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ODD PRAYERS

As I finish the Office I usually say something like this…” May St. Mary, St Thomas of Canterbury, X and all the saints pray with us, may the angels of God guard and protect us and may the souls of the faithful rest in peace.” I know it all sounds frightfully High Church, but there it is.

Sometimes including today I get a wry smile as I recite these words. I remember St. Mary because she is blessed among all women and men. I remember Thomas a Becket, that very human saint, because he is the patron of my parish and I then remember whoever is commemorated in the Calendar. Today we remember that doughty bishop and Evangelical Philander Chase, Bishop of Ohio and then Illinois, founder of Kenyon College, a missionary bishop who himself and his proteges established TEC in places as far apart as Arkansas, Louisiana, Illinois and elsewhere. Chase didn’t even obey the rules. He got himself elected bishop of Illinois before the diocese was received into union with TEC, without consents from the PB, the bishops and the standing committees, forcing General Convention to play catch up. Bishop John Wordsworth, son of the poet, wrote a book defending this action on grounds of “necessity and charity.” That’s a concept to be evaluated anew today.

My wry smile is occasioned by two factors. Chase was an Evangelical, a real Evangelical at a time when that party was great and powerful in our church. The way some people talk, Evangelicals are a new and unwelcome addition to our ranks. True they almost died out after the schism of 1873 -we’ve had schisms before- but they just hung on. Nothing new there. From 1662 until the early days of the next century Evangelicals were a very rare breed indeed on both sides of the Atlantic. They burst forth to new life in the 18th Century. In Anglicanism one thing is sure, nothing is for keeps. Our “progressive” friends should remember that.

I smile because Chase would be horrified that I pray “to” the saints and for the departed and that he is named with the Blessed Virgin Mary and St. Thomas of Canterbury. Chase would be equally horrified to leaf through our Prayer Book. I am pretty sure he would find it deficient in acknowledging sin, dreadful in mentioning saints and the departed, and very weak in its lop-sided doctrine of the baptismal covenant. It’s not lop-sided if the credal words “for the remission of sin” are recited and remembered and believed. The Catechism can’t annul the Creeds.

Nevertheless I am delighted to remember Bishop Philander Chase today and delighted to name him with the saints. He reminds us that even the most lifeless churches can be revived, that where Word and Sacrament are liturgicaly enabled, even in the context of powerless preaching and teaching, God may and does use the potential to perform the actual.

At the press conference in New Orleans someone asked the Archbishop of Canterbury what people should do in “liberal” dioceses. I can’t quote his exact words but he asked, I think, whether sacramental grace remained there. That is a very Angican approach. After all, thank God, the unworthiness of the minister doesn’t annul the sacrament, nor does an attenuated Gospel. I would suggest that the “unworthiness”of a diocese or a province doesn’t hinder the sacrament. God is not dependent on our orthodoxy as long as the biblical channels of blessing remain intact.

Chase was the heir to the Virginia revival, in which an almost dead church was brought to life by Evangelical zeal. This was enabled because the church survived both Revolution and deadly boring Latitudinarianism, a Gospel of good works and good manners. Note that neither good works nor good manners are wrong or undesireable. Caring for marginalized people, MDGs and the like are not wrong or undesireable. But if good intentions and organized altruism were possible without “conversion” in its widest definition, the world would be a good place now. Nothing our “progressives” propose hasn’t been proposed before. Unfortunately each time such a benevolent description of humanity takes hold, a frightful war intrudes to warn us that humanity, unredeemed can be devilish. Progressivism isn’t possible in the Congo, Northern Uganda or Dafur. It is possible here, as long as we don’t watch too much TV.

For this and many reasons I am sure that all is not lost in TEC whatever our bishops decide on Tuesday. I know with certainty that one day, beginning in the most unlikely place, God will burst onto the scene through prayerful people. I also know, as sure as eggs are eggs, that one day new Evangelicals will sink into judgementalism and “moralism” and usher in a new day of progressivism, or maybe a High Church revival. I may not believe that history repeats itself, but it does a pretty good immitation.

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