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A PRE-CONVENTION REFLECTION

Next week bishops and clerical and lay deputies from all over the Episcopal Church will descend on Salt Lake City, Utah, for the triennial meeting of its primary legislative body. Each day during nearly two weeks of meetings, Convention will meet as one body to worship God and offer the Eucharist. Each day those assembled will state collectively that they believe the Church to be One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic. Such a profession is at once descriptive and aspirational. It is descriptive because we believe at root, the Church of God is all those things. It is aspirational because the Church in this day and age is divided, sinful, and introverted. I don’t speak only here of the tiny portion of the Church of God we term The Episcopal Church, but of the Church we see and to which we now belong here on earth.

There’s a certain irony about TEC’s meeting in Salt Lake City. For that place is the mother and home of one of those American bodies that emerged in the 19th. Century as America expanded westward and lived into its destiny. Should not an exceptional nation have an exceptional religion, home grown and beholden to no one and nothing but itself? Exceptionalism continues to run deep in the American political, national and religious DNA. Even when expressed in tandem with a conviction that we should appreciate where we came from and embrace the wider world, still there remains an almost visceral awareness that we are not as others are. And so the Creeds, daily recited, sound an uncomfortable and even jarring note, a reminder of something deeper than nostalgia – something much deeper than the way many Americans seem to love the British Royals while swiftly agreeing that the American Way is other. Well that may be well and good as it refers to the form a nation state takes, but it is topsy turvy when applied to what we term ecclesiology, the doctrine of the Church. One would wish that General Convention would project onto a large screen in both its Houses the words, “We believe in One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church.”

In what manner should General Convention aspire to live into the Credal doctrine?

1. One. Jesus prayed that the Church would be one. While the modern ecumenical movement, for over a century, has striven to recapture that unity, with few exceptions TEC has opted for the easy way out.  While we’ve entered into agreements of intercommunion with Lutherans, Moravians, Old Catholics and may do so with Methodists, we’ve retained our independence and in most communities few signs exist that our agreements have made much difference. Not even the present Pope speaks of unity in terms of uniformity, but unity means walking together, pushing aside stumbling blocks as we walk together, and the realization that the journey forward is together and not as friendly but distinct tribes. The puzzle remains. While we have made significant strides, we’ve also created a number of new and formidable stumbling blocks, yes, in the name of truth and justice, but also with considerable hubris and vocal disdain for those not so guided by our visions. Division ecumenically, within our Communion and internally continues to present to the watching world something other than a pattern for reconciliation, as applicable to the world as to the Church. The Anglican habit of tentative advocacy, admitting that one may be wrong, has been replaced by abrasive certainty, whatever the consequence in lost and disillusioned people

2. Holy.  The root of the word ‘Holy’ is separate, apart, different. As applied to God it means that even in God’s approaching us, he remains distinct, often in a manner which draws us to kneel in awe and to express our unworthiness, as Isaiah did when he was given a vision of Yahweh (Isaiah 6). When applied to the Church, the term Holy refers to its calling, its being set apart as a kingdom of priests unto God. The fact that only the baptized may offer the Eucharist is all about that distinct vocation and nothing at all to do with God’s love for all men and women. The baptized are called into a  priesthood. The function of a priest is to stand for the world to God and to offer God to the world. The central and distinct calling of the Church is expressed in worship.

We’ve become so seduced by therapeutic religion that we can’t embrace our vocation. Submerged in our neediness, a desperate yearning to be fixed and to fix,  we concentrate on what God does for us, and because we are insatiable we assume that the non Christian world is as needy as we are. We urge them to come join us in church. We just can’t understand why there’s little response and our congregations wither.

Holiness means that we embrace our calling and endeavor in thought, word and deed, to mirror the life, deeds and mighty acts of our great High Priest, Jesus. Unless General Convention envisions both the calling of the People of God, and the Christ-like life of the People of God, it won’t be able to see structure as sacramental and evangelism as the living out of Priesthood in God’s world. Jesus’s life is not so much a pattern of morality in its narrow sense as that of self-forgetting outpouring and life-giving.

3. Catholic.  Catholic means something much more profound than worldwide. Yes, TEC has some rather minuscule foreign dependents but that hardly adds up to Catholicity. We are part of the Anglican Communion, but even, at our best, when we acknowledge that in the New Testament the word communion means the deepest form of union, we remain far less than Catholic. Catholicity is much more than ‘valid Orders’, or ‘valid sacraments’, or structural connection. At root it refers to the life giving presence of the Holy Spirit made visible and tangible in ministry, sacraments, teaching and connection. We can’t begin to talk about Catholicity until we learn to gaze at all the components of what we term Church as Spirit-filled gifts of God to us. While we merely gaze at these gifts in terms of what the world terms utility, structure, forms and methods which belong to us, which we may tinker with, alter, amend, even discard at will, instead of approaching them with reverence and awe, we touch the Ark to our own peril and create a parody of the Church in its essential nature and being.

4. Apostolic.  The disciples were titled Apostles because they were charged, at the Ascension, by Jesus, with a few deceptively simple commandments. “Go into all the world.”  “Go baptize”. “Do this in remembrance of me.” “Love one another”. The disciples had no budget, no structure, no power. When that sinks in, we either pine for simple days, or dismiss their impoverishment as something which has no application in a complex modern world. “Apostolic’ means sent out, it means movement out, it means trusting in the Trinity, it means believing that as we so go, God adds to the Church those whom he calls. Yet we continue to see apostolicity as inviting in, staying put, a sort of Pelagian trust in our own smartness to  dream up schemes and plans to turn things around. We don’t seem to believe that the modern world, the city outside church buildings, is a safe place for us. We don’t believe that God is going to do the evangelism if we dare step out of our Upper Rooms. Marks of apostolicity, the Historic Faith, the Ministry, the Sacraments, and the call to loving service to mankind, are just neatly labelled museum pieces if we remain the Episcopal Church in the Upper Room. They easily become nicely framed proposed motions in a virtual Blue Book.

The great call General Convention should hear is a call to be the Church, to aspire to be One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic as a kingdom of priests for God and for the world. Nothing less honors our calling.

TRADITIONALISTS NOT SERVED

The Episcopal Cafe is a progressive online web page which has placed in its window, “Traditionalists not served here.” Today it takes a letter it received and turns it into an editorial, Note the word “editorial”. This isn’t an article by any old Tom, Sarah or Harry. It’s an editorial, presumably signed off by its editors. That surprises me because I know some of them. You may find the editorial here:

http://www.episcopalcafe.com/questions-to-ask-the-bishop-elect-of-dallas/

The author of this editorially approved piece requires that the Bishop-elect of Dallas, Dr. George Sumner, answer a number of questions relating to the matter of whether, if confirmed, he intends to or may ever seek to remove the diocese from the Episcopal Church. The justification for this loaded question is that at present George Sumner is Principal of Wycliffe College, Toronto, and has on his staff the likes of Ephraim Radner and Christopher Seitz who write for the Anglican Communion Institute. Neither of these scholars has left the Episcopal Church or advocated schism. The ACI has not advocated that traditionalists commit schism. Their offense seems to be that they do not subscribe to a narrow constitutional doctrine which subordinates dioceses to General Convention and to the jurisdictional authority of the Presiding Bishop.

My own bishop, Daniel Martins, comes in for similar opprobrium by the writer because he was one of the bishops charged with treason because he joined an amicus brief challenging the same doctrine. He and his fellow bishops, reminiscent of the seven bishops imprisoned by James II because they refused to endorse his Declaration of Indulgences, apologized under coercion for signing the brief, but maintained their opposition to what has become the received doctrine of Episcopal Polity. (I stand somewhere in the middle on this one.)

Now I count Bishop Martins as a friend. We were priests together in Northern Indiana. I fancy that if he harbored schismatic plans for himself or this diocese, covertly tucked up his rochet sleeve, I would have heard them. He certainly hasn’t espoused ecclesiastical high treason in his Synod addresses, at clergy conferences or other meetings.

Consider the context in which this offensive demand has been made. We are approaching General Convention. The Episcopal Church is being called to reform its structure to meet the demands of a rapidly dwindling constituency, in which the average Sunday attendance of its parishes is a meagre sixty-one, some of its seminaries are in deep trouble, and while the coffers of the national church remain fairly stable, dioceses and parishes are, for the most part, either deeply compromised or drawing close to that situation. Episcopalians are calling for unity, for drastic restructuring and for a return to basics, to core issues and to evangelism. At this moment, as a new Presiding Bishop is to be elected, a person who will face the biggest crisis in our common life since the beginning of the 19th. Century (when disunity and the aftermath of the Revolution brought us close to extinction) one of the largest and healthiest dioceses of our church, that of Dallas, and it’s bishop-elect are to be subjected to a divisive and hostile attack mounted against them. Why?

I don’t think its paranoia to posit -or at least anymore paranoiac than these progressive conspiracy theorists devise – that the real target are those of us who commit the unpardonable sin of dissenting from most of the aims and objectives of the parliamentary majority in General Convention: the tyranny of the majority. In short, traditionalists are not served here. It’s enough to make us turn into schismatics. But we don’t. We regret that the Bishop of South Carolina and his diocese, caved under severe pressure and left. We regret the loss of every diocese, parish and individual Episcopalian. We deplore fragmentation as much as we deplore Episcopalian exceptionalism. We deplore that the Episcopal Church Worldwide Inc., regards itself to be a discreet denomination, accountable only to itself, inward looking and xenophobic. Indeed we accuse these progressives of illiberality, of collusion in driving those who do not agree with them out of the church, because they only believed that which, hitherto, the Episcopal Church has espoused. They are as purist as some extreme conservatives.

Now I happen to believe that one of the laudable intentions of Anglicanism is to comprehend people who disagree vehemently but who kneel at the same altars because they share the same baptism. I share friendship with many progressives, thanks be to God. I hope this blog doesn’t offend them too much but whatever I still love them. I happen to believe with Martyn Percy that contentious issues are to be chewed together slowly and that unity matters because our Lord prayed that we should be one. Unity is the sign of the unity we share with the Trinity. It is not just a cosy idea, or a strategic asset. “We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic church.”

I hope George Sumner and the Diocese of Dallas will ignore those who question their fidelity to their baptismal covenants, their ordination oaths. Of course the bishops and standing committees of our church are free to ask bishops-elect any questions they desire, but I hope such questions will be framed without malice, without suspicion, without the bitterness of former days. I hope too that the Episcopal Cafe will remove that sign from their window. We will sit with you, pray with you, work with you, laugh with you, cry with you, but we refuse to let you own that which is our common property.

THINGS CAST DOWN ARE RAISED UP

Today a group of influential Episcopalians issued a “Memorial” to the upcoming General Convention calling for spiritual, theological and structural renewal: http://www.episcopalresurrection.org/memorial/

The memorial calls the Episcopal Church to:

Engage creatively, openly, and prayerfully in reading the signs of the times and discerning the particular ways God is speaking to the Episcopal Church now;

Pray, read the scriptures, and listen deeply for the Holy Spirit’s guidance in electing a new Presiding Bishop and other leaders, in entering into creative initiatives for the spread of the kingdom, and in restructuring the church for mission;

Fund evangelism initiatives extravagantly: training laborers to go into the harvest to revitalize existing congregations and plant new ones; forming networks and educational offerings to train and deploy church planters and revitalizers who will follow Jesus into all kinds of neighborhoods; and creating training opportunities for bilingual and bi-cultural ministry;

Release our hold on buildings, structures, comfortable habits, egos, and conflicts that do not serve the church well;

Remove obstacles embedded in current structures, however formerly useful or well-meaning, that hinder new and creative mission and evangelism initiatives;

Refocus our energies from building up a large, centralized, expensive, hierarchical church-wide structure, to networking and supporting mission at the local level, where we all may learn how to follow Jesus into all of our neighborhoods.

I think we are finally emerging from those heady days of iconoclasm – for the moment,- during which, in the name of renewal, not only our liturgical and spiritual inheritance was scorned as something irrelevant or even harmful to “man come of age”, but the heart of the Gospel and the mission of the church questioned. As I’ve written before, we had become a boutique church, designed for a politically and socially aware elite. In the process we forged a schism, equally designed for a politically and socially elite, a mirror image of a designer church for those who agree with us, or with whom we feel comfortable.

I am struck by the acuity of thoughts expressed by the present pope when he was rector of a seminary in Argentina, days when the church there was under attack by a right-wing, bloodthirsty dictatorship on the one hand, and those who had submerged the Gospel in a specific left-wing crusade.He wrote:

“The example of Our Lord saves us: He became incarnate in the people. Peoples have habits, cultural references which are not easily classified…..To adjust our ears to hear their desire for change requires humility, affection, the habit of inculturation, and above all, a rejection of the absurd pretension to become the “voice” of the people, imagining perhaps that they don’t have one…..The first question any pastor seeking to reform structures must ask is: What is my people asking of me? What is it calling me to do? And then we must dare to listen.” (Austin Overeigh, The Great Reformer, A&U Press, 2014)

What I am not advocating is a program proposed, lobbied for, won by majority vote, all in the name of those who are the church. The church will no more be renewed by a further group of empowered reformers than it was in the seventies. Of course renewal and revival begins with small groups of people inspired by the Holy Spirit. It is when such groups become divisive factions, using political power to enforce their will that the problem arises. Now is the time for genuine egalitarianism. An unrepresentative General Convention as insulated from popular opinion as Congress needs to divest itself of privilege, and claims that it speaks for the people: it needs to listen to the poor, blue collar workers, those who do not subscribe to their political and social ideals, to traditionalists and even to those who have left us for other churches or to ACNA.

Let me be clear. I am not advocating a conservative solution. I am not suggesting we abandon our mission to those who are left out of the national political process, or shunned by us. I am suggesting that unless we recover our spiritual, theological and ecclesial roots, we have nothing to offer that a political party or a social activism group can’t do better. There is only one skandalion, stumbling block, set before those whom God loves, and that is Jesus and him crucified and risen. We have alienated the many in the hope of attracting the few, and assembled enough stumbling blocks to build a multitude of mission churches among those who are battling with the complexities of modern life and see nothing we have to be relevant to their lives. If we claim to be a catholic church, for God sake let us rediscover our mission to all people.

I therefore endorse the work of Episcopal Resurrection, for what my endorsement is worth. I am merely a grey head, the vicar of two small missions, my retirement job. But I assure this group, many of whom I know, of my support and prayers.

A SILENT PREJUDICE

The real reason why Episcopalians have lost the interest of most Americans is quite simple. We don’t like them. We can adopt their cause as a mass, as a class, or a group of classes, but when it comes to them -you know, real people, a few of whom, or perhaps more than a few perch in our pews on Sunday, it’s quite a different matter.

I accuse our leadership of this sin, but dear conservative, I accuse you too. Well yes, the ‘masses’ probably espouse  most conservative policies and seem to enjoy being trickled down upon. It’s rather like a free lottery. There’s always a slim possibility one may strike it rich. That’s why they try Publisher’s Clearing House and buy plastic gnomes, or get a lottery ticket when buying gas.

The main blame lies with progressives. After all the main task of a progressive is to champion the under dog, as long as he or she is under. The thought that such people might actually come to church, or be represented in our synods makes the skin crawl. Just consider these people for a moment. Most have never been to college -community colleges don’t count – and many may not have graduated from High School. They read little that is worthwhile and eat at McDonalds. They wear dreadful clothes, their English aint good, they have never been to the symphony, have no interest in the arts and grow potatoes in the front yard next to the gnomes and flamingos. And yes, they wrap themselves in the flag, hate immigrants unless they are white and wealthy, and wear baseball caps to dinner.

Of course, there are exceptions. We feel good about the really hungry who come to our soup kitchens, about African Americans if they are shot by the police of bullied at school, about Latin American refugees struggling across the border, or gays beaten up outside a bar. But the good thing is that we usually don’t have to meet these people, eat with them, talk with them, actually love them enough to share our faith with them. After all, they are probably members of an evangelical sect or, just as bad, are bigoted Roman Catholics.

Those of the “under classes” who still come to church with us, perhaps form majorities in some congregations, or who actually turn out to be the back bone of most of our smaller congregations know just how condescending our leadership has become. Why do they turn off what General Convention will do? They are not represented, their views are not heeded and they know that if they actually read the doings in Utah they’d get mad, maybe mad enough to stop coming to church very often even though they love their local parish.

The truth is that most of this silent majority, the workers, don’t see how the Jesus we talk about has anything to say about keeping a job, losing a job, paying the rent, bringing up children, dealing with divorce, or marriage, or paying medical expenses, or even understand the complexities of modern living. The last thing they want to encounter is preachy snobs, wrapped up in their latest Cause, be it conservative or liberal. The church is irrelevant. To make matters worse, most of us think the workers are irrelevant. We don’t care. We pass resolutions, write checks, attend meetings, maybe help serve meals for the needy, but in all this we are a bit like a Russian Grand Duchess throwing rubles to the peasants. So dear fellow Episcopalians, fess up. We don’t like the workers,employed or not, Black or White, Asian or Hispanic. We do love our impersonal orthodoxies.

TOUGH LOVE

5 Easter (B) – 2015   SERMONS THAT WORK  episcopaldigitalnetwork.com

May 3, 2015
Acts 8:26-40; Psalm 22:24-30; 1 John 4:7-21; John 15:1-8
The word on the street is that love is easy. We just do it. We talk about chemistry, and indeed, the scientists tell us that chemistry has something to do with physical attraction. However, we know that love goes further than physical attraction. We love our parents and our children. We love our friends. There’s a whole neglected tradition of love between friends that has nothing to do with physical attraction. If we think about it, physical attraction does not necessarily have anything to do with love.
Tomorrow is the feast of Monnica, the mother of Augustine of Hippo, the great scholar, writer, preacher. We know from Augustine’s autobiography what a pivotal role she played in his path to Christianity. Augustine must have driven his mother to distraction as he went off on tangents, had a liaison with a woman out of wedlock who bore him a son, and then, just as he set off for North Africa to begin his career as a bishop, she died. The love she had for her son was a suffering love. And therein lies our problem. Love for us is all bound up with bliss and happiness. The very idea that love includes suffering seems repugnant. Surely if suffering intrudes on love, something is wrong. Embracing suffering seems deviant: a form of masochism. Yes, love may bring us suffering, but that means, we think, that something tragic has occurred.
To our minds, loving and liking are allies. We don’t tend to like someone whose behavior offends us, or at least if that person persists in doing things that annoy us. In short, love, we think, has something to do with affinity.
Many parishes pride themselves on being very loving. When the parish is in search, it assures prospective rectors that everyone loves everyone. Just try being someone who has braved coming through those red doors, found a vacant pew, tried to negotiate the liturgy and then found his or her way to coffee hour. The visitor then sees love in action. Groups of people form impenetrable circles. Each group is made up of people long accepted in the circle, bound by an affinity made up of shared backgrounds, longevity, perhaps political beliefs and shared interests. Even if the visitor manages to gain entrance, the subjects discussed involve an element of shared experience foreign to the visitor. Love turns out to mean an easy acceptance of people we know well.
In today’s lessons we meet an uncomfortably different form of love. The lesson from Acts recounts a meeting between Philip, the Jewish convert, a deacon, with the non-Jewish Ethiopian court official. Immediately, the two men are divided by race, religion and social class. Yet Philip is instructed “by the Spirit” to approach the Ethiopian. The Eunuch is reading Isaiah, one of the passages the new Christians identified as prophecy about Jesus:
“Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter,
and like a lamb silent before its shearer,
so he does not open his mouth.
In his humiliation justice was denied him.
Who can describe his generation?
For his life is taken away from the earth.”
Philip has the difficult task of explaining that the crucifixion, where Jesus was killed like an animal sacrifice, was the most sublime offering of love. How on earth was he going to do that?
To begin with, Philip has to remember that the love he has for God, is a love that acknowledges that God loves him so much that his own follies, mistakes, unkindnesses and cruelty don’t stop God piercing through into the depth of who Philip really is. Philip knows that, as the writer of the First Epistle John will write later, loving God and being loved by God demands that we love others. Philip also knows that the only hope he has to get through the barrier of differentness is to claim what happened to him when he was baptized. In baptism he was grafted into Jesus, the true vine. Jesus’ love alone enables Philip to love the Ethiopian enough to share what he has come to know, what has enabled him to become a disciple. And now that loving discipleship is going to bear fruit as he leads the Ethiopian to a pool and there to be baptized, adopted, grafted, welcomed into the Kingdom. The Queen of Ethiopia’s servant is to become the servant of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.
We were once given that priceless gift when those who loved us brought us to baptism. Did they also know that we were being invited into living suffering, costly love? Do we accept that we are being drawn toward the sacrifice of true love? In our natural selves, we run from relationships that turn into hurt for us. We may even physically recoil from such pain, the opposite of physical attraction. That is why we hold our hands out today for Bread and Wine, for Christ Himself. He alone can give us the strength to overcome that which separates us from that person who needs to be baptized, or needs to revisit his or her baptism, that person whose lifestyle, habits, opinions are so different from our own offends us, makes us want to walk away. Believe it or not, by being Christians we accept that our vocation in life is to bear fruit – the fruit of love – and to make disciples.
As we read in today’s epistle:
“There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love. We love because he first loved us. Those who say, ‘I love God,’ and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen. The commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also.”

TO BE A PRIEST

A HOMILY GIVEN IN THE CHAPEL OF ST. MICHAEL’S COLLEGE, LLANDAFF ON APRIL 28th, 2015 by Fr. Tony Clavier

Exodus 32: 21-34. Luke 6: 12-26

In the lessons appointed we meet Moses and Jesus coming down mountains and selecting groups to carry out their purposes. Moses tell his lot to kill their siblings. Later Jesus will tell his lot that they are to leave their relatives and loved ones behind. In short, they are to travel light. In both cases their job description is deceptively simple. They are to get their followers to the promised land, not a land of their own choosing, one made to measure as it were, but one the Lord had chosen to give them. And notice that neither Moses nor Jesus were going to stick around while this was happening. Moses died on a mountain from which he could see the promised land. Jesus died on a “green hill” and left the disciples to it. True the called ones weren’t to be abandoned. The Israelites would have the the visible Presence in the symbols of God’s glory: the disciples would have the Holy Spirit also made manifest in fire.

The disciples, I fantasize, sat around in the upper room after the Ascension, debating their commission. They were to go tell, go baptize, do this in remembrance, love one another. But they were also to go to the utter most parts of the earth. Lacking a treasurer -Judas has resigned – they must have endlessly debated just how they could afford the camel fare to Lebanon, never mind Italy. They must have debated down sizing the project, tinkering with the structure, debating how they could preserve their positions, their roles, or whether it might be safer to stay within the structure they had, the Upper Room, and perhaps do the evangelizing by correspondence courses.

One of their problems was that of cultural diversity. Out there were Jews of different persuasions, from different places, with different language skills. Out there were Gentiles with a multitude of gods, diets, national entities and allegiances. The apostles were to herald and portray in community something quite different. Paul would later remind them that their own chosen identities had to be given up, just as the Levites had to bump off their family ties, the disciples their places, families, and emotional attachments. “Neither Jew nor Greek, male nor female, slave nor the boss class” Paul wasn’t talking about inclusivity as the world uses that term. He means that in the Kingdom, those things get you nowhere. What does matter is your oneness in Christ, and thus your unity in mission. The kingdom comprehends “all sorts and conditions of people,” people who have been changed: changed by faith and baptism, transformed by Christ’s continued presence particularly in Bread and Wine, filled with a love which makes human attempts at love and fidelity to be poor shades of the real thing. To enter the Promised Land everyone must learn the language, customs and rituals of that land. It’s all rather like an outsider training to be a priest in Wales.

This band of pilgrims would not create the promised land, not even by evangelical zeal, evocative worship, nor social planning. Indeed the future as described by Jesus and the writer of Revelation is bleak. “When the Son of Man returns will he find faith on earth?” And yet this band of pilgrims is to plod on, generation after generation, replicating the kingdom, honoring the true Lord, Basileus, Emperor, holding on to the notion that “he will come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the living and the dead, whose kingdom shall know no end.” In short the Promised Land comes from above with its king Jesus and restores the earth to its original perfection.

And this is your calling, you who are being set apart, who have been chosen. Your orders are simple, the same ones that were given to St Tielo and his friends from their mission site near this college. You are lead the people commited to your care to the Promised Land. You are to rely on the simple structure Jesus passed on. Your apostle, your bishop and you are to go tell, go baptize, do this in remembrance, love one another, in a community designed to demonstrate to the world, beset by its divisions, its individualism, its moral bewilderment, its subsequent loneliness just how humans are designed to be. The cost of your discipleship in human terms may be enormous. You will be distracted by diocesan bureaucracy, people fighting about where to place the altar, how many candlestick there should be and how to light them. You may be called away to fix toilets, unlock or lock doors, mow the grass; you can expect to be called at any time of day or night, often for trivial reasons, until you come to believe that God calls those he has a special grudge against. Your vocation may be, can be truly life-giving, as it is now in Iraq, Syria and Libya or in parishes that wear their priest out. Your ministry may look like failure, but in your suffering for the life of the world you are always accompanied by the one who promised, “Lo I am with you, even unto the consummation of the ages.”

A WHIMSICAL JOURNEY

http://livingchurch.org/covenant/?p=5631

THE NEW SECRETARY GENERAL of the ANGLICAN CONSULTATIVE COUNCIL

The Rt Revd Josiah Idowu-Fearon, formerly one of the Provincial Archbishops of the Church in Nigeria, and currently a diocesan bishop in that church has been appointed as the new Secretary-General of the Anglican Consultative Council, a body described as one of the “Instruments of Unity” of the Anglican Communion. Bishop Idowu-Fearon is the first African and the first non-white Euro-American to be so appointed. That in itself is a significant step towards giving the majority constituency of the Communion a major voice in the affairs of the Anglicanism world-wide.

The bishop was educated in England and Nigeria and is well known in America. He has worked heroically for understanding and reconciliation with the Moslem majority in his present diocese and in the northern regions of Nigeria. He has steadfastly supported the full participation of the African Church in the Anglican Communion. Bishop Fearon is a long time friend of the archbishop of Canterbury and preached at the consecration of Archbishop Welby as Bishop of Durham. His witness for peaceful accommodation with Moslems has been at great cost to him personally and put him in harm’s way. His loyalty to the Anglican Communion has put him at odds with the leadership of his own church and others in Africa and elsewhere who champion schism and disunity and work for the fragmentation of the Anglican Communion.

Bishop Idowa-Fearon is a traditionalist, does not support same-sex unions, but, unlike many others, believes that in baptism we are drawn together, have a common identity as children of God, and thus cannot but work together however we may disagree. We are saved by faith, trust in God, and not by the perfection of our beliefs or conduct. In short we are all sinners, saved by grace.

In a time when Anglicans, at least in the West, have been drawn into group identity, holy tribes, sure of their own perfection and ready to denounce those perceived as enemies – a precise imitation of party politics in Western democracies – there is little wonder that the bishop’s appointment has drawn the venomous ire of both left and right. A blog site named the Episcopal Cafe rushed to judgment, denouncing the bishop for, they said, supporting the criminalization of LBGT people in Nigeria. They relied on a dubious snippet from a Nigerian newspaper’s coverage of a talk the bishop gave. It seems that the Nigerian journalist responsible misquoted the bishop and failed to report the context of Bishop Joshua’s words. The bishop has now issued a statement denying the veracity of the newspaper article. One may only speculate why the Cafe rushed to judgment without checking sources. Could it be because the bishop is a Nigerian and that he does not support the present proposed policy of the Episcopal Church? Has a particular view on sexuality now become the litmus test of suitability, a core doctrine? One doesn’t expect an apology.

And from the right, Anglican TV’s commentators sneered at Bishop Fearon’s appointment, denounced him as a traitor to the Church of Nigeria because he supports the Anglican Communion and the Archbishop of Canterbury, and forecast the demise of the ACC. It seems that Bishop Joshua can’t win for losing.

Archbishop Welby had no part in Bishop Idowa-Fearon’s appointment, an appointment which was the unanimous decision of the ACC, but there can be no doubt that this is part of the archbishop’s patient endeavor to restore unity to the Anglican Communion. It may well have been an inspired appointment signaling a shift towards the non-Western churches and a recognition of their full participation in the life and work of the Communion.

It has been predicted that the Episcopal Church will withdraw funding from the ACC as a result of this appointment. Such an action would perhaps fatally cripple the Council. One can only hope and pray that all Anglicans will come together and support the new secretary-general and not give in to the impulse to withdraw into sects of self-regarding virtue on the left and right.

UNEQUALLY YOKED

My friend and Bishop, Daniel Martins has penned a lucid justification for his remaining within the Episcopal Church. http://www.cariocaconfessions.blogspot.com.

He notes that there are many friends who suggest that such accommodation – we used to call it comprehension – is impossible when the issues are not adiaphora, “matters indifferent”, areas where Christians may disagree, but touch on core beliefs. Such people talk about the Pauline injunction forbidding Christians being yoked together with non-believers. (2 Cor 6:14.)

 

Bishop Martins replies to his concerned friends by saying:

 

“Reconciliation is a non-negotiable gospel imperative. It’s not just “nice if you can get it.” It’s not adiaphora; it is essential. I am not suggesting that light should or can be reconciled with darkness, or death with life. What I am contending is that those who have been clothed with Christ in the waters of baptism, those who name Jesus as Lord, are constitutionally and irrevocably of one blood, one family. And in a family, you don’t get to choose your siblings. You may not like them. You make think they’re off the rails. You may find them insufferably boorish and be embarrassed by them. But you don’t get to deny them. When they knock on your door, you suck it up and invite them in and fix them something to eat and drink.”

 

St. Paul (or a writer clearly in the Pauline tradition) doesn’t address the matter of the relationship Christians have with erring companions in the verse quoted from Corinthians. He is clearly talking about those who adhere to the religions of the Gentiles, those who worship idols in their temples and follow such cults. Paul is telling the Corinthian Christians not to hang out with those who practice non Christian rituals, or conform to their moral standards.  Christians, now and then, live in the world and are perhaps naturally drawn to fit in, not to make a fuss about unchristian practices espoused by “culture” and thus to compromise in a manner which confuses and confounds. However, St. Paul has just urged Christians to reconcile with one another. (2 Corinthians 5: 11-6:1.) The Corinthian church was beset by divisions and remained so. Some years later St. Clement scolded them for the same sin. It seems that there was such a thing as parochial DNA even then. “We implore you”, says Paul,  “be reconciled with God.”  Division, to the Apostle, was not just a matter of local disagreements between people, for as he asserts in this passage, one cannot regard fellow Christians as merely human beings, but as human beings who through baptism, through faith, have an indelible relationship with God.

 

That those made Christian through baptism and baptismal faith, can err is a given. St. Paul would have little to write about if that were not so. Just work through any of his letters noting which error he was addressing and one comes up with a formidable list. Yes, St. Paul, on occasion, urges the local church to discipline individuals whose behavior is openly and notoriously sinful in a manner which offends the local assembly, and of course destroys their intimate relationship with God. However the purpose of discipline and punishment in an ecclesial sense is always reconciliation.

 

Apart from brief references to “Judaisers”, and some other obscure appellations, we have little guidance in the New Testament about how erring “particular churches” are to be treated, for the simple reason that, although the local churches SS.Peter and Paul founded were subject to error and internal division, none were unchurched. The writer of the Book of Revelation has some trenchant words to say about the errors of the seven churches, but they remain seven churches. Of course there was no such thing as a “particular church” then. There was one Church.

 

I do not seek to trivialize the issue of “particular churches” which officially espouse teachings and practices in conflict with the received teachings of the historic church. However I would argue that the decisions of local synods, as those of General Councils, may be and have been in error. Anglicans said so in the Articles of Religion. Yet when that Article was written the bogey was Rome. Unlike the radical Protestants, Anglicans never unchurched the Roman Catholic Church and always received priests ordained by that church without re-ordination, even though most Anglicans at that time thought Rome was in severe error on matters relating to personal salvation.

 

One sympathizes with those who have found it necessary to separate from us. Many of them are friends and colleagues. I regard them as fellow Anglicans, whatever their formal relationship with the See of Canterbury. I hate the expression, “I feel your pain”, but pain there is and unfortunately there is bitterness and anger too. I understand what it must be like for most of the GAFCON members, to whom Christianity was brought by Western missionaries from England, Wales, Ireland and North America. To be impacted by the recent policies of the very churches through whom they received Christ, impacted often by being taunted and persecuted by rival religions, is a bitter experience indeed.Christians are being killed by people who use the decisions of our church as an excuse for fanaticism.

 

Yet throughout the history of Christianity there have been divisions, Christians have sought to labor on in errant jurisdictions, and to rub shoulders with those they believe to be plainly wrong. The hope of the Cross, the hope of the baptismal community, is that even in the midst of error, Christ seeks to reconcile, to redeem, to unite. His Kingdom comes in his time, not ours, is established by his will and not by synodical resolutions and as Bishop Martins remind us, grace is mediated through Baptism, through hearing the Bible read, through the other sacraments. We are not called to judge. We are called to be instruments of grace. God judges.

 

In the opening section of his letter to the Romans, St. Paul puts us all in our place:  “For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith.” In short, through baptism, we are our brother’s and sister’s keeper, fellow sinners, fallible, in error in faith and habit, called to live in an often-fraught relationship with each other, called to care and love and accompany each other into faith and right living. Each Sunday we kneel together with people about whose orthodoxy or private behavior we know little or nothing. That basic witness of our unity through baptism should inform our whole Christian experience. Separation may make one feel safe and uncontaminated, but it also cuts off relationships and the ability and opportunity to love-in-action. Separation breeds self-justification and polemic. No, we do not stay to fight. We stay to be faithful to our calling.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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TAINTED ORDERS

As published on the Covenant site of the Living Church today.http://livingchurch.org/covenant/?p=4892

The consecration of the Church of England’s first woman bishop, Libby Lane, has stirred up a good deal of controversy, not least because it comes a week before the ordination and consecration of a male bishop, Philip North, chosen to minister to those who don’t believe that a woman can be a priest or a bishop. The controversy has deepened because no bishop who has ordained a woman is to lay on hands when Fr. North is ordained. Instead they will encircle him, pray for him, but not touch him, while three other bishops will represent the Archbishop of York and the Northern bishops in the laying on of hands, three “untainted” bishops (it should be noted that the Archbishop of York has rejected the claim that the arrangement is due to a “theology of taint,” though he suggested the alteration to the usual procedure).

I must here admit a bias. Some years ago, I too received the laying on of hands by three Anglican bishops, using the proper rite, the correct intention, with the laying on of hands, for an ecclesial group respectable enough to enter into conversations with the Episcopal Church. I now serve happily, however, in the Episcopal Church, the question of whether I became a bishop or not held in abeyance, perhaps until what I should wear for my funeral is decided. So when it comes to how I feel or how others feel about whether either of the bishops consecrated in the Church of England should be so recognized, I’ve been there. I want to propose two reflections on the whole business of validity. Before I go there, I have to admit that I get a silly thought in my noggin, when considering the question of whether an ordination “takes” or not. I imagine the angel charged with validity gesturing to the Holy Spirit to indicate whether the Spirit should bestow grace or not in a given situation.

Silly or not, there’s something to it. Anglicans believe that all ministers are ministers of the Universal Church. They believe that whatever method chosen to select suitable candidates, God does the choosing, and God ordains through bishops. The problem is that, like William Temple, we believe in One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church and regret it’s nowhere to be found. The traditional elements deemed to be necessary for a valid ordination get mixed up in church politics, history, inter-church conflict, and schism. Now here it should be noted that no less venerable an institution than the Lambeth Conference 1920, in reference to nonconformist ministries, emphatically stated that God still uses such ministries as “effective means of grace” to serve God’s people (Resolution 9.VII), which of course was all very nice of them. Could we dare imagine that God refuses to be present among those whose ministers haven’t been ordained and set apart by bishops -or the right bishops in the right “church”? Certainly, Christians have expressed themselves in such a way, whether they were Donatists, Roman Catholics, Anglicans, or even doughty Protestants abhorring the papal Antichrist and all his minions.

But I have reached a rather different conclusion.

Because no ordained minister in the Church here on earth at this moment represents the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church and thus the unity of God in Trinity and Trinity in unity, but rather functions among separated congregations and jurisdictions, occupying (along with other similar functionaries) the same territory in space and time, in competition for the same population, objectively or subjectively selling the wares of their own traditions — all Holy Orders are tainted, defective, and irregular. All ministers are so tainted because they live into the taint of disunity, refusing to honor our Lord’s prayer that we may be one, as the Father is one. But God does not deny his grace to his people. He raises up saints in every generation. He honors what occurs at the font and the communion rail, in marriage, at funerals, at the bedside, and in ordination. Yet until the Church realizes again its vocation to unity, bewails the taint of division, and stops placing stumbling blocks in the way of deep communion with each other, no church or group is in the position to cast stones. The question of validity is all about the nature of the Church. Holy Orders do not create the Church; the Church is built on those whom God calls, lay and ordained.

OUR VULNERABLE LEADER

Christians are often accused of being needy people putting their hopes and trusts in a power, note that word, from above, who will muscle into our lives and set things right. It’s an understandable charge. After all, we begin prayers with such words as “Almighty”, conjuring up ideas of all mighty, stronger than strong, a truly muscular Presence.

We live in a world where strength and power are valued. We admire strong leaders, people who have struggled to the top, not only in politics, but in industry, the arts, even in education. If wealth is associated with public stature, so much the better. We even get a kick out of seeing the strong brought down by the power, the strength of the media, social or professional. Watching the strong become weak gives us a vicarious sense of our moral superiority and to be superior is to be strong. We seek ways to protect what we have, what we own, what we value. Even the church employs the majesty of the law to protect its assets. The Church of England recently issued a report about how to recruit efficient, powerful leaders to get things done. The Episcopal Church in a recent report, seeks to empower its leaders to get things done. Most of our campaigns for justice seek to create a forceful power to get things done, to change things for the better.

Yet this evening, Christmas Eve, Christians will go in heart and mind to Bethlehem to see a child lying in a manger. The child who lies there in an animal food trough in a dirty cave we believe to be the same God we call Almighty. Yet this baby, refused even birth in an inn, born without the skill of a midwife, this Baby God/Man, has no power at all. The vulnerable baby relies totally on the love of Mary and Joseph. He begins as he will go on, vulnerable to attack from that old tyrant Herod, later from religious authorities clinging to power, Romans, showing their power and will finally embrace that moment we shall all experience, when we have no power or strength to live. He died on the Cross.

If we see God in the face of Jesus, then we see a very different kind of power than the world understands. After he rose from the dead, Jesus told his disciples that they were going to be made powerful. Finally we get to strength. Hooray. No we don’t. The power is given to the disciples so that they might become witnesses, martyrs, life-givers. Christians who seek an Almighty God to muscle into their lives are doomed to disappointment. God isn’t like that. We cry, “Why didn’t God intervene to prevent a death, a war, a natural disaster.”  The simple truth is that God has intervened. He has intervened in vulnerability. He calls us on Christmas Eve to see him in his helplessness, but a helplessness which draws from shepherds and later wise men enormous devotion and love. There’s the strength of a vulnerable God. He pours forth love and inspires love in us. He challenges us to abjure power, muscle, strength, to admit our weakness and receive gladly the status of being weak with God ( as the world sees weakness ) and yet armed with the enormous power of mercy, forgiveness and a love that changes that which cannot be changed. Holy child of Bethlehem, cast out our sin and enter in, be born in us tonight.

A CHURCH OR A FACTION

Next year, the Episcopal Church will elect a new Presiding Bishop. The holder of this office is also described as Chief Pastor and Primate. The office has evolved since the first PB, William White, took office. The newly formed Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America (PECUSA) knew quite clearly what it didn’t want in its bishops and their president. They didn’t want prelates, no Lord Bishops or Graced Archbishops, as much creatures of the State and thus the party in favor with the monarch at a given time. They sought to resurrect what was termed primitive episcopacy, one modeled on an ideal early Church construct. For this reason they resisted electing suffragan bishops as something newfangled, refused to permit bishops to retire ever, even when they started confirming bed posts, and abhorred the notion that a bishop might be translated, moved from see to shining see.

 

 

Of course, jumping from the now, whenever that now may be, to an idealized golden age is always fraught with problems. The idealism of the founding fathers and mothers eventually gave way to more practical considerations. Granted, our bishops don’t sit in the Senate, and we don’t have a metropolitan archbishop.

 

 

It may be argued that, rather than emulate the State in forming our ordained leaders, we’ve been much more influenced by commerce and industry. The headquarters of our church, lodged in an aging skyscraper in New York, resembles a corporate center, complete with a CEO and other corporate officers, answerable, if at all, to a Board of Directors and a triennial meeting of those shareholders who make enough noise to be selected to attend a rather expensive meeting and stay in classy hotels for up to two weeks. There’s nothing much of the early Church about such a structure. True, the structure is under a much fanfared review at present, but the signs are that those who have most benefitted from things as they are, in a fit of a newly adopted conservatism, are resisting any radical change. Nor should our structure —or should I say could our structure? — resemble a third-century model. Since those days, we’ve taken to having discrete buildings, territorial dioceses and parishes, and full-time paid clergy (including bishops). And the church here suffers from minimal persecution.

 

 

If the corporate model has gained steady ground over the past century, another model has gained perhaps even more traction. That model is inspired by secular politics. We have our parties. It’s nonsense to suggest that there is something new about there being factions and interest groups within the Christian Church. In the Middle Ages, they tended to gather around monastic orders, companies of friars, prominent theologians, and, yes, even around a monarch or his detractors.

 

 

When PECUSA was founded, it emerged as a battered minority, shorn of its privileged place in colonial society, divided between patriots and loyalists to such a degree that the first bishops wouldn’t even attend General Convention together. Episcopalians were also divided theologically. High Church New Englanders abhorred the semi-Deism of Southern Latitudinarians, and both were soon disturbed by the arrival of a gung-ho evangelicalism, the members of which wondered whether their co-religionists were saved at all. William White, the first Presiding Bishop, armed merely with influence rather than power — and certainly not a team of lawyers — sought to keep the peace, as PECUSA drew back from near extinction and gained self-confidence, growing and expanding at a remarkable pace. No one doubted that White was a Broad Churchman, and yet, by and large, he managed to assist the bishops and a succession of General Conventions in placing unity and concord above party faction.

 

 

No one should think that the various factions were less sure that they were right than our contemporary “progressives” and “traditionalists” do. Yet they were bright enough to understand the obvious: the total victory of any one of their parties would weaken, perhaps fatally weaken, a church which had teetered on the brink of extinction. Even so, many were lost to other denominations because the Episcopal Church was slow to expand to the frontiers. Or, rather, when Episcopalians arrived in the West, they merely looked for unchurched Episcopalians. There were exceptions like Hobart, Chase, and Polk. However, Episcopalians took with them not only theological, structural, and liturgical peculiarities, but also an aura of elitism that survives to this day. We’ve been good at championing the poor and the excluded as groups, and much less willing to include them in our churches. After all, they don’t fit in, and they tend to vote Republican.

 

 

We are not teetering on the brink of extinction, at least not yet. But we are not our blooming best. That was achieved in the middle of the twentieth century, when our numbers were rather higher and Presidents listened to Presiding Bishops. Indeed, we are in significant decline, as is our mother church.

 

 

Greatly influenced by an archbishop of Canterbury who made no bones about his position, the English General Synod recently adopted legislation allowing women to become bishops. Yet embedded in the legislation is a commitment to protect minority opinion and encourage its members to flourish. Surely among our progressive bishops there is a candidate willing to protect minority opinion in TEC and even sway General Convention to encourage traditionalists to flourish? From an early church or ecclesiological standpoint , flying bishops are no more odd than suffragan and assistant bishops. But I don’t think that the answer lies there. It lies in enabling traditionalist ordinands to get through selection processes, it lies in encouraging and hiring theologically orthodox men and women to seminary positions, enabling parishes to call traditionalist clergy, and as the church, one hopes, reforms for mission, making sure that traditionalists participate in evangelism (not just church growth) and the creation of new congregations . I stress the word encourage rather than the present ‘tolerate.’.

 

One hopes that those who permit themselves to be nominated as candidates for the office of Presiding Bishop will seek a quiet corner and read about William White.
http://livingchurch.org/covenant/?p=4511

THE SAME BUT DIFFERENT

In Norfolk, England, where I spent most of my teens, there’s a saying. “It’s the same but different.” I’ve never fathomed quite what it means but I find it delightful. We have stumbled into a world where difference is in style. Tomorrow the Scottish electorate may well decide that being different is the way to go, as they dream dreams of William Wallace defeating the English (the cinematic Wallace, of course, was played by an American-Australian of Irish ancestry).

I was contemplating just how different I am from my brilliant colleagues on Covenant. I’m much older than they are. I’m not an academic. I’m not a convert. I’m not an American. Unlike most Brits, my father was a West Indian. And he was unlike many West Indians because he was of French, African, and English ancestry. By the time I’ve considered all the elements in my make-up that are unlike yours, I’m unique, sui generis, one isolated being seated in my recliner pecking away with two fingers on my laptop.

I have favorite parts of my being unlike you. Except in Lent, when the missions I serve struggle through Rite 1, I usually reflect that the worship forms I use remain foreign to me, even after years of use. When people, be they ever so brilliant, present me with reasons for changing long-used, evocative rites and ceremonies on the grounds that the Early Church did something different, I reflect that Campbell used the same logic when he founded the Christian Church – now there’s an exclusive title – as did the Anabaptists and Presbyterians. No, I’m not getting into an argument with you. I’m just showing you how different I am.

The Episcopal Bishops are meeting in Taiwan as I write this. One of them wrote today that being there reminds him that TEC isn’t just a national church. It’s an international communion all on its own. It’s different. It’s not like other Anglican Provinces. It’s exceptional, prophetic, inclusive, and modern.

Many of my friends left the Episcopal Church over Prayer Book revision, the ordination of women, same-sex unions, and “heresy.” They now belong to a number of different ecclesial bodies. They can tell me why they left, why they belong where they are, and why they don’t belong in another similar group. They are different.

That great hope of the twentieth-century church, the Ecumenical Movement, has foundered on difference: different claims, different structures, and newly adopted different practices. The appalling element in all this is that we don’t really care enough about any of this difference to repent and change. We were told that globalization was the trend of the future, and, in response, we’ve opted for nationalism and regionalism. We were told that ecumenism was the only reputable response to Christ’s prayer that we may be one to reflect the unity of the Trinity, and, in response, we rejoice in our separation and even when we adopt ecumenical partners we do so on the basis that we will remain just as we are.

The Covenant blog began in support of the ideal of an Anglican Covenant, a binding agreement between the Provinces of the Anglican Communion to a common set of principles. The tragedy is that many Provinces that agreed with these basic principles refused to back it, and in its place created their own exclusive association of churches and advertise just how they are unlike other sinners.

Jesus wept. He came to restore unity between God and the world God created and the people he made. He came to enfold a newly chosen people and commissioned them to announce the victory of Calvary, the absolution and remission of sin, the breaking down of barriers, justice for all, and the promise of a newly restored heaven and earth.

All my reflections on how different I am pale in the light of my sameness. I am a child of God, as are you. I am saved through the Cross of which my baptism is the symbol. I am fed with heavenly food. I am strengthened for service. I am not unlike non-Christians. I belong to the priestly-servant community called to stand for every human to the Father and to stand for the Father to every human. To keep this in mind is to arm myself against exclusivity, judgmentalism, bigotry, and vainglory. For those sins are the sin of pride: the deadliest of sins and the cause of all division. God help me, I’m not different in any important aspect. God has made me the same.

RE-STRUCTURING THE CHURCH

The Task Force charged with reforming the structure of our church has just issued another of its reports.http://episcopaldigitalnetwork.com/ens/2014/09/04/trec-issues-a-letter-to-the-episcopal-church/.The framers assume that the only people to whom they need to speak are those with MBAs or JDs or those benighted souls who revel in topics surrounding structure. It is just this sort of elitism which marginalizes most Episcopalians, turns them off from bothering whether structure is the handmaid of the Gospel and the Catholic Faith or its boss and induces most of us to leave “important things” to our betters. Perhaps this committee might consider translating their turgidity into plain English in order to enlist the opinions and input of those who pray, worship, give and work in our congregations day by day?

Having said that, it would perhaps have been a salutary exercise for the Task Force to consider a simple question, “Why the Church”? I don’t mean “Why the Episcopal Church,” at least not at first. Unless we have some clear understanding about how the Church fits in to God’s purpose, we won’t begin to understand how one fragment in the tragically divided state of Christ’s Church can reflect, albeit brokenly, that will and purpose which undergirds its nature and mission.

The Church exists in God’s will. That’s a beginning, one to which we should return when we get too caught up in the political and structural aspects of the organization. The Church is the aggregate of those, living and departed, who do God service in worship and in embracing God’s world. That purpose is true whether it is expressed in the daily work of a Primate, a Convention, a diocesan office, a parish office, whether in a General Convention at worship or in the offering made by a dozen people in a tiny mission. All is to the greater Glory of God as we serve the world in every age and generation.

If you will, the true nature of the Church may be found in some simple elements, material creations, natural and refined, in water, bread and wine, and oil. They are readily available and cost very little.Through water the Church reminds itself that it has come through water, has died and risen, expressed in its story of the parted water of the Red Sea, in the poured water of the River Jordan, to which we return every time a new child of God is baptized, every time a well is dug in a remote village, every time a drink is given to the thirsty in the name of Christ. Water is the element of redemption, restoration, a promise of the coming of the Kingdom, a sign of God’s love and care for the world in Jesus. The Church exists to make visible the Living Water of the totality of Christ’s mission. Every agency of the Episcopal Church from bottom to top exists to be an efficient Fountain.

Bread and Wine. These elements represent the basic elements of life. We need to eat and drink to live. Even the most elaborate meal is at base participation in life. For the Church Bread and Wine is a tasted and ingested vehicle whereby we participate in Christ’s essential being, his coming, his ministry, his death and passion, his resurrection and ascension, his eternal offering of himself in our place to the Father. Because God has “Spread a table in our sight” so the work of the Church is to spread the Table in plain sight, offering the meal in Christ to God for the world and offering the world God-Food on his behalf. This priestly work -for the Church is a Priesthood – is always the same although it is expressed in many ways and contexts. At the Table, the altar of Calvary, we offer the whole world to God in Trinity, its beauty, its marvels, its triumphs, its tragedy, its folly, its cruelty, its life and its death. At every level of organization, the Church and our church exists and proves its authenticity in that constant repetitive offering of that once offered. And in that sacrament, the Church and the church is fed, restored to life and vitality, enabled to offer food which is both spiritual and material to the world God created and wishes to restore to himself.At the Eucharist the called and vivified are then sent to feed a hungry world. Here in that priestly offering of God to the world the church demonstrates its authenticity. Both aspects of this priestly vocation are expressed through love by the Church’s use of these basic elements of human existence.

Then there is oil, olive oil, an element which stirs our memories of where we come from, wanderers brought through water to the oasis of God healing care. This is the oil of kingship, of priesthood, of baptism, of healing, of dying in order to live. As we touch foreheads and hands, we represent Christ’s rule, his Kingship, His priesthood, his healing life, his raising the dead. At every level of the Church’s life and of our church’s life, we anoint to reconcile, to forgive, to make disciples, to raise those who are dying, physically or mentally, to new life.

None of these elements are for us alone. They have been given as the tools by which the Church and our church demonstrates its loving, effective authenticity to the whole world, in every age and generation until he comes again. When the church lives for itself and hordes these elements for it own use, it ceases to be constructively authentic and loses its energy and effectiveness. It is by reflecting on just how our church employs these elements at each level that we can begin to assess our faithfulness and utility in fulfilling God’s will and mission. Structure is the handmaiden of the church’s authenticity and its use of the Gifts of God for the People of God.

HUH?

Dear Episcopalians. The Task Force charged with reforming the structure of our church has just issued another of its reports.http://episcopaldigitalnetwork.com/ens/2014/09/04/trec-issues-a-letter-to-the-episcopal-church/. I comment not on its contents but on its language. The framers assume that the only people to whom they need to speak are those with MBAs or JDs or those benighted souls who revel in topics surrounding structure. It is just this sort of elitism which marginalizes most Episcopalians, turns them off from bothering whether structure is the handmaid of the Gospel and the Catholic Faith or its boss and induces most of us to leave “important things” to our betters. Perhaps this committee might consider translating their turgidity into plain English in order to enlist the opinions and input of those who pray, worship, give and work in our congregations day by day?

COMMON PRAYER AND CONFLICT

We probably haven’t had common prayer in Anglicanism for over one hundred years. For all their contributions to our spiritual and theological life, the Tractarians—or, to be precise, their first disciples—put paid to all that when they began to enrich the Prayer Book text and certainly its form by adding bits and pieces of the Roman Rite or even adopting it more or less verbatim.

I suppose, to be fair, one notes that their predecessors, the Evangelicals, introduced Gospel songs, and, to the consternation of the bishops, non-liturgical services, but these were add-ons, rather than replacements for the set round of Mattins, Litany and Ante-Communion, and Holy Communion perhaps four times a year.

However, the liturgical chaos of those days looks strangely uniform in comparison to modern times in the Church of England, where even the alternative services, entitled Common Worship, seem hardly common at all. American Episcopalians may well pride themselves that, on the whole, they have resisted the confusion of liturgical practices, at least since the adoption of the 1979 Book of Common Prayer, a manual of worship in part designed to bring back order and conformity. For the most part, one may still visit an Episcopal church and expect to find oneself at home and comfortable with the shape and form of the service and the words employed.

Given that reality—all right the liturgical boffins have showered us with alternative versions of the Greater Thanksgiving and unisex texts, or manuals of rumperty tumperty songs and music—the latest post by Bishop Dan Edwards of Nevada may seem rather odd. The Bishop puts in an impassioned plea for Common Prayer and gives as one of his reasons the following:

But here’s where the situation goes from troubling to deeply disturbing. It is highly unlikely in our era of Romantic Individualism that we can come to a common theological opinion. People today, even in doctrinally defined churches, do not personally identify with their theological beliefs. They identify instead with their political ideologies. In fact, we live in a society that is increasingly unable to address the issues that confront us—environmental issues; immigration policy; income inequality; the influence of money in elections and the consequences for government, etc.—because we are so identified with our political opinions that we cannot reason with each other or reach compromises without fear of losing our souls, which we have come to think of as fused with our politics.

The case made here is simple. Since the 60s, American culture has become progressively more individualistic and this embrace of individualism has been aided by consumerism and accompanied by the fragmentation of our social life into factions, united by personal choices about almost every subject one may imagine, factions contained in the encompassing folds of the two main political parties.

There’s an irony here. At the beginning of this century it was assumed that globalization would erode nationalism and create global harmony and homogenization. Fourteen years in, the opposite seems to be happening. Nationalism thrives, whether in Scotland, the Ukraine, the Middle East, or the US. Indeed nationalism seems to be a rather wide concept when compared with the regional and social groupings encountered daily, and our identifying groups within groups as our choice of “home,” a home to be lauded and defended passionately.

How then does the church resist the temptation to express itself as belonging to groupings of people who find they have enough in common to make common cause? Has common cause replaced common prayer?

In a sense this is all something American Christianity has tackled since the foundation if the nation. Not for nothing was the Episcopal Church once dubbed “The Conservative Party at Prayer.” Underneath the doctrinal conflicts of the moment, the formation of the Reformed Episcopal Church one hundred and sixty years ago was a class and social dysfunction. However it did seem possible for the Episcopal Church to encompass people of different classes and political attachments. It is also true that General Convention, until the 60s, sought to avoid addressing contentious political and social issues, with some notable exceptions.

Faced with dwindling numbers and finances, some Episcopalians are seeking to find a way to bring the church out of years of contention, enabling it to comprehend a national rather than a factional constituency. Few Episcopalians are prepared to jettison the causes the church has embraced over the last fifty years. However such causes more often than not have an expiration date written into them, if not about their core principals, at least as reflected in the intensity of passion in their espousal. Times change perceptions.

The question remains, is it possible for a people used now to the heady experience of individualistic choice, to fragmentation and self-identification with this or that faction, to find it possible to worship together in a more or less uniform manner and to allow the words framed in the shape and form of liturgy to create space for the Gospel to shape, amend and unite the passions and choruses of factional causes into the unity that the church seeks to provide by its very nature? Can Babel be reversed?

Setting aside other issues, the divisions within Anglicanism in North America do seem to be reflections of what the Bishop of Nevada terms souls fused with politics. Read the Facebook posts created by traditionalist and progressive Episcopalians/Anglicans and one swiftly encounters raw social and political opinions proclaimed as truth, truth driven by the rhetoric one hears on the news channels rather than from the Propers for that week contained in the Book of Common Prayer. A stranger might be forgiven by concluding that we choose our religious affiliation on the basis of how well a church conforms to our pre-formed and espoused social beliefs and identities. If this is indeed true the process of the American ecclesiastical journey from a large number of entities formed by historical doctrinal conflicts into groups identifying with popular social and political causes will only continue. If this is the trend, then the Bishop of Nevada’s plea for a common rite will merely be a reframing of our old conceit that people join the Episcopal Church primarily because of its worship forms and ceremonies.

Is boutique religion a lasting trend? Shall each congregation seek to fashion itself to cater to the delights of a significant number of local people to keep the doors open? Certainly our claim to be a national Christian church—even an international one—requires not only common prayer, but common faith, a faith capable of countering individualism and judging our social and political opinions. I’m not yet convinced that we don’t possess a common doctrinal core dramatized in our liturgical rites and ceremonies. If church leaders and teachers were as fervent in proposing the core of Christian belief as they often are in echoing the political opinions of those in the pew, we might have a chance to rediscover a unity deeper than agreeing to use Rite 2 next Sunday. Given its head, Christian faith has a propensity for challenging our most cherished opinions whatever their origins. If indeed the Episcopal Church is a church that allows people to think, it is high time we allowed them to think about the Gospel and the Catholic faith.

http://livingchurch.org/covenant/?p=3207

MARY

While among Christians Jesus has escaped his detractors, his mother still carries the weight of human detraction, or perhaps worse still types of adoration which rob her of her humanity.

After a sermon on her Feast Day, the bishop was assailed by an angry parishioner who scolded him for preaching about Mary. The bishop replied, “Sir it seems that when you speak of Mary you are remembering a deceased Roman Catholic lay woman. When I speak of her I speak of the Mother of God”

There’s another adage which is perhaps more to the point. “If you are not a Marian, you are probably an Arian.” The Arians denied that Jesus was, in the womb, truly God and truly Human. More of that in a moment.

While many Anglicans flinch at what they conceive to be the extravagance of devotion given to St. Mary, a more modern objection has its adherents. These people believe that Mary’s meek submission to the will of God demeans all women. Mary describes herself as the handmaiden of the Lord and submits to God’s will. To some this seems to reenforce the stereotype of male domination and female submission. So poor Mary continues to be ignored, chided for the extravagance of devotion offered to her, or decried as being an anti-feminist.

The Prayer Book of 1662 described August 15 as the Feast of the Falling Asleep of the Blessed Virgin Mary. When the Episcopal Church compiled its own Prayer Book at the end of the 18th Century the Feast disappeared. It returns in our present Prayer Book as “The Feast of St. Mary the Virgin”. The collect refers to her being taken into heaven. This reflects the pious belief of Christians through the ages who acknowledge the crucial role Mary plays in God’s action in our redemption. Mary’s reply to the Angel was probably the most important Yes in the history of the human race. However her “yes”, the yes of a woman to bear God’s Son, isn’t merely a female assent. Every human, male or female, young or old, who agrees to do the will of God, submits. At the heart of vocation is our response to dedicate our life to God and to seek to do his will. We are all called to bear Jesus.

Mary is therefore, as are all men and women we regard as saints, ordinary people who respond to God’s will in extraordinary ways, an example for us to follow. Mary bears Jesus in an extraordinary way as we are called, through baptism, to bear Jesus in our perhaps ordinary way. We are encouraged by her example. That which is unique, one of a kind, draws near to us and helps us to respond with our own “Yes.”

The writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews reminds us that it is as we are surrounded by a cloud of witnesses that we are able to look to Jesus, in and through whom or faith is begun and finished. From the earliest times the church has identified this cloud or company of witnesses (witness means life-giver) as the saints. They encourage our walk with Jesus. Such encouragement has been described as prayer. Unfortunately a very narrow definition of prayer creates misunderstanding and reaction to the whole idea of the communion of saints, an article of the Creed. If prayer is always a request, and more narrowly a request for salvation, then obviously such requests are appropriately offered to God the Father, the Son, the Holy Spirit.

However prayer is much wider than a plea for salvation. Prayer is conversation. Every time we worship together we share our prayers and praises, our confession and adoration with each other and with the whole church. Even our private, lonely prayers echo through the heavens and are taken up through the Spirit in the Eternal offering of Jesus and those who surround him in glory.

Mary can’t save us – that has happened in our baptism. The saints can’t save us, for that has been given to us when we were adopted by God in Christ. But Mary and the saints can express that love which never fails in encouraging our devotion and echoing our prayers as they are taken up by angels and archangels and all the company of heaven.

Mary is also God-bearer, Theotokos, because the child within her womb, the child she bore, is God from God, Light from Light, True God of True God, and through Mary truly flesh of our flesh and blood of our blood. Her relationship to Jesus her son, her naming in the Creeds, presence in the Gospels, noted fellowship with the Apostles in the Upper Room as Jesus makes himself known, demands our collective admiration and devotion. When cousin Elizabeth met the pregnant Mary, the child leaped in her womb. “Blessed art thou among women” and yes Blessed art thou among all humans.

On this her Feast Day we hail Mary, bless Mary, enjoy her presence in the communion of saints and seek to follow her “Yes” as God calls us to his work and witness.

THE ANGLICAN WAY

I shall seek to write down that which I believe to be the essence of Anglicanism. None of the elements I note are in themselves the exclusive property of our tradition, but taken together they express what our church -with a small c – has sought be be at its best. As such these elements are always aspirational rather than accomplished ideals. Perhaps the third element noted below incorporates the first two.

1. Anglicanism is a church of sanctified time. It embraces the rhythm of life of the community expressed in the annual calendar, and seeks to sanctify days, weeks, months and the year as it notes and observes times and seasons, festivals and fasts. It’s rhythm of worship is tied to this calendar, and expressed in the lectionary, daily offices, rites and ceremonies involved in births, comings of age, marriages and deaths. Time sanctified, as in the sounding of Herbert’s bell, as the ploughman stops work for a moment to acknowledge that his being is blessed by prayer and praise: church bells sounding, filling the very air breathed with God’s sound, heard by the community as men, women and children go about their lives: time sanctified in silence broken by the voice of prayer which never ceases.

2. Anglicanism is a church of sanctified space. It embraces the land, dividing it into dioceses with mother, cathedral churches, and parishes also with mother parochial buildings, solemnly set aside and blessed, made holy by the prayers of the faithful, by Word and Sacrament and sacramental rite. It aspires to embrace the lives, occupations, joys and tragedies of the people who live within its bounds and calls, sets apart and authorizes ministers in what ever Order, to pastoral care and involvement in that context. Those who actively participate in the worship of the church, whose names are noted in lists and forms, constitute that pastoral ministry to the community, led by bishops, priests and deacons, the indelibility of whose apostolic callings symbolizes the indelibility of the baptismal vocation.

3. Anglicanism is a church of sanctified worship. It seeks in common prayer, to unite the voices, spoken and imagined, of those in sacred time and space, in disciplined and thus liturgical forms, in praise of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, in adoration, supplication and confession, supremely in the Eucharist and then in various forms of common prayer. To that end it seeks the beauty of holiness, corporate lives made holy by use of beauty in word and song, ceremony and rite, art and architecture, vesture and adornment whether simple or elaborate. It dedicates buildings and parts of buildings to God the Father, or the Son, or the Holy Spirit, or to the Trinity, or to holy men and women whose lives have been cause for veneration and emulation in their several ages and generations. These dedicated spaces symbolize and effectuate the vocation of the creature to adore the Creator, as the church on earth participates in and is aided by the worship of heaven.

In each of these ways the church lives into its vocation to tell the whole world of the Coming of Jesus, and is obedient to his commandment to preach, baptize, celebrate the Eucharist and to be his instrument of peace, justice and mercy, in simple obedience until he comes again. It is a vocation suitable to all places in all times, and depends not on what the world terms success or failure, but simply on obedience.

Please note that my description is aspirational. It is a brief essay into pastoral theology noting how who we are is deeply rooted in where we are and in the time we occupy. How this all works out in practice is framed by local context, urban or rural, set in Kenya or Singapore, Canada or Egypt, the US or Japan. It is tinged with echoes from the past, the forms, political and social society is shaped by at a given moment. Church bells may today be Facebook pages! But my concluding sentence is vital. In a consumerist age, when success, efficiency, box office are exalted, it is good to remind ourselves that it is in obedience that our ministry is rooted and not in how successful we seem to be at a given moment in time.

GOOD SHEPHERD SUNDAY SERMON

I wrote this for Sermons that Work to be used tomorrow.

 

4 Easter (A) – 2014
Baptism into the fold

May 11, 2014
Acts 2:42-47; Psalm 23; 1 Peter 2:19-25; John 10:1-10

In her retirement, some years ago, a woman lived in the English countryside. And from her living-room window, she could see a large hill, at the top of which was the ancient parish church. One of the bell-ringers who helped summon people to worship was a shepherd. In lambing season, his flashlight could be seen at all times of the night, seeking out newborn lambs, making sure they were safely delivered and that the mothers were safe and fine. The young lambs were suitable prey for the foxes that lived in the surrounding woods.
The shepherd’s job was to feed, guard and care for all the sheep who lived within the enclosure of the field. In the gospel today we see a similar imagery. The Jewish shepherd brought his lambs into a enclosure, surrounded by a wall of stones, into which there was a single entrance. Because the flock constituted the wealth of the owner, his available property, the job of the shepherd was so guard the flock, if necessary, with his life.

 

Jesus takes this familiar imagery and applies it to teach about his relationship with his church. This section of John’s gospel is chosen during the Easter season because it points to the Easter themes. In the early church, converts were brought to baptism on Easter eve. Eastertide was, for them, a time when they began to enjoy a new life, a new identity and a new purpose. The new converts had spent up to three years leaning about the Faith. During that period they were not permitted to join the Christian community around the altar. They couldn’t receive communion. They were at the gate to the fold, but not yet inside it.

 

One may imagine their thrill and joy once they were brought through the gate, as they were baptized into and through Jesus and assumed the name “Christian.” or “the Savior’s People.” Of course, the step they had taken involved danger. Many lost the support of family and friends, lost their jobs, and in times of persecution, faced danger and death.

 

It’s important for us to grasp the fact that these new Christians had been led by the Risen Lord into a fellowship. Today we have become used to what might be termed “personal religion”: “Jesus saved me,” and “I’m going to go to Heaven when I die.” At first glance, that is what Jesus seems to be saying: “Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture.”

 

The people who first heard John’s gospel would have heard something quite different. They did not come from our culture of individualism. We need to listen with their ears. The words “enters by me” meant to the first Christians – and should mean to us – baptism. We don’t baptize ourselves. We are baptized in church, on a Sunday, surrounded by Christians. From that moment on, we have pasture, we may be fed at the Lord’s Table, by the Lord’s bounty. We become part of those who have been “enclosed” in the communion of the church.

 

To the first Christians, “coming in and going out” happened in the context of the church’s growth and the church’s danger. The people doing the growing were those who had been “saved,” rescued, taken out of a hostile world. As they shared their new faith and brought others to the door to the fold, the church grew by leaps and bounds. Someone said of them, “See these are they who turn the world upside down.” Because of their success, they threatened the power of the Roman Empire, whose “thieves” sought to invade and destroy the fold, the church.

 

Yes, this new community, the church looked forward eagerly to the final result of salvation, when God would rescue the world, the universe he made and loves and restores his people to the Garden from which they were expelled in the Genesis story. Do note that when we talk about the Genesis story, we aren’t talking about history, but we are talking about truth. When we seek to envision the New Heaven and Earth, we struggle for adequate words, as did the John who wrote the last mysterious book in the Bible, Revelation. Yet what is expressed is the truth-in-hope the Christians of St. John’s time had embraced.
We, too, have entered into the fold through our baptism. We share a common essential identity as Christians. We gather in the fold of the local church to have fellowship, to be taught, to be fed. We go out to make disciples, to work for the Kingdom, to love justice and mercy, to care for the poor and the outcast.

 

Such a corporate calling is exciting and demanding and continues to cost. Today, somewhere in the world, Christians are losing their lives simply because they are Christians. They may live in distant land, but in the fold of the church, they are our sisters and brothers. The words Peter wrote, that we heard this morning, hit hard with our persecuted friends:
“It is a credit to you if, being aware of God, you endure pain while suffering unjustly. If you endure when you are beaten for doing wrong, what credit is that? But if you endure when you do right and suffer for it, you have God’s approval. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you should follow in his steps.”

 

We are safe from such suffering. However, we are called to sacrifice much if we are to gain more. Grasping these truths challenges us to live a much more extraordinary life than merely believing that somehow by attending church we are validating a ticket to Heaven.
Our Lord offers us “abundant life” now. We are called to build Christ’s church and to suffer for those who are the victims in our society, the poor, the sick and the lonely. We embraced this calling in baptism.

 

This morning, as we gather around the Table to be “strengthened for service,” we commit ourselves afresh to living out our faith, as the Book of Common Prayer says, “not only with our lips, but in our lives by giving ourselves in Your service.”

POOR PETER

St. Peter is my favorite disciple. He was appointed to lead the apostolic team, and obviously honored greatly in the Early Church and yet the Gospel-writers pull no punches in telling us about Peter’s flaws. In the highly political context in which we seek to live as Christians here in the United States, bloggers eagerly pounce on every error they perceive in our Christian leaders. Often the stories pedaled are over-blown, inaccurate, and their purpose is to demonstrate the virtue of their case. We love to demolish those we oppose.

 

The Gospels – Paul also “withstood Peter to his face” – point us in a different direction. After all Peter’s lapses, even his final denial that he knew Jesus, our Lord tells him to feed his sheep and lambs, the exposed, vulnerable original band of Christians to whom Jesus entrusted the creation of his Church. Peter’s qualification to lead was not based on his talents or suitability, his virtue or freedom from error, but simply on his vocation, his calling.

 

I think of Peter at the Last Supper, as Jesus prepares to wash the feet of his friends, gathered in that Upper Room. When Jesus announces that he is going to be a slave, and wash the feet of the guests, the sort of duty performed by a servant/slave in a wealthy home, Peter objects. I read similar objections on a Facebook page yesterday. Why object? Peter didn’t believe he was worthy and was probably embarrassed. Peter had to learn that the humble offering his Lord was making was not only a lesson about servant leadership, as important as that is. The message is deeper. Jesus was saying to Peter, as he says to his Church, to you and to me, If you are going to do my will you must be prepared to accept the embarrassment which comes when God, whose face you see in me, stoops to touch you, cleanse you, welcome you and feed you. Until we can accept God’s condescension, we will continue to rely on our own ability, or own strength, our own courage. And then we will deny Him and run away.