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PESSIMISM

I  read a comment elsewhere this morning in which the writer claimed that senior staff at Lambeth Palace were suggesting that the Archbishop of Canterbury will do nothing in response to TEC’s breach of its promise to keep the moratorium  which its own Primate signed off on last Christmas.

I’d bet one of my discarded mitres that the writer has no inside information. He wants to believe that the Archbishop is useless and from that firm conviction he builds his case by recourse to rumor and speculation spread by people who are as pessimistic as he is. Indeed I read a great deal of tripe from people whose views don’t seem far from my own, but with one crucial difference.  They want the sky to fall. Somehow they believe devoutly that if all crumbles and decays, if Israel goes into captivity, they will be vindicated.  Well I suppose there’s nothing wrong with such a position, if those who held it were not quite so nasty about their targets.

If one reads the Archbishop of Canterbury’s message to the Global South leaders, who are in Singapore at the moment, there is little to suggest that he is comfortable with the behavior of TEC.  Even the Irish Primate, who is not known to be a staunch conservative has expressed his dismay with TEC’s approval of the Glasspool election. Indeed this election has changed the focus of Communion dismay.  For the confirmation of the election by a majority of bishops and standing committees and the TEC Primate portrays TEC as being fundamentally dishonest. Set aside the matter of a church having Canons which require clergy not to engage in sexual relationships outside marriage, which elects and confirms people who engage in such relationships: set aside the fact that the blessing of same-sex persons in something resembling marriage counters the doctrine and discipline of our church. (I am quite prepared to bless anyone who seeks to be blessed, even in Krogers supermarket! I am a sinner and I bless sinners all the time, a few of whom are malicious gossips who do much more harm than a partnered gay.)

The crucial matter is one of honesty and trust. Even after the votes taken at the last General Convention which seemed to reject a principled pause in these areas, the PB and the President of the House of Deputies wrote to the leaders of the Anglican Communion stating that TEC still honored its agreement to a moratorium on the ordination and consecration of persons in partnered same-sex relationships and to authorizing same-sex blessings.

The Archbishop of Canterbury has made his dismay quite clear. Mutual affection and submission, the type of any loving relationship, depends on trust. The issue presented to the Communion now is that it cannot trust TEC, for no single agency of TEC represents its voice, and thus one “voice” may say one thing and seem authoritative, only to be drowned out by another which seems authoritative.This confusion of tongues is lauded as TEC’s superior form of government!

Clearly there is much in all this to dismay even moderate people, those inclined to sympathize with the pastoral dilemma the church faces in caring for gay and lesbian people, taking care not to categorize their sexual behavior as the only unforgivable sin, while tolerating all sorts of bad behavior in others.  Dismay is the natural response to bad faith. TEC has stumbled into bad faith because it sought political means of instituting its reforms, instead of proposing its theology first, then adopting the canonical and liturgical changes necessary to affirm gay marriage while putting into effect the pastoral measures vitally attached to such policies.  I am not suggesting that the Communion would have accepted such a course. Far from it. But the process would have integrity!

Having said all this, I return to another form of bad behavior and that is demonizing those one believes to be wrong, or inefficient.  Traditionalists in TEC: those who have left have no business grumping about TEC’s doings – so often sound like the “Tea Party at Prayer”. I hear Tea Party activists saying that the President of the USA is going to take away their guns!  I wish he could and would. But there is no evidence to suggest that he plans to find a way to legislate such an outcome. So they hoist signs on which there is a photograph of the President with a Hitlerian mustache.  Starting from the premise that the government is rotten, which may be true who ever is in power, such people invent stories intended to prove their point and these stories include personal invective against those assumed to be the Enemy.

I could draw instances of Liberals who demonize traditionalists, but my point this April morning is aimed at those in whose camp I uneasily dwell, whose world-view and consequent invective begins with the premise that the Archbishop and his Communion are rotten, and weave tales to prove the point, spiced with personal invective.

We should be praying hard for +Rowan and the Primates and others with whom he takes counsel and heed his cogent reminder that healing is not the work of committees and conventions but of our Lord the Spirit. One might add that genuine koinonia is not created by Conventions, Synods and Canons but by worship, prayer and loving loyalty to the  always faithful covenant God has with His people.

70 eh?

It’s my seventieth birthday today.  I remember thinking that Granddad was frightfully ancient at this age. Now I am grandpa to my three wonderful descendents, blessed by two wonderful sons and their wives with whom I “Skyped” earlier.  Last evening the parish held a lovely party for me, attended by my bishop and his wife and the bishop who was my assistant when I wore purple and a goodly sprinkling of fellow priests and those from my former jurisdiction, one of whom flew in from California and many of my present parishioners. Facebook and email greetings have been coming in all day.

When I was a lad the CofE was in that period of growth and self-confidence which suddenly evaporated in the 60ies as it did here in TEC.  Liturgical “confusion” abounded, although everything bore some relationship to the BCP. People still attended Evensong!  The vicar was still a person, “parson” in the community.  The seminaries were full.

I am grateful for those memories although not geriatrically nostalgic. I remember the psalms from singing them each Sunday. I remember the memorable prayers of the old Liturgy, still a very present help in times of trouble and joy. And at the closing time of my public ministry God was good enough to place me in a parish where Cranmerian cadences resound.  A priest who was in church on Sunday said he felt it was the first time he had really worshipped in years!

My birthday is no time to wax lugubriously about why we are now in decline. I am still convinced that most unchurched people in England and America haven’t abandoned faith. They just don’t think that what we all do inside those red doors has a thing to do with the life they live. In large measure we seem to be obsessed with our internal interests, whether internal means inside the national churches or inside the parishes. Whatever language used, ceremonial espoused, modern or traditional, it all seems arcane.  We have become prisoners of our structures and of our obsessions.  Where we seem to succeed it is all too often because there are still enough people around who are “like-minded” and that “like-mindedness” is often more about our social and political enthusiasms and little about the Gospel.

Yet it is at times like this that God acts. Perhaps the caretaker church, introverted and self-obsessed, hanging on, is the guardian of the Holy Flame, which awaits catching fire in God’s time and by His means?  I so believe.

PRESIDING BISHOP WRITES

In her letter to the Primates about the confirmation of the election of a same-sex partnered priest to be Suffragan of Los Angeles, the Presiding Bishop argues that the consent process represents the majority viewpoint of Episcopalians. Laying aside the matter of whether such an election should be determined by “majority opinion” when it defies the present Canons of TEC, the matter of whether TEC is a democratic institution is open to question.

In an age of instant communication institutions which once seemed democratic can be anything but representative. Our General Convention is peopled by those who can afford to attend, in terms of getting time off from work, having the means to enjoy the opportunities offered by expensive hotels in expensive cities (even if dioceses are able to foot the bill for rooms, travel etc) and who themselves attend diocesan conventions with enough regularity to be electable. A significant group are old hands, savvy in the arcane ways of Convention rules, known to each other and to the administration. It all sounds rather like Congress. Unlike secular government, there are no opinion polls to assess the views of parishioners. Deputies are not known to travel around dioceses hearing the views of parishioners. There is no culture of parishioners contacting deputies, no “town hall meetings”, and little fear of losing one’s seat. Thus the checks and balances of a democratic system are unknown.

One house of Convention is peopled by purple personages elected by diocesan conventions but thereafter enjoying tenure without fear of recall! There is something at best optimistic and at worst disingenuous about claims that the policies adopted by GC or the Executive Committee or the PB represent grass-roots opinion.

At least some of the Primates evaluate the PB’s letter with these facts in mind. They are the more irksome when overseas Provinces are criticised for their alleged lack of democracy. I have attended meetings of the English General Synod. My visit to York a few years ago was very instructed. Bishops and delegates were housed at York University, ate meals together, mingled, and met as one House for all business. Members of Synod are elected by their peers and by parishioners in discreet constituencies. Direct election of members of synod is the general practice around the Communion. Synodical government is the established practice everywhere and by all. I would go as far as to suggest that our form of governance is more of the type to be found in those provinces which grant a disproportionate authority to primates or bishops, although of a different genre of limited democracy.

TEC could easily adopt a system more representative of the people in the pew, by the simple devise of sending important legislation to deaneries, diocesan conventions and the provinces before final deliberation by General Convention. However reform is unlikely because the present system works for those in power.