Friday, June 29, 2012

Toward General Convention IV: The Anglican Covenant

In 2006, as a Deputy from the Diocese of San Joaquin and a member of Special Legislative Committee 26 on Anglican Communion Relations, I participated in the crafting of a resolution, eventually adopted, that committed the Episcopal Church to taking part in the development of a covenant between the constituent churches of the worldwide Anglican Communion. The idea for such a document emanated from the report of a special commission convened by the Archbishop of Canterbury in response to the ecclesiastical disarray that followed on the consecration of Gene Robinson as Bishop of New Hampshire, Bishop Robinson being both openly gay and partnered.

In 2009, I submitted Resolution D020. In its original form, it committed TEC to abiding by the terms of the Covenant, which was then still in not-quite-final draft mode. By the time it emerged from committee, D020 was watered down to an intention to continue to study the Covenant. Now there are several resolutions on the Covenant in front of convention, ranging from "Yup!" to "Are you kidding? No!". I am one of the co-endorsers of the "Yup!" resolution. They will doubtless all be turned into sausage by the Committee on World Mission, and something will emerge that will be not quite "No!", but a long way from "Yup!". And even then, the convention may not approve it.

This will not be a close analysis of the reasons to adopt the Covenant. I think most minds have been made up, and there really isn't anything more that I can say that hasn't already been said more eloquently and cogently by others. The Living Church-sponsored blog--aptly named Covenant--has an astonishing compendium of heavyweight advocacy for the Covenant from around the communion. I commend it to you heartily. "What they say."

Nonetheless, at this late hour, without any aspirations to swaying anyone, I would feel remiss if I did not join my voice to the chorus one final time.

We need the Anglican Covenant because the world has shrunk,  and everything is now local.  That's it, in a nutshell. What Anglicans do or say in one place now affects Anglicans in every place, not months or years later, but the same day. This is now a permanent fact of life. So what this means is that the informal "bonds of affection" that have until recently sufficed in keeping Anglicanism a reasonably coherent whole now need to be strengthened, made more formal. Some (not all) of that which has heretofore been tacitly implied now needs to explicitly stated. The infrastructure of our mutual accountability needs to be made more robust. The centrifugal forces of cultural diversity have tilted the delicate autonomy-unity balance too far in the direction of autonomy. The Covenant is the vehicle that will bring our relationships back into balance.

Those who oppose the Covenant seem to have only one hermeneutical lens through which to view it: It's all about punishing the Episcopal Church (and the Anglican Church of Canada) for coloring outside the lines on sexuality. Yes, a sexuality-related event gave rise to the development of the Covenant. But that horse is already out of the barn; the Covenant isn't going to do anything to fix it. (And this is precisely why much of the conservative Global South is, at best, lukewarm toward the Covenant; they see it as toothless and incapable of repairing the damage that has been done already in the communion.) But the Covenant actually looks to the future, not to the past. There are already two issues on stage to which it could be brought to bear: communion before baptism, and lay presidency at the Eucharist. But there are doubtless others that we cannot yet even imagine.

Those who suggest that the Covenant is "not Anglican" are, at one level, absolutely right. It is not Anglican business-as-usual. Anglican business-as-usual is no longer a viable strategy as long as the internet is up and running, and as long as western society is careening into the post-Christian era. But it is certainly not anti-Anglican. It is a completely organic development of the Anglican charism, which is to say that it is profoundly biblical, profoundly sacramental, and profoundly ecumenical. I would go so far as to say that it points us toward Anglicanism finally come of age, Anglicanism grown up, stabilized.

Whatever we do with the Covenant at this convention, I don't think it's going away. Eight provinces have already adopted it. This means that it's already in effect in those places, and between those churches.  Only one has so far said No: Scotland. It is a false characterization of the Church of England's action to tally it in the No column just yet. While a slight majority of diocesan synods have said No (though, curiously, a majority of the total number of votes cast, and a large majority among the bishops, was in the affirmative), what this amounts to is nothing more than "Not just now." The Church of England has not said No; they've only decided to not say Yes during this incarnation of General Synod.

So, whatever word we speak next week, or the week after, will not be the final word on the matter. The winds of growth blow gently, but they blow relentlessly.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Legislative Discipline

(This is NOT the fourth in the promised series of four posts on major General Convention issues, but just some thoughts that came to me while driving through Illinois cornfields.)

This will be my fourth General Convention. If memory services, each has been slightly shorter than its predecessor. With travel days, the 2003 convention consumed two weeks on my calendar. This one has me in its grip for only ten days.

At one level, shorter is better. It's certainly less expensive, which is the force driving the change. But the problem is, nothing seems to have been done to trim the agenda, which means that there will be an even bigger rush of business than usual in the last two days, bishops and deputies will be frazzled, tempers will be short, and the quality of decision making will tank.

This got me thinking. Thinking about the Blue Book (which is actually pink this year) in particular. The Blue Book, which is about three inches thick, with letter-size pages, contains only the 'A' resolutions, i.e. those submitted by various interim bodies--Committees, Commissions, Agencies, and Boards (known in geek parlance as CCABs). So it does not include 'B' resolutions (submitted by bishops), 'C' resolutions (submitted by diocesan conventions), and 'D' resolutions (submitted by deputies). These are now piling up in the General Convention office, and a number of trees will give their lives so we can all have a look at them when we arrive in Indianapolis a week from tomorrow.

Many times we have heard a member of one of the CCABs (I think particularly of the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music, but it happens with others as well), when questioned about that body's work, say something like, "We're just doing what General Convention asked us to do," and then cite the resolution that, sure enough, asks them to do what they're doing.

But if we drill down another level, and ask "Who asked General Convention to ask them to do what they're doing", we begin to get a little dizzy from walking in circles. In the great majority of cases, it was an 'A resolution that got the ball rolling, which means that it was probably the same CCAB that ended up being charged with the responsibility of doing something. So it's usually not some grassroots groundswell on an issue that puts it in front of convention, which then assigns it to a CCAB to work on, but, rather, a small group of laity, clergy, and bishops who not only have a presumptive interest in, if not a passion for, the subject matter at hand, but probably also a subconscious instinct to participate in group self-preservation. What if a CCAB exhausts its mandate, runs out of stuff to do? Will it just go quietly into that good night? Not likely. It will attempt to ensure its continued existence by proposing 'A' resolutions that have a privileged status by appearing in hard copy in front of all bishops and deputies weeks before the convention, and which will then create work for them by which to justify their continued life.

So ... what if we do this?: Restrict CCABs to proposing resolutions that are "action items," not requests to study this or develop that. If General Convention wants to give them that sort of work, let the impetus come from somewhere other than the interim body that will likely be assigned the task. This would make it more difficult for a small coterie with vested interests to place items on the General Convention agenda. Then we might be able to keep shortening General Convention, and still have the energy to devote attention to matters that arise organically from the life of the church, not in the legislative hothouse of a CCAB.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Toward General Convention III: Celebrating the Saints

Resurrection is the fundamental datum of the Christian faith. The astonishing claim of the earliest Christian communities was that, because Jesus was raised from the dead, death no longer has the last word for those who follow him in faith. That from which all fear springs and that toward which all fear leans has been robbed of its power. This is, of course, an eschatological hope, and it is precisely and only through death that we know death to be conquered. But because of our resurrection hope, Christians have generally supposed (the exception being the excesses of Protestantism) that the veil separating those disciples of Jesus who continue to labor in this world from those who have "gone on before" into the nearer presence of God to be exquisitely thin. We are knit together in "one communion and fellowship" encompassing both the living and the dead.

As a consequence, Christian worship has always included (again, save for the excesses of Protestantism) prayers specifically on behalf of the faithful departed, that they will continue to grow in the knowledge and love of God, that they will continue to yield themselves to the loving ministrations of the Divine Physician of their souls, to the end that the image of God with which they were conceived, but which has been distorted by the power of Sin, be perfectly restored, such that they can look God in the eye and not die.

Among the faithful departed, there have been some in whom the Christian community has perceived and discerned that this process of sanctification--being made holy--is substantially complete. Different sections of the Church have had varying procedures for identifying these individuals. Some are exceedingly formal, and others quite informal, intuitive, consensual. Invariably, of course, there are indications during the person's lifetime that he or she is extraordinary, giving evidence of uncommon virtue or heroic witness for the gospel, perhaps to the point of shedding blood. But, whatever process is used, it has been the custom to honor these "Saints" (holy ones) on the liturgical calendar, usually on the date of their death. In celebrating these heroes liturgically, it has been a ubiquitous part of Christian piety (again--dare I pick on them again?--save for the excesses of Protestantism) to invoke their prayers on our behalf.

The liturgical calendar, like an old cemetery, eventually filled up. Every saint could not be commemorated universally; there had to be room for local and regional variation. But it seemed to make sense to set aside one day on which "all saints" could be honored. In the west, this ended up being November 1, and in the Episcopal Church, All Saints' Day is numbered among the top tier of annual celebrations, styled a "principal feast" (one of only seven). As a sort of echo of the feast of All Saints, the following day, November 2, evolved as a more somber commemoration of "All Souls" (in Episcopalian parlance, "All Faithful Departed"). This is a day when we can remember before God--hopefully in the Eucharist--Grandmother Jones and Uncle Harry and that ninth grade English teacher who was so kind and helpful.

There is, of course, some overlap between the two categories, and it would be a mistake to put too fine a point on this, but, in general, those honored on All Saints' Day (and on their respective days in the calendar) are Christian exemplars of whom we might intuitively be inclined to ask their prayers for us. Those whom we commemorate on All Souls' Day are really "all sorts and conditions" of Christian people. While some may  have been quite virtuous during their journey through this world, they were not distinctively and memorably heroic in their witness. They are more or less like the rest of us. They are people whom we might be intuitively be more inclined to offer our prayers for them, rather than ask theirs for us, though we might, of course, do both with those in either category.

At the time of the English reformation in the 1500s, the liturgical calendar, as part of the reactivity of the times, was pared way, way back. It wasn't until the middle of the last century when Anglicans allowed the pendulum to swing in the other direction, adding the names of selected non-biblical saints to the calendar. The volume Lesser Feasts and Fasts was commissioned by General Convention, and when the most recent Prayer Book appeared in 1976, its calendar included scores of new commemorations. At each General Convention since then, this calendar has been expanded, but with only a handful of additional commemorations in any given triennium.

In the 1990s, the liturgical calendar began to become a political football. It was noticed that those commemorated were disproportionately clerical and disproportionately male and disproportionately Anglican (imagine that, in an Anglican calendar). In an effort to redress these perceived imbalances (indeed, some would argue, injustices) the pace of new proposals for inclusion began to pick up markedly. Then, in 2006, the convention passed a resolution that directed the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music to begin work on a thorough revision of Lesser Feasts and Fasts. The ensuing fruit of the SCLM's labor was presented in 2009, renamed Holy Women, Holy Men: Celebrating the Saints, and authorized for trial use. At the upcoming 77th General Convention, the SCLM has offered a slight revision of the proposed revision (mostly as concerns the collects), asked that HWHM be continued for trial use, and also asked that convention direct it to produced a finished product for consideration by the 78th General Convention, which will meet in Salt Lake City in 2015.

Holy Women, Holy Men is, unfortunately, a train wreck.

In 2006, the SCLM set forth some criteria for inclusion in the sanctoral calendar:

  1. Historicity. There should be some evidence that the person commemorated actually existed.
  2. Christian Discipleship. This would imply, at the very least, baptism, and probably also a life that is overtly and intentionally Christian.
  3. Significance. "Those commemorated should have been in their lifetime extraordinary, even heroic servants of God..." They should be inspiring in their example.
  4. Memorability. Not necessarily universally remembered--some worthies have fallen through the cracks--but deserving of being remembered.
  5. Range of Inclusion. Try to have more who were not male, not white, not ordained, and not Anglican.
  6. Local Observance. "It should normatively be the case that significant commemoration of a person already exists and ... local and regional levels..." 
  7. Perspective. Those commemorated should be of the category of history, not journalism. In other words, they should be dead for at least a couple of generations, or fifty years.
  8. Levels of Commemoration. After Principal Feasts, Feasts of Our Lord, Sundays, and Holy Days, "each commemoration should be given equal weight."
  9. Combined Commemorations. "Where there are close and natural links between persons to be commemorated, a joint commemoration would make excellent sense."
For the most part, these are excellent criteria. Number nine strays from tradition a bit, since saints are usually commemorated on the anniversary of their death, but this is not egregiously offensive. Number eight is neither here nor there, in my opinion. But numbers one, two, three, four, six, and seven are rock solid, squarely within the tradition. I can even get behind number five, to a point--that point being that it's not taken to an extreme and allowed to trump all the others. Sadly--and inexplicably, given these criteria--that's exactly what HWHM does. 

In the calendar of Lesser Feasts and Fasts (still, I should add, the official calendar of the Episcopal Church), I count 143 "days of optional observance" (the Prayer Book term for what we're talking about here). HWHM (as offered in 2006) proposes (again, by my fallible count) 118 more, an increase, at one time, of 82%. And there are several other proposals for even more additions, coming from both the SCLM and dioceses, slated for consideration in Indianapolis. Some of them are no doubt worthy; others, not so much. But, either way, it's just too many for us to get to know and decide whether to adopt all at the same time, even with three years to visit with them when their names pop up. It's like liturgical speed dating, and there's no compelling reason why we should be forced into it.

Clearly, though, many of the proposed commemorations are just not appropriate for the calendar of the Episcopal Church in 2012. 

Some come from streams of Christianity that--both in their time and ours--find the whole notion of a "calendar of saints" ludicrous at best, if not repugnant. If we really did believe in a living and active communion of saints, then we might rightly fear the indignation of the likes of Fanny Crosby, Lottie Moon, Adoniram Judson, William Carey, and many others. We actually dishonor them by our own insensitivity to their theological convictions.

Some expressly left Anglicanism to embrace the Roman Church, and/or were lifelong Roman Catholics who have not yet been canonized by their own church. One thinks here of Elizabeth Seton, John Henry Newman, G.K. Chesterton, and Pope John XXIII. Again, they would have been horrified at the prospect of what we're doing. Could we possibly be more filled with hubris?

Some have not been gone long enough to meet the criterion of "perspective" (Frances Perkins, Thurgood Marshall, Albert Luthuli). Why do we have to add them right now? Let's see what their shelf life is.

Some had only a tenuous connection with Christianity (John Muir, for example) and one was simply not a Christian at all, but a Jewish military chaplain (one of the group known as the Dorchester Chaplains).

Many were undeniably accomplished, and they have blessed both the church and world, but they are not remembered for piety or saintly character, only for their accomplishments. This is by far the longest list, and it includes the likes of the architects Cram and Upjohn, clinicians William Mayo and Charles Meninger, composers Bach, Handel, Purcell, Byrd, Merbecke, and Tallis (one could possibly make a case for Bach, but probably not the others; and as long as we're not concerned about piety, why not Vaughan Williams, Britten, or Howells?); painters Gruenwald, Cranach, and Durer; astronomers Copernicus and Kepler; and author Harriet Beecher Stowe. And this is barely scratching the surface. 

What we have here is category creep. These are all people worthy of being remembered; indeed, worthy of being remembered by the Christian community. We should find a way to help make that happen. We should know about them. I've enjoyed learning about the ones I've had to look up. But, with some exceptions, they are wildly out of place in a sanctoral calendar. They are "November 2" kind of people, not in the "November 1" class. I'll be glad to pray for John Calvin's continued growth in holiness (presuming he is indeed among the elect!). But I'm a long way from invoking his prayers for me. To put Roger Williams and Anne Hutchinson in the same category as Perpetua and Felicity does a disservice to all of them.

I'm not in principal opposed to expanding the community of those whom Episcopalians intentionally know themselves to be knit together with. But not 120 all at once. Let's reaffirm the original criteria for inclusion from 2009, and then restrict ourselves to no more than ten new trial use additions in any given triennium. Eternity is long enough to wait for us. 

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

On Confirmation

(Note: This is NOT part of my promised four-part series on General Convention issues. It's just lagniappe, as they say in Louisiana.)

There are resolutions coming before General Convention that will remove Confirmation as a condition for eligibility for any status or ministry or leadership position in the Episcopal Church. Indeed, Confirmation has a tortured history, in both ancient and modern times ... and medieval times as well, for that matter. 

Baptism in the pre-Constantinian church was, speaking generally and in broad strokes, a unified but segmented rite. The bishop was the normative presider at every point. It included water, chrismation with hand-laying, and prayer for the gift of the Holy Spirit.

In time, for obvious practical and pastoral reasons, presbyters were deputized to preside on the bishop's behalf. In some cases (mostly in the east) this meant the entire process. In others (mostly in the west), it meant only the water portion, with the oil/hands/Holy Spirit part reserved for the bishop at some near-future occasion. Eventually, "near future" morphed into "whenever," and the event took on an identity of its own, apart from baptism. It became known as Confirmation.

In the late Middle Ages and through the Reformation era, some extra cultural baggage got laid on confirmation: a coming-of-age celebration, a sort of Christian bar mitzvah, along with the attendant expectation of instruction and absorption of what is taught. 

More recently, in a religiously fluid society, Confirmation was laden still further, as the way an "episcopal" (small-e intended) church regularizes the status of those who "join" (we have adopted the peculiarly American categories of voluntarism) but who have never come under the hands of a bishop (which our corporate memory tells us is a critical part of the initiatory process).

Attention to the politics of TEC in the 60s and 70s will reveal that those in the forefront of liturgical reform wanted to scrap Confirmation altogether, and reunify the initiation rite under the title Holy Baptism, and allow presbyters to preside over the entire process. They got blowback from the bishops, who felt like this would deprive them of their principal pastoral contact with lay people. So the 1979 BCP represents a compromise. What we might call the "original sacramental guts" of Confirmation were indeed restored to Holy Baptism, with priests permitted to preside. This was done somewhat on the sly, but look at the liturgy: there is chrismation, hand-laying, and multiple prayers calling down the Holy Spirit. Then the other baggage that had accumulated over the centuries was bundled together and given existence as a separate rite with the name "Confirmation," together with the nebulous language of "expectation" that everyone will in one way or another acquire that status of "confirmed communicant."

I would venture to say that most Episcopalians, lay or ordained, do not "get" the dynamics of this relatively recent history. Even if one is fully aware of all this, the matter is still confusing; much more so if one is not. I certainly count myself among the confused. I have been long of the mind that we should "receive" from Rome and Orthodoxy, and "confirm" everybody else who comes from another Christian communion. But I realize that such a position is predicated on the assumption that those from Rome and Orthodoxy have had tactile sacramental contact with a bishop, and this is manifestly not necessarily the case with either. 

I would suggest that the important norm is testimony to one's faith in the presence of a bishop, who is by nature an icon of the universality of the church across both time and space. 

In my limited experience (15 months) in episcopal ministry, I find that the formula for Reception is quite weak and unsatisfying. In fact, the whole concept is weak and unsatisfying. Does it really make a person any more an Episcopalian than they already were? When I was in parish ministry, if someone began attending and communicating regularly, I would ask for the basic information regarding the date and place of their baptism, and I would record that information in the Parish Register. As I read the canons, that makes them fully members of "this church." I would still then hold out the expectation of coming under the hands of the bishop at an opportune time. I really do wish we could get away from thinking of Confirmation as "the sacrament of becoming an Episcopalian," because it's not that at all. Perhaps I will more toward using the Reaffirmation formula as a way of welcoming anyone who has already made an adult profession of faith, in whatever tradition. Perhaps.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Toward General Convention II: Marriage

(This is the second in a series of four posts on major issues facing the 77th General Convention of the Episcopal Church.)

In 2009, the 76th General Convention passed Resolution C056, which, among other things, directed the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music to provide "liturgical resources" for the blessing of unions between persons of the same sex. The fruit of that work, a rite entitled "I Will Bless You and You Will Be a Blessing" is proposed for trial use during the next triennium via Resolution A049.

It will come as no shock to anyone who knows me that I will vote No on this resolution., and in the likely event that some version of it indeed does pass, its use will nonetheless be forbidden in the Diocese of Springfield during my episcopate. Here is what I wrote on the subject on this very blog back on March 25, 2007 (speaking collectively for those who share my position and about/to GLBT Christians):
While we cannot condone the blessing of committed relationships other than heterosexual marriage, because anything else falls short of God’s design, neither will we harass, condemn, or judge them. We will let you live in peace, and be available to you with informal pastoral support. And we will remain in an Episcopal Church in which many (most?) believe that God is calling us to something more overt, as a faithful minority, even as we disagree about God’s call.
So I am opposed to the whole project on principle, regardless of the shape or words of the proposed rite. As a consequence, my more more conservative confreres and I have the luxury of watching events play out with some degree of resigned dispassion. If the discussion is about whether this rite or some other rite is the best way forward toward "full inclusion," then we don't have a dog in this hunt. And from our position on the sidelines, we are watching a bit of a battle shape up between those who are in principle to some degree agreeable to the church providing ritual pastoral care to same-sex couples. There is indeed a hunt, and there are lots of dogs in it.

In one corner are those who advocate for what is known (by those who advocate for it) in both church and secular circles as "marriage equality." In their view, there should not be "gay marriage," but just marriage, fully open in every way to both opposite-sex and same-sex couples, without discrimination. The issue is, for its partisans, one of gospel justice. To back off from the imperative in any way is to desert the moral demands of a just God. Anything less than "marriage equality" is ultimately a sellout, once again relegating our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters to the back of the bus. Those in this camp will not rest until the Prayer Book marriage rite, and church canons, are changed so as to be completely gender-neutral. By its very status as a separate rite, the liturgy proposed in A049 does not do this. Still, they will, I think vote for it, seeing its passage as a strategic interim victory en route to the full prize.

In the other corner are those who favor a "generous pastoral provision" (the language of C056) for lesbian and gay couples, but who don't want such provision to look at all like marriage. For some, this is because they are genuinely invested in preserving the status of marriage as an institution defined as a lifelong public commitment between a man and a woman, even while making compassionate provision--on the side, as it were--for those who are not wired in such a way as to be successfully married to a person of the opposite sex. Others, particularly among some of my colleagues in the House of Bishops, are uncomfortably aware of their own political vulnerability among stakeholders who hold much more conservative views on the subject. In either case, however, the problem with "I Will Bless You..." for this group is that, in shape and in language, it looks for all the world like a marriage service. Some of these will swallow hard and vote Yes anyway. Others, I know, will not. How those percentages will eventually break out I can't say at the moment. There's too much that can yet happen.

In any case, here's what I would invite my friends in both corners to consider: When some form of a liturgy for the blessing of same-sex unions is passed--and let's assume that it will be substantially the same as what the SCLM has proposed--what will be the "crawler" headline at the bottom of the screen on CNN and MSNBC and Fox News within minutes? It will be something like "Episcopal Church endorses gay marriage." Now, I am among the last who would suggest we take our cue from the secular media, because they're only interested in sensationalism and they invariably get it wrong. Nonetheless, this is indicative of how it will be perceived among the dwindling company of Episcopalians across our nine provinces. Whatever pains we might take in "perfecting" this legislation in committee (which, for my sins, I am a member of) and floor debate, whatever sort of moat we dig or fence we erect around "marriage" to distinguish it from A049, that barrier will be invisible. It will be effectively meaningless. The advocates of "marriage equality" can take heart from this reality. Those in the other corner should be appropriately sobered by it. And those of us on the sidelines can continue to watch with interested disinterest.

A final observation: The next resolution in the sequence from the SCLM, A050, proposes the creation of a group tasked with undertaking a thorough study of the Church's theology of marriage. Two questions emerge from this. First, is it not rather absurd to be doing this after we approve a liturgy that preempts the discussion by charging right ahead into same-sex marriage? What's the point of studying the subject while we're in the middle of making major changes in the institution/sacrament that we're studying? It seems a little disingenuous. Which leads to the second question: Is not A050 a strategic ploy on the part of "marriage equality" advocates to initiate a process that will eventually result in Prayer Book revision and the neutering of the marriage rite? In the abstract, I would be supportive of a resolution that we study the theology of marriage. But this one smells fishy.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Resolution B009

Here's one of my contributions to the General Convention workload.

B009   Authorize Use of 1979 Lectionary 

Martins, The Rt. Rev. Daniel

Little, The Rt. Rev. Edward; Sisk, The Rt. Rev. Mark

Resolved, the House of _______ concurring, That worshiping communities wishing to use the lectionary for Sundays and Holy Days as originally printed in the Book of Common Prayer (1979) may do so, with the permission of the Ecclesiastical Authority.

Despite the fact that all due process was observed leading up to the adoption of the Revised Common Lectionary by the 75th General Convention, there is considerable anecdotal evidence that many worshiping communities did not begin considering it until its use became mandatory on Advent Sunday 2010. Even though the RCL is now the official lectionary of this Church, it is only now effectively undergoing a period of widespread trial use. Widespread use has revealed a number of concerns. These include the way the length of some readings are edited, the general length of the appointed Psalms, a marked change in theological emphasis in the observance of All Saints' Day, among others. It seems inevitable that the RCL will be altered once again, sooner than later. In the meantime, many communities have grown attached to portions of the 1979 lectionary that have been changed or eliminated by the RCL, portions that have been significantly formative of the spiritual lives of their members. It seems just and considerate to let them, under the guidance of the Bishop, continue to use the lectionary to which they have become accustomed. 

Monday, June 11, 2012

Toward General Convention: Polity

I guess it's about time to start "thinking out loud" about next month's triennial General Convention of the Episcopal Church. This will be my fourth, but my first as a bishop; so it will be the same, but different.

(SIDEBAR: To my friends who are "formerly Episcopalian," remember that gloating is probably a sin. You are missed.)

I will make no attempt to cover the depressing array of resolutions that we will be confronted with. Each recent General Convention has been shorter than its predecessor, but with no curbs placed on the type or number of resolutions that may be submitted. So it's pedal-to-the-metal that whole time we're there. Just thinking about it makes me feel like I need a vacation. Full disclosure: Two of the resolutions have my name on them. And there may be more. So, if I'm pointing fingers, I'm pointing at myself.

I want to hit four broad areas, in four successive posts: Polity, Same-Sex Blessings, the Liturgical Calendar, and the Anglican Covenant.

Polity (or Structure, depending on one's angle of approach, though the two cannot really be separated) is arguably the elephant in the room at this convention. It has quickly become a very hot topic because straitened finances at a national level are forcing us to make it one. Indeed, the last time I woke this blog up from dormancy, it was to propose, in the wake of the Presiding Bishop's remarks to the Province V Synod, that General Convention lay aside all other business, save for a bare-bones budget just to keep the lights turned on, and focus entirely on structural reform. I would certainly be willing to put into abeyance the two resolutions that I am sponsoring (one on the Anglican Covenant, and one that would authorize use the 1979 lectionary) in order to help make this happen. But I don't expect the idea to gain very much traction. Our level of collective pain is not yet high enough.

I don't have a comprehensive and well-thought through proposal for restructuring the church at a national level, nor do I have a favorite among those that are out there. But I do have a strong suspicion that, if we manage to stumble across an effective solution for preventing institutional meltdown (and I'm not at all sanguine that we will do so), it will be a "back to the future" enterprise. The familiar Church Center apparatus emanating from 815 Second Avenue in New York did not exist in any form prior to 1919, and did not exist in its current form until after World War II. In many ways, the evolution of this institutional presence evolved right alongside corporate America, and it seemed to our forebears a very expedient development. It has been only since 1946 that we have had a Presiding Bishop who is not also the bishop of a diocese.

That was then, this is now. To borrow from Walter Russell Bowie, "new occasions teach new duties," and "time makes ancient good uncouth." In the internet age, amid the shadows of postmodern values, the kind of top-down hierarchical structure that seemed like such a no-brainer in the'50s and '60s is yesterday's news. Now it's all about subsidiarity. And networking. I'm not saying that adopting those two virtues du jour will get us where we need to be, but I am saying that not adopting them will prevent us from getting there.

So, in my occasionally-but-not-always-humble opinion, here's what needs to happen:

  • We need to get out of New York. Sell the property in an expeditious manner and get out. This is certainly important for financial reasons, but it is even more important for symbolic and practical reasons. '815' is a symbol of aloof elitism to too many Episcopalians (and, sadly, a large number who are now former Episcopalians). We need to bury the bogeyman of "the national church." (Yes, I do know that expression is not au courant, but, I think for silly reasons; so I continue to use it.) Most of what's done there either doesn't actually need to be done (i.e. it conflicts with the principle of subsidiarity) or can be done by telecommuting. I realize that closing the Church Center will adversely affect some people, and we should do what we can to ease their transition. But the plug needs to be pulled. Now.
  • The next Presiding Bishop needs to be a part-timer. Yes, I mean the one we elect in 2015. The PB needs to remain a Diocesan, and delegate all administrative duties to a General Secretary (or some such). Of the 38 provinces of the Anglican Communion, only two have a Primate who is not also a Diocesan--us and Canada. Even the titular head of the communion, the Archbishop of Canterbury, is the bishop of something. He has a diocese. Sure, he has help running it, and he spends  lots of time away, but on any given Sunday morning, it is not remarkable for him to be visiting a parish--preaching, confirming, celebrating the Eucharist--in the Diocese of Canterbury. Heck, even the Pope has a diocese, and it is only by virtue of being the Bishop of Rome that he is everything else he is. We would, of course, need to remove the canon that requires the Presiding Bishop to visit all the dioceses. And it would have to become the norm that that the Bishop-President of each province would be the chief consecrator of new bishops. But we've done it before, and we can do it again.
  • The President of the House of Deputies needs to be just that--and only that. The scope of this office has mushroomed exponentially, but only over the last few triennia. This is unfortunate. It has not been ever thus. We need a PHoD who will scale the job back. Way back. The PHoD is not a co-primate. She or he is not a public spokesperson for the Episcopal Church. The PHoD's job is to preside over the House of Deputies, while the House of Deputies is in session. Yes, it takes someone who has the capacity in his or her life to take the time to make appointments to General Convention committees and CCABs. But, in the new world, won't there be considerably fewer of each? 
These suggestions are horse pills for many. They would create casualties. Adaptive change does that. And this is barely the tip of the iceberg of the painful decisions General Convention needs to make. The scary fact, however, is that the only body with the authority to initiate and prosecute thorough reform is the very body most in need of that reform. History is not encouraging about such a combination of circumstances. Getting past this difficulty will require a special infusion of the Holy Spirit that enables us to start behaving like a church and not a legislative assembly. Kyrie eleison.