Should We Sell the Church Center Part 2

by Del Glover

Part 2 of 2
Part 1 is here

The Financial challenges facing the Episcopal Church are the most obvious factors that must be taken into account as we consider the consequences of the decision to relocate the Church Center. In recent years, the combined effects of declining membership, defecting dioceses and congregations and a depressed global economy resulted in reduced income for the Church. Efforts to identify alternative means to support programs, including creating a major gifts fundraising initiative, were inadequate. Significant cost reduction efforts were needed. In 2012, a study by the DFMS Finance Office projected that major changes were needed in income and expenses to avoid potential budget deficits.

Under the canons, the primary source, roughly 66% of the DFMS income, is from the voluntary “askings" from the dioceses of the church. Faced with financial pressures, aggravated by the economic downturn, General Convention reduced the “askings” from the dioceses from 21% to 19% over the 2009-2012 triennium. In response to the decline in the DFMS income and increased operating expenses, we went through a painful staff reduction in 2009 and deployed some staff to other locations to be more effective and efficient.

The operating cost for the building, a multimillion debt and debt service, and the declining occupancy rate are all well documented in each of the recent triennium budgets. The operating costs and capital expenditures for the building should not be the deciding factors in the decision but they are important elements to be considered. and they cannot be deferred while other “strategic” discussions continue.

We usually focus our attention on operating costs, the day-to-day costs associated with the building. But we have not always paid adequate attention to the capital expenses associated with the maintenance and upkeep of the physical infrastructure and systems of the building. Unlike many other organizations, the DFMS does not adopt and report its performance against a Capital Budget - separate and distinct from its Operating budget.

The DFMS staff has sought to offset loss of income by seeking tenants to occupy the vacated space. But there are some real challenges to locating the “right” tenants:

The physical configuration of our (Class B?) building presents limitations

The need to provide “controlled” access to tenants and their clients/guests and comply with mandated regulations on access and egress

Finding tenants who would want to share space with the headquarters of a religious denomination and would be compatible with the “image” the Episcopal Church wants to project.


The additional income from tenants will help offset ongoing capital and operating costs but we need to confirm that the additional income is in excess of capital and operating expenses so that support for ministries is in fact increased. With tenants now occupying more space in the building, our past practice of deferring capital investment maintenance can no longer continue. Some portion of the rental income should be “reserved” for those expenses and to cover taxes on imposed on “unrelated business income” that the rental fees represent.

With the presence of our new tenants, more attention must be devoted to serving their needs, an activity that is not our area of expertise and is a distraction from our primary mission.

Whether the building is a prudent investment is another consideration and we would do well to hear from the Investment Committee on this point. Does it make financial sense for us to own and/or occupy the property at 815 Second Avenue? Should we not hear from this committee if the building ought to be a part of our investment portfolio?

In summary, the financial consequences of the discussion are significant and need to be discussed and the various options presented objectively. To avoid even the appearance of impropriety or a conflict of interest only the elected persons with the appropriate knowledge, skills and experience who have been entrusted will these responsibilities may decide among the options available to us.

The logistical consequences of the decision about the Church Center impact:

How are mission and ministry enabled by its location of the Center?

The ease of accessibility for travel to/from the Center by volunteers and staff

How resources are available to be deployed to mission and ministry;

How the physical location affects morale of current and future employees and the ability to attract and retain employees with critical skills;

How the location affects salaries, relocation expenses, travel expenses and meeting facility and other operational costs


As with the financial consequences of the location of the center, the responsibilities for evaluating the logistical consequences of the relocation must rest with those who are charged to do this work and because of its importance, it demands their best efforts.

Del Glover is a layperson who lives in Providence, Rhode Island. He has served as a Deputy to several General Conventions and on Executive Council where he chaired the Finances For Mission Committee.

Should We Sell the Church Center? Part 1

by Del Glover

Part 1 of 2

Could it be that the reason the discussion about the Church Center evokes such passionate discourse is that the discussion is really more about the future of the church and less about the finances or the geographical location of the building? Others have previously made this point and I wonder if it would be prudent for us to encourage a fuller discussion of it. Clearly, there are significant financial and logistical consequences to the relocation decision but it might be helpful if we explored the strategic issues in more detail first. The adage in architecture (that is also used to explains some phenomena in some natural sciences studies) is ”form follows function.” This concept may help us understand how to take an objective approach to the decision about the Church Center. That process might begin with us posing these questions:

• What is the purpose of the Church Center?
• What functions does it need to house and what staff is essential to support these functions?
• Where is the optimum location consistent with those functions?

The decision about locating (or relocating) the Church Office needs to respond to these questions. Related decisions about selling or leasing the current building need to be made, but these decisions are the financial and logistical consequences of the more fundamental issues being addressed.I find it interesting that there is no comparable discussion about the need to relocate the headquarters of Episcopal Relief & Development or the Episcopal Church Foundation or, with some hesitancy, I add to this list the Church Pension Fund. So, what is it about the location of the central office of the Episcopal Church in New York City that evokes such passionate discourse?

Others have suggested that the “issue” about the location is really about absence of a common “vision” for the Church or a lack of alignment about policies and practices. The suggestion has also been made that unless we begin to address these issues, relocating the office will only ”relocate the problems.” Looking to the decisions taken by other denomination that previously had headquarters in New York City is instructive but not conclusive. The Presbyterian moved to Louisville, Kentucky in a modern, 300,000-square-foot office facility, made possible by the donation of two former warehouses. The United Church of Christ moved its national headquarters from New York City to Cleveland, Ohio. The Lutheran Church moved its national headquarters to the Chicago area. The fact that these groups chose to relocate is not justification for the Episcopal Church to relocate its offices, but they do confirm that other denominations having wrestled with the same issues we named . . .high costs of New York City, the importance of “presence” in New York, the potential loss of critical staff members, etc., . . .but still made the decision to leave New York City. But some of these organizations also report that they continue to get comments about the policies and practices from the new ”head office” suggesting that the comments have little to do with the specific city. where the headquarters are located.

To continue to debate simultaneously the strategic and financial issues is not helpful and only serves to distract us. It might be helpful to remind ourselves how we got to this point. The Church Center was located in New York City at a time that our leaders saw the need for offices and staff to support the rapid growth of the Church. Over time the role of the Presiding Bishop evolved from one that was primarily pastoral and legislative to that of a Chief Executive Officer leading a complex corporate entity and overseeing a staff and facilities necessary to deliver services and programs to the Church.

Today, the changing dynamics in society, in the marketplace, shifting global financial structures, demographic shifts, and advances in technologies have all combined to change the way secular organizations manage their affairs and conduct business. Decentralization of decision making to allow faster and more targeted responses to local market demands have been essential to the viability of organizations whether they are nonprofit or for-profit entities. Responding to these forces, the Church is also adapting to calls for new ways to be Christ’s presence in the world.

The Church Center for Episcopalians is not a symbol of our unity; regrettably, we have no such site that functions to symbolize what it means to be an Episcopalian. It is not a pilgrimage site and so to many Episcopalians its significance is minimal. In this context it seems appropriate that we re-examine the current Church Center as we respond to the strategic questions. And some of our recent actions provide some valuable information about the course we have already begun to plot, even if unconsciously, as a first step of the implementation of a deliberate strategy. The notion of “form following function” might even be said to be already influencing our decisions about how and where we deploy Church Center staff away from the central office and evolving our structures to accommodate the environmental (specifically financial and societal forces) that are already at play.

Our task in the near-term might be to reflect on the strategic questions while taking into account the actions that are already underway so that we are more deliberate in how we respond to the major changes we and all Christians are experiencing.

In a subsequent commentary, I will offer my observations about the financial and logistical consequences of the strategic challenges before us. As we await the TREC report and prepare for General Convention in 2015, might we use this time to hone our idea about strategic issues we need to face to better serve God's mission.

Del Glover is a layperson who lives in Providence, Rhode Island. He has served as a Deputy to several General Conventions and on Executive Council where he chaired the Finances For Mission Committee.

Signs of Spring

by Maria L. Evans

Almighty God, we thank you for making the earth fruitful, so
that it might produce what is needed for life: Bless those who
work in the fields; give us seasonable weather; and grant that
we may all share the fruits for the earth, rejoicing in your
goodness; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. --Prayer for agriculture, Book of Common Prayer, p. 824.


Here in the Midwest, we've struggled all winter with subzero temperatures, yet I caught myself back in January engaging in one of my favorite mid-winter activities--what I refer to as "seed catalog porn." Ever since my childhood, one of the best parts of January and February is getting all the seed catalogs and daydreaming about the tomato plants, pepper plants, and flowers that I might have in the upcoming spring and summer. I always end up buying more seeds and plants than I ought to, giving a bunch of it away, and growing more garden than a person who lives alone ought to have, even with ambitions of canning some of it.

Now, on the cusp of spring, I'm seeing all the various photos on social media, where my like-minded friends have been starting seeds in everything ranging from muffin tins to egg cartons. After another blast of subzero weather to herald March's arrival here, there's something simply heavenly about picture after picture of fragile green sprouts, bravely showing a single delicate pair of green leaves atop their nondescript white stems. It's as if they are peering out the window at the frigid winter on the other side, saying, "Just you wait--I'll be out there momentarily."

You know, some years, winter just seems harder and harsher than others. But because I have lived over 50 of these transitions in my life, I know in my deepest heart of hearts that one thing is certain--spring will come. It WILL come. Might not be on my time frame, and not particularly to my liking in some ways--but it WILL come. Even when I'm dead and buried, it will still come.

We hardly ever see the above prayer for agriculture show up liturgically in the winter; we might see it used in Morning Prayer or Evening Prayer in early spring/summer, or on Rogation Days. Yet any good gardener will tell you that there is much to ponder in the cold, barren winter. There are always new things to try, or wild ideas that we keep to ourselves for fear our friends will think we've lost it.

In fact, I came up with one of those crazy ideas while cleaning off some shelves. Somehow, I ended up with too many freebie recyclable shopping bags. You know the kind--the ones the size of a large grocery bag with handles. I had just been perusing the seed catalogs, thinking about how I wanted to do my tomato plants in pots, rather than out in the yard (because I really hate cultivating and weeding.) Suddenly, I thought, "Hey! I can fill these with dirt and put tomato plants and pepper plants in them...stick a stick in them and zip tie the plants up as they grow...and with the handles I can move them around during the growing season to better spots in the yard!"

Now, I have no idea if this is going to work or not. I'm sure when people drive down my road this summer, they'll think a crazy person lives here, with a rainbow of recyclable shopping bags in the yard, tomato plants sprouting out of them. But if it ends up in a plethora of tomatoes, that I just have to give away, I'll gladly endure the scorn. If it fails, well...I'll just come up with a new crazy idea next year.

It's an analogy that works in thinking about the future of our church.

It can be incredibly depressing to read stories year after year of declining membership, schism, and hurtful statements in the comments line where it's hard to tell who's meaner--the evangelicals, or the anti-theists. Sometimes there's not even any solace in the "insider" social media groups--seems like there are some even uglier fights breaking out there.

You know, perhaps we're just in a string of harder winters than usual. In those times, the tendency is lose sight of the fact we've made it through hard winters before--and that spring always comes. It always comes. Not as fast as we'd like, and not always in a way to our liking, but spring always comes.

Truth is, we're doing the work of a hard winter. We're dreaming of a new church, perhaps even with the excitement of perusing those seed catalogs. Episcopal News Service continues to be filled with all sorts of news of new seedlings sprouting everywhere, fragile and yet defiant. Maybe some of these ideas will appear a little crazy to the neighbors--or even to us. But you know, signs of spring are still signs of spring.

Where are the places you see the tiny seedlings of a new church waving its tiny green leaves in defiance of the hard, harsh winter?


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

Rebuilding the Church one leader at a time (with a shovel)

By Julia Groom

It’s no secret. The Episcopal Church has been in decline since we peaked in the 1960’s. About 50 Episcopal churches are now closing each year. For most parishes, what felt like a pinch in the budget, now feels like a punch. Yet we’ve been SO slow to change.

Remember the March of Dimes? They were founded to eradicate polio. When that happened they had to either fold or find a new focus that was relevant to their core beliefs. They chose the latter. Their new purpose is to eliminate birth defects.

The Episcopal Church Building Fund (ECBF) asked diocesan staff what they needed to help congregations thrive in this new culture. They responded ‘we want to brainstorm with the best of them, learn how others are finding solutions.’ So, for the past four years the ECBF has offered a national symposium, Buildings for a New Tomorrow (BNFT). We’ve learned the best practices for closing and merging congregations, how to drastically reduce energy costs, and ways to raise revenue through some very novel ways of using church buildings. We keep finding innovators who have something new to offer.

This year the focus has expanded to include the land. The keynote speaker, Ron Finley, has been described as the “eco-lutionary Gangsta Gardener of South Central LA.” He is well known for challenging the city government to allow growing produce in the parkway strip between curbs and sidewalks. He’ll waste no time with folks who are just fascinated by chatting. You are invited to bring your shovel and “Let’s plant some sh*t”, which is the theme for this year’s symposium (in Fort Lauderdale, April 28-30). Check out his TED Talk or featured articles in “Spirit”—the magazine of Southwest and AirTran airlines, as well as in The New York Times. His appearance at BFNT has been underwritten by Church Insurance, of the Church Pension Group.

We don’t have all the answers, that’s why have brought others to the table. The Anglicans in Canada will be coming to teach. A huge contingent from the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) will be attending. We are so excited to be starting new partnerships with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in American and the United Church of Christ, both of whom are funding this year’s event.

I’m stunned at how quickly this response has gelled from other church leaders. It just shows that our work crosses denominational lines. All churches are facing the same challenges. Our energy is fully focused on creating creative chaos so new solutions can emerge.

Bonnie Anderson, the former president of the House of Deputies, is offering her wisdom from serving as senior warden of her parish in Pontiac, Michigan. That economically depressed city is described as “the town for sale” since many public buildings are available for purchase and the challenges to her parish are daunting. Bonnie will “Light Lay People’s Pants on Fire,” a passion of her ministry.

I’m grateful that so many people across the Episcopal Church, and now our ecumenical and international partners, are moving the Church forward. You can see some of what has been offered last year at the symposium and check out our agenda for April’s gathering.

I’m willing to bet you’ll be inspired if you join us. Some self-described cynics have told us past symposia have given them hope. This year looks even better.

Julia Groom is president of the Episcopal Church Building Fund which is based in Richmond, Virginia. She may be reached at jgroom@ecbf.org.

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Be Bold: restructuring TEC part 3

by George Clifford

PART 3 of 3 (see Part 1 and Part 2)

Part 1 of this essay reviewed historical trends effecting TEC. Part 2 extended the analysis by examining two broad social trends (growing apathy to hierarchy and disengagement from traditional forms of organized community) that bode ill for denominations, TEC included. Part 2 also presented the first two of the four steps that TEC can take to once again become a vital missionary organization (focus resources on congregations positioned for growth and review our ecclesiology). Part 3, which concludes the post, presents the other two steps that TEC can take for renewal.

(3) We need new wineskins (i.e., we must revise our liturgy) because the old ones have cracked and no longer preserve the wine. Music is essential. Is congregational singing essential or is it a burdensome and unnecessary historical legacy from a time in which people had music only if they made it themselves? If congregational singing is important, how does TEC become a subculture (or, if you prefer, a counter-culture) that forms people so that they enjoy making music (instead of our current presumption that everyone wants to sing)? What music should we sing?

Scripture is also essential. We do not include Bible readings in our liturgy to afford people an opportunity for private reflection. Biblical allusions should enrich rather than impoverish our liturgy. How do we increase the attention hearers pay to Bible readings? How do we improve their understanding of what they hear? A sermon longer than 10-12 minutes is impossible in a worship service scheduled for an hour (or, more realistically in many places, 75 minutes) that also includes Holy Communion. How do we create a biblically literate community without the aid of a culture, schools, and other institutions upon which previous generations who lived in Christendom relied?

TEC is in the throes of developing a much needed liturgy for the blessing of same sex marriages/relationships (choose your own term; I prefer marriage, but want to avoid that debate in this essay). Assume that 20% of TEC and the population at large are LGBT (I have intentionally chosen an unrealistically high percentage). Even if those numbers are high by a factor of two or three, the need for the new liturgy is plain.

Meanwhile, what are we doing to revise our liturgy to reach the much larger number of people who are biblically illiterate and not attracted by our music? The number of biblically illiterate grows significantly every year; similarly, the cultural trend away from making one's own music becomes more deeply entrenched each year. Personal preference is irrelevant. The Church exists to minister to the world, not cater to its members.

Legacy services using current liturgical forms will continue for decades, in some places even attracting additional worshipers, as occurred in the transition from the 1928 to 1979 Book of Common Prayer. However, the transition to the 1979 Book of Common Prayer has become irreversible. In many places, Rite 1 services are now a genuine rarity. Similarly, we may lament biblical illiteracy and rue the lack of interest in hymnody, but that will not alter either. The Church needs to theorize about, design, test, and revise new liturgical forms appropriate to this technological era with its widespread biblical illiteracy and fondness for listening to rather than making music.

(4) We need to enhance and to expand our organizational capacity, by (a) reconnecting individual Episcopalians and congregations with diocesan and national structures and by (b) streamlining the organization and reducing overhead.

Ship captains tend to guard their individual independence and prerogatives. Yet the victor in war at sea was almost invariably the side whose ship movements and actions were best coordinated in strategy and tactics. Consequently, as monarchs and others acquired fleets of ships, they appointed admirals to command ship captains. Today, U.S. Navy admirals outnumber the Navy's ships. The Navy bureaucracy, like all bureaucracy, is self-perpetuating and has multiplied command echelons to justify its own expansion.

TEC has had a similar expansion of its bureaucracy. Dioceses vary widely not only in geographic area but also in the number of communicants and congregations served. Patterns of organization and structure once useful may have become impediments in an era of flatter organizations and new forms of community. Tellingly, I have never encountered a TEC congregation that enthusiastically made funding the diocesan asking or assessment its top fiscal priority. Indeed, the prevailing attitude seems to be the exact opposite, frequently bordering on resenting what they perceive as diocesan taxation of the congregation's monies.

The TREC survey similarly reported a disconnect between existing TEC structures and people in the pews, underscoring the need to reconnect structures with the broader TEC constituency, highlighting the benefits that streamlined, minimal cost structures provide.

For example, must the Church always gather physically or can it also gather virtually, something inconceivable until just before the beginning of the twenty-first century? Some TEC and diocesan committees, commissions, and boards now meet virtually. How far and fast can we shift the paradigm toward virtual meetings, electronic voting, and other high-tech, lost-cost, flatter structures? TREC, in their December 2013 letter, wrote, "Imagine that each triennium we come together in a “General Mission Convocation” where participants from all over the Church immerse themselves in mission learning, sharing, decision making and celebration."

During a recent meeting of the TEC Executive Council, a friend emailed me. He noted that the Council that could have conducted all of the business that it transacted electronically, saving the travel expenses for forty people to attend a three-day meeting and perhaps substantially reducing the amount of time the meeting's length.

TEC lacks organizational capacity, i.e., the will or ability to perform multiple concurrent tasks. For example, the Standing Commission on Liturgy is busy with issues linked to same sex marriage, so other issues sit on the table unaddressed. They are not alone. The same observation applies to most elements of our national and diocesan structures. Sometimes the urgent has pushed aside the truly important. Other times, the group has difficulty in setting and adhering to reasonable priorities. Most fundamentally, we lack organizational capacity in large measure because people have disengaged from diocesan and national structures, disengaged from organized religion, and we pursue the wrong priorities.

TREC is moving in the right directions with respect to enhancing and expanding TEC organizational capacity. Their agenda for improving our organizational efficiency, setting out an agenda of needed changes, and proposals for implementing those changes will hopefully result in suggestions regarding:

1) The role and mechanics of General Convention;
2) Roles and accountability of the Presiding Officers and of the Executive Council--particularly as related to Church wide staff;
3) Breadth of CCABs (Committees, Commissions, Agencies, and Boards) and the creation of alternative, fresh, and creative models for Church wide collaboration;
4) Number of dioceses;
5) Capacity and leadership development.

TREC has stated that restructuring is not a cure for decline and that TEC needs to recover a missionary orientation. Nevertheless, TREC's work can easily resemble that of marine engineers designing new sails and rigging for the JAMES BAINES. Radical thinking is required. Radical obedience to the gospel is even more essential. Letting go of old forms can occasion grief; we commonly cling to the familiar for security and fear the new. Yet the currents of change are sweeping away the old even now. Will we become a remnant? Alternatively, will we hear the new song that God is singing, and, following the example of Abraham, Moses, and Mary dare to journey into the unknown, confident that God is leading the way?

One clear indicator of TEC's future will be the number of individuals who engage with TREC. If TREC and restructuring remain the province of the relatively few clergy and laity currently involved with TEC's national organization, then TEC seems headed for oblivion. Alternatively, if TREC can become the catalyst by which the Holy Spirit brings a new missionary impulse to TEC, energizing tens, perhaps even hundreds, of thousands of God's people to engage with TEC congregations, dioceses, and our national structure, then we will hear God's new song, loudly and clearly.

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.

Be Bold: restructuring TEC part 2

by George Clifford

PART 2/3 (see part 1 here)

This essay's first part explored five factors that bode ill for TEC's future: our legacy of small congregations in the wrong places; a growing preference for large congregations; the increasing number of spiritual but not religious individuals; biblical illiteracy; and a diminishing proclivity to make music, preferring to listen to the music of others. Denominational restructuring, regardless of its nature, does not address these issues.

Two complementary trends powerfully influence the future of TEC because those trends set the context for denominational life and ministry. People are increasingly apathetic to hierarchy and disengaging from traditional forms of organized community.

The non-hierarchical trend is easily visible in business. Corporations are flattening their organizational charts, eliminating management layers by trying to become more nimble and responsive to both employees and consumers. This non-hierarchical trend differs sharply from anti-hierarchical Protestant Reformers who rejected bishops for biblical and theological reasons. Now many of the people in our pews, who often perceive that neither they nor their congregation receive much value from the diocese or national Church, want to know why they should support diocesan and national structures with their money and efforts. Dioceses and national structures that want to thrive must now convince members of the benefit that the whole Church receives because the dioceses and national structure exist. Restructuring, by itself, cannot do that.

Robert Putnam in Bowling Alone (Simon & Schuster, 2000) exhaustively documented the decline of traditional expressions of organized community in America. He summarized data that traced the decline in civic, fraternal, and religious organizations. Restructuring may helpfully reduce organizational overhead in TEC dioceses and the national Church (that the Taskforce for Re-Imagining the Episcopal Church (TREC) survey showed Episcopalians desire) but cannot reverse the larger social trend.

Although recommendations such as reducing the number of diocesan deputies to General Convention from eight to six advantageously cut overhead costs, the recommendation disadvantageously narrows the number of people personally invested in TEC's national organization. This unintentionally exacerbates rather than ameliorates the underlying social trend of organizational disenchantment and disengagement, probably accelerating institutional decline. The critical issue is not the good of ensuring adequate and diverse representation, but the deeper existential issue of commitment to the organization. TREC should focus its restructuring proposals around function rather than organization. Why does TEC need 10 – or even 7 – days to conduct legislative proceedings? Are decisions that TEC needs to make better made representationally (the status quo) or through direct democracy, harnessing the power of the internet so potentially hundreds of thousands of Episcopalians vote instead of only a couple of thousand?

How can Episcopalians and TEC reverse the apparently inexorable downward trends? The trends are negative, notwithstanding a recent scattering of positive signs, signs for which we should give thanks without thinking our problems solved. TEC can take four positive steps toward a more vibrant, positive future, two discussed here, and two in the third and final installment of this post.

(1) We need to focus our attention, efforts, and resources on congregations located in places where numerical growth is happening or seems reasonably probable. TREC, in its December 2013 letter to the Church, suggested that spiritually vibrant and mission focused congregations comprise perhaps only 30% of all TEC congregations. Arguably, diocesan and national staffs can make the greatest progress toward realizing the kingdom of heaven on earth by concentrating their efforts on these congregations. Seminaries, in addition to the spiritual formation, academic preparation, and practical equipping of students for ordained ministry, should research and teach the sociological, psychological, and organizational dynamics conducive to growing spiritual alive missional communities.

Concurrently, we need to make difficult decisions about the resources – money, time, and energy – that we are willing to expend on small congregations and on congregations with poor prospects for growth. Included in the substantial but generally uncalculated and therefore ignored costs that these thousands of congregations impose on TEC are the costs of regular episcopal visits, programmatic and monetary support, assistance with clergy transitions, and educating and ordaining thousands of priests and deacons. Resources used on these efforts entail opportunity costs, e.g., a bishop visiting a small congregation has not done something else. Congregants who, if the small congregation did not exist, would have joined a thriving congregation also represent an opportunity cost, depriving the larger congregation of the benefit of their presence and gifts.

The choice about support for small congregations, although emotionally charged, is not the same choice that the shepherd faced when one sheep wandered off from the other 99 (Mt 18:10-14). In some remote areas, the TEC congregation may be the only Christian congregation and thus merit ongoing support. In other places, however, people can easily drive a few more miles to reach another TEC congregation. Elsewhere, the TEC congregation might unite with an Evangelical Lutheran congregation, find creative ways to share resources with other religious congregations or non-profits, etc. The choice is not whether to serve the one (i.e., those Episcopalians in small congregations) but how best to serve them. An unexamined, blind commitment to all congregations, regardless of size or prospects, characterizes a poor steward. We have an obligation to God and to one another to use our time and resources as effectively and efficiently for God's purposes as possible. Buildings and other resources should be means to an end, not our raison d'être.

The ordination process, canonically standardized, has considerable variation in practice. Dioceses utilize the General Ordination Exams in a wide range of ways. Some of our seminaries are struggling financially, exploring new ways to be relevant, or developing online degree programs. Some dioceses are establishing alternatives to residential seminary programs for preparing new priests. Leaders in theses dioceses regard seminary degrees as unaffordable for clergy whom the diocese hopes will serve congregations unable to afford a full-time stipendiary priest. Leaders in these dioceses also recognize that both increasing numbers of postulants for holy orders have an employed partner unwilling to relocate for three years and ordinands, after graduating from seminary, may receive a call to a different geographic area. Some dioceses also have unique issues, e.g., Hawaii has had difficulty retaining mainland clergy for more than a couple of years because emergent family obligations make relocating to the mainland desirable for many.

How should TEC form and educate new clergy? Which small congregations merit our continued support? Which ones should we target for closure, consolidation, or another form of realignment? These questions are like the proverbial 800-pound gorillas in our midst that we are desperately trying to ignoring, but that obstinately refuse to disappear. Not seeking honest answers to these tough questions can only accelerate TEC's demise.

(2) We need to reexamine our ecclesiology. Why are bishops important? I know the answer in the Book of Common Prayer, but that answer is insufficient. What do we really want – need – bishops to do? If the answer is to be a visible sign of the Church's unity, then one bishop might be best, representing an unmistakable unity. If the answer is to teach the faith, then we need sufficient bishops to teach regular assemblies of the faithful. If the answer is to administer confirmation, then we need the number of bishops required to administer confirmation annually in large parishes and for regional gatherings of small congregations. None of these answers presumes the geographically contiguous dioceses defined by the borders of political jurisdictions. Are there other important tasks for bishops to perform or roles for them to fill? Once clear on what we expect bishops to do, then determining the number of bishops required becomes relatively easy.


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.

Be Bold: restructuring TEC part 1

by George Clifford

PART 1 of 3

In 1854, a clipper ship, the JAMES BAINES, established a new record of 12 days and 6 hours for the fastest crossing of the Atlantic under sail. By the time of its historic voyage, steam powered ships that did not depend upon the vagaries of wind, could carry larger cargoes, and transit canals had already begun to displace merchant sailing vessels on the seas. Devising new sails and rigging for the JAMES BAINES to enable an even faster transatlantic crossing might offer an interesting challenge to engineers and sailing aficionados, but would never resuscitate the era of sail that clipper ships once dominated.

I wonder to what extent restructuring The Episcopal Church (TEC) is a similar endeavor, an interesting exercise to ecclesiologists, students of organizational behavior, and the small elite of Episcopalians who dominate our denominational life but lacking potential to resuscitate a dying organization.

The era of denominations, like that of clipper ships, seems to be ending just as denominations are achieving important new milestones. TEC, for example, is clearly on a trajectory toward greater justice, inclusivity, and fidelity to the fullness of the gospel even as its membership has declined precipitously (cf. my previous Daily Episcopalian essay, Is the Episcopal Church going the way of the Grange?). All mainline Protestant denominations are declining, though at various rates. Numerical decline has also begun among evangelical denominations; U.S. Roman Catholics have avoided decline only through an influx of immigrants.

Pursuing denominational restructuring in lieu of addressing the more basic issues of institutional decline affecting TEC seems troublingly analogous to designing new sails and rigging for a clipper ship. Both clipper ships and TEC are magnificent examples of their genre. Both have achieved greatness. Yet the JAMES BAINES was constructed after marine engineering had crossed the cusp of the steam era; perhaps we will finish restructuring TEC after God's people have crossed the cusp of the next era in church history, a post-denominational era.

Several trends indicate the dawn of a new era (not, I hasten to add, the Age of Aquarius!). First, demographic shifts have left TEC with a legacy of many small congregations in the wrong geographic locales. These small congregations typically consume disproportionate amounts of diocesan and national resources, struggle to pay a priest and to maintain their buildings, and focus on survival rather than mission. Meanwhile, the population in the area from which the congregation once drew its membership is changing, declining, or both.

Second, increasing numbers of Christians prefer to attend a large rather than a small congregation. Obviously, not everybody shares that preference (I, for one, don't). However, the proportion of Christians who attend megachurches continues to swell; the proportion of Christians who attend small congregations (fewer than 100, perhaps even 200 average Sunday attendance) is shrinking. TEC, with mostly small congregations, is on the wrong side of that trend.

Third, growing numbers of people identify themselves as either spiritual but not religious or as an atheist. With respect to this trend, a comparison of denominational restructuring to rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic might seem a more apt metaphor. Like the Titanic, if the trends toward atheism and spiritual but not religious continue, eventually no souls will remain in the Church, the ark of our salvation. That extreme seems unlikely, but the metaphor underscores the urgency of focusing on mission instead of structure.

Fourth, a diminishing proportion of the population is biblically literate. A generation ago, regular Sunday attendance connoted missing no more than one Sunday per month. Today, a regular attendee is someone who attends worship as infrequently as once a month or maybe once every six weeks. Preachers tend to concentrate their sermon on the gospel reading, no longer able to presume that their hearers know the biblical stories much less are familiar with the Bible's historical and literary context. Many worshipers mentally tune out during the reading of the lessons, cherishing a few moments of self-directed thought in the midst of an otherwise hectic life. Our liturgy, rich in biblical allusions and quotations, increasingly falls on ears, unable if not unwilling to listen.

Fifth, ever fewer people make their own music. Instead, moderns listen to music made by professionals. For most worshipers, congregational worship is the only time that they sing – unless s/he is singing to her or himself, perhaps while in the shower or accompanying a recording when driving a car, confident no one else is listening. Similarly, many vocalists now perform to recorded music, rather than live accompaniment. Our rich tradition of hymnody is foreign, not only in its theology and biblical allusions, but in its implicit expectations that worshipers both know how to read music and want to sing.

Every time that I write a column on this or a related topic, a handful of people responds by vociferously defending TEC and its worship. That's great. I'm thankful they like TEC and its worship. I also like our Church and its worship. However, myopically focusing on personal preference completely ignores the overarching problem. TEC is in trouble. Twenty years from now, and God willing I hope to be alive then, I want to be part of a vibrant expression of Christ's body engaged in vital mission, not a scattered remnant struggling against the odds to survive in overly large, unaffordable buildings.

Tinkering with TEC structure will not change that future. Decreasing numbers of people identify with our music, understand the fullness of our liturgy, and want to be part of organized religion, much less belong to a small congregation focused on survival instead of mission. And among people who do want to be part of TEC, discouragingly few invest their time and energy in the institution on a diocesan or national level. For example, out of almost two million Episcopalians, fewer than 200 responded to the Taskforce for Re-Imagining the Episcopal Church (TREC) request for input (some of those responses may have been collective, representing a still insignificant response rate in a Church with 5000 plus congregations). If the prospect of restructuring has failed to excite and to energize our committed constituency, only the naïve or foolish would think that restructuring will reverse declining numerical trends.

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.

Church as crowdsource

by Maria L. Evans

Gracious Father, we pray for thy holy Catholic Church. Fill it with all truth, in all truth with all peace. Where it is corrupt, purify it; where it is in error, direct it; where in any thing it is amiss, reform it. Where it is right, strengthen it; where it is in want, provide for it; where it is divided, reunite it; for the sake of Jesus Christ thy Son our Savior. Amen.- -Prayer for the Church, page 816, Book of Common Prayer

The second half of George Clifford's recent two part essay on Episcopal Café brings up the idea of improving on the notion of "Church as crowdsource."

Although the term "crowdsource" is relatively new, the concept really isn't. We were crowdsourcing before we even knew that was what to call it--perhaps the best and most well-loved version is the method for how new words make it into the Oxford English Dictionary, via their "Words of the Year." The most recent (and in some ways most controversial) is Wikipedia. My friends in academia impress in their students' brains that Wikipedia is a bad thing. Yet, when I look at the big picture, I say to myself, "Yeah, but this still beats what I grew up with--outdated stacks of World Book encyclopediae." Pooh-pooing or not, it's still progress.

We understand how crowdsourcing works through our over 100 years old knowledge of collective intelligence--it's a well-established concept that groups collectively have more intelligence than any one individual. The problem is, of course how to funnel, collate, and use that knowledge.

In my mind, it brings up a parallel to another recent way to look at the church, elaborated in Landon Whitsett's book "Open Source Church--Making Room for the Wisdom of All." Whitsett likens the Gospel of Jesus Christ to an open source software platform, and makes parallels to church institutional behaviors that either work for or against this open source of the Gospel.

Through these lenses, I think I can make a case for our Book of Common Prayer and the Constitution and Canons of the Episcopal Church for being a reasonable framework for dissemination of the open source of the Good News in Jesus Christ, with one proviso--we need to seriously look at the places where our framework hinders that funneling, collation, and application of the Gospel, and work towards ways that enhance it instead.

That's not to say that going "open source" is without risk--the biggest risk, in my mind, is that none of us, by and large, like losing control over derivative works. We don't know where this will take us. But perhaps that's part of what faith's about.

However, I have to admit--my one attempt at trying to get a class of medical students to create their own Wiki for my Pathology course was a dismal failure. It wasn't a failure because they were Millenials, or the children of "helicopter parents" or all the things I postulated at first. It was a failure b/c they were medical students, who since time began have always looked for an easy, heuristic way to get "the right answer on an exam." They simply just wanted me to give them the answers for the test rather than work looking them up--and every generation of medical student I've ever known or heard of has done some version of that. The truth was, all I gave them to try to invest them in this work that potentially had use and a legacy, were platitudes.

In short, nothing came up that allowed them to have a reason to invest in it personally. Pre-clinical medical students (those in the first two years, before they start doing regular rotations through patient care areas and various specialties) are on an accelerated classroom learning pace and have time demands they never dreamed of for accomplishing what's required of them. Creating a living, edit-able work for posterity was simply viewed as a huge waste of their time.

When I went back and did the "What did I do wrong?" post-mortem, I discovered this fact about Wikipedia: There are 19,833,115 registered Wikipedia users (and that doesn't even begin to scratch the people who use it unregistered.) But out of that massive number of registered users, when we look at months that had a large number of edits, it's still a very small number that actually contribute. Let's take December 2010, which had 34,048 edits. That's roughly only 0.1 % of the registered Wikipedia population. It doesn't even make the "1% rule of the Internet" benchmark--that 1% contributes and 99% lurk.

I'd grossly overestimated the ability of 170 medical students to contribute to a project that would require time for people to share their stories in order to be invested, or have a clue what the milleu would be to accomplish that. I had only looked at the framework and the theory behind the framework without understanding what a reasonable expectation was in its accomplishment.

Likewise, if we are looking to "Wikify the church"--to try to find a way to collectively use our intelligence to show the need of a relationship with God through community, in our modern society--I believe it will take investing at least better than 1% of its population in the notion that as heirs of grace through Jesus Christ, we are already account holders and editors in its future.

With these parallels in mind, how do we convince ourselves (and others) that we already have the power to be editors and authors of derivative works of the Good News in Jesus Christ? Where is the platform for crowdsourcing in the framework of our Prayer Book, Constitution, and Canons?


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

Is there a future for the Book of Common Prayer?

by Derek Olsen

The pieces that George Clifford wrote a few weeks ago cover a lot of different territory around the future of the Episcopal Church, ultimately ending with some unusual possibilities for restructuring the Church. I won’t try and comment on all of what he has written, but I do want to focus some attention on and address one aspect of what he has said—the initial attention-grabbing statement that “[t]he 1979 Book of Common Prayer is the last printed version of the prayer book that The Episcopal Church (TEC) will ever publish.”

While this bold thesis statement turns out to be more a lead into how digital technologies can lead us to re-envision the art of doing and being church, it is worth attention in its own right.

What is the future of the Book of Common Prayer especially with regard to format and media? I’ve spent a fair amount of time thinking about this question from three different angles.

First, I study liturgy—especially liturgy over time. Most of my work has been in the liturgy of the medieval West from about the 6th century to the 16th with most of my time spent in the smack-dab middle, England’s 10th century Benedictine Revival. Within the short space of time between when I started my PhD to when it was signed, sealed, and delivered—from 2001 to 2011—the study of liturgy was revolutionized by the Internet. At the beginning, I had to hit the library to look up most anything. By the middle, I could look up copies of old scholarly editions of liturgical manuscripts on Google Books. By the end, I could access a host of digital archives giving me access to high quality images of the manuscripts themselves. Today, ever increasing numbers pour online at some of my favorite libraries—and particularly interesting images are tweeted. Between the archivists at the British Library (@BLMedieval), Notre Dame (@d_gura) and my local treasure trove at Baltimore’s Walters Art Museum (@MedievalMss), the hits of manuscript illumination—many liturgical—flow through my Twitter feed every day.

When it comes to the Books of Common Prayer, a whole host are now available from every conceivable time and format in which they were printed, most in PDF for convenient download. Do you want an exact copy of the original manuscript of the English 1662 Book of Common Prayer? You can get that. Do you want to admire the layout and printing of Daniel Updike’s edition of the American 1892 Book of Common Prayer? You can do that. Under the conservation of Charles Wohlers and through the good graces of the Society of Archbishop Justus, the authoritative BCP site can lead you to all of these and more.

It isn’t just the future of the BCP that’s online; its past is there too, enabling anyone with the time, patience, and curiosity to gain first-hand knowledge of its changes through the years.

Second, I’m a database programmer. One of my hobby projects over the last few years is the St. Bede’s Breviary, an online site with a customizable Daily Office app. I put it up for my own use because I could never find an Office book with the perfect blend of options, and it gave me an outlet to hone my coding skills. I now get upwards of 1300 hits a week, and my code-base is behind Forward Movement’s digital initiative. The experience of coding this application has taught me a lot about the various possibilities and pitfalls of putting the BCP into an electronic format. I had to make a host of decisions—what programming languages to use, how to represent the various elements, how to get it to work properly. At various points I’ve even back-tracked and reworked entire sections once I figured out I’d made a wrong turn. Literally tens of thousands of lines of code, over a dozen database tables, and countless development hours go in to making something that manifests itself as nothing more than a basic web page. And that’s just the Daily Office!

Third, I’ve recently become the chair of the Electronic Publications subcommittee of the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music. In particular, we are dealing with a set of resolutions for General Convention that have been passed or have been referred to us for study that relate to electronic resources and official Episcopal liturgies: 2009-A102 which resolves that the completed portions of Enriching our Worship be made “freely available in electronic format on the internet,” 2012-D060 (PDF) on a format and platform-independent means of making our liturgical and musical materials available, and 2012-D079 (PDF) also calling for “electronically available and easily accessible” liturgical materials. Envisioning such a digital resource is easy; working through the issues and making it happen in a way that respects the complex interactions at work is a lot harder! What if there are copyrighted items from outside authors included in our materials? (The hymnal is full of this—check out the several pages of very small type from 931 to 936.) What exactly does the language of “freely available” mean—“easy to find” or “provided without cost”? What would this move do to Church Publishing and its parent, the Church Pension Group?

The very simple response to George’s provocative statement is pretty clear to me: The ’79 being the last printed (American) Book of Common Prayer? I wouldn’t bet on it.
Several factors play into this assertion. First, the Book of Common Prayer is an authoritative document. Whether people like it or not—I know some on both sides—the prayer book is legislated by both our constitution and canons. Digital materials are, by nature, ephemeral. While our culture has made many strides towards embracing digital media, as the travails of print newspapers clearly display, an authorized document is one that will and must have a particular physical embodiment. Even if an electronic version becomes more widely used, this will not relieve us from the need of having an authorized and authoritative physical document upon which the electronic version is based. If a document is authoritative, there must be a stable text and assurances that it cannot and will not change without agreement by General Convention. I can’t see there being enough trust across the church in an electronic text held by “the leadership” with no concomitant physical copy.

Second, I doubt that the use of books of common prayer in parishes will convert quickly or easily to digital devices. One of the things that has surprised me as the curator of a digital Office site is the number of requests I’ve received to make my contents of my breviary available in physical form. The first few times this happened I was very confused: don’t they understand that the whole point was making it digital? That a digital text gives greatly enhanced feature flow and accessibility? What I didn’t understand initially was the importance of the object itself. Many people prefer to have a physical object to pray with—a screen or a device just doesn’t cut it. They want a well-bound book in their hands. It’s a tactile thing. Now—is this purely a generational thing that will pass away as we “digital natives” become a larger percentage of the population? I don’t know.

Third, I think the perspective that George advocates suggests a wider interest in clerical experimentation and variation than I have seen on the ground. As a layman, I understand the prayer book operating as a contract. This is the book that the church has established itself upon, and I ought to be able to expect that when I go into a church with an Episcopal sign out front for the primary Sunday service it will be a service from the prayer book. I understand that clergy may like to tinker. You want to do a New Zealand prayer service with elements from the Quakers and the Eastern Orthodox? Fine, knock yourself out—in the middle of the week. As long as there is a coherent expectation of a stable Sunday morning service, though, there’s no need to suggest that a printed book is inadequate for handling the possibilities. Does that mean that there couldn’t be digitally available alternatives for non-primary services? Of course not—I wouldn’t say that at all; but to assume that nothing would be stable to the degree that a printed book could not serve would represent a theology and ecclesiology that I would no longer recognize as “Anglican.”

I don’t see the printed prayer book going away any time soon. That having been said, this can’t be where the conversation ends. Just because we will need a printed prayer book doesn’t mean that there aren’t all sorts of fabulous things that we could and should be doing in the digital space! Let me offer just a few rather random observations based on my multiple perspectives…

1. The Church needs to recognize the digital world as its own distinct sphere with its own missionary aims, activities, and strategies. My jaw about hit the floor when the Mission Enterprise Zone and New Church Start grants were announced in August as innovative initiatives that were tied to geographical areas. What—nothing about digital initiatives? Interaction with social media is one of the best ways going to spread ideas, feelings, and convictions. Isn’t that a big part of what we want to do? Isn’t there potential for digital initiatives that lead into connections with local embodied communities? Digital and geographical shouldn’t have to be binary options—it can (and should!) be a “both/and” rather than an “either/or.”

2. The digital realm is creating new opportunities for spiritual renewal. As the article posted on The Lead a bit ago indicated, new spiritual practices are growing out of faithful interactions with technology. On the other hand, some very old ways of doing things are also seeing a revival. Over the last several years, the Daily Office—Morning and Evening Prayer—have received greater visibility and use due to electronic means. Mission St Clare, Josh Thomas’ Daily Office site, and my own efforts have made praying the Office a lot easier—far less page-flipping required—and have also made it a more digitally visible act. Of course, if you’d rather pray with others, there’s the Office feed from @Virtual_Abbey on Twitter! We’re not done seeing things here. The interaction between spirituality, liturgy, and technology is still new and I expect we’ll see quite a lot of interesting things develop in the next decade.

Either the Church will get on the notion of a stable, correct, digital prayer book text—or someone else will! I have a group of dedicated volunteers who point out to me the typos in my breviary. Well, hey—you can’t expect to have 900+ collects in the cycle without a few missed keys somewhere along the line! Unless they were coming from a stable, corrected source… While there are arguments to be had and factors to be considered around putting all of the Episcopal Church’s liturgies online in a digital form without cost, there’s one text where this shouldn’t be an issue and that’s the prayer book itself. It is in the public domain. There could be a digital prayer book with an API (a kind of electronic interface) that allows apps or websites to tap into a single corrected source. Will the Episcopal Church create such a thing? I don’t know. On the other hand, most of the cool, innovative, useful resources out there on the web haven’t been started by church initiatives. It’s been by individuals with a vision and a passion. The Church may well choose not to do such a thing—but that doesn’t mean that it won’t be done.

The printed prayer book isn’t going away any time soon as far as I can tell, but that doesn’t mean that the digital space and electronic alternatives aren’t going to be major players in the future. On the contrary, I think they will. My crystal ball doesn’t work better than anyone else’s; I have no idea what we’re going to see in the coming decades. Mobile technologies are only taking off. App integration into personal products will only accelerate. What will this mean spiritually and liturgically? I have no idea—but I can’t wait to find out…

Dr. Derek Olsen is a layperson in the Diocese of Maryland where his wife is a priest and his daughters are an acolyte and boat-bearer respectively. He serves as Theologian-in-Residence at Church of the Advent, Baltimore, and as the Secretary of the Standing Commission on Liturgy & Music. An IT specialist by day, Derek created and maintains the online Daily Office site The St. Bede's Breviary. His reflections on life, Anglo-Catholic identity, and liturgical spirituality appear at Haligweorc

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.

Ten tips on addressing conflict within the church

by Eric Bonetti

Conflict. Even the word itself makes us cringe a little. It has a hard, biting edge. In the back of our minds, the word conjures up unsettling images -- of dentists' drills, of that last really bad cold, of falling out of a tree as a child.

Fortunately, when we understand conflict, we learn to take a deep breath, to relax a little, to move past the immediate issues, and to view conflict as perhaps even a stepping stone to positive change. We may never come to enjoy conflict, but with perspective we learn to put it in its proper place.

So, next time you feel like you're about to be run over by a truck named conflict, here are ten tips to help you understand and work through conflict:

1. Conflict is inevitable -- Much as we'd like to pretend otherwise, conflict is as old as humanity. It happens among the closest friends, even among Jesus and the disciples. And like death and taxes, it comes to us all. So don't panic when you see conflict coming--it's just part of life.

2. Churches may be particularly susceptible to conflict -- Avoiding conflict is easy when we get to pick and choose those around us. But in an environment that embraces diversity, there will, by definition, be a wider array of perspectives and viewpoints. As a result, there will be a greater likelihood of conflict.

3. Conflict doesn't make you bad -- Conflict, in and of itself, has no moral implications. Just because there's conflict afoot doesn't mean you're a bad person. Similarly, the presence of conflict doesn't reflect badly on your parish, your vestry, your priest, or your bishop.

4. Conflict can be healthy -- Growth requires change, and change engenders conflict. Handled appropriately, conflict can be a sign of positive change and growth. So next time you feel tension in the air, consider the possibility that something good is in the works.

5. Suppressing conflict is unhealthy -- Suppressing or ignoring conflict inevitably spells trouble. The underlying issue doesn't go away. Instead, like a locust, it goes underground, only to emerge later in spectacularly noisy fashion.

6. It's all about how we handle conflict -- Moral meaning attaches not to conflict itself, but to how we handle conflict. Remembering that we all are made in the image of God, assuming good intent, and avoiding "scorched earth" responses can go a long way towards de-escalating even the most difficult situation.

7. Choose engagement over fight or flight -- The old axiom about fight or flight as a response to threats misses the third option: Engagement. When conflict rears its ugly head, take a deep breath, relax, and "lean into" the issue. Promote engagement through use of "I" statements versus "you" statements, and by avoiding sweeping generalities. For example, "I feel like you are often late to meetings," is better then "You are late to every single meeting!" Test for understanding by reflecting back the other person's comments, "So you are saying it would be easier for you if the meeting were a half hour later?"

8. Get outside help when needed -- Sometimes, a neutral third party can be invaluable in breaking through layers of anger and misperception. If you're just not connecting with the other person, consider asking your priest, a professional mediator, or other trusted person for help.

9. Know that some situations require an immediate response -- Situations involving bullying or workplace violence, whether verbal or physical, require an immediate response to avoid potential damage to people or liability. Similarly, potential violations of fair employment laws, the canons, or issues involving sexual misconduct warrant a special response. When in doubt, act immediately to protect the vulnerable.

10. Persistent, high-level conflict is a warning sign -- Church, like work and home, should be something to which you look forward. If you find yourself dreading that next vestry or altar guild meeting, or you routinely dash out after services to avoid coffee hour, consider the possibility that a larger, more serious issue is afoot, and take steps to address it before it becomes even more toxic.

In short, while no one enjoys conflict, there's much that you can do to manage conflict, to reduce anxiety, and to move towards successful outcomes.


Eric Bonetti is a nonprofit professional in Northern Virginia with experience in change management and strategic planning. He is an active member of Grace Episcopal Church in Alexandria VA.

Change: unsafe at any speed

by Maria L. Evans

Almighty God, by the radiance of your Son’s appearing you have purified a world corrupted by sin: We humbly pray that you would continue to be our strong defense against the attacks of our enemies; and grant that [this____________and] whatsoever in this church has been stained or defiled through the craft of Satan or by human malice, may be purified and cleansed by your abiding grace; that this place, purged from all pollution, may be restored and sanctified, to the glory of your Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
--Prayer to restore a consecrated church item that has been profaned, p. 318, Book of Occasional Services

One of the writers I've come to appreciate on our own Episcopal Cafe is George Clifford, simply because he's not afraid to walk to the edge about some things we hold dear about our church in a visceral way--for instance, his recent suggestion that the printed Book of Common Prayer is going the way of the dinosaur. However, it was one of the comments that really got my mind going, one by EH Culver:

"They may replace real candles with flameless ones, but I doubt that anything can make a thurible safe and yet still able to do its job. After all these centuries, lighting the coals and producing an impressive cloud of smoke constitute the messiest, most dangerous liturgical action of all. If there's a way to clean this up, I haven't thought of it."

All of a sudden it clicked for me--our obsession with (and our reaction to) the various Holy Accoutrements mimics the visceral tension of understanding ourselves as Christians and growing into the people God calls us to be as individuals and in community.

Anyone who has been an Episcopalian for any length of time has the Holy Hardware we love, and the Holy Hardware we can't stand. I'll confess mine. I love real bread at the altar (can't stand Holy Fishfood,) and want RED, not white, wine (What? Plasma of Christ? No way!) There are people who love incense and people who can't stand it. There are people who feel physically ill from the notion of being denied a BCP to hold, and people who would just whip out their smart phones and deal with it.

Now...the reality is I know in my heart the Eucharist is still the Eucharist, even if it does have the liturgical equivalent of a Necco wafer of bread, and a white wine that looks like the most protein-starved blood donor I've ever seen. But that tension bred by choice and technology, rather than concentrating on our reaction to it, should be our teacher instead. Notice that the things we most often react to, are the things that are tactile and sensory. Books vs. e-books. Candles vs. oil-candles. Wine colors. Crisp folds and pristine whiteness when it comes to corporals. Incense or the lack of it.

In short, we want to pick and choose between our messy and dangerous things--but full speed ahead Christian discipleship takes us out past the boundaries of safe and comfortable. There will always be a place where being Christian and doing Christianity feels distinctly unsafe and palpably uncomfortable. To stay comfortable is to die--it insulates us from the realities of a broken world, a world that is crying for us to be a participant. It's why the mainline Christianity of our parents and grandparents is beginning to look like a mausoleum of hollow, empty churches. We are, I believe, called to use our own awareness of our discomforts in our church communities as training exercises for the discomforts we will encounter in taking our stories to an increasingly unchurched society.

How can your own personal unease with changes in worship in your home parish become a springboard to your own personal sense of mission in the world--a world that's potentially messy and dangerous? What are we inadvertently profaning in the church be insisting it remain "the way we've always done it?"


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

What is old and what is new

by Kathy Staudt

In the upstairs choir room at our church, on the bulletin board, there is a set of crayon drawings by Sunday school children.. One of the Sunday school pictures has my daughter’s name on it. Another has the name of her closest Sunday School friend. My daughter is now 25. The picture was probably made when those girls were in third and fourth grade, i.e. in 1996 or 1997.

The bulletin board where those drawings hang was once a room divider used in the undercroft , to divide up the various grade levels of Sunday school. Someone moved it up here at some point for storage, or maybe to create 2 levels of Sunday school in this space. But no one ever took the pictures down.

And I find I can’t bring myself to take them down, either. I feel sentimental about that Sunday School picture. It reminds me of an era when I felt that my children shared a church life that was important to me, when they were part of a healthy church family, learning the basic stories of the faith and experiencing worship in community. It was the era when life in church was transforming me, giving me satisfying leadership roles as an educator and prayer leader, and steering me toward a vocation that has been real and life-giving to me. My life in those years was quite wrapped up in church, and I am still “active” in my congregation. But the vocational path I started on in the 90s has also led me to different expressions and experiences of the Christian life. I still value and treasure that era of family life in church, and continue to be fed by worshipping with the next generation of younger families that have come. I come “home” to worship, I support this church financially, and I help out where I can with leadership. But the congregation now is more a “home base” from which I go out, not the place where most of my ministry and social life are focused, as they were in an earlier time.

The room where these pictures hang is still called the choir room, and it is where the choir stores our stuff: robes and music, and where most of us vest. But it is no longer used for choir practice, either; It is up a steep flight of steps, with no bathroom on that level, and the aging of choir members makes it harder for some of us to come up the steep stairs to this room, though it still houses a piano and metal file cabinets full of music. (As well as a number of tables piled high with music to be filed!). The room comes to life when the children’s hand-chime choir rehearses there, but their rehearsal happens in a space surrounded by clutter from the past.

Certainly there is no longer the same kind of “Sunday School,” no longer the large choir program that we had 20 years ago -- but the things associated with that era in our common life are still lying around. No one (myself included) seems to have the energy to retire these reminders of the old way. I have been noticing that many other churches I visit have the same kind of clutter lying around in their parish halls and meeting rooms. It is the kind of clutter we stop noticing when we have lived in a house for a long time. Just a lot of stuff that we aren’t really using any more, but we haven’t had the energy or a reason to move or toss or put stuff away. And the sorting and tossing that would be required seems like more than we want to take on.

I know something about the emotional energy this kind of sorting takes because in the past year I have moved our household from the home we lived in for 24 years, into a new and less cluttered space. In the same year I have also helped to downsize and sell my mother’s condo, as she moved into assisted living. Both projects began with a slow sorting process, a lingering over this or that thing or book or file or piece of paper that held a memory. And revisiting those memories was important. As my Mom was doing it, we took things slowly, even though her daughters were itching to get on with the move. She needed to handle those things, tell those stories, before tossing files and mementos into the trash, as she then did. In my own sorting and packing, I found that after a time I Just needed to get someone to help me who wasn’t invested in the stuff, who had a vision for what this place would look like when it was cleared out, and how the space could work for the next owner, the new buyer, or in the case of our own move, for the next stage of our life as a couple and as a family. The realtor, the decorator, and ultimately the "College Hunks Hauling Junk" became important allies in the spiritual work demanded by moving.

It is easy enough, from the outside, to say, “Just throw it all away, simplify and start over again!” But in fact the process necessarily involves some real decisions about what to keep and what to toss. My mother took comfort in knowing that her daughters would take some of her most valued possessions, and the process of adding those family treasures to my own household has deepened my sense of continuity between my new home and my origins, and the places I have come from in life. I kept boxes of family memorabilia, for example, knowing I had space in the new house to store it, and wasn’t ready to part with it yet; The sorting out of “treasured things” from “stuff” is a long labor of love, and takes a lot of energy before the time comes to call in the “College Hunks” and say “just take the rest away.”

We have known for awhile now that at this moment in the life of the Church, there are things that need to go, and things that need to be remembered, and the process of discerning which is which involves a conversation between the generations, some story-telling, some mutual listening, and a lot of emotional energy. This is what Phyllis Tickle means (quoting Bishop Mark Dyer) when she refers to the “rummage sale” that goes on in the church every 500 years or so, an event that she calls the “great emergence,” which we are in the midst of now.

When I look at that room in our church building, I ask myself, “What is this room for, now?” And I find I don’t have an answer to that; right now it is mainly a room that stores stuff from the past. It will take some creative thinking, and conversation with a next generation of leaders, if it is not to remain simply a cluttered room, but a place where some new creative thing can happen in the life of the church. In this way it stands for the larger, physical presence of our particular congregation in the place where it is. What is here that is worth cherishing and remembering? What is clutter that needs to go? These are serious questions that I think we need to be asking ourselves, as leaders and long-time members in congregations, who care about both the past and the future of the church. And it is a conversation that needs to happen across generations.

When I go up the old choir room to collect my robe and music on a Sunday, I sometimes notice those church school drawings still on the old room divider. And I think of a saying of Jesus that cries out for our attention, in this time of transition in this church.. Asking his disciples how much they’ve understood of his teaching, he declares: “Every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like the master of a household who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old..” (Matthew 13:52 (NRSV) Words to reflect on and act on, as we move through this new time of “emergence” in the Church.



Dr. Kathleen Henderson Staudt keeps the blog poetproph. 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.

A radical re-imaging The Episcopal Church

by George Clifford

Part 2 (Part 1)

Presume, even if just for a couple of moments, that the prophets of doom are correct in predicting that denominations – including The Episcopal Church (TEC) – are living dinosaurs, anachronisms from a bygone era that will soon die off completely. If accurate, those predictions invite, perhaps demand, a radical rather than incremental re-imagining of TEC because we have little to lose. Post-radical reimagining, the worst possible scenario is that we have inadvertently hastened TEC's demise as a denominational force. However, the best possible scenario is that radical reimagining reinvents and reinvigorates TEC as a twenty-first century missional force united by common prayer. Here are two proposals.

First, TEC might replace its formal, bicameral, hierarchical approach to governance with highly decentralized, ad hoc, multiple open channels that social media makes possible at little or no cost (imagine shattering rice bowls!). In this new inclusive approach, dynamic, self-organizing groups with open membership would convene around a task or shared interest. Groups would form, subdivide, multiply, and dissolve when and as members deemed appropriate, superseding the existing permanent agglomeration of TEC commissions, committees, and boards. Virtual meetings, online polling (direct democracy displacing representative democracy), and other electronic communication would advantageously eliminate most of the overhead costs associated with our current approach to governance.

For example, instead of only one group studying the theology of marriage, TEC could capture the energy the subject generates and allow any number of self-selected groups to grapple with the theology of marriage. The groups could all publish their reports; the initial reports might approach a consensus opinion (surely an indicator that the Spirit was at work!), a new group or groups might form to develop a comprehensive report, people might be comfortable with plural views, or a completely unexpected development might occur. An open-ended, decentralized process creates space and time for discerning the Spirit in ways that formal structures and tidy processes make difficult and improbable. Having only one group study a subject, report its findings, and then General Convention act decisively on that report perpetuates a chimera of common belief better suited to the Christendom of yore than the post-modern individualism of the twenty-first century.

TEC might discover that the majority of contemporary Episcopalians regard the elections, legislative processes, and budget debates in which we now invest considerable time and money as unimportant and irrelevant. (As an experiment, ask some Episcopalians what occurred in the last General Convention or Executive Council meeting, or to name three key TEC mission programs.)

Attempts to justify the importance of formal structures are both dated and circular. TEC requires minimal structure to comply with state and federal law. Nor do our Constitution and Canons interpose insurmountable obstacles. Eliminating most elected positions will minimize the need for elections; we can conduct any necessary elections electronically. Legislative processes are inherently exclusive, costly, and self-perpetuating; most TEC members are neither engaged nor invested in TEC's ministry or mission. Finally, the next proposal replaces centralized finance and budgeting and with an entrepreneurial approach designed to promote involvement and ownership. In sum, focusing our common life and endeavors around celebratory worship, building community, spiritual formation, and shared mission endeavors will achieve more for God than the status quo does.

An open structure maximizes breadth and expansiveness (no limit on participation), honors an incarnational view of life (the Spirit can move through all Episcopalians, not just elected representatives), and is continuous with the past (retaining democratic discernment of the God's leading) while changing with the times (a flat structure congruent with post-modernism). An open structure also coheres well with TEC's theology that in Baptism God calls all Christians to ministry; the other orders of ministry connote particular functions within the body that an open structure respects.

Second, TEC might replace its reliance on diocesan financial commitments with endowment income, crowdsourcing, and outsourcing. TEC's endowment is sufficient to fund the Presiding Bishop, Anglican and ecumenical relations, and a small program. Crowdsourcing might fund some of TEC's ministry and mission, i.e., direct giving from multiple dioceses, congregations, and individuals to particular ministries or missions of their choice. People and groups give enthusiastically of time, talent, and treasure when they believe in the program or cause to which they are donating.

TEC could also outsource some of its ministries and missions to dioceses, congregations, or groups willing to take responsibility for a particular ministry or mission. TEC did this, in effect, decades ago with theological education, outsourcing responsibility for funding and operating clergy education to seminaries that, in spite of their links to TEC, now are largely autonomous. (That model worked well, though the failure of seminaries to adapt to our post-modern, post-Christendom world suggests that significant changes are in their future.) A diocese with a large military population might fund and support the Office for Federal Ministries, paying the salary for the Bishop for Federal Ministries who would remain a Suffragan to the Presiding Bishop. Another diocese (or group of dioceses) might take responsibility for youth ministry, or new church starts, etc. Several dioceses are moving in this direction, establishing local programs for clergy education. Outsourcing would both cohere with TREC's key themes and encourage dioceses and congregations to expand their view of ministry and mission from the local to the national or international.

Ministries and missions not funded through endowment income, crowdsourcing, or outsourcing would end. Any expectation that the current flow of funds from congregations to TEC via dioceses gives the original donor a feeling of ownership or participation in the ministry or mission of TEC seems erroneous, perhaps naïve. The present approach of centralized decision making and assessments better suited a pre-Information Age Church that depended upon printing to disseminate information. In today's world, General Convention and Executive Council approving TEC budgets paternalistically presumes that those bodies can more faithfully discern God's leading than can the rest of the Church. Crowdsourcing and outsourcing eliminate that presumption, a presumption at odds with TREC's key themes of breadth/expansiveness, incarnational theology, and social engagement/prophetic dissent. Moreover, this approach would foster entrepreneurialism, encouraging new ministries and missions for which dioceses, congregations, or ad hoc groups hear a call and have a passion.

Some entities, like an army, require strong, hierarchical, organization and structure. But TEC is not an army. And although strong, clear structure and governance provide some benefits, they can actually impede rather than promote ministry and mission. Sometimes, a flat, loosely connected organization can best leverage people's gifts and passions, quickly adapt to new opportunities, and create community while preserving individuality.

Advantageously, radically reimagining TEC's structure and finances may create new centripetal forces to hold us together as a Church united in common prayer. Involving more people – lay and ordained – in the Church's larger mission may be the best option for helping a highly individualized, denominationally disengaged constituency to value our connectional polity. Engaging people in the Church's ministry and mission, creating linkages that transcend geography by finding common theological and liturgical ground, will both promote common prayer and common forms of prayer.

The two proposals outlined above, admittedly short on specifics, suggest one possible way to reimagine TEC. Surely other options for radically reimagining TEC exist. Reform is not the answer. TEC is dramatically out of step with social changes and appears headed toward oblivion unless it successfully reimagines itself. Fewer Episcopalians are giving their time to support TEC ministries and missions; dioceses are increasingly reluctant to fund TEC. Radical reimagining offers hope for preserving TEC's distinctive liturgical and theological identity as a church united in common prayer while adapting our structure, governance, and funding to the exigencies of twenty-first century life.

Part 1 is here.

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.

Last print version of the Book of Common Prayer

by George Clifford

Part 1

The 1979 Book of Common Prayer is the last printed version of the prayer book that The Episcopal Church (TEC) will ever publish. Three rationales support that prognostication. First, a growing majority of TEC congregations struggle financially. They often lack the funds to meet their current expenses, much less purchase new prayer books. Second, e-books are rapidly overtaking traditional printed books in popularity. Some Episcopalians already participate in worship by following the service on a tablet, smartphone, or other electronic device instead of printed books or a leaflet. Third, TEC is so theologically, liturgically, and linguistically diverse that developing sufficient support for any prayer book revision seems problematic. Instead, the number and variety of liturgies authorized for trial will almost certainly continue to proliferate.

Lamenting or applauding the shift from printed to electronic media is unproductive. The change is occurring both rapidly and irreversibly. However, the increasing reliance on electronic versions of the liturgy represents a troubling and growing challenge to TEC's identity as a church united by common prayer rather than common belief. Unlike printed prayer books, altering an electronic version of the liturgy to suit local needs, preferences, or theology is very easy, costs little or nothing, and already happens. Furthermore, this ongoing move toward multiple liturgical forms, some locally adapted, even when authorized by proper ecclesiastical authority, is a centrifugal force pulling TEC away from its historic connectional ethos toward a congregational ethos.

Many Episcopalians value, as do I, our tradition of unity rooted in common prayer rather than common belief. Is the demise of common prayer inevitable? If not, how do we preserve common prayer with the shift toward electronic versions of our liturgy and our growing congregational ethos? Perhaps more basically, how do we maintain our unity in view of these changes?

In 2012, the 77th General Convention established a Task Force for Reimagining the Episcopal Church (TREC) to "create a plan for reforming the Church’s structures, governance, and administration." If tinkering at the margins or making other simple fixes to reform structures, governance, and administration could reinvigorate the denomination, then TEC (or another of the many denominations experiencing similar declines in attendance, participation, and giving) would probably have already taken those steps.

TEC needs a radical makeover, not incremental reform. Radically reimagining TEC –holding on to the essentials of our identity, letting go of anachronistic non-essentials, and embracing new forms and styles appropriate for the early twenty-first century – has the potential to reinvent and reinvigorate TEC while also charting a path toward preserving unity rooted in common prayer.

TREC, at their July 2013 meeting, enumerated five key themes for restructuring (their report is available here):

Breadth/expansiveness
Incarnational view of human life
The arts, liturgy, and mystery
Continuity and change
Social engagement and prophetic dissent

Those themes represent a good description of who Episcopalians have been and want to be. However, those themes afford no assurance that TREC's reimagining of the Church will lead to the substantial changes TEC needs if it is to reinvent and reinvigorate itself (with God's help, we pray!) as a twenty-first century missional force.

The Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral of 1886 and 1888 emphasized the importance of Church unity and outlined the terms on which Anglicans seek unity. The Quadrilateral includes two principles essential for a radical reimagining of The Episcopal Church:

That in all things of human ordering or human choice, relating to modes of worship and discipline, or to traditional customs, this Church is ready in the spirit of love and humility to forego all preferences of her own…
and
The Historic Episcopate, locally adapted in the methods of its administration to the varying needs of the nations and peoples called of God into the unity of His Church.

In other words, TEC insists on retaining the historic episcopate but in most other matters recognizes that neither Scripture nor tradition provides a timeless, authoritative pattern of ecclesial structure or governance. Thus, the options for reimagining TEC are numerous and have few inherent limits. Perhaps the greatest barriers to radically reimagining TEC are entrenched groups and individuals who enjoy their privileged positions and powers under the status quo and our own blinders with respect to what may be possible.

Historic patterns of ecclesiastical organization have ranged from unstructured collegiality to authoritarian and from almost complete reliance on individual initiative to corporate clericalism. What pattern and style of organization best suits TEC's liturgical and theological emphases in ways that accommodate or, better yet, utilize social changes over which we have no control (e.g., electronic communication and heightened individualism) to promote the community, ministry, and mission of God's people in and through TEC?

In the second part of this essay, I suggest two proposals for a radical makeover, offering them as conversation starters intended to stretch our thinking about what is possible and not as definitive ukases.


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.

Change and the Episcopal Church: putting God in a box

by Eric Bonetti

The wind blows where it wills, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know whence it comes or whither it goes; so it is with every one who is born of the Spirit." John 3:8

As we work to re-imagine the future of The Episcopal Church, the only thing on which there is universal agreement is that change is coming. Whether one looks at finances, membership, our role in society, or our relationship with the other provinces of the Anglican Communion, it is clear that the future will be different than the past.

Some dread change. Others fear it. Many avoid it. A few embrace it. But regardless of one's approach, it is interesting to ask the question, "How open are we to change?" Do we welcome the workings of the Holy Spirit? Do we know the Holy Spirit when we see its handiwork? And what is the role of the Holy Spirit as we discuss the future of The Episcopal Church?

I don't claim to know the answer to these questions, and these are complex questions, not amenable to a quick and easy answer.

But as I watch the discussion about the future of The Episcopal Church play out, I increasingly suspect we put God -- and particularly the Holy Spirit -- in a box far more often than we realize.

Of course, we have a quirky relationship with the Holy Spirit to begin with. Talk too much about the Holy Spirit, and some will conclude that one is a Pentecostal, or charismatic. Other times, we don't really seem to know what to make of the Holy Spirit. We know it's out there, and we move quickly to the next topic when someone mentions the Holy Spirit.

Sometimes, we hear the mighty rush of wind and, being Episcopalians, we refer the matter to a committee. In such cases, the wind still blows, but instead of being a hurricane-like blast, we corral the wind, until it hums along like the quiet sound of air conditioning in a four-star hotel. Barely perceptible, if at all, but comfortable, pleasant, and reassuring, and easy to ignore.

Many examples of this paradigm exist. Consider, for example, the promise of full inclusion in the life of the church for our GLBT sisters and brothers. We passed legislation more than 30 years ago calling addressing the issue, but for years did little to bring about meaningful change. Today, I suspect the Holy Spirit largely has done an end-run around us, and the mighty winds of change are moving not through The Episcopal Church on the issue of marriage equality, but rather through the courts and legislatures. We see ourselves as being on the leading edge of the issue, but rather than a hurricane, we bring a quiet air conditioning unit to the table.

Similarly, on the parish and diocesan level, we are good at stomping down change. How often have we heard, "But that's not how we do things at St. Fill-in-the-Blank?" To which I am too often tempted to reply, "Really? Says who?"

In other cases, our efforts to limit the working of the Holy Spirit are more frantic. Instead of building a box from the bricks of governance, we hear the mighty rush of the wind and jump up to bar the door. Much like riding out a hurricane, we pull down the storm shutters, while piling heavy furniture, lumber and more in front of the door, all in the name of keeping the wind out of our home.

Need an example? There are many. Whether it's the passionate opposition to the ordination of women or GLBT clergy, we've had more than our fair share of bar-the-door moments.

But perhaps the most pernicious is a very special box that we build for the Holy Spirit. This box is hard to see, but it's bullet-proof and blast proof, and my bet is that it could ride out a nuclear war, largely unscathed. Tougher than tacks, more impregnable than Fort Knox, and able to resist the most determined intruder, even this hardened box is not enough to contain the Holy Spirit--but it does a remarkable job of slowing things down.

What is this box? It's the box formed by the limits of our imaginations.

Right now, we are at an inflection point, where we are called to dream about, to re-imagine, and to build the future of The Episcopal Church. All about us, we see signs of the mighty wind of the Holy Spirit, leveling barriers, opening doors, swirling about steeples, blasting down hallways. But even when we welcome and embrace this tremendous force, we just can't imagine it's doing anything good.

Instead of seeing a call towards rebirth and a resurrection moment, we lament the impending demise of the church. We focus on declining membership, sluggish giving, and we respond by trying to contrive ways to return to the church of the fifties--a literal "faith of our fathers," in which life is comfortable, cash plentiful, there are no women serving as clergy, and the most upsetting thing that happens is when the flowers don't show up in time for Sunday services. In short, our imagination calls us to the past, not the future.

Just how far-reaching are the effects of the limits of our imagination? The answer, I suspect, is staggering.

Consider the discussion about the future of church headquarters, often referred to as "815." The most recent general convention authorized sale of the building--a possible move that has met with stiff opposition by some members of the hierarchy. Others support the sale of the building, and a relocation to another site, such as the National Cathedral. Others treat the issue as a red herring and say that we have bigger fish to fry.

But almost nowhere have we asked the underlying question, "Do we even need a headquarters building?" As a denomination, we examine the issue, think about the need for phones, faxes, meeting space, file cabinets, and other infrastructure, and we respond by saying, "Of course we do. We just need to figure out where to put it."

Sometimes, we get so far down the road that we trot out marriage equality, proximity to transportation, and more in support of this knee-jerk reaction, all the while ignoring the possibility that we perhaps neither need nor want an old style, Madmen-style quasi-corporate headquarters.

Far-fetched? Not at all. Some major corporations have as much as 40 percent of their workforce working on a virtual basis. Such an approach is green, as it can reduce the costs and environmental impact of commuting. And if implemented correctly, telecommuting can greatly increase the quality of life for employees.

Worried about marriage equality? Staff affected by this issue could reside in the community of their choice.

Need to see the whites of their eyes to know what staff is up to? Good supervisors focus on outcomes, not physical visibility.

Phones, faxes and record storage? Hosted, redundant, secure solutions are available for all of these.

Need a place to hole up? Plenty of parishes and cathedrals would be willing to play host, and would no doubt welcome a cost-sharing arrangement.

Meeting space? Plenty of that to go around, both in New York and elsewhere.

Missional issues? Spread the joy in places besides Manhattan.

Collaboration? WebEx.

What about the cost? The numbers are compelling. With roughly 120 employees at church headquarters, supplying each employee with home broadband, a computer, a hosted collaboration solution, and a voice over IP-based phone could easily be done for under $500 per employee per month. That comes to $60,000 a month, or $720,000 a year--a vast improvement over the current cost structure of our headquarters, which totals roughly $3.3 million annually.

In short, it's not implausible that we are called not to move our headquarters, but to eliminate it altogether. But on the whole, we just can't imagine that there really is a potentially better solution out there. Instead, we've gotten caught up in the goofy loop of conclusions based on unexamined assumptions.

My point here is not primarily about the future of church headquarters. Indeed, using this as an example comes with a built-in downside, which is that folks may get so caught up in the specifics of the issue as to miss the larger point. To borrow an advertising phrase from the last days of the old, pre-merger AT&T, the real question is one of "boundless opportunity" for the church as a whole, versus the pros and cons of any particular approach to our headquarters building.

I am not a pessimist about the future of the church. Indeed, I believe that the future is bright for our denomination. All around us, there are signs of the mighty workings of the Holy Spirit as the winds of change move about. Sometimes a hurricane, sometimes a gentle breeze, sometimes a gentle hum akin to an air conditioning unit--there is movement all about us, driving us towards resurrection and rebirth.

But if I am wrong, and we indeed are looking at the imminent demise of The Episcopal Church, my bet is that it will be the limits of our own collective imagination, coupled with a lack of joy as we survey the wondrous change around us, that built the box that smothered the church.


Eric Bonetti is a nonprofit professional in Northern Virginia with experience in change management and strategic planning. He is an active member of Grace Episcopal Church in Alexandria VA.

Sink, swim or walk on water: election of the next Presiding Bishop

by George Clifford

Debate has commenced in earnest about the election of The Episcopal Church's next Presiding Bishop (e.g., Next Presiding Bishop: caretaker or visionary?). I've even contributed to that conversation.

In one sense, the selection of the next Presiding Bishop is so unimportant that the Church could rely on a serendipitous selection. For example, the Nominating Committee might place the name of each eligible and willing bishop on a slip of paper and then draw nine of those names for its slate. The House of Bishops might draw one of those names and then elect that person the next PB with the House of Deputies voting by acclamation to affirm that choice. Although this approach may comply with the letter but not the spirit of the canons, it is certainly biblical (remember the selection in Acts 1:21-26 of Matthias to replace Judas?) and would save upwards of a quarter of million dollars.

Sometimes God does work through serendipitous events. Drawing names would eliminate all electioneering and God knows that the poor, the spiritually empty, and many, many others could benefit from increased funding of missions and alms.

I suspect that the most strident and vocal objections would come from individuals and groups heavily invested in preserving our existing institutions and forms. Having watched three general conventions and been part of several dioceses, a relative handful of insiders – both volunteer and paid – dominate the proceedings. Constituencies that include clergy, special interests, elected lay deputies/delegates, and staffs all have the most at stake in the selection of the next PB.

Quite frankly, their concerns (and I share more than a few of them!) should not determine who is chosen as the next PB. We are increasingly a remnant, burdened with an oversized and underutilized physical plant, and supported by a diminished endowment and giving. A gifted manager might slow – at least temporarily – the rate of decline. Someone who shares my values might promote causes and ministries important to me. But business as usual is not going to keep this Episcopal ark from sinking.

When I see the other mainline denominations suffering from problems similar to ours, I recognize that expecting a new PB, organizational restructuring, or other management changes to fix the leaks and other problems is delusional. Reviewing our previous repair efforts, and those of other mainline denominations, reminds me of the definition of stupid, i.e., repeating an action while continuing to expect a different result.

Is there hope for The Episcopal Church? I believe so. The signs of new life that I observe are not in national or diocesan structures but in local communities of Christ's people. A sea change is underway. The internet, social media, and increasing individualism are flattening hierarchy and making committees and legislative processes anachronisms. The hope – the only real hope – for The Episcopal Church comes from bottom-up rather than top-down change.

Let's recover our charisma. We institutionalize the Church's charisma – the good news of God's love revealed in Jesus expressed in our via media – to help us transmit that charisma from one generation to the next. Over time, we begin to confuse the institutional form with the charisma, inevitably stifling the charisma. In vibrant expressions of Christ's body, the charisma is visible in changed lives, healing people eager and excited to engage in mission.

Let's prioritize mission over ministry. The Episcopal Church does not exist for itself or its members. We exist to be Christ's body, Christ's physical presence in the world. Ministries that serve the Church and its members properly fill a secondary, supportive role for our mission of bringing God's love to the world. Yet, a quick analysis of volunteer and staff time, and of funds expended, reveals the support "tail" of ministry now dwarfs the "tooth" of missions. We care for one another and our legacies (buildings, societies, etc.) instead of boldly going into the world without purse, bag, or sandals.

Let's become nimble. Yearly diocesan and triennial national budget, decision-making, and program cycles are too slow, ponderous, and cumbersome in the information age. Rector search processes that require twelve, eighteen, or even more months do not increase the likelihood of congregational growth, revitalization, or even longer tenure.

Let's redeploy our resources. National and denominational offices once essential for sharing resources and best practices, fostering effective coalitions, and producing results are now mostly superfluous. Today, few people call headquarters for help. Instead, they – including Episcopalian laity and clergy – grab a smartphone to search for resources, best practices, contacts, and networking. Many congregations could similarly redeploy their assets to achieve greater results for God.

Jesus provides a role model for inspirational Christian leaders that we would do well to emulate:

He had clarity of vision and purpose. He came to bring good news to the poor, release to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind. Through prayer and time alone, he maintained his focus and strength in the face of adversity.

He embodied courage. He unflinchingly faced an entrenched power convinced that it could coopt or destroy him.

He was a dynamic, effective communicator. Crowds of thousands of spiritual seekers flocked to hear his message of God's life-giving love.

He incarnated charisma. People – Jews and Gentiles, children and women and men, the religious and the secular – in their relationship with him, experienced God's transformative love.

Finally, he inspired others to join him. He saw people's gifts, recruited the willing, and shaped them with love. Then the gospels report that Jesus sent out the twelve and the seventy; Matthew ends his gospel with Jesus exhorting his followers to change the whole world. Jesus ministered to his followers that they, in turn, might embrace and join him in mission.


If our next PB is such a leader, a woman or man formed in Jesus' image with clarity of vision and purpose, who courageously communicates and incarnates Christ's charisma to a broken, secular world, then the choice of the next PB matters hugely. Such a leader may do little to resuscitate our leaking institutions. But with such a leader as our chief pastor, we will hear and answer God's call to be agents of resurrection, bringing good news to the poor, release to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind.


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.

Six lessons learned from property recovery litigation

by Eric Bonetti

With the majority of the property litigation now seemingly behind us, it may be time to reflect on the disputes with the Anglican congregations. Are there lessons to be learned? Do these controversies tell us anything about our role in American society, both today and in the future? Are there things that, with the advantage of hindsight, we might do differently?

I believe that the litigation does, in fact, provide us with a unique opportunity for introspection and self-evaluation. And while there are some things that, with the advantage of hindsight, we might have done differently, I believe that, on the whole, The Episcopal Church has responded appropriately to the challenges we have faced.

With that in mind, following are some conclusions this author has drawn from the litigation:

1. We're Resilient

In the early days of the dispute, the Rev. Geoffrey Chapman, rector of a conservative parish in the Diocese of Pittsburgh, drafted a now-infamous strategy memo (available here), in which he outlined a "cluster strategy," whereby parishes would depart in groups in an effort to overwhelm loyalists. The ultimate goal, Chapman stated, would be replacement of The Episcopal Church's current governance structure with one of the Anglicans' choosing. Tellingly, Chapman predicted that "ECUSA will certainly lose members and funds at a high rate over the next months, accelerating their decline."

Since then, we have not seen The Episcopal Church collapse, nor have we seen any meaningful move towards a replacement hierarchy. Instead, we have seen declines in giving and membership very consistent with that of other mainstream denominations, including the Roman Catholic church. Meanwhile, some signs actually are promising, including more than $2 million raised to date for repairs to the earthquake-damaged Washington National Cathedral, and membership and giving stabilizing in some areas. Some, like my parish, have taken the events as a call towards renewal, growth, and becoming an "inviting parish."

2. Public Opinion Increasingly Favors The Episcopal Church

The departing congregations also were very much out of touch with majority public opinion on GLBT rights and marriage equality.

In his memo, Chapman refers to the consecration of openly gay Rev. Gene Robinson, as an Episcopal bishop, saying, "No one is very happy about this inside ECUSA, and the American public is hardly cheering the events in New Hampshire." A curious assertion, in light of the vote at General Convention on this matter, and the subsequent consecration of the Rev. Mary Glasspool, a lesbian, as a bishop.

Today, 12 states have endorsed marriage equality, and all involved recognize that there is a sea change in public support for same-gender couples. Indeed, recent surveys show that even here in Virginia -- which is notoriously conservative on social issues and an epicenter of the Anglican movement -- a majority support marriage equality. Thus, while the dissidents argue that opposition to gay rights is an ethical issue not susceptible to public opinion, their original argument, which claimed to be a majority perspective, increasingly is proving to be untrue, both within the church and society as a whole.

3. Memories are Short When in Litigation

Even among loyal Episcopalians, one often hears complaints about the cost -- and underlying intent -- of the property recovery litigation. Yet, in such cases, one all too often finds that the complainant has forgotten about the years spent trying to find a compromise with the dissidents. For example, it was concerns about the reaction of the right wing of the church that led to what was, in many cases, 30 years of lip service to the promises of equality for GLBT church members.

Similarly, many today have forgotten the underlying premise of the dissident congregations as set forth in the Sewickley memo. The premise of that memo was not freedom of conscience. It was the destruction of The Episcopal Church and the toppling of our duly elected hierarchy. My belief is that such behavior is reprehensible and bullying of the first order, and persons of faith are justified -- and perhaps required -- to resist.

Indeed, if there is any fault to be found in the church's handling of the dissidents, it was in trying too hard to find a workable compromise. As a mentor of mine metaphorically said many years ago about a strategic business decision, "If you are attacked with a deadly weapon, and all your assailant wants is your wallet, by all means give it to him. If, on the other hand, your assailant is trying to kill you, fight back for all you're worth, because handing over your wallet isn't going to do you any good at all."

In short, in most cases, compromise was never an option available to us, and our efforts to arrive at fair-minded solutions may even have been seen as reflecting a lack of will, versus respect and a desire to behave with honor.

4. The Anglican Communion is Political

This comes as no surprise.

That said, the close ties that we as Americans enjoy with the United Kingdom led many, myself included, to initially conclude that the Archbishop of Canterbury would exercise his role as "first among equals" to insist that the other primates and provinces respect the territorial sovereignty of The Episcopal Church.

The reality, however, was that while the Primates gave lip service to the importance of preventing cross-border raids, far greater emphasis was placed by the Primates on calling for "Alternative Episcopal Oversight," or oversight of dissident parishes by bishops sympathetic to their views. Similarly, when the Anglican Covenant was proposed, there appeared little, if any, discussion, about how the Covenant might be used to prevent cross-border raids; instead, the focus was on how a province that threatened to disrupt the unity of the Communion might be brought into line with the views of the majority.

In short, in the midst of this debate, the Anglican Communion has been far more worried about trying to force others to agree, and far less about preventing bullying. Yet if the Communion is to have any value at all, it must start from the premise that it is a safe place, founded on mutual support, respect, and fair dealing, along with a recognition that it is neither possible, nor desirable, for all involved to be in total agreement, even on key issues.

5. It's Time to Review our Canons

In cases such as the recent property recovery litigation, it is probably a given that no amount of working or reworking of the canons would be enough to head off trouble. After all, the so-called Dennis Canon, which was written in response to earlier Supreme Court property cases, is clear on its face: All church property is held either for the diocese, or The Episcopal Church as a whole. Further, this approach reflects a commonsense understanding of life in a hierarchical church: If I give money to my parish, but later decide to leave, I don't get my money back, nor do I get to cart off the church building.

Yet, an examination of the governing documents of other denominations reveals that others have addressed some of the issues at far greater length, and with far greater specificity. In light of the time and trouble we have faced in recent years, it just makes sense to revisit our canons, to apply any specific lessons learned, and try to preempt future issues whenever possible.

6. Respect Isn't What it Used to Be

Years ago, it was normative to join a church when moving to a new home. Similarly, it was a given that one would support one's local church, both financially and otherwise. And clergy was entitled to deference and respect, particularly in the case of one's bishop.

Today, however, this just isn't the case. Church canons say that all property is held by the diocese or the national church? Too bad--I'm going to argue that I bought and paid for them, disregarding the generations of Episcopalians who went before me and their collective intent. My diocese is blessing same-gender couples? I'm going to leave and take my church building with me, even though nothing says I have to bless anyone.

So what's the solution? There is no easy answer. But as we work towards a renewed understanding of what it means to be an Episcopalian, my fervent hope is that we neither lose sight of our rich heritage, nor of our shared bond that brings us together as a faith community. I hope, too, is that we will take the lessons of the past few years as a call to articulate a powerful message of inclusive, liberal Christianity that rejoices in all aspects of God's creation.

Eric Bonetti is a nonprofit professional in Northern Virginia with experience in change management and strategic planning. He is an active member of Grace Episcopal Church in Alexandria VA.

Rumors to the contrary

by Linda Ryan

Today being my furlough day from work, I had a little more discretionary time after I got up than I usually do. I found a video I’d been meaning to watch and promptly sat there mesmerized for nearly half an hour. The video featured the Very Rev. Ian Markham, Dean of the Virginia Theological Seminary, speaking to the convention of the Diocese of Delaware on “the Myth of the Decline of the Episcopal Church.” He was articulate, spoke directly and without ducking his head to check his notes, was charismatic, amusing, animated and it didn’t hurt that his English accent was lovely to listen to. Over and above those characteristics however, what he said made me do a lot of thinking on my morning walk after watching the video.

Dean Markham spoke of two bishops who had been visitors to the Seminary, almost polar opposites on a number of topics, the direction in which the Episcopal Church should go at or near the top of the list of differences. As far apart as the bishops’ theological differences are or could be, their common theme seemed to be that the Episcopal Church is dying. They take opposing sides on the same issues, each assuring us that the opponent’s supporters are causing the decline; however, they agree that the Episcopal Church numbers have been going down and they are sounding a death knell. Dean Markham, on the other hand, doesn’t see it that way. As a result of this video, I have begun to think about what that means to me as an Episcopalian. I hear that our numbers are declining and I have something of a sense of acceptance that such pronouncements are gospel, causing me to figuratively wring my hands and think there’s nothing I can do, short of suggesting the church offers bread and circuses and hope people are searching for those same kinds of bread and circuses. I think perhaps we as a church have allowed a lot of what we see in the culture around us to dictate how we see our church in terms of numerical growth, or lack thereof, around us, namely fear, despair, anger and overwhelming helplessness in the face of it all. There’s a lot to fear in this world around us, judging from news reports and commentary on the sad state of things such as the string of disasters and events that seem to be plaguing our world recently: threats, famine, drought, explosions, earthquakes, shootings, and so on. It seems to me that culture and the church are somewhat like the two bishops, very different in outlook but with one single negative vision as an outcome.

Our numbers, whether declining, improving or flat lining, are based on Average Sunday Attendance (ASA) which is calculated based on reporting from each parish in every diocese as to attendance on four key Sundays during the church year. We’re not counting a lot of Episcopal church experiences that don’t happen on the particular Sundays upon which the ASA is calculated. For instance, the Dean pointed out two specific examples of these missing numbers: attendance at worship services held during the week at Episcopal schools and colleges, and those in Episcopal retirement communities. His total came out to something like 16,000 people involved in worship each week that didn’t happen on those four Sundays and therefore weren’t counted in the ASA. That made me stop and think that he’s right and that maybe we need to find a new way to count the number of people who join us not only on Sunday, the most active day of the week for our churches, but also all those services we hold during the week where we may not have a huge attendance but we do have people joining us for worship, whether in a church building or not. What if our churches came up with an average weekly attendance instead of just counting the four particular Sundays? Granted, it would probably involve more math, which a lot of people try to avoid, and it would be a little more inconvenient perhaps, but it would probably give us a more accurate number of those for whom we provide worship services and in which people participate. Also, some people who attend during the week don’t go every Sunday just as some don’t go on the Sundays where the counting is done. I wonder how many people we are discounting

Something else he brought out was the fact that Episcopal churches usually have two services and they often differ in flavor, in a manner of speaking. It isn’t always so, especially in smaller, more rural congregations, but usually if the church has two services, they generally offer one using Rite 1 and another using Rite 2 (or possibly Rite 3 in combination with one of the others), and each have their own communities within the church. There’s the old joke about an 8 o’clock worshiper showing up at a 10 AM service and being greeted as a newcomer even though they’d attended the same church for 30 years and never met anyone from the other service. Churches sometimes offer additional worship opportunities, like Taizé or drumming or meditation, and those services sometimes attract people who don’t come to other services. Shouldn’t their worship experiences count?

As a corollary to that thought, I believe that perhaps if a certain kind of worship is something that nourishes my connection with God, I will attend one that features that particular kind and not some other as a general rule. The church may offer different worship experiences at different times (even sometimes in the time when I am accustomed to a particular style or manner of worship), but that doesn’t mean I have to attend it – or have the right to veto it for others who might find it to be their connection to God. That’s one of the strengths of the Episcopal Church, this variety of worship that is possible. Variety is the spice of life, and the Episcopal Church definitely offers that spice in many different forms and at many different times. It’s almost a trademark of TEC and the “broad umbrella” we like to think of as our particular way of doing church, one which is not always shared by other churches or denominations where there is a “one size fits all” that works for them.

As a personal statement, I love the Episcopal Church. I have flirted with others since my confirmation forty-eight years ago, but I always seem to end up back in the Episcopal pews with the feeling that God is saying, “Sit! Stay!” Even though I’m more cat than dog, I get the message. I’ve listened to the despairing talks about the dying church and after listening to the Dean, I decided I’m not going to listen to them anymore. I refuse to acknowledge the thought that this church might cease to exist due to the perception that my generation and the generation that preceded me are dying and not being replaced in the pews. That refusal fits with what I observed last Sunday when I went to relatively new church that had been planted in 2006 by a priest-friend who had a passion and a mission. I looked around the congregation on Sunday in a well-filled the worship space, and I noted adults of varying ages, singles, couples, children, teens, and even a babe or two in their parents’ arms. It didn’t look like a church in a dying denomination to me, in fact, the energy level was amazing. People were there because they wanted to be there, they belonged there and they seemed to enjoy being there; they were invested in the mission and ministry of that church. I think that when I see or feel despair, I need to think about the Church of the Nativity in Scottsdale. It’s a success story built around contagion – a contagion for the gospel and service. There should be more of that kind of contagion around.

I’m Episcopalian. I’m proud of it and I want people to experience what I have with the Episcopal Church. Most of all, I want this church that I love so much to continue on for many centuries to come. It’s gone through rocky times and it’s gone through relatively tranquil times. The thing is that growth is not a painless process; sometimes something has to hurt in order to grow, like a callous on a guitar-playing hand or new skin and nerve endings over a healing wound. Our church has gone through some painful times over the last few decades, seeing (or not seeing) the need for changes in our liturgy, in our clergy, in the way we see others, and the way we work with others. Some have adapted and some, regrettably, have chosen to leave for places more suited to their beliefs and feelings. We’ve wished them well and moved on in the direction we believe the Spirit has led us. We undoubtedly will have rocky times ahead of us again. In the meantime we have the opportunity to grow simply by refusing to bow to the climate of despair and by seeking to present ourselves to the world as a church that cares about people more than we cares about how much money they have, what their social status is or even whether their beliefs are totally in sync with what some might consider orthodox beliefs.

Another old saying is about giving a man a fish and feeding him for a day while teaching him to fish will feed him for a lifetime. I think the Episcopal Church is in the process of learning how to teach people to fish rather than simply giving them fish. That, I believe is a key to keeping our church alive and growing. I’m betting on it.

Part 1 video

Part 2 video


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

The church's mission: selling the Church Center and moving

By Dan Webster

Deputies at last year’s General Convention seemed pretty clear about the Episcopal Church selling its New York City headquarters building and moving Church Center offices out of Manhattan.

Last month the Executive Oversight Committee recommended the headquarters stay put at 815 Second Avenue. The report to Executive Council listed several reasons including that it would be financially imprudent—not good stewardship—to move. Plus, leaving New York City would undermine our mission as an international church. After all, from NYC there’s direct air service to the 17 countries where we have congregations.

Bishop Stacy Sauls, chief operating officer, said the report took a year to compile and that 75 of the 102 employees at the Church Center would not move to another city. I could not help but notice how only senior staff at 815 make up the Executive Oversight Committee.

What was missing from the report was any information about what effect leaving NYC had on the Presbyterians, Methodists, Lutherans and United Church of Christ. The Lutherans even operate their three international and national relief agencies from Baltimore, a city not on Sauls’ list of 15 possible sites for a new church headquarters.

And just last month the National Council of Churches announced it was leaving the “God Box”—the Interchurch Center on Riverside Drive in NYC—and moving to Washington, DC.

“The critical NCC policy work can be coordinated from any location but to be the prophetic ‘voice of the faithful’ on the ground in the places of power, it is best served by establishing our operations in Washington,” NCC Transitional General Secretary Peg Birk said.

Our Deputies appear to be closer to new realities in 21st century congregations. Across the Episcopal church they see parishes closing, sharing clergy leadership, offering only part time salaries (or no salaries), and telling dioceses they can no longer pay their assessments – the source of the funding dioceses send to 815. Some parishes growing in membership may be seeing more pledges but for fewer dollars.

I suspect if Executive Council were to direct an independent special committee to look into selling and moving they might be surprised by the findings.

For example, the building next to the National Cathedral that housed the College of Preachers is not being used. Other dioceses in the northeast and mid-Atlantic probably have vacant church buildings that could be rehabbed into office space in locations proximate to Washington and NYC.

That independent group might also discover the wisdom shared last month by NCC President Kathryn Lohre,

“This consolidation will free us from the infrastructure of a bygone era, enabling us to witness more boldly to our visible unity in Christ, and work for justice and peace in today’s rapidly changing ecclesial, ecumenical and inter-religious world.”

Maybe we can find a way for the Episcopal Church to do that.

[See also the 2 previous essays on Daily Episcopalian. ~ed.]


The Rev. Dan Webster is canon for evangelism and ministry development in the Diocese of Maryland. He is the former media relations director of the National Council of Churches.

Moving for mission

by George Clifford

The report, Locating the Episcopal Church Center for Missional Strategy by senior management of the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society (DFMS) contained a couple of surprises.

The Episcopal Church (TEC) is, at least in part, a hierarchical organization. General Convention (GC) sits at the apex (or in the vortex, depending upon one's view!) of our denominational decision making process. Although some of GC's decisions are advisory or exhortatory, some decisions (for example, changes to the canons) are authoritative.

The 2012 GC passed D016, which states, in full: "That it is the will of this Convention to move the Church Center headquarters away from the Church Center building at 815 2nd Avenue, New York." D016's intent seems straightforward, especially in view of the House of Deputies' debate of D016 and related resolutions. Discussion emphasized the multifaceted issue of finances (reducing overhead to make money available for mission) as well as deputies desiring a more central location for TEC's offices.

Some deputies advocated modifying D016 to stipulate that TEC sell its building at 815 Second Avenue before General Convention 2015 met. After spirited exchanges, the Deputies defeated mandating a deadline, deeming it financially unwise, e.g., potential buyers, having done their homework and learned of the deadline, might wait until the deadline approached and then low-ball their offers, preventing TEC from obtaining the building's full fair market value.

DFMS management proposing that the Executive Council revisit the decision to sell 815 Second Avenue required commendable chutzpah. I, for one, do not want TEC staffers to defer unhesitatingly and unthinkingly to every GC decision, an abdication of their duties as TEC stewards and servants. However, Locating the Episcopal Church Center for Missional Strategy would have been timelier and more credible if issued prior to GC 2012. The idea of relocating the Church Center is not new. Good stewards look ahead, assess alternatives, and convey recommendations to decision makes in a timely manner.

Their rationale for concluding that TEC should maintain its Church Center at 815 Second Avenue in New York is not persuasive. Careful exegesis of the report suggests that staffing issues weighed more heavily in reaching that conclusion than did the other three factors (partnerships, justice, and maximizing financial resources for mission).

TEC does not exist to support its staff. TEC staff members, like diocesan and parish staffs, are servants of the Church. Being a servant is not always easy. Working conditions may be demanding and the pay lousy. But job satisfaction, serving God, and laboring alongside God's people, not the working conditions or pay, make the job worthwhile.

If relocating TEC's Church Center prompted 70% or more of the gifted and dedicated staff who now work there to seek employment elsewhere, this would temporarily disrupt mission. Yet other major organizations have relocated out of New York City to another city and continued functioning, sometimes even improving effectiveness and efficiency.

Suggesting that Episcopal Migration Ministries (EMM) might close if forced to relocate was particularly troubling. If EMM's very survival depends upon one key staffer, or even a handful of them, then EMM is already in trouble. What happens if that staffer(s) retires, suffers an extended illness, or voluntary resigns?

The report explicitly assumes that relocation would result in a two-tier salary structure. Why make the assumption? Alternatively, TEC could reduce the salaries of personnel who relocate to a level commensurate with what new hires with the same qualifications and experience would earn. Some firms and non-profits that relocate adopt this approach.

Transitions can be difficult, particularly in this economy when not relocating requires finding a new job. If the Church Center relocates, TEC can and should fulfill its obligations to current DFMS staff through appropriate relocation assistance, generous personal support, severance pay, etc. Additionally, organizational development studies have repeatedly demonstrated that good executive leadership can engender positive staff morale in even the most trying of circumstances, including relocation.

The DFMS report cites preserving important missional partnerships as the primary justification for retaining the Church Center at 815 Second Avenue. On the one hand, GC 2012 may have passed D016 with insufficient information to assess the consequences for TEC's New York based missional partnerships. On the other hand, perhaps GC 2012 – or the Spirit speaking through GC – expected that relocation would create new missional partnerships, incarnating different priorities and involving different constituencies. In his recent Daily Episcopalian post, "There's an elephant in the living room—now what?" Eric Bonetti's response to the DFMS report highlights TEC's need to change. Maintaining status quo priorities and partnerships will not reverse TEC's steep, persistent numerical and fiscal declines. General Convention, not the DFMS staff, sets missional priorities.

Furthermore, phones, email, videoconferencing, and other technologies enable close cooperation without requiring physical co-location. At least one other denomination successfully moved its national offices out of New York to another city. The DFMS report acknowledges, even with transition costs and a two-tier salary structure, financial savings. Presumably, these savings allow for the costs of staff travel to meetings in New York City necessary to maintain important mission partnerships.

The report's discussion of justice emphasized the King Holiday, marriage equality, gun violence, and immigration. These are important issues and I strongly support the executives' views on all four. However, TEC exists and ministers within all jurisdictions. Identifying four particular issues as litmus tests for possible Church Center locations is unreasonable when God calls TEC to bear a global prophetic witness. Litmus tests imply that Episcopalians should relocate to jurisdictions that pass those tests. Instead, God might just be calling TEC to locate its Church Center in a city that fails the public policy tests so that TEC can work more proactively and effectually to change public policies.

The report's financial analysis summary is at best frustratingly vague. Some of the vagueness is attributable to what the report labels proprietary information, a term that presumably connotes the estimated fair market value of the building at 815. After wisely investing assets, paying relocation costs, and even establishing a two-tier DFMS staff compensation structure, relocation increases funds available for mission. Critically, the report omits any indication of relocation's relative financial advantage or the estimated number of years before we realize that gain. Without that data, a meaningful cost-benefit analysis of relocation versus remaining in New York is impossible. The omission of this information reinforces the impression that staff concerns, not finances, justice issues, or preserving missional partnerships, were key in executives concluding that DFMS should retain its offices at 815 Second Avenue.

Choosing a location for the DFMS staff offices is really a secondary issue. New York is a great city and many people deem it a wonderful place to live. The same is true of many other cities. Headquarters of major corporations and other large organizations literally dot the nation. Mission, as the DFMS executives write, is the primary issue.

One motto that guides many entrepreneurs is carpe diem, seize the day. Perhaps God is calling Episcopalians to again be spiritual entrepreneurs, walking in the footsteps of the twelve disciples and of William White, Samuel Seabury, and other early American Episcopalians.

Is God calling TEC to sing a new song in the twenty-first century? What new missional priorities might God envision for us? What new models of corporate ministry might God have in mind, e.g., models more dependent upon volunteers and part-time personnel than full-time staff? What might the national Church look like in a world that relies less upon brick and mortar structures and more upon virtual realities? Would housing DFMS staff offices in underutilized parish buildings scattered across the nation generate rental income and direct mission involvement for those parishes, reduce DFMS overhead, and trigger new, almost unimaginable, missional partnerships that reenergize God's people?

New York's real estate market has remained surprisingly strong during the present economic downturn. Is D016 a unique window of opportunity to capitalize upon both the Church's financial assets and the forces for institutional change that any relocation will inevitably unleash? What is the Spirit saying to God's people? Or has the Spirit already spoken through D016 in unexpected ways?

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 .

There's an elephant in the living room--now what?

by Eric Bonetti

One of the wonderful things about The Episcopal Church is that we so rarely are all of one mind. High church, low church, broad church, Evangelical, Anglo-Catholic – we come replete with widely varying views and perspectives. Yet there’s one thing we all can agree on: The proverbial elephant is on our living room.

How did he get there? We’re not entirely sure. Is he big? You bet. Is having an elephant in the living room a good thing or a bad thing? Not sure. Some say he’s a harbinger of great things to come. Others say he’s making a mess and likely to smash everything in sight when he gets a chance. But of one thing there is no doubt: There is an elephant in our living room.

The elephant, of course, is the need for change in The Episcopal Church. Faced with an aging population, declining participation in almost all mainline churches, declining giving, and young people for whom church membership no longer is normative, we have a pressing need to ask questions like, “What do we want the church to be in 3 years? Five years? Twenty years? What is our role in the larger world?” In short, we need to engage in strategic planning.

Some will argue that we just need to be better at what we do. In these cases, people often say, “But we know what we need to do. We need to spread the good news, serve others, and worship God.” Fair enough, but there are many ways to do all of these things, and as the old adage says, “If you don’t have a plan for the future, you surely will get there.” In short, acknowledging that the elephant is in the living room accomplishes just that—it owns up to the fact that there is an elephant in the living room, but no amount of cleaning, dusting, or vacuuming really does anything about the elephant. And sooner or later, the elephant gets bored, and when he decides to move about the house, the results are likely to be bad.

At the same time, prayer alone is not likely to solve the issue. We want to be open to the still small voice that helps us separate right from wrong—and sometimes the mighty wind of change that comes from the divine working in our lives. But just as prayer alone isn’t enough to keep the elephant fed and comfortable, neither is prayer alone going to help us map out a path forward for The Episcopal Church.

In fairness, recent years have been ones in which the church has had to focus on survival, versus strategic planning. Faced with those who would topple our duly elected hierarchy and seize church assets, time, attention and resources have understandably been consumed in protecting the larger organization. With much of the litigation now behind us, however, we now are in a position to take a serious look at our hopes and dreams for the future, and to engage in meaningful visioning and strategic planning.

The need for strategic planning is nowhere clearer than in the recent Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society (DFMS - another name for The Episcopal Church) recommendation that the church keep its headquarters at Church Center, located at 815 Second Avenue in Manhattan. Situated on some of the most expensive real estate on earth, the building is just a short distance from the United Nations headquarters and projected to cost roughly $11 million in the coming triennium – a huge chunk of the national church’s budget. As a result, a resolution was passed at the most recent general convention to sell the building, with discretion to sell at the most advantageous time. This conclusion was supported by a study prepared by real estate giant Cushman & Wakefield, which noted that real estate ownership and management is not a key competency of the national church.

DFMS, however, cites a number of reasons for keeping the white elephant that is our headquarters building. Among these reasons are its proximity to “missional partners,” including the Church Pension Group, Trinity Wall Street, and others. Another reason cited is the high cost of travel to other cities, which overlooks the fact that videoconferencing is both environmentally friendly and cost-effective. Most tellingly, DFMS cites continuity of service delivery as another reason to keep things as they are, which appears to be nothing more than a thinly veiled (and logically challenged) argument that the best way to maintain business as usual is to not change a thing.

But do we want to conduct business as usual? Maybe so, but current economic realities suggest this isn’t an option available to us.

The DFMS recommendations also don’t account for data and input from the budget committee, the Restructure Task force, or a possible visioning process. In short, even though DFMS doesn’t know the details of the future, it essentially says that the existing church headquarters building is the right fit for the future, at least for now, resulting in thin but brash statements such as:

There is no doubt that remaining in New York, consolidating operations at 815 Second Avenue, and leasing additional space, contrary to uninformed speculation, would have a more positive effect on the budget than relocating to another city.

In short, the DFMS recommendation basically says that the elephant in the living room is happy. He likes it in there. He’s there now, so if we just make some tweaks in how we care for him, everything is good. But nowhere do we address the issue, “How do we know we want an elephant, whether in the living room or elsewhere?”

Of course, these issues aren’t confined to the national church. All across the church, including our dioceses and parishes, there’s a need to plan, to set goals, and to vision the future. Consider: How often do we hear people talk about the need to grow the church? But how often do we see a specific plan, with hard numbers, evaluation criteria, and specific objectives?

A loose approach to such issues can readily lull us into a false sense of security. If, for example, a parish is located in a fast-growing area, its membership may increase steadily over time. But if the pace of growth doesn’t keep up with that of the surrounding community, the parish may not, in fact, be holding its own.

At the end of the day, there definitely is an elephant in the church’s living room. He’s big enough that you can see him from just about anywhere in the house. But ignoring him and hoping for the best is not a solution. Nor is it enough to feed him and care for him regularly. While these are the right things to do, they don’t address the underlying issue. But if we ask the right questions, if we work together, if we pray, if we are open to possibilities, we may discover that the big thing in the living room of the church isn’t an elephant at all—it’s a wonderful opportunity for growth and change that’s just waiting for us to look it in the eye.


Eric Bonetti is a nonprofit professional in Northern Virginia with experience in change management and strategic planning. He is an active member of Grace Episcopal Church in Alexandria VA.

Restructuring principles for the church Part 2

by George Clifford

Part 1 enumerated the first six principles. This post presents the remaining four principles, summarizes all ten, and briefly illustrates the importance of articulating principles before tackling the tough issues of restructuring.

Seventh, form should follow function. Given the paucity of scriptural principles for shaping ecclesial organizations, TEC can shed, freely and guiltlessly, any anachronistic policies, rules or structures that no longer fit today's context, detract from community or mission, or are unnecessarily convoluted. Concurrently, TEC can create any new policies, rules, or structures that seem likely to aid in being God's twenty-first century people (community) and doing God's work today (mission). I'm tempted to enumerate my candidates for elimination, but want to focus the initial conversation on the ten principles rather than specific recommendations!

Eighth, incorporating a system of checks and balances into TEC's structure will help to avoid future power imbalances in and between the denomination's various constituent members, components, and orders of ministry. The blurred lines between the executive (denominational leadership and staff/agency management), judicial (trial courts for bishops and clergy), and legislative (includes all bishops, and many lay/clergy who also have executive or judicial roles) functions makes adequate checks and balances essential.

Separation of function is not the answer. Thankfully, TEC has few judicial tasks. Generally, the pastoral should take priority over the legal, even though this adds complexity and potential role confusion. Similarly, strongly differentiating between the Presiding Bishop (PB) and other bishops could draw a clean line between executive and legislative functions, but at the potential price of moving toward more authoritarian PBs emerging in the future. In short, blurred lines between the functions are an inescapable consequence of an ecclesial structure defined by principles of representative democracy, mission, and collegiality.

Ninth, TEC's structure should exhibit transparency and accountability. The Church has nothing to hide and practicing transparency – apart from sensitive personnel issues – with its constituents, stakeholders, and even the public will assist TEC in sustaining its focus on mission and community. Transparency (open meetings, full reporting) is the most important element of good organizational accountability. Other aspects of accountability include mandating prudential fiscal management (full financial reporting; regular and thorough audits; etc.), open elections that encourage multiple candidates for each vacancy, and opportunities for input to representative bodies from their constituents.

Tenth, technology increasingly poses a greater challenge for preserving unity through common prayer than theological differences do. Our secular culture is moving away from the printed page and toward video and electronic communications. This advantageously permits greater local adaptation to better suit particular situations and audiences but at the price of introducing added liturgical diversity. The variations allowed in the provisional rites for blessing same sex relationships represent part of the leading edge of this shift, as do some of the optional Enriching Our Worship liturgies utilized in some congregations in some dioceses. TEC will probably never again publish a paper hymnal. Instead, congregations will draw their music from increasingly diverse sources. The move away from the printed page is irreversible.

Restructuring affords TEC an excellent opportunity to adopt structures that link people together in worship in spite of this trend, e.g., emphasizing structures that offer worship and fellowship opportunities and minimize/streamline governance (cf. my earlier Daily Episcopalian posts Rethinking Episcopal Church structure Part I and Rethinking Episcopal Church structure Part II).

In sum, the ten principles proposed for guiding TEC's restructuring are:

1. Preserve the four historic orders of ministry
2. TEC's structure should emphasize both community and mission
3. Preserve governance premised on discerning God's leading through representative democratic processes
4. Practice subsidiarity
5. Adopt a minimalist approach, reserving all specifically unidentified powers and responsibilities to individuals, congregations, or dioceses
6. Aim for simplicity of structure
7. Form should follow function
8. Incorporate a structural system of checks and balances
9. TEC's structure should exhibit transparency and accountability
10. Take advantage of the opportunities for new forms of community and structure that technology has made possible, while seeking to avoid or minimize any adverse consequences

One of the major questions that the task force on structure will assuredly address is whether to recommend that TEC adopt a unicameral legislative structure or retain its bicameral structure. I've not directly addressed that question. Instead, I've offered a framework of principles for shaping consideration of that and other questions by the task force and others.

In particular, several of the ten principles enumerated above are relevant. Will a unicameral or bicameral legislature best focus our communal and missional concerns and efforts? Which structure is most congruent with the principles of representative democracy, subsidiarity, simplicity, ensuring adequate checks and balances, and affording the best opportunity to preserve denominational unity?

Reasonable, godly people can and will disagree about the answers to those questions. But establishing a set of guiding principles to shape the debate will help to preserve Christian civility premised on the belief that all participants want to seek both the mind of Christ and what is best for TEC. Reliance on explicitly identified principles will also help TEC to avoid polarity and a gridlock similar to that which bedevils our politicians.


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.

Restructuring Principles for the church, Part 1

by George Clifford

The Episcopal Church (TEC) has constituted a special task force charged with proposing denominational restructuring. Here are ten proposals for shaping their recommendations and the ensuing discussion; our denominational history and the Anglican interpretation of Christianity inform all ten. If we can agree upon a set of principles for restructuring, then the ensuing debate is likely to be more respectful and productive because participants will share common goals, though differ, perhaps sharply, in how to weight factors, perception of need, and future ramifications.

Part 1 enumerates the first six principles; Part 2 includes the remaining four, a brief illustration of the relevance of this approach, and a summary of the ten principles.

First, and perhaps most obviously, any restructuring should preserve the four historic orders of ministry (lay, deacon, priest, and bishop). The New Testament provides scant detail about the organization of the early church. Although twenty-first century Christians hold widely divergent views about the early church's structure, our Anglican tradition is clear in affirming the four orders. Holy Baptism is the lay equivalent of ordination; the ordination services establish some boundaries for each of the other three orders while recognizing considerable overlap. Scriptural and historical studies provide some, though incomplete, information about of the role and function of each order. In other words, restructuring should respect what little light the New Testament sheds on patterns of ecclesial organization while recognizing that considerable flexibility exists.

Second, TEC exists as a communal and missional expression of the body of Christ. That is, TEC does not claim to be the only legitimate branch of Christ's body, but a valid part of that body in which Christians enjoy the community of God and the saints, and in which Christians unite to serve God. Our baptismal vows make this dual emphasis on community and mission explicit. In the service of Holy Baptism, the celebrant asks any adult baptismal candidates and the assembled congregation to commit to continuing in the apostles' teaching and fellowship, and then asks whether they will proclaim the gospel in word and example, seek and serve Christ in all people, and strive for justice and peace, respecting the dignity of every human. A strong communal and missional emphasis in the task force's work will focus TEC's structure on its raison d'être. This sharply contrasts with the apparently widely held but mistaken presumptions that dioceses and TEC's national structures exist primarily for governance or that congregations exist primarily to preserve local tradition and their facilities or for the benefit of the clergy.

Third, restructuring should preserve governance premised on discerning God's leading through representative democratic processes. This practice, arguably rooted in New Testament accounts of the early church (e.g., reports of Church councils, their debates, and early Christians consensually drawing lots to replace Judas), was distinctive of the post-American Revolution Episcopal Church. Vestries, diocesan conventions/councils, and TEC's general convention/executive council are all expressions of representative democracy (a limited number of members/delegates/deputies represent the larger constituency). Direct democracy (everyone has a vote) is more cumbersome, costly, and time-consuming without any assurance of better results, i.e., more faithfully discerning God's will or fostering committed community.

Over the last half-century, TEC has pushed for greater inclusivity and diversity in selecting individuals to serve as representatives (deputies, delegates, etc.). Hopefully, the commitment to racial, ethnic, and gender inclusivity has sufficient traction to sustain it (better yet, for these commitments to continue to gain momentum!) without requiring institutionalizing through formal quotas. Diversity and inclusivity fall short of the mark with respect to age (e.g., General Convention deputies are disproportionately old), affluence (overcoming this would require paying all expenses for representatives, including childcare), and employment status (increasing the number of virtual meetings will allow the participation of more employed people who have limited vacation time). Additionally, term limits that allow shorter tenure among incumbents (fewer individuals filling the same position for three, four, or more terms) would advantageously allow for broader participation without increasing the number of deputies.

Fourth, the principle of subsidiarity should shape restructuring, i.e., functions better performed – for any reason(s) to include tradition, effectiveness, and preference – by provinces, dioceses, congregations, or individuals should be the responsibility of the most basic level possible. Subsidiarity promotes decentralization, creates greater opportunity for lay ministries, maximizes options for participation, and is consistent with the diocese as the Church's basic unit (in contrast to a tradition that either centralizes authority in a patriarch or views the congregation or individual Christian as the basic unit in the body of Christ).

Fifth, restructuring should adopt a minimalist approach, reserving all specifically unidentified powers and responsibilities to individuals, congregations, or dioceses. Less structure is usually better than more structure. This principle, a corollary of subsidiarity, extends the latter principle to recognize the individual and appropriately diverse nature of religious belief and practice. Centrally determined forms of prayer and cooperative action are not synonymous with uniformity of belief or coercing compliance to church norms. The failed effort to unite the Anglican Communion with a Covenant designed to ensure conformity represented an abrupt break with Anglican tradition.

Sixth, simplicity of structure will promote efficiency (cost and labor savings) while enhancing effectiveness (nimble, reasonably rapid responses). Proliferating committees, commissions, boards, task forces, etc. can create an illusion of broader participation in governance processes. However, proliferating our structures actually impedes decision-making without improving its quality. TEC depends upon volunteer labor, a scarce and precious resource that is wrongly squandered on committees (by whatever label they are known) that lack a clear function and achievable goals or are entirely tangential to TEC's mission.


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.

Further thoughts on the church's fiscal cliff

by George Clifford

My last contribution to the Daily Episcopalian, Beware the Ecclesial Fiscal Cliff, evoked considerable interest and comment. The comments seem to consist of four identifiable, sometimes intersecting, streams.

First, some responders do not seem to have grasped the severity of the problem I sought to describe. Yes, some congregations do great liturgy in traditional ways and are growing numerically. However, there are relatively few such congregations. The Episcopal Church (TEC), as a whole, is a denomination in which the majority of congregations are declining numerically while concurrently experiencing increasing financial struggles to pay full-time clergy and to maintain underutilized buildings. Those declines are facts, not assertions or hypotheses (cf. Beware the Ecclesial Fiscal Cliff for the data).

If doing traditional liturgy better – whether high or low, sung or said – were a panacea, then TEC would not find itself in this predicament. Traditional theology and Anglican emphases would have kept a majority of our congregations on a safe, healthy course. The minority of our congregations that are thriving will wisely stay their current course (though an unknown number of these congregations have already begun to reinvent themselves for the twenty-first century). Quite probably, a handful of other congregations have the resources and context in which adopting a similar course will bring renewal.

However, thriving traditional congregations are exceptions to the norm. They represent a great danger if they distract leadership – lay and clerical – from recognizing that for the preponderance of TEC congregations staying the course will result in certain shipwreck. Each year the shoals of empty pews and fiscal insolvency become visibly closer and more threatening. Furthermore, underutilized buildings and clergy constitute bad stewardship of the gifts that God’s people have given (remember Jesus’ parable of the talents).

Secondly, contrary to many comments, technology is neither the problem nor the solution. Technology is only a means to an end. The English Reformation built on the technology of its day (the printing press) to make the Bible and Book of Common Prayer more available to all. The twenty-first century Church should adopt contemporary technology as a means for achieving the same end, a point some commenters grasped. Additionally, the new technology can benefit the hearing and sight challenged, which I had not fully appreciated.

Crucially, focusing on arguments about the pros and cons of PowerPoint vs. tablets puts the proverbial cart before the horse. If anachronistic technology were the essential problem, congregations that adopted modern technology while retaining traditional liturgy and theology would consistently experience renewal. This does not happen. The problems are much deeper and more basic than a dated form of presentation.

Our liturgy and theology are themselves earthen vessels whose form and design date to previous centuries. The immanence of God’s loving presence, which Jesus’ followers recognized as so powerfully manifest in him, is not defined, inherently and perfectly, by Greek philosophical thought (some moderns, for example, find process philosophy a more useful vessel) or the Creeds (e.g., the subtle, once hotly contested, distinctions used to define Jesus’ identity as God and human are irrelevant to, and ignored by, many in our post-modern world).

Many post-modern people hunger for a genuine spirituality. They seek a path that will lead them into a deeper relationship with God. They seek, often without realizing it, the treasure – the immanence of God’s loving presence found in the Jesus’ narrative – that the Church’s earthen vessels hold. Unfortunately, our ecclesial vessels too often impede rather than aid access to that treasure. For example, why should our theology depend upon thought forms that pre-date Jesus? Why should our worship use seventeenth or eighteenth century music instead of contemporary music? Ironically, Martin Luther’s hymns provoked ecclesial outrage in Luther’s own day because they set religious verse to popular drinking tunes, exchanging dated earthen vessels for more contemporary ones.

Third, some of the comments to my last essay remarked upon the economic plight of clergy formed and educated for full-time ecclesial employment. TEC has a problem. Our seminaries continue to produce well-educated clergy, many with significant indebtedness, all having made considerable sacrifice to obtain an M.Div. degree, who are committed to serving a Church that has a diminishing need for their services.

Technological and cultural transitions frequently create economic hardship for employees of affected concerns. Perhaps the highest profile example of this are rust belt and garment industry workers who experienced economic hardship when employers closed antiquated facilities or moved factories to lower cost locations. TEC, and other Christian bodies, rightly support displaced workers and advocate that government and employers provide appropriate transition assistance.

We need to take similar steps to support and aid displaced clergy. Consolidating seminaries and rethinking M.Div. programs can help seminarians graduate debt free (see A word on our seminaries: Consolidate! in the Daily Episcopalian). Emphasizing to people entering the discernment process for ordination as a priest that opportunities for full-time ecclesial employment are diminishing is another important step. Bi-vocational and other, non-full-time forms of clergy deployment will become increasingly common.

Diocesan and congregational leaders should not expend all of a congregation’s resources in usually futile last-ditch efforts to resuscitate an already deceased congregation. Instead, they should earmark sufficient resources to fund one or two years of secular education for the congregation’s last full-time priest, preparing him/her for bi-vocational work or a new career. Second career clergy may require less assistance to resume a previous career. The Church repeatedly calls for secular employers to support displaced employees in this way. Practicing what we preach would both add credibility to our social witness and encourage our ordained leadership to speak and lead with refreshing boldness.

Fourth and finally, a few people who commented – some Episcopalians and some from other denominations facing their own impending ecclesial fiscal cliff – actually grasped my message. (I’d like to think that these few represent the “silent majority,” i.e., readers who grasped my message, perhaps who even understood it and were taking action before they read my post.) The ecclesial fiscal cliff is real and we move alarmingly closer every year. In too many congregations, attendance declines annually while expenses inexorably increase.

Thankfully, we do not have to go over this cliff. Worn-out earthen vessels neither signify the death of God nor God having abandoned the Church. But choosing not to go over the cliff requires replacing the Church’s tired, dated, though often familiar and well-loved (by me, among many others) earthen vessels. Otherwise, God will sing a new song and act in new ways to achieve God’s purposes.


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

Why church?

by Kathleen Staudt

A recent NPR story about Americans’ widespread claim that they believe in God but not “institutional religion” has left me feeling impatient (read it here) and I’m trying to tease out why. Part of it is that this is just more of the same discussion that we’re having within the church about what needs to change to attract the next generation -- too often I think it goes to “how do we get more people to come to church?” i.e. it remains about institutional survival. Further, I’m starting to think that when we listen to those who are offering critiques of the church from the “spiritual but not religious” perspective, we are listening to at least two different streams of thought -- both important, but worth distinguishing because they’re different audiences for our witness, if we decide that witnessing to the gospel is ultimately going to be what we’re about. On the one hand, there are those who have left the churches they grew up in or attended for many years because they are disillusioned by the controversies, the fighting, the focus on institutional politics rather than on God. Those are the people who say, rightly, that they are not hearing in church the transformative gospel that Jesus proclaimed, the Gospel that calls us to change and grow for the sake of a broken world. They can say that because at one time or another they did hear that gospel, probably in church -- but they now see churches that seem to have lost their way.

On the other hand, there are the Seekers and the unchurched, people who were not raised in any religion and who are curious about what Christianity is all about. Some of these folks wander into churches and encounter the gospel in something they hear, or in the experience of worship -- but many others I’ve talked to have been just puzzled: they have basic questions about why we do what we do, why we use the words that we do, and often no place to take those questions. I’m wondering how many of us have a good answer, if someone who is disillusioned, or unchurched or puzzled by religion asks us: “What’s the point? Why Church at all? (I should note that a young person, Jacob Nez, has already opened this discussion on the Café with his “Why are Youth in Church” - read it here: so that gives me courage to pose the question positively for all of us).

Why do I keep going to church?
What is it, for me, that makes the desire to worship so strong that it doesn’t matter whether services are sometimes boring or people in churches are fighting? I wonder if this is the place to start, rather than looking at marketing strategies or polling or tweaking of our Sunday practices: What is our testimony, those of us who do keep showing up, week after week, for worship? Why church at all? I’m asking that of myself

In an interview reported by Barbara Bradley Haggerty, a churchgoer says that the church “puts skin on God.” “Putting skin on God” - I like that. It expresses what I hope is true: that it is possible for human beings to draw near to be touched by, a mystery that is beyond our full comprehension and in our gathering to lend a human face, a story to that Mystery that we experience as also reaching out to us. That’s the main reason I go to church, I think, even in a culture where it seems fewer & fewer people do so. I want to spend some time each week around people who have glimpsed the same hope, and who express that hope by gathering together, in words, song, bodily movement. Even when it’s inconvenient or I don’t feel like it, even when some of the people irritate me, showing up regularly in this way does me good. I would even say that over the years it has been a transformative practice for me.

The stories we tell, the words we use, the prayers we say in church, if I listen to the words, proclaim that there is something greater than me or even than “us”, the particular people gathered on a given Sunday. When we gather for worship, we are putting ourselves in the presence of something bigger than all of us, and yet people down through the ages have written prayers and hymns to try to touch this experience. I’m a word-person, so in any given week I always listen for words that may speak to me. Often nothing speaks; sometimes what I hear offends me or puts me off -- but I remember that these are words that have spoken to others, that are speaking to people who are at worship with me now. And they are speaking of something that is ultimately beyond our words. And there is something powerful about our gathering to listen to these words together, even as we may hear different things on any given Sunday.

For me the practice of going to church is a way of saying, to myself, to God, to the world, “I want to be part of the Better Thing that is still happening, even beneath and within the brokenness of the world around us. And I know that in order for this to happen, I need to keep growing and changing.” The Biblical images of leaven in the world, a lamp shining in the darkness, a treasure hidden in a field, all speak to this intuition. The teachings of Jesus and St. Paul call us to be transformed into people who will be a blessing to the world. It’s the churches that have to hold up that vision. That many churches don’t is not a sign of the demise of Christianity, though it may be the sign of the need to shake off some ways of “doing church” that have become entrenched and dysfunctional.

It is also true that a little time spent in governance and leadership in church be very discouraging. And it is a tough time in history to be someone whose livelihood depends on the church as it is currently structured, so it is no wonder that many clergy are disillusioned and angry, though many others are rising to the challenges. We can get so anxious about institutional survival and so embroiled in our own power struggles that we wind up wounding each other and losing track of what we’re doing here. I do understand why so many people leave the church and decide they can live the teaching of Jesus better outside it, undistracted by the human ugliness that is so particularly distressing in many church “families.” And yet for those of us who stay, the hard work of listening to one another, holding one another accountable and seeking forgiveness and reconciliation is part of what helps us grow in faith. Life in community, with all its messiness, is part of the answer to “Why Church?”

Why this Church?
In the Episcopal/Anglican tradition, our Sunday worship is centered on the celebration of Eucharist or “Holy Communion” and that celebration speaks, for me, beyond the limitations of words. It invites each one of us, whoever we are, whatever we look like, however we are feeling today, to come forward and join with everyone else present, and be fed so that we may be energized to bring blessing to the world. The experience of receiving communion with a community of people not necessarily at all “like me” or in the same place in faith, life or culture also raises the possibility of a God who is bigger than any one person’s preferences or beliefs. I sometimes experience that mystery, as an overflowing sense of love and presence, when I receive communion. Sometimes.

Even more, the Episcopal/Anglican tradition appeals to me because we have always paid a lot of attention to the mystery of the Incarnation, which to me is the most exciting idea that Christianity brings to the table, in the conversation among world religions. (I appreciated Bill Carroll’s post about this on a recent Episcopal Café here.). Frederica Harris Thompsett has called us the “church of Christmas Eve,” and it is perhaps not an accident that even people who do not have a church tradition may be drawn to a Christmas Eve service in an Episcopal Church, or a service of 9 Lessons and Carols during the Christmas season. We celebrate, not just at Christmas but always, the joyful mystery of a God who becomes human, shares our suffering and our joy, and understands our humanity, and calls us constantly to renewed and transformed lives as companions and friends of God. Other Christian denominations also preach this of course -- it is the heart of Christian faith. But the Anglican focus on the mystery of the Word made flesh keeps us always rooted in this world, seeking transformation rather than escape, and holds out the hope for the presence and participation in our lives of a God who knows our brokenness and offers Resurrection. And who never gives up on us.

All of this, I know, is holding up an ideal that is far from the reality. But my point is that in addition to looking at what is driving people away from church, it might still be useful to ask those who are still in church, “What is it that sustains you about the regular spiritual practice of church-going, at a time when so many people seem to be leaving or disaffected?” How do you answer the question “Why church?”


Dr. Kathleen Henderson Staudt keeps the blog poetproph. 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.

What is healthy about The Episcopal Church?

by George Clifford

A recent Wall Street Journal Op-Ed column by Episcopalian Jay Akasie asked, What ails Episcopalians? Akasie’s column, along with several others including some posted on the Daily Episcopalian among which are a couple that I’ve written, highlights The Episcopal Church’s (TEC) declining membership and other challenges the denomination faces.

The time has come to change focus. Instead of emphasizing problems, TEC and its members can profitably begin to ask, What is healthy about The Episcopal Church?

Appreciative Inquiry, an organizational development strategy utilized by some businesses and congregations, shifts attention from problems and problem solving to telling stories about what the organization does right and how it benefits people. Out of the storytelling, an awareness of the organization’s strengths and a positive vision for the future emerge from the process, sparking growth and new achievements. Similarly, Norman Vincent Peale’s emphasis on the power of positive thinking and Robert Schuller’s possibility thinking proved effective catalysts for transforming thousands of individual lives.

On the one hand, I’m not advocating that TEC attempt to implement Appreciative Inquiry across the denomination. No single tool fits every task. TEC has too many components in too many disparate places, each with its own identity, story, and energy for any single method to prove a panacea. Positive and possibility thinking, while powerful in helping some people live more abundantly, also have limited applicability and arguably overlook important aspects of Christian theology.

However, I am suggesting, using an old metaphor, that honey attracts more flies than does vinegar. Reports of declining numbers, financial struggles, and other problems will draw few visitors and prove decisive in incorporating few of them into the life of TEC or one of its congregations. Emphasizing negatives tend to promote a negative ethos more likely to accelerate rather than reverse decline. Problems and challenges may constitute appropriate agenda items for particular meetings and internal communiques but external communications will more beneficially accentuate the positive.

What is healthy about TEC? What does TEC offer people?

The questions about what is healthy in TEC and what TEC offers people are important for more than organizational health. About half of all TEC members come from other Christian denominations. These people, of whom I am one, found something in TEC that first beckoned and then proved sufficiently fulfilling to make changing denominations worthwhile. Far fewer people join TEC from the ranks of non-Christian religions, atheism, agnosticism, or the spiritual but not religious. Even more than dissatisfied members of other Christian denominations, the unaffiliated and never affiliated can potentially benefit from what TEC offers.

So, what is healthy about TEC? What does TEC offer people?

First, TEC combines theological openness with healthy liturgical and spiritual praxis. We Episcopalians are a people united by common prayer rather than common theology. We know that God is irreducible to human language and regard the Bible, the sacraments, and other religious acts as windows through which people can perceive God's light. Not insisting on doctrinal uniformity – indeed, intentionally being a “big tent” that welcomes diverse theological expressions – is attractive to many in this highly individualistic era. Furthermore, our liturgical and spiritual praxis affords historical continuity, affirms God’s mysterious life giving and loving presence, while allowing creative expression.

Second, TEC – in its dioceses and the vast preponderance of its 6700 plus congregations – seeks to be an inclusive community that practices radical hospitality. At our best, we truly welcome everyone. We commit to journeying together while treasuring individual identities and freedom, as was evident in last month’s debates at General Convention over whether to endorse open communion. Speakers and votes expressed the importance of Holy Baptism as the rite of initiation into the Church. No organization survives, much less thrives, without clarity about the scope and terms of membership. Speakers and votes also valued the pastoral fidelity to Jesus of not turning away the unbaptized who seek to receive, e.g., a homeless person or a young child. The altar rail is a place of grace and not a place of inquisition. Every rule has exceptions. Instead of eliminating the rules or trying to codify acceptable exceptions (both common secular solutions to this type of problem), TEC decided to trust those who distribute communion and those who lead congregations to do so in a manner that honors our traditions, builds genuine hospitality, and best communicates God's gracious love.

Third, TEC’s incarnational ministries invite and encourage people to walk the Jesus path by doing justice, loving kindness, and walking humbly with God. TEC rejects equating superficial evangelism, politics, institutional maintenance, or personal prosperity/success with the gospel. My experience of TEC is that of committed people – thousands and thousands of laity and clergy –engaged in trying to build a more just society, becoming a loving community, and developing genuine spirituality.

This list is far from exhaustive. You may highlight different indicators of TEC’s health. You may cherish other aspects of TEC. Your description of what TEC offers people may differ substantially from mine. But for this time, this season of TEC’s life, let’s start talking, perhaps even shouting, about all of the things that are healthy and right about being Episcopalians. God has brought us together that we may journey together and serve together in mission. Thanks be to God, God is not yet done with The Episcopal Church.


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

Born again

by Lawrence L. Graham

Recently, a gaggle of self-proclaimed guardians of Christianity have announced that the Episcopal Church is either dying or already dead. They cite declining membership and budgetary issues as their secular evidence, and put the blame squarely on the Church’s excessive liberalism.

I have words of wisdom for them:

“Jesus said to them, ‘Truly I say to you that the tax collectors and prostitutes will get into the kingdom of God before you.’” – Matthew 21:31

That’s radical. Yes, there is such a thing as radical Christianity. In fact, there is no other kind. There is only the one based on the radical and revolutionary teachings of Jesus. The term “liberal” pales in comparison to what he actually said and did.

The religious authorities of Jesus’ time had become concerned only with preserving their institution and aggregating power to themselves. Here’s what he said to them:

“Woe to you Scribes and Pharisees, pretenders, who are like white tombs, which from the outside appear lovely, but from within are full of the bones of the dead and all corruption!.” – Matthew 23:27

Things are not so very different today. Then and now, corruption lies in those places where children are molested, women get second-class treatment, the plight of the poor is ignored, the sick are left to die by the side of the road, greed is good, mammon is worshipped, and the supposedly “unclean” among us are cast out.

In Jesus’ time, the Jews despised the Samaritans as renegades – just as traditionalists despise liberal Episcopalians today. But, Jesus makes a Samaritan the hero of the Good Samaritan parable, and the authorities of his own time the villains. Radical? Yes. Popular? No!

But let justice flow like a river and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream. – Amos 5:24
Like the prophet Amos, Jesus was far more interested in a just society than in the preservation of institutions for their own sake. So, Jesus went about healing the “unclean” – folks that “good people” wouldn’t even touch. Among them were several lepers, the woman with an issue of blood, and even the Centurion’s boyfriend. (Yes, the Greek original appears to say that in at least one place, but the translations still soft-pedal it as too radical.)

When asked which of the ten commandment was greatest, Jesus responded with the Summary of the Law:

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself.” – Matthew 22: 37-39

But for the past two-thousand years, far too many guardians of Christian tradition and Holy Scripture have done their best to water Jesus’ teachings down and explain his radical actions away. Like the authorities of Jesus’ own time, their interest lies in preserving the an institution and aggregating power. And that is deadly.
The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire." – Luke 3:9

Jesus dared to confront the religious powers and secular principalities of his own time. And his teachings are not merely artifacts of an historic past, nor the story of a one-time rabbi in long-ago Israel. They are the plumb line by which real Christians measure the uprightness of their every thought, prayer and action – no matter how impolite or shocking or radical or liberal our fickle secular society may think them.

Thanks be to God for the Episcopal Church, a church that still hears Jesus’ voice, follows his teachings and is willing to “die to self and chiefly live by His most holy word.”

“You should not be surprised at my saying, 'You must be born again.'”– John 3:7

Phoenix-like, the true church is always dying to itself, only to be reborn by the Holy Spirit so it can proclaim anew the Good News of Jesus’ radical and everlasting way of life.


Mr. Graham is a parishioner and verger at All Saints' Episcopal Church in Atlanta, Georgia

The Episcopal Church: Not (Necessarily) Liberal but Comprehensive

by Bill Carroll

Lord, you now have set your servant free
To go in peace as you have promised
For these eyes of mine have seen the Savior
Whom you have prepared for all the world to see
A Light to enlighten the nations
And the glory of your people Israel

These words come from a story about the Christ child. It comes right after the Christmas Gospel in Luke. Simeon is a poor, old man—a prophet who has been waiting for a long time for the birth of the Messiah, praying night and day. Then, Mary and Joseph arrive for the presentation of the baby Jesus in the Temple and various sacrifices and rituals prescribed by the Law. And when Simeon sees Jesus with his own eyes—filled with the Holy Spirit--he greets him with these joyful and prophetic words. At last, he sees the promised Savior, the light and desire of the nations, and he gives thanks that he can now depart in peace.

The song he sings is often called the Song of Simeon, and it plays a key role in our worship. From 1549 onwards, it has been part of Daily Evening Prayer in every edition of the Book of Common Prayer. (The second meditation at our vestry retreat concerned the Magnificat.) Its use in the daily prayers of the monks is far older. Today, I’d like to suggest to us that Simeon’s Song has the potential to provide us with insight into the rich heritage we share as Episcopalians. As baptized members of this branch of Christ’s Body, entrusted with a share in his very own mission, we need to be able to articulate who we are and why we value our community and its distinctive ways of being Christian. We need to lead from shared values—a shared sense of what the Good News of Jesus is, why it matters, and why it matters in our context.

That’s not an easy task, given our incredible diversity. An email from our youth and family minister that first got me interested in discerning a call to serve in my present ministry joked that our parish has everything from Tea Party to Communist, and that’s not far from the truth: our parish includes all political parties, just about every theological persuasion, and almost every conceivable point of view. It’s truly a miracle, given the deep divisions in our country, that we get along so well.

Among the many different ways to be Christian, Anglican Christianity, including the Christianity of the Episcopal Church, has been strongly associated with the idea of Incarnation—that, in Jesus, the Son of God became flesh in order to bless all that is good and holy about human beings—as well as to redeem everything that is flawed, fallen, and broken. It is no accident that our worship, especially the beautiful service of Evening Prayer, highlights this mystery. We believe in the saving power of the Easter event—the dying and rising of Christ, which is reenacted and made present in the Holy Eucharist—but we are also a people whose faith is formed by the Christmas story, where God chooses to be with us in our frail and mortal flesh.

The canticles are brief pieces of Scripture, or in some cases ancient hymns, that are sung or said in response to the readings of the day. Now, in part, they were selected for that role, because they are beautiful poetry, composed to be sung. But they were also chosen for their importance in summing up what we believe. By repetition they become privileged windows into the meaning of the lessons assigned for each day—and, over time, the whole Christian story. Truly, the law of prayer is the law of belief. As we pray, so we come to believe and practice.

So, let’s pause for a minute to hear the Song of Simeon again. Let’s enter into the presence of God with one another and let these words become our prayer.

Lord, you now have set your servant free
To go in peace as you have promised
For these eyes of mine have seen the Savior
Whom you have prepared for all the world to see
A Light to enlighten the nations
And the glory of your people Israel

Now, let’s ask ourselves: “What might these beautiful words say to us as a Christian community?”

First, we are not anxious about our salvation. That salvation has already been achieved. With Simeon, we can say, “Lord, you now have set your servant free.” The Anglican way is to invite others into holy mystery, not out of anxiety about their salvation, but because the God who has come among us in Christ is good and generous and desires that we share Christ and other good gifts with our neighbors. Week in and week out, our worship manifests the presence and goodness of God, who has chosen to come among us and set us free. Because God is with us, we have been set free for love. To really love people as they truly are, even as we challenge them to follow Christ and do great things in his Name.

Second, our eyes have seen the Savior. One of the things that strikes many newcomers right away about worship in the Episcopal Church is the physical beauty of our worship—and the places where we worship. Our worship, in the best Anglican tradition, appeals to all the senses. And we tend to worship God with a subtle, peaceful beauty that leads people into prayer. Every detail of the spaces where we gather suggests the presence of Christ among us--especially in the consecrated bread and wine, but also in the gathered community. The Word of God--and the ministry of preaching and teaching it--has a place in our liturgy. But our worship is not centered on a long lecture about the biblical text. Rather, the homily and the liturgy of the Word is consummated in the liturgy of the Table, where the living Lord Jesus comes among us, here and now.

We may be People of the Book, but we are even more people of the Incarnation. For us, the Word of God is not primarily a book. With the Gospel of John, we believe that “the Word became flesh.” The Book is a witness to the Word, who gives himself to us to be seen and touched and tasted. We have been given a deep joy not only in the liturgy and the sacraments, but also in the bodily presence of the brothers and sisters we have from God, who are themselves a sacramental reality.

Third, in Simeon’s Song, the Savior is given as a Light to enlighten the Nations and as the glory of God’s People Israel. The Nations are the Gentiles—those foreigners who were once outside God’s People but have been invited in through the life, death, and resurrection of Christ. In Luke’s Gospel in particular, as well as its sequel in the Book of Acts, a major theme is the early Church’s mission to the Gentiles. It was not accomplished without struggle. The Book of Acts, in particular, is about the ever expanding circle of God’s hospitality to those who are not yet part of God’s People. William Temple, the great Archbishop of Canterbury, said that the Church exists for the sake of those who don’t yet belong. A central feature of our calling from God is therefore to welcome “all sorts and conditions” of people.

In the Episcopal Church, we do not do this out of any kind of commitment to what some would call “liberal Christianity”—though I think it’s important to acknowledge that, in many communities, the local Episcopal parish is often one of the few congregations where it’s safe to be Christian and openly liberal at the same time. Properly understood, this is a potential competitive advantage for us. But I wouldn’t ever label myself as a “liberal”, and I know that others in our parish would be far less comfortable than I.

I see myself as a moderate Anglo-Catholic, deeply conservative on some issues, more liberal on others, committed to building a healthy Christian community that acknowledges the centrality of Christ as our tradition has received him. As members of the Episcopal Church, our commitment to welcoming all people comes out of a Catholic and Reformed understanding of the Universal Church of Jesus Christ—a Body that won’t be complete unless every kind of human being is welcome within it.

As far as I can tell, what unites us is a deep commitment to a specific form of Christ-centered worship--and to a non-fundamentalist theology. Some of us are profoundly conservative—as I am when it comes to anything in the historic Creeds or the Book of Common Prayer—but we are not anxious (as various forms of fundamentalism would be) about the presence of those who differ with us and question our core convictions. Indeed, we encourage questioning and respectful criticism of our most cherished traditions. This is because our eyes have seen the Savior and we know the presence of the living God-with-us.

We have our boundaries—no community can live without them—but we don’t have to have to police them too tightly. As a whole, I think this is why we are so committed to civility, mutual love and respect, and welcoming all strangers, no exceptions allowed. There are people all over the place who are hungry for a community like ours. They would give anything to belong to a church like ours, where all people are welcome without exception. And this is one of the main reasons we will grow and thrive, with faithful lay and ordained leadership and the active ministry of the whole People of God.

Note: This is a modified form of a retreat talk for my first vestry retreat with the parish I am now serving, Emmanuel Episcopal Church in Shawnee, Oklahoma


The Rev. Bill Carroll serves as rector of Emmanuel Parish, Shawnee in the Diocese of Oklahoma. His new parish blog is Emmanuel Shawnee Blog

The church as institution: life or death

by Br. Richard Edward Helmer

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

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

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

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

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

Then why have an institution at all?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why Jesus exploded my burrito

by Amber Evans

On a recent Friday morning I walked into the coffee shop near the school where I’m the chaplain and I ordered a breakfast burrito. And I overheard the barista say to one of his customers, “Why doesn’t anybody get married in church anymore?”

I said, “Some people still do.”

He said, “Sure, but not as much. Now a days, everybody gets married on the beach in Hawaii or in a hotel ballroom.”

I said, “It’s probably because, now a days, fewer people go to church.”

He volunteered that he was raised in church and he doesn’t go. The other customer said, “I’m catholic, I was baptized, but now I only go for weddings and funerals.”

“You must go a lot,” the barista said. He knows I’m a priest.

“Not as much as you might think,” I replied sheepishly.

That was when he opened the microwave to find that my burrito had exploded and he said, “Jesus! Let me make you a new one.” Then, embarrassed, he said. “Oh, listen to me talking to Jesus over here.”

The Catholic guy said, “Jesus is over there? Did he explode her burrito?”

I said, “He must be mad at me for not going to church more.”

After that, the moment seemed just right to ask the kind of questions priests rarely get to ask.

“What would it take for you to go? What would church have to be like?”

The Catholic guy said, “I would need eight days in a week.”

I thought about my own life and knew that wouldn’t really work. “No. I think you’d just fill that day up too. You’d go now, if it were important to you. So, what would make it important?”

What would church have to be like for people to want to go more than stay in bed and read the paper, or go to their kid’s sports game, or work out, or have brunch with friends?

In some ways the answer itself is in church, with the people who still go. There is something for us there that we’ve decided is more important than those other important things. But for more and more people, it’s not. They worship at the church of rest, or family, or something else that they can’t get enough of. And since I am priest with a Monday through Friday job, I can relate. When I’m not at church on Sunday, I’m doing those things too.

The thing about the Gospel is that, while sometimes Jesus can sound rather exclusive, other times he tells us that ultimately, there will be only one flock, and nobody’s left out it.

That’s the only thing that makes sense to me, when I’m teaching world religions and my students want to know why there are so many. I tell them that we are all grasping at the same mystery of God, and only seeing our little sliver of that mystery, as it’s revealed by our particular religious traditions.

The problem is, sometimes the traditions get stale. People participate in them, but aren’t able to see past them to the mystery they’re really about. And the joy of family, or the sanctuary of rest, or the sacrament of a meal with friends turns out to be a more meaningful encounter with the mystery of God.

And not surprisingly, those two dudes drinking their coffee Friday morning couldn’t really answer the question for me-- what would it take to make church a priority? They hadn’t thought much about it before.

So I thought about what makes church meaningful to me at school, or at St. Gregory of Nyssa, where I serve as a non-stipendiary priest. I realized that it’s the blend of deep reflection and joy. And it’s something I’ve also felt when I officiate at the marriage of good friends who aren’t especially religious, but ask me to help them take seriously the mystical commitment they’re making.

And it’s something I feel at my house, when we host our annual Thanksgiving dinner because of my friend Damon Styer, who’s a member of St. Gregory’s. Years ago, instead of imposing a prayer on my spiritually diverse guests, I asked Damon to read a poem as a kind of blessing for the Thanksgiving meal. Damon has made it a tradition every year-- he always finds a brilliant poem, and he does a wonderfully dramatic reading, and he sets the tone for us to share. Dinner is rife with discussions about what we are thankful for, and our love as friends. And then there is food, and wine, and joy. And it is church.

So I told the guys at the coffee shop that if church was more like that kind of party, more people would probably come. And the microwave dinged, and my second breakfast burrito came out intact. And Mr. Barista told me I must be right, because Jesus wasn’t mad at me anymore.

I don’t worry as much as some people about the future of the church, because I believe Jesus. There will be one flock. And all of us silly sheep are fumbling our way into it. And that mysterious God who breaks into our lives here-- or wherever we spend Sunday morning-- that God is alive, and isn’t going anywhere without us. But, we can help Jesus by inviting everyone to the party.

The Rev. Amber Evans is the School Chaplain at St. Matthew's School, St. Mateo, California.

Church on the path to irrelevance

by George Packard

After the dustup with Trinity Church over Duarte Park in Manhattan and my arrest I thought it was a good idea to put the past aside and gather some Episcopalians for coffee one block north of Zuccotti Park. Before arriving I spent a half hour staring at that infamous space with its barricades set aside and chained together, made irrelevant by the court order favoring Occupy Wall Street. Still, there was an ominous and newly-erected watch tower glowering down on the far corner. It bristled with TV cameras. The tower, a collapsible assembly hoisted up and down for better police vantage, was tactically sensible, but given the strident tone of police behavior it gave the look of Damascus. As our meeting awaited, I shuddered, thinking, “Would the Church cope or collude with this kind of future?”

Seven of us assembled at a corner table in the restaurant. As an after-thought, I invited the bishop-elect of the Diocese of New York, Andy Dietsche. We probably should have had two separate meetings. Andy, bright and earnest, had a lot to say. Since half of the clergy were from New York there was an understandable deference given to him. He told us that the Diocesan Convention had passed by a large majority a resolution supporting OWS and civil disobedience yet he was sure that diocesan clergy were unanimously opposed to the Duarte action and the subsequent arrests. Considering four arrestees were present around the table I wondered what the effect of that news was supposed to have. So I asked him. He said that he wanted to state that so we could move on.

It's where we “moved on” to that troubled me. The Church always seems to stumble here--it occurred in the Trinity negotiations for Duarte and now again over coffee with this new bishop-elect eager to declare a fresh direction. It seems, as blogger and Lutheran pastor Keith Anderson writes, to be the disposition of the Church to ask small questions instead of big ones, even though in Baptism we begin this Christian life asking and answering the biggest of all: “Whose will you be?” Challenging questions diminish from here.

Bishop-elect Dietsche said an e-letter would be going out the next day enlisting chaplain/counselors for Charlotte's Place. During the nicer stages of negotiation with Trinity the rector and his staff took me on a tour of that outreach center and they were rightfully proud of it. The parish coffee house/drop-in center had been established in memory of a parishioner. Its opening pre-dated OWS yet it was ready-made for such with refreshment and bathroom facilities, counseling on request, albeit only if those needs occurred during the hours of 12-6 PM, Monday-Friday. During my tour I asked about extending the hours since extraordinary times seemed to require a more intense response. I was told--and it was repeated often-that Trinity had taken the "day shift" support of OWS. Still, “If this was such an embattled population in need of chaplain/counselor support wouldn't it make sense to review those hours of availability?”

Andy said that many of the OWS protesters were from out of town, and, in addition to being homeless, probably had emotional problems. Providing counselors seemed to be the decent thing to do. We thought this was a good step--quibbled awhile about how many protesters were in this state—but supported it nonetheless. No one wanted to make tending this needful population into a tug-of-war. It was a small question, asked and answered. Yet, we urged that the letter include information about why protesters had come to the metro area in the first place...the larger question and essential to them. Indeed, this was not a suffering band drifting to and fro. Theirs is a message we needed to hear.

Frankly, OWS had been waiting for this Wall Street parish to make an attempt at rectitude after the debacle of Duarte. The cynical among OWS said the parish would revert to type and promote its charitable work. The sort of thing a corporate mind would come up with, they said. And here it was: the Diocese of New York had formed an alliance to push the most vulnerable of the OWS population to the front of the stage, changing the focus. I thought that conclusion was ungenerous; it was more related to the Church’s love affair with small questions. Moreover, when I asked Dietsche if he had reached out to OWS about this population, attended any of the open forums, working groups, or General Assemblies all of which happened nightly in public and private spaces only blocks away he said, "No."

This penchant to shy away from complication and adhere to reduction brings us back to the Church's proclivity to settle for charity at the expense of advocacy. Rev. Peter van Eys wrote, “Churches need (afflicted) people around in order to be involved in charity rather than justice.” Such acts salve consciences, momentarily answering the smaller questions, but they do nothing to address the larger ones. For Martin Luther King, society is not educated by the Samaritan story (charity) but by the larger question of why injustice plagues the entire Jericho Road (justice).

We urged, we pleaded, that the e-letter include a reference to the motive of protesters. It was part of their story. My family and I had first-hand experience with this mistake and its correction. Over Christmas we were delighted to host an OWS hunger striker. It felt good to ply this person--now eating again--with food and a warm hearthside. While we enjoyed the cozy feeling of doing good, our guest rose every day, read the paper thoroughly, and gently educated us on why there was disenfranchisement. We saw only the smaller question, but our traveler brought the revelation of the larger one to us.

I am beginning to think the Church’s salvation may lie in support to Emergent Churches, ones whose street sense and relevance keeps discernment clearer and truer. If the Emergent Churches are not encumbered, they could restore a priority to questions posed for us. The path we’re on now is one to irrelevance…if we’re not there already.

The Rt. Rev. George E. Packard retired as the Bishop Suffragan of the Armed Services and Federal Ministries in 2010. He writes a blog called, "Occupied Bishop." He and his wife Brook are active supporters of the Occupy Movement and live in Rye, NY.

Episcopal Church 101: how do we tell our story?

by Bill Carroll

Note: The following is a brief attempt to tell the history of the Episcopal Church in a relatively non-partisan way (but with a distinct perspective that I don’t presume is shared by all). We include this in our welcome packet at the parish I serve. I’m offering it for the sake of starting a discussion about how we tell our story. What would you change if you had to tell our story in a brief way? What would you add or subtract? I should note that this is part of a bigger packet. There is, for example, another pamphlet that talks about “full and equal welcome.”

O God, you manifest in your servants the signs of your presence: Send forth upon us the Spirit of love, that in companionship with one another your abounding grace may increase among us; through Jesus Christ our Lord.
--Book of Common Prayer, p. 125

In many ways, the Episcopal Church can be viewed as the heir to the English Reformation in the United States and several other countries of the Western Hemisphere. Among churches emerging out of the sixteenth-century reformations, the Church of England was distinctive in several respects. Unlike Protestant churches on the continent, the English Reformation resulted in a fundamentally political (rather than doctrinal) separation from Rome and its bishop, the pope. More than most other churches, it retained the sacraments, traditions, and governance of the medieval Church, and it saw itself as both Catholic and Reformed.

Some chose to emphasize one aspect of this heritage over the other, but tensions between different factions in the Church were resolved by royal supremacy. In the so called Elizabethan settlement, it was also agreed that different points of view would co-exist within a single church with agreement about the historic Creeds and a common liturgy, embodied in the Book of Common Prayer. One great apologist for this way of being Christian, John Jewel, argued that the Church of England intended to preserve the faith and practice of the undivided Church. Another, Richard Hooker, argued against the Puritan party that the Church of England would be governed by Scripture, tradition, and reason rather than by Scripture alone.

After the American Revolution of 1776, the Episcopal Church became self-governing, no longer subject to the Crown. With help from the Scottish nonjurors (bishops so called because they had refused an oath of allegiance to the monarch) and eventually the Archbishop of Canterbury, bishops were ordained for service in the new world. The Church was also organized with a Constitution that provided for substantial roles for lay people and clergy other than bishops in the governance of the Church. Every three years, the General Convention meets to set policy for the Church. It is a bicameral legislature, with a house of clerical and lay deputies and a house of bishops. Similarly, each diocese is governed by a diocesan convention, which passes canons (church laws) and resolutions (statements of policy) and elects officers to assist the bishop in the governance of the local church. Unlike some Protestant denominations, in the Episcopal Church, the diocese is the fundamental unit of organization, and the bishop is the chief pastor for all Episcopalians in that diocese. We believe that bishops are successors to the apostles, charged with overseeing the whole Church, coordinating its mission, and preserving the eyewitness testimony to the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Our diocese, Southern Ohio, includes 82 congregations and about 25,000 people. At the local level, laypeople also participate in Church governance through the vestry, or governing board, and through the annual parish meeting, which elects vestry members and some of the officers of the congregation.

The Church of England did missionary work throughout the British Empire. Beginning in the nineteenth century, bishops from churches established by the British, some of them in former colonies and others still part of the Empire, began to meet to discuss matters of mutual concern. Today, the churches that meet together in this way comprise the Anglican Communion, the third largest Christian body in the world, with roughly 80 million members. Churches in the Anglican Communion are autonomous, fully self-governing, but they do cooperate in mission and seek to come to a common mind on questions of Christian teaching. In recent years, tensions have arisen in the Anglican Communion over different attitudes toward the role of women in the Church and society, and the attitudes of the Church toward LGBT persons. It remains an open question how these tensions will be resolved in a postcolonial age.

From our Anglican heritage, the Episcopal Church has received a habit of encouraging conscientious disagreement within a culture of civility and a framework of Common Prayer. We do not always agree about everything, but we come to the Lord’s Table together. The Episcopal Church is incredibly diverse. It includes all political parties, most theological persuasions, and just about every point of view. We do take stands on matters of public policy and have a strong tradition of advocacy for social justice, but we also try to provide room for those who disagree.

Our fundamental traditions are a generous orthodoxy, rooted in the Holy Scriptures and the historic, ecumenical creeds, and a Christian humanism that is open to all truth, wherever it may be found. We encourage respectful criticism and a variety of interpretations of the traditions we cherish and love. Our Church has proven remarkably open to such developments as the theory of evolution and historical criticism of the Bible. Still, we try to preserve a faithful witness to Jesus Christ, which is both open to mystery and responsible to the testimony of our brothers and sisters in other times and places.

Our hope is summarized in the words of a prayer we offer together at Daily Evening Prayer, that “in companionship with one another, [God’s] abounding grace may increase among us, through Jesus Christ our Lord.”

The Rev. Bill Carroll serves as Rector of the Church of the Good Shepherd in Athens, Ohio. His parish blog is at here

Non-negotiable

by Derek Olsen

As part of his year-end round-up, our beloved editor Jim Naughton threw down a gauntlet concerning the types of stories and discussions that he’d like to see around the Café in the coming year:

My sense, increasingly, is that these type of stories need to take a backseat to stories that point a way forward. The popularity (#10) of that small item about the decline in membership in our church, and the interest sparked by Bishop Budde's willingness to look mainline decline in the eye and talk about how the church should respond, give me some hope that the attention of our church is shifting, and that perhaps, however gradually given that we are an all volunteer operation that depends heavily on aggregated items, the attention of the Cafe can shift a bit as well. The greatest danger facing our church has less to do with its stand on LGBT issues than with its quickly diminishing capacity to witness effectively on behalf of the Gospel.

I am hoping we can pay some attention to the simple issue of survival in the year ahead.


In response, then, I’d like to offer my first of probably several reflections by way of picking up that gauntlet. This response is further informed by a later discussion that was entitled “In renewing the Episcopal Church , what exactly is up for grabs?” I’m going to focus on what is not up for grabs, from my perspective, and why it’s not up for grabs.

To begin properly, we must acknowledge the kinds of problems that face us. Our membership is declining. What remains of our membership tends to be aging. Our children leave the church when they head off to college (or before) and, at the traditional time for coming back—when they start a family and have kids—they’re not coming back. (I’ve heard the birth-rate arguments and I don’t buy them; it doesn’t matter how many children we have if they don’t attend our churches…)

Membership issues are exacerbating budget issues. Giving is down. When members of younger generations do join and do give, it’s often substantially less both dollar-wise and percentage-wise from what the previous generations gave. As a result, the parishes that have endowments are drawing from the principal not the interest and the bequeathed funds are being drained dry. In dioceses like mine where we have historic buildings, the buildings require more and more money to repair. If repairs are put off—guess what?—the maintenance problems get worse and more expensive.

Churches aren’t the only ones having budget issues—so are clergy. As church budgets get squeezed, so too do clergy salaries. Most churches have gotten rid of their rectories, and for the ones that have retained clergy housing, the housing itself further complicates the maintenance expenditure picture. This means that housing costs must be paid to the clergy too, further stretching budgets. But most people graduating from seminary are saddled with increasing amounts of debt. They’ve got to be able to eat, feed and clothe their families—and pay back student debt. And, no, expecting the clergy spouse to bear the full burden (or slashing the clergy health benefits because the spouse has some [that they usually have to pay for]) doesn’t cut it either and only fuels the already high rate of clergy divorce. Increasingly, I hear two answers floated to ease the burden: part-time clergy and bi-vocational clergy. Both of these may be options for some congregations. Heck, it works for a lot of Methodist and Baptist parishes I know—but those churches are also used to this kind of arrangement; the parish doesn’t already have a set of expectations geared towards full-time clergy—as most of our parishes do.

So—what do we do? What sort of tentative half-measures do we take, or, alternatively, what sort of wacky out-of-the-box solutions do we throw ourselves towards? What should we do? Or, what shouldn’t we do?

For me, from my perspective, there’s one thing that’s completely off the table. If we want to renew and strengthen the Episcopal Church in light of these very real challenges that are facing us, then the one thing that we dare not mess with is our commitment to the contents and spirit of our 1979 Book of Common Prayer.

I know, I can hear some of you already: just another attempt to put our heads in the sand and “worship the worship.” That would indeed be a worthy charge—if we were a set of local social services agencies, or a set of local political action committees. Those groups have no need of worship; it’s not their key function. But we’re a church. Care and attention to how, when, and why we worship isn’t just “worshiping the worship”, it’s connecting with our primary function from which all of our other functions flow. That having been said, I want to attend to three areas in particular.

First, many of our people know the Book of Common Prayer as the book that our Sunday services come from. I’ll challenge this mindset in a moment, but this much at least ought to be the case. The Sunday services that Episcopalians experience should be common because they should proceed in common from the Book of Common Prayer. Whether it ought to be or not, Sunday morning is our main scheduled moment in the cultural eye. Deciding to monkey with the services in order to appear relevant doesn’t look relevant, it looks desperate. While I realize that the reverend clergyperson might have had a flash of insight on Thursday night that involves changing everything around to make some point about something going on in the news or culture, consider that not everyone else might share or appreciate that insight. Consider that the couple on the brink of divorce or the mother who just heard of the death of a neighbor’s son, might not be feeling your whimsy at the moment. We have enough things in our life and daily surroundings that change on a constant basis. Click over to the CNN website and the stories will be different from what was there just 5 minutes ago.

We need some constants too.

One of the most consistent and enduring images of God in the Psalms is the rock. What if our church could witness to that aspect of who God is by at least providing the stability of common prayer?

I’m not saying the book is perfect. There are certainly some things that I’d change if I had the chance. But recognize this: 1) it is an authentic expression of the historic Western liturgy that has nourished literally millions who have come before us. 2) It is an authentic expression of the English devotional experience. (The importance of this is not that it’s English, of course, but that it is a rooted, embodied, inherited tradition that has been embraced and passed on by a diverse group over a period of centuries—not just dreamed up by a few people last week.) 3) It is an authentic expression of historic Anglican liturgy that balances reform of Western norms with Scripture and the theological and spiritual practices of the Early Church. That’s actually quite a lot of things going for it—and it’s more things than would be going for most services either you or I would dream up.

Most people I know don’t go to church on Sunday morning to experience the rector’s latest exciting innovation; they go to church because they hope to experience God and to get a concrete sense of what it means to live out love of God and love of neighbor. Using the book doesn’t guarantee any of this, but it is a big step in the right direction.

Frankly, I don’t care if you’re “into” Quaker spirituality and so want to cut out some of the prescribed prayers and have us sit in silence then; I’m “into” Anglican spirituality, and I’d appreciate it if you did what the book says to do. Perhaps I’m a little touchy on this topic, but I’ve seen too many places where Sunday morning deviations from the book are about the rector inflicting the twists and turns of their own spiritual journey on the congregation. If we want to get serious about being the Episcopal Church then I suggest we would do well to get serious about our core messages and principles and—by canon as well as plain ol’ good sense—these are in the book. As a layperson, I see the book as a contract. It may not be exactly what I want, but it’s an agreed-upon corpus of embodied theology that we have all given assent to. I promise to use the book, and I expect that the clergy will do the same. This is a benefit that we offer those who come seeking—a place of stability in a culture that desperately needs it.

Second, (this is perhaps my most important point) the Book of Common Prayer isn’t just the book for Sunday services. Instead, the Book of Common Prayer offers a full integrated spiritual system that is intended as much for the laity as the clergy and which is founded in a lay spirituality that arose in the medieval period. If you look at the book as a whole, it offers a program for Christian growth built around liturgical spirituality. The best shorthand I have for this is the liturgical round. It’s made up of three components: the liturgical calendar where we reflect upon our central mysteries through the various lenses of the seasons of the life, death, and resurrection of Christ and in his continuing witness in the lives of the saints, the Daily Office where we yearly immerse ourselves in the Scriptures and Psalms, and the Holy Eucharist where we gather on Holy Days to most perfectly embody the Body of Christ and receive the graces that the sacraments afford.

So—here’s why this is important and the meat of how it relates to the issue at hand. The purpose of any spiritual system is to bring the practitioner and their community into a deeper relationship with God—to create a family of mature Christians. Through their increasing awareness of who God is, how much God loves them and all of creation, they translate that love they have been shown into concrete acts of love and mercy in the world around them. There are several different strategies that different spiritual systems use to accomplish this. One of the classic ones—referred to in St Paul’s direction to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thess 5:17)—is the recollection of God. The idea here is that if we can continually keep in mind the goodness of God, the constant presence of God, and an awareness of the mighty works of God on behalf of us and others, that we will more naturally and more completely act in accordance with God’s will and ways. Continual recollection is nearly impossible, but there are methods to help us in this habit.

A primary goal of liturgical spirituality is to create a disciplined recollection of God. Thus, if we specifically pause at central points of time—morning and evening; noon and night; Sundays and other Holy Days—to reorient ourselves towards God and the mighty acts of God, whether recalled to us through the Scriptures or experienced by us through direct encounters with the sacraments, then this discipline will lead us towards a habitual recollection of God.

In the liturgical round, the Book of Common Prayer gives us specific moments to stop and orient our time and ourselves around the recollection of God. As a result, one of the most important parts of the book is the Daily Office section that provides forms for prayer at morning, noon, evening and night. These prayer offices are our fundamental tool for disciplined recollection; they provide the foundation for our spiritual practice. This foundation, then, is punctuated by the Eucharist on Holy Days (at the least). And, conceptually, this is how we should view Sundays—not the day of the week on which we go to church—but as a Holy Day which recurs on a weekly basis.

While this sounds all awfully churchy it’s actually not. Indeed, this liturgical structure was mediated into the prayer-book tradition by a spiritual devotion for the laity. The idea of the Daily Office was originally a regular communal practice. By the end of the 4th century, it was transitioning into a monastic practice and began to be less of a feature in lay life. By the medieval period, it was expected that the laity would be at Matins and Vespers—as well as Mass—on Holy Days. With the rise of lay literacy in the High Medieval period though, came the Books of Hours. These were the central devotional books used by laypeople (men and women alike) and they contained a cycle of offices that followed the basic structure of the monastic and priestly breviaries but with reduced psalmody and no seasonal variations. On the eve of and during the English Reformation, the Latin Books of Hours and the English-language prymers held an important place in the devotional lives of upper- and middle-class lay Christians who prayed these several Offices on a daily basis. The Daily Offices that appeared in the initial 1549 Book of Common Prayer—and in every book subsequent—are equally derived from these lay prymers as well as the Sarum breviaries.

Just as the prymers informed the faith of the laity before the Reformation, so the Offices inform the faith of the laity (and clergy) now. Much of the talk I’ve heard about how effective or energetic a parish is seems oddly institutional. That is, the discussions seem to focus on what sort of programs are run out of the building, what sort of activities the institution supports. But that’s only part of the story. The other part that is harder to quantify yet no less important is how the faith is filtering into the everyday lives of the people in the parish. When the strengthening effects of the sacraments, when daily recollections of God impel a person to stand up against questionable business practices in the office or against a bully in the schoolyard, the Gospel is being lived entirely apart from what programs are housed in the church edifice.

What’s more, recollection is more accessible than just marking whether you showed up to church or not, prayed the Office or not. Our parishes have an important role here. What if someone has a real job and can’t make it to church when a service is being had? The fact that the parish is having a service, that members of the congregation are gathering in prayer or for the sacraments, is itself a recollective witness. If the people prevented—by whatever cause—from coming can but remember that a service is occurring, that prayer and praise are taking part, that they are connected to the act through the spiritual community that binds the parish together, then recollection has occurred; the parish is doing its work. And it doesn’t just serve for congregants either. A church with open doors and posted services serves as a recollective witness to anyone passing by, whether it’s their spiritual home or not. They are reminded—wherever they happen to be on their spiritual journey—that here are people who are remembering God and his redeeming love in the world. Who knows what the impact of that may be? Who knows when they might not walk past and instead walk in.

For me, this is where the church lives or dies. Are we forming communities that embody the love of God and neighbor in concrete actions? Not just in what programs the institution is supporting, but are we feeding regular lives with a spirituality that not only sustains them but leads them into God’s work in a thousand different contexts in no way related to a church structure? Are our parishes witnessing to their members and to the wider community in their acts of corporate prayer for the whole even when the whole cannot be physically there? Therefore this is why, when we worry about the fate of the church, my answer will be a call for more liturgy. Not because I like to worship the worship, but because of the well-worn path to discipleship found in the disciplined recollection of God that the liturgy offers.

My firm belief is that if membership is a problem, our best move is to head for spiritual revitalization. People who are being spiritually fed, challenged, and affirmed by their church will be more likely to show it, to talk about it, and to invite their friends and neighbors to come and see it for themselves. This won’t—it can’t—fix all situations, but even if it doesn’t, spiritual revitalization is what the Church is called to be about.

Third, the Book of Common Prayer sketches the fundamental roles of the four orders of ministry. The laity form the great body of the church, and are called to witness to our faith and practice in the various spaces and places where they find themselves. Bishops are set as overseers to guard the faith of the church and to care for the clergy entrusted to them. The priests are set apart to preach and to administer the sacraments and to give the spiritual and emotional care to communities that are part and parcel of the preaching and sacramental experiences. Deacons are called to serve the bishops and to spearhead the church’s works of mercy.

These roles—identified in Scripture, coded in our tradition, ratified in our prayer book—are not negotiable.

What is negotiable is how we train them and support them.

Will part-time and bi-vocational clergy be the future of our church? I don’t know. But I certainly suspect they will. That means change—and a lot of it. Episcopal congregations have expectations of their clergy; expectations that need to be severely checked if this does turn out to be the new normal. Plenty of churches have gone down this road before. In many of the Methodist and Baptist churches of my acquaintance these realities are the norm, not the exception. But the congregations also have a different expectation of what their clergy will do for them and how they will be present for them.

We don’t need to clergy to lead the Offices for us. We laity can do that ourselves whether corporately or alone. But we do need priests for the Eucharist. We do need bishops for Confirmations and Ordinations. Must these be paid full-time positions? Well—that’s part of the negotiation that needs to happen. The roles themselves, however, are not negotiable.

So, that’s how I see it. As we consider the future of the Episcopal Church, we must do so with a sense of where we’ve come from, where we wish to go and how to keep our experience of and witness to the Triune God at front and center of our efforts. For my part, I find that in the spiritual system of our Book of Common Prayer, in the common prayers agreed upon there, and in the structure of the church that we have received. Let’s think things over, let’s shake things up, but let’s make sure that what’s left at the end of the day never loses sight of the spiritual priorities that drive everything else that we do.

Dr. Derek Olsen has a Ph.D. in New Testament and Homiletics at Emory University. Currently serving as Theologian-in-Residence at the Church of the Advent, Baltimore, he leads quiet days and is a speaker to clergy groups. He has taught seminary courses in biblical studies, preaching, and liturgics. A layman working in the IT field, Derek created and maintains the online Daily Office site The St. Bede's Breviary. His reflections on life, liturgical spirituality, and being a Gen-X/Y dad appear at Haligweorc.

Treasures in earthen vessels

by George Clifford

Paul wrote in II Corinthians, “… we have this treasure in clay jars.” The context supports the common interpretation that clay jars connotes the human body. However, the context, written in the plural first person, also permits understanding clay jars as a metaphor for the Church, the body of Christ.

What treasure do the Episcopal Church’s clay jars contain? And what are the Episcopal Church’s clay jars?

Unlike some doomsayers who predict inevitable demise, I remain convinced that the Episcopal Church has treasure that the much of the rest of the world needs and wants.

The Book of Common Prayer is obviously not our treasure. We have revised the Prayer Book several times during the last two centuries and will surely do so again. Nor is our treasure the Bible, not even the King James Version, now badly dated. And our treasure is certainly not our polity, with its complicated governance structures and bureaucratic procedures filled with checks and balances.

Our treasure is relational and experiential, relationships with God, God's people, and creation experienced in the light of God's grace and love. We proclaim a message of radical hospitality that welcomes everybody; following Jesus, we seek to incarnate sacrificial love and work to bring life to a dying world (food to the hungry, water to the thirsty, healing to the sick, etc.). We also place distinctive emphases on pastoral care, diversity, and ambiguity.

Everything else, no matter how cherished, is a clay jar, useful only as an earthen vessel for a heavenly treasure. Unlike many treasures, the more we share this treasure, the more it increases (remember Jesus’ parables about yeast, mustard seeds, and faithful stewards).

The lack of comment in response to my last two posts at the Daily Episcopalian (Rethinking Episcopal Church Structure Part 1 and Part 2) disappointed but did not surprise me. Two of the three comments concurred that building relationships was more important than any business transacted at General Convention (one deputy wanted to maintain the status quo to preserve the opportunity to cultivate those relationships). The third comment was from an appointed missionary, who defended the importance of international missionaries representing the national church (even if a congregation, diocese, or province provided the funding, the national church could still appoint all international missionaries).

The proposals I offered (transacting national church business electronically, devolving many national programs to provinces, dioceses, or congregations, and creating a regular, church-wide mega-gathering of 50,000 or more Episcopalians) are not ukases. My proposals may even be completely unhelpful. However, merely updating structure (e.g., Bishop Sauls’ proposals), even if it achieves a major reduction in the percentage of income spent on governance and administrative costs (e.g., from 50% to 20%), will not revitalize the Church and reverse its numerical decline. His proposals, which are gathering some support (e.g., from the dioceses of Iowa and Oregon), at best, will retard the rate of decline. This may delay the inevitable or, God willing, allow the Church to replace its timeworn clay jars with new ones better suited to the twenty-first century.

The Episcopal Church needs a structure that is inexpensive to maintain/operate, engages a substantial portion of the Church (not just a couple of dozen people per diocese), and, most importantly, flexibly focuses on ministry and mission rather than institutional maintenance. My goal in proposing a radically revised Church structure was to ignite a conversation within the Church that would lead to genuine reform, breaking old clay jars and replacing them with new ones, jars better suited to our flattened and electronically connected world.

Too often, individuals and organizations prefer focusing on smaller, tactical questions (e.g., who appoints missionaries) than addressing broad, strategic questions. The Episcopal Church is plainly in numerical decline. Even as our physical bodies wear out, so do the clay jars of Church structure. If continuing business as usual – preserving the clay jars of our polity – could reverse the decline, the decline would have ended before now. Assuredly, we, individually and collectively, are not committed to ecclesial decline. Therefore, the difficult conversation about how we replace our clay jars to make our treasure more accessible to more people is our most urgent imperative – if the Episcopal Church is ever again to be a vital, vibrant, and growing part of the body of Christ.


George Clifford is an ethicist and Priest Associate at the Church of the Nativity, Raleigh, NC. He retired from the Navy after serving as a chaplain for twenty-four years and now blogs at Ethical Musings (http://blog.ethicalmusings.com/).

Rethinking Episcopal Church structure Part II

Clarity about the purpose and value of our connectedness (see Part 1) suggests that The Episcopal Church (TEC) move into two directions. I write this with some trepidation about getting too much into the weeds, but TEC, if it is not merely to survive but to regain the vibrancy that once made it a powerful and forceful witness for the gospel must reinvent itself before it becomes entirely irrelevant.

First, TEC should eliminate its triennial General Convention. Instead, TEC should adopt a virtual legislative and electoral process. A virtual process, unimaginable to eighteenth century Episcopalians, might advantageously:

• Preserve our national bicameral structure and the option to vote by orders (i.e., the basic principles of representation and democracy inherent in our approach to governance) ;
• Expand the number of deputies (lay and clergy) per diocese, broadening representation;
• Recognize that the large number of lay and clergy deputies already precludes meaningful floor debate, i.e., the real action happens either in smaller bodies (the House of Bishops, for example, or, more often, in a committee or commission);
• Substitute virtual interaction for physical interaction, a change some national committees and commissions have already made;
• Permit more timely decisions, with the virtual successor to General Convention convening annually or perhaps even quarterly;
• Enable delegates to have more time per issue by focusing on fewer issues at a time;
• Require minimal national staff support to track actions, disseminate documents digitally, train new diocesan IT staff (dioceses train and otherwise support their deputies), etc.;
• Save the substantial sums now spent on deputy travel, per diem, etc. (approximately $35,000 per diocese).

Here’s how this process might work at the national level for two important issues, the election of a Presiding Bishop and approving a rite of blessing for same sex marriages. The House of Bishops at one of their regular meetings would, using the current process, choose a candidate to become the next Presiding Bishop. The House of Deputies would meet to discuss and vote whether to confirm that person electronically while the House of Bishops remained in session. The possibility and problems stemming from the House of Deputies rejecting the House of Bishops’ choice are less costly but otherwise the same as if the House of Deputies were meeting in person rather than virtually. Deputies vote by diocesan delegation, minimizing any problems caused by people being in various time zones. Diocesan delegations could easily have more members and include persons now excluded by practical considerations from serving. In other words, a virtual process would be more representative, more inclusive, and far less costly than the current process.

Approving a liturgy for blessing same sex marriages might begin, as does the current legislative process, with a resolution that originated in either the House of Bishops or Deputies to form a national consultation tasked with drafting a proposed rite. The national consultation could function through a combination of physical and virtual meetings. Once drafted, each diocese might then choose its own process to study the proposed rite and any supplemental materials the consultation furnishes. Dioceses, within a stipulated timeframe, could then vote, again using their own process, to commend the text in whole or part, propose revisions, or recommend against approval in whole or part. If a majority (or a super majority, depending upon the issue and canons) approves, the text stands adopted. If a majority recommend against acceptance, the issue dies.

If, as is most likely, a majority of dioceses proposes revisions, the national consultation reconvenes, revises its original draft, and then submits the revision to the dioceses. This process is admittedly unlikely to produce quick results. However, a process that takes longer and involves more people will quite likely achieve greater acceptance for the final text upon adoption, important in a denomination riven by recent controversies that led to schism. Since group processes often produce inelegantly worded documents (i.e., bad liturgy), successive iterations of the process (i.e., each time the national consultation sends the text to the dioceses) might progressively narrow dioceses’ latitude in proposing additional revisions to parts of the text not yet agreed.

Each General Convention faces hundreds of resolutions including proposed revisions to the Church calendar, possible changes to the liturgy, nominations to various boards and groups, proposed positions on international and national social justice issues, resolutions recognizing or commending individuals or groups, etc. To the maximum extent feasible, groups or structures other than General Convention will most appropriately deal with these matters. For the remainder of the agenda, virtual processes similar to those sketched in the two examples above will work.

Second, TEC should devolve ministry and mission, to the maximum extent practical, with the national church not performing any ministry or mission that provinces, dioceses, or congregations can reasonably provide. Examples of efforts more effectively performed elsewhere within Christ's body include not only starting new congregations but also most programming (youth work, curriculum development and writing, funding national and international missionaries, etc.). Devolving these endeavors to provinces and dioceses (and wealthy parishes) would creatively build on local strengths, help to ensure that local experience informs global practice, and reduce administrative overhead. Communication and rapid transportation increasingly make central staff expensive and unnecessary.

For example, the superb Diocese of North Carolina youth missioner could devote half her time to training and resourcing youth ministry in other dioceses in the province. Under such an arrangement, everybody wins. The diocese expands its youth ministry, hiring a second youth missioner paid with funds previously forwarded to the national church; a gifted person meets provincial needs; the new youth missioner learns from a great role model; and NC youth benefit by interacting with two adults. With nine provinces, TEC would have the equivalent of four and a half full-time staff supporting youth ministry; if some larger or wealthier parishes discerned a similar call to serve youth ministers, the potential benefit to TEC is still greater.

By expecting provinces, dioceses and larger/wealthy parishes to expand their local ministries and missions to include a gift of intentional ministry to the broader Episcopal Church, we would create a broader, more inclusive community that better utilized the diverse gifts of more of God's people. Collegial conversations between parishes, dioceses, and provinces could coordinate this effort to ensure comprehensive programs (e.g., some diocese or parish undertakes to write religious formation materials for every age group).

Third, and finally, TEC could host a regular (once every 1-4 years) gathering of 50,000 plus Episcopalians in a large sports arena. This event would: (1) visibly demonstrate The Episcopal Church’s health and vitality in a newsworthy event; (2) energize attendees for ministry and mission; and (3) inspire attendees with a vision of who God calls us to be and what God asks us to do in response. In other words, TEC would intentionally adopt a mission strategy that complements the many strengths inherent in being a denomination in which 97% of its congregations have an average Sunday attendance of less than 351 people. Megachurches and political rallies, rock concerts, and professional sporting events achieve similar results, creating community, engendering commitment, and motivating people by hosting large gatherings. TEC has the advantage of having an existing small group structure (5000 plus congregations, 110 dioceses, 9 provinces, and untold other groups, committees, choirs, schools, and so forth) through which freshly inspired and motivated thousands can engage in ministry and mission. The importance of the once a decade gathering of Anglican bishops at Lambeth only hints at the magnitude of the potential effect that these regular mega-gatherings of Episcopalians could have on the denomination, the larger Church, and the world.

In many respects, this third proposition is the most critical. The first proposal, reinventing General Convention as a virtual process, provides the organizational resources of time and money required to fund a mega-event. General Convention now costs approximately $12.2 million every three years. With a virtual process, $10-11 million should be available to fund mega-events.

The second proposal, devolving as much ministry and mission from the national church to provinces, dioceses, and congregations disperses and multiplies the opportunities for people to become meaningfully involved in the Church. With creative and thorough implementation, the second proposal conceivably allows the national church to fund its revised operation through reliance on endowment and rental income and 1% or perhaps even ½ of 1% of congregational giving.

Currently, TEC, according to its Chief Operating Officer, spends 47% of its revenues on overhead. That is scandalous in comparison to the standards by which donors and rating agencies judge other non-profits. I’m confident that our disproportionately large overhead does not make God happy. We can do better. And if we truly believe that we have the bread and water of life in a world that is dying for lack of them, we must do better. Bishop Sauls’ plan takes steps in the right direction. But we need to go further, to remember who we are and what God has called us to do in the twenty-first century. Then we need to move forward boldly and quickly, seizing the moment, exchanging the tired structures and patterns that have brought us this far for ones better suited for the present.

George Clifford is an ethicist and Priest Associate at the Church of the Nativity, Raleigh, NC. He retired from the Navy after serving as a chaplain for twenty-four years and now blogs at Ethical Musings (http://blog.ethicalmusings.com/).

Rethinking Episcopal Church structure Part I

by George Clifford

The Episcopal Church’s Chief Operating Officer, the Rt. Rev. Stacy Sauls, has proposed a plan for substantially revising the Church’s national structure and governance. Perhaps Bishop Sauls’ recommendations are insufficiently radical.

Why should The Episcopal Church (TEC) have a national structure that unites its nine provinces and one hundred ten dioceses into a single organization? What is the purpose of this national structure?

In spite of the Anglican Communion’s Lambeth Quadrilateral and broad, ecumenical acceptance of four orders of ministry (lay, deacon, priest/presbyter, and bishop), no one pattern of ecclesiastical structure has a clear, widely agreed, biblical and theological mandate. Significant differences exist in the organizational patterns of the Romans, Anglicans, Lutherans, Presbyterians, Baptists, and others. Consequently, in ecclesiastical organizations, as in secular entities, form can beneficially follow function, a point implicit in Bishop Sauls’ proposal. Once clear about the purpose (function) for our national structure, possible answers to questions about organizational structure, governance, and finances will become more apparent. TEC’s current structure is largely an inheritance from the late eighteenth century, encrusted with adaptations, and still focused on eighteenth century preoccupation with governance and missions, domestic and foreign, in territories in which the Anglican Communion had little or no presence.

A national structure constitutes, first and foremost, the visible expression of the Church’s unity. Episcopalians may often act as if they are congregationalists or even individualists. Nevertheless, Episcopalians have historically emphasized the Church’s visible unity, an emphasis that incidentally resonates well among younger adults who value relationships over organizational structure and governance. The former dean of Duke Divinity School, L. Gregory Jones, has suggested the helpful metaphor of cities for Christian organizations: “Cities have a vibrant core, permeable boundaries and strong networks. But many of today’s Christian institutions are more like corporations, tightly bounded and working alone.” Using Jones’ metaphor, TEC should transform itself from eighteenth century institution into twenty-first century city that welcomes all and builds community.

Second, a national structure provides organization and resources to accomplish ministries and missions that local congregations, dioceses, and provinces cannot accomplish alone, or at least accomplish efficiently by acting independently. For example, the endorsement and support of federal chaplains in the military, Veterans Affairs healthcare system, and federal prisons would be almost impossible apart from the national Church. Other such ministries and missions exist, but far too few to justify having the 75 departments in the Church’s national office that Bishop Sauls has counted.

In general, TEC, like many organizations, often functions most effectively (i.e., achieves its goals) and efficiently (i.e., using the fewest possible resources) by operating as locally devolved as practical while still preserving its unity. Devolution can allow greater local flexibility (no style of ministry or pattern of mission has proven universally superior), increased and more broadly diversified ownership, and reduced administrative overhead.

For example, responsibility for establishing new congregations best resides with dioceses or even local congregations. Unlike TEC’s formative decades in which TEC lacked viable dioceses (and often congregations) in large swaths of the nation, there is no longer a persuasive rationale for centralizing new church planting. The ministerial expertise, demographic data, marketing skills, and other non-financial resources required for new church plants to succeed are not denominationally specific and widely available. Some local congregations and all dioceses can plant new congregations, investing leadership, money, and people in response to population growth and shifts. Evangelism might make many Episcopalians uncomfortable, but we cannot delegate to others the clear gospel responsibility to make disciples, even when we nominally support that delegation with money and prayers. (Unlike authority, nobody can delegate responsibility.)

In the twenty-first century, knowledge is often the most important resource to share as broadly as feasible. In many large voluntary organizations, communication flows routinely bottom-up and peer-to-peer without top-down guidance or support. Interested cadres of volunteers, working without the oversight, assistance, and cost of paid staff, maintain websites, publish e-newsletters, etc. If an issue, ministry, or mission cannot attract a sufficiently large and dedicated cadre of volunteers, then relying on paid staff is a poor investment of resources usually unlikely to produce significant results.

Alternatively, some tasks, once viewed as denominational responsibilities, may permit economies of scale (i.e., the same results at a lower cost) if performed by an ecumenical agency in support of several denominations. Church insurance, clergy pensions, and healthcare insurance are all examples of important services now provided by TEC that an ecumenical consortium could probably offer at a lower cost (secular insurance companies consistently argue that a larger customer base enables the company to offer improved products at lower costs). The Church Insurance Group and its affiliates, which provide quality products, could take the lead in this endeavor, assuring the preservation of quality and a continuing focus on the needs of churches and their employees while maintaining current high levels of service. Consolidating Episcopal Relief and Development with its Evangelical Lutheran and United Methodist counterparts might also yield economies of scale, diminishing administrative costs and increasing resources available for mission.

In walking the Jesus path, doing is less important than being. Yet the opposite seems to characterize TEC today. We invest a majority of our corporate time and energy in doing. By Bishop Sauls’ count, TEC acts through one hundred forty-five national boards, commissions, committees, conventions, and councils focused on governance (elections, decision-making, and policy formulation) and programming (ministries and missions, many of them potentially more effectively and efficiently implemented by others). Celebrating our common life as one visible branch of the gathered community of God's people receives scant attention and resources.

Having attended the last two General Conventions, my overwhelming perception is that deputies find General Convention rewarding not because of the business conducted but because of the relationships cultivated with Episcopalians from across the denomination. In other words, deputies behaviorally recognize and cherish the validity of my contention that the denomination’s primary function is incarnating the Church’s visible unity in a fragmented world.

A second perception of General Convention deputies is that they work very hard but have too little time for the majority to master the full spectrum of issues on which they vote. Instead, Convention really transacts most of its business via committees, only rarely making substantial modifications to committee recommendations. The process preserves the appearance of a broad-based representative democracy but of necessity relies heavily upon staff, deputies with long tenure, and the influence of interest groups.

A third perception of General Convention deputies is that they poorly match TEC demographics. Although most dioceses fund travel expenses for deputies, deputies must still have the time available to attend (difficult for the self-employed and people with two weeks or less of annual vacation), find somebody else to shoulder other responsibilities (e.g., childcare, especially in case of a single parent), and fulfill any diocesan obligations associated with serving as a deputy (entailing more time and perhaps some costs).

The second part of this post recommends specific proposals that TEC can implement to transform an eighteenth century institution into a twenty-first century “city” that welcomes all, strengthens our visible unity, performs the ministries and missions best done by a national office, and concurrently minimizes the effort and costs of governance.


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

The Quiet Group and the Change Group

By R. Channing Johnson

A while back, George Clifford wrote an essay titled “Is the Episcopal Church Going the Way of the Grange.” Like Clifford, I have taught undergraduate and graduate statistics (I call them “sadistics” in sympathy with students). I liked his analysis of the continuing decline of the Episcopal Church and of how budget allocations indicate that the main agenda of TEC is aimed at preserving the status quo of decline.

I maintain that the main problem may be that we tend to ignore the very rapid social change in America since World War II. We now have four different generations and a major cultural divide between those people above versus below the age of approximately 45. While many of us understand that there are some differences in worldview, beliefs, and values, we don’t understand how deep they are and cannot really articulate the differences that affect church participation and membership. As a result, we miss the imperative of change and the nature of appropriate adaptive response.

I became aware of the reality and pain of social change back in the late 1960s and early 1970s, first as chaplain of one of the Episcopal church-related colleges, then as a graduate student at large state university and as the vicar of an experimental ministry at a nearby Episcopal congregation. This was when we became aware that the children of the World War II generation had somehow managed to grow up without sharing their parent’s world-view, values, or beliefs. They declared the dawning of the age of Aquarius, celebrated Bishop Robinson’s little book on “situational ethics,” gathered as a mighty herd at Woodstock, and declared that “You can’t trust anyone over 30.” And now, we realize that this was just the beginning and that there was more generational change coming down the pike!

The experimental ministry at the nearby church brought me face to face with the pain of social change. We were seeking to break out of the “active clergy, passive laity” mode by providing an unpaid team of worker priests to conduct Sunday services but primarily to train the laity to carry out the greater work of the church, including pastoral, outreach and caring ministries. This “team ministry” was accepted with enthusiasm and participation by many, but barely accepted by others as an unwelcomed financial necessity. Then the riots at the nearby university broke out and the Episcopal Church got serious about the revisions to the Book of Common Prayer. I’m not sure which caused more pain and anger, but my Social Science response was to conduct a survey.

One survey statement alone identified two distinctly different groups within the congregation. That statement was, “In a changing world, the church ought to be a place of quiet and unchanging stability.” The group that affirmed this statement opposed the team ministry and the changes taking place in church and society, emphasized church building and staff, and were confident that “Young People growing up today will accept the ways of the traditional church.” The group that disagreed with this statement, supported the team ministry and the changes taking place within the church, supported social activism, and tended to define the church primarily in terms community rather than place. These differences between the “Quiet group” and the “Change group” were statistically significant at the point .001 level on the Mann Whitney U Test. (There, I’ll never mention statistic again!) There was no evidence that these differences were based on age.

This study was reported in 1971. Does it sound familiar today? The point is that, although change is staring us in the eye, change is unwelcomed and threatening to a significant number of people. This is the message of Toffler in Future Shock (1970). Change in modern society is coming so fast and furious that some people simply cannot adapt and are overwhelmed. Change is a threat when the church is seen by some as a place of quiet sanity, to be defended as such.

It’s probably fair to characterize older communicants (who make up the great majority of many congregations) as perfectly happy and at home in their churches. After all, their churches fit their cultural values and they tend to “do church” in the old familiar ways that they have come to love. The only problem is that they are growing older and the younger people and children are missing. Weren’t Little Bo Peep’s sheep supposed to return home after they grew up and married? What’s wrong with them, and why is it so hard to carry on a civilized conversation with them? The typical older communicant is happy with their church because it was shaped by the culture they grew up with.

We need to distinguish between the Gospel of Salvation and the culture within which the Gospel is presented. The Good News of God’s love in Jesus remains the same from age to age, but the culture within which the Gospel is presented has always changed with time and location. The Episcopal Church is 1800 would probably seem as strange to a typical Episcopalian as that strange (you fill in the denomination) church down the street. The Gospel is an unchanging gift. The packaging varies with our culture.

But American culture has changing rapidly from generation to generation. I believe that the rapidity and depth of change is something new, something that happened after World War II. The result is that the cultural packaging of the Gospel that is comfortable to the older generation, that they grew up with and came to love, is strange and unwelcoming to the younger generations. Simple statistics document that the younger of the young are the most deeply alienated from the church and that the overall level of alienation is increasing year by year. Statistics from Un-Christian (2007) by David Kinnaman shows that these young, disaffiliated persons agree that Christians are antihomosexual (91%), judgmental (87%, hypocritical (85%), and old-fashioned (78%).

This past April, Tamie Harkins, former Episcopal Chaplain to Canterbury Club at Northern Arizona University posted a blog item that went viral in its popularity. She outlined 20 actions that are “guaranteed” to bring young persons to your church. It was a magnificent cry for changes by a young post-modern voice. We ignore these changes at the price of our long-term survival.

The changes between generations in our society threaten us with decay and loss if we do not respond. But changes poorly selected and imposed can generate opposition and destruction and “the last state of that congregation is worse than the first” (see Luke 11:24-26).

I believe that change and how we address it is the heart of the crisis faced by the traditional churches today. I know that the problem can be addressed because I have experienced congregation coming alive. I have also seen congregations dying that ignore the challenge and other congregations dying because they did not understand the threat of change and the damage from opposition to change. I’ve written elsewhere about the nature and management of adaptive change. We don’t have to follow the style of the large evangelical congregations. We have a wealth of catholic diversity to dip into as we seek to live the Gospel with a change in the cultural packaging of the Gospel.

Consider the following changes that are far-reaching but non-specific enough that they can be designed for that individual congregation in its uniqueness:

Emphasize the church as community, not organization.
Recognize that life in Christ is more about relationships than following rules.

Understand that I am a forgiven sinner and treat others without condemnation.

Be far more attentive to human need and the brokenness around us.

These four adaptive changes seem to me to relate to learning to live the Gospel. We need more emphasis here. There are two other that seem to be more related to changes in our culture.

Promote greater informality in church.

Realize that worship is moving from the cognitive toward the expressive and joyful.


How can we attract the disaffiliated and the stranger if we do not live the Gospel with joy in their midst? Repentance is changing my life direction from one path to another. How can the stranger repent if he has not seen the great alternative of Newness of Life lived in his presence?

The bottom line is that adaptive change to reach out to the younger generations will involve change is us and how we live toward others. What a glorious opportunity! As we walk the path between death from inaction on one side and death from squabbling on the other, we discover the Shepherd who guides us and leads us into his promises. As Father Abraham said to Sara, “Come, Let’s get packed and find out where He’s leading us! Yeee Hah!”

R. Channing Johnson, PhD, is an Episcopal priest working in the Diocese of Arizona and the author of Where have all the Young People Gone, (2011).

Thousands have swum the river in both directions

By Daniel J. Webster

In a recent move to Baltimore I unearthed the October 5, 1973 issue of the National Catholic Reporter. I was a stringer for the paper then when TV news in Phoenix didn’t pay much. I even had a part time job teaching religion at a local Catholic high school. My ministry included playing guitar at Sunday night masses at the Franciscan Renewal Center in Scottsdale.

Finding this particular issue of NCR not only flooded me with memories (my byline was on page two) but propelled me into the present. On page one was the notice that John Cogley had become an Episcopalian. Cogley was a former executive editor of Commonweal, an NCR columnist and well known Catholic author and journalist.

His migration, I later discovered, is fondly referred to by those who keep score as “swimming the Thames”—the description for Catholics who become Episcopalians. Those going the other way “swim the Tiber.” These expressions acknowledge the two rivers next to seats of ecclesiastical authority of both branches of Christ’s “one, holy, catholic and apostolic church.”

My move to Baltimore came at the calling of the Episcopal bishop to join his staff as canon for evangelism and ministry development. I swam the Thames nearly 20 years ago, went to the Seminary of the Southwest, and was ordained nearly six years later. And so recent events have caused friends, old and new, to ask for my reactions.

The Vatican’s recent establishment of an ordinariate to make it easier on disaffected Anglicans/Episcopalians to return to Rome hit home in my diocese when Mt. Calvary Episcopal Church and its 24 voting members announced they were swimming the Tiber. (Negotiations on separation continue). Around the same time a handful of Church of England bishops announced they were leaving for Rome. The British media seem to be keeping the scorecard on this latest swimming meet.

The list of those who’ve made the swim in the past 450 years is exhaustive. Last September on his visit to England, Pope Benedict XVI beatified Cardinal John Henry Newman, described by some as the most important Anglican convert to Rome. (Cardinal Newman was added to The Episcopal Church’s calendar of saints in 2009. Feb. 21 is his feast day). One of my heroes, Bede Griffiths, a Church of England priest who became a Roman Catholic Benedictine, lived out his life in a Christian ashram in India. He has inspired many who see Christian meditation as a way to change the world.

This swim meet can get crowded at times. Fr. Alberto Cutie made headlines in 2009 when the Spanish language TV talk-show star became an Episcopalian. So did Matthew Fox in 1994 when his creation spirituality teachings got him in hot water with then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger. When I asked the bishop who received Fox into the Episcopal Church about how many inquiries he had gotten from Roman priests during his 20-plus year episcopate, he said it was about one a month. To him it was understandable, since he thought the Episcopal Church had become the church Vatican II had envisioned. That ecumenical council profoundly changed the Episcopal Church and shaped the liturgy we use in our 1979 Book of Common Prayer. In the past 40 years Sunday worship has migrated from a predominant Morning Prayer service to the celebration of Holy Eucharist.

Baltimore is arguably the seat of Roman Catholicism in this country. I am one of millions formed by the Baltimore Catechism during childhood. I’ve been taught by Jesuits, Dominicans, Carmelites and Holy Ghost fathers. I embrace Pope Leo XIII’s stand for workers’ rights in Rerum Novarum and regret his invalidation of Anglican/Episcopal holy orders. I champion (and preach) Paul VI’s proclamation of Jesus’s “preferential option for the poor” and regret his undermining of Vatican II and promulgation of Humanae Vitae.

There are hundreds more, lay and ordained, who make the journey from one communion to the other without fanfare. I am still Catholic and will always be. I’m no longer Roman Catholic. I think Jesus wants me to be where I can most effectively at live out his Gospel.

The late John Cogley’s words in that 1973 NCR could speak for many who’ve swum either river either way: “I do not look upon this move as a ‘conversion’ since I have not changed any of the beliefs I formerly held. Rather, it is a matter of finding my proper spiritual home.”

The Rev. Canon Daniel J. Webster is canon for evangelism and ministry development in the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland. This article first appeared in the June issue of Episcopal Journal.

Is the Episcopal Church going the way of the Grange?

By George Clifford

Ample evidence of the continuing numerical decline in The Episcopal Church (TEC) is widely available. The recent report, Episcopal Congregations Overview: Findings from the 2010 Faith Communities Today Survey, provides the latest documentation:

• Over half (52%) of all Episcopal congregations are in communities of 50,000 or fewer people and another 8% are in rural areas, a cause for concern given the steadily increasing urbanization of the U.S. population.
• The median age of Episcopalians is 57; fewer and fewer young people identify with TEC.
• Unless the median age drops significantly (or life expectancy increases very rapidly!), half of all Episcopalians will die in the next 18 years.
• Only 3.1% of Episcopal congregations have an average Sunday attendance of 351 or greater; these large congregations are more likely to grow than are smaller ones.

The picture is deeply depressing for people who value TEC. Median attendance in Episcopal congregations was 66 in 2009, 72 in 2006, and 77 in 2003 (Episcopal Café: Numbers worth watching). If that rate of decline continues (i.e., median attendance declining by 5 people every 3 years), in 15 years the median attendance will be 31 and in 30 years attendance will average just 6 people on a Sunday per congregation.

Having once taught college statistics, I know that projecting a linear decline over the next 30 years based on three data points relies upon an indefensible methodology. However, the projection underscores the dire future confronting TEC. Although some Episcopal congregations are growing, and a handful of dioceses have experienced some growth, the preponderance of the evidence clearly points to the inevitability of continuing denominational decline if not demise.

This decline constitutes an existential threat to TEC. Unless TEC reverses the decline, TEC will soon become a remnant numbering in the tens of thousands. When that happens, the media will not care, and few non-Episcopalians will even notice, what the Episcopal Church says or does. TEC will no longer be a vital incarnation of God's love in Christ. Instead, TEC will have gone from being the established church in several eighteenth century American colonies and states to being a twenty-first century anachronism.

In my hometown, the Grange has made a similar transition. During the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, the Grange was a vibrant, influential organization that enriched the lives of its members and celebrated, supported, and defended an agrarian lifestyle and economy. Today, that agrarian economy and its associated lifestyle are long gone. The Grange Hall sits empty, maintained by a handful of elderly members who find satisfaction in each other’s companionship and in caring for the building.

Although I hope that no Episcopalian wants such a future for TEC, the denomination’s current trajectory seems inexorably headed toward an elderly and (hopefully!) companionable remnant preserving underutilized buildings as monuments to once vital ministries and missions.

Contrary to some pessimists, I do not believe that the current trajectory and prospective fate of TEC are irreversible. Change is possible. Even as a small rudder can steer a mighty ship, so can visionary leadership steer an organization. Adding the momentum of committed people and well-utilized resources to that vision will accelerate the speed of organizational transformation.

Visionary leadership begins with a simple question: What is our agenda? That question integrates vision (who we are) and mission (what we do) into an action-oriented proposition. An agenda that addresses the root causes of numerical decline may enable TEC to alter course. An agenda that fails to address fifty years of relentless numerical decline in TEC is tantamount to acceding to the denomination’s passing from influence and presence on the American scene.

Current TEC agenda items include developing rites for blessing same sex relationships, publishing a new hymnal, restoring Church buildings and ministries in Haiti and Japan in the wake of disasters, and resolving a host of governance issues, not the least of which is the proposed Anglican Covenant. Those are important issues. Some of them evoke passionate responses; some of them, such as the rite for blessing same sex relationships, are long overdue. As important as any of those issues is, or others that I neglected to mention, none represents or identifies an existential threat to TEC. None of those issues, individually or collectively, will cause the demise, much less the renewal, of TEC.

What should be our agenda?

Better use of our resources is an obvious agenda item if TEC is to reverse its numerical decline. Demographic analysis quickly reveals that TEC has resource distribution problems. A majority of TEC congregations (53%) were founded before 1901. Consequently, population shifts have left many congregations with underutilized facilities in a location where the congregation is unlikely to grow. Apart from staff support, most congregations (remember the median attendance is just 66 people!) expend the largest portion of their resources on maintaining their physical facilities (19-36% of the budget, varying indirectly with average attendance – the larger the attendance, the smaller the percentage spent on facilities). Staff support represents the largest set of expenditures, averaging about 50% of a congregation’s budget. The 17% of congregations with average attendance of 1-25 persons on a Sunday, the 36% of congregations with average attendance of 26-50, and the 66% of congregations with average attendance of 51-100 that now have full-time clergy do not fully utilize this costly resource. Similarly, a disproportionate share of diocesan resources supports a small congregation (episcopal visits, deployment issues, etc.).

From an objective, statistical perspective the analysis proceeds easily. Identify congregations that waste resources based on average Sunday attendance. Then find and implement a creative alternative. Some congregations could merge, with either another TEC congregation or a congregation with whom TEC has intercommunion. Other TEC congregations could yoke together, establishing team ministries, as is increasingly happening in the Church of England. In both cases, congregations could cede surplus assets to the diocese and utilize revenues, previously expended on building maintenance and staff support, to fund mission. Dioceses, serving fewer congregations, would also have more resources for mission.

However, these are not new ideas; TEC has rarely implemented any of these ideas. The real agenda in TEC is not maximizing our participation in God's transformative activity. The real agenda, though generally unspoken and unacknowledged, is self and local congregation. Institutional and personal inertia, emotional attachments to buildings, and Churchmanship modeled on the eighteenth and nineteenth century Church of England all represent substantial barriers to change. As readily apparent from meeting agendas and budgets, congregations and their members invest themselves and their resources more in building maintenance than mission; TEC and dioceses similarly invest themselves more in institutional maintenance than mission.

I am not arguing, à la Rick Warren and The Purpose Drive Life, that the Church’s purpose is evangelism. I am passionate about making a difference in the world. I believe that the Church should incarnate God's love for the world, modeling in community the abundant new life that God wants people to enjoy and offering living water, literally and figuratively, to a world dying of thirst. TEC talks a great deal about this or a similar vision for itself. Yet we fail to incarnate that vision. In truth, we are more about maintaining the status quo than about transforming the world. A dying church unavoidably sends the opposite message. A dying church dissipates its precious resources in a losing campaign to maintain an increasingly lifeless institution.

Yet, we in TEC have some cause for hope. The Episcopal congregations most likely to have experienced numerical growth in the past decade are large and very liberal congregations, according to the 2010 Faith Communities Today Survey. A Church committed to ongoing renewal, a Church that seeks to live ever more fully into love for God and others, and a Church that recognizes that theology, worship, and resources are but earthen vessels is a Church that will become an increasingly vibrant and alive incarnation of the body of Christ. I want this future, this agenda, for TEC. I believe God wants this future, this agenda, for TEC.

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

The central role of conflict in the life of the Episcopal Church

By George Clifford

Recently, a dental hygienist whom I had not previously met cleaned my teeth. She worked in silence, a welcome change from hygienists who expect their patient to converse in spite of having a mouthful of fingers and dental instruments. When she had finished the cleaning, she asked me what I did. I said that I was an Episcopal priest.

She replied that she had been Episcopalian, but that she had tired of the endless controversy and conflict. The massive, continuing exodus of people and congregations from The Episcopal Church left her feeling dismayed. She rebuffed my attempt to describe the size of the exodus factually with anecdotal evidence from her own experience. To her, the exodus had and continued to feel distressingly huge, though I gathered she disagreed with those exiting.

After she moved to Raleigh several years ago, her teenage daughter had made friends at school with kids who attended a nearby Lutheran church. Consequently, this woman was now a Lutheran, believing it good for her daughter to attend church with her friends. Becoming Lutheran conveniently allowed her to avoid the conflicts in The Episcopal Church (TEC). Nevertheless, the hygienist, who subtly indicated that she was not open to returning to TEC, expressed a preference for our liturgy.

My encounter with this woman started me thinking about conflict. Conflict is essential for growth, whether physical, intellectual, emotional, or spiritual. Confronting limits, crossing barriers, and moving into new territory each represent a form of conflict as a person moves beyond the known into the unknown.

Approaches to conflict vary along a spectrum that ranges from avoidance to seeking. Those who seek conflict seem unable to thrive without it. Psychologists sometimes refer to these individuals as “drama queens/kings.” In the absence of sufficient conflict, a drama queen/king will create conflict. Apart from the emotional intensity of conflict, such individuals often seem flat or lost. Living with a drama queen/king frequently exhausts family and friends.

Sometimes, I think TEC has more than its fair share of drama queens/kings. These individuals appear to rely upon conflict-generated emotion to provide momentum for their worthwhile endeavors. This has happened in TEC conflicts over civil rights, prayer book revision, the ordination of women, and full inclusion of GLBT persons. Unfortunately, the conflicts left numerous casualties, like my dental hygienist, in their wake.

At the other extreme are persons who wish to avoid conflict at all costs. Conflict avoidance, like living with a drama queen/king, is emotionally exhausting. Like the proverbial ostrich with its head buried in the sand, conflict avoiders pretend that everyone agrees, that everything is good, and demand the complicity of everyone else in supporting those false claims.

Small congregations that pride themselves on being a harmonious loving family – and there are a large number of these – embody this type of dysfunction. Not only is sustaining the pretense of loving harmony draining, it also prevents the difficult work of identifying and removing the barriers the congregation has erected, usually without conscious intent, that now prevent growth. If the congregation were truly as wonderful as imagined, then people would travel many miles to join. The congregation’s self-image conflicts with reality, pointing to the need for change.

Between those two extremes, a multiplicity of points exist in which, to some degree, conflict functions as an opportunity and potential catalyst for change and growth. One sine qua non for positive conflict management that leads to growth is mutual respect on all sides, something too often lacking in TEC conflicts. Mutual respect requires not only listening (of which we have sought to do much), but also mutual learning (of which we have done too little, convinced that those with whom we have fundamental disagreements have nothing to teach us).

Jesus reminds his hearers to remove the log in their own eye before carping on the mote in another’s eye. I feel strongly about practicing radical hospitality and welcoming all of God's people. However, before I speak about the mote in another’s eye, I would do well to listen to them, to see if they can help me to identify the log in my eye, (presumptuously) presuming that if I knew what the log was, that I would be at work removing it.

A second important element of capitalizing on the potential benefits of ecclesial conflict is to preserve a broad vision of the Church’s identity and mission. Single-issue politics has greatly contributed to the polarization of politics in the United States. Sadly, a similar focus on single-issues has greatly contributed to polarizing TEC.

No person or organization can focus equally on the plethora of needs, concerns, and issues crying out for the Church’s attention and response. Thankfully, that is not the biblical vision of a Christian or of an individual Christian community. Each person and community receives gifts for ministry and a call as to the context for exercising those gifts at a particular time. Together we have the capacity and resources to do what we cannot do individually: address the plethora of needs, concerns, and issues that cry out for the Church’s attention and response.

Functioning as a mosaic necessarily introduces different emphases, even conflicting aspirations and competing claims on limited resources. Promoting particular agendas has too often found expression in myopic vision that excludes those with whom we disagree rather than preserving a breadth of vision that enables us to perceive a beautiful mosaic of God's design.

Do those with whom I disagree incarnate their part in God's mosaic more faithfully, equally faithfully, or less faithfully than I do mine? Asking that question moves beyond mutual respect and holding a broad perspective to begin identifying common goals and values, a third critical element in enabling conflict to become a catalyst for transformation. The Book of Common Prayer provides one such commonality, although some few will disagree about the preferred version. Commitment to loving God and others in Jesus’ name constitutes another commonality. Additional, more particular commonalities almost certainly exist in every conflict.

Finally, people and groups must sometimes live with their disagreements. Unity does not necessitate unanimity. Discerning the movement of God's Spirit often takes time. Being Church is messy. I am disappointed that my new dental hygienist seems permanently disenchanted with TEC. However, I am thankful that she did not leave the Church entirely but moved to another branch in which to live out her spiritual journey. Additionally, perhaps her story is a gift to those who remain in TEC, encouraging us to reflect upon - and change - how we deal with conflict.

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

Opening Uncle Tom's Cabin

By John B. Chilton

In A Key to Uncle Tom's Cabin (1853) [source], Harriert Beecher Stowe begins,

At different times, doubt has been expressed -whether the representations of "Uncle Tom's Cabin" are a fair representation of slavery as it at present exists.... The writer acknowledges that the book is a very inadequate representation of slavery; and it is so, necessarily, for this reason,— that slavery, in some of its workings, is too dreadful for the purposes of art. A work which should represent it strictly as it is would be a work which could not be read. And all works which ever mean to give pleasure must draw a veil somewhere, or they cannot succeed.

A Key is Stowe's account of the dreadful facts of slavery.

Chapter 9 asks, “Is the system of religion which is taught the slave the gospel?” In it she quotes extensively from the sermon to slaves by the Rt. Rev. William Meade. Meade served as Bishop of Virginia and died in office in 1862. The following is Stowe's commentary on Meade. (See also Frederick Douglass' commentary on Meade's sermon. Stowe and Douglass found Meade very useful in their abolition campaigns.)
__________

Concerning the absolute authority of the master, take the following extract from Bishop Mead's sermon. (Brooke's Slavery, pp. 30. 31, 32.)

Having thus shown you the chief duties you owe to your great Master in heaven, I now come to lay before you the duties you owe to your masters and mistresses here upon earth; and for this you have one general rule that you ought always to carry in your minds, and that is, to do all service for them as if you did it for God himself. Poor creatures! you little consider, when you are idle and neglectful of your masters' business, when you steal and waste and hurt any of their substance, when you are saucy and impudent, when you are telling them lies and deceiving them; or when you prove stubborn and sullen, and will not do the work you are set about without stripes and vexation; you do not consider, I say, that what faults you are guilty of towards your masters and mistresses are faults done against God himself, who hath set your masters and mistresses over you in his own stead, and expects that you will do for them just as you would do for Him. And, pray, do not think that I want to deceive you when I tell you that your masters and mistresses are God's overseers; and that, if you are faulty towards them, God himself will punish you severely for it in the next world, unless you repent of it, and strive to make amends by your faithfulness and diligence for the time to come; for God himself hath declared the same.

Now, from this general rule, — namely, that you are to do all service for your masters and mistresses as if you did it for God himself, — there arise several other rules of duty towards your masters and mistresses, which I shall endeavor to lay out in order before you.

And, in the first place, you are to be obedient and subject to your masters in all things.

And Christian ministers are commanded to "exhort servants to be obedient unto their own masters, and to please them well in all things, not answering them again, or gainsaying." [Titus 2:9.] You see how strictly God requires this of you, that whatever your masters and mistresses order you to do, you must set about it immediately, and faithfully perform it, without any disputing or grumbling, and take care to please them well in all things. And for your encouragement he tells you that he will reward you for it in heaven; because, while you are honestly and faithfully doing your master's business here, you are serving your Lord and Master in heaven. You see also that you aro not to take any exceptions to the behavior of your masters and mistresses; and that you are to be subject and obedient, not only to such as are good, and gentle, and mild, towards you, but also to such as may be froward, peevish, and hard. For you are not at liberty to choose your own masters; but into whatever hands God hath been pleased to put you, you must do your duty, and God will reward you for it.
. . . .

You are to be faithful and honest to your masters and mistresses, not purloining or wasting their goods or substance, but showing all good fidelity in all things.... Do not your masters, under God, provide for you? And how shall they be able to do this, to feed and to clothe you, unless you take honest care of everything that belongs to them? Remember that God requires this of you; and, if you are not afraid of suffering for it here, you cannot escape the vengeance of Almighty God, who will judge between you and your masters, and make you pay severely in the next world for all the injustice you do them here. And though you could manage so cunningly as to escape the eyes and hands of man, yet think what a dreadful thing it is to fall into the hands of the living God, who is able to cast both soul and body into hell!

You are to serve your masters with cheerfulness, reverence, and humility. You are to do your masters'' service with good will, doing it as the will of God from the heart, without any sauciness or answering again. IIow many of you do things quite otherwise, and, instead of going about your work with a good will and a good heart, dispute and grumble, give saucy answers, and behave in a surly manner! There is something so becoming and engaging in a modest, cheerful, good-natured behavior, that a little work done in that manner seems better done, and gives far more satisfaction, than a great deal more, that must be done with fretting, vexation, and the lash always held over you. It also gains the good will and love of those you belong to, and makes your own life pass with more ease and pleasure. Besides, you are to consider that this grumbling and ill-will do not affect your masters and mistresses only. They have ways and means in their hands of forcing you to do your work, whether you are willing or not. But your murmuring and grumbling is against God, who hath placed you in that service, who will punish you severely in the next world for despising his commands.

A very awful query here occurs to the mind. If the poor, ignorant slave, who wastes his master's temporal goods to answer some of his own present purposes, be exposed to this heavy retribution, what will become of those educated men, who, for their temporal convenience, make and hold in force laws which rob generation after generation of men, not only of their daily earnings, but of all their righte and privileges as immortal beings?

The Rev. Mr. Glennie. in one of his sermons, as quoted by Mr. Bowditch, p. 137, assures his hearers that none of them will be able to say, in the day of judgment, "I had no way of hearing about my God and Saviour."

Bishop Meade, as quoted by Brooke, pp. 34, 35, thus expatiates to slaves on the advantages of their condition. One would really think, from reading this account, that every one ought to make haste and get himself sold into slavery, as the nearest road to heaven.

Take care that you do not fret or murmur, grumble or repine at your condition; for this will not only make.your life uneasy, but will greatly offend Almighty God. Consider that it is not yourselves, it is not the people that you belong to, it is not the men that have brought you to it, but it is the will of God, who hath by his providence made you servants, because, no doubt, he knew that condition would be best for you in this world, and help you the better towards heaven, if you would but do your duty in it. So that any discontent at your not being free, or rich, or great, as you see some others, is quarrelling with your heavenly Master, and finding fault with God himself, who hath made you what you are, and hath promised you as large a share in the kingdom of heaven as the greatest man alive, if you will but behave yourself aright, and do the business he hath set you about in this world honestly and cheerfully. Riches and power have proved the ruin of many an unhappy soul, by drawing away the heart and affections from God, and fixing them on mean and sinful enjoyments; so that, when God, who knows our hearts better than we know them ourselves, sees that they would be hurtful to us, and therefore keeps them from us, it is the greatest mercy and kindness he could show us.

You may perhaps fancy that, if you had riches and freedom, you could do your duty to God and man with greater pleasure than you can now. But, pray, consider that, if you can but save your souls, through the mercy of God, you will have spent your time to the best of purposes in this world; and he that at last can get to heaven has performed a noble journey, let the road be ever so rugged and difficult. Besides, you really have a great advantage over most white people, who have not only the care of their daily labor upon their hands, but the care of looking forward and providing necessaries for to-morrow and next day, and of clothing and bringing up their children, and of getting food and raiment for as many of you as belong to their families, which often puts them to great difficulties, and distracts their minds so as to break their rest, and take off their thoughts from the affairs of another world. Whereas, you are quite eased from all these cares, and have nothing but your daily labor to look after and, when that is done, take your needful rest. Neither is it necessary for you to think of laying up anything against old age, as white people are obliged to do; for the laws of the country have provided that you shall not be turned off when you are past labor, but shall be maintained, while you live, by those you belong to, whether you are able to work or not.

Bishop Meade further consoles slaves thus for certain incidents of their lot, for which they may think they have more reason to find fault than for most others. The reader must admit that he takes a very philosophical view of the subject.

There is only one circumstance which may appear grievous, that I shall now take notice of, and that is correction.

Now, when correction is given you, you either deserve it, or you do not deserve it. But, whether you really deserve it or not, it is your duly, and Almighty God requires, that you bear it patiently. You may perhaps think that this is hard doctrine; but if you consider it right, you must needs think otherwise of it. Suppose, then, that you deserve correction; you cannot but say that it is just and right you should meet with it. Suppose you do not, or at least you do not deserve so much, or so severe a correction, for the fault you have committed; you perhaps have escaped a great many more, and at last paid for all. Or, suppose you are quite innocent of what is laid to your charge, and suffer wrongfully in that particular thing; is it not possible you may have done some other bad thing which was never discovered, and that Almighty God, who saw you doing it, would not let you escape without punishment, one time or another? And ought you not, in such a case, to give glory to him, and be thankful that he would rather punish you in this life for your wickedness, than destroy your souls for it in the next life! But, suppose even this was not the case (a case hardly to be imagined), and that you have by no means, known or unknown, deserved the correction you suffered; there is this great comfort in it, that, if you bear it patiently, and leave your cause in the hands of God, he will reward you for it in heaven, and the punishment you suffer unjustly here shall turn to your exeeeding great glory hereafter.

That Bishop Meade has no high opinion of the present comforts of a life of slavery, may be fairly inferred from the following remarks which he makes to slaves:

Your own poor circumstances in this life ought to put you particularly upon this, and taking care of your souls; for you cannot have the pleasures and enjoyments of this life like rich free people, who have estates and money to lay out as they think fit. If others will run the hazard of their souls, they have a chance of getting wealth and power, of heaping up riches, and enjoying all the ease, luxury and pleasure, their hearts should long after. But you can have none of these things; so that, if you sell your souls, for the sake of what poor matters you can get in this world, you have made a very foolish bargain indeed.

This information is certainly very explicit and to the point. He continues:

Almighty God hath been pleased to make you slaves here, and to give you nothing but labor and poverty in this world, which you are obliged to submit to, as it is his will that it should be so. And think within yourselves, what a terrible thing it would be, after all your labors and sufferings in this life, to be turned into hell in the next life, and, after wearing out your bodies in service here, to go into a far worse slavery when this is over, and your poor souls be delivered over into the possession of the devil, to become his slaves forever in hell, without any hope of ever getting free from it! If, therefore, you would be God's freemen in heaven, you must strive to be good, and serve him here on earth. Your bodies, you know, are not your own; they are at the disposal of those you belong to; but your precious souls are still your own, which nothing can take from you, if it be not your own fault. Consider well, then, that if you lose your souls by leading idle, wicked lives here, you have got nothing by it in this world, and you have lost your all in the next. For your idleness and wickedness is generally found out, and your bodies suffer for it here; and, what is far worse, if you do not repent and amend, your unhappy souls will suffer for it hereafter.

Mr. Jones, in that part of the work where he is obviating the objections of masters to the Christian instruction of their slaves, supposes the master to object thus:

You teach them that "God is no respecter of persons;" that "He hath made of one blood, all nations of men;" " Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself;" "All things Whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them;'' what use, let me ask, would they make of these sentences from the gospel?
Mr. Jones says:
Let it be replied, that the effect urged in the objection might result from imperfect and injudicious religious instruction; indeed, religious instruction may be communicated with the express design, on the part of the instructor, to produce the effect referred to, instances of which have occurred.

But who will say that neglect of duty and insubordination are the legitimate effects of the gospel, purely and sincerely imparted to servants? Has it not in all ages been viewed as the greatest civilizer of the human race!

How Mr. Jones would interpret the golden rule to the slave, so as to justify the slave-system, we cannot possibly tell. We can, however, give a specimen of the manner in which it has been interpreted in Bishop Meade's sermons, p. 116. (Brooke's Slavery, &c, pp. 32, 33.)

"All things whatsoever ye would that men should do unto you, do ye even so unto them ;" that is, do by all mankind just as you would desire they should do by you, if you were in their place, and they in yours.

Now, to suit this rule to your particular circumstances, suppose you were masters and mistresses and had servants under you: would you not desire that your servants should do their business faithfully and honestly, as well when your back was turned as while you were looking over them? Would you not expect that they should take notice of what you said to them? that they should behave themselves with respect towards you and yours, and be as careful of everything belonging to you as you would be yourselves? You are servants: do, therefore, as you would wish to be done by, and you will be both good servants to your masters, and good servants to God, who requires this of you, and will reward you well for it, if you do it for the sake of conscience, in obedience to his commands.

The reverend teachers of such expositions of scripture do great injustice to the natural sense of their sable catechumens if they suppose them incapable of detecting such very shallow sophistry, and of proving conclusively that "it is a poor rule that won't work both ways." Some shrewd old patriarch, of the stamp of those who rose up and went out at the exposition of the Epistle to Philemon, and who show such great acuteness in bringing up objections against the truth of God, such as would be thought peculiar to cultivated minds, might perhaps, if he dared, reply to such an exposition of scripture in this way: " Suppose you were a slave,—could not have a cent of your own earnings during your whole life, could have no legal right to your wife and children, could never send your children to school, and had, as you have told us, nothing but labor and poverty in this life,— how would you like it? Would you not wish your Christian master to set you free from this condition?" We submit it to every one who is no respecter of persons, whether this interpretation of Sambo's is not as good as the bishop's. And if not, why not?

To us, with our feelings and associations, such discourses as these of Bishop Meade appear hard-hearted and unfeeling to the last degree. We should, however, do great injustice to the character of the man, if we supposed that they prove him to have been such. They merely go to show how perfectly use may familiarize amiable and estimable men with a system of oppression, till they shall have lost all consciousness of the wrong which it involves.

That Bishop Meade's reasonings did not thoroughly convince himself is evident from the fact that, after all his representations of the superior advantages of slavery as a means of religious improvement, he did, at last, emancipate his own slaves. [It is often said Meade emancipated his slaves. He lived with his slave-holding son. It's not clear how many of his slaves were transferred to the son and how many were emancipated.]

But, in addition to what has been said, this whole system of religious instruction is darkened by one hideous shadow,— What does the Southern church do with her catechumens and communicants read the advertisements of Southern newspapers, and see in every city in the slave-raising states behold the depots, kept constantly full of assorted negroes from the ages of ten to thirty! In every slave-consuming state see the receiving-houses, whither these poor wrecks and remnants of families are constantly borne! Who preaches the gospel to the slave-coffles? Who preaches the gospel in the slave-prisons? If we consider the tremendous extent of this internal trade,— if we read papers with columns of auction advertisements of human beings, changing hands as freely as if they were dollar-bills instead of human creatures,— we shall then realize how utterly all those influences of religious instruction must be nullified by leaving the subjects of them exposed "to all the vicissitudes of property."
______

John B. Chilton is an economist with expertise in labor economics, industrial organization and applied game theory. He most recently served as an adjunct at the University of Virginia.

Resisting the urge to walk away,
resisting the urge to give in

By George Clifford

No less an observer of, authority on, and participant in American Christianity than Duke Divinity School professor Stanley Hauerwas has remarked that all American Christians are now congregationalists (Andy Rowell, “The Gospel Makes the Everyday Possible,” Christianity Today, September 2010).

Rampant congregationalism is readily apparent in the Episcopal Church (TEC). Many congregations act as autonomous Christian outposts with only nominal accountability or loyalty to broader ecclesial structures. For example, a relative handful of congregations angry over a variety of issues have attempted to withdraw from TEC as a congregation, taking their members, real property, and other assets with them. Pope Benedict’s recent overture to Anglicans appears to be an attempt to capitalize on this congregationalism, inviting (perhaps even trying to entice by lowering the emotional cost) individuals and congregations to align with Rome.

Concurrently, the Episcopal Bishop of the Diocese of South Carolina, the Rt. Rev. Mark Lawrence, views his diocese as being engaged in a global struggle for the soul of Anglicanism. Among other complaints, Bishop Lawrence accuses TEC Presiding Bishop, the Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori, of attempting to intrude on his Diocese’s sovereignty by posing queries about the Diocese of South Carolina’s actions in response to at least one of its parish affiliating with another province. Bishop Lawrence’s sentiments are sadly not unique among TEC dioceses, though perhaps more extreme and certainly more publicized. The diocese is historically the Church’s basic organizational unit. However, no diocese, any more than does an individual congregation, constitutes an independent entity. In biblical language, no arm or other part of the body can survive detached from the rest of the body.

So what’s a good Anglican to do?

We can’t turn the clock back. Even if one thinks the Roman Catholics were correct to object to making the Bible available to everyone (and I am not among that number), foreseeing that this would unleash an uncontrollable plurality of views, there is no closing that Pandora’s box. William Tyndale, Miles Coverdale, and all the saints, celebrated and anonymous, who translated the scriptures into the language of the people surely did God's work. Tolerating the uninformed reading and study of scripture that results in a minority of Christians (mostly non-Anglicans, thanks be to God!) adopting idiosyncratic or even harmful interpretations is a small price to pay for the benefits of widespread accessibility to the Bible and competent scholarship. I would rather lament Episcopalians generally having a shallow acquaintance with scripture at best (cf. the recent U.S. Religious Knowledge Survey - Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life) rather than despair over our wide variety of theologies, orthodox or otherwise. Depth of love, not theological perspicacity, measures the Church’s faithfulness.

Unanimity of theological views does not exist in any Church, including the Roman Catholic Church with its strong, central hierarchy. A Roman Catholic who worked for me was the first Polish-American priest Pope John Paul II ordained. Careful to always toe the party line out of understandable personal loyalty to “his” Pope, even this priest, occasionally voiced personal reservations and nuanced points of agreement. Honestly acknowledging, affirming, and appreciating theological disagreement seems far healthier for individuals and the Church than pursuing a mythical holy grail of unanimity.

Furthermore, we can’t substantially compromise our understanding of God's vision for the Church as a community that practices radical hospitality without compromising our faithfulness to Jesus’ call. Compromising our vision of who God has called TEC to be for the sake of peace or even unity within the Anglican Communion is to seek doctrinal purity on a diocesan level rather than congregational level, an equally quixotic and unrealistic quest.

We can improve our skill at playing nice with others, one of life’s basic lessons according to Robert Fulghum in Everything I Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten. Of course, that idea was not original with Fulghum; Jesus encouraged his followers to love others, including one’s enemies. Playing nice means not picking up one’s marbles and going elsewhere because one loses a game or one’s feelings get hurt. Playing nice also does not include always insisting on having one’s own way. Ironically, research suggests more clergy, most of whom presumably answered a call to minister to God's people, lose their jobs because they have not learned this basic lesson than for any other single reason. One miracle that I discern today is that the Church retains as much fractured unity as it does in spite of the many centripetal forces that seek to tear it apart (individualism, a pervasive congregational ethos, clergy and laity who have not learned to play nice, etc.).

We can forthrightly avow our intent to remain in full communion with Canterbury and the other members of the Anglican Communion. However, even as TEC is responsible for its choices, so the Archbishop of Canterbury, the various Anglican Communion structures, and the individual Anglican provinces are each responsible for their choices. If one or more of those entities chooses to “punish” or impair communion with TEC, TEC should recognize that the decision and responsibility for it belong to those who made the decision and not to TEC. TEC, as far as I can discern, remains broadly and strongly committed to traditional, “big tent” Anglicanism and the historic understanding of the Anglican Communion as Churches in voluntary, non-authoritarian non-hierarchical communion with the Archbishop of Canterbury. When other entities strive to manipulate TEC with ultimatums, threats, or blame, those groups exhibit behaviors that egregiously deviate from how Jesus treated people.

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

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.

An open letter to Anne Rice

By Jane Redmont

The only thing that makes the Church endurable is that it is somehow the Body of Christ and that on this we are fed.
--Flannery O’Connor


Dear Anne Rice,

I heard you on NPR on Monday. I had already read about your highly publicized declaration that you had “quit being a Christian.”

I understand rage at the church’s injustices, external and internal. As the saying goes, if Jesus were still in his grave, he’d be turning over in it, seeing what we have made of him and his message.

The problem is, you can’t do the Jesus thing alone.

There are plenty of reasons for leaving the church, any church. Common life is messy. Institutions are messed up, and I am using polite language. It’s not just individuals who sin. There are, as Catholic social teaching and liberation theologies have noted, sinful structures and systems. Religious institutions can be even more disappointing than others because we expect them somehow to be better, untainted by the dirt of daily life; instead we find that they are, like all the rest, “seared with trade; bleared, smeared,” as the Jesuit poet Gerard Manley Hopkins would say. Dorothee Soelle, the German Protestant theologian and activist, wrote a combination of poem and creed that spoke of her belief in Jesus and admitted:
every day I am afraid
that he died in vain
because he is buried in our churches

I’m not saying there are no good reasons for leaving the Catholic Church. I left it myself for the Episcopal Church nearly a decade ago, after a long discernment. I hope that I emigrated with some integrity along with my lifelong vocation to ordained ministry. I remain in affectionate contact with my former church home; I didn’t leave in a huff. On the other hand, many friends of mine did, and I empathized. I wept with them and felt their anger: lesbian and gay friends claiming the full humanity that is rightfully theirs, women called to ordained ministry, parents wanting to raise children in a tradition with less overt hierarchy and more freedom of inquiry, adults of all genders and sexual orientations wounded sexually, psychically, and sometimes spiritually.

I also have friends who stayed, members of warm, life-giving Catholic parishes, sustained by the rich prayer traditions of their church, by its sacramental life, by its work with the most poor among us and its social analysis of the causes of their poverty, by the church’s universality, its strong intellectual and theological traditions, and its diversity. They too include people of all genders and sexual orientations with good hearts, good heads on their shoulders, and a passion for justice.

I even have friends who converted to Catholicism, some recently, some long ago as I did in my early twenties after a humanist upbringing. In fact, there has been so much traffic in both directions that a couple of decades ago, when I wrote a book on Catholic women based on interviews around the U.S., I had to include a chapter called “Why They Leave and Why They Stay.”

I understand the commitment to Christ of which you spoke on your Facebook page, where you first told the world of your departure from the church. Those of us who have had our doubts and struggles (and any adult Christian who says she hasn’t is probably lying) know that even in the times of emptiness and discouragement and anger, there comes a moment when we throw up our hands and say, as a disciple did long ago, “To whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”

The thing is, the only way any of us knows about Jesus and those words of life, the way that we know about Jesus’ actions, the way that we know about the life Jesus breathed into those whom he encountered and continues to encounter, is from Christian communities. They are the ones, first the eyewitnesses, then their descendants, who told and retold the story of Jesus’ suffering and sorrow, his death by torture, and his resurrection. They are the ones who carried his wisdom sayings in their hearts and forward into the generations. They are the ones who testified to the healings, the changed lives, the rising of hope. The reason we have the story and the memory and thus the presence of Christ is because of, well, the church. With the Holy Spirit, of course. But the Spirit had to work through those humans. Us. Christians. Christianity. In many forms, some of them unsavory, some of them life-saving.

As for the earliest community of the friends of Jesus, let’s not idealize it. It had major problems. The betrayer of Jesus is repeatedly referred to in the Gospels as “one of the Twelve,” as if to remind the remaining friends, to their shame, that betrayal and abandonment existed among them. It was one of us who did this: perhaps any of us could have. Jesus’ friends fell asleep the night he prayed and sweated blood and prepared to die. The one who ended up, the story tells us, as the “rock” on which Jesus said the church would stand, was Peter. That’s Peter the bumbling one who never ‘got it,’ more impetuous than wise, and in the time between the dying and the rising, a denier of the long months of friendship and accompaniment. How’s that for a group of best buddies?

And then there were the women, the other best friends, whom an already patriarchal church could not erase from the story because they were too central to it. Did I mention patriarchy as one of the church’s ongoing little problems? The women did not run from the site of torture and death and they ran early, despite their fear, to the tomb. One of them, Mary of Magdala, faithful to the end, preacher of new beginnings, was the first witness to the Resurrection according to the official accounts, the ones the men approved as part of the canon. There were, off course, other gospels that got left off the list; in one of them, Mary of Magdala is a major actor. And what about Martha, who made the same profession of faith as Peter, naming Jesus as Messiah, Lord, Son of God? Peter, after his confession, is promised the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Where are Martha’s keys? (The question is not original to me. I first read it in the works of Edwina Gateley, English Catholic writer and founder of Chicago’s Genesis House for women involved in prostitution.)

If only the message came to us pure and not through the filters of flawed communities. Alas: no flawed communities, no gospels.

I’m glad you still have your faith, Anne Rice. Or perhaps it has you. When you pray, alone in your room, you will still draw on the presence and power of the Communion of Saints, that vast expanse of witnesses across the entire geography and history of Christianity, the community of the friends of Jesus.

Who handed down the faith that is still yours? Who made the prayers? Oops – it was the church. Does that mean you’re going to stop saying the prayers, singing the songs, remembering the saints and their desire to walk in the footsteps and spirit of Jesus? And the Nicene Creed, the one that speaks in 4th century language the orthodox faith that you hold? It was developed in messy councils at Nicea and Constantinople. Those councils were summoned by emperors, by the way: talk about lack of boundaries between religious and secular! I know that has been one of the most distressing issues for you, especially recently.

I’m not writing to urge you back into the Catholic Church. Nor to enter the United Church of Christ, some of whose members have already made a Facebook page urging you to join up. Nor even to lure you into the Episcopal Church, my dear and frequently fractious home, which, I am duty bound to remind you, welcomes you. People have been falling all over themselves and each other with come-hither invitations since you made your announcement. There are also communities that don’t engage in much overt outreach but may offer you a welcome. The Orthodox Church: ancient faith, beautiful spirituality, Eucharistic liturgy, no Pope. The Society of Friends (Quakers): no Eucharist but the sacrament of silence and a long tradition of "testimonies” of integrity, simplicity, and justice. Or the other places some find church: Twelve-Step groups, women’s liturgy gatherings in living-rooms, meditation societies. But the last thing you need is another splashy move. Besides which, the Catholic theological tradition, as you know, has taught for centuries something called the primacy of conscience. You have a conscience and, you told the world on Facebook, you listened to it.

What I am writing to tell you is that there’s no such creature as a lone follower of Jesus. You can’t be a Jesus-person away in a corner. Even hermits pray in communion with a larger tradition, a church beyond themselves in a world which is the place where God becomes incarnate.

The world: that’s why Jesus showed up. That’s why we are church. I’m with Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the pastor and theologian whom the Nazis killed for resisting Hitler and the Third Reich. He wrote: “The church is the church only when it exists for others.”

I want the church to meddle in the world just as God meddled in the world and invited us along. As I understand the Good News (not every Christian agrees with me, as you noted in your mention of some Catholic bishops’ donations to anti-gay-marriage groups) this meddling need not and should not involve the breaking down of the wall between church and state, nor should it mean funding bigotry. On the other hand, I am all for meddling in the way churches in the U.S. served as bases for the Civil Rights Movement and produced its major leaders. Or the way my sister and brother Episcopalians, along with religious believers and leaders from many communities -- Catholics, Jews, Evangelicals, Muslims, Buddhists, Unitarian Universalists – protested and prayed in public in Arizona the day SB 1070 went into effect. And yes, the way some (as you point out, not all) Christians and other religious people are speaking up to remind their neighbors that lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender persons are fully human and fully worthy of God’s love and of equal rights and protection under the law.

I am all for meddling in the way some churches in South Africa spoke out against apartheid, the deadly and dehumanizing system that other churches were helping to sustain and justify. The Christians weren’t just on one side. In fact, we may often be on the side of the losers. There’s this little passage in the Beatitudes about being persecuted in the cause of right. It happens. It hurts. Sometimes it even kills. “I think Christ didn't promise us victory,” Dorothee Soelle said about 25 years ago in a conversation with South African anti-apartheid churchman Beyers Naudé. “Christ promised us life, and that includes death…We hope to win… we give our blood and our lives... but I think we cannot understand our own struggle in terms of success and non-success.”

This is where the religious rubber meets the road: in the struggle for life, among the most vulnerable, when out of faith we give of ourselves and risk our reputations and sometimes our lives.

This Christ you believe in, Anne Rice, where do you meet him? He doesn’t only live in your head and heart, or in the Eucharist you told us you will miss so deeply, or in the scriptures that are our legacy from the early churches. We meet Christ every day in others, especially in what Mother Teresa called “the distressing disguise of the poor.” Dorothy Day, co-founder of the Catholic Worker, knew and lived this also, but she went a step further than her co-religionist in analyzing the causes of poverty, the deadly rush to war that robs the poor even when we are only preparing for military battle and not waging it, the love of possessions and power above the respect for the dignity of humans all made in the image of God.

One thing that being an adult Catholic for a quarter of a century taught me was not to confuse the church, any church, with its hierarchy. I still think it’s a good idea not to do so, and I belong to a church with some pretty cool hierarchs. I owe my having become an Anglican and an Episcopalian to some of them. But with several shining exceptions, many in my own church and some in others, they are not the folks who keep me a Christian on the days when the bureaucracy (not the same thing as the hierarchy, only sometimes) is concerned only with preserving and perpetuating itself. Along with those shining bishops and other leaders are the holy people and the resisters, many of whom were and are the same folks. If I began a litany of their names, we would still be praying an hour from now.

Those people are the ones whose names we will never hear in the formal litany of the saints at Easter or at ordinations, even in the most inclusive of churches, because they are not religious celebrities: they are the congregations to which I have belonged, both before and after joining the Episcopal church, whose members and pastors I know I can trust with my life; they are the motley group of Catholic Workers, Episcopal Peace Fellowship members, Quakers, Franciscans, and others with whom in my Bay Area days I demonstrated every Good Friday at Livermore Labs, which designs weapons of mass destruction in the suburbs of San Francisco; they are communities of theologians, artists, and activist friends in faith.

Those people also include groups of Christ-followers I barely know, like the congregation that got our bishop’s annual award a couple of years ago for the work it has done with persons in its community who are poor and suffering and grieving: a tiny church of unpretentious, quiet, steady Christian people whose goodness was written so clearly on their faces that it made me weep; or the congregation of Latino and Latina immigrants I recently visited whose members have built a playground and planted trees on their small plot of land in a neighborhood where there isn’t much green, who put on a great feast to celebrate their new vicar, and who run a monthly food pantry with the help of an interfaith food project because they know there is always someone more hungry than they.

I wish you well, sister in Christ. You’re a friend of Jesus; so am I. We’re in the same boat. It’s called the Body of Christ. I hope that some part of it will continue to nourish you. Call it the church, call it communion, call it a meeting, call it solidarity, call it what you want. It won’t go away.

Jane Carol Redmont is the author of Generous Lives: American Catholic Women Today and When in Doubt, Sing: Prayer in Daily Life. She is a professor of religious studies and women’s studies at Guilford College and a member and former chair of the Bishop’s Committee for Racial Justice and Reconciliation in the Diocese of North Carolina. She blogs at Acts of Hope.

Loyalty, accountability and the Episcopal Church

Summer hours continue. Daily Episcopalian will publish every other day this week.

By George Clifford

This spring, President Obama faced what commentators described as a difficult choice: should he fire General Stanley McChrystal, the U.S. general in charge of the fighting in Afghanistan? On the one hand, McChrystal had good working relationships with Afghan government leaders, a high profile role in shaping and leading the war, and his troops had confidence in his leadership. On the other hand, McChrystal publicly expressed contempt for senior political appointees in the Obama administration.

Military personnel owe their seniors honest advice, especially when the senior solicits an opinion or the subordinate fills a key leadership role. Theoretically, the military chain of command that stretches from the newest recruit to the President welcomes timely advice, even dissent, appropriately expressed. Timeliness requires communicating advice before the leader makes a decision; appropriate expression involves communicating that advice in a way that will not embarrass the boss. McChrystal’s opinions voiced in Michael Hastings’ The Runaway General (Rolling Stone, June 22, 2010) failed both tests.

Obama acted decisively yet not vindictively. He accepted McChrystal’s resignation and then graciously allowed the general to retire at his four star rank.

What can the Anglican Communion and the Episcopal Church (TEC) learn about leadership from this incident?

Globally, the Anglican Communion, a lose federation of Churches in communion with the Archbishop of Canterbury, has no official “party line” or “chain of command.” The Anglican Covenant’s premise that no member of the Communion should act without consulting the other members seeks to impose new conformity on Communion members, stifling independent action. If the Anglican Communion were to adopt the current draft of the Covenant, the Communion would severely limit the freedom of the Episcopal Church to follow God's call to practice a radical hospitality that welcomes and fully includes all.

Hoping that (1) the Covenant will die a bureaucratic death, (2) lengthy discursive and approval processes preceding adoption will produce a more acceptable amended Covenant, or (3) keeping a low profile will cause less gnashing of teeth among conservatives and temper their firm resolve to impose their will on the Communion are all naïve miscalculations. Instead, TEC and other, sympathetic Anglican Communion members need to model forthrightness by openly characterizing the proposed Covenant for what it is: an attempt to transform the Anglican Communion into a hierarchical body that enforces an un-Anglican conformity. TEC, like loyal military personnel, best fulfills its duty to Christ by courageously and loyally declaring its discernment of God’s leading.

Rumors of the Very Rev. Jeffrey John, Dean of St. Albans cathedral, nomination as the Church of England’s next Bishop of Southwark posed an interesting dilemma for the Archbishop of Canterbury. John, when nominated in 2003 as area Bishop for Reading, faced a torrent of conservative opposition. Unlike Bishops Robinson and Glasspool who live openly and fully with their partners, John, though partnered in a civil union, claims he is celibate. Short of constant video surveillance, nobody can verify that; I have no reason to doubt John’s honesty but find myself skeptical. Archbishop Williams felt sufficient pressure from the opposition that he spent six hours convincing John to withdraw his acceptance of the nomination as area Bishop for Reading.

The rumor prompted some Church of England conservatives to declare that if John were consecrated they would affiliate with another Anglican province. This barefaced ultimatum reflects the disunity that exists in both the Church of England and the Anglican Communion. Meanwhile, the British press reports that Archbishop Williams, angered by the leak from a supposedly confidential nominating process, has averred that he will not respond to coercive pressure. I’m enough of a cynic to wonder if the Archbishop isn’t secretly delighted with the leak because it effectively derailed John’s nomination without forcing Canterbury to take a no-win public stance for or against the nomination. Clearly, the Archbishop has not acted with the type of decisive and principled courage that Obama exemplified in dealing with McChrystal.

Nationally and in its dioceses, TEC needs to hold its own leaders accountable. Loyalty to TEC is a non-negotiable, sine qua non for leaders, clerical and lay. Loyalty does not necessitate agreement. TEC is a church that prays together using the forms established in the Book of Common Prayer without pretending that beliefs conform to any norm or fall within a particular set of parameters. Loyalty, however, does preclude both attempting to sow dissatisfaction or disenchantment with TEC as an institution and encouraging people or organizational structures to disaffiliate from TEC.

TEC has too often practiced a false kindness by tolerating active disloyalty rather than appropriately challenging disloyal behavior among its clergy and lay leaders. Actively disloyal individuals have decided to abandon TEC, a decision evident in actions if not in words, regardless of any protestations to the contrary. Disaffected dissidents who try to cling to structures or relationships that they believe they own misunderstand the concept of connectional Church that TEC incarnates. Furthermore, the actively disloyal manifest a lack of personal integrity, maintaining an affiliation with an institution that they believe has abandoned or significantly compromised its Christian identity or witness.

Addressing issues of disloyalty should proceed in a firm yet caring rather than vindictive manner; witch hunts and revenge have no place in Christ's Church. By addressing their lack of integrity in a timely, direct manner, TEC may actually help some of the disloyal to move toward improved spiritual health through greater integrity.

Concomitantly, TEC should continue to make room for the truly undecided as they discern whether they can in good conscience remain a part of TEC. This space should have no time or other artificial limits imposed. The one necessary boundary is that the undecided refrain from actively promoting disloyalty to TEC through words or actions.

Locally, clergy, wardens, vestry members, and other opinion makers must lead. In the 1970s, seminary instruction emphasized facilitation rather than leadership. Facilitation belongs in ecclesial tool kits. But leadership is even more important. A leader leads his/her followers toward actualizing the leader’s vision.

Pressures for leaders to sit on the sidelines, soft-pedal their views, or capitulate to the opposition certainly exist. A priest, for example, whose congregation splits over an issue may soon face a drastic reduction in stipend or unemployment with little probability of soon receiving another call. Emotional pressure on a leader may be more subtle but at least as powerful as economic pressure.

Instead of tolerating disloyalty, TEC should encourage loyalty. TEC, bishops, diocesan staff, elected leaders, and peers can proactively support clergy and laity working to keep people and parishes loyal. Support might include funding, spiritual or psychological counsel, outplacement options, public declarations of support, leadership training, etc. As I have previously argued in this forum, people are far more vital to the Church than is property. The Church will reap the largest dividends for Christ by investing its scarce resources in supporting its leaders battling to preserve and enhance loyalty to TEC.

General Convention 2009 resolutions and the consecration the Rt. Rev. Mary Glasspool in 2010 clearly indicate TEC’s present course. Now is not the time for waffling. Most TEC lay and clerical leaders, as well as many leaders in other Anglican Communion provinces, whether they agree with TEC’s direction or not, demonstrate their loyalty to Christ and fidelity to the Anglican way through visionary leadership that promotes proclaiming the kingdom of God, healing the sick, reconciling the estranged, and liberating the captive. The rest of us need to emulate their example.

The Rev. Dr. George Clifford, Diocese of North Carolina, served as a Navy chaplain for twenty-four years. He serves as priest in charge at the Church of the Nativity in Raleigh, is a visiting professor of ethics at the Naval Postgraduate School, and blogs at Ethical Musings.

A call to humility in times of conflict

Daily Episcopalian will publish every other day this week.

By Bill Carroll

(Note: All parenthetical references in the text are to Thomas Merton's Thoughts in Solitude)

For a while now, I have been working out an analysis of Thoughts in Solitude, Thomas Merton’s short spiritual classic, in terms of what he has to say about poverty and humility. It occurs to me that one of the subtexts of the longer paper I intend to write is a need for spiritual leadership in the churches of the Anglican Communion. I think it might be worthwhile to address this theme more explicitly in a shorter piece for a slightly different audience.

Thoughts in Solitude was written at a time when Merton was granted leave by his superiors to live in solitude for an extended period. In this work, he finds himself grappling with the relationship between the individual and the community. As he does so, he helps us to ground insights familiar to many of us from family systems theory more deeply in our life in Christ. Paying attention to what Merton has to say about the life of a poor and humble solitary before God may teach us how to be more fully ourselves as we seek the highest degree of communion possible with others.

Merton’s analysis of humility unmasks the spiritual violence behind recent exhortations to “stand in a crucified place” or to sacrifice our conscience for the sake of the perceived good order of the Anglican Communion. Life in Christ does involve deep immersion in the paschal mystery. What is more, a stripping away of the illusions of the false self, including pride and self-centeredness, is necessary for genuine Christian community. In the opening words of the first chapter, Merton contrasts true and false ways of participating in Christ’s life-giving death:

There is no greater disaster in the spiritual life than to be immersed in unreality, for life is maintained and nourished in us by our vital relation with realities outside and above us. When our life feeds on unreality, it must starve. It must therefore die. There is no greater misery than to mistake this fruitless death for the true, fruitful and sacrificial “death” by which we enter into life. The death by which we enter into life is not an escape from reality but a complete gift of ourselves which involves a total commitment to reality. (3)

Merton does believe that dying with Christ involves self-conquest and self-surrender. The self as we know it is a false self, deeply implicated in sin, illusion, and “unreality.” And yet true self-conquest (like the Church’s communion of love, which it makes possible) is not something we can manufacture for ourselves:

“Real self-conquest is the conquest of ourselves not by ourselves but by the Holy Spirit. Self-conquest is really self-surrender. Yet before we can surrender ourselves we must become ourselves. For no one can give up what he does not possess.” (18)

True self-conquest involves a form of self-love:

To love our nothingness we must love everything in us that the proud man loves when he loves himself. But we must love it all for exactly the opposite reason. To love our nothingness we must love ourselves. But the proud man loves himself because he thinks he is worthy of love and respect and veneration for his own sake. Because he thinks he must be loved by God and man. Because he thinks he is more worthy to be honored and loved and reverenced than all other men. The humble man also loves himself, and seeks to be loved and honored, not because love and honor are due to him but because they are not due to him. He seeks to be loved by the mercy of God. He begs to be loved and helped by the liberality of his fellow men. Knowing that he has nothing he also knows that he needs everything and he is not afraid to beg for what he needs and to get it where he can. (35-36)

To love oneself with the love of a humble person does not mean that we love only the self as it is before the fall (or in glory). It means to love ourselves as we actually are, acknowledging our faults, struggling against them, and handing over what we cannot handle to the inexhaustible mercy of Christ. We do so, realizing that there are some fights we cannot win and that even our ability to struggle is contingent on God’s creative gift. To love ourselves with a humble love is to accept, radically, that we are poor and needy creatures—and fallen ones at that. And it is to accept our humanness as it is and not as we would have it be, so that we might place ourselves, as we truly are, in the hands of the living God: “It is necessary that I be human and remain human in order that the Cross of Christ be not made void. Jesus died not for the angels but for men.” (129)

How do we treat one another, if we adopt this posture before God and neighbor? First and foremost, we discipline our tongue (and our actions), especially when provoked. From the New Testament letter of James onward (there are precedents in the Old Testament Wisdom literature), the unbridled tongue has been seen as a profound danger in the Christian life, a threat to the charity that ought to prevail among us After the fall, our language can obscure reality as much as disclose it. Indeed, although the task of naming was given in Paradise as a means of reverence and gratitude, it can be perverted into an act of violence. Merton notes the different roles played by words in prayer and magic: “Prayer uses words to reverence beings in God. Magic uses words to violate the silence and the sanctity of beings by treating them as if they could be torn away from God, possessed, and vilely abused, before the face of His silence.” (64)

Merton also contrasts the speech proper to pride and humility: “It is not speaking that breaks our silence, but the anxiety to be heard. The words of the proud man impose silence on all others, so that he alone may be heard. The humble man speaks only in order to be spoken to. The humble man asks nothing but an alms, then waits and listens.” (89)

It would be a profound misunderstanding of Merton’s teaching, however, to think that this implies passivity on the part of the humble person: “Humility is a virtue, not a neurosis. It sets us free to act virtuously, to serve God and to know Him. Therefore true humility can never really inhibit any really virtuous action, nor can it prevent us from fulfilling ourselves by doing the will of God.” (58)

Now, it seems to me (of course I could be wrong), that recent controversial actions of the Episcopal Church are the result of a long and careful discernment of God’s will in community. Like all discernment, this is ongoing, but its fundamental direction is unlikely to be reversed. As such, this represents a real breakthrough for us as a church, grounded in many breakthroughs of a similar kind in the lives of some of our members. For some of these members, this has been a matter of life and death, certainly a matter of personal integrity and truthfulness. Given this discernment, the actions we have taken (first steps toward Church-wide liturgies for blessing same sex unions; consecration of duly elected bishops living in such unions) seem to us to be not just permissible but morally required. Humility, therefore, cannot inhibit us from taking these steps.

Humility does, however, call us to perpetual self-examination and repentance before God and deep reverence before our brothers and sisters, all of whom are sacraments of the Gospel. At the present, for a variety of reasons, some continue to make a contrary discernment to our own. As sinners redeemed by the precious blood of Christ, this ought to give us pause. When we speak with our brothers and sisters about these matters, we should not do so out of an anxiety to be heard. Nothing we say to each other should come from a desire to dominate or control our neighbor or to manage the outcome of our conversation. We should speak and listen with deep awareness of the many ways in which our perspective is distorted by sin and self-serving illusions. In particular, many of us speak from a position of relative affluence and power, rooted in sinful structures absolutely opposed to the Reign of God. We should speak only in order to be spoken to, with a genuine fraternal desire for instruction and correction if need be, but not in such a way that we fail to discharge our moral obligations to our LGBT brothers and sisters, in any part of the world, or to the truth as we have come to know it in Christ Jesus. We should speak simply and clearly whatever God gives us to say, and then trust God for the rest.

Filled with a sense of our own lowly status, as fallen yet beloved creatures of God, perhaps we can renounce quick institutional fixes and learn what it means to live together as brothers and sisters in knit together by the Holy Spirit in the bonds of charity. At the heart of this lies the forgiveness of sins and mutual forbearance, for whatever virtues we have are fleeting—and, in any event, are ours only by the mercies of God. In the end, as Merton observes:

We must love the poverty of others as Jesus loves it. We must see them with the eyes of His own compassion. But we cannot have true compassion on others unless we are willing to accept pity and receive forgiveness for our own sins. (26)

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

A spirit of wildness

By Donald Schell

The first time I saw a woman in a clerical collar, I had just completed my first year of seminary - summer of 1969. I recall that moment in the restaurant, glancing up to see a group of three or four people waiting for a table and noticing a man in a collar and then this woman.

I flinched and looked away and then, as if compelled, glanced up again. My stomach clenched. Those body responses won’t allow me to deny that my being, body and soul, so far as I knew either, responded with instant fear and disgust. I don’t remember feeling angry, just threatened and forced to acknowledge an impending loss.

I had just completed a year of Princeton Seminary as a Presbyterian. I was transferring to General Seminary to begin studies for Episcopal priesthood. At twenty two I thought I’d found the answer I was looking for in a church that combined honest inquiry and what I judged to be catholic practice.

I knew ‘Protestants’ ordained women, and this woman had to be one of ‘them’ because my new tribe didn’t ordain women. . .yet. But seeing her, I felt myself witnessing handwriting on the wall.

A couple of years later, my confessor and spiritual director, Br. Paul Wessinger, SSJE, a priest whose catholic credentials I trusted completely, said to me, ‘Donald, I don’t see that it will unchurch the church. Maybe the Spirit is up to something here. We’d better prepare ourselves to learn.’ I thank God for Paul’s timely words. (And I know he meant to include himself in the learning.)

Today I thank God for the women clergy who have proven some of my wisest and best colleagues. And I remember Br. Paul’s word of wisdom with deep gratitude. He opened something for me, an invitation to watch what was happening and listen to my experience with a more open heart. He helped me welcome the Spirit and accept the gift of new colleagues.
“When the Spirit of truth comes, S/He will guide you into all truth.”

So, I confidently say, in this the Spirit was up to something much, much bigger than my small, tidy interpretation of catholicity or history, and it’s useful to remember being so wholeheartedly wrong.

I take some pride in being a person who likes to learn, actually loves to learn. In that pride, Jesus’ promise in John’s Gospel that the Spirit will guide us into all truth feels exhilarating. Sometimes it’s harder to remember that pain and fear are also part of learning. Why is that so? Because learning demands unlearning. Each new and richer piece of provisional knowledge (‘now we know in part’) costs letting go of a previous, cherished, and possibly provisionally useful bit of provisional ‘knowledge.’ The way of learning is a way of Not Knowing, venturing, as St. Paul tells us, beyond any knowledge that passes away, and into love. Ouch.

While I’m at it, let me add another embarrassing confession to recalling my horror at seeing a woman in a collar. This one comes from a year or so later. For a class in apologetics at General Seminary, a classmate was polling his fellow seminarians opinions about the legitimacy of gay men (remember we weren’t ordaining women yet) among the clergy. Blithely and confidently I wrote that I saw no obstacle to a gay man being ordained as long as he either chose to get married (obviously, I meant ‘to a woman’) or was celibate - ouch again.

I knew some of my fellow seminarians at General were gay, but only a vague idea of who they were, and it didn’t occur to me that the guy taking this poll was working something through for himself. And at the time I would have been surprised to learn that my friend and fellow student Gene Robinson was struggling with questions like those in the questionnaire.
“The Spirit of truth will guide you into all truth.”

How many Anglicans around the world have stories like these? How many such stories are still unfolding?

Like the first Christians have to make peace with a Spirit who broke free of circumcision and kosher laws to do a new thing, we’ve had to let go of church and the faith (as we thought we knew them) to embark on a journey of uncertainty. Traveling in the Spirit’s company, we know less than we once thought. The steadier knowledge is that we ARE learning (sometimes at least) to welcome the disconcerting, disorienting blast of the Spirit’s mighty wind (or gentle breeze coming when we least expect it and from the ‘wrong’ direction).

Looking at the sweep of that Holy Wind over the last seventy years, I have to think the Spirit either trusts us astonishingly or is very, very impatient with us. We’ve been challenged to a lot of change. We’re in at least a third generations of unlearning in order to learn, of not knowing, for the sake of love. Consider this chronology:

1944 ordination of Li Tim Oi, first woman priest in the Anglican communion, a scandal that Archbishop William Temple tried to hide or undo, but Hong Kong was too far from Canterbury.

1950’s the weekly ‘parish Eucharist’ and ‘coffee hour’ hints at something deeper in the suburban expansion of the church across America.

1967 Liturgy of the Lord’s Supper launches twelve years of Trial Use and at least two decades of Anglican churches around the world discovering unity (or not) in shape and form of locally distinct liturgies.

1970 General Convention permits admitting unconfirmed children and adults to communion, a step toward the reforms the drafters of new liturgies were working for – restoring Baptism as full and complete incorporation into the Body of Christ

1974 Retired bishops ordain eleven women to the priesthood in Philadelphia (ahead of General Convention canonical authorization).

1976 General Convention authorizes ordination of women

1976 The Proposed Book of Common Prayer declares the Eucharist “the principle act of Christian worship on the Lord’s Day and other major feast” (borrowing this language from the Presbyterian Book of Order).

1977 Paul Moore ordains out lesbian deacon Ellen Barrett a priest.

1978 Lambeth Conference accepts ordination of women as a province-by-province option – for a moment acknowledging that change and discovery happen in different ways in different places and on the Spirit’s unpredictable timetable.

1981 St. Gregory’s Church, San Francisco formalizes an explicit invitation of ALL to communion, “Jesus welcomes everyone to his Table, so we offer communion to everyone…”
1989 Massachusetts ordains Barbara Harris their Bishop Suffragan, first woman bishop in the Anglican Communion.

1989 Penny Jamieson ordained bishop of Dunedin (New Zealand), first woman diocesan bishop in the Anglican Communion.

2004 Gene Robinson is ordained the first openly gay bishop in the Anglican Communion.

2010 Mary Glasspool is ordained the first openly lesbian bishop in the Anglican Communion.

I don’t expect all our readers would make the same chronology. We might argue about some of the pieces, and I’ve deliberately left off most of the push-back, the moments of protest and attempting to undo what it looks like the Spirit’s doing in all this. Here’s a simple and important example of pushback:

1971 House of Bishops asks that children be instructed in the ‘meaning of the sacrament’ before first communion.

In that time when my gut tied in a knot at the Spirit’s work raising up women for leadership and I accidentally and naively marginalized a seminary classmate, I stumbled on Henry David Thoreau’s lovely saying, ‘In wildness is the preservation of the world.’ And I started to get (still learning this I know) that the Spirit that blows where it will is the wildest thing of all.

What would my younger self have thought when, twelve years after I was ordained an Episcopal priest, I had the privilege of being invited by the Presbytery where I’d grown up, to join Presbyterian colleagues ordaining my mother or when, twenty years after that, Bishop Otis Charles and Felipe Paris asked me to preside at their relationship blessing?

“The Spirit will lead you into all truth,” so our path will always be unlearning in order to see the bigger truth. But the chronology (like other startling discoveries the church has made over the past two millennia) keeps hinting at two things: that we are seeing the fulfillment of the prophet’s promise, ‘I will pour out my Spirit on all humanity,’ and that, as Gregory of Nyssa said so plainly sixteen centuries ago, ‘The Body of Christ is all humanity.”

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

Should the Episcopal Church go out of business?

By George Clifford

A February item reported at the Episcopal Café’s Lead intrigues me: Methodist Church in the UK to go out of existence? The Rev. David Gamble, President of the U.K.’s Methodist Conference said that he was willing to end the separate status of the Methodist Church for the sake of the “Kingdom.”

From a sociological perspective, the Episcopal Church (TEC) has suffered both a striking numerical loss in membership (almost 30%) and an even larger decline as a percentage of the nation’s population (almost 60%). In 1960, TEC had 2.9 million members, equaling 1.6% of the U.S. population. Forty-eight years later, TEC had fewer than 2.06 million members, or only 0.65% of the U.S. population.

From an organizational perspective, TEC struggles with declining revenues. For example, the national Church budget for the 2010-2012 triennium is $23 million smaller than for 2007-2009. The current recession, especially for entities such as TEC that are heavily dependent upon endowment income, has accentuated financial difficulties. Underlying the recession, the real cause is declining membership.

Less obvious although pervasive, a huge proportion of TEC’s revenue and fixed assets yield small returns in congregations whose primary organizational focus is survival. The median average Sunday attendance in TEC congregations was 69 in 2008, continuing a long-term decline. My point is not that small congregations are of less value than large congregations are, but that small congregations necessarily devote a far greater percentage of their resources to maintaining their physical plant than do large congregations. In fact, keeping the building open and maintained often consumes such a large portion of available revenue that insufficient funds remain to pay clergy adequately, let alone fund ministry and mission programs. The building, instead of being a means to an end, becomes the congregation’s de facto raison d’être.

These are not newly identified problems. Richard Kew and Roger White wrote about these dismaying trends in their 1992 New Millennium, New Church and 1997 Toward 2015: A Church Odyssey. Numerous articles, blogs, and speakers have all addressed the same concerns. Yet the downward trends persist, perhaps even accelerating in spite of the earnest efforts to reverse them by many individuals and Church organizations.

So … what if we think the unthinkable? What if we followed the lead of the Rev. Gamble, President of the U.K. Methodist Conference, and wonder whether TEC should go out of business – for God's sake?

Rather than immediately react with a heartfelt, uncompromising negative couched in expletives, pause for a couple of moments to reflect on some realities and possibilities instead of the impossibilities. First, fifty years from now the church in the United States (its worship, community, structure, facilities, and leadership) will almost certainly look vastly different than today’s church. The shift away from the way of being church that I personally cherish is already underway. In the last couple of decades, thousands of mostly non-denominational congregations, many with rapidly growing membership and diverse patterns of being church, have emerged. Living in denial benefits neither God nor the growing non-Christian majority. Pro-actively adapting to a rapidly changing context and constituency will afford the church more leeway in defining and shaping its identity and form than reactively struggling to survive.

Second, TEC is not alone in facing these challenges. Other Churches – the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the United Methodist Church, the Presbyterian Church (USA), and the United Church of Christ to name a few – have experienced similar, large declines and face parallelchallenges. While not wanting to underestimate differences in ethos, liturgy, polity, and theology that divide these Churches, the substantial commonalities between various Christian denominations dwarf those differences in contrast to the competing forces of secularism, new age spirituality, and eastern religions. Businesses that pro-actively respond to changing markets and merge from strength tend to thrive. Businesses that react to market changes and merge in an effort to survive rarely recover.

Third, the real work of the Church – becoming God's people by striving to increase the love of God and neighbor – occurs primarily in local congregations. A dismayingly small and decreasing percentage of diocesan, provincial, and national expenditures supports missions and ministries that would not happen if left to local parishes. Endorsing and supporting chaplains for federal ministries (military, Veterans Affairs, and prisons) is an example of one such ministry. Much of the work of Episcopal Relief and Development is another example. Instead, most of what happens at the diocesan and national levels is “overhead,” essential as a means to an end but not, per se, why the Church exists. Bishops, for example, perform critical tasks teaching, confirming, ordaining, organizing and deploying ministries but those instrumental tasks support the life and work of local congregations. As much as I love and appreciate my bishop, my parish does not exist to support him. Similarly, most diocesan and national staff offices exist as a means to support the life and ministry of local congregations.

Imagine … several small, geographically adjacent congregations of various Churches laying aside their idolatry of buildings and accoutrements to unite as the people of God, worshiping in homes, served by a single member of the clergy, and using their consolidated resources to engage in expanded ministry and mission.

Imagine … large and medium size, geographically adjacent congregations sharing a single physical plant while retaining their distinct identities, cooperating in diverse projects that might include feeding the hungry, offering different styles of worship, establishing an institute for lay spiritual formation, etc.

Imagine … seminaries and judicatory staffs of different denominations consolidating to reduce expenses on physical plant and internal administration while better serving their constituent congregations.

In 1991, while on the staff of the Navy Chief of Chaplains, I conducted a feasibility study for consolidating the Navy, Army, and Air Force Chaplain Schools into a single school. I concluded that consolidation would save as much as 35% in operating costs per annum, provide a more comprehensive program, better prepare chaplains to function in the joint environment predicted to become the norm for military operations, and still permit each service to meet its unique needs. The Chief of Chaplains rejected my recommendations. Neither the Navy nor the other services wanted to surrender control of any aspect of their programs. Several years ago, budget constraints and the new standard of joint operations forced the three chaplain schools to consolidate.

Over the last century, the pace of social change has accelerated and will most likely continue accelerating. We Episcopalians, with our emphasis on incarnational theology, should recognize that the Church, the incarnated body of Christ, is no more immutable than is a human body. Indeed, the Church remains faithful to its call as the intentional community of God's people only by adapting to changes in the larger society.

Visions of the future Church vary greatly. I proffer my intentionally provocative imaginings as a catalyst for further creativity. Nobody has urim and thummim (or even the twenty-first century equivalent, a reliable computer model) with which to discern the future. Furthermore, I’m far from sanguine about the prospects for any unified body that might emerge if several American denominations unexpectedly achieved organic unity in the next few years. I’m also mindful that most of the ecumenical movement’s twentieth century momentum foundered on doctrinal and structural shoals. On the other hand, I know that staying the present course will only lead to continuing declines. (Remember the definition of stupidity: repeatedly performing the same actions, each time expecting a different result.)

Genuine renewal requires new wineskins. Ethos, liturgy, polity, and theology are all part of the wineskin, human efforts to savor and to communicate God's ineffable, transcendent love manifested in the Christ. Change necessarily entails conflict. Out of creative, well-managed conflict over the church’s future new wineskins will emerge from which the next generation can drink deeply of God's timeless and unconditional life-giving love.

The Rev. Dr. George Clifford, Diocese of North Carolina, served as a Navy chaplain for twenty-four years He taught philosophy at the U. S. Naval Academy and ethics at the Postgraduate School. He serves as priest in charge at the Church of the Nativity in Raleigh and blogs at Ethical Musings (http://blog.ethicalmusings.com/).

Jesus Christ is Lord of The Episcopal Church and of All Creation

By W. Christopher Evans

An on-line mentor of mine and of many, Dr. Louie Crew, was recently asked a rather odd question, “Who is the temporal head of The Episcopal Church?” The question implies still again a swoop-in understanding of Jesus Christ’s presence, as if Jesus Christ somehow goes absent (rather than often hidden) in the interim or interregnum outside of word proclaimed from the pulpit or sacrament presented at the altar, something like John Mason Neal’s infamous first stanza:

Christ is gone up; yet ere he passed
from earth, in heaven to reign,
he formed one holy Church to last
till he should come again.

On the contrary, by word proclaimed, as bread and wine, and I would add, in psalms sung, we again encounter the terrifying, liberating news that everywhere and always Jesus Christ is present, presence, and Lord. By the power of the Holy Spirit and Christ’s own promises, Jesus does not ever leave us behind—ever. Our own Eucharistic prayers remind us of this again and again:

“Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again” (BCP, 363).

All hinges on that little word “is” as Zwingli’s and Luther’s own battles remind us. Christ is risen! Not in the past. Not merely in the future. By sheer Self-gift, here and now, Christ is risen, taking into God’s own life once-for-all by means of himself flesh, matter, creation. Is risen declares, Jesus overcomes, reigns, and makes himself anywhere and everywhere to be present and explicitly available in psalms, by word, and as bread and wine—and among sisters and brothers called to praise and proclaim his Name. But nowhere is creation not his own. This is, after all, the creation which he himself speaks, no sings, into existence.

Our “peculiar realized eschatology” (F. D. Maurice) or “inaugurated eschatology” (Arthur Just) or eucharistic eschatology (myself) stands in radical contrast to and rejection of the popular End Times christologies of Left Behind and similar series. God in Christ never goes absent to swoop in at the End and clean up the mass by seeming hatred of that which he has made. Rather, Christ is our beginning, our principle, our end who never lets us go—this is the heart of the Reformers’ rebuke in justification by grace through faith in Christ Jesus. Nowhere is this care more obvious than in the lines from Wisdom 11:24 in our Ash Wednesday Collect: “Almighty and everlasting God, you hate nothing you have made and forgive the sins of all who are penitent” (BCP, 217).

That much of American Protestantism has devolved into a degenerate Zwinglianism should not let us absent this radical reminder of Christ’s lordership here and now and always and everywhere. “Christ will come again” is not merely future promise of Consummation, but present promise fulfilled in psalms sung, by word proclaimed, and as bread and wine—and among we who are his own Body sent forth to live it. And just the same, by a creation always being sung into existence. Nowhere can we not turn and not be surprised to find declaration of our Lord Christ’s reign and presence. And though our Lord Christ remains often hidden, we should not think him not speaking or absent. See the Sparrow. The Ant. The Raven. The foreigner. The widow. The orphan.

So, when I hear this question then, I want to respond, “How we try to wriggle our way out of being subject to and disciples of Christ.” For my answer to this question is this: The spiritual and temporal Head of The Episcopal Church is our Lord Jesus Christ.

F. D. Maurice made much of Christ’s headship. Christ’s headship not only implies oversight and rule, but constitutive and creative power. This is the Lord who speaks us into existence and redeems that same existence in each and every moment. This is the Lord of whom we are members bodily by Holy Baptism—and, Maurice would remind us, God’s own from the moment of our creation, despite all appearances to the contrary. Baptism into Christ in Maurice’s, as with his mentor Luther’s, christology is not a one-time event, but our true and only and ever-present reality, stance, hope, and only ontology always and everywhere. We are God’s own to whom God in Christ has come once-for-all. Having received ourselves anew from God by death into and life in our Lord Christ through life-giving waters, live it. Live as the children of God we are created to be “from the beginning” and when “God began to create.” No, in all things, creation, redemption, life, death, Jesus Christ is Lord.

While a division of spiritual and temporal may be meant to properly divide Creator and creature, by doing so in this fashion, it undermines the Resurrection and comes close to denial of the Ascension. By taking flesh into the heavenlies, God in Christ will never let his creation go, but indeed, takes creation into Godsself for once and always:

Almighty God, whose blessed Son our Savior Jesus Christ ascended far above all heavens that he might fill all things: Mercifully give us faith to perceive that, according to his promise, he abides with his Church on earth, even to the end of the ages; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen (BCP, 226).

We should expect to encounter a Who, Lancelot Andrewes tells us, our Lord Christ, wherever two or three are called together in psalms sung, by word proclaimed, and as bread and wine. And not only there, but in all of creation, for it is this same Lord Word who speaks all, this same Lord Wisdom who “orderest all things mightily” for us though the Evil One gnashes and we follow suit. Both of time and eternity, Jesus Christ is Lord!

What a spiritual and temporal division of Christ’s lordship also suggests is somehow matters of flesh and blood are of lesser or no concern to God than those matters spiritual. The Incarnation and the Crucifixion tell us contrary-wise. Matters of flesh and blood precisely reveal the Spirit or not. Division of body and soul and spirit in this manner is unbiblical. We are persons bodily. The Resurrection of our Lord reminds us that we will not be so, that is, persons without a body, changed though we may be. Flesh matters. Matter matters. God pitches God’s tent among us in our Lord Christ.

Both in matters spiritual and matters temporal then, indeed in all things, Jesus Christ is Head of the Church. We Episcopalians, as Bishop John Skinner of Scotland preaches to us at our inception and constitution as a Church, will be non-established:

Hence it is evident that the church as constituted by Christ, must be allowed to be independent on the state, or these apostles must be considered as guilty of disobedience and sedition. And the succeeding bishops, for the first three hundred years after Christ, must lie under the same charge: for they held religious assemblies, governed their clergy and people, and executed all other parts of their sacred function, not only without leave from the state, but very often in direct opposition to it. (John Skinner, “The Nature and Extent of the Apostolical Commission, A Sermon Preached at the Consecration of the Right Reverend Dr Samuel Seabury, Bishop of the Episcopal Church in Connecticut, by a Bishop of the Episcopal Church in Scotland.).

Our Deputies in General Convention, our bishops, all are, but they never stand in Christ’s stead. We have no vicar of Christ. No one stands in Christ’s place. Rather as our priests present to us, each of us as creatures of God’s singing, as members of Christ’s own Body redeemed point to and profess and proclaim and bless our one Lord in all things. Any power, authority, governance we have rests in him or stands not at all. And not just us, for our Lord Christ is not only Head of the Church, he is Head of All Creation. William Stringfellow reminds us again and again that nowhere is the Word not speaking and present and active in working to bring all into conformity by redemption to God’s will. This world and the world are God’s in Christ Jesus despite all appearances, despite our denials, despite our not knowing, despite our sins, despite our open rebellion. This is what we, Christ’s own Body are called to profess and proclaim and most importantly, hymn: “Jesus Christ is Lord!” By those four words as creed, empires have been brought to their knees and oppressions made to cease, by them we laud Christ as head and only and blessed: Holy, holy, holy.

Dr. Christopher Evans recently completed a Ph.D. in Liturgical Studies and Church History at the Graduate Theological Union. He offers occasional musings on the Rule of St. Benedict, liturgical questions, and life as a Benedictine oblate at Contemplative Vernacular

Confronting sexual abuse in the Episcopal Church

By Ann Fontaine

Andrew Sullivan, writing on The Atlantic's Web site, has been praising the Episcopal Church for its actions on priests who commit sexual abuse, exploitation and harassment. In the comments on his column stories of quick action following the reporting of abuse have appeared. It is good to hear that our system is working for some people who have suffered at the hands of priests and bishops. I wish it had always been the case, but we have our own history of the abuse of power, secrecy, and denial. It was not until the ’70s and ’80s that these abuses were finally addressed by the Church and the General Convention began work on revising the canons and to encourage dioceses to provide procedures and training.

Women clergy began to hear the stories of child and youth sexual abuse by clergy in the late '70s and early '80s. Women had only been ordained since 1974. A few women across the denomination met to compare notes. In the meantime, lawsuits were beginning to emerge when the church would not respond to the suffering. The insurance companies were getting worried about providing liability insurance when churches knew about abuse and passed a priest on to another place. While I was serving on the Executive Council from 1985-91, Ellen Cooke, Treasurer of the denomination, reported to the Presiding Bishop and the Council that something needed to be done both for pastoral and fiduciary reasons.

General Convention began to act. In 1985, a resolution passed to request dioceses to conduct workshops on recognizing child sexual abuse. In 1991, a Committee on Sexual Exploitation was established. During this period several women clergy and some attorneys who had been providing legal counsel for abuse victims/survivors developed training for bishops and other leaders to teach the church about the issue and how to deal with perpetrators and victims/survivors. It was clear that TEC did not have canons or procedures to guide this work, so several of us proposed a resolution for the next General Convention.

The bishops did not think the time was right for this action but we pressed ahead. The women of the Episcopal Church – Episcopal Women’s Caucus, Episcopal Church Women, Daughters of the King, and others – mobilized to lobby both Houses and to talk to their bishops about the importance of immediate action by the church. Abuse victims/survivors came to testify, often the first time they had told their stories in public. 1997 saw a number of resolutions including the revision of Title IV (disciplinary canons) passed. (The history of resolutions is here.) The Bishop’s Pastoral Office led by the Rt. Rev. Harold (Hoppy) Hopkins was a key supporter of funding, education, developing training and facing the issues of abuses and exploitation.

In 2009 another revision of the Title IV canons was passed to set up a procedure that is more like the professional standards of conduct in other professions. The original revisions were based on the Military Code of Justice that while providing a way to deal with abuse and exploitation had proved very difficult to use.

Since the days of these early cases the work to stop abuse in the Episcopal Church has had a mixed record. In my work as a member of committees proposing and acting on guidelines for action and as a advocate for those who have suffered abuse and exploitation, I see the Episcopal Church is currently doing much better work but with areas that are still lacking.

Stopping child sexual abuse has the greatest success. Safeguarding God’s Children training is required of all clergy and all lay leaders especially anyone in the church working with children and youth. Congregations and parents are more aware of how to spot abuse and who to contact if it occurs. Church schools are vigilant about contact with children, requiring 2 adults present, windows in all offices, locking spaces where abuse might occur, and doing background checks on all employees and volunteers. Many dioceses are using online self-guided training and awareness programs which have increased participation 10 to 100 fold over the face to face training. We know that perpetrators will not stop abuse from taking training but the community can become vigilant and prevent incidents. Compliance is left to the dioceses to enforce but most have strict guidelines.

Exploitation of vulnerable adults and harassment has a more mixed success rate. Much depends on the local diocese and requirements for response and discipline. Although the canons are in place, it is often a hard road to get the canons enforced. Rather than viewing events as abuse of power, they are confused with “affairs” or the victim is blamed for the occurrence. Egregious, multiple offenses are usually dealt with eventually but justice is slow to be found for these abuses. Most professions realize that the person in power has the responsibility in any relationship – regardless of actions. The church is beginning to understand this. The discipline of bishops is the least successful area in the church.

The new revisions of the canons hold out the possibility that the procedures will be more available and easier to use with offending priests and deacons in dioceses. The canons have more options before taking the case to court. Child abuse, of course, must be reported to the police or county authorities by civil law. Training in adult exploitation and harassment is now available for congregations and dioceses. The Episcopal Church has learned that a church that faces abuse and exploitation promptly and with justice, restoration, and reconciliation can be a healthier safer place for all.

The Rev. Ann Fontaine, Diocese of Wyoming, keeps what the tide brings in. She is the author of Streams of Mercy: a meditative commentary on the Bible.

The marks of the Church

By Derek Olsen

It’s now the week after the tumultuous weekend when three bishops were elected, one of whom—as we all know by now—is a lesbian with a long-time partner. During the day I’ve been like many, going about my work and, on breaks and lunch, checking the Anglican blogs and news sources to see the on-going reaction. According to my analysis we’ve moved through the “News and Reaction” phase and are now well within the “Retort and Counter-Retort” phase. To read the blogs, it appears that Christianity teeters on the brink—they just can’t agree on which direction lies the clear light of truth and which the fires of hell.

It’s now later and I sit once again at my computer. The official day’s work has been put away and I now work at a different project, coding old documents into XML. Before me on the screen is one similar in nature to the ones before my eyes during the day; it’s a sermon from an English priest to his people.

Before my eyes even light upon the words, the difference is clear, though; no 24-hour news cycle ever produced this. In the enhanced jpeg image of the page, I can see the faint trace of where a leatherworker’s knife slipped in scraping the hair from the leather. A faint shadow betrays a spot where more pumice-rubbing was needed. A line of pricked holes on either side of the written column provide guides where, a thousand years before, a scribe dragged a dry-point to line the parchment page. The scribe is now dust, but his marks remain.

The consents must come—no wait—the consents must *not* come or else the faith will be in peril. Christianity must change or die—no wait—Christianity must not change lest it die. And the shrill blog voices recede as I follow the flowing marks of the scribe’s pen. On a Tuesday afternoon in the early summer ten centuries past, an English abbot reminded his gathered congregation (Was it large? Was it small?) of the meaning of the Lord’s Prayer:

And se man ðe gode gecwemð he bið godes bearn. na gecyndelice ac þurh gesceapenysse
And the man who pleases God, he is God’s son—not according to kind but through creation and through good deeds as Christ said in his Gospel: “The one who works the will of my Father in heaven, that one is my brother and my mother and my sister.” Now therefore all Christian men whether high ranking or lowly, nobly-born or not, the lord and the slave: all of them are brothers, and all of them have one Father who is in heaven. The wealthy is not better in this reckoning than the poor. As boldly may the slave call God his Father as the king.

This is a faith I recognize. Is it now in danger of dying away? I think of the many misfortunes this manuscript has seen—viking raids, the Norman conquest, the Black Death, the dissolution of monasteries and dismemberment of books, the Civil War, the Blitz. Each generation may fear the worst. This English preacher himself thought that the viking raids besieging England’s green and pleasant land were the harbingers of the Antichrist. Even then the questions were complicated and not clear cut. Placate the raiders with soft gold, or meet their charge with a sterner metal? Come April 19th we’ll remember an Archbishop of Canterbury—Alphege—who faced the hard questions of this time and wrote an answer for history with his own blood.

Đæt oðer gebed is. Adueniat regnum tuum. þæt is on urum gereorde. cume þin rice; The second prayer is “Adveniat regnum tuum” which is in our tongue “Thy kingdom come.” Ever was God's kingdom, and ever will be: but it is so to be understood, that his kingdom be over us, and he reign in us, and that we with all obedience be subject to him, and that our kingdom be realized and granted to us, as Christ has promised to us, that he would give us an eternal kingdom.

Thy kingdom come. But God’s kingdom is eternal, reminds the preacher—treading the same well-worn path of Origen, Cyprian and Augustine, the path that Luther would follow in another five hundred years—we pray that it may come in us, to us, and through us. An Advent reminder that our lives and choices are bound in the works and will of God should we so offer them. As this Advent wears on and wends its way towards both the Birth and the Last Judgment we wonder which will have the upper hand.

A small hole in the margin alerts me that sometime in these passing centuries some worm has itself read, marked, learned, and inwardly digested these silently witnessing pages.

The sermon ends where it began. Starting with themes of brotherhood and unity, the sermon makes a final return before burning out in a doxological blaze:

Crist gesette þis gebed. and swa beleac mid feawum wordum. þæt ealle ure neoda…
Christ established this prayer and so enclosed it in a few words, that all of our needs—both spiritual and bodily—are included there. This prayer he established for all Christians in common. He does not say in this prayer, “My Father who is in heaven…” but says, “Our Father…” and so forth; all of the words that follow after are spoken in common by all Christians. This shows how much God loves unity and concord among his people. According to the book of God all Christians should be so gathered together that they be as one Man; woe, then, to the man who breaks that unity.

The unity envisioned in this sermon, though, is no uniformity enforced by covenants but a harmony between the rich and poor. What does the rich man do when his servants no longer serve? Let the rich man be warned and remember that he must render an account of the good things given him. True Christian unity is expressed in how the members of the body act on behalf of one another, with diligence and love.

The shrill shortsightedness of partisan conflicts say one thing; the fading letters on parchment remind me of another. Endurance. Fidelity. Loving-kindness. These are the marks of the Church. They have been for a very long time. They will continue to be so for a very long time to come.

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

Winning battles but losing the war?

By George Clifford

Is the Episcopal Church (TEC) winning battles and losing the struggle against evil in its efforts to become a Church that truly welcomes everybody?

Recent court decisions in several states have affirmed that assets owned by parishes or dioceses that try to withdraw from TEC remain with TEC or one of its constituent parts. Progress towards reconstituting diocesan structures in Fort Worth, Pittsburgh, and elsewhere continues apace. Conversely, the weight of opinion, even in parishes staunchly loyal to and supportive of TEC, holds that blessing same-sex relationships, ordaining persons who openly live in committed same-sex relationships, and otherwise fully including everyone regardless of sexuality in the Church’s life will cost TEC members, mission momentum, and resources. Is TEC winning battles and losing the struggle against evil in its efforts to become a Church that truly welcomes everybody?

Phrasing that question posed substantial difficulties. No matter how strongly I believe that God desires to welcome every human, regardless of sexuality, fully, I know that this issue is not a litmus test of anyone’s Christian identity.

That said, opposition to the full inclusion of all people is not simply a matter of people of good will having honest differences of opinion. TEC certainly has members who hold a wide variety of opinions with respect to sexuality and sexual ethics. Diversity of opinion is real within most congregations and does not cause hard feelings, let alone collective angst. Diverse opinions, per se, are neither the source of the current conflict nor inherently evil. TEC welcomes and must continue to welcome people of every opinion.

The evil in this conflict has other roots. First, anyone treating views on sexuality or sexual ethics as a litmus test of who is or is not a Christian or of those with whom one can be in the same Church or parish wrongly assigns these issues a centrality unwarranted by either Scripture or tradition. Congregations that strive for uniformity of opinion with respect to sexuality and sexual ethics – whether within the congregation, the diocese, the national Church, or the Anglican Communion – do so because leadership pushes the issue. Such leaders reject the model of a good shepherd who left the 99 to search for the remaining one, a shepherd who strives to keep the flock together without insisting that all of the sheep look alike or behave alike. Good shepherd leadership affirms and honors diverse opinions and freedom of individual conscience, a defining hallmark among Anglicans whose unity results from common prayer rather than common belief. Leadership that intentionally seeks to divide the Church over an important but not ultimate issue is at best misguided and at worst evil.

Second, sexuality and sexual ethics galvanize opinion and motivate people to act with an energy that other issues lack. Opponents of full inclusion of all in the Church, if they engaged in open and honest mutual introspection, would find their allies subscribe to diverse opinions about the ordination of women, the authority of Scripture, lay presidency at the Eucharist, and other issues. The one and only issue uniting dissidents is their opposition to the full inclusion of all, regardless of sexuality, in the Church’s life. In other words, sexuality affords an unparalleled opportunity for emotional impact that translates into publicity, prominence, and fundraising. U.S. money raised from non-Episcopalians supports the disruptive pronouncements and divisive proselytizing missions of other Anglicans in the States (at the Episcopal Café cf. this story and this one). At best, such Anglican clerics are unintentional pawns manipulated by forces of evil; at worst, these Anglicans clerics co-conspire with forces of evil.

Lest that assessment seem too harsh, TEC represents less than 1% of the U.S. population. If TEC did not retain sufficient public interest (notoriety?) to attract considerable media attention, these non-Episcopalians would choose to wage their war over sexuality and sexuality on different “terrain.” For example, the United Church of Christ years ago decided to ordain clergy openly living in same-sex, committed relationships and to bless same-sex relationships without the large and continuing furor that TEC’s slow steps have attracted. Similarly, the recent decision by the larger Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, with which TEC shares ministry, to allow the ordination of clergy openly living in same-sex, committed relationships sparked a much smaller media barrage.

Concurrently, other Anglican provinces, such as the Anglican Church of Canada, have actually led the vanguard of the movement toward full inclusion of all in the life of the Church. TEC follows in the vanguard’s rear. Yet the preponderance of public attention nationally and internationally has focused on TEC. As with TEC, the U.S. represents the global target of choice. The United States’ status as the world’s lone superpower and the influence that its media, economy, and culture have on the rest of the world guarantee a higher profile controversy than if the fight occurred in another country or province. (For more information on this, cf. Globalizing the Culture Wars: US Conservatives, African Churches, & Homophobia by Anglican priest and scholar, the Revd Kapya Kaoma, featured in Pat Ashworth’s report, “Africans suffer from ‘collateral damage’ in U.S. culture clash", The Church Times, 20 November 2009.)

Consider the shibboleths that TEC blessing same-sex relationships will result in African animists choosing Islam over Christianity or the persecution of African Christians by radical Muslims. How many African animists really care, or even follow, U.S. ecclesiastical news? (Similarly, how many American Christians really care, or even follow, religious news from African tribal areas?) How many radical Muslims will cease to persecute Christians simply because TEC decides not to bless same-sex relationships? Those questions point to a third evil: opponents of fully including everyone in the Church’s life lie. Lying requires intent to deceive. Not every Episcopalian who repeats one of those shibboleths lies. However, the opposition’s leaders want victory in their campaign against homosexuality at any cost. They lie. Yet truth, not lying, is indicative of those aligned with God. The truth, not lies, makes us free.

Fourth, debates over sexuality and sexual ethics within parishes, dioceses, the national Church, and the Anglican Communion progress with multiple subtexts designed by and for various audiences. One of those subtexts speaks to the often-cherished, little thought through, possibility of the Anglican Communion reuniting with the Roman Catholic Church. Pope Benedict XVI contributed to that subtext with his recent establishment of personal ordinariates for Anglicans who wish to affiliate with Rome. A careful reading of the Roman Catholic document emphasizes that Rome offers no compromise or olive branch to its separated siblings. Anglicans are welcome, but only on Rome’s terms, conforming to Rome in all doctrinal matters. These include opposition to the ordination of women, recognition of the Pope as the supreme, earthly source of ecclesial authority, etc. The substantive differences between Anglicanism and Roman Catholicism are so great that welcoming all people, regardless of gender orientation, into the full life of the Church will not measurably broaden the chasm that already separates the two Churches. Pretending otherwise is at least naïve and in some cases a deceptive ploy to prevent TEC from welcoming all, i.e., another lie. For individuals who can no longer remain part of the Anglican Communion in good conscience, I wish them God speed as they move with integrity to the Roman Catholic Church.

Another subtext to the debates about sexuality and sexual ethics is that Episcopalians are not Anglicans. Effective communication requires that words have commonly agreed meanings. Anglicans are by longstanding definition members of those Churches in communion with the Archbishop of Canterbury, i.e., TEC members in the United States. Splinter groups intentionally incorporating the word “Anglican” into their group’s name, such as the Anglican Church in North America, therefore constitute a pernicious effort to subvert the popular understanding of who is and who is not an Anglican in the hope of creating a new reality. Comments I hear from lay Episcopalians loyal to TEC suggest this tactic is working. Likewise, the Chair of the Presiding Bishops Council of Advice, the Rt. Rev. Clifton Daniels, Bishop of the Diocese of East Carolina, apparently has drawn a similar conclusion. He began a recent letter published in the New York Times by emphasizing that TEC is the sole Anglican presence in the U.S. (“Is This Bishop Catholic?” New York Times, November 17, 2009).

The reading from Baruch for the Second Sunday of Advent (5:1-9) recalls a people led into exile by their enemies who clung to the hope that God will bring them back to Jerusalem in glory with mercy and righteousness.

An older parishioner, now retired and with no family at home in my parish, spends her days and self in caring for others. She has fostered literally hundreds of children, some for a few days and others for months. Race, gender, handicaps, sexual and orientation are all irrelevant to her. Recently, she has daily driven an hour to and from a hospital to hold a shaken baby that is fighting for its life in the hospital’s ICU, selflessly investing love and emotion in this infant. One week she asked me for money from my discretionary fund to help a broken family pay its utility bills. The next week, she solicited Christmas gifts from the parish for four young children who live with their financially strapped grandmother to avoid the state sending them to foster homes. It seems that every time this woman and I chat, she is helping yet another person.

She incarnates the mercy and righteousness of which Baruch speaks. TEC must do the same. TEC could prevail in every court case no pending, and dozens not yet filed, and still be unfaithful. TEC could reconstitute and reorganize every diocese and parish that attempts to withdraw and still be unfaithful. Assets and organizational structures are at best means to an end, not an end in themselves. TEC must focus on ends and not means.

Righteousness necessitates TEC stand firmly for truth. TEC boldly moving ahead in developing rites for blessing same-sex relationships, teaching that permanent monogamy and not a couple’s gender composition exemplifies a wholesome lifestyle, and advocating equal civil rights for all regardless of gender orientation will position TEC squarely in the advent of God's activity in the world.

Mercy demands that TEC embrace and welcome all of God's children. TEC needs to regain its momentum as a Church fully engaged in God's mission: loving the unloved, feeding the hungry, offering the water of life to the thirsty, etc.

Mercy and righteousness are hard tasks, in part because we cannot delegate them to a hireling but must perform them ourselves. Often there are few if any tangible rewards. But in the end God's mercy and righteousness will prevail, God's people shall dwell in life abundant, and I, for one (along with my parishioner) want to be part of that scene.

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

Outside looking in

By George Clifford

In downtown San Francisco, an abandoned building has furniture, including a refrigerator, sofa, chair, and lamp, hanging out of windows and otherwise attached to the exterior. The building has stood that way for years, with colorful murals decorating the sheets of plywood placed around the ground level to keep people out. I do not know the building’s story, whether the perpetrator(s) intended it as an artistic statement or something else.

In any case, the building seems an apt metaphor for too many denominations and congregations. These churches leave some of the people who should be integral to their community hanging in limbo outside, superfluous except as a painful statement of the types of people that Christian group excludes.

Sadly, some churches even boast about the types of people whom they exclude. Intentionally excluding people contravenes Paul’s vision of the body of Christ as mutual interdependence in which no person, regardless of perceived externalities, is dispensable. Each and every person brings gifts to the body, enriching the membership, strengthening the community, and contributing to the incarnation of Christ's body in the world.

Healthy Christian communities regularly monitor themselves to identify the types of people whom they exclude, intentionally or unintentionally. In the past, most Christian communities excluded the physically challenged because buildings were not handicap accessible. People with mental challenges or behavioral control issues often exceeded (and still do in many places) a congregation’s tolerance for behavior outside conventional norms. Fear of contamination, as happened when the full magnitude of the HIV/AIDS problem first shattered public apathy two decades ago, erected new barriers to inclusion and thereby excluded some from Christian communities. Snobbishness, whether based on socio-economic status, perceived moral probity, or another factor, continues to bar some from admission in local Christian communities.

Each person is, as it were, a lump of clay in the potter’s hands, still being sculpted into the artistic and useful vessel the potter designed. Excluding people from the community not only impoverishes the community but also devalues the potter’s unfinished work as unworthy. Intolerance, from the right or from the left, has no place in Christian community. All people, no matter how personally repugnant I may find their views or behavior, are, like me, an unfinished vessel in the potter’s hands, still being sculpted into an artistic and useful creation.

Part of the historic Anglican genius has been our commitment to unity in the midst of diversity. Sometimes called “big tent Anglicanism,” this requires making room for those with a wide array of beliefs. Preventing the big tent from collapsing on top of those within it, stifling both their vibrancy and their ability to welcome others, requires humility, trust in the potter, and honoring our baptismal vow to respect the dignity and worth of all persons.

I’m thankful for the courageous stands that the Episcopal Church took at its 2009 General Convention. Having clarified who we are, and whose we are, now the harder work of lovingly living into that vision of inclusivity begins, a task in which we chart our direction and our progress with more difficulty. But even as the heat of a kiln is necessary to finish transforming clay into a useful and artistic vessel, so the heat of the hard work in the years ahead is necessary for us to incarnate fully God's loving embrace of all people.

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

Of the streets and courts

By Gregory C. Syler

Sitting with Hemingway’s breakthrough classic, The Sun Also Rises, once again, I noticed what must have always been there, though I hardly saw it before: a robust catholicism; a “grand religion” no less vital to Spanish culture than to a few of the American ex-pats who tried to renew life, at least for a while, in a fictional summer. Read of protagonist Jake Barnes’ experience in the Bayonne cathedral, relishing the cool stone, awkwardly feasting in quiet prayer, soaking up time-honed sacredness of place.

Hemingway began to write it in those early years spent abroad with his wife and child. Bored and brooding as 1925’s summer turned to fall, he headed off by himself to Chartres, and found the ancient pilgrimage site an excellent place to refine the novel. Biographer Michael Reynolds notes: “Catholicism held for Hemingway a strong emotional attraction. It was the religion of the bullfighters and royalty, a religion of the streets and courts.”

Something there speaks to me. Not the watered-down cultural religiosity but the honest appraisal of what is in the Episcopal Church, as well, a catholic truth: If we take Jesus seriously, we’ll find ourselves singing, praying and eating with the rich and poor, the homeless and those with mortgage woes, the ones we’d like to vacation with and the ones we’d rather serve lunch to, behind the protected wall of a parish hall’s kitchen counter.

You see, I’m the rector of a small but increasingly vibrant Episcopal parish in St. Mary’s County. Not much happens where we live and worship in the village of Valley Lee, but an Anglican church has been here, continuously, since 1638. No modern church planter would start a congregation in this precise spot, because it doesn’t marry with the modern layout of roadways in southern Maryland, but St. George’s is a simple whitewashed building almost exactly halfway between the great manor houses nearby. Sure, this was a church for the landed gentry, but it also was a congregation for the folks who tilled the land and worked the waters, those who got up with the sun and rested when the day was done.

That’s something to be celebrated, a truly Christian community in which the wealthy and not-so-prosperous gathered around the same altar. Even today, long after the slave galleries were ripped out and the manor barons’ wealth all but dried up, St. Mary’s is a booming mix of U.S. Navy, military contractors, retirees and folks who can still trace their line to the founding of the colony. And they gather, still, around the same altar – those with doctorates and oversight of multimillion dollar defense contracts right next to those who learned from their grandparents how to stuff a ham and whose parents showed them how to catch rockfish according to native American customs.

To me, it’s both amazing and humbling because, like many, I chose the Episcopal Church as an adult Christian and (let’s be honest) many of us, myself included, relish that our church is a fairly elite group that still prides itself on how many U.S. Presidents we claim, how intellectually curious we can be, how upper-crust we still seem, and that Vanderbilt, Washington and Lee all count as members of our clan. As the relative wealth of colonial manor homes gave way to the contemporary wealth of Navy contracts down here, it’s refreshing to know that the Episcopal Church has, all along, also been founded on watermen and tobacco farmers, on honest, simple folks (myself most certainly included) as well as the elite; a “religion of the streets and courts.”

This also is refreshing, I should hope, to congregations in the Episcopal Church that don’t necessarily share the colonial heritage that quaint little St. George’s, Valley Lee does, for number-trackers continue to alarm faithful Episcopalians (and diocesan staffs) when they show the average attendance at an Episcopal church today as something like 70 folks on a Sunday morning and an increasingly aging population and, well, never mind the rest of the statistics but throw up your hands and cry “Oh, my, the ship really is sinking!”

If you look at it another way, however, you realize that a lot of church-folk in southern Maryland learned the lesson, long ago, that a church of 70 or so on a Sunday morning can still be the recipe for a pretty amazing Christian body, and they don’t have to come with deep pockets. In Valley Lee and other hamlets here, we are growing in spirit as well as in numbers, and we’re doing it through readily identifiable Christian work: education, outreach, worship and pastoral care; not just finding the next wealthy manor lord. We may not be the Upper Crust Church and, like others, our overall attendance may have slipped from previous decades, but we are still fairly successful Christian congregations who are passionately committed to reaching out in Jesus’ name.

Maybe numbers and size and average-education-level don’t matter so much as faithfulness and vibrancy. And maybe a new door is being opened for the Episcopal Church just as the old one is closing, slowly, decade after decade. Maybe congregations like “quaint little St. George’s” will become the model for the rest of us – that the rich faithfulness and robust quality of Christian faith matters, above all else, and those qualities can be found chiefly at those altars where the streets meet the courts.

The Rev. Greg Syler is rector of St. George’s Episcopal Church in Valley Lee, Md.

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.

Liturgical roots, baptismal theology: where "full inclusion" comes from

By Linda L. Grenz

A reading of press reports about the 76th General Convention might suggest the only topic debated (again) was sexuality – or, more precisely, homosexuality. Sometimes this happens simply because the press does not know much about our history or theology. Unfortunately that often means our members get misinfornmation about why this topic is relevant to our church and why we are devoting attention to it.

Our focus is on inclusion and this is not new – it is something we have been working on for decades. It grew out of the liturgical renewal movement that began to have a significant impact on the church in the early 20th century. The desire to renew the church's liturgy led scholars to re-examine the church's worship and theology. Their research and the discovery of previously unknown texts led liturgical scholars to re-vision how we worship.

Liturgical scholars realized the earliest Christians gathered around the dining room table and it is likely that the hosts presided. As membership grew and services became more formal, the order of priests was established to assist the bishop. This led to the clericalization of the liturgy as priests became more central to worship services and laity became mere observers.
The priest became the primary actor, the one who said the liturgy and did the ministry. The people become passive recipients. Their role was to “pay,” “pray” and not “say” much more than “amen” or “and also with you!”

As liturgical scholars began to re-shape the liturgy to make it more participatory, the roles of clergy and laity also changed. This change was driven by another aspect of the liturgical renewal movement – the re-visioning of baptismal theology. In the early church, baptism was a transformative rite of passage. In baptism, one died to one's old self and rose with Christ to a new life as a redeemed child of God. One’s baptism profoundly changed one, both now and for eternity.

As priests became the primary leader of the congregation, the bishop, who used to lead the congregation, had no connection to the local community. What would be the bishop's role? One response was to separate the anointing with oil from the rest of the baptismal liturgy. This led to the creation of Confirmation, and the development of a theology that one needed to “complete” one's baptism by being confirmed by the bishop. The liturgical renewal led the church to move baptism back to the center of the church's life (vs. a private ceremony) and to restore the anointing to the baptismal rite.

The 1979 Book of Common Prayer wholeheartedly embraced the re-visioned baptismal theology – and emphasized it by adding the five questions that spell out baptismal living after the Creed. Because we believe that how we pray shapes what we believe, it became a means of incorporating this baptismal theology into the life and practice of the church. Those five questions, in particular, led to theorization that baptism meant full inclusion which resulted in the church re-examining the role of laity, of people of color, of women and of children and youth.

The 1960s saw the church take significant steps to support and sometimes lead the effort to establish equal rights for blacks. In the church, blacks were elected to leadership roles.

Women in most dioceses began to serve on vestries in the 1950's and 60's. Laity began to read lessons and lead the prayers at the liturgy. The first women deputies to General Convention were seated in 1970 and girls began to serve as acolytes. The 1976 General Convention voted to permit the ordination of women as priests.

Meanwhile, throughout the 1980s and 90s, laity were appointed as Eucharistic Ministers, allowed to administer the chalice at the Eucharist and later to take the Eucharist to the sick and shut-ins. Children were allowed to receive the Eucharist as soon as they were baptized. Youth were appointed to vestries and given voice at diocesan conventions and at General Convention.

In 2003 the General Convention voted to confirm the election of an openly gay man by the Diocese of New Hampshire. It also engaged in a conversation about whether or how to bless the relationships between same sex couples.

Each of these changes was challenging to some members. Each time we changed the liturgy or the rules to include another group of people in a previously prohibited arena, we lost some members who could not reconcile that change with their theology. The latest focus on the inclusion of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered people grows out of this long history of the church seeking to apply the baptismal theology that says that in baptism we are all transformed by Christ, becoming equal children of God. It is part of the church's long engagement in the spiritual practice of seeking to be the Body of Christ – the place where all the baptized are equally welcome.

One of the most moving experiences at General Convention was when some deputies and bishops joined the largely Hispanic group of Disney workers protesting Disney's plan to eliminate health care benefits for many of them. The largest march in Anaheim's history put the church on the side of those who are poor, often oppressed and living at the margins. But what was remarkable was that when Bishop Robinson, the gay bishop who is the focus of much of our talk about homosexuality, was introduced – the Disney workers burst into applause. It turns out they knew who he was and what he stood for – and they identified with him. You can bet that Episcopal churches in Anaheim are having lots of new Hispanic seekers coming, along with many of our congregations who are finding people who otherwise would not trust coming to church or who are at the margins of society, coming to us. The good news is that those souls are hearing: ALL are welcome at God's table. And that is worth the cost of struggling through all of these sometimes awkward or difficult changes.

The Rev. Linda L. Grenz is president of Leader Resources and priest-in-charge at the Church of the Good Shepherd in Silver Spring, Md. A version of this article appears in the September issue of Washington Window.

Southerners and The Episcopal Church

By Sam Candler

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Marshall Scott

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Rev. Marshall Scott is a chaplain in the Saint Luke’s Health System, a ministry of the Diocese of West Missouri. A past president of the Assembly of Episcopal Healthcare Chaplains, and an associate of the Order of the Holy Cross, he keeps the blog Episcopal Chaplain at the Bedside.

Anaheim and the sweep of Church history

By Peter R. Carey

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Giles Goddard

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Seeing ourselves clearly is always a struggle

By Greg Jones

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ours will also end.

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

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

Amen.

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

General Convention: Embracing the status quo ante

By Greg Jones

With the passage of D025 and C056, many are wondering: What does it all mean?

In a nutshell, it seems to me that what D025 and C056 mean is that The Episcopal Church has told the truth about who and where it is on the controversial issue of fully including gay Christians living in nuptial unions into all orders within the priesthood of all believers. It also tells the truth about where the Episcopal Church is as regards our desire to remain in full communion with the other churches of the Anglican Communion.

The truth on both questions is this: we are not exactly sure yet.

We are not exactly sure what the future will bring for us on both things. We recognize that within our own body is a degree of opinion that varies from staunch support/opposition to staunch ambivalence. As such, D025 essentially upholds a degree of local option on the question of ordaining Christians in same-sex marriage-like unions. It does not in any way guarantee that all or any dioceses will be open to calling and ordaining such persons. (Yes, God calls through the Church.) It does say, however, that the discernment for such is entirely entrusted to dioceses provided they conform with those national canons which are pertinent. In other words, the resolution affirms the status quo ante (before 2006) of how discernment for clerical orders is done.

Does D025 have the effect of 'over-turning' B033? Hard to say in actual fact. B033 was not a 'rule' or a canon, it was a form of urging. Likewise, D025 is not a law either -- it simply reaffirms the sufficiency of the canons vis a vis discernment processes. When it comes right down to it, if a priest were elected to the episcopate whose 'manner of life' was likely to cause difficulty globally, D025 would not have any necessary effect on whether or not said person was consented to by the Standing Committees/House of Bishops and/or General Convention.

Does D025 have the effect of 'looking like' a repudiation of the so-called 'moratorium' sought by Windsor? Of course it does. And likely, in a way, so does C056, which has to do with marriage equality -- which similarly brings us back to a kind of status quo ante 2006. Again, it is a resolution which suggests that we support local pastoral options, and are continuing to examine what if any liturgical/canonical revisions would be made at the General Convention level down the road a stretch.

Both of these resolutions, however, will be perceived globally as some kind of repudiation of the Windor moratoria. The real question though is, "Does this matter?"

If D025 and C056 represent an effort for the Episcopal Church to tell the truth about where we are (as messy as that is) then truth-telling is called for as to the state of the Anglican Communion.

The fact is that those who most demanded the Windsor moratoria did not accept that we had abided by them -- and they have never made any sincere attempt even to look like they were abiding by the moratorium that applied to them. Indeed, when it comes to facts on the ground, the movement that has never done a single thing to abide by Windsor, has many more of them. If The Episcopal Church has one openly partnered gay bishop, and an ongoing practice of local option regarding blessing same-gender couples' unions, the GAFCON movement has created dozens of separatist/schismatic bishops, and have created a continent-sized new province which is actively soliciting recognition by the Church of England synod to be fully recognized as a province in full communion with the See of Canterbury.

Moreover, if we are telling the truth, whereas The Episcopal Church has essentially gone not forward but "back to where we once were" -- with D025/C056 largely looking like a return to the kinds of resolutions which passed in 1991-2000 General Conventions -- the GAFCON movement has gone way off into an anachronistic future whereby the faith is expressed according to the epistemological, theological, cosmological mindset of late 17th century Britain. Notably, we have seen the full-fledged launch of what will likely be an alternative Anglican communion devoid of those developments in Anglicanism which have arisen since the Oxford Movement.

To be sure, The Episcopal Church is not an exemplary model of the Gospel and the catholic church either. I still hold that we are now, perhaps more than ever, a church convinced of the priority of our autonomy - and I find that troubling at times.

Then again, on the other hand, I also recognize that while neither salvation nor discernment of God's will are individualistic endeavors -- there is a part of the process which requires the individual (person or church) to perceive God's vocation even against the opposition of other perso's who likewise are seeking to be faithful.

I do believe that the witness to Christ given by many gay Christians (in various orders of ministry) is a fact in our midst. Their witness to so many of us in the Episcopal Church is also available to many around the Anglican Communion -- and I do believe that people will increasingly come to see that they are proclaiming Christ -- born, crucified, risen and ascended. By being a place where such witness is fostered, the Episcopal Church is, I believe, doing the hard thing (in fact) by standing for a discernment of God's will which does not yet meet easy and widespread approval.

In this, of course, it will remain to be seen whether we are doing something prophetic, or not. If we have decided to stake our selves, our souls, and our bodies on this sense that God is indeed calling for a new thing, (thereby we are perceiving ourselves to have a prophetic vocation), then of course we must do what we believe God is calling us to do. We may of course know that it won't be well or widely received by all. We must of course know that there will come pain and reaction. We must know that -- unlike the people whom Jonah spoke to -- the whole place will not immediate change their ways. We must be willing to receive the reaction against what we perceive to be true -- and to do so graciously and humbly.

Indeed, if we are acting in any way prophetically by passing D025 and C056, we must be prepared to turn the other cheek when the slaps come, and continue to maintain the posture of faithful witnesses to Jesus Christ, Lord and Savior, who was born, died, rose, ascended and will come again as part of the fulfillment of God's plan before the worlds began, to make all things well.

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

Getting out of God's way

By Marshall Scott

The robins are eating my blueberries.

This is not a new problem. It was something of a surprise to me when my wife first pointed it out to me a number of years ago. In part I was surprised because the bushes had born for several years, and no robin had appeared. But I must admit I was more surprised because of all those coloring book images of happy robins tugging struggling worms out of the ground. I had seen them pick at worms. I had even seen them poking through the grass, picking up insects. I had no idea that robins ate berries, much less that they would eat mine.

In years past, I’ve been able to prevent most of their predation. I’ve taken time to build a frame – really, a cage – of concrete reinforcing bar and bird netting. I built it large enough that I could move under it to pick myself, and tight enough that birds couldn’t get in. On the rare occasion one did, it was generally sorry enough not to come back.

But this year the cage didn’t happen. This year the spring rains always seemed to fall on Saturday, or at least on every Saturday when I didn’t have another commitment. Too, my wife is lead gardener for the parish’s new vegetable garden, with the produce committed to another parish’s soup kitchen. So, there wasn’t as much time this year to get the cage built.

And another thing: this year the robins waited. They didn’t show up when the bushes bloomed. They didn’t even show up when the berries first became distinctive. No, they waited. They waited until the berries were full sized, and starting to take on some color. Even then they hung back. I took off the first cup of ripe (or at least ripe enough) berries. And suddenly the next day they were there.

And, to make matters worse there are more of them than ever before. In the past it’s been one, and occasionally two. These days it’s three and frequently four. If I’m outside at the right time, I can scare them off with the solid bang of a deadfall peach thrown at the fence behind them. But of course with more rain and less time I’m not out there enough; and like as not that one cup of blueberries will be all I harvest this year.

I find myself wondering if I didn’t teach them this persistence. Several years – probably several generations - of robins have grown up lusting after my berries. For most of those years they’ve been prevented, stymied by the barrier of net and steel. Did they wait to be sure what I would do? Did they wait, holding back so as to lull me into a sense of security; and then swarm in when, caught by time and hoping they really weren’t coming, I didn’t put my guard up? Indeed, did I teach them to want the berries all the more because they were for so long out of reach?

I have to wonder. That seems too much intelligence, too much planning, to attribute to a robin. On the other hand, there have been those remarkable reports about the ability of some parrots to synthesize spoken concepts. So, who knows? Maybe I did teach them or inspire in them the persistence to wait and seize that which had long been forbidden.

I have occasionally wondered if we needed to do the same thing with the faith. We worry about the next generation of Episcopalians. At our lowest we worry about whether there will be a next generation of Episcopalians. I sometimes wonder whether that would change if we made participation in the Church somehow forbidden.

What if, for example, we barred everyone under sixteen from worship? I don’t mean just making them wait for communion. I mean not allowing them in the door. Can you imagine the young teens trying to sneak into church, instead of sneaking out for an illicit drink? Can you imagine them trying to sneak into the side doors of the transepts instead of the side doors of movie theaters? Can you imagine them surreptitiously reading the Prayer Book under their covers instead of one or another sensational magazine? “Reverse psychology” is largely the stuff of cartoons and situation comedies; and yet there’s enough apparent truth in it that virtually every parent has tried it at least once. Think what might happen if we did that in the Church.

We could think of it like so many other things in life. We hold some things apart as “adult,” things which we forbid to “children,” even children of relatively advanced age. And after all, the one thing that every child wants is to be an adult. If we made Church “adults only,” wouldn’t they clamor to join in?

And, you know, there’s precedent, at least of a sort. In early Eucharists the Peace was the point at which those who weren’t going receive left. Those not yet baptized and those under discipline weren’t just prevented from receiving. They had to leave the building. I have to wonder whether some, at least, didn’t look for a window to at least peek in. Couldn’t that work now?

Well, maybe it could; but, not for us. Oh, it might well get and hold the attention of a number of folks; but I don’t think we could take that step. You see, it may be good marketing, but it’s bad theology.

It is bad theology first because we are called to be people of light, and not of darkness. Certainly, Christ is the Light of the World, but there’s a lot more to it than that. The Gospels call us to put our lamp on the stand, and not under the bed or a bushel. They tell us that what is hidden in darkness will be exposed in the light. They call us to walk in the light.

It’s bad, too, in that we have been shaped, perhaps more than we know, by the same desire as the author of Proverbs. Many times that author speaks of raising children. We know best, “Train children in the right way, and when old, they will not stray;” but we might also claim “And now, my child, listen to me, and do not depart from the words of my mouth.” And how shall the child listen to our words if we haven’t shared them?

And so we model ourselves on Peter when Christ called him to evangelize Cornelius. When he spoke to Cornelius, Peter said, “I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.” As he reported when he returned to Jerusalem, Peter understood God’s intent to be that Cornelius and “all [his] house will be saved.” In light of that mission, Peter asked, “Who was I that I could hinder God?”

This is, after all, the foundation on which we baptized infants. We want them to grow “in the right way,” a way that we publicly proclaim and in which we want them to participate. To that end we make explicit our expectations of parents that they will see “that the child you present is brought up in the Christian faith and life,” so that “this child [can] grow into the full stature of Christ.” To that end we all commit to support them; after all, we all say, “We will!” We seek to bring them into life in Christ, and not simply the club of Christ.

It is also the foundation on which many of us call for full inclusion and full participation of all the baptized in the life of the Church. Until we see the Kingdom, we will all still have room to grow in the knowledge and love of the Lord; and we pray often enough for our departed brothers and sisters that such growth can continue in the Kingdom as well. The Holy Spirit fell on everyone in Cornelius’ house who heard Peter. So it was that in the face of criticism from the circumcised believers, Peter said, “If then God gave them the same [Spirit] that he gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could hinder God?”

And so we could not in good faith keep the faith from our youngest, whether they are young in years or simply young in faith. Withholding might make for good marketing in its way. It might even teach some to long for something they cannot have. It just wouldn’t reflect God as he has revealed himself in Christ. It wouldn’t express our call that all participate fully in Christ’s Body, the Church. In short, it wouldn’t demonstrate the faith as we have received it.

This is not to say that we can’t help our newest and our youngest siblings to appreciate the wonder and the value of life in Christ, and so inspire them to live in the Body more fully. I think, though, that we will do that more faithfully and effectively by what we give than by what we withhold; by what we demonstrate than by what we hide. It has been said before, but can bear saying again: if we commend the faith that is in us, if we allow the love of God in Christ to shine through us, we won’t have to worry about the next generation of the Episcopal Church. Living in Christ to the best of our ability will so shape our community and our communion that we are able to welcome our newest and our youngest, and to offer them all the opportunity they can desire to grow in grace and to participate in the life of the Church. They will certainly desire, as we desire, to do more and to know more of life in Christ. It’s just that they will desire it, not because it’s been hidden, but because they will see, first in us and then in themselves, the wonder and the mystery of the love God has for us, and the possibilities to know more, to do more, and to be more.

The Rev. Marshall Scott is a chaplain in the Saint Luke’s Health System, a ministry of the Diocese of West Missouri. A past president of the Assembly of Episcopal Healthcare Chaplains, and an associate of the Order of the Holy Cross, he keeps the blog Episcopal Chaplain at the Bedside.

When tradition and modernity collide

By George Clifford

Raffaellino Del Garbo’s painting, "Resurrection of Christ,” hangs in the Academia Gallery in Florence, Italy. Painted about 1500-05, this piece depicts the risen Christ's empty tomb and beatific face, the soldiers’ faces and arms, Mary’s face and attire, and the surrounding scenery in early16th century Italian imagery foreign to first century Palestine.

On the one hand, the painting seems a giant non-sequitur. Jesus and Mary were both first century Palestinian Jews; the soldiers, perhaps ancestors of sixteenth century Italians, were certainly first century Roman legionnaires; the surrounding area and tomb were in the environs of Jerusalem, not Florence.

On the other hand, paintings that translate biblical scenes and events into the painter’s locale and historical period remain a popular genre because of our need to make the Bible and its stories contemporary. Mid-twentieth century American art portraying a black Jesus echoed this aim. Making the Bible contemporary is important because one function of much Christian art is to invite the viewer (or listener, reader, etc.) to enter into the biblical story, to there encounter God, and through a dialectical process to experience an inner transformation.

The controversy that swirled around portrayals of a black Jesus illustrates how the powerful – in this case Caucasians – can misuse Christianity, seeking to force the marginalized and disempowered to accept the image of Christ, along with its associated theology, sanctioned by the powerful. By controlling what constitutes acceptable art, the powerful attempt to protect their privileged status, ensuring that for whatever experience the art may be a catalyst, the experience will reinforce or at least not undermine the elite’s dominance. Thanks be to God, the Episcopal Church has largely progressed beyond the era in its history when it unofficially and yet powerfully promoted Caucasian dominance.

Like oil paints or watercolors, theological language and liturgical actions are artistic mediums. Christian religious discourse and worship sketch pictures, inviting hearers to enter into the biblical story, to there encounter God, and through a dialectical process to experience inner transformation. At its best, Christian worship, for example, is a drama that invites participants to enter into the Jesus story. Couching the drama in contemporary language, as preachers through the centuries have discovered, makes the story feel more relevant, more inviting to those present. Rafaellino Del Garbo understood this. The artists who portrayed Jesus as a black man understood this.

William Young understood this when he wrote his novel, The Shack, casting God as a black woman. While certainly not great literature and arguably reflecting poor theology, this bestseller did not unleash a torrent, or even trickle, of criticism for Young portraying God as either black or a woman. Admittedly, the pervasive masculine terms for God found in the Book of Common Prayer, much theological discourse, and too many sermons underscore the distance we have yet to travel before fully dethroning masculine dominance from Christianity.

The Episcopal Church sits at a crossroads. The Church, on several fronts, must choose between a static, centuries-old portrayal of Jesus and the Bible, a perspective increasingly remote from twenty-first century American life, and a dynamic portrayal of Jesus, retelling his story in images and language relevant and comprehensible to post-moderns. Cutting-edge challenges exist not only with respect to human sexuality but also at other points at which theology collides with advances in science.

Will the Episcopal Church succumb to fundamentalist pressures from within and without the Anglican Communion to become a Church that seeks creedal uniformity? The cost of choosing that direction is to concretize Jesus’ charisma, the vital Spirit of the living God. This displaces risky personal encounters that can lead to life-giving transformation with safe and standardized creedal orthodoxy. Such formulas are like good Christian art: appropriate to a particular moment in the spatio-temporal matrix and not eternally definitive.

Alternatively, will the Episcopal Church continue down the risky but exciting and dynamic path that is consistent with our time-honored Anglican tradition: praying together, living in unity in spite of theological and ethical diversity, preserving an openness through our linguistic and liturgical art to God's ongoing revelation? One cost of choosing this direction is that the Episcopal Church may not move, as it strives to be faithful to the mind of Christ, in concert with other members of the Anglican Communion. A potential cost of choosing this direction is that the Episcopal Church may misunderstand what God is saying and move in a wrong direction. True discipleship always entails that risk. Thanks be to God we serve a loving, forgiving God who is bigger than any possible mistake we might make.

Choose this day whom you will serve: the dead, institutionalized idol of time-bound religion or the living God that no earthly artistic image, regardless of the medium, can faithfully depict? That choice confronts the Episcopal Church at its 2009 General Convention in Anaheim. I pray that the Episcopal Church will wisely avoid unnecessary votes, harmful posturing, the temptation to reject the new in favor of the time-bound, and the temptation to reject fresh insights into the depth of God's all-embracing love for ephemeral firework

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

Change or wither

By Nigel J. Taber-Hamilton

We Christians face an uncertain future. Not just those of us who are Episcopalian – all Christians. All Christians and especially those of us who live in the North Atlantic Community, the old First and Second Worlds.

The evidence is overwhelming – dramatic shifts in human identity and understanding have been taking place for a very long time, and the pace of change has picked up very significantly in the last fifty years. A paradigm-shift is taking place and the Church is swept up in it. No one – no faith community – is immune. The truth is that the future will be very different than the present, and will require a dramatically different way of being “church” if we are to last more than a couple of decades into the 21st Century.

Throughout our culture old patterns of relationship, old iterations of institutional identity, old ways of believing are passing away.

They are not passing away easily. Retreats into absolutism, hierarchy, and paternalism abound, especially in Mainline faith traditions.

In many ways deep denial exists in all corners of faith communities. Denial no only among those who seek to retrench, who believe it is possible to turn back the tidal wave, but also among those who have some awareness that change is inevitable, but believe that, in the interests of community and unity, the change needs to be – can be – managed.

When tidal waves arrive it does not matter what groups and individuals believe – whether they are in denial, or are being co-dependent – they are all going to be washed away.

The Episcopal Church faces just such a time.

All Mainline denominations face this dramatically different future, of course. We share the path with other Mainline denominations, such as the Presbyterians and Methodists and the ELCA Lutherans, seeking to respond to these dramatic changes.

We flatter ourselves if we think the world is watching us while we decide how to embrace the inevitable future – and make no mistake, it is inevitable. On the whole, the world outside does not really care very much – most folk are struggling with their own issues and responses.

The world outside could care, of course. It could care if it sees a faith tradition not just struggling with these issues that are metaphors for the change but responding in healthy ways.

Whether we should be concerned about the response of contemporary society is an open question, but it is also moot. The changes will happen whether we like it or not.

Now, at General Convention, we face decisions about one such metaphor for change. What will we do?

As we decide we need to remember that the blessing of same-sex unions or the consecration of those persons who are in committed same-sex relationships is not the issue in front of us but simply a presenting event of the deeper struggle over the future – just as the ordination of women to priesthood and episcopate has been.

It is time to move on.

All change results in loss, and it is, perhaps anticipatory loss that most of all drives those who resist change. While it is important – vital – for all of us to offer compassionate responses to those experiencing profound loss it is not for us to be co-dependent.

We cannot make any decision based on what others might (probably will) do.

We cannot betray good and holy Christians because of what others claim about their identities – claims we know to be – at the least – questionable.

We cannot allow those who claim the exclusive right to interpret biblical truth to control how we understand biblical truth.

And we cannot allow those who claim some authority – even as a first among equals – to influence our decision-making solely through their role.

Were we to do any of these things – were we to continue down the same, appeasing path – we betray our own faith, we betray the way we have come to be faithful Episcopal Christians, we betray Jesus.

Nigel J. Taber-Hamilton is rector of St. Augustine's-in-the-woods Episcopal Church on Whidbey Island, Washingtonand a former alternate deputy to General Convention. Contact him at rector@whidbey.com.

Orthodoxy’s Inclusive Embrace

By Donald Schell

Irenaeus and standards of ‘orthodoxy’ have figured significantly in recent public discussion of the bishop elect of Northern Michigan, Kevin Thew Forrester. It now appears (unless some standing committees and perhaps some bishops reconsider their votes) that the public work of a faithful pastor will be used and quoted against him to prevent his consecration as bishop by the people of his diocese who chose him and bishops and clergy of our church who worked closely with them through an extended discernment process. In this process ‘orthodoxy’ has emerged as a line in the sand and Irenaeus has been invoked as a vigilant enforcer of it. I don’t recognize the spirit of Irenaeus in this effort.

Irenaeus comes into the discussion because Fr. Thew Forrester regularly quotes this important early theologian. I’ve enjoyed that in Thew Forrester’s work beginning with I Have Called you Friends: an Invitation to Ministry, which I first read eighteen months or so ago, before the election prompted this controversy. I recognized immediately that this book with its strong, vibrant picture of shared ministry and mission and its vision of our growing into maturity in Christ counted on sources like my old friend Irenaeus and as I read recalled with pleasure my first encounter with Irenaeus’ arguments for Christian orthodoxy against the ‘false Gnostics.’ Irenaeus appealed to the church’s public teaching and the lineage of teacher-bishops who carried that teaching back to Christ. Irenaeus claims apostolic succession in an unbroken lineage of public teaching, in other words, Irenaeus’ generous and inclusive definition of Christian orthodoxy rests on his appeal to the church’s public teaching.

Sometimes people take ‘orthodoxy’ to mean ‘holding the line.’ Irenaeus’ adversaries were teaching (to initiates) that there was a firm line and clear definition of what belonged to God and what did not. Responding to that impulse, Irenaeus boldly claimed that everything that had breath lived by the Spirit of God. For Irenaeus the theological line was incarnational, defending his broadly inclusive understanding of reconciliation (or atonement) through recapitulation - ‘what he [Christ] did not assume, he did not save.’ From Irenaeus it’s a short step to Gregory Nazianzen, ‘He became what we are that we might become what he is.’ Like the major theologians of the several centuries that followed him, Irenaeus was working to keep Christian faith grounded in human experience and open to God’s embrace of all people.

Following St. Paul, and echoing the Gospel of John (in a passage Desmond Tutu quotes enthusiastically) Irenaeus readily insisted that Christ lifted up on the cross drew all people to himself as he had taken all of human life to himself, moment by moment throughout Jesus’ life among us. Irenaeus takes on elitism, secret knowledge. The orthodoxy Irenaeus defends so fiercely proclaims God’s longing to embrace us all. Orthodoxy, in Irenaeus use, holds an opening for universal salvation, union, and knowledge of God. It is quite explicitly a celebration of the Divine Embrace of all of human existence and all of life. The rarefied ‘knowledge’ of the false Gnostics privileged the immutable perfection of God and the limited means of regaining access to knowledge or vision of God. Heresy in Irenaeus’ thinking was this teaching of a partial, exclusivist salvation – only the noetic/spiritual part of who we are and that only for a few, highly select people.

Irenaeus’ theology makes the Spirit very active wherever there is life. John’s Gospel warns us the Spirit, blowing where it will, may take us to some unexpected places. The argument against accepting Northern Michigan’s election has drawn on passages from Kevin Thew Forrester’s sermons. I’ve disagreed with some of the diagnosis and interpretation of possible theological problems critics have found in statements Thew Forrester has made, but more to the point, as a preacher, I believe that we keep an ear open to those outside of church, listen to their longing and questions, weigh the best in our common culture and discourse, and take some risks formulating Good News of God’s work among us. Even Episcopalians who attend church most frequently spend most of their time living outside church working with people who think out-of-church thoughts. Good preachers, faithful preachers DO make mistakes. Lively engaged preachers must make mistakes sometimes. The theological risks we take in public become part of the church’s great conversation. The discovery (or blunder) any one of us happens on (or into) preaching has far more power as it is appropriated, corrected, reshaped, and blessed (or rejected) by the community to which we’re preaching. Our faithful task is to tell the great story of God’s love for us in Jesus and include and bless as much of our people’s experience in it as we can.

From Irenaeus on through the first seven ecumenical councils, the steady impetus of the original definition of orthodoxy was to celebrate how completely and how intimately God has joined God’s self to us, our humanity, and our world and how our genuine knowledge of God is experience of being drawn into God in Christ. Not just in Irenaeus, but throughout the great Christological controversies of the first eight centuries, orthodoxy consistently rejected enlightened, high-minded efforts to narrow, refine, protect, and make wholly consistent the church’s faith and practice. Sometimes (as in the third council designating Mary as Theotokos, bearer or birth-giver of God) they dignified unauthorized local liturgical innovations by allowing the new words to carry the doctrinal weight of demonstrating how completely God had taken on our life and experience.

I DO want to be held accountable for my preaching by Irenaeus’ underlying standard of orthodoxy, one I strive to live into. I ask myself: Am I as a preacher consistently looking for the words, stories, and interpretation of Biblical and other inspired texts that make God’s action among us clearer and more evident to even the most ordinary listener? Am I committed enough to being a guide and catalyst in that search to risk making some serious mistakes? Do I (and the congregation over time) have an unfolding discovery that in our preaching conversation (including its missteps and blunders) ‘we have the mind of Christ’? I’m grateful for the dead-ends that I’ve explored as a preacher, and even for the blunders I’ve made. I’m profoundly grateful that it’s been a real conversation challenged by the real experience and faith of people I’ve had the privilege of preaching with. I’m glad that after thirty-seven years, I can tell a congregation that I and we are still learning, still trying to find words that are sharp enough or evocative enough to point compellingly toward the mystery of perfect Love. I’ve argued elsewhere that such risk-taking is exactly the orthodoxy that the church of the first eight centuries was struggling to protect.

Watching our church, hearing bishops and standing committees across the whole Episcopal Church report that they’ve been poring over the preaching of a missionary theologian, checking the ‘orthodoxy’ of every word and phrase, because this pastor is now bishop-elect of Northern Michigan troubles me. My experience of thirty-seven years of priesthood is that our Episcopal churches preachers have gotten steadily better. We’re trying to preach honestly, to speak to human experience, to read Scripture with love and passion, and to take risks. Why would we subject any preacher who is actively engaged in pastoral and missionary theology to a line by line scrutiny of sermons-once-preached to see if phrases drawn from ancient Christian and contemporary cultural sources might be taken to imply something that deviates from a central ‘core of orthodoxy.’ Irenaeus’ insistent definition of the central core of orthodoxy would have us bend the opposite direction. Christ has taken all things on or into himself.

Are we giving orthodoxy a bad name? Or is it that others - our own schismatics and some Anglicans in the Global South - have already made orthodoxy problematic for us, except that now we know no way to reclaim the word but on their terms? Irenaeus’ orthodoxy isn’t a tight, closed fellowship, but a broad, moving river. He boldly innovates and embellishes to make clear his conviction that the God and father of our Lord Jesus Christ is, in Christ, embracing the whole world, that every moment and aspect of Jesus’ living and dying is saturated with God’s presence and has its own power to unite us to God, and that the earth is filled with the knowledge of God as the waters cover the sea.

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

Who gets fed

We are now observing summer hours on Daily Episcopalian. Rather than six essays per week, we will be running five, with fresh essays appearing Sunday and then Tuesday through Friday.

By Peter M. Carey

At my family’s cottage on Cape Cod, there is a bird feeder place in the middle of the front yard. It has been there for 20 years or so, made of brown metal, on a black pole. It has a kind of a perch for the birds to sit on which “shuts off” the access to bird seed if an animal larger than the average bird tries to get the food. It is designed so that squirrels and blackbirds will not be able to get to the food. Over the years, this bird feeder has been given new life through a black bungee cord which helps to keep it attached to the pole, and also through several stakes pounded into the ground and fastened to the pole, so that it continues to stand more or less upright.

Recently, I was sitting and watching the bird feeder out of the corner of my eye during a Sunday morning rain shower. The birds came steadily to feed. Sorry to say I am no accomplished birder, but I recognized red-winged blackbirds, cardinals, blue jays, robins, an agile blackbird or two, as well as countless little birds beyond my ability to identify. What was also remarkable were two chipmunks who found a way to climb up the pole, onto the perch, and who filled their cheeks with food and then scurried down and into the woods. The chipmunks took turns, it seemed, to grab the food and then sock it away. At times, the chipmunks shared the perch with a bird or two, and at times the chipmunks startled the birds, and at times a bird startled the chipmunks. But, on that Sunday morning, there was plenty of food to go around. I even saw a courageous and agile squirrel hold onto the top of the feeder and stretch down to eat bird food for several seconds before sliding off the feeder. Luckily for the squirrel, the birds are somewhat messy eaters, and there is plenty of birdseed scattered on the ground.

While not the perfect metaphor or parable, what captured my attention about this old bird feeder is that it gave me a moment to wonder about the internal squabbles of our beloved Episcopal Church. It seems to me that much energy is being spent about who is welcome and who is not (ironic, of course, when you consider our Episcopal Church motto: “the Episcopal Church welcomes you”). I do wonder if we need greater attention to and reflection upon the sacrament of the Eucharist.

On rainy Sunday mornings (and every day), we are fed with the overflowing gifts from God, and we are all welcome and invited to the table. There is plenty of God’s grace to go around, if only we noticed it, if only we refocused our emphasis. I don’t mean to argue for some Pollyanna solution for our very real conflicts; that we only need to say “hey let’s get along.” For I know all to well the hurt, frustration, and anger that has welled up for so many people in the midst of our squabbles. However, I do feel that while we work through present disagreements and infighting we would do well to reconsider the importance of our mutual bonds to one another, at the foot of the Cross and around the Eucharistic Table. There is plenty of food to go around.

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

"Wait" has almost always meant "Never."

On April 16, 1963, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., wrote letter from a Birmingham jail cell to a number of clergy men, including the Episcopal Bishop of Alabama, who though that he and his supporters were asking for too much, too soon. As the Episcopal Church looks forward to its General Convention next month, it seems an appropriate time to contemplate the ways in which King's famous letter may be applicable to us and to our Church.

An excerpt from "Letter from a Birmingham Jail"

I must make two honest confessions to you, my Christian and Jewish brothers. First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro's great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen's Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to "order" than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: "I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action"; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man's freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a "more convenient season." Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.

I had hoped that the white moderate would understand that law and order exist for the purpose of establishing justice and that when they fail in this purpose they become the dangerously structured dams that block the flow of social progress. I had hoped that the white moderate would understand that the present tension in the South is a necessary phase of the transition from an obnoxious negative peace, in which the Negro passively accepted his unjust plight, to a substantive and positive peace, in which all men will respect the dignity and worth of human personality. Actually, we who engage in nonviolent direct action are not the creators of tension. We merely bring to the surface the hidden tension that is already alive. We bring it out in the open, where it can be seen and dealt with. Like a boil that can never be cured so long as it is covered up but must be opened with all its ugliness to the natural medicines of air and light, injustice must be exposed, with all the tension its exposure creates, to the light of human conscience and the air of national opinion before it can be cured.

In your statement you assert that our actions, even though peaceful, must be condemned because they precipitate violence. But is this a logical assertion? Isn't this like condemning a robbed man because his possession of money precipitated the evil act of robbery? Isn't this like condemning Socrates because his unswerving commitment to truth and his philosophical inquiries precipitated the act by the misguided populace in which they made him drink hemlock? Isn't this like condemning Jesus because his unique God consciousness and never ceasing devotion to God's will precipitated the evil act of crucifixion? We must come to see that, as the federal courts have consistently affirmed, it is wrong to urge an individual to cease his efforts to gain his basic constitutional rights because the quest may precipitate violence. Society must protect the robbed and punish the robber. I had also hoped that the white moderate would reject the myth concerning time in relation to the struggle for freedom. I have just received a letter from a white brother in Texas. He writes: "All Christians know that the colored people will receive equal rights eventually, but it is possible that you are in too great a religious hurry. It has taken Christianity almost two thousand years to accomplish what it has. The teachings of Christ take time to come to earth." Such an attitude stems from a tragic misconception of time, from the strangely irrational notion that there is something in the very flow of time that will inevitably cure all ills. Actually, time itself is neutral; it can be used either destructively or constructively. More and more I feel that the people of ill will have used time much more effectively than have the people of good will. We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people. Human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability; it comes through the tireless efforts of men willing to be co workers with God, and without this hard work, time itself becomes an ally of the forces of social stagnation. We must use time creatively, in the knowledge that the time is always ripe to do right. Now is the time to make real the promise of democracy and transform our pending national elegy into a creative psalm of brotherhood. Now is the time to lift our national policy from the quicksand of racial injustice to the solid rock of human dignity.

Uncivil tongues

By Lauren R. Stanley

What does it say about the state of dialogue in the Episcopal Church when it takes the president of the United States to remind us how to engage in civil discourse?

President Obama, speaking at the University of Notre Dame, asked, “As citizens of a vibrant and varied democracy, how do we engage in vigorous debate? How does each of us remain firm in our principles, and fight for what we consider right, without demonizing those with just as strongly held convictions on the other side?”

The president spoke about the failure of both sides in the debate over abortion to use “fair-minded words,” and said that he had learned through his own hard experience to “extend the same presumption of good faith to others” that had been extended to him. “Because when we do that,” he said, “that’s when we discover at least the possibility of common ground.”

We in the Episcopal Church, and indeed throughout the Anglican Communion, need to take the president’s words to heart. For in our disagreements – about the proposed Anglican Covenant, about sexuality, about diocesan border crossings, about interpretation of the Scriptures – we have lost the ability to be civil toward each other, or, to put it in theological terms, to give grace just as much as we demand it. We far too often forget – or decide not to – extend the presumption of good faith to others.

And in doing so, we lost the possibility of common ground.

Any scientist, any social scientist, any doctor will admit readily that there are more questions than answers in the universe. We understand so little about the human body, the universe, diseases; we are baffled by economics; we cannot explain the workings of the mind fully. We admit that we do not know so very much, and we pursue greater understanding every single minute of every single day.

In theology, we boldly proclaim the same thing: God, Anselm of Bec taught us, is that which nothing greater can be conceived. The Apostle Paul proclaimed that now we see only dimly. Jesus said we cannot know the mind of God. We know that God is unknowable to us in all of God’s godliness, because God is so much bigger than we are. This is core to our beliefs about God, because to know God fully in this life is to reduce God to our size, which theologically is illogical.

Then one side or the other in a debate turns right around and proclaims to know the mind of Christ. In our eagerness to be more right than someone else, we proclaim that we know – that we KNOW – what God wants of us, what God thinks of us, what God demands of us. And no matter what we are debating, we throw around our beliefs as though they were written in stone, and in doing so demonize those who disagree with us, claiming that they are, quite simply, WRONG!

In listening to various debates on various subjects over the last 17 years, ever since I became an Episcopalian, I have been appalled at the abject level to which much discourse descends on a regular basis. The name-calling, the demonization, the decided lack of grace toward anyone who disagrees … it is shameful, really, how low we will go in order to try to “win.”

On the worst days of our debates, when we truly are demonizing each other, I wait, trembling in fear rather like Job, for God’s thundering response to our arrogance in proclaiming that we have all the answers. I hear God’s voice raging from the whirlwind:

“Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding. Who determined its measurements – surely you know! Or who stretched the line upon it? On what were its bases sunk, or who laid its cornerstone, when the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy? Or who shut in the sea with doors, when it burst forth from the womb; when I made clouds its garment, and thick darkness its waddling band, and prescribed bounds for it, and set bars and doors, and said, ‘Thus far shall you come, and no farther, and here shall your proud waves be stayed?’ Have you commanded the morning since your days began, and caused the dawn to know its place, that it might take hold of the skirts of the earth, and the wicked be shaken out of it?”

The Lord God thundered on and on at poor Job and his companions, reminding them repeatedly that it was God, not them, who made the universe and everything in it.

“Shall a faultfinder contend with the Almighty?” God asked. “He who argues with God, let him answer it.”

God alone has all the answers. We, on the other hand, are mere creatures of God, unable to understand all that God plans or all that God wants of us.

And it is clear to me that God, who does have all the answers, is not pleased when we demonize each other. We are all created in the image of God; there are no “us's” and “thems” in God’s very good creation. All of us are God’s beloved children. The only way for us to live into the love in which and for which God created us is to literally do what Jesus commanded us to do, as he stood on the edge of eternity, at the omega of his earthly life so that we could enter the alphas of our eternal lives: Love one another as he loved us. We do not love one another when we denigrate each other simply because we disagree on topics for which we truly do not know the ultimate answers.

As we go into General Convention in July, perhaps it would behoove us to be a tad more humble, a tad more willing to admit that we do not have all the answers, a tad more generous toward those who disagree with us. If we were to give more grace, and be much less boastful of our so-called knowledge of God, particularly on the points where we are most certain (and least knowledgeable), we might find more of the common ground of which President Obama spoke the other day.

Admitting that God alone has all the answers, and that we are but mere creatures stumbling about in the dark, would be a good first step toward a more gracious, a more grace-filled, discussion.

The Rev. Lauren R. Stanley is an Appointed Missionary of the Episcopal Church from the Diocese of Virginia. She is a temporarily serving in the United States.

What will be lost

By Marshall Scott

"Are you sure you know what you're doing?"

It's a common enough question in our experience, isn't it? It comes up in a lot of situations. In a movie, it usually comes up in the last half hour or so, setting up the improbably difficult and brave resolution. In real life, I suppose it comes up as frequently as not around weddings. Sooner or later someone will ask bride and/or groom, “Are you sure you know what you’re doing?”

And of course we don't, or at least not entirely. I say that as one who has married, divorced, and married again. I grant you that I was less confused when I married again – now almost twenty one years ago, thank you! – but I can't say that even then I knew what I was doing. I simply knew better how to choose, and how to live well the promises that I made.

“Are you sure you know what you're doing?”

I have that question these days about the changes in the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion. Now, anyone who's read my work here and elsewhere will know I support the direction the Episcopal Church has chosen. That doesn't mean I have no qualms.

And my greatest qualm is that we have already lost forever the Anglican Communion that I knew, and that the Episcopal Church will soon follow. I don’t mean that the Church has departed from the Christian faith or the Anglican tradition. I don’t believe either of those assertions. It is, rather, that the shape and manner of the Communion has changed, and of the Episcopal Church will change.

For most of my career in the Episcopal Church we have been conscious of – even proud of - our vagueness. That’s not to say that it hasn't driven every one of us crazy at some point; but we cherished it nonetheless. It allowed us to always pray together, usually worship together, and sometimes work together despite our strongly-held differences. The old epigram associated "Broad-" churchmanship and "haziness;" but the truth was that we all took part in some haziness as a central strategy of living together in the Episcopal Church.

We’ve even managed to justify it as good theology. We would note that the problem with transubstantiation was not that God couldn’t do it that way, but that the Church couldn’t say that it was the only way God could have changed bread and wine into body and blood. Instead, we clung to the very lack of definition that is consubstantiation: "in, with, and under," but only God knew how.

With a nod to our Orthodox Christian siblings, we spoke of appreciating mystery, of believing in what God was doing without wanting to constrain our understanding of how God might do it – whatever it might be. As a result, we preferred not to define anything too specifically. In many ways, that worked for us marvelously well. How else could we have held Hooker and Laud, Jewell and Wesley, Cranmer and Keble and Maurice all somehow within the Anglican tradition?

Sadly, now we are being driven to specificity. We are being driven to it by those who don't want to associate with us, and who are at great pains to explain just why they don't want to associate. We are being driven, too, by those who want to associate, but want to be crystal clear about the terms of association. Look where we are now.

* We have seen the third draft of an Anglican Covenant. Members of the Drafting Committee have spoken of an intent to be inclusive, and the mechanisms of exclusion so prominent in earlier drafts have been muted. What hasn't changed, however, is the idea that there must be some clear and delimited description of common content to hold us together.

* Having largely despaired of an Anglican Covenant that would exclude what they see as the excesses of the Episcopal Church, the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans has essentially written their own; for what is the Jerusalem Declaration if not a confession in the ecclesiological sense, a core around which they might covenant?

* We wait on the meeting of the Anglican Consultative Council, to see how that gathering will react to the Covenant draft and the Windsor Continuation report, as well as to dissension within and without.

* The General Convention of the Episcopal Church will meet this summer, and it remains to be seen what we will say there, and how our statements will be received among Anglicans outside the Episcopal Church. There are many Deputies (I cannot say whether it is “most”) who are ready for the Episcopal Church to state clearly what it will do regarding the hot-button issues, and no longer wait to see who else in the Communion is prepared to listen and to talk.

And all of these raise in me a certain sense of - well, not dread so much as sorrow. Some have found us in the Episcopal Church (some both within and without) not sufficiently clear, and they have made themselves clear. In reaction we will make ourselves clear – it is human nature and, for many, virtual institutional necessity – but, as is always the case, in specifying some things in we will be specifying some things out. If we don't do it in the explication itself, it will come over the ensuing years of interpretation. It will change the manner, and perhaps the nature, of the Episcopal Church.

That’s not to say that we're doing the wrong thing, or that the Holy Spirit isn't in it. That may well be one of those strange ways in which God works. We have our New Testament in reaction to Marcion’s rejection of the Old Testament in service to a Gnostic dualism in Christian vestments. Our own Anglican tradition is grounded in important efforts to explain who we are not and why: Hooker’s discourse on why we’re not Puritans, and Jewel’s on why we’re not Roman. The Council of Trent happened in reaction to all that Reformation fervor; and if we're not convinced just how much the Holy Spirit was in that Council, our Roman siblings certainly are.

Nor is it wrong to do something when you can't know exactly what you’re doing. I entered marriage – both times – in good faith, with determination to do what I could to make it work. The fact that in my first marriage things didn’t work as I had hoped isn't to say there is something wrong with marriage itself, or that God couldn't have been working in it. I continue to be convinced that God was then, even as I am convinced that God is working in my marriage now.

As we understand things, only God knows the future. We are always stepping forward in faith. Tomorrow may bring the proverbial bus, or the apocalyptic meteor, or the Kingdom of God. All I can do today is my best to follow where God calls me.

But until the Kingdom comes, those results will always be mixed, with losses as well as gains. In our times now we in the Episcopal Church are indeed seeking to follow where God calls us. Unfortunately, in our times now voices around us and within us push us out of our hazy breadth toward specificity; and coming from hazy breadth to specificity will change us. However righteous most of us may find the result, there will be those who embrace it and those who want no part of it; those who claim victory and those who feel lost.

That’s why I feel that, in a way, we might lose ourselves, even as we win the battle. In resisting becoming the Church that some want us to be, we will not simply stay the Church we are. We may well become more the Church that we want, but we will not stay the Church we are. We will have more clarity on a host of details, from how we understand how property is held in trust for the whole Church to what we mean by the phrase "abandonment of communion;" but we will discover ourselves a different church in the process.

And that's not wrong, either; for it has to as true for the Church as it is for her members that salvation comes in losing our lives for the sake of the Gospel. That doesn’t mean we won’t have some sorrow at that loss. I expect that soon we will determine that we can no longer, as the Episcopal Church, remain “broad and hazy.” It may well be a step toward the Kingdom. It will come, I pray, in our response to the leading of the Spirit. Still, to tell you the truth, I will miss it.

The Rev. Marshall Scott is a chaplain in the Saint Luke’s Health System, a ministry of the Diocese of West Missouri. A past president of the Assembly of Episcopal Healthcare Chaplains, and an associate of the Order of the Holy Cross, he keeps the blog Episcopal Chaplain at the Bedside.

Power trip

By Lauren R. Stanley

A group of 15 Episcopal bishops issued a statement last week that is without a doubt mind-boggling. It simply does not make sense.

These Communion Partner bishops, along with three Episcopal clergy who are members of the conservative Anglican Communion Institute, claim that there is, in reality, no Episcopal Church as it has existed since 1785. They claim that the Episcopal Church is nothing but a “voluntary association of equal dioceses.” They claim that dioceses are independent, and that bishops hold all of the power. They claim that the Presiding Bishop, the Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori, is not a metropolitan and has no authority.

In essence, what they are saying is that they do not belong to the greater community but rather are entities unto themselves, with all authority given to them.

Nothing binds us together, they claim, other than a mere desire to be bound together. No canons, no constitution, in essence, no Book of Common Prayer – nothing. In citing the history of the founding of the Episcopal Church at the end of the American Revolution, they somehow manage to twist that history to show that dioceses pre-existed the national church, and as such, somehow have no need of the national church. Dioceses, they say, “are both historically and ontologically prior to the Constitution and the General Convention.” But considering that only one of the 15 signatory bishops comes from an original diocese of the Episcopal Church (there were nine of them), it’s hard to figure out what these bishops mean. With the exception of South Carolina, all of the other dioceses came into being well after the Episcopal Church was founded, and all were founded at the direction of the Episcopal Church. So when they argue that the Episcopal Church doesn’t matter because dioceses predate it, even when most diocese do not in fact go back that far, they are doing nothing but going in circles.

Their arguments make about as much sense as the Commonwealth of Virginia saying it doesn’t really belong to the United States and thus can do whatsoever it pleases, regardless of what Congress, the administration and the Supreme Court says.

But that’s not all that boggles my mind over this statement.

What I also don’t get is that these same bishops are setting themselves up for a long, hard fall. Because if these dioceses and bishops can do whatever they want, then so can the rest of us. If this argument truly is what it seems to be – a justification for allowing individual bishops and dioceses to sign onto the yet-to-be-fully-known Anglican Covenant, regardless of what the Episcopal Church decides – then it means that those who do not want the Covenant (because we view it as non-Anglican, as still too confining, as still much too concerned with punishment and lacking in grace, as still ignoring the history of the Anglican Communion and its commitment to preaching to Gospel everywhere while at the same time honoring the exigencies of time and place), then we can reject it. Because according to the bishops’ arguments, everyone gets to do whatever they want. And no one can stop anyone else – because we are not one body, not one Church. We’re just a bunch of individual dioceses lacking any cohesion.

That’s why the arguments put forth by these bishops simply make no sense. They claim they want to remain in The Episcopal Church, which is good. But they also claim that contrary to history, contrary to their vows, contrary to the canons and constitutions, all is not as it seems, and they can change both history and the facts to fit their own desires.

What is it that they really want? I don't know. I can't tell, even after reading their statement numerous times. They quote extensively from the canons of both the Roman Catholic and Serbian Orthodox churches, and cite the governing documents of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the Presbyterian Church and the United Methodist Church, ignoring the fact that we are none of those. Each of those denominations has its own polity, which is different from ours. Their argument compares apples to oranges and says, “See?”

The statement also claims that the diocese is the “fundamental unit of The Episcopal Church,” and as such, individual dioceses can make individual decisions, regardless of what a national or provincial church decides. It seems as though, in order to get what they want, these bishops are willing to let the Episcopal Church descend into chaos.

And then, finally, there is the most telling sentence of all, the last one of the document: “We intend to exercise our episcopal authority to remain constituent members of the Anglican Communion and will continue to speak out on these issues as necessary.”

This statement isn’t about seeking a way out of a crisis, as it claims. It is, clearly, a power grab meant to ensure that these bishops not only can have their cake and eat it too, they can have and eat our cake as well.

I may not understand what these bishops are doing. But I do know this: Simply claiming that up is down and down is up doesn’t make either true. Likewise, simply claiming that dioceses are independent and not subordinate to the Episcopal Church doesn’t make either of those statements true either.

The Rev. Lauren R. Stanley is an Appointed Missionary of the Episcopal Church from the Diocese of Virginia. She is a temporarily serving in the United States.

0.7: Put it back

By Lauren R. Stanley

Last January, the Executive Council made a very difficult decision: Cutting out the money the Episcopal Church pledged toward the Millennium Development Goals. That 0.7 percent line item totaled $924,000 in the last triennial budget.

Now, considering that since the last General Convention, much was made of the Episcopal Church’s working hard to make the MDGs become a reality around the world, cutting that money from the proposed budget, which is but a draft being forwarded to General Convention 2009, seems quite harsh, not to mention contradictory to our very ethos.

But with the economic times being what they are, with money seemingly disappearing overnight, with the endowment and pledges falling, what else can be done?

To be fair to the Executive Council, this decision was not made lightly, and it was not the only portion of the proposed budget to take a hit.

But just because we don’t have the revenues right now does not mean that we can’t have them. It simply means we haven’t tried hard enough, or been creative enough, in our teaching of stewardship, in our presentation of the Gospel, in our fund-raising not for ourselves but for God and God’s beloved children.

So here’s an idea that if we were bold enough to try, just might help: Pennies from Heaven. (No eye-rolling, no sniggering, please. Pennies may not have much value on their own, but if you put enough of them together, you get a lot, and I mean a lot of money. So control your laughter and pay attention, please, because this could work, if we all bought into it.)

Here are the numbers: We have approximately 2 million members in the Episcopal Church. If we were to set up a program and ask each person to set aside a mere 25 cents per day – just one quarter, less than the cost of a newspaper, less than the cost of just about anything except a gumball these days – the Church would gain an additional $182.5 million – per year! That’s more than three times the proposed budget for 2010 (which is $53.1 million). And what would it cost each person? $91.25 per year. We’re not talking major money here … we’re literally talking pennies per person.

OK, so maybe getting all 2 million members to participate is going to be tough. So let’s say that only half of our members participate. That would still be $91.25 million.

Still too optimistic? Well, what if only one quarter of our members participated? Net gain: $46.6 million.

Maybe this is all pie-in-the-sky. So let’s drop the numbers even more. Let’s ask each person to give 1 cent – one penny – per day. How do the numbers work out then?

Two million members each participate, each giving a paltry $3.65 per year. That still nets the Church $7.3 million. One million participants: $3.65 million. Half a million participants? $1.825 million.

Which is nearly double what was cut from the Church’s budget for the MDGs.

In other words, asking each of us to give mere pennies per day would more than make up the cuts made to fulfill the MDGs.

(If the numbers sound staggering, and you’re wondering why the MDGs have to get all the money from a program like this, my answer is simple: The MDGs don’t. Raise a $182.5 million and you get to split it up: Fifty percent to the parish, 25 percent to the diocese, 25 percent to the world through the MDGs. It doesn’t matter; it would still be a bounty worthy of the Lord.)

Is it a crazy idea, asking each member to make a commitment of this kind, too pie-in-the-sky? Perhaps. But how else is the Church going to fulfill the Gospel imperatives that are so eloquently expressed in those goals?

Yes, the Church has a lot of work to do. We haven’t sold the idea of the MDGs as well as we should have or could have. (The April 12 Living Church reported that in response to a survey on its news service website, an astonishing 67 percent of participants said the MDGs are “not on their parish’s radar.”) And we certainly haven’t sold the idea of giving to the Church very well, either. After all, how many of us – lay and clergy – actually tithe from our total income?

But just because we haven’t sold stewardship as well as we should have doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try. Because this is a program that could work, if we were serious about it. If we asked each member to contribute pennies per day – not to write one extra check per year, but to intentionally put their pennies in their piggy banks or used water bottles or cardboard boxes or whatever they want to use, so that each and every day, each and every one of us stops to think and pray about those in need – this program would be successful beyond our wildest dreams.

In the last six months, I’ve heard from dozens of friends, lay and clergy, about how their parishes had to cut budgets, how stewardship campaigns are so very hard because the economy is in a freefall, how difficult it is to stand up in front of a congregation and announce that the budget is $40,000 or $50,000 or $60,000 short. I’ve heard anger, I’ve heard regret, I’ve heard fear. And I know that if I were sitting in the pew and my leaders told me we needed another $40,000 (or whatever the sum would be), I’d panic. Because I don’t have that kind of money. And I’d feel regret, and I’d worry. But if those same leaders stood before me and told me, “OK, here’s what we’re short, and here’s how it breaks down: We need another 25 cents per day from you,” I’d say, “OK, that I can do.”

Even more, by asking each of us to give this small amount, so that it takes all of us to accomplish the goal, each of us knows that we are members of a community, that we don't have to solve the problem all on our own. We have a whole capital-C Church to help us do this. It’s not just about putting a roof over our heads or making sure we fix the church basement leak; this is about doing God’s work and caring for God’s people wherever they are.

Our problem is not that we are in a serious economic recession. Our problem is that we simply don’t solve problems the right way. We look at the biggest picture possible and overwhelm our people and ourselves, and then … well, then we fall short of our goals and things like support for the MDGs gets cut from a shrinking budget.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. We can do so much better, if we simply stop overwhelming ourselves with the seemingly impossible and remember that all things are possible with God.

It’s not as though we have a choice, to be honest. From the very beginning of time, God has instructed us to care for those in need. Terence E. Fretheim, professor of Old Testament at Luther Seminary, speaks eloquently of these imperatives in his book The Pentateuch. He writes that Deuteronomy especially understands that human life is at odds with God’s intentions for creation, and that the law is the “divine ordering at the cosmic level” for what happens in the social sphere. Thus, he says, Deuteronomy “focuses on the stability of the community and its flourishing” and cites the “recurring refrain: the widow, the orphan, and the resident alien.”

“Caring for the disadvantaged,” Fretheim writes, “is more a theological matter for Israel than a sociological or political one; these commands come from God above, not from the government, and the integrity of God’s creation is at stake in the way in which these people are cared for.” And then he quotes from Deuteronomy 15: “Do not be hard-hearted or tight-fisted toward your needy neighbor. You should rather open your hand … Give liberally and be ungrudging when you do so, for on this account the Lord your God will bless you in all your work and in all that you undertake. Since there will never cease to be some in need on the earth, I therefore command you, ‘Open your hand to the poor and needy neighbor ...’”

Opening our hands to our poor and needy neighbors: that’s the goal of the MDGs. That’s what the Church formally committed to at last General Convention: Working with the United Nations and the rest of the world to end extreme poverty and hunger; achieve universal education; promote gender equality and empower women; reduce child mortality; improve maternal health; combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases; ensure environmental stability; and develop global partnerships for development.

Those are the things we’re giving up, simply because of financial constraints. But when Jesus commanded us to care for the least of our brothers and sister, he didn’t add the codicil “but only if you can afford it.” He simply told us to do it. So we really don’t have the right to get excited about doing God’s work in one triennium and then walk away from that work the next triennium simply because we think we don’t have the money.

We do have the money … one quarter, or even just one penny, at a time. Together, in community, we can do all the things that God has commanded us to do.

The Rev. Lauren R. Stanley is an Appointed Missionary of the Episcopal Church from the Diocese of Virginia, temporarily serving in the United States.

A comprehensive solution

By Sam Candler

In times of controversy in the Episcopal Church, and even in times of relative calm, someone inevitably makes the accusation or the slight joke that Henry VIII (and his search for a suitable wife) started the Episcopal Church. Thus, I require all my confirmation classes and any audience who hears my presentations on the history and theology of Anglican Christianity to repeat the same line: Henry VIII did not start the Anglican Church (or the Episcopal Church.)

You pass the class if you can say that simple sentence. You pass with honors if you can state who actually did found the Episcopal Church: Jesus Christ founded the Episcopal Church. The Episcopal Church, developed from the Church of England, and an integral member of the Anglican Communion of Churches, is part of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church of Jesus Christ.

That church, started by Jesus Christ, has included inevitable conflict. Even the beautiful first century Christian community involved conflict, which we can read about clearly in The Book of Acts (see Acts 15:2). One of the great apostles, St. Peter, was opposed to his face by the other great missionary apostle, St. Paul (see Galatians 2:11). From then on, every Christian community has lived through conflict. Sometimes that conflict was minor, and sometimes it has been major (see The Great Schism of 1054).

The Anglican tradition of Christianity, evolving as it did far from Rome and the more established centers of western civilization, has always seen its share of conflict and debate. Usually, that conflict has emerged from competing sources of authority. Who, or what, is the final authority in the Anglican Church? From the fifth century onwards, ecclesiastical authority rotated from the Archbishop of Canterbury, to whomever the reigning monarch might be, to the Roman Pope; after the Reformation, that revolving locus of authority included the common people themselves.

Consider the first Archbishop of Canterbury, St. Augustine (of Canterbury, not of Hippo), who landed at Canterbury in 597 AD. He was the first official Roman missionary bishop in what we now call England; but a Celtic form of Christianity, centered around local abbots and monasteries, was already present. St. Patrick had already returned to Ireland; St. David had evangelized Wales; and the great St. Columba had already founded Iona in the north country. One of the early English synods, held at Whitby in 664, was convened over a concern for authority; would the established Church follow Roman or Celtic Christian customs? They chose Rome at that time.

Thus, the question of authority was settled for a season, but not for all time. Jump forward to the great William the Conqueror in 1066. Long before Henry VIII, William the Conqueror also considered himself the head of the Church of England. He convened church councils (not the Pope or the Archbishop of Canterbury), he nominated bishops and abbots and invested them with ring and staff; and he refused to allow the Pope to interfere in what he considered the king’s business.

Later, Thomas a Beckett would lose his life by crossing King Henry II. In those days (11th and 12th Centuries), the King of England would often refuse to allow the Archbishop of Canterbury inside the country (Archbishops Lanfranc, Anselm, and Thomas a Beckett were all exiled at one time or another).

The Anglican Church was living through authority issues long before Henry VIII arrived on the scene. And, of course, the Anglican Church continues to live through authority issues. At our best, the Anglican Church and the Episcopal Church have learned to live through authority issues with grace.

In the great Protestant Reformation issues of the sixteenth century, Henry VIII actually never abandoned the theology of the Roman Catholic Church. In fact, we wrote a treatise against Martin Luther in 1521 which earned the title “Defender of the Faith” for Henry – and thus for all the rest of his succesors to this day! When he appealed to the pope for annulment from his marriage to Catherine of Aragon, Henry was concerned far more for a suitable male heir for the kingdom than for the new Protestant theology (yes, he was also concerned for Anne Boleyn!). In another era, the Pope might have granted his request easily; but at this time, the weak pope was under the sway of the holy Roman emperor, Charles V – who was the nephew of Catharine of Aragon. There was no way the pope was going to offend Charles V by annulling the marriage of his aunt!

If there is any one person (other than Jesus) who did start –or who best represents—the Anglican tradition of Christianity, it is Elizabeth I. Reigning from 1559-1603, just after England had been swung violently back and forth between Roman Catholicism and Protestantism, it was she who found a way for the Anglican Church to be both Catholic and Protestant. She represented a way to resolve conflict gracefully in the church.

At its best, the Anglican tradition of Christianity resolves conflict gracefully. And it does so, rarely by taking “the middle way,” which has long been another name for the Episcopal Church (the “middle way” between Catholicism and Protestantism). I believe the Anglican tradition of Christianity often finds truth on both sides of theological and cultural disputes. The Anglican Communion of Churches finds “the comprehensive way,” affirming truth on both the traditional and the progressive wings of Christian community. The Anglican Communion of Churches might better be called the “via comprehensiva,” the comprehensive way.

I believe this “comprehensive way” was responsible for resolving other conflicts in Episcopal Church history, too. It explains how the early Protestant Church in the United States of America could be related to the Church of England but also separate from it. It was the comprehensive way that held the Episcopal Church together during the tragedy of the American Civil War. The comprehensive character of Anglicanism and the Episcopal Church also enabled us to meet the rise of science and higher literary criticism in the nineteenth century with grace and faith. We found a way to read the Bible with both faith and reason.

The Christian Church inevitably involves conflict. Usually, there are persons of good Christian faith on both sides of the conflict. The particular Anglican tradition of Christianity is a way of dealing with conflict gracefully. Obviously, our history has not always been clearly graceful. Nor is it always graceful right now. But the tradition which guides us is truly a graceful one.

From generation to generation, the Episcopal Church seeks to honor the universal claim of the Christian gospel while also honoring local authority and indigenous faith. That is another inherent challenge – and conflict—in all churches. How can we be obedient to both global and local authority? How can we honor both the gospel and our local culture? It is a journey and task entrusted to us by our Lord Jesus Christ himself.

When we remember Jesus, the founder of the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion of Churches, let us also remember that our faith declares a comprehensive truth about him, too. Jesus Christ, we say, was both fully divine and fully human. Orthodox Christianity refuses to choose one nature over the other; Jesus is fully both. Jesus Christ is not some middle ground between divinity and humanity; Jesus Christ is comprehensive of all divinity and all humanity. That incarnational faith is the graceful style of Anglican Christianity, too.

The Very Rev. Sam Candler is dean of St. Philip's Cathedral in Atlanta. He helped start that city’s interfaith group, and leads regular community bible studies. His sermons and reflections on “Good Faith and Common Good” can be found on the Cathedral web site.

Pharisees and Tax Collectors

By Luiz Coelho

A couple days ago, I was overhearing a conversation (yes, I do that) between two women on “churches” and “religion.” Basically, one of them made a comment about being a Reform Jew and finding it very hard to deal with the Conservative Jewish school where she was working as an intern. The other woman, then, told a little bit about her experience as a child of a Southern Baptist father and an Episcopalian mother, and of being raised in the Episcopal Church.

Believe me, I am not the “gossipy” kind of person, but that conversation did attract my attention, after all, it was about the Episcopal Church. And when the Jewish woman mentioned that in Reform Judaism they had the freedom to question while in Conservative Judaism things were much stricter, the other one replied “Yes, I imagine it is just like being Episcopalian as opposed to being Southern Baptist.” I chuckled. I had to!

I have to admit that sometimes I succumb to the dangers of “episcolatry.” Let me explain. Not rarely we are taught, in the Episcopal Church (and, to a certain degree, in other Anglican Provinces), that we have freedom of thought, that we use reason, that we practice inclusion, that we are fighting for a change, and that we are not “fundamentalists” (a word that has been used both by Liberals and Conservatives at times, with no clear boundaries), among many other great things. Nevertheless, the pride that emerges from all of that often consumes me and not rarely I catch myself bearing a silly sense of superiority, almost as if I had find the “True” Church.

Lent has just started and it might be a bit cliché to revisit all the basics about this season, in a sort of Lent 101 course. But I believe, however, that in many cases we grasp much less than we should about this season of fasting and repentance. I tend to focus more on fasts. In fact, I was probably born on a diet, because I recall doing them since I was a child. So, it is not extremely hard for me to give up on edible temptations for a while. It is the repentance part that drives me crazy, and by reflecting upon some of the daily Lenten readings, I realized that I am most likely still far away from the ideal Jesus shows in the Gospels.

This is probably why I chuckled to the conversation I mentioned before. It is not a problem to understand that all of our struggles and achievements as a Church draw us near to the Gospel. The problem lies when we question why the “uncool fundamentalists” (among others) claim to sit at Christ's table. I have to admit that, not rarely, I have acted as the pharisees who criticize Jesus for having a meal with tax collectors. Yes, this passage, which for years was used to justify the inclusion of those seen by the Church as impure (usually liberal-minded Christians), ended up being used by me in a rather curious opposite direction. In the midst of cyber-wars and name-calling, I might say that several times I felt tempted to look down on people who, regardless of opinions or attitudes towards any of the hot topics or people en vogue, are marked as Christ's own and are just like myself: sinners in need of God's grace.

Lent might be, therefore, an appropriate period to repent from a fake sense of superiority that does us no good and in fact diverts our attention from what we are really called to do. Episcopalians or not, there is plenty of Christian ministry to be done around us. There are mouths to be fed, souls to be nurtured, people to be reached, gifts to be used and a life of service waiting for each one of us, whenever we are. Not rarely we will be criticized for claiming to be the sinners who sit at Christ's table, but that is far better than being the ones who feel “superior and clean,” and in no need of repentance. I still believe it is possible to speak with integrity and not succumb to such temptations. And this is what I have taken as my Lenten discipline. I know it is hard, and have no idea if it will work, but I am giving it a try.

So, my prayer is that, during this period of Lent, while we try to discern better what God's call in our life is, we can see every single person that we interact with as God's beloved child, and also as a potential brother or sister in Christ, in need of care, prayer and repentance.

Luiz Coelho, a seminarian from the Diocese of Rio de Janero, spends part of the year in the BFA program at the Savannah College of Art and Design. His Web site includes his art and his blog, Wandering Christian, on which he examines "Christianity in the third millennium, from a progressive, Latin American and Anglican point of view."

Overcoming the Corinthian temptation

By Greg Jones

"Conceited, stubborn, over-sensitive, argumentative, infantile, pushy." This is how bible scholar Jerome Murphy-O'Connor describes the Church in Corinth to which Paul wrote the two letters now in our bibles. They were a frustrating and exasperating people, who seemed to misunderstand Paul's teaching at every turn. Murphy-O'Connor writes that "virtually every statement he made took root in their minds in a slightly distorted form." Yikes.

Lucky for us that Paul faced this crowd. Because he had to teach, and teach, and teach them, now we have the benefit of First and Second Corinthians. The basic situation in Corinth was a mixed body of folks, divided by ethnicity, idea and practice. They were highly partisan, and apparently loved to dissent and divide.

Well, it sounds likes Christians everywhere, at least from time to time. It seems like Christians are always struggling with a "Corinthian" tendency toward division and disunity. To be sure, in our denomination, and global Anglicanism, we've seen lots of it in the past six years, and certainly will see more. It is worth remembering that the Church of England broke ties with Rome in the middle 16th century over questions of authority and power. Over the next couple of centuries - a host of groups left the Church of England, whether Presbyterian, Quaker, Methodist, Baptist and so forth. In the 19th century, a small group of evangelical Episcopalians broke away and formed the Reformed Episcopal Church. (They believed that 'Romanizing germs' had infected the Episcopal Church and it was corrupt beyond repair -- opposing things like altar candles, priestly robes, and high sacramental doctrine.) In the late 20th century, several groups split away from the Episcopal Church - first over integration, then over the new prayer book and women's ordination. And now, of course, we see the chasm forming between those who seek to include glbt people into the full life of the Church, inclusive of marriage equality and ordination, and those who do not.

I believe that there is a way forward that preserves a maximum of unity and diversity, with integrity. I think that the Church will always be reforming its understandings of how God wants us to be - but I believe it can be done in such a way as to comprehend both a faithful respect for what has been received, and a faithful openness to "new wine." As I understand Paul, what is required of Corinthians as well as Episcopalians is that we die to self, pick up the cross, and follow the Son of God. In my view, the community which does this, will also be able to maintain a glorious degree of both differentiation and unity within itself. Even when faced with questions which are very difficult to come to an accord about.

The way through the dilemma of Us vs. Them, and We're Right and They're Wrong is to remember the mark on our heads. For we who have been marked as Christ's own forever, are not permitted to ask any more, "How do I get what I want?' We instead get to ask, "How do We obey our Lord?" We instead get to ask, "How do we discern together what God wants, and how do we get there?"

Frankly, I'm afraid Episopalians simply do not remember that we are called to be a people submitted to each other as to Christ. I believe we very often identify ourselves in individualistic, then congregational, then diocesan terms, then General Convention terms; and then very little in terms of the wider Communion, let alone our ecumenical and interfaith partners.

As we approach General Convention, I simply pray that we be mindful of our primary identity as a people of God in Christ, called to submit to another as to Christ. I don't know what the way forward will look like - vis a vis the inclusion of glbt persons in matters of marriage equality or holy orders - or vis a vis the Anglican Communion and beyond. I would take great joy, however, if we could indeed find that forward route while maintaining the maximum degree of unity in the love of Christ. It would be so refreshing to pull off what so many are calling impossible. It would be so exciting to manage to get through this with the bonds of affection not only unbroken, but strengthened.

There, I said it.

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

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.

A new province? Not likely

By Phillip C. Cato

Much of the discussion, some of it quite impassioned, about the prospects of a new Province of the Anglican Communion being established in North America misses the mark.

In the Boy Scouts you are taught, when attempting to see an object in the dark, to look to the side of the area where you believe the object to be and the object will become more visible. There is, I believe, a wider applicability here.

Blogs, newspaper, and periodical articles have focused attention on the legality of parishes, dioceses, clergy, and bishops breaking away from the Episcopal Church, or on their announcing that they are putting themselves under another bishop’s or province’s jurisdiction. Not much is made of laity doing this because the laity has always been able to move around with impunity.

Objections have frequently been raised that the clergy who are departing are in violation of canon law and the promises that they made at their ordination. Parishes and dioceses are said to be in violation of their legal ties to the larger entities to which they belong, and which, in many cases, established them.

A lot of the discourse revolves around the issue of who owns the church property, and, for the moment, the property goes with the majority in this dispute. Dioceses are aggrieved, and have filed lawsuits, very expensive lawsuits, to retain what they claim to be their property.

All the talk about separation and schism creates anxiety among clergy and the laity and some bishops feel obligated to find ways to reassure them, claiming that the likelihood of these breakaways receiving permission to establish their own province is very unlikely. The bishops and other commentators even count potential votes among provincial leaders, betraying their own anxiety in this matter.

Much of this fretting is, in my view, the consequence of excessive concentration on the details of this de facto schism and its potential spread. The inability to see the real issue results from looking straight at it in the dark.

Look to the side. When you do, it will become apparent that there is no need to stampede or die of fright.

Long ago, I learned that in a strident controversy, it is instructive to grant the adversary their point in its entirety, and then step back and look at it as calmly as possible. Those who take strong and unbending positions are, more often than not, not all that sure of their claims. Else, why all the energy being put into the defense? The next step is to ask the question, “If they get their way entirely, what would the world (or my world) look like?” If necessary, the next question is, “Can I live in this world?” [There are more steps but they are irrelevant in this case, as will become clear.]

In this instance, I have concluded that the last question is not necessary. We will not have to live in that world, not because someone, like the Archbishop of Canterbury or the Anglican Consultative Council, will not allow it to happen. We will not have to live in it because the proposed province is completely untenable.

A philosopher might say that it will collapse because of its internal contradictions; the truth is more mundane and banal.

In this province, as proposed, we find strident Evangelicals, Charismatics, Anglo-Catholics, those who allow for the ordination of women to the priesthood and those who regard this as a metaphysical and theological and Biblical impossibility, those who were ordained and consecrated in the canonical ways of national churches in the Anglican Communion and those who have received express consecration in total disregard of any canons, those who are conflicted over the theological issue of Baptismal regeneration, those who have flirted with Rome and those who are of a radical Protestant bent, and a notorious collection of massive egos, unlikely to concede much in the way of theological, ecclesiastical, or Biblical views. All have shown complete disregard for their ordination vows and canonical obligations, and lay claim to property they do not own.

In your most generous imagination, can you conceive of such a coalition surviving? I cannot.

Looking to the side, and seeing the object in the dark, I feel quite reassured.

The Rev. Phillip C. Cato is a retired priest of the Diocese of Washington. His current work is in bioethics, for the National Institutes of Health, and professional ethics.

Further thoughts on the proposed Anglican province

By George Clifford

This is simply a reminder that what we are called to is not our stuff. This is a cleansing by fire. - Brother Joseph Brown, one of seven Benedictine Anglican monks who lived at Mount Calvary Monastery in Montecito, which was destroyed by fires that swept through southern California (New York Times, November 19)

I wonder how many Christians really understand Brother Joseph’s remark?

My recent essay at the Episcopal Café, “An Alternative Province? Why Not?” sparked a surprisingly large and disappointing response, leaving me pessimistic about the number who understood Brother Joseph’s comment. The response to my essay was surprising in that a couple of conservative websites republished the post suggesting their approval. I had not expected conservatives to find my perspective agreeable. Let me be clear. Those leaving the Episcopal Church (like those remaining) are equally wrong to pursue property issues in the courts. Indeed, departing dissidents should honor the branch of Christendom that heretofore has nurtured them in the faith and depart by respecting a polity that assigns moral (and arguably legal) ownership of property and other assets to the national church through its dioceses. Individuals are free to depart; Church canons provide no mechanism for a parish or diocese to depart, as these are integral elements of the national body. Attempting to secede violates the trust that binds us together as God's family.

Those departing need to remember that even as their views about gender determining eligibility for ordination or the morality of same sex relationships do not put them outside the pale of the body of Christ, the converse is also true: those with whom they disagree remain part of the body of Christ. None of those issues, no matter how passionate or strong one’s views are, is a litmus test or definition of Christian identity.

Funds given to the Church are just that, given. That is, monies once donated become the Church’s property. Who contributed the money or other assets is irrelevant in Anglican polity. Once received, the resources belong to the Church for use in God's work, a truth symbolized in terming donations received in worship “offerings” and the priest blessing them.

Frittering away precious resources in a physically and spiritually starving world is equally scandalous, whether the Church or dissidents pay the legal bills. My local newspaper’s front page this morning featured two stories that nearly brought me to tears: one on a teenaged Eagle Scout allegedly murdered by four friends and another on the Zimbabwean cholera outbreak. Court battles over who owns what Church property provides no hope in either situation. Nor will court battles, regardless of who prevails, change anyone’s views about the issues that divide us. Courts and lawyers are important instruments of social justice; however, the scriptures exhort Christians to resolve their disputes without litigation.

The Presiding Bishop has helpfully observed that departures number only about one hundred thousand in a Church of twenty-three hundred thousand. Those leaving are a small percentage of the whole Church and their exit in no way threatens the Episcopal Church’s existence or vitality. Furthermore, the Archbishop of Canterbury has emphatically clarified that those who have left, should they wish to become an Anglican province, must comply with all established procedures for achieving that status, a process requiring years. In sum, the remarks of the Most Reverends Jefferts Schori and Williams suggest that the Episcopal Church should focus on its ministry and mission rather than devoting substantial and unwarranted time and energy to the sad but inevitable departure of the unhappy and bigoted few.

Normally, an author feels gratified when his or her writing attracts considerable attention. Yet the obvious depth of attachment, both among those departing and those remaining in the Episcopal Church, to property and other assets disappointed me. Material resources are important. However, my experience and observation is that human commitment and vision, not lack of material resources, are the real limits on Church ministry and mission. People, within and without the Church, respond enthusiastically and generously when afforded meaningful opportunities to engage in life-giving ministry and mission.

The relative handful of those leaving with their mutually incompatible theologies, to their dismay, has not caused the Episcopal Church’s numerical decline over the last fifty years. Part of the real explanation for that decline is that a Church caricatured as the party of the wealthy and powerful at prayer should expect inner conflict and pain when it strives to incarnate more fully God's inclusive love that transcends wealth, race, gender orientation, ethnicity, etc. Part of the explanation is also that we Episcopalians have focused on internal issues and institutional maintenance (conventions trying to legislate theology and ethics; attempting to preserve an aging, poorly located physical plant; perpetuating once useful activities that no longer serve today’s needs; etc.) rather than ministry and mission.

Perhaps, God has a badly needed message for us in the sad departure of our more narrow-minded brothers and sisters, a poignant reminder to prioritize ministry and mission ahead of institutional maintenance. Like the monks of Mount St. Calvary whose hospitality and ministry I have enjoyed and cherished, all parties in the current controversies can benefit from a painful and costly lesson in keeping one’s priorities correctly ordered. The monks will continue to serve, moving in the direction they sense God leading. The Episcopal Church should do the same, declaring the truth about property ownership but prepared to exercise costly grace in our actions rather than to compromise our priorities. Now is the time, the season, for us in the Episcopal Church to respond to God's vision for us, God's calling, to incarnate Christ's inclusive, life-giving love for all, at home and abroad. To do otherwise has intangible costs that far exceed the dollar value of any disputed assets.

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

Our (Same-Sex) Marriage

By Deirdre Good and Julian Sheffield

We got married last week.

We got married in Connecticut where the first same-sex marriage license was issued on Nov. 12th, 2008, following a court decision summarized by Richard Just in The New Republic (including a link to the original 85-page decision). We were going to get married in Massachusetts, where the constitutional prohibition against marriages of non-residents was overturned last summer, but Connecticut was so much closer to home, and frankly, that decision was so brilliant we felt drawn to Connecticut.

Two aspects of the decision stand out for us. First, the decision set the "same-sex marriage devalues heterosexual marriage" objection on its head. On the contrary, the decision argued, saying that a civil union is equivalent to a marriage and therefore non-discriminatory is what downgrades marriage. "Civil union" simply does not carry the weight of social benefits and responsibilities that have accrued to marriage over the centuries, and therefore civil union cannot be equivalent to marriage.

Second, the decision addressed the issue of whether such a ruling should be made by the courts or by the legislature by determining the status of homosexuals as a "quasi-suspect" class requiring legal intervention to achieve parity because judicial processes were unlikely to provide equal rights.

So, we've been living as a monogamous couple for 16.5 years now, rather like the landless working poor of past centuries who didn't have the means or necessity to ratify their status in a church (hence the recognition of common law marriage for property rights). And many people who congratulate us go on immediately to ask, "But doesn't this just feel like a formality?"

To which we say, No. Emphatically. True, our union was blessed in a church 16 years ago, but this is different. This is an act of public witness, an exercise of public accountability, a participation in a universally recognized and honored status that confers legal, social, and emotional benefits and responsibilities. Granted, there are legal entities that do not yet recognize our right to be married, that narrowly define marriage in terms of exclusion, but that's their problem. We are married nonetheless. And because we are deeply optimistic, we hope we will always live somewhere that honors the fact of our marriage. Ironically, we are a bit schizoid at present, living in New York (which does honor our marriage) and Maine (which has both a domestic partnership law and a defense of marriage act) - but this too will pass. With each legally (and sacramentally, if possible) ratified marriage of a same-sex couple, this division comes closer to passing away.

But here's the rub. The state (at least the State of Connecticut, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, and the State of California sometimes, Canada, the UK, and a number of other countries) has recognized, recorded and ratified our union in marriage - but our church, the entity which should be showing us the way forward in lives of commitment and integrity and accountability and hospitality and generosity and self-giving and unconditional love, still wavers on the borders of commitment to us. We can find pockets where bishops and priests claim their right to ratify our marriages as agents of the state and bless them as priests of the church, but we still feel constrained to protect witnesses who may be called to function in the church in other locales.

Our marriage is a commitment to be accountable to all those persons who have participated in and supported marriage - whoever they are, whether or not they are willing to support our marriage. They've got our commitment and our participation, those who value it and those who would reject it.

We both have this old fashioned ideal of the church as parochial in the original sense of the word, the place where we are, not the place we go to hear the sermons we prefer to hear. But for some of us, our church has not yet decided to be where we are. The consequence of this is that we can only celebrate fully, joyously, sacramentally, with a disparate group of sympathetic people who cannot be rooted just in the place where they live. So far.

Deirdre Good is professor of New Testament at General Theological Seminary and Julian Sheffield is a freelance QuickBooks consultant.

With respect

By Marshall Scott

There are some places that I don't wear my hat.

I wear a large, broad-brimmed black hat. I've done so for years. (I'm actually on my second.) When I originally made that choice, my own images were of Jesuit missionaries and Methodist circuit riders.

Of course, other people have other images. I also have a full beard and wear, as the weather requires, a long black coat. As a result, I've had other images suggested. Most commonly I'm told either that I look like a rabbi, or Amish, Mennonite, or otherwise Anabaptist.

And so, there are some places I don't wear my hat. Neither Jesuits nor Methodists are notable these days for their head gear; but Orthodox rabbis and Anabaptists are. And since each group has a lifestyle marked by a distinct discipline and piety (neither of which I follow), out of respect there are some places I don't wear my hat.

It's the resemblance to an Orthodox rabbi that can raise the most—well, perhaps not concern, but confusion. Years ago I worked in a hospital that had a health facility on site. I would go in early to work out before starting work. One winter morning I had finished working out, and was starting to get dressed. I pulled out the hat and the coat, and then reached for my work clothes. As I buttoned my black shirt and attached my white collar, a man down a few lockers down said loudly, “Now, wait a minute.”

I looked at him and said, "Yes?"

He said, "I grew up an Orthodox Jew in an Italian neighborhood, and you’ve just messed up all my images of religious professionals." We talked, and realized he was a former patient. We laughed about images, and not recognizing each other "out of place," and how the white clerical collar was a shock set against the background of a black hat and full beard.

Perhaps I'm overly concerned. I imagine many folks in any of the various traditions I have seemed to resemble, however unintentionally, would appreciate the sentiment, but not think my concern warranted. Still, it's important to me to be respectful, and to be clear, at least where I might be confusing, about who I am and who I’m not.

There is a new church body coming in North America. Those who are part of it will call it and themselves "Anglican." Many of those involved will have left the Episcopal Church, although many others will not have. Many will retain a certain anger about the Episcopal Church, although some will "get past it." The situation is not really new; there have been "continuing Anglican" bodies for decades; and that's without considering the Reformed Episcopal Church, whose tenure and reason for separating from the Episcopal Church place them in a somewhat different category. However, new unity and new size will bring them, at least for a while, new visibility. They will be part of the American church landscape for the foreseeable future.

I think that means we have to work out how we will be respectful. That may not be our first inclination. Some harsh things have been said. Some issues will have to be settled by due process that will feel to both sides like durance vile. Some folks on both sides will come to cherish their senses of righteous indignation and justification.

I think those things are painful, but still secondary. We need to determine how, once this is over, we will be respectful of folks with whom we differ, whether or not they are respectful of us. We remind ourselves frequently that we are called to respect the dignity of every human being, even—especially—those with whom we disagree, those who have condemned us. These circumstances may not be as clear (nor as painful) as the right cross of a Roman soldier, but they are our opportunity in our time to turn the other cheek.

Of course, in this case it's not as simple as choosing to wear or not wear a hat. Part of our regret in all of this is that we share so much in common with many of those who want this new Anglican entity. Critically, we differ on what is essential in the Anglican tradition; but we share that tradition nonetheless. That means that in so many things, from the colors of the church year to the colors of the priests’ shirts, to the very words we pray, we will look so very much alike.

That makes it all the more important for us to clarify who we are and how we will choose to live out the Christian faith and the Anglican tradition in the world. We need to resist the temptation, satisfying as it might seem at the time, to spend our energy reflecting on how they understand the Anglican tradition. We need simply and solely to proclaim how we understand the Anglican tradition, and how our tradition calls us to demonstrate the love of Christ in the world, both before the altar and beyond our walls.

If we are clear enough about what it means for us to be the Episcopal Church and to live out the Anglican tradition as we have received it, we won’t need to do anything else. Specifically, we won't need to be disrespectful of those whose understanding of the Anglican tradition is radically different. The differences will be clear—differences of mission and ministry, of tenor and teaching. Some will note the differences, and we might well respond, but without the need to be rude.

That won't always be smooth. My hospital is in the same area as one of the first congregations to leave an Episcopal diocese for an African bishop. Now and again I look in on a person whose record says, "Episcopalian," but who is part of the departed congregation. When I ask about congregation, the person will tell me, and then say, "Oh, I guess I'm not an Episcopalian anymore." I will respond that, for my purpose and for the hospital setting, the church political issues aren't important; but the tone always changes. I do my best to be welcoming, but the person seems awkward, perhaps fearing my disapproval. Frankly, so few of my patients are actively worshipping anywhere, I"m not about to let differences between Christians alter my appreciation of those who do.

And so I’m acutely aware that, in these times of change, we need to figure out how we will be respectful. Some things we may need to "take off" and some things to "put on," so as to be clear about who we are in the midst of their proclamations of who they are. They may be respectful, and they may not; and for some things it may be years before we can once again talk. In either case, we need to respect their dignity, as individuals and as institutions. It is the Episcopal thing to do, because it is the Christian thing to do.

The Rev. Marshall Scott is a chaplain in the Saint Luke’s Health System, a ministry of the Diocese of West Missouri. A past president of the Assembly of Episcopal Healthcare Chaplains, and an associate of the Order of the Holy Cross, he keeps the blog Episcopal Chaplain at the Bedside.

An "alternative" province? Why not?

By George Clifford

Until two weeks ago, I strongly advocated the Anglican Communion refusing to establish a new province in North America and mandating that provinces cease violating provincial boundaries by conducting ministries or establishing congregations within the Episcopal Church’s jurisdiction.

Then I read that the Episcopal Church had spent in excess of $1.9 million in 2008 on lawsuits connected to the departure of parishes and dioceses from this Church. Daily I read about critical needs for healthcare, food, sanitation, and shelter in the United States and abroad. I see the spiritual illness and death that afflict so many. I remember that Anglicans have wisely never claimed to be the only branch of the Christian Church.

I started to wonder, Was I wrong? Why not another North American province?

Geographic boundaries, I realized, are not as sacrosanct as we who value tradition might wish they were. Within the Anglican Communion, geography has historically defined provinces and dioceses. The same is true of Anglican parishes in England, although not in most other provinces. Yet nowhere in Scripture can one find a God-given plan for the organization of parishes, dioceses, and provinces. Indeed, the whole concept of provinces seems extra-biblical. The geographic model for parishes and dioceses emerged naturally because of physical proximity, administrative practicality, and political identity.

Modern transport has invalidated the first of those three reasons why the Church adopted geographic boundaries to define parishes, dioceses, and provinces, i.e., so people could conveniently participate. The disestablishment of the Church, which characterizes most of the Anglican Communion, voided the second reason for geographic boundaries. The internet and development of online communities are diminishing the importance of political boundaries for defining ecclesial identity. All of these changes bring the Church closer to becoming more fully a seamless community of God's people.

The reality, as much as I or anyone else may not like it, is that geographical boundaries are no longer functionally definitive of Episcopalian identity. Four dioceses have already voted to disassociate themselves from the Episcopal Church and to associate with another Province. At least several dozen parishes have done the same. Numerous individuals have more quietly departed, often for a congregation that advertises itself as “Anglican.” In other words, the geographic model is irretrievably broken in the United States. Those who have left believe the divisions that were the catalyst for their move are too deep, too significant to permit dissidents to continue their Christian journeys within the Episcopal Church. One can no more coerce ecclesial unity than marital unity. Even as the Episcopal Church rightly recognizes its understanding of the Bible, theology, and ethics must change with the continuing unfolding of knowledge and moving of the Spirit, so should the Church be open to revising its thinking about ecclesial structures and polity.

A non-geographic model actually offers some advantages. In England, many communicants ignore parish boundaries to attend a parish that has the style of churchmanship or offers the programs the communicant desires. Latin American dioceses, for various reasons, have chosen to affiliate with the Episcopal Church. In the United States, parishes openly “compete” with one another, and with congregations of other Christian Churches, to attract communicants. This competition promotes quality programming, can better ministers to individual needs, and partially explains why Christianity flourishes more strongly in the U.S. than in England. Admittedly, like most things, ecclesial competition can have negative dimensions including promotion of ecclesial consumerism and clerical careerism at the expense of fidelity to the gospel.

Acknowledging the reality of multiple Anglican bodies within the geographic boundaries of the Episcopal Church would introduce refreshing notes of honesty and grace into the present turbulent controversy. This step might preserve Anglican unity by abandoning the dishonest hubris of insisting that the Episcopal Church is the only Anglican presence in the United States. Recognition of another Anglican province could provide an option for individuals, parishes, and dioceses to transfer, even as clergy now transfer from one province to another. A minority who wish to remain in the Episcopal Church but are part of a parish that wishes to transfer could establish a new parish or affiliate with an existing parish. Similarly, those in a diocese who wish who remain in the Episcopal Church after the diocese voted to realign could affiliate with an adjoining diocese that extends its borders or reconstitute the disassociated diocese.

My prognostication is that regardless of what the Episcopal Church may think or do, formal recognition by the Anglican Communion of a new province, perhaps co-terminus with the Episcopal Church or also including Canada, is inevitable. Alternatively, if that does not happen, then the Anglican Communion will persist in a state of denial, formally fracture, or authorize provinces to engage in extra-provincial ministries in the United States and perhaps elsewhere. Any new (or adapted) structure will launch with a brief surge, quickly plateau, and then linger, slowly losing relevance and impact. Those who wish to disengage from the Episcopal Church are wrong: gender does not determine suitability for ordination; gender orientation does not determine eligibility for receiving God's blessing of a faithful, monogamous relationship; etc. Truth, not error, will prevail.

Who – other than Anglicans (and only a minority of us) – cares about the structure of the Anglican Communion? Who else cares if the Episcopal Church is the sole Anglican body in the United States or if other provinces also function in the States? I honestly cannot think of any non-Anglicans who might care. Consequently, I recognized that my fighting about Anglican jurisdictional boundaries is a red herring that distracts me (and the larger Church) from the much more difficult task of the Church’s real mission, i.e., engaging in creative, life-transforming ministry. For the most part, whether a Christian belongs to the Episcopal Church, a different Anglican province, or another Church is relatively unimportant when millions are dying of physical needs and spiritual hunger. We must again move forward and cease waging an already-decided, rear-guard action.

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

Real Americans. Real Christians.

By Peter Carey

In recent days, we’ve heard a great deal about what a “real American” might be, and what a “real American isn’t.” There has been rhetoric from Governor Palin when she has spoken in certain towns that they are “real Americans,” with the accusation that those people who come from urban areas, or who are from the Northeast, may not be “real Americans.” Questions arise about the status of those who don’t pass the test of being a “real American.” Do these people surrender the rights and privileges, and responsibilities of the “real Americans”? Lots to ponder in this election season.

This notion of “real Americans,” reminds me of some of the discussions that we’ve been having in the church. What does it mean to be a “real Christian”? In the Anglican Communion, work is moving along to create a Covenant which will spell out the requirements for being a part of the Anglican Communion. There is an apparent implication that those who are able to “sign on” to the Covenant will be “real Christians.” I suppose those who are unable to sign on to the Covenant will be some other kind of Christian…unreal Christians? I still have some grave concerns about whether this Anglican Covenant will be a good thing on various levels. Along with many others, I am waiting to see how this Covenant comes into being. There are people I respect who fall on both sides of the argument about the efficacy of the Covenant, so I am praying about it.

I wish that we in the Episcopal Church were just a bit bolder about what it is that we do believe; that we could put out our message with more fervor and enthusiasm. For example, I believe that we have allowed those who are outside our church to define us, usually negatively. What if we spoke with more clarity about our dedication to our baptismal covenant, and about our belief in the creeds? I was recently listening to a bishop who was at the Lambeth Conference who said that there were bishops from the Global South who were surprised to hear that Episcopalians actually believe in the resurrection. This came as quite a shock, but it does illuminate the confused messages that we allow to dominate the airwaves about our church.

The discussion about whether the Episcopal Church is orthodox enough gets into the labeling of whether we are “real Christians” or not. What is a real Christian? To those who wonder, I say yes, we do believe in the Trinity, that Jesus is our Lord and Savior. Don’t we believe in the sacrament of baptism, in which we die to sin and are raised in Christ? Don’t we believe that through this sacrament we have been received “into the household of God” and that we are called to “confess the faith of Christ crucified, proclaim his resurrection, and share with us in his eternal priesthood”? (BCP, 308). Not only are we “real Christians” but we may have a unique calling within the body of Christ in this post-modern world. Time will tell.

I am reminded of one of my heroes, William Sloane Coffin, Jr. who considered himself to be a “real American” even, and especially, when he protested injustice in our great country. He considered himself to be a “real Christian,” even when he spoke truth to church bodies that were slow to respond to the injustices of war, racial segregation, and nuclear proliferation. Coffin often said that we need to have a “lover’s quarrel with our country.” In his view, we need to love our country enough to have an engaged quarrel with the forces that would blindly accept the status quo. For Coffin, having a quarrel with one’s country, or one’s fellow citizens, was not a sign of being an “unreal American.” To truly love one’s country there will be times that disagreements will arise, and quarrels can help us to address our corporate blindness and oppressive tendencies.

And then there is the “lover’s quarrel” that is going on in our church. I continue to hope that our diatribes might turn to dialogue, and that our hostile behavior might turn to hospitality. I realize that we can fall into the trap of dehumanizing the other side, and claim that our way is the way of “real Christians.” I also realize that, for too long, those of us who are dedicated to the Episcopal Church (not without quarrels, however!) might need to gird our loins and speak with more boldness about our Faith, and about our practice, and refuse to let others define us. As someone said recently, the notion of “they will know we are Christians by our love,” may not be enough in our present context of 24/7 media saturation. A wise woman once told me that as a preacher I should “always be willing to give an account of the hope that is within me.” Are we, as the Episcopal Church giving that account boldly enough, and with enough gusto?

Doesn’t Jesus call us to do such a thing?

“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28: 18-20, NRSV)

The Rev. Peter M. Carey is the school chaplain at St. Catherine's School for girls in Richmond, Virginia and is also on the clergy staff at St. Mark's Episcopal Church in Richmond. He blogs at Santos Woodcarving Popsicles.

Are we still in the salvation business?

By Martin L. Smith

Sometimes we wake from a dream with only a strange question as its trace, and the other morning all I could remember as I shaved was a voice asking, “Do you mean business?” It’s a good question to ask looking into one’s own eyes in the mirror, a challenge to weigh the intentionality we are bringing—or not—to everyday living. And it is a question about faith, because for us today faith is about finding meaning in life and for life. Someone who means business today about becoming a genuine believer is conscious of wanting, needing, her life to have meaning. In fact, for Christians in the postmodern world, to find life meaningful as a gift from God through relationship with Jesus is what it means to be saved. Salvation is both to be rescued and fulfilled. Rescued from the spiritual vacuum of meaninglessness, and fulfilled by receiving with the love of God a sense of connectedness, purpose and destiny.

It is a good question to ask about the church. Does the church ‘mean business’? Do we accept that our main business today is with meaning, the struggle to find meaning, and the mission to help people discover the gift of meaning through the good news that has Christ at its heart? Are we still in the business of being saved and saving others? I wonder sometimes because of the negativity or indifference with which many Episcopalians react to the very concept of being saved. Perhaps it’s because they equate being saved with the idea of God reprieving (some of) us from the sentence of eternal damnation in hellfire. In recoil from that idea many seem to think that salvation is a concept best quietly shelved. In how many of our churches is the language of salvation really alive?

A certain historical perspective can help. How did the church mean business at first in the culture in which it grew so rapidly? It brought good news to a civilization haunted by the ravages of mortality, the inevitable decay that reduced human effort to futility. The gospel of the resurrection counteracted all that with an unprecedented sense of God’s abundance of life and his desire to bring human beings into such intimacy with himself that they could experience a fullness of being that was proof against death. How did the church mean business in later centuries? Its good news addressed the nightmare of alienation, the sense that guilt estranged us from the Holy One. The gospel offered a way through it to reconciliation with God, through the sacraments that made Christ’s gift of himself on the cross a contemporary healing power, and through a message of justification as a free gift received by faith.

In our era, mortality and guilt are all too real but they are not what haunts us most. We suffer from a crisis of meaning itself. In the doubting that comes when our defenses are down we wonder whether human consciousness is merely an accidental froth, just a spectacular by-product of evolution in a single primate species. We wonder whether human consciousness has such flawed wiring that civilization is doomed to be short-lived, and we shall bring on our own extinction sometime in the next 10 generations, leaving the planet to wheel on to its own eventual demise in a universe whose origin and destiny is a sheer enigma. Perhaps all human religions, not just some, are the product of sheer projection, imaginary thought-patterns that human beings have fabricated for bonding societies and marking pathways through the joys and pains of human life. In the kind of thinking to which we are vulnerable at 3 in the morning, we find ourselves in the horror of sheer doubt. For us religious doubt isn’t really a matter of questioning this dogma or that. It’s more primal. Have human beings been making it all up? Is there in reality any greater meaning in which my life is taking part?

A church that means business speaks to this crisis of meaning head on and is unafraid to talk of being saved. It encourages people to articulate their doubt, not just about this church teaching or that, but about the value and ultimate meaning of our fragile human lives on this little blue planet circling as a speck in a galaxy that is merely one of billions.

When I hear the gospel addressed to me in the midst of this vertigo of doubt, and accept its poignant insistence that our lives are meaningful because they are what God meant, and that we mean everything to him, and that he means to take us into his life by uniting us to the one who suffered with us and for us, whom he raised from the dead, I can say “This is what it means to be saved, and I want others to receive the same gift.”

Martin L. Smith is a well-known spiritual writer and priest. He is the senior associate rector at St. Columba’s, D.C.

The Episcopal Church: excelling in irrelevance?

By Phillip Cato

With each passing day, the profound irrelevance of the Church becomes more and more evident. In this irrelevance, the Episcopal Church excels.

Even a superficial knowledge of the events which are overtaking our nation is enough to make the case that our church has no direction to give and nothing intelligent to say.

Our economy is at the brink of total collapse. This is so self-evident that no argument needs to be made. Kevin Phillips, several years ago, in Wealth and Democracy, made the case that the United States was following the same pattern that proved the economic undoing of Spain, the Netherlands, and Great Britain. We abandoned a producer economy for one that is primarily financialized, with all our wealth in the form of traded paper.

What he predicted has come to pass. Wealth is concentrated in relatively few hands; the middle class (the former productive class) is greatly diminished, and regularly exploited for the benefit of the wealthy. Political power is oriented primarily toward benefiting those with wealth. The paper instruments upon which this wealth depends increasingly do not represent much that is tangible, the very conditions which preceded the 1929 stock market crash.

The current administration has accrued and claimed exceptional power to act as they choose without constitutional constraint. With sleight of hand, and a willful lack of truthfulness, they have led our nation into an ostensible “war on terror” which changes identity with predictable regularity as the need to justify preemptive war presents itself.

Almost every abuse of executive privilege and power has been on full display. Justice is regularly disregarded and trampled under foot. Disregard for the poor and antagonism toward the strangers in our midst are now a consistent and macabre caricature of Biblical teaching.

In the midst of all this, our Church, the Episcopal Church, squabbles with its internal critics, and behaves as if settling issues of sexuality, and its expression in the Church, are the only serious moral issues in view.

Our bishops waste time at Lambeth and in earnestly disciplining their recalcitrant colleagues while the moral, economic and political world is collapsing around us.

Somewhere in all of this, there is a mistaken hierarchy of values.

The church stands unprepared to deal with economic hard times; it spends unconscionable amounts of money and human resources on propping up failing congregations that have no sense of mission; it is completely unprepared to deal with either natural or health disasters; it eschews any prophetic stance against a corrupt government and a moribund Congress; and it seems to have no sensitivity to the plight of its own members.

When the Church becomes totally irrelevant, and that time is near upon us, those who have looked to it for spiritual and moral leadership will have to look elsewhere.

Though God loves the world; our Church apparently loves only itself and its institutional survival. And that survival increasingly makes very little difference.

The Rev. Phillip Cato is a retired priest of the Diocese of Washington. His current work is in bioethics, for the National Institutes of Health, and professional ethics.

"Household" and "mystery":
thoughts on being a Church

By Kathleen Staudt

“Good Morning, Church!” This greeting has become familiar in my congregation. Members who originally come from West Africa are accustomed to beginning announcements that way. And it’s catching on. “Good morning Church!” the lay leader says.

“Church.” That would be us. And we respond heartily “Good morning!”

In the aftermath of Lambeth, and Archbishop Rowan Williams’s suggestion that a Covenant might make us “more like a church”, I’ve been musing about my own sense of what it means to “be a Church,” and where it comes from.

I came into the Episcopal Church in 1978, as the “new prayer book” was just coming into use. Coming from a Reformed and Confessional tradition, I was drawn by the beauty of liturgy and what I understood us to be saying at worship about what it meant to “be Church.” What holds Anglicans together, I learned in confirmation class, is not set doctrine but common worship, though of course we are always in conversation about doctrine and tradition. That has been what I’ve understood about being Anglican, and that’s been my experience at worship. So some of what’s coming out of Lambeth about being “more like a church” seems befuddling to me. I had thought there was consensus that as church we are not unified by doctrine or discipline sent from on high, but by our practice and worship. That’s what I take people to mean, discussing Lambeth, when they say we are “a communion, not a church.” But of course we are a church (as in “the Church, the people of God” to use Verna Dozier’s language). We’re not “not a church.” Clearly much remains to be discerned.

As is my habit, I go to back to the liturgy for help, to see what poetic images have rooted themselves into my imagination and memory. And here I find some metaphors that seem worth pondering in these times. They are from important prayers that I think are not always as familiar as they might be to people in congregations – and now might be a good time to revisit them in our corporate life in congregations.

The first comes from the baptism service, a passage that sometimes gets lost in actual practice, when the priest says “Let us welcome the newly baptized” and the congregation responds with applause. (I’ve seen this happen at a number of baptism services, in a number of congregations). But the words of welcome are Biblical, and important:

We receive you into the household of God. Confess the faith of Christ crucified, proclaim his resurrection, and share with us in his eternal priesthood.” (BCP 308)

The “household” of God. Yes. A good image of the Anglican Communion right now, as well as of many a congregation. We live together, we share the same food, and we have conflicts and celebrations, upheavals and challenges. But we belong to the same household. The rest of the welcome prayer is a catechism in itself – worth spending years unpacking: Confess, proclaim, share. We live out a “priesthood” as Christians, a life that involves bearing the Holy into the world, and sharing it with others, as Bill Countryman has described so well in Living on the Borders of the Holy. We are carrying out into the world the transforming love that is expressed in the faith of Christ crucified and the good news of his Resurrection. Being church means being the presence of Christ in the world, or in another metaphor I like, from Robert Capon, to be the Church is to be “the hat on the Invisible Man” for the world.

The fullness of that calling is expressed in my favorite prayer in the book, which I often use when I teach workshops on discernment and discipleship:

O God of unchangeable power and eternal light: Look favorably on your whole Church, that wonderful and sacred mystery; by the effectual ordering of your providence, carry out in tranquility the plan of salvation; let the whole world see and know that things which were cast down are being raised up, and things which had grown old are being made new, and that all things are being brought to their perfection by him through whom all things were made, your Son Jesus Christ our Lord; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. (BCP 280, 291, 515, 528, 540)

This prayer is appointed for Good Friday, just after the solemn collects, and Holy Saturday, just before the baptism service. We also say it at ordinations. (Marshall Scott has a good discussion of this in an earlier post on the Daily Episcopalian). It’s worth pointing out and holding up this prayer in a time when we’re reflecting on “being Church” because people who don’t attend a lot of ordinations may not be aware of having heard it or offered it.

I love the poetry of this prayer: the suggestion that radical transformation – things cast down, raised up, grown old, made new—can be carried out “in tranquility.” That in itself is a prayer for a miracle! This prayer acknowledges that our life as Church is held in the Divine life. To acknowledge this requires humility, as we craft ways to be together as the “household of God.” That’s why I also love the prayer’s description of the Church as “that wonderful and sacred mystery.”

The scrappiness and challenge of a “household”, held in “that wonderful and sacred mystery.” Holding these two metaphors together may help keep us open and humble, in this time after Lambeth and in the lives of our churches generally. as we continue to discern together what it means to “be a Church.”

Dr. Kathleen Henderson Staudt (Kathy) keeps the blog poetproph, works as a teacher, poet, spiritual director and retreat leader in the Washington DC area, and teaches courses in literature, theology and writing at Virginia Theological Seminary and the University of Maryland, College Park. She is the author of two books: At the Turn of a Civilisation: David Jones and Modern Poetics and Annunciations: Poems out of Scripture.

A good gripping story

By Heidi Shott

Already I’m worried about General Convention in 2015 because a pattern seems to be developing between every third major Anglican/Episcopal event and a loved one dying of cancer.

Two years on the job as a diocesan communicator, my plan in early 2000 was to go to General Convention in Denver to learn, to report and to hang out with my communicator buddies. But then my father’s lung cancer returned with a vengeance in the spring and it became obvious I wasn’t going anywhere. I reported on the events in Denver from afar, and he died on July 23, a week or so after convention packed up.

While I’ve written a lot about those summer weeks over the past eight years (links below), it’s been hard – as both as a communicator whose salary is paid by people putting money in the plate week after week and as a person of faith – to put into words the conflicted-ness I feel about the “big” doings of the Church like General Convention and Lambeth and the “big” doings of sitting at the bedside of a dying loved one.

Which is bigger? Which is more important? Which is of greater consequence? Which is the greater story to tell?

As the Lambeth Conference was about to commence and I was giving Flip Video lessons to our bishop and bishop coadjutor – who are, by the way, doing a dazzling job at www.ourlettersfromlambeth.blogspot.com - I was also worrying about my next-door neighbor and good friend, Martha.

Two years ago, Martha was standing at the local Memorial Day parade next to her husband of 53 years and a friend who happened to be a nurse. It started with the nurse saying, “You look yellow.” A month later it continued with an extraordinarily complicated surgery for pancreatic cancer called the Anglican-sounding Whipple procedure. Though she was in the hospital for most of the summer it was, ultimately, a success. Then a good year. An excellent, normal year. But last fall during a routine check-up, the bad news arrived that the cancer had returned. Months of chemo ensued. Besides this nasty form of cancer, Martha was the healthiest, busiest, most vital 79 year-old we know, so to see her slow down was hard.

Though we live in a rural little village surrounding a millpond and a fresh water lake at the head of a tidal river, our house, a big 220 year old mishmash, and their house, a winterized, expanded cottage, are no more than 30 feet apart. The daughter of a former owner of our house built the cottage for her young family in the 1950s. It resembles a family compound and in the ten years we’ve lived here, that’s increasingly how we’ve crafted our lives in relation to Martha and Roger. Martha shares our twin sons’ New Year Eve birthday. With no children of their own and no close family nearby, they keep close track of our lives and we keep close track of theirs.

Her illness is awful. It’s wrong and painful and it’s coming to its conclusion.

Late in June, we were about to go camping and hiking in Acadia National Park. Before we left, I stopped by to check on Martha who had called off the chemo and was feeling poorly. “Go to the hospital,” I said. “I’m worried about you.”

“I’m worried about me too,” she said from the sofa where she cradled her painful belly.

When we returned four days later, Roger called to say she had been admitted.

“She doesn’t want phone calls or visitors,” he told me. After a few days of that nonsense, I stopped in early one morning and sat with him while he ate his Raisin Bran before going to the hospital.

“Roger, don’t leave until I give you a note for her,” I said, whipping out their back door. “I’ll be right back.” If there’s just one thing I can do, it’s write a damn good note.

At noontime, my husband Scott came home for lunch and picked up the ringing phone. He called out the window to me on the deck where I was reading. “Roger says Martha wants you to visit. Afternoons are good.”

When I got there I saw that the week had taken its toll. She was on a morphine pump and had lost weight. Over the next few hours and on several visits since – first at the hospital and now in a skilled nursing unit – I’ve pushed her morphine button, put the straw to her mouth, applied blistex to her chapped lips, held her hand, stroked her shoulder, kissed her and chatted with Roger about everything imaginable.

Unlike my father, the cancer has not reached her brain, so when she’s awake she’s fully herself.

“I wish something miraculous would happen,” she told me the other day when Roger left the room to get some tea, “but I know it’s just a matter of time.”

“We’ll be right next door.” I said. “I don’t want you to worry about anything. We’ll spoil him.”

She looked at me, so clear-eyed, so present, so close to something that’s hard to understand. I looked back and we smiled at each other with love.

And I thought, this is the most important thing happening in the world.


This morning – or last night, who knows when people are blogging from England – Jim Naughton, editor-in-chief of Episcopal Café, wrote

“My concern for the Lambeth Conference is that a critical mass of reporters—or perhaps just a handful of influential ones—will deem the conference a failure if it does not produce the sort of stories that they want to write, that they will say so repeatedly in the pages of their papers or on their blogs, and that this perception will become reality.

The only inoculation against this outcome that I can perceive—outside of an unexpected outbreak of forbearance from the British press—are vivid daily media briefings that feature bishops with good gripping stories to tell about how the conference’s theme of the day figures in their lives and ministries, and the lives and ministries of their people.”

As an Episcopal communicator, and as often as I could in the years I worked as a mainstream reporter, I’ve worked to tell “good gripping stories” because they are what people really want to hear. I believe well-told stories move people and engage people and change people. Why do you think Jesus spoke in parables? Why do our little children lie in bed at night and ask to hear tales of their parents’ and grandparents’ childhoods over and over again?

The story of our family’s love for Roger and Martha and our sadness in Martha’s illness is a real story. It’s one we’re living tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow.

The Lambeth Conference will be important to the Church and the world only to the extent our bishops sit with one another and listen closely, lovingly and compassionately to the stories each has to tell. Then they need to return to their homes to share the news with their people. It won’t be the same as hearing for ourselves, but it’s a start.

It occurs to me that after my father died in 2000, just after General Convention, I thought and wrote something similar to this. I really hope I get it right this time.

Links
My own private Denver -

Holding hands at the comma

They’re onto our game

Forty percent in the loop

Next month, Heidi Shott will begin work as canon for communications for the Episcopal Diocese of Maine . Her essays about trying to live a life of faith may be found at Heidoville.

Recognizing Bishop White

By Greg Jones

Edward M. Jefferys, Twelfth Rector of St. Paul's in Philadelphia, wrote eloquently about Bishop William White some seventy-one years ago - on the event of the sesquicentennial of Bishop White's consecration to the Episcopate. He writes:

William White was, while Samuel Seabury was not, "the Father of the Episcopal Church" in the United States. After the conclusion of the Revolution, William White visioned, planned, worked for, and far more than any other achieved, the organization, and then guided the first steps, of the American Church. He it was who thought the question through, inspired others with the thought, won over the half-hearted, conciliated the objectors, gained through the right channels the good offices of our government, of the British King and Parliament and of the Church of England, the latter having been long willing to grant the episcopate to the colonies; and crowned his efforts by obtaining for us the English succession through his consecration and the consecration of Dr. Provoost by the then Archbishop of Canterbury, the Archbishop of York, the Bishop of Bath and Wells, and the Bishop of Peterborough. It was, therefore, he more than any one else who brought the churchmen of the North and South together, and inspired them with the vision of a National Church.

It is indeed true that White not only authored the seminal vision of the structure and polity of the Episcopal Church, he also shepherded it through challenging conventions, and through the necessary avenues of ecclesiastical diplomacy with the Church of England. William White, not Seabury, not Provoost, not anyone else, presided over the nascent Episcopal Church as it would become the first independent Anglican Church in full communion and with the full support of the Church of England.

As we go into a Lambeth Conference season - let us not forget that The Episcopal Church has a significant place in the Communion - not because we are Americans, but because, by providence, our own founding effectively gave rise to the Anglican Communion itself. No only does The Episcopal Church owe this in great part to the leadership of William White - but so too does the entire Anglican Communion. White led the process which established the reality of an Anglicanism bigger than the established churches of Great Britain, resulting in a global communion of Anglicans united by affection, faith and common prayer. All of us should bear that in mind as we continue in this life of Christ together - in this province and all.

I believe that White may be seen as a representative figure of the comprehensive Anglican leader. Like him, we continue to need leaders in the Episcopal Church and Anglican Communion who:


  • Treasure the faith and order of the Prayer Book tradition, allowing revision as provided for in the first preface of 1549, while not requiring it to be radically revised either;
  • Value the doctrinal witness of that Prayer Book, and the prayer books and articles of faith which have followed since 1549; understanding that the Articles of Faith in particular, contain a number of differently understood points, and in general have not been required in the Episcopal Church ever, or the wider Anglican Communion for decades;
  • Cherish the continuity of connection and communion with the See of Canterbury;
  • Believe in the equal honor and dignity of all four orders of ministry, and works toward a truly conciliar ecclesiology in which all orders share in authority and governance;
  • Supports high-level theological education for all leaders, especially clergy;
  • Manages to bridge gaps cultural and theological within the wider Anglican fellowship for the sake of the unity which the Holy Trinity calls us to exhibit as a people called to inhabit in the triune life of God.
  • The Rev. Samuel Gregory Jones ("Greg") was educated at the University of North Carolina and the General Theological Seminary, where he is on the board. He is rector of St. Michael's Raleigh, and blogs at fatherjones.com.

    Church-wide healthcare

    By John B. Chilton

    In the U.S., healthcare insurance is predominantly an employer-based system. In this environment it falls to the church to consider how and whether to provide health insurance to its active clergy and lay employees. At present within the Episcopal Church this is handled at the diocesan level. This legacy may flow from the decentralization of much of the financials in the Episcopal Church. Budget wise each diocese is a boat with its own bottom.

    General Convention 2006 endorsed the Church Pension Group's recommendation for a church-wide healthcare feasibility study:

    Resolution A147
    Title: Church-wide Healthcare Feasibility Study
    Topic: Employee Benefits
    Committee: Church Pension Fund
    House of Initial Action: Bishops
    Proposer: Church Pension Fund Board
    --------------------------------------------------------------------------------
    Resolved, That the 75th General Convention endorse the Church Pension Group’s proposal to conduct a church-wide study of the costs and issues surrounding the provision of healthcare benefits to all clergy and lay employees serving churches, dioceses and other church institutions and to report their findings to the 76th General Convention; and be it further

    Resolved, That all dioceses, parishes and other church institutions are urged to cooperate with the conduct of this study by responding to requests for data regarding employee census and healthcare costs; and be it further

    Resolved, That this study will include an analysis of the potential for a mandated denominational healthcare benefits program and other viable alternatives, culminating in a recommended solution and an actionable implementation plan.


    Two key words in this resolution are "mandated denominational" found in the third resolve. If a mandated denominational plan were adopted it would be a significant departure from current procedure where it is the dioceses rather the denomination that determine healthcare benefits. It is instructive that in the second resolve dioceses were urged, not mandated. to respond for data requests.

    Health insurance is one of those peculiar products where the cost to the provider depends on the characteristics of the buyer. For insurance providers to cover their costs they must pay careful attention to who is buying the product, and price it accordingly. For the same reason, when premiums are based on the health of the group there is the potential for cost shifting between groups to occur when groups are merged, harming the healthier group. Taking this down to the individual, if you are healthier than average, and you are given the choice to opt out, you might be bettter off going without insurance. Providers take this self selection into account in pricing.

    At present, the denomination does offer dioceses elective (as opposed to mandated) healthcare plans priced according to regional costs, and the characteristics of the diocesan membership pool. (The extent to which this service by the denomination has been sought by dioceses has waxed and waned.) But many dioceses prefer to design, acquire and administer their health plan locally. Flexibility is one factor, but my presumption is that cost is the primary reason some dioceses find it is in their interest to go it alone. A mandated plan, by contrast would not allow dioceses to opt out of the denominational plan.

    (Readers also may see the parallels between the Roman Catholic Church and the corporate model, and the looser form of hierarchy in The Episcopal Church. In a corporate model the corporation always has the option to decentralize acquisition and administration of employee health insurance to the local level or keep those decisions under central control. But as the Episcopal Church is structured it would take an act of General Convention to mandate the reverse, that is, a centralized clergy and lay employee health plan. Note that a mandate would have the curious effect of disallowing local exemptions from the health plan while the church has allowed local options on other issues such as women in the priesthood.)

    The same tension exists within dioceses today where the parish (with few exceptions) is mandated to participate in the diocesan plan. Particularly in parishes with a large staff it may be the case that a parish with a healthy staff can find lower costs (for equivalent coverage) than it would be charged through the diocesan plan. When parishes are free to leave and reenter a diocesan plan, and do so according to the changing health of their staff, a great deal of animosity can result. And insurance companies are loath to deal with you when your eligible population is so ill defined, and self selects on the basis of changing need for health coverage.

    GC 2009 is not far off, and the Church Pension Group has commenced its "church-wide study of the costs and issues surrounding the provision of healthcare benefits to all clergy and lay employees serving churches, dioceses and other church institutions" or, in short, Health Benefits For All Church Employees: CPG studies the feasibility. As CPG puts it:

    The study will:
  • Evaluate how the Church provides healthcare benefits to active clergy and lay employees

  • Explore viable alternatives, including the potential for a denominational healthcare benefits program

  • Recommend a solution and a plan for implementing it to the next 2009 General Convention

  • The CPG is well into the evaluation stage and has reported the results of its Awareness and Opinion Survey. To come are the results (see resolve 2 of A147) of the Employer Health Benefits Questionnaire and the Employee Health Benefits Questionnaire. Also planned are focus groups around the country in Fall/Winter 2007-08; presentations and conversations with the House of Bishops, Executive Council, provincial caucuses, and other church leadership groups; and regional meetings around the country as GC 2009 nears. Indeed, much of this work is also completed or underway.

    The first resolve of A147 envisions benefits for all clergy and lay employees. This is a justice and equity issue: at present the church has found a way to provide healthcare coverage for active clergy, but not for many (full time) lay employees. The common situation today is for a diocese to mandate that clergy be covered, and to invite lay employees to participate if they or their employer pays the premium.

    The pattern has been that many lay employees are not covered. The reason is that lay employees tend to be younger/healthier than clergy. Unless they themselves have medical problems they find the insurance overpriced because insurance is priced according the health of the participating group, not the individual. The result is that few lay employees participate because they prefer to have the cash to paying the premium (or what is the same thing, they prefer their employer give them cash equivalent rather than give them health insurance).

    There are reasons, however, to hope a church-wide plan might reduce premiums so that clergy and lay employees would both benefit. These are what CPG calls the Driving Issues.

    First, under a unified health plan the denomination might have greater bargaining power than any diocese can muster on its own. For some of our smaller dioceses small numbers is a reason they cannot negotiate good premiums. But what I've been told is that this is not a significant issue once your group is over 150 members or so. A mandate would allow smaller dioceses to join in the negotiating advantage benefit that larger dioceses already enjoy.

    Second, it is anticipated that mandating lay coverage will change the composition of the insured pool. Preliminary survey results indicate that the lay group is comparatively younger and healthier than the clergy group. Thus, it can be true that while a lay person might not want to purchase insurance at a premium based on a clergy-only pool, that same person might benefit from purchasing insurance at a premium based on pooling all clergy and all lay employees.

    A question that arises is, if mandating lay coverage makes so much sense (because it lowers overall costs of salaries and benefits to clergy and lay employees), why haven't dioceses done so on their own initiative? Could it be that no one wants to tell lay employees we're expanding your benefits, but taking the premium out of your salary? If so, then mandating inclusion of lay employees will lower per capita healthcare care costs, but church-wide total healthcare costs will increase as would per capita costs of employing a lay person. The incentive will be to cut employment of lay persons undercutting the benefits of pooling clergy and lay employees.

    Finally, a church-wide plan could reduce the administrative burden by relieving "dioceses, parishes, and other church institutions of the burden of developing and maintaining health benefits programs." This benefit could be significant, particularly for smaller dioceses.

    CPG has done a careful job of communicating its study's progress through its website, and through its periodical Flash devoted to the topic which is mailed to clergy and lay employees of the church. In the May 2008 issue of Flash (PDF) the CPG puts its cards on the table (p. 2):

    After a great deal of research and analysis over the past year, we have come to the conclusion that a denominational health plan has many outstanding advantages for the Church. And various comments offered during conversations, emails, and interactions with the Church at various levels indicate that many clergy and lay employees around the country agree. Through focus groups, presentations, and one-on-one conversations – including the April meeting of the Conference of Diocesan Executives (CODE) and the recent annual Medical Trust meeting with diocesan administrators – the majority of employers, clergy, and lay employees have expressed agreement that a denominational health plan is the best approach to take.

    A Preliminary Denominational Health Plan is laid out on pages 3 to 6 of the May 2008 Flash. A new survey is being disseminated: "All clergy, lay employees, and General Convention deputies will soon be asked to complete a new survey which will solicit feedback on initial concepts for a denominational health plan and help us gauge how well we’re keeping you informed" (p. 6).

    What of the potential for pushback from dioceses that are doing well on their own? To limit tensions between winners and losers from a mandate, the current thinking is that premiums charged to the dioceses will be set based on regional demographics and regional cost of healthcare. The hope is that as a result each diocese would be at least as well off as it is going it alone.

    The plan would require that dioceses treat clergy and ("full time") lay employees with parity. If the diocese requires parishes to pay, say, X percent of the premium for parish clergy, that same cost sharing most hold for full time parish lay employees. I would note that in the end, parity may be more apparent than real. Mandating a benefit might cause a parish to reduce lay employment, or to hold down lay salaries. And could a parish say we treat clergy and lay equally, but we require them both to pay 100 percent of the premium passed to us from the diocese? If so, then a parish might hold lay salaries the same, but increase clergy salaries to keep the latter as well off.

    While the Church Pension Group is not saying that it will recommend a denomination healthcare plan, it is signaling that chances are strong that it will and that so far what it is hearing is a consensus across the church. It is giving us all plenty of notice that we should be thinking hard about whether this serves the best interests of the Church.

    Dr. John B. Chilton is an economist on a busman's holiday in Orkney Springs, Va., home of Shrine Mont Episcopal Conference Center of the Diocese of Virginia. He maintains two personal blogs, The Emirates Economist and New Virginia Church Man.

    Accepting our fallibility

    Excerpted from The Episcopal Call to Love
    (Apocryphile Press)

    By Rob Gieselmann

    The Darkness

    There is such a thing as Original Sin, only it isn’t what you think. Original Sin is the pall of darkness covering our world.

    We live in a room shrink-wrapped by time and space, enshrouded and governed by darkness (see Jn. 1:5). We breathe evil as oxygen in this dark place. It isn’t a choice. We are born into it. Division, hate, bitterness, war, sectarianism, racism, sexism, fear, doubt, even pessimism. Humanity cannot escape the evil. There is no health in us.

    Indeed, there is beauty and wonder and love here, joy and family and closeness. But this Eden-earth is canopied as a rainforest. We see the beauty of Eden darkly.

    God unbounded by time and space, God as ubiquitous, God living simultaneously in all places and at all times: that God as infinite light entered into the room of this world through the doorway of a virgin. God as the absolute of good and love and light voluntarily subjected herself (or himself, if you prefer) to, in Scripture’s words, the shroud of darkness, the prince of this world, the darkness personified.

    God by incarnation submitted to the devil, breathed deeply the devil’s oxygen, was tempted in the wilderness to become one with the devil, and was, at the end of it all, murdered by the devil. Death strangled life; evil trumped love and entombed God.

    The Christian message is stark, compelling, and horrifying. Absolute, perfect, and infinite good and love and light submitted by passive non-resistance to absolute, perfect, and finite evil and hate and darkness. To death. Good Friday became the devil’s holy day.

    The Light

    But Good Friday is not the endgame. Easter is. The expression of nuclear power as at Hiroshima and Nagasaki to end WWII is exactly God’s plan, only darkness and not people is the target. It isn’t just that Jesus rises from the dead on Easter morning, death itself replaces Jesus in the tomb. As Paul writes, death is the ultimate enemy to suffer defeat (1 Cor. 15:26).

    The power of the Christian promise is not that God is compassionate, nor that God is our companion when life gets tough—no matter how accurate both truisms might be. The power of Christianity is this: the darkness has been rendered a mere illusionist, acting by slight of hand. Fear is the only power darkness has left. Life and light and eternity bested darkness long ago; we are victors already. Life is ours now. Life through death. Easter through Good Friday.

    And therein lies the horror: we live because we first die. I have been crucified with Christ, Paul writes, and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. And the life which I now live in the flesh, I live by faith... (para. Gal. 2:20). Jesus, too, understands that we gain life only through death: take up your cross and follow me (see, e.g., Lk. 9:23, 24). In union with Christ we have imitated his death, we shall also imitate him in his resurrection (Rom. 6:5).

    The ancient rite of Baptism incorporates this theology of symbiosis:

    We thank you, Almighty God, for the gift of water.. . . of Baptism. In it we are buried with Christ in his death. By it we share in his resurrection. Through it we are reborn by the Holy Spirit (BCP 306).

    Baptism is not some arcane rite by which otherwise innocent babies cursed with actual sin are cleansed and, as my seminary professor liked to quip, slapped into the Kingdom, saved from hell in the nick-o-time. Baptism isn’t a fire insurance policy, nor is baptism primarily about forgiveness.

    Baptism is about darkness and light, death and life. It is about Original Sin, and its defeat as a power in our lives. But it is also about submitting first to death. We identify fully with and accede to the power of death at the cross exactly because we trust in God as Son submitting completely on the cross: Into your hands I commend my spirit. We give up the ghost, the sky turns dark.

    Which may be why the priest marks the baptismal candidate on the forehead with the sign of the cross, Christ’s own forever. The cross is the mark of your death. You are no longer your own, you are Christ’s own forever—a dead man walking.

    Following Jesus always leads to the cross, for God and good and others in the defeat of evil. He who will save his life will lose it; he who will lose his life for my sake will find it (Lk. 9:24). Every stitch of Christian ethic originates at the foot of self-sacrifice. Not self-preservation.

    But the cross at baptism becomes the mark of life. My life, the one that is hidden with God in Christ. (Col. 3:3) I am alive because I have died!

    Note the severe poignancy of Ash Wednesday. The priest marks the forehead with the same cross and oil as at baptism, marking the penitent simultaneously with death and life: You are dust, and to dust you shall return, and the unspoken reminder, you are Christ’s own forever. Again, death is life’s womb.

    Original Sin. Original Sin isn’t some stain on the soul inherited from parents. Original Sin isn’t about what one has done or left undone. Original Sin is about the state of affairs—the condition of the world, the air we breathe. The air is polluted, and the condition of the world is dark. That Original Sin is sin with a capital “S,” and is about us—all of us, and not any one of us. Original Sin is collective darkness, the hardness of the heart of a humanity that long ago rejected its God. It doesn’t matter whether you believe in Eden literally or metaphorically, the result is the same. Humanity preferred, and most often still prefers, evil over good, the devil over God. War over peace. Death over life.

    God as Son breathed evil as oxygen when born into this world, and so do we. From the minute we are born, we become polluted with the oxygen of evil that we breathe. We become estranged from love, estranged from life, estranged from good, estranged from God, and estranged from others. Our estrangement is also Original Sin, the state of affairs requiring the saving act of Christ. We need to be saved from the evil of isolation.

    Baptism saves us (1 Pet. 3:21). Born again into Christ, into community, we are fitted and joined with others, into a living organism of love and acceptance. What God has joined together, let no one put asunder.

    Love. Paul doesn’t write about the power of self-sacrificial love for the poetry of the words, but for a power-filled reason. The power of life is found in a love that does not insist on its own way; ...that bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things (1 Cor. 13:4-7). Love submits to the Other, as Jesus at the Cross.

    This love is the ultimate, and perhaps only, Scriptural imperative: [L]ove the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.... [L]ove your neighbor as yourself (Jer. Bible, Mt. 22:37). All of the law and the prophets hang, depend upon, and are interpreted by a love that becomes at least equal to, if not greater than, love of self.

    The exotic beauty of love is rather simple. Love as light dispels darkness. Love is a positive force that overcomes. Love casts out fear. Love keeps Original Sin at bay.

    The issue facing us, then, is this: what happens when we stop loving, when we stop being a community of love? What good is salt that has lost its saltiness? (Matt. 5:13). It is fit only to be trampled underfoot.

    Rather than self-sacrifice forming our ethic, rather than love binding us, we in both the Episcopal Church and the broader Anglican Communion have formed ethic by argument, by besting one another, by being right rather than by loving.

    It doesn’t matter whether the position one holds on the issue of Gene Robinson’s ordination and on homosexuality is technically and morally correct. It really does not matter. The reason it doesn’t matter is because we are asked by God to trust in Jesus as the Christ to be and act as the head of the Body, the head of the Church. We trust Jesus to take care of things, to bring things around to a right theology, and we trust Jesus because we are deeply aware of our own fallibility, our own humanity, that we’ve been wrong before, we’ll be wrong again, and in all likelihood, each of us is wrong now—at least in part. In fact, I guarantee it.

    Even if, perchance, there is one of us who is not wrong technically on the issue, he or she is still wrong. As my parents used to tell me, you can be right as rain and still wrong. Remember, Jesus pointed to the sinner beating his chest for mercy as the one who received mercy, not the righteous Pharisee. It was the prodigal who received the Father’s love, not the good son. The good son couldn’t—he was self-consumed.

    Which is why we yield. Which is why we trust. Which is why we submit as Jesus to evil, because yielding yields life. Death is life’s womb—we die to our own choices and opinions, in favor of others’.\28 Remember, he who saves his life will lose it. But he who loses his life for my sake, and for the kingdom, will find it—dead man walking.

    If we don’t sacrifice self, we can’t call ourselves the Body of Christ. We have become mere table salt that has lost its flavor.

    Jesus as Christ in love with a world enshrouded by evil came to destroy the shroud, to open the door to eternity and life and love. The Gospels aren’t wrong just because they are dualistic. The battle is still one of evil against good, of Satan against God, of death against life. The promise is that we are already victors. The curse is that we still see as in a glass dimly. The hope is that we don’t have to.

    The Rev. Rob Gieselmann, a lawyer, has served at St. Luke's in Cleveland, Tennessee and St. Paul's near Chestertown, Maryland. He is rector of Christ Episcopal Church in Sausalito, Calif., and author of The Episcopal Call to Love.

    Rowan Williams and "the distinctive charism of bishops"

    A statement by Bonnie Anderson, President of the House of Deputies of the Episcopal Church at Preparing for Lambeth: A Conference for Religion Writers held at Virginia Theological Seminary on May 30, 2008.

    There are two dynamics that will significantly affect our bishops at the Lambeth Conference. One is the exploration of the role of bishops and the other is the discussion of the proposed covenant.

    Examination of the role of bishops:

    At the opening of the Lambeth Conference in a traditional “retreat” style of brief theological reflection by the Archbishop, silence and mediation by the participants, then reflection, our bishops and all invited bishops, will reflect upon the archbishop’s words about “the bishop as a disciple of and leader in God’s mission”.

    This event is a conference for bishops and it seems completely right for this topic to kick off this historic event. But I think that this topic also speaks to the Archbishop’s hope to confront what he has identified as a “major ecclesiological issue”. I think that the Archbishop has given up trying to get our bishops to take an independent stand on the future of the moratorium of same sex blessings for instance, and is now moving to “plan B” and turning his attention to encouraging our bishops to understand their “distinctive charism” as bishops, perhaps in a new way. I envision Archbishop Rowan pondering in, to use his word, “puzzlement” why these bishops of the Episcopal church don’t just stand up and exercise their authority as bishops like most of the rest of the bishops in the Communion do. Why would our bishops “bind themselves to future direction for the Convention?” Some of us in TEC in the past have thought that perhaps the Archbishop and others in the Anglican Communion do not understand the baptismal covenant that we hold foundational. Perhaps they just don’t “get” the way we choose to govern ourselves; the ministers of the church as the laity, clergy and the bishops, and that at the very core of our beliefs we believe in the God- given gifts of all God’s people, none more important than the other, just gifts differing. We believe that God speaks uniquely through laity, bishops, priests and deacons. This participatory structure in our church allows a fullness of revelation and insight that must not be lost in this important time of discernment. But I think our governance is clearly understood. I just don’t think the Archbishop has much use for it.

    In his Advent, 2007 letter, Archbishop Williams states:

    A somewhat complicating factor in the New Orleans statement has been the provision that any kind of moratorium is in place until General Convention provides otherwise. Since the matters at issue are those in which the bishops have a decisive voice as a House of Bishops in General Convention, puzzlement has been expressed as to why the House should apparently bind itself to future direction from the Convention. If that is indeed what this means, it is in itself a decision of some significance. It raises a major ecclesiological issue, not about some sort of autocratic Episcopal privilege but about the understanding in The Episcopal Church of the distinctive charism of bishops as an order and their responsibility for sustaining doctrinal standards. Once again, there seems to be a gap between what some in the Episcopal Church understand about the ministry of bishops and what is held elsewhere in the Communion, and this needs to be addressed.

    At the Lambeth Conference, I believe that the voice of the conformed bishop will be easily heard and affirmed. The prophetic voice will not be easily heard.

    Our bishops will experience a dynamic that will encourage them to guard the unity and to hold the communion together, perhaps even through the vehicle of a covenant.

    The Archbishop has made it clear to our bishops that when they accepted the invitation to Lambeth, they have indicated that they are willing to work with implementation of the recommendations of Windsor, including the development of a covenant. Again, in the Archbishop’s Advent letter:

    I have underlined in my letter of invitation (to the Lambeth Conference) that acceptance of the invitation must be taken as implying willingness to work with those aspects of the Conference’s agenda that relate to implementing the recommendations of Windsor, including the development of a Covenant.

    A word here about the process and how the process for receiving comments on the second draft of the covenant underscores the understanding of the role of the bishops by the ABC. The people of the provinces, the clergy and laity have a voice regarding the second draft through their bishop. Unlike comments received on the first draft from all interested members of the communion, with a process for laity and clergy to give direct input, comments on the second draft are made solely, directly by bishops. The Secretary General wrote to all the primates and provincial secretaries with the St. Andrew’s Report and the Joint Standing Committee supporting resolution. There were three specific questions attached and the primate was asked to determine how to address the questions and which body was the most appropriate to answer. The questions are:

    1) Is the province able to give "in principle" commitment to the Covenant process at this time (without committing itself to the details of any text)?
    2) Is it possible to give some indication of any synodical process which would have to be undertaken in order to adopt the Covenant in the fullness of time?
    3) In considering the St. Andrew's Draft for an Anglican Covenant, are there any elements which would need extensive change in order to make the process of synodical adoption viable.

    The input of the clergy and laity of the Episcopal Church is especially important as the Anglican Communion considers the development of a covenant. The joint work of the House of Deputies and the House of Bishops is the highest institutional expression of our belief that God speaks uniquely through laity, priests and deacons and bishops. It is thus crucially important that our bishops go to Lambeth knowing what we think about the current state of the proposed Anglican covenant.

    Celebrating Justice Marshall

    Bishop John Bryson Chane writes to his diocese:

    Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ,

    As you may remember, our diocese is proposing that the Episcopal Church include civil rights leader and former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall on its liturgical calendar. By resolution of the 2006 Diocesan Convention, we recommended that May 17, the anniversary of Marshall’s victory in the landmark Brown v. Board of Education school desegregation case be observed as his feast day.

    The 2006 General Convention referred the resolution to the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music, which, we hope, will bring it forward at the 2009 General Convention, next summer in Anaheim.

    One important criterion that the Commission considers is whether there is widespread local observance of a candidate’s proposed feast day. So to strengthen our presentation at the 2009 General Convention and, more importantly, to hold up before our people the Christian witness of Justice Marshall, please plan to observe Saturday May 17 or Sunday May 18 as Thurgood Marshall Day in your parish.

    You can learn more about Justice Marshall at edow.org.

    In Christ’s Peace Power and Love,
    Bishop John Bryson Chane


    The Washington Window has written numerous stories on the effort to include Marshall's name in the book of Lesser Feasts and Fasts. (1, 2, 3, 4.) The mainstream media has also paid some note.

    Liturgical resources for the feast of Thurgood Marshall, May 17

    Propers suggested by the Diocese of Washington. Music suggested by students at Seabury-Western Seminary and St. Augustine’s Church, Washington, D. C.

    Collect
    Eternal and Ever-Gracious God, you blessed your servant Thurgood with special gifts of grace and courage to understand and speak the truth as it has been revealed to us by Jesus Christ. Grant that by his example we may also know you and seek to realize that we are all your children, brothers and sisters of Jesus Christ, whom you sent to teach us to love one another; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God for ever and ever. Amen.

    Suggested scripture readings
    Amos 5:10-15, 21-24
    Psalm 34:15-22
    I Corinthians 13:1-13
    Matthew 23:1-11

    Suggested Music
    Song of Praise
    Christ Has Arisen from Lift Every Voice and Sing (LEVAS) 41

    Sequence
    Zimbabwe Alleluia

    Offertory Hymn
    How Great Thou Art LEVAS 60

    Memorial Acclamation Sung to the tune of We Shall Overcome:

    Jesus Christ has died.
    Jesus Christ is risen.
    Jesus Christ will come again.
    Oh, deep in my heart, I do believe,
    Jesus Christ will come again.

    Communion Hymn
    Just As I Am LEVAS 137

    Processional Hymn (and Marshall’s personal favorite)
    Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory LEVAS 226

    Episcopalians, Unitarians and Catholics--Free, Liberal and otherwise

    By Adrian Worsfold

    One wonders if The Episcopal Church as a body is wearied by the constant ideological attacks made upon it by the more conservative of Christians, especially those coming out of its ranks. It and its leadership are commonly accused of Unitarianism. Perhaps this comparison ought to be examined.

    The Anglo-American strand of Unitarianism is liberal at every level. It does not have checks and balances via structural overlaps in its liberalism, but rather is independent and liberal at each and every level and it all works by persuasion and goodwill (or doesn't). Thus the model is without creeds and articles, and is congregational and evolutionary. American Unitarianism was always congregational, the English too. The Anglican Church was actually resistant and oppositional to the congregationalists of the East coast of the United States. Although The Episcopal Church has inherited much in the way of American democratic culture, it keeps a qualified episcopal system. It keeps creeds and is somewhat systematic. It has congregations but is not made by congregations.

    Now there have always been points of crossing over. King's Chapel was the first Episcopal Church in New England. Loyalists to Britain were forced out in 1776 and it closed. A year later congregationalists displaced by the British effectively opened it up, sharing with Episcopalians until 1783, when their own chapel was refurbished, and James Freeman was selected to be the minister at Kings Chapel among the Episcopalians, and it was agreed that he would not have to read the Athanasian Creed. He read Joseph Priestley's A History of the Corruptions of Christianity (1782) and Theophilus Lindsey's An Historical View of the State of the Unitarian Doctrine and Worship from the Reformation to our own Times (1783) and became Unitarian, and the congregation on hearing some sermons adopted a qualified Unitarian stance. The church nevertheless retains something of an Anglican ethos to this day. Lindsey is important, because he was an Anglican rector in the north of England who resigned his orders when the Feathers Tavern petition against subscription to the Thirty-nine articles failed, and he opened the first named Unitarian Church in 1774, using an Arian liturgy produced by the Anglican Samuel Clarke. The important point often made is that Arianism was more important in the Anglican Church than in English Unitarianism and of course there were Anglican Latitudinarians too, a long word for liberal. After that some Anglicans and some Unitarians co-operated, and there were individuals who crossed over in both directions, and continue to do so to this day. One wonders if the downgrading since Lindsey's day of the Thirty-nine Articles to "historic formularies" receiving a general assent in the Church of England would have satisfied him.

    People forget that while John Henry Newman went on his travels from gothic Anglicanism to Roman Catholicism, his brother Francis went in the opposite direction from Anglicanism through Unitarianism. Blanco White went from Roman Catholicism via Anglicanism to Unitarianism. I know today of a Unitarian who is now Roman Catholic, and there is a vicar in Essex who was once a Unitarian minister, and indeed an important person in my own religious travels (now deceased) started off as a Anglo-Catholic ordained in St Paul's Cathedral and ended up as a humanist-Buddhist and symbols-using Unitarian minister in London.

    Of course there are Unitarian Christians who have an ecumenical outlook and who draw on the theology produced by liberal Anglicans. Many an Anglican has read Unitarian Christian writing with sympathy. The oddity is that Unitarian Christianity is conservative (I never got on with it; I went down more progressive routes) whereas Anglican liberalism is what it indicates. The two Churches are quite different in approach and ethos, and it is why Unitarian Universalism how has humanist, neo-Pagan, Eastern and Christian wings, and an identifiable Christianity is a minor element of that Church. The British Unitarian Church is more liberal Christian, but shares the same constituencies as the American Church.

    There is of course the central European Unitarian tradition that has and retains a catechism, that is a Unitarian form of Protestant Christianity, and was Socinian in Poland and Unitarian in Transylvania, and with repression spread itself to the Netherlands to affect other communities.

    One wonders whether the critics of The Episcopal Church actually make the best comparison with Unitarians when they want to accuse it of liberalism. Why not instead attempt to compare it with Liberal Catholicism?

    Now Liberal Catholicism does retain apostolic succession, and it does retain some creeds (it tends to keep the Apostles Creed and quietly drop the Nicene Creed). It is, however, very theologically diverse - indeed in terms of groups with apostolic succession in goes the full distance, from strict Eastern Orthodoxy and ultra-Romanism right through to anarchy. Rather than have any pretence to centralisation, they all pursue the autocephalous understanding of Eastern Orthodoxy whilst recognising the apostolic orders. Personally I think the autocephalous understanding would be a better model for Anglicanism than the intended centralisation of the current Archbishop of Canterbury, who seems all too often to describe the Anglican Communion as an Anglican Church. He wants to make it recognisable to Roman Catholicism as a body, but to do so would be highly innovative and a Covenant to do this would cause enormous institutional strain and almost certain division by rejection. The cost of the autocephalous route, however, would inevitably be more than one Anglicanism in a geographical area - something that has already happened.

    Liberal Catholicism is part of what sometimes is called the phenomenon of Episcopi Vagantes. It is actually misleading, because there should be something like 45,000 Liberal Catholics in the world (still tiny) and some eight million independent Catholics.

    There are different lines of apostolic succession and they are quite complex. My interest has been more ideological. Roughly speaking there are two strands. The first might be called Liberal Catholic Theosophical. Arnold Harris Mathew was made a bishop by the Old Catholic Church that has deep origins in the Netherlands and then in the rejection of the 1870 decision by the Pope to regard himself and all successors as infallible. Mathew came back to Britain and gathered around him some priests, most of whom became interested in Theosophy. Tolerant at first, he then dismissed them, and also personally tried to reconcile himself with Rome (he had been Roman and Anglican - and even Unitarian for a moment). His relationship with the Anglican leadership was difficult because he reordain very many Anglo-Catholic priests worried about the validity of their orders. It is from this relationship that English Anglicanism has an ideological chip on its shoulder about Episcopi Vagantes (whereas Roman Catholicism seems more relaxed).

    Mathew consecrated his successor, who then consecrated one of the Theosophy interested priests, James Ingall Wedgwood (of the pottery family), in 1916, and he consecrated Charles Webster Leadbeater, also in 1916, who was the real deal when it came to pursuing Theosophy and a magical view of the eucharist. He had also been a Buddhist (which also allows a rather magical interpretation in the richer traditions). The current various descendents of Liberal Catholicism regard Theosophy with variable levels of importance, and Leadbeater himself forsaw a time when it would not be important. Liberal Catholicism has a history of splits and has a number of branches.

    A second ideological source comes from the Unitarians. For convenience I call it Free Catholicism (which is how it called itself). Joseph Morgan Lloyd Thomas took the liturgical and Victorian gothic Free Christian tradition to a Catholic liturgical logic along with ecumenical friends including the congregationalist W. E. Orchard. This is just a few years after the outbreak of Liberal Catholicism. Free Catholicism did become trinitarian, after a fashion, but promoted creedless sacramentalism. Another strand is from Ulric Vernon Herford, who came from a family of Unitarian ministers. He had ordinary ministries in East Anglia and the west of England, but had mixed with the liturgical side of Unitarianism and indeed partly trained with Anglo-Catholics in Oxford. He then moved his Oxford congregation into a semi-monastic and liturgically richer setting and had a grand world-ecumenical vision, being ordained and consecrated in India along the lines of the Syro-Chaldean (Nestorian) Church and Roman Catholic Church, Syro-Chaldean Rite. He did not change his theology - he continued to be in all effect Unitarian. It seems that he assumed a Unitarianism of sorts in his consecrator and his consecrator Luis Mariano Suares, Mar Basilius, assumed a trinitarianism in Herford.

    I would like to think that Free Catholicism adds a rationality to the more magical tradition that is Liberal Catholicism - that would be my own bias I suppose. Free Catholicism did not continue like Liberal Catholicism did, and Unitarianism is biased against it - it regards the founders as unreliable, detached and against the ethos of Unitarianism. I used to think they were missing a trick or three (especially in a more symbolic postmodern age), and it is a principle reason why I moved to the Anglicans for a more liturgical and eucharistic setting, and a faith path or spiritual discipline.

    One gets the connection, but I realise that I stretch Anglicanism as far as it can go (and possibly too far). My own religious beginnings were in liberal theological Anglicanism - and I moved to the Unitarians, and from them moved back to the Anglicans. I am one of those who has crossed the borders. I probably live in the borders, a sort of religious Northumberland.

    My resistance to Liberal Catholicism is pretty thin, but I am put off by the esoteric and magical. The mainline Christian traditions make a point of distinguishing between the supernatural and the magical. Magic means power invested in the individual, whereas the supernatural is a vertical channel from God and presumably more reliable. However, the whole priestly "ontological difference" and Orders business does come pretty close to magic, and magic can be in the service of people just as kingship can be. My own argument is more about having rationality as an approach: for me mainline Christianity leads to a kind of self-emptying and burial of the supernatural (in the end) and the magical is something else. Incidentally, I was also involved in the Friends of the Western Buddhist Order, which, as well as stressing its own multiple apostolic succession (!), made a distinction between what is essential and what is culturally added on. I carry some of that, though I think religion is all cultural. My view of apostolic succession is that it is just a point of identity and continuity: I don't give it power. My own view of the eucharist is rather more social anthropological too, at root, as to how it 'works'.

    Magic is not compulsory in all Liberal Catholicism, just as Theosophy usually is not, but it gets a friendly press because it offers an explanation for apostolic succession and eucharistic power. Now, if you limit the magic, is there any substantive difference between Liberal Catholicism and some tendencies in Anglicanism? Are they not more similar than liberal Anglicanism and Unitarianism as it has evolved? I simply ask the question. One wonders about the Protestantism in the equation. It could just be that Anglicanism, whilst it has its near neighbours, cannot be compared with anything, and that it is an utterly unique animal. It might regard itself as part of the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church, whatever others may think, but nevertheless it is its own culture as are the other branches of the Pauline derived varieties.

    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.

    What happened at Seabury

    By Steven Charleston

    Have you heard what happened at Seabury? That’s a question some of us have been asked a lot, especially if we are connected to theological education in the church.

    But if you are one of the folks who may have missed the story, the question about “Seabury” refers to Seabury-Western Theological Seminary, one of the historic Episcopal seminaries, located in Evanston, Illinois. After years of training priests and lay leaders for the church, Seabury has announced drastic changes for the future. Faculty are being let go and programs shut down. In many ways, they are closing up shop under great financial pressure in the hopes of being able to reopen after extensive remodeling.

    So what happened at Seabury? That’s the question. Why did this have to happen and is it an omen of dire things to come in the Episcopal Church?

    Here is my short answer:

    What happened at Seabury was an honest effort to deal with a reality that affects 95% of the seminaries in the United States. If it is a sign of things to come, it is a good omen of long overdue attention to the critical issue of leadership development in our church.

    The men and women of the Seabury Board, faculty and staff are facing the harsh truths of trying to sustain our seminaries as “mini-colleges” in an era when the rules of the theological training game have completely changed. This is not a “failure” on their part, but recognition of the future. The truth is, we are in an adapt-or-die evolutionary moment for theological education. It is not necessary for us to wonder what went “wrong” with the past: it simply is the past.

    Theological training today can not be sustained by the old models of education. And I am not just talking about the need to adapt to technology. Eventually, in spite of the efforts to pretend that our kind of learning is so special we can not rely on technology, history will force us to keep pace with other educational institutions. The truly more difficult issues will be in our ability to redefine formation itself, and along with it, the meaning of ordination and community. Next to those issues, technology will be a piece of cake. Change is the underground current that has carried Seabury to the place where it finds itself. We are all on that river together.

    The deeper question is not what happen at Seabury, but, what is happening in the Episcopal Church? Where are we in regard to our commitment to academic excellence and spiritual formation? Right now, the answer is chaotic. We are grappling to find new models, new methods, and new mandates. Our seminaries and the national church are working together in fresh ways that promise new hopes. There is lots of action, but the climb will be uphill. Not only will our seminaries need to find new ways of working together, the whole church is going to have to find a way of actually supporting the development of its leadership rather than outsourcing its education to other, less expensive alternatives.

    Seabury is not the canary in the mine. Seabury is the light at the end of the tunnel.

    We now have an opportunity to reclaim our role as a Christian community in the forefront of education. We have let that priority slip over the last 30 years. We have a training system marred by ideology, stuck in a cafeteria design for education, limited in technology and financially strapped. But we have outstanding people in place and creativity in abundance if we choose to use it. The common sense and courage of Seabury is a call to us to join them in waking up to reality. If we want the Episcopal Church to remain one of the best educated faith communities in the world, we need to invest in the kinds of change that will make that possible.

    What happened at Seabury? Something sad, yes, but also something good. Something to be proud of. Something hopeful.

    Should we mourn the passing of the old Seabury? Yes, of course, but we should also celebrate the doors Seabury has just opened to the future. We may not like what that future requires of us, but change is never the first path we choose to follow. Seabury offers us a reminder that our leadership, identity and vision are not accidents, but the results of what we choose to invest in. For generations, we have invested in education that is the best we can create. It is time to do it again.

    The Rt. Rev. Steven Charleston, former Bishop of Alaska, is president and dean of Episcopal Divinity School, and keeper of the podcasting blog EDS's Stepping Stones. A citizen of the Choctaw Nation, Bishop Charleston is widely recognized as a leading proponent for justice issues and for spiritual renewal in the church.

    After the Revolution

    By Greg Jones

    I have been enjoying the new HBO miniseries John Adams. As a history buff with an interest in the Revolutionary War period, I am relishing this historically erudite dramatic presentation. My own Jones ancestors were also patriots, and I am grateful for their courage and willingness to do the right thing.

    John Adams was not religiously unusual in his class and time -- but it might surprise folks now to learn that he was a Unitarian. Like many highly-educated persons of his time, swept up with the ideals of the Enlightenment and the Age of Reason, Adams rejected the basic tenets of Christian faith.

    As I understand his theology Adams rejected the doctrines of the Trinity or the divinity of Jesus. Indeed, many of the leaders of the American Revolution shared in such modernist beliefs, preferring in the place of creedal Christianity something we might call secular humanism -- with a hint of divinity sprinkled about it. Like many other leading citizens, patriots and zealots for the cause of liberty and the pursuit of happiness -- Adams would not have been able to hold dear the Nicene and Apostles Creeds, acknowledge the gracious power of the sacraments, or declare the Holy Scriptures to contain all things necessary for salvation. Almost without doubt, I believe Mr. Adams would have denied any value in the office of the episcopacy, especially as understood by Anglicans, to be an office with special divinely given authority down through the ages.

    And Adams, while a 'liberal' in many ways for these religious beliefs, shared them with many others who we might call 'conservative' for their religion. In his day, American evangelical Protestantism was on the rise, thanks to the revivals of the period preceding the Revolution. Yet, while adherents to Calvinistic Protestantism would have confessed belief in the Trinity and divinity of Christ, they would also have done away with the more ancient and catholic marks of the faith, such as the creedal formulas, sacramental theology, and episcopacy. The last decades of the 18th century, and the first decades of the 19th century, were good for this kind of Christianity, but they were not boom times for Anglicanism in the United States of America.

    After the Revolution, former colonists, fired by the notion that they had thrown off the chains of monarchy, struggled to figure out how to remain Anglican, wondering whether they had thrown off the Church of England and its lordly episcopacy as well. Indeed, many Anglican clergy remained loyalist, and left these United States.

    The challenge for those remaining, who yearned to be Anglican still, was to figure out how to preserve the essential marks of the 'one, holy, catholic and apostolic' faith, the essential elements of Anglican identity as they existed unto that point, while also separating out other bits: like the divine right of kings theology which fueled so much of Establishment theology in the Church of England.

    We owe a great debt of gratitude to those founders of the Episcopal Church who managed to work out these questions in rather short order, and without coming to pieces. For even then, as now, there were different parties within American Anglicanism. Some were basically straight-up Calvinists or evangelical Protestants. Others were the High Churchmen of New York and Connecticut -- others something little different than a Methodist, a Congregationalist, or even a Unitarian in some places.

    But, continuing to use the Prayer Book as a guide, and allowing only for moderate and often minimal changes, the founders of the Episcopal Church managed the birthing process pretty well. William White was a leader in that cause. As a 'moderate revolutionary,' he was committed to the harmony of the American expression of Anglicanism, and also to continued relationship with the Church of England.

    Frankly, it is remarkable that White, the second bishop of the Episcopal Church (after Samuel Seabury), could have become a bishop when he did, where he did, and the way he did. White was consecrated as Bishop of Pennsylvania in 1787 by the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Archbishop of York, and the Bishop of Bath just a few years after the end of the American Revolution. He didn't even have to go up to Scotland to be consecrated irregularly there by bishops willing to do without an allegiance oath to the British Crown.

    White, an American, a patriot, and a man ordained to the priesthood in the Church of England before the Revolution, found himself elected by his peers (not appointed by the crown), and consecrated by the hierarchy of the Church of England to serve as a bishop in an altogether new entity -- an independent, autonomous, and free 'Anglican' church, in communion relationship but not fealty to the Sees of Canterbury and York, etc.

    White -- a creature of his time though not beholden to it -- was able to do both a new thing (i.e. help to launch a new 'church' with a revised ecclesiology and self-understanding) while not destroying an old thing (i.e. the essential doctrine and practice of the apostolic Christian faith.)

    I believe we need more folks like Bishop White in the Episcopal Church. Not radical revolutionaries, but faithful evolutionaries.

    We do not create ex nihilo -- only God does. We shape ground we've been given -- do we not? We do not work from the annihilation of what we receive, but rather by the faithful and often slight re-translation to suit evolving contexts. Only from time to time are we called to dissolve those long established bonds between old and new iterations -- but not normally on every day or even in every age.

    It seems not so unimaginable to me that we could manage to preserve and uphold the faith once delivered (the Nicene faith, the Baptismal covenant, the sacraments, the Scriptures, the historic episcopate) -- while also cherishing our particular liturgical tradition (the Book of Common Prayer and Hymnal) -- while also continuing to stand for the teaching of Christ in the face of a world which is unjust and ungodly -- while also continuing to do that prophetic work of trying to bring real justice to fruition by the upbuilding of the Kingdom of God on Earth today -- while also being open to the occasional revision of certain liturgical practices, moral teachings, and other matters which of necessity are often limited by time and space and are not perhaps eternal.

    I'm just thinking that instead of following the trajectory of the radical reformers of Protestantism who between the time of Luther and John Adams managed to toss out in one place or another nearly the whole of the faith and practice of the Church of England -- we might be a bit more like old William White.

    In other words -- passionate about the Gospel, cherishing the bonds of baptismal, eucharistic and ecclesiastical unity, and walking humbly and mercifully with a Lord who teaches us to love all, heal all, feed all, liberate all, and welcome all to relationship in the name of Christ.

    Can I get an amen?

    The Rev. Samuel Gregory Jones ("Greg") became a member of Christ's Body at St. Columba's in Washington, D.C., and he was educated at the University of North Carolina and the General Theological Seminary, where he is on the Board. Rector of St. Michael's Raleigh, and author of Beyond Da Vinci, he blogs at fatherjones.com.

    Hope amidst the mess

    By Peter Carey

    In the midst of Episcopal Church news that includes court decisions in Virginia, inhibition of bishops, and disagreements in many congregations one might be forgiven for thinking that our church is rapidly swirling down the toilet bowl.

    News Flash: It ain’t!

    We don’t have too look far to see the bright spots in our church. Check out the growing network of Episcopal Internship Communities across the United States. For several decades, churches and dioceses have sponsored small groups (4-8) of young adults (18-30 years old or so) who live in community and each member works at a social service agency. There are slightly different guidelines and practices between these groups, but together they are sending thoughtful, prayerful, and dedicated young people into the Church and the world.

    In 1992-1993, I had the good luck to join a community that was administered by the National Cathedral in Washington, DC. At the time, the “Cathedral Volunteer Service Community” was made up of six young adults from around the country. We hailed from Texas, North Carolina, Connecticut, Ohio and Vermont and came to the community from a variety of religious and political perspectives. We were lucky enough to have as our leader and mentor the Rev. Carole Crumley, who was then a canon of the National Cathedral (and is now a leader at the Shalem Institute for Spiritual Formation). The CVSC was grounded in a Rule of Life that had echoes of Benedictine Spirituality. We pledged to live in intentional Christian Community, praying together daily, sharing in the work of the household, meeting once a week for theological reflection with Canon Crumley, and also pledged to live a life of simplicity. In this case, simplicity meant (in part) that we each only received $100 a month for food (which we pooled to shop for the six of us) and $100 for other expenses. That was simple living!

    We were challenged to feed and entertain six people on $600 a month. We were also challenged find ways to build community across our various theological and political differences, and it was not always easy. To top it off, five of us were first-born children in our family of origin! (We had some strong personalities to manage.) Outside of our house, I had the great fortune of spending a year working at the Samaritan Ministry of Greater Washington (SMGW) where I offered employment counseling to those who were homeless or at risk of being homeless. Really, I didn’t know anything about finding work (as I never really had a job before!), but I encountered people who were decidedly different than me, and while I don’t know how much help I gave, I certainly learned a great deal.

    The six people in my community followed a variety of paths after leaving the community. One became a priest within a few years after our program, two others became teachers, another worked in business and then decided to follow his heart and now does work with cancer patients, another does peace and justice advocacy with another denomination.

    While the Cathedral Volunteer Service Community is no longer in existence, there are several other Episcopal Internship Communities that are thriving and growing. Trinity Episcopal Church in DC now offers a program in our nation’s capital. The Rev. Jason Cox, who is a friend of mine from seminary, administers the program in the Diocese of Los Angeles (Episcopal Urban Internship Program). There are several other communities which are offering young people a way to practice their faith by working for those in need, living in intentional community, and integrating this work and community-living into their theological views and spiritual practices. This is good news indeed! It also counters the long-standing assumption that people in their twenties and thirties will leave the church and will return only when they decide to have a family.

    Some Episcopal Internship Communities are sponsored by parishes, others by groups of parishes, and others by dioceses. Not only are these wonderful opportunities for young people, they are also tangible signs that our church is doing good things in the world, and that the work is connected to our belief in Jesus Christ, our hope in the Resurrection and our call to live lives of hope and compassion.

    As a new priest, I am often asked: “Does the church have anything to say to the world?” It certainly does! One of the best ways to “say something to the world” is to show the world what we’re doing. These programs say that our church is engaged with the world and is developing dedicated disciples.

    Can we do more? Certainly.

    Can we encourage even more of these programs to develop? Absolutely.
    Is our church about more than legal battles, inhibitions, schism, and disagreements? You bet!

    Check out the Episcopal Internship Communities at The Episcopal Church’s website in the section on “Domestic Internships.” There is also Facebook group “I was a member of an Episcopal Internship Community,” as well – check them out!

    The Rev. Peter M. Carey is the school chaplain at St. Catherine's School for girls in Richmond, Virginia and is also on the clergy staff at St. Mark's Episcopal Church in Richmond. He blogs at Santos Woodcarving Popsicles.

    Bringing the ONE campaign to life

    By Lauren R. Stanley

    RENK, Sudan – On my left wrist, I wear two bracelets that I never take off. One is a black-and-white beaded affair that is quite popular in Sudan right now, called ajok, a symbol of the beauty of contrasting colors. The other is the white ONE campaign bracelet, which I have been wearing for over a year.

    Recently, one of Sudan’s Episcopal bishops asked about my bracelets. He knew about the ajok bracelet, for it is part of the Dinka tradition and he is from the Dinka tribe. But this other one, he said, pointing to the ONE campaign, what is that?

    So I explained that if everyone in the world actually donated1 percent of his or her income, we could end poverty, feed the hungry, give water to the thirsty, provide medicine and education, build up local businesses, reduce child mortality, combat deadly diseases and become real stewards of the environment.

    In other words, I said, for mere pennies per person per day, we could change the world and help bring about God’s kingdom.

    Where would the money go, the bishop immediately asked.

    To programs that are proven to work well and that deliver on their promises.

    This is a good idea, he said. How can we teach our people this?

    So I pointed him to our newest project, the building of water cisterns to catch rainwater from the roof of St. Michael’s Chapel at the Renk Theological College. I pointed to the seemingly huge hole in the ground, dug by an older man named John Tho who showed up every morning and every evening for five days to dig 2 meters down, 1.5 meters around, with perfectly straight sides. John dug that hole, and is digging three others, all by hand, slowly, surely, with great professionalism.

    Stanley.jpg

    Then I pointed to our contractor, Mohammed, and his two assistants, Solomon and Idriss, young men who are learning the craft of brick-laying and concrete-pouring. Normally, the three of them dig and build pit latrines. These water cisterns are new to them, but the idea of storing water in underground cisterns, where it will stay cool and clean, instead of in 55-gallon plastic barrels or rusted metal tanks, appeals to them. Already, they are thinking of how all this clean water will change the lives of all the people who have access to it.

    And I pointed to those who gave life to this project: ECWs in two parishes in Winston Salem, N.C.; two congregations in the Diocese of Virginia; one men’s group in Southwestern Virginia; one family in Northern Virginia; and one individual, who combined their resources to finance underground water cisterns that will catch rainwater off the chapel’s zinc roof.

    It’s not a huge project; the funding for the initial work was $5,400. And the cisterns, while good ideas, certainly won’t change the world.

    But they will make all the difference to the students and staff at the Renk Theological College, to their families, and to the surrounding neighbors who come to take water from the College. During the rainy season, the White Nile River becomes the “Big Muddy;” the water on which all of us depend often is a dirty brown, and that is after it has been “filtered” at the water plant. It can take up to six months for the river to cleanse itself, during which time anyone drinking from the water, or bathing in it, is exposed to at least a dozen different diseases, many of which are deadly.

    Catching the water off the zinc roof of the chapel will mean clean water, possibly for up to six months. During the long dry season, water from the taps (which comes intermittently at best) can be stored in the cisterns, where the silt will settle to the bottom, the water will be clean, and those who depend on it will not have to go without.

    That’s the idea behind the ONE campaign: To take a little bit of money and make it go a long way to change the lives of as many people as possible. Nothing big needs to be done; grand plans do not need to be made. Instead, the focus is on little actions that change lives quickly and for the better.

    Four contractors, working in brutal heat under a searing sun, are combining their professionalism with the funds and prayers and support from approximately 200 Americans who heard the story of the water shortages here in Renk and decided to do something about it.

    That, I told the bishop, is how we make the ONE campaign work: We see the need, tell the story, create partnerships, pray constantly, work together.

    Are we changing the world?

    Not yet.

    But we are changing one small piece of the world, and we are helping a whole lot of people here in Renk.

    We think this is a good start.

    And we hope – we pray – that once people see how well these cisterns work, they will want to do the same thing, which means we can start a small company here that will specialize in this work, thus providing jobs and training for one group of people, and clean water for another group.

    Will we need more partners in this?

    Yes. But that’s part of the ONE campaign: Bringing people together in the community in which they have been created, crossing all boundaries because there are no boundaries in God’s very good creation.

    Our little informal portion of the ONE campaign is based on our hopes and dreams: We began this project in the hope that it will join people together across 8,000 miles. We are continuing it to help the people in most need right here in Renk. And we dream it continues to grow, with future partners who will fund the purchase of pumps to replace the ropes and buckets we will use at first. Perhaps we will even find the start-up money for a new company.

    Whatever happens, we know that with these cisterns, we’ve begun something new among the people of God in the name of God.

    The Rev. Lauren R. Stanley is an Appointed Missionary of the Episcopal Church serving in the Diocese of Renk, Sudan. She is a lecturer at the Renk Theological College, teaching Theology, Liturgy and English, and serves as chaplain for the students.

    Coming to Church: a reminiscence

    By Greg Jones

    I am an Episcopalian. Not by accident of birth, or cultural happenstance. No, I am an Episcopalian because The Episcopal Church welcomed me, embraced me, and initiated me into the mysterious Body of Christ Jesus, the Lord and Savior of the Whole World, of which our church is a vital part.

    I do not come from a 'cradle Episcopalian' family. My paternal grandmother was most decidedly uninterested in organized religion. My paternal grandfather was a Baptist. My maternal grandparents were extremely traditional old world Roman Catholics. My father was not raised in any Christian church, my mother left Roman Catholicism as soon as she could, and most of my cousins were almost entirely unchurched in their growing up.

    I spent a great deal of time with a family in our neighborhood that had tons of kids and they became like another family for me – the mother of which led the choir in a Methodist church. I joined that choir – and thus began my first experience of church life. "All Thing Bright and Beautiful" was my favorite hymn from those days. I was five years old, to be exact, when I sang in a Methodist children's choir.

    My parents separated before I entered the first grade, and for the rest of my childhood, adolescence and early adulthood, I would shuttle between households. However, and thankfully, at the very time of my parents' divorce, a neighbor invited us to attend worship at his church. It was St. Columba's Episcopal Church in Washington, D.C., and from the moment we walked in the front door on Albemarle Street, I knew I had a home. Not only a spiritual home – but a home made of bricks and mortar, wood and glass, with a fixed location and a glorious capacity to bring people in. Every time I drove by my parish I would look at it and smile – and know that it was my place too.

    St. Columba's was undergoing revival in those days, seeing tremendous growth in worship attendance, music ministry, outreach, mission, education, and spiritual formation – much like St. Michael's is today. I joined the choir there – my mother took classes and was received into the Episcopal Church – and for the rest of my childhood we spent most of our quality time associated with parish life in one form or another.

    My first band played there – we played rock and roll at a talent show – and some poor kid in my band even did a break-dancing routine. (It was 1982.) I knew every single square foot of that entire facility. When they had a capital campaign and added significantly to the worship space and bought a world-class organ – it was something I was very excited about, even as a young kid. I took great pride in the beautification and expansion of the nave – and in the glorious sound which came from the organ. The beautiful architecture and the music formed me deeply.

    Choir, Sunday School, retreats, youth trips, soup kitchen work, friendships, pancake suppers, weddings, funerals, sneaking around with a pack of kids – it was all what made that parish my home and my way into the Kingdom.

    Quite simply, other than my own parents and grandparents, and a few other people – no other place, no other community, no other shaping force has done more to make me who I am than the Episcopal Church – as found on Albemarle Street in Washington, D.C.

    If it weren't for the Episcopal Church, as expressed in that congregation with its very specific place in space and time, and its faithfulness to the Gospel, I wouldn't even know who I was. Thank God for the evangelism of the people of St. Columba's who knew that it takes more than talk to spread the Good News. It takes more than getting doctrine right. It takes more than knowing what the Scripture says. It takes more than all of that. It takes the creation of a spiritual home which is alive in the Spirit, and which is truly focused on being the place where disciples of Jesus worship God, meet and grow together, and are formed into the full stature of Christ.

    For this I continue to be grateful for and at home in the Episcopal Church.

    The Rev. Samuel Gregory Jones ("Greg") was educated at the University of North Carolina and the General Theological Seminary, where he is on the Board. Greg is rector of St. Michael's Raleigh, and author of Beyond Da Vinci (Seabury Books, 2004). He blogs at fatherjones.com.

    A new step in the reformation of Anglicanism?

    By Howard Anderson

    I was re-reading John Jewell’s Apology for the Church of England last night. Yes, I know, only a Church nerd would “re-read” something as ponderous as that. My seminarian daughter, Kesha, urged me to read it because she felt it was important. It isn’t exactly People magazine or even The Washington Post. But something struck me as I read his often turgid and convoluted arguments against the Roman Catholic Church and the Bishop of Rome. He, as well as his student, Cranmer, and Hooker were the three individuals who put Jewell's thinking into a new formulation of reason, tradition and scripture; and that the Episcopal Church are another step in the Holy Spirit's guidance of the church councils.

    Jewell was seen by many, especially the Roman Catholic Bishops in England, who argued vehemently in the House of Lords against Elizabeth’s “Settlement,” as merely another Protestant cleric. But in his defense of the Church of England he began to link the seeming opposites together. He was smitten by the sola scriptura (scripture only) focus of the Protestants, but was appalled by the Puritans who took things too far in throwing the Catholic baby out with the bath. His fixation on the primitive church, and their less hierarchical priesthood of all believers, reaching out to the world as a way of living into God’s reign, almost sounds like what the “emergent/emerging” church folk are writing and talking about these days. Of course it took a couple more centuries before our ecclesiology caught up with the ideal of the primitive or early church. But I think it has. And I admit that I, like Jewell, am enamored greatly by the early church, whose faults I candidly admit I have not explored as deeply as its enduring contributions to the Church today.

    I remember sitting in a pub in Canterbury with several of the Cathedral Canons, and after the second pint, one said “You Americans need to get with the program and use the same polity as the rest of the Communion.” My response was something like, “Perhaps you forget, that there was a revolution in the colonies and I believe your side lost. And, as you tried to strangle the Episcopal Church baby in the cradle by withholding episcopal support, our friends, and your adversaries the Scots came to our aid.” I added, rather snidely I fear, “The Church of England and the whole Communion, will, within our children’s lifetime, adopt the Episcopal Church’s polity. My friends, if you think lay and ordained Episcopalians will give up their rights to vote on matters of import like electing their rectors and bishops, voting in General Convention and give them over to a bunch of bishops let alone primates, you are simply deluding yourselves!” Slurp, wipe the Guinness foam off my upper lip, “so there!”

    This harkening back, I admit often with nostalgia dimming the realities of the primitive church, has always marked much of classical Anglican thinking. The polity we in the Episcopal Church have embraced, coming out of our revolutionary culture is truly an American intervention into the wonderful world of polity. It is a reform that does take a step forward in the evolution of a church that is thoroughly Catholic, yet embraces the reformation thinking. I always add that TEC is “the last catholic church left.” Note the small “c.” But I can say that God willing, anyone I baptize could become our Presiding Bishop. There is no automatic roadblock to anyone who has the gifts for serving TEC as an ordained or lay leader, like there is in other branches of churches in the Catholic tradition, and these roadblocks of exclusion exist even in the normally inclusive mainline Protestant denominations.

    TEC is much maligned in some Anglican quarters these days. But mark my words, this reforming Catholic/catholic church of ours is doing a great thing in following the model of radical inclusion that I believe Jesus called the early Church to, and stills calls us into today. Living in the tension of being a both/and Church is not easy. We, like Jewell, look backward for inspiration and forward to a church ever more being called by God into a bright and unpredictable future. It never has been easy to live in this tension. It never will be. But as for me, I am proud of this Church of ours that dares to risk persecution and having all kinds of evil muttered against it falsely on account of following Jesus.

    The Rev. Dr. Howard Anderson is Warden and President of the Cathedral College at Washington National Cathedral. He was a long time General Convention deputy and most importantly, is grandfather to a five year old theologian, Will.

    Making decisions as a Church

    By L. Zoe Cole

    During the day, I write ethical dilemmas that are used as part of a web-based simulation that teaches ethical decision-making skills. One of the things we teach is that more often than not ethical dilemmas are choices between competing goods rather than between right and wrong. The other thing we teach is that although there is often more than one "right" answer, some answers are better than others. Virtually everyone does in fact have a personal value system, although most can't articulate it and to the extent that we make "good" choices, we do so by accident rather than a reasoned and replicable process.

    In popular debate, those arguing for the maintenance of traditional notions of morality often posit the "anything goes" straw man as the only alternative to tradition. However, to reject traditional notions of morality (which are often simply about maintaining the power and privilege of one group over another) is not to reject all notions of morality or the value of morality. It is simply to suggest that a different set of criteria or understanding of the same tools (e.g. different interpretation of the same Biblical texts) be used to determine what is moral, ethical and why some choices are better than others.

    As Episcopalians, we are sometimes criticized for a dearth of "official theology," but we do have lots of information about how to make choices that are life-giving, or proclaim the Good News or spread the Kingdom - or however one describes the end results that are desirable for Christians. We have a catechism that tells us what sin and redemption are (sin is "the seeking of our own will instead of the will of God, thus distorting our relationship with God, with other people and with all creation" and redemption is "the act of God which sets us free from the power of evil, sin, and death" BCP p.848-849); we have Eucharistic prayers that tell the same story of creation, sin, judgment and redemption in different ways; the Easter Vigil which goes through the same history using various passages of Scripture; the baptismal covenant; the Prayers of the People—oh! and then there is Scripture itself!

    All these provide tools for discerning whether one set of actions or values or politics is better than another. They also provide a common language, and, to the extent we take responsibility for learning, a shared teaching. Some choices are a matter of individual conscience, but if we are the Body of Christ, then we are not free to operate only from a position of individual choice. We have responsibilities as members of the Body to fulfill the vocations given to us. I am an elected deputy to General Convention and therefore have a responsibility to consider what common choices and commitments are appropriate and/or necessary for this part of the Church (The Episcopal Church) to do the work God has given us to do (as distinct from the Church of England or the Anglican Church of Nigeria), as the Church (as distinct from what I am called as an individual to do).

    Some complain that the fact that different members of the Church come to different conclusions using the same tools means that we have no standard or shared language by which to justify one practice over another - in fact, we use similar standards and shared language all the time, we just don't use it to justify the same practices. The fact that we understand these tools to point toward different decisions for different people at different times does not leave us to the "arbitrary rule of the majority," whatever that means. Presumably those who complain of such a standard are making some distinction between the way we currently make collective decisions and the way other Christians do or did in the past. Are those decisions somehow less arbitrary or less the will of the majority?

    Although I hope TEC lives out the Church’s vocation to be prophetic, and know that some congregations are profoundly and transformatively so, my guess is that in reality we are no more nor less prophetic overall than any other group of Christians. I think the only thing we can be is true to our own experience, even when, or perhaps especially when, that experience is not the same as others. I suspect based on what I read and hear from both the conservative and liberal sides that many see the parallels between our current religious debates and problems and Jesus' criticisms of the religious leaders of his own day. For those who are called to live in the light, we still spend a lot of time in darkness of our own making.

    Some complain that we merely mirror a liberal American culture in our insistence on full inclusion of all God’s children, regardless of gender, race, ability/disability, sexual orientation or gender identity. They argue either that these values are not intrinsic to the Gospel, or perhaps that our adoption of them is not theological, but a mere acquiescence in the questionable values of American liberalism or post-modernism (that dreaded and maligned antithesis of “orthodoxy” and traditionalism). While the claims are often over-inflated, the essential question is legitimate: we have no business as the Church in simply mirroring culture, even where cultural values are consistent with the Gospel. But often the claims themselves are not understood as a call to theological integrity, but simply reveal the critics as feeling out of sync with both the actions of General Convention and their experience of contemporary society.

    I am frequently inspired by the thoughtfulness and learning of my sisters and brothers in Christ, especially my fellow deputies, in their approach to the issues facing the Church. They inspire me to work against my personal shortcoming of too often seeing those who disagree with me as taking unreflective positions. Often I find myself and witness others being pleasantly surprised by shared understandings among those of different theo-political positions. Therefore, what I experience as true of those with whom I find myself in alignment, I assume is true of those with whom I do not find myself in alignment: we are all seeking to serve the same God and we accept the responsibility as leaders to discern the will of God for the community, as well as for our individual lives; and even though we won't always get it right, we trust that God is working with us to accomplish God's purpose.

    In the end I can trust God even in the face of the differences of others and my own fallibility because I know that (as former Archbishop of Canterbury William Temple said): when we chose wisely, God reigns; when we chose foolishly, God reigns.

    L. Zoe Cole is a lay member of St. Luke's Episcopal Church in Denver, CO and active in the Diocese of Colorado. Currently, she is a part-time municipal court judge and a full-time writer for EthicsGame.com, producer of web-based ethical decision making tools and training materials.

    Honoring Seabury-Western

    By Steven Charleston

    The recent announcement that Seabury-Western will cease its degree granting program caught many people by surprise. Once the news soaked in, it also brought many people to a quite place for pensive reflection on the state and future of seminary education in our church. In effect, in saying farewell to “Seabury” (at least in its traditional form) we are reminding ourselves that in today’s economic reality we can take nothing for granted.

    Whether we like to think about it or not (and Deans have to think about it all the time) education is a business. As much as we talk about spiritual formation and academic rigor: the bottom line is that none of these things will occur if we can not pay for them. The demise of a fine school like Seabury-Western underlines that point. And to make matters harder, current economic predictions tell us that nearly 40% of existing seminaries will follow Seabury’s path in the near future.

    For a small denomination like ours, the economic realities of supporting several schools, while students wrack up crippling debt even before they are deployed, should make planning for the economic strategy of education a priority. Currently, the Council of Deans, the Presiding Bishop, faculty and others are all engaged in a dialogue to chart a more comprehensive approach to leadership development through our seminary network. As those recommendations and daydreams make their way through channels, it would be wise for every concerned Episcopalian to become informed about the issues and, more importantly, actively engaged in helping develop solutions.

    Out-sourcing the training of our own leadership, even if it saves money, is not a long term answer for the future of ECUSA. We need to build on the foundation of scholarship, critical inquiry, Anglican spirituality and pragmatic application that have been core to our intellectual history as a faith community. We need to preserve our unique identity and heritage. We need to do so by developing a new model for a national seminary system that allows each member school to be distinctive in what they offer, while integrated in how they are supported.

    While we may be distracted by all of the politics swirling around Lambeth this summer, I hope that we do not forget to consider the experience of Seabury-Western and how it is a wake up call for us to be committed to theological education in this church. Our purpose is not nostalgia, a desire to keep traditional schools going no matter what, but rather mission, a need to adapt and grow. Seminaries are the canaries in the mine for ECUSA. They represent the cutting edge of our creativity, credibility and community. If our seminaries are showing signs of health, then so is the church. If not, then not.

    I will miss Seabury-Western, as it once was. But if I want to honor this community, I should not forget what it always strove to do: give ECUSA the best leadership possible. That is the legacy we need to preserve, not just for the sake of a memory, but for the hope of a future.

    The Rt. Rev. Steven Charleston, former Bishop of Alaska, is president and dean of Episcopal Divinity School, and keeper of the podcasting blog EDS's Stepping Stones. A citizen of the Choctaw Nation, Bishop Charleston is widely recognized as a leading proponent for justice issues and for spiritual renewal in the church. He has written many articles on both Native American concerns and spirituality.

    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.

    The challenge of the 44%

    By Andrew T. Gerns

    The beauty of research like the U.S. Religious Landscape Survey released this week by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life is that in many ways it tells us what we already knew. The survey has confirmed and challenged a few hunches that arise out of my experience as a parish priest.

    It is not particularly news to me that America’s life of faith is defined by fluidity. All I have to do is look out from the pulpit every Sunday. In my own parish, I have four basic groups of parishioners: people who used to be Catholic, people who used to be Lutheran, and people who used to be something else—they grew up in one of a myriad of other Christian traditions. Oh, I almost forgot, the fourth group of people are the ones who grew up and remain Episcopalian. That’s the smallest group in my own parish. And even then, there ought to be an asterisk because most of the folks who grew up Episcopalian were the children of parents who were themselves raised in another tradition.

    Statistically speaking, I am the odd duck: a cradle Episcopalian who is the son and the son of a son of cradle Episcopalians.

    So fluidity is a defining mark of American religious life. Forty-four percent of Americans belong to a religious group or tradition that is different than the one they grew up in.

    But we live in an age where loyalty to brand or institution is a thing of the past. I remember visiting the Harry Truman presidential library, and one of the exhibits is a sampling of some of the cars that Truman owned. They were all Plymouths. He described himself as a “Plymouth man.“ Outside of the fact that they don’t even make Plymouths anymore, the idea of being eternally loyal to one make of car is a rare thing. Manufacturers are excited when they can get a buyer to stay with the same company, let alone the same brand, two cars in a row. And that’s not just true of cars.

    I remember once meeting a self-described Episcopalian, who spoke with the pride of familiarity of things Prayer Book and his time as acolyte and the member of a Canterbury Club in college, telling me that he goes to a Lutheran Church. Why? Because it was closer to his house, he could walk or jog there, the service time was better and the kids knew kids who went there.

    Speaking to a former Roman Catholic in my parish, she told me, partly in jest, the reason she is an Episcopalian is that our church doesn’t work so hard to make her mad. But that runs both ways. I remember talking to a United Methodist who used to be a member of my church; he told me that things our denomination did just “made me mad.”

    Of the mobile 44%, roughly half choose to go to another Christian tradition. The other half leave the church altogether, with only a tiny fraction of those go to another religious tradition. Most of this other group completely drops out of religious life.

    We should have seen this coming—and many of us have but have been at a loss to come to terms with it. The question now is how we respond. Seems to me that there two choices: we can be reactive or we can listen to what the culture is telling us and work to make the Gospel comprehensible and compelling in a free-market of ideas driven by personal freedom.

    The reactive comes in many forms, but it is to me essentially an exercise in trying to hold back forces bigger than us. In trying to preserve what the past and its ways teach us, we can overdo it.

    Overdoing it has recently landed on my pastoral lap. I have one member whose husband is Roman Catholic and they are raising their kids in both churches. They wouldn’t call it that, but they are. The kids go to parochial school but they go to church with either one parent or the other depending on work, sports and activity schedules. Mostly they go the Roman parish, but at least once a month, they show up in our parish. I didn’t think twice about it but I have been pulled in pastorally because the pastor at the Catholic Church is pressuring the family to only bring the kids to his congregation. This not only tears at Mom’s heart—and risks breaking covenants the couple made with each other at the time of their marriage in that very same church. It is also forcing the kids to choose not only between religions but, in effect, between parents. All of this is because the kids are hearing from the Catholic priest that they may only receive Communion in that church and no other. At the same time, they hear from me and my church that they are welcome to receive because they are baptized. The mixed message is causing the kids to ask uncomfortable questions at home.

    This is a crisis happening in slow motion. For the family, the conflict is causing them to think ahead to an anticipated moment of truth where they will either have to choose one tradition over another, or else drop out altogether. I do what I can to keep the lines of communication open to both parents.

    My conversations with the priest of the other church have been as revealing as they are frustrating. The priest is from Africa, which complicates matters. We don’t speak the same cultural language, and he sees only threat coming from my concern that we might work together. Besides the fact that he won’t say out loud his assumption that his tradition has primacy over mine, his basic argument is that he must “hold the line” for the sake of both the family and the Church.

    He does not seem to realize that in pushing them to make one kind of commitment—one that might have made sense in another time or another cultural context—they might make a completely different choice. I am afraid that if he doesn’t lighten up they could choose another religious community (maybe mine, but just as easily another more neutral one) or none.

    In our history there have been lots of American religious movements that have sought to “hold the line” against some cultural movement that was marching right past them. The current political transformation of American evangelicalism is an example of the tension between “holding the line,” with its desire to return to a more structured “past” (if one ever existed), and the need younger evangelicals have for religion to speak to the culture we have instead of the culture we choose.

    In the face of a religious marketplace of ideas where people are free to explore, to go where they want, for whatever reason they want. I believe there is a difference between “holding the line” and articulating values that answer the traps, contradictions and realities of a culture that emphasizes absolute individual choice and responsibility over the values of community and tradition.

    So what’s a church to do? If we don’t “hold the line,” what alternative do we have?

    For one thing, we must become proficient at the language of the marketplace of ideas we live in. Like every human endeavor and institution, we tend to fight yesterday’s battles. We mainline churches tend to act as if we were still the bastions of privilege and status that we were before blue laws and civil religion went away. Recently, I had the chance to speak to the local Church Women United Lenten service. It was a chance for me to realize that speaking to yesterday’s church in yesterday’s language is not a problem restricted to Episcopalians.

    Another thing we can do is to change our approach to evangelism. Since people are more likely to move between traditions for all kinds of reasons ranging from conscience to convenience, I believe we should adapt an attitude that is at once more clearly defined and more generous. We should be clearer about who we are and what we offer as Episcopalians, and we should acknowledge that people choose their faith communities for a variety of reasons and that, as wonderful as we are, we might not be the right place for everyone. Whereas denominationalism used to be defined solely in terms of governance and doctrine, today it may be seen as a diversity of styles and emphases.

    In terms of the Gospel mandate to go into the world, to baptize and teach, we need to decide if the goal is to make more Episcopalians or to invite more people to Christ. I would suggest that the first is about institutional survival and preserving the past; but the second allows us the freedom to be at once who we are at our best and to give people the freedom—in a culture that trains us to make individual choices in the context of a competitive marketplace—to first choose faith, and then choose the community within which to nourish it.

    The most difficult thing for a congregation that assumes a kind of brand loyalty will be to learn how to discover stability, purpose and renewal when we live in a mobile culture. We may need to content ourselves that we will be places of spiritual stability…for now.

    Our biggest challenge will be for us Christians to see ourselves as one church with many, diverse institutional expressions: where having people know and follow Christ is more important than what flavor church they belong to.

    The fluidity of American religious life drives us to be both better differentiated and more generous. This requires us to hold on to a tension. We must be clear about what we proclaim and yet let go and give the outcome to God. Our task is to proclaim and invite and to give to God the task of transformation and conversion.

    The Rev. Canon Andrew Gerns is rector of Trinity Episcopal Church in Easton, Pa., and chair of the Evangelism Commission of the Diocese of Bethlehem. He is keeper of the blog Andrewplus.

    The art of being still

    By Heidi Shott

    In 1979 a small island in the Southern Caribbean made a bold move by designating the real estate between the high tide mark and 200 feet below the surface a national marine park. Rules require dive boats to use moorings instead of reef-damaging anchors and make illegal spearfishing and the use of diving gloves, lest divers be tempted to touch vulnerable coralheads.

    Nearly 30 years later Bonaire, one of six islands that comprise the Netherlands Antilles, has done more to preserve the complex ecosystem of the coral reef and the variety and abundance of fish life than anywhere else in the Caribbean. Not only have the Bonairians preserved their natural resource, but they have also ensured steady economic growth by drawing divers to their pristine underwater park year after year. My family has returned to dive off the island ten times over the last 15 years. We’re in a rut, but it’s an awfully nice rut and very affordable once you get there.

    Diving is something my husband Scott and I have shared throughout our life together. The thrill of seeing a sea turtle or a eagle ray or to swim in the midst of a huge, flock-like school of silversides or to have dolphins frolic along side our boat, binds us in a way that is hard to explain. Scott learned to dive at 14 in the mid-seventies in the murky lakes and frigid quarries of West Virginia. I learned in 1985 in the tropical waters off the Micronesian island of Saipan when we were first married and teachers at the island parochial school.

    During our most recent trip in January, our twin 14 year-old sons learned to dive. Finally we could dive together as a family. We spent two weeks diving, reading, playing scrabble and gin rummy, and watching the sun set from our porch with boat drinks and snacks – no phone, no email, no computer games, no TV, no diocesan or hospital emergencies that required our response. When we awoke in the morning, the drill was not the mad morning rush to school and work but to drink some tea with a slice of toast, gather our gear bags, squeeze into the bottom half of our wetsuits, and make our way down the dock to the happy camaraderie of the dive boat. “So where we goin’ this morning?” the day’s dive leader would ask.

    “Salt Pier!”

    “La Dania’s Leap!”

    “Carl’s Hill!”

    “Anywhere, it’s all good!”

    Under the Caribbean sun we would arrive at the dive site and hoist our air tanks onto our backs, the acrid smell of hot neoprene in our noses. How delicious to let the weight of the gear flip us backwards off the side of the boat into the cool ocean.

    As a diver, one skill I’ve paid close attention to over the years is controlling my buoyancy. I’ve learned to rise and fall in the water by gauging the amount of air in my lungs and to control my pitch and yawl by the flick of a fin or the twitch of a hand in the water. I’m not an expert – I don’t dive enough for that – but after a dive or two the fluency comes back. By maintaining neutral buoyancy a diver can get close to things…really close. This is important because so much of what goes on in your average coral reef neighborhood is tiny and complicated and if you want to get a sense of the intricacies of life on the reef, you need to be as close and as still as possible.

    What an honor to be a visitor to this little corner of creation. It takes hundreds of years for the coral reef to grow: one generation of a hundred of species of coral dies to form a minute layer over the great exoskeleton of the reef, a millimeter at a time. One of my favorite things to do, and I taught my sons to do it as well, is to kick back from the reef into the deep water and pause to take in the whole wide expanse of the scene. We’re looking at part of creation that was in this very place doing its silent, magnificent thing at the same time Henry VIII was beginning to grow a teensy bit dissatisfied with Catherine of Aragon, when our boys were shooting themselves to bits at Second Bull Run, and when my grandfather was in the trenches faraway in France. For millennia tiny blue-lipped blennies have bravely defended their two inches of territory, orange frogfish have extended their deceptive lures, the spectacular and shy spotted drum has swum in and out of the hollows of brain coral…over and over and over again. For the past 60 years, since M. Cousteau and his friends figured out how to breath underwater, we humans have been privileged to observe this world for up to 75 minutes at a time.

    Last month, on the day before we were to fly home and resume our life in Maine, I jumped off the dock with my fins, mask and snorkel. We’d made our last dive earlier in the day and were now allowing all the dissolved nitrogen built up in our blood to dissipate before we flew." (Getting the bends in an airplane is a seriously dumb, seriously dangerous rookiesque thing to do.) Before long, I was swimming 30 feet above the terrain I’d dived inches from a half dozen times in the past two weeks. From the surface I recognized certain distinctive coral heads, a large prickly West Indian Sea Egg, brilliant purple stovepipe sponges and delicate, translucent vase sponges, five different species each of parrotfish, angelfish, damselfish, and butterflyfish, and little groupers called Rock Hinds. I recognized them from 30 feet above only because I already knew them intimately from close at hand. Fish we don’t recognize at depth, we study in our fish books when we surface so we will know them the next time. Divers sport the geeky enthusiasm of birders, we just don’t often talk about it in public.

    As I paddled around in the gorgeous turquoise, warmer than our mill pond ever gets at mid-summer, I started to finger this essay in my mind. Out of habit and propensity, I often contrast whatever situation I’m find myself in to the state of the Episcopal Church or the nuttiness of trying to live like a Christian in this complicated world. It’s an annoying habit and I’ve tried unsuccessfully to break it. I’ve compromised by only writing about one in five ideas that wash over me. Still, what I was thinking was something like this: If one part of God’s glorious creation - such as the ecosystem of the tropical coral reef – is so amazingly complex and fragile, doesn’t it follow that other parts of creation – the family, the congregation, the diocese, the Church, the Communion – each would be just as complex. Think of how nuanced and complicated the life of any congregation or diocese is. Yet, if we’re on the outside, how easy it is, with a little bit of distant observation, to feel we have captured the nut of a place in the palm of our hands.

    As a diver at depth, so careful with my breathing to remain close but not intrusive amid the life and death action of the reef, I can observe a world that I don’t belong to. I can learn a lot, but I’ll never be a fish. I’ll never know what causes the Pederson’s Cleaning Shrimp to climb onto that particular anemone. As a snorkler 30 feet above, I can see the bigger coral heads and the bigger fish, but I’ll never see the two-inch blenny defending his little home in the crack before darting back to safety or the baby spotted moray eel poking its head and mouth full of teeth from a burrow.

    But my inability to really, really know doesn’t stop me from pretending I know the undersea world. In his song, “Laughter,” Bruce Cockburn sang, “A laugh for the dogs barking at our heels, they don’t know where we’ve been. A laugh for the dirty window panes, hiding the love within.” I’ve always loved that line because he calls us on how willing we are to be dismissive of people with whom we don’t agree or with whom we have little in common. We’re especially good at that in the Church.

    I don’t know how to change that, but scuba diving provides some good lessons: control your breathing, be still, watch carefully, and, for God’s sweet sake, don’t open your mouth.

    Heidi Shott has served as press officer to Bishop Chilton Knudsen of Maine since 1998. She is also communications director of the Genesis Fund, a revolving loan fund that provides expertise and low-interest loans to nonprofits engaged in community development. Heidi's essays about trying to live a life of faith may be found at Heidoville.

    Weekend in Sydney II

    By George Clifford

    Last fall, I was a tourist in Sydney, Australia. On the advice of a kindly lady on duty at St. Andrew’s Cathedral, I went to St. James in Sydney for worship that morning (see part 1 of this essay). I expected to find a recognizably Anglican service in a properly equipped church building, i.e., one with an altar. St. James exceeded my expectations: an attractive building, outside and inside, complemented a well-done Eucharistic liturgy. Serendipitously, providentially, synchronistically, as a result of kismet, or however one’s theological worldview characterizes coincidence, that Sunday’s preacher at St. James was the Rev. Canon Kenneth Kearon, Secretary General of the Anglican Communion. During the service, the celebrant announced an afternoon forum led by Canon Kearon and that the Rt. Rev. Gene Robinson, on sabbatical from New Hampshire and present in the congregation, would attend.

    During the afternoon session, Canon Kearon in his opening remarks stated that the energy and money involved in the Windsor Report process detracts from the Church’s mission. He said that as he travelled around the Communion, he observes an increasing number of people who want to get on with the mission of the Church. Anger is building among Anglicans, he declared, over the continuing furor linked to the Windsor Report because that furor is not very Anglican, i.e., opposing the opinion of others rather than embracing diversity.

    Although The Episcopal Church has engaged in extensive listening processes on homosexuality and related issues since the early 1970s, most of the Communion has not done so, in spite of requests from Lambeth 1978 and 1988. Consequently, Canon Kearon noted each group tends to identify with the pain on its side and to view others as lunatics. Listening promotes hearing the pain on both sides while promoting theological conversation.

    Bishop Robinson commented that efforts to separate issues of sexuality from mission create a false dichotomy if one views Jesus as reaching out to the marginalized, pulling them to the center within God's embrace. Otherwise, for Gay/Lesbian/Bisexual/Transgendered (GLBT) persons to return to the Church is analogous with an abused spouse returning to the abused.

    Bruce McAteer, General Secretary of the Anglican Church in Australia, also present that afternoon, described an entire day at the just concluded General Synod of the Australian Church devoted to listening to the pain of GLBT people. That day at Synod, four Australian GLBT Anglicans told their stories of pain and exclusion in depth. The process entailed listening with no debate, no votes, offering one model for what other provinces or dioceses might do. Several people with whom I spoke that morning and afternoon who had attended the Australian General Synod volunteered affirmations of how powerful and transforming that listening process had been.

    Canon Kearon said that world, divided by race, ethnicity, and religion, needs reconciliation, briefly mentioning his experiences in Northern Ireland. In particular, he lamented the lack of dialogue within the Anglican Communion on major, divisive issues such as the authority of the Bible (hermeneutics), the nature of authority within the Church, and the relation of faith to society. Two conflicting versions of polity currently co-exist within the Anglican Communion: one democratic and one authoritarian, impeding dialogue and relationships. TEC exemplifies the democratic polity, the Church in Nigeria the authoritarian. Canon Kearon identified the heart of Anglicanism as meeting together and forming relationships, a process complicated by those conflicting concepts of ecclesiastical authority.

    As an example of the Anglican way, Canon Kearon pointed to the ongoing development of Christian bio-ethics. The Anglican Church takes science seriously and engages in dialogue with science while concurrently recognizing the dynamic nature of tradition and scripture. That creative dialogue has consistently put the Anglican Church at the leading edge of the developing field of bio-ethics without threatening to disrupt Anglican unity. The continuing bio-ethics dialogue thus illustrates the reconciling potential and power of Anglicanism’s relational character in dealing with substantive, divisive issues.

    Canon Kearon remains confident the Anglican Communion will survive. He declined to speculate on possible changes beyond acknowledging that the Anglican Communion in the future will embody a different type of communion than it did in the past. The Archbishop of Canterbury invites bishops to attend Lambeth 2008, he reminded us, and the Archbishop has said an invitation neither certifies a Bishop’s orthodoxy nor invites a Bishop to participate in a boxing match.

    Personally, the most insightful portions of the day were the times that I spent in private conversations with many of those attending. From those conversations, I have begun to formulate an answer to my question of why homosexuality has become the Anglican Communion’s central, divisive controversy. After all, attitudes about homosexually have never constituted a theologically defining issue of Christian identity.

    Three significant factors apparently coalesce around controversies over homosexuality to make it the prime proxy for the major but publicly unacknowledged issues facing the Anglican Communion. Those issues are African nationalism, anti-globalism, and anti-Americanism. Sex, non-serendipitously, uniquely adds emotional energy to the controversy, galvanizing forces on both sides.

    If I am correct in identifying those three factors, an identification for which I can take no credit but honor the request of others not to identify them, then Episcopalians in the United States aligned with another province place themselves in a vulnerable position. At some point, the current controversies will move to a backburner, no longer receiving extensive media attention and no longer being Anglicanism’s front burner issue. What will be the follow-on expressions of African nationalism, of anti-globalism, and of anti-Americanism? Will those three forces remain aligned or diverge? Will African provinces, beset by their own pressing problems, continue to remain interested and invested in American missions? Will U.S. sources continue to fund African missions in the U.S.?

    Conversely, if those three issues are the real source of controversy, when will the Anglican Communion dare to engage those issues? What does The Episcopal Church stand to lose by raising those three issues for discussion within the Anglican Communion?

    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. He taught philosophy at the Academy and ethics at the Postgraduate School.

    Here I stand

    By Howard Anderson

    I had trouble writing this. I had trouble because people I love and respect a great deal, people who have served the Church well seem to be placing unity before justice. Now I know that we ordained types are guardians of the institution of the Church. Bishops, especially, are the symbols of unity in the church. I know how hard it is to play that role because I have done it, both in the parish and on diocesan staffs. But I also know my very wise spiritual director often asks me, “Howard, do you love the Church more than you love God?” I always answer an emphatic “NO!” But if I were looking at my track record, my behavior, it would be very hard to tell who I serve, the institution, or The Holy One, whose Christ said, “Whatever you do for the least of these, you do for me.”

    The Rev. Dr. Marilyn McCord Adams, the American priest and Regius Professor of Theology at Christ Church, Oxford, wrote a very thoughtful and challenging (and might I add highly enjoyable) paper for the recent gathering of those committed to the full inclusion of all the Baptized at Seabury-Western Seminary. We are calling ourselves “the Chicago Consultation.” She points out that those of us committed to full inclusion in the life of the church of Gay and Lesbian Christians are so committed to inclusion that we often bend over backward to keep our more conservative brothers and sisters at the table. Some of these folks who cannot accept the full inclusion of GLBT members, use this commitment against us. She speaks of “sex and gender conservatives” who have lost their majority in the Episcopal Church had no problem excluding GLBT members from becoming priests or bishops, but now that they have lost that majority in the voting at General Convention, still exercise a kind of veto power because the majority of General Convention deputies find our commitment to Anglican Comprehensiveness (the biggest possible tent to include all) so absolute that we continue to throw our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters “under the bus” (witness B-033 which urged a moratorium on the consecration of additional gay or lesbian bishops) to try and appease the sex and gender conservative minority. It is not only unjust, it doesn’t work. When my grandson was told that there was a vote (B-033) which would make his Papi’s statement “anyone I baptize could become the Presiding Bishop” untrue, he was shocked. He said, “Yikes! That’s God’s decision.” I guess my talking to him about the Holy Spirit guiding the councils of the Church actually caught hold in his six year old brain.”

    Think about it. Has anything the General Convention done prevented the schismatic bishops like Duncan and Schofield from pulling out of TEC? Has anything our successive Presiding Bishops have done appeased the sex and gender conservatives? Has trying to respond to the Windsor Report (simply a report, not a mandate from anyone with any authority in TEC or the Communion) stopped Archbishop Akinola and others from ordaining renegade American priests bishops in their overseas jurisdictions to function here in TEC? When the Archbishop of Canterbury, or conservative American bishops speak of compliance with the Windsor Report, do they EVER say much about the boundary jumping of Archbishop Akinola and company? They have even created out of thin air, new entities they are calling the “instruments of unity,” or as Professor Adams so aptly dubbed them, “The instruments of mischief,” to try and muscle TEC back into the fold of those saying “not yet” to full inclusion.

    Professor Adams is right. The tolerance of the majority of General Convention Deputies who have voted strongly for full inclusion of GLBT members of our Church in all orders of ministry, has been used against us. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. So, shame on me. Shame on me for tolerating evil. Dr. Adams points out sharply in her paper that homophobia of the type exhibited by some of the sex and gender conservatives, most particularly, Archbishop Akinola who is advocating Nigerian legislation that would criminalize merely being homosexual, is evil. Period! Evil! Strong words, but who can deny their truth? Adams says “homophobia is a socially constructed sin, one that is built into us as part of our socialization.” She calls boldly for us to root this sin out of the institution and our hearts. Amen! Preach it sister! I am convicted. This sin of homophobia is both institutional sin (sin done in our name) and personal, (those things I have done, and left undone.)

    And so I confess that I have been guilty of poor discernment, often sacrificing justice, and following Christ in breaking down the walls of prejudice, in order to keep peace in the family. I confess that I have sometimes allowed others to talk me into “toning it down,” and not pushing the agenda of inclusion of all the baptized quite so hard, so I would leave a place for sex and gender conservatives to stand. I confess this, and I know there are many whom I love and respect that have succumbed to this same demand to “slow down so that the rest will catch up” when it comes to the full inclusion of GLBT members of TEC. I have spoken out, but mainly in safe places where most people agree with me. And so I repent, and speak it here for all to see. I have been guilty of the sin of cowardice in not doing more to root out the sin of homophobia in the Church.

    Some would say that the group that gathered as “The Chicago Consultation” were pushing a “gay agenda.” Nonsense. It is nothing less than a Gospel Agenda. No one ever said following Jesus Christ to the edges of society to bring the “least of these” (however each society creates ‘leastness”) to the center would be easy. I have watched friends who are bishops not want to be publicly associated with “The Chicago Consultation.” They fear that their effectiveness, or their ability to function collegially in the House of Bishops would be compromised. They fear that their ability to “guard the faith, unity and discipline of the Church” in their diocese would be compromised. They may be right. But look at the conservative bishops. They organize into “networks and synods, and openly join groups with acronyms galore- CANA, AAC, IRD and more. Perhaps some of their appeal is that they are willing to step up and claim what they believe. However much I disagree with them, you have to give them credit for standing up for beliefs.

    Something very predictable happens when we ordained types get together. My mother, when her Alzheimer’s disease had taken away her inhibitions, but not her words, said as she reached up to touch my clerical collar, “Cuts off circulation to the brain!” We get swept up in a wave of camaraderie, we bond with one another, relating effectively to one another becomes a prime goal of the gathering. So often, those outside that circle, (the 99% who are in the lay order) are not factors. But our General Convention’s genius is that lay AND clergy are together and vote. This tempers the “camaraderie effect” of a meeting of the House of Bishops or a clergy conference where the laity are excluded thereby rendering such rarified gatherings less comprehensive of the spirit of the Church than General Convention. I once sat with Michael Peers, the Primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, as we listened to a debate on the issue of human sexuality in the American House of Bishops. One conservative bishop rose and said, in stentorian tones (and a British accent) “The only sexual activity sanctioned by Holy Scripture is life long, monogamous, matrimony.” In the spirit of brotherhood (pre-Barbara Harris) the other bishops nodded thoughtfully, and the gallery, in which we sat, erupted into gales of laughter. Murmurs of “What about Abraham? Wooo..Solomon” and the chuckling continued. Michael leaned over and said, “We have a single house, and the lay and clergy wouldn’t put up with such foolishness at our Synod.”

    I re-read the Prayerbook service “Ordination of a Bishop” today. And like the Baptismal Covenant, the Bishops promise to “be chief priest and pastor, to encourage and support all baptized people.” They also promise to boldly proclaim and interpret the Gospel stir up the conscience” of the people, and to “defend those who have no helper.” This sometimes seems to conflict with guarding the unity of the Church. These people whom the people and the Spirit elect to be our Bishops face a daunting job of discernment on where to come down on these two promises. It seems an irony, but also no mistake, that right next to the “Ordination of a Bishop,” in the Book of Common Prayer, is the Burial Office. Dear me, they face some hard and taxing challenges. We should all be grateful that they are willing to serve. And do, please, prayer for our bishops.

    But as for me, my spiritual director’s question, and Marilyn McCord Adam’s challenge to “root out the sin of homophobia” are foremost in my discernment. Those of us in TEC who are now in the majority of The General Convention deputies, should not be, as Adams suggests, “held hostage" by our commitment to inclusivity so that we give in when conservative threaten to leave if they don’t get their way. For many Conventions the votes went against inclusiveness. I went home, as the first clerical deputy from my diocese and had to say to the GLBT members of the churches, “the Spirit has said not yet.” No conservative ever said to me that the Holy Spirit was not guiding the Councils of the Church when the votes went their way. But all of a sudden, when the Spirit guided the General Convention in the direction of full inclusion, our conservative brothers and sisters changed their tune. “The Spirit of God was not there.”

    I beg to differ. The Spirit of God has moved through the Councils of the Episcopal Church. It has taken us to a difficult place. But it is a goodly place. It is a place where Jesus Christ would be more comfortable than those parts of the Church where the gifts and charisms all the baptized cannot be exercised. That’s what I believe. That’s where I will stand, with the much maligned, under fire Episcopal Church. And I stand with her proudly. I’m not going to be blackmailed any more with threats of leaving. I’m not going to let others use my commitment to including all of the Baptized in my Church, at whatever level the Spirit gives them gifts to serve.

    When Bishop Duncan said he would try to pull his whole Diocese out of TEC, he quoted Martin Luther. “Here I stand. I can do no other.” Ditto Bishop Duncan, ditto. Me too.

    The Rev. Canon Howard Anderson, Ph.D., is president and warden of Cathedral College at Washington National Cathedral.

    A few words on authority in the Episcopal Church

    Editor's note: In February, the Dar es Salaam Communique from the Primates of the Anglican Communion created uncertainty in the Episcopal Church about what individuals or bodies had the authority to respond to the Primates' recommendations. The Episcopal Church's response has been made, but the nature of authority in our Church remains poorly understood. Below, Sally Johnson, chancellor to Bonnie Anderson, president of the House of Deputies, lays out her opinion in the summary of a more detailed memo tht can be found here.

    Summary of Authority in The Episcopal Church as it Relates to the Demands of the February 2007 Primates Communiqué

    Prepared March 2007. Following review and comments, released for wider distribution, December, 2007.

    Following is a summary of document “Discussion of Authority in the Episcopal Church and the Dar es Salaam Primates Communiqué of February 2007”. This summary is prepared by Sally Johnson, Chancellor, at the request of the President of the House of Deputies, Bonnie Anderson. In analyzing the “role, responsibilities and potential response of the Executive Council” to the Communiqué, and especially in light of the House of Bishops Resolution to the Executive Council on the Pastoral Scheme, it was necessary to carefully review and consider Executive Council’s authority, role and responsibilities in relationship to the authority of the Presiding Bishop and the House of Bishops.

    The Communiqué

    The Communiqué asked the House of Bishops to take two actions prior to
    September 30, 2007:

    make an unequivocal common covenant that the bishops will not authorize any Rite of Blessing for same-sex unions in their dioceses or through General Convention (cf TWR, Para. 143, 144)

    confirm that the passing of Resolution B033 of the 75th General
    Convention means that a candidate for Episcopal orders living in a same-sex union shall not receive the necessary consent …unless “some new consensus on these matters emerges across the Communion (cf TWR, Para 134).

    The Communiqué also purports to establish a “Pastoral Scheme,” consisting of a Pastoral Council and Primatial Vicar, to work with congregations and dioceses in The Episcopal Church who do not agree with the actions of General Convention regarding the consecration of Bishop Robinson and the blessing of same-sex unions. This portion of the Communiqué is lengthy, complicated, and stated in generalities rather than specifics.

    Some of the aspects of the Pastoral Scheme include:

    A Pastoral Council that would act on behalf of the Primates made up of two persons nominated by the Primates, two appointed by the Presiding Bishop, and a Primate appointed by the Archbishop of Canterbury to chair the Council;

    The Council would work “in cooperation with The Episcopal Church, the Presiding Bishop and the leadership of the bishops participating in the scheme proposed below” to negotiate structures for pastoral care complying with the Windsor Report and the Primates’ requests in the Lambeth Statement of October 2003, authorize protocols for the functioning of such a scheme, including the criteria for participation of bishops, dioceses and congregations and take whatever reasonable action is needed to give effect to this scheme and report to the Primates;

    The Pastoral Council and the Presiding Bishop would invite bishops expressing a commitment to “the Camp Allen principles” to participate in the Pastoral Scheme;

    The participating bishops, in consultation with the Pastoral Council and with the consent of the Presiding Bishop, would nominate a Primatial Vicar responsible to the Council. The Presiding Bishop in consultation with the Pastoral Council would delegate specific powers and duties to the Primatial Vicar.

    The Communiqué also urged that all litigation over property in The Episcopal Church be suspended, subject to several conditions.

    The House of Bishops March 2007 Response

    The House of Bishops took three actions in response to the Communiqué.

    It adopted the statement, “To the Archbishop of Canterbury and the members of the Primates’ Standing Committee” stating that “[a]lthough we are unable to accept the proposed Pastoral Scheme, we declare our passionate desire to remain in full constituent membership in both the Anglican Communion and the Episcopal Church and inviting the Archbishop and members of the Primates’ Standing Committee to join the House of Bishops for three days of prayer and conversation at the earliest possible opportunity.

    It adopted “A Statement from the House of Bishops- March 20, 2007” which gave five reasons the Pastoral Scheme would be injurious to the Church. It would violate our church law in that it calls for a delegation of primatial authority not permitted under our Canons and compromises our autonomy not permitted under the Constitution, it would change the character of the Windsor process and the covenant design process, it would violate our founding principles after our liberation from colonialism and it would depart from our English Reformation heritage in abandoning the generous orthodoxy of our Prayer Book tradition and sacrifice “the emancipation of the laity for the exclusive leadership of high-ranking Bishops;”

    It adopted a “Mind of the House of Bishops Resolution Addressed to the Executive Council of the Episcopal Church” urging the Executive Council decline to participate in the Pastoral Scheme.

    Authority in the Episcopal Church

    Authority of the General Convention

    The General Convention holds all authority in The Episcopal Church other than the limitation that it cannot change the Core Doctrine of the Church. It has delegated various responsibilities and authority to a number of bodies and offices in the Church. The General Convention is the only body authorized to amend the Constitution, Canons and Book of Common Prayer. No other body or office holder in the Church can take action that binds the Church on a subject covered by the Constitution, Canons, or Book of Common Prayer. Only General Convention can pass resolutions that bind the Church. No other body or office holder in the Church can make a binding interpretation of the Constitution, Canons, Book of Common Prayer or General Convention resolutions. The General Convention can amend the Canons, set policy or otherwise direct whether and in what ways the Church’s interest in the property of dioceses and congregations should be protected.

    Authority of the Executive Council

    The Executive Council’s primary duty is to “carry out the program and policies adopted by the General Convention. The Executive Council shall have charge of the coordination, development and implementation of the ministry and mission of the Church.” In its capacity as the Board of Directors of the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society it has the power to direct the disposition of the moneys and other property of said Society in accordance with the provisions of the Canons and the orders and budgets adopted or approved by the General Convention. The Executive Council is granted extensive authority to act for the Church between General Conventions but it is not vested with all of the powers of General Convention.

    In terms of the Primates’ requests the Executive Council does not have the authority to prohibit the blessing of same sex unions. Bishops Diocesan have the authority under the Constitution and Book of Common Prayer to authorize forms of worship in their own dioceses. The Constitution and Book of Common Prayer would have to be amended to take that authority away from Bishops Diocesan. General Convention has the authority to authorize other forms of worship and the Constitution would have to be amended to take that authority away from it.

    The Executive Council does not have any authority to make, change or issue a binding interpretation of a General Convention resolution such as B033. The Constitution and Canons would have to be amended to prohibit persons living in same sex unions from becoming bishops because the requirements and limitations on who may hold that office are in the Constitution and Canons.

    The Executive Council does not have the authority to authorize any portions of the Pastoral Scheme. The Constitution and Canons would have to be amended to authorize the structures and delegation of authority contemplated by the Pastoral Scheme.

    In the absence of action by General Convention the Executive Council can set policy or otherwise direct whether or in what ways the Church’s interest in the property of dioceses and congregations should be protected.

    Authority of the Presiding Bishop

    The responsibilities and authority of the Presiding Bishop can generally be divided into several broad categories. The Presiding Bishop makes appointments to various Church bodies and positions and fills vacancies, has responsibilities regarding bishops in the Church including overseeing the election of bishops, deciding who will consecrate them, overseeing the resignation or removal of bishops for non-disciplinary reasons, and taking certain actions in the ecclesiastical discipline process of bishops. The Presiding Bishop has responsibilities for unusual congregations and ministries, reports annually to the Church, speaks God’s Word to the Church and to the world as the representative of The Episcopal Church and has responsibility for leadership in initiating and developing the policy and strategy of the Church. She presides over the House of Bishops and Joint Sessions of General Convention, is the President of the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society, and the President, Chair and chief executive officer of the Executive Council.

    “The office of Presiding Bishop is a constitutional office, the tenure and duties of which are prescribed by canons, and he has no duties or powers save as so prescribed.” Annotated Constitution and Canons for the Government of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America otherwise known as The Episcopal Church (“Annotated Constitution and Canons”, p. 203.)

    The Presiding Bishop’s authority to delegate her responsibilities to others is limited to choosing a bishop of The Episcopal Church to act in her stead as one of the three bishops of The Episcopal Church to act as chief consecrators at the consecration of a bishop and to delegating some functions “prescribed in these Canons” to persons in “positions established by the Executive Council.”

    In terms of the Primates’ requests the Presiding Bishop does not have the authority to prohibit Bishops Diocesan from authorizing the blessing of same sex unions in their dioceses nor can she prohibit future General Conventions from authorizing such blessings.

    The Presiding Bishop cannot change or make a binding interpretation of a General Convention resolution such as B033.

    The Presiding Bishop does not have the authority to approve any parts of the Pastoral Scheme because the Constitution and Canons would have to be amended to implement it. Although she could appoint two persons to the Pastoral Council, she should decline to do so because she does not have the authority to delegate any of her duties or responsibilities to the proposed Pastoral Council.

    In the absence of action by General Convention or the Executive Council the Presiding Bishop can set policy or otherwise direct whether or in what ways the Church’s interest in the property of dioceses and congregations should be protected.

    Authority of the House of Bishops

    The authority of the House of Bishops to take actions that bind the Church at meetings between General Conventions or at General Convention without the concurrence of the House of Deputies is quite limited. It may, for example, consent to bishops’ resignations, elect bishops for non-diocesan ministries, including the Presiding Bishop, and for dioceses upon request of the diocese, establish Missions within the boundaries of The Episcopal Church but outside diocesan boundaries, call special meetings of General Convention, and take some actions in the ecclesiastical disciplinary process of bishops.

    In terms of the Primates’ requests the House of Bishops does not have the authority to prohibit the authorization of blessings of same sex unions by Bishops Diocesan within their own dioceses nor can it prohibit future General Conventions from authorizing such Rites.

    It cannot change or make a binding interpretation of a General Convention resolution such as B033.

    The House of Bishops does not have the authority to approve any parts of the Pastoral Scheme or to amend any parts of the Constitution or Canons that would need to be changed to implement it.

    The House of Bishops has no authority to set policy or otherwise direct whether or in what ways the Church’s interest in the property of dioceses and congregations should be protected other than as a bishop may have authority to set policy or make decisions within his or her own diocese.

    Sally Johnson is the chancellor to Bonnie Anderson, President of the House of Deputies.

    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.

    Matters of life and death

    By Martin L. Smith

    I was walking along P Street in Washington, D. C., the other day pondering a phrase our Presiding Bishop used in a recent webcast, when she spoke of the need for the church to move on from the controversies surrounding sexuality to “refocus on matters of life and death like starvation, education, medical care.” I know she was using “life and death” to mean “of the highest priority.” But for gay people it’s hard to hear straight folks using language that, even inadvertently, seems to imply that the struggles we must undergo are not matters of life and death. In fact they are—sometimes in the most literal way. Ironically, I found myself halting outside the paint store on the corner of 15th Street NW. It was here that my partner and I experienced the second of two attempted gay-bashing assaults.

    It happens so quickly, as any victim of a street crime will tell you. Thugs suddenly came pouring out of a huge SUV. They screamed for our blood using anti-gay curses that left their motive in no doubt. As we ran for our lives, with the pounding of their boots on the sidewalk drumming in our ears, we never thought we could outrun them. But we eventually shook them off when we reached an area perhaps too brightly lit for them. This nightmare repeated a similar incident several months earlier that began outside the fire station on 13th Street, as we were walking home after supper. We also managed to escape that time, ending up in an alley retching from the effort, just glad to be alive.

    Perhaps you’re thinking murder is an exaggeration. Well, no. A priest friend of mine was the victim of a gay-bashing in Logan Circle so violent that he would almost certainly have died had not a horrified passerby made a 911 call that brought a police car quickly to the scene. I also think of a seminarian friend, who was so brutally smashed up by a homophobic assailant wielding a tire iron that five operations on his head and brain were required. He was too disabled to be ordained and died two years later in an accident caused by the side effects of his medications.

    Life and death. I hope we will find other language that can unite us around a cause that our Presiding Bishop is perfectly right to emphasize—global claims of mission and justice. However, I hope we’ll never imply that the claims of gay and lesbian folk to equality, respect and security lie outside the realm of life and death matters. We must be careful what we say.

    What will we say when we are trying to comfort two parents, friends, whose teenage son, an acolyte, has committed suicide, leaving a note about his despair in the face of bullying and his lack of faith in the possibility of happiness? They know that issues of sexual orientation are matters of life and death, not merely an irritating distraction from nobler causes. What do we say when a priest friend who has moved into a neighboring parish finds herself being trailed for by a stalker, whom she discovers to be an agent of an anti-gay organization notorious for its tactics of defamation? Not an issue of life and death?

    As I paused outside the paint store, I realized I had never told the story of the two attempted assaults from which I had narrowly escaped to more than a few friends. I didn’t want to worry my family, and these are grotesque stories for a middle-aged clergyman to recount. Yet the real reason is that most gay folk are trained to take their vulnerability for granted. We suck it in. But maybe we must change that. Straight people enjoy innumerable unearned privileges denied to gays, just as white folk have unearned privileges denied to people of color. We shouldn’t add another one to the list, the privilege of being spared the pain of hearing about our wearying and incessant experiences of being attacked, condescended to, marginalized, insulted and patronized.

    No one looks forward more eagerly than gay folk to the day when issues like the eligibility of partnered gay and lesbian priests for the office of bishop will sink to a lower place in our order of priorities. But in the painful meantime, while the progress of equality in the ministry is temporarily halted, the task of making sure that the life and death stories of gay and lesbian people are heard grows in urgency. And gay and lesbian Christians will have to become more outspoken, not less, even in the face of pressure from those who seem to be signaling that it is high time we fell silent again.

    Martin L. Smith is a well-known spiritual writer and priest. He is the senior associate rector at St. Columba’s in Washington, D.C.

    "Public work" at Ground-Zero

    By Donald Schell

    For two wonderful days at the beginning of this month, I helped lead a workshop on Music that Makes Community at St. Paul’s Chapel of Trinity Church Wall Street, the colonial church that fronts on Broadway and whose churchyard faces the World Trade Center/Ground Zero site. Sunday after the workshop I sat in the congregation at St. Paul’s for their 10 a.m. liturgy. It was one of the most powerful experiences of our church’s work and worship I have ever had. The murmur of visitors, the impossibility of handling four to five hundred pilgrims an hour with greeters, the pilgrims themselves finding their own way and having their own private reasons for their visit all destroyed any hope that the church could be a place of seclusion, refuge or pious meditation. This was the great work of the church, the public work of liturgy.

    When I first visited St. Paul’s in the late 1960’s, it was essentially a museum, George Washington’s Church in New York City. The stunning human losses of 9/11 changed that beyond recognition. When Trinity’s staff saw that St. Paul’s Chapel was undamaged by the fiery collapse of the twin towers next door, they boldly chose to dedicate the historic chapel for the duration of demolition and recovery as a holy place of hospitality to the New York firemen, police, and construction workers at the Ground Zero site. Trinity staff and hundreds of volunteer chaplains from around the country offered rest, comfort, counsel and help for those whose brutal work was combing through hot rubble for genetically identifiable fragments of the dead that grieving family members might bury.

    Trinity’s hospitality to a nation’s heroes made St. Paul’s a pilgrimage site. Something like a million and a half visitors a year - imagine an unbroken stream of 400 strangers an hour - wander through to remember, see and reflect on 9/11 displays. As at the Viet Nam Memorial in Washington D.C., some do come to pray, but few kneel or make any outward show. Others seem to be tourists, muted tourists who want to include this bit of history in their trip and tell people at home, ‘I was there.’

    For any who remember the pre- 9/11 St. Paul’s and haven’t been there recently, I should add that less than a year ago, Stuart Hoke and the other Trinity staff took another bold step to make the chapel’s welcome more evident – hoping to gather people into a circle of prayer, they removed the long forward-facing pews from the 1960’s to make space for a barrier-free oval of chairs around a central altar. St. Paul’s website has a good slide show picturing the changes and giving its rationale at http://www.saintpaulschapel.org/

    Twenty of us, clergy and church music leaders from around the country gathered in this open space round the table for our workshop to talk, and reflect and make music, specifically developing a practice of the most traditional and modern kind of church music – singing we learn by ear and by heart, singing without books. All day our workshop sessions, our worship and even our mid-day meal was at the center of a swirling sea of people, all of America, the world. When we were singing we could feel the music touch them (and sometimes we forgot they were there and lost ourselves in music-making and praise). Sometimes we saw curiosity, joy or even healing on people’s faces. It came in swells, both for us and in their response. Sometimes they walked with their backs to us, continuing their quiet murmur of background conversation as they surveyed the 9/11 displays and the story of workers and a city who turned the terrorist attack into a sign of mutual support and courage. Then a piece of sacred song, something hearty or haunting, maybe some improvised bluesy jazz on a text from the Bible, or even our laughter at a shared discovery, something drew their attention and they were with us in church – both the community of people and the place of worship. So it went all day, hundreds of people an hour and flashes of grace and glory as our little group joined our Public Work to Trinity’s.

    In the evening I thought of how strangely intimate and public the days were. Trying to describe our experience on the phone to my wife, I said it felt like street preaching on Times Square, or maybe like participating in a life drawing class with a nude model in the main rotunda of the Metropolitan Museum. We were aiming for truthfulness and Gospel, but we were unequivocally doing intimate, heart work, speaking and singing our faith, in a very public place. The work itself guided us from our fear and self-consciousness.

    Even two full days of our workshop didn’t prepare me for the joyful wonder of 10 a.m. liturgy in this place of pilgrimage. I sat in the third or fourth row of the oval seats so I could both join in and watch the congregation and the pilgrims on the perimeter. The busses don’t stop just because it’s Sunday, and as a worshipper and part of a larger, more diffuse group, I felt the strangeness (and joy) of it very strongly. We were a hundred or so people, a solid, diverse congregation, and we were together in faith, in prayer as publicly as if we’d made our circle in Grand Central Station.

    Marilyn Haskel, the musician, offered us welcome, guided us through the service leaflet, got us singing with piano and a capella and encouraged us. The Rev. Mark Bozzuti-Jones, a Jamaican Anglican priest new to Trinity’s staff presided and preached his first liturgy at St. Paul’s. His sermon and the way he engaged us all was breath taking, bold and comforting, confrontive and sweet. And even as he drew our hearts into the center of the circle to hold one another in our reflection on scripture, he might generously, and without the least notice, lob a word or prayers over our heads to the sea of pilgrims.

    The liturgy was an even stronger magnet than the music workshop. Strangers slipped into the circle to join us. Many stopped to listen and pray and seemed to wish they could linger longer. A few seemed perplexed to hear a Gospel of such forgiveness, inclusion and challenge. Many blessed themselves with a touch of water from the front.

    I wish everyone thinking about inclusion and welcome in our church could spend a Sunday with St. Paul’s, Manhattan. Having experienced it as a blessed and unequivocal Public Work, I don’t think our liturgy will ever look the same to me again.

    Public work, as it turns out, may be a better translation of ‘liturgy’ than the ‘public work’ I learned in seminary in the 1960’s. In the 1960’s and 70’s our church was beginning to make our liturgy shared, collaborative work in new ways. ‘The work of the people’ was a useful etymology. It turned our attention to from the priest’s performance to what WE were making together.

    Now friends who teach liturgics and history have been telling us that leitourgia (‘liturgy’) in the first century Mediterranean world was ‘public work,’ more like we think of with a DPT, Department of Public Works making or fixing a road or a bridge. In fact in the ancient world public work often referred to the generous works of public-minded rich people, like the medieval queen of Spain who built a bridge at Puente la Reyna for the pilgrims walking to Santiago or like Andrew Carnegie building libraries across America.

    Today in 2007, we’ve found enough shared authority in liturgy-making to begin recovering this other, earlier sense of liturgy as work for or on behalf of the people. What we have to offer is holy, vibrant, and flexible enough that it can truly be public work. At St. Paul’s the ‘public work’ made very good sense. For me every question we can frame about welcoming strangers to liturgy will look different to me after three days of singing and praying at St. Paul’s Chapel.

    The Rev. Donald Schell is founder St. Gregory's Episcopal Church, San Francisco and consultant and creative director of All Saints Company, San Francisco.

    Of faith, compromise and onions

    By Marshall Scott

    When I was young, my father's profession took him at times overseas. He would attend meetings and discuss problems and solutions with folks from far away - such exotic places as England and Belgium and Germany (well, to a young boy they seemed distant and exotic enough). It gave him an interesting perspective on cultural differences.

    Once, after a trip to the UK, he spoke of a meeting he had been to, and how it seemed different than those he commonly attended. The resolution of the discussion was a compromise; but my father found it interesting. He told me that in England, unlike America, a compromise was basically a good thing. True, no one got all he wanted; but everyone got something. In America his experience was that, no one having gotten all he wanted, everyone saw the compromise as loss. No one got everything, and so there was nothing one could celebrate.

    The Oxford English Dictionary has several different denotations for "compromise." Two (in the Compact Edition of 1971) sound similar, but have some subtle differences.

    4. Coming to terms, or arrangement of a dispute, by concession on both sides; partial surrender of one's position for the sake of coming to terms; the concession or terms offered by either side. 5. Adjustment for practical purposes of rival courses of action, systems or theories, conflicting opinions or principles, by the sacrifice or surrender of a part of each.

    These sound a lot alike, don't they? And yet they are different.

    They are different specifically in intent. The first definition is about coming to terms, with some concession from both sides. The second is about making pragmatic sacrifices to a rival. The first is about meeting of minds and mutual efforts. The second is about suspending conflict and grudging truce. The first is about comprehensiveness, and even communion. The second is about that other connotation of compromise: polluted, infected, stained, and shamed.

    Now, I can't say now that the difference my father saw still obtains. Perhaps it was the setting or the topic or the times that made the difference. My own observation is that there seem to be quite enough competitive, convicted folks in the UK as to make "compromise" as distasteful to folks there as to folks here in the U. S. In any case, it seems to have been the first sense of compromise that moved the Episcopal House of Bishops; and the latter that moved the loudest voices on either side of the issues involved.

    It is a hard time that way. I have heard again and again Revelation 3:15-16: "15 I know your works; you are neither cold nor hot. I wish that you were either cold or hot. 16 Because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I am about to spit you out of my mouth." It is from the challenge to the Church in Laodicea, a church apparently comfortable in the pews. But the call to be either hot or cold is apparently about the faith as a whole, and not a single issue. And while those who quote it most frequently want to portray their interest as "19 I reprove and discipline those whom I love. Be earnest, therefore, and repent. 20 Listen! I am standing at the door, knocking; if you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to you and eat with you, and you with me," the tone and context seems more indicative of "21 To the one who conquers I will give a place with me on my throne, just as I myself conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne." Separated, verses 19-20 are about, I think, the first sense of "compromise;" while verse 21 is about the second sense. (Indeed, I have come to feel that for some the secret favorite passage is no longer from Revelation 3:14-22, but from Psalm 83.)

    And that is the problem with this quotation, and with the second sense of "compromise:" it begins with separation and seeks to institutionalize it, to reify it. It is much like our current cultural and political context, parodied well by Stephen Colbert in his character for The Colbert Report. It’s all about rage and passion, and thought and reflection only undermine strength of purpose.

    But "being neither hot nor cold" need not be so stark. Readers may have noticed by now that I love to cook. One of the things I have to work at, still, is noting that some things do better with long, steady cooking at low heat. What comes to mind are onions. Many recipes start with onions that need to be "sweated" - cooked slowly over low heat to bring out the sugar in them, so long hidden by the sharpness of sulfur. Rush to cook them quickly and you either undercook them or burn them; and everything you add to them will take on the flavor of the sulfur that remains or the charred sugar that has been added. It's worth noting that this is also known as "clarifying" the onions; for as the sulfur fades away the onions go from opaque white to translucency, almost transparency. It's not that the onions aren't hot. It's that the slower, more patient process has brought out in them beauty and flavor that you wouldn't know from the raw form, and that no other, faster process would have produced.

    We know this well in human experience and in the Christian faith, even if it sometimes gets short shrift. It is, after all, how we come as persons to wisdom, and how we distinguish wisdom from knowledge. It is as William James described in writing of those "once born": a gradual growth in the knowledge and love of the Lord not dependent on one or a few moments of conversion (even though those moments do come). It is what we mean in the Catholic west by "sanctification," what our Orthodox Christian siblings mean by "theosis:" the gradual growth in grace and in awareness of God's presence and God's action that is the result of the Spirit's continuing work in us.

    It is, I think, an aspect of Paul's statement that "God is working in all things for good for those who love him:" in all things, and not just in those that move us in passion. It was lived out in the life of Peter, whose passions drove him while Jesus lived. His anger rejected Jesus' prediction of the crucifixion. His rage cut off the ear of the High Priest's servant. His fear denied Jesus three times before the cock crowed. It was in quiet and reflection that he understood his mission to tend and feed Christ's sheep, and that he realized that God could proclaim acceptable what his children had long rejected. And yet we would not suggest that either Paul or Peter was 'lukewarm' about faith in Christ.

    So, perhaps all of us who are determined, committed, "hot" in our faith in Christ need to reflect again on what we mean by "compromise." Shall we see one another as colleagues to whom we might in good faith concede; or as rivals to whom any concession constitutes surrender? It's an important question for the Episcopal Church and for the Anglican Communion, and for each of us as individuals. Will we be moved by hasty passion, or trust in the slower, arguably harder and less comfortable process by which the Spirit seeks to bring us into all truth? How will we answer the question? The direction of the Church, and perhaps of our souls, depends on the answer.

    The Rev. Marshall Scott is a chaplain in the Saint Luke’s Health System, a ministry of the Diocese of West Missouri. A past president of the Assembly of Episcopal Healthcare Chaplains, and an associate of the Order of the Holy Cross, he keeps the blog Episcopal Chaplain at the Bedside.

    What about Generation X?

    First of two parts.

    The author gratefully acknowledges the input of other participants in Northern Virginia's Mesh Community for ideas she developed in this essay. It doesn't necessarily reflect any individual's opinion other than her own, however.

    By Helen Thompson

    I was talking to a friend about the challenges we face by virtue of being born after 1970--well, of being gen-xers in general, and being caught between the "Boomers" and the "Millennials," and how this affects us in faith communities. It came up last week on an email group, and I passed it along to several of my friends who are doing their part, in my humble opinion, to attract people like me to the broader church. On Sept. 20, that group met over margaritas to discuss, as my friend put it, "the theological / ecclesiological / missiological / tequiliological implications" of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows; indeed, the Harry Potter series as a whole. Where on earth can you find something like this? In our homespun small group, called MESH, which is an acronym for mix, entangle, share, harmonize. What it is, for me, is church. Three friends had the idea to read some books and invite their friends over for munchies and chat. And they're telling their friends. And they're telling their friends. We're not part of any one church, but part of the church.

    The more I see things with top-down architectures being applied to us youngish people, the more I realize it doesn't work. I've seen great ideas committee-ed to death all because people older and wiser than me must control every outcome of every plan of every initiative. And the more input I got from friends of mine, the more I realized:

    Your invitation to me to participate doesn't mean much if you don't let my input—and leadership—count. And that's what I'm hearing from frustrated 30-something laity who want to take on leadership positions but still get flak for being slackers, which we really are not anymore and we'd like some credit. It's not just the Episcopal Church. I worked at a financial services magazine that refused every pitch I made about Gen-X prospects because we're not buyers. I work for an association that's trying to figure out how to attract people under 40 because we're not joiners. One friend of mine added to the conversation that she'd like to see "'young adult' stricken from the Episcopal vocabulary"--for reasons that resonate with me: mortgage, career, family. Heck, my son is almost 15, and pretty soon I'll be the young adult parent of a young adult.

    So, if we're not young adults anymore, and nowhere near middle aged (if 50 is new the 30, we're actually teenagers), what are we? How do you address the wide demographic of a narrow slice of the population that's holding an awful lot of cards and generating absolutely no buzz? Sure, skip us. Move on to the millennials.

    Here's my take on things, though. Generation X is the bridge between the Boomers and the Millenials. We were raised with enough technology that we're conversant in the ways that today's teenagers interact on social networks. But we also know how to dial a phone. We're all wired in varying ways, but each succeeding generation is increasingly plugged in. Let me put it another way. Historically, many immigrants have come to America speaking only their native language. Their children, however, speak both languages fluently. But I know many cases where the grandchildren don't speak anything but English, and the middle generation must help the bookending generations understand one another--literally. So what happens if you skip the middle generation?

    Here's an example I ran across recently. Blogs are a publishing platform that were adopted quickly by compulsive writers with varying degrees of web-savvy. I've had so many that it's a wonder I can populate them all with random Helen/Gallycat brain noise on a regular basis, so I wax and wane with all of them. They're a great way to distribute content, to self-publish (no, really, I'm more prolific than Stephen King!), to bypass censorious editors, to think aloud, to take the podium, to brainstorm in community. So of course, many organizations, seeing the value of being able to share content with one another, decided to barrel full speed ahead with a blog. Occasionally, some would enlist me to help get the blog off the ground, since I know the technology. One, in particular, was a church that was looking forward to getting some ideas out there.

    But they didn't listen to my input on certain key issues that ultimately doomed the blog. Granted, this is a church that has huge outreach on many fronts and I don't fault them at all for determining that this wasn't the vehicle for them, especially since I was constantly moving from place to place and too peripatetic to fully participate in the community. (This is a major reason why "online" was my permanent residence, up til recently.) But the problem was that every post had to be approved by a committee. I felt like Cassandra, trying to explain to them why it would inhibit participation on the blog. It died a few months later. I was sad, but Episcopal Cafe emerged right around then, so I had another place to focus my energies.

    So how is this an example of why we, Gen X, are the translators? We are well equipped to understand social media, which is going to be the communications medium of choice for today's young people. How is this changing the face of communications? My connections in the news media say it's as revolutionary as Gutenberg and the moveable type printing press. Ignore this opinion at your peril, unless you think Luther's revolution had nothing to do with Gutenberg's (again, a hat tip to my friend for saying this; I hope he outs himself in the comments). Blogs are just a part of what that next generation is coming online with. We can speak their language. We can speak the Boomers', too, though. Did I mention my teenage son? Yes? What about my aging parents? How's your retirement portfolio?

    So anyway, back to the matter at hand. Don't skip Generation X. We've seen it more than once. We've heard you ask how to reach us, and seen you form committees hoping to find the magic pill that will get us back in the pews. To be honest, you might not. My fiancé has stalwartly avoided church services pretty much since he was old enough to say "no" to them. But cookouts, labyrinth walks, drum circles, soup kitchens, river clean-ups? He's so there. How is he going to hear about those activities if he doesn't come to church each Sunday? Through our blogs, our Facebook accounts, our Livejournals, our Myspace pages. I'm on each of these platforms, and on every single one it's plain to see that I'm a Christian, an Episcopalian, a Harry Potter fan and a Diet Pepsi addict. And I have slowly been building my own net community, little pockets of which occasionally gather for margaritas, that is my church.

    You don't need a committee to study us and come up with a strategic plan that you'll implement just in time for my grandchildren's confirmation, by which time said strategic plan will be as obsolete and full of cheesy music as 8-track tapes. Try flying by the seat of your pants. Take a hint from my Tequila-loving pals and get a group together over dinner and a movie and see what happens. Take some popular music—U2 is just the beginning—and see what happens when you treat the lyrics as songs to God. Look at how subcultures like emo and goth have spiritual subtexts that tie in beautifully with the poetry of psalms. Take church outside the church, and take advantage of social networking technology to bring more people into the fold. Not the pews, THE FOLD. For we are his flock in the world. In the world! Such is the call to the diaconate, and the call of the deacon at the end of the service. But it's important to everyone; otherwise, such would not be the call of the deacon to us: Go forth into the world to love and serve the lord.

    It's not enough to study us. Listen to us, yes, but more importantly—

    Join us.

    Helen Thompson directs social media initiatives for an international association in Northern Virginia and is a freelance writer and editor. She lives in the northern Shenandoah Valley, where she is in her second year of studies in Education for Ministry and plugging away at her first novel. Catch her on the web at http://www.gallycat.com, among others.

    Reinventing ourselves: A spiritual look at New Orleans

    By Steven Charleston

    By now most of us will have read all about what the Episcopal bishops said (or didn’t say) at the House of Bishops meeting in New Orleans. As usual in political controversies some of us will be happy while others are disturbed. But what ever your reaction to New Orleans might be, there is one common denominator that I believe unites all sides of the argument: for better or worse, the church is reinventing itself. We may not like it. We may not admit it. But that is what is happening.

    I know it is not popular to say that we actually invent the church each generation. Many people like to think that there is a rock solid core of tradition that never changes. But even the most core beliefs of any religious community are continually transformed by the interpretation, the nuances, each generation brings to their understanding of those beliefs. Did people in medieval Europe believe Jesus was the Son of God? Yes. Do Christians in Iowa today believe the same thing? Yes, but beyond that the cultural values and historic realities of these two communities make that single belief a prism, not a rock. We are not building on the firm foundation. We are building on the ever shifting sands of culture.

    What is happening in the church now, whether from the Left or the Right, is the reinterpretation of the culture we call church. The forces of change are played out in the kind of negotiation process we have been witnessing for several years around subjects like human sexuality and church governance. The actions taken in New Orleans are only a small piece in a continuing process. In effect, we are negotiating our future, shaping the community to fit the assumptions we hold about the values we cherish arising from the beliefs we have interpreted from the past. Therefore, New Orleans is not the last word, but only more words in the chain of change that will make the Episcopal Church a radically different community within the next decade.

    Should we be made anxious by this process? Yes and no.

    Yes, if we abrogate our role in the negotiations. We should be anxious if others are doing all the talking, making all the choices, or defining all the terms.

    No, if we are fully engaged in designing our own future. We should not be anxious if we are actively listening, learning and negotiating no matter how difficult or frustrating that effort may seem.

    While the decisions made in New Orleans will reassure some, comfort many, and upset a few, they are only the visible brush strokes of a much deeper creative process. Other challenges and other compromises will be reached in the days to come. All of them will be the outward signs of an inner cultural shift. Like the tectonic plates of the Earth, the interpretations we give to long held beliefs will move us to a new place whether we are ready to go or not. Change will happen and the process will recycle itself within the next generation.

    Does that make what we do meaningless in the politics of the moment? Not really, not if you believe that beneath it all, behind it all, God is working out a future in negotiation with us. Our rock solid tradition is to believe that God is a God of history. Our common sense historical experience teaches us that this history is as pliable as necessity and as resilient as fear.

    The Rt. Rev. Steven Charleston, former Bishop of Alaska, is president and dean of Episcopal Divinity School, and keeper of the podcasting blog EDS's Stepping Stones. A citizen of the Choctaw Nation, Bishop Charleston is widely recognized as a leading proponent for justice issues and for spiritual renewal in the church.

    Climate Change, Hunger and Industrial Animal Agriculture

    By Christine Gutleben and Lois Wye

    Climate change is receiving increasing attention among faith communities, especially The Episcopal Church. As people of faith, we are becoming more aware of our roles as stewards of creation, while developing sensitivities to our consumption habits and our carbon footprints. The Episcopal Church has also put the U.N.’s Millennium Develop Goals on the front burner, recognizing the religious communities’ critical role in reducing world hunger and improving the lives of our brothers and sisters around the globe.

    Our Presiding Bishop, Rev. Dr. Katharine Jefferts Schori, has recognized that climate change and world hunger are inexorably intertwined. Testifying before Congress in June of this year, she said, “We cannot triumph over global poverty . . . unless we also address climate change, as the two phenomena are intimately related. Climate change exacerbates global poverty, and global poverty propels climate change.” Bishop Jefferts Schori’s testimony is significant; however, a third critical element is missing from the discussion. Unless we take an honest look at industrial animal agriculture and the food choices that support this system, our progress in mitigating world hunger and climate change will be significantly hampered.

    Nearly one fifth of all greenhouse gas emissions come from livestock agriculture – more than the contribution of all transportation systems combined, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) report, Livestock’s Long Shadow. Moreover, the report states that thousands of acres rainforest are cleared to make way for farming—to raise grain not for people or pastured animals, but for feedlots. In many parts of the world, small farmers are forced out of business and into poverty when they are unable to compete with large industrial farming practices. In short, if we want to have the strongest impact on combating both climate change and world hunger, we must do more than turn off the light switch or trade in our SUVs for hybrids; we must change the way we shop and the way we eat.

    The problem is one of increasing urgency. The contribution of factory farming to environmental problems, world hunger, and untold animal suffering is rising rapidly. In 1961, the average American consumed 195 pounds of meat per year, by 2001 this figure rose to 272 pounds per year—a 77 pound increase in the last 40 years, according to the FAO. This illustrates that the continual growth of industrial animal agriculture in the United States is not simply a result of having to feed more people, it is also a result of Americans eating more meat. And the problem doesn’t stop there. As our western, meat-based diet is exported around the globe, per person meat consumption is exploding in countries like China and Brazil. The average person in China is consuming an increase of 110 pounds of meat per year, up from 40 years ago; similarly, in Brazil, the average person is now consuming an increase of 113 pounds of meat per year. At this rate, in just 20 years, we will need to produce 5 times more meat than we are currently producing globally, according to the FAO.

    Factory Farming and Climate Change

    The industrial livestock industry is responsible for 18 percent of greenhouse gas emissions, as measured in carbon dioxide equivalent. This accounts for animal agriculture’s direct impact as well as the impact of the resources required for feedcrop agriculture. Methane, nitrous oxide and ammonia emissions, all of which have a more significant global warming potential than carbon dioxide, are also produced in high quantities on factory farms. The U.S. produces the largest portion of methane emissions from farm animal manure in the world, totaling nearly 1.9 million tons annually.

    A 2005 report from the University of Chicago entitled Diet, Energy and Global Warming concluded that the average American diet, which includes meat, dairy and eggs produces 1.5 metric tons of carbon dioxide more per person per year than a plant-based diet yielding the same calories. The study notes that producing a calorie of meat protein means burning more than ten times as much fossil fuels and ten times as much carbon dioxide than a calorie of plant protein. The emissions difference between an omnivorous diet and a plant-based diet is roughly the difference between driving an SUV and a compact car. Indeed, however much energy we save through switching light bulbs or driving hybrid cars, we will sooner or later have to address our diet and reduce our consumption of factory farmed animal products if we are serious about mitigating the effects of climate change.

    Factory Farms and World Hunger

    Compassion in World Farming (CIWF), a non-governmental organization headquartered in the United Kingdom, has produced an excellent, 17 minute video entitled, “Eat Less Meat.” This video illustrates the impact of a meat-based diet and factory farming on human health, the environment, world hunger, and animal welfare. According to CIWF, the growing global popularity of meat as a dietary staple and the increasing middle class in many countries has encouraged intensive industrial farming methods in developing countries. This is usually undertaken as a joint venture with western companies, and meat is produced both for export and the local middle class. Local small scale farmers cannot compete and lose their farms. They tend to drift into cities and move from being self-sufficient farmers to landless urban poor.

    Moreover, the rise of factory farms worldwide encourages the development of monocultures, wherein farmers are encouraged to grow a single crop solely to be exported for animal feed. Thus, local economies become less diversified and more fragile, affordable food is removed from local economies, and land which could be used to raise food for people is instead used to raise food for animals.

    According to the World Health Organization, a hectare of land used to raise crops for livestock can feed only two people, while a hectare of land used to grow rice or potatoes for people can feed approximately 20 people. If everyone in the world were to eat as much meat as the average American, by mid-century it would require four planets the size of earth to grow the grain to feed the animals. Conversely, according to the International Food Policy Institute, if people in the west halved their consumption of meat, and the land used to feed those animals was used to grow crops for people, 3.6 million children in developing countries could be saved from malnutrition by the year 2020.

    Factory Farms and Animal Welfare

    After World War II, the process of raising animals became largely transformed into one of producing high quantities of meat as cheaply as possible, at the inevitable expense of animal welfare. Animals have been moved from pastures to feedlots and warehouses. Some of the worst abuses of factory farms include battery cages for egg-laying hens, where hens are crammed row upon row into cages so small they cannot spread their wings, and gestation crates, where 400 pound hogs are kept in cages so small they cannot turn around. Most factory farmed animals spend their entire lives without feeling the earth beneath their feet or the sun on their backs.

    In the United States alone, ten billion animals will be killed this year for our consumption. Most of these animals will spend their lives inside factory farms. These are God’s creatures, entrusted to our care. They live their lives and go to their deaths without one gentle touch, one act of mercy, from human hands.

    We live in a culture where few of us have any idea how food gets to our table. There are rumblings of change within the faith community. In May of this year, Barbara Kingsolver spoke at the National Cathedral about her book, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, regarding the importance of eating mindfully. In August, The New York Times published, “Of Church and Steak: Farming for the Soul,” which addresses the need recognized by some in the faith community to treat farm animals more humanely and to practice more sustainable methods of agriculture. These rumblings need to become a roar.

    Where do we go from here

    Farmer, author and teacher, Wendell Berry, offers this critique of the way we purchase food products without concern for origin. Berry explains that our food choices are critical not only for our own spiritual integrity, but for the health and well being of the earth and all its inhabitants:

    We can [not] live harmlessly or strictly at our own expense; we depend upon other creatures and survive by their deaths. To live, we must daily break the body and shed the blood of creation. The point is, when we do this knowingly, lovingly, skillfully, reverently, it is a sacrament; when we do it ignorantly, greedily, clumsily, destructively, it is a desecration…in such desecration, we condemn ourselves to spiritual and moral loneliness, and others to want.

    Deliberate, selective, intentional and compassionate food choices that align with our spiritual principles are, in part, what makes food a sacrament – a material reality that conveys the divine. We have the choice to experience the sacramentality of creation or its destruction when we purchase, prepare and eat our food. Berry also reminds us that we are not the center of God’s universe. We exist as dependent creatures within diverse and intricate ecosystems and should consider food choices with this in mind.

    It is time our food choices enter into the “carbon footprint” equation. These choices have a far greater impact than has been accounted for thus far and it is time our religious communities consider the ethics of eating as part of any serious work on climate change and the fight against world hunger. As The New York Times noted in its recent article, “If this nascent cause [were to be] taken up by large numbers of churches and synagogues, the economic effect alone could be profound.”

    In 2003, the Episcopal Church took the first steps in recognizing this need with GC Resolution D016. “Support Ethical Care of Animals,” condemns the suffering caused by factory farms and calls upon the church to encourage its members to adhere to ethical standards in the treatment of animals and to advocate for legislation protecting them. Farms with stricter animal welfare standards benefit animals, humans, and the environment.

    The Humane Society of the United States’ (HSUS) Animals and Religion program is reaching out to congregations and religiously affiliated organizations to join with it to work in partnership for a more just, sustainable and humane food system. The collaboration between HSUS and the religious community could form a powerful coalition to return industrial agriculture to a more appropriate scale and address the problems inherent in the factory farming system. The HSUS commends The Episcopal Church’s resolution on animals and suggests reducing the consumption of animal products, refining the selection of these products to more humane alternatives and replacing them with sustainably produced fruits, vegetables, grains and legume as important steps in enacting the resolution, reducing one’s carbon footprint, combating world hunger and being better stewards of both the earth and all its inhabitants.

    Christine Gutleben is Director of the Animals and Religion Program at the Humane Society of the United States. Lois Godfrey Wye is an environmental attorney at the law firm of Holland & Knight, a student at Wesley Theological Seminary, and a parishioner at the Washington National Cathedral.


    Links referred to in this article:
    Livestock's Long Shadow Executive Summary (FAO)
    Diet Energy and Global Warming (University of Chicago)
    Eat Less Meat Video (CIWF)
    Factory Farms
    Battery Cages for egg laying hens
    Gestation Crates
    Of Church and Steak: Farming for the Soul (NYT)
    Support Ethical Care of Animals (TEC)
    The 3 R's


    Fit for the Kingdom?

    By Micah Jackson

    Picture in your mind a stereotypical pastor. Regardless of denomination, gender, or age, the pastor you’re picturing is probably at least a little bit overweight. It makes sense, really. Pastors are, by and large, holding jobs with irregular hours that take place mostly in offices or homes. They drive cars from one place to another. Most hosts will feel like they should offer the pastor a slice of coffee cake, at least, if not a full meal with dessert! No wonder the pastor in your mind is somewhat pudgy.

    But this is not just a fantasy situation for many pastors. A recent survey by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America found that 72% of pastors are suffering from poor nutrition, 62% are experiencing health threatening stress or depression, 60% have hypertension. Studies done by other denominations show similar results. Pulpit and Pew, in a cross-denominational survey of more than 2,500 Christian clergy, found that more than three-quarters of pastors are heavier than they should be—much higher than the general population, which itself is alarmingly overweight.

    Christian history is filled with varying theologies of the body. Some say that the body, as part of this material world, is inherently evil and a prison for the soul. Some would suggest, to the contrary, that the Incarnation shows the body as part of God’s inherently good creation, and therefore to be cared for as the rest of creation. St. Paul famously wrote, “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God?” (1 Cor 6:19) No wonder most clergy have decided not to think about it.

    The temptation is to respond to such a crisis the way Americans often do, by throwing money at the problem, through programs, or pills. A whole industry has arisen around weight-loss, and it includes a wide range of people, from surgeons in the wealthiest neighborhoods in the country to people who stoop down to pick herbs from the ground that others hope will melt away fat or block carbohydrate absorption, or some such. King Solomon advised “put a knife to your throat if you have a big appetite.” (Proverbs 23:2) Probably he didn’t imagine literally “going under the knife” for weight-loss surgery, but perhaps only because it had never occurred to him.

    The crude measures of body mass, like gross weight, or the BMI, may be good estimates of fitness in the minds of insurance companies. Still, true “fitness” can only be measured in comparison to a concrete task. “Fitness for what?” must be the question. And for that, as always, we must listen for the voice of God. To what work is God calling you, and is your body up to the challenge? If you were more physically fit, could you do more for the Kingdom?

    In her book Honoring the Body: Meditations on a Christian Practice, Stephanie Paulsell tells the story of a “father of a disabled child who runs each day and lifts weights several times a week so that even when he has grown old, he will be able to lift his daughter from her wheelchair, carry her to the car, settle her into the bath.” This man does not seek trophies, medals, or even a souvenir t-shirt. But surely he is “fit for the Kingdom of God.” So are those who are called to weed the garden in the park, or walk the neighborhood in a community policing initiative, or swing a hammer on a Habit for Humanity house. They, too, honor God, and serve their fellow humans, with their physical bodies.

    This is not to say that those who choose to run marathons or lift heavy barbells cannot do so in such a way as to bring glory to God. Indeed, many do. I myself have been training for a marathon as a way of getting more fit for whatever God may call me to do. Feel free to follow along, or read more of my thoughts on fitness, on my website, ironpriest.org.

    I’ve found that training for the marathon to get more fit has helped me in many ways. Sure, I’ve lost about 20 pounds, my pulse rate and blood pressure are down, and I look and feel much better. But, I’ve also learned that many of the things I used to think of as insignificant matter very much to God. The food I eat, the choices I make about what to say yes to, about time management, about goal setting, about pacing, each of these things has helped to bring me more in touch with my body, fearfully and wonderfully made, one of my first gifts from God.

    Clergy have important jobs, and many of us are unfit to the task, or will become so long before we should, because of our poor attention to health. We owe ourselves, our fellow-workers, our parishioners, our God, more than that. We love God with not only our heart, and soul, and mind, but also with our strength.

    The Rev. Micah Jackson is a priest of the Diocese of Chicago, currently living in Berkeley, Calif. He is a doctoral student in Homiletics at the Graduate Theological Union. His personal blog is St. Jerome's Library.

    A small c catholic looks at New Orleans

    By Nick Knisely

    In recent days there has been plenty of commentary both here and other places about the statement from the House of Bishops’ meeting in New Orleans and what it means for us as Episcopalians and Anglicans. The points made in those places are probably already familiar to the people reading this essay and I don’t see it as being helpful to list them here. (Take a look at the Lead if you’re need a refresher.) What I want to do here is to invite folks to look at what has happened in New Orleans in a different way through a different lens.

    In the days leading up to the meeting I came across a reply to a comment on someone’s blog. The original post mentioned that “Rowan Williams was willing to sacrifice biblical truth for the sake of maintaining unity.” A few comments later someone replied to the effect that she “was right that Rowan might sacrifice to maintain unity, but that she misunderstood the reason why. Rowan was willing to compromise because he understands maintaining unity as biblical truth”.

    That comment has been stuck in my brain ever since. It gives me a way to express something I’ve been struggling to put into words for years. I am a catholic Christian in a way similar to my reading of where Rowan Williams is coming from. I believe the Body of Christ looks like the wide diversity of human experience - intentionally and not by accident. This is not a belief I brought with me into the Episcopal Church, but it is one that I have grown into as I have prayed the liturgy and read the bible with the people I have met in this denomination.

    It is because I am a “catholic minded” Christian that I have never been able to find any internal resonance for myself with the idea that “we” or “they” must now walk apart from each other.

    I am for Jesus like, I believe, just about every other voice in this moment. For me that leads me to confess that I am for the greatest amount of communion with the largest diversity possible.

    #
    Having thus laid out my own prejudices, let me now offer up my differing take on the House of Bishops’ statement.

    The statement from the HoB is a political document extracted from them via threats and coercion. To read it as theological statement or a self-consistent teaching document is to misunderstand its purpose and genesis. It does not grow out of spontaneous desire of the Episcopal Church to toss yet another hot-potato into the conversation. It was not something that the House of Bishops looked forward to creating. It is the response to the request from the voices of the Primates Council of the Anglican Communion.

    Given that it is not meant to be a confessional statement of belief or a teaching from the house, then what hope can it bring to us in the Episcopal Church?

    The HoB statement is more important for the consensus it represents than it is for what it actually says.

    For years now we’ve witnessed raucous House of Bishops’ meetings with boycotts, minority reports, people refusing to worship with one another and political horse-trading. What we’ve not seen is our bishops resolutely coming together into a community, listening to each other and working to create a document that they could all support to one degree or another. We have that here and it is the most surprising thing about the flawed and internally inconsistent document.

    #
    I have been struggling for sometime now trying to understand the complaints we hear across the breadth of the Anglican Communion that the problems in its internal life are due to American imperialism and lack of concern for others. It’s a charge that hasn’t seemed fair to me given that the Episcopal Church has only ever tried to order its own life and spoken of its own practice for the most part. But while watching the goings on in New Orleans and listening to the overseas voices, I recognized something I hadn’t before. People who feel disenfranchised in the Episcopal Church and Episcopalians who feel disenfranchised in the Anglican Communion have been busy and effective of late reaching out and making allies for themselves outside of the Episcopal Church.

    There’s nothing wrong with reaching out like this, and in most cases it seems commendable to me. But the unintended consequence of this looking for allies is that we here in the Episcopal Church have effectively turned our local squabbles into international ones. And our exported squabbles now not only threaten the health of our province but the internal lives of other provinces as well. It’s not that they don’t have to face the same issues, it’s that our culture’s framing of the issues is, in an unintended way, causing the issues to framed in their different culture in our terms rather than allowing them the opportunity to frame them for themselves.

    To put it baldly: The lack of spiritual health in the life of the “instruments of unity” in the Episcopal Church is spreading to the “instruments of unity” in the rest of the Communion.

    If the consensus statement from the House of Bishops represents the first steps on the long journey back to a mature and christian response to conflict in our province, then perhaps an important milestone in our recovery has been passed.

    #
    What do I as a “catholic-minded” Christian think a mature response to conflict looks like? For me the first and primary response to brokeness is not to walk apart from each other - it is rather to kneel together at the Lord's table.

    I take both St. Augustine's theological anthropology and Gödel's Incompleteness Theorem seriously enough that I fundamentally doubt that we can either reason our way or interpret scripture accurately enough to find out way out of our present mess.

    It is only by coming together to Christ and being fed from his self-emptying and freely gifted sacrifice that we can be healed.

    So given that, our most effective response to the present conflict is to freely and honestly admit our brokeness and that we are stuck in a place we don’t know how to get out of. We are in an acute situation, and the first thing to do in an acute situation is to not take an action which would make things worse. Rather than cutting deeper to try heal a serious wound, might we instead first try to staunch the bleeding? I would argue that pastoral care for both sides, not schism or temporary separation, is what is called for in this moment in our Church.

    Do I have specific suggestions about what that pastoral care would like like? Well, yes, I do actually... But I don’t think my suggestions are going to be terribly helpful because I’m not a member of one of the groups asking for care.

    I believe the most Christian path would be for us to listen to both the communities of LBGT christians and those on the other side of the present debate who feel disenfranchised and marginalized by the actions of General Convention about what they respectively feel would be helpful. They have not been quiet in asking for specific things. And then to be honest and frank about what we can do and what we can’t do - recognizing our sinfulness and our brokeness as the source of our limitations.

    #
    I do not know the definitive way that would lead us out of our present stuck situation. I'm leery of people who claim they do. (If there's a true prophet amongst us, please tell me the sign by which I recognize her or him.)

    What I do believe is that the answer will only come to us as we commit ourselves more and more strongly to becoming the Body of Christ in the world. The closer we come to Jesus, the closer we come to each other. The closer we come to each other, the greater the agape love we share and the less insurmountable the problems we face.

    The House of Bishops’ appears to me to have taken a turn down this new road. And for that reason more than any other, I am more hopeful now than I was last week.

    The Very Rev. W. Nicholas Knisely is Dean of Trinity Cathedral in Phoenix Ariz. He serves as Chair of the Standing Commission on Episcopal Church Communication, is active in ecumenical works and was originally trained as an astronomer before he was ordained. His blog is Entangled States.

    House of Bishops: The Cliffs Notes

    By Susan Fawcett

    Since all kinds of uninformed reporters in the secular media have been adding their opinions to the mix, I thought I'd throw mine in there, which may be worth all the money you've just paid to get to see it, and may be just as objective as your hometown newspaper.

    Here's a short, slanted, and totally oversimplified summary of what the House of Bishops' response to the Primates' Communique says (which, for the record, is nothing new at all):

    Dear Primates:

    First, we still love our gay and lesbian people. We agreed last summer not to consecrate them (though we're not making promises about anyone who might be single), or authorize any prayer book revisions for them, so that you would not write us off entirely. But only for a while. And yes, there are some of us who are doing everything we can short of those two promises to speak up with and for them. (If that troubles you, please see point The Fourth).

    Second, we still love you and all of our Anglican Brothers and Sisters (though we're seriously peeved at a particular set of you who are using some seriously sketchy funding to put forward a massive smear campaign, take away buildings that were pledged to us, and give away a bunch of purple shirts to people who couldn't be duly elected to earn them). We love learning from you and with you. We want to follow Jesus right alongside you. We think we have a few things to contribute to you, too. Please don't stop speaking to us.

    Third, even though we really do love you, we aren't going to let you push us around and change the rules of how the Anglican Communion works. No, you may not come into our house and tell us how to do things. That was never what we agreed to.

    Fourth, since we agreed way back at Lambeth in 1998 that we should ALL be listening to the experiences of gay and lesbian people, and making sure they are treated with the dignity and respect that human beings tend to deserve, we've decided to make that 'Listening Process' a priority. So should you (since you said you would).

    Fifth, we'd like to remind you that the Anglican Communion was never meant to be a legislative body. We're more like a family. You keep complaining that we're being 'colonialist,' and thrusting our ways upon everyone else. We think that (how do we say this pastorally? Sigh.) in this situation, perhaps that might be the pot calling the kettle black.

    See you at Lambeth!

    Love,
    Bishops, Episcopal Church USA


    And, again, totally oversimplified, here is my assessment of the Important Things that happened at the House of Bishops last week. Note that there is no mention of their response to the Communique in this list.

    1. Our Bishops underlined for the Primates, for the umpteenth time, that they do not have the authority to make decisions for the Episcopal Church (that would be the job of General Convention, which is made up of lay people and clergy, who are elected to their positions at General Convention. We shan't go into how post-colonial this is compared to other
    structures around the world, Thus, there's no sense in getting your knickers in a twist over what the House of Bishops writes to some Primates. If you're going to get upset about something, pick something that matters a little more.

    2. The Archbishop of Canterbury joined them, and made some very interesting and refreshing remarks. For one, he suggested that members of disaffected parishes here in the US should look for signs of grace in the Episcopal Church (rather than creating some sort of other structure outside of it). The fact that he sp