Thursday, March 26, 2009

Relationship with Rio

March 26, 2009

It is a joy to have Inamar de Souza, Dean of the Cathedral of St. Paul the Apostle with us and her husband Eduardo Grillo, rector of St. Luke’s both in the Anglican Diocese of Rio de Janeiro. Dean de Souza will be with us until Easter Monday. She has already preached for us, and offered a GIFT presentation. She will tell us about her ministry in a class this coming Sunday, will preach again in Good Friday and otherwise be with us in many ways while she is here.

Our relationship with the Cathedral grows out of a diocesan companionship established soon after Bishop Alexander took office. At this point it is unclear exactly what shape our relationship will take. Richard Hall and I went to Rio last autumn looking for projects that could be a connection with us that served the Millennium Development Goals. It seems odd to some that we should be trying to buiold on the MDGs in what we assume is a developed city, but it is only odd until we understand that more than a million people are living in conditions that make much of the developing world look enviable. The communities of working people (favellas) are really slums and are often overseen by drug lords and gangs. The Dean has taken a tiny congregation and a Cathedral that was often closed (In fact some in the diocese wanted to sell the building) and she has opened it up to the community of St. Theresa, a formerly desirable and now depressed area of the city surrounded by favellas. Richard and I saw the community garden she has been able to begin (with a vision for twenty more) and knew that we have found a ministry that could be mutually beneficial and exciting.

I imagine that over time we will begin to discover why anyone would want to be an Anglican in Brazil and that will, in turn, lead us to ask why we might be encouraging others to join us as Anglicans in Atlanta. I imagine that as Rio focuses on planting and growing congregations that we too will find ourselves strengthening a missionary spirit out of an understanding that the best servants of the poor and transformational ministries come from and through congregations. I fantasize that we might find that out of some future capital campaign here we might be able to buy a former embassy in Rio near the Cathedral and help the people there run a conference and retreat center that could also function as a small hotel to support and fund the ministry. I imagine that after some of us make a trip (perhaps in the fall) we might have many ideas that have grown up in conversation with new friends. I thin that once again we will discover that gifts flow from relationship and will find our own trust in God’s love being deepened along the way.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Populist Rage and the Election of a Vestry

March 25, 2009

Newsweek offers a guide to populist rage. We see people holding placards outside banks and (worse) holding them outside the homes of AIG executives. The House of Representatives passes what appears to be a vindictive and knee-jerk bill to recoup some of the money paid in bonuses to employees of companies who receive government money. Talk radio is full of ugliness as anger seeks a target and we are living in a world of free floating and negative feelings that seem to have nowhere to go. It seems to me that we are driving more aggressively and less generously, have less tolerance for anything that inconveniences us, are more demanding of people whose role is to serve us and so on and so on.

I’m grateful that we seem to be doing pretty well (at least collectively) as the people of God in being something of a leaven in the loaf, modulating our own anxieties, striving to be more the Church rather than less, offering more to the unemployed and needy in our midst and beyond our walls, serving where we can and practicing generosity.

To the degree that we are experiencing free floating stuff at All Saints’ is has been made manifest in an increase in ugly and anonymous mail. Anonymity is rarely appropriate in the community of faith especially as a cover for cowardice or a means of expressing feelings without accountability for their effect. Two of these communications, apparently unrelated to each other, have been aimed at our attempts to refine our system of electing a vestry. I am grateful that others who have questions and concerns about what our nominating committee has recommended and our vestry endorsed have done so in proper forums, for there are serious questions that can be and have been asked about how we raise up leadership in and for the Church, leaving ample room for the Holy Spirit to work.

There is clearly no perfect system. A full fledged ‘democracy’ in a parish large enough to render any expectation that everyone will know everyone else would lead to candidates campaigning, having platforms, exacerbating the problem of winners and losers in the community of faith and so on. I have remained (painfully and studiedly) neutral in recent discussions as I think it is generally known that I favor a ‘trusteeship model’ of leadership for a parish such as ours in which a ‘single slate’ of candidates touching wide swaths of our congregational life and where necessary bringing particular skills to the table would be presented for election by acclamation at the parish meeting. I also know from conversations over the past ten years that such thinking is a long ways from the desires and instincts of most of our leadership and I cannot promise that we will do better in the future with such a system than we have in the past. There is a desire among many that we actually get to cast a ballot and make a choice. Consequently we have, for a number of years and at some expense, conducted an ‘advisory mailed ballot’. The ‘advice’ of that ballot is then shared with those present at the congregational meeting after a motion to suspend the rules of order and elect by acclamation those with the most votes received on this ballot. The great strength of this system is that it has significantly increased the franchise. The downside in our experience of the past few years is that rather than raising up leadership that touches many parts of the life of our congregation we have elected those best known but from a relatively narrow segment of the parish. In an attempt to address this our vestry decided to give the nominating committee some discretion over one or two positions should that be deemed desirable by those who have given much thought and prayer to a slate of nominees reflective of the whole parish.

We may decide that this is not an improvement. Those who wish to speak to such a possibility can attend the parish meeting and enter into discussion of the motion to suspend the rules of order. This is a completely legitimate forum for such discussion in public, and has the possibility of our making a change immediately if the case is persuasive to those in attendance. Those with opinions or questions who wish to be more private have been invited in both a Monthly article and a rector’s forum to make themselves and their thoughts and ideas known to the committee. That invitation is still open.

The bigger question is what any of us do with free floating feelings that come upon us or arise within us from time to time in our lives, especially those feelings that seem to be about a sense that life has dealt us a bad hand or that something to which we believed ourselves entitled has been withheld from us. It seems to me that regular worship in the midst of the community of faith is a good reminder of what is really important and a place where some of those feelings can be transformed as sword are transformed into plowshares in the Kingdom of God.

The Recent Pastoral Letter from our Bishops and one from Archbishop Akinola.

March 25, 2009

Our House of Bishops met earlier this month at Kanuga and issued a pastoral letter that takes on the greed and consumerism that they believe has driven our financial crisis.

In the midst of their reflection they say the following: “In this season of Lent, God calls us to repentance. We have too often been preoccupied as a Church with internal affairs and a narrow focus that has absorbed both our energy and interest and that of our Communion – to the exclusion of concern for the crisis of suffering both at home and abroad. We have often failed to speak a compelling word of commitment to economic justice. We have often failed to speak truth to power, to name the greed and consumerism that has pervaded our culture, and we have too often allowed the culture to define us instead of being formed by Gospel values.”

All this may be true provided that we do not assume that in addressing the proper place of GLBT people in the life of the church we are either dealing exclusively with ‘internal affairs’ or ‘allowing the culture to define us’.

Our experience at All Saints’ is that addressing this particular controversy head on is what frees us for the kind of proclamation the bishops are seeking.

In that regard I hope that The Episcopal Church will continue to move toward corporate clarity at our General Convention this summer. Those who are unable to be open to the possibility that affirming GLBT people as such could be a legitimate advancement of our understanding of what it means to be human and so inform our faithful reading of scripture will never be satisfied with anything that allows the possibility of affirming gay and lesbian relationships in any way. We have seen this in the way they have acted in recent years, especially in the Diocese of Virginia which could not have tried any harder to be an expression of church that included the fullness of Christian belief and expression (if not practice). The Archbishop of Canterbury for whom I have great respect as a person, poet and theologian continues to follow a path that he hopes will keep everyone together even as some Archbishops refuse to attend the Lord’s Table with others.

Archbishop Akinola of Nige3ria has signed the pastoral letter of his standing committee ( in which he affirms that he is in ‘full communion’ with the Common Cause Partnership otherwise recognizable as those who have chosen to leave the life and ministry of the Episcopal Church. I’m no longer sure what it means to be part of the Anglican Communion in such a world. They seem to believe that communion is dependent on right thinking about matters of doctrine and if that is the case there are plenty of churches which offer such a system,--Rome chief among them. If, on the other hand they desire to be in a communion attempting to be defined by relationship before doctrine rather than the other way around then it seems that they would approach communion with all Christians with the kind of humility that recognizes that we are all being transformed around the Table of the Lord and would happily remain in communion with those with whom they disagree.

I would certainly be willing to go to the Table with the Archbishop even as I would also go to the mat to resist someone who can write: “Same sex marriage… is a perversion, a deviation and an aberration that is capable of engendering moral and social holocaust in this county. It is also capable of existincting (sic) mankind and as such should never be allowed to take root in Nigeria.”

The ‘L’ Word

March 25, 2009

In a recent entry I asked about our mission statement and had one response questioning use of the word ‘progressive’ to describe All Saints’. My correspondent’s concern (at least as I understood it) was not so much the idea that we are a progressive parish but the baggage that the word carries in our culture wars. I suggested that our history with regard to civil rights, the role of women in the church including support for the ordained ministry of women and more recently our clarity about the proper place of lesbian and gay people in our common life have been consistently mentioned as important to most of our people when they are asked. All of these commitments have arisen with some difficulty but as a result of the compelling consequence of the Gospel of Grace as we have received it. The word ‘innovative’ was suggested as an alternative.

Some would say that we should be able to identify ourselves as ‘Christian’ and leave it at that, but the reality is that if people in our world who are not Christian have any sense of what it means to be Christian, survey after survey shows that they assume that we are conservative socially and politically, that we are more about organized religion than love and the like (See: for example). As Anglicans we are somewhat unusual among Christians and have a particular way of living out the faith that is distinctive and needs to be shared as such if our invitations to others are to be clear.

I used to like the word ‘liberal’ an still do to some extent. Alan Wolfe (described by The Economist) as a ‘left wing liberal’) is a professor of sociology and political science at Boston College and a contributing editor to The New Republic. He has recently published an essay called ‘Obama vs. Marx Hint: One of them’s not a socialist’ (The New Republic, April 1, 2009 p.21-3). The thrust of his argument is that liberalism stands opposed to both fascism and socialism (in spite of conservative fear mongering claims to the contrary). He defines liberalism as “a political philosophy that seeks to extend personal autonomy to as many people as possible, if necessary through positive government action.” That is a pretty good description of where I find myself. He contrasts this with socialism which “seeks as much equality as possible, even if doing so curtails individual liberty.” These, he says, are “differences of kind rather than degree.”

The problem with our describing ourselves as ‘liberal’ in this sense (potentially including as I understand it both conservatives and progressives) is that we also have to contend with the use of the tem ‘liberal’ in regard to theology. Liberal theology is less to do with any kind of political philosophy and agenda and more to do with the patterns of thought, notably rationalism, developed in the nineteenth century ‘Age of Enlightenment’. We would associate the likes of Schleiermacher and Henry Ward Beecher, or later, Tillich, or even later Marcus Borg with this kind of non doctrinal theological liberalism. It is the movement that gives rise to the whole range of theories that fall under the title ‘biblical criticism’. It is the movement that led to the formation of new seminaries in some mainstream denominations in this country to counter the liberal trend. (Trinity over against VTS in our denomination; Westminster over against Princeton for the Presbyterians and so on.)

While we art All Saints’ have most certainly been shaped by the liberal movement and have received great benefit from it, I would be hard pressed to use the word to define our stance as a parish We are much more likely to hear sermons influenced by the great Anglican biblical scholar N. T. Wright or the Stanford Cultural Critic and Roman Catholic Rene Girard, than by liberals of yesterday or today. At the same time we would not rule out or reject the insights of the Christian Socialists of the 19th Century such as Charles Kingsley and F. D. Maurice or the Jesus Seminar likes of Borg and John Dominic Crossan. (I will have the privilege of spending two days or so with Marcus Borg as part of a colleague group after Easter.) It is only that we would not want to use the ‘l’ word with any theological overtones as defining who we are. So what to say? I think progressive is pretty good as long as it is understood to include republicans and democrats and be something of a synonym for political liberalism. Better suggestions are welcomed and encouraged.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Mission Statements

March 18, 2009

I recently heard a consultant describe a parish mission statement in a way that I found helpful. A Mission Statement is supposed to express the core identity of a congregation as an “articulation of a promise of a particular or unique experience you will have as a member of this congregation.” A mission statement, she said, will change rarely. A vision statement, by contrast is more future oriented and will represent audacity and something of a ‘stretch’ for the congregation. It is evolving and organic. While it became clear that this workshop leader favored short and pithy mission statements of the kind that I and we tend to mistrust or find unhelpful, her definition put me in mind of what we say about ourselves on our website and elsewhere.

Here it is:
All Saints' Atlanta is a progressive Christian congregation in the heart of midtown Atlanta, marked by:
• Lively worship with great music and timely preaching
• Concern with meaning and integrity in coherent Christian faith
• Passionate spirituality marked by a concern for justice for all people
• Relationship-based ministries with local, global and international reach
• Communities of mutual concern in which every person may know others and be known for who they are in Christ
• An eye to the future in our stewardship of all that has been entrusted to our care.
We profess that the way of abundant life is found in choosing to follow Jesus with all that we are and all that we have, in freedom using all the resources of this community in pursuit of our spiritual growth, giving generously of ourselves and our wealth, and inviting others to share in what we enjoy.
We seek to serve our immediate neighbors in residences, businesses and in our nearby universities as:
• An oasis and place of hospitality in the midst of a great city
• A university of faith for all who seek a deeper knowledge of God.
How does this stand up to the definition of a mission statement? What do you think? What would you add or subtract in order to see it as an articulation of a particular or unique experience you will have as a member of this congregation?

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The Mess We Are In

March 17, 2009

At a meeting of Rectors of Endowed Episcopal Parishes with Kenneth Kearon, the Secretary-General of the Anglican Communion the question was asked as to how we move forward as a communion ‘with the mess we are in’. The answer apparently in the view of many is some kind of ‘covenant’ of which the critical and controversial section of proposals thus far involves how to manage disagreements in the communion. It is believed by many that some kind of juridical solution is necessary in the form of centralized adjudicating or decision-making ‘process’.

I don’t share this worry. It seems that for those who prefer that communion be defined by common intellectual assent to propositions of faith have a number of perfectly good Roman Catholic and Protestant (Missouri Synod Lutherans for example) options. For those who believe that the effort to be a catholic communion of faith that is based in the reality of living toward right relationship through common story then living with mess is a way forward. The way we can decide to do that is by accepting the oddities and apparent contradictions inherent in our particular history and continuing to affirm the possibility and desirability of common prayer around the Lord’s Table with a generous understanding of baptism as God’s gift open to all people as the normal (or normative) admission to that Table.

Those who then decline to come to the Table because they disapprove of others who might be in attendance either because of their beliefs, sexual orientation, gender, odor, social status or any of the other and innumerable ways we have of separating ourselves one from another are declining our Lord’s invitation and effectively withholding themselves form the full transformative reality and power of the sacrament in favor of some notion of a ‘pure’ church.

I’m reminded of the struggle of many teenagers to accept that someone they don’t like might be invited to their party by a parent only to discover that the party is really just fine with those people whether present or choosing to decline the invitation.

The direction of this argument will sometimes leave a critic wondering whether I believe that if someone rejects the Episcopal Church in favor of another denomination or even a particular parish in favor of one more to their liking for whatever reason that I believe they are rejecting faith. And the answer is ‘of course not’. I assume that God can and does work with any and all expressions of Church. At the same time I have come to believe that some people leave a particular community of faith for good reasons, in the nature of a call to something new and that others leave when it would be better for them and for the Church as a whole if they made a different choice.

The notion of refusing communion with the Lord because we believe that we should not be ‘endorsing’ something we find sinful rather flies in the face of all Jesus’ teaching about the Kingdom, the people with whom he chose to eat and drink, the vision he both inherited and held of the future banquet and so on. Why can we not and should we not choose to live with the mess and set aside this hand wringing worry about control?

Thursday, March 12, 2009

The Velvet Reformation

March 4, 2009

This is the tile of a profile of Rowan Williams by Paul Elie in the March edition of The Atlantic. It was particularly interesting after reading the newly published Rowan’s Rule by Rupert Shortt. Both authors try and get at how the Archbishop is handling the various crises that have confronted him in his time in office.
Elie is altogether friendly. His focus is on how the Archbishop is leading us through the conflict over the proper place of gay and lesbian people in the church. His conclusion is that Rowan Williams is not really backing off his well known, if slightly guarded, support for gay and lesbian Christians. He is more holding fast to his understanding of the office of Bishop as being one in which it is inappropriate for him to use his office to promulgate his own point of view. (I disagree with him on this and think he does not give up his right to weigh in on the conversation even if he may choose not to do so from time to time.) He does not exactly deny his written positions and consequent actions (such as meeting with his predecessor George Carey when he –Rowan--was Bishop of Monmouth in Wales to change Church policy and ordaining a gay man, we learn from Shortt). He does think that his role is to express an uphold ‘the mind of the Church’.
Elie concludes that Rowan supports the full inclusion of gay and lesbian Christians in the life of the Church but just not yet.
That may be optimistic after reading Shortt, which is a rather full assessment of Williams’ ministry thus far, taking into account his scholarly and other writing, his poetry, his distaste for ‘leadership’ (on the basis that it is not in the Bible and that the key role of any Christian is ‘witness’).Shortt makes clear the Archbishop's impressive intellect, compassion and charisma, along with the challenges of his philosophy of witness that means he is usually being managed and sometimes mismanaged by his staff, that he remains prone to finding himself at the mercy of an ugly and unhelpful English media industry, that he is surrounded by conservatives among the senior bishops of his own Church, that because he likes to uphold the mind of the Church he finds it in consultative (but explicitly NOT) juridical resolutions and is consequently mistrusted by conservatives (who will never be satisfied with anything resembling ‘continuing conversation’ unless there is no danger of their point of view being compromised or failing to be the norm in the life of the whole Church), and betrayed by liberals as he seems to have suppressed his own beliefs for his role which he told a journalist was a form of ‘taking up his cross’.
He has pinned his hopes to a ‘covenant’ process of some sort and appears to be exercising what I would recognize as leadership on that matter, sing his influence (presumably in service of ‘the mind of the church’) at the expense of gay and lesbian Christians. In other words I cannot escape the conclusion that he is exercising leadership in support of conservative positions (whatever he thinks he is doing) Many of whom have already and in effect declined to be in communion by not attending worship at Primates meetings, engaging in cross border interventions, ordaining bishops in America and the like and who show no signs of stopping. At the same time and in such an environment, many liberal bishops are pressing ahead with the full inclusion and affirmation of gay and lesbian Christians, and I both suspect and hope that the Episcopal Church as a whole will move forward in some way at our General Convention this summer as a matter of being faithful to the Gospel. Such change and development is thoroughly orthodox in the history of the Church and we need not be intimidated by conservative Christians who want nothing resembling affirmation of gay and lesbian people to take place.
As for Rowan’s episcopate? I hope that his practice of buying time and refusing to be intimidated and trying (unsuccessfully in my view) to take neither side in this matter, will somehow allow for a renewal of communion down the road. Our experience at All Saints’ is that once we come to a decision about whether there is such a thing as a gay or lesbian person (as opposed to perverted heterosexuals) then we can move on and talk about the work of the church in proclaiming good news in word and deed. Until that time, all the statements on Zimbabwe are fine, but not really where the energy is even if it ought to be.

Anglicans in New Orleans

MMarch 6, 2009

The Rector’s Gathering at the Consortium of Endowed Episcopal Parishes (CEEP) began the day with The Secretary General of the Anglican Communion, The Rev’d Kenneth Kearon. He spoke about the Lambeth Conference and how the Bishops present learned what it meant to be a communion, and how they related to the Archbishop of Canterbury s he waited in cafeteria lines like everybody else. He was doing fine until someone pointed out to him that it was extraordinary to be talking to a group of Episcopalians about the Bishops in communion without mentioning Gene Robinson who was not invited. Kenneth Kearon then had the unpleasant task of giving the rationale for the decision not to invite a regularly and validly elected and consecrated bishop to the party. It was the usual stuff and really yesterday’s news, but Gene Robinson and the Episcopal Church had been told that if we went ahead his ministry would not be ‘recognized’ by many in the communion. The difference between this and the consecration of women as bishops was that the church had already resolved apparently that there was no theological impediment to the ordination of women even if many did not like it. He was not able to articulate what the theological impediment to Bishop Robinson’s consecration might be. So, of course and inevitably we are back to prejudice from those who would rather not accept that homosexual people are just that and not perverts by definition. A tiresome couple of hours for everyone.
We went on to spend time talking about the challenges of ministry in the current economic climate and what ministries were proving transformational and hopeful. One of our number pointed out as we drew to a close that we had been energized and creative and had not once found it necessary or desirable to mention the Anglican Communion. There was a real spirit of ‘getting on with it’ which I rather suspect and hope will also pervade our General Convention. Canon. Kearon wondered aloud how we could live with ‘the mess that is Anglicanism’. I will write a separate entry about why it is really quite simple to decide to live with the mess and not get bent out of shape by what appear to be fundamental differences if we are willing to trust in the beauty of traditional Anglican polity and not push for greater centralized control which is at the heart of the ‘covenant process’ when all is said and done.
In the afternoon we were treated to a bus tour of New Orleans with a particular emphasis on the (altogether impressive) work of the Episcopal Church in recovering from Hurricane Katrina. I was struck less by the (still evident) devastation and more by how much has been accomplished since 2005 in terms of new and renewed housing and the restoration of neighborhoods. I particularly enjoyed the story of the boys who formed a crewe to help take care of the city parks by mowing them and called the group the ‘mow-rons’. Apparently they wound up on Oprah and were given all kinds of equipment as a result. We ended at the Cathedral for evensong and a fine sermon by Bishop Jenkins about moving from fear to hope. He is retiring soon, in part because of PTSD which has affected many people in this city and notably emergency workers, relief workers, police and the like.
After a congenial reception some of us attended a dinner hosted by the Berkeley Divinity School at Yale where we heard again from Canon Kearon who talked about the development of theological education in the communion and the challenge of helping many in the third (and in Anglican terms growing) world see leadership in theological education as something other than a fast-track stepping stone to becoming a bishop, --something we have worried about at All Saints’ in respect to the Bible College in Kusulu. I continue to think that strengthening African (in this instance) theological education must be done primarily in Africa itself, even though I hope and expect that Emmanuel Bwatta will be elected a bishop soon after his return to Tanzania from Sewanee.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Notes from England

February 28, 2009

Ash Wednesday at St. James’, Piccadilly was a curious mixture of the familiar and the discomfiting for me. The liturgy was essentially what we would offer. The music—at least the regular music of the congregation was chants led by a cantor and rehearsed before the service began. Anthems were offered by a truly superb choir called The Purcell Singers who sat in the balcony. Eucharist was celebrated with the entire congregation standing circling the altar and the blessing offered as we ’blessed each other’ by laying hands on our neighbors. At the end of the service, the presiding priest announced that anyone in the choir who wished ‘to be ashed or make their communion’ was welcome to come to the altar following the service. I felt a little like a person who has enjoyed a sumptuous dinner acknowledging that if the workers in the kitchen are hungry they may of course eat afterwards.

There was quite a lot of comment in the press about a community nurse who was suspended by the National Health Service for offering to pray with a patient. The patient reported it, not because he was uncomfortable, but he ‘thought that others might be’. The NHS eventually reversed its decision that she had violated its ‘equality and diversity code’ but not before all kinds of people (including the Bishop of Rochester). There was a great deal of huffing and puffing. My favorite silly suggestion was that Ms. Petrie’s expertise is nursing and that prayer should be left to the experts in that field. My hope is that every Christian becomes an expert in that field.

David Cameron’s son, Ian, died while I was over there. It was decidedly moving to come out of a tube station and see the headlines of The Evening Standard and a picture of the Conservative Leader with his disabled son, and to read of the Prime Minister’s sympathy from one who had also lost a child to death. Apparently Cameron is a great supporter of the National Health Service as a result of the treatment his son received over his six years of life. Good News.

The Rev’d Dr. Giles Fraser, Rector of St. Mary’s, Putney leads a vibrant parish who are dealing with budget issues not dissimilar form ours. He has the challenging job of helping his parishioners understand that ‘parish share’ is less a tax than a contribution to common mission. It represents a huge proportion of parish income and I do not envy him that work. He is looking forward to returning to Atlanta and All Saints’, and being with us again at Kanuga in the fall. His plan is to build on his presentations of last year and discuss the theme of ‘Forgiveness’.

The Alliance

February 28, 2009

You may recall the entry of January 12th when I had attended the inaugural ecumenical service for something called ‘The Alliance’ whose mission is shaping up to be something along the lines of ‘breaking the back of homophobia by countering destructive religious doctrines that impede the common good’. The group is getting organized under the leadership of the Rev’d Dennis Meredith of Tabernacle Baptist Church and is looking towards some kind of event (possibly in conjunction with PFLAG honoring parents of GLBT people on the eve of Mother’s Day. They have a good eye for the importance of generating media interest in the service of proclaiming that truth can be liberating especially for the African American community whose young men are dying of AIDS at a disproportionate rate to other populations. I continue to believe that this is important work worth doing.

The Anglican Observer to the UN

February 28, 2009

I’m just back from my first meeting of the Advisory Council for the Anglican Observer to the United Nations. We met at Lambeth Palace so that we could have some time with the Archbishop of Canterbury. In the past I have been a skeptic about the need for such an office, but am now thoroughly convinced of its value with the right person in the job. (And I was impressed by Hellen Grace Wangusa, the current Observer See: The meeting itself was pretty grim. We are essentially a fund raising body with little obvious ability to do the job and the meeting is heavy with staff people from various church agencies who seem pretty concerned about issues of process and clarity about who is responsible for what etc (i.e. turf) rather than celebrating the work and telling the story. It is not that such issues are unimportant in the great scheme of things, just that we don’t need to bring people across the Atlantic to watch them being worked out. Our chairman did a good job of keeping us on track while being responsive to needs to adjust the agenda from time to time and the result was a group who will try and make a basic fund raising appeal effective in the short term. There was conversation about the longer term but no action at this meeting.

The real value of our time together was hearing reports from Ms. Wanagusa who is based in New York, and from Trevor Davies the volunteer who leads the work of a committee in Geneva. They have engaged significant work addressing issues of economic protectionism, --a particular concern of the Archbishop’s as a detriment to the poor; the status of women through a project called the girl-child; sustainable community; the support of making interreligious dialog a cornerstone of the UN’s work toward peace; and the development of a real network of health care providers. During our time with the Archbishop he was engaged in the conversation, thoughtful, supportive of the office and the work that was being done. He recognized that providing a voice for the voiceless in the Councils of the World is relational and requires constant work in order for channels to be open. He called it the tough work of ‘keeping feet in doors’ (i.e. keeping doors open) so that when conversation needs to happen, such as when he is preparing a major statement about Zimbabwe, he has a way to solicit advice on one hand and influence proceedings on the other.

Stories: 1. In 2008, the UN observer was able to work through South Africa (a member of the Security Council) to enable 135 members of an Anglican Synod to escape soldiers who had surrounded them in Boga in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Once freed, the local Bishop was supported in raising funds to provide a compound for refuge and safety until they could return to their homes.

2. One year after attending an Anglican funded gathering for the Commission on the Status of Women (UNCSW), a number of women from the third world in some of the most impoverished situations imaginable requested training for themselves and others in economic literacy and advocacy.

3. After painstaking work over a long period of time, building coalitions and working with others, the committee in Geneva were rewarded with the scheduling of a two day debate on ‘the Culture of Peace’. One of their own, Dr. John Taylor spoke representing Congo about interreligious dialog. They are now working for this to be an explicit and formal focus of UN work for a decade.

These stories are the tip of the iceberg for the potential of the Anglican Communion, especially in the person of the Archbishop of Canterbury, having access and voice to the councils of the world on behalf of the poorest who are often betrayed by their own governments.

In the past year many of the donations form individuals and dioceses were in the range of $100. If you would like to support this work send a check to the Anglican Observer Office c/o DFMS, 815 Second Avenue, New York, NY 10017.

A National Church?

February 28, 2009

The Living Church magazine (available in the parish library) has published an eccentric ‘reader’s viewpoint’ article by James Adams, the Bishop of Western Kansas. (March 1, 2009) He suggests that there is no such thing as ‘The National Church and its dioceses’ as referred to in the Los Angeles Times. He wants us to ‘remember’ that the central offices of the church were set up to support a confederation (my word, not his) of missionary dioceses. He uses this to challenge the idea that the Executive Council of the Episcopal Church has any authority other than directed by the General Convention. He suggests that a diocese ‘petitions’ to join TEC (and that consequently no one can stop a diocese choosing to leave.) He is, of course, attempting to make a case that some conservatives have used to criticize the Presiding Bishop for actions that Canon lawyers, notably her chancellor, have interpreted as not only right but necessary under the canons of the church. At best I would judge his article as ‘eccentric’ and at worst ‘willful ignorance’ and ‘revisionist history’.