Friday, June 19, 2015

General Convention Preview, Part 3: Episcopal Groundhog Day

Welcome to Crusty's General Convention Preview, Part 3.  Crusty was going to get into some specific reflections on resolutions, but found himself writing over 5,000 words on barely two resolutions after going down a deep, deep Groundhog Day hole.  Enjoy!

Back in the 2000s, Crusty Old Dean was working on the staff of the Presiding Bishop in ecumenical & inter religious relations, coordinating The Episcopal Church's official dialogues and relationships with other Christian communions as well as Muslims, Jews, and other ecumenical and inter religious organizations.  COD's specific are of specialization was dialogues with other Christian communions, specifically Catholic, Orthodox, Lutheran, Presbyterian, Methodist, Moravian, and others.  As part of this, Crusty got to go to a LOT of church gatherings.  The Episcopal Church nerds out about GenCon once every three years, but, for me as ecumenical officer, Crusty ALWAYS had a church governance meeting of some kind or another to go to.  United Methodist General Conference (never a line at the hotel bar).  ELCA Churchwide Assembly. Presbyterian General Assembly. UCC General Synod.  And so on.  Then there were the magical summers when the calendar would sync up so that one or more of these would be held in the same year.  In 2003, Crusty went from General Convention in Minneapolis to ELCA Churchwide Assembly in Milwaukee, with a weekend stopover at his in-laws in Madison, WI the only break in church governance stuff for a three-week period.

Crusty sat for many hours in many Convention halls.  In general, he's thankful for this, if only because it drove home for Crusty just how much we should be talking collaboratively with ecumenical partners about the challenges facing us.  Think the Episcopal Church needs 10 seminaries?  Guess what, the ELCA is asking the same thing about its 8 seminaries and the United Methodists about their 13.  Struggling with how to provide training and empowering of lay ministries?  What is the nature and scope of a churchwide organization should be? What should best be done at what level?  Many, many other Christian expressions are asking the same questions.

It being the 2000s, COD also sat through many, many a debate and discussion on issues of human sexuality, specifically the ordination of openly gay persons to the ministry and the blessing of same sex unions.  Crusty sat through Episcopal, Lutheran, Methodist, Moravian, and Presbyterian
What would you do if you were stuck
Salt Lake City, and nothing that you did mattered?
discussions on these issues.  At times, it felt like a kind of ecclesiastical version of the Bill Murray classic movie "Groundhog Day," where Murray's character is doomed to repeat the same day, over and over again. (Exactly how many days Murray spent in Punxsutawney was an occasion of fierce debate among COD and his buddies back in the 1990s.  COD leaned towards the interpretation that Murray spent close to 1,000 years in Punxsutawney. I mean, come on!  It probably took him 10 years alone to learn how to master the piano!  He learned how to speak French!  One of Crusty's apartment mates at the time came downstairs, saw Groundhog Day on TBS yet again, and said, "I think my life has become like Groundhog Day because every day I come downstairs and you three are watching Groundhog Day.")  Crusty heard the same arguments, for and against, over and over, on these issues of human sexuality.

In a particular amusing exchange, in 2003, just after The Episcopal Church consented to V. Gene Robinson's election as bishop of New Hampshire, Crusty, as he noted above, trekked off through the farmlands of Minnesota and Wisconsin to go to the ELCA Churchwide Assembly.  At the Assembly, a motion was introduced to suspend full communion with The Episcopal Church because of its consent to the election, saying the Episcopal Church no longer held to the essentials of the Christian faith as agreed on in the Called to Common Mission agreement inaugurating full communion. After some debate, the resolution was soundly defeated, with about 90% of people voting to remain in full communion with the Episcopal Church.  Some of the rhetoric had gotten quite heated, with some delegates saying Episcopalians were no longer Christians or believed in the Bible, and were preaching a false gospel.  Mark Hanson, the presiding bishop of the ELCA, came over to Crusty in the ecumenical visitors section and said, "I was just checking in to see how you are doing, things got a little heated out there."  Crusty replied, "That's no big deal -- 90% of the Assembly voted to remain in full communion!  Getting an Assembly to vote on anything at 90% is pretty good.  Heck, 40% of our own bishops voted against giving consent to the election."

Sitting there, for all those Groundhog Day conventions, in all those hours in all those Convention halls, in all those hotels that looked the same, eating the same chicken dinners with rice pilaf, drinking bad white wine at receptions, COD heard the some of the same issues being debated.  In some ways, the debates also unfolded according to script.  Romans 1:28 here, Galatians 5 there, people who don't believe in Genesis literally quoting Genesis, Peter and Cornelius there, and so on, with, of course, nobody convincing anyone of anything.  As he sat, though, COD began to nice some differences amidst all the similarities of debate.  COD began to notice that different Christian expressions seemed to discuss many of the same theological points, but process them differently.  Sure, some of the same Biblical and theological themes came up tie and again.  Yet *how* these discussion took place were, at times, revealing.

Presbyterians, for instance, seemed to immerse themselves in their complex polity.  In the 2000s at one point they came, more or less, to a realization they would not agree, and so devised a process by which people could conscientiously object to certain matters of polity and theological confession, which they called "scrupling."  Yeah, "scrupling" is apparently a Presbyterian thing.  COD s**ts you not (would he ever do that to the people who for some reason read this blog?). Totally google "presbyterian" and :"scrupling" and you'll see how they at one point they came up with a workaround and way forward on questions of human sexuality.  Seriously, there's this.

Lutherans seem to want to know what the theological foundation or rationale would be before taking certain actions.  On the question of human sexuality, they commissioned a task force to produce an official statement on human sexuality, which would be the basis for specific recommendations to Churchwide Assembly.  At the 2005 and 2007 Churchwide Assemblies (Crusty was at both, gave greetings to the one in 2005, where the official release notes that his joke was a hit with the crowd; read about it here; I've always been a smartass) there were a number of proposals or resolutions put forward on human sexuality, which the Assembly declined to act upon until the commission had completed its work.  There was the repeated concern that the Assembly should not act until the Task Force had submitted its statement and any enabling resolutions.  The theological statement was duly released, with necessary enabling resolutions, and, once it had been submitted, in 2009 the ELCA took its historic votes fully authorizing the ordination of openly gay persons and permitting same sex blessings.

COD could repeat similar observations for how Roman Catholics, Orthodox, Moravians, and Methodists processed difficult issues in particular ways.  Roman Catholic discussions, for instance, almost always come back to a discussion about authority: the relationship between the authority of the Pope and the authority local and regional bishops' conferences, or between the differing levels of authority of magisterial teaching (what's the force of an encyclical vs. a decision rendered by a pontifical department vs. the infallible teaching charism of the Pope speaking ex cathedra?).   We could go on, but let's stop here at looking at the peculiarities of the ways other Christian communions process their junk and turn to how Episcopalians tend to function.

Sitting there, in 2009, watching the Lutheran take their own vote on same-sex blessings and ordination of openly gay clergy, it hit COD like a ton of bricks:  he realized how other Christians might look at how Episcopalians handled matters.  There's two observations from those years that fundamentally impact how COD looks at General Convention.

1)  We process matters liturgically.

--How did we (in essence) have a referendum on the ordination of openly gay and lesbian persons to the episcopate?  By deciding whether an episcopal consecration should go forward in 2003.  Our discussion was framed as much by the place and function of a bishop in the church as it was around biblical, ethical, moral, historical, or theological questions.  By the way, even though it consented to Gene Robinson's election to the episcopate, the Episcopal Church still has not authorized the service of openly gay and lesbian pastors at a churchwide level.  The only human sexuality language we have is that "access" to the ordination process cannot be denied on the basis of sexuality.  The ELCA specifically voted to change its ministry standards to permit openly gay clergy in committed partnerships to be ordained as pastors.  While The Episcopal Church has never had language specifically forbidding openly gay and lesbian persons from being ordained, we still, in 2015, have not adopted any canonical changes to permit it.  This is why, during the debate in 2003 on consent to the election of Gene Robinson, one deputy in the House of Deputies could say, "I can't believe I am being asked to approve a consent to the election of the episcopate from someone who would not be ordained in my diocese, and, if ordained in another diocese, not permitted to serve in my diocese" and have that be correct under our polity.  Crusty Old Dean was drinking scotch with some Reformed Episcopal Church clergy (we had a dialogue with the Reformed Episcopal Church from 2003-2004), and one of them said, "Well, while we don't agree with the decision to give consent to Gene Robinson's election, it was certainly within the bounds of your polity to do so."  Crusty asked, "Can I get that in writing?"  This is why, when asked by other primates of the Anglican Communion why he didn't "stop" or "pause" the whole Gene Robinson thing at Convention, former Presiding Bishop Griswold said, "I couldn't if I had wanted to."  When asked to "stop" the consecration, the reply by some was that could only happen with an objection at the consecration itself, you know, as permitted liturgically in the consecration service in the Book of Common Prayer.

So we have kinda, sorta, had a referendum on permitting the ordination of openly gay and lesbian persons to the episcopate but have not actually done anything in our polity to reflect the church's actual stand on this.

--How are we handling questions about the blessing of same sex unions?  By discussing proposed rites for blessing same sex unions, what they should be and how they should be authorized.  Not about what a sacrament is, or what it means to bless something, or talking about human anthropology.  These issues and more, to be sure, have been part of the discussions and have been included in the Task Force on Marriage and its report to General Convention. But far, far more ink and legislative energy has been spent on proposed rites themselves.

--We have spent the better part of a decade revising out liturgical calendar without coming to any kind of consensus on what, actually, a saint is and why we commemorate people liturgically.  But we sure do spend a lot of time proposing people to add.  This lack of clarity, and processing things liturgically rather than theologically, is part of the problem behind both Holy Women, Holy Men and Lent[sic] Madness, as Crusty has pointed out previously on this blog.

So we have a tendency to process things liturgically.  Makes sense, in a way, as Episcopalians and Anglicans, given the way in which we have expressed our theology in the lived, liturgical prayer life. At a meeting once with Lutherans, they spent a good deal of time talking about the Augsburg Confession, and the Book of Concord, and just how authoritative they were.  They then asked us, "OK, where are your theological documents?"  One of the Episcopal representatives pointed to the Book of Common Prayer sitting on the table. "Over there," she said.  The Lutherans asked, "Where in the Prayer Book are your theological, confessional documents?"  The Episcopalian replied, "It starts on the title page and goes through the last page."

Crusty realized, sitting through all those church gatherings, that Episcopalians  (often, certainly not always, but tend to) process things primarily through a liturgical lense.  This one way in which we need to reflect, as we approach General Convention, on how best to make decisions.  There is another thing we have to keep in mind.

2)  There's also the unsettled relationship between the General Convention and the local diocese (and, in turn, the local diocese and the individual congregation).  We seem to process things through an inchoate filter where we are unclear how has the authority to tell somebody else what they can or should or ought or must do.

Crusty Old Dean often found himself cackling during ELCA Churchwide Assemblies debating full communion with Episcopalians.  Some Lutherans painted doomsday scenarios of getting into a relationship with The Episcopal Church, adopting bishops and their catholic understanding of authority, that Lutherans would lose their freedom.  Crusty cackled because the ELCA has a far more centralized structure that the Episcopal Church.  ELCA congregations fork over more than twice what Episcopal congregations fork over to the Synod, who, in turn, fork over more than twice to Churchwide offices than Episcopal dioceses do to our churchwide structures.  The ELCA Churchwide Council (equivalent to Executive Council) has to approve any changes ELCA seminaries make to their bylaws.  ELCA synodical bishops have more direct authority over the clergy search process in their diocese than Episcopal bishops do.

There's two ways this second observation  impacts our discussions.

2a)  We have those who think General Convention is like Jon Snow, who sometimes talk like they think that General Convention knows nothing and can do nothing. Crusty was sitting in the House of Bishops once, and
a pretty anodyne resolution was being discussed.  A bishop stood up and asked that the language be changed from "directs dioceses" to "recommends to dioceses", and, when asked to speak to the
Do you have to ask for personal privilege to move this?

amendment, said, "General Convention can't tell dioceses to do anything."  The bishop did add that "except for the Constitution, Canons, and Prayer Book."  There was general murmuring and the amendment passed unanimously on a voice vote.  Crusty found himself wondering, "If General Convention can't tell anyone or anything what to do apart from Constitution, Canons, and Prayer Book, then this Convention should be a lot shorter than it is."

2b)  Being Episcopalians, there's naturally the exact opposite: that General Convention can, should, and ought to be able to direct anybody and anyone in the Episcopal Church on anything.  Many General Convention resolutions are drafted with cajolatory injunctions (Crusty just coined that).  General Conventions "urges" or "recommends" lots of things.  But there's also a fair number of resolutions which various entities are directed and commanded and told to do certain things, perhaps more often than we'd like to think.

Let's take just one of the TREC resolutions -- we can see some examples of this in A001, the first resolution out of the gate.  First off, it starts with a cajolatory injunction.  It "urges" Episcopal seminaries to do a bunch of things -- which, incidentally, many if not all of them are already doing (but don't get COD started) -- but then, in the last sentence, resolves that the seminaries report "their progress to Executive Council and to each succeeding General Convention."  Really?  General Convention is going to require something from independent, not-for-profit, incorporated entities that it has absolutely no canonical or constitutional authority over, apart from electing some members of the General Seminary's Board?  The General Convention might as well tell the YMCA to whom it should report as any of our seminaries.

And that's just the first resolved!  Its last resolved has a doozy of a two-fer:

"Resolved, That the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society develop a network to help Episcopal congregations, including clergy, vestry, organist, musical, lay, and other liturgical leaders, to become skilled in creating, nurturing, and developing spaces and moments for spiritual encounters that transform lives and unjust structures; and to have partnerships and practices with other congregations to become excellent stewards of spiritual, financial, real estate, and community resources; and to report their progress and learning annually to their Diocesan Convention/Council and Bishop."

TREC is asking General Convention to direct another not-for-profit incorporated agency, the DFMS, over which it has no direct control, to do something.  While there is overlap, the DFMS is a not-for-profit incorporated in the state of New York.  To be sure, the General Convention has oversight here  -- the General Convention can change the Articles and Constitution of the DFMS, the PB and PHOD are officers of the DFMS, and the Executive Council is its Board.  But the General Convention as a whole does not have the authority to direct the DFMS to do something.  The General Convention could be directing the Executive Council to direct the DFMS to do something.  Is this either sloppiness by TREC, or perhaps born from the impetus to have the General Convention direct and order anybody and any thing to do anything?

But that's not all!  The same resolved also asks every "clergy, vestry, organist, musical, lay, and other liturgical leaders" to work on a whole bunch of things, including "developing spaces for spiritual encounters" and "become excellent stewards of...resources".  Not only that, all of these persons and groups are "to report their progress and learning annually to Diocesan Convention/Council and Bishop." Whether giving this authority to General Convention, or thinking it has it, TREC is having GenCon order every single lay person involved in pretty much any position of lay ministry in the church to file a report every year to the Bishop.

So here's the confusing twofer: the General Convention is telling

1) an entity over which is has no direct control, the DFMS, to
2) tell every level of the church, from bishops to diocesan conventions to local congregations to your your 80-year-old volunteer organist what to do.

And we lament the universal, ordinary jurisdiction claimed by the Roman Pontiff.

That's pretty amazing for an organization which the House of Bishops at one point mumblingly agreed couldn't tell dioceses what to do apart from what the Constitution and Canons and Prayer Book stipulated.

That's just one example.  We could, undoubtedly, pull up dozens if not hundreds of resolutions where it's not clear what or how the General Convention is asking different entities to do.  If you don't believe me, here's just one resolved from one resolution, from D020 from 2006.  Crusty Old Dean remembers this one well, because, since he was assistant ecumenical and interfaith officer at the time, it was directed squarely at him.  Mind you, this is but one of eight resolved clauses in this one resolution of hundreds submitted every three years.

"Resolved, That the 75th General Convention call on The Episcopal Church to request the
Actual photo, Crusty and Bishop Epting, circa 2006
Ecumenical and Interfaith Officer to step-up dialogue with the Iraqi Muslim and Christian community to work toward nonviolent resolutions to conflict."

Let's break that down.

i)  The General Convention is to "call on".  Does that mean the same as "ask" or "request" or "urge", or does it have a more forceful impact, like Thor calling on lightning to strike down something?  Is this a cajolatory injunction or a command?

ii) Then there's who GenCon is calling on: "The Episcopal Church."  Who is this?  The Preamble to the Constitution defines what The Episcopal Church is, it's the entity over which the General Convention has authority by defining the Constitution and canons.  So is General Convention calling on itself?  Or what, or who, in God's name are they calling on?  The church as a whole? Do they want some form of plebiscite or referendum to authorize this?  This is important because of

iii) whoever The Episcopal Church is, there's clear required language about what they, or we, or it, or whoever is intended here, is to do.  The Episcopal is to "request the ecumenical and interfaith officer" to do something.  That's formal language of commanding:  "request."  So whoever or whatever the Episcopal Church is as understood here, it apparently has oversight of staff.  This is interesting because the staff thought they worked for the DFMS, which is not the same as The Episcopal Church, as least as defined by the Constitution and Canons.

iv)  then there's the whole matter of what is requested, which is only to have a dialogue with Iraqi Muslims and Jews and get everyone to work towards a nonviolent resolution to the Iraq War.

When this was passed, Crusty was sitting in the House of Bishops, and said, "I was just asked to do something impossible, but I have no idea who is telling me to do this."

That's just one resolved clause in one resolution from 2006.

So issues 2a) and 2b) also color how we process things at General Convention: by thinking it can and should do nothing or that it can and should do everything.  Crusty is here sidestepping the whole question of *whether* either of these is true, because that's largely beyond the scope of this blog post.  [However, since he brought it up, here goes:  personally, COD is convinced by the unitary argument for The Episcopal Church's governance: that, in effect, since all Episcopalians are governed by the Constitution and Canons and Prayer Book, and only General Convention has authority to amend the Constitution or the Canons or Prayer Book, then the General Convention does have authority over everything, and by action of entering into union with this body, parties become subject to the Constitution and Canons and Prayer Book.  So yes it does have authority, but it is properly exercised through the Constitution, Canons, and Prayer Book, and not through bizarre confusing resolutions.]

As Crusty has pondered the upcoming General Convention during his long exile this spring, writing a history of Christianity and The Episcopal Church ("The Episcopal Story: Birth and Rebirth,"  Church Publishing, due out this fall! Available for pre-order here!), he has found himself pondering how we might not get stuck between the Scylla and Charybis of one the one hand processing things liturgically, and on the other hung up on what the authority of our governing body is.  Because the end result of both Scylla and Charybdis is the same: on big-picture questions, it can prevent us from delving into the heart of the matter and instead leaving us with debating externals.  Or, to use the current buzzword, #1 and #2a and #2b above can keep us on technical changes when we should be addressing adaptive changes.  Or, put more simply,

--How can we structure the conversations we need to have to be about how we can best meet the missional needs of this time and place?

--How can we best use the governance structures we do have to bring about those changes?

Let's take just one example.  And this is just one of over 200 resolutions coming before GenCon next week.  Let's just look at one resolution and how our hangups on processing things through liturgy and lack of clarity about what our General Convention should be doing can prevent us from having a conversation we should be having.

We'll look at A044, which is curiously titled "Maintain the Centrality of the Eucharist." (Curiously titled because the resolution isn't specifically asking anyone to do anything about maintaining the centrality of the Eucharist, but more on that below.)  It's pretty short, so let's have it in full:

"Resolved, the House of _______ concurring, That the 78th General Convention provide and authorize ways in which small congregations can receive the sacrament at the principal act of Christian worship on the Lord’s Day in the absence of a deacon, priest, or bishop; and be it further
Resolved, That the licensing of lay ministers be expanded to allow distribution of previously consecrated sacrament in the context of Sunday public worship in the absence of a deacon, priest, or bishop; and be it further
Resolved, That a liturgical rite be designed for the distribution of communion by such licensed lay ministers in the congregation at Sunday public worship in the absence of a deacon, priest, or bishop; and be it further
Resolved, That congregations provide education regarding distribution of communion by such licensed lay ministers."

This is also a two-fer, because it takes an important issue and processes it through what I've outlined above
#1) it processes an issue liturgically; and
#2b) General Convention can tell anybody to do anything.

But before breaking it down, let's talk about the problem it is seeking to address: how the Eucharist can be made available as part of the principal act of worship in "small congregations" that may not be regularly served by an ordained person.  This is a huge concern, and one Crusty knows firsthand. While Crusty isn't thrilled with this resolution, he in no way think that the issue it is trying to address isn't important.
The empty lot where church CODW was ordained and married in used to be. Ah, memories.
CODW (Crusty Old Dean's Wife) was born and raised in the diocese of Idaho, which has lots of small, rural congregations and not a lot of clergy.  When CODW was ordained transitional deacon, it was on a Sunday morning in her sponsoring congregation, and it was hard to find two presbyters who could be present.  One who was present was the rector of the congregation, but, in a diocese with not many clergy and lots of small congregations, it was hard to scare up a second presbyter to be present (remember, two presbyters must be present when a bishop confers holy orders, even if they don't lay on hands).  Crusty's mother in law was (is?) a Canon 9 deacon and served in a couple of rural western dioceses.  This is also a problem that is not just rural; there are small, struggling urban congregations which cannot afford regular clergy.  COD lived in a city once where a congregation had been existing with occasional Sunday supply, and no resident clergyperson, for over two years.

This is why the title of the resolution is either misleading or incorrect.  We're not being asked to maintain the centrality of the Eucharist, that's taken for granted and nobody is contesting that it isn't central (the resolution quotes the relevant language that the Holy Eucharist be the "principal act of worship" from the Prayer Book).  It's about how to make the Eucharist available, not maintain its centrality.  That's a real concern, and one which is going to become more widespread.

OK.  So we have a real concern.  But then we process it through liturgy and giving General Convention supreme authority but yet not exercising that authority in the way it can (that is, by proposing canonical or Prayer Book changes which are binding).  How are we doing this in this resolution?

#1: Liturgical processing: that a rite be designed for distribution of communion by licensed lay ministers

 #2b:  By General Convention ordering all levels of the church to do something.  The General Convention is the subject of all these resolved clauses.

--General Convention is to authorize "ways" congregations can receive the sacrament.
--General Convention is to "expand" the licensing of lay ministers (canonical changes), but here only  to allow for distribution of previously consecrated elements
--General Convention is to design a rite (collectively?)
--General Convention (since they are the subject of all these resolves) orders congregations to provide education regarding distribution of communion by such licensed lay ministers.

Thus we have a real and present issue: we are a body of Christians that has spent the last 200 years recovering our understanding of the centrality of the Eucharist as the principal act of worship.  Gone are the days with little-used communion tables for quarterly celebrations of the Eucharist with the presider in only a surplice.  In just the past century we have seen the dramatic upswing in celebration of the Eucharist replacing Morning Prayer as the principal act of worship.  We didn't have more ordained clergy than lay readers until around World War I.  Rural congregations used to get by with lay readers because they mainly had Morning Prayer and had an occasional supply clergy person, which was OK, because many, many congregations around the turn of the 20th century didn't have the Eucharist as a central act of worship.  This recovery of eucharistic ecclesiology is a good thing, Crusty's all for the grace of God present in the act of the gathered community.

But it's run square into another huge issue, which isn't discussed here at all in this resolution: the nature and understanding of ordained and lay ministry that we need for our missional time and place in a church where the Eucharist is and ought to be the center of our worship and nobody is contesting.  The understanding and development of lay and ordained ministries have evolved over time, though to be sure with the Prayer Book as the foundation and touchstone.  How do lay and ordained ministries need to evolve to serve not only small congregations, but fresh expressions groups, urban ministry, ministry to the unchurched, church planting, outreach to Hispanic/Latino and historically underrepresented groups?

We take a key issue and don't actually answer it in this resolution; we barely touch on it and propose a confusing response.  What we need to be asking is: What kind of lay and ordained ministries do we need for The Episcopal Church in the 21st century, and how will we discern and develop those ministries?  All we get here is asking for a way to license lay people to distribute communion, with absolutely no effort to address the deeper, underlying issue.

We could answer the issue raised in lots of ways, and in ways which, unlike blithely telling congregations to provide educational resources, are entirely within General Convention's purview.  One of the things Crusty hopes everyone would agree on is that one place we have clearly and unequivocally delegated to Convention are standards for the recruitment, training, and ordination, and licensure of lay and ordained ministries.  General Convention can legislate proposals reflecting adaptive change on the question of lay and ordained ministries.  What are some of the ways?  Here are a few, just off the top of COD's head, undoubtedly people could come up with other ideas.

--By fully embracing and committing to mutual/total/shared ministries.  We could do this by amending the ministry canons.
--We could adopt non-stipendiary ordained clergy; they're called NSMs in the Church of England. Over a quarter -- 27% -- of ordained clergy in the C of E are non-stipendiary clergy. These are clergy that could through an alternative track than seminary,  have age limitations (say, not younger than 50) and commit to not accepting a paycheck from the church because they can demonstrate source of income/support.
--By adopting/working towards regional ministry teams.  Other provinces of the Communion have these, as do some diocese in the Episcopal Church, where a group of congregations can be served by a priest, some deacons, a few NSMs if needed/permitted, and trained lay ministers.

The world's dreamiest human-otter hybrid, Benedict Cumberbatch.
We could do all sorts of things and undoubtedly more to address the real issue behind this resolution, which is really about developing and empowering lay ministry, and developing flexible processes for discerning and training of ordained ministries, than about maintaining the centrality of the Eucharist.

But this Resolution doesn't ask us to do any of that.  It processes the presenting issue through our penchant for liturgy and for General Convention directing everybody to do everything.

That's just one example.  As we move towards Convention, COD wishes we had this in the back of our mind:  is what we're considering really going to help us answer the questions we're asking? Or, for your Sherlock fans,  how much of General Convention is going to be about the dog that is not

Well, friends, this blog has officially reached Andy Kaufman-esque levels of obtuse, self-referential performance art.  (When Automatic for the People came out in 1992, young Crusty listed to the
See you in heaven if we make the list.
opening of "Man on the Moon" about 200 times trying to figure out the first line, in the days before Google, cell phones, and when REM included lyric sheets with their CDs.) I'm over 5,000 words in this blog post, which is the third in my General Convention preview, and Crusty has still only really talked about two General Convention resolutions.  As a frame of reference, by book on church history from Jesus to the present came in at 24,000 words.  Total.

Coming up over the weekend:  General Convention Preview, Episode IV:  A New Hope.  Crusty talks about actual resolutions!



  1. are you suggesting that sherlock can be my nsm? cause i would advocate for that.

  2. What a superb blog COD writes.

    Agree: The resolution should be written to keep the Eucharist available under changing circumstances. What is the practical difference between the "Canon 9" priests and CofE's NSMs? I don't know, but I believe NSMs are preferable to permitting lay presidency at the Eucharist (and preferable to deacon's masses, too). This issue is about practical church operations, not sacramental theology.

    Disagree: I believe it's simple to keep seminaries in line. General Convention adopts a canon listing the seminaries whose graduates are eligible for ordination to the priesthood. Recalcitrant seminaries are taken off the list, or better there's a provision in the canon for some other church entity (HoB? Executive Council?) to strike recalcitrant seminaries from the list. I doubt the church will take such a heavy-handed approach, but it could be done.

  3. Chuck, we don't disagree at all: GC certainly could pass a number of different canons to set up accountability to seminaries. I was pointing out that it does not have that ability now.

    FWIW, I also would have tremendous concern about GC settings standards and accountability without any kind of partnership with seminaries. The ELCA and United Methodist Church exert considerable control over their seminaries, but they also fund them to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars each to help them implement the requirements they set. If GC doesn't partner with seminaries but starts telling them what to do, then it'll just be one endless stream of unfunded mandates.

    Canon 9 priests don't exist anymore, we only have one canon for ordination to the priesthood and eliminated that category.

    1. I meant to say "priests ordained under the old Canon 9" or words to that effect. They're still around, in some dioceses at least. NSMs are the right way to go, but there is a lot of opposition to the concept among TEC clergy who hold M.Div.'s.

      Yes, some type of covenant (dare I use that word?) between seminaries and GC is a good idea. The scenario of unfunded mandates could be addressed within the covenant. Personally I'd like to see the responsibility for GOE transferred to seminaries, so that the GBEC can be abolished. That's an example of how all parties would have to resolve the financial and operational aspects of change.

    2. Part of the issue with seminaries, NSMs, and whatnot is going to be subject to any revision of what clergy training looks like, which is something that is overdue, and not just in TEC.

      In the United Methodist case, there are 13 seminaries which belong to the church, but you can get ordained with a degree from others as well. In the latter case, the appropriate agency basically just reviews the curriculum to make sure that the degree is adequate for UM purposes. Something similar would be possible for us, but again, it depends on how we decide to train clergy from here on out.

  4. Nit-picking: The dialogue with the Reformed Episcopal Church / Anglican Province in America began before 2003. We met at an RC center at Catholic University, then at Virginia Seminary, and finally in 2003 in Orlando. As I remember it at the first meeting we agreed that since the Episcopal Church was in full communion with churches like Papua New Guinea Anglicans that did not ordain women the REC/APA requirement of a male ministry was not in itself church-dividing. At the second meeting we agreed that the "local adaptation" provision of the Quadrilateral could be understood to include the participation of Methodist and Moravian bishops in the REC succession and retired Episcopal bishops in the APA succession. At the VTS meeting Bishop Salmon gave an eloquent apologia for the participation of gay and lesbian Christians in the life of the church. We all received communion at a service in the VTS chapel where the REC bishops celebrated from their revised eucharist. But the dialogue was suspended in 2003 after the election of the gay bishop. The REC later joined the ACNA and I expect further dialogue will have to include that church. And I don't see any desire for a TEC / ACNA dialogue, though I think both churches should and perhaps once the lawyers have finished might.
    The other question about lay administration of consecrated elements offers a liturgical response that I think suffers from a very weak - even magical - sacramental theology. As an old-fashioned Prayer Book Catholic I think we need to adopt the Moravian and Methodist practice of licensing people to celebrate the Eucharist. The Total Ministry process seems to me a better direction than carrying consecrated hosts and wine around. In Western NC we have a number of retired priests still active enough to serve. Idaho is different.

  5. Tom, you're absolutely right, I was with you for all of those gatherings -- and what I noted in the blog was accurate, I was noting the dialogue met from 2003-2004 (at which point it was suspended by action of the Reformed Episcopal Church). The blog was clocking in at nearly 6,000 words, so I didn't want to get too deep into the weeds of the REC dialogue. I don't agree all about licensing lay people to preside at the Eucharist, I think the answer is on a renewed and comprehensive emphasis on ministry teams that include locally ordained priests and deacons, as well as lay ministries. Lots of other provinces have adopted these in various forms, from the UK to Africa to Oceania.

    1. As a former United Methodist whose father was a licensed local pastor, perhaps I can speak to that matter. Licensed local pastors are not supposed to preside at the table, but often do, generally because the alternative is either getting a likely unavailable elder (priest) to preside or taking the elements to the district superintendent for consecration in the absence of those for whom the elements are intended. The main difference in effect between a local pastor and an ordained elder is that the former are not the recipients of anything considered ordination, and that local pastors are not allowed to participate in votes on a few matters that would go before the clergy alone at an annual conference meeting.

      To become one, a person undertakes an educational program called Course of Study. The Course of Study used to be the usual way to train Methodist clergy, in fact. It is not exactly equivalent to an master's of divinity, but it covers similar courses over a series of intensives spread out over several years.

      I always considered it odd, almost absurd, that local pastors weren't ordained, at least after a trial period. (I suspect there are certain reasons of church politics for this.) By ordaining them the irregularity of their status regarding celebrations of the Eucharist would be removed.

      If United Methodist local pastors were used as a model for providing liturgical leadership, I would strongly suggest that they be ordained and treated as clergy, and that it represent an alternative way of training clergy. Bishops and Standing Committees might still expect candidates for the episcopacy or certain other significant posts to have MDiv's. So might vestries for larger churches. But those ordained after an education structured differently may be useful for filling out certain positions.

      Again, as I said above, a lot of this is dependent on figuring out just how we want to educate our future clergy. But there's no reason why we can't have multiple models.

    2. Will, current UM practice is that local licensed pastors are to preside at communion in their current ministerial setting (but lay supply pastors cannot). UMs view LLPs as a direct extension of the authority of the bishop, and their authority solely derives from the bishop.

      Like some of the tension that once was with Canon 9, there is resistance to LLPs in The UMC, but for the sake of the mission of the church the role exists. There are large churches in the UMC with LLPs as senior pastors and ordained elders/deacons serving as associate pastors. LLPs have allowed The UMC to be very flexible in specific circumstances, given clergy shortages, costs, welcoming non-UM pastors into The UMC, and other purposes.
      As a current UM, I would like to see LLPs ordained (bringing back the old ordained position of "local elder") and abolish the commissioning step for deacons and elders (it to is ecumenically weird).
      I believe the ELCA has/had a similar role. Of course, in any full communion discussions it is only ordained orders that will be able to be exchanged between denominations.

  6. In any event, General Convention adopted such a diluted version of A044 that it's essentially meaningless. Bishops were not about to accept lay distribution of previously consecrated elements... no surprise, given that most of them don't permit that by deacons.


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