Friday, March 30, 2012

On Christian Formation

I was recently asked by a lay person who occupies a position of leadership in the diocese to share whatever I might on "Christian formation" as she ponders how her own ministry is configured toward that end. Here's what I wrote:

Here, off the top of my head, are some "marks" of what Christian formation should aim at/produce:

  • A secure awareness of a relationship with God in Christ, in the company of the Church.
  • An ability to verbalize that relationship with confidence and clarity.
  • A basic familiarity with the long arc of the narrative of scripture--the series of covenants in the Old Testament (Noah, Abraham, Moses, David, the Exiled Jews), the life of Jesus, the story of the early church in Acts.
  • A habit of corporate worship on Sundays and daily private prayer, along with related spiritual disciplines.
  • An awareness of vocation--a habit of asking the question, "What is God calling me to do?"
  • An awareness of one's spiritual gifts, and a passion for exercising them.
There could be more, but this seems enough of a challenge!

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Part IV of Lenten Teaching Series

Vocation and Spiritual Gifts: the Promise of Ministry

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

On Communion Without Baptism

The Diocese of Eastern Oregon has introduced a resolution that would remove the Episcopal Church's canon that makes Holy Baptism a prerequisite for the reception of Holy Communion. It's too early to tell whether it will even make it out of committee and on to the floor of General Convention for debate this July, but it's certainly not a bold from the blue: The restrictive canon is already honored in many places more in the breach than in the observance. It's been a subject of conversation and debate for some years now.

What we are witnessing in this discussion, I think is the Law of Unintended Consequences asserting itself. When we gradually recovered the centrality of the Eucharist during the last century, codified in the 1979 BCP, the presumed cultural environment was still that of "Christendom." An unbaptized adult was a relative rarity. At the same time, there was also a presumption that whatever happens on Sunday morning is the church's "show window" to the world, that the experience of corporate worship would be a newcomer's first encounter (even if invited by a friend) with who we are and what we do. It would be the worship service that would either draw them deeper or, for whatever reason, turn them away. Now, there is the added factor of the exponential secularization of our society; there are vestiges, artifacts, of Christendom, but they are disappearing rapidly. 

As a result, we now have a sort of "perfect storm": We have unbaptized adults walking through our doors, curious or inquiring to one degree or another, and encountering, of course, the Eucharist, and a tacit "vibe" that going forward to receive communion is simply what one does, especially if one wishes to remain inconspicuous. And those of us who identify ourselves as the "hosts" of these our "guests" feel like we're being downright impolite if we place any restriction on who may receive the sacrament. Hence, the pressure to bend or amend the rules.

But, is there another possible response that honors both the received tradition and the impulse toward hospitality? I think there are at least two--one a stopgap, of sorts, and the other more profound.

The stopgap: This past January 7, my Archdeacon and I attended a Christmas liturgy at a nearly Russian Orthodox church. We were in clericals, people there knew who were were, and we knew we were not invited to receive Holy Communion, and made no attempt to do so. But immediately upon the conclusion of the liturgy, we were accosted by a lay liturgical minister who brought us unconsecrated bread that came from the same loaf that the consecrated portion had been cut from--the "antidoron"--and were enthusiastically offered this bread. I have rarely felt more welcomed in my life. That act, to me, was "radical hospitality." I'm not sure how something like this could be adapted into our liturgical tradition, but it seems worth thinking about.

The profound: Our post-Christian world certainly is not the same as the "pre-Christian" world before Constantine, but there are some significant commonalities. Might we not learn from some of the praxis of the pre-Constantinian church? The whole process of the catechumenate--integral to the baptismal piety that so many are keen to foster--is adapted from this era. But one thing we have not adopted is the "privacy" of the Eucharist. Service times were not only not widely published, a non-Christian would have had to know somebody who knows somebody to even learn when and where the Eucharist would be celebrated. And even when successful at discovering that information, an unbaptized inquirer would not only be denied communion, but barred from even remaining in the same room after the homily. The Creed, the Prayers of the People, and the Peace were also the exclusive preserve of the baptized. 

I'm not suggesting we go back to meeting in secret, but I do wonder whether we might do well to shed the presumptive expectation that the principal liturgy on Sunday is where the uninitiated will have their first and defining encounter with us. Some might say, "Sure, let's have Morning Prayer, or some non-liturgical form of public worship, in addition to the Eucharist." I think that's worth exploring under some circumstances, but probably doesn't go far enough. It still assumes that our goal is to get "them" to come to "us". I, for one, am more excited about a mission stance that takes "us" to "them"--connecting with people outside of any worship, at the level of their felt needs, and walking with them until we've earned the privilege of inviting them to consider other needs they may not have been aware of, to consider the questions for which Jesus is the answer. And then we fan that spark of faith and begin to form them in discipleship, perhaps before they've even come within a mile of our church building! Then, as the last step of the process, we baptize them and introduce them to the Eucharist.

There are, I believe, many advantages to such a strategy, but one of them is that the Eucharist is freed to be what it is, and not pressured to be something it's not (like a "tool" for evangelism). There's no more reason to "dumb it down" in any way to be "seeker sensitive" ... or even radically hospitable. Christian corporate worship is for all--both Christians and "pre-Christians." The Eucharist is for the initiated, the baptized. We need to learn to be clear about that distinction.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

House of Bishops, Day 5

This was the final day of the House of Bishops meeting. We woke up to lightning, thunder, rain, and cooler temperatures--a marked change from the warm and pleasantly sultry days we have been enjoying. The meditation after Morning Prayer today was given by Julio Holguin, Bishop of the Dominican Republic. He spoke to us in Spanish, so this time it was the anglophones who had to don headsets and avail themselves of the services of the two-person simultaneous translator team that has been with us since we got here. His subject  was the bishop's duty to lead the church in mission. This is, of course, a subject very close to my heart. In our table group discussion, I raised the delicate subject of the divergence of thought in the church over what mission is, exactly. It does no good to exhort one another to mission-mindedness if we're not actually talking about the same thing.

Before lunch, we also heard from Bishop Justin Welby of the Diocese of Durham, who was our invited visiting observer from the Church of England. He spoke very winsomely of the clearer insight into the Episcopal Church that he has gained during his time with us.

In the afternoon, we had our only true business session--the the Presiding Bishop doing precisely that for which her office primarily exists, and following Roberts' Rules. We approved a statement of greeting to the Archbishop of Canterbury, whose resignation (effective at the end of the year) was announced late last week. The primary item on the agenda was the "enchanced DEPO" proposal that was introduced yesterday. This presented me with my first opportunity to speak in the HoB in actual debate (I spoke in favor). I was a little nervous (!), so I used my iPad to remind me of some points I had jotted down after lunch. There was a handful of fairly non-substantive amendments that were proposed and approved, and then the motion itself was adopted overwhelmingly on a voice vote. This is a good thing. Not an earth-shatteringly good thing, perhaps, but a good thing, nonetheless.

We had a closing Eucharist before dinner, with the Bishop of Kansas presiding and the Bishop Suffragan of Texas preaching. It has been the custom in the House, apparently, to dress up a bit for the final dinner. I am not given to that sort of thing, nor did I come prepared to do so. I did, however, assure everyone that I do own a navy blazer, since that seemed to be the uniform of the day. I draw the line, though, at bow ties. Not gonna go there.

A word about worship at House of Bishops: I would not want to be in charge (well, actually I would, but still...) because there's no pleasing everybody. The music was led by a frighteningly talented and able musician (Dent Davidson, from Chicago). I would certainly have preferred more music from a place closer to the center of the tradition and less from the margins. I don't mind a little new stuff, but I miss the solid familiar stuff. And the services themselves seem not to have been put together by people who know how to "think liturgically"--or even pay attention to texts and rubrics, for that matter. A gathering of bishops should be able to do better.

Monday, March 19, 2012

House of Bishops, Day 4

I'm not by nature a "morning person." But this being St Joseph's Day, and the first anniversary of my consecration, I got up for the 7:30 Eucharist in a side chapel of the chapel (All Saints' Chapel is larger than many cathedrals). I can only be grateful for my first year as a bishop. It has been several degrees happier and more effective than I had anticipated. God is good.

After breakfast, and following Morning Prayer, the retreat meditation was given by the Presiding Bishop on the vows bishops take to "guard the faith, unity, and discipline of the Church" and to participate in the governance of the whole church. During the reflection/prayer time afterward, I took a long walk through the piney woods (staying on Camp Allen property) and had ample opportunity to think about how I understand "guarding" to begin with acknowledging the given-ness of the Catholic Christian faith. It's not mine to make up; it's mine to hand along. Intact. This is both a responsibility and a relief. Just before lunch we reassembled at our table groups to briefly "process" the PB's meditation and our own reflections.

After lunch, I had a wonderful visit with Justin Welby, the newish Bishop of Durham in the Church of England. We operate, of course, in vastly different contexts, yet we were both amazed at what similar visions we have of the larger missional environment of western culture--a culture that is substantially post-Christian--and of the necessity not to deny or resist the new secular age, but to embrace it, to say "bring it on", and then learn how to be the church in that environment. It was a thoroughly refreshing and encouraging conversation.

The afternoon was free. I processed a bunch of emails, which always takes longer than I expect, and spent some quality time on the treadmill before dinner.

After dinner, we came back together at our tables for two presentations and brief discussions. The first was by Ian Douglas, Bishop of Connecticut, on possible responses to the Anglican Covenant. He and two colleagues have prepared a resolution, which we saw tonight for the first time, that would affirm the spirit of the Covenant and the text of the first three sections, and call for continued study of all the implications that Section 4 would have on the Episcopal Church, including and especially our constitution and canons. There was brief plenary discussion. The intent of this resolution is to not "just say No" to the Covenant, but to not say Yes either, the end being keeping a place for TEC's delegation at the next meeting the Anglican Consultative Council this fall. My sense is that, even so, it will meet heavy resistance.

The other topic was a proposal from a working group of five bishops, chaired by Ed Little of Northern Indiana (and including Rivera of Eastern Oregon, Fitzpatrick of Hawaii, Doyle of Texas, and Smith of North Dakota), to revise the 2004 document adopted by the HoB, "Caring for All the Churches," which institutes Delegated Episcopal Oversight (DEPO), an arrangement by which parishes that consider themselves to be theological minorities in their dioceses to come under the pastoral care of a bishop other than their who whose theological views are more compatible than their own. DEPO has worked well in a number of cases, though they tend to stay quietly under the radar. The proposed revisions are by way of strengthening the document and taking a longer view. It makes provisions for DEPO to extend to the ordination process, such that a "theological minority" candidate who suffers from discrimination in one diocese and  is a member of a DEPO parish, can be "processed" by the diocese of the DEPO bishop. This proposal will be debated and voted on tomorrow. It will be controversial, and I am making no predictions. I will support it, of course. The few theological conservatives left in the Episcopal Church need some sort of good faith signal that we are not being just tolerated for the moment in the hope that we will die off and become a speck in the corporate memory, but that there will be a place for us indefinitely. Stay tuned.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Spring House of Bishops, Day 3

Being the Lord's Day, the schedule was appropriately relaxed (in welcome contrast to Sundays in previous meetings). Eucharist was at 10, with a meditation from Porter Taylor, Bishop of Western North Carolina, taking the place of the homily. His subject was the vow bishops make at their ordination to be faithful pastors to their people. Different in style than either of the two previous meditations, it was nonetheless rich and stimulating. I am feeling spiritually fed by these talks. Today there was no table group unpacking session, so we adjourned to the common area and engaged in informal conversations as we waited for lunch to be served. Such moments of casual exchange are arguably the most valuable aspect of these gatherings.

After lunch, various recreational opportunities were offered. I chose to go on a horseback trail ride with eight others. Interestingly, the last time I rode a horse was six years ago, and it was right here at Camp Allen (where I was reading General Ordination Exams). Following the ride, I had an extended conversation with a retired bishop over some mission-related issues. Then I did some work--processed a bunch of emails and scheduled a bunch of tasks.

After dinner there was an event--a regular one at HoB meetings--styled a "fireside chat." With over a hundred bishops in a large room, sharing one microphone, it was hardly a chat. The Presiding Bishop presides (how appropriate) but the agenda is open, whatever anybody wants to bring up. The subject that dominated the discussion was the need, perceived very strongly, to radically restructure the governance and management of the Episcopal Church. I will not go into any of the details in this venue, since we were not in formal business session and thus incapable of taking any official actions, and even if we were were in session, the sort of actions we might have taken would not be available to us outside a meeting of General Convention. Suffice it to say that everything--absolutely everything, by way of polity and governance--was "on the table" in this discussion.

Spring House of Bishops, Day 2

Same morning routine as yesterday. The retreat-style meditation (in name only, it was actually a sermon) was by Michael Curry, Bishop of North Carolina. His topic was the vow that bishop's take to "proclaim the gospel." Put bluntly, the man can preach. It made me wonder why I even attempt to do so, except that I know it to be my calling. But ... wow. As with yesterday, we had about 75 minutes on our own for prayer and reflection, then gathered at our tables to continue to process the subject. I am actually finding this pattern to be quite welcome, especially in the wake of the extremely content-heavy agendas of the last two meetings.

Lunch was with the group of Communion Partner bishops. Ten were in the room--diocesans, retired, and suffragans--with three more who would have been there but for other commitments. We now form the "right wing" of the HoB, though, in times past, most would have been labeled "moderate conservatives." The center of gravity has shifted. We did some organizing and broad stroke strategizing in anticipation of this summer's General Convention. There is no path to "victory" of any sort, so it's all about the most faithful and effective way to simply bear witness. This is actually kind of liberating. And we are aware of a need to exercise more visible pastoral leadership as a group on behalf of those who will find the actions of that convention cause for consternation.

The agenda for the afternoon was a report from five bishops who have been involved in the development of a rite for the blessing of same-sex relationships, with accompanying supporting materials. There was actually a read-through of the liturgy, with two bishops taking the lines of those committing themselves to one another. After a few "clarifying questions" in plenary (some of which did not actually meet that description), we had a period of discussion at our tables, and then were sent to breakout rooms where larger groups (about three tables worth) engaged in Indaba-style dialogue.

No one should be surprised that I am among those opposed to the entire project, on principle. I will vote against it, whatever form the rite takes in the end. For that reason, I'm not in a position to offer feedback on its details, fine-tuning language, etc. So I have the luxury of observing, as it were, from a distance. And what I see is a developing struggle between hard-core ideological liberals for whom anything but "full marriage equality" will still be a denial of justice, and institutional liberals who would like there to be some authorized rite for same-sex blessings but are not really interested in it looking anything like marriage. The rite that is being proposed is, in my estimation, marriage by another name, despite the protestations of its authors that it's simply a "blessing" liturgy. It's doesn't use the word "marriage," but it borrows heavily from the vocabulary and structure of the marriage liturgy. And can anyone question what the headline will be in the secular media the day after we pass the authorizing resolution?

The silver lining in all this is that the proposal is for this rite to be new resource entitled Liturgical Resources One--that is, not appended to any currently extant liturgical book, thus placing it under the authority of the Bishop Diocesan as to whether it may be used.

In the evening, eleven of the twelve bishops (one being "under the weather") of the Class of 2011 (those elected during 2010) journeyed up to College Station for dinner at a Tex-Mex restaurant. Very, very nice.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Spring House of Bishops, Day 1

We're at Camp Allen, the outsize conference center owned and operated by the Diocese of Texas, about 60 miles northwest of Houston.

This meeting has a more humane pace than the other two I have attended, especially the one a year ago at Kanuga. There was an attempt among the planners to invoke more of a retreat atmosphere. Each morning there is a meditation by one of our colleagues on one of the vows from the liturgy for the consecration of bishops. Today we were heard from Tom Shaw, Bishop of Massachusetts, on the place of prayer and scripture in the life of a bishop.

In the afternoon, there was a working session, with presentations from committees on two issues. The first was the development of a process--a canon, actually--to govern those relatively rare occasions when a bishop and the others leaders of a diocese come to an impasse in their relationship. There was vigorous discussion, and, I would say, a fair amount of pushback on the draft presented by the committee. I must confess that, while the situation that calls for such a canon does indeed occur, and can be quite vexing, it seems bad policy to make law based on exceptional cases. I could not help also observing that those who are advocating for defining the process of reconciliation/dissolution in minute detail are those who oppose the Anglican Covenant for being too juridical and prescriptive. Ironic.

Item the second was the use of social media at HOB meetings--specifically Twitter. A draft policy is now in circulation. IMHO, it's a little unrealistically restrictive, and fails to take account of the undeniable fact that if some can be done, it will be done. We shall see.

Dinner was too much of a good think, as in too many yummy choices. Blessedly, nothing but social time (with a little NCAA watching) in the evening. I got in a good workout on the treadmill after dinner.

Humorous moment of the day (one that I can repeat, at least): The office hymn at Morning Prayer was "nearer My God to Thee." At moments, it does indeed feel as through we're on the Titanic! (Trust me, I wasn't the only one who made the association.)

Patterns of Ministry: Part III

The Icon of Ministry: Holy Orders

Friday, March 09, 2012

Part II of Lenten Teaching Series

Patterns of Ministry: Baptism--The Mark of Ministry

Friday, March 02, 2012

Patterns of Ministry: What's In a Word?

Session One of my Lenten teaching series in Alton Parish (St Paul's Church):

What's At Stake in the Anglican Covenant Debate

A letter to the Church Times from to Church of England bishops:

From the Bishops of Bristol and Oxford
Sir, — As the majority of dioceses are soon to debate the Anglican Communion Covenant, and there is in some quarters suspicion or even hostility towards it, we would urge a pause for reflection about what is at stake, both for the Anglican Com­munion as a whole and for our own Church of England.

The Covenant process has been developed with the full participa­tion of all the Churches of the Anglican Communion. It is prob­ably the most consulted-over document the Communion has ever known. At heart, it offers a way for the Churches to renew their com­mit­­ment to each other and to ex­press their common Anglican identity and mission. It is some­thing that our own Church has been at the centre of shaping and devel­oping.
This renewed commitment is vital for the well-being of the Anglican Communion, coming at a time of disagreement and conflict over certain issues, but also amid a climate of fractiousness and often impatient communication. The Covenant says nothing about these issues, whether disagreements over human sexuality, or views over the ordination of women as bishops.
Despite the anxieties that some people are projecting on to the Covenant, the Covenant text is intentionally silent about such questions. The Covenant does not solve these debates, but rather sets out what is commonly held to be essential to our Anglican (and Christian) identity, and describes the best practice of how com­munion may be sustained within the Anglican Communion — in short, how we participate in a com­mon mission, and how we take counsel together for mutual dis­cern­ment.

The Covenant does not invent anything new. The Covenant’s description of our Anglican identity is exactly that which we have long subscribed to in our ecumenical agreements with other Churches. The description of and commitments towards our common life are exactly those that our Church exercises through participa­tion in the Instruments of Com­munion (the Lambeth Conference, Anglican Consultative Council, and Primates’ Meeting), as well as in the respect afforded to the Arch­bishop of Canterbury as instrument of communion and focus of unity.
Neither does the Covenant create any new powers, centralising or otherwise. Despite some of the views being advanced elsewhere, the Covenant rests on the autonomy of the individual Churches of the Communion, an autonomy that is to be exercised in communion and with mutual accountability.
Nor are any new powers granted to the Instruments of Communion. Instead, the Covenant constitutes a set of commitments: to consult together; to continue to discern together through areas of serious disagreement; to maintain the highest degree of communion possible, etc. These are not about binding each other, but about refusing to walk away from or disregard each other.
Disagreements are inevitable, and we are realistic about the depth of disagreement over some issues. The Covenant is essential, because it helps us both to live with and to address these differences. The Covenant offers an honest way forward, in which the nature of such differences can be discussed. The Covenant provides a frame-work for sustaining our common life even when difficult issues remain unresolved.

For both of us, the importance of the Covenant is reinforced by our relationships so valued in our Communion links. Sustained com­munion is vital for the Church in the face of political fissures and conflict, while, for very many in the Communion, the sustaining of our common life brings hope for the overcoming of ethnic and economic divides.
The Anglican Communion Covenant is currently under consideration in all the Churches of the Communion, according to their own processes for adoption. Already nine have decided to adopt it. A lukewarm response or, worse, rejection of the Covenant in the Church of England would meet with bewilderment in the wider Communion. Some would ask with the prophet Isaiah, “Can a mother forget her children?”

But it would also impoverish the Church of England. Our church life and mission is infinitely the richer for the relationships we share around the Communion. The Cov­enant offers us a precious oppor­tun­ity to consolidate those relation­ships and to demonstrate our commitment to one another as Churches. Let’s not miss this oppor­tunity offered to us in our time.

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