We end the year with an old favorite. You can see the audio-visual meditation, here. (Scroll down beneath the archived Advent calendars.) Make sure you have your sound on.

By Denise Levertov

With certitude,
Simeon opened
ancient arms
to infant light.
before the cross, the tomb
and the new life,
he knew
new life.
What depth
of faith he drew on,
turning illumined
towards deep night.

The Journey of the Magi

The penultimate poem in our Christmas series. Look for the last one on Dec. 31.

The Journey of the Magi

By T. S. Eliot

'A cold coming we had of it,
Just the worst time of the year
For a journey, and such a long journey:
The ways deep and the weather sharp,
The very dead of winter.'
And the camels galled, sore-footed, refractory,
Lying down in the melting snow.
There were times we regretted
The summer palaces on slopes, the terraces,
And the silken girls bringing sherbet.
Then the camel men cursing and grumbling
And running away, and wanting their liquor and women,
And the night-fires going out, and the lack of shelters,
And the cities hostile and the towns unfriendly
And the villages dirty and charging high prices:
A hard time we had of it.
At the end we preferred to travel all night,
Sleeping in snatches,
With the voices singing in our ears, saying
That this was all folly.

Then at dawn we came down to a temperate valley,
Wet, below the snow line, smelling of vegetation;
With a running stream and a water-mill beating the darkness
And three trees on the low sky,
And an old white horse galloped away in the meadow.
Then we came to a tavern with vine-leaves over the lintel,
Six hands at an open door dicing for pieces of silver,
And feet kicking the empty wine-skins.
But there was no information, and so we continued
And arrived at evening, not a moment too soon
Finding the place; it was (you may say) satisfactory.

All this was a long time ago, I remember,
And I would do it again, but set down
This set down
This: were we led all that way for
Birth or Death? There was a Birth, certainly,
We had evidence and no doubt. I had seen birth and death,
But had thought they were different; this Birth was
Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death.
We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,
But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,
With an alien people clutching their gods.
I should be glad of another death.

Some comentary of this poem, often said to trace Eliot's journey to faith can be found here and here.

You Tube and more

Our friend Bowie Snodgrass, content manager for has three pieces of news.

1) We’re on YouTube!

So far, we’ve posted 13 videos, including: ‘Jefferts Schori's Convention address following her election’ and our *newest addition* ‘Presiding Bishop Nominee Jefferts Schori’ (answering the question: “What are the priorities for the new Presiding Bishop?” Recorded May 1, 2006)

2) Who is Jesus to You?

Responses from the Jesus Survey we did a few months back (many thanks to those of you who posted it!)

Additional pages culled from the survey results to be posted in 07.

3) Small Membership Churches BLOG

Maintained by the Rev. Suzanne E. Watson (Episcopal Church Center staff)

President's funeral on the Web

The Washington Post will be webcasting President Gerald R. Ford's funeral on Tuesday from Washington National Cathedral. Guest commentators include Alexander Baumgarten, international policy analyst with the Episcopal Church’s Office of Government Relations, and John Johnson, domestic policy analyst in the same office.

They will be online beginning at about 9:15 on Tuesday when President Ford’s body is scheduled to be taken from the Capitol to the Cathedral. The funeral begins at 10:30 a. m.

Alex is a parishioner at St. Paul's, K Street and John is a parishioner at St. Thomas', Dupont Circle.

Episcopal farewells for President Ford

Funeral services in two parish churches and Washington National Cathedral will reflect President Gerald R. Ford's faith tradition as an Episcopalian active in lay ministry.

Ford's volunteer accomplishments, including work for the 1990 completion of the National Cathedral, were praised by Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori in a December 27 statement recognizing his "care-filled ministry." The statement's full text is available here.

Ford and his wife, Betty, also shared in fundraising initiatives for Episcopal Relief and Development, formerly the Presiding Bishop's Fund for World Relief. The former President joined in saluting Mrs. Ford when she addressed the 1985 meeting of the General Convention in Anaheim, California, also attended by Archbishop of Canterbury Robert Runcie.

The Fords have been active member of several congregations. During their 1974-1977 White House tenure they often attended St. John's, Lafayette Square, known as the "Church of the Presidents."

ENS has the story.

The Rev. Robert Certain, rector of the Ford family's church in California will preach at the funeral. He had recently announced his retirement. You can read some of his writings here and here. His General Convention blog is here.

The Work

Continuing to observe the Octave of Christmas with poetry:

The Work of Christmas
by Howard Thurman

"When the song of the angels is stilled,
When the star in the sky is gone,
When the kings and princes are home,
When the shepherds are back with their flock,
The work of Christmas begins:
To find the lost,
To heal the broken,
To feed the hungry,
To release the prisoner,
To rebuild the nations,
To bring peace among brothers,
To make music in the heart."
— The Mood of Christmas, 23

(There's more at Spirituality and Practice.)

Oh, and the January issue of our diocesan newspaper, Washington Window, is now online.

An announcement

Announcement is a very different word than annunciation. The connotations of the first are workaday, bureaucratic, while the connotations of the second are grand, even--in the poem excerpted below--sacred. Yet Denise Levertov wants us to undersand that the distinction obscures rather than illuminates. God is forever annunciating His presence, offering to be born in each of our lives. We may not get the angel, but we get the invitation.

from Annunciation
by Densire Levertov

Aren’t there annunciations
of one sort or another
in most lives?
Some unwillingly
undertake great destinies,
enact them in sullen pride,
More often
those moments
when roads of light and storm
open from darkness in a man or woman,
are turned away from
in dread, in a wave of weakness, in despair
and with relief.
Ordinary lives continue.
God does not smite them.
But the gates close, the pathway vanishes.

You can find the whole poem here. Or in The Stream and the Sapphire.

(Thanks to the New York and New Jersey dioceses of the Orthodox Church in America.)

On the death of President Ford

Statement of the Rt. Rev. John Bryson Chane, Bishop of Washington, on the death of President Gerald R. Ford

Early this morning I was awakened with the news that President Gerald R. Ford had died in California after several years of deteriorating health.

The former President, a faithful Episcopalian, was a man known for his great integrity and his firm belief in God. He never sought the Presidency, yet when it was thrust upon him he led wisely, guiding our nation well during a time of high inflation, fuel shortages, and the complex foreign policy challenges presented by the Cold War. A kind man who worked hard at building bridges and shaping consensus, he will be remembered for his dignity, his humility and his devotion to healing a divided nation.

On behalf of the Diocese of Washington I extend our prayers to his wife, Betty and his family during this time of sadness, and I ask God’s blessing upon our former President as he enters the land of light and joy where there is no more sorrow or pain, but only life everlasting.

The Right Reverend John Bryson Chane
Bishop of Washington
December 27, 2006

Christ Human

Maybe you got a gift certificate to Borders' or Amazon for Christmas. Maybe you got a book you didn't want. Read this poem by Mary Karr, and then, if you like her work as much as I (and many others) do, buy Sinners Welcome, her new collection .

Descending Theology: Christ Human

Such a short voyage for a god,
and you arrived in animal form so as not
to scorch us with your glory.
Your mask was an infant’s head on a limp stalk,
sticky eyes smeared blind,
limbs rendered useless in swaddle.
You came among beasts
as one, came into our care or its lack, came crying
as we all do, because our human frame
is a crucifix, each skeletos borne a lifetime.
Any wanting soul lain
prostrate on a floor to receive a pouring of sunlight
might—if still enough,
feel your cross buried in the flesh.
One has only to surrender,
you preached, open both arms to the inner,
the ever-present hold,
out-reaching every want. It’s in the form
embedded, love adamant as bone
In a breath, we can bloom and almost be you.

Mary Karr
from Sinners Welcome

(thanks to the People of the Book blog.)

Glad tidings

Glad tidings from various sources:

The Archbishop of Canterbury's Christmas sermon.

Bishop John Bryson Chane's Christmas sermon.

Dean Samuel T. Lloyd III's Christmas sermon.

All the windows are now open on our online Advent calendar, and we've saved the best for last. Window 25 opens on a magnificent creche made entirely of driftwood pulled from the Gulf of Mexico.

As the accompanying text says:

"This lovely driftwood nativity was created by Mildred Hanson of Gasque, Alabama. Mildred came across an unusual, small knotted and dented piece of driftwood while walking on a beach and thought it resembled Mother Mary, with her hands lifted in prayer, looking down at Jesus in the manger. Over many years she collected other interesting little pieces of driftwood in the hopes that she could build the manger scene with Mary and her family. The shape of the driftwood dictated the posture of each figure. Mildred interfered little with the forms. Diluted acrylic paint, brushed on in thin coats, reveals the unifying flow of the driftwood grain from figure to figure. Imperfections in the wood are not “corrected” but allowed to stand proud."

My other favorites were windows 5, 7 and 23.

There has been news today, as readers of The New York Times know, but we will discuss it at another time.

Merry Christmas.

Bishop Chane on Good Morning America

Bishop John Bryson Chane will appear on Good Morning America on Christmas morning, as he has for the last three or four years. The show airs on ABC stations between 7 and 9 a. m.

After the show, our local ABC station will carry the 9 a. m. Eucharist live from Washington National Cathedral. That broadcast is also available in some other television markets. Check with local stations. In addition, the Cathedral is webcasting many of its services today and tomorrow.

In his interview with GMA anchor Robin Roberts (It looks live, but was actually taped last week.), the bishop mentions his recent trip to Iran. You can learn more about the trip by reading the column he wrote for the January issue of our diocesan newspaper, Washington Window. Just click on the "continue reading" tab.

Read more »

A Christmas poem, and a Christmas prayer

The Burning Babe
by Robert Southwell, SJ

As I in hoary winter’s night stood shivering in the snow,
Surpris’d I was with sudden heat which made my heart to glow;
And lifting up a fearful eye to view what fire was near,
A pretty Babe all burning bright did in the air appear;
Who, scorched with excessive heat, such floods of tears did shed
As though his floods should quench his flames which with his tears were fed.
“Alas!” quoth he, “but newly born, in fiery heats I fry,
Yet none approach to warm their hearts or feel my fire but I!
My faultless breast the furnace is, the fuel wounding thorns,
Love is the fire, and sighs the smoke, the ashes shame and scorns;
The fuel Justice layeth on, and Mercy blows the coals,
The metal in this furnace wrought are men’s defiled souls,
For which, as now on fire I am to work them to their good,
So will I melt into a bath to wash them in my blood.”
With this he vanish’d out of sight and swiftly shrunk away,
And straight I called unto mind that it was Christmas day.

(Thanks again, to the Poetry Foundation.)

If, like most who frequent this blog, you are an Episcopalian or Anglican, then it is worth knowing that our spiritual forebears tortured and killed the man who wrote this poem. Worth knowing because, at the distance that time provides it is often possible to realize that God speaks with eloquence and power from both sides of the theological divides that separate faiths and nations, through Thomas Cranmers and Robert Southwells alike. John Donne lampooned Ignatius Loyola, yet his Divine Poems (scroll down a bit) could not have been written were he unfamiliar with Ignatius' method of meditating on the Scriptures.

My prayer this Christmas is that those on both sides of the divide in our disputatious Communion will continue to be true to what they believe that God is calling them to say, and that we may realize the fruits of honest Christian disagreement.

(For thoughts in a somewhat similar vein, see this essay by Marshall Scott.)

I will be posting more poetry in the coming week, but I am taking a break from Anglican news. If you want to keep up with newspaper reports, however, I'd recommend keeping an eye on both The Washington Post and The New York Times.

It's a Wonderful Life

I realize that I am out of liturgical season here, but the end of Frank Capra's Christmas classic It's a Wonderful Life (which we watched tonight) always reminds me of the miracle of the loaves and fishes. As George Bailey's friends come forward in joyful procession with the contributions will save him from prison, I am reminded of all the leftovers from that scanty meal that Jesus offered to the multitude. It was in giving himself away that George Bailey became, in his brother Harry's words, "the richest man in town."

Christmas Music

Please visit our Web site and listen to the Princeton Singers' renditions of In the Bleak Midwinter and Once in Royal David's City.

I don't know whether these two songs are distinctively Anglican, but I think of them that way, probably because neither figured in my Christmas memories until I joined the Episcopal Church nine years ago. Both are now favorites, perhaps because I remember how much I enjoyed trying to master the tenor part of In the Bleak Midwinter in the dark, chilly choir at my old parish, Church of the Ascenion in Silver Spring. The service at Ascension once began with a child singing the first verse of Once in Royal David's City a cappella. Both of my sons had the opportunity to sing that verse, and I can recall those moments with proud-parent clarity.

If you are looking for someplace to worship this weekend, please visit the Find a Church page of our Web site, or of the Episcopal Church Web site.

More poetry for Christmas

We are still working on getting those carols I promised up on our home page. Meanwhile,

A Penitent Considers Another Coming of Mary
by Gwendolyn Brooks

For Reverend Theodore Richardson

If Mary came would Mary
Forgive, as Mothers may,
And sad and second Saviour
Furnish us today?

She would not shake her head and leave
This military air,
But ratify a modern hay,
And put her Baby there.

Mary would not punish men—
If Mary came again.

Thanks to the Poetry Foundation.

Blue Christmas

I was hoping to keep Episcopal Church and Anglican Communion politics off the blog for the holiday season, but the Archbishop of Canterbury has wrtiten a letter to the Primates that you will want to have a look at. It is below the continue reading tab.

UPDATE: Tobias and Jake have commentary. Update again: Sarah Dylan Breuer has a different take on all of this. And do have a look at what the Mad Priest has to say.

Read more »

Merry Christmas from the Diocese of Washington

Merry Christmas. We hope to have a few carols, sung by the fabulous Princeton Singers, available on our web site by this evening.

If you are looking for someplace to worship this Christmas, please visit the site, and use our Find a Church function.

And don't forget to open the last few windows in our online Advent calendar.

(The blog will be in moderation mode during much of the holidays, so don't be alarmed if comments don't appear immediately.)

Humor, opinion, insight

None of it from me.

Stephen Bates has writen a funny piece for the Church of England Newspaper about some predictions made by English religion writers abouthte coming year. Some of the names will be unfamiliar to American readers, but some will be quite familiar indeed.

Andrew Gerns has been blogging most admirably of late, and I'd like to call attention to this entry, which provides more evidence of the citizens of Falls Church's discomfort with the Nigerian church in their midst, and to thank him for pointing out this bit of wisdom from Barbara Crafton of Geranium Farm fame.

On the Mystery of the Incarnation

An Advent offering

On the Mystery of the Incarnation
By Denise Levertov

It's when we face for a moment
the worst our kind can do, and shudder to know
the taint in our own selves, that awe
cracks the mind's shell and enters the heart:
not to a flower, not to a dolphin,
to no innocent form
but to this creature vainly sure
it and no other is god-like, God
(out of compassion for our ugly
failure to evolve) entrusts,
as guest, as brother,
the Word.

Thanks to If you are looking for a last-minute Christmas gift for a thoughtful, spiritually-minded person, consider Levertov's The Stream and the Sapphire.

Damage control from Bishops Akinola and Minns

In a letter to the new Nigerian congregations in the United States, Archbishop Akinola seems to be trying to say the right things. But his comments about revising the most objectionable provisions of the draconian bill he has been supporting are vague and ring hollow, coming as they do at a politically expedient time. His attempt to blame the harshness of this legislation on Muslims, while continuing to support it himself, is deeply troubling.

If the archbishop disassociates himself and his Church from the bill, people will stop criticizing him for supporting it. But he hasn't done so.

In a separate letter, Bishop Minns also takes pains to dispell notions that his Church is anti-gay. Okay, if it helps cut through the fog, let's put that phrase aside for the moment.

Minns' Church is supporting a bill that has been roundly criticized by 16 international human rights organizations and 60 members of the European parliament. Even the U. S. State Department has expressed its concern. These groups have no pooch in the great Anglican Communion dogfight. They are just calling it the way they see it. And what they see is a repressive piece of legislation supported by a Christian Church.

And the victims of this repression will be either gay people, or their allies.


(Father Jake is on this, too. And he's got links to Akinola's two previous statements of support for the legislation, neither of which say anything about softening its rough edges. Here's Matt Thompson's take.)

Update: Matt has a more serious second post on the letters. It begins:

"I am stunned by the PR corner Bishop Minns and Archbishop Akinola have put themselves in. They both know that Akinola can't back down on this legislation. It would make him look weak, and it would further his embarrassment among his Nigerian co-religionists about the consecration of Bishop Robinson (Diocese of New Hampshire).

But if they stay where they are, they have to weather the increasing hail of bad press Truro and The Falls Church have received after their votes to leave for the rather sordid "civil rights" pasture of the Church of Nigeria."

and later:

"From a purely PR perspective, there are only three ways through this pickle. One, ignore the bad press and push on as usual, stopping every once in a while to shift the weight of the growing burden of bad public perception that CANA carries as it moves to Nigeria. Two, have Bishop Minns publicly denounce the legislation, saying that it should never have been endorsed by Akinola in the first place. I do not believe that Minns will do this, but it's an option. Three, have Archbishop Akinola withdraw his endorsement, or modify it.

There is no middle path here, even though they seem to want it both ways. "

O Antiphons, the sequel

If you are a fan of the O Antiphons, and would appreciate links to more recordings visit Topmost Apple.

Calvary takes Bishop Duncan back to court

Last October, Calvary Episcopal Church and the Diocese of Pittsburgh, led by Bishop Robert Duncan, moderator of the Anglican Communion Network, reached a settlement in a lawsuit in which the parish charged, in essence, that the diocese was unlawfully attempting to appropiate the property of the Episcopal Church.

The settlement upheld "current church law that parish and diocesan property belong to the denomination," wrote Steve Levin of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Calvary believes that recent activities by the diocese, including its decision to withdraw from Province III of the Episcopal Church, its withholding of money from the Episcopal Church, and its request for Alternative Primatial Oversight, violate the settlement agreement, and so, on Tuesday, the parish filed a petition "asking the Court of Common Pleas [to] enforce what we believe to be the correct reading of the Stipulation and Order entered October 14, 2005."

Calvary has requested an expedited discovery process to allow it to receive "equitable relief in advance of an international meeting of the Primates of the Anglican Communion scheduled for February 14-17, 2007 in Tanzania. On information and belief ... [that] Bishop Duncan and Primates of foreign countries are planning to use the occasion of the meeting... to promote Bishop Duncan's organiation and to implement actions directed at impairing the ability of Plaintiffs, TEC and TEC's constituents to maintain or recover their lawful interests in the Property."

Calvary is particularly interested in the November meeting in Falls Church, Va., attended by Duncan, various conservative Episcopal bishops and several African Primates. Citing Bishop John-David Schofield's presentation to his deaneries in the Diocese of San Joaquin, they argue that Duncan and others agreed at that meeting to "submit to the authority of certain foreign Primates."

This ENS story quotes the Rev. Rick Matters, who has opposed San Joaquin's moves toward session, as saying that Schofield told the deaneries that he signed a "pledge of allegiance" to six Anglican Communion bishops, including Nigerian Primate Peter Akinola and Archbishop Gregory Venables of the Southern Cone.

If the use of the phrase "pledge of allegiance" can be authenticated, it could be important.

Calvary's press release is beneath the "continue reading" button. The petition is online at a link at the bottom of the release, but includes exhibits, so the file is 315 pages. I will link to the 16-page petition when it becomes available.

Read more »

The 39th province

On Stand Firm in Faith, I came across this interesting passage in an article by the Rev. David Roseberry of Christ Church, Plano, which left the Episcopal Church a few months ago for much the same reasons that the Virginia churches just departed. Bishop Martyn Minns had arranged for him to have breakfast in London with Archbishop Peter Akinola of Nigeria to learn more about Akinola's efforts to form a convocation of what he considers orthodox believers in the United States.

The phrase "39th province" refers to the notional jurisdiction that the Primates will create to provide an Anglican Communion home for American conservatives.

Roseberry writes:

"The CANA organization is without a clearly determined structure so far. There are early ideas now of ‘districts’, or clusters of congregations headed up by a regional bishop. CANA sees itself as one of the first building blocks of a new 39th Anglican Province that will lie within TEC boundaries.

I asked about the role of CANA in the formation of a 39th Province. He sees the need for a 39th Province but is unsure of the structure and form it should take. The primates will not (probably) be able to initiate such a structure soon, but if it gets a few hundred churches and a functioning college of bishops, the primates may bless it. But this is not something that will happen soon... not even before Lambeth. Whether or not Rowan or Lambeth will ever bless it remains to be seen, he feels."

(I learned something about the Primate’s Meetings. It is not a legislative body. They probably can’t vote into existence the kind of entity that some have been promising. They may respond to a reality or a ‘fact on the ground’. But, in my opinion, it is doubtful that Akinola will see a 39th Province before he retires in 24 months.)"

Two points:

1. The leader of the conservative movement in the Communion thinks it is unlikely that a new American province will be created any time soon, and isn't certain that the current Archbishop of Canterbury will ever bless such a development.

2. Roseberry, one of the key figures in the conservative movement within the United States, appears to be a bit behind the curve in his understanding of how the Communion governs itself. How could the rector of what we were regularly told was the largest Episcopal Church in the country not know that the Primates Meeting is not a legislative gathering? I think I will read future missives from his party about the true meaning of Anglicanism with a somewhat more critical eye.

A threat to traditional values

The New York Times reports

"In a letter sent to hundreds of voters this month, Representative Virgil H. Goode Jr., Republican of Virginia, warned that the recent election of the first Muslim to Congress posed a serious threat to the nation’s traditional values.

Mr. Goode was referring to Keith Ellison, the Minnesota Democrat and criminal defense lawyer who converted to Islam as a college student and was elected to the House in November. Mr. Ellison’s plan to use the Koran during his private swearing-in ceremony in January had outraged some Virginia voters, prompting Mr. Goode to issue a written response to them, a spokesman for Mr. Goode said."

It is Mr. Goode who is the real threat to America's traditional values, one of which is freedom of religion.

Here are the letter and related articles.

Bishop Jefferts Schori on

Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori is the guest voice this week in the Washington Post's new Web-based feature On Faith. Have a look, but bring your asbestos underwear. Apparently a female bishop who supports gay rights is a bit of a stumbling block for some people.

Meanwhile, Newsweek has tabbed the PB as someone to watch in its current issue on up and coming leaders.

"Episcopalians Against Equality"

Update, The Nation has chimed in with Holy Homophobia by Richard Kim, and Ed Kilgore of the political blog New Donkey shares his views as well.

That stinging headline appeared on Howard Meyerson's column today in The Washington Post.

An excerpt regarding the decison by Bishop Martyn Minns and his followers to join forces with Archbishop Peter Akinola and the Church of Nigeria:

"Explaining the decision to leave the American church, Vicki Robb, a Fairfax parishioner and Alexandria public relations exec, told The Post's Bill Turque and Michelle Boorstein that the church's leftward drift has made it "kind of embarrassing when you tell people that you're Episcopal." It must be a relief to finally have an archbishop who doesn't pussyfoot around when gays threaten to dine in public.

The alliance of the Fairfax Phobics with Archbishop Restaurant Monitor is just the latest chapter in the global revolt against modernity and equality and, more specifically, in the formation of the Orthodox International. The OI unites frequently fundamentalist believers of often opposed faiths in common fear and loathing of challenges to ancient tribal norms."

Meanwhile, The Economist has this:

The breakaway congregations are putting themselves up for adoption by Anglican archbishoprics in the developing world. One would-be parent is a Nigerian bishop, Peter Akinola, who runs the largest province in the Anglican communion, and who has pronounced views on homosexuality: he supports legislation that would make it illegal for gays to form associations, read gay literature or even eat together. There are also suitors from Rwanda, Uganda and Bolivia.

And on the Guardian's blog, comment is free, Bruce Bawer writes: For years now, antigay Episcopal leaders have been cultivating ties with people like that Nigerian bishop with an eye to eventually jumping ship. Now these two Virginia congregations have taken the plunge, placing themselves under the authority of Archbishop Peter Akinola, primate of the Church of Nigeria - a man who not only opposes gay bishops but enthusiastically supports a proposal by his nation's government to outlaw meetings of homosexuals. In doing so, these parishes - whose histories are wrapped up in the history of the founding of American democracy - have betrayed both their American and their Anglican roots.

For though they beat their breasts over their fealty to "traditional values," these secessionists have demonstrated quite dramatically that they don't know the first thing about Anglican tradition - which from the beginning has called on the faithful to focus on what brings them together, not on what divides them, and whose glory is not a book of discipline but a book of common prayer. They call themselves orthodox, but in an Anglican context they're anything but. They thunder that their denomination has been taken over by gays and their supporters; the fact is that third-world Anglicanism has largely fallen under the sway of reactionary demagogues who have left Anglican traditions and values far behind.

A reflection from the Presiding Bishop

Episcopal News Service
December 19, 2006

In this season: light in the darkness

One in a series of occasional reflections from the Presiding Bishop

[ENS] Note to readers: With this posting, Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori begins a series of occasional reflections for the people of the Episcopal Church. The reflections will also be available on the Presiding Bishop's web pages.

In this season: light in the darkness

For the People of the Episcopal Church

The Episcopal Church continues to focus on its mission of reconciling the world, particularly as it cares for the least, the lost, and the left out. We participate in God's mission to heal the world as we feed the hungry, house the homeless, educate children, heal the sick, and seek to change the systems that perpetuate injustice.

We also seek reconciliation with those within and beyond this church who differ from us theologically. While we regret the recently publicized departures of individuals from churches in Virginia and elsewhere in this Church, and the rejection of this Church's elected leadership by various bishops here and across the world, we continue to seek reconciliation.

God is not served by bickering, name-calling, and division. We recall Jesus' prayer in John's gospel, "that they may be one" and understand that to include the whole world -- those who agree and those who disagree, people of different faith traditions and none, and the poorest and most broken among us.

We will continue to engage in that mission of healing the world, whatever others may decide. In this season, we affirm the ancient dream of peace in our day, shalom, salaam, the peace of God which passes all understanding.

May the Prince of Peace shine in your hearts, and may that light bless the world.

"The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it"
(John 1:5).



-- The Most Reverend Katharine Jefferts Schori is Presiding Bishop and Primate of the Episcopal Church.

Campus ministry at the University of Maryland

Our diocese's ministry at the University Maryland is featured on the cover of this week's issue of The Living Church. (See the photo on their homepage.) The opening of the Episcopal Living Learning Center on the College Park campus was also covered in The Diamondback.

Three cheers for the Rev. Peter Antoci, the students at the U of M, parishioners at St. Andrew's College Park, and eveyone else who made the center possible.

The problem of dissolution

Stephen Bates' column on the Guardian's blog is worth a look.

He says, in part:

Truro church and Falls church have made it quite clear that they have been disenchanted with the Episcopal church's liberal-leaning leadership for a long time, looking for an excuse to go. Virtually nothing could have persuaded them to stay. Although the proximate cause may have been the election three years ago of the openly gay bishop of New Hampshire, Gene Robinson, the real causes lie in a fundamental disagreement over the nature of Anglicanism and a determination to wrest it from its broad and tolerant roots into a more evangelical, conservative direction.

The same thing is happening in England, where last week a faction of like-minded conservative evangelicals, with close ties to the US churches, presented a list of demands to Archbishop Rowan Williams, including a call for the right to appoint their own ministers without reference to their liberal diocesan bishops.

These groups have chosen homosexuality as a defining issue because they believe it is something that will unite and mobilise sympathisers in a way that other current issues in the church, such as women's ordination, have not been able to do. There is still a visceral distaste for the idea of homosexuality and the prejudice against it can be characterised not as bigotry but as something sanctioned by a few (and there are only a few) references in the Bible. Interestingly, the same mobilisation in defence of biblical orthodoxy does not seem to apply to other facts of life about which the Bible's authors were quite as adamant, pre-eminently divorce. Surely this can't be - can it? - because many more folk have experience of divorce in their families these days than of homosexuality, and that even some of the most outspoken evangelical leaders are themselves divorced.


I don't want to make too much of this story, but it seems to me that Archbishop Drexel Gomez of the West Indies, who is nobody's liberal, is experssing dissatisfaction with Archbishop Peter Akinola through a surrogate. Although, as I say, I may be making too much of this. (Hat tip to Simon Sarmiento.)

If I am right, however, it would seem to indicate that influential conservatives who want to let the covenant-making process run its course are now at odds with influential conservatives who are taking more precipitous steps.

The head of the Anglican Communion in Jamaica and the Cayman Islands yesterday said the Diocese does not support the decision of Virginia's two most prominent parishes to leave the Episcopal Church of the USA.

At the same time, Lord Bishop the Rt Revd Dr Alfred Reid chided Nigerian Bishop Peter Akinola for trying to create a rupture in the Church by accommodating the two Virginia churches.

"The Diocese of Jamaica and the Cayman Islands wishes to state that it is not a party to, nor does it support the action of the two congregations in the Diocese of Virginia, USA, which have voted to secede from the Episcopal Church of the USA over the issue of the ordination of Gene Robinson, a self-confessed homosexual, as bishop of New Hampshire," Bishop Reid said in a statement issued late yesterday afternoon.

"The Church does not agree with the action of the Archbishop of Nigeria - Peter Akinola - in seeking to create a schism within the global Anglican Communion by facilitating the two Virginia churches in their break away," Bishop Reid said.

"Archbishop Akinola knows full well that the leadership of the worldwide Anglican Communion has been at pains to seek to deal in a holistic and timely manner with the issues raised ever since Robinson's ordination," Bishop Reid added.

The O Antiphons

Two days ago, Anglicans and Catholics began singing the "O Antiphons" during the liturgy of the hours.

Not familiar with the O Antiphons. Look here. And here is a nice article from Anglicans Online.

But my real reason for posting this item was to point you to this classic piece from the NPR archives.

More news from Virginia

By Mary Frances Schjonberg

[ENS] The Episcopal Diocese of Virginia said December 18 that it has the agreement of people who voted December 17 to leave the Episcopal Church that they will not attempt to transfer church property to their ownership for 30 days.

In return, the diocese promised not to initiate any litigation concerning the departures for the same amount of time, according to a statement issued after Bishop Peter Lee, the diocese's Executive Board and Standing Committee met in an emergency joint session the afternoon of December 18.

"The Episcopal Church is going to be there in partnership with the Diocese of Virginia to help bring healing in any way that we can, and to continue to remind everybody that we are engaged in larger mission," Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori told ENS.

"If some people decide they need to go then our best recourse is to bless their journey and to remind people that the door will remain open and the porch light on," she said.

Eight of Virginia's 195 congregations announced December 17 that their members had voted to sever ties with the Episcopal Church and affiliate with the Anglican Church of Uganda or the Anglican Church of Nigeria by way of the Anglican District of Virginia, part of the Convocation of Anglicans in North America (CANA).

Simon has links all of the Virginia coverage this morning.

Mark Harris has commentary, which includes this: I believe the people of the various congregations in Virginia that wish to vote on belonging or not belonging to the Episcopal Church have every business doing so, and that their vote, as a group, may also mean that a new congregation is being formed from membership of the old. I regret, and I suppose many of us do, that they wish to leave, but that is their wish. But the remnant, even if it is five or ten percent (in this case, say 200 people), still constitute the parish as a congregation in the Episcopal Church. Since the priest in charge of Truro Church and the Rector of The Falls Church have apparently cast their lot with the departing group, it seems to me the Diocese of Virginia will appoint interim clergy for the remaining Episcopalians and continue the work of those ministries within the Episcopal Church, the fight over the property not withstanding.

Bishop Jefferts Schori on NPR

Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori was interviewed on NPR tonight. You can listen to it here. The Admiral of Morality has a snippet here.

Dining while gay, and other crimes

The members of Truro and the Falls Church have now declared that belonging to a church that permits gays and lesbians to become bishops is too great a tax on their conscience, while belonging to a church that believes gay people should be imprisoned for eating together in public is not.

I can suggest three reasons that Bishop Martyn Minns and his flock may have taken this decision. The first is naked bigotry. The second is a willingness to trade the human rights of innocent Africans for a more advantageous position in the battle for control of the Anglican Communion. The third is a profoundly distorted understanding of who Jesus was and what he taught.

I’d like to believe that the last of these reasons explains the majority of the votes, because I recognize that my own salvation may depend on God showing mercy to those of us who are sincere in our misapprehensions.

But, if Bishop Minns and his followers do, indeed, believe that gay Nigerians should be imprisoned for visiting a restaurant together, they need to inform us whether they believe gay Americans should be imprisoned for similar activities. And if they do not support the criminalization of such behavior in the United States, they need to explain why they favor--or, at the very least, acquiesce--in depriving Nigerians of rights that Americans enjoy.

Jim Naughton

Bishop Lee responds to defections

Truro and the Falls Church have voted to leave the Episcopal Church and affiliate with the Church of Nigeria.

Statement from the Rt. Rev. Peter James Lee, Bishop of the Diocese of Virginia

Today a small number of congregations in the Diocese of Virginia announced that they have voted to separate from the Episcopal Church and affiliate with the Church of Nigeria and Bishop Akinola. I am saddened by this development.

The leadership of the Diocese of Virginia has labored for three years to seek another course that would have maintained the integrity of the church and the spirit of inclusiveness that has been a hallmark of the Diocese and the Anglican Communion. The votes today have compromised these discussions and have created Nigerian congregations occupying Episcopal churches. This is not the future of the Episcopal Church envisioned by our

I have called a special joint meeting Monday of the Executive Board and Standing Committee of the Diocese, with counsel, to consider the full range of pastoral, canonical and legal obligations of the Church and our responsibilities to those faithful Episcopalians in these congregations who do not choose to associate with the Church of Nigeria.
In the interim I have asked the leadership of these now Nigerian and Ugandan congregations occupying Episcopal churches to keep the spiritual needs of all concerned uppermost in their minds at this difficult moment in our Church history, especially continuing Episcopalians. I also have directed diocesan personnel to work with the leadership of the departing congregations and with those who wish to remain in the Episcopal Church to reach agreements for the shared use of the Church property for the purposes of worship and other needs until final disposition of the Church’s property can be settled.

I want to be clear on this point: Our polity maintains that all real and personal property is held in trust for The Episcopal Church and the Diocese. As stewards of this historic trust, we fully intend to assert the Church’s canonical and legal rights over these properties.

Today is indeed a sad day for the Church and for many in the Church. It is also a day of abundant hope that in our 400 years as Virginia’s oldest Christian community, the Episcopal Church in Virginia will continue to serve Christ faithfully by serving his people.

The key words

The key words in today's New York Times story about Truro and the Falls Church's impending decision to leave the Episcopal Church are these:

"In Virginia, the two large churches are voting on whether they want to report to the powerful archbishop of Nigeria, Peter Akinola, an outspoken opponent of homosexuality who supports legislation in his country that would make it illegal for gay men and lesbians to form organizations, read gay literature or eat together in a restaurant."

The members of these churches are about to declare to the world that they cannot live in a church that permits the ordination of an openly gay bishop, but they can happily accept the discipline of a church that believes gay people should be imprisoned for the crime of eating together in public. A distressingly large number of commenters on sites like Stand Firm and Titus One Nine have already made this declaration.

Perhaps I am naive to be appalled, but this no longer seems to be a debate about the proper role of gay and lesbians Christians in the Church, but about the moral legitimacy of rolling back human rights for minorities, in this case homosexuals, in a much wider ranging sort of way.

Orombi's way with words

Archbishop Henry Luke Orombi apparently did not say what he meant in his recent letter to his people. Now his provincial secretary, The Rev. Canon Aaron Mwesigye, has "clarified" the situation. (Hat tip to Kendall.)

Orombi seems to be trying to extricate himself from the mess he made by offering unconvincing reasons for refusing to "sit" with our Presiding Bishop, Katharine Jefferts Schori at the upcoming Primates meeting in February. But this time, he is even less convincing and appears even more desperate, for he has decided to fall back on a unique interpretation of the Primates statement from their meeting at Dromantine.

In that statement, the Primates said: “we request that the Episcopal Church (USA) and the Anglican Church of Canada voluntarily withdraw their members from the Anglican Consultative Council for the period leading up to the next Lambeth Conference.”

The secretary writes:

The actual words of the Primates' 2005 Communiqué from their meeting in Dromantine notwithstanding, our understanding of the decision of the Primates was captured in Archbishop Henry Luke Orombi's press release following that meeting: "In our Ireland meeting the Primates suspended the Episcopal Church of America and the Canadian Church until they repent." Therefore, to sit with the new Primate of ECUSA when they clearly have not repented is to surrender commitment and follow-through on a previous decision.
This clarification reminds me of that old George Carlin routine in which he is making fun of the expression “in your own words."

“In your own words?” Carlin says. “You mean you have your own words? I have to use the same words as everybody else.”

Archbishop Orombi, apparently has his very own words, and, as archbishop, I guess, he gets to define for himself what they mean.

Day 16

As my younger son keeps reminding me, Christmas is drawing nearer. We have already opened two-thirds of the windows on our diocese's online Advent calendar. Today, in Window 16 you will see a brilliantly colored folk art creche from Portugal, but it is the giving opportunity that I really wanted to call your attention to.

Not long ago, a fire destroyed 400 shanties in the settlement of Dukathole, in the Diocese of the Highveld in South Africa, leaving more than 1000 children homeless. They are in desperate need of food, shelter and clothing. We are working with their bishop to help meet some of these needs. Pleae help us if you can.

On church property

After Truro and the Falls Church announce their decision to secede from the Episcopal Church tomorrow, much will be said about the laws regarding possession of church property. Many of the speakers won't have the faintest idea what they are talking about. As one of their number, I intend to stay out of that fray. I did want to call attention, however, to one small fact, which is that if leadership of the two churches felt certain that they would maintain the property, they would not have made an ill-advised bid to get a sympathetic state legislator to change state law to ensure the desired outcome.

The story began last February after a bill favorable to the departing congregations was already well advanced in the Virginia Senate. The Washington Post’s story began:

“RICHMOND, Feb. 1 -- A bill before the Virginia Senate has alarmed the Episcopal Church and other mainline Protestant denominations that are deeply torn over the ordination of gay ministers and the blessing of same-sex marriages because, they say, the measure would give local congregations unprecedented powers to break away from their national denominations.

Several major church groups on Tuesday urged lawmakers to reject the bill, which they said would entangle state government in church politics.”

The bill was introduced by Senator Bill Mims, a member of Holy Spirit in Ashburn.

The Post reported:

“Mims said the bill was not meant to target the Episcopal denomination or get involved in its internecine conflict. Though the laity in his own Episcopal congregation in Ashburn has discussed the issue, Mims said, there have been no official moves to split with the church.

He said the congregation, which objected to New Hampshire's gay bishop and has joined the opposition Network of Anglican Communion Parishes, did not request that he introduce the bill.

The Rev. Clancy Nixon, vicar of Church of the Holy Spirit, Mims's congregation, said he supports the measure.”

So, as it happens, did the American Anglican Council.

Fortunately, this was a bill so bad that it shriveled in sunlight. Newspapers around the region fell over themselves editorializing against it. The Post wrote:

"The bill is not explicitly directed at the Episcopalians, but it seems to respond directly to their current fight. And its result would be that conservative Virginia congregations could leave the Episcopal Church without becoming homeless.

Whether the Episcopal Church permits gay clergy is a matter for the church to decide, not the Virginia General Assembly. The First Amendment greatly restricts the power of government to interfere in questions of religious doctrine, and how a church allocates power and property between its central and regional authorities is a matter of canon law, not civil law. Consequently, courts have long deferred to the churches on such questions in the name of religious liberty. A bill that seeks to override churches' own rules on such matters is not likely to survive constitutional scrutiny -- nor should it. The General Assembly should not be taking sides in an argument among the faithful."

The Falls Church News Press was blunter, calling the bill "a blatant, self-serving attempt to cause the state legislature to weigh in on behalf of dissidents within the Episcopal Church opposed to the recent consecration of an openly-gay bishop."

The Hampton Roads Daily Press chimed in: "The bill comes from an unsavory source: a relentless, multi-front campaign to constrain the rights and protections of homosexuals. Does anyone believe that the General Assembly would be intervening if the decamping churches were in favor of gay rights?"

Mims withdrew the bill, the text of which is here. (Hat tip to Simon Sarmiento.)

As the Diocese of Virginia prepares to deal with the leadership of Truro, the Falls Church and the other breakaway congregations in its midst, it will be important to keep in mind how these folks play the game.

The Falls Church (Va.) newspaper is embarrassed by The Falls Church

One gets the feeling from browsing through the Fall Church News Press that the congregation, which will likely announce its departure from the Episcopal Church tomorrow is not exactly well liked by its neighbors.

This is form the paper's lead editorial this week:

Rather than affirming a generosity of spirit and Good Samaritan compassion that can embrace and nurture a complex and multi-faceted humanity, in this case, the leaders of the Falls Church Episcopal have chosen to stand against the civil authority of the U.S. Constitution that promises equal rights for all, just as happened in all those pulpits that, in the past, denounced what they called the “un-Godly” acts of freeing slaves, ending segregation, or more recently, ending prohibitions on interracial marriage. Church folk experience such hate, emotionally, as a burning righteous indignation.

If this week’s vote results in the departure of Falls Church Episcopal from the Episcopal denomination, the church will go down in infamy as a regrettable and despised bastion of bigotry, prejudice and hatred.

This analysis characterizes what is happening at Truro and hte Falls Church as an "Old South" backlash"

In the churches voting to defect this week, two of their mantras pertain to “Jesus Christ as the sole path to salvation” and “Biblical inerrancy.” Their leaders assert the larger denomination has drifted too far from these tenants of the faith while, oh by the way, ordaining a gay bishop (the principal lightning rod motivating their defections).

A young friend was once under the sway of one of these churches, but ran into the problem of going off to college and cultivating his powers of independent thinking. He related to me a conversation he had with a minister at the church when he then started doubting this notion of “Biblical inerrancy.”


Then the next question, it seems to me, would be, “Who gets to draw that line?” Ministers would say, of course, “God.” But in reality, few have ever claimed to see a big hand with perfect penmanship really pierce some cloud cover and lay it all out. In other words, it’s really a very human proposition, and as such, subject to very human frailties.

The same goes for the claim that “Jesus Christ is the only way to salvation.”

Not only does this necessarily leave the vast majority of humanity for all of history doomed to Hell, it does also for all Christians who don’t live up to certain preachers’ definitions of sufficient faith. It leads to the same question: Who gets to decide what “Jesus as the only way” means?

Could it mean that emulating the spirit of one filled with compassion for the downtrodden and abused, who told parables that taught tolerance and acceptance of differences represents the “only way?” Not likely, not with these folks.

In fact, it’s hard to know what drives these people’s kind of religious intolerance more, fear or nasty personal bigotry. In the end, which it is it doesn’t really matter.

N. T. Wright on Reform's covenant

N. T. Wright is no friend of the Episcopal Church, or of gay Christians. His lengthy critique of the covenant recently released by the English evangelical group Reform can be read as a sign of the deep divisions on the Anglican Right between those who want to force provinces (and people) accepting of gay Christians out of the Communion immediately, and those who want to let the slowly unfolding covenat process do that job for them.

Yeah, I know, Wright keeps saying he is not on the right. I keep saying I am not bald, but it hasn't caused me to grow hair.

Evening Prayer for Advent

The Episcopal Public Policy Network offers a short form of Evening Prayer for Advent. A taste:

Leader: That God, whose Son Jesus Christ was born not in the palace of a king but in the throes of poverty, may hear the cries of the poor, hungry, and oppressed, and may move human hearts to hear their cries as well.

All: Lord, hear our prayer

Episcopal News Service also has new video of Archbishop Njongonkulu Ndungane of South Africa discussing the Millenium Development Goals.

Bishop Mdimi says no

I've mentioned previously that the bishops of Tanzania released a letter this week saying that they would accept no more money from the unclean hands of the Episcopal Church.

The Rt. Rev. Mdimi Mhogolo, bishop of Central Tanganyika, who has a partnership with the Diocese of New York, which you can read about here, says: not so fast.

Dear friends in Christ Jesus

Greetings in the name of our Lord Jesus

You might have ready that the House of Bishops acting not on behalf of the whole Church but on their own have issued another statement regarding its relationship with ECUSA. Among other things, the statement shows that the communion between the Anglican Church of Tanzania and the Episcopal Church in the US is severely impaired and that no financial or human personnel support from ECUSA will be received by the Anglican Church of Tanzania. Put that way, the statement assumes that there is some communion that still exist between the two bodies of the Church of Christ.

DCT still remains in communion with ECUSA, maintaining our mutual respect for our cultural traditions and values. When one visits the other, he/she should not impose one's cultural understanding of Christianity on the other. There are so many Christian things that we share together than the things that divide us&.Our relationship with ECUSA institutions will continue as usual; and if DCT continues to work together with secular organizations and governments such as CARE INTERNATIONAL, OXFAM, governments of UK, Germany, Australia, and Japan in trying to realize the Millennium Development Goals, how much more will we enjoy working with our brothers and sisters from the US in doing together God's mission to the world?
We stand firm in our work for Christ with all those with good will in the Episcopal Church. No body has the right to tell us to do otherwise.

Peace and grace to you all


Tobais has an eloquent entry on this issue here.

If Bishop Mdimi's name rings a bell, it may be because he was kind enough to write an article for me back in July giving his impressions of our General Convention.

The Anglican Right makes its long-planned move

The Primate of Uganda, the Most Rev. Henry Luke Orombi, has written to this people. The letter is beneath the "continue reading" button. He says, in part:

"I am writing with a heavy heart to share with you sad news about our beloved Anglican Communion. On Saturday, 4th November, the Episcopal Church in the United States of America (ECUSA) enthroned as their Presiding Bishop a leader who has permitted the blessing of same-sex unions and who also denies that Jesus is the only way to the Father. Her name is the Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori." (Emphasis mine.)

I am grateful that in the first paragraph of his lengthy missive, the archbishop relieves us of the burden of considering him either a fair or serious person. In the furthest reaches of the right wing blogopshere they have been trying for weeks to manufacture proof of Bishop Jefferts Schori's alleged heresies based almost entirely on a few sentences open to varying interpretations in a couple of newspaper reports.

In my view, those sentences prove nothing more than that Bishop Jefferts Schori's views on salvation are similar to those of the noted heretics John Paul II and Benedict XVI. But whether my view is correct or not, there is simply no way that a fair and serious person could make a definitive judgment on someone's theological views based on such paltry evidence. Bishop Orombi who has never met Bishop Jefferts Schori and never discussed her views with her has swallowed the allegations against her whole, and has made a number of momentous decisions (outlined in the letter) based on this paltry and disputed evidence.

"I have been in consultation with the other Primates and Archbishops of Africa and the Global South about this crisis in our beloved Anglican Communion," Orombi writes. "We have written to the Archbishop of Canterbury and informed him that we cannot sit together with Katharine Jefferts Schori at the upcoming Primates Meeting in February. We have also asked the Archbishop of Canterbury to invite an orthodox Bishop from the Anglican Communion Network in America to attend the Primates Meeting and represent the orthodox believers. We await his decision on these matters."

Readers of part two of "Following the Money" will recall that Archbishop Orombi and several likeminded Primates had originally vowed to make the above demands in 2003, when Frank Griswold was the presiding bishop. Bishop Robert Duncan's notes from that meeting surfaced in a court case, and are online here.

There's nothing new here, but as commenters on several other blogs have suggested, the release of Orombi's letter, coupled with the statement of the Tanzanian bishops, the release of Reform's new covenant in England and the impending seccession of seven or eight parishes from the Diocese of Virginia suggest that anti-gay forces in the Communion have decided that the time to make their long awaited move has come.

I will be interested to see what they will do if Rowan Williams calls their bluff. And I hope we get to find out.

There is good conversation on this issue at Thinking Anglicans and Preludium. Meanwhile, Father Jake asks whether it is time for liberals "to throw off the defensive isolationism that many within the Communion have attempted to use as cover, and respond with a united front".

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CANA "is not a branch of the Anglican Communion"

This just in from the Anglican Communion News Service:

From the Secretary General of the Anglican Communion

'In response to a number of queries, and following consultation with The Archbishop of Canterbury, the Secretary General of the Anglican Communion has issued the following statement (emphasis mine):

"The Convocation of Anglicans in North America (CANA) is, to my knowledge, a "mission" of the Church of Nigeria. It is not a branch of the Anglican Communionas such but an organsation which relates to a single province of the Anglican Communion. CANA has not petitioned the Anglican Consultative Council for any official status within the Communion's structures, nor has the Archbishop of Canterbury indicated any support for its establishment." '

The Revd Canon Kenneth Kearon

We've discussed previously, the dubious claim by Mary Springmann, vestry registrar at Truro, that CANA was "an authentic part of the Anglican Communion and acknowledged by the Primates and by Archbishop of Canterbury." That claim has now been refuted.

The release gives rise to other questions, though. If CANA is a creature of a single province of the Communion, is Martyn Minns, former rector of Truro and now a bishop in the Church of Nigeria, a bishop of the Anglican Communion or just of the Church of Nigeria? And if, as expected, the people of Truro and The Falls Church vote to become part of CANA, have they, in effect, left the Anglican Communion? I can imagine this being argued both ways, and as it is early in the morning, I am not going to enter that argument yet myself.

The feast of St. John of the Cross

I've been writing for several days about my favorite saint, the 16th-century Spanish Carmelite, Saint John of the Cross. Today is his feast day. Below is the best brief biography I've found. I have interspersed a few of my own comments in italic. The source of this bio is here.

There is also an excellent chronology of John's life and times here.

Born Juan de Yepes y Alvarez in Fontiveros, Spain, in 1542, John was the son of a wealthy silk merchant, Gonzalo de Yepes, and a poor weaver girl, Catalina Alvarez. The Yepes family disowned John's father for marrying beneath his station, and the young couple lived in hardship, following the trade of silk weaving. John was the youngest of three sons. Shortly after his birth, Gonzalo died after a long illness, and Catalina struggled heroically to provide for her sons, settling in Medina del Campo.

Other sources indicate that Catalina and her three sons trekked to seek help from Gonzalo's family after his death. One of John's uncles, a canon of a prominent Spanish cathedral turned them away. Another uncle took in John's oldest brother, Francisco, but treated him so badly that Catalina had to go and rescue him. John's brother Luis died just two years after his father.

Young John attended a school for poor children there, gaining a basic education and the opportunity to learn skills from local craftsmen. When he was 17, he began to work at the Plague Hospital de la Concepcion, and its founder offered to let him attend the Jesuit College, so long as he did not neglect his hospital duties. From 1559 to 1563, John studied with the Jesuits, learning Latin, Greek, and other subjects. He was offered the chance to study for the secular priesthood, which would have given him material security, but he felt God was calling him to Religious life. At age 20, he entered the Carmelite Order, being clothed with the habit on February 24, 1563, and taking the name Juan de Santo Matia (John of Saint Matthias). John did continue his studies, however, notably at the University of Salamanca, which was noted for its excellent professors of Thomist philosophy--an influence which is apparent throughout his writings. An outstanding scholar, John taught classes while still a student. He was ordained in 1597, and said his first Mass in Medina del Campo. During that trip, he first met Teresa of Avila, and she encouraged him to promote her reform among the men's Order.

In November, 1568, John and three other friars took up the observance of the primitive Carmelite Rule in a farmhouse near Duruelo. At that time, he changed his name in religion to Juan de la Cruz (John of the Cross). The small band soon came to be known as *Discalced* (shoeless) Carmelites, because they went barefoot as a sign of their commitment to poverty. Their poverty was very real: the first house was barely more than one room, and the young community suffered many privations. When St. Teresa was ordered to return to the Convent of the Incarnation as its superior, she called upon John to assist her in renewing the large community, which had grown quite lax. Arriving there in 1572, he became the spiritual director of the nuns, including Teresa herself. For unknown reasons, the attitude of the original ("Calced") Carmelites began to change toward the reformers. Whereas they had initially acquiesced and even encouraged the movement, the Chapter of 1575 placed severe restrictions on it, they now forbade any further foundations and ordered Teresa to choose one monastery as her permanent residence and remain there.

Around this time, John drew a sketch of a vision he had of the crucified Christ. The sketch is not well-known, these days, but it inspired a famous painting by Dail, The Christ of Saint John of the Cross.

When in 1576 the Discalced Friars convened their own Chapter, the Calced moved to carry out the prohibitions of 1575. They arrested John and another friar and imprisoned him in a Calced monastery in Toledo in a windowless 6' x 10' room. Scourged and humiliated, he nonetheless refused to renounce the Reform. He passed the time in his cell composing the sublime lyric poems which form the basis of his mystical treatises. After some months, he managed to escape to the south of Spain, where he had been elected Prior of the monastery at El Calvario and appointed director of the nuns at Beas. In 1579, he became Rector of the new Discalced Carmelite college near the University of Baeza.

The story of John's escape rivals the Count of Monte Cristo. He asked for thread to mend his cloak and with the help of a jailer who was willing to look the other way, he was able to measure the distance from a nearby window to the cloister yard below. I am blanking on the details of how he made himself a rope (more likely garments tied together) to lower himself into the cloister yard, from where he climbed to safety.)

The Spiritual Canticle, which he composed in his head during his imprisonment is reproduced beneath the "continue reading" button.

In 1580, the Holy See granted the Discalced the right to erect their own Province, although complete independence from the Calced did not come until 1593.

During these "middle years" of John's life, he filled a variety of offices within the reformed Order, wrote the commentaries on his poems elucidating the mystical life, gave spiritual direction, and lived a life of deep union with God. Toward the end of his life, he disagreed with the new General, Nicholas Doria, about some changes in the Order. He was sent to the solitude of La Penuela in August, 1591 --in truth overjoyed to be relieved of administrative duties for the first time in years. But his peace was disturbed by news that a move was afoot to expel him from the Reform he had founded. His detractors tried to gather evidence against him to defame his character.

John fell ill after only a month at La Penuela, however. When urged to seek medical attention, he went to the monastery at Ubeda, where the Prior received him coldly, placed him in the worst cell in the house, and complained bitterly about the expense of caring for him. John grew worse, and, realizing his time was short, he called for the Prior to beg forgiveness for all the trouble he had caused him. Instead, the Prior, realizing John's holiness and his own hardheartedness, wept. John died as he had prayed to: without honors, without material comforts, and with great suffering.

He was 49. He was beatified in 1675, canonized in 1726, and declared a Doctor of the Roman Catholic Church in 1926.

My own devotion to John is rooted in my perception that he understood interior desolation--depression, if you will, but brought beauty out of his darkness; that he plumbed his interior landscape while remaining a vital public ministry, both as a reformer and spiritual director; and that he managed, with seemingly effortless grace, the treacherous intellectual task of maintaining a deep and rigorous commitment to Christianity while not making an idol of his own necessarily limited understanding of the infinite mystery that is God.

To learn more about John of the Cross, try this volume of Carmelite Studies from the Discalced Carmelites.

Other dailyepiscopalian entries on John are here, here and here.

Click "continue reading" to read The Spiritual Canticle.

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Covenant or no covenant

I mentioned a few items ago that the British evangelical group Reform had presented the Archbishop of Canterbury with the draft of a covenant for the Church of England. You can read it here.

Since then, Mark Harris has weighed in on this issue twice. Tobias Haller has registered his objections, including this bit, which I endorse:

"[T]o suggest, as ++Rowan has in his own inscrutable way, that no action can properly be taken in the absence of a new consensus is to ask for the ahistorical. The Jerusalem Council didn't settle the issue of Gentile inclusion -- there were those who opposed it and they bedeviled Paul's ministry for years. Later, some die-in-the-ditch issues of the continental reformation (access to the Cup, and vernacular liturgy) were eventually adopted by Rome, after a considerable delay. This is how change works in the church, here and there rather than all at once."

For a thoroughgoing critique of Reform's proposal, put in global perspective, have a look at the press release from Inclusive Church, on Thinking Anglicans.

A sample:

"2.0 We are seeing the development of a long term plan developed by various people on various continents which is intended to bring the Anglican Communion out of its historically generous and open position, into a narrowly defined, confessional group of churches rooted in the religious right of the United States and extending from there across the world.

2.1 We understand that the Tanzania declaration was produced at the behest of others with the specific aims of undermining the Presiding Bishop of the United States, challenging the authority of the Archbishop of Canterbury, and derailing the moves towards an inclusive Covenant which the Communion is beginning to make. It is a deliberately incendiary move. The intention is to pre-empt any decisions the Primates’ Meeting in February might make so that elements from the Global South and disaffected elements of the Episcopal Church rebels can proceed with their plan to set up an alternative Communion.

3.0 Reform’s “Covenant” brings this strategy into England. The authors of the “Covenant” (all male, all white) and their cohorts are, simply, using the politics of the playground, issuing financial threats and huffing and puffing in an attempt to bring the Church of England into line. The most cursory reading demonstrates a startlingly inadequate ecclesiology and a deep misunderstanding of the role of bishops. They are showing increasing militancy and becoming more and more vocal, because those of us who support the orthodox, historic and open tradition of Anglicanism are, unexpectedly, refusing to lie down and be trampled on."

I have no idea whether the Tanzanian statement was undertaken at the behest of others. But the rest of the plan they outline won't come as a surprise to readers of Following the Money .

Local priest makes good

The Rev. Rich Kukowski, longtime pastor of Transfiguration Church in Colesville, Md., retired recently. The Gazette newspapers took note:

Father Richard Kukowski’s home sits across New Hampshire Avenue from The Episcopal Church of the Transfiguration, which he led for 27 years. But save for a funeral, wedding or other milestone event for a friend, he has not returned since he retired earlier this year.

‘‘I’m surprised I don’t miss it more,” Kukowski said of the Colesville church. ‘‘I thought I would, but to me that’s a real strong sign that this was the right decision at the right time.”

On Sunday, members of the congregation held their traditional ‘‘greening” of the church for the holidays, and Christmas services will continue as usual under the leadership of the Rev. Carla Thompson, the interim rector. ‘‘We’re going to adhere to the traditions and understandings Transfiguration has until a new rector comes along. Then change comes if it’s wanted,” she said. ‘‘Now is not the time to make small changes or significant changes.”

New law and old prejudices threaten Nigeria's gay community

The secular press is beginning to wake up to the dangers of repressive legislation being supported by the Anglican Church of Nigeria, and, it would seem, its supporters at Truro and the Falls Church. Here is the lead of the Associated Press story in a recent issue of the International Herald Tribune:

LAGOS, Nigeria: In the Muslim north of Nigeria, Bisi Alimi could be stoned to death for having gay sex. In the south, he could face three years in prison. Now, a proposed law would make it illegal just to share a meal at a cafe with gay friends.

The proposal under debate in Nigeria's House of Representatives would outlaw not just gay marriages, but any form of association between gay people, social or otherwise, and publication of any materials deemed to promote a "same-sex amorous relationship."

Anyone attending a meeting between gay people, even two friends in a private house, could receive a sentence of five years under the act. Engaging in homosexual acts is already illegal in Nigeria, with those convicted facing jail terms in the south and execution in the north.

Few in Nigeria's deeply closeted gay community are publicly opposing the bill and it is widely expected to pass.

Brother Causticus does some research

Brother Causticus at Titus One Ten, has a humorous, but nonetheless factual take on the recent statement from Tanzania:

Rifling through his stacks of old Church Times, BC finds a description of an interview the then Bishop of Monmouth gave clearly stating that he knowingly ordained a practicing homosexual – when, oh when will these homosexuals become proficient at it? – as a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek, in clear contravention of the canons of the Church of England and, depending upon whom one asks, Scripture and Nature itself, thereby befouling with abomination an institution that had previously known only chaste connubial bliss. +Monmouth remains to this day publicly unrepentant and the priest continues unchecked wreaking his putative ministry upon unwitting parishioners and, one imagines, the poor and needy of his district who would no doubt fling away the bowls of soup he proffers were they to know the challenge his manner of living presents to the wider Communion.

This defiant, erring Bishop of Monmouth clearly has no place at the Tanzanian table. It is very meet, right, and a bounden episcopal duty to shun the brazen foray of this notorious and open sinner to the Sacrament as the communion between him and the Anglican Church of Tanzania is utterly null and void, as stated heretofore in paragraph (i).

That the bishops of Tanzania have boldly declared themselves out of communion with the Bishop of Monmouth - or as he is now known, the Archbishop of Canterbury – and have thereby ejected themselves from the Anglican Communion – whose muddled ecclesiology admits to no certainties other than communion with ++Cantuar defines membership – is no doubt an auspicious step forward for Biblical Christianity, but perhaps a bit of an impediment to the full success of the upcoming Primates' Meeting, where it appears the ostensible convener will have no place at all.

It’s probably not too late, though, for the Anglican Church of Tanzania to get its deposit back from the caterers.

That Nigerian bill

Matthew Thompson has the latest on the dreadful Nigerian bill that the leaders of Truro and the Falls Church won't tell the truth about.

Matt writes:

Many Nigerians believe that there are, in fact, no "real" homosexuals among them. It is difficult for those of us outside of Nigeria to understand this, and it is in part because of this lack of understanding that so few in the United States, especially those with affiliations to religious groups in Nigeria that have endorsed the legislation (like many readers of Titus One Nine or Stand Firm in Faith), can grasp the magnitude of the situation. Yet regardless of our ignorance, Nigerians themselves understand quite well that this legislation is intended to stamp out speech, prevent gay and lesbian organizations from organizing, and make second-class citizens of "suspected" homosexuals.

This is not academic. It's not the same debate as is commonly heard in the US and Europe about granting the same rights, priveleges and responsibilities to same-sex couples as to opposite-sex couples. It's a real threat to the lives of what could amount to millions of Nigerians. Those complicit in this legislation's passage, both within Nigeria and without, will have a lot to answer for.

John and the apophatic way

Saint John of the Cross, whose feast is tomorrow, is sometimes described as a practitioner of apophatic theology and an exemplar of apophatic spirituality. This is not necessarily a helpful description to the novice, who may not know what apophatic means.

So, first a definition is in order:

Apophatic: Of or relating to the belief that God can be known to humans only in terms of what He is not (such as 'God is unknowable.')

As for Apophatic spirituality, here is Gerald May in Care of Mind/Care of Spirit

“[T]wo different basic approaches to spirituality need to be clarified. In all traditions there is a way of viewing spirituality that emphasizes the importance of images, symbols, and sensations. This kind of spirituality, classically known as kataphatic, has always been the most popular. In it one seeks deeper realization of God through visions, feelings, imagery, words, and other sensate or symbolic forms of experience.

The second way emphasizes the truth of God that lies behind, beyond, or hidden within all sensory or intellectual representations. This is known as the apophatic way. Evangelical and charismatic Christianity, popular Hinduism, and much of Tantric Buddhism represent markedly kataphatic spiritualities. At the other extreme, one might find the Christian mysticism of John of the Cross and Meister Eckhart, the silence of Quaker Meeting, and the emptiness of Zen Buddhism, which are distinctly apophatic spiritualities.

In nearly all traditions one will find elements of both apophatic and kataphatic approaches, overlapping, but with one of the two in dominance.”

While apophatic thought dates as least to Pseudo-Dionysius in the sixth century, it is, as Clifton Healy has argued, quoting various academic heavyweights, suited to the postmodern temperament:

"Apophatic theology, like poststructural notions of text, demonstrates a radical skepticism regarding metaphor, and it holds that nay truth claims relying on metaphor as a vehicle are, at best, provisional. The reader looking for truth . . . Should not confuse metaphor, iconography, symbolism, liturgy, and the like with the ineffable mystery they attempt to signify. (Zornado 1992:118)

"Winquist echoes:
The work of theology has usually been a web of meaningful connections and saying what can be said about the relationship of common events and foundational principles. What could not be said, the surplus of meaning in even the most rationalistic theologies, fell into spaces of silence within and between systems and thereby constituted a presence that is an absence, a mystery and shadow for theological understanding.
If we are to initiate a new excavation, it must choose as its terrain the silences of experience, those suspicious areas of unintelligibility that have haunted the theological achievements of past enlightenments. (1986:32).

Zornado adds: "Apophatic thought provides a kind of key to those moments of silence, not that we might fill them in but rather that we might more fully experience the gaps between vehicle and tenor, between signifier and signified, as a silence related to that which contemplative monks desire" (1992:119)."


“Theology,” Healy adds, “is expressed in fallen language. Philosophy can never attain complete knowledge. Therefore when it comes to God-talk, reverence and humility seem the safest attitudes. Theology needs always to be in encounter with the unsaid, even if only to contradict/correct the said. God is necessarily larger than our understanding of him--and certainly of our ability to speak accurately of him.”

For me, the reverence and humility that Healy speaks of require that we not make an idol of our own imperfect understanding of God.

Local church makes good

Melissa Chadwick writes in the Gazette newspapers of Montgomery County:

The first shovel of dirt was turned Saturday to mark the beginning of a 10-year construction project to build the first new Episcopal church in the Washington diocese in 40 years.

On an unseasonably warm December day, congregants of St. Nicholas Episcopal Church gathered at the church’s 13-acre campus at 14419 Darnestown Road, near the corner of Route 118.

‘‘It’s the quality of the life we live together and the quality of the services we do in God’s name that matters, it’s not the building,” said the Rev. Ken Howard, the congregation’s longtime rector.

St. Nicholas Church, which has grown from 12 families to more than 300 members in a decade, hopes to complete the worship and ministry center by Christmas 2007.

Read it all.

Did the Sunday Telegraph gets it wrong?

Remember this item, about a Sunday Telegraph report that as many as 100 parishes in the Church of England would break with their liberal bishops and place themselves under the authority of a panel of retired conservative bishops?

Turns out that this is what happened instead. Another proposal for another covenant.

An inaccurate report? A loss of nerve? At any rate, a lot of publicity for another piece of paper.

Update: Mad Priest.

Holding one's people hostage to politics

Tobias Haller on the Tanzanian bishops decision to refuse financial aid from the Episcopal Church:

Now, if this refusal of funds merely meant one less perk for the bishops who passed this legislation, that is, if it really concerned them directly, I would say, fine. But the money these bishops are refusing isn’t meant for them — it is for ministries to the hungry, the poor, the widows and orphans — of which there are hundreds of thousands in Tanzania. The bishops are holding a metaphorical gun to the heads of these suffering hostages, and threatening to pull the trigger unless The Episcopal Church repents and recants. Do you think that image overwrought? We are talking here literally of life and death for many of these innocents. And while going on a hunger strike oneself to force others to an act of conscience is one thing, to make others undertake a starvation strike seems altogether immoral. I don’t know what ethical system these bishops were instructed in, but in my book (you know, the one with an Old and a New part) the primary duty of those who would serve God is to serve the suffering, not to demand adherence to a purity code.

Read it all.

A commenter on Mark Harris' blog has suggested that the Tanzanians, like several other African provinces before them, are not concerned about taint, but about demonstrating that they cannot be bought. But if that were the case, they'd need to stop taking money from people in this country with whom they are now in political agreement.

Those who doubt such money plays an essential role in sustaining the current crisis might be interested in this statement by Canon AkinTunde Popoola, spokesman for the Church of Nigeria.

Deeper into John's darkness

A second installment on St. John of the Cross, whose feast is on Thursday:

"Saint John is known as the "Mystical Doctor" and has been a pivotal figure for Christian mystics after him," writes Jack Bernard in an article for Theology Books Web site. "But don't be mislead by the title. He is actually suspicious of mystical experiences because he believes that true mystical intimacy with God takes place beyond the reach of sense perception. In fact when God is most at work in us, we may feel him absent. He is leading us to live by faith apart from sense experience. In our age feeling has become the primary criteria for truth for many people. St. John invites us to face into the dark feelings of God's absence by faith, because it is precisely there that we are most likely to find him."

Thomas Merton, a disciple of John's makes a siimilar point in an essay he wrote in the early 1950s:

"John of the Cross is the patron of those who have a vocation that is thought, by others, to be spectacular, but which, in reality, is lowly, difficult, and obscure. He is the patron and the protector and master of those whom God has led into the uninteresting wilderness of contemplative prayer."

Yet in this uninteresting wilderness, John found inspiration for some vivid physcially-charged poetry. Here is Kavanaugh and Rodriguez's translation of The Living Flame of Love:

O living flame of love
that tenderly wounds my soul
in its deepest center! Since
now you are not oppressive,
now consummate! if it be your will:
tear through the veil of this sweet encounter!

O sweet cautery,
O delightful wound!
O gentle hand! O delicate touch
that tastes of eternal life
and pays every debt!
in killing you changed death to life.

O lamps of fire!
in whose splendors
the deep caverns of feeling,
once obscure and blind,
now give forth, so rarely, so exquisitely,
both warmth and light to their Beloved.

How gently and lovingly
you wake in my heart,
where in secret you dwell alone;
and in your sweet breathing,
filled with good and glory,
how tenderly you swell my heart with love.

Tomorrow, a look at John's "apophatic" theology. (Complete with a definition of the word apophatic!) And as an audio bonus for reading to the bottom of this entry, check out this sample of Dark Night of the Soul by the singer Loretta McKennitt. (Hat tip to the Rev. Julie Murdoch.)

Oh guiding night!

Thursday is the feast of my favorite saint, the 16th century Spanish mystic, John of the Cross, who gave us the memorable phrase, the dark night of the soul.

I have gathered some material on John (including a fuller biography than the one linked to above) and hope to parcel it out over the next few days in such a way that my readers decide as one to become secular Carmelites (sorry about the music at this link.)

Let's begin with his most famous poem, Stanzas of the Soul. The spiritual treatise, The Dark Night of the Soul (also available here) is an interpretation of this poem.

The first translation from the Spanish is by William Whitson, the second by the Revs. Kieran Kavanaugh and Otilio Rodriguez, ODC.

On a dark night, Kindled in love with yearnings—oh, happy chance!—
I went forth without being observed, My house being now at rest.

In darkness and secure, By the secret ladder, disguised—oh, happy chance!—
In darkness and in concealment, My house being now at rest.

In the happy night, In secret, when none saw me,
Nor I beheld aught, Without light or guide, save that which burned in my heart.

This light guided me More surely than the light of noonday
To the place where he (well I knew who!) was awaiting me— A place where none appeared.

Oh, night that guided me, Oh, night more lovely than the dawn,
Oh, night that joined Beloved with lover, Lover transformed in the Beloved!

Upon my flowery breast, Kept wholly for himself alone,
There he stayed sleeping, and I caressed him, And the fanning of the cedars made a breeze.

The breeze blew from the turret As I parted his locks;
With his gentle hand he wounded my neck And caused all my senses to be suspended.

I remained, lost in oblivion; My face I reclined on the Beloved.
All ceased and I abandoned myself, Leaving my cares forgotten among the lilies.


One dark night,
fired with love's urgent longings
- ah, the sheer grace! -
I went out unseen,
my house being now all stilled.

In darkness, and secure,
by the secret ladder, disguised,
- ah, the sheer grace! -
in darkness and concealment,
my house being now all stilled.

On that glad night,
in secret, for no one saw me,
nor did I look at anything,
with no other light or guide
than the one that burned in my heart.

This guided me
more surely than the light of noon
to where he was awaiting me
- him I knew so well -
there in a place where no one appeared.

O guiding night!
O night more lovely than the dawn!
O night that has united
the Lover with his beloved,
transforming the beloved in her Lover.

Upon my flowering breast
which I kept wholly for him alone,
there he lay sleeping,
and I caressing him
there in a breeze from the fanning cedars.

When the breeze blew from the turret,
as I parted his hair,
it wounded my neck
with its gentle hand,
suspending all my senses.

I abandoned and forgot myself,
laying my face on my Beloved;
all things ceased; I went out from myself,
leaving my cares
forgotten among the lilies

Perhaps unwittingly, Tanzania declares itself out of communion with the Archbishop of Canterbury

According to Episcopal News Service, bishops of the Province of Tanzania, has passed an unusual statement, in which it declares itself out of Communion with the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church and numerous other bishops around the world. The statement comes just two months before Tanzania is to host a key meeting of Anglican Primates--a meeting at which the Archbishop of Canterbury is to preside.

Much of the statement is aimed at the Episcopal Church, but in the section currently under discussion on several blogs the Church states

1. Mindful of the fact that the Anglican Church of Tanzania issued statements in 2003 following the election, confirmation and eventual consecration to the Episcopate of Gene Robinson a practicing homosexual clergyman, whereby we declared that henceforth we are not in communion, namely, communio in sacris, with:

i. Bishops who consecrate homosexuals to the episcopate and those Bishops who ordain such persons to the priesthood and the deaconate or license them to minister in their dioceses;
ii. Bishops who permit the blessing of same sex unions in their dioceses;
iii. Gay priests and deacons;
iv. Priests who bless same sex unions.

Points i encompass most bishops in the Episcopal Church and the Church of England, and probably numerous other provinces of the communion as well. I am not sure this is what the Tanzanians meant to do, but when you start drawing these sorts of lines, sometimes you put the wrong people on the outside.

Two things are worthy of note:

1. Before the consecration of Gene Robinson in 2003, when it was clear that the Episcopal Church, the Church of England, and many other provinces of the Communion were ordaining gay men and women to the priesthood, Tanzania, like most other African provinces, did not protest. Now, however, these previously un-protested ordinations are Communion-breaking issues.

2. The Tanzanians aren't just out of communion with non-celibate gay priests and deacons, but with even celibate gay priests and deacons.

The Archbishop v. The Scotist

The Most Rev. Dr. Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury, has written an interesting essay in the Times education supplement, in which he argues:

"Quite often in discussion of Christian attitudes to homosexuality .... it is taken for granted that any statement that a form of behaviour might be sinful is on a par with the expression of hate, so that it is impossible for a conservative Christian, Catholic or Protestant or, for that matter, an orthodox Muslim to state the traditional position of their faith without being accused of something akin to holocaust denial or racial bigotry.

"Yet the truth surely is that while it is wholly indefensible to deny respect to a person as such, any person's choices are bound to be open to challenge. Any kind of behaviour or policy freely opted for by a responsible adult is likely to be challenged from somewhere; it isn't as though sexual activity were different from any other area of conscious choice. And to challenge behaviour may be deeply unwelcome and offensive in a personal sense, but it is not a matter for legislative action."

The Anglican Scotist has also written an interesting essay, in which he responds:

"While Williams thinks that homosexuals might freely choose not to engage in any homosexual activity at all, and that such a choice would not harm them as persons, I think you can see the truth is quite otherwise. ... It is extraordinary, and indeed indicative of a bizzare affection for Abstractions, that Williams would consider advocacy of a ban on all homosexual activity neutral with respect to the well-being of homosexuals.

"If he is going to so theorize with any credibility, he'll have to draw a firm red line; maybe he meant to, but was just to shy (poor Rowan!): let 'homosexual activity' mean 'homosexual intercourse'. But even so--can we seriously entertain advocacy on a ban on such for all homosexuals is neutral with regard to their well-being as persons? Consider the effects of such a ban on all heterosexual persons. We would see, I think, lots of straight folks become mentally ill: neurotic, clinically depressed, et al. And a few might be driven to criminal acts nevertheless. Indeed--did not Paul speak to this effect about heterosexuals? Better to marry than burn? If we recognize 'the' or even 'a' need for intercourse among heterosexuals, why would we fail to recognize it among homosexuals?"

I am largely in agreement with the central purpose of the archbishop's piece, which is to argue against the supression of Christian unions at British universities. I agree that holding traditional attitudes on sexuality is not sinful, and I am something of ACLU type when it comes to free speech. I generally believe that the answer to bad speech is more speech, and I don't really understand why ostensibly liberal people in Canada and the U. K., and on American campuses, have backed laws against hate speech. But in making an argument for banning certain kinds of speech, but allowing others, the archbishop offers what strikes me as an exceedingly reductive view of the role that physical intimacy plays in human life.

Tobais Haller has also commented on Dr. Williams' essay. He notes:

Does the fact that a negative opinion towards another rests on some theological opinion or belief wipe away any guilt? One needs to examine, I think, first, if the opinion is indeed a matter of the faith, or a mere cultural artifact. In the present situation "homosexuality" has been elevated to a place in our discourse that a cold-blooded examination of Scripture hardly warrants. (One might also do well to see if the "belief" is true or not; that is, does it truly reflect what the tradition and reason and the Scripture point to?) But secondly, must we not also consider the harm done by holding the negative opinion, even if it is justifiable on the foregoing bases; to ask, What is the fruit of this opinion? Does it build up, or does it in fact cause suffering? For generations, it was held as a core theological belief, justified by Scripture, that women are inferior to men; I need not retail the suffering such a theological opinion has wrought, and wreaks. Racism too finds ample justification in Scripture and the tradition -- and it is no use suggesting that such matters are trivial or medieval when the Dutch Reformed Church in South Africa only finally repented of their doctrinal support for apartheid in this last decade.

If you plan to comment, please read all three items first. Thanks.

The last of The Wire

Steve James and Alex Kotlowitz discuss the heart-wrencing last episode of The Wire on Slate. Here and here.

Kotlowitz offers a trenchant quote from Nelson Algren, the great Chicago novelist:

"We are willing, in our right-mindedness, to lend money or compassion—but never so right-minded as to permit ourselves to be personally involved in anything so ugly. We'll pay somebody generally to haul garbage away but we cannot afford to admit that it belongs to us."

God Among Us

God Among Us

Christmas Message 2006
By Katharine Jefferts Schori

God loved us so much that he came to dwell among us, to tent among us in human flesh... There is a wonderful echo there of God's presence in the tent while Israel wandered in the wilderness. The gift of the Incarnation says that God is willing to take on the human tent of flesh and be one with and among us.

That frail tent of flesh proves capable of holding divinity, but also capable of yielding up its spirit. Irenaeus and Athanasius insisted that the gift of Incarnation was that "God became human, that we might become divine." You and I are bearers of the image of God, and you and I share in Incarnation, for Jesus has walked this way before us. God is born in us as well.

The vulnerability of being born in obscurity, to a peasant refugee couple, in an out of the way place, says to us that God is with us in the smallest parts of life -- perhaps a reminder that we, too, may discover God in those humble and unexpected places if we are willing to go in search.

Matthew's story of the wise ones from the east who come searching for this new thing, this remarkable child, is equally a reminder that God's love extends to all, that God comes among us in human form for all humanity, not just for our co-religionists, not just for those who expect God's appearing in the same way we do, and not just in predictable ways at the altar.

Recently I watched and listened to a woman on a bus as she engaged in conversation with a three-year-old boy. The woman asked the child what happens at Christmas, but the boy, though highly verbal, wasn't able to say much. With his parents' apparent agreement, she asked him about Santa Claus, and began to tell him all about waking up on Christmas Day and finding presents. She didn't talk about St. Nicholas on his feast day, or about Jesus and his birth, but she did convey a sense of the wonder and love connected to Christmas.

That is an opening for those of us who claim to be followers of Jesus. It is the kind of invitation heard by the wise ones from the east. Even Santa Claus –- far removed though today's version of the story may be from the holy faithfulness of St. Nicholas -- can be another kind of star leading others to the humble stable where God comes among us. God continues to come among us in humility, God continues to be birthed in fragile opportunities that will need to be nourished and tended by others. The little boy on the bus has had his mind and heart opened to hear the bigger story about Christmas. Now, who will tell the old, old story of God's love to those so ready and eager to hear?

-- The Most Reverend Katharine Jefferts Schori is Presiding Bishop and Primate of the Episcopal Church.

It happens in England, too

According to the Sunday Telegraph, schism is coming to the Church of England with as many as 100 parishes breaking with their liberal bishops to place themselves under the authority of a panel of retired conservative bishops.

The issue, of coure, is homosexuality.

The Rev. Giles Fraser has responded strongly on behalf on Inclusive Church. Their release says in part:

These proposals represent part of a wider pattern which will, if allowed to continue, distort and ultimately destroy the Anglican Communion. Across the Communion, we see attempts to replace the breadth and openness of Anglican theology with a confessional, protestant theology and practice. The recent irregular ordinations in the Diocese of Southwark, the statements of the Primates of the Global South at Kigali in July, the moves by the diocese of San Joaquin and parishes in the Diocese of Virginia to remove themselves from the Episcopal Church, and the appointment by the Church of Nigeria of Martin Minns as a Bishop in the United States are all part of this strategy.

Alternative Episcopal Oversight, when it was created, set a dangerous precedent for Anglican Christianity. It implied that a “mix and match” church was possible, with people and parishes being able to choose their bishops according to their views on specific issues. The request for Alternative Primatial Oversight in the USA is partly a result of this precedent. This proposal to bring bishops out of retirement in order to promote a view of the church which appears increasingly single-issue and dominated by homosexuality is another.

We repeat, as we have said before; the Anglican Communion is a gift. In all its complexity and untidiness it has a great deal to offer the world.

The tapir in the manger?

Have a look at window #9 in our online Advent calendar. And while you are at it, have a look at this essay by Andrew Linzey in the Times of London, which begins by asking how the ox and donkey came to end up in the traditional Western nativity scene, and ends by arguing that: "the 'Christian' view of animals is altogether more ambiguous than many suppose. Despite the almost universal view that Christianity teaches that animals are here for our use, the Bible never explicitly endorses that idea — its originator was (most probably) Aristotle."

Another dubious claim from Truro

The leadership of Truro Church continues to advance extremely dubious claims as it urges members of their congregation to move the parish into the Church of Nigeria.

In this article on the church's Web site, Mary Springmann contends that the Convocation of Anglicans in North America (the name of the American wing of the Nigerian church) is "an authentic part of the Anglican Communion and acknowledged by the Primates and by Archbishop of Canterbury."

I suppose the word "acknowledged" is open to various interpretations. But just for the record, when Archbishop Peter Akinola of the Church of Nigeria announced his plans to found CANA during a visit to Truro in October 2004, the Archbishop of Canterbury released the following statement within hours:

"The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Rowan Williams, and Archbishop Akinola have discussed difficulties for some Nigerian congregations in the USA arising from the General Convention decision and the consecration of Gene Robinson. Whilst the issue and its presenting difficulties were discussed, and the role of the 'network' raised as providing a possible solution within the structures of ECUSA, the possibility of a Nigerian convocation in the United States and of the Nigerian House of Bishops commending, recommending or choosing a bishop was not raised and formed no part of these discussions."

How you get from that statement to an "acknowledgment" is not clear to me, and I am aware of no intermediate step.

The Episcopal News Service story on Williams' statement is here.

The second section of Following the Money, which makes clear that tomorrow's vote at Truro has been in the works for more than two years, is here.

Mark Harris has also noted the peculiar claims being made by Truro's leadership.

Calling all Dickens fans

Last year, Linda Freeman, a lecturer in Victorian literature at the University of Maryland and member of our diocesan council led an interactive online seminar on the spirituality of A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. We removed the interactive function when Advent ended, but the excerpts and Dr. Freeman's study questions are still there. Those who have been charmed by the spiritual journey of Ebenezer Scrooge should take a look. Scroll down to Advent I and start reading.

Talking to children about God

In "On Faith," it's new Web-based feature, The Washington Post asks: Millions of people are in mixed faith marriages or are unsure about their conception of God. How would you advise them to describe God to their children over the holiday season?

Sister Joan Chittister's answer is here, and the Rev. Bill Tully's is here.


We’ve been discussing why the leadership of Truro and the Falls Church, two Episcopal parishes across the river from us in northern Virginia seem unwilling to acknowledge that adding two plus two gives you four. They and a handful of anonymous blog posters don’t want to admit that the Church these parishes are rushing to join favors restrictions on freedom of religion and the institutionalization of anti-gay bigotry.

The bill which contains these restrictions is beneath the continue reading button. It has provoked an international outcry which the leaders of the two congregations have studiously ignored. Sixty members of the European Parliament have signed a letter decrying the provisions in the bill. Sixteen human rights organizations have written to the Nigerian government. Internal opposition is organizing within Nigeria.

Bishop Martyn Minns, the clerical leader of Truro, distanced himself from this legislation back in February when he was a priest in the Episcopal Church, but he hasn’t done so since becoming a bishop in the Church of Nigeria. Minns did, however offer an Orwellian clarification of Archbishop Peter J. Akninola of Nigeria’s feelings toward homosexuals on the Truro Web site. Akinola apparently believes that gay people should be treated with “respect.”

If you look here you will see the Nigerian Church showering respect on Davis Mac-Illaya, a gay Nigerian who is engaged in what may soon be the crime of organizing other gay Nigerians.

The unwillingness of the churches' leadership (whose feud with Bishop Peter Lee of Virginia is heating up) to disassociate themselves from this bill, and from Archbishop Akinola's support of the bill, raises an interesting question about their intentions toward their fellow Americans. As representatives of the Nigerian church in the United States, will they favor depriving the citizens of this country of their rights to speech, assembly and religion? Or is there some moral justification for confining the deprevation to citizens of Nigeria?

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Martyn Minns, clarifier

Bishop Martyn Minns purports to clarify, but obfuscates instead.

He passes on this note on the Truro homepage:

"In a recent Washington Post article, Archbishop Peter J. Akinola was characterized as 'an advocate of jailing gays.' That is not true.

Archbishop Akinola believes that all people—whatever their manner of life or sexual orientation—are made in the image of God and deserve to be treated with respect. 'We are all broken and need the transforming love of God,” Archbishop Akinola said to me during a recent conversation.'

Archbishop Akinola also said, 'Jesus Christ is our example for this. He refused to condemn the woman caught in adultery instead he said. ‘Go now and sin no more.’ That is an essential part of the message of the Gospel and the teaching of our congregations.' ”

Please. One does not support laws criminalizing certain activities unless one wants to put the people who break those laws in jail. Archbishop Akinola supports a piece of Nigerian legislation that includes the possibility of five year's imprisonment for gay people, and their advocates, should those people exercise rights to speech, assembly and religion in ways that the law proscribes. As I've pointed out numerous times, this bill has been criticized by the U. S. Department of State and numerous human rights groups.

In addition, Archbishop Akinola and his spokesman Canon Tunde Poopola have carried out a bizarre and thus far comically inept acampaign of slander against Davis MacIyalla, who has established several branches of Changing Attitude, the UK's version of Integrity, in Nigeria. (Matthew Thompson's links about halfway down the page here are particularly revealing in this regard.)

Leaving the Episcopal Church does not require associating with those who endorse the violation of human rights. It does not require associating with those who bear false witness against their enemies. This is a choice Bishop Minns has made freely. It is a choice that the vestries of Truro Church and the Falls Church have made freely as well. They are entitled to their choice, but we are entitled to elucidate what they have chosen.

While on the subject of Bishop Minns veracity, I can't conclude without mentioning this passage from an op-ed that Bishop John Bryson Chane wrote on this issue in February in The Washington Post:

"Were Archbishop Akinola a solitary figure and Nigeria an isolated church, his support for institutionalized bigotry would be significant only within his own country. But the archbishop is perhaps the most powerful member of a global alliance of conservative bishops and theologians, generously supported by foundations and individual donors in the United States, who seek to dominate the Anglican Communion and expel those who oppose them, particularly the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada. Failing that, the archbishop and his allies have talked of forming their own purified communion -- possibly with Archbishop Akinola at its head."

Now have a look at the conclusion of the then not-yet-bishop Minns' response, writen a few days later: "[Akinola's] opposition to ECUSA’s repudiation of traditional Biblical teaching on human sexuality is a matter of record and a viewpoint that is supported by the vast majority of Christendom. However, the idea that he is looking to establish a ‘purified communion’ bankrolled by cabal of conservatives in the USA has no basis whatsoever and is surely the product of an overheated episcopal imagination. (Italics mine.)

So here we are ten months later and Martyn Minns is a bishop in Peter Akinola's American Church, and he and the Global South Steering Committee (led by Akniola and Minns) have announced plans to support the creation of a new “orthodox” –a fine word that is sadly morphing into a synonym for anti-gay—province in the United States.

That Bishop Chane, some imagination. That Martyn Minns, what a … clarifier.

Diana Butler Bass on the state of the Episcopal Church

Diana Butler Bass, who will be the featured speaker at our diocesan convention at the end of next month, did an online chat today for The Washington Post.

I was particularly intrigued by this answer:

I do not believe that there are only two sides in this dispute -- I can identify five distinct groups of Episcopalians.

Yes, there are two parties in tension: Old-line liberals and radicalized conservatives. This is the fight we most often read about in the media. However, you point out a third possibility, a centrist party that is trying to navigate between the two extremes (Bishop Peter Lee in Virginia would represent the centrists). From my own research, you are right. The extremes aren't the whole story.

However, there are two additional groups, and these two are far less noticed. I refer to these groups (they don't have a clear "party" identity) as "progressive pilgrims" and "emergent conservatives." These two groups tend to see "issues" like this one as secondary concerns to the practice of Christian faith and are more concerned with things like the practice of hospitality, living forgiveness, practicing reconciliation, learning to pray, feeding the hungry, caring for the environment, and maintaining the Anglican practice of comprehensiveness (being a church of the "middle way"). They may lean slightly left or slightly right on "issues," but reject partisan solutions to theological problems. Both progressive pilgrims and emergent conservatives are far more interested in unity than uniformity; and they appreciate diversity in their congregations as a sign of God's dream for humanity to live in peace.

More on Mark Lawrence

Tobias Haller and Mark Harris have weighed in. Update: Andrew Gerns, too.

(If this issue is new to you, there is background here.)

What are the theological implications...

of this?

Excerpted from the Times of London:

The richest 2 per cent of adults own more than half the world’s wealth, according to the most comprehensive study of personal assets.


The richest 10 per cent of adults accounted for 85 per cent of assets. The bottom 50 per cent of the world’s adults owned barely 1 per cent of global wealth.


In terms of wealth distribution the US was among the most unequal, whereas Japan had one of the lowest levels of inequality. Britain ranked with Russia, Indonesia and Pakistan in wealth inequality

The Feast of St. Nicholas

Today is the feast of St. Nicholas. If you follow the link to the Daily Office on our online Advent calendar you will find a nice essay by James Kiefer on the real St. Nick called "Nicholas of Myra: Friend of Children, Giver of Gifts, Climber of Chimneys, etc."

The mother, or maybe it is father, of all St. Nicholas sites, however, is maintained by the Saint Nicholas Center, founded by Carol Myers and our friend and colleague Jim Rosenthal, director of communications for the Anglican Communion. There you can find the saint's bio, info on how his feast is celebrated in other countries, and some online children's activities of which I am envious, and, as they say on television promos, much, much more.

The only thing missing, to my way of thinking is a podcast of Maurice Chevalier's version of Jolly Old St. Nicholas. Something about the way he articulates the words "Millie wants a picture book," always brings a smile to my face.

By the way, Jim and co-author Joe Wheeler have written St. Nicholas: A Closer Look at Christmas, which you can learn about here.

Update: Ruth Gledhill of the Times covered the saint's visit to Sloan Square on the 6th.

Disarray on the right?

Father Jake has beaten me to the punch with an essay pulling together some of the recent developments within the Communion, and trying to ascertain what is happening on the Anglican right.

My two cents: in political terms, we now have three camps in the Communion: liberals; people aligned with N. T. Wright and Fulcrum who hope to oust The Episcopal Church from the Communion by producing a covenant that we can't sign; and the Akinolists, who will try (and fail) to force The Episcopal Church out of the Communion at the Primates meeting in February, and then explore the possibility to initiating a Communion-wide schism.

Of the two anti-gay factions, I am more concerned about the Wright group than the Akinola group in the long run. N. T. Wright is very good at putting a smiling, respectable facade on authoritarianism, whereas Akinola is already so thoroughly discredited that his allies don't even make him available to the media when he visits this country.

One other thing, as I've mentioned before, it is possible to die of a thousand cuts, so a comprehensive strategy isn't essential to inflicting damage on the Episcopal Church.

The Archbishop of Canterbury's Christmas Message

Christmas sets us free; and if the memory of William Wilberforce and the great campaigners against slavery means anything, it sets us free to set others free. It breaks open the prison of blind selfishness, it challenges the lazy way in which we take for granted the misery of others as a background to our lives. So Christmas now should prompt us to ask, 'Whose misery are we taking for granted and not noticing? Where are today's slaves?' The coming year will have a lot of events that should help us look for answers to these questions – though most of us know some of the answers: child soldiers, victims of sex trafficking, people who have lived for decades in an environment of ceaseless violence or who have lost their homes or countries through this violence.

Read it all.

Mark Lawrence responds

Simon Sarmiento of Thinking Anglicans has a copy of the answers that Mark Lawrence, bishop-elect of South Carolina, has provided to various bishops and Standing Committees who will be voting on whether to consent to his election.

Today's Advent window

I wanted to say a special word about the giving opportunity in today's window on our online Advent calendar.

Last month, a fire destroyed 400 shanty homes in the Dukathole settlement outside of Johannesburg in the Diocese of the Highveld. The blaze left more than 1,000 children homeless. We are trying to raise money to help some of those children and their families get back on their feet.

Children in our dioceses are filling mite boxes to aid in the effort. If you can help out, we'd appreciate it.

Dylan fleshes out the picture

Sarah Dylan Breuer has written an essay about the "increasing chaos" among breakaway movements within, or just outside of, the Episcopal Church. It serves as a useful counterpoint to The New York Times amusing-were-it- not-damaging portrayal of Saturday's vote in San Joaquin as "one more step in a carefully planned strategy by conservative Episcopalians in the United States and primates of Anglican provinces, many in the developing world, to unite the conservatives, claim the mantle of Anglicanism and isolate the Episcopal Church."

The notion that the Episcopal right is marching with one mind, in one pattern, toward one goal would come as news to anyone who is paying attention, including the leaders of the Episcopal right. But the left shouldn't take too much comfort in that. It is possible to die of a thousand cuts.

Archbishop Rowan responds to the Episcopal Majority

From Episcopal Majority:

On November 9, the Rev. Bill Coats, on behalf of the Steering Committee of The Episcopal Majority, sent two letters to the Archbishop of Canterbury. The first urged him to reject the requests of a few bishops of The Episcopal Church for "alternative primatial oversight" (or a "commissary").

The second recommended that the Archbishop ask the Most Rev. Drexel Gomez, Archbishop of the West Indies, to step down as Chairman of the Covenant Design Group.

The ABC has responded, saying in part:

"I ought to say for clarity's sake. I fully accept that I have no jurisdiction in the USA and I have not sought and am not seeking to impose any new structure. I share your own concern that we avoid so far as humanly possible both rhetoric and action that further fracture the Episcopal Church and other Anglican provinces. I have had informal discussions with a number of parties in TEC, of very diverse opinions, as to what future possibilities there are, but I do not appproach this with a pre-cooked agenda of my own. The principle of a 'covenant' has been brought forward chiefly because of a widespread recognition that existing historic links and bonds are not proving effective as expressions of mutual accountability. This conclusion is sufficiently widespread to give some ground for thinking that the Quadrilateral may need some glossing or expansion."

Read it all.

PB laments vote in San Joaquin

From ENS

Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori has offered the following response to actions of Bishop John-David Schofield and the Convention of the Fresno-based Diocese of San Joaquin. An ENS story reporting on the convention meeting, held December 1-2 with delegates participating from the diocese's 48 congregations, will be posted later today.
Response to San Joaquin's Convention

I lament the actions of the Bishop and Convention of the Diocese of San Joaquin to repudiate their membership in the Episcopal Church. While it is clear that this process is not yet complete, the fact that the Bishop and Convention have voted to remove the accession clause required by the Constitution and Canons of the Episcopal Church would seem to imply that there is no intent to terminate this process before it reaches its full conclusion. Our task as the Episcopal Church is God's mission of reconciling the world, and actions such as this distract and detract from that mission.

I deeply lament the pain, confusion, and suffering visited on loyal members of the Episcopal Church within the Diocese of San Joaquin, and want them to know of my prayers and the prayers of many, many others.

I continue to consult with others involved in responding to this extracanonical action.

The Most Reverend Katharine Jefferts Schori
Presiding Bishop and Primate
The Episcopal Church

Leaving is one thing, Nigeria another

Michelle Boorstein of The Washington Post has story on the impending vote by Truro and the Falls Church to leave the Episcopal Church. I wish they wouldn't, but if they must, I hope it happens with a minimum of drama. There is one point I'd like to pick up on, though.

Boorstein writes:

Some members of the two Fairfax churches say they are comfortable with the arrangement because Minns is their "missionary bishop." However, they know there are questions about a suburban Washington congregation technically under the leadership of Akinola, who has supported a new Nigerian law that penalizes gay activity, whether private or "a public show of same sex amorous relationship," with jail time.

Jim Pierobon, a member of The Falls Church serving as a spokesman for both Fairfax churches, said he believes Akinola is trying to ease tensions between Nigerian Anglicans and Muslims by supporting the law. That doesn't mean the leadership issue doesn't weigh on Pierobon's conscience.

"I can't ignore what's gone on," he said Friday. "It gives me pause. But I understand it well enough that it's not a show-stopper."

Mr. Pierobon understands less than he thinks he does, as readers of Matt Thompson's comprehensive coverage of this issue on Political Spaghetti well know. There is no evidence that Muslims had any role in the legislation that Archbishop Peter Akinola of Nigeria is supporting, or that his support of the legislation means anything to Muslims one way or the other. (As a side point, what if there were? It would be a good thing that he is willing to infringe the civil rights of gay people and their allies to have better relationships with Muslims?)

The inconvenient fact is that the Nigerian legislation violates basic human freedoms, and that numerous human rights organizations--Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, etc., have said so. Our own State Department, not a hot bed of left wing radicalism, has criticized the bill. So have the authors of this piece, both of whom are prominent in groups that oppose the inclusion of non-celibate gay people in the ministries of the Church..

The Anglican right in this country and in England have struggled with their response since news about this bill first broke. First, they denied that the Nigerian Church supported it. Presented with statements from Akinola's spokesman, they denied that Akinola himself supported it. Once Akinola made his support undeniable, they denied that the bill was actually repressive. Once that position became untenable thanks to the close analysis of human rights groups active in Nigeria, they moved to Mr. Pierobon's position--blame the Muslims.

To me this dance of evasion indicates (I hope) a deep unease with the nature of the Nigerian bill, coupled with the recognition that criticizing Archbishop Akinola for his attitudes toward homosexuality would be politically unwise, especially now that Truro's rector Martyn Minns has become a bishop in the Nigerian Church.

Unfortunately, the folks at Truro and the Falls Church seem to be preparing to choose on the side of expediency. It is one thing to leave the Episcopal Church and another to ally one's self with a province that favors using the machinery of the state to silence and imprison its political and theological opponents. There are numerous other Anglican provinces that are in agreement with the majorities at Truro and The Falls Church on homosexuality. Why must they choose Nigeria?

Finally, I am wondering if the future Church of Nigeria members at Truro and the Falls Church would favor American legislation similar to the legislation their Church is supporting in Nigeria? If so, what is your strategy for rolling back the First Amendment? If not, can you help me undertand the theological justification for criminalizing the practice of certain human rights in one country, but not in another?

Bishop Lee of Virginia writes to Truro, the Falls Church and others


December 1, 2006

On Friday, Dec. 1, the Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia, Peter James Lee, sent a letter to the rectors, vestries and wardens of congregations known to have engaged in a “40 Days of Discernment” program to consider their place in The Episcopal Church and the Diocese of Virginia. Some of those congregations have chosen to conclude that program with votes, to be held this month, to determine their future affiliation with the Episcopal Church and the Diocese of Virginia

In his letter, Bishop Lee highlighted that the members of those congregations are cherished members of the Diocese and the Episcopal Church, and that he and the Standing Committee hope they will decide to continue to worship as one, unified family.

“I pray you will remain in communion with your brothers and sisters in Virginia and take your full place in the life of the Diocese of Virginia,” he wrote. “Ours is a faith historically defined by our ability to bring together people with different theological emphases within traditional faith and order,” he added. Bishop Lee also stated his concern that any decision to leave the Episcopal Church will be a source of regret for future generations.

The letter also explained some of the potential legal and canonical consequences of a decision to separate from the Episcopal Church, addressing issues of property and personal liability.

“Along with the damaging effects any split would have on the Diocese as a whole and these churches in particular, we are concerned that these congregations may not fully understand the potential legal consequences of their actions,” said Russell Palmore, chancellor of the Diocese of Virginia. “The decision to leave the Diocese should be a fully informed one.”

To see the bishop's letter, click on continue reading

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Diocese of San Joaquin does I am not quite sure what

Meeting in convention today, the Diocese of San Joaquin has done something or other, but I am not quite sure what. The AP story is here. Father Jake and some others commentators are calling this a move toward session. But I am not persuaded they are right.

At first glace, at least, it seems to me that after weeks of proclaiming its desire to shake the dust of the Episcopal Church off of its feet, the diocese has instead expressed its disdain for dust and pronounced its feet clean.

Note this paragraph: The resolution was noticeably weaker than an amendment pulled this week that would have given delegates the choice to formally split with the U.S. denomination, which would have set off a legal battle over the diocese's millions of dollars in real estate.

Whatever the case, Bishop Schofield's convention address is worth reading because it gives one such a vivid sense of the man.

At second glance, there may be more here than I originally supposed, but I'm not sure I've got the background to figure it out. I still think the resolution to which we've paid the most attention (the beginning of Article II as I recall) is not particularly consequential. But elsewhere in Simon Sarmiento's extensive links I came across a resolution that, if passed on second reading next year, would declare the diocese a corporation sole. If that action were taken, and allowed to stand by the courts, it would establish diocesan sovereignty in matters of property. That would, obviously, be a radical departure from our current understanding of how we have organized ourselves, and I think Network strategists should note that it cuts both ways. Yes, diocesan ownership would trump national ownership, so in Network dioces that might be beneficial. But it would also trump congregational ownership. So in non-network dioceses it would harm the larger cause.

At least that is my not especially educated read. It does seem to me that San Joaquin is trying to force the national church to take them to court. I hope we here something from 815 or Bishop Saul's property committee soon, because this is a confusing situation.

Here is The New York Times story which comes with an erroneous headline. The diocese didn't vote to seceed, it appears to have voted to put itself in a position to seceed at its next convention. What is especially curious is that the Times teased this story on its front page. In what universe does the fact that a dioces with 7,000 people might vote to seceed from the church next year at this time constitute front page news?

The Nativity Story

The first reviews that I read of The Nativity Story were negative, and I decided to ignore it rather than trash it. But recently I have come across some more positive ones, and decided to provide some links. If you have seen it, weigh in.

We've got a nice audio-visual meditation based on The Magnificat here. (It's the second one down on the right.)

David Simon on the future of The Wire

Slate has an excellent interview with the creator of The Wire. My wife and I watched the next-to-last episode of the current season last night, and just sat on the couch afterwards, worrying about the four kids around whom this season's narrative is constructed, as though they actually existed. The show is that powerful. And if you've never seen it before, you can probably (depending on your cable system) call up the first episode of this season and watch it straight through, as though you were reading a novel. We did that with the first three seasons, renting them one at a time, and it was incredibly engrossing.

Careless talk

The Anglican Scotist rigorously debunks the unsupported charges of apostasy advanced by Bishop John-David Schofield of San Joaquin against the Episcopal Church. One key passage (boldfacing mine):

As with accusations that TEC is heretical following the acts of GC2003, we see--I believe--a propensity among TEC's high-profile critics to assume the worst without cogent argument. Namely, their pronouncements of heresy and apostasy imply--as astounding as it may seem--they belileve TEC recognizes (say) that an active homosexual man should not be ordained, and does it anyway, or that TEC has knowingly abandoned the Christian religion.

TEC's critics are on thin moral ice here. Their sustained imputation of the worst to TEC--in the face of what seems to me absolutely overwhelimg evidence to the contrary--could be merely innocent ignorance. Maybe, just maybe they really do, incredibly, in their hearts see TEC as proclaiming what it takes to be false or willfully abandoning the Christian religion. In doing so they rule out the possibility that TEC simply made a mistake, or is doing the best it can and has stumbled, or is just being sincere even if in a misguided way--all this conceding for the sake of argument that a theological mistake was made at GC2003, which I think is far from clear.

On the other hand, if these critics are being cynical, if they are not making these inflammatory imputations in innocent ignorance then we are witnessing the exercise not merely of vices contrary to faith, but of vices contrary to charity: Hatred, Discord, Contention, and dare I say Schism. The hardening of any "theological vices" is a matter of grave, even ultimate concern, but vices contrary to charity are are dispostions opposed to the very nature of God, and merit extremely close attention.

Alternative oversight plan gets "cautious welcome" from Canterbury

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, has given a cautious welcome to proposals outlined by the Episcopal Church in the United States to offer alternative forms of oversight to dissenting parishes and dioceses. Dr Williams said that the proposals would contribute to the process of determining future relationships.

"The meeting in New York to consider the questions raised by requests for 'alternative primatial oversight' has produced some imaginative proposals which represent, potentially, a very significant development.

"I am glad to see these positive suggestions and shall be giving them careful consideration. I hope that they will mark a step forward in the long and difficult process of working out future relationships within the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion in a manner faithful to the gospel requirements of forebearance and generosity."

Oops. Forgot the citation when I first posted this. It's here.

Marking World AIDS day

Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori has urged Episcopalians to join the ONE campaign as a way of marking World AIDS Day. Here is an excerpt from her statement, which you can read in full by clicking on "continue reading."

On this World AIDS Day, I urge all Episcopalians to join the "ONE Episcopalian" campaign, a unique partnership between the Episcopal Church and ONE: The Campaign to Make Poverty History. By becoming a ONE Episcopalian, you can unite your voice with more than 2.4 million Americans who are working, ONE by ONE, to create a world free of AIDS and deadly poverty. You can sign up online at, and it takes less than ONE minute.

The resources and strategies for preventing HIV and treating AIDS are fully within humanity's reach. Mobilization of resources by the United States and other countries over the past four years has increased treatment rates more than eight-fold in Africa and brought new hope to millions of people. Still, HIV-prevention efforts lag as infection rates continue to rise in many of the world's hardest hit regions. At least 4.3 million new infections occurred in the past year alone, with more than six in ten coming in Sub-Saharan Africa.

In order to turn the tide, governments must put full resources behind efforts like the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, and the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR). Moreover, existing programs have to be continually adapted to ensure that they are as dynamic as possible in meeting the needs of local communities. Most importantly, prevention and treatment efforts must be combined with efforts to fight poverty, empower women, and build the sustainable communities envisioned by the Millennium Development Goals.

2007 promises to be a significant year as both the U.S. Congress and the international community will face key decisions in the fight against AIDS and poverty worldwide. More than ever, the voices of citizens like us will be critical, and by joining the ONE Episcopalian Campaign, we can ensure that our voices are heard.

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