After the shootings

by Michael Carney

Friday morning I got up early to walk the dog and work on my sermon. Since the men’s Bible study earlier in the week I’d been struck by the Gospel reading’s description of a crowd yearning for healing. When I got downstairs Marsha was sitting in front of her laptop, crying. We tried to wrap our heads and hearts around the news of the shootings the night before. It was like entering the surreal landscape of a powerfully-presented action movie, taken over by a deranged killer just as cancer can take over the cells of a person’s body.

Next to Marsha’s laptop was that day’s Denver Post Entertainment section, with a review of “The Dark Night Rises” on the front page. Without really thinking I started to read the article, which was strangely ironic:

“Heroism is what Christopher Nolan’s rebooted Batman franchise has explored with a slow-burning, often brilliant intensity… Not the superheroism of so many comic book adaptations, but the individual and communal gumption required to face down evil…The final chapter (raises) a slew of nagging questions about how to rise to the task of the hero in the face of villainy, of evil.” (Denver Post, July 22, 2012)

Just days before I’d returned from our Mission Trip, immersed 24/7 with our youth. Attending a big midnight movie premiere is great fun in their world. At least one of our boys was at the Batman movie that night—fortunately at another theater. Dozens of witnesses originally thought a stunt was taking place—one said, “It was like something out of a movie. You don’t want to believe it’s real, but it is.” (DP July 21)

Accused shooter James Holmes dressed in a shockingly functional costume: body armor and a gas mask, with a deadly variety of weapons. After setting off tear gas canisters he strode through the theater “as calm as can be.” One witness reported “the gunman was standing there as if he were king of the world, like a video game or a movie scene.”

He’d apparently been methodically planning the assault for months, receiving deliveries of materials and ammunition. He identified himself to the police as Batman’s archenemy “The Joker.” It’s hard to say whether he’s mentally ill, but certainly he’s a sociopath. The Aurora Police made an extraordinarily quick and courageous response, but they couldn’t prevent his carnage. The suspect calmly surrendered to them, and the show was over.

The horror, however, was just beginning. The impact of this carefully choreographed act of terrorism quickly rippled out from its ground zero. Some victims were already dead or dying. Dozens of others had been wounded—hundreds were screaming as they tried to flee. Many who survived witnessed unspeakable acts of violence. Thousands of family members and friends were struck by the terror of not knowing whether their loved ones were safe.

These are not simply the actions of a sick man. In a vivid and dramatic way, we’ve been forced to confront the face of evil in our midst.

Many of us who are older find it hard to understand the appeal of action movies like this. I’m not drawn to attend, but I recognize them as imaginatively constructed and powerfully presented works of art. We may not like lumping them together with what we regard as great drama. We may consider them bad influences.

But our young people know they’re not real—it’s just entertainment to them. Why would they choose to watch such violent fare? Today’s sixteen-year-olds were in kindergarten when the World Trade Center was attacked. They’ve never heard of Ozzie and Harriet—21st century America is the only world they’ve ever known.

The young people on our mission trip had only been home three days when this tragedy erupted. There’s an interesting connection with today’s Gospel reading about the return of the disciples who’d been sent out two by two. There were many Facebook postings this week reflecting on the trip, including an older boy who described how sad he was to wake up alone in his own room—half a dozen others quickly agreed. They’d had powerful experiences serving in Birmingham, and it was hard to step back into their daily lives.

In the Gospel Jesus encourages the disciples who’d just returned from their missions to “rest a while” with him in a deserted place. (Mark 6:30) Before they can get away people begin to recognize them and hurry to follow. Soon there’s “a great crowd…like sheep without a shepherd,” which bears an eerie resemblance to the chaos at the movie theater. Jesus “had compassion” on the crowds, teaching and feeding and healing them.

Like the Gospel story, ours is a community experience. On Friday morning our Youth Director Shanda Velisek posted a pastoral message on Facebook and then texted me that she was “waiting to hear about some connection.” Denver is a pretty big city, but we’re all deeply connected.

A youth from St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in Aurora was at the theater that night and made it home safely. One of my wife’s fellow students in the Audubon Master Birder course is a professor at the CU school James Holmes attended—another is a nursing supervisor at a local hospital. Shanda’s husband and sons work at Frito-Lay—the daughter of a co-worker was killed that night. Thousands of people have been impacted by the terror of this event, and the network of their relationships extends across the country and beyond. People all over the world are praying for the victims and their families today. Truly, we are all in this together.

I’m fascinated by the reviewer’s observation that this final Batman movie raises “a slew of nagging questions about how to rise to the task of the hero in the face of villainy, of evil.” I don’t think anyone’s feeling particularly heroic right now. Our reactions are all over the map: shock, bewilderment, sadness, outrage, fear, resignation.

Deep in our hearts, though, I think we’re bound together by the same yearning for healing shown by the crowds at the Sea of Galilee. Our hearts go out to those most directly impacted by the carnage, but we also ache for the healing of our world. How long, Lord, before your promise of “New Heavens and a New Earth” is fulfilled? (Revelation 21:4)

Somehow, despite all of this, life goes on. Friday afternoon I met with new parents to plan a baptism—I held their infant son as they shared their prayers and dreams for him. Yesterday a group of us met with leaders of five other Episcopal churches, all of whom are on fire with their ministries.

Regardless of all that has happened since, my memories of the mission trip are vivid—enduring glimpses of hope provided by our youth. In the face of villainy and evil, living into heroism may be a slow process, but each of us has a part to play. Please join me in saying a prayer which has expressed this for a thousand years—it’s in the Book of Common Prayer on p. 833.

Lord, make us instruments of your peace.

Where there is hatred, let us sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is discord, union;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy.

Grant that we may not so much seek to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand;
to be loved as to love.

For it is in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen.

“A Prayer Attributed to St. Francis”


The Rev. Michael Carney is the Rector of St. Timothy's Episcopal Church in Centennial Colorado.

The danger of Mancinism

by Leo Frade

My beloved in Christ let me begin this homily by alerting you that the first part could upset some of you and confuse others; still others may wonder “What in the world is our bishop talking about?” The second part of what I have to say, hopefully will clarify this and also the reason I am preaching about this topic on Trinity Sunday. So please be patient with me as you hear or read what I am about to say.

Let me start by reminding you that throughout the history of the Church we have heard the voices of those alerting us to the dangers that we face every time we abandon the practices of the past and exchange them for innovative and misguided modernistic ideas that have led us through the wrong path.

In the Church and in our nation it is imperative to protect those cherished traditions, practices and orthodoxy of the past.

In yesteryears, our ancestors held fast to the thoughts of the past and their conscience caused them to oppose any progressive and modernistic ideas that a new age was bringing. The integration of the races, the use of birth control, allowing divorce persons to remarry and also to receive communion, allowing children to receive communion, permitting girls to serve as acolytes on the altar and more recently their firm opposition to the ordination of women and the inclusion of gays and lesbians as ordained deacons, priests and bishops in our Church.

But it seems that we have missed one of these trusted beliefs of the past and it is left to me to raise my voice and to warn you in order that we may protect our Church and society from a dangerous practice that is even now, lurking in our midst.

By now you may be wondering what I am talking about? What is precisely the danger that we are facing?

That, my dearly beloved is the danger of Mancinism. Yes, Mancinism or Sinistralism, as others prefer to call this abnormality.

Please don’t laugh or regard this danger as unimportant once you hear the common way we called those who practice Mancinism. Unfortunately, we have abandoned the warnings from our ancestors that protected themselves and did their utmost to cure this affliction of persons that were suffering. Unfortunately, the liberal conspiracy of modernism has blinded us to the danger of Mancinism.

I am referring to those “left-handed” persons in our midst. Those who are older may remember how people afflicted with this abnormality were excluded and action was taken immediately as a teacher in school or a parent noticed that a child had this tendency.

It seems that we have been blinded by faulty scientific beliefs by those that teach evolution and those that claim that Global Warming is affecting the weather patterns our planet.

It was hard for me as a student in Elementary School to understand why my left-handed classmates insisted on writing with their left hand instead of using their right hand like everyone else in my school.

I didn’t believe for a moment that they were born like this as they claimed and that they didn’t have a choice.

Well, in my days in Elementary School the mancinists were punished for their behavior and I observed how the teacher tried to cure them by tying their left arm to their side in order for them not to use the wrong hand. I believe that today there could be a cure for this abnormality but unfortunately due to the liberal conspiracy the medical profession refuses to categorize mancinism as an abnormality.

Are you aware that the word “sinister” derives from the Latin word “sinistra” that means left-handed or unlucky?

Our wise ancestors referred to Black magic as the left handed way and described being left-handed as a sign of the devil.

If you are one of those misguided persons that believe that it doesn’t matter if you are left handed or right handed tell me why both the Apostle’s Creed and the Nicene Creed say that Jesus is sitting at the Right Hand of the Father and not at the left hand?

The Gospel according to St. Matthew states clearly that Jesus will separate the good to the right and the evil to the left. Let me quote Matthew 25:41 when Jesus clearly states: “Then he will say to those at his left- hand: You that are accursed depart from me into the fire prepared for the devil and his angels.”

I have some ideas that could help to prevent the spread of Mancinism in our church and society?

First, let us pass laws excluding teachers, Boy Scout leaders, and clergy that are afflicted by Mancinism from having contact with our youngsters. Let’s make sure that we don’t have to rent housing to them. Why?

Because they can influence and teach our children to write with their left hand. From ancient days we know that being left- handed is a learned behavior and not something that you are born with. God doesn’t create people to suffer this handicap and force them to write with the wrong hand.

Second, we must create laws that prevent left-handed people from adopting children that will be exposed to this abomination and be influenced to learn that behavior. Were you aware that every August 13 the Mancinists have a “Left-Handed Pride Parade” where they flaunt their devious practice?

To justify their wrong path they claim that 10% of all the population of the world is left- handed and they also like to boast that many artists, mathematicians, musicians, architects and Nobel Peace Prize Winners are and were also left handed. Mancinists brag of their sick behavior by listing several Presidents of our country like Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barak Obama as left-handed. That will explain the sad situation of Washington at present. I say to them that George Washington was right handed and that is good enough for me!

Another important reason of why I am raising this concern today is also to alert the Bishops and Deputies of our upcoming 77th General Convention next month in Indianapolis to be careful of this danger that afflicts our Church. Bishops need to be careful not to consent to the election of any left-handed bishop and also the Deputies have to be sure to exclude any left-handed candidate from being elected as President and Vice-President of the House of Deputies.

If any of these things do occur they will surely become a scandal for our beloved Church and people will say that our church welcomes left handed people into our midst.

OK! Have you had enough already? At this point, you know that what I have said was weird or maybe you began to wonder that after 28 years serving as a bishop in the Episcopal Church I finally flipped out.

I started this homily by saying that I wanted to warn you of a great danger that our church and society is facing. That danger is bigotry and intolerance. No one can deny that the Church throughout its history has been notorious for excluding and persecuting different types of people because they were different.

We have also have managed to reject new ideas that dared to challenge the accepted understanding of the past.

One notorious example is that in the second half of the past Century the Roman Church finally admitted that Galileo was right and that the earth was not the center of the universe and also the church had to admit that they were wrong and that the sun doesn’t orbit around the earth.

Sadly, today church and society manages to put down persons because they have the wrong skin color or because of their nationality, sex or sexual orientation.

I am old enough to have witnessed how well intentioned teachers punished my left handed classmates and how we used to make fun of them for what we thought was weird. I apologize to all the left handed here, including the Dean of Trinity Cathedral who suffers this affliction.

Are you able to understand now why gays and lesbians have a hard time with the church in general? Who wants to come to church to be demonized, excluded and condemned to eternal damnation for being the way that they were created. The same God that created Abraham, Sarah and Hagar; Isaac and Rebekah; Jacob, Leah and Rachel is the God that created Jonathan and David.

Unfortunately today gays and lesbians of our society continue being demonized as we ignore, and refuse to give credence to copious scientific data pointing to the fact that this is not a learned behavior but a trait we are born with like heterosexuality. We don’t learn to be heterosexual and the majority of creation is born with that tendency. Unfortunately it seems that especially the church can’t escape this ancient taboo of considering homosexuality as an abnormality. Like left-handed people they have been created different from the majority of the people of this planet but they have been created by the same God that created all of us.

There is already enough scientific proof that indicates that their sexual preference is not something that they do by choice the same way that being left-handed is not something that people choose. You are born that way.

Love is a splendorous thing for both heterosexuals and homosexuals. For me, one of the dangers that we face as a church is when selected Bible verses are used out of context to demonize others. The real abomination lies in using the Bible to justify homophobia much in the same way that some still use selected passages from the Bible to justify slavery, racial discrimination, xenophobia and misogynist ideas. What better time than today, Trinity Sunday, to be reminded that God and all of God’s creation is much larger than our limited imagination? We tend to place people and things in our limited mental boxes either to control them or to explain that any deviation from heterosexuality is sinful.

I still remember one of my theology classes in seminary when the professor asked us to define what God was. He wrote on the blackboard just these words: God is….. and then went around the class asking us to give a definition to complete that sentence. He filled the blackboard with wonderful definitions that we gave trying to define Almighty God. When all had contributed, he reminded us that when we think we have defined God and believe that our finite minds were able to come up with a definition of the infinite then whatever definition we come up with will surely not be God. We simply cannot put God in a human “mental box” and make God in our image and then put words in His mouth to condemn others by using our Sacred Scriptures.

Are you able to give a reasonable explanation of why God bothered to come up with so many different types of flowers with so many different colors? Why one person’s pigmentation is black and another person is white, or brown or yellow or whatever shade or color? Why are my eyes green and my daughter’s eyes blue and my son eyes are brown? Why are you taller or shorter than me, or perhaps even left-handed? Why are some persons born with an attraction to the opposite sex and others happen to be attracted to persons of the same gender? Why do we all fall in love with another person?

I am sure that one day our scientists will have a definite explanation for this wonderful diversity in our world. I personally hope that God will grant me an audience in eternity and explain why He created us in so many different ways. I will ask other things too, like why some people eat all they want and stay slim and why just by smelling food, I gain weight!

The Holy Trinity should be our guide to live in harmony, as one, regardless of the obvious differences that we may have and further, to seek unity in our diversity. We can explain what the Trinity “is not” but any finite explanation of what it “is” will fall short to the reality of what God really “is.”

In closing this homily, remember what our Lord God said to the Prophet Samuel as he went around to choose and anoint a new leader for Israel. “Do not look on appearance or on the height of his stature….for the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” (I Samuel 16:7).

I say “Amen” to that and I pray that the Holy Trinity bless all of God’s creation without exception and allow us to live in harmony regardless of our differences.

The Rt Rev. Leopold Frade is the Episcopal Bishop of the Diocese of Southeast Florida. From a sermon preach on Trinity Sunday, June 3, at Trinity Cathedral, Miami FL. Shared with permission

Nihilism as defense mechanism

We are the first generation to live in world where belief in God is considered a lifestyle option. We are the first to live in a world in which many people admit the possibility of human flourishing without turning to God. Mainstream Protestant churches are losing people because we suddenly finding ourselves in competition with a flourishing new religion called nihilism, and nihilism allows you to watch ESPN on Sunday morning. Nihilism is an elitist religion, however. You have to be smart to prefer Nietzche. And that's why the Protestant denominations who historically have been constituted by the most educated of our citizenry are suffering losses disproportionately. We are relatively more vulnerable to nihilism. If we want to fight this, we have to incarnate the antidote to nihilism.
--From Craig Uffman's response to Ross Douhat's NYT article on the decline of the Episcopal Church

Out of all the responses to the rash of articles predicting the demise of the Episcopal Church, supposedly for various reasons mostly related to that old canard of "liberalism," I think Craig Uffman might have hit the symptomatology closest to the real core of what's going on.

We really are one of the first (if not "the" first; I suspect this has been evolving for 30 years) generations to live in a world where a God-based social network is not a "given" in our shared life together. I suspect it is as much a function of relative societal wealth in America and Western Europe as much as anything, and in America, coupled with that old myth of self-sufficiency. (A quick trip to the Global Rich List is a real eye-opener--for example, someone who makes $30,000/year is still in the upper 7.16% of the world's "wealthy scale.") In terms of straight dollars, we are wealthier as a society than we like to believe, despite the very real disproportional nature of the distribution of that wealth. With a certain societal baseline of wealth comes a notion that there is a magic number or magic formula that allows a person to truly be self-sufficient, and free from fear or threat. What is clear, though, is the age old struggle between wants and needs is still with us, as is that old struggle with what makes us, as individuals, happy or content. Nihilism allows us to avoid being challenged by a hurting, broken world. Christianity forces us to look at it.

Existential nihilism makes a great defense mechanism. It's tempting to find a comfortable fulcrum in a world where the center of the universe is one's own thoughts, and the need to feed or care for, or even cast our eyes at those less fortunate than ourselves loses steam in a world where certain individuals lack intrinsic value. It's a well-established statistic that with a certain level of income, even with the tax breaks in this country, comes a decrease in charitable giving. Data from the research group Independent Sector from 2001 showed that a household making $25,000 gives away an average of 4.2 percent of their income to charity; a household making $75,000 gives away 2.7 percent.

A side effect of nihilism can be anti-theism as opposed to a simple atheism or agnosticism. What I see, at least trolling the comments in the Religion and Spirituality section of Huffington Post, is that the most active anti-theists don't seem happy when people with decidedly progressive Christian viewpoints post articles. In fact, I sometimes wonder if they don't come after them with their "evangelism of snark" even more determinedly than they do Christian evangelicals. It's almost like progressive Christians represent some sort of traitors to them, and they push their reactions (which seem to be mostly a pointed version of "There is no Santa Claus") with a special kind of aggression.

It's an intriguing voice, a voice in which I often wonder if what I really hear behind it is not its superficial tone of, "I am smarter than you and I have the arrogance that comes with my belief that I am the top intellect in this conversation," but "I have been deeply hurt in the name of institutional religion." I am certain that, if some of their pain truly comes from that place, it's not without good reason. It's a simple fact that for two thousand years, the institutional church has certainly done as much wrong as it has done right.

As a result, I find myself feeling compassion for the voice I perceive behind the strident voice--the voice that betrays that maybe, just maybe this whole nihilism thing is a lonelier place for which that person bargained.

It becomes even more complicated when one realizes that some of the voices that challenge the shrinking numbers and the theology and the polity of the Episcopal Church, the ones who cry that we've lost our way and have strayed from the Bible--are in fact, voices with an undertone of nihilism disguised as theology. I'm in. You're not. Them? Oh, they're DEFINITELY not in. I'm right. You're wrong. I worship a God based in the Bible and truth. You? I'm not so sure about you. Allow me to explain it to you.

We, as a culture, are so surrounded by nihilism, to even begin to extricate ourselves from it seems a near-impossible task--how do we even begin to address Craig Uffman's call to incarnate its antidote? Perhaps the seeds of this antidote lie in the most uncomfortable stories of the Gospel and the maddening parables that seem to make no sense whatsoever to our modern sensibilities. What does it mean to constantly strive to get in a boat and long to go away to a deserted place, only to find that what we were trying to escape, beat us to our destination? What does it mean to take nothing for the journey but a staff--no bag, no bread, no money, and no extra change of clothes? What does it truly mean to save our lives by losing them? Perhaps the answer begins in sitting with these discomforting messages as a community, rather than alone--and perhaps that also means to find what is living and breathing within a community that the naysayers insist is dying.


Maria Evans, a surgical pathologist from Kirksville, MO, writes about the obscurities of life, medicine, faith, and the Episcopal Church on her blog, Kirkepiscatoid

An Olympic Snapshot: Flying into History with Jesse Owens

Margaret M. Treadwell

With the seatbelt sign turned off, I approached seats 1A and 1C. “Mr. Owens, would you like a drink after take-off?” I asked with a smile. The gentleman chuckled and ordered a vodka tonic. I turned to 1C. “Mr. Palmer, would you like a drink after take-off?” A loud guffaw punctuated his request for a Coke.

The letter with Pan Am embossed blue logo depicting the world crisscrossed by air routes arrived a few months earlier. I was thrilled to accept the offer to train as a stewardess despite my parents’ trepidations for their only child.

It was a time of adventure and exploration. When I graduated from college and interviewed with Pan American Airways in 1964, it seemed that most of the country was marching on Selma. What better way to evade the sadness of racial tensions in my home state of Alabama than join our premier international airline? I planned to return to my French family in Paris where I’d studied abroad and meet interesting people worldwide.

Peggy_3.jpg



As it turned out, our eclectic class trained not for my desired return to Paris, but rather to fly “the Orient,” as it was then called. We were sent to our San Francisco base just before the beginning of the Tokyo Olympics, the first Olympics held in Asia — or in any non-white, non-western country.

On my first flight I was scheduled for first class on the Pan Am clipper “Aurora,” headed to Tokyo. The many luxuries of flying first class — white table cloths, fine wines, five course meals we cooked on board — began with stewardesses required to call each passenger by name. So as I checked out the galley, I was also memorizing the seat chart.

Carefully performing my duties, I didn’t realize the two laughing men had switched seats to tease me. When they let me in on the joke that I had mistaken the identities of a white sports announcer, Bud Palmer, and a black 1936 Olympics Champion, Jesse Owens, I learned that celebrities sometimes are a lot less intimidating than I had imagined, and that a self-deprecating sense of humor could take me a long way on any flight.

I knew so little about sports or what the Berlin Olympics had meant. Before Title IX girls were cheerleaders, not athletes, and I was too young to grasp the full import of Jesse Owens’ four Olympic gold medals, which put the lie to Hitler’s Aryan supremacy myth.

Long flights afforded plenty of time to know passengers who wanted to be known, which was certainly the case with Mr. Owens. He had a huge warm smile and could tell a great story like most of my family. His youngest daughter was slightly older than I, and he treated me like a kind uncle as we talked between the courses I was serving him. He told me he was born in Oakville, Alabama, amazingly close to my hometown of Sheffield. While the state had become increasingly polarized and demonized over Civil Rights, I’d tried unsuccessfully to modify my Deep South accent, which I discovered I did not need to do with Jesse Owens. While crossing the Pacific we were crossing barriers unimaginable at home.

At one point, he asked, “What’s your favorite sport?” Since swimming in the Tennessee River was about the only sport available to girls my age, I enthusiastically said, “Swimming!” Mr. Owens replied, “Good news! This is swimming week at the Olympics. Would you like to join me at the Olympic Village to watch tomorrow morning?” I accepted, surprised that my hopes for Pan Am were materializing on this first flight out of the gate.

For two days, my roommate Mary and I found Mr. Owens waiting for us at the Olympic gate prepared to introduce us to swimmers, coaches, and many others of all nationalities who gathered around for his autograph. His inclusive humor, humility and simple presence made me happy to be alive. Some of his tales were tall, but he never boasted. I had to learn from others about the ticker tape parade that was held when he returned a hero to New York City, the disgrace that there was no hotel room available to him in that segregated city, the struggle he had finding work after his fame subsided, the financial troubles he faced, and President Eisenhower’s naming him a “good will” ambassador in 1955.

In Oakville, there is a memorial park with a monument to Jesse Owens. I took our children there to tell this story on one of our many visits back to my family. I am still in awe of this great man and superstar, who honored his roots, became a citizen of the world, and befriended a stewardess from Alabama in October 1964.


Margaret M. (Peggy) Treadwell is a psychotherapist, columnist and teacher in the Washington, DC area. She is co-editor of “A Failure of Nerve: Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix,” by Edwin H. Friedman.

Doing things the hard way: reflection on General Convention

by Marshall Scott

We are odd creatures, we Episcopalians. We seem to like tension. That leads us to do things the hard way.

I don’t mean to say that we enjoy anxiety. I don’t think we take anxiety better, by and large, than any other group of people. Rather, we seem to like to hold things in tension, to commit to doing two things at once, and to accept willingly that we’ll experience some strain.

Let’s take some of the examples, perhaps less obvious examples, from this General Convention. We honored in a variety of ways our siblings from Native American and other indigenous cultures. We did this especially in worship; and we all know that worship is where Episcopalians show what we value. We incorporated several different Native American languages into our daily Convention Eucharists. We heard daily in the House of Deputies from chaplains from indigenous peoples both at home and abroad. This is well and good. We also noted that the only four counties in the United States in which the plurality of residents are Episcopalians are Native American communities in South Dakota and Alaska.

At the same time, we honored our youth. We welcomed and celebrated the presence of the Episcopal Youth Presence, both in the House of Deputies and in their presence in legislative committees to speak as witnesses and share their thoughts. A good number of dioceses, too, had young people from home who came to have some experience of General Convention. We looked to them as our future, and asked them how we might move into the new reality in which they will live: social media, networked communities, and web-based culture. We embraced change in a radical way in opening the way for the restructuring of our life together – and that without a single no vote in the House of Deputies.

I don’t know that everyone would see the tension there, but I do. You see, I think our commitment to the new is an expression of the larger, dominant Euro-centric culture. We wrestle, I think, with the culture of youth that can pull us, if we’re not careful, to an urge for change for change’s sake. It is a notable theme in the culture around us – the dominant culture around us – that we in the dominant culture can bring into the Church. On the other hand, the Native and Indigenous cultures we also embrace have much to recall to us about honoring the elders, about embracing wisdom based in experience, both of individuals and of a people. Native peoples are also committed to their young people, and do their best to ground them in their own cultures to better prepare them to interact in the dominant culture.

If that seems a bit obscure, let’s bring that to a more common arena. We continue to be a people of the Book of Common Prayer, even as we seek to append to it new tools for worship. Over the eight days of Convention our daily Eucharists incorporated both – both content from the Book of Common Prayer and new materials, some written specifically for the Convention. The Association of Episcopal Deacons prepared new intercessory prayers for every Eucharist. At the same time, one of our Eucharists was celebrated using Rite I. We felt the same tension for our life outside Convention as we offered new rights for provisional or occasional use. We got the most press for our new provisional rite for the blessing of same-sex couples, especially where civil marriage is equally available to them; but those weren’t the only additional rites we approved. We would always claim that we continue to be a people of the Book of Common Prayer, and that the Prayer Book is where we say most fully what we believe. At the same time, many of our congregations work from prepared worship books that incorporate language of Prayer Book and Hymnal, and also services for trial or provisional use and music from many sources.

It was particularly acute when we considered resolutions related to our efforts to restructure how we govern our life together. I can’t speak for the House of Bishops, but in the House of Deputies I felt a similar sort of tension between retaining and changing. We first passed the resolution that called for a task force to recommend the changes that we will consider three years from now. As has been noted, that resolution passed in Deputies without a single voice saying “no.” That in and of itself seemed remarkable, and a sign of a broad desire to change.

On the other hand, once we’d passed that resolution to commit to change, almost no other resolution of change passed. Notably, we considered changing the Canons now to eliminate almost all the Standing Commissions of General Convention. Liturgy and Music would be gone. Health would be gone. Ministry Development and Small Congregations would be gone. All that would remain would be Constitution and Canons, and Structure of the Church - only those directly related to recommending or implementing change. Those who suggested the change felt it would, as it were, clear the decks for the new Task Force. The House as a whole did not, and the resolution went down to defeat.

Similar things happened to other efforts to initiate changes now. Structural changes had been proposed in the Executive Council’s proposed Budget were undone in the final budget. Interim bodies that were initially unfunded were funded in the Budget, and sometimes directed by other resolutions. We were clearly committed to change – but not without a good deal of reflection, consideration, and examination.

That really shouldn’t come as a surprise. We are a people who, like the White Queen, seem sometimes to believe “as many as six impossible things before breakfast.” We believe in a God who is Three and also One; who is both transcendent and imminent; who is both fully human and fully divine. We believe that bread and wine become body and blood, even as we believe that we can’t say how – indeed, that the harder we try to say how the more trouble we get into. We believe that God has a plan and is in control; and that we are also not only enabled but expected to take part and take responsibility in shaping the world. We believe that in and through all our most human, apparently venial and political processes God in the Holy Spirit is still working to guide the Church and its individual members.

All of which suggests to me that our Episcopal life in General Convention actually reflects pretty well our Episcopal life for the two years and fifty weeks in between. We may not want anxiety more than anyone else, but we embrace paradox and creative tension like almost no one else. Some may see us as indecisive. I rather think we’re able to see the value of apparently different principles, and so to avoid discarding either. Where others see differences as grounds for conflict, we see them as complementary and/or supplementary – not as separate realities as much as perspectives that together better describe the whole.

And so, for all the expenses financial, emotional, and physical, General Convention has offered a remarkable reflection of the faith and life of the Episcopal Church. And I expect that, even if it is changed in our restructuring, it won’t go away; or that if we no longer have General Convention we’ll have – we’ll have to have – some comparable experience. It is both the Church at prayer and the Church in governance, and also the Church in microcosm. I don’t know yet where I’ll be in three years, or even where the Church will be. But, wherever I am, in three years the Episcopal Church will gather again in General Convention. It will be interesting. It will be exciting. It will be worth our time and effort; because it will once again gather us, not to take us out of our life, but once again to focus ourselves in our life together and before God.


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.

Why ARE youth in church?

By Jacob Nez
with help from Jeremy Blackwater and Jay Begay

Every time someone whines about youth not being in Church I feel like dirt, like we who do go to church don’t exist.

I am 18 and I and 41 more of us go to the Episcopal Church. We don’t always go at the same time because we don’t have transport. We also have to pick and choose a Church that will welcome us. We are youth and we are Native Episcopalians. There is a lot of racism in some of these churches.

None of us live on the Reservations. We live in five border towns in N. Arizona. We are from four Native Nations in Arizona and New Mexico.

All of us came to the Church through the Spirit Journey Youth group in the Diocese of Arizona. When we began 12 years ago as a group, we were a lot of trouble. We would go to Church as a group and squirm around a lot. Kaze Gadaway, our youth minister had to tell us when to sit and kneel. A lot of the congregation complained about our being there.

I don’t know how we changed. Kaze took us to different churches until we found some who wanted us there. Now there are three main churches who always want us there and let us be acolytes and read the scriptures. Saint John’s Episcopal/Lutheran in Williams, Az.; St. Francis in Rio Ranch, New Mexico; and St. John’s Episcopal Church in LaVerne, CA. They all welcome us and go out of their way to tell us that they are glad we are there. They let us do some of our Native rituals with sage.

We don’t go to Church every Sunday. We meet in small groups in homes, parks, the van or a fast food place. We do our group worship service based on the Episcopal service. We pray and we do service projects for the homeless. We go to Church when we can afford the gas. We spend a lot of time together studying the Bible and talking about faith questions.

There are 17 young adults over 18 who are on the leadership team. We are learning about the ways of the Church and how to read the Book of Common Prayer. No one is over 21. Kaze checks out the churches we attend and makes sure that they will welcome youth and Natives. We are looking for churches who will accept us in their congregations as we move away from here. This is not easy.

Let me tell you why we go to Church.

It’s not the sermon. Sermons are usually not about anything we can relate to.

It’s not the music. The music is horrible.

It is the sacrament of Baptism and the Eucharist.

It is very important to us that we are in a ceremony that connects us to the Holy. It is important that we see the Christ in each other and that we work against injustices. It is important that people in a Church are serious about the ceremony and treat it with respect. Almost all of us have been baptized and have taken our first communion as the highlight of our spiritual life.

The way we know that it is a good Church to visit is when we pass the peace. If a congregation really treats us as one of them when they pass the peace, then we know we are in a holy place.

We go to Church when we can and when we are welcomed. We will continue to invite other youth to Church when we find one who welcomes us.

We are youth and we do go to Church whenever we can.

Jacob's bio: I am an Episcopal Native young adult with the Spirit Journey Youth group. I live in Albuquerque with other members of the Journey Youth Leadership team. I am in a community college and want to be a teacher.

~ed. See essays by Kaze Gadaway at the Café and here for more on Spirit Journey Youth. Some poems from Spirit Journey Youth are on Art Blog

Communion before baptism at General Convention

by James Papile
(corrected)

After a few days of perspective I have been collecting my reflections on the 77th General Convention. Without a doubt the most exciting and hopeful thing about convention was the presence of young people. Finally, after several conventions the assembly was able to hear the voices of young Episcopalians. Even with several positive actions, I left the event disheartened. This year one of the most controversial resolutions, beginning the process to change the canons to allow for the administration of communion to those not yet baptized was so altered in the House of Bishops as to be essentially changed. Although I voted for, and am a strong proponent of the canonical change, my discouragement comes from the fact that last minute changes to controversial issue come to the deputies with no time for conversation. When we think about changes to structure this issue needs to be addressed.

Providing communion before baptism, a new crisis in the church is our reworking of an ancient crisis experienced in the earliest days of the faith. For Paul and Peter the contention was over the necessity of a male convert to be circumcised. The Jerusalem contingent wanted all converts to be circumcised before they were to be allowed in the community.

Now there are the new traditionalists who want the “gentiles” to be baptized before they are allowed full inclusion in the Church (the right to receive communion). Although this modern day discussion isn't anywhere near as painful physically,it has the same, I believe, monumental implications for the future of the Church.

For those to whom Paul was evangelizing, non-Jews, Jewish ritual and Jewish law was meaningless. Never having been exposed to Torah-the way of Jewish life - going through the action of adult male circumcision would have been dangerous due to the possibility of infection, very painful, and without rationale. Paul argued, apparently convincingly, with Peter and others that requiring circumcision would have been a major impediment to those who might otherwise embrace the Jesus-following community.

I'm not suggesting that being baptized is anything like the trauma of adult circumcision, although I have baptized a few infants who couldn't have put up much more of a fight or seemingly been more traumatized! But what I am saying is that unchurched folks walking into a Jesus-following community of today will find the practice of baptizing equally lacking in meaning.

Inside the community, we grew up knowing the meaning and the importance of baptism. This amazingly transformative moment is difficult to describe to those who know nothing about the Church. For some newcomers, there will be an attraction to the life of the community which will give them time to absorb the meaning of this powerful sacrament. They will wait to receive after they are baptized. But what about those who need another way to feel included? Must we also ask those individuals to wait until they feel the power of the Holy Spirit and the welcoming of the community? How fair, or realistic is that? How effective can we expect this process to be in bringing folks from the contemporary culture to Christ?

A few weeks ago we read the story of Philip baptizing the Ethiopian eunuch, a story that has powerful implication on many levels for the Church today. By today's standards, Philip's action would have been questioned. Did he adequately inform the individual of the theological meaning of baptism; did he impress upon him the importance of a “home parish,” was he convinced of the eunuch's intention to remain a faithful church-going person? Early Church documents record a catechumenate period of up to two years. Today many parishes require an adult candidate for baptism to go through a series of classes, teachings about scripture, church history, and contemporary polity. By these standards Philip's baptismal preparation was deficient.

In these missionary times we have significant challenges, but also powerful opportunities. Some practices, some time-honored customs may need to be suspended, even altered. Did the community in Jerusalem keep circumcising? Probably, yet to what effect? Paul's way was different. Daring to break from tradition, his work spread the faith to the four corners of the known world. He will forever be the model for Christian evangelism. We should be as far seeing today, for a stronger, more vibrant Church.

“But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us. He has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace, and might reconcile both groups to God in one body...” ~Ephesians 2:13ff


The Rev. James Papile is the Rector of St. Anne's Episcopal Church, Reston VA and often writes about baseball, the church and faith.

Rio+20: is this the future we want?

by Luiz Coelho

I remember “attending” Eco-92, the first United Nations Environment-related summit in Rio. I was only a child in 1992, but took part of several activities available at the People's Summit: a big showcase of NGOs and major institutions that took place in Flamengo Park while world leaders discussed the future of the planet in special plenaries on the other side of the city. It was a moment of great excitement for Cariocas (those who were born in Rio). After years of decadence, the city known as some sort of hidden paradise where colonial architecture, forests and beaches lived next to high crime and sprawling slums had been picked to host a major international event. There was also a sense of hope for the planet. So many world leaders were here, discussing about what could be done to save nature from human activity and make sure that future generations would be able to respect and care for the Environment.

Of course a lot has changed. Eco-92 was the first of a series of successful events that turned Rio into a “global city”. It is not clear if such megaevents brought real growth to the city, which led to the reduction of some of Rio's major problems or if the fact they had been scheduled meant that some action had to be taken, otherwise the city would not be profitable for those who are investing in it. One thing can be said though. This is now Rio Inc., the “corporation city” marketed as the place to be, to build, to party and to do business. It competes to show it's the best in everything. Unfortunatley, its social problems are still there. Slums still exist. They continue to be plagued by poverty and crime, and they fail to get proper reurbanization, especially in those slums far away from rich, touristic neighborhoods.

Rio+20 is also a different matter. The sense of hope many had back in 1992 is gone. After so many years of endless talks, boycotted agreements, empty documents and unsuccessful round tables, there is less hope in possible change for the planet. For Rio+20, key concepts were “sustainable development” and “green economy”. In practice, both presuppose an inherent ability of exploiting natural resources and using the environment at will. The only difference is that enough should be saved so next generations will be able to do the same. In other words, it's “business as usual”, albeit with a certain concern for our fragile planet. Too little, too few.

But even this mild concept often gets corrupted. The lack of precise definitions and international agreements on the meanings of concepts like those mean that not rarely services, products, policies and certifications labeled as “green” rely only partially on renewable resources or presuppose a mere reduction on the emission of pollutants, among other measures that do not nearly mitigate the problems that endanger our planet. This is often known as “greenwashing”.

So it is not a big surprise to realize Rio+20 issued a final document that lacks concrete objectives and is regarded as weak in many aspects. The model that is presented to us still relies on an old order of growth mostly economically measured, reliance on big corporations’ good behavior and minor changes in conventional consumption patterns. Such patterns are gradually including more and more people from countries under development, as they become part of a global, consumeristic society. This is actually seen as good, and as a proof of poverty reduction. “Leaving poverty” is a concept often associated with “having purchasing power”.

Real change requires us to rethink this whole model by reducing our consumption of natural resources, decreasing the expenditure of energy and relying more on local, natural and seasonal food sources, among several other measures that would invariably break the conventional order of big corporations and governments competing for global dominance. The difficulty of implementing bolder measures is that the powers of this world are never willing to cede. After all, we are experiencing corporation-cities, corporation-states, corporation-regions and corporation-countries: all competing to showcase they are better, more interesting, more attractive and more desirable for the economic powers of the world. At Rio+20, I was able to learn about several wonderful initiatives that intend to restore environmental enconomic justice to governments' agendas. Unfortunately, most of the bolder initiatives do not get past the decision-making process. The sad reality is that environmental policies are dependent on a series of factors that go beyond basic ideals of justice and fraternity.

Which is why the Church must have an active voice in promoting change and preserving this world for future generations. First, because all natural beauties that surround us are God's creation and we must be their stewards. As Anglicans, we have in fact reiterated this concept in several documents and, most importantly, as one of the five marks of mission. But also, as a universal Church (and this applies even more to Communions like ours), we possess an ability of communicating and exerting pressure that goes across local, regional or national borders. The Church Catholic can, and must be an active partner in sponsoring ethical initiatives that help promote socio-environmental balance in this even more unequal world.

Rio+20 has shown there is a clear limit on how much the powers of this world can, and will do. But as Christians, we trust that there is a Kingdom that goes beyond local divisions that make no sense in the heart of God. We are all citizens of this Kingdom. It's up to us to cooperate with God as we mobilize and work for a better world. But how can we be effective if our churches – both on the local and wider levels – still promote (or tacitly condone) consumerism, greed, unfair competition, unethical divertments and other practices contrary to a Gospel that must be preached to every creature. It is time to boldly proclaim this Gospel, and to act once for all as a body of people committed to making sacrificial changes that will require us to consume less, spend our money more wisely and take part together as an effective partner in decision-making discussions by placing values such as justice and dignity above economic interests. It has never been so necessary to act local and also act global. Or, should I say: act local and act catholic?

-
Luiz Coelho is a Brazilian Geomatics Engineer, with a MSc in Informatics applied to Environmental Sciences and is pursuing a PhD in Urban and Regional Planning, who currently works as an auditor of environmental and urban planning policies for the Municipality of Rio de Janeiro. He is also a candidate to Holy Orders and was able to attend Rio+20 both representing his job and as an Anglican Christian. His personal website is Luiz Coelho

Guns

by Donald Schell

Hearing the terrible story from Ellicott City, Maryland - a homeless man killing a parish priest and parish administrator and then shooting himself, I felt again how suddenly and completely guns change things. And though I live on the other coast from Maryland, our church is small or our connections wide - Mary-Marguerite Kohn, the co-rector of St. Peter’s had been my daughter-in-law’s teacher in Loyola Maryland’s graduate program in pastoral counseling. The shooting in Ellicott City is our story, our church’s story, and it’s personal.

I was surprised to hear people say of that shooting, “I never imagined something like that could happen in a church.” Church isn’t safe. It never has been safe, but it’s seeming more dangerous today thanks to people’s ready access to guns.

I thought of Dr. George Tiller, murdered while serving as an usher in his church on a Sunday morning because, in his medical practice, he offered women legal abortions.
Closer to my home in San Francisco, I thought the parish in this diocese where a distraught divorced father in a custody fight sent someone to get his children out of Sunday School and shot them and himself in the church parking lot.

In a society that chooses to arm people for violence, the church is no safer than a high school, a shopping mall, a university campus, a post office, an office building or any of those other places where principle- or suffering-crazed obsession or other insanity has triggered random violence.

What would it take our society and nation to develop a will to limit access to weapons designed to kill human beings? What would it take us to make a real public conversation about violence? What would it take us to stand up to the NRA?

Recently The New York Times ran an opinion page piece by a hunter who had resigned his NRA membership because, over the time he’d been a member he’d seen the National Rifle Association, become the Concealed Handgun Association, the Semi-Automatic Weapon Association, and the Armor-Piercing Bullet association. None of this, he said, serves hunting. The NRA doesn’t serve hunters or public safety, it serves the corporate interests of weapon manufacturers who have found a substantial market for the weapons people use against people. America is the most heavily armed nation in the world. And of first world nations our rate of gun suicide and gun murder makes us one of the most dangerous. This hunter’s voice of protest joined police and law enforcement officers have been making the same point for some time. But it’s difficult to find lawmakers who aren’t afraid of the NRA. An elected official advocating reasonable controls on murder weapons know when it comes time for re-election the NRA will target them with massive advertising support for a gun friendly opponent.

As a priest, as a city dweller, as a person who likes to walk and doesn’t believe gated communities make us safe, as someone who enjoys the energy and diversity of great cities, I’m wondering what it would take for shared work and public places that count on easy public access to join forces together to demand new gun laws.

State and national legislators are afraid of the NRA’s money. But is advertising money the final word in electoral politics. Have corporate interests bought the controlling share in our electoral process?

The NRA, liberally funded by gun manufacturers, fiercely defends the ‘safety’ and ‘freedom’ guns give us. Do corporate dollars always speak louder than shared concern expressed in a public voice? What could we learn from other life and death public health struggles? What was the people’s part in standing down the cigarette manufacturers lobbying dollars? How did physicians and cancer researchers and cancer victims and bereaved families enact laws limiting smoking in public places and raise taxes on cigarettes for anti-smoking campaigns. (And what can cautionary tale do we learn from the tobacco lobby’s recent rebound victory in California preventing what initial polls showed would be landslide vote mandating a California tobacco tax hike that would have brought California’s tobacco tax in line with other states?)

Easy access to guns puts all our public assembly places, our gathering places, anywhere services of any kind are offered to friend and strangers at risk. If people who go to church combined their voices with people who enjoy movies and theater, people who shop in grocery stores or malls, people who attend colleges or send their children to schools, could we make a voting voice loud enough that legislators would listen?

Church and so many other activities that we value depend on people’s willingness to venture into public spaces. In a war zone, people don’t venture out to church or school. Stores and theaters struggle to survive. Look at the struggling businesses and tiny churches in our poorest neighborhoods, the prime market for the gun manufacturers. Where are those neighborhoods’ movie theaters? Why do the large grocery store chains that sell groceries at reasonable cost avoid those neighborhoods? The war zone is all around us. How can those of us who believe in community and public life defend the safety of our public places?

No other first world country has a rate of gun deaths like the United States of America. That’s the safety and freedom that the NRA has won for us in their skewed interpretation of the Second Amendment to the Constitution.

What’s at stake here? Manufacturing profits and advertising dollars convince us that we need to arm ourselves against the criminals and desperate, deluded people that they’re also arming. Responding to “A letter from an exhausted, exasperated young person” posted as the Lead here at the Café, Murdoch Matthew recently offered statistics from Robert Putnam’s Bowling Alone, detailing the radical drop over the past thirty years in public participation, social gathering, and the conclusion that “During the last third of the twenty century all forms of social capital fell off precipitously”

There are undoubtedly other things that have contributed to this precipitous decline, but what caught my attention is Putnam’s reporting an enormous increase in people’s reported fear and mistrust of strangers. In a culture of fear, wouldn’t we expect to lose some ability to gather people whether for pleasure or for the good of others?

Hearing one terrible story after another, gun deaths in America first haunt us, but then they numb us. We avert our eyes because we feel powerless. Numbness, that is our unacknowledged fear and denial make us pretend places like churches or schools are safe.

Ellicott City got me thinking about times guns have come close to home for me. I was startled at thirteen personal gun stories I carry, my fifty years worth. It took me several days of noting down reminders to gather the list, because recalling some of them was an effort. I’m as much in denial as any American. Do you have a list like this -

My 1960’s gun stories -

1. As a young teenage in hiking near my grandmother’s summer place, a friend on I came on a path we’d never seen before. It led to tiny shed in dense forest on a bit of public land, something that sounded like the place the killer had lived near St. Peter’s, Endicott City. Being kids, we looked in and found a stash of porn magazines, the biggest handgun I’ve ever seen, and shelves and shelves of canned beans. We were smart enough to know that staying around there was a bad idea. My friend wanted to take the gun. “That could be trouble,” I said. But we were frightened enough of “the guy” who lived there that we didn’t tell anyone about what we found. Four or five years later, I went back, thinking that if “the guy” was still there that the park rangers should know. The shed was empty and the roof partially collapsed. It had obviously been abandoned for at a couple of winters.

2. In college one night, a drunken classmate screaming his estranged girlfriend’s name repeatedly woke the campus. Next morning, we learned that he’d evaded the campus police for several hours, hiding between his stalking forays while terrified friends who knew he was carrying a handgun tried to find him and let them take the gun away. His friends had finally discovered him shortly before dawn, curled up with his gun asleep under some stairs. They disarmed him (and got rid of the gun) and got him back to his room.

In seminary New York City’s Chelsea in the late 1960’s we heard gunfire every day.

My 1970’s gun stories –

3. The only gun incident I recall from my time as a college chaplain at Yale was a student killed in a mugging. I didn’t know the student though friends did. He’d been walking home after dark through an area of New Haven we generally avoided. And as a Westerner, I remember the uncomfortable irony that Winchester and Colt, ‘the guns that won the West’ and figured in shoot-it-out Western movie and legend had been manufactured in New Haven and Hartford.

4. As a parish priest in Idaho, a homeless transient threatened me in my office with a rifle because I’d told her all the churches in our town contributed to the Salvation Army and they handled all requests for transient aid. She didn’t point it at me. She just said, “I could kill you with this.” And I said, “Please put it away, and let me call my friend the Salvation Army lieutenant to get you the help you need.” She did, I phoned, and he helped her.

5. Our senior warden in Idaho wore a sidearm pistol to church and everywhere. He was mayor of a tiny neighboring town and had fired the town’s police officer for stealing guns from the police stock and selling them. State police told our parishioner he’d better carry a gun and watch his back.

6. Later still serving in Idaho, an elderly parishioner told the congregation she’d wakened to two armed burglars going through the jewelry on her dresser. She screamed the names of her two grown sons with such courage and clarity that the intruders fled, never guessing that the house was empty except for her. Though her presence of mind drove them off, she lost her vibrant good health and her will to live and died of pneumonia (her sons said of a broken heart) months later.

My 1980’s gun stories -

7. My wife and I and our four year old daughter moved to San Francisco to join a handful of people founding St. Gregory’s Church the year after ex-City Supervisor Dan White bypassed a metal detector to kill Mayor George Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk in City Hall. Our first gun experience in the city was a strangely anxious visitor who’d come to church for two Sundays before she showed various parishioners she was carrying an unlicensed concealed pistol in her purse. Parishioners told the clergy and we confronted the woman who showed us the gun. We told her she could not bring the gun to church, and that if she did we’d report her to the police.

8. Later, while St. Gregory’s was still renting a separate chapel of Trinity Church on San Francisco’s Cathedral Hill, our neighborhood of apartment houses, senior homes and hotels, and St. Mary’s Roman Catholic Cathedral, suffered the skilled assault of a self-trained body-armored ‘survivalist’ laden with semi-automatic weapons. He had hijacked a car after his own broke down. The stranded driver called the police who guessed his route through the city and set up a barricade. His way completely blocked by police cars with their lights flashing, the ‘survivalist’ got out of the car and began shooting, and in a standoff that lasted over an hour he killed police officers and people trapped in surrounding buildings until a police sharpshooter killed him. Two days later we began a candlelit prayer vigil at the shooting site and then marched with people of the neighborhood and a large contingent of San Francisco police officers to continue the service at Trinity/St. Gregory’s, a block and a half away.

9. Downtown at the 101 California Street office tower, a failed businessman armed with semi-automatic weapons killed seven people, and wounded four others before he was killed. After that shooting, the canon pastor of Grace Cathedral and I organized a march downtown with broad citizen and police participation.

My 1990’s gun stories -

10. By this time the church had purchased property and was gathering energy and making plans to build our own church building. Walking home one night from a parish meeting in our new neighborhood, I was robbed at gunpoint, five doors away from my house.

11. The convenience store directly across the street from us has been robbed twice, the second time, the owner tried to resist the robbers and was pistol-whipped. We began a neighborhood watch on our block.

12. Early one New Year’s morning our next-door neighbor had his guns taken away by the police after someone reported he’d been firing them into the sky. He simply bought new guns, but told us angrily that he was convinced it was my daughter who had reported his New Year’s celebratory volleys to the police. A year or so later our neighbor shot and killed a tenant who had threatened him.

13. Our older son was robbed at gunpoint his senior year in high school. He was downtown, on his way home late from a graduation party. The robbers had directed to an ATM to take out as much money as he could withdraw.

My 2000’s gun stories –

14. My uncle in Virginia committed suicide with a handgun. He was grieving my aunt’s death, desperately lonely and struggling with depression. His daughter had gotten the police to take a gun from him because he was threatening to commit suicide with it. He had no trouble getting a new gun.

Retelling the stories, I wonder at what I did and didn’t do, what I did and didn’t think of. I also know as a pastor that when I’ve told these stories and thought about them with people that I’ve heard surprisingly many stories like them. As a preacher I want us to know that life is dangerous and that sooner or later we’ll all die. But as a pastor, when we’re sharing these stories, I’m also hearing my own and others feeling powerless or uncertain how to act when guns are everywhere. Do our gun stories, what we’ve experienced and what we hear, keep some people home while others wonder what someone acting strangely in church might be capable of doing?

What would it take for us together to speak against the profitable business of manufacturing ready means for criminals and madmen to kill? What if we began to tell our stories and listen to others’ stories? Could we find common voice with other people who count on the safety of churches, schools, stores and shopping malls, offices buildings, theaters, and the streets we walk on?

Ultimately the cost of Columbine, of Texas Tower, of Virginia Tech, and of stories like mine and yours, stories of places we live, of friends and neighbors, stories of guns pointed at people we know and love, ultimately the cost is fear, not just fear of strangers but fear of any face-to-face community.

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

The mission of the church: speaking across generations

by Kathy Staudt

I am a baby boomer and the parent of milennials, but I find that when I am thinking about the life and mission of the Church I am often energized by looking at where we are now through the eyes of people in their 20s and 30s. Sure, that means putting up with some criticism of how my generation has managed things, but years of parenting has made me pretty inured to that. I”ve been interested in the coverage of General Convention offered by Steve Pankey, a former student (and the one who convinced me to start doing some blogging). In a recent post from early in the convention, (entitled “Our Fundamental Identity”) Steve remarks on what he sees as a “fundamental” generational difference. The boomer generation, in power now in the church, seems focused on issues of power inequalities, inclusion and social justice issues. This focus seems to leave out concerns about the mission and purpose of the church that occupy the generation now in their early 30s. I think there are some issues worth pondering here.

My generation came of age in the 60’s and 70’s when the church, especially the mainline churches, were not as open as they are now to people of all genders, races, sexual identities, social classes. And most of us would say there is still work to do in these areas. Theologically, as I was growing in the faith I found that these issues were framed as ways in which we as church were responding to God’s call to carry Christ’s ministry of reconciliation into the world. And so for me it feels like progress and cause for celebration when we see people of all backgrounds gathered around a common mission that transcends culture and identity. It may be a good thing that a next generation sees this as less of a big deal and more as the “new normal” and something to move past. But for boomers there will probably always be more inclusivity to pursue: The way to this is through our struggles to be a community in diversity. I also grew up assuming that the Church, as instsitution, would be a voice for change in the public square. This has been the heritage of mainline denominations at their best, often, in my experience, allied with a progressive political agenda that focuses on the needs of the poor and the marginalized. This is the positive ideal that I was rasied with, and reflects perhaps, assumptions that the boomer generation operates with that are not necessarily the assumptions of a younger generation.

It is interesting to me that Steve, speaking from a generation that came of age in the “bubble” economic years of the 80s and 90s, hears what I have thought of as language about the church’s mission as language that can become laden with “shame,” “guilt” and “partisanship” -- and I think it is true that we can get hung up on the work that remains to be done. In his post I hear a longing for the reclaiming of a sense of common mission centered in Christ. I’m not sure whether there is a “fundamental” generational divide here or just a difference of context that we need to process more thoughtfully. This of course would mean including multiple generations in our common conversation The more that that happens, I think, the more exciting the future of the Church will be.

But it does seem to me we easily lose track of a more fundamental question - and one that a new generation is calling us back to: this is the question of mission in a post-Christian world. What is it about the gospel that is transformative and a gift to the world? What is it about Christian faith that makes us want to embrace and proclaim and live it? What is the right blend of tradition and innovation that will help us to make manifest the good news of Christ. And what IS that good news: how do we proclaim it in a way that can be heard in our time? I was also fascinated to see, in that in a link to emergent theologican Tony Jones’s blog on our General Convention, several commenters asking Tony this very question: Tony, what is the mission of the church? We’d like you to articulate it). So we’re all getting this challenge and it should energize us. What is the mission of the Church? How do we answer that question for ourselves, as Christians, as Episcopalians?

Brian McLaren framed it this way in A Generous Orthodoxy: the mission of the Church is “to be and to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the sake of the world.” Drawing on Anglican missiologist Leslie Newbigin he connects that mission to God’s original call to Abraham to “be a blessing” to the world. To be bearers, transmitters, agents, of a loving God who desires to bring reconciliation and healing to a broken world. Other writers I like share this in different ways. Verna Dozier and Desmond Tutu, for example, write of the “dream” of God . Dietrich Bonhoeffer, writing at another time when churches heard a call to be counter-cultural, wrote that the Church of Jesus Christ, “takes up space in the world” -- is a visible witness to a God at work among us.

My favorite modern Anglican Writer, Evelyn Underhill, draws on a long Christian tradition when she suggests this way to think about the Church’s mission: Every human being, she suggests, has the potential to become a channel of God’s love and mercy in the world: that’s what it means to be made in the Image of God; that’s what the Incarnation affirms. That is the call to Christian discipleship -- to become, each in our own way, and as a community of faith, channels of God’s mercy. How do we live this out, as a church? What does it look like in practice and institutionally?

My great hope is that we may give more thought and prayer to the things that make for this transformation, of ourselves as disciples of Jesus and of our congregations and instsitutions as places meant to shape our discipleship and bear witness to God’s presence and love in the world. From personal practice to conversations about budgets and institutions, there are opportunities everywhere for the Church to become the leavening, transforming agent for good that we are called and empowered to be, in this hurting and broken world. And by the Church, I also mean each and all of us, called to pursue in humility a path of faithful discipleship, in and for a hurting and broken world.


Dr. Kathleen Henderson Staudt keeps two blogs: poetproph and David Jones, artist and poet. She works as a teacher, poet, spiritual director and retreat leader in the Washington DC area and is the author of two books of poetry: "Annunciations, Poems out of Scripture" and "Waving Back:Poems of mothering life", as well as a scholarly study of the modern artist and poet David Jones.

TEDTEC: imagining what can be

by Mimi Grant

(note from editor: the Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori referenced Grant's idea in her remarks to General Convention)

Building on a recent bishops and deputies listserve string on sharing "best practices," which included excellent imput from both Ernie Petry (from Ohio) and Ariel Miller (from Southern Ohio), a fellow Los Angeles Deputy, The Rev. Susan Russell, added: "Ages ago I floated an idea about taking the TED Conference model and creating a TEC version that would give us access to the inspiration and best-practices already in place around the church that we could learn from and adapt to our congregational and community contexts. Still thinking it's a concept that would be interesting to explore."

Being a huge fan of the TED Conferences (Technology, Entertainment, Design: where the world's leading thinkers and doers gather to share ideas worth spreading), and even more the posted videos of each 17 minute presentation, I jumped in to recommend that we create TEDTEC.

One of the advantages of being a first time Deputy is: I don't know what can't be done. So why not dream big! And, being active in the healthcare community, I've been greatly impressed with the "possibilities" TEDMED speakers have opened up to those who might otherwise find the challenges associated with creating an affordable, quality healthcare system far too overwhelming.

So, with credit to TEDMED, here's what I think IS possible if we hit "REFRESH" on our thinking about the purpose and possibilities of our tri-annual General Convention (and even in our Provincial meetings between Conventions)...

TEDTEC is a community of people who are passionate about imagining the future of The Episcopal Church.

Every three years, TEDTEC holds a "grand gathering" where leaders - bishops, clergy and laity - come together from across all the Provinces of The Episcopal Church for three and a half days to hear "What's Working" as they share and explore with each other the ministries, programs, and mechanisms they're using to achieve the Five Marks of Mission in their dioceses and communities. This unique event combines dazzling celebration, high-powered learning, and is live-streamed so that congregations from throughout The Episcopal Church can "participate remotely," and become inspired to create and expand their own ministries and missions.

Within each 17 minute TEDTEC presentation - which are also posted on YouTube™ for later viewing, a different example of The Church in Action is showcased, focusing on how they're achieving one (or more) of the Five Marks of Mission. Here are a few examples, from the Diocese of Los Angeles, I'd nominate to get us started (and I bet you could add hundreds more):

To proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom
Much of this "proclaiming" can be by example, as St. Francis of Assisi said, "preach the gospel at all times; when necessary, use words." The Church of the Messiah was founded in 1883 and occupies the oldest church structure in Orange County, it also now finds itself in the most densely populated zip code (and one of the poorest) in the country. Messiah teamed with the Sisters of St. Joseph of Orange, to found "Hands Together: A Center for Children" which serves 200 infants to pre-schoolers of the working poor. They also have a Literacy Center to help kids become enthusiastic learners; and Morning Garden, which teaches basic life survival skills, such as financial literacy, to their immigrant familes.

To each, baptize and nurture new believers
In a very different community, about 45 miles up the coast, the Rev. Jimmy Bartz, is the rector of Thad's in Santa Monica, where he frequently invites seekers to literally experience "church" for the first time. In this excellent overview video - - Jimmy explains how they introduce the unchurched to a contemporary service that speaks to them. And, quoting from their website, "We're a movement of missionary people who’ve made a choice to leave the relative safety of the established church and take the love of Jesus “to the streets.” Among the "street people" who've found a home at Thad's is the actress Reese Witherspoon.

To respond to human need by loving service
Every week, five congregations meet at St. Paul's, in Tustin, to serve "Sunday Supper." The first Sunday, in May of 2011, no one showed up - even after leaving flyers at the Tustin library. Now, since word ultimately gets around in the homeless community, they routinely serve over 100. Each Sunday, a different congregation (St. Paul's and Trinity Episcopal, in Orange, along with Aldersgate United Methodist, Congregation B'nai Israel, and Serrano Hlls Church in Orange) serve food they prepare that is largely supplied by local food banks, supplemented with vegetables grown in St. Paul's garden.

To seek to transform unjust structures of society
The Kaleidoscope Institute was originally launched from the Diocesan Center in Los Angeles, but when budgets got tight, its founder and Executive Director, the Rev. Eric H.F. Law, made it into an independent, "sustainable missional ministry. Today, with his roots firmly planted in years of anti-racism training, Eric+ goes around the country sharing his knowledge and skills (using AV and electronic media) training others to enhance interpersonal communication and to build respectful, inclusive communities that transform unjust societal structures. During a recent L.A.Deanery IX event, Eric inspired us to think outside the pews as to how we can use "Holy Currencies" to create our own sustainable ministries to susport and extend the Kingdom of God.

To strive to safeguard the integrity of creation and sustain and renew the life of the earth
At Trinity in Orange, our "Stewardship of All Creation" committee includes Lea, who became a founding committee member, at age nine. Lea and others have led Trinity to switch to ceramic mugs from styrofoam, to decorate with ribbons attached to long sticks instead of helium balloons, and encouraged several Scouts to transplant our garden areas with draught tolerant plants, instead of those requiring water. While we are well on our way to becoming a "green" church, another church in our Deanery is using the "currency" of their place for community benefit. St. Stephen's is blessed with a large parcel of land, which they've opened up to the community to plant herbs, vegetables, and even flowers.

TEDTEC - utilizing the power of inexpensive video cameras, editing software, streaming technology, and YouTube to store the videos online, can provide the entire Church with a rich resource of "demonstrations" as to how Episcopalians are getting out of their pews - leaving their churches in a good way. This resource can lead to religious vibrancy within all of our communities, as we proclaim - through our actions - the Good News, reach out to the unbelieving, lovingly serve those in need and those treated unjustly, and as we renew not just the life of the earth, but the life of our Church.

Together, we can weave a tapestry that combines the best thinking from every diocese and creates infinite new possibilities. In the future, inspired by these shared stories of successful ministries, the "business" of General Convention could follow TEDTEC, bringing together "mission-driven" people to talk, legislate, and "fine tune" the life of The Episcopal Church.

I know, this is the fantasy of someone who hasn't been through all the anguish of past Conventions, or even the past Budgeting cycle. But if we're looking to SUSTAIN The Episcopal Church, let alone GROW it, we're going to need to reach out beyond our current polity, and focus on how we can share what's working, how we can energize not just the People in the Pews (before we bury ALL of them), but the Clergy, and our Bishops, too.

With an optimistic - and prayerful - heart, Mimi

In Mimi Grant's "day job" she is the president of the Adaptive Business Leaders Organization, which is composed of over 160 CEOs of Healthcare & Technology companies who meet in nine monthly Round Tables, sharing best practices to help grow successful businesses - and lower the cost of quality care. A passionate convert, she's also very active in her church, her Deanery, and is now serving as a first time Lay Deputy from the Diocese of Los Angeles.

Structure and Budget: gaining perspective

by Br Richard Helmer

Structure

I came to General Convention ready to “blow things up and start over.” In a world of floundering and often inept institutions, re-starts seem to be the only way forward. So I was anxious to attend the church structure hearing on Thursday night, expecting a host of brilliant ideas and strategies to come from the grassroots of our Church; hoping to come away with a sense that we have the raw material to build a new, nimble institution from the rubble of a sclerotic corporate structure that is a throwback to the 1950’s.

After listening to an hour-and-a-half of impassioned testimony, however, I came away more puzzled than heartened. I heard a great deal of high philosophical talk and theologizing and spiritualizing assertion, but no memorable substance for the direction we ought to take in re-organizing our Church. The most helpful remark of the evening for me was a deputy pointing out that we are now in that no-man’s land between knowing we need to change but not knowing how we ought to change.

I find myself, surprisingly, turning back to the structures I thought we were here to blow up: the familiar grind of legislative process; the faithful, if often tedious work of committees pouring over proposals and debating the finer points of language for prayer, for funding, and for organizing ministry. Maybe, as the old saying goes, it is better to dance with the devil you know than the devil you don’t.

But then, my whole tone here reflects the tendency of our wider cultural tendency these days to be down on the hard, messy work of democratic process and to be down on our leaders granted the authority to faithfully shepherd it along. In the structure meeting the other night, one speaker said that it was time to “sacrifice the old.” That left me with two uncomfortable questions: Who or what are we sacrificing exactly, and on what altar? It is also our tendency these days to sacrifice the old on the altar of the new. It is our tendency to pull down and undermine leadership when it fails to meet our expectations of perfection. Maybe these tendencies are all one in the same, reflecting a perverse infidelity that has always haunted the Church: the assertion in deed, if not word, that Jesus’ sacrifice was not sufficient. We continue to search for a scapegoat for our collective woes. Yet the heart of our tradition holds that the cross was meant to bring that search to an end.

In contrast to this was the extraordinary conversation in the House of Deputies yesterday morning, where our eloquent Youth Presence made an impassioned plea to keep the Episcopal Youth Event part of our church-wide budget. In the same hour, as we reviewed legislation to formulate a whole new host of resources and programs for ministering to older people, our elders in the House pointedly reminded us not to patronize them. The piece of legislation to fund EYE passed. The other piece to “minister to” our older members in the church appropriately failed.

I was reminded of Jesus’ words: “Every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like the master of a household who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.” (Matthew 13:52)

Whatever restructuring we undertake as a church in the next several years, it will require living into this teaching, remembering that what is old can be just as valuable as what is new, and much wisdom resides in discerning what we need from both. Our greatest treasure as a Church right now perhaps resides in two of our constituencies most easily marginalized, used, and abused by the world: the passion of our young people and the experience of our elders. Bringing them together may be just what the Spirit is calling us to do, and if our structural reform accomplishes this alone, we will move far.

The Budget

There’s always rumbling of one sort or another at General Convention. This year, we’ve been infected somewhat by the Tea Party atmosphere of the wider culture. Some bishops are reportedly caucusing and employing parliamentary maneuvers to sink block after block of legislation with any revenue requests attached. Moreover, we have a number of wealthy dioceses paying far less than the “asking” – the diocesan financial commitment that funds the work and ministries of the Episcopal Church Center and our church-wide missional bodies. One of the more inflammatory mutterings is that the wealthy dioceses are using the struggling dioceses as a fig-leaf. To wit: If the struggling dioceses aren’t paying their fair share, why should we? It’s astonishingly familiar rhetoric.

For my own perspective, I decided to do the math. To get a thumbnail idea of just how much we each contribute to the church-wide budget, I turned to the most recent numbers I have available in the Blue Book (page 89). In 2010, operating revenues for The Episcopal Church as a whole, combining all of our congregations and institutions, totaled in round figures a breathtaking $1.6 billion.

The Presiding Bishop’s budget proposal, which has become something of a template for the budgetary work of General Convention this year, projects annual revenues raised from the diocesan commitments of $24.5 million (annualized from page 1 line 2). Sounds like a lot, but after accounting for all those zeros, it turns out that for every $100 the average member of our congregation gives, only $1.50 ends up in the church-wide budget. That means over 98% of our local revenue goes to local ministry in our congregations and dioceses, and our local partnerships with ministry elsewhere in the world.

It strikes me as a startlingly small piece of the ecclesiastical financial pie to be battling over, and it reminds me that, for all of the talk about the need to “flatten” the structures of The Episcopal Church, we’re pretty flat already, at least in dollar terms.

The real danger at this General Convention and in the wider church is not badly-behaved institutional structures, although they will never be perfect and are always in need of reform. The real danger is falling into the distortions of fear that always attend a time of change. Jesus admonished the Pharisees for straining gnats while swallowing camels. We should be just as mindful.

Doubtless, changes are coming and are already upon us. Now public is the push to sell the financial millstone of the Episcopal Church Center (“815”) building and to move the center while organizing and resourcing the related staff in less expensive ways. I would, however, remind readers of the Café that this possibility has been discussed for at least a generation, if not longer. Moreover, we are talking about significantly affecting the lives of not a bunch of “paper-pushing” bureaucrats, but a group of faithful people who, with pared-to-the-bone staff support and budgets, spend a huge amount of time on the road working to nurture our international and ecumenical relationships, and help our missions, dioceses, and congregations flourish. Is this a needful adaptive change? Quite probably. But should we sniff at the lives of our sisters and brothers in Christ most closely affected? Never.

In her sermon in Friday’s Eucharist, Bonnie Anderson, President of the House of Deputies – in the context of a liturgy that simultaneously reflected the witness of John Hus and the moving plight and faith of the Hmong people – reminded us all of the virtue of courage. She then demonstrated to us this virtue in a day for her marked with personal and parliamentary mishaps. Like all leaders, she is under enormous pressure these days. And courage is perhaps the greatest gift the Spirit can offer us in the face of challenging times and the challenging – and imperfect – choices before us.

Maybe courage is a place, caught as we are between conservative tea partying and liberal cynicism, to stand in faith.

The Rev. Br. Richard E. Helmer is rector of Church of Our Saviour, Mill Valley, CA, and a novice in the Brotherhood of Saint Gregory. He is an alternate deputy to General Convention and secretary of the Standing Committee of the Diocese of California. His sermons and reflections have been published widely online, and he blogs occasionally at Caught by the Light.

A foreign country called Poverty

by Kevin McGrane

First, we need to understand that the poor in the United States live in a foreign country. Without understanding that first, nothing else about the poor makes much sense.
Walking into the Ozarks or an inner-city neighborhood is not like walking into another section of our country. It is much more like walking into the South Sudan or a ghetto in Calcutta – a third-world nation with its own culture, foreign to us tourists.

Chronic, generational poverty deeply shapes the worldview of the poor, forming their own reason, values, dreams and aspirations which are alien to the rest of us. That is why such things as common sense, discipline, morals, intelligence, and education seem to be in such short supply there. That also is why the poor seem to make such bad personal decisions – in the Nation of Poverty their “bad” decisions make complete sense to them.

The poor drop out of school because they see no authentic reason for education. It has zero to do with their culture and there are no “careers” in their world where education is necessary, anyway. There are no jobs to be had in the Nation of Poverty, let alone careers.

They eschew marriage because so many relationships fail under the crush of living, and divorce is only for the rich who can afford attorneys. However, you can simply walk away from a living arrangement.

They have children out of wedlock because they will never be financially/domestically ready for children, so one might as well have them now and let tomorrow take care of tomorrow. They are going to be poor anyway, so they might as well enjoy whatever happiness they can snatch.

The missing key to their lives is Hope as much as it is money. The pervasive ethos of their world is despair and anger. Despair and anger paint everything the poor see, feel, and think. Hope is living somewhere else in an unknown country. Occasionally, the young reach for hope by enlisting in the Armed Forces, searching for a way out, and some of them do find their way out. But the majority return two to six years later with little to show for their service. Slowly, they return to the Nation of Poverty.

As disciples of Jesus, how do we respond? If we take seriously Jesus’ teaching, “Whatsoever you did for the least of these my brothers and sister, you did to me,” what do we do?

First, we proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom with our presence. While the GC dithers over how much money to spend on church planting, we can plant ourselves into the Nation of Poverty right now with a “ministry of presence”. Live there; not just visit. We can be the church among them.

Secondly, we can teach and nurture them by changing their vision, by showing them a different way to see and live. We must be careful here and first “learn the language” – to challenge their illusions about the hopelessness of life without respecting their culture is to suggest they are fools. They will never speak to us again. They may still talk to us, but never “speak” to us again.

Thirdly, we need to address the unjust structures that helps keep them poor. We cannot be squeamish about this, and cave to the charges of being too politicized. The deck is stacked against them in our country both politically and economically, and it needs to change. When we read that our nation ranks 34th in the world in infant mortality, we really are reading about their nation, not ours.

The response to poverty is friendship and hope, and the church needs to be there in a real way to be a friend and share hope. Friendship and hope are the passports out of the Nation of Poverty. Without them, the poor will continue to think this is all there is to the life that God gave them. Is despair and anger the boundaries of the Kingdom of God, or friendship and hope? It is up to each and every one of us to answer that question.


Kevin McGrane and his wife Catherine live on a ten acre homestead in the Missouri Ozarks. They are members of Emmanuel Episcopal parish in Webster Groves, MO. Kevin is a postulant for the diaconate.

The church as institution: life or death

by Br. Richard Edward Helmer

O God of unchangeable power and eternal light: Look favorably on your whole Church, that wonderful and sacred mystery; by the effectual working of your providence, carry out in tranquillity the plan of salvation; let the whole world see and know that things which were being cast down are being raised up, and things which had grown old are being made new, and that all things are being brought to their perfection by him through whom all things were made, your Son Jesus Christ our Lord; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. - the Book of Common Prayer

I write this as I prepare to travel to Indianapolis to attend the 77th General Convention of The Episcopal Church. This week, one of my colleagues wrote me that he would be “thinking of me” at General Convention. . . as he sat relaxing on the beach during his summer vacation! The implication was clear: the politics of a large legislative body doing the Church’s business just may not be his cup of tea. Maybe he’s a bit like Mary to my Martha, partaking in the “better part.”

It’s very much in fashion these days to be hard on the institutional church, and not without good reason. We have not been our own best publicists, often the focus it seems only of scandal or, at best, controversy in the secular press. The institutional models we have in The Episcopal Church, for one, are a blend of Medievalism, centuries-old democratic and parliamentary politicking, and 1950’s corporate structure. None fit at all comfortably in the rough-and-tumble of the second decade of the twenty-first century. Some of our institutional systems are in the midst of a train wreck of internecine quarrels and others have almost ground to a deathly halt as resources dry up in the ecclesiastical desert of a post-Christian world.

Many of my colleagues these days, and not a small number of church-goers and ex-church-goers all around have become quite jaded about the institutional Church for these and a host of other reasons. And, admittedly, it’s quite easy to fall into sighs when it comes to things as seemingly mundane as maintaining buildings, nursing the slow grind of legislative process, or tending a malfunctioning computer in the office.

One way of thinking about the institutional Church falls into dualism: the sense that the institutional church is not the true Church, which exists as something ineffable in the mind and heart of God -- the unmeasurable gathering of all true believers everywhere. The question this line of thinking leaves us with is an uncomfortable one:

Then why have an institution at all?

Is it preferable to shed the shells and tatty clothes of the institution and return to the dusty roads the first disciples walked, where “The Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head”? It’s a romantic notion of Church, to be sure, but is it as real or as tangible as the challenges we face these days with a fleet of buildings and organizations and a faithful band of pilgrims that need careful and attentive stewarding through the storms of both today and tomorrow?

Another way sees the institution as the Church writ large, with all of its powers, walls, and boundaries clearly delineated and illuminated by doctrine, tradition, and practice. The danger of this thinking is that the institution’s mission too easily becomes self-serving. The Church as institution becomes its own glorious, but more often ignominious end. The mission becomes rebuilding and preserving the institution as we see it, which is little better than mere survival. This model of Church doesn’t work well for me, either, if for no other reason than I have yet to meet a Christian who joined any church community merely to help the institution survive. Surely we are not in the business of resuscitating a corpse. Resurrection is something else altogether.

So with those two dubious understandings of the institutional Church before us, where do we go from here? That’s one of the questions General Convention, the highest governing body of The Episcopal Church, will be wrestling with -- both implicitly and explicitly -- this summer as we meet in the heat in Indianapolis.

As a child of the institutional Church and from a family now in its third generation relying largely on the institution for our livelihood, cynicism can be quite tempting. I’ve seen the institutional Church at its seedy and self-referential worst and at its uplifted best, and, most days everything in between. Cynicism’s not all that helpful for any of it.

The reality of Church for me is much more palatable when I consider the incarnation: the notion that God was born among us in all of our raw, messy, and imperfect humanity. God’s body in Jesus is both spiritual and physical. It needs spiritual nurture and purpose. It needs basic things, too, like food and shelter, even if it is only amidst the beasts, muck, and straw.

In this sense, the delineation between the imperfect institutional church and the perfect “true” Church is illusory. We can’t really have one without the other. The Body of Christ, that’s you and me and all of us together on a journey of following after Jesus, is the Church whether we are gathered together in prayer in hallowed walls, breaking bread together, or beyond the walls in the messy world in our many and myriad jobs and vocations, engaged in rough-and-tumble ministry. We need the institution in all of its messiness and imperfection to help us keep this Body real, to be a tangible vessel and sign of the grace we have received.

When is the institutional Church broken? Only when it stops serving the mission for us to follow after Christ, only when it gets in the way of our being Jesus’ eyes, ears, and hands for a world in need. The institution works when it empowers God’s people everywhere for healing and ministry and carries out the work of the Gospel by transforming hearts, by binding up the wounds of the world in love. Much of the time, of course, the institution is both broken and working: broken like the bread, the Body of Christ is broken for a world in need. . .working to live more deeply into the gracious Gospel it has been asked to carry.

There’s a great deal of talk these days about the death of the institutional Church, and a great deal of accompanying fear and defensiveness as the children step on and over one another to grab for diminishing pieces of the institutional pie. We forget too easily that the heart of our tradition holds that death always leads to resurrection, and the Church has been dying and rising again in our beloved Christ for centuries. That’s what life in a baptismal community – yet another way we describe the mystery of the Church – is about, after all. That’s the hope I carry forward with me this summer to Indianapolis, and one that leads me out of fear about the present state of things by reminding me again of the grace that has brought us this far through death. . . and forever into new life.

The Rev. Br. Richard E. Helmer is rector of Church of Our Saviour, Mill Valley, CA, and a novice in the Brotherhood of Saint Gregory. He is an alternate deputy to General Convention and secretary of the Standing Committee of the Diocese of California. His sermons and reflections have been published widely online, and he blogs occasionally at Caught by the Light.

Nero fiddled and Rome burned

by George Clifford

According to legend, Nero played the fiddle while Rome burned. That legend provides an apt (although, like any analogy, imperfect) metaphor for today’s Church. Nero connotes we who are Christian and our ecclesial structures; fiddling suggests a focus on something other our real mission; and Rome signifies the mission to which God has called us.

People have lamented the numerical decline of The Episcopal Church (TEC) in particular and Christianity in general for decades (cf. Is the Episcopal Church going the way of the Grange?). Yet the decline continues apace, unchecked. In the meantime, TEC quibbles about who may receive Holy Communion and whether to continue restricting ordination and certain church offices to confirmed members.

Few, if anyone, outside the Church really cares. The preponderance of persons interested in joining TEC recognize that TEC, like any organization, cannot exist as an organization without “borders,” i.e., without membership requirements. Lowering or removing TEC’s already minimal requirements for membership, if it achieves anything at all, may have the unintended consequence of communicating to prospects that TEC has little to offer because membership requires so little effort or commitment.

In the civilian parish that I most recently served, many adults had affiliated with the congregation without having been confirmed or received. Encouraging these adults to take more active leadership roles, a step that required the adults to attend confirmation classes and then attend a special confirmation service, required some time and effort. Nobody demurred. If anything, my sense was that these busy and talented individuals recognized that the parish, like any worthwhile organization, had reasonable and valid membership requirements. The classes afforded an opportunity to deepen relationships and to explore their spirituality and spiritual journeys together.

Likewise, a woman to whom I had served Holy Communion for over a year in a Navy Chapel was surprised to read in the bulletin one Sunday a note that Holy Baptism was a prerequisite for receiving Holy Communion. The note had been in the bulletin every Sunday for a year; it had simply taken the woman months to notice it. She then began to wonder whether she had been baptized, consulted her parents, and shamefacedly told me what had been happening. I explained that her actions posed no problem. Neither God nor the Church was offended. She wanted to receive the sacrament of baptism; the instruction classes provided a greatly appreciated opportunity for her husband and her to explore their beliefs and the Episcopal Church. She, her husband, and the congregation experienced her baptism as a moment of grace, something that theoretically happens at every baptism. Then she and her husband surprised me by inquiring about joining the Episcopal Church. I provided instruction and arranged for confirmation. When the man retired from the military, the couple enthusiastically joined an Episcopal congregation in their new community.

These anecdotes typify what I consistently have experienced and continue to experience in my ministry. Having reasonable rules and policies does not inhibit numerical or spiritual growth. The real barriers to entry in the Church include congregations and facilities that do not communicate a genuine warm welcome to all comers, clergy with poor interpersonal skills, and ministry/mission focused on anything except caring for the hungry, thirsty, hurting, alienated, and dying people all around us. I have no strong feelings about the particulars of amending the canons with respect to confirmation or the requirements for Holy Communion. I do feel strongly, notwithstanding any anecdotal evidence to contrary, that if we think any of these changes will reverse TEC’s numerical decline we are at best mistaken and at worse deluded.

Nero fiddled. Rome burned.

Late in the twentieth century, Episcopal concern over the numerical decline of TEC and Christianity coalesced in a designated decade of evangelism. That initiative fizzled badly. Concurrently and more recently, some Episcopalians (and others) have advocated the emergent church movement, Dina Butler Bass’ ideas about Christianity after religion, and other revitalization efforts as the answer. In my diocese, our bishop, the Rt. Rev. Michael Curry, recognizing the need and energized by those efforts, has focused on encouraging his clergy and congregations to carry the gospel to Galilee, i.e., to meet people in the world where the people are. The report of the Standing Commission on Ministry and Evangelism in the 2012 General Convention Blue Book is yet another effort to address numerical decline.

I commend all of these efforts. However, reversing the numerical decline is not one task among many. TEC’s numerical decline poses the only immediate existential threat to the denomination. Unless we reverse the decline within the next twenty years, the denomination will implode. Administrative requirements will immobilize any attempt at forward movement; administration costs will consume all available funds and rapidly deplete the endowment (cf. Part 1: The story the budget tells and Part 2: The story the budget tells).

The issue is not whether TEC should have a virtual governance process, a unicameral structure, or preserve the status quo. Unless we reverse the numerical decline, TEC’s governance structures and processes will become progressively more irrelevant and meaningless. Across TEC, only a relative handful of people are genuinely invested in denominational governance; the vast majority of those individuals serves as deputies, delegates, or fills other formal roles in diocesan, provincial, and national bodies. In other words, reforming the structures and processes entails people voluntarily surrendering roles they perceive as positions of power, but roles that perform tasks few others value.

What if General Convention (or a diocesan convention) devoted just sixty minutes to all of the canonically required business and spent the rest of its time addressing one question: what can we do to reverse the numerical decline of Christianity and TEC? Attendees would commit to produce a series of specific action steps, fully funded, with the individual or group responsible for taking the action identified, deadlines established, and accountability reports due at the next General Convention (or diocesan convention). The product would not be just another denominational program but a re-visioning and re-directing of the organization that promoted multiple responses (nobody has a definitive, single answer) by mobilizing the entire organization.

What’s the cost of doing this? We would cancel many good programs and many meetings that generate few tangible results. We would set aside many important items, e.g., whether to revise the hymnal, changes to the liturgical calendar, ecumenical conversations, and proposed canonical changes. Staff would find their jobs realigned.

What’s the potential benefit? TEC might move to the cutting edge of spiritual and religious life, reverse its numerical decline, and more fully incarnate the body of Christ. Repositioned and revitalized, TEC could once again become a positive force for change.

Reading the 2012 General Convention Blue Book does not make me optimistic about the probability of genuine renewal. Overcoming institutional inertia is incredibly difficult. Congregations more frequently die rather than reinvent themselves. In the next few decades, denominations, probably including TEC, will die, refusing to reinvent themselves.

Nero fiddled. Rome burned.

Christendom is no more. Yet the Church continues to act as if Christianity were the official religion in the United States. For example, clergy retain a vestigial role as state functionaries by officiating at weddings. I did not fully appreciate the irony of this in a nation that prides itself on not having an established religion until I, a U.S. naval officer and citizen, while serving on exchange with the Royal Navy in London officiated at the wedding of two British citizens on behalf of Her Majesty’s government. I could do this because the Archbishop of Canterbury had licensed me as a Church of England priest and authorized me to serve as a Royal Navy chaplain.

If the Church was fully secure in its identity as the Body of Christ and had the integrity and courage to recognize that Christendom was no more, then many of the complexities surrounding the blessing of same-sex relationships would disappear. The Church could bless all permanent, monogamous relationships using a single liturgy; the state, not the Church, would solemnize legal contracts pertaining to domestic relationships.

Contemporary debates about marriage and same-sex relationships generally conflate into the legal contract (this is what the state cares about), the sacramental relationship (this is the Church’s proper concern), and an interpersonal relationship (out of which emerges the legal and sacramental) between two people into a single issue. Ending the pretense that the U.S. remains part of Christendom would free the Church to focus on its mission of becoming God's people.

With the de facto as well as de jure end of Christendom, other past practices are unsustainable in a secular democracy, perhaps even counterproductive for Christians to try to sustain. Among these ill-advised cultural legacies are bookending public events with an invocation and benediction, displaying Christian imagery on public property, and the legislated observance of Christian holy days. In this same vein, formal denominational efforts to influence national and international policies and legislation have achieved proportionately few results for the resources invested. Single-issue ecumenical organizations, such as Interfaith Power and Light, have enlisted greater support, received larger resources, and produced greater results.

Successfully re-visioning and re-creating TEC will produce an organization focused on its strength (building local communities of God's people who join in worship, caring for one another, and offer hospitality to strangers) that networks with other Christian organizations to achieve other aspects of the gospel mandate. The end of Christendom suggests that a strategy loosely linked multiple organizations may be more effective than the monolithic church of the past. The Church’s unity will be seen in relationships rather than structures.

Similarly, efforts to impose a greater degree of structural unity and conformity on the provinces of the Anglican Communion will fail. Globalization and the internet promote diversity and autonomy rather than conformity. Debating the proposed Anglican covenant wastes time and resources. Building bridges to other parts of the Anglican Communion through visits, conversations, and joint mission/ministry will produce the only form of unity sustainable in the post-Christendom twenty-first century.

Nero fiddled. Rome burned.

What will we do?


George Clifford is a writer, ethicist, and Priest Associate at the Church of the Nativity, Raleigh, NC. He retired from the Navy after serving as a chaplain for twenty-four years and now blogs at Ethical Musings .

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