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SERMON PREACHED AT NASHOTAH HOUSE on Founder’s Day, 2018

Ever since i first came here over forty years ago, I have been envious of you who are able to claim this place as home; to belong here, and to have been nurtured in this thin place, saturated as it is by the prayers and aspirations of those who have prayed here, adored here and consecrated their lives here. To be of Nashotah is a great privilege and a great responsibility. I  don’t belittle those who have taught here, but learning about the Faith is slightly less vital than learning to pray as the Church. This place is about formation.

 

Now to my sermon. In 1840, a few years before I was born, the High Church Bishop, Jackson Kemper, visited the equally High Church General Theological Seminary and asked for a few young men to volunteer to go to the back end of beyond to open an institution dedicated to evangelism and the development of mission priests, who, after the example of St. Vincent de Sales, would convert Native Americans and settlers, those seeking a new life, or escaping the law, their families or failed businesses: typical Episcopalians. Kemper asked for a few. Seven responded. The bishop said something like, Sorry, too many. He selected the son of the famous and extraordinary Bishop of New York, John Henry Hobart Jr., William Adams and James Lloyd Breck. The generous Bishop offered the three $100 a year and a plot of land beside a lake. Breck, at least, had the backing of a wealthy uncle. Bishops like endowed ordinands. The three men were probably unmoved by the Tracts for the Times, at least not yet. Except in rare circles, the writings of what could be called the Hadleigh Fathers, named after the vicarage in which Newman, Pusey and friends began to gather ten years before, had as yet gained little traction when the three young me set off for what we now call Wisconsin.  After a couple of years, Breck was the only one of the three left. Adams left to join de Koven’s new college at Racine. He would become a fervent foe of Tractarianism. I have not been able to trace what happened to Hobart after he returned East.

 

From that unpromising beginning you are descended. Very shortly the first graduates went out to create or man new parishes and missions across the Midwest and further afield.  Note that the House began in the midst of an acrimonious and debilitating feud between old fashioned High Church adherents, heirs of the great Caroline Divines, and the newfangled Anglo-Catholics. In retrospect the controversy may be said to weaken both. Divisions do that.

 

Nashotah, to this day, advances Anglican Catholic faith and order, in a mercifully unfussy way. Lamentably, almost from the beginning, Nashotah priests and their followers abandoned an important adjunct to Catholic pastoral ministry. Indeed almost the entire Episcopal Church abandoned the context of Catholic ministry: the parochial system. The parochial system defines the area in which a priest and those who worship regularly practice holistic ministry. It defines the population among whom Jesus is to be made manifest.

 

In place of this system, the Episcopal Church, by default rather than intention, took on the structure advocated by the Puritans in the reign of Elizabeth 1. The Puritans despised the parochial system. They believed that the local church was to be a gathered community of the elect. It’s red door, if it had one, was open to those who became convinced that they belonged among the elect.  In modern times they would have developed a website aiming at those who may like their form of religion, or erect a church sign informing the world that the elect meet on Sunday -what they do then is conveniently obscured by jargon. The name of  a clerical personage is also emblazoned, as if anyone other than the elect cares that Hezekiah Plum is minister. The purpose of a gathered church is inward looking. The elect create the worship style and other programs suited to the sort of people who form the gathered church and perhaps is attractive to those who may desire to be numbered among them and who will fit in. You see, the elect are noted for their love, but it is an inward looking, exclusive and self-serving love.

 

For a century or more the system worked, Few noticed the irony, particularly among Catholic Anglicans, the irony of churches proclaiming a priestly vocation, while practicing a puritan structure. But today few know or care what the elect do in their Victorian gothic piles. The elect dwindle, however many twirls of the thurible they practice. Of course there are more fundamental causes of decline, as you all well know, but this introverted system enabled the rise of detached activism and neo-gnosticism which has become the norm. It is no accident that the evangelical schism of the 1870s was succeeded by the social gospel movement.  But for Catholics, what is lost is not merely evangelical purpose, a defined mission field, but also a fundamentally Catholic vision of the local church. Here’s a definition. A parish is where the priesthood of the church, ordained and lay, offer the surrounding community to God primarily in the offering of the Mass. The parish is a defined area in which the priestly people of God represent Christ to the defined surrounding community. For that is what priests do. They don’t look inward and place themselves at the heart of their priesthood. They represent. And so those who join with the priest in the church building and who are trained for ministry, offer worship and then go among the people who live within the sound of the church bells, and do what Jesus did, as they feed, teach, heal, console and convert, and suffer, and die.. The purpose of the parish is to create places from which ministry fans out into the world, not an undefined amorphous world, but a parochial world. That is exactly what Breck and the first trained Nashotah priests did. I dream of a new generation of called people whose ambition is to practice Catholic evangelism as parish priests, sacrificial parish priests to and for the geographical area surrounding the building. By the way, the Canons of the Episcopal Church define how a territorial parish is to be created. For if you are to be, as today’s  Gospel suggests, God’s horticulturist, you will do better if you define the area where you wish the plants to grow, and train your fellow gardeners to nurture the plants, and even wee mustard seeds in the area you have staked out for yourself.

 

You are here, in this House, this home, not to satisfy your predilection for this kind of religion, nor to go from here to pamper those who prefer the warmth and coziness of their kind of religion. You are here to lose yourself in the service of Christ. Taking up the Cross involves pain and a world of hurt. When priests refuse to go into their parishes, because they know they will  experience, rejection, scorn, pain, persecution it’s no wonder that their active parishioners avoid the cost of discipleship. We talk of enabling the laity to fulfill their distinct vocation, and then we attempt to clericalize them instead of preparing them to take the Cross into the workplace, the coffee house, even the bars and taverns down the street from the church building. We’ve failed to enable the laity to evangelize their children and thereby have lost at least two generations.

 

If you are going to respond to the call for a few good priests, you will discover that, in a manner we can’t explain, the offering and receiving that is at the heart of the Mass, the Offices you recite in union with the whole church for the people who live in your parish, our Lady and the saints whose fellowship becomes vital and the holy archangels and angels who guard and protect you and above all, Jesus, whose ministry you assume, are indeed means of grace. Jesus will enable you and your flock to endure rejection, scorn, derision and the death you experience in what the world calls failure. It will be Jesus who is there in those extraordinary resurrection moments as bodies are healed, lives transformed and death conquered. “I prefer a Church that is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a Church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security.’ (from Evangelii Gaudium – The Joy of the Gospel)

 

Siren calls to center your vocation on churchy things, and even those excellent things like genuine spirituality and social activism, for their own sake, have been too long heeded by Episcopalians. Concentrating on drawing in and caring for an elect group has created the failing church. “Go”, Jesus said, “and be my life-givers to the ends of the earth. Go and plant seeds, even overlooked seeds as small as mustard seeds.

You are here to learn to divest yourself of your own way. And then, like Breck and his companions, to reach out into the territory God will give you and to spend yourself for Jesus. 

Growing a Church

 

 

For years now it’s been generally accepted that society is becoming so secularized that the only “memory’ left is one of clerical scandals or perhaps a Royal wedding or two. What does this mean? It means that there’s a generation out there that’s never heard of Abraham or Moses, David or Hosea, the Sermon on the Mount or the Ascension. If they do have an opinion about the Church it is that whatever it is, it has nothing to say about “real life.”

That further means that the advertisements placed in the newspaper, the website carefully crafted and the sign stating that Eucharist Rite 1 is at 8 am and Eucharist Rite 2 is at 10 am means nothing to those who “see” the sign. They may register that something mysterious is happening on Sunday mornings when all decent people are still in bed. A good number of those passing by “see” neither the sign nor the large faux gothic building with its bloody door. My former parish had a large stone Victorian gothic church building, with a large tower and the obligatory red doors. It was on a corner lot on a well travelled road. I was constantly amazed by the number of long time residents I met who had never noticed it. Thus those looking for a church might have been drawn in by the building, its sign, web site of Facebook page. A majority of Episcopal parishes are located in small communities with stagnant or dwindling congregations. Apart from new-comers, or people who are angry with their pastor or church -and who needs them? – no one is looking.

 

What does a group do when it becomes invisible? Our usual answer is to train more greeters to greet those who won’t enter, rearrange the pews for those who won’t use them, and tinker with the liturgy for those who know nothing of the God who is to be worshipped. We sign up for courses on church growth and learn eight astoundingly obvious methods to organize a growing parish. So many church growth organizations assume that congregations have spare cash to spend on projects designed to attract church shoppers. More and more small churches can’t even afford a full-time priest and spend most of their money on upkeep and paying to keep the lights on and the building heated or cooled.

 

Well, it’s not all bad. The elderly group responding from the back pews to an enthusiastic young priest are still offering worship to God for the neighborhood if they haven’t the foggiest idea how to offer God to the neighborhood. That in itself is powerful. Something remains to draw the world closer to God. The eucharistic offering, the prayers of the people actualize the love of God for human beings where they are. They work.

 

The Church in the West is in an Upper Room mode.  Jesus seems to have ascended elsewhere. We are still haunted by the call to talk about Jesus in our version of Judea, Samaria and the ends of the earth. We still hear Jesus ordering his followers to be life-givers for him. We hear the promise that God the Holy Spirit will possess the Church and give it power and authority to announce reconciliation and the forgiveness of sins.

 

There are haunting similarities between our church and the Church in the West and the pre-Pentecost Church. We continue to make up the number of the Apostles, busy ourselves with looking after each other, and stay indoors because we fear those outside. We don’t fear their anger. We fear their apathy.

 

The clue to St. Peter’s enormously successful first stab at talking about Jesus to those outside was twofold.  You can read his first speech in Acts 2. He related his love for his Master to the history and traditions of his listeners. It’s as if we started to draw lessons from American (or British) history and tradition to tell the story of the Living Messiah. Secondly Peter was heard by people whose first languages were diverse. Language is much more than defining or translating words. It carries with it culture and nuances, turns of speech and local flavor. Like St. Paul in Athens, Peter relates to the people he’s addressing. Above all, St. Peter and the women and men with him had been freed from fear because God has possessed them. They lived through their fears and waited until the promise that the Advocate, the defense attorney, would appear  accompanied by the signs a first Century Jew associated with the presence of God. Could one of our problems be that we are expecting signs associated with God two thousand years ago and so fail to recognize contemporary signs? We shouldn’t look for Pillars of Fire and mighty winds. We need to ask how a twenty-first century woman in Chicago would recognize God’s enabling Presence.

 

Witnessing in a manner which is associated with the life experiences and traditions of a Twenty-first Century Western human being, in a speech form readily understood isn’t a matter of learning a method, a series of bullet points. We aren’t selling detergent. It isn’t about talent or ability. If we think it is we will excuse ourselves. “That’s not my thing”, we conclude. Truth be told, we are frightened. Frightened Christians facing cultures possessed by fear, conspiracy theories and sheer terror debilitates the work and witness of the Church. As we wait in our Upper Room parish churches we need to stop organizing, stop planning; we need to be still. 

 

In the stillness, God will make his love for us, his love for the Church, obvious and effective. Perfect love casts out fear. Talking to our neighbors about Jesus and the church begins with taking an interest in them. I don’t mean by that taking an interest in what we assume is their spiritual lives. Without being frightfully nosey, we need to connect with the loves and fears, cares and challenges of our neighbors, whether they live next door or next door to the church building. Sharing connecting stories is a way to communicate how faith works in our lives. Note well: evangelism isn’t the priest’s job. It’s everyone’s job and it begins with sharing experiences, a shared history and an ability to overcome divisive language. So those of us who worship God in small congregations must pause and pray that God will drive out our fear of the people outside, fear that they will think we are strange, or fanatics, or different. Once we have admitted our fear, we begin by talking to our neighbors, establishing relationships. So begins what we call evangelism.

A CRUCIAL BAD HABIT

Ascensiontide thoughts

For years now it’s been generally accepted that society is becoming so secularized that the only religious “memory’ left is one of clerical scandals or perhaps a Royal wedding or two. What does this mean? It means that there’s a generation out there that’s never heard of Abraham or Moses, David or Hosea, the Sermon on the Mount or the Ascension. These people are probably not hostile to religion. They just don’t see how it has anything to do with the lives they live. That means that the advertisements placed in the newspaper, the website carefully crafted and the sign stating that Eucharist Rite 1 is at 8 and Eucharist Rite 2 is at 10 means nothing to those who “see” the sign. They may register that something mysterious is happening on Sunday mornings when all decent people are still in bed. A good number of those passing by “see” neither the sign nor the large faux gothic building with its bloody door.

 

What does a group do when it becomes invisible? Our usual answer is to train more greeters to meet those who won’t enter, rearrange the pews for those who won’t use them, and tinker with the liturgy for those who know nothing of the God who is to be worshipped. We sign up for courses on church growth and learn eight astoundingly obvious methods to organize a growing parish.

 

Well, it’s not all bad. The elderly group responding from the back pews to an enthusiastic young priest is still offering worship to God for the neighborhood if they haven’t the foggiest idea how to offer God to the neighborhood. That in itself is powerful. Something remains to draw the world closer to God. The eucharistic offering, the prayers of the people actualize the love of God for human beings where they are. They work.

 

The Church in the West is in an Upper Room mode. The days when Jesus was with us seem to have ascended elsewhere. We are still haunted by the call to talk about Jesus in our version of Judea, Samaria and the ends of the earth. We still hear Jesus ordering his followers to be life-givers for him. We hear the promise that God the Holy Spirit will possess the Church and give it power and authority to announce reconciliation and the forgiveness of sins.

 

There are haunting similarities between our church and the Church in the West and the pre Pentecost Church. We continue to make up the number of the Apostles, busy ourselves with looking after each other, and stay indoors because we fear those outside. We don’t fear their anger. We fear their apathy.

 

The clue to St. Peter’s enormously successful first stab at talking about Jesus to those outside was twofold. He related his love for his Master to the history and traditions of his listeners. It’s as if we started to draw lessons from American (or British) history and tradition to tell the story of the Living Messiah. Secondly Peter was heard by people whose first languages were diverse. Language is much more than defining or translating words. It carries with it culture and nuances, turns of speech and local flavor. Like St. Paul in Athens, Peter relates to the people he’s addressing. Above all, St. Peter and the women and men with him have been freed from fear because God has possessed them. They lived through their fears and waited until the promise that the Advocate, the defence attorney, would appear accompanied by the signs a first Century Jew associated with the presence of God. Could one of our problems be that we are expecting signs associated with God two thousand years ago and so fail to recognize contemporary signs? We shouldn’t look for Pillars of Fire and mighty winds. We need to ask how a twenty-first century woman in Chicago would recognize God’s enabling Presence.

 

Witnessing in a manner which is associated with the life experiences and traditions of a Twenty-first Century Western human being, in a speech form readily understood isn’t a matter of learning a method, a series of bullet points. I’m not speaking here about the language of worship. I speak of the language of what we used to call evangelism before the word sparked fear, particularly in Anglicans. We aren’t selling detergent. It isn’t about talent or ability. If we think it is we will excuse ourselves. “That’s not my thing”, we conclude. Truth be told, we are frightened, frightened Christians facing cultures possessed by fear, conspiracy theories and sheer terror debilitates the work and witness of the Church.

 

Two related points. Worship isn’t evangelism. The idea that we must make liturgy accessible is utterly wrong headed. We are nor putting on a performance to draw a crowd (or to satisfy our desire for an experience: God gives special moments as gifts. They are not rights.) If anything our attempts to offer the best language, music, ceremonial and vesture should be exclusive. Worship is for God.

 

Secondly catechesis, the art of teaching the Faith to those who respond to evangelism, to connection between the Church and non-believers, while tailored to levels of ability, should be demanding and lead to genuine commitment.

 

As we wait in our Upper Room parish churches we need to stop organizing, stop planning; we need to be still.
In the stillness, God will make his love for us, his love for the Church, obvious and effective. Perfect love casts out fear.

 

“I Said to the Man…”

I know that years are artificial constructs, convenient ways to plot the passing of time. The political events of the past year both in the United States and Great Britain could be construed as challenging another idea linked to time; that of progress. It’s not only liberals who subscribe to one of the fundamental planks of Liberalism. That is the doctrine that things are moving from darkness into light and if that progression doesn’t seem to move swiftly enough, it is our job to give it a push.

 

When the twenty first century began it was largely assumed that one sign of progress was that nationalism, a polite descriptor for tribalism, was now definitely one of those dark ideas which time, now armed by methods of instant communication, would finally eradicate. Mind you, America presented both a prototype of internationalism and a challenge to it. For over four hundred years, successive waves of immigrants largely supplanted the original inhabitants. The aboriginal population was derided as being primitive and “savage”, decimated by sword, musket and disease. Spaniards, Britons, the French, the Irish, Africans (themselves enslaved), Italians, Asians, Jews, Eastern Europeans and others, staked out land and neighborhoods, and delineated three nations.One of those nations in particular looks like an example of what globalization is intended to resemble. The United States looks like a United Nations. And yet, in the recent election, it opted for locality over globalization. Whether that decision is a temporary regression, or a re-establishment of nationalism, with its accompanying mantra of patriotism, remains to be seen. The “Brexit” vote in my own homeland, may point in the same direction. The sort of “liberalism” which inspired the Founders of the United States, it is suggested, is now up for challenge. This lengthy preamble may suggest to you that I’m about to opt for the future or the past, as projects. Not so.

 

I belong to a nation that has co-existed with liberalism, conservatism, autocracy, monarchy, republicanism, fascism, communism, theocracy to name the major political themes. My nation has managed to co-exist freely in areas and territories where one or another of these theories, or combinations of some of them, existed. In some my nation has been persecuted, even eradicated. At other times my nation has collaborated, even with regimes propounding philosophies in obvious conflict with the moral teachings of it Founder and founders. Not all of these regimes were or are overtly repressive. At times my nation has favored one political philosophy over another and even suggested that its citizens should follow suit. At times my nation has embraced fear, fear of the future, fear of the past, and even fear of success.

 

My nation is the Church, against which the gates of Hell, or of political theories, of progessivism or conservatism, shall not prevail. Unlike secularism, the Church’s greatest foe is ecclesiastical nationalism. That is a strange concept for an Anglican to propound. Anglicanism became a separate face of Christianity when, using fantasy as a prop, it invoked the idea that every Christian Empire has the right to its own “national” church, free to propound its own version of Christianity. So that tyrant Henry VIII encouraged his henchmen to unearth “histories” of a post-Roman Empire nation, ruled by merry old souls like Olde King Coel. So the ruler of part of an island, detached from continental Europe, claimed imperial status, and a church as part of his trinkets. And yet this tiny Imperial Church continued to chant the anthem of the whole church: we believe in “one holy catholic and apostolic church.” Indeed one version of the Creeds printed in the Imperial Church’s Liturgy affirmed not only belief in, but simple belief: “I believe one Catholic” etc.

 

Reliable history, as opposed to history as propaganda, informs me that my nation, the Church, can disappear from a nation or geographical area. Yet, the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church is numerically stronger now than it has ever been. Jesus warned against faith in statistics when he said “When the Son of Man returns shall he find faith on earth?” Henry VIII’s project of a discreet local church mercifully developed into a world-wide Communion committed to the reunion of the Church.

 

Let me try to be clear here. Of course local or “particular” churches should be free to govern their own affairs. They should not claim freedom to construct their own religion, their own creeds. The divisions which bedevil the Church, weaken and compromise its witness and make local area churches prone to cultural domination by national forms of secularism. Such a malady weakens the ability of the church in a nation or area to act as an effective conscience. At the same time, too much focus on universality makes it equally difficult for the local church to act as an effective conscience.

 

It is so hard for us to place our baptismal certificates on top of our birth certificates. And yet my hope, and the world’s future hope lies in Kingdom Come, when heaven and earth combine, and the kingdoms of this world becomes the Kingdom of our Lord Christ. My citizenship in that new world rests on my being born “from above” by baptism in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. The water and oil mark on my forehead enables me to trust the man who stands at the gate of the year, as he exhorts me to step out into the darkness and put my hand into the hand of God.

 

 

 

A Traditionalist Contemplates the Jesus Movement.

Let me begin by saying how encouraged I am by the Presiding Bishop’s emphasis on Jesus and his saving works. It is not my purpose to pick apart aspects of the “Jesus Movement’ which might give someone of my persuasion pause. Rather I want to seek a way to contribute to Bishop Curry’s visionary call.

 

“So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by letter.” So wrote the author of the second Epistle to the Thessalonians. 

Paul, let’s call him the author of this short letter Paul, encourages his hearers and readers to stand firm in the faith communicated by the spoken and written word. He describes his teachings as “traditions.” We get here a glimpse of the earliest “Jesus Movement.” Across the Roman Empire, and perhaps beyond, groups of people drawn from different classes, regions, nationalities, religious backgrounds, male and female were uniting in the belief that Jesus is Lord. They prayed that the Kingdom of God would come and that God’s will and purpose established.

Before a decision had been made about the authority of a growing corpus of Christian writings  appended to the books of the Jewish Holy Books, these Christians sought to stand firm on a foundation made up of oral and written “tradition.” This tradition told of the life, death, resurrection and ascension of a man named Jesus, from Nazareth, a Jewish carpenter’s son whom they worshipped as God. Already, through their devotional lives and particularly their principle act of Christian worship, a fundamental if rudimentary Trinitarian awareness was becoming “traditional”. At least weekly, if not daily, and often at great risk, the followers of the Way, of the Christ, met together to break bread in prayer and to be instructed in the the teachings of the Apostles and those “Apostolic Men” set apart by the laying on of hands.

 

When 2 Thessalonians was written, a second generation of Christians was emerging. This was made possible by the evangelical zeal of those called to be “witnesses” Beginning with Jesus’s household, his family of followers, and gradually by a growing company of those who heard and received the “evangel” and submitted to an adapted Jewish purification rite, Baptism, the movement of Jesus followers spread far and wide, even into the household of the Roman Emperor, a potentate who soon found himself challenged by the imperial claims of the carpenter from Palestine. The Christian movement was thoroughly subversive. It eradicated even the differences of ethnicity, gender and status. Within the community slaves and aristocrats were equal. Christianity challenged the fundamental areas of human division, nationalism, class, gender and human rights. These causes of division and violence washed away in water poured and were thrust back down daily as all broke Bread and prayed. There was no magic fix to humanity’s ancient sins. They were to be confronted again and again, as we note in St. Paul’s and St. Clement’s letters to the Corinthian church, written decades apart but on the same subject, division.

 

Those of us who remain in the Episcopal Church, who some call “traditionalists” offer this tradition to the Jesus Movement. We seek to be “witnesses”, life-givers, armed with the “traditions” upon which we are grounded, “the Evangel” we have received. We believe ourselves called and sent people, of differing race, nationality, gender and social class, made one, forgiven our sins, made new, redeemed through baptism. We worship God through the perfect offering of Jesus on the Cross, in the power of the Holy Spirit. We believe that it is within the family or household of Christ that racism and all other sinful “isms” are vanquished and particularly in the offering and receiving of the Eucharist. We believe that the most vital program for justice is the project of passing on that which we have received in Word and Sacrament. Our firm foundation is built upon the received Scriptures, the Church’s Creeds, the writings of the Church’s teachers particularly in the first five centuries, the Councils of that period and their decisions and the traditions of every age which express what St. Vincent describes as the faith received “everywhere, always and by all.”

 

We hope that this offering equips us and qualifies us to be partners in the Jesus Movement.

 

 

 

 

POLITICS?

I was leaving for England when the election results were published. I thus spent three weeks away from the fray, although the BBC kept me up to date about affairs in the USA. It was fascinating to receive a preview of “Government by Twitter”.

 

In England progressives are still in shock about Brexit and its aftermath. On both sides of the Atlantic daily blog posts attempt to explain and analyze how the very people “liberals” claimed to support turned against the Left, the Labour Party in England and the Democrats in America. I grew up in post World War 2 England. The workers had rejected Winston Churchill for Clement Attlee and his socialists companions. Seventy years later the working class rejected the Establishment leaders of both major parties and opted out of Europe. Many supported Ukip, a party which makes Churchill look very liberal indeed. In America, the workers rejected both party Establishments and voted in an apolitical building magnate who promises to put the clock back and restore lost jobs.

 

These “working class” voters were convinced that the political elite had forgotten them, or, worse still, were contemptuous of their lifestyles and beliefs. Whether true or not, contempt works both ways. Goodness knows what happens if an independent Britain, or the paradise offered in America fails to help those whose incomes have decreased, life expectancy has decreased, jobs evaporated and in America, medical care has been denied.

 

My purpose in writing this is not to advance one political ideology against another. I write to raise the question, have the mainstream churches in America similarly failed the working class? Yes, there are many projects aimed at alleviating poverty and championing the underclass. However these worthy projects emanate in those parish churches and diocesan and denominational offices, far from the places where the “underclass” actually live. The Episcopal Church, for instance, is retreating from rural America. In urban areas, those churches which remain, are often venues to which the well-off, or at least not poor drive to make common cause with those of their own religious flavor or social beliefs.

In the 19th Century slum priests, mostly Anglo Catholics, went into places of enormous poverty, built churches, and lived among the under class. True many of these priests had independent wealth and could support themselves. Today “starter churches” survive if enough people are drawn in to pay the bills. No one even contemplates recruiting clergy and lay leaders who will support themselves by one means or another. The way we recruit ordinands often excludes pioneers and favors safe, bland men and women, who are capable of sustaining established congregations, often with skill and quiet heroism. But where are people of holy zeal, ready to move themselves and their families into deprived areas, places where violence may be normal, and the scourge of drug and alcohol abuse endemic? Where are the “denominations” (I hate that word) that would contemplate sending consecrated priests, deacons and lay leaders to live with and evangelize the workers?

 

And, anyway, working class people nowadays are rarely progressive.They have their own sort of denominations. Who needs them? Meanwhile we will continue to offer free meals once a week to the homeless and the poor, and champion them with resolution and check book.

 

 

CATHOLIC OR PROTESTANT?

http://livingchurch.org/covenant/2016/10/05/call-to-remembrance-our-catholic-and-reformed-past/?platform=hootsuite

 

It’s not at all clear when the question arose: Is Anglicanism Catholic or Protestant? I suspect that for the first 250 years of our separated history the answer would have been Protestant.

If the question was then extended to a reasonably well educated parson, ministering to a country parish in England in the second half of the 18th century (someone like Parson Woodforde of Weston Longville), we might have received a more nuanced answer.

The parson might have taken a sip of his wine and answered, “If by Protestant, you mean like those in Scotland or on the Continent, then no, we’re not quite like them, although some enthusiasts among us may think so. We have a liturgy, bishops, and territorial parishes.”

Move another hundred years on and plenty of parsons still taught that Anglicans — the word was now in use — were a unique sort of Protestants. Others would have affirmed the evangelical nature of the established church, and yet others taught that Anglicans were as Catholic as the Pope. The latter might have used arguments similar to Woodforde’s — I’m putting words in his mouth — when he stressed the uniqueness of the established church. (Mind you, claiming to be liturgical, episcopal, and territorial just as well described one as a Scandinavian Lutheran. Yet those identifiers were inherited from Catholicism.) Diarmaid MacCulloch described Elizabethan Anglicanism as “a Protestant Church which remained haunted by its Catholic past.”

In Woodforde’s day Anglicans may have differed about what Protestant meant as a descriptor, but the Church of England was remarkably united in the way it looked and the way it sounded. It was a verbal church. While a vestige of ceremonial religion might be discovered in cathedrals and the chapels royal, it was not to be discovered in parish churches. The parson wore the same clothes as he did in the street unless he was celebrating Holy Communion, for which he donned a surplice. True, he wore a distinctive clerical garb in the street (cassock, gown, and tippet), but so did Presbyterian ministers in Scotland. In the Episcopal Churches in Scotland and the American colonies even the surplice was abandoned.

The parson “read prayers and preached,” moving from prayer desk to pulpit to do the latter. He went to the Holy Table to celebrate Holy Communion perhaps four times a year. He went to the font at the back of the church to baptize, and to the church porch to marry. He put his hand over the paten and chalice when he read the Words of Institution during the Eucharist.

But the emphasis was on the written word spoken aloud, whether in leading the liturgy or preaching. Anglicanism was united. Even evangelicals were “churchmen.” They may have engaged in extra-liturgical preaching and praying, but on Sundays their worship looked and sounded much like any other Church of England worship.

Latitudinarians wrote and preached a moralistic religion, but on Sundays they kept to the script. High Church parsons laced their sermons with quotations from the Church Fathers, but at worship they remained verbal and immobile. The actual words of the liturgy had much more influence than passing theological fashion and described the form pastoral ministry took.

The Tractarian and Anglo-Catholic revival in the 19th century changed all that. Ceremonial of one sort or another became the added norm in all but very evangelical parishes. Church parties developed: Low, Broad, and High. They began to function like modern political lobbies. They created seminaries to perpetuate their brand of Anglicanism. As synodical government became popular in provinces across the world, the notion that such assemblies could formulate and propagate doctrine by majority vote became a given.

Are Anglicans Protestants who have taken on the trappings of Catholicism, while eschewing its discipline? Let us return to our imaginary conversation with Parson Woodforde. Both he and most of his colleagues believed in what might be described as the Church’s uniqueness. It was nothing like Roman Catholicism. It wasn’t much like other Protestant churches. Although anti-Catholicism was much muted by the end of the 18th century, it remained part of the inherited story.

When Parson Woodforde said he was a Protestant he meant that he remembered Bloody Mary, the burning of Reformed bishops, and Guy Fawkes’s gunpowder treason. Many popular Catholic devotions shocked him. At the same time, he eschewed a form of religion that made distinctions between the devout and the ordinary. His parishioners were not folk who had been converted, or who regarded themselves as elect. They were all the baptized who lived in the territory he oversaw as parish priest.

The parson ministered to this population in much the same way as had his predecessors back through the centuries, before and after the Reformation. He baptized, taught children the faith using a catechism, prepared them for confirmation, married and buried them using the rites and essential ceremonies of the Church. He received ordination at the hands of a bishop, the successors of others back through the centuries. He visited the sick and prayed for the dying.

In all these respects, the Protestant parson performed the ministry of a Catholic priest. He taught all the doctrines enumerated by the Catholic Creeds. Although the following had nothing to do with “catholicity,” the parson ministered from the ancient parish church around which were buried the ancestors of his parishioners. His bishop was enthroned in a cathedral built probably in several stages, almost all in medieval times. These buildings were the tangible relics of a Catholic past.

Anglicanism’s catholicism is to be discovered in the form and shape pastoral ministry took, and continues to take, in dioceses and parishes. It is when it seems to place undue emphasis on the status of its adherents that it veers away from catholicity. When it requires adherence to novel teachings and practices, rather than to sacramental identity, it endangers its authenticity.

By “novel teachings and practices,” I refer to ideological proposals over and above the core of the creedal faith. The form such novelties take changes. After the Reformation it was a proposal that baptism wasn’t enough. One had to believe oneself to be elect and separate. (Perhaps that remains the clue. Parson Woodforde would have called such people “enthusiasts.”)

Eschewing novelty doesn’t mean stagnation and obscurantism. It does mean a practiced humility that submits the will to the teachings and practices of the Church. For clergy it means the trivial task and common round of intentional pastoral ministry as the flock of Christ is nurtured by Word and Sacrament.

Then Came Sex

I presume that those unfortunates we lump into a net entitled “Progressive”, as opposed to the unspeakable we consign to the cage “Traditionalist”, believe in the essential unity of all humans, support the United Nations, its agencies, and a multitude of non governmental organizations that espouse an international cause and beg for our money on line. Traditionalists tend to be nationalists, suspicious of foreign entanglements and of organizations peddling what they believe to be immorality.

 

 

Two things prompted this blog. My older son recommended a book entitled Map of a Nation, by Rachel Hewett. It’s the story of how the British Ordnance Survey began. Every square inch of Great Britain is mapped, and in my day, school children were obliged to write down descriptions of what they “saw” as they examined selected views of a map – a church with a steeple just as the road turned left, with a steep hill to the right, two and a half miles north east from the ruins of an abbey. We estimated the distance by licking pieces of thread and placing them on that portion of the B 1234, making sure that we included every turn and bend, as it traversed the old bridge over a stream near a railway line. I don’t think we were taught about the rather sinister origins of the Ordnance Survey (that’s how it is spelt) or of the men who slogged along trails in the Scottish Highlands to map the place for the army.

 

 

The Highland Scots rebelled against the London government twice in the 18th Century. The governments of England and Scotland were united by the Act of Union, much to the satisfaction of Lowland Scots but not to their Highland neighbors, who tended to be Roman Catholics or Episcopalians, and gathered themselves into historic clans, led by autocratic noblemen who ruled the roost. Another distinguishing feature was the absence of roads. Once over the border between the Highlands and the Lowlands, often indistinct tracks led to castles or humble crofts. That is, until after the ’45 Rebellion when the army of the Hanoverian king, led by a relative, subdued the clans, slaughtered suspected rebels in their thousands and banned the tartan and the use of Gaelic. If you’ve noticed a similarity between these events and what occurred in America in the following century, you are right. To enforce the law, a series of forts were built. It became necessary to built roads to link these forts and so a very small group of lowland Scots were recruited to survey the area between fort and fort. This they did, extending their labors to most of the Highlands, and then, for fun, the Lowlands too. So began the process of mapping every inch, or whatever the decimal equivalent is, of Great Britain. These maps have become something of an obsession for hikers, armchair or walkers, and form the basis of the British GPS system. Ordnance surveys began as one of the means of uniting Scotland, and then Scotland and England.

 

 

Then I noticed that our Presiding Bishop was in London meeting with a group appointed by the Archbishop of Canterbury and given the task of finding ways to restore unity, peace and concord to the Anglican Communion. Since the post World War 2 era, the Provinces and National Churches which have their origins in the migration of the English, and not a few Scots, across the globe. have grown in number. This wander-lust began with merchants in Turkey and what we now call India, became serious at Jamestown (I’m not mentioning Plymouth because supporters of the Massachusetts colony seldom mention Jamestown), and exploded in colonial exploits in the 19th end early 20th century. These people took with them goods, guns, diseases, map-makers and their religion. In Africa they drew arbitrary lines to delineate colonies, dividing tribes, or incorporated rival tribes. The last notorious act of map-making was an arbitrary line drawn between India and the new state of Pakistan. One of the results of this seemingly harmless endeavor was the slaughter of tens of thousands of Hindus and Moslems.

 

 

These peripatetic Brits built churches for themselves, often imitations of the medieval parish churches they left behind. They attempted, with varying degrees of success, to convert the “Natives”. Eventually they created colonial dioceses, headed by men, the products of Public Schools and the universities of Oxford and Cambridge. They also brought with them their religious tribes. Sydney, Australia was adopted by staunch Evangelicals, who believed in conversion, cold baths and muscular Christianity. Zanzibar’s bishops might well have been confused for Roman Catholics, to the fury of Catholic missionaries. The American colonies reproduced the religion of 18th Century England. in the South and middle colonies, the religion of Tenison and Tillotson propounded Latitudinarian moral virtues and sat lightly on doctrine,miracles and  sacramentalism, whereas in New England, the faith of Cavaliers and Caroline Divines found new birth.

 

 

As the British Empire shuddered to an unanticipated halt, colonies became independent nations, and their local Anglican expressions evolved into autonomous churches, joining Americans, Canadians, Australians, New Zealanders and South Africans who had gained autonomy in the preceding century and a half. So evolved the Anglican Communion. Until just after the Second World War, almost all bishops were white men, and except in the United States almost all were English, the product of the same class structure and education system, and despite deep differences in what we used to call Churchmanship, all were loyal subject of the King Emperor in London.

 

 

After independence most former colonies remained members of the “British” Commonwealth. Their post colonial churches remained in the Anglican Communion, a grouping of autonomous churches with a membership of around 80,000,000. The “roads” constructed between the Provinces and National Churches and between them the the see of Canterbury remained  despite occasional tensions over the legacies of colonialism, muted perhaps by the realization that their existence is one of those legacies. As archbishops of Canterbury did their obligatory rounds of the Communion they continued to engender enthusiasm and draw crowds.

 

 

And then came sex. The Lambeth Conference, meeting roughly every decade, drawing together bishops invited by the archbishop of Canterbury, first discussed sex in a debate about contraception before the Second World War. They were against it. Then came divorce and re-marriage. There were differences of opinion, but not huge rows. Despite early attempts to turn the Conference into an international Synod, attempts that might well have succeeded had Canterbury not refused to cooperate, the Communion has no central body that can enforce a policy, however popular. National independence produced in it wake a wave of nationalism both in states and their churches. Yet an older national church, the Episcopal Church (of America) and its mini communion of overseas dioceses founded by American missionaries, became, for complex reasons, the leader of the anti-centralization pack.

 

As sexuality became the obsession of Western national cultures, divisions developed about just how far their Anglican churches should accommodate themselves to changing mores, or discover in these cultural developments an authority not immediately obvious in Scripture or the universal Church’s historical tradition. Nowhere was this more obvious than in North America. In the United States and Canada, campaigns to overturn systemic racism and sexual inequality expanded to embrace the rights of LGBT people, culminating in the legalization of same-sex marriage. The Anglican national churches in North America supported these cultural developments, but a minority vigorously dissented. Both sides in an often bitter dispute took to the expanded communication methods that developed in the sixties, and soon, via internet, the disputes which had led to schism in America and Canada were beamed across the planet. The proponents and opponents of “gay rights” took their fight to African cities, Asian internet cafes and South American barrios. Many African, Asian and South American provinces, evangelized largely by Evangelical Anglicans, reacted in dismay. The “roads” between these provinces and North American provincial head offices were barricaded, and three successive archbishops of Canterbury accused of not using an authority they didn’t possess to expel American Episcopalians on the one hand or Nigerian dissidents on the other, who with others, had created a rival communion within the Communion aimed at preserving traditional sexual roles and mores. American gold financed both sides.

 

 

Most social progressives advocate the creation of pan-national institutions in part to tackle issues such as poverty, modern forms of slavery and climate change. Most African and Asian political enthusiasts fight for nationalism and oppose vestiges of colonialism in both its British and American forms. However it’s not that simple when it comes to church. The American Episcopal Church has been forced to oppose attempts to create a Covenant, (although not quite dead, it’s life was threatened when, ironically, the dioceses of the Church of England failed to endorse it) or empower the Communion’s primates to discipline errant Provinces. Meanwhile the anti-colonial national churches of the Global South have been obliged to campaign for a beefed up central authority in order to defend what they perceive to be biblical religion.

 

 

Justin Welby, the present Archbishop of Canterbury, first among equals among the heads of the worldwide communion of Anglican (Episcopal) churches whose only authority is moral and whose only capital is a nostalgic affection for the see he occupies, managed to get his fellow primates to form a committee composed of leaders from both factions, men like Michael Curry of the US and Ian George of the Indian Ocean, with the task of unblocking the roads between the provinces and each other. The committee met in London last week. Their task seems impossible. There are some progressives and more than a few traditionalists who yearn for them to fail. They want to retreat into the safety of their own clans, sure of their purity. Like the cartographers who began work on the Ordnance Survey maps, the Primates’ committee is charged with mapping the scenery of the Anglican world in order to re-create unity. One can only pray for them.

 

 

 

 

SAINTLY?

Anglicans don’t seem to be much good about choosing saints. (I’m using the word Anglican because it reaches wider than “Episcopalian” and serves better as an adjective!) The problem is that we are not sure what a saint is and we are a bit uncomfortable about the whole notion of some group or other sitting around a table coming up with a list of suitable deceased people who can meet the approval of a Provincial Synod, and perhaps be included in a heavy tome sold by church bookshops to further litter sacristies or clergy bookshelves. Perhaps we know that originally, in those blessed days -even days were saintly then – there were neither provincial synods nor committees, standing or otherwise.

 

 

Once the Church stumbled into the saint business, it seemed pretty clear that New Testament heroes were saints, even if they weren’t without sins or faults. If you were reading or listening to the “Philemon” lesson last Sunday, rather than judging whether the reader was pronouncing those names correctly, you would have noticed saintly Paul being manipulative and ‘snarky’. Peter betrayed his Lord. Thomas doubted.

 

 

Churches were built over the graves of saintly martyrs and soon were called by that saint’s name. Local people began to revere a man or woman, or woman or man, whose life and deeds inspired them. The experts call that a cultus. The Jim Jones’ group of besotted followers is called a cult in a sort of devilish reversal of definitions. The Devil has his heroes.

 

 

I find it easier to describe what a saint isn’t. Top of my list is that a saint isn’t someone whose passion is for a cause that describes his or her own condition or circumstance. Such a person may be called an advocate but that doesnt necessarily denote heroic virtue. I don’t mean that a saintly person can’t champion a cause. It just shouldn’t rank above daily, perhaps hourly praise and love for God: a similar love for creation and all created things for what they are rather than for what they aren’t. I can just manage to love the skill and care involved in the creation of a bedbug, and perhaps the wretched thing has a purpose, although I must trust God on that one and wish he hadn’t bothered, but hand me the bug spray. A saint is found to have prayed hard, adored intentionally, interceded regularly and confessed honestly. It was by performing such tasks that a person became good at sharing love, which isn’t a character trait; it is God’s love. Perhaps being nice or nasty is a character trait, both of  which can be worked on. Being good is a gift from God and increases as a person cooperates with God and loves neighbor. Yes, this is all about love, or rather about loving, but I didn’t mention that because the word has been sentimentalized. It has become all about feelings rather than doings. You can’t feel your way to sanctity. The list of virtues above is applicable as a rule for us all. Rule? Hang on, perhaps that’s our problem. We’ve succumbed to the idea that spontaneity is next to godliness. It isn’t. Being saintly is a hard, disciplined slog.

 

 

As I list these positive virtues I begin to realize why Anglicans are uncomfortable about saints. Their qualities make us feel rather uncomfortable. They are so religious! Anglicans are reticent folk. We don’t wear our hearts on our sleeves and we tend to think that the call to a holy life is fine in theory, but impractical and, well, perhaps a bit odd. We tend to think of clergy in the same way, unless they fall from grace and then we are indignant that they didn’t live up to a standard we think to be impracticable and rather odd. It was by performing religious tasks, that is praying, that a person became good at sharing love, which isn’t a character trait; it is God’s love. I better say that again. Goodness is God’s gift to us. We didn’t inherit it from grandma, or learn it from our parents. The notion that doing good makes us good at praying is an upside-down idea. Praying makes us good at loving.

 

 

We’ve all probably met a saint without knowing it. Most saints are never canonized and never recognized. Whether recognized or not these holy women and men lift up the Church, its calling and mission and support it by their intercessions. If we get to know a saint, either a living one or one who is much more alive than the living, we will probably experience one of those embarrassing moments, when, in the words of the hymn, “we want to be one too.” What we do at that moment is up to us, or rather a matter of our allowing grace to pierce our cynicism. To succumb to grace (the word grace means gift) is the beginning of a disappointing life. Every time we really try to be saintly we will fail. “Following the good example” of saints, the substitution made in collects for the old idea of asking for their prayers, invites failure. I can no more become saintly by imitating Saint Bede, than I can become a concert pianist by sitting at a piano and imitating one. But perhaps if I practice my scales, and get a teacher, I may learn to knock out a tune on the piano and if I learn how to pray I may become someone who is saintly, probably not very saintly but who knows? I’ve strayed a bit from wondering how someone is recognized as a saint to how one becomes a saint, but I thought if I started by giving suggestions about how you may become saintly you’d be too embarrassed to read on.

SIT DOWN (Sermon for August 28, )

PROPER 17, 2016 St. Luke 14: 7-14

We all need to be noticed. Being lost in the crowd can be a frightening experience. Recognition feels good. Unfortunately it can become a drug, driving us to extremes in order to feel the rush of pleasure experienced when someone important smiles and speaking our name, guides us to an adjacent seat at the dinner table.

 

St. Luke, reputed to be both a doctor and an artist paints a picture in vivid colors and not without a tinge of humor. One sees Jesus, in the home of a pious rich man, leaning against a pillar as guests bend over to see if they have a place at table close to their important host.

 

 

Don’t think of a modern dining room table, or “high table” at a banquet. Jesus was looking at a number of low tables against which were arranged couches, which looked rather like an antique chaise longe. One lay down, head on large pillows, and faced sideways. One doesn’t know whether there were place cards. Perhaps at a feast to which the important and the self important were invited, there may have been cards. At any rate one imagines the scene as the guests frantically seek recognition, a recognition granted by being close to influence and power.

 

St. Luke quotes Jesus: “When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not sit down at the place of honor, in case someone more distinguished than you has been invited by your host; and the host who invited both of you may come and say to you, `Give this person your place,’ and then in disgrace you would start to take the lowest place. But when you are invited, go and sit down at the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he may say to you, `Friend, move up higher’; then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at the table with you. For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

 

He told them a parable.” A child once defined a parable as being a heavenly story with no earthly meaning. Nothing could be further than the truth in this case. But we must be careful. This isn’t a useful story to share with the upwardly mobile or a lesson in etiquette. Episcopalians are often described as the former and alleged to be obsessed with the latter. We may seem to be more interested in good taste than in good theology: more intent on success than salvation. Congregations, if they can, spend a good deal of money on vestments, furniture, choirs and organs, guitars and studied, tasteful informality. Evangelism is back in fashion. The finance committee hopes and prays that the Jesus Movement will bring people of means who will solve the budget crunch. Perhaps such people will be asked to come up higher.

 

Jesus, having annoyed the guests by delivering his short, withering story about snobbery, suddenly moves the message, addressing those who have sought recognition from their puritanical host but now addressing them as potential hosts. Instead of inviting to dinner those who inflate their egos because they are seeking recognition, they are to “invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”

 

Notice the last phrase. The host of the feast to which Jesus has been invited is a Pharisee. The word means a Righteous or Pious one. A hundred and fifty years earlier Israel was a province of the Greek Empire founded by Alexander the Great. The local governor encouraged the Jews to adopt Greek customs and religious observances. A Jewish priest and his sons rebelled and founded a society to uphold and preserve the Jewish Law and religious observances. In Jesus’s time these Pharisees attacked those who compromised with Roman culture. They believed that by keeping the ritual and moral law they would, when the Messiah came, be “repaid” with the best seats at the table. Those who obviously didn’t observe the law were to be shunned. They had no place at the table. That they were poor, crippled, lame and blind was proof of their depravity. If they were responsible, respectable, Torah-observing people they wouldn’t be poor or ill. At the very least the sins of their fathers were visited on them.

 

Leaning against a wall in the dining room of a Pious One, Jesus quietly disturbed the religious and social order. More than disturbing it, he overthrew it. No wonder they planned his assassination. How could religion as an effective moral force against power survive such an assault? “He takes down the mighty from their seats and exalts the humble and meek.” So sang Jesus’s holy mother, so often that it is quoted in the Gospels. Jesus had learnt well.

 

Of course the poor and ill are not automatically to be seated next to Jesus at the heavenly banquet any more than the rich are to be rejected: Jesus does seem to suggest the rich may have a harder time, particularly where wealth and self-righteousness combine to form character. That’s not the point here. The point is, if anything, more troubling. We are called to seek out those we don’t often see in church on Sunday. We may champion them, feed and clothe them, but what about asking them to kneel next to us at the communion rail? We may share with them daily bread, but what about the Bread of Life? Jesus, the Host, invites all who work and labor to enjoy his peace and rest.

 

If we could hear the Jesus who as Risen Lord deigns to be our guest this morning, what parable would he tell? How might we react?

Calling the Shots

http://livingchurch.org/covenant/2016/07/20/calling-the-shots/?platform=hootsuiteCalli

 

I care for two small missions. One is so small that half the members serve on the mission committee and all are involved.

 

The second is larger, with an ASA of around 30. A group of about a dozen do all the work and call the shots. I don’t mean that they ignore the views, wishes, and ideas of the rest: sometimes they would be delighted to hear from them.

 

Both congregations have representatives at the deanery and diocesan level.

 

I work in a largely homogeneous diocese (Springfield). We have one parish that some might call progressive, but if it were elsewhere in the Episcopal Church it would be very moderate indeed. Our last diocesan synod came shortly after the 2015 General Convention, which adopted a resolution removing impediments to same-sex marriage, but left it up to diocesan bishops to determine practice in their own diocese: some could allow same-sex marriages in their dioceses, others could forbid them. Our bishop chose the latter. In doing so he reflected his own views and those of most people in the diocese, but not all. The tensions showed in diocesan synod. Traditionalists called the shots. Progressives “lost.”

 

However, we are a kind group and so there was no sign of the pain and anger demonstrated at last week’s General Synod of the Anglican Church of Canada, when it seemed to reject the first reading of a same-sex marriage resolution and then, after discovering a miscount, reversed itself. Perhaps the matter was made worse because a dramatic pastoral response came immediately for progressives when they seemed to lose, but was not immediately given to traditionalists when the vote was reversed. To give him his due, the Canadian primate apologized movingly for such oversight.

 

If our congregations seem at peace with themselves at the local and diocesan level, it stops there. This has been true of the Diocese of Springfield now for more than half a century. It was therefore heartening for us to hear our fairly new presiding bishop assure us that we have a valued place in the Episcopal Church. I’m sure he means it. Bishop Curry has a large heart. Perhaps it is churlish to wonder what he means by “valued.” One may be valued because one is useful, or has valuable insights. On the other hand, one may be valued rather like an aged relative, a relic of a long gone age, valued like an antique sideboard.

 

Let me grasp the nettle. In company with many in this diocese, I oppose same-sex marriage. How on earth may I be valued? Surely I must be a hard-hearted bigot, a homophobe of the deepest die? I probably have a statue of Donald Trump next to that of Our Lady.

 

Have patience with me as I propose why I should be valued: because I am a human being. I’m baptized. Therefore, like you, I belong in the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church, a.k.a. “the Jesus Movement” in these latter days. How good, bad, or indifferent a Christian I’ve turned out to be remains to be seen.

 

But I don’t believe people of the same sex can be married. Notice I said can, not may. I don’t believe the matter is one of permission, like divorce, but of possibility, like my being able to climb Mont Blanc. It has nothing to do with whether I like or love someone, or whether I endorse this or that group (I’m not good at belonging to groups.) I don’t doubt the state may permit same-sex marriage. In America, the state is separate from the Church. (I wish it wouldn’t steal the Christian vocabulary, you know, words like marriage and matrimony, but there it is.)

 

I have a view that I suggest the Church should value. I don’t believe that doctrine should be legislated, period. This was once a fairly common view in Anglican circles. The great shifts in doctrinal emphasis (I prefer emphasis to development) in our tradition have occurred as “voluntary” efforts. Jeremy Taylor, Henry Hammond, John Cosin, out of jobs and influence in Cromwellian England, proposed a Catholic emphasis. The Wesley brothers, George Whitfield, Fletcher, Toplady, met, prayed, preached, wrote hymns, and transformed the church in an evangelical direction. The Tractarians met in a country rectory and wrote Tracts on apostolicity. Their message echoed across the Anglican world. Anglican bishops began to meet at Lambeth, to lead us not by binding and dividing legislation, but by example and counsel.

 

Since World War Two all this has changed. We’ve made over our synods in the image of national secular legislative assemblies. We’ve created ruling parties, funded lobbies, and adopted all the tricks of secular politics. In the process we’ve won battles and alienated many. We now believe that anything is possible by majority vote.

 

Now, had the issue of how the Church is to respond to those who are attracted to someone of their own sex been discussed, worked on, and considered in practical ways in our congregations, there would have been passion, division, liturgical confusion, and the common sense of the people of God invoked, in the context of the normal life of the church.

 

Practical pastoral experience would have informed the debate until, at some time in the future, what emerged would have been accepted, amended, or rejected long after the heat of passion and partisanship dissipated. In both the Evangelical and Catholic revivals there were parishes in which things went on that infuriated bishops and scandalized many. Permitting such lawlessness just couldn’t be tolerated. Where the Church chose power, the right to enforce its will, it made martyrs but effected little else. Where the Church chose to follow Gamaliel, extremism was tempered by wisdom. The Church was able to do much, but at no time did it deny the teachings handed down by the Apostles, simply because it eschewed the legislative option.

 

Discussion, experimentation, and biblical and theological hard work done in the Church should never focus on individual and corporate rights — for the only claim we have is to mercy — but rather on our duty to our Lord as members of his Body. Far from weakening our claim for justice (and mercy), an emphasis on corporate duty establishes equality. Majoritarianism creates novel and shifting forms of inequality. That our underclass is traditionalist in no way justifies the system.

 

We cannot keep dividing, purifying ourselves until only the elect remain, and we join the Plymouth Brethren in exclusive isolation.

ALONE IN STATE

He lay there, alone in the church he led for a decade. The mitre Louise had made for him by Wippell, alone distinguished the scene from any other perhaps old fashioned funeral. The scene was so evocative of the man whose strife was finally over, sixteen years after he was diagnosed with cancer. He was a private man, a privacy sometimes mistaken for loneliness, sometimes for aloofness, until a smile lit up his mutton-chopped framed expressive face and a quip put his interlocutor at ease. He could be stern, but always with reconciliation in mind. He could infuriate the powerful to whom the exercise of power seemed necessary no matter the effect on relationships.

 

Edward Lloyd Salmon always believed that Jesus called us into relationship with God and each other. There it was, nothing more, nothing less. He became fascinated with systems that promoted healthy relationships, not merely as theory, but as means to restore and strengthen the fabric of families, churches and communities. Within days of his death his large fingers, appended to huge hands were still pecking out words of encouragement to a leader who left the church, a young priest in conflict with his bishop, a parish in an uneasy relationship with its diocese and a troubled couple. Called to the ministry of reconciliation, he practiced what he preached. The practice was not without pain. He was misunderstood, rejected by erstwhile friends and humiliated by the powerful.

 

Yet when he died one of the finest tributes came from the bishop of one of the most progressive dioceses in our church. Alas, the pile of letters of condolence contained not one word from our church’s leadership. Six years ago he and other bishops were ordered to recant their opposition to a theory that locates power in the church in the hands of a few elected officials. To Ed. Salmon, such a location and concentration of power was the very antithesis of his  theory and practice of Christian relationships. Fear of division over sexual matters issued  an ecclesial version of the Patriot Act. Ed. Salmon believed that a theory of coercion, born in panic, hastened division and schism. He grieved to see his former diocese, in which he had labored with success for seventeen years, one of the few dioceses that grew in an era of decline, split and wander into mutual recrimination. He loved the Episcopal Church, into which he was baptized and confirmed in rural Mississippi. (One of his oldest friends was a black seminarian with whom he traveled to VTS each term, forsaking white privilege in that segregated era by staying in black friendly places on the way.)  And there he was, aged seventy-six, after a life of service to the church he loved, accused of  disloyalty.  He recanted. But he remained convinced that a policy of division was the antithesis of the Gospel.

 

We spoke together often of how the church might respond with affirming pastoral care to LGBT people without requiring men and women to renounce the holy vocation to which Jesus calls them in Matrimony. Called at a moment when most seek a leisurely retirement to be dean of Nashotah House, he affirmed its historic mission as an Episcopal Church seminary to train ordinands in academic and formational excellence and its accidental vocation to welcome and train ordinands from separated Anglican churches. When he invited the then Presiding Bishop to visit the campus he was stung by the level of vituperation aimed at him by traditionalists to whom that which divides is all important. Not for Bishop Salmon. He believed that all that was important was the relationships we enjoy together because Jesus came, died, rose and lives for us. How we respond to such love is often inconsistent, messy, self-serving and even hypocritical. Yet in our response there is to be discovered relationships in themselves godly and redeeming.

 

I was privileged to be included among the “outer family”during his last years, to be welcomed and to share in his last battle. It is tragic that in the divisions that beset us, the unity of Ed. Salmon’s vision is dragged out of focus by being appropriated by factions. He didn’t join factions. He wasn’t an Anglo Catholic or an Evangelical, a progressive or a traditionalist. At heart he remained a mere Episcopalian, what might be called a Southern Catholic. His religion was developed and defined by Scripture – he loved the Gospel stories -and the Prayer Book. He loved his family, his dogs, his house and his routine. He loved to be on the road amassing friends and encouraging relationships. He was the last Edwardian. I miss him. May he rest in peace.

BUT WHO LISTENS?

I was glad to read the recent “Word to the Church” unanimously adopted by the House of Bishops at the conclusion of their retreat held at Camp Allen.  Such unanimity is a rare phenomenon for our church is divided between largely right of center laity – the proverbial person in the pew and even not a few priest at the altar and bishop on his cathedra- and those who exercise authority among us.

 

After the defections of the first decade of the twenty-first century we are a much more homogenous group that at any time since TEC organized itself. This makes getting unanimous or nearly unanimous votes easier to obtain among our bishops. To be able to comment on the state of affairs in the nation, with its accompanying polemics, deep partisan divisions and ad hominem attacks without blushing or perhaps being wiped out by thunderbolts indicates that the days of war are largely gone from among us. Much credit must rightly go to our new Presiding Bishop who, despite a serious illness, has directed the church’s attention towards reconciliation and evangelism. His Easter message bids us to believe that Jesus died and rose again and that the resurrection is not a myth but rather the sure hope for all people. (My cavil is that I don’t believe the myth that Christians can create the coming Kingdom by our love. We can and should announce the Kingdom and seek to create a more caring world, but the Kingdom will come “like a thief in the night” as God alone decrees.)

 

This leads me to my point. When Harry Truman was President, he turned to the then Presiding Bishop to head a Civil Rights Commission. Even then, at the height of our numerical strength, we numbered around 3000,000 members. Among those parishioners were members of Congress, judges, ambassadors, governors and other prominent citizens, in disproportionate number to our actual strength. In short, we had influence. Today we are less than half the strength and our influence has dwindled.

 

We tend to function as if we still had a ready hearing. But who listens? As we have shrunk, we have become the more partisan. The conservative party at prayer has become the progressive movement in church. Our General Convention adopts a huge number of resolutions on political and social matters unheard or read by the powers that be. Our largely right of center laity either bristles at or ignores these resolutions. Thus when our General Convention or in this case our House of Bishops has a non-partisan, objective “word” for our church and hopefully through Episcopalians to the nation, who listens, who hears? In large part we have squandered the utility of our national pulpit because we haven’t the discipline to give objective moral guidance to the church and nation, or we simply assume that our political opinions are gospel. (Conservative denominations make the same untroubled assumption.) Separation of Church and State thus becomes a legal fiction as “culture”, or rather “cultures” inseparably connected to national dogmas, shape the manner in which Church, or the churches, frame the content of the the Christian Faith.

 

The bishops had something to say, something a troubled nation needs to hear. I hope that message gets a wide hearing in our congregations. I really do. But I fear that if our bishops wish to regain their moral authority they must prove that they have forsaken the recent past, a past in which they engaged in church politics as divisive as that which we witness daily in the media. Yes, we have lost our own sisters and brothers to separated churches, but we have lost many more because they were caught in the middle, and saw much passion and little love as congregations, dioceses and the church divided and fought. If they had a voice now,surely they would cry, “Physician, heal thyself.”

 

 

2015 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2015 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 14,000 times in 2015. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 5 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

THE LAMBETH WALK

The Archbishop of Canterbury, in his capacity as chief bishop of the Anglican Communion, has invited his fellow primates to a meeting at his home next January. (A primate, variously enjoying the title of archbishop or presiding bishop, is the senior bishop of one of the 30+ self governing churches which have historic roots in the English Church. Communion has its root in a Greek word, used in the New Testament to describe the relationship that exists between Christians and their local churches with God and with each other.)

Archbishop Welby is asking the primates to come together to pray, to invoke the Holy Spirit, to examine the recent history of the Communion, to contemplate the future and to be honest with one another. None of those objects seems to be controversial. His invitation of Archbishop Foley Beach of the break away Anglican Church of North America may dismay the official Anglican Churches in Canada and the United States. He is not a full participant and it is difficult to see how a full and frank discussion about the causes of disunity -those that drove people out of the two churches; those encouraged by overseas intervention – may be successfully achieved without his presence. All this is very much in line with the reconciliation process, forged in South Africa and Northern Ireland and refined by the people at Coventry Cathedral. One of those people was Canon Justin Welby.

There has been much speculation about what the Archbishop is up to. Those on the left think that Welby is being realistic and will suggest that the Communion reorganize to be a sort of ecclesiastical Rotary International but with fewer rules. That would leave “progressive” churches to enjoy the word Anglican while being free to do as they please without constraint. Those on the right, if they brave attending at all, hope that the archbishop will propose throwing out the offending provinces and re-creating the Church as it was when Edward VI died. Both want the authenticity that comes with claiming some sort of genealogical heritage without having to offer up anything. I think both misjudge the archbishop.

Justin Welby is a convinced Christian with his roots in evangelicalism. This does not mean that he hasn’t been refreshed and renewed by Catholicism, the sacramental and spiritual disciplines of the historic church. Nor should one think that he is devoid of ecclesiology, the doctrine of the church. He is not likely to be impressed by nationalism masquerading as ecclesiology, either in its American of Global South variations.

I will leave further speculation to the English newspapers, and those whose fear overrides hope. We know a few things. The invitation has gone out. The primates are to assemble, pray, invoke the Holy Spirit, review the events and decisions of the past forty years, and consider the future of the Communion as chief bishops of their own churches and collectively leaders of the Communion. We know nothing more and nothing less. Perhaps the best response is for Anglicans across the globe to similarly pray and ask the Holy Spirit to guide the thought and actions of our Chief Pastors.

IN THIS COMPANY

( Re-printed from Covenant, the online blog of The Living Church: )

Over the past thirty-five years, there has been an enormous revolution in the worship patterns in Episcopal Church parishes. The Eucharist has become the central act of worship on Sundays. Cranmer’s dream, that every parish should become, at least in worship, a Religious Community, a developed monasticism, in which the Daily Offices and the Eucharist should be offered daily, seems to be well on its way to fulfillment. (Cranmer would not be well pleased by the restoration of many of the outward signs associated with ceremonial and priestly vesture.) However, one of the less salutary aspects of the martyred archbishop’s theology may still stymie what at first looks like a Catholic revival.

There seems to be an almost universal appreciation of the Real Presence, a Presence poorly defined and less obviously accompanied by reverence for the consecrated elements. Rather than this becoming an appreciation for Catholic doctrine, or even Lutheran teaching, what seems to have emerged is a religious adjunct to individualistic devotion. One goes to church to receive something that permits one to get through the week, or heals one in some manner or another. If realized at all, the individual Christian, perched in a habitual pew or lining up in a shopping queue to stand or kneel in splendid isolation, does so to receive something to be evaluated as to its therapeutic effectiveness later in the week. Jesus has become a Pill. Rather than centering a Christian in a counter-cultural sense of the “otherness” of the Eucharistic offering, the revived Sacrament often seems to reinforce the concept that I am at the center of all things, I am who I decide to be, and God sits around waiting to shower me with approval and grace, whatever grace is.

Even the Lutheran ideal that the Real Presence re-enacts the sinner’s justification by faith, by which Jesus clothes one with his righteousness and makes him or her right with God is absent. We are, we think, basically OK. What we need is affirmation and a helping hand, if by chance we can’t manage by our own good sense.

The antidote to such individualized therapy-theology is associating the Real Presence within the wider theology of the Eucharistic Sacrifice, and that in the context of the Communion of Saints. By itself, the ideal that somehow Jesus’ sacrifice for us on the Cross, eternally pleaded, saves individually leads to a similarly individualized notion, never taught, but widely believed, in the Middle Ages, that at every Mass, the priest offers Jesus for the individual, as the primary aid to that individual’s eternal hope.

There seems to be no end to the way Christians define the means of grace as things tailor-made to give them something extra, something that self-definition and self-reliance, aided by self-help books and perhaps the love of family and friends, can’t quite provide. The effectiveness of such Me-Devotion may be easily tested. Ask an Episcopalian to act on the Presiding Bishop-elect’s injunction to “Go,” to leave church and witness to friends and acquaintances the love of Jesus, and two things happen. The first is to join a Cause, and pour available enthusiasm in often web-based or committee-based activism. The second option is to decide that such activity is a clergy activity aided by a few activists. There are other symptoms of a me-based religion. All break down to a consideration as to whether prayer, worship, and church-belonging is for me.

If we are to walk with God in the cool of the day without being expelled from the Garden because we seek to be “as gods” (Gen. 3:5), we must embrace the status given us by the mark on our foreheads (Eph. 1:13; 2 Cor. 1:22), and join with the Apostles and Evangelists, saints and martyrs, the known and unknown elect, who gather around the heavenly Table with Jesus our High Priest (Heb. 4:14-16), and share together in the marriage feast of the Lamb (Rev. 19:6-9). At every Eucharist, the people of God, gathered to form the local church, participate with the whole Church in heaven and on earth in worship: the self-communal offering whereby we show God what he means to the Church.

The measure of this communal offering and participation judges the validity of personal faith and ecclesial authenticity. It provides the only true antidote to personal, parochial, diocesan, and provincial self-absorption. Losing our lives to save them, we receive the benefits of Christ’s death and passion in the context of the redeemed community, all of whom have been washed in the Blood of the Lamb, clothed with the white robe of baptism, and made a nation of kings and priests unto God. In the fellowship of the saints, Christians form the perennial counter-culture, empowered to herald the coming reign of Christ, strengthened for service by the Real Presence of Christ in his Church.

FROM THE LIVING CHURCH TODAY

http://livingchurch.org/covenant/2015/07/22/why-we-do-this/

OUT OF THE DEPTH

I watched too much of the Episcopal Church’s 78th General Convention on line than was good for my soul. I found myself thinking that I was watching the assembly of a denomination with which I had no connection. These people -for that is how I thought of them- worshipped differently, prayed differently, and on the whole, proposed a different religion than anything I connected with. Then, last Sunday, taking part of a Sunday off, I worshipped in perhaps the largest parish in the Diocese of Missouri. The service was Rite 1, the music traditional sung by an extraordinarily good choir accompanied by an amazing organist, and the celebrant and deacon were both under 35. For a summer Sunday, the church was comfortably full. During the service a group of young people were commissioned as Missioners.

I was comforted by worshipping in a community in which Anglicanism flourishes. I was given courage to soldier on, safe as I am, here in Southern Illinois, far from the madding crowd.  But then I think, this is all about me? LAm I free to adopt my own religion, or base my faith on what I want, or desire, or that affords me comfort? And if so, how really different am I from those Baby Boomers, who went wild by the evangelical preaching of the Presiding Bishop-elect, but then went back to their respective Houses, to adopt resolutions based primarily, not on Scripture, Tradition, the Fathers and Councils, but on contemporary social and political ideology, and choice-liturgy?

I didn’t choose the Church, it chose me when my mother took me to the parish church to be baptized. As I grew up, the Church provided me the building blocks of faith in Prayer Book worship, by learning the Catechism, and by being given access to the faith of the Early Christians. I learned to study Scripture, for then, in England, one studied a Gospel, Acts and an Epistle in depth for the state examination, taken at sixteen years of age. True, within the comprehension of the English Church I was exposed to Anglo Catholicism, Evangelicalism and a mild form of Liberalism, then in recovery from being almost battered to death by the reality of the Second World War and the evil shockingly present in their brave new world. Beneath these strands within Anglicanism, a belief in Jesus, the Christ, his saving work, his presence among us in Word and Sacrament, constituted the rock on which I tottered, stood, and occasionally fell off.

But now, nearly sixty years on, in a church much more resembling that reflected in General Convention than the Church of St. Michael and St. George, St. Louis, or my own two small mission churches, has the rock of my faith become a personal opinion, in a church where personal opinion trumps orthodoxy?  I don’t know the answer to that question.

MARRIAGE EXTENSION

The Episcopal Church’s House of Bishops has voted to extend marriage to same-sex couples. It is certain that the House of Deputies will follow suit. Part of this decision involves a resolution that in the Prayer Book Marriage service the language will be refer to “couples” rather than male and female. The Constitution of the Episcopal Church defines a process for Prayer Book revision requiring that such revisions be voted on at two General Conventions before the change becomes effective. The action of the House of Bishops in circumventing this requirement now sets a precedent. The Book of Common Prayer may now be revised in any particular as a Majority in General Convention wills. It seems logical that any article of the Constitution may undergo hasty revision if a majority so wills. There’s no Court of Appeal to test such a process. Another set of Trial Rites has been approved, to be used at the discretion of the Ordinary. In cases where the Ordinary refuses to permit use of the Trial Rites, he or she must make provision for the couple to be married elsewhere or by some other means.

The visibility and remarkable empowerment of the Gay community, both within the church and in society presents the church with a pastoral and evangelical problem. There are many ordained LGBT people in the churches and our church; many serve on vestries, sing in choirs, teach Sunday School, help in outreach. That this is true is nothing new. I don’t think I’ve ever been part of a parish or pastored one where this has not been true. Even in the most traditional parishes this is true. By no means all wish to have relationships blessed, or marriages effected, nor do all, by any means believe this to be appropriate. That being said, many seek to be affirmed in relationships and to enjoy the same status and recognition as male-female marriages.

Let me be clear. The church has a clear pastoral duty to minister equally to all its parishioners and to reach out to all people. Nor can we expect parishioners to suddenly develop into perfect people. The late beloved Michael Ramsey said that if we start throwing out those who do not conform to purity, in the end those remaining will have to be ejected because they commit the deadly sin of Pride.

However there is another form of that sin. “For the sin of heresy is not the holding or teaching of false doctrine, but the belief that one’s own opinion, because it is one’s own opinion, is more likely to be right than the teaching of the Church – or of the best and wisest Christians in all ages and all places.” CB Moss, The Christian Faith. This is true individually and collectively.

I do not doubt that the secular state has the right to define marriage in anyway it thinks fit. The Church, and churches that claim apostolicity, are much more constrained. To “extend doctrine” beyond that which has been commonly held from the beginning, at the very least without some impressive trans-Anglican and ecumenical consensus, so that it may be said “It seems good to the Holy Spirit and to us” must be viewed suspiciously. False teaching is often caring, contextually local and extremely popular. Arianism was in Egypt.

To oppose the extension of marriage to same-sex couples may be, in some, perhaps many cases, inspired from a visceral revulsion or inherited or assumed bigotry. Yet any moral position the Church affirms may be used by the pharisee in our midst as they shout, “I thank you Lord that I am not as others.”

The traditional doctrine of Marriage is deeply rooted in the Genesis accounts of Creation. To affirm this doesn’t require one to take the Genesis stories “literally”, unless one knows that “literally” means, in a book. But Genesis underlines God’s purpose in all creation and undergirds all other biblical teaching on Matrimony. The fact that men had multiple wives in Old Testament times does point to variations in marriage, ones cleared up by New Testament times, but not to variations in the gender of partners. Procreation is an inseparable part of the purpose of marriage. Of course couples who cannot have children, or believe, after prayer and counsel that they should not have children, are truly married. But exceptions don’t prove or disprove rules. One of the aspects of marriage sorely neglected is that it not only provides for the care and nurture of children, but that for Christians, it is a primary act of evangelism, as children are brought to baptism and raised in “the faith and fear of the Lord.” “Be fruitful and multiply.”

What may one say?  I do not doubt that the bishops acted out of sincere pastoral care. I do believe that acted beyond their competence, as successors of the Apostles and as upholders of the law of our church.

THE CHARLESTON TRAGEDY

I really can’t understand how some of my friends can’t bring themselves to acknowledge the grim reality of racism and who seek to advance the theory that symbols of racism are somehow neutral, because they fear that to admit this horror would somehow weaken their other political ideals. My great-great grandfather, Antoine Clavier de Cas Navire was black, of mixed race, a graduate of the Sorbonne, who was expelled from Martinique for championing the rights of slaves. My grandfather, a doctor, was colored. When he came to England from Guyana after the war, when I was seven, I met him and gasped, “Mummy my Grandpa is a black man.” He roared with laughter and loved me. I was taught from the earliest age that color, like beauty is skin deep, and that it’s who we are, not what we are that counts. It sounds simple but it is hard to break out of safer habits.
However I’m very much afraid that when the dust settles, we will swiftly forget the Charleston massacre, the media will move to another subject, and, until this sort of tragedy recurs, we will bury our heads in the sand because we dare not admit that there runs through contemporary society a deep vein of intolerance towards any caste that isn’t like our own. Jesus wept.