Saturday, December 31, 2011
Monday, December 26, 2011
Wednesday, December 21, 2011
There is an inherent problem with the Archbishop’s request, however; it is difficult for him to intone the needy for honesty when every foretaste of what a Communion with a Covenant would look like is shrouded with nothing even closely resembling honesty.
Take a (relatively) recent season letter by the Archbishop, his Pentecost letter of 2010 when he announced the removal of representatives of the Episcopal Church from international ecumenical dialogues, citing the violation of moratoria agreed to as part of the Windsor Process. Some are concerned about the centralisation of authority in the Archbishop, likening this to the fear of a new kind of curia, headed by a Dumbledore-without-the-redeeming-qualities-pope (I am indebted to Jon Stewart for the Dumbledore parallel). There is another, perhaps better parallel, which draws not from the Papacy nor Hogwarts but from a figure disparaged by the Archbishop himself: King Henry VIII.
In one of his lectures, the Archbishop raised eyebrows by publicly wondering whether King Henry was in hell for his actions, a clear sign of disapproval of the King's heavy-handedness – though also implying that he himself was a a fit judge to speculate on who was damned and who was not. Yet despite his disdain of Henry, in his Pentecost letter to the Anglican Communion the Archbishop seems to be drawing on a routine tactic used by those in authority in England against their enemies: the bill of attainder. Now, COD is no lawyer but does know a little bit about our past.
The bill of attainder was a common way to crush dissent, enact revenge, or simply dispose of those who caused trouble. Passed by Parliament, at the urging of the monarch or of those in authority, bills of attainder were legislative actions that deprived a person of life, liberty, or property by a simple vote, without benefit of trial. In the 18th Century, they were such capricious and arbitrary perversions that the Constitution of the United States specifically forbade them in Article I, Section 9.
How does this relate to Rowan's Pentecost letter? It’s really very simple: with the word “formally.” The Archbishop referenced those provinces that have
"formally [emphasis in original] through their Synod or House of Bishops, adopted policies that breach any of the moratoria requested by the Instruments of Communion and recently reaffirmed by the Standing Committee and the Inter-Anglican Standing Commission on Unity, Faith and Order – should not be participants in the ecumenical dialogues in which the Communion is formally engaged."
As a reminder to any soul who has wandered into this and somehow gotten this far, those three moratoria are:
Q. What are the agreements that have been broken? A. As far back as 2004, the Anglican Communion leadership agreed to three moratoria: 1) No authorisation of blessings services for same-sex unions; 2) No consecrations of bishops living in same-sex relationships; 3) No cross-border interventions (no bishop authorising any ministry within the diocese of another bishop without explicit permission). These have been affirmed repeatedly in subsequent years at the highest levels of the Communion.
The Q&A is itself from the Anglican Communion website, with the Archbishop’s prose clarified by his own website (often necessary in his case, though without attribution as to whose gloss this is). The rub is in the “formally.” This is meant to include the Episcopal Church, and, apparerently, only for its actions of consenting to the election of Mary Glasspool as bishop suffragan of Los Angeles. How so? The election, consent, and approval to Gene Robinson's election occurred before the formal request for moratoria, before the Windsor Process, and before the Covenant process. Furthermore, It would be hard to construe actions from the 2009 General Convention as giving “formal” adoption of a policy of authorising same sex blessings. The letter speaks of “events of recent months” and actions by “official bodies”, but the only event of recent months mentioned specifically is the consecration of the Rt. Rev. Mary Glasspool. This begs the questions as to what “official bodies” were involved in this – presumably Standing Committees and bishops with jurisdictions. Though those are official bodies, they act individually, not corporately. There is the impression in this letter that the Episcopal Church acts uniformly corporately, with the only diversity in noting the “Communion Partners.”
This is, by the way, another aspect of attainder: writing a bill that narrowly applies to only one instance (the most recent example some cite is the situation surrounding the case of Terry Schiavo in 2005, when the Congress of the United States passed a bill transferring her case from state to federal courts). While masquerading as an even-handed document that applies to all who have “broken” the moratoria, we can see how the Archbishop has in reality done nothing more than draft a bill of attainder behind closed door to punish the Episcopal Church solely.
This points to inherent failures in the Archbishop’s letter: The first is the fabrication that this is meant to be a measured, Solomon-like dispensation of justice to all of those in violation of the three moratoria. “Formally” indicates that the Archbishop is dipping into the tradition of the kings of England and is crafting his own, unique bill of attainder. This injunction will not apply to the Anglican Church of Canada, as their own Primate noted in his address to their General Synod, even though more than a few dioceses in that province have authorised same sex blessings. Apparently Canada is spared because neither their House of Bishops nor their Synod has authorized any of these actions. In his letter of June 7, Kearon noted that the the Province of the Southern Cone was asked “for clarification as to the current state of his interventions into other provinces." Further Kearon states that another matter needing clarification is “to ask the question” (by whom? Himself personally is the indication) whether “whether maintaining within the fellowship of one’s Provincial House of Bishops, a bishop who is exercising episcopal ministry in another province without the expressed permission of that province or the local bishop, constitutes an intervention and is therefore a breach of the third moratorium.” This is in reference to the Anglican Mission in America, operating within the territorial boundaries of The Episcopal Church since 2000 and recently clarified by their own legislative action as being structurally part of the Church of Rwanda. It refers as well to the schismatic Anglican franchises established by Uganda, Kenya, Nigeria, and other provinces. The fallacy here is evident: no further question or clarification is needed from the Episcopal Church -- the Archbishop was free to define our own actions without any need to discussion or consultation -- but for actions taken by other provinces, in some cases for more than a decade, there is the need for further discussion.
The failure of “formally” is laid bare : if these actions on the local level, by dioceses acting individually, are not considered a “formal” provincial action (as in the case of Canada), then how can the actions of individual diocesan standing committees and bishops with jurisdiction in The Episcopal Church consenting to Bishop-elect Glasspool be considered “formal”? By its own defintion of "formally", the letter falls apart. No "Synod" consented to the election of Bishop Glasspool, it was done by individual Standing Committees. The House of Bishops did not consent; bishops with jurisdiction acting individually did; the House includes assistant, suffragan, retired, and bishops in other ministries granted vote. On the basis of the very definitions laid out, the Episcopal Church did not violate the moratoria by action of Synod or House of Bishops. Showing their continued incompetence, they couldn't even craft a well written bill of attainder.
But, of course, none it matters. The Archbishop would like this to be about the Episcopal Church refusing to listen: “However, when some part of that fellowship speaks in ways that others find hard to recognise, and that point in a significantly different direction from what others are saying, we cannot pretend there is no problem.”
This is simply a smokescreen, which points to a second failure in this Archbishop’s letter. Rather than being a discussion about ecclesiology, or about human sexuality, or about cultural diversity, or about scriptural interpretation, or about any of the issues which are actually at stake, it is in reality no more than appeasement, obfuscation, and hypocrisy, as this punitive decision is couched in terms of “process.” You can almost hear the Archbishop wringing his hands and declaiming, “If ONLY the Episcopal Church had been willing to live in the realm of don’t ask-don’t tell, if only they had kept this at the local and diocesan level, if only American Episcopalians had the decency not to discuss matters which are at the core level of how they understand humanity, creation, and being made in the image of God, if only their openly gay clergy were all celibate like those in other provinces – well, then, we wouldn’t be in this situation, would we?" The Archbishop is doing nothing more than demanding the rest of the Communion live with the cognitive dissonance that the Church of England does.
The Archbishop claims that the proposed Covenant is “a tool for mission” and “not an instrument of control.” Yet he has resurrected one of the most capricious and self-serving aspects of the British Empire: the bill of attainder. He issued this on his own authority to apply to a church that dares to cross the line – all without benefit of trial or discussion or consultation. Perhaps as a historian in his previous life he can learn from another parallel. The Archbishop notes that the structures of the Anglican Communion are in need of “refreshing.” He is wrong in this. An institution that seeks to represent a diverse global communion, but that is headed by an unelected primate who by law must be a citizen of an established, state church is not something which needs refreshing. This Pentecost Letter was his Suez Crisis of 1956, an ecclesial version of that final, pathetic paroxysm of imperial projection, and one which failed utterly.
Because this Pentecost letter failed utterly. Shocking, perhaps, only to the Archbishop, removing Episcopalians from international dialogues of the Anglican Communion did not result in a magical healing of the bonds of communion. Representatives from other provinces continue to absent themselves from international Anglican gatherings. The decisions of June 2010 only worsened relations with the Episcopal Church and did absolutely, positively, nothing to deepen the Communion as a whole. The Covenant process will be no different: Rowan with desperately marginalize those churches that may not adopt it, and in doing so only hasten the demise of an already broken Communion.
The time for pedantry and obfuscation is past. Indeed, meetings will be as endless as the Archbishop notes when real issues are not discussed. The Archbishop is aiding, abetting, and promoting the notion that it is the Episcopal Church vs. the rest of Anglican Christendom, when anyone with integrity knows that this is simply not the case. There are wide swaths of the Communion in sympathy with the Episcopal Church, and diversity of opinion even within provinces which are absenting themselves from inter-Anglican gatherings. There are other provinces which express their solidarity in various ways. Yet despite assurances in private, in the councils of the church we see this play acted out over and over, in which the Americans take the sole role of patsy for these much broader issues.
So COD welcomes the article from Jonathan Clatworthy taking the Archbishop up on his request; and, indeed, all the other voices in the Communion who have argued similarly. In the end, of course, it is all futile and predetermined, as the kabuki theater of the Covenant process ably demonstrates.
Our turn is coming to play our part in this farce. In 2012, the Episcopal Church will consider whether to adopt the proposed Anglican Covenant. COD has, in other places, argued that we should accept it -- because whether we accept it or not, the result is the same. If we don’t accept it, we will be marginalized for non acceptance. If we accept it, the Archbishop will craft another bill of attainder behind closed doors and condemn us to second-place status in the Communion.
Let’s go down swinging, and not give the cowards the easy way out.
We will go into exile, which the Scriptures have shown us to be times of powerful transformation. And we when the appeasers have wound up themselves being marginalized, we will join hands with those who want to stand up proudly for a vision of Anglicanism which embraces breadth and inclusion, truly living into our incarantional faith.
Saturday, December 17, 2011
The development of the office of President of the House of Deputies (PHOD) is also undergoing change and evolution. Originally, it was an office with minimal duties: presiding over the House of Deputies at Convention and making appointments to committees and commissions as defined by Canon, ruling on purely parliamentary questions which came up during the business of the House at Convention. The office, however, seems to be taking on more of a role in between Conventions -- simply tracking the actions and statements shows how much more of an active role the PHOD is having in the life of the church the past decade. This came to the surface at the 2009 General Convention, where there was a debate as to whether to add money to the budget of the PHOD -- so the PHOD can presumably do more in the life of the church.
At times COD wonders if the PHOD is moving along the same track as the PB -- evolving slowly, over time, into a kind of co-primate along with the PB. On the one hand, COD would not necessarily have a problem with this; the Episcopal Church has never really, clearly, had a #2 position. However, if this is how things are moving, there should be considerable care and attention given to these developments.
If the office is moving towards becoming a sort of co-Primate, there are some structural problems involved in selection and election. Contrasting the election of the PB to PHOD, we can see the differences. There is a Committee elected by the Convention, which consists of bishops, clergy, and laity, charged with selecting candidates for the office of PB. Thus all orders of the church have a representative say in choosing the candidates for PB (though in addition there can be nominations by petition from bishops). The PHOD, however, is nominated solely by clergy and lay deputies, at the Convention. The PB is elected by the HOB and confirmed by the House of Deputies; the choice of the PHOD is, again, solely by the House of Deputies, with no input or confirmation by the Bishops. The selection of the PB does, at least, involved input and representation from all orders of the church. This is because the church sat down and decided what kind of process they wanted into the election of the PB if the role were to change, with considerable debate and discussion in 1916, 1919, and 1922 at General Convention, and with a massive survey of the church undertaken to get broader input. The PHOD does not go through any kind of representative process for nomination; is not elected by the church as a whole; how therefore can it be a truly representative office? As structured, the PHOD is an office of governance, not representation -- to think otherwise would somehow be akin to thinking the Speaker of the House has some kind of mandate or role or could speak to anything other than presiding over the House of Representatives.
The solution, COD believes, is to scrap the current system in its entirety and elect officers that are truly representative. COD already proposed having a unicameral General Convention where bishops, clergy, and laity sit together, but vote separately in certain situations. The PB, to truly be a Primate, should be elected by all three orders of the Convention. Perhaps we should moderate COD's initial call in that same post for there to be a moderator elected from the clerical and lay orders. Perhaps, if the church as a whole so determines, we could also elect an office representative of the church in addition to the Primate from among clergy and laity combined. There are examples in other denominations: the ELCA has an elected Secretary, which combines some functions of the PHOD, the Canon to the Presiding Bishop, and the Secretary of General Convention. The Secretary has been either an ordained or lay person. The Presbyterian Church elects a Stated Clerk (head of communion/primate) but also a Moderator of the General Assembly, who has a role in governance and represents the church but is not the head of communion. With enough thought and care put into it, this could resolve a longstanding problem in polity ever since the establishment of the National Council in 1919: what is the church's #2 position? Is it the PHOD? Canon to the Presiding Bishop? Chief Operating Officer? Secretary of the General Convention? Structuring a clearly representative #2, drawn from clergy and laity (not bishops), with a clearly defined role and functions, could have the chance to bring some clarity to a longstanding source of confusion (with corresponding confusion in effectively doing the work of this church).
Tuesday, December 6, 2011
OK, COD is back. It was quite a nice chortle. Why, may you ask? Peep this:
"Recant or Resign, Rwanda tells Chuck Murphy." Read all about it here: http://tiny.cc/dplda.
Sorry, COD couldn't help it -- another spontaneous chortle just typing those words. COD needs to take a break.
OK, back again. It's been a whole week, I just couldn't sit down and blog on this without wallowing in a tub of schadenfreude. Remember, though: COD schadenfreudes EVERYBODY. Heck, COD mocks himself sometimes.
Backstory: in 2000 two Episcopal clergy were consecrated as bishops by the Province of Southeast Asia and the Province of Rwanda and dispatched to the USA to create the Anglican Mission in America (AMiA). This was meant to be a way to gather so-called "orthodox" Anglicans into a structure and to do missionary work in North America. As a plus, it also claimed to be a "legitimate" Anglican body, unlike all the uncouth schismatic churches that had sprung up in the 1970s following Prayer Book Revision and Women's Ordination, or from earlier conflicts. (A decent history on all of this is "Divided We Stand: A History of the Continuing Anglican Movement" by Douglas Bess. Also Allen Guelzo's "For the Reunion of Evangelical Christendom: the Irony of the Reformed Episcopalians", if you can get past the fanatasy-land, historically inaccurate, bizarro-world retelling of the founding of the Episcopal Church in his opening chapter.)
If that name sounds familiar, it should be: it was the same name chosen in 1978 by the various groups opposed to women's ordination for their new Anglican body. That organization quickly fell apart, with the Province of Christ the King on the west coast choosing to go its own way and other groups breaking off to form their own splinter groups.
Sunday, December 4, 2011
Crusty Old Dean just received his copy of the December 18 issue of The Living Church -- and, as usual, wonders why he keeps his subscription. The unsigned editorial in this issue lambasted the "Kafkaesque" disciplinary process with regards to South Carolina bishop Mark Lawrence. The bias and historical myopia present here is so staggering COD can only assume The Living Church has once again retreated from its periodic efforts to attempt to be more middle of the road.
Because, as de Tocqueville noted, in the Episcopal Church, virtually every dispute ends up in a canonical dispute. Always has. And everyone has used it against everyone else: liberals against liberals, conservatives against conservatives, liberals against conservatives.
First of all, an effort to provide some perspective to the Lawrence matter. Newsflash: charges are filed against bishops, investigated, and dismissed ALL THE TIME. COD once had a bishop relay the story about how a parishioner at a church where the bishop was making a visitation filed ecclesial charges against the bishop, saying the bishop's new beard was an effort to make fun of his own beard. Another bishop once related the story of a particularly difficult disciplinary process with a priest, whereby the priest and parish had the defense strategy of hiring a private investigator and filing as many presentments against the bishop and his predecessor as they possibly could, in an effort to get them to drop the case. When none stuck, the priest submitted to discipline.
The reality is it was the diocese of South Carolina which chose to go public, release details, try this in the court of public opinion, all in order claim the mantle of victimhood and persecution. The charges were investigated and dismissed, as they should have been. Ho-hum, the process worked.
The historical myopia here is just staggering, as is the pervasive hypocrisy. Was it not conservatives who, in the 1990s, chose to single Walter Righter? Was it not Kafkaesque that a retired old man was charged with heresy and dragged into an extended ecclesial trial, not the diocesan bishop or Standing Committee at whose direction he was functioning?
And, of course, we could go back and back in history. What about Albert Chambers who consecrated bishops for schismatics in 1978? He was but censured. And was it not liberals who violated church polity with their illegal ordinations in 1974? And so it goes.
Or even further: Bishop John Paul Jones, forced to resign from the House of Bishops for opposing World War I due to the fact that he was a missionary bishop, not a diocesan? Or on to the 1800s -- Stephen Tyng, suddenly charged with violating a geographic understanding of parish boundaries? Or Bishop Onderdonk, who had an ecclesial process designed and approved so as to apply only to him, and later changed after he was deposed? Or the General Convention acting as High Inquisitors of General Theological Seminary because Bishop McIlvaine of Ohio detested the Oxford Movement?
The culture of victimhood is a destructive, corrosive force that sadly makes efforts at reconciliation increasingly difficult, let alone any effort focus on mission and discipleship. The stark reality is this:
First point: Many bishops, clergy, and parishes simply ignore any canons or regulations they disagree with, while self-righteously holding others account for violating ones they agree with. Thus the deposed bishop of Pittsburgh once licensed Reformed Episcopal bishops with whom we are not in communion, an action decried by many who practice the clearly uncanonical practice of communing the unbaptized. And so on. As Michael said to Senator Geary, "We're all part of the same hypocrisy, Senator." Unlike Michael's comments, however, this hypocrisy sadly applies to all aspects of our ecclesial family.
Second: The particularities of our canonical process can be used, and are used, as much to cover things up than to persecute others. As noted previously in this blog, former PB Ed Browning covered up the sexual misconduct reported to him about one of his brother bishops, even when it apparently included a minor. The former chaplain of St Stephen's Episcopal School in Austin, Texas, was shuffled from place to place, even though authorities knew he was a serial sexual abuser (check it out here). And these are just the ones we know about. How many dozens, if not hundreds, claims of misconduct have been dismissed as one person's word against another?
Third: All sides and parties in our church manipulate the canonical process for their own ends. The diocese of Pennsylvania, for instance, has been trying to dissolve a pastoral relationship with its bishop through deposition for some time now. The reality is the pastoral relationship between the bishop and diocese is broken, and the choice of action has been an effort to manipulate the canonical process to get rid of the bishop.
Disclaimer: this is in no way to excuse many of the actions involved here. For example, Bishop Bennison's actions in covering up his own brother's sexual misconduct thirty years ago is reprehensible. But it was not an action for which he was liable under our current canonical structure -- frankly COD was stunned that the blatant effort to stretch the canons to depose Bishop Bennison was not more roundly condemned. That effort to manipulate the canons is far, far more troubling than the Lawrence case. [In a nutshell: Bennison was charged with conduct unbecoming of a member of the clergy. Unfortunately in this case, unbecoming conduct has a statute of limitations. However, since sexual misconduct is not liable to statute of limitations, it was argued the conduct unbecoming of a member of the clergy should also not be subject to statute of limitations because it was covering up an action by someone else which was not subject to statute of limitations. This interpretation was summarily overturned on appeal.]
The point is the way in which our canonical process is being warped on all sides. And this should not make us lose sight of a fourth point,
Four: the process can and does work. It's not perfect, but then again, neither for the old Title IV, or the disciplinary process before that, or the disciplinary process before that. Heck, this church devised a disciplinary process only to apply to a single situation with a single bishop. The charges against Bishop Lawrence were dismissed. The heresy charge against Bishop Righter was thrown out. The deposition of Bishop Bennison was overturned on appeal.
COD doesn't think much of moratoria, given the PTSD he still has from the 2006 General Convention and being sacked from the international Anglican-Orthodox Dialogue because of a moartorium the Episcopal Church didn't violate as that moratorium was defined. However, until we take any steps to break this cycle of dysfunction in our ecclesial legal system, COD would definitely be in favor of a moratorium against claiming victimhood and canonical manipulation.
And shame on The Living Church for uncritically staking sides.
Saturday, December 3, 2011
Tuesday, November 29, 2011
Sunday, November 27, 2011
Thanks for bearing with Crusty Old Dean while he self-published his three-part reflections on the state of the ecumenical movement. This was not intended just to be filler, but rather to show that some of the dynamics about change and restructuring in our denominations are part of common issues and problems facing all kinds of institutions and organizations. This is why, in part, this change cycle is going to be so difficult and transformative: what is happening in the churches is part of what is happening in broader society and even globally.
In this week’s installment, COD turns focus to suggesting some ways to restructure Provinces and Dioceses to be more responsive to what the missional needs and purposes of the churches and the world will be. (Note: this is a failsafe plan should the Episcopal Church go it alone the next 50-75 years; COD still thinks we need some kind of Church of North India model to bring most Methodists, Episcopalians, Lutherans, Presbyterians, and Congregationalists/Disciples in a federated but not merged kind of structure.)
But on to Provinces and Dioceses!
Ah, the provinces. The forgotten middle children of the Episcopal Church – yet they speak to the need for some kind of middle governing structure to facilitate the work of the church. Several other denominations have some middle kind of organizational and oversight structure. The areas United Methodist bishops cover are almost comically enormous, some with over 400 congregations. This is possible because of the role district superintendents play as an intermediate role of oversight – one could argue in Episcopal language that Methodist Episcopal Areas are kind of like provinces, with a single bishop providing oversight, broken up into smaller dioceses headed by district superintendents. It may be surprising there was a sort of similar vision for the provinces when proposed: that dioceses be grouped into provinces, each forming its own grouping within the church, each with its own presiding bishop (recall this was at a time when the Presiding Bishop was not an elected position, there was nothing like the denominational structure we have now, and the PB was simply the senior bishop in years of consecration). This didn’t go anywhere, but eventually Provinces were set up, though without any definition of purpose or role, and with no funding. They were essentially left to do whatever the particular province felt like doing, so long as it did not impinge on anything specifically delegated to the General Convention or to dioceses or parishes by national or diocesan canons. With such a stirring mandate, it should not be surprising that Provinces have struggled to find their way. Some are more functional than others. Some struggle with geographic challenges that either inhibit full participation or overlook possible areas of common ministry (one might think Minnesota and Wisconsin would be in the same province given common overlaps in geography and culture, yet they are in different ones; some geographic challenges include Taiwan as part of Province 8; the churches in Europe and Haiti in Province II, and so on).
One thing that COD believes impairs our ability to do mission is the amount of time, money, personnel hours, and energy that is spent duplicating the same efforts again and again on the diocesan level. If we are not willing to centralize more efforts through the Church Center staff and CCABs, then perhaps the Provinces might be a place more immediate and closer to the diocesan level where we could realize efficiencies for the sake of mission. To whit,
Postulancy and Candidacy at the Provincial Level: Why do we need so many diocesan Commissions on Ministry? Do we not have the same canons for ordination across the church? How many hours are used, how many different people are paid staff coordinating, how much money is spent in travel and transportation, for dioceses with 50 congregations interviewing a handful of candidates? All other aspects of the ordination process and pastoral and disciplinary oversight for postulants and candidates would remain with diocesan bishops and Standing Committees, but have a single Provincial Commission on Ministry that interviews postulants and candidates and sends recommendations to diocesans/Standing Committees.
Christian Education and Formation at Provincial Level: How many dioceses struggle to have someone provide resources, training, and program in youth ministry? Centralize Christian Education and Formation at the Provincial level, pool all those programs scraping to get by to create one with adequate resources. Do we really need several different dioceses in the same area all struggling to support several different camps that are falling apart and not making money?
Local Ordination Training Programs at Provincial Level: The same song, third verse. Many dioceses are now experimenting with programs of local training and formation for persons who do not go to attend seminary, as well as for candidates for the diaconate. COD feels it is a tremendous waste of money and energy to have 109 diocesan seminaries. We already enough seminaries as well as Episcopal/Anglican training programs, thank you.
[Disclaimer: COD is a dean of an Episcopal seminary, believes seminaries need to be more responsive, flexible, and adaptive to needs for formation and training and would cross a thousand seas to work with a diocesan local training program. We have a competency based system of theological education in the Canons. You don’t need an MDiv, only to demonstrate competency in the areas outlined in the canons. Diocesan training programs can work; they just don’t have to struggle to do so on their own.]
We have tremendous flexibility in the canons for ordination as outlined. We got rid of allowing states to set their own tariffs and print their own currency. Let’s live into the flexibility in our canons, scrap all diocesan canons for ordination, and follow only the national canons.
Sidebar: Yes, COD knows there are significant challenges in terms of communication and distance across provinces. Crusty Old Dean’s wife is from Idaho, and he also has family in Eastern Oregon. COD is not some East Coast dude wearing an Ascot who thinks you can’t get a good martini west of Chicago. COD understands the challenges faced by geographic distance. Realigning the provinces will present some geographic challenges – individual dioceses like Montana are so huge they present these challenges, let alone provinces. This should not be the only reason not to pool functions at the Provincial Level because
--Provincial programs could itinerate. Programs could be held in different parts of the province in different years. For instance rent a different church camp on a four-year rotating basis. Might you lose some people whose diocese is further away from the camp in any given year? Probably. But would there be more benefit in having a properly resourced camp, even if it’s an extra two hours’ drive away once every few years? Or driving an extra couple of hours versus not having a camp at all?
--Embrace hybrid online learning models. Provincial formation programs could have content delivered online through a standardized curriculum, combined with local affinity groups/discussion/classes led by local facilitators. Thus people training programs in Phoenix, Las Vegas, and Santa Fe could all be taking the same online class, having the same online lectures, but meet regularly with a local facilitator/instructor in their region for discussion and additional instruction. For those who may still blanche at any mention of online learning, get over it. It’s here and complaining about won’t solve anything, join in help design the best use of hybrid online learning. There would be some classes you wouldn’t do online (say, pastoral care or field education) but history, theology, Scripture, and other areas of competency could be done this way.
FYI, COD proposed something very similar to the paragraph above for a diocesan training program. In the year 2000. They didn’t take COD’s advice, but that’s OK, COD really doesn’t expect people to listen to him.
We talk again and again about having mission and ministry done at the level closest to where it happens: fair enough. But many of the networks we have are not equipped in terms of training or resources to pick up that slack and do it well. COD believes using the Provinces to centralize mission and program is a compromise: it eliminates the needless reduplication of having 109 different diocesan programs, but also keeps this important work at a level closer to dioceses. Speaking of which,
Dioceses must be reduced in number. There are simply too many dioceses that are barely viable and struggle to survive and which cannot afford bishops.
Step One: Reorganize the dioceses. Instead of having dioceses with barely 20 congregations and average Sunday attendance of 1,500 and others with over 150 congregations and over 30,000 average Sunday attendance, bring greater standardization to size of dioceses. Something like dioceses should be within 15,000-30,000 in membership and between 50-100 congregations. This will combine smaller dioceses and split larger dioceses, and reduce the burden on smaller dioceses by pooling resources.
Step Two: As part of this, come up with a solution for a fair sharing of assets: some dioceses are blessed with better endowment and financial resources than others. How can we presume to preach to the world about economic justice when some of our dioceses are part of an ecclesial 1%?
Again, this would present some logistical challenges. Places like Idaho, Utah, and Nevada might well become a single diocese. COD has two responses to this,
--yeah, and that’s how things used to be. Missionary bishops often had enormous jurisdictions (just to name two: the entire nation of the Philippines; Idaho, Utah, and Montana) in a time where the internet was the telegraph and train and stagecoach were forms of interstate travel. We did it before.
--in areas with large geography, allow for the development of intermediary areas of oversight. In the hypothetical scenario of Idaho (current diocese; excluding panhandle), Utah, and Nevada being a single diocese, there would be internal missionary districts of a mutually agreeable size and geography. Each of these would have an Archdeacon/Moderator/Dean/President, whatever – COD personally would prefer reviving the Chorepiscopus or bring back the Commissary.
More standardization in the size and shape of dioceses, along with a just sharing of finances, would bring greater equality to the church, realize efficiencies by not having reduplication of staff and program, and thus allow for more energy and resources for mission and ministry. COD realizes, of course, some dioceses may refuse to have any part in this plan, either out of selfishness or arrogance or denial or their own misguided exceptionalism. Fair enough. They may be permitted to opt out, however they will have their General Convention deputations reduced by half.
Almost there. We still have theological education and parishes in upcoming postings, and then Crusty Old Dean will have to find something else to vent about.
Friday, November 18, 2011
Next week, Crusty Old Dean will be deep-frying a turkey and finishing two further proposals for restructuring the Episcopal Church, along with a trip down restructuring memory lane.
“Harvesting the Fruits: Ecumenical Autumn, Not Ecumenical Winter”
The Very Rev’d Thomas Ferguson, PhD
Part 3 of 3
7. INTRODUCTION to PART 3
In our last section, I would like to begin to look forward: I have used the image of an ecumenical autumn rather than an ecumenical winter. Autumn is a time of harvest. It is a time of preparation for what is coming. Autumn isn’t necessarily a bad thing; it’s part of the cycle of nature, and to avoid preparation for what is to come is nothing if foolish.
I think we are being called in the ecumenical movement to this ecumenical autumn: harvest the incredible fruits of the past century, being aware of what issues have and continue still to divide us, while at the same time preparing for what is to come.
I'd like to talk first about transformations.
8. First Transformation: Involvement of Lay Persons and Young People
As we've discussed, the ecumenical movement followed the broader pattern of development of American religious organizations, tracking, more or less, with how denominations developed structure in this country. Since the way organizations function is changing, the ecumenical movement’s organizations will need to change. A key piece of that process of change will be helping to restore to the ecumenical movements some of its essential aspects which has lost along the way.
One of the main reason the ecumenical movement began to thrive and flourish is because it was driven in large part by lay persons. John Mott, whom I mentioned earlier and who won the Nobel Prize for his pioneering ecumenical work, was a lay person in the Methodist Church. It was also a movement which involved young persons: the World Student Christian Federation was a major part of the spread of ecumenism.
We've reversed that. The ecumenical movement, in its formal structures, is old and clerical when it comes to the folks involved. And I mean old. I'm 42 and I'm often the youngest person in ecumenical gatherings -- and outside of ecumenical gatherings I'm considered ancient by people under 30. I'll admit, I kind of like having one place left where I'm still considered young. It will allow me to transition from Young Turk to curmudgeon fairly seamlessly.
The ecumenical movement no longer reflects the world or our churches: it skews overwhelmingly old, and overwhelmingly clerical. When something like this is so markedly different from the way society as a whole is composed, it means something is out of kilter. Now I'm not saying we should completely mirror society: but if any corporation or organization or club you belonged to was so white and old as our churches, let alone leadership in our churches, you'd be asking yourselves what their problem is. But more often as not we don't give it a second thought when it comes to the church, or else we shrug our shoulders and don't even think of doing anything.
So what happened to a movement that had broad lay and clerical support? The ecumenical movement became formalized, institutionalized, professionalized, and closely linked with denominations. It began to reflect the leadership of denominations which professionalized and organized it rather than the church and the world it was called to serve.
We need to flip that dynamic: the ecumenical movement needs to become younger and less clerical. How can we do that?
We cannot simply invite people to the ecumenical movement as it is now currently structured, because they will not come. We don't need to ask the world to change to accommodate the ecumenical movement; the ecumenical movement needs to change to meet the world at least half way.
11. Transforming Ecumenical Institutions
As part of this – all of these issues are interconnected -- we need to begin the process of rethinking and transitioning a lot of our ecumenical organizations. They are wonderful and have done incredible things in the past fifty years. But so did organizations like the Anglo-Catholic Congress, the Federal Council of Churches, the Women’s Auxiliary to the Board of Missions, the Congress for the Advancement of the Interests of Labor, the Evangelical Alliance, the Anti-Saloon League, and so on. And none of those things exist anymore, and some of us may never even have heard of any of them. They were organizations which were popular in their time, into which denominations invested a tremendous amount of financial backing and staffing, and served important functions. But society and the church changed, and they ceased to exist, while some of their functions and mission were taken up by other organizations.
Institutions change all the time, despite the concern many of us have about change. So with that out of the way, how might we rethink some of our institutions?
Rethinking Ecumenical Organizations
As part of that we need to reshape the institutions and hand off the institutions we have in turn received and created in this postwar cycle of ecumenism. The importance of this cannot be underestimated. We stand in a critical place. The generation of people under 30 is as big as the Baby Boomer generation. Granted they are a smaller percentage of the population than the Boomers since the country is so much bigger, but there is a whole new generation out there. What institutions and legacies will we pass on to them? Or will they all just die they will invent their own and forget about ours, going the way of forgotten predecessors?
This question of reshaping and handing on our ecumenical institutions in turn touches upon other issues and brings us back to some of our previous conversation about the need to attract more young people and young adults into the ecumenical movement.
I will not use proper names lest it look like I am picking on any one institution; this story is about one of the broadest ecumenical gatherings I used to go to as ecumenical officer for the Episcopal Church, one where Orthodox, Catholic, Episcopal, Lutheran, and many other denominations have good representation.
As part of this they hold a program for young people and young adults. In preparing to go one year, I did manage to collect a handful of young seminarians to attend. I warned them in advance: there will be things you like about this gathering and things you don’t; keep track of each and let’s talk afterwards.
We did talk afterwards. They all agreed on their likes and dislikes.
Like: the opportunity to be around so many other young people from so many different traditions. You know, though at times we may be irked that young people don’t come to church more often, we can’t forget something important: it can be hard to be a young person of faith. It was a great experience for these young adults to be around people that, well, were like them.
Dislike: the program was all oriented to what the larger body was doing. A lot of these seminarians came because they were interested in ecumenism and interreligious relations, and some were already engaged in projects at their seminary and in their community. Nobody asked them what they were interested in accomplishing in the ecumenical movement. Nobody asked them what, if any, ecumenical things they were already engaged in. They were told the meeting wasn't about interreligious work, that was something a different organization did. When they asked how they could get more involved, they were told to be in touch with their denominational ecumenical office.
After their input I said to them, “The problem with most ecumenical organizations is their idea of engaging young adults is inviting them to the kids’ table.”
To become younger and have more lay persons involved, we need to be co-creators of mission with people instead of grafting them into something others created.
Return to Mission
Not only will the ecumenical movement need to return to its roots of being primarily a non-clerical, lay movement, it will also need to recapture the spirit of mission.
This return to mission is crucial for a number of reasons. Once is that it can help is get past the issues we discussed in our previous session. We either need to decide whether issues are church-dividing, or not. If they are, then what kind of division does that mean? What kind of cooperation is still possible? Are the needs of the world so great that we cannot work together against war, poverty, and injustice because we have disagreements in theological anthropology?
We can’t give in and say it can’t be done because we disagree on sexuality or abortion. For one thing, because there are some things the Scriptures are quite clear about. For another, it was not long ago when we were able to come together despite theological differences. At a time when many of our denominations did not have the ecumenical agreements or concordats in place that we have now and which facilitate our cooperation, we found places to work together despite our differences. For instance it may be ancient history to some that the historic 1963 March on Washington, where Dr King gave his “I Have a Dream Speech,” was co-sponsored and organized by the National Council of Churches. The civil rights movement brought together a broad coalition of Protestant, Anglican, Roman Catholic, and Jewish organizations in a common struggle, crossing denominational and religious boundaries as well as those caste systems of race and class which we discussed in our previous session. We can't say it can't be done, because it has been done, time and again. We can only admit that we are unwilling or unable or are paralyzed by those other divisions I talked about.
Goal and Project Oriented
I think the ecumenical movement is going to need to be focused more on immediate goals. This is in part how the world increasingly works these days and how the Millennial Generation is more wired to think about how things get done.
Organizations that you just join and participate in and write a mission statement and trust that they will more or less do that – that's something we're going to see less and less and organizations serve a different role and function. People aren't just going to join church because their parents and friends join it and because it's what you do. They will, however, if we can show what the church, or an ecumenical organization does. They will if we make the connection between what they believe in, the difference they want to make in the world, and how we fit into that.
Look at the people who are winning the Nobel Peace Prize: this year, activists who helped mobilize grassroots support of women in Liberia against the civil war. A couple of years ago, a Kenyan woman who became an advocate for environmental protection; before that, a man who developed microfinancing to help impoverished people in the developing world. Not people who build vast international organizations, like John Mott or appear on the cover of Time magazine, like Charles Henry Brent.
The ecumenical movement needs to look at the people who are making the change in the world they believe in, learn from those models, and engage our constituencies in new and different ways.
Ecumenical Agreements as Bridges and Lifeboats
Our ecumenical agreements are important resources as we move into this time of change and transformation in the ecumenical movement; they can give us the kind of help we need to make the choices and decisions we will need to make. These agreements are part of the link between ecumenism and mission.
Called to Common Mission, the agreement between the ELCA and the Episcopal Church, is celebrating its tenth anniversary this year. Most of this first decade has been living into those aspects of the agreement that were the most talked about as it was being drafted, voted on, and implemented: the interchangeability of ministries, the way in which ELCA bishops would gradually, over time, be incorporated into the historic episcopate.
All well and good. But for my money, that's not what CCM is all about. It is, at its heart, an eschatological and pneumatological document.
The agreements in ministry and bishops are not the end; it is a beginning. As CCM itself says,
We do not know to what new, recovered, or continuing tasks of mission this Concordat will lead our churches, but we give thanks to God for leading us to this point. We entrust ourselves to that leading in the future, confident that our full communion will be a witness to the gift and goal already present in Christ, "so that God may be all in all" (1 Corinthians 15:28). Entering full communion and thus removing limitations through mutual recognition of faith, sacraments, and ministries will bring new opportunities and levels of shared evangelism, witness, and service. It is the gift of Christ that we are sent as he has been sent (John 17:17-26), that our unity will be received and perceived as we participate together in the mission of the Son in obedience to the Father through the power and presence of the Holy Spirit.
There has been a spate of full communion agreements between churches in the past fifteen years or so. ELCA with UCC, PCUSA, and RCA; ELCA and Episcopal; Episcopal-Moravian and ELCA-Moravian; ELCA and UMC. The UMC and Episcopal Church are engaged in dialogue.
Sometimes the question is asked, “What are all these agreements for? Are they just agreements on paper?”
One of my replies is, “Maybe. For now.”
Sometimes I think our full communion agreements will be a bridge, maybe even a lifeboat, to the churches that we will bequeath to the coming generations. Our denominations are not sustainable as they are currently organized. Some, like the Moravian Church with its roughly 50,000 members, are already asking questions about whether they will exist in another generation.
Churches are hemorrhaging members, and, let's be clear, this is only tangentially related to theological stances. Of all the denominations in the USA last year, only four recorded growth. Four. Out of the thousands in this country. One is the Catholic Church, and that grew by less than 1% in 2010. One of the others is the Mormon Church, which has also seen its growth slow. Liberal and conservative, liturgical and non liturgical, evangelical and non evangelical, almost uniformly and across the board.
It seems clear to me we need to reorient ourselves with a massive campaign from top to bottom. Have congregations that are mission communities instead of closed communities with chaplains ministering to their needs. Where clergy are not employees delivering services and program but mobilizing people for ministry. Take seriously commitments to Christian Education, formation, youth ministry, campus ministry. Continue to provide pastoral care to those in a world which can seem capricious and cruel.
I could go on. We need many things, but what we don't need is a bunch of struggling denominations doing them separately; that will just result in a long, slow death rattle to obscurity and irrelevancy, and our transformation into a post-Christian society like many parts of Europe, with its beautiful, empty Cathedrals and 5% of the population attending church.
We can't do what needs to be done individually.
One solution would be a Church of North India-like model for those American denominations that share enough in terms of background, theology, and liturgy. The Church of North India brought together Presbyterian, Baptist, Methodist, Congregationalist, and Anglicans. There weren't a lot of Lutherans in India, and for those that were, confessional identity was too important to allow for merger. The CNI brought these churches together into a single structure with a single ministry but allowed for regional variation; churches which affiliated with a particular theological identity or liturgy were permitted to use those resources. CNI churches from the Presbyterian tradition could study and emphasize their confessional heritage, but within the context of a single church, with a single governing structure, single regional expression, and single ministry. The CNI and CSI are even multiple members of world bodies, holding membership in the World Alliance of Reformed Churches and the Anglican Communion.
I had the chance to meet the former Moderator-Primate of the Church of South India (NOT tainted by the corruption scandal over tsunami relief) and asked him how this was done, when we in the West struggle so hard and so long for even any kind of unity. He looked at me and said, “Two reasons. One, in a country where only 2% of the people are Christian, we simply could not have so many denominations doing their own thing. More importantly – “ and he looked me straight in the eye, “the divisions were the ones the missionaries brought us, not our own. The divisions were yours, not ours.”
I believe our full communion arrangements may a bridge, or a lifeboat, to help us move into that future church that we will need. We won't need to have to start from scratch; we have the eschatological vision and framework of full communion proposals already in place. Ten years into full communion between Lutherans and Episcopalians, there has been much that we have done together. One thing we absolutely must do together in the next 20 years is greater institutional collaboration, between dioceses and synods, between our institutions of theological learning, between our churchwide expressions.
There is a related dynamic with Roman Catholics – though there is not the proliferation of full communion proposals, there will still need to decisions made about how much to live into the agreements which are in place. Will it be possible to move Catholic-Orthodox relations into some kind of more visible unity, so overcome not just centuries but millennia of mistrust?
Is there a way ecumenical agreements with Anglicans, Lutherans, and Protestants might be the kind of lifeboat or bridge to a new way of being church? Pope John Paul II, in his landmark encyclical Ut Unum Sint, called on dialogue for the ways a universal primacy might be in the service of Christian unity. Almost twenty years later, have we given that call its proper hearing?
As mentioned in my previous comments, as we address the issues before us, it may be that we acknowledge that visible unity between Catholics and non-Catholics is not possible in the foreseeable future. Should we acknowledge that, without giving up on the quest for the unity to which we are called, while at the same time finding ways to demonstrate our common witness? I think we lose more opportunities than we give ourselves credit; during the leadup to the Iraq War, I remember a meeting between President Bush and the Holy Father. As Pope John Paul spoke his concerns, I remember thinking, “He's speaking for me, too – could this be a way in which universal primacy could be in the service of common witness?”
It's my conviction we are in an ecumenical autumn – and that this is not necessarily a bad thing. Autumn can be a time of melancholy, a reflection on the coming death that impending winter may bring. But only if we see death as an end, which we, as Christians, ought not to fear. As Christians, we believe death is a portal to something new, death is transformation. Autumn is a time of change and transformation: and there can be beauty in transformation.
I hope I will not leave you with the impression that I am discouraged, or even downhearted, about the future of the ecumenical movement. Far from it. I was at a conference recently were a speaker was lamenting the “end of the church,” arguing that this was a real possibility in the next generation.
While I agreed in general with the causes for the speaker's alarm – in fact, the speaker was sharing many of the same reflections I have been sharing with you today about the process of decline in American denominations – I did not draw the same conclusion.
What we are facing is not the end of the church, we should be clear about that. If anything could have destroyed the church, it would have. The horrors of the 20th century, from the Holocaust to the World Wars, could make anyone lose hope for humanity, let alone Christianity. Mao and Stalin persecuted the Christian Church to the brink of extinction. At one time in Russia there were a handful of bishops and priests left in the entire country. Both countries are seeing a phenomenal rebirth and renaissance in Christianity. The Black Death couldn't destroy the church, neither could barbarian invasions, neither could the persecution of the Romans. The church cannot be destroyed because we have the continual and abiding presence of the Holy Spirit. However because the church cannot be destroyed does not mean it cannot die and reborn. But it will take determination and courage. As we move forward in this process of transformation and rebirth, may we keep in mind the words of the hymn that may be familiar to many of us:
God of grace and God of glory, on thy people pour thy power;
Grant us wisdom, grant us courage, for the facing of this hour.