Plus ca change

By Lauren R. Stanley

PORT AU PRINCE, Haiti – I’ve been in Haiti for just a few days now, and already, I am being bombarded with questions: How is it? Is it really different from Sudan?

After serving as a missionary for four years to the Episcopal Diocese of Renk in the northernmost part of South Sudan, I now am discovering the joys – and differences – of living and moving and having my being in the West Indies. Every day, I see something that reminds me of Sudan; every day, I encounter the differences as well. Intellectually, I know I am in a new and different place. Emotionally, I am learning to adjust. Spiritually, I never moved.

The main differences begin with the languages , of course. Here, the people speak French and Creole, instead of Arabic and Dinka and Nuer and Murle and all those other tribal languages spoken in Renk. Here, no one says Salaam aleikum. Instead, we greet each other with Bonjou or Bonswa. And the manner in which we greet each other differs greatly, too: In Sudan, we shake hands – endlessly, it sometimes seems. In Haiti, we hug and kiss on the cheek – something unheard of in my previous posting.

But even more startling than the languages, which I am learning slowly (Creole) or recovering after 30 years (French), with 10 other languages in between, is the freedom, the absolute freedom that you find in Haiti. This nation is very Caribbean in its flavor; the mode of dress alone is enough to startle the eye. But there’s freedom here that is not experienced in Sudan: Freedom to do, freedom to be, freedom to believe. In the portion of Sudan where I lived, there were few overt signs of Christianity. Yes, you could see churches and crosses atop mud huts and some signs, but that was it. Sudan is a land where religion still very much divides the people.

But in Haiti? God is everywhere, openly proclaimed. Churches proliferate. Churches bells ring. Christianity is the main religion, and no one hesitates to proclaim it, no one hides it. Even the tap-taps, the pickup trucks converted into public transportation, are covered in calls to God: Grace be with us; Immanuel; Son of God; Holy Trinity; Saint (fill in the blank with whatever name you wish). Even one of the lotteries played in this country invokes God’s presence and blessing.

And as startling for me is the freedom of the women. They can dress however they like, go wherever they like and seemingly do whatever they like. This is a nation with a female prime minister, Michele Pierre-Louis. At the hardware store yesterday, searching for plumbing parts to fix a recalcitrant shower, the person with whom I consulted, the manager, who knew more than anyone else in the store about plumbing and what I needed, was a woman! This simply is not the case in Sudan, and even though I am an American, I’ve lived overseas for a long time and am very adapted to the subservient role women take in many places. To be in Haiti, to see such leadership and freedom enjoyed by women, is both thrilling and a bit unsettling; it is something to which I will have to become – joyfully – adjusted.

But setting aside those major differences (there are others – various customs and foods come to mind), there are even greater similarities. The people are, for the most part, dirt poor here. But they try – they scramble every day – to get through the day. They work however they can; they take their children to school; they gather to talk and debate. I’m not foolish enough to say the people are happy; I am discerning enough to see the small joys they find in life and to hear their laughter. I see an intense devotion to and trust in God; an intense desire to not only survive for another day but to get ahead, even just a little bit; an incredible hunger for education.

Yes, I have moved thousands of miles, from the largest nation in Africa to one of the smallest in the world. I’m changing cultures and languages and even foods. But I am still living in the fields of the Lord, still serving God’s beloved children, still astounded at God’s grace and how it is received and displayed. Much has changed, but through the love of God, even more has joyfully remained the same.

The Rev. Lauren R. Stanley is an appointed missionary of The Episcopal Church, serving in the Diocese of Haiti in the West Indies. She began her new ministry there last week..

As summer winds down

By Greg Jones

For most of my life I have gone to Maine in the summers. It is a place of vast wilderness, rocky coastline, and just a touch of civilization. Downeasters are few relative to the square miles of woods and lakes and coast, and so the human being can quickly feel very small in Maine, even when you add in the large tourist population each summer. In many years of walking in Maine woods, canoeing lakes and rivers, and puttering on vast beaches loaded with cobbles not sand, I have also felt naturally humbled by Maine. God has made a beautiful place in Maine -- just as of course he has done all over this great planet.

Have you ever been humbled by nature? By God's creation - to be more precise? We live in a vast world, amidst a vaster cosmos, and if one becomes even for a moment thoughtful, one quickly realizes how small one is in comparison. It is tempting when one contemplates his smallness to become depressed, perhaps, or even insignificant. And yet, the Good News of God in Jesus Christ leads us to a very different conclusion. Indeed, Scripture indicates to us that we are very small compared to all that God has made (and will make after we are gone) -- but -- nonetheless, the gospel also tells us that the God of all things loves us even as much as he loves himself. We are small, and yet, we matter. To the biggest One of all.

Wisdom, Scripture says, for we small specks in the vast cosmos comes not when we pretend to comprehend our universe or our place in it, but when instead we humbly seek union in our selves, souls and bodies with the Lord of all. Wisdom, the fulfillment of soul and mind, comes not in the consumption or comprehension of the world's stuff, but in seeking God: in prayer, song, care for others, thankfulness, and the seeking of peace amidst the strife of life.

This Fall, it is my prayer that we Episcopalians continue to be among those wise ones who make the most of the time, and seek God together in these ways.

"Every bird that cuts the airy way"

By Kathleen Staudt

My spiritual practice in the summer is to begin each day on my patio, in the cool of the early morning, sip my first cup of tea of the day, sometimes write in my journal, and watch what is going on in my back yard. We have a regular wildlife sanctuary this year, on our fifth-of-an-acre suburban lot. In the yard of the abandoned house next door (awaiting new construction), grass and shrubs have grown up, and a family of deer has taken up residence there. There’s now so much growing next door that they don’t even come into my yard any more. The rabbits, on the other hand, have eaten down just about whatever will grow – and yet there is something lovely, peaceful about them, browsing on the clover in the grass, in the early morning light. As I watch them, and the growing light, the sound of birdsong around me increases – cardinals, catbirds, crows and mourning doves, gradually drowning out the not-so-distant hum of cars on the capital beltway, half a mile away.

But what I most love is watching the birds on the feeder each morning. Though the English sparrows and grackles can be aggressive, a wonderful variety of birds visit each day, sometimes fighting over the black oil sunflower seeds, sometimes perched beside each other, simply being fed. Purple finches, goldfinches, house finches, cardinals, sparrows, downy and hairy woodpeckers, a flicker and occasionally a red-headed woodpecker, the occasional blue jay – and, this morning, hovering briefly over the bright pink and orange potted zinnias beside me, a tiny hummingbird!

I don’t get tired of watching them, even when they’re fighting over roosting spots or charging each other off with a flap of wings. Rather, I have the sense that I am being admitted into another world, watching them from my patio. They have their issues and their competitions but there is such a variety of species, colors, shapes among them – all birds, but abundant in their diversity. I find myself delighting in just seeing them all there together in all their variety – and I wonder, sometimes, how they see each other – across species and families yet within their bird-world. My feeling, watching them from the outside, is delight. They seem to be giving to another way of being, beyond my understanding. They invite me to watch and pay attention.

William Blake wrote somewhere, “How do you know, but every bird that cuts the airy way is an immense world of delight, closed by your senses five?” He’s on to something there. Watching the birds each morning is a contemplative practice, bringing me to the limit of what I can see and observe, fascinating me, offering a glimpse into a beauty, a mystery, I cannot name, and teaching me to sit still and pay attention. In this way it is a contemplative practice. It is one of the things that I love most about the summer months –this time to sit outdoors, before the air becomes too warm, to watch and wait for the birds to invite me into the mystery of prayer.

Dr. Kathleen Henderson Staudt keeps the blog poetproph, works as a teacher, poet, spiritual director and retreat leader in the Washington DC area. She is the author of two books: At the Turn of a Civilisation: David Jones and Modern Poetics and Annunciations: Poems out of Scripture.

Anglican no longer

By Adrian Worsfold

We are all individuals, of course, but we gather in institutions, and we try to match ourselves to the most suitable available institutions. We also allow these institutions to form us through participation and, in some cases, formation through not knowing the alternatives.

We might describe some children as Christians or Muslims, but it might be more accurate to describe them as children of Christians and children of Muslims until they make their minds up. However, there is no doubt that to be brought up inside a church or inside a mosque is to have your mind formed in such a way that your basic assumptions seem to be difficult to alter later on. So their minds are being made up by institutional formation.

I say this as someone who has met a number of Christian priests and ministers who started life as evangelicals and went to theological college and university for training and had slow or crunch crises of belief. Yet somehow that formation keeps them going, despite what appear to be intellectual somersaults that you would not find in other areas of thought. People retain commitments. The background is something of an anchor. Some incorporate the new understanding into the foundation of their commitment, perhaps with clever and sophisticated presentations, and there are those who, once in paid ministry, revert to type and you wouldn't know where they've been.

For myself, I was for my first twenty four years an agnostic with no churchgoing at all. It was not just that I did not believe in God, which I did not, but that it was not even a relevant question. Those who did raise it as something to be agreed with or observed, I found to be just imposing something superfluous.

Yet from 1980 I did engage with matters of meaning, via a social connection with a Methodist church, and then from 1982 in a chaplaincy as an agnostic, and consumed some theology as part of my sociology of religion Ph.D. Nevertheless, although I was confirmed as an Anglican via another university chaplaincy and have built a worship life, I have never been able to get inside the mentality of someone who wants to 'follow' someone else. I did not see it, and I do not. Nor do I see that offered explanation of the world, that there is some sort of theological history that started in the past and will work out into the future. The world is too boring for that, too chancy, too rigidly reliable in a naturalistic sense at the big sizes in which we live and move and have our being.

Inevitably, every attempt to be 'inside' Christianity is doomed to failure, including the postmodern version I've attempted since about 2004. When some believers read the Bible and see something 'at work' that confirms their foundation of belief, all I see is communal literary devices and cultures. The arguments don't stick. My viewpoint is confirmed by contemporary theology rather than challenged by it, and I allow it to challenge me.

Still, religious ideas, and the stillness in worship, is part of me now, and so I gravitate back to a more clearly Unitarian stance (in the contemporary sense, not as a theology), and whilst I can worship in Anglican style I find it increasingly dogmatic and crunchy in all its repeated wordy assumptions. In Anglican terms an experiment to drop taking communion seems to be a settled position, nor do I wish to contribute to prayers if it means making statements I would not make normally.

And yet this is not the only reason for falling out. It is that the Anglicanism I deal with has become unethical. It is obsessed with sexuality and usually in a harmful fashion. I read too much what the Archbishop of Canterbury writes, and I know this is doublespeak - and doublespeak fails an ethical test of truth-seeking. I see this too often in others too, and I think it is a corruption of thinking and it is directly institutional in cause. It becomes harmful when it has victims, when it marginalises, when it alters thought in order to meet a political objective. We know politicians do this because it is the nature of compromising to get something done, but somehow religious people have a higher ethical demand. It just looks like the ethical heart is being tossed overboard in present day Anglicanism, never mind an expected failure to meet an ethical demand.

I think a fundamental problem is apostolic authority, when that authority involves making promises. What is that about? I should make promises to think or talk in a particular manner when I don't think it? I can't make promises like that, to some higher person, when I might change my mind. Now I am not a member of the clergy and not required to make the same level of promises, but that actually underlines my point. There is a hierarchy of the more committed, who do make such promises. At first the issue was simply that I could not make those I had heard, and now I am saying they should not be made in the first place as a behaviour. Of course, if my views were convinced about the content of the promises, I might not be so troubled.

Nor am I convinced about maintaining a presentational package, that somehow it comes complete and as a benefit when maintained as the liturgical whole. If some parts make sense, keep them, and if others don't then drop them.

Clearly in a religious community what I think won't be the same as what another thinks. There has to be a market place of ideas and some sort of compromise of expression. But for me this does not include maintaining a package simply because it exists, under a set of promises, on a theory of maintaining a bishop in one locality under which all else are subservient.

Still, one can still have good wishes for an Anglicanism that one tastes but cannot keep within. It would still be a shame if some of its insights, that come from its diversity - such as meeting internationally on a friendly basis and having a more organic unity - were lost in a drive for greater uniformity. The latest development is still worthy of comment: having an office for Unity, Faith and Order - a UFO very alien to Anglicanism. This drive towards uniformity of process is proving to be most corrosive, and somehow it has to be settled and rested soon - otherwise the wider institution will rot under its ethical losses and doublespeak. But my move away from its labels, my wish no longer to be known as Anglican or Christian, has more foundational roots about what it is to reason within matters of wider religion, about natural explanations available, and the right to change one's mind and to express it.

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.

Health care reform as Christian imperative

By Bill Carroll

An Open Letter to My Congressman on Health Care Reform

I sent the following letter to my Congressman, the Hon. Charles Wilson, (Ohio, 6th District). I wrote similar letters to Ohio’s two Senators, George Voinovich and Sherrod Brown. In light of our Church’s clear teaching on universal access to health care, moving in the direction of a single payer, public system, I would urge all brothers and sisters to do likewise. In the letter, the colleague that I quote is the Rev. Ed Bacon of All Saints, Pasadena.

August 19, 2009

Dear Congressman Wilson:

I am writing to you as a constituent and the pastor of a church in your district. I am also writing you as a father and husband, and the son of aging parents. With these responsibilities in mind, I beg you to do all in your power to pass substantive health care reform. Please don’t listen to the hysterical voices that try to sidetrack us from this crucial debate. For every one of them, there are hundreds of Americans who struggle daily under the current system and want change.

Take our family, for example. Our eight-year-old son Daniel has significant developmental disabilities, and, like many Americans, we live in fear of losing our insurance. He is a walking “preexisting condition,” and the Down Syndrome that affects every system in his body renders him vulnerable to several costly and potentially life threatening illnesses.

We are lucky that the church I serve provides health insurance for our family. This is a huge financial burden for a small congregation. It costs us about $1700/month, a sizeable proportion of my monthly salary. I can only imagine how such expenses affect businesses, large and small, and hamper economic growth.

Even more importantly, however, health care affects real people. Some members of my congregation are not so fortunate as we are. I am writing this letter on their behalf, as well as that of underinsured and uninsured persons throughout Athens County. Many of these folks have turned to me for help when they could not pay for a doctor’s visit or fill a prescription. Others have needs too large for private charity to meet. The people we both serve need justice, not charity.

Our congregation and our diocese, the Diocese of Southern Ohio (82 congregations numbering nearly 30,000 people), have both endorsed universal access to care as the minimum morally acceptable standard. In fact, our church board voted unanimously to endorse these principles. Our denomination also supports universal access, with our eventual goal a publicly funded system. We are Republicans, Democrats, and Independents, from a wide variety of backgrounds, united by our faith, which teaches us to love our neighbor and serve the common good. I am convinced that a public option has to be part of meaningful reform, which really moves us in the direction of healthcare as a public good rather than a private privilege. As a colleague of mine recently observed, “Jesus told his followers to heal the sick. When we turn our back to the sick, we are turning our back to God.”

I wish you well as you return to Washington, and hope that you will be fighting for all of us. I understand that politics is the “art of the possible,” and that compromises will inevitably be made. I want you to know that more may be possible than we think, if we listen to our hopes rather than our fears. I am praying for you and your colleagues as you engage this important debate.

Yours sincerely,

The Rev. R. William Carroll

The Rev. Dr. R. William Carroll is rector of the Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd in Athens, Ohio. He received his Ph.D. in Christian theology from the University of Chicago Divinity School. His sermons appear on his parish blog. He also blogs at Living the Gospel. He is a member of the Third Order of the Society of Saint Francis.

Southerners and The Episcopal Church

By Sam Candler

I can remember when I first grew defensive about being Southerner. I had not realized the common perception of Southerners as dim-witted recalcitrants, obsessed with racism and the Civil War, until I went to college in California. I was young, my friends were young; and it seemed to me that they had never met a Southerner in their lives. At my first dinner in the cafeteria, my new colleagues wanted only to hear me talk. They said they did not care what I said; they just wanted to hear me speak.

The next day, when I was politely learning names, as we love to do in the South, I met a woman who told me her name was Laurel. I politely asked what her last name was. She replied that it did not matter what her last name was. Well, of course, that was exactly when it did begin to matter to me. Was she embarrassed about it? I pressed her for a few minutes; maybe I was flirting. Finally, she admitted rather sheepishly, “It’s Sherman.” “What was so wrong with a name like Sherman?” I asked. She turned and queried, “Aren’t you from the South? …Sherman?”

So, I got it. She did not want to admit to me, a Southerner, that her last name was the same as that of the general who burned Atlanta. But I would not have made the connection unless she had supplied it. It was as if my new California friends supposed that Southerners travel the world with “Sherman” on their minds, carrying vengeance and surliness forever.

It was soon apparent to me that Southerners have a real advantage when we meet these misperceptions of racism and ignorance. When folks mistake a slow Southern accent for a slow mind, it is rather easy for the Southerner to win debates and arguments simply because he or she is underestimated. Of course, sometimes a slow mind is a good thing, too.

On racism, I still carry even more defensiveness. As a student in California, Massachusetts, and Connecticut, I encountered far more racism in those states than I had ever experienced growing up in Georgia. I had never seen the Ku Klux Klan march until I was in Connecticut. Most of the people who preferred to scapegoat the south as racist seemed to me to have no black friends themselves. I was amazed. In their minds, it was as if the South existed only as a place where they could deposit their racist projections and backward stereotypes. I know we deserve some of the perceptions, but the same accusations are certainly true in most other parts of the country, too. Again, when I was younger, it was rather easy for me to say only a mild positive thing on inter-racial matters and be instantly hailed as a progressive.

I like being a Southerner. I am proud of a region that retains something of courtesy and custom, tradition and heritage. I know we have sin in our past and in our present. We have grace and we have sin in the South. We have saints and we have idiots. Other regions of the world have the same, but we are especially proud of ours.

As a Southerner then, and as an Episcopal Christian, I especially appreciate August 18, which is the day we remember William Porcher DuBose. He was both a Southerner and an orthodox, progressive Christian thinker. He was someone who could be grounded in his region and culture and yet speak to the whole world. There is not space here to review his entire life and theological contribution; but the outlines are important. He was from South Carolina, and he attended the school that would later become the Citadel. Then he went to the University of Virginia. He fought for the Confederacy in the Civil War. Finally, he came to reside in Sewanee, Tennessee, teaching in the new religion department at the University of the South, which department would become the School of Theology.

At a time when Christianity was being threatened by Darwin and the new sciences, and when the Episcopal Church was divided internally between low church Protestant types and high church Catholic types, William Porcher DuBose provided a theology that resolved both those threats. He was not afraid of the theory of evolution; he claimed that evolution actually showed the divine to be working, creating, within the natural. He was not afraid of critical thinking and cultural progress. Furthermore, he was able to combine a deep evangelicalism with an Anglo-Catholic emphasis on sacrament.

Ultimately, he was not afraid of contradictions and opposites. Here is where I am especially fond of his contribution to the Anglican world. Our own times need to hear again what William Porcher Dubose says about church unity:

“Truth is not an individual thing; no one of us has all of it – even all of it that is known. Truth is a corporate possession, and the knowledge of it is a corporate process.” (from Turning Points in My Life (New York: Longmans, Green & Co., 1912), p. 56, as quoted in Donald S. Armentrout, A DuBose Reader (University of the South, 1984) page xxvi).

“The one great lesson that must forerun and make ready the Christian unity of the future is this: that contraries do not necessarily contradict, nor need opposites always oppose. What we want is not to surrender or abolish our differences, but to unite and compose them. We need the truth of every variant opinion and the light from every opposite point of view. The least fragment is right in so far as it stands for a part of the truth.” (from The Gospel in the Gospels (New York: Longmans, Green & Co., 1906) page ix, as quoted in Donald S. Armentrout, A DuBose Reader (University of the South, 1984), page xxvii).

I would believe these words no matter where the speaker came from; but I am especially glad they were written by a Southerner, William Porcher DuBose.

The South still has much to contribute to the Episcopal Church. In fact, the South has much to contribute from both its conservative and its liberal components. The South definitely has both. Our largest churches are usually large because they are able to contain both sides of most arguments, including the arguments that otherwise divide certain parts of the communion.

Some Canadian friends of mine were in Atlanta last Spring to attend my daughter’s wedding. On Sunday morning, they were amazed at the traffic on the street, especially in front of churches. “So many people go to church here!” they exclaimed, “There are hired policeman directing traffic in front of the churches!”

Yes, people go to church in the South. It is one of those customs and traditions that make us who we are. And at church, we have found both grace and sin; we have had communion with both saints and idiots. All that is our Christian community. We find who we are at church, and we also find the opposite of who we are. We learn, as William Porcher DuBose learned, that “contraries do not always contradict, and opposites need not oppose.” We are different from one another, and we are similar to one another; and we are all loved by God, in the ultimate truth of Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Very Rev. Sam Candler is dean of St. Philip's Cathedral in Atlanta. He chaired the House of Deputies' Committee on Prayerbook, Liturgy and Church Music at the General Convention. His sermons and reflections on “Good Faith and Common Good” can be found on the Cathedral web site.

Burning make-believe witches, contemplating the real Christ

By Donald Schell

Mundaka, Spain, Midsummer Eve 2009

On vacation last month, I attended a witch burning. She wasn’t real, of course---it was the local village festival. It started in the plaza. People milled around, talking and gossiping with neighbors, greeting new arrivals, but mostly waiting.

By ten, as the long dusk finally yielded to darkness, we heard shrill fifes and snare drums. Musicians strode into the square each one deftly playing a fife with one hand and drumming their snare drum with the other.

The crowd listened impatiently, and cheered when the witch flew out an alley and into the crowded square.

Her bearers were four very athletic young Basques; it was their skip-dancing that catapulted her into the square, flying on the broom to which she was shackled. The dancers carried her on a bier-like platform on their shoulders, a comical, but credible and somewhat eerie, life-sized bit of straw and black taffeta sculpture. Was she flying around the crowd or were we seeing a memory of how someone would be carried to the execution? I put the question aside.

The crowd offered our ‘oohs’ and ‘ahs’ at the witch’s long white hair and flowing black dress rippling in the breeze and the tiny white Christmas lights eyes that flashed on and off in her plastic witch mask face. Riding on her back, the black cat’s red Christmas light eyes seemed to flash their own effigy of anger at the helpless, dizzying ride the bearers gave witch and cat as vigorous prancing steps rocked the effigies crazily from side to side, backwards and forwards.

The leader of the bearers shouted something in Basque and they skip-danced headlong into the crowd, driving us laughing and screaming in all directions.

Now musicians led us all out of the square and into Mundaka’s narrow twisting streets. It was a full hour before the bearers had to pause, panting for breath. With just one fife giving them a little, lighter music, they marked time slowly in place while the score of little witches who had been following (six to ten-year-old village girls dressed all in black) danced a circle around the bearers and bier and then turned back to dance under it, cutting a giddy figure eight around the brawny bearers and their burden. Then down more twisting streets, past the harbor and up the hill. Finally, they danced the witch into Atalaya Park where the huge pyre of discarded wooden furniture, bedsprings, and even a surfboard stood on the lawn beside St. John’s Church. They pyre made me wonder, was this ritual like spring cleaning or redecorating? Like new years’ resolutions?

The musicians took their place to one side, and the villagers danced—some expert in the traditional Basque dances, other just beginners—all were welcome. Everything felt deliberately, teasingly prolonged, but finally the four carriers climbed the pyre and placed the witch on the very top. She was the stillest she’d been since she appeared. For a moment I wondered how exhausted and nauseated a human prisoner would have been from that two-hour tortuous dance. Was I being too serious? I didn’t pursue the thought, but the image and memory stayed with me.

The music had stopped. The young men who had carried the witch lit the pyre with torches. The witch’s electric eyes flashed in near silence. The crowd was quiet. There was no sound but the sea breeze that lifted the edge of the witch’s dress to show her straw stuffing and faint crackling of fire. Small fires joined together and the flames grew taller.

I’ve found it hard to write about this and capture my confusion. I will confess, somewhat reluctantly that the event was quite wonderful, haunting, and yes, beautiful. We stood, enjoying being part of a tiny human gathering of dancing and firelight in the vastly larger stillness of midsummer night on Spain’s rugged coast.

But it troubled me too. We were celebrating and re-enacting a terrifying, violent death. My first pass at the frightening part was whispering to my wife, Ellen, “I wonder if anyone here knows the old stories about the last time this really happened. How did it become a party?”

But I was speaking a question that made no sense on a magical evening.

Close to 1 a.m. as the fire burned itself down, the musicians finally stopped and the little witches and traditional dancers danced the last steps in their circle dances and bowed to one another, laughed, and scattered.

As we walked back to our hotel, I said to my wife, “Imagine what protests a playful re-enactment like this would produce in Salem, Massachusetts – or Berkeley!”

Remembering the evening as I write, the delight and wonder remain. This was emphatically NOT a human sacrifice, though it imaged one. Somehow remembering and retelling violence won’t sit still to be told straight. Is that a grace or our dilemma? Off and on as we watched I’d wonder whether an outcast woman had ever been burned as a witch in Mundaka, here in this specific site. And watching the exuberant event I heard a faint echo of political rhetoric of wartime ‘sacrifices.’ We have a hard time being honest about death and particularly so when the death we’re remembering is someone dying at others’ hands.

But something else in this play, this turning from violence, the logic of fire on the shortest night of the year felt, I have to say this - holy. I remembered friends’ description of the annual Burning Man encampment in the Nevada desert that ends with the ritual burning of the old man and that year’s temple. Ecstatic play, stillness, fire and the night come together in something haunting and beautiful.

Now remembering my first-time experience of this old piece of folk liturgy, I’m drawn back to the contradictions and my unease at not knowing where I stood. What I was consenting to? And did asking that question cut me off from the atonement, the healing and reconciliation and renewal people were finding in the play of it?

Even not quite getting it, I saw that this village-wide party was turning long-ago real-life horror into something freeing. The witch burning was a kind of liturgy. Had it reconciled or united us by letting us embody something dark in ourselves and celebrate letting go of it?

A couple of villagers had explained their sense of it the afternoon before, ‘The witch is really the dark side of all of us, so on Midsummer Night we let her out to see her and laugh at her, and then we consign her to the light.’ Hum. I sort of got that. Maybe.

But I was also feeling how post-Christian Spain has become. Most of the village would probably claim Catholicism, but only a fraction of the village had been at the very satisfying Catholic mass we’d attended. Spaniards’ Catholicism gets acted out in their huge Holy Week processions (with a few people going to mass afterwards) and in Fiesta events like the witch burning.

What did such Catholics think about Jesus’ death?

That question brings me closer to my unease. What sense does our talking of Jesus’ death, our re-enacting it in Holy Week, and our gratefully recalling it each Eucharist make to an inquiring stranger? How like this lovely but uncomfortable evening is going to our liturgy for the first time?

How does ‘showing forth his death’ make us free? I get it in my gut, and I can talk about it easily with someone formed in our church culture, but are we making sense to people who come to church hungry for God and community?

Do any of us really know how to tell Jesus’ death so that strangers hear Good News? Struggling with these questions for two thousand years the church has proposed many, many answers.

Europe today is very secular. In Europe, the witch (and maybe Jesus) live as part of folklore, custom and fairytale. The human pleasures and even the sense of awe that emerge in their rituals touch no story but our present moment – a house cleaning and a symbolic letting go of dark aspects of ourselves.

Sometimes I hear us ‘proclaiming’ his death in so formulaic and orderly a way that I wonder whether we’re making an effigy. Do we make any connection at all between Calvary and Abu Graib? Does our telling of Jesus’ death touch our own and others’ hearts? And is Jesus’ real teaching and courageous living still in it?

I’ve known moments of heartbreak meditating on Jesus’ suffering. I’ve known gratitude for knowing him and feeling his presence and teaching living in me or in another who loves him, and I’ve felt that living presence in some who don’t know to name him. But I haven’t got a neat ending for this. I’m still wondering.

The Rev. Donald Schell, founder of St. Gregory of Nyssa Church in San Francisco, is President of All Saints Company.

Proclaiming the Mystery: John’s First Five

By Adam Thomas

The mystery section was on the back wall of the small independent bookshop at which I worked my last few years of high school. When a customer entered the store, her eyes would glance past the smaller shelving units and fix on the placards proudly bearing the word "MYSTERY." The shelves containing the mystery section were taller and broader than those holding the other books, and I was the only employee tall enough to dust the top ones without a stepladder. Let's just say that the manager loved mysteries, so we had a disproportionate number of them. We had humorous mysteries and thrillers, beach reads and stay-up-till-one-in-the-morning nail biters. In those books, a mystery was set forth: say, how did the killer manage to murder someone in a room locked from the inside? The plot revolved around the detective attempting to solve the puzzle. In the end, the detective figured out that the bell rope used to call for the maid was replaced with a poisonous snake, which somehow slithered unnoticed out of the room in the ensuing hubbub of discovering the body. Mystery solved. No more mystery.

The Gospel according to John begins with a mystery, but it is a mystery that is wholly different from the Whodunnits on the back wall of the bookshop. The mystery that begins the Gospel cannot be solved, cannot be explained away. It can only be unapologetically presented and then unabashedly proclaimed.

Take a look at the first five verses that John gives us:

In the beginning was the Word,
And the Word was with God,
And the Word was God.
He was in the beginning with God.
All things came into being through him,
And without him, not one thing came into being.
What has come into being in him was life,
And the life was the light of all people.
The light shines in the darkness,
And the darkness did not overcome it. (1:1-5; NRSV)

Here John presents the mystery: somehow the Word (who we find out a few verses later becomes enfleshed in Jesus Christ) is in the beginning with God and is also God. Remember in Algebra class when you had to show your work to get full credit? Well, John skips down to the bottom of the page. There is no balancing of equations or solving for “x.” He states the mystery simply: in the beginning, the Word was with God and was God. This is frustrating at first because I’m conditioned to think that mysteries are all supposed to be like the ones on the back wall of the bookshop. I want to know how it's possible and I won't be satisfied until I figure it out, and if I can't figure it out then it must not be true.

But I take a deep breath and look at the words again. I read them slowly and speak them aloud. I notice that the rational part of me is sitting in the corner sulking because "with" and "was" should be mutually exclusive. But I find that the creative part of me sees past such mundane things as mutual exclusivity and begins to roll around in the muck of ambiguity. I squelch my toes in the mud, relishing the notion that God lives in a reality where choosing between alternatives is not the only viable option. Of course the Word can be both with God and was God! The limits of my language do not limit God, only my understanding of God. I realize my language skills are not up to the challenge of describing God. And my rational side joins my creative side in the muck of ambiguity because my rationality has been given the license to imagine.

In a few short phrases, John presents the mystery. Then, he deepens the mystery by retelling the story of creation. It’s no coincidence that John uses the same phrase that opens the book of Genesis: "In the beginning." All things came into being through the Word who was with God and was God. My creative side connects with these verses because they are about creation. Life is created through him, and because I have been given the gift of creativity, I can sense in my gut or in my bones that the Creator is continuing to create me.

This creative force is the light that shines in the darkness. The darkness cannot comprehend or overcome or understand the light because the darkness has never been a part of creation. The darkness is just the absence of any created thing. It tries jealously to unmake created things but fails to triumph since God never stops creating or calling creation to God.*

In these first five verses, John locates us ("life," "all people") within the mystery of God and creation, and he presents the adversary of creation, namely darkness. We have the makings of an epic story here.** The seemingly out-of-place verses 6-8 help me realize my role in this story. The mystery has been presented, and now John the Baptizer steps onstage for a brief scene. He is a witness who testifies to the light. (The words "witness" and "testify" are from the same root in Greek; the English word "martyr" comes from it.) His proclamation points to the light, which is the Word made flesh, Jesus Christ. So too, my life, which has come into being through the Word, is meant to be a proclamation of the mystery of God and God's movement in creation.

When I encounter these first few verses of the Fourth Gospel, I feel the enormity of the mystery of God surrounding me, and I rejoice that this mystery discloses itself in light and life and love. If I could explain the mystery, I would be in danger of explaining it away, of shelving it like the Whodunnits on the back wall. The mystery transcends explanation. It is elusive, and at the same time intimate; it cannot be grasped, but it can be embraced. The intimacy and the embrace happen when the mystery touches the spark of creativity within me, spurring me to proclaim the Word made flesh, Jesus Christ. Life has come into being through the Word. And my life expands to every pocket and corner of my being when I live to proclaim this good news.

The Rev. Adam Thomas, one of the first Millennials to be ordained priest, is the curate of Trinity Episcopal Church in Martinsburg, WV. He blogs at wherethewind.com.

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Invitation and exclusion

By Kathleen Staudt

Several weekends ago, I spent a refreshing and prayerful time on retreat at Holy Cross Abbey, a Cistercian monastery near the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. As one might expect in an atmosphere infused with the monastic tradition, I felt thoroughly welcomed and quieted, and was nourished by the opportunity offered to enter what T.S. Eliot called “time not our time. In the one conversation I had with a monk, I was reminded of the Cistercian devotion both to prayer and to the intellectual life, two parts of myself that I’ve been a long time in bringing together. (A favorite book title of mine, about the monastic tradition, is called The Love of Learning and the Desire for God. I think that does describe something important about my vocation).

Sure of the divine welcome in the place (and of creation’s welcome, among the meadow flowers, birds and mountain scenery), I became vividly aware on Sunday of the obstacles to welcome that still exist in a church that is still far from the unity for which Jesus prayed. As a Roman Catholic order, the Cistercians abide by a discipline that limits participation in Eucharist to Catholics. I knew this. I knew I could present myself for Eucharist and no one would speak or object, but I was interested in the way that the non-invitation to Eucharist was worded. “The Catholic bishops do not allow us to invite non-Catholic Christians to receive Eucharist. We ask that you respect the discipline of the Roman Catholic Church and join us in prayer for the unity of all Christians, for whom our Lord Jesus prayed on the night before he died.”

My own operative theology is scandalized at the idea of excluding anyone from Eucharist, believing that we go at Christ’s invitation, rather than at the invitation of a human community, however organized or faithful. And the careful wording of the placard I’ve just quoted suggested to me that whoever wrote it might even share the same operative theology. I’m certainly glad that the Episcopal Church has pushed back against any statement that would begin “The Anglican Communion does not allow us to invite. . . . " But there was also in this sad non-invitation a solid piece of truth-telling that I appreciated. I was grateful to the community for honestly naming the brokenness. It caused me to experience, as I have not before, what it is to be excluded from a rite that is our central expression of belonging. It was wrong. But it was true to how things are in the Church for whom Jesus prayed, and died.

So, I accepted, and learned from, the invitation to “join us in prayer for the unity of all Christians, for whom our Lord Jesus prayed on the night before he died.” As people lined up to receive the Body and Blood, I remained kneeling, praying fervently and deeply for the unity of a broken church, the whole church catholic, Anglican, orthodox, whatever our sad divisions may be. I heard in my heart snatches of hymns: “Bid thou our sad divisions cease/ And be thyself our king of peace. . . . . “ “By schisms rent asunder, by heresies distressed.” It was a rich, full and genuine participation, in its way – a sharing in the broken heart of Christ, in the midst of the assembly. I wouldn’t want to make a habit of this way of prayer. But at least on this day, it was an unexpected gift.

Dr. Kathleen Henderson Staudt keeps the blog poetproph, works as a teacher, poet, spiritual director and retreat leader in the Washington DC area. She is the author of two books: At the Turn of a Civilisation: David Jones and Modern Poetics and Annunciations: Poems out of Scripture.

Deliver me from evil

By Leo Campos

The office where I work is being moved. The whole corporate office is being boxed up and we are moving to a new building. While this is wonderful news, it is also cause for much weeping and gnashing of teeth. It is amazing to me the amount of stuff that people can collect in their tiny cubicles. They look like a clown car - boxes and boxes of stuff keep coming out of each of these small workspaces.

Together with the sheer volume of stuff accumulated, there is also a large amount of discontent and stress which is associated with any move. Psychologists tell us that issues of work, and moving houses are among the top three or top five (depends who you ask) most stressful things in life. When you have an office move you are pretty much guaranteeing a perfect storm.
So I walk around trying to simultaneously stay out of people's way and reassure them that the servers will be functioning just perfectly the day after the move, that none of their highly important emails, all 1,527 of them, will be lost - even though I not-so-secretly suspect that the majority of these highly important pieces of data refer to cookie recipes or hangover cures.
I also try to be prayerful or at least cognizant of my own need for prayer during these times. I grab on to my prayer beads like a drowning man to a rope.

As is gets closer to the day of the move I find myself praying against all sorts of possible, probable or completely ludicrous things that might go wrong - from a clumsy mover dropping a server on the floor - deliver us Lord. From having another meeting so people can vent their frustrations - deliver us Lord. From a meteor striking the Earth - deliver us Lord! And on and on.
This whole petition for delivery tends to be one of the most overlooked or over-used of the lines in the prayer the Lord gave to the disciples. Usually it gets translated in our hearts as "Lord protect me and do not allow anything bad to happen to me." There is a tone of fear and trepidation. There is recognition of weakness. there is also a petition for the opposite to happen - don't let me get fired, don't let me get robbed, don't let me be injured. The request for deliverance from the Evil One or just generic, garden-variety evil is also common in Jewish prayers of the time.

But is this how I should read it? Or is this the only way to read it? There is an interesting story from the Desert Fathers which goes like this:

There was an old man living in the desert who served God for so many years and he said, "Lord, let me know if I have pleased you."

He saw an angel who said to him, "You have not yet become like the gardener in such and such place." The old man marveled and said, "I will go off to the city to see both him and what it is that he does that surpasses all my work and toil of all these years."

So he went to the city and asked the gardener about his way of life. When they were getting ready to eat in the evening, the old man heard people singing bawdy songs in the streets, for the cell of the gardener was in a public place.

Therefore the old man said to him, "Brother, wanting as you do to live according to God, how do you remain in this place and not be troubled when you hear them singing these songs?"

The man said, "I tell you, Abba, I have never been troubled or scandalized."

When he heard this the old man said, "What, then, do you think in your heart when you hear these things?" And he replied, "That they are all going into the Kingdom."

When he heard this, the old man marveled and said, "This is the practice which surpasses my labor of all these years."

In this story it is clear that the evil I am asking to be delivered from is not the other, but rather myself. To be able to say with all certainty that "I have never been troubled or scandalized" would be amazing.

Take a leap of imagination and pretend for a second that you are not and will not be troubled by the behavior of others (or your own); that your environment will not have any effect on you, that you can truly say with Paul that you have nothing though possess all things (2 Cor. 6).

The next part, "Scandalized" is a lovely word which comes to English via the Old French "scandale" which means "cause of sin". It in turn comes from the Latin "scandalum" which means a trap, stumbling block, or temptation. And, as usual, these words come from the Greek.

Imagine and pretend for a moment that you are not and will not be scandalized by others. That their atrocious behavior will not bother you in the least. And, perhaps harder, that you will also not be impressed by their apparently flawless behavior either.

Hold on to this image. See how easy it is to then be able in your heart of hearts to know, not just believe or hope, but be certain that they are all going into the Kingdom?

Every day I sit at my boxed up cubicle, listening to the semi-hysterical prattle of my co-workers about the latest moving crisis and let try to let this be my prayer: they too are going to the Kingdom. Followed quickly by only 5 more days Lord. Only 4 more days Lord…

Brother Leo Campos is the co-founder of the Community of Solitude, a non-canonical, ecumenical contemplative community. He worked as the "tech guy" for the Diocese of Virginia for 6 years before going to the dark side (for-profit world).

Soul-deep hunger

By Joy Caires

There are times when I crave the island I grew up on--missing it with a longing indeed a yearning, that nothing can fill. Last week, I was in line at the pharmacy’s photo kiosk and a man came up behind me. He looked like any of a number of the men I grew up around—the uncles, cousins and friends who would gather around my dad’s pick-up truck late in the afternoon “talking story.” I knew it wouldn’t be appropriate to turn around and say “where are you from?" That would have been rude. But, I longed to speak. I longed for a tangible reminder in the middle of my summer afternoon and I began to long for home.

But, rather than speak, I waited for the photos from our mission trip to download—glancing behind me a bit too frequently for politeness. Then, he picked up his cell phone and began to speak. And suddenly, the familiar lilt of Pidgin English filled my ears—intonations I rarely hear, except in the occasional long distance phone call. As he finished his call I steeled myself, turned and asked, “Excuse me, are you from Hawai’i?” He looked startled—this was probably not a question he’d heard often in rural Ohio! With his “yes” we plunged into conversation—how often do you get back, how long have you been here, where do you get good Hawaiian food, wow, they really let you check a cooler full of Ahi tuna!

As we talked the photos from the mission trip to Kentucky downloaded and soon it was time to go. But, this encounter cued the longing in my soul for the smell of the salt air, the taste of kalua pig and a time zone that fits me just a little bit better than the one here does. So, as my longing for home has increased I’ve cued up the Hawai’ian music in my car and I crave the foods that I grew up enjoying: Spam musubi, manapua, kalua pig, poi (the list goes on) chicken long rice, haupia, lau lau, cone sushi, pulehu beef, char siu, hekka, komoda’s donuts, saimin, opihi. (Are you hungry yet?) This food represents comfort and my taste buds long for it as this litany of the soyu soaked, sugar filled and salt cured appears across my computer screen.

When I graduated from high school I was given a rice pot—just like every other graduating senior who was headed to the mainland for college. Our relatives feared that we would starve on the mainland without rice. Rice that had been rinsed in cold water until the starch was released from the grain, rice poured into the pot and swirled with your hand and then drained. Rice which was cooked in the rice pot where it would sit, waiting to be scooped into the next bowl or plate, until it was time to make more rice. Rice came in 25 pound bags—and there was only one kind of rice. Going away to college with our rice pots in tow was our community’s way of telling us that we were loved and would be missed. And, for many of us, our rice was salted with tears in those initial days.

I’m guessing that most people know what “home food” is, what “comfort food” should taste like. Southern friends search out grits of the right texture, taste and consistency and know that most things improve with a generous lashing of bacon grease. Fry bread, baked beans, biscuits, rice, spaghetti…we all have our own litanies. But, for most of us, our hunger isn’t about the need to fill our bellies; it is about the need to fill our hearts. My hunger for local food isn’t about the food—although I wouldn’t turn down a plate of chicken long rice or a stick donut if it were offered. It is about the familiarity, the love, the sense of wholeness I have when I am back on Maui.

It is about the security that comes of being related to everyone and the comfort of fitting in. It is about the unity of family and the way the air smells of flowers and salt breezes. It is about being surrounded by people who are more than happy to speak the truth in love and who, despite their grumblings, love you even when you are most unloveable. It is about being with people who share my story and quite simply, get it. I long for the bread, or in this case rice, of eternal life—the rice that gives me back that sense of home, of family, of being known and belonging. It is this yearning, this craving, which brings me to church and calls me to the altar. This is the hunger that drove me to awaken with the bells on Sunday mornings in college and to warm up the car’s engine on wintry Ohio Sundays. It is a soul deep hunger and I long to fill and be filled with good food, food that will indeed “give life to the world.”

So, approach the railing and extend a hand—fill your soul and abide until you are home once more.

The Reverend Joy Caires, a graduate of Episcopal Divinity School, is currently the Associate Rector at Church of Our Saviour in Akron, Ohio. Joy's first call, after ordination, was as the pediatric chaplain at Rainbow Babies and Children's Hospital in Cleveland, Ohio.

Strategic planning: it isn't sexy, but it is essential

By Marshall Scott

I’ve been told that I have an odd outlook on the world. Mostly, I attribute it to my astigmatism. However, I have to admit to taking some pleasure in some experiences that others don’t – like, crisis calls in the middle of the night. (Well, it’s part of the job; although as I age the weakening flesh is challenging the willing spirit.)

As an example, I find myself thinking about some obscure, less attended things that will in time turn out to be quite important. Maybe it comes from working in an environment where tiny things like viruses and bacteria make a big difference. Maybe it comes from the promise that faith in quantity like a mustard seed can yield blessings all out of proportion. Whatever it is, I have this conviction that little things that go unnoticed can make a big difference.

I’ve been continuing to think about General Convention. Like many a powerful and moving experience, it’s taking some time to process it all, and to appreciate the many things that happened there. I’ve written about coming away with a sense of hope, and that hope remains; but with a little time passed I’m beginning to appreciate some more subtle things that we did.

With everyone else, I’ve read and thought about and commented on what happened with the hot button issues. However, there was another resolution that has stayed with me. That resolution was A061, and these were the most significant points:


“Resolved, the House of Deputies concurring, That the 76th General Convention direct the Executive Council to create a Committee of Strategic Planning to guide the Executive Council and the Church Center in their capacities as leaders of The Episcopal Church; and be it further

Resolved, That the Committee on Strategic Planning be charged with using the best appropriate planning methods available to develop a ten-year plan, updated annually, that identifies and tracks the missional, financial, societal, cultural and other challenges and opportunities facing The Episcopal Church; considers alternative paths of action; recommends a path; defines measurable indicators of success of the selected direction and a specific timeline; details resources needed and proposes how those resources will be gathered;”

I’ll admit that this caught my attention in no small part because strategic planning is an important part of the world I work in. It’s getting to be that time again when we update our strategic planning goals as a preliminary step to preparing our budget (and yes, even the chaplain participates in strategic planning). However, as we get away from the excitement and begin to wonder what this will mean over time, I think this is may turn out to be one of the most important actions from this General Convention for the future of the Church.

While the rest of the world wondered how we would manage to care both for our GLBT siblings and our international Anglican siblings, at General Convention we spoke about mission. The Presiding Bishop reminded us that “Mission is our life” as a Church in a sermon that focused on the sending out of the disciples. In her sermon, she focused on traveling light; and at first blush a process of strategic planning might seem its antithesis. However, while the disciples were instructed to travel light, they were clear as to where to go and to what to do when they got there. Their goals were clear, and attainable. They weren’t asked to walk to Rome or even to Damascus, but only to the towns in their neighborhood. Their instructions were clear, but were also flexible. They had options for when they were welcomed and when they weren’t, and for being good guests regardless of the resources of their hosts.

As we seek to live out our mission, it would be great if our directions were so simple. However, our circumstances are different enough to really complicate matters. There are so many more of us. Our reach, our neighborhood, is so much wider. Our rate of travel is now measured in seconds, if you think of how fast a message can move.

At the same time, we find ourselves pressed to rethink how we’ve done things in the past and how we want to do things in the future. In Anaheim we spent almost as much time on the budget as we did on D025, and more than we did on C063. For that matter, we shed almost as many tears. Once the Triennial Budget had been introduced, we prayed at almost every legislative session for the staff of the Episcopal Church Center who would lose their jobs. We spent much less time discussing explicitly the Report of the Commission on the State of the Church, but it was mentioned often enough that we could not ignore how our numbers have faded. At the same time, we were also agreed that our relations with our Anglican siblings were in flux, even if we differed on how to respond.

With all these things in mind, I think some strategic planning is certainly called for. We are called to “mission;” but what is our mission? That is, how do we get specific about how we will live out the Gospel? More particularly, how do we get specific about how we will live out the Gospel as a Church? Among all the organs in the body of Christ, what is our particular part in God’s mission, and what special charism has God given us as a body for that purpose? How, then, can our servant leaders in Executive Council and the Episcopal Church Center exercise that charism for our particular mission? Each of us tends to consider our own vocational focus and project it on the General Convention and Executive Council as if the Episcopal Church as a body were simply one member or one group of members writ large. I don’t think that’s an adequate way to find our vocation as a whole Church.

We would normally speak of this as discernment, and not as strategic planning. That, however, is to miss seeing strategic planning for what it is: it is a tool. In fact it can be quite a good tool, and one that, if it’s modeled well by the Executive Council and Church Center staff, and done well at other levels, can help us not only discern but move forward.

And I think this resolution calls for the right characteristics in our strategic planning. To begin with, the first and primary focus called for is on “missional challenges and opportunities.” While it also calls for examining “financial, societal, cultural and other challenges and opportunities,” I think we can hold these as supplementing and informing our understanding of challenges and opportunities for mission. Second, it calls for an ongoing, long-term process. We have a tendency to move from General Convention to General Convention, and arrive at each new triennium with little memory of what we have done before. I’ve been to eight General Conventions on one capacity or another, and I’m as troubled as anyone else by our institutional forgetfulness that has us trying to reinvent the wheel. Finally, the process called for is reflective and open to modification. It needs to be flexible and adaptable. In our world where things seem to change so rapidly, many institutions have found that flexibility allows for sustained mission, while inflexibility is death. Certainly, we don’t want to be “blown about by every wind,” whether theological or cultural. At the same time, if our discernment, our strategic planning is focused first on missional concerns we should be able to make good choices about when to stand and when to move.

My friend and colleague George Clifford has recently written here about how the structures of the Church might change to better support mission. We might make such choices of course, but they would be an enterprise of years, if not decades. In the meantime good discernment, using the tool of ongoing strategic planning, can help us find our vocation as a whole Church and pursue them as well as we can within the structures that we have. Indeed, a good process of strategic planning for the work of the Executive Council and the Episcopal Church Center could recommend structural changes, or demonstrate that changes were unnecessary.

In a world where shouting has come to replace discussion (and apparently both news and entertainment), we will still rumble around hot button issues. However, I think we will find our future shaped more by lower key but systemic changes taking place in the background. A good process for strategic planning for the Executive Council and the Episcopal Church Center isn’t sexy. It isn’t going to attract, much less hold, attention in our noisy, flashy world. However, I think it will be critical for the future of the Episcopal Church. We are called to the ministry of Christ, both as individuals and as a body. For that purpose, we need a structured and flexible process for discerning our vocation and the challenges and opportunities we face in living it out. The attention will continue to come to specific issues, specific aspects of that vocation; but good strategic planning will better prepare us and our servant leaders to address all the aspects of the vocation to which God calls us.

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.

Anaheim and the sweep of Church history

By Peter R. Carey

When it comes to the church, numbers count. They're important for sure, but they're not the whole story. And we Episcopalians have a bit of an inferiority complex about how few of us there are.

There are a little more than 300 million people in the United States, of whom almost 68 million are Roman Catholic. Nearly a quarter of our country’s total population self-identify as Roman Catholics. That’s a lot of Catholics! After the Catholics come the Baptists. If you combine the Southern Baptists with other Baptists, they come out to about 39 million. And that’s a lot of Baptists! Then come the Pentecostals, the Methodists, the Lutherans, the Mormons, the Orthodox, and the Presbyterians, as well as a number of other religious denominations--each of whom is in the single-digit category; that is, their numbers don't exceed 10 million.

Where does the Episcopal Church fit in, in terms of relative size? Well, we’re at about 2.4 million. So if you divide 300 million (which is the approximate population of the country) by 2.4 million, you come out with less than 1 percent of the population. Our membership base is really quite small when compared to many of the other Christian bodies. That’s NOT a lot of Episcopalians.

And yet, considering our small size, we’re quite influential and we play a significant role in the religious and civic life of our nation. We always have.

In fact the history of the Episcopal Church is a remarkable story of leadership and influence. We can be proud of the contributions we have made as a church to the progress of the country.

The Los Angeles Times recently published an editorial after our General Convention in Anaheim ended last month. The editorial makes exactly that point:

“With a little more than two million members, the Episcopal Church is far from being the country’s largest Christian denomination. But its recent pronouncements indicating support for openly gay bishops and church blessings for same-sex couples will have reverberations beyond that church, beyond Christianity and even beyond religion. For all the theological issues it raises, acceptance of gays and lesbians at the altar reflects--and affects--the struggle for equality in the larger society.” [LA Times Editorial 08-02-09]

Yes. What we do as a church often reverberates in the larger society.

This leads to the larger question of why. If indeed we have this leadership ability, this special charism, why do we have it? Where did this capacity to leverage our small numbers into big effects come from?

For me, the answer to that question can be found in two places: in our own history as a church, and in the early church’s theology of charism.

The history of the Episcopal Church and the history of the United States are closely intertwined. Before the American Revolution the church was one of three principal churches for the educated, mostly wealthy, ruling class, but that never meant that the church was completely supportive of the monarchy. In fact, by the 1770s it was deeply divided on that issue. Most, but not all, Anglicans wanted independence from England. Twenty-nine out of the 56 signers of the Declaration of Independence were Anglicans. But there were still many members of the church who were deeply loyal to the crown and during and after the Revolutionary War, many of them left the country rather than to support a rebellion against the monarchy. They returned to England or they moved to loyalist Canada.

The nascent church’s support of the democratic ideals of the Revolution cost it dearly. I say “nascent” because the Episcopal Church as such hadn’t yet been born. The church had lost a significant number of members; it had no bishops and the Archbishop of Canterbury could not ordain any without an oath of allegiance to the king, which no citizen of the new country could take. The church had no Prayer Book of its own. And the biggest problem of all was that it had no self-governing institutions. It had only a burning desire to continue in some way to remain a church with bishops and sacraments and a Book of Common Prayer--but at the same time to play an active role in the life of the new Republic.

With the help of some Scottish bishops, it obtained an independent episcopacy; it rewrote the Prayer Book, adapting it to the needs of our own country; and most importantly, it created a truly democratic system of self government that gave voice to the laity as well as to bishops in the governance of the church. No one had ever heard of such a thing! The task of the lay person in the past had been to pay, to pray, and to obey, but not to have much say. Now things were different. The church became a democratic church in a newly democratic land. It was a revolutionary way of remaining a catholic church and at the same time of being an inclusive church. Inclusive of the laity (at least the white male laity) in a whole new way.

So from the point of view of our earliest history, the steps that the Episcopal Church took in Anaheim a few of weeks ago to more fully include gay people in its life were really nothing new. They were, in a way, just the Episcopal Church being the Episcopal Church. Adapting to changing circumstances by remaining faithful to its origins; another step in an ongoing process that had begun at the beginning of its history.

At every juncture of its history, at the end of the day, our church has chosen inclusion over exclusion. It has almost always harkened back to its revolutionary and democratic ideals. And every time it made that choice there was some cost. But the church has consistently born that cost and come down on the side of greater inclusion and greater democracy.

Absalom Jones, for example, is remembered in our church as the first black priest. In fact, he was the first black minister to be ordained in any denomination in the United States. He was made a deacon in 1795. Imagine that! Less than twenty years after the Declaration of Independence. It didn’t take long for the new Episcopal Church to get involved in the struggle for black emancipation and black inclusion. Jones was ordained a priest in 1805. But the struggle was not easy. There were many northern Episcopalians who were indifferent to the issue of race and many southern Episcopalians who were openly hostile to the full inclusion of negroes in the life of the church. When the Civil War broke out, virtually the entire southern half of the Episcopal Church departed, although those dioceses did return after the war.

Now to the story of the place of women in the life of our church-- another volatile issue right from the start. If the men, both clerical and lay, could take an active role in the councils of the church, why couldn’t the women? The long and arduous struggle for women’s ordination, which wasn’t the only issue that concerned women, began as early as the the mid-1850’s. The quest for ordination lasted almost 125 years. It ended in 1976 when the church changed its canon law to allow female ordination.

In 1970 and in 1973, the House of Deputies of the General Convention (i.e. the priests and lay people who by then included women deputies) said yes to women’s ordination; the all male House of Bishops said no.

Finally, in 1974, eleven women were illegally but validly ordained priests in Philadelphia by three courageous retired bishops.

You could hear the cries of outrage from coast to coast and from Lambeth Palace to the Episcopal Church Headquarters in New York.

Finally, in 1976 those ordinations were regularized by the General Convention and by the end of ‘77 over a hundred women had been ordained. An exodus then began in earnest. A significant number of the church left. Whole parishes were sometimes affected. A number of conservative bishops dug in their heels and said, “Not in my diocese!” Many wondered whether the Episcopal Church would survive.

It did. And women continued to be ordained priests in greater numbers each year. Finally, in 1988 Barbara Harris became the first female bishop of the Episcopal Church.

So that same pattern of being in the vanguard, of being a beacon for social change has played itself out in our church over and over again in so many ways. Always the same pattern: first, hostility, then some form of acceptance, and finally, a kind of relief.

Now we’re in the midst of the next social revolution. The next battle for inclusion.

I’d like to say a little bit about the early church's theology of charism. One of the places where that is talked about is the Epistle to the Ephesians. I think we can apply that teaching to our church today and to its apparent vocation as a leading advocate of social change. It may also equip us with a theological explanation why we are the way we are and why we act the way we do.

Most scholars think that Ephesians was not written by St. Paul, but by a follower of Paul and in his name in order to give the work apostolic authority. It was probably written about the year 90.

There was one really big problem that had begun to manifest itself at that time. The problem was that the original twelve apostles had died and the end of the world hadn’t happened. People were beginning to say, “Hey, what’s going on here? Paul and the other Apostles and even Jesus himself all preached that the end of the world was at hand.” This delay in the return of Christ was causing difficulties. And people were squabbling and beginning to leave the church because of it.

The Book of Ephesians addressed these problems. Its basic argument is this: the timing of Christ’s return to earth and the establishment of the Kingdom of God is a mystery hidden in the mind of God. It’s not ours to know.

In the meantime, each one and each church must do his or her job. In chapter four of Ephesians [8-13], we read: “When he ascended on high, he gave gifts to us. It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service so that the Body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.”

The story of how the church (and by “the church” I mean the whole Christian church); how the churches do their work and carry out God’s plan throughout history is undoubtedly a mystery hidden within the mind of God.

But this much can be said, I think. God gives gifts not only to individuals, but also to institutions; institutional gifts; corporate charisms. So, the churches too have been given various gifts at various times “to prepare God’s people for works of service” and for the hastening of the Kingdom of God.

I believe that God has given our church--the Episcopal Church--a special gift, a special charism--the gift of leadership, the gift and the task of going first, the gift of being in the vanguard. Another way of saying that is that the Episcopal Church has been called to speak the Good News of God in Christ to an ever-changing world.

But while we may rejoice in our call to be a progressive church, we should not forget that we are more than mere agents of social change. We’re agents and catalysts of social change, yes, but CHRISTIAN agents of change. We are followers of Christ, baptized into his Body, cooperators in his saving work. We take most seriously the words from Ephesians that follow those I cited above. We want to be “imitators of God, and to walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” Not just to promote social change.

So when we come together as a church, we do so not merely to map out a program of social advocacy, but also to pray, to petition, to give thanks, and to celebrate the Holy Eucharist together. To bear witness to the world that Christian faith and modern life can go together.
I think that this balance of activism and faith in Christ is wonderfully expressed in the Post Communion Prayer we say so often:

“We thank you for feeding us with the spiritual food of the most precious Body and Blood of your Son our Savior Jesus Christ.... And now, Father, send us out to do the work you have given us to do, to love and serve you as faithful witnesses of Christ our Lord. Amen."

The Rev. Peter Carey is assisting priest at Church of the Holy Apostles in New York City. This article is adapted from a sermon, preached on August 9.

Prayers amidst political tension

By Donald Schell

Mundaka, Spain, St. John’s Church, Sunday June 22, 2009

I usually dislike having liturgy texts and hymns projected on a wall, but projected words in that Sunday’s bilingual Spanish and Basque mass felt simply welcoming. My wife and I can follow liturgy in Spanish reasonably well, but when the old priest was praying in Basque, projecting the Spanish translation of his words on the church’s old plaster wall felt like godsend. Ditto for Basque hymns - not knowing what we ‘meant,’ we (and the Spanish speakers present) welcomed the chance that phonetically easy Basque offered us to join the singing.

Mundaka is Basque-speaking village on Spain’s north coast, 1800 people off-season and something like 10,000 on-season. The village hugs a steep mountainous coast eleven kilometers downriver from Guernica. We were just a week ahead of the main influx of visitors, but the first wave was there, Spaniards fleeing Madrid and central Spain’s brutal heat. Summer in Mundaka offers pleasant sunshine, predictably cool weather and the pleasures of swimming or surfing the ocean’s big waves or walking and kayaking the estuary’s peaceful tidal flats. In the fall when ‘the wave’ is big, Mundaka is an international surfing destination. La Iglesia de Santa Maria sits on a bluff looking out over the estuary to the east and the wave and the Bay is Biscay to the north.

In Spain “Basque-speaking” actually means bi-lingual, so the parish regulars, though fluent in both Spanish and Basque have a strong political and cultural preference for a Basque liturgy, and those devout enough to attend weekday mass get exactly that - an entirely Basque language liturgy. A family member who’d visited ahead of us reported on the weekday Basque liturgy, and knowing Mundaka’s fierce Basque separatist sympathies, we’d prepared ourselves for a wholly Basque liturgy for Sunday too. When we heard enough Spanish for us and the other visitors to enjoy (and mostly understand) the liturgy we knew someone there – probably priest and parish council together – valued welcome above their personal preference.

Were there ETA members present? Is ETA in Mundaka? Experts estimate that ETA has no more than 200 members total in its autonomous terrorist cells. They’re spread across the Basque country and some in other parts of Spain. Mundaka proudly and unequivocally identifies itself as Basque nationalist. The legal Basque independence party has its office on the town square. Mundaka predictably encourages and supports any gesture in support of Basque autonomy. And ETA is both nowhere and everywhere in Basque country. It’s not possible to say whether anyone in the village or attending that church is secretly part of ETA or not. But any Mundaka villager would know or be related to one or more Basque political prisoners.

And who were the out-of-town visitors? The largest number of us were Spanish, Mundaka’s neighbors in one sense, but also symbols of another culture’s dominance and living reminder of bitter history under Franco’s dictatorship. A handful of French people and us two Americans completed the picture. Spanish was the language we shared, so the bilingual mass and the projected words were gestures of inclusion to us who brought the congregation Gospel diversity that Sunday.

The readings were in Basque (texts projected in Spanish), the psalm and the Gospel were in Spanish. The priest delivered his heartfelt sermon half in Spanish, half in Basque, his aura of warm wisdom and kindness, included everyone in the whole sermon, even though half of us could only understand half of what he was preaching. The priest’s own graceful, forgiving good humor and made it very clear that he was speaking Jesus’ healing, forgiving love.

An hour away in Bilbao and just two days before this mass, ETA had killed Eduardo Puelles Garcia, a Basque police officer and twenty-year veteran anti-terrorism investigator. The day before, Saturday, urban Bilbao had turned out in massive peace witness. But in Mundaka, bars shut off the sound on Spanish TV news broadcasts, and people simply turned their backs on the silenced news images. At the mass, the prayers of the faithful broke that deliberate silence. A lay minister prayed them in Spanish, ensuring that the whole congregation would hear and understand her simple prayers
- for all the victims of ETA,
- for all who mourned their deaths, and
- for peace.

Though the region’s struggle for peace and reconciliation would continue, the prayers spoke the Gospel’s unreserved embrace of Basque and Spaniard, of people living into loss, of victims of human violence, and of the healing that comes when we leave our killing certainties behind to live into God’s forgiveness. I listened hard for any uneasy shifting, for coughs, or for other signs of defensiveness or protest from the congregation, but I heard none. Whatever our politics, this mixed congregation could pray together for peace, for a widow and her two sons, for a slain public servant and for all who were grieving. It came at the end of the prayers and then we paused in a short silence before the concluding collect, willingly lingering in a stillness that honored all our sadness and tragic human loss, and then we waited on the Spirit to bless our hope for peace.

The Rev. Donald Schell, founder of St. Gregory of Nyssa Church in San Francisco, is President of All Saints Company.

The Communion in summer, on the shores of Maine

By Heidi Shott

Maine has a gift for unusual arrangements. My son Martin attends one of Maine’s private high schools that serve as de facto public schools. Founded in 1801, Lincoln Academy has educated our community’s kids well enough for more than 200 years – well enough that our towns never got around to building a public school. I understand New Hampshire and Vermont still each have a few of these academies, but Maine communities told tight to the ten or so “private schools that serve the public trust.” Compared to secondary education in the rest of the United States, it’s an odd way of doing things but it’s our way and in all ways – statutes, tuition agreements, public accountability – we’ve learned to compensate for the irregular practice of private schools acting like public schools.

The Episcopal Diocese of Maine is home to its own unusual arrangement. Late in the nineteenth century, faithful Episcopalians who steamed up the coast of Maine to escape the heat of Washington, Philadelphia and New York brought their church-going ways with them. These rusticators were the ones who turned “summer” into a verb. And over a 30 year period, from 1885 to 1915, many of Maine’s 18 summer chapels were built and consecrated. Some were built on islands like St. Cuthbert’s on McMahan off the coast of the shipbuilding city of Bath, others like St. James’, Prouts Neck – founded by Winslow Homer’s family – were built in the midst of summer enclaves. Chapels needed to be close at hand; before automobiles, going to church meant walking there.

Today few extended families, no matter how wealthy, come to spend the entire summer. Still, these independent summer chapels continue to draw generations of the same families back to mark life's milestones: weddings and baptisms, memorial services and lovely, unremarkable Sunday mornings. The connections remain for those families who have worshipped and celebrated together in places of great natural beauty.

Each July the Bishop of Maine hosts a day for representatives of the summer chapels to share the life and joys and challenges with the Bishop and one another at St. Luke’s Cathedral in Portland. Late last month, about 40 people gathered from Trinity, York Harbor, in the far southwest corner to Redeemer, Sorrento, located way Downeast which is how old-time sailors described the easy downwind sail to the easternmost the stretch of coast. In the winter they live in Pennsylvania or Texas or D.C. or Boston. But it’s at their summer chapels on the coast of Maine where they are married, baptize their babies, and commit their parents’ remains to the columbarium or over the rail of the boat.

In the morning the conversation covered suggestions for organs that survive in unheated buildings through the cold winter and how to defeat the mice that like to nest inside them, how to fund capital improvements for leaky roofs and deteriorating stained glass.

They compared notes on how various chapels host clergy: one priest for the whole summer; a July guy and an August guy; or a new priest each week. The bishop covered his plan to make visitations to each chapel over the next few years, made easier with no Lambeth or General Convention cutting into summer Sundays.

The summer people – who are extremely generous in their support of ministry in Maine - heard from our Hispanic missioner about Portland’s Spanish-language congregation that offers a tight-knit Christian community to many newly-arrived immigrants. They listened to a priest share news of our newest Jubilee neighborhood center located in a struggling former mill town and from the volunteer director of St. Elizabeth’s Essentials Pantry that serves more than 300 households each Tuesday morning with the necessities of life that aren’t covered by food stamps.

The retired cathedral dean who has served for 17 summers at St. Ann’s in Kennebunkport recounted the how the elder President Bush recently skydived onto the chapel lawn to celebrate his 85th birthday. While waiting Mrs. Bush apparently quipped to the warden, “Well, if something goes wrong, at least we won’t have to take him far.”

After noonday prayer, we retreated to the undercroft for lunch. At the end of the buffet line, I looked up to see the only seat remaining among the many tables was next to Bishop Steve Lane. Having worked for bishops for 11 years, I’ve come to understand that no one presumes to sit right next to the bishop at events like this. People might sit at his or her table or nearby, but usually only late-arrivers take the last seat beside the Ordinary. And, because I tend to cut arrival times close, I often end up sitting next to the boss.

At this year’s summer chapel meeting, Bishop Steve’s second, he tried something new. He invited the wardens and clergy from a few year-round congregations located near summer chapels that tend to bleed off some winter residents to the summer chapels. The people from St. Columba’s in Boothbay Harbor, a year-round congregation, were chatting with the bishop. As I sat down with my plate, St. Columba’s interim priest was shaking her head, “The summer chapels aren’t parishes or missions of the diocese, but they are Episcopal. So what ARE they? What is their formal relationship to us?”

Bishop Steve explained how each chapel is variously organized – some are incorporated, others are held in private trust, others are loosely organized and ecumenical with a love and custom for prayerbook liturgy. “Essentially they are part of our diocese by the strength of our relationships,” he said, gesturing around the room.

And, as he spoke, it dawned upon me that we have our own Anglican Communion right here. We’re drawn together by our history, our love of place and common prayer, our commitment to ministry and community, and by our enduring relationships that transcend the tenure of bishops and wardens. The Diocese of Maine and the 18 summer chapels of the Episcopal persuasion that grace our rocky shores don’t need a formal covenant to prescribe how and under what circumstances we are related to one another.

We have an Anglican Communion right here within our borders. It’s an unusual arrangement to be sure, but we seem to have a gift for that and I hope we can learn how to share it.

Heidi Shott is canon for communications and social justice in the Episcopal Diocese of Maine.

Rethinking General Convention III

By George Clifford

Restructuring the Episcopal Church’s governing process should prompt the Church to rethink the role of bishops and the HOB. Twelve years ago, then Presiding Bishop Ed Browning established an HOB Theology Committee. That committee originally studied an issue only when requested by the HOB to do so and operated with a limited budget and had only a few consultants, no staff. Each triennium, various bodies attempt to thrust an increasing number of issues onto the Theology Committee’s agenda; the Committee understandably and successfully parries some of those thrusts, blunts others, and accepts one or two. Among recent issues thrust in the Theology Committee’s direction are updating Just War Theory, rethinking evangelism in light of religious pluralism, and advising whether the non-baptized should receive Holy Communion.

Concurrently, I hear laments from Episcopalians concerned that their Church sometimes sounds more like a secular debating society or a civic organization fighting for justice and civil rights than the incarnate body of Christ. Bishops should reclaim their historic and biblical teaching function, a role identified in the Book of Common Prayer’s liturgy for consecrating a new bishop. This role, rightly conceived, is neither the Roman Catholic Church’s authoritative teaching magisterium nor the dictatorial powers held by bishops in some of the other provinces of the Anglican Communion. Instead, our bishops should grapple with substantive theological and ethical issues, outlining extant streams of Christian thought, and, if appropriate, suggesting the direction(s) in which the Church might move. Episcopal teaching would thus become a resource to inform and to shape our Anglican Christian thinking and formation without in any way dictating to an individual person, Diocese, or the Episcopal Church.

Emphasizing the episcopate’s teaching function might require the HOB to meet an additional week or two per year. The change would certainly require elevating the importance of the HOB Theology Committee by providing sufficient funding and priority for its work. The Committee’s work should prayerfully build upon the best Christian scholarship rather than popular opinion or prevalent thinking among Episcopalians, Anglicans, Christians, or the wider society. Funding should permit the Committee to work with consultants (biblical scholars, church historians, theologians, and ethicists) who are experts in the subject under consideration. Any Committee staff should perform only administrative or editorial duties, not substantive tasks. The entire process should be transparent, yet not influenced by survey data, petition, etc. Completed Theology Committee Reports should go to the HOB for debate and, if approved, to the Church and its Dioceses for use in Christian formation and decision-making.

Expanding the role of the HOB Theology Committee, all of whose members have and should continue to have, other ecclesiastical duties, will dramatically slow the process by which the Church takes theological and ethical positions. This will also severely limit the number of issues on the Church’s agenda at any one time. Doing so will have multiple advantages. First, this may actually enhance the Church’s influence. The Episcopal Church represents less than one percent of the population. Speaking on too many varied issues in this era of narrow specialization erodes the Church’s credibility. Second, the Church’s gift is its spiritual perspective. Yet recently, the Church has too often spoken in secular language rather than the theological and biblical language true to its identity. This process will reverse that tendency. Third, the change emphasizes that the Episcopal Church values both the moving of the Spirit (e.g., in the selection, gifting, and prayers of bishops) and the best of Christian scholarship. This process rejects rigid authoritarianism, congregationalism, or majority votes among all communicants to determine God's mind in favor of a via media consonant with our Anglican heritage that attempts to balance reason, tradition, and Scripture in light of the Spirit’s witness.

Marion Hatchett has characterized the Episcopal Church as the “flagship” Anglican Communion’s province. He, in a speech at GTS posted on the Episcopal Café and elsewhere, identified points at which the Episcopal Church has provided important leadership: giving voice to clergy and laity in governing the Church, incorporating hymnody in worship, drawing on insights from critical biblical studies, and ordaining women. Now we rightly lead the Communion in offering God's blessing on those entering into committed, same-sex marriages and unions as well as drawing upon the God-given gifts of GLBT persons for ministry. I suspect that our progress toward those goals might have alienated fewer people, cost less in time and energy, avoided some ongoing legal battles, and born better witness to the rest of the Anglican Communion and Christianity if we had a governance process better suited to our identity and more explicitly rooted in theology.

Changing the governance process and re-emphasizing the teaching role of our bishops are tasks not easily accomplished. Nor are those steps a panacea. Yet perhaps the time has come for the Episcopal Church to align its structure more fully with function so that God will account us good stewards of the resources and mysteries entrusted to us. However, the proposals for restructuring the Episcopal Church’s governance and emphasizing the House of Bishop’s teaching ministry offer a starting point for addressing the inherent dysfunctionality of General Convention’s current structure and the need for the Episcopal Church boldly to assert its identity as God's gathered in Christ's name to love God and our neighbor.

The Rev. Dr. George Clifford, Diocese of North Carolina, served as a Navy chaplain for twenty-four years He taught philosophy at the U. S. Naval Academy and ethics at the Postgraduate School. He blogs at Ethical Musings.

Rethinking General Convention II

This is the second of three parts.

By George Clifford

One thousand people (perhaps as many as fifteen hundred) spending ten very long days at General Convention represents a tremendous amount of time, energy, and money. If the Church devoted those resources to mission, amazing things would result. My point is not that the Church should eliminate its General Convention. Living together requires investing in our common life. My point is that good stewardship demands that the investment should be as effective and efficient as possible.

The proposals presented below are catalysts intended to begin a conversation about ways to improve our governance and to be better stewards of the resources God's people have entrusted to the Episcopal Church rather than as definitive ukases:

(1) General Convention should focus exclusively on establishing the Episcopal Church’s broad priorities for ministry and mission. In several days of prayer, study, debate, and conversation the HOD and HOB could profitably outline the priority or priorities for the next triennium, leaving the implementation of those goals to Executive Council, the Provinces, the Dioceses, and parishes. Clear priorities and intentional focus on their implementation is integral to faithful living and good stewardship. This limited purpose should enable more diverse lay participation in a briefer General Convention, reduce the importance of people serving multiple terms as deputies, and free more resources for ministry and mission. The Episcopal Church lacks the membership, financial resources, and theological rationale for an agenda that unilaterally undertaking the totality of God's work.

(2) Executive Council, in cooperation with dioceses and provinces, should assume the remainder of General Convention’s functions. Executive Council should handle all routine (e.g., election of Church Pension Fund trustees), minor issues (e.g., interfaith relations, adding or deleting an observance from Lesser Feasts and Fasts), and implementation of ministry and mission priorities (e.g., approving budgets and staffing plans for the national Church).

(3) Provinces should elect all Executive Council members.

(4) Upon petition by a majority of provinces or dioceses, Executive Council would have to submit an issue to the Dioceses for consent; non-routine matters (such as changes to the Prayer Book, Canons, or Constitution) would automatically require consent from a majority of Dioceses. In all cases, Dioceses would have the option to approve or to disapprove, but not to amend. Allowing Dioceses to amend wordings could potentially create a never-ending cycle of changes, as each change would restart the consent process. Dioceses could each establish their own consent process (e.g., which issues go to Diocesan Council, to the Bishop and Standing Committee, or to Diocesan Convention). Issues requiring the time consuming consent process will inherently lack urgency – the Church, after all, has functioned without the proposed change or initiative for decades if not centuries. Any issue for which Dioceses or Provinces unsuccessfully petition for referral to the consent process obviously lacks wide support across the Church and probably does not reflect the Church’s thinking.

(5) A significant number of resolutions at each General Convention request that the Episcopal Church take an official stand on an issue, empowering the Church’s Washington Office to act on the Church’s behalf. Executive Council should deal with all such resolutions, permitting fuller, more substantive discussion.

These proposals arguably broaden involvement in the Church’s decision-making process, ensure timelier, fuller consideration of important matters by an appropriately sized deliberative body, and provide a check on Executive Council to prevent it overreaching its appropriate authority. This plan also preserves authority within the Episcopal Church as a unique blend of lay, clergy, and bishop mutual decision-making while balancing the efficiency of central authority with distributed responsibility and decision-making.

Doing more with less is a popular management mantra. That mantra has limited applicability to the Church. The Church should strive to make the best possible use of its resources, efficiently avoiding waste and striving to achieve its mission as effectively as possible. Concomitantly, the Church must first and last always be the Church, true to its identity, cognizant of its limitations, and focused on incarnating God's love. An agenda appropriate for an established Church will rightly look very different that the agenda of a relatively small Church in a secular democracy. These proposals recognize that the Church often requires many years to discern the mind of Christ accurately, incorporating essential elements of the Anglican genius, living with ambiguity and avoiding premature votes.

The Presiding Bishop has called the Episcopal Church to have a heart for mission. The Episcopal Church’s current governance structure emphasizes business as usual rather than mission. A Church with over two million people in five thousand plus parishes located in seventeen nations on three continents constitutes a large institution that requires a global outlook while sustaining a pastoral vision locally. Little that the Episcopal Church does nationally or internationally requires immediate action. The most notable exception to that generalization is disaster relief, for which Episcopal Relief and Development has responsibility. Thus, the Episcopal Church can adopt a structure well suited to its needs, a structure that emphasizes carefully articulating a global outlook that identifies ministry and mission priorities grounded in solid theological study.

The Rev. Dr. George Clifford, Diocese of North Carolina, served as a Navy chaplain for twenty-four years He taught philosophy at the U. S. Naval Academy and ethics at the Postgraduate School. He blogs at Ethical Musings.

Rethinking General Convention I

This is the first of three parts.

By George Clifford

Shortly after I returned home from General Convention last month, a nearby parish invited me to speak at a mid-week gathering on what had happened at the Convention. These theologically conservative people were the remnant faithful to the Episcopal Church after their previous priest and many of the laity departed for another denomination, convinced that the Episcopal Church had abandoned Christ to follow the idol of popular opinion. The remnant wondered: Is there a place for us in the Episcopal Church? Are the bishops or someone else masterminding the plan to lead us away from the Bible? Is the Presiding Bishop telling us to stop being Christian? Emails from people who had left the parish for another group fanned their fears, inciting concern with misinformation.

The group’s only agenda item that surprised me was the inference that a conspiracy of bishops guides what is happening in the Episcopal Church. Anyone familiar with the Episcopal Church’s governance knows no human conspiracy could secretly manipulate such a convoluted system. Answering their questions and providing accurate information was generally easy. What was more difficult, and I do not know if I was successful, was moving them in the directions taken by the Episcopal Church to truly welcome all people. Most of parishes probably have at least a few people who share some of those concerns.

Although I suspect little energy exists for changing how the Episcopal Church governs itself, I wonder how many of our internal struggles the last few decades have resulted from our structure. Times of relative tranquility, towards which the Church seems headed, not times of great turmoil, best lend themselves to rethinking structure and governance. Emotion clouds the judgment less and fewer people will promote particular changes in order to achieve ulterior aims.

I attended both the 2006 and 2009 General Conventions as a consultant and observer. This perspective differs from the perspective of a deputy or bishop. As an Episcopal priest, I admittedly have an interest in the outcome of some of the proceedings. Given those disclaimers, I offer the following observations (readers familiar with General Convention should skip to the second observation):
(1) General Convention’s purpose is legislative, i.e., General Convention is the Episcopal Church’s governing body. But many other things happen at General Convention: exhibitors hawk their wares and beliefs; people made and friendships; attendees worship and celebrate the Church’s life and work. Governance, however, is General Convention’s central purpose.
a. General Convention, the world’s second largest bi-cameral legislature (the Indian parliament is the largest, or so a deputy informed me) consists of the House of Bishops (HOB) and House of Deputies (HOD) and meets for ten days once every three years.
b. In 2009, General Convention considered a staggering number of resolutions (over 440). Passage requires both houses to approve the resolution, with the exact same wording. Thus, a resolution amended by one house, already approved by the other, returns to the first house for reconsideration.
c. Eighteen committees, comprised jointly of deputies and bishops, work concurrently with General Convention. The committees consolidate some resolutions and recommend action on the resolutions the committee sends to the HOB or HOD for consideration.
d. The Episcopal Church now has dioceses in 17 countries, demanding an international outlook and impetus to the legislative process.
(2) The HOB appears to function collegially and smoothly in spite of manifold, often significant theological differences. The smaller size (about 150 bishops present), more frequent meetings (about three per year), and regular small group Bible study enable the bishops to know each other, appreciate one another’s spirituality, and generally understand their house’s parliamentary procedures.
(3) In sharp contrast, the HOD, with over eight hundred and forty members, meets once every three years for ten days. Half of each diocese’s HOD deputation is lay; priests or deacons comprise the other half. The HOD has a more fluid membership than does the HOB, as dioceses elect deputies for a single three-year term, although many deputies do serve multiple terms. Alternates may also substitute for a deputy during part or all of a Convention. Deputies have no staff to prepare briefings on the vast array of subject matter and a sizable number, based on my observations, seem largely ignorant of HOD parliamentary procedures. These problems were glaringly apparent when eight hundred plus deputies allotted themselves only ten minutes to consider most resolutions, then spent much of that time on parliamentary questions. To their great credit, most Deputies work long hours, strive to do their best for Christ's Church, and seek to understand an incredibly broad gamut of issues that encompass liturgical, pastoral, theological, and ethical subjects far beyond the competence of any one person. The problem is not with the Deputies as individuals but with the Church’s structure, which imposes this impossible task on these good people. It is no wonder that well before Convention’s end most deputies (and many bishops!) look overwhelmed and fatigued.
(4) General Convention’s structure inherently entails some self-selection on the part of lay deputies. Ten days of sessions with travel can easily mean twelve days away from home. Even with their Diocese paying expenses, few working poor or lower middle class people, who generally receive little if any vacation time, can attend. Single parents may have difficulty arranging twenty-four hour childcare during their absence. I suspect that few high-powered professionals, corporate executives, or small business owners attend, reluctant to be away from their work that long. In other words, those present must have sufficiently flexible schedules to give the Church an uninterrupted block of ten or twelve days, valuing the Church above their other commitments. Anecdotally, rather than based on formal research, lay deputies appear to be mostly upper middle-class and closer in age to retirement than to high school. The deputies were laudably diverse in terms of gender, race, ethnicity, etc. Except for their degree of commitment to the Church, I wonder how well the socio-economic status of HOD lay deputies mirrors that of the Episcopal Church.

In sum, General Convention structure is dysfunctional. In particular, the HOD because of its size, lack of resources, and infrequent meetings cannot give the majority of legislation adequate time or informed consideration. Arguably, the Episcopal Church should revise its governance process.

The Rev. Dr. George Clifford, Diocese of North Carolina, served as a Navy chaplain for twenty-four years He taught philosophy at the U. S. Naval Academy and ethics at the Postgraduate School. He blogs at Ethical Musings.

TEC and C of E: the makings of a progressive alliance

By Giles Goddard

Two years ago I was lucky enough to be able to spend a couple of weeks visiting Episcopalian churches in New York, Rhode Island, Boston, Chicago and San Francisco – and I also visited the Columbus General Convention in 2006. Both times, I left the US with a deep sense of gratitude at the generous and open welcome I’d received. But more, I also had a sense that in many ways the Episcopal Church (TEC) has a clearer understanding of what it means to be Anglican than the Church of England. Perhaps because TEC is a small church compared with some others, and perhaps because it’s had to forge its identity in a much more competitive arena than the C of E with its historic privileges and relationship with the State, TEC appears to me to have imbibed the breadth, the diversity and the challenge of Jesus Christ to bring the Gospel to ALL people. Justice and welcome go all the way down. Of course, that’s not to say that the Episcopal Church is perfect, but seems to me you certainly score highly on your theology of mission.

So I’ve been watching with increasing dismay as the way in which you try to live out your mission is relentlessly undermined by groups opposed to your work, and the way in which that has brought about the extraordinary and depressing attempts to isolate TEC within the Anglican communion simply because it is trying to live out its understanding of the inclusive Gospel. And, to a lesser extent, the Anglican Church of Canada (ACC) – but for a host of reasons the situation the ACC faces is different.

Meanwhile, back in the UK we’ve been facing similar issues but dealing with them in a different way. As my American friends have often observed, we’re not as open as you; there’s a different relationship with the hierarchy and we tend to get on with things without being too public about them, while trying to work with the structures to bring about change. I don’t defend that – it’s just the way we are.

But that’s changing now. Not a moment too soon, you might say. Over the past few years different groups within the Church of England – Changing Attitude, the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement, Inclusive Church, Women and the Church, the Modern Churchpeople’s Union, Affirming Catholicism and many more from across the theological spectrum – have been working more and more closely together on a range of issues – for example, women bishops, the inclusion of people of colour, and of course questions of human sexuality. We’ve been coordinating our activities and sharing our vision, our knowledge and our experience. The Lambeth Conference in 2008 was an example of that – those of you who were there will remember the way in which progressive groups in the US, Canada and the UK tried to work together, and the challenges and learning processes which that involved!

On 27th July 2009 the Archbishop of Canterbury’s response to the General Convention in Anaheim was published. The immediate reaction, in the UK as much as in the USA, was one of dismay. While we understood what the Archbishop was seeking to do, the reflections contained a much clearer statement of his understanding of the place of LGBT people – or rather, the lack of place – within the Anglican Communion than we had previously heard, and they also seemed to acknowledge in a much more fatalistic way the prospect of a two-track communion.

A meeting already planned for the following Friday was quickly expanded and was made into an open meeting for anyone or any group concerned about the reflections and wishing to respond. It’s fair to say that the meeting was quite low key; there was a general feeling that once again LGBT Christians and their friends and colleagues had been shown to be excluded, and after years of trying different ways to end that exclusion this was a further rebuff.

However, there was also general agreement that a “tipping point” had been reached. Various concrete suggestions were made as to the way forward – for example, getting better statistics about the number of LGBT clergy and lay people in the church and how many same-sex blessings and thanksgivings have been carried out in England; raising the visibility of LGBT clergy and their supportive congregations; forming closer links with TEC; and a joint Statement.

The statement “On the Archbishop’s Reflections” was drafted the next day and published the following Tuesday with the signatures of 13 groups from across the Church of England, and the tacit support of several others. It is only part of a work in progress, and we are meeting again in September to take forward the other ideas. But it’s the first time we in the C of E have made so public a joint stand on these questions, and we hope that this collaborative working will continue to bear fruit.

What of the future? We certainly welcome better and stronger links with the US and Canada – as we say in the statement “We will seek to strengthen the bonds of affection which exist between those in all the Churches of the Anglican Communion who share our commitment to the full inclusion of all of God’s faithful.”

The big question facing us all is how we respond to the suggestion of a two-track Communion. The feeling within the progressive groups of the Church of England is that such a thing should be resisted, and if the Covenant were to bring this about it, too, should be resisted. However, and this is a new thought for me, there may be another way. The Episcopal Church in Anaheim passed various resolutions which reaffirmed its inclusive polity and brought greater clarity about the way forward TEC may take. In that context, and having passed those resolutions, what is to stop TEC signing the Covenant? We are awaiting a further draft, but unless it contains radical strengthening of any judicial measures, it seems to me that TEC would be able to sign it, as a sign of its mutual commitment and in the context of its present policy of ensuring that it is open to LGBT people both single and in relationships. Result; a Communion strengthened and affirmed in its breadth and diversity and once again bearing a global witness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

And for the Church of England? We still have a long way to go. The measures to bring about full recognition of LGBT Christians are still a few years off, and as presently drafted the Covenant might delay those measures even further. Maybe the Church of England shouldn’t sign it. In which case, I suppose, we would be outside the main body while TEC would be inside. Now there’s a thought to conjure with.....

One thing’s clear. We have to move on from this debate and find a way to live together and acknowledge difference, as we have on so many other issues – so that the churches in the Anglican Communion can be free to speak with credibility once again about the other, so urgent, issues and challenges which face us all.

The Rev. Canon Giles Goddard is priest in charge designate at St John’s Church, Waterloo, London, and chair of Inclusive Church.

Seeing ourselves clearly is always a struggle

By Greg Jones

On a long drive last week, I listened to fifteen lectures on the history of the Byzantine Empire. What many of us often forget is that in the eleven hundred years of the so-called Byzantine Empire, nobody in it ever thought of himself or the empire of which he was a citizen as 'Byzantine.' No, they called themselves and believed themselves to be Romans. And so they were. What we call the Byzantine Empire is really just the Eastern portion of the Roman Empire which survived the fall of Rome itself in the 400s, and the decline into chaos of the Empire in the Latin West. So, the Roman Empire did not end in the 5th century -- but rather -- a thousand years later in the 15th century, with the fall of Constantinople to the Ottomans.

The last five centuries of the Roman Empire (and remember our nation is half that old) were primarily centuries of decline. With some ups and mostly downs, the Empire shrank so much by the 15th century that for its last decades it consisted of nothing beyond the walls of Constantinople. Impressive though those walls were -- an empire which consists of no more than a city is a paltry empire indeed.

And yet, through that time and until the end, the Byzantines believed they were citizens of a universal empire, whose authority rested on God, and whose extent included the world. Certainly, they were delusional. And had been deluded about who they really were for at least as long as they were sane.

In the Gospel of John, we encounter many signs about who Jesus really is. We encounter the many 'I am' statements, as well as the signs of miraculous feedings, healings, and the walking on water. All these signs tell us of the cosmic identity and sacred value of Jesus - and how God is working through him visibly in the world.

What about us? Me and you? The Episcopal Church? Do we share in the cosmic identity and mission of God in Christ? Are we citizens of this the City of God? Or is there no sign of it beyond the Byzantine walls of self-delusion?

What peace do we bring in the name of the Father? What feeding are we doing in the name of Jesus Christ? What water-walking and wonder-working are we doing by the power of the Holy Spirit? What beautiful mysteries do we present to the world for their sake, beyond our own private interests?

What the emperors of Rome and (we also) got wrong was that God did not need them to conquer him a world. God demonstrates in Christ that he doesn't need us to conquer the world, but rather to serve the world.

When Scipio destroyed the Carthaginian empire once and for all (some two centuries before Christ) he wept. When asked why he wept, he said, "One day another general will do the same to Rome." And of course he was right. Just as Israel was destroyed (first in north and then in south) Rome was destroyed (first in West and then in East.)

Ours will also end.

But until this civilization is ended, by whom and when we will not know until it's too late, we are called to abide more permanently in the City of God anyway. In Christ, we are called to abide in the City of God which exists in this world for this declining-and-falling-World's sake.

What are the signs that we are citizens of this universal city? Do they extend and are they visible beyond our walls of self-protection and self-concern?

Amen.

The Rev. Samuel Gregory Jones ('Greg') is rector of St. Michael's in Raleigh, N.C., a trustee of General Seminary and the bass player in indie-rock band The Balsa Gliders — whose fourth studio release is available on iTunes. He blogs at Anglican Centrist.

Fathers and daughters

By Deirdre Good

The quiche was a disaster--the egg and cheese filling lay flat on the pastry instead of rising to a melting egg mixture. Everyone around the lunch table-- my parents, my cousin and my aunt-- ate it politely over conversation. I've eaten the quiches they've baked and there was just no comparison. And it was meant to be something easy for my father to eat after the cancerous part of his jaw was replaced with titanium plate. He'd only been out of hospital a week.

Fortunately, it wasn't the only meal we ate together celebrating this new incarnation of our family life. No one had known how the surgery would go. Would my father be able to speak or eat? I'd arrived only a few days earlier to discover that Dad had been surviving on vegetable soups and anything soft Mum could think of making. Mum's favorite foods are leftovers, so I set about trying to generate some. I made a fish pie that night.

My aunt was anxious to see her older brother so she and her elder daughter drove across Southern England for a visit. After tea in the garden, the three of us went for a walk. The sky was blue and the sun shone. We enjoyed clear views on a cliff walk looking out to sea, down to the Roman fort of Reculver, and across the Isle of Thanet as far as Richborough. We heard a skylark. We talked and laughed and rejoiced in being alive. And then we sat down to dinner.

When you live on the other side of the ocean from your family, such mealtimes seem miraculous, even sacramental. My father was recovering. He could speak and eat and he even looked like himself although some facial swelling was obvious. My mother had coped with the surgery, the daily hospital visits for a fortnight, and the daily phone calls updating family and friends. Both of them had survived the ups and downs of the British health care system. One letter notifying them of an appointment arrived on the day of the appointment; another letter confirming an appointment failed to mention where. They went to the office from which the letter was sent only to find that it was at a different hospital (45 minutes closer to home). Having driven further away, they then had to drive at breakneck speed back to the place where the doctor actually was so they could see him before the office closed for a 3-day weekend. And on the day originally scheduled for surgery, after he had exhausted himself shaving off his own extensive beard, the surgeon told my father in the late morning that there was no bed for him in the ICU so the surgery would have to be postponed for a week. The cancer kept on growing. Given all of this, my parents were doing very well.

Over dinner with my aunt and cousin, my mother retold the story of how my father's cancer had come about. He'd had a tooth extracted in February. There had seemed to be an abscess under the tooth and the dentist had prescribed antibiotics. Since they had no apparent effect, the dentist then extracted an adjacent tooth and followed this with two equally ineffective courses of antibiotics. Sometime after that, a mass began to grow on his lower jaw where the first tooth had been. By the beginning of May, he'd been referred by his doctor to a specialist and by mid-May, he'd been given a date for maxillo-facial surgery. My father added his own commentary in slurred but understandable speech.

I'm so grateful that my father is still alive and that I've seen him. I wish I could be nearer to be of help to my mother. To take communion with them both the first time Dad went back to the local parish church was extraordinary. The last thing my father said to me when I called them from the airport was "When can you come back?" As for quiche, it turns out that it is my niece's new favorite food. When she and her parents come to drop her off for a fortnight's holiday in Maine next week, I plan to have baked one for our first meal together. By the end of her stay I hope to do it blindfold. That way I'll be able to make an edible one on the next visit to my father. Of course, by then, he may be ready for steak!

Dr. Deirdre Good is professor of New Testament at The General Theological Seminary, specializing in the Synoptic Gospels, Christian Origins, Noncanonical writings and biblical languages. An American citizen, she grew up in Kenya and keeps the blog On Not Being a Sausage.

How generous is "pastoral generosity"?

By R. William Carroll

The phrase occurs in the fourth resolve of C056, adopted by the 2009 General Convention:

Resolved, That bishops, particularly those in dioceses within civil jurisdictions where same-gender marriage, civil unions, or domestic partnerships are legal, may provide generous pastoral response to meet the needs of members of this Church;

Surely, I am not the only one who is tempted to see unhelpful condescension in this language. In this piece, I’d like to suggest a more charitable reading, which I hope might provide some guidance for how to apply C056 during the next triennium and beyond.

The language is intended to draw a distinction between public liturgies for blessing same sex unions (which have not yet been authorized by the Episcopal Church) and appropriate pastoral care, perhaps taking the form of a locally approved rite, while such liturgies are being developed. Indeed, the first three resolves outline a process that may (almost certainly will, perhaps by 2012) lead to public liturgies approved for use by General Convention.

It is indeed highly insulting if we read the language about generosity as if the diocesan bishop were being generous to provide pastoral care. This is in fact his or her duty, and the General Convention has already committed the Episcopal Church to the following (over 30 years ago, in 1976):

Resolved, that it is the sense of this General Convention that homosexual persons are children of God and have a full and equal claim with all other persons upon the love, acceptance, and pastoral concern and care of the Church.

One cannot be generous in discharging a duty. One is either being faithful and upholding one’s vows, or one is not. One can perform a duty with a generous or grudging spirit perhaps, but in the end a servant does only what is required by his or her Lord. There is a fundamental distinction between gratuitous liberality and what is owed. Among other things, a bishop promises to “encourage and support all baptized people in their gifts and ministries” and to “nourish them from the riches of God’s grace.” (BCP, p. 518)

At the same time, however, all of us (not just bishops) need to acknowledge that we have, as individuals and as a Church, fallen short of the mark and that we have waffled about whether we really mean it when we speak of a “full and equal claim.” If anyone has been generous these thirty years and more, it has been the LGBT faithful, who have endured from the Church they love a spectrum of pastoral care ranging from spiritual violence and rejection, on the one hand, to ambivalent and fickle tolerance, on the other, with an occasional outbreak of Kingdom hope here and there to sustain them on their wilderness journey.

I believe that when it speaks of a “generous pastoral response,” resolution C056 should be understood to be reminding us of the high standard to which we are held as Christians. It is calling the bishops, in particular, to the task of shepherds and apostles. In every ministry and apostolate, however, the standard is not our generosity but God’s. It is the generous love that overflowed to make the world. It is the love that sent the Son into the world, to live, suffer, and die for us, and to rise victorious over every power that corrupts and destroys the creatures of God. Seen in this light, the phrase “generous pastoral response” implies that we should go to great lengths so as not to further scandalize the LGBT faithful. The Church is called to nourish God’s people from the riches of God’s grace. None of the Church’s treasures belong to us. God is the source of every blessing and every good gift. They not ours to control, only to administer.

Does this mean that every bishop will rush to authorize blessings? Probably not, though I think it is chicanery of the highest order and an evasion of the apostolic ministry to read the “particularly” clause, as if a generous response is only called for in places where same sex marriage or civil unions are already accorded legal status. What the fourth resolve calls us to is to fulfill the vows we have already made to God, with the generous love of Jesus as the measure for our faithfulness. My hope is that the Holy Spirit will use this resolve to break down remaining barriers to baptismal equality. May God move our bishops and all the faithful to a new level of public honesty about the gifts and ministries of LGBT faithful in every diocese of this Church, to genuine listening where it has not occurred, to repentance wherever necessary. And may God lead us to witness, bless, and celebrate faithful love wherever it is found.

The Rev. Dr. R. William Carroll is rector of the Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd in Athens, Ohio. He received his Ph.D. in Christian theology from the University of Chicago Divinity School. His sermons appear on his parish blog. He also blogs at Living the Gospel. He is a member of the Third Order of the Society of Saint Francis.

Building the American wall between church and state

By Thomas Penfield Jackson

As we celebrate this, the 233rd anniversary of the events that brought about the union of England’s 13 North American colonies to form the nation now called the United States of America, we Marylanders especially also commemorate the 375th anniversary of the founding of the first of those colonies to vouchsafe civil liberty of conscience to its citizens. Would that the rest of country would give us our due!

In the year 1534, Henry VIII, a 43-year-old monarch who had been king of England for 25 years, wrested control of the English national church from the See of Rome. Exactly 100 years later, 28-year-old Cecil Calvert, who had been the second Lord Baltimore for only two years, attempted to do much the same thing in his tiny proprietary colony of Maryland. Without fully knowing the significance of what he was doing, he sought to separate control of civil government from the grasp of religion altogether. The notion was, to the minds of most Englishmen at the time, both heresy and treason. The English believed that religious conformity and the safety of the nation were indispensable to one another.

Cecil Calvert was not the first Englishman to conceive of the idea of church-state separation. His father, George Calvert, the first Lord Baltimore, originated it but died before he could put it into practice. True men of their times, George and Cecil Calvert witnessed throughout their lives, even if they did not personally experience it, the misery inflicted by English religious persecution; first, in the name of the security of the realm, and later for the salvation of misguided souls. Both were convinced that neither reason was valid, and for almost a half century Cecil Calvert repulsed multiple efforts to take his colony from him and force him to concede his error. But when Cecil Calvert died in 1675 at the age of 69, Maryland had been prosperous and finally at peace for the last 15 years under the secular government he had designed for it at the beginning.

Baltimore’s “Maryland Designe” was a plan of governance that called for his colony to be officially non-religious. The governing elite happened to be Catholics, but derived no benefit from it. No public worship of any kind was permitted. No religious structures could be erected. No faith received governmental support or preference. No tithes were collected. Clergy and laity were indistinguishable from one another, and no proselytizing (except for Indians) was allowed. The only oath required to vote or hold office was an oath of fealty to the Lord Proprietor.

By the beginning of the 18th century, however, Maryland had been confiscated from Cecil Calvert’s son and successor, Charles. Maryland was governed by an Anglican royal governor. The right to hold public office and to vote required an oath of allegiance to the Church of England which had been firmly established as the official and only sanctioned religion of Maryland. Baltimore’s own faith was once more an object of persecution. Catholics were forbidden to purchase or inherit land. Catholic worship was proscribed by law, and Catholic priests could be imprisoned for life. The Jesuits’ beautiful chapel at St. Mary’s had been dismantled. The law even commanded that children of deceased Protestant fathers be taken from surviving Catholic mothers. As one historian has derisively put it: “So ended Maryland’s experiment in religious toleration.”

Scientists tell us that experiments that disprove a hypothesis can be as important, and as valuable, as those that confirm one. Historians and political scientists may have pronounced Cecil Calvert’s experiment in secular civil government a failure, but in fact it proved the opposite. Baltimore’s “Maryland Designe” simply could not survive in the midst of England’s own bitter strife over the nation’s religious identity. In England one could not be politically correct without being religiously correct as well. Which religion was the correct one was an issue that had divided and bloodied the country since the time of Henry VIII. Anglicans and Catholics, Puritans and Presbyterians, Quakers and Baptists, had fought with one another for over a century for political dominion. Cecil Calvert had tried to prove the quarrel unnecessary, but he was ahead of his time. Too few heeded the lesson he offered. Maryland succumbed to the Anglican tide that had overwhelmed a monarch who had favored the wrong religion.

Throughout most of the 18th century Maryland remained officially Anglican. Marylanders paid tithes to the government to support the Anglican clergy. They attended Anglican services, were cited by Anglican church wardens for moral transgressions, were tried by Anglican vestries, and punished by Anglican magistrates if they failed to amend their conduct. Even Protestants of other sects could not vote or hold public office.

And so it was until almost the eve of the American Revolution. Maryland, along with Virginia, was the most Anglican of the original North American colonies. Ironically, the English government never sought to subject the others to the national church to a similar extent. New England continued to be ruled by Congregationalists and Pennsylvania by Quakers. Rhode Island was allowed to go her own way, much as Baltimore had intended for Maryland.

Notwithstanding its monopoly on political power, however, it cannot be said that the Church of England thrived in 18th century Maryland. We must remember that the 18th century was the Age of Enlightenment. All religions were being subjected to rational inquiry. To an ever-increasing extent learned people were becoming convinced that one must reason his or her way to a personal religious faith. If reason did not comport with dogma, it did not support religious belief, and reason did not support many articles of Anglican faith, such as the divinity of Christ or the concept of the Holy Trinity. By the time of the Revolution many nominal Anglicans paid lip service to such matters, but no longer accepted them on faith.

Moreover, the Church of England did not always persuade dissenters to abandon their own beliefs. They supported the Church financially and obeyed its stricture because the government made them do so, but Catholics remained Catholics and Quakers remained Quakers in their hearts and minds, and resented the officious dominion of the Anglicans.

Finally, the fourth Baron of Baltimore, Benedict Leonard Calvert, who spent his entire life in England and never set foot in Maryland, converted to the Church of England in 1715. His reward was a restoration of some of his prerogatives as Lord Proprietor under the original charter of 1632, one of which was the appointment of Anglican clergy to benefices in the colony, a perquisite never used by any of his predecessors. He and his successors did so more as a matter of patronage rather than merit, and the quality of the Anglican priests sent to serve in the parishes of Maryland reflected the fact. Most were worthy men, but some did no credit to the Church of England. For political reasons the Bishop of London retained oversight over the Anglican clergy in Maryland. Maryland never got a resident presiding bishop, and clerical discipline suffered accordingly.

Nevertheless as the Revolution drew nigh, religion, and particularly its diversity throughout the colonies, was much on the minds of the leaders of all the colonies who would take them to war with England and, if successful, meld them into a new nation. Religion was still very much a part of the fabric of national life on both sides of the Atlantic.

In 1689, having been unable to settle upon which was the One True Religion through civil war and alternating tyrannies for 150 years, England had enacted its own grudging Act of Toleration. Non-conforming Protestants who took the Oaths of Allegiance and Supremacy could worship as they chose. Non-Trinitarians, Catholics and Quakers did not qualify—less generous, to be sure, than Baltimore’s Maryland Act Concerning Religion of 40 years earlier, but progress nonetheless.

Moreover, the concept of “toleration” of disparate religious beliefs had been rising in esteem in both North America and England since 1689, and was evolving into a widely-acknowledged fundamental human right of “free exercise.” Non-conforming religious practices were no longer regarded as a matter of privilege, to be permitted or prohibited at the whim of government. To follow the “dictates of conscience, unrestrained and unpunished by the magistrate,” as John Locke put it, was achieving recognition as an inalienable “natural and absolute right,” a component of the liberty the Founding Fathers expected to follow upon independence. As the Continental Congress met in Philadelphia in the summer of 1776, religious freedom was being written into the Virginia Declaration of Rights by George Mason and James Madison. By November Maryland had adopted its own version. The Marylanders who drafted it were all practicing Anglicans but one, who was a Catholic.

After the War, as the Constitutional Convention met again in Philadelphia in the summer of 1787, religion was once more a subject of debate. The consensus they reached was to confer no powers at all concerning religion upon the new federal government. Regulation and support of religion, if needed, would be left to the state governments. Thus, the only mention of religion to be found anywhere in the original draft Constitution as it emanated from Philadelphia is Article VI, clause 3, which provides that no religious test shall ever be required to hold any office or public trust under the authority of the United States.

Some new states ratified the Constitution as written. Others insisted a Bill of Rights was needed, and when it appeared that ratification might fail unless amendments were added, the newly created Congress of the United States drafted the Bill of Rights as we know it today—the first ten amendments. Because the original Constitution set forth expressly what the federal government could do, but was silent on what it could not do, proponents of a bill of rights sought to make explicit those subjects that should be forbidden for all time to the new central government. First and foremost, as we know, was the establishment of a national church and interference with the free exercise of religion throughout the land.

None of the Founding Fathers was hostile to religion. They were all men of faith, believed in a Supreme Being, and in an afterlife in Heaven. But they had come to a realization that religion and civil government, like oil and water, did not mix. Ben Franklin said it best. “When a religion is good, I conceive it will support itself, and when it does not support itself, and God does not take care to support it, so that its professors are obliged to call for help of the civil powers, ‘tis a sign, I apprehend, of its being a bad one.”

Disestablishment of the Church of England, however, had begun in the colonies even before the Revolution. For Anglican priests the Declaration of Independence presented a unique problem. They had sworn an oath of allegiance to the English monarch and his national church, something that no other denomination required. Not only did disestablishment deprive them of their public support, they were now required to break the oath under which they had been ordained. It is reported that only 16 of the 54 Anglican priests in Maryland were willing to do so. The others evaded in various ways—by retirement or a return to England—and by 1780 only 15 remained in the state. Fewer than half of the parishes had incumbent rectors, and it fell to the vestries in each parish to provide support for their priests.

In November 1780 the Anglican clergy and laymen of Maryland convened at Chestertown, Maryland, the first such convention to be held in what would in a few years become the United States of America. It formally adopted the name of the Protestant Episcopal Church for what had been the Church of England. Conventions followed in the other states to the same effect, and the Protestant Episcopal Church of the United States was born.

The most troublesome issue for Americans over the years since Independence has not been the proliferation of sects as a threat to national allegiance, as had been the case in England before the Revolution. Most Americans could be counted as loyal citizens, whatever church they attended. The problem, committed by the First Amendment to the several states to solve, was identifying a surrogate source of the moral and practical education necessary to good citizenship. If there were no public support for the churches, how were young people to learn to be honest, law-abiding citizens?

The answer for many years was for the state government to support those religious entities that had for centuries been looked to for the primary education of the young. The clergy of all faiths were the teachers of children as well as ministers of the Gospel. Along with reading and writing and arithmetic, children were expected to learn the Golden Rule and all that went with it.

The wisest of the Founding Fathers, however, saw the implications of using government money to finance the education of the young through public support of the churches—any church. Which faiths would be deemed worthy of support? What would prevent the insidious growth of a favored church into an official religion? A consensus slowly emerged that the best answer, as we know, is universal public education without religious involvement. Public education sans religious instruction is now offered throughout the United States, although sectarian educational institutions still carry some of the burden, ostensibly without governmental support.

Not until adoption of the 14th Amendment following the Civil War, however, were the worst of iniquities allowed to the states but denied to the national government by the Constitution prohibited to the states as well. And it was not until 1947 that the Supreme Court was to hold that the 14th Amendment took away the powers of the states to support or regulate religion to the same extent as it had been withheld from Congress, in a case, not surprisingly, involving public support for parochial schools Progress in divorcing church and state has been exceedingly slow.

Yet for such progress as we may have made since Lord Baltimore’s experiment, we have not yet been able to find the precise proper location at which to place our Wall between Church and State, and we probably never will. Politics and theology remain commingled in numerous contexts today. We cannot agree on matters of abortion, or gay marriage, or stem cell research. We cannot even agree on what our children should be taught about how the world began, or how the human race came to be. Yet we must concede that such issues have a predominantly religious dimension to them. Proponents and opponents alike on all sides—intelligent and well-meaning people—clamor for civil governments to use their powers to aid their side; quite simply, to enact their religious convictions into the law of the land.

The lesson Baltimore’s experiment imperfectly tried to teach us nearly 400 years ago, however, remains largely unlearned in much of the rest of the world. In recent memory we have seen a Balkan nation torn apart by religious-driven warfare over the right to rule it. Iraq has been unable to form a functional civil government as religious factions contend for political dominion. In Iran today a proud and progressive citizenry is tyrannized, and the rest of us terrified, by a theocratic dictatorship determined to arm itself with the weapons of Armageddon and to exterminate another despised religion.

We do not have to go back to the beginning, to Cecil Calvert’s time, but perhaps we would all do well to remember the first principle of all religions everywhere, and nowhere better expressed than in the words of that earliest and greatest of all the great figures of 17th century England. As William Shakespeare has Hamlet say to his friend Horatio, “There’s a Divinity that shapes our ends, rough-hew them how we will.” In other words, God will have the final say in how well we live (or have lived) our lives, no matter how we—Christians, Muslims, and Jews— order our earthly civic affairs.

Amen.

Thomas Penfield Jackson was a United States District Court Judge for the District of Columbia. A former president of the District of Columbia Bar Association, he is currently an attorney with the law firm of Jackson and Campbell, P.C. He preached this sermon last month at the Church of the Ascension in Lexington Park, Md.

Beets

By Derek Olsen

I stood in the kitchen. I stared at the beets. They stared back at me. Wilted greens descended a darkly crimson stem to the three large bulbs that looked more brown than anything else. I’d seen beets in jars; they were a ruby red and looked nothing like this. The crimson of the stems evoked memories of rhubarb growing behind our shed at my boyhood home in suburban Ohio. I never really like rhubarb, but at least three recipes floated to mind that used it. Nothing for beets.

My family, like many young families these days, is interested in making healthy and environmentally sound choices. We exercise regularly, make most of our meals from scratch, and prefer local and organic ingredients. When we heard that a nearby community supported agriculture (CSA) organic farm would be selling shares and that our church would be a drop-off point, it was a no-brainer for us. We jumped at the chance.

Which led to me in the kitchen with the beets. My dad hated them, so my mom never cooked them. And since I learned the basics from her, I’ve never cooked them. In the aisles of my local supermarket this isn’t an issue—I just don’t buy them. But that’s not the way it works with a CSA. Beets came home in the bag; what was I to do—send them back for carrots? Eating local doesn’t just mean eating food that’s grown nearby—it means eating the food that’s available at certain times. I had no conscious expectations on that first day that my wife brought our share home, but I sure didn’t expect nothing but five different kinds of salad greens (the beets came later). Where were the cucumbers and tomatoes I had unconsciously expected to see? It was obvious when I took the time to think about it—of course the greens would mature fastest, especially the tender young ones. I just hadn’t counted on it and, as a result, didn’t start working salads into our meals that week until the arugula had already gone limp. I quickly learned that our Tuesday drop-off date meant that Tuesday and Wednesday were arugula and leaf-lettuce salad days. We get into the Romaine on the down side of the week; sautéed spinach is great with weekend pizza and roasts. I’d like to say that we round it all out with the cabbage—but we still have four heads of cabbage stuffed into our fridge. I keep swearing I’ll make some cole slaw or boiled cabbage—it just hasn’t happened yet.

At this point, halfway through our first CSA summer, I find myself pondering discipline, abundance, and opportunity. I expected to discover good greens, to support the local economy and sustainable food production. I didn’t expect to discover an alien discipline in eating. I’ve only been buying my own groceries since the 1990’s. All I know are supermarkets where all manner of fruits and veggies are available in all months of the year. Sure, I knew December’s ethylene-gassed tomatoes were unnatural and a little scary, but I’ve never before been so starkly confronted by the realities of seasonal eating. You can’t just go to the garden and get what you want. Despite our consumer-coddled ways, everything has its season and time and you get what the garden gives.

And if you think there’s a larger theological point hidden there about grace and God as the giver of good gifts, well, I’d suggest you’re right.

Too, that leads to abundance—even when it’s abundance you neither request nor know exactly what to do with. Like my surfeit of salad greens or the unexpected presence of beets, the abundance that we receive may not be the abundance we expect. In church parlance when we speak of God’s abundance and flourishing it always comes off sounding like a good thing. Are we missing the fact that sometimes it can be a downright challenge? I mean, what are you suppose to do with a bag full of lettuces? The answer is actually simple: start eating salads—even if that wasn’t part of the original plan. One of the repeating themes in the Scriptures is the miraculous abundance of God. From the manna in the wilderness to the oil in the cleansing of the Temple, from Peter’s great catch of fish to Jesus’ multiplying loaves, God’s privileging of love and life have been signaled through signs of plenty, literally, metaphorically, and spiritually. But are these gifts always received and utilized as the Good Giver intends?

And that leads into my third place of pondering: opportunity and its cousin, creativity. Sometimes we fail to embrace the disciplines that lead us to recognize God’s abundance. At other times, we see only a plague where we should be welcoming plenty. Opportunity and creativity are necessary to seize the possibilities freely offered. Sometimes this means throwing caution to the wind and embarking in the direction of where you see God’s fullness and promises of more. Sometimes it’s much more mundane and means taking some time to learn new recipes.

As for me, I’m still figuring out what to do with the beets.

Derek Olsen is in the final stretch of completing a Ph.D. in New Testament at Emory University. He has taught seminary courses in biblical studies, preaching, and liturgics; he currently resides in Maryland. His reflections on life, liturgical spirituality, and being a Gen-X/Y dad appear at Haligweorc.

U2, the Millennium Development Goals and the Church

By Greg Garrett

Thursday, July 16th, toward the end of the Episcopal General Convention in Anaheim, people gathered to experience a U2charist, a communion service held to the music of the Irish rock band U2. At first, the idea of a secular rock band providing the soundtrack for an Episcopal service might seem sacrilegious-or just silly-since, after all, rock 'n' roll has been "the devil's music" for the past fifty years. But where U2 is concerned, the rock preconceptions about
rebellion, anarchy, and ego gratification go out the window. Here is a band in which three of four members are professing Christians, one (lead singer Bono) has been deputized by the band to become the world's leading advocate for the poor and vulnerable, and their faith has shaped
their music and lives in powerful and obvious ways.

U2charists have been put on around the world and have become hugely popular, attracting many people from outside the Church. But just as importantly, they focus the Church on what we are called to be doing, putting attention on the poor through music, preaching, and the
offering, which always goes to the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), a United Nations initiative to end world hunger, combat HIV/AIDS, and achieve other vital goals. Episcopalians for Global Reconciliation is the clearing house for information on U2charists in the Episcopal Church. It's a natural fit, since the EGR is also our clearing house for information on the MDGs.

But it's also a natural fit because Bono himself has been a huge advocate for the MDGs. In an interview with the Financial Times last fall, he explained that the MDGs came about back in 2000 because people of compassion made a "commitment to eight goals that would change the
planet and demonstrate to the developing world how we might, through a combination of know-how and resources, partner with them in efforts to help millions out of desperate poverty. We gave ourselves 15 years, [and] we're halfway there." Since 2000, as Bono has noted, nations have contributed or pledged hundreds of millions in debt relief , aid, and trade, but of course much still remains to be done.

Unlike stereotypical rock stars, who are supposed to devote their free time to substance abuse and conspicuous consumption, Bono and U2 have made the MDGs a top priority. After years of advocacy for trade, debt relief, and AIDS drugs for Africa, Bono himself co-founded the ONE
movement, a coalition that describes itself as "a grassroots campaign and advocacy organization backed by more than 2 million people who are committed to the fight against extreme poverty and preventable disease, particularly in Africa." The band also speaks out on behalf of the ONE movement, dedicating their classic song "One" (with its repeated refrain "we get to carry each other") to enlisting new members of the coalition. On their last tour, before they played "One" Bono would deliver a fiery and heartfelt speech about how this generation's moon launch could and should be putting an end to world hunger.

Likewise, on U2's 2009 tour, now in Europe before coming to the States this fall, Archbishop Desmond Tutu delivers a taped message at the beginning of the concert to each arena full of people, inviting their participation in the ONE movement. After invoking a litany of victories in the struggle for peace, justice, and economic equity in the past decades-the end of apartheid, peace in Ireland, crackdowns on human trafficking and slavery-Tutu explains what is at stake. Because of the work and the voices of people of compassion, he says, "millions more of our brothers and sisters are alive." And still, again, much more remains to be done.

At General Convention this year-a convention dedicated to exploring the South African concept of "ubuntu," the idea that we are made to be in relationship with each other-the Episcopal Church rededicated itself to the Millennium Development Goals, which were declared a top missions priority at the 2006 General Convention. Even though delegates were forced to cut the Church's overall budget, the convention retained a line item for the MDGs, pledging to keep it a major focus.

Bono would be pleased. In "One," he sings

Love is the temple Love the higher law

and he has long said that if faith is not committed to helping the poor and vulnerable, then it is a fraud. To see our Church re-committing itself in the middle of hard economic times to those who are much worse off is both an inspiration and a reminder that we get to carry each other.

Not have to; get to. We are made for each other, and when we forget that, we forget one of the truths about who we are-and whose we are.

Greg Garrett is the author of the new We Get to Carry Each Other: The Gospel according to U2 and many other books. He is Professor of English at Baylor University, Writer in Residence at the Seminary of the Southwest, and a licensed lay preacher based at St. David's, Austin.
He blogs at theotherjesus.com. This article will appear in the September issue of Texas Episcopalian.

Reviving the art of preaching

By Peter M. Carey

“Preach the Gospel at all times, if necessary, use words.”
~attributed to St. Francis

“A preacher should preach holding the Holy Scriptures in one hand and the newspaper in the other.”
~attributed to Karl Barth


As a kid, there were two things that most intimidated me about what priests did, what they did at the altar, and what they did in the pulpit. Growing up before the 1979 Book of Common Prayer, I remember well the “high church leaning” congregations of my youth and the reverence, mystery, hand motions way up there at the altar – often with the priest facing away from the congregation. As I grew older, I served as an acolyte, so I saw some of this up close, but the sacredness of it remained for me (and still remains today, thankfully!)

The preaching task seemed nearly as mysterious and puzzling. I wondered how the priests would be able to come up with something to say each week, some anecdote to connect the readings with the life of the people in the pews, some example or metaphor to connect the Holy Scriptures with the pastoral needs of the congregation. How did they do it every week?

In seminary, and before seminary, I heard the two quotes listed above quite often. I doubt whether St. Francis or Karl Barth actually said them. We have no way to know about the St. Francis quote, and at least two Barth scholars assure me that even if Barth said that second quote, it doesn’t seem to be consistent with his theology and practice of preaching. In any event, it seems that these two quotes are quite helpful for the practicing Christian.

The first quote, of course, points out that the Christian Life is more than just words; that we need to live out our faith, to “walk the talk” so to speak. However, there are times, of course, to use words. It is NOT merely ok to live well; it IS our calling to share the hope and Faith that we have in Christ Jesus. The fact is that people will see what we do, but they will also hear what we say. I read today that the Episcopal Church has cut its entire Evangelism budget, and without getting into a debate about why this line item was vetoed, I began to think about the need for grass roots Evangelism. To share our Faith with others, we need to live ethically, and we also need to speak with passion about the tenets of our Faith, to speak about God’s work in our lives. In essence, I believe, we need to recapture the ministry of preaching, and not solely for the seminary-trained clergy among us.

As our beloved Episcopal Church declines nationally in numbers, it will be essential for those of us who even have a bit of a spark of interest in preaching to PREACH IT! This means we need to “preach the Gospel at all times,” and it means we need to “use words.” It also means we need to hold our iPhone iBible application in one hand and our Kindle New York Times in the other hand as we connect our Faith with the life of the world and the lives of everyday folks.

Now that the focus of the Episcopal Church (and the Café) can turn away from General Convention, perhaps we can take on the challenge of preaching, teaching, practicing, and living our Faith, and having the courage to share it with a world in need. PREACH IT!

The Rev. Peter M. Carey is associate rector at Emmanuel Episcopal Church in Greenwood, Virginia. He blogs at Santos Woodcarving Popsicles.

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