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LEST WE FORGET

I was struck, yesterday by a photograph of the group of ecclesiastics, clad in unLenten hues, winding their way to a grave. Another photograph showed the monument above the grave, on which was inscribed the names James Lloyd Breck. What on earth were these people doing, while the rest of the world, differently clad, differently occupied, got on with modern living? Well they were remembering their first Dean at Nashotah House. In the process they were anchoring who they are now to their story. In an age of re-invention, they were immersing themselves in their story.

 

At almost the same time a group of friends who meet daily on line were discussing the Holy Week rituals. Someone asked, “What on earth did you do before the !979 Rites became available?  My friends have been talking about the enormous influence a small group of reformers had on the way we worship. These men, and they were all men, worked in the 60ies and 70ies and drafted our present Prayer Book.

 

I’m reading the latest biography of the poet-priest, George Herbert. In tracing his life as a schoolboy we meet Lancelot Andrewes, that towering intellect, linguist, preacher, who did much to reconnect Anglicans to their story after the upheavals of the Reformation. In considering Andrewes’s remarkable Good Friday sermon, with reference to a poem on the same theme Herbert wrote, the author remarks just how foreign and alien the sermon and the poem seem to us, with their emphasis on sacrifice, the just for the unjust. That remark brought to mind the furore over the Archbishop of Canterbury’s remarks about the tragedy of the massacre of Christians in the Sudan and Nigeria and the need for the Church in the West to consider their actions and how they may be used as an excuse by those hostile to Christianity to commit frightful atrocities. Justin Welby’s remarks were met with offended incredulity by those whose references to the theology and ethics of our ancestors are filled with rejection and scorn.

 

Our spiritual ancestors have taken on the personae of embarrassing relatives, best ignored and forgotten. Our story is peopled by fallen men and women, who seem to have got their theology, their ethics and their liturgy wrong. And so we must reinvent ourselves, and because our imaginations are strangely debilitated we end up building shrines to foreign “gods” on our hill altars, while feeling free to construct our local invented story around these totems, a story suitably embellished by reference to antiquity, as long as it is safely long-gone.

 

It’s safe enough to riffle through the extant documents we attribute to Early Church times, even if some are gnostic in their origin, or of uncertain provenance, as long as we don’t fill in the story from then to now. Archbishop Ramsey rightly termed that approach “archeological religion”. Wiseman chided the Anglican Newman of using a similar method. There’s an irony about a people enamored with the theory of doctrinal development who eschew the story of how it developed, but rather feel safer in leaping over the centuries in order to create something unconnected to their past.

 

If Episcopalians have gone in for reinvention with a heady enthusiasm, those who have left her in protest face a dramatic dilemma. They too must distance themselves from their immediate past. Some are busy reinventing the theology of those whose time was short and desperate; the Divines who labored to reform the Church in the reign of Edward VI. Because they don’t continue the story they forget that in the next few decades their position was taken up not by Anglicans but by Puritans. Others in the Anglican diaspora in America dream dreams of all things Medieval as recaptured in Victorian England. But neither have more recent graves to visit to honor their story.

 

Those who reinvent themselves want to stress their virtues and the pristine virtue of their package. They can’t deal with their rejected story because it is a story of flawed individuals, of failures, of myopia, of indefensible lapses in moral judgement, as well as a story of heroism and saintliness, of goodness and kindness and love. Herbert and Andrewes seemed to wallow in the gory reality of Sacrifice and judgment, of the seemingly immoral sacrifice of a just man for the unjust, of God’s offense deflected by the sacrifice of innocence, until we suddenly discover the extraordinary fact that the Cross in its frightful reality is about love. Love can only exist in authenticity.

 

“Greater love has no man than this…”  We do need to go to dark Calvary before we approach Resurrection. Resurrection isn’t reinvention. It can only be understood in the light of all that went before, immediately before and in the story of Israel’s relationship with her God. Part of being members of a historical Faith is discovering the grave sites of our James Lloyd Brecks, without being put off by their liturgy, or theology, or ethics, learning from their good examples but also re-learning that as they could be wrong, so we can be wrong, as spectacularly wrong as they could be from time to time. In that we also relearn that what looks like frightfulness, what looks like the Cross may well be the place where love is exposed fully and wonderfully.

 

As Anglicans we need to embrace our own story, and test the hill altars we have erected in our spasm of reinvention in the light of that story. I say this not to invite some form of antiquarian revival. It is interesting to note that in the two great revivals of the 18th, 19th century, Evangelicals and Tractarians both embraced the contemporary whole-heartedly, with a passion to right the wrongs in those societies, as they freed the slaves, worked to house the poor and abolish child labor. Yet they embraced the story of where they came from with vigor while adorning their love of Christ with that which seemed to be new, but which was really firmly anchored in the Anglican story, its saints, its sinners, its liturgy, its parishes, cathedrals, dioceses. In the end if we forget who we are, we have nothing authentic to offer the rest of the Church, and nothing reliable to offer those who come to us seeking Jesus.

WHEN PRINCIPLE TRUMPS PEOPLE

The People Involved

The controversy that erupted over an invitation to the Presiding Bishop to preach at Nashotah House Seminary has been an undignified spectacle. Those least regarded have been ordinary human beings caught up in all this, while blogs and Facebook pages have erupted in the sort of battle and murder, and tragically sudden death the Great Litany bids us pray we avoid. I think particularly of the seminarians at Nashotah House, sent there at personal sacrifice and no little expense to prepare themselves for ministry. These men and women come from the Episcopal Church, the Anglican Church in North America and other Anglican bodies. In classroom and chapel, the circumstances which have divided Anglicans in North America fall silent as the worship of Almighty God is offered and the wisdom of Scripture and of saints, past and present is taught, read, learned and inwardly digested and lives are formed in prayer and study in order that a continued supply of equipped clergy may serve the people of God. Among those being formed was Terry Star, a Native American, whose people have remained loyal to the church despite their sufferings, past and present. Terry might well have been embittered by the history he inherited and the continued deprivation of his people. He remained determined to seek peace and reconciliation and mirrored that determination in his kindly smile, loving manner and simple devotion. In the midst of the controversy, knowing that his wish that the Presiding Bishop should experience Nashotah -a Native American word – first hand had caused such a furore, Terry suffered a heart attack and died alone.

Terry served on the Executive Council of the Episcopal Church and had experienced kindness from the Presiding Bishop. Terry was training to be a priest and had experienced kindness, faith and joy at the House. Coming from a nation that has experienced enormous prejudice and violence, his heart ached as he experienced the bitter divisions within the Anglican family of churches in America. “Blessed are the peace makers.”

His fellow seminarians, to a lesser degree, struggle daily with their unhappy divisions. Our jurisdictions, the ones from which the student body is drawn, owe to these dedicated men and women our careful devotion. We are warned by our Lord not to place stumbling blocks before “little ones”, those young in faith and ministry, placed in our care. They are not slogans or political talking points. They are God’s chosen.

Principles

When I was young in ministry I was a school chaplain. One of the staff, a dour Scottish atheist said to me one day, “Beware of principled folk. They are often unprincipled about their principles.”  Of course he overstated his point, but he had a point. Those on the left and right of the present Anglican spectrum are often unprincipled about their principles. Their passion for their Causes is seen as justification to indulge in prejudice, hatefulness, and character assassination, justified by their advocacy of true religion and virtue, for justice and morality. Stripped of their Christian attire, they seem no different than the devotees of political faction in the State. When I read that an entertainer had described the President of the United States as sub human, I thought of the descriptions bandied about leaders of the Episcopal Church and the Anglican diaspora in an attempt to dehumanize “the enemy”, making such people fair game in religious warfare. Who knows how many ordinary, devout lay people and not a few clergy who have been driven from their churches by the hatefulness of zealots, on the left and on the right,  torn apart local congregation in a struggle for territory, stone and mortar and parish funds? Who knows how many seekers have contrasted “See how these Christians love one another’, with the spite and invective they read about and experience?

No one comes out of the battles that have divided and torn apart Anglicanism in America looking virtuous. The excuses for law suits, involving secular courts in grasping  often inefficient Victorian piles have eroded separation of Church and State and portrayed a mercenary and materialistic affiliation. Many of those whose assets have been appropriated have used the hurt they have experienced as excuse for bitterness and a vengeful spirit. If either side had devoted their zeal and money to the plight of Native Americans living in dreadful conditions on reservations, on the poor and the needy, and got on with merely being the church in mission according to their own lights, who knows how many would have been drawn to Christ by the winsomeness of Christian people, divided by principle but united in compassion and mercy?

The religious wars of the 16th and 17th Century, as the church divided and fought, dreadfully weakened Western Christendom. All too often the Devil won. We have inherited those divisions, writ large in the presence of a multitude of sects, whose buildings still stand witness to our unhappy divisions on almost every street corner.

May

In early May the Presiding Bishop will spend a day at Nashotah House, mixing with staff and students, and preaching a eulogy for Terry Star at Evensong. After that she will fly out, perhaps with the Nashotah Hymn, “Firmly I believe and Truly” ringing in her ears. No doubt all, whatever their affiliation will offer her courtesy and she will offer that courtesy back. Perhaps, who knows, she will catch a glimpse of a community at peace with one another, to whom Jesus is all in all?  People, human beings, baptized people will briefly interact. And that will be that. Tragically her visit will no doubt produce another stream of invective as “progressives” lament that she set foot in such a place, and the orthodox want the place exorcised. I pray that God the Holy Spirit may use those few hours to work grace, touch hearts and drive away bitterness.

UNLESS YOUR RIGHTEOUSNESS EXCEEDS…..

February 9, 2014

Isaiah 58:1-9a, (9b-12)Psalm 112:1-9, (10)1 Corinthians 2:1-12, (13-16)Matthew 5:13-20

One of the hardest problems we face in hearing or reading the Bible, is that of time. We don’t have time machines, and even if we did, we’d journey back in time with the ideas formed in us by our nationality, the communities in which we grew up, our family traditions, and the things we take for granted. If we tried to get back to the people for whom Matthew is writing his account of the life and teachings of Jesus, we’d land in a strange land, among unfamiliar people. No doubt they’d think us pretty odd, too.

The gospel today underscores the great gulf that is fixed between our time and the first century of the Christian era. The verse where the passage ends only makes matters harder for us to understand. St. Matthew is writing primarily for Jewish Christians, who had been raised to attempt to keep the laws and rules of Judaism. Some of them had probably been Pharisees before their conversion. The word “Pharisee,” like the word “righteousness,” is loaded with not always very complimentary meanings for us. We think of proud, intolerant people, filled with self-admiration for themselves and full of harsh criticism for people they believed to be sinners.

The Pharisees, or Pious Ones, began their history as a reforming group, intent on bringing the Jewish people back to faith in their God. They believed that the best way to do that was to stress the Law of God, as given by Moses and elaborated on in the religious books developed over the centuries. In Jesus’ time, some of these Pharisees opposed the teachings of Jesus because they thought he was undermining God’s Law. They saw him as a threat to religious purity. Not all of them opposed Jesus. Two are named as his supporters.

As the church grew, opened itself to non-Jews and developed its own teachings, a great debate arose about the place of Old Testament Law in the life of Christians. St. Matthew, a Jew himself, seeks to assure Jewish converts that Jesus hadn’t come to abolish God’s law. He records Jesus as saying that the whole law would remain in force forever. And yet in the gospel we just heard, he says that in keeping this law, we have to do much better than the Pharisees.

Is Jesus saying that we must keep the Jewish Law, all that stuff about what we can eat, or what we can do on the Sabbath? Are we to be like some people, perhaps we know a few, who think they are better, more moral, more upright, than the rest of us and are harsh in their judgment of others, intolerant of anyone who is different?

This rather difficult passage comes in the middle of what we call the Sermon on the Mount. Just as Moses gave the Law to Israel on the Holy Mountain, so now Jesus gives the law to his disciples and those who would follow him. He begins with a description of those who are happy or blessed. He will go on to expand, or “fulfill” the meaning of the Law. In the verses that come after this gospel, Jesus will warn against an anger that leads to violence. “You shall not kill,” begins with our dealing with what happens when we give way to anger, disgust, when we take offense. Jesus will teach us that we are to seek reconciliation with people with whom we quarrel, that we are not to “come to the altar” if we haven’t done all in our power to love our neighbor; for loving those close to us, those in the communities around us, is one of the commandments of the Law Jesus identified as the foundation of “all the Law and the Prophets.”

So what can we take home with us from the gospel today? Keeping the law of God is not a matter of feeling and acting as if we are superior to those who, in our judgment, fail to live up to our standards. We love God in loving others. St. Paul often reminds us that the Law shows up our own inadequacies. We are in no state to judge others. But having received God’s love in Jesus, despite ourselves, we are empowered to help those who stumble. It’s not that we are to abandon all hope of perfection, of holiness. Rather it’s a matter of understanding that the road to holiness is the path of love, compassion, of caring and sympathy, of helping each other along that journey, stopping to assist those who have become tired, have fallen on the way, or who have given up in despair.

Some of the most tragic stories that emerge from wars involve prisoners or refugees, walking along roads, herded by brutal guards. The heroes of these stories are those who in the midst of their own miseries, despite the dangers, share their meager rations, water supplies, even clothing, to help those who have fallen by the side of the road, who might well be shot by the guards because they can’t keep up.

On the journey of faith, we are not appointed by God to shoot those who stumble, who fail to obey orders. We are called to go out of our way to care. The whole point of God’s Law is to urge us to put God and others first and to die to our own self-love and desire for self-preservation.

Of course the strength to live for God and for others doesn’t come from attempts to keep God’s commandments. That strength comes from God, in Jesus, by the Spirit. We meet here today to receive that strength, that grace, not as the righteous company of God-supporters, but as those to whom mercy is continually given. When we leave this place to “Go in peace to love and serve the Lord,” we go as forgiven, empowered people, strengthened to keep God’s Law by loving all who we shall meet.

 

— Fr. Tony Clavier is a retired priest and a missioner in the Diocese of Springfield.

2013 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 12,000 times in 2013. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 4 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

HUMBUG

Tis the season to be outraged. It’s also the season for extraordinary humbug. For example, I found the statement by the Duck Dynasty fellow offensive, but I was disturbed by the A&E network’s reaction. A&E ‘adopts’ a family which prides itself on its “redneck” identity, builds an enormously successful Reality Show around the family, makes money out of the homespun lifestyles of the family, and is outraged when a family member expresses opinions more often than not found among such people.

I can be outraged by the Duck Dynasty patriarch and by A&E, all at the same time. I can blog about my outrage using the most evocative terms available in my working vocabulary. I can thereby demonstrate that I am on the right side, whatever that side may be, show you all just how virtuous I am, and accomplish all this from the comfort of my recliner. Guess what? It won’t cost me much time, much energy, or any money. I don’t even have to be objective. If someone is attacking my belief, my lifestyle, my ethnicity I can strike back, on behalf of my circle and be as aggressive as I like. I can go for the jugular, attack the person in my sight, spill blood, shut down my computer and go and get on with my life basking in the glow of my own rightness. Outrage is delicious. I can be as self-serving and self-centered as I like, and reap the rewards heaped on me by people who approve of my position.

How did God demonstrate his outrage at the human condition? He emptied himself, became a servant, surrendered his life as a public felon. He came as a vulnerable baby, the prey of an ‘outrageous’ tyrant. He was attacked by the virtuous, the righteous, the Pharisees – a society to protect the purity of the Nation and its Church – and he offered in return his love. He associated with sinners, untouchables, while the virtuous called him a drunk and a glutton. Jesus expressed his ‘outrage’ by offering love, by showing God’s amazing concern for human beings, flawed, sinful women and men. He sought to change lives not by reading the riot act and administering a flogging -yes. he took the whip to religious humbugs – but by exposing them to the life-changing power of the Divine love.

We are told not to judge; we are told to care. This does not mean we are called to approve of human fallenness. Rather we are to remind ourselves that because we are fallen, we have no standing as judges and when we have the temerity to assume the mantle of a judge we turn into humbugs and join the ranks of those who in their moral superiority, sent Jesus to his death.

Having written this. I must be sure that I am not impressed about my outrage about the outraged. It’s not easy is it?, to attempt to lose our lives, carry our crosses, walk with Jesus, not easy to make the attempt without being impressed by our nobility, our virtue and a short step to the place when we can, once again, indulge in the beauty of being outraged.

ADVENT BLUES

Two vaguely related topics, of interest to a somewhat narrow constituency, provoke intense responses each year when Advent comes around. The first might seem trivial. Should vestments and other hangings be purple or blue? The second is perhaps a bit more important. Is Advent a penitential season?

 

The second question relates to the first because in most churches, purple is used in Lent. In Lent, the Gloria in Excelsis isn’t said or sung, and not one muttered Alleluia escapes one’s mouth, the hymns tend to be mournful and there are no flowers in the church. Of course in Advent there are no flowers in church, the Gloria in Excelsis isn’t sung, but we still utter our Alleluias  with as much enthusiasm as a proper Anglican may muster, except perhaps when taking a shower. For some reason, the question of whether to use blue or purple vestments has become associated with our position on whether Advent is a penitential season or not. Well, actually, I think it possible that the use of blue vestments in Advent may be attributed to Almy. I’ve no idea who gave them the idea. 

 

Before the English Reformation, there were a number of color schemes in use, depending on which part of the country one lived in. The Sarum Use, named after the great cathedral in Salisbury, used blue in Advent. It is probable that when the 1549 Prayer Book was issued, the Sarum color system and ceremonial, with some adaptions, became the official use for the English Church. However that only had two year’s or so of life, after which the church solved the problem by abolishing almost all ceremonial and all colored vestments except for copes. 

 

During the Anglo-Catholic revival of the 19th Century, when ceremonial and colored vestments returned, most churches adopted the color schemes used by the contemporary Roman Catholic Church. By the end of that century some ‘ritualists’ decided that to be truly Anglican, ceremonial and vestments should be those that were in use in the first year of King Edward VI: 1547. They studied the illuminations in Medieval service books and came up with a Sarum color scheme. Percy Dearmer championed all things Sarum in his “Parson’s Handbook”. 

 

The question of whether to shout Alleluia or not was moot until recently because no such acclamation was to be found in the old Prayer Books . Very few parishes in the USA conformed to the Sarum ceremonial and color scheme. It seems passing strange, therefore, to arbitrarily select one of the Sarum colors -blue- for Advent while sticking to the Roman usage throughout the rest of the year. There may be places that use unbleached linen in Lent, but they are few and far between. 

 

So why blue? It seems to have become the badge of the anti-penitental crowd, and of course of those who like blue but wouldn’t be caught in polite society venerating the Blessed Virgin Mary. So is Advent a penitential season? If it isn’t, why do we omit the Gloria and save on the budget for flowers? To my mind the answer is equivocal. It may not be penitential, as in Lent, but it is certainly penitential in terms of our taking stock of ourselves to prepare to go “even unto Bethlehem” or to meet the King “when he comes in his glorious majesty to judge both the quick and the dead.” Yes, Advent has its joyful aspects. Nevertheless while the society in which we live consumes and purchases and parties, Christians stand out as they examine themselves and make themselves as ready as may be to greet the Baby King and the Baby Judge. So I opt for purple.

Sermon for Today

http://episcopaldigitalnetwork.com/stw/2013/10/09/23-pentecost-proper-25-c-2013/

IN QUIRES AND PLACES

I spend my corporate worship time as an officiant and celebrant. I dislike the modern use of the word “president” or “presider”, which to my mind makes worship sound like a committee meeting. At any rate, one of the enjoyable parts of my visits to Nashotah House, an Episcopal seminary in Wisconsin, is that I may submerge myself into the daily round of Mattins, Mass and Evensong as a participant, without having the distraction of always being one step ahead of the congregation in order to read my part. Once in a while I am able to enter into the flow of worship and lose myself in the church’s offering to God.

 

Mind you, they do worship well here. The singing is wonderful. There’s a mixture of Anglican chant and plainsong, and a judicious use of the Hymnal. Ceremonial is done well, without that conscious fussiness that one finds in some Anglo Catholic worship or ironically in the type of worship which seeks to emulate popular staged music, although I’ve discovered that much of what is termed contemporary in church music and worship is at least a generation behind, if not firmly embedded in the Sixties. 

 

The chapel at Nashotah, quite naturally, is Victorian gothic, with some nods to the liturgical movement’s alterations ushered into use with the 1979 BCP. One senses that the chapel is a place hallowed by prayer and devotion, inhabited by the shades of hundreds of students and staff, most of whom now worship with us from the Church in eternity. Being surrounded by this cloud of witnesses is something of which one is aware. Their devotion and service to the church in their generations inspires those of us who pray and contemplate, sing and praise at this moment in the twenty-first century.

 

I’ve mentioned before that the current divisions and controversies of today evaporate here in rural Wisconsin. Side by side worship Episcopalians and separated Anglicans. Their unison is not the fruit of compromise. Rather it is established by common worship, common study, common devotion to our Lord, the Gospel and the Catholic Church. It is good and heartening to be here, even for a short three days. 

POWER

The founders of what is now known as The Episcopal Church were very suspicious of centralized power. Except for those who followed Samuel Seabury’s High Church views, and they were in a minority, this suspicion extended to their views on bishops and their necessity. These new Americans believed that the English episcopate was primarily an agency and tool of an oppressive, hierarchical government, “Lord Bishops”, who supported the Crown and the current administration from the benches of the House of Lords. These bishops were led by archbishops who exercised “metropolitical” authority. The newly founded Episcopal Church replaced archbishops with presiding bishops, modeled on the office of Primus, in the Scottish Episcopal Church. The primus of that church served as first among equals, as chair of the college of bishops, with few other duties and no other power. The American Presiding Bishop retained only two of the powers exercised by Metropolitan archbishops, the right to take order for the consecration of bishops and preside that their ordinations, and the right to make visitations to the several dioceses in the national church. The power of diocesan bishops was limited by the establishment of statutory Standing Committees, made up of elected clergy and laity, who shared administrative authority with the bishop.

A word about the term Metropolitan. While all metropolitans are archbishops, not all archbishops are metropolitans. Clear? The Early Church grew up in the Roman Empire and adopted some of its structures. Among those structures were Provinces, a grouping of adjacent dioceses, presided over by a bishop styled a Metropolitan because he usually lived n a major city. Over time these officials, personally dubbed archbishops, accrued to themselves a set of duties and job descriptions. They were first among equals among the bishops, due honor and respect, and in certain matters, the obedience of the provincial bishops. They took order for (arranged) the consecration of bishops and usually presided at their ordination services. They had the right to make visitation to the dioceses in the Province, and they presided over the trial of accused bishops and heard appeals against judgements made against bishops and other clergy.

The Episcopal Church, at its founding, decided not to possess its chief Pastor with metropolitical titles and stripped away most of the duties hitherto exercised by a Metropolitan. Our diocesan bishops do not take oaths of obedience to the Presiding Bishop, nor does the Presiding Bishop exercise personal juridical authority. Oddly, our Primate and Chief Shepherd has no jurisdiction at all, as he or she has no diocese. He or she is technically a “wandering bishop.”

I gather that it was suggested to the House of Bishops, as they meet now in Nashville, that metropolitical authority in the Episcopal Church is vested in General Convention. Note there is no mention of such a role for General Convention in the Constitution and Canons. Obviously a corporate body such as a provincial/national synod cannot exercise the duties assigned to a Metropolitan. It can’t take order for the consecration of bishops, let alone consecrate them. It can’t visit dioceses. Our bishops do not swear obedience to the General Convention. The General Convention doesn’t conduct trials as a body, nor does it hear appeals. So what is meant by the claim that for us, General Convention acts in the place of a Metropolitan? One supposes that what is being claimed is that General Convention exercises authority in a unique and final manner, a power which Episcopalians are required to respect and obey. I would suggest that even if this were true, it would be extremely unhealthy not to say unanglican. Anglicanism, even where metropolitical power is invested in chief bishops, and that is in most of the Communion, is a patchwork of diverse, though complimentary authorities, what is known as dispersed authority, each at its own level designed to enable that level of fellowship to function effectively, harmoniously, and in a spirit of charity, mutual respect and concord. One hopes that those members of the committee seeking to examine the structure of our church will take care that their suggestions are Anglican in letter and spirit, within the tradition long established in the Episcopal Church, which distrusts centralized unchecked power and exalts local initiative and freedom.

DEAD AND GONE?

I promised that I’d say something about what is misleadingly termed “prayers for the dead”. This was an uncontroversial issue until the Reformation, although it is true to say that the emphasis strayed in late medieval times from a consciousness of our continued relationship with, communion with, the departed, and often assumed rather crude attempts to saddle notable figures from the past with specific tasks such as finding lost thimbles or guarding oyster fishers. I suppose there was not much harm in thinking that trade associations had patron saints. The problem which developed was of a different order. It became believed that a departed saint might have some influence in determining whether one’s stay in an intermediate state would be brief or long, or indeed whether one was going to hell or not. The Reformers believed that such prayers detracted from our Lord’s unique salvic role. In reaction the churches of the Reformation, to one degree or another, erected a ceiling between those on earth and those in heaven. The departed were indeed dead and gone, and our relationship with them would be interrupted until we joined them after we too died. 

 

In creating in the imagination of the faithful this stark separation, the Reformers did away with a concept as old as the church itself, and expressed in its earliest liturgical prayers. Oddly, at least in Lutheran and Anglican worship, what is called the sursum corda, the narrative beginning with ‘Lift up your hearts’, the concept of our union with the departed at the altar was retained without alteration or amendment. We continued to worship with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven even while our earthly life continued. Anglicans retained saints’ days, drastically pruned to mention only New Testament characters and of course King Charles the Martyr, but retained nevertheless, usually with discreet collects and lessons for their days. Parish churches retained their saintly patrons, and while the English liturgy, unlike that of Scotland, was purged of prayers mentioning the departed (except rather gingerly in the Burial Office) the concept of ‘the communion of saints’, and article of the Creed, popped up fairly regularly in theological writing. The Tractarians restored the idea of our companionship with the departed, and nowadays it’s not uncommon to hear even protestant pastors asking God to receive and bless departed people.

 

Our concept of communion with the departed is anchored in our theology of Baptism. Baptism begins eternal life. Whether we can abandon this heritage isn’t my issue today. In enjoying eternal life, by adoption and grace, we join with all those who have similarly been adopted in Christ, by virtue of his coming, dying, rising and ascending. No living or ‘dead’ person, however exalted can ‘save’ us. However our union with each other, through baptism, carries with it an obligation to love one another, to be concerned about one another, and to offer ourselves for each other. Love never fails. Not even death can destroy its power. To suggest that our departed loved ones do not continue to love us, and thus be concerned for us, and to offer themselves for us, all components of genuine love, would be to limit the word love to make it eventually meaningless. Yes, that love is in Christ, for our identity is always in Christ. 

 

I believe with all my heart that I enjoy “mystic sweet communion with those whose rest is won”. Communion is just that, a union between us, with our departed loved ones here and there. 

 

Prayer is much wider and larger than merely asking for something for ourselves or others. Prayer is the means of communion, the means of contact, the way we express our love and care for others and they with us. Living in awareness that we are surrounded by a cloud of witnesses (life-givers) enriches our lives and reminds us that we are never alone as we run the race that is set before us. The departed always look and point to Jesus, and in their fellowship we follow their gaze and join them in worshipping the ‘Lamb that was slain.”

EUCHARISTIC AGREEMENT

I have some sympathy with the writer of a recent blog who bemoaned the fact that while the 1979 BCP seemed to move TEC in a more Catholic direction, in practice it did no such thing.http://haligweorc.wordpress.com/2013/08/06/liturgical-chickens-coming-home-to-roost/

 

My main problem with his thesis, and the accompanying theme that in our recent choices of Holy Men and Holy Women we seem not to understand the concept of heroic sanctity, the definition of a saint, is that I don’t think it can be demonstrated that Anglicanism has managed a common teaching on either subject since the Reformation. 

 

It is alleged that emblazoned behind the Holy Table in an evangelical Anglican parish in England was the text “He is not here”. Whether true or not, the doctrine of the Real Presence, at least in a form which associates that Presence in the elements of Bread and Wine, has never been an agreed position among us, and until the days of the Tractarians was rarely defined in absolute terms. 

 

To my mind, the matter of just how Christ is present, if over-stressed as THE essential eucharistic doctrine, often panders to modern therapeutic religion. It easily boils down to questions about what do I, as an individual, get out of receiving holy communion, and  thus to the extraordinary idea that I should always receive communion when I attend the Eucharist.

 

To my mind the essential Eucharistic teaching is what used to be termed “The Sacrifice of the Mass’. I’d hasten to point out that this doctrine also can be misunderstood if it is believed that the eucharist is primarily offered to the Father to save me, or if it is suggested that the Eucharistic offering is the job of the priest in a personal capacity. The Sacrifice is that of Christ on the Cross, and is offered by the whole Church in heaven and on earth in union with Jesus the High Priest, who for ever offers himself “for the sins of the whole world.” 

 

In short the primary action of the Eucharist is Godward. It is a corporate activity embarked upon by the whole Church, in which we participate by virtue of our baptism. It is thus also a “sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving”. It is from this communal offering and oblation that the Church at every level receives the grace to witness the Gospel. As individuals, in worship, we lose ourselves in a common offering. In short it isn’t about you or me, it’s about God and the Church, the Church in which we live and move and have our being as organs and members of the Body of Christ. 

 

It is thus odd that the Eucharistic Sacrifice has been a more divisive teaching than that of the Real Presence. What matters about the latter teaching is that the Church affirms that in the Eucharist we are corporately joined into Christ and thus into his eternal offering, once accomplished on Calvary. 

 

If we come to agree here, then the ideal of heroic sanctity becomes easier to grasp. The saints, holy men and women, are those whose self-emptying, self-offering, self-oblation is  notable, whose sacrificial lives are an inspiration, and whose prayers for us are intense. 

 

Yes I know: praying with the saints is another area of disagreement among us. More of that later.

 

NO ROOM FOR YOU

Anglicanism, as it became to be known centuries later, began in division. Our divisions have tended to be practical, to address experience, even if doctrinal positions develop as the issues are addressed. The Reformation in England began in moral outrage. It was about corruption, that ancient form of consumer selling. It was a moral reaction, perhaps incidentally about sex – the rumored antics of celibate clergy and Religious – but more so about the commerce of faith, the selling of salvation, and the use of images and relics to clinch the deal. 

 

Doctrines about salvation, or teachings which attempted to strip the sacraments of “magical” elements, thereafter followed. Clergy were encouraged to take wives, in part as a remedy against unsanctioned sexual activity. (I’m not going into the matter of the veniality of Henry VIII, his commissioners and nobles who benefitted greatly from the pillage of the church, because that isn’t my point today.)  

 

Later part of the Puritan reaction to the Established Church was about morals. While the puritan believed he or she was elect and saved, enormous stress was placed upon the manner of life the elect should practice. They brought the practical virtues of thrift, hard work,  propriety, chastity, and suspicion of pleasure with them to America. 

 

The Evangelical Revivals of the 18th and 19th century were similarly inspired by a reaction to the alleged collapse of public morality, although it has to be said that the Latitudinarians, the liberals of their day, were equally obsessed with good behavior and good manners. Later when confronted with the romanticism of the Anglo-Catholics, Evangelicals recoiled in horror from confessional and absolution, fearing the cheapening of grace and a worldly-wise toleration of sin. Again there was irony in such fears, given that the original Tractarian leaders were as horrified about laxities in morals, morals of all sorts, as were the most vigorous Evangelical divines. 

 

It is therefore no surprise that our Communion is now divided over moral values. At root our present divisions are about how people  behave. They are not, I would add, about laxity versus rigor. Those who would passionately lobby for a development of the doctrine of Holy Matrimony are not arguing for sexual laxity. Indeed they state that they wish to bing same-sex couples to the ideal of monogamy enshrined in the traditional doctrine. In a sense they are as keen about observing the moral practicalities of Christian living as any one else. 

 

Hitherto concerns about morality, in the wider sense of the term, have largely centered on how the Church counters moral laxity in society and therefore among its adherents. What was believed to be right and what wrong was largely common ground, even if solutions may have differed. That has changed. The issue therefore emerges, which is equally practical and equally moralistic. Can those who oppose same-sex marriage and those who reject that it is possible, co-exist in sacramental communion with each other? Recently that defining issue has been raised again by two very different people. Mark Harris, a poet-priest and blogger wonders aloud whether it would be a bad idea if the African churches which oppose same-sex marriage wandered off by themselves. The Archbishop of Kenya suggests that true Anglicans can do without the US and Canadian churches, thank you very much, and wonder whether the archbishop of Canterbury, as he struggles to get the CofE to face the practicalities of existing in a nation which may well legalize same-sex marriages, isn’t selling out on the faith. Both spokesmen, echoing the thoughts of many, seem to say, “There’s no room for you.”

 

In practical terms ordinary parish priests don’t enjoy the liberty to divide, those who desire division imagine they possess. Week by week, a parish priest ministers to people whose behavior falls short of the ideals of the Faith, and indeed struggle within themselves with the same issues. Kneeling side by side at the altar rail are cheats, liars, people who abuse their loved ones, those who temper honesty in business with the desire to make money, and the list goes on. In most cases, these ordinary Christians salve their consciences with excuses far below the standards set forth in the Gospel. Modern clergy are unlikely to make examples of these people. Stocks in sackcloth and ash factories have no value today. 

 

This is not to say that most clergy avoid teaching and preaching calls to live a more excellent way. If this practical pastoral care is not only possible but necessary at parish level -for even the pure may be proudful, the deadliest of sins – is it not equally necessary within a Communion of Churches? Those who object to such tolerance avow that to live in communion with those who advocate, to their minds, immorality, either the immorality of same-sex genital relations or the immorality of bigotry, fatally compromises their standards, or even the Gospel. Yet another practicality intrudes at this point, the practicality of the indelibility of baptism. As adopted sinners, saved by grace, we are stuck with each other, and there’s no place on earth we can find where we can avoid the company of the baptized, even if we disapprove of their manner of life. Perhaps mere honesty requires that we admit this reality and do our best to reach out to those with whom we disagree, share our concerns if we believe that they err, admit that we too err and stray, and do all we can to live along side them in God’s strength. However none of this is possible, if, wrapped in the mantles of our just causes, progressive or traditional, we shout, “We have no room for you.”

SERMON

http://episcopaldigitalnetwork.com/stw/2013/06/13/7-pentecost-proper-9-c-2013/

“SING PRAISES”

One of the elements which made the Church of England unlike other reformed or reforming churches at the Reformation was the retention and encouragement of the choral tradition in its cathedrals and chapels royal. While the parish churches of the land swiftly adopted a cerebral, non-visual form of worship, in ceremonial or lack thereof little different from, shall we say, Scottish Presbyterianism, except in the retention of set prayers, the cathedrals retained and developed a choral tradition accompanied by organs, robed choirs, and led by vested clergy. It is true of course that in cathedrals and parish churches the retention of ancient buildings, containing memories of a richer past, also distinguished Anglicanism. Shorn of statues, flickering lights (except those necessary to see books), much stained class and all but the plainest of vestments, ancient buildings were still haunted by the ghosts of a “Catholic” past.

It is true that the Prayer Book was another factor diluting the force of Protestant rigor. Indeed the Coverdale psalms, the canticles, versicles and responses, settings to some parts of the Eucharist contributed the texts for choral singing in use in cathedrals and a few major parish churches, although in most parishes the only sung forms were the metrical psalms, alike used by Calvinists, doggerel verse accompanied by flute, woodwind and a grumping serpent.

By and large, for two hundred years or so, the cathedrals alone magnified the Cranmerian liturgy with its lofty cadences, by a growing repertoire of music, unique to Anglicanism in that style and form.

In the 19th Century, partly inspired by the “Catholic Movement” and partly by the popularity of Romanticism and a love for all things Medieval, the choral tradition was adopted by parishes, even small ones, as organs became more affordable and sheet music available. While Anglo-Catholicism transformed the ceremonial of all but the most intransigent evangelical parishes ( and they were not immune to the lure of Gothic architecture) the cathedral tradition altered the manner in which the liturgy was presented and sung.

These developments hastened a trend already begun during evangelical revivalism, the supplementing of metrical psalms by hymns, verse revived form earlier days, or especially composed to be sung, and tunes which have become familiar in almost all Western Christian churches.

It is perhaps ironic that this musical tradition is now thought suspect in some quarters, inaccessible and too “highbrow” for congregations to tackle. The choral tradition and hymnody itself is now rivaled by sacred songs, whose words and tunes are often rather bad attempts to baptize the cadences and beat of ‘pop’ concerts, often rendered ridiculous by the stolid frozen body stances of staid Episcopalians and Anglicans. In some places organs are now replaced by the instruments associated with the traveling minstrels of pop culture. The irony is that this form of ‘progress’ is in fact a return to the pre-choral tradition.

Oddly enough, at least in England and in places in some larger American cities, it is the cathedrals and large parish churches, those which retain the choral tradition, which draw consistently large congregations. Occasionally, as in the ceremonial, liturgy and music of great state occasions in England, a wider audience is exposed to the richness of this element of Anglicanism, and harassed clergy and local organist are pestered by brides and grooms to “do us like Wills and Kate were done”.

And thus on this hot American day, (after listening to cds of the choir of the parish of St. Michael and St. George, St Louis) I sing the praises of our Choral Tradition and pray that it will  survive. I do so not merely as a form of nostalgia, but to make a deeper point. The choral tradition inspires humans to magnify the Lord together, rather than indulge in sentimental and self-centered reflection. In that it so does, it points to the chief end of Liturgy,   the giving of glory to God in self-sacrifice. In short, it puts us in our place.

UNITY AT NASHOTAH

Last Thursday, Nashotah House seminary held its annual Commencement and celebrated the Feast of its founder, Bishop Jackson Kemper. The speaker was Dr. Colin Podmore, the new director of Forward in Faith UK and until recently the Clerk of the General Synod of the Church of England. In the course of his address, Dr. Podmore suggested that Nashotah House sets a positive example of unity in diversity, both at home and potentially in England.

 

Podmore harkened back to the days of “comprehension” in which it was possible for people with different traditions and convictions to live together within the Anglican Church. He proposed that at Nashotah, among the staff and student body were people divided over staying in or leaving TEC, or about the ordination of women, and yet able to pray and work daily in common accord. Now that is obviously true. I want to suggest, however, that this is not a contrived policy, or an exercise in what we once termed “comprehension” but something quite other.

 

At the lunch after Commencement a visibly agitated priest asked to speak to me. He asked whether the address meant that we were now to compromise with error for the sake of a space within the church. I suggested to him that what was meant was something quite different, something I would flesh out in terms other than comprehension. In a sense Nashotah points the way through detachment. It stands pointing towards something far deeper than accommodation, or being nice to one another, or bargaining with conviction in order to survive. Nashotah daily points to the reality of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church through a corporate life of daily prayer, of Word and Sacrament.

 

Since the Reformation there have been a number of ways to make a claim for Catholicity. The great churches of the East and West, Rome and Constantinople have laid claim to an exclusive catholicity, proposing themselves as exclusive possessors of ecclesial authenticity. There have been times when such a claim has been made with the full and inclusive power of exclusion, the right to unchurch and exclude those without their folds. There have been times lately, when the same claim has been made with charity and compassion, acknowledging the unity of the baptized as individuals within, even if concluding that their corporate presences are defective. On the other hand, classical Protestants have fudged the issue, pointing to some amorphous, invisible body as the Church Catholic, while sitting lightly on visible unity. At best such a view recognizes that the Church Catholic is God’s Church, the Body of Christ, and not some institutional creation of human beings. At worst such a view has promoted a free market in the creation and division of the Christian community and a consumerist evaluation of what is authentic and what is not ‘a true church’. Among Anglicans, at least for a while, a ‘branch theory’ of the church was advanced, suggesting that ecclesial communities possessing certain marks such as sacraments, scripture and historic ministry, are true churches. Such a view identifies certain historic marks of authenticity, but easily leads to an arrogant satisfaction that ‘we are true and they are not’ and to a sectarian delight manifest in much modern Episcopalian denominationalism.

 

However the vision of the One Church to which Nashotah House points and lives into may be something quite different. In worship, study and work the community relies on an experience of the Church Catholic, an experience entered into by fidelity to “that which has been received”, that is The Tradition, an experience in which at one and the same time the reality of a unity which does not depend on human structural and organizational skills is magnified, and space for the working of the Spirit created. Yet this is no exercise in romanticism. The searing heat of modern apostasy and disunity has scorched away ritualism and fussy, self-absorbed piety. Reaching out towards the Body of Christ involves staff and students and those who gather there on great occasions in a painful encounter with the shattered body of the Church, the suffering frame of Jesus, forever lifting high the Cross in a bemused and lost world. Unity and fraction, holiness and sin, bump familiarly together in the lives of those consecrated and set apart to be the present church’s missionaries and life givers. That which lifts the Nashotah experience apart may be discovered in the chapel, as the Offices are said and sung, the Eucharist offered, by young men and women, teachers from different backgrounds, reflecting contemporary divisions, but caught up, despite themselves in the work of Liturgy. All that is taught in classroom, out in the parishes, in the daily life of work and play, is daily renewed and revived as the broken church interacts with the Church which transcends time and space.

 

The lesson, the pattern Nashotah offers is of the church which concentrates on Word and Sacrament, of living into the Tradition, (not a tradition of inherited habits, but the Tradition of living experience in communion with that which has been received and is to be passed on); on worship, corporate fellowship, evangelism, and such good works that have been prepared for us to walk in. It is from such fidelity that pentecostal love is absorbed and practiced with consecrated abandon, by those who make no claims for themselves, their rights, their expectations, but who exist to serve the God who has called them.

 

You shall receive power, when the Holy Spirit comes, and you will be my life-givers to the ends of the world.

SERMON FOR EASTER 2

April 7, 2013

Acts 5:27-32Psalm 118:14-29 or Psalm 150Revelation 1:4-8John 20:19-31

We all yearn for peace and quiet, at least some of the time. We live in a noisy, intrusive world to the point when moments of silence may feel terrifying. Even when we are relaxing, there’s a good chance that the telephone will ring – a sales pitch for something we don’t need – or the doorbell ring, or the computer ping. Even if we decide to get away from everything, getting there can be stressful.

When we hear that Jesus appeared to his disciples after the Resurrection and said, “Peace be with you,” we wonder whether he was being sarcastic. The disciples are in the upper room, huddled for fear. Fear denotes an absence of peace. The disciples feared their new title, that of Apostle, feared their Mission to go out into the world and tell about Jesus, and feared the outside world that seemed ready to pounce and destroy them as it seemed to have done to Jesus.

At one level, Jesus saying, “Peace,” was utterly normal. Just as we say, “Hi,” or “Hey,” depending on our tribe, or “How are you?” – greetings that have become so habitual they are blurted out before we think. In Israel, then and now, the habitual greeting was “Shalom,” peace. It was expected. The response, “Peace be with you also,” was the polite reply.

Jesus says hello to his fearful, bemused friends, as he says hello to us, just as we share the Peace during the Eucharist each Sunday. Too often at the Eucharist we use that greeting to engage in hurried conversations that have nothing to do with peace at all! “Wanna join us for lunch after church?” “Have you seen what Marty is wearing?” “That sermon was a bore!” Meanwhile, the priest tries to shake as many hands as possible, hopes no one is offended if their hands aren’t shaken, and worries that this noisy interlude won’t destroy the rhythm of the liturgy.

Yet when we emulate Jesus as we exchange the Peace, we remember what he was saying to the disciples in the upper room.

What was he saying?

Jesus was saying that his presence is peace; a peace, as St Paul puts it, that is beyond our understanding, far more potent than an absence of noise, or a feeling of well being. Jesus says, “Peace,” and we are reminded how costly his gift of peace is, and how extraordinary its depth. Because Jesus has died, has risen, has ascended, we are offered a share in the results of those costly actions. Baptism reminds us that we have died with Jesus, have risen with him, have ascended with him, and now live in his company, in the company of the Church, fed by Word and Sacrament.

Secondly, the peace Jesus gives us means that nothing can separate us from the love of God, except our own unwillingness to accept the gift, live in the gift and share the gift.

Accepting a gift is a moment of self-emptying, of acceptance and gratitude. For a moment we are beholden, vulnerable, dependent as we receive that which we lack. Receiving a gift can strike our pride, can be uncomfortable.

Living in the gift demands an active gratitude. It also means that we value that which we have been given. We feel it necessary to show it off.

And that leads to sharing the gift. The gift of “the peace of God which passeth all understanding” is to be received as a trust to share with others. Thus when we exchange “the Peace” today, we say to those we greet, “Here is the most wonderful gift, the gift of accepting Jesus into our lives and sharing that communion with each other and out into the world.”

All the orders Jesus gave to the apostles are about that Peace: Go tell about me; go baptize; do this in remembrance; love one another.

In short, hearing and accepting Jesus’ “hello” forms us and renews us. It is that peace for which we yearn and which we are given. The apostles went into a hostile world. Many of them were martyred. But through it all they were upheld and sustained by the “Peace” Jesus gave them. Today he offers that same Peace to you.

 

 


 

 

ARCHBISHOP JUSTIN AND ROME

It’s a great pity that Archbishop Justin isn’t to attend the papal inauguration. Granted it’s two days before his own, but it seems to me that this is a very special occasion, perhaps more so than any recent papal accession; the Ecumenical Patriarch is to be there, and Pope Francis seems to appreciate Anglicanism’s contribution to the world church. I do hope that Archbishop John, (York) will wear a clerical collar, despite his “vow” when he is at the service. He will be there on behalf of us all. A papal inauguration is no place for personal statements.

 

ON CONCILIATION

The terms of ‘conciliation’ visited upon and agreed to by bishops charged with what amounts to disloyalty to the Episcopal Church are now public. I don’t wish to enter into the conversation about whether the Seven should have agreed to this miserable document. They had no choice in the matter. Those who are now Ordinaries would have risked deposition if they had not signed, preluded by costly legal proceedings which their dioceses for the most part could not have afforded. Their conviction of that which is an ecclesiastical version of high treason would have left their dioceses vulnerable and leaderless.

My main discomfort is with the behavior of most of their episcopal colleagues, now assembled at Kanuga for a meeting of the House of Bishops, allegedly devoted to prayer and self-examination. Face it, these men and women represent all Episcopalians, the vast majority of whom haven’t shown any signs that they object to a use of power which is arbitrary, coercive, and ruthless.

This should not be a matter of who supports the schism which has occurred in Fort Worth, Quincy and elsewhere. Those who regard schism as unacceptable should be as disturbed by the treatment of the Seven Bishops, or is it nine, as those who think that schism was unavoidable. What did these naughty bishops do? They signed an ‘amicus’ brief to the courts in Texas and Illinois, challenging the view that General Convention owns all property within the United States occupied and utilized by communicants, even the disused outhouses in rural churches. The challenge isn’t that the dioceses of TEC have and share ownership with the parishes and missions within their territory, although such a view is modern. The challenge is that the General Convention is the ultimate owner of those outhouses and the buildings standing on the land administered by the parishes and missions. (Of course if General Convention owns these buildings is it not ultimately responsible for their upkeep?)

An ‘amicus’ brief is not a formal part of a court case. It merely informs the judge that there may be another opinion than that advanced by those seeking to claim ownership. Certainly in these cases there are other opinions, even if they are held by a minority, as the conciliation document states. TEC is now governed by a group, which was once a minority, and which used every tactic n the book to advance its views. But as the Presiding Bishop is wont to say, “The winners write history”.

Basically the ‘offending’ bishops are accused of making their views public.  It is suggested that when the national church authorities decide to take a course of action, our bishops must bow meekly and assent. The document even admits that General Convention hasn’t expressed it’s mind on the policy of challenging in the secular courts those who dissent and withdraw.

Anglicanism has always been an amazingly tolerant church. The sort of coercion now manifested hasn’t been seen since 1662. No thought has been given to the reputations and authority of bishops so humiliated within their own dioceses. And at Kanuga today, most of the bishops present pretend nothing has happened, greet the bishops now humiliated with a hug, and have nothing to say, or if they do it’s a squeeze of the shoulder and a muttered offer of sympathy.  And so TEC surrenders any claim to be a broad tolerant church, and bows the knee to the use of power and force. For sure the bishops and other church people who brought charges against the bishops, using the new, deeply flawed Title 4 disciplinary canons are culpable. Certainly the Presiding Bishop and her legal team continue to use methods which demonstrate little acquaintance with the Gospels. But on this day the major blame lies at the feet of usually good and kindly people who refuse to involve themselves, avert their eyes and walk by.

IRONY

I’m constantly stumbling across two opinions which while seeming poles apart, and voiced by people who wouldn’t invite each other to tea are remarkably similar. The first is argued by people who rely on often disjointed biblical quotations, taken out of context, but believed to be applicable to this or that contemporary problem. Such a view brings an odd assortment of people together; Jehovah’s Witnesses, Moslem extremists, Christian Fundamentalists to mention a few. They cull their scriptures until a hey presto moment provides them with an answer. Very often that answer was their starting position, for which they seek scriptural affirmation.

 

And then there are those who make the astounding claim that religious truth is discovered in the findings of secular society. For them the voice of the people is the voice of God, or perhaps the voice of ‘enlightened ‘, ‘thinking people’, that is to say people who think like me. Their sacred texts are public opinion polls, scientific surveys, political ideology, trending enthusiasms. Of course if a biblical text may be discovered to prop up or give a religious veneer to the enthusiasms of popular society, so much the better.

 

Both of these sets of people tend to have a dim view of the church, except as a convenient organization to propagate their assertions. Both are heirs of the old Broad Church tradition, which denied any supernatural and sacramental dimension of the church. Both entertain puritanical distaste for any form of church which denies them personal autonomy. The first are heirs to the 17th Century sectarians and the second heirs of the 18th Century Latitudinarians, the second connected to the first through the thoughts of people Like John Locke. Their modern appeal is that both speak to a desire for personal autonomy of thought.

 

The ideal of the Church articulated by St Paul, enfleshed by the Fathers, and practiced in community, an interconnected society of persons called to serve God, enlivened by common faith and worship seems stagnant and oppressive to such people. In practice however, something very different is true. The Fundamentalist and the Progressive are trapped in a moment in time, in its struggles, causes, movements and popular opinions. There is no past, no living tradition, and the only future acceptable is one crowned by hoped-for success. In the meantime, comfort may be gained by huddling together in like-minded groups, from which missiles may be fired against those who are wrong.

 

A recent example of this may be discovered in reading reactions to a conference held in Coventry, England by the new Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby. The dismissive rhetoric articulated by people of widely different positions, mutually exclusive confronted with a call for Christians to practice reconciliation points to a primitive impulse to ‘smite down my enemies hip and thigh’ simply because it is claimed, to speak peace to those with whom one disagrees is compromise with unbelievers. So sad.

THE WATCHING WORLD

Justin Welby, almost Archbishop of Canterbury, in a recent interview remarked: “If you look back on some of the arguments we’ve had over the last few months in the Church of England, it is poison to the mind of those who are outside the Church. It anaesthetises them against the gospel.”

 

He goes on to note that it is not unusual for Christians to disagree, but the tone of that disagreement matters. Of course if one doesn’t care what those outside think of our quarrels, or if one thinks that the justice of the Cause trumps concerns about the thoughts and feelings of others outside the camp, then demonizing those with whom one disagrees doesn’t factor. To liken one’s opponents as terrorists, as our Presiding Bishop seems to have done recently in South Carolina is a case in point. It may have thrilled the group to whom the remarks were aimed. Those to whom the remark was aimed probably expected nothing more. But what of those on the outside reading her words, let alone of those who attend their local parish because it is home, has been home perhaps for generations? I would hazard a guess that a good number of the people who went last Sunday to their local parish, even though it is now “schismatic” are hurt and puzzled.

 

I’ve now been an Episcopalian for fourteen years. I’ve done my best as an individual to “speak peace to those who are afar off and to those who are near”, to be a reconciler. Yet year by year matters have become worse. Both sides in our conflicts seem to prefer to emulate the political divisions and tactics in secular politics rather than seeking to follow the example of Jesus. “Father forgive them” seems a wimpy response to make to opposition, even when murmured from the Cross.

 

Recently a group of young clergy and ordinands pleaded for an end to law suits, depositions and hatefulness. Their appeal was to both sides. A few hundred joined them. Some questioned their motives. Others trashed their views. Cromwellian England seems close at hand.

 

“See how these Christians love one another,” exclaimed many during the persecution of Christians in the early days looks like an exercise in irony to those who would like to embrace Christianity. To those who wish to deride the Faithful for hypocrisy, we provide even more ammunition.

 

While we consider reforms to structure, it is high time we re-examine our approach to dissent. As Lent approaches it would be salutary for Episcopalians to pray about our new archbishop’s wise words. Our pleas for orthodoxy or justice are utterly compromised when we can’t even respect each other, pray for each other, and make space for each other. Christian conflict can’t be resolved through legislation, majority rule, brilliant responses. God in His time works out His purposes and we are called to be patient and to be faithful as God does his work of grace.