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.