnanimity.

The Archbishop of Canterbury, in the current contested debate on sexuality, is a model of attentive listening, interpretative-charity, and exemplifies a Christian - occupying the seat of St Augustine.

Hear, hear.

Friday, July 04, 2008

Our Nation's Birthday

From the Liturgical Notes section of last Sunday's service booklet in my parish:

In the calendar of the American Prayer Book, Independence Day (Friday, July 4) ranks as a “major feast” (see p.17)—a collect and lessons are provided. (Thanksgiving Day is the other U.S. national holiday to enjoy similar status.) Such observances call to mind the oft-troubled history of church-state relations, not only in our own country today, but going back to Roman times. Our national identity was formed as part of concerted effort to foster mutual tolerance among Christian denominations with divergent viewpoints. This gave rise to a doctrine than has come to be known as the “separation of church and state.” We used to know what that expression means, but over the last fifty years or so, it seems to have become less clear.

Two things are clear, however: First, Jesus told us that we are to be in the world. The world observes political/ethnic/national categories, and we need not resist those categories. We should be good citizens, pay our taxes, and, as a general rule, obey the law. We may even love our country!

Second, Jesus also told us that we are not of the world. Our true citizenship is elsewhere (Philippians 3:20), and our bond with other Christians, established in our common baptism, is stronger and more commanding on our loyalty than those of national identity. All Christians are, in a sense, “resident aliens,” no matter what country they live in.