Tuesday, November 29, 2011

We're Not Dead Yet

Crusty Old Dean is irked - and this irritation was occasioned by Christmas shopping. COD refuses to step into a store for Christmas shopping, and the last time anything was actually purchased over the counter in a physical store for anyone for Christmas was in 2001. That experience was enough to make COD do all his shopping for Christmas online since then, even when COD was using his trusty 33.6 modem built into the first generation iMac desktop.

COD was relaxing over the Morehouse Church Supplies catalogue yesterday: yes, this counts as Christmas shopping. CODW (Crusty Old Dean's Wife) is clergy, as are lots of his friends and colleagues.

Now, Morehouse Church Supplies is an official entity of the Episcopal Church: its cover proudly proclaims it as a division of Church Publishing, and it is the publisher of record of things official like the Episcopal Church Annual, the Constitution and Canons of the Episcopal Church, and whatnot. It even claims to be in service to the Episcopal Church since 1918.

Well and good: COD likes his church supplies with an Episcopal bent, it normally comes without the $43,000 monstrances in the Tonini Church Supplies Catalogue (available online here) or endless reproductions of the footprints poster in things like the Cokesbury Catalogue (see the whole list of options here. COD's favorite is here). Kitsch, whether over the top of chinzy, is at a minimum in the Morehouse Catalogue. This COD approves.

But then COD got to the hand embroided seals and shields page: the little things one has sewn onto a tippet for those rare occasions of state when cassock, surplice, tippet and hood are required. COD's installation earlier this month was one such occasion, a Solemn Evensong with clergy decked out in surplices and tippets. As part of adornment of one's tippet, often, but not always, there is the person's seminary shield. COD has three on his tippet, two for the seminaries from which COD earned degrees (you don't get to be a dean without having gone to a few schools along the way), and one for the seminary which puts the D in COD.

But COD's seminary was not on the list of seminary shields! The list proudly has two different shields for Virginia Seminary, one with a white background and one with a blue background, apparently for accessorizing. It lists a shield and a seal for the University of the South, in addition to the shield for the School of Theology for the University of the South. It even lists Yale Divinity School - not an Episcopal seminary - in addition to Berkeley Divinity School at Yale, which is an Episcopal seminary (and both of which are COD's alma mater - Go Elis! Beat Harvard!). So between three schools -- Virginia, Sewanee, and Yale -- there are seven different shields/seals offered.

But not a single one for Bexley Hall Seminary, the third oldest seminary of the Episcopal Church, offering the Master of Divinity degree. Seabury Western Seminary, which does not offer the Master of Divinity degree anymore (but does have excellent DMin and Anglican Studies programs), is listed. Nearly all of the domestic dioceses of the Episcopal Church are listed below the seminaries - in fact, adding up Bexley Hall's current active alumni probably is larger than the Sunday attendance of some of the dioceses listed.

COD was flabbergasted. An official agency of the Episcopal Church, listing every single seminary and nearly every single domestic diocese, does not carry the shield/seal of one of the 11 recognized seminaries of the Episcopal Church?

Now, on the one hand, COD is not out of touch with reality. COD realizes Bexley Hall is the smallest seminary in the Episcopal Church (depending on how you count). COD also realizes that narratives take hold in the church, often with little basis in fact or reality (Bexley Hall? Are they still at Kenyon? Didn't they close? Aren't they all undead?). These folk narratives can be helpful at times-- some institutions live off their glory days several years after they have entered into a mode of decline because of the lag time it takes for the narrative to change. Others -- like Bexley Hall -- which have emerged from some transition and difficulty need years to change the narrative.

Yes, Bexley Hall isn't in the news. We're not in the news because we aren't sure whether we can make it through another year, or are being sued by our neighbors, or have a crumbling physical plant we can't fix. We're not in the news because we do something which doesn't get us a lot of coverage: we continue faithfully to train people for ministry in the church for 187 years and counting. We are involved deeply in our ecumenical partnership with Trinity Lutheran Seminary, which also doesn't get one in the news because our church is so inwardly focused, at times condescending and arrogant towards other Christians, otherwise largely ignorant to ecumenical cooperation while it marches off into oblivion desperately trying to do everything on its own without ever thinking that millions of other Christians are interested in and doing many of the same thing.

Maybe Morehouse is just going where the market is; maybe it's not worth the bother to sell Bexley Hall shields. But COD thought they were serving the Episcopal Church.

Safe to say COD will be buying his church supplies from Almy.


5 comments:

  1. Dude - Are not shields, hoods and the like emblems of Christendom? Are they not a part of that inward focus, condescension and arrogance that you rail against here and elsewhere? Are they not fitting adornments for our stately procession into denominational oblivion?

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  2. Pointing out COD's inconsistencies is a perfect way to irk him even more.

    In all seriousness: are you saying that somehow ornament & solemnity is incompatible with mission? Seals & shields are empty and vain if they are ornament for their own sake. But if we actually see them as symbols, and try to live into their meaning and for what the institutions they represent stand for, than we can stand side by side with people like William Augustus Muhlenberg and the Oxford Movement and so many others who believed in the power of symbol to inspire mission.

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  3. I can concur with much that is said here. I serve in the Diocese of Nebraska. No morehouse shield for us. But I also resonate with the tone for Bexley Hall. I an a Nashotah graduate. At times I feel that we are only begrudgingly included as an Episcopal seminary. We have worked hard to dig out from 30+ years of being understood as backward ritualists with a masogynistic bend. Now it is the second largest TEC seminary with lots of women and minorities. Amazing how reputations persist.

    ReplyDelete
  4. I can concur with much that is said here. I serve in the Diocese of Nebraska. No morehouse shield for us. But I also resonate with the tone for Bexley Hall. I an a Nashotah graduate. At times I feel that we are only begrudgingly included as an Episcopal seminary. We have worked hard to dig out from 30+ years of being understood as backward ritualists with a masogynistic bend. Now it is the second largest TEC seminary with lots of women and minorities. Amazing how reputations persist.

    ReplyDelete