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GOINGS ON

So much seems to have happened during the week I spent in New York. I often find myself getting quite depressed but then the historian in me whispers that we’ve seen worse times in our collective memory as Anglicans. In the 17th Century Anglicanism was abolished, episcopacy sent underground –perhaps not a bad idea – and the Prayer Book banned. During those sixteen years some remained in the church, or rather continued to worship as best they could in their parish churches and some met secretly, fearing the tramp of Cromwell’s soldiers. Some went secretly to the banned bishops for ordination, while others submitted to presbyteral ordination hoping for better days. It was a period of enormous intellectual and spiritual endeavor, which produced great theologians and spiritual giants of the likes of the future Bishop Pearson who’s “Introduction to the Creeds” was still a mandatory text book in the States up to the First World War. Pearson, following Ussher, vindicated the authenticity of the writings of Ignatius of Antioch, settling for many Anglicans the question of episcopacy. The writings of Jeremy Taylor remain living testaments to a gentle pastoral Anglican faith to this day. They play tribute to the Anglican conviction that although we are fallen, we are not totally depraved, but, before baptism, “very far gone from original righteousness.” Granted, such a view isn’t popular today among those who take an optimistic view of the human race while at the same time watching CNN News. And they say that those who believe in miracles are gullible? Ask a parish priest who has been abused by vestries or parishioners whether she or he believes in sin. Or one might suggest that the collect for next Sunday be taken seriously!

So those were both the best of times and the worst of times. They remind us that even when things seem lost, they seem so because we can only live in the “Now”. It is because we don’t trust God and therefore attempt to shoulder the load of renewing the church or reforming the church by ourselves that things seem desperate. It is because we use the methods of secular power, even “democratic”power that we assume the role of winners and losers. If it is thought that the winners wrote the history of the Early Church, consider how the present day winners write our contemporary narrative. Perhaps our belief that we must win or we lose literally bedevils our thinking and actions. When the Archbishop of Canterbury calls us to patience, we think he’s a relic from the past and dismiss such a notion as hopelessly “spiritual”.

We call for world peace and we fight each other.
We call for an end to poverty and we spend enormous sums of money on meetings and lobbies, communications and Conventions at which and through which we seek to enrich our positions by impoverishing those we have labeled our enemies.
We pray for the peace and unity of the church and encourage schism on the left or the right.
We call for sacrifice and fight over real estate.
We proclaim separation of church and state and use the secular courts as our disciplinary arm.
We promise to respect the dignity of every human being and leak letters and engage in character assassination.

And the watching world looks on in disillusion or cynicism. Those faithful parishioners, caught in the middle of strife, stay at home. “See how these Christians love one another.”

NEW YORK

I spent last week in New York attending the January board meeting of NNECA; (The National Network of Episcopal Clergy Associations). We met at 815 on Tuesday and Wednesday and at the Church Pension Group’s office on Thursday. On Friday morning we met at the House of the Redeemer, where we had been lodged. It’s a wonderfully eccentric place, a town house built for a Vanderbilt relative: a mixture of palace, Victorian Hotel and monastery with some of the cheapest rates in Manhattan..

For many years NNECA has represented all the clergy of our church. The January meetings enable the board to meet with many of those in leadership. This year was no exception. The Presiding Bishop gave us a good deal of her time. I was impressed by her openness, her willingness to speak to us frankly and clearly and her sense of humor.

Our new Primate met in the NNECA board a cross-section of TEC as it is now, from “left” to “right”, from rural to urban, male and female, African American and white, Pittsburgh to El Camino Real.. She fielded questions about the South Carolina election and her vision for the future. She heard us ask that she recognize and encourage the center, the moderate majority, ranging from those who are traditionalists but won’t leave the church to those who are liberal but don’t want to leave the Anglican Communion. We asked her to encourage the parish clergy who get on with being faithful parish priests and pastors in these difficult times and the women and men across TEC at home and abroad who struggle to pay the bills and worship week by week in their parish churches.

We spent all of Thursday morning, ranged around the largest conference table I have ever seen, built to accommodate the CPG trustees, hearing from Dennis Sullivan, Pat Coller and Matthew Price, the Brit who has brought honesty to our statistics. Many of the improvements the clergy enjoy have been the result of NNECA’s advocacy. It was such a witness which deflected the IRS from seeking to tax clergy owned homes.

We also discussed –centering on a recent case – the problem of clergy “black-balling”; bishops and Deployment Officers contacting each other through what we used to term “the old boys’ network” and disqualifying clergy, and in particular interim clergy in a process in which such clergy have no right to defend themselves and who often remain unaware that they have been marked until the inevitable gossip catches up with them. As a result a letter is being sent to DOs and Bishops asking that this pernicious habit cease. We predict that if it does not, there will be law suits. NNECA continues its role as an advocacy group for the parish clergy and a body to which clergy who feel abused or are in crisis may turn for professional help and counsel.

We also concluded plans for our 2007 conference which will meet in Williamsburg, Virginia on the days following the 400 Anniversary celebrations of the Jamestown landings in June. The speakers include the Presiding Bishop, Dr. Michael Battle, Loren Mead, and Tex Sample. Representatives from the CPF, CDO and other agencies will be doing workshops. For further information go to: http://www.nneca.org/. Y’all come,hear?

NNECA is in the process of renewal. Reflecting on the cultural changes in the church and nation since NNECA was founded; we are now exploring opening our ranks to individual clergy and being more creative in describing what form a clergy association might take in this computerized world while encouraging the formation of new diocesan or regional associations and affirming our present vibrant associations.

I’ll grant you this blog is a shameless promotion of NNECA. I believe that NNECA is a bright light in our church. Clergy from across the spectrum and on both sides of what is alleged to be a hopeless divide, work together collegially and in real trust and friendship both on the board and in the associations and by individual support. As editor of LEAVEN, our journal, I try to include writers who represent the church, warts and all.

If you have a bee in your bonnet, a descriptive narrative of ministry, something you want to say, I’m always looking for copy. You can contact me at: anthony.clavier@gmail.com.

I staggered home after this my first outing since being diagnosed with cancer and last Sunday baptized seven babies. I was considering installing a conveyer belt. Yesterday and today I attended a meeting of the Diocesan Interim Clergy, mercifully held at St. Thomas a Becket’s Church, the parish I serve. I may take tomorrow off!

I’m on vacation from chemo for five weeks. I feel so much better. I am grateful to so many of you for your prayers and concerns.

WHOSE SIDE?

I like to receive comments, as long as they are polite. A commentator writing about my last blog ended by asking me whose side I was on? That’s a question I’ve been asked since I was a boy. “Which team do you support?” “Are you Conservative or Labour or perhaps Liberal?” “Are you Anglo-Catholic, Evangelical or Broad Church?” “Are you Democrat or Republican?” If I had the vote at the moment I’d find that one easier to choose, not because I have the foggiest idea as to which either party really believes in, but because of the War. I’m against it and have been from the beginning.

That alone draws me closer to a description of my attitude. I would support the Democrats not because they are Democrats but because they are, at least now, against the Iraqi debacle. My decision would be made about the issue, not about the political party. As an aside, another poster talks about the polity of TEC being based on the thinking of the Founding Fathers. I’m afraid that notion does little for me and I’m quite sure those worthy gentlemen, and the their wives, one hopes, were not really what we call democratic thinkers, at least as we see things, at all. It was Lord Hailsham who said that Great Britain is a republic with an hereditary head of state, and the United States a kingdom with an elected monarch. I must say that I am getting very tired of the mantra that we cannot or can do this that or the other because we are more democratic than other Provinces of the Communion. At least in the English General Synod, bishops sit with the clergy and laity and have to debate and vote with them, rather than two Houses talking to themselves. Now try suggesting that we reform GC. See if a debate emerges which does not invoke American patriotism or inbvocations of a long-age revolution. George Bush gets his power to stay in Iraq from George III and without mad George’s constitutional problems of keeping a majority in parliament!

Of course the question levelled at me is intended to ask whether I am on the side of those who support gay and lesbian blessed relationships or not. Now if I were asked whether I am on the side of gay or lesbians, or left-handed chalice-bearers I’d be able to say that I was taught from a very early age that it’s the person you are to love, not the person’s accidentals. As my grandfather was black, from St. Lucia in the West Indies, and as I have cousins of every shade and religion down there, I’d be a real humbug if I have not sought to live into my heritage and to that of my Yorkshire coal-miner’s daughter; my mother.

I suppose, with the risk of sounding pious or trite, I have to say that I am on the side of the Church. By the Church I do not mean, at first, the Episcopal Church, although that fits in to it. I believe in One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church. This I say almost every day. I don’t say each day, “We or I believe in TEC”! The major rites I celebrate in my ministry, Baptism, the Eucharist, Marriage and Burials don’t belong to the Episcopal Church, anymore than Ordination does. The very tradition and heritage in which I live as an Anglican reach back before the break ups of the Reformation or the Great Schism. I believe in the Church.

When St. Paul tells us that because of that which Jesus has done, we are NO LONGER Jew or Gentile, male of female, slave or free but all ONE, I take him and the authority of Scripture very seriously. Not only do I see this as an baptismal admonition against prejudice, but an admonition to the “no longer” part of the equation. We can’t escape being who we are -well we can in part but that’s another story: I can try with God’s help not to be such a grumpy old man or not to moan about my cancer. We can, through grace escape making “who we are” a celebration of difference to the extent that such a celebration trumps unity.

In the world in which we live, that’s a tall order. To get things done we have to form corporate groups or celebrate a corporate group. The fight for justice seems to necessitate the creation of lobbies, which claim, sometimes factually and sometimes not, to represent distinct classes or tribes, or racial groups, gender or sexual orientation and of coalitions of some of these. Often the price of such a necessity takes us in the other direction away from unity. Internal or external schism seems inevitable if not actually formal. “Whose side are you on?”

If the vehicle in which this rowdy crowd travels is destroyed, in what context shall we seek justice-with-mercy and unity in the bond of peace? It is well to remind our selves at the beginning of the WEEK OF PRAYER FOR CHRISTIAN UNITY that Jesus prayed that we might be one. It was an insistent prayer and there’s no small print attached to it. Baptism is the sign of that unity. Of course if you’ve cut St. John’s Gospel out of your Jeffersonian edition, my argument fails.

I spent over twenty-five years of my life justifying the position of my separated Anglican ecclesial body. Of course heresy is worse than schism. Of course unsound praxis is worse than schism. Of course one doesn’t need to be a formal part of the Anglican Communion to live into its heritage and tradition. In practice our definition of heresy became narrower, of schism optimistically wider, of praxis opportunistic. We deprived ourselves of a part of our heritage, its liberality: we began to drift away from our heritage and tradition. When I led us into talks with TEC in 1979, there was a world of bother for me, although much encouragement from PB John Allin of blessed memory. When those talks collapsed nearly a decade later, there was much glee on the right wing of the jurisdiction I served.

So, I changed my mind -something +Rowan is not permitted to do – only to find myself in a church bitterly and sometimes cruelly divided, a church which may cease to be in the Anglican Communion or which may split into rival ecclesial camps.

I am a moderate because I want to be free to make up my mind on issues, not parties. I am a moderate because I believe firmly in comprehension and I am a zealot because I believe in the Church, the Body of Christ, of which the Episcopal Church is part and parcel and not a self-created, self-authenticating sect.

O THOU BETHLEHEM

I must confess that when I read the Bishop of Bethlehem’s gripes about the Archbishop of Canterbury I experienced again the great gulf fixed between American culture and that of my own. Of course I’ve been here nearly 40 years and so should have assimilated I suppose –not a word to the Republicans. However I find it so difficult to pierce through the layers of political and social self-perception and particularity, the cult of the person rather than the office and something which sounds to my ears, but probably isn’t a sort of whiney tone.

Just one example. +Rowan stood against the Global South bishops by making sure that our Primate attends the Dar a Salaam Primates’ Meeting. Yet instead of noting that fact, the Archbishop is damned because he has invited to the same place, although not the same meeting some American bishops, who represent the virtually disenfranchised section of TEC. Had he met them in London a week before perhaps there would be less than a threat?

At this point let me ask a factual question. Has the Archbishop been invited to meet with the American House of Bishops and if so, when, and for what purpose? I think the idea to be good. It would give +Rowan a chance to listen to our bishops and our bishops the chance to hear and perhaps gain further clarity about just how the Archbishop sees the extent and limitation of his authority.

But back the thesis because in a real way it seems to go to the heart of the problem. The Bishop of Bethlehem reminds us all that there was a time when the professorial Dr. Williams suggested a position which seems very close to that of those who advocate same sex unions within our church; the present governing party in our comprehension.

Now for all we know this may well be +Rowan’s present position. It would not surprise me a bit. The problem does not lie in the area of personal conviction but in the matter of the extent to which a Primate, any primate, is free to advocate “prophetic change” in a manner which would make it impossible for such a primate to minister to the whole Communion or National Church. In any case it’s an old political dodge to dig up what someone said at one time and from that compare what he or she says now and damn them for being weak minded. I normally associate the tactic with right wing political pundits.

At a lesser level I think of William Temple and Henley Henson, both of whom had scruples about the doctrine of the Resurrection, who before ordination in the first case and consecration in the second had to decide whether they could or would subscribe to the Catholic Creeds. Both did, and both lived into their subscription perhaps through that act as Temple’s later writings affirm. Any bishop of whatever rank has to live into the Anglican comprehension with its glories and weaknesses. In our own local context our Primate must live into the reality, summed up in a recent poll, which suggests that perhaps 70% of Episcopalians wish that the militants who inhabit the noisy world at both end of our spectrum –or is it a circle in which they meet? – would go into a room and fight it out, so that we could all get on with tackling poverty, lack of health care, our neglected racial minorities, our loss of membership and the urgent call to evangelism. 20/20 disappeared from our map.

It is true that there are monochrome Provinces or Dioceses in the Communion. They were founded by missionary societies which reflected the Catholic or Evangelical strands in the Anglican symbiosis. I know of no Province which has become monochrome after centuries of pluralism and comprehension. I would view the creation in America of either an “evangelical” or “liberal” monochrome ecclesial body as a retrograde and regressive development. The Anglican comprehension is not a coalition of rivals but an interwoven symbiosis of belief and practice, informing the whole and describing and limiting the whole.

Now it may well be that having nearly won the day, those who passionately, honestly, and sometimes courageously affirm that the Holy Spirit has done a new thing through the votes of a majority in General Convention believe that the rest of the Communion should leave us alone and await enlightenment. To my mind that belief all sounds, in process, rather like a mixture of national chauvinism and Mormonism; the first because it seems to say to those in our church and abroad who oppose or haven’t reached clarity on the issue that they are defying the Holy Spirit, perhaps a deadly sin, and that the Holy Spirit doesn’t speak through the synods of most other Provinces; and it posits the question as to what theological and ecclesial foundation there is to justify such a claim by a Provincial synod of a Communion, however legally autonomous.

I would also suggest, and this is an informed opinion, that the American scene must be utterly bewildering to the Archbishop as it is to others. On the one hand, despite the votes in General Convention, it is obvious that no consensus exists in the Episcopal Church on the matter of same-sex unions. I’m not addressing the ordination issue because it is a subject which creates humbugs of those of us who know better!! On the other hand some on the left now seem to champion the schism they abhorred when I was a separated bishop! (I can’t tell you how often diocesan bishops and local clergy dismissed the authenticity of the jurisdiction I served because we were not in communion with Canterbury. It depends whose ox is being gored.)

The right is even more bewildering. On that subject I have blogged before. In the last few days we have the threat of another African led incipient diocese for the South, while we have a Virginian CANA and new parishes scattered around with their own “rent a bishop” from overseas. Of course there’s the Network, which seems to have a hole in it, as distinct from the Windsor compliant bishops, with their own spectrum of characters and levels of resistance to the policies of the present majority in General Convention and even to our own new Primate.

We may grumble that +Rowan speaks to these people and that commissions of the Anglican Communion listen to these people, but who speaks for the non-schismatic traditionalists, hanging on by their teeth and many of our moderate center who faithfully keep our local parishes alive, pay the bills and are seldom, if ever recognized? Most of this constituency doesn’t want a Primatial Vicar or substitute PB here or abroad. They want to be acknowledged and represented. No wonder the long forgotten Zacchaeus Report points to an extraordinary level of congregationalism in our parishes. According to that report most Episcopalians love their local parish; distrust the diocese and either ignore or get annoyed with the National Church. Nothing has changed. Certainly it has been my experience in the parishes I have served since I was received into TEC, and only the first was “conservative” and that fairly mildly: our Primate preached in Trinity, Pine Bluff, Arkansas a couple of Sundays ago.

After attempts by the radical right to interpret the Archbishop of Canterbury’s willingness to make suggestions and listen to them in a manner far beyond the scope of his intentions and now a growing number of schismatic voices on the left, who seem to yearn for a Brigadoon church, the mirror opposite to that desired by the right, no wonder the Archbishop is gun-shy.

Finally, until recent moments, we were constantly reminded that neither the Archbishop of Canterbury, nor the Primates, nor the ACC nor the Lambeth Conference have jurisdiction in this land of America. Now we want the Archbishop of Canterbury to visit our House of Bishops, as if he has the power or authority to fix things for us! We need to start fixing things at home first. Let our leaders decide whether we are to be a comprehensive church in which all who wish to follow the Anglican Way are welcomed, honored, recognized and enabled in ministry, or let us dec
ide to become a church for the enlightened and their followers.

If we decide to remember who we are by taking the first road, we have to create the structure which does not embed permanent minorities but rather provide pastoral leadership and care for all our parishioners, clergy and bishops. It is all very well to remind ourselves of our belief that schism is worse than heresy, but schism is not merely the activity of the honest schismatic, left or right, but of those whose attitude is hostile to the schismatic and who seem to say, “Go away. There’s no place for you here.” Anglicanism as it is now grew out of such a moment. If the Anglican Communion expels us after we have sincerely tried to reach a compromise for the time being, then the blame for schism, all things being equal, will rest there. If a section of our church starts a rival province, then the blame will be upon our intolerance and contempt for comprehension and on those who yearn for a church made in their own image and ambition.

So once again I ask the question, “Who in the Houses of General Convention and particularly the House of Bishops will speak for the loyal traditionalist and moderate?” If such an empowered voice were heard, maybe, even at this desperate time, there would be no need for +Rowan to meet self-appointed leaders, many of whom have taken that role because no one else will. We keep hearing that moderate bishops are meeting. Let’s hear from them.

CERTAINTY

One of the taunts hurled at traditionalists by the “left” is that they deal in certainties. It’s not a new taunt. When I was in pre-theological college some forty seven years ago, one of the tasks of the staff was to undermine the “certainties” of those from both Evangelical and Anglo-Catholic backgrounds, although strangely not the certainties of theological liberals.

Now there’s nothing wrong in getting people to think. In fact it is an essential process in studying any discipline, sacred or secular. In the process there’s the hope that the disciple will learn or re-learn the tools of scholarship, among which is the critical faculty and the ability to examine sources one against or with another.

So how may anyone be sure of anything? For a Christian, what we call faith and what we call obedience play a pivotal role. Neither faculty is particularly popular in modern Western culture. Faith looks a great deal like gullibility and the idea of obedience triggers pictures of that sort of servility which has enabled dictators and even popularly elected politicians to drag populations into savage wars and economic and political deprivation. As Sir Isaiah Berlin warned, democratic majoritarianism can be as repressive as dictatorship. Blind faith and obedience has led and still does lead people who profess a religion to engage in horrifying acts of cruelty and repression. Such behavior on the part of religious people seems more horrifying than that of those who follow dictators or violent revolutionaries; although in both cases it might be valid to assess the culpabilities and obsessions of the followers rather than solely the brand label they advertise. .

If we all decided to approach life in general and what we used to call “disciplines” with unwavering cynicism and nonconformity nothing much, from cooking to nuclear science would produce anything new. A deliberate attempt to undermine and reject the knowledge that we have inherited undermines even the most radical thought and process. It leaves the individual in a self-centered and self-validating void even if he or she surrounds themselves with an enormous crowd of supporters. Being certain that there are no certainties is a form of certainty.

These thoughts came to mind today, the Feast of Hilary of Poitiers as I read the collect. It includes this striking prayer: “Keep us steadfast in that true faith which we professed at our baptism.” There it is: faith and obedience. In context, Hilary’s caring and gentle defiant opposition to the Emperor’s espousal of Arianism points to the fact that our church has its certainties and gently and caringly invites our obedience. It does so, in the Sacrament of Baptism in the Prayer Book rite, by inviting all including those to be baptized or their proxies to affirm the ancient Apostles’ Creed – a table of context to biblical and ecclesial “certainties” – and other points of Christian doctrine and discipline. In the Episcopal Church these are in some manner fleshed out in the Catechism which is legally part of our church’s doctrinal formularies or statements.

By “certainties” it is not meant that they constitute something akin to a scientific “theory” for no one may know the mind of God. Rather they are reliable signposts pointing towards God and away from notions that obscure and therefore harm. No Christian dogma or doctrine is an exhaustive statement. Our Orthodox, with a big ‘O’, friends remind us of that. Rather they point us into the mystery beyond our understanding. If we were capable of understanding God in Trinity, we would be on the ‘intellectual’ level with God in Trinity.

It is one thing to approach reverently and with the full use of the reasoning faculties God gives us this incompleteness, our “knowing in part” as we gaze at puzzling reflections in a mirror, and quite another to line up that which we have promised to believe in with other disciplines and areas of knowledge and pick and choose our authority to make religious decisions and draw religious conclusions which overthrow that which the church teaches.. Indeed when we so do, it seems that we are often prepared to place our faith in and obedience to the source we have decided to be “certain” than we do to the mystery of believing. We do so either because our new “authority”, note the word, is modern, or because its conclusions validate and justify our own and liberate us from aspects of our faith we find intolerant, bigoted or unloving. (Some of the people who trumpet some aspect or other of doctrine, discipline and worship may well be intolerant, bigoted and unloving. Other may be tolerant, open to all and extraordinarily loving.)

Yet what we have done, rightly or wrongly is place our faith in and our obedience to a “certainty”. It then boils down to a debate about whether there is an inherent authority in those things the church has deemed to be “necessary unto salvation” those things to which we gave our faith and obedience in our baptisms, or not. If the words of the Baptismal Covenant, the words of the Catechism, the Creeds, the Bible read to us, by us and for us at every liturgy are merely what our Puritan ancestors called a “dumb show”, then perhaps we should be done with this mummery and join the Unitarians. Certainly we shouldn’t be suggesting that those who take their promises seriously should go away and leave TEC to the rest!

Now it may be, and probably is true, that fundamentalist and Roman Catholic converts to Anglicanism don’t understand what we mean by faith and obedience. They have divorced a controlling spouse only to continue the fight with their new one! In the process they have made spouse number 2 –many of us – begin to believe either that we really have the same personality as spouse 1, hidden under a layer of patience and tolerance, in need to reform ourselves, or that spouse 1 really had a good insight into the character of their mate! Anglicanism needs to be taken at face value, warts and all, and not in the context of or in reaction to other expressions of Christianity. To do so needs more than a cursory and contemporary study. Unfortunately for so many of us we can dismiss the past and its people easily under a number of headings. Then there’s only “now”, only what I think, and those who think like me, as I pick and choose, with the best of intentions ways and means of facing the terrible things which need changing while striving to have an optimistic and sin-free analysis of people and culture.

OF SOLA SCRIPTURA, CULTURE and COMMISSIONS

Recently Frs. Oz Guiness and John Yates lamented that the doctrine of “sola scriptura” was no longer received in the Episcopal Church as being normative.

One of the problems of our having a multi-stranded tradition is that we can pick and choose which strand we want to claim as normative and build a “Brigadoon” to which we may refer for an idealized vision of what we wish Anglicanism to be and to judge what is wrong about the church at this moment. Anglo-Catholics and Evangelicals are particularly prone to this exercise. The Left, as a creation of the 60’s more than an heir to the old Broad Church party, has little tradition to idealize.

Our Reformers and their C0ntinental brethren did attempt to assert a doctrine which suggested that the Holy Scriptures alone were a sufficient authority not only for doctrine, but for “manner of life.” English separatists suggested that as episcopacy wasn’t clearly taught in Scripture it could be abolished along with the sign of the cross in baptism, ancient fonts, wedding rings, surplices, and the Feast of Christmas. In reality, as was later pointed out by Jeremy Taylor and others, a “tradition” of interpreting Scripture developed. It was deeply reactive to Roman Catholicism, dismayed by Ussher’s and Pearson’s rehabilitation of Clement and Ireneaus, both of whom demonstrated that episcopacy was “early” and essential, and largely shaped by the writings of Calvin’s disciples. Certainly here was no “sola scrioptura” but the Bible interpreted through the lens of a new “tradition” and a new reason.

I’ve worked in parts of the Episcopal Church in which a tradition of biblical interpretation consists of the reading of a passage, after which participants react to three posed questions. In other places a holy huddle meets and decides just how a passage affects them. References to context or to scholarly review are not encouraged. Much of this sort of naive bible study originated in the Charismatic Movement. What doesn’t seem to be absent is bible study, or at least it seems more obvious than it did thirty years ago. That there seems to be no commonly accepted method of biblical interpretation seems obvious, but one doubts whether there ever has been in the history of the Church, never mind Anglicanism.

Except to say that our Elizabethan Divines and their heirs placed a great emphasis not on preaching, but on the liturgical reading of the Scriptures in the context of the Christian Year, by which Holy Scripture was to be read, marked, learnt and inwardly digested. These Divines were appalled by the ad hoc choosing of “hot texts” by Puritan preachers, who used note appended to the Geneva Bible as if they were scripture and whose sermons concentrated on narrow interpretations of Calvin’s teachings. It was not so much that “Church Divines” differed greatly on the substance of the faith, but rather that they inherited a tolerant and patient pastoral approach to human frailty. Indeed as priests were parish priests and not merely shepherds of the “saved” such an attitude was essential. The pastoral emphasis of Anglicanism has always been suspect to those whose religion is ideological and narrow.

Mind you I am with the Evangelicals and Anglo-Catholics on the matter of culture. I just can’t see, for the life of me, how cultural norms may form some seat of authority for the Church. Certainly they frame the context in which the Gospel is offered and the church organized for mission. Christianity has been profoundly radical when it has been counter-cultural, and dreadfully pathetic when it has said “Amen” to cultural norms. This was true for the Evangelicals in the late 18th and early 19th Century, to the Anglo-Catholics in mid century Victorian days and to the Liberals in the 1960s.

What if, as has been suggested on this blog, people decide that they don’t think marriage is necessary? It’s an interesting prediction and with much evidence to support it in Europe and in a growing sense here on our East and West coasts. More and more there’s a dysfunction between Christianity and local culture, left and right, in the West. If the church is to be the church, she must sit in justice/mercy on both cultures and its own. Our horrible divisions are largely framed in terms of these two cultures, and our tactics imported from them.

And this brings me, finally to the appointees to the Anglican Communion’s new commission on a Covenant agreement, a minimum norm describing and limiting what we are when we claim to be Anglican Churches in Communion. Already the left is screaming that the Commission isn’t ideologically balanced. Is TEC ideologically balanced? When General Convention and its Houses create commissions and committees to address controversial subjects, are they ideologically balanced? If they had been we might still have a common language with which to speak with each other. Over nearly forty years we have lost this language and lost the ability to talk to each other. The Commission members have a decade to learn again a common language, as each area of the Communion offers its best minds, its theological traditions, its scriptural world-view and its cultural suppositions. That offering may be an extraordinary step forward. We as a church may learn something from it. We need to find a way not to attack each other, or endlessly talk to each other from our own camps, with our own jargon, but to submit all these factors at the bar of Scripture, Tradition and sanctified Reason. If we were to take such a sacrificial risk, I believe God would finally get a word in edgeway.

ABOUT ME

I thought I’d say something about my ongoing fight with the cancers which we discovered last October. I’ve been taken off the monthly infusion of chemo of which I had two sessions. There are good signs, such as my red and white blood cells being normal and my immune system working fairly well. The bad sign was a reversal of the reduction of “rogue” platelets. Tomorrow I go into the cancer center for my third “dose” of Rituxin alone. It takes about four hours to be filled with this wretched stuff, and thus far I’ve had an allergic reaction in the last hour each time.

After effects have included fever, weakness, numb hands and feet, and swollen eyes. Mercifully after the last infusion I suffered none of these and have been feeling pretty well. I was able to take the Epiphany service on Saturday night and the main service yesterday. I’m in my study at church now. I can get up and down from a chair without help and have left my walking stick at home.

I hope this progress continues. I’m scheduled to be in New York from January 22th to 26th for a NNECA board meeting. I edit LEAVEN, the National Network of Episcopal Clergy Association’s journal. I’m working hard to be as fit as possible for this event.

I am being sustained by the prayers of so many people in so many places, including this parish and my blog readers and for this I am profoundly grateful. God is being so good to me and so I am able to trust in His love and mercy and get on with life.