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Losing my Religion in Search

I’m in search. It’s not easy to be taken seriously when one is sixty-seven years old and after a serious illness. Retirement isn’t in question because I entered TEC so late that if I threw in my Canterbury Cap now I’d receive just over $600.00 a month from the pension fund. At any rate I don’t want to retire. I’m a priest, not a business executive. Orders are indelible and so I am vocationally committed to ministry of some sort or another until they shoot me. I feel better than I have in years and retain the energy, enthusiasm and commitment to carry on. If people can be senators and representatives or even cabinet ministers and presidents in their seventies why is our church still practicing ageism?

Pat and I have loved it here. Of course we always knew that the time would come when the “interim” job was done and the parish would go into search. I get much too attached to be a good interim and anyway don’t have the financial resources to sustain an itinerant ministry.

What threatens to make me lose my religion or at least my cool is the search process. It is an enigma wrapped in very bad manners. I cannot for the life of me understand why regulations are not mutually adopted which institute basic efficiencies and require normal civilities. In an age of email it seems that parishes in search are still in the quill pen age but without the good manners which then accompanied conversation.

My name is now before a number of places. In only one of those has my application been received by a prompt email reply and acknowledgment and a promise to keep me informed about the process. For the rest, “I shot an arrow in the air. It came to ground I know not where.”

We are told there is a clergy shortage, but one wouldn’t believe it. One is sometimes required to respond with CDO forms which deployment officers may easily access and supply to search committees. One always must send a resume which replicates the information on a CDO profile which is up to date. Sometimes one is asked to answer generic questions, often of the most banal quality and for which there seem to be no right answers or even a suitable prize. No wonder some vestries still wnt to treat their priest as the hired help.

All the above may be taken in one’s stride if search committees acknowledged the receipt of applications, outlined their process and gave a time line. This almost never happens. One is left wondering and can’t even inform anxious spouses or children of progress or even, sometimes, whether one is being considered at all.

A Christian organization is surely committed to Christian behavior? Perhaps deployment officers need to be trained in compassionate civility and then offer a similar training to search committees. Modern methods of communication make it possible for a search process to be one of mutual discernment rather than that of priestly passive supplication and leisurely paced evaluation.

As in other areas of church life, national and diocesan regulations and programs have overcome basic canonical rules -the vestry elects, period – and created often dysfunctional systems which like the laws of the Medes and Persians will not perish whether they work or not or portray compassionate openness and care. It is time for reform.

Growing Together in Unity and Mission

From the Agreed Statement of the Anglican/Roman Catholic Commission for Unity and Mission, 2007. The Episcopal Church is a partner in this consultation.

58. The priesthood of the ordained ministry cannot be derived from the congregation. It is a distinct vocation, and not an enhancement of the common priesthood. But the common priesthood and the ministerial priesthood are nevertheless interrelated. The minister, though not the delegate of the congregation, does act in its name and focuses thereby its offering of worship. Only bishops and episcopally ordained and authorised priests preside at the Eucharist.

EX OPERE OPERATO

Religious controversies have their times and cycles. There was a time when the above Latin tag, thrown into a discussion, excited extraordinary vehemence. Roughly stated, “Catholics” believed that when sacraments were celebrated their force and virtue became really present because a qualified person, using the right words, the right ceremony performed that which the Church intends to do. “Evangelicals”, concerned about the moral suitability of the persons to which the sacramental rite was the subject (and the verb), and the reality of the faith of such a person or persons denied that the sacraments had force or virtue of themselves. They became real and forceful or virtuous if the recipient was faithful and “moral.” Catholics believed that the sacraments “worked” ex opere operato. Evangelicals were “receptionists.” As in all convenient tags, those so tagged were not all of one mind or in one place. Yet perhaps they exhibited sufficient degrees of commonality to be placed in convenient categories.

Today such controversies may seem hardly worthy of contemplation. Just to think that Episcopalians left their church because they denied that in baptism children became regenerate merely because they were baptized. The language of the Prayer Book rite in use then made that claim. Evangelical parsons tended to leave that bit out, or coughed loudly when reaching those words. The same people denied that the Holy Table was an altar, that ministers were “priests” other than being, if saved, members of the “priesthood of all believers”, or that Jesus was truly present in Bread and Wine, although Bread and Wine might act as effective signs and symbols inspiring the faithful recipient to encounter Jesus by faith. Ironically there are many non-evangelical Episcopalians today whose views differ only marginally from their Protestant ancestors some of whom left to found the Reformed Episcopal Church in 1873.

Certainly our Evangelical ancestors would approve of the Almy-inspired reformation of ecclesiastical furniture. The altar is now a Table. The theory of mutual ministry suggests that in baptism all enter the priesthood of all believers and that “ordained” ministry is merely functional, and that “priests” are not set aside to an ontological ministry, but merely recognized to have the charisms and talents to exercise that which all have by virtue of baptism. No one says much about bishops in all this! That in many places the consecrated elements, or those remaining, are placed on the ground outside for the birds and plants indicates either a Lutheran idea that the presence only remains effective when “in use” -but what about the reserved sacrament? – or that the real presence is only “real” to those who by faith receive Bread and Wine.

There remains one area in which the Catholic view of the sacraments or at least baptism prevails and that in perhaps a starker form than the classical Catholic doctrine allows. It is suggested that all the baptized by virtue of baptism are to be included and have the varied gifts of ministry simply by virtue of their baptism. Here one sees a triumph for ex opere operato. Indeed there are those who in championing communicating the unbaptized, suggest that human beings by virtue of their being created by God have all the privileges of Christian and ecclesial inclusion, subject perhaps to those infuriating church regulations to be used or ignored at will. There are those who proclaim such a view with enormous relish. Such primitive issues about whether a person is faithful, in a state of grace, believes the faith once delivered to the saints are to be disregarded except by commissions on ministry and perhaps diocesan bishops and even then with an eye to the law of inclusion. To such people the new doctrine of the Baptismal Covenant includes all. Such a view I gather is expressed in a statement to be found on the website of the Episcopal Diocese of Northern Michigan. As In many areas I think the problem with such a view is that it doesn’t go far enough. The radical notion that God in Christ has purposed to redeem us through the Cross, and the Resurrection and has called us to new life in a new society which always stands in counter-culture to the world, demonstrates the poverty and inadequacy of natural inclusivity. As with most heresies, the problem is not radicalism but essential timidity. And our response surely is not to propose a pure church and to burn the heretic, but rather to propose the hard work of orthodoxy as we tackle the timid sentimentality of error For we are to love those whom Jesus seeks and would save.

IF ONLY I’D BEEN BORN

Address by Fr. Tony Clavier to the Clergy Association of Pittsburgh,
Oct. 11, 2007

I sometimes wish I had been born in the late 18th Century! It would have
been lovely to be an English or perhaps Virginian country parson in
those days. The church’s legislative bodies hadn’t met in decades, the
Evangelical Movement was ossifying into a party, the Anglo-Catholics
were yet to arrive on the scene and most Anglican clergy on both sides of the ditch might well fit John Betjeman’s description:

“Broad of Church and broad of mind;
Broad in front and broad behind.”

Dean Church would later describe such a clergyman as being “not fully
alive to the greatness of his calling”!

But that wasn’t to be, and as I am recovering from cancer perhaps that
is just as well. Medicine was then even a bit cruder than chemotherapy. I happen to live in an age of turmoil, of confusion, of division and mutual recrimination. As I am not a particularly confrontational type, this doesn’t suit at all. My temptation is to wander into my study, close the door and immerse myself in things past. Many Anglican clergy have been called to such a life. There was a time when sound Divinity and scholarship was more the product of the rectory study than of the university or seminary. Anglican clergy were described as “stupor mundi”, the wonder of the world. Both the Evangelical and Catholic revivals in Anglicanism were born not in Conventions or Synods but in the homes of devoted clergy and laity.

We have all experienced that almost visceral frisson of horror when a
vestry member –why is it normally the treasurer? – starts to blither
about our need to be practical, citing the way things are done by boards of
directors, or in politics or the Rotary Club. The real meaning is that
while religion may be fine, in church we need to be practical. There’s always a slight whiff of sulfur in the air on such occasions!

I realize that I run the risk today of being so heavenly minded I am
no earthly use. I will take that risk because at this moment of division and
discord I want to remind us of our goodly heritage, of the elements in
our ethos which have made us distinct. The problem is that many of
the elements I shall mention do not seem particularly practical, even weak and other-worldly in a moment of time when we believe we need practical,
instant and effective solutions. If we feel this to be so, perhaps we think the following “marks” of Anglicanism are at best discarded or at least ignored.

Yet as I shall go on to suggest, there is a possibility that in the
midst of our search for instant solutions we are stumbling into enemy
territory, into picking up the enemy’s weapons. We do so with the best
of intentions, but we all know what road is paved with good
intentions.

As I write these words I do so using the word processing program on my
computer. It is so convenient. When I have finished, I can attach this
to an email and have it to Bruce Robison in the twinkling of an eye.
To print this off, put it in an envelope with an attached letter, take
it to the post office on Monday and mail it not only takes time, but I
risk it not getting from Morgantown, West Virginia, to Pittsburgh,
Pennsylvania in time for this meeting. I can drive the distance in a bit over an hour!

Our thirst for the instant not only affects the way we do things, I am
beginning to think it affects the way we view God. He becomes for us the
God of the instant response. Just as we tend to think that all
problems must have a solution now and that all problems are ultimate
and must be solved now or all will be lost, so we begin to think that
God either wants to fix things now or worse still, has entrusted us
with the task of fixing things now. After all, if left, they will only
get worse.

I’ve lived in the United States for most of my adult life, so perhaps I can
risk saying to you that Americans not only want a quick fix, they want
a structure in which to make that quick fix. Even in the midst of
trying to be spiritual we envision political/structural solutions.
Just as political discourse is often about persons and not principles,
seeks to argue back, catch someone out, force someone to say or act in
a specific manner, so our religious discourse all too often follows
this pattern. If we are not name-calling we are proposing structural solutions often of some novelty, in which we may contain our new alignments. No group in the contemporary Episcopal Church is immune to this temptation just as all of us, as much as we flinch from the thought are still very much formed by the Enlightenment and by political structures which emerged in the Age of Reason.

In a recent book on Anglican history –I can’t quote him because I lent
the book to my priest son – Archbishop Rowan points to the Anglican
virtue of patience. Unlike some of you, I don’t have a mathematical
frame of mind and so I can’t remember texts by chapter and verse
easily, and thus I must look in my ancient, battered, small print
Cruden’s Concordance given me by an evangelical Methodist shoe
repairer when I was a boy.

As I am in a proof texting mood, here are some references:

Luke 21. 19: “In your patience possess your souls.” –“by your endurance you will save your lives.” REV.
Romans 5: 3: “.. knowing that tribulation worketh patience and
patience, experience and experience hope.” ( RSV “endurance”)
Romans 15. 4: “that we through patience “steadfastness” and comfort might have hope.”
Romans 15. 5: “the God of patience (steadfastness) grant you to be like minded..”
2 Thess, I. 4: “so that we glory in you for your patience.(steadfastness)”
I Tim. 6. 11: “and follow after love, patience, (steadfastness) meekness…”

The modern translators have us understand the old English word “patience” in terms of “stick ability” endurance, steadfastness, or perhaps staying put in the midst of everything. One doesn’t endure by removing oneself from the scene to a safe place.

There’s a lot, lot more. I would commend to you all a study
of these and other texts. Of course it is much more fun to smite down
the Amalekites hip and thigh or to pick through St. Paul to discover
juicy passages about discipline, some of which may apply, but all of
which are to be viewed through the patient compassion of Jesus our
Savior and Lord.

If I am to list a group of what might be termed Anglican virtues, I
would begin with patience. It is or used to be in our DNA. May I
suggest that it was thrust upon us in one particular context?

As some of you know, particularly if you attended or are associated
with a seminary just down the road from here, our first Reformers,
over time, embraced the Evangelical tradition of Martin Bucer, Peter Martyr
and Heinrich Bullinger in its immediately pre-Calvin context. Ironically it was Calvin who encouraged Cranmer to continue the Episcopal system of
government. However the preservation of the diocesan and parochial
system imposed upon Evangelicals a distinct form of pastoral patience.
One may believe that the church is Invisible and Visible, that men and
women are destined either to salvation or damnation, but in practice
every single baptized person in the village was a parishioner and
under the care of the parish priest. One may think that parishioners
were hell bent but unless they were notorious or frightened the
horses, one was obliged to care for them, probably have them
confirmed, married, visit them in sickness and in health and bury them
in the churchyard.

16th Century Anglicanism may have been Protestant
but it was “haunted by its Catholic
past” as Diarmaid MacCullogh puts
it. Dr Jean Maltby demonstrates in her study of the Elizabethan and
early Caroline Church that some Puritans just couldn’t handle dining with
publicans and sinners. Many were hauled before the ecclesiastical
courts because they refused to celebrate the Eucharist for sinners or
catechize their children. Puritans like Richard Hooker’s nemesis,
Walter Travers wanted a pure church made up of the elect. These people just
didn’t have the patience necessary to be Anglicans.

A study of 18th Century Evangelical pastoral practice in the Church of
England demonstrates a similar pastoral patience. Tempted though he
was to emulate the Methodists and create churches for believers,
William Grimshaw at Howarth, later the Bronte parish, cared for his
erring flock, although often his patience was sorely taxed. Charles
Simeon of Holy Trinity, Cambridge, brought back Confirmation into
good repute and instituted early Communion services. He remains the very
model of a patient parish priest. One could easily cite similar patience among High Church and later Anglo-Catholic pastors from the pages of our history. I am not suggesting that pastoral patience is the unique virtue of Anglican clergy, but it has been one of our notable traits. These traditions lived in our own branch of the Communion and may be encountered in the staunchly pastoral “church” traditions espoused by Philander Chase, Charles Pettit McIlvaine, John Henry Hobart, Kemper and Hopkins, Polk, Hare and Tuttle, Muhlenberg and William Reed Huntingdon. That we are perhaps unfamiliar with these people and their writings and deeds demonstrates just how deep our amnesia has become.

Patience reminds us that we may not know God’s plan in detail and what
seems to be a dreadful situation a collective dark night of the soul,
may well be, as in the past, a preparation for revival. We may at this
moment espouse different practical solutions but we must have patience
with each other and give space to each other, even if we disagree
passionately about tactics. God may prove us all wrong: Liberal and
Conservative, “progressive” and “orthodox.”

Another Anglican virtue is comprehension. Here again we tend to
underestimate the passions of the past to magnify the problems of the
moment. Read the admittedly skewed evidences of Puritans and Church
folk in the 1640s on both sides of the Atlantic and you will read
stories of clerical, even Episcopal immorality, doctrinal innovation
or ignorance, worldliness of clergy and laity, heresy and schism.
Think of the 18th. Century Church, of naughty prelates like Bishop Hervey of Derry of whom it was said –“his ambition and his lust alone can get the better of his avarice” – or heretics like Bishop Hoadly who was not alone in his Deism.

We sometimes forget today the great gulf fixed between an Anglo
Catholic who believed in Eucharistic Sacrifice, auricular confession,
mass, Mary and confession and a staunch Evangelical who denied
baptismal regeneration, the Real Presence, the priestly nature of
ordination and regarded as immoral manuals of devotions published to
help penitents confess their sins to a priest. Read the history of the
creation of the Reformed Episcopal Church and note that after schism,
those who believed they were reforming Episcopalianism were swiftly
elbowed aside by dispensationalists on the one hand and biblical
liberals on the other. Within thirty years of its foundation many had returned to the Episcopal Church or drifted away into individual obscurity. It took that church over one hundred years to re-discover its Anglican roots.

We have, as Anglicans, experienced the gravest reasons to divide
before and we have divided before. We forget that the founders of
Congregational and Baptist Churches were members of the Church of
England and that both denominations created Unitarianism before being
rescued by the Evangelical Revival. Methodism is Anglicanism’s
offspring. I have mentioned the Reformed Episcopal Church and I was a
“continuing Episcopalian” for a quarter of a century. If you are quite
sure that separation is the only way. I urge you to discover ways to
preserve your ties not only with the Anglican Communion, but fellowship
with Episcopalians, lest you wander off into novelty and forget your
comprehensive tradition. The blog world is much too intent on dividing
us, dividing even those whose principles are similar. Tribalism is the
very opposite of catholicity and liberality, two Anglican traditional
virtues. The Holy Spirit is the author of unity, not of recrimination,
hostility and division. We may feel justified in occupying our
fortified camps. The watching world is alienated. “See how these
Christians love one another.”

Nor should one suppose that the dangers inherent in schism are not the
temptations of those who stay. Establishments may become equally
intolerant, insular and self-serving. Provinces with small memberships
and monochrome theology easily become the mirror image of separated
ecclesial bodies.

Finally Anglicanism is virtuous in its love of beauty. By beauty I do
not necessarily mean pomp and ceremony, ritual and ceremonial although
that too can have its rightful place as long as it does not become an
end in itself, what +Michael Ramsey, in his splendid book “God, Christ and the World” described as “fetishism”. I think of the irony of those verbal, rational Reformed Episcopalians, the foes of sacerdotalism and ritualism who swiftly built gothic revival buildings, the very symbols of the Medievalism they abhorred.

We are the church of John Donne, Lancelot Andrewes, George Herbert,
and Thomas Traherne whose beautiful words, poems and prayers still
inspire. Think of our evangelical tradition of hymnody typified by
Watts and the Wesleys. Read Herrick, Cowper or the diaries of Parson Woodforde or Francis Kilvert, the wonderful prose of William Tyndale and the translators of the Authorized Version of the Bible, the devotional language of Cranmer which survives in Rite 1. In architecture and place we have always shown forth the Incarnation. Beauty is a means of grace. It is often the casualty of war. If you are straying into contempt or suspicion for beauty read the first part of the first chapter of St. John’s Gospel: There one finds truth expressed in beauty.

When I served in “continuing church” –the Anglican Province of America- parishes the people swiftly sought to get out of the hired hall and build the best church building they could afford. They mourned the loss of the place where often their grandparents worshipped or they were baptized and married. The loss of beauty and place can foster resentment and anger, the seeds of war, division and the antithesis of the Gospel of hope. Anglicanism is perhaps hopelessly wed to outward and visible signs.

Beauty is part of “liberality” an Anglican virtue I have not the time to do more than mention in passing this morning. It is not to be confused with the word “liberal” at least in its modern meaning. The two contending sides in our church at the moment –you may belong to one or the other –are not noted for that patience of expression, beauty of life, and practice of comprehension which have been marks of Anglicanism because they are surely marks of Christian living. And lest you think I have left out the Cross or neglected Jesus, His death and resurrection run throughout this Anglican story in the lives of men and women, known and forgotten, whose faith was in the Word made Flesh and who died to rise again in His love and care.

Perhaps these memories and reminders are not answers to our immediate questions. Yet I offer them to you this morning in the hope that these last minutes may have been to you a soo
thing balm in Gilead, a reminder of the company we keep, those who have gone before us whose presence lives in the words we use and the surroundings we preserve or reproduce, and whose communion we invoke whenever we mention that odd word “Anglican”.

Is it folly on my part to remind us all of our tradition, of our way, in the midst of strife and division, when opinions harden, plans sharpen, and battle cries sound? I trust not. May the God of peace keep you in all in peace in believing. Amen

THOUGHTS FOR THE DAY

Two thoughts for the day. We’ve been meeting Josiah in the readings for the Daily Office this week. Cranmer compared the young Edward VI to Josiah and the Edwardian reforms as the equivalent of the discovery of the Book Of the Law by the Josiah’s High Priest. We know in retrospect that poor King Edward’s wicked uncles used the Reformation cause as a means to empower and enrich themselves. Things are never as simple as they seem.

Which brings me to a nice quote from Stanley Hauerwas in his preface to “Heresies and How to Avoid Them”, Quash/Ward et al, SPCK Hendrickson, 2007.

“Orthodoxy can tempt us to self-righteousness and a protectiveness that betrays the joy and confidence that should be the heart of the gospel. When orthodoxy becomes defensive rather than a form of love and proclamation it denies its own reality.”

OOPS AGAIN

For contraint read restraint. I have amended the text.

IN A WORD

It was George Bernard Shaw who said that the British and Americans are divided by a common language. As my friend Bishop Whalon points out “scheme” means something quite different to an American than to a Briton. One might say that we are all divided by our pre-conceived notions concerning what lies behind the use of words placed together to convey or perhaps obfuscate meaning.

These considerations are very much to the fore as we seek to evaluate the answers our bishops recently provided to the primates particularly on the subject of who may or who may not be elected and consecrated a bishop and whether priests may bless same-sex couples. In a real sense these are “new” concerns about ideas our parents or grandparents never considered. They never considered such issues because few people if any thought about either subject. It is not that they perhaps held strong religious convictions on these subjects. Asking my grandfather whether two people of the same gender might be married would have been on the order of asking him whether he was in favor of the internet or blogs! Knowing my grandfathers, or at least one of them, asking whether a person who habitually had sex with someone to whom he was not married might be appointed a bishop would have elicited rude remarks about his doubts about the sexual nature of clergy. He probably subscribed to the three sex theory: there are three sexes, men, women and clergy.

Now mere novelty is no ground for rejection, although given the conservative nature of a goodly proportion of human beings, it is a natural reaction in those who are born “a little conservatIVE,” rather than “a little liberal,” as W.S. Gilbert reminded us: yes the chap with Sullivan. Novelty can also mean some idea which is recent and has yet to be tested fully. A blog run by people who do not head my fan club recently posted a poll asking whether they would change their minds on the above subjects if the Anglican Communion came out in favor of both, or if, in twenty years the three major branches of Christendom so did. Might even a doubter say yes? Similar questions were posed to those opposed to the ordination of women when the matter came to the vote in TEC thirty years ago. Many hedged their bets by suggesting that if a General Council of the whole Chuch approved the ordination of women they would obey. The likelihood of such a Council is so remote that the question is safe. Not in my lifetime but perhaps in God’s lifetime; or not?

In such contexts Anglicanism in pursuit of its destiny to comprehend often seeks ways to remain old-fashioned while giving a glimmer of hope to those who style themselves “progressive.” Framing such a policy often demands a good deal of verbal dexterity of the sort which produces a frisson of horror among the precise, who hate compromise as the policy of the devil in hell, and who are certain they are on the Lord’s side. Anglicanism has never been a comfortable place fo the rigorists unless they were able to huddle in a party ghetto and forget that the rest of the church existed.

Even so I find myself uneasy with two linguistic devices used by the bishops in seeking to frame a response to the Primates which would be satisfactory and yet preserve the hope of progressives, those who believe that not only doctrine develops but so do our bedroom habits.

On the matter of the ordination and consecration of bishops the text, following the earlier reply from GC 2006 urges bishops to “exercise restraint” in not giving consent to the election of persons whose lifestyles are controversial, and in a commentary, those who are gay and lesbian living in non celibate unions are specifically mentioned. Now what does “exercise renstraint” mean? Does it mean, as the Joint Standing Committee of the Primates judges, that the bishops will restrain themselves by not giving consent or does it mean that the bishops will restrain themselves by not giving consent to perhaps most elections of this sort? Why were the words “exercise restraint” used? Is it a pat on the back saying, look how disciplined we are going to be?, or is it a loophole? Or does it merely act as a code to say to gay and lesbian people, look we still love you?

Again, what does it mean when the bishops say that they will not authorize “public” liturgies and blessings for same-sex unions? Does it mean that they will not authorize same sex-blessings of an ad hoc nature at which extempore prayer is used, or will not authorize same sex blessings at which are used authorized liturgical texts (but there are no such texts so they can’t mean that) or that they will permit “private” rites using a liturgical text approved by the Ordinary but not by the church, but are any religious rites “private”? Are the bishops saying that they will not permit clergy in their dioceses to perform same sex blessings, period? Is the language merely clumsy, awkward, intended to disallow while giving hope and comfort to gay and lesbian parishioners or does it merely mean what it says, whatever it says?

One realizes that facilty in language isn’t a modern virtue. We may indeed live in an age which does not value precision, except in science and medicine, and which seeks to avoid absolutes. Perhaps the American language as it is evolving or developing encourages obfuscation. Perhaps it was designed by politicians? One has enormous sympathy for the plight of those Anglicans who seek to perpetuate comprehension and to make space for all who wish to avail themselves of our altars. Yet hitherto this was done not by obfuscation of language but by tolerance of diversity in the context of doctrinal clarity in matters essential and those other matters which stem from core doctrine. When our bishops issue statements they do so both to the city, that is their own constituency, and to the world. They owe both winsomeness in expression and clarity in words. By clarity I do not mean the sort of bullying “orthodoxy” espoused by those whose confidence in their virtue enables them to sniff out and expose heretics of every sort. After all we are all invited to eat with publicans and sinners. To be clear does not mean to be “in your face”, rude or arrogant. Our Lord is the example of humble clarity, always pointing to that which is good. He reserved his judgment for religious bigots and religious humbugs, the sure and the evasive while warning that compromise may be deadly. Indeed it was perhaps his association with sinners and certainly the clarity of his claims which unleashed the frightening power of religious and political establishmentarianism. Judging by the text of the New Orleans statement, our bishops are in no danger from either front.

OOPS

I forgot the courtesy link to Sermons that Work which is:

http://www.dfms.org/sermons_that_work_90371_ENG_HTM.htm

A SERMON FOR NEXT SUNDAY

( I wrote this for the Episcopal Church’s “Sermons that Work” and it may also be found on their web site.)

Do you sometimes get turned off by “religion talk”? Or do you think that the vocabulary and jargon used by many Christians somehow makes an ordinary idea so religious that it doesn’t apply in day-to-day living?

Such a word is “grace.” It sounds so pious and out of reach. So when a prayer, one of those lovely compact “collect” prayers, talks of God’s grace going in front of us and behind us, we sort of shrug, say “fine” but really don’t think it means very much at all.

The prayer – collect – today is a reminder of the story about God’s glory in visible form, as a great light, which went in front of and behind the children of Israel as they escaped Egypt and went in search of the Promised Land. Yet escaping from Egypt and looking for a Promised Land seem so very far from our experiences at work, or at home, even in church. Surely, sometimes we would love to run away. Maybe we pray that one day we will go to heaven. After all, why else would we be in church today, singing these hymns and saying these prayers? God seems to like that sort of thing for some unknown reason, so we do them. Perhaps we get some comfort and some hope. But as to the practicality of all this, perhaps some of us or most of us reserve judgment.

The readings today try to give practical examples of what “grace” means. Inevitably they are stories about, or reflections on “grace” set in a very different world than ours. No cars, no supermarkets, no global warming, no politicians – it all sounds wonderful! But what have two stories about lepers and one bit of advice to young Bishop Timothy have to do with high blood pressure, a fight with the teens or our parents, and mortgage payments, or even job insecurity?

Leprosy was once the scourge of all illnesses. It was incurable. Those with it were shunned and shunted off into separate places, ostracized and feared. Some people with AIDS feel that way. Even the word “cancer” or admitting one has that disease instills an irrational fear in some people. So the condition then may well be translated into our feeling alone, misunderstood, helpless, and perhaps actively shunned. Feelings of being alone and helpless surely attack most of us at one time or another. Feeling misunderstood often happens in the classroom or the office – and frequently at a vestry meeting! While the scene recounted in the Bible stories today may be unfamiliar, there are plenty of modern equivalents and experiences.

General Naaman’s problem was that he thought his condition and status required a dramatic response, a unique form of treatment, not merely a dip in a foreign river on the orders of a prophet who hasn’t even the courtesy to come out to meet this important dignitary. The lepers whom Jesus heals have a different problem. They take a miracle for granted, and all but one shrugs and gets on with life. Only one is thankful.

In both cases, we see that what gets in the way of grace, of receiving a gift, is pride in one form or another, that deadly sin. We think we are the only person with our problem. No one has had this problem before. To suggest that God has a universal answer, something as simple as merely doing as one is told and accepting a simple gift in a simple manner is just too much of a stretch – or should one say a stoop? Merely accepting, as Timothy is told to do, that Jesus is sufficient, that:

“If we have died with him, we will also live with him;
if we endure, we will also reign with him;
if we deny him, he will also deny us;
if we are faithless, he remains faithful–
for he cannot deny himself.”
Merely accepting is the clue to wholeness and a life lived within God’s gifts.

In a few minutes perhaps you will leave your seat and go to God’s table to receive promised gifts, the grace that goes before us and behind us, guiding and keeping us in the midst of everything. How on earth can a crumb of bread and a sip of wine address my extraordinary needs and problems? Or perhaps I will reach, take, and get on with life without a thought of “thanksgiving,” the word from which “Eucharist” derives.

Almost all healing is not the result of being “zapped” by God, but the result of being given an opportunity to anchor oneself in that which has been given, and an opportunity to live life with a new and different perspective. I accept the bread crumb and the sip of wine as a promise that I died with Jesus in baptism and rose to life, eternal life – something that starts at the font and not at the death bed.

So, as St. Paul reminds us, we are given the extraordinary gift to endure, to get on with life, a life made new and special because we are able to be thankful. Endurance doesn’t sound like much fun, but Christianity isn’t about fun, it is about cross-bearing, self-sacrifice, self-examination, admitting one’s faults and sins which get in the way of our vision of God. Yes, endurance made splendid, because we are given the gift of thanksgiving, of gratitude that we have been placed in the company of those who have gone before us in patient endurance; in the company of those who walk with us in joy. And we are given the gift of gratitude to be in the company of those who will come after us and who will endure as witnesses of the Christ who came, died, rose again and ascended into heaven and who restores everything and makes all things new.

Accepting simple gifts as the answer to what seem to be complicated needs takes humility. Accepting simple gifts when they work with thanksgiving takes a good deal of humility. Humility and being thankful are two sides of the same coin – a coin if you will, given to us by Jesus, who is equal with God but who empties himself to us and for us

GOLDEN AGE?

I was a “continuing” church bishop when the last threat of a significant schism disturbed the Episcopal Church. In 1977 perhaps a thousand clergy and laity met in St. Louis. At that meeting a church was born and a statement of faith, “The Affirmation of St. Louis” adopted. The then TEC Presiding Bishop, John Allin, a gracious and gentle man was refused communion when he presented himself as the Congress Eucharist. Bishops from Fond du Lac, Eau Claire, Northern Indiana, saints like Stanley Atkins and William Sheridan stayed away althugh they shared many of the misgivings owned by these proto-unilateralists.

The new church was titled “The Anglican Church of North America”. Before its birth cries were heard some opted to disassociate themselves, creating a small body intent on reunion with the Roman Catholic Church. Then there were squabbles about whether there should be a few or even one non-geographical dioceses and disagreements about Canon Law, High Church, Low Church matters and much more.

One of the priests, later a bishop in Canada, described many of these efforts as an attempt to create a Brigadoon Church. The temptation, almost impossible to resist was the creation of an ideal church. The problem was that many had different visions of what such a church would look like. Would it look like PECUSA in the fifties? Would it look like the Church of England in the latter part of the reign of Henry VIII? Very nasty things were written about the Elizabethan Settlement and its comprehension. It was generally judged that Anglicanism had failed because it allegedly hadn’t established a firm body of doctrine, canon law and discipline. What many wanted wasn’t really an Anglican church at all, but a National Catholic Church with an Anglican Missal rite, rather like the Polish National Catholic Church shorn of its ethnic component.

Within three years the Anglican Church in North America split into four parts and further splits later occurred. Much of the strength and energy of the Movement was channeled into bitter internal feuds and personal attacks. The problem of discipline was compounded rather than solved, as clergy and parishes hopped from jurisdiction to jurisdiction seeking to avoid punishment or to discover greener pastures. Meetings to settle differences, discourage internal schism, parish hopping and priestly ambition produced agreements often breached before the ink was dry. Wrangles about whose bishops were more or less valid than others exercised the minds of many.

The miracle is that even in the midst of such confusion some strong and viable parishes emerged and a few, but not many jurisdictions grew and became stable. One of these jurisdictions is now a partner in the Common Cause movement. Those of its leaders, clerical and lay, who remember the past must surely enter this federation with some misgivings and fears.

It seems that the new Golden Age to be reproduced to create a viable Anglican alternative is based on the model of the Church of England between 1547 and 1552. The leaders of the CofE then were pre-Calvin Evangelicals, followers of Peter Martyr, Martin Bucer, Henry Bullinger and perhaps John a Lasko. The fruits of their labor are to be found in the short-lived Prayer Book of 1552 and the earlier draft Articles of Religion. Such a church died with the accession of Mary Tudor and the burning of the bishops including Cranmer, Ridley and Latimer.

True this blueprint for Anglicanism is “liberalized” to give space to charismatic worship, the ordination of women, although their ministries will not be generaly recognized, with a nod to a few Anglo-Catholics. Victorian Evangelicalism and its missionary outreach has some influence. It seems to be generally agreed that Comprehension is a bad thing, and those who remain in TEC are judged to be collaborators, hell-bent, to be shunned and exposed by self appointed inquisitors. Such a temperament will surely come back to bite any future ecclesial entity.

I welcome an attempt to bring together some of the sounder “Continuing Churches” and the Reformed Episcopal Church, whose own history is an object lesson is idealism, reaction and now a wider and salutary comprehenson. I hope the crafters of the new Anglican alternative will listen closely to those in the Continuum who have “been there, done that.” I hope such leaders will be brave enough and strong enough to offer sound advice and warnings and will not be drawn down paths leading to artifical golden age religion. The Agreed Statement between the Anglican Province of Amrica and the Reformed Episcopal Church, to be found on their web sites would seem to offer a non-romantic blueprint of classical Anglicanism.

The tragedy remains in fragmentation, dreams of alternative Anglican Communions -nor for the first time in vision or creation – and an alternative TEC. The tragedy is compounded by recrimination and judgmentalism, the real loss of common cause and common witness to the best Anglicanism can be, is and will be. In such a climate it woud be easy for those of us under attack to become reactive and self-conscious or even to despair. Yet, as I have written before, any present persecution is that “light affliction” which may “gain so great a prize”.