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.

Reporting on sermons: NYTimes and the Presiding Bishop

by Dan Schultz

We’ve heard a lot about controversial sermons in recent years: there was the whole Jeremiah Wright thing (and to a lesser extent the Michael Pfleger thing). That same election cycle John McCain had trouble with John Hagee, and then in 2011 Rick Perry ran into a spot of bother with Robert Jeffress. This year Luis Leon gave Obama a bit of a headache on Easter Sunday, and though Sr. Laurie Brink technically delivered addresses, not sermons, to a convention of nuns, it was enough to create some mishegas at the Vatican’s doctrinal offices.

The latest, via the New York Times’ Mark Oppenheimer, is that Katherine Jefferts Schori misinterpreted the book of Acts in a sermon preached to an Episcopal congregation in Curaçao, and this has traditionalists hopping mad, and how.

Now, full disclosure: Oppenheimer and I have some history, which you’re welcome to google if you want. That being said, I’ll only knock him for picking up uncritically the perspective of knee-jerk opponents of the Episcopal church. Like Jim Naughton said on Twitter the other day, the Presiding Bishop could say “Pass the ketchup,” and some of these people would respond with lengthy diatribes on the centrality of tomato imagery in the writings of Gnostic heretics. There’s actually nothing wrong with noticing a minor controversy like this and using it to reflect on the struggles of a denomination: everybody knows TEC has and will have its share of struggles over the coming years. But journalists need to be careful in analyzing church fights. It’s rarely black and white, and sometimes, as in this case, the same people complaining are actively trying to submarine the church. You might want to take what they have to say with a grain of salt.

That’s a relatively minor concern, however. What seems more worrisome is the continued pattern of journalists and political activists taking sermons out of context to drive some kind of narrative, whether political or about divisions in the church. Bishop Jefferts Schori almost certainly did get Paul’s intentions wrong in her sermon, but that’s not the point. Sermons are primarily for the people who hear them, meaning the people of God who have gathered to hear the word of God in the context of a particular community gathered at a particular place and a particular time. They are very seldom meant for a wider audience than their immediate setting, and they are—or should never—be for the purpose of scoring political points.

Religious leaders can and should be held accountable for the words they preach. But before reporters go ripping passages out of sermons to slap down in a news report, they need to ask themselves some hard questions:

do I fully understand the context in which this sermon was given?
Do I understand how it might serve the needs of the community to which it was delivered, and how those needs might be different from those of the wider society?
Do I understand the damage that reporting on this sermon might to do to the religious community?
Does reporting on it contribute to the manipulation of religious discourse for partisan ends?
Is reporting on worth the risk of cheapening the words that some people literally hold sacred?

If journalists are going to respect religious faith, as they’re always being encouraged to do, they will take those questions seriously and look for a compelling reason to lift a message out of its particular setting and place it into a general context. “Pastor preaches sermon” may be the oldest story in the church, but “Some people are unhappy with Pastor’s sermon” might just be the second oldest. It is by itself an insufficient cause for a column.

One last word, by way of fairness: preachers must also accept some responsibility here. Anybody who’s been in the pulpit understands that even the most innocuous sermon can be easily bent out of shape by somebody who wasn’t there, and even sometimes by the people who were. The best sermons aren’t necessarily the least controversial, but they are as a rule the ones that respect both the intelligence of the congregation and its particular, peculiar need to hear the word of God in a new way. Preachers and journalists could learn from that notion.

Daniel Schultz, known as "pastordan" around the internet, is a writer and teacher in Wisconsin.

The next Presiding Bishop

by George Clifford

If someone asked me for a two word, thumbnail sketch of The Episcopal Church’s Presiding Bishop (PB) and her two immediate predecessors, I’d respond:

• Ed Browning: Justice advocate
•Frank Griswold: Prayerful spirit
•Katharine Jefferts Schori: Gifted helmswoman

I’m confident that other Episcopalians, if asked the same question, would offer different thumbnail sketches of these three TEC (The Episcopal Church) Chief Pastors and Primates. That’s not surprising. Personal experience, individual knowledge, and encounters (actual or virtual) all shape our impressions of another person. Furthermore, no person – absolutely no one – is reducible to a single phrase. Thumbnail sketches dangerously lend themselves to caricatures, which if not offered in good humor and with genuine respect can convey an acidic attack upon a person’s dignity, worth, and competence.

However, the advantage to setting a complex job description in its historical context and then summarizing both context and performance in a single phrase is that the phrase can provide helpful clarity about who a person is and the primary gift or emphasis that she or he brings (or brought) to the position.

Under the Most Rev. Ed Browning’s leadership, TEC continued the process, which began prior to his incumbency, of transforming this denomination into a more inclusive organization that rightly stresses the gospel’s ramifications for individuals and societies in the present. During the Most Rev. Frank Griswold’s tenure, TEC focused on creating a healthy balance between spiritual and worldly concerns. I especially remember his efforts to heal division and animosity in the House of Bishops during a very tumultuous period.

The Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori has sought to turn our focus to the future. She has encouraged us to face our numerical and financial declines, to adopt a more nimble, leaner structure (a task that should be well underway by the next General Convention), and to resolve the conflicts spawned over the last three decades. The recent Diocese of South Carolina’s declaration of secession quite likely represents the final, and based on outcomes elsewhere, presumably futile attempt by a diocese to withdraw from TEC. Apart from that one diocese, the 2012 General Convention’s adoption of trial rites for blessing same sex relationships happened with little visible angst. Although unanimity does not, and never will, exist, most of the people – lay and clergy – who cannot live with our present diversity and directions have already opted to leave. May God bless them – far from us.

Because of the ministries of these godly Primates, TEC is by many measures a much healthier, stronger, and faithful Church than it was fifty years ago. Our numerical and financial struggles, as much as anything, stem from the body of Christ freeing itself from unchristian social shackles and from the need for our organizational structure to keep pace with social change (for more on these subjects, cf. Episcopal Church Finances, Part 2: The Story the Budget Tells, and Rethinking Episcopal Church Structure Part II).

Adopting a nautical metaphor, TEC has cleared her decks for action. We’re ready to get on with the mission of being God's people in the world, working to make God's kingdom a reality. To accomplish that goal, using words adapted from Esther 4:14, what type of person with what agenda should we call in a time such as this to be our next Presiding Bishop?

Now is the time for this conversation. The Joint Nominating Committee for the Election of the Presiding Bishop is just beginning its work. The next PB, sine qua non, should be a godly person of deep spirituality, great ministerial gifts, respecter of the dignity and worth of all people, and a person being formed in the image of Christ. Since all potential nominees are already TEC bishops, I prayerfully presume that all of them – or at least the vast preponderance of them – satisfy those criteria. Yet their individual spiritualties and spiritual journeys vary widely; these criteria are too broad to provide much help in identifying particular nominees, let alone a final selection.

Similarly, the PB’s job description (found in Canon 2) is sufficiently broad to cover a wide variety of circumstances and leadership styles. For example, that job description has suitably encompassed the diverse ministries of Bishops Browning, Griswold, and Jefferts Schori. In other words, the job description offers no constructive specifics for those tasked with selecting the next PB. Most of our bishops could adequately perform these tasks, each in her or his unique style and with her or his unique personal emphases.

So, what do we want in our next PB? What combination of gifts, skills, and personality is God calling TEC to raise up as the next PB for this season in the Church’s life? The nine years from 2015-2024 will include several obvious challenges: completing the resolution of lawsuits and other actions in response to bishops, dioceses, and parishes that have sought to leave TEC in a manner that violates the canons; completing the restructuring now in its formative stages; and restoring TEC’s financial health. Concurrently, with the enthronement of a new Archbishop of Canterbury, the Anglican Communion’s uncertain future has become even more difficult to discern.

However, an even more basic, more vital challenge should define the next PB’s ministry. TEC has a vision of its mission and ministry: to be the twenty-first century Anglican expression of the body of Christ in the United States (and affiliated overseas dioceses), incarnating an inclusive, radical hospitality that contributes to establishing God's reign on earth. We’ve struggled over the last few decades to articulate that vision and there are various formulations of it, some more eloquent than mine is. Yet wide agreement about that vision of our mission and ministry exists, as evidenced by the ability of this year’s General Convention to act on several potentially divisive issues while maintaining a spirit of cooperation, unity in the midst of diversity, and fidelity to our historic Anglican distinctives. TEC has also initiated internal steps toward establishing the organizational structure and health to live into that vision more effectively (achieving its mission) and efficiently (with the fewest possible resources).

What TEC needs is a PB whose inspirational leadership, building on predecessors’ accomplishments, will enlist an ever-growing number of Episcopal bishops, dioceses, clergy, parishes, and laity in the exciting ministry and mission of living into our vision. This next Chief Pastor should not be primarily an organizer (++Jefferts Schori has most ably set the needed work in motion), nor a healer (we are blessed with continuing benefits from ++Griswold’s legacy), nor a prophet (++Browning’s ministry firmly committed us to justice with love). Instead, we need to turn our eyes from an internal focus on self and organization to an outward focus on a hurting, desperately hungry world.

The English word inspire has its etymological roots in the Middle English verb to blow into. Breath and wind are both metaphors for God's spirit. Dwight Eisenhower famously defined leadership as, "the art of getting someone else to do something you want done because he wants to do it." An inspirational leader motivates people to live into God's vision for their individual and collective lives.

As an inspirational leader, The Episcopal Church’s next Presiding Bishop will spend his or her tenure communicating our vision to TEC and the world, and inspiring us to live heartily and fully into our vision. Everything else that needs doing – including the important tasks of finishing organizational restructuring, balancing budgets, negotiating Anglican Communion changes, etc. – is secondary and, as much as possible, delegated to others. The PB, borrowing a Presidential metaphor, has a bully pulpit. Bishop Jefferts Schori, an excellent communicator, has made good use of that platform. The next PB, an inspirational leader called by God for a time such as this, should concentrate her or his ministry almost entirely on that filling that bully pulpit, freed to do so by delegation and building on predecessors’ ministries.

TEC is at a critical juncture. Are we going to die? Or, are we going to continue to play an important role in God's work? I don’t believe that TEC has reached the winter of its demise. I am excited about our vision and the steps we have taken to incarnate that vision. Selecting an inspirational leader as our next Presiding Bishop will, I hopefully and prayerfully believe, usher in a new season of fruitfulness for us and for this 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.

The Presiding Bishop at the halfway mark

By George Clifford

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who were the Magi?

By Deirdre Good

Who knew that Christmas cards could be so subversive? In December last year, Simon Mayo engaged the Archbishop of Canterbury in a conversation that surprised many about Christmas card scenes. Asked about "the wise men with the gold, frankincense, and Myrrh - with one of the wise men normally being black and the other two being white, for some reason" the Archbishop responded, "Well Matthew's gospel doesn't tell us that there were three of them, doesn't tell us they were kings, doesn't tell us where they came from, it says they're astrologers, wise men, priests from somewhere outside the Roman Empire. That's all we're really told so, yes, 'the three kings with the one from Africa' - that's legend; it works quite well as legend." And this side of the pond, the Standing Committee of the Diocese of Fort Worth questions publicly the choice of Christmas card the Presiding Bishop sent to Bishop Iker on the grounds that its depiction of the Magi as three women of color "reinterprets scripture to exclude masculine images."

For a new book, I've been looking at depictions of biblical figures and themes in the Christian East and West. It will come as a surprise to no one that the Nativity is often portrayed. Given interest in how the Magi are represented, I thought I'd look at examples in the on-line collection of the British Library at A goodly number appear on Christmas cards.

The BL describes their on-line collection thus: "Images Online gives you instant access to thousands of the greatest images from the British Library's collections which include manuscripts, rare books, musical texts and maps spanning almost 3000 years. The range of images available includes illustrations, drawings, paintings and photographs." Additions to the on-line collection are being made daily. You have to register to use their collections. Selecting "Religion and Belief" then "Christianity," I entered the terms "magi" in the search box. The result was 47 images, 44 of which are titled "Journey of the Magi, "Magi Before Herod," "Adoration of the Magi" or something similar. Three are nothing to do with the topic. By, the way, you get the same results by entering "wise men" in the search box.

Three of the 44 images are titled "The Three Magi." Now the titles have probably been given to the pieces of art by catalogers at the British Library sometimes on the basis of the text and sometimes not. I myself take the titles of pieces of art with a grain of salt. In the on-line collection of Jewish Art at the British Library for example, there are sometimes no descriptions of the images at all. Only the manuscript and its place of origin is identified. Of course, there are fewer images in this collection. But even to someone like me who has no training in art history, its obvious that Jewish illustrators in the Middle Ages are depicting biblical episodes. Why they haven't all been titled and classified in the same way as the collection "Christianity" is a mystery.

Back to images of the Magi. Of the 44 images under various titles, some images depict three Magi alone while others in the same category may be showing three Magi but since the Magi have large retinues and the paintings or illustrations are small, it is hard to tell exactly where a Magi ends and a member of the retinue begins, particularly if the Magi and their retinues are coming into the scene from one side or the other. After all, the focus of the depiction is Mary and Jesus. Other images show more than three Magi: some clearly four.

From this, we learn that on-line images of the Magi in Nativity scenes from the British Library's collection of Christian art depict them as three, four, or more figures, some or all of which may be black, or Armenian, or Persian, or a non-white ethnic group. I suppose if you were predisposed to see the Magi only as three white men, you could still do so but in that case you would have to ignore just under half of the 44 images.

We might ask why there are three or four or more Magi of different ethnic extraction at Jesus' birth? Because the text of Matthew's gospel, whence the story comes, identifies the Magi by a plural designation only. And this plurality permits Christian interpretation in art and tradition to reflect the fundamental ambiguity of the text: the masculine Greek plural "magoi" of Matthew 2:1 means only that the Magi are plural in number and that one of that number is a man. There might have been three or four or a hundred Magi at Jesus' birth in Matthew's account. And Christian tradition of the east and west elaborates this ambiguity by naming three or four or dozens of Magi, as Bruce Metzger explains in an article, "Names for the Nameless in the New Testament: A Study in the Growth of Christian Tradition", in Kyriakon. (Festschrift Johannes Quasten, ed. Patrick Granfield & Josef A. Jungmann, vol. I, Münster: Aschendorff, 1970, p.79-99.) Giving names to the Magi seems to have begun in the 6th Century CE.

Now this business of using a plural noun to describe a group of people including men and women can be seen elsewhere in Matthew. Jesus identifies a masculine plural group of his disciples as brother, sister and mother, that is, as kin: "For whoever does the will of my father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother" (12:49-50). Matthew counts only 5000 men in the Feeding of the Five Thousand (14:21) but Jesus may have reckoned differently.

The Magi are not explicitly masculine in Matthew. Diverse depictions of the Magi in Christian and Muslim art, tradition, and Christmas cards as three or four or more; as black, Persian or Eurasian, as male and female, accurately reflects the ambiguity of Matthew's scripture.

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

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.

Live from New Orleans

By June Butler

I commend the bishops' choice of New Orleans for the House of Bishops meeting.

The theme for last night's ecumenical prayer service was "Humanity Renewed, Restored, Re-centered in God". The use of the Morial Convention Center as the site of the ecumenical service was symbolic of the partial recovery of the city, because the Center, along with the Superdome were the two largest shelters of misery for those seeking to escape the flood waters.

No help came for 4 days. I'm sure you remember the scenes from TV. I have never yet figured out how the press could be there filming the misery, but help was so long in coming.

To make certain that we were there on time, we arrived early at the Convention Center. While we waited for the service to start, we were entertained by a choir singing Gospel music. The white folks in the choir were grooving right along with the black folks. I give them points for keeping up.

As the bishops processed into the auditorium, I had to suppress a desire to stand up and cheer when Bishop Katharine passed. She has presence - a quiet dignity and grace about her - that comes through, literally, in passing.

Bishop Duncan Gray of Mississippi read the first lesson, Zechariah (8:3-13), and Bishop Katharine read the Gospel reading, Matthew (25:34-40).

The invocation and the pastoral prayer were given by Bishop Douglas Wiley and Elder John Pierce, neither of whom were Episcopalians. Black preachers often have a way of praying that draws God and his people into an intimate circle. Bishop Wiley's invocation of the presence of the Holy Spirit, and Elder Pierce's prayer did just that. Both were beautiful, and I experienced the powerful presence of God.

When Bishop Charles Jenkins introduced Archbishop Rowan Williams, he reminded us that Archbishop Williams was the 104th archbishop of Canterbury, whereas Bishop Jenkins was the 10th bishop of Louisiana. A tad more history on the side of the archbishop, no?

Archbishop Williams had toured the Lower Ninth Ward in New Orleans, and thus was aware of desolation which still remains, for only a very few brave souls have had the courage to rebuild in that area. The archbishop spoke of what we owe to one another. "The bottom line is that what we owe to one another most deeply of all is gratitude - not even respect, not even the recognition of dignity so much as gratitude," he said. "We are indebted to one another.

I am indebted to your existence because I would not be myself without you. A community, a society, that can get to that level of recognition is one that lives from a deeper place." He went on, "If the church does not live by thanksgiving, I don't what it lives by." We owe each other, but most of all we owe Jesus Christ - for life, hope, strength, and joy. As Williams said, "We owe Christ big time, as they say."

He said the help to the city was to buy time for renewal, reconstruction, and restoration of the city of New Orleans, to help it once again to become "a place for the people". He quoted from the passage from Zechariah:

"Thus says the Lord of hosts: Old men and old women shall again sit in the streets of Jerusalem, each with staff in hand because of their great age.

And the streets of the city shall be full of boys and girls playing in the streets."

He said, "What makes a great, godly city is that it is a safe place for older people to sit and children to play in the streets."

After his speech, the bishops went forward with their donations to Dioceses of Louisiana and Mississippi.

The finale was a musical presentation by the Irvin Mayfield Quartet of a slow Just a Closer Walk, I'll Fly Away, and a rousing When The Saints Go Marching In, which brought out the white handkerchiefs waving in the air and drew folks into the aisles in a second line, marching and waving their white handkerchiefs. I caught a glimpse of a couple of purple shirts in the marching group. I'll wager that this conclusion was unique for a House of Bishops prayer service.

June Butler, better known online as Grandmere Mimi, is a native of New Orleans who blogs at Wounded Bird.

Hopes for New Orleans

By Jim Naughton

In February, the Primates of the Anglican Communion released a set of “recommendations” to the Episcopal Church; warned that if the Church did not comply there would be “consequences for the full participation of the Church in the life of the Communion,” and set September 30 as the deadline for the Church’s response.

On Thursday, just 10 days before the deadline, Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury and members of the Joint Standing Committee of the Primates’ Meeting and the Anglican Consultative Council, begin two days of meetings in New Orleans with the Episcopal Church’s House of Bishops to determine what sort of response is forthcoming. But much of the drama that one will no doubt find the press drumming up this week has already been drained from the situation.

In inviting the bishops of the Episcopal Church (with the significant exception of Gene Robinson of New Hampshire) to the Lambeth Conference next summer, the Archbishop has already signaled that he is not eager to exclude the Episcopal Church from “full participation” in the various quasi-governmental bodies that help hold the Communion together. And in jumping the deadline and ordaining bishops to work in the United States, primates such as Peter Akinola of Nigeria, Henry Orombi of Uganda and Benjamin Nzimbi of Kenya have already played their most potent card to much fanfare, but uncertain—and quite possibly minimal—effect.

But if September 30 deadline has lost much of its dramatic luster, the meeting in New Orleans may nonetheless yield significant results.

One indication of what might transpire is given by the composition of the archbishop’s delegation. In March, the House of Bishops requested a meeting with the archbishop and the Primates’ Standing Committee. But the Archbishop will be accompanied not only the Primates Standing Committee, but the Standing Committee of the Anglican Consultative Council. Throughout the current crisis, the issue of which of the Anglican Communion’s four “instruments of unity” would make the final decisions on the issues of sexuality and membership has been hotly contested. The Primates, almost, by default, have taken the lead because they meet more often than the Anglican Consultative Council (every three years) or the Lambeth Conference (every ten). But a significant tide of resistance against primatial dominance has been building simultaneously.

In bringing the Joint Standing Committee, Archbishop Williams is opening up the process, although who will make the final decision (if a final decision indeed gets made) remains an open question. He is also enfranchising the one Communion-wide body not composed entirely of bishops.

Perhaps more important to the issue at hand, the Joint Standing Committee is also the body which commissioned the sub-group, led by Williams himself, to evaluate the Episcopal Church’s response to the Windsor Report. That report, forgotten after the Primates released their “recommendations” and set their deadline, gave the Episcopal Church relatively high marks. The meeting presents an opportunity for the Joint Standing Committee to make certain that Resolution B033 does indeed indicate that “the majority of bishops with jurisdiction… will refuse consent in future to the consecration of a bishop whose manner of life challenges the wider church and leads to further strains on Communion,“ as the sub-group concluded, and to seek greater clarify on the Church’s stance regarding the blessing of same-sex unions.

On both of these issues it seems at least possible that even many of the more liberal members of the House will be able to say the sort of things the committee wants to hear. A minority in the House doesn’t like the fact that a candidate in a same-sex relationship would not currently receive a majority of consents from diocesan bishops, and hence could not take office. But they acknowledge it as a political reality, and probably wouldn’t mind saying so.

The committee is especially interested in understanding the state of play in Episcopal diocese on same-sex blessings. Can the bishops say that neither the Church nor any diocese will authorize a “public Rite of Blessing” (per The Windsor Report and the sub-group report) or a Rite to Blessing (per the Primates’ Communiqué from Dar es Salaam)? The meaning of the phrase (public) Rite of Blessing has been debated intensely. And as neither the Archbishop nor the Joint Standing Committee has attempted to settle the issue, it is possible that this ambiguity is intentional. If the question is whether Episcopal diocesan bishops are willing to postpone the development of an authorized text to be used in blessing same-sex relationships, then the answer, in all likelihood is yes. If the question is whether every diocesan bishop is willing to enforce a ban on the blessing of same-sex relationships, the answer is almost certainly no.

The first interpretation seems to be the one shared by the authors of The Windsor Report and the sub-group report (although, again, this has been hotly debated). Both documents attempt (with uneven results) to capture the current state of play regarding the blessings of same-sex unions in Episcopal dioceses, and each raises warning in instances when dioceses where steps toward the developments of authorized text or standards were under development. In addition, the Archbishop is no doubt aware that unions are blessed in a number of Anglican provinces, including his own, and an evenhanded Communion-wide ban would be both unpopular and impossible to enforce.

The other difficult issue concerns the pastoral oversight of theologically conservative parishes that are out of sympathy with their bishop, and theologically conservative diocese’s out of sympathy with the Presiding Bishop and the General Convention. On this front it seems unlikely the bishops can do much better than the Episcopal Church has already done—unless Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori comes to the meeting with another oversight proposal.

A little history is helpful here. In March 2004, the House of Bishops passed a delegated episcopal pastoral oversight proposal which went as far as the House felt it could in guaranteeing sympathetic oversight to any parish that requested it. (The House does not have the authority to force a diocesan bishop to offer alternative oversight.) The plan was commended in The Windsor Report, which said it provided, “a very significant degree of security” to parishes that felt alienated from their diocesan bishop. The Primates, however, felt the need to establish a panel of reference at their meeting at Dromantine in February 2005, “to supervise the adequacy” of these alternative oversight arrangements.

(The remainder of that paragraph reads: “Equally, during this period we commit ourselves neither to encourage nor to initiate cross-boundary interventions. That is a matter for another time.” But do notice that various primates have released themselves unilaterally from the commitments they have made in these documents while continuing to call the Episcopal Church to account.)

The same primates who insisted on the creation of the panel became disillusioned with it, hence the proposal they embraced at Dar es Salaam in February, under which a Pastoral Council consisting of “up to five members: two nominated by the Primates, two by the Presiding Bishop, and a Primate of a Province of the Anglican Communion nominated by the Archbishop of Canterbury to chair the Council” would be given broad powers not only to extend pastoral care of certain parishes and dioceses, but to participate in the adjudication of disputes within the life of the Episcopal Church. (In so doing they ignored a generous offer of alternative primatial oversight from Bishop Jefferts Schori that quite likely would have resulted in the same primatial vicar being named, and some of the same bishops, including Williams, being involved in his or her supervision, but would have vested final authority in Bishop Jefferts Schori.)

The Primates’ proposal was roundly rejected in late March by the House of Bishops in a vote that brought liberals and moderate conservatives such as Dorsey Henderson of Upper South Carolina and John Howard of Florida together to rebuff the Primates attempt to exercise an authority that no agreement, written or unwritten, confers upon them. The proposal was also rejected, in June, by the Executive Council of the Episcopal Church.

The Archbishop of Canterbury’s decision to accept the bishops invitation to their meeting came just three weeks after it was offered, and was the first indication that he did not necessarily view the Episcopal Church’s rejection of the Council scheme as grounds for exclusion from the councils of the Communion. The invitations to Lambeth were another sign that whatever the Episcopal Church’s perceived transgressions, he still considered himself in Communion with its bishops. He underlined this message by snubbing those bishops who had been ordained by African provinces to work in the United States. (At that time this included bishops of the Rwandan-backed Anglican Mission in America and the Nigerian-backed Convocation of Anglicans in America. The Churches of Kenya and Uganda have since ordained bishops as well.)

To clarify matters further, one of Williams' advisors last week told the Living Church that:

it was a serious misreading of the primates’ communiqué to say that an ultimatum had been given to the House of Bishops to take certain actions by Sept. 30 or face expulsion from the Anglican Communion. The communiqué had asked for certain clarifications from the House of Bishops, he said, but did not envision a breaching of The Episcopal Church’s constitution.

It may be that Williams had determined that he has given the radical conservative faction led by Akinola (and stag managed by his American allies) as much ground as he can. It may be that he considers its jurisdictional innovations more threatening to the future of the Communion than the two North American churches innovations on issues of human sexuality. It may also be that other leaders in the Communion, including some in Africa, have informed him of their concerns that Akinola’s faction may be willing to use other pretexts to plant its flag in other provinces when the moment suits them.

Whatever the case, House of Bishops has an opportunity to improve and solidify the Church’s standing within the Communion by offering the Archbishop and the Joint Standing Committee much of the reassurance that they seek. These reassurances will be all the more meaningful if the resolutions that embody them can be crafted in a way that appeals to theologically conservative bishops still committed to the Church.

It is not within the power of the House of Bishops, the Joint Standing Committee or Archbishop Williams to stop Archbishop Akinola and his allies from breaking from the Anglican Communion. But it is within their power to appeal to the substantial minorities in the Church and the Communion who are uneasy about the course the Episcopal Church has charted, but appalled by the rhetoric and tactics of Akinola and his virulent friends. And there has been no better moment to do so.

Jim Naughton is the editor of the Episcopal Café .

Slow Leadership

“Life is too short to get too flustered."
--The Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori

By Ann Fontaine

In an interview with The New York Times , shortly before her first meeting with the Primates of the Anglican Communion, Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori said that if she were rebuked at the meeting, it would not be anything new; she experienced that before as an oceanographer: “The first time I was chief scientist on a cruise, the captain wouldn’t speak to me because I was a woman.” Asked how she would respond if primates walked out on her, she said, “Life is too short to get too flustered.”

Bishop Jefferts Schori is famous for responding to questions with calm, direct answers. And although she says, ”Life is too short,” she seems to have taken her lessons from the Slow Leadership movement to live as though she has all the time it takes to accomplish the work that has been given her to do.

Slow leadership is gaining popularity. It is part of the Slow movement which approaches life with balance. The Slow movement seeks to take control of time rather than allowing the busy-ness of life to control time. It encourages finding a balance between using timesaving technology and taking the time to enjoy a walk or a meal with others. Proponents believe “that while technology can speed up working, eating, dating, etc. the most important things in life should not be rushed.” Slow leadership helps leaders reflect fully on what needs to be done. Then they commit to giving those things whatever time they deserve to do them properly. Instead of reacting to everything immediately, Slow leaders prioritize and schedule activities.

Slow leadership is not about always getting things right but recognizing the power of choice both to act and not to act. In one of the newsletters from Slow Leadership, Getting it wrong to get it right, the author says,

Getting it right, in work or life, nearly always involves a great deal of getting it wrong as well. Success depends critically on how you face up to failure, take the lesson it offers, and start again. Opportunities missed are usually gone forever. The road not taken never shows up on the map again. That’s why rushing through life, obsessed with conventional success and fixated purely on material gain, may produce riches and fame, but very often misses out on happiness and contentment. The New Testament of Christians asks: “What shall it profit a man if he gains the whole world, yet loses his soul?” You only have one trip around the sun. Use it well, or lose the chance of living and learning forever.

It is easy in this age of technology to be distracted by the amount of information available. Communications are instant and there is pressure to respond instantly. Multi-tasking is praised although it has been shown that those who multi-task have little retention of information. One of the discoveries of “Slow” is that people actually accomplish more when they schedule their work time and don’t allow interruptions when focusing on a task. There is little time for reflection unless we make space for it.

Our religious tradition supports a more reflective life. In the Collect for Peace in the Book of Common Prayer (p. 99) we pray, “O God, the author of peace and lover of concord, to know you is eternal life…” The absolution for the Confession of Sin (BCP p. 117) concludes with “by the power of the Holy Spirit keep you in eternal life.” This is a prayer about a quality of life here and now, not about afterlife. In the Book of Genesis, God creates time in the creation of the night and the day. At the end of the six days of creation, God rests on the seventh. The Ten Commandments call us to Sabbath and the Book of Leviticus recommends resting the land every seven years. Jesus shows us that we have eternal life. Christianity teaches that we live both in time and outside of time, “in the world but not of the world,” encouraging us to live “Slow.”

The Rev. Jan Nunley, editor of epiScope, who first interested me in Slow Leadership ideas writes:

My work in the Church is probably as 'fast' as it gets. I'm constantly fielding emails and phone calls and crises of one sort or another demanding immediate attention. It's just the way the news business is, even in the Church--these days, perhaps especially in the Church! Maybe that's why I have been so attracted to the 'Slow' idea--I've seen where imbalance and impatience lands us as Episcopalians and Anglicans, and it's not pretty.

Sometimes I dream about being in a 'Slow Church'--a fellowship of Christians taking their faith deliberately and seriously, growing in grace 'organically' with their roots firmly in local ground, being the Church in one place and for one place instead of all over the map, spiritually and otherwise. Kind of an antidote to this super-sizing, globe-trotting gotta-do-it-all corporate mega-mentality that we're even seeing played out at the Anglican Communion level, the bitter fruit of globalization that's driving a lot of our conflicts with each other.

We talk about Jesus bringing abundant life, but what we offer instead is too often a pale imitation of the consumption-driven world. A 'Slow Church' would go deeper into the life of God: pray deeper, laugh deeper, listen deeper. We have the resources to do it, especially in the Anglican tradition. We just have to decide it's worth doing, no matter the cost.

I wonder if I can make a covenant with myself to live and lead with an attitude of “Slow.” What sort of choices can I make that would help me take time to live a fuller but less frantic life. What sort of churches and worship might develop with the savoring of our time with each other and God? As I write this essay I am talking with our daughter, watching the Rockies play the Houston Astros, typing, taking phone calls and checking email. I think I need to practice some “Slow.”

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

The Eight Principles of Slow Leadership for people who want to live balanced lives and enjoy their work to the full.

1. Right Tempo
2. Right Attention
3. Right Balance
4. Right Perspective
5. Right Direction
6. Right Relationships
7. Right Enjoyment
8. Right Gratitude

Slow Leadership:
Slow Food:
The Slow Home:
Slow Worship and other slowness

Union of Black Episcopalians gets together in Houston

The Unition of Black Episcopalians wraps up its annual meeting in Houston today. Before the conference began, Carol Barnwell, director of communications for the Diocese of Texas interviewed outgoing UBE president the Rev. Canon Nelson Pinder (see below.) The Houston Chronicle covered Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori's sermon at the opening Eucharist, and Betty Conrad Adam followed daily developments on her blog: The Magdalene mystique.

By Carol Barnwell

The Rev. Canon Nelson Pinder, outgoing president of the Union of Black Episcopalians, believes the organization has work to do. “We have profound influence,” he said in an interview during the UBE’s annual conference, held in Houston, Texas, July 2-6. Pinder credits the UBE assistance in the adoption of many General Convention resolutions on human rights as well as women’s ordination. “We helped get women ordained,” he said. “Barbara Harris is the first Anglican woman bishop and she is a UBE member!”

Five women bishops was honored at the conference’s banquet, Thursday evening, celebrating 30 years of women’s ordination, including Harris, along with Bishops Dena Harrison of Texas, Carol Gallagher of Newark, Gayle Harris of Massachusetts and Bavi “Nedi” Rivera of Olympia.

Pinder described the 1000 member UBE as having a multigenerational ministry. It is also multicultural, he said, with people from the Caribbean, Central and South America, the United States and Africa. “We speak English, French, Spanish and many other languages,” Pinder explained.

A retired priest from Florida, Pinder said his vision for UBE has been to “stay spiritual” but he is not afraid to address the hard issues of money. “We need to get to a financial place where we can operate in a healthy manner.

He expects this conference to consider reshaping the UBE and important partnerships with the historical Black Voorhees College in South Carolina and the Diocese of Honduras.

“Any company goes through review and revisions from time to time to find out where they are. We need to see where we are, who we are, that’s part of the necessary retooling,” Pinder said.

Pinder also expects the UBE to discuss issues within the Anglican Communion at their business meeting on Thursday and indeed, House of Deputies President Bonnie Anderson encouraged the group to make their voice heard, “whatever your position,” during her remarks to the group on Tuesday. While the UBE has no official position on the issues, Pinder said he personally believes African bishops are wrong to cross boundaries. “Until a family can have a good fight, we don’t need referees,” he said.

Pinder hopes the UBE will help more people of color get into places of power in the Church where the money is being spent. I want a structure where any kid can see the possibility of being anything [he/she] wants to be all the way to bishop, whether they are Black, female or speak Spanish,” he said.

He said the group chose Houston for their annual gathering because he likes to move the “big event” around the country to be visible, to support local Black congregations and let them know they are not alone.

Bishop Don Wimberly was delighted to welcome the UBE to the Diocese of Texas. “Although we don’t have many Black clergy,” he said, “it is part of our ongoing vision to improve that situation and further reflect the multicultural community in which we live and minister.” Wimberly supported the conference with a $20,000 grant and members of the local John Epps Chapter of the UBE hosted the conference, held at the Hilton Americas in downtown Houston.

While Sunday’s are the most segregated time of the week, Pinder supports neighborhood churches. “Church, to me, was a training ground [in leadership] … a place to get community news,” he said. And while he believes people should worship where they are comfortable, he believes churches should strive to have multicultural staffs and to meet the neighborhood where they exist.

“The Episcopal Church offers the Black community an exercise in spirituality, an exercise in intellectualism, an exercise in the ability to be a community leader and an exercise in how to serve people,” Pinder said. He admits that recruitment of Blacks for ordained ministry is difficult and said salary is an issue. “A priest brings vision to the people. The people are asked to support that vision through prayer, financially and with their works. Our money belongs to God. It’s the best deal in town,” he said. “Give me 10 percent and you can keep 90 percent. Even the government supports that!”

Leadership development is a key piece for the UBE, which was founded in 1968, Pinder said. “We are a volunteer organization and we need about $125,000 to hire a staff and set up an office. We are gaining technical sense throughout consultations with Voorhees but right now I have a computer and phone at home and one volunteer to keep up with the work,” he said.

Although we are past segregation, Pinder said, “Racism is still with us. We have to deal with it … We are the action group. We can call the Church to be accountable.”

Carol E. Barnwell, communications director of the Episcopal Diocese of Texas, is an award winning photographer who writes and edits a monthly newspaper for the diocese's 84,000 plus members. She has served on the press teams of four General Conventions and the 1988 Lambeth Conference, and has covered stories in England, Central America, Africa and Haiti.

It’s real, it’s urgent and it’s time to act!

The Most Reverend Dr. Katharine Jefferts Schori, Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church testified before the Senate’s Environment and Public Work Committee June 7 bringing to bare her credentials as both a religious leader and a former oceanographer. The hearing entitled “An Examination of the Views of Religious Organizations Regarding Global Warming,” met on June 7 with an interfaith panel of witnesses including the Presiding Bishop.

“As one who has been formed both through a deep faith and as a scientist I believe science has revealed to us without equivocation that climate change and global warming are real, and caused in significant part by human activities. They are a threat not only to God’s good creation but to all of humanity,” Bishop Jefferts Schori said.

The Presiding Bishop joined other panelists in recognizing that the science of climate change is real and that urgent national action to respond to climate change is needed. In her testimony Bishop Jefferts Schori urged that reducing carbon emissions by 15-20 percent by 2020 and by 80 percent by 2050 should be a national priority noting that inaction now is the most costly of all courses of action for those living in poverty and vulnerable communities.

“We cannot triumph over global poverty, however, 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 said.

Joining the Presiding Bishop on the panel were John Carr of the department of social development and world peace at the U.S. Catholic Conference of Bishops; the Rev. Jim Ball, director of the Evangelical Environmental Network; and Rabbi David Saperstein, Religious Action Center.

Testifying at the invitation for the minority side of the committee were Jim Tonkowich, president of the Institute on Religion and Democracy; David Barton, author, historian and founder/president of WallBuilders, a national pro-family organization; and Dr. Russell D. Moore, dean of the School of Theology and senior vice president for academic administration of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

Concern for those living in poverty was used both as an argument for climate change legislation and against. The minority witnesses and panelists argued that any legislation developed could hurt those living in poverty and vulnerable communities here in the United States and around the world. Bishop Jefferts Schori and her fellow majority witnesses made a clear case that inaction would inevitably hurt those living in poverty.

Congress is expected to begin work this summer on climate change legislation and a number of bills have already been introduced. Designed correctly, a number of measures could be set in place that direct funding to help those living in poverty and other vulnerable communities adapt to potentially higher energy prices or appliances as a result of carbon emission reductions.

A capacity crowd filled the hearing room in the Dirksen Senate Office Building. The Committee’s chair and ranking member Senators Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and James Inhofe (R-OK) joined by other members of the committee in questioning all the panelists on a variety of issues and concerns. Several interesting exchanges occurred between committee members and panelists.

Senator Inhofe challenged the Rev. Jim Ball of the Evangelical Environmental Network for his organization having received funding from the Hewlett foundation. Inhofe complained that members of the Evangelical Environmental Network might find it difficult to receive money from a foundation that also supports organizations committed to pro-choice advocacy.

Ball responded, "We figure that every dollar that goes to us goes to a pro-life group and not a pro-choice group.”

Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), an Episcopalian himself, used the opportunity to then question Jim Tonkowich, president of the Institute on Religion and Democracy on their funding. Tonkowich said that he would not reveal the names of individual contributors adding that the foundations that give IRD funding require them to sign a release saying that IRD will not release the name of their organization to the public

Near the end of the hearing Senator Inhofe declared that of the past 12 hearings the Committee had convened on the issue of global warming, this hearing was the most interesting.

(This special article was submitted by John B. Johnson, IV of the The Episcopal Church Office of Government Relations)

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