Monday, June 25, 2007

Coping with a Sinful Church (Clavier)

Introduction: We are proud to publish the following essay by Fr. Tony Clavier, believing it provides a necessary perspective that has been sadly lacking in the church's wrestling with a number of critical issues. While this essay and the two previous ("Maturity in the Midst of Conflict" and "Sanctification of the Faithful") were written independently and not intended as a trilogy, each contributes in unique ways to a re-evaluation and reframing of many things that are dividing the church. We look forward to your comments, positive and negative, in the hopes that God will bless these explorations into our common life.

Coping with a Sinful Church
by the Rev. Tony Clavier

It seems to me that through the ages the episcopate has tended to assume the mantle of roughly equivalent office holders in the secular world. This has not always been a salutary habit, although it is probably inevitable. I have to remember this at vestry meetings when members reach to their secular experience to describe their religious duties! The fact that something is “natural” does not mean that it is either inevitable or salutary. The Church is in the business of “baptizing” the secular, not of conforming to it.

Baptizing the secular, however, does not mean obliterating it. A church building remains a building after it is consecrated. It becomes a building with a difference. We remain human beings after we are baptized. However, after baptism we are meant to be changed. Whether we are changed or not is not merely a matter of intention, or of triumph, but one of constant daily movement. The movement may be “progress” or “regress.”

Many years ago Charles Gore remarked about “doctrinal development” that not all development is salutary. There are mutations, just as there are in all other evolutionary areas. However we develop as Christians, the “process” is a far from simple matter. In one area or another we all fall off the wagon from time to time. Sometimes the fall is mighty and prolonged; other times it is fleeting – repented and forgiven “in the twinkling of an eye.” It is for that reason that almost all Anglican forms of worship contain provision for confession and absolution. Penitential rites in liturgy are primarily corporate and, within that context, individual as well. The church community is asked to repent. The church community is given absolution by the Lord of the Church. I use the word “Lord” advisedly.

We don’t often consider ecclesial repentance and absolution. Recently the Church of England “repented” of its role in the slave trade. I don’t know whether it received absolution. The Church and the churches do fall. It’s the human part of the divine/human nature of the Church which errs. It is possible, as the old Articles put it, for Councils to err. This was true at a time when Councils, general or even local, seldom met. It is equally true today when councils, at least local or pan-jurisdictional ones, with “legal authority or “merely” moral authority seem to meet all the time. Claims that the Holy Spirit inspires synods or that doctrine develops may be true. It remains inevitable that the Church and the churches, in council or merely in usual activity, err and stray more often than not. That we seem to ignore this fact, or that we naively believe that the Spirit bestows infallibility on our communal activities of whatever sort, is amazing.

To imagine that it is our duty to “leave the Church” when we perceive her to be in error or sinful is wrong-headed and probably a heresy. It is as heretical to stress the Divine over the Human as to stress the Human over the Divine. The human nature of the Church, unlike the human nature of Christ, is tainted with sin simply because we all are tainted with sin. It is true the Church is redeemed from its sinfulness, as we all are who have gone through the waters of baptism. It is true the taint of sin in the Church does not render the Church totally corrupt, although (to quote the Articles again) she often seems very far gone from original righteousness! We get indignant when parishioners leave because someone or other, or the vestry, or the priest have demonstrated vividly their humanity; yet we talk about leaving the Anglican Communion or leaving the Episcopal Church because neither lives up to our expectations.

Of course, if we have taken to ourselves a new religion which either demands an infallible and pure church, or if we have decided that sin is a repressive and old-fashioned notion to be jettisoned, then my argument falls on deaf ears.

On the other hand, should we be content with sin? We used to teach that it is the duty of every communicant to examine “thought, word, and deed, things done and left undone” and to seek godly counsel and advice “from a discreet and learned minister” if we cannot find peace and reconciliation during the penitential part of worship.

In his primatial address to the Canadian Church last week, Archbishop Hutchinson said:

Another way of putting that is, how do we wish authority to be exercised or limited within our family of churches? And perhaps most important, how will our decisions witness to the Good News of God in Jesus Christ for our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters within the Church and outside it. There are of course many other questions to consider in the hard work of discernment over this issue. We are taught that the first principle of moral theology is obedience to conscience, and I ask each of you to embrace that principle, and with it the ethic of respect for the conscience of those who disagree with your own. The second principle of moral theology is to inform your conscience to bring it, if possible, into line with the teaching of the Church. And here careful listening using the Anglican approach of Scripture, Tradition and Reason will be helpful.
One of the ways our church traditionally examined itself to ensure that it is being faithful to the Gospel was to place its activities, in doctrine, discipline and worship before the bar of Scripture, Tradition and Reason. In a sense, classical Anglicanism taught that all three legs of the allegedly Hookerian stool were about Scripture. Obviously, Scripture is about Scripture. Yet the Tradition is all about how the Scriptures have lived in the life of the Church in the past and in the present. Reason is that faculty, baptized in faith, whereby we do our theology, spirituality and mission “on our knees” as we are taught by the Scriptures. Tradition and Reason are not alternatives to Scripture.

In the best of Anglicanism, the Catholic, the Reformed and the Liberal are not alternatives from which we may pick and choose, or claim “party” allegiance, but rather a living symbiosis. Similarly, Scripture, Tradition and Reason occupy a symbiotic relationship. When that symbiosis is lived vividly in our midst, we witness the Holy Spirit, the “author of unity,” at work in the Church. When we see faction, party spirit and intolerant hegemony, there we see sin at work in our midst.

Despair is a great sin. Despair doubts the purposes and the governance of God. Despair is rooted in the moment, in a belief that everything is in that moment and that all things crucial must dominate that moment from which there is no escape but death. When we give up on the historical Church and our churches, we surrender to despair. That the Church on earth is sinful is nothing new. A student of history knows that all too well. That she remains the Bride of Christ for whom he died, for whom he lives, to whom he gives himself “until he comes again” is an article of faith.

About the Author: Tony has had a varied career and has worked all over the Anglican world. For over twenty-five years, he served as a leading bishop among those who left the Episcopal Church during and after the controversies surrounding Prayer Book revision and women's ordination, beginning in the 1970s. He was, for a short time, in charge of clergy training for the Convocation of American Churches in Europe and has been a parish priest since he was received into the Episcopal Church in 1999. He now serves as priest in charge of St Thomas à Becket Episcopal Church, Morgantown, in the Diocese of West Virginia. Tony edits LEAVEN, the journal of the National Network of Episcopal Clergy Associations (NNECA). He and his wife Pat live in Morgantown, WV. Tony is suffering from Waldenstrom's Macroglobulinemia, a rare cancer. He describes himself as a non-party Anglican – he was no good at team sports as a child – who believes passionately in the unity of the church. He blogs at WV Parson.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

The Bible Tells Me So (Crew)

by Dr. Louie Crew

Editor's Note: We were pleased when Dr. Crew offered us this essay for publication. In it, he puts a human face on racism and heterosexism. Some readers may not be familiar with the "LGBT" term he uses; it is a commonly used shorthand reference to lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered persons.

"One big reason for that is the biblical world makes sense [if you're in the Global South]; the Bible reads like it is describing the world you know immediately." -- Archbishop Peter Akinola (Church of Nigeria)
Nigerian Archbishop Peter Akinola has it right. The same is true for most LGBTs. The blood-letting rages of God and the people in the Hebrew Scriptures are behaviors we witness in much of Christendom toward us. We LGBTs also know how to appropriate the Exodus and deliverance into a much safer land, flowing with milk and honey.

Archbishop Akinola is right to ask us to look back just one generation to the experiences of Africans regarding "nomadism, polygamy, and blood sacrifice."

Imagine for a moment what it was like to be LGBT in 1954 when I entered Baylor, to be LGBT and Episcopalian in 1974 when I founded Integrity. Earlier in 1974 a bishop from Florida had shocked the entire House of Bishops by daring to mention the unmentionable and proclaimed on the floor of the House, "I found a queer priest in my diocese and what are we supposed to do to prevent this?"

The House of Bishops did what it is wont to do for every unpleasantness: It created a task force, and it named it as only Anglicans could do, "The House of Bishops Task Force on Homophiles and the Ministry"! "Homophiles"! How much more Episcopalian could they have been?

Looking back from this distance, I respect far more the candor of the less couth bishop from Florida.

In 1964 if heterosexual and divorced, you could not remain active as a priest in most dioceses. In 1974 if you were open about being queer, you did not get or keep a job as a priest.

The same was true in most of academia. I fully expected to be fired when – in the same month that I founded Integrity – I co-edited College English for a special issue on "The Homosexual Imagination" – the first major academic journal ever to address LGBT issues edited by LGBT persons. It took me months to realize that the college was not going to issue the letter of dismissal. It took my parish across the street from my office to do that, with the vestry sending me a letter to "find some other place to worship." When I held the letter to the light, I could see the watermark of the seal of the State of Georgia: they had stolen college stationery to use in writing the letter.

For LGBT people, the woman at the well is not a quaint story of middle class people dressed in bath robes for a church pageant; she is our sister, and she is asking Jesus the questions we have asked the Episcopal Church about where we might worship and with what priestly leadership. And with us as with her, we find that Jesus is much less concerned about our sins than about our thirst.

For LGBT people, the centurion's plea for his boyfriend servant is understandable in our experience as we have watched our beloveds go sick, even die, and we've not had the access to help them that their heterosexual "family" has had – family that in many instances would not even speak to them, but are all too happy to come in and seize all that we have accumulated together. We understand well why the centurion did not want to risk having the Jewish healer come under his roof and see the real love behind the plea: "Say but the word only and my 'servant' shall be healed." We know in our own experience the tyranny of changing the pronouns.

I'd love a chance to sit down with my brother ++Peter and to share experiences about this marvelous Savior of both of us, the Savior of absolutely everybody.

About the Author: Dr. Crew taught English throughout his career, at universities including the University of Alabama, the University of Wisconsin, Beijing Foreign Language Institute, Chinese University of Hong Kong, and Rutgers. He is clerk of the vestry at Grace Episcopal Church in the Diocese of Newark, a long-time Deputy to General Convention, the founder of Integrity, a recent member of the Executive Council, and currently serves as secretary of the Nominating Committee of General Convention. His Ph.D. is from the University of Alabama, and he holds honorary doctorates from three Episcopal seminaries: Episcopal Divinity School, General Theological Seminary, and Church Divinity School of the Pacific. He is the author of 1,815 publications. A brief version of his resume is available here. Over 1,000 visit his Anglican Pages every day.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Sanctification of the Faithful (Strid)

by the Rev. Paul E. Strid

In their article Maturity in the Midst of Conflict, Tom Woodward, David Fly, and Lisa Fox joined with the Executive Council of the Episcopal Church in directing our focus toward relationship and reconciliation.

Arguing about who is right and who is wrong only embroils us in vicious cycles of accusation and self-justification, leaving us all more tightly wrapped in our own sinfulness and cut off from one another. The Episcopal Church, Woodward, Fly, and Fox seem to be inviting us all into a much-needed “time out” in which we may calm down and reconsider our behavior.

They also offer us a common ground in “new dedication to personal and corporate holiness in the church.” This framing teases out what may be the helpful kernel of “orthodox” concerns and speaks to an issue I hope we all share.

We have been losing sight of the reality that we are all concerned with, and called to: holiness. One of my core understandings of priesthood is that it is my task to serve the sanctification of the people of God. Sanctification, however, is far more profound, all-encompassing, and varied than issues of morality and purity codes. For us to be caught up in and conformed to the mystery and holiness of the triune God takes much more than a list of "thou shalts" and "thou shalt nots."

To be caught up in and conformed to God necessarily involves being caught up in and conformed to Love. Jesus reminds us that the sum of Torah is to love God and to love the other as oneself. He also gave us the New Commandment: to love as he loves.

How, then, can we possibly seek holiness without learning to love one another with greater depth, honesty, understanding, and compassion? We clearly delude ourselves if we think we can love God without loving each other. “Those who say, ‘I love God,’ and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen.” (1 John 4:20, NRSV)

Ezra the priest encouraged racial and religious purity when the Jews returned to Jerusalem after the Exile (Ezra 7-10). His approach may be summed up in 2 Corinthians 6:17: “Therefore come out from among them, and be separate from them, says the Lord, and touch nothing unclean; then I will welcome you.” An entire strand of Scripture and tradition speaks to making distinctions and seeking purity through exclusion. We must acknowledge this portion of our heritage.

Other strands in Scripture and tradition approach holiness differently. 1 Timothy 4:4-5 addresses purity issues and concludes: “For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected, provided it is received with thanksgiving; for it is sanctified by God’s word and by prayer.”

Sanctification by separation and exclusion versus sanctification by blessing and incorporation: both are within our faith and practice. If Christians, and specifically Anglicans, can agree that we all seek holiness, might we not then be permitted to have differing understandings of how holiness is achieved and allow each other to seek holiness in our own context? Words of encouragement may also include words of admonition, but words of accusation and condemnation are unlikely to build up the body of Christ. Indeed, accusation is the enemy’s work, for the “father of lies” is called the accuser (Revelation 12:10).

When Donatus and his fourth-century followers tried to uphold the purity of the church by rejecting the ministry of apostates, the Church decreed that the character of ministers in no way affects the validity of the sacraments, since Christ is the principal minister of every sacrament and it is Christ's holiness that counts. Though the controversy raged for over a century, Donatism was finally rejected – much to the relief of every human (and thus sinful) priest and bishop since then.

In spite of Ezra, the Donatists, and all their successors, I cannot see exclusion as the final or most effective path to holiness. Jesus’ openness to the sinful, the outcast, and the unclean signals a radical shift toward declaring all of God’s creation good. The shift from separation to inclusion was hinted at when Isaiah of Jerusalem declared that the most hated enemies were promised an equal share with Israel (Isaiah 19:24).

This does not mean our behavior is a matter of indifference. Quite the contrary. Every choice we make takes us deeper into God and closer to one another or throws all our relationships – with God and our neighbors – out of alignment and drives us further apart.

Choices and behavior matter. They matter a great deal! But even more, the core principle behind all morality – the core principle grounded in the sacred – is the mystery of divine love. What makes an act (or a failure to act) evil is the failure to love or a violation of love – "love" in God's own sense. Such a failure is the breaking or distortion of relationship. It harms that which God loves and which we are likewise called to cherish.

Choosing the lens of love for interpreting moral codes and their application is not wishy-washy. It is grounded in Jesus' proclamation of the Great and Second Commandments.

The Catechism speaks of being freed from sin and also of that for which we are set free: "The Messiah is one sent by God to free us from the power of sin, so that with the help of God we may live in harmony with God, within ourselves, with our neighbors, and with all creation." [Book of Common Prayer, p. 849]

Here we have a vision of holiness that is harmony, or right relationship, with God, with ourselves, with our neighbors, and with creation. Back in my Baptist seminary days I saw that same four-fold relationship as the key to my understanding of salvation – a dynamic relatedness that was life-giving, boundless, endless. Little did I know I was anticipating the teaching of the church to which I would one day belong.

I am therefore pleased to observe the Executive Council's affirmation: "It is our most earnest hope that we continue to walk with our Anglican brothers and sisters in the journey we share together in God's mission. We believe the Episcopal Church can only offer who we are, with openness, honesty, integrity, and faithfulness, and our commitment never to choose to walk apart."

In Maturity in the Midst of Conflict, the authors note: “Our history as a Church has been marked, over and over again, by our struggles to understand and respond to God’s continuing call to be 'a holy people.'"

I thank them for pointing us once more toward holiness, honesty, and dialogue. In so doing, they point us all toward a common way forward.

About the Author: The Rev. Paul E. Strid is a priest of the Diocese of California now residing in Albuquerque, New Mexico. He served from 1995 to 2006 as vicar of St. Cuthbert's, Oakland. Prior to that, he served in interim ministries and as a non-stipendiary associate around the San Francisco Bay area. Raised an American Baptist, Father Strid found his mystical, sacramental, and historical leanings met in the Episcopal Church and the Anglican ethos. His interests include gardening, writing icons, and dabbling in fiction, poetry, and photography. His personal blog is The Byzigenous Buddhapalian.

About the Image: Paul Strid wrote the icon shown at the top of this entry. It depicts
St. Cuthbert of Lindisfarne, patron of the church in Oakland, California, where the writer served and the icon now hangs. Paul took it with him on pilgrimage to Durham, where Cuthbert is buried, and to Lindisfarne. Based on a 13th-century mural in Durham Cathedral. © 1996 by Paul E. Strid. All rights reserved.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Pittsburgh Episcopalians Thank Executive Council

In a press release also posted June 17, Progressive Episcopalians of Pittsburgh has thanked the Executive Council of the Episcopal Church for "affirming the long-settled constitutional understanding that dioceses do not have the power or authority to ignore or supersede the canons of The Episcopal Church in favor of diocesan actions."

As reported by Episcopal News Service, the resolution was one of a number of critical issues that the Executive Council addressed last week.

The Pittsburgh group recounts that, in November 2004, the Diocese of Pittsburgh completed adoption of an amendment to its constitution that declared its independence from the Episcopal Church, despite opponents' claims that the amendment was out of order, contradicted the constitution of the Episcopal Church, and was based on a faulty understanding of the relationship of dioceses to the whole church.

According to Progressive Episcopalians of Pittsburgh, Executive Council has now affirmed the minority’s stance as the correct one. The Executive Council resolution specifies that the changes made by the Diocese of Pittsburgh to its constitution and canons are “null and void,” as are similar changes made by the dioceses of San Joaquin, Quincy, and Fort Worth.

“This resolution offers relief to faithful Episcopalians in this diocese who have been pressured to accept procedures or policies they knew were at odds with Episcopal Church canons,” said Dr. Joan Gundersen, president of Progressive Episcopalians of Pittsburgh. “The Council was aware of these pressures. "

Progressive Episcopalians of Pittsburgh has committed itself to working for unity within the Episcopal Church and to be a welcoming church open to all who wish to remain within its bounds.

The full text of the Pittsburgh Episcopalians' press release is available here, along with links to several related documents.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Maturity in the Midst of Conflict

A Response to the Executive Council Actions
by the Rev. Thomas B. Woodward, the Rev. David K. Fly, and Lisa Fox

The center of the Episcopal Church, made up of the faithful who work and give and witness in response to the love of God they have known through their church, is the winner (if there are any winners) in the resolutions passed by the Executive Council of the Episcopal Church today. See "The Episcopal Church's Commitment to Common Life in Anglican Communion" (available here) and the summary of related resolutions.

If we could choose a phrase to capture the meaning of this event and of these resolutions, the one that comes to mind is from the language of conflict within families. It is: “There must always be at least one adult in the room at all times.”

What our leaders have done is what a devoted, mature parent would do within a family torn apart by discord and allegations of disloyalty to the family:

  • They affirmed our love for ourselves and for those who want to reorder our family on their terms, not ours.
  • They promised a process that will be fair and that will honor our several traditions without violating any of them.
  • They affirmed that we will not sacrifice any member of our family.
  • They acknowledged and reiterated the kind of boundaries that are necessary for us to continue serving God as the family God is calling us to be.
  • They accomplished all this as spiritual adults, not blaming, not making excuses – but reassuring us all that the family will continue to be a family, one which will thrive.
Our Executive Council – under the kind and gracious leadership of Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori and the President of the House of Deputies, Bonnie Anderson – has reframed the stresses and strains of our Communion. They have offered our Communion, our provinces, and our dioceses the opportunity to work together in framing our common future. Rejecting "assertions of authority met by counter-assertions of polity," they have called for a course of genuine reconciliation and recognized that "the questions before us now are fundamentally relational."

That our Church is always in need of reformation is clear. The nature of sin is to distract us from our calling, as Church and as individuals. We recognized that fact in the boldest way possible 200 years ago when we named ourselves “the Protestant Episcopal Church.” We protest any and all attempts to dilute or to diminish the power and presence of God in the life of our Church.

It is possible that we will come to see and to understand the "orthodox" stands against the full inclusion of gay and lesbian people into every aspect of our Church’s life as an outward and partial cry for a new dedication to personal and corporate holiness in the church. That cry is profoundly important at a time when forces in our culture are pulling us in the opposite directions of licentiousness and overly strict and oppressive moralities.

Surely, we all agree that our lives, as Christians and as a Communion, must be marked by a wholehearted dedication to holiness. The book of Leviticus tells us that is our calling – and it is our calling because holiness has to do with the being and identity of God, who has created us, redeemed us, and is leading us through the Holy Spirit. The Holiness Code in Leviticus 18ff. notes over and over again that we are called to be holy, even as God is holy.

We must be scrupulous in this discernment: What is involved in God’s call to holiness? and what is simply a response to our fears and the inadequate understanding of the purposes of God from earlier generations? For the majority of the Episcopal Church, it has become clear that the holiness of the Church is tied intimately to its full inclusion of all the people of God – and that the demand for holiness in our sexual lives is the same for all Christians, whether heterosexual or homosexual.

Our history as a Church has been marked, over and over again, by our struggles to understand and respond to God’s continuing call to be "a holy people." Throughout that history, there have been pivotal moments in which we have come to realize that what seemed so clear to previous generations was wrong; God has perpetually given us leaders and insight so we can, in our several generations, get it right. That is the setting for our life together in the coming years.

With all the Church we pray:

O God of unchangeable power and eternal light: Look favorably on your whole Church, that wonderful and sacred mystery; by the effectual working of your providence, carry out in tranquility the plan of salvation; let the whole world see and know that things which were cast down are being raised up, and things which had grown old are being made new, and that all things are being brought to their perfection by him through whom all things were made, your Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen [Book of Common Prayer, p. 280]

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Change of Pace

Editor's Note: When the following was submitted to The Episcopal Majority, we were hesitant to post it. After all, we have spent 10 months mostly writing and posting about matters of Great Seriousness in the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion. But we were reminded of that adage: "What binds us together is greater than those things in which we differ." And surely what binds many of us together is our service on vestries, in which we aspire to deal with Matters of Great Import, but often find ourselves side-tracked by immediate concerns. And so we agreed to publish this, in hopes that all Episcopalians can find an occasion to chuckle together.

The Church Struggling with a Core Issue
by Anonymous

Over the years, Anonymous has been a prolific author not only in the field of theology, but of letters, public morality, and politics. So far as The Episcopal Majority has been able to determine, Anonymous has not held any position of significance in the Episcopal Church. Be that as it may, we believe this report speaks for itself as well as to our worst experiences in the church – wherever we find ourselves in the wide spectrum of church life.

This piece stands as a monument to God's patience with us and God's ability to guide the church from generation to generation, exhibiting the saving presence of Jesus Christ even as we seek to focus on the burned-out light bulb.

The Minutes of Last Month’s Vestry Meeting

Christopher Bailey reports the Minutes of the April Vestry Meeting at St. Barnabas Episcopal Church, Blandville.

Mrs. Woodstock called the meeting to order at 7:12 P.M., Pastor Hamilton having been delayed by an unusually long line at Starbucks. The meeting began with the reading of the minutes from the March meeting. Mrs. Woodstock asked for a motion to accept the minutes.

Mrs. Blickensderfer pointed out that “blithering” is spelled with only one r.

Mrs. Woodstock asked for a motion to accept the minutes as amended. The motion was made by Mrs. Voss and seconded by Mr. Fox, and carried by a vote of 11 to 1.

Under Old Business, Pastor Hamilton mentioned that the light bulb in his pulpit reading lamp is still burned out. Mrs. Woodstock asked him whether that was the reason he had embarrassed the whole congregation during the Psalm last Sunday. The Rector answered that it was.

Mrs. Blickensderfer said she thought the light-bulb problem had been remanded to the Building Committee.

Mr. Sholes said that no record of any such remandment appeared in the minutes of the March meeting.

Mrs. Blickensderfer said she didn’t think “remandment” was a word.

Mr. Fox thought that the pulpit was under the jurisdiction of the Worship and Music Committee.

Mrs. Yost thought that the lighting was the responsibility of the Evangelism Committee.

Mr. Fox wanted to know what sort of dunderhead thought lighting had anything to do with evangelism.

Mrs. Woodstock pointed out that it made no difference, since the Building Committee, the Worship and Music Committee, and the Evangelism Committee were all Mrs. Voss.

Mrs. Voss answered that she didn’t know anything about electricity, and if people wanted her to take care of something they should tell her about it instead of expecting her to read their minds.

Mr. Dhiatensor said something in the language he speaks, which we think might be Portuguese.

Pastor Hamilton said that the replacement of a light bulb was really a very simple matter, and that he would have taken care of it himself except that the last time he bought something for the church he was informed that he could not be reimbursed unless the expense had the prior approval of the Vestry.

Mrs. Woodstock asked him whether he really believed that the Vestry would have given its prior approval for an espresso machine.

The Rector thought Vestry would have, since the machine was essential to his continued effectiveness as a minister of the Word.

Mrs. Woodstock asked him whether he believed in the Tooth Fairy as well.

Mr. Sholes said that the matter under discussion was the light bulb, and not the espresso machine, which had already been discussed at length at the January meeting.

Mrs. Voss was of the opinion that someone should just go out and get a light bulb and be done with it.

Mrs. Woodstock asked her whether she was volunteering.

Mrs. Voss repeated that she didn’t know anything about electricity.

Mrs. Blickensderfer asked whether the church didn’t have any spare light bulbs sitting around in the closet.

The Rector reminded the Vestry that the lamp in the pulpit uses a halogen bulb, and thus ordinary spare light bulbs are of no use.

Mrs. Woodstock thought that the next time the church bought a lamp, someone ought to make sure it took regular light bulbs like normal people use.

The Rector said that there were many advantages to halogen bulbs.

Mr. Dhiatensor became very agitated and spoke rapidly about something, then stomped out of the room.

Mrs. Voss wondered whether “halogen” meant something obscene in Spanish.

Mrs. Yost said that she had always thought he was speaking Romanian.

Mrs. Blickensderfer said that at any rate someone ought to apologize to him, because Mr. Dhiatensor seemed like such a nice man.

Mr. Fox moved that the Vestry convey its apologies to Mr. Dhiatensor for inadvertently offending him. The motion was seconded by Mrs. Blickensderfer, and carried by a vote
of 11 to 1.

Mr. Sholes asked who was going to write the letter.

Mrs. Woodstock thought that would be the responsibility of the Worship and Music Committee.

Mrs. Voss said that she didn’t know Spanish, and anyway she couldn’t type.

Mrs. Woodstock said, fine, she would write the letter herself.

Mrs. Yost moved that the Vestry authorize Mrs. Woodstock to write a letter of apology to Mr. Dhiatensor on behalf of the Vestry. The motion was seconded by Mrs. Voss and carried by a vote of 11 to 1.

Mrs. Woodstock asked Mrs. Underwood if she would mind explaining, purely for the Vestry’s information, why she had to vote "no" on every motion.

Mrs. Underwood said that it was quite clear that no one else on the Vestry cared about the health of the congregation, which was threatened daily by an onslaught of communicable diseases.

Mrs. Woodstock said that the vote on a new hand dryer for the women’s restroom had been taken in February, and most of the Vestry had decided that paper towels were good enough for them.

Mrs. Underwood said that was fine, but they shouldn’t expect her to cooperate with a Vestry that didn’t care if the entire congregation died of bird flu.

The Rector asked whether any decision had been reached in the matter of the light bulb.

Mr. Fox said he didn’t think so.

Mr. Sholes said that the problem was figuring out what sort of bulb the lamp used.

Mrs. Voss suggested that someone could just take the old bulb to a store and find one like it, although she added that she herself didn’t know anything about electricity.

Mrs. Woodstock asked for a motion to authorize someone to go to the hardware store with the old bulb and come back with a new one.

Mr. Sholes said the problem with that was that no one knew how much a new bulb would cost, and until the Vestry knew the cost it would be impossible to authorize the expense.

Mrs. Woodstock asked him what he would suggest.

Mr. Sholes suggested that an ad hoc committee could take the bulb to the hardware store, obtain the information about how much it would cost to replace, and report the cost to the next meeting of the Vestry. Otherwise he didn’t see how it would be possible to authorize the expense.

Mrs. Woodstock asked him whether he would be willing to be part of the ad hoc committee. Mr. Sholes said that he would, and suggested that Mr. Fox would be a good second member.

Mr. Fox explained that, for reasons he would rather not discuss, he was no longer welcome at Blandville Hardware.

Mrs. Yost volunteered to go with Mr. Sholes to the hardware store, if he promised not to exceed the speed limit on State Street.

Mrs. Woodstock asked for a motion to form an ad hoc exploratory committee consisting of Mr. Sholes and Mrs. Yost for the purpose of taking the burnt-out light bulb to Blandville Hardware and finding out how much it would cost to replace, the cost to be reported to the Vestry at the May meeting, at which time the full Vestry would be in a position to be able to authorize the expense of a new light bulb.

The motion was made by Mrs. Voss and seconded by Mr. Fox, and carried by a vote of 11 to 1.

Respectfully submitted,

Ralph Finstermaker
Clerk of the Vestry

Monday, June 11, 2007

Executive Council: Day One

Episcopal Life has published a report on the first day of the Executive Council meeting.

We found it noteworthy to read that Presiding Bishop Jefferts Schori met with the Archbishop of Canterbury last week. So far as we have found, no information about that meeting has been published.

The story includes highlights of the reports of the Presiding Bishop and the President of the House of Deputies (Bonnie Anderson). A long segment recounts the presentation of Davis Mac-Iyalla, a 33-year-old Nigerian Anglican and founder of his country's only gay-rights organization.

It appears that the next two days will be dedicated to committee meetings and discussions, and that the Executive Council will not respond to the primates' Tanzania communiqué until June 14.

Click here to subscribe to Episcopal Life Online so that you can get reports directly from the Episcopal News Service.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

The Numbers Game (Stockton)

What Numbers Tell Us and What They Don't
by the Rev. James Stockton

Numbers: The Wrong Path

When we are involved with the “Numbers Game,” we need to take into account that, by several measures, Islam is the fastest growing of the world's religions. On that basis if we are to treat numbers as prescriptive for our course as a Church, we will need to consider a drastic change in our direction. In addition, for 25 years, Fundamentalism has been the most widely and vigorously embraced theological method across any distinctions of specific religions. Thus, if we are to regard numbers as some sign of divine approval, we will need to alter our manner and our beliefs radically.

However, to the degree that we are critical thinkers and thoughtful believers, these numbers will inspire us to do no such thing. As the 20/20 Task Force recognized in 2001, growth is concerned with more than merely numbers. While the more conservative leaders in our Church seem to believe that God has set numerical benchmarks for the 21st century Episcopal Church, we will do well to let go of that peculiar idea and let God be God.

Reading about and hearing of the experiences of others tells me that my own is similar to theirs. The congregation with whom I serve experienced a huge change in our relationship with the wider community immediately following General Convention 2003. Like having a light switch turned off, we experienced an absolute absence of guests and visitors to our worship the first Sunday following the close of Convention, and this continued for four months. Though things have improved, we have never recovered the numbers of folks that we'd seen until that point.

Though it seemed then, and still seems so to some, I agree with those who suggest that the real impact upon our congregation's relationship with the world around us was not sexuality. Further, I believe the noted decline in attendance in churches in North America (the Episcopal Church among them) is not about sexuality. The election of Bishop Gene Robinson was not the catalyst for precipitous decline in Church attendance and membership.

Our Task

We have an important task ahead. What we've learned in my congregation is that we must work hard not to surrender the public face of the Episcopal Church to the secular and/or partisan media. We have learned that the media tend to look for a sensationalist first strike rather than seeking insight into a topic of interest. We've learned that we must be assertive in putting forward a positive and accurate depiction of the virtues of our Church. We need to celebrate being the kind of Church that could embrace the election of an unapologetically gay bishop as well as those who vehemently wish he had not been elected. In other words, we need to share joyfully the virtues of our Church, where difference co-exists with harmony and does not, as is true in some denominations, contradict it.

Where We Went Wrong

Decline in membership and attendance are not so directly related to the election of Gene Robinson as some either mistakenly or deliberately think. Instead, I believe the fault lies with our Church's failure – both nationally and locally – to make the most of his election as a tool to promote the virtues of Episcopalian breadth and depth.

As a parish priest, I consider it first the responsibility of our national and diocesan leaders and administrators to exercise the foresight and to do the necessary planning to frame the issue properly. Sadly, in 2003, while a handful of dissidents were clearly prepared to use Bishop Robinson's election for a destructive agenda, most diocesan bishops and bureaucracies seem to have been woefully unprepared to lead in a positive and constructive direction. I'm aware that for many of my fellow clergy and me, diocesan leadership was either paralyzed or asleep for months following the 2003 General Convention.

When it finally raised its voice, that voice seemed vacuous rather than vital. Because most diocesan bureaucracies were unprepared, they lost the opportunity to define the real issue and to lay the parameters of discussion and debate for the Church at all levels, including our parishes and missions, and so also for the observing public. The Church and the Communion have been paying dearly for this failure for at least the last four anxious years.

Globally, if the Archbishop of Canterbury and the primates had been as prepared as their hindsight now indicates they had opportunity to be, much of the angry furor would have been denied the platform from which it has inflicted needless pain and distraction throughout the Communion. The discontent isn't about sexuality, and the global leadership had a chance to state this plainly and to frame the ongoing study and reflection that remain important to the Church.

To suppose that Gene Robinson's election is somehow responsible for an increase in hostility against Christians in Africa is simply ridiculous. Does anyone really dare to claim that it was Gene Robinson’s election that pushed some Muslim young man over the edge into terrorism and that – had the election gone the other way – this young man would be a fine upstanding citizen to this day? The notion is absurd!

Had the self-appointed inquisitors here and abroad not been salivating at any chance to grab at power based on ideological division, and instead been intent on serving as spiritual guides, they would have been able to speak up for a Christ-like polity at work in Anglicanism – a polity that accepts and welcomes differences in the context of a mutual autonomy, a common faith, and a shared desire to live accordingly.

Clearly, the "Right" was more prepared for Bishop Robinson's election than was the "Left." So I tend to lay the recent decline in numbers at the feet of an unprepared, possibly naive national and regional leadership and at the feet of that minority of leaders who deliberately capitalized on the discord to make a play for power. Further, I think it undeniable that the power grab is far more evident and far more vigorous among those on the so-called "Right" than among those on the so-called "Left."

These factors, I think, combine to be the real force behind any decline in Episcopal Church attendance and membership, as well as similar declines in mainstream American Protestantism. However, thanks precisely to their prior preparation, the angry dissident minority has shown the rest of us how the use of secular media can help capture the opportunity to characterize the central issues of the Church in the popular mind. Happily, I believe the rest of the Church has finally begun to learn from this experience in a productive way.

Our Vocation as the Center of the Church

I see the decline now bottoming out, the discord winding down, the malcontents surrendering to their own frustration, and the customer-service orientation of Church life giving way to something better. Yes, we will always be in awe of the dinosaurs, their once-upon-a-time majesty and power. But thanks be to God, the dinosaurs in the Church really are extinct. In their place, I see the majority of the Episcopal Church, and the majority of the Churches of the Anglican Communion, determinedly and publicly returning to the business and ministry of Christianity.

Our new Presiding Bishop is calling attention to the Church's vocation to mission and to its efforts to respond to this call. Wisely, she has also called upon those in the Church who are responsible for and knowledgeable about relations with media to be purposeful about getting out the news of the Church's positive witness. The Church's creation of EpiScope and the Diocese of Washington's Episcopal Café are but two recent manifestations of that positive witness.

The more the people outside the borders of the Church become persuaded that the Church is tending to its ideals and is living the grace and love of God, the more they will be willing to invest it with credibility – enough to join the effort. So I rather think the future is brightening for the Church and for mainstream Protestantism in the West. Against the expectations of the dissidents, a progressive expression of Christian faith is gently but tenaciously effecting its ministry. We as the Church are communicating this vision and life to ourselves and to the world around us.

Numbers are useful for measuring progress of various efforts. However, I think we want to avoid regarding numbers as a prescription for the course we choose. It is easy to manufacture numbers of people through pandering and compromise. What is more important than mere numbers is the fact that already, many of us – I venture to say most of us – are feeling better about our Church and more confident about our faith. The attraction of the Gospel is showing through.

I believe that soon, the numbers (for what they're worth) will catch up. By then, though, I think we will have learned that sexuality was never really an issue over which to break apart the fellowship of the Episcopal Church, but a matter around which to grow it. By the time the numbers have caught up with the lived reality, we'll be distracted from their significance by the meaningful ministries we will be doing and by the progress we will be celebrating.

About the Author: The Reverend James V. Stockton is Rector of the Episcopal Church of the Resurrection in Austin (Diocese of Texas). He has previously written for The Episcopal Majority here, here, here. and here.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Action Call

Heads up, all you Episcopalians in Network dioceses and parishes! You're on the agenda of the Episcopal Church's Executive Council meeting next week.

According to this story from Episcopal Life Online about next week's Council agenda, the National Concerns Committee (NAC) has been charged by House of Deputies President Bonnie Anderson to
discuss the situation of Episcopalians in certain dioceses and congregations who disagreed with their leadership's desire to part from the Episcopal Church. [Committee Chair John Vanderstar] told ENS that he had asked Council members for any information they had on relationships that had already developed between those Episcopalians and the wider Church. NAC will review that information and discuss how the Episcopal Church might reach out to those Episcopalians and "tell them that the Church supports them so they don't feel so isolated."
Council will meet June 11-14. If ever there were a time for Via Media members and others suffering in Network dioceses and parishes to get your heads together and come up with specific ways the Episcopal Church can support you, now is that time.

John Vanderstar chairs the National Concerns Committee. You can find the committee charge and other documents at this page. Committee members are listed here.

Friday, June 01, 2007

Reliable Sources

We at The Episcopal Majority have chosen not to be a news-gathering source. There are many other sites that do much better than we could at that. With the Episcopal Church and the drama in the Anglican Communion so often in the news these days, where is one to go for news and commentary?

"Father Jake" has done a very good service, in this post, suggesting where folks might go for current news. He recommends the following sources for daily reading to keep up with the news of our church: Episcopal Café, Thinking Anglicans, the Episcopal Church's own EpiScope and Episcopal Life Online, the Anglican Communion News Service, and (for a weekly digest) Anglicans Online.

We agree, and recommend that you bookmark those sites when you need a "news fix." To that list, we would add TitusOneNine.

Father Jake concludes with this:
Regarding good commentary on the news, there are just too many sites to list them all. But, a bare minimum of daily reads would have to include Mark, The Episcopal Majority, Susan, Tobias, Elizabeth, Dylan and Richard.
We are grateful to be included in Father Jake's list and – to his list – we would add Father Jake's own site.

For a very fine and more comprehensive list of sources for news and commentary, go to EpiScope's list of websites – categorized as "left," "center," and "right."