Bishops and Standing Committees around the Episcopal Church have had many questions about The Rev. Kevin Thew Forrester, bishop elect of Northern Michigan. The primary questions are on his practice of Buddhist meditation, the process of his election, and his liturgical experimentation. The first two are addressed at the Diocesan website.
In regard to the last question some have questioned how he can fulfill the episcopal role of unity when he has been in the forefront of liturgical experimentation. One bishop said that Forrester understands the difference in roles and is fully ready to assume the duties as listed in the rite for the Ordination of a Bishop.
Dr. Louis Weil, professor of Liturgics at Church Divinity School of the Pacific writes to bishop-elect about his understanding of the how liturgy develops and changes in history, the current state of liturgy in churches, both Episcopal and others. Weil addresses the unity question with his interpretation of how unity can flow from the episcopacy, bringing the margins into dialogue with each other, therefore promoting deeper unity by transcending difference rather than enforcing uniformity:
Thank you very much for sending me a copy of your experimental rite for Baptism. I read it with great interest, thinking of the various debates we had on several issues back in the ‘70s when I served on the sub-committee for the Standing Liturgical Commission charged with preparing the new rite for Baptism — which, of course, was eventually incorporated into the 1979 BCP. Some of the points which this rite raises echo in my mind with discussions at the time, but also reminded me that liturgical developments are always “progressive.” The Church is always dealing with its immediate situation, but even as we do so the horizon is expanding and new issues continue (and always will continue) to come along, new issues for which former responses are not adequate. I want to share with you a couple of perspectives from that earlier experience.
I have looked at the experimental rite for Baptism from the Diocese of Northern
Michigan with this past experience in mind. I am, of course, aware that for members of our Church, this question can raise a high level of anxiety. I really have a lot of
sympathy for that, and that is why I would want to emphasize that what I think at this
time, and what I pleaded for to the Commission shortly before I ended my second term, is that it is very important for the Episcopal Church NOT to move toward complete Prayer Book revision at this time, but rather to address the need for the development of a range of experimental rites which will enable us to address the larger issues of inclusion without being under the gun to produce a complete book. We need a process of local development, critical evaluation, and appropriate revision so that, in due course, the cream will rise to the top and the poor experiments, having been tested and found wanting, may drop off our plate.
I have read the baptismal rite carefully and it seems to me that as an experiment it models the type of process which we need, local testing, critical reflection, and, eventually, appropriate revision. In saying this, I am taking for granted that our situation (and really for the past twenty-five years) has been very different in this regard to the long adherence to prayer book conformity which preceded it. I tend to understand our current situation as ‘fluid’: this is not true only for Episcopalians, but in our Communion generally, and in the other liturgical churches.
To the concern that others have raised about the role of bishop, Weil comments:
You mention that the question has been raised about the distinction between the ministries of bishops and those or priests, with bishops being understood as “guardians of the faith.” Speaking historically, certainly this has been an important dimension of the episcopal ministry. But for me, I must bring to this question the work of the late Raymond Brown on this question. Probably some thirty years ago he published a very important little book titled Priest and Bishop. In it, and on the basis of his substantial work on the books of the New Testament, Brown proposed a missionary model for the episcopate. He calls for the bishop to exercise the radical ministry implied in the ancient title pontifex — bridge builder. In this model, the bishop is the one who is reaching out into the expanding edges of the community, and who then interprets the various voices in the Church to each other in order to build up the unity of the Body which transcends such differences as progressive and conservative.
Read the letter here.
Mark Harris at Preludium in addition to debunking the first two questions adds:
Meanwhile, the other arguments brought against Fr. Forrester have to do with his use of experimental liturgies and the context in which he is being elected - namely, to an ordained role within a larger group providing diocesan vision and guidance. These are both addressed in significant ways by the following letter from Professor Louis Weil. As usual Professor Weil has both supported Kevin and used this as a teaching moment for us all. I hope bishops and Standing Committees will see in this letter the support for the bishop as one who stretches as well as conserves and that they will give consent to his election.
From the Church Divinity School of the Pacific.
Hodges-Haynes Professor of Liturgics
Core Doctoral Faculty Member At GTU since 1988
S.T.D., Institut Catholique de Paris
S.T.B., The General Theological Seminary
A.M., Harvard University
B.Mus., Southern Methodist University
Current Research and Teaching Interests
Holy Orders, especially the Understanding of the Authority of the Ordained
The Structural Role of Music in the Eucharist
The Impact of a Baptismal Ecclesiology upon Our Understanding of the Liturgy
A Theology of Worship, vol. 12 of The Church's New Teaching Series (Boston: Cowley Publications, 2001).
"The Dublin Lecture: Issues Concerning the Anglican Eucharist in the Twenty-first Century," in Our Thanks and Praise (Toronto: Anglican Book Center, 1998).
The Eucharist in Anglicanism Today, (Papers from the Fifth International Anglican Liturgical Conference), ed. David R. Holeton (Toronto: Anglican Book Centre, 1998), 15-31.
"Children in the Liturgy," in God's Friends, Vol. 9, No.1 (San Francisco: St. Gregory's Episcopal, April, 1998), 3-5.
"The Practice of Ordination: Distinguishing Secondary Elements from Primary," in Anglican Orders and Ordinations: Essays and Reports from the Interim Conference at Jarvenpåå, Finland, of the International Anglican Liturgical Consultation, 4 - 9 August 1997, ed. David R. Holeton, (Cambridge: Grove Books, 1997), 46-49.