Saturday, November 29, 2008


One of the small joys of my vocation is that I get to spend Saturdays puttering around the church more or less alone. No other staff are around (well, the organist pops in and out, but she and I are friends); phone calls and walk-ins are rare. I find it an ambience that lends itself to contemplation as I go about my getting-ready-for-Sunday chores, and some pretty good praying sometimes happens in such an environment. 

Today was even more special than usual because I got to tweak the details of what my inimitable Facilities Manager and my wonderful Altar Guild had already accomplished in giving the church an Advent makeover: simple greens where the flowers usually are, wrought-iron candlesticks that are used only during Advent and Lent, no frontals on the altar, and, of course, an 
ample Advent Wreath that sits on a stand to the left of the aumbry. And this year a little something extra: I had a beautiful large icon of our patron saint moved from the narthex into the nave (with a proper lamp hung next to it) where it can serve as a focus of piety rather than something we walk past without noticing. 

I love Advent. And I mean Advent-as-it-is-in-itself, not merely a pious-sounding new label for "the holidays." I love the distinctive rhythym of the season--beginning with the Great Litany (I particularly enjoy chanting "beat down Satan under our feet" with some measure of solemn gusto) before rehearsing the Dies Irae-like pangs of eschatological darkness and exhortations to vigilance, moving on to the imprecations of John the Baptist tempered by the messianic reveries of Isaiah, then on to the Annuncation and Our Lady's fiat mihi, with the Great O Antiphons and Lessons & Carols helping to pick up the pace toward a denoument of incarnational joy in the Midnight Mass of Christmas Eve.

But I also appreciate Advent for being--of all the liturgical seasons--the most like real life. Advent is about always straining forward in unfulfilled yearning. It's about the paradox of "now but not yet." It's about waiting and hoping and getting ready for the Big Day when the Event for which the Chicago Cubs winning a World Series is the most apposite metaphor finally arrives. Most of us spend most of our lives yearning for something, hoping for something, waiting for something. It can be something as trivial as a traffic signal changing from red to green and as complicated as an intimate relationship that sometimes runs and sometimes crawls and frequently stumbles but always shows promise of (someday) settling into a nice comfortable gait.

I write, of course, as an Anglican Christian, and as an American, and both of these states of life (or, more accurately, the combination thereof) lie within the shadow cast by the season of Advent. We wait (for every word that proceeds from Lambeth Palace). We hope (for a positive outcome from the next of meeting of ... you name it: the Primates, the House of Bishops, the Joint Standing Committee, the Anglican Consultative Council, the Covenant Design Group, CAPA, the Global South Primates, the leaders of GAFCON, the Common Cause Partners, the Communion Partners, etc. etc.). We prepare (for the next secession of a diocese, for the next deposition of a bishop, for the unveiling of a new province). We ask, "How long?" We wonder whether we have enough oil in our lamps. And then we wait some more and hope some more and prepare some more.

Will Christmas ever get here?

At the level of cyclical chronos, of course, Christmas never fails to "get here." (Alas, for the retail industry, there are only 29 shopping days between Thanksgiving and Christmas this year, compared to 32 last year; yes, there are people who keep track of such details.) And that inviolable certainty, compounded in its effect the more times one actually experiences it, serves as a sign of hope and encouragement for anyone (i.e. pretty much everyone) who struggles with a cycle of yearning-turning-toward- fulfillment that is larger and longer than 365 days, including Anglicans like this unworthy blogger who are tempted on a daily basis to abandon hope for a happy issue out of our afflictions. (To say nothing of this unworthy Cubs fan.)

Veni, veni Emmanuel! Captivum solve Israel.

Rorate coeli desuper et nubes pluant justum.

Maranatha! Come, Lord Jesus.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Who's Episcopal and Who's Not

In 2000, Arnold Schwarzenegger starred in the sci-fi flick The 6th Day. He plays a cop who discovers that there's a clone of himself running around--fully grown, identical in voice and appearance, and sharing all his memories and abilities. You don't need me to describe the conflicts and plot possibilities inherent in that notion; they're pretty easily imagined.

Here's a parody on that theme. But before you watch it, if you're up to speed on the plot of 24/7 serial tragi-comedy Anglicanland: The Reality Show, prepare to make some connections.


Did you see the Emerging North American Province? Did you spot the Church-of-General-Convention? Did you catch a glimpse of the Covenant-signing Communion Partners? 

No? You didn't? You must look more closely. Oddly enough, I think there is some insight for Anglicans in this film--well, maybe not in the execution, but certainly in the concept.

Earlier this month, the dioceses of Quincy and Fort Worth did what everyone knew they were going to do and severed their relationship with the General Convention of the Episcopal Church, and thereby from the institutional (constitutional and canonical) structure thereof. In so doing, they joined San Joaquin and Pittsburgh. For the time being, this appears to be it, unless there are rumblings from elsewhere that I have missed.

After practicing on San Joaquin (with several miscues amply noted in the record), the Presiding Bishop and her Chancellor have by now learned their lines pretty well--so well, in fact, that the rest of us can lip-synch with them: "We lament the news that some individuals in the Diocese of X. have decided to leave the Episcopal Church. Of course, while individuals are free to leave this church, dioceses and parishes cannot. Hence, all property, real and personal, which was under the trusteeship of those persons who have left is now owned by those who choose to remain members of the Episcopal Church. In the meantime, we will be deposing Bishop N. and all the clergy who have departed with him."

Or some such.

The news today is that the Presiding Bishop attempted to "pull a Duncan" on Bishop Iker of Fort Worth and have him inhibited and desposed just for planning to leave, but the Title IV Review Committee declined to act with sufficient expedition to make this possible. But now--appropriately after the fact--they have indeed met and certified the charge of abandonment, and Bishop Iker has received his inhibition letter. Formal deposition will no doubt occur at the March 2009 meeting of the House of Bishops.

Of course, none of this matters to Bishop Iker and the strong majority in the Diocese of Fort Worth, as is evident in their quick response to 815. The substance of these statements ("You're not the boss of us anymore...and you never were anyway") is quite predictable and not particularly noteworthy. But two details merit a second look. 

First, the letterhead still reads "The Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth," and I don't think it's because they're just trying to be frugal and work through their old supply before they spring for new stationery. Now, when San Joaquin said "See yah!" they couldn't wait to get rid of the word "Episcopal" from all their communications media. People treated it like a bag of rotten food retrieved from the back of the bottom shelf in the refrirgerator, holding it at arms length with one hand and pinching their noses with the other on their way out to the trash bin. But when Pittsburgh's time came, they continued to style themselves the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh even after renouncing their relationship with General Convention and aligning themselves with the Province of the Southern Cone. Now, apparently, Forth Worth is following suit. (Whether Quincy has done the same I am not aware.)

Then, to drive this point home, the letter from Fort Worth's Standing Committee not only rejects the validity Presiding Bishop's Letter of Inhibition against Bishop Iker (since she has no authority over clergy discipline in the Province of the Southern Cone), but calls it a "border crossing." (!) 

The inference begging to be drawn from both Pittsburgh and Fort Worth is that not only do they believe themselves to have seceded from the Episcopal Church, but they have done so organically and with institutional continuity with their former selves, such that those parishes where the leadership wishes to be part of TEC cannot do so by passively "remaining" anywhere, but need to actively withdraw from "the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth, Jack Leo Iker, Bishop" and then seek affiliation with TEC on whatever terms it can negotiate. And while these processes are working themselves out, the Presiding Bishop and her emissaries are viewed as interlopers if they have any dealings with those who were clerical or lay members of the Episcopal Diocese of Forth Worth as it was constituted on November 14.

It comes as no surprise that 815 has a different narrative by which they read current events. In that narrative, only individuals can leave, so anyone who is no longer under the authority of the constitution and canons of TEC and who continues to occupy property or control other assets of the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth is, in fact, a squatter at best, and very possibly a thief. Those who decline to follow their leaders to the Southern Cone represent the continuing "Episcopal dioceses" of San Joaquin, Pittsburgh, Quincy, and Fort Worth. 

When Adam Gibson, Mr Shwarzenegger's character in The 6th Day, discovers that there is a clone of himself, he knows that his only hope for a happy life lies in the utter destruction of the clone. Understandably, the clone feels precisely the same way, with the roles reversed. The clone, you see, carries all the memories of the original Adam Gibson. He has no recollection of being recently created and then assuming Adam Gibson's persona. As far as he is concerned, he is Adam Gibson, and anyone else who claims title to Adam Gibson's identity is a mortal threat. 

Now, there are a number of reasons why I am not a Hollywood screenplay writer, and among them is my inclination to resolve the Adam Gibson question peacefully. Maybe the wife and kids could be cloned as well, so there could be two parallel Gibson families, living in widely separated locations (say, one in Texas and the other in Argentina? OK, lame attempt at humor).

I think there is both enough guilt and enough innocence to go around in all four--or, I should probably say, all eight, when you include the clones--of the "Episcopal" dioceses of blessed memory--and for that matter, throughout the vulnerable infrastructure of Anglican Christianity. There need not be either heroes or villains. Everyone, both the leavers and the stayers (whatever one construes leaving and staying to look like), share the same memory, the same appearance, the same voice, the same abilities, as they shared before there were any leavers or stayers. Both have a legitimate claim to their shared inheritance--and I'm talking about an inheritance of identity, which is much more important than any dispute over bricks and mortar. Settling the property disputes raises some difficult issues, some of them agonizing. But they will remain intractable until some accomodation is reached on the identity issue. Solving that one is possible, I'm convinced, if any measure of charity can prevail. It's so easy that it's difficult, and so difficult that it's easy.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Up In Smoke

The heart-wrenching news for me today comes from the Santa Barbara suburban neighborhood of Montecito, home of Westmont College, my alma mater

It's on fire.

The news reports mention it being a wealthy community, and it is. If you're not familiar with the area, we're talking about one of the most beautiful places on earth, a synergistic synthesis of natural and human artifice. It will recover its beauty--so innately and deeply gifted is the area. But some spectacular residential architecture will be lost, homes that, even though the vast majority of us could never afford to live in them, we are blessed by nonetheless because we partake of the same human spirit--lit by the Divine spirit--that is able to climb such aesthetic heights.

The edifice that anchors the Westmont campus is Kerrwood Hall, one of these vintage Montecito mansions that date from the 1920s. The college has been there since 1945, now covering some 139 acres and using several dozen buildings. I have learned tonight that unit 'S' of the Clark Hall dorm complex is one of the buildings that has been destroyed by the Tea Fire. I lived in 'Clark S' my junior year at Westmont, so the news brings me up short, and sends me on multitudinous trips down Memory Lane. It was in Clark Hall that I first had "too much to drink" (quite against the rules, I assure you). It was while living there that I began dating and got engaged to the love of my life. The list could go on.

I am grateful that there seem to be no injuries or deaths at Westmont, though a couple of hundred students suddenly have nowhere to live. More importantly, fourteen faculty homes have been destroyed, which is a horror for those families that I cannot even begin to imagine. 

I've not been the most gung-ho booster of my alma mater over the years. This is perhaps largely because I quit running in the free-church evangelical circles that form Westmont's core constituency. But I have always been, and will ever be, immensely grateful for my four years there (plus three more married to an adjunct faculty member). I received a challenging and integrative liberal arts education that continues to inform my participation in the universe of intellectual discourse, theological reflection, and the use of the English language. As a bonus, I acquired knowledge and skills in the field of music (my major) that I still make use of on a virtually daily basis in my work as a parish priest. (Sadly, they could not turn me into a competent french horn player; I only look competent in the above photo, taken after my senior recital.) And I must never forget that it was in a Westmont College music department practice room that, alone during spring break of my sophomore year in 1971, I sat down at a piano with the Hymnal 1940 and said 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." That was the nodal point in my discovery of the Anglican tradition.

Of your charity, please hold the Westmont community in your prayers.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Hot News from the Heartland, II

(See here for Part I.)

Warsaw, Indiana--where I live and move and have my being--is the seat of Kosciusko (kah-zee-AH-sko) County. (One might surmise that it was settled by Polish immigrants, but that is not the case. The state legislator in the 1830s, a Mr Chapman, who somehow acquired the naming rights, wanted to honor George Washington's Polish comrade-in-arms, Tadeusz Kosciusko, and, as a bonus gesture, named the planned county seat after the capital of Mr Kosciusko's native land.)

By the standards of most Americans--certainly by the standards of my life before moving here--Warsaw qualifies as a "small town." The inside-the-city-limits population is only some 12,000. We're about 45 miles NW of Fort Wayne and 50 miles SE of South Bend. Still talking small towns, you say? Well, we're roughly 120 miles from both Chicago and Indianapolis, in opposite directions. 

Yet, we are not without urban (OK, suburban) amenities. We have a WalMart, a K-Mart, a Lowe's, and a Menard's under construction. (Discerning shoppers still patronize the locally-owned Ace Hardware, however.) We have two McDonalds, two Dairy Queens, and two Arbys, plus one each of Taco Bell, Wendy's, Burger King, Hardee's (Carl's Jr. for you Californians), Long John Silver's, Quizno's, KFC, Subway, several pizza joints, and three locations of our home-grown sensation, Penguin Point (ever get a hankerin' for a pork tenderloin sandwich?). And as for sit-down chains, we have Applebee's, Bennigan's, Bob Evans, Golden Corral, and the favorite default of the Dragonfly and me, Ruby Tuesday. Plus, we have four more-than-respectable locally-owned fine dining restaurants that can compete with anything the big cities have to offer. And did I mention our symphony orchestra? (No Starbucks at this time.) want small town? I'm not sure we qualify. But I'll tell you what does. About four or five miles up State Route 15 from the northern edge of Warsaw is the tiny town of Leesburg. It's actually older than Warsaw (incorporated 1833) and in the 2000 census had a population of all of 625 souls. It has brick streets lined by mature trees and vintage homes. The local grocery store sports a meat market that attracts in-the-know shoppers from all over the county. 

But Leesburg apparently has aspirations to bigger and better things. They no longer want to be in the backwash of Claypool, Etna Green, and Atwood. They've gone high-tech. Very 21st century. The headline from yesterday's edition of the Warsaw Times-Union put Kosciusko County residents on high alert:

Leesburg Upgrades to Computerized Accounting System

It's been the subject of every water cooler conversation in every county workplace all day, I'm sure. Here are the details (courtesy of Jen Gibson, Lifestyles editor of the Times-Union):

Thanks to a new computerized accounting system, the Leesburg Town Council will receive a simpler printout of the town's accounts.

Until now, all the town's accounts were figured by hand, and all invoices and accounts were listed on hand-written ledgers.

Monday night, Town Clerk Melissa Robinson explained the new printouts to council members and told them how the system works. "It makes (paying invoices and tracking accounts) much, much easier," Robinson said.

I'm so energized by this that I'm considering recommending to my Vestry that they think about putting our church finances on a computer. We don't quite have 625 members, but I can see several advantages to following Leesburg's lead. Just because you're small doesn't mean you can't be cutting edge.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Rebellion or Revolution?

Blessedly, the secular political arena has calmed down a bit after last Tuesday's election. The run-up to (and the run-down from?) election day certainly hijacked my attention, but, for a number of reasons, I choose not to blog about such things. Certainly there is not such a dearth of wannabe pundits in the blogsphere that the lack my voice creates a significant impoverishment.

Church politics, on the other hand, I presume to know something about, and can at least plausibly pretend to hope to have some influence over, so I labor on in the wake of the "breaking" news that Quincy has now become the third diocese of the Episcopal Church to announce its secession therefrom, and its assocation with the Province of the Southern Cone. Fort Worth is cued up and counting down to become the fourth. (Are there others? Some speculate that there might be a couple more, but nobody else has yet "cocked the gun" with a first reading of the necessary constitutional amendment.)

History, as they say, is written by the winners. The political uprisings that took place in America (1776), France (1789), Russia (1917), and Iran (1979)--just to name a few--are now styled revolutions only because they were successful. Had they failed, we would remember them (if they were remembered at all) as mere rebellions. For that matter, if Cardinal Cajetan had successfully persuaded Luther to recant at Worms, what is now known as the Reformation might similarly be a blip on the radar screen of history.

Five years ago, General Convention threw a match onto a gasoline-soaked garage floor, instigating a chain of events of which the secession of Quincy is now the latest link. At the very least, we are witnessing a series of rebellions that might plausibly be interpreted as one Big Rebellion in several parts. The hope of dioceses like Quincy (along with San Joaquin, Pittsburgh, and Fort Worth) is that they are part of a larger movement of realignment within Anglicanism, the end of which will result in a new Anglican province on North American soil, one that will be institutionally unconnected from both the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada. Several other Anglican provinces are cooperating with this movement: the Southern Cone, obviously, by providing a temporary insitutional haven, but also all the groups that fall under the umbrella known as GAFCON (from their initial gathering in Jerusalem this past summer, the Global Anglican Futures Conference). This big tent includes the Anglican Mission in American (AMiA, connected to Rwanda), the Convocation of Anglicans in North American (CANA, connected to Nigeria), and a smattering of parishes that have come under the aegis of Uganda. 

So far, then, what we have is a rebellion in progress. But the hope of what we might call the realignment community is that it will continue to grow--both by continuing to peel off dioceses and parishes from TEC (and its Canadian equivalent) and by growing their parishes, both in size and number--and that TEC will continue to decline (by ongoing loss of dioceses and parishes and by stagnation in spiritual and financial vitality) to an envisaged tipping point, at which it will simply be a fait accomplait, with or without any official pronouncement from Canterbury or elsewhere, that TEC has been replaced as the holder of the Anglican franchise in this country. 

If and when that tipping point is reached, we'll no longer be talking about a rebellion. It will be a revolution, because the new "winners" will be in a position to call it such.

Now, I hope I am amply on record that this is not a turn of events for which I hope or advocate, for reasons that are both principled and pragmatic. My principled objections are largely ecclesiological--see here. My pragmatic objections are largely strategic; I don't think the plan will work, I don't think the tipping point will be reached. I, and many others, remain committed to the broad outline known as the Windsor Process, which includes the development of an Anglican Covenant--an organic realignment, if you will. Evolution, not revolution.

That said, I never cease to be amazed by the capacity of the leadership of the Episcopal Church to shoot themselves in the foot. The Presiding Bishop's response to the vote in Quincy was to lament that "some individuals in southern Illinois" had decided to leave TEC. To say nothing of the geographical gaffe (one might forgive a westerner for not realizing that the Diocese of Quincy encompasses west central Illinois, not southern), her statement is one more iteration of a vacuous mantra, that it is individuals and not institutional structures that are are fleeing "this church." One invariable characteristic of a regime that is vulnerable to being overturned in a revolution is implacable denial, incessant repetition of an interpretive paradigm that bears less and less resemblance to reality. ("Let them eat cake.")

If the regnant leadership in TEC--my church, that is--wishes to quell the fury of the latter-day Parisian mob, it would do well to begin recognizing the fact that parishes and dioceses do leave the church. Whether or not they can is moot. The Alice in Wonderland word games need to stop immediately. Then they need to seriously engage the reality that the developing Anglican Covenant is an emergency response to their own misbehavior, not some theoretical construct worthy of a decade or two of polite abstract discussion. The Presiding Bishop's announced intention of keeping a vote on a covenant off the agenda in Anaheim next July is precisely the wrong message.

With some commitment and intention, the rebellion can be kept at bay. Without any changes in the current trajectory of leadership behavior, the realignment community's goals will become a self-fulfilling prophecy. I can hear the gates of the Winter Palace beginning to collapse already.