• RSS Subscribe to Blog

  • PAGES

  • RECENT PONDERINGS

  • RECENT COMMENTS

    Steve on SAINTLY?
    Paul Nicholson on SAINTLY?
    RGE on Calling the Shots
    Walter J. Tanner on MARRIAGE EXTENSION
    franiel32 on IN THIS COMPANY
  • ARCHIVES

  • BLOG STATS

    • 113,277 hits

OF SYNODS AND THE CHURCH

It is now nearly eight years ago since I wrote an essay entitled “The General Convention Church” which one may still read at “Anglicans Online.” I was accused by one writer, whose response may be found at the same site, of disloyalty to a church of which I had only been a member for a year or so! I am not disloyal to the Episcopal Church and I haven’t changed my mind about synods.

When I was serving as a bishop in what is now called the Anglican Province of America, our annual diocesan synod and less frequent General Synod meetings were times of refreshment, fellowship, faith and encouragement. Many people paid for travel and board who were not delegates, because these were family meetings. They went home renewed. I claim no responsibility for this and gather that the same holds true to this day.

Yet at no time did anyone claim that these meetings were the sites of special revelations from the Holy Spirit vouchsafed by majority votes! Indeed our first Anglican ancestors reminded us that synods may and do err. I remain convinced that the pretensions of those who claim that General Convention is the occasion and site of special visitations of the Holy Spirit to be erroneous and wrong-headed.

The claim is sometimes justified by reference to what is called the first Council of Jerusalem, recorded in the Acts of the Apostles. There decisions were made and St. Luke suggests that these decisions “seemed good” to the Holy Spirit and the Church. The decisions made were not only about the baptism of Gentiles, but that kosher laws about meat should obtain to all Christians who should also abstain from improper sexual activity. If we examine these decrees through the lens of St. Paul’s writings, the nearest we have to preceding and eye-witness testimony, what was at stake was a recognition that God was calling the Gentiles into the kingdom and that in that kingdom, there were to be behavioral norms which set Christians apart from those who frequented pagan temples, purchased and ate meat “offered to idols” and perhaps gave in to the sort of sexual antics sometimes associated with pagan rites or the behavior of “pagans”. That not all of these regulations survive is obvious as one notices when non-kosher meat is served at parish dinners.

Was this meeting a synod or a proto-synod, or do we now read backwards into another time and age the theories about representative and democratic institutions our church claims and boasts about to the rest of the Anglican Communion? Be assured the other Provinces all have synods and all are “democratically” elected. But are they oracles of God? Did the infant churches beyond Jerusalem elect deputies and expect a special work of God? Did God promise that synods would be special signs of his Presence? Now I would not argue that they cannot be places where the faithful are inspired and renewed, although I’ve been to American General Conventions since 1970 and “inspired and renewed” are not words which come easily to mind!

In his sermon at the memorial service for the Rev. Professor Charlie Moule recently, the Archbishop of Canterbury remarked that Moule challenged an ideal of the Spirit which made the Spirit autonomous of the works and presence of Christ. There’s a splendid insight here. The Persons of the Trinity are “autonomous” and yet bound together without contradiction. The Holy Spirit “makes present” Jesus in whose “face” we see the Father. The Holy Spirit does not tell us new things but makes the eternal “nowness” of the Gospel, once delivered to the saints seem ever new in the church and through the church to us. Synods do not play the role of a Joseph Smith or a Mary Baker Eddy, nor in a different context are they collective forms of papal infallibility. They meet to do the business of the local church and to make sure that all things are done “decently and in order.” God speaks to us collectively in the Church normally through Word and Sacrament and not through synods and votes. It is time we restored synods to their use and function without burdening them with pneumatic or oracular pretensions.

ON THE ROAD AGAIN

In just two weeks I shall no longer be a “West Virginian Parson”. I must remember to change my blogging name on a few sites.

Pat and I came to Morgantown, West Virginia two years and nine months ago from France. I came as an interim priest -later priest in charge -with no ability to be called as permanent rector at the parish church of St. Thomas a Becket. Although many would have loved us to stay here, and for medical reasons it would have been easier and perhaps safer, rules are rules even when not mentioned in the canons, at least in contemporary TEC. An interim priest has no input and seems seldom consulted. So this aging cleric picks up his bags and moves on. I do so with regret. Pat and I love the area and I have enjoyed serving the parishioners and others here. I think God has blessed us all and I pray and know that the work will go on from strength to strength.

Mercifully St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, La Porte, in the Diocese of Northern Indiana, through its vestry, has unanimously elected me rector. I begin my new work there on March 2nd although I won’t be formally Instituted and Inducted until May 16th. at 6:PM Y’all come, hear? I am delighted to move to a diocese which is Windsor compliant and served by a faithful, kind and open diocesan bishop, +Edward Little. I am also to serve him as dean of the Michigan City deanery. There’s much to be done but the parish has a good team of faithful, hardworking, believing Christians.

As I write, Pat is downstairs boxing our worldly goods although the movers, due here next Monday are also to do that job. We will be moving into a large rectory next to the church. If we get bored with one bedroom we can move to another!

I hope you will all pray for me, for health and growing strength, for patience and good humor, and for God’s grace to be in Christ a good priest and pastor in our new parish and the wider community. Please also pray for my wonderful wife Pat, that she may find friends and outlets for her extraordinary talents.

ANOTHER DRAFT COVENANT

I wish I could recommend Ruth Gledhill’s column in the London Times as a place to discover reliable conjecture. I grant you that journalists are almost bound to make inspired or even uninspired guesses to attract and keep a readership. Fair enough I suppose, except that there are those among us who place perhaps too much reliance on these excursions into prediction. Just because it is printed doesn’t make it true! (Must remind myself of that as I write!)

It seems that we shall see a revised version of the proposed Anglican Covenant, a statement designed to give worldwide Anglicanism an agreed approach to doctrine, discipline and worship and to define the boundaries of inclusion and comprehension. It is also proposed that a way be suggested to deal with the sort of internecine controversy we’ve been used to since Bishop Colenso wrote his now rather tame and very dated musings on the authorship of the Pentateuch, which in part occasioned the summoning of the first “Lambeth” conference of bishops in 1868.

Since those days Anglicans have squabbled about birth control, polygamy, intercommunion with “Protestant non-episcopal” churches, the ordination of women, lay presidency at the Eucharist and human sexuality. Of late an older controversy has obliquely reared its head. It is the matter of just how “Reformed” Anglicanism was intended to be or should be. By “Reformed” I mean cleaving to the teachings of those who followed after and interpreted the theology and discipline proposed by John Calvin, although not necessarily what Calvin actually said and taught.

There was a time when it seemed Anglicans could and did settle controversy by informal discussion. After all, as I have pointed out, until just after World War 2 almost all our bishops, except in the United States, were British, educated at a few major Public Schools -that doesn’t mean state schools but places like Eton and Harrow – and then at either Oxford or Cambridge or perhaps Durham! These bishops may have been higher than the Pope or lower than the Moderator of the Church of Scotland but they shared similar values, culture and devotion to the King-Emperor.

American bishops didn’t always think themselves treated as equals or appreciated, particularly during the archiepiscopate of the patrician Cosmo Gordon Lang. By 1948 matters had improved. Archbishop Fisher struck up a friendship with the American Presiding Bishop Henry Knox Sherrill and then visited the United States. Fisher’s chaplain wrote:

“..this lengthy tour really broke the ice with the Americans. They had always had a great love and affection for the Mother Church, but somehow or other, I don’t think they thought they really belonged, that they were an integral part of it. From that moment onwards, (Fisher’s speech on Anglican Tradition made in Philadelphia)however they knew they were…”

As the old boy’s network within the Communion gave way to indigenous episcopates in newly emerging nation states in what we now seem to term the “Global South” the American Church played a greater and greater role in the Communion, providing both a pattern for self-governance and huge amounts of cash.

Perhaps the overwhelming vote by bishops at the 1998 Lambeth Conference for the now notorious or glorious statement about human sexuality so shocked the largely liberal American episcopate that the spell of concord was broken. Perhaps the reaction of traditionalists in the American Church, many of whom had personal or “missionary” ties with African Provinces, exacerbated disunity. No doubt the communications explosion of the last decade or so of the Twentieth Century played its part. The American PB Frank Griswold seemed genuinely shocked that his consecration of Gene Robinson as Bishop of New Hampshire caused such huge reaction across the world. What is clear is that doing deals and making decisions behind the scenes has become more and more difficult. As our conversation has become more public, so has “political” posturing. As what we say is public and for the public, changing minds and course also becomes more problematic.

There may be much good in all this. The views of clergy and laity, or those who blog or email, are much more evident and available than was true just a couple of decades ago. However much bishops lament what someone recently termed internet “addiction”, it is here to stay. The Lambeth Conference is still only for bishops, but the bishops who will assemble in England in a few months will be better informed about the views of Anglicans worldwide than their predecessors. The exchange of opinions and views is something which may be done instantly and need not always be uninformed or an exercise in posturing.

On the other hand public exposure limits private conversation and negotiation, encourages intemperate language and expression and makes vain leaders less amenable to retraction or changing views or proposals. No doubt this factors in to the refusal of those who designed and put into place the idea of a Jerusalem conference of traditionalists before Lambeth, termed ironically GAFCON. As objections from the Primate of the Province in which Jerusalem lies, and its own local bishop, from the Archbishop of Canterbury, Evangelical bishops and many others, those responsible for this provocative and obviously “political” maneuver have become more defensive and more obvious in their schismatic and empire-building designs. It looks likely that we shall see an alternative Anglican Communion largely composed of those who adhere to a new form of evangelicalism largely based on the principles of those who left the Church of England in later Elizabethan and Stuart times. They propose an archaeological religious text set to rumperty tumperty music to an informal choreography. The basis of their biblical justification is readily demolished by the Bishop of Durham and other orthodox biblical commentators. That a few Anglo-Catholic bishops and their followers are tagging on to this eccentric vision of a totally reformed and pure Anglican Communion is surely the wonder of the moment.

Within this context it is to be hoped and prayed that the draft for an Anglican Covenant to be published later this week will be sufficient to be met by overwhelming approval by a consensus of authentic Anglicans and particularly those who have found in the Windsor Report a sensible and genuinely Anglican approach to our present unhappy divisions. The loss of two or three African Provinces with their huge “membership” and the Province of the Southern Cone -how Sydney will manage a re-alignment and remain within the Australian Church is a mystery – will be a tragedy, and unnecessary and provocative tragedy one prays may be reversed as leaders retire and it becomes obvious that the Anglican Communion has reached agreement on the basis of its faith and the limits of its comprehension.

That this development has made it the more difficult for the Communion and its Instruments to bring the Episcopal Church’s independent policies to heel is obvious. It is to be hoped and prayed that wiser voices will be heard in TEC and that a younger generation of leadership will emerge reflecting not the 60s, but this century and its needs.

A TIME FOR HOPE: LENT

A traditional or orthodox moderate Anglican in TEC of late hasn’t had much hope upon which to hang a hat. The loudest voices have been those who urge us all to leave and join the array of alternative choice “life boats” bobbing about in an exilic ocean. That each life boat views itself as an alternative liner is another matter. Then again, one can amalgamate a score or more of lifeboats and still only have a very odd ship indeed.

I have commented before about the misuse of the term “prophet” in the contemporary church. Since Pentecost, the office of prophet has been exclusively that held by Jesus, as is true of the offices of priest and king. The Church is prophetic, as it is priestly, as it lives through baptism “in Christ.” Those set aside and called to ministry, made “holy”, which means separated, as a musician is separated from the tone deaf, or an athlete from the sedentary, by vocation and then practice, live into their roles by transforming grace as they exist through the Church in Christ and Christ in them. That there is ontological change in baptism does not exclude ontological change in ordination.

It seems obvious that Jesus didn’t create a Qumran community. Rather he created a community in but not of the world. While it may well be the vocation of some Christians to live apart in prayer and service, most of us are called into close contact with people, yes, sinful, perhaps contagious people. Anyone who suggests that being in the Church is safe or divorced from the real world hasn’t grasped the risky business of Christianity.(It is for this reason that a Confession and Absolution is or should be part of every Eucharist as Cranmer planned.)

An authentic prophetic ministry does that which Christ did on earth. It is here that it is not always easy to see the wood of the Cross for the proverbial trees. Yes, Jesus cared for the poor, the outcast, the diseased and the “marginalized”. Yes, his care was practical and not just “spiritual.” Jesus fed the hungry and healed the sick. Yet if he had done no more than healed, fed and preached -for after all we find figures in the Old Testament who did and said as much -he would merely be a great religious leader. Granted that is how many seem to view him in our church today!

Jesus died and rose to reconcile the world to God. Therein lies the scandalous, prophetic word of the Good News. Prophecy is all about reconciliation, restoration and making things new.

People who assume the mantle of a prophet and then shout aloud about news which diminishes Jesus or diminishes the Church by calling people into self-serving isolation may be all sorts of things, but they are not true Christian prophets. It is safe to be a church which regards itself as just one among many religions. It is safe to be a church made up of exiles in search of purity. It is safe but it is not authentic.

The true prophet calls us all into self-denying, cross-bearing, hurting, following of the Jesus whose fearing sweat in Gethsemane gave way to cruel death and passion and to death, but behold he lives! We cannot be trusted to stress the Incarnation or the Resurrection, or the Ascension until we dare live into the reality of Cross-bearing. We must be prepared to lose our life to save it; to lose the life of the Church to save it and that drama is played out in the world and not apart from it. Golgotha was firmly a physical, worldly place. Jesus died in the company of two sinners.

Lent is the yearly time for living into the stark reality of corporate discipleship. Perhaps much too much has been made of the personal disciplines of Lent. Perhaps it is the Church and our part of the Church we call the Episcopal Church which is called to “give up” its grasping for respectability, cultural acceptability, and upper middle class “virtue”. (Should ashes be placed on our blood red doors?) Our personal Lenten disciplines are for such a purpose. Establishment religion and its opposite, the religion of retreat and abandonment cannot and do not present to the contemporary world the coming, living, dying, rising, ascending Christ who dwells in heaven and in his Body, the Church.Yet only in the fullness of the Gospel is life. Our “hope of glory” as the Church and through the Church as individuals stands on nothing less than Christ and Him crucified, and thus that Jesus is Lord to the glory of God the Father.