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TRADITIONALISTS NOT SERVED

The Episcopal Cafe is a progressive online web page which has placed in its window, “Traditionalists not served here.” Today it takes a letter it received and turns it into an editorial, Note the word “editorial”. This isn’t an article by any old Tom, Sarah or Harry. It’s an editorial, presumably signed off by its editors. That surprises me because I know some of them. You may find the editorial here:

http://www.episcopalcafe.com/questions-to-ask-the-bishop-elect-of-dallas/

The author of this editorially approved piece requires that the Bishop-elect of Dallas, Dr. George Sumner, answer a number of questions relating to the matter of whether, if confirmed, he intends to or may ever seek to remove the diocese from the Episcopal Church. The justification for this loaded question is that at present George Sumner is Principal of Wycliffe College, Toronto, and has on his staff the likes of Ephraim Radner and Christopher Seitz who write for the Anglican Communion Institute. Neither of these scholars has left the Episcopal Church or advocated schism. The ACI has not advocated that traditionalists commit schism. Their offense seems to be that they do not subscribe to a narrow constitutional doctrine which subordinates dioceses to General Convention and to the jurisdictional authority of the Presiding Bishop.

My own bishop, Daniel Martins, comes in for similar opprobrium by the writer because he was one of the bishops charged with treason because he joined an amicus brief challenging the same doctrine. He and his fellow bishops, reminiscent of the seven bishops imprisoned by James II because they refused to endorse his Declaration of Indulgences, apologized under coercion for signing the brief, but maintained their opposition to what has become the received doctrine of Episcopal Polity. (I stand somewhere in the middle on this one.)

Now I count Bishop Martins as a friend. We were priests together in Northern Indiana. I fancy that if he harbored schismatic plans for himself or this diocese, covertly tucked up his rochet sleeve, I would have heard them. He certainly hasn’t espoused ecclesiastical high treason in his Synod addresses, at clergy conferences or other meetings.

Consider the context in which this offensive demand has been made. We are approaching General Convention. The Episcopal Church is being called to reform its structure to meet the demands of a rapidly dwindling constituency, in which the average Sunday attendance of its parishes is a meagre sixty-one, some of its seminaries are in deep trouble, and while the coffers of the national church remain fairly stable, dioceses and parishes are, for the most part, either deeply compromised or drawing close to that situation. Episcopalians are calling for unity, for drastic restructuring and for a return to basics, to core issues and to evangelism. At this moment, as a new Presiding Bishop is to be elected, a person who will face the biggest crisis in our common life since the beginning of the 19th. Century (when disunity and the aftermath of the Revolution brought us close to extinction) one of the largest and healthiest dioceses of our church, that of Dallas, and it’s bishop-elect are to be subjected to a divisive and hostile attack mounted against them. Why?

I don’t think its paranoia to posit -or at least anymore paranoiac than these progressive conspiracy theorists devise – that the real target are those of us who commit the unpardonable sin of dissenting from most of the aims and objectives of the parliamentary majority in General Convention: the tyranny of the majority. In short, traditionalists are not served here. It’s enough to make us turn into schismatics. But we don’t. We regret that the Bishop of South Carolina and his diocese, caved under severe pressure and left. We regret the loss of every diocese, parish and individual Episcopalian. We deplore fragmentation as much as we deplore Episcopalian exceptionalism. We deplore that the Episcopal Church Worldwide Inc., regards itself to be a discreet denomination, accountable only to itself, inward looking and xenophobic. Indeed we accuse these progressives of illiberality, of collusion in driving those who do not agree with them out of the church, because they only believed that which, hitherto, the Episcopal Church has espoused. They are as purist as some extreme conservatives.

Now I happen to believe that one of the laudable intentions of Anglicanism is to comprehend people who disagree vehemently but who kneel at the same altars because they share the same baptism. I share friendship with many progressives, thanks be to God. I hope this blog doesn’t offend them too much but whatever I still love them. I happen to believe with Martyn Percy that contentious issues are to be chewed together slowly and that unity matters because our Lord prayed that we should be one. Unity is the sign of the unity we share with the Trinity. It is not just a cosy idea, or a strategic asset. “We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic church.”

I hope George Sumner and the Diocese of Dallas will ignore those who question their fidelity to their baptismal covenants, their ordination oaths. Of course the bishops and standing committees of our church are free to ask bishops-elect any questions they desire, but I hope such questions will be framed without malice, without suspicion, without the bitterness of former days. I hope too that the Episcopal Cafe will remove that sign from their window. We will sit with you, pray with you, work with you, laugh with you, cry with you, but we refuse to let you own that which is our common property.

THINGS CAST DOWN ARE RAISED UP

Today a group of influential Episcopalians issued a “Memorial” to the upcoming General Convention calling for spiritual, theological and structural renewal: http://www.episcopalresurrection.org/memorial/

The memorial calls the Episcopal Church to:

Engage creatively, openly, and prayerfully in reading the signs of the times and discerning the particular ways God is speaking to the Episcopal Church now;

Pray, read the scriptures, and listen deeply for the Holy Spirit’s guidance in electing a new Presiding Bishop and other leaders, in entering into creative initiatives for the spread of the kingdom, and in restructuring the church for mission;

Fund evangelism initiatives extravagantly: training laborers to go into the harvest to revitalize existing congregations and plant new ones; forming networks and educational offerings to train and deploy church planters and revitalizers who will follow Jesus into all kinds of neighborhoods; and creating training opportunities for bilingual and bi-cultural ministry;

Release our hold on buildings, structures, comfortable habits, egos, and conflicts that do not serve the church well;

Remove obstacles embedded in current structures, however formerly useful or well-meaning, that hinder new and creative mission and evangelism initiatives;

Refocus our energies from building up a large, centralized, expensive, hierarchical church-wide structure, to networking and supporting mission at the local level, where we all may learn how to follow Jesus into all of our neighborhoods.

I think we are finally emerging from those heady days of iconoclasm – for the moment,- during which, in the name of renewal, not only our liturgical and spiritual inheritance was scorned as something irrelevant or even harmful to “man come of age”, but the heart of the Gospel and the mission of the church questioned. As I’ve written before, we had become a boutique church, designed for a politically and socially aware elite. In the process we forged a schism, equally designed for a politically and socially elite, a mirror image of a designer church for those who agree with us, or with whom we feel comfortable.

I am struck by the acuity of thoughts expressed by the present pope when he was rector of a seminary in Argentina, days when the church there was under attack by a right-wing, bloodthirsty dictatorship on the one hand, and those who had submerged the Gospel in a specific left-wing crusade.He wrote:

“The example of Our Lord saves us: He became incarnate in the people. Peoples have habits, cultural references which are not easily classified…..To adjust our ears to hear their desire for change requires humility, affection, the habit of inculturation, and above all, a rejection of the absurd pretension to become the “voice” of the people, imagining perhaps that they don’t have one…..The first question any pastor seeking to reform structures must ask is: What is my people asking of me? What is it calling me to do? And then we must dare to listen.” (Austin Overeigh, The Great Reformer, A&U Press, 2014)

What I am not advocating is a program proposed, lobbied for, won by majority vote, all in the name of those who are the church. The church will no more be renewed by a further group of empowered reformers than it was in the seventies. Of course renewal and revival begins with small groups of people inspired by the Holy Spirit. It is when such groups become divisive factions, using political power to enforce their will that the problem arises. Now is the time for genuine egalitarianism. An unrepresentative General Convention as insulated from popular opinion as Congress needs to divest itself of privilege, and claims that it speaks for the people: it needs to listen to the poor, blue collar workers, those who do not subscribe to their political and social ideals, to traditionalists and even to those who have left us for other churches or to ACNA.

Let me be clear. I am not advocating a conservative solution. I am not suggesting we abandon our mission to those who are left out of the national political process, or shunned by us. I am suggesting that unless we recover our spiritual, theological and ecclesial roots, we have nothing to offer that a political party or a social activism group can’t do better. There is only one skandalion, stumbling block, set before those whom God loves, and that is Jesus and him crucified and risen. We have alienated the many in the hope of attracting the few, and assembled enough stumbling blocks to build a multitude of mission churches among those who are battling with the complexities of modern life and see nothing we have to be relevant to their lives. If we claim to be a catholic church, for God sake let us rediscover our mission to all people.

I therefore endorse the work of Episcopal Resurrection, for what my endorsement is worth. I am merely a grey head, the vicar of two small missions, my retirement job. But I assure this group, many of whom I know, of my support and prayers.

A SILENT PREJUDICE

The real reason why Episcopalians have lost the interest of most Americans is quite simple. We don’t like them. We can adopt their cause as a mass, as a class, or a group of classes, but when it comes to them -you know, real people, a few of whom, or perhaps more than a few perch in our pews on Sunday, it’s quite a different matter.

I accuse our leadership of this sin, but dear conservative, I accuse you too. Well yes, the ‘masses’ probably espouse  most conservative policies and seem to enjoy being trickled down upon. It’s rather like a free lottery. There’s always a slim possibility one may strike it rich. That’s why they try Publisher’s Clearing House and buy plastic gnomes, or get a lottery ticket when buying gas.

The main blame lies with progressives. After all the main task of a progressive is to champion the under dog, as long as he or she is under. The thought that such people might actually come to church, or be represented in our synods makes the skin crawl. Just consider these people for a moment. Most have never been to college -community colleges don’t count – and many may not have graduated from High School. They read little that is worthwhile and eat at McDonalds. They wear dreadful clothes, their English aint good, they have never been to the symphony, have no interest in the arts and grow potatoes in the front yard next to the gnomes and flamingos. And yes, they wrap themselves in the flag, hate immigrants unless they are white and wealthy, and wear baseball caps to dinner.

Of course, there are exceptions. We feel good about the really hungry who come to our soup kitchens, about African Americans if they are shot by the police of bullied at school, about Latin American refugees struggling across the border, or gays beaten up outside a bar. But the good thing is that we usually don’t have to meet these people, eat with them, talk with them, actually love them enough to share our faith with them. After all, they are probably members of an evangelical sect or, just as bad, are bigoted Roman Catholics.

Those of the “under classes” who still come to church with us, perhaps form majorities in some congregations, or who actually turn out to be the back bone of most of our smaller congregations know just how condescending our leadership has become. Why do they turn off what General Convention will do? They are not represented, their views are not heeded and they know that if they actually read the doings in Utah they’d get mad, maybe mad enough to stop coming to church very often even though they love their local parish.

The truth is that most of this silent majority, the workers, don’t see how the Jesus we talk about has anything to say about keeping a job, losing a job, paying the rent, bringing up children, dealing with divorce, or marriage, or paying medical expenses, or even understand the complexities of modern living. The last thing they want to encounter is preachy snobs, wrapped up in their latest Cause, be it conservative or liberal. The church is irrelevant. To make matters worse, most of us think the workers are irrelevant. We don’t care. We pass resolutions, write checks, attend meetings, maybe help serve meals for the needy, but in all this we are a bit like a Russian Grand Duchess throwing rubles to the peasants. So dear fellow Episcopalians, fess up. We don’t like the workers,employed or not, Black or White, Asian or Hispanic. We do love our impersonal orthodoxies.

TOUGH LOVE

5 Easter (B) – 2015   SERMONS THAT WORK  episcopaldigitalnetwork.com

May 3, 2015
Acts 8:26-40; Psalm 22:24-30; 1 John 4:7-21; John 15:1-8
The word on the street is that love is easy. We just do it. We talk about chemistry, and indeed, the scientists tell us that chemistry has something to do with physical attraction. However, we know that love goes further than physical attraction. We love our parents and our children. We love our friends. There’s a whole neglected tradition of love between friends that has nothing to do with physical attraction. If we think about it, physical attraction does not necessarily have anything to do with love.
Tomorrow is the feast of Monnica, the mother of Augustine of Hippo, the great scholar, writer, preacher. We know from Augustine’s autobiography what a pivotal role she played in his path to Christianity. Augustine must have driven his mother to distraction as he went off on tangents, had a liaison with a woman out of wedlock who bore him a son, and then, just as he set off for North Africa to begin his career as a bishop, she died. The love she had for her son was a suffering love. And therein lies our problem. Love for us is all bound up with bliss and happiness. The very idea that love includes suffering seems repugnant. Surely if suffering intrudes on love, something is wrong. Embracing suffering seems deviant: a form of masochism. Yes, love may bring us suffering, but that means, we think, that something tragic has occurred.
To our minds, loving and liking are allies. We don’t tend to like someone whose behavior offends us, or at least if that person persists in doing things that annoy us. In short, love, we think, has something to do with affinity.
Many parishes pride themselves on being very loving. When the parish is in search, it assures prospective rectors that everyone loves everyone. Just try being someone who has braved coming through those red doors, found a vacant pew, tried to negotiate the liturgy and then found his or her way to coffee hour. The visitor then sees love in action. Groups of people form impenetrable circles. Each group is made up of people long accepted in the circle, bound by an affinity made up of shared backgrounds, longevity, perhaps political beliefs and shared interests. Even if the visitor manages to gain entrance, the subjects discussed involve an element of shared experience foreign to the visitor. Love turns out to mean an easy acceptance of people we know well.
In today’s lessons we meet an uncomfortably different form of love. The lesson from Acts recounts a meeting between Philip, the Jewish convert, a deacon, with the non-Jewish Ethiopian court official. Immediately, the two men are divided by race, religion and social class. Yet Philip is instructed “by the Spirit” to approach the Ethiopian. The Eunuch is reading Isaiah, one of the passages the new Christians identified as prophecy about Jesus:
“Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter,
and like a lamb silent before its shearer,
so he does not open his mouth.
In his humiliation justice was denied him.
Who can describe his generation?
For his life is taken away from the earth.”
Philip has the difficult task of explaining that the crucifixion, where Jesus was killed like an animal sacrifice, was the most sublime offering of love. How on earth was he going to do that?
To begin with, Philip has to remember that the love he has for God, is a love that acknowledges that God loves him so much that his own follies, mistakes, unkindnesses and cruelty don’t stop God piercing through into the depth of who Philip really is. Philip knows that, as the writer of the First Epistle John will write later, loving God and being loved by God demands that we love others. Philip also knows that the only hope he has to get through the barrier of differentness is to claim what happened to him when he was baptized. In baptism he was grafted into Jesus, the true vine. Jesus’ love alone enables Philip to love the Ethiopian enough to share what he has come to know, what has enabled him to become a disciple. And now that loving discipleship is going to bear fruit as he leads the Ethiopian to a pool and there to be baptized, adopted, grafted, welcomed into the Kingdom. The Queen of Ethiopia’s servant is to become the servant of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.
We were once given that priceless gift when those who loved us brought us to baptism. Did they also know that we were being invited into living suffering, costly love? Do we accept that we are being drawn toward the sacrifice of true love? In our natural selves, we run from relationships that turn into hurt for us. We may even physically recoil from such pain, the opposite of physical attraction. That is why we hold our hands out today for Bread and Wine, for Christ Himself. He alone can give us the strength to overcome that which separates us from that person who needs to be baptized, or needs to revisit his or her baptism, that person whose lifestyle, habits, opinions are so different from our own offends us, makes us want to walk away. Believe it or not, by being Christians we accept that our vocation in life is to bear fruit – the fruit of love – and to make disciples.
As we read in today’s epistle:
“There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love. We love because he first loved us. Those who say, ‘I love God,’ and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen. The commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also.”

TO BE A PRIEST

A HOMILY GIVEN IN THE CHAPEL OF ST. MICHAEL’S COLLEGE, LLANDAFF ON APRIL 28th, 2015 by Fr. Tony Clavier

Exodus 32: 21-34. Luke 6: 12-26

In the lessons appointed we meet Moses and Jesus coming down mountains and selecting groups to carry out their purposes. Moses tell his lot to kill their siblings. Later Jesus will tell his lot that they are to leave their relatives and loved ones behind. In short, they are to travel light. In both cases their job description is deceptively simple. They are to get their followers to the promised land, not a land of their own choosing, one made to measure as it were, but one the Lord had chosen to give them. And notice that neither Moses nor Jesus were going to stick around while this was happening. Moses died on a mountain from which he could see the promised land. Jesus died on a “green hill” and left the disciples to it. True the called ones weren’t to be abandoned. The Israelites would have the the visible Presence in the symbols of God’s glory: the disciples would have the Holy Spirit also made manifest in fire.

The disciples, I fantasize, sat around in the upper room after the Ascension, debating their commission. They were to go tell, go baptize, do this in remembrance, love one another. But they were also to go to the utter most parts of the earth. Lacking a treasurer -Judas has resigned – they must have endlessly debated just how they could afford the camel fare to Lebanon, never mind Italy. They must have debated down sizing the project, tinkering with the structure, debating how they could preserve their positions, their roles, or whether it might be safer to stay within the structure they had, the Upper Room, and perhaps do the evangelizing by correspondence courses.

One of their problems was that of cultural diversity. Out there were Jews of different persuasions, from different places, with different language skills. Out there were Gentiles with a multitude of gods, diets, national entities and allegiances. The apostles were to herald and portray in community something quite different. Paul would later remind them that their own chosen identities had to be given up, just as the Levites had to bump off their family ties, the disciples their places, families, and emotional attachments. “Neither Jew nor Greek, male nor female, slave nor the boss class” Paul wasn’t talking about inclusivity as the world uses that term. He means that in the Kingdom, those things get you nowhere. What does matter is your oneness in Christ, and thus your unity in mission. The kingdom comprehends “all sorts and conditions of people,” people who have been changed: changed by faith and baptism, transformed by Christ’s continued presence particularly in Bread and Wine, filled with a love which makes human attempts at love and fidelity to be poor shades of the real thing. To enter the Promised Land everyone must learn the language, customs and rituals of that land. It’s all rather like an outsider training to be a priest in Wales.

This band of pilgrims would not create the promised land, not even by evangelical zeal, evocative worship, nor social planning. Indeed the future as described by Jesus and the writer of Revelation is bleak. “When the Son of Man returns will he find faith on earth?” And yet this band of pilgrims is to plod on, generation after generation, replicating the kingdom, honoring the true Lord, Basileus, Emperor, holding on to the notion that “he will come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the living and the dead, whose kingdom shall know no end.” In short the Promised Land comes from above with its king Jesus and restores the earth to its original perfection.

And this is your calling, you who are being set apart, who have been chosen. Your orders are simple, the same ones that were given to St Tielo and his friends from their mission site near this college. You are lead the people commited to your care to the Promised Land. You are to rely on the simple structure Jesus passed on. Your apostle, your bishop and you are to go tell, go baptize, do this in remembrance, love one another, in a community designed to demonstrate to the world, beset by its divisions, its individualism, its moral bewilderment, its subsequent loneliness just how humans are designed to be. The cost of your discipleship in human terms may be enormous. You will be distracted by diocesan bureaucracy, people fighting about where to place the altar, how many candlestick there should be and how to light them. You may be called away to fix toilets, unlock or lock doors, mow the grass; you can expect to be called at any time of day or night, often for trivial reasons, until you come to believe that God calls those he has a special grudge against. Your vocation may be, can be truly life-giving, as it is now in Iraq, Syria and Libya or in parishes that wear their priest out. Your ministry may look like failure, but in your suffering for the life of the world you are always accompanied by the one who promised, “Lo I am with you, even unto the consummation of the ages.”

A WHIMSICAL JOURNEY

http://livingchurch.org/covenant/?p=5631

THE NEW SECRETARY GENERAL of the ANGLICAN CONSULTATIVE COUNCIL

The Rt Revd Josiah Idowu-Fearon, formerly one of the Provincial Archbishops of the Church in Nigeria, and currently a diocesan bishop in that church has been appointed as the new Secretary-General of the Anglican Consultative Council, a body described as one of the “Instruments of Unity” of the Anglican Communion. Bishop Idowu-Fearon is the first African and the first non-white Euro-American to be so appointed. That in itself is a significant step towards giving the majority constituency of the Communion a major voice in the affairs of the Anglicanism world-wide.

The bishop was educated in England and Nigeria and is well known in America. He has worked heroically for understanding and reconciliation with the Moslem majority in his present diocese and in the northern regions of Nigeria. He has steadfastly supported the full participation of the African Church in the Anglican Communion. Bishop Fearon is a long time friend of the archbishop of Canterbury and preached at the consecration of Archbishop Welby as Bishop of Durham. His witness for peaceful accommodation with Moslems has been at great cost to him personally and put him in harm’s way. His loyalty to the Anglican Communion has put him at odds with the leadership of his own church and others in Africa and elsewhere who champion schism and disunity and work for the fragmentation of the Anglican Communion.

Bishop Idowa-Fearon is a traditionalist, does not support same-sex unions, but, unlike many others, believes that in baptism we are drawn together, have a common identity as children of God, and thus cannot but work together however we may disagree. We are saved by faith, trust in God, and not by the perfection of our beliefs or conduct. In short we are all sinners, saved by grace.

In a time when Anglicans, at least in the West, have been drawn into group identity, holy tribes, sure of their own perfection and ready to denounce those perceived as enemies – a precise imitation of party politics in Western democracies – there is little wonder that the bishop’s appointment has drawn the venomous ire of both left and right. A blog site named the Episcopal Cafe rushed to judgment, denouncing the bishop for, they said, supporting the criminalization of LBGT people in Nigeria. They relied on a dubious snippet from a Nigerian newspaper’s coverage of a talk the bishop gave. It seems that the Nigerian journalist responsible misquoted the bishop and failed to report the context of Bishop Joshua’s words. The bishop has now issued a statement denying the veracity of the newspaper article. One may only speculate why the Cafe rushed to judgment without checking sources. Could it be because the bishop is a Nigerian and that he does not support the present proposed policy of the Episcopal Church? Has a particular view on sexuality now become the litmus test of suitability, a core doctrine? One doesn’t expect an apology.

And from the right, Anglican TV’s commentators sneered at Bishop Fearon’s appointment, denounced him as a traitor to the Church of Nigeria because he supports the Anglican Communion and the Archbishop of Canterbury, and forecast the demise of the ACC. It seems that Bishop Joshua can’t win for losing.

Archbishop Welby had no part in Bishop Idowa-Fearon’s appointment, an appointment which was the unanimous decision of the ACC, but there can be no doubt that this is part of the archbishop’s patient endeavor to restore unity to the Anglican Communion. It may well have been an inspired appointment signaling a shift towards the non-Western churches and a recognition of their full participation in the life and work of the Communion.

It has been predicted that the Episcopal Church will withdraw funding from the ACC as a result of this appointment. Such an action would perhaps fatally cripple the Council. One can only hope and pray that all Anglicans will come together and support the new secretary-general and not give in to the impulse to withdraw into sects of self-regarding virtue on the left and right.

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