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REALITY OR FANTASY?

The future of an Anglican Covenant now seems centered in the forthcoming debate in the English General Synod. The preliminary vote precedes the issue going to diocesan synods for debate and discussion before it returns to General Synod at some time in the future. A concentrated barrage of criticism from “progressives” is now aimed at scuttling the Church of England’s consideration of the Covenant now.

Behind all this lies the perception of Anglicanism embraced by liberals, one which much in the recent past has helped to create and build. Perceptions are not always factual.

“Progressives” like to think of themselves as “thinking Anglicans”, people who find Anglicanism a useful and comfortable vehicle to advance their ideas and convictions about modernity. Now there is nothing unusual or necessarily wrong in a “party” within Anglicanism regarding itself as the proverbial answer to a maiden’s prayer. Such coalitions are part and parcel of the Anglican reality. When first advanced their perceptions may well be healthy contributions to the whole Church at moments when it seems to have neglected a vital aspect of the Christian Faith.

However a process sets in during which a positive offering becomes a reactive constituency more intent on preserving its integrity than engaging in respectful and prayerful conversation with others who may not embrace in part or perhaps substantially the programme offered by an activist group. In short a group slides into fantasy, regarding itself as the genuine face of Anglicanism assailed by all others.

The “progressive” reaction to the Covenant, with its fears that “fundamentalists” will conquer and obliterate their positions is linked to fear of all forms of Christianity which don’t meet with their approval. We see this in their revival of anti-Roman Catholicism as well as their worries about parts one through three of the Covenant, which merely re-tell the historic doctrinal, liturgical and ecclesiological (shape of the church) story of the Anglican position in its diversity and part four which introduces a minimal standard of discipline in inter-Anglican relationships.

I find the revival of anti Roman Catholic rhetoric to be informative. Foxe and Titus Oates must be standing in their graves. The contributions Rome offers in terms of spirituality, heroic sacrifice and an insistence on the reality of the unity of the Church are swept away by fears that the “scarlet woman” will subvert an Anglicanism described totally in progressive and liberal terms. Every time the Archbishop of Canterbury travels to Rome, or a Pope “invades” England, cries of popery fill the air. It is passing strange to see liberals echoing in their own discreet terms the rhetoric of Mr Paisley.

In Covenant terms fears are raised that theological liberalism will be brought to its knees by the Nigerian and Ugandan churches and their followers. The real point here is that vocal progressives wouldn’t be seen dead in the company of Global South Anglicans and want no truck with them, certainly not in the form of a covenant relationship.

Now I am not suggesting that “traditionalists” don’t react in the same manner. They too anchor their fantasy in a movement or moment in Anglican tradition, fearing that they will have to sit next to the American Presiding Bishop. So they too tear their garments in horror ad refuse to journey to Dublin even if their influence would be considerable if they sat at the table.

The first three sections of the Covenant draw us back from fantasy into reality. For this reason if no other they fill an important role in Anglicanism’s contemporary debate. They remind us of our Reformed Catholic integrity and of our positive offerings to ecumenism, yes even to Rome and unsettle our conviction that we alone possess the essence of Anglican Reality. If as has been suggested the Covenant is a waste of time and money, it won’t be any more so than many other things Anglicans busy themselves with, and as such surely will do no harm. If the Covenant is not enough, is it not enough because it is in error or not enough because I or we don’t agree with it when we meet and blog and issue solemn statements. Or is it not enough but nearly enough, enough to gain my or our assent without disturbing my fantasy of what Anglicanism has been or is as my friends and I do church?

Beneath all this is a tendency to pattern our version of Anglicanism not on biblical and catholic ecclesiology but on modern political parties, a “denomination” dominated by a platform, or a party in which various constituencies battle for control of the leadership and the agenda. Modern denominationalism fosters such a view. It permits us to identify our enemy, to attack, to defend and to indulge our visions of just how wonderful the church would be if we ran the show. If the Covenant reminds us that Anglicanism is more than sanctified politics it will serve its purpose.

RANDOM DROWSY THOUGHTS

One of the side-effects of the disease I have is anemia. While the iron pills I am to take daily have a certain effect it isn’t the one desired and my doctor wants me to double my intake. I resist. Now I am told that radiation will cause tiredness. If I get much more tired I will be comatose. Once I am sufficiently microwaved to shrink the nodes behind my eyes which are causing blurred vision, they will start the process of chemotherapy. On the positive side all this will pass and somewhen before summer comes I should be well again and fit to go to England, where I hope to witness my older son, a priest in the Church of England, getting his Ph.D at Durham University. I hope I shall also be able at some stage to visit my younger son Philip and his lovely wife Erin and my grandchildren in Pennsylvania. And there’s a particular consecration of a bishop I plan to witness in March.  So I have much to which I look forward.

In my dotage God was good enough to send me to a wonderful parish where I am free to indulge my unreformed tastes in liturgy and to be a pastor in an ideal diocese, with a caring bishop and colleagues who represent the different “parties” in contemporary Episcopalianism, each tempered by an active desire to live together in unity within the Communion and TEC. I am blessed. I am also blessed by the prayers of many all over the world whom I have never met in person but to whom I am linked by the miracle of the internet.

As there is no quick fix to my cancer which even when returned to its lair I shall live with for the rest of my life. I must come to terms with that fact. Similarly I must live with disunity within the form of Christianity which has been my home since I was baptized in St. Thomas’ Church, Worsborough Dale, Yorkshire in 1940 when the world was at war and my Roman Catholic father, retreating to Dunkirk, had no say in which part of the divided Church would be my home.

I am so grateful to my mother for her part in my becoming a Christian in baptism and an Anglican by allegiance. Despite her untidiness, her internal squabbles which seem to have worsened during my life I remain hopelessly in love with Anglicanism warts and all. I am unable to leave her, replicate an ideal version of her, or swim the Tiber taking my favorite aspects of her with me.

True the shrill voices of those who battle for their exclusive version of what they deem her to bother me and I am drawn from time to time to defend what I perceive to be her heritage and witness. In this, my kettle often calls their pot black. And I become weary of those whose hubris permits them to propose their own changes to her tradition. I understand how heady it must be to believe they are reformers. Iconoclasts have enormous cheek. Of course they believe God is calling them to purify the Church. Like dear old Nicholas Ridley, they enjoy  their version of smashing stained glass and destroying altars. Look what happened to him.

I was chuckling with Mark on Skype this morning about scholarly specialization which produces theologians who seek to develop doctrine while liturgical scholars seem to believe that no developments in liturgy since the third century pass muster. They remind me of my doctors who stubbornly refuse to get together on my treatment!

Yet the miracle remains that through the centuries it is not the “experts” who have preserved the Church and its mission, but the unsung work of faithful parish priests and yes even bishops who preach the Word, administer the Sacraments, pastor the faithful even at times when the Church has seemed to be falling apart. It is in this steady pastoral application that we witness Anglicanism at its best. It matters little in the long run which parties are in the ascendency,  what theologies are popular, which liturgical texts enforced, what new revelations are announced, or even what pastoral measures introduced, in the final analysis the sanctified common sense of clergy and laity prevail and oddly deal with the proposals of the earnest.

This reality summons me to patience. When I get cross about the decisions of majorities in synods and conventions, I remind myself of the freedom Anglicanism gives to parish priests and parishioners. If this is congregationalism, so be it. Of course I believe that theologically the Church is activated in its “place” as parish priests and laity surround their diocesan bishop in the unity of the eucharistic offering, as they hear and receive the Scriptures. And it matters little oddly whether the bishop as a person is holy or daft. And yet if the parochial system were replaced by one in which parish priests were bound to the personal ideas of bishops or the collective decisions of synods in conflict with the formularies or liturgy of the church, I would be in a real pickle!

If I were a prophet I would suggest that the time is coming in the West when the growth of secularism and the dwindling number of parishioners will drive away all other issues. When the Son of Man returns will he find faith on earth? Of course, but nowhere does this promise the “success” of the Church in the form of a restored Christendom. Jesus’ prediction about the experience of Christians and the Church was a good deal more gloomy. We may experience a good deal of pain and weakness before the Final Day, which returns me to radiation and chemotherapy. God is faithful.

PROGRESS REPORT

I had a consultation with the radiologist this afternoon. I return on Friday for a “dry run”. I will be fitted with a face mask, making sure they dont zap off my nose, and the machine will be calibrated to hitthe right spots, aided by the Cscan picture.

 

Next week I will begin twenty sessions each lasting about half an hour. The radiologist seemed sure that they could shrink the nodes back to size. At some stage I shall begin chemo.  Ora pro nobis.

SOVEREIGN DIOCESES

Traditionalists are advancing the concept of “sovereign” dioceses in attempts to justify schism at the worst, or a modern collective version of passive obedience at best. It seems to me that what is being proposed is defended on grounds of history and law, but raise questions relating to practice.  “Practice” is a very important factor in Anglicanism. By “practice” one means how things are managed or done. If one considers the sentence “In theory this is the case, but in practice..” one gets the point.

In writing this essay I in no way intend to suggest that traditionalists haven’t been pressed beyond the limit, their principles derided, their historic place in the church ignored, and their safety placed in peril. TEC isn’t a safe place for traditionalists.

Yet a solution to these problems which involves stretching theory to its ultimate absurdity is no answer at all.  When overseas Anglican churches began to emerge the only pattern available was that of a “national church”, the form and shape of English Anglicanism. Now one may reject some of the arguments advanced by the Anglican reformers to justify a national church’s sovereignty (under the Crown) and be amused by invocations of Old King Coel and Gog and Magog, legendary creators of an English “Empire” and thus, like Rome and the East entitled to an Imperial Province. However that theory prevailed in England and Ireland, with the quaint arrangement of two geographical provinces in one nation forming the national church.

It was natural that in the creation of both the US, the concept of nation and “national” church would prevail, of sovereign states ceding sovereignty to a nation state and “sovereign” colonial churches to PECUSA ( a sovereignty exercised in but a brief period as jurisdiction transferred from Canterbury and London and from the ex-colonial church to a national church.)

Now it is true that the measure of such a transfer was only sorted out at the end of the Civil War for the nation and was limited in both theory and practice in the polity adopted by PECUSA.The USA advanced from confederation to federation to union, while PECUSA patterned it’s defuse authority on that of confederation.Obviously I do not mean the term as defined by the South in the Civil War. Thus PECUSA adapted the ideal of a national church, of which it had formed a part in colonial days, and created a polity which assigned to various “bodies” authority and jurisdiction. These bodies originally were the diocese and its  bishop and balancing standing committee, the General Convention and in a very limited manner the office of Presiding Bishop.  Over the years a number of auxiliary bodies emerged, such as the executive council, the board of Examining chaplains and the transformation of the office of the Presiding Bishop into an elective executive office but one lacking episcopal jurisdiction, except in Europe and a few islands in the pacific!

It is important to note that at least in theory these different “centers of authority” did not create a hierarchy, but simply located specific authority in different “places”, exercising what we term diffused authority based on the obvious competency of a specific agency to exercise that authority. In this PECUSA was unique in Anglicanism. For over a century it had no primate, merely the senior bishop, of advanced age, who tottered to his chair in the House of Bishops and kept order, and laid hands on new bishops. General Convention spend most of its time on missionary work at home and abroad, on funding the DFMS and in doing those collective things which dioceses could not do themselves.  In theory, except for beefing up the executive authority of the PB over staff and of the executive council in making sure that decisions of General Convention are carried out, nothing has changed, at least in theory.

If TEC is a hierarchical church it is one in which hierarchy is diffuse and not in ascending order of authority. It has never either “practiced”  diocesan or national “sovereignty” but rather depended on a not entirely tidy or logical compact which relied on each center of authority not to “muscle” in on the competence of another.

Where the place of US history as a reference may now be placed is in the Civil Wat period, during which the power of the federal government and the presidency was advanced, often without legal precedents in the face of states claiming an original sovereignty as supreme and thus the right and power to secede. Neither the developments of the central government nor the intention of the seceding states were based on original intent or legal competency. Rather in the heat of conflict both claimed a necessary authority and in the end the victor won not only the spoils but union trumped states rights for ever.

We are in the midst of a struggle in which both sides reach for a necessary authority which advances the claim of one center of authority over all others. The practice of polity gives way to theories justifying such a necessary authority and coercion replaces compact.  Nor may the claims of necessary authority advanced by left and right be considered merely in the context of the present controversy. The victory of either theory would undo the polity of TEC. It is high time that our bishops, clerical and lay leaders take a clear and objective look at what is occurring and take steps to restore TEC’s polity and practice.

DO PRAY PLEASE

I went to the oncologist today. I am to have radiation to kill the mass behind my eyes and this will occur fairly swiftly. The doc says that it “shouldn’t cause blindness!”. On the day before Thanksgiving I will start a course of injections over a period of a few weeks. After that I will have chemotherapy. This should put me back in remission.

IN HOSPITAL

I’ve been very tired of late and my vision has become more blurred. I checked into the La Porte, Indiana hospital last Monday and after a number of tests it looks as if Waldenstrom’s macroglobulinemia has returned. I am to have a biopsy from behind my eye today to confirm the diagnosis.

 

While this is not great news, the disease can be treated and driven back into its lair. I would merely ask you, gentle reader, to pray with me and support me during the next few months.