Tuesday, June 30, 2015

The Fifth Legislative Day

We're at that point that is inevitably reached in every General Convention when there's an increasing sense of urgency in the air. Resolutions that pass in one House and then get amended in the other, have to first go back to committee, where the amended version must be concurred with, and then sent back to the House that initially approved it. Adjournment is a time certain event late Friday afternoon. Resolutions run the risk of getting lost in the cracks. This produces anxiety.

Committee 11 this morning put the final stamp on getting Prayer Book revision going, so the measure will soon show up in the House of Bishops. I do hope we might eventually consider the route taken by the Church of England, where the 1662 version remains the standard book, but it's mostly used only by cathedrals for choral evensong. Most parishes use a volume called Common Worship. I would be very pleased if we could allow the 1979 BCP be for us what the 1662 BCP is for the Church of England, and put the new rites in another collection.

To my dismay (I'm dismayed a lot these days), we also considered and moved along a resolution that calls for the formation of a task force to consider the question of Holy Communion for the unbaptized. The House of Bishops rejected this resoundingly only three years ago. I hope we do so again.

The afternoon legislative was brutally long and ... well, just brutal. Once again, an executive session consumed more tomato than it should have (IMO), dealing with the same issue that was before us yesterday. This time, I really do think we've got it sorted out.

Once again, we had to postpone, and then return to, the "make churches greener" resolution because of non-substantive snafus. But it was eventually approved. I vote No simply because I believe this is the sort of thing that can be handled locally, and what can be handled locally should be handled locally.

The bulk of our time and energy, however, was consumed by two marriage-related resolutions. A054 authorizes new liturgical rites that can be used for the celebration of any marriage that is legal in the United States. It includes what I consider to be adequate protections for bishops and dioceses that hold a traditional understanding of marriage. I can and will prohibit their use in the Diocese of Springfield, though I will be obligated, upon request, to facilitate their availability. Referral of such requests to an appropriate neighboring diocese will be considered a good-faith response. I can live with that.

Resolution A036 is another matter. It alters the canon governing marriage to make the language gender-neutral. My handful of allies and I felt this is where we needed to make our stand. We immediately moved a minority report that emerged from the Special Committee on Marriage as a substitute for the resolution. This report was simply a document affirming the traditional understanding of marriage, and was not an alternate canonical change. We had cleared it in advance with the parliamentarian, who deemed it in order. But one of the bishops fairly quickly challenged the Presiding Bishop's ruling that the substitute was in order, and called for a vote on the matter, which is allowed in Roberts Rules. A majority of the bishops voted to overturn the Presiding Bishop's ruling, so our substitute was taken out of play. The parliamentarian was, of course, correct, so this was simply the names exercise of raw power. The mood of this convention is "spike the ball."

Debate proceeded, and there were a couple of amendments and amendments to amendments moved, but none carried. My allies and I did successfully request a roll-call vote, however, which tends to annoy people. Nonetheless, we felt it important for us to be on the record for the benefit of worldwide consumption, particularly among our Global South friends, who are always under pressure to cast us aside in favor of an exclusive relationship with the ACNA. There was some 150 or so bishops still around (down quite a bit from Saturday's PB election). There were 26 No votes and five abstentions. We got our heads handed to us.

One could argue that there are some details still in play before it's possible to conclusively say, "Done deal." And the House of Deputies still has to act, though the conclusion there is more foregone than with the Bishops. Nonetheless, the Episcopal Church has, today, effectively redefined marriage--a universal and timeless human social institution that Christians have believed is, in fact, not merely a human social institution, but a gift from God that is literally prehistoric, participating in the order of creation. We have done so, moreover, without even a pretense of consultation with the other provinces of the Anglican Communion, to say nothing of the rest of the Christian world. It is an act of breathtaking hubris, an abuse of common sense truly worthy of the descriptor Orwellian.

Is it heresy? This is the question I will continue to ponder. I don't use that term loosely. It has a high bar. Mere false teaching (which this manifestly is) is not necessarily, or even often, heresy. Heresy must ultimately be traceable to the denial of one of the articles of the creeds. The creeds don't talk about marriage. The creeds do, however, talk about creation. They name God as the creator of heaven and earth. If marriage was indeed established by God in creation, we are denying the character of that creation when we trivialize the sheer given-ness of "make and female created He them." These are some preliminary thoughts, at least.

This requires a great deal of further thought, prayer, consultation, and discernment. One of my ecclesiological taproots is that one is obligated to remain in communion with a church that engages in false teaching as long as it continues to be a church. When such a church progresses from mere false teaching into formal heresy--not just de facto heresy, but heresy enshrined in its liturgies and canons--and then persists in that heresy over more than one generation--and I would suggest forty years as a benchmark for "more than one generation"--then it ceases to be a church, and a faithful Christian is obligated to not be in communion with it. We've certainly been winding the forty-year clock. Is it now ticking?

Monday, June 29, 2015

The Fourth Legislative Day

This being Sunday, the big event of the day was the celebration of the Eucharist, at which the Presiding Bishop presided and preached, and at which the United Thank Offering ingathering from each diocese was presented and announced. One of the occupational hazards of my trade is a tendency to want to critically evaluate the planning and execution of liturgy when I am not myself the one doing the planning and executing. This is not an altogether spiritually healthy habit, and I'm trying to condition myself to put boundaries around it. So, without going into any of the details, I'll simply say this: One would think that if there were ever a time when it is appropriate to be squeaky clean with regard to compliance with Prayer Book texts and rubrics, it would be at the principal liturgy of General Convention.

The Presiding Bishop's homily merits some commentary. As always, it was well-crafted, with insights from the scripture text (from Mark: the raising of Jairus' daughter and the healing of the woman with the chronic hemorrhage) imaginatively applied to the sitz im leben of her listeners. She's a better than average preacher. And in that context, I was dismayed by the level of political and ideological triumphalism that she expressed. She congratulated the Episcopal Church for the very behavior that has effectively sundered the Anglican Communion and contributed to massive losses of communicant numbers. I can understand that, if one considers the agenda that has been pushed consistently for the better part of four decades to be a gospel-driven justice issue, then these losses come under the rubric of fidelity and "counting the cost." Nonetheless, her rhetorical tone left me breathless.

The long afternoon legislative session began with an executive session to discuss the details of what we expect of one another as bishops in certain sensitive areas. I believe we got it sorted out. We opened the doors and then got into a fairly protracted debate on a resolution that calls for disinvestment by TEC and related entities from any companies related to the fossil fuel industry--this to make a statement about the need to reduce the world's aggregate "carbon footprint." An amendment to exempt the Church Pension Fund from this requirement eventually passed, and then, at long last, the entire resolution passed. (I voted No, as I'm very leery of disinvestment as a strategy.) There was a lesser amount of debate on a resolution to create task forces in each province that would help dioceses and parishes be "greener." This one got deferred to a later time to allow for certain "technical" issues to be worked out--namely, to bring the project under the umbrella of the DFMS.

The "big one" was next--the first report from the Special Committee on Marriage. They had two resolutions for us--one that tweaks and refines the rite for the blessing of same-sex relationships that convention approved for use in 2012, and another that would amend the marriage canon to make it gender-neutral, and to make "these canons" rather than "the laws of the Church" (which would include the constitution and the Prayer Book) the rule to which clergy are accountable when it comes to marriage. But before we could get very far down the pike, the committee chair and vice-chair and the Presiding Bishop and the technology gods seemed to all go off the rails in their ability to articulate exactly what it was we were doing. Then, as a sort of deus ex machina, the powers-that-be realized that we had a time certain to gather with our Deputy colleagues for provincial caucuses, at which our sole duty was to elect--and this will sound a little strange--members of the Joint Nominating Committee for the Election of a Presiding Bishop. Yes, the JNCPB has, by canon, a perpetual existence, "just in case." So we will take up sex and marriage again tomorrow.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

The Third Legislative Day

Usual committee meeting from 7:30-9:00. That time slot this morning was devoted solely to hearings on three categories of resolution. The first was the one that originated within the committee itself: start the process of Prayer Book revision. There was a handful of strong, articulate advocates. No one testified in opposition, so I have no doubt that we will in due course report this resolution out to the House of Bishops. Proponents did not offer compelling arguments so much as forceful rhetoric. ("Let's bring our Prayer Book into our own century.") I've already been pretty clear on what I think about this, so I won't repeat myself.

Then there was the resolution about appointing a task force to study the question of offering Holy Communion to the unbaptized. Didn't we send this one packing in 2012, you might ask? Why, yes, we did. By a near-unanimous margin in the House of Bishops, I might add. Yet, the issue is like the Terminator--it keeps coming back. No arguments on either side of which everyone is not already familiar. It is, of course, ludicrous on its face, and betrays a culpable lack of understanding of what either the Eucharist or Baptism actually are. Jeepers.

And then there was a request for the SCLM, as it works on the next revision of the Book of Occasional Services, to include a rite for celebrating the taking of a new name, for any of a number of reasons, one of which is becoming transgendered. Several individuals who so identify were there to testify.

Because a friend of mine was presiding, and because the bishops were to be bussed straight from there to elect the next Presiding Bishop, I attended the daily Eucharist for the first time this convention. It was Rite 2, Eucharistic Prayer C ... more or less. There was some strange material at the Fraction, and the post-communion prayer was not from the Prayer Book. Sadly, the cantor apparently took it upon herself to emend the very language of Holy Scripture itself as she sang the verse for the Gospel Acclamation, substituting "my God" for "the Father." Twice. We continue our slide into liturgical antinomianism.

I was not surprised that we elected Michael Curry as our next Presiding Bishop. But I was surprised that it happened in one ballot, and by such a lopsided margin. Bishop Curry is a devoted disciple of Jesus (whose name he is not bashful about mentioning), a creedal believer, a compelling preacher, and charismatic leader. That will all be refreshing, and I look forward to working with him. I hope he is also a reconciler and healer, because the Episcopal Church is a bleeding church that is largely in denial about its own woundedness.

The afternoon legislative session consisted of mostly pretty minor items, most of which included on the consent calendar. But we did manage to get ourselves pretty gloriously bogged down in the resolution that we passed in Committee 11 yesterday dealing with providing Holy Communion for people in remote places for whom obtaining the services of priest is not very easy on a frequent or routine basis. After a whole bunch of parlaimentary maneuvering, we ended up passing it as presented--that is, the substitute for the original motion that we passed in committee yesterday.

Friday, June 26, 2015

The Second Legislative Day

Today consisted of early morning (7:30-9:00) and mid-afternoon (2:15-4:00) committee meetings, together with a joint session of the two Houses for purposes of having a "conversation" about church structure, plus a late afternoon (4:30-6:30) legislative session.

In Committee 11, we spent most of the morning session, and a large part of the afternoon one, dealing with A044, Maintain the Primacy of the Eucharist. The impetus behind this resolution comes from the reality that there are smaller and/or remote parishes that, for one reason or another, do not have access to a priest every Sunday. The fallback is to have a licensed Worship Leader officiate at Morning Prayer. The resolution as originally offered asked for permission for bishops to license laypersons to preside at a Liturgy of the Word followed by the administration of Holy Communion from the reserved sacrament.

While I am not unmoved by the plight of such congregations, I found this resolution highly problematic from the moment I laid eyes on it, beginning with its title. The 1979 Book of Common Prayer is unprecedentedly clear in affirming the celebration of the Holy Eucharist as "the principal act of Christian worship on the Lord's Day." Over the generation that the book has been in use, this aspiration has become a reality. Episcopalians did not used to feel deprived if they could not receive Holy Communion on a weekly basis. Now they do, and this has created the kind of problem that gives rise to A044.

The problem is, the reception of Holy Communion is not tantamount to the celebration of the Eucharist. It's only the tail end. It is the Eucharist, not Holy Communion, that is the principal act of Christian worship on the Lord's Day. So the resolution is misnamed, and a great deal of its language was just plain theologically incorrect. Plus, it could never accomplish what its proposers wanted, since the restriction on laypersons administering from the reserved sacrament in in the Prayer Book itself, and cannot be worked around except through Prayer Book revision.

I would have preferred to refer the whole matter to the House of Bishops Theology Committee for further study, but such a motion would not have carried. Instead, one of the Deputies proposed a substitute that was much shorter than the original, and eloquently expressed the pastoral need at the heart of the resolution, leaving the matter in the hands of diocesan bishops, where it actually belongs.

In other news ... the committee also, to my rather great horror, passed a resolution calling for a process that would lead to the next thorough revision of the Book of Common Prayer. I argued that we simply do not have the institutional bandwidth for such a project at this time, given the other conflicted issues we are dealing with (structure, decline, sexuality and marriage). But the motion carried. Proponents voiced the concern that the present Prayer Book is heavily laden with masculine pronouns for God, along with terms like "Father" and "Lord" that are in the present moment ideologically offensive. The resolution calls for the SCLM to develop a process that would be presented to the 2018 convention. We still have to hold a hearing on it, and then it has to make its way through both Houses. Perhaps it can yet be derailed. Yet, realistically speaking, the soonest we could see a draft of a new BCP would be 2021, but it would more likely be 2024 or later. Still, the prospect is chilling. The kind of Prayer Book TEC would write in this era would not be one I would want to use.

The joint session consisted of table discussions, with eight or nine people representing two different dioceses talking about a set of questions proposed by the Committee on Structure, beginning with the churchwide programs and structures, then taking it down to provincial and diocesan levels. We were asked to respond to what we would like to keep and what we would like to change at each of these levels. To share our responses, we were to post to the Twitter hashtag #gcgas (the latter part standing for "governance and structure," yet a possible alternate interpretation was not lost on people). As I was the only one in my group with a Twitter account, I was the scribe. (If you are on Twitter, you can, of course, see the 600+ responses by filtering for that hashtag.)

The HOB legislative session continued to work through the now growing number of resolutions that are being reported out by committees. Among these was the resolution Committee 11 passed yesterday regarding the liturgical calendar. I gave voice once again to my conviction that we are settling for half a loaf, and that we deserve a full-bodied sanctoral theology and calendar. But there was only a handful of other dissenting votes in addition to mine.

The First Legislative Day

Our one-hour morning legislative session didn't do any actual legislating, but was devoted to organizational formalities.

Back to Committee 11 after lunch. The liturgical calendar of the church was front and center the entire time, in one way or another. Dealing with the substance of what comes before General Convention is challenging enough, but when precious time and energy get sucked into procedural matters, it's doubly frustrating, and that is exactly what we got caught up in, trying to piece together the components of a smooth transition from the (trial use) Holy Women, Holy Men to ... whatever comes next, presumably A Great Cloud of Witnesses, all in an environment of deep emotional investment in the "cause" of particular nominees to the calendar. Before the end of the meeting, we passed a set of resolutions that move GCW into the next step in the legislative pipeline, but with the proposed deletions undeleted, and about thirty new names to be studied for future inclusion. One of these came at my personal initiative--Charles Stuart, King & Martyr (January 30). He wasn't on the SCLM's list, but now he's among those who will be held up against the new (and looser) criteria that we approved. Of course, he has long had an established cult in TEC, with a long-standing devotional society dedicated to him. There was only one dissenting vote.

That said, even after expressing "tepid support" for GCW, I ended up being the sole vote against it. Why did I change my mind? As we slogged through the new criteria, we clearly opened a fairly wide door for future inclusion of individuals who are not only not "saints" in any traditional Catholic sense, but who were not even Christian. Gandhi, for instance could quite plausibly meet the standard for inclusion, as could, arguably, Plato, Aristotle, and Socrates. Suddenly I felt convicted that we are too easily abandoning the effort to have a robust theology of sainthood and a carefully thought-through process for judiciously naming individuals as such. People want a calendar of saints, and no matter how much we try to teach that GCW is not that, there will still always be a tendency to understand it in those terms. We need to beat a strategic retreat, let this matter lie fallow for two or three triennia while we deal with church structure and marriage and other really pressing concerns, and then, with a fresh vision and fresh eyes doing the visioning, put together a proper calendar. We need to kick the can far enough down the road that anyone presently chasing it will not be the one to pick it up. In the meantime, we still have Lesser Feasts & Fasts.

The late afternoon session of the House of Bishops finally got down to some legislating. There is an exotic quasi-liturgical form for this. The Committee on Dispatch informs a committee chair that a resolution coming out of that committee has been placed on the daily calendar. When called on, the chair goes to the podium and says something like "Committee #99 on Coffee Hour Resources presents its Report #17 on Resolution B123, "Add Starbucks to the List of Approved Coffee Vendors," with a recommendation to Adopt." The Presiding Bishop then opens the floor to debate, and the regular parliamentary process ensues. We barely got our feet wet with this today, dealing with some 25 resolutions, 22 of which were to refer to a different committee (one of the available alternatives to Adopt or Reject). Three others were adopted with no debate, one of which was the one approved by Committee 11 yesterday to authorize continued development of a revised Book of Occasional Services. I was the lone No vote.

Because we accomplished so much in our afternoon meeting, Committee 11 did not meet this evening.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Day "0" (no legislative sessions)

There were no actual full-house legislative sessions today, but the process sputtered toward the official starting line. My committee--Committee 11 on Prayer Book, Liturgy, and Church Music--began the day at 7am with hearings on a number of relatively second-tier resolutions, dealing with such things as translations of liturgical texts into other languages, recommending support for programs that help musicians in small churches, and continuing the work of the Congregational Song Task Force. These were sent to the House of Bishops (where all liturgy resolutions go first) with 'Adopt' recommendations, though one was amended slightly. A resolution asking the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music (SCLM) to compile essays and other resources on the subject of Christian Initiation earned a 'Reject' recommendation, with which I concurred. Among other things, I picked up a vibe of it being a stalking horse for reopening official consideration of authorizing offering Holy Communion to unbaptized persons, which the last General Convention resoundingly rejected. We also discussed authorizing a comprehensive revision of the Book of Occasional Services. While I voted No on this, both because I sense that we're blurring the distinction between public liturgies and occasions of personal pastoral care, and because I suspect ulterior motives regarding further revision of liturgical language to remove ideologically offensive but orthodox traditional terms like "Lord" and "Father," mine was the lone dissenting voice, and it was reported out with an 'Adopt' recommendation.

The evening committee meeting heard more testimony, this time on resolutions relating to the liturgical calendar. This has turned out to be a bit of a quagmire. The current official calendar and compendium of materials for the keeping of lesser commemorations is the 2006 Lesser Feasts and Fasts. In 2009, a volume called Holy Women, Holy Men was approved for trial use, and that trial use was extended in 2012. The proposal from the SCLM now is to supplant it with a new book called A Great Cloud of Witnesses. The problem is that GCW is not just an apple to HWHM's orange; it's a zebra. The assumption underlying HWHM (and LF&F before it) was that this is as close as TEC gets to "canonizing saints," that those who are assigned calendar dates are presumed to be exemplary Christian disciples worthy of emulation by all the faithful. GCW explicitly claims to not be a sanctoral calendar, but, rather, a sort of almanac or "family history"--people, most of them them practicing Christians, though not all, who contributed to society and/or the life of the church in significant ways, and who merit being learned about, though not necessarily emulation or veneration. Hence, there are different entrance criteria for GCW than there were for HWHM. The problem is, this distinction is not yet very widely known, so people are behaving like was are still going to have a calendar of saints, and the discussion surrounding who gets so designated and who doesn't is very political and highly contentious. Add to that the fact that there are some unintended conflicts in the related resolutions, which affects the logic of the order in which they are considered, and you have a fine mess. It remains a mess, but the mess will soon become hash, and something will get done. I will probably vote in favor of adopting GCW, though with tepid enthusiasm. It's actually an admission of our failure to coalesce around a broadly understood and agreed theology of sainthood. It's a punt. But at least it's honest, and it's better than HWHM. What I really wish, though, is that we would simply not deal with such things at this convention. None of it is an emergency. And there are demanding items on our plate that are emergencies.

Monday, June 01, 2015

What Confirmation sort of might be

A relatively casual post on my Facebook account stimulated several comments, one of which challenged me to articulate what Confirmation is, in a positive sense, rather than what it is not, which is what my post had done.

So, as briefly as I can, here's my take.

CAVEAT: Although the topic has been and is rightfully the subject of historical and liturgical scholarship, I am not an academician. I know enough about history and liturgy to be very annoying to actual scholars, but I am not completely "read up" in the fields, and the pros will be able to tell. Also, I'm lazy about attribution, and I'm a synthetic thinker, which is a dangerous combination. There's no desire or intent to purloin anybody else's work, but I absorb what I absorb, over a period of years, mash it up in my brain, and then what comes out is what comes out. I'll do my best about this.

In the beginning there was baptism, and it was pretty simple. You confessed your faith in Jesus, made some promises, and got dunked--or water was poured over you (not sprinkled, poured, so whether you were actually dunked or not, you got uncomfortably wet). In time (I'm going to say somewhere in the second century, but the scholars can check me out), the Bishop became the normative presider at this event, and the normative occasion was the Great Vigil of Easter.

Then there was some add-ons. Accretions or enrichments, depending on your perspective. After the bit with the water, there was the laying-on of hands, which became associated (simultaneously? sequentially?) with a prayer that invoked the presence and power of the Holy Spirit in the new Christian's life. And somewhere in this mix, anointing with oil (chrismation) got thrown in, and also got associated with the Holy Spirit.

So, by the fourth century sometime, we see a single rite of Christian initiation that is unified but segmented, presided over by the Bishop, and generally reserved to the Easter Vigil. (There are always exceptions and localizations and statistical outliers with pretty much everything, and, as I make my generalizations, I stipulate to that.) It included water, hand-laying, chrismation, and prayer invoking the Holy Spirit. One sacrament, several parts.

As the Church expanded beyond urban centers after Christianity became legal in the Roman Empire, the diocesan system evolved, and bishops delegated many of their functions to the presbyters whom they assigned to provide pastoral care and leadership in those smaller communities. Among these functions was that of baptizing. (Notice that, even today, in the 1979 Prayer Book rite for the Celebration of a New Ministry, the Bishop presents the newly-inducted rector with a pitcher of water and says, "Help me baptize ... ". It's a delegated responsibility, not an entitlement of the local pastor.) However, the West and the East took different directions here. In the East, the bishops tended to delegate all the segments of the one initiation rite--water, hands, Holy Spirit invocation, and chrismation. In the West, the bishops were stingier. They allowed presbyters to take the water element of the rite, but reserved to themselves the others. So you would be baptized in your village church on Easter eve, but then, sometime before Pentecost, travel to the urban center where the Bishop was to receive laying-on of hands, invocation of the Holy Spirit, and chrismation.

Understandably, with the passage of time, and human laxity being what it is, the interval between the "water rite" and the other elements tended to get longer and longer. Understandably, the perception evolved that this was not one initiatory sacrament in two segments, but two actual sacraments, the one involving the Bishop being styled Confirmation. And instead of making you come down to the county seat to get confirmed, the Bishop just took care of that sort of thing when he showed up at your parish. But bishops were not always that responsible about showing up at your parish, since your vestry was perpetually behind in its diocesan assessment, so the answer to the question, "When's the Bishop coming so my kid can get confirmed?" was "God only knows."

Yes, speaking of kids, with Christendom now established and everybody getting baptized in their local parish church as infants, the "Sacrament of Confirmation" (eventually elevated to the Big Seven conference) became understood as an adolescent rite of passage, a time when those who had baptismal vows taken on their behalf by their godparents, could step up and say, "Yeah. What they said back when I was baptized." Especially after the Reformation, the "rite of passage" understanding of Confirmation pretty much fully eclipsed the "completion of baptism" aspect, and among, say, Lutherans, as well as many others, to this day, that's what it's about.

In the Church of England, Confirmation--not understood by anyone to be a sacrament before the Oxford Movement--was administered haphazardly in most places, and among Anglicans in the American colonies, not at all between the 1607 Jamestown settlement and the consecration of Samuel Seabury as the first American bishop in 1783.

The Catholic revival of Anglicanism in the mid-nineteenth century rekindled an awareness of a connection between Confirmation and the sequence of Christian initiation. It became understood as the completion of Baptism, and, consistent with such a notion, became a prerequisite for admission to the sacrament of Holy Communion. In the Episcopal Church, this remained the case until 1970.

In the early years of the twentieth century, there began to be a flowering of historical scholarship about the liturgical practices of the early Church. Much that had been lost to the historical record became known once again. The desire to apply these new historical discoveries to contemporary Christian practice took shape in what became known as the Liturgical Movement. The Liturgical Movement gathered steam within both Roman Catholicism and Anglicanism. (Indeed, one of its most seminal works, The Shape of the Liturgy, was the work of the Anglican Benedictine monk Dom Gregory Dix.) It was the driving force behind the liturgical reforms emanating from the Second Vatican Council in the early-to-mid 1960s, and behind the development of what eventually became the 1979 Book of Common Prayer.

As the drafters and compilers of the 1979 BCP considered what to do with the liturgies for Christian initiation, it is clear from the documentary record that their aspiration was to restore what they understood as the primitive initiatory sequence: water, hands, Holy Spirit, and chrismation in a segmented but unified rite. In effect, what they wanted to do was adopt the practice of the Eastern churches, in which the local parish priest presides over the entire sequence, on one occasion, and eliminate altogether anything called "Confirmation." But it was evident to them that, while this was historically and liturgically defensible, it was not politically feasible or pastorally sensitive. Bishops who caught wind of it complained that Confirmation was their only point of ordinary pastoral contact with lay people in a liturgical context, and they would be loathe to part with it.

So, instead of pressing the battle, the Standing Liturgical Commission (as it was then known), deftly enticed the bishops into a little semantic shell game. They went ahead and did what they wanted to do with Baptism. The BCP 1979 liturgy for Holy Baptism has all the ancient elements in place, with the local priest as the presumed presider. There is immersion in (or pouring of) water, followed by chrismation and laying-on of hands with both a formula that mentions the Holy Spirit and a prayer (either preceding or following) that explicitly invokes the Holy Spirit. At the same time, they created, pretty much out of whole cloth, a new rite and gave it the name Confirmation, and reserved it to the Bishop. So, phenomenologically--culturally and pastorally--the familiar "normal" (though not normative) sequence of infant baptism and adolescent (or thereabouts) "Confirmation" could be retained, while the baptismal liturgy itself was restored to its patristic era integrity. Win-Win.

This, at any rate, is one narrative. I've done a lot of research in this area, and I believe my narrative fits the historical (by that I mean recent TEC historical) facts most coherently. The problem is, that's not how most Episcopalians--laity, priests, or bishops--tend to look at the matter of Confirmation. Even as a generation or more of parish clergy tried to overlay their 1928-formed liturgical paradigm for the Eucharist on the texts of the 1979 Prayer Book (pretty much ignoring rubrics and other explanatory materials), thus creating a really impressive liturgical mishmash that has become accepted as normal in mosts parts of TEC, most Episcopalians, lay and ordained, have tended to overlay their pre-1979 perceptions of Baptism and Confirmation over the texts of the 1979 Prayer Book, resulting in a morass of confusion, especially as regards Confirmation.

So ... is Confirmation a sacrament, or not? I'm going to go out on a limb and say straight out: No. I know that messes with the perfection of the mystical number seven, but that's something we probably need to get over anyway. My 'No', however, is predicated on the validity of the narrative I have here set forth. Think of it this way: the sacrament of 'Confirmation' consists of the elements that were once married to the water part of Baptism. They got divorced in the early Middle Ages, and the hands/oil/Spirit elements took the name 'Confirmation.' Eventually, 'Confirmation' got hitched to 'Adult Rite of Passage,' and the happy couple kept the name 'Confirmation.' In the turmoil of the Liturgical Movement, the original (sacramental) 'Confirmation' got forcibly divorced from 'Adult Rite of Passage' and remarried its former spouse, 'Completion of Baptism.' But, in the divorce settlement, (non-sacramental) 'Adult Rite of Passage' kept the name 'Confirmation,' and has proceeded to enjoy the single life without really broadcasting the reality of the divorce. Must keep up appearances, you know. Not everybody around town has gotten the message about the divorce, and some still think the "sacrament" of Confirmation is hiding out in the back yard, when, in fact, it's now shacking up back with Baptism. In one unified but segmented rite. That one is a sacrament.

Maybe I've made things clearer with this. Maybe I've muddied the waters. Of course, it only applies in the micro-universe of the Episcopal Church. The whole question is still wildly in flux across the Anglican world, and while Roman Catholics think they understand their own theology and practice on this, my guess is they probably don't, but don't want to let on about their confusion. The Orthodox are the ones who seem never to have been confused.

Of course, there's also the issue of how too many Episcopalians (including priests and bishops) too casually treat Confirmation as if it were the "sacrament of becoming an Episcopalian." But that's another blog post.