Episcopal Church finances

by George Clifford

The Economist recently featured a scathing indictment of how the Roman Catholic Church manages its finances (“Earthly Concerns,” pp. 19-23, August 18, 2012). Settlements in child abuse cases totaling $3.3 billion over the last 15 years, which have averaged more than $1 million per case, and the bankruptcies of several U.S. dioceses combined to pique the authors’ curiosity about the Roman Catholic Church’s finances.

The Roman Catholic Church has 196 dioceses in the U.S., divided into 34 metropolitan provinces with 270 bishops and about 100 million members. They comprise approximately 18,000 parishes, served by 40,000 priests and 17,000 married deacons.

Estimates for 2010, the latest year for which data is available, show that the Roman Church spent $171 billion. Healthcare institutions, colleges, and universities spent almost $150 billion of that total. Only $11 billion went to parish ministry and a relatively paltry $4.7 billion to charity, although Catholic Charities provides important services and is the nation’s largest charitable organization. Altogether, the Catholic Church has about 1 million employees in the U.S. By way of comparison, General Electric’s 2010 revenues were $150 billion and Wal-Mart employed 2 million people that year.

The Roman Church routinely comingles funds, mixing operating, pension, endowment, and other accounts. Dioceses facing bankruptcy move funds offshore, beyond the reach of claimants and creditors. The Roman Church provides no public accounting of its funds; a corporation sole holds all of the assets of each diocese, over which the diocesan bishop has complete authority, subject only to the Vatican.

The recent Vatican scandal over leaks from the Pope’s butler suggests that financial problems extend across the Roman Catholic Church. No for profit entity could legally manage its finances using the unorthodox methods, accounting principles and secrecy upon which the Roman Catholic Church routinely relies.

The secrecy is counterproductive. The lack of transparency discourages donor support, a conclusion ample anecdotal evidence supports. The lack of transparency also promotes a culture of deceit and tacitly suggests that laity, clergy, and members of religious orders lack the spiritual maturity and intellectual ability to comprehend ecclesiastical finances.

Evil flourishes in the dark; light dispels the darkness and brings health. The Roman Catholic Church, of all institutions, should understand this basic spiritual concept that is so deeply rooted in the Christian faith. Financial management and use of funds express values and beliefs more powerful than can any amount of verbiage.

So, how well does The Episcopal Church manage its finances? Errors in budget proposals for the next triennium that were published before this year’s General Convention implicitly raised questions about the competence of our financial management. From my review of national documents, reading several dioceses’ financial reports, and hearing complaints about a lack of financial transparency in at least some TEC congregations, I know that our financial management is much better than what happens in the Roman Catholic Church (e.g., we require regular audits) but leaves room for significantly improving transparency.

No good reason exists to keep TEC finances shrouded in mystery. Shadows invite, even encourage, wrongdoing. Dioceses should publish a full accounting of their income and expenses – with three exceptions. First, financial reports rightly aggregate assistance provided to individuals into a single line item. Identifying the individual recipients of such aid demeans the recipients’ dignity and provides no essential information to donors or other interested parties. Annual audits and appropriate oversight can ensure that the funds do not benefit the wrong people.

Second, financial statements rightly aggregate staff salaries and benefits – except for key employees. Donors and other interested parties do not have any legitimate need to know how much an office assistant or receptionist earns. Budget committees, managers, and auditors appropriately manage such matters. Organizations with salary scales or wage guidelines will usefully publish that information to promote transparency, demonstrate good stewardship, and model paying living wages with benefits.

However, financial reports should specify salaries and benefits for key employees, e.g., bishops, canons to the ordinary, etc. Making this information public helps to ensure that leaders do not manage the institution for personal benefit. I have served in key leadership positions where donors knew my pay. Although I’m an intensely private person, I knew of no other way to establish appropriate accountability and transparency. Conversely, religious organizations that have not followed this policy have too often experienced shattering scandals.

Finally, the diocese should report aggregated unrestricted gifts from individual persons without identifying the individual donors or the amount each gave. The diocese should identify donors and amounts of restricted gifts because the donor’s restrictions, when the diocese accepts the gift, impose a form of control on the diocese and its operations. Similarly, a diocese should identify any grants, loans, or other funds received from foundations, corporations, or other entities because acceptance of these funds almost always entails an obligation to spend the funds in a particular way or use them for a particular program.

These same principles apply to TEC’s national offices, its provinces, and all of its congregations. Most people will ignore published financial reports. Some will read the reports and find the reports uninteresting or too difficult to understand. But making a full public reporting of ecclesiastical is an essential step in establishing the transparency and accountability that God's people deserve. TEC and its constituent components have no “proprietary” or “trade” secrets to hide from the competition. We do have an obligation of full disclosure to our various stakeholders.

Full accountability and fiscal transparency are essential elements of good stewardship. Thankfully, TEC, its dioceses, and its congregations have had relatively few documented instances of financial wrongdoing. Regular audits help to ensure fiscal integrity and to encourage sound accounting methods and financial management.

Promptly acting to meet the standard of good stewardship through greater financial openness is the right thing to do, will proactively reduce the opportunity for fiscal abuses, promote healthy conversations about mission, and avoid both attempts to circumvent our democratic decisions making processes and ill-informed conflict about who has access to what information.


George Clifford is an 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.

Outsourcing and children

by Patrick Hall

Outsourcing is a recurring topic every election season. Pundits and candidates for office score political points by pounding podiums and particleboard newsroom desks while belching vacuous indignation over the flight of American jobs to overseas markets. Yet, even as we ride the bump of righteous anger, we keep the focus narrow. Corporates, profiteers, fat cats – they are the outsourcers and we the deprived. We never allow the conversation to wander past the tropes of villainy that make glorious fodder for the televised drama of our political life. I suspect this intense focus is a subconscious reaction to a truth we all intuit, but would prefer not to acknowledge: we are ALL outsourcers.

We all delegate our daily problems to paid professional experts rather than muddle through, relying on our own wisdom and resources. The most tragic casualty of our rampant outsourcing is the vocation of parenthood. For a variety of reasons, some systemic and some cultural, mothers and fathers expect more from the people who care for their children than ever before. This parental outsourcing has become especially pronounced among the middle and upper middle class people who make up the bulk of the Episcopal Church. Episcopal parishes that provide Christian community for children and young families find themselves under constant pressure to accommodate demand-y parents who expect the Church to meet all their children’s religious needs with an hour of program on Sunday, and perhaps a couple more during the week.

The most egregious parental outsourcers are the Starbucks™ parents, who apparently frequent every parish everywhere, and commit the fatal sin of depositing their toddling issuance at the foot of some well-meaning Sunday school teacher whose name they don’t know so that they can zip around the block and indulge their seasonal addiction to pumpkin spice lattes (which I sort of totally understand because they taste REALLY REALLY good).

Among church-ers nationwide, Starbucks parents have become a symbol for the religious outsourcing that is putting such pressure on our Christian communities in a variety of ways that go far beyond our Sunday schools. Naturally there is much venting and grousing about Starbucks parents at staff meetings and curriculum planning sessions. Most biting is the sense that these parents have no genuine interest in actually participating in the Spiritual life of our communities. They view the Church as a service-provider whose task is to inculcate “good values” in their children, and nothing more. The Starbucks parents and their unrepentant outsourcing remind us that the Church finds itself in a hostile cultural environment, where the obstacles to genuine Christian Spiritual formation are proliferate and complicated.

But, taking a lesson from the vapidity and stuckness of our national political discourse, it would be prudent for us to make this conversation more than a bitchfest on the small-time villainy of religious outsourcers and Starbucks parents. These people incarnate an urgent challenge facing the Church in post-Christendom: How do we strike a proper balance between an evangelical welcome to all comers, and a passionate fidelity to our increasingly foreign Christian identity? The best answers to this question will be rooted in the Scriptural narrative and a THEOLOGICAL vision of Christian community – not some ridiculous “BULLETPOINTS FOR GETTING THE STARBUCKS PARENTS” that fits on a tacky power-point slide.


The Rev'd Patrick Hall is the Episcopal Missioner to Rice University in Houston, TX. He enjoys making ridiculous and obscure statements on twitter that arouse bafflement and consternation among his followers.

The Last Word

by Torey Lightcap

In the “Pastoral Offices” section of seminary life, we were given good advice about doing funerals, especially with regard to what happens at the graveside. One of the things I remember most clearly – partly because it came at the end of class – was the following exchange.

“What are we supposed to do about all those groups like the Masons and the military or others who want to do their services at graveside the same time as the church?”

“By and large you’ll end up having to work out how to deal with these things on your own, but about these groups let me say just this: Whatever you do, let the church have the final word.”

In hindsight, it turns out to have been more than a terrible pun from a venerable teacher of liturgy. It was counsel that so far has been quite difficult to keep.

When dealing with groups that desire to present military honors (flags, “Taps,” 21-gun salutes) or Masonic rituals, I have heard the following more times than I can count: “Pastor, you just do your thing, and whenever you’re finished, let us know and we’ll step up.” It’s such a common refrain by now that I know when it’s about to be said.

So common, in fact, that it must have been equally programmed into those groups. You can see the problem. On the outside it seems like the extension of a common courtesy, but to the parties involved … well, everything means something.

The nature of the conflict is clear: we all want to have the final say in the matter – the church’s blessing, the Army’s flag, the Masons’ aprons – but we can’t all have it. By definition, that benefit befalls the one who speaks last in the order of things. The last party to speak or act completes the action at hand with the imprimatur of his or her organization.

All I know is that when I walk away from church on Sundays, the only tune I usually find myself humming is the one from whatever hymn was last sung. When I walk out of a movie theater, I’m generally giving thought to the last few minutes of the film I just saw. When I walk away from a pastoral encounter, I tend to give more weight to the last few things the other person said. Experience is cumulative; what comes after a thing gives further heft and nuance to whatever came before it. The way things are ordered happens to matter. (Imagine being told to “Go in peace to love and serve the Lord” just as the service starts.)

And so when we say that what we’re up to is “Christian burial,” it seems we have an obligation to ensure that that’s what it actually is: i.e., Christian, with Jesus and the mystery of the resurrection as both its center and its bookends, taking place within a recognized context that is distinctly and unmistakably an Easter day. Having the last word becomes vital – not necessarily a tussle for power, but a conversation over keeping the integrity of the thing intact.

Does that mean non-church groups aren’t Christian? By no means. But only one – the church – bears the specific imprint of Easter, and only one possesses the pastoral imperative to dispatch the liturgical actions of commending spirits to God and earthly remains to resting places. It is, therefore, difficult to envision such groups coming together in one seamless action and taking up their places in the order of things without considerable consultation. They can’t all come in with the tacit assumption that each will have the last word, but I’ll be darned if that isn’t what happens a lot of the time.

I have had – well, let’s say varying levels of success in explaining why this is important to groups that have become accustomed to having the last word. They want to know why I think I’m in charge; I explain that this is, first of all, a responsibility of the church, and that as the church’s agent in this case, I’m accountable for how it goes. It’s easy to understand that they, too, have taken vows and oaths in support of their various causes, and that if there is protocol to be followed it should be, to the letter – except where the letter of one law conflicts with the letter of another.

That’s the moment where a standard is applied and we must ask, Whose law is most important? And it may be that I’m wrong, but I’d be willing to bet Episcopal Café readers would mostly fall on the side of how the church has ordered the service in order to preserve its integrity – that the Easter acclamations and their Alleluias may be the final word. That’s the standard, at any rate, that I long to have applied in my own case.

That said, I must honestly add that this is a fight I’ve grown tired of having, and have been giving in on more and more the past few years because as I say, it involves considerable consultation you just can’t have at one minute prior to the service. (You can try it, but you’ll end up with people who will later cross the street rather than take the chance of meeting your eyes. I’ll never forget the uniformed man who all but threatened to punch me, “were we not standing in a cemetery.”)

It should come as no shock that the times I have been able to have “considerable consultation,” things went better and no one’s nose was either figuratively or literally put out of joint. These conversations weren’t about winning points. The letter of either law gave way to the spirit of a higher law. People representing organizations that wanted to be a part of a service who heard about my concerns understood them, and I understood theirs. We were able to provide for something that, while perhaps at times a little redundant, held itself together with more cooperative and understanding groups involved. Every solution was a little different.

Those substantial conversations have led me to believe that in general all these groups wish to accomplish is to honor the person who has died. That is itself an honorable desire – that we show gratitude for the life of a friend. As one who officiates at such events and takes his role as officiant with seriousness, I offer that such honor should take place within a wider context of honoring God, who is both the author of life and the conquerer of death.


The Rev. Torey Lightcap is Rector of St. Thomas Episcopal Church in Sioux City, Iowa and on the adjunct staff of Episcopal Café.

The Possession

by Maria L. Evans

Psalm 91 (Tanakh translation:)

He who dwells in the covert of the Most High
will lodge in the shadow of the Almighty.

I shall say of the Lord [that He is] my shelter and my fortress,
my God in Whom I trust.

For He will save you from the snare
that traps from the devastating pestilence.

With His wing He will cover you, and under His wings you will take refuge;
His truth is an encompassing shield.

You will not fear the fright of night,
the arrow that flies by day;

Pestilence that prowls in darkness,
destruction that ravages at noon.

A thousand will be stationed at your side,
and ten thousand at your right hand; but it will not approach you.

You will but gaze with your eyes,
and you will see the annihilation of the wicked.

For you [said], "The Lord is my refuge";
the Most High you made your dwelling.

No harm will befall you,
nor will a plague draw near to your tent.

For He will command His angels on your behalf
to guard you in all your ways.

On [their] hands they will bear you,
lest your foot stumble on a stone.

On a young lion and a cobra you will tread;
you will trample the young lion and the serpent.

For he yearns for Me, and I shall rescue him;
I shall fortify him because he knows My name.

He will call Me and I shall answer him;
I am with him in distress; I shall rescue him and I shall honor him.

With length of days I shall satiate him,
and I shall show him My salvation.

One of the more interesting happenings of late in northeast Missouri is the debut of the movie, "The Possession." In that typical Hollywood way, when they say "based on a true story," the story is actually based on three stories, one of them the book, "The Dibbuk Box." I have known the author of the book ever since he was a college student at Truman State University. The premiere of "The Possession" has been one of the more interesting happenings around here, and it's been fun to watch someone I know get a bit of notoriety for his work.

In the movie, the Psalm above is used to help get the evil spirit back in the dibbuk box, after it has possessed a little girl. Episcopalians would recognize it as one of the Psalms we often do at Compline. In fact, when I went to see the movie, I immediately recognized it as one of the Compline Psalms, even though it wasn't quite the same translation--which, oddly, took the wind out of the movie being "scary" for me. I'm sure my mind was going, "Well, nothing evil can stand up to THAT."

Perhaps what makes this movie intriguing--this whole concept of "possession by an evil spirit"--is that, ultimately, we recognize that each of us has our own dibbuk box inside of us, as well as our own Ark of the Covenant. Movies about "possession" grab our psyche because we are already possessed by not just one, but two mindsets. Our internal Ark of the Covenant strives to unite that God-box inside of us with the totality of God, but at the same time, that dibbuk box inside us works overtime to instead, get us to unite it with the false god of self. Our own dibbuk boxes whisper just as mysteriously as the box in the movie did, telling us that we're special, that it really IS all about us. The possessed girl in the movie displayed a ravenous appetite--the evil spirit inside of her needed to be fed, and several scenes show her wolfing down her food and tearing into the refrigerator. Anyone who has ever struggled with addiction or substance abuse knows first-hand an equally desperate hunger caused by the substance or behavior of choice.

Part of the process of subduing the dibbuk in the movie is that it has to be called back into the box by name. Interestingly, the name of the dibbuk in "The Possession" was discovered by breaking the mirror in the inside lid of the box--by shattering the thing that, when we look at it, simply reflects a backwards self into our eyes. Calling our own dibbuks by name is an important part of the process of moving from thinking "it's all about me," to "it's all about God."

What does it take for each of us to, instead, open the lid of the Ark of the Covenant inside ourselves and gaze back at our true reflections, rather than false ones?


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

On the "Jesus' wife" fragment

by Deirdre Good
Reposted with edits:

Academic conferences are not usually electrifying. But on Tuesday September 18th at 7pm, at the Tenth International Congress of Coptic Studies in Rome, Professor Karen King of Harvard Divinity School, the last speaker in the evening panel “Gnosticism and Manichaeism,” announced the discovery of a fourth century Coptic papyrus fragment. The tiny fragment, scarcely bigger than an NYC Metro Card, contains the words “Jesus said to them, 'My wife...” In subsequent material, Prof King has named the Coptic fragment, “The Gospel of Jesus' Wife” as part of a longer text. The website of Harvard Divinity School has published an image, transcription and translation of the text here, together with an FAQ and a draft of an academic article about the text to be published in HTR (Harvard Theological Review) in January 2013. The Smithsonian channel will premier a documentary about the discovery on September 30th, 2012.

The FAQ documents the earliest reference to the fragment in a letter from the early 1980s indicating that Professor Gerhard Fecht from the faculty of Egyptology at the Free University in Berlin believed it to be evidence for a possible marriage of Jesus.

The fragment seems genuine and not a forgery, although not much is yet known about its provenance. It belongs to an anonymous private collector who contacted Prof King several years ago. The fragment carefully examined by several people including eminent papyrologist Prof Roger Bagnall of New York University, and Ariel Shisha HaLevy, Professor of Linguistics at Hebrew University , a leading expert on Coptic language, who concluded that “the language itself offered no evidence of forgery.” The size of the fragment warrants further investigation—it would be helpful to reconstruct how might it have been removed from a larger codex and whether there are other similarly-sized fragments already in existence.

The recto of the fragmentary Coptic text can be viewed here with magnification and provisionally translated thus (square brackets indicate reasonable conjectures):

1. not [to] me. My mother gave me li[fe

2. the disciples said to Jesus [

3.deny. Mariam is worthy of it [

4. …..Jesus said to them, 'My wife [and...

5. …..she will be able to be my disciple [

6. Let wicked people swell up [

7. As for me, I exist with her because [

8. ] an image [

The verso has only isolated words. The translation of the recto above indicates that the text is part of a dialogue between Jesus and the disciples. Jesus' opening words, “My mother gave me life...” may refer to the Holy Spirit. Both Origen On John 2.12 and Jerome On Micah 7.6, preserve a quotation from a lost Gospel of the Hebrews in which Jesus says, “Even so did my mother the Holy Spirit, take me by one of my hairs and carry me away on the great mountain of Tabor.” Jesus says in the Gospel of Thomas saying 101 that his birth mother "gave him death" but his true mother (perhaps the Holy Spirit) "gave him life.” Similarly, in the new fragment, Jesus says that the Holy Spirit gave him life. Next comes the disciples' response. Perhaps they query whether women are worthy of life since Jesus then responds that Mary (Mariam) is worthy. Then Jesus says “his wife [and]..” will be able to be his disciple. The next line speaks of wicked people who perhaps think otherwise. Jesus then speaks of himself existing with her for unknown reasons or purpose.

It is not difficult to place the fragment in a Valentinian Christian orbit. The Gospel of Philip 9, 6-11 describes Mary as Jesus' “sister, mother and companion.” This is analogous to the description of Jesus' wife in the fragment who may or may not be Mary. Moreover, the conjectured word “and” after Jesus' words, “My wife” in the fragment indicates that Jesus is not saying something like, “My wife, the...” Professor King is careful to say that this fragment does not provide evidence that Jesus was married. What it does indicate is that some Christians in the second-century claimed that Jesus was married and that such a discussion belongs in second century debates about marriage and discipleship where it will have a wider resonance.


Dr. Deirdre Good is professor of New Testament at The General Theological Seminary, specializing in the Synoptic Gospels, Christian Origins, Noncanonical writings and biblical languages. Her blog is called On Not Being a Sausage.

Control of the Church - continued

I have read with great interest the recent post about Baby Boomers and Control of the Church. I have not commented up to this point, as online commentary has, quite literally, gotten me a great deal of trouble at my parish. Even mentioning the fact that my comments online have gotten me in trouble is potentially fodder for more problems, and indicative of the challenges faced by members of an open-culture generation.

Indeed the idea of requiring anonymity is anathema to who I am and what I stand for.

However, neither I nor my family can afford the emotional and spiritual burden of being asked to leave a parish. We have wandered like nomads, exiles from the Church of our childhood (Roman Catholic), and as broken and abusive as the Episcopal Church can be, it is a home we do not want to be kicked out of. Neither can we afford to lose the small amount I am paid for my two part time jobs, nor can we risk the anger of those who sit in judgement over priestly vocations on Parish and Diocesan discernment committees.

In this alone - the context requiring anonymity - you can begin to see the problems for people of my generation.

My spouse and I work, in various capacities, both officially and unofficially, for the parish and the diocese. We are paid a little, we volunteer a great deal. We attend Vestry and Committe meetings. We have taken the time to meet and develop relationships with the Bishop and with others in leadership throughout the diocese and within our parish. We are as close to "model church members" as you are likely to find among our generation.

So what has our experience been? On many levels, very positive. We love the parish, the people, the community. I personally enjoy Sunday Liturgy more than I have in a very long time.

On the other hand, disagreements are generally not explored, dissenting opinions are dismissed with statements like, "we have to be practical," or "if you [fill in the blank] you would understand." Legitimately supported arguments from scripture are often dismissed because "we don't quote the Bible at people here." Enthusiasm is seen as being suspect. Social Media and open forums are frowned upon, because all messaging needs to be approved by the relevant authorities. Complaints aginst our work or decisions are dealt with in secret, the results then pronounced to us: you will do X, and you will not do Y; rather than being discussed openly in a community forum. Raising questions about the morality or wisdom of certain courses of action bring accusations of being "too judgmental," or "too idealistic," or of being disloyal, or simply being an outsider who wasn't there when the problems began, and so has nothing to say about the present situation. Passion for justice, passion for growth, passion for good liturgy, passion for evangelization, even passion and love for the community, the parish, and the Episcopal Church itself- these passions are mistaken as somehow having a bad attitude or an argumentative "tone."

I will not get into the specifics of what the disagreements may have been- it isn't particularly relevant. Every parish, every comunity has its own issues, and if there are young people around, there will be disagreements: on the nature of tradition, on the meaning of scripture, on musical preferences, on liturgical style, on the very essence of the Gospel message. If you happen to be so lucky as to be attracting people from other denominations (something my parish does VERY WELL), those disagreements will be even more pronounced. The old guard needs to take seriously the witness and the wisdom of people my age. Whatever you want to say about the sorry state of my generation (and it's bad out there, I agree), the few of us who have bothered to show up for organized religion represent the best and brightest. We are educated. We take both organized religion AND personal spirituality very seriously. Our theology tends orthodox. Our liturgical preferences tend AWAY FROM turn-of-the-cenutry mainline Protestantism, toward our ancient roots in Anglo-Catholicism on the one hand and/or toward progressive emotion-driven contemporary worship on the other. Our missional understandings tend toward social justice, toward the inclusion of the marginalized. We take the Bible seriously, and are largely outraged by the casual dismissal of it in favor of secularized religious play-acting. We are not afraid of church growth, we do not think "evangelism" is a dirty word. We think churches exist for the people outside of them, not primarily for the benfit of their members.

And we love our churches. Indeed, given the frustrations, you should assume that those of us who are still around are deeply committed to our relationship with the denominations and parishes we associate with. Unlike our parents' generation, racked with divorce and infidelity, we take our vows VERY SERIOUSLY, and do not enter into them lightly. We love our parishes, and the accusations that our desire for change or our disagreements bring - that we are disloyal, that we are immature - grieve us deeply, making us question whether it is worth it, whether we shouldn't just pack up and go home, maybe start a little worship service in our house and feed the poor on our own time. But we don't just leave. At least, some of us don't. We who stay, stay because we feel God has called us to this work. We stay because we have known no other home than a parish community, and we are tired to the bone of feeling like nomads and exiles. We stay because we know that if we let our wavering faith shake our commitment, it will mean that the less spirtiually fortunate members of our generation will never have the opportunity to find Jesus in community.

Religious baby boomers raised a generation of kids that fled from churches as soon as they got the chance. Those of us among their children who escaped the cataclysm of being raised in the 80s and 90s, those of us who are still here, you need to listen to what we have to say. The decline of mainline Protestantism, the lack of religious conviction (or even basic Biblical knowledge) among the vast majority of my age cohort should be proof enough that whatever has been going on for the last 40 years or so has been an unmitigated disaster. The handful of us who actually understand this AND still have hope deserve to be listened to.

But it requires that those who have presided over the decline recognize that they are responsible for it, an admission of culpability that I do not see anyone readily being willing to admit to. It further requires that we understand that resurrection only comes through death. Church leadership seems to be very good at calling other people to "stand in a crucified place," but when it comes to their own institutions, their own buildings, their own ideas and opinions about what all this means, many would rather wage lawsuits or threaten to excommunicate and fire, rather than accepting the death that comes with following the Gospel of Jesus Christ- and by fearing death, resurrection is denied.

I have no big answers for how to change the culture of our Church to listen better to the voices of youth. Heck, I'd be thrilled if we could change the culture so we listen more to the voice of the Gospel.

I do have a small handful of recommendations:

1. An Indaba-like process the gives youth - and really, anyone outside the existing power structure - the opportunity to share their ideas and concerns in a safe place without fear of being fired or excommunicated or called disloyal. These need to be ongoing, not a one-time and we accomplished it sort of thing.

2. Reverse mentoring. Older leaders need to find younger people in the church and build a relationship with them centered on the older person asking the younger person for advice. Again, this needs to be an ongoing process, not a one time event.

3. The path to ordination needs to be made shorter and less burdensome. Further, concerted effort needs to be put toward developing priestly vocations among high school and college students. We cannot have a church where every new priest is a retiree in a second career. We cannot have a church where an enthusiastic twenty-seven year old doesn't become a priest until she is an exhausted and disillusioned thirty-seven year old.

Beyond that, we can only pray and trust that Holy Spirit will open up our doors and windows for a breath of fresh air and the aggiornamento that our Church badly needs.


We at the Café don't usually publish anonymous essays - but feel that this one was a voice who added something to the conversation. Hoping those who comment will discuss the issues raised and give ideas for our future.

Freedom in tradition

by Tricia Gates Brown

Garlicky minestrone reaches down the hall and out the front door of the church, drawing me in on a wave of scent mingling with undertones of home-baked bread. I find myself thinking, church people know how to do food. If nothing else, you can count on the food. Then I immediately recant the sentiment, remembering nothing spoils the appetite like a bad church experience. Actually, encouragement of theological questioning and curiosity are what draw me to St. Catherine Episcopal. Thanks be to God.

Over ten years ago I completed a PhD in biblical studies because I was intensely curious about Judeo-Christian scriptures and wanted to teach bible. Then I proceeded to teach at an Evangelical-Quaker university with a strong fundamentalist student demographic, and let me testify, the experience cured my career ambitions with all the potency of chemo. I found that academically instructing young fundamentalists on the subject of biblical studies was like strolling through a minefield on the fringes of Afghanistan. The teaching experience had such a disillusioning effect, I didn’t even wander over to liberal colleges or write persuasive articles about uninformed scripture reading. I up and quit. Before I could teach biblical studies to anyone, I needed to figure out what was so fraught about the bible.

Though it’s taken a while, I have, over the last few years, developed one idea of why fundamentalist Christians need to defend the bible, and specifically, their own denominational interpretations of the bible, so zealously. Essentially, their institutions demand it.

Human development and the coherence of institutions necessitate structure and guidelines. But once humans reach a certain level, they are able to leave behind the structures and rules that helped them grow up. In fact, people at higher levels of faith development always let go of the need for defining structures. Yet scholars who study stages of faith and spiritual development, from James Fowler to Bill Plotkin, tell us that while this is true for individuals, institutions perpetually operate at an adolescent level of spiritual development. They cannot move onto the deeper concerns, or struggle through the formative losses, that steer us beyond the superficial boundaries imposed by others. Institutions, including faith communities, need sets of established guidelines and definitions to bind them together and power them forward. But unlike young people who learn the rules so they can effectively transcend them, adapt them, or outright break them as mature adults, institutions need guidelines, period. So dominant religious traditions throughout history directed their adherents with established rituals, creeds, and codified rules of conduct. This worked, even if the institutions thereby created were often immature and petty.

Over the last hundred-plus years, many modern Christians have eschewed such traditions in favor of free-form communities and “non-denominational” churches. Culturally, we have moved away from tradition and toward individual consciousness that is wary of institutionalism. As a result, many modern Christians demoted creed, ritual, and rules as structures for communal life, leaving a vacuum that had to be filled. In this vacuum, arose the Bible. The Bible-with-a-capital-B Bible, along with the rapid ascent of American fundamentalism. The Bible became the supreme authority for a large segment of American Christian communities. The bible is, for these churches, a bulwark against the formlessness that would threaten the institutions themselves.

But as it turns out, the Bible doesn’t simply substitute for the rule of tradition. In fundamentalist churches the bible is actually viewed as the word of God, not as a human-formed tradition that can, to some degree, be taken with a grain of salt and/or reformed. For many nondenominational fundamentalist churches and Christians, the bible not only replaced tradition, it eviscerated it. Who wants tradition when you can have God on the page, God you can hold in your very own hands? For non-historic, non-ritualized and uncodified faith institutions, the bible became the kind of authority every institution, like every adolescent, needs to define reality, but those who question or disagree with this authority are viewed as usurping the authority of God. The irony is that the bible is interpreted individualistically by people culturally predisposed to interpret so, yet it is held up as universal, divine, authority.

This elevation of the status of the bible has led to a fundamentalist American Christian demographic that increasing justifies violence and bigotry by misusing scripture. Past generations certainly saw violence and bigotry sanctioned by tradition. But different today is the tendency of fundamentalist Christians to cut off all discussion of the issues by appealing to literalistic biblical justifications of violence and bigotry. According to this hermeneutic, these things are justified because, simply put, God says so.

I am a Generation-Xer who has a strong aversion to institution for institution’s sake. In my early twenties I gravitated toward Quakers because the denomination seemed least institutionalized among Christian denominations. Tradition tends to rub against my grain. Yet when I tried to jettison church participation, I couldn’t stay away.

So I have made my peace with institutions, at least in theory. This is in part due to acceptance of how institutions, though often disappointing and adolescent and deserving of scrutiny, play a necessary role in communal life. I have also learned to value the traditions that hold many faith institutions together because, in healthy circumstances, the coherence around human-formed tradition and ritual allows intellectual and moral integrity to flourish. In a time of increasing income disparity, environmental crisis, and militarization, it is more important than ever for churches to allow discussion and dissent around issues of justice and violence and how Christianity can speak to them. This includes calling into relentless question portions of tradition and scripture that have been used to justify domination, exclusion and violence. Christians need stabilizing structures that hold communities together while allowing free and open-minded debate.

I now worship with Spanish-speaking Episcopalians. Among this group of liturgy-enacting, ritual adhering, scripture-reading Christians, I am free, with others, to both question and relish the intricacies of scripture. We are free to roll our eyes at the tradition at times, or to discuss it critically as the human construct that it is. In a faith community ordered around tradition, rather than around the supposedly inscrutable Bible, we are free to communally worship the Lord God with all of our heart, soul and mind. Thanks be to God.


Tricia Gates Brown is a writer and garden designer working on the north Oregon coast, author of Jesus Loves Women: A Memoir of Body and Spirit. More of her work can be found at: www. triciagatesbrown.com.

Rally and Get Out There! Woof Woof, Meow!

by Carol Barnwell

It's that time again. I know it's more than a week before October 4 but pet blessings are right around the corner and I want you to be prepared. This is a major evangelism opportunity if you do it right.

We have lots of things we already do as Church but we don't always use them to our best advantage. Think about the explosion of dog parks in recent years. We even have a dog park/pub in Houston, the Bone Yard, where you can have a beer and play catch with one of 60 canines of varying sizes and shapes.

Here's the how to:

Locate a photographer in your congregation to offer pet portraits at your pet blessing, put them on Flikr and let people order their own copies-simply provide the service. You could even have the Sunday school kids paint a backdrop on a $10 painter's canvas from the local hardware store.

Invite the animal shelter to bring a mobile adoption unit to your campus the afternoon of your pet blessing. Ask your members to donate dog food for the shelter and have a bake sale of dog biscuits at the pet blessing benefitting the shelter. There are thousands of recipes online and this gives everyone in your congregation buy in for the event.

Dip into your evangelism dollars and underwrite $10 rabies vaccinations from a local vet (who might even be a member of your congregation) and offer these at your pet blessing.

Serve holy hot dogs and hush puppies! Have a drawing for a new dog bed. Print up blessing certificates with the St. Francis Prayer and your website on them for everyone.

Be sure to let the local news station and paper know about all this in plenty of time for them to write a story and make sure it's on your Facebook page. Tell your members to share the information with their Facebook friends. Take out an ad on Facebook. (Trinity, The Woodlands, TX did this and had a 20% increase in ASA for their "Blessing of the Backpacks" on August 26! The ad cost them $107.00)

Don't forget to have a few members who can answer questions about the Church or provide a quick tour. Have some information on your services and programs available and make everyone WELCOME!

Then you can start planning for Epiphany and making sure you reserve a tree shredder to make all those noble firs into mulch (instead of burning the greens). Believe it or not, you can get bags printed with your name and website here. But plan early and let people know beginning right after Thanksgiving.

“Blessed are you, Lord God, maker of all living creatures. You called forth fish in the sea, birds in the air and animals on the land. You inspired St. Francis to call all of them his brothers and sisters. We ask you to bless this pet. By the power of your love, enable it to live according to your plan. May we always praise you for all your beauty in creation. Blessed are you, Lord our God, in all your creatures! Amen.”

Carol E. Barnwell, communication director of the Episcopal Diocese of Texas, is an award winning photographer, writer and producer, and editor of the quarterly magazine, Diolog: Texas Episcopalian. She has served on the press teams of four General Conventions and the Lambeth Conference, and has covered numerous international stories

Teachers and lessons

Train up a child in the way he should go, and even when he is old, he will not depart from it. - Proverbs 22:6 (Tanakh)

It's the time of year when kids go back to school. Here in these parts, they started nearly a month ago while in other places they will be going back almost immediately. It's one of those yearly markers that come around every year and which mark another milestone in the lives of children and parents alike.

Children begin to learn from the moment they are born. By the time the start pre-school, they've learned to breathe, to eat, to crawl, to walk, to say words, to carry on conversations, to feed themselves, to share their toys, to help with chores, - an almost incredible list of accomplishments they've managed to do in just a few very short years. A lot of what they learned has been through imitation. They see their mother or father smiling at them, they try to imitate it and get more smiles in return. They learn to ask questions, including the seemingly unending "Why?" questions, and from the answers their parents give them, they learn about the world they live in, how to behave, what is safe to do and what could get them hurt, what things mean, how to tell true from false. They look to their parents for clues as to what is important and what is not, what is good and what is not, and what is proper and what is not. Parenting is a big job, and sometimes it's not hard to forget that little sponges are around, soaking up what we say and do and, quite often, repeating it back at the most inopportune moments.

Scripture tells us to teach a child what they should do and they will continue on that path for the rest of their lives. Take church, for instance. If a parent takes a child to Sunday school, drops them off and then comes back for them in an hour or two, the child figures that Sunday school is fine but that's all there is. Church is not a priority, while a golf game, doing laundry or going to the grocery store during that period is. It's easy to tell a child that they have to follow certain steps but if, in our adulthood, we skip some steps (because we've done this so often it's routine to do so), we teach them that (a) what we say and what we do are two different things, and (b) it's the objective that is important, not the way we obtain the objective. If we are constantly telling a child "No," or continually criticizing them for mistakes or infractions, are we really teaching them to make better decisions and to do things perfectly or are we making them fearful to try something new for fear of failing in our eyes?

When we come home late from work, bolt down dinner and then rush off to the upstairs office to answer emails, work on a proposal or review some figures, what are we teaching them about their value to the family? What if the child's teacher ignored their lessons and sat there polishing her nails or reading his email? We'd be incensed. Teachers are paid to teach. It's their job. Yes, it is their job, but it's also the parents' job to teach the child things that textbooks and drills won't; it's the parents job to teach the next generation how to be good parents and to model positive traits for their own children.

The next time you drive in your car with your son or daughter (or both or plurals of each), ask yourself what you are modeling for them. Are you yelling at the yahoo who cut you off on the freeway? That could be teaching your kids that anger is acceptable and name-calling when it comes to other drivers is okay, even if they aren't allowed to call their little brother anything nearly as bad. At the soccer game, are you yelling instructions at your child and reminding them that you're judging their performance when you tell them they missed a shot or didn't run as fast as they could have? You could be teaching the child that they are failures, just not good enough, and that could trickle over to other parts of the child's life -- like the inability to conquer math. Do you remind your child to do book reports for their class but they never see you pick up a book and actually read it? How can they get the idea of how valuable reading is if nobody shows it to them, especially their primary and most important teachers, their parents?

Training up a child is a huge job but it's probably one of the most important jobs in the world. Just as scripture reminds us, doing it sets them on a path that will impact their whole life -- and potentially impact the world along with it. If we want to plant the seeds for the kingdom of God on earth, we have to be willing to tend the young plants that will grow and then produce the next generation of kingdom seeds. It's more than about just taking them to Sunday school or cheering them on at the soccer game. It's about showing them what we expect and want from them by doing it ourselves. We learned from our parents, and now it's time to pass it on. No need to wait for summer vacation to be over; it begins the day they're born and ends the day we parents take our last breaths. In between are a lot of years of teaching and, oddly enough, learning from our kids.


Linda Ryan co-mentors 2 EfM Online groups and keeps the blog Jericho's Daughter

Civil Discourse in the Blogosphere

by James Mathes

A few weeks ago, my fellow bishop, the Rt. Rev. Edward S. Little, issued a pastoral letter to his Diocese of Northern Indiana regarding Resolution A048, which authorized a provisional liturgy for same-sex blessings. As a theological conservative, Bishop Little voted against this resolution. Not surprisingly, in his pastoral letter to his diocese, he stated that he would not allow its use in the Diocese of Northern Indiana. He then went on to describe, however, how he would permit clergy of the diocese to use the provisions of this trial liturgy in adjacent dioceses. Indeed, he had already conferred with the bishops of those dioceses and received their consent for the protocol.

As so often happens in today’s church, the blogosphere picked up the pastoral letter. As one who uses Episcopal Café as tool for staying up to date, it was actually on this site that I first spotted Bishop Little’s letter. When I read the article with its copious excerpts from the pastoral, I was humbled by my colleague’s effort to be true to his theological convictions and create space for his clergy to be true to theirs.

As I scanned the comments, I was stunned by the strong reaction to Bishop Little’s letter. People expressed anger, said he was cruel, implied that the bishop was a bigot, and were mocking and sarcastic. The most critical and acerbic comments were posted in the first twenty-four hours. Indeed, it appears to be a general blog characteristic that most comments are registered within a day after the posting.

I am keenly aware that the question of same-sex blessings is a nexus of heartfelt emotions, strong beliefs and for some, questions of identity and personal hurt. I recognize that some of the strongest comments offered are from deep in a person’s soul. I do not quibble with someone disagreeing with Bishop Little’s letter or his actions. People feel their emotions, sometimes with great power. We need to take a look, however, at how we speak to and about each other.

As followers of Jesus, we have a most challenging vocation. We are to be those who love our enemies and strive for justice and peace. His own mother sang in expectation of him, “he has brought down the powerful from their thrones,” (Luke 1:52) and yet this Jesus says to those who follow him, “do not judge, so that you may not be judged.” Today, we inhabit a church of diverse views. When we look at issues such as homosexuality and same-sex blessings, some see it as a clear justice issue and others as a clear issue of biblical injunction. With the exception of the undecided, an ever shrinking percentage, everyone sees the matter in black or white.

And in this, the church mimics the society at large. We see this most clearly in the present electoral campaign, which is similarly divided with few undecided. And the tone of the political discourse makes my concerns about the comments on Episcopal Café seem downright picky! Yet, the church is not called to simply do better than the community in which it ministers, but to strive through love for that more excellent way. Herein lies both the danger and the opportunity. The danger is that we will not heed this call and simply become like the culture we inhabit rather than transforming the culture through Christ. And similarly the opportunity is that we might actually be able to do that work of transformation.

It begins with a commitment to discourse, especially with those with whom we differ. It continues with great care with the words that we use and the judgments that we make about others. Our common conversation about things of importance should be imbued with prayer. It requires more questions of inquiry than assertions of our own position—positions we should hold gently.

In all of this, the blogosphere is presently problematic. Read, react, respond is the norm. I wonder what would happen if we read, meditated and pondered, asked only questions of inquiry for a few days, and only then positively expressed our place in the conversation. Blogging could quickly take on the character of discourse and transformation.

And here is my dream: that our larger society would take note of how Episcopalians discuss the hard questions—how we speak with care and listen in deep, searching ways. As they observe us, they would see who we are as the body of Christ and how we treat each one another. As they see us, they will want to know more about the one whom we follow. I yearn for that kind of church: quintessentially Anglican and truly inclusive.

The Rt. Rev James Mathes is the Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of San Deigo.

The Open Table: the integrity of the eucharistic community

by Stephen Edmondson

In my last two posts, I have pursued the question posed by the Theology Committee of the House of Bishops exploring the Eucharistic assembly as the “quintessential gathering” of God’s people. I’ve discussed the relational character of Jesus’ grace that happens around his table, and I offered one model for understanding the Eucharistic Assembly—that it is the Body of Christ.

Now, to be Christ’s body in the world is to be Christ’s broken body, whose boundaries stand open to the outsider. We must be wary of the attempt to define our communion through the clarity of our boundaries, for these inevitably tend to exclude and become, themselves, oppressive. But does this leave the Church without any sense of clear boundary and definition? How can a Church that will allow all to enter and participate provide itself a sense of integrity? Here we come across one of the most interesting insights born from the practice of the open table—that the community of Christ’s body has integrity in the midst of these open boundaries because it is defined not by its boundaries, but by its bonds. It is the commitment and connection of the members of the Church to the heart of the Church—Christ’s embracing love—and to each other that holds the Church together.

Members of open table congregations are clear about the identities of their communities, and they show no concern that their communities will disintegrate through their practices of inclusion. Their identities are bound to the love of God that is active and manifest in sundry ways among them; it is this love that brought them to these communities in the first place. The dynamism of this active love, moving from the center of the Church—Christ’s presence in the Eucharist—and enwrapping all of the Church’s members, holds these Christian communities together. From this perspective, the inclusionary embrace of the Open Table in no way threatens the Church’s identity; it supports it as a central practice of Christ’s embracing love.

Notice the important conceptual shift that we are making here. Within much of the sociological literature of the 20th century, “communities” were defined by “boundaries,” insofar as boundaries mark the beginning and end of the communities. (See Anthony Cohen, The Symbolic Construction of Community (New York: Routledge, 1985), p. 12.) This logic begins with an idea of community that involves a similarity among its members and a difference from everyone else. The boundary marks this similarity and difference. With this understanding when distinctions are lost, boundaries “become anomalous and the integrity of the ‘community’ that they enclose has been severely impugned.” (Cohen, p. 20)

Concerns about the effect of opening the table on Christian community often trade on the connection between community and boundary. If boundaries are essential for communal definition and identity, then without boundaries, it is difficult if not impossible for someone to gain a sense of belonging to a community. Indeed, this concern for boundaries isn’t a theological position, but simply a sociological one that much 20th century literature would bear out.


But is this right? Are boundaries essential, even primary for conceptualizing community, or is there another direction that we could take? If the concept of boundaries was closely tied to the idea of community in the 20th century, in the first decade of this 21st century more attention has been paid to the role of relationships in community (sometimes under the vocabulary of networks or social capital). This shift forms the substance of Robert Putnam’s epochal work, Bowling Alone, which traces to breakdown in contemporary community in tandem with the dissolution of those relationships that make community possible. Putnam and much contemporary literature cannot assume a world where the potency of community allows a sociologist to consider only the question of differentiating one community from another. Rather, as the reality of community has come under fire in our atomizing world, writers have turned to the relationships from which community is formed to conceptualize its essential qualities. Zygmunt Bauman, in fact, derides the connection between the idea of community and the fact of boundaries, arguing that “community” is invoked only to give symbolic substance to the boundaries we erect in our never-ending war to protect “us” from “them”. (See Zygmunt Bauman, Community: Seeking Safety in an Insecure World (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2001) esp. pp. 7-20.) Bauman suggests that the hope of a way forward out of our boundary-drawing quagmire is in authentic relationships that truly recognize the other—relationships from which real community and real security could be derived.

The practice of the open table relies on an idea of community defined by its bonds, its relationships, not its boundaries. In one sense, this is again to say that it’s a liturgical theology. As Gordon Lathrop has argued, good liturgy begins with strong symbols (of Jesus) in the center—symbols that bind us to God’s love in and through the Jesus they manifest. Relying on these symbols, good liturgy also necessitates open doors (a lowered sense of boundaries) since we betray the very symbols that center us if we fence them off in order to define and protect “us” from “them”.

It entails a covenantal theology, recognizing that covenant is primarily about relationship—first our relationship with God and through that, our relationship with one another. The covenant enacted in Jesus, however, is fundamentally an open covenant—a covenant intended to break down boundaries, that compels us to reach out to the “them” outside of our communities, imploring them to recognize their status with us as God’s children. In this context, an idea of boundaries is not only inessential to the reality of Christ’s covenant—it in fact betrays it.

Clear boundaries can facilitate a clean entrance into a community, but this seems to be a lazy way to do community. A Church can be defined by the walls that surround it, or by the table that it houses. The nice thing about walls—once they are built, they need little attention as they divide the inside from the outside. With sturdy walls, we only need to make sure that we are inside the doors to “belong.” But if the church is defined by its table, then it requires constant attention for its reality to subsist. The table must be set, people seated and served, fellowship must be engaged in. Entrance into this community can be equally clear. It begins with an invitation to be seated at the table, and it culminates (in baptism) with an invitation into the kitchen to join those who serve.

The Rev. Dr. Stephen Edmondson is the Rector at St. Thomas Episcopal Church in McLean, VA. Before returning to parish ministry Edmondson was an associate professor of Church History at the Virginia Theological Seminary.

The Open Table: the Christian community as the body of Christ

by Stephen Edmondson

In my last post, I shared some reflections on the question of the Eucharistic assembly as the “quintessential gathering” of God’s people. More specifically, I talked about the Eucharistic assembly as a place where Jesus’ grace happens, and I explored the relational character of this grace. Implicit within this relational model of grace is an understanding of the Christian community as the body of Christ, constituted in the Eucharist. The fulcrum on which this understanding turns is Christ’s real presence to us in the Eucharist—that in this meal we have fellowship with him, and through this fellowship we are transformed. Christ’s presence and fellowship are incarnate in the Eucharistic community, so that we receive Christ in and with one another as we gather together at table. But they are incarnate there not through the virtue of the community—we’re far too familiar with the “virtues” of our communities to make that claim—but through the virtue of making Eucharist. Through this meal, we the community become a symbol of Christ blessed, broken, and shared. We become Christ’s body, through which the alienated and broken can experience God’s reconciling love

This focus on the transformation of the Christian community in the Eucharist accords with an Eastern Orthodox critique of much of the western Eucharistic debate from earlier generations. The western controversy over the what and how of Christ’s presence in the bread and wine so focuses western thought and piety on the Eucharistic elements that the transformation of the community enacted through the liturgy as a whole often were lost. Indeed, in implicit agreement with this Orthodox critique, John Calvin and Richard Hooker sought to reframe the Reformation debate over Christ’s real presence precisely through an invocation of this broader communal transformation and the reality of Christ’s presence there.

My approach to the church’s transformation differs from an Orthodox approach, however, insofar as it will emphasize the Church as the body of Christ that was blessed, broken and shared in his ministry, much as the elements are blessed, broken, and shared, rather than emphasizing the Church’s ascension in the Liturgy to Christ in the heavenly realm. Much of the power of the Orthodox Liturgy is its heavenly aspect—it’s intention to open the church to the glory of the Risen Christ to whom we have been united. But we must hold together tightly the Risen Christ with the Jesus who ministers in the Gospels, so that the Glory of this Christ is the glory of a life offered and a body broken as a means of sharing God’s love. My argument then is not intended to denude the Eucharist of its heavenly aspect, but to argue that we taste heaven most truly and fully when we meet Christ in his offer of himself at table to us, the broken and outcast.

The Church’s constitution as Christ’s body in the Eucharist is a belief shared broadly in the Eucharistic thinking of many of those who embrace an open table and many of those who do not. But working through the implications of this belief opens up more deeply how proponents of the Open Table understand Christ’s Church. The issue that emerges when we follow the logic of the church as the Eucharistic body of Christ is one of integrity, and this will have at least two dimensions, as we’ll see.

James Farwell in an article in the Spring 2004 Anglican Theological Review (http://www.anglicantheologicalreview.org/read/conversations/1/ ), accepts that Jesus embodied in his ministry the unconditional welcome of God’s kingdom. He argues, however, that the logic of participation in the Eucharist, whereby we are nourished as members of Christ’s unconditionally welcoming body, demands that only those who have embraced this reality, committing themselves to this welcoming, should participate in it. Allowing those who have not committed themselves to Christ’s Kingdom vision to participate in the Eucharist belies the integrity of the mission.

Farwell’s point carries some persuasive weight, but an ironic implication of his argument leaves the Church, in its central and constitutive meal, betraying the Kingdom’s mission of unconditional welcome as a way precisely to highlight and uphold the mission. For proponents of opening the table, we are most faithful to Christ’s Kingdom not by keeping the company of its adherents pure, but by embodying in this constitutive act the unconditional welcome through which it is, in part, defined. Indeed, the practice of opening the table is essential to the identity of churches that practice the open table, apart from the welcome that they offered to strangers, for through this practice they constituted themselves as a hospitable and gracious communal body. Aidan Kavanaugh reminds us that in the liturgy, the Church is “caught in the act of being most overtly itself.” (On Liturgical Theology, p. 75) Given the vision of the gracious and welcoming Kingdom to which the Church is responsible, the Church can be itself only as it embodies in its liturgy precisely this welcome. For proponents of the open table, the integrity of the Church’s mission requires precisely that they embody Christ’s welcoming, embracing love in this, their constitutive meal.

What we must recognize is that to be Christ’s body in the world is to be Christ’s broken body, whose boundaries stand open to the outsider. We must be wary of the attempt to define our communion through the clarity of our boundaries, for these inevitably tend to exclude and become, themselves, oppressive. We must remind ourselves that the world against which the Church defines itself is not those persons, beloved of God, who stand without us; they are, with us, members of God’s family. Rather, the world against which the Church defines itself is those forces that serve to oppress and destroy God’s beloved. The Church as Christ’s body is responsible for service to these, our alienated siblings.

The Rev. Dr. Stephen Edmondson is the Rector at St. Thomas Episcopal Church in McLean, VA. Before returning to parish ministry Edmondson was an associate professor of Church History at the Virginia Theological Seminary.

Storms of life

O most glorious and gracious Lord God, who dwellest in heaven, but beholdest all things below; Look down, we beseech thee, and hear us, calling out of the depth of misery, and out of the jaws of this death, which is now ready to swallow us up: Save, Lord, or else we perish. The living, the living shall praise thee. O send thy word of command to rebuke the raging winds and the roaring sea; that we, being delivered from this distress, may live to serve thee, and to glorify thy Name all the days of our life. Hear, Lord, and save us, for the infinite merits of our blessed Saviour, thy Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
--Prayer for those at sea, from the 1789 Book of Common Prayer (U.S.)

What is it about tropical storms (or, for those of us in landlocked places, tornadoes) that causes human nature to exhibit a secret wish for these forces of nature to clobber those we deem as "wicked?" Seems that it doesn't matter which side of the political fence or theological fence one is on for that image to rear its ugly head. Of course, many of us immediately think of Pat Robertson's frequent statements of tropical storms being a punishment for gays and HIV disease, but recently the Daily Kos turned it the other direction, asking tongue-in-cheek if Hurricane Isaac was punishment for the GOP convention being held in Tampa. We've certainly all had our personal moments with those kind of thoughts. I still remember the day one of my friends who was in the middle of a very contentious divorce. As a tropical storm began to bear down on the town where her estranged husband lived, she blurted out, "God, I know this is not nice, and I don't want you to kill him, but could you at least go after the guy in the white Ford Taurus and shake him up a bit?" I've been known to say after tornado damage was reported, "Have you ever noticed that God really dislikes churches and trailer courts?"

All kidding aside, there's something about storms that reflect both our powerlessness and the power of a force beyond our control. Storm imagery is a classic one in movies, particularly as it relates to the interplay between good and evil and our hopes that the storm will some how both cleanse us of evil and redeem us. Cape Fear would not be Cape Fear without the storm scene--and, of course, you can't have The Perfect Storm without a storm. When the makers of the movie The Bad Seed realized that the end of the original version of that work would not be palatable to a moviegoing public and the censors, they changed the ending so that wicked little Rhoda got zapped by lightning. What better way to show that good prevailed and evil was destroyed?

In a way, storms at sea also seem incredibly Anglican. Our hymnal is full of storms, waves and high seas danger, with the gold standard being "Eternal father, strong to save." (I remember in the early days of my becoming an Episcopalian, thinking, "What's with all the hymns about storms and the sea? I'm trying to find peace with God, not a bunch of storms!") It's a reminder that our denominational roots are in a country where "Britannia rules the waves" was an important part of its culture. It was important in the early days of Anglicanism that this brand of faith be borne to distant lands in the hearts of seafarers and explorers. Storms were something every sailor could understand in terms of a God with awesome power over creation.

Perhaps, though, the purpose of storms in our theology is not about punishing the wicked at all, (as tantalizing as it is,) in terms of sweeping evil from our landscape and annihilating all those nasty "others" we rather avoid. Perhaps it's more about the universal nature of the human experience and grace. For starters, there's that looming nature of storms. We see them on the horizon and know they are coming, and there's simply not much we can do about it. All of us have times in life where we know a storm is coming, but we don't know how severe it is, or what its toll will be. We don't know if we will have to take shelter or not. We don't know what will survive and what will perish.

Storms bring tempests of wind, deluges, and blizzards--and a special kind of grace despite the wreckage. Just as it rains on the just and the unjust, the wind blows on the just and the unjust, too. Storms bring both darkness and light simultaneously--flashes of brilliant light against a background of darkness. When they are over, the light shines on everyone equally--but it also exposes the damage that has been done in a very stark light. Yet, almost anyone who has lived through hurricane or tornado damage can tell stories of the things that were miraculously left standing. I had a friend whose house was totaled in the Kirksville tornado of 2009--but, amazingly, his wine collection was spared. (God may not be fond of churches or trailer courts, but wine appears to be another thing entirely.) Even in great loss, there are times when what was spared become sources of mystery and wonder. Sometimes we discover the power of storms to strip us bare reveals a piece of our essential selves we never knew existed.

What has God revealed to you in life's storms?


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

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