Saturday, October 24, 2009

More on the Vatican

October 24, 2009

The Anglican blogosphere is full of little other than commentary on what exactly the Vatican has done or not done with its overture to unhappy Anglicans. The news is apparently of such significance that the New York Times has even devoted space to correspondence about it. A little digging suggests that the legal mechanism that makes possible receptions of groups of Anglicans (as opposed to individual clergy and lay which has been possible for some time) within an ‘Anglican Use’ is in part a response to a breakaway Australian group called the Traditional Anglican Church. Apparently this lot petitioned the Vatican for some kind of recognition over two years ago.

The meaning of ‘Papa Ratzi’s’ (as he is affectionately known in some circles) move appears to be very much in the eye of the beholder. Archbishop Duncan of the breakaway Anglicans in North America has welcomed the pastoral accommodation but points out that there are ‘doctrinal differences’ about such things as clerical celibacy and the primacy of the Bishop of Rome (interestingly, sex and power) that continue to divide ‘orthodox’ Anglicans from their RC bretheren. I had thought that most of the separatist groups Had merged into one North American province but apparently they continue to keep distinct identities so that we have Bishop Martyn Minns of CANA issuing his own statement that appears to claim the RC move is somehow a recognition of that outfit distinct from others. In spite of the predictions of various pundits, I think it unlikely that there will be huge numbers of Anglo-Catholics and other conservatives going en masse to Rome.

I continue to dislike the claims implicit in much of the Roman language of ‘reuniting with the Catholic faith’ and the like. Anglicanism has long represented an alternative expression of catholicity to Rome (even if we debate amongst ourselves what exactly is the difference) and one which I see as allowing local relationships to shape catholic expression, worship and doctrine rather than being defined first by doctrine promulgated from on high. I am also concerned that this move seems to be about recognizing and welcoming those who do not like women clergy, and anything resembling the affirmation of GLBT people especially where the episcopate is concerned. If I was looking to unite with ‘like-minded believers’ as one letter in the NYT would have it, I would expect hundreds of thousands of faithful RC adherents to come en masse to Anglican faith and worship even with all the complications of our various commitments.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Anglicans and the Vatican

October 20, 2009

Many of you will have seen or heard of the announcement that the Vatican has announced a special accommodation for Anglicans who wish to become Roman Catholic. The Archbishop of Canterbury has ‘downplayed’ the significance of this move. The New York Times article cites the Vatican as denying that they are ‘fishing in the Anglican pool’.

My immediate reaction is that I don’t have any trouble with this. There are many Anglican who wish that we were a more clear ‘doctrine first’ kind of Church whereby assent to doctrinal propositions becomes the standard for admission to the sacraments. I have argued here and elsewhere that Anglicanism is first and foremost relational in ways that shape doctrine under the Holy Spirit, but without something like a Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. The Roman Catholic Church is a perfectly good expression of Christian Faith. I resist their succumbing to the temptation of believing that they are the definitive expression of the Christian Faith and that all ecumenical conversation is really about others joining them and coming under ‘their’ umbrella, rather than recognizing that we are all already under God’s umbrella. If we are only distinctive by virtue of history and custom, then we should reunite with Rome forthwith. If we are living the catholic faith with a slightly different emphasis, as I believe, then we should not.

Other news suggests that the Pope is looking to a possible visit to England in conjunction with the beatification of John, Cardinal Newman next year. He has made comments to the effect that Newman subjected his personal preferences and relationships to a greater view of truth expressed in the Roman Communion. That is certainly a view for which argument can be made but in the current climate rings polemical to me.

The Berkeley Divinity School at Yale

The Berkeley Divinity School at Yale

October 15, 2009

I attended a meeting of the board of trustees of BDS/Y. I served for about ten years until five years ago and have recently been re-elected. I was used to hearing upbeat reports while watching significantly challenging financial statements, but this meeting was different. In spite of the drop in the value of our small endowment, we had enjoyed significant benefit for a number of years by allowing the money to be managed alongside the Yale endowment. Even with the significant drop in endowment income we are significantly better off than in the years of my last term. Enrollment is up. Alumni and parish giving has reached levels that are the envy of other Episcopal seminaries. Enrollment is about as high as it can be (even in the three year master of Divinity degree program) without becoming a problem in the ecumenical environment of the Yale Divinity

Students, along with faculty and alumni if they so desire, will soon live by a well crafted ‘rule of life’. It is really more of a guide to expectations in a number of areas of life that are essential to ‘formation’. (I hope that will be available on the school website once it is unveiled.) A series of retreats during the three years of study culminate in a retreat at Canterbury Cathedral. All of this is happening with a skeleton staff and shoestring budget. Students there are not being prepared specifically for parish ministry. They are being prepared for that elusive idea of ‘leadership’. In practice this means that they will be able to function in a number of worlds, differing sized parishes, non profit agencies, political organizations and so on. Anglican life and rhythms of worship, history and so on are considered a ‘first language’ while students are to be educated also in a ‘second language’ of the ecumenical and even interfaith worlds. I am confident that supporting this school is supporting the ministry of the church in powerful and positive ways that will only become manifest at graduates make their marks with a Yale degree and a Berkeley Diploma or Certificate in Anglican Studies.

The future of theological education is also slightly unclear in an environment where over half of newly ordained Episcopal clergy have done the bulk of their training in ‘local programs’ such as the Anglican Studies program at the Candler School of Theology at Emory University. (Another great program). As long as this is true many of our traditional seminaries will continue to struggle to keep faculty, maintain buildings, attract students and do the core work for which they exist. I’m not sure there is a ‘right’ answer (such as bishops requiring students to attend Episcopal seminaries) in a world in which many come to such training as a second or third career and are in some ways constrained geographically by family life and commitments. Even thought we always ask questions about and require that a person seeking Holy Orders be geographically flexible, that is hard to bring about in practice if the ordinands’ family do not understand that profession as primary for all of them.

Grace & Holy Trinity, Richmond, Virginia

October 13, 2009

Grace & Holy Trinity Church in Richmond, Virginia is one of a plethora of healthy Episcopal Parishes in the capital of the Confederacy. I have been privileged to be their visiting stewardship preacher and workshop leader for this year. They offer a variety of opportunities for worship that are enjoyed by an average of 300 people each week with more like 375 appearing at this time of the year: a quiet Rite 1 Eucharist with sermon at 7:45 a.m.; a lively 8:45 with plenty of children who leave for a homily at the time of the sermon with music provided by organ, piano and a band of guitars and other instruments; a traditional 11 a.m. Eucharist replaced by Morning Prayer once each month led by a wonderful choir and on the day I was present a quintet from the local chamber group. At 5 p.m. there is a service attended mostly be students from Virginia Commonwealth University that like Georgia State has grown significantly in quality, size and stature in recent years and has grown up around the church in downtown Richmond. This service drew nearly 30 people and was led by clergy and student leaders who receive a tuition scholarship. The music is simple—mostly praise style—not always unsophisticated and often quite beautiful even if the theology is sometimes lacking. That congregation engages with the preacher in some discussion during the sermon. There is something real and lively going on there.

I have not always enjoyed being a ‘visiting preacher’ but did on this occasion. It gave me great sympathy for those we invite to join us to help us engage the spiritual practices of generosity that we encourage during our annual appeals.

I emphasized the spiritual practice of generosity, especially with regard to sustained and sustaining giving. When I wrote to All Saints’ earlier in the fall and in preparation of our annual appeal, I Made some of the same points, suggesting in particular that giving $1 each week would probably be more beneficial than dashing off a cheque for $50 with the pledge card. What I did not make clear and wish that I had was that we are extremely grateful to all those who make a single gift each year and find other ways to engage and express their sustaining love for this community week in and week out.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Dining in the Kingdom

October 5, 2009

I have just returned from our parish weekend at Kanuga where the Very Rev’d Mark Bourlakas led us in thinking about ‘Dining in the Kingdom of God’. Drawing primarily from Luke with help from the movie ‘My Big Fat Greek Wedding’ (which he said was produced as comedy but was really more like documentary for his family) he provided some valuable and important insights. He was assisted by his wife, Martha, who addressed some specific challenges of making space at the table for refugees and people with disabilities among others. They were both clear that the Kingdom Table is not for friends only, but for those by whom we are challenged. Mark drew his presentation together by thinking about the meal on the road to Emmaus and made the point that Jesus, the stranger, disappears once he is seen, recognized and known.

I was left with questions about whether and how we can or should draw limits in our lives. Is there ever a time when we should not attempt to offer hospitality? It seems that we cannot give our selves away in love if we are not first a ‘self’. There are clearly some times when I am open to the stranger and the person that I find challenging and others when I am not. It seems to me that in god’s economy there is room for everyone at the table, but that I (and you) are given particular cares and concerns or ‘burdens laid on our hearts’ and it is to those that we must be faithful trusting that God will provide others to care for those for whom we simply cannot make room.

Another set of questions revolve around power. It seems that there can be times when the offer of hospitality is an exercise of power. Jesus ate and drank with tax collectors and sinners from a position of weakness and was accused of aband0oning his friends at some level, or perhaps better put, accused of endorsing the actions of those with whom he ate and drank. Are there times when we should not accept offers of hospitality?

I heard from Della Wells, who with Jere is representing us on the Compass Rose Society visit to Malawi. They have been honored with a generous meal while surrounded by starving children and being told that they will cause a riot if they try and give food to any of the children who must watch them eat. The hospitality of their hosts is genuine, but it seems that the food was hard to swallow in such circumstance.

As we move toward organizing and shaping our ministry around formation in the faith and engaging the other we will have to confront questions such as these head on, even recognizing that there are no simple answers and no ‘law’ that will allow us to justify ourselves.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Church Planting in England

October 1, 2009

On my visit to England I had the opportunity to meet Jonathan Wynne-Jones, the religion reporter for the Sunday Telegraph who you may recall had picked up my blog piece about possible futures for TEC including our being removed from real relationship with the communion. We might then form alliances that would, among other things, begin church planting in England. There are a host of problems with such a proposal while we are still part of the Anglican picture, not least of which is that England (contrasted with Europe) is a province of the church. That does not change the reality that there is a great deal of frustration in England as best I can tell about the top-down realities of the C of E and the challenge of effective mission in an environment in which as much as 90% of parish giving might be expected to go for wider and worthy diocesan ministries without any affective or emotional ‘ownership’ on the part of people in the pews.

A taxi driver, most of whose comments appeared to be from the ‘radical left’ of the political spectrum deplored the ‘nanny state’ which appeared to him to be increasingly invasive and attempted to usurp individual liberties. This cannot be unrelated to increasingly high levels of taxation, --nowhere near those of the 70s but much higher than in the US— which appeared to stifle creativity, imagination and risk. (Why bother?) There are many institutions, staffed by caring people, doing good work hat would be threatened by any proposal to let parishes decide how much to pay their clergy and which missions they will support in their regions. There would be less need for administrative structures as a result. This is not my problem to solve, but I heard the Archbishop at the annual meeting of the Compass Rose Society wondering about what kind of heart for the gospel he was seeing in some ordinands who appeared to be constricted by scruple or preference as to what kind of parish they might be willing to serve. I also heard others admiring the church planting work of Holy Trinity, Brompton, home of the Alpha Course who seem to be making things work in a slightly uneasy relationship with their parent institution.

I read a short autobiography of Donald Reeves, one time rector of St. James’, Piccadilly whom Margaret Thatcher once called ‘a most dangerous man’. He revived St. James’ as place of relevant ministry and gospel life in the heart of London during his tenure as rector but found himself constantly at odds with and frustrated by the institutional drains which harmed rather than helped his ministry as he saw things. At All Saints’ we are talking about how to be alive and relevant rather than complacent and dying in the years to come. We are blessed to be part of a wider church that recognizes that healthy parishes are the foundation for the ministries we carry out together as dioceses and General Church. We know that all ministry is essentially and fundamentally local and that anything else has the potential to inhibit the proclamation of the gospel as much as serve it.

The Bible in the Church

October 1, 2009

On project that is getting underway under the auspices of the Anglican Communion Office is called ‘The Bible in the Church’. We were introduces to this work at the Compass Rose Meeting. Essentially this is an international project to help Anglicans become aware of the hermeneutic or interpretive principles that they bring (in fact rather than in theory) to the interpretation of the scriptures. I am not optimistic that we will be able to develop or discover ‘Anglican’ hermeneutic principles. I am more hopeful that we can discover what is valuable about distinctive principles.

While I was in England I also took another look at an old book by Lyle Schaller looking at alternative futures and strategic planning for churches. I wanted to make sure that we were covering all the bases with our prayer, process and planning. I am daily more convinced that the direction that is emerging within our committee, vestry and staff both honors our historic concerns and commitments as a parish and offers an exciting way to conceive and shape our work going forward. I do not expect us to come up with one of those plans with seven strategic initiatives and fifteen tactical bullet points ‘to do ‘lists under each one. At this point I expect that we will agree on an understanding of defining vision that will shape all of our ministries in a variety of ways over time. It will be along the lines of emphasizing our commitment to formation for confident Christian Faith (remembering our foundation as a Sunday School) and seeing the essential mission of ‘engaging the other’ as a way of describing what we do (remembering our commitment to ministries of justice in the world). I can imagine changes as a result of such a vision that would be radical if we tried to order everything about our parish in this way on day one, which over time will be more understood as development of who we are.

Recognizing, understanding and appreciating difference is easier said than done. This has been the mission statement of an organization about which I have written before called Visions-Inc. Whether or not and to what extent they might be helpful to us as we seek to respond to the Gospel remains to be seen. What I do not doubt is that it will be hard to find the greater unity beyond clear and contradictory interpretive principles about scripture which lead to clear and contradictory conclusions about ethics or the preferred shape of the society on which we live. I do not believe that it is God’s desire that we separate from those with whom we disagree (especially at the points at which we feel our position is coming to the fore or we feel that our power is being eroded.) That means that we have to find a bigger vision and hold fast our trust in God’s fidelity to us. When I am back with my books I will take another look at Margaret Wheatley’s book Leadership and the New Science which I remember as a book that looked at things like chaos theory and fractals in terms of an ever-widening perspective in what is ‘real’, allowing us to be clear and honest about the tensions we know are present in our relationships with each other while holding fast a greater vision of the way in which God sees all of creation.

The Compass Rose 2009

October 1, 2009

The Compass Rose Society is reclaiming its original identity as a missional and connective society in the Anglican Communion and moving away from trying to raise money for projects (however worthy) of the Anglican Consultative Council (ACC). As such it is once again showing signs of being the kind of society I thought we were joining when All Saints’ became a member in 1999. We were represented at the meeting by Della and Jere Wells who are joining the study and mission journey to Malawi for the next week. Sam and Boog Candler were also present from Atlanta. Sam is on the board of the society. They are doing the work of making connections between people within and throughout the Anglican Communion. We are proclaiming that our need for connection across boundaries and our unity in Christ is greater than our need to be theologically correct. Members of the Society are individuals, families parishes and dioceses (from Episcopal and at least one ‘breakaway’ parish) who make an initial gift equivalent to $10,000 or more and then continue to give at least $2,000 each year for projects either supported as a result of a society visit to a part of the church in need and in the company of the Secretary General of the ACC or at the request of the Archbishop of Canterbury. You can learn more here, and I would be glad to talk to anyone interested in joining, doing extraordinary work and enjoying the privilege of dinner with Archbishop and Mrs. Williams as long as they are gracious enough to host us.

This year we were to be addressed by the Bishop of Jerusalem who was denied permission to travel out of Ben-Gurion airport only days before he was due to leave. As a Palestinian, he could have left through Jordan but did not have time to make those arrangements. His report was emailed and read to us. In it he referenced the extraordinary difficulty of travel imposed by the Israeli authorities. This was one more example of how difficult things can be for anyone who lives in what the Bishop calls ‘The Land of the Holy One’. Appeals that are based on the sufferings of Palestinians are always dodgy to my ears unless they also acknowledge the reality that many Palestinians and their allies are committed to the eradication of Israel and the denial of their right to exist as a nation. I know that the sufferings of Palestinians are real and I know that Christians are a shrinking minority among Palestinians. I also know that when push comes to shove the predominant Palestinian identity is Arab and Muslim and that identity will ‘trump’ the others. I am nervous about the tendency of Anglicans to give uncritical support to the Palestinians without clear statements that Israel exists and should be able to exist without being threatened by its neighbors. At the same time it must be possible for us to question Israeli policies without being declared anti Jewish or suggesting ‘moral equivalency’.

At dinner we were able to ask the Archbishop questions. He is very good at taking the questions seriously and giving thoughtful answers.

I asked: “Our bishops came home from the Lambeth Conference wondering when the Church of England was going to join the Anglican Communion. What do you imagine they meant by this question and what, if any, response would you like to make?”

In his answer, he thought it possible that some English bishops have an over exalted view of their position which might give an unfortunate impression. He was quick to defend the C of E as being a church in which every diocese puts considerable resources toward relationships in the wider communion. These are the kind of answers I would probably have offered were I in his shoes. They do not of course address the realities of power in the communion or any particular way in which some apparently view the C of E as avoiding entering the communion fray. I note this as observation without judgment implied.

I was heartened to hear the Archbishop recognize (albeit with some gloom) that we may be headed to a covenant that some Anglican provinces cannot sign, but which doe not represent the end of the world. We will still be the church in mission, caring for the neediest among u and establishing relationships in Christ throughout the world. It is my impression that as The Episcopal Church has continued to define itself, so the Archbishop has become clear about what he wants and what he sees as the way forward. The consequence of that greater definition appears to be the most people are settling down and happy enough to let things play out without the sense that there is a power vacuum which bishops in Durham, Lagos and elsewhere are quick to seek to fill.


October 1, 2009

It has been wonderful being back in England for a few days. I was able to celebrate my father’s birthday at one wonderful restaurant and see one of my oldest friends (about to be married and move to Australia) at another. The best meal was lunch in the company of other friends at Rousillon. These were all squeezed in around the annual meeting of the Compass Rose Society (see next entry) including dinner at Lambeth Palace. Each day I was able to run and walk around various places in Central and West London. The city is noticeably and more than I remember polyglot, visible in the mix of races and costumes, the shops, other businesses, billboards and the newspapers.

At the same time I re-read a book from long ago: John Le Carre’s A Perfect Spy which captures so much of the England I knew from thirty years ago with all the characteristic attitudes expressed by the characters of the novel. Last year my book club wondered whether Le Carre could be read as serious fiction and this book should leave no one in doubt about the correct answer.

All of which is to say that rather than finding myself nostalgic, I found myself energized in the same way I used to experience excitement and anticipation as I took a train into New York City. (I see that is the subject of Edward Rutherford’s latest book, --one that I will read before long.) It is not so much the institutional expressions of England that captured my imagination on this trip. The death throes of ‘new labor’ under Gordon Brown were on the front pages most days and the Church qua institution shows no discernible signs of life. I was more aware of a sense of possibility, a kind of renewal, even with all the problems we have with coming to terms with difference. We can make a start through recognizing, understanding and even appreciating what difference can mean and wresting some positive outcomes from the challenges of a multi cultural, multinational, multi faith world.