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BUT WHO LISTENS?

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

2015 in review

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

Here’s an excerpt:

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

Click here to see the complete report.

THE LAMBETH WALK

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

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

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

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

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

IN THIS COMPANY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

FROM THE LIVING CHURCH TODAY

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

OUT OF THE DEPTH

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

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

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

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

MARRIAGE EXTENSION

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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