• 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

    • 111,956 hits

LUGUBRIOUS

When I was a teen we read as part of the English Literature syllabus “The History of Mr. Polly” by H.G. Wells. I confess that I don’t remember much about the book but I loved the made up words Polly came out with. One was “lugubriosity”. It conjured up a list of people I then knew whose outlook on life was negative and dismal, whose motto was “Things ain’t what they used to be”, and who seldom uttered a word which was not gloomy.

During my years in the ordained ministry I have found it axiomatic that every congregation has at least one “lugubrious” parishioner or perhaps at least three in order that they might take it in turns to be elected to the vestry aka the Parochial Church Council. I do not suggest that these people never had moments of some sort of joy, but evidences of such a state were encased in long reminiscences of what things were like when Father Fontwater was rector before all the changes were made to the look of the church, or when the old liturgy was used, or before the servers began to appear in Nike’s.

I would not want to suggest that these gray and dusty people are invariably to be found among the laity. I have known lugubrious bishops and parish priests but I confess I have only met one miserable deacon and he resented the fact that he’d never become a priest.

Yet as I’m speaking only to you in private, as long as you promise not to tell anyone else, I have to confess that I am becoming lugubrious particularly when blogging. I find myself going to those web sites which delight in telling us what is wrong with the church. As I read the purple prose descibing bishops who would make a Unitarian blush, or who are caught out as being paid up members of a Buddhist group, or are also Moslems, I groan and suggest that I may now be “on the edge”. When I read long dissertations in prophecy confidently claiming that the Covenant won’t satisfy Gafconites or lamenting that no one takes St. Paul seriously when he commands women to cover their heads and be quiet at the annual meeting I feel miserable and reach for a dram of single malt. Between you and me I even despair when I see a bishop in the National cathedral surrounded by Roman Catholic prelates who know better, processing down the aisle carrying his crozier in his right hand, or a priest wearing a stole covered in butterflies and the words “Kiss me quick” jumping around behind a Table looking like an ornate bar tender in an upscale bar.

Then, like Don Camillo I go into my old-fashioned church, kneel before the altar, gaze up at its enormous crucifix and the Lord says to me:

“Tony, you are still an active priest at 68 years of age. No one is preventing your celebrating from the eastward position using Cranmerian English. No one is preventing your preaching the Gospel or leading Bible Study using a commentary by Tom Wright. You are not being thrown to the lions because you are a Christian. You are not being persecuted by your bishop, indeed he’s asked you to preach at the annual Chrism Mass. The worst you suffer is having your reputation trashed by an anonymous contributor to Wikipedia. After all if it makes who ever it is happy or lugubrious, what’s the beef? Such a comfortable martyrdom!  If only he knew the true story! Now get on with being my curate in this parish and care for those I have given you to love.”

I’ve survived cancer, a near terminal bout of pneumonia and a broken hip all in a couple of years. I have over one hundred and ninety friends on Facebook and hear regularly from bishops, priests and laity some of whom I ordained and some of whom were parishioners. I have a comfortable home and a beautiful wife. I have four loving dogs, one devoted cat and two talking parrots. I have wonderful children and grandchildren, a priest son who is reading for his doctorate and teaching a course in the Divinity faculty of one of the best universities in the world. I have a loving sister and lots of cousins who I rarely see but who keep in touch and are always there for me.

I am free to wander through the riches of Anglican tradition and visit my favorite characters in its history. I can join Parson Woodforde and his friends as they eat huge meals, stroll around Wales with Francis Kilvert or parse the extraordinary prose of Richard Hooker. I can read Herbert’s poetry or glory in his description of the ideal life of a parish priest. I can puzzle over Trahearne’s verse and re-read Eric Mascall. I can be naughty and place a book by John Spong next to a volume by Michael Ramsey on the book shelves in my comfortable study. When I meet people in the street, at the library or the supermarket they smile and greet me with good cheer. I can even slum by watching CSI or Law and Order on the television or reach for Rumpole of the Bailey and laugh out loud.

And when I go to bed I can read Compline, and then a good book as Hemingway purrs contentedly at my side. What on earth have I to be lugubrious about? True in my American exile I miss kippers for breakfast, a splendid sausage and fried bread with my eggs, and the London Times as it once was. But one may be nostalgic without being lugubrious. True, the church seems to be going to hell in a hand basket but there’s nothing new about that.

Jesus says to me from that crucifix above the High Altar: ” What you think to be the church is only the church as you see it. I see it dying and rising again. I see the saints and martyrs, confessors and divines, and that host of the unknown struggling in a disorderly procession into death and emerging is a wonderful procession, dressed in white robes, joining that company which cannot be numbered who sing with joy, Holy, holy, holy.”

Lord give me faith and hope, a sense of proportion and a sure hope and a constant love for those to whom I must minister. Amen.

ON THE EDGE

In November I shall have been a pukka Episcopalian for ten years! Shortly after I was received and licensed to function as a priest I was asked to join The New Commandment Task Force. The task force was created around the time of the 2000 General Convention in an attempt to bring together liberals and traditionalists for regional meetings which lasted a few days and included worship, dialogue and controlled confrontation. Eventually I was asked to serve on its board which included such people as Mother Elizabeth Kaeton and Bishop Peter Beckwith of Springfield. At the first regional meeting I attended Louis Crew labeled me a moderate.

In many ways I have always regarded myself as a moderate Anglican. As a youth my peripatetic mother moved from parish to parish and I experienced almost every flavor of Anglicanism and in the process added to my spiritual and theological baggage elements which then would have been regarded as Catholic, Evangelical and Broad Church, or perhaps I lacked that ingredient in my character which would have enabled me to cast my lot fervently in any of the parties as they then were in the Church of England in the 1950s.

I embraced the Evangelical party’s conviction that personal faith in Jesus as Saviour and Lord was vital, that the Gospel was to be preached, embraced and lived and gloried in the social Gospel of Wilberforce and Shaftesbury who campaigned against slave labor, brutal exploitation of workers and children and appalling housing conditions and health care. I abhorred those elements of Evangelicalism which tended towards “puritanism” and self-righteousness.

I embraced Catholicism, the sacramental system, devotion to our Lady and the saints, an Apostolic Succession of Faith and Holy Orders and a strong sense of the Church and its mission in every age and generation. I admired the work of the slum priests and the strong social conscience of the best of the Anglo Catholic priests. I loved the mystery of worship, good ceremonial and lovely churches. At the same time I was troubled by those aspects of Anglo Catholicism which seemed arrogant and cultic and produced the aura of the movement being a church within the church looking longingly as Rome as it is as ones true home and its distaste for other Anglicans whose convictions and worship were snootily described as “unsound”!

I confess I had less in common with what was then described as Broad Church particularly in what seemed to me then and now as a quest for intellectual and theological respectability and a willingness to use the pulpit and the teaching forum as a place to glory in those things which cast doubt on the central biblical and doctrinal teachings of the Prayer Book and our formularies. On the other hand I loved the freedom Anglicanism gave to scholars and parishioners to use God-given reason to explore the Bible and Christian origins and the liberality and civility of discourse and scholarship. At the same time I deplored a growing Liberal gnosticism which suggested that the faith of ordinary believers was childish and unreasonable and delighted in pouring scorn upon traditional Christianity. While leading ecclesiastics and scholars were described as courageous as they trumpeted disbelief in the essential doctrines of the Church I tended to think that many of them loved the notoriety and spot light and in defying the promises made at Baptism, Confirmation  and Ordination.

Over the years of my adult life and ministry I have witness Catholics and Evangelicals adopting more rigid and isolated positions in the face of Liberal triumphalism and in the process become more and more distressed by the abandonment of many in all sections of what we used to term Anglican Comprehension of a commitment to mutual tolerance and symbiosis. It is as if Anglicans have divided into two camps, the one planted in dogmatic conclusions about a past “golden age” of Anglicanism as  solely authentic and the other intent on burying for good the traditions, spirituality and theological conclusions of Anglicanism in its “past” multifaceted ethos.

And now I find myself on the edge, on what a friend of mine describes as a conveyer belt leading out of the church I have loved all my life, first in England and now in America. Even during my long years as an extra-mural Anglican bishop, as I sought to serve those who left TEC, I worked hard to keep at the fore the breadth and depth of an Anglicanism which embraced the truths taught and lived by men and women of many forms of what we once termed Churchmanship which made up the whole cloth of our tradition.

I have mentioned before the irony of my entering TEC because it was the American expression of worldwide Anglicanism in communion with the See of Canterbury and now finding myself in a church which may purposely sever its links with that Communion as it affirms independence over mutual interdependence and may become the largest of those groups which have abandoned Anglicanism for sectarianism: a liberal trendy modern Deist group wrapped in the garbs of sacramentalism or a respectable form of Theosophy.

Thus I find myself on the edge now that many have opted for schism and radical neo-evangelicalism or nostalgic Catholicism. Today I sought to sooth the mind of a parishioner who doubts whether he may introduce his friends to our parish because he cannot defend the notorious utterances of leading ecclesiastics in TEC. It was so difficult to get across that this parish and our diocese do not mirror that which seems to be the “flavor” of contemporary Episcopalianism but affirm the teachings of Scripture, the Creeds, the Catechism and the Prayer Book.

I support totally the witness of those who work for an Anglican Covenant and the right of Episcopal parishes and dioceses to embrace the Windsor Report and our rights to continue within this church while we preserve robust ties with the Archbishop of Canterbury and the rest of the Anglican world, but I fear we will become the latest Anglican ghetto, a church within the church and perhaps for all our evangelical ideals a mutual funeral society. I fear that the next General Convention later this year will drive us closer and closer to the edge.

I deplore schism or the alternative of a “pure” church locked in temporary reaction and suspicious of scholarship, liberality and civility, a church for and of the right wing of secular politics. Yet in the end the choice of remaining in an ecclesiastical body in which I must cross my fingers or of being part of a body which proclaims the Creedal doctrines without cynicism or cavil yet with a temper far from Anglican moderation, places me and many others in a position which is uncomfortable and conscientiously taxing. I take comfort in knowing that this is not the first time Christians have found themselves in such a case and in my conviction that God IS, and that his purposes are firm and true. I don’t want to sacrifice my belief in the comprehensive witness of Anglicanism for ideological conformity. And so I say my prayers and do my best to be a good parish priest, and to retain that “moderation” I grew to love as a lad.

A NEW DAY

As I am not an American citizen I seldom if ever stray into politics on my blog. I am enthusiastic about the future. The new President is an extraordinary young man. Just as a conservative Richard Nixon was perhaps the only politician who could engage China in constructive engagement, so it looks to me that President Obama, from the liberal wing of our society is the only person capable of engaging the “me” generation in constructive dialog about such old fashioned concepts as duty and community.

The negative side of our quest for “rights” during the past thirty or forty years has been an increasing desire for the entitlement of individuals and groups at the expense of the greater good of the whole. Barack Obama in his presidential address challenged the nation to reach above sectional rivalries and the rhetoric of partisanship to embrace its values. In no way does he decry the important steps which have been made to break down the walls of prejudice and expunge the stains of bigotry. Yet as the first President of African ancestry, who combines in his own blood Black and White he is uniquely suited to be the herald of change, a change which brings us to confront the demons of intolerance which have flourished as our politicians and parties have stressed our differences and demonized those who differ from them.

The President’s call as he cited I. Corinthians 13 and urged us to put away “childish things” should inspire Episcopalians and Anglicans to take seriously I Corinthians 12, St Paul’s call to bodily union and concord, a unity created and sustained by mutual love and concern.

Our own church has spent much of its time seeking to expunge the dirty stain of racism and “tribalism” in our communion. Yet unhappily it has succumbed to the negative aspects of the process by pitting theological liberals against conservatives and encouraging a policy of demonizing those regarded as “the enemy”. Those identified more often than not by their angry rhetoric and embraced marginalization have responded in kind and the result has been a rupture in the body.

Our identity as Anglicans is not unlike the American experiment. It is an identity grounded in its experience in comprehension and compromise, in a willingness to respect the historic origins, consciences, opinions and doctrinal beliefs of others in a communion which has embraced what seem to be mutually exclusive approaches to the Christian Faith. Such a comprehension may not be taken for granted. It involves a sympathetic respect towards the constituent parts of our tradition, whether liberal or conservative, Evangelical or Catholic and for the multifaceted nature of those who name and call themselves Anglicans. At the same time our comprehension requires that our governing bodies refrain from legalizing elements of belief and practice within our unity which have not yet gained general acceptance or have ceased to command general consensus.

Given the usual way in which new and old ideas appear from time to time among us, in which those who advocate such elements have been given in the past a certain freedom to advance their passions in an experimental and unoffical manner, such an approach invites the constructive criticism of such experiments without recourse to official synodical action. Over and over again in our history movements have arisen which have been tested at the local level, often over the objections of many and the attempts of bishops to enforce conformity. Granted there have been times when such a process has gravely exercised the consciences of many. Yet it is only when partisans of issues not judged over time by mutual experiment and common sense have sought to institutionalized their passions that our unity has been imperiled.

Over our long history passionate individuals and groups have sought to introduce the novel or resurrect things long abandoned, or have sought to bring us back to our origins. Many of their ideas have subsequently been embodied in our Liturgy or practice. Many have been rejected. Some have been altered. This constant process has often rescued us from torpor or error. Yet this process of comprehension is nowhere enshrined in our law. It is an essentially amateur process enabled by a mutual commitment to unity and concord enabled by the love of God.

It is high time we returned to this graceful and caring exercise of Christian discipleship. I hope and pray that the new President will be able to inspire the nation to duty above rights, care for others above partisanship and irresponsible individualism, and to forsake hedonism and a thirst of “my” rights divorced from “my” duty. Now is the time for our church to join this crusade, to embrace I Corinthians 12 in the light of I Corinthians 13 and to recover our mutual responsibility towards each other by acknowledging that our freedom meets its limits when it deprives our brothers and sisters of their own freedom. As +Rowan Williams often points out, our church has been a patient body, content to wait for consensus. Such a vocation in Christendom may not be exciting and may often seem untidy but it points forward towards a pattern for Christian Unity on a wider scale. However excellent our passionate beliefs may be, when they divide us, they cannot be of the Spirit. On the other hand our conscious embrace of tolerance requires that we give space for experiment, for the unpopular voices of saints, those prickly people who challenge our consciences and assail our institutions. Anglicanism might well have as its motto the advice given by Gamaliel to the Sanhedrin. If it is of God it will endure. The worst institution for testing the spirits is a General Convention which institutionalizes the majority as if the majority is usually right!

HOW NOW?

Process It is abundantly obvious that in different times there has been a different emphasis in teaching and applying the faith. In Medieval days when life was usually short and often brutish, the emphasis was on salvation and to be blunt, how one managed to get into heaven. Because in Europe everyone was baptized the concern was not so much on evangelism but on how the baptized were encouraged to live holy lives and how people might be prepared for death and of course what happened after death.

At the Reformation and for somewhile afterwards, attention shifted, at least in non-(Roman) Catholic communions on a different approach to salvation. Most still lived what we would regard as precarious lives, open to the ravages of disease. As the theology regarding the process of salvation had changed -one died and went either to heaven or hell immediately – a greater emphasis was placed on holy living. Unlike most communities affected by the Reformers and their teaching, Anglicanism explored what Jeremy Taylor termed holy living and holy dying and that process led not a few to stress conduct over theology. Churchmen epitomized by Archbishops Tenison and Tillotson, whose moralistic sermons were avidly read in pulpit and study were popularly interpreted as propounding a “pull yourself up by your own bootstraps” approach to Christianity. This was a religion for the intellectual and the well-heeled. Those consigned to lives of poverty and servitude were left out. One of the practical results of such an approach was that except in the countryside, and perhaps even there, many lost interest in the church or the church lost interest in them.

The Industrial Revolution in England and the expansion of the frontier in America created an unchurched “class”. Methodism was founded and grew in England, Wales and Northern Ireland and in the “Colonies” by clergy and lay people who found such pastoral neglect a scandal and moralism a pathetic substitute for the Gospel. While Evangelicals and later Anglo-Catholic slum priests sought to reach ordinary people with a holistic Gospel of both salvation and economic reform the shadow of the moralism remained a strong element in the Anglican Establishment perhaps more so in America than in the mother country. Southern land and slave holders and northern upwardly mobile merchants, lawyers and intellectuals formed the ruling class in Episcopalianism.

An Intellectual Clergy

The seminary movement which began in the early days of the 19th. Century perhaps unwittingly strengthened the reality of an Anglican Church dominated by the upper middle class. Until that time most Anglican clergy were to a great extent tied to the land. Although they were largely recruited from the monied classes, they earned their keep by farming or leasing out their glebes and rubbed shoulders daily with farmers and farm laborers. In England most  attended Oxford or Cambridge, but this does not suggest they were usually intellectuals or scholars. Many were and from that class came the higher clergy. Not a few had not graduated. In the Colonies many or most read for Orders. With the exception of the College of William and Mary there were no Anglican faculties of theology in the New World. Granted many colonial clergy came from the upper classes and not a few droned purchased sermons and catered to their wealthy patrons.

The seminary movement recruited men who were to be given roughly the sort of training previously provided in England by university faculties. Until the post world war period few of humble origin or income were admitted to ordination. What emerged was a “class” of clergy cut off from the experience of working class people while perhaps not fitting in to the intellectual lives of the advantaged. Some pride was taken that Anglican priests were socially and intellectually “above” the parochial clergy of the Roman Catholic Church.  Anglican parish priests were potentially gentlemen: Roman Catholic parish priests and Methodist ministers were not. However all but a few of seminary trained Anglican clergy had the skills necessary to minister to ordinary people who read little but the sports page in the newspaper. The sort of religion championed by the 18th. Century “Latitudinarians” re-asserted itself and Anglicanism, at least in the United States became more and more intolerant of biblical and doctrinal religion and more and more interested in that aspect of Christianity which stressed social improvement. The division of doctrinal religion from social improvement and the growing belief that doctrine and practice were mutually exclusive led to the assumption that working class, non-intellectual people would be attracted to fundamentalism or less elite Christian bodies than the Episcopal Church. Outreach to African-Americans or Hispanics were to those upwardly mobile and educated.

This process has lead to an emphasis on the here and now, on creating a new world in this life, of building the kingdom by political and social action. Jesus is Saviour because the Christian community is useful in such a process. Oddly in this process the liturgy of the church remains in odd distinction to the religion espoused. Although class and manners were by this time out of vogue as a standard for parsons professionalism swiftly became their new disguise. The church needs scholar parsons and pastoral priests. The problem remains that present methods of selection and training produce neither except by accident or native talent.

Now of course the church is called to transform society and not merely by “saving souls”. It is also true that the emphasis on self-improvement of contemporary conservative politics is deeply Pelagian, an odd philosophy for orthodox Christians. Yet the movement from an interest in salvation, a holy living and a holy dying, has removed Anglicanism ironically almost completely from the lives and culture of the poor whom we claim to champion. This dysjunction is furthered by our fear of training clergy whose lives are connected to ordinary folk. A church for and by a class is a sect.

RECTOR

I thought I’d say a few words about the parish I serve. La Porte is about twelve miles or so south of Lake Michigan, sixty miles east of Chicago and thirty miles west of South Bend, the see city of this diocese and the home of the famous Notre Dame University.  The city has a population of 20, 000 and is set among attractive lakes. It was once the home of Allis Chamers, the agricultural machinery company and of Studebaker cars. Those days are long gone although huge Victorian homes still line our streets.

The first Episcopal Church Bishop of this area began the organization of the parish when La Porte was almost on the frontier. Since 1839 St. Paul’s Church has ministered to the city and area. The organ pre-dates the present building by a decade or so and is listed as a historic instrument. The church building is Victorian gothic and resembles a small English or French parish church. Its stain glass windows are modern and very good in style and taste.

The building demonstrates all the elements of a pre-modern Anglo Catholic parish, complete with an “eastward” facing altar dominated by a huge crucifix carved by an extremely talented Indiana craftsman. A lovely Marian statue and shrine graces one of the pillars complete with votive lights.

The liturgical usage is always Rite 1 of the Episcopal Prayer Book with a Sung Mass every Sunday at 9: AM. The active parishioners are  now a small but enthusiastic and devoted group with a good spread of age and talents.

You may read more by going to our web site at http://www.stpaulslaporte.org/stpaulslaporte/

I DON’T GET IT

If my memory serves me right, the last person to be impeached in Great Britain was Warren Hastings. That occurred in the late 18th. Century. He’d served in India and was accused of corruption and misuse of funds largely by those who disliked him and were perhaps involved in similar corruption.. Parliament showed itself to be incompetent and corrupt. Impeachment and the even the more suspect process of Bills of Attainder used by the Parliamentary regime during the English Civil War eventually disappeared as methods of trying “political” crimes simply because the process was so open to its own forms of corruption. Legislators were neither objective enough nor trained enough to conduct trials. Even the right of Peers of the Realm to be judged by their “cousins” in the House of Lords eventually disappeared along with the right of a convicted Lord to be hanged with a silken rope.

No, I am not addressing the present matter of the Governor of Illinois, apart from my amazement that Impeachment by a legislature remains part of the US system. I was horrified by the attending humbug during the Clinton impeachment process and I wonder whether the legislators in Illinois have the competence, the “clean hands” or the objectivity to conduct an impartial “trial”.

What disturbs me is that the Episcopal Church retains the system which it inherited from the State probably because many of the framers of its original Constitution and Canons were involved in framing the Articles of Confederation and later the American Constitution a few years before Great Britain decided that the secular courts were the appropriate venue for bring corrupt or culpable officials to justice,

I would have hoped that those revising our discipline Canons, so soon after the Clinton debacle would have decided that the business of deciding the culpability of bishops and other clergy would have been the task of properly constituted ecclesiastical courts and not that of the House of Bishops or Bishops and Standing Committees.  Of course the final judgement should be officially pronounced by the appropriate person, whether Primate or Diocesan Bishop but that is not the matter at hand.

Allied to such reform should be the creation of the ecclesiastical version of a Supreme Court, made up of appropriately trained Canon Lawyers. All too often Chancellors in TEC are lawyers with no training in Canon and Ecclesiastical Law. It is merely assumed that a lawyer who is an Episcopalian and ready to serve may immediately assume competence in interpreting Canons. That is an entirely false assumption and has created at every level astounding incompetence on the part of those who are in fact well meaning amateurs. It is similarly assumed that bishops who were trained as lawyers in their previous lives are therefore learned in the principles, precedents and history of Ecclesiastical Law.

There is no need at present for me to rehearse the stories of recent depositions. Whatever is said, it is certainly not abundently clear that depositions handed down by the House of Bishops in recent times have been free from partisanship or an opportunistic approach to Canon Law justified by ecclesiastical peril.

Simply because the Episcopal Church lacks the equivalent of a Supreme Court, General Convention assumes competence to revise or adopt Canons and probably to formulate doctrine and remains its own sovereign reference.

If indeed the present mood of the country is to end partisan politics and bring all segments of public opinion into the political process it may well be that grass roots Episcopalians will begin to press for a similar process among us. Just as the country faces enormous economic and political problems so does our church. No doubt the country’s economic woes will begin to tell within our church. Dwindling income and a continued loss of parishioners are bound to press upon our Establishment that crisis is at hand.

It is a tragedy that at this moment, the traditionalist constituency in TEC has been weakened by defection. I have a mind to suggest that the next General Convention will be occupied by these economic and jurisdictional matters in a pressing manner. The efforts to reform our disciplinary Canons should be a time for a thorough revision of the way we govern ourselves. It is high time we abolished 18th. Century concepts of ecclesiastical impeachment and similarly a time to establish a body entrusted with judging the constitutionality of the interpretations placed upon and the concepts embodied in our Canon Law. Perhaps Bishop Duncan and his fellow “impeached” bishops are our contemporary Warren Hastings? That indeed would be ironic.

Sermon

http://www.episcopalchurch.org/sermons_that_work_104116_ENG_HTM.htm