Monday, December 31, 2007

Easter Gift

Fr. Bill Easter is one of the finest and most generous priests in the Episcopal Church. Here he tells the story of his search for the perfect gift for our departing bishop, Jeffrey Steenson, who had announced earlier that he was leaving the Episcopal Church to become a Roman Catholic with the intention of teaching Patristics in that church. It would be difficult to imagine any two people who would enjoy this event more than Bill Easter and Jeffrey Steenson.

– Thomas B. Woodward

What Do You Give Your Bishop When He Leaves For Rome?
by the Rev. Bill Easter

I had selected what I thought was a very proper parting gift for Jeffrey that I planned to give him at an informal farewell party of some 30 clergy.

Alas, I managed to miss the party, so I called Jeffrey the Friday after the party and made arrangements for a visit at his office in the Diocesan Center. I found him dressed in mufti, packing books in boxes.

We sat and after some preliminary courtesies, I presented the gift along these lines: "Jeffrey, I was tasked with finding you a proper gift as befits your departure and your new undertaking. Knowing me as you do, you can appreciate what a challenge it was for me. I had no idea of proper, but had confidence that I would know it when I saw it. Lo, it came suddenly and without fanfare, fetched by two angels.

"It will, I trust, serve you well in the days ahead and create in you nostalgia for your many years in the Episcopal Church. As for serving you in the days ahead, this gift will permit you to bring peace and quiet to the eternal city of Rome. As you know, the drivers in Rome use their horns instead of brakes, with the result of a nightmarish cacophony that incessantly assaults the ear. Properly displayed, this gift will still the Roman racket, for which you will be richly blessed and your fame spread and celebrated."

I then handed him the handsomely wrapped gift. Jeffrey unwrapped it and found a bumper sticker that read:

Honk if your bishop is a woman

Jeffrey smiled, thanked me, and said, "I've heard of this." We embraced and parted.

The two angels were of the female persuasion and will remain anonymous to protect the guilty.

About the Author: The Rev. Bill Easter resides in the Diocese of the Rio Grande (where he has been licensed for fifteen years), but is canonically resident in the Diocese of Chicago. He has previously written for The Episcopal Majority and is an esteemed member of The Episcopal Church Institute.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Recent Events in San Joaquin

A few of us are avid readers of the Episcopal blogs and websites, but many of our readers are not. For those in the latter group, we offer this background.

For a good summary, visit Father Jake's site. Over in the right-hand sidebar, he has a roundup of news and commentaries on events in the Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin; go to the sidebar on the right, scroll down past "Recent Comments" to the section entitled "Previous Posts," and there is a subsection: "The Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin." Or … continue reading below for our attempt to summarize events of the past three weeks.

The people meeting in the diocesan convention of the Diocese of San Joaquin voted this month to leave the Episcopal Church and affiliate, instead, with the Province of the Southern Cone (which encompasses some far-flung parishes in southern and eastern South America). In the lead-up to this convention, Presiding Bishop Jefferts Schori warned then-Episcopal Bishop John-David Schofield that an affirmative vote would constitute an actionable breach from the Episcopal Church.

Presiding Bishop Jefferts Schori has consistently made it clear what will happen to dioceses that pretend to leave the Episcopal Church. In letters she has written to Bishops Schofield, Duncan, and Iker, she has explained the process clearly: For bishops like Schofield (and Duncan and Iker, who seem to be following shortly behind) who pretend to remove their dioceses from the Episcopal Church:
the Presiding Bishop could ask the Title IV Review Committee to consider whether the bishops who have proposed and supported them have abandoned the communion of the Episcopal Church.
Current members of the Title IV Review Committee are Bishop Dorsey Henderson of Upper South Carolina (president), Bishop Suffragan Bavi E. Rivera of Olympia, Bishop Suffragan David C. Jones of Virginia, Bishop C. Wallis Ohl Jr. of Northwest Texas, the Rev. Carolyn Kuhr of Montana, the Very Rev. Scott Kirby of Eau Claire, J.P. Causey Jr. of Virginia and Deborah J. Stokes of Southern Ohio.

The letter continues:

If the Presiding Bishop presented materials to the Review Committee regarding potential abandonment by those bishops, and if the Committee agreed that abandonment had taken place, the bishops would have two months to recant. If they failed to do so, the matter would go to the full House of Bishops. There is no appeal and no right of formal trial outside of a hearing before the House of Bishops.

If the House concurred, the Presiding Bishop could depose the bishops and declare the episcopates of those dioceses vacant. Members of congregations in the diocese remaining in the Episcopal Church would be gathered to organize a new diocesan convention and elect a replacement Standing Committee, if necessary.

An assisting bishop would be appointed to provide episcopal ministry until a new diocesan bishop search process could be initiated and a new bishop elected and consecrated.

A lawsuit would be filed against the departed leadership and a representative sample of departing congregations if they attempted to retain Episcopal Church property.

The San Joaquin convention nonetheless voted on December 8 to secede from the Episcopal Church and become members of the Province of the Southern Cone. The Episcopal Church responded here.

Many of us continue to scratch our heads, wondering how a region that is so obviously within the borders of the U.S. could suddenly pretend that is now within South America. TEM's Tom Woodward highlighted the incongruity of this move in his "Plastic Man" essay.

Shortly after that convention, ENS reported that former bishop Schofield was threatening to close any missions that didn't support him – or whose vicars didn't support him – at the diocesan convention. In a December 11 story, ENS reported that mission congregations were being threatened by Schofield. That story is here, and Father Jake added commentary here.

Meanwhile, on December 14, Presiding Bishop Jefferts Schori wrote to Schofield, asking him to clarify his status, and to declare whether he was or wasn't still a member of the Episcopal Church. Schofield's rather strange response was posted here. Having spoken boldly about the apostasy of the Episcopal Church, Schofield suddenly began mincing words in his official response. Mark Harris analyzed the response.

It didn't take long for former Episcopal bishop Schofield to begin taking action. The vicar of St. Nicholas Episcopal Church (Atwater, CA) had failed to "vote with" the bishop at convention. On December 20, the former Episcopal bishop had threatened the mission church of St. Nicholas with closure, and the vicar wrote to Southern Cone Bishop Schofield, asking him to clarify his intentions. Episcopal Life and Father Jake carried the story. At The Episcopal Majority, we declared Father Risard our hero of the month.

Southern Cone Bishop Schofield did visit St. Nicholas on Advent IV, December 23. Father Risard allowed him to preach and to celebrate the Eucharist on December 23, in an act that strikes us as generous, given that Schofield had taken himself outside the Episcopal Church. No summary can capture the events that occurred during that service. Read the first-hand reports at Father Jake's site here and here. Southern Cone bishop Schofield addressed the congregation after the Eucharist and just before the recessional. He said he had not come to fire Father Risard nor to close the mission, then he announced Father Risard would no longer be paid to serve the mission. Father Risard responded, providing his perspective on events. The most detailed and dispassionate report is available here.

Events escalated on Christmas morning, when Southern Cone Bishop Schofield's Canon to the Ordinary sent an e-mail to St. Nicholas' deacon and senior warden, announcing that Father Risard was fired, that locks were to be changed, that financial control was to be ceded to the diocese of San Joaquin (Southern Cone), and that all records were to be turned over to the diocese. Again, Father Jake provides the best one-stop summary of those events. Several wags have commented on the irony that the priest of St. Nicholas was fired on Christmas day. [Photo at right is courtesy Debbie Noda, The Modesto Bee.]

The deacon of St. Nicholas complied with Schofield's request. Other members of the mission plan to meet offsite tomorrow. It remains to be seen what will happen next. [Edited 12/31, as the senior warden was not involved with the lock-changing et al.]

So far, there has been no official comment or news announcement from the Episcopal Church. It is likely that the church leadership is consulting and working carefully behind the scenes to ensure that our constitution and canons are followed. According to an ENS story on December 11, Presiding Bishop Jefferts Schori already has appointed Canon Robert Moore "to provide an ongoing pastoral presence to the continuing Episcopalians in the Diocese of San Joaquin." By all accounts, he was present with the people of St. Nicholas last Sunday.

Father Jake has provided this compendium of sites that have reported or reflected on the San Joaquin developments. As he observes, so far, most sites on the "right side of the aisle" have been strangely silent on this story.

Since the secession vote was taken in San Joaquin, Father Jake has been the "one-stop" source for news and information about developments there. We encourage you to visit there for up-to-date information.

What can Episcopalians do in the light of all this?

With all that is occurring within San Joaquin, this much is clear: It's going to take a great deal to support the Episcopal Church in this region. One organization is taking the lead in working with the leadership of the Episcopal Church, and that is Remain Episcopal.

First and foremost, pray for the Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin. Episcopalians there will need comfort, strength, discernment, and wisdom.

Second, send a tangible note of support via their website, as The Episcopal Majority – like many other individuals and organizations – have done.

Finally, the tasks facing the diocese will require considerable financial support. You can make contributions (via their 501(c)(3) organization) to Remain Episcopal at:

Remain Episcopal
2067 W. Alluvial
Fresno, CA 93711

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Plastic Man

Plastic Man and his Evil Brother Struggle for the Church
by the Rev. Thomas B. Woodward

About the Author: Thomas B. Woodward, a Board member of The Episcopal Majority, is an Episcopal priest who has served the church over 23 years as university chaplain at a number of campuses and as rector of St. Paul's, Salinas, California, John Steinbeck's parish church. He has written two books for Seabury Press, Turning Things Upside Down and To Celebrate. He and his wife, Ann, now live in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Lateral thinkers are those whose minds often roam from one idea or image to another and then to still another – most often with connections between the ideas or images known only to themselves. We often end up confused by all the non-plussed reactions of others, but on the other hand, sometimes we see connections that others miss.

For example, this morning while preparing to pay some bills I discovered that the only stamps we have left are the recently issued “Superheroes Series” and there, in a prominent position, was my favorite Superhero from my youth: Plastic Man. My Superhero could twist himself into any configuration that would serve the cause of justice or the public order – and best of all, he could stretch out one of his arms to incredible lengths in order to accomplish his will. More than once, I thought of the absolute disaster that would follow if Plastic Man were to defect to The Other Side.

Given all that, it was easy to make the connection between my superhero Plastic Man stamps with the recent actions of my old seminary classmate, John-David Schofield. John-David announced recently that he is now not a bishop of the Episcopal Church, but of the Province of the Southern Cone (which consists of Anglicans in Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Paraguay, Peru and Uruguay – and having once flown from the United States to Argentina, I can assure you that is a long, long way away, even for Plastic Man).

Here is the connection: What was the first episcopal action to be taken by the Southern Cone’s newest bishop, the former Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin? It was to reach across nearly all of South America, all of Central America, up through Mexicali and Calixico and the San Fernando Valley, up through Bakersfield and Fresno into the small town of Atwater, California, to jerk the much loved vicar of St. Nicholas Episcopal Church there out of his pulpit and toss him into the street. (Go to Father Jake's place to catch up on all the fast-breaking news.) That’s right: Schofield has been bishop in the Province of the Southern Cone for less than a month, and he reached across two continents to dump a priest of another Province who had hosted him as an honored visiting bishop from a foreign jurisdiction less than a week ago.

What are we to make of this? Has my old seminary classmate become a twenty-first century reincarnation of my childhood Superhero? If so, isn’t this a stretch way, way beyond the abilities of the Plastic Man honored on my stamps? And is there anyone in or out of the D.C. Comics crowd who would dare to imagine that Fr. Fred Risard, the Vicar of St. Nicholas (Atwater, California) is really the immoral equivalent of a Martin Manhunter or a Queen Bee, those dastardly representatives of the Forces of Darkness and Evil who used to do monthly battle with the real Plastic Man?

Knowing John-David’s near worship of the church’s tradition and what he and others mistakenly refer to as “the faith once delivered by the saints,” I can only conclude that what we are dealing with here is not a reincarnation of Plastic Man, but of his evil twin brother, known only to a few as Blast-ic Man. But how can we tell the difference between Plastic Man and Blastic Man? Let me try:

Plastic Man serves the cause of peace and justice;
Blastic Man talks of “battle” and “warfare” while serving the cause of male privilege.

Plastic Man extends his arms to ward off those who would punish;
Blastic Man extends his arms to swat those who disagree with him in order to punish.

Plastic Man extends his arms to embrace those who have been pushed to the margins;
Blatsic Man extends his arms as a shield to repel those he does not understand or respect.

Plastic Man takes responsibility for his actions – and responds in the light of day.
Blastic Man blames everyone but himself – and responds by hiding behind others.

Now as I try to find some appropriate way of ending this piece, my mind goes to another movie, which is about a comic book anti-hero who lived his early life as a gentle, caring fellow but then turned into a force of malevolence and retribution, punishing all who had dared to challenge his own, small world.

I know the image is unfair. I know my seminary classmate has a reputation as one of the best retreat leaders in the country and as a fabulous pastor to those who have not challenged or disagreed with him. Even so, his taking revenge against Fr. Risard has all the marks of the work of that other comic strip character, The Toxic Avenger. Even non- linear thinkers can jump to this conclusion. After all, his recent actions have been both toxic and avenging. What more do we need? Even so, many will continue to harbor their doubts about my classmate’s true identity: after all, that reaching across continents to jerk a pastor away from his people sure sounds like Blastic Man.

You and I live in a church that affirms that we are the Body of Christ – and that those who attack and invade the Church which is the Body of Christ must be identified as such and resisted with all the force we can muster. That is so whether their names are Schofield or Akinola, Kolini or Lyons. We do not need to wait for Batman and Robin, Plastic Man or Wonder Woman to front for us or to save us. Our willingness to stand together in defense of what God has given us in the Episcopal Church will be more than adequate. We have, after all, been marked with the sign of the Cross, evidence that we have been called and chosen by God to be the real Superheroes. Our armor is as St. Paul describes it, the breastplate of righteousness and all the rest. Our powers are not the usual ones, but faithfulness to a Kingdom based on the Beatitudes, the Comparison of the Sheep and the Goats, and the inclusive, all-embracing love of the Good Shepherd.

The power of a Blastic Man or a Toxic Avenger is, in the end, nothing but wind, sound and fury to be sure – but in the end, only wind.

Forthcoming Series

Several of us has the good fortune to catch Bishop Gene Robinson's lecture at NOVA Southeastern University, delivered on November 27th and broadcast on C-Span on December 8th. Our webmaster and Board member Lisa Fox provided a link to the webcast on her personal blog. Several people have contacted Lisa and The Episcopal Majority, wishing they could read a written transcript of the bishop's remarks.

We are pleased to announce that Bishop Robinson has graciously given us permission to publish his lecture. Delivered at NOVA Southeastern University Law School last month, it will appear in Bishop Robinson's new book, In the Eye of the Storm: Swept to the Center by God, to be published in April in the U.S., by Church Publishing/Morehouse, and in the U.K. by SCM/Canterbury Press.

We will publish his lecture in sections over the coming days, as a gift to our readers and the wider church.

Monday, December 24, 2007

On the Night Before Christmas

This is The Episcopal Majority's second Christmas message to our readers. This year the Rev. David K. Fly (President, TEM) offers his reflections.

On the Night Before Christmas

Many years ago, on the night before Christmas, when I was a little boy, after my sister and I were sent to bed and the last light was put out, I would feel a tugging at the blankets that covered me and would find my younger sister standing by my bed. "Do you want to listen again tonight?" she would ask. And then she would crawl into my bed, and the two of us would sit very still in the dark and listen for Santa. "Do you think he will come?" she always asked. I, the older brother, would respond, "Of course he will come. Be quiet now and listen." There we would lie, snuggled up together in bed, listening for sounds of his coming. Occasionally one of us would say, "Did you hear that?" and we would each strain to catch the sound the other heard. At those times, I could hear the beating of my heart.

I remember one year in particular that my sister swore she heard sleigh bells. I didn't hear them but was so excited by what she told me that, by the next morning, I was confidently telling my mom and dad that I, too, had heard them clearly. But even on those nights when we didn't hear a thing, we believed that something wonderful was happening just beyond the reach of our hearing and even though it eluded us again for another year, we would soon wake to find he'd been there.

I don't think I've changed a lot since then. I have, of course, had my own children and often found them snuggled together, asleep in one another's arms after trying very hard to stay up all night to listen for the sounds of Santa. I still find myself being aware of those late night silences on Christmas Eve and I find that I am listening more intently than on most nights of the year. Perhaps tonight I will hear him too.

I suspect this image has come back to me this year because of all the noise that has been generated in the Anglican Communion in the past couple of years. We’ve all been talking so loudly we haven’t taken much time to listen. So, perhaps, tonight, we can simply be still and become aware of our own hopes and fears, doubts and uncertainties, needs and longings. What are the sounds we so desperately need to hear?

  • The cry of a baby to assure us of life's inherent goodness
  • The soft rustle of angels' wings to let us know we are not alone
  • The lullaby of a mother to her child to soothe our hurt and ease our pain
  • Or the ecstatic shouts of shepherds to share our joy that we have found the son of God
I cannot think of a more appropriate image for a night like this than that of children holding each other in the dark, listening for the one who is coming and knowing that even though he may elude them once again, they will awake to the wonderful signs that he has been and gone and their lives are filled with joy as a result. I would hope that the anticipation of children, of listening to our hearts beat with excitement would lead each of us tonight to the fulfillment of our dreams, our hopes, our longings.

O little town of Bethlehem
How still we see thee lie!
Above thy deep and dreamless sleep
The silent stars go by. . .
How silently, how silently, the wondrous gift is given . . .
O come to us, abide with us,
Our Lord, Emmanuel!

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Unexpected Praise for TEC

As Episcopalians, we do what we believe God is calling us to do, often with little expectation that we will be thanked for making life better for someone else. That is not the point. The point is that we do God's will, whether or not we are thanked or even recognized for what we do. As someone said of the story of Jesus' healing of ten lepers, the miracle was not that one returned to say thanks, but that ten were healed.

What follows is really extraordinary. It comes from a source not connected to the Christian Church other than suffering the wounds inflicted by Christians over the years. We hope it warms your heart, as it did ours.

– Thomas B. Woodward
for The Episcopal Majority

There's a fine essay today in The Advocate.

The essay begins:
It used to be that the gays merely caused popular disgust. Then in the Bush-Cheney era -- made possible by the Republicans' ability to capitalize on our potential to incite the aforementioned popular disgust -- Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, and their conservative Christian minions blamed us in quick succession for 9/11, the Southeast Asian tsunami, Hurricane Katrina, and the U.S. military's mounting death toll in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Accustomed as we are to being fingered by religious leaders for all manner of secular cataclysm, it seems an extraordinary turnabout that now, even as we figure prominently in an ecclesiastical crisis, Episcopal leaders, far from ringing us up for the damages, either downplay our role in the fight or stand up for our honor.
Here are some other highlights:

I firmly believe that within a generation the antigay hate speech Bishop Schofield so freely espouses will receive as little tolerance as we do today, and I look forward to a time when men like him will wish they had quietly harbored hatred rather than staking their reputations on it. Meanwhile, Bishop Jefferts Schori and other proponents of inclusion will be credited with having furthered the integrity of their faith institutions as dynamic, relevant forces in the 21st century.

Non-Episcopalian gays and lesbians might not think we have a dog in this fight, but we all have a vested interest in the outcome. We find ourselves in a very rare position here, one so unfamiliar to LGBT people we can scarcely grasp its significance: In the determination of the U.S. Episcopal Church to take a stand for our equality and inclusion, we have everything to gain and nothing to lose, while the folks fighting for us risk their political and financial footing in the Anglican Communion, the third-largest Christian body in the world, which is far more sympathetic toward your Bishops Schofield than to the progressive platform embraced by Bishop Jefferts Schori and the majority of her church's 2.5 million members.

We never asked Episcopalians to take up our fight. Rather, it seems, their spiritual path has led them to believe that we aren't any less deserving of ministry or recognition or even consecration simply because we happen to be unpopular sexual minorities. I wish that weren't an extraordinary concept in 2007, but it is. And Bishop Jefferts Schori has hardly blinked in a year of denominational strife that has seen her character and her commitment to her religious office questioned, challenged, dismissed, and maligned.

In this age of gay bashing from all sides, it isn't often we encounter a religious leader—or any leader—willing to bulldog for our rights, especially when faced with such a potentially high cost to herself and the institution she represents. What I wouldn't give for such genuine representation in our elected officials.
When I consider the trail of broken promises left by those we helped to elect, Bishop Jefferts Schori's position becomes that much more remarkable. Reacting to the secession vote in San Joaquin, she not only refused to retreat from her position, she reiterated it: "We deeply regret their unwillingness or inability to live within the historical Anglican understanding of comprehensiveness. We wish them to know of our prayers for them and their journey. The Episcopal Church will continue in the diocese of San Joaquin, albeit with new leadership.

I keep meaning to bake that woman a cake.

In my fruitless search for a presidential candidate who not only believes in my essential equality but is willing to say it out loud and stand by his or her position when the inevitable attacks come down, I wonder if any money I may have set aside to donate to that elusive candidate's campaign might not be better spent tithing to the Episcopal Church. At least there I know my support will go toward furthering my rights, not sending them to the back of the bus—or throwing them under it.
Father Jake also posted this story. He concluded the post simply, with "Some days, I really love my Church!" We simply say "Amen!"

Read it all here.

Hero of the Month

We are aware that many who log onto The Episcopal Majority are Episcopalians looking for some kind of light or inspiration in remaining Episcopalians in a hostile environment. It is for you, especially, that we post this inspiring story (via Episcopal Life Online) of courage in the face of abusive power:

SAN JOAQUIN: Atwater vicar asks bishop to clarify planned visit
By Mary Frances Schjonberg, December 20, 2007

The vicar of St. Nicholas Episcopal Church in Atwater, California, in the Diocese of San Joaquin has written to Bishop John-David Schofield questioning his plan to visit the congregation December 23 and asking for clarification about his status as a bishop in the Episcopal Church.

The Rev. Fred Risard noted in his December 20 letter to Schofield that St. Nicholas had "already had the pleasure of your annual visitation for 2007."

"Without notice of the upcoming visit we have not had the opportunity to prepare candidates for confirmation, nor is the Bishop's Committee prepared to meet with you," Risard continued.

The vicar told Schofield that he has the permission of the mission's Bishop's Committee (which is the mission equivalent of a vestry) to request the clarifications. Risard also noted that he has consulted with legal counsel.

"We would like you to state to us your pastoral and canonical relationship with St. Nicholas Episcopal Church, and myself," Risard wrote in his letter. "You publicly stated at our diocesan convention that you no longer are the Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin, and instead you are a Bishop within the Province of the Southern Cone. As such, we understand your visit is simply to worship with us; there will be no liturgical role for you, neither celebrating nor preaching. The Episcopal Church welcomes all, and you are most welcome to worship, with the purpose of seeking transformation and reconciliation."

Delegates attending the 48th Convention of the Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin on December 8 voted overwhelmingly to leave the Episcopal Church and to align with the Anglican Province of the Southern Cone.

Congregations and individual Episcopalians who wish to remain in the Episcopal Church are making plans for the continuation of the Diocese of San Joaquin. Continuing Episcopalians and their supporters are exchanging information and resources via the Remain Episcopal website.

On December 14, Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori sent a short letter to Schofield asking him to confirm his declaration that he is now under the authority of the Anglican Province of the Southern Cone "means you understand yourself to have departed the Episcopal Church and are no longer functioning as a member of the clergy in this Church." Schofield has not yet responded to the Presiding Bishop's request.

In a December 16 pastoral letter meant to be read or distributed in all the congregations of the diocese, Schofield said, in part, that the diocese is "no longer operating under the looming shadow" of what he called the Episcopal Church's "institutional apostasy."

"In all fairness, if the Presiding Bishop has asked for a clarification and hasn't received one, I think that the priests in the Diocese of San Joaquin are entitled to know, too," Mike Glass, a San Rafael, California-based attorney who represents congregations and individuals who wish to remain in the Episcopal Church within the diocese, told Episcopal News Service. Glass added that priests may be rightly concerned about violating church canons by allowing Schofield to preside in their congregations.

"Until that clarification comes from either the Episcopal Church's canonical processes or from the bishop himself, perhaps the bishop ought to refrain from attempting to exercise any episcopal authority," he added.

Neither Schofield nor any other spokesperson could be reached for comment.

Risard told ENS that Schofield spoke to a deacon at St. Nicholas by phone on December 20 and questioned the intent of Risard's letter. The vicar said that he emailed Schofield later in the day to assure him that he has no intention of banning him from worshipping with the mission congregation.

"I would never ban anybody from worship -- not even my worst enemy -- because I would hope that they would be transformed by the Eucharist and the grace of God," he said.

Risard said he is worried that Schofield is coming to St. Nicholas to either announce the closing of the mission or his removal as vicar, actions that Schofield has taken elsewhere in the diocese during his episcopate.

"Is it his intention to support the mission congregations in their call to worship and to serve the poor or does he want to close it?" Risard said. "He needs to go on record about what he's doing."

Noting that following their Eucharist, the mission congregation plans to "go out into the community to deliver groceries and coats to a dozen needy families as we seek to do the work of Mission which comes out of our worship of our Lord Jesus Christ, our Savior," Risard asked in his letter, "Will you be coming as our Episcopal Bishop, having repented of your actions at Diocesan Convention, seeking forgiveness and reconciliation? Or will you be coming to worship as a visiting foreign Bishop seeking to reconcile with your former congregation and Vicar, and, following the Mass, to join us as we take groceries and coats to the poor?"

The mission has sent announcements to the local newspapers "to reassure the public that the Episcopal Church is still present in the Merced area, where ALL are welcome to worship and do the work of the Mission," Risard said in his letter.

While he thinks it is proper for the Episcopal Church to be pursuing canonical procedures to clarify and then respond to Schofield's status and the actions of the convention, Risard told ENS that other issues must be addressed.

"We need a parallel and no less important conversation about filling the pews in San Joaquin," he said. "We all need to focus on the missions of the church -- not for my own self-interest -- but for the mission of the church" to bring people to Christ.

Among the people to whom Risard sent copies of the letter are Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, House of Deputies President Bonnie Anderson, and the Rev. Canon Robert Moore (whom Jefferts Schori appointed to provide an ongoing pastoral presence to the continuing Episcopalians in the diocese).
We join the The Rev. Fred Risard in his puzzlement. The former Episcopal Bishop of San Joaquin has made it clear that he is no longer a part of the Episcopal Church. Now that he is a bishop in a Latin American diocese, we are perplexed that he would want to exercise episcopal jurisdiction in an Episcopal church.

Kudos to Father Risard for asking the pertinent question.

Addendum (12.28.07): Thanks to "Anonymous," who posted in the comments below. For up to date information about Fr. Fred and St. Nicholas click on this link. Also, the best source for news about the situation in the past week is being reported at Father Jake Stops the World.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Rowan's Prose

Rowan Williams Could Use a Dose of Elmer Davis
by the Rev. George C. Bedell

Back during WW II, my father Chester Bedell, a plain-spoken, straight-forward lawyer, used to love to listen to Elmer Davis, because Davis, more than any of the other newscasters of the day, was plain-spoken. According to Ed Murrow, Davis was admired by the public, because his distinctive Indiana accent made so many Americans feel as though they were listening to their next door neighbor. I'd add that Americans could also readily grasp what Davis was saying. He came on CBS stations at 8:55 p.m., EST, and in five minutes was able to cover just about everything anybody wanted to know in plain and simple English.

One problem with Rowan Williams, the current Archbishop of Canterbury, is his overly complex way of expressing himself. The most recent example of his prolixity is his "Advent letter." I haven't read such a dense, complex, and elusive piece of prose in a long time. I'm sure he wanted the letter to be persuasive to the people throughout the Anglican Communion, including those of us in the Episcopal Church. But only the most devoted would have taken the trouble to read it in its entirety.

I can imagine my late father exclaiming, had he seen the letter, "Oh, my goodness [his most emphatic phrase]! What is this man trying to say?!?" Being the good churchman he was, though, he would have waded through the essay, chirping all along the way about the Williams style. While he might have agreed with some of what Dr. Williams said, he would tell anyone within listening distance that the man has a problem expressing himself. I can imagine his sighing, "The man ought to have listened to Elmer Davis." [See Note 1.]

Fortunately, though, Bill Coats and Matthew Dutton-Gillett took the time and had the patience to elucidate and simplify for the rest of us what Dr. Williams said. I am particularly impressed with Matthew's conclusion that the only way out of the Church's current dilemma is to learn to live with paradox:
Paradox is the stock and trade of the kingdom of God. Perhaps when Jesus invites us to take up our crosses, he is inviting us to take up the burden of paradox: an instrument of death that is for us a symbol of life. Obedience to that call is called in the Scriptures "perfect freedom" – yet another paradox.
I find that suggestion remarkably helpful. I hope that everyone will take the time to "read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest" what Matthew has to say in his fine essay.

While I'm always engaged by Bill Coats's take on things, I'm not at all convinced about the viability of attempting to construct a Covenant. One of the marks of our way of doing things historically has been that we did not adopt a Confession, as did some of our ecclesiastical neighbors. We chose instead the venerable and workable via media. I give Dr. Williams credit for trying, though. He's appointed a Covenant Design Group that's already at work.

But who in the world believes that the Group can accomplish what Williams hopes it will? Even if the Group is composed of all the "right" people, it seems to me they are on a mission to accomplish the impossible, given the current attitude of those who are the most grievously affronted by the Episcopal Church's way of doing things.

That's why I find Matthew's way of the paradox so attractive: not to find some way to do Biblical criticism that everyone can agree on or to create a Covenant that everyone can agree to, both of which seem futile. But as Matthew suggests: each of us in our own way doing our best to become faithful followers of Our Lord Jesus Christ.

Which reminds me: Could anyone truthfully say that Our Lord would have refused Gene Robinson a seat at His table?

Or, maybe I shouldn't even have asked that question.

In any case, best regards to all, and let's keep the conversation going ….

[Note 1. I might have added that it's too bad that Dr. Williams never encountered Abbo Martin, long-time English professor at Sewanee. He would certainly have cured Williams of his prolix style.]

About the Author: George Bedell, a priest in the Diocese of Florida, taught Religion at Florida State University, served as Vice Chancellor of the State University System of Florida, and was Director of the University Press of Florida before retiring in 1996. George is also a member of the Board of Directors of The Episcopal Majority.

Monday, December 17, 2007


by Christopher L. Webber

Editor's Note: Chris Webber sent us this essay on November 27 – well before some of the more dramatic, recent events occurred in the Anglican Communion. Be mindful that his essay was written before the Bishop of San Joaquin left the Episcopal Church, before the dioceses of Fort Worth and Pittsburg made their first steps to leave the Episcopal Church, before the Archbishop of Canterbury issued his Advent message, and so on. For one reason and another, we are just now publishing his essay.

Christopher Webber's essay was written in response to the
Anglican Communion's report of "the Listening Process."

With the distribution of the Archbishop of Canterbury's "
Advent message," Chris Webber's essay seems even more relevant … and perhaps more elegiac.

They say that there’s no sound if a tree falls in the forest and there’s no one there to hear it. Likewise if the tree falls in a thunderstorm, perhaps there’s no noise because the air waves are already full.

In 1998 the bishops of the Anglican Communion said we “commit ourselves to listen to the experience of homosexual persons.” In recent weeks the committee planning for the next gathering of Anglican bishops (scheduled for 2008) has been gathering reports in how the listening process has been going. Amid the chaos and confusion, what can be heard? As one interested listener, what I hear first of all is the incredible diversity of the voices and the improbability that Anglicans will arrive at a common mind anytime soon.

Connecticut Episcopalians are often baffled by the attitudes of Episcopalians in Fort Worth, but at least we are all Americans and follow teams in the NBA. When we add England and Australia to the mix, we no longer have sports in common, but do still speak English - albeit sometimes with accents stranger than a Texas twang. But what do we have in common with Anglicans in Myanmar and the Congo?

Consider, for example, that Myanmar has been involved in a struggle with a brutal dictatorship and that the Congo has been enduring devastating civil conflict. The Anglican Church of the Congo says, quite honestly, “circumstances prevent any response at this time.” Likewise, the Church in the Sudan reports that “social healing” is its priority.

Then, too, there are societies in which conversations about sexuality seem impossible because such conversations are so contrary to their traditions. The Japanese Anglican Church reports that “the culture does not allow for talking about sexuality and so there is little awareness in the congregations of the presence or otherwise of lesbian or gay people and no need, or way of talking about that. In this context it is hard for listening to happen.” In Hong Kong, we are told, “sexuality is not talked about even in private conversations.” In Melanesia “it is not generally thought seemly to discuss sex publicly.”

On the other hand, there are churches unable to hear because their minds are already made up. The Church in Nigeria has reported that “homosexuality is sin” but “the church will respond pastorally to repentance.” There is legislation in Nigeria, which the church supports, to ban “same sex unions, all homosexual acts and the formation of any gay groups.” That makes listening more than a little difficult! The Church of the Southern Cone (Argentina and Chile) objects even to being asked. They have no time, they tell us, for “manufactured agendas . . . foisted on them.”

Listening ought also to go in both directions. It is well worth listening to the Church in Uganda when they report on the ways in which they have already “challenged culture with wonderful results. It has ended the traditions of revenge and enslavement to evil spirits. It has widened the circle of love beyond the immediate family and thus broken strife and mutual exploitation this caused. Inter-ethnic marriage has produced a united society. It has freed women from the bonds of male oppression and challenged polygamy and divorce at will and valued the biblical institution of marriage. It has satisfied the quest for a living God and transformed society especially in the political sphere. It is this obedience to the Holy Scriptures which has enabled the church to counter HIV/AIDS.” They note that they have been ordaining women for some twenty years but when they set up a commission to deal with the listening process it reported that “Concerning homosexual behaviour and relationships in particular, from a plain reading of Scripture, from a careful reading of Scripture and from a critical reading of Scripture, it has no place in God’s design of creation, the continuation of the human race through procreation, or His plan of redemption.” They have also been dealing with dictatorship and civil conflict, but they make no excuses. When they have done so much, can they be faulted for not doing more?

Consider, then, societies that might seem more like that of the United States. Australia might seem not that different, but they report that they have had “difficulty in creating a listening process because homosexuals fear consequences of public identification.” They add that there has been “more shouting than listening in some areas.” Canada began a process of listening in 1976 but reports that there is “no common mind” and they are “continuing to listen.” The Church in Ireland reports cryptically that: “The bishops believed that it was more important to find a temporary accommodation of a disagreement between parties pending a permanent settlement than to assert abstract decrees.”

The Episcopal Church report notes that its listening process began in the 1960s and that there is still widespread disagreement on the subject. So what can we expect when we learn that the Korean Church began its listening process in 1998, Brazil in 1999, and New Zealand in 2006, while in Wales the formal listening process has not yet begun?

Yet these all are Christian Churches, formed by the same Prayer Book tradition, and amidst the diversity there are reminders that the Holy Spirit is at work and that the churches do want to provide a pastoral ministry to all people and develop a deeper understanding of an issue that often sparks more heat than light. The Church in Burundi says that “the debate challenges our understanding of marriage and family” but that it “remains willing to listen to the concerns and challenges of all the Provinces of the Anglican Communion and its ecumenical partners so that we walk together in a way that honours the name of Christ and witnesses to his reconciling love in a hurting and fragmented world. . . All through the current debate on human sexuality the church has prayerfully encouraged unity, understanding and dialogue within the household of God.” Similarly, the Church in the West Indies acknowledges that although homosexuality is “viewed unfavorably in most areas” and “extremes of gay rights and fundamentalism (are) unhelpful . . . change is happening.” They have asked the Bishop of New York to come and help them plan a listening process.

One can hope that the Lambeth bishops did not expect in 1998 that a consensus would have emerged by now. Nor, it seems, will ten more years be likely to bring us all to the same page. But if we listen carefully, we may come to a better understanding of each other and a greater ability to work together in our global village. We may even hear the Holy Spirit at work to do more than we could humanly have expected in ways beyond our imagining.

To learn more, visit the Anglican Communion's "Listening" page.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Worth Repeating

We don't often pull comments up here onto the main page. This one struck me as being both simple and insightful, and not as predictable as most reactions from the "right" and "left" have been.

ruidh left this comment on our post, "Coats on the Archbishop's Letter":
You are all missing the conversation because you're only reading the words.

On one side we have certain Primates and schismatic Episcopalians telling us that TEC is apostate. That kind of talk doesn't even get a hearing with the ABC.

The Global South has called for a boycott of Lambeth if TEC is invited. Everyone concentrates on who is excluded. More of them are left without invitations than those of us. This is encouraging.

The ABC is not taking sides. But he is defining the debate as much as anyone else. Extremists on both sides criticize him for not taking their side.

I thank him for staking out the middle. The place where unity trumps posturing.
I haven't heard anyone else offer this perspective, but I think there's much wisdom in it. What say you all?

Saturday, December 15, 2007

The ABCs of Communion

The Rev. Matthew Dutton-Gillett offers his observations on the Advent message from the Archbishop of Canterbury and on a possible way forward for the Anglican Communion. Here is a snippet:

All of us, I think, believe ourselves to be living under the authority of Scripture, and believe that we are seeking to be obedient to what is revealed in the biblical witness in terms of what God offers and requires of us.

The problem lies in the key to each of its elements: “common acknowledgment”. While we easily see our own faithfulness in terms of this definition of full communion, we have trouble seeing the faithfulness of those with whom we disagree. And the Archbishop’s quest to find a way to hold the Anglican family together will not be successful unless we can come to a place of common acknowledgment. And as far as I can see, there are only two choices that could bring us to that place: exclusion or agreeing to live in a state of paradox.

Read his essay below.

The ABC on the ABCs of Communion
by the Rev. Matthew Dutton-Gillett

In his most recent communication to the Primates of the Anglican Communion – one which he hopes will be widely circulated among clergy and laity alike – the Archbishop of Canterbury lays out his understanding of what “a full relationship of communion will mean.” In doing so, he describes three elements that he views as constitutive of such a relationship:

  • “The common acknowledgment that we stand under the authority of Scripture as ‘the rule and ultimate standard of faith’, in the words of the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral; as the gift shaped by the Holy Spirit which decisively interprets God to the community of believers and the community of believers to itself and opens our hearts to the living and eternal Word that is Christ. Our obedience to the call of Christ the Word Incarnate is drawn out first and foremost by our listening to the Bible and conforming our lives to what God both offers and requires of us through the words and narratives of the Bible.”
  • “The common acknowledgement of an authentic ministry of Word and Sacrament. We remain in communion because we trust that the Lord who has called us by his Word also calls men and women in other contexts and raises up for them as for us a ministry which can be recognised as performing the same tasks - of teaching and pastoral care and admonition, of assembling God's people for worship, above all at the Holy Communion.”
  • “The common acknowledgement that the first and great priority of each local Christian community is to communicate the Good News. When we are able to recognise biblical faithfulness and authentic ministry in one another, the relation of communion pledges us to support each other's efforts to win people for Christ and to serve the world in his Name."
I cannot imagine that any Anglican/Episcopalian in the world would disagree with any of the elements of the Archbishop’s definition of full communion. All of us, I think, believe ourselves to be living under the authority of Scripture, and believe that we are seeking to be obedient to what is revealed in the biblical witness in terms of what God offers and requires of us. Each of us believes our church to be enlivened by an authentic ministry of Word and Sacrament (although some would exclude women, gays and lesbians from those who can legitimately exercise it), and I can’t imagine any of us disagreeing with the idea that the primary purpose of a Christian community is to proclaim the Good News.

No, the problem is not with the Archbishop’s definition. The problem lies in the key to each of its elements: “common acknowledgment”. While we easily see our own faithfulness in terms of this definition of full communion, we have trouble seeing the faithfulness of those with whom we disagree. And the Archbishop’s quest to find a way to hold the Anglican family together will not be successful unless we can come to a place of common acknowledgment. And as far as I can see, there are only two choices that could bring us to that place: exclusion or agreeing to live in a state of paradox.

Exclusion, of course, is the easier path. Again and again over the centuries, this is the option that the church has chosen. When we exclude or excommunicate those who dissent from the majority opinion, we bring our house into order quite quickly, and we no longer have to deal with those “heretics." Of course, we also create more fractures in the Body of Christ, making Jesus’ desire that we might all be one even more of a distant dream.

It seems to me that Jesus himself doesn’t make the choice of exclusion. Rather, he seems to opt for living in a state of paradox. Over and over again, when Jesus talks about the kingdom of God, he speaks paradoxically. The kingdom of God is a reality that is already here, but yet not here. The kingdom of God is a place where the world as we know it is turned upside down, with the first being last and the last being first. Faithfulness to the life of the kingdom requires us to surrender our family allegiances – to “hate” father and mother, which hardly seems like a loving thing to do. According to the logic of the kingdom, death leads to life, crucifixion brings us resurrection. And according to that same logic, the church proclaims that Jesus is at one and the same time both God and human. Kings wear crowns of thorn in the kingdom of God, and power is seen most powerfully in faces of weakness and vulnerability. And those of us who have been admitted to the kingdom through baptism have died and been reborn.

Paradox is the stock in trade of the kingdom of God. Perhaps when Jesus invites us to take up our crosses, he is inviting us to take up the burden of paradox: an instrument of death that is for us a symbol of life. Obedience to that call is called in the Scriptures “perfect freedom” – yet another paradox.

For us to choose the way of paradox as Anglicans/Episcopalians, in the context of the Archbishop’s definition, would be to choose to see one another as being faithful even though that faithfulness does not look the same. It would be to acknowledge the faithfulness of the Archbishop of Nigeria and the faithfulness of the Bishop of New Hampshire – and the faithfulness of those they represent. Though I disagree with him on almost everything, can I see Archbishop Akinola as standing under the authority of Scripture and seeking to be obedient to his understanding of it? Am I able to acknowledge the authenticity of his sacramental ministry and share the Eucharist with him? Am I able to see that, in the context of Nigeria, his preaching may indeed constitute Good News for the vast majority of his people? And is someone who feels about the Bishop of New Hampshire the way I feel about the Archbishop of Nigeria able to do the same?

There is no question that to walk this way of paradox is hard. My mind cries out, “They can’t both be right! There is only one Truth!” But my heart and spirit are not quite as sure as my mind. As St. Paul pointed out, we see as in a mirror, darkly, so long as we are in this present life. Each of us is possessed of cloudy vision, only able to glimpse the partial – and only in those rarified moments of mystical exaltation to catch a brief glimpse of the whole.

Historically, Anglicanism has developed as a form of Christianity that is able to live the way of paradox effectively, if not always comfortably. With our emphasis on common prayer, we have acknowledged that within the context of that prayer we do not always share a common mind. Yet, we can nevertheless share in the life of the same community, hearing the same scriptural Word, partaking of the same Sacraments, all seeking to discover at the root and depth of everything the same living Word, the living and risen Christ.

The present situation has seemed to show us the limits of our tolerance for paradox. All the subtle shades of color seem to be draining out of our worldviews, and resolving into a stark black-and-white. This colorless world is simpler, but also more violent. It does not respect the dignity of every human being, nor does it very well reflect the richness of the kingdom of God.

I wish the Archbishop of Canterbury well in his efforts to find a way to keep the Anglican family together. But I am not, I must admit, very confident of our ability to choose the way of paradox, acknowledging one another’s faithfulness at the same time we are challenging one another to deepen that faithfulness. I fear that the church will relapse to its default mode for dealing with such profound disagreements and choose the way of exclusion and excommunication. It has already begun, and I’m not sure that even Lambeth Palace any longer has the power to stop it.

About the Author: Matthew Dutton-Gillett has previously written for The Episcopal Majority here and here and here. His biographical information appears here.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Coats on the Archbishop's Letter

The Rev. William R. Coats was one of the founders and surely one of the most vocal, inspirational members of The Episcopal Majority. He sent this note to a few people in response to the Advent message from the Archbishop of Canterbury, and we are pleased to reprint it.

While many voices have been raised, from left and right, decrying the Archbishop's letter, it seems to us that Bill Coats offers a most reasonable interpretation. The Archbishop continues trying to give "space" to the Episcopal Church to work out our particular and unique vocation within the Anglican Communion. We are grateful for Bill's insights.

From: the Rev. William R. Coats

Williams' latest Advent message concerning the "state of the Church" will, I am sure, send up howls from many of our friends. I can't blame them. But I don't think we should assume all is lost. So here is my take - in the interest of some calm and hopefulness

It is an interesting missive. It conforms with Williams' long standing strategy - keep talking!! In the meantime, as always there are the usual potshots at the US. These are not new and after all half the Communion hates us, so he is only stating the obvious. For him to glibly suggests that the church is not homophobic is of course nonsense - and he probably knows it. But he does what leaders always do in a crisis, they fudge.

What is most interesting is that he acknowledges wide support for us. Simply stating this is, of course, a thorn in the side of our adversaries. Moreover, he does not like all the raiding going on. To say that some provision should be made for those who hate us and that the present option of boundary crossing is not good is to suggest that - after more talking!! - some other arrangements must be made which are less destructive. Now of course he knows it is too late for this, that the forming of alternative structures are already advanced and have been planned for years in advance and have come at his expense. He however will continue to overlook this and plan for something else. What would this something else be - and again after more talking!! Well whatever it is it will be less hostile and in some sense a critique of the Akinola- Duncan strategy. For such a "new" arrangement will now have to take into account all those folks who have supported us (for remember this is the first time such support has been rendered and been noted!!)

He expresses concern that our bishops' moratorium on lbgt etc was only until GC 2009 since as one house they could at GC veto anything the other house came up with short of a moratorium. He is no fool and knows our bishops simply can't say they rule even if they technically have a veto. And of course alluding to the special teaching charism of the office of bishop is romantic nonsense (which he may as an academic and an old Anglo-catholic really believe). He knows full well that politically our Bishops - charism or not - cannot simply rule. So I suspect this pot shot while maybe heartfelt was said to please the hostiles - and at a point where they are miffed. It of course means nothing at all.

What is interesting is his almost bland pass over of the question of same-sex blessings which he knows darn well has exercised the hostile more than anything else

His advertence to Lambeth is important. That is the only place Anglicans are Anglicans and he refuses to back down on his list of invitees. This puts pressure on Akinola and his gang, which Williams is well aware of.

And Lambeth beside all this meeting and praying will not solve this mess- as he well knows. What he hopes for is what I call round two - the Covenant. This business to which we must all sign on to may in fact be the way we all do come together, so long as it doesn't specifically turn on us. Thus when he mentions how 2/5 of the communion is ready to give us a pass and in Williams' words want to put this behind them the hint here is this group may not stand for a Covenant dominated by the hostiles whose main purpose is to exclude and humiliate us? Even Williams summation of Anglicanism at the beginning would be something I suspect we could sign on to - even the Biblical orthodoxy part (so long as no specifics are mentioned). I don't think this group will allow a Covenant dripping with hostility and aimed at us - nor do I think Williams thinks so either.

This was a rather well-presented document. Much of it is simply blather aimed at giving comfort to most and irritating some (especially the US and Canada). But we have been irritated for a long time so nothing has changed. Words don't mean much (as Machiavelli and Neibhur would have been happy to tell us). So I wouldn't worry much about this. In fact I think we got a hit, though we didn't score any runs. Yet.


Williams Speaks

On the "Crisis" in the Anglican Communion

Ever since the Anglican Communion Office issued the Joint Standing Committee's report on the Episcopal Church (in late November), many of us have been awaiting further word from Archbishop Rowan Williams. That report did not offer any indication as to the Archbishop's thinking, but it promised he would communicate further in his Advent letter.

The Archbishop of Canterbury's Advent Letter was released today. Follow that link to read it.

Many Episcopalians had hoped the Archbishop would come out with a clear, univocal statement that he was either "for" or "against" the Episcopal Church. This was not to be, of course. Episcopalians of all stripes should have learned by now to expect a careful, nuanced statement. And that is what he offered.

Episcopal Café was probably the first to note the release of the Archbishop's letter, and the comments there are thoughtful. They've also done a fine job of tracking reactions to the letter. Father Jake does his usual, fine job of analyzing the letter; read his analysis here. Mark Harris notes the inherent conflict between the Archbishop's Advent letter to the Communion and his Christmas letter (to all Christendom?). Episcopal News Service also posted a story that's well worth reading, including a preliminary reaction from Presiding Bishop Jefferts Schori.

Comments are also being offered from the right side of the aisle. TitusOneNine's Kendall Harmon posted the letter; reactions from his readers can be seen here. In an unusual move, Canon Harmon posted his own analysis of the statement here; clearly, he is unhappy with Williams' failure to excoriate the Episcopal Church. The StandFirm blog posted the letter without analysis, but the 213 comments (to date) offer plenty of response. Mary Ailes offers her comments here and here; a member of Truro Church in Virginia, she is one of the influential laypeople on the right side of the aisle, and her anger is palpable.

As you read the news coverage, be aware of this: Trustworthy accounts say that the Archbishop's letter was written a few days ago and sent to the primates before being released to the public. By all accounts, his letter was written before the former leaders of the Diocese of San Joaquin voted to affiliate with the Province of the Southern Cone. [Correction, thanks to Ann Fontaine: According to this note from Father Jake, Greg Venables says: "[W]e primates received the letter this morning, 14 December, not before."]

Count on Thinking Anglicans to gather the news. We also expect the Episcopal Café to cover stories as they unfold.

Curiosity and Risk

Two Hallmarks of a Faithful Life

I have a folder for the emails I want to go back to on a regular basis. The folder is titled “Inspirational.” The folder contains precious little that high school classmates send me because for some reason beyond my own comprehending, they think I will enriched by sappy and soupy religious sentiments.

My “Inspirational” folder contains a number of things, but the largest number is my collection of essays or reflections by Lane Denson. Lane often sees things that others don’t. Most of the time I am challenged by his reflections, other times comforted by them. What follows is, I believe, one of his best – entitled by Lane as “Risk” – prepared for Advent III and reflective of Matthew 11:2-11.

– Thomas B. Woodward


There is always an element of uncertainty in a life of faith.

For this, faith must have an open mind. And open minds are not only marked by curiosity, they are also marked by risk. Curiosity and risk are two of the hallmarks of a faithful life. To make faith into a closed system, nailed down in some century long past and for all time, is not faith, but dogma. It has its place. It is orderly. Above all, it is safe, for there is little or no risk. It is the life blood of religions. But it is not faith.

Even John Baptist, as certain as he once had been, finally had his moment of zen there in the dark of that prison when he sent his followers to ask Jesus, "Art thou he that should come? Or do we seek another?" Are you the one? Or do we have to keep waiting — and looking? If we're to believe that meeting between Mary and Elizabeth, their moms, John spent his entire life pointing to Jesus and walking and talking and preaching the risk of faith.

When the Baptiser finally got prison for his reward and entertained his greatest moment of doubt, Jesus understood. Jesus answered John in effect with what John already knew. He answered him with the only truthful answers that can ever be given to certify the presence and work of Jesus, the Christ.

The work you have already witnessed, he said to John, continues. Be assured. The blind see. The lame walk. The deaf hear. The poor and hungry are fed and finally know justice and peace. A broken world is being mended. And you know, as I, that wherever such healing takes place, there is present the kingdom of God.

We make covenant in our baptism to "seek and serve Christ in all persons … " And we can fairly ask, "Yes, but how will I know this Christ?" It is the same question John asked. Our baptism not only commissions us to be Christians, it commissions us to a ministry altogether, like John's, as well ... a ministry to witness, to point, to say Here is the Christ ... There is the Christ ... in this event, in that healing, in that judgment, in that moment of truth.

Civil rights leader Howard Thurman set the stage for us to know this Christ when he wrote of Advent and Christmas as seasons of hope. "When the song of the angels is stilled," he said. "When the star of the sky is gone. When the kings and princes are home. When the shepherds are back with their flocks. The work begins … To find the lost. To heal the broken. To feed the hungry. To rebuild the nations. To bring peace among people. To make music in the heart."

But it's no promise of a rose garden. There are "false Christs," Jesus said. There are those who in his name would justify war, who would substitute piety for service, who would put orthodoxy before sacrifice, who would make of the gospel a system or a philosophy rather than the Way of life, who would claim me and then turn their backs on me, who would elevate doctrine before faith.

When we make that vow in our baptism to seek and serve Christ, when we ask that question with John, Are you the one? we're soon, to take C S Lewis's great phrase, surprised by joy to discover that we are not only part of the answer, we are the answer. In this present time in the church … we cannot just be handed out the answer by some prelate, we must be the answer by our faith. For it is the Christ in us that will always recognize and know the Christ in others – and in all.

If you know someone who would like to subscribe to Lane Denson's almost-daily emails, they may do so by using the contact form at Because of the volume of spam requests that we receive, please include in your message some information about yourself and why you would like to subscribe to OoN. Oon is also available as an RSS feed. Use this link:

Monday, December 03, 2007

We're Being Studied

We have recently received a request from Niyati Kataria, a graduate student at Penn State, to participate in a study of the blogs that are engaging the issues in the Episcopal Church. We have agreed to cooperate with her, and some of the TEM Board members have given her extensive phone interviews.

She will be studying the content of our blog essays and comments. At her request, we are also publishing this announcement to all of you.

We're not feeling like lab rats. And we have confidence that the student and the university are taking appropriate measures to assure confidentiality. But Ms. Kataria and Penn State require that we post the following on our blog during the period of her research.

= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =

Dear blogger,

My name is Niyati Kataria and I’m conducting research for my graduate degree at The Pennsylvania State University. I would like to use data in the form of your blog posts (posted from August 2006 to date) on this blog site for my research. The results of my study may be published and if and when this happens, the following measures will be taken to ensure your confidentiality:

1. This blog site name will be disguised. The site will be called by a pseudonym such as 'blog1'.
2. The usernames you use on this site will not be used to refer to your posts in my paper. Instead I will assign pseudonyms such as 'blogger 1, blogger 2' etc. to refer to the identity of the person who posted the blog that is selected to be included in the paper.
Despite the above measures, if you would like me to not use any particular posts posted by you, please let me know which posts you would like me to withdraw from the study by emailing me at nuk133 at psu dot edu. [TEM Editor's note: If you have trouble parsing her e-mail address from that citation, click on the "Contact Us" button at the left, and we will forward your message to Ms. Kataria.] Please do so by 15th December 2007. Additionally, if you would be interested in the results of the analysis of this paper, I would be happy to send you a copy of the same if you request it by writing to me at the above mentioned email address.

Thanks and best regards,
Niyati Kataria