Friday, September 29, 2006

Oversight (the Rev. J. Lane Denson III)

The Rev. Lane Denson III serves as part-time associate at St. Ann's Parish, Nashville, Tennessee. He is editor and publisher of The Covenant Journal and writer of Out of Nowhere. In earlier years, Denson served as a college chaplain at Lamar State, Beaumont, Texas, and Rice University, in Houston, when the Rt. Rev. John E. Hines was Bishop of the Diocese of Texas. Lane Denson also plays jazz cornet in the Monday Night Jazz Band. As for "Oversight," Lane says, the inspiration, some of the language, and the better ideas are from his friend and colleague the Rev. Ann Fontaine, Wyoming missionary, author, and member of the Executive Council.

Jesus didn't leave all his money to one person. He left it to a community and he sent Spirit a-plenty to keep it embodied, between the curbs, and focused.

One of my favorite things about the Episcopal Church is its pentecostal consistency in commitment to the practice of discerning God's will in community among all orders of ministry – laity, deacons, priests, and bishops. We do this triennially in the General Convention, its lead-up, practice, and follow-up. We do it annually in the conventions and councils of the several dioceses.

Indeed, when we set our minds to it, we even do it in vestries and standing committees. God willing, when we behave that way, every once in a while we actually accomplish something in this Anglican gift of ordered freedom.

Our theology of ministry requires that the whole Church listen for the movement of the Holy Spirit. Such ministry is not relegated solely to the clergy or to magisterium. The problem some have with our polity is that it is messy, time-consuming, ambiguous, and, of course – dare we say – democratic.

Increasingly, it seems, groups of American bishops fail to recognize or maybe even to understand this distinctively collegial characteristic of the very Church through which they received their orders and to whose doctrine, discipline, and worship they swear allegiance. In their penchant for pontificating, they end up overlooking rather than overseeing canon law, the deacons, the priests, and the laity altogether. Note: the word bishop equals overseer, supervisor. In fact, they seem to do whatever they can to avoid it all. What is worse, co-dependents to a fault, we let them, forgetting that denial and grandiosity are the twin diagnostic indicators of addiction, in this case, at least, addiction to power with an apparent disregard for any faithful meaning and understanding of authority – on our part or theirs.

As a consequence of this attitude, of course, they gather alone and in like-minded and reinforcing groups apparently without any thought to their true place in orders and to make unsolicited pronouncements on their own. In just this manner, two separate groups of bishops have met this September in meetings provoked by the famed Windsor Report of 2004, itself largely only episcopal in origin and itself missing the point of our American polity altogether.

These are groups of bishops who have an opinion and who want you to know about it, and that's just fine, but actually, they don't decide anything. They aren't the deciders. The General Convention decides things for The Episcopal Church. The bishops do not stand alone in such matters. They are welcome to lobby the church in whatever direction they wish. This is just as those of us have done who have worked for the full inclusion of women in all orders of ministry and for gays and lesbians to have full participation in the church.

As it is, our view has prevailed within the rules of order and in the Constitution and Canons of The Episcopal Church. These errant prelates keep trying end runs to achieve their vision. But that's pointless, as there is no body that can enforce their desires except the General Convention. This is not to say the bishops have no place in ministry or that their place is not of critical importance. But it is to say it is only a place and of no more importance than that of any other baptized member or duly elected representative to our decision-making bodies.

We pray for their better understanding and fulfilling of their orders and, as well, for our understanding and wariness of their anxiety. But we pray, as well, for them to get back to their dioceses and to get to the work for which they were elected and ordained -- stuff like spreading the gospel and building up the Church in their place of business, healing the sick, feeding the poor, tending the prisoners, and all those other Jesus things. There are many pressing issues in their little corners of the world – a lot more than any one of them can manage alone – pressing issues which need to be overseen, not overlooked.


Blogger MaryEllen said...

Bravo to the Episcopalian Church!
Rev. MaryEllen Stover, Interfaith Church of the Way. (formerly an Episcopalian)

9/30/2006 10:44 PM  

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