A Critique of the Covenant through Michael Ramsey’s Theology

By Jared C. Cramer

The following is an excerpt from Fr. Cramer’s book, Safeguarded by Glory: Michael Ramsey's Ecclesiology and the Struggles of Contemporary Anglicanism, published by Lexington Books and available from Amazon.com.

Michael Ramsey, the 100th Archbishop of Canterbury, served from 1961—1974, and is now widely respected by both liberals and conservatives within the Anglican Communion. I believe careful attention to his approach to theology yields significant insight for the life of the contemporary church. Indeed, there are several ways in which Ramsey’s approach to theology and the doctrine of the church interact with the Anglican Communion today. Some of that is surely due to the simple fact that humans have not changed: they are still prone to sects and idols. However, in some other ways his words speak profound criticism to recent trends within the Communion. While it would be impossible to trace each and every way that Ramsey’s theology speaks to the contemporary church, there are a few areas where it seems his words are especially needed. One of the most significant is the proposed Anglican Covenant.

The first point of critique, of course, is the very existence of the Covenant itself. When the revision of canon law came up while Ramsey was Archbishop of Canterbury, he did not engage it fully because of his belief that law could not usually solve the problems of the church. Ramsey consistently praised the “non-confessional” approach of Anglican Christianity, glad that the truth of God expressed in the creeds is a sufficient standard for Christian belief. Furthermore, the easy confidence that seems to have arisen in our Communion with giving great authority to high level drafted statements is problematic. When Ramsey was in ecumenical meetings, he had deep doubts about the possibilities of engaging the profoundest matters of theology through “high pressure drafting,” asking, “Why should such procedures be the medium through which the Holy Spirit speaks to the Church?” [1]

Within the final draft of the Covenant there are also several specific points for critique. First, the way in which the “historic formularies of the Church of England” supposedly provide an interpretive framework for Scripture is problematic. This is especially so for the inclusion of the Thirty-Nine Articles. While Ramsey acknowledged the place of the Thirty-Nine Articles in the Christian and Anglican tradition, he would certainly never have given them the high place to which the Covenant seems to put them. It must be remembered that he presided over the 1968 Lambeth Conference that had a resolution devoted entirely to the question of the Thirty-Nine Articles. That resolution (resolution 43) said three things: each church should consider whether it is necessary for them to be bound in the prayer book, assenting to the Thirty-Nine Articles should no longer be required of ordinands, and that if subscription is to be required, it should be “only in the context of a statement which gives the full range of our inheritance of faith and sets the Articles in their historical context.” Furthermore, Ramsey himself insisted that what was important to a proper understanding of Anglican faith was not the articles, for they are profoundly historically limited: every group in the Reformation had its articles. Rather, when asked what Anglicans stand for, he suggests the proper answer is, “Yes, here are our articles, but here is our Prayer Book as well—come and pray with us, come and worship with us, and that is how you will understand what we stand for.” [2] That is, what Anglicans stand for is found in an experience of common worship, not a historically limited document.

On the problem of “living out this inheritance of faith in varying contexts” (Sec 1.2), the Covenant speaks primarily of the importance of Scripture and tradition. Where reason does occur (1.2.2), it is answerable to Holy Scripture and catholic tradition. This is a profoundly problematic, not to mention simplistic, approach to theological decision-making—especially adjudicating proper theological decision-making in different cultural contexts. Ramsey would have steadfastly rejected this approach, insisting it did not give enough room for reason and that it gave no room for the revelation of God through avenues outside the church.

Even all the Covenant insistence upon the importance of the creeds seems to miss part of the point of the creeds. As Ramsey argued, the creeds exist to protect the church from the insistence of various parties that their views be seen as the most important. Thus the creeds should not be used to divide, but to turn back the rising tide of schismatic pride. The creeds properly functioning in the Anglican Communion not only provide an interpretive key to Holy Scripture, they also clarify the heart of Christian faith to those on both sides. To those on the right, the creeds remind them that ethical disputes are not at the center of the Christian faith. Ramsey himself insisted the church should never use ethical criteria to determine the pure. To those on the left, the creeds clarify that as important as social justice is, it is only a Christian concern when it is united to the Gospel message of God’s self-giving love in Christ. To say the church should act in a certain way because it is “a justice issue” fails to properly articulate the Gospel. It would be much better to say the church should act in a certain way because it more fully reveals the Gospel of God in Christ.

Particularly troubling in the final Anglican Covenant is the section the ACC also found difficult in the Ridley Cambridge Draft: section 4. Even given the revisions in the final text, it seems that “the teeth” of the Covenant have been placed squarely in the jaws of the Standing Committee of the Anglican Communion (SCAC). Though the Covenant acknowledges that “each Church or each Instrument shall determine whether or not to accept such recommendations,” section 4.3 also makes clear that not participating in this Covenant raises important questions “relating to the meaning of the Covenant and of compatibility with the principles incorporated within it.” Furthermore, not participating may “trigger” the provisions set out in 4.2 for the limitation or suspension of engagement with the Instruments of Communion. Thus, in the Anglican Covenant, the organ of unity ceases to be the traditionally Anglican broad approach, where we find unity in our shared worship and historic relationships. In the Covenant, not participating in it, or not ceding to the requests made through the processes of the Covenant raises questions as to just how Anglican one really is.

Certainly, the Episcopal Church needs to practice a greater understanding of its place within the Communion than it did in 2003. It has admitted such since then. It is true that too often members of the Episcopal Church are not truly listening to the beliefs and concerns of their brothers and sisters in other provinces—content instead to offer only support and aid. However, this Covenant responds by undermining the traditional understandings of the Communion whose bonds of affection the Episcopal Church only strained. Ironically, the Covenant seeks clarity and a definite process of how exactly to break relationships in order to adjudicate relationship. Most problematically, the Anglican covenant provides mechanisms to cement and effect division. As many raised their concerns with the development of centralized authority in global polity, the ironic result has been a covenant that now explicitly allows any province to say “I have no need of you.”

What if, instead, the Covenant insisted that member churches must remain in relationship? What if it called them to take seriously the historic documents of Anglican ecclesiology like the Quadrilateral, insisting these are the actual standard of Communion relationship? One can clearly see the mechanism for separation in the Anglican Covenant, but it is much harder to see the mechanism for deep and abiding relationship. An approach to unity based upon forced policies and lists of doctrine and church principles results in precisely the same problem that created the sin of schism: the idea that one’s own perception of Christian faith is the one that is normative. At the end of the day, however, neither the Primates’ Meeting, nor the (Anglican Consultative Council, nor the SCAC, nor any other group will succeed in telling one bishop or group of bishops with whom they should consider themselves in Communion or in strained relationship. The unity which the Covenant purports to seek will remain out of reach.

[1] James B. Simpson, The Hundredth Archbishop of Canterbury (New York: Harper & Row, 1962), 134.
[2] Michael Ramsey, The Anglican Spirit (Seabury Classics; ed. by Dale D. Coleman; New York: Church Publishing, 2004), 7.

The Very Rev. Jared C. Cramer is the rector of St. John’s Episcopal Church in Grand Haven, Michigan. He blogs on his parish website at http://www.stjohnsepiscopal.com/

Kingdom of Heaven Bread

By Richard E. Helmer

A few months ago the makings of what looked like a curious science experiment began to appear on the shelves of our kitchen. Knowing our seven-year-old’s propensity for putting things in water and watching what happens – with sometimes rather gruesome and foul-smelling results – I initially thought nothing of the proliferation of jars and their strange contents. But as they persisted, curiosity began to grab hold. In one jar was a layer of swollen raisins floating in water that was slowly turning a golden color. In another was a doughy paste that was starting to slowly bubble.

The coin didn’t drop for me until a few days later when some delicious bread appeared for dinner. My wife and son had, of course, been making bread starters. I discovered the benefits of our car port, where the back-end of our hatchback got enough sun during the day so my wife would put a culture in back to enjoy the warmth. The yeast was completely natural, started from the skins of everyday raisins, gently tended into a culture ready to mix with whole-wheat flour. In a few days, the resulting starter would expand, and a few teaspoons would go into a bread recipe made from scratch.

It was so much fun, I had to get into the act, and soon I was preparing bread starters from next to nothing to donate to our annual parish bake sale. It was great fun, but it demanded patience. The yeast would sit in a new clean jar with the flour for two or three days doing what seemed to be nothing, and then it would – one night when I wasn’t watching – take off, announcing that it was ready to be kneaded into some dough. My wife was far more patient, giving a sometimes daily batch of dough several hours to rise and noting the huge difference a cold, damp day would make.

She was also the one who grasped the theological implications of what we were doing long before I did. As we sat down for dinner one night, she said the experience reminded her of Jesus’ parable about the kingdom of heaven in Matthew 13:33, among the briefest of all Jesus’ parables: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened.”

In our age of store-bought packages of quick-rise yeast, bread-making machines, and impatient schedules, the full meaning of this simplest of parables hadn’t dawned on me until my wife connected Jesus’ words with our making bread-starters and baking simple breads from scratch. In her connection, I discovered a valuable lesson for all our ministries in the church and the wider world: Ministry, working with God’s grace in cultivating the “kingdom of heaven,” requires the simplest of ingredients: like raisins, a bit of flour, and water. . .the yeast is already naturally present, like God’s Spirit waiting to act, if only given the right conditions. Our job is to gather those ingredients and create those conditions, offer the water it takes to build up the sacramental life, the “flour,” the food it needs from our shared stories and experiences, and the warmth of love in community that it takes to spread, take nourishment, and grow.

Ministry requires patience. It’s a no-brainer, but it’s the hardest discipline of the lot in our age of quick gratification and instant success. How many times to we go to the ecclesiastical grocery store to buy our quick-rise “yeast” program off the shelf – packaged and guaranteed to deliver? And how often are we disappointed that our efforts produce a ho-hum spiritual bread devoid of the joy of labor well done, of prayerful work committed over a long period? Waiting for the yeast to take hold is like waiting for the Spirit to act. When we create the right conditions for God’s grace to enter our lives and the lives of others, we are on God’s time. And God comes – as does the “Son of Man” – just like the yeast: a bit of a “thief in the night.” We wake up one morning to find our efforts by grace have taken root, the Spirit has acted, and what began with simple ingredients has blossomed into a culture of abundance, ready to leaven a whole batch of folk and an entire community with the life, hope, and vision of the kingdom.

Ministry is organic. It ebbs and flows with time and conditions – many of which are outside of our control. Yeast works faster when it is warm, slower when it is cold. We have to ride with its cycles much as we do with the cycles of life in our communities of faith and vocation. How often I have brooded over a down year or two in our parochial report! But experience shows that often these down times make room for a new infusion of grace and people, itching to engage in the deep life of the Gospel. We have to keep the best of the culture going, trusting in the natural life-cycle of the yeast. Sometimes, new clean jars are needed. Sometimes, we just have to start over. But faith is measured more in our long-term adherence to the Gospel calling – our kneading together the simple recipe of love of God and love of neighbor, the hope in Christ’s life-giving presence, the promise of grace that hooks into our life-cycles and demands our deepest trust and greatest devotion.

My wife and I chuckled over calling the bread coming out of our kitchen “Kingdom of Heaven Bread.” We chuckled because it seemed silly at first to gather such theological meaning out of something so everyday as break-making. But then, that is what the Christian life is about: God making the ordinary extraordinary; the everyday becomes miraculous. At that point, I suppose our chuckling became a bit more profound, a bit more leavening for life we had discovered, mixed in with three measures, and rising into Christ Jesus.

The Rev. Richard E. Helmer is rector of Church of Our Saviour, Mill Valley, Calif., and a postulant in the Brotherhood of Saint Gregory. His sermons and reflections have been published widely online, and he blogs at Caught by the Light.

The Presiding Bishop at the halfway mark

By George Clifford

Socrates’ statement that the unexamined life is not worth living seems applicable not only to individuals but also to organizations, including the Church. In November 2006, shortly before the installation of the Rt. Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori as Presiding Bishop (PB) of the Episcopal Church (TEC), I boldly wrote an essay for the Washington Window that was previewed in the Daily Episcopalian proposing an agenda for her tenure in office. Now that her nine years as Presiding Bishop are roughly at the halfway mark, revisiting that agenda affords an opportunity to reflect on the last few years and to think about our way forward from here.

In my original essay, I sketched a fork at which I saw TEC then posed:

One road involves continuing efforts to placate those who contend that views about the compatibility of same sex unions with Christianity constitute a litmus test of Christian identity. Tragically, this road only leads to growing frustration and animosity. Those who would make sexual ethics a litmus test have drawn a line in concrete, unwilling to change and unwilling to accept big tent Anglicanism. No middle ground on which to find reconciliation currently exists. Denying the inevitability of a split within Anglicanism will not prevent that division but will seriously dissipate the precious gifts and energies of Episcopalian Christians.

The other road regretfully acknowledges the futility of the first road and then allows the Church to move forward. If ECUSA takes this second road, the Church will need leadership characterized by fidelity to three classical Anglican emphases: the pastoral, the incarnational, and the via media.

During 2006-2009, TEC chose the second road. The choice was neither quick nor easy, but an extended and at times painful process. For the most part, individuals who believe that same sex unions are incompatible with Christianity have exited TEC or reluctantly accepted that big tent Anglicanism can survive a plurality of views on this subject. Continuing battles over property and a relative handful of disputes over which body is the legitimate expression of Anglicanism in the United States (never an issue for either TEC or the Archbishop of Canterbury, incidentally) represent the dust that is still settling from the fork in the road that TEC chose.

Apart from persons and entities directly involved in resolving those issues, TEC and its constituent members are moving forward. The 2009 General Convention initiated development of rites for blessing same sex unions. Sexuality has generally ceased to be a prime focus and bitterly divisive issue in most dioceses and parishes. The majority of Episcopalians accepts the fork chosen with rejoicing while a minority accepts it with resignation or even lamentation.

Recently, I spoke with a woman who for several decades played a leading role in her parish, one of the first in my diocese both to welcome everybody regardless of gender orientation and to embrace ministry to GLBT persons. Almost all of the congregations in this diocese, she remarked, now welcome everyone. To have a distinctive identity and fresh energy, she said that her parish must develop a new focus. I’m not as sanguine as is she about every congregation’s genuine welcome of GLBT persons, but we’ve come a long, long way since 2006, thanks be to God.

To move TEC along the second road, the road we’ve chosen, I presumptuously suggested that the PB adopt three emphases: the pastoral, the incarnational, and the via media for her tenure in office. Let me be clear: I have no idea whether the PB ever read my essay and claim no credit or responsibility for her actions or leadership. Furthermore, although I write about the PB, my comments are about TEC; in time-honored naval tradition, I presume that an organization’s leader symbolizes the totality of the organization, an idea that coheres well with bishops symbolizing the Church’s unity. Unlike a naval leader, the PB is not personally accountable for everything TEC does or fails to do. Nevertheless, my original essay affords a useful platform for assessing where TEC stands today, at the midpoint in the Most Rev. Jefferts Schori’s tenure as PB.

First, the PB has consistently emphasized what it means to be the Church, drawing upon our rich Anglican pastoral heritage of inclusivity and openness, consistently welcoming all who seek to live out their faith in this part of the body of Christ. Her exhausting travel schedule brings her to all corners of the Church, building vital relationships. A recent headline from Houston made this point in good naval lingo, “PB covers the waterfront.” Without my prompting or inquiring, people who have met her consistently tell me that she impresses them as a godly bishop who inspires and challenges them to be more faithful in our modern world. In retrospect, a bishop who told me that he hesitantly voted for her election as primate, sensing the movement of the Holy Spirit in the House of Bishops showing him that she was the leader whom God desired for this time, was right.

Work remains to be done. TEC still expends too much time and too many resources to keep its legislative and bureaucratic structures moving. We have yet to implement a constructive process for dealing with dysfunctional relationships between a bishop and diocese, a problem encumbered with more urgency and even greater complexity given recent developments in South Carolina than when I wrote in 2006. Property and other disputes with departed dissidents continue to sap individual and institutional energy. Reconciliation is Christ's, and therefore our, business.

Second, the challenge of articulating a clear, bold, and passionate vision for TEC, its ministry and mission, has proven more difficult. The PB frequently receives positive media attention; her presence and words help to move public opinion. However, the many forces pulling TEC in a wide variety of directions exert too strong of a fragmenting influence for what, from national and global perspectives, is a relatively small organization. Similarly, most dioceses and parishes lack a clear vision, torn in multiple directions, dissipating individual leadership and organizational momentum.

No person or organization can do everything well. Maximizing effect requires establishing and adhering to realistic priorities, an essential lesson for military leaders in combat (concentration of force is one of the first principles of tactics and strategy they learn) and a lesson equally applicable to the Church. The Rev. Canon Sally Bingham’s achievements in creating Interfaith Power and Light offer an example of what focused leadership and energy can achieve.

The PB, acting upon insights from feminist and liberation theologies, might call upon Episcopalians at all levels to:
• Decentralize authority, e.g., empowering individuals to form formal and ad hoc task groups to achieve clearly defined objectives without burdening a parish with new permanent structures and administrative overhead.
• Encourage diverse priorities by different groups, e.g., a diocese in an area where the population is growing rapidly emphasizing church planting and evangelism while a diocese in an area with a stable population emphasizes stewardship and environmental ministries.
• Emphasize mutual interdependence, i.e., TEC in conjunction with the other branches of Christianity can in their totality incarnate the fullness of the body of Christ. Similarly, mutual interdependence between dioceses and between parishes will result in the whole being larger than the sum of the parts.

Third, the PB (and TEC) has appeared to seek to bridge the secular and sacred, a path faithful to our via media heritage. Her frequent appearances in venues that address the relationship between science and religion are a sign of this choice. Her affirmation of the value of other religions while insisting on the integrity of Christianity is another such sign. Yet a third sign is leading TEC in choosing the road that led to welcoming GLBT persons fully into the life of TEC, a choice that now seems irrevocable and God directed.

In a Church that has suffered through decades of numerical decline, painful conflict, and significant fiscal constraints, TEC daily offers healing words, living water, and the bread of abundant life to literally hundreds of thousands of God's broken, thirsty, and struggling children. Those ministries deserve a cheerleader who incarnates the Christ. Surely, God has sent Bishop Jefferts Schori to us for just such a time as this, a time when we build on the past to achieve new glories of faithful service in the future.

George Clifford, a priest in the Diocese of North Carolina, served as a Navy chaplain for twenty-four years, is now a visiting professor of ethics and public policy at the Naval Postgraduate School, and blogs at Ethical Musings.

How have we heeded JFK's call to serve?

By Lauren R. Stanley

Today is the 50th anniversary of John F. Kennedy’s inauguration, when he sent forth that clarion call to all Americans: “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.”

At the moment he spoke, I was but 10 weeks old, so I do not claim to remember a thing. But I grew up with those words in my household; the call to service to the country resounded throughout my childhood and led me, two and a half decades later, to serve as a Peace Corps volunteer in Kenya.

Earlier this week, the man who founded that marvelous organization, R. Sargent Shriver Jr., died at the age of 95. I never met the man, but I knew of him – I think every Peace Corps volunteer hears his story, not only of his work in founding Peace Corps, but also of his tireless work on behalf of the poor, his founding of Head Start, his work with his wife, Ethel, to found and run the Special Olympics, and all the other marvelous things Mr. Shriver did in his life.

I’ve been thinking of President Kennedy and Mr. Shriver a lot this week, and feel again that renewed call to serve the people of my country, to help make this nation a better place in which to live, to care for all of the people here.

Then I juxtapose that call with what took place in the House of Representatives Wednesday, the vote to repeal Health Care Reform, and I have to wonder: How does this serve our country?

Yes, the Republicans made a promise to their constituents that they would hold this vote. Yes, there are many who believe that Health Care Reform is wrong (and possibly evil, if you listen to some of the out-of-control rants on radio, TV and social networks).

But how does repealing that which will give Americans decent health care serve those same Americans? How does it answer President Kennedy’s call to serve each other?
I suppose, if you broke down President Kennedy’s challenge, you could make the argument that mandating health care for all is too much of the country doing for you, and not enough of you doing for the country.

I suppose it is possible to claim that government has no business in health care.
But if you were to make either of those arguments, you also would have to concede that Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security are wrong as well. And surely you would have to concede that government – which exists to provide for the security of its people – has no business providing that security. And if you concede those points, then wouldn’t you have to give up your Medicare, your Medicaid, your Social Security?

Now there is speculation that Senate Republicans will try to force a vote on repealing health care, not necessarily because they believe it is the right thing to do, but because they want to score political points. Republican Leader Mitch McConnell assures Americans that he will force such a vote, possibly employing delaying tactics on other bills, possibly by offering a motion to suspend the rules, which is an attempt to shut down the Senate.

What concerns me most is that the effort to repeal Health Care Reform is a repudiation of all that is good in and about this country. Repealing it would say, in clear terms, “We don’t care about the least of our brothers and sisters. If you can’t make it on your own, go away.”

And in a week in which we mourn the loss of one great man, and celebrate anew the words of another, it seems petty and cruel to try to take away health care from those who really need it.

Somehow, I don’t believe either President Kennedy or Sargent Shriver would approve of that.

The Rev. Lauren R. Stanley is a priest of the Diocese of Virginia who served for five years as an overseas missionary.

Communion without Baptism III

This is the third of a three-part article.

By Derek Olsen

Perhaps the greatest issue that I have with Communion Without Baptism is that too often it is framed on an individual and individualistic level. The focus is on an individual who happens to enter a church building and who comes up to the altar to receive. But the catholic construction of the sacramental life is fundamentally bound up with the connections between the mystical, social, eschatological, Eucharistic, and pneumatic bodies of Christ. The sacramental life is a community activity with a communal purpose.

When we begin thinking and talking about Christian community, my knee-jerk reaction is to go back to St Benedict. Benedict’s rule for monks has served as an enduring reflection on the construction and maintenance of Christian community, one that has been grounding and inspiring Christian communal life for over fifteen hundred years. Benedict’s communities are formed around three fundamental principles which, late in the Rule, appear as the monastic vows: they are stability, obedience, and conversion of life or habits. Although these concepts aren’t laid out explicitly until late in the text, the whole Rule is shot through with them. In the very first chapter of the Rule, Benedict lays out the four kinds of monks. The first are the anchorites, the hermits; this is the kind that most of his readers think they want to be. Benedict raises them only to dismiss them, however! He says, these are the monks who have been cenobites (monks who live in a community) for a long time so we won’t talk about them… Then he goes to two other kinds of monks, the gyrovagues and the sarabites. Gyrovagues are monks who are constantly wandering from place to place and who don’t owe obedience to a either a rule or an abbot. The sarabites are a little better—they stay in one place but they do not have a consistent obedience. Without either a rule or an abbot, they change their practices on a whim. The result, Benedict says, is that “they have a character as soft as lead.” The fourth type of monk, the cenobite, is defined in contrast to the others. They stay in one place and owe obedience to both a rule and an abbot. The result is that they are the strongest kind of monk.

What Benedict had done in this initial discussion was to frame a discussion of identity focused on the concept of purpose. With his characterization of the types of monks, he establishes that his three principles fit within a particular hierarchy. Stability is the base; without stability, nothing is possible. But stability by itself is not enough. For the sarabites who have stability, any virtue that they acquire is accidental because they lack obedience which is spiritual stability. Only when a community is grounded in physical stability and spiritual stability are the prerequisites in place that enable conversion of life in Benedict’s program.

See, Benedict starts by identify the key principles, the virtues, that will produce a certain product. He builds them in at the very beginning at the Rule are built in at the very beginning. Without establishing at the beginning the foundations, we’ll end up like the gryovage or the sarabites—any virtue that gets acquired is merely accidental. If we want to produce a result, we have to plan for it, and set up the conditions that will allow it to flourish. We have to envision the product that we’re going to produce. So what is it that the church is trying to produce?

Again, the answer is laid out in Scripture. In Ephesians 4 we find the Pauline vision of the fundamental purpose of the social Body of Christ:

“The gifts [Jesus] gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the Body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ. . . . But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love.” (Eph 4:11-13, 15-16)

Our fundamental goal is that the Body of Christ should come to participate in the Mind of Christ working corporately in the love of Christ.

Now, what does this have to do with Communion Without Baptism? It comes down to commitment; it comes down to stability, both physical and spiritual. The Eucharistic transformation into the Mind of Christ happens within the context of a community—the Baptismal community which is the Body of Christ. If we don’t emphasize the community and our need for it, and its place in forming Christian character then we are simply inviting to be gyrovagues and sarabites without inviting them to a more excellent way.

We understand the sacraments as means of grace. These are the ordinary channels laid down in Scripture and tradition through which God showers transforming grace into our common life. When we embrace the sacraments in their proper relations as the foundational prerequisites for the life of grace we are setting up the conditions to move the Body of Christ towards the Mind of Christ.

Now, what I don’t want to do is to deny the existence of extraordinary grace. That is to say, we believe that God has laid down ordinary means through which we can be certain that grace functions. However, these ordinary means are not limits on God. God can function outside of these and we must be attentive to where and how God is acting. Proponents of Communion Without Baptism suggest that our emphasis on the ordinary means of grace is an attempt to nullify or quench the Spirit’s action through extraordinary means. And they can produce anecdotal examples of those whose lives have been transformed outside of these channels by means of Communion Without Baptism. My concern is that Communion Without Baptism, on the basis of anecdotal examples, seeks to overhaul the ordinary economy of grace and replace it with extraordinary. But whittling away the virtues, the habits, the guides that shape our behavior—the fundamental need for commitment—they place the unsuspecting into the role of the sarabite and the gyrovague.

Where, then, does that leave us? If we ignore the extraordinary means of grace, we may be ignoring how God is working in our midst. If we ignore the ordinary means of grace, we turn our backs on ways that God has indisputably been working in our midst. At the end of the day, the proof is in the pudding. The church, the institutional body shaped by sacraments, expressing physically our common life in Christ has a purpose. The purpose is transforming the Body of Christ according to the Mind of Christ. It is conversion of life. It is embodying the incarnate call to love of God and neighbor. At the end of the day we must watch and ask—what patterns are most conducive to discipleship, to formation, to the construction and increase of embodied love?

Derek Olsen recently finished his 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.

This is a portion of a presentation to the Annual Convention of the Society of Catholic Priests. The purpose of the presentation was to foster discussion within the Society concerning the present controversy around Episcopal Eucharistic practice. Members of the Society tend toward the current canonical stance but are committed to a genuine and respectful dialogue, and the presentation led to an open and interesting conversation marked by charity and civility even with some disagreement. We hope that these remarks may foster a similar charitable dialogue within our church.

Communion without Baptism II

This is the second of a three-part article.

By Derek Olsen

So—why would people within our church argue for a change in our practice and therefore in our theology? What makes this worth doing? My sense is that many of the people who are for Communion Without Baptism, especially those who are not career theologians and who haven’t thought about it long and hard, many of them aren’t trying to change our sacramental theology. Instead what they’re trying to do is to establish Episcopal identity and any negative effect on the sacraments just happens to be collateral damage.

I don’t believe I have to tell anyone here that we are existing within a polarized church. Strident voices from both extremes are trying their hardest to define and redefine what it means to be the Episcopal Church. And locating that definition is a challenge because of some sociological and demographic realities about our make-up. Religion in America in the twenty-first century is a marketplace environment. According to the Pew Research Center almost half of all American adults have changed their religious affiliation sometime in their life. Perception, marketing, and identity all shift together as denominations wrestle with who they are, how they present themselves, and how they’d like to be perceived. I don’t have any scientific numbers on this, but—anecdotally—many of the current Episcopalians I know were raised something more rigid. Either they were Roman Catholic or were a more extreme form of Protestant. As a result, one of the reasons that they have come to the Episcopal Church is because it is perceived to be a more inclusive and less exclusive church than the one they left. This is certainly a perception that our national church leadership seems to be encouraging: the Episcopal Church is the Inclusive Church. As a result, practices that seem to be at odds with this new self-identity can be seen as suspect. Limiting communion to the baptized is exclusive, they will argue.

We have to walk a careful line here. On one hand we do want to affirm the openness that has historically been one of our strengths as Anglicans. We seek to make no windows into men’s souls. We do want to affirm a generous inclusion. On the other hand, a policy of openness that refuses the legitimacy of any boundaries, of any limits is not freedom and inclusiveness but ultimately self-destructive license. How do we affirm a welcoming openness and yet insist on properly maintained relationships?

Perhaps one way is through the recognition of the clergy as the stewards of the mysteries of God. At your ordination, you are called to be the stewards of the mysteries of God. Now, this role has several different aspects to it. The first is that the steward is not the porter. As you may know, back in the days when we had nine ecclesiastical grades and clerks in minor orders, one of the earliest grades was the porter. This person’s job was to keep the door and make sure that only the right people got in. Needless to say, we don’t have this function anymore and it’s not one that we intend to take over either. No one is proposing that we have an altar lock-down where each person who comes up has to scan their baptism pass before they’re allowed to commune. Certain proponents of the practice conjure up a caricature of a religious police state where people like us carefully scan the crowd lest one person slip through and get some Jesus when they’re not suppose to. And that’s really not the point. I don’t have an issue with the accidental and occasional communing of the unbaptized—what I take issue with is a standing policy.

Ok, so, if the steward is not the porter than who exactly are they? There are those who will argue that Jesus is the Host of the table and, since it is his table and not ours, Jesus is the only one qualified to call or turning away the guests at his Paschal feast. They are right on the first point: Jesus is the Host. However, since the time of Paul and likely before, the clergy have been appointed as stewards. A steward is a member of the household who stands in when the host cannot be present with his guests. The steward both ensures that there are sufficient supplies on hand, but also makes sure that everything proceeds according to the host’s will. These days, one of the most important roles of the steward is to explain basic etiquette.

Etiquette and the habits of hospitality are a two way street. In most classical cultures there are well-defined rules that lay out the obligations between the guest and the host. There were certain things that the host had to do and, in turn, there were certain things that the guest was required to do. For instance in Norse cultures the guest was expected to bring a gift to honor his host. The host would also give a gift .However, if the guest’s gift was more lavish than what his host provided, it was regarded as an insult. Breaches of the rules of hospitality could be a cause for a feud or even war. Indeed, according to Homer’s account of the Trojan War, Paris’s crime of kidnapping Helen was multiplied many times by his betrayal of the sacred rules of hospitality.

These days Americans tend have an atrophied sense of etiquette. When visitors enter an Episcopal Church for the first time they may have no idea what they are about to experience. They will be understandably ignorant of our code of conduct. Thus, the attentive steward has a responsibility to lay out the ground rules for proper behavior: “All baptized Christians are welcome to receive the Eucharist in this church. If you do not wish to receive or are not baptized please come forward and cross your arms over your chest to receive a blessing. If you’re interested in being baptized please find one of the clergy afterward and we’d be happy to discuss it with you.” With as few words as these, you will have discharged your basic duty as a steward. At this point your role as steward has been fulfilled. Now the obligations of hospitality have been transferred to the guests. If they choose to abuse your hospitality then it will be by conscious choice and not through ignorance. In this way we maintain a stance that is open and welcoming, yet clear. Not only have we followed the rules of hospitality, we have empowered the stranger to do the same.

Now, before the offertory at the parish where I attend, every Sunday, the priest stands before the congregation. And he invites people no matter where they are on their spiritual journey, no matter whether they are baptized or unbaptized, confirmed or unconfirmed—to join us in the parish hall after Mass for coffee. Yes, it’s true; at my parish we observe open coffee. There is no rail around our coffee table and that’s the way it ought to be. The purpose of the coffee hour is to have joyful fellowship in one another’s presence and to have a more or less symbolic sip and a snack. There is no commitment either stated or implied in this little ritual unless it’s the responsibility to throw away your plate and your cup once you’re done. And, fundamentally, this is the difference between the parish hall and the sanctuary: the coffee doesn’t cost you anything. But when we are called to the supper of the Lamb a little more is expected; “When Christ calls a man,” wrote Dietrich Bonhoeffer, “he bids him come and die.” And Bonhoeffer, of course, wrote the truth of those words in his own blood.

This is the shadow side of the steward. This is the flip-side of the obligation. If the sacrament is only a bit of symbolic nourishment like a cookie and a cup of coffee then we would be silly for keeping anyone from the table. But the sacrament is a deeper walk upon the way of the cross. Once again taking into yourself the call to take up the cross and to follow Christ to his bitter destination. Yes, a resurrection lies beyond but there is no route to an empty tomb that does not lead through the Good Friday. If the Eucharist means more, is more, than coffee and a cookie—and we believe it is—than as steward of the mysteries you have woefully abdicated your responsibilities if you have not warned each one who approaches what awaits them at the table. It would be one thing if the churches where Communion without Baptism is practiced regularly used the exhortation in the prayer book to alert their visitors as to the nature of the meal before them—but I’ve never heard it in such a context. (Of course, speaking of the exhortation, it might not be a bad idea if the baptized were to be reminded of it from time to time as well; you’ll find it on page 316 of your prayer book with the Rite I Penitential Order in case you’ve misplaced it…)

Truth be told, Bonhoeffer is one of our allies as we try and maintain our balance. The theological principle that lies at the heart of inclusion is grace. God’s grace is generous and free, the unmerited love of a good God. All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God and yet the God of grace calls tenderly to each of us in the midst of our unworthiness. And yet, as Bonhoeffer reminds us, the proclamation of grace is an incomplete proclamation of the Gospel of Christ. Unalloyed and unbalanced, the proclamation of grace can become the cheap grace of which Bonhoeffer warns: “the preaching of forgiveness not requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, communion without confession, absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.” Indeed, Bonoeffer writing in the late Thirties laid the pitiful resistance of the German church against the Nazi regime to a proclamation of grace without cost. He writes, “We gave away the word and sacraments wholesale, we baptized, confirmed, and absolved a whole nation unasked and without condition. Our humanitarian sentiment made us give that which was holy to the scornful and unbelieving. We poured forth unending streams of grace. But the call to follow Jesus in the Narrow way was hardly ever heard.” Inclusion—yes. The love and acceptance of God—yes. But cheap grace, grace without cost, grace without response—no. This we cannot abide.
Grace must be balanced with discipleship and this is the harm of Communion without Baptism. It represents the offer of intimacy without commitment, love without cost and that, right there, is the crime—for the cost is Christ.

Derek Olsen recently finished his 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.

This is a portion of a presentation to the Annual Convention of the Society of Catholic Priests. The purpose of the presentation was to foster discussion within the Society concerning the present controversy around Episcopal Eucharistic practice. Members of the Society tend toward the current canonical stance but are committed to a genuine and respectful dialogue, and the presentation led to an open and interesting conversation marked by charity and civility even with some disagreement. We hope that these remarks may foster a similar charitable dialogue within our church.

Communion without Baptism I

By Derek Olsen

The practice of Communion without Baptism has been making its way into discussions in and around the Episcopal Church over the last few years. Put at its most basic, this is the practice of offering the Eucharist to anyone without distinction whether they have been baptized or not. I prefer this term over “open communion” because of the potential confusion about what it means. When I was growing up Lutheran one of the main differences between my LCA Church and the Missouri Synod is that we had “open communion” and they didn’t. In this context it meant that you didn’t have to be confirmed in that church and notify the pastor the week before that you would be receiving. So, in the interest of clarity, I prefer “Communion without Baptism.”

In our polarized church it should come as no surprise that there is a vocal minority who’s for it and advocates it fairly strongly; and there’s an equally vocal minority that is against it. And so the minorities argue a lot with each other. Due to this argument, though, the issue as a whole is coming to the awareness of the broad majority who had never really thought about it. They’re not really sure why it matters or if it matters. In my experience, many of the folks in the broad majority are willing to give you a hearing as they haven’t quite made up their minds. They’re open to gentle persuasion as long as you make a case that makes sense.

The place where we have to begin, of course, is with the very basics—why does this matter at all? As far as most Episcopalians are concerned this isn’t about changing our official teachings, it’s just about a liturgical detail. And if it’s just about a liturgical detail, what’s the big deal?

The big deal is this: liturgical changes shouldn’t be brushed off so easily. Too many in our church—too many clergy as well as lay leaders—treat liturgy and theology as two different things. And the truth is that they’re not. Liturgy and theology are two sides of the same coin. And for this discussion to make sense, for people to know why it matters, this is where you’ve got to start.

One fundamental truth that we know is that actions speak louder than words. If you want to know what people believe, you have to look at what they do. We just finished an election cycle, right? And each election is a new reminder: if you want to know what a politician believes you have to ignore their pronouncements, pomposity, and pandering and look at their legislation. Just so with the church: if you want to know what a congregation believes, look at their liturgy. Liturgy is not some kind of neutral, non-theological entity. Instead the two are bound so tightly that they cannot be separated. They are two sides of the same coin. In fact, the best definition for liturgy that I’ve been able to come up with is this: Liturgy is the kinetic expression of the gathered community’s theology. What we do, shows what we believe. As I’m so fond of saying, we don’t do a solemn high mass because we like it, we do it because it’s what we believe. We don’t wear chasubles and dalmatics and tunicles and swing around incense because it’s fun (although it is…), we do it because each of these elements contributes to a greater understand of what our worship is, the one to whom it is directed, and the part we play in that relationship. We do it because it means something.

I’ve got a mother-in-law who’s a former Roman Catholic and now a very protestant Presbyterian. She doesn’t understand why my wife and I are in to all of this stuff—the vestments, the bells, Mary—in her mind it’s all the “trappings of religion.” And it can be. That’s the danger. If we do it because we think that it’s cool or exotic then—she’s right: it is just trappings. If we do it because we believe that it is the visible, sensible, kinetic expression of what we believe about ourselves, our community, and our God, then she’s wrong—it is part and parcel of how we incarnate the faith.

So—liturgy is the kinetic expression of the gathered community’s theology. The corollary to this, is that liturgical changes signal theological changes. When we alter something in the liturgy, when we change something about our sacramental practice, we have made a theological change. It isn’t necessarily a very big change, but a change has been made, and our beliefs are represented differently now 1) whether we know it or not—and 2) whether we intend it or not.

And that’s actually the problem here. When clergy and vestries fail to grasp the connection between liturgy and theology, what we do and what we believe, then we as a church can be led into all sorts of mischief that no one necessarily intended. I think that some people who practice Communion Without Baptism don’t realize the effect that their actions are having on their theology.

This problem is compounded by the fact that one liturgical change doesn’t necessarily equate to one theological change. It’s not as tidy as that. Instead, Christian theology, especially catholic theology, is a web of doctrine. It is a carefully knit system of interrelated beliefs. As a result. if you change something over here, then it changes something else over here. Just like a spider web—if you move one part of it, the rest of it shifts too, however subtly. And this is precisely the situation that we find ourselves in today. One change in our sacramental practice—that is, how we choose to announce how we distribute communion—doesn’t just have an impact on our Eucharistic theology, it impacts our sacramental theology as a whole, our ecclesiology, and ultimately our Christology. That’s a lot of changes—especially if we don’t realize that we’re doing them!

Ok—if I’m going to insist that we shouldn’t make this change, that we should maintain the way that we have things now, I need to explain why we have things the way we do now and why it matters. A little bit of what I’m going to say is specifically small c-catholic but most of it isn’t—most of it is just basic Christian theology derived from the Bible that Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, and most mainline Protestant folks hold too. Specifically, we’re talking the Pauline parts of the New Testament and we’ll be leaning on Romans, 1 Corinthians, and Ephesians for it.

At the center of this discussion stands one phrase—three little words in English, two in Greek: soma Christou, the Body of Christ. This is one of Paul’s most important phrases and, although non-Pauline texts don’t use it nearly as much as Paul does, the principles that he lines out can easily be found scattered throughout the New Testament with special concentrations in the Gospel and Letters of John and 1 Peter. Now—the Pauline texts use the phrase “Body of Christ” in several different ways and that’s deliberate. It is a deliberately multivalent concept and it’s specifically these multiple meanings that serve to connect our Eucharistic theology, our baptismal theology, our ecclesiology and our Christology,

Here’s how this works. We begin with salvation. Salvation, for Paul, is not about going somewhere when you die. That’s not the point. Instead, it’s about identity, who and what you’re a part of. That’s what Galatians is all about. To enter the community of promise, must you become Jewish first? No, says Paul; Baptism is the key. On one hand baptism is a public ritual that brings us into a certain community which is the social Body of Christ. This is the Church. On the other hand, by participating in this ritual we are brought into the mystical Body of Christ and, as Colossians puts it, we are buried with him in baptism and hid with Christ in God. And it’s that connection with the mystical Body which seems to be salvation for Paul. We are saved from death and sin by putting off our old life along with its old death and are plugged into a whole new life, a whole new energy source, which is the inexhaustible life of God. Those who are in Christ participate in both social and mystical dimensions with one another as well which is the Communion of Saints unbound by time and place. So Baptism is the rite that draws us into the mystical Body of Christ which is expressed visibly within the social Body of Christ which is the Church. This connection is then renewed and nourished by the Eucharistic Body of Christ which, within the Eucharistic tradition handed on in 1 Cor 11, functions to affirm the fundamental continuity between, the physical Body of Christ which suffered and died upon Calvary, the eschatological Body of Christ when he comes in glory to consummate all in all, and the pneumatic Body of Christ which is the current experience of his presence within the assembled fellowship. But—none of that renewal and nourishing makes sense without Baptism as the fundamental first step. So—Baptism connects us to the social Body of Christ which is the Church and the mystical Body of Christ which is the life of God, then Eucharist nourishes that relationship that already exists. Baptism is our sacrament of inclusion, the one that joins us to the Body; Eucharist is our sacrament of intimacy which nourishes and deepens the relationship.

Intimacy and growth are about commitment. Our embrace into the church gives us a social location where this commitment is strengthened and nurtured. Without the commitment, this promised growth simply cannot and does not happen.

This is the catholic position. This is where we stand. To alter this set of relationships is to disrupt the logic between them and among them. To drop Baptism out of the picture is to create a whole new picture altogether.

Derek Olsen recently finished his 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.

This is a portion of a presentation to the Annual Convention of the Society of Catholic Priests. The purpose of the presentation was to foster discussion within the Society concerning the present controversy around Episcopal Eucharistic practice. Members of the Society tend toward the current canonical stance but are committed to a genuine and respectful dialogue, and the presentation led to an open and interesting conversation marked by charity and civility even with some disagreement. We hope that these remarks may foster a similar charitable dialogue within our church.

In search of the Beloved Community

By Sam Candler

When I heard the devastating news from Tucson about the shooting of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and the killing of six others, I was on a weekend retreat with the Chapter of the Cathedral of St. Philip, of Atlanta. (The Chapter is the elected group of eighteen lay leaders of the Church; four canons and I were also there.) We were in the snow-covered mountains of North Georgia, preparing for the year. Suddenly, my outlook saddened. Like our entire country, I was struck deeply by the news. Obviously, the violence was senseless and in such a public space; but I also remembered at that moment how I admire public servants.

We need politicians. We need public servants, who are called and willing to enter our public places and to care for them. Public servants always risk their time, their honor, and their reputation; they are not supposed to be risking their physical lives. On our Cathedral Chapter this year, and on retreat with us, was the sister of one of Georgia’s statewide elected officials; she knows better than I what her brother must endure and care for. I am sure she heard the Tucson news with special sensitivity, too.

We need politicians, politicians who take challenges and make themselves vulnerable. However, the Tucson events reminded me that, at some level, we are all politicians. We all have a place, politically, in this democratic republic of the United States of America, and we all take risks. The victims of the Tucson shootings, from a federal judge to a nine-year old child, were fulfilling their roles in the public sphere. They were showing up for a good old-fashioned “Meet your Congressperson” event. People and politicians were doing what we were supposed to be doing.

The theme I presented to the Cathedral Chapter was “Beloved Community.” It will be our image for this year and for the future. But I believe it is the proper image for all our churches during this year. All churches in these times have the gift of being a beloved community. Our gift of beloved community enriches us, but it can also serve as a model of community for the world around us.

On the weekend after the Tucson shooting, many of us will remember Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., a prophet with whom I associate that beautiful image, “beloved community.” That phrase inspired a truly heavenly vision for him and for us; but he was not its originator. I would claim that the image goes back to the New Testament itself. “Beloved” is a dear phrase in the New Testament, from the instant in which Jesus is called “beloved” at his baptism, to the countless instances in which Saint Paul describes his church members as “beloved” (five times in the Epistle to the Philippians). God really does love Jesus, who called the church into being. The church’s great apostle, Paul, really did love his people. The church is meant to be a community, beloved of God, beloved by each other, and beloved for the world.

But these are times in which our society seems especially confused about community. Much of our culture too easily accepts, and even demands, too shallow a form of community. Waiters come up to my table and introduce themselves by their first names. Talk show hosts demand that callers use only first names. Our schools and civic organizations and sports teams call themselves “families.” These associations are nice, and valuable to our wider community life. However, using intimate forms of conversation before the hard work of relationship-building can lead to dramatic disappointment. True community takes time and effort and care.

Another area where we are truly confused about community is in our use of television, the internet, and social media. (Can you believe that the term “social media” was not even a phrase a few years ago?) The speed in which we can acquire data, through television and random internet searches, leads us to think we know all there is to know about a subject or person just with mechanical facts. Our social media sites give us the opportunity to make quick comments, and sometimes biting, vicious comments, about subjects and persons without having to look at other people face to face. These comments create a “form” of community, but that form is astoundingly weaker and less informed than face-to-face community! At their weakest, members of these “internet communities” are actually quite isolated and lonely; they become loners and renegades.

I do admit, of course, that these forms of social media, at their best, are wonderful! I find that, at their best, they reinforce healthy relationships which have already been formed face to face. I love reviewing social media photographs, for instance, which remind me of wonderful past events or which inform me of what my friend or colleague is doing.

In a time when our culture is confused about community, I believe the church has the calling and gift to be true community, to be “Beloved Community.” We are meant to gather together, to learn and laugh together, to love and cry together. And, together, we account for each other. We teach each other and hold each other to standards of civility and grace. We love (and live) for the long term and not the short term. The Christian Church, at our best, offers true and beloved community.

I am way down the line when it comes to being qualified to speculate about why the Tucson shootings occurred. Like you, I have read and listened to all sorts of reactions. But most of them leave me concerned that our various speculations and reactions to the shootings have become further elements of our polarized divisions. Even our various reactions to a tragedy have become occasions for antagonistic extremes.

David Gergen made the sad observation on 9 January 2011, at CNN.com, that “Soon after the news broke, the internet lit up with accusations, even before we knew anything at all about the man who pulled the trigger. Much of the early commentary, especially from the left, blamed the Tea Party, Sarah Palin, Glenn Beck, etc. for employing a rhetoric of militarism and creating a climate of hate. Commentators from the right soon retaliated, arguing that the left was just as guilty of rhetorical excess and through bad governance, had inspired a citizen revolt. As of this hour, we have a country that is not only deeply saddened but even more divided than we were before the shooting.”

So, I repeat: Even our various reactions to a tragedy have become occasions for antagonistic extremes. I do not want to speculate too extremely myself. The simplest explanation for the Tucson violence is a deranged person. But I would also suggest that people who resort to violence are not, unfortunately, part of beloved communities. For various reasons, they sadly do not belong to communities who offer measured grace and civil relationship over the long term. People who resort to violence are not part of healthy religious communities, healthy Christian churches, healthy Jewish synagogues, or healthy Muslim mosques. My sad comment about the Tucson shooter is that he did not have beloved community.

The way out of random acts of violence is the way of community. I mean healthy, life-giving, community; and I mean beloved community. It is beloved community that sustains daily interactions of civility and sustenance. With others, face to face, hand in hand, and sometimes arm to arm, we learn how to behave in the world. We learn how to care, and we learn how to express disapproval with peace and honor.

Finally, of course, in a beloved community, our ultimate values are the same values as the One who “beloves” us. And it is a peaceful and just God who beloves us. Such is the God who inspired Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to realize that the church’s values of peace and non-violence could be a model for the world around us. And that world certainly includes the political world, in which we all play a part. Dr. King’s vision of a beloved community came to include, not just the church, but the world itself. And that is our calling, too. All of us have a part in today’s political world, to risk ourselves, to give ourselves, to the peace and love, honor and respect, of a truly beloved community. I thank God for everyone who shows up in the public square, for the common good, to take that risk.

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.

Opening to God: Childlike Prayers for Adults: A review

Book Review: Opening to God: Childlike Prayers for Adults by Marilyn McCord Adams

By Frederick Quinn

During her five years as Regius Professor of Divinity and Canon at Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford, 2004-2009, Marilyn McCord Adams was widely known for her sermons, which she worked on all day Saturday and delivered without notes on Sunday morning. She was equally known for the specially composed prayers with which she concluded services of choral evensong. The place for the three concluding collects chosen by the canon in residence allowed Adams “an opportunity to speak in another voice and to try and convey the relevance of what we had just done in another way.” Some 258 of these prayers were published in 2008 by Westminster John Knox Press, Louisville, Kentucky. “Over time, I got more comments on these prayers than I did on any of my sermons,” she wrote in the book’s introduction. “People reported themselves moved, surprised, provoked, or startled. It seemed that the prayers had touched something. My guess is that it touched their own desire to be childlike with God.”

The prayers were written for the specific Christ Church Cathedral setting, with its steady flow of global tourists. Many of those attending the six p. m. daily service might have limited fluency with English and less familiarity with the 1662 Book of Common Prayer. Adams envisioned a congregation of children between the ages of seven and ten years of age, with a good command of language, an awareness of the world around them, ”but who are not yet civilized into adult inhibitions.” The language is frank, trusting, and uninhibited, different from that of the public services in the Book of Common Prayer that “get treated as the Emily Post or Miss Manners of prayer practice, authoritative manuals instructing us in the approved terms of flattery and self-deprecation.” Instead, it is a response to Jesus’ invitation to enter the kingdom of heaven as children.

Presently Distinguished Research Professor of Philosophy at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and formerly on the faculties of the University of California at Los Angeles and Yale University, Adams concludes that such prayer “is a way of sharing the ups and downs, the disastrous failures and wrenching losses, the satisfactions and sweet successes, all the twists and turns of our lives with God.”

The prayers are gathered under three headings, Opening the Self to God, Faith Seeking Understanding, and caring for God’s World. The language is not carved in stone. The author suggests that readers try different prayers that speak to them, not as finished works, but as models for their own efforts. This is a book that could easily be used by parish prayer groups and in adult classes, and for laity and clergy bold enough to move their prayer life in a new direction. It could easily become a “go to” volume in daily prayers and is eminently worth adding to the small shelf of devotional works from which a person draws.

Three representative prayers provide an example of Adams’ work: On Death (29), Terrorism (187) and For the Incarnation (83).

On Death
O God, you made us out of dust. But it’s hard to believe that the people we love are just fancy mud pies. For years we’ve known them as full of life and creativity, working towards goals and polishing skills. We’ve experienced them as persons we connect with – giving and receiving and living so deeply into relationships that we scarcely know how to say who we are and what we’re about without them. It’s hard to accept that all of this – they and we – will unravel. O God, help us trust you with our dead. Enable us to trust you with ourselves. Through Jesus Christ. Amen.

O God, even within our own families, we sometimes get so upset that we splatter our anger all over the room onto whomever happens to be around. But there are orders of magnitude. What would it be like to think it permissible, even a right and noble thing to blow up oneself and other human beings with bombs? O God, the thought terrifies us, the reality so stuns us that we don’t want even to understand this. Only your mind is wide enough to take this in. Only your heart is deep enough to love the perpetrators and be good to the victims. We need your wily wisdom to persuade us, to teach us how to love together in better ways. Amen.

For the Incarnation
O God, when life gets really difficult we sometimes wonder where you are and why you aren’t making it easier. You know how readily we feel abandoned, worry that you are hostile or really don’t care. O God, thank you for reassuring us at Christmas that you are not aloof but ready to share our lives. Thank you for being with us in the good times. Thank you more for being with us in the worst times, when projects fail, when relationships shatter, when love is lost through betrayal or death. Thank you for being Emmanuel, with us always, no matter what. Through Jesus Christ. Amen.

Frederick Quinn is an Episcopal priest, holds a doctorate in history from the University of California at Los Angeles, and has written books about law, history, and religion.

Through the valley of the shadow of death

By Donald Schell

I’d visited Joe in the hospital several times before he fell into the coma. The cancer was taking him quickly. Joe had co-chaired the parish search committee that had taken the big risk of calling me, a divorced twenty-nine year old priest from across the country, to be their rector. It hadn’t worked out as he’d hoped, I guess. After Joe died, I learned that he and his co-chair had taken the big risk of insisting that their good friend, my predecessor, retire for the good of the congregation. When I came, the congregation was mostly people in their 60’s (the age I am now). The search committee was looking for someone to lead change and attract new young families.

Joe’s co-chair on the search committee was mayor of a small town a couple of miles out from our parish. Small town politics and conflict in his police department had made him courageous even when he was a target, which was a good a thing, because change came hard to our little congregation. We introduced the brand new 1976 Proposed Book of Common Prayer to the parish, instituted every Sunday communion and shared it with young children, and sang more of the liturgy than some believed was appropriate. I was grateful that Joe’s co-chair was ready to cover my back; he and I talked over everything. Sometimes he counseled patience or steered me from crazy risks, sometimes he stubbornly made me see the good in someone in the parish who was angry, upset, and speculating that I’d come to destroy the church, and even when his friends made no sense to him or he thought I was being headstrong again, he stood beside me in conflict.

Joe’s particular goodness made him more shepherd than warrior or diplomat - Joe was faithful to his old friends. His ear was ready with sympathy for anyone who was upset, angry, or condemning of changes we were making. His heart went out to old-timers, and he made their pain and grief at every change his own. When the new younger adults began asking for a voice in running things, Joe reminisced with old-timers about building the church, brick by brick with their own hands twenty years before.

For a while he became their messenger
- They don’t know where you’re getting all this stuff.
- They just don’t feel like it’s their church anymore.
- We had our ways.
- Most of us chose the Episcopal Church.
- You keep telling us the church is change and we don’t see why.
- They don’t see why.
- They just don’t trust you.
- We built this church with our own hands.

The messages shifted back and forth that way between “they” and “we.” Eventually Joe’s being their ready ear and voice made him their leader.

Joe’s shepherding fit him well. Years before he’d literally spent a summer herding sheep. Before Joe and I quit talking, he’d told me of an early Rocky Mountain snowstorm that summer that had stranded him and the sheep in a high altitude pasture.

Sudden snow had made it impossible to get the sheep down the mountain and back to his camp. As darkness descended he drew the sheep in close in a tight circle on the ground, picked his way into the center of the circle, and wiggled in to lie on the ground surrounded by warm sheep bodies, sheep breath and wet wool. Snow continued to fall through the night. Joe recited the 23rd Psalm quietly to himself and then said his “Now I lay me down to sleep,” hoping he would not actually “die before I wake.”

Next morning he woke covered with a layer of snow, but alive and well. He stood in the radiance of morning sunshine and shook off the snow as the sheep did the same.

“The one good thing about this new Prayer Book of yours,” he’d told me, “is that we’ve got ‘The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want,’ in the words we all know.” He appreciated that the Rite I burial office included the King James Version of Psalm 23.

As Joe’s friends got angrier, and with me welcoming new strangers who volunteered for tasks and wanted to run for vestry, Joe found it harder and harder to talk to me. I called on Joe trying to talk it through. The last of those visits, when I knocked at his front door, Joe’s wife came to the door shaking her head. “He doesn’t see the point.” “You mean he won’t talk with me?” “I guess not.”

About a year later I got word of his cancer. It was probably that long since I’d seen Joe. I drove out to his place and knocked on the familiar door. This time he welcomed me himself. “I’m surprised you’d come,” he said smiling wryly. He invited me in to sit and talk and be quiet.

I watched him walk across the living room. He was hunched over with pain in his abdomen and his steps were slow and sitting down slower, but we talked, and from that day we fell into a routine of me visiting him a couple of times a week. I’d taken some risk knocking on his door. Joe took the bigger risk - he let me, the kid, the troublemaker, be his pastor. He began telling me stories again, rich stories of his life as a rancher and cattle broker, more sheep herding stories, memories of rocky desert and huge sky and mountain pastures that he loved, stories of ranching friends and homesteading farmer friends, memories of pulling over to watch a radiant red sunsets as he returned from a cattle buying expedition to a remote ranch. As he felt himself nearing death he told me stories of people he loved who had died well.

Eventually his pain got too great for him to be at home, and he was getting too weak to stand or sit. We didn’t have hospice care in our town. Getting adequate pain management meant he’d die in the hospital. I visited him there daily and continued visiting after he fell into a coma. I’d take Joe’s hand and pray aloud with him and then just sit for a little while longer holding his hand. When it was time to leave I’d pat his hand again and say “good-by” out loud. It was what I’d learned in CPE not so many years before - “Talk to people in coma. Hearing seems to be the last of our senses to go.”

The day I’m remembering was my second to the last visit with Joe. Something had changed. His breathing was labored. The nurse said death was close. When I sat with Joe and took his hand, something reminded me of Joe’s story of sheep in the snowstorm. With my free hand I opened my Prayer Book to Psalm 23 and slowly and deliberately read the version he loved -

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures:
he leadeth me beside the still waters.

He began so quietly I’m not sure when I first noticed Joe’s voice speaking with me, his lips barely moving.

He restoreth my soul:
he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil: for thou art with me;
thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
Thou preparest a table before me
in the presence of mine enemies:
thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
all the days of my life:
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

We finished. He breathing was as labored as it had been. I turned to look at him and his eyes were still under his eyelids. Nothing in his face or presence reflected what we’d just done, what he’d just said, yet somehow those words he’d heard had bridged that unbridgeable gap between my consciousness in his hospital room and his wherever it was in his coma.

We spent that moment together somewhere far beyond our disagreements. I felt it as a moment of our seeing and knowing one another, a final remaking or restoration of care and respect for one another. And the moment was powered by memory, and by spoken words and by memorization.

The twenty-third psalm had become a part of Joe’s body and soul. He’d rooted it in his neurology where it became a means of our making peace.

I think on my startled hearing of Joe’s voice and remember finishing that evening as I left his room, walking the hospital corridor calling to mind prayers and songs I knew by heart to find what I could speak from coma.

Something from that night lives in questions I’ve worked on ever since: How do we form people in community? And what’s our liturgy for?

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

An immodest proposal

By Torey Lightcap

Those who normally attend to this space are doubtlessly, increasingly aware of what would appear to be a disconcerting trend. I refer to the apparent financial state of seminaries in schools and programs affiliated with The Episcopal Church.

This is not to say that the education itself suffers. Indeed, in their own way the minds and hearts of students and teachers have never been more active and attuned to how God is speaking in the here-and-now. As an alumnus of one such institution who has remained somewhat connected to his alma mater, I am heartened and excited by what I see and hear, and of the lessons emerging of what people have been able to do with what they have been given.

The problem, inasmuch as I am able to scrutinize and diagnose, is that the investment corpuses of these institutions have hit on very hard times, and that the upticks seen in cloudy economic forecasts have yet to be realized on the daily profit-and-loss sheets watched over by deans and other administrators. Hard times dictate big decisions; support staff are lost; everything is trimmed, yet every effort is made to still maintain programmatic intensity and integrity.

How long can that trend possibly continue? Until things break open and the long-dormant economy rebounds from recession, or until things are simply broken?

I wish that a billion dollars would fall out of the sky so that I could write a gigantic check to all Episcopal seminaries and end the fuss. But as my salty grandmother was fond of saying, if you wish in one hand and spit in the other, see which one fills up first.

Such times call for moments of unrestrained creativity and off-the-map thinking, after which the practicalities follow on. In that spirit, here is an idea that both fails to recognize the problem and starts new ones, but that seizes on the already uncertain moment.

What if all education in Episcopal seminaries was offered for free for one academic year? Just what if?

As the rector of a medium sized parish in the Midwest, I know. I get it. I watch the bottom line, too; I’m a practical person, and I get concerned when our income is outweighed by our expenditures. But occasionally you have to set aside implicature and ruminate about the question itself. What harm can it do, after all, just to entertain one little question?

So how about it? Laughable, right? Totally naïve. A little hand-grenade of a thing. But…

Can you imagine what it would be like to throw open the doors of our hallowed halls and invite in everyone predisposed to learn more about where their faith came from? Can you imagine the excitement and goodwill generated by a gesture so large and so caring?

Holy Scripture could be understood and read in a more generous and intellectually rigorous way. The past would dance off the page for students of history. The insights of individual and parish spirituality would be given to as many as were desirous to learn. Chapels would brim with students seeking regular doses of healthy Anglican worship. Students without a professional ministerial interest could challenge and affirm the clergy to be, and vice-versa. Participating institutions would advance considerably in name recognition as “those crazy seminaries” for good or ill. In short, it would be an absolutely brilliant mess.

I can think of a hundred reasons why something like this wouldn’t possibly work, and they all have to do with completely practical things: money and space and coffee supplies and goodwill worn thin. All good points, all very well taken. But what an amazing gesture of charity and hope for the future of the church.

It’s just a thought.

What will I become? A decade with God’s call

By Adam Thomas

John Lennon popularized the saying that life is what happens to you when you’re busy making other plans. For followers of Jesus Christ, this isn’t entirely accurate. You see: God usually has plans for us that are fairly different from the ones that we have for ourselves. Our joy as followers of Christ happens when we listen for and then respond to God’s call in our lives. And so, to modify Lennon’s quotation: life is what happens to you when you’re busy allowing your plans to resonate with God’s.

Here’s a snapshot of three times over the last decade of my life that shows my movement from my plans to God’s, a movement that I assure you continues today. (And please, don’t misunderstand – just because God’s plan for me has so far been to become a priest, know that God’s call manifests in myriad other ways, as well.)

January 11, 2001
It is ten years ago, and I am really starting to think long and hard about what my life might look like as an adult. My senior year of high school is half over, and my college applications are finished. The days are approaching when I will hourly test the mailbox’s hinges hoping for a fat letter from Sewanee, my first choice college. The days are long gone when I dreamt of being a part-time firefighter and a part-time paleontologist. With my college letters soon to arrive at my house, it is high time to think about the future, the real future apart from the shiny red engines and dinosaurs’ fossils of childhood. And so, right before I turn eighteen, I type a few paragraphs entitled “What Will I Become?”

I believe that when a student enters his or her freshman year of college, he or she should be open to a vast array of new experiences. From my perspective, having my life planned the minute I graduate from high school is unhealthy. I am not saying that a student should not narrow his or her interests at all, but having a rigid path to walk can become detrimental.

As I prepare for my college education I have envisioned no less than four scenarios, one of which has only begun to fester in my brain. I know I would like to continue writing as I grow older, but I am practical and also know that very few writers succeed. Nevertheless, my first scenario is to major in English and hopefully have something published while I am still attending college. The second is to major in journalism and become a reporter; I would love to work for ESPN, but that is more of a dream than a reality. The third scenario is to go pre-law and attend law school. I have always been interested in the judicial process, but I am not sure I want to be a lawyer.

The fourth scenario, the one that is starting to fester in brain, is to double major in English and political science, and then perhaps still go to law school. I do not think I want to be a politician, but I would consider being someone linked to one. I am in the fledgling stages of an AP United States government class, and it absolutely fascinates me. This last scenario is beginning to excite me because it connects the other three. If I became a speechwriter or press secretary then I would have to use skills from all of my other loves. I would need the communication skills of a journalist, the writing skills of an English major, and the thought processes of a lawyer. […] I have narrowed my mindset some, but I will use the next few years to truly decide what I want to do with the rest of my life.

December 28, 2004
The acceptance letter comes and I pack up for Sewanee. Four years later, I am nearly done with the double major, though music composition has replaced English as one of the pair. Halfway through another senior year, I write again about what I will become, this time in response to an essay question on the application for Virginia Theological Seminary.

At the beginning of the second semester of my senior year of high school, I sat down at my computer and wrote out a list of possible career paths in an attempt to bring some focus to the new world that would soon open up to me. I called the list “What Will I Become?” and it included writer, journalist, lawyer, and speechwriter. With this exercise, I was trying to persuade myself that it was perfectly acceptable not to have my future planned out before I went to college. The piece concluded with this sentence, “I have narrowed my mindset some, but I will use the next few years to truly decide what I want to do with the rest of my life.” A year later, my entire perspective changed.

I was taking a humanities class the second semester of my freshman year at Sewanee, and we read the Confessions of Saint Augustine. I was truly struck by Augustine’s attempt to look back over his whole life and search for God’s movement in it; indeed, the text is one long introspective prayer. Heartened by Augustine’s example, I tentatively began to look inside myself. Over the course of the semester, “what do I want to do with the rest of my life” became “what does God want me to do with the rest of my life.” With this new paradigm, my heart and mind became open to new possibilities—or to what I thought were new possibilities. Upon further reflection, I have discovered that this new and exciting avenue, becoming a priest, is actually the earliest path open to me that I had ignored for years.

You see, my father graduated from seminary when I was six years old, and I grew up in the church. I was never the stereotypical rebellious priest’s kid; on the contrary, I always went to services, but for the first seventeen years of my life, the Word and the liturgy failed to move me. I went to church, I was baptized, I was confirmed. I believed in God through the borrowed faith of my parents. But my own faith was still nascent. The church has caused my family intense pain and overwhelming joy, and throughout my early teenage years I was always on guard in church because the painful times were ever so much more vivid in my mind. I would not allow myself to be hurt again, would not allow myself to become vulnerable; therefore, I would not allow myself to love. People would jokingly ask me if I was “going to follow in my father’s footsteps.” Heck no, I always thought, I know what he has to put up with. The pain that kept my faith locked away also kept me from seeing my true calling.

However, on a Sunday morning in October of 2000, something miraculous happened, something that I have been trying to put into words ever since. But mere words are inadequate when the power of the Living God becomes involved. To put it the best I can, I had a moment with God, in which I felt connected to both the enormity of God’s movement in the world and the intimacy of an intense feeling of personal love…. A little over a year later, with Saint Augustine’s example newly in my mind and this transforming experience of God’s love still reforming my heart, I discerned that I was called to the path that has always been only one step away.

December 3, 2007
Another acceptance letter comes, and I attend seminary. Three years later, during my final senior year, I write again about what I will become, this time within a fortnight of the event when “What will I be” will turn into the “What I am.”

A few weeks ago, I decided to try on the outfit I am planning to wear to my ordination. I unzipped the suit bag and laid out the trousers and jacket. I put on my brand new (quite stiff, still) clergy shirt and collar. Then I added the suit, shoes, and belt. As I approached the mirror, I hesitated. I wasn’t sure who I would see looking back at me. A hand, then an arm, then my body appeared in the reflection. I looked me up and down. I folded my hands. I tried to raise one eyebrow and failed. I unbuttoned the jacket and stuck my hands in my pockets. I smiled. There I am, I thought.

As I approached the mirror, I was afraid that I would not see the me I have always been because I was decked out in the attire of the me I am becoming. But as I assumed a stance, a gesture, a facial expression that are uniquely mine, I realized that the mere trappings of the calling to which I have responded will not override the me that continues to respond to the call. When God called me to the ordained life, God called me. God called a person with both gifts and limitations, both experience and baggage. As I looked at my reflection, I did not see a necessarily better me, but the me that shows outwardly my striving to accept God’s call.

As I thought that, I felt my gut twinge with the same feeling I used to have when a fly ball was hit to me in center field. Go and catch it, my gut used to say. Now it says, Look at the way God has moved in your life. Now what are you going to do about it? In many of the places in the bible where our new translations use the word “heart,” the text really says “gut.” In my gut, I know I am called to serve God because I get that same feeling when I contemplate my future. In my gut, I sense the utter enormity of the One I am called to serve. In that deep place, at the very core of my being, I know that the me I am and the me I am becoming are both the me that God has called. Indeed, God’s call created the me I am.

Three more years, the first three of my ordained life come and go. I sit at my computer reading the words I wrote over the past ten years, and I hear echoes of the person I used to be, echoes that somehow became solid, sunk down into my soul, and now fortify the call that God continues to breathe into my life. Another decade spans out ahead of me: marriage in less than two months, a parish in which to serve God, a PhD, followed, perhaps, by a post helping students learn the art of preaching. Some of these surely are part of God’s plan for me, but, even so, I must not allow my plans to become idols that pull me away from God. I must continue to listen and strive to resonate with God’s call. And I must keep myself open to all of God’s glorious possibilities by wondering: what will I become tomorrow?

The Rev. Adam Thomas, one of the first Millennials to be ordained priest, is the assistant to the rector at St. Stephen's Episcopal Church in Cohasset, Mass. He blogs at wherethewind.com. He is the author of the upcoming book Digital Disciple, out this May from Abingdon Press.

Paul's analogy of the body has its limits

By Marshall Scott

Some years ago I read an interesting science fiction story in a “classics” collection. I can’t find either the title or the author, but the point has remained with me. In the story human researchers have found in space a planet that is a vast insect colony, something like a termite colony on an planetary scale. Like a large termite colony, within the primary species there is a queen, and there are various categories of worker according to function. There are also other species, living in and off of the primary species. All seems to the human researcher to be going well, and the lead researcher is considering how humans might make use of this new species, especially its apparent capacity to breed members with new abilities to meet new situations without a planning intelligence.

As one might expect, things took a very different turn. The queen took control of the body of a researcher to communicate to the lead researcher (in a process that also didn’t turn out well for the person so used). The queen made it clear that the capacity of the hive included the capacity for intelligence “when needed.” She also made clear that she was quite aware of human history and human capacity. She noted that her species had adapted and survived for millions of years (not unlike similar species on Earth), while the human species was perhaps 100,000 years old, and on the brink of self-destruction. She added that “intelligence is not necessarily an evolutionary advantage.”

What brought that to mind was this comment made by Bishop Graham Kings in his interview with the BBC: “I was worried when Martyn [Minns] spoke about reducing the Communion to a network. Networks are very different from an organic Communion.” We’ve heard that phrase, “an organic Communion,” often enough in our Anglican controversies. I found myself curious where it came from.

While I found a number of more recent citations, perhaps the most salient is Christifideles Laici, an Apostolic Exhortation of Pope John Paul II, issued December 30, 1988. In that work, John Paul wrote,

“Ecclesial communion is more precisely likened to an "organic" communion, analogous to that of a living and functioning body. In fact, at one and the same time it is characterized by a diversity and a complementarity of vocations and states in life, of ministries, of charisms and responsibilities. Because of this diversity and complementarity every member of the lay faithful is seen in relation to the whole body and offers a totally unique contribution on behalf of the whole body. “(Italics in the original)

He goes on to cite Paul in I Corinthians 12, and to discuss the theology of the Body. And, of course, Paul’s metaphor of the Church as Body is central to our understanding of communion, and the specific expression of the Anglican Communion. Paul does not use the phrase, “an organic communion,” but his image of the Body is organic by any meaningful definition.

I find myself wondering, though, whether we don’t to some extent mislead ourselves by the specificity of Paul’s image. His image is, well, all too human. When we think of his image of the Church as Body, we think of a human body – just as Paul did, as shown by his description of the inseparability of a hand or a foot.

The thing is, we have come to understand many other kinds of bodies, and many other images that “a body,” an “organic union,” might take. There are other ways that creatures are organized that are very different from ours. Is there something we miss if our image of “an organic communion” is too anthropomorphic?

It seems to me that all too often when we think about “an organic communion” and conflate it with Paul’s image of the Body, we forget that in Paul’s image Christ is the head of the body. Oh, when we think of the image of the Body itself, we don’t make that mistake. It’s just when we want to use that image to help us imagine “an organic communion.” My evidence for this is that in all our arguments about “a communion,” organic or otherwise, an ongoing theme is about who gets to be the head. Think of all our arguments about “the primacy of Peter;” or about “establishment,” whether now in England or a thousand years ago in Constantinople. And, if we’re fighting over “headship” in our “organic communion,” what becomes of our commitment to the headship of Christ in the Body? What if a “having a head” other than Christ isn’t “an evolutionary advantage” for “an organic communion?”

We do have other images we might imagine for “an organic communion.” We might, for example, think about the vine and the branches. It speaks to us of growth that is rooted in Christ, but that can lead in a variety of directions. It speaks to us of fruitfulness, and can connect in our reflections to the blood of Christ, which we receive in the Eucharist and in which we are cleansed from sin.

We might consider the lilies of the field. In that sense, we might think of the field itself, the ecclesial “ecosystem,” if you will, as “an organic communion.” In the field it is precisely variety that speaks of health and wholeness. “Not even Solomon in all his glory” was as beautiful, but it is the sum of them, and no one alone, that expresses the glory of the Kingdom.

We might consider a garden – indeed, we might consider “the Garden,” the image of creation. In the Garden there were “trees of every kind,” including the tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Every animal was there, brought to be named. Remarkably, as in our current arguments about “headship” in “an organic communion,” it was precisely ambition that led to the fall.

If we want to best parallel “an organic communion” that steps away from claiming “headship” for ourselves, perhaps the image we want is that of a flock. It is made up of a variety of sheep, and even of both sheep and goats, at least until the last judgment. It is an image in which it is clear who are the sheep, and who – singular – is the shepherd.

This is certainly part of current conversation on the nature and future of the Church (the Body of Christ, and not specifically the Episcopal Church) these days. In 2006 Ori Brafman and Rod Beckstrom published The Starfish and the Spider. The image of the “starfish organization” is of one that is gathered around ideas and purpose, and not structures; and of one that is resilient, capable of recovering and even growing when it seems divided, scattered, even ruptured. Do a quick search, and you’ll find that many have written on how this might apply to the Church, and how reimagining the Church as a “starfish organization” might be meaningful for our future. Now, it doesn’t hurt for this imagining that a starfish is an “organic communion” without a head, but it’s also important to note that in Brafman and Beckstrom’s metaphor “headship,” leadership, takes on a different form and role.

Any of these images, whether Biblical or cultural, might offer some insight, and certainly any of them will have limitations. Still, I think these various images, from garden to flock to starfish, offer us opportunities, opportunities to think about the various forms “an organic communion” might take. We are indebted to Paul for his image of the Church as the Body of Christ. However, I think we may well go astray when we imagine that “an organic communion” must have the same form and characteristics of the Body of Christ. Even Paul’s metaphor has its limits, and we run up against one of them time and again. Time and again we seek to structure “communion” in our own image, and to imagine that one (or some) of us should be the head on behalf of, and all too frequently instead of, Christ. I have to wonder how we might see the Church differently if we imagine it as absolutely organic, rooted in Christ, let by Christ, and growing into the light of Christ, but with no “head” for our ambition to seek.

The Rev. Marshall Scott is a hospital chaplain in 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.

On being too at home in the world

By Bill Carroll

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.
There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.
He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.
And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father's only son, full of grace and truth. (John testified to him and cried out, "This was he of whom I said, 'He who comes after me ranks ahead of me because he was before me.'") From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father's heart, who has made him known.

John 1:1-18

In the aftermath of our celebrations sacred and profane, I'll like to begin with some words from W.H. Auden's Christmas Oratorio:

Well, so that is that. Now we must dismantle the tree,
Putting the decorations back into their cardboard boxes --
Some have got broken -- and carrying them up to the attic.
The holly and the mistletoe must be taken down and burnt,
And the children got ready for school. There are enough
Left-overs to do, warmed-up, for the rest of the week --
Not that we have much appetite, having drunk such a lot,
Stayed up so late, attempted -- quite unsuccessfully --
To love all of our relatives, and in general
Grossly overestimated our powers. Once again
As in previous years we have seen the actual Vision and failed
To do more than entertain it as an agreeable
Possibility, once again we have sent Him away,
Begging though to remain His disobedient servant,
The promising child who cannot keep His word for long.
The Christmas Feast is already a fading memory,
And already the mind begins to be vaguely aware
Of an unpleasant whiff of apprehension at the thought
Of Lent and Good Friday which cannot, after all, now
Be very far off. But, for the time being, here we all are,
Back in the moderate Aristotelian city
Of darning and the Eight-Fifteen, where Euclid's geometry
And Newton's mechanics would account for our experience,
And the kitchen table exists because I scrub it.
It seems to have shrunk during the holidays. The streets
Are much narrower than we remembered; we had forgotten
The office was as depressing as this. To those who have seen
The Child, however dimly, however incredulously,
The Time Being is, in a sense, the most trying time of all.

If there's a critique of the Episcopal Church that ought to worry us a bit, it's that we are far too at home in the moderate Aristotelian city of which Auden speaks. Auden writes as a Roman Catholic, but he is also an Englishman, and his words cut deep for any who espouse an earthy Incarnationalism with a strong dose of common sense. Later in the same poem, he even says that we are tempted to pray that God would "Lead us into temptation and evil for our sake."

Too often, our ethics and worldview are determined by the surrounding culture, from which we borrow uncritically. Worldliness is both the glory and the shame of our tradition. We do believe--and ought to believe--that the Gospel is relevant to our workaday world. We rightly want to bring the whole of who we are into church, and we don't want ever to settle for the duplicity of believing one thing on Sunday and quite another the rest of the week. But do we really believe that the Word became flesh, simply to leave us as we are?

The Archbishop of Canterbury, reflecting on this very problem, insists that "There is in the Anglican identity a strong element of the tragic, of the dark night and the frustration of theory and order by the strangeness of God's work." [Rowan Williams, Anglican Identities (Cowley, 2003), p. 6.]

Since the Second World War at least but beginning earlier (on the Continent this began earlier, in response to the First World War, but it arguably seeped into English-language theology more slowly), our theologians have struggled to come to terms with the darkness afoot in the world--to develop a theology of the Cross that complements our basic optimism about human nature grounded in the doctrine of the imago dei and the related mystery of the Incarnation. [See Arthur Michael Ramsey, An Era in Anglican Theology: From Gore to Temple (Scribner's, 1960)].

In more recent years, this has walked hand in hand with postmodern critiques of the easy optimism of the Enlightenment. No longer is it possible to believe that "we" stand at the summit of a long period of cultural evolution. Even those of us who refuse to buy in to the nihilism and relativism of some forms of the postmodern project are chastened by its critique. We are caught up short by an awareness of suppressed voices--women, minorities, the poor--that are only recently beginning to claim their rightful place in the conversation. And we have a much more complex relationship to the pre-modern past and forms of knowing and doing bound up with story, tradition, and ritual than seemed possible to many of us in so-called modern times.

And so we cannot assume--Could we ever?--that an easy harmony exists between Christ and culture. Or that culture itself is a harmonious whole [see Kathryn Tanner, Theories of Culture, Fortress Press, 1997]. The Logos may be one and the same wherever he is found, but we are called to have a more difficult and critical conversation [see David Tracy, especially The Analogical Imagination, Crossroad, 1981], to see what truth is being disclosed where.

This leaves open the possibility that the Word may come to us, as he did to our ancestors, as a prophetic and confrontational Word--or as a Word of promise we could never have anticipated or prepared for. We may participate fully in the joys and problems of the Aristotelian City but never on its own terms. For whatever provisional value the earthly City may have, and whatever truths our life there may reveal, our true home lies in Jerusalem. For the sake of the world, we have been called out as God's Covenant People.

And so today, we rejoice with the prophet. For we too have been clothed with the robes of righteousness and garments of salvation. And the dwelling of God is with mortals--indeed, it is in our very flesh.

From the beginning, God has been preparing creation for this joy. We were created for communion with God. And, though our constant disobedience and persistent rejection of God's mercy led us deeper and deeper into sin, God never abandoned his intention to dwell in our midst.

God did not, as with the angels and the prophets who came before, send a messenger. But God sent his own Son--God from God, light from light, true God from true God. God sent one and the same Word who lives forever in the bosom of the Father, to be born for us of Mary. And though the world he made did not receive him, to those who received him he gave power to become God's children.

In so doing, God took up the cause of lost and fallen humanity. [See Barth, Church Dogmatics, IV.1]. No longer does God present us with an impossible demand from the outside. Rather, God keeps the Covenant from within.

As we engage with the earthly City, having seen his glory and still aglow with his reflected light, we are "no longer at ease" with the poverty, hostility, and violence we find there.

For the Word became flesh and lived among us, full of grace and truth.

Christmas in the UK

By Deirdre Good

I've been in the UK this Christmas. I arrived just before the snowfall that closed Heathrow for several days and just after massive student demonstrations protesting the rise in student tuition fees. Britain is considered a secular culture these days, which makes it intriguing to see how much religion appears in the media. Newspapers reported that there were few shepherds left in Bethlehem and that persecution of Christians continues in Iraq, Egypt and elsewhere. The Pope gave a short talk on "Thought for the Day." Just before Christmas, on four consecutive nights for half an hour, "Nativity" presented a dramatic reenactment of the birth of Jesus from Mary's point of view. And Top Gear, a popular programme about cars and driving them, portrayed the three drivers as the three wise men traveling to Bethlehem across the Syrian Desert to bring gifts to the baby Jesus. It seems that religious topics still engage listeners and viewers at Christmas.

After Christmas, the interest continued. In the morning radio program Today, the host for the day, the 93 year old best-selling writer and atheist Diana Athill engaged the Archbishop of Canterbury in a conversation about religious commitment. Their unscripted informal dialogue evolved gently into a profound conversation about the nature of belief. Don't most religions have a parochial and restricted world-view? she began.

"All religions have, I think, a double vision on that," the Archbishop replied. On the one hand, what's local and immediate matters enormously, precisely because it's affirmed by some infinite reality. On the other hand, you have the sense of never being able to find the words or get your mind around unconditioned action."

"What then," Diana Athill continued, "is the experience that gives people faith?" The Archbishop said he doubted that it was one thing that gave anyone faith. The experience of suffering can be an occasion for faith. "But what it may come down to is this. When you open up in silence to what is there, there is something there that is not yourself which you struggle to find images and words for, which comes decisively into focus for me as a Christian in one set of stories. Behind that is an infinite hinterland—you are silent, you open up….as you grow as a human being you are seeking alignment with what is most real."

The graciousness of their conversation pointed up several issues: importance of our local situation, respect for different points of view, and the limitations of words. In his Christmas Day sermon, the Archbishop had similarly emphasized the importance of expressions of mutual dependence, loyalty and solidarity during a time of economic constraint and abuses of human dignity. He linked human values to present circumstances:

"Faced with the hardship that quite clearly lies ahead for so many in the wake of financial crisis and public spending cuts, how far are we able to sustain a living sense of loyalty to each other, a real willingness to bear the load together? How eager are we to find some spot where we feel safe from the pressures that are crippling and terrifying others?"

A pressing issue in the UK is housing and homelessness. Shelter, the UK housing charity, reported on December 22nd that "more than 71,000 children will wake up this Christmas in temporary accommodation without the safety and security of a home to call their own." These figures are based on government reports, which as we all know frequently understate the magnitude of the problem. Newspapers say that the UK is experiencing the most sustained rise in homelessness since 2003.

The government is relying on its "big society" agenda to help mitigate the effect of cuts in public services. The idea is that private and voluntary sectors will mobilize to provide a network of support that will be more effective and sustainable than state handouts. But Ekklesia, a UK think-tank, is hosting two interesting articles on its home page right now, one a Common Wealth statement from theologians and religious professionals of all denominations, critical of the government approach which proposes to shift the burden of responsibility for the poor to underfunded voluntary groups, and the second, from Ekklesia itself, reporting that 40% of UK donors have reduced their level of charitable giving in 2010.

In addition, the coalition government has acted to effectively wipe out social aid and legal advice to control legal aid public spending. Those who work in organizations addressing homelessness say that cuts to local authority budgets means that many of the support services helping people in distress face closure. In place of funding legal advice, government proposes to offer limited phone calls. They also propose pay cuts to advocacy groups.

UK politicians are expected to address some of these issues in the New Year. On January 12, 2011, Charities Parliament will host an event with guest speaker and Member of Parliament Frank Field unveiling his poverty report (available here). This will be a chance to examine the state of poverty in the UK and think about radical solutions to national problems. (Prime Minister David Cameron appointed Frank Field as chair of the independent Poverty and Life Chances review).

Today, the news tells us that leaders of large trade unions are reaching out to "the magnificent student protest movement" and promising industrial action in the Spring protesting government cuts. In the midst of all this, a modest (for royals) wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton is scheduled for April 29th. In his Christmas Day sermon, the Archbishop sees this wedding as a sign of hope, "a sign and sacrament of God's own committed love." More pragmatic minds may also see in it an opportunity for economic stimulation.

So here we are in the UK, in a time when social services are being drastically reduced and there's not room for much of anybody in the inn. We can only hope and pray that, come Twelfth Night, somebody will show up bearing gifts for all our nations in distress….

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.

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