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TOO OLD FASHIONED?

Amidst all the chatter about mitres and primatial perambulations my mind has been focused on a smaller irony.  I attended as a guest the synod of the local diocese of the Anglican Province of America, whose primus I was for twenty-five years.  This year marks the fortieth anniversary of my election as a bishop and the survivors of those days wanted to say nice things about me and so I let them!

There was much talk about how these scattered churches might be able to purchase buildings and pay priests. The Diocese of Mid-America is a poor relation of the Diocese of the East, where in most cases buildings have been erected and clergy are full-time.

While these people plan for a future which includes buildings, we in the Episcopal Church, rather like the USA, are faced with an aging infrastructure and little money to maintain our buildings, let alone diocesan and national church institutions and seminaries. We are stuck in the past. We just cannot envision Anglicanism without its trappings and so our time and money are spent on propping them up. Often our Victorian piles are no longer on sites best suited to evangelize the community. The secularized community outside our buildings has no more insight into what we do on Sundays than they do of what goes on in a masonic lodge. They have little or no biblical knowledge and what they know about the church is largely based on the scandals they see revealed on CNN.

So we plan for mutual ministries, or team ministries, simply because we are too conservative and old-fashioned, too entrenched in what the church has been for hundreds of years to adapt to a new reality. The pattern we adhere to is that which emerged as America grew. It could be described as the “shopping mall” pattern. Our different denominations have offered their products to people who are shopping for something new, while attracting regular customers attached to our brand names. There has been for hundreds of years a sort of ecclesiastical game of musical chairs, in which the Episcopal Church has thrived by attracting upwardly mobile Christians uncomfortable in their less tasteful denominations. Our Liturgy, musical tradition, ceremonial and culture have been the “store-window” attractions by which TEC grew and thrived.

The problem with this method, however we adapt to find cheaper ways to staff our “stores” or train our leaders is that fewer and fewer people are visiting the mall. They are buying “on-line”. They are not attracted to our stores and see no connection between that which we show and sell with the lives they lead. Brought up to believe that something is only worthy if it serves “me” and only true if “I” believe it, the connection between organized Anglicanism and what for them is reality seems slim. This is not to suggest that this form of utilitarianism eschews mystery, or what might be termed “spirituality”. But such attractions are more a blend of sci-fi plots and new age programs. In some ways they resemble the sort of superstition the first Apostles encountered when they decided to evangelize the gentiles.

While history is said not to repeat itself, the church now is placed in a situation not unlike the one experienced in the first century. The impulse is to stay in the synagogue where familiarity breeds security. (Those who have left TEC like the APA or ACNA are busy trying to construct something which feels familiar.)  The challenge of the decision of the Council of Jerusalem for the church is not that it is a paradigm for admitting same-sex couples, but that it presents a challenge to obey Jesus and actually “go into all the world” beginning in Jerusalem but soon going further.

That “further” is for most of us just round the corner. St. Paul looked for the academics in Athens or the pagan country folk in Lystra.  In another place he hired a lecture hall because going to lectures was a popular thing to do. Our pressing task is to dare to evaluate our real estate for its utility as launching grounds for an “invasion” of secular life and culture. Our obsession with what we do “in church” and the safety and security of our “tradition” ironically obscures the mission of the church.

For many years we have been taught that evangelism is naughty, that sharing our faith and above all sharing Christ to others is an invasion of their “space”. We have not been so coy about invading their space with our social and political ideas!  However the task of the church is not to proselytize, a word misused, for the world we seek to speak to is no longer a world of “other faiths and religions” for a large part, and more and more a world of people with atomized vision and odd superstitions.

So far our impulse has been to conform to this secular culture hoping that a version of Christianity spiced up with the moral expectations and “spiritualistic” hobbies of the secular world will prove attractive. This approach is failing and failing dramatically.  Conversion, however defined, requires a radical re-ordering of life and thought, not an easy accommodation to usual lifestyles.  Christianity rings true, works, if you like, when it transforms.

The Great Commission, for centuries described as “Come join us, help us pay the parson and the bills” must now be taken at its original face value. Leaving the security of what we have to encounter and challenge the world outside is a difficult sell to Episcopalians, who, whether traditional or progressive are thoroughly conservative about structure and mission. Perhaps we may be driven to face this reality as our numbers dwindle and our finances dry up?

Sermon for the Nativity of John the Baptist

http://www.episcopalchurch.org/sermons_that_work_122733_ENG_HTM.htm

POST-COLONIALISM

I suppose it is inevitable that a person of my age and generation should find himself somewhat uncomfortable with some of the rhetoric surrounding the terms “colonial” and “post colonial”. I will grant that there is much lament about the colonial period, finding extremes in the frightfulness of the Belgian monarch’s personal administration of the Congo, the extremes of Manifest Destiny as applied to Native Americans, British reactions to the “indian Mutiny” and later the Amritsar massacre and American suppression of the Filipino independence movement, to name but a few. At a different level was the misguided, but perhaps culturally understandable stance of missionaries towards native dress and customs, lampooned delightfully in Noel Coward’s “Uncle Harry’s Not A Missionary Now.”  However some good word might be put in for the benefits of education, medicine, and Christianity itself, remembering that all of us who believe in Jesus are the heirs of the Church’s mission to the ends of the earth. As the Christian Calendar of saints reminds us again and again, many gave their lives and not all cultural suppression was misguided. The death by exposure of children and the elderly, the eradication of Sutee or the activities of the Thugee being cases in point.

For those who feel secure in ranging America on the side of anti-colonialism, “The Imperial Cruise” by James Bradley is instructive reading. The prose is somewhat purple and the book heavily one-sided, but the record of the United States emerges starkly as one notes the investment of many of its leaders in the culture of white imperialism towards African Americans, Native Americans and Hispanics on this continent and policy abroad, particularly in Latin America and Asia. Against this one may place the idealism of Woodrow Wilson and the anti-colonial stance of Franklin D. Roosevelt and post world war two foreign policy, instances of conversion rather than a continuity of culture and history.

It was inevitable that Harold Macmillan’s “Winds of Change”, the dismantlement of the British Empire and the emergence of independent nation states would alter the relationship between the emerging “Global South” Provinces of the Anglican Communion and the Mother Church. At first the American Church, born in a war of national independence against the colonial power seemed to be a paradigm for “Third World” Anglicanism. Indeed the American Church seemed to portray vividly the ambivalence of sentiment and attachment now experienced in Africa and Asia in formerly colonial Anglican outposts. At this precise moment that ambivalence is demonstrated both in the United States and abroad for different reasons and in a rather odd fashion. The present Archbishop of Canterbury is attacked in some places for his alleged paternalistic, colonial pretensions and in others because he has not exerted a sufficient paternalism in his efforts to counter the controversial policies of the North American provinces.

At root what is now in collision is the doctrine of the Church’s universality and the independent locality of local Provinces. Behind the hot button issues lies a deeper and fundamental debate about what we mean when we proclaim, “We believe in one, holy Catholic and Apostolic Church”. In his Pentecost missive the Pope seeks to reaffirm that wherever Christians are located, there fundamentally is the Catholic Church. He gives room for local expression and of course identifies the Church with the Roman Catholic Church. Despite such an identification, the Pope raises a fundamental issue for Anglicans.

Having spent the last sixty-five or so years proclaiming a practice of Provincial “particularity” have we reached a point where we have underestimated or undervalued our belief in the unity of the Church?  Lugubrious commentators on the “left” and the “right” herald the collapse of the Anglican Communion, either because it seems hopelessly colonial in its efforts to describe what we used to call the unifying “marks” of the Church -one, holy, catholic and apostolic – in a way which compromises local autonomy and cultural expression, or to others because it fails to magnify those marks in a way which stands “above” local autonomy and cultural expression. The Pentecost letters written by the Presiding Bishop of TEC and the Archbishop of Canterbury articulate two very different visions of what unity and diversity mean and very different interpretations of what the work of the Holy Spirit would seem to be in guiding the Church “into all truth.”

Something perhaps providential may be emerging. For if the issue dividing the Communion is not primarily about human sexuality (a symptom)  but about what we mean by “the inspiration of the Holy Spirit” in guiding the Church in mission as it magnifies Unity and expresses locality, surely the agencies of the Communion should be debating the language of the “Anglican Covenant” within such a context? Perhaps in simplistic terms we should be moving from the intractable problem of sex to the problem of unity in diversity as inspired and vivified by the Holy Spirit, the voice of Jesus in the life of the Church?  From a doctrinal and ecclesiological standpoint the first three sections of the Covenant language might set the agenda for such a study. By that I mean something more than a polite nod to classical Anglican theology and structure, something like the “Historical Doctrine” section in the US Prayer Book, but a consideration as to whether the first three sections are a living testimony of what “Anglicanism is, rather than what it was.  It may then and subsequently be determined whether the breadth and limits of Anglicanism may be lived into and what consequences emerge if Provinces cannot consent to both the breadth and limits of Anglican diversity.

Such a study ought to involve the Provinces at every level. What could emerge is a foundation from which it would be possible to examine controversial issues in a mutually comprehensible and “affectionate” manner.

REFLECTIONS ON A PASTORAL LETTER

The Bishop of California began his reply to the Archbishop of Canterbury Pentecost Letter by assuring us that he honours +Rowan Williams. I begin by saying that I will always be grateful to our Presiding Bishop for her pastoral outreach to me when I was gravely ill. It is not easy for me to write this blog, for I am saddened by +Katharine’s Pastoral Letter on a number of counts.

Let me get a small quibble out of the way first. Surely the Presiding Bishop has advisors who read drafts of her letters and statements and catch errors?  The statement that “The Church of Scotland” consecrated Samuel Seabury is not merely a factual error, it demonstrates no familiarity with Scottish Christianity.  The Anglican Church in Scotland – The Scottish Episcopal Church – separated from the Church of Scotland in part because the Church of Scotland abolished episcopacy in 1689.

That Seabury’s consecration was some form of defiant demonstration against the Church of England is a ridiculous notion. Seabury was a chaplain to the British forces in New England during the Revolution. He was a High Church Tory. He wanted the Episcopal Church to be named “The Church of England in America.”  Seabury supported the English Archbishops when they intruded in PECUSA affairs by demanding that the Nicene Creed, among other things, be restored to the new Prayer Book.

I have two great worries about the content of the PB’s Pastoral Letter.  The first is that she paints a big picture which is an assertive statement of alternative history. I rather like some of the novels of Harry Turtledove. He writes “what if” history. What if the Confederacy retained its independence. What if Spain imposed its rule on 16th Century England.
What if” history easily blends into the more fanciful literature about King Arthur or the assassination of John Kennedy.

I remember our PB preaching a sermon in the chapel at “815” in which she proposed that the winners write history. +Katharine now writes as the leader of the winning party in TEC! One could then create a version of history which locates truth in a story of the losers. One draws a picture of sixth and seventh century Western Christianity by ascribing to the papacy in that era claims and authority exercised eight hundred years later. One then draws a romantic picture of “Celtic Christianity”, assuming that there was a unified Celtic Church, that Celtic Christianity differed from “Roman” Christianity in any important manner, ignoring the strictness of its observances and suggesting that at the Council of Whitby something much more than the shape of a tonsure or the date of Easter was sacrificed to Roman domination. (In fact the old British Church of the English Northeast resembled much more the Prayer Book Society and the “Roman” party those who imposed the 79 BCP on unwilling people.)

The “Elizabethan Settlement” is noted as an emblem of the Church of England embracing the role of the oppressed, and setting up a distinct form of Christianity encouraging all forms of thought and practice. A study of the Church of England in the 16th. Century will not bear the weight of such a suggestion.  Later taunts about missionaries in Hawaii and South Dakota, taunts which ignore “culture” in the 19th. Century enforces the theme that history is to be read entirely from the prospective imposed upon the dead by  the “progressive” alive.

This big picture that truth always lies with the oppressed and never with the oppressors, is validated by “The Spirit” talking to significant numbers of people in North America and the mission of TEC to sell that which “The Spirit says to the churches” whatever the consequences. Those of us deaf to the Spirit or to whom the Spirit hasn’t talked may stick around as long as we don’t get in the way. There is a breath-taking arrogance about such a claim, of the sort usually associated with Joseph Smith or Mary Baker Eddy.

The Archbishop of Canterbury, trashed by the right because he has refused to arrogate to himself some form of papal or patriarchal authority is now set up as the author of oppressive papalism, or as Bishop Andrus suggests one who seeks to impose “discipline”  on the Communion. Is discipline naughty?

Any competent historian, let alone theologian will take into account the constant addiction of the Church militant to power and coercion. Contemporary TEC is no stranger to this form of power.  At the same time it is important to demonstrate balance and to sort out that which is scholarship and that which is the writing of conspiracy theorists and those who begin with their own convictions and attempt to impose on history, or scripture the weight of such convictions. Such a method is not the sole property of any one segment of society or our church.

To find  revisionist history advanced without qualification with such passion in an official “Pastoral” Letter by our primate is lamentable and an embarrassment.  There is little pastoral about the letter. Rather it is a challenge to the Communion and the proposal of an alternative vocation for its future led by the US church.