Friday, February 26, 2010

Educating for Christian Leadership

February 26, 2010

In a contextual education class, and after listening to an Associate Pastor talk about his ministry including his ministry to newcomers, I was asked why we had to keep on talking about theology when welcoming a newcomer was a relatively simple matter of learning someone’s name, writing a note, being gracious and following up. I agreed that, as with any program in the church, common and humane sense will go a long way and that the opportunity to learn the latest technique is always available. What we are about however is theology in context (‘orthopraxis’ for those who remember the 80s theological buzzword) and knowing why we are doing whatever we do, learning to test our instincts and intuitions against both what we believe to be right and proper and against the realities of our context as it presents itself. (David Kelsey’s reflections on Wisdom Literature in Part 1 of his Eccentric Existence are particularly helpful here.)

In the same time frame I was asked to reflect on what I consider most important for a seminary in the next five years. My answer was something along the line of wanting a seminary to prepare students for a wide variety of congregational forms of life and settings, with the ability to function effectively as members of staffs or head of staff in any of them.

And so along comes another special edition of the Anglican Theological Review (Winter 2010, Vol. 92, No 1—available in our parish library) on ‘leadership. It contains a mixture of personal stories of leadership in particular situations, literature review and articles of theological reflection—a mixed bag some of which I will write about later. It serves to highlight the problem that we all want to educate for ‘leadership’ but do not really know how to do that. In a essay called Theological Education in the Twenty-First Century Ian Markham, Dean of the Virginia Theological Seminary proposes that “successful leadership should be judged by the impact made on the wider denomination.” I could probably see that as one measure and one that provides some correction to ‘do your own thing’ leadership provided that it is not another way of hemming in creativity under the guise of ‘community’. Joseph Britton, Dean of the Berkeley Divinity School at Yale has developed a ‘rule of life' for the seminary community that gets a little closer to what preparing church leaders might entail in practice. He sometimes uses the metaphor of ‘language’, describing Anglicanism as a ‘first language’ for BDS/Y students with ‘ecumenism’ as a ‘second language’. I wonder if music might not provide another metaphor for what we are after. Church leaders need to know their scales and maybe an instrument or two, perhaps some idea of what goes into composition, all in the service of their being able to improvise in a variety of contexts. This would mean that the content of seminary education must offer basic disciplines (Bible, Theology etc.) but always in conversation with what these things mean for the life of the church in a variety of concrete, specific, ecclesial situations.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Out and About and Christian Unity

February 23, 2010

I have enjoyed the chance to visit a number of Episcopal parishes and congregations of other Christian traditions in recent months. Recently I led a workshop for two parishes in Eastern North Carolina. St. Andrew's, Morehead City and St. Paul's, Beaufort both appeared to be healthy and growing in the faith at least to this outsider. Fifty people came together on a Friday night to consider Christian Community after some of them had taken on some fairly serious reading (Raymond Brown’s Community of the Beloved Disciple and Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Life Together). A snow storm Saturday Morning caused our sessions to be rescheduled for Saturday afternoon and about forty people were able to change their [pans and get through the snow to St. Paul’s to continue our work together. I tried to imagine being able to reschedule something at All Saints’ at such short notice and wondered whether we would be able to identify everyone who attended on an Friday and find their contact information and have that many of them willing and able to change their plans at such short notice. We may be spoiled with the opportunities we enjoy here, but in Beaufort they were hungry enough and enough of a community to make the change happen. They appeared to love and appreciate their clergy and one another and it was good for me to be reminded of the fidelity of the church in a rather different set of circumstances than mid-town Atlanta.

On another front I have been teaching a section of contextual education for students at the Candler School of Theology, most of whom are preparing for or exploring congregational ministry. I have been to a number of communities including Baptist, AME, United Methodist, and the Church of Christ. These congregations have been all over the metro area. Some are large and thriving, while others appear to be in a season of decline. Only one is in deep conflict with the presenting issue being the style of music and the deeper issues being wider societal change with some embracing change and others resisting it. I have a general impression that the further out from the city center we get, the more churches seem to be thriving with fairly traditional models of ministry of the kind implied in our course curriculum that looks at preaching, worship, service, education, pastoral care and the like, almost as separate disciplines from each other. One notable exception is the North Atlanta Church of Christ, a ‘progressive’ example in an American separatist, ‘Christ against Culture’ type of denomination. They have made some serious and intentional decisions to become racially diverse under the leadership of their current preaching minister and they seem to be growing in that direction as a result. This is in stark contrast to one congregation who are dealing with the aftermath of what could be described politely as a ministry of ‘dysfunctional helping’.

I am increasingly sure that the way toward some kind of Christian Unity today must be through addressing the reality of ‘difference’ and moving toward embracing such differences around the Lord’s Table rather than seeing to make that table a place of agreement or unanimity. On one hand this could be a recipe for cheap grace and chaos. It is also possible however that it could be a way of beginning to grasp the much greater unity of all creation in the ‘mind and heart’ of the Creator. It certainly means being intentional and conscious about what is going on when we ‘engage God and neighbor’ as our strategic thinking group has put it. I will be working with our newly appointed All Saints’ 2020 steering committee to think about ways in which we can become conscious of how to recognize, understand and even appreciate difference as spiritual work that serves to deepen both our faith and our common cause with all of creation.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010


February 9, 2010

I am using a weekend off to lead something styled “A Workshop in Christian Community” for members of three parishes in Eastern North Carolina. I will offer three presentations along with exercises and Q and A on Friday and Saturday and will preach in one of those churches (yet to be revealed, but probably a parish in Morehead NC) on Sunday before coming home for a ‘Valentine’s Day Dinner’. How this came about is a long story, but with all such stories has to do with personal relationships and old friends. A group of people there has been reading Raymond Brown’s The Beloved Community about the Christian Community of John’s Gospel and its relationships with others around them. They have also read Dietrich Bonheoffer’s Life Together, theological reflections on the practices of Christian Community.

I have fairly free rein given that and intend to follow a trajectory looking at some of the bases for (or assumptions I make) about our communal nature as people made in the image of God revealed as Triune. This will be a kind of anthropological effort that is intended to get us thinking about who we are, what makes us a ‘self’ in relation to others and so on. We will look at how we like to be treated by others in light of how God treats us and in light of the reality of differences in power in many of our important relationships. The second section will focus more on the practices of community especially what is going on when we gather around the Lord’s Table (with Bonheoffer as the subtext or context for a discussion of worship.) Last we will look at the community’s relation to other Christian communities, other communities of faith and people who claim no faith (with Raymond Brown as subtext or context) and the assumption that God’s hope or end is that we find ourselves in common humanity beyond, but with full appreciation for our particularities. I have some ideas for a sermon coming out of this with texts for the Last Sunday after the Epiphany in which we hear the story of Transfiguration, but am going to let the conversations we have shape the final form of the sermon for Sunday.

I’m looking forward to seeing what unfolds and the preparation has been fun. Where I am stuck however is in thinking about the other subtext that will shape our conversation even if we never make it explicit and that is the reality of tensions within the Anglican Communion. I’m not planning to take this head on in any presentations but will probably address the issues in terms of Christian Practice in community. We sometimes hear that the proposed Anglican Covenant is about strengthening ‘interdependence’ over ‘provincial autonomy’. A newish English Suffragan Bishop called Graham Kings is also leader of the group called Fulcrum. Has recently suggested that this is his view of things going so far as to say that if TEC moves forward with confirming the election of Mary Glasspool as Suffragan Bishop of Los Angeles, and if our Presiding Bishop participates in the consecration, she will have made it impossible for herself to serve on this new animal called the ‘Anglican Standing Committee’ with any integrity as a result of her actions. You can read his comments here.

Regular readers of my opinions on this will not be surprised that I disagree with Bishop King’s (and the proposed Covenant’s—much of which is simply a well thought out expression of Anglican Ecclesiology and no problem--) assumption that interdependence means ‘gracious restraint’ in the living out of principles of the gospel which have become clear to this province but are matters of debate in others and simply ‘beyond the pale’ and not even worthy of discussion in yet others. Restraint sounds very reasonable when discussed as a theory and simply wrong when thought about in terms of sisters and brothers in the pew who have by presence and conversation over a long period of time have helped the Church gathered around the Table and under the Holy Spirit to come to a new assessment of what it means to be human. (Obviously this sentence can be debated and in itself does not constitute an argument). Why can ‘interdependence’ not mean recognizing, understanding and even appreciating difference? And why can Episcopal leadership, especially in those parts of the Church who grant bishops ‘high’ and even ‘autonomous’ privilege, not mean insisting that such decisions as that made by TEC with regard to the full humanity as such of lesbian and gay people be ‘respected’ or ‘given room to develop’ or ‘be one more manifestation of cultural difference’ rather as we live with differences over the status of women in the Communion? Instead we have brothers and sisters (and a pride of male bishops—lions of the Church?) who see interdependence as essentially expressed in ‘majority rule’. Is that really the proper consequence of the ecclesiology of the ofrst three sections of the proposed Covenant?

Friday, February 5, 2010

The C of E and ACNA

February 5, 2010

Those interested in understanding what has been going on in the Episcopal Church regarding the status of clergy and property will find a splendid summary written by Simon Samiento, an Englishman, for the education of their General Synod. You can read it here. This is in response to a briefing paper offered by the sponsor of a private member’s motion that the Church of England express desire to be in communion with the Anglican Communion in North America (ACNA) which contains a number of inaccuracies of fact. You can read that one here There is a parallel paper submitted from the Anglican Church of Canada which you can read about here I am encouraged that our friends are stepping up. I hope that we too desire to be in communion with ACNA, some of whose are former colleagues of mine, but they have chosen (for whatever reason) to leave The Episcopal Church and start their own community of faith in the Anglican tradition in many ways, muddled about the validity and desirability of women in Holy Orders and clear that whatever one’s opinion of the idea of ‘sexual orientation’, any ‘same sex activity’ is sinful.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010


February 3, 2010

With all of the talk of the dreadful lack of results from Obama’s first year as President, I was both heartened and disheartened by recent news reports.

I was disheartened by a piece in the New York Times by Charles Blow naming the widespread and pretty basic political illiteracy in this country. Less than a third of us know that no republican senators voted in favor of the health bill that eventually came to the floor of the senate. Blow says that people don’t care about the process as much as the results. It is certainly hard for me to understand how the democrats, with a supermajority in the senate were unable to sort through the admittedly complex interests that have to be balance in any reform of any system while at the same time taking on the fog created by republican opposition to any reform.

I was heartened by Obama sharing the lowest approval rating of any President since records were kept in the Eisenhower days. He enjoys approval rtes lower than Nixon and Carter after one year. He shares this low number with the Gipper who also inherited a mess and could not get things turned around in a year. According to a recent Newsweek they both come in with about 57% approval at the end of their first year.

There is certainly a lot of handwringing and punditry going on. Timid democrats and obstructionist republicans need to hear that their stance is not working for the country and won’t work for them either. Leaders in congress need to get serious about helping move forward the agenda for which the President was elected. He might have to stop being so reasonable and incorporating republican ideas. He doesn’t get credit when he does. He gets slammed by his friends for being ‘ineffective’. The spin game is keeping us from moving forward even as the economy is showing the faintest signs of survival. I know we need healthcare reform and that paying for insuring more people is a burden that must be shared fairly. (Isn’t it great that corporations are people too?). I don’t’ know about regulating banks, but I do know that de regulation was the change that made the current mess possible (while making some people extremely rich). I am glad that we are getting out of Iraq and have every expectation that we will fail to make real and permanent friends in Afghanistan while we continue to hammer at Al Qaida and the rest. I generally approve of drones in that fight and soldiers living with the people they are serving and protecting. I’m simply not a person of faith when it comes to military action in that part of the world. I can be persuaded that it is the lesser of two evils but I cannot get excited about war as a good thing.

Up to now I have not really come across populist rage in person. Now I seem to be experiencing it in my own person.