Wednesday, December 19, 2007

The Dry Salvages

Of all the times I have read these poems, I do not recall ever being as affected by this one before. Maybe it is because of the connection between America and England through the imagery of the places joined by ocean. Maybe it is the images of decay as Eliot writes near the beginning of WWII and we are in the midst of a war that seems will last longer than that one. Or maybe the sadness of the poem touches my sadness at some very challenging and difficult things going on in the lives of so many parishioners as we approach Christmas. Or maybe it is the themes of annunciation and incarnation that are connecting with me at this time of the year.

I’ve wondered about the name of these poems before. There are clearly four of them, but why ‘quartets’? I think it has to do with four levels of meaning in theology, philosophy, mysticism and symbolism. Or perhaps it is the four elements of earth, wind, fire and water. Does anyone know? The comment section is open.

As to the reality of death and decay, I have been wondering whether death is a consequence of sin and the fall. (“The wages of sin is death.”/ “We sinned and became subject to evil and death” etc) or whether it is part of creation that God saw to be good. My provisional instinct is that the change inherent in history that inevitably includes death is part of creation and not to be feared as somehow evil. But that the meaning of death as separation from the source and ground of our being is clearly a consequence of sin, compromise, being less than we were created to be and so on. So Jesus could decide in the Garden of Gethsemane that the worst thing in life is not death, but separation from God.

Monday, December 17, 2007

December 15, 2007

So the long awaited Advent Letter from the Archbishop of Canterbury has been released and already the online conversation is well under way. I have read it through three times and still find it difficult to know what exactly he is saying. He seems to think that the Communion can hold together as Bishops gather and talk, provided they are willing to do so within the framework of the Windsor Report and working towards a covenant. He sees the Lambeth resolution in which homosexuality is addressed by a majority of bishops as not being permissible based on scripture as follows:

While argument continues about exactly how much force is possessed by a Resolution of the Lambeth Conference such as the 1998 Lambeth Conference Resolution on sexuality, it is true, as I have repeatedly said, that the 1998 Resolution is the only point of reference clearly agreed by the overwhelming majority of the Communion. This is the point where our common reading of Scripture stands, along with the common reading of the majority within the Christian churches worldwide and through the centuries.

He is concerned to find ways for the communion to live together and those who wish to distance themselves from actions (of the American and Canadian provinces) with which they disagree be able to do so.

He has himself clearly taken the view that he cannot discuss whether or not he believes that scripture is open to an interpretation that allows for a change in anthropology with regard to gay and lesbian people. He appears to have thought so in the past regarding ordination at least, and was initially willing to countenance the appointment of a gay man as a Bishop on the Church of England (Jeffrey John). He seems to think that his beliefs in the matter must be somehow subjected to a majority resolution of Lambeth and wishes that others, notably the American Church, would exercise a similar restraint for the good of the whole.

The problem I have with this is that it becomes unity at the expense of a single group of Christians in the name of consensus about biblical interpretation. He writes:

The Instruments of Communion have consistently and very strongly repeated that it is part of our Christian and Anglican discipleship to condemn homophobic prejudice and violence, to defend the human rights and civil liberties of homosexual people and to offer them the same pastoral care and loving service that we owe to all in Christ's name. But the deeper question is about what we believe we are free to do, if we seek to be recognisably faithful to Scripture and the moral tradition of the wider Church, with respect to blessing and sanctioning in the name of the Church certain personal decisions about what constitutes an acceptable Christian lifestyle. Insofar as there is currently any consensus in the Communion about this, it is not in favour of change in our discipline or our interpretation of the Bible.

I believe that those who claim to know ‘the plain meaning of scripture’ have forsaken any intellectual credibility. That is quite different from those who recognize the legitimacy and necessity of interpreting scripture in light of cultural, scientific and social realities that have led in the past to changes in our cosmology (the earth is not flat, nor the center of the universe) and anthropology (slavery is wrong; women are full human beings; roles may change etc.), but who in conscience disagree.

The Archbishop seems to find the possibility of unity only by saying that we cannot change without consensus for change. I think there must be some possibility other than the ‘all or nothing’ approach he appears to accept (although I am quite prepared to be shown that I have misunderstood his inscrutable style.)

I, for example, have taken the view in my current diocese (Atlanta), where we have no explicit consensus or Episcopal policy about commitment ceremonies, blessings and so on, that until it is legal, accepted and above board I will not offer such ceremonies in the church itself. This is a compromise that is distasteful to me, but allows people to get on with their Christian lives while the wider church sorts out how to live together. I also believe that we are nowhere near consensus about something as sacramental as pronouncing blessing on same sex unions (although I am quite clear that we should be seeking that consensus). We can however beg God’s blessing on anything we choose, recognizing that we may or may not receive it. So in those ceremonies at which I have presided we usually write a prayer for the whole congregation using the language of the couple that they come up with in response to the question as to what ‘blessing’ would mean or look like in their lives. This too is a compromise for the sake of the wider church.

Nothing will satisfy those who believe that any public recognition of homosexual relationships is beyond the pale. But for those who are receiving this kind of celebration of commitment (as we call it) as “the same pastoral care and loving service that we owe to all in Christ’s name” it looks and feels like a wedding whatever it is called and whether or not I pronounce blessing.

This past week I was part of a focus group of clergy from ‘mainline denominations’ discussing whether and how we address issues of sexuality and justice in our congregations. We were all asked to summarize our thoughts at the end of the session. Mine were a) how far we have come in a mere thirty or forty years; b) how disheartening it is for gay and lesbian people to find acceptance in a parish that is part of a denomination who keeps expressing ambivalence about them; and c) how this issue has in many respects defined my entire ordained ministry, how it is not what I would have chosen, how we don’t really ever discuss it any more at All Saints’ as the full inclusion of gay and lesbian people in our leadership, life and ministry is a ‘given’ (as is our desire that it be expressed fully in the wider church), and how tired I am of the conversation about it, important though it is.

East Coker

December 15th, 2007

The first of the Quartets written and published in wartime contains what seems to be the heart of the matter in the fourth section: “The dripping blood our only drink/ the bloody flesh our only food:/ In spite of which we like to think/ That we are sound, substantial flesh and blood--/ Again, in spite of that, we call this Friday good.” But it is his return to the challenge of finding words to express the inexpressible and the wonderful phrase “ a raid on the inarticulate” that grabs me most this year.

We have enjoyed a visit from the English priest and columnist for The Guardian and The Church Times in the past week. One point that he made is that columnist cannot do ‘Anglican fudge’ but must take clear positions or no one will want to read what he says and the debate will not be moved forward. The cost of that is some pretty ugly stuff in the blogosphere.

Alan Bennett also reflects on what it takes to be a writer in his most enjoyable novella, The Uncommon Reader (Farrar Straus Giroux 2007) “You don’t put your life into books. You find it there.” (p.101) Writing becomes bearing witness and a witness will quickly become the focus of attention, that off which others bounce as they discover what it is that they think and believe. Not an easy place to be.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Burnt Norton

Once again I have decided to read T. S. Eliot’s Four Quartets (This edition by Harcourt Inc, copyright 1943 by T. S. Eliot, renewed in 1971 by Esme Valerie Eliot)
for reflection in Advent. I’m also taking as a companion a book I have not looked at since buying it soon after finishing seminary. It is Meditating on Four Quartets by John Booty (Published by Cowley, Copyright 1983 by John E. Booty). These are great, great poems for a season in which we are looking both backwards and forwards in time. Burnt Norton, named for a house and garden in the Cotswolds, begins “Time present and time past/ Are both perhaps present in time future,/ And time future contained in time past.” Reading this poem again, I am reminded of some of the pictures of fractals and the like in Margaret Wheatley’s Leadership and the New Science, where we see order coming out of chaos and a kind of united picture that makes sense of disorder. Booty says that “Four Quartets is concerned with the apprehension of the whole, beyond the apparent chaos of opposites and paradoxes.” (p.6) Clearly we are approaching an expression of God, sometimes described as ‘the Eternal Now’ but perhaps more in order to find our way with the flow of things rather than to impose our will upon that flow. I don’t know if Eliot was a pacifist, but it would make sense as these poems are written immediately before (Burnt Norton) and during (the others) the Second World War.

I find myself thinking of memory and how something from the past shapes the future, but also how there is a sense that time stand still as Eliot wanders through the garden and sees the empty pool, filled with his thoughts and memories. In the second section he leads us through paradox including saying “Only through time time is conquered.” And then the descent into the underground tunnels of London follows; a descent into darkness where even the question of meaning seems to be lost. So to the night of section IV: “the still point of the turning world. Before, finally, a kind of dawn as The Word seeks words and words seek The Word; words that “strain crack and sometimes break under the burden” of expressing the inexpressible, and so back to the Burnt Norton garden and affirmation of memory.

A professor who was very important to me was John W. Dixon who wrote The Physiology of Faith (Harper, 1979) in which he attempted to articulate a ‘theological theory of relativity’. In a way that is what Eliot is offering in the Quartets: a way to articulate how all things come together in love. I would want to say further that the possibilities of extraordinary diversity in creation, including in the world of ideas, are proper for God who brings universes into being, and that therefore anyone who would impose or coerce a single vision is belying the God who is Love.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Alan Bennett’s reflections in Untold Stories continue to come to me in strange (coincidental?) ways. First; a few days after remembering Nigel Slater’s Toast in this blog, Bennett refers to it in ways that it would be impolitic to include (but is on p.334 if you are interested). He talks about houses in which he has lived in a section called "A Room of My Own", leading me to remember the various rooms I had a boarding school and in my parents’; homes; dormitory room at Carolina (ghastly), apartment on Purefoy Road (also ghastly but happy), a flat in Cambridge (happy), a privileged room in college (fine), a hotel room in North Miami beach when I worked looking after British tourists (fun), another dorm room in Seabury Hall at Yale Divinity School (now a ‘pod’ in an ‘adaptive reuse’), an apartment off the Wake Forest Road in Raleigh, another near Rex Hospital, a rectory in Alexandria, Virginia, a house on Springdale Road in Druid Hills, Atlanta, an apartment complex filled with hard bodies, SUVs and rather pathetic divorced men like me, a wonderful bungalow on Coventry Road and now a mansion and a new house for the first time near Emory (happy). I could do the same with cars but will spare you.

Today my rather good internist gave me the obligatory lecture about how I was about to turn 50 and should have the essential colonoscopy. (My body bypasses my brain with certain things, not unlike keeping my tongue down at the dentist.) Not a happy prospect for me. Then I read about Bennett going through it and being diagnosed with cancer. He is along term survivor at this point and I am glad. I’m inspired to make the appointment and pray that the effects of the drugs for cowards are as good as advertised

Monday, December 3, 2007


George Thompson Jr. is Associate Professor of Leadership and Ministry Practice at the Interdenominational Theological Center in Atlanta. The Alban Institute has recently published his Church on the Edge of Somewhere: Ministry, Marginality and the Future (2007). He offers a helpful tool for analyzing congregations in relation to their surrounding context by looking at two scales that he calls inner directed---empathetic; and conventionality---marginality. He believes that most American churches are inner directed and conventional. He says “such congregations do not make waves. What is known of them publicly is considered respectable enough, even if their theology and religious practice happen to possess some purported challenge to the status quo. Their actual participation in matters of the public arena is as second- or third-tier performers, politely and sometimes tepidly following someone else’s’ lead” (p.60).

All Saints’ would fall more of the time into his category of ‘empathetic conventionality’, “a congregation at home in its environment, yet deliberately reaches beyond itself in the name of Christ” (p.75f.) Thompson wants to see more churches exhibiting the characteristics of empathetic marginality, and points to the Church of the Savior in Washington D.C. as exhibit A. One such characteristic is that congregations of this type are ‘effective at articulating their edge’ (p.88) They follow their call in ways that mean that they do not fit comfortably into the world around them. They do not seek to be unconventional as a goal, but find themselves following their calling in clear ways that have the consequence of their not being quite comfortable in every respect for the ‘conventional’.

We could look at our congregational history in terms of those times when we have moved toward or beyond the margins of conventionality. We began as a Sunday School on the Northern edge of the city. Some think that we represented a mission to workers in a nearby pencil factory who were otherwise ignored. Later, when many churches were moving to new properties further out of town, we made a conscious choice to stay put and live and minister in a changing community. We could point to the days of civil rights and the ordination of women and how in both instances All Saints’ took a clear and early lead. Or we could look at the decision to let go of the night shelter and move into a new, more challenging, more costly and more radical ministry of Covenant Community. At such times we have moved more clearly to the margins, not simply offering assistance to ‘them’—whoever they may be—but becoming ‘them’ in some way, inviting them into ‘our’ midst and so being changed. Those are the times when we have moved toward empathetic marginality and every such move has led to some of our brethren and sistren choosing to go elsewhere, usually toward some more conventional and therefore comfortable place to be. Once in a while at such times we have people who decide that being ‘inner directed’ is really the most proper response to the gospel and we hear about how we should stay out of politics and spend more time teaching people about prayer and other ways in which they can be in relation to God.

It is not easy moving toward the margins. In the contextual education section that I help lead at the Candler School of Theology we have to remind each other on a regular basis that we do not seek to be marginal; we seek to be faithful. We do not seek to grow, we seek to be faithful to the calling we have been given. We do not seek to ‘win converts’, but to present the Good news of Christa and invite others to join us. We don not seek to manipulate others; we seek to be transparent and open in our commitments and so on.

It is not always easy to do the right thing. Alan Bennett captured it well after declining an honor from Oxford University in protest of their accepting money from Rupert Murdoch for the Rupert Murdoch Chair in Language and Communication. He wrote; “I wish I could say that this refusal leaves me with a warm feeling of having done the right thing, but not a bit of it. I end up, as so often when I have tried to get it right, feeling I’ve slightly made a fool of myself, so that I wonder whether after more momentous refusals martyrs ever went to their deaths not in the strong confidence of virtue but just feeling that they had somehow muffed it" (Untold Stories p.241). I think what he is writing about at one level is the power of convention, of fitting in, of staying within the norm to get along in life. Christians at their best are brave. Seeking to maintain convention for its own sake and ours is not brave.


I’ve been enjoying Alan Bennett’s Untold Stories, a collection of essays and articles not unlike his earlier Writing Home. As he remembers his Yorkshire upbringing, he captures life in England that is quite different from the one I knew, but which is also quite recognizable and familiar in a way. I had a similar experience a few months ago with Nigel Slater’s Toast, another memoir, this time from a chef and focused on the food he remembers from growing up in England in the sixties. Some of them were universal: Sunday roast, ice cream, Christmas cake. Others less familiar to me: walnut whip, fairy drops, parley sauce, bluebird milk chocolate toffees.

I don’t think these memoirs have given rise to an overwhelming nostalgia in me although nostalgia for an England past, childhood, home and other evocative notions are certainly part of my reaction. Another part is more to do with identity, who I am and where I come from.

The other day a friend made a comment about how clearly neither he nor I were originally from the South. While that is indubitably true, I nonetheless find that I enjoy a certain familiarity with the Southern comedy of manners, a sense of what is ‘done’ and what is ‘not’. The actual objects of such judgments differ. (No one in the US seems terribly concerned about when and whether it is ever alright to wear brown shoes with a dark suit.) But the worrying itself is familiar. (I never hear anyone in England comment on white bucks after Labor Day.) What IS clearly different (and I not infrequently give offense as a result) are the conventions about how rules can be broken, commented upon or mocked. Satire and irony have their place in the South, but in ways subtly different from those with which I grew up. A certain edge, clever quality, perhaps vulgarity and so on can be admired in some circumstances and some company in England, but are rarely so in the South. They are simply boorish, disrespectful of the traditions and so on, all of which are to be taken very seriously as a matter of Southern Identity.

As the years pass since my arrival in North Carolina in 1976, I give unintentional offense less often than in the past, but am still reminded of my roots from time to time. I have not ‘gone native’, at least not completely. When I experience a little nostalgia in the company of Alan Bennett or Nigel Slater, I’m not unhappy to be reminded that while I may not be from here, much as I love the American South and all its ways, I am from somewhere.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Pastoral Care

My intuition and experience suggests that among the many societal changes that affect ministry, there has been a shift in the ways in which we need to be ensuring pastoral care. I have written what follows to stimulate a conversation at our next vestry meeting, but am sharing it more widely as a blog entry in the hopes of inviting wider conversation, and seeing if, and to what degree, my intuitions make sense to others.

I sometimes have an expectation of myself that I will know of people with needs for pastoral care and should be able to make referrals to pastoral care givers and care teams. When I think about the past few years that has not been true at All Saints’ and has led me to think about whether my expectations are realistic or whether this is an area that has really changed.

There used to be an expectation that clergy would visit their parishioners unannounced and without appointment. By the time I began ordained ministry in the early 1980s this idea and practice of pastoral care was having its last death throes in many places. While older parishioners still thought that clergy ‘dropping in’ was something good and pleasurable, the younger families who were my primary constituency would be more likely to wonder who had died if I was to appear on their doorsteps.

Those were also the days when one of the clergy would make a round of the three major hospitals in Raleigh every day. We knew that it would be a rare day in a parish of over a thousand people when there would be no one from Christ Church in one or other of the hospitals. While we appreciated someone calling to let us know that they were ill, our expectation of ourselves and our parishioners’ expectation of us was that we would simply find them, have a brief visit and say a prayer. We did not have ‘business cards’ filled with our contact information and job titles. We had ‘calling cards’, simple elegant cards bearing only our names. I remember when an assistant even more newly ordained than me was hired who questioned the value of these cards for our day and age and was told that he could have any kind of card he wanted, but it was pretty clearly understood that what he wanted was a tasteless, if not bad, idea.

It was around that time when it was becoming standard to talk about ‘lay ministry’ and to talk about it in ways that assumed ministry to be something done by the clergy and ‘lay ministry’ to be something done by people trained to do some of what the clergy did. Lay Eucharistic ministers were introduced to assist with the administration of communion by serving (only) the chalice, initially as an expedience in growing parishes with only one or two clergy, the increased centrality of the Eucharist assumed and encouraged by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer, and the continuing desire that Sunday worship last no more than one hour. This was expanded to include Eucharistic visitors who would take communion to those not able to attend church, but only immediately after the Sunday service. In time and certainly by the 1990s the illogical restrictions were being dropped. Licensed Eucharistic ministers could serve both bread and wine, and could take communion to the homebound at any time during the week from the consecrated and reserved sacrament. It was increasingly only the homebound who were served by these ministries and programs such as ‘Stephen’s Ministries’ and ‘BeFrienders’. Alleged managed, alleged care, together with advances in medicine such as outpatient and laparoscopic surgery had radically changed hospital ministry to the point where today in a parish of 3,000 we cannot assume that there is anyone in the hospital on any given day. It was not that long ago that I found myself telling a newly ordained associate that when we are on call and learn that someone is in the hospital, my expectation is that they be seen. And that means immediately. The chances are that the person will have gone home by the time it is ‘convenient’ for us to visit.

The advent of HIV/AIDS and the extraordinary needs of those suffering from this disease that was usually understood as a death sentence led, eventually, to the development of care teams for people with a whole range of practical and spiritual needs and those teams were busy for years providing critically important pastoral care. Changes in the whole scene in the past twenty five years or so, notably the development of increasingly effective ‘cocktails’ or combinations of medicine and other treatments have meant that a person testing positive for HIV can often expect to live a long life while managing a difficult illness. In that sense AIDS has become more ‘normal’ or within that range of human experience of living with chronic and long term illness that afflicts many people with a variety of medical issues rather than an extraordinary and epidemic plague. Those changes have meant that care teams have had to adapt to a slightly different understanding of how it is that we offer and provide care to people with long term needs and increasingly available societal resources. Many such teams have simply disappeared and the caregivers found their ways into other ministries.

Today we find our selves working with shifting models for providing pastoral care. The ideal is that every Christian is in a community of some kind, a formal small group or informal social network, within which she or he will receive care when it is needed. In the non existent ideal church, every person would know in general who it is that they are going to care for in a crisis and who it is that will care for them. Everyone will understand that they are being cared for by ‘the church’ even before clergy know what is going on. In that same ideal church, of course, the networks would let clergy know quickly. Whether the clergy response is that of an intimate friend or a stranger in a clerical collar, the member of the clergy is serving a representative function of the rest of the church or the whole community of which this smaller community of friends is a part.

When ‘lay ministers’ by whatever name were introduced into the areas of pastoral care, many parishioners resisted their ministry. That appears to be no less true with a new generation of aging parishioners who frequently have enough to manage without a ‘formal church friend’. Again, whether the relationship is intimate or essentially new, the ‘formal’ part of church ministry, to the degree that it is welcomed, is represented by the clergy. People say they have needs but rarely want those needs met programmatically. Take the desire that someone provide a ride to church. We find that the idea is a good one, but that we often do not want to have to beholden to another, or committed to doing something at a particular time each week, or unable to decide that we might like to go to Sunday School or that we might prefer to skip it and so on. Suddenly that person offering a ride in advance and on a planned basis is not such a great idea after all.

As our vestry has found ways to discuss what kind of church we are and what are the realties of the world we are serving, we have talked about Christendom and post-Christendom. What has emerged for me in those conversations is a sense that the way our parish actually works best is through social networks, relationships, friendships, connections and so on. Our parish life ministries are designed to bring us together in varying combinations in the service of developing those networks. This means that the most effective pastoral care occurs when we are connected and have real friends that care rather than what we might call ‘official’ friends. My expectation is that there will always be people who fall through he cracks for one reason or another, but often because they have not really connected with a network at church. That fact makes it harder to know of their need and it is just as likely that the clergy will be as unaware as everybody else in a large parish since we depend on the networks, especially those of which we are not naturally a part, to let us know what is going on. We have wonderful people currently involved in offering pastoral care who each have a heart for this kind of ministry. In many ways those involved are themselves a caring network for each other of exactly the kind we are thinking about. My instinct is that the ways in which we deliver care in the future will be more about creating and using networks than individuals with an assignment to care for other individuals.

I have some ideas about what pastoral care focused on networks, friendships and connection might look like, but for now would welcome thoughts, responses and other intuitions about what is going on. Let’s talk.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Sunday, November 25, 2007

In Out Stealing Horses, a novel by Per Petterson of Norway and winner of the 2007IMPAC Dublin Literary Award, and translated by Anne Born (Minnesota: Graywolf Press, 2005) Trond Sander’s sister cites David Copperfield. Dickens gives David Copperfield these words: “Whether I shall turn out to be the hero of my own life, or whether that station will be held by anybody else, these pages must show” (p.212). In a way that is the question of Petterson’s novel: whether Sander or his father is really the hero of the story. But it is a good question for all of us along with that of whether we ought to be the heroes of our own lives if we are Christians.

I have from time to time wondered if we should not be rather more like ‘fifth business’, the character in a classical play who is minor, yet without whom the action cannot really occur. There would generally have been protagonist, antagonist, their seconds and then fifth business. At the risk of being trite, it seems that somehow Jesus would be the hero of our stories. This year I had the privilege of preaching at the convocation of the Yale Divinity School that was also the twenty-fifth reunion of the class with which I was graduated. I had begun thinking about this hero business even then, largely inspired by the work of James Alison. If you are interested in more you can find a manuscript of that sermon here.

Monday, November 19, 2007

A recent lunch for newcomers and adult enquirers’ retreat both reminded me of what a great thing it is to be in a parish of all sorts seeking to find our way as followers of Jesus. Those gatherings included young and old, people preparing for marriage, newly married, partnered and single, married with children, empty nesters and just about every other kind of category you can imagine.

At the enquirers’ retreat in particular we had a wide range of beliefs and concerns. Some of us were in times of great joy and others carrying great sorrows, which over the weekend were shared as gifts that made our talk of community into a reality. I expect that some people who expressed interest will find their way into a Wednesday night GIFT group and others into various ministries of our parish and in the wider community.

While we were away the church was full as our children’s choir sang and some of our teenagers marked a rite of passage in Rite 13. Another wonderful time at All Saints’ with much to celebrate and much for which I give thanks.

Friday, November 16, 2007

November 15, 2007

I am still relishing the wonderful events of the past few weeks here including the Ann Evans Woodall lecture by Marcus Borg and the dinner preceding it for those lucky enough to respond quickly, the extraordinary performance of Minton Sparks (, the fabulous art and craft fair,-- a first for us in this format, including selling our the Y’All Saints Cookbook. We enjoyed a profoundly wonderful service on All Saints’ Sunday we the Faure Requiem. In addition we have hosted two splendid and dignified memorial services, the Georgia Tech Chorale, a wedding and baptisms galore. A lunch for newcomers, well attended by members of our vestry as well, was in many ways reflective of the harmonious diversity of our parish The large number of saints involved in offering these many events including our incomparable sexton team testifies to engagement and commitment in a happy and talented community. We are greatly blessed.

It is in this context that many conversations are taking place all of which are tilling the ground for a formal visioning and planning process which we will get underway late this year or on into 2008. One of those conversations s about our patterns of worship and how we might ‘stir the pot’ and ‘stir our imaginations’ in ways that will make our planning informed and lively.

Possibilities that are under discussion include transforming our service of evensong into a quiet evening Eucharist with music and keeping that going through the summer, using a wider range of hymnody, and service music in the mornings including some of our supplemental hymnals and other resources. We have also wondered if this is the year to respond to the annual requests that we use the summer months as a chance to connect with people whom we otherwise would not see by having only one main morning service. In the past I have felt that this is the wrong direction for a parish such as ours. Certainly when we have gone to one service in the recent past we have radically reduced our attendance. It is also true that we have done this in conjunction with major work in the church requiring us to move in to Ellis Hall for worship and that it is possible that we would enjoy a common service in the church enough to maintain our enthusiasm and commitment. At any rate 2008 might be a good time to try it and so have informed conversation about whether a single service in the summer is a good thing or not as we look to the future.

Other conversations are about our space use; how we might really be a ‘resource’ parish in relation to some smaller places using technology to support real relationships; what pastoral care might look like in a changing church; how we can let our neighbors know who we are and for what we stand; and all within the umbrella conversations of our vestry about where we find ourselves as we find we have to do a great deal more teaching and incorporation of people who have little or no background in the faith.

I have been thinking about how we can think more about discipleship or stewardship than membership, and how we can look consciously at our worship and ministries in terms of how they help us become the people we were created to be and share our stories of real transformation. Lots to chew on. Exciting times.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Another full weekend that included the 101st Annual Council of the Diocese of Atlanta. We heard a good address from our Bishop including his addressing issues of the wider church. He is not happy with those bishops who are trying to take their dioceses away from the Episcopal Church for any number of theological and traditional reasons, and he used the striking phrase that we are to “stay at the Table however unpleasant the company.”

I have expressed similar ideas before and am with him wholeheartedly. I know, of course, that the Lord’s Table is not limited to that found in the Episcopal Church and that we honor those who in conscience must depart. Nonetheless, it is not kosher to depart attempting to take property, parishes or dioceses with you.

I recently suggested that Bishop Duncan of Pittsburgh who was my chaplain when I was an undergraduate, for whom I have great respect on many levels, and whose actions with regard to the church I believe to be seriously misguided, was attempting to change the rules (read doctrine, discipline and worship of the Episcopal Church as expressed in and by the General Convention) because of his feeling that ‘his’ church has been ‘hijacked’. The argument, such as it is generally takes the path of suggesting that TEC is not being mindful of the Windsor Process or resolutions of the Lambeth Conference. I am, of course, deeply mindful of those things as we seek to find our way forward together even after the GC confirmed the election of the Bishop of New Hampshire. Those who are trying to argue for some kind of impreium for resolutions of the Lambeth Conference (including those authors of Windsor who believe that is what should in fact be the case) are doing so after the fact. Those things are part of the conversation of those committed to finding a way forward together. They however do not want any further conversation about homosexuality, and are often not interested in participating in ‘the listening process’. Many, of course, have decided in conscience that they cannot and do not wish to. The Bishop of Western Tanganyika, Dr. Gerald Mpango, told me that I would never understand but that his diocese simply did not want to be in a relationship with a church that affirms homosexuals. And that is the bottom line, isn’t it—- all arguments about bible, doctrine and tradition notwithstanding?

I was grateful to our convention for passing a resolution that, in effect, acknowledges that the burden of these continuing arguments and conversations are being borne by gay and lesbian Christians above all others as we continue to work for unity in the church:

Resolved, that this 101st Council of the Diocese of Atlanta supports the House of Bishops in its “passionate desire to remain in communion (with the Anglican Communion)” (House of Bishops Statement, September 25, 2007), and also shares with the Executive Council of the Episcopal Church its concern for the additional pain and estrangement inflicted on lesbian and gay members of the church” (Executive Council Resolution NAC026, October 28, 2007)

Monday, November 5, 2007

Monday, November 5, 2007

Today is Guy Fawkes Day and also Joanna Hoare’s eleventh birthday. There is something vaguely ironic about the celebration of foiling a Roman Catholic plot on a weekend when the allegedly Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh had taken steps to attempt to separate from the Episcopal Church and ‘align’ themselves with some other Anglican province. It is surely the case that all such plots are about power and preference.

The Presiding Bishop is likely to begin the process that will lead to Bishop Duncan being charged with “abandoning the communion of this church” and so being deposed. The effects of any such action would probably not amount to much as some other bishop somewhere would say that they ‘recognize’ him and take him under their wing. It would however strengthen the claim that we are an hierarchical church and the position that is generally taken (which I support) that individuals can leave but parishes and dioceses cannot. I share the view of everyone who has expressed it that legal wrangling in the Christian Community is a terrible thing. I do not believe we would have such wrangling if sentiments such as those expressed by Bishop Duncan (that the liberal leadership have “hijacked my church” ) did not lead them to think that they are therefore above the rules, norms, canons, will of the Church expressed in Convention and so on. It is a classic case of someone believing that all processes are invalid when feelings are hurt. I think it is marvelous when an equitable arrangement can be made about property for those who wish to take their property when they leave, but that it is often complicated by buildings of historic interest and so on making the transfer of ownership trickier in some instances than others. Certainly we are enjoined to give to those who beg and to engage in nonviolent resistance to those who demean us in their use of power (see the Lukan version of the beatitudes in Luke 6), but what are we to do when someone is trying to take property from the Episcopal Church for use by a Nigerian or Chilean Church by fiat? Is there any way for our bishops to respond other than through legal adjudication and at the same time keep the promises of their ordination (which however fervently their opponents believe it and however loudly they proclaim that belief, our bishops have not broken faith with those of ages past, especially those who worked out a system of governance very similar to that of the United States.)

Perhaps more interesting are the alliances of some of the disaffected with African bishops. Philip Jenkins has written a thoughtful article in The New Republic (October 8, 2007 p 10-14) pointing out that African attitudes toward homosexuality are shaped by rather different cultural realities than those which affect us in the U.S. he talks about how “many African societies have well-established traditions of same-sex interactions and gay subcultures.” He sees this tempered by the rapid growth of Christianity in a “ferociously competitive environment”. That jives with my experiences in Africa where I was in many conversations in which the relative strength of Anglicanism over against Roman Catholicism and Pentecostalism was the topic. He offers some fascinating insight and history regarding the other main arena for competition and that is Christianity in competition with Islam. He tells of the incursion of Christianity into what is now Uganda in the 1870’s and how the king of Buganda had “adopted Arab customs of pederasty” and consequently killed or martyred those who would not comply with his wishes. “On a single day some 30 Bugandans were burned alive” He goes on to say: “That foundation story remains well known in the region, and it intertwines Christianity with resistance to tyranny and Muslim imperialism—both symbolized by sexual deviance… For many Africans then, sexual unorthodoxy has implications that are at once un-Christian, anti-national, and oppressive.” Jenkins warns that “gays in Africa face very real barriers to acceptance. And we do them no favors by viewing Africa’s culture war over homosexuality as a mere extension of the battle we are witnessing here in the United States, rather than as a fight which raises questions unique to African history and politics.”

It is all very sad and very difficult and we will all come through these conflicts in and by the grace of God, striving to act with integrity in all we say and do.

Happy bonfire night.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

November 1, 2007

Continuing my meanderings through C of E history and expanding my rather odd but increasingly extensive library of ecclesiastical biography, autobiography and memoir, I am in the middle of Launcelot Fleming: A Portrait (Canterbury, 2003) by Giles Hunt. Fleming was at various times Dean of Trinity Hall, Cambridge, Bishop of Portsmouth and then Norwich before becoming Dean of St. George’s, Windsor (An interesting place) I remember hearing him speak and preach when I was a schoolboy. Like the author, Giles Hunt (who had been one of his chaplains) I do not remember his sermons as much as the man. I do however remember his talks about arctic exploration. He was also a geologist who went on some of the last exploratory expeditions of his age and even had a glacier named for him and his talking about those expeditions I do remember.

He makes a comment in his standard sermon to ordinands on their pre-ordination retreat that sheds some light on why some sense of mission is curiously absent in many of these accounts of the institution of the Church of England. He tells these (mostly young) men that they are not to be about “keeping the machinery of the C of E going”. Instead, he says: “You are to be builders of the Kingdom, by proclaiming the Gospel of Christ and so leading people to worship God as Christ reveals him, and so win people from waywardness and timidity and worldliness to fullness of life s Children of God and inheritors of heaven.” (p.131f.) He sees the priestly, pastoral and teaching roles of the clergy first in terms of leading people in worship and then pastoral work which he opines “Probably this is what first led you to think of ordination.” Last he talks of preaching and teaching urging these men “Never allow yourself to whittle God down in your teaching for the sake of simplicity.”

That is how mission is understood in a fundamentally Christian nation. Whether or not we are moving into something called post-Christendom, we are certainly moving out of Christendom, and we no longer have the luxury of understanding leadership in the Church solely in terms of leading worship, doing pastoral work, preaching and teaching. What else is there we may ask? I think it has to do with learning something about how distinctive communities are built and nurtured in the Holy Spirit. This is quite different than assuming that the ‘wider community’ is basically Christian and we are simply about some distinctive aspects of that community.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

A young actor associated with the parish contacted me for a conversation about a scene he is preparing for a class from a play by David Hare. It happens to be a play I saw and enjoyed in 1990 when it was first on in London. It is called Racing Demon (Faber and Faber, 1990) and it turns out that I own a copy of it.

Set in London it concerns the Church of England in the period discussed in my last blog. Indeed, some of the scenes take place in the General Synod. The characters are mostly clergy, and all in various ways trying to be faithful and do something good in a system and a world in which faith is not terribly relevant, especially to the housing estate peopled by Jamaicans among others, and in which four of the clergy serve.

Lionel is pretty ineffective in many ways and is in trouble with The Bishop of Southwark because a Tory member of parliament is complaining about his left wing sermons and saying he seems disinterested in the Eucharist when he is leading it. Lionel acknowledges that this might well be true.

The Bishop (with his Suffragan Bishop of Kingston) is trying to keep the show on the road and is hoping to make an example of Lionel and force him out.

In this he is helped, slightly by a young, fervent, self deluded and messed up, increasingly evangelical curate who is frustrated by the lack of power he feels to get anything done, top fill the churches, or to minister to a victim of domestic violence (whose life he royally messes up). His response is to seek the ‘power of God’ and confuse that with what appears to be manic episodes.

Two other clergy are doing their best to help although one of them who has been managing his homosexual tendencies within the rules, with great difficulty and at great personal cost, decides to resign when a scurvy journalist from England’s gutter press decides to write something about the ‘gay mafia’ in the C of E. (This reminds us that free speech is often not free for some and the cost is not equally borne). The other wonders why it all has to be so hard when all God really wants us to do is enjoy sunshine, beauty and a good dose of alcohol.

Hare does a good job of portraying both the clergy and their personal relationships along with some of the tension and conflict in the C of E. (Much is made of the decision to ordain women. Southwark disapproves.) The end of the play was rather unsatisfying when I saw it and is again on reading it 17 years later. I think that is because, having portrayed how insoluble are the problems in the C of E and the difficulties of ministry in England today, there is not much more to be said. Each character is left with his or her own position and view and little has changed.

I thank God for the privilege of ministering in the American Church where, in spite of the spoilers and haters and fearmongers, there is real work being done and real and reasonable faith being nurtured and generosity abounding and the faithful getting on with whatever the job is today.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Sunday, October 28, 2007

In the past week I have enjoyed two books that cover about thirty years of debate in the life of the Church of England. Colin Buchanan is an Evangelical who retired as Bishop of Woolwich where he served from 1996-2004. He was involved with the General Synod from its inception in 1970 and has written a fairly personal, journalistic account of those years called Taking the Long View: Three and a half decades of General Synod (Church House Publishing, 2006). Eric Kemp served as Bishop of Chichester for twenty-eight years, retiring in 200. He too was involved in the Synod for much of that time and has written a broader memoir of his life called Shy But Not Retiring (Continuum, 2006). His perspective is decidedly Anglo-Catholic. On matters liturgical such as the exact wording of Eucharistic prayers, the proper place of Confirmation in the life of the Church, and the desirability of Christian Union with Rome and Methodism they would tend to be on different sides of the aisle. They have much more in common however in relation to such matters as the proper way to appoint bishops, establishment and the like. They both make much of their working from time to time with members of the ‘other party’.

These books were not written with the other in mind and are not in formal conversation with each other. I am struck nonetheless by the fact that for both bishops, the work of that office is largely institutional: leading the institution, reforming the institution, protecting the institution, making sure that the institution is in proper relationship with other institutions of state and so on. I don’t suppose there is anything terribly wrong with this, but cannot believe that such an assumption with serve either the church of England or any province’s episcopacy much longer. Without a clear sense of mission front and center, however expressed, the Church does not have much reason to exist and certainly not ‘to influence the life of a nation’ or similar things that shape both men’s ministries. I am not saying they do not have such fundamental purpose. I’m saying it has to be deduced from their writings.

On the ordination of women, Colin Buchanan is supportive but quite concerned about the ways in which traditionalists can be included in the Church of England and worried that some wrong political moves on their part could leave them out in the cold. Eric Kemp is one of those traditionalists who made it possible for women to be ordained and licensed in Chichester even though he could not bring himself to ordain them. He expresses almost identical concerns as Buchanan about the politics and the process of finding a place for traditionalists. He writes: “There is no doubt in my mind that the decision that women can be ordained priest in the Church of England was the most devastating thing that has happened to the Church in my lifetime” (p.258).

They both show interest in affairs of the Anglican Communion internationally with Colin Buchanan being perhaps the more wholehearted. Kemp verges on expressing distaste for America in general and when he does visit remains securely and safely in what we would identify as the Catholic end of the conservative wing of the Church (Jack Iker, Nashotah House, All Saints’, Ashmont and the Church of the Advent in Boston.) Kemp does not address the current presenting issues of homosexuality. (He came close to the opinion that the Communion was effectively at an end with the ordination of women.) Buchanan does not have any natural sympathy for moves toward something he notes as being of “questionable morality” (p.216). When he debated Gene Robinson at the Oxford Union in November 2005, he made a case for how moves could be made toward the recognition of gay clergy within a legal framework. (He is clear and repeats more than once that this does not amount to advocacy for change on his part.) He essentially thinks that the Church must address the status of any kind of homosexual union before proceeding on questions of ordination. In this I am with him. While I am happy to support the ministry of Gene Robinson and would support the consecration of further lesbian or gay bishops if, as and when they are duly elected, I deeply regret that our conventions did not address the liturgical questions first. We have a man in the episcopacy in a relationship that the Church has thus far declined to sanction and has repeatedly said that we won’t develop rites to bring that about. It certainly makes us vulnerable and leaves us in a pretty untenable position vis a vis those in the communion who have no good will toward us on this matter.

I recognize that cultural differences as re profound and must be addressed with care and sensitivity. I question how it is that the practice in much of Africa and certainly those places I have been privileged to visit in which women are little more than indentured servants to men with a certain amount of protection through marriage as long as the man remains alive, --I question how it is that this in any way reflects the liberating gospel of love. I see it more as giving almost divine imprimatur to cultural norms and a blatant misunderstanding of Pauline teaching on social norms. If I can find ways to be sensitive to cultures that will inevitably have to address such matters in our global village, then why can my friends not afford me the same respect? They say it is about the enculturation (or interpretation) of Scripture, but it smacks of cynical reactionary and power politics to me. This sense is only sharpened as I see former colleagues lining up to become Bishops of African provinces who have declared themselves out of communion with the Episcopal Church. It is a good thing that I believe in the power of God to work even through this ecclesiastical mess.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

This morning about 120 souls gathered for a breakfast here in observation of the fiftieth anniversary of The Minister’s Manifesto. It was a powerful moment in the relation of Christian leaders to the movement for civil rights in Atlanta and throughout the South, or as they called it “our beloved Southland’. Ralph McGill, member of All Saints’ and famed editor of the Atlanta Journal Constitution challenged the white clergy to speak about the racial issues that were tearing apart the city too busy to hate. He told them: “If you say something I will print it.” Eight clergy responded including Milton Wood, rector of this parish. They drafted a ‘manifesto’ subsequently signed by eighty clergy, including Frank Ross, then an assistant here, and a number of other Episcopalians. It was published on Sunday November 3, 1957 on the front page of the paper. A year later it was revised and signed by 315 clergy from throughout the city.

Much of the manifesto makes rather tame reading today. The ministers spoke on their own behalf rather than in the names of their congregations. They urge that if people of conscience dislike the Supreme Court decision of 1954 which began the desegregation of the public schools, they should work within the law and the constitution. These ministers find the word ‘integration’ unfortunate because many hear it as ‘amalgamation’. Whatever that meant, the ministers did not “feel that amalgamation is favored by right thinking members of either race.” But they also said some strong gospel truths. “Hatred and scorn for those of another race, or for those who hold a position different from our own, can never be justified…No policy which seeks to keep any man from developing fully every capacity of body, mind and spirit can be justified in light of Scripture.” They admit their own failings and dedicate themselves to prayer.

We were blessed to have Tom Key at the celebration. Tom read from the manuscript for a play about this that is being developed for the Theatrical Outfit of which he is the artistic director. In that scene he reminded us and made clear that the ministers who signed the manifesto were moving into a place of very public disagreement with many, often influential members of their congregations, some of whom would rather see schools close than have black and white children educated together. They acted from conviction. Somehow the grace and truth of the Gospel gave them courage to speak truth to power. By all accounts their action was critical in moving Atlanta and much of the South with it toward a manifestly more just society for all people.

Those who remember that time and remember that all was not light and sunshine even here at All Saints’. Some people left the church and either did not go anywhere because they could not find somewhere that suited them socially and where the minister could be considered ‘safe’, or they went to the congregations of those clergy who had declined to sign the manifesto. History has certainly shown the norms and taboos around race that seemed so important to so many to be harmful and degrading and wrong. We are all richer as a result of people convicted in light of the gospel that there had to be change in the ways white and black related to one another.

The end of our observation last Thursday included The Rev’d Gerald Durley, an oft jailed veteran of the early movement for civil rights and current Senior Pastor of Providence Missionary Baptist Church here in Atlanta. He asked whether there were not things around which Christians could speak with one voice today. He suggested the issues of Grady Hospital and the issues of our response to the environmental crisis. I would hope that we might continue to speak with one voice about issues of human freedom and dignity for all God’s children, but am not sure what it will take for Christians to be convicted and then speak and act with one voice. For everyone who signed that first manifesto, there were plenty who did not. I’m fairly certain that clergy who can unite to celebrate the voice of civil rights would have a hard time signing a manifesto today in support of, for example, gay marriage. It is worth remembering that history judges some stances to be opposed to the gospel of love and opposed to the insight and revelation of science and just plain wrong.

I know this:.those ministers including Milton Wood and Frank Ross were courageous with the courage of their convictions. And I know how costly those convictions can be when friends walk away resisting the winds of change, the wind that I associate with the mighty rushing wind of Pentecost.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Monday, October 22, 2007

A fascinating book by Bob Johansen of The Institute for the Future is called Get There Early. Among the many stimulating ideas in the book is originally from the U.S. Army War College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. It is the acronym VUCA, standing for Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity. He sees these as being the seeds of Vision, Understanding, Clarity and Agility.

He also talks a lot about intuition in the process of looking ahead. I like what he has to say on the subject. I’m hoping that our vestry and staff discussions about where we are in the Christendom/post-Christendom move will help shape my intuition. With much of the West and much of the rest of the US moving ever more clearly into something like ‘post-Christendom’, I keep wondering if, and to what extent the South in general is an exception that proves the rule and whether Atlanta is significantly different from the surrounding states. Certainly the confluence of social networks with faith communities seems to be going strong and I don’t experience this as a bad thing at all.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Away for the weekend to a wedding in Pennsylvania in a tiny and rarely used country chapel in the Catoctin Mountains on the Maryland border. I was able to finish reading Roy Strong’s A Little History of the English Country Church full of marvelous nuggets like the fact that in the 1700s Confirmation was often considered and believed to be a cure for rheumatism causing a number of people to seek it regularly. Strong is convinced that the village church must find new ways to use some of the buildings. We may not expect (or demand) that many of the village churches in the countryside have any reasonable hope of continued existence without adaptive use (rather than straight conservation). I think he is right and also think about the hardy few who keep two churches going in the village where my parents live and its neighbor (Little Thurlow and Great Thurlow), total population around 300 combined, and how sad they will be when one or both of these churches is no longer used for its original purpose except perhaps on occasion. I confess that when I am there, I would rather go to Cathedral worship in Bury St. Edmunds or Ely. Even in those places I lower the average age of the congregation considerably.

The other book is an idiosyncratic journalistic history of the General Synod of the Church of England by a participant and latterly bishop, Colin Buchanan. It is called Taking the Long View. He follows the English debates on matters like Christian Initiation, Eucharistic prayers, children in communion and the ordination of women. They are parallel conversation to those of the American Church and in most instances they come to conclusions rather more slowly than we do. The process is not that different however and Bishop Buchanan enjoys it. He makes comments like “Delicious indecision was succeeded by clear-cut stupidity.” He makes what could be incredibly dull reading quite fun. But I read with the question as to whether anyone cares about the C of E and if not, why they should. Are we different? And if so, why? Or has the post-Christendom train left the station and we can see our fate if we do not adapt?

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Today I was privileged to be at a ‘town meeting’ in the Cannon Chapel at Emory University with President Jimmy Carter. He spoke engagingly of his faith, the struggles of his own denomination (Southern Baptist and Baptist Cooperative Fellowship), and the challenges of being faithful when he was President. The question that kept coming up in one way or another was the one about how to hold together when one party or other will not stay in the conversation. The question was never really answered and it continued to be on the minds of those students in contextual education who met afterwards. I tend to resort to the principles of Bowen Theory as expounded by Edwin Friedman. The goal is to define ourselves while finding ways to stay connected even when we are the only one striving to do that. This is not unlike the gospel itself in which God keeps holding out the invitation even when we ignore it or reject it.

Wednesday October 17, 2007

Reading the chapter on ‘The Finality of Christ’ from Rowan Williams’ On Christian Theology gave me an idea. He is concerned to avoid over-simplified categorizations of faith that leave us only with the options of exclusivism, inclusivism and pluralism. It is dense stuff, but as with most of his work, worth the effort. It puts me in mind of his apparent inscrutability around our communion issues. If there is any method to his responses or lack of responses to the various statements made so far it is in his declining to draw any kind of ultimate line around which we can organize and from which we can proceed. He usually reminds us that he is primus inter pares in some way and that he has no legislated authority to sort out or solve our current problems. However we may be tempted to judge this stance, it ahs the effect of keeping us thoroughly Anglican, keeping us somewhere near (if not at) the table, and keeping those who can stand it in the conversation.

It is clear that some have already decided to do their own thing, notably those primates who are consecrating Americans for foreign dioceses and attempting to steal property from the Episcopal Church in the process. There are others among us who are tired of paying the price of unity and who are abandoning the Episcopal Church if not the faith altogether. And there is the majority who simply want to get on with the good stuff and who are faithfully carrying on with worship and the mission of proclamation of Good News, serving the poor. I’d like to think that’s us.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Thursday, October 11, 2007

I’m now writing from New Haven, Connecticut where I have been all week at the Convocation of the Yale Divinity School. I attended a twenty-fifth reunion dinner (along with Sam Candler from the Cathedral of St. Philip), caught up with friends and colleagues, attended some first class lectures by Peter Hawkins (which will be available through the YDS website and are well worth watching and was honored with the privilege of being one of the convocation preachers for the year (sermon text available on our own website).

Some brief notes from the week:
• A friend described her first year or two on a new parish as ‘the crucifixion of the ego’. This sounded like the idea of ‘unmasking’ that I was preaching about, and which is addressed by our Holy Week preacher from 2006, James Alison in an essay called ‘Worship in a Violent World’ in his book Undergoing God (Continuum, 2006).
• Peter Hawkins on ‘the preacher’s hell’ (Beecher Lectures) following Dante’s Inferno: “What would it be like if we really and truly succeeded in living entirely for ourselves (that is without God)?” and “It may be as dangerous to be a connoisseur of evil as to pretend that evil does not exist.”
• Don Saliers (of the Candler School at Emory and soon to be a major speaker at an Arts Theology event at All Saints') preaching the first day on growing up in Christ. He made some great remarks about the collect for purity and how the idea of being completely known by god seemed a threat to him when he was younger, but now comes as a gift. There is something about being completely known (“from whom no secrets are hid”) that is liberating.
• Linda E. Thomas of Howard University: Knowing that we are beautiful in the sight of God, --especially when the world tells us we are not—is liberating. Beauty is part of God’s salvific work.
• Jane Williams, (Mrs. Rowan Williams) was the Pitt Lecturer on ‘Sin and Salvation’. She gave a straightforward talk on doctrine urging that we take sin seriously and so grasp our real need for God’s saving work.
• Harold Lewis, friend, colleague, rector of Calvary Church, Pittsburgh preached on the parable of sewing new cloth to patch an old garment. If the new cloth is not ‘pre-shrunk’ is will tear (schisma) the garment when it is washed. Good stuff.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Continuing thoughts from yesterday on the annual meting of the Compass Rose Society: my second set of reflections from the meeting are around the value of supporting the work of the Society. I have from time to time wondered about the value of funding the secretariat of the Anglican Communion. (I still wonder why it is not adequately funded by constituent provinces of the Church, with –inevitably—the Americans and Canadians funding the lion’s share of the work even as we are ‘disinvited’ from official participation in some of the councils of the Communion.) The office of the Secretary General does at least two things which I am happy to help fund. One is the various ‘networks’ of the communion. These are international networks of people gathered around particular concerns. We have offered additional funding for some of the work of the women’s network that does powerful work on improving the lot and status of women in some places where they might as well be considered the property of men. (An inflammatory –albeit defensible—statement, but this is a blog after all.) In addition, the Society makes visits to various countries and dioceses, forging connections between individuals of means and important work that needs support. This is not a formal process and there is a certain amount of serendipity involved, but it is a key part of the Society’s function.

In a time when there are many voices in the church (including within our own parish) that would just as soon cut loose from one another, the reality and importance of our connectedness and interdependence cannot be overestimated, as we become more connected internationally in every sphere of our lives.

It is a joy to be thinking these thoughts on a wonderful parish weekend in the North Carolina mountains at Kanuga. The weekend is blessedly free of drama with wonderful programs, swarms of children on scooters, great presentations by The Rev’d. Hill Riddle, parties and gatherings and great weather. It is well to remember in the midst of lofty and important conversations that God is in our midst as we get on with the business of being the church wherever we are.

Friday, October 5, 2007

The Annual Meeting of the Compass Rose Society was held at St. Andrew’s House in Notting Hill, London this week. I have come away with two major impressions. First, the Archbishop of Canterbury will not take a stand that will allow winners and losers or allow any of us to do the hard work of sorting out relationship. I’m not certain if this is good leadership or not, but on the whole I’m inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt. He is not going to ‘ask anyone to leave’ or give aid and comfort to any single position held by constituent bodes of the Anglican Communion in any way that gives one an edge over another. He abhors resorts to law suits among Christians and Churches but also has great sympathy for those who come to believe that there is no other way to go. This is quite a dance when both the Bishop of Virginia and the successor to Martyn Minns at Truro are present at the meeting. That legal battle over property is likely to be protracted with the Diocese claiming that historic buildings were not left in trust for a Nigerian Church and the parish claiming that they are the true inheritors and successors of the faith and ought to be able to hang on to their property. These things are much easier to sort out when there is alternative property readily available and when the buildings and history involved are not integral to the identity of the Episcopal Church which it appears to me that the clergy and most in the congregation have decided to leave. The official position of our denomination is that individuals can choose to leave the church (even en masse) but that there is no such thing as parishes or dioceses doing such a thing however much some wish that there were. We may function very like a federation of congregational churches from time to time in our life, but we are fundamentally and integrally more connected to one another than that.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Three from the past

The following three posts were written last month but are only now being posted due to a minor glitch in the posting system. Apologies.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Talking with students who are working in ecclesiastic settings (churches, chaplaincies, schools) about what it means for the church to be the church has become(at least for now) an exercise in becoming aware of assumptions and what they mean as a means to articulating a theology of the Church. A question about church growth leads us to ask whether we expect that the church ought to grow. If so, why? If not, why not? A question about whether introducing an additional service on a Sunday morning will serve to divide the community leads to questions about how we are called to unity and whether there are a number of ways in which that unity can be experienced. This will be an interesting way into ecclesiology or the doctrine of the church.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Marcus Borg has added some personal reflections to his most recent book on Jesus. He includes the following:

“..what is happening within some mainline congregations is a movement from convention to intention as the animating motive for being part of a church. It is something relatively new in Western Christianity. For centuries, and in the United States until a few decades ago, there was a conventional expectation that everybody would be a member of a church… So long as this cultural expectation remained in place, mainline denominations did well numerically; they provided a perfectly respectable and safe way of being Christian. Nobody would ask you to do anything too weird. This expectation no longer exists in most parts of the United Sates, and as a result membership in mainline denominations has declined sharply over the past forty years. The ‘good news’ in this decline is that, very soon, the only people left in mainline congregations will be the ones who are there for intentional and not conventional reasons. This creates the possibility for the church once again to become an alternative community rather than a conventional community, living into a deepening relationship with a Lord other than the lords of culture. This is exciting.” (Marcus Borg, Jesus (Harper, 2006) p.302-303)

I share it because it can serve as a kind of short hand for what I mean when I write of Christendom coming to an end. I think what is going on certainly requires that we be intentional, but need to do more work on what it is that we are intending. Some congregations are very intentional about growing themselves in all kinds of ways and for all kinds of reasons. The danger of this kind of intention is that it risks objectifying people who become ‘targets’ for membership. They are of interest as long as they are potential ‘pledging units’ who can help grow the church. Borg talks rather about being intentionally an ‘alternative community’. What might that look like?

Thursday, September 06, 2007

A very brief summary of something on which I have been musing:

For the past four centuries Christianity in the West has taken forms both Catholic and Protestant. A new alignment is emerging that will become clear over the next fifty years or so. The new arrangement will be world wide and will take into account the Orthodox Churches as well as indigenous expressions of Christianity emergent in much of the Global South. The new alignment will go by many names and each name will carry a nuance different from every other.

The essential shape of the alignment will be on one hand Churches whose primary focus and means of communion is centered on doctrine. These churches will often be hierarchical in form and will exercise a fairly ‘high’ form of church discipline based on church teaching, however promulgated. The alternative will be Churches whose primary focus and means of communion is found in covenant relationship.

In the divine gift of Church Unity these forms of Church will need each other.

Some protestant denominations will disappear or otherwise divide along these lines. Those elements of whatever remains of the Anglican Communion who favor an emphasis on covenant relationship as they read their own tradition have the possibility of becoming a genuinely Catholic world wide communion formed around the communion table. It is not yet clear whether we will be able to look to Canterbury for that leadership.

If this comes to pass, The Episcopal Church will inevitably take a different form and role from that of the past. We already know that denominational identity means little to those seeking faith, meaning or Christian community. We will need to recover a sense that what we value is the faith and our way of living it, rather than talking in a way that appears to be first about the value of denominational identity and structure.

Growing toward the creeds

Marcus Borg (who will be our Ann Evans Woodall lecturer on November 1) has this to say about the creeds:

My claim is not that later Christian doctrines are wrong and should be discarded. Not at all. I belong to a church that recites the creeds in its worship services, and I have no difficulty dong so. But this is because I understand the creeds as later Christian testimony to the significance of Jesus. In their language (language that had developed over a few centuries) these Christians expressed their deepest convictions about Jesus –about who he was (and is) and why he matters. These convictions flowed out of their continuing experience of the presence of Jesus, their worship and devotion, and their thought. But I do not see them as expressing beliefs or understandings that were already there in the first century, already there in the mind of Jesus and his earliest followers. (Jesus Harper, 2006, p.17)

Some years ago Tom Wright, now Bishop of Durham, reminded me of the saying that ‘growing in faith is growing toward the creeds’.

These statements have led me to reflect a bit more on what I make of the creeds, especially in light of the charge that The Episcopal Church has parted ways with traditional biblical faith.

I have no problem agreeing with Borg that the interpretations of the story of Jesus reflected in the creeds were unlikely to be in the mind of Jesus or his earliest followers. At the same time I believe them to be reflections of the biblical story as it came to be told after Easter.

We know that the creeds developed partially as baptismal affirmations and partly as essentially negative statements ruling certain doctrines, teachings , interpretations and so on as ‘beyond the pale’. All that understood, it seems to me that the creeds function as an outline of the story, effectively shaping the space within which we will find our response to the gospel life giving. In this respect, ‘growing towards the creeds’ is a process not unlike those early Christians who had a variety of responses to the story and who, thorough a process of something like trial and error discerned what was life giving and what was not. As they are products of what is sometimes called ‘the undivided church’ (i.e. prior to the split between East and West.)

When we recite the creeds in worship, I think of myself as remembering the outline of the story of our faith rather than giving intellectual assent to a series of dodgy propositions. I have no problem with seeing the significance of Jesus going to the beginning of creation (John 1:1-18), nor with God being revealed as Trinity. In fact I find these ways of telling the story to be life-giving. That does not mean that I do not enjoy exploring who Jesus was, how he was perceived and understood, how he understood himself and his mission and so on. I agree with Borg that how we construe the story makes all the difference in appropriating its meaning, but overall find the creeds helpful in dong just that.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Out and About

Last week I attended the meetings of the Compass Rose Society in London after a wonderful weekend off visiting family, attending Evensong at St. Edmundsbury, meeting the Dean (The Very Rev’d Neil Collings), some fabulous meals, and especially a visit to The Leaping Hare. The CRS is an international society that supports the mission of the Anglican Communion and All Saints’, Atlanta is a parish member. From time to time I have been skeptical of the benefit of this society, but I’m currently rather bullish about supporting the work we do together as a communion. I think that the various networks of the Communion such as women, family, interfaith and youth, are really important in the development of common life. They are run on woefully tight budgets. We also support many of the communion ‘dialogs’ making sure that what we say to the Methodists in one conversation does not contradict our position vis a vis the Orthodox or Muslim worlds.

In an age when we have many on our side of the Atlantic who would willingly give up communion I value being able to support this work that is part of what it means to be a body (Romans 12:4) in a time of trial.

I’m aware that there are many in our parish, gay and straight, who are tired of the reality that we are not of one mind about the morality of homosexual behavior and who feel that communion is being sought at the expense of gay and lesbian people. I have sympathy with this view and look forward to the day when we enjoy broad consensus. At the same time I believe the issue of the place of gay and lesbian people in the Episcopal Church is settled. Everything else from now on is a skirmish. James Alison has written a parable in Undergoing God of people dancing in Albania when they hear of the wall coming down in Berlin. They may well be oppressed by the forces that wish things were not as they are, but the wall is down and there is no going back. A past vestry of All Saints’ has been clear that there is no question about the place of our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters in our parish –just as there is no question that we support all the families of the parish.

That said, I hope that we can live and pray and serve in the name of Christ while we sort out what communion in Christ is going to mean. I abhor that instinct that is leading some to leave the church and seek to take property away with them. I equally abhor that instinct that would like to be part of a sect that is doctrinally pure about the place of homosexual people and not willing to be in relationship with those who believe otherwise while God does God’s work. There are none of us who are successful and instant converts to anything. True conversion takes place over time. Consider Jesus’ agrarian parables.

At the CRS meeting, the Archbishop of Canterbury said of many African Bishops that “they know that they are sinners and are trying very hard not to throw stones.” He deplored litigation but is “not without sympathy for those who feel it to be their only resource.” In other words he was careful not to relieve the intense discomfort that flows when a communion is in conflict. He was clear about the messy and demanding work of staying in real relationship and he wasn’t going to speak in any way that would shortchange the process.

I am among those who wish he would provide greater clarity. This could include something we all learned in high school and that is that the best way to give a party is to invite everyone and see who chooses to attend a party. The question in the case of the Lambeth conference is ‘who is everyone?’ He apparently does not think it includes on of our bishops, nor does it include any number of bishops of the provinces of Nigeria, Rwanda, Uganda and their ilk serving in America. He looks as though he is following the outlines of the Windsor Report. I would draw the lines differently than he does, but then I don’t have his job.

My hope lies in praying for the Archbishop of Canterbury and praying for those who I believe are acting in ways that are betrayals of the Anglicanism I value. And in the meantime we get on with the business of being doers of the word and not hearers only, being swift to love and always ready to be kind. I do not think that our debates are unimportant; nor do I believe they are the last word when we are on our deathbeds or otherwise before the judgment seat of Christ. There the standard will be love and love alone.

We enjoyed a wonderful parish weekend at Kanuga and tomorrow I head to convocation at the Yale Divinity School, a meeting of the National Advisory Committee of the Berkeley Divinity School at Yale, lectures on The Preacher’s Divine Comedy by Peter Hawkins, Theology and Anthropology from a Womanist Perspective by Linda E. Thomas, and Sin and Salvation by Professor Jane Williams who is also the wife of the ABC. I am also honored to be a convocation preacher on the occasion of the twenty-fifth reunion of our YDS class.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Christendom and Thereafter

Recently I completed re-reading the Starbridge novels by Susan Howatch. They are novels of the Church of England set between the 1930s and the 1060s although some of them are remembered by their narrators from the 70s and 80s.

The main character in each novel reflects the thinking of some major C of E figure. Glittering Images (1987) reflects the thinking of Hensley Henson, Bishop of Durham 1920-1939; Glamorous Powers (1988), W. R. Inge, Dean of St. Paul’s 1911-1934; Ultimate Prizes (1989), Charles Raven, Regius Professor of Divinity, Cambridge, 1932-1950; Scandalous Risks (1990), John Robinson, Suffragan Bishop of Woolwich, 1959-1969; Mystical Paths (1992), Michael Ramsey, Archbishop of Canterbury 1961-1974 and Christopher Bryant, member of the Society of St. John the Evangelist, 1935-1985; and Absolute Truths (1994), Reginald Somerset Ward, Anglican Priest and Spiritual Director, 1881-1962 and Austin Farrer, Warden of Keble College, Oxford, 1960-1968.

This was the Church of England in which I came to own my faith and reading these novels again I’m stuck by a number of things: I don’t particularly like any of the characters in these books; I find myself with growing sympathy for them as their various stories unfold; the major ways in which clergy tend to ‘act out’, namely alcohol abuse, financial misconduct and sexual misconduct are all represented; the language of psychology and spirituality are related closely to each other; the paranormal or psychic phenomena are taken seriously within the Christian tradition of mysticism; the evangelical wing or party of the Church bears little resemblance to the triumphalism of that group that we are seeing in the Church today; there is no sense of the mission or purpose of the Church discussed or reflected.

These are novels of Christendom, quite as much as the Barchester novels of Trollope. They reflect a Church whose interests are the same as the State, --a state of affairs that is beginning to break down with John Robinson’s Honest to God, published in 1963.

Wikipedia defines post Christendom as follows: Post Christian, post-Christian or postChristian is a term used to describe a personal world view, ideology, religious movement or society that is no longer rooted in the language and assumptions of Christianity, though it had previously been in an environment of ubiquitous Christianity (i.e., Christendom). Thus defined, a post-Christian world is one where Christianity is no longer the dominant civil religion, but one that has, gradually over extended periods of time, assumed values, culture, and worldviews that are not necessarily Christian (and further may not necessarily reflect any world religion's standpoint). This situation applies to much of Europe, in particular in Central and Northern Europe, where no more than half of the residents in those lands profess belief in a monotheistically-conceived deity.

Susan Howatch sees and paints a picture over the course of six novels of the interweaving of three strands or parties within Anglicanism: Anglo Catholic, Broad Middle and Evangelical or Mystical, Modernist Liberal and Conservative. She also rather gloomily predicts that by 200 the Evangelicals will hold power and that will not be good for the church. One of her major characters says, while reflecting on the ministry of one of his sons who has ‘gone into the Church’: “He is certainly a conservative, as I am, but he seems to think that anyone who subscribes to the Middle Way nowadays is shying away from what he calls the big issues. The big issues seem to be all about fighting. Apparently we have to fight the sloth and indifference of secular society, fight the decadence and idolatry of Anglo-Catholicism, and fight every one of the radical-liberal heresies. Naturally the Anglo-Catholics and the liberals don’t like this militant stance at all and want to fight back. I foresee that by the 1980s the Church factions will be completely polarized and that by the 1990s the Church of England will be torn apart by open war. “(Absolute Truths p.567)

In some ways this polarization has occurred but is much deeper than an inter-Anglican conflict. It is manifest on the American political stage and the international religious/political stage with all manner of factions seeking to take advantage of the end of a predominant world view in the West and seeking to impose their vision on everyone else.

I’m thinking about what the proper role of the Church is in such a context and where we can here the genuine proclamation of the gospel. As we begin to discern answers, so that will shape our parish planning for the future of our mission and the work we are given to do.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Our Global Missions Committee would like our global perspective to include African Anglicans. Most of you know that the Anglican Church of Tanzania has decided that Episcopal parishes such as ours (who do not consider homosexual relationships to be sinful by definition) are not worthy of being in relationship with them. Both Bishop Makaya of Tabora and Bishop Mpango of Western Tanganyika regret this situation and would like to remain in informal conversation. What they regret however is not so much their declining to be in relationship with us as much as they regret our unwillingness to see the ‘error of our ways’. We will continue to support an AIDS ministry not directly connected with the church in Kusulu and will continue to support the Rev’d. Fred Kalibwame, our All Saints’ Scholar, in his studies at Uganda Christian University. We will stay in touch with The Rev’d Emmanuel Bwatta who is still seeking to pursue studies in America. We had hoped that he might be able to do some kind of work-study at All Saints’ while studying in Atlanta, but that was unacceptable to his bishop, who might be vulnerable to charges of hypocrisy from one or more of his colleagues if he allowed such a thing. Our own Judy Marine is helping Emmanuel study for his English (TOEFL) exams as part of his application to the School of Theology at Sewanee.

In the meantime however we have begun a conversation with the bishop-elect of Aweil, a diocese in formation in the Sudan. It is being formed out of the diocese of Wau and is immediately south of Darfur whose refugees are overwhelming the ministry of a region with no church buildings as a result of the long civil war in the South. We are moving forward very cautiously and fully mindful of the risk involved if we invest ourselves in relationship with Christians who for a host of cultural and historical reasons are unlikely to see any desirable aspects of setting aside the taboo in relation to homosexual people in the near future.

I share this because there is something important about the likely demise of our Communion as we have known it in my lifetime. I know that Anglicanism as a phenomenon is a relatively new development in the grand scheme of things, but have been persuaded that there is something of immense value in being part of a communion mindful of the wideness of God’s mercy; held together by relationship and common practices around worship; with an understanding that we share core doctrine as defined and expressed by the undivided Church. I have a personal sense of loss in the potential of The Episcopal Church being separated from the Church of my youth. I think that we grow in our own faith when it is necessary for us to articulate what we believe about what is of true and ultimate worth in conversation with those whose situation, history and practice is quite different from our own in my ways. The structure so four Communion have made such relationships both possible and important and I will count significant change as loss. At the same time I find myself hoping that whatever emerges in the future will be a truly Catholic communion focused on covenant relationship with Jesus, exhibiting a high view of mutual trust and avoiding the party power struggles of those who prefer a church of doctrinal purity and agreement to such as the means of admission to the Lord’s Table.

Monday, October 1, 2007

On the House of Bishops

This entry was written Wednesday, September 26, 2007.

So, our House of Bishops has made their much awaited statement. The New York Times has proclaimed that we have rejected Anglican demands. The Atlanta Journal Constitution sees us ‘retreating’ on gays. Conservative Bishops left the meeting early to attend their own enclave and are predictably saying ‘too little, too late’.

Already today I have heard the statement judged ‘firmly ambiguous’, ‘gutless’ ‘regressive on gays’, ‘dishonest’ and worse.

If we read the statement in search of clarity as to what The Episcopal Church thinks about homosexuality then we will be disappointed. The bishops have clearly affirmed the muddy and muddled status quo which itself reflects the reality of our church trying to find its way forward towards consensus over time.

Those who want a clear unambiguous affirmation of gay and lesbian people will be disappointed by apparently negative statements in which the bishops pledge to exercise restraint in the event that a gay or lesbian person is elected bishop somewhere, and pledge “as a body” not to authorize public rites for the blessing of same sex unions. Both statements reflect the reality of our church and the position of General Convention at the moment. Both leave the future open. In addition, they make clear that they are not backing away from “unequivocal and active commitment…to gay and lesbian persons.” In spite of this, Susan Russell, President of Integrity is showing guarded support for the Bishops. Many in our parish experience this statement as one more hypocritical refusal to do the right thing by gay and lesbian Christians and one more unwise and unjust attempt to placate conservatives and seek communion on the backs of one sub set of the church’s membership.

Those who want a clear condemnation of any move toward affirming the relationships of gay and lesbian people and an unambiguous promise that we will not now or ever go that direction will be disappointed to find that the bishops have only affirmed the current reality of the church. For some in this camp, the real issue is indeed homosexuality and they are continuing to seek to go their separate way, clear that The Episcopal Church is not going to attempt to put toothpaste back in the tube.

If we read the statement in search of clarity as to what The Episcopal Church thinks about communion, then we can be greatly encouraged. Our bishops have affirmed their “passionate desire to remain in communion” They have reiterated und underlined the reality of our polity as involving all orders of the church in discerning the will of God in any matter before us. They have made provision for Episcopal Visitors for dioceses that request alternative oversight and done that graciously within the discipline of our common life. They welcome communion wide consultation and affirm the listening process.

To the degree that the wider conversation is about strained communion when one province of the church takes action on matters that others find difficult or even unimaginable, then our bishops have made positive strides allowing for communion founded in real relationship (even when ‘impaired’) within the communion.

This clarity will be a disappointment to those in the communion who would like unity to be founded in doctrinal agreement, rather in the model of the Roman Catholic communion. Our bishops are affirming the Anglican tradition of unity found in common prayer, common history, common or mutual respect all in covenant relationship as followers of Jesus. They are, in effect, prepared to welcome difficulties and challenges as opportunities for deepening understanding and mutual regard even through difference, and hope that our communion partners will want to continue with us on that basis.

Thursday, September 27, 2007


I have decided to share my current and ever forming and re-forming thoughts on a variety of matters (first and foremost with our parish in mind) in the form of a web log or blog. My only previous effort at using this form was during a sabbatical leave in 2005 when I was blessed with time to read and time to write. I began that sabbatical by reading Richard Hooker’s Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity while traveling in Europe and Africa and studying at Cambridge University. The Church and especially the nature of Anglicanism became something of a theme over those months of reflection and conversation and I found sharing my thinking as it developed was helpful to me and enjoyed by many of the hardy souls who read the blog and commented on it. I think such a form could again be useful.

Recently was with a group of colleagues and friends. Among the matters we discussed was the question of what big issues or themes would be affecting our communities in the coming months. I became clear that for me and for All Saints’ the major theme for this year would be getting to grips with what it means to be the Church in our current environment and setting. I have asked our vestry to engage this conversation in a somewhat structured way as a prelude to planning for our future life and ministry. We have donesome reading together and discussed it on our annual retreat and in our monthly meetings.

Some of that reading will coincide with reading assignments for a class in contextual education that I will be co-teaching this year with our parishioner David Pacini at the Candler School of Theology at Emory University as students in a variety of church settings consider what it is to minister in today’s church. I expect those conversations will shape my thinking and will find their way into this occasional blog in the months to come.