Wednesday, January 30, 2008

January 29, 2008

I was happy to read of Dan Edwards’ consecration as Bishop of Nevada. He was rector of St. Francis’, Macon. I was intrigued to read of his changing his predecessor’s policy on the blessing of same-sex unions. (His predecessor being our current Presiding Bishop.). The Living Church reports “Bishop Edwards said he believes the Anglican Communion has not come to consensus on whether to invoke a blessing in the name of the church on a same sex union…anything short of a blessing is appropriate at this time.” The magazine quotes the Bishop saying: “It is not appropriate for us to proclaim that blessing without consensus. We are free to pray for each other and to invite God’s grace on their behalf—anything that does not constitute a blessing in the name of the Church.”

I have met, but do not claim to know, Bishop Edwards. His view on this matter is very close to my own. I have what we might term a ‘high’ view of the act of pronouncing blessing, very similar to the act of pronouncing absolution in the midst of the community. This is a privilege of office and orders in the church and not so much an individual charism. It is more like one of those prophetic acts that is understood to effect what is symbolized. It seems to me we can ask or beg God’ blessing on just about anything (although doing this in a cavalier fashion would be at our peril); as in “May God bless and keep you…”.

This distinction between prayer and cultic or sacramental pronouncement, while important to me in my current situation (i.e. I would probably pronounce blessing in a diocese where it was clearly OK and above board) it makes little difference to those who celebrate their commitments in the midst of their church community of All Saints’. For them, we discuss what a blessing might look like, or what we suspect its consequences would be and include them in a prayer of the whole congregation. Afterwards, guests will say things like ‘what a lovely wedding’ whatever we call the service (‘A Celebration of Commitment’ in our case). The conservative concern, as I understand it, is more about the church doing anything that might ‘normalize’, or in any way acknowledge as potentially good, or affirm in any way a gay or lesbian relationship. The issue for our parishioners is much more around when we will be able to have such celebrations in the church building itself. At this point I have said that we will not offer that until such time as these services can be officially supported in some way in our diocese. That is a continuing frustration for me and something that I think we may address, and possibly change (no promises here) in the context of our next round of planning for our future mission and ministry.

As for the question of sacerdotal blessing: I don’t think this is something that necessarily needs complete consensus in the Anglican Communion and could be something that those who disapprove decide that they could live with other provinces moving forward—a kind of national or autocephalous level of decision making—not unlike we have achieved over the consecration of women to the episcopate. Current proposals for an Anglican Covenant make that unlikely. Departures of hard-core and fed-up conservatives to some other and more ‘pure’ communion, while unfortunate in many ways, might make such a thing possible.

One last thing of interest in the January 27 edition of TLC: a colleague and former student called Robin Courtney of Tennessee writes a letter suggesting that a way forward in our property disputes might be the idea of a ninety-nine year lease from the Episcopal Church to the departing congregations. I hope that someone, somewhere, finds this worth exploring.

1 comment:

Clark Lemons said...

Dear Geoffrey,

I really enjoy reading and thinking along with your blog.

After your trip to the coast, you wrote:

“The 11:15 a.m. service at Christ Church, Frederica on St. Simon’s Island was Morning Prayer from the 1928 Book of Common Prayer. . . I suppose that all bases are covered in the general collects, but there was no explicit notice of anything going on in the world: MLK, war, elections, you name it.”

It is sad to hear of services like this. I don’t understand why a conservative approach to worship (1928 liturgy, Anglo-Catholic, etc.) is so often connected to a lack of social action or, turning to current church affairs, why an emphasis on biblical authority is so often associated with legalism and judgment (rather than love and acceptance). But it does seem, very sadly, to be true in most cases.

Tom Wright argues against the rationale of those who want to re-create Anglicanism on the basis of their own particular understanding of biblical-and mission-centered orthodoxy. He writes:

“To them I would say: Are they Evangelicals? So am I. Are they orthodox? So am I. Do they believe in the authority of scripture? So do I (including the bits they regularly downplay). Are they keen on mission? So am I, and on the full mission of God's kingdom which an older Evangelicalism often ignores.”

It is disheartening that somehow the players in this battle have been cast as, on the one hand, those for the authority of the Bible, for mission, for the traditions of worship and, on the other hand, those who have a looser interpretation of the Bible, wishy-washy commitment to the Gospel, and watered-down worship and liturgy, and that even the “liberal” side of the argument tends, to some degree, to accept that characterization. I want to stand with those for the Bible, for mission, for worship in church life and my own life. And, also, I am completely at odds with the renegade bishops, their flawed reasoning, and their uncharitable dismissal of gays--often women as well--as unworthy.

A question: In your last blog (2nd paragraph) are you saying: while we may all “bless people” (even if they just sneeze), the church doing it is a different matter (needing common understanding and authorization)? We understand the nature of absolution in a liturgy and don’t confuse it with forgiving someone or group for a wrong done us.

Clark Lemons