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PRAYING THE OFFICE

Of course one shouldn’t value disciplined prayer for it therapeutic qualities. Yet at this moment of some measure of crisis in my life, the round of the Daily Offices has proved to be of extraordinary value.

I’m rarely joined by anyone as I say Morning Prayer. I still “cause the bell to be tolled” as the rubric in the earlier Prayer Books required. I have no idea whether any plowmen stop in their tracks as they hear the bell and remember that the Parson is praying for them.

In an age in which earnestness and spontaneity are so valued, words like “duty” and “discipline” seem out of tune. Anglicans have often been accused of using “vain repetitions” a charge which might easily be levelled at those who tell their loved ones that they love them each day. When even the most careful of us has been caught up in the belief that things are only “meaningful” when they issue forth from our own needs or imagination, saying Matins and Evensong, Noonday Prayers and Compline daily surely fail the test of utility.

Yet praying the psalms -even in the infuriating order in which they appear in the lectionary nowadays – reminds us that these were the hymns which Jesus and his disciples used as did their ancestors. We join with a host which may not be numbered as we recite those ancient words some of which are ascribed to a petty king who lived in the Bronze Age.

Hearing the meat of Holy Scripture during the year reminds us of passages we would never bother with left to our own devices and more familiar words take on new and varied meanings as we hear them, read, mark, learn and inwardly digest” them.

Praying the Offices takes away from us the temptation to personalize all Scripture reading, all recitation of the psalms, all prayer. +Michael Ramsey warned us of the fetish of turning “God contemplation” into “self-contemplation.”  This age manages to obsess together as its obsesses individually. The most obvious example of this is our one track record about human sexuality as if sex had just been invented!

Yet in the Offices we are praying with the Church, for the Church and by the Church. We join together with our contemporaries from centuries past and centuries to be and find ourselves resting in God’s eternal “now.”

Finding ourselves employing the minutes we use to pray as a gateway into timelessness takes some getting used to. We blink from the light streaming from the entrance to “a new heaven and a new earth”. We sense fleetingly what it will be like when all our church feuds and fights, divisions and tempests are well and truly gone for ever.  The words of the liturgy make few provisions for our cluttering our minds with our problems or even pet causes. We are where God IS, where God is all in all. Nothing matters because God IS.

This unworldliness is not an abdication of concern for the poor, the victims of oppression, war, family divisions and those who starve. Far from it. Where God  is in Trinity, those who are down-trodden find their effective champion and we as the Church are enlivened by the grace which pours forth in the Daily Prayers of the Church to find Jesus in the face of the troubled.

I wish that our church set a daily obligation for clergy to say the Office in church. Such an obligation obtains in many parts of the Anglican Communion, not as something to be enforced but as something binding on the consciences of the ordained. I say this because I believe that the rhythm of daily prayer is one of the most potent means of continued formation and growth. Lent is a good time to begin to observe this holy work or to revive within us the will to pray the Offices in sincerity and truth.

SPACE

I’ve written about Comprehension in the last two posts. The problem the American Church faces today is how such a principle may apply given the theological and sociological divide within its midst. Nor is TEC (The Episcopal Church) alone in having to face such a predicament. As the Church of England staggers towards the appointment of women bishops it faces an equally severe crisis. Thus far the C of E, in permitting the ordination of women priests has tacitly acknowledged that in so doing it has abandoned the older principle of not legislating radical changes that alienate a significant portion of its constituency. It has therefore opted for a new variation on the older theme by creating a safe space for those who cannot in conscience accept that women may be ordained to the priesthood.

It has done so by appointing flying bishops, and creating thereby a new form of suffragan see annexed to the two Archbishops within their respective Provinces of Canterbury and York. The prospect of there being female diocesan bishops now faces a more difficult problem, one that so far seems intractable.

If Anglicanism, at least in the “West” is set to embark on radical change, the question posed is whether it is possible to allow for such change without losing part of its historic base. Perhaps a second question is whether those who are now enabled by Provincial synodical government really believe in Anglicanism’s broad based “coalition” or whether it espouses a new vocation to be a “prophetic” church, prepared to jettison its less adventurous constituency in the name of justice and a stream-lined model able to recruit that part of the population in tune with such a vocation.

In the United States the matter of creating a safe space has been made the more difficult by the polarization of its constituency -reflecting a similar polarization in society – and may one say a certain triumphalism on the part of those who hold sway in General Convention. Attempts to create flying bishops on the English model have met resistance from bishops who wrap themselves in the mantle of inviolable diocesan territorial jurisdiction. It is difficult to see how such a principle may logically be advanced given the collapse of its parochial territorial integrity. Indeed overseas, and particularly in Europe, TEC admits to the possibility of a form of diocese based on a personal episcopate afforded not on the basis of territory, but on the choice not only of expat. Americans but anyone who lives near an Episcopal community. Ironically the Presiding Bishop only claims “normal” jurisdiction in such a setting. If two or more “flavors” of Anglicanism may exist side by side in Europe it is difficult to see how that may not be considered within the United States based on the pastoral necessity of comprehending those who have a heritage of doctrine and practice dating back to Jamestown in 1607.

The only theological objection to such an accommodation would be that TEC enjoys the same form of territorial right enjoyed by the Church of England. The claim of the C of E is based on the theory that it is the historic “Catholic” Church of the nation dating back to Augustine of Canterbury. Yet TEC makes no such claim. Its ecumenical policy admits to the reality of it sharing territory with the ELCA. Indeed TEC has largely abandoned the idea of organic unity with other Christian bodies based on the notion that it is possible for episcopal churches embracing different traditions inhabiting the same territory. There was a time when TEC robustly claimed its identity as being the Catholic Church in America, reformed. Now in practice it embraces denominationalism.

If TEC now opts for a more homogeneous identity, it faces the pastoral problem of how it cares for those it alienates. Two possibilities are obvious. It can either create a safe space for traditionalists to remain in its midst, a space which creates security and a right to survive and grow, or it  may envision the recognition of a discreet entity outside of itself and yet sharing the maximum measure of intercommunion possible.

I hasten to say that the latter model is not an obvious choice if TEC is to live into its obvious comprehensive history. It should not appear by a process of unilateral dissolution; the establishment of such a body without mutual agreement.

Either model may only be successfully accomplished if those in power adopt a genuinely sympathetic and pastoral approach to those whose consciences may not embrace radical and legislated change. If an internal structure is to be considered it must permit those embraced to honestly keep the oaths taken at ordination or reception. If the second model is considered it must permit and require a maximum expression of relationship in all areas where this is possible.

After forty years of alienation it would take an act of enormous grace for all parties to negotiate in good faith and trust. Yet both faith and trust are gifts of God. If the next meeting of General Convention is intent on adopting measures that may well alienate many of its faithful clergy and laity; if the breaches which have notably occurred during the past few years are to be healed, the sort of passion associated with the changes in process, “justice” concerns, should be balanced by an equally passionate concern for the alienated; a “mercy” concern.

THE VIA MEDIA AND COMPREHENSION

The term Via Media, (middle way) was popularized by George Herbert in his poem “The British Church.” His “mean between two extremes” was a literary devise to contrast the English Church with Roman Catholicism on the one hand and Genevan Calvinism on the other. While not intended to describe  an ecclesiological position, a theology of the church, it was useful shorthand for the position the Church of England found itself in the early 1600s, as it was denounced by Rome on the one hand and derided by radical Puritan separatists on the other.

While George Herbert was influenced by the revival in appreciation for the continuous heritage of the English Church espoused by his mentor Lancelot Andrewes he was essentially a rather conservative person, at home with the 1559 Prayer Book and the muted ceremonial which had typified “Anglicanism” in the previous reign. He was not a Laudian High Churchman. That his famous essay on the life and duty of a Parson was first published during the days when Anglicanism was proscribed by the Commonwealth attests to his moderation. Many moderate Church of England were driven to support the abolition of the episcopate and the Prayer Book during the English Civil War because of the close association High Church Anglicans had with the Stuart monarchy. They would have preferred the retention of a reformed Episcopate along the lines adopted one hundred and fifty years later in America, and such reforms were advocated by moderate Parliamentarians. Instead in the passion of Civil War they lost everything.

The church which emerged with the restoration of Charles II was no longer a Via Media in the original sense of that term. True it still stood in contrast to Roman Catholicism, but “Puritanism” was driven underground by the punitive legislation of the “Cavalier Parliament” in such draconian measures as the Conventicle Act and the Five Mile Act. The heirs to the Puritans were divided theologically and also over church government. Many would slide into Unitarianism. The revival of Nonconformity, those ejected because they refused to accept the 1662 Prayer Book would wait for another day.

It is true that the term Via Media remained in use. In recent time it has been employed in a slightly different manner by popular historians such as Stephen Neill who placed Anglicanism between those who have added to a corpus of essential doctrine (Rome) and those who have diluted essential doctrine such as the Nonconformists. Such descriptions hardly obtain in a modern context.

However it is important to draw a distinction between the concept of a middle way or a Bridge Church -who on earth wants to live on a bridge? – and comprehension. The ideal of Comprehension describes the internal reality of Anglicanism rather than contrasting Anglicanism with other parts of the Church. In short Comprehension describes a theory which attempts to comprehend various theological and ceremonial emphases described and limited by common subscription to episcopacy, common prayer and a set of core doctrines contained in the Book of Common Prayer and the Catechism and in the general manner in which the Church has identified its faith in Scripture as containing all things necessary unto salvation, in the Creeds as summaries of the Apostolic Faith, in the witness of the Early Ecumenical Councils of the Early Church and until recently in the Articles of Religion as a pattern of how Anglicans do theology in times of discord.

Comprehension also describes a measure of liberty in which people and movements from time to time inform (or disurb) the church. It is described by the old adage, “in essentials unity, in non-essentials diversity and in all things charity.” It depends on the idea that a core doctrine, what Henry McAdoo termed the “Hapex”, exists, or “matters essential”, and that other matters such as local liturgical adaptations, rites and ceremonies and customs, “matters indifferent” may be authorized from time to time by the authority of National churches.

This theory of comprehension depends on common definitions. It also speaks to an unwritten principle that no National Church or Province will legislate or make official doctrines or practices which violate the consciences of parties to the Comprehension. Granted such a principle does not make for a very adventurous church. “Prophetic” witness is given extraordinary license but circumscribes the adoption of “reform” until consensus or “reception” has clearly occurred. Lacking a central magisterium such as that contained in the Papacy on the one hand or the confessional authority of denominationalism on the other, Anglicanism advocates patience and restraint, an essentially practical and pastoral reaction to new ideas or the resurrection of older ways.

It was not envisioned that the restoration of synodical government by the infant Episcopal Church, and the spread of that system to most other Provinces would empower ecclesiastical legislative bodies with a form of Magisterium competent to reform or radically alter core doctrine. As the authority of Scripture and then revisionist approaches to Creeds, Councils and core doctrine has progressed, the distinctions between “essential” and “non essential” doctrines has been all but obscured and thus the very foundation of Comprehension undermined.

The idea of an Anglican Covenant is in part an attempt to rectify this situation by reaffirming the core beliefs and traditions of Anglicanism. It poses a grave problem for the Episcopal Church which has largely abandoned comprehension in favor of uniformity and assumes itself to be a discreet church with an omnicompetent General Convention.

Such a principle or practical way of life is hard to maintain in times when authority is derided and individualism trumps corporate identity. Those advocating radical interpretation of Scripture or doctrine are described as progressive or courageous while those who embrace traditional norms are termed reactionary. Anglicanism was perhaps meant for more gentle and civil days. It suffers greatly in times of passion and zealotry.

A further problem is the popular living into historical amnesia in which the past is forgotten or automatically derided for its alleged bigotry. Comprehension has become a lost treasure and a forgotten art.

DIVERSITY

I’ve been musing about Anglican diversity. When I was young our diversity ran from those who believed in a sacerdotal priesthood, Apostolic Succession, the Sacrifice of the Mass, auricular confession and the use of the Missal to those who believed that Anglican “priests” were Ministers of the Gospel, that an Historic Episcopate was adiaphora (not core belief), that Jesus was present at Holy Communion only to faithful believers and not in Bread and Wine, that sins were to be confessed diectly by the saved and who used the Prayer Book with little or no ceremonial. In short there were individuals, parishes and dioceses -perhaps whole Provinces – which differed little from Roman Catholicism and others which made a Scottish Presbyterian seem High Church.

There were also notable clerics who doubted the supernatural aspects of Christianity. Indeed for centuries there had been Bishops who were Deists, like Bishop Hoadly, and many more who sat lightly on Credal Faith.

The first Lambeth Conference was in part initiated by bishops who were annoyed that the Bishop of Natal had written a book on the authorship of the first few books of the Old Testament which nowadays would be regarded as small beer.

Nor is this the first time that our internal divisions have brought us to the point of collapse. At the beginning of the 17th Century Anglicans who sought to rediscover the heritage of the church before the Reformation, albeit in what would be considered very mild reforms such as placing the Communion Table back at the East end and fencing it with rails to prevent dogs from urinating on the Holy Table or parishioners using it as a repository for their winter clothes, collided with “conservatives” who were militantly Reformed and Protestant. The church collapsed. For over a decade Anglicanism, except as an illegal and underground church, survived only in Virginia.

What in part provoked that struggle was the determination of the the “High Church” reformers to enforce their practices by Law, as Archbishop Laud issued his regulations and prosecuted conservatives in Ecclesiastical Courts.

When the Church of England was restored in 1660 it took its revenge on those who had opposed the Laudian reforms by persecuting the Puritans, driving our saintly folk like Richard Baxter. Those driven out went underground and created Nonconformity and the Free Churches and the Church of England no longer could claim to be a truly national church.

What then developed was not a homogeneous church but one that learned to tolerate extraordinary diversity without officially endorsing the various movements and emphases which emerged whether Evangelical, Catholic, Broad Church or merely eccentric. Such liberality was sorely tested particularly after the Anglo Catholic Movement which occasioned the Reformed Episcopal schism and of course Anglicanism wasn’t flexible enough to embrace Methodism.

So what is different now? I scanned the bill of particulars appended to the Nigerian Primate’s recent letter to the Archbishop of Canterbury. Therein one finds snippets of statements and interviews given by our Presiding Bishop and other Episcopalian worthies. None of these snippets were as radical as the sort of stuff some Anglican theologians were airing thirty years ago. No one broke communion then. Only the retired Bishop of Newark, an “inverted fundamentalist” writes books which challenge the entire belief system of Christianity. Now don’t get me wrong. I believe that many of the attempts to appear intellectual or sophisticated in attempts to attract people who have problems with the uniqueness of Christ for instance are indeed a betrayal of the faith. But there’s nothing new in anything they say. Why then are we in danger of falling apart now? John Robinson’s “Honest to God” didn’t break us up. Why now?

I think there are a number of reasons for our present state. The first is the advent of the internet. We now know intimately what people say and teach. Secondly we haven’t come to grips with the sexual revolution which began with the invention of reliable contraceptives. The Western Church now inhabits a world in which casual sex, living in what was once termed “sin” and the creation of powerful groups advocating their rights to sexual expressions once regarded as immoral have faced the church with pastoral situations once unknown. Clergy routinely marry couples who have lived together and have children out of wedlock. Young people in our pews take such things for granted.

As the church has fudged or accommodated such relationships for decades it has become difficult to articulate moral teachings which are consistent.

Fundamentally, if I may be permitted a pun, our problem in TEC is that our church like the Laudians is intent on legislating a new moral code which we often forget embraces the non-marital relationships of both gays and “straights” and blessing these relationships in a manner which looks like Holy Matrimony, a “lesser” sacrament according to our Catechism. Like the Laudians the advocates of such formal legislation have scant patience with the old conservatives who are subject to official and non-official persecution, some self-inflicted by those with a taste for martyrdom and other marginalized because they cannot in conscience embrace these “reforms”. We see our Mother Church going to great pains to provide episcopal oversight to those who cannot accept the ordination and consecration of women clergy while our own church which has little claim to be a National Church refuses to make room for those whose claim to membership in the Episcopal Church is historical and actual. As a result those alienated behave like alienated people, plan schism and export their grievances abroad. The dreadful divisions in the Anglican Communion have been largely caused by zeolots in power who neither embrace Anglican comprehension nor an adequate Anglican ecclesiology. They have been deepened by wounded traditionalists who have looked for help beyond the borders of TEC and for a number of reasons, some virtuous and some self-serving no longer trust those in power or recognize our bonds in baptism and worship.

The Archbishop of Canterbury’s call for restraint, for patience, for a time out fall on deaf ears as Anglicans cling to their principles and slogans, embrace their wounds and regard themselves as guardians of the holy flame, whether liberal or conservative. The ideological divisions which have brought our American politics and politicians into disrepute similarly alienate many Episcopalians who find themselves in the middle and merely want to worship in peace and retain their identity as Anglicans and Episcopalians.

In times past we learned that enforcing reforms brings nothing but disunity and schism and an alienation of ordinary parishioners from their duty to worship God in accordance with our rites and ceremonies. We once learned the hard way to give space to reformers, allowing the common sense of ordinary lay and clerical people to engage in a practical assessment of new ideas or a return to old ways. The two great revivals in Anglicanism, the Evangelical and the Anglo Catholic were essentially conservative revivals of aspects of the church which have had their day in times past. We’ve had Liberals among us at least since the 17th. Century. Even the great Reforming Bishop Hugh Latimer was a social liberal in his own context. He was locked up in the Tower of London for championing the poor!

In many ways our great Archbishop of Canterbury, a convinced Catholic is calling for us to reexamine and live into our comprehensive tradition. But we don’t listen. Instead we seek to institutionalize and legislate our new and old ideas by Canon or by creating extra-mural structures. It is high time we revisited our long tradition of informal toleration, a tradition which has maintained in our worship and customs the core beliefs of Reformed Catholicism while giving space to reformers whose bright ideas we have informally embraced, rejected or amended over long periods of time. TEC in its initial attempt to enforce one liturgical practice has unwittingly drifted into an intolerance with dissent which has no place in our tradition. Such a drift has emulated the bureaucracy of large franchises rather than Anglican comprehension. But that is a story for another day.

FROM THE PRIMATES

The Primates of the Anglican Communion have met and today issued an important communique. You may find their report at Covenant-communion.net. They addressed a long list of items among which is a schism in the church in Zimbabwe led by the Bishop of the see which coves that nation’s capital, a notorious follower of Robert Mugabe. They also responded to the Archbishop of the Episcopal Church in the Sudan whose Province faces frightful problems in large measure caused by the government of that country.

The Primates noted the special role they play as representatives and Chief Pastors of their Provinces and National Churches. The title “Chief Pastor” is one which is used of our own Presiding Bishop. However after voting for the communique our own Primate issued a statement suggesting that only General Convention may speak for TEC. Now it is true that the office of Presiding Bishop was modeled on that of the Primus of the Scottish Episcopal Church who is not a “Primate” in the sense that title is usually used in the Communion. In earlier days the senior diocesan bishop in consecration was our Presiding Bishop and exercised no “primatial” functions except that he took order for the consecration of bishops, was normally chief consecrator and had vague rights to conduct visitations to the dioceses of PECUSA.

Over the years the job of PB was divorced from that of a diocesan bishop and PBs were elected and assumed some executive responsibilities. He or she is now elected to the office for a time certain. The office was elevated by adding the title of “Primate” and “Chief Shepherd or Pastor”. Our PB proudly carries a Primatial Cross and is styled “The Most Reverend”. Our Primate is recognized in the Communion and given the honor of being an equal member of the Communion’s Primatial Committee. In recent months we have seen our Primate exercising “metropolitical” authority in areas where our church has split.

A cynic might say that our PB acts as a Primate when it is convenient and attributes primatial status to General Convention when it is convenient. As I have asked before, are we an episcopal church or a “General Convention” Church, something novel in Catholic and therefore Anglican polity? The practical effect of TEC’s claim to a novel polity has been the cause of enormous confusion when our present and immediately past Primates have voted with the rest of the Primates and then come home and stated that their vote means not what it says because only General Convention may speak for TEC. Do we really believe that our bishops are successors of the Apostles or are we suggesting that Synods are their successors.

Whether our General Convention is competent to sever links with the Communion or walk apart from it is perhaps a matter for Canon Lawyers to determine. The Archbishop of Canterbury rightly suggests that autonomy stems from Communion and not the other way round. An ecclesial body made up only of bishops in communion with their own “brand” within a national group, unless isolated by issues beyond their immediate control lacks the fullness of Catholic Order.

Thus while one is delighted to see that our Primate has joined with the other Primates in commiting to the moratoria on the consecration of priests in same-sex relationships and on “same-sex” blessings and of initiatives to mediate the schism which is both external to and internal to TEC, one fears that such a participation and agreement may be disavowed because our Primate, at home, isn’t really a Primate. If indeed she is not surely she should abstain from joining with the other Primates when they issue communiques which affect TEC. At least such an abstention would be open and above board.

Those who are seeking to form the Anglican Church in North America should also heed the Primates. They were indirectly represented by the Primates who embrace them. They sought recognition as a parallel Province. They now have their answer. They have a process charted for them. Let them respond to mediation in full faith and commitment. They have not yet created a church. Let them delay further moves which would make mediation impossible. The Primates have made clear that it is not for local groups to recognize themselves as Provinces. If TEC is to be asked to submit to mediation – and it should – it should also accept a moratorium on legal actions aimed at dissident congregations and diocesan units and lift its depositions. It is clearly possible to lift depositions without inviting those bishops to meetings of the House of Bishops and General Convention.

In the present climate it may be possible for those who have left TEC to eschew active proselyting of TEC members without much effect. No doubt those leaving will continue to leave and find homes in the parishes of extra mural groups and such a moratorium may focus “continuing churches” on mission and evangelism to the unchurched.