Friday, July 31, 2009

Whither Thou Goest

By Eric Von Salzen

Several years ago, my wife and I were in London, and we spent a few hours in Southwark, the formerly slummy, but now trendy, area on the south side of the Thames, and of course we had to see the great Southwark Cathedral. As we wandered through this ancient edifice, we noticed a little side chapel dedicated to John Harvard, whose name adorns my alma mater. We went in, just to look around, but a moment later, a vested priest and a couple of helpers entered and we found ourselves participating in a midday Eucharist. Although we were in a foreign land, we felt entirely at home with the service, because, after all, it was the same service we have at home.

It’s good to be part of an international communion. It’s good to know that wherever you may go in the world, if English is spoken there, it’s likely there’s an Anglican church in the vicinity.

Still, though, when I was confirmed at the Washington National Cathedral 18 years ago, it was the Episcopal Church that I understood I was joining, not the Anglican Communion. Oh, of course I knew that the Episcopal Church was a member of the Anglican Communion and that, in some sense, at the tip top of the clerical totem pole sat the Archbishop of Canterbury. But that fact didn’t make me feel that I was becoming an “Anglican” rather than an “Episcopalian”, any more than the fact that the United States is a member of the United Nations makes me think that I am a citizen of the world, rather than an American.

I recalled these experiences recently when I read the post-Anaheim reflections of the Archbishop of Canterbury. Rowan Williams described two “conceptions” of the Anglican Communion: one, “essentially a loose confederation of local bodies with a cultural history in common”, the other, “a theologically coherent ‘community of Christian communities’“. That’s nicely put, but what surprised me was Williams’ insistence that the latter conception, the theologically coherent community, is what the Communion presently understands itself to be, and what it has understood itself to be, particularly during the last half century. Until I read this, if you had asked me to free-associate “loose confederation of local bodies with a cultural history in common”, I would have responded, “The Anglican Communion.” If you’d said “theologically coherent Christian community”, I’d have said “The Roman Catholic Church”.

I thought it was a point of pride to Episcopalians that we don’t insist on theological cohesion, that we worship together even if we disagree with each other. And I thought that was an “Anglican” feature of our church.

How could I have been so wrong?

The second surprise to me was the Archbishop’s assertion that the forthcoming Anglican Covenant will demand that the component churches of the Communion choose between these two “conceptions”. The purpose of the Covenant, Williams says, will be to “intensify existing relationships”. Those “whose vision is not shaped by the desire to intensify relationships in this particular way”, who favor “a more federalist and pluralist” approach, will not be cast into the “outer darkness”, but they will not be part of the “‘covenanted’ Anglican global body” either. I think he’s saying they won’t be part of the new Anglican Communion.

I had been under the impression that the Covenant drafters had been moving away from an authoritarian model under which agencies of the Communion could evict provinces from the Communion if they failed to conform to the theological cohesion. I was hoping we would see a kind of “Mere Christianity” covenant that would remind us of those things on which we agree, and to which all Anglicans could comfortably subscribe.

Have I been wrong about that, too?

Monday, July 27, 2009

Mind The Frost

Robert Frost is the first poet I ever studied. My parents were very fond of Frost, and he was quoted from time to time around the house. Like many Americans who studied English literature in high school and college, I had to commit a number of poems to memory, but sadly, to this day, The Road Not Taken, and the first verses of The Canterbury Tales are all I remember.

Perhaps Bob Duncan also knows only two poems, for in his recent open letter to the entire Anglican Communion, he has called Frost's Road into the service of his stark vision of the on-going tales of Canterbury.

The first and founding Archbishop of the newly formed Anglican Church of North America, with its 69,000 members in the United States and Canada, has proof-texted Robert Frost in the service of his claim that The Episcopal Church/Anglican Church of Canada are on the bad road, which must be avoided, and that the Anglican Church of North America is on the good road, which must be taken if righteousness is to be followed.

What is bizarre, of course, is that Frost's poem is not at all a reflection on dualism between good and evil. No, of course, Frost's poem asserts that there are two roads, each with its own merits, with much in common, and that while the road chosen was the one less frequently travelled by, it was not necessarily or inherently 'better' than the other. A bright twelfth grader, who actually did his homework, could see that this poem has absolutely no bearing at all on whether or not one road is 'Blessing' or another 'Curse.' Yet, Bob Duncan makes this very mistake.

But he doesn't just get Robert Frost all wrong.

Duncan begins his epistle of division by recalling Charles Dickens' Tale of Two Cities. What is particularly galling about this is that Dickens was by any contemporary standard that Bob Duncan would employ a liberal Anglican broad-churchman. Dickens, who for so long was a Unitarian, fond of the Boston Transcendentalists, and an advocate of broad toleration of all Christian denominations in the establishment minded England of his time, dedicated Tale of Two Cities to Lord Russell, who was also very much a tolerance-minded liberal Christian.

Duncan then goes on to enlist the great St. Augustine of Hippo, by again taking the dualism of the City of God, and applying it to what he sees as the duality between The Episcopal Church/Church of Canada and the Anglican Church of North America. Again, this is patently absurd and erroneous. Augustine was an ardent opponent of the Donatists, that African-based schismatical sect which sought to purify the church, and argued that within the church there would always be a mixed body -- both wheat and tares. It seems patently obvious that Bob Duncan is asserting that the cause of purification has led him and his allies to create a new, pure, orthodox, and true church, departing from the ways of the old, impure, heterodox, and false church. Even the Pardoner, in his Canterbury tale of greed, and in his own fallen state, conveys the Augustinian response to the Donatists asserting that even sinful clergy can be means of God's grace in sacramental ministration.

Rowan Williams once said that when Jack Spong posted his "Twelve Theses" calling for a radical new reformation of Christianity they looked like the questions a bright senior in high school might pose. In the same way, Bob Duncan's bold call for radical reformation of Anglicanism along a 'Two Ways" dichotomy between blessing and curse, purity and mixity, and his use of literature to make his point, reminds me of the sort of argument I might expect from a bright 12th grader, who has neither read, or understood, the works he cites.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Imagining Our Future

Now that the General Convention has largely stated where The Episcopal Church stands in regards to the welcome we offer to gay Christians to full membership and leadership within all orders (whether celibate or in a nuptial union), I wonder -- what will we talk about with equal passion in the years to come?

While it was abundantly clear at the recently concluded General Convention that the overwhelming majority are going to support such inclusion, I wonder if we will have either such a large degree of unanimity on other questions -- or -- whether those who have essentially joined arms for this matter will remain together for the next matters?

Specifically, I am concerned that we begin to look beyond the question of applying a uniform sexual ethic to all persons regardless of orientation (celibacy or nuptial union) and focus on other matters like, prayer book revision, and our practice/policy regarding sacramental issues of baptism, confirmation, communion, confession/absolution, etc. I personally am very much more concerned that the great treasures of the faith which I see amply and beautifully attested to in the language of the 1979 Prayer Book, the catechism, etc., be put forth with great gusto in our worship, preaching, teaching and mission.

So I'm wondering - is there the same degree of passion or agreement on controversial points like 'communion without baptism' -- or the full-scale reworking of the Prayer Book -- or doing away with confirmation -- etc., etc.?

On this blog, I have gathered that we tend to be a group of folks who are 'catholic' on the essentials pointed to in the quadrilateral, and generally very interested in preserving the maximal degree of traditional verities and gifts as we can. I also have gathered the sense from this blog that many of our readers are very well informed in theology, church history, biblical study, etc.

What do you all think? Are we looking at the beginning of a new moment, when for once we will not be as focused on questions of including persons of different sexual identities, and may begin to refocus on other questions of sacramental theology, church practice, worship texts, etc? Is there a degree of variety on these questions that does not really any longer exist on the question of including glbts?

Please let me know. Frankly, I'd be very interested in our going into the next generation clearly proclaiming the Gospel as currently testified to in the 1979 Prayer Book/1982 Hymnal -- with but few emendations or modifications to certain pronouns and whatnot. I see absolutely no strong case for the reversal of the canons on communion without baptism - or the age-old argument that we should be phasing out confirmation. As well, I see absolutely no strong case for adding to or deleting any of the six eucharistic prayers (Rite Ii and ii; Rite II abcd). The idea that we need anything more than a very lightly modified post-millenium update of 1979 is very suspect to me.

Moreover, I'd be much more interested in seeing our diocesan and general convention be focused a great deal more, and with equal gusto, in prayer, worship, mission strategy, church growth training, and discussion of partnership with other Christian bodies with whom our separation is a complete waste of time (and the Gospel itself.)

Please chime in -- let's think about the next chapter in our common life -- and what the big issues are.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Eliminating Evangelism

I published this on my blog last night, but I think it's too important to not share as widely as possible.

I was disheartened to see this on Fr. Terry Martin's blog:
A drastically reduced budget has been approved by General Convention. Among the cuts are various programs at the Episcopal Church Center.

I'm sorry to have to inform you that the entire Evangelism program, including my position, has been eliminated from the budget.

Other program officer positions eliminated include Worship and Spirituality, Women's Ministries and Lay Ministry.

All together, 37 positions at the Episcopal Church Center have been cut. No explanation has been offered as to why these programs were chosen for elimination.

One of the most frustrating things about this unexpected development was that it follows right on the heels of the positive time I spent last week with the Evangelism Legislative Committee as they carefully crafted various resolutions. There were plans in place to host evangelism events with our ecumenical partners, create an innovative evangelism "toolkit," and develop training programs for evangelists, among other things. All these resolutions passed both Houses.
To think that "the entire Evangelism program ... has been eliminated from the budget" of the Episcopal Church! And with "no explanation given"?

We Episcopalians love to tout the Baptismal Covenant in The Book of Common Prayer. As we should. So what about the Baptismal Covenant promise to "proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ" (The Book of Common Prayer, p. 305)?

In light of how often during the year we typically renew this covenant promise to be evangelists, as well as the general ineptitude of most of us in the Episcopal Church when it comes to claiming and living out what it means to be an evangelist, what does it say that we will not be putting our money where our mouths are?

If, as Jim Wallis has often pointed out, "a budget is a moral document," then the values expressed in a budget that cuts the entire Evangelism program are crystal clear. It says that evangelism is not sufficiently valued at the highest level of our Church to merit funding. Which means it's just not that important, period. Sorry, folks, you'll just have to figure this out on your own at the provincial, diocesan, or parish/mission level.

So what is more important than evangelism? Perhaps this report from The Living Church, which shows that litigation funding was dramatically increased, suggests an answer:
Virtually every department saw a reduction in funding from what Executive Council recommended with the exception of the Presiding Bishop’s Office, especially legal funding. Legal Support for reorganizing dioceses was increased 900 percent to $3 million over the next three-year period. Title IV and Legal Assistance to Dioceses was increased to $4 million, an increase of 122 percent. These items are all categorized under the Presiding Bishop’s Office, whose overall budget increased 15 percent.
This suggests a strong maintenance as opposed to mission mindset. The message this sends is that we will protect the institutional Church at all costs, even if that means failing to do the most basic work the Church exists to do: effective proclamation by word and example of the Good News of God in Christ.

All of this renews my concern that the leadership of our Church has failed to heed the wake-up call issued by C. Kirk Hadaway, our Director of Research for the Episcopal Church Center, in the recently issued "Episcopal Congregations Overview: Findings from the 2008 Faith Communities Today Survey," as well as the report submitted to General Convention by the House of Deputies Committee on the State of the Church. Both of these documents very clearly show the crisis we are in, a crisis which we are failing to adequately address. As I've noted on a previous posting, that crisis can be summed up as follows:

Aging membership + conflict + declining financial health + little interest in or understanding of evangelism = no viable future.

It sounds like we are responding to the reasons why we are losing membership and money by not funding efforts to deal with the loss of membership and money.

There may be an elephant in the Episcopal Church living room ...

Thursday, July 16, 2009

What Does it All Mean?

With the passage of D025 and C056, many are wondering: What does it all mean?

In a nutshell, it seems to me that what D025 and C056 mean is that The Episcopal Church has told the truth about who and where it is on the controversial issue of fully including gay Christians living in nuptial unions into all orders within the priesthood of all believers. It also tells the truth about where the Episcopal Church is as regards our desire to remain in full communion with the other churches of the Anglican Communion.

The truth on both questions is this: we are not exactly sure yet.

We are not exactly sure what the future will bring for us on both things. We recognize that within our own body is a degree of opinion that varies from staunch support/opposition to staunch ambivalence. As such, D025 essentially upholds a degree of local option on the question of ordaining Christians in same-sex marriage-like unions. It does not in any way guarantee that all or any dioceses will be open to calling and ordaining such persons. (Yes, God calls through the Church.) It does say, however, that the discernment for such is entirely entrusted to dioceses provided they conform with those national canons which are pertinent. In other words, the resolution affirms the status quo ante (before 2006) of how discernment for clerical orders is done.

Does D025 have the effect of 'over-turning' B033? Hard to say in actual fact. B033 was not a 'rule' or a canon, it was a form of urging. Likewise, D025 is not a law either -- it simply reaffirms the sufficiency of the canons vis a vis discernment processes. When it comes right down to it, if a priest were elected to the episcopate whose 'manner of life' was likely to cause difficulty globally, D025 would not have any necessary effect on whether or not said person was consented to by the Standing Committees/House of Bishops and/or General Convention.

Does D025 have the effect of 'looking like' a repudiation of the so-called 'moratorium' sought by Windsor? Of course it does. And likely, in a way, so does C056, which has to do with marriage equality -- which similarly brings us back to a kind of status quo ante 2006 [*see Christopher's important critique of this point in comments below]. Again, it is a resolution which suggests that we support local pastoral options, and are continuing to examine what if any liturgical/canonical revisions would be made at the General Convention level down the road a stretch.

Both of these resolutions, however much they basically reset the clock to somewhere around GC 2000 (with its D039 resolution that triggered the AMiA formation), will be perceived globally as some kind of repudiation of the Windor moratoria. The real question though is, "Does this matter?"

If D025 and C056 represent an effort for the Episcopal Church to tell the truth about where we are (as messy as that is) then truth-telling is called for as to the state of the Anglican Communion.

Facts on the Ground
The fact is that those who most demanded the Windsor moratoria did not accept that we had abided by them -- and they have never made any sincere attempt even to look like they were abiding by the moratorium that applied to them. Indeed, when it comes to facts on the ground, the movement that has never done a single thing to abide by Windsor, has many more of them. If The Episcopal Church has one openly partnered gay bishop, and an ongoing practice of local option regarding blessing same-gender couples' unions, the GAFCON movement has created dozens of separatist/schismatic bishops, and have created a continent-sized new province which is actively soliciting recognition by the Church of England synod to be fully recognized as a province in full communion with the See of Canterbury.

Moreover, if we are telling the truth, whereas The Episcopal Church has essentially gone not forward but "back to where we once were" -- with D025/C056 largely looking like a return to the kinds of resolutions which passed in 1991-2000 General Conventions -- the GAFCON movement has gone way off into an anachronistic future whereby the faith is expressed according to the epistemological, theological, cosmological mindset of late 17th century Britain. Notably, we have seen the full-fledged launch of what will likely be an alternative Anglican communion devoid of those developments in Anglicanism which have arisen since the Oxford Movement.

To be sure, The Episcopal Church is not an exemplary model of the Gospel and the catholic church either. I still hold that we are now, perhaps more than ever, a church convinced of the priority of our autonomy - and I find that troubling at times.

On The Other Hand
Then again, on the other hand, I also recognize that while neither salvation nor discernment of God's will are individualistic endeavors -- there is a part of the process which requires the individual (person or church) to perceive God's vocation even against the opposition of other perso's who likewise are seeking to be faithful.

I do believe that the witness to Christ given by many gay Christians (in various orders of ministry) is a fact in our midst. Their witness to so many of us in the Episcopal Church is also available to many around the Anglican Communion -- and I do believe that people will increasingly come to see that they are proclaiming Christ -- born, crucified, risen and ascended. By being a place where such witness is fostered, the Episcopal Church is, I believe, doing the hard thing (in fact) by standing for a discernment of God's will which does not yet meet easy and widespread approval.

In this, of course, it will remain to be seen whether we are doing something prophetic, or not. If we have decided to stake our selves, our souls, and our bodies on this sense that God is indeed calling for a new thing, (thereby we are perceiving ourselves to have a prophetic vocation), then of course we must do what we believe God is calling us to do. We may of course know that it won't be well or widely received by all. We must of course know that there will come pain and reaction. We must know that -- unlike the people whom Jonah spoke to -- the whole place will not immediate change their ways. We must be willing to receive the reaction against what we perceive to be true -- and to do so graciously and humbly.

Indeed, if we are acting in any way prophetically by passing D025 and C056, we must be prepared to turn the other cheek when the slaps come, and continue to maintain the posture of faithful witnesses to Jesus Christ, Lord and Savior, who was born, died, rose, ascended and will come again as part of the fulfillment of God's plan before the worlds began, to make all things well.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

MUST READ: Schism Peril in Anglican Church (c. 1914)

From the New York Times (January 3, 1914)

Small Incident in East Africa Threatens to Cause an Irreparable Conflict --
All Over the Communion -- Admission of Methodists and Others to the Service Excites a Fierce Controversy at Home

London, Jan. 3, 1914 -- The famous Kikuyu controversy, which appeared as a cloud no bigger than a man's hand on the East African horizon last summer, is fast becoming a storm that threatens to shake the Church of England to its foundations, and on many sides fears are expressed that the controversy may result in a schism which will rend the Church in two.

For weeks many letters on the subject have been appearing in The Times, but not till this week has the controversy assumed alarming proportions. Now the newspapers are printing columns of letters daily as well as leading articles, and, if the amount of space devoted to the subject be any criterion, the Kikuyu controversy is one of the burning questions of the day, eclipising even Home Rule, David Lloyd George's land policy, and "votes for women."

Even those who seek to minimize the danger to the Anglican Church agree that history is being made, and that "Kikuyu" may become one of the significant and crucial names in the annals of the Protestant Church, marking one of the important stages in its evolution.

The cause of the threatened schism is as extraordinary as it was unexpected. The Moslem faith had been advancing rapidly in East Africa, and, to stem its advance, various Christian sects combined and held a meeting in the little town of Kikuyu in June. The sixty missionaries who assembled could have had no idea of the storm of controversy and heated feeling that would be engendered. Their object was merely to consider how the denominational missions, working in the same field, could act jointly so as to present the solid front of Christianity to Mohammedanism.

The conference was eminently successful and fraternal feeling was so strong that at the close a united communion was held, the Bishops of Uganda and Mombassa officiating.

It was the admission of the Methodists, Baptists, Presbyterians, and others to the communion administered by Anglican Bishops according to the order of the Anglican prayer book, which excited the fierce disapproval of a portion of the Church. The Bishop of Zanzibar openly accused the Bishops of Mombassa and Uganda of heresy and sought to impeach them, demanding a formal condemnation by the Archbishop of Canterbury.

Then begun what has been called "the hurly-burly of the Bishops," and a flood of letters to the papers. The discussion quickly widened until now it embraces the whole subject of Christian unity. It is the general sense that the decision of the Bishop of Zanzibar's action may affect far deeper religious and ecclesiastical interests that those of the African mission field.

In a striking letter to the press, Dean Hensley Henson, Canon of Westminster Abbey, says that the appeal now is to the English people on the question as to whether the English Church shall remain Protestant or become Roman Catholic.

Lord Halifax, one of the leaders of the High Church wing, while admitting the gravity of the situation in a letter to The Times, says:

"I pray to God that the controversy may not occasion a schism which shall rend the Church in two. The dangers are only too obvious and can hardly be exaggerated. They involve consequences, affecting not only the Church of England, but the whole of Christendom."

Writing to The Times the Bishop of Oxford says he doubts if the cohesion of the Church of England was ever more seriously threatened than now, and adds:

"The reason for this is that three sections of the Church are pursuing their own principles to a point where they become really intolerable to the main body."

He concludes that unless the great body of the Anglican Church can again speedily arrive at some statement of principles, such as will avail to pull it together again, it will go on the certain way toward destruction.

The Archbishop of York in his New Year's letter to his diocese, says that unless the issues raised by the Kikuyu affair be wisely handled they will set back the course of Christian unity if only by endangering the unity of the Anglican Church.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Amended D025 Passes HoBishops

Resolved, the House of Bishops concurring, That the 76th General Convention reaffirm the continued participation of The Episcopal Church as a constituent member of the Anglican Communion; give thanks for the work of the bishops at the Lambeth Conference of 2008; reaffirm the abiding commitment of The Episcopal Church to the fellowship of churches that constitute the Anglican Communion and seek to live into the highest degree of communion possible; and be it further

Resolved, That the 76th General Convention encourage dioceses, congregations, and members of The Episcopal Church to participate to the fullest extent possible in the many instruments, networks and relationships of the Anglican Communion; and be it further

Resolved, That the 76th General Convention reaffirm its financial commitment to the Anglican Communion and pledge to participate fully in the Inter-Anglican Budget; and be it further

Resolved, That the 76th General Convention affirm the value of "listening to the experience of homosexual persons," as called for by the Lambeth Conferences of 1978, 1988, and 1998, and acknowledge that through our own listening the General Convention has come to recognize that the baptized membership of The Episcopal Church includes same-sex couples living in lifelong committed relationships "characterized by fidelity, monogamy, mutual affection and respect, careful, honest communication, and the holy love which enables those in such relationships to see in each other the image of God" (2000-D039); and be it further

Resolved, That the 76th General Convention recognize that gay and lesbian persons who are part of such relationships have responded to God's call and have exercised various ministries in and on behalf of God's One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church and are currently doing so in our midst; and be it further

Resolved, That the 76th General Convention affirm that God has called and may call such individuals, to any ordained ministry in The Episcopal Church,; and that God's call to the ordained ministry in The Episcopal Church is a mystery which the Church attempts to discern for all people through our discernment processes acting in accordance with the Constitution and Canons of The Episcopal Church; and be it further

Resolved, That the 76th General Convention acknowledge that members of The Episcopal Church as of the Anglican Communion, based on careful study of the Holy Scriptures, and in light of tradition and reason, are not of one mind, and Christians of good conscience disagree about some of these matters.

Marriage Equality Resolution - C056

Jim Naughton writes at Episcopal Cafe:

As I mentioned a second ago, a major resolution on same sex blessings has cleared the Prayer Book Committee by a huge margin (6-0 among bishops, 26-1 in deputies).

The text of the resolution follows:

Resolved, that the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music, in consultation with the House of Bishops Theology Committee, collect and develop theological resources and liturgies of blessing for same-gender holy unions, to be presented to the 77th General Convention for formal consideration; and be it further

Resolved, that the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music, in consultation with the House of Bishops Theology Committee, devise an open process for the conduct of its work in this matter, inviting participation from dioceses, congregations, and individuals who are or have already engaged in the study or design of such rites throughout the Anglican Communion; and be it further

Resolved, that all bishops, noting particularly those in dioceses within civil jurisdictions where same-gender marriage, civil unions, or domestic partnerships’ are legal, may provide generous pastoral response to meet the needs of members of this Church; and be it further

Resolved, that honoring the theological diversity of this Church, no bishop or other member of the clergy shall be compelled to authorize or officiate at such liturgies; and be it further

Resolved, that the Anglican Consultative Council be invited to conversation regarding this resolution and the work that proceeds from it, together with other churches in the Anglican Communion engaged in similar processes.

Bishop Henry Parsley supported the resolution, but in a minority report will argue that the "generosity" in resolve 3 be limited to states where same sex marriage is legal.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

D025 Resolution Goes to Bishops

This resolution has passed in the House of Deputies.  What do you all think?

Resolved, the House of Bishops concurring, [not yet of course], That the 76th General Convention reaffirm the continued participation of The Episcopal Church in the Anglican Communion; give thanks for the work of the bishops at the Lambeth Conference of 2008; reaffirm the abiding commitment of The Episcopal Church to the fellowship of churches that constitute the Anglican Communion and seek to live into the highest degree of communion possible; and be it further

Resolved, That the 76th General Convention encourage dioceses, congregations, and members of The Episcopal Church to participate to the fullest extent possible in the many instruments, networks and relationships of the Anglican Communion, and be it further

Resolved, That the 76th General Convention reaffirm its financial commitment to the Anglican Communion and pledge to participate fully in the Inter-Anglican Budget; and be it further

Resolved, That the 76th General Convention affirm the value of "listening to the experience of homosexual persons," as called for by the Lambeth Conferences of 1978, 1988, and 1998, and acknowledge that through our own listening the General Convention has come to recognize that the baptized membership of The Episcopal Church includes same-sex couples living in lifelong committed relationships "characterized by fidelity, monogamy, mutual affection and respect, careful, honest communication, and the holy love which enables those in such relationships to see in each other the image of God" (2000-D039); and be it further

Resolved, That the 76th General Convention recognize that gay and lesbian persons who are part of such relationships have responded to God's call and have exercised various ministries in and on behalf of God's One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church and are currently doing so in our midst; and be it further

Resolved, That the 76th General Convention affirm that God has called and may call such individuals, to any ordained ministry in The Episcopal Church, which call is tested through our discernment processes acting in accordance with the Constitution and Canons of The Episcopal Church; and be it further

Resolved, That the 76th General Convention acknowledge that members of The Episcopal Church, as of the Anglican Communion, based on careful study of the Holy Scriptures, and in light of tradition and reason, are not of one mind, and Christians of good conscience, disagree about some of these matters.

Center Aisle Endorses D025

From the Center Aisle (Diocese of Virginia):

Features & News - D025: 'This is Not a Great Leap Forward'

Two of the deputies who crafted the original Resolution D025, which deals with consecration of bishops, spoke to Center Aisle last night about their work and their hopes.

The Rev. Dr. Ruth Meyers of Chicago and D. Rebecca Snow of Alaska began working in 2007 on this resolution, which may come before the House of Deputies today through Special Order X009.

This resolution, Ms. Meyers said, “is really about affirming those relationships” we have with others in the Anglican Communion. “Then it says, ‘This is who we are in conversation with lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered people. We have been in dialogue for many years. We have moved to a different place than many other provinces.’”

D025, Ms. Snow and Ms. Meyers stressed, emphasizes the importance of self-differentiation, “saying who we are so we can then be in authentic relationships with others in the Communion where they are.”

Ms. Snow called D025 “the way forward. … an attempt to make a contribution to the Listening Process by making another stab about who we are and where we are.”

“Tell the people that we know that not everyone in the Episcopal Church agrees with what’s in here, and not everyone in the Anglican Communion agrees with it, but we are all acting in light of” Scripture, tradition and reason.

The two deputies described how they came to work together to craft the original resolution.

Ms. Meyers, formerly of Seabury-Western Theological Seminary, is the new Hodges-Haynes Professor of Liturgics at Church Divinity School of the Pacific and a founder of the Chicago Consultation, a
group of 50 bishops, clergy and lay people supporting full inclusion of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered people in the Episcopal Church and the worldwide Anglican Communion. Ms. Snow is a senior deputy in the House and has served on two special legislative committees that addressed issues of sexuality in previous Conventions.

In 2006, Ms. Meyers said, she was in line to testify with a piece of blank paper and a pen in her hand, not knowing what to say. She recalled her own experiences as a woman priest who could not serve in one diocese as well as the words of Archbishop of York John Sentamu, who urged members of that Convention to look for signs of crucifixion in themselves. When it came her time to speak, she said, “I cannot and will not be a party to hammering those nails into the hands and feet of my sisters and brothers.”

Following that Convention, she said, she and others knew they “really had to make this different at the next Convention. We need to bring people together and do this in a way that celebrates the relationships we have in the Anglican Communion, which are gifts of the Spirit. So are the steps the Episcopal Church has taken welcoming lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgendered people, which are also gifts of the Spirit.”

“God,” Ms. Meyers said, “is calling us to hold those together.”

Ms. Snow decided to participate because she was “in favor of trying to find ways to be as gracious and giving as we could. … I was interested in getting to something that looked forward. Rather than try to get rid of something in the past or tie ourselves to the canons, we have to keep marching forward.”

Ms. Snow said the two “agreed that we’ve gotten to the place we’ve gotten in the Episcopal Church because we have spent all this time listening, including those who are opposed to homosexuality.”

“I think we have to be very careful not to act in ways that exclude people who don’t want to be on this train,” Ms. Snow said, “who are not in agreement with moving anywhere, the people who want to hang on to B033 and are fearful of the consequences of not doing so.

“We are not better off for the loss of those voices – however uncomfortable they made others feel, we’re still not better off without them.”

“Even if there is an overwhelming majority (supporting D025), remember, when we go home to our dioceses, there will be parishes at home that will be unhappy.”

Said Ms. Snow, “This is not a great leap forward.”

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Archbishop of Canterbury's Remarks at General Convention

Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams

The 76th General Convention of The Episcopal Church
July 9, 2009


One thing you learn very quickly as Archbishop of Canterbury is that everything you say is scrutinised and interpreted and picked over for hidden meanings and agendas. Something tells me today will be no exception…

But because I don’t actually like coded messages or hidden agendas, and because I believe they’re an aspect of a whole rather unhealthy culture of suspicion – not to mention conspiracy theories - I’m going to begin by saying two things as simply and directly as I can, so that we can get on to the more important matter of reflecting together on the Scripture passages we have been given in this Eucharist.

The first thing is to say thank you. Thank you for the invitation to join you on this occasion and to share something of my mind with you; and so thank you too for your continuing willingness to engage with the wider life of our Communion. I do realise that this engagement has been and still is costly for different people in different ways: some feel impatient, some feel compromised, some feel harassed or undervalued, or that their good faith has been ungraciously received. I’m sorry; this has been hard and will not get much easier, I suspect. But it is something for which many of us genuinely are grateful to you and to God.

And it’s related to the second thing I want to say. Of course I am coming here with hopes and anxieties – you know that and I shan’t deny it. Along with many in the Communion, I hope and pray that there won’t be decisions in the coming days that could push us further apart. But if people elsewhere in the Communion are concerned about this, it’s because of a profound sense of what the Episcopal Church has given and can give to our fellowship worldwide. If we - if I – had felt that we could do perfectly well with out you, there wouldn’t be a problem. But the bonds of relationship are deep, for me personally as for many others. And I’m tempted to adapt what St Paul says to the Corinthians in the middle of a set of tensions no less bitter than what we have been living through and in the wake of challenges from St Paul a good deal more savage than even the sharpest words from Primates or Councils: ‘Why? Because we do not love you? God knows we do.’

Well: to business. Our readings put before us a vision of Christ’s Church that is both simple and alarming. We have been called and chosen. It is not that we have ourselves chosen Jesus, and it is certainly not that we have earned the right to be chosen by him (because we’re so orthodox or so open or so faithful or so creative or whatever). We have simply been spoken to by Christ and our fellowship has been created by his word to us. What is more, that word makes us his friends; and as his friends we share some understanding of what he is doing because he has allowed us to overhear his eternal conversation of love with the one he calls ‘Abba, Father.’

So we’re ‘holy’, a holy people, a holy nation, because we have been brought within earshot of that eternal conversation, that immeasurable intimacy. We know that this is Jesus’ business – living in an intimacy with the Father that opens him up to the needs of creation, so that the eternal conversation overflows and transforms an entire world. As John’s gospel tells us time and again, we come to be where Jesus is; and that is our holiness. Not what we have achieved, what we have held on to, what we can trade for rewards from God, but simply the fact of being in the Holy place that is Jesus at prayer. The intimacy of the Source and the Word becomes intimate to and in us. And we turn to the world so that our humanity, newly transparent to God the Trinity, can itself become a word, a transforming message and gift – a humanity living in mutual generosity, intimacy with each other and delight in each other, like the delight and intimacy that exists for ever in heaven.

This is what we are here for as a Church. Our life as church declares to the world that God’s longing is for a humanity like this, a humanity broken open for intimacy. Broken open: because there is a cost in the creation of the humanity that God longs for. At the very beginning of all things, and at the very beginning of the story of God’s people, the word of God speaks into a dark emptiness and brings life and light. By sheer divine freedom, God brings light, makes a humanity where there was no humanity, a community where there was no community. And God makes us able to receive his mercy where once we could not even understand that we needed it. In a word, we have been called from nothingness; but this means that we still stand over that abyss of emptiness – an inner void that only the Word of God can hold and fill and make to be something that is real and living. Sin is our constant temptation to slip back into nothingness, into unreality – the void of our own individual desires and agendas, the void of a self that deludes itself into the belief that it is really there on its own, independent of God and of others.

So when God in Jesus Christ restores humanity to its proper place in God’s heart, Jesus has to face full-on the strange power of nothingness, the power of the terrors and dreams that are generated out of the self in its urgent attempts to keep itself alive by its own strength. Jesus dies because we don’t want to die – to die to our fantasies and self-centred plans and dreams. To follow him is to risk stepping into life by recognising that something in us must die – so that everlasting and true life may live.

The Church is a place where indestructible life is made manifest: it “presents and represents in its corporate life creation restored in celebration of the Word of God” – words from one your own prophets, the greatest Episcopalian theologian and perhaps the greatest American theologian of the twentieth century, William Stringfellow; not the least of the gifts which the Episcopal Church has given the rest of us. Stringfellow is writing about the calling of the Church to be a ‘holy nation’ - a community that is free from every kind of local and uncritical loyalty so as to show the world what an institution looks like when it lives by the self-communication of God. And above all, he says, it is an institution which looks death in the face and declares it to be overcome.

Our contemporary world is still very recognisably the world that Stringfellow wrote about in the seventies and eighties, a world in which death and nothingness have what looks like a powerful advantage. We collude with the death of the poor, with the almost unimaginable ravages of HIV/AIDS in Africa, with the ruination of small economies in the strange adventures of the global market, with the impending extinction of the possibility of human existence in some parts of the world by rising water levels. In the last nine months, we have learned, with more surprise that we should have felt, how our financial affairs are based on a passionate quest for “growth” that has increasingly led us to make profit out of literally – nothingness, out of empty words and manufactured figures. The poisonous effect of death and nothingness can be seen in a reeling international economy and a fearful bewilderment about our human future, not only financially but materially, as inhabitants of a planet in which limitless material growth is impossible. And in this world, the Church is there to name death and to promise life – the life that comes in relationship, not selfish speculation or protective barriers against the poor, but relation with God through Jesus Christ and with each other, relation that is grounded in our knowledge of the will of God for the wealth and welfare of God’s creation.

To be holy is to be a witness for life in the face of these and many other forms of death. But Stringfellow adds another dimension to this. We have to face and acknowledge death in ourselves – not just death at work in the world in general, not death at work in other believers that we disapprove of, but the fact that we like all other believers we disapprove of, but the fact that we like all other believers are where we are and what we are because we have called from nothingness and still experience the drawing of death and emptiness in our own depths. Because of this, we proclaim the victory of life through our corporate confession and repentance: Stringfellow says ‘if want to know what you can do to justify yourself, the biblical response is: You must give up trying to justify yourself and confess your utter helplessness in the face of the power of death….The repentance at issue is such that it apprehends the empirical risk of death or of abandonment; that is, the risk that there is no Word of God to identify you and give you your name. Without that gift of your name, you do not exist; you are dead or, as they say, as good as dead.’

Life is proclaimed not in our achievement, our splendid record of witness to God, but in our admission of helplessness and of the continuing presence and lure of death in our lives. To be able to speak of this, and not to retreat in fear or throw up defences is part of true life; it is to know that our name is spoken by the Word of God and that we do not have to battle in resentment and anxiety to create an identity of our own. It is already there: we are already called friends. we are already bound to each other, and our life is invested in each other, in those we see and those we don’t, those we like and those we don’t. We are in the holy place with Jesus, a holy nation, a royal priesthood.

Here at the Eucharist we state who we are and where and why. We give voice to our hunger and helplessness; we name death, in us and around us; we give thanks that we are called from emptiness to life, and our own true names are spoken by the Word. May this gathering be a sign of life in the face of death, a declaration of who we are in Jesus and with one another, in the heart of God the Holy Trinity: chosen friends who, miraculously, know something of that God’s longing for what has been made.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Sudan Upholds Partnership with Episcopal Church

Sudan primate upholds 'mutual understanding, true partnership' with Episcopalians

Click image for detail
[Episcopal News Service] Archbishop Daniel Deng Bul of the Episcopal Church of the Sudan (ECS) has written to Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori and all the bishops, priests, deacons and laity of the U.S.-based Episcopal Church underscoring the importance of partnership between the two churches and offering an update about the urgent situation in Sudan.

In his June 30 letter, Deng expressed his gratitude for the invitation to attend the July 8-17 General Convention in Anaheim, California. Deng is one of more than 70 international and ecumenical guests expected to share in the Episcopal Church's triennial policy-making gathering.

"I am humbled and honored by your invitation to this convention and I greet you all in the precious name of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ," said Deng, who was enthroned as Sudan's archbishop and primate in April 2008. "Thank you very much for allowing me the opportunity to ... cement the ever growing relationship between our churches on the sure foundation of mutual understanding, true partnership and above all the love of Jesus Christ our Lord who covers all multitudes of sin." The full text of Deng's statement is available here.

Jefferts Schori told ENS that the Episcopal Church "has long been concerned about the disastrous conditions in Sudan, and I expect the convention will respond with heightened advocacy efforts and humanitarian responses to the tragedy in Sudan."

Deng made headlines during the 2008 Lambeth Conference for telling media that he thought openly gay bishop Gene Robinson of New Hampshire should resign. His comments were made at an impromptu news conference organized by a British journalist, who like many journalists present was frustrated with the closed nature of the Lambeth Conference.

While Deng has said that he does not agree with some of the Episcopal Church's recent decisions regarding human sexuality, he has been clear that its partnerships with Sudan should continue.

The U.S.-based Episcopal Church has long-standing partnerships with ECS through companion diocese relationships, Episcopal Relief and Development (ERD) programs and the advocacy work of the Office of Government Relations.

Current companion relationships include Albany (New York) with the Province of Sudan, Bethlehem (Pennsylvania) with Kajo Keji, Chicago with Renk, Indianapolis with Bor, Missouri with Lui, Southwestern Virginia with the Province of Sudan, and Virginia with the Province of Sudan.

In his recent letter, Deng urged the Episcopal Church "to retain the peace of the Sudan as a top priority, working to prevent further genocide and assisting in the humanitarian effort to bring better living conditions to believers.

Deng explained that he has undertaken major tours of Southern Sudan during the past year and has "witnessed first hand the suffering of my people and the increasing fear of communities on the ground because of a situation of ever-increasing insecurity."

Sudan, Africa's largest country by area, has been devastated by two back-to-back civil wars spanning some 40 years. Although that war officially came to an end with the January 2005 signing of a Comprehensive Peace Agreement between the northern Government of Sudan and the southern people, a conflict lingers in the Darfur region of western Sudan that is reported to have claimed more than 300,000 lives. The CPA was negotiated with the involvement of U.S. envoy to Sudan John C. Danforth, a former U.S. Senator from Missouri and an Episcopal priest.

Despite initial hopes for the success of the peace agreement, southern Sudanese leaders have been frustrated by the northern government's refusal to live into the major terms of the agreement, including sharing of oil revenues and the drawing of fair borders.

Sudan is scheduled to hold its first democratic elections in 24 years in February 2010 and a 2011 referendum will give southerners the opportunity to determine whether to secede from the north or remain a unified country.

Jefferts Schori told ENS: "We will pray for the people of Sudan, and we will do what we can to give evidence of the faith that is within us, knowing that God expects peace for all our brothers and sisters, not war and privation."

Deng said that the U.S. Government "has a duty to prevent Sudan from returning to war," and urged General Convention to increase its advocacy "on behalf of the Sudanese people to President [Barack] Obama, Secretary [of State Hillary] Clinton and Special Envoy [Jonathan Scott] Gration. We need to let those in the west who support the cause of peace, freedom and justice for Sudan know that the churches are key partners in the work of peace-building on the ground.

"God bless Episcopal Church of America. God bless our partnership; and God bless the Episcopal Church of the Sudan," Deng concluded in his letter.

-- Matthew Davies is editor of Episcopal Life Online and international correspondent of the Episcopal News Service.

Tobias Haller Piece

God crushed the heads of Leviathan and gave him to the people of the desert for food... -- Psalm 74

The English political philosopher Thomas Hobbes, in his great workLeviathan, posited that the good of the corporate political body transcended the rights of the individual members as a way of ensuring the greatest well-being for the whole. This idea received more precise formulation in the work of philosophers such as Jeremy Bentham, and there were echoes of it in early communism as well.

We find an earlier instance of it in the language of Caiaphas: it is expedient that one should die for the many. And, of course, that makes moral sense so long as the one who dies is offering him or herself freely and without constraint, in utter freedom of choice to be an atoning sacrifice. But it is a horror and a crime when the many choose, compel, and constrain one of their number to suffer on their behalf, a scapegoat and victim without choice or freedom.

My point in this is to stress that the church as a body ought never tread the path of Caiaphas, speaking in terms of acceptable losses and victims and scapegoats for the greater good -- suggesting that the few should suffer for the sake of the many. In doing so the Church becomes false to its own ends, as well as to its beginning.

For the church exists for the benefit of each an all of its members, not for the many of its members against the few. Moreover, the church was made for humanity, not humanity for the church; it is not an engine fueled with human flesh, to be kept running at any and all costs, blind to its purpose as it consumes the very substance of which it consists, like Ouroboros eating its tail, or a horrific autoimmune disease.

But some will say, The church is the Body of Christ. And so it is. And the Body of Christ was not ordained to be lifted up, carried about, or adored, but to be put to the use for which it is intended: salvation. The church is not an end in itself, but a means to a greater end, a transcendent end. It is not an institution to be maintained at all costs, at the loss of its true self. It is the church as a whole that gives itself for the life of the world, if it is to be true to the one in whose name and by whose grace it exists.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Seeds of Schism in England Planted

In a recent post, I stated that underlying the formation of the Anglican Church of North America was the necessary claim on their part that The Episcopal Church was no longer a valid Anglican or even Christian church. Such a claim is necessary for them to believe they are operating in good faith as they work towards replacing The Episcopal Church, and the Anglican Church of Canada, in these lands.

The movement which has begun ACNA is now doing the same in the United Kingdom with what is called the FCA. Of course this is going to be the forerunner of a schismatic entity in Great Britain. What's hilarious is that the movement says they are going to do these things, they then do them, and all the while they also have their own advocates and spin doctors simultaneously denying that they are doing anything of the sort. I am reminded of the old joke about how the Germans invaded France by walking in backwards and saying they were leaving. On the one hand this movement -- which exists on both sides of the Atlantic, with its roots in former members of The Church of England as with The Episcopal Church and Church of Canada -- says that TEC, CofC and CofE are essentially apostate, heretical and even Satanic, and on the other hand they say they would never say such a thing.

Anyhow, here is a piece by Toby Cohen for the UK website Religious Intelligence:

A new power in the Church of England is waiting to take control if the current leadership permit any further liberalization, warned the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans (FCA) UK at its launch in London today.
FCA threatens Church run by “Satan”
Over 1,600 people turned up at Methodist Central Hall in Westminster, including leaders from around the Communion, to celebrate the fellowship which currently describes itself as a movement rather than an organization. However, Archbishop Bob Duncan, of the new Anglican Church in North America, made clear that FCA UK could follow the route of the North Americans in forming a new Church if they saw the Church of England stray too far from its traditional roots.

He said: “The American Church and the Canadian Church are radical churches. They are revolutionary Churches. Our hope is that that’s not what the Church of England will be. It really depends on- the ability for the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans to be a force within the Church of England depends on- the attitude of the leadership of the Church of England.”

That leadership was criticized in no uncertain terms by the Bishop of Fulham, the Rt Rev John Broadhurst, the Chairman of Forward in Faith International, who said: “Satan is alive and well and he’s residing in Church House.”

Consecrating women as bishops in the Church of England without proper provision for those opposed to the move would prompt FCA UK to challenge the current Church leadership. The Bishop of Lewes, the Rt Rev Wallace Benn, maintained that the fellowship was hopeful that this would not be necessary.

He said: “I think we are hopeful that the Church of England will see sense and provide properly for loyal Anglicans of both integrities. The Lambeth Conference talked about both integrities being loyal Anglicans and for a Church to want to push out one or the other is very unfortunate and should not be a Church dividing issue if proper action is taken. I think most of us are optimistic that some sort of solution will come out of that.

“If the Church of England was to be foolish and to drive people out of a conscientious issue then we would need to look for help and support from elsewhere. At the moment we’re not pessimistic.”

Archbishop Gregory Venables, Primate of the Southern Cone, underlined how serious the theological distance was between FCA and other parts of the Church, he said: “This is about the essentials of theology, and that’s where the division is coming. Those who say there is only one way; Jesus Christ, stand with us, stand with him, and those who say there are a lot of ways, Jesus is one of them. That is what this division is about and it’s not schism, it is real separation over Gospel truth.”

While speculation surrounded the retiring Bishop of Rochester, Dr Michael Nazir-Ali, as to whether he would be taking a leading role with FCA, he said: “I’m just a foot-soldier.”

Monday, July 6, 2009

Testing of Paul

The Pope recently exhumed the crypt of the Apostle Paul, long buried beneath the Vatican, and allowed the human remains inside to be tested.

The tests came back postive -- at least as far as age goes. Testing affirms that those bones in that crypt date to the time of Paul. They date to the era when Roman, Greek and Jew alike heaped insult, persecution and hardship on the likes of Paul. To the time when Paul, the brilliant Jewish rabbi turned evangelist for Christ extraordinaire, would ultimately lose his head for the sake of God's grace in Christ.

I’m sure glad I’m not Paul. Aren’t you?

If I were Paul -- for sure by now – I’d have been whipped with 39 lashes; beaten with rods three times; stoned once; shipwrecked three times; cast adrift on a salty sea for 36 hours. And, so often, I'd be hungry, tired and weak. I'd have no wife, no children, and my only home would be the cross I carried. I’m glad I’m not Paul, because if I were, I’d be suffering more, and one day they'd cut my head off.

Yet, as a Christian who believes in the power of God, I feel very lame at how glad I am that I am not suffering like Paul -- or the thousands of witnesses to the faith in the earliest generations. Or the thousands even now in so many places -- on the front lines against the evils of the world.

I mean I'm a Christian -- but I ate burgers and hot dogs on the Fourth of July, lit off fireworks with my kids, and was happy to be free and alive in a rich and democratic land.

It always gets me to thinking, when I hear 2 Corinthians, "Am I really engaged with Christ as Paul was? Or the other disciples and apostles and martyrs? Am I really engaged?" It's an important question. It's a necessary one -- for those seeking to be followers of Christ. After all, if real disciples practice costly discipleship -- what am I doing? Am I giving praise to God in all things? Am I aware that God's grace is sufficient for me? Am I content -- which is to say fulfilled -- by knowing that my life exists for the sake of Christ?

What about you?

Paul certainly suffered a lot -- for the faith. He also was privy to visions and revelations that typical joes don't often have. He didn't have a family or the comforts of earthly home and hearth -- but, he did have the gift of an unbelievable mental genius, an unbelievable work ethic, and an unbelievable genius for surviving some dicy situations. Yes, he was mightily afflicted, and mightily gifted by God. And twenty centuries later -- we're still interested enough in him to check out his bones, and read his mail.

But you and I -- are different. We are almost certainly less mightily gifted and less mightily afflicted. We are almost certainly not going to achieve even a teensy fraction of his stature historically and theologically in Church History.

But...we have our circumstances. We have our blessings, and our thorns in the side. We may not have the Roman empire after us, but we all have somebody or something after us -- don't we? Some form of sin, fear and death are piercing us so that we may not boast of our greatness. We may not be Paul, but we have our circumstances. We have our blessings. We have our thorns. And we are all just a phone call away from circumstances far better or far worse than we are prepared to take.

No, we are not Paul, and we don't need to be Paul. For it is not Paul we serve, and it was not Paul whom Paul served. We do not proclaim ourselves, and as Paul well knew, it is not ourselves which ultimately matter.

No, whomever we are, and wherever we are, whatever our blessings or cursings may be, Jesus Christ is seeking us -- in His Grace -- for healing, for courage and for joy.

Jesus Christ is calling us as we are, and equipping as we are, to become not more like Paul, but more like Christ by the power of Christ which he sends to us in prayer, sacrament, Word and worship.

I am sure that Paul did not want the kind of iconic heroe worship that even his bones are important to people. But I do believe he did want all that he had and had to endure to serve a sacred purpose -- and that's why he offered all of his circumstances and life to Christ's power.

May the same be said of us. Whatever our personal circumstances -- we may offer them to Christ -- and witnesses we will be. Christ will work through our weaknesses of faith, of courage, and of thankfulness -- and work wonders through even the smallness of our lives.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Stephen Sykes: Gore Lecture 2003: Basis for Anglican Fellowship

The Basis of Anglican Fellowship: Some Challenges for Today

24 February 2003 at 12:00 am -- Stephen Sykes, at Westminster Abbey

‘The Basis of Anglican Fellowship in Faith in Organisation’ is the rather stodgy title which Bishop Charles Gore gave to an Open Letter he wrote to his clergy in the Diocese of Oxford in 1914. I have adopted it as the title of this lecture partly because Gore is a major contributor to the formulation of the principles of Anglicanism; but more particularly, because we need constantly to remind ourselves that we are not the first to face serious challenges to the coherence and integrity of our communion.

Indeed Gore begins his letter with a very clear indication of the international character of the crisis which required his response.

My Brethren [he wrote], The Bishop of Zanzibar has certainly succeeded in raising in an acute form the question of the coherence of the Church of England and of the Anglican communion generally.

The Bishop of Zanzibar? Bishop Frank Weston, a former slum priest, devout, highly intelligent Principal of St Andrew’s Training College Kiungani from 1901, the author of a fine work of kenotic christology, The One Christ 1907, and a passionate Africanist remembered for his self-identification with African life, was also a passionate Anglo-Catholic controversialist. He and his diocesan staff trained in the traditions of the Universities’ Mission to Central Africa had been deeply troubled by the participation of two bishops of neighbouring, Anglican dioceses, Bishop Peel of Mombasa and Bishop Willis of Uganda, in an attempt to create a federation of denominations in East Africa - or as he put it, characteristically, ‘in federating the Protestant Sects with their Churches’. (Bell, Davidson, p.692)

Not a man to take half measures, he accused Peel and Willis of heresy in word and action, and indicted them to the Archbishop of Canterbury. If they were not prepared publicly and completely to recant their views, Weston requested the Archbishop:
to appoint us a day and a place in which, conformably with Catholic precedent, we may appear before You and not less than twelve of your Grace’s coprovincial Bishops sitting with your grace as Judges of this cause, and to permit us there and then to meet the aforesaid Lord Bishop of Mombasa and Lord Bishop of Uganda, and in open Assembly to allow us to make and sustain our charges and accusations against them.

The reason for appeal to the Archbishop was that since there was no Province of East Africa at the time, the Archbishop was the one to whom these bishops all owed canonical obedience.

The letter of indictment was written at the end of September 1913, and the Archbishop’s initial reply, asking for time to consider all the relevant evidence, followed a month later. Willis returned to England in November, and by then it had become clearer that the issues at stake had diminished to two matters: first, the precise ecclesial character of the proposed federation, and secondly, the fact that an Anglican Service of Holy Communion had been celebrated to which Non-conformists had been invited and in which they had participated.

The solution of Archbishop Randall Davidson, which he reached in February 1914, was a sort of compromise. He refused a heresy trial which Bishop Weston had demanded, but appointed the Consultative Body of the Lambeth Conference, an elected group of fourteen Bishops from difference provinces, to advise him as to the two main issues. It met, amazingly, in late July 1914, a few days before the outbreak of War. It was not until Easter of the following year that the Archbishop had the leisure to complete his judgment. Its nuanced terms in the event satisfied neither party. The Archbishop did not support the idea that the non-episcopal churches could simply be thought of as outside the church (this was, in effect, a repudiation of the Tractarian ‘branch theory’). On the other hand it was not satisfactory to sanction the receiving of Holy Communion by Anglicans at the hands of non-episcopally ordained ministers. Of the liturgical event which had concluded the Kikuyu Conference, the Consultative Body’s reply elicited the following witty summary: ‘The Commission comes to the conclusion that the Service at Kikuyu was eminently pleasing to God, and must on no account be repeated.’ One notable feature of the Archbishop’s judgment was its sensitivity to the impact of speed of communication upon the communion ‘in a world of quick tidings and ample talk’.

The row in the English Press was immense. Bishop Gore wrote to the Times on 29 December 1913, ‘I doubt if the cohesion of the Church of England was ever more seriously threatened than it is now’. Bishop Weston regarded Gore as an ally, despite the fact that he disapproved of what Gore had earlier written on the subject of kenosis. Gore’s Open Letter to his clergy did not purport directly to deal with the issue which was, at the time, so to speak, sub judice. But he took the opportunity of warning the Church of England that it could not hope to muddle its way through such disputes without a grasp on its foundational principles. In his view what the Church has objectively stood for in its history was threatened by three tendencies; extreme protagonists of biblical criticism are undermining the basis of faith; extreme evangelicals are threatening to dispense with the requirement of episcopacy; and extreme Catholics are engaged in romanizing developments which leave them defenceless against the claims of a full-blown papalism.

It is not my intention to pursue the details of this fascinating controversy further. But is relevance to our own day is obvious. Events in a part of the Anglican communion provoke acute controversy in that place, because leading bishops and theologians hold contradictory views of the matter. The disagreement is considered sufficiently important by one of the parties to appeal to the Archbishop of Canterbury to decide it. The archbishop grasps the fact that modern communication imposes on him the necessity of attempting to resolve something which is of general relevance to the communion. He requests an existing international body of bishops to advise him, considers their advice and writes his own judgment. All of these features bear upon the argument we are currently having about Christian teaching on same sex relationships, and so does the outcome of the Kikuyu controversy – none of the protagonists considered that the Archbishop’s judgment closed the matter and in part it has gone on being controversial ever since.

At this point I hope you will forgive me for referring to the task which I have of Chairing the Inter-Anglican Theological and Doctrinal Commission, which body has been asked by the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Primates Committee of the Anglican Communion to study and report on the theological question of communion in the church, and what sustains or inhibits it, and especially the nature of communion in the Anglican Communion. Subsequently we have had remitted to us for analysis and comment the volume, To Mend the Net, an appeal by a group of Bishops and theologians from various parts of the Communion, to strengthen the role of Primates in the Communion and to give them a disciplinary function and responsibility. You will understand why Gore’s title, ‘The Basis of Anglican Fellowship’, appeals to me. You will also, I think, appreciate that my current role and task both informs and inhibits what I have to say this evening. If I may, I would like to return towards the end of this lecture to the way in which the Commission is going about its task.

I would, however, like to share with you one of my hopes for the Commission. That is, to escape from a rather predictable and stultifying impasse which all too quickly descends upon the terms of the discussion. The opposing camps line up in the following way: those who have most to gain from the imposition of conservative discipline argue for the necessity of the Anglican communion developing international organs with decision-making powers and a capacity for imposing sanctions, whereas those who have most to gain from permission to revise conventional teachings argue that Anglicans have no tradition of, or need for such bodies. It is certainly understandable why a polarisation of this kind should take place. The plaintiff, after all, in the Kikuyu Conference controversy was the conservative Frank Weston. It was he who asked the Archbishop to curtail the actions of his neighbouring bishops and their dioceses. Only a central body or person could do that. The association of discipline and strong central instruments of authority is nothing if not intelligible. But it is, nonetheless, a mistake, as the outcome in 1914-15 makes clear. In the event the Archbishop did not uphold the argument that Bishops Peel and Willis had fallen into heresy, nor could he support the idea that non-episcopal churches could simply be regarded as sects. A central authority, be it individual or corporate, can disappoint the hopes of the disciplinarians. And then there is the far from negligible issue of reception. Although the Archbishop gave his judgment and it carried weight, Gore himself publicly stated that he could not accept all of it. The opinion of the Archbishop did not, for Gore, represent the final judgment of the Church.

Gore’s attitude, at this point is not infrequently to be met with amongst Anglicans in my experience. The highest views of episcopacy are professed. But if the judgment of a local bishop or college of bishops departs in any particular from what the individual holding such views approves, it will be set aside as mere opinion. As a leading Nonconformist justly observed at the time, ‘Catholicity’ under such circumstances is simply private judgment under another name. At all events the arguments in favour of attributing a disciplinary role to a central person or body are in principle separate from the arguments which such a person or group might consider persuasive in any given instance. It should be possible to consider the question whether living in communion as Christians understand that term involves or may involve accepting the decisions of a central body about the terms of that communion, without the suspicion that one is covertly or indirectly arguing for or against disciplinary sanctions in any particular matter.

The fundamental question is, what is it like to be the Church? How are we to understand being a member of Christ. If we fail to begin at that point inevitably we will assimilate our understanding of the Church to the nearest secular equivalents. We will think in terms of clubs and society we belong to, and their rules and regulations, and fees and officers, and committees and decision-making arrangements, and management and accountability. It is not, of course, that the Church is exempt from the requirement of being intelligible and effective as an organisation. It needs to express in every aspect its life what it is there to be and to do; it has, in other words, to have its own unique mission at its heart and not the necessarily different task of a different sort of body [Note: I want permission to use the word ‘body’ here without falling prey to the criticism aimed at Working As One Body (the Turnbull Report of 1995) for adopting one image – and that the most conservative – for the Church. I am fully aware of the varieties of models of the Church in Scripture. In this case ‘body’ simply refers to what the Church is in its corporate existence.]

At this point I need to ask your permission to move rather rapidly from the absolutely general question with which I have begun, to one very specific instance of what it means to be the Church. The example I want to take is only one of many, and not necessarily the most important. But it illustrates, I believe, something of very great general importance. The Church, at its heart, has a divinely bestowed mission of embodying kindness. Put away from you, says the author to the Ephesians:

All bitterness and wrath and anger and slander, together with all malice, and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another as God in Christ has forgiven you. (Eph. 4:31-2)

This kindness can and should take the form of hospitality - so we have the explicit teaching of the New Testament about hospitality (which I have no need to summarise). But hospitality is an established cultural practice taking many particular and different forms in different groups. It is a manifestation of gift-giving and gift-exchange and the subject of numerous diverse conventions. The teaching that membership of the Church entails the obligation of hospitality has to be worked by members of the church in such a way that it is recognisable as hospitality in their own given context, and also that it is motivated by a kindness consistent with the love lying at the heart of Christian mission. But plainly, as we gather examples of hospitality from different contexts, the what and the how of the gift-giving involved in all hospitality varies from place to place. What counts as a gift, the language, including the body-language, with which it is given, what kind of obligation it entails, if any – all these are highly particular. And, of course, mistakes and distortions can occur. What is supposed to be hospitality can become, if one is not careful, a form of aggression or condescension, or be motivated by self-interest. The fundamental idea of kindness, then, is anything but redundant in the shaping of hospitality; but it remains the case that kindness can have diverse outcomes within particular cultural traditions.

Now this, of course, is familiar theological territory often known as ‘inculturation’. To be the Church, we say, is to be embodied or inculturated in a particular context. But another way of speaking of this situation is to distinguish two ways of describing what inculturation involves, respectively the ‘thick’ embodied way and the ‘thin’, general or universalised way. In terms of our example of hospitality the Church is the Church in deed and in truth when it practices a genuinely kind hospitality (along, of course, with many other requisite characteristic) in a particular place at a particular time. That is its ‘thick’ embodiment, and it is the primary and real form of the Church. But the Church is also the Church when it teaches Christians in every part of the world the divinely-given mission of kindness, one result of which teaching is that Christians from different parts of the world, with different traditions of hospitality, can recognise kindness when they experience hospitality in a different form.

This distinction between thick and thin ways of understanding particular cultural traditions has recently been used by an eminent American political philosopher, Michael Walser. He has applied it in a particularly sensitive and interesting way to the problem of distributive justice. How is it, he asks, that we know enough about justice to recognise gross injustice when we encounter it internationally, but not enough to imagine that we (in our Western context) can satisfactorily draw up rules for distributing resources, say in China or Afghanistan? The idea of justice, he argues, is inherently thick. ‘Here it is’, he asserts, ‘richly referential, culturally resonant, locked into a locally established symbolic system or network of meanings’ (p.xi). That is how we learn it and practise it, in our own particular contexts. But we need to be sophisticated enough to accommodate a sufficient amount of relativity (but not complete relativism) if we are to understand why our solutions to distributive questions ought not, and cannot be applied in every part of the world. It is because of the experience of thick forms of justice that we can construct a universal, or thin view of it, in the light of which particular forms of injustice in different parts of the world can be identified and opposed. The case, he argues, is not that we start with a thin universal or minimalist account, and try to ‘translate’ it into thick provisions. The correct sequence is important, and gives primacy of place to thick, local traditions.

Now I have already argued that the Church has its own mission, and ought not to adopt the practices or procedures of any other organisation. So I am not about to argue that this illustration from political philosophy can be transferred without further consideration into ecclesiology. But I do want to suggest that Walser is correct to argue that, in relation to justice, our experience of a thick local tradition is the primary datum; and that the same is precisely the case in the experience of being the Church. The New Testament indeed is the literary deposit of the thick experience of being the local Church. The absolutely concrete way in which Christians of the early communities practised hospitality towards each other – and we know it was put into practice because, predictably, we hear of abuses – was one embodied form in which they were kind to one another, and not merely to each other but also, it seems, to strangers. And that was how they came to meet, so the author of Hebrews assures us, angels unawares (Heb. 13:2).

If you have followed the argument as I hope, it will be evident that it has an important general bearing on the formulation of a universal doctrine of the Church. If the primary being of the Church resides in its thick local embodiment, we arrive at a thin or universal understanding of the Church by a process which involves reflecting on a plurality of local forms of embodiment. This reverses the sequence from the widely held and understandable assumption that we begin the process of reflection by formulating a universal doctrine of the Church which is then, as it were, ‘translated’ or ‘inculturated’ into a diversity of contexts. One must take this project absolutely seriously and respectfully because it is the current teaching of the Roman Catholic Church; on one aspect of this I want to comment shortly.

But permit me to observe at this point of our argument how much more intelligible this makes our relationship to the understandings of the Church which we find in the pages of the New Testament. It is notorious, for example, that we are confronted by a plurality of images of the Church – one well-known study put the number at ninety-three – and a variety of stages of self-understanding corresponding to different contexts and pressures. These are all, in terms of the distinction we are using, ‘thick’ ideas of the Church, and they are diverse. It makes, therefore, no sense to try and accumulate them into one universally applicable ‘doctrine of the Church’. The process is more indirect than that.

The same distinction helps us also with the problem of what is sometimes called ‘primitivism’, the attempt of a modern church to fashion the whole of its life according to the form and substance of the primitive church. Inevitably this leads to acute problems, not merely because of the variety of structures developed in the early communities, but also because of the sheer difference in scale, attitudes and context in the modern world. To recognise the New Testament as evidence for a plurality of thick ecclesiologies, though it makes the task of being the Church in our context more complicated, nonetheless frees one from the superstition that our duty is simply to recreate the primitive church.

How then are we to interpret the massive achievements of Roman Catholic ecclesiology, which holds, in the famous phrase of the Second Vatican Council, that the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church ‘subsists in’ the Roman Catholic Church (Lumen Gentium I, 8)? Roman Catholic ecclesiology and Canon Law can be seen as a massive and remarkable attempt to fashion and to enforce a thick, universal ecclesiology – and this is precisely how Michael Walser sees it, the ecclesiological equivalent of the vain attempt to conceptualise universal standards of distributive justice (see Thick and Thin, 48f). But on this, as on so many other questions, it is a mistake to think of the Roman Catholic Church as an ideological monolith. There is, in fact, a vigorous discussion, not as well known to Anglicans as it should be, precisely about this question; can there be a proper degree of local relativity of ecclesiologies consistent with the ministry of a universal primacy? Put in terms of our distinction, can you have both thick local ecclesiologies and a thin, universal ecclesiology? But precisely if that is a correct way to pose the question, the answer is plainly, Yes. The difficulty for Catholic ecclesiology is to acknowledge the conceptual primacy of the local embodiment of the Church.

One of the aspects of the current debate in Roman Catholic ecclesiology concerns the familiar, but also new term ‘subsidiarity’. It is important to be clear about the definition of this word, which, of course, is linked to the familiar adjective ‘subsidiary’. ‘Subsidiarity’ (Subsidiarit√§t in German) is the doctrine that higher bodies are subsidiary to lower bodies in respect of certain questions. It was formulated as a social-philosophical principle in the Encyclical, Quadragesimo Anno in 1931, and encapsulated three basic ideas:
Human beings are themselves the subject of rights and no collectivity must claim the sole competence to do what is within the individual’s power Larger units in society should not deprive smaller units of the capacity to carry out those actions of which they are capable The state, in particular, has the duty to help lower units carry out what is within their power and competence

The negative side of the first and second of these ideas has been pithily phrased by the contemporary management theorist, Charles Handy, in the maxim, ‘Stealing people’s decisions is wrong’. At the same time, however, the social context for formulating the idea of subsidiarity implies both the existence of a state, and its capacity to define what is within the power and competence of a lower unit. Subsidiarity does not, and cannot mean the dissolution or abdication of the responsibilities of the centre. Handy is quite clear that even a devolved, de-centred company organisation needs the emergency power of swift intervention if something goes wrong in a part of it. Subsidiarity is not another name for every small group or individual claiming the unfettered right to do what is right in their own eyes.

The relevance of all this to ecclesiology is obvious; and its bearing upon Anglican ecclesiology has recently made public in two recent documents, one internal to the Church of England, the Turnbull Report of 1995, the other the report of the International Anglican Theological and Doctrinal Commission, the Virginia Report of 1998. Both of these affirm that Anglican ecclesiology is committed to the doctrine of subsidiarity. In the Church of England terms, it would not therefore be right for the Archbishop’s Council to deprive, let us say, the dioceses of the capacity to carry out the mission of the Church in their area. Stealing diocesan decisions would be wrong. In Anglican Communion terms, it would not be right for, let us say, the Lambeth Conference, the Primates’ Committee or the Anglican Consultative Council, to deprive a member province of the capacity to carry out the mission of the Church in that province. In the Virginia Report there is brief description of the different levels where competency of a certain kind exists. The task of central bodies is to help units at a ‘lower’ level (and the term ‘lower’ is put in inverted commas to indicate the absence of any judgment of inferiority – on the contrary, the ‘lower’ level is closer to where the Church is real). No one should prevent them from carrying out what is within their power and competence. And the reason why there should be a privileging of these more local embodiments of the Church is the Church’s commitment to face-to-face relationships.

All this argument in favour of subsidiarity cannot, however, be construed as asserting any kind of provincial, diocesan or parochial autonomy. It cannot, and does not mean that each unit does what it prefers irrespective of the rest. Subsidiarity, if it is to work, implies the existence of a competency over competencies. It is totally foreseeable that there will be disagreement about what falls to the competency of a lower unit. If anarchy is to be avoided it must be possible for a decision to be arrived at which establishes at what level a given question can be decided.

Let us summarise the position we have reached:
We have seen that to be the Church means to be deeply immersed in a particular community’s life, ways of thinking, assumptions, and patterns of behaviour. You only understand the Church if you can give of it a ‘thick description’, in face-to-face contact with what is going on in a particular place. It’s that kind of engagement that we glimpse in the pages of the New Testament.
We have argued that it is not impossible for a church both to be committed to, indeed to privilege such a local embodiment and also to preserve a capacity to decide what is within, and what is not within the competence of a lower body.
We have used the example of hospitality to illustrate both the kindness which is or should be characteristic of all local churches. This is an element of its ‘thin’ ecclesiology, and the particular traditions of hospitality in which such kindness is embodied at a face-to-face level. The existence of such a universal teaching is the necessary condition of Christians being able to recognise other traditions of hospitality as genuine expressions of one and the same reality.

In this way, I believe, we have shown the possibility of the co-existence of both thick and thin ecclesiologies, of both subsidiarity and competency over competencies. There can and should be for example, an ecclesiology for Australian Anglicans – indeed there is, in the writing of Bruce Kaye – without it implying that the Anglican Church in Australia, let alone any single diocese in it, is free to do precisely what it wants.

Finally, I wish to redeem the promise I made at the beginning of this lecture to refer explicitly to the current method of work of the International Anglican Theological and Doctrinal Commission.

As we all know, the argument about same sex relationship threatens the disintegration of our Communion. The reason for this is not just that people disagree profoundly with each other; that, in a way, is quite normal for Christian history. The crucial matter is rather that this issue is said by some of those who oppose the change in the Church’s teaching and discipline on the same sex unions to be church-dividing. In other words, it is asserted that it is impossible to remain in communion with those who teach that such partners are within the way of holiness laid down as the Christian life. It is important to realise that we are not being asked to make up our minds whether or not such teaching is consistent with Christian doctrine and ethics. The issue for the terms of communion is sharper. If your church, through its representative processes and in the person of its representative teachers, proposes this view, that is, that same sex partnerships are consonant with Christian teaching and ethics, can one consistently remain in communion with such a body and such persons? That is the issue about communion in the Anglican Communion. The Commission is not asked to study the issue of lesbian and gay relationships; but it is asked to consider the problem of communion which teaching on this matter raises in the the minds of some Anglicans

We are preferably well aware that there are those for whom the reference of this question to an obscure commission, which would take years to report, is a classic way of burying it. The last trump will sound, and Anglicans will doubtless appoint another commission to enquire into what it means – footnotes to a note, one might say. But this Commission believes that it has stumbled on a method, which we dare to think is original and has real merit. The planned meeting of the Commission was scheduled for the days immediately following 11 September 2001. As a consequence the diminished number of those who were able to assemble began their work by asking the whole communion for help with four questions. These we posted on the internet and circulated to all bishops and theological institutions. To our surprise we received nearly 100 replies. Encouraged by this response, we have now analysed the correspondence we have received, and have circulated six propositions with signed commentaries attached. These represent where our thinking is going at the moment, and have again been posted with an invitation for further replies.

We do not know of any other commission which has worked in this way. And we believe that the act of corresponding publicly on our progress is a way of nourishing and building up the very communion we are seeking to understand.

Let me close by citing one of the six propositions, number four. It reads:

Since the beginning of Christianity disputes have arisen in which the truth of the Gospel is seen to be at stake. Not all disputes are of such significance, but some are. In a communion made up of many different churches, discernment is required to identify what in any particular context are the crucial issues for the life of the Church.

Then follows a commentary which strongly coheres with the themes of the current lecture. ‘The Scriptures themselves’, it affirms, ‘themselves bear witness to varieties of understanding within the people of God’. This is the case for both the Old and New Testaments. The instances where a plurality of views is appropriate are balanced by occasions where it is clear that the very terms of the covenant or the new covenant are at stake. In our day we can expect diversity of practice and of theological interpretation to continue, bearing in mind the huge diversity of contexts and circumstances. At the same time we must note the conciliar process which the church evolved for identifying and dealing with the major issues. A later proposition takes up the theme of arbitration in disputes and affirms that the Church ‘needs to develop structures for testing, reconciliation and restraint’.