Reunion, Council and inclusion of African Americans

by John Chilton

Throughout the history of The Episcopal Church its Constitution and Canons have named the annual meeting of a diocese a convention. The Diocese of Virginia used that terminology until 1862 when it acceded to the constitution of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the Confederate States of America and adopted its terminology, Annual Councils. Editor of the Southern Churchman and member of the diocesan Standing Committee, the Rev. D. Francis Sprigg, reported the change in nomenclature was not well received, writing it was “very unnecessary as we think.”

Its reason for being removed, the PECCSA in 1865 reformed itself as a voluntary association, the Protestant Episcopal Church of Associated Dioceses in the United States. At its next Council in 1866 Virginia became the last Confederate States diocese to renew its ecclesial relations with the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America. The reunion debate was heated even though the option of being a lone diocese raised serious concerns over apostolic succession and the principle that Anglican provinces could not be subnational.

During debate of the reunion measure a partiality for the PECCSA terminology “council” was expressed. More significantly, retention of the term was promoted to sell reunion. The Church Journal, paraphrasing the Rev. Dr. C. W. Andrews, reported

Very possibly some declaration of settlement might be advisable, or for retention of the word Council, - the word Convention was one they all wished to get rid of. If this concession should be asked by the opponents of this measure, he hoped the Council would grant it. By supporting one another and conceding a little to one another, unanimity might yet be reached.

When the vote for reunion was taken the tally was Clergy aye 57, Clergy nay 9, Laity aye 36, Laity nay 11.

The same 1866 Council debated the status of African Americans in the church and adopted the following:

Resolved That whenever the colored members of the Church in any parish desire to form a new and separate congregation, such action shall have the sanction of this Diocese. They may elect their own Vestry, Wardens, and Ministers. They shall be considered as under the care of this Council, and their interests as represented in it by the Standing Committee on Colored Congregations.

The decision on whether to retain the terminology council carried over to the 1867 Annual Council. As reported by the Southern Churchman,
Mr. Tazewell Taylor, chairman of the committee, to which was referred what changes were rendered necessary in the Constitution and Canons of the Diocese, by reuniting with the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States proposed only the following:
That the word “Confederate” be stricken out and “United” be inserted in lieu thereof. He said there had been some conversation in the committee in regard to changing “Council” to “Convention;” but as it was not obligatory, and as the word “Convention” was a disagreeable one, and as he thought the General Convention would alter their title to Council, or something equivalent, the committee preferred to retain “Council,” and as it was the liturgical and ecclesiastical nomenclature, he hoped Virginia would have the honor of retaining the use of the word Council.

The report’s recommendations were approved making Virginia the first diocese of PECUSA to use the terminology. Virginia reunited on its own terms.

At the General Convention of 1868, Nebraska applied for admission as a diocese. Like Virginia, and by this time Minnesota, Nebraska used the term council. A debate spanning days ensued in the House of Deputies over whether any word but council was constitutional, with Virginia given as a positive unchallenged exception. Ultimately, the constitutional question died when the House of Bishops voted to admit Nebraska.

At the 1871 General Convention, the Committee on Canons reported “no action is expedient” regarding “such changes into the Constitution and Canons of this Church as may provide for the representation of minorities.” It also reported it “would be inexpedient” to change “the name of this body from Convention to that of Council.” Both reports were accepted by the convention.

Originally, Diocese of Virginia included the territories of the present dioceses of West Virginia, Southern Virginia and Southwestern Virginia. Upon creation as a separate diocese, each inherited the terminology “Annual Council” from the Diocese of Virginia. In 1956, West Virginia made changes to its Constitution and Canons: Annual Council was renamed Annual Convention, and the condition “of the Anglo-Saxon race” was struck from the conditions for election to Annual Convention. In 1949 Virginia had removed the de facto bar to African Americans in its Council, striking all references to “Colored Convocation” from its Constitution and Canons.

Today, the Dioceses of Virginia, Southern Virginia, and Southwestern Virginia still retain the name Council for their annual meetings. Altogether eight domestic dioceses of The Episcopal Church use terminology of Annual Council. In the 20th century, twenty dioceses switched from Council to Convention.

The Race and Reconciliation Committee of the Diocese of Virginia has submitted a resolution to Annual Council to study restoring the name Annual Convention.

Acknowledgement. Most of the details in this article are the result of the research of Julia E. Randle, Archivist of the Diocese of Virginia. All errors of fact and interpretation remain my own.

An abbreviated version of this article appeared in the Winter 2014 issue of the Virginia Episcopalian.

John B. Chilton is currently an economics lecturer at Virginia Commonwealth University. He is a member of the Committee on Race and Reconciliation in the Diocese of Virginia. A child of the diocese, he taught economics at the University of Western Ontario, the University of South Carolina and the American University of Sharjah before returning to his home state.

Re-imagining Diocesan Convention

by George Clifford

In previous Episcopal Café posts (part 1 and part 2), I suggested radically reimagining The Episcopal Church's governance and structure. Among the changes I recommended were flattening the structure, eliminating mandatory financial assessments, and relying on electronic voting, virtual meetings, crowdsourcing and outsourcing.

A friend recently sent me his proposal for reducing his diocesan convention to one day from its current two-day format. He advocated that one year the diocesan convention would pass a biennial budget and fill elective positions; in alternate years, the diocesan convention would focus on program elements.

Establishing a one-day format for diocesan conventions has several key advantages:

1. It would reduce administrative and travel expenses, thereby freeing more money for mission;

2. It would greatly expand the pool of potential convention attendees to include those otherwise prevented from attending by the need to arrange for overnight child care, cover incidental expenses, or honor work commitments;

3. It would allow greater numbers of people to attend as observers if not as actual delegates.


As an interim measure, I support my friend's proposal.

However, we should radically reimagine diocesan conventions. A diocese, through canonical changes but without organizational restructuring, could transact all of its business over the internet, using electronic communication, electronic voting, and virtual meetings. Then the annual convention could become a time when people from across the diocese gather, meet one another, celebrate shared journeys, grow spiritually, and become energized for ministry and mission in the year ahead.
One appeal of mega-churches is that their size generates energy and synergy that small congregations cannot. Another appeal of mega-churches is that they have resources to produce programs and worship services (including preaching) of a higher quality than is typically found in a small congregation. Ten percent of U.S. congregations now contain half of all churchgoers.

The Episcopal Church is a denomination of small congregations. Our congregations have an average Sunday attendance of less than 70. Furthermore, the diocese, not the parish or mission, is the basic unit in our polity. Radically reimagining diocesan convention could transform a generally staid business meeting that many clergy and most laity try to avoid into an event for the entire diocese, an annual gathering of a "mega-church." This would both affirm our unity and our ties to the diocese with our bishop as our chief pastor.

Too many congregations view their bishop as an honored guest or even as an intimidating and alien authority figure. Conversely, bishops quickly tire of an endless cycle of parish visits in which they preach, perhaps administer confirmation, perhaps eat well, engage in much polite conversation, and conduct canonically mandated inspections. Instead, we need bishops who provide effective visionary leadership for their dioceses, inspiring and energizing their people for mission.

Concurrently, by changing the format of diocesan conventions and maintaining our generally smallish congregations we would continue to enjoy the multiple benefits of belonging to a small group.

In sum, radically reimagining diocesan convention could give us the best of belonging to both a small and large church; diocesan convention, instead of being an annual burden, might become one of the high points of the ecclesial year. Laity and clergy might even clamor for convention to meet more than once a year!

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, has written Charting a Theological Confluence: Theology and Interfaith Relations and Forging Swords into Plows: A Twenty-First Century Christian Perspective on War, and blogs at Ethical Musings.

Do we need denominations?

by George Clifford

When people search for a church to join, one early stage decision in the process is whether to find a denominational or non-denominational church. Are denominations important? Is it good for a congregation to be part of a denomination?

On the one hand, independent, non-denominational megachurches and their pastors too often feature in media headlines, as reporters and editors almost gloat in uncovering the latest scandal. Even when there is no scandal, the retirement or death of an independent church pastor (regardless of the congregation's size) will often set that congregation on an irreversible downward glide path toward institutional oblivion.

On the other hand, conventional wisdom has it that denominations in general, and mainline Protestant denominations like The Episcopal Church in particular, are dying anachronisms.

Are denominations important?

Denominations provide vital ministries not readily available to non-denominational congregations. Indeed, some non-denominational megachurches have spawned networks of linked congregations becoming, in essence, a new expression of denominationalism, e.g., both Calvary Chapel and the Vineyard have linked congregations scattered across the U.S.

Among the important ministries that denominations provide, ministries that can make a denominationally affiliated congregation more appealing to many church shoppers than is a non-denominational congregation, are:

Continuity across geography and time of liturgical style, theological tradition, missional emphases, and organizational patterns;

Connectivity to an expression of Christ's body larger than the local congregation (many denominations are national entities with strong ties to their counterparts in other countries, such as The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion);

Providing specialized and often costly ministries and missions that few if any congregations, including megachurches, can individually resource and fund, e.g., college chaplaincies, new church starts, seminaries, church related institutions (charities, hospitals, colleges, and other schools), etc.

Formation, supervision, and accountability of clergy (scandals, such as covering up child abuse, do occur in denominations but in a healthy denomination the larger body works to prevent problems, deal appropriately with incompetence and misbehavior, and offer healing to those hurt);

Requiring audits, mandating adherence to accepted accounting methods, and use of democratic decision making, thereby substantially reducing the likelihood of financial misuses and abuses, as well as establishing some checks on clergy and laity exercising unhealthy dictatorial powers in the ecclesial community.


In sum, denominations provide vital services, which explains why non-denominational congregations sometimes, even in twenty-first century America, move to create structures that greatly resemble already existing denominations.

Denominations receive a bad press for at least three reasons. First, the important ministries that denominations provide are not news. Denominations have served congregations in those ways for generations. News, for the media, typically connotes new, adverse developments, not reportage about steady, ongoing positive work. However, no press is, in effect, tantamount to bad press, as denominations and congregations become unnoticed, i.e., taken for granted.

Second, denominations are undoubtedly shrinking. The Episcopal Church, for example, has lost approximately one million members in the last fifty years (cf. Is the Episcopal Church going the way of the Grange?). The loss of members, and an attendant loss of influence and funding (cf. Beware the ecclesial fiscal cliff, is news but not good news, especially when people presume that denominations are in a death spiral.

Third, denominational clergy prefer humility to the limelight, seeking to keep the spotlight on Christ. Their congregations often occupy legacy buildings, frequently in disrepair and no longer occupying a prime location. To survive, the non-denominational congregation, which is usually a new congregation, must grow. Many of these congregations decide that the optimal way to grow consists in finding a dynamic, personable, and attractive pastor to lead a program attuned to today's culture and housed in an attractive, conveniently located facility. The pastor becomes the congregation's focal point.

Some Episcopalians and members of other denominations seem uncomfortable with their identity, ministries, and traditions; these people push for change, and more change, but many times fail to communicate, at least to me, what they hope the changes will achieve. Others of us, confident that we have it right, choose to persevere with business as usual, opposing most or all change. Yet others have opted to disengage (and, in many cases, never engaged in the first place) from the denomination, myopically regard their local congregation as their Church, and view both the diocese and national church as unnecessary and expensive encumbrances.

Change is inevitable (cf. Maria Evans' post Change: Unsafe at any speed). Some change will happen regardless of whether we deem it desirable. In a recent Daily Episcopalian post, I predicted that The Episcopal Church would not issue a new edition of the Book of Common Prayer. Responses to my prediction varied, but two groups of responses amused me: normative responses (i.e., those proffering a value judgment on the importance of keeping a printed prayer book) and responses that presumed people using electronic media were young. My prediction is descriptive, not normative. Printed books are quickly and irreversibly becoming relics of an earlier era. I personally like books and treasure the Book of Common Prayer. The people I have observed opting to follow the liturgy on a smartphone or tablet are, more often than not, forty or older.
However, we can influence some change. Denominations provide valuable, essential ministries; otherwise, non-denominational congregations would not develop their own analogue to denominational structures.

Identifying and focusing on the core competencies and contributions of denominations could beneficially guide decisions about reimagining, restructuring, and mission funding. Conversely, denominations should scrap images, structures, and programs that do not directly support core competencies and contributions. Important questions, some raised by people who have commented on previous Daily Episcopalian posts, include:

Which dioceses are redundant or unaffordable?

For what denominational ministries and missions should volunteers rather than paid staffs take responsibility (applies to both dioceses and the national Church)?
How can we best create a flat, nimble, responsive structure focused on ministry and mission rather than institutional maintenance (for some ideas, cf. my previous Daily Episcopalian posts on reimagining the Church, parts 1 and 2)?

Finally, how can we capitalize on our denomination's strengths to market The Episcopal Church and its congregation to people who are church shopping?


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, has written Charting a Theological Confluence: Theology and Interfaith Relations and Forging Swords into Plows: A Twenty-First Century Christian Perspective on War, and blogs at Ethical Musings.

Finding our way again

By Kathy Staudt

I recently helped to facilitate one of the diocesan-wide discussions of Brian McLaren’s Finding our Way Again -- part of a diocese-wide initiative that Bishop Mariann Budde initiated, called “People of the Way.” McLaren and Bishop Budde will be leading a plenary program on March 26 as part of this initiative -- the first of many such initiatives, we hope. My experience leading one of the one-day diocesan-wide study group convinced me of the value of having these kinds of conversation about the lived experience of our faith with other Episcopalians beyond our parishes.

McLaren’s book is about spiritual practices as part of how we grow into a living relationship with God, and how we are formed and transformed into disciples. His book introduces a series that invites a “return to the ancient practices” that have shaped Christian life over centuries -- practices like daily prayer, Scripture study, Sabbath-keeping, Fasting, even Tithing. As soon as we begin to make a list of spiritual practices, we begin to risk losing an important distinction between practices and “programs” or “to do lists.” A spiritual practice is an activity we choose because we want to grow in our relationship with God -- it is about experience and connection rather than about self-improvement. This is a distinction that is quickly lost on many of us “Type A” folks who would like to be able to see results. “Practice makes perfect,” in this discussion, gives way to McLaren’s phrase “Practice makes possible”: having a personal rule of life that fits our temperament and desire helps make us open to the possibility of transformation and deepened relationship with God that is always on offer, if we are willing to receive it.

In our discussion I was very aware of a longing, expressed in various ways, for an enlivening of faith. Some people were fearful about the apparent “to do list” that they at first saw in the setup of McLaren’s book, but the discussion in small groups seemed to go where most people wanted to go -- to the question: how do I -- and how do you -- live our faith so that it becomes deeper and more authentic, more connected to the mystery that we call “God.” What do we do to open ourselves to that? What happens when we do? Many had stories to share, showing that we can indeed see ourselves as "companions on the way".

McLaren helpfully divides spiritual practices into “Contemplative,” “Corporate” and “Missional” practices. Contemplative practices are perhaps most familiar: practices like daily Scripture study, centering prayer, journaling or walking-prayers. Many people had regular personal practices they could add to this list. Contemplative practices are what I call “showing up” practices -- We try to do them regularly, the way that someone studying a musical instrument practices scales, or an athlete works out -- because they make us more able to live faithfully, day to day. Corporate practices are those we do together -- worship is the most familiar, and McLaren helpfully breaks out the different components of the liturgy, calling the liturgy the “workout of the people.” Other corporate practices include spiritual direction, small group faith sharing, and intercessory prayer -- all the ways that we practice our faith in awareness that others are practicing with us. Out of these come missional practices: practices that turn us outward toward the world -- these include hospitality, practices that help us to encounter those we perceive as “other,” feeding the hungry, working for justice. Missional practices are not political programs though they may lead us to political action, whether individual or corporate. But their primary purpose is to form us for Christian discipleship. Indeed, for Christians, all of these kinds of practice have as their purpose to make us more alert, faithful and engaged disciples/followers of Jesus.

For some in the group the sense of spiritual practice as “one more thing to add to the list” did not subside, but for others there was an excitement about what they were hearing about what a living faith looks like, among other people who are also members of churches in our diocese. There was something energizing, all agreed, about bringing together people from different parishes, coming out of our “silos” of local family issues and issues of institutional survival, and reminding ourselves of the deeper purpose that drew many of us to our churches to begin with and that is now calling us, perhaps, to a revival, or to what Diana Butler Bass in her new book (Christianity After Religion) has called an “awakening.”

Diana’s book also sees this longing among many Christians -- both those who have stayed with their churches and the large number of people who have left church, disillusioned with our preoccupation with institutional survival and bickering over who’s in and who’s out. She points to a resurgence of people who long to be both “spiritual AND religious” -- to find a community that practices a living faith. Can this happen in churches, which have become so bogged down over the past few decades in institutional and doctrinal issues? What would the Church look like (not just the Episcopal Church, but the wider “Church, the People of God” (to use Verna Dozier’s term) -- if more of us found ways to name and claim a faith that demands something of us, that calls us to grow and deepen in a living relationship with the living God, individually, corporately and “missionally.” A faith where "practice" makes new things, new life, possible?

The longing for something real, something genuine, in our individual and corporate relationship to God and in our life choices, was palpable in the discussion I led, and I hear it everywhere these days, among church people as well as those who have left church or are unchurched. I hear it in people who grew up without a religion and are wondering if they can find what they are seeking among people who still value church. I hope we can continue to listen to this longing in one another other, and I think one way to do this is indeed, as the McLaren book study project invites, to focus on this matter of practice, perhaps to find and reclaim “new-old” ways of gathering and sharing faith that stretch and blur boundaries between parishes and even denominations. If we do, I think we may well begin to discern a new spiritual liveliness that is inviting us, in this time, to claim in new ways a living tradition that is in harmony with the ancient roots of our faith, and that will help us to live more faithfully into the call to discipleship which is at the heart of Christian life.

Jesus said, “The kingdom of God is like a householder who takes from his treasure what is old and what is new.” That seems to be an important word for us in this time of change, renewal, awakening and "emergence" in the life of the church.


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.

Nullification revisited

By James R. Mathes

The Rt. Rev. Mark Lawrence wrote the essay, “A Conservationist among Lumberjacks,” in The Living Church, published online on October 1, 2010, which attempts to paint the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina as a protector of the Constitution of the Episcopal Church.

It is true that there are no new plots.

What Bishop Lawrence postulates is simply a twenty-first century reprisal of the 1828 nullification crisis in which the state of South Carolina attempted to nullify federal tariffs.

Bishop Lawrence feigns great sorrow at the changing landscape of the Episcopal Church. He writes, “I have grown sad from walking among the stumps of what was once a noble old-growth Episcopalian grove in the forest of Catholic Christianity.” Donning the mantle of ecclesial conservationist, Bishop Lawrence even quotes environmentalist, Aldo Leopold, “a conservationist is one who is humbly aware that with each stroke [of the ax] he is writing his signature on the face of his land.” The bishop adds, “far too many leaders in our church have never learned this lesson.” Indeed.

All of this is prelude to his main premise that the presiding bishop is threatening the polity of the Episcopal Church. He wants you to believe that the threat is manifested in three ways: because her chancellor has retained a South Carolina attorney to represent the wider Episcopal Church’s interests should they diverge from the Diocese of South Carolina’s interests; through the Title IV revisions from the 2009 General Convention; and by the manner in which the House of Bishops has dealt with bishops who have left the Episcopal Church.

If Bishop Lawrence were simply presenting these thoughts to spur debate about his concern regarding the polity of the Episcopal Church and his perceptions of threats to the same, I could imagine he and I having a lively conversation, perhaps when we next meet at House of Bishops. He might even convince me to support changes in the canons to preserve our polity. However I suspect that that is not what Bishop Lawrence is after. His essay is rather an attempt to justify resolutions being considered this weekend at the Convention of the Diocese of South Carolina, which among other things, claims “sovereignty” of diocese. He tips his hand in his essay when he claims that “the presiding bishop and her unelected chancellor [are] intruding into diocesan independence.”

An Episcopal diocese is no more independent of the Episcopal Church than a state is independent of the federal government. This is nothing short of an attempt to craft ecclesiastical nullification. And of late, we have had too much practice in that with four other dioceses claiming nullification on the road to secession.

Bishop Lawrence’s thinking is problematic.

First, there is no real threat from the presiding bishop unless you attempt secession, in which case she will simply do her job of preserving the diocese from those who choose to abandon it.

The Title IV revisions, while not perfect, are an effort to shift from a disciplinary model to a pastoral model of dealing with clergy conduct issues. There is no external threat to a diocese from the presiding bishop. In fact, due process is enhanced. I would invite Bishop Lawrence and the Diocese of South Carolina to join the wider Episcopal Church in living with these canonical changes and to offer changes at future General Conventions. This is the right way to deal with perceived imperfections.

And it is rather silly to raise procedural objections to Bob Duncan’s deposition. While I believe we followed our canonical procedures properly, Duncan’s previously prepared departure to the Southern Cone immediately acted upon and announced moments after his deposition made it clear that the House made the appropriate decision.

Indeed, what’s the complaint? Bob Duncan and the House of Bishops were in perfect agreement: he was no longer a bishop in the Episcopal Church. The issue for Duncan was that his deposition gravely weakened his flimsy legal position relative to his compliance with an out of court settlement relating to Episcopal Church property. As Bishop Lawrence and the Diocese of South Carolina prepare to move forward with their own canonical changes, I fear they may be playing a similar game.

Bishop Lawrence: be at peace. Your colleagues in our House of Bishops support you in leading the Diocese of South Carolina consonant with its particular theological perspective. We grieve with you those who have left the Episcopal Church. But know this -- no one cut them out. They were not the victims of lumberjacks; they uprooted themselves. We pray that you will not do the same. It would be a regrettable repeat of history. In the end, we will wait for your next move. Please don’t fire on Fort Sumter.

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

Covenant-making, divine and human

This is the second of two excerpts from Writings on Marriage, the journal of the Bishop of North Carolina's Task Force on Marriage, edited by Greg Jones.
By Jo Bailey Wells

There is a thread that runs throughout the Old and New Testament in which human marriage finds its theological context. One might argue there are differing models of marriage visible in Scripture: patriarchs and monarchs practiced polygamy without impunity (including Abraham, Jacob, David, and Solomon); the Hebrew law prescribed remarriage within a deceased husband’s family to protect a widow (Deut. 25:5-10); Jesus challenged divorce (Mark 10:2-12; Matt. 5:31-32); Paul championed celibacy (1 Cor. 7:8-9, 32-35). Nevertheless, the context within which all marriage is understood relates fundamentally to the overarching relationship of God to his people, through the language of covenant.(1)

Our 1979 Book of Common Prayer explicitly articulates this covenant understanding of marriage. Consider, for example, the words of one of the nuptial blessings:

O God, you have so consecrated the covenant of marriage that in it is represented the spiritual unity between Christ and his Church: Send therefore your blessing upon these your servants, that they may so love, honor, and cherish each other in faithfulness and patience, in wisdom and true godliness, that their home may be a haven of blessing and peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen. (p.431)

This chapter explores the scope, significance and limits of covenant language in the Judaeo-Christian tradition: how, in particular, it enriches and defines a Christian understanding of the bond of commitment between two parties traditionally termed ‘marriage’ and how it may appropriately be applied elsewhere. Our Church does not only invoke the concept of covenant for marriage; the Episcopal Church also speaks of the baptismal covenant; and more recently the Anglican Communion has explored the idea of an ecclesial covenant. What does the common Christian usage of covenant language have to do with the theology of covenant as it is developed through Old and New Testaments, and what does the biblical concept have to offer the Church today?

Covenant in Biblical Perspective
The Old Testament term for ‘covenant’ (berith in Hebrew) is borrowed from everyday life, to describe a deal, agreement or contract. It becomes used, fundamentally, as a metaphor to describe the relationship of God to God’s people.

As with other metaphors for the divine-human relationship – father and son, or husband and wife, or king and subject, or shepherd and sheep – an everyday image is borrowed from one realm of life and applied illustratively to another, on the principal of analogy. In its new theological context, the concept of covenant takes on a life of its own – lending itself to imaginative development far beyond the original scope and significance of its origins. Consider, in particular, the book of Hosea which assumes a covenant theology in describing God as a lover who has been spurned by his bride, Israel. Hosea underlines the faithfulness of God: even though Israel has become a whore, yet God longs for her to return (Hosea 1:2; 11:8). The covenant is not broken, even though it is continually threatened.

The books of Exodus and Deuteronomy tell the story by which God initiated the covenant with Israel at Mount Sinai. It is rather like a love story, whereby God had patiently wooed his people. He had brought them out of Egypt; he had sustained them through the desert. Now, prior to entering the long-promised land, God ‘gets down on one knee’ and asks Moses to communicate a gracious proposal:

“Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob, and tell the Israelites: You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now, therefore, if you obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession out of all the peoples. Indeed, the whole earth is mine, but you shall be for me a priestly kingdom and a holy nation…” (Exodus 19:3-6)

Notice how the initiative lies entirely with God, even though it is clearly bilateral. The biblical account underlines how God wishes to reveal himself to humankind in order to enter into relationship with them. The covenant with Israel is the means to that end, not just for Israel’s sake but through Israel to all nations. Covenant is oriented to relationship and particularly to God’s self-revelation.(2 )

Where the story is retold in Deuteronomy, it is emphasized that this covenant is not a past action that related only to the original generation in the wilderness but a living reality for subsequent generations. That is to say, the covenant does not end in the way that most human covenants do. In Deuteronomy a later generation is addressed, as if it were the recipient of the covenant:

Not with our ancestors did the LORD make this covenant, but with us, who are all of us here alive today (Deuteronomy 5:3)

Indeed, the encounter with God that is so carefully described in Exodus 19 at Mount Sinai depicts a spatial architecture that mirrors the temple (as well as much subsequent church architecture), underlining that what the Sinai covenant describes in Exodus is not a one-time encounter belonging to the past, but the regular encounter of Israel with their God in worship. This covenant goes on forever.(3)

At the heart of the covenant are the ten commandments. At times the covenant is equated to the commandments:

[The LORD] declared to you his covenant, which he charged you to observe, that is, the ten commandments; and he wrote them on two stone tablets (Deuteronomy 4:13)

These are given so that the people ‘do not sin’ – to equip them to live up to the original lofty proposal, to be a holy nation. Even as obedience is invited (Ex.19:5; 20:20-21), it is underlined how these stipulations are life-giving, not life-destroying. Thus, the narrative frame by which they are introduced: ‘I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt’ (Exodus 20:2) – emphasizing the relationship of redeemer to redeemed, Lord to servant, Life-giver to creature. Obedience to the commandments is for Israel’s growth and development. The story of redemption is the grounds for which God asks for loyalty, for an exclusive choice – a choice which is ratified enthusiastically by the people ‘with one voice’ repeating their previous intention, “All the words that the LORD has spoken we will do” (Exodus 24:3).

As our Prayer Book puts it, Israel has discovered ‘the God whose service is perfect freedom’. As at a wedding, promises are made that are exclusive and binding at a special ceremony, following which there is eating and drinking. Then Moses heads up the mountain to receive the tablets of stone, which (like wedding rings) serve as a practical physical reminder of the promises made. Further, we may recognize the practice of covenant renewal, a sort-of ‘anniversary’ celebration for the sake of regularly remembering the promises made (Deut.27:1-10; Josh.8:30-35).

As many scholars have explored, the Sinai covenant – which becomes the overarching picture of God’s special relationship to Israel – incorporates all the key characteristics of any typical ancient treaty. The narrative we build from the Pentateuch includes an historical prologue, a list of covenant stipulations (the ten commandments), a ceremony of ratification (followed by regular reminding), a description of the witnesses present (here, heaven and earth) and a set of expectations regarding future blessings and curses that accompany either faithfulness or failure in keeping the covenant. While tracing all these elements of the ancient pattern, the notion of covenant in its new-found Israelite usage takes on a life of its own (while also shaping the life of Israel), such that its origins are rendered virtually irrelevant. ‘Covenant’ is re-defined, as the ‘marriage’ between God and his people. Even though we may also use legal language to describe it – for example, that it is binding and inviolable – it is not primarily legal, but relational.(4) A covenant is no longer simply a contract.(5)

Most of the rest of the Old Testament relates to that faithfulness and failure, to the ups and downs of the divine-human journey together. Even at the ‘honeymoon’ stage, the relationship is threatened by unfaithfulness. That is how the book of Exodus depicts the incident of the golden calf (Exodus 32-34): before Moses had descended from Mt Sinai with the stone tablets, the people had forgotten the commandments and forsaken their promises. It is here that the unconditional nature of the covenant is explored. The situation begs the question: can the covenant bond be terminated? That is, will there be a divine divorce? Certainly God threatens to abandon Israel: so great is the anger. Yet he does not. In the face of the worst human depravity comes the most unconditional statement of divine mercy (Exodus 34:6-7) as well as the most emphatic demand concerning God’s uncompromising loyalty (Exodus 34:14). The occurrence of sin, destructive as that may be, does not imply an end to the covenant. Rather, it reinforces it: its privilege, its permanence, its exclusivity.

The fact that the possibility of failure is envisaged from the outset stands as a testimony to the fact that God understood human nature from the start, yet perseveres. Later in Israel’s history there is a rocky period resulting in a separation – the exile – but even this does not rupture the covenant. Although Jews would differ in their interpretation of the new covenant announced in Jeremiah 31:31,(6) Christians recognize in Christ an extension of the Sinai covenant to include non-Israelites.(7) Thus we find ourselves welcomed in to ‘the marriage made in heaven’ – that is, to the ongoing covenant between God and God’s people Israel. The New Testament describes the same covenant, now between Christ and his Church, the new Jerusalem. Consider the picture painted in the book of Revelation, describing the end times:

And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband… (Rev.21:2)

Human Covenants
There is no carefully-nuanced definition of human marriage in Scripture Yet the permanent, committed partnership of a man and a woman is clearly present, something regarded as a norm from Adam and Eve onwards, based on the pattern of creation (Genesis 2:24). It is taken for granted that this is the unit from which children are conceived (consider the domestic assumptions concerning the raising of children in Proverbs, for example), even though the modern concept of the nuclear family would have been alien. The problems associated with loss or failure in marriage are raised (the vulnerability of widows and orphans; the circumstances for divorce). The norm, however, is not something that is given any significant constructive exploration in Old or New Testament. Furthermore, it can be argued that both Jesus (by his example) and Paul (1 Cor. 7:32-35) challenges the very assumption of marriage in favor of promoting the ‘ministry’ of singleness.

Nevertheless, the concept of covenant for understanding the dynamics of committed relationship between two parties is well-developed in Scripture.(8) The term that was borrowed from the circumstances of everyday life – a treaty between senior and junior colleagues, a deal between two merchants – is applied to the fundamental relationship between God and Israel, and by extension, to Christ and his Church. It is the ‘marriage’ between God and God’s people that in turn becomes the context for the working-out of human covenants, which may take many forms, including marriage.(9)

As we have already explored above, a covenant represents a binding agreement between two otherwise-unrelated parties. The commitment is permanent and unconditional. It requires absolute loyalty (‘monogamy’). It is no private arrangement between the parties, but an oath formally established through a publicly recognized ritual, whereby the duties and privileges of kinship may be extended to another individual (or group). In this light, we may recognize how radically inclusive is the concept of covenant: enabling social ties beyond familial relationships, even extending to aliens.(10) The ritual involves spoken declarations, an expression of consent and the presence of witnesses under God.(11) Their task is to remind the two parties of their commitment, with an awareness of the opportunities and demands (the ‘blessings and curses’) that potentially ensue. Witnesses are those who then bear responsibility for recognizing and supporting the covenant in the community where it is to be lived out. Failure to keep up to the demands of covenant does not deny the existence of a covenant: a covenant is not dissolved by error or failure, only by death.

Christians have come to understand baptism as a covenant, and this example helpfully illustrates the way in which the biblical notion of covenant is appropriated in the Church. Baptism is the ceremony that marks the personal recognition and participation in the covenant of God with humanity, even though the conceptual linkage is not found directly in Scripture, it involves the making of promises, the demands of commitment, the presence of witnesses and the anticipation of blessing. Even though the ritual directly hears promises only from one side – from the baptized (or parents and Godparents on behalf of the baptized) – it nevertheless marks a covenant between two parties given that it recognizes the story of salvation whereby God has already made commitment to his people.

In the same way, covenant provides a theological backdrop for shaping life-long human commitments. The linkage in Scripture is clear for marriage in particular (Eph. 5:21-30), and may also be applied to other forms of human commitment. That is, that God’s covenant with his people provides the context within which we make covenant commitments one to another. A biblical perspective on human covenant recognizes the way in which, in our small corner, we seek to mirror and reflect the greatest covenant of all. If we love because Christ first loved us, so we can live in covenant because God in Christ first lives in covenant with us.

In the Old Testament God shows us what it means to make a covenant and keep it. Covenant becomes the means of growing in faithfulness, of living into the call to be ‘a priestly kingdom and a holy nation’ (Exodus.19:6). Jesus reaffirms this archetype. Although he does not use the term ‘covenant’ of marriage, in ruling out all divorce and remarriage, he makes obligatory for his followers the ideal of God’s covenant with Israel, in which God is faithful even when Israel is faithless.(12)

In other words, the call to discipleship in the Judeo-Christian tradition demands so shaping our lives that we become covenant-keepers. That shaping we may call spiritual formation: it happens through the habits of our lives in relation to God and neighbor. For Christians it is the natural – yet disciplined and necessary – response to baptism. Such discipleship, in the end, is not about what we do but who we are: where we fail and how we respond; how we see and where we are blind; what we give and where we resist; how we trust and how we are trustworthy. These are just the aspects covered, in the tradition of TEC, by the baptismal covenant. The sacrament of baptism is the Christian recognition and response to God’s covenant.

As in baptism, so with other forms of covenant. It is on the principle of imitatio dei (‘imitating God’ – for example, [Lev. 11:44, 19:2, 20:26), that human covenants are shaped to reflect the elements and characteristics of God’s covenant, and through them that we ourselves are shaped to reflect more fully the image of God. That is, also, that through them we strive to be a window through which others may more fully understand God’s covenant commitment and mercy.

This is the context in which I understand the gift of marriage. Scripture suggests it is the key context in which I may grow to understand how to live in covenant and thus grow into the reality of God’s ultimate covenant. Though we may describe other forms of covenant – the covenants between business partners or between Churches – these do not mirror the features of God’s covenant to the same extent. That which models an exclusive, permanent commitment of two parties represents the most direct, and personal, and particular outworking of the call to be covenant-keepers. Seen in this light, it seems to me unnecessary that the opportunity be confined only to conventional heterosexual marriage, even though I hesitate to use the term ‘marriage’ for any other kind of union. So long as it is done responsibly – as the marriage liturgy puts it, ‘not… unadvisedly or lightly, but reverently, deliberately…’ (BCP p.423) – it seems fitting to encourage all forms of covenantal relationship that seek to mirror and reflect the divine. Enabling God’s people to fulfill the covenant call to be God’s ‘priestly kingdom and holy nation’ is what ultimately matters; and this might most obviously include encouraging all who long to imitate God’s rich-but-costly pattern of covenant commitment.

This is the purpose and experience of those who are called to make monastic commitments in the setting of a religious community. As with the Sinai covenant and with the covenant of marriage, vows are taken in the presence of witnesses that are permanent and exclusive. The stakes are high: that is, the costs and benefits – the blessings and curses – are substantial. Yet we recognize here a high calling, and a means to holiness. That calling, and indeed the practices of holiness, require the community – the witnesses – who are charged with the responsibility of helping sustain the covenant they have witnessed in circumstances that intentionally limit the human options so as to discover the freedom of service to God. Brueggemann speaks of covenant relationships involving ‘revolutionary discipline, devotion and desire’.(13)

Whatever the context for the human covenants we may conceive – in baptism, in the partnership of two people, or in monastic vows – we are not at liberty to shape the nature and characteristics of God’s covenant. They are the givens – the graces – within which we exist as Christians, explored and presented in the biblical and ecclesial tradition in which we are planted. If we in our human relationships seek to inhabit that tradition and live up to our calling as the people of God, then the terms of our human covenantal commitments are similarly not negotiable. We may choose whether and with whom we partner: but the terms and conditions of that partnership – if it is to reflect God’s covenant – are not ours to negotiate. The self-giving cannot be quantified (unconditional and unending) while its locus is wholly defined and confined. As I say repeatedly to couples preparing for marriage, "You have to be crazy! You have no idea what you are letting yourselves in for." Covenant-making, in human terms, is a crazy idea. But it is not our idea: but God’s. Perhaps that is the only explanation for why so many strive for it.

The Rev. Dr. Jo Bailey Wells is Associate Professor of the Practice of Christian Ministry and Bible, and Director of Anglican Studies at Duke Divinity School in Durham, N.C. She is a priest of the Church of England.

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Marriage and sanctification

Today through Wednesday, Daily Episcopalian will feature two essays from Writings on Marriage, a recent book published by the Diocese of North Carolina. The first, which will be featured today and tomorrow is by Gene Rogers of the University of North Carolna at Greensboro, and the second, which will run Tuesday and Wednesday is by the Rev. Jo Bailey Wells, a priest in the Church of England who teaches at the Duke University Divinity School. We'll let Bishop Michael Curry offer the introduction:

Writings on Marriage, the journal of the Bishop's Task Force on Marriage, was envisioned and produced by Greg Jones as an appropriate format to respond to a resolution of the 193rd Convention of the Diocese of North Carolina calling for study and report on the theology of marriage and the relationship between church and state vis a vis marriage. I am deeply indebted to Greg, and to the task force members and the journal's contributors for their excellent work. My prayer is that it will be a resource for teaching and conversation among us a diocese, as a church, indeed, as a culture.

But my deeper prayer is that as we listen to Holy Scripture, to the wisdom of Christian tradition, to the stories of each of us in this conversation, the Stranger will walk with us and talk with us as he did centuries ago on a road between the city of Jerusalem and the village of Emmaus. May the conversation and journey continue.
Keep the faith,
+Michael B. Curry
Bishop of North Carolina

MARRIAGE AND SANCTIFICATION

By Gene Rogers

The consideration of marriage theologically raises many questions - but the obvious essential question is: "What at its core is marriage for Christians all about?" One might seek to find the answer in the various ritual forms for marriage across the Christian churches - though it would be difficult to settle on a single "essential" feature. For Catholics, it is essential that one not have been married before to someone still living. For Protestants not. For Catholics and Protestants alike, the essential moment of the sacrament is the exchange of vows. That moment does not occur in the Eastern Orthodox Order of Marriage, or of Crowning. Although an Orthodox couple express their intention to be married, they express that intention to the priest rather than to each other, and the priest marries them, rather than their marrying each other, by announcing that they are crowned. In Judaism, what is essential is the ketubah, the marriage contract signed by witnesses – although many Jewish weddings take place without the parties knowing much or much caring what the ketubah says, and with no intention of carrying out its more interesting conditions. Of course there are further particulars essential to Muslim, Hindu, Zoroastrian, pagan, and civil marriages. And yet, it seems, that very few if any of us who do not hold any of these different essentials would assert that couples married in any of these traditions are not truly married. So, while it is clearly impossible to speak universally about what marriage is - there does appear to be a family resemblance across the various forms of marriage.

Within the Christian tradition, to narrow the focus, there does appear to be a prominent feature of family resemblance among types of marriage, and I recognize that feature under the rubric of sanctification. Considering the theology of marriage in this way is particularly consistent with the tradition of the Orthodox Church, which regards marriage as a way of participating in the divine life not by way of sexual satisfaction but by way of ascetic self-denial for the sake of more desirable goods. Theologically understood, marriage is not primarily for the control of lust or for procreation. It is a discipline whereby we give ourselves to another for the sake of growing in holiness–for, more precisely, the sake of God.

In this respect marriage and monasticism are two forms of the same discipline, as the Orthodox writer Paul Evdokimov has argued. They are both ways of committing ourselves to others–a spouse or a monastic community–from whom we cannot easily escape. Both the monastic and the married give themselves over to be transformed by the perceptions of others; both seek to learn, over time, by the discipline of living with others something about how God perceives human beings.

Rowan Williams (1) has written, "Grace, for the Christian believer, is a transformation that depends in large part on knowing yourself to be seen in a certain way: as significant, as wanted. The whole story of creation, incarnation, and our incorporation into the fellowship of Christ's body tells us that God desires us, as if we were God, as if we were that unconditional response to God's giving that God's [Son] makes in the life of the Trinity. We are created [and we marry] so that we may be caught up in this, so that we may grow into the wholehearted love of God by learning that God loves us as God loves God." (2). Like all forms of ascetism, this is a high-risk endeavor. It can expose the worst in people–so that it can be healed.

Sexuality, in short, is for sanctification, that is, for God. It is to be a means by which God catches human beings up into the community of God's Spirit and the identity of God's child. Monogamy and monasticism are two ways of embodying features of the triune life in which God initiates, responds to and celebrates love. Monasticism is for people who find a bodily, sexual sanctification first and foremost in the desirous perception of God. Marriage is for people who find themselves transformed by the desirous perception of another human being made in God's image. In a marital or monastic community, the parties commit themselves to practicing faith, hope and charity in a situation in which those virtues get plenty of opportunity to be exercised.

Marriage and monasticism are two ways in which Christians make their bodies fuller of meaning by donating them to concentric communities with an other and others. The narrower community is that of the spouses or the brothers/sisters. Larger ones include the local congregation, the witnesses at a wedding or a taking of final vows, the town, the Church, and the whole human race. But the most embracing community of all is that which it is the goal of both marriage and monasticism to promote, however distantly, their members growing inclusion, in this life and the next: the community of the Trinitarian life. Here it is marriage that is the root metaphor from which monasticism grows. For Jesus says, "the kingdom of heaven is like a father who gives a wedding feast for his son."(Mw 22:2) And marriage analogies abound in Christian texts and practices for the relationship of the human community with God. Thus we read:

• "I will betroth you to me forever...I will betroth you to me in faithfulness; and you shall know [who I am]." (Hosea 2.19a-20)

• "Why do [others] fast, but your disciples do not fast?" And Jesus said to them, "Can the wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them?" (Matthew 9.14)

• "Then the kingdom of heaven shall be compared to ten maidens who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom." (Matthew 25.1)

• "Hallelujah! For the Lord our God the Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready...Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb." (Revelation 19.6-9)


Throughout the Christian tradition, in many times and places, what you might call an analogia nuptialis is productive of much theology. As Karl Barth has said, "Because the election of Israel is real, there is such a thing as love and marriage." That is, God's love for God's people is the prime analogate, which marriage is to represent. Not only Catholics, but the Orthodox and even Protestants practice the analogia nuptialis.

The paradigm case of the analogia nuptialis is Jesus' eucharistic remark, "this is my body, given for you." It is Jesus' self-giving that the married and the monastic both imitate in institutional form. That self-giving is at once a celebration, a wedding feast, and, under separable conditions of finitude and sin, a sacrifice. Both because marriage and monasticism are meant to sanctify, and because they imitate the eucharistic sacrifice of Jesus, they are essentially ascetic practices. That, indeed, is one of the two main things that make marriage and monasticism two forms of the same practice. First, they celebrate community; second, they practice asceticism - the giving up of less significant goods to gain more significant ones, the pearl of great price.

True asceticism is not a denial but a use, even a heightening of desire. Jesus did not give up his life from lack of desire, but from the intensity of it: "God so loved the world." (Jn 3.16) Jesus did not descend from the cross, because he desired solidarity with the thief, because he so loved the thief: "This day you will be with me in paradise." (Lk 23.39-43)

The choice between marriage and monasticism depends on which leads to the right sort of vulnerability that will change the human being for the good. It is about the right sort of vulnerability before the face of what sort of other. "Grace," Rowan Williams has written, "is a transformation that depends on being perceived in a certain way, as desired, as wanted." The transformative perception par excellence is the one by which God perceives us as God would have us be. God sees Christ in us, that we may change. In the next life, we enjoy the beatific vision, according to Aquinas, not by the power of the one seeing, but by the power of the One seen – by God's causative perception of us. (Summa 1, 12, 13) People who find bodily satisfaction in God's loving perception of them, who can place their bodily selves in God's sight for transformation into God's child, may be called to the monastery. Other people need the focus of a single human other for transformation; the one who, over time, loves them into growth, exposing their faults so that they may be healed. Given human sinfulness, this transformation is risky. To have the best chance of success - to be most hopeful and patient - Christians have traditionally believed that it needs singleness of focus, support of the community, and the promise of a lifetime. For this reason, the Church affirms marriage to be, at the very least, the public and solemn covenant between these persons made in the presence of God and before the nuptial witnesses, the Christian community, and the public community beyond.

Turning again to Matthew's Gospel,

"Jesus spoke to them in parables, saying, 'The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a marriage feast to his son, sent his servants to call those who were invited to the marriage feast; but they would not come...Then he said to his servants...'Go therefore to the thoroughfares, and invite to the marriage feast as many as you find.' And those servants went out into the streets and gathered all whom they found, both bad and good; so the wedding hall was filled with guests. But when the king came in to look at the guests, he saw there a man who had no wedding garment; and he said to him, 'Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding garment?' And he was speechless. Then the king said to the attendants, 'Bind him hand and foot, and cast him out into the outer darkness; there men will weep and gnash their teeth.'"(Mt 22,1-3.9-13)
The parable reminds us that the Christian community must respect and celebrate how the Holy Spirit sanctifies in a public, committed, interpersonal, and life-long way: in concrete, marriage-like practices, ascetic practices, disciplines – "the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus" (Rom 8.2) – that lead the parties, Christians would say, into the sacrificial and glorious marriage of God and God's people. The marriage of God and God's people – Christ's donation of his body to be for others – ramifies in diverse ways through Christian practices, in marriage, in monastics in community, and in the faithful baptized gathered as one in eucharistic fellowship. Dr. Eugene F. Rogers, Jr. is Professor of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. Among his published works, Rogers edited Theology and Sexuality, Blackwell Readings in Modern Theology (Blackwell, 2002) and authored Sexuality and the Christian Body (Wiley-Blackwell, 1999).

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Absent without leaving

By Andrew Gerns

In the first of seven meetings around the Diocese of Albany, the Times-Union reports a statement by Bishop William Love that is very telling. He said that the militantly conservative stance of the diocesan leadership is justified because parishes that might have broken away from the Diocese (and the Episcopal Church) have not. Albany, he says, is in contact with "all of the Anglican Communion."

What part of the Anglican Communion is Albany in contact with that the rest of the Episcopal Church is not? Presumably provinces that have otherwise crossed-borders to “rescue” congregations from the oppression and heresy that they say is the Episcopal Church today. Maybe Albany is in contact with former Episcopalians who have formed their own denomination?

One hears out of this statement the idea that there may be another tack for conservative dioceses who are opposed to the ordination of gays and lesbians and see themselves as holding the line against interpretations of the Gospel that grieve them: a strategy of non-participation.

Bishop Mark Lawrence of South Carolina says that he is considering a position of withdrawal from participation in the Episcopal Church but not from the Church itself:

In our present situation some would counsel us that it is past time to cut our moorings from The Episcopal Church and take refuge in a harbor without the pluralism and false teachings that surround us in both the secular culture and within our Church; others speak to us of the need for patience, to “let the Instruments of Unity do their work”—that now is not yet the time to act. Still others seem paralyzed; though no less distressed than us by the developments within our Church, they seem to take a posture of insular denial of what is inexorably coming upon us all. While I have no immediate solution to the challenges we face—it is certainly neither a hasty departure nor a paralyzed passivity I counsel. Either of these I believe, regardless of what godly wisdom they may be for others, would be for us a false peace and a “fatal security” which in time (and brief at that) would only betray us. Others in their given circumstances must do what they believe God has called them to do.

Lawrence along with the Standing Committee of the proposes that the Diocesan Convention consider:

… a resolution … that this diocese begin withdrawing from all bodies of governance of TEC that have assented to actions contrary to Holy Scripture; the doctrine, discipline and worship of Christ as this church has received them; the resolutions of Lambeth which have expressed the mind of the Communion; the Book of Common Prayer (p.422-423) and the Constitution & Canons of TEC (Canon 18:1.2.b) until such bodies show a willingness to repent of such actions. Let no one think this is a denial of the vows a priest or bishop makes to participate in the councils of governance. This is not a flight into isolation; nor is it an abandonment of duty, but the protest of conscience.

Instead of attempting to remove the diocese from the Episcopal Church, Lawrence proposes non-participation as a “protest” using language that combines civil disobedience (we will do this until the Episcopal Church repents) and psychology (we are creating boundaries). What it really means is a decision to isolate.

This approach undercuts somewhat the claims of ACNA to be an Anglican Province because while it aides and abets the claim that the Episcopal Church has gone down the path of heresy and revision, it also understands that in this country a diocese can only be a member of the Anglican Communion through the Episcopal Church. It also assumes that ACNA is a separate denomination that is not in and of itself a successor to the Episcopal Church… a denomination that South Carolina will not join.

This approach is rather different from the position articulated by Bishop Edward Little of Northern Indiana who writes in Christianity Today:


Nor are our divisions as clear-cut as they may seem. It is not the case, in the Episcopal Church or in any other, that you've got believers on one side and heretics (or apostates) on the other. I know many in my church who love Jesus, confess him as Lord and Savior, believe the articles of the Christian faith as summarized in the Apostles' and Nicene Creeds, and seek to follow Jesus in costly ways—and who affirm the decisions of the 2003 General Convention. As a matter of principle, when people claim to be disciples of Jesus, I will treat them as brothers and sisters in Christ, Bishop Gene Robinson among them. He is not only a colleague; I count him as a friend and fellow pilgrim. I will commit myself to him and to them, even when I am convinced that they are wrong. I will seek to manifest a godly forbearance and ask that they do the same toward me.

On the contrary, Bishop Lawrence proposes a separation-without-leaving precisely because he sees the church as dividing up between believer and heretic. He sees the need to name and isolate the heresy he sees:


This calls for a bold response.” It is not in my opinion the right action for this diocese to retreat from a thorough engagement with this destructive “new” gospel. As the prophet Ezekiel was called by the Lord to be a Watchman, to sound the alarm of judgment—to warn Israel to turn from her wickedness and live. We are called to speak forthrightly to The Episcopal Church and others, but even more specifically to the thousands of everyday Episcopalians who do not yet know the fullness of this present cultural captivity of the Church. Clearly this is not about the virtue of being “excluding”; it is about being rightly discerning about what is morally and spiritually appropriate.

The idea that Lawrence is proposing (and I believe Love of Albany will also attempt) is to maintain just enough membership links to be considered apart of the Episcopal Church but no more.

The choice of non-participation recognizes that outright secession would not work: it would result in expensive and lengthy court battles, with the likely loss of their physical assets.

At the same time, it is still based on an understanding of the diocese as a more or less independent entity. To choose non-participation is to say, in effect, to the rest of us “I have no need of you.”

South Carolina and other Dioceses considering this course must tread carefully. To steer this course, their diocesan conventions must avoid passing provocative legislation claiming to renounce or interfere with the authority of General Convention or the Presiding Bishop. Their bishops must avoid saying words or doing actions that makes it appear as if they have renounced their orders in the Episcopal Church, such as preventing the visit of the PB to their diocese, unilaterally claiming another Primate as their own nor formally aligning with a foreign province in a way that creates a new denomination.

A non-participating diocese may develop partner relationships with other Anglican dioceses in the Communion (as many participating dioceses have done) and even sign on to some kind of Anglican Covenant, if one ever materializes, with or without the rest of the Episcopal Church. The fact that a lone signature on such a document may not mean anything either legally or globally is irrelevant, because it would symbolize where the non-participating diocese "stands."

If these dioceses choose the tack of non-participation without leaving then there may be little 815 or anyone else—including the moderates and progressives in their own dioceses—can do about this.

This approach does not mean that there would an absence of provocative actions or words. A bishop of a "non-participating" diocese might show up at an ACNA function, for example. But in itself, this means nothing. A Bishop showing up at an ACNA function may be no more significant than an Episcopal bishop showing up at a Lutheran or Roman Catholic or some ecumenical function. Bishops, clergy and lay-leaders may say harmful or hurtful things about the Episcopal Church in the press. This approach would not lessen the division nor promote dialogue, but it falls short of outright schism.

A non-participating diocese would not pay their "asking" nor give money to any Episcopal organization like ERD or ECW that they believed concurs with decisions of General Convention they don’t like. They would not send representatives to these groups nor participate in the committees of General Convention. This would be disappointing, but since The Episcopal Church has never linked participation to paying a fair share of the "asking" nor is participation on the councils of the church a prerequisite to anything, these actions would not by themselves constitute renunciation.

It would take a lot of fortitude to maintain a non-participating status. The leadership in such a diocese would have to be careful not to get to cocky or impulsive on the one hand, and to deal with a loneliness and self-imposed isolation on the other.

They would also choose to isolate themselves from the rest of the Episcopal Church that they have chosen not to leave: they would lose connection with moderate and moderate-t- conservative dioceses that remain participatory. They would attract to themselves clergy who are passionate for what could become a narrower and narrower view of the Gospel and they would squelch the voices and inquiry of laity who have a broader view of church and mission than their leaders. Doctrinal enforcement would become an issue that could further dampen a dynamic common life and mission. They might network with other non-participating dioceses but before long this would be like phone calls between silos. It would be hard to avoid become self-absorbed and parochial in such an environment.

This approach is not new. Three of the dioceses that attempted to leave for a new denomination with all their property and assets to another province—Fort Worth, San Joaquin and Quincy—also took a non-participating stance after the ordination of women. The Episcopal Church allowed this under a “conscience clause” but after three decades of non-participation, the leadership could no longer contain themselves nor hold the line and attempted to bolt. In Pittsburgh, non-participation led to a kind of myopia that assumed that their perspective was more widely held than it turned out to be. The lessons of these non-participating dioceses ought to provide a sobering example to South Carolina, Albany and others considering staying but not participating.

But as long as the Bishops shows up where they are (minimally) supposed to, and as long as their Standing Committees do the barest canonical essentials of their jobs, as long as the Diocese send deputies to General Convention, and as long as no Bishop, diocesan convention or parish says "I am no longer Episcopalian", then there is no reason to consider the bishop or diocese as having left the Episcopal Church.

Absent maybe, but not departed.

The Rev. Canon Andrew Gerns is the rector of Trinity Church, Easton, Pa., AND chair of the Evangelism Commission of the Diocese of Bethlehem. He keeps the blogs Andrew Plus and Share the Bread.

The Communion in summer, on the shores of Maine

By Heidi Shott

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Purity and the necessary absense of honesty

By Adrian Worsfold

Episcopal Café has reported that Rev. Kevin Genpo Thew Forrester will not become a bishop. According to Frank Lockwood of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, on his Bible Belt Blogger blog, 56 standing committees have been counted saying no and Kevin Forrester needs a majority of 110. Bishops have been more coy about their views but the standing committees are crucial anyway. There is still the possibility that some will change their mind before the 120-day voting period ends in July but this seems unlikely.

Kevin Forrester has faced criticism ever since he was elected to be bishop as the only candidate in Northern Michigan. That itself drew criticism. The first actual criticism of the theological and ecclesiastical right was that he was a potential 'Buddhist bishop', whereas his lay ordination within Buddhism and that name Genpo was a reflection of the seriousness of his practice. This itself proved not to be enough to sway opinion. The criticism of more effect centered around his apparent doctrinal changes that were implied or made explicit in baptismal, creedal and Easter liturgical changes.

Basically, Kevin Forrester has been a convenient way to show that The Episcopal Church is still 'orthodox' and one must wonder how many standing committees have taken advantage of the evidence of liturgical changes to prevent his bishop-ing to make the wider point. A priest with the same views as Forrester, but who goes on using the same given materials, is far more likely to be accepted for elevation. The point would be made that the public continues to worship in the same way, and also if a minister is invalid in any sense, the frozen liturgy means that his or her invalidity is not effective.

I have used some of Kevin Forrester's liturgical material, but I can because I did it in a Unitarian church. I was pushing my luck a bit actually in a Christocentric direction to do it, but I could see why it might be awkward in an orthodox setting.

Kevin Forrester is a person of honesty and integrity. He is not alone in his views, but he just makes them more explicit and more open and he wants to use them, not hide them. But unfortunately, people like him (and I would add me) who make our views known before we go towards any selection process will get stopped at some point, whereas those who keep their views to themselves can, of course, be selected. Freedom comes with retirement, for such people. Some people, of course, change in office, so future preferment is prevented if they are open and they either stagnate or go off on some sideline activity.

Some people who hide their true views, or express them within the complexities of theological talk (sounds like one thing but means another) will say they make a necessary compromise, because of a commitment to the wider ideals of their Church and of course there is a collective line to obey, rather like being in cabinet government or in a political party (and look what happens, as at present in the UK, when discipline deserts and different tendencies become far too obvious). The problem is that this encourages duplicity within the very profession where duplicity ought to be absent.

Curiously, my own justification for an Anglican way is more Buddhist than Christian, that the idea of a spiritual discipline via regular sharing liturgically is to build oneself towards a hoped for condition of selflessness and love to the other. I can't tell you about any success in this, and I have no measuring equipment of any accuracy. I bet I am more Buddhist about this dharma approach than Kevin Forrester. I do not have any belief in the supernatural, and get fed up with the bizarreness of a statement about what God might be doing in my life or anyone else’s. I am of course guilty of using texts far more conservative than my own beliefs, though I think to some degree this is an inevitable necessity (even when rewriting takes place: I bet Kevin Forrester has the same difficulty - but the reasoning and precedence for this within a liberal community was set by the English theologian James Martineau). I do not believe that Jesus was God in any particular sense (the best is that he is a useful exemplar) and nor do I believe in a unique objective resurrection. He is crucified because of a Roman regime rather than anything particular that he has done. I'm a thoroughly liberal postmodern, having to dredge texts from the past to be useful spiritual texts, but having pretty much a social anthropological and psychological view on the functioning of religion.

I don't seek to impose my views on anyone, but I express them. It is good that there are a scattering of active priests who hold similar views in the Church of England and other denominations (I know of some of them), but we don't hear from them very often and some arrived at such views as a result of theological training and continued study. There are some retired priests and bishops with views similar and roughly similar to very liberal and postmodern views in the British Isles. It would be good to have one or two active, in employment and open, but it seems not to be so within the Anglican boundary, and seems not to be so in the United States Episcopal Church too. Bishop Spong is retired too, and his manifesto and any changes of effect would prevent him getting consents too.

So I say, you can use this refusal to consent in battles against the so called self-defined orthodox - let's call them ultra-orthodox for clarity and all their web chatter. Purity is now demonstrated, but purity with the pollution of a necessary absense of honesty.

It is my view that creedal religion encourages dishonesty, though not that it is exclusive in having dishonesty. But it does, and here has been a demonstration.

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

Haiti: Sustaining hope amidst squalor

By Matt Gobush

Mention Haiti and images of overcrowded shantytowns, fleeing boatpeople or voodoo dolls come to mind. To borrow from Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, it is a land that has been seen by Americans “through a glass, darkly” ever since rebellious slaves established the world’s first black republic there more than two hundred years ago.

Many would be surprised to learn, however, that Haiti is home to the largest and, by some measures, the strongest diocese within the Episcopal Church. This certainly came as a surprise to me when I accompanied Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori on her pastoral visit to the Diocese of Haiti last November. Our five-day pilgrimage, in fact, was filled with the unexpected.

Not unexpected were the impoverished conditions we saw during our trip. Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, with 80 percent of its seven million citizens struggling to survive on less than two dollars a day. Over half of Haitians are illiterate and 80 percent unemployed. About 42 percent of Haitian children under age five are malnourished, and nearly all are medically underserved, with only one doctor available for every 10,000 citizens.

These grim figures are reflected in the sad images that greeted us when we arrived: ravines honeycombed with cinder block slums; gnarled streets choked with traffic and littered with debris; roadside landfills crawling with scavenging children and farm animals; hillsides shorn of vegetation and carved by primitive farm tools; and dilapidated bridges are puddled with floodwaters from raging rivers that recently submerged them.

One would expect a dispirited people and dysfunctional church to inhabit a country in such desperate straits. Our traveling party discovered, however, that despite history’s hardships, hope springs eternal among the Haitian people, and the Spirit dwells within the Episcopal diocese there. Throughout our trip, we bore unexpected witness to Haiti’s proud heritage, intrepid spirit and deep faith.

These qualities have helped make the Diocese of Haiti one of the crown jewels of our communion. Although the Episcopal Church is mostly comprised of congregations within the United States, it is truly an international church, with dioceses found from Honduras to Europe, Hong Kong to Haiti. Haiti is the largest diocese overall, ministering to more souls and administering more institutions than any other.

Education has been the diocese’s primary ministry since it was founded in 1861 by Bishop James Theodore Holly, a native of Washington, D.C., who said, “To use the Bible and Prayer Book, one at least must know how to read.” In a country where public schools serve only 15 percent of the youth, the Episcopal Church plays a crucial role in providing young Haitians with knowledge, skills, and Christian education to find gainful employment and reinvest in their native country. The diocese currently manages 254 schools educating more than 80,000 young people. There are nearly two educational institutions for every congregation – a ratio second to none throughout the entire Church.

The diocese performs the Church’s healing ministry in Haiti through numerous health clinics and medical facilities, including the nation’s only hospital and school devoted to handicapped children, and its first nursing school, which will graduate its inaugural class next year. God’s glory is also reflected in the ministry of the Holy Trinity Philharmonic Orchestra, the pride of Haiti’s music community.

The Episcopal Church’s success in Haiti is due to its strong leadership, vital partnerships with dioceses in the United States, and unique standing in Haitian society. Its clear leadership structure enables it to be a responsive and responsible partner with the government and non-governmental organizations; its autonomy gives it the local latitude to effectively address Haiti’s unique challenges. As a result, as President Rene Preval noted in his meeting with our group, the “church often has greater credibility than the state.”

Haiti’s bishop, the Right Rev. Jean Zache Duracin, makes clear that the diocese’s success is not possible without the prayers, partnerships and financial support of numerous congregations within the wider church. Support from the U.S. government is also crucial to enabling the people of Haiti to regain their footing after a year in which food riots forced the prime minister to resign and four tropical storms wreaked havoc on the economy. Cancellation of Haiti’s $1.3 billion in debt to international lenders and to wealthy countries (including about $20 million in bilateral loans to the U.S. Government) is a moral and economic imperative. Extension of the H.O.P.E. Act providing trade preferences for Haitian exports would also help.

The “glass” Paul refers to in his epistle is not a window, but a mirror. As I traveled through Haiti and the darkness lifted, I realized Episcopalians throughout our church could learn from Haiti – about the blessing of faith and the power of communion to achieve good works during even the most challenges times. It is a lesson we should all reflect upon.

Matt Gobush is a parishioner of Christ Church Georgetown and serves on the Episcopal Church’s Standing Commission for Anglican and International Peace with Justice Concerns. This essay appears in the January/February issue of Washington Window.

Church property: let go with love

By George Clifford

In private conversations, Episcopal Church (TEC) leaders from various dioceses, both lay and clerical, tell me that two important reasons for lawsuits to retain title to the property of parishes and dioceses that wish to disaffiliate with TEC are fairness to the remnant that remains faithful to TEC and to deter other parishes from leaving. At first blush, those rationales may appear to justify TEC filing the lawsuits. However, neither rationale withstands careful scrutiny from a Christian perspective.

Quite simply, Christianity is about grace and love. For we who seek to follow Jesus, grace should take precedence over law. TEC operates through democratic processes. When a majority of a parish (or a diocese) votes to leave TEC, those who leave should recognize that the property belongs to TEC and, if they wish to have the property, offer to purchase it at fair market value. However, if those who wish to leave insist on keeping the property, grace demands that we accept that selfish decision rather than holding to the letter of the law. Although TEC may likely prevail in the courts, it will have further alienated the disaffected, turned its focus away from the gospel imperative, and wasted precious resources on an issue that is ultimately of little importance for God's business.

This choice may seem unfair to the minority who wish to remain with TEC but is gracious towards the larger number that decided to leave as well as to those whom God's love will touch because of TEC’s focus and resources invested in mission rather than legal actions. For example, the Diocese of Virginia has probably expended more than $1 million in lawsuits to retain the property of a number of parishes that recently voted to leave. The Diocese recently obtained a $2 million line of credit to further finance those suits. Although $30 million to $40 million of property is at stake, for those $3 million, and the countless hours of time the suits will require from bishops, priests, and laity, the Diocese of Virginia could fund several new missions to meet the needs of those who wish to remain and others. Successfully retaining large buildings for small congregations by winning the suits will burden those congregations with excessive overhead and probably instill a maintenance rather than missionary orientation.

Love between consenting adults does not seek to manipulate by using incentives or disincentives. Love wants what is best for the other, a choice that only the other can make. In human relationships, the unrequited lover who genuinely loves will sadly but freely permit his/her beloved to choose another. The same standard should apply to the community of God's people known as TEC.

Individuals who vote to separate from TEC are consenting adults. By so voting, they spurn TEC’s love for them. TEC may not have always communicated its love for those who vote to separate with sufficient ardor, frequency, or effectiveness. TEC may have failed to provide those who vote to separate with a leader or leaders committed to TEC’s vision of God's inclusive love. Representatives from other Churches in the Anglican Communion may have mischaracterized recent events within TEC or the Communion, seeking to fragment TEC. These representatives may have funded or employed manipulative tactics to encourage votes for disaffiliation. None of that diminishes the demand of our Baptismal Covenant in the Book of Common Prayer to “respect the dignity of every human being.”

Individuals, parishes, and dioceses that choose to leave TEC further fracture the Church’s already badly broken unity. Departures spiritually weaken TEC, leaving us bereft of the unique gifts and contributions that those who depart bring to the Church. After all, people, not physical plants or financial funds, are the Church’s most important resource.

Nevertheless, departures are not without precedent. The most notable Anglican precedent was the excommunication of the Church of England by the Church of Rome. Although this departure was not voluntary, the English knew that failing to alter their course would most likely force the Pope to act. King Henry seized excommunication as an opportunity to expropriate church property, disestablish monasteries, etc. Reform-minded clergy similarly saw a window of opportunity to make what they perceived as badly needed changes to liturgy and canon law. Following the American Revolution, Anglicans in the United States had to choose between swearing allegiance to the British crown and becoming U.S. citizens. If some had not chosen the latter course, TEC would probably not exist. Those who chose to depart from the Church of England took title to the Church’s property in the U.S. without paying compensation to the Church of England.

Anglicans from other provinces who have crossed jurisdictional lines to organize missions, receive parishes, or ordain clergy in the United States have certainly violated existing Anglican Communion structure and protocols. As much as I find such activities reprehensible, those activities do not result in those provinces or individuals losing their identity as members of the Anglican Communion. Likewise, those who leave TEC when accepted by a non-TEC diocese or another province do not cease to be either Christian or members of the Anglican Communion.

Establishing procedures for an orderly transfer of property and funds when a TEC parish or diocese votes to affiliate with another constituent member of the Anglican Communion and refuses to honor TEC’s right to the property will represent a costly gift of love. That gracious gift, whether it costs tens of thousands of tens of millions of dollars, honors and respects the dignity of those who have chosen to depart. That gift also emulates God's great gift of love in Jesus, a gift given in the full knowledge that it would be costly.

Sometimes, an unrequited lover’s beloved will desire, in retrospect, the gift of love that he or she earlier spurned. If that should happen among those who have chosen to depart from TEC, or who may do so in the future, then TEC’s gracious love in allowing them to go may inspire hope of a warm homecoming à la the parable of the prodigal son. To let go reluctantly and unwillingly of the beloved who spurns our love unintentionally sends the opposite message. God calls us to value persons, not property. Those leaving TEC should go with God's blessing and ours, albeit a blessing given with tears of sadness. We who remain must remain faithful to our calling and understanding of God's Word, treating all persons – members of TEC and others – with the dignity and respect due a child of God.

The Rev. George Clifford, Diocese of North Carolina, served as a Navy chaplain for twenty-four years, with tours at sea, with the Marine Corps, on the staff of the Chief of Chaplains, on exchange with the Royal Navy in London, as the senior Protestant chaplain at the Naval Academy, and as the senior chaplain at the Naval Postgraduate School.

As we await a decision

By Robert L. McCan

Two trials occurred in Rooms 5-E and 5-D of the Fairfax County Circuit Court of Virginia building and ran for five days, ending on Tuesday, November 20, 2007. The court judge, Randy I. Bellows, insisted that theological issues be excluded, not wanting to enter the “thicket” of differences at that level but preferring to focus on the legal question of whether former Diocese of Virginia congregations now composing part of the Convocation of Anglicans in North America (CANA) “divided” from The Episcopal Church or was alienated and withdrew.

The stakes are high. Over $30,000,000 in property will be awarded the winning side, or divided in a manner determined by the judge. Perhaps even larger issues are being sorted out for The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion. Can parishes and/or dioceses break away or “separate” from The Episcopal Church and keep the keys and the chalice? By what logic can CANA, composed of former Episcopal parishes, or other similar splinter groups, legally affiliate with an Anglican Church in another part of the world? Is the principle of geographic integrity of a diocese to be upheld or are unsupervised church plantings and competitive Anglican structures to be approved by the Archbishop of Canterbury in an ecclesiastical “free market” environment?

Eleven parishes are involved in the two trials which followed each other and which are to be merged into a single verdict. In fact, the two trials are a consolidation of 22 separate court cases.

CANA brought the first trial at the urging of the breakaway Falls Church Anglican congregation. The parish faced a financing problem. They made plans to build a large complex of facilities on a strip mall they had purchased across the street from the historic building, additions and grounds. The purchase was made several years ago when they were still a functioning parish in the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia. The price tag for new facilities is $14 million. The parish is reported to have $5 million in the bank, carefully excluded from operating church funds, in case The Episcopal Church should be awarded the assets. But when the parish explored the financing of $9 million they learned that mortgage money was not available until a decision was reached on property ownership. Hence the immediate occasion for their lawsuit.

The first trial asks the judge to require The Episcopal Church to relinquish ownership of the property at each of the eleven parishes if by majority vote each decided to “separate” from its historic roots and join the Anglican Communion.

Testimony focused on an obscure law passed by the Virginia General Assembly in 1867, known as the “Virginia Religious Freedom Act.” That law stated that when there is a denominational “division” local congregations may decide by majority vote with which side to affiliate. CANA’s case hinges on whether their interpretation of that law applies to the current situation. They claim the word “division” is key and they submitted 174 documents to buttress their case.

In the second trial The Episcopal Church brought a counter suit against CANA. Its purpose is to recover the property, which it alleges, belongs to The Episcopal Church and is being unlawfully occupied by CANA congregations.

A bit of history is needed to better understand the case for CANA. The 1867 statute is known as “57-9” because the Virginia Code, Section 57-9 contains the law in question. John Baldwin of Augusta County was Speaker of the Virginia House. He was also an attorney and a Methodist. There were 18 Methodist congregations in Augusta County that wanted to “separate” from one side of a divided Methodist Church following the Civil War and join the other side. After pushing the law through the state legislature Baldwin brought the case that gave congregations the right to keep their property when a majority of members voted to “divide,” leaving one branch for the other. In the end, 29 Methodist congregations in Virginia took advantage of the law in that era.

CANA called two experts, reputable scholars, one being Professor Mark Valeri of Union Theological Seminary in Richmond, Virginia. Most of his testimony related to Methodists, Baptists and Presbyterians, the three largest Protestant denominations in the nineteenth century in the south, with emphasis on the Presbyterians, his own denomination. To the writer it appeared that he did a computer search in the church history books, in newspapers and in church periodicals, using the word “divided” to pull up references. The word was used often to describe multiple “splits” in each denomination, the most obvious being the separations caused by the Civil War.

Then came the question as to whether The Episcopal Church had endured such “divisions.” The scholar pointed to a “division” within The Episcopal Church during the Civil War. He testified that no bishops or dioceses in the south attended General Convention. Indeed, dioceses in the south formed their own constitution and canons and even consecrated a new bishop.

Dr. Ian Douglas, a professor at the Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, Mass., was an expert witness for The Episcopal Church. He explained that The Episcopal Church has never had a hostile “division.” For him, there are two meanings of the word “division,” one popular and the other technical or legal. Any dispute leading to alienation and separation is often called a “division” in popular parlance. However, technically, according to the constitution and canons of the Church, a “division” can only occur when voted by General Convention, according to rules set forth in governing structures.

CANA tried to show that the Diocese of Virginia had divided into three dioceses within the state. However, Professor Douglas explained this was a proper division because the Church approved. Likewise, several countries divided from the national church. For example, Mexico divided and became a national church known as a Province. Again, this was decided in an orderly fashion with the consent of the entire Church.

Dr. Douglas responded to the claim that The Episcopal Church “divided” during the Civil War. He pointed out that it was physically impossible for church people in the south to travel north for General Convention during the war. He agreed that sentiment in the church of the south favored separation at that time. However, The Episcopal Church in the north never approved a division and the south was welcomed back to General Convention when the war ended.

Dr. Douglas sought to make the case that it is impossible for CANA churches to “divide” by separating. The moment they declare their independence, the clergy violate their ordination vows; the moment the vestries vote to leave The Episcopal Church they violate their vows as members of vestries to be faithful to The Episcopal Church. Likewise a bishop and a diocese violate their prescribed commitment to the national church the moment they attempt to revise their constitution to separate. It is not possible for them to “separate” because the law that governs vestries, clergy and bishops requires approval of the Church before a division can be legal.

Professor Douglas characterized the Anglican Communion, on the other hand, as “a family of Churches.” He contended that members of a family may be alienated for a time but they are always members of the family at the deepest level. An attorney for CANA tried to establish a link between CANA and the Anglican Communion and suggested that the “Instruments of Communion” could be used to expel the American Church from the Communion. Professor Douglas conceded that there has been an alienation that may lead to a temporary formal separation for some members of “the family.” He pointed out, however, that within The Episcopal Church there is a formal legal link of one body to another—the parish to the diocese and the diocese to The Episcopal Church at the national level. However, there is no such linkage to the Anglican Communion but only informal ties based on tradition, shared history and liturgy. CANA hinted that the Anglican Communion is a global confessional church with established “orthodox” doctrinal positions that the Instruments of Communion have a right to enforce.

CANA was asked about its place in the Anglican Communion. The Rt. Rev. Martyn Minns, formerly rector at Truro parish in Fairfax City, explained that they are now attached by his consecration and by a formal affiliation of the parishes to the Anglican Church in Nigeria. Their participation in the Anglican Communion is by way of their linkage with Nigeria. When asked by counsel for The Episcopal Church, Bishop Minns acknowledged that he has not yet been invited to The Lambeth Conference, held every ten years and scheduled for 2008.

Attorneys for The Episcopal Church contended that Judge Bellows should take into account the hierarchy of the parish, the diocese and the national church. CANA denied that this linkage is essential as ultimately binding if for sufficient reason they feel a gospel imperative to separate.

Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori testified by way of a televised deposition that lasted some 54 minutes. She was courteous yet clear in her conviction that CANA congregations had no right to leave the Church and take the property. When pressed to offer some negotiated settlement on property she was clear that The Episcopal Church would not negotiate with a church from another country coming into a diocese and competing with that established diocese. Asked to explain, she stated this violated current and ancient practice. Polity in all parts of the Anglican world has been for a bishop in one area to get permission from the bishop in another before going there to perform any type of ministerial function. She saw the establishment of parallel parishes and their vocal criticism of The Episcopal Church as confusing to the public and harmful to the church.

Bishop Jefferts Schori was reminded that she had signed the statement of the Primates at the Dar es Salaam meeting. It required The Episcopal Church to repent and pledge to renounce the practice of consecrating homosexual bishops and blessing same-gender “unions” or marriages. She responded that she signed to indicate that the statement represented what transpired. She indicated that she had no authority to bind the bishops or The Episcopal Church to such a statement.

Finally, when asked how she could support legal action against CANA churches when the Primates and the Archbishop of Canterbury had urged the church to settle disputes over church property within the church rather than through the courts, she responded, “I have a duty to protect the assets and the integrity of The Episcopal Church.”

Judge Bellows indicated on several occasions that he would go to great lengths not to give any indication as to how he would decide the case. He was determined, he said, to give latitude to each side in order for each to fully present its case. However, he was also eager, he indicated, to keep testimony relevant; he wanted to complete the case within a reasonable time period. On two occasions the lead attorney for The Episcopal Church, Bradfute W. Davenport surprised the court by his brevity. An hour was allotted before lunch on the first day for his opening statement. He took seven minutes, laid out the case in simple, direct terms and sat down. We had an early lunch the first day.

The other occasion was on the last day when Bishop Peter James Lee of the Diocese of Virginia took the stand. He had attended the prior day, waiting to testify. When he finally took the stand the excitement and tension reached a crescendo. CANA members filled the courtroom. Many of the CANA attorneys, it could be observed, had notebooks filled with questions for the cross-examination. The CANA leaders had threatened legal action against Bishop Lee if he or any officer of the diocese “set foot on or trespassed on the property occupied by CANA congregations.”

Davenport asked Bishop Lee his name, age, where he attended college, then seminary. He asked when Bishop Lee was ordained, where he served as a priest, when he was consecrated as a bishop and how many General Conventions he has attended. After a few more “housekeeping” questions including clarification of various designations for bishop and the function of each type, he suddenly declared, “No more questions.”

CANA was confused. All of their cross-examination preparation was predicated on Davenport delving into the host of issues and events that led to the separation and the declaration that the priests are no longer recognized in The Episcopal Church. There was virtually nothing to cross-examine. The CANA attorneys attempted to raise issues but they were over-ruled because they had not been raised in the initial examination.

The Episcopal Church called one more witness, David Beers, Chancellor to The Episcopal Church. His testimony largely paralleled that of other witnesses. Other witnesses that were to testify the last day were released by agreement of the two sides and the trial ended a day early.

At the conclusion of the trial Judge Bellows stated that should he decide in favor of CANA, based on the 1867 Virginia statute, he would be prepared to hold another trial to examine the constitutionality of that statute. The Episcopal Church attorneys stated they would enter challenges under three constitutional headings: the contract clause, the free exercise clause and the establishment clause. He indicated a willingness to set a new court date within the next month, if necessary, so that a final decision could be rendered by mid-January, 2008. At that time another hearing will be required to determine the precise nature and procedure for distribution of church property.

The writer represents only himself in presenting these observations and reflections. He is one of no more than two or three persons, other that official representatives, who attended the entire trial and whose bias was toward The Episcopal Church. He recently moved from Alexandria to Falls Church, and with his wife, has moved his membership from Christ Church to The Falls Church Episcopal, continuing congregation.

On the Saturday night during the trial the entire congregation of The Falls Church Anglican was called together for a prayer vigil that God’s church might prevail. A spokesman for CANA, Jim Oaks, issued a press release after the trial ended which said, “We remain confident in the success of our legal position. The decision of the Episcopal Church and the diocese to reinterpret scripture caused the 11 Anglican churches to sever their ties.” And in comments in the weekly bulletin at The Falls Church Anglican rector John Yates noted how much has changed for the better in the past year since they left The Episcopal Church. He wrote, “We are out of a dying denomination…I can hardly contain my enthusiasm.”

Robert L. McCan holds a Ph.D. from the University of Edinburgh, Scotland and an M.Div. from Yale Divinity School. His last position prior to retirement was Associate Professor of Political Ethics at Wesley Theological Seminary. He is author of "Justice For Gays and Lesbians: Crisis and Challenge in the Episcopal Church." Bob recently moved his church membership to The Falls Church Episcopal.

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