Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Joint Standing Committee of Primates and ACC

November 26, 2008

Reports are out today suggesting that the meeting underway of this select group of primates (including ours) and leaders of the Anglican Consultative Council might take some kind of action against the Province of the Southern Cone (such as asking them to refrain from being voting members at some future meetings rather as was done with Canada and TEC) for their role in seeking to undermine the polity of TEC. There is no rumor that this will be extended to Kenya, Uganda and Nigeria. The two conservative primates on the committee have declined to attend the meeting. I wouldn’t hold my breath that there will be any action taken, or at least any action that really makes a difference in where we are headed. The underlying challenge of a more or less formal schism is that there a number of churches, --most notably the C of E who have significant leadership who would want to go with the GAFCON crowd. This will make for a really tricky situation for an established church, but could open up some really fruitful missionary fields for expressions of Anglicanism not tied up with the incredibly top-heavy and top-down structures of the C of E in which major issues for clergy seeking positions are questions like ‘will you wear vestments?’ This sense that there is a potentially exciting mission field in England can be held by conservatives and liberals alike.


November 26, 2008

Two of my favorite journals arrived in the same week: The Anglican Theological Review (Fall 2008, Vol.90, No.4) and The Journal of Anglican Studies (Vol. 6.2, December 2008). They both contain articles offering cautionary notes with regard to the proposed ‘Anglican Covenant’. In ATR, Christopher Craig Brittain writes Confession Obsession? Core Doctrine and the Anxieties of Anglican Theology, arguing that the notion of ‘core doctrine’ (sometimes expressed in terms of the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral—see your Prayer Book) is a slippery thing and not as foundational as it might seem. In JAS, Frederick Quinn writes Covenants and Anglicans: An Uneasy Fit recalling us to our Anglican roots that declined the confessional route in the Reformation and chose a path different from that of both Rome and Westminster.

These ideas become important in a series of articles about Anglican Christianity in Asia asking questions similar to those I asked during a visit to the Anglican Church of Brazil as to why anyone would want to follow this path outside of English Heritage. The answer keeps on building on those roots which provide a serious and relational alternative to purity type churches.

The purity church is taken on in some ATR articles, but none more so than an excellent piece by the Regius Professor of Divinity at Oxford, an Episcopalian formerly at Yale and someone whom I enjoy and respect: Marilyn McCord Adams. She has written Shaking the Foundations: LGBT Bishops and Blessings in the Fullness of Time. Her argument is compelling and straightforward. Liberals should not compromise their conscientious content-beliefs while in the majority. It si legitimate and desirable that beliefs that were once held by a tolerated minority who could not set institutional direction should now be given unqualified institutional form as an expression of good news made incarnate, and conservative beliefs should become a tolerated minority. Compromises like flying bishops and ‘moratoria’ and a pan-Anglican covenant, all at the expense of LGBT Christians, are ways in which the conservative minority is attempting to ensure a conservative expression of the faith for a long time to come. The way forward, she argues, is to give institutional expression to liberal content-convictions by authorizing the ordaining and blessing of non-celibate LGBTs. You can read this in our parish library.

Monday, November 24, 2008

A New Province?

November 24, 2008

How will the proposed new anti-gay province play out internationally? It is unlikely to win a large measure of formal approval. Even in the unlikely event that a majority of primates wanted to support the new province, they would be making a recommendation to the Anglican Consultative Council who would only be able to recognize said province with a two thirds majority.

More possible is something like this: some primates (the usual culprits) declare themselves in communion with the new province. The Archbishop of Canterbury remains silent and keeps putting his eggs in the covenant basket. Some kind of covenant is widely approved in the communion that has some element of centralized control to it and The Episcopal Church (along with a few others) declines to consent. The main C of E lawyer, The Rev’d Canon Gregory Cameron has floated the idea that individual dioceses may be able to sign on to the covenant even if their province does not. (I’m still looking for that reference –can anyone help?) and so some of those who wish to remain Anglican at any price sign on bringing a further disintegration of the Episcopal Church in particular and Anglican polity in general. Eventually Anglicanism is redefined or realigned in some way and TEC is left looking for its own network. Goodness knows what happens to the C of E in all this.

I hope that will not happen but am not sanguine. What is an alternative picture? The idea that the ABC might simply declare GAFCON and the new province out of order, the GAFCON crew formally depart and start something like ‘Africanism’ or ‘Sydneyism’ is, I fear, a fantasy coming from my notion of broad and traditional Anglicanism.

Secretary of State

November 24, 2008

I wonder if Barack Obama reads my blog. Here is part of my entry from March 15 of this year:

“I am persuaded that Barack Obama should be the Democratic nominee. While I would prefer Hillary Clinton, it seems that her only chance is to persuade enough super-delegates to go against the popular democratic vote which I fear would be a pyrrhic victory at best. I find it difficult to imagine that either democratic candidate would see Hillary Clinton as Vice President, but shouldn’t they begin having private conversations about a role for her? How about her at the State Department (with Bill as a kind of ‘roving ambassador’ or perhaps ambassador to the UN)?”

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

A Differing View from Communion Partners

November 19, 2008

A differing point of view to my previous post (which I find quite hopeful) is expressed by Ephraim Radner for the “Communion Partners. He does not think that the Primates or Anglican Communion Council will recognize a parallel province for North America. Communion partners is a gathering of self-styled ‘traditionalists’ within TEC who, if I’m reading their material correctly, would be completely congenial to me except that they resist any affirmation of GLBT people. You can read it here:

Archbishop Duncan

November 18, 2008

So December will see the official ‘launching’ of an additional Anglican Province for North America with the deposed Bishop of Pittsburgh (now a bishop of the border crossing province of the Southern Cone) as Archbishop. A number of primates (the usual suspects) have said that they will ‘recognize’ the new province. ( Cantaur meanwhile maintains his customary and unhelpful silence, although The Washington Times reports that he invited Bishop Duncan to submit an application for a new province in October. ( If he condemns the new province as a travesty of catholic faith and order he will help formalize the fragmentation of Anglicanism and bring enormous problems upon the Church of England who are deeply divided but hanging together under the law of the land. If he supports the province either overtly or tacitly by his silence (my best bet for his initial response) he will continue the process of the Episcopal Church being cast out of the communion in some formal way for advocating and acting upon the full inclusion of gay and lesbian persons as such in the life of the church. This will be seen as the price of Anglican ‘unity’ and will mean that Anglicanism will be willing to be defined, less by broad, relational, graceful, generous, inviting theology and more, (like Rome in the view of many) by what it is against. At that point the battle over who ‘represents the brand’ or ‘holds the franchise’ would not be worth fighting as we would not want to be associated with the ’brand name of bigotry’ dressed up as gospel in a kind of Orwellian twist.

I would see the recognition of a ‘parallel province’, as an extraordinary innovation, and significantly more destructive of traditional polity than ‘border crossing’. In such a brave new world I hope the Episcopal Church would move swiftly to begin seeking partners throughout the world in order to sustain the possibility of broad, relational graceful, generous, inviting catholicity. One of the first steps would be a move to begin planting churches in England in which our way of living and proclaiming the gospel would be welcomed by many as a breath of fresh air (while doubtless condemned by others as American arrogance).

My question is how we would do such a thing decently and in order. Would England (or elsewhere) become a missionary district established by General Convention? A Suffragan operation akin to the Bishop for the Armed Forces or Bishop in Europe? An extension of the Convocation of American Churches in Europe (although we would be seeking to introduce English Episcopalianism rather than extending an essentially ex-pat operation)? A somewhat random diocesan mission?

I will be writing to some friends seeking response, thoughts and ideas to this bare bones, but quite serious, proposal, and would appreciate, welcome and encourage vigorous debate and response here. (I will even break a rule of this blog and join in the responses if a real conversation gets underway.)

Monday, November 17, 2008


November 17, 2008

The Annual council of the Diocese of Atlanta took place last Friday and Saturday with All Saints represented by the clergy, Tom Cox, Bruce Garner, Richard Hall, Florence Holmes and Robert Wadell with Mimi Spang present as an alternate. There were wonderful presentations on Millennium Development Goals including a video presentation prepared by our own Amanda Meng. A number of resolutions were passed including one that asks us to begin every meeting, Bible study, class or other gathering in the life of our parishes for one year beginning with the First Sunday of Advent with a question. That question is along the lines of ‘what difference does what we are doing here make to the poor?’ I hope it will be a useful spiritual exercise for us. It is not the kind of resolution that I expect to be honored in very many places and would have preferred to see it tabled, a motion that was made and which failed.

More memorable were two resolutions, one of which asks General Convention to prepare liturgies for same gender unions and another which asks General Convention to repeal a resolution which among other things urged ‘restraint’ in the election of a gay or lesbian person to the episcopate. While these generated discussion in committee they both passed with neither amendment nor debate on the floor of Council. This suggests to me both a kind of acceptance of gay and lesbian relationships as within the bounds of our common life among the leadership of our diocese. It might also mean that the voices of opposition have left the Episcopal Church. While I welcome the lack of heat that these resolutions generated, I hope that my suspicion that conservative voices have gone elsewhere is wrong. It is a loss that I would mourn. On the other had perhaps these votes represent spiritual growth. That we could celebrate.

The Bishop of Rio de Janeiro was with us for Council and attended All Saints’ for worship yesterday. He clearly welcomes our relationship with his Cathedral and has a vision for the growth of the diocese among not only the poor, but also the educated middle classes of Brazil who sometimes find themselves disenfranchised by the church of their birth for a variety of reasons. This attention to a sustainable and sustaining infrastructure for the mission of the church is good news and a hopeful sign to me.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Autonomous Dioceses?

November 8, 2008

Gregory Cameron is "the top canon lawyer who helps run the headquarters of the worldwide Anglican Communion" and Deputy Secretary General of the church (according to Wikipedia) and has recently been quoted during an American visit saying that in the event that an Anglican Province did not sign on to an Anglican Covenant, individual dioceses within that church might be able to do so. (I cannot find this reference and would be glad if anyone could point me to it.) This is both bizarre and destructive of Anglican polity, but it does reveal that the Covenant, on which the Archbishop of Canterbury seems to be pinning his hopes for an Anglican future is meant to function as some kind of ‘constitution’, if not ‘confession’, and could be the basis for affirming a new Anglican province in North America. The Living Church refers to the schismatic Diocese of Pittsburgh that has joined the Southern Cone as “the continuing Diocese of Pittsburgh”— a piece of spin that would make George Orwell shudder—and their “re-elected” bishop Bob Duncan has said that he expects the official formation of a new Anglican province in the US before long.

I have been asked what are the pros and cons for the Episcopal Church remaining Anglican. There is no short answer but it has to do with continuing to be part of a worldwide communion that holds together (after the Elizabethan settlement) some diverse and even contradictory beliefs under a common practice. The common practice part is being monkeyed with by English evangelicals who seem to think the most important thing in their ministry is to disobey canon law regarding vestments, some Australians in Sydney who don’t care for Catholic view of Holy Orders and so on, and vicars throughout the world who think that dropping the creed at major celebrations of the Eucharist is an OK thing to do and still allege that we are held together by ‘common prayer’. The idea of a liberal (in the sense of allowing some diversity of doctrine and practice) worldwide communion whose unity, such as it is, is understood as a gift of God found most fully in baptism and Eucharist, and which bears witness to the Good news of God in Christ in its life and preaching, is a wonderful and graceful thing. That is being replaced with juridical solutions to the fact that many if not most Anglican Christians have declined to deal with the reality of GLBT people in our midst and now want to exclude or punish those who have begun to act in ways that undermine the destructive nature of this taboo for individuals, the church and the wider societies in which we find ourselves.

If Gregory Cameron is correctly quoted and if his position is in any sense official (hard to tell with the ‘leadership style’ of the current occupant of the chair of St. Augustine) then it once again looks as though Anglicanism is going to be defined in some way by a single doctrine that gays are unacceptable as Christians unless they keep quiet and don’t rock the boat. Can someone really argue that I am wrong on this? Where have I missed it? The wider communion that I value seems to be becoming something other than it has been. Perhaps there needs to be a new ‘Elizabeth II settlement, but it looks as though that will only be a reality at the cost of crating a scapegoat , condemning or otherwise excluding gay and lesbian people and their experience as people of Christian faith from the mix. At that point we find our friends and start a mission in England first where there are many people who will find the Episcopal way of being Christian to be a liberating breath of fresh air.

Ballot Initiatives

November 7, 2008

The overwhelming support that Barak Obama received in his election to the Presidency was not a mandate for a socially liberal agenda. I remember how President Clinton got embroiled in the issue of gays in the military very early in his tenure. (I remember a military family leaving the parish I was serving when I suggested that the generals might want to remember that Clinton was their elected commander-in-chief in spite of the fact that they did not like him or anything he appeared to represent.) Ballot initiatives designed to prohibit the marriage of gay and lesbian people passed in three states, an initiative designed to prohibit gay and lesbian people adopting children passed in at least one state, and –most worrying to me—a Colorado amendment to define ‘personhood’ as a fertilized egg received support from more than a quarter of the voters (and as one friend has suggested, might well pass if, as and when it comes up in Georgia.)

We know that attitudes toward gay and lesbian people in general are changing and that we are very close to a generational ‘tipping point’ if we are not there already. It is clear that in California, where gay marriage was banned by a narrow margin there is significant support for full and equal civil rights for homosexual couples, but that for many, marriage just doesn’t make sense except between a man and a woman (as it is defined in the constitution of The Episcopal Church.) I’m of two minds on this and am much more concerned about the civil rights of gay and lesbian couples than what the relationships are called. I also think that these relationships look like marriage between a man and a woman in every significant respect. I could see gay and lesbian couples adopting an argument that draws on the work of some feminists who see marriage as a heterosexist institution that dignifies the violence of men against women. I could see arguing that therefore these civil unions (or whatever) are creating a new and different institution that could and should be open to heterosexual couples as well. At the same time I have some sympathy with the argument that this resistance to gay marriage is a version of ‘separate but equal’ and ultimately serves to allow room for fear and prejudice to hold sway in some places. My concern about these ballot initiatives is that they are being promoted and funded by conservative Christians who see any kind of affirmation of gay and lesbian people as such to be immoral and unacceptable. That kind of thinking must be resisted as being about power and fear in the face of the ending of a taboo.

The Colorado initiative is a move to limit or ban the availability of safe and legal abortions. I have one friend who believes with all his heart, mind and soul that a zygote or fetus has the moral status of a human being and that any abortion is therefore murder and further that America is blessing genocide worse than anything we have seen from Hitler or Pol Pot. This also seems to me to be a matter of definition, but in this case, one that the majority of people (actual humans or ‘persons’ as opposed to potential ones) can’t quite go there. While the constancy of the argument and the apparent moral clarity that it brings might be attractive, it just doesn’t quite make sense. I doubt that there is any law that couldn’t be improved in some way, including the laws and regulations around abortion, but once again I will resist any absolutist thinking on this, especially from my brothers and sisters in Christ.

Amy-Jill Levine

November 7, 2008

Last night just over three hundred people gathered to hear Dr. Amy-Jill Levine ( ) give the fifth Ann Evans Woodall lecture at All Saints. Some groups had read her book on Jesus and we had been prepared by a series of talks from local rabbis Jeffrey Salkin ( ) and Benyamin Cohen ( ). Dr. Levine share from her current work on Jesus’ parables, sometimes challenging traditional Christian readings and sometimes affirming them. Her basic understanding of a parable was that a parable is a story that is more about what it does than what it says, and what it does is effectively ‘rock our world’ (my phrase rather than hers). The parable is something that we chew on and talk about asking both about how Jesus’ audience may have heard the story and also how we hear it today.

Among others she spent quite some time on the parable of the Good Samaritan and the Prodigal, both of which we talk about extensively on Adult Enquirers’ Retreats. I was struck by her emphasis on the Samaritan as ‘enemy’, a person who wanted to kill you if you were a Jew, and a person from whom you would rather not receive help. I’ll have to do some more thinking a reading about Samaritans but this was a new idea for me and I suspect she has overstated the case for the majority of Jews and Samaritans, but probably not at the expense of the point of the story. I found myself thinking about people who would not have an organ transplant if the organ came from someone they disliked or of whom they were afraid. What matters is the gift.

On the prodigal, she covered much of the same ground that we cover on retreats: looking at both of the sons, the absent mother, the question as to whether the story is really about repentance or not, and the rather weak father. She did a rally good job on the resonances of ‘a man who had two sons’ with the stories of Genesis and on through the tradition. A good time was had by all.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Resident Aliens

November 4, 2008

It is a joy to see a line of our neighbors around the block waiting to get into Ellis Hall to cast their votes in the election today. It s now 9 am and the line has been this way since 6 am this morning. We have put out coffee and water and some information about All Saints’ for anyone who wants it.

I have been asked a number of times today whether I have voted and have had to say that I am not a citizen and so do not have that privilege. (I’ve written before about my scruples about the oath of allegiance that includes renouncing all other allegiances.) I am reminded of a book by Stanley Hauerwas and William Willimon called Resident Aliens which was the image they used for Christians who are “in the world but not of it”. I am officially and gratefully a ‘resident alien’ in this land and it is election days when I am most aware of it. I have usually been confident in the past that my vote would not make a difference in Georgia, although it seems that this year might be different. I was appalled to hear of one of our senators urging his supporters to vote because “the other folk” were voting. Is it possible to interpret that in any other way than the most craven reference to African American voters with a view to inciting racial conflict? Unbelievable in this day and age.

I am grateful to live in a democracy and grateful for those institutions and people who serve to protect that freedom as well as all those who claim the privilege and right of voting.


November 4, 2008

Our Strategic Thinking Group has had long and fruitful conversations among ourselves and with the vestry around questions of our identity as a parish and why we might be relevant to anyone’s life in three or five or twenty years from now. What follows is a very first cut at a concise summary of all those conversations. I have tried to avoid any language that might be considered technical (salvation, righteousness, atonement, holiness, witness, catholicity etc.) and talk about the heart of what brings us here and keeps us coming back: a story that frames and shapes how we live, and a community of mutual care and concern that tells the story in word and deed.

"We are a people formed in and by a story throughout our lives. It is a story that helps us make sense of and live in ways that lead us to grow in love and trust, a sense of freedom, generosity and purpose. That story is told in Scripture and in the history of the Church. It is preeminently the story of Jesus in whose self-giving love and absolute integrity, we see the way of life. We choose to follow Jesus and join this particular community of faith, less in search of answers to theological questions and more in the way of navigating through the realities of life in an ever changing world as we tell the story in word and deed.

There are many stories we tell about All Saints’ which show that we especially value our commitment to social justice for all people, our place in the center of a great city, our diversity relative to other places and communities in which we find ourselves, and our sense that we offer the best that we can offer be it in worship, other celebrations, music, ministry or giving, always mindful that we live only by the grace of God.

We are at a time in our common life when we are ready, once again, to address the future in creative ways to ensure an inviting, vibrant and faithful church in the years to come."

What do you think? What is missing? What misses the mark or ‘feels off’? How can this be improved without being unduly lengthened? What is the role of the Holy Spirit in all this? Have at it.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Little Baddow

November 3, 2008

A number of you asked about the parish church that I mentioned in yesterday’s sermon and in which I sang in the choir as a schoolboy. Here is what I have been able to find.

Parish Church of St Mary the Virgin

The church stands a mile away form the village, on a slight rise overlooking the beautiful Chelmer Valley. The early Norman church is seen in the north wall of the nave and incorporates Roman brick. The tower was added in the 14th century and in the early 15th century the chancel was rebuilt. There is a large wall painting of St. Christopher c.1375 opposite the south door, adjoining recently uncovered earlier works of art. In the south wall of the nave are two fine oak effigies c.1330 of a man in civilian dress and a woman. There is an elaborate monument to Sir Henry Mildmay (d.1639) and his two wives