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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.

4 Responses

  1. You are one hundred percent right here, Fr. Clavier, both in terms of the inaccuracies of this letter and in terms of its tone. Whereas the ABC’s letter was mournful, solemn, and obviously the product of prayer, this letter is political, angry, and profoundly lacking in even the slightest pastoral sensitivity. I’m glad that the PB was so gracious to you personally in your hour of need. I’ve heard similar stories from other colleagues. Perhaps she believes that she is doing the right thing here and fulfilling a calling. But to speak so cavalierly while making so many obvious errors is unacceptable. It pains me, as a young priest, to have to serve a church that has such leadership.

  2. AMEN Tony +

    KJS is stunning in her ability to distort the past as well as the present so as to suit her agenda. I am delighted with your erudite response. Happily many others have seen through her assertions. Sadly the average pewster will not have the advantage of this insight and she will probably succeed in rewriting history for her dwindling flock. I am sure her letter will be trumpeted by the house propaganda organ.
    Indeed I understand that these words are all part of the setting up of the Revised Church of the Latter Day Episcopalians, with their own “extra” scriptures and prophets.
    So sad.
    Meanwhile Jesus is head of the Church Catholic and Apostolic last time I checked.

  3. Be of good cheer neotractarian. This is not the first time or I suspect the last in which clergy have served with odd leaders!

  4. […] letter from the Presiding Bishop, see Fr. Tony Clavier’s blog posting entitled “Reflections on a Pastoral Letter” and Joe Carter’s piece for First Things entitled “Is the Holy Spirit a […]

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