Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Swim the Tiber if You Must, but Leave the Keys Behind

By now you have heard all about the English Ordinariate, through which Anglicans unhappy about women's cooties contaminating the episcopate can join Rome. We briefly discussed this development over a year ago.

Regarding the latest news connected with this matter, Thinking Anglicans points us to an interesting speech offered by the Bishop of London. Here's the bit I find quite curious:

...There does however seem to be a degree of confusion about whether those entering the Ordinariate like Bishop John might be able to negotiate a transfer of properties or at the least explore the possibility of sharing agreements in respect of particular churches. For the avoidance of confusion I have to say that as far as the Diocese of London is concerned there is no possibility of transferring properties. As to sharing agreements I have noted the Archbishop of Westminster’s comment that his “preference is for the simplest solutions. The simplest solutions are for those who come into Catholic communion to use Catholic churches." I am also mindful that the late Cardinal Hume, whom I greatly revered, brought to an end the experiment of church sharing after the Synod’s decision of 1992 because far from being conducive to warmer ecumenical relations it tended to produce more rancour...
(emphasis added)
Does all this sound familiar? It should. The Episcopal Church has been dealing with such strange situations for some time now.

It will be interesting to see how Anglicans in other places deal with disgruntled former members who attempt to run off with the silver.

J.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

The "Real" Account of General Synod

Provided by Dave Walker's rough notebook scribbles.

Questions:

1. Why was Riazat wearing ear muffs?

2. Was the flare bearing woman in the procession initially treated as a terrorist?

3. Why was your Bishop looking over your shoulder instead of being in the procession?

Best line:

"The Queen was there but I didn’t draw her. It’s probably treason or something."

J.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

"Relational Consequences" Revealed

The General Synod of the Church of England is in session this week. On Wednesday, they will consider adopting the Anglican Communion Covenant.

Leading up to that consideration, there are numerous commentaries and discussions being offered regarding the proposed Anglican Covenant. Earlier this month, we briefly discussed it here.

As I wade through all these words about the Covenant, I keep finding myself coming back to the same nagging concern. Regardless of the reassurances being offered by the experts, I cannot see how anyone can read the actual text of that document and claim that it is not intended to create a mechanism which will trigger punitive actions against various Churches within the Communion.

Let me try to briefly show you what I'm talking about. Let's start with just one small piece of section four of the final text of the Covenant:

4.2.7) On the basis of the advice received, the Standing Committee shall make recommendations as to relational consequences which flow from an action incompatible with the Covenant...
"Relational consequences"...an unusual description. It is much kinder and gentler than the legalistic language found in earlier drafts. But does the changing of the description actually represent a different intent?

"The Standing Committee shall make recommendations as to the relational consequences..." To my ear, that still sounds much like something my mother might have said in a moment of exasperation; "You just wait until your Father gets home!" That meant, of course, that she would "make recommendations" to my Dad, resulting in me being grounded (a relational consequences impacting my interactions with my peers) or being sent to my room (a relational consequence impacting my interactions with my family and my peers).

But, maybe I'm just being paranoid? Maybe "relational consequences" doesn't just sound like a kinder description, but is indeed intended to reveal a more compassionate approach to discipline?

To find out more about these "relational consequences, let's consider the commentary provided by the Covenant Working Group:

...A further question has concerned the “relational consequences” which may follow a declaration of “incompatibility with the covenant”. A reality which has to be acknowledged is that if there is autonomy of governance in the Churches of the Anglican Communion, then a necessary corollary of this is that the autonomy of a Church’s relationships of Communion also cannot be constrained. What the covenant seeks to do is to find an ecclesial framework by which a common response to tensions can be discerned and articulated. This contrasts with the present situation where no agreed mechanisms for action exist, and this lack has seriously threatened the integrity of the Communion. What the relational consequences might be were explored by the Covenant Design Group in their meeting in Singapore in September 2008, and were set out in the Lambeth Commentary at page 25. There they were deliberately listed in a range from the lightest “no action”, to the most serious “breaking of ecclesial communion and walking apart”...
So, we are told that the specifics of what these "relational consequences" might be are found in the Lambeth Commentary. It's quite the list:

With respect to relinquishment - we wish to re-conceive this issue in terms of `relational consequences`, namely those consequences which might affect elements of ecclesial relationships within the Communion. Such relational consequences will depend on a number of factors, for example, the gravity of the issue and the response of the Church(es) involved. These relational consequences might include:
• a determination that no action may be necessary
• a request to enter a process of informal dispute resolution (such as mediation, arbitration and reconciliation)
• a request for self-restraint or remedial action or renunciation of the action
• an offer to register a conscientious objection
• warnings about the effects of a covenant breach
• a request to examine conscience about participation in roles formally representing the Anglican Communion
• a request to resign from roles formally representing the Anglican Communion
• non-invitation to the Lambeth Conference
• a request not to attend a particular meeting of an Instrument of Communion
• suspension (or termination) of voting rights in the Instruments of Communion *
• suspension (or termination) of participation at meetings of the Instruments of Communion *
• removal from the ACC Schedule of Membership *
• removal of signatory Church from covenant list *
• declaration that the actions of the Church(es) involved are/would be incompatible with the faith, unity and/or mission of the Communion *
• a recommendation to other Provinces of the Communion about their relationships with the Church to which the consequence applies
• a request to the Provinces to respond individually to the situation of the non-complying Church(es)
• breaking of ecclesial communion and a walking apart
I would suggest to those who are stridently claiming that this document is not "punitive" to carefully consider the above list of "consequences." Specifically, note that twelfth one: "removal from the ACC Schedule of Membership." Thats not getting grounded or sent to your room. That's getting kicked out of the house.

Now, everyone knows that many of the things going on in North America are also happening in England. The English are just not as transparent about it. So, it is not a stretch to envision, if this Covenant is approved, that the day may arrive when the Church of England would face "relational consequences" resulting in being removed from the Schedule of Membership. An Anglican Communion without the Church of England. Imagine that.

For more information regarding this troubling document, go visit the No Anglican Covenant Resource Page.

J.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Diocese of Uruguay Breaks from Southern Cone

From the Anglican Communion News Service:

One week after a proposal to allow dioceses to individually permit women's ordination to the priesthood was turned down by the Tenth Synod of the Province of the Southern Cone, the Diocese of Uruguay has voted to seek another jurisdiction with which to share its ministry...

...The diocese requests that permission for transfer from the Province take place within the year and that if this is not possible an appeal would be made to the Anglican Consultative Council to arrange for oversight, following Provincial canons. Uruguay has been a diocese within the Southern Cone since its formation in 1988.
Well, well, what have we here? The Province of the Southern Cone, notorious for the attempted theft of various North American dioceses, now has one of their own following their Provincial precedent. Imagine that.

It's going to be interesting to watch whay happens in Uruguay now, for a few reasons:

1. Given their history of raids on North American dioceses, it would seem impossible for the Southern Cone to now make the argument that a Diocese cannot leave their Province. If they do, their hypocrisy will be revealed.

2. In light of the recent ecumenical sanctions placed on the Southern Cone for cross-border interventions, it is doubtful that any other Province is going to rush to pick up Uruguay, as they will then open themselves to similar sanctions.

3. Since the presenting issue is women's ordination, there might be a few Provinces tempted to rush in to the aid of Uruguay, in the name of justice, equality etc. I think that would be a big mistake, as it would give some credence to the previous irregular, if not downright illegal, actions of the Southern Cone. If it was wrong for the Southern Cone to pillage North America, then we have no right to interfere in Uruguay.

J.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Diocese of New York Resolution Condemns the Institute on Religion and Democracy

From the Anglican Examiner:

RESOLVED, That the Diocese of New York affirms the U.S. Constitution’s guarantee of the free exercise of religion, which includes the right of churches to choose their own clerical and leaders according to their own rules and criteria without interference from governments, private citizens, or other religious groups, and
RESOLVED, That the Diocese of New York condemns those activities of the Institute on Religion and Democracy (IRD) and related groups that have sought to punish the Episcopal, Presbyterian, and United Methodist denominations for leadership choices with which they disagree through seizure of church property and other assets entrusted to the community for mission and ministry; and
RESOLVED, That the Diocese calls upon the General Convention of the Episcopal Church to authorize creation of a joint task force of the affected denominations to:
1) Assess the threat to religious freedom posed by the activities of the IRD and related groups
2) Develop recommendations to mitigate such threats, and
3) Ascertain the cost to the three denominations to date of litigation to prevent the alienation of church property and other assets.

Explanation: For nearly 30 years, IRD has publicly stated its goal of “reforming” the Episcopal, Presbyterian, and United Methodist churches along “orthodox” lines, even though it is not accountable to any of those churches. Each denomination has produced films, documentaries, and expos√©s about IRD’s damaging activities, but each continues to treat the problem as internal discontent rather than a coordinated assault on religious freedom. This approach has resulted in costly litigation in all three denominations. A joint task force is needed to share information and develop common strategies to safeguard the freedom and financial health of the three target denominations.
You don't remember the IRD? Check out this report, or review Jim Naughton's Following the Money.

If you want a shorter version, here's a summation, from the specific perspective of an Episcopalian.

Keep in mind that most religious fanatics are Theocrats, or Dominionists, with their goal being to make their brand of religion the law of the land. Most Anglican Dominionists will never publically admit to their ultimate goal of making the United States into a theocracy. Such matters are discussed only when they are alone with their own kind. This makes it rather difficult to track such troubling ideas. However, it does not make it impossible.

The most extreme form of Dominionism is "Christian Reconstructionism," which strives to incorporate all 613 laws from the biblical code into secular law. That would include capital punishment for adultery, blasphemy, heresy, homosexual behavior, idolatry, prostitution, and sorcery. R.J. Rushdoony, author of The Institutes of Biblical Law, is credited as the founder of this particular sect.

One of Rushdoony's most devout followers was Howard F. Ahmanson Jr., a reclusive millionaire from California. Ahmanson served on the Board of Rushdoony's Chalcedon Institute for 23 years, and was at his bedside when he died.

Howard Ahmanson, and his wife Roberta, became members of St. James Episcopal Church in Newport Beach, California. The rector of that parish was Canon David Anderson.

In 1995, the American Anglican Council was formed, in response to certain developments within The Episcopal Church. It was funded primarily through a group of large donors, of which Ahmanson was one. Ahmanson's support was considered so important to the AAC that there was some discussion about including his name in the letterhead of their stationary. Internal memos revealed that the leadership of the AAC were willing to do almost anything to keep Ahmanson on board. Soon after that, Ahmanson's rector, David Anderson, became President and CEO of the AAC, a postion he still holds today.

The AAC moved into an office in Washingtom DC with another organization, the Institute on Religion and Democracy. Dianne Knippers, President of the IRD, was the original treasurer for the AAC. Roberta Ahmanson served on the board of the IRD.

The IRD has a long history of anti-communist activity, especially during the Reagan era. At one point, the rhetoric from Knippers resulted in the erroneous identification of a group of missionaries in Nicaragua as being a communist front. Their clinics became targets for terrorists.

The primary goal of the IRD is to replace the leadership of the mainline churches with their own conservative leaders. A reading of some of their material makes it clear that they continue to be active players in the Religious Right, and are very clearly of the Dominionist mindset.

Now that the IRD and the AAC were, for all intents and purposes, one organization (sharing board members, wealthy donors and the same mailing address) they began to focus on tearing down The Episcopal Church. After this alliance was formed, one of their early moves was to launch a smear campaign against Gene Robinson, who had just been elected as bishop of New Hampshire. In 2003, Ahmanson gave the IRD funds for this campaign, which was launched by Fred Barnes, a member of the IRD's board, Fox News commentator, and a member of Falls Church. Robinson received the necessary consents in spite of the IRD's efforts.

Such techniques were used against the leadership of the Methodist and Presbyterian Churches as well. Eventually, the outrage expressed towards the IRD by a number of people within the mainline denominations was cause for the AAC to distance themselves from the organization. They set up their own office in Atlanta. It is also worth noting that Ephraim Radner, affiliated with the Anglican Communion Institute, also resigned from his seat on the IRD board, which he had occupied for many years.

The American Anglican Council, which the IRD helped create, was made up of the same core group that became the Network, which then morphed into the shadow province now known as ACNA.  Same names, same goal; to destroy The Episcopal Church by any means necessary. 

David Anderson became a Bishop of the Church of Nigeria in 2007.

The IRD continues to attempt to have an impact within TEC, with limited success.


Here endeth the summary.

Well done, New York!

J.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Cameron and Fellows Discuss the Covenant

Last week, I pointed out the heated language and misinformation applied by Bp. Gregory Cameron towards those opposing the proposed Anglican Covenant. Last Sunday, the BBC offered a discussion between Bp. Cameron and the Rev. Lesley Fellows, moderator and Church of England convenor of the No Anglican Covenant Coalition (the discussion begins about 24 minutes into the program).

Bp. Cameron makes no mention of the "ecclesiastical BNP" or "Little Englanders," and, instead, seems to attempt to backpedal from his initial bombastic outburst. Lesley offers an excellent summary of why all Anglicans should be wary of the proposed Anglican Covenant. It is a very civilized discussion.

Here is Mr. Catolick's impression of the Cameron-Fellows discussion:



J.

Friday, November 05, 2010

Bishop Cameron Lashes Out Against Covenant Opposition

From a letter by the Rt. Rev. Gregory Cameron, Bishop of St Asaph, in the Church Times:

There was a very curious document in last week’s Church Times (full-page advertisement, page 7). In it, two organisations, Inclusive Church and Modern Church, for which I have formerly had the highest regard, turned themselves into the nearest to an ecclesiastical BNP that I have encountered.

They resort to the old tactics of misinformation and scaremongering about foreigners and outside influences to whip up a campaign against the Anglican Covenant, and replace reasoned argument with a “Man the barricades!” mentality that is little short of breathtaking...

Later in the letter, he also refers to those leading such opposition as "our latter-day Little Englanders." For those unfamiliar with that particular slur, here is one definition; "...a term now applied to English people who are regarded as xenophobic and/or overly nationalistic and are often accused of being ignorant and boorish."

Ecclesiastical BNP? Misinformation and scaremongering? Latter-day Little Englanders? My, my, the good Bishop seems to be quite upset.

Let's take a closer look at the Bishop's accusation of those opposed to a Covenant resorting to "scaremongering and the misrepresentation of a text." In fact, to avoid any charge of "misrepresentation," let's look at the actual text of the proposed Anglican Covenant. Specifically, let's focus on a part of Section Four:

(4.2.5) The Standing Committee may request a Church to defer a controversial action. If a Church declines to defer such action, the Standing Committee may recommend to any Instrument of Communion relational consequences which may specify a provisional limitation of participation in, or suspension from, that Instrument until the completion of the process set out below.

(4.2.6) On the basis of advice received from the Anglican Consultative Council and the Primates’ Meeting, the Standing Committee may make a declaration that an action or decision is or would be “incompatible with the Covenant”.

(4.2.7) On the basis of the advice received, the Standing Committee shall make recommendations as to relational consequences which flow from an action incompatible with the Covenant. These recommendations may be addressed to the Churches of the Anglican Communion or to the Instruments of the Communion and address the extent to which the decision of any covenanting Church impairs or limits the communion between that Church and the other Churches of the Communion, and the practical consequences of such impairment or limitation. Each Church or each Instrument shall determine whether or not to accept such recommendations.

(4.2.8) Participation in the decision making of the Standing Committee or of the Instruments of Communion in respect to section 4.2 shall be limited to those members of the Instruments of Communion who are representatives of those churches who have adopted the Covenant, or who are still in the process of adoption.
The language has been softened from earlier versions, but the impact remains the same. This is a mechanism for "limiting" or "suspending" a Church's participation in the Instruments of Communion. Note that anyone who chooses not to sign on to this Covenant will be barred from any participation in the work of the Standing Committee or the Instruments in regards to the process presented in Section Four.

Bishop Cameron points out that the Standing Committee only has the authority to "make recommendations." Well, of course. They will "make recommendations" to the Churches or the Instruments, who will then act on those recommendations. We've seen this before. The Archbishop of Canterbury, acting on the "recommendations" found in the Windsor Report, removed the Rev. Katherine Grieb of TEC and Bishop Tito Zavala of Chile from the Inter Anglican Standing Commission on Unity, Faith and Order. The "recommended" moratoria had became law, once an Instrument of Communion chose to act on them.

Now, in the instance above, Canterbury seems to have ignored the process put forward by the Covenant. He acted without recommendations from the Standing Committee. However, the process seems to give us a foretaste of a post-Covenant Communion. The Instruments receive recommendations, and then act on them, as they see fit. Note that if you opt out of the Covenant, those actions will be decided without you being in the room.

Bishop Cameron wants to assure us that we don't have to accept the recommendations of the Standing Committee ("Each Church or each Instrument shall determine whether or not to accept such recommendations" 4.2.7). So, we reject the recommendations. Then what happens? The matter will still go before the Churches or the Instruments. And those taking "controversial actions" will be limited or suspended, regardless of our response to the "recommendations."

Bishop Cameron also notes that Section 4.1.3 of the Covenant states "mutual commitment does not represent submission to any external ecclesiastical jurisdiction." That is indeed the language. But, based on the later language of "limitations" and "suspensions," such a grand statement becomes meaningless, unless it is understood to say something along the lines of, "No, you don't have to submit. But if you don't, we may limit or suspend your participation."

None of this is news to Bishop Cameron, btw. He served as the former deputy secretary general of the Anglican Communion and secretary to the Covenant Design Group. For him to present the Covenant as a completely benign document, instead of the punitive tool it is clearly crafted to be, is cause to wonder exactly who it is that is engaged in presenting misinformation.

Let's be clear about what this Anglican Covenant is all about. There are those in the Communion who have demanded that The Episcopal Church be disciplined. Some leaders of various Churches have even gone as far as threatening to leave the Communion if TEC is not disciplined. Those who are making these demands are supported by a few extreme conservatives who were once part of TEC. These extremists have formed their own shadow Province, known as ACNA. Their goal is to get TEC removed from the Communion, so they can take her place. This is not "scaremongering" or "misinformation," for the record. The plans to replace TEC are well documented. The boot with which they hoped to kick TEC out of the Communion was the Anglican Covenant.

What these extremists did not anticipate, however, was for "border crossing" (i.e., theft of property from other Churches) to be included among the moratoria. As a result, many of the extremists are now less than enthusiastic about an Anglican Covenant. The weapon they helped fashion may just be turned on them, as has been seen in the case of Bishop Zavala (whom, I'm informed, has been elected as the next Primate of the Southern Cone. Congratulations or condolences, as the case may be, Bishop).

Use whatever snarky names you can imagine, Bishop Cameron, but, regarding the signing of any current or future Anglican Covenant, this is one Anglican whose response must echo that of Bartleby the Scrivener; "I would prefer not to."

If you share some of my concerns regarding the proposed Covenant, I commend to you this website: No Anglican Covenant Coalition.

And while you're at it, visit this page, and scroll down to the "question of the week" at the bottom of the article.

J.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Don Armstrong Makes a Deal

Don Armstrong, the former Episcopal priest who jumped to the Church of Nigeria the day before charges of theft against him were revealed, is in the news again:

...A Fourth Judicial District grand jury indicted Armstrong in May 2009 on 20 felony counts of embezzling $392,000 from Grace Church. Armstrong on Friday pled no contest to one felony count, according to El Paso County court files. Though Armstrong in his plea doesn’t admit guilt, the court views it in a legal sense as a guilty plea.

As part of the agreement, Armstrong admitted guilt to a new charge, misdemeanor theft, said Pueblo District Attorney Bill Thiebaut. A sentencing hearing on this charge will happen before the end of the year.

Armstrong’s sentence could include a fine of up to $5,000 and up to 18 months in the El Paso County Jail. Misdemeanor charges are brought for thefts between $500 and $1,000.

On the felony count, Armstrong has been placed on four-year’s probation. If violated, he will be a convicted felon and could face four to 12 years in prison, Thiebaut said. A restitution hearing will be held, probably in January, to determine how much money Armstrong must pay back to Grace Church....
The Episcopal Diocese of Colorado offers us a little more information:

...Larry Hitt, the Chancellor of the diocese, said that “We believe that Armstrong’s entry of a ‘no contest’ plea to a class 3 felony theft charge (deferred judgment and sentence) and his effective guilty plea to a class 1 misdemeanor theft charge constitute a tacit acknowledgment of the truth of the criminal charges against him. We hope that today’s action will contribute to a final resolution of these regrettable events. We pray for healing for all affected by his actions, including Armstrong and his family. We also hope that he will be sentenced to make full restitution of the money he took from the church.”
So, is this a "tacit acknowledgment" of the truth of the criminal charges? Not according to the members of his new church:

...In preparation for the now canceled trial we have become convinced even more strongly that controversies within the larger denominational church were the catalyst for the Diocese’s investigation and complaint, for the purpose of silencing our bold and successful defense of orthodoxy through our parish’s life, discipline, and teaching ministry...

...We further believe the disparity between the magnitude of charges made against Father Armstrong by the Episcopal Diocese and the final content of the plea agreement vindicates not only Father Armstrong, but also clearly affirms our confidence that we ran an effective and well managed church in our days at the helm of Grace & St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church, and continue to do so at St. George’s Anglican Church...
Vindicates? Oh come on. How can these folks be so blind?

Perhaps we need to remind them of some of the details unearthed in the initial investigation:

.... In about March 2003, after Fr. Armstrong’s conversation with Ms. Ressler, payments for the educational expenses of Fr. Armstrong’s children ceased being booked as a Bowton Trust expense. Bookkeeper Alice Snere recalls that Fr. Armstrong instructed her in March 2003 to stop booking these expenses to Bowton and to book them to Anglican Institute or ACI as outreach expenses. He instructed her to transfer enough funds from Grace Church’s operating account to ACI’s operating account to cover the monthly payments for the children’s tuition and Jessie Armstrong’s car lease...

...Grace Church’s management provided to the parishioners a “2005 Outreach Report” itemizing the 2005 sources of funds for outreach (which it listed as “Receipts”) and the spending of funds (which it listed as “Disbursements”). Specifically, it stated that Grace Church disbursed “$40,116.00” for “Anglican Communion Institute.” That amount is the product of 12 months times $3,343, or the monthly payments Grace Church made to “Donald Armstrong - College Fund” during the 12 months of 2005 and booked to ACI outreach. The QuickBooks data for 2005 show no disbursements to ACI for the entire year...
The Pueblo District Attorney found items like the above as valid reasons to charge Armstrong with 20 counts of felony theft. 19 of them would probably be thrown out, because of the statute of limitations. So he pleaded "no contest" to one felony charge.

But, he admitted guilt to "misdemeanor theft." This is usually the charge when someone is caught shoplifting.

Now, if I was convicted of shoplifting, do you think my Bishop might step in and inhibit me immediately? You betcha. And rightly so. But, so far, we've not heard a word from Armstrong's Bishop, or the Church of Nigeria.

I suppose we shouldn't be surprised. What's a little petty theft to pillagers in purple shirts who regularly steal property, and do it in the name of God, no less.

Birds of a feather and all that.

J.

Friday, September 03, 2010

Monks Making Smoke

I recently received the latest Abbey Newsletter from St. Gregory's Abbey. Among the various spiritual offerings in this issue was the following photo from their Fourth of July activites:



Now, good Prior, what some of us would like to know is what was the exact mixture that you were smoking that caused such a marvelous cloud? And, is such smoke making a spiritual discipline that you would recommend?

Inquiring minds want to know.

J.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

A New Adventure

Some of you have been kind enough to note your concern over my sporadic posting over the last year. I've deeply appreciated your concerns. I am now in a better position to explain to you a little more regarding what has been going on.

The first factor is that during the year that this site went dormant, other sites continued to expand their coverage of things Anglican, making many of our previous discussions here rather redundant. Specifically, some of the blogs that grew out of our conversations here have found their own fine voices. The Friends of Jake and The Three Legged Stool immediately come to mind as examples.

Beyond that, Episcopal Cafe has emerged as the model of the way a news and conversation website needs to be structured. Their combination of The Lead as a team-blogging news source, Daily Episcopalian as a place for more lengthy, reflective essays, along with the daily readings offered by Speaking from the Soul and the beauty of the Art Blog makes The Episcoapl Cafe by far the most thorough resource for information and inspiration among the Anglican sites on the net today.

When combined with other trusted sites, such as the consistently solid reporting of Thinking Anglicans, the moving stories of Elizabeth Kaeton and the insightful commentary of Mark Harris, there didn't seem to be a whole lot left, of a constructive nature, for me to add to the conversation. So, I've been listening to others, and appreciating their efforts.

The second factor is more difficult to speak about. I continue to have very mixed emotions regarding my year at the Episcopal Church Center. Perhaps I entered that phase of minstry with some rather naive expectations of the Episcopal Church. And no doubt I made more than a few poor judgments based on those unrealistic expectations. To sum up a wide spectrum of experiences, I walked away from that brief ministry not only humbled, but also deeply disappointed. Since I continue to think very highly of some of those still pursuing the mission of The Episcopal Church Center, I think I'll just leave it at that, for now.

So, the last ten months have involved a lot of soul searching and prayer, seeking God's call to the next adventure. I've done quite a bit of supply work, which, to be quite frank, often added to my disappointment. We have so many good congregations that simply can no longer support a full time seminary trained clergy person. It is past time for us to seriously explore other models of ministry, in every diocese.

I ended up doing some interim ministry, which I actually enjoy quite a bit. You have five specific goals to accomplish, and then you move on. But, in the long run, it is a rather nomadic way to do ministry, and I'm afraid I'm just getting too old to continue the "wandering preacher" routine. I'm currently living in an apartment far from my wife and my grandkids. The church community is wonderful, and has re-awakened my passion for parish ministry, but I miss being home.

But, that is all to change soon. I've been called as Rector of a parish here in New Jersey. I've been in quite a few search processes over the last year, and this was the first one which strongly stood out as a real "call" by God. What made the difference? Little things, like a homeless shelter on the grounds, a food pantry which feeds 100 families a week, a parish hall functioning as a community center Monday through Friday, a worship space which seats 200, but doesn't have airline seating, so still feels intimate, and a group of people passionate about proclaiming the Good News of God's redemptive love in both word and deed. Minor things, to many folks, perhaps. But they called out to me.

And so, a new adventure begins. I'll once again be a parish priest. Perhaps my passion for things happening within "the bigger picture" will return. At this point, I just don't know. All I do know is that I'm once again following God's call, and find myself at peace. Thanks be to God.

Pray for this new ministry.

Pray for the Church.

J.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The Importance of Good Communication

I sometimes have the opportunity to speak about "The Three 'C's of Healthy Relationships; Communication, Caring and Commitment." It is through good communication, invloving equal amounts of listening and talking, that we learn who the other person really is. If the communication part is done well, we can then begin to express care for the real person, instead of our projections or assumptions about who they are. Out of this good communication and sincere caring grows a commitment to the relationship.

The communication part always has to come first, though. Without it, we are attempting to have a relationship with what may turn out to be nothing more than our own mental construct of who the other person is and what they're all about.

Now, this communication can happen in a lot of different ways. My stepmother was from Greece. She had nine brothers and sisters. Their idea of a "good time" was to sit around the large table in Uncle Cosmos' kitchen, sip wine, nibble cheese, and argue. These were loud, passionate arguments, on every topic you could imagine. But, when it came time to go home, everyone would warmly embrace, and comment on how much they enjoyed the evening. A form of communication? I think so.

I know another couple who would never dream of arguing in public. But they would periodically beckon one another into the next room and close the door. Only the expressions on their faces when they emerged some time later gave any clue that there had been some serious communication going on behind that closed door.

Some couples use "talk times." This is a method by which a set amount of time (say, 20 minutes) will be set aside to talk about one issue, and one issue only. Tangents are verboten. The advantage is that the partner who is more verbal will have a set time when an issue will be discussed, and the less verbal partner will have a time certain at which the words will end. If both happen to be verbal, the time might be expanded; if less so, it might be shrunk.

Whatever method is used, the important thing is that effective communication happens, intentionally. Without it, meaningful caring and long lasting commitments don't have a chance.

It doesn't take much imagination to expand this idea beyond the realm of a couple trying to build a healthy relationship. Isn't communication important in our relationship with God? Isn't it equally important in building relationships with our neighbors?

So, expanding this to include various groups, rather than just individuals (do individuals exist? Another topic for another time, perhaps), consider the most recent attempt of the Standing Committee of the Anglican Communion at more transparency and better communication:

...Douglas said the committee, through the support of the Anglican Communion Office, "has pursued a course of transparency and open communication, which I think is vitally important if trust and understanding across the communion is to be engendered. We cannot minimize what a significant move that is in the right direction for our health as a communion."

The Anglican Communion Office's communications department, under the directorship of Jan Butter, has issued two daily bulletins during the meeting and more are expected. This is the first time the committee's proceedings have been communicated in this way...
So, was this attempt at "open communication" immediately successful? Not exactly.

The second daily bulletin contained this bit of information:

...A proposal from Dato' Stanley Isaacs that The Episcopal Church be separated from the Communion led to a discussion in which Committee members acknowledged the anxieties felt in parts of the Communion about sexuality issues. Nevertheless, the overwhelming opinion was that separation would inhibit dialogue on this and other issues among Communion Provinces, dioceses and individuals and would therefore be unhelpful. The proposal was not passed, and the group agreed to defer further discussion until progress on Continuing Indaba project had been considered...
Are there items in that statement that bother you? Various aspects certainly troubled me. And, apparently, they troubled Executive Council member Mark Harris:

...So a closed meeting of the Standing Committee can consider a proposal to separate The Episcopal Church from the Anglican Communion, supposedly with the understanding that such a proposal was in order. It failed not because the power of the Standing Committee was challenged, but because it was felt to be premature and the Standing Committee awaited further input.

Given this, why in the world would TEC, or any other church in the Anglican Communion, believe the Standing Committee to be a servant of unity in the Anglican Communion...
Given only this limited communication of what happened at the Standing Committee meeting, I was inclined to agree with Mark.

But, then on day four of the meeting, we are offered this briefing, which communicates what transpired in in the initial discussion, and later dicusssions, in more detail:

...As agreed, the Committee revisited Saturday's discussion. Dato' Stanley Isaacs delivered a frank and passionate presentation about the distress felt by some parts of the Communion about The Episcopal Church's decision to breach one of the moratoria. He concluded by proposing that rights to participate in discussions of matters of faith and order at the Standing Committee and the ACC be withdrawn from The Episcopal Church.

In the subsequent discussion Archbishop Philip Aspinall reiterated that the Standing Committee did not have the power to undertake such an action...

...the Standing Committee agreed a resolution that it: "regrets ongoing breaches of the three moratoria that continue to strain the life of the Anglican Communion; regrets the consequential resignations of members of the Standing Committee which diminish our common life and work on behalf of the ACC and the Primates' Meeting; recognises that the ACC and the Primates' Meeting are the appropriate bodies to consider these matters further."
Well, this is quite different, isn't it? Note that Mark acknowledges that the fuller "briefing" from day four does take some of the sting out of what might have been assumed from the day two briefing. However, there remains a very real concern with this new thing called the "Standing Committee" being a bit top heavy when it comes to Primates. In my opinion, the last thing in the world such a body attempting to oversee things Anglican needs are more purple shirts, let alone purple shirts who see themselves as "arch purple."

So, this new thing we call the Standing Committee is taking the brave step of being more transparent, and striving to do a better job at communicating. And, out of the gate, they may have taken a stumble or two. I, for one, give them credit for recognizing how important effective communication is. However, I do indeed hope that they also recognize that effective communication involves a two way conversation. They have spoken. Now, are they willing to listen?

J.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Convocation of Anglican Nigerian Churches in America Council, 2010

CANA Council 2010 is meeting this week. Who is CANA? Well, that depends on when you asked the question.

We first hear of it in a letter from Archbishop Akinola of Nigeria on April 7, 2005:

...After much prayer and careful discernment with appropriate colleagues and advisors over the last two years, and in full consultation with the Nigerian congregations in America, together with the enthusiastic endorsement of the Episcopal Synod and the Standing Committee of the Church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion) we announce the formation of the Convocation of Anglican Nigerian Churches in America.

This Convocation will function as a ministry of the Church of Nigeria in America. Our intention is not to challenge or intervene in the churches of ECUSA and the Anglican Church of Canada but rather to provide safe harbour for those who can no longer find their spiritual home in those churches... (emphasis added)

Next we have a press release from Nigeria, dated September 15, 2005:

...The Constitutional change also allowed the Church to create Convocations and Chaplaincies of like-minded faithful outside Nigeria. This effectively gives legal teeth to the Convocation of Anglican Nigerians in Americas (CANA) formed to give a worshiping refuge to thousands in the USA who no longer feel welcomed to worship in the Liberal churches especially with the recent theological innovations encouraging practices which the Nigerians recognize as sin...(emphasis added)
The "Convocation of Anglican Nigerian Churches in America" became the "Convocation of Anglican Nigerians in Americas," which may seem like a subtle change to allow for the catchy acronym "CANA". But note that it is now offered to "thousands in the USA."

The next shift in the name is seen in a letter from Archbishop Akinola dated November 16, 2005:

...Earlier this year we announced CANA - a mission of the Church of Nigeria, a Convocation for Anglicans in North America. We see this as a creative way to provide pastoral and episcopal care for those alienated by the actions of ECUSA. As we said in our letter of April 7th, 2005, “Our intention is not to challenge or intervene in the churches of ECUSA or the Anglican Church of Canada but to provide safe harbour for all those who can no longer find their spiritual home in those churches.” While CANA is an initiative of the Church of Nigeria it is our desire to welcome all those who share our faith and vision for the Church... (emphasis added)
So now the "Convocation of Anglican Nigerians in Americas" has become the "Convocation for Anglicans in North America," and "welcomes all those who share our faith..." A piece by Mark Harris, written at the time of this subtle metamorphisis of CANA, may provide a bit more clarity as to why this shell game regarding the name of the organization is significant.

So, now, five years later, what will be going on at the 2010 CANA Council? Three events that occurred yesterday afternoon are worth noting:

2:00 PM - 3:30 PM - Clericus with Archbishop Nicholas Okoh & Bishop Minns - for clergy only. His Grace, the Most Rev'd Nicholas Okoh, and the Rt. Rev'd Martyn Minns invite clergy to this time of fellowship.

Who is Abp. Okoh? He replaced Peter Akinola as Archbishop of the Church of Nigeria. Since Nigeria's new Archbishop found no reason to notify anyone in the Diocese of Virginia or in TEC that he intended to be present in the US for this event, it appears he will continue the border crossing and property pillaging campaign launched by his predecessor. As a matter of fact, he has stated that very intention. Here is his justification for establishing a Nigerian beachhead in the US:

...Recently, our Church was classified along with Churches who have broken call for moratorium by the Anglican authorities in Canterbury, in certain areas such as ordination of Gay Bishops, conducting of same sex marriage and border crossing. Our church is said to have crossed borders in its pastoral work in the USA. We reject being put in the same category with churches conducting gay ordination and same sex marriage, and the equating of our evangelical initiative (for which we should be commended) with those who are doing things unbiblical. But for the Nigerian initiative and others like her, many of our faithful Anglican American friends who cannot tolerate the unbiblical practices of the Episcopal Church in America could have gone away to other faiths. The great commission to go in to all the world to save souls is our compelling constitution. The step taken by Canterbury in this regard therefore is ill-advised and does not make any contribution towards the healing of the ailment in the Anglican extended family...
Archbishop, it might be helpful for you to recognize that many Anglicans do not consider what you are doing in Virginia and other places to be offering "pastoral work." It is viewed as an act of attempted theft. I would suggest to you that one Province attempting to steal congregations and dioceses from another province is indeed a very serious ethical matter. Stealing is quite clearly an "unbiblical practise."

So, Abp Okoh is visiting Virginia, contrary to the moratarium regarding boundary crossings found in the Windsor Report. I hope Canon Kearon has taken note of this.

The next noteworthy event at the CANA Council:

4:00 PM - 5:30 PM Anglican Action - Institute on Religion & Democracy - Anglican Action promotes orthodox social witness, teaching, and practice within the worldwide Anglican Communion...
The IRD promotes social witness? Unbelievable. For those who may have forgotten, the IRD used to be a group of radical anti-communists during the Reagan era. When their fanatacism lead to the death of some innocent missionaries in Central America, they recast their image, with their new target being "progressive" (in their mind, "Marxist") leaders in the mainline Christian denominations. They were still able to draw funds from the same small pool of extreme right backers that supported their anti-communist rhetoric. What brought them to light for most Anglicans was their significant role in the creation of the American Anglican Council, which became the Network, which became ACNA. So why are they present at this Council? Because, when it comes to the schismatic Virginia parishes, the IRD has always been around, usually lurking in the shadows. Consider this quote from a 2006 entry on the Casandra Pages:

...The announcement about the Virginia parishes has been directed by the skillful spokespeople at the Institute for Religion and Democracy (IRD), a neo-conservative Washington think-tank that has innumerable connections, through its board of directors and officers, to the conservative Washington area parishes that have recently left the Episcopal Church. These parishes have been home to prominent conservatives such as Oliver North and Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, as well as top-level IRD Episcopalians. For instance, Fox News commentator Fred Barnes is a member of the Falls Church congregation, and serves on the Board of the IRD; Fox has covered this story extensively and sympathetically, interviewing Barnes as part of a roundtable discussion, but never mentioning his IRD connection...
One other intereresting event occurred at the CANA Council yesterday afternoon:

4:00 PM - 5:30 PM - Bishop Minns: CANA's Dual Citizenship in the ACNA & Church of Nigeria - Clergy and congregations in CANA carry 2 passports: one that says we're full fledged founding members of the new Anglican province called the Anglican Church in North America, and one that says we're full fledged members of the most vibrant province in Anglicanism, the Church of Nigeria...
Dual citizenship. There is a rather unique concept. Is this an end run attempt in preparation for their appeal of the decision of the Virginia Supreme Court? Good luck with that.

So, what items of interst do you spot in the agenda for the Council of the Convocation of Anglican Nigerian Churches...Convocation of Anglican Nigerians in Americas...er...CANA?

J.

Friday, June 11, 2010

The Dark Side of Canterbury...Perhaps

I want to engage in a bit of an experiment. For the next few minutes, I want to allow voice to my own dark side, from which I can imagine the dark side of others. Here's what I see.

What if, in a desperate move to hold the Anglican Communion together, Dr. Williams is playing a very dangerous political game?

In order to play such a game, the role of Archbishop of Canterbury would have to be seen as a postition from which one can wield power. Ecclesiastical power, in this case. But a manifestation of power just the same, even in its weakened form in today's reality.

One way to have others recognize your power, your authority, your ability to dominate another, is to proclaim that certain people must be punished for their actions. Check.

But by what criteria would the person attempting to solidfy their power choose the victim that would set the example? Of course they would choose the one who is the most desperate to hold on to the bonds signified by the relationship with the one doling out the punishments.

So, in this case, who would be the most desperate? I would suggest that would be TEC.

Why? Well, as but one example, consider the recent decision in Virginia. The only reason the higher court did not agree with the schismatics, meaning those attempting to steal property, is because there has been no official division in TEC or the Anglican Communion.

But, let's say TEC decided to cease any contributions to various bodies within the Anglican Communion. Or, imagine that TEC, by order of Canterbury, is excluded not only from the ecumenical dialogues and the Unity, Faith and Order Commission, but our Primate is not invited to the next Primates' meeting. Or, what if TEC decided to launch our own Communion, made up of like minded Provinces. Could a case be made that there has indeed been an official split in the Anglican Communion, and even within TEC? Perhaps. It would certainly improve such a case, which is exactly what CANA, and the other schismatics, are hoping for.

Do keep in mind that we have wolves prowling the perimeter. ACNA would love to step into the void, if TEC was to act rashly, and send a message that we have no need of Canterbury.

What if Dr. Williams has weighed these realities, and come to the conclusion that the safest body on which to flex his power is TEC? Will we really pull our support (and our funding) when we have so many court cases still dependent on the fact that we are full members in the Anglican Communion? A safe bet on Canterbury's part, I'd say.

And, an effective way to get the other "troublesome" Provinces to toe his line. It appears as if that is exactly what has happened in Canada. Note this line from their "Sexuality Discernment Report," specifically addressing same sex blessings (the second suggested moratorium in the Windsor REPORT...not LAW, but REPORT):

...At this time, however, we are not prepared to make a legislative decision...
You do realize, that in the eyes of Canterbury, that is enough to give Canada a free pass. They have not done anything formally in Synod to go against the Windsor recommendations.

And the Southern Cone response to the border crossing letter from Canon Kearon? Most of us could write that for them, I suspect. Of course they will say that was a holding operation for "pastoral reasons," and they have since then passed on those holdings to ACNA. And I bet we never hear another word about it.

So, in the end, TEC will be the chosen single sacrificial lamb, as Canterbury will have discerned that we need him more than he needs us.

Perhaps some of you will now understand a little better the complexities of TEC's position. We cannot simply say we have no need of Canterbury. And Dr. Williams is fully aware of of our perplexing situation. Thus, we have been sacrificed, to appease the extreme literalist sola scriptura folks within the Communion.

Ok, dark side filter off. Now please convince me that I am wrong.

J.

UPDATE: George Conger is reporting that Bp. Katharine received a letter from Canterbury on April 17 asking her to step down from the Standing Committee of the Anglican Communion. Do keep in mind that Conger has been known to get stuff wrong before, so, until this is verified, we need to take it with a grain of salt. However, if it does turn out to be even partially accurate, I'd suggest it is additional evidence that we may indeed now be dealing with D. Williams' dark side. Mark Harris has more on this here.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Responses to the Pentecost Punishments

Bishop Katharine has described the removal of members of TEC from ecumenical dialogues as "unfortunate." She also offers a good summation of one reason we consider border crossings a "big deal":

...Asked whether Williams has adequately addressed the issue of cross-border interventions, Jefferts Schori said, "I don't think he understands how difficult and how painful and destructive it's been both in the church in Canada and for us in the U.S. ... when bishops come from overseas and say, 'Well, we'll take care of you, you don't have to pay attention to your bishop.'" Such actions "destroys pastoral relationships," noted Jefferts Schori. "It's like an affair in a marriage," she said. "It destroys trust."
It's important that those who dismiss these intrusions by foreign bishops "get" this point. There have always been congregations who disagree with their bishop on one point or another. Sometimes those disagreements can go on for years. Eventually, there is always some kind of reconciliation. But, when you add the new dimension of an "off shore bishop" standing in the wings wooing that congregation away, the reconciliation process is never given a chance. That kind of behavior is highly destructive, and quite unethical. It simply cannot be tolerated.

Inclusive Church has written a letter to our Presiding Bishop. Here's the concluding papragraph:

...To agree to a voluntary self exclusion would not be to agree to a self- denying ordinance for the good of the whole. Gay Anglicans are part of the Anglican Communion in every province. Some are facing persecution by their own churches because of their courageous witness. By remaining at the table, the Episcopal Church has the opportunity to remind those who serve on representative bodies of their existence and to raise their voice. We ask that you resist this misguided process that is formally excluding those who speak for people the Communion should urgently be seeking to include...
I agree with the basic premise here. This is not the time for us to abandon our brothers and sisters in other parts of the Communion. Isolationism is not the answer.

But, thinking pragmatically, how would we go about "resisting" this "misguided process"? Do we just show up anyway? That would most likely result in some unpleasant scenes between us and the other Anglican members present, with our ecumenical partners looking on. I'm not so sure that kind of confrontation is a good way to convince other faith traditions that we have something of value to add to the conversation. It would more likely accentuate the pitfalls of following our lead.

So, do we create our own ecumenical dialogues? Actually, we are already in separate conversations with most of those faith traditions represented in the "official" Anglican dialogues, so there's no point in reinventing the wheel. However, to hold up our ecumenical discussions as some kind of equivalant to those going on within the Communion would suggest a move towards developing an alternative Communion. That would be using the same tactic that GAFCON and the Global South are well known for putting in play. Personally, I find such threats of abandoning Canterbury rather childish. I would hope TEC will not resort to such immature tactics.

I wonder if there might not be a way for the members of these ecumenical dialogues to invite those excluded by Canterbury to be present as "consultants." Dr. Williams introduced this possibility when he "demoted" Dr. Grieb to the status of "consultant" on the Unity, Faith and Order Commission. Perhaps the various parties involved in the ecumenical dialogues can take the initiative and, regardless of what Dr. Williams or Canon Kearon have to say about the matter, express their desire for TEC to be represented in their conversations, even if our role has to be redefined to satisfy the control needs of the leadership of the Anglican Communion.

I suspect that there is already some kind of formal response from TEC being crafted. A little bird, with no purple feathers, btw, told me that the House of Bishops had some kind of discussion yesterday. I don't know what the specific issue was, but I'd bet it had something to do with these attempted Pentecost punishments. Watch for a statement from the Bishops soon.

I think this attempt by Canterbury to assert his authority, and to apparently side with those who are attempting to drag Anglicanism into the literalist sola scriptura camp, requires a response. But I'm personally rather conflicted as to what form that response should take.

J.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

About This Awful Commenting Tool

There's been a few complaints about the Echo (JS-Kit) commenting tool I'm now using. There's been enough of them that I feel it's time to offer you an explanation.

Back in 2003, when I opened this place, Blogger had no commenting feature. The commenting tool from Blogger (Google) was not offered until May, 2004. But, I wanted comments in 2003, so I went looking around. The blogs that I visited used various comenting services. After some time of reviewing options, I finally settled on Haloscan.

Haloscan had many features that I really liked, such as being able to edit the template and a simple one page review of all new posts that made moderation much easier than the new product Blogger came up with a year later. So, I stuck with Haloscan.

About three years later, this site started hopping. It was not unusual to get 300 comments for every post. Haloscan served me well during those busy years.

Six months ago, I was informed that Haloscan had been purchased by JS-Kit (Echo). Since Haloscan comments cannot be imported to Blogger, if I didn't want to lose 6 years of comments, I had to go with the new company. I was offered no other option.

JS-Kit refers to this as an "upgrade." Their model, which I'm sure many of you recognize, is the way comments are handled on Facebook. It is less than satisfactory.

To add insult to injury, as a "Haloscan" customer, I am not given any access to templates or other codes. Nothing, except one brief line of script, was added to my Blogger template. They are using the existing Haloscan code. So, there is no way for me to modify anything. Apparently, JS-Kit figures I'm lucky to have what I've got. I've asked them when I'll be given access to my template. I've yet to get an answer, except, "we're still upgrading."

So, out of frustration, and in response to some of your complaints, I went surfing for some hacks. I found one that puts the comments in descending order, as they used to be with Haloscan. And I found a way to block the feature that collapsed long threads, requiring you to click a link to expand it. That should make things a little less confusing.

I have still not solved the problem of deleting a comment without those below it disappearing. That is a very strange feature that I'll have to work on.

I also want to change the color scheme, enlarge the font, and get rid of all that cutesy crap (facebook links etc.). And yes, JCF, we MUST get the "preview" feature back! But I'll have to wait until I'm deemed worthy to access my own template to do all that, I guess.

So, the short version is that I did not choose this awful commenting tool. I chose Haloscan before Blogger had a comments feature. To avoid losing thousands of comments, I'm stuck with Echo, who bought out Haloscan.

Hope this answers some of your questions. I'm sorry folks. Be patient. I'll eventually work out all the bugs.

J.

Monday, June 07, 2010

The Pentecost Punishments Move from Threat to Reality

We recently discussed Canterbury's Pentecost Punishments, in which Dr. Williams outlined his intention to discipline those Provinces who ignored the requested moratoria regarding consecrating gay bishops, same sex blessings and border crossings. Apparently, these were not idle threats. From a statement by the Rev. Canon Kenneth Kearon, secretary general of the Anglican Communion:

...Last Thursday I sent letters to members of the Inter Anglican ecumenical dialogues who are from the Episcopal Church informing them that their membership of these dialogues has been discontinued. In doing so I want to emphasise again as I did in those letters the exceptional service of each and every person to that important work and to acknowledge without exception the enormous contribution each person has made.

I have also written to the person from the Episcopal Church who is a member of the Inter Anglican Standing Commission on Unity Faith and Order (IASCUFO), withdrawing that person’s membership and inviting her to serve as a Consultant to that body.

I have written to the Primate of the Anglican Church of Canada to ask whether its General Synod or House of Bishops has formally adopted policies that breach the second moratorium in the Windsor Report, authorising public rites of same-sex blessing.

At the same time I have written to the Primate of the Southern Cone, whose interventions in other provinces are referred to in the Windsor Continuation Group Report asking him for clarification as to the current state of his interventions into other provinces.

These are the actions which flow immediately from the Archbishop’s Pentecost Letter...
So, three sacrificial lambs, one for each of the three moratoria, have been chosen; TEC for consecrating Bp. Glasspool, the ACC for same sex blessings, and the Southern Cone for border crossings.

The first interesting thing to note is that it is only TEC that has been requested to remove its members from the ecumenical dialogues and the Unity, Faith and Order Commission. Canada and the Southern Cone were simply sent letters asking for further clarification.

Perhaps TEC has been singled out because of the wording of Canterbury, in which he spoke of "...provinces that have formally, through their Synod or House of Bishops, adopted policies that breach any of the moratoria..." (emphasis added). I suppose that the consent process following the election of Bp. Glasspool might be considered a "formal" adoption of a policy that breaches one of the requested moratoria. Yet, one would think that a letter requesting clarification from TEC, rather than this punitive action, would have been the expected next step. After all, is there any question as to what the Southern Cone has been doing? They are sheltering entire schismatic dioceses, and accepting deposed bishops into their House of Bishops. Yet they receive a courtesy letter.

Perhaps Dr. Williams figures TEC can take the heat? We've survived such stunts in the past. Or maybe he thinks we are so desperate to remain in the Communion, at least until the lawsuits involving the properties stolen by the schismatics are resolved, that we'll accept quietly whatever he dishes out?

In the end, these punishments appear to be symbolic. The removal from two Anglican bodies is not terribly significant. And it seems clear that one Province for each of the moratoria was selected as an example that Canterbury "really means it, this time." I would certainly hope that Canterbury doesn't imamgine that TEC is the only Province consecrating gay bishops, or that the ACC is the only Province doing same sex blessings. If so, he might want to take a closer look in his own backyard, as well as in a few other Provinces in which such things happen on a regular basis. And why is the Southern Cone the example of border crossing, and not Nigeria, Uganda and Kenya? Is the message here that it is open season on North and South America, but Africa gets a free pass?

Over on The Lead, Jim Naughton makes a very astute observation. If Dr. Williams is going to start asserting the kind of power some hoped a new Covenant would grant him, why do we need a Covenant? And if you were concerned about the Covenant excluding some folks, your concerns have been justified. If this is an example of what "enforcement" under a Covenant will be like, there will indeed be a new "second class" membership within the Communion, with the literalist "sola scriptura" gang deciding who is in and who is out.

If this is an indication of who will and who will not be represented at the next Primates' meeting remains to be seen. However, if the Americans are excluded, I seem to hear an old line from our nation's short history ringing in my ears...something about taxation and representation?

Another bit of trivia from our history comes to mind as well. This one is a line from a doctrine that is known rather well on this side of the pond:

...the American continents, by the free and independent condition which they have assumed and maintain, are henceforth not to be considered as subjects for future colonization by any European powers...
Perhaps this might be an opportunity to work towards common goals with the Southern Cone against the European powers? Who knows. Call me a romantic if you must, but, yes, I believe in miracles!

J.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Cantebury's Pentecost Punishments

Dr. Rowan Williams has released his Pentecost Letter. Here's one section worth considering more closely:

...I am therefore proposing that, while these tensions remain unresolved, members of such provinces – provinces that have formally, through their Synod or House of Bishops, adopted policies that breach any of the moratoria requested by the Instruments of Communion and recently reaffirmed by the Standing Committee and the Inter-Anglican Standing Commission on Unity, Faith and Order (IASCUFO) – should not be participants in the ecumenical dialogues in which the Communion is formally engaged. I am further proposing that members of such provinces serving on IASCUFO should for the time being have the status only of consultants rather than full members. This is simply to confirm what the Communion as a whole has come to regard as the acceptable limits of diversity in its practice. It does not alter what has been said earlier by the Primates’ Meeting about the nature of the moratoria: the request for restraint does not necessarily imply that the issues involved are of equal weight but recognises that they are ‘central factors placing strains on our common life’, in the words of the Primates in 2007. Particular provinces will be contacted about the outworking of this in the near future...
Keep in mind that there were three requested moratoria:
1. Consecration of Bishops living in a same gender union
2. Permission for Rites of Blessing for Same Sex unions
3. Interventions in Provinces

Using those criteria, Dr. Williams' "punishments" would impact the following Provinces:

Southern Cone
Nigeria
Uganda
Kenya
Rwanda
Canada
TEC

Representatives of those Provinces will no longer be allowed to participate in formal ecumenical dialogues or in the Inter-Anglican Standing Commission on Unity, Faith and Order.

As far as which specific individuals this "sentence" will effect, Mark Harris has compiled a helpful list. Here are those who will be moved from full membership to consultant status on the Standing Commission on Unity, Faith and Order:

The Ven. Professor Dapo Asaju, Nigeria
The Revd Dr Katherine Grieb, Episcopal Church (USA)
The Revd Dr Edison Muhindo Kalengyo, Uganda
The Rt Revd Tito Zavala, Bishop of Chile, Southern Cone

Now, regarding those who broke the third moratorium regarding border crossings. There can be little question that Rwanda and Nigeria will be included on the list of those to be punished, due to their continued close affiliation with the AMiA and CANA. There will be those who will claim that Uganda, Kenya, and the Southern Cone should not be on that list, as they have stopped their interventions and have released their American holdings to ACNA. This is fine rhetoric, but there's little evidence to suggest that it is true. My understanding is that if ACNA is recognized as a legitimate Province in the Communion, the pillaging Provinces will then hand over their foreign loot. As of now, a form of "dual citizenship" is being utilized while the status of ACNA remains in limbo.

As a sidenote, the fact that those Provinces engaged in border crossings appear to be included among those who are being "punished" by Canterbury suggests that there is a very big "if" remaining regarding ACNA ever becoming legitimate. It is primarily made up of those whose early strategy was the use of off shore bishops, even after every Instrument of Communion clearly asked them to stop doing it. Such unethical behavior may end up being a bigger hurdle than they anticipated back in 2003 when they launched this plot.

Dr. Williams notes that the three moratoria, although not having "equal weight," are still "central factors placing strains on our common life." I would agree that they are not equal in weight. How can one compare the consecration of a duly elected and consented bishop to a foreign bishop entering a TEC diocese and claiming ownership of some of their congregations? The first may represent a cultural difference of opinion. But it is difficult for some of us to understand the second as anything but a blatant act of theft.

That is my perspective of the matter. Having an offshore bishop waiting in the wings has thwarted most attempts for those congregations troubled by various matters to have further conversations with the leadership of TEC. Now, too many faithful Episcopalians have been forced out of their buildings and continue to worship in rented space because a majority chose to align themselves with some foreign bishop.

Some may consider the accusation of "theft" to be too strong. I stand by it, just the same. I've talked and prayed with some of those displaced by the plotting of extremists. Seeing their pain and confusion has been cause for me to become more and more outraged by these pillagers in purple. I am convinced that we will one day see clearly that all this manuevering was primarily a property and power grab, with little to do with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

However, if you want a more moderate view of why these border crossings are "central factors placing strains on our common life," here is how such acts were described by The Windsor Continuation Group:

...There are growing patterns of congregationalism throughout the communion at parochial, diocesan and provincial level: for example, parishes feel free to choose from whom they will accept episcopal ministry; bishops feel free to make decisions of great controversy without reference to existing collegial structures. Primates make provision for episcopal leadership in territories outside their own Province. The symptoms of this breakdown of trust are common to all parties in the current situation - felt and expressed by conservative and liberal alike...

...There has been development from individual members leaving congregations, to congregations leaving parishes and dioceses, to dioceses seeking to leave provinces. Parties within The Episcopal Church have sought allies within the wider Communion, who are seen as only too willing to respond. Litigation and interventions have become locked into a vicious spiral - each side seeing the actions of the other as provoking and requiring response. At this time, it would appear that the divisions in the United States are playing out in the wider Communion, and already impacting in Canada...

...It is in respect to the third moratorium (on interventions) that there has been the least discernable response. As noted in the JSC Report of October 2007, there has apparently been an increase in interventions since the adoption of the Windsor/Dromantine recommendations by the unanimous voice of the primates. The adoption of dioceses into the Province of the Southern Cone, inconsistent with the Constitutions both of TEC and the Southern Cone; the consecration of bishops for ministry in various forms by different Provinces and the vocal support of such initiatives by the Primates associated with the Gafcon have all taken place, apparently in contradiction of the 2005 Dromantine Statement, although in each case, the primates involved would cite a conviction that their actions were provisional, born of necessity, and reactive rather than taking the initiative. From their perspective, some of the intervening primates have indicated that they will hand back those within their care as soon as the underlying causes have been resolved...
The border crossings are a big deal, if others want to recognize it or not. Actually, for some of us, it is a "deal breaker." Having to take former Episcopalians to court is always a sad thing, but until that third moratorium is taken seriously, as faithful stewards, we are left with no other choice. You want the lawsuits to end? Then stop trying to steal property. It's really that simple.

A couple of other things to note. Dr. Williams suggested that he didn't have the authority to make the decision regarding the participation of the Provinces who have not abided by the moratoria in the Anglican Consultative Council and the Standing Committee. He was intentionally vague as to how he would deal with the invitations to the next Primates Meeting.

But let's say that the Provinces who have not abided by the moratoria are given "observer" status. That happened once before. But note that now it would not simply be TEC and the ACC who would be asked to step down. Rwanda and Nigeria most certainly, and Kenya, Southern Cone and Uganda most likely, would be included in the list of second class Anglicans. That is, of course, if those bodies decide to follow the lead of Dr. Williams.

The other thing that I find myself wondering is "So what?" We've seen something like this (the two tiered thing) coming for a long time. What if we remove ourselves from the Instruments of Communion? We could still be present as "observers, and constant reminders of the price one must sometimes pay for justice. We could continue to be a voice for the disenfranchised within the Communion while wearing an observer badge, could we not? Let the leadership structures do what they must. I don't think the price is too high.

I'm not suggesting isolationism. I'm suggesting that such punishments may be an opportunity for an even greater witness to the world of the radically inclusive love of God made known to us through Jesus Christ. Don't avoid the punishment. Embrace it. Proclaim it.

There will be those who will have some anxiety about TEC being removed from membership in all the Instruments. That would have the appearance of TEC no longer being able to consider herself to be Anglican. And that would leave a void, which ACNA would love to step into. I no longer see that as a serious possibility. ACNA has been sufficiently revealed as part of the problem, not part of the solution. TEC is seen by some to be part of the problem as well, but the nature of our problems are quite different. By recognizing ACNA, the leaders of the Anglican Communion would be sanctioning Primates pillaging parishes in their own backyards. That notion will give them great pause. If they must choose between two problems, I think it is safe to surmise that TEC will be their choice for some time in the forseeable future.

Your thoughts?

J.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

CREDO Brings "Strength for the Journey" to Pittsburgh

Lionel Deimel attended a conference offered by CREDO this past weekend. This was an attempt to assist Episcopalians in the four dioceses that have recently experienced the trauma of schism. Here's part of what Lionel had to say about it:

...Irrespective of how “useful” I ultimately find SFTJ to have been, I am grateful to The Episcopal Church for recognizing the stresses on the people in “reorganizing” dioceses and for its willingness to invest in trying to ameliorate the burdens those loyal Episcopalians have taken on. We who carried the standard of The Episcopal Church during the dark days of the Bob Duncan episcopate did not always feel supported, appreciated, or even heard by our church...

...My purpose here is neither to describe fully nor to evaluate SFTJ. Instead, I want to make others in the church aware of what their church is doing for those of us who have experienced schism in our dioceses. I also want to express our gratitude for that effort and encourage our brothers and sisters in the dioceses of San Joaquin, Quincy, and Fort Worth to take advantage of the opportunity that the church is offering...
The Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh offers more about this program, with a few pictures, here.

It's good to see that CREDO and The Church Pension Fund are responding to this great need. In my opinion, the response is a bit late, but better late than never.

Everyone I've ever talked with about CREDO has spoken very highly of their programs. They seem to meet a real need within the Church. My experience has been that, for various reasons, no other entity seems to be up to the task of responding to the needs of our members in the four reorganizing dicoeses. Kudos to CREDO and The Church Pension Fund for stepping up and filling that void by offering assistance to our brothers and sisters in Pittsburgh, San Joaquin, Fort Worth and Quincy.

Here's the schedule for the next three "Strength for the Journey" events:

June 4-5 in the Diocese of San Joaquin

June 11-12 in the Diocese of Quincy

Sept. 24-25 in the Diocese of Fort Worth

If you're in one of those dioceses, set those dates aside now. It sounds like it will be a very helpful program.

Pray for the members of those dioceses.

Pray for the Church.

J.

Monday, May 24, 2010

When is a Bishop Not a Bishop?

Last month, our friend Lisa pointed us to Integrity's announcement of Bishop Christopher Ssenyonjo's speaking tour.

Who is Bp. Ssenyonjo? See for yourself:

Bishop Christopher Ssenyonjo from Claiming the Blessing on Vimeo.


In 2006, Abp. Henry Orombi of the Anglican Church of Uganda deposed Bp. Ssenyonjo for his support of gay and lesbian Christians.

It must be a slow news day over on the extremist sites, as, for some reason, one of the more shrill voices decided to wait until now to launch a rant about Bp. Ssenyonjo's speaking tour, even though Lisa's post is now over a month old.

So what caused them to get their shorts in a wad this time? Apparently because Ssenyonjo is still referred to as a "bishop" in the speaking tour annoucement, even though he was deposed.

Hmmm...I've got two problems with that point.

First of all, by that logic, one might say that Bob Duncan, Jack Iker and David Schofield should not be considered "real bishops," since they also have been deposed. Actually, I think there are more valid reasons to question the orders of those three, as they have been involved for some years in the attempted theft of properties. Compare that to Bp. Ssenyonjo's "crime" of refusing to be a bigot.

Secondly, claiming that you can somehow "remove" the indelible mark of ordination is a rather Protestant notion, one that I personally question. For that reason, I tend to give Bps. Duncan, Iker and Schofield the benefit of the doubt. They are scoundrels, in my opinion, but I tend to still think of them as bishops.

So, at the risk of exposing some of us as unrepentant Donatists, I want to ask the following question:

Whose authority would you recognize? A deposed bishop who attempted schism and tried to run off with all the silver, or one who spoke out for equal rights at great risk to his own safety?

Bishop Ssenyonjo's speaking tour will come to New York and Washington DC next month. I plan on attending at least one of the events. I'll let you know which one soon, in case some of you might want to join me.

Here are the options:

Sunday, June 6, 10:30am - Preaching at St. Luke in the Fields, 487 Hudson Street, New York, NY 10014.

Tuesday, June 8, 12:30pm - Conversation with Bishop Gene Robinson, Center for American Progress, 1333 H Street NW, Washington DC 20005.

Sunday, June 13, 11:00am - Preaching at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, 1047 Amsterdam Ave New York, NY 10025.

Monday, June 14, 9:00am - Ecumenical Consultation on Decriminalizing Homosexuality, Church at the United Nations, 777 United Nations Plaza, New York, NY 10016

J.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

What Can We Say?

In our previous conversation, we discussed seeking to understand those who have no belief in God. If you read that post, please take a moment to also read the comments. They offer some clarifications and additional information that you might find helpful.

In regards to how we might respond to those who don’t believe, there are quite a few popular approaches. There is the ontological argument, the cosmological argument and the teleological argument, among many others.

These more well known arguments make many good points, but to me, they are more problematic than helpful. They are structured for intellectual debates, not dialogues seeking understanding. Besides that, speaking personally, they do not really touch on the primary reasons I’m a believer.

The challenges from atheists I’ve encountered in our conversations about God have been cause for me to honestly question many of my assumptions. Over time, it felt like those conversations slowly peeled away the outer layers of my beliefs, until not much was left. Not much, but still something. Here’s two of the things I found under all those layers.

I believe in God because of my personal experiences. Throughout my life, I have had encounters with God, and many of them have been transformational. There is little doubt, to me, that those encounters have “saved” me from giving in to some of my more antisocial inclinations. Beyond that, to borrow from Jack Nicholson in As Good as It Gets, my experiences of God have “made me want to be a better man.” Because of the grace, the unmerited favor, I have experienced in my life, I have a desire to be a conduit of that grace in the lives of others.

There is a formal argument that uses this approach. It is called The Argument from Religious Experience (ARE). Here is what Keith Ward, until recently Regius Professor of Divinity at the University of Oxford, has to say about this approach:

…There are personal experiences, known to all of us in a direct and natural way, that do not fall within the domain of the natural sciences. The scientific domain is that of publicly observable objects in shared public space. Since science does not deal with personal experiences, it cannot itself give an account of what they are, or of how they relate to objects in physical space. Science itself cannot provide a comprehensive world-view, because there are aspects of reality with which it does not deal. The most obvious aspects of this sort are personal experiences, and it is precisely in such experiences that such notions as value and purpose have their home…
In his book The Case for Religion, Ward also argues that since experience is beyond the confines of empirical evidence, it should not be subjected to the same demands we expect of physical evidence. I’m not so sure I agree with that point.

I would suggest that personal experience is indeed evidence, but not as the term is used in the scientific method. Instead, it seems to me that personal experience is indeed convincing evidence, if it is compared to the evidence often found in a courtroom. In other words, our personal experience is our testimony.

Now, one of the challenges to ARE is that it is too subjective to be of value. This is a valid criticism. However, in our day to day lives, we accept many subjective perceptions as true, without testing them every time. Richard Swinburne calls this the principle of credulity. If someone tells us that they saw a tree, unless we have strong reasons to question their perceptions, we usually accept that as a true statement. When God experiences are challenged, and other experiences are not, it suggests a bias on the part of the challenger.

These personal experiences do not stand by themselves. We have the “testimonies” of millions throughout history who speak of similar experiences. It is at this point that I want to return to the bible (which I promised I’d get back to eventually in the last post).

The stories in the bible can be viewed as further “testimonies” of experiences of God. Of course the ways these experiences are described was influenced by the time frame and cultural setting in which the authors lived. Consequently, there is much in their stories that we view as not just primitive, but even repulsive. For me, the fact that those “ugly bits” still remain, and have not been edited out, gives these stories more authenticity. I would imagine that my stories of experiences of God will be equally repulsive to future generations. Referring to the comment in the last post, I do not find value in the bible because it is an instruction manual. The scriptures are of value to me because they offer testimonies of God’s presence in the lives of those who lived in ancient times.

So, we have the testimony from scripture, the testimony from the historical tradition, and the testimony of those who experience God in our own day. Subjective or not, unless one believes that the millions of people who have had these experiences are all delusional, I consider these testimonies to be fairly strong evidence for God.

Beyond the subjective nature of religious experience, another criticism of this approach is that the various religious traditions can’t agree on the meaning of these experiences. As a matter of fact, there are divisions within the traditions themselves regarding how such experiences might be appropriately expressed. Although the ways religious experiences are articulated are quite diverse, I think most of those differences can be attributed to cultural and language variations more than anything else.

If you consider the mystics of the different traditions, you find very little variation in the experiences they describe, regardless as to if they are Jewish, Sufi, Buddhist or Christian. The mystic has stripped away the layers, and stands naked before this “Something More” that my tradition calls God. Usually such experiences are beyond words or thoughts. But, in order to communicate to others the content of such experiences, the mystic is forced to use the symbols and words of the religious tradition that they know best, which is often a matter of their cultural setting rather than a choice of “right beliefs” over “wrong beliefs.” So, the mystic is often very conservative, in that they affirm the tradition in which they dwell. But at the same time, most mystics are also rebels, pushing the boundaries of those same traditions. My reason for bringing up the mystics is that I think it is their tradition that most clearly suggests that the various faith traditions are actually struggling to find a way to put into words very similar religious experiences. I don’t think the fact that many of the official teachings of the various traditions contradict one another is a good enough reason to reject the strong possibility that the experiences from which those teachings have sprung have much in common.

Now, there are certainly some “religious experiences” that need to be challenged, especially those which cause harm to others. That is why that even though I personally give a high priority to the evidence from religious experience, I don’t think, by itself, it is enough.

Which leads me to the second reason I am a God believer. This one does not engage science or philosophy. It is really not even open for scrutiny by either logic or reason. I am a believer because I long to be in relationship, not only with God, but with other people, who often become, for me, “God with skin on.”

I was struck by a line in last week’s Gospel lesson from John. Jesus is being questioned, and a group is demanding that he speak plainly, and tell them if he is the messiah or not. Jesus responded by saying “You do not believe because you do not belong…” We usually think that you believe, and then join a community of like-minded believers. Jesus turned that around. It is because we belong that we believe. The beliefs spring from being in community…in “communion”…with others.

That has certainly been my experience. It is from being forced to go against my natural inclination to be a bit of a hermit, and engage the larger community, that I have grown in my understanding of what it means to be a Christian. Beyond that, once I came to understand that it wasn’t enough for me to function in that community as a servant, but realized the need for me to allow others to serve me, that I began to see evidence for God in the faces of those all around me.

Also, it is through belonging to such a community that my experiences are given a very necessary check and balance. As I share what I have understood the meaning to be of a particular experience, the community, who has also had such experiences, can either offer words of encouragement or caution. Their collective insight can rein in the individual who might do something foolish or harmful because they understood that “God told me to do it.”

Experiences of God, both in the mystical experience and the community experience, are first and foremost about relationships, not right beliefs.

It's about relationships. It's about belonging.

I wonder how well our communities welcome everyone, regardless of their beliefs, or lack thereof, and make an effort to let them know that they belong, and are valued? Or, do we, perhaps unconsciously, have a hierarchy of belonging, with only those with the right beliefs (which usually means “beliefs that agree with me”) allowed into the inner circle? Something to think about.

Experience and belonging. Those are the keys to my belief in God. Now enough from me. Tell me why you believe, or disbelieve in God?

J.