Monday, June 08, 2009

Soundings from the Upper Peninsula

There will be no official declaration until next month sometime, but those who follow the matter closely have determined that a sufficient number of Standing Committees (i.e. more than half, which means 56+) have signaled their non-consent to the election of the Revd Kevin Thew Forrester as Bishop of Northern Michigan that the matter is effectively decided in the negative. Votes can always be changed until the 120-day time frame has expired (which, interestingly, will happen during General Convention, though the question will not come under that body's purview), but I haven't encountered any plausible scenarios under which that would take place.

I think it's safe to say that, even while we have seen this verdict emerging inexorably over the last several weeks, it is a development that observers from all ideological vantage points within North American Anglicanism find more than a little bit surprising. On the day the election (or, more accurately, perhaps, "discerned decision") was announced, few would have imagined it. Even when the first headlines about Forrester's "lay ordination" in Buddhism broke, the smart money would have been on eventual consent and consecration, with the usual conservative suspects howling along the path to the cathedral.

At first, it was the bishop-elect's connection to Buddhism that got all the attention. Then there was the unconventional manner in which the election process was carried out that raised a good bit of concern. But if those were the only issues, I think they would be decorating the hall for the post-consecration reception by now. What eventually turned the tide was the widespread realization, obvious for all to see in his own published works, that Father Thew Forrester interprets the fundamental symbols of the Paschal Mystery in ways that rob them of any substance that can be coherently reconciled with what the Church has understood them to mean for the last two millennia. Even thoughtful "progressives" can see that he proclaims "another gospel."

In the world of cyberspace, reaction has been largely muted. From the left, there has certainly been some gnashing of teeth, with cries of "assassination by internet," and dire warnings that future bishop-elect will have to be "vetted like Supreme Court nominees," and that therefore only "safe" candidates who won't do anything to upset the general ecclesiastical equilibrium (as if any such thing even exists) will ever get elected. But this sort of whining has been by way of a solo performance here or there, and never (as far as I can see, at least) a howling ensemble.

But this does not mean that there is open rejoicing on the starboard side of the vessel--well, there's no open rejoicing anywhere that I can tell, actually, but certainly not among what might be called the "hard right" (many or most of whom have already left the Episcopal Church anyway). My hunch is that, privately, there are a bunch of jaws on the floor waiting to be picked up while their owners try to assimilate and make sense of the information that even such dependable liberals as the Bishop and Standing Committee of the Diocese of Los Angeles are lined up in the No column. What could that possibly mean?

No, there is no dancing in the streets with this news, and that is probably as it should be. While I personally concur with the decision reached by a majority of the Standing Committees, Kevin Thew Forrester is by all accounts a gifted leader and the sort of person you would want to have as your friend and neighbor. He's a real human being with real feelings and this has got to hurt big time. His family is also hurting, as are the members of the diocese that chose him.

But if there's no partying, for good reason, there is definitely a huge sigh of relief, and maybe even a little bit of quiet hope. And where this relief and hope exists is among those who, while they stand clearly on one side or the other of the presently-divisive questions centering around sexuality, tend to congregate close enough to the center line that they can maintain relationship with those who are also close to the line, even if on the other side. Their relief and hope are grounded in the possibility that this emerging non-consent means that there are some channels where the mainstream of TEC will still not flow.

That may not at first look like a big deal, but it is. The liberal juggernaut of the last four decades has seemed like it respects no boundaries. So much of what was once unthinkable has become not only permissible but commonplace. The very notion that there is a commonly-respected fence, that it is indeed possible to wander too far afield theologically, is itself a bit of novelty, and feels like refreshing rain on a hot day. One may assert, as I myself would, that the Episcopal Church suffers from a massive case of collective amnesia. But the news from the Standing Committees hints at the possibility--a slim one, perhaps, but a real one nonetheless--that the memory loss is not total, and that a small piece of it has just been recovered. The market, as they say, has "found a bottom."


layman? said...

A very gracious comment. Thank you. I agree with you. I also hope that it is really over, and that the market has "found a bottom."

It's funny, how the left wing thinks it's lovely when a Christian leader needs to use Buddhist forms of prayer; at the same time ridiculing and pathologizing the Christian who feels a need to use the 1928 prayer book. Or the 1979, for that matter!

Perhaps we can get a few pairs of shoes back on the right feet.

Maybe it'll be ok to "walk one path" again in those re-oriented moccasins.

Maybe that "one path" will turn out to be the One Who called Himself the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

TLF+ said...

This is a chance to get back to a "Via Media" worth the name - an open and inclusive Christianity taking what is best from and also bounded by Catholic and Reformed faith and order... as the great missionary Bishop of New York, John Henry Hobart took as his motto: "Evangelical Truth and Apostolic Order." (Think how far that would have gone to making the Windsor process work!)

Via Media is not "split the difference between any two posited poles." We are not a middle way between faith and atheism, Christianity and pick-your-world-religion, or any number of other choices.

So this is, as you point out, a jaw dropping and hopeful decision if it holds.

tjmcmahon said...

Fr. Dan,
While I agree that your commentary is very gracious, I also think it a bit premature. There has been no announcement from 815. Unless Rev. Forrester withdrew this morning, this is not yet over. He is a delegate to GC, and will be lobbying to get bishops to change votes, and trying to sway delegates to pressure their standing committees.

Beyond this, the plan B is to nominate one of the other 11 members of the "Episcopal Ministry Support Team" who share the "non-sacramental administrative and apostolic duties of the office of bishop" (yeah, I am still trying to wrap my head around what a "non-sacramental apostolic duty" is). Rev. Forrester will remain the effective chair of that committee, regardless of who the bishop is. They are all signatory to his heretical "affirmations." However, the successor candidate will not be so outspoken, and will not have published every word they have said in the last 5 years on the internet. So, what you will get is exactly the same thing, with the same person in control, just a different face wearing the pointy hat. There is no reason to celebrate.

I hardly see GC "taking over" and appointing an orthodox missionary bishop, revising the outrageous abuse of mutual ministry, and forcing the ministry developers here into retirement and replacing the standing committee. But that is just about what it would take to straighten this diocese out. Lots of good people (most who don't darken the door of a TEC church anymore) and a very few good volunteer clergy scattered about, but the diocesan structure is united in its opposition to orthodox Christianity and even the liberal theology of most of TEC, which they feel is not sufficiently revised.

And with TEC having engineered the defeat of the Covenant and driving itself off a cliff this summer at Anaheim, it is hard to imagine they will take time out to restore orthodoxy for the 500 Piskies who still go to church in this 28000 square mile diocese.

raphael said...

Forrester did not get the necessary consents because he did not have a well organized group to lobby on his behalf.

The gay lobby were working tirelessly to ensure Gene Robinson's election and consecration.

Anonymous said...

Hey, there are bunches of people on the hard right who are still in the Episcopal Church -- I would be one of them.

And just think -- if we all leave, *you'll* be on the "hard right." ; > )

I'm not sure I see the reasons for the "quiet hope." I see that bishops would have been mortified to approve something so "other than" as Thew Forester -- but how is that mortification cause for quiet hope?


Anonymous said...

Raphael's post just proves my point and thinking that these priests are not following a call but are acting like politicians moving into higher positions of the church and using lobbists to get them there not God!


tjmcmahon said...

Oops, I exaggerated in my diatribe above, memory isn't what it used to be. Make that 500 Piskies who still go to TEC churches in this 16,452 square mile diocese.

Dale Matson said...

"that Father Thew Forrester interprets the fundamental symbols of the Paschal Mystery in ways that rob them of any substance that can be coherently reconciled with what the Church has understood them to mean for the last two millennia." I had to write a paper on this for you. Glad I passed! Even though lots of folks have left, they still participated in the process through blog posts and don't forget the prayers of the dearly departed who deserve a vote in the church of today.

Anonymous said...

Does anyone know just how many names are "on the books" as members of the various congregations in the Diocese? At one point a figure was about 1900 with an ASA of 700. Both figures seem to be on a downward trend but just what are the actual figures?