Monday, November 19, 2007

Mark Harris on Provisionality

Mark Harris, a priest of our church and the blogger at Preludium, continues to write fine essays on the state of the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion. This weekend, he exceeded even my high expectations with his essay, "The Limits of Provisionality." As I said in the comments on his post, I found it one of the saddest and most hopeful essays I've read in the last few years.

He begins:

One of the marks of Anglicanism is the sense that we Anglicans hold those behaviors, actions, ceremonials, theologies, statements, etc, that are peculiarly Anglican as provisional against the day when God will inform us in deeper ways through Scripture, Reason and Tradition of the Truth in Jesus Christ. That is, we do not assume that we Anglicans are in any final way right. We do not claim to be the true church, but rather an expression of the true church.

One way to think of ourselves is to suppose we are in a large room, crowded with Anglicans with various recent experiences, and at the same time some sense of family. We find ourselves grounded in different perspectives on theology, used to different ceremonial, have differing sensibilities about social and moral concerns. Everyone at this gathering talks of what they know of the presence of the Lord in their lives, the missionary sense that they derive from such presence, and the lives they lead in the light of Christ. They eat and drink together a lot. Some will accuse us of being a party in progress.

He speaks poetically and passionately of the things that are best in our Big Fat Anglican Family.
He then speaks of the unrest that has been introduced into the Anglican Communion, at least since the consecration of Gene Robinson, or maybe dating back to the ordination of women:

We might expect that when some in the crowd become more and more uncomfortable with being provisional and begin to assert that their understandings are of the catholic faith and those of others in the crowd were not, the limits of provisionality would get tested. The more the push for a particular position as that of the "faith once delivered of the Saints," the more the community would begin to be nervous about their own provisionality. What had seemed a gracious effort to be a community of mutuality and loving kindness now would look like a lack of faith. Others than might begin to be more stringent as well, calling for obedience to the call that they had experienced and with which they were engaged.
He then comes to a very sad conclusion. He concludes that the generous provisionality that has characterized the Anglican Communion has died:

What are the limits to provisionality? Well, after all the conversation in the big room, with all the Anglicans from around the world and in our own back yards talking and learning from one another, when those who clamor for the definitive community that is the True Church wreck the provisional life, there is only this to do:

Turn off the lights and take out the trash.

Provisionality does not include being held hostage to some covenanted code, or someone's sense that they are the true protectors of the faith once delivered, or some high toned loyalty oath to the unvarnished scriptures. When the conversation is dominated by those who rant and who are no longer interested in gathering in a room big enough for common action among truly diverse peoples, it may be time to say, "The party's over. Come back tomorrow."

I think the party is over: Time to turn off the lights and take out the trash.

Then he continues with the hopeful part:

Several years ago I suggested that the Anglican Communion is an organic thing: it has a life and it came into self-conscious existence at some point and it will someday die. What we can hope for is that when the provisional community gathers again they will remember with thanksgiving the work that the Anglican Communion has done. I believe that.

I strongly believe that the Anglican Communion, as a fellowship of churches committed to being an expression of the Church, but not The Church, provisional and diverse in its understandings and experience of the faith and willing to work together as churches, will continue. I believe the Episcopal Church will be a part of that fellowship.

I also believe that when this community gathers, perhaps at Lambeth, but surely in a wide variety of gatherings great and small in which bread is broken and stories told, God's will for us all will be advanced and we will be made new for new days.

Others will go and make their own way.

But for this to happen it is time to declare that this party is over. This party has become spiritually disabling.

The only way to believe in the resurrection is to practice resurrection. […] When this gathering is over there is another ready to begin.

The Anglican sense of provisionality will find new form.

The Episcopal Church will live into that provisionality.

The gathering will gather again.

I suspect Mark Harris is right. We Episcopalians cleave to the incarnation and the resurrection. This experiment in tolerance (or "provisionality" in Mark's terms) cannot be over. Perhaps we need to let this current structure die, so that we can see what kind of resurrection we will experience after the schismatics do their worst and leave.

Do go over to Preludium and read Mark Harris's full essay.


Anonymous seamus said...

Dean Allan of Grace cathedral in San Francisco says that it is the Episcopal's great joy that one day all will be converted to its generosity, and they will all be Anglicans,,, it is also its great misfortune that they wont know it when it happens.

11/20/2007 4:23 AM  
Blogger Grandmère Mimi said...

And they all said "Amen!" Well, not all, really. Only in my dreams, more's the pity.

It is a beautiful essay.

11/23/2007 1:24 PM  
Blogger Mike Greiner said...

Yes, death and resurrection. The death of the Anglican church party in the West, and the birth of true Anglican life in Africa and Asia.

We thank God for the Africans and Asians. Perhaps their efforts to revive the dying Episcopal church in America will begin a new Spring Time, and start the party again.

12/04/2007 6:57 PM  

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