• RSS Subscribe to Blog

  • PAGES

  • RECENT PONDERINGS

  • RECENT COMMENTS

    Steve on SAINTLY?
    Paul Nicholson on SAINTLY?
    RGE on Calling the Shots
    Walter J. Tanner on MARRIAGE EXTENSION
    franiel32 on IN THIS COMPANY
  • ARCHIVES

  • BLOG STATS

    • 111,965 hits

GIVING COMMUNION TO THE UNBAPTIZED

A resolution has been offered by the deputies of a small Western Episcopal Diocese asking the General Convention to reconsider a former decision not to overthrow a canonical ban on giving communion to unbaptized visitors to worship. More and more parishes are already violating church law in this matter. I’m not going to address the scriptural and doctrinal basis for only communicating baptized people. Others are already doing a good job in demonstrating just how radical a proposal this is, after all its crystal clear that the Church has always required that baptism precede admission to holy communion. Nor has there been, until now, any moment when baptism has preceded reception.

 

I would merely add that I see no evidence that those proposing this novelty have objectively considered the doctrinal, disciplinary and liturgical factors undergirding that which the church has always done, everywhere and by all. Rather the matter is advanced for reasons of ‘radical hospitality’. What I want to suggest is that quite apart from formidable theological, let alone ecumenical reasons not to overthrow what I would describe as core doctrine, the proposal stems from a throughly antiquated concept of what the church is at parish level and thus at every level. What is ignored is just where we are as Christians in the US at this moment in history.

 

We are the surviving heirs of Christendom, and a fragmented, denominational form of Christendom. Sixty years ago we all felt comfortable with our niche,  as we offered our wares in competition with other Christian bodies, relying on brand loyalty and some success in sheep stealing from our ecclesial rivals in the religious free market. Certainly there were occasional atheists, but even most of them were baptized atheists. Of course there were families which seldom darkened a church door. But they were usually baptized too. On Sundays, the faithful went to their church, the less faithful stayed at home, and some entered those doors only when they were ‘hatched, matched and dispatched.’  Of course all were fair game to evangelical groups who were sure that only those who subscribed to their version of the Gospel were saved, and made it their duty to convert other Christians. Anglicans tended to hope that other Christians had better taste, and benefited from those who discovered in our stately worship the taste they had previously lacked.

 

A number of factors undermined these factors as we staggered into the sixties, and decline in ‘membership’ began to set in. Social mobility cut ties between families and friends and their churches. People moved to new areas where neither social pressure nor brand loyalty obtained. Perhaps they failed to find parishes that were just like things at home. With all the changes going on, perhaps they found new forms of worship and rearranged furniture unfamiliar. Another factor became evident. With people marrying out of their faith-group, or re-marrying outside their faith-group, it was easier to join another church, or to settle for staying at home. Children no longer followed the lead or example of parents. And anyway, everything seemed up for grabs, even in church. Just as what it had meant to be a Republican or a Democrat was transformed, so what it meant to belong to a ‘brand church’ changed. The like-minded people who attended St X’s were perhaps no longer ‘my’ mind.

 

By the time the 20th Century was over, a growing group of Americans had no attachment to what became known as ‘organized religion’. The internet and its off-springs helped to discourage any need people had for group activity. Service clubs declined in membership. Dash it all even families no longer ate together.Those of us who remained ‘members’ of Christian groups became thought of as practitioners of arcane rites with no meaning to the actual business of living. So what did we do?  We Christians, unwilling or unable to grasp these societal changes, re-doubled out efforts to ‘attract’ new members. We tried more approachable songs, modes language rites, or we concentrated on drawing in fellow liberals or conservatives, and in the process we made our churches less relevant to those who didn’t agree with our political stance. And we fought among ourselves, in public, and our fights became descriptive of Christianity in a Media which fed and feeds on a diet of stories about conflict and naughty clergy.

 

So we become more desperate in our attempts to live in a long-lost Christendom, US variety, and more and more keen to find new ways to get people to join us. All the while a new generation has grown up, often unbaptized, unfamiliar with even the most basic Christian teachings, and cynical about churches and churchy people ‘who were no better than anyone else and probably a bunch of moralistic hypocrites’. How long, O Lord, will it take us to absorb this new culture?  And so we make another desperate attempt to show just how nice we are by contemplating obscuring what Christian initiation and sacramental worship means.

 

Our two desperate tasks are as follows. We have to come to some understanding about what Christian Faith means. Given our unhappy divisions that in itself seems a near impossible task. Is Christianity unique? If so in what manner? Who is God? Who is Jesus? What is the identity and mission of the Church? All these questions are themselves potentially divisive. May we fudge? Well we’ve done a good job at that already. ‘It doesn’t matter what we believe or what the church is, come and join us’ doesn’t seem life-changing or life-sustaining. Why bother?  If its political action one wants, well join a party. At least one doesn’t have to go to meetings unless one likes that sort of thing, rather like being religious without going to church.

 

And if, just if, we can decide what we want to say to culture as Christians, the notion we will just have to do a better job at advertising, of telling who we are, of being radically hospitable seems simplistic. How do we get people into a setting where together we do and say things which are utterly incomprehensible unless we’ve been taught what they mean. Saying, ‘Gracious me, you are actually here, participate with us in doing something you don’t understand’ is rather like inviting a muggle to a Hogswart reunion.

 

Of course while we think that church is a place we go to to get something we want, we’ll not be able to get ourselves out of this predicament. But if, just if, ‘church’ is the gathering of those who have been called, set apart, commissioned to receive the strength and the equipment to be communally the church in the market place, it doesn’t even figure that someone will turn up who needs ‘radical hospitality’ unless they are lapsed baptized people, ready and willing to re-learn how to join the community which is commissioned to show Jesus ‘for the life of the world.’

IS THE ANGLICAN COVENANT DEAD?

During the past few months, the text of the Anglican Covenant has been debated by diocesan synods in the Church of England. Enough dioceses have now rejected the Covenant to prevent its further consideration by General Synod during its present term. This doesn’t mean the the Covenant is dead either in the Church of England or in the wider communion. It’s defeat in the English dioceses has been a near thing. What emerged is that the people who busy themselves in church government at a diocesan level are almost equally divided. A majority of bishops support it, the clergy are almost divided equally, although more seem against it, and the laity are divided. The total vote of all three Orders produced a majority for the Covenant, but that fact means not a thing in a church governed by a complicated  voting system, which, at diocesan level requires agreement by majorities of bishops, other clergy and the laity. The best that may be said is that among those enthusiasts who get themselves elected to diocesan synods, there is no consensus. Whether the people who attend the parish churches on Sundays agree with their representatives can’t be known. I would think that most don’t really understand or care much about the issue.

 

Two things stand out. The first is that archbishops and bishops, a significant majority of which support the Covenant, no longer lead as teachers and spiritual leaders. In an episcopal church, this development is troubling, to say the least. I have to attribute much of this loss of influence on a failure of the bishops to use their office to teach. Granted in a church divided by a new form of partisanship, bishops retreat to managerial roles, avoiding taking positions which might further divide their struggling flocks and often ill-equipt to assert matters of faith and practice. Despite the emergence of new liturgical forms, intended to create greater unanimity in worship, English Anglicanism has wandered into utter liturgical confusion.  In many larger congregations the canons and rubrics about worship forms are ignored. Many resemble Nonconformist chapels in worship and theology, while others use rites culled from contemporary Roman Catholicism. After decades of effort to restore the Eucharist is the central form of worship, a plethora of non-sacramental worship forms seem to triumph, defended as means to attract the unchurched and children, but ill-equipt to introduce either to the doctrine, discipline or worship of Anglicanism.

 

The second and to my mind more worrying development has been the growth of groups structured on similar organizations typical in American politics. These single-issue groups raise money, develop tactics and create unelected or commissioned leaders, bent on influencing opinion and swaying synods. They exist on the Left and the Right in the fractured world of contemporary religious politics.Much of the influence hitherto exercised by bishops and other official clerical and lay leadership is now exercised by these pressure groups. Unconstrained by any discipline, obsessed by their own Issue, these lobbies exercise considerable power. That they tend to champion causes which in reality have little traction at parish level means not a thing. In short the church has grown more and more politicized and thus more and more divided. While they may shore up the zeal of their supporters, they quite probably further alienate less partisan parishioners. They give ample excuse to the Media to highlight conflict and ignore the daily hard work of clergy and parishioners.

 

Certainly as far as the Church of England is concerned, these two developments call into question the wisdom of adopting forms of legislative assemblies which emulate secular models of party-political governance rather than those appropriate for the good health of the church. Instead of creating synods that busy themselves on the good order of the church, and advancing sound religion and mission, synods have come to view themselves as bodies which create majorities, defeat minorities, and regard legislation as their true role in leading the church.

 

The defeat of the Covenant, at least for a few years, only highlights a deeply troubling development of ecclesiastical confusion. For the defeat of the Covenant in a majority of diocesan synods tells us little about the desirability of a Covenant. It perhaps begs the question as to whether the development of mutual accountability in world-wide Anglicanism is possible while no such mutual responsibility and accountability exists in the Provinces of the Anglican ‘West’. In short, if we cannot develop ways to identify what we have in common, in pursuit of unity and mission in a ‘national church’ how on earth may we expect to do so globally?

 

In the (American) Episcopal Church the problem has been solved neatly. A majority rules, free to do as it pleases, for surely that is democratic, while the minority either wanders off or settles for an insecure ghetto existence.

 

Of course the movement towards a Covenant isn’t dead. It’s progress has been impeded by the dog in a manger attitude of the ‘Gafcon’ Provinces, for whom the Covenant should have meant a larger influence in Communion affairs, but whose anti-‘colonialist’ (largely anti-American) passions have proven irresistible, even if bolstered by the remarkable influence of North American traditionalists, whose bitterness about TEC and oddly about +Rowan Williams drives them towards the dream of an Anglican Communion intolerant of any views but their own. The adoption of the Covenant by the Gafcon Provinces, in their present manifestation, would prove as divisive as the triumph of intolerant progressivism. Neither lobbies provides much breathing space for comprehension.

 

Should those of us who champion the growth of unity and accountability settle for a version of the Covenant without a mechanism for discipline? My own view is that it would move us forward. An agreement about the first sections of the Covenant’s texts would establish an Anglican norm, to which the Provinces by such an adoption would be accountable, even in default. How Anglicanism might then respond to Provinces which, for instance, contemplate lay presidency at the eucharist or communicating the non-baptized might be problematical but at least an agreed term of reference would be agreed upon from which adequate teaching responses might emerge. Our ecumenical partners would be secure in believing that Anglicans have s standard of theology and ecclesiology. Indeed Provinces which adopt policies at odd with the first three sections of the Covenant would be seen to be oddly out of step with their own formularies and those of the entire Communion.

 

It seems impossible at this moment to contemplate that the same-sex union matter will now devolve, at least in North America to the level of a Gamaliel judgement. It is one thing to permit something and entirely another to see over time whether that something will become normative or will achieve the desired outcome. Will a significant constituency avail themselves of whatever ‘blessing’ means?  What will the practical pastoral result look like? Will such unions be as unstable as contemporary Matrimony given the pressures inherent in contemporary ‘culture’ or rather conflicting cultures? Legislation is one thing, as we know from politics. The eventual fate of legislation once adopted is something entirely different. It would be supremely ironic if the Communion divides over a matter which, like other issues, evaporates in significance in a bewilderingly changing world.

 

Yet the question of how our present forms of Synodical government in the West are suited to advance the work and mission of the church. Therein lies the rub.

ROWAN WILLIAMS

I was saddened to read that the Archbishop of Canterbury is to resign his see at the end of the year. I only met him once. I was attending the General Synod of the Church of England held in York in 2004. I went to get my visitor’s credentials and there was +Rowan, humbly in line. I asked him why he was in our line. He said that he had forgotten to bring his badge and was waiting for his chaplain to come back with it. Until then he wasn’t allowed in. He thought the situation to be very funny. That encounter is a brief view of +Rowan the person, rather than +Rowan the intellectual giant, or the holy priest.

 

Perhaps much of the confusion about the Archbishop of Canterbury is really about us. As we have become more politicized and more cynical, it is harder and harder for us to rest easily in the presence of brilliance and holiness, bound together with amazing humility. Leaders aren’t like that. They are not supposed to be like that. We don’t much mind if such persons are buried away in a monastic library or a university lecture hall. When such a person occupies a significant leadership role, we are befuddled. No politician could be like that. The only way we can manage is to press onto such a person our own world-weary pattern of leadership, despite the fact that the pattern doesn’t fit, couldn’t fit.

 

Then we grumble that the person who combines honesty and intellect and holiness, humility and a sense of humor doesn’t match up to our expectations. For ten years now we have sought to frame +Rowan in our own images, wrap him in our own standards, press him into our own causes and as a result have been disappointed and aggrieved. Mind you, many younger clergy and informed laity have admired +Rowan, read him, puzzled over his Hookerian paragraphs and delighted in the poetry of his thought. We’ve “heard” him preach on great State occasions and occasionally in simple parish churches. We’ve been astounded by his stature among other bishops and his bravery as he has confronted tyrants.

 

Now we speculate on a successor. The great danger is that we will recoil from holiness and settle for managerial and political savvy. I don’t think either talent will fix things and of course that’s what we want, whether we are progressive or traditional. We want our own way and we want a Communion and a church which conforms to our own day dreams of what the church should be like. For while we have been pressing our own pattern on +Rowan, we’ve been doing the same on the Communion and the Province in which we live. We may say that we believe in “Holy” Church, but we much prefer scrappy political church or tidy narrow church.

 

Thank you Archbishop for your leadership, your vision, your holiness-in-humility and your patience in adversity. Have fun at Cambridge.

WHAT HAVE WE BECOME?

When I was a pre-teen youngster, says the sage as he shakes his grey locks, we were taught that the instruments were the See of Canterbury, the Book of Common Prayer, the Lambeth Conference and the Articles of Religion. Of course in those far off days Canterbury still exercised Primatial authority in a great deal of the Communion, the BCP (either derived from the 1549 family or the 1662 family, or the American combination) was indeed common, and the Articles, to various degrees were fundamental formularies. We still, rightly or wrongly deferred to authority and thus whatever its juridical status, when the bishops met and spoke, their conclusions demanded enormous respect throughout the Communion.

 

 

 
In the intervening years, influenced I think by secular corporate and Western political models committees replaced most of the above. The development of national and in some cases multi-national Provinces, their adoption of a variety of liturgical texts many influenced more by scholarly stabs at composing ‘Early Church’ texts than recognizably Anglican ones, the disappearance of the Articles even merely as a blueprint for how we do our theology in an era of doctrinal conflict, the rise of a new nationalism, and the loss (good or bad) of deference to authority have all contributed to internal fragmentation. 
 
 
 
As a result, both in ecumenism and in our own relationships Anglicanism has lost its cohesion. I think we concentrate on political and juridical aspects of our relationships because we no longer have a commonality of ethos. The Covenant is an attempt to re-establish that commonality. If it fails, at least in its present form we will still be left with the question: what do we have in common other than nostalgia?