Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Feedback (or...An Evangelical Walks into a Nave)

Not long ago I preached a Sunday sermon about one of the techniques I have found useful for keeping my own liturgical spirituality fresh, which is to put myself intentionally in the place of a visitor, experiencing for the first time (or close to the first time) that which I and others now find routine and commonplace.

I don't often actually get feedback from such a person--any feedback at all, let alone articulate and penetrating feedback. Over the past couple of years at St Anne's, we've been getting a small stream of visitors from the local evangelical liberal arts college. In the milieu of that community, St Anne's is kind of para-normal; clearly we "know the Lord," but we do strange stuff. Some of them have a taste of our liturgical worship rooted in Catholic tradition, quietly roll their eyes, and move on. Others have an epiphany.

Connor Park is one of the latter, apparently. This morning he posted the following (longish) poem on his Facebook page, and I share it here with his permission. I love it when somebody "gets it" even without the benefit of months of careful catechesis. It's almost enough to make on believe in the sovereignty of the Holy Spirit.

(Connor Park's poetry blog is here.)

On the Eucharist #1

So it's mid-autumn, right
Smack dab in the middle of the season of change
Where everything green turns to gold
Like God's up there playing Midas or something
“You thought that green was gorgeous? - Just wait till you see what colours I have left.”
And everything's falling down
or falling apart.
The trees are out in the cold with no coats.
Crazy trees.

But anyhow,
An evangelical walked into the nave -
Great set up for a joke, right?
That's sort of how I always thought too,
Like God's up there throwing feelings my way or something -
“You thought THAT theology was mindblowing? - Just wait till you hear my really good stuff.”
And everything's rising up
or raring up.
The kid is out on the road with no coat.
Crazy kid.

So there's this guy right?
And he's the type of nutcase who'll wear sandals in sub-zero
And maybe doesn't quite have it all together
And maybe he's got a twinge of that postmodern, question-the-world, Jacques Derrida, Jack Kerouac, Jack Daniels différance,
Drunk on uncertainty and linguistic ambiguity
Incapable of settling, living life with abandon
Or at least as wild as his upbringing will allow.

So all his life he's had the answers,
And a bunch of questions too -
Why am I here?
Whose language am I speaking?
Why am I here again? Where's my home, my hope?
And everything's bursting forth
or busting doors.
The guy's out in the world without a clue.
Crazy guy.

All right.
Leave him on his corner for a while.
He could go on for hours.

Let's talk about bread.
About how yeast -
when harbored in a warm and welcoming envelope of water
and nurtured on the sweet monosaccharides of life
expands and ferments and sweetens and enriches
and turns the sticky glutens of grain
into something well worth eating and savoring.
What was potentially, but only just potentially edible
Is nourishing, life-giving, delicious.

And how about wine?
You've got these little vine berries
Some people think they're ambrosia but
Most will acknowledge that grapes are not actually all that.
But you take this purple fruit
and walk all over it
and throw in - what else? - yeast
and bury that for a while
And raise it up again
As an invigorating force.

These are the things that we can understand.
Simple facts. Not a lot to question there.
But the kid, he's out for more
In this mid autumn time when everything is changing
During the season when green is passing out
During the question-raising time.
It's like God is out there somewhere, right here –
“You thought the first two decades were interesting? Just wait a little while longer.”
The kid's out for enough love to drown in.
Crazy kid.

This kid is a walking paradox, all right?
A homebody to the core
A wearer of floured aprons and a dough-puncher
An eater of warm stew and wearer of slippers
But at the same time
A road-lusty wanderer
A wearer of flannel shirts and the same jeans for ten days
A devourer of life and a barefoot nomad
At least, metaphorically.

Yes, a complete oxymoron:
Contending peacenik.
Studious poet.
Egalitarian medievalist.
A musician with no rhythm
A believer with questions.
Confound it all, but he is also a man helplessly in love.
Crazy kid.

So that joke from earlier?
An evangelical walked into the nave?
True story.
Searching for God knows what.

He's always supposed
Kid has
That the readiness is all.
If he waited restless long enough
His colours would change without intent or action
And the undiscovered country would remain so –
Found but not discovered
And he'd gain entry with enough forethought
and examination
and above all, reading
An armchair theologian of a God in the wild.
Now that's absurd.
To set out on a voyage without ever casting off.
Remember, this kid is a very oxymoron
Definitely like God decided to tell a joke –
“There’s this kid, you see, drunk on questions, dizzy for answers.”

But things do change,
in mid-autumn
In the falling of the leaves
Other types of falling happen slow
There’s that love thing
“Gotta kick at the darkness till it bleeds daylight…”
And there’s the discovery of home in a concrete crate –
And what’s more the embrace of people with as much paradox
as the kid could ever dream.
and yes, the girl.
She warrants two mentions at least.
So many more though, definitely.
Everything budding, brewing, rising

“An evangelical walked into the nave.”
Searching for God knows what
And he did.
Miracle of miracles –
The forensic formulae for bread and wine
Come up short, which confirms his poetic leaning
But also so much more.

The wind blows
and the light in the window catches his eye,
illuminating, knowing, forgiving
“…by what we have done, and by what we have left undone…”
and a centuries-old rhythm calms his heart
beating, walking, steady pacing
“…joining our voices with Angels and Archangels and with all the company of heaven…”
and the smell of incense hallows him a temple
ringing, singing, loud echoing still
“Hosanna in the highest.”
The wind blows
“…to be for your people the Body and Blood of your Son...”

And he kneels.
And he rises.


You’d think that God was crazy or something.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

A Welcome Word

I received the following this morning. Most of the members of CLSD probably differ from my position on some the core theological and ethical controversies that currently beset the Episcopal Church, so I am especially grateful to Chuck Evans and the leadership of that organization for putting out this message.

An Open Letter to Standing Committee Members and Bishops with Jurisdiction by The Concerned Laity of the Springfield Diocese (“CLSD”)

The Concerned Laity of the Springfield Diocese was initially organized in 2003 (in association with the Via Media USA) to provide a voice for the disenfranchised moderate majority (primarily lay, but also including a few brave clergy) by calling for full participation of all points of view and all sorts of persons in the governance and ministry life of the diocese, and for Springfield's return to an active and cooperative role within the Episcopal Church.
CLSD congregations represent approximately two-thirds of ASA and Pledge and Plate income within the Diocese of Springfield and many CLSD members were actively involved in the election process that resulted in the election of Father Dan Martins.  

CLSD wants all in the church, especially members of Standing Committees and Bishops with jurisdiction, to know that while Father Martins may not have been the first choice of all of our members, he was very near the top of everyone’s list of preferred candidates, and we strongly urge you to provide Father Martins with the necessary consents.  CLSD has been assured in writing by Bishop-elect Martins that he will not take the Diocese out of The Episcopal Church  --  “I cannot imagine circumstances in which I would seek to lead the Diocese of Springfield out of the Episcopal Church.  Period.   Full stop. Take that to the bank.  Should I ever come to believe that my own soul is fatally compromised by my association with the Episcopal Church, I would leave it simply as an individual  …….  I am clearer than ever that this is where I am called to be. What would cause me to individually leave would be a conviction that my own soul's health was in clear and present danger. I don't foresee that happening.)”  Thus, Father Martin’s stated commitment, and the very makeup of the Diocese of Springfield (see the election Process Survey results should assure the broader church that the Diocese of Springfield is not leaving the Episcopal Church  ..… the most favorable environment for that eventuality has passed without ever having the necessary votes to succeed. 

CLSD believes our bishop-elect to be a person of integrity and honesty, with evident gifts for gracious listening, inclusive leadership and pastoral care – three of the most urgent needs within the Diocese.  We believe he will be faithful to his vows to conform to the doctrine, discipline, and worship of the Episcopal Church. We encourage anyone with questions or concerns to contact Fr Martins directly [].

The hope and prayer of the CLSD is for a speedy affirmative conclusion of the consent process. We look forward to the consecration of our new bishop on March 19, 2011, with Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori as chief consecrator. 
Charles T Evans – Convener / Moderator CLSD

Monday, November 01, 2010


Almost since the day of my election as Eleventh Bishop of Springfield, there have been rumors that some folks in my former diocese (San Joaquin) would mount an organized campaign of opposition to my consecration (scheduled for 19 March 2011). I had hoped that they were the sort of rumors that turn out not to be true. Sadly, this was not the case. Last Thursday I received a phone call from Bishop Jerry Lamb, provisional bishop of the (reconstituted) Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin. Bishop Lamb informed me that, within a matter of a couple of hours, a set of documents would be sent to all the Standing Committees and Bishops-with-jurisdiction asking that they withhold consent from my election. (The package may be found here.)

Since I am aware that Standing Committees across the Episcopal Church meet at various times of the month according to local custom, and that several will indeed be meeting within the next week, and since I don’t have access to the email addresses of all the members of these committees, a platform like my own blog is the only one available to me in which I might effectively respond to charges made by the Bishop and Standing Committee of the Diocese of San Joaquin. I do so acutely aware of the fine line between “presenting a defense” and “being defensive.” I hope to competently do the former while avoiding the latter.

One of the things I have become aware of in all this is that what a person knows to be true about his words and actions doesn’t always correspond with what others perceive about those words and actions. As I have considered my words and actions as a priest active in the affairs of the Diocese of San Joaquin during my thirteen years there (1994-2007), I am aware of how plausible it is for others to surmise that I was at all times an “insider,” that I had Bishop Schofield’s ear and was part of a relatively small group of advisors whom he took into his confidence. I was, after all, a Rural Dean from 2000 until my departure, and a member of the Standing Committee for one term and part of another one, separated by a year of hiatus. I was also an Examining Chaplain and put in charge of organizing many diocesan liturgies.

For much of this time, particularly the first five years of the last decade, this perception can probably be said to be largely true. I shared the concerns of Bishop Schofield, and the majority of clergy and laity within the diocese, over the steady movement of the Episcopal Church’s leadership away from classical Anglican and Christian moral teaching. I was alarmed by the actions of General Convention in 2003. In January 2004 I, along with one other priest and two lay persons, accompanied Bishop Schofield to the organizational meeting for what became the Anglican Communion Network. I signed the charter of that network. Yet, at that very meeting, after some animated discussion, the majority of those voting clarified the intention of the group that the ACN was to operate within the constitution and canons of the Episcopal Church. I voted with the majority on that question, and would not have signed the charter had the matter not prevailed. Also at that same meeting, we explicitly repudiated the so-called “Chapman Memo,” which laid out a strategy for “replacing” the Episcopal Church with another Anglican province.

As we know in retrospect, of course, the Anglican Communion Network did not long retain a commitment to operating within its original framework. In August 2006, I once again represented the diocese at an ACN council meeting and was dismayed by how the tone had changed. Clearly the impetus toward separation on the part of some key leadership was a “done deal.” Even before that time, I had begun to distance myself from participation in such activities, and to voice my reservations at meetings of the Standing Committee and Rural Deans. As a result, I, along with other leaders of similar persuasion, began to perceive that we were being frozen out of the decision-making process, that Bishop Schofield’s true inner circle consisted only of three or four diocesan staff members.

I found myself, then, in an exceedingly awkward place. I revered—indeed, loved—my Bishop, and wanted to be loyal to him to the extent of my conscience. I did not wish to number myself among his detractors, or even to aid them in any way. Moreover, I realized that, even had I been inclined to do so, directly opposing him would have been an utterly fruitless effort. He commanded a strong following among both clergy and laity—and even among the majority of my own parishioners. And as I have mentioned, I was in basic sympathy with the concerns driving the high level of frustration and anger within the diocese.

Yet, at the same time, I knew I could not go where he was going. The sexuality conflict is serious and troubling, but it is my sense now, and was my sense then, that having what I perceive to be the “wrong” view on conflicted issues does not make someone my enemy, only my opponent. I can “share a church” with people who disagree with me on these things; indeed, I believe it a gospel mandate that I do so.

So the path I ended up following was one of loyal and oblique opposition. Ironically, the documents posted by the current San Joaquin Standing Committee, if one takes the time to examine them closely, quite clearly illustrate this. When the Committee on Constitution and Canons proposed an amendment to Article II of the diocesan constitution that said, in effect, “We’re going to be Anglican, and affiliate with a province to be named later,” I cooperated with two clergy colleagues in crafting a substitute that would have been compatible with remaining within the Episcopal Church. (True, it omitted any mention of TEC, but it is worth noting that the “unqualified accession” language had already been removed some years earlier, so that concern was not at issue in 2006.) This was supplemented by a resolution that we drafted that appointed a committee to study various options for ensuring continued affiliation with the Anglican Communion, one of which would have been continued affiliation with the Episcopal Church. I did everything within my power, given the political realities in the diocese, to retard and subvert progress toward separation from the Episcopal Church. I even proposed an amendment to the constitutional change on the floor of convention that would have restored mention of the Episcopal Church to Article II, but my amendment was roundly defeated. So I failed in my efforts, but it was not for lack of trying.

Of course, from late 2006—actually, about the time of the diocesan convention that year—and on into the following year, I was involved with the search process at St Anne’s in Warsaw, Indiana, where I now serve as rector. I accepted that call in May 2007. In my experience, God’s timing usually turns out to be pretty good (!), and in this case it got me out of a situation where my opposition would have needed to turn from oblique to direct, not only with my bishop, but with my own parish, where the vestry was overwhelmingly committed to Bishop Schofield’s leadership. As the saying goes, it would not have been pretty.

Let me conclude by reiterating my intention to make my vows when I am consecrated a bishop without crossing my fingers, either physically or mentally. I will neither attempt to lead, nor cooperate with anyone else’s effort, in taking the Diocese of Springfield out of the Episcopal Church. In fact, I will oppose any such effort. I have tasted the fruit of that sort of activity, and it’s not sweet. I am committed to the Episcopal Church, and believe my specific vocation is to exercise my ministry within the Episcopal Church. My voice has been and will continue to be a minority voice on many important questions. I accept what comes with that territory. It is my call.