This morning I will be at the ordination to the Diaconate of Bob Book who is leading the ecclesia ministry for the homeless down town and is a Lutheran pastor coming into the Episcopal Church and connected with All Saints’. Tomorrow morning there is a meeting at the Cathedral for two aspirants for orders who have been accepted from All Saints’ into the Vocational discernment Program (VDP) of the diocese. Early next month I begin regular meetings or a taskforce on leadership at the request of the Bishop to consider how to raise up and train leaders in the church. All of these things are to one degree or another to do with the organization and structure by which we operate to proclaim the gospel. I’m not always clear that our ‘structures’ are the most effective for doing the work we have to do. In one example: our canons are written for small churches who can do things like know exactly how many people are in attendance or who exactly is a ‘member’ and so on. Certainly, we operate within the canons but have to do so creatively –with vestry elections for example—in order to achieve the result of everyone being able to vote but not necessarily able to attend an annual meting.
Two questions that have to do with institution and structures that have come up and I am wondering about the merits (or otherwise) of asking our vestry to spend some time on them. One is a request from Calvary Church in the Diocese of Pittsburgh who have, for a number of years, been keeping a close watch on their Bishop’s attempts to construct a legal mechanism for departing from the Episcopal Church in contravention of the letter and spirit of the canons that govern our common life expressed as “the doctrine, discipline and worship” of the Episcopal Church. About 400 parishes who are members of the Consortium of Endowed Episcopal Parishes (CEEP) have been invited to contribute $1,000 as a sign and pledge of support for their continuing efforts both to stay clear about what is going on among those who are seeking to break from the Episcopal Church, (without actually breaking of course. They want to a) become the ‘Anglican’ franchise in the U.S. and b) keep control and ownership of property held in trust for the ministry of the Episcopal Church in the process) and to hold the Bishop accountable. The question I am chewing on is not the $1,000 which we can raise or find easily, but whether to have an official conversation and vestry action that allocates church funds toward a law suit (from which we arguably benefit, but indirectly.) Is this important enough for the proclamation of the gospel for us to spend time on or should I just ‘take care of it’ on our behalf?
A similar question comes up with the efforts of a C of E movement called “Inclusive Church” to garner parishes (not individuals) to sign a statement stating our belief in the importance of being part of a church that includes a broad spectrum of belief and practice. The statement itself is fairly innocuous. The logic appears to be that Rowan Williams was apparently persuaded that a huge number of Episcopalians were unhappy with their bishops and the direction of the church and that even if only 200 parishes or so go the trouble and effort of signing on, a powerful statement will be made that we believe the Anglican Communion is an important witness in and of itself to the gospel. Again, as we look toward the future and a process of strategic thinking, are these broader issues things on which we want to take valuable vestry meeting time? Or should we let them go?
I share this more to give an idea of my thinking about how, whether and when such matters become part of our official agenda. At the moment my inclination is that these are both worthwhile efforts, but not necessarily compelling enough for us to take time on. I am interested in existing and developing networks of churches. I used to assume that the Anglican Communion was our ‘network’. It now appears to me that this is not a good assumption in light of our being disinvited from relationship by the Diocese of Western Tanganyika who do not want to be part of a church that affirms gay and lesbian people. I’m also interested in how we create and maintain ties in this country and around the world that wills serve as investment in the future when bigotry does not govern the agenda of church, and fighting over matters of institutional control does not pervert the proclamation of the gospel. Is it possible that spending time on the Calvary and Inclusive Church requests would constitute such an investment in the future and so serve as a sign of real hope?