Friday, March 30, 2007

When Friends Go Swimming

There is a euphemism popular among Anglicans for those of their number who choose to embrace the obedience of the Roman Catholic Church--"swimming the Tiber" (the Tiber being the river the runs through the city of Rome). Yesterday it was announced that Dan Herzog, the recently retired Bishop of Albany, has taken the plunge. (In his case, it's a reversion to the church of his youth, but he was an Episcopalian for more than 35 years, and is a graduate of Nashotah House, my own seminary alma mater.)

I had the privilege of spending some time with Bishop Herzog on two occasions--when he conducted a retreat for San Joaquin clergy about three years ago, and at a meeting we were both attending in Pittsburgh last summer. I like and respect him. I found the news of his departure from the Anglican fold depressing and demoralizing, though only a little surprising, and it seems like the reasons for this reaction on my part are worth unpacking.

One's own autobiography, I have found, is a good place from which to start the process of understanding things like this. Having come at Anglicanism from the opposite direction that Bishop Herzog did, I had the sense, when the Bishop of Los Angeles laid hands on me in Confirmation in 1975, that I was embracing the fullness of the Catholic faith. That is what I was taught, that is what I believed, and though I have both a more nuanced and a more jaded perception of the matter now than I did then, it is what I still believe.

For an Anglican of a Catholic persuasion, such as myself, there is naturally a push-pull relationship with the Church of Rome. If we possess within our own ecclesial life the fullness of Catholic faith and practice, of course, we don't strictly "need" Rome in any way. They are who they are and we are who we are, both parts of the larger whole. It's even easy to be a little bit snobbishly elitist about it: "We're Catholics with taste," I have often jokingly replied to casual inquirers about "What's the difference between your church and the Catholic Church?"

At the same time, Anglo-Catholics are keenly aware that Rome is the 900 pound gorilla in the ecclesiastical jungle, and that they supply us with the norm, the template, for the practice of our religion, not only in an historical sense, but in an ongoing way as well. From a strictly liturgical perpective, one could even say that there are two kinds of Anglo-Catholics: Those who take their cue from Roman practice before Vatican II and those who model themselves on Roman practice after Vatican II. These are two very different liturgical paradigms, but it cannot be denied that they have the same mother.

Anglicans who tilt more toward Rome than toward Geneva would generally agree, then, that it is an anomaly for us to not be in full communion with the Bishop of Rome. After all, the Roman church was founded by not just one, but two apostles, and has been the primary keeper of the flame in western Christianity since sometime in the second century, at least. The burden is on us, not on them, to justify continued separation. The fact that their liturgy is usually...well, not a sufficient excuse. So, for more than a century, Catholic-minded Anglicans have cherished a fantasy that involves some sort of organic reconciliation between Rome and Canterbury--not mere capitulation and absorption, and not simply a wave of individual conversions either; that is, something corporate and of a sort that would allow Anglican churches to maintain a visible continuity with their own past, even as they enter full communion with the Holy See. This has been the Omega Point of official ecumenical discussions as long as they have existed.

And this is precisely why actions such as Dan Herzog has taken are so discouraging. Going back as far as John Henry Newman in 1845, there has been a steady procession--never a throng, never a rush, but a steady procession--of Anglicans whose sense of the imperative nature of fellowship with the Roman church, aided by the inherent instabilities of Anglicanism, has overtaxed their patience and led them to "swim the Tiber." (The very reason that led to my holding the paying day job I've had for twelve and a half years is because my predecessor became a swimmer.) I am not without empathy for them. I very regularly experience the same urge. (And, yes, there are overt reasons why I am an Anglican.) But every time somebody dives into the Tiber alone, it weakens the energy behind a truly corporate reconciliation between churches, which is, somehow, a richer and more compelling sign of gospel unity and the re-melding of fragments of the broken Body of Christ than a horde of individual "submissions."

I would passionately love to die (at a ripe old age, of course) in full communion with the Roman Catholic Church. But I would like to achieve that reconciliation in a way that does not compel me to either deny or abandon the "real churchiness" of the tradition in which I have been formed my entire adult life, and which it is my daily joy to serve as a Catholic priest.

Am I just being stubborn?

Meaningful Rambling

My sermon last Sunday--from Philippians 3--was an invitation to my congregation to allow themselves to be distracted by the "upward call of God in Christ Jesus," such that the suffering we inevitably encounter is understood as an opportunity to share the sufferings of Christ, being made like him in a death like his, so that we may--you guessed it--also share his glory.

At the time, I was afflicted with a problematic right ear--an off and on concern for more than a year--but since then it has turned into the Mother of All Ear Infections. If you look at me from one angle, I look normal, but from the other side, I look like Dumbo with a bad sunburn. I'm on industrial strength antibiotics, and all should be well, my doctor informs me, by midday on Saturday.

We'll see. In the meantime, it looks like I have a chance, as they say, to practice what I preach. Suffering with Christ sounds so...well...spiritual. Even mystical. Coping with an angry ear? The best I can say about it is that it's mundane, and I could certainly think of less genteel characterizations. Yet, it is precisely here, at the nexus of the spiritual and the physical, that God shows up and does what he does.

Obviously, there are those--millions upon millions--who suffer way more than what's been given me to put up with. Yet, I have to believe that even my nasty but hopefully transitory ear problem, when offered in union with the cross of Christ, is one of the fibers in the strand by which God redemptively reweaves the fabric of this fallen universe.

Such is the backdrop, then, of my day, which began with a 9 AM meeting--in Fresno, 130 miles from my home--with the Bishop and the other Rural Deans of the Diocese of San Joaquin. (If you don't already know what a Rural Dean is--trust me, you probably don't need to.) The rule is that what's said in those meetings stays in those meetings, but if you were to surmise that we talked about the state of All Things Anglican and Episcopal, and the future of the diocese within that matrix, you would be exercising common sense.

At 11, we joined with the other priests and deacons of the diocese for the annual Mass of Chrism, wherein we all renewed our ordination vows, and the Bishop consecrated oils for use in anointing the sick (yes, I had him use some on my ear immediately after the service), and at baptisms and confirmations. There was a good turnout of clergy, and it was a splendid liturgy. Viewed from one angle, this group of clergy gathered around their bishop looked eminently normal, the church doing what it's supposed to do in announcing to the world the inbreaking kingdom of God. But, just as with me and my infected ear, viewed from the other side, it was anything but normal. It was an event that took place in a miasma comprised of an amalgam of fear, uncertainty, anger, suspicion, mistrust, and grief--both actual and anticipatory--as we know ourselves to be the very seam at which the fabric of the ecclesial infrastructure that, in truly normal times, we simply take for granted, is in the process of being rent asunder.

God has joined us together, and we are being rent asunder nonetheless, and nobody wants to take the blame and everybody's finger is pointed away from themselves. Now, I really do get annoyed when any members of a conflicted organism purport to portray themselves as "moderate," because to do so is to claim the moral high ground, because anyone who holds another position is, by unspoken but logically implied necessity, an extremist. It's a polemical tool, a political ploy. So, don't take what I'm about to say as a claim that I am a "moderate" or "in the middle of the road." I'm not. By Anglican standards, I'm a conservative.

However, I do have some complaints about those who, while perhaps not extremists, are in, shall we say, more entrenched positions closer to the poles. I'll start with my own team. I find that my stomach acid starts flowing much more freely when my confreres use language like "The Episcopal Church/815/the national church said/did/believes 'x'." Whatever 'x' is, that is a way too sweeping generalization. The truth is never that simple. Demonizing our opponents makes it easy to pander to ourselves, to justify our own behavior. Yes, there are some Episcopalians, even some in high leadership positions, who really do hold views that are heretical, who are clueless about what the gospel of Jesus Christ actually is. But there are a whole lot more who, while holding tragically mistaken views on hot-button issues, sincerely intend and desire to be loyal disciples of the risen Lord Jesus, in whom they believe with all their hearts as they say the creed without crossing their fingers. Those who know ourselves to be orthodox do ourselves no favors by turning a blind eye to this fact. Yes, acknowledging it would complicate the decisions that face us. But anything else would be to abet a delusion.

Eyes left now. There's an equal need for a strong dose of humility and charity among those who style themselves progressives. Those holding power in an institution will invariably use its organizational infrastructure--in our case, the constitution and canons--to bolster their own position and defeat their opponents. I've been excoriated (mostly on HoB/D) for using the expression "canonical fundamentalism," but I am convinced it exists and is alive and well among diocesan bishops, Executive Council, and the officers of General Convention. Canons are applied rigorously--even imaginatively in some cases--when doing so helps consolidate the power of those already holding it, yet leniency is applied when strictness would put them at a disadvantage. One does not need to look very far to find parishes that openly invite the unbaptized to Holy Communion, and freely emend Prayer Book texts to suit their ideololical proclivities. There is a clear and rampant double standard that robs claims that "we must follow the canons" of any integrity.

That's enough for tonight. My ear hurts and I need to give it a hydrogen peroxide bath and grease it up with antibiotic ointment, plus other things better left undescribed.

Stay tuned for some comments on the recently-retired Bishop of Albany's decision to swim the Tiber.

Monday, March 26, 2007

A Consolidated Response

As one might imagine, there has been an unusual level of response to my previous post, which also appeared at Daily Episcopalian. Rather than respond on the comment thread, which I find technically cumbersome, I'm doing so as a new post here. I'm only responding here to those who commented here. But I have also posted a response (in the comment thread) at Daily Episcopalian to those who left their comments in that venue.

To Marshall:

You wrote: “I would only hope that the larger Communion can be as inclusive of the Episcopal Church as I want the Episcopal Church to be inclusive of you, and of those who, in commitment to Truth, question whether they can maintain Unity.” I can agree with this. My fear is that we are not at a place where that can be done anytime soon. The sense of woundedness and level of distrust that much of the Communion feels toward TEC is simply too high. I’m not saying I think it ought to be; it just is. It’s a “fact on the ground.” And I cannot help but say that it’s largely TEC’s own fault for forging ahead as quickly and aggressively as we did in 2003.

To Bill Carroll:

Since you commented in both places (here and Daily Episcopalian), I’ll respond in both places.

I agree, Bill, that you are a veritable exemplar of what I meant by Truth Liberal. In your goal of enshrining same-sex blessings in the BCP, you seem to commit yourself to taking TEC even further down the road of alienating not only Episcopalian conservatives, but most of the rest of the Anglican Communion. I respect the integrity of your position, but it saddens me.

Interestingly, in your words about the sort of relationship you would like people who believe as I do to have with TEC—if I may paraphrase: a well-behaved minority with no actual power—one could virtually reverse the terms and it would, I believe, speak for most Truth Conservatives. At this eleventh hour, I’m going to be bold enough to suggest that, in either scenario, one side gets to have a church that suits them comfortably and the other side gets to be a kept pet. If we are going to be “repairers of the breach” (Is. 58:12), we need to be mutually willing to be uncomfortable, to be part of an ecclesial community that makes us wince, that we often find embarrassing, that contains elements—beliefs and practices—that we believe are simply wrong, but which we accept for the sake of unity.

Bill, how uncomfortable are you willing to be?

To Trey:

I am truly glad you have found a spiritual home for yourself by coming back to the church of your youth.

I would respectfully suggest that you are mistaken with regard to the level of awareness the Primates have for the polity of the Episcopal Church. I think they are acutely aware of the way we are constituted to take counsel for the affairs of the church. They simply believe it is inadequate to the crisis at hand. For your convenience (and mine!) I will reproduce here part of a reply I left over at Daily Episcopalian on this subject:

“Episcopalians simply do not trust the power structures of TEC and the individuals who inhabit those structures. There’s no point arguing whether the perception is correct or not; it’s the perception. And as we all know (those in parish ministry more than any, I think), perception is reality.

So the only sort of Primatial Vicar arrangement that can address the trust issue quickly and effectively is that the individual is neither appointed by the Presiding Bishop nor accountable to the Presiding Bishop. Yes, that’s a horse pill, to use the metaphor of my original post, for liberals. But is it really one that cannot be swallowed? I can understand a Truth Liberal choosing to die in this ditch. My hope (fantasy?) is that there are enough Unity Liberals out there who would be willing to suck it up and endure a political anomaly for the sake of institutional unity, and avoid the expenditure of many tens of millions of dollars in legal fees generated by property disputes.”

To CWO Butler:

Nothing you said was offensive to me. Indeed, it is a moving and thoroughly challenging testimony. This is not the venue to get involved in the moral arguments about either war or sexual behavior, and I’m going to resist the temptation to do so. I thank you for your transparency, and honor your service.

To Phil:

Thank-you for your challenging observations. While what I suggested might bear a superficial similarity to “Don’t ask, don’t tell,” it was not my intent to embrace such an attitude. Rather, I was floating the possibility of both sides agreeing to an arrangement that is manifestly uncomfortable (a “horse pill”) for both. Out of respect for the conscience, good faith, and commitment to Christ of liberals, conservatives, who believe that any sexual behavior apart from heterosexual marriage in inherently sinful, would sublimate that conviction by not judging, publicly or privately condemning, or otherwise harassing same-sex couples who cohabit—and in fact provided quiet pastoral care for them as couples, on the notion that a committed relationship within the community of the church is a lesser evil than many of the alternatives. At the same time, liberals, out of regard for the consciences of their conservative brothers and sisters, and for the sake of the unity of the church, would voluntarily lay aside the perceived right to publicly bless and celebrate such relationships. Moreover, those involved in such relationships would decline leadership opportunities that might scandalize the church’s witness. This is an arrangement that would be tremendously costly for everyone concerned. It would require truckloads of humility and patience. My feeling is that it is a lesser evil than any of the alternatives. In time, it may even lead to something that can be known as good—something we cannot now ask or imagine.

To EH:

So how much did the 2005 World Series influence your epistemology? At any rate, you’re dealing with a Cubs fan here, so hope springs eternal.

To Anonymous:

I’m with you in that there will be no “happy issue out of our afflictions” without some of those in power voluntarily surrendering a measure of that power. How hard is that for a fallen human soul to do?

Sunday, March 25, 2007

A Motion to Reconsider

In the wake of the mind-of-the-house resolutions passed of late by the House of Bishops, I participated in a comment thread on the blog Daily Episcopalian, tended by Jim Naughton, the communications director for the Diocese of Washington. It has a predictably liberal perspective, quite unapologetically. But I'm convinced that Jim is not totally depraved--not only because I'm not a Calvinist, but because he is a baseball fan, and is therefore not far from the Kingdom of God. When my comments began to draw a number of responses, Jim very kindly invited me to to a "guest piece" of sorts on his blog. It has now been posted there, and by prior agreement, I'm also putting it up here. Hope springs eternal.

In my comments in response to this post on Daily Episcopalian, I suggested that the House of Bishops had just kissed off the only live option for maintaining some semblance of institutional unity among those who have—until recently, at least—identified themselves as Episcopalians. Jim wrote me off-line, saying in effect, “So we’re at an impasse. What do you think will work?”

I am grateful for his kind invitation to offer a “guest editorial” on his fine blog. My initial response was along the lines of “Define ‘work.’” That’s an important question because it’s a step toward articulating a goal, and one element in the current unpleasantness is certainly a disparity of goals. As I organize my own thinking, I have found a particular analytical map to be helpful (not infallible, just helpful). It is predicated on the assumption of an omnipresent tension, a polarity, between the values of truth and unity. It presumes that we all value both truth and unity, but we do so in different ways and to different degrees.

On both ends of the ideological-theological-ethical spectrum are those who tend to let truth trump unity. For Liberals (progressives, re-appraisers), the operative truth is the gospel mandate for full inclusion, radical hospitality, toward “all sorts and conditions” of human beings in the life and ministry of the church. For Conservatives (orthodox, re-asserters), the operative truth is the gospel mandate for personal holiness and righteousness, taking God on God’s terms, and not trying to remake him according to our own specifications. For both groups, the goal is to have their operative truth triumph and become the ruling institutional norm.

In the middle, then, are those whose default mode is to hold their perception of truth with such a degree of humility as allows the equally important gospel value of unity to live and move and have some being. This group straddles the center line, and includes people who are on both sides of the divisive issues. For this group, the goal is to find a way to remain visibly and organically connected with one another, even in the face of radical disagreement about some pretty basic questions. (Full disclosure: I number myself in this category—to the right of center, of course. I do, however, sometimes make common cause with conservatives of the “truth before unity” variety, and hold many of them in high esteem.)

Of course, these categories are not absolute or rigid. They are porous at the borders. Even “Truth Liberals” and “Truth Conservatives” can seriously care about unity. But it’s unity on their terms; they’re not willing to surrender a vigorous prosecution of what they believe to be the demands of truth in order to maintain unity. They want to control the institutional apparatus of the church. They don’t necessarily want to unchurch those who disagree with them, but the losers must be willing to play by the rules of the winners. By the same token, both “Unity Liberals” and “Unity Conservatives” can have a profound respect for truth, and none them would embrace unity at any cost. Everyone has a “line in the sand” somewhere. (For what it may be worth, I believe many Unity Conservatives feel as though the House of Bishops crossed that line with their resolutions.)

So, as Jim has invited me to write about what I think might “work,” the way I’m going to interpret “work” is through the lens of the goal of the “unity” party—that is, What might enable those with disparate points of view to remain under the institutional umbrella of the Episcopal Church in some way? The “Truth Liberal” take-it-or-leave-it offer is, “We don’t bend our polity one millimeter, and we don’t flinch for a nanosecond in the ‘full inclusion’ of our LGBT members, even at the cost of cashing in our membership in the Anglican Communion.” The corresponding “Truth Conservative” position is, “We don’t back off one whit from traditional Christian sexual ethics, and we remain in communion with Canterbury, even if that means creating a ‘replacement’ Anglican province in the territories now covered by the Episcopal Church.” I respect and honor those who hold both points of view. Many of them are my friends. But trying to bridge that gap is a task for someone with more intellectual horsepower and political moxie than is available to me. I must address my appeal to the “unity party” (not having any idea if there is anyone left out there who so self-identifies, and how many there might be), speaking as a member of that party who holds conservative (orthodox, traditional, re-asserter) views on the questions about which we contend with one another.

Many are no doubt asking, “Why is unity that important, anyway? This marriage is over. You’re kicking a dead horse. Why not just go our separate ways, pursue mission as we believe God has shown it to us, and leave one another alone?” I have three responses—one spiritual, one emotional, and one practical:

Unity is itself a “gospel truth.” The epistle for Lent IV—with its emphasis the ministry of reconciliation that the Church has received from her Lord—was particularly compelling for me this year, coupled, as it was, with the deep reconciliation signified in the parable of the Prodigal Son. God clearly wants all those who call themselves disciples of his Son to be visibly one. Any divisions, any “brand names” (denominations), among Christians, break the heart of God.

And the corollary is this: Any schism is incalculably more difficult to mend than it is to create in the first place. Just as with marriages, trial separations between Christian bodies more often turn into divorce than into reconciliation.

It’s my church too! This is an anguished, feeling-laden cry. As we look schism in the eye, there is not one set of lips—Liberal or Conservative, Truth or Unity—on which it could not plausibly be heard. Let me speak very personally, in the hope that, with some appropriate translation, my experience might be emblematic of others’. I’m clearly on record that I am an Episcopalian, not for its own sake, but as an instrumental means of being an Anglican. At the end of the day, I will choose to remain Anglican even at the cost of remaining Episcopalian. Yet, I love the Episcopal Church with every fiber of my being. The effective moment of my “conversion” was when I sat down in a college music department practice room in 1971 with a piano and a copy of the Hymnal 1940. I thought to myself, “Where have these hymns been all my life? If there’s a church that actually sings them, I need to be in it.” I have lived and served in five different dioceses, in both lay and ordained states. I’m the graduate of an accredited seminary of the Episcopal Church. All three of my now-grown children attended an Episcopal school in Baton Rouge, LA and all three are graduates of Sewanee—The University of the South, very much an Episcopal institution. The 1979 Prayer Book has formed me spiritually for three decades now (and I think it’s the finest of the genre within Anglicanism). I have enthusiastically displayed the Episcopal shield logo on a long succession of Chrysler minivans. I’ve been a deputy to two General Conventions, and read General Ordination exams four times. This is as much my church as it is anyone else’s. I have no desire to leave it. It is my home. Yet, even as a “Unity Conservative,” I have my limits. They are now uncomfortably in plain sight.

Let’s not give God’s money to lawyers. I know some good people who are lawyers, and I realize they do necessary work, but wherever trial lawyers gather, tragedy has already struck. This is not the venue to debate the substance of the “justice issue” of church property. The only point I want to make is that, if there is not an institutional solution to our disputes, there will be endless rounds of court battles lasting decades and costing tens of millions of dollars. That’s not a “should”; it’s just an “is.” It does no good to point fingers or assign blame. It will be a tragedy for which we will have to answer on the Day of the Lord. However one conceives of the Church’s mission—whether it’s the MDGs or open-air evangelistic crusades—it’s mission that will suffer for the sake of billable hours. Everyone, on all sides, will lose the credibility of their Christian witness.

So now what do we do? If you’ve read this far, I’m sorry to have to tell you: I don’t know! I and many others are feeling devastated after the HOB meeting because the Pastoral Council/Primatial Vicar plan was the last best hope. It has the potential to keep even some “Truth Conservatives” on board because it provides a much needed layer of insulation between them and the behavior of official church leaders, all the while maintaining some degree of formal ties (the name “Episcopal,” the Pension Fund, informal relationships, history and heritage, even participation in General Convention and service on CCABs).

All I can think of to do is implore my co-partisans in the “Unity Party”—those on both sides of the divide—to “seriously lay to heart the great dangers we are in by our unhappy divisions” (BCP, p. 818). We need to bend. All of us. Beginning with the knee joint. For the sake of unity, we need to be willing to live in a church that irritates us. We’ve got to be willing to swallow some horse pills. My sense is that many “Unity Conservatives” would be willing to say to our LGBT members: “While we cannot condone the blessing of committed relationships other than heterosexual marriage, because anything else falls short of God’s design, neither will we harass, condemn, or judge you. We will let you live in peace, and be available to you with informal pastoral support. And we will remain in an Episcopal Church in which many (most?) believe that God is calling us to something more overt, as a faithful minority, even as we disagree about God’s call.” I, at least, could say that—but no more. Trust me, that much is a horse pill! But unity is important enough for me to swallow it.

What horse pill are “Unity Liberals” willing to swallow? Not being one, I can’t answer that question. But I can suggest that “Unity Conservatives” might welcome something like this: “Just because you don’t support the goal of ‘full inclusion’ doesn’t mean you’re homophobic, and those of you who can’t accept women as priests and bishops are not misogynists. We understand the need for some degree of ‘insulation’ from what church leaders are saying and doing, even while we don’t agree with your perception. We believe conservative dioceses should be able to elect bishops that reflect their values, and have those elections consented to. And while we don’t share many of the views of our Anglican brothers and sisters in the developing world, our unity with them is so precious to us that we are willing to lay aside some of what we consider to be true.”

This would not be an ideal church for either Liberals or Conservatives. It would be annoying. It would be messy. It would be profoundly costly—in a spiritual, not in a financial sense. It would therefore be real. It would mean letting go of our American idolization of democratic and parliamentary processes. The “majority” would need to learn to serve, rather than to rule, and the “minority” would need to be humble enough not to exploit the graciousness of the majority, but to replace mere obduracy with self-differentiated openness. Such a church would have a chance, at least, of making the sort of witness in the world that God expects of us. It might just work.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Something Very Different

My beloved spouse of nearly 35 years has entered the blogsphere. She's in that initial obsessive stage at the moment, so I'm glad I have my own computer and a wireless internet connection at home. Let me introduce you to Winged Musings, where she uses the nom de internet Dearest Dragonfly.

Brenda is a devout believer and enthusiastic Anglican and Episcopalian, but, blessedly, she does not share my obsession with ecclesiastical politics, and hence doesn't write about them. She is incredibly insightful in her ability to perceive the ubiquity of beauty in her environment, and knows that to be a sacramental sign of the Divine Presence. Beyond this tidbit, I'll let you discover her for yourself.

Of course, she's from Pluto, and they have some strange customs on her native planet, so what she has to say will not sound much like this carioca's confessions. (Yeah, I know Pluto is no longer a planet. But let's keep that our little secret, OK? Plutotians have feelings too, you know.)

Thursday, March 22, 2007

A Saint for Our Times

In the liturgical calendar of the Episcopal Church, today is the commemoration of James DeKoven, Priest (1831-1879). Father DeKoven was a leader among the second generation of the Oxford Movement in the U.S.--they were known as Ritualists. They advocated both for the recovery of a robust Catholic sacramental theology in Anglicanism, and for various liturgical and devotional practices associated with that theology (things that would strike most Episcopalians today as rather commonplace). DeKoven was elected to the episcopate by two different dioceses in consecutive years, but he was never consecrated because he failed to receive the required canonical consents. His Anglo-Catholic views were considered too controversial. Now he has his own day on the calendar--for the time being, at least: The Standing Commission on Liturgy and Church Music (SCLM) is in the process of revising Lesser Feasts and Fasts, not something that particularly bodes well for dead white males.

The irony of this commemoration occurring only a week or so after the election to the episcopate of another priest whose views are considered controversial by the mainstream of the Episcopal Church being nullified by the Presiding Bishop cannot be lost on the attentive observer. Like James DeKoven, the expectation of most is that Mark Lawrence will also be elected a bishop twice, in successive years, though by the same diocese. Whether he will will receive the necessary consents is still very much an open question--one that can only have been made murkier by this week's stunning behavior by the House of Bishops.

The General Convention of 1874 considered a canon that was aimed squarely at the Ritualists. It expressly forbade the display of a crucifix in places of public worship, the use of incense, the practice of elevating the bread and wine in the course of their consecration during the celebration of the Eucharist, and any other postures or gestures that would signify a belief in the objective corporeal presence of Christ in the consecrated elements. Dr DeKoven, a clerical deputy from the Diocese of Wisconsin was granted permission by the house to make this extended speech in opposition to the proposed canon. It was at the same time passionate, humble, and erudite, and it had to have consumed the better part of an hour, if not longer. It was a different era! In the end, the canon was passed, but in a much weaker form, one that DeKoven himself expressed an ability to vote for, save for his opinion that it was unconstitutional on technical grounds (that canons should not be used to interpret or trump rubrics).

The underlying basis of DeKoven's exhortation to the House of Deputies was a sense of the fundamental identity of the Episcopal Church as transcending the institutional mechanisms by which it incarnates itself and does business. He challenged the church, represented in convention, to simply be itself, to live up to its identity as part of the Holy Catholic Church scattered across space and time. He correctly and wisely--though with irenicism of a sort to which we should all aspire--called the convention to account for overstepping its own bounds, for arrogating to itself the liberty of defining cardinal doctrines of the faith through majority votes following political parliamentary processes. Nearly 130 years ago, there were already General Convention supremacists lurking about, and James DeKoven won his place in history by exposing their shaky foundation.

Let's just hope the SCLM doesn't read my blog!

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Bishops in Denial

I already had at least two ideas for a blog post forming in my mind when the news broke that the House of Bishops has issued three very pointed "mind of the house" resolutions. So the more general and conceptual comments I was going to make about how we get along with one another as Anglicans in America will have to wait. What has come out of Camp Allen needs to be processed.

I'm officially disappointed, and even a little bit surprised. Not a lot, but some. Two days ago (most recent post before this) I wrote about the Primatial Vicar scheme being "under the radar." Well, it's now very much on the screen. The bishops have "acquired the target" and fired their missiles. They don't like the PV idea one bit, and they've urged the Executive Council not to cooperate with the scheme in any way.


There we have it.

I've had occasion to visit Camp Allen four times. The food is really quite good, and I didn't notice any problems with the air quality--except, perhaps, around the horse stables. Ah, that must be where the purple shirts have been hanging out, because their cognitive and reasoning abilities seem to be impaired.

The bishops are apparently under the impression that the Primates' plan is a proposal thrown out there for discussion, and subject to amendment. I can be a little obtuse at times, but I've read it, and read it again, and darned if I can't find a way to make it say anything of the sort. The recommendations appended to the Dar es Salaam communique simply describe what the Primates, collectively (and therefore including the primate of the Church-of-General- Convention) will do. It doesn't ask anybody's approval or assent.

One of the key players required to make it work is the Presiding Bishop. She is expected to do two things. The first is to appoint two members of the five-person Pastoral Council. This is the first and great requirement. And the second is like unto it: Delegate her primatial authority over the participating dioceses and congregations to the Primatial Vicar whom the Pastoral Council appoints. (Presumably this would include such things as making canonical visitations, implements disciplinary procedures and presentments against bishops, taking order for the consecration of bishops, and, of course, getting prayed for by name on a regular basis.) On these two requirements hang both the letter and the spirit of what the Primates envision. Now, Dr Jefferts Schori was in Tanzania. She participated in the formulation of the communique. I know the negotiations were tough, and that they didn't exactly go her way, but she did sign the document, and while some might surmise that she has damned it with faint praise, she had not, as far as I can tell, sought to distance herself from it.

I find it somewhat curious that the "mind of the house" resolution regarding the PV plan is addressed to the Executive Council. It should have been addressed to Katharine. The ball is going to be in her court, not Council's. I guess it will be interesting, then, if she now decides to take cover behind these new HOB resolutions, and decline to do her part. It's not impossible, I suppose. but it would permanently eviscerate any credibility she may have in the larger Anglican world.

The other principal actor in the PV scheme is a subset of the HOB--namely, the "Windsor" bishops, a group of 20-25 diocesans who have met together twice and committed themselves to order the life of their dioceses to conform to the Windsor Report. Here is where one would wish to be a fly on the wall in the Camp Allen meeting room where this got debated and voted on. The majority has spoken, but are the minority going to roll over? Or are they going to step up and do the responsible thing for the future of American Anglicanism? To be sure, it will take courage and resolve. Whatever is left of the old clubbishness of the house will be severely compromised by the Windsor group following the lead of the Primates rather than that of their colleagues in the house, who have now spoken formally and unambiguously. That's a hard one.

I am among a dwindling number of conservative ("reasserter") Episcopalians for whom the best case scenario involves everyone who is, or has recently been, formally connected with the Church of General Convention remaining so, in some way. But it order for that to happen, some of those who hold power will have to share it, and some of those who hold authority will have to lay it aside. There is simply no other option. And despite what I can only assume are honorable intentions on the part of bishops and Executive Council members and leaders of the House of Deputies, nobody is loosening their grip. The resolutions passed by the bishops today represent another blown opportunity. This breaks my heart, because the day when I will personally be forced to make an agonizing choice approaches that much more rapidly as a result.

What amazes me about our bishops, speaking of them collectively--but also about others within the power structure of "this church"--is how seemingly out of touch they are with the obvious "on the ground" political environment in which they are operating. They labor on behalf of their convictions and ideals. That is commendable. But they seem clueless about their spatial and temporal environments. Their statement has the chutzpah to say that, regardless of what the Primates or even Rowan himself does, they are confident of their "full communion" with the See of Canterbury. This is pure fantasy. The bishops are in terminal denial. Anything they are proposing is way too little way too late. Some claim that it is only a small minority who are fomenting a spirit of crisis and abetting division. That may once have been true, but it is no longer. The church is disintegrating under their feet, and they are hastening the process.

Two small items cannot go un-remarked on: Reason #3 for rejecting the PV plan talks about "our own liberation from colonialism" that led to the formation of the PECUSA. What? A liberation from colonialism usually has to do with an indigenous people taking back control of their destiny from a society that has roots in foreign invasion or conquest. If the Iriquois Nation had sent those who had immigrated from Britain, along with their descendants, back to the old country, that would have been liberation from colonialism. But nothing of the sort happened. And Reason #4 talks about the "emancipation of the laity" being threatened? What the heck is that about? When were the laity ever enslaved? These are just two very strange ingredients in an already very strange recipe.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

On the Primatial Vicar Scheme

Not much news is coming out of Camp Allen, where the House of Bishops is sequestered. (I've been there, and they are sequestered; there's no place to stroll off to for diversion.) No one seems to be too concerned about that, since the Presiding Bishop made it clear some time ago that this meeting is for talking and the one six months from now is for deciding--namely, deciding how to respond to the unambiguous requests made by the Anglican Primates in Tanzania last month.

Most of the attention and energy of the Anglican blogsphere since the conclusion of the Primates' Meeting has been focused on the request for clarification of General Convention's response to the Windsor Report-- specifically that no more partnered gay candidates for the episcopate will receive the consent of the majority of bishops, and diocesan bishops will not permit the blessings of same-sex unions in their dioceses. More or less slipping under the radar--since nothing has actually been requested of either house of General Convention on this--is the "scheme" for the creation of the Pastoral Council and the appointment of a Primatial Vicar, who will serve as a sort of para-primate for those dioceses and congregations that cannot in good conscience recognize and accept Dr Jefferts Schori in that role.

More lately, however, many on the Episcopal left are catching on that this may be the heavier of the two shoes that the primates dropped in Dar es Salaam. Their polemic against it is that it violates the polity of the Church-of-General- Convention; that there is no provision in the Constitution and Canons for any such arrangement. I'm not so sure that a skilled canon lawyer could not find a clear legal path from the status quo to the situation envisioned by the Primates (why are there no Anglican Jesuits?!), but I will grant that it represents a severe shock to the homeostasis of the system. Earlier today I spend considerable energy engaging a couple of interlocutors on the HoB/D listserv. In the interest of honoring the sacrifice of those brain cells that perished in the endeavor, I offer below a redacted version (so as not to run afoul of HoB/D listserv rules) of that exchange:

Q: Are the "Primatial Vicar Dioceses" just going to evolve into another Anglican province, a surrogate for the Church-of-General-Convention?

It's above my pay grade to answer that question definitively, but my sense is that it depends on what the HOB decides (not now, apparently, but in September) to do about the requests made by the Primates. If they can follow the lead of the Presiding Bishop and accede to those requests/demands, then the Primatial Vicar plan is provisional pending the ratification of an Anglican Covenant (for us, by GC in 2009). If they follow the lead of the some of the urban bishops and GC deputations who have already spoken out--then, yes, I can see the PV structure evolving into a replacement province, with its own synod, and its own seat at the primatial banquet table (with General Convention's PB missing).

Let me be clear here that this is not what I want personally. I hang with some people who do, but I have serious "words" with them in private. I want this all to hold together. But the PV plan is the only live option for making this happen. It's either that or another province six months from now. Hear me again: I want to remain connected in a formal way with the structures of General Convention. I'm trying to persuade other "conservatives" that this is a godly and worthwhile aspiration, espcially in light of today's (BCP) epistle reading from II Corinthians. Trust me, it's a tough sell, and it isn't made any easier by a rigid, slavish adherence to "polity." We need extra helpings of trust, imagination, and charity in order find the path I know God is trying to show us.

Q: Why do dioceses like San Joaquin want to even be Episcopalian if they can't abide by the constitution and canons of [the Church-of-General-Convention]?

A: This is hard to answer, because I am in many ways a voice crying in the wilderness here for even wanting to keep any connection. (Yes, there's Remain Episcopal/Via Media, but they look at the Church-of-General-Convention through rose-colored glasses, whereas I have a more realistic view.) A good many of our congregations have already bought the paint to change their signs from "Episcopal" to "Anglican" at a moment's notice. They see "Episcopal" as pretty much an albatross when it comes to evangelism, church growth, and relations with most other Christian churches. This is not my view, but it's the world I live in. At the last convention, I proposed inserting the phrase "in organic continuity with the life of the [PECUSA]" in our proposed new Article II. That motion when down like the Hindenburg. But in my ideal world, the PV dioceses would be a "church within a church," maintaining the familiar network of relationships and shared ministries as much as possible, but also able to establish some "distance" from the actions of the Church-of- General-Convention and its Presiding Bishop when that appears necessary. Yeah, it's a "have the cake and eat it too" scenario. As the Brits would say, "Not bloody likely."

Saturday, March 17, 2007

My Life As A Table Decoration

For more than a year now I have been a member of the Board of Directors of the Stockton Leadership Foundation, affiliated with the Leadership Foundations of America. This is a group of Christian leaders, laity and clergy, bearing a variety of denominational labels, who are concerned about the disintegrating fabric of our urban community and share a desire to come together and minister somehow to the very concrete needs of that community, and do so explicitly in the name of Jesus, because we feel it is an integral part of our Christian vocation.

I mentioned "a variety of denominational labels," and I wasn't lying. Yet, those labels are overwhelmingly free-church evangelical. Along with one of my parishioners who is also a board member, I'm a sort of token representative of the liturgical-sacramental wing of the Christian tradition. Having grown up Baptist in the Chicago suburbs in the 50s and 60s, it helps that I can pretty much speak their language, though the dialect has evolved over the years, because they definitely cannot speak mine!

These are good people, and I am growing to love them. They love the same Lord whom I love and serve, and they are several times more welcoming to me as an Anglican than I would have been to an Anglican during most of the time I was a Baptist. But there are some real disconnects, which, from my perspective, can be quite amusing. Many of my fellow board members are involved in the annual San Joaquin Leadership Prayer Breakfast--a large event held at the Memorial Civic Auditorium each February. For a lot of reasons, it's not the sort of thing I would choose to participate in of my own volition. Sensing that, I think, they invited me this year not only to attend, but to sit at the head table, and offer a prayer. How could I decline?

They asked me to pray specifically for the churches and pastors of the greater Stockton area. Now, I can comfortably hold my own with extemporaneous public prayer. But I figured, why not give them a taste of something a little different for them? So I put together a series of simple biddings covering the assigned subject area, and invited them to make a repeated verbal response to each, following a brief period of silence. Anyone familiar with liturgical worship would have recognized it as a permutation of the genre known (to Episcopalians) as the Prayers of the People (the oratio fidelium of the historic western rite).

Without intending anything of the sort, that simple and brief period of prayer was a big hit. Several individuals have taken the trouble since to tell me how much they appreciated it. I could sense a palpable difference the next time I met with the SLF board. It was like I somehow had an aura that commanded more respect. At the same time, they seemed more relaxed and at ease around me. Who'dve thunk it?

So, yesterday (Thursday) the Stockton Leadership Foundation went completely public with a luncheon for around 150 invited guests. The pastors of all the major evangelical churches in town were there--Pentecostal and mainstream, Anglo and Hispanic and African-American. There was even one Roman Catholic priest present. Also there were the Mayor, the Vice-Mayor, a member of the county Board of Supervisors, and the opinion page editor of the Record. Last week, I learned that I had been tapped to deliver the invocation and bless the food. Yesterday, I learned that this job came with the perk of once again being seated at the head table. As we were taking our places, just before I was to offer my prayer, the MC, another board member, jokingly told me that the main reason they wanted me in a visible position was that my clerical collar added a patina of sanctity to the entire event! I think he was speaking only half in jest, actually.

So now I'm a table decoration!

There is certainly an amusing element to this, but, upon further reflection, I suspect there may be a subliminal undercurrent of great seriousness. Let's face it, with my funny outfit and my funny way of praying ("funny" simply in virtue of the fact that I don't use the word "just" at least twice in every sentence), I'm something of an enigma to these friends and co-laborers of mine. If they were to attend the principal Sunday Mass at St John's, they would be perplexed to the point of mental meltdown.

Yet, somehow, I am a sign to them of something. There were probably at least fifty pastors--full-time "religious professionals"--at that luncheon yesterday. But I, with my collar, was the icon of the presence of the Transcendent. They wouldn't be at all able to name what it is that I sign-ify. My theory, of course, is that it's the organic Christian tradition that connects the church of the New Testament, which they revere, with Christian community and experience and action in the 21st century. I'm a little weird, by their lights. I'm religioiusly "para-normal," as far as they're concerned. And they don't all want to rush and join my church. But they're glad I'm around. They're glad the kind of religion I practice and teach is around. They feel like the day may come when they need it.

Friday, March 16, 2007

South Carolina Postscript

Every time you think an outcome is going to be either A (Mark Lawrence gets the necessary consents and is consecrated) or B (he fails to get the necessary consents and is not consecrated), it seems like the answer turns out to be Q. In this case, Q = Mark Lawrence gets the necessary consents but some of them don't meet the formal requirements of the canons regarding signatures, hence the election is ruled null and void by the Presiding Bishop, and the process in South Carolina is back to square one.

Now, I'm as much of a "due process" kind of guy as you're likely to meet on any given day, so I am not without sympathy for the position the Presiding Bishop's office found itself in. But surely some creativity could have been found in the service of the communion of the church. Rather than voiding the election, might she not have asked those standing committees whose consents were formally defective to remedy the problem in an expeditious manner? In the meantime, she could have announced that it appears the requisite number of consents have been received, but there are some technicalities to work out.

Rules are good and order is good and processes are good. Those who know me will tell you I practically wrote the book on those subjects. But...jeepers creepers! Sometimes one has to just get real.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Two Quick Notes

God is still sovereign, and the cause of the gospel will still prosper, but it is hugely disappointing that, by all appearances, Mark Lawrence did not receive the necessary number of Standing Committee consents to his election as Bishop of South Carolina. He is short by one--55 have consented, and 56 have either withheld consent or not responded. If these unofficial results are certified by the Presiding Bishop's office, it is literally a crying shame. We will all find out how the Law of Unintended Consequences works. Ironically, Father Lawrence is an avid student of church history. It has been my privilege to serve with him for several years as an Examining Chaplain in San Joaquin, and history was his portfolio in that endeavor. Now he's making it. When the story of this era in American Anglicanism is able to be written with some dispassionate distance, it will be clear what the significance of this close call is. I think it will be momentous. For the time being, we just have to watch it all unfold.

The House of Bishops is shortly to convene at Camp Allen, about 60 miles northwest of Houston. The Dar es Salaam communique will doubtless dominate their agenda. Several voices--voices of those who are not bishops, that is--have exhorted them in advance as to how they ought to respond. With respect to the two specific requests (no more partnered gay bishops, no more permission for same-sex blessings), they will do what they will do. The Presiding Bishop has made clear her expectation that this meeting is for talking and September's meeting is for deciding, just in advance of the September 30th deadline. But with respect to the Pastoral Council and the Primatial Vicar scheme (in the non-pejorative English sense of "scheme"), I would suggest that the HOB's response is only marginally important. The Primates have not asked for any response on this. They have simply indicated their intention to create the Pastoral Council. This requires the cooperation of the Presiding Bishop, but the only reasonable interpretation of her signature on the communique is that she intends to so cooperate by 1) nominating two members of the Pastoral Council and 2) delegating a substantial measure of her responsibilities to the Primatial Vicar whom the council appoints, with regard to those dioceses that opt to participate in the scheme. Only a certain number of the HOB's membership are involved in this--namely (and ironically), the "Camp Allen/Windsor" bishops, about 20 in all. This group will nominate a Primatial Vicar to the Pastoral Council, which will make the appointment, with the PB's approval. No formal response--let alone permission or approval--of the House of Bishops is required for this scheme to take shape.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Ora? You Bet! Labora? Not So Much

The early arrival of Daylight Savings Time, combined with some gorgeous spring weather in the San Joaquin Valley, meant that my beloved Plutonian spouse and I spent about two and half hours in the late afternoon and early evening working in our yard. I don't enjoy yardwork. It's hard not to be thinking of something else--most anything else--I would rather be doing. All things being equal, I would rather live in a condo and pay association dues to have it taken care of. I don't particularly enjoy housework either. It's a chore (a whole lot of chores, actually) that has to be done, but if I could afford it, I'd have a full time maid or something. It must come from my Brazilian genes. In Brazil, most everybody has an empregada. Even the maids have maids.

It's not that I'm lazy, I don't think. I'm scheduled to make my pre-Easter confession this week, and Sloth will not be at the top of the list of sins I accuse myself of. I like to think I approach my regular day job with a certain amount of verve and enthusiasm most of the time. Nashotah House, my seminary alma mater, is quasi-Benedictine in its foundation. In the Benedictine tradition of a balanced Christian life including elements of study, prayer, and work, students are required to put in part of one afternoon a week in manual labor (at least that was the regimen when I was there in the 80s; the details may have changed, but I know the requirement remains). A hundred years ago, it was an even more substantial part of the seminary experience, as the student body collectively operated a working dairy farm that helped keep the institution running. Work crew afternoons didn't make me angry, but my memory may be anesthetized by the beer drinking that took place between work crew and Evensong. Even so, I pretty much subscribed to the attitude of one of my classmates toward the endeavor: "Start slow and taper off." I was never seduced by the romantic aura of the Benedictine slogan of ora et labora--prayer and work. It felt too much like the diabolical Nazi equivalent: Arbeit macht frei. Again, maybe it's my Latin blood, but I prefer Viva la siesta!

So, as I transported decorative bricks and chipped bark, and moved dirt from one place to another at the request of my ultra-cute Plutonian Arbeitfuhrer, and climbed a ladder to inspect our glorious trumpet vine that was sadly a victim of freezing weather in January, and dug a hole in which to plant a new rose bush, and swept up debris from the sidewalk, I consciously tried to assume a Benedictine attitude toward what I was doing. After all, I had just gone to great lengths on Saturday to instruct a class of adult confirmands that the Benedictine mindset pervades Anglican spiritual practice. Here was an opportunity to consciously practice what I had preached.

It's not so easy for this carioca. I found that the discipline I was trying to embrace called me to let go of my homeowner's hat. As a homeowner, I feel myself laden with responsibility. Our neighbors across the street are trying to get their house ready to sell, and have told us they wish our yard was less of an eyesore. (They are good friends, so this was said partially in jest, but still...) There is indeed a great deal to do, and when I look at the entirety, it is really quite oppressive, because I just don't see how it's going to happen, given the demands on our time. It's so much responsibility! Yet, as one trying to offer this afternoon's work crew assignment to be a vehicle through which I experience the presence and call of the Holy One (as John Keble put it in one of his poems from The Christian Year--"the trivial round, the common task"), I found that I needed to let loose of the big picture and focus on the small one. Rather than surrender to the crushing weight of all that needs to be done, my invitation was to give myself fully to what I was actually doing from one moment to the next, to put my best effort into doing it well, and then to rejoice and give thanks for what was accomplished. If my work was to mediate the divine presence to me, then I needed to allow the work itself to accomplish that, rather than allow the work to be overshadowed by the responsibility.

There are probably some lessons here that can be effectively translated to the level of my non-manual work--the work that intrinsically energizes me. As a pastor, it is certainly tempting for me to judge myself--and judge myself pretty harshly--by the measurable fruit of my ministry, the big picture, megatrends in attendance, giving, and the like. I also have a related vocation as a leader and advocate in the life of the church beyond the parochial level. (The great majority of my posts on this blog are dedicated to that vocation.) For a while, I actually entertained the fantasy that something I wrote may have had an influence on the Primates' deliberations in Tanzania last month. In each of these cases, the Benedictine discipline calls me to lower my sights, to look at--and be fully present to--what is actually in front of me at any given moment. Someone Else is the homeowner, and bears the responsibility. I'm just a household slave, and therefore have the freedom to simply do my job.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Having Fun Bein' Green

My three fabulous grown children, whose political views, unlike my own, list considerably to port, would attest that calling me an "environmentalist" is a bit of a stretch. I'm not as wacko as some of the voices on late night AM talk radio, but I have been known to voice a reservation or two about the scientific objectivity of some of the global warming alarmists. And although I can be bought, it would take a substantial sum to get me to sit through Al Gore's movie.

Nonetheless, I am now the proud owner (in partnership with Ford Motor Company Credit), of a 2007 Escape Hybrid. It all happened rather quickly; I'm not even sure what got into me. I was the price of unleaded gasoline in California heading north of the $3.00 threshold and threatening to homestead in that territory. That and the big tax rebate the feds offer to hybrid buyers. Like I said, I can be bought. Call it market-based environmentalism. Plus, I think I get to drive in the carpool lanes when I go to the Bay Area, even if I'm by myself. Pretty cool.

OK, I have to admit, I did get the one with GPS. It's not that I'm particularly prone to getting lost; quite the opposite. It's just that, at age 55, I really don't have any "toys" to speak of, and this is a fairly modest one, as toys go. Men don't mind asking directions if they get to ask a computer that's talking to a satellite.

Friday, March 09, 2007

For the Music Lover in You

One of the good friends of my my parish, a Lutheran who is sojourning with us indefinitely, has created this site on MySpace, to which I have previously referred, promoting our annual St John's Chamber Orchestra concert series. I bring it to your attention again because it has just been updated with some scrumptious stuff, to wit: A 2005 performance of the last movement of the second organ concerto of Josef Rheinberger (note to french horn fans: you will love this), with my mega-talented wife in the solo role; Morton Lauridsen's haunting Ave Maria (with our choir, under the direction of the aforementioned mega-talented wife), a 2004 performance of Howard Hanson's Fantasy Variations on a Theme of Youth, and this year's commissioned work, St John's Celebration by Max Simoncic, which you may already have heard; it's the piece that starts playing by default when the site loads.


Tuesday, March 06, 2007

On Heresy

Heresy is a widely misunderstood concept. It refers, of course, to active disagreement with the formal doctrinal teaching of the Church from people and groups within the Church. So, the teaching that Mohamed was a prophet of God, for instance, while it contradicts Christian doctrine, is not, strictly speaking, heresy, because nobody (to my knowledge, at any rate) within the Christian community espouses that teaching.

If one imposes a purely political analytical map on Christian history, it is evident that orthodoxy and heresy are synonyms for winners and losers. An objective scholar is professionally bound to see it that way. A Christian teacher or pastor, on the other hand, is professionally bound not to see it that way, but, rather, to embrace the Church's formal teaching as an insider, as one with a bias. The faithful in Christ have a moral duty to make every conceivable good faith effort to submit their conscience to the teaching authority of the Church. (And when I say "the Church," lest their be any confusion, I'm not referring to the opinion of a voting majority of one province's synodical gathering at a particular moment in time, but to the consensus fidelium over several generations.) This is not Roman; it is just Catholic. Which is to say it is Anglican.

In this context, I found the following comment on the HoB/D listserv more than telling:

It occurs to me that this is deja vu all over again. History is repeating itself. We are in the midst of the Pelagian Controversy--the Celtic Catholic monk who had a high doctrine of human nature and the fiery North African Bishop who saw the world through the lens of 'original sin'.

The author of these remarks is an experienced rector of an Episcopal parish. She has an M.Div. from an accredited seminary. She's no slouch. Could she have meant to make herself such an easy target?

Some quick background: Pelagius believed that human nature is a little tainted, but not completely corrupted, by Sin. So we need a boost, a hand up, from God, but once we get some momentum, we can bridge the gap on our own. Jesus is, then, not so much a Savior as a motivational speaker. Augustine countered with his developed doctrine of Original Sin. Pelagius was ultimately declared a heretic; Augustine of Hippo was declared a saint and doctor of the Church.

What continues to amaze me is that a pastor under ordination vows can adopt even a neutral attitude toward the Pelagian controversy, let alone one that appears to favor the heretic. A professor at a public university can do that. A Christian priest doesn't have the option.

Granted, some of the ancient heresies, and their corresponding orthodoxies, seem a little arcane to contemporary ears. It takes some resolve and skill to draw out their practical spiritual implications. But this isn't one of them! It profoundly affects how we evangelize, because it affects just what the "good news" is. Are we "blind wretches" by nature (per Amazing Grace), or are we just a little bit morally challenged? Is Jesus the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, or is he a life coach who can help us get over the rough spots?

Many have suggested that crypto-Pelagianism is the spiritual Achilles heel of both Anglicanism and the British nation. I won't necessarily argue that point, but it does tend to make me a little hyper-vigilant about this particular form of heresy.

Monday, March 05, 2007

A Failure of Imagination

You've got to believe me. I was already planning an entry on this subject before my friend Fr Tony Clavier beat me to it. And he did it well, thus stealing most of my thunder.

Nonetheless, let me at least say "Me too!" As I understand it, the shelf life of the Diocese of South Carolina's episcopal election last September goes past date six days hence. We are told that the requisite number of consents from bishops with jurisdiction have been received, but that some eleven more Standing Committees still need to cast an affirmative vote. The good news is--again, if my factual information is correct--that there is yet another Saturday in the time frame, Saturday being, I would suppose, the most common day for Standing Committees to meet. But that's a pretty thin silver lining on an otherwise gloomy horizon.

I have to say at this point that I am having trouble offering even a pretense of objective analysis here. Mark Lawrence is a friend of mine, and I am angry on his behalf. Really angry. If I could call down actual thunderbolts on the offending Standing Committees, I would be sorely tempted. God help me.

Got ... to ... pull ... myself ... together ... now ... must ... remain ... rational.

Thanks, I needed that.

From what I can discern, among those Standing Committees that have articulated a reason for withholding consent to Father Lawrence's election, the only reason given--the only reason they will own up to, at any rate--is that the Diocese of South Carolina is 1) a member of the Network, and 2) among the group that asked for Alternate Primatial Oversight, and is therefore on a sort of "secession watch." So they want Fr Lawrence to say something like, "As Bishop of South Carolina, I will under no circumstances abet any attempt by the diocese to withdraw from the Episcopal Church. I am unequivocally loyal to the Episcopal Church."

At one level, this seems both reasonable and prudent. When a criminal suspect is considered a flight risk, bail suddenly goes way up. But, I would like to suggest, this is very simplistic "inside the box" thinking. It's bureaucratic. It's the kind of thinking that wins battles and loses wars. It is so right that it's wrong. It is so wise that it's foolish.


For starters, there's the Law of Unintended Consequences. Consent is being withheld from Fr Lawrence, ostensibly, out of fear that, as bishop, he may help lead his diocese out of TEC. Yet, the nullification of this election (because the clock runs out) cannot help but create prodigious anger among South Carolina Episcopalians, which will increase the likelihood that they will want to kiss TEC goodbye.

Second, it doesn't factor in the changed post-Dar landscape. The pastoral plan proposed by the primates (or "scheme" as the British English of the communique puts it) envisions an American solution that maintains the status of the Episcopal Church within the Anglican Communion. Dioceses like South Carolina that are on "secession watch" really have no other option than to cooperate with this plan. They have appealed to the Primates, and the Primates have responded. The Primatial Vicar scheme (Primates' Edition, that is, not the only originally floated by the PB) is the only game in town, and that would keep South Carolina clearly within TEC. So the risk would seem to be so significantly lowered that one might question the "proportionality" (borrowing "just war theory" jargon) of a response so drastic as denying consent to an episcopal election.

Third, it ignores the dictum that "perception is reality." This is true saying, and worthy of all men to be believed. Anyone involved in parish ministry (among others) can attest to that. And the perception is that the real reason Mark Lawrence is not getting his consents is because of his basic theological and moral views, not his attitude toward the Constitution & Canons. The perception is that there is a double standard operating here, that when it was New Hampshire's turn, the decent and proper thing to do was consent, because the people of the Diocese of New Hampshire deserved to have the bishop they elected, regardless of some the baggage he came with in terms of the wider church, but now when it is South Carolina's turn, the man they elected on the first ballot with nearly a three-quarters majority (and arguably the least dogmatically conservative candidate in the field) has to be subject to an unprecedented level of scrutiny.

Some of my colleagues here in the Diocese of San Joaquin (also on secession watch) will doubtless confirm that I have vigorously challenged this perception whenever it has been voiced in my hearing, that I have advocated taking at face value any explanation offered for the withholding of consent. But, to tell you the truth, I'm not sure I've persuaded myself. It just feels awfully suspicious. We all need to remember that a Standing Committee doesn't have to say No. It can just not say Yes until the matter becomes moot, either because a sufficient number of others have said Yes, or because the election expires. A number of the 60+ Standing Committees that are not in the Yes column for Mark, I strongly suspect, have simply not responded, and have therefore offered no explanation for their decision. Call me cynical (others have), but if my life depended on guessing whether some of those decisions were made on a purely ideological basis, my guess would be in the affirmative.

So, as many as might tell us that it's about the integrity of the Episcopal Church's polity, I'm not buying it. It's about brazen power politics. It's about the worst sort of calculated, short-term strategic thinking. It's a failure of charity. It's a failure of imagination. There are tragedies, and there are tragedies that are senseless because they didn't have to happen. Guess which kind this one is.

Now if anyone from across the divide talks to me about being interested in "reconciliation" in the next 24 hours ... what's that gagging sound I hear?????

Sunday, March 04, 2007

A Small Thing?

Look carefully at the following liturgical texts, with their accompanying rubrics.

Friday, 3/2/07 Morning Prayer

Chad of Lichfield, 672

[one voice] Where can I go from your spirit 0 God? [Psalm 139.7]


Be still and aware of God’s presence within and all around.

[one voice] We awake this morning

[all] in the presence
of the holy angels of God.
May heaven open wide before us above us and around us that we may see
the Christ of our love and his sunlit company
in all the things of earth this day.

Please offer your prayers of thanksgiving.

Our Father

Psalm 23 (BCP translation)

A reading from Luke [14:1,7-14]

Please offer your reflections on the gospel.

[one voice] At Friday. dawning, a moment to ponder today’s spirituality: Penance? Discipline? Our connecting to the Cross?

Celts knelt in cold water!
We are in hot water!
Hot tempers, frayed nerve, feverish consumption.
We pray, yet go!
At work’s crossroads, cross-bearers all around, hurting ones we meet today,
also sick and suffering, all pierced by life’s wounds.
The spaces between cross and hospitality are measured very thin.
Good thief from the cross, banquet entered in!

Please offer your prayers for the coming day and the Church throughout the world.

The Anglican Cycle of Prayer: Missionary Area of Macau (Hong Kong) The Revd Dr. Michael Poon

[all] The love and affection of the angels be with us
The love and affection of the saints be with us ,
The love and affection of heaven be with us
To lead us and to cherish us this day.

[one voice]
(Collect for St Chad’s Day from Lesser Feasts & Fasts)

Where do you think this came from?

A group of liturgically-minded Presbyterians? A new form authorized by the ELCA? A Jesuit retreat center? (You know...the kind that still features shag rugs and macramé plant hangers and glass communion vessels.) A subcommittee of the Standing Commission of Liturgy and Music? My own feverish liturgical mind?

(cue music from Jeopardy)

Bzzzzz. Wrong on all counts.

This is the form used this past Friday by the Executive Council of the Episcopal Church, meeting in Portland, Oregon.

Is it full of rank heresy? No. Not that I can immediately spot, at any rate.

It is plausible Christian liturgy? Uhhh....maybe. That is, if you're from a Protestant tradition for which the very idea of a normative liturgical text is an exotic concept, so you have to kind of make things up as you go along. Or a cutting-edge Roman Catholic community--which is to say, one for which the very idea of a normative liturgical text is an exotic concept, and you're trying to stay under the radar.

Is it Anglican? Well, it does mention Celts kneeling in ice water, so it must be, right?


Is it a big deal? In one sense, not really. As long as no one is making me use this form for the morning office, it's not a big deal.

But in another sense, yes, it's a big deal. Why? Not for what it is in itself, which is ultimately harmless. If not exactly inspiring, neither will it keep anybody out of Heaven. It's a big deal because of what it says about the leadership of the Episcopal Church. As Anglicans (for the time being, at least), we have a liturgical tradition. It "sounds" a certain way (even when the Elizabethan idiom is not being used). It draws on a certain reservoir of language and idiom and image. One may not be able to define it, but an experienced ear knows when it hears it. This rite is not it.

More to the point, though, not only does the Episcopal Church partake from the Anglican liturgical tradition, it also has an authorized liturgical form for the morning office--namely, Daily Morning Prayer, from the Book of Common Prayer. It's one thing for gatherings of Episcoaplians who don't know any better (some Cursillo events come to mind) to ignore the fact that we have authorized rites for certain occasions. And the members of the SCLM--bless their innovative hearts--have a kind of mandate to push the envelope.

But we're talking about the Executive Council here, the very essence of the establishment. When even they feel the need to jettison the Prayer Book for one of their regular meetings, the message that goes out is that the church itself is loosed from its moorings. (Of course, many would say--and I might agree--that that much is fairly obvious anyway, but cut me some slack here.) It says that our leaders are not formed, and not willing to continue to be formed, by the discipline of the tradition that helps give us our identity. At the very least, it says they are simply bored with being Episcopalians, bored with being Anglicans.

This is troubling. And it's not a small thing.

Friday, March 02, 2007

A Case in Point

In my morning batch of email was a message from an informal listserv to which I subscribe containing a link to the website of the (Episcopal) Church of the Redeemer in Morristown, New Jersey (Diocese of Newark). First, let me observe what a beautiful church building it is, and illustrate with this picture:

What follows is a long excerpt from the site. I believe the content justifies the length. Hang in there. I'll have some comments afterward.

Specific Ways our Worship Reflects our Vision

  • The signboard in front of the church states the Redeemer vision: "We Are One Family." A picture of this signboard is found on the home page of this website.
  • A large painted banner often hangs in front of the church, advertising: "It's a Come as You Are Party."
  • The Rainbow and Black Liberation flags are prominently displayed in the church.
  • A large picture of Martin Luther King, Jr. hangs on the back wall of the church.
  • Both the Episcopal Prayer Book and an Inclusive Language Eucharist are celebrated each Sunday.
  • All people, regardless of their tradition or age, are invited to receive Communion.
  • No formal church instruction is required to receive communion.
  • Grape juice is consecrated in consideration of those people who do not wish to receive wine.
  • One of the three Sunday lessons is taken from either a secular source or from the sacred writings of a tradition other than Christianity.
  • Collects in the inclusive language service are taken primarily from Janet Morley's All Desires Known and often end with the wording "through Jesus, our Christ."
  • Rather than the Nicene Creed, the inclusive language service often includes a musical setting of the very first Christian creed, "Jesus is Lord," as a meaningful way of expressing our belief.
  • During the liturgical seasons when a confession is used, the priest first absolves the people and the people then absolve the priest.
  • The celebrant always receives communion last to model servant leadership and to discount images of hierarchy.
  • Female imagery and references to God are used in conjunction with male imagery and references.
  • The United Church of Christ hymnal, The New Century Hymnal, which intentionally uses inclusive language, is the pew hymnal at Redeemer. Specially written inclusive language hymns are also used.
  • Redeemer intentionally uses the traditional form of The Lord's Prayer, but begins with the words, "Our Mother, our Father." People often join hands during this prayer.
  • Redeemer's stated music policy requires inclusive language and images God in both male and female forms. At Redeemer, language is seen as a justice issue.
  • Lay and ordained people from various religious traditions are invited to preach in the Redeemer pulpit. In addition, members of the parish, on a regular basis, tell stories which illustrate God's liberation within their lives. They speak as women, African-Americans, people in recovery, Holocaust survivors, Gays and Lesbians, and people living with AIDS.
  • Contemporary Maundy Thursday and Good Friday services have been created so as to honor the Christian tradition and at the same time speak to the issues confronting the modern world.
  • A series of Liberation Holy Days are celebrated. These make clear that God's work of liberation continues into the present time. Examples of these days are Martin Luther King, Jr. Sunday, Recovery Sunday, Holocaust Remembrance Sunday, Celebrating Women's Journeys Sunday, Gay and Lesbian Liberation Sunday, Celebrating Men's Journeys Sunday, and Blessing of the Animals Sunday.
  • The liturgical year has been altered to include an eight-week Creation Season, which points to the presence of God within all of creation, not just within human history.
  • At all holiday and special services, the loose offering is given to a designated outreach project.
  • Redeemer performs sacramental marriage for both same-sex and opposite sex couples. These events are duly recorded in the official parish registry, which the bishop examines. The Vestry resolution regarding same-sex weddings reads as follows:

    We, the Vestry of the Church of the Redeemer, support the inherently sacred nature of the covenant and commitment two people make to one another to enter into a life-long relationship, regardless of the gender makeup of the couple. Therefore, we the vestry, recognize the commitment of any two people in a life-long relationship, be they of the same or opposite sex, to be a Sacramental Marriage."
    adopted at May 10, 1999 Vestry Meeting

  • The Redeemer Church School Curriculum emphasizes our Judeo-Christian roots but also includes more contemporary liberation stories. Although Christianity is taught as our family story, other faiths are also honored. Emphasis is placed on the fact that the same God is the source of all major religions.
  • The Adult Forum is a discussion group which grapples with theological and social issues.
  • The Racial Dialogue Group meets monthly to name racism and white privilege in our midst and to promote
  • Leaders and members of Redeemer may come from traditions other than Christian and Episcopalian.
  • Outreach plays a crucial role in ministry at Redeemer, such as the Eric Johnson House, the Community Soup Kitchen, and the Interfaith Hospitality Network.
  • Groups at Redeemer include both gay and straight members. Each group - Men's Group, Women's Group, Partners' Group, Zen Meditation Group, Racial Dialogue Group, and the Book Discussion Group -- is a safe place for those who participate.
  • The Church houses an AIDS Chapel where people who have died from AIDS are remembered.
  • Members of the parish, both gay and straight, march behind the Redeemer banner in the New York City Gay Pride Parade.
  • Redeemer does not designate senior or junior wardens, nor rector's or people's warden.
  • Both hymns and liturgical music have been crafted by members of the Redeemer community.
  • A Worship Committee reviews and revises the contemporary liturgies, ever striving to make them speak more clearly to Redeemer's mission and vision.
  • During the Creation Season, gifts from nature - water, rock, grasses, fire, earth, branches, vegetables and fruit -- are presented at the offertory. Gifts of nature remain on the altar.
  • The Blessing of the Animals Service takes place as part of a Sunday morning Eucharist in the Creation season. Animals in attendance at the service each receive a blessing. An Animal Memorial Garden has been created on the parish grounds.
...aaaaaand we're back.

Now, does that seem like a caricature of itself, or what?

I've got two messages about this, one to those who call themselves "progressives" (aka Liberals and Re-Appraisers), and one to those who call themselves "orthodox"--my very own amigos and amigas (aka Conservatives and Re-Asserters). These are secret messages, OK? So pick your category and just read yours. No peeking!

To the Port Side:
This is the Mother Lode of source material for those across the divide from you. This is a feeding frenzy for conservatives, rabid and otherwise. This is a "See what the Episcopal Church is really doing?!" moment. I can hear all you liberals who don't cross your fingers when you say the creed, who are "actually quite traditional, liturgically," etc. saying, "That's just one parish, and it's not my parish." I hear that. But hear this: You're still getting tarred with the same brush. Guilt by association, and all that. The fact that places like this are able to flout the "doctrine, discipline, and worship of the Episcopal Church" with such apparent impunity robs you of any moral authority when you try to hold conservative feet to the fire over constitutional and canonical correctness. For instance, the Standing Committee of the Diocese of Newark covers itself with shame by withholding consent (and I realize I'm making an assumption here, which I would love to find out is inaccurate) to the election of Mark Lawrence in South Carolina for allegedly not giving sufficient assurance of his commitment to that constitution and those canons when they permit what's happening in Morristown to continue. Lots of shame.

To the Starboard Side:
Remember that Redeemer, Morristown is not the Episcopal Church! They are a distortion of the Episcopal Church. Please do not simply absorb this sad parish into the standard angry litany about the Presiding Bishop's impoverished christology (which it is) and the Bishop of New Hampsihre's unexemplary domestic arrangements (which they are) and the scurrilous behavior of General Convention (which it is) and everything else that makes those with an orthodox vision of Anglicanism froth at the mouth. Let's not make Redeemer the latest poster child for how TEC is headed straight to Hell without passing Go or collecting $200. Not everybody who disagrees with us about sexuality would be comfortable there. I suspect that the overwhelming majority would not.

To All Readers (you didn't peek, did you?):
It would really help if we could avoid broad generalities, extrapolations, and inferences as much as possible. About most anything. The recent exchanges I've had with my Bay Area Blogging Buddy Richard, while they got a little arcane in spots, are a sign that reasoned discourse is possible. I don't think either of us thought we would change the other's mind, and we didn't. But I know my own thinking was stretched and challenged, and that was good. I think Richard would say the same. One might ask, Doesn't that just leave us in the same place? No. It may seem that way, but it doesn't. Every time there is respectful discourse between Christians under the cover of the mutual affirmation of the Lordship of Jesus Christ, it provides our opportunistic God with raw material which He can them employ toward His redemptive purposes. Richard and I both think what we thought a week ago, but we think it slightly differently. I have faith that God can do something with that. I don't know what, or I would be God! It was worth the effort.

Let's all stay sane.