Wednesday, March 30, 2011

It's All Local Now

Yesterday the House of Bishop's spent the morning considering the proposed Anglican Covenant (there's a link to the text on the right). The Bishop of Atlanta, Neil Alexander, gave a lucid presentation in which he framed the issue as a manifestation of the classic tension between the local and the universal. Local, in this case, means national or provincial (i.e. the Episcopal Church), while universal refers to the worldwide Anglican Communion, the members of which are being invited to become covenant partners. It's about working out how to maintain both the autonomy of the "local" churches, in their disparate cultural and historical contexts, and the mutual accountability of the whole communion. This is nothing new in church history, nor is it uniquely an Anglican problem.

On a long afternoon walk on one of the trails here at Kanuga, I had an epiphany: It's all local. A hundred years ago, the concept of the Anglican Communion was already in full development. There was a sense of "we" as a unified global entity. And everybody knew, at a cognitive level, that there was wide diversity of liturgical practice, spiritual formation, polity, and trajectory of theological thought. Indeed, the idiosyncratic theological musings of a bishop in South Africa, with concomitant overtones in polity, led to the first Lambeth Conference. But few Anglicans in that day actually experienced such diversity. They didn't worry over much about what their fellow Anglicans on other continents were up to, and when they did become concerned, it took years--decades, even--for an actual controversy to develop and play out.

Then came the electronic revolution--the internet, in particular. Within the time of my own mature adulthood, the world has vastly shrunk. Within a few minutes of the moment I click Publish on this very blog post, somebody across North America, or in Asia or Africa or Europe, could be reading it and sharing it and creating an unruly viral conversation. (I don't actually expect that to happen with this post, of course!)

This means that all the assumptions about communication and community that I and my chronological peers (as well as, probably, the generation behind us, at least) have grown up with are increasingly meaningless. In church life, what can it now mean to distinguish between that which is local and that which is universal? Less and less, I think, because now it's all local.

The Anglican Covenant--no longer merely "proposed" for the three provinces that have adopted it--has been criticized for pushing the center of gravity too far away from local autonomy and toward mutual accountability. It has even been accused of setting up something akin to the Roman Catholic curia, though this seems rather far-fetched. But I strongly suspect that it's actually just an expression of what we all know but often don't want to acknowledge, that some reconfiguration of Anglicanism that takes into account our drastically "smaller" world is not only necessary but inevitable.

Anglican provinces have a choice. They can reject the Covenant in a principled defense of local autonomy. But this, I would suggest, is ostrich-like behavior. Denying the changed environment as a result of the internet isn't going to make it go away. Provinces that cling to outdated notions of local autonomy are only delaying the inevitable, and I don't think they will even be able to do it for very long. The other option is to embrace it, sign the Covenant, and remain a "player" in the evolution of a dynamic new Anglican Communion.

Bishop Alexander made the point that the Anglican Covenant will change us in the Episcopal Church. I would add that it will change us whether we adopt it or not. It will change our polity and will change our ecclesiology. I think it has great potential to change us for the better. If we distance ourselves from it, however, those changes may well be for the worse.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

On Young Adults

Disclaimer: I'm a Baby Boomer. Most members of my generation haven't yet figured out that we're NOT young adults anymore. But that's another blog post.

I'm at the regular spring meeting of the Episcopal Church's House of Bishops. The focus of today's sessions was on the church's ministry to and with young adults. "Young adult" seems to be defined as between 18 and 35, so it's actually been a quarter century or so since I've been one, as young and hip as I may feel.

God knows, the Episcopal Church (all churches, for that matter) needs to be concerning itself with this topic, as this demographic is hugely conspicuous by its absence from our worship and communal life. It has ever been this, for a host of understandable life-cycle reasons, but the gap is much more pronounced now than it was when I was ... well ... a young adult (and I was always part of the church community when I was that age).

One of our presenters is a 40-something seminary professor with a background (and a PhD) in the social sciences. The other two (one ordained, one lay) live and work in the Diocese of Massachusetts, and are involved in a pilot project aimed at finding new ways to "do church" that connect more organically with their chronological (and, it probably needs to be said, cultural) peers.

Here's what I like about what they're doing: They are ambitious about forming intentional community--people who covenant to spend significant amounts of time with one another, sharing several meals a week, even sharing living quarters when feasible. They are serious about disciplined spiritual formation, and doing so be drilling down into their own Christian tradition, rather than indulging in an eclectic smorgasbord of spiritual practice. And they're not shy about saying that it's a relationship with Jesus that is at the root of what they do, that such a relationship has changed their lives and calling others into such a relationship is a critical part of their mission.

Here are my concerns about what I heard: Their articulation of the gospel seems not to be clearly connected to the Paschal Mystery. There was even a PowerPoint slide labeled "The Good News", and its content was simply "Community, Compassion, Co-creation." No Jesus. No dying and rising. No mystical participation in the eschaton. In all fairness, I would wager this was an oversight, and that they would be horrified to have it pointed out that Jesus was absent from their definition of the gospel. At least I hope so.

And then there is what for me is that bugaboo that just doesn't want to ever go away. Previous generations would have called it the Social Gospel. Nowadays the language is something about "God's mission" or "God's dream." Either way, the task before the Christian community is to participate in the implementation of this mission and the realization of this dream. And the metric for determining faithfulness to this task is the diminution of the total amount of human suffering. This is considered an end in itself, and it it is accomplished without people coming into an explicit relationship with Jesus in the communion of the church, then that's really no big deal; the end is still accomplished.

This isn't that occasion for a treatise on that subject. Suffice it to say that I find it an impoverished account of the Christian narrative, and I am saddened when the notion is purveyed and accepted as self-evident.

These young people are inspiring. I wish them well. They are doing many things that I would hope to adapt and implement in my ministry. But we need to keep the main thing the main thing.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Rookie Appearance

Tomorrow morning, the FAA permitting, I will fly to the Asheville, NC area (Kanuga, a conference center) for my first meeting of the House of Bishops. One of the major themes of the meeting will be ministry to and with young adults. This is certainly a timely concern, as anyone familiar with the demographics of the Episcopal Church can attest.

My better self wants to applaud whoever planned a focus in this area. Perhaps we will collectively begin to "get it" and proactively embrace, rather than lag behind, the reality that we live in a post-Christian society, and start to aim our message at theological blank slates rather than Church hoppers who are disgruntled with their present connection.

My more cynical self seriously wonders whether whatever we do is too little, too late, that we have passed a tipping point, and that there will need to be some sort of ecclesial apocalypse before we can emerge reconfigured for more authentic mission in the 21st century as it actually is, not as we wish it were.

I honestly hope my better self is right on this one, and that I come away from Kanuga with a deeper understanding of the issue. In any case, since I'm too lazy to lug my laptop on the trip, and getting a WiFi connection on my iPad is sometimes dicey, I probably won't be blogging for the next week or so.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Being What I Do, Doing What I Am

Here's the holy huddle from last Saturday. Take my word for it; I'm in there somewhere.

The day was utterly joyful and completely exhausting. It's been just a couple of weeks more than a year since I had the first serious conversation with someone about the possibility of being nominated to become the 11th Bishop of Springfield. The disposition of my heart at the time was that, yes, this may indeed be a vocation, that I had the raw charism that, perfected by the Holy Spirit through the sacrament of ordination, might make me a round peg in a round hole. But the odds were long, and I've had plenty of unvalidated spiritual premonitions in my time. So I'm still completely in awe at what has transpired. When I looked at myself in the mirror yesterday morning, my first thought was, "Who's that guy in a purple shirt who looks so much like me?"

That purple shirt--along with the other associated "bling" (as my 30-something children are wont to call it)--may be a small thing, inconsequential in itself, but as I've pondered it all during fleeting moments of solitude over the past couple of days, it has been the conduit toward a deeper understanding of the calling into which I have been (and continue to be) incorporated. It's a symbol, and among Anglicans, it evokes an immediate--almost visceral--response. It "means more than it says."

And it reminds me that being a bishop in the Catholic tradition, simply making myself available to be a symbol is a hugely important part of the job. Sure, there are thorny pastoral and administrative issues to tackle, and I've already got such things on my radar screen. But when I walked into St Paul's Cathedral yesterday morning wearing a mitre and carrying a crozier, I was aware--almost crushingly aware--of the weight of responsibility for me to simply be The Bishop, as distinguished from doing bishop-like things.

After the consecration liturgy on Saturday, I tried to go to the reception, but hardly got more than ten feet into the hall. I was beset with, of all things, requests for my autograph on the program booklet. I complied cheerfully, and posed for a lot of pictures in the process. But I was fully aware, even in the midst of such joyful activity, that people didn't really want an autograph from Dan Martins. They wanted an autograph from Daniel, Bishop of Springfield. That may seem like a fine distinction, but it is, I believe, a significant one (literally ...  significant).

Today, I've tried to figure out whether I want to wear my ring even when I'm not "in harness" (Monday is my day off). Again, that may seem like an utterly trivial decision, and on one level it undoubtedly is. My first thought is, No. The ring is heavy, and I'm almost constantly aware of it being there when I'm wearing it. It feels like an interloper; I haven't worn anything on that finger since I had a class ring in high school. But perhaps the weight of that ring is precisely what I need to be aware of right now. This vocation indeed weighs something. I am suddenly acutely aware that I am less "my own" than I have ever been. This was true, of course, as a priest. But that truth is now magnified several times over. I have no doubt that there will be heartache in what lies ahead. I also have no doubt that grace will abound. No doubt whatever.