Thursday, October 30, 2008

Evangelicals to Liberals: "Psst! Meet Me in Back of the Barn"

Sydney is the largest and wealthiest and arguably the most influential of the dioceses that comprise the Anglican Church in Australia. It has always had an ecclesial culture that is not only Low Church and Evangelical (as those terms are understood in an Anglican context), but is overtly anti-Catholic (in both its Anglican and Roman iterations) as well. This may be a reflection of the large number of Church of Ireland immigrants who settled New South Wales.

Until now, Sydney has pretty much played by the rules of Anglican churchmanship, even as it has staked out a position at one end of the accepted Anglican theological polarities. It has professed loyalty to the 1662 Book of Common Prayer, the Ordinal, and the Articles of Religion (the latter, at least, being a rather more natural fit than the other two). The diocese has always been a "player" on the international Anglican scene.

It has for years been no secret that there was a critical mass of opinion and desire within the diocese to authorize lay persons to preside at celebrations of the Eucharist (in the local parlance, "administer" Holy Communion). This is consonant with an ultra-Reformed understanding of the nature of the Church, the nature of the sacraments, and the nature of ordained ministry. Anglican Evangelicals may wish to make a case that it is consonant with the nature of Anglican religion itself. But it is manifestly dissonant with the formularies (Prayer Book, Ordinal, Articles) that even Sydney would agree somehow circumscribe Anglican identity.

This past weekend, Sydney finally stepped off the reservation. Its synod voted to authorize deacons to preside at the Eucharist. This isn't the whole deal. This isn't all they would want. But it steps over the line nonetheless, and "Lay Presidency" is only a matter of time, it would seem. From an Anglo-Catholic perspective, this is so unspeakable as to scarcely even merit refutation. But even from a classic Evangelical perspective, it is a serious breach of good order.

Of course, in the present climate of Anglicanland, it takes irony and raises it to an unprecedented level. Sydney Anglicans have been in the forefront of the chorus of voices critical of the "progressive" position of the North American provinces in the area of sexual morality. They have been members of the choir singing the repeated refrain, "You have not adequately consulted. Your actions have breached the bonds of affection. For the sake of the unity of the communion, please do not do this. Show appropriate restraint." 

I have also sung in the same chorus, and I continue to do so. This is precisely why I am horrified--not surprised, perhaps, but horrified--by what Sydney has done. The members of the synod cannot have been unaware how their action, as much as it may "make sense" for them, will be seen as an egregious breach of Anglican norms by the vast majority of other Anglicans, even Evangelicals. But they allowed their own local convictions to trump the universal discipline of all the churches that share in the gift of the historic episcopate.

Some might contend that Sydney should get a pass on this because they are "orthodox," while the Americans and Canadians are "revisionists." But in doing what it has done, the Diocese of Sydney has utterly forfeited any claim to orthodoxy. Its offense is every bit as serious, every bit as much an abrogation of Anglican orthodoxy, as anything the American or Canadian churches have done. Sydney is no less culpable than New Hampshire in rending the fabric of the Anglican Communion.

The larger onus now lies on GAFCON to exercise whatever influence it may have over one of its very own key players to desist from implementing what the diocesan synod has approved. Whatever integrity GAFCON hopes to maintain in the eyes of the rest of the communion will evaporate if they do otherwise.

And the smaller onus lies on the members of the Covenant Design Group. Even though the impetus for the development of an Anglican Covenant comes from the (mis)behavior of the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada, the disciplinary reach of the covenant needs to have sufficient range to encompass Peter Jensen (the Archbishop of Sydney) as well as bishops like Chane, Bruno, Andrus, and other would-be bad actors. 

There can be no distinction between orthodox moral theology and orthodox church order. One is neither more nor less important than the other.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Hailing from Helena

The Executive Council of the Episcopal Church has just concluded its quarterly four-day meeting, this time in Helena, Montana. (Their practice is to meet in each of the church's nine geographic provinces on a rotating basis.) In the initial news reports, two developments are deserving of some comment.

First, the Presiding Bishop went unambiguously on record that she intends to actively discourage next July's General Convention from even considering a resolution that would either opt in or opt out of whatever version of a proposed Anglican Covenant is on the table at that time. There are some strong indications that an actionable draft will become available next May, and Bishop Jefferts Schori contends that there would be too little time between May and July for Deputies and Bishops to give adequate consideration to so weighty a step as signing on to an Anglican Covenant.

It doesn't require a very high degree of cynicism to smell a rat here. Although the Covenant Design Group has not yet completed its work, it seems a pretty safe bet that the document they unveil in May will look in most important aspects like the most recent working draft (the St Andrew's Draft). And it is manifestly clear to any sentient observer that nothing even remotely resembling the St Andrew's Draft would have the proverbial snowball's chance in you-know-where of being concurrently approved by both houses of General Convention. Just not gonna happen.

The Presiding Bishop obviously realizes this, and, indeed, would be among the majority voting in the negative. However, she is not eager for the headlines coming out of Anaheim to read "Episcopal Church to Anglican Communion: Drop Dead!" Such a stroke of finality would play right into the hands of her opponents across the communion who are awaiting a solid reason to yank the Anglican franchise from TEC and award it to some emerging coalition of orthodox Anglicans, both in and out of TEC, perhaps. The outright rejection of a covenant would be just such a reason. So she needs to buy time, and since only General Convention can approve opting in to a covenant, and General Convention meets only every three years, she's hoping to keep the matter unresolved until 2012, at least, and who knows what might happen between now and then?

Of course, the claim that we don't have enough time to consider something like an Anglican covenant, and that doing so would distract the convention from other vital business (like overhauling the canons on clergy and lay discipline to make it even easier to stifle dissenting viewpoints), rings awfully hollow. On the first count, the time that it took us to get into this mess in 2003 was shorter than the time a final draft covenant would be available for study and inspection. On the second count, since connection to the Anglican Communion is part of our defining identity as a church (see the preamble to the constitution), what more important business could the convention possibly consider than our relationship with that communion?

The second item of breaking news from Helena is that Council approved a resolution seeking the initiation of some sort of dialogue with the Common Cause Partnership. On its face, this is really quite remarkable. The CCP is the group that has evolved from what was earlier the Anglican Communion Network (a coalition I had a hand in founding back in 2005 when everyone concerned was committed to operating within the constitution and canons of TEC). It is headed by none other than Bishop Robert Duncan, whom the House of Bishops just purported to depose from the ordained ministry only last month. (It apparently didn't take, since he was this week received in Lambeth Palace with all customary episcopal honors.) The CCP is the group that has petitioned the GAFCON Council to recognize it as a ("the"?) legitimate Anglican province in North America.

Taking Council at its word, this is commendable and is deserving of positive reinforcement. I'm not personally in a position to give it very much, but I hereby lend whatever weight I have to the project. I hope the CCP will respond in a timely and generous (though not necessarily public) way. Actually, the longer I think about it, the more stunning it seems. I would dearly love to have had a hidden microphone in the room when this was being debated. Merely mentioning the name of the Common Cause Partners, let along expressing a willingness to actually talk to them, is a rather significant concession. It's like a Palestinian nationalist starting to talk about Israel as if it were a legitimate state. What are they thinking? Is there a measure of fear behind this move? Inquiring minds want to know!

It will not surprise me, however, if CCP adopts a very Reaganesque "trust but verify" attitude (with plenty of "linkage"), and rightly so.  815 does not have an exemplary track record as a good faith negotiating partner, and is in fact at this very moment a plaintiff in several legal actions against some of the entities embraced by the CCP. Nonetheless, I don't believe any olive branch deserves to be rejected out of hand, and the CCP will in fact cover themselves with shame if they do so.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

The Devil in the Details

After my most recent post, I was contacted privately by a priest of my acquaintance. A little over a year ago, he was called to a position as Assistant in a parish of an Episcopal diocese. This past spring, after an extended period of discernment, the parish voted, with the concurrence of the Rector, to abandon its property and re-organize itself under a new name and in a new location under the oversight of an offshore Anglican province—for the same list of reasons that so many others have recently done so. In the weeks leading up to the parish vote, this priest was forthright with his bishop that he intended to remain with the majority of the parish, and that he hoped he would be able to depart with the bishop’s blessing, and receive Letters Dimissory to the new jurisdiction. He was informed that this would not happen, and that he would be inhibited and deposed under the Abandonment Canon. Indeed, he has since been inhibited, and the canonical clock is ticking down to an inevitable deposition. With his permission, I am sharing the letter he recently wrote to the bishop of his (now former) diocese. The details have been redacted, but I believe it is telling for the light it sheds on the extent to which canons are being ignored, bent, and twisted, all for the sake of . . . well, I really can’t figure that one out. It’s no secret that I do not advocate orthodox Episcopalians jumping ship. But I can empathize with those who find it necessary to do so, and it seems we are shooting ourselves in the foot by not trying to navigate these troubled waters with more charity, compassion, and holy ambiguity.


Dear Bishop xxxxxxxxx,

I am writing to acknowledge receipt of the packet of documents dated August 21, 2008. Among those documents are a letter from xxxxxx, President of the Standing Committee of the Diocese of xxxxxxxxx, a letter from you to me, informing me of my inhibition and my rights in this process, and a letter from you to various officials of the Episcopal Diocese of xxxxxxxxxx and The Episcopal Church, informing them of my status.

Although you were careful in your letter to specify the canonical violations under which I am accused, I am confused how this process is applicable to me and my situation and request that a number of fundamental issues be clarified and corrected.

First, although your letter indicates that you are inhibiting me pursuant to Title IV.10.1 for Abandonment of Communion, neither you nor the Standing Committee of the Diocese has indicated any act or statement on which this claim is based.  Your letter does not state that you have made any factual findings regarding any alleged Abandonment.  Rather, as required by the canon, it states that you are “affirming the Standing Committee’s findings that [I] have Abandoned the Communion of this church.”  Also as required by the canon, you have provided me with a copy of the “findings” on which you have based your acceptance, but this document lacks specificity.  Given the severity of a charge of Abandonment of Communion, the canon prudently requires that the Standing Committee provide the bishop “a statement setting out in reasonable detail the acts or declarations relied upon in making its determination.”  It is this statement which initiates the inhibition process.  Unfortunately, the Standing Committee’s statement does not set out in reasonable detail the acts or declarations relied upon.  Indeed, it sets forth no acts or declarations at all. 

I request that, at a minimum, I be told what acts or declarations I am being accused of.  I think fundamental fairness requires it.  Further, it appears fairly apparent that the statement provided by the Standing Committee does not meet the standard required by the canon to initiate the inhibition process.  Accordingly, I would request that the Standing Committee follow the requirements of the canon and, if it so finds, issue a statement with the “reasonable detail” of the “acts or declarations relied upon” to make its decision.  Pending such canonical statement, I request that you confirm that your current letter of inhibition to me is retracted, pending your receiving a detailed statement from the Standing Committee that you can accept consistent with canon. 

Also, should someone make a “report” of facts to the Standing Committee that I have in some way abandoned the communion as required by the canon, I would request that the Standing Committee notify me of such allegations, so that I may respond in writing to such allegations prior to the Standing Committee voting on such allegations.  Again, I think fundamental fairness dictates, and I would think that the integrity of the Standing Committee process would require, that the Standing Committee hear both sides of any issue prior to taking such a serious vote.

Second, now that I am aware that someone is making allegations against me, I want to be very clear that I have not in any way Abandoned the Communion of this Church.  I have not renounced the Doctrine, Discipline, or Worship of this Church.  I have not been formally admitted into any religious body not in communion with this Church, and I have not Abandoned the Communion of this Church in any other way.[1]  Further, to my knowledge, the mere absence of a priest from the diocese is not a disciplinary matter until such absence exceeds two (2) years.  Canon IV.11.3.

As an aside, I would note that since the canon apparently deems formal admission into a religious body NOT in communion with this Church as grounds for discipline, it implicitly accepts (as one would expect) formal admission into religious bodies that ARE in communion with this Church.  I address this matter further below.

Third, in your letter of inhibition, you state that I “have the rights specified in Section 2 of this Canon.”  The crucial right in Section 2 for anyone accused of an inhibitable act or statement is the right to avoid further discipline by issuing a good faith retraction of such act or statement.  As noted above, however, no one has made known to me that act or statement on which my inhibition is based.  Again, I would ask that if I am to be able to retract any possible act or statement, that such act or statement actually be made known to me.

Fourth, your letter states, “[i]f you do not renounce your abandonment and return to the Episcopal Church, it will be my unfortunate responsibility to depose you as provided for in Canon IV.12”  I want to be clear, as noted above, I renounce any claim of my abandonment.  Also, however, I want to address your options in such event.  Although I sincerely hope we never get to such a situation, should I be ever be inhibited for over six (6) months without retraction, you have more than one option.  Under Canon IV.10.2, you have two (2) discretionary options, with deposition being the more severe choice.  If such event ever took place, I would ask that you allow me the “release of obligations” option and not seek the harsher “deposition” penalty, as indicated in your letter.  …, I would ask that you reconsider this matter.

Fifth, I had earlier formally requested that you issue my Letters Dimissory for my missionary work with the Province of xxxxxxxx, but never received a response.  I would again ask that you issue such Letters, so that I may continue my work with your blessing.  Similarly, and as set forth in the canons for priests desiring to officiate in another church in communion with the Episcopal Church, I would request that you issue to me the testimonial described in Canon III.9.6(e), again, so that I may continue with your blessing.

Finally, and no less serious, is the issue of my reputation as a clergyman and Christian.  As noted throughout my letter, I was very disappointed to see allegations with no facts and processes with no valid procedures, all culminating in baseless allegations against me.  What hurt even further is that without discussing this process or allegations with me, you sent your letter with allegations that I abandoned the communion to every bishop in the House of Bishops and every member of the clergy of this diocese.  This has undoubtedly damaged my reputation and standing with my colleagues and potential future superiors in an incalculable amount.  I request that you immediately retract your letter and make sure that all recipients of your letter receive such retraction.  I think fundamental fairness requires that due process be followed and that I not have my reputation damaged and prejudged in this manner.[2]






[1] As you know, I am associated with xxxxxxxxxxxxx Anglican Church, a missionary entity for the Province of xxxxxxxxxxxx.  As far as I am aware, the Episcopal Church and the Province of xxxxxxxxxxxxxx are still in communion with each other. 

[2] I am aware of no canonical provision that would require such broad notice.  There is a similar provision in Canon III.9.11, but such provision deals with the actual removal of a priest, which has not occurred.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Naming Names as the Sadness Continues

It is neither startling nor unexpected, certainly not "breaking news." From that perspective, there is nothing that can be said about it that has not already been said many times. Yet, at an emotional level--both my own personal feelings and, I would dare to say, the "corporate feelings" of all interested parties--it seems inappropriate to leave the event uncommented-on.

The putative (forgive me--it will be some time before I am able to omit that qualifier) Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin's (putative) Standing Committee has now formally charged 52 priests and deacons with abandoning the "communion of this church" and referred their names to the (putative) diocesan bishop, the Rt Revd Jerry Lamb. If he concurs with the Standing Committee's assessment, the 52 will be inhibited from the discharge of ordained ministry. If, within six months of inhibition, they do not recant in terms acceptable to the Bishop, he will depose them from their status as members of the clergy.

Of course, that matters very little to the 52 (it may be worth observing that the number might rise; there are lacunae in the data available to Bishop Lamb and Canon Hall), as they consider themselves, along with their bishop, clergy in good standing of the Anglican Province of the Southern Cone.

SIDEBAR on Deposition: There are variant explanations floating in the ether as to the precise meaning of the canonical act known as Deposition. Any theologically-instructed Anglican would concede, one hopes, that there is no removing the sacramental mark conferred in ordination--once a deacon/priest/bishop, always a deacon/priest/bishop, ontologically speaking. But seeing as how we don't often speak ontologically, the question remains, and it is a very practical one. Some (inter alia, the author of the news release naming the names) contend that the scope of deposition is limited to the ecclesiastical purview of the Episcopal Church; thus, it is not "defrocking" as that term is popularly understood. Those who advocate this position contend that Deposition is not a punitive act, but a matter of administrative housekeeping. 

When the Abandonment canon is used as it was originally intended--i.e. for a cleric who decamps without official leave to Presbyterianism or Islam or Secular Humanism--there may be some merit to this argument. But when the ecclesial destination of the alleged abandoner is a church that is ostensibly in full sacramental communion with the Episcopal Church (say, for example, chosen completely at random, the Anglican Province of the Southern Cone), large holes quickly appear. Implicit in the plain sense of the canonical language is an expectation that the sentence of deposition will be honored and upheld by all churches with which "this church" is in communion. So the fact that several Anglican provinces--a majority, one suspects, if an actual poll were to be taken--refuse to do so in recent cases is hugely significant.

Reading the actual list of 52 names left me momentarily breathless. I felt a wave of sadness with each one. I know 51 of them personally. Some have been close colleagues and friends. Many (the majority of the deacons, perhaps) have been my students in the San Joaquin School for Ministry. I have been a canonical examiner and an ordination planner to many of them. They are not mere names to me; they are real people with real ministries about whom I have firsthand knowledge. Reading the list still socks me in the gut.

Oh well. This sorry state of events is hardly a wholesome witness from the church to the world. And it need not be this way. As I have pointed out several times before, there might today be a legitimate Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin had the powers-that-be, from the Presiding Bishop on down, actually followed the Constitution and Canons rather than making a purely political power grab. I have a strong sense (which is somewhere between "I suspect" and "I know") that one or more of the names on the "List of 52" would today be on the rolls of such a legitimately constituted diocese. 

And it's not too late to come clean and do the right thing. All it would take is for interested parties to invite Father Rob Eaton, the sole remaining duly-elected member of the Standing Committee, to appoint three clerical and four lay members to fill the seats of those wha have headed south (including one who went AMiA rather than Southern Cone). They could even be seven of the eight that serve now on the rougue equivalent of the same. Then, should he choose to resign, it could be all eight. Then they could call an interim bishop. It could even be Jerry Lamb. So, while the names of the players on the scorecard would not change, they would have the advantage of unimpeachable legitimacy, and it would send a strong signal to whatever is left of the "orthodox" flank of TEC that due process is still honored and they need have no fear of a pogrom

In the meantime, Bishop Lamb, instead of deposing the 52, could follow the example of the Bishop of Western New York, Michael Garrison, and simply send their Letters Dimmisory to Buenos Aires. That, too, would be a reconciling act, a sign of swords being beaten into plowshares. 

So I certainly can't be accused of not having a rich fantasy life! Alas, reality has little to do with my dreams. In reality, Bishop Lamb is committed to doing nothing that might compromise his lawsuit against Bishop Schofield as to which of them is legally the Protestant Episcopal Bishop of San Joaquin, A Corporation Sole. On that eventual court decision rests legal possession of a bunch of ecclesiastical real estate currently inhabited by the 52. 

And in reality, the Presiding Bishop continues apace with her policy of pursuing what she can get away with politically (which is apparently quite a bit) rather than what is proper canonically. She has "de-recognized" all but one of the members of the Standing Committee of the Diocese of Pittsburgh, which has recently followed San Joaquin southward.  Of course, she has no authority to either give or withhold recognition of a diocesan Standing Committee, and particularly so of the lay members thereof. Some time ago, a member of the Executive Council of TEC anonymously phoned the rector of a parish in the Diocese of San Joaquin(I am given to understand that this was one of a series of such phone calls to parishes in "orthodox" dioceses) and posed various questions about how a gay or lesbian member would be likely to be treated in that parish. Without either the knowledge or the consent of the rector, he recorded the conversation and posted the audio on the internet. It turns out that this was a violation of California law, and when this was brought to the attention of Executive Council member, the audio clip was removed. But the rector pressed his complaint with the Bishop of Newark and the Presiding Bishop, asking for some disciplinary action against the culprit. The Presiding Bishop responded that she had no canonical authority to exercise pastoral discipline against a lay person, and no action was taken, save for expressions of regret that the event occurred. The same principle apparently does not apply when the offenders are lay members of a diocesan Standing Committee.

There will come a time, God willing, when we can look back on these years with some measure of detachment and perspective, and consider ourselves wiser and maybe even holier for having lived through them. May that day be hastened.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

SNL Wisdom re the Cubs

The relevant part begins with at about 3 min. 30 sec. remaining on the countdown clock. 


(And I apologize for the ad for the Bill Maher film that NBC put on the clip.)

Friday, October 10, 2008

Incongruities in the Central Valley

WARNING: Those who get irritated when I write about my former diocese of San Joaquin may want to click over to the stock market news ... or something.

Some years ago--I can't recall whether it was during my time there or not, but it was certainly during the episcopate of Bishop Schofield--the canons of the Diocese of San Joaquin were amended to include the following:

Sec. 33.01: All members of the clergy of this Diocese shall be under the obligation to model in their own lives the received teaching of the Church, and specifically that all clergy are to abstain from sexual relations outside of Holy Matrimony.

The ecclesial entity that presents itself as the Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin is gearing up for what it is calling its 49th Annual Convention (October 24-26), to be held in the town of Hanford. Interestingly, the ecclesial entity that presents itself as the Anglican Diocese of San Joaquin will be holding what it considers its 49th annual convention on the same weekend, some 40 miles away, in the city of Fresno. 

Both of these entities claim to be in some sort of continuity with what was spun off from the (Episcopal) Diocese of California in 1911 as as Missionary District, becoming an actual diocese in ... well ... whatever year would make this one the 49th. Most of the property that they both lay claim to (and which the "Anglicans" mostly possess at the moment) is real and material. But they also claim to "own" the diocesan canons as they have been amended by successive conventions over the years. 

Now, however, those canons (indeed, those dioceses) are like characters in the science fiction movie wherein Arnold Schwarzenegger played both a cop and the (direct-to-adulthood) clone of said cop. Both of them shared the same memory of life before cloning; both considered themselves "real" and the other an interloper. But the divergence has begun. The newly (and, I must say one more time, illicitly constituted) Episcopal diocese quickly moved to restore the Accession Clause (to the Constitution and Canons of the Episcopal Church) that had been removed earlier, and repealed the canon specifying adherence to the Province of the Southern Cone.

Now they have the luxury of time for further cleanup, and 33.01 is on the chopping block. The proposed amendment strikes the final clause: "...and specifically that all clergy are to abstain from sexual relations outside of Holy Matrimony." Here's the explanation:

There is considerable concern that the canon as currently drafted is in conflict with the Canons of the Episcopal Church, under "Rights of the Laity" (Canon 1:17.5) and “Rights of the Clergy” (Canon 3:1.2), which forbid discrimination on the basis of race, color, ethnic origin, national origin, marital status, sex, sexual orientation, disabilities or age. The proposed deletion of the language in the subject canon would remove any actual or potential conflict with the Canons and Constitution of the National Church.

So, if I am reading between the lines correctly, the professed concern is that the language that is proposed to be striken potentially runs afoul of the prohibition of discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, because persons with a sexual orientation toward those of their own sex cannot be married; hence, to enjoin them from sexual relations would be to discriminate. Have I got that right? Is there something I'm missing? 

But wait. This is California we're talking about. And in California same-sex marriage is presently legal. (Proposition 8, the constitutional challenge to that legality, appears headed for defeat.) So how is the canon as presently worded discriminatory? Or are there other motives involved?

This is one more neon sign that 815 and the powers-that-be were never interested simply in an ongoing Episcopal diocese in California's central valley. They could have had that by actually following the canons they are sworn to uphold and allowing the duly-elected members of the Standing Committee to do their job. Six of the eight were ready to play ball. But no. After having been fired from the Anglican Standing Commitee by Bishop Schofield, they were, within days, fired from the Episcopal Standing Committee by the Presiding Bishop (notwithstanding the fact that she had only the power to do so, not the authority). 

It's no big secret why those in power resorted to obfuscation and chicanery. Had they followed the canons, there would today be a legitimately constituted Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin. Only it would have very much the same theological complexion as the old one (not completely the same, but close). You can bet your biretta that Sec. 33.01 of the diocesan canons would not be up for evisceration at the 49th annual convention of the diocese. And that is a prospect that the minions of the "progressive" juggernaut could not abide. 

In other San Joaquin news . . . Bishop Lamb has announced that the canonical depositions of clergy who have not professed fealty to him are proceeding apace. This is in stark (and sad) contrast to the position taken by the Bishop of Western New York, Michael Garrison, in response to news that his largest parish, St Bartholomew's in Tonawanda, is decamping to the Southern Cone. Rather than deposing the rector, Father Arthur Ward, Bishop Garrison is just politely transferring him to the canonical authority of Bishop Venables in Buenos Aires. What a concept.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

A Response to An Olive Branch

This is cross-posted from Covenant. If you feel it also speaks your mind, let me know and I can add your names to the list of signatories.

We write as an informal group of Episcopalians who share a desire to remain active and loyal members of the Episcopal Church. Most of us find ourselves profoundly at odds with several controversial decisions made by our leaders (General Convention, the Presiding Bishop and Church Center staff, Executive Council, among others) over the past several years. We are alarmed that they seem to represent a consistent trend away from theological, ethical, and pastoral norms that we understand as essential to Anglican faith and practice. Others among us are more open to the reconfiguration of some of these traditional boundaries, yet are concerned that the manner in which this process has been pursued has needlessly alienated many within our own church, raised substantive issues of mutual accountability between Anglican provinces, and increased the awkwardness in our relations with many ecumenical partners, both locally and globally.

We are deeply saddened by the steady stream of departures from the Episcopal Church that this ongoing crisis has provoked, especially as it has moved beyond individuals to include parochial and diocesan structures. We are not, as a matter of conscience, inclined to join them in their decision to leave. Moreover, we have varying degrees of disagreement with their perception of the necessity or advisability of doing so. Nonetheless, we are not without significant empathy for their position, and hold many of them as cherished friends and co-laborers in the work of the gospel. It is our desire to do whatever may be within our power to prevent the fences that have recently been erected between Anglicans (seen as protective fences by those who have erected them) from evolving into permanent walls, and, should it please God, to facilitate the conditions under which they might be removed.

At the same time, even amidst our deep uneasiness, we can confidently affirm that the Episcopal Church has not—in a formal and official and corporately univocal way—abandoned the inheritance of faith and practice that underlies Catholic and Anglican Christianity. We rejoice in the orthodoxy of our Book of Common Prayer (1979), in both its liturgical and catechetical texts, as well as the creedal documents that it includes. We recognize it as articulating the faith and teaching of the Episcopal Church, despite the statements and actions of some leaders that are reasonably construed as departing from it.

Moreover, we are cognizant of our obligation under the vows of our common baptism to assume the good faith and honorable intentions of fellow Episcopalians with whom we may have deep differences on contested questions. We find it important as a matter of principle to avoid demonizing or anathematizing those whom we disagree, even as we remain forthright in the articulation of our disagreement. We rejoice in any opportunity to make common cause with those whom we may perceive as adversaries (never enemies) in acts of gospel witness and service that transcend our differences.

In these days of great difficulty—indeed, crisis—within both the Episcopal Church and the entire Anglican Communion, we find it worth observing that many of those whose names appear below who would only recently have been considered “moderately conservative” in the Episcopal ecclesio-political spectrum now, as a result of rapidly shifting dynamics, occupy the veritable “right-wing fringe” of the Episcopal Church. A number of us feel mounting pressure to distance ourselves from the public image of the very church of which we are devoted members. This is not an indefinitely sustainable situation. It seems “meet and right,” on a number of levels, to seek some measure of structural relief as would decrease that pressure and allow us to live and move and have our being as Episcopalians. If the new “conservative fringe” is to remain securely connected to the institutional whole, some accommodation to their perceived need for insulation from many of the actions of that institutional whole, and the utterances of its leaders, would be immensely helpful. 

We are therefore grateful to call attention to some recent “discussion points” (attached below as an Appendix) articulated by the Rev. Michael Russell, one whose own views are generally aligned with what might be called the “majority party” in the Episcopal Church, as a positive contribution to the process of seeking the sort of equilibrium that many of us on both sides of the divide desire. Among ourselves we have a variety of assessments of his specific proposals, and realize that, even if were able to speak with one voice on them, Father Russell does not speak for any authorized constituency, so his ideas only represent a starting point. Nonetheless, we appreciate the spirit in which they are offered, and find some of them both intriguing and worthy of further discussion.

It would be premature for us to put forward any concrete counter-proposals at this time, even if we were able to do so. In any case, we have no standing to do so. Our hope in making this public statement is to serve as a catalyst—one among many, perhaps—toward a fuller consideration of the challenge of creating and preserving a secure place within the structures of the Episcopal Church for those who hold traditional perspectives that do not reflect those currently held by the leadership, perhaps even including resolutions—legislative and otherwise—for consideration by the 76th General Convention next July.


The Reverend Anthony F.M. Clavier

The Very Reverend Matthew Gunter

The Reverend Nathan Humphrey

The Reverend Dorsey McConnell

The Reverend Daniel H. Martins

The Very Reverend Dr. Jean McCurdy Meade

The Reverend Canon Neal Michell

The Reverend Bruce Robison

Dale Rye, Esq.

Craig David Uffman, M.Div.

Christopher Wells


Appendix (per Mike Russell+)

     1)  DEPO for congregations as has been outlined and endorsed up and down the real and fictive Communion  structures.  This works for conservative parishes in liberal Diocese and liberal parishes in conservative Dioceses.

     2)  Canonical protection for cultural islands in our church, liberal or conservative.  As long as there is DEPO as outlined there is not pressure to make culture islands like Ft. Worth itself to be forced to ordain women, for example, their parish could make it happen through DEPO, as well as women being placed.

     3)  Discussion of canonical changes that allow for some process to deal with concerns about uniformity and accountability towards respecting and affirming the creeds.

      4)  Modernize the curriculum of William White as a way of ensuring that all TEC clergy have command of some common body of writings.  I think three years of seminary education is too little given the corpus of material to be mastered.  But within that there should be some common library of reading that all must do so that we can respect the breadth of this Church.

       5) Specific canonical sanction and review for testing the spiritual blessings of proposals that test the bonds of affection, with a review structure that takes into account the wider Communion.

       6)  Reciprocal Provincial participation in the Councils of the church.  In essence this would have give some selection of foreign bishops (think of pulpit exchanges) voice and vote in every Province's deliberative body.  Sort of a perpetual mini-Lambeth.  Every Bishop would participate over time in this process.

       7)  Discuss the creation of leases for disputed properties that allowed those who have left TEC to stay in them with three caveats:

            a) If they congregation ever ceases to be in a Communion relationship with Canterbury/York they must surrender the property;

            b) They must cease all verbal assault on TEC: and

            c)  They must send whatever the assessment would be to the local Diocese to the WWAC for use in world mission/relief efforts.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

On the Spirituality of Being a Cubs Fan

I arrived home in the wee hours of Sunday morning from a church youth group amusement park outing in Ohio. I knew the Cubs were playing on Saturday, with their backs against the wall, but honestly didn't know whether it was a day game or a night game. If they lost, I figured, I would be just as happy not to have witnessed it. If they won, I would be more than glad to catch the highlights on ESPN. As we returned to the church parking lot at 1 AM, the driver of the other vehicle in our caravan informed me that the game was in the bottom of the eighth inning and the Cubs were down by two runs. When I got home, I immediately turned on the TV and muted the sound so as to not waken my wife, who was asleep on a living room recliner. The picture came on just in time for me to see Alfonso Soriano swing at strike three, ending the game, and ending the Cubs' season. How's that for timing?

I have many times, with my tongue in my cheek only slightly, proclaimed baseball to be "God's game", because it operates in kairos rather than kronos, and the Cubs to be "God's team", because rooting for them puts one squarely in touch with eschatological hope, with the "now but not yet" paradox of the inbreaking Kingdom of God, with the liminal junction between yearning and fulfillment--all necessary components of Christian perfection.

This latest meltdown, however, imposes a more distinctly cruciform shape on the experience. It was brought into focus for me in this morning's epistle reading from Philippians 3, in which St Paul meditates on the fellowship of suffering shared by those who are "in Christ"--fellowship (koinonia, actually) with Christ's own suffering, and also with the suffering of the world. 

The experience of turning on the TV just in time for the last pitch was, for me, a tangible sign of that fellowship. I mean here to be neither flip nor ridiculously serious. To say that the Cubs and their fans "suffer" as a result of the last three games would be to trivialize acutal suffering--cancer, combat deaths, natural diasters, etc. etc. What I have in mind is more like what a disciplined Christian experiences in the observance of Lent, or of Fridays outside of festival time. When I pass up the pitcher of diet cola when it's set on my table at a Friday Rotary meeting, I may find it annoying to do so, but it doesn't constitute suffering, if for no other reason than that the experience is self-imposed. It is, rather, an opportunity for me to voluntarily embrace an annoyance that serves as a model of actual suffeirng, a tool that, in its own small way, helps configure my soul to the shape of the cross. It creates a space in which grace can move. My soul's eternal health is the sum of tens of thousands of such small decisions to cooperate with grace.

So on this day after disaster, when I got home from morning duties and changed out of my clericals, I put on my Cubs t-shirt and embraced the agony of the moment, not despising the shame of it. My call as a disciple, after all, it to take up the cross, not simply become its passive victim.  I am quite certain in faith that it will become the "way of life and peace." 

How long until spring training?

Friday, October 03, 2008

Short & Sharp

Blogging has taken a back seat to real life lately, even though there has been no shortage of material about which to opine. I’m buried in the work for which I am actually paid—and which is my life’s passion as well—so I’ve had to do some triage with my time. I do hope to be “back” on a more regular basis in due course.

Tomorrow takes me to the Cedar Point Amusement Park in Sandusky, Ohio with the parish youth group. They keep talking to me about some particular ride they want me to go on, but I have clearly explained one of the rules by which I live at my age, which is that my rear end is never higher than my head. So we’ll have to see.

One could not invent the soap opera that is the Chicago National League Ball Club. They are breaking my heart yet again, along with hundreds of thousands of others, and—most importantly, no doubt—their own. The odds are long indeed. But it is perhaps worth remembering 1984 and 2003, when they had their opponents in the same predicament—when three straight games or go home for the winter. And we know what happened. Mercifully, my agenda tomorrow will prevent me from witnessing the agony firsthand.

It will also prevent me from witnessing the agony of the Diocese of Pittsburgh voting to relocate to South America. There will be no winners tomorrow, only losers. Some of the Innocent will win, but lose in doing so. Some of the Innocent will lose, full stop. Some of Guilty will win, but find victory hollow. And some of the Guilty will lose, and become even guiltier in their loss. Am I being sufficiently cryptic?

Over the last couple of days there have been some interesting developments in Anglican cyberspace that appear to hold the potential to develop into signs of hope in the midst of this present darkness. Whether they indeed do hold that potential, and whether the potential is indeed realizable, remains to be seen. It’s a very vague and fragile foreshadowing of a possible promise at this point. If something comes of it, you’ll read about it here. If not, this paragraph never happened.