Saturday, February 20, 2010

For Local Consumption

My blogging is, among other things, a calling. It is part of the larger package that goes with a vocation to the priesthood. According to the liturgical formularies of the church in which I was (an am) ordained, one of the expectations the church has of me as a presbyter is that I will “take [my] share in the councils of the church.” One of the ways in which I am gifted to “take my share” is through writing, and in 2010, the “wild, wild west” of cyberspace is where the sort of writing that seems to be my niche mostly happens.

My blog posts cover a variety of topics, but the vast majority concern the macro-issues that confront Anglican Christianity during a time which is characterized by what is arguably an unusually high degree of stress and conflict. These issues are not rocket science, but they are complex and full of details and arcane vocabulary and a fairly long list of dramatis personae. So, for the most part, I write with the assumption that those whose lives are so vacuous that they have nothing better to do than read my blog are up to speed on all these things. From time to time, I may offer a bit of a refresher mini-course (“previously on Confessions of a Carioca”), but this is not a frequent or regular occurrence.

But as I have repeatedly made clear, blogging is a secondary (or even tertiary) element of my vocation. My “day job” is as a parish priest, and in that role my daily fare is rather more mundane (and I mean that in a good way) than what I usually write about in this space. It concerns real people with real lives who are trying with varying degrees of intensity and varying degrees of commitment, and at various levels of formation, to be disciples of Jesus in a world that makes that task pretty challenging. My job is to lead them in that effort and guide them on that road.

Ironically, when I blog, I usually don’t have my own parishioners foremost in my mind. Why? I suppose it’s because I presume that they are pre-occupied with questions that are more immediate and concrete than the ongoing Anglican travail. In my pastoral work, I almost never talk or write about that kinds of issues that concern me in my blogging. I want people to see and know Jesus, and not get distracted by the vexing complexities and inconsistencies of life in Anglicanland. Of course, it’s because of my sense that those very issues ultimately impact people’s ability to see and know Jesus that I get involved in them, but the impact is several links down the chain removed  from what is on the hearts and minds of most “people in the pews.” It’s complicated.

But I’m fooling myself, of course, if I don’t remember that some of those with whom I have an actual face to face relationship, people with whom I exchange the Sign of Peace and into whose hands I regularly place the Body and Blood of Christ, also know me when I’m wearing my blogging hat. Lately, there have been some developments that cause me to want to share a word with just these people. For a change, then, they’re going to be the ones I have primarily in mind, and everyone else is invited to eavesdrop if they’d like, or go watch the Olympics.

A couple of weeks ago, I attended an event in Texas. It was sponsored by the Episcopal Diocese of Dallas and the Anglican Communion Institute, which might be described as a sort of “think tank” devoted to reflection and discourse on the polity and relationship dynamics within and between the various entities that make up the Anglican family. At this conference, various Episcopal scholars and leaders, along with ecumenical guests from the Roman Catholic, Orthodox, Methodist, and Presbyterian traditions, presented talks and papers, and participated in panel discussions on the general subject of “hierarchy” in the Episcopal Church. This is a timely subject because of recent divisions among Anglicans in North America. Many have left the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada and formed alternative church structures through which they have expressed a desire to retain an Anglican identity. These developments present fresh challenges to Episcopalians, especially as we try to remain true to our own founding documents and pastoral practices and traditional polity. You can see the text of one of the papers here, and another one here, and yet another one here.

Most of the expenses of my trip were paid for from the Continuing Education line item in our parish budget ($500) that is part of my compensation package. There are no specific agreed-upon guidelines about what constitutes an appropriate use for these funds, but an academically-oriented conference, with presentations by two revered seminary professors, a retired seminary dean, an attorney who specializes in canon law, the pastor of a leading Presbyterian congregation in Dallas, and two learned lay women representing the Roman Catholic and Greek Orthodox jurisdictions in that area, in my judgment, arguably falls under that umbrella.

I do not contend that the ACI is a neutral observer. It has staked out a position of advocacy in favor of a covenant that clarifies the relationship between the constituent member churches of the Anglican Communion (of which the Episcopal Church is one), and it has questioned the rapidly-evolving understanding of authority that has been purveyed by the current elected executive leaders of the Episcopal Church. The ACI is one voice of “loyal opposition.” It is a voice that I am personally in broad agreement with.

The conference formally concluded at noon on Saturday, February 6th. After lunch, there was a two-hour presentation by another organization called Communion Partners. This was an optional extra, and was attended by only about half the number who were at the ACI conference. The aims of Communion Partners are generally congruent with those of the ACI, but it is a more “on the ground” and practically-oriented group. It was originally a fellowship of bishops within the Episcopal Church who found themselves marginalized by some of the decisions of recent General Conventions that they fear place our standing within the Anglican Communion in some jeopardy. In time, membership in CP was made available to rectors, and, more recently, to all clergy and lay persons. Their goal is to maintain a viable and vibrant witness within the Episcopal Church, and work cooperatively with Episcopal church leaders and leaders of other Anglican provinces to ensure a continuing relationship of full communion for all Episcopalians for whom that is a concern even in the event that the Episcopal Church as a whole finds itself in some state of formally impaired communion with the Archbishop of Canterbury.

I am in agreement with these objectives, and am a member of Communion Partners. But, while I was present for most of this two-hour session (I had to leave before it concluded in order to catch my plane home), this was not a “Communion Partners meeting.” There wasn’t even any discussion, let alone plotting and planning. It was purely informational. I should also point out that Communion Partners is not some veiled attempt to facilitate yet another round of departures from the Episcopal Church. The Episcopal Church has plenty of exit doors, and there’s no need for another one. Quite the opposite is, in fact, the case. Most of us in Communion Partners have friends who have left TEC, and, in many cases, continue to bear their scorn for having discerned that we are not called to accompany or follow them. In any case, had the whole three days been devoted to a “Communion Partners meeting,” it would not have been appropriate for me to use continuing education funds to cover my expenses, and I would not have done so.

I hope this clears some things up. As always, I will bend over backwards to accommodate anyone’s desire to discuss these issues with me. Just let me know where and when.

Now back to regularly-scheduled blogging.


Tom Brisson said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Tom Brisson said...

" I want people to see and know Jesus, and not get distracted by the vexing complexities and inconsistencies of life in Anglicanland."

Thank you, Father, I think you are right. As a somewhat recent returnee to Christian faith, this kind of thing can be very distracting and even toxic.

It makes it hard to pray and it's a real roadblock to sharing faith, especially with the neo-pagans among whom I counted myself.

It seems EVERYONE knows about how Anglicans are bashing each others these days. Amazing...

Hans Kusserow said...

Your careful use of words in this blog entry concerns me somewhat. I appreciate that you owned up to your agreement with, and membership in, Communion Partners (CP), but that doesn’t really convey the same sense as indicating that your name appears on the “Communion Partners Rectors” tab on the website. Also, the statement, “I do not contend that the ACI is a neutral observer”, and your subsequent descriptions of ACI’s “mission” may be factual, strictly speaking, but they’re not exactly, “the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth”. As far as I can tell, both the Anglican Communion Institute, Inc. and CP are associations of conservative Anglicans (I noticed they rarely, if ever, call themselves Episcopalians), and the line between the two groups is somewhat blurred.
I do wonder about the accuracy of the statement that ACI has, “…questioned the rapidly-evolving understanding of authority that has been purveyed by the current elected executive leaders of the Episcopal Church.” That’s a mouthful! As I understand it, dioceses within TEC have some autonomy (each diocese has its own constitution and canons), but inclusion into TEC (maybe it was ECUSA at the time) included giving up some of that autonomy as part of the bargain (e.g., submitting to the decisions made at National Convention). An example that I ran across that seems to accurately illustrate the TEC/Diocese relationship is a baseball analogy. I could gather up some friends, call ourselves the Warsaw Holy Sox, and proclaim that we’re going to play the White Sox come summer, but unless major league baseball decides to include our team (yeah, like that’s really going to happen), my statement about playing the Chicago team would just be wishful thinking. The “strength” of the diocese (Warsaw Holy Sox) is contingent on continued association with TEC (MLB). If MLB actually DID let our team in…I sure wouldn’t be doing everything I could to “differentiate” (code word) myself from them. Yet this seems to be precisely the goal of groups like ACI and CP.

Daniel Martins said...

Hans, you raise good questions. Have you read the first two articles from the conference I attended that are on the ACI website? These address your baseball analogy. See them here:
(Sorry, I don't know how to embed a link in this comment section of the software.)

I hesitate to engage your analogy (and the substance behind it) until I know that you're up to speed on the essential facts.

I can't quite see how I could have been clearer about my relationship with Communion Partners. I'm a member. They list members on their website. What could I have been trying to hide?

Similarly, what do you think I might be hiding with respect to the relationship between ACI and Communion Partners. Yes, they are pretty much organizations of conservative Episcopalians. I am a conservative Episcopalian (by most standards; some question my conservative credentials). I'm trying to be nothing but completely transparent here, so if you have an idea of what I'm trying to hide, let's hear it.

Hans Kusserow said...

Fr Dan, I really don’t think you’re consciously trying to hide anything (why hide something that you think is right?), but I do think that you are engaged in activities (the conference in Dallas, for instance) that are primarily intended to enable the Episcopal Diocese of Northern Indiana to sign the Anglican Covenant, should TEC not do so. As you well know, this strikes me as a “have your cake and eat it too” tactic, and I don’t agree with it.

Here’s the question that I think really needs to be answered. Why is there so much discontent in the parish? I don’t think that your conservative political activism is the problem, although I do believe that it’s one contributing factor. I believe that St. Anne’s is suffering from a larger “illness”, and that different individuals are focusing in on the particular “symptoms” that affect them the most severely. Some are taking a lot of “sick days” (maybe even long term disability), and others, like myself, are still showing up, but are in “energy conservation mode” (pulling back).

My diagnosis: Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy…with a twist. Usually it’s the victim who is clueless as to what is going on. In this case, those who are getting sick have some sense of why, and it’s those who are causing the illness who honestly don’t see it.