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AFTER THE BALL WAS OVER

Well, it’s a rum bit of English but, at least to my mind it says a great deal. General Convention finally made a promise to itself and the Anglican Communion. It said:

“..this Convention therefore call upon Standing Committees and bishops with jurisdiction to exercise restraint by not consenting to the consecration of any candidate to the episcopate whose manner of life presents a challenge to the wider church and will lead to further strains on communion.”

Simply put, General Convention is asking the two groups of people who are entrusted with consenting to and confirming the election of bishops to “exercise restraint” how?
By not consenting to or confirming the election of any person who’s personal habitual and present manner of life, dare we use the term ‘morals’ might offend the wider church. This looks to me to be a conscious or unconscious invocation of the Communion Rubric which asks parish priests to fence the altar against parishioners whose life styles offend the parish.

The oddness of the resolution seems to be the timing. Nominating committees may nominate persons for election without regard to “manner of life”. Diocesan Conventions may proceed to elect persons without regard to their “manner of life”, and having done all this, at no little expense, it rests with Standing Committees and bishops with jurisdictions to call a halt to the whole thing and send everybody home to try again.

I’m rather glad what was once termed the unmentionable sin isn’t mentioned. The term “manner of life” embraces a good deal. It might get nominating committees to take a look at priests in the context of their daily life and work. Is a priest terribly introverted, a loner, stingy, bad-tempered, an attention-seeker, a dictator, a follower or someone whose conduct is likely to frighten the horses? I haven’t included eccentric. We need more eccentric bishops to brighten up our presently dull House of Bishops.

A great deal is being said at the moment about the possible virtue of schism. It is suggested that our church has become two mutually exclusive churches. As this has happened, some liberals and conservatives suggest an amicable termination of relationship. This shows just how much we have forgotten or never learnt our own story, and how little we regard the Church as a Divine Institution.

If we are now two mutually incompatible bodies or groups uncomfortably joined together-and I doubt that we are-this would look like progress. For centuries we were three mutually exclusive bodies in one. When history cast us adrift as a church we were made up of church evangelicals, church catholics and a group in the middle that kept on keeping on. While most of the noise came from evangelicals and catholics, who hated each other, the “keep-on” party did just that.

They worshipped in the parish church, had their children baptized and confirmed, celebrated family marriages and funerals and had not a few of their offspring ordained and even consecrated. Such people were described by the late John Betjeman as being

Broad of church and broad of mind;
Broad in front and broad behind.

Have you noticed that while some suggest that it is time to permit the two extremes to go their merry or doleful way, others suggest that the middle way, the keep-ons, at the last minute, rescued General Convention from an act of enormous folly? They were once the party of the good-mannered Whigs, who eschewed enthusiasm, doctrine and liturgical embellishments and sought rational discussion and behavior. Our first Presiding Bishop was a keep-on chap. He managed to get Northern Anglicans, conservatives and High Church people, and Low Church Southerners, who believed that what was needed was an American church, full of enthusiasm for Revolution and separation to, we would now say in our latest jargon, to come to the same table together. White even opposed the liturgical commemoration of July 4 because he noted that many clergy had supported the Crown and might have difficulty with the assigned collect.

What we seem to fail to note is that the Church is One, is intended to be one. How on earth may we ask Methodists to join us at the table, if we think it would be good to leave the table and buy a new-improved model? We have an office of ecumenists whose task is to further the visible unity of Christ’s Church. If we believe in ecclesiastical binary-fission, then surely we should sack Bishop Epting? What on earth are we doing busily talking with other Christian bodies if we do not believe in the Church in the first place?

As new jargon is the in-thing at the moment, I would suggest that those who cheerfully advocate separation, whether left or right, be termed “No –Churchers.” I do realize that these people are genuinely passionate about the vision set before them. However, if their message to the poor, the weak, the orthodox, the starving, the excluded is: “If you can’t get on, break up” I would suggest that they have nothing Gospel-centered to say at all. The major crime of those who laud separation is that they live in distrust as if this moment is definitive and is the future.

No, I don’t believe that the Gospel is simply one of inclusion or togetherness. I do believe that baptism is for the forgiveness of sins. But the oddness of the Church is that none of us are called to make ultimate decisions about the rightness or wrongness of those who make up the Body of Christ and with whom we have fellowship. We are called to exercise loving discipline, in the context of restoring fellowship, not ending it. But Christ is King and in his new kingdom, he reserves judgment – you are so wrong that I must shun you – to the Father. The Church to the Father is that rather odd company of homeless green-carders, who here have no long-lasting place to stay, but who journey on in a procession that would make a sergeant-major faint. This procession wanders around, gets out of step, and breaks up from time to time. When it pauses and sets up tables, it is Christ who re-unites them. But the Father sees the Church as it will be, as it enters the New Jerusalem in perfect formation, in unity, singing the songs of Zion.

The present political church we all seem to believe in is not worth the trouble. Yet underneath and above all this nonsense is the true and abiding Church, our Mother dear. What ever we do, we can’t escape her embrace, for we are born of her in the waters of baptism and she feeds us with the living presence of God.

Moratoria? If we can’t be the Church, lets have a moratorium on passing the peace.

One Response

  1. Dang! I am not eccentric enough! This must be rectified forthwith!
    As secretary to the ecumenical relations committee and a member of SCEIR I was heartened by your comment that we should sack Bp Epting if schism is the way to go. The bishops did pass A056 “Interreligious Dialogue” without debate, which has as its theological rationale “We affirm that ‘Jesus is Lord’…” Hopefully the Executive Council will pass it as is.
    Back to eccentricity–Allez les Bleus!
    Bishop Pierre Whalon

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