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AN ENCOUNTER

For most of my early teens I lived with my mother in Norfolk, England. Mother was the district nurse. She visited the sick and delivered most of the babies in a group of villages. She was a single parent mother, struggling to educate me well and manage on a meager salary.She was a hurt and embittered woman who gave herself to me with a devotion which both enabled and hurt me.

I was the only server at the local parish church. The “churchmanship” as we then called it, was very middle of the road. Each Sunday there was an early celebration of the Eucharist. Sung Matins followed at 11a.m except on the first Sunday in the month when there was a Parish Communion. Evensong was sung at 6: 30PM.The parish church breathed the faith of all who had worshipped there for hundreds of years.

Our vicar was called up for six months as an army chaplain. While he was away we were served by Roger Boys, a wonderful old priest in his nineties, who attended Lincoln Theological College when the saintly Edward King was Bishop of Lincoln. Fr. Boys, who I remember daily in my prayers was a living link with the Tractarians. He didn’t impose ceremonial on us. He just lived a sacramental faith with great gentleness.

There came a Sunday when he was away. I arrived at church early to be met by the verger. “Tony” he said, “there’s a Roming Catholic priest in the vestry. Go and tell him this is the parish church. He don’t take no notice of me.”

We robed in the tower, so off I went and there stood a venerable old chap wearing a funny hat with a pom pom, a cassock with more buttons on than there seemed to be available material clutching a crumbled long white robe adorned with the sort of lace one usually saw on the back of chairs in the homes of old ladies.

I gulped and blurted out that this was the Parish Church. “Indeed” he said, “a parish dedicated to our Lady. I have come to say Mass.”  “Our Lady”, I thought. I think I mumbled that he was wrong. This was Saint Mary’s Church.

Our Parish Communion that day was like nothing I had ever seen. I always seemed to be kneeling at the wrong place, offering the wrong cruet, or standing when I should have been kneeling. The villagers were astounded by his antics but won over by his lovely sermon. He had spent his life as a missionary in Africa and now was retired, living in a nearby village.

A few weeks later, he turned up early one morning at our house and informed my mother that he was taking me on a day trip to Walsingham. I had no idea why we were going to such a remote village. I was amazed that the old chap was still wearing his cassock and a funny hat. Off we went.

My day at the Shrine of our Lady of Walsingham was a transforming experience. I have a devotion to the place ever since. There is an extraordinary atmosphere of holiness in that little village. Despite the memories of the destruction of the monastery and shrine by Henry VIII’s commissioners and the subsequent evidence of our “unhappy divisions’ in the presence in the tiny village of three shrines, Anglican, Roman Catholic and Orthodox, somehow an aura of the Presence triumphs in a place dedicated to the Theotokos.

The Anglican shrine was restored by an eccentric, Fr. Hope Patten. He had recently died when I first went there. The liturgical devotions there at that time made the Pope look like a Presbyterian. Despite all its eccentricity there was something there. At the holy well people were healed of bodily and spiritual infirmities. “By their trust, “faith” we say.  Well that was so with Jesus’s healings. “Your faith has made you whole” What is more excellent that that?”  Ritualism and unreformed doctrine some mutter. But are we saved not by right precise doctrine but by faith, by trust in God?

When I was desperately ill a couple of years ago I sent an email to the Anglican Shrine asking for prayers. That amusing encounter fifty seven years ago has left me with an abiding devotion not only to Walsingham but to Mary.

I suppose my devotion is typically Anglican. I am vividly aware in my prayers of the presence of what the Creed terms “The Communion of Saints”.  I am challenged and amazed by the faith of  a young girl who submitted to the Divine Will to be the bearer of Jesus, True God and true Man. “Look at me”, she said, “I am God’s servant.”  Her Son echoed her words when in the Garden he said “Nevertheless not my will but your will be done”. I pray and struggle with that defining act of submission to God. It is at the heart of what evangelicals call a conversion experience.

As an Anglican I remain uncomfortable or shall I say untouched with attempts to make doctrinal definitions about Mary. I find them unnecessary. Was Mary received into Glory when she died? Of course she was. Was she without sin?  Like us all she was wa made true because of her Son’s love, as are we all by the merits of his life, death and passion and his resurrection and ascension. Certainly she demonstrated extraordinary grace by her submission, the role she played as Mother of Jesus, and her faith even when bemused by his ministry and torn apart by his death. In her devotion, even at the Cross, she demonstrates an immaculate devotion which challenges us and draws us closer to her Son. Even after the Reformation our church honored in its Calendar the Feast of the “Falling Asleep of the Blessed Virgin Mary” as we did her Annunciation.

Perhaps like the Orthodox I can be drawn into a devotion to her unique role in our salvation without being persuaded by precise doctrinal definitions about her conception or the mode of her reception into Heaven. The terms by which the Angel addressed her are sufficient for me. I love the old tag, “Those who are not Marians are usually Arians.”

We live daily with Mary and the Communion of Saints. I say in the Creed that we believe that we live in that Communion. Communion means an interconnected and inseparable fellowship. I shudder when people use that term to mean a federation of autonomous entities. I belong to the Anglican “Communion”. That term doesn’t mean something like being part of the “United Nations”. “Communion” is a stronger word than “Church”, or rather it articulates practically that which the word “Church” means. If I am in communion, I belong and have a responsibility to submit myself like Mary to that vocation and calling. My little parish is a microcosm of Communion, of fellowship with the saints in light, with all Christians, alive and dead, with the Holy Church of God and with a family called Anglicanism.

Is it possible that Mary’s confession, “Look, I am God’s servant. I will be the person God has called me to be” can be a paradigm of our relationships within our temporary Anglican Communion, as well as an expression of “sweet communion, with those whose work is done.” Who ever had a work, achieved, which the maiden gave herself to and assumed  when the angel said to her that she would be the bearer of the Savior of the World and she said “yes”. And so I kneel and cry “Ave Maria” and pray that I may have the grace to follow her good example as I put God’s will before my autonomy and pray that, despite myself and my falleness, people may find in my faith, the Faith of Jesus which we own, Jesus Himself?

A CHURCH FOR WHOM?

The Church of England has designated this coming Sunday as a Back to Church day. http://www.cofe.anglican.org/news/pr8609.html

A CofE Bishop is exasperated by what he believes to be a common view that the church is for the well-heeled and educated. For as long as I can remember there has been an emphasis on both sides of the ditch on people who are perceived to have intellectual doubts about the core teachings of the church. Not only has this seemed to become the sole missionary thrust of our church, it is has become fashionable for Anglicans in the West to pride themselves on parading their doubts. It is little wonder that we have become narrowly a church peopled by and speaking to and for intellectuals.

Now of course our faith requires us to use our minds and reason. Christianity is a reasonable faith. But it is a faith for everyone whatever their gifts and talents. If we eschew our mission to all we become a faith for a few. And that we have become. We talk about the poor and the less educated as subjects for our charity but not objects of our mission. Jesus is presented as a subject for deconstruction and not as Saviour and Lord.

We train our clergy to be experts in “criticism” and leave them with no common vocabulary or contact with ordinary folk.  We have nothing to say to those who read the sports page, who drive trucks, work in fast food places, and look after our daily lives in stores and supermarkets. Even “evangelicals” in the United States concentrate on the politically conservative middle class. We cheerfully consign the rest to the mission of fundamentalist groups.

It is little wonder that most people see the church as irrelevant to life and the harsh reality of relationships and survival. How ironic is this for a church which once embraced the whole “village” and was identified by its place at the center of community life?

CONTROL

Control is a reaction which sets in when trust evaporates. How do we protect ourselves when our security seems threatened and when it is no longer possible to negotiate in good faith?  When human relationships break down, participants look to protect what they have. Whatever the outcome, whether in families or institutions, protective and reactive measures deepen mistrust and encourage self-justification. Feeling badly done by, bitterness increases. People lose respect for each other and love turns to hatred.

When a marriage seems to be breaking down our church requires that the parties seek the counsel and advice of a priest. Such a priest is assumed to be neutral. The priest may call in a professional marriage counsellor or therapist whose task is to offer professional and objective help.  The whole premise here is that the vows and union formerly enjoyed by the couple should be a base to explore the strengths and weaknesses of a relationship, seeking to revive and build upon that which was once there.

It is no accident that many who came into our church from other traditions, who “fell in love” with “Episcopalianism” are the first to feel betrayed when their chosen church seems to become something else. They are not alone. Many who grew up loving our liturgy, our ethos reach the point when they find it difficult to recognize the continued presence of that which they love in what the church has become.

Of course those who have been active in promoting the utility or even the “justice” of the changes which have transformed the church find those who cleave to an older pattern obstructive and unenlightened. Those who have been attracted to the church as it now is, have no “memory” of what the church was and thus have little sympathy for old-fashioned types.

Habit is an essential ingredient in human nature. Habit provides security and stability. Granted there are those who become captive to habit and who become disoriented when the rhythm of life is destroyed. On the other hand there are those who love to move the furniture around, throw out the old and bring in the new. As Gilbert, of Sullivan fame remarked, we are “either a little liberal or else a little conservative, tra la la.”

I was thinking about this when I wrote an essay the other day on the social and historical background in which Richard Hooker, our first great theologian, wrote his seminal work. Particularly I was thinking about Elizabeth i’s chapels. Elizabeth grew up during the time when the Church of England became a national catholic church under her father. Henry VIII broke with Rome but during his life time the worship of the church changed very little. When Elizabeth came to the throne, and once again divorced the church from Western Catholicism, she was obliged to appoint to high office people with a different experience to her own. Many had gone into exile on the Continent and had espoused the Reformed views of Continental evangelicalism.

Stubbornly this “conservative” woman retained in her chapel many of the ceremonies and outward signs she had grown to love as a child. She insisted that the structure of the church remained traditional, in its retention of the provincial, diocesan and parochial system, in the rhythm of the Christian Year and a lectionary linked to that rhythm.

A case may be made that her stubborn conservatism enabled “Anglicanism” to resist the “liberalism” of Calvinism and gradually to bring together a comprehension between things old and things new. Had she not imposed her own stamp on a radical church, the Church of England would have become a Presbyterian kirk. The Queen and her third Archbishop gave protection to an unassuming parson, Richard Hooker, whose great work created a traditional synthesis between the past and the present. Hooker was five years old when Elizabeth came to the throne. He grew up worshiping according to the rites and ceremonies of the 1558 Prayer Book. He and many of his generation were shaped by the language and theology of the BCP.

Today there are many of us in TEC whose spirituality and doctrine of the church (ecclesiology) has been shaped by the way we worship.  We are alarmed by those whose religious experience is framed not by our structural heritage but by a religious experience which looks to an “authority” above and beyond the language and temper of our liturgy. Some are ultra conservatives, framed by “charismatic evangelicalism” and many, convinced that the church is not a safe home, have abandoned TEC and formed their own home.

The ascendant and dominating party in our church describes and limits our heritage in the light of their cultural, social and “justice” issues. For them the contents, structure and ethos of our worship is no longer the law of faith and of prayer, but a neutral reality which may be used as a vehicle for their reforms.

Those of us who are convinced Prayer Book Christians have no Elizabeth to protect us. We find ourselves in a “denominational” church untrammeled by that which they regard as the “traditional” ethos of Anglicanism.

The revised Prayer Book of our church has been in use for a scant thirty years. Yes, the 28 BCP didn’t have a long life but it was in touch with the temper and ethos of the past. The present Prayer Book has within it the possibility of framing a similar theology and spirituality. Yet it hasn’t had the chance to sink into the psyche of the people. The words and their meaning, the rhythm and meaning of its cadences are confronted by the doctrines and discipline of those who look beyond who we are to a cultural and social “theology” which finds its apex in the decisions of a governing body, General Convention, in the policies adopted by a majority rather than in the doctrine, discipline and worship of the church.

Is there a neutral and pastoral authority to which those of us who have been formed and are formed by Anglicanism as expressed in its structure and worship may appeal?  Seven bishops went to Lambeth to seek such pastoral advice from the Archbishop of Canterbury. It was his predecessor who intervened when TEC was being formed and insisted that our liturgy and structure remain firmly Anglican. In a global world, as members of a global “Communion”  those bishops and those of us whose faith and spirituality is framed in our worship and the words and meaning of our worship have nowhere else to go. Our Primate leads the reformers. Many of our bishops are reformers. Where then shall we go to find an authority which affirms that our theology and spirituality is that which our church affirms in its doctrine, discipline and worship?

The problem for us is that the other “party” in our dispute is not ready to join us in seeking counsel from Canterbury. They affirm the justice of their position and their absolute right to do their own thing. They are right. We are wrong.  The Primates have sought to offer committees and  bodies to help us in seeking some form of redress and support. Their offer has been rejected. And thus we now seek from Canterbury some assurance that we may retain our links and communion with the wider church and  retain our own integrity to be that which the church has been.  Many of the Elizabethan leadership were full of Calvin. They looked beyond that which the church was in structure and liturgy to a higher and external authority. They sought justice. Elizabeth, a remarkable woman, tempered their enthusiasm.  Where is our Elizabeth?

GENERAL CONVENTION?

Shortly after the possibility that Parliament would triumph over the Crown during the English Civil War a “General Assembly” was convoked. It met at Westminster. At least one Anglican bishop, the Archbishop of Dublin, took his seat. Archbishop Ussher, yes the fellow who divined that the world was 4000 years old, participated in that assembly. He did so as a champion of “limited” or constitutional episcopacy. Ironically he championed the authenticity of the Letters of Ignatius who, in the period after the Apostles, asserted the essential place of the episcopate in the life of the church. Ussher represented the moderate party who sought to advocate a form of episcopacy divorced from State power and limited by the authority of presbyters and laity. He lost! Episcopacy was abolished as was the Prayer Book and what we now term Anglicanism.

However that first General Assembly of clergy and laity defined and limited its own authority by adopting a “Confession”, a statement of doctrine which would serve as the binding standard on all future general assemblies. That confession remains a standard of faith for most Presbyterians in the United States.

Thus in a remarkable sweep of tradition an elected assembly aggregated to itself the authority previously assumed by Archbishops, bishops, and the assembly of clergy (Convocations) and the position of Parliament as the general synod of the English Church.

In many ways that assembly was prophetic. It asserted the right of all Christians to assemble together to govern the affairs of a national church. The growth of synodical government to become usual in Anglican Provinces is the result of this paradigm. However we noted that the Westminster Assembly swiftly limited its authority by the adoption of a Confession which outlined the form of Reformed theology and structure its members espoused. In the following years the compact dissolved as a plethora of sects claimed similar authority to advance their own “take” on the doctrine, discipline and worship of the Church.  Denominationalism was born.

There are now claims abroad which claims for the General Convention of the Episcopal Church a similar authority. The theory of limited episcopacy adopted when TEC was founded is now being interpreted as a doctrine which claims for General Convention all authority, or which claims that all authority, episcopal or lay is centered in the general authority of General Convention. But note that General Convention is not described and limited by some clear articulation of Anglican doctrine or by any authority which may adjudicate the theological or even canonical authenticity of the decisions adopted by General Convention.

Ironically the role of Archbishop Ussher at Westminster is now being assumed by the collective House of Bishops which seems ready to bow to the pressure of other clergy and laity in the House of Deputies simply because the majority of bishops are in favor of the present policies which call into question the fidelity of either House to the doctrine and discipline of the church as expressed in Liturgy and Constitutional and Canon Law. If indeed the traditional teaching authority of the episcopate is circumscribed by the prior and invincible authority of a Convention, is not something essential in the form and manner of what we term Anglicanism being radically and triumphantly re-asserted?  Note that recent communications from TEC to the Archbishop of Canterbury have been signed by the Presiding Bishop and the President of the House of Deputies suggesting some form of co-equal status and authority. As I predicted in an essay I wrote for Anglicans Online in 2000, TEC is becoming or has become not an episcopal church but a “General Convention Church.”

Our bishops should take serious note of these precedents and demonstrations of power and consider whether they are becoming creatures of an assembly rather than successors of the Apostles. No one advocates absolute rule by bishops. That is not the question. Rather that which is in question is the role of bishops as guardians of the faith and centers of essential unity in concert with presbyters and the laity each with specific roles and functions.

All this came to mind when I read the preface to an article by an erudite lay person in England who seeks to answers the recent letter about TEC’s decisions at General Convention written by the Archbishop of Canterbury and sent to all the bishops in the Anglican Communion. The article countering +Rowan’s letter was prefaced by a paragraph or two seeking to level the ground between archbishop and the writer in question, by pointing out that the archbishop’s thoughts may be questioned!  Of course they may.  But one wonders whether what is being advanced is the sort of theory advanced by some fundamentalists that anyone may rightly interpret Scripture.  The office of Archbishop of Canterbury is due respect. When it is occupied by a person of undisputed learning and holiness one wonders whether the suggestion that his authority as primus inter pares, as a bishop and a scholar is of no greater import than the writings of an ordinary Clerk like me! Of course I am at liberty to “thwack” +Rowan’s points, but I certainly do not do so because I possess either the authority of his office or episcopate or the massive learning he employs.  Is the infallible? I am sure he would chuckle at the assertion. But is it undemocratic to think that I am not his intellectual or spiritual equal?  A teacher once commented to one of my class mates that while he had a right to his own opinion he had no right to assert that his opinion was equal to that of a Cambridge first class honors degree holder who was authorized to teach the class.

A POSTSCRIPT

A number of friends on the “left” have responded to my last blog by suggesting that even had TEC made firm pastoral provisions for those of us who are loyal to the Formularies of our church, those intent on schism would have acted as they have.  We have no real way of knowing whether a more pastoral approach to dissent earlier on would have prevented the scandal of schism.

I am sure that such people would have had a much smaller following and little excuse for schismatic activities. But that is not the point.  I think a case may be made that everytime Anglicanism has sought to enforce the views of a temporory majority on an historical “party” within our comprehension the result has been frightful and resulted not only in the alienation of loyal Anglicans, but in the conflict many with no ax to grind have fled a warring church. Coercion not only violates the nature of Anglicanism but violates basic Christian charity. That such a breach is driven by zealots on both sides excuses nothing. We worship a Lord who “stands at the door and knocks”. He doesn’t break the door down!

THE WALL OF SEPARATION

I attended a NNECA conference in Boston a few years ago.  This was before we had the problem of dioceses leaving TEC.  One of the conference speakers was on the legal staff of the National Church and is now very much involved in litigation for TEC. As I remember the substance of her argument it went as follows:

In the Constitution of the USA a compact was made with religious organizations which treated them in the same way as treaties with sovereign bodies like the Native American groups. In exchange for internal “sovereignty” the United States agreed not to invade the constitutional integrity of religious bodies. The “churches” abandoned any claims to “establishment” in return for complete liberty to order and govern their own affairs.

This wall of separation, the speaker suggested, was being dismantled by religious bodies which either condoned or permitted its “members” to violate state law, or by religious bodies inviting the secular arm to adjudicate its own affairs.  In the first category were cases where the churches seemed to protect its members from civil law. In such cases the State was obliged to enter into the area of ecclesiastical discipline and to force the churches to give restitution to victims of abuse in one form or another.

In the second example churches were seeking to discipline its own “members” by recourse to secular courts, judging that such churches were unable, by themselves, to enforce their own discipline or protect their own claimed property.

Whatever the matter at hand, the churches invited the State into their own sovereignty and thereby ceded such authority to the secular courts. In short such ecclesial bodies were acting as if they were in some respect “established” or subject to, or open to the State to resolve their own difficulties.

The speaker suggested that every appeal to the secular arm to provide adjudication eroded the separation of Church and State. What may seem opportune at a moment might well set a precedent for the future. It also illustrated an incapacity on the part of the “Church” to manage its own affairs without the help of the secular arm.

I have now to affirm once again my opposition to schism as a method of affording protection to those whose beliefs and ideals were normal in the recent past. The unwillingness of our church to adopt unusual methods to afford safe haven to a disenfranchised and impotent minority, because TEC is governed by a “winner take all” form of governance is in itself a scandal. A simple expedient of the English “flying bishops” idea, adopted by a church which has a real claim to historic and unique territorial diocesan integrity, a system adopted to preserve unity, in that it was rejected by our “denominational” church, only underlines the stubborn and “conservative” policy of our majoritarian leadership. The simple adoption of protective measures to afford a safe haven for those who cannot in conscience submit to current TEC policies would have trumped schismatic schemes which have led to our present divisions. Our church would be lauded for its tolerance and comprehension while free to pursue the ideals of the majority. What would have emerged would have been “comprehension” tailored to years of conflict.

Instead TEC has asked the secular State by its courts to adjudicate not only property disputes but explicitly in is pleadings the doctrinal and structural ethos of what it means to be an Anglican in America.

If TEC wins its battles it will have given itself security as an ecclesial body intolerant of dissent and the price will be a surrender of its autonomy to the secular State. The wall of separation will have been breached. If the dissidents succeed the ability of TEC to govern itself autonomously will have been undermined by action of the State.

Perhaps it is not too late for the powers that be to count the cost of recourse to the State to settle its affairs and to grant to traditionalists dioceses and parishes a measure of protection, demonstrating a pastoral care for all its members and once again avowing its commitment to Anglican comprehension. Traditionalists in TEC need more than nice words suggesting the value they are to our breadth and unity. They need action and they need it now.

A simple and suitable action would be for the Executive Council to propose to the next General Convention a proposal permitting Dioceses and parishes to affirm the Covenant and to create a form of DEPO which permits diocesan bishop the right to offer secure and untrammeled temporary “jurisdiction” to parishes in “progressive” dioceses whose vestries adopt precise resolutions seeking such oversight. Bishops should be “comprehensive” enough to permit such a temporary relinquishment of jurisdiction in the cause of unity and concord.

Are the anachronistic claims to territorial jurisdiction on the part of diocesan bishops more important than the creation of extra diocesan structures within our unity?

FAMILIAR TERRITORY

“The more things change the more they stay the same.”  “There is nothing new under the sun”.  We remember these sayings, learnt in our childhood.  I am fascinated by the way controversies fought and long forgotten have resurfaced as new concepts in our church.  I want to mention two, which were full of life during the Reformation period.

1. The Tudor “Empire”.

Justification for the breach between the English Church didn’t merely revolve around doctrinal issues, superstition and morality. There was also a political argument. It ran something like this. There was a fabled time in the days after the Romans left England when “England” was an Empire. An Empire, is was affirmed, as entitled to a discreet and autonomous “church”. One might have thought that the polemic historians who sought to justify the complete autonomy of the Church of England would have dragged up the Arthurian legends.  But it was to “Old King Coel” that merry old soul that such historians appealed.  Even respectable Reformed bishop-theologians like John Jewel of Exeter, Richard Hooker’s mentor sought to advance such an argument. Over the years others pointed to the Celtic Church, assuming that it held no allegiance to Universal Church.

Nowadays one would describe such attempts as conspiracy theories. Most such theories have some slim grounding in fact. Obviously the connection between local churches and the See of Rome in early periods were much less robust. Distance, communication methods and the complexity of post Roman Empire political structures precluded any formidable centralized system. The Roman See had not established formally the claims it would make to universal jurisdiction. Thus those who sought to advance a political theory to bolster the authority of the Later Tudors over a National Church found plenty of ammunition factual and imaginery, by culling through the historic records and legends of their day.

Now I do believe that the breakup of the Western Church during the Reformation was inevitable. It was so for theological and political reasons. It was so because Rome feared the house cleaning it needed. But the casualty was the Church and it led to the sort of “denominationalism” which is such an obvious part of the modern ecclesial scene in America.

After a century or more of Ecumenism it seems to me tragic that some in our church seek to resurrect a theory of a National Church, and yet one with a crucial difference from that advanced by “Anglicans” during the Reformation. The crucial difference is that no one claims that TEC is The Church of America.  Rather the claim is now being made that TEC, as a worldwide body, is a discreet and autonomous unit competent to advance and create not only a local flavor suitable to serve a disctinct “culture” but whose reference to any wider body is discretionary not only in local government and liturgical usage but in doctrinal “development” and a discipline stemming therefrom. Such claims, like those advanced by Tudor historians are proposed in order to justify local unilateralism. Thus some propose a theory of a “National Denomination” in voluntary association with other churces throughout the world whose origins are in the migration and missionary activity of the English.  Such complete “denominational” autonomy has no justification in a reasonable interpretation of Scripture or in the historical Tradition. Rather it relies on a concept of discreet “denominationalism” which is part of the heritage of Protestant American religion.

2. Mutual Ministry

The second takes us back to the controversy between the Church of England and those who sought a more thorough reformation “root and branch”  It is absolutely true that for a period of time Anglican reformers attacked what they termed “sacerdotalism.”  By this they meant a theory of ministry which suggested that bishops and priests possessed the ability to transform bread and wine into the actual physical Body and Blood of Christ. There were other elements derided,  many bound up with miraculous relics, masses purchased to hasten along a person’s period of time in Purgatory and of course Indulgences.  There is a case to suggest that the threefold ministry of Bishops, Priests and Deacons was retained in the English Church, at least in part, for political and social reasons. The idea of one church in one place at one time, within its ancient Provincial, Diocesan and Parochial system was regarded by the Tudors as an essential ingredient in preserving the unity of the nation under the Crown.

Yet, however Reformed the teaching on ministry and sacraments there remained a theological conviction that the pastoral Ministry of Bishops, Priests and Deacons was not merely functional. Only those set aside by solemn rite were competent to preach and administer the Church’s sacraments. The teachings of Scipture and the unfolding witness of the Tradition anchored such authority in a pastoral ministry guaranteed by a threefold ministry evident to be in place from “The Apostles’ Time” or so spoke the Preface to the Ordinal.

It is important to note that such ministerial authority was vested in specific persons, the Primate in the Province, the Bishop in the diocese and the Parson in the parish. However the radical Reformers, fearful of preletical and sacerdotal overtones sought a greater reformation in which ministerial authority was shared by the gathered church of elect pesons, from whose midst were located and elected ministers of Word and Sacrament whose pastoral authority was limited to those associating themselves with the “elect”.  The elect, the gathered, separated congregation, either gathered into wider fellowships in the Presbyterian model or totally discovered in each congregation in the Congregational model,  raised up and authenticated those who preached and presided at sacramental rites of Baptism and Holy Communion. Even then while most models recognized teaching elders, ministers, and governing elders, those elected as in a modern vestry, there was no suggestion that elements in “teaching eldership”  sought to distribute different elements in such ministry among the elect, ordained or not.

The Diocese of Northern Michigan recently sought to elect a bishop whose episcopal ministry would be distributed among ordained and lay “members” of that diocese. They did so relying on a theory of ministry first advanced in the Diocese of Nevada, as it faced the familiar problem in our church. How do small parishes which cannot afford a full-time, payed priest, provide themselves with a preaching, sacramental and pastoral ministry?  Thus a practical suggestion emerged, which naturally sought to discover theological and  traditional precedents for identifying ministry in the entire “gathered” congregation, raised up from that gathered congregation, sharing in the elements of ministry hitherto located in a person…Parson.  Small groups of people would seek to see who was good at visiting the sick, who “taking services”, who using “Sermons that Work” for preaching and so on.

There was an attractive, non hierarchical, egalitarian ring to such a system. It was left to the tiny group of congregations in Northern Michigan to adapt such a theory to episcopacy. What they produced was episcopacy by committee, by the elect.  Now at base such a theory was bolstered by TEC’s slide into denominationalism, to describe itself not as a parochial church but as a gathered church of those who liked being Episcopalian.  One is tempted to suggest that the Puritan ideal of a gathered congregation of those predestined to salvation has become a theory of a gathered congregation (and National Church) of people who like whatever Episcopalianism is seen to be.

Let me stress that even the most pronounced sectarians, no attempt embraced such a functional approach to ministry that would have allowed the principle Preaching, Sacramental and Pastoral authority – I stress authority or authenticity – in the  a selected group within a congregation,  those who regularly worship, support and belong to a church among whom elements of “ordained” ministy would be distributed.

The justification for some in our church embracing such a theory is variously justified by appeals to supposed “Father knows best” activities of parish priests, eccentric appeals to Early Church evidence and purely practical considerations. No one doubts that our present problems in small rural parishes and dioceses call for solutions which are not anchored in the ideal of a full-time parish priest.  Yet both in appeals to Tudor “National Church” theories and “Mutual Ministry” theories of a functional approach to ministy based on odd concepts of Baptism, of which another time, there is an ironic call for us to reach  beyond such nativist theories towards more robust concepts of “Catholicity” in our doctrine of the Church at “national” and all other levels, and one based not on seeking proofs to excuse local unilateralism and self will.