Against centralization

By R. William Carroll

Those of us who are not bishops have little choice but to watch the torrent of news coming out of the Lambeth Conference, and much of it is discouraging. Rowan Williams continues to support the general direction of the Windsor Report, including the call for an Anglican Covenant, an idea that many of us consider to be a terrible one, one which would jettison the freedom and decentralized structures at the heart of historic, normative Anglicanism. In addition, the rumors of a Faith and Order Commission, which some have rightly equated to the Holy Office (of the Inquisition) point us in a similarly depressing direction.

The usual calls to resist giving in to our anxieties and to "trust the process" are well taken. For what it's worth, with the single exception of the shameful exclusion of Gene Robinson (I still maintain that were I a bishop, I wouldn't attend under those conditions), I think that the process at Lambeth has been exceptional. The decision to go forward without resolutions (which may see attempts at sabotage) was simply a stroke of genius. The focus on anti-poverty work and the environmental crisis is also welcomed. Despite the absence of resolutions, I hope the bishops will find a way to issue a strong statement about wars of aggression and torture.

It is not mere anxiety, however, to have substantive concerns about the direction in which the Anglican Communion, under the questionable leadership of Rowan Williams, seems to be headed. Indeed, too many let themselves be bullied by those who insist that everything would go to hell in a handbasket if we didn't give in to the radical innovations advocated by the Windsor Report. (Or at least head fake, a la B033 that we might be willing so to do. No one seems to believe this ruse, and I take comfort in that.) This seems to be a solution that only a power hungry primate or bureaucrat could love, and despite the hype it will do little to advance God's mission. What the bishops of the Episcopal Church need to understand (some of them no doubt do), is that backing down on our commitment to the full inclusion and ministries of all the baptized would be (in Michael Hopkins phrase) "evangelical suicide." I trust that LGBT bishops and allies have communicated this to the other bishops at Lambeth.

Centralized structures may for the moment serve the perceived needs of evangelicals and traditionalist Catholics, as well as churches in parts of the world that retain cultural opposition to same sex relationships. They will choke and kill the Church's mission in our context, where we really need alternatives to the theocratic religious right.

It is up to us, who value historic, normative Anglicanism to push back against these developments with all our strength. The strategy of appeasement, embodied in B033, was never a good idea. If we buy our "place at the table," by sacrificing the principles of the Baptismal Covenant, it is too high a price.

In the months and years to come, we will all face choices. These choices are framed by our baptismal vows. At present, the Lambeth Conference doesn't have any more power than we give it. We need to keep this in mind. In the aftermath of the Conference, we should all do our best to make it clear that, if forced to choose between our Baptismal ecclesiology and the ecclesiology of quasi-papal centralization, we will choose the former every time.

God is indeed still in charge. While there is much to be concerned about, we should never be anxious. In our polity, bishops cannot make any decisions without the House of Deputies. Not even General Convention can stop God from loving God's LGBT children or keep the Kingdom from coming. Jesus Christ is our guarantee. But if General Convention does not pay attention to the Baptismal Covenant, it can make a huge mess of the Church. It is up to each one of us, once these conversations return to their proper venue in Anaheim, to do all in our power to keep the Episcopal Church as close as we can to God's dream of a table at which all are welcome.

Ultimately, the only process we can trust without qualification is God's process. And in that process at least, each one of us is welcomed with open arms.

The Rev. Dr. R. William Carroll serves as rector of the Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd in Athens, Ohio (Diocese of Southern Ohio). He received his Ph.D. in Christian theology from the University of Chicago Divinity School. He co-edits The Covenant Journal with Lane Denson.

I-phone theology

by Richard Helmer

On Friday, July 11th, I rose early with designs on the AT&T store in San Rafael. It was the day the new improved iPhone was hitting the stores, and Apple had done what it always does best – generated fanatical demand for their newest, latest, coolest product. Sure enough, I got to the cellular store at 6:45, credit card and drivers license in my pocket, to find a line of nearly forty people already waiting there. They were stretched out around the block, Starbucks cups in hand, waiting outside the door to be among the first to have the new iPhone launching at 8:00 sharp. There was laughter, a bit of embarrassment, a few quarters for the parking meter, and then I was in line, too, feeling smug that I had beaten the clock as more and more people filed behind me.

Apple had created in me and a million other people a rather expensive iPhone-shaped hole. We were bound and determined to get one to fill that little void. What made it truly silly was that I already have one, and it’s only a year old. It’s just not as fast as the new one, just not as snazzy. So I’d been pining away for the new model for weeks, fed by a steady stream of advertising and commentary online, the happy sales pitch of a guy with glasses in a plain black sweater telling me how convenient, compact, productive, efficient, and cool my life would be with the shiny new piece of plastic with a glass screen and a computer chip inside my pocket.

For about an hour, I enjoyed talking with the people around me in line. There was the lady behind me with two dogs. I wondered if they needed iPhones, too. She was having a lively chat with her son about whether or not they could upgrade based on their current cellular plan, and whether the new data plan was worth the cost. The father and his son in front of me talked about all the new programs that could now be downloaded to the gadget. The lady in front of them was sitting on the sidewalk, furiously scribbling down all the phone numbers from her old iPhone’s contacts application. She’d dropped hers in water a few weeks earlier. It didn’t turn off any more, and she couldn’t synchronize it with her computer, so she had to turn to the archaic mode of pen and paper or she’d lose all her important data when she upgraded.

I was starting to feel a little sorry for her when sales people from the store came out to chat with us in line: to make sure we understood all that was required of us to get our hands on the new gadget; to make sure we understood our choices; to make change for the parking meters. They counted heads and assured us there was enough stock to sell us all an iPhone that morning. Their aim was good business: to make us as comfortable as possible as we desperately waited for their generous hospitality in the shiny, clean store – generous hospitality offered so that they could take our money and help us sign our lives away through a new two-year contract for the shiny, black (or white, if you want it) beastie.

I assuaged any feelings of guilt by working on my sermon while standing in line, but I couldn’t quite get the question out of my mind: Why was I really there? At 8:00 the doors opened, and AT&T began processing the new iPhone customers five at a time, promising an average of ten minutes per customer. I timed things out in my head but remained in denial about the conclusion I was forced to draw. At 8:15 the line, already slow, slowed further. At 8:30, it had ground almost to a halt.

The rolling launch of the new iPhone around the world was clogging up Apple’s systems, the computers had stopped talking to one another, and people were looking down the gauntlet of waiting for countless hours in line to get the device. Everybody else was calling work or home to cancel appointments and moving the day’s schedule around so they could stay in line. Thing was, I couldn’t. At 8:45 I had to return to the church. Morning Prayer was on the agenda as well as a memorial service. I had to print my sermon for the memorial, and there was much to be done in the office.

Suddenly I was heartsick. I would not be getting the new iPhone that day. And didn’t I deserve one? My love for gadgets is almost legendary in the community where I serve. It gets so bad at times that my wife has resorted to declaring computing-free (and that means iPhone-free) zones in our apartment.

“For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit,” Paul writes the Church in Rome in this past Sunday’s Epistle. For Paul, “flesh” is a technical theological term, one that appears to encompass all in our nature that opposes or ignores the life that God offers us. “Flesh” means our addiction to all that is not God, to our quixotic pursuit of more with the insistence of scarcity biting at our heels, chasing us into selfish ambitions.

Living in America too frequently cannot be defined as a state of being. It might better be defined as a “state of consuming.” And with the economy, the housing market, the stock market, the consumer market all down for a time, we’re all suffering some symptoms of consumption withdrawal, withdrawal from living “according to the flesh.” Yet our sufferings are nothing compared with much of the world’s population as food prices soar and resources become scarcer.

As I left the line last Friday, I said goodbye to the people I had gotten to know a little in that hour-and-a-half. “Sorry,” said one man to me, with a look of true pity that I had to go to work, and I wouldn’t be getting my hands on the new gadget that morning. “Yeah,” I said, “me too.” But on the way home, glancing at my older iPhone model on the dash, I realized the little empty iPhone-shaped hole in me was an entry point for God, and through that grace I began to wake up.

I could see more clearly now that I was headed home to lead a memorial service for parishioner who, as a pediatrician, had given her lifetime so that countless children could have healthy lives in our community. How could I forget the blessings that I had received, that the fields all around are rich with the grain planted by our God, nourished by a creation that doesn’t toil in assembly lines or work out market strategies or weigh the cost of every action or every individual?

Ours is a God who explodes our human notions of value, and our theories of supply and demand with the simple formula of grace: the supply of God’s love for us and for all Creation is infinite and unbounded. Perhaps the silver lining of this economic downturn is that it can become for many of us a reality check, a graceful opportunity to get back in touch with what is truly important. This time is an opportunity to really help those who are truly in need, and to stop pursuing illusion and vanities. To learn again how to tend our wayward hearts and our deepest longings for a God who loves us.

Christian economics works this way:

We call a small portion of bread and a sip of wine God – Christ’s flesh and blood – spiritual things to which we are called. And we consume them. Because we know deep down we become what we consume. We consume them so we may return to being made in God’s image, become more Christ-like, more imbued with grace for a world in true need. And around this tiny sacrifice, worth not even pennies to the great economic and governmental powers of our day, is built the compassion and love that truly nourishes our lives.

That satisfies me in a way that no shiny new iPhone ever could. That calls me to give it up for greater things. And that is what God and I at last agreed on the way back from San Rafael, Highway 101 the path, the draw of true human life and real needs back at home guiding the turns of the wheel.

It took God a while to break through all the hype, but God finally did. God always does.

The Rev. Richard E. Helmer serves as rector of Church of Our Saviour, Mill Valley, Calif. He has served in interfaith, ecumenical, diocesan, and national church organizations, including Episcopal Asiamerica Ministries , stewardship, and ethnic and multicultural church settings. He blogs regularly about spirituality, ministry, Anglicanism, and church politics at Caught by the Light.

There's no place like home

By Jane Carol Redmont

My brother’s grandchildren look at me from the photos I have just received, fresh from the internet. They are at the beach, smiling under their cloth hats, cheeks round and dark eyes sparkling, the five-year-old boy and seven-month-old girl.

I wish I were there with them and their parents, my elder nephew and his wife. But the beach is in Portugal, where they live, thousands of miles away.

I have not yet met the baby. My plans to visit this summer have been scuttled by a combination of work and financial constraints. Family togetherness is expensive. Our immediate kin – my parents, their two children, and two more generations – are spread out over four countries.

We remain close. My brother and I exchange e-mails when he has just awakened in Italy and I am closing down the computer for the night in the U.S. My mother calls from Boston to ask about plans for a visit later in the summer and speaks of an old friend whose health is failing, of the presidential campaign, of her small garden plot, a raised bed which she tends at nearly ninety years of age.

A few days ago I spent the day at a small retreat center here in North Carolina, writing, resting, praying. After the afternoon thunderstorm, I walked the outdoor labyrinth on a path of pine needles bounded by large round stones. The air was full of birdsong. It was still humid, less thick than in the heat of the day but with a muggy texture that makes me miss the San Francisco Bay Area, where I lived for a decade before moving East three years ago.

At the entrance to the labyrinth is a stone birdbath. Or perhaps it is a holy water font – or both. It holds both soil at the bottom and fresh fallen rain. I am a Christian; I touch the water, make the sign of the cross. Walking the labyrinth, step by step, slowly, with no agenda or question in my mind, I follow the path. Images come to me of my family’s children, of the land where they live. I move back to the present, returning my attention to my steps, watching my feet, noticing thick tarpaulin where the bed of pine needles has thinned, walking. In my steps are the steps of my ancestors who came here as immigrants, mostly poor, some more privileged, all leaving their homes, never seeing their parents again. I walk, feeling this land, carrying other lands inside me.

I walk and remember the migrants and immigrants I met in Oregon eight summers ago, during a week-long walk for justice with labor and religious activists. For some, Spanish is a second language; they speak Mixteca and Zapoteca. In their bodies are layers of exile. I think of today’s migrants in Sudan, displaced by war and stalked by violence and hunger. My life is a palace compared to theirs.

Still, we share displacement and rebuilding, the tug toward and separation from family, the experience of communal bonds, accidental or intentional, that go beyond the kinship of blood. We take steps on foreign land.

On the same July 4 weekend as the children’s photos arrive, I hear from a high school friend from Paris. We have renewed contact after three decades, picking up where we left off, writing short, affectionate notes, celebrating a reunion with two other friends last fall. He writes a few lines from southeast France, where his parents have retired. The mere name of the town fills me with memories: stone houses, cobblestones, the smell of lavender and herbs in the surrounding countryside.

Later in the day, I attend a potluck party at the home of a couple of men who are friends from church and professional colleagues. We often spend holidays together: Easter dinner, Thanksgiving, sometimes our birthdays. We see each other more often than we see our families. We sing together at church, roll our eyes at stories from work, share news of our parents’ health. Today, on the Fourth of July, the house is full. Some of the guests have lived most of their lives here in the southern U.S. Others, like me, are recent transplants.

This land is not my land nor the land my body loves. It is not the place of my birth. In other ways it is becoming home, not least because of the church. These simultaneous truths speak to me as I walk, step by step, on a quiet summer evening in a labyrinth bounded with stone.

In the city of my birth, which will always be home, I am now also a stranger: I always return to visit, but have not lived there, by the Seine, since the year I turned twenty-one. In the city I miss, by the Pacific, where the air is soft and where I spent ten years, I could not live today. There is no work for me there.

Where is my land? Who are my people?

As a citizen of one nation raised in another, these questions used to haunt me, especially during my adolescent and young adult years. Later they mattered less, or mattered differently.

In some ways those of us who have lived astride cultures are a nation of our own. My family has and is its own culture. I have come to accept this.

In other ways my life has schooled me for the church, for broad belonging, for holding many people – and peoples – in my heart at once. It is no accident that theologies of the communion of saints and of the body of Christ are among those I treasure most and find most sustaining.

I still think a great deal about place, and belonging, and what it means to be a people or belong to a land. I think about home and exile.

With formative communities and loved ones in more than one culture, I am at home in several places. I also always miss someone or someplace – even when, adapting to a new location or tending to my present life, I may suppress for weeks on end the feelings of longing.

Paradoxically, it is in the taking of slow, mindful steps on the land where I now live that I can return fully to the memory of the other lands I love and of the people who live there.

My path may not be as unusual as it seems. Even those who have less migration and fewer cultures in their recent past carry the footsteps of their ancestors with them, learn and relearn a sense of place, discover the shape and meaning of kinship and friendship as they walk through life.

Jane Carol Redmont is theologian for the deacon formation program of the Diocese of North Carolina and chairs the diocesan Anti-Racism Committee. She teaches religious studies and women’s studies at Guilford College. Her book When in Doubt, Sing: Prayer in Daily Life will be published in a new edition by Ave Maria Press in October.

AD 525 and Why It Matters

This is the fourth of a series, 7 Dates and Why They Matter for the Anglican Faith. Links to previous installments are here.)

By Derek Olsen

Towards the middle of the fourth century, the desert of southern Egypt bore strange fruit. Dwellings and communities flowered in the harsh wastes—peopling the wilderness as one contemporary writer said. But these planters of communities were no colonists or pioneers, striking out to expand the frontiers of the Empire; instead, they saw themselves as militants, soldiers, carrying the fight to the enemy’s heartland—for where better than the demon-haunted wastes to find and conquer demons? Some went singly into the deserts to wrestle with demons within and without while others went in pairs or aligned themselves in communities. Indeed, in the writings they left they conceived themselves as a spiritual twin of the armies of Rome: Christ, their commander; the abbas and ammas, field commanders; monastics, the shield-walled battle line with the hermits striding before as champions to taunt, confuse, and discourage the milling enemy lines of the demonic horde. It was here in the sands of Egypt that Christian monasticism was born. This tradition, especially as mediated through a single book, was to have an great impact of Christianity on a whole and the Anglican tradition in particular.

As the days of Roman persecution came to an end and as Christianity found official favor, thousands flocked to Christian fonts. Some came who had feared persecution and death before, others, came newly convicted by its message of salvation. And, of course, as the religion’s status rose, those who sought status realized that a profession of Christianity could be quite an asset to their political profession. Where before being a Christian could get you killed, now it could get you promoted; Constantine had, in effect, created the nominal Christian. Monasticism was, in part, a reaction against this laxity and to maintain the urgency and discipline required to hold the faith in the days of martyrdom. Rather than seeking the minimum required to acquire the title, the hermits and monastics sought to embody the maximum: to live the life enjoined in the Scriptures—to give their goods freely, to embrace the path of the cross, to pray without ceasing. For them this was no “above and beyond”; it was nothing less than the requirements for being a Christian.

The legends of Antony, the father of the eremtical life (hermits and other solitaries), and Pachomias, father of the coenobitic life (monastics—both monks and nuns who live in communities), spread quickly through the Greek-speaking East. Their wisdom was simple, unconcerned with the heights of theological speculation but focused on the pastoral and the pragmatic—recognizing the temptations of sin and avoiding them through the cultivation of virtue. Their lack of studied sophistication and ignorance of classical (pagan) learning was heralded by their biographers (who were often highly educated and sophisticated themselves…) Indeed, Athanasius wrote that Antony was illiterate; his massive biblical learning depended not upon what he had read, but what he had memorized from what he heard. As the legends spread, the way of life spread with it: monastic communities sprang up in Palestine, Syria, Cappadocia (modern-day Turkey); the wisdom of the desert which had been passed down in stories and maxims was collected and organized by teachers like Basil the Great and Evagrius of Pontus.

The Latinate literati of Jerusalem—Jerome, Rufinius, and others—translated many of the Greek texts into Latin for the benefit of the church in the West, but the character of western monasticism was indelibly marked by the efforts of John Cassian. As a young man John Cassian and his companion Germanicus dwelt briefly as monks in Palestine but, unsatisfied by what they found there, headed to the Egyptian deserts themselves. Circling through Northern Egypt, they saw Egyptian rigor with their own eyes and sat at the feet of celebrated abbas—questioning, probing, and learning. Cassian returned to the West, rubbing shoulders with the great and powerful as he went (he was ordained to the diaconate by St John Chrysostom himself) and founded two monasteries in Marseille. In this setting, he penned his magnum opus in two works, the Institutes and Conferences. Taken together, these works represent a watershed moment in the history of the Western Church. Most of the writings from this period are occasional, topical, or homiletical; Cassian’s was the first work in the Christian West that strove to be complete. When we moderns think of Christian works that strive to be complete, we think of Aquinas’ Summa Theologica or Karl Barth’s Kirchliche Dogmatik but Cassian’s was not a systematic theology. True to the monastic ways, it was intended as a comprehensive Christian spirituality.

Monasticism took root in the West in a variety of forms. Fertilized by the rich traditions of Egypt, Syria, and the Western stands of Cassian, Caesarius of Arles, and Augustine of Hippo, it ranged from the exuberant asceticism of the Irish to the intellectualism of Cassiodorus’s Vivarium. As it matured over centuries, two rules—or sets of instructions for living the monastic life—came to the fore and of these one was eventually recognized as the finest expression of the monastic spirit in the West: the Rule of Saint Benedict. (The runner-up was the Irish Rule of Columbanus.) True to the monastic spirit of humility, obedience, and of patient transmission of received tradition over innovative originality, not much is known of Benedict, the circumstances of the Rule’s writing or even when exactly it was written. The Dialogues of Pope Gregory written some half a century after Benedict’s death is the only record of his life and, like the other lives of the monastic masters, is a theological and spiritual treatise in biographical form rather than a modern historical account of dates and deeds. Nevertheless, the Rule itself exudes a character and spirit of a piece with the individual descried by Gregory, one at home alongside Antony, Pachomius, and Cassian.

Sometime around the year 525 Benedict, working with and adapting earlier monastic material, created a deft epitome of Cassian’s work—capturing in a fraction of the space the heart of Cassian’s vision. At the same time, the Rule itself becomes a lens to read Cassian and the rest of the monastic tradition highlighting by its emphases themes and motifs explicit or latent in the earlier works. In this Rule, Benedict bequeaths four great gifts to the Western Church all of which—to one degree or another—have become embodied in the Anglican tradition.

The first is moderation. The child of a tradition that could be extreme and imprudent, Benedict counseled moderation in the pursuit of asceticism. You will find here no tales of hours-long prayer-sessions, standing with arms outstretching, while frigid sea water lapped around necks (as in Irish monastic traditions). Rather Benedict understood excess as, more often than not, a sign of initial exuberance likely to flare fast and hot—then burn out—not a temperament conducive to an entire way of life. Within communal life too, Benedict cautioned against one set of strictures for all in favor of a toleration that would accommodate the very old, the very young, the sick, and the weak. The strong should rejoice in their strength and ability to endure rigors, but not at the expense of the rest. Asceticism is intended to train the body and soul—not destroy them. The via media, the path of moderation, is upheld as the superior path.

The second great gift is Benedict’s ordering of prayer. “Pray without ceasing”, Paul commands, and the early monastics took him quite seriously. Their prayers of choice were the Psalms and various traditions utilized them in various ways. Benedict, again following the path of moderation reminds his readers that if the great monks of old could recite all 150 psalms each day, the least his readers could do would be to pray through them each week. Establishing an order by means of the seven day prayer offices and the night office through which the whole Psalter could be prayed each week, Benedict helped solidify the liturgical tradition of the West that ordered its day around these eight hours of prayer. Although reduced in number to two services of prayer (four in our current prayer book) the Anglican tradition inherited its liturgical rhythm from Benedict and also its love for the Psalms which still today form the heart of the Anglican services of morning and evening prayer.

The third great gift is Benedict’s pragmatism. The monastic tradition generally rejected obscure theological speculation in favor of serious introspection. The profound unflinching gaze into the eyes of the soul is much more uncomfortable than theological speculation; cataloging personal failings with an eye to their amendment and correction is more humiliating than solving great scholastic dilemmas. What mattered to the monks from Egypt and beyond is that they gathered in common for prayer, and eagerly sought a common salvation. While they neither (knowingly) sheltered nor excused heresy, their focus was elsewhere. The bulk of Benedict’s rule is taken up with mundane directions—who helps cook the food; how servers are selected and when they get to eat if their serving during mealtime; who keeps he door; how is discipline administered. And, in the midst of it all, these orderings and arrangements are seen as no less holy than the Work of God (the hours of prayer) in the chapel. Yes, the Work of God is to take precedence above all else, but in and through the Work of God one learns that all labor is somehow the work of God when undertaken with care, concern, and compassion. When the one performing the lowly tasks of serving table or washing feet comes to understand the labor as serving Christ in the other, work and prayer intertwine and inform one another. This pragmatism, this focus on common prayer, common action as the root of unity rather than ascription to theological formulas is dear to the Anglican way.

The fourth great gift of Benedict is his understanding of community. The early monastics understood that contending with demons was safer in numbers; demonic deceit plays on our weaknesses easier when we are alone. Benedict highlighted three particular vows that, taken together, foster and facilitate Christian community: obedience, stability, and conversion of life. As he makes painfully clear in his first chapter, the third—what seems to be the real goal of the monastic life—is, in fact, impossible without the first two. Only by remaining in the community, in the conversation can conversion of life be properly achieved; only under obedience to the authority placed over you, and understanding God to be both symbolized in and directing that relationship, can conversion occur.

The first three gifts of Benedict are the easier—the safer. The fourth is the resilient secret that has enabled Benedictine monasticism to remain as a viable force for almost fifteen hundred years. (By way of contrast—how many communes founded in the Sixties, a spare forty years ago, now remain…?) It is the fourth that challenges us now, that challenges our Anglican Communion now. In our current struggles, what does it mean to embody the vows that Benedict demanded? What does it look like to envision them within our current context? Benedict calls us to struggle for a stability that is neither sloth nor stagnation, an obedience that is neither feigned nor forced, holding forth as the prize the ongoing conversion of life as we grow towards the mind of Christ.

Sometime around 525 Benedict penned his rule—and now we need his wisdom more than ever: wisdom on prayer, wisdom on moderation, wisdom on the holiness of the pragmatic, and wisdom on the formation of effective Christian community that leads us ever deeper into love.

Derek Olsen is in the final stretch of completing a Ph.D. in New Testament (with a healthy side of Homiletics) at Emory University. His reflections on life, liturgical spirituality, and being a Gen-X dad appear at Haligweorc.

Say it on a sign

By Melody Wilson Shobe

Last week on vacation, I was driving through a small town in Florida when I caught sight of a church marquee. I have to admit, church marquees are probably my favorite part of any road trip; they are almost always either inspiring or amusing, and sometimes both. Every time I drive past a church, of any denomination, I find myself craning my head to see what their sign has to say. This one didn’t disappoint; the big black letters of movable type read: “Exposure to the Son may prevent burning.”

While I might not like the theology of the statement, it is hard to argue with its effectiveness. The church certainly knows its audience: the hoards of tourists flocking to the Florida coast for some sun. And it was also memorable; over a week later, I still remember the slogan and the church that was sporting it.

That, of course, is just one example; church signs don’t have to be all fire and brimstone. Donald Seitz’s book, The Great American Book of Church Signs, shows signs of all stripes from church marquees across the country. He reveals that they can be puns, like the California church sign that read: “God answers knee-mail.” Or they can reference modern cultural icons, like a Virginia church that advertised, “Wal-Mart is not the only saving place: come on in!” Or, like the Tennessee church sign, “Visitors Welcome. Members Expected,” and the Alabama church reminder, “Give God what is right, not what is left,” they can make a serious point about church membership or stewardship.

Whether they snag us by their truth, their humor, or their all too often painful puns, today’s church marquees usually do the job of catching our attention. It may be negative attention, or it could be positive, but one way or another, they get noticed. And yet, they don’t seem to be used by the Episcopal Church. My church, which does have a marquee with movable font, lists the same service times week after week, only occasionally adding a reference to an upcoming parish event. There are no colorful quips to remember, no pithy maxims to ponder. There’s just bare bones, straight up information. My church, I know, is not the only Episcopal Church that avoids using the catchy sign slogans. In Seitz’s book, which includes over a hundred churches from states across the country and a wide variety of different denominations, there is not a single Episcopal Church sign pictured.

Maybe colorful church marquees are just not “the Episcopal way.” But if that’s the case, I have to wonder why. Are we wary of theological pitfalls, or reducing the complex matter of faith to a simple slogan? Are Episcopalians too “prim and proper” to muck around with kitschy humor and playful (sometimes painful) puns? Or are we just not creative enough to come up with good weekly sayings? Is there a way that we could use our church marquees better than we do now, while still being true to our heritage and self-understanding?

The Rev. Melody Wilson Shobe is Assistant Rector at a church in the Diocese of Texas. She is a graduate of Virginia Theological Seminary and is married to fellow priest The Rev. Casey Shobe.

A good gripping story

By Heidi Shott

Already I’m worried about General Convention in 2015 because a pattern seems to be developing between every third major Anglican/Episcopal event and a loved one dying of cancer.

Two years on the job as a diocesan communicator, my plan in early 2000 was to go to General Convention in Denver to learn, to report and to hang out with my communicator buddies. But then my father’s lung cancer returned with a vengeance in the spring and it became obvious I wasn’t going anywhere. I reported on the events in Denver from afar, and he died on July 23, a week or so after convention packed up.

While I’ve written a lot about those summer weeks over the past eight years (links below), it’s been hard – as both as a communicator whose salary is paid by people putting money in the plate week after week and as a person of faith – to put into words the conflicted-ness I feel about the “big” doings of the Church like General Convention and Lambeth and the “big” doings of sitting at the bedside of a dying loved one.

Which is bigger? Which is more important? Which is of greater consequence? Which is the greater story to tell?

As the Lambeth Conference was about to commence and I was giving Flip Video lessons to our bishop and bishop coadjutor – who are, by the way, doing a dazzling job at www.ourlettersfromlambeth.blogspot.com - I was also worrying about my next-door neighbor and good friend, Martha.

Two years ago, Martha was standing at the local Memorial Day parade next to her husband of 53 years and a friend who happened to be a nurse. It started with the nurse saying, “You look yellow.” A month later it continued with an extraordinarily complicated surgery for pancreatic cancer called the Anglican-sounding Whipple procedure. Though she was in the hospital for most of the summer it was, ultimately, a success. Then a good year. An excellent, normal year. But last fall during a routine check-up, the bad news arrived that the cancer had returned. Months of chemo ensued. Besides this nasty form of cancer, Martha was the healthiest, busiest, most vital 79 year-old we know, so to see her slow down was hard.

Though we live in a rural little village surrounding a millpond and a fresh water lake at the head of a tidal river, our house, a big 220 year old mishmash, and their house, a winterized, expanded cottage, are no more than 30 feet apart. The daughter of a former owner of our house built the cottage for her young family in the 1950s. It resembles a family compound and in the ten years we’ve lived here, that’s increasingly how we’ve crafted our lives in relation to Martha and Roger. Martha shares our twin sons’ New Year Eve birthday. With no children of their own and no close family nearby, they keep close track of our lives and we keep close track of theirs.

Her illness is awful. It’s wrong and painful and it’s coming to its conclusion.

Late in June, we were about to go camping and hiking in Acadia National Park. Before we left, I stopped by to check on Martha who had called off the chemo and was feeling poorly. “Go to the hospital,” I said. “I’m worried about you.”

“I’m worried about me too,” she said from the sofa where she cradled her painful belly.

When we returned four days later, Roger called to say she had been admitted.

“She doesn’t want phone calls or visitors,” he told me. After a few days of that nonsense, I stopped in early one morning and sat with him while he ate his Raisin Bran before going to the hospital.

“Roger, don’t leave until I give you a note for her,” I said, whipping out their back door. “I’ll be right back.” If there’s just one thing I can do, it’s write a damn good note.

At noontime, my husband Scott came home for lunch and picked up the ringing phone. He called out the window to me on the deck where I was reading. “Roger says Martha wants you to visit. Afternoons are good.”

When I got there I saw that the week had taken its toll. She was on a morphine pump and had lost weight. Over the next few hours and on several visits since – first at the hospital and now in a skilled nursing unit – I’ve pushed her morphine button, put the straw to her mouth, applied blistex to her chapped lips, held her hand, stroked her shoulder, kissed her and chatted with Roger about everything imaginable.

Unlike my father, the cancer has not reached her brain, so when she’s awake she’s fully herself.

“I wish something miraculous would happen,” she told me the other day when Roger left the room to get some tea, “but I know it’s just a matter of time.”

“We’ll be right next door.” I said. “I don’t want you to worry about anything. We’ll spoil him.”

She looked at me, so clear-eyed, so present, so close to something that’s hard to understand. I looked back and we smiled at each other with love.

And I thought, this is the most important thing happening in the world.


This morning – or last night, who knows when people are blogging from England – Jim Naughton, editor-in-chief of Episcopal Café, wrote

“My concern for the Lambeth Conference is that a critical mass of reporters—or perhaps just a handful of influential ones—will deem the conference a failure if it does not produce the sort of stories that they want to write, that they will say so repeatedly in the pages of their papers or on their blogs, and that this perception will become reality.

The only inoculation against this outcome that I can perceive—outside of an unexpected outbreak of forbearance from the British press—are vivid daily media briefings that feature bishops with good gripping stories to tell about how the conference’s theme of the day figures in their lives and ministries, and the lives and ministries of their people.”

As an Episcopal communicator, and as often as I could in the years I worked as a mainstream reporter, I’ve worked to tell “good gripping stories” because they are what people really want to hear. I believe well-told stories move people and engage people and change people. Why do you think Jesus spoke in parables? Why do our little children lie in bed at night and ask to hear tales of their parents’ and grandparents’ childhoods over and over again?

The story of our family’s love for Roger and Martha and our sadness in Martha’s illness is a real story. It’s one we’re living tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow.

The Lambeth Conference will be important to the Church and the world only to the extent our bishops sit with one another and listen closely, lovingly and compassionately to the stories each has to tell. Then they need to return to their homes to share the news with their people. It won’t be the same as hearing for ourselves, but it’s a start.

It occurs to me that after my father died in 2000, just after General Convention, I thought and wrote something similar to this. I really hope I get it right this time.

Links
My own private Denver -

Holding hands at the comma

They’re onto our game

Forty percent in the loop

Next month, Heidi Shott will begin work as canon for communications for the Episcopal Diocese of Maine . Her essays about trying to live a life of faith may be found at Heidoville.

Relief or Development – bringing it home

By Donald Schell

I never imagined my trip to Africa would raise such troubling questions about ordinary Episcopal Church life in the U.S. The headline controversies of Biblical authority or homosexuality weren’t what shook me there. It was daily conversations with African and Western non-governmental (NGO) workers and church leaders struggling to practice development rather than mere relief. I come home to my work with congregations wondering if relief work (and the church’s culture of helping) - does lasting harm. What does it take beyond help to build community and encourage personal initiative and creativity?

Choosing relief over development remains controversial. There are no simple answers. At dinner our first night in Malawi, an NGO worker was complaining about U.N. sponsored village wells.

Deep boreholes equipped with a mechanical hand pump bring clean water to villages that otherwise rely on polluted streams. Clean water saves lives. It’s the single most effective intervention to decrease infant and adult mortality. Such evident health and economic benefits have inspired many Western churches and NGOs to drill wells for villages. What the U.N. project added was a maintenance fund: each family that used a new well water contributed a small amount to keep the well going. The U.N. program developed community responsibility for the well whenever it brought a well to a village.

Our dinner companion readily admitted that the U.N.’s plan kept good water flowing, as he acknowledged that other villages whose boreholes lacked a local maintenance fund didn’t maintain their wells, so when the well broke, they went back to hauling water from the nearest stream or pond. Still the NGO worker objected on grounds of justice; “… people simply have a right to clean water and it’s the government’s job to provide it.”

If the government actually had the will and enough money to drill wells for every village in the country and maintain them, more wells would save more lives. When the U.N. drilled a well, villagers learned new responsibility and new ways of working together, but the U.N. initiative wasn’t reaching everyone.

I thought back over my thirty-five years of parish priesthood, remembering how often churches ask, “Is there a need?” and “How can we help?” When the church makes relief help the whole response to urgent human need, what is the cost to people and to mission?

In Malawi I heard the legacy of resentful dependencies churches and NGO’s created by quick and dirty help. Articulate, reflective Africans explained that relief help will only look and sound opposite to colonial exploitation as long as you ignore how Western leaders and planners keep the decision-making power in their own hands. Helping needy people means all or most of the significant decision-making power remains in the hands of trained professionals. Sounds like parishes where help produces dependence on the rector or dioceses where expert, top-down help centralizes power to bishop and diocesan staff.

By contrast development demands discovering effective local leaders and working with them to share authority and encourage autonomous, creative activity. Development is inevitably collaborative. I was moved again and again by the vision and steady discipline of African leaders asking how to direct aid and mission money to help where there was need AND to build community.

What difference would it make if U.S. churches challenged every program, ministry and member as those Africans were challenging relief projects to shape themselves for community development?

Each day we drove out to villages to see health clinics, micro-lending programs, schools, AIDS education programs and orphan care programs. We visited villages with working wells and watched the satisfaction of adults and children pumping water that sparkled in the sun. Those scenes made the abandoned wells even more haunting. Silent, and deserted, shunned by villagers as a painful reminder of the shame and disappointment of losing good water – nothing gathered at the dead wells but dried weeds.

But isn’t the church necessarily a relief organization? Aren’t we called to serve?

Have we never noticed how Jesus repeatedly chose development over relief? In the Gospels Jesus’ listeners were startled at his teaching ‘with authority.’ He didn’t quote chapter and verse, but trusted himself and his listeners as he appealed to experience (‘What father among you would give your child a stone if he asked for bread?). He apprenticed his disciples in organizing and sent them out to practice teaching and healing before they felt ready.

More than hundred years ago, Roland Allen, an impatient young missionary to China and then to Kenya, began to think that help and extended training were crippling the church. In Missionary Methods, St. Paul’s or Ours? Allen argued that just months after establishing a new church, St. Paul would leave new recent converts in charge. Jesus and Paul both practiced development.

Here’s a story of development and formation for mission: On a rainy San Francisco winter’s day, St. Gregory’s member Paul R. was shivering in a slow-moving ATM line. Though they pressed themselves against the wall, it offered no real shelter from the rain. Paul looked at the dry space under a store awning, just a few yards beyond the ATM. Everyone saw it, but no one would leave the line. Then Paul said to himself, ‘I go to St. Gregory’s where we learn how to make invitations to people’ so he said to the line of strangers, ‘You know, if we all moved under the awning, keeping our same places in line, we’d all be out of the rain.’ Everyone laughed, moved and regrouped and under the awning. Strangers were suddenly talking with each other.

Development gives people authority to do unexpected things. In Take This Bread, A Radical Conversion, Sara Miles wrote of founding a food pantry just months her hunger for God brought her, still an atheist, to Christ’s table.

What Paul and Sara got from a regular Sunday liturgy was not just help, comfort or encouragement but freedom to think and do something new in the world. How? St. Gregory’s liturgy is a practice of trust that invited them to discover personal authority and relationship even with strangers. Week by week deacons explicitly invite everyone to join unaccompanied congregational singing. Even first time visitors add their speaking voices and experience to complete a sermon and offer prayers aloud for reconciliation, peace, and healing. Everyone leaves their safe places and seats to gather the whole congregation around the Altar Table for the Peace, the Eucharistic Prayer and communion. People not only receive communion but give it to others.

In Africa I remembered familiar stories tell like Sara’s and Paul’s and recognized relief work where people were making a discovery, seeing or feeling something new, and choosing to act with grace and generosity. The world doesn’t need our help. God is building circles of creativity and compassion and invites us to join that work.

The Rev. Donald Schell, founder of St. Gregory of Nyssa Church in San Francisco, is Creative Director of All Saints Company, working for community development in congregational life focusing on sharing leadership, welcoming creativity and building community through music.

A sense of "Place"

By Kit Carlson

I stopped in a touristy gift shop on my way home from the lake, and spotted a little bumper sticker that warned other drivers “I’m in my Happy Place.” It was meant as an alert … that the driver of the car was blissed out on some internal image of a beach or a mountain, somewhere deep inside where the person had learned to retreat in times of trouble.

Many of us have learned to find an internal “happy place,” as a way to cope with stress and anxiety. But how many of us have learned to find a real-life “happy place” -- a three-dimensional, reality-based, imperfect-but-still-nourishing PLACE in which to find rest and refreshment?

Unlike the imaginary “happy place,” a real Place has heft and substance. It becomes a holy ground upon which one can stand, without shoes, if necessary. It has sounds, odors, colors, sensations. It incarnates “happy place,” and like any incarnation, it can exalt us or it can disappoint us.

My Place is the family cottage on the lake, a small cabin my parents built 20 years ago, and which my sister and I inherited after their death. It looks out over an inland lake in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. It is a view of exquisite beauty – early in the morning as the sun is rising along with the mist off the water, at noon under a crisp, blue sunburnt sky that snaps everything into sharp focus, at midnight when a million stars unfold overhead like a lost memory of how the world used to be. To stand at the shoreline in the morning with a hot cup of coffee in hand -- watching a bald eagle circling overhead, hearing the loons shrieking back in the swamp, feeling the cold water washing my toes – is, for me, sheer heaven.

But the lake is a real place, and as such, it brings real-life challenges and imperfections into my idealized sense of Place. The mosquitoes were particularly abundant this year, swarming in thick clouds of malice and banging their bodies futilely against the window screens of the house. Sometimes it rains for days on end and everything is grey and sopping wet. Even the house gets moist and clammy so that no fire in the fireplace can dry it out. The cottage is a place for family vacations, with their ever-changing kaleidoscopes of personalities and issues and anxieties. Stuff breaks, needs fixing, needs replacing. There are always more dishes to do. The neighbors have different tastes in music from me, and well, water has a way of carrying the sound.

But it has become over these 18 years or so that we have gone there, my one Place, the place I can go to put myself back together, the place where I feel closest to my late parents, the place that offers me a vista which is familiar, yet ever-new, just as God is familiar, yet ever-new.

I think everyone needs a Place, not just a “happy place,” but a real Place to go and get centered or get disrupted or get closer to God. A coffee shop. A prayer corner in the bedroom. A local park. A bench in the back yard. A library carrel. A monastery. A path through the woods. A window with a view. A real Place, with peace and power and potential and imperfections.

Jesus never withdrew into a “happy place.” He was forever seeking out a real Place – the wilderness or a mountaintop. The last night of his life he found that Place in a garden outside Jerusalem, a place where he could pray, where his friends could sleep, where his enemies could find him.

The Rev. Kit Carlson, is the rector of All Saints Episcopal Church in East Lansing, Mich., where she blogs at Saints Alive!

The Artistic Ministry

By Luis Coelho

“So, you want to be an artist?” - he asked. “Yes, sir.” - I responded. “So, you don't want to study theology anymore?” - he asked. “No, sir, I still want to study it.”

The man who asked me those questions was a parishioner at the church I served as an intern the whole year of 2007, back in the Anglican Diocese of Rio de Janeiro. Like many, he could not see the manifold interrelations between art and theology. I thoroughly explained to him how the Church has always used art as a means of retelling stories about the People of Israel and also about Our Lord Jesus and all the saints. And then I told him about my earlier attempts to start art school and how I felt called to incorporate art and ministry together. Still, he was puzzled. And then, only God knows why, I eventually told him: “I want to pursue this vocation because I firmly believe that God is the source of all beauty, and as part of his creation, we enjoy being able to create beautiful works to praise Him.” He finally settled, albeit a little disturbed with how obvious and still how unnoticed those words were to him.

More recently, I found myself giving a similar explanation to a completely different audience: art students. While having a meeting with a professor at Savannah College of Arts and Design-Atlanta, we were invited to show some of our art and explain why we had chosen that field. Most of us in that room were visual artists, or at least visual artists-wannabes. We showed our art to our peers and also to the professor. When my turn came, and I finally got to show some of my pieces, a student noticed how commonly religious themes were present in my artwork and asked why. I told him – to the awe of some of my peers – that since I believed we were made in the image and likeness of God, not only were we gifted with creativity, but we also could use our creative abilities to praise him through the resources he has given us.

I wonder how, or when, art and faith got disconnected from each other – at least to the wider public. In art circles, this is often true. It is still impressive to me to notice how many artists and art students, who in many cases are people of faith, do not perceive how precious the artistic creative process is and how blessed we are to have the opportunity of doing it. Even churchgoers fail to see how natural it is to praise God through art. When I finally communicated my intention to come to Atlanta to pursue a BFA in Painting at SCAD, and therefore to combine it with long-distance theology studies at one of the Brazilian Anglican seminaries, some people in the Church found that complicated arrangement to be a very difficult one. After all, to them, either you are an artist, or you are a priest.

I refuse to accept this exclusive definition of ministry, and many of you already know why. In your communities of faith, you probably have had the joyful opportunity of feeling God's presence through the beauty of lovely choirs, through the glooming light that crosses stained glass windows, through various art exhibits, and even through well-chanted liturgies. All of these have something in common: they are the fruit of the human creative process, with the sole purpose of worshiping the One to whom all glory and honor should be given.

As children of God, we are part of his beautiful creation. God has also entrusted this creation to us, and has made it available for us to enjoy and use in order to generate beauty in the midst of this broken world. It is true that stains of sin sometimes cover our beauty. However, through Christ our Redeemer we are always able to recover our inner radiance. As Christians, we are called to spread the redeeming message in many forms; and art is one of them.

So, the next time you find yourself appreciating a work of art, do not forget it is also a prayer: a plea from the human spirit to its Divine Creator, and also an opportunity to engage the original beauty of God's creation.

Luiz Coelho, a seminarian from the Diocese of Rio de Janero, spends part of the year in the BFA program at the Savannah College of Art and Design. His Web site includes his art and his blog, Wandering Christian, on which he examines "Christianity in the third millennium, from a progressive, Latin American and Anglican point of view." He is currently a steward at the Lambeth Conference.

Words and meanings: communion & community

By Marshall Scott

In this brief space between GAFCON and the heart of Lambeth, I have been indulging in word play. It can be a vice. It can be seen as silly. But, here’s the thing: we are people of a faith in which words have meaning. God created by speaking. God came among us in the Word; and it is in the written Word that we in our generation know of these things. So, while playing with words might sometimes seem indulgent, for us as Christians it is a meaningful enterprise.

Specifically, I have been playing with the words “communion” and “community.”

Believe it or not, it was GAFCON that led me to these thoughts. I have been considering the recent statements from and in response to GAFCON. I think much of the time those meeting in GAFCON and those responding to them (from Canterbury on down) have been talking, but past each other and not really to each other. From the GAFCON Statement to Canterbury’s response to the recent paper by Canon Gregory Cameron, many things have been said or written, but little has been compelling. I don’t have much sense that anyone has been persuaded to move too far from where they already were.

The reason has been that the two polar positions have represented two different paradigms. Oh, we’ve spoken more of ecclesiology or of “ways of being the Church.” Many of us have been aware of individual differences (a more literal use of Scripture vs. historical critical method; focus on guidance from the our Scriptural history vs. guidance from the Spirit in the present; and there are others); but I don’t think we’ve considered the possibility that our very frameworks of interpretation are sufficiently different that our very words have different meanings. We end up talking while feeling we’re never heard; because, after all, if we were really heard the listeners would find our words as compelling as we do.

The GAFCON folks have tried to establish a new, or at least a different model (for I don’t think I see much really “new” about it). And as I considered their efforts to express it in an institutional structure (beginning with a Council of Primates), I began to think about our own model; and I began to play with words.

I began to play particularly with the central word of our difficulties: “communion.” We use it in so many ways, all related but all different; and we even agree that all these usages are authentic, even as we disagree profoundly which usages are more critical. We speak of the Anglican Communion, a construct so precious that we’ve reified it into a quasi-institutional reality. We speak of communion, meaning sharing together generally in the Christian life and faith. We speak of communion, meaning sharing specifically in sacramental practice. And all too often we speak - sometimes we speak most loudly – of when and where we can’t share.

And so communion is broken – from the communion rail to the Communion Instruments, communion is functionally broken. As a result, I think we have two opportunities. We can restructure Communion by reassembling with those with whom we can share communion (from the communion rail out); and we can seek new models, new words to express how we might be together.

And so I began to play with “communion” and “community.” I began looking for differences of denotation, of formal definition; and as is my habit in the search for denotation, I went back to my old Compact Edition of the Oxford English Dictionary. Much to my distress, I found it somewhat unhelpful. Of course, the OED has so many usages of any given word, and certainly of a word used as widely and frequently as either “communion” or “community.” But, by the time I’d peered through the magnifying glass and pored over both words, they simply had too much in common, at least in denotation. Both had their common, political, and even religious definitions; but there was too many commonalities to offer much help.

That wasn’t helped either by my own sense that there is a difference in connotation, in common usage. “Communion” is used more in religious conversation, while “community” is used more in political discussion. Again, that isn’t to say that there aren’t religious meanings for both words; but we do, I think, commonly make that distinction. As a result, I think we feel in a way that “communion” is somehow more intimate than “community.” As a result, I fear we are prone to actually create a greater sense of “who’s in” and “who’s out” around the word “communion” than we do with the word “community.”

That sense of difference brought me back to two words in the life of the Church that would hold that same sense of difference: koinonia and ekklesia. It seems to me that those two words in our tradition have some of that same sense of distinction between the religious and the political, and between the more and the less intimate. Perhaps it would be easier to describe the difference this way: ekklesia (reflecting the Hebrew qahal) is about the structure, the gathered assembly; while koinonia (for which there appears to be no real Hebrew equivalent) is more about the quality of the relationship among and perhaps binding the gathered assembly. So, the difference seems to me much the same as the difference in connotation between “communion” and “community.”

Of course, there is much more to ekklesia than simply the gathered assembly. Looking at the article, “Church, Idea of” in the Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible (Abingdon, 1962) emphasizes four “basic meanings of ekklesia” in the New Testament:

1. An assembly of persons which has been summoned for a particular purpose.
2. A community of believers which has been gathered from the inhabitants of a specific area.
3. A community gathered by God through Christ.
4. The eschatological people of God.

In essence, then, what makes for ekklesia is not the assembly in and of itself, but the assembly gathered for a purpose. More particularly for us, it is the assembly gathered by God in Christ for God’s purpose, to participate in God’s eschatological plan.

I think this should be meaningful for us. It is, first and foremost, consistent with what many of us have said about any covenant process: that the goal should be a covenant focused on mission instead of on either a defined understanding of “the faith as this Church has received it,” or on authority defined in institutional structures. Indeed, it emphasizes our efforts to work with others toward shared goals, without needing or expecting narrow agreement on all aspects of the faith.

It is certainly consistent with an Episcopal perspective on the Christian life. The Baptismal Covenant, so precious to us and yet largely unknown through most of the Communion, describes not only the faith of the Creed, but also the life that expresses, incarnates that faith in the world. We confess that faith, not only to affirm the content, but to claim our personal stake and responsibility in pursuing God’s purposes, and not our own.

It affirms the ecumenical enterprise as we have seen it in North America in this generation. We have long ceased pursuing one institution as the sign of unity in favor of “a communion of communions;” and so often those expressions have begun as individual congregations and judicatories found common cause and common goals with other Christians. It affirms our ongoing ecumenical conversations, even with those who, like the Roman and Orthodox churches, will not soon recognize our orders or our perception of the Spirit; for there remain common goals in the Kingdom that we might pursue together.

Indeed, it will allow for continued relations with those who claim the Anglican tradition, but who are concerned about how they see it in us. Even in these times of “broken” or “impaired communion,” many, many common ministries have continued. They have continued precisely because they have focused on common mission, and not on ideological identity. It could in time allow for us to converse with smaller bodies that claim the Anglican tradition but are not in communion with Canterbury. This could be especially true of those small bodies that are more inclusive and more progressive in some ways than the Episcopal Church. Interestingly enough, that idea arose from reflecting on this in light of the Common Cause Partnership. They have opened themselves to conservative groups claiming the Anglican tradition. There are in fact a few groups claiming the Anglican tradition that are more progressive (one can find them on the “Not in Communion” page of “Anglicans Online.”), and finding common goals might allow us to reach out to them.

Most important, focusing on ekklesia instead of koinonia, at least for some purposes, might well allow for conversations with less invective. The intimacy we associate with “communion” can make every difference not simply an argument, but a family argument, and all the more bitter. To think of ekklesia instead of koinonia, of community instead of communion, turns us again to our opportunities to gather and to the purposes God might have for our gathering.

This is not to suggest that we shouldn’t also pursue koinonia, communion, with all our hearts. These models are not mutually exclusive. However, we in the Episcopal Church have been among the first to call for continued gathering to do God’s work, even in the face of our difficulties of Anglican tradition and identity. We have affirmed, as well, that koinonia is a gift from God, and not ours to mandate. So, let us pray for and seek koinonia, “communion,” that in God’s time we might all be one. And in the meantime, let us also consider and live into our call as ekklesia, as the community of the faithful, gathered by God in Christ to pursue God’s purposes.

The Rev. Marshall Scott is a chaplain in the Saint Luke’s Health System, a ministry of the Diocese of West Missouri. A past president of the Assembly of Episcopal Healthcare Chaplains, and an associate of the Order of the Holy Cross, he keeps the blog Episcopal Chaplain at the Bedside.

Waiting

By Melody Wilson Shobe

When I was a child, I went to a Baptist summer camp in the mountains of North Carolina every year. I tell my current Episcopal congregation that the reason I know my Bible so well is because of all those summers at Baptist camp, and I’m only partly joking. Because in addition to all of the other usual camp activities like archery, swimming, horseback riding, and arts and crafts, we had group Bible studies and worship. We also had challenges where we were asked to memorize Bible verses. It might seem silly to some, but it was a foundational experience for me. Now, 20 years later, I can still recite the books of the Bible in order and remember the challenge verse from each year of summer camp.

One of the verses that I memorized all those years ago was Psalm 27:14 “Wait on the Lord, be of good courage, and he will strengthen your heart. Wait, I say, on the Lord.” It was actually a pretty easy verse to memorize; it is short and simple and even has some repetition. And yet, while the words are simple, the call that those words issue is anything but easy.

Because, you see, I’m not very good at waiting. I get impatient if the person scheduled to meet me is running a little bit late, or if my husband takes longer than I do to get ready to leave. I try to find new and different routes from my home to the church, so that I don’t have to spend as much time waiting at stop lights. In the grocery store, I make a mad dash to find the shortest checkout line, so that I don’t have to wait an extra minute or two to purchase my groceries.

If I am not good at waiting in the world, then I am not any better at waiting on the Lord. I get panicked when the things in my life do not work out on my schedule, and I have a hard time remembering that God might have a different timeline than I do. The process of placement out of seminary and the process of job searching for myself and my husband this time around has, more often than not, involved a great deal of waiting. And I have to confess, I have not been good at waiting on the Lord. I find myself wide awake in my bed, staring at the ceiling, making lists in my head, trying to figure out what I can do to make things move more quickly. Waiting, for me, is much easier said than done, much easier memorized than lived.

At the heart of it, my problem with waiting is really an issue of control. I want to be in control of my life. I don’t want to let stoplights, or grocery store cashiers, my husband, or even God, control the timing in my life. I want to have power over what happens and when it happens. It is, perhaps, a natural inclination, but it is also a spiritual issue. My unwillingness to wait is, fundamentally, an unwillingness to trust God, and to give over my life, from the small details to the big picture, to God’s care and control.

If I am honest with myself, I know that waiting is an important spiritual practice. It forces me to let go of the death grip that my hands have on the details of my life and acknowledge that God’s desires are more important than my wishes. It reminds me that trusting God and waiting on the Lord, as difficult as they might be, are essential to the Christian life. And if I take a moment, and look back over the times in the past that I have been called to sit and wait, with baited breath and badly bitten nails, I can see that God has always, always, come through in the end.

As the psalmist says, waiting takes courage and strength: the courage and strength to let go of the tight grip I have on the steering wheel of my life, and let God take the driver’s seat for a while. I have to have the courage and strength to take the words that I recited so glibly as a child and make them the reality of the life that I live as an adult. So today, as I face a season of my life that has a great deal of uncertainty and anxiety, I will try to pray and to live the words of Psalm 27:14. Perhaps they will bring you, too, some comfort, as you face times of indecision, transition, and waiting in your life. “Wait on the Lord, be of good courage, and he will strengthen your heart. Wait, I say, on the Lord.”

The Rev. Melody Wilson Shobe is Assistant Rector at a church in the Diocese of Texas. She is a graduate of Virginia Theological Seminary and is married to fellow priest The Rev. Casey Shobe.

Beyond words

By Martin L. Smith

I’ve been traveling around Turkey, in slow trains and buses that give leisure for musing. Ancient sites passed by and triggered old memories from reading the spiritual classics. I peered through the window at Nevsehir on the way through Cappadocia, which was the see city of the bishop, mystic and theologian Gregory of Nyssa. Later, as I walked through canyons riddled with ancient monasteries and settlements, I got to thinking about what the ancient fathers of the Church can still teach us. We think of theology as the profession of academics, but this wasn’t true in Christianity’s springtime. At first the word theology referred not to a field of study, but first hand spiritual knowledge gained from contemplation. “If you are a theologian, you pray in truth. If you pray in truth, you are a theologian,” wrote Evagrius, one of the pioneers of Christian spirituality.

Today the word ‘theology’ is so embarrassingly degraded that TV pundits often use the term as a scathing reference to abstruse theorizing unmoored in reality. And the word ‘orthodoxy’ has had a similar fate. These days, orthodoxy is almost a synonym for rigid dogmatism and moralism, hidebound ecclesiastical formulas in which changeless truth is supposed to be set in stone. But originally orthodoxy meant the lived experience of being on the right track (orthos) in giving glory (that’s what doxa means) to God, in worshipping and adoring God, in community. And what these pioneers of Christian orthodoxy insisted on, with all the eloquence at their disposal, was the utter impossibility of capturing God in words and images, or grasping God in even the most sublime spiritual experience. God surpasses anything we can possibly say or imagine, and all our experiences of God are merely touching the hem of his garment. God is without rival and nothing is really like God, therefore all language, all symbolism, all our metaphors can only point into further unexplored depths. Christian orthodoxy was—dear God, what has become of it?—a passionate commitment to the mystical core of the Gospel. As such, orthodoxy is the polar opposite of what we call fundamentalism.

As our trains rumbled through the endless valleys of Anatolia, I was running over in my mind some of the meditations that Gregory has left us. He wrote a marvelous commentary on the life of Moses, using it as an allegory of the journey of faith. He comes to that strange vision that Moses has from the cleft in the rock, when he is allowed a fleeting glimpse of God’s backside. This odd detail in the legend Gregory takes as a symbol of the truth that we can only follow God. God is always ahead of us, leading us out of ourselves further into the unexplored territory of his glory. We can only see God’s back, because he is carrying us on his back into mystery. And Gregory taught that even in eternity we will always be on the move as explorers into God, since God is infinite and inexhaustible. There will always be more God to know.


The Church Fathers surprise us. Later I stayed in Sanliurfa, ancient Edessa, a city which embraced Christianity in the second century. I thought about Saint Ephrem who lived and worked here at a time when the city was ringing with a cacophony of rival versions of Christianity (not so unlike modern America.) How did he bear witness as a voice for the orthodox teaching about the Incarnation and the Trinity?

Not through argument, lectures, propaganda, classes. He bore witness through passionate song, writing hundreds of lyrical, fabulously imaginative hymns which were sung in the public squares by a dedicated choir of women. For him, the incandescent truth of the Christian message was best suited to poetry, in the exaltation of music, not prosaic argument. And this is the strange, paradoxical dynamic of the theology of the ancient fathers. At one and the same time they are passionate about the absolutely mysterious character of God, the utter impossibility of defining him, and yet they feel authorized and inspired to use a vast array of imaginative, even outrageous symbols and metaphors, to point to the mystery. Orthodoxy is the paradoxical state of being both blinded by the dazzling darkness of God’s unknowability and of being thrilled by God’s encouragement and permission, through the Incarnation, to deploy every kind of metaphor and poetic symbol to kindle the heart’s awareness of the attractiveness of God’s beauty and power and love. Ephrem’s poetry, like Dante’s, is ablaze with the erotic audacity of lovesong. We pray for God to send laborers into his harvest. Are we praying for spiritual poets, prophets and visionaries, who will help us set our speech about God on fire again today? Or will we as Episcopalians succumb to the fate of becoming—you know—the bland leading the bland?

Martin Smith is well-known in the Episcopal Church and beyond as a priest, writer, preacher and leader of retreats. Through such popular works as A Season for the Spirit and The Word is Very Near You and in numerous workshops, lectures and retreats, he continues to explore a contemporary spirituality that encourages a lively conversation between new knowledge and the riches of tradition.

An inevitable divide

By George Clifford

Several weeks ago, my wife and I were sitting in a Paris train station waiting for a train to Giverny. A man came over, inquired if we spoke English, and upon discovering that we, like him, were American, requested that we watch his luggage so that he could use a restroom. We quickly agreed, glad for the opportunity to help a fellow traveler. Upon his return, he treated us to a brief but thankfully mild tirade about the inefficiencies of the French and their lack of gratitude for the U.S. having liberated them from the Germans in World War II.

While hoping that not too many of the people within earshot spoke English I wondered why this man traveled in France if he found the nation and its people so objectionable. Then I reminded myself that I was an Anglican. A great many Anglicans are similar to that sad traveler: they journey in a country that they do not appreciate with companions they do not understand. Why don’t those unhappy people change their journey’s route?

Having nothing to lose since the train we had hoped to take was cancelled and the next did not depart for half an hour, I asked my new acquaintance why he traveled in France when he knew that he disliked the culture and its people. He replied that he had attended an elder hostel on spying in the UK and was now on his way to a second one in the south of France. These were the only sessions he could find on this somewhat arcane topic.

Again, my thoughts turned to the many unhappy Anglicans. At this point, the analogy broke down. Anglicanism has never claimed to be the exclusive path to God or the only true Church. Anglicanism may not even be the best Church and is certainly not the best Church for everyone. Those unhappy with Anglicanism’s direction, ethos, or people have options. The recent Global Anglican Future Conference (GAFCON) represents a large step toward an unfortunate but inevitable divide as some of the unhappiest depart. Although those departing may claim the name Anglican, in fact the historic definition of Anglican is one who is in communion with the Archbishop of Canterbury. The Nigerian province has already removed every reference to Canterbury from its canons.

At least three factors contribute to dissidents’ reluctance to depart from The Episcopal Church (TEC). First, issues of finances and property bind people to TEC for emotional and practical reasons. These issues incarnate our theology of unity. Second, overcoming our normal human inertia requires investing substantial personal and group energy and resources to reach the threshold where departure appears more attractive than remaining. Theologically, inertia helps us to maintain a steady course, to avoid each minor breeze or current sweeping in a new direction.

Third, united primarily by their unhappiness and dissent from an inclusive Anglicanism many dissidents fear that future harmony and unity will prove even more elusive. The historic pattern of schism is that one break inevitably precipitates further fractures. Once departure from the Anglican Communion removes the centripetal force of opposition to an inclusive Church that now unites dissident Anglicans, centrifugal forces are certain to cause repeated fractures. Some follow a polity that embodies strong central authority, some seek creedal conformity, some oppose the ordination of women, and some yearn to return to older forms of worship and belief.

Conflict need not be unhealthy. Anglicans reject all claims to infallibility, including that of the Pope (or even a council of Primates!). Through constructive dialogue Christians and the Church can move toward a fuller understanding of the truth. During that dialogue, Christians and the Church must accept diverse opinions expressed with mutual respect, modeling for others our ongoing search for a fuller grasp of truth. The gospel of John reports Jesus’ promising his disciples the gift of the Holy Spirit to lead them into all truth (John 16:13), a promise that implicitly acknowledges that Jesus’ disciples – including us – do not yet know all truth.

No scriptural basis exists for establishing views about human sexuality as a litmus test of one’s orthodoxy or suitability for communion. Dissident Anglicans have clearly focused on this issue because sexual issues generate emotional energy and because this is perhaps the only issue that unites them. The time has arrived when faithful Christians, The Episcopal Church, and the Anglican Communion must stop defining their identity based on their views about human sexuality. I like sex, I have strong views about sex, and I believe that sex is a wonderful aspect of creation. However, sexuality does not determine the primary contours of either my faith or that of the Church. The Church must reclaim the fullness of its agenda as God's people.

Similarly, the time has come to end unhealthy conflict within TEC and the Anglican Communion. Any constructive dialogue that may have occurred between those holding disparate views largely ended years ago. Minds have closed, opinions hardened, and negative feelings of anger, exclusion, and bitterness now dominate. The conflict is an acid eroding morale and mission effectiveness within both TEC and the Communion.

My wife and I journeyed to Giverny to see Claude Monet’s home and gardens, entranced by his ability to capture beauty and light in his impressionistic paintings. Monet moved to Giverny because of its light and affordable property. He died there after forty years of productive work. Those who now find the Anglican Church (my country) inhospitable should find another Church in which to live out their journey in greater peace, joy, and faithfulness. Deleting all reference to Canterbury from Provincial canons and establishing new loci of authority are significant steps in that direction, regardless of the accompanying rhetoric. Those who find Anglicanism hospitable must similarly resume their faithful travels in peace and joy, seeking the truth, engaged in dialogue with fellow travelers, and agreeing to disagree when necessary. Life is too short and too great a gift for anyone to waste it in unproductive, let alone destructive, unhappiness.

The Rev. George Clifford, a retired priest in the Diocese of North Carolina, served as a Navy chaplain for twenty-four years.

AD 325 and why it matters

This is the third in the series, 7 Dates and Why They Matter for the Anglican Faith. Read parts 1 and 2.

By Derek Olsen

The Roman establishment of the Early Empire regarded Christianity with a mix of perplexity and suspicion. On one hand, the Christians seemed largely virtuous and mostly harmless. On the other, they threatened the foundations of the social order in two main ways. First, they were atheists—that is, they denied the reality and power of the Roman state pantheon and refused to acknowledge that the emperor was imbued with divine guidance. Second, Christianity attacked the shape of the Roman family, reconceptualizing it and allowing—even encouraging—women to remain in an unmarried state outside of male control. While Jewish believers were also suspect as atheists, their religion was rooted in their identity as a people; Christians, on the other hand, proselytized and spread quickly unrestrained by bounds of national identity. At times and places the perplexity and suspicion was expressed in a predictable human manner: violence and persecution. Despite our popular conception of Christians keeping Roman lions well-fed from the time of Nero on, persecution tended to be sporadic and local rather than widespread and systematic.

As the third century drew to a close and the fourth century opened, the spread of Christianity became an issue that demanded a formal response. The emperor Decius instituted a systematic empire-wide persecution in 250 escalated by Valerian in 258 to forbid all Christian worship and targeting all bishops and senior clergy for execution. Ended by Valerian’s successor Gallienus in 260, violence flared again in 303 when Diocletian ordered all churches destroyed, all Scriptures burnt, and all clergy imprisoned. The following year, all citizens were required to make sacrifices to the emperor on pain of death—but the western provinces of the empire conveniently ignored the later command. Despite these attempts, their purpose failed and rather proved again the truth of Tertullian’s maxim: “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.”

The other plausible option was taken by a Roman general whose troops in Britain proclaimed him emperor and marched on Rome. This general and later emperor—Constantine—did not persecute Christianity but rather embraced it and gave it official support. (He did not, however, proclaim it the state religion—that wouldn’t happen until Theodosius at the end of the fourth century.)

The reign of Constantine and his blessing on the flourishing faith raised a host of issues—some neither easily nor quickly solved. One—the tension between the Roman social structure and the counter-cultural character of Christianity—has remained a live issue to the present day (and will be addressed in a later article). Of the rest, two urgent problems pressed to the fore. The first was political and administrative: how would structures that emerged locally fit themselves into a coherent empire-wide system and where would authority reside? The second was theological and doctrinal: what was the proper way to understand the relationship between Jesus and God? The vacuum of authority created by the first problem exacerbated the second. Constantine saw trouble brewing. The faith that he hoped would help cement the embattled empire was threatening to cause further rifts. Taking matters into his own hands, he called a meeting of bishops to the city of Nicaea in the year 325.

At this point it’s worth clearing up a little bit of confusion about Constantine, his motives, and his personal beliefs. Constantine was probably introduced to Christianity at a young age; his mother was a Christian (her search for the relics of the Holy Cross read like a fourth-century Indiana Jones tale but several versions have deplorable anti-Semitic bits) and some sources relate he had a sister named Anastasia which means “Resurrection”. Despite this, he was not baptized until he was on his deathbed. This was not unusual in the fourth century, though, especially for those who held political office. Theologically the Church of the day had a strong sense of Baptism and the remission of sins connected with that act; they were a little fuzzy on forgiveness of major sins committed after baptism. The realities of political office (presiding over torture and executions and participating in public religious ceremonies to the state gods or the official supreme god, the Unconquered Sun) made committing sins inevitable. Thus, Constantine and others put off their baptism until they had retired from public life and no longer had to participate in these activities. As far as Constantine’s personal beliefs go he served as a proper emperor, honoring the state gods and the Unconquered Sun in his public capacity, but no less authority than the late great Henry Chadwick states that “his letters from 313 onwards leave no doubt that he regarded himself as a Christian whose imperial duty it was to keep a united Church” (The Early Church, p. 127).

Constantine’s council at Nicaea was not novel in its procedure—Christian bishops had been gathering in councils for quite a long time. Where it was different was in its scope. The controversy was (at that point) an Egyptian one and afflicted the Greek-speaking areas of the empire. Thus, Constantine sought to gather as many bishops of the Greek-speaking Church as possible and others beyond it to resolve the problem. Senior bishops and archbishops or their representatives came from all over the known world to participate. The chronicler Eusebius highlights its breadth by comparing the guest list to the account in Acts of the international gathering at the first Pentecost.

The Da Vinci Code crowd and conspiracy theorists of various stripes suggest that at this council Constantine perverted everything by declaring Jesus divine—either implying or stating explicitly that the Church had not held this opinion before him. It’s an interesting theory, it’s just completely contradicted by the evidence. The writings of the first three Christian centuries make it abundantly clear that Christians considered Jesus divine; the question tackled by the council was not if but how Jesus was divine. The problem was that a teacher from Alexandria—Arius—was teaching that Jesus, like some of the heroes and demi-gods who had made it into the Roman pantheon, had been granted divinity and was not eternally divine. The council focused primarily on two assertions of Arius: first, that Jesus was a created being; second that “there was [a time] when he was not”. Now, I could walk you through the arguments and the technical philosophical vocabulary used, but in going through the details we’d miss the real point. So let’s zoom out for a second and talk about how and why this matters.

Trinitarian theology tends to be very complicated because it did not begin as an intellectual exercise: if people had sat down and thought it up, it would make a lot more sense! Instead, this theology proceeds from the realm of Christian experience. Christians knew from their Scriptures and from their Jewish roots that God was unmistakably and unquestionably One. In their religious experience, though, they perceived the working of God in three persons: God the Father, God the Son (Jesus), and God the Holy Spirit. The problem of Trinitarian theology was how to wrap limited and limiting human language and concepts around the power of God that they had experienced in their lives.

The reason why this became necessary and pressing was because the theological formulations had very practical, pastoral consequences. Understanding the divinity of God the Son was not simply an arcane puzzle for specialists but rather was intimately connected to who God was and how God interacted with creation. In a sense, Arius thought that he had discovered a formulation that would preserve the dignity of God the Father. After all, the great scandal of Christianity to the philosophical minds of the time is why a god who existed as spirit would have anything to do with flesh and matter which was inherently imperfect and corruptible. According to Arius’s formula, God the Father kept himself pure and unsullied but elevated Jesus as the first and greatest of his creatures to divine status. The orthodox party insisted that, no, God’s love was that great and that scandalous that God was willing to become flesh, to live, to love, to suffer and die. Affirming that, they could then affirm that the transformative power of the resurrection and the ascension can happen and has happened to actual human flesh in the person of Jesus! That is, the orthodox could affirm that any pain we feel, any joy we feel, any fear, or longing, or hope of ours, God understands it—because God has felt it in his own flesh. Arius couldn’t say the same of his God. By the end of the council, the gathered bishops agreed that this was the Good News spoken of in the Scriptures and handed down by the apostles, not an untouchable spirit God who had elevated a piece of creation but of a God who loved us enough to become one of us.

Now, this certainly wasn’t the first controversy about the Trinity or about the person of Jesus. Since the days of Irenaeus (in the mid-second century) Christians had defined the church and its teaching around three things: a set canon of Scripture, apostolic succession—a confirmation that the teaching a bishop received was what was handed on by the apostles, and the core teachings—the regula fidei (rule or measure of faith). These core teachings, the regula fidei, were transmitted in the form of baptismal creeds. That is, at baptisms new Christians assented that they knew and understood the heart of the Christian teachings that were to serve as a guide in reading the Scriptures. Our Apostles’ Creed, for instance, is an early (mid-second century or so) Roman baptismal creed that has remained the dominant statement in the West. What the Council of Nicaea did was to take the ancient baptismal creed of Caesarea (which fundamentally agreed with others like the Apostles’ Creed) and to tweak a few phrases—dropping some that could be misinterpreted, adding some that clarified its meaning. In a letter to the clergy of his region (which included Arians), Eusebius of Caesarea described how the gathered bishops took the creed and added a few words and what they intended by it. This creed became known as the Nicene Creed and defined the faith of the gathered bishops who agreed that it encapsulated the teachings that they had received from the apostles the best they knew how. This creed would be tweaked again at the Council of Constantinople (381) to exclude an error that arose later in the fourth century, was confirmed again by the Council of Chalcedon (451) and there achieved the form that we receive in our prayer book.

Thus, AD 325 is a date that every Anglican should know. The Council of Nicaea was the Church’s formal debut party thrown for it by the Roman Empire. Constantine convened it, but the bishops assembled solved the theological dilemma with an appeal to the apostles’ teaching, formalizing in a creedal statement the fact that God loves us enough to literally, physically, become one of us. This was not some new faith invented by Constantine, but a verbal clarification of what had been handed on by Irenaeus, affirmed by countless Christians at their baptisms, recorded by Luke the Evangelist, of the astounding, staggering love that the apostles witnessed in the words and works of Christ himself.

Derek Olsen is in the final stretch of completing a Ph.D. in New Testament (with a healthy side of Homiletics) at Emory University. His reflections on life, liturgical spirituality, and being a Gen-X dad appear at Haligweorc.

Goooooooooooal!

By Peter M. Carey

It should be of no surprise to anyone who reads the Episcopal Café that this summer is the once-a-decade gathering of Anglican bishops in Canterbury, England for the Lambeth Conference. Much has been written about this conference this year, and the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion are surely picking up more than our share of headlines. I have been thinking about this gathering of bishops and their spouses and thinking about both the turmoil and the possibility that exist for the Anglican Church at this moment in our history.

I was reading last month in Ed Friedman’s posthumously published book, A Failure of Nerve, that one sign of overly reactive and anxious organizations is that there is a lack of playfulness. Is the Anglican Communion displaying the tell-tale signs of an overly reactive and anxious organization? Is there playfulness and humor at each level of the body of our church? I hope there is more playfulness than I am sensing in what I read and see.

While I know that the lack of playfulness and humor is the result of the reactivity and anxiety, I wonder if play and humor may also be a solution. I wonder if play and humor might help heal some of the wounds in the body of our church.

I have noticed that there is time set at Lambeth each day for Bible Study, in which, I imagine, bishops will meet with their counterparts from around the globe, to pray, to reflect, to study, and to build fellowship. In addition, I imagine there will be worship, and there will be time to eat and drink together. There will be meetings, and speeches, and press conferences. All these items are to be expected. I have also read that Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams is asking bishops to join him on a walk through the streets of London to highlight the issues of poverty and hunger. There will also be some discussion groups made up of bishops from different perspectives which sound very interesting. I give the plan for the conference high marks, but if I could time-travel back a few years and bribe the right people I would get on the planning team and propose something else.

You see, I’ve been spending my summer watching my three children in the city of Manhattan while my spouse is working on coursework for a master’s degree. I have spent countless hours in Central Park, in Riverside Park, and also on the streets of this great city. After spending the day watching the playfulness of children (and adults) in the parks, I spend time in the evening reading about GAFCON and Lambeth, and Covenants, and “emissions.”

What I would propose, if I were to time-travel back several years and get on the Lambeth planning team, would be to plan some playtime. And, I don’t mean drinking cocktails or tea or coffee. I would get the bishops together, count off in teams to get some good diversity on each squad and play what we Americans call “soccer ” (football, in most of the world). At first, the “games” would be to play “possession” in which there are no goals other than just trying to keep possession of the ball, what we might know as “keep away.” I would pay a fortune to see our bishops running and playing and sweating and laughing and learning how to work with one another. After a few days of “possession,” we would turn to games with two goals, and we would keep score. I am not one of these people who think it dehumanizes people to play something competitively, and I imagine that the egos on the field would want to keep score anyway.

So, you say, we are dealing with “serious business,” this business of the church, and we are dealing with deadly serious issues, and we should have greater formality, and the bishops’ time is too valuable for such things. These are childish things, and adults don’t “do” such things. And, if fun is to be had, it should be had over a glass of sherry and not over a soccer ball. Maybe yes. Maybe no. In my thinking, it’s worth a shot; doing the same old things will most likely get us the same old stuff. Who knows, maybe injecting some playfulness into the scene might just help to transform this church body by getting the bodies moving together, having some fun.

It’s not too late to smuggle a soccer ball and some short shorts into your bishop’s suitcase!

The Rev. Peter M. Carey is the school chaplain at St. Catherine's School for girls in Richmond, Virginia and is also on the clergy staff at St. Mark's Episcopal Church in Richmond. His theological assumptions are challenged and strengthened while leading services for over 800 young people each week and at home with his three children under 5 years old. He blogs at Santos Woodcarving Popsicles.

An exchange of missionaries

By Lauren R. Stanley

More than 1,000 Anglicans went to Jerusalem last month for the Global Anglican Future Conference (GAFCON). They were going, they said, to defend the faith. In the end, they claimed that they alone knew the truth, and as a result, have set up a new movement that they claim is one of the Spirit.

The participants, from the Global South, have many beefs with the Global North. In the South, they say, the Spirit is moving; in the North, they have decided, it is not. In the South, they say, true Anglicans are being faithful; in the North, they claim, faithfulness has been set aside. In the South, they say, the “true” Gospel is being proclaimed; in the North, they declare it is discredited by culture and militant secularism.

Many of those bishops who attended GAFCON will not be at Lambeth later this month, because they feel the Anglican Communion has erred and strayed too far from what they say the Gospel means.

But if they don’t attend Lambeth – and latest reports show that scores of these bishops, many from Nigeria, will not – how will they ever get to know what those in the Global North really believe? And how will those who attend get to know those who stay home?

What we have here is a lack of understanding, not only of each other’s interpretation of the Gospel, but of each other. Those in the Global South simply do not know those in the Global North very well, and those in the Global North know those in the Global South hardly at all. Instead, people on each side proclaim what they say those on the other side believe, and refuse to engage, refuse to seek the truth, refuse to let God work God’s wonders upon the relationships.

This truly is at the core of the misunderstandings and disputes taking place in the Anglican Communion today: A refusal to enter into real communion with each other.

So how do we resolve this problem? How do we get to know each other better, so that we can understand each other better? How do we enter into each other’s lives so deeply that in the end, we not only seek Christ in each other, but find Christ in each other as well?

One answer is to go live and move and have our being with each other. To send people from each side to serve as representatives of their churches in those areas of the world where the disagreement is strongest. In other words, to send missionaries forth, not just from the Global North to the Global South, but from the Global South to the Global North as well.

As an appointed missionary of the Episcopal Church, serving in the Episcopal Church of Sudan, I can tell you that actually living in another culture opens your eyes to whole new understandings of God’s love for all of God’s very good creation. Living and moving and having your being in a place that is foreign to you in almost every aspect forces you to look at God’s people in new ways. It forces you to let go of all those things you are used to, all those things you have always taken for granted, and makes you reset your priorities. Sometimes, those priorities are small: clean water for bathing, for example. Sometimes, they are huge: How do you proclaim a Gospel of God’s wild, radical, inexplicable, never-ending love among a people who have lived in a state of war for five decades, where death is an ever-present companion and hatred is a norm?

When you go to a new place, you take all your baggage with you, regardless of Jesus’ instructions to take nothing along on the journey. Packed in that bag is your hermeneutic, the cultural forces that formed you as a child. Going forth from the United States, where religious freedom and pluralism are taken for granted, to a country where religion not only divides the people, but is still being used an excuse to harm and sometimes kill those same people, makes you think about your religion, and your faith, in whole new and much deeper ways. It forces you to decide what is important, and what is not, what you will cling to, regardless of the harm that may come your way, and what you can let go of, because in God’s greater scheme, it’s not all that important any more.

And living in that new place, as a member of the Anglican Communion, does one more thing: It reinforces the great joy of being a member of something that is so much bigger than you.

The Episcopal Church – the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society – does send forth missionaries. Not enough, I grant you; I wrote about that last month, and will continue to write about that in coming months. But even though we don’t have enough missionaries serving in the fields of the Lord, we have some, and the ones we have are making a difference. They are the face of the Episcopal Church, and in the places where they serve, the people with whom they serve do not see some monolithic Global North church trying to dictate to them what to believe and how to act, which is what the participants in GAFCON would have them believe. Rather, they see people who are doing their best, however limited that might be, to live into the Gospel imperatives to love God and love neighbor, to seek and to serve those most in need, to preach the Gospel with their very lives.

It is not enough to simply go and visit with each other. Visits help, to be sure, but far too often, when someone visits us, we put out our best china, we clean the house, we make sure that the odd uncle or crazy aunt is hidden away. Visiting gives us only a glimpse of how other people live; it is like seeing through a mirror darkly.

Living with each other, long-term, helps us to see more clearly. Only when we live together do we discover that the best china has been borrowed from six different neighbors, that the house rarely looks this good, and that the odd uncle and crazy aunt not only live with you, you are responsible for caring for them daily. Living together makes both sides adjust to each other. The formalities fall away, the realities come to the fore, and very soon, real communication – and real communion – take place.

If we truly believe that this Communion is worth saving, that we are stronger by working together as messengers of the Gospel, then we need to act. We need to be brave enough to go where angels fear to tread, counting on those same angels to catch us before our feet strike the ground

We need more people to go forth on long-term, full-time mission assignments. We as a Church need to put our money where our mouths are, to fully support missionaries – hundreds of them, not mere tens of them – so that people around the Communion can get to know us better. And we need to bring missionaries here from other portions of the Communion, so that we can get to know them better. That is the only way to strengthen this Communion of ours, and the only way to truly serve the Gospel -- together.

The Rev. Lauren R. Stanley is an Appointed Missionary of the Episcopal Church serving in the Diocese of Renk, Sudan. She is a lecturer at the Renk Theological College, teaching Theology, Liturgy and English, and serves as chaplain for the students.

Playfishness

By Margaret M. Treadwell

My summer begins in early June when the dolphins are back playing in the ocean off Cape Henlopen, knowing better how to play than any human being I ever met. Webster’s Dictionary defines play as moving lightly; “to frisk; to flutter; as, sunlight plays on the waves; to have fun; to engage in recreation.” To my mind, dolphins are the embodiment of playfulness.

I thought about them during recent readings from Forward Day by Day which focus on “kingdom moments,” those often undervalued times when we experience God’s love, loving relationships with others and self acceptance. Without trying too hard, we almost unconsciously are living the Great Commandment: to love God and our neighbor as ourselves.

I usually draw inspiration from the dolphins on early morning beach walks, when they are playfully maneuvering through the waters to find their breakfasts. But the most remarkable “kingdom moment” I experienced with them occurred on a late afternoon after I had a quarrel with our vacationing family. Deciding the best course of action was to temporarily separate myself from the argument, I left the scene to paddle a friend’s single kayak out into Delaware Bay.

About a mile offshore, I heard what I thought was laughter. Then to my astonishment, three dolphins began to play hide-and-seek under, around and beside my small craft as if I were part of the game. For a few minutes I was afraid of capsizing, but I quickly realized that these beautiful mammals were in control of their play, had no intention of harming me and, indeed, were treating me as if I were one of them. I sat very still, allowing myself to relax into their fun while imagining that I could see through their eyes. It was a moment of awe, pure delight and a sense of oneness with the natural world.

When they moved on, I was so eager to tell my story that I forgot my anger and headed back to join my family. Maybe it was because the dolphins accepted me that I could accept and respect the differences in each of us that night. They cast their spell on our evening barbeque, which, simple as it was, stands out as the best of our times together that vacation – in retrospect, another kingdom moment.

Dolphins teach us how to be creatures of God’s Great Commandment. Over the years, I have grappled with the meaning of loving one's neighbor as oneself. One client who described herself as “stuck” asked, “Am I supposed to love myself and my neighbor or just love my neighbor, not myself?” We talked about how if we give and give ourselves away, there is no self left for giving. Conversely, opening ourselves to experience joy and blessings in God’s creation is an important way to love God and ourselves. A self is more lovable (and therefore able to love) than a no self.

Dolphins, with their basic anatomy unchanged for 5 million years and the most well-developed brains of all animals on earth, take good care of themselves while living in communities called pods. Their two eyeballs move independently so that they can close one eye to rest while the other looks ahead and behind to watch for predators. They communicate with each other through a set of sounds – whistles, clicks and chirps when they separate, bubble streams and silence when swimming together – often 50 miles a day. Each sound has about 20 different frequencies, all meaning something different. Is there any wonder this sounds like laughter to a mere mortal?

Their care for each other is expressed in a range of emotion shown in gestures, postures and touch, through which they make friends, flirt, tap each other with their pectoral fins in a show of affection, kiss, make love in the blink of an eye, fight, play and in captivity seem to confer in order to synchronize their dance. Instinctively, dolphins have a large repertoire of ways to stay healthily connected and to know what’s best for their community.

For example, when they find a bait ball (a swarm of small fish) to eat, they refrain from all attacking the bait, which would mean not enough for all. Rather, they swim individually, taking turns to consume exactly how much each needs. Their behavior reminds us that man is not the center of the universe, and The Family of Man neglects all creatures great and small at our peril.

How will you move lightly, play, have fun and re-create with God, your neighbor and yourself this summer?

Margaret M. (“Peggy”) Treadwell, LCSW -C, has been active in the fields of education and counseling for thirty-five years. Following a long association with Dr. Edwin H. Friedman, during which she served on his faculty, she co-edited and helped posthumously publish his book, A Failure of Nerve: Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix.

The Covenant is dead, and so is the Communion

By Adrian Worsfold

The Archbishop of Canterbury has had a plan. Seemingly with a consistent Catholic insight, he has wanted to reform and centralise the relationship of bishops and dioceses into a more organic arrangement with each other and his primacy.

He tells us this very well in a recent lecture contribution to The Fellowship of St. Alban and St. Sergius conference entitled Rome, Constantinople and Canterbury: Mother Churches? (There is a written transcript, as well as two audio files.)

In it he criticised Roman Catholicism, as the See of Peter suffers from "juridical anomalies and bureaucratic distortion"; he speaks of an:

ecclesial unity that is ultimately somewhat secular (that is, the unified organisation controlled from one focal point).

It comes across that he is thinking of Max Weber and the bureaucratic authority that is rational and secular, and develops from traditionalism which would include sacred authority and such as the charism of bishops.

He also criticises the autocephalous arrangement of Orthodoxy, but only specifically as it is (not its philosophy of organising):

Orthodox have often frozen the concept of primacy in an antiquarian defence of the pentarchy as the structure of the Church thus allowing non-theological power struggles rooted in nationalism and ethnocentrism to flourish with damaging results.

The pentarchy is specific: must it always follow that culturally rooted Churches end up being nationalist and ethnocentric?

His argument uses the mother Church idea for primacy, but also that one bishop is no bishop, and that there is an economy of giving and receiving that brings bishops into necessary contact with each other. The mother Church idea means that local Churches cannot exist alone.

What we see here is a theology by ecclesiology of conservation and conservatism. This is a key text:

This is why it is problematic if a local Church so interprets the gift it has received that it cannot fully share it beyond its own cultural home territory - which is an issue for both left and right in our Churches, I suspect. And the primatial initiative in challenging or seeking to limit local development on these grounds becomes intelligible as part of the service of the mother Church - to those to which it is the mother.

So here we see how the theme of "Better Bishops" at the Lambeth Conference - better interactions taking full account of the mother Church - coincides with the effort to close down singular innovations within these local Churches.

The argument he presents does not hold. It does not hold on its own argument, nor does it hold any longer due to recent events.

He discusses various mother Churches, such as the "generative" Celtic Church, but in the end there is only one mother Church and that is the Jerusalem Church. In all practicality, though, the Anglican Communion and its ultimate mother Church of England is itself a local Church to the Roman Church - and, if not specifically, then to Churches "across the globe and throughout history." How come, then, that women were ever ordained, that women could be bishops?

In other words, there has to be a theology and ecclesiology of innovation. He might say that such resides in the immediate mother Church (he doesn't, because he doesn't discuss it), but then this turns a Communion into a Church, and the Anglican Communion is not a Church. This is where he keeps making his mistake, why he talks about dioceses and then his primacy, and forgets that, like it or not, the local Churches organise the dioceses and have their own primacy.

His method is to bind the bishops and his office via a Covenant to strengthen the Instruments of Communion: however, again and again, actual Churches have rejected its narrow focus and more disciplinarian features.

His policy will not work also because of recent events. If the leaders of the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans can be believed, Anglicanism is going to have a Primates Council that is a different seat of authority. It will decide on whether a Church or a diocese is orthodox or not. It will decide this on the basis of a plain reading of the Bible understood not to contradict itself, on affirming the Thirty-nine Articles, on the one if locally translatable Book of Common Prayer, and on the Ordinal. It is unlikely such a Council will pronounce traditionalist Anglo-Catholics unorthodox, but they are marginalised (again) by this approach.

Whether the Canterbury Communion recognises or not the new Anglican Province of North America, with its Primate Bishop Robert Duncan, or continues to recognise or not The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada, authority is still going to run in two directions. Also, in England, a congregation that regards its bishop as too revisionist may find the Primates Council offering international oversight. By Church and national law (there is no doubt about it) such a congregation would have to set up independently, leaving the parish to the bishop. However, a patchwork of congregations throughout Britain leads logically to another Province with another Primate. Again, whether or not a Canterbury Communion recognises it, authority goes different ways.

In other words, the whole reform of an organic episcopal unity and a mother Church, with the binding of a Covenant, is now shattered. It is finished. There will be competing Anglican Churches with different authority centres in the same place.

From the very beginning the Archbishop's policy has been wrong. A Communion spinning with a strong centrifugal force, ideologically dividing, cannot be forced together at the centre. It needed loosening up, to try and create space and slack in the system, to allow as much variety as possible.

The autocephalous view, of Churches deciding mutual recognition, does not prevent informal gatherings of bishops, and gift receiving and giving organic interaction. Nevertheless, variety does come over one territory, and you have to learn to live with geographical overlaps. We have arrived here anyway.

The Roman Catholic Church is just that, a Church. Eastern Orthodox Churches are that, but they organise themselves. Anglican churches are more like the Eastern Orthodox: it is at best a confederation of Churches.

Bishops and clergy and laity that form a Church are entitled to innovate, even if innovating ought to involve an argument that partly looks back. It is interpretation of the gift. In the end, Churches that will innovate can relate to one another, and recognise one another. Those that cannot innovate will recognise their own.

The Covenant is surely now finished. The Primates Council does not need one as they have their means to decide orthodoxy; and now a Covenant will have neither point nor purpose. In the resulting Balkanisation of Anglicanism, some sections may want a stronger Covenant among themselves - say the South East Asians who won't want to come under the Primates Council.

Quite simply the attempt to centralise according to Catholic theory and process has resulted in disaster. Never able to provide a Protestant belief basis for a fellowship (despite the transitory Advent Letter of 2007, which was unsustainable), the New Puritans and their African ballast have decided to provide a Fellowship meaning a different direction of authority. The rest of the Communion will probably have to let be, and it needs to loosen up, for the sake of remaining good relationships - and the Archbishop's policy ought to come to a swift end.

The Lambeth Conference of bishops apparently will not have any resolutions (unless there is a revolt from within) and no doubt the Covenant will press on by detached committee, but when it comes to the Churches they ought to stop it dead and organise Anglicanism according to decentralised relationships.

Adrian Worsfold (Pluralist), has a doctorate in sociology and a masters degree in contemporary theology. He lives near Hull, in northeast England and keeps the blog Pluralist Speaks.

Episcopal seminaries grapple with new realities -- II

This is the second of a two-part article. It originally appeared in In Trust magazine, Summer 2008.

By William R. MacKaye

"We believe that the church does not need Seabury in its present form," said the Very Rev. Gary R. Hall, Seabury-Western's dean and president, in February as he announced his board of trustees' decision to close down the school's residential M.Div. program and suspend for 18 months the admission of new students to any of its programs. "There are a number of other schools who do what we have traditionally done as well as we do."

In a subsequent interview, Hall explained that money concerns forced the decision to launch a radical restructuring at this time. By moving now to balance the budget by terminating the residential M.Div. program after current students graduate, laying off administrative staff, and starting the process to end tenure and dismiss some or all permanent faculty, Seabury would have sufficient resources to offer appropriate severance packages and pay for rethinking the school's structure while still retaining some endowment for future operations. The school was contemplating an expected $500,000 deficit in the last fiscal year, which ended June 30, 2008, and a debt of $2.9 million accumulated since the board voted four years ago to reduce the annual draw on the endowment to 5 percent and open a line of credit to cover operating deficits.

"We were making it clear to ourselves that we were unable to balance the budget," said the Rev. Elizabeth Butler, vice president of advancement and administration, explaining the line of credit. Although the accepted wisdom is that prudent endowed institutions should withdraw no more than 5 percent of principal annually, many fiscally troubled organizations do draw down more. Some label the proceeds as "income from investments," a label that accounting principles permit, even though "withdrawal to cover the deficit" would be more revealing.

Seabury's financial options are more limited than EDS's. (see Part one.) Its endowment is significantly smaller ($12 million in 2007), and half its campus just north of Chicago is built on land it leases for $1 a year from Northwestern University. The lease agreement limits Seabury's use of the land solely to the operation of an Episcopal theological school.

After his acknowledgment that some other existing Episcopal residential M.Div. programs are as good as Seabury's, Hall went on to say in the original announcement: "But we also believe that the church very much needs a seminary animated by and organized around a new vision of theological education—one that is centered in a vision of baptism and its implications for the whole church, one which is flexible and adaptive and collaborative in nature."

In the phrase "centered in a vision of baptism," the dean was pointing to a principle enunciated in the Episcopal Church's 1979 Book of Common Prayer. The church's fundamental rite of ordination is baptism, says the Prayer Book. Ministers of the church include all baptized people, not just its deacons, priests, and bishops. For both theological and practical reasons, the Episcopal Church is moving toward a "nonprofessional" ministry of part-time or unpaid clergy. And an increasing amount of pastoral, spiritual, and educational work is being carried out by lay volunteers. By some estimates, between 60,000 and 100,000 lay people have been trained in Bible, church history and theology in an intensive four-year program called Education for Ministry that was devised at the University of the South School of Theology. That school (usually called simply Sewanee, for the Tennessee town where it's based) is another of the 11 Episcopal seminaries.

Hall estimated that 40 or more of the 100 U.S. dioceses of the Episcopal Church are now ordaining priests who are locally trained and have little or no seminary experience. Such clergy were once restricted to serve in the congregations in which they were ordained, but recent changes in church law now permit them to serve wherever they are called, if the local bishop approves. Noting that a "two-tier clergy would not be healthy" for the church, with some priests theologically educated and some not, he suggested one scenario for Seabury's future might be providing online and extension education for such men and women.

Uncertain future

The Seabury board's charge to the dean is twofold: bring expenses into line with revenue and develop a detailed plan for the future operation of the seminary. He is to be assisted in these tasks by a committee of six officers or trustees of the school and two faculty members.

The goal of the planners, Hall said, is to remake Seabury into an organization with a Chicago presence that will serve unserved parts of the church, working through a series of collaborative relationships. It may remain in Evanston in association with its present neighbor, Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary. Or it may relocate, perhaps to Chicago's Hyde Park neighborhood, where six other seminaries cluster around the University of Chicago, or to downtown, where the offices of the Episcopal Diocese of Chicago are located.

The dean said he expects the planning group to have the broad outlines of the prospective restructured school ready to unveil to the board at its meeting this autumn. The first challenge is to establish the value of the present campus and to negotiate with Northwestern on the purchase of at least the buildings that stand on Northwestern land. Only then will the planners have a clear picture of the school's total financial resources and hence the size of the faculty it can employ. A second challenge is to determine the future of the united library, owned jointly with Garrett-Evangelical, which Hall said is one of the 10 largest theological libraries in the United States.

Through a temporary collaborative agreement with Garrett, all current Seabury M.Div. students will be able to complete their course work and receive Seabury degrees. What degrees the future Seabury might offer is still up in the air, although the planners are eager to retain ATS accreditation. Hall predicted the doctor of ministry program to be a probable survivor; an M.Div. degree through distance education is also a possibility. But any degree programs will be collaborative with other institutions. "The days of the stand-alone institution are over," he said firmly.

Bishop Charleston, the outgoing president and dean of Episcopal Divinity School, elaborated on this point and cheered Seabury-Western's boldness in an essay published recently on Episcopal Café. He wrote:

The deeper question is not what happened at Seabury, but what is happening in the Episcopal Church? Where are we in regard to our commitment to academic excellence and spiritual formation? Right now, the answer is chaotic. We are grappling to find new models, new methods, and new mandates. Our seminaries and the national church are working together in fresh ways that promise new hopes. There is lots of action, but the climb will be uphill. Not only will our seminaries need to find new ways of working together, the whole church is going to have to find a way of actually supporting the development of its leadership rather than outsourcing its education to other, less expensive alternatives. Seabury is not the canary in the mine. Seabury is the light at the end of the tunnel.

We now have an opportunity to reclaim our role as a Christian community in the forefront of education. We have let that priority slip over the last 30 years. We have a training system marred by ideology, stuck in a cafeteria design for education, limited in technology, and financially strapped. But we have outstanding people in place and creativity in abundance if we choose to use it. The common sense and courage of Seabury is a call to us to join them in waking up to reality. If we want the Episcopal Church to remain one of the best educated faith communities in the world, we need to invest in the kinds of change that will make that possible.

The end of stand-alone, go-it-alone Episcopal seminaries is very much the hope of Donn F. Morgan, president and dean of the Church Divinity School of the Pacific (CDSP) and former head of the Episcopal Council of Deans. "If we don't serve the Episcopal Church, there's no need for us," he said of the 11 schools.

In an article published in the Spring 2008 issue of the Anglican Theological Review, Morgan wrote: "Institutions in financial crisis are often guilty of a 'silo' mentality, too preoccupied with their own problems to have much inclination or ability to dream bigger dreams, dreams which might offer new and better ways of doing education."

Under his leadership, the council—formerly a once-a-year affair—met several times in 2007 in an effort to quell the silo tendency. These conferences culminated with a four-day meeting in January in Charleston, South Carolina, where the deans were joined by trustees—in most cases board chairs of the schools—and several diocesan bishops who are board members.

"Our thesis was simple," Morgan said. "We (seminary heads) can't effect change without the help of the church and the boards."

Out of the meeting emerged a commitment for schools to work collaboratively in four areas:

• Episcopal Divinity School and Seabury-Western are to team with the Church Divinity School of the Pacific and Bexley Hall on programs of education for "total ministry"—that is, group ministry that includes both clergy and trained laity.
• EDS, CDSP and Bexley are to work with the Episcopal Theological Seminary of the Southwest (ETSS) in Austin, Texas, on theological education via distance learning.
• Seabury, CDSP and ETSS are to collaborate with The General Theological Seminary in New York on education for Hispanic ministry.
• General, Berkeley Divinity School at Yale, Nashotah House in Wisconsin, Sewanee, and Virginia Theological Seminary are to develop an education program for underdeveloped areas of the Anglican world, especially in Africa.

The seminary board chairs also agreed to meet at least annually, possibly without the deans.

It's Morgan's hope that the joint projects mean that the days of Lone Rangers are over. "The Episcopal seminaries, in doing theological education in a new way, must no longer work separately and secretly," he said, "but transparently and in accord with agreed-upon common goals."

The noncrisis at Bexley

How did Bexley Hall become part of the news stories earlier this year that arose from the financial crises at Episcopal Divinity School and Seabury- Western? The Very Rev. John R. Kevern, Bexley's dean and president, noted that the closure of the school's Rochester program was the end of a gradual process that began with Bexley's establishing an alliance with Trinity Lutheran Seminary in 1998. The Rochester closing was actually announced in May 2007. In his view, the story was revived this year by critics eager to suggest that Episcopal seminaries are failing enterprises.

"Actually, our enrollment is growing," Bexley's dean said.

A major factor involved in the closing of the Rochester program, he said, was a state ruling that with the termination of the school's cooperative venture with Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School, Bexley was no longer entitled to award degrees in New York. It was also doubtful that the Rochester campus could qualify for reaccreditation. Bexley has found its collaboration with Trinity Lutheran more comfortable than the arrangement with Colgate Rochester Crozer, which it ended several years ago. The Episcopal Church and the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, Trinity's sponsoring denomination, have a concordat of full intercommunion and mutual recognition of ministries.

In Columbus, Bexley rents a building on the Trinity campus as its headquarters and enrolls its own student body, the dean explained. It passes on to Trinity three-quarters of the tuition it receives, and Trinity in return offers most of the courses that Bexley students take. Bexley's three full-time and one half-time faculty members offer courses in Anglican studies (which attract some Trinity seminarians) and preside over Bexley's spiritual formation program.

One of Bexley's points of pride is this emphasis on formation. Students and faculty participate in an annual extended retreat, much of it in silence. Faculty members commit themselves to a rule of life. And students are asked to draw up and pursue a similar rule for themselves in consultation with a spiritual director.

With only about 25 full-time-equivalent students currently, Bexley is the smallest accredited Episcopal seminary. But that doesn't mean it's a failing institution. It has agreed to participate in two of the Episcopal multiseminary collaborations now in creation.

"Closing Rochester freed up money for Columbus," said the Rev. Carlson Gerdau, Bexley's board chair. "We've got $9 million in the bank and no buildings to worry about. We're in good shape."


William R. MacKaye is editor emeritus of In Trust magazine and a parishioner at St. Stephen and the Incarnation, Washington, D. C.

Episcopal seminaries grapple with new realities -- I

This is the first of a two-part article. It originally appeared in In Trust magazine, Summer 2008.

By William R. MacKaye

Several years ago, the senior administrators and the trustees of Episcopal Divinity School (EDS) and Seabury-Western Theological Seminary grew alarmed about the rate at which they were drawing down their endowments in order to balance their operating budgets. Both attempted cost-cutting efforts, but the results were insufficient to stanch the financial drain. Then, earlier this year, the schools, which are two of the 11 accredited theological schools of the Episcopal Church, concluded that they were summoned to make major changes in their lives.

EDS announced the sale of about a third of its Cambridge, Massachusetts, campus to nearby Lesley University for $33.5 million.

Seabury, based in Evanston, Illinois, announced it would terminate its residential master of divinity program and would withdraw into 18 months of "discernment" about its future. In April, Seabury went on to lay off nine members of its administrative support staff (effective at the end of the 2007–08 academic year), leaving only four to assist its three senior administrators. It simultaneously notified the school's eight faculty members that none could be assured jobs beyond June 30, 2009.

There is as well a larger picture. Dramatic change in the Episcopal Church's approach to ministry training lies behind the two announcements, which are sweeping in themselves. This evolving approach to training is also behind the news that a third, smaller Episcopal school, Bexley Hall, is shuttering its one-time main base in Rochester, New York. Bexley will continue as a property-less partner of Trinity Lutheran Seminary in Columbus, Ohio.

The high cost of residential theological education conducted in accordance with the traditional academic model—$50,000 a year per student at Seabury, for example, with only $13,000 covered by tuition—turns out to be only one element in the growing pressure in the Episcopal Church to develop a new system of training for ministry. Equally important are a number of other factors:

The number of candidates for M.Div. degrees enrolled in Episcopal seminaries is no longer bountiful. It’s been hovering between 600 and 750 for 20 years which is not enough to sustain 11 schools, all with the principal mission of educating Episcopal candidates for full-time professional ministry.

A growing number of Episcopal congregations, especially in rural areas, can no longer support a full-time priest, and many congregations throughout the church are finding their old patterns of life increasingly difficult to pay for. Moreover, many are not currently persuaded that spending on education, especially for new clergy, should be a priority.

Only about half of new Episcopal clergy learn their theology in Episcopal seminaries. Many choose other routes to ordination because of cost and because they cannot conveniently transplant themselves to where the seminaries are. One alternate pattern is two years in an interdenominational seminary or seminary of another denomination near the candidate's home, followed by one year of "Anglican studies" in an Episcopal seminary.

Another alternative is study under the guidance of one or several clergy, enriched perhaps by online courses offered by an accredited theological school.

To some extent, the seminaries have not provided the training that bishops want their new clergy to have. Since 1970, the Episcopal Church has required candidates for ordination to take the difficult General Ordination Examination and demonstrate "proficiency" in seven areas ranging from Bible to liturgics to contemporary social issues. But under church law, each candidate's bishop, assisted perhaps by the diocesan Commission on Ministry, decides whether the candidate is proficient and is qualified for ordination. Standards and expectations vary from diocese to diocese, and the bishop has the last word.

Buildings become cash

When Boston architect Brett Donham, chair of the Episcopal Divinity School board of trustees, joined the board five years ago, the administration and the trustees had just admitted to themselves that the school was drawing down its endowment too rapidly, Donham said in an interview. "And the endowment was not being very well managed," he added.

Donham credited the wake-up call to findings and recommendations of the Auburn Center for the Study of Theological Education, which EDS had hired as consultant. (Auburn has also worked with Seabury-Western on its restructuring.) In response, the EDS board retrieved the endowment from its solo manager and retained an adviser who spread the fund among three management firms for greater diversification.

Then the board directed Bishop Steven Charleston, EDS's then-president and dean, to make significant cuts in the school's operating budget. And architect Donham called for an appraisal of the school's eight-acre campus, which lies just a few blocks from Cambridge's Harvard Square.

"We were astounded at its value," Donham recalled. Among other discoveries: Some faculty members were living in seminary-provided houses that were worth $3.5 million each.

Meanwhile, the board and the administration found that endowment performance couldn't be improved enough, and costs couldn't be cut enough, to balance the budget. Furthermore, Weston Jesuit School of Theology, which rented some of EDS's buildings and collaborated with EDS on library services, gave notice it was moving to Boston to join forces with Jesuit-sponsored Boston College. The next step for the Episcopal school, painful as it might be, was clear. It was going to have to part with some or all of its property if it was to return to health.

Donham likened the board's reaction to the stages of grief outlined in Elisabeth Kübler-Ross's classic formula: first denial, then anger, then bargaining and depression, and finally acceptance. In EDS's case, this acceptance was even filled with hope. Abandoning the piecemeal solutions to problems it had previously pursued, the school and the board launched a comprehensive self-study of seminary operations.

"We found we were deluding ourselves about the efficiency of the use of our space," Donham said. In fact, 40 percent was unused—a partial sale might hamper expansion at some future date, but if well crafted, it wouldn't interfere with present operations at all.

Alternatives explored

Planners investigated moving EDS to the campus of Andover-Newton Theological School in suburban Newton Centre. Not enough space. How about creating a campus in downtown Boston? Too expensive. Buying a defunct Roman Catholic high school in another Boston suburb? Nixed by the "ick" quality of an ugly building. And then Bishop Charleston had lunch with Joseph B. Moore, the new president of neighboring Lesley University, a rapidly expanding school that was already leasing one of the EDS dormitories. Neighborly conversation quickly became serious negotiations, and a deal was struck. For $33.5 million, Lesley would acquire seven EDS buildings and assume shared ownership of Sherrill Hall, EDS's library, which was about to become half empty with the withdrawal of Weston Jesuit's collection. EDS would retain 13 other buildings.

When final, the sale will increase EDS's endowment to around $71.5 million. Moreover, "Lesley is picking up $1 million in annual operating expenses," Mr. Donham added. "That's the equivalent of another $20 million in endowment." (In other words, $1 million is 5 percent—the normal annual rate of endowment draw—of $20 million.)

In its newfound prosperity among Episcopal schools, EDS will be exceeded in endowment only by Virginia Theological Seminary, which reported reserves of $154 million in 2007. But money is far from the full story. Donham and the board are confronted with immediate challenges and opportunities just ahead. As the agreement with Lesley was consummated, Bishop Charleston, 59, announced he would step down as president and dean June 30. The board must launch the search for both an interim and a permanent chief executive as it and other senior administrators concurrently pursue the details of the covenant that will govern the school's collaboration with Lesley. Lesley is strong in distance education, which EDS is committed to improve in. Lesley offers a graduate degree in social work, a possible congruent profession for priests in a church that wants more bivocational clergy. In addition, EDS is committed to pursue and deepen its collaboration with other Episcopal theological schools.

"We will not be the same institutions in five years," Donham said. Surveying the coming months for EDS, he added, "People feel we're on the road to success and they want to be part of it."

Indeed, as a token of that confidence in the future, EDS announced recently it had created and filled two new faculty positions.

William R. MacKaye is editor emeritus of In Trust magazine and a parishioner at St. Stephen and the Incarnation, Washington, D. C.

Recognizing Bishop White

By Greg Jones

Edward M. Jefferys, Twelfth Rector of St. Paul's in Philadelphia, wrote eloquently about Bishop William White some seventy-one years ago - on the event of the sesquicentennial of Bishop White's consecration to the Episcopate. He writes:

William White was, while Samuel Seabury was not, "the Father of the Episcopal Church" in the United States. After the conclusion of the Revolution, William White visioned, planned, worked for, and far more than any other achieved, the organization, and then guided the first steps, of the American Church. He it was who thought the question through, inspired others with the thought, won over the half-hearted, conciliated the objectors, gained through the right channels the good offices of our government, of the British King and Parliament and of the Church of England, the latter having been long willing to grant the episcopate to the colonies; and crowned his efforts by obtaining for us the English succession through his consecration and the consecration of Dr. Provoost by the then Archbishop of Canterbury, the Archbishop of York, the Bishop of Bath and Wells, and the Bishop of Peterborough. It was, therefore, he more than any one else who brought the churchmen of the North and South together, and inspired them with the vision of a National Church.

It is indeed true that White not only authored the seminal vision of the structure and polity of the Episcopal Church, he also shepherded it through challenging conventions, and through the necessary avenues of ecclesiastical diplomacy with the Church of England. William White, not Seabury, not Provoost, not anyone else, presided over the nascent Episcopal Church as it would become the first independent Anglican Church in full communion and with the full support of the Church of England.

As we go into a Lambeth Conference season - let us not forget that The Episcopal Church has a significant place in the Communion - not because we are Americans, but because, by providence, our own founding effectively gave rise to the Anglican Communion itself. No only does The Episcopal Church owe this in great part to the leadership of William White - but so too does the entire Anglican Communion. White led the process which established the reality of an Anglicanism bigger than the established churches of Great Britain, resulting in a global communion of Anglicans united by affection, faith and common prayer. All of us should bear that in mind as we continue in this life of Christ together - in this province and all.

I believe that White may be seen as a representative figure of the comprehensive Anglican leader. Like him, we continue to need leaders in the Episcopal Church and Anglican Communion who:


  • Treasure the faith and order of the Prayer Book tradition, allowing revision as provided for in the first preface of 1549, while not requiring it to be radically revised either;
  • Value the doctrinal witness of that Prayer Book, and the prayer books and articles of faith which have followed since 1549; understanding that the Articles of Faith in particular, contain a number of differently understood points, and in general have not been required in the Episcopal Church ever, or the wider Anglican Communion for decades;
  • Cherish the continuity of connection and communion with the See of Canterbury;
  • Believe in the equal honor and dignity of all four orders of ministry, and works toward a truly conciliar ecclesiology in which all orders share in authority and governance;
  • Supports high-level theological education for all leaders, especially clergy;
  • Manages to bridge gaps cultural and theological within the wider Anglican fellowship for the sake of the unity which the Holy Trinity calls us to exhibit as a people called to inhabit in the triune life of God.
  • The Rev. Samuel Gregory Jones ("Greg") was educated at the University of North Carolina and the General Theological Seminary, where he is on the board. He is rector of St. Michael's Raleigh, and blogs at fatherjones.com.

    Bringing the "Voice" of GLBT Africans to Lambeth

    By Katie Sherrod

    Several of us have been trying for months to figure out how to get the voices of GLBT Africans heard at the Lambeth Conference.

    Getting them there physically is very difficult, because it's hard for them to get passports and visas. Many of them can't get jobs because they are gay—or in the case of straight allies—because they are sympathetic to the GLBT cause. The British immigration people don't care why they are jobless -- they just won't let them in if they don't have a job to return to.

    So the idea for a Voices of Witness Africa video, similar to the Voices of Witness 2006 video produced by Louise Brooks for Claiming the Blessing, emerged. It seemed a natural way to bring the African witness into the Lambeth context. But raising money takes time, and the first bloc of funding didn't arrive until the first of June.

    So with less than ten days to prepare -- getting visas, lots of shots, setting up interviews, arranging for equipment, reassuring spouse/partner/children that we would be safe, and taking a big gulp of faith -- Cynthia Black and I headed off to Africa to try to talk to as many GLBT Africans as we could. We were looking for witnesses to the fact that yes, there are GLBT folk in Africa, just as there are all over the rest of the world, and yes, many of them are faithful Christians, even -- dare I say it -- Anglicans.

    We videotaped their stories for a video to be shown at Lambeth to as many bishops as we can corral, and perhaps, at General Convention 2009.

    We had raised enough money to get us to London, where we could interview some GLBT Nigerians who had fled there for sanctuary, and then to Uganda, and to Kenya. We had enough to get us back home, where I am now trying to compress 20-plus interviews into a tightly-structured video that doesn’t run too long, while doing justice to the stories of the courageous people we met. It is an awesome responsibility, for just by talking to us these folks are risking more than any of us privileged people can begin to understand.

    Among those we talked to were a transgendered (female to male) Nigerian; a partnered lesbian activist in Uganda; one of a pair of gay 20-something twins in Kenya; a gay Ugandan farmer whose dream is to own two acres of land to grow his sugarcane; gay partners in Kenya who dream of having their union blessed; a gay Nigerian who was beaten badly simply for being gay; and many more. We also interviewed some of their straight allies -- a Ugandan bishop, a Kenyan Anglican priest, a Ugandan law professor and feminist; and a Kenyan Methodist minister.

    Here is some of what they said:

    "If the church happens to allow inclusion and let our voices be heard and let tell our story how it is, it will go a long way because as a gay man or lesbian woman -- your dreams and aspirations are most times caught at a point . . . you have ideas and you have visions and you want to do things for the common good for humanity but you are kind of like, you get caught up and you don’t want your voice to be heard and you don’t want to raise the dust as they say, so you just stay quiet and so you voice, your dreams, your vision just dies with you." -- A gay Nigerian

    "Another question is do they really know that we have gay people in our churches? Do they really know that they worship in those same churches and when they preach sermons which are going to send them away rather than to bring them to Christ what are they really doing? What do they think when people run away from Christ rather than come closer to Christ? Do they really know that this is a reality? Those are questions that they should ponder, they should sober up, come together and reflect, not fight with amongst each other. We are one. God is not happy, and God wants us all together." A gay Kenyan

    "It is because the high profile people in Uganda and to hear them inciting the public how to treat us it really hurts me. These are people especially the Church leaders who are supposed to be preaching love, tolerance, and acceptance and instead they are the ones trying to preach the opposite of that. Like in today’s newspaper the whole head of Church in Uganda Orombi, is busy wasting time about gay marriages in UK instead of concentrating on pressing issues that affect the people of Uganda like the war in Northern Uganda. They are busy talking about people married in UK. They are wasting time on issues which are not really a big deal." A lesbian Ugandan

    "Well, I think the bottom line, when it comes to God – God is love. And that should be it. Homosexuals do not practice something else, we are not killers, we are not murderers, we are not molesters, we are not bad, We are like your average people, except that we choose to love in a different way, but at the end of the day it is love -- we love deeply, truly, honestly, and we should be given a chance to show that to the world. Do not force people into closets. Instead talk positively about people like us, homosexuals so that people who for whatever reason they think that we are bad because they do not know any better, when they hear this from leaders in the church, they might change their attitudes and make it better for us to exist." A lesbian Kenyan

    "I would love to let people know that homosexuality is not epitome of what is wrong in this world. I’m out, but I’ve come to realize that people perceive me as what is wrong with this world. If asked what is wrong with this world, I’m sure they’d go like "that gay man is wrong with this world." Now I’d love people to know, that is not what is wrong with this world. There are far more worst things to be in this life, worst things that they themselves do behind closed doors. I’m open about this and this is not the worst thing to be in life and if anything, it’s the best thing." A gay Kenyan


    My editor and I are putting our interview together in a dynamite video, but our work isn’t finished, and we are running out of money.

    We need your help to pay for the rights to music and archival footage that will enhance our presentation and the delivery fees that will allow us to put our video in the hands of every bishop in the Anglican Communion.

    $6,500 would do those jobs. Can you help us?

    Integrity is set up to be the fiscal agent for Voices of Witness Africa. Checks should be made payable to "Integrity" with "VOWA" in the memo line and mailed to the address below.

    There is a VOWA option for online giving page--www.integrityusa.org/donate.

    Independence and interdependence

    By N.J.A. Humphrey

    The Feast of St. Benedict falls every year on the 11th of July, exactly a week after the 4th of July, our Independence Day. In some ways, one could make the case that these two commemorations stand for opposite values: Independence Day is about shaking off tyrannical authority, for self-determination, for freedom—or, as Jefferson wrote in the Declaration of Independence, “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” St. Benedict, on the other hand, is the founder of western monasticism; his Rule stresses the absolute authority of an abbot over his monks, the dependence of the monk on his community, and the rootedness to be found in one place until death. In his Rule, we find the three Benedictine vows of obedience, stability, and conversion of life. Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence is all about freedom; Benedict’s Rule is all about service.

    But do obedience, stability, and conversion of life necessarily stand in the way of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness? In pondering this question, a phrase from Morning Prayer wafted into my mind: “whose service is perfect freedom.” I looked it up and found this collect:

    O God, who art the author of peace and lover of concord, in knowledge of whom standeth our eternal life, whose service is perfect freedom: Defend us, thy humble servants, in all assaults of our enemies; that we, surely trusting in thy defense, may not fear the power of any adversaries; through the might of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

    Reading these words, I could imagine soldiers on both sides of the conflict in the Revolutionary War praying this collect before marching into battle. There is a militaristic ring to these words—“assaults,” “enemies,” “defense,” “adversaries,” “might.” And yet, this prayer is titled in our Prayerbook A Collect for Peace. I was reminded that the first battles of the War for American Independence were fought at Lexington and, ironically, a town called Concord.

    I find this collect very challenging because the prayer is so realistic: even when we want peace, we will have enemies. Yet, even when our adversaries have power over us, if we trust in God, we do not have to fear that power. We can choose, instead, to serve God, in “whose service is perfect freedom,” and this is true whether we are at peace or at war, whether we are on the “right” side or the “wrong” side, a “winner” or a “loser” in the various battles we wage, or those that are waged against us. We do not need to participate in the violent counter-assaults and power-plays of life, if we find our freedom in serving the God who is the author of peace and lover of concord.

    Ah, but where does any of this leave us with Independence Day and St. Benedict, with the American values of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness versus the monastic values of obedience, stability, and conversion of life? We are left, I think, always in that creative tension between independence and interdependence. Responsible Christian discipleship and healthy Christian community depend upon these two things. The tension between independence and interdependence never fully resolves, but resolution isn’t the point. The point is for us to pursue true happiness, which is found in the service of God—and God is best served when we serve others, and allow others to serve us.

    I had the privilege of living with some Benedictine Monks over a couple of summers in college and seminary, and I remember celebrating both the 4th of July and the 11th of July with thanksgiving and prayer. The monks who offered me hospitality knew what it meant to take responsibility for their own lives of faith and to rely on each other to sustain a community of faith that was both contemplative and active. It was at that monastery that I first began to discern the shape of my Christian vocation to priesthood, and I recall those days with gratitude and fondness.

    This July, I am looking forward to celebrating both Independence Day and “Interdependence Day,” as I have come to think of the feast of St. Benedict, for each of us needs to be both independent and interdependent in order to grow into the full stature of Christ as we serve God and each other, and in that service, to pursue the kind of happiness that alone leads to perfect freedom.

    The Rev. Nathan J. A. Humphrey is curate of St. Paul’s, K Street in Washington, D. C.. He writes on issues of ecclesiology at http://communioninconflict.blogspot.com.

    Women as global church

    By Jane Carol Redmont

    A few months after the last Lambeth Conference, in 1998, the World Council of Churches held its General Assembly in Harare, Zimbabwe.

    The Assembly was preceded by a festival celebrating the completion of the 1988-1998 Ecumenical Decade of Churches in Solidarity with Women.

    These days, with Lambeth looming, we Anglicans tend to filter the word “church” through a particular lens. Like all lenses, it affects our vision, focusing on some realities and leaving others blurred.

    I want to talk about church and about women as church.

    Think of this as taking the camera we have been training on the Anglican muddle and performing two actions with it: zooming it outward and around to include the church universal, and examining the whole view through the lens of women’s experience and insight.

    Church: not just the Anglican Communion, but the church in its fullness and multiplicity: the oikoumene, the word for the world church also meaning “the whole inhabited earth” -- this fragile earth, our island home, where God dwells among us.

    Women as church: not just women in the worldwide church, but women AS church.

    Why women as church? Sometime in the 1980s a shift happened within churches and in ecumenical gatherings, both formal and informal. (Pioneers in this shift were Roman Catholic women, including those associated with Women-Church.) The focus of women's language about church participation, both at the grass roots and among professional theologians, shifted from a "Please, sir, may I have some more" approach --"Please make room for us,” “Please let us in”-- to a different angle: "We are church and have always been church.”

    Some of those who began speaking of women as church understood themselves as feminists. Some did not. Whatever they called themselves, they reflected and continue to reflect on what it means to be church all over the world, in and across a multiplicity of Christian communions and confessions.

    Women are church.

    This naming marked a shift in the theology of church.

    It did not mean that all persons, in practice, suddenly became equal.

    Women make up a majority of worshippers in all Christian churches. Go up the hierarchical ladder and you find fewer and fewer of us.

    This is not the only indicator of women's lives as church; far from it. It is one among many.

    Over the last few decades, both before and after the shift in understanding from “women in the church” to “women as church,” women have drawn attention to destructive and interrelated realities. These realities are systemic and institutional, not simply individual. They exist outside and inside the church. They weave and bind together sexism, racism, xenophobia, heterosexism, and socio-economic class bias, sometimes called "classism." (Stay with me. This is not about throwing around ideological jargon, but about the real lives of real people who are church, and about what church is in their lives.)

    Women in the worldwide church have noted the relation between church teaching and practice on the one hand and social practices harmful to women on the other. The ways we interpret the Bible, offer or neglect pastoral care, structure leadership and liturgy, directly affect the health and well-being of women and their dependent children.

    Do you know the major issue women identified during the WCC Decade of Churches in Solidarity with Women?

    Violence. Violence against women.

    In homes. In churches. And of course on battlefields, in migrant camps, on streets, but especially in those other places, home and church, the places that should be the safest. No socio-economic class, race, or nationality was exempt. Women from every country and every church reported this violence.

    Violence was the major issue brought up by church women. As a Christian issue. As an ecumenical issue. As an issue directly and intimately related to who we say we are as friends and disciples of Jesus and as images, icons, of the living God, the one and holy Trinity.

    The three other key issues lifted up by "the Decade," as it became known, were:

    - Women's full and creative participation in the life of the church. (Are women participating in the life of the church to the full extent of their God-given gifts? Are women as well as men of all races, cultures, and economic conditions viewed as the images of God? Do the language and the shape of the liturgy reflect this? Do women have access to theological education? If they have access to it, can they use it to the fullest extent of their abilities? Are they justly remunerated for it? Do we value the wisdom of church women, whether or not they have formal theological education? Do we reflect this in the way we raise our girl children in the church?)

    - The global economic crisis and its effects on women in particular. (Women and their dependent children are disproportionately affected by poverty. Everywhere. In the U.S. Mexico, Haiti, India, Thailand, Ghana, Brazil, Fiji.)

    - Racism and xenophobia and their specific impact on women. (If you are dark-skinned and a woman, you are more likely to be poor. If you are a migrant or immigrant and a woman, your chances of suffering from both poverty and violence increase. So do the risks for your children's health and well-being.)

    During the second half of the Decade, the WCC inaugurated a new method. Teams of four people, usually two women and two men, visited local churches around the world. It was the first time in its 50-year history that the WCC used this model of local, person to person visits. The WCC chose to call these visiting teams "Living Letters," using the language of Paul in the Second Letter to the Corinthians: "You show that you are a letter from Christ delivered by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts." (2 Cor. 3:3, RSV)

    (The WCC is now in the middle of a Decade to Overcome Violence whose focus and methodology are in part inspired by the Decade in Solidarity with Women. It too has a Living Letters process.)

    In the years before the Decade, another WCC project involved tens of thousands of women, extending beyond the Orthodox, Anglican, Protestant, Pentecostal, and other members of the WCC to include Roman Catholic and other Christian women. The project was called the Community of Women and Men in the Church and has become known as "the Community Study."

    Placed within the Faith and Order secretariat, a sign of its significance for the very understanding of the church (not only for “women in the church”), the Community Study lasted from 1978 to 1982. Its roots predated even the founding Assembly of the WCC in 1948. They also included the more recent WCC conference on "Sexism in the 1970s" held in 1974, the first time a World Council of Churches international gathering used the term "sexism."

    That year, the first women were ordained priests in the Episcopal Church. The WCC staff member coordinating the 1974 conference on sexism was a Black South African Anglican named Brigalia Hlophe (Ntombemhlophe) Bam. Brigalia Bam later served as the Secretary-General of the South Africa Council of Churches. She is now Chair of South Africa's Independent Electoral Commission.

    The 1988-98 Decade inaugurated the Living Letters visits. The 1978-82 Community Study was innovative as well: it reached the grassroots to an unprecedented extent, more broadly than any other WCC project. Its study booklet on church and community life, originally published in three languages, was translated into thirteen more, inviting women to offer their visions and hopes for a renewed community of women and men. Consultations large and small took place on every continent.

    Note the processes by which the two projects, the Community Study and the Decade, came up with their findings. They were broadly based, involving church members at the base as well as leaders, with a focus on the base. They were ecumenical enterprises. They involved face to face conversation with much listening. They examined the relationship between faith in Christ and daily life, and the relationship between women’s daily lives and the institutional structures affecting them. Women’s voices predominated. In both projects, there were few speeches. A great deal of sitting in circles took place, with much breaking and melting of silence, a lot of tension, tears, and anger, but also patience, hospitality, and hope.

    At Lambeth the Bible study will be participatory and involve a carefully designed process, though it will of course involve only the invited bishops and their spouses. Gerald O. West, a South African theologian who spoke at the Society for the Study of Anglicanism last November in San Diego, a contextual and liberation-oriented scholar who has also worked with women's concerns and examined approaches to biblical interpretation in the age of HIV/AIDS, has been coordinating the design of the sessions. This reassures me, as does my bishop’s prayer that he and his brother and sister bishops at Lambeth will open their hearts to God and to each other.

    Still, I wonder. Will there be true circles of listening, of struggling with difference with integrity, charity, and hope? Will they call upon the Holy Spirit with a longing for justice? Whose voices will never reach the circle?

    Still more, I confess: Lambeth and GAFCON raise the same questions for me when I look at them through a feminist lens, which is the lens of women as global church.

    Who is defining the situation?

    What is church? Who is church? Where is church?

    Who decides? Who interprets? Whom does this benefit?

    What is unity? At what cost and over whose backs do we build unity?

    What are the truly important matters for the friends of Jesus who call themselves the Body of Christ?

    What are the needs of the world and the signs of the times?

    Where ought our attention to be directed in these times?

    And where, where will be the women and the voices of women, of women as church?

    Jane Carol Redmont chairs the Anti-Racism Committee of the Episcopal Diocese of North Carolina. She blogs at Acts of Hope and has begun another blog as a resource for the committee’s work at Race, Justice, and Love. She is a faculty member in Religious Studies and Women’s Studies at Guilford College and theologian for the diocesan Deacon Formation Program.

    The testing of Abraham

    By Greg Jones

    Last Sunday's story from Genesis may be the most vital story in the entire Old Testament. Commentators have long thought so, seeing in this strange, foreign, upside-down-from-what's-to-be-expected-story-of-faith every nuance of salvation history.

    This tale of God's strange testing of Abraham, with its horrible potential, and Abraham's choice to trust God through it (his choice to sacrifice even his son, his heir, his legacy) trusting that if God calls for it then somehow God will make it all well, this is a big story.

    We cannot even begin to know what Jesus, the Cross and the Good News are about if we haven't struggled a bit with this story. I've struggled with it for many years, joining twenty-five centuries of rabbis and twenty centuries of the Church, all looking at it, trying to make heads or tails of what seems an absolutely absurd request on the part of God.

    Pretty much, the essential interpretation is that this story is about trusting God, against all the things that would conspire to make you lose that trust – even filial love, even reason, even common sense, even every bit of human knowledge about what's what.

    It's about welcoming into your heart a God who is indeed very strange, very foreign, very other. It's about taking the biggest chance of all – and giving up all control – and saying, "God, I trust that you will make alright something that to me looks very, very bad."

    Despite all evidence to the contrary in this story, Abraham chooses to trust that God's way is the good way. He says, "God will provide." Kierkegaard suggests Abraham's faith in divine absurdity is – oddly enough – the saving faith God requires.

    Yes, the Salvation history of Scripture is dotted with folks who said, "Yes, Lord, I trust that you will make alright something which looks rather bad to me."

    Consider those who said:
    • "Yes, Lord, I will challenge the Pharaoh."
    • "Yes, Lord, I will fight a giant with a slingshot."
    • "Yes, Lord, I will bear this child named Jesus."
    • "Yes, Father, I will suffer and die."

    Actually, doing what God asks, being an instrument of salvation for others, isn't hard. No doing what God asks isn't hard, choosing to do it is. For, by Grace, God lifts up those who have chosen to be his instruments. God will provide those who serve Him.

    Similarly, entering the Kingdom isn't hard, choosing to enter is. For by Grace, Jesus Christ has opened the door to the kingdom, and is holding it open with the hard wood of the cross. What's hard about choosing to serve God, to enter the Kingdom, is that you can't bring your stuff with you.

    Everything we possess from proud desire, whether animal, vegetable or mineral, whether financial, social or mechanical, whether emotional, intellectual or otherwise, all the stuff we possess from proud desire cannot come with us into the kingdom.

    Maybe it's a grudge, a sweet and sour grudge. Maybe it's an ideology, that has proven successful in this world. Maybe it's tribal or national or political convictions. No matter what, all of this stuff can become idolatrous, even one's own household can be, and idolatrous stuff cannot come with us into the kingdom.

    As Jesus said, "God must come first." For, as Abraham said, "God will provide."

    Yes, God will provide all that we need to follow him and do his will. This is the witness of the faithful. This trust in the providence of God is what inspires disciples to take chances, risks and challenges for the sake of what's right. It's what allows us to welcome God and other strangers into our very midst – and it's is how the Kingdom of God is grown.

    The Rev. Samuel Gregory Jones ("Greg") is rector of St. Michael's Raleigh, and author of Beyond Da Vinci (Seabury Books, 2004). He blogs at fatherjones.com.

    Crazy things for love

    By Heidi Shott

    Twice in the past two weeks, our friend Joanne, who is an accomplished belly dancer and one of my twin sons’ godmothers, has driven 100 miles to attend each boy’s eighth grade graduation.

    In upstate New York, where I grew up, we didn’t stop and pass go for eighth grade. We just moved along to high school without fanfare or cash envelopes. But in Maine, where not so long ago, down these remote peninsulas where one could find ready work on a lobster boat or at your uncle’s boatyard, finishing eighth grade was something to be celebrated and cooed at. And it still is. The Kindergarten through Grade 8 school remains the norm around here and the eighth grade graduation is a community event. Though twins, our sons are very different people and for various reasons, one attended public school and one attended private. Joanne, who for some reason delights in these children of ours, made a point to attend both ceremonies.

    “Can you join us for dinner after?” we asked as we sat down in the folding chairs in the gym before Colin’s graduation on Wednesday night.

    “No, no,” she said. “Tomorrow night’s my belly dancing performance and I need to get to bed early.”

    In the busyness of life, I had forgotten this.

    “Tickets are five dollars with a non-perishable food item.”

    “Okay,” I said warily. “I’ll be there.” I looked over her shoulder at my wide-eyed son, Martin, who looked exceedingly glad that I’d used the first person singular. “I’ve never seen anyone really belly dance before.”

    The things we do for love.

    Someday I will write an essay called, “The Long Con.” It will be about how my husband, Scott, whom I met when I was a 17 year-old college freshmen, told me on our first date that he yearned for a motorcycle. I’ve been firmly poo-pooing this idea for the past 27 years with such brilliant rejoinders as, “You’ll kill yourself! Or worse, you’ll maim yourself and I’ll have to care for you!”

    I should have seen it coming several years ago when he talked me into letting him buy a scooter. “It only goes 35 miles an hour. It’s good for the environment.”

    Then a few years later, “It’s not safe to drive on Route 1. When someone passes by, it’s dangerous. I might get blown off the road into a ditch.” Bigger scooter that required a motorcycle license ensued.

    Then last year, “If I’m going to drive on the highway, I need a heavier bike,” he cajoled. “It’s a safety issue. There’s a Honda dealer in Chanute, Kansas that sells discounted never-ridden 2004s. It’s a great deal, but I have to pick it up in Kansas”.

    That was the dumbest, middle-aged guy thing I’d ever heard, but it didn’t stop him from picking up two college buddies enroute and making a road trip to buy a mammoth scooter…which looks remarkably like a motorcycle … in Chanute. Kansas.

    Early last Saturday morning our sons, who have recently entered their prime sleeping years, were in deep slumber. It was warm and sunny and I was drinking a peaceful cup of tea on the deck when Scott – or the Scooterian as he’s known among the on-line scooter community – stomped onto the deck in florescent yellow scooter garb and said, “We could go to Moody’s Diner for breakfast and the boys would never know.”

    “You want me to ride on the back of the scooter all the way to Moody’s? That’s ten miles.”

    “Sure. It’d be fun!”

    I looked at this man on my deck with whom I’ve spent my entire adult life and with whom, God willing, I’ll still be eating dinner long after our sleepers have cleared out. And I said, “Okay, but no splaying of my body on the roadway.”

    The things we do for love.


    This morning, Bishop Chilton Knudsen and I had a conversation in her living room over apfelstrudel and coffee. After two years away working for a community development loan fund, I am returning to full-time diocesan employ in August. We had a lot to talk about.

    We talked about the mixed signals we lay employees of the Church often feel in a work environment dominated by clerical types. Many of us have discerned that we are called by God to serve as lay people…that ordination isn’t necessary to do, as Rite One says so prettily, “all such good works as thou hast prepared for us to walk in.” But despite that calling, sometimes our ministries are made to feel less important, less like real ministry, than those of our ordained colleagues.

    The work I did as a communications director in community development and affordable housing was good work. It, too, was ministry. Low income Mainers and underserved communities benefit greatly from the efforts of organizations like the Genesis Community Loan Fund . And I never once had a phone call from a member of the press asking about human sexuality or financial misconduct or imminent schism or even “What is your organization’s opinion of the boycott of The Da Vinci Code movie by the Christian Civic League?”

    My goodness, why go back to work in communications for the Episcopal Church? When I broke the news that I was returning to work for the Diocese to my boss - a wild and deeply caring man who is also cradle Episcopalian and a former senior warden, he smiled and said quietly, “That’s good for you. You should do that, but we will miss you terribly.” It almost broke my heart to part from these wonderful people, but my love for the mission of the Church is so compelling that it’s hard to explain.

    We do all these crazy things for love. We attend tedious graduation ceremonies and enter dark theaters for mysterious belly dancing recitals. We ride on the back of dangerous two-wheeled vehicles because we know it will please our beloved.

    We work for a Church that sometimes can’t find its way …when the way and the truth and the life is spelled out for us so simply: Hello, people! Do justice, love mercy, walk humbly with God, fear nothing, love your neighbor, tell the truth, teach your children kindness and respect, honor all people by seeing Christ in them.

    God expects such hard and crazy things from us.

    This afternoon I stopped with my sons at our local hardware store to buy rabbit food.

    I’ve known the owners, Louis and Judy, for 20 years and charge everything I buy there without looking at the price. Their son, Mark, the manager, will glance at the sticker on whatever’s in my hand – a paint brush or a box of nightcrawlers - and say, “You’re all set,” and wave. Their store is as far from a big box as you can get and I will pay anything for it to be here 20 years hence. Today Judy weighed my bag of bunny pellets and wrote it down on a charge slip. Behind me in line my sons waited to buy a candy bar with their own money. They didn’t bother to waste their breath to ask if I’d buy them candy.

    “Last day of eighth grade!” I said as I stepped aside, smiling because Judy’s known them since they were babies.

    “Eighth grade!” she exclaimed, handing Colin back his dollar. “My goodness, that’s a big day! This one’s on me.”

    Perhaps not everything we do for love is hard, but it’s almost always a little crazy.

    Next month, Heidi Shott will begin work as canon for communications for the Episcopal Diocese of Maine . Her essays about trying to live a life of faith may be found at Heidoville.

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