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TAINTED ORDERS

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

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

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

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

But I have reached a rather different conclusion.

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

OUR VULNERABLE LEADER

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

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

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

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

A CHURCH OR A FACTION

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

 

One hopes that those who permit themselves to be nominated as candidates for the office of Presiding Bishop will seek a quiet corner and read about William White.

http://livingchurch.org/covenant/?p=4511

THE SAME BUT DIFFERENT

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

RE-STRUCTURING THE CHURCH

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

HUH?

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

COMMON PRAYER AND CONFLICT

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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