Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Great Dialogue: Bill Franklin and Chris Wells

This is worth watching. Bill was my professor at GTS a decade ago - and a favorite. Chris is a super bright guy who will be leading the Living Church into the future.

Serious Scribbler Award

The gracious Tobias Haller has passed on an award to the Anglican Centrist called the Serious Scribbler Award. It is kind of like doing the 'Wave' on the internet, from what I understand. But I am grateful for Tobias' kind words about this blog. Rules and information about the award are found here.

In following them, I commend the following as Serious Scribblers:

- Craig Uffman, founder and shepherd of the Covenant website. Craig is deeply thoughtful, faithful and capable. His own writing is deep and well-wrought, and the team that he has assembled over at Covenant have done impressive work in a relatively short order. They have managed to create an alternative voice to the kind of liberalism espoused by entrenched institutional leadership, or the insipid and rude tone struck by those at Stand Firm or Virtue. This is the blogosphere constellation of loyal Episcopalians and Anglicans who are certainly 'right-of-center' - if that matters - but more importantly are Communion-minded Anglicans, whose vision of the Church is concerned with unity, integrity and catholicity - while maintaining hallmark Anglican generosity and breadth. I dub Craig a Serious Scribbler.
- Bryan Owen, at Creedal Christian and Chris Epperson at The Eternal Pursuit, are kindred spirits of mine here in the 'Anglican Heartland' as former South African Primate Njongonkulu Ndungane once described it. We are 'centrists' for want of a better word - as strong proponents of the Book of Common Prayer, robust traditional Episcopal liturgy, and the Quadrilateral basics of the faith - and dedicated to the idea that the Episcopal Church can be comprehensive, not beholden to left (or right). Certainly, we have been labelled 'heretics' by those on the extreme right for our belief that glbt Christians are called by God to lives of faithfulness in the church and leadership - with their life partners if so blessed. On the other hand, we have been labelled 'conservatives' by those on the extreme left because we have little interest in the sort of theology offered for so long by a generation of 50's/60's Era Liberal Modernists. Yes, we think the traditional faith as articulated by the Quadrilateral - and amply attested to in the BCP and Hymnal - say all the reasons in the world why we should be including all faithful Christians. Our basis for justice and social equality is rooted not in Modernism or renunciation of the Christian faith - but in the Christian faith itself. I find Nick Knisely also to be a strong voice from somewhere in the Episcopal middle.

- Final props go to Eric Von Salzen who writes frequently here at Anglican Centrist. As an EFM mentor and leading layperson in his parish, Von Salzen brings a fresh non-clerical perspective.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Generous Orthodoxy

I recently posted these reflections over at my blog. I thought I'd also share them with the readers of "The Anglican Centrist" in the conviction that a Generous Orthodoxy is one of the Anglican tradition's gifts to the world (and what better time of the year to give gifts than now?). In comments, I'd love to hear your thoughts on what Generous Orthodoxy looks like and why it's important to you.


by Bryan Owen

The term “Generous Orthodoxy” is sometimes slighted by Christians as though it’s an oxymoron or (if the critics in question happen to be Episcopalians/Anglicans) an instance of “Anglican fudge.” The way I've seen the term disparaged on conservative blogs, critics seem to think that proponents of Generous Orthodoxy are too wishy-washy to take a clear stand on any biblical, theological, or moral principles. It's as though they are equating the term "generous," not merely with "liberal," but with "relativism." And clearly, relativism and orthodoxy mix about as well as oil and water.

Speaking as a proponent for an Anglican form of Generous Orthodoxy, I think this critique is a caricature. Here are just a few sketchy thoughts as to why I think so.

Borrowing the language of the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral, I am committed to:

  1. The sufficiency of the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments as containing all things necessary to salvation and as being the rule and ultimate standard of faith.
  2. The Apostles’ Creed as the Baptismal Symbol and the Nicene Creed as the sufficient statement of the Christian faith.
  3. The two Dominical Sacraments – Baptism and Eucharist – ministered with unfailing use of Christ’s words of Institution, and of the elements ordained by him.
  4. The Historic Episcopate, locally adapted in the methods of its administration to the varying needs of the nations and peoples called of God into the Unity of His Church.

I believe that a commitment to these four aspects of the "sacred deposit" of the Church makes one orthodox (The Book of Common Prayer, p. 877).

Some might object to the minimalism of this Anglican understanding of orthodoxy (I'm thinking in particular of friends speaking on behalf of the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox traditions). But I believe that this minimalism is a strength, not a weakness. Luke Timothy Johnson's take on the "blessed simplicity of profession" offered by the historic creeds may also be applied to the orthodoxy outlined above. He writes:

"As with friends, so with beliefs: the fewer the better. The ancient philosophers well understood that in friendship there is an inverse proportion of number and quality. More is demanded of friends in trust, loyalty, and depth of commitment than can be asked from casual acquaintances. So also, faith demands selectivity. People who claim to believe many things equally cannot possibly be deeply committed to them all. They inadvertently identify themselves as superficial acquaintances of faith rather than friends with God (James 4:4)" [The Creed: What Christians Believe and Why It Matters (Doubleday, 2003), p. 320].

At the same time, a willingness to sympathetically engage a wide range of secular and theological views, trying to understand those views before deciding whether or not to reject or learn from them, makes one generous. (I'm borrowing language here from a nice piece in the December 30 issue of The Christian Century on the death of William Placher.)

It's this generous spirit that allows Anglicanism to take seriously rather than shun the findings of the natural and social sciences; to engage other Christian denominations in ecumenical dialogue and to seek closer relationships with them in worship and ministry; to listen to and learn from other religious traditions without sacrificing the dogmatic core of the Church's faith; to take the concerns and the convictions of conservatives, centrists, and progressives seriously without kowtowing to their ideological agendas; and to regard predecessors as diverse as the Church Fathers and Mothers, Thomas Aquinas, Martin Luther, John Calvin, Richard Hooker, John Wesley, C. S. Lewis, Dorothy Sayers, Karl Barth, William Stringfellow, and Paul Tillich (among many others) as theologians from whom we have important things to learn.

Does The Episcopal Church always do these things perfectly? Of course not. We often fall short. Sometimes we fail miserably. But our failures only underscore the fact that these ideals of the generous spirit of Anglicanism are ones we aspire to faithfully live out in our mission and ministry.

The late James E. Griffiss succinctly sums up the core of Generous Orthodoxy in his book The Anglican Vision (Cowley Publications, 1997) when he writes:

"I believe … that our history and foundations [as Anglicans] demonstrate a pattern of continuity and change – continuity with the tradition of the gospel we have received in Christ and, at the same time, a willingness to interpret and understand that gospel as changing situations might require” (p. 101).

This via media between continuity and change, and between the Monolithic Church type and the Over-Personalized Church type, is not always an easy one to walk. But it's central to who we are as heirs of the Anglican tradition.

Generous Orthodoxy.

It's not an oxymoron.

It's not Anglican fudge.

Quite the contrary, Generous Orthodoxy is Anglicanism at its best.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

The Third King

By Eric Von Salzen

I was a king. Not just any king. A “King of Orient Are”. And not just any “King of Orient Are”, but the third king. The grim one.


It was the Christmas Pageant at Westminster Presbyterian Church, West Hartford, CT, and I was 10 or 12 years old. I was big for my age (“husky”, not fat), which was why I was cast as a king (the smaller boys were shepherds), and my pre-pubescent voice wasn’t as high as the voices of the other pre-pubescent boys, so I was cast as Balthazar. The grim king.

The three of us processed up the center aisle of the church, carrying our gifts to the Christ Child, all three singing the first verse: “We three kings of Orient are . . . .”. When we arrived at the manger, we each had our solo, singing the verse about the gift we had brought. Gaspard brought gold (“to crown him again”). Melchior brought frankincense (“incense owns a Deity nigh”).

And Balthazar (the grim one) brought myrrh. You remember:

Myrrh is mine; its bitter perfume
Breathes a life of gathering gloom;
Sorrowing, sighing,
Bleeding, dying,
Sealed in the stone-cold tomb

Well, that was cheery! Merry Christmas to all.

Balthazar’s verse sounds more like something you’d sing on Good Friday than at Christmas.

But that’s as it should be, isn’t it? Good Friday is implicit in Christmas, just as much as Easter is implicit in Good Friday. Christmas celebrates the birth of a child, a human child (whatever else Jesus was, he was human). One thing we know for certain about all human beings is that they will die (as the Prayer Book tells us, “You are dust, and to dust you shall return.” Or as some less cheerful sage put it, “Life’s a bitch, and then you die.”). Born human, Jesus was bound to die human.

We celebrate, at this time of year, two Christmases: What I’ll call “traditional Christmas”, and “Christian Christmas”.

I love “traditional Christmas”. Traditional Christmas is Santa Claus, and Dickens’ Christmas Carol, and the kids opening presents on Christmas morning. Traditional Christmas is all the familiar songs: religious (“Hark, the Herald Angels Sing”), and secular (“Santa Baby (just slip a sable under the tree, for me)", fun (“Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer”) and excruciating (“The Little Drummer Boy”). Christmas trees, and holly, and mistletoe, and yule logs – all those pagan symbols that Christians co-opted – are part of traditional Christmas. What would Christmas be like without “Miracle on 34th Street”, “It’s a Wonderful Life”, “White Christmas”, or “Elf”?

Some good Christians complain about all the materialism and commercialism that are part of traditional Christmas today. But I like materialism and commercialism. In moderation, of course. When I was growing up, the stores in West Hartford Center starting putting up their Christmas decorations on the day after Thanksgiving, and they stayed up until Little Christmas (or, if you prefer, Epiphany). I loved it. I even love it now, living in Florida, when the plastic snowmen appear in store windows in September along with hurricane supplies. Materialism and commercialism are part and parcel of living in this American republic we love. Let’s face it: we are (most of us, anyway) going to be materialistic, and traditional Christmas gives us an opportunity to mix our materialism with a little joy, fellowship, and kindness.

But, having said all that, the fact is that for many people traditional Christmas can be a sadder time than we want it to be, a time of disappointment and regret, a time when we think more about what we’ve lost than of gifts to give and gifts to receive.

Do you ever feel that way at Christmas? I know I do sometimes.

Why is that? There are probably as many reasons as there are sad people, but I think one reason is that traditional Christmas makes us think back on our childhood, about how Christmas was back then. You may be sad because you have happy memories of Christmas in your childhood, or sad ones. If Christmas was happy when you were a child, if your loving parents and family made sure that Santa gave you all the presents you wanted, and friends and relatives shared the joys of the season, you now feel an aching sense of loss, because Christmas is not as happy now that you are an adult as it was then (or as you remember it was then). If Christmas was unhappy when you were a child, if your parents and family were poor in purse or poor in spirit, and Santa didn’t bring you the presents you hoped for, and the season, if not joyless, was at least not as joyful as it was supposed to be, then you, the grownup, look on Christmas as a cheat and a fraud, a promise made and broken.

This is where traditional Christmas disappoints. But Christian Christmas doesn’t.

Now, I grant you that this phrase I’ve coined, “Christian Christmas” is an awkward, redundant one, and some of you may take offense at it. The Christian Christmas, after all, is the real Christmas, the only Christmas, isn’t it? As the bumper stickers say, “Jesus is the Reason for the Season”, or “Keep the X in Xmas”.

Personally, I don’t think we need to give up traditional Christmas in order to honor Christian Christmas, but I do think we are less likely to be saddened by traditional Christmas if we remember what Christian Christmas is all about.

We celebrate at this season God coming into the world, God’s Son becoming a human being, God with us, the infant Emmanuel. Of course, there’s sadness in this wondrous time of Christmas, because this little baby is going to grow up to die. But the sadness is overcome because we know that in the life of this little child death will be defeated. We cannot imagine how the infant Jesus, as he lay in his manger, adored by shepherds and kings, could foresee what was going to happen to him, that he would grow up to be arrested, tortured, and killed, and then rise again. But we’ve read the end of the book, and we know, here at the beginning, how the story comes out. We know the sadness, and the triumph.

That’s why, I think, that the real Christmas, the Christian Christmas, is an antidote for the sadness that the traditional Christmas sometimes brings. The Christian Christmas isn’t an ideal of a lost era that we can never recover; it’s not a cheat and a fraud, a disappointment, a broken promise. It’s the promise kept.

So grim Balthazar was right to bring myrrh to the infant King of Israel, and to sing about gloom and sorrow, bleeding and dying. And he and his fellow “Kings of Orient Are” were right to join together (along with the whole congregation) in the last verse of the hymn:

Glorious now behold him arise,
King, and God, and Sacrifice,
Heaven sings
Alleluia the Earth replies

Merry Christmas!

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Our House

By Eric Von Salzen

[As part of the pledge drive at our church, All Saints, Fort Lauderdale, members of the Vestry were asked to address each week-end service. This is what I said. What do you think?]

It is written in the Book of Joshua:

“As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” [Joshua 24:15]

This church is the Lord’s House, but it’s also our house. It belongs to us, the people of All Saints. We started it, we built it, and we’re responsible for it.

Almost 100 years ago, on All Saints Day 1912, eight women met in the home of Mr. and Mrs. S. S. Walsh for the purpose of founding an Episcopal Church in the growing little frontier town of Fort Lauderdale. To that end, they formed the All Saints Guild. They had no church building. They had no rector. It was two years before All Saints was even recognized by the Diocese as a mission.

But the first service of our church was held six weeks after that meeting, in a public hall over a garage and filling station on Andrews Avenue.

We didn’t get our own church building until 1921, when one of the people of All Saints, the well-known pioneer Annie Beck, found an abandoned church building on Jupiter Island and arranged to have it dismantled and shipped down here to Fort Lauderdale by train, a distance of more than 60 miles. That building was re-erected downtown, across from Stranahan Park, and served as All Saints’ church building for more than a quarter of a century.

In 1949 the people of All Saints built a new, modern, spacious church building here in the residential neighborhood of Collee Hammock. Later, we bought the run-down property next door, which became Brion Park and made All Saints a riverfront church.

The people of All Saints have now just completed the construction of new buildings to continue and expand the mission and programs of our church: New classrooms, a new chapel, a new kitchen, and new meeting rooms.

Look around you. Look at these buildings. They’re yours, you the people of All Saints. Look at the programs of this church, our missions, our outreach programs to those less fortunate than we are, beds around the altar, our education programs for adults and children, our music program, even our clergy. They’re yours, you the people of All Saints. They exist because of you.

This is your house, as well as the Lord’s house. I don’t have to tell you that. You know it. I don’t have to tell you that, like your home and your family, this house of worship and its family need to be maintained and supported. You know that.

I’m not here to tell you to make a big pledge to support the operations of your church home. How much you pledge is your decision to make. The only thing I ask – I beg – is that you make your pledge soon. Fill out that pledge card and send it in SOON. So the church knows how much money we’re going to have next year to operate and maintain your church. So your Vestry can decide whether we can replace your leaking roof, so we can decide whether we can hire a sexton to keep your property in repair, so that we can decide what outreach and mission programs we can support.

And so that the Vestry won’t ask me to call you up at dinner time some time next month and pester you for your pledge. If I have to do that, the only person who will hate it more than you, is me.


Tuesday, December 9, 2008

George Clifford's New Piece

“This is simply a reminder that what we are called to is not our stuff. This is a cleansing by fire.”
- Brother Joseph Brown, one of seven Benedictine Anglican monks who lived at Mount Calvary Monastery in Montecito, which was destroyed by fires that swept through southern California (New York Times, November 19)

I wonder how many Christians really understand Brother Joseph’s remark?

My recent essay at the Episcopal CafĂ©, “An Alternative Province? Why Not?” sparked a surprisingly large and disappointing response , leaving me pessimistic about the number who understood Brother Joseph’s comment. The response to my essay was surprising in that a couple of conservative websites republished the post suggesting their approval. I had not expected conservatives to find my perspective agreeable. Let me be clear. Those leaving the Episcopal Church (like those remaining) are equally wrong to pursue property issues in the courts. Indeed, departing dissidents should honor the branch of Christendom that heretofore has nurtured them in the faith and depart by respecting a polity that assigns moral (and arguably legal) ownership of property and other assets to the national church through its dioceses. Individuals are free to depart; Church canons provide no mechanism for a parish or diocese to depart, as these are integral elements of the national body. Attempting to secede violates the trust that binds us together as God's family.

Those departing need to remember that even as their views about gender determining eligibility for ordination or the morality of same sex relationships do not put them outside the pale of the body of Christ, the converse is also true: those with whom they disagree remain part of the body of Christ. None of those issues, no matter how passionate or strong one’s views are, is a litmus test or definition of Christian identity.

Funds given to the Church are just that, given. That is, monies once donated become the Church’s property. Who contributed the money or other assets is irrelevant in Anglican polity. Once received, the resources belong to the Church for use in God's work, a truth symbolized in terming donations received in worship “offerings” and the priest blessing them.

Frittering away precious resources in a physically and spiritually starving world is equally scandalous, whether the Church or dissidents pay the legal bills. My local newspaper’s front page this morning featured two stories that nearly brought me to tears: a teenaged Eagle Scout allegedly murdered by four friends and the Zimbabwean cholera outbreak. Court battles over who owns what Church property provides no hope in either situation. Nor will court battles, regardless of who prevails, change anyone’s views about the issues that divide us. Courts and lawyers are important instruments of social justice; however, the scriptures exhort Christians to resolve their disputes without litigation.

The Presiding Bishop has helpfully observed that departures number only about one hundred thousand in a Church of twenty-three hundred thousand. Those leaving are a small percentage of the whole Church and their exit in no way threatens the Episcopal Church’s existence or vitality. Furthermore, the Archbishop of Canterbury has emphatically clarified that those who have left, should they wish to become an Anglican province, must comply with all established procedures for achieving that status, a process requiring years. In sum, the remarks of the Most Reverends Jefferts Schori and Williams suggest that the Episcopal Church should focus on its ministry and mission rather than devoting substantial and unwarranted time and energy to the sad but inevitable departure of the unhappy and bigoted few.

Normally, an author feels gratified when his or her writing attracts considerable attention. Yet the obvious depth of attachment, both among those departing and those remaining in the Episcopal Church, to property and other assets disappointed me. Material resources are important. However, my experience and observation is that human commitment and vision, not lack of material resources, are the real limits on Church ministry and mission. People, within and without the Church, respond enthusiastically and generously when afforded meaningful opportunities to engage in life-giving ministry and mission.

The relative handful of those leaving with their mutually incompatible theologies, to their dismay, has not caused the Episcopal Church’s numerical decline over the last fifty years. Part of the real explanation for that decline is that a Church caricatured as the party of the wealthy and powerful at prayer should expect inner conflict and pain when it strives to incarnate more fully God's inclusive love that transcends wealth, race, gender orientation, ethnicity, etc. Part of the explanation is also that we Episcopalians have focused on internal issues and institutional maintenance (conventions trying to legislate theology and ethics; attempting to preserve an aging, poorly located physical plant; perpetuating once useful activities that no longer serve today’s needs; etc.) rather than ministry and mission.

Perhaps, God has a badly needed message for us in the sad departure of our more narrow-minded brothers and sisters, a poignant reminder to prioritize ministry and mission ahead of institutional maintenance. Like the monks of Mount St. Calvary whose hospitality and ministry I have enjoyed and cherished, all parties in the current controversies can benefit from a painful and costly lesson in keeping one’s priorities correctly ordered. The monks will continue to serve, moving in the direction they sense God leading. The Episcopal Church should do the same, declaring the truth about property ownership but prepared to exercise costly grace in our actions rather than to compromise our priorities. Now is the time, the season, for us in the Episcopal Church to respond to God's vision for us, God's calling, to incarnate Christ's inclusive, life-giving love for all, at home and abroad. To do otherwise has intangible costs that far exceed the dollar value of any disputed assets.

The Rev. George Clifford, Diocese of North Carolina, served as a Navy chaplain for twenty-four years He taught philosophy at the U. S. Naval Academy and ethics at the Postgraduate School. He blogs at Ethical Musings.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Anglican Church in North America Numbers

The new denomination called The Anglican Church in North America has received what appears to be only 'theoretical' recognition from the GAFCON leadership - but the exent of which is unclear, nor is which primates it includes.

Curious to me is their claim of some 100,000 members, which is sometimes presented not as total membership but as (ASA) or average Sunday attendance. Let's see if either claim is accurate with some educated guessing.

As far as I can tell, the ACNA is a unified entity comprised of the following groups:

  • Convocation of Anglicans in North America (Nigeria) or 'CANA'
  • Anglican Mission in America (Rwanda) or 'AMiA'
  • Ugandan congregations
  • Kenyan congregations
  • Southern Cone dioceses/congregations
  • Reformed Episcopal Church (19th century denomination)
  • Forward in Faith
  • Anglican Communion Network
  • and some Canadian groups.

With some 63 congregations total, the CANA folks have a few very large congregations, so maybe they have 20,000 people. CANA on its own is the size of a medium size Episcopal Diocese, (but with some six bishops.)

AMiA has a bunch of growing church plants in seventeen missionary networks. I'm not sure about membership here - but I'm guessing it's around 20-25,000 based on the congregations I know about. This group has a strong growth model to be sure. Again, AMiA already is about the size of a medium sized Episcopal Diocese.

The Ugandans and Kenyans have dozens more congregations - but again - I'm guessing it's maybe three thousand people.

Southern Cone had dozens of congregations before the recent departures of majorities in four dioceses - Quincy, San Joaquin, Pittsburgh, and Fort Worth. Pittsburgh had about 1/3 stay in TEC, so about 10,000 left. Fort Worth and San Joaquin had about the same number leave. Quincy, well only about 800 left. Probably about 40,000 here now - at best. The Southern Cone group adds up to a significant sized 'diocese' as compared with The Episcopal Church. About the same size as the Diocese of Washington for example.

The REC has about 14,000 members - about the size of a smallish diocese itself.

The Anglican Communion Network equals zero - because it's realignment members have already been counted in the above groups (CANA, Africans, Southern Cone, etc.) where they all went over the past two years, and those not realigning from ACN (dioceses and parishes) can't be counted here. Forward in Faith, like the Anglican Communion Network, consists of realigners and nonrealigners - and the realigners are almost certainly already gone to overseas jurisdictions. So, that adds no new folks.

The Canadians maybe represent another 3,000, max.

So, the ACNA just might have 100,000 members. But, it would be surprising if 100% attended church each Sunday. Judging solely from the averages in Pittsburgh, San Joaquin, Fort Worth and Quincy, ASA tends to run around 40% of membership. Applying that to the whole ACNA means we're talking about 35-40,000 maximum on a Sunday.

By my educated guess the total membership is about 5% of the size of TEC, and the average Sunday attendance is also about 5%.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

The Anglican Church in North America

by Greg Jones

If you read a newspaper this morning, you probably saw that yesterday a group of folks have formed a new Christian denomination calling itself The Anglican Church in North America. It is claimed that the new entity has some 100,000 members in North America, and will seek to be recognized as an official province of the Anglican Communion. Certainly, The Anglican Church in North America will soon receive recognition from the giant Anglican Churches in Nigeria, Rwanda, Kenya, Uganda (with many millions of members each), as well as from the miniscule Church of the Southern Cone, (with a few thousand members in the Bolivia, Chile and Argentina.)

It is less clear what other Anglican recognition the new group will receive. To be considered a province of the Anglican Communion, it would take two-thirds of the Anglican primates to assent, along with that of the Archbishop of Canterbury, and the approval of the Anglican Consultative Council. Most doubt that such would be forthcoming. I frankly don't think it will.

What I think is more likely is that some of these large African provinces, in conjunction with their very small North American and South American partners, will become an alternative branch of Anglicanism altogether. The leaders of this new branch boycotted the Lambeth Conference last summer, held an alternative gathering in Jerusalem, and have already made numerous statements questioning the legitimacy the Lambeth Conference, the Archbishop of Canterbury, and the Anglican Consultative Council - the three oldest instruments of unity in the Anglican Communion. They have prepared for, and are poised to declare themselves the authentic expression of Anglicanism on Earth, and are doing so largely by challenging the faithfulness to God of the Episcopal Church, and any who do not accept their demands. They have already said that they are going to move forward with or without the assent of the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Lambeth Conference or the Anglican Consultative Council. Nigerian Bishop Martyn Minns said as much in today's New York Times.
Yes, I'm afraid that we are witnessing the division of the Anglican Communion, plain and simple. However, it won't be neat or tidy, or liberal vs. conservative. Indeed, it is not merely the division of the Anglican Communion, but the division of the conservative movement within the Episcopal Church and Anglican Communion. What was once a much broader coalition of traditionalists, has become smaller with this new action. Notably, the strongest conservative dioceses have all chosen to remain within the Episcopal Church, namely Central Florida, Southwest Florida, South Carolina and Dallas. Likewise, strong theologically conservative provinces around the globe continue to regard the Episcopal Church as a sister province, with whom disagreements are to be voiced and dealt with by conversation not separation.

But, life goes on. I remain committed to a vision of the Church in which we are bound up in baptism in Christ Jesus, and whether we agree with each other or not on a host of issues, if we call Him Lord, we are one. Moreover, while I don't believe in a perfect church, I do believe in a perfect Lord God, and following Him in discipleship and mission is my number one priority. I also happen to believe that our parish, our diocese, our Episcopal Church, and our Archbishop of Canterbury are also committed to One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism. To me that's all I need to stay united, and why I believe those who break communion and fellowship are misguided in so doing. Nonetheless, we have many neighbors in our city and world who belong to other denominations - many of which broke away from the Church of England or Episcopal Church at some point in the past four centuries or so. Our call is to reach out in Christly love to them just as to those in the world which know Him not.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Is Advent a Penitential Season?

by Bryan Owen

I’ve often heard Episcopalians emphatically say that Advent is not a penitential season. Thinking of Advent in penitential terms, they say, represents an “older” (i.e., defunct) theology from earlier times and earlier Prayer Books. By contrast, the 1979 Book of Common Prayer takes a strikingly different view of things. Now we focus on themes such as watching and waiting, preparing, pregnancy and birthing. Advent is not Lent – not even a mini-Lent. So away with the color purple, on with the blue, and leave all of that focus on sin and repentance for its proper season: Lent.

It’s certainly true that each season of the liturgical calendar year has its own unique themes and integrity. But it’s also true that themes of one season can and often do overlap or intersect with themes from other times of the year. Lent, for example, is not just a penitential season. Here’s what liturgical scholar Leonel Mitchell says about the fullness of Lent:

“Penitence … is not the only Lenten theme. As we have seen, the second lenten eucharistic preface speaks of Lent as a time to ‘prepare with joy for the Paschal feast’ (BCP: 379). Joy, love and renewal are as much lenten themes as are penitence, fasting and self-denial: and we need to remember that it is within the context of preparation for our participation in the Feast of feasts that the lenten penitence is expressed. Our penitence is not the penitence of those who have no hope of forgiveness, but of those who have been redeemed by the dying and rising of Jesus the Lord” [Leonel L. Mitchell, Praying Shapes Believing: A Theological Commentary on The Book of Common Prayer (Morehouse Publishing, 1985), p. 29].

If we sometimes miss the themes of joy, love, and renewal in Lent, then perhaps we also sometimes miss the themes of sin and repentance in Advent. True, there’s a great deal of emphasis placed upon watching and waiting. The 1st Sunday of Advent focuses on the second coming of Christ, the final judgment, and the consummation of God’s purposes for the world. And the 4th Sunday of Advent centers on the pregnant virgin Mary, mother of our Lord.

[Sidebar: I think it’s especially noteworthy that, in contrast to much of the pop theology about the “End Times,” the Eucharistic preface for Advent affirms that, because Jesus Christ has redeemed us from sin and death, and made us heirs of everlasting life, “we may without shame or fear rejoice to behold his appearing” (BCP, p. 378). What a refreshing antidote to the fear-mongering, shame-based theology found in the “Left Behind” series!]

In addition to other themes, and directly contrary to what many now say about the season, Advent shares much in common with Lent. Consider, for example, the collect appointed for the 1st Sunday of Advent (BCP, p. 211):

Almighty God, give us grace to cast away the works of darkness, and put on the armor of light, now in the time of this mortal life in which your Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the living and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal; through him who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Written for inclusion in the 1549 Prayer Book, the language of “cast[ing] away the works of darkness” alludes to a passage in Paul’s letter to the Romans assigned in both the 1979 Prayer Book and the Revised Common lectionaries as the epistle lesson for Advent I in Year A:

“Besides this you know what hour it is, how it is full time now for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed; the night is far gone, the day is at hand. Let us then cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light; let us conduct ourselves becomingly as in the day, not in reveling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarreling and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires” (Romans 13:11-14 RSV).

One striking feature of this collect’s allusion to Romans is its focus on very specific sins which Paul – and the Episcopal Church – call us to “cast away.” It’s hard to imagine a clearer thematic focus on sin and repentance than this. And if liturgical scholar Marion Hatchett is right, this collect’s call is not just for one Sunday in Advent. “From 1662 until the current [1979] revision,” Hatchett writes, “this collect was to be repeated daily throughout the Advent season[Marion J. Hatchett, Commentary on the American Prayer Book (HarperCollins, 1995), p. 166; emphasis added]. In other words, since the 1662 Prayer Book, the intention behind the inclusion of this collect is to put our need to repent of specific sins front and center from Advent I through Christmas Eve. That sure sounds like a penitential season to me.

But there’s more. Consider the collect appointed for the 2nd Sunday of Advent (BCP, p. 211):

Merciful God, who sent your messengers the prophets to preach repentance and prepare the way for our salvation: Give us grace to heed their warnings and forsake our sins, that we may greet with joy the coming of Jesus Christ our Redeemer; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Taken in conjunction with the appointed gospel readings – which, in all three years of the Sunday lectionary cycle, focus on John the Baptist, with particular emphasis on his fiery preaching of impending judgment for sin in year A of the RCL – this constitutes as clear a thematic focus on sin and repentance as anything found in Lent.

Then there’s the collect for the 3rd Sunday of Advent (BCP, p. 212):

Stir up your power, O Lord, and with great might come among us; and, because we are sorely hindered by our sins, let your bountiful grace and mercy speedily help and deliver us; through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom, with you and the Holy Spirit, be honor and glory, now and for ever. Amen.

The RCL readings are less emphatic about sin for this Sunday, but the collect puts us right in our place before God: we are powerless to do anything to save ourselves, seeing as “we are sorely hindered by our sins.” And so the themes of watching and waiting are here intimately connected to our sinfulness and our need for redemption.

Now here’s the collect appointed for the 4th Sunday of Advent (BCP, p. 212):

Purify our conscience, Almighty God, by your daily visitation, that your Son Jesus Christ, at his coming, may find in us a mansion prepared for himself; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

It’s only on this, the 4th Sunday of Advent, that the gospel readings shift our attention to the coming nativity of Jesus with a focus on Mary. But notice that even on this day, the collect suggests that we need God to purify our conscience. It’s not heavy-handed, but in a subtle and beautiful way it connects the Advent themes of preparation and repentance – as though we can only have room in our hearts and souls for the coming of the Christ child only after we’ve cast away (with God's help) the works of darkness.

To sum up, the first two Sundays of Advent include a major emphasis on sin, repentance, and the need for redemption. This emphasis remains, but lets up a bit, on the third Sunday and even more so by the fourth Sunday. But the themes of sin and repentance are present throughout the entire Advent season. This suggests that it’s only after we’ve done the work of repentance for three Sundays that we are finally ready to shift the focus to Mary, not because pregnancy is a sin, but because we won’t have room in our hearts and souls to receive the gloriously good news that God is coming to us as a baby through her womb until we’ve “cleaned house.”

Is Advent a penitential season? That’s like asking if Lent is a season of “joy, love and renewal” (Lee Mitchell). While it’s not as ominous as The Great Litany or the liturgy for Ash Wednesday, the answer is “Yes, Advent is a penitential season. And it's also a season about watching, waiting, judgment, consummation, pregnancy and giving birth.” The penitential dimension of this season can be clearly seen in the collects and lections appointed for the Sundays of Advent.

Why, then, do we sometimes hear clergy and laypersons so emphatically deny that these themes are an intrinsic part of the Advent season? I don’t want to paint with too broad of a brush, but I can’t help but wonder if it’s because we are increasingly uncomfortable with theological concepts like “sin” and “repentance,” and perhaps especially at a time of the year when our consumer culture is in high “feel good” gear. It's just so much easier (and more fun) to go with the path of least resistance and join the party. By contrast, themes of sin and repentance convey the clear message that we need to change, that we need transformation in order to be ready for Christmas, that we need to wait for the celebration in God's time, and that it’s inappropriate and even unfaithful to jump the gun by celebrating too early without doing the hard work of repentance in the light of God's grace.

That’s a strikingly counter-cultural message for a time when many churches are all too eager to embrace in part if not in whole the consumer culture’s Advent-trumping version of Christmas. But the message is right there in our Prayer Book.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Let's Truly Move On With Hope and Mission

My friend and colleague in the Diocese of North Carolina, the Rev. George Clifford, has written a compelling piece on the Episcopal Cafe.  In this piece he comes to a new attitude regarding the pending schism/realignment in global Anglicanism.  That attitude may be summed up as: 'So what?  Move on. Praise the Lord, drop the lawsuits and let's make a deal."

I agree with it.

To be sure, I care very much that the visible body be rent asunder yet again.  I care very much that the ongoing Anglican Communion be both unified on essentials of the Catholic faith and also tolerant on non-essentials.  Moreover, I rankle at the assertion made by some on the Left-wing of the Communion that The Episcopal Church should focus on being a 'small protestant denomination' (as Marilyn McCord Adams has said) with a niche for social-theological-progressivism.  I still see The Episcopal Church as being called to being comprehensive and inclusive of the traditional array of Anglican identities (catholic, protestant, broad, liberal, etc.)

Nonetheless, I am totally unfazed in my own location by the presence of some half-dozen non-Episcopal churches which identify as Anglican.  Indeed, I'm friends with clergy and laity in several of them.  One parish is Anglican Mission in America, another is affiliated with Common Cause, another dating to an older continuing Anglican body.  

On this blog I have certainly said some hard words against the leaders of the global schism.  But, I'm as resigned to a new future as they are, and I'm more than willing to move on and not worry about it too much.  Indeed, on the ground, despite a few hiccups in the early days, we are finding that Raleigh's Episcopal and various Anglican congregations have plenty of room and plenty of souls to go around.  The work is plenty and the laborers are few.  Our parish has grown more in the past five years than the previous five.  And with supposedly more 'competition.'  Again, if our congregations preach the Gospel, say our prayers, worship the Lord, include all into God's saving embrace, and are active in discipleship and mission - we've got nothing to fear.

Clearly the separation is coming, and yes there will be other Anglican entities around.  Whether or not they are in the Anglican Communion may or may not matter.  

I believe that we need to drop the fight, settle the property disputes where they may be settled, stop wasting funds on lawyers, and put the proceeds and savings directly into the five marks of mission.  Instead of lawsuits, let's proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom, teach, baptise and nurture new believers, respond to human need in loving service, transform unjust structures in society, and safeguard God's green earth.

Friday, November 28, 2008

I Believe . . . .

Tom: Do I have to believe the Nicene Creed in order to be a good Christian?

The Godfather: “Good” is above my pay grade. I’m just a simple EFM mentor. For “good” you need to consult an ordained clergyperson, or an editorial writer for the Times.

Tom: Well, forget “good”. Do I need to believe the Nicene Creed to be a Christian?

The Godfather: In my church, the Episcopal Church, we all recite it every Sunday, or how ever often we take Communion, and we say, aloud and in public, that we believe it. I think that’s true in most Christian churches – although there’s one phrase about the Holy Spirit that’s been a source of disagreement between Western and Eastern churches. When we’re baptized, we recite – or if we’re infants, someone recites for us – a Baptismal Covenant that says pretty much the same things as the Creed. So I guess the answer is that the Nicene Creed reflects a set of beliefs to which Christians generally ascribe. I should think that, if you identify as a Christian, you’d want to share those beliefs.

Tom: That’s not really the answer I was hoping for.

The Godfather: Sorry about that. Is there something in particular about the Creed that you have a problem with?

Tom: Well, sure, it’s that business about Mary being a virgin. That’s pretty hard to swallow don’t you think?

The Godfather: You mean because it’s biologically impossible?

Tom: Well, yeah.

The Godfather: But resurrection is impossible, too, isn’t it? Why worry about Mary’s virginity if you’re prepared to accept that her son died and rose from the dead?

Tom: Because the Resurrection was a public event, and the earliest Christians, including the writers of the Gospels, were either themselves eye-witnesses to it, or they were able to rely on others who were eye-witnesses. You have evidence that the impossible happened. But the conception of Jesus and the virginity of his mother at that time were intimate, private events; there were no witnesses who could attest to it, other than Mary. The two miracles are very different in that respect.

Besides, the Resurrection is a compelling, important miracle, it's the basis of all Christianity. But it’s hard to take the virgin birth story seriously; it’s like a silly joke. “Well, Joseph, it seems I’m pregnant. But it’s OK. It wasn’t that handsome young shepherd from Cana. You see, there was this angel . . . .” You wouldn’t believe it if someone told you that in the real world; you’d laugh at someone trying to get away with such a crock.

The Godfather: Joseph didn’t believe it at first, either, but he came around. Anyway, just because you can make something sound silly doesn’t mean it’s not true. Do you remember the crucifixion scene in the Monty Python movie Life of Brian? It shows all these crucified guys singing and jiving on their crosses? It’s hilarious. But it doesn’t mean there was no crucifixion.

Tom: I take your point, but look, two of the four Gospels don’t even mention Mary being a virgin.

The Godfather: That’s true, but that’s because Mark and John, probably the first and last written of the four Gospels, don’t talk about the birth of Jesus at all. They really aren’t evidence against the virgin birth.

But don’t you think it’s interesting that Matthew and Luke each have birth stories, but they are almost totally different stories? As we’re reminded every Christmas, Matthew has the Wise Men but no Shepherds, and Luke has the Shepherds, but no Wise Men. Both Gospels have an angel announce that Mary’s child is from the Holy Spirit, but in Matthew the angel appears to Joseph, and in Luke the angel appears to Mary. Matthew has Joseph and Mary living in Bethlehem, and then moving to Nazareth after they return from Egypt, where they fled to escape King Herod; Luke has the family living in Nazareth all along, but they’re temporarily in Bethlehem at the time of Jesus’ birth to register in accordance with Caesar’s decree, and there’s no flight to Egypt. The two birth stories seem to reflect two very different traditions that had developed by the time those two Gospels were written, in the third or fourth quarter of the First Century.

But they have one thing in common: Both Matthew and Luke tell us that Mary was a virgin when Jesus was conceived. Two very different traditions, with this one thing in common. How about that?

Tom: It still doesn’t mean that the virgin birth story is true.

The Godfather: And the fact that there’s no birth story in Mark and John doesn’t mean it’s not true.

Tom: OK, I grant you that. As I just said, the fact is that no one but Mary could ever attest for sure that she was a virgin when Jesus was conceived.

The Godfather: Or that she wasn’t.

Tom: Or that she wasn’t. But making such a big deal about Mary’s virginity just seems to be part of the whole anti-sex message the church has been peddling to make us behave the way they want us to, doesn’t it?

The Godfather: If that’s the church’s objective, it’s been a pretty abysmal failure. At least judging by Desperate Housewives. Look, we’re not talking right now about the immaculate conception or the perpetual virginity of Mary or her assumption to Heaven. None of that is part of the Nicene Creed.

Tom: No, it’s not, but the Creed does claim that Mary was a virgin, and there’s really no reason to make that claim unless you’re trying to glorify virginity and denigrate sex.

The Godfather: Well, let’s think about that. The Creed does talk about the “virgin” Mary, but what’s the context for that reference?

Tom: Well, I hadn’t really thought about it in terms of context. OK, let’s look at it. The Creed has three main sections. The first one is about God the Father, the second is about God the Son, Christ, and the third is mostly about the Holy Spirit, but also throws in the church, baptism, and the after life. Obviously the Virgin Mary shows up in the second part, the part about Christ.

The Godfather: That’s the longest part of the Creed, isn’t it? I wonder why.

Tom: Oh come on; you know that. It's all explained in Beyond Da Vinci, by Greg Jones, which surely you've read. Christ was the hard part to understand, that’s what all the controversy was about that the Council of Nicea was supposed to resolve. You start off with the proposition that there’s only one God. That’s an absolute, you can’t compromise on it or you end up as a polytheistic pagan. So if there’s only one God, how do you fit Jesus in?

The Godfather: How about saying he’s a prophet of God, divinely inspired, but not divine?

Tom: That was one theory, but it had been rejected by orthodox Christians long before Nicea. Having just one more prophet wouldn’t really change the world. Christians felt that the death and resurrection of Jesus was a big deal, and it changed the world. A Christ who was only human wouldn’t do that.

The Godfather: So Christ had to be divine?

Tom: Right, but a big question before Nicea was, how divine? Christ couldn’t be another God, along side the Father. There had to be only one God. Christ had to be the same God as “God, the Father, the Almighty, maker of heaven and earth”. And that’s what the Creed says: that Christ is God, just as the Father is God, but the Father and the Son are the same God: “God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God”. Christ the Son is “of one being with the Father”.

The Godfather: And you understand that?

Tom: No, and I don’t think anyone really understands it, but I see what the Creed is driving at.

The Godfather: OK, the Father and the Son are both the same one God. And then what?

Tom: Then the Son, Christ, while still being divine, still being God, becomes human, he’s born on Earth as Jesus of Nazareth.

The Godfather: Is that important?

Tom: That God the Son became human? Well yes, of course it was important to the people who wrote the Creed. The whole story of Jesus in the Gospels is about a human being who walked and talked and suffered and died. If you denied that he really was human, if you claimed that he just looked like a human – and some people did claim that – it wouldn’t do the job, because then all of Jesus’ suffering and dying would have been just an illusion, and it would make the whole story pointless.

The Godfather: And how did he become human?

Tom: Like the Harry Chapin song says, “he came to the world in the usual way”, he was born. “He became incarnate from the Virgin Mary, and was made man.”

The Godfather: So is there some theological significance to Mary being his mother?

Tom: Having a human mother underscores the humanity of Jesus. It’s something that all we human beings share with him, and with each other. But that doesn’t mean she had to be a virgin. That’s my whole problem with the virgin birth thing.

The Godfather: Well suppose God had asked you for advice . . . .

Tom: Hey, that’s crazy! I’m not qualified . . . .

The Godfather: I’m not offering you a consulting job. This is a mental exercise. Suppose it’s 2,000 years ago, and God’s decided to incarnate the Son as a human being, and He asks you who should be the mother. He’s narrowed it down to two candidates: Mary, the virgin; and Naomi, married with four kids already. Which one do you advise Him to choose?

Tom: What I would say to this absurd hypothetical question is that it doesn’t matter which one He chooses. The mother of the Lord doesn’t have to be a virgin.

The Godfather: Now suppose God asks the same question of Simon, a First Century Jew; who does he recommend that God choose?

Tom: The First Century Jew probably says, Choose the virgin.

The Godfather: Why?

Tom: Because he’s read Isaiah in Greek, and he thinks the line about the “young woman” giving birth refers to a “virgin” giving birth; the translation from Hebrew to Greek in the Septuagint was flawed. But that was regarded as a prophesy that the Messiah would be born of a virgin.

The Godfather: Good for you to know that. You must have taken EFM.

Tom: Yes, I have, and it’s a heck of a good program. But getting back to your question: Aside from the Isaiah passage, Simon, the First Century Jew, prefers having the mother be a virgin because he says it will reduce confusion about the paternity of the child.

The Godfather: And if God decides to pick the virgin to be the mother of the Son, would God be wrong?

Tom: No, I don’t suppose so.

The Godfather: In fact, you just told God that it didn’t matter which of the two potential mothers was chosen, the virgin or the mother of four, didn’t you?

Tom: Yes, I did say that.

The Godfather: So if it doesn’t matter, why are you all hung up by the Nicene Creed saying that the Son became incarnate from the Virgin Mary?

Tom: I don’t know, now that you put it that way. I guess I really don’t have any basis to reject that part of the Creed; it’s really a non-issue.

The Godfather: Good, I’m glad I could be of assistance to you in working that out.

Tom: Yeah, thanks. Hey, do you think you could help me with that business about “one holy, catholic, and apostolic church”? That’s sure not the way things look to me.

The Godfather: Oh. Gee, Tom, would love to talk about that one, but I just have to run. Got a vestry meeting this evening. Working on stewardship.

You have turned in your pledge card haven’t you?

By Eric Von Salzen

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Anglican Consultative Council Meeting by ENS

[Episcopal News Service, London] The Joint Standing Committee of the Primates and Anglican Consultative Council (ACC) has devoted much of its November 24-26 meeting to discussing budgetary issues and planning the next meeting of the ACC -- the communion's main policy-making body -- set for May 1-12, 2009 in Kingston, Jamaica.

Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori was among those attending the JSC meeting, which was held behind closed doors at the Anglican Communion Office and Lambeth Palace in London. She noted that a November 26 report in The Times of London newspaper, that suggested the JSC had discussed plans to discipline the Anglican Province of the Southern Cone for its recent incursions into other provinces, was untrue. "The subject has not come up," she told Episcopal News Service.

... the ACC is expected to review a yet-unreleased final draft of the proposed Anglican covenant, a set of principles intended to bind the Anglican Communion amid differing viewpoints on human sexuality and biblical interpretation.

...The Rev. Canon Gregory Cameron, deputy secretary general of the Anglican Communion, addressed the committee on what he expects in the next version of the covenant. "The first two sections will be relatively unchanged," said Jefferts Schori, "but he's expecting some significant changes in the third section and an almost completely new [appendix]."

...The first two sections of the second version, known as the St. Andrew's Draft, are called "Our Inheritance of Faith" and "The Life We Share with Others: Anglican Vocation." The third section, "Our Unity and Common Life," contains a series of affirmations about how Anglican provinces operate within their own boundaries and commitments about taking actions that might impact the larger communion. The appendix suggests a procedure for churches that breach the covenant.

...Anglican Communion provinces have until the end of March 2009 to respond to the St. Andrew's Draft. The Covenant Design Group will next meet in London in April 2009 and is expected to issue another draft which will be reviewed by the ACC during its May meeting. The ACC could decide to release that version to the provinces for their adoption.

...Jefferts Schori told a recent meeting of the Episcopal Church's Executive Council that if the ACC decides to do so, she will "strongly discourage" any effort to bring that request to the 76th General Convention in July.

..."My sense is that the time is far too short before our General Convention for us to have a thorough discussion of it as a church," Jefferts Schori told the Executive Council on October 21.
...Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams acknowledged in his August 26 pastoral letter to the bishops of the Anglican Communion that there had been "a general desire" at the Lambeth Conference "to find better ways of managing our business as a communion.

..."Many participants believed that the indaba method, while not designed to achieve final decisions, was such a necessary aspect of understanding what the questions might be that they expressed the desire to see the method used more widely," he said. "This is an important steer for the meetings of the primates and the ACC [Anglican Consultative Council] which will be taking place in the first half of next year, and I shall be seeking to identify the resources we shall need in order to take forward some of the proposals about our structures and methods."
The Primates Standing Committee includes Archbishop Rowan Williams of England (chair), Archbishop Philip Aspinall of Australia, President Bishop Mouneer Anis of Jerusalem and the Middle East, Archbishop Henry Orombi of Uganda, Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori of the United States, and Archbishop Barry Morgan of Wales.

The ACC Standing Committee includes Bishop John Paterson of Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia (chair), Professor George Koshy of South India (vice chair), Philippa Amable of West Africa, Jolly Babirukamu of Uganda, Robert Fordham of Australia, Bishop Kumara Illangasinghe of Ceylon, Canon Elizabeth Paver of England, Bishop James Tengatenga of Central Africa, and Nomfundo Walaza of Southern Africa.

Orombi and Anis did not attend the meeting. The committee will next convene immediately prior to the ACC meeting in Jamaica.

-- Matthew Davies is editor of Episcopal Life Online and Episcopal Life Media correspondent for the Anglican Communion.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Eucharist and the Eschaton

This from a priest in the Diocese of Pennsylvania ...

Back to the Future: Eucharist and Eschatology

by Daniell Hamby

It might seem an arcane thing to reflect in 2008 on older bits of the Eucharistic Canon, especially something as common-place as the Lamb of God, sometimes called Agnus Dei. Overhearing a conversation recently, I was reminded of an ongoing curiosity I have about that little snippet of text, as well as it’s place in a Sunday liturgy.

The curiosity has to do with the word “sins.” Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. Hummm. Are those the multiple sins of omission or commission that we are singing about? The “sins we do, and are done on our behalf” as one of the new eucharistic formulae put it? Or is the “sin” that is taken away by the Lamb of God the chasm, the distance between human kind and the God who created us? When we ask the Lamb of God to take away the “sins” of the world, do we hearken to that scene when John the Gospel writer has Jesus coming over the crown of the hill, and John the Baptist pointing to him and saying: “Behold the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world?” Maybe a little picky, maybe a little arcane, but maybe, also an entry point into a larger conversation.

In an overheard conversation this summer I heard someone say (of the Agnus Dei) that it is not primarily a penitential snippet of liturgical text. By the time we get to it, we have been plenty penitential! And, if we happen to be praying Rite I, we will be even more penitential in just a few seconds, as we consider the “crumbs and dogs” under the table. No, said the one overheard, the Agnus is about eschatology. It is about the future. It is about hope. It is about the primary thing God does with and for us at Eucharist to prepare us for the great banquet at the end of time, when we gather with everyone who has come before us, and those who come after, at the table prepared from the beginning of time.

Without belaboring the historical trajectories of this little theological gem, the Lamb of God came to us as a gift from the early church, and was ensconced in the liturgy by the seventh century. It was originally sung by an Archdeacon, as the celebrant made communion. There was no doubt that the intent was to call attention to the eschatological nature of the Eucharist, the hope of the baptized. The dream God has for the cosmos. A few centuries later the theology would shift, and the meaning became a continuation of the penitential character of the liturgy. But at it’s beginning, it was about what God has prepared for us: the object of which, then, is not “taking away sin,” but granting us peace. Donna nobis pacem. God knows we need that.

Several weeks ago, at the onset of the present financial quagmire, there was a great deal of talk – some of it ’ biblical’ in character – about what it all meant. One commentator asked “is this armageddon?” Armageddon, indeed. The loose talk amongst some parts of the church these days about being left behind, the rapture (and, no you can not have my car), the anti Christ and the thousand years, all of it plays into the fear mongering that is entirely too present in our world. In the face of the fear, eschatology takes on a foreboding, anxious tone which I do not believe is what the mothers and fathers of the faith, nor the intent of God, have in mind.

The eschaton, when God interrupts, when God surrounds, when God invites, when God includes, when God embraces, when God makes whole is the very thing our weekly Eucharist anticipates. In the fleeting seconds as we stand with out reached palms, and expectant taste buds, perhaps we remember our shortcomings and bad choices, our short sightedness. But that is a fleeting second. I wonder if it might help were we to remember this little trope called the Lamb of God. Not because of the “takes away the sin” part, but because of the “grant us peace” part. The result, then is not fear, but seeking those places where God is already at work, feeding hungry mouths, housing homeless people, caring for lonely souls, and confronting the powers and principalities that denigrate the creation which God already has called Good.

It’s just a thought. But maybe a thought about hope in a time when hope is desperately needed. And a call to engage with the God who simply asks us to be sons and daughters, sisters and brothers.

Daniell Hamby is Rector of St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church, Yardley, PA

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Schism Update - Remember the Chapman Memo

I have said it before, but I should probably say it again, a great deal of what has happened in the realignment happening now within Anglicanism has gone according to plan - with a major exception.

As for what has gone according to plan, I offer here excerpts from the infamous 'Chapman Memo' which was sent to realignment folks in late 2003 - outlining the plan.
  • "In consultation with a wide circle of friends - inside this country and beyond - we have clarified our strategy and are now moving to implement it..."
  • Our ultimate goal is a realignment of Anglicanism on North American soil committed to biblical faith and values, and driven by Gospel mission.
  • We believe in the end this should be a "'replacement" jurisdiction with confessional standards, maintaining the historic faith of our Communion, closely aligned with the majority of world Anglicanism
  • We seek to retain ownership of our property as we move into this realignment.
  • We will move to initiate support structures for fellowship and strategy ... We will creatively redirect finances .... We will innovatively [sic] move around, beyond or within the canons
  • We will seek, under the guidance of the Primates, negotiated settlements in matters of property, jurisdiction, pastoral succession and communion
  • If adequate settlements are not within reach, a faithful disobedience of canon law on a widespread basis may be necessary..
  • We do have non-geographical oversight available from "offshore" Bishops...
Most of this was achieved. To recap, the formation of the Anglican Communion Network was first on their list, then, it was abandoned when about half its member dioceses did not go forward as schismatics but have remained loyal to the Episcopal Church. Those that went to the next stage, discarded the ACN and created the Common Cause Partnership - with several other breakaway 'Anglican' bodies created before Gene Robinson's consecration - some dating back a generation, and one a century. Additionally, almost the entire "wide-circle of friends"mentioned in the memo became bishops in "offshore" dioceses. When the global effort of convincing the wider Communion to expel TEC and offer a replacement jurisdiction in North America failed, they then took steps to create a replacement jurisdiction for the entire Earth. This will have as many as half of the Anglicans on Earth in it - as long as they live in Nigeria, Uganda, Rwanda, Kenya and in tiny numbers elsewhere.

The big exception to the plan is that they have not gotten TEC kicked out - or Canada - but in fact have shown that the wider Communion is pretty resilient and tolerant. As it turns out, most Anglican provinces are going to move forward together, however tensely, with TEC and in obvious tension and disagreement over today's presenting issue.

The schismatics know that's the future, and that they can't accept it, so they have begun this project not of reform or realignment but schism.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Schism and the Call to Covenant Making

by Greg Jones

What the formation of a new self-styled Anglican church for North America signifies is the beginning of a new self-styled Anglican Communion for the globe. This new communion is almost certain to consist of Nigeria, Rwanda, Kenya, Uganda, and the Western Hemispheric ecclesiastical humunculus of Southern Cone/ACNA. Whether others join the new-Anglican Communion remains to be seen. Probably many individuals, clusters, pieces and parts will leave the remaining 33 provinces of the old-fashioned Anglican Communion and enter into the new entity.

Even still, for those of us who remain faithful members of the Episcopal Church and Anglican Communion, we nonetheless represent a wide-ranging body of folks. We do not all agree on the presenting question of human sexuality, or on liturgical questions, or on doctrinal questions, etc. Moreover, we continue to exist in a polarized World - in which there will always be more opportunities for high-level conflict, animosity, and future breakages of union.

For the sake of mutual love in Christ Jesus, I still believe in the value of a covenant-making process in which the Anglican Communion forms and reasserts its bonds and boundaries of identity and mutual service.

As I have said before, this covenant needs to contain a minimum degree of confessional commonality, a minimum degree of structural novelty, and no teeth. This is not legalism, this is not centralization, this is not a prenuptial agreement. Covenant making does not require cursing and anathema to be effective and faithful.

In our covenant we need a declaration of intent, a proclamation of shared Scriptural, doctrinal and ecclesiological values, an exchanging of vows, and provision for ongoing life as a Eucharistically defined and sustained missionary organization with One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism.

The departure of those who would not have us is a tragedy for all. And it's the sort of tragedy that we should ever seek to avoid at all faithful costs. I believe it takes a bigger representation of the Body of Christ than a few provinces (let alone one) to claim to be capable of discerning what is faithfulness, what are faithful costs, and what the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church should look like in all its diverse array. This is why we need the Anglican Communion, why it needs us, and why we need a covenant to help us clarify who we are and what binds us.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Schism Update by Greg Jones

I predicted quite some time ago that this day would come. Not because I'm smart, but because I've been listening to the people planning this day. What they have been saying all along is: "We are working for this day to come."

That day is December 3rd - when the Common Cause Partnership (CCP) in conjunction with the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans (FOCA) - will launch what will be called the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA?). They claim it will be a province of the Anglican Communion. The new 'province' will include Mexico, United States and Canada. ACNA will be based on the language of the "Jerusalem Declaration" and the birth of a new constitution and canons of a new 'Anglican Church' for North America.

FOCA is the group consisting of those bishops - and others - who boycotted the 2008 Lambeth Conference in protest of the presence of the Episcopal Church there.

What is clear is that these people have kept their word, and done everything they suggested they would do. What is surprising is that they continue to feign surprise when they get 'deposed' by TEC, and that there appears to be such silence from Canterbury on all of this.

Bob Duncan in his announcement of the event claimed that ACNA would be a 'province of the Anglican Communion.' One wonders how he can make this claim? Heretofore, new provinces of the Anglican Communion have been named by the Anglican Consultative Council - not by declaration of the province itself - or by the recognition of a handful of other primates. Secondly, heretofore, provinces do not overlap with existing ones - the reality of overlapping jurisdiction in regards to chaplaincies, mission, etc., notwithstanding. Thirdly, the legitimacy of the so-called Primates Council (self-appointmed by GAFCON) as an entity of the Communion, or the practice of boundary violation have already been critiqued by the Archbishop of Canterbury since the Jerusalem Declaration was made. Fourthly, Duncan and the gang have already repudiated Rowan Williams, the role of the Archbishop of Canterbury, the recent Lambeth Conference or the covenant draft now being considered - so one wonders why the keep claiming a place 'in the Anglican Communion' anyway.

Here is the video of the announcement of the new Anglican-named entity.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

"American Episcopacy" by William Wordsworth

PATRIOTS informed with Apostolic light
Were they, who, when their country had been freed,
Bowing with reverence to the ancient creed,
Fixed on the frame of England's Church their eight,
And strove in filial love to re-unite
What force had severed. Thence they fetched the
Of Christian unity, and won a meed
Of praise from Heaven. To thee, O saintly WHITE !
Patriarch of a wide-spreading family,
Remotest lands and unborn times shall turn,
Whether they would restore or build — to thee,
As one who rightly taught how zeal should burn,
As one who drew from out faith's holiest urn
The purest stream of patient energy,

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Barak and Bedan in Scripture?

The lectionary reading for this Sunday includes mention of the famous Judge Deborah - and her faithful commander Barak ben Abinoam. Am I the only one to be somewhat interested in the timing of this lection, given the sound of this biblical figure's name: Barak ben Abinoam?

Judges 5 says,
"Arise, Barak, lead away your captives, O son of Abin'o-am. Then down marched the remnant of the noble; the people of the LORD marched down for him against the mighty."
Hebrews 11 likewise says,
"what more shall I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets— who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight."
In researching Barak ben Abinoam in commentaries and other translations, if I wasn't already somewhat intrigued enough, consider that in the King James Version, Barak is identified incorrectly in the text of 1 Samuel as 'Bedan.'

Friday, November 14, 2008

Consecration of Samuel Seabury

Today on the Church calendar we remember the consecration of Samuel Seabury as the first Bishop of the Episcopal Church, the historic ties between the Episcopal Church in the United States of America and the Episcopal Church in Scotland, and God's goodness in bestowing upon us "the gift of the episcopate" [Lesser Feasts and Fasts (Church Publishing, p. 453)].

James Kiefer summarizes the story quite nicely:

A crucial date for members of the Episcopal Church in the United States of America is the consecration of the first Bishop of the Anglican Communion in the United States. During the colonial era, there had been no Anglican bishops in the New World; and persons seeking to be ordained as clergy had had to travel to England for the purpose. After the achievement of American independence, it was important for the Church in the United States to have its own bishops, and an assembly of Connecticut clergy chose Samuel Seabury to go to England and there seek to be consecrated as a bishop.

However, the English bishops were forbidden by law to consecrate anyone who would not take an oath of allegiance to the British Crown. He accordingly turned to the Episcopal Church of Scotland. When the Roman Catholic king James II was deposed in 1688, some of the Anglican clergy (including some who had been imprisoned by James for defying him on religious issues) said that, having sworn allegiance to James as King, they could not during his lifetime swear allegiance to the new monarchs William and Mary. Those who took this position were known as non-Jurors (non-swearers), and they included almost all the bishops and clergy of the Episcopal Church in Scotland. Accordingly, the monarchs and Parliament declared that thenceforth the official church in Scotland should be the Presbyterian Church. The Episcopal Church of Scotland thereafter had no recognition by the government, and for some time operated under serious legal disabilities. However, since it had no connection with the government, it was free to consecrate Seabury without government permission, and it did. This is why you see a Cross of St. Andrew on the Episcopal Church flag.

In Aberdeen, 14 November 1784, Samuel Seabury was consecrated to the Episcopate by the Bishop and the Bishop Coadjutor of Aberdeen and the Bishop of Ross and Caithness. He thus became part of the unbroken chain of bishops that links the Church today with the Church of the Apostles.

In return, he promised them that he would do his best to persuade the American Church to use as its Prayer of Consecration (blessing of the bread and wine at the Lord's Supper) the Scottish prayer, taken largely unchanged from the 1549 Prayer Book, rather than the much shorter one in use in England. The aforesaid prayer, adopted by the American Church with a few modifications, has been widely regarded as one of the greatest treasures of the Church in this country.

Here's a brief excerpt from Bishop Seabury's 1789 work entitled An Earnest Persuasive to Frequent Communion:

The general practice in this country is to have monthly Communions, and I bless God the Holy Ordinance is so often administered. Yet when I consider its importance, both on account of the positive command of Christ and of the many and great benefits we receive from it, I cannot but regret that it does not make a part of every Sunday's solemnity. That it was the principal part of the daily worship of the primitive Christians all the early accounts inform us. And it seems probable from the Acts of the Apostles that the Christians came together in their religious meetings chiefly for its celebration. (Acts 2:42, 46; 20:7). And the ancient writers generally interpret the petition in our Lord's prayer, "Give us this day," or day by day, "our daily bread," of the spiritual food in the Holy Eucharist. Why daily nourishment should not be as necessary to our souls as to our bodies no good reason can be given.

If the Holy Communion was steadily administered whenever there is an Epistle and Gospel appointed, which seems to have been the original intention - or was it on every Sunday - I cannot help thinking that it would revive the esteem and reverence Christians once had for it, and would show its good effects in their lives and conversations. I hope the time will come when this pious and Christian practice may be renewed. And whenever it shall please God to inspire the hearts of the Communicants of any congregation with a wish to have it renewed, I flatter myself they will find a ready disposition in their minister to forward their pious desire.

In the meantime, let me beseech you to make good use of the opportunities you have; and let nothing but real necessity keep you from the heavenly banquet when you have it in your power to partake of it.


Sermon on James of Jerusalem

by Tobias Haller

I’m not going to try to settle the historic question about exactly what people meant or understood by calling James, “the brother of the Lord.” Whether that meant he was Jesus’ full younger brother (as a later child of Mary and Joseph); or older half-brother (as a child of Joseph by a former marriage); or, as some think, a cousin or other more distant relation — in the long run it doesn’t matter what the exact relationship was. Because whatever it was, the people of his hometown compared Jesus to his relatives, standing him up against his relations, calling out some of them, including James, by name.

+ + +

What they were doing was saying, “Well, the rest of his family is no great shakes, so where does Jesus get it?” Think what it would have been like if people had known Billy Carter before they ever heard of Jimmy — two men who, though brothers, could hardly be more different from each other in terms of temperament or talent. But that was the crowd’s experience in Jesus’ home town — they saw him through the lens of the kin they knew, and that made it impossible for them to see how extraordinary Jesus was. Familiarity didn’t just breed contempt, but made it impossible for him to work many deeds of power there, as disbelief based on familiarity undermined the foundation of faith.

There is, of course, another side to the comparison: the side of Jesus’ relatives. I don’t know if any of you have ever experienced it, but I’m sure you can imagine what it’s like to have a famous relative. It can be a strain, as people come to expect, once they find out your sister or brother is a famous author or athlete or performer, that you must have a similar gift — and they put you on the spot with their unreasonable expectations. I think of the presidential campaigns towards the end of which we now (at last!) find ourselves, and try to imagine how all of the candidates’ relatives must feel about being put into the spotlight of public perusal, placed under the microscope — or in front of the microphone — as if they and not their spouse or brother or sister was the one running for office.

So you can imagine what it must have felt like for James, and Mary and all the others. They were small-town folks who most of the time minded their business and kept out of the doings of their brother and son, making a name for himself throughout the countryside. You may recall that the one time they tried to intervene in Jesus’ ministry, came about because people were beginning to say he was crazy, and they mounted a half-hearted intervention.

And it was at that point that Jesus suddenly expanded his family, turning from the merely biological to the spiritual. For he asked the crowds, “Who is my mother and my brother?” And he told the crowds, “Whoever does the will of God is my mother and brother and sister.” And that, my friends, includes us, even us, in the here and now. We are Jesus’ kin.

+ + +

But back to James, who whether brother, half-brother, or cousin, was kin of some sort in the then and there of Jesus’ own lifetime. As we know, he joined his family who thought Jesus had a screw loose, and tried to help his mother and the rest of the family get him under control. And yet, after Jesus’ death, he shows up as an important leader in the church, clearly, as the reading from Acts shows us, the spokesperson for the assembly, the one who reaches the conclusion — a real “decider” — and on the strength of whose summing-up the Apostles accept the decision that the Gentiles are not to be bound by the Law of Moses.

We hear that rather matter-of-factly, with the retrospect of the rest of Acts and two thousand years of church history — but at the time it was an audacious move — and not everyone in the early church was happy with it. Some continued the pressure to require circumcision and obedience to the Law of Moses for all Gentile Christian converts. As Paul’s letters attest, this was a major bone of contention for decades to come.

Still, at that gathering, James took that bold step, and acted as the principle authority, as the first bishop of Jerusalem, a guardian of the unity of the church which was about to be compromised by the new tension placed upon it: the tension created by admitting Gentiles to its fellowship.

James was also among the earliest martyrs for the Christian faith — according to early church historians, thrown from the pinnacle of the Temple (which you can see in the background of the icon) and beaten to death in the court below, when he would not dissuade the people from accepting Jesus as the Messiah.

What a difference! Clearly something happened to James between the time he thought his brother was crazy and the time we see him as a leader of the church, and hear of him as a martyr to the faith.

Historians differ as to when the change in James came about, but we know that it did come. Was it during Jesus’ preaching ministry? Was he perhaps converted by hearing some golden teaching from his brother’s lips, to be as astounded as the crowds from his hometown were at first, suddenly struck with the challenging question, “Where did he get this wisdom?” and recognizing that it could only come from above?

Was it from hearing of Jesus’ final days in Jerusalem, of how he endured the way of the cross, and bore its weight, and perished on that green hill far away? Or was it from hearing the word brought by the women to the others — the word that death had not conquered after all, and that Jesus was risen from the dead?

Or was it in that more personal experience, that first-hand experience, the one Paul wrote of, when Jesus appeared to James after his resurrection, and, like Thomas and the others, James came to believe because he had seen the risen Lord, not simply his brother now, but his Lord and his God?

+ + +

Whatever the time and place and circumstance, James entered into a new relationship with Jesus at that point. Although a relative by flesh and blood, he became a brother of Christ in Spirit, when he became a Christian.

In doing this he became part of that larger family that includes us too — for all of us here are brothers and sisters of Jesus, by adoption, through the waters of baptism. I can tell you from personal experience as a pastor that many people come to Christ kicking and screaming, and I’ve wrestled with a few! Some of you may be such cradle Christians; others may have come to faith in youth or adolescence, or even in adulthood.

But all of us who did not walk with Christ, like Paul himself, are untimely born; and though untimely born, still we are born indeed — born again through water and the Spirit, into our new family of faith. And yes, it is a matter of flesh and blood as well — for in the Eucharist we partake of our dear Lord Jesus’ Body and Blood, as a reminder and a realization that he is in us, and we in him. We are no longer orphans, no longer strangers and foreigners — but through the work of the Holy Spirit that led James and the other Apostles to see that salvation was open to us Gentiles — we have been adopted into kinship with Jesus. We have made Parkton his hometown as well as Nazareth, by inviting him into our hearts even as he invites us to this table. We have listened to his teaching in the Scripture, and unlike the folks of that far off time and place, we do not challenge or disbelieve him on the basis of our knowledge of ourselves and each other as less than perfect people — as if to say, God wouldn’t be caught dead among that sort.

Rather we give thanks that through grace and grace alone we have been saved, and brought into that great family that spans the globe and fills all time —— and what a grand family reunion we will one day share!

Let no one dismiss or challenge us, seek to put us down or demean us by comparison, for however humble our birth, however far we may have fallen through our own wanderings and mischance, Christ our Lord has raised us up, and will raise us higher still. For Jesus is our kin, our brother and our savior, our Lord and our God. O come, let us adore him.+

Bennison Appeals Sentence

From the Diocese of Pennsylvania website:

by Jerry Hames

Bishop Charles Bennison’s defense counsel argued before an ecclesiastical court in downtown Philadelphia on Nov. 12 that its verdict and sentencing was flawed and that its recommendation that the bishop be deposed was too severe.

In his arguments, James A. Pabarue said the court had ignored the statute of limitations, arrived at conclusions contrary to the evidence given and appeared to punish the bishop for enacting his rights as outlined in the Episcopal Church’s canons on clergy discipline. Mr. Pabarue also said that the Office of the Presiding Bishop had shown bias by interfering in the case. “The evidence clearly shows that the Presiding Bishop’s office has been trying to force Bishop Bennison out of this diocese,” Mr. Pabarue said, stating that Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori had “asked for his resignation several times before the presentment was issued.”

Bishop Bennison was found guilty of conduct unbecoming a member of the clergy after facing charges that, as rector of St. Mark’s, Upland, Calif., he had failed to respond properly when learning that his younger brother, John, a newly-ordained deacon whom he had hired as youth worker, was having sexual relations with a girl of minor age in his youth group. The bishop was also found guilty of suppressing that knowledge when his brother, who having once renounced his orders, was reinstated as a priest. John Bennison was deposed in 2006 by Bishop William Swing of the Diocese of California.

“Why is Bishop Bennison the only person to be charged in this offence,” Mr. Pabarue asked, naming other bishops in California and one then in the Presiding Bishop’s office who were involved in, and approved of, John Bennison’s reinstatement as a priest.

“Charles Bennison was not the perpetrator. He was cooperative… He said he did what he thought was best in the circumstances at that time and said he would never act today as he did in 1975. It is clear this sentence is simply wrong and not a just application of the canons,” Mr. Pabarue said.

At the trial, Bishop Bennison had testified that he confronted his brother over allegations he had heard, ordered his brother to leave as youth leader and told him never again to have contact with the victim. Despite that, John Bennison continued a pattern of sexual abuse with the teenager in the parish. The bishop admitted that he had not offered pastoral support to the girl or informed her parents until they learned about it years later, when their daughter, then a university student, sought psychiatric help for depression and was contemplating suicide.

In response to the judges’ conclusions, Mr. Pabarue said the ecclesiastical judicial process creates an adversarial atmosphere in the court that by its very nature limits his client’s freedom to apologize. An expectation of confession, or opportunity for reconciliation must be tempered by the adversarial nature of the process, he said. Bishop Bennison did not speak during the hearing.

Mr. Pabarue called four character witnesses on Bishop Bennison’s behalf, three from the diocese and Suffragan Bishop John L. Rabb of the Diocese of Maryland, who testified that he had known Charles Bennison for 20 years. “I have never had any reason to doubt his faithfulness … nor his ability to minister to those under his charge,” said Bishop Rabb, who said that during his episcopacy he had deposed two priests, suspended another and given admonitions — the mildest form of sentence — to two others under Title 4 of the Episcopal Church’s discipline canons. He said the clerics he deposed were perpetrators of sexual misconduct. “It is not my belief that this is the circumstance [in this case],” he said. “The sentence of deposition is given when someone can no longer be trusted in office.”

Nikki Wood, a member of St. Martin-in-the-Fields, a former Standing Committee member and diocesan deputy at five General Conventions, testified that Bishop Bennison has been “faithful, pious and certain about his call.” She called the court’s judgment “extreme and arbitrary” and said that if Bishop Bennison were deposed it would be a “profound loss to the church.”

The Rev. Martini Shaw, rector of the African Episcopal Church of St. Thomas, said he supports a modification of the sentence for Bishop Bennison. “His absence from ordained ministry would be a grave loss for this church,” he said. “He has taken full responsibility for his actions. I feel the punishment in this case is not at all commensurate with the crime.”

The most lengthy testimony came from the Rev. Robert Tate, rector of the Church of St. Martin in-the-Fields. In a six-page statement that he read aloud, copies of which were requested by the judges, he outlined a history of conflicts between diocesan governance bodies and Bishop Bennison and the bishop’s fractious relationship with the Presiding Bishop’s office and questioned both the court’s verdict and its judgment in imposing a sentence. “Your verdict and judgment indicate that you did not find Charles Bennison sufficiently remorseful and you are not sure that, to this day, he understands the seriousness of the charge against him.

“How does one judge ‘sufficient remorse,’” Mr. Tate asked. “As I review the record of Charles Bennison’s public and private statements of apology, I hear over and over again the words of a man who is profoundly sorry for his sins of commission and omission.… As to his not understanding the seriousness of the charges against him, I question your verdict and your judgment on that as well. There is a difference between Charles Bennison explaining his actions and Charles Bennison defending his actions over the past 35 years. Our understanding of sexual misconduct has changed dramatically in the last 35 years. Charles Bennison has said publicly that, knowing what he knows now about sexual abuse and sexual misconduct, he would make a different decision today.”

Prosecution addresses court

After a brief adjournment, Lawrence White, the prosecuting attorney acting for the Episcopal Church, sought repeatedly to convince the judges, using Bishop Bennison’s own testimony at the original trial, that he would act no differently today than he had in 1975 and in succeeding years. “In his trial testimony on June 12 he failed to demonstrate that he takes responsibility for the wrong he had committed and said he would act no differently now than he did in 1975,” said Mr. White, arguing that the sentence of deposition was appropriate. “His words and deeds reflect a sorry attempt to blame others.” Mr. White also quoted from another portion of the bishop’s testimony in which he said “I never thought my handling [of the matter] was inappropriate.”

He then called upon Martha Alexis, the teenaged victim of John Bennison’s abuse in 1975, and her mother, June Alexis. Each made a short statement. “At the trial we were reminded once more that we do not stand alone,” said June Alexis, recounting her three visits to the diocese since November 2006. “Today, I am here to thank you,” she told the judges, calling the sentence they imposed “courageous, just and commensurate with the harm done to my daughter and others.”

Martha Alexis, saying she was sorry to be back in court, said she carried a burden of sorrow and shame for decades. “At last this burden I bore [had been] placed where it belongs,” she said. “The sentence has righted a grievous wrong and given me an unexpected gift of spiritual healing.” She said the court’s decision and sentence have restored her dignity and worth, shown that the weak are protected and that the vows of holy orders are sacred.

Concluding, Mr. White said that of the three punishments the court could determine, the verdict of deposition was correct. Urging the court to keep its decision unchanged, Mr. White said that neither admonition nor suspension were commensurate with the gravity of the offence and argued that even a suspension of seven years, until the bishop reaches the mandatory age of retirement, would be insufficient in light of the seriousness of the offence and the bishop’s failure to demonstrate that he takes responsibility for the wrong he has committed.