Archive for September, 2007

Six Theses

September 29, 2007

From September 20 to 25, the House of Bishops of the Episcopal Church met and passed a resolution that gave its considered response to the requests made of it by the Primates who met at Dar es Salaam from last February.

I will not review the history, either of the last few years or of the last few weeks, that produced these documents and a great many others, beginning with the Windsor Report in the fall of 2005 and including the Communiqué issued by the Primates at Dar es Salaam last February. Those who wish to catch up may do so by going either to TitusOneNine and reading forward from September 18 to today, September 29, or similarly at StandFirm. It’s a lot. I have read many of the responses to the resolution, from individual bishops to organizations such as the American Anglican Council, reponses pro, con, and neutral. I offer here, not so much an analysis of the resolution of the House of Bishops of TEC, as a series of propositions concerning its real import, six theses if you will. In doing so, I invite debate, particularly as I believe that some of my views run a bit contrary to those expressed by many conservative Anglicans.

Thesis 1: The HoB response to the Primates was indeed weak and unsatisfactory; however, that is in large part because the documents to which they were responding, from the Windsor Report (hereinafter ‘Windsor’) to the Dar es Salaam Communiqué (hereinafter ‘Dar’), were themselves weak and unsatisfactory to begin with.

I will not repeat my criticisms of Windsor; readers may find them filed at the left under ‘Windsor Report.’ It will suffice for now to say that Windsor, with its fake history, bad scholarship, and ambivalent ecclesiology, was so flawed that those who declared it “the only game in town” were bound to be disappointed. It was a misleading, not to say dishonest, document that made extremely weak requests of the Episcopal Church. Evidently those who wrote it must have believed that those who read it in the Episcopal Church would regard it as a definitive set of requests rather than the starting point of negotiations. If so, its authors were hopelessly naïve.

However, even Windsor quickly fell apart, as everyone knows. Somehow it morphed into a mysterious entity dubbed ‘the Windsor process,’ of which I never saw a clear definition. From ‘Windsor process’ we went to ‘Windsor bishops’ to ‘Camp Allen bishops’ to . . . well, to a complete collapse of any effort to resist the tide of death that has rolled over the Episcopal Church and that threatens to engulf the Anglican Communion.

When it became clear at the last General Convention that Windsor would not do what its supporters hoped it would do, a Communiqué was issued by the Primates at Dar es Salaam, which placed a supposed September 30 deadline for the Episcopal Church, and in particular the House of Bishops, to comply with a set of demands. The creation of a deadline and the somewhat firmer tone of the Communiqué raised hopes. Oddly enough, the apparent rejection of that Communiqué by the House of Bishops already back in March raised those hopes further: first because the rejection was unusually (for the House of Bishops) clear, and second that it prompted the invitation of the Archbishop of Canterbury and Primates’ Standing Committee to the meeting of the House of Bishops in New Orleans this past week. Surely, it was thought, the bishops will realize what is what this time.

However, the authors of Dar made two crucial mistakes. The first was the belief that they would be taken at their word. Instead, of course, the Dar Communiqué was simply treated by the House of Bishops as, yet again, the starting point of negotiations, not an end, a view that was only aided by the declaration of the Archbishop of Canterbury that the September 30 deadline of the Communiqué was not an “ultimatum.” Second, Dar itself famously declared

In particular, the Primates request, through the Presiding Bishop, that the House of Bishops of The Episcopal Church 1. make an unequivocal common covenant that the bishops will not authorise any Rite of Blessing for same-sex unions in their dioceses or through General Convention (cf TWR, §143, 144); and 2. confirm that the passing of Resolution B033 of the 75th General Convention means that a candidate for episcopal orders living in a same-sex union shall not receive the necessary consent (cf TWR, §134); unless some new consensus on these matters emerges across the Communion (cf TWR, §134).

Fr. Geoffrey Kirk argued that this last clause—unless some new consensus on these matters emerges across the Communion (which was itself based upon the flawed Windsor Report)—was fatal, an indication that the Primates were arguing based on current convictions and not unalterable truth. I argued in turn that it did not need to be read that way—but is anyone surprised that the House of Bishops nevertheless did just that? As should be evident to anyone but the most willfully blind, the attitude of the Episcopal Church, including the House of Bishops, to discussions between it and the rest of the communion over controverted matters is essentially the same as that attributed to the Soviet Union in the good ol’ days of arms talks in the Cold War: “What’s mine is mine, and what’s yours is negotiable.” Give these people the slightest hint that there might be just ever so little leeway, and they will assume that this means the door is wide open. Period.

In any case, neither Windsor nor Dar were much concerned with truth. Rather, these documents were at best concerned with finding truth, and at worst with a process aimed at achieving a consensus, which is not the same thing as settling a truth claim. Since so many on both sides of the issue believed that matters of truth had already been settled and it was merely a question of persuading the other side to see the light, there was no way the House of Bishops would come up with anything pleasing to those committed to the biblical view of human sexuality.

I could go on—there a lots of other instances of this sort of thing in the last few months and years—but why bother? Suffice it to say, Windsor and Dar were thin reeds, and no one should be surprised that they broke.

Thesis 2: The House of Bishops resolution is, in fact, a lot closer to the requests of the Primates than many reasserters want to admit.

Remember the infamous “sub-group report” that was published just before the meeting of the Primates at Dar es Salaam? The amount of cyber-sturm-und-drang that generated was enough to almost declare the Anglican lane of the information superhighway closed for repairs.

There were rumblings that the subgroup report might be resurrected in New Orleans. But in fact it was not. Rather, a resolution was produced that actually inched a bit closer to what the Primate’s asked at Dar. Not all the way, but an inch closer. Of all the analyses I have read, one that I have found particularly helpful is that produced by the American Anglican Council entitled “The Episcopal Church House of Bishops Response to The Dar es Salaam Communiqué.” You may find it here (a PDf file). If you consider objectively the side by side comparison made by the American Anglican Council, you discover that

a) Rites of blessing for same sex unions are not in fact authorized at a local level. American bishops are just turning a blind eye, just as they are in other parts of the communion. Is it really so illogical to consider it unfair to hold the Episcopal Church to a standard that is not observed in, say, Scotland or even the C of E?

b) Resolution B033 was in fact clarified in the manner requested by the Primates. No doubt homosexuals will continue to be nominated for episcopal election. Bishops can’t stop that. But if we take them at their word, they will not consent to the election of an active homosexual. Were this standard in place in 2003, Gene Robinson would not be Bishop of Connecticut.

c) The Presiding “Bishop” came up with yet another plan for alternative episcopal oversight. No, it was not what Dar requested. So what? Again, if you view Dar as another attempt at negotiation, and the deadline of September 30 as only a deadline for a response and not a capitulation, then the House of Bishops simply put forward yet another scheme in a process not unlike talks between GM and the UAW.

d) No, the House of Bishops did not say they would cease litigation against departing congregations. What did anyone expect? In the weeks leading up to meeting, a baker’s dozen of bishops were consecrated in Africa precisely to look after such departing congregations. Who is kidding whom here?

Thesis 3: Despite that, the response still does not quite meet the demands (yes, demands) of the Primates as expressed in Windsor and Dar.

Windsor and Dar have been parsed ad nauseam by too many people to count. In the end, however, the only reasonable interpretation of these documents is that they ask bishops to forbid their clergy from performing any sort of same-sex blessing, and acknowledge publicly that the standard of teaching for the Anglican Communion on human sexuality is Resolution 1.10 of the 1998 Lambeth Conference, even if they wish to privately lobby for a change. This the bishops in New Orleans did not do. If they want to call the rest of the communion hypocrites, fine. Life isn’t fair, and life in the church hasn’t been fair since about, oh, AD 50.

Furthermore, if the bishops did publicly declare that Lambeth 1.10 is the standard of teaching of the communion, and did forbid their clergy from performing same-sex blessings, and did drop their law suits, they would probably find that the impetus to leave would decrease dramatically. That they cannot bring themselves to do those things even for a season—say, until the next General Convention—makes it abundantly clear that, at bottom, the leadership of the Episcopal Church will never, ever back away from their commitment to their understanding of “inclusion.”

Thesis 4: In the end, however, all of this is largely irrelevant, because Windsor and Dar were themselves consensus documents that did not reveal, but rather masked the real divisions among us, and nothing will change those divisions.

It will not matter how many Primates’ meetings, General Conventions, Camp Allen meetings, Lambeth Conferences, et cetera are held and how many documents are produced, so long as those meetings and documents are designed to bridge some sort of gap between reasserters and reappraisers or to hold them together in a single communion without a resolution of fundamental issues (see thesis 5 below).

Thesis 5: The true subjects of division between reasserters and reappraisers—and in some cases, between reasserters and reasserters—are:
a) the very nature of revealed religion, closely tied to the question of religious authority.
b) ecclesiology, or what it means to belong to the Body of Christ, once again closely tied to the question of religious authority.
c) the human condition, including but not limited to human sexuality, particularly as it relates to the first chapters of Genesis as seen through the prism of the New Testament.

Thesis 6: The divisions that are outlined in Thesis 5 are the same as those at the heart of disagreements over the “ordination” of women, and this is not a coincidence.

Since the meeting of the House of Bishops, the Common Cause Partners have met and taken their own first steps towards some sort of new Anglican entity in North America. I will address that in a future post.

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I’m thinking, I’m thinking!

September 26, 2007

A commenter on my last post (”Prayers for the Bishops”) wrote

Have seen the statement from the HOB this evening, and prayers have not been answered, at least not for these bishops. What now?

Well, I am reminded of an old Jack Benny joke:

A mugger corners Jack Benny, puts a pistol to his head and says “Your money or your life!”

There is a long pause . . .

Finally, the exasperated mugger cries, “Well? What is it?”

To which Jack Benny replies, “I’m thinking, I’m thinking!”

****************

So right now I’m thinking. I’ll try to write something coherent sometime this weekend.

Prayers for the Bishops

September 23, 2007

O God of grace and truth :
establish all that stand in grace and truth :
restore all that are sick of heresies and sins.

O Thou wholesome defence of thine anointed:
remember thy congregations
which Thou had purchased and established and
redeemed of old:
o may the heart and sould of them that believe be one.

O Thou that walkest in the midst of the golden candlesticks :
remove not our candlestick out of its place:
set in order the things that are wanting,
strengthen the things that remain, that Thou wast
ready to cast away.

O Thou Lord of the harvest:
send forth the labourers enabled of Thee into thy harvest.

O Thou portion of them that wait at thy temple:
grant to our clergy
rightly to divide the word of truth,
to walk uprightly therein:
grant to the Christloving people
to obey and submit themselves to them.

–From the prayers for Sunday of the Preces Privatae of Lancelot Andrewes, trans. Brightman.

For the Church Catholic,
its confirmation and increase:
eastern,
its deliverance and union:
western,
its readjustment and pacification:
British,
the restoration of the things that are wanting,
the strengthening of the things that remain therein:

for the episcopate, presbyterate, Christloving people.

–From the prayers for Monday of the Preces Privatae of Lancelot Andrewes, trans. Brightman.

Remember thy holy Church
that is from one end of the earth to the other,
and pacify her
which thou hast purchased with thy precious blood,
and stablish her even unto the end of the world.

Remember them that bring forth fruit and do good works in thy holy churches and are mindful of the poor and needy:
recompense them
with thy rich and heavenly gifts:
grant them
for the things earthly, the heavenly,
corruptible, incorruptible,
temporal, eternal.

Moreover vouchsafe to remember, o Lord, our fathers in
holy things, the honourable presbyterate,
and all the clergy rightly dividing the word of Truth,
and walking uprightly therein.

–From the prayers for Wednesday of the Preces Privatae of Lancelot Andrewes, trans. Brightman.

À la recherche de l’ECUSA perdue

September 18, 2007

Once more, dim wavering figures from the past,
You come, who once rose to my troubled eyes.
Shall I attempt this time to hold you fast?
Does my heart tend where the illusion lies?
You crowd up. Good, then. Rule my will at last,
As from the mists around me you arise.
I feel youth’s impulse grip my heart again
At the enchantment wafting from your train.
You bring along the scenes from happy days,
And many well-loved shadows rise to view;
And, as in olden, half-forgotten lays,
First love and early friendships rise anew;
The labyrinthine tangles of life’s ways
Are with fresh lamentation threaded through,
With kind folk brought to mind who of fair light
Were robbed by fate, and vanished from my sight.

From Goethe, Faust, “Dedication” (trans. Charles Passage)

**********************

I did most of my growing up in the Episcopal Diocese of Central New York. In my experience, most people (if they’re not New Yorkers) think, when they hear the words “upstate New York,” of White Plains and Westchester, or perhaps sad cities like Troy or Buffalo, or dreary small towns like those depicted in Nobody’s Fool. But as all true apple-knockers know, in the fall Route 17 from Binghamton to Bear Mountain is one of the most beautiful drives in America, and my own particular part of the state, the Finger Lakes region, is truly God’s country. In my college days, I once took a foreign friend—an Italian Russian Orthodox priest (it’s a long story)—to my home to see the lake in my back yard, and he exclaimed “It is just like Switzerland!”

The diocese once had a conference and retreat center on one of those lakes, Thornfield on Lake Cazenovia. It was a beautiful place, or so my rose-tinted memories have it. Certainly it was at one time one of the most important places on earth for me. During high school, I attended youth conferences at Thornfield that were an emotional high and that left such a deep impression on me that every now and then, when I least expect it, a stab of memory will fill my heart. Every summer for a week and every winter for a weekend, I got to spend time with other kids from around the diocese, kids who didn’t know that back home I was a jerk. Thus freed from the baggage of our respective high school contexts and brought together from Watertown to Binghamton, we talked, prayed and engaged in various “sensitivity training” exercises that were au courant at the time. Perhaps it was of God; or perhaps it came from a combination of the era (late 60’s, early 70’s) and the power of a communal release from the unbearable isolation of adolescence—but we loved each other; and for a slightly nerdy and socially awkward boy whose mind was usually lost in a mixture of Marvel comics, Robert E. Howard and Tolkien, those youth conferences were a time when, during the long agonies of high school, I was, for a little while, deeply and unreservedly happy. And, whatever one makes of some of the activities of those conferences—“sensitivity training” has gotten mixed reviews over the ensuing decades—that happiness was made possible by my church, the significance of which was not lost on me.

That was well over thirty years ago. Since then, Thornfield declined, falling into such a state of disrepair that the diocese could not afford to restore it. I felt a pang when I heard that the buildings had been torn down, and that the diocese was seeking to sell the property.

  • I am a total Columbia product, from BA to PhD, a process that took . . . well, that took a lot longer than it should have. When I arrived at Columbia in 1972 as a freshman (which was a bit like coming to town after the circus had just left), although raised in a clergy family and probably more familiar with matters theological and liturgical than the average high school graduate, I did not have a particularly specific Anglican identity, or at least not one of which I was concious. But I spent my freshman year living in a residence hall run by Opus Dei (yes, that Opus Dei—the place was closed shortly afterwards, thanks in part to my own troublemaking, but that’s another long story). There I met some of my more enduring college friends, including Michael Liccione of Sacramentum Vitae and other graduates of Jesuit academies (“Give us a boy till he’s seven and he’s our for life”). Living with unashamedly Tridentine Catholics while attending classes with so many Jews and reading through Columbia’s famed Core Curriculum, I naturally found myself exploring issues of faith and looking to my own church for guidance.

    Thus over the years I either attended or belonged to several of the Episcopal churches that seem to litter Manhattan. Just down the street from Columbia, of course, was the Cathedral of St John the Divine, and in fairness I must say that the cathedral community treated me kindly, particularly at the critical moment when I was thrown out of my Opus Dei residence. But after a couple of years I could no longer stand the cathedral regime of that day, and so began my Episcopal pilgrimage, generally heading ever further south. I paid for part of my junior year by singing in the choir of St Bartholomew’s on Park Avenue, and might have continued had the musical taste of the choir director not been so dreadful. I belonged for a time to St Thomas on Fifth and fifty-third, and I still have the German New Testament that Fr. John Andrew gave me when he learned I was studying die deutsche Sprache. St Michael’s, All Saints, Saint Mary’s, Transfiguration (“The Little Church Around the Corner”), et multae ceterae ecclesiae were all visited or explored.

    But my last parish in New York, for which I have the fondest memories, was Grace Church, a beautiful Renwick Gothic revival church all the way down in Soho on Broadway and tenth and just a few blocks from the greatest used-book store on earth, the Strand (“Eight Miles of Books”). A remarkable revival had begun at Grace under Fitzsimons Allison and Paul Zahl, and a large congregation that included many young professionals and theater people gathered there both on Sundays and for the weeknight meeting of prayer groups. I have been critical of some of the ideas of Fitz Allison and Paul Zahl on one or two blogs, but their success at Grace Church cannot be denied (Paul was particularly helpful to me at a time when my personal life was a bit of a mess), and if I have come to differ with them, I must admit that my conclusions were often the result of their stimulation of my mind. Moreover, the prayer groups they organized were wonderful, and my own became for a time the focal point of my spiritual life. So to Fred and Patricia, Fran, Bruce, Deirdre, Darlene, Miwah, Shirley and all the rest of Prayer Group Seven, you still hold a special place in my heart, though we be separated by years and distance.

    An e-mail correspondent has told me that the revival at Grace Church has since been extinguished, thanks in no small measure to the efforts of the bishop. I have no first-hand knowledge of this, and I pray he is mistaken, but it would not surprise me. The lights keep going out everywhere, it seems.

  • It is a strange thing to find myself now in a parish that still uses the 1928 Prayer Book. Certainly that was not the reason I joined it, and I was not looking for that when I did.

    I grew up in the age of liturgical revision in the Episcopal Church, from pamphlets to the Green Book to the Zebra Book to the Blue Book to the 1979 Prayer Book. I remember the late Bishop Terwilliger, while faulting the new book on points of style, nevertheless declaring it a “catholic triumph,” presumably for such things as its inclusion of a rite of confession, the Holy Week services, and its eucharistic emphasis. How strange now that it is mostly evangelicals who are dedicated to its use! At least, such is my impression. Perhaps it is the ’79 book’s greater flexibility, one that allows parishes to insert or adapt pretty much as they please.

    But while the ’79 book has much to commend it—Massey Shepherd would, I suppose, be proud—it has indeed, as Peter Toon insists, created a ball of confusion and left a coherent Anglican liturgical identity dead on the roadside. Why else all the insistence by so many dissident Anglicans on the 1662 BCP as the liturgical formulary of Anglicanism? (And why 1662? Why not 1928? No, not the American 1928, but the English 1928, the book passed by the C of E but that failed by only one vote in Parliament?) I won’t repeat the many and various criticisms made of the ’79 book, except to point out the repeated insistence by revisionist Episcopalians that “inclusion” of LGBT folk is necessitated by the “baptismal covenant,” an invention of the 1979 Book of Common Prayer. That ought to be a clue of something to someone.

    However, quite apart from any unhappiness with the ’79 Prayer Book, I find that coming now to a steady Sunday diet of the 1928 BCP is strangely satisfying in a way that is hard for me to identify. It certainly isn’t nostalgia, nor am I aware of any liturgical neo-conservatism nascent within me. Perhaps the 1928 book fosters a greater sense of continuity with the past than the 1979. Of course, it was the claim of the ’79 revisers that the new book was based more carefully on patristic sources. But even if that were true (and there are those who would argue otherwise), the specifically ancient tid-bits (e.g., the trisagion or Eucharistic Prayer D) feel distinctly artificial, as does the lectionary, whereas the 1928 Prayer Book, though more directly descended from a book born of the greatest liturgical turmoil in the history of Christianity, somehow seems more organic in its connection to pre-Reformation England. In any case, it is easier for me now to understand the intense devotion some still have to it, a devotion that cannot be explained away by some bloody-minded, knee-jerk conservatism (though there is plenty of that to go around).

  • There has been a lot of internet traffic (I won’t say quarreling) among traditionalist Episcopalians about the future of Anglicanism in North America, particularly since the meeting of the Anglican Communion Network at the end of July, the evolution of its alliance with the Common Cause partners, and the resignation of Ephraim Radner from the ACN. For awhile, posts and counter-posts from Matt Kennedy, Ephraim Radner, Philp Turner, Robert Munday, Stephen Noll, FitzSimons Allison, et alii seemed everywhere. (If you want links, just type any of those names into the keyword search boxes of TitusOneNine or StandFirm.) Further troubling of the waters has stemmed from the recent consecrations of more American bishops by African churches—I’ve lost track of how many. When I sat down to write this post, I thought it was that to which I would respond. Briefly, I find the distinction between “communion conservatives” and “federal conservatives” unhelpful and misleading, particularly when this distinction is somehow linked with that between “catholic” and “evangelical” Anglicans. Such linkage makes no sense, at least to me.

    But instead, by psychological mechanics which I do not understand, the memories and impressions given above are what emerged from my keyboard. If the reader finds it all suffocatingly subjective, never fear. I shall turn (or return) to other matters soon, particularly once the meeting of the House of Bishops is over and we head to the post-September 30 fate of Anglicanism. For now . . .

    I have considered the days of old, the years of ancient times.I call to remembrance my song in the night: I commune with mine own heart: and my spirit made diligent search.

    Will the Lord cast off for ever? and will he be favourable no more?

    Is his mercy clean gone for ever? doth his promise fail for evermore?

    Hath God forgotten to be gracious? hath he in anger shut up his tender mercies? Selah.

    And I said, This is my infirmity: but I will remember the years of the right hand of the most High.

    I will remember the works of the LORD: surely I will remember thy wonders of old.

    Psalm 77: 5-11

  • The Morning Prayer of Metropolitan Philaret of Moscow

    September 7, 2007

    I had some workmen in the house today, installing a new heating and cooling system, and was asked by one of them to make a copy of a prayer we have on our wall—he wanted to share it with his bible study. So I made a copy and, on reflection, thought I would share it with you.

    O Lord,
    grant that I may meet the coming day in peace.
    Help me in all things
    to rely upon Thy Holy Will.
    In every hour of the day,
    reveal Thy will to me.
    Bless my dealings with all who surround me.
    Teach me to treat all that comes to me
    throughout the day with peace of soul,
    and with the firm conviction that Thy will governs all.
    In all my deeds and words,
    guide my thoughts and feelings.
    In unforeseen events, let me not forget
    that all are sent by Thee.
    Teach me to act firmly and wisely,
    without embittering and embarrassing others.
    Give me the strength to bear the fatigue
    of the coming day with all that it shall bring.
    Direct my will.
    Teach me to pray.
    Pray Thou Thyself in me.
    Amen.

    Although the prayer may go back to the famous mystic, theologian and spiritual director Archbishop François Fénelon of Cambrai (something I did not know until I looked into it just now), it is attributed in this form to Metropolitan Philaret of Moscow, on whom one can find information here and here and here. Other versions of this prayer, as well as other prayers of Saint Philaret, can be found here and here and here.

    Our copy was made by the sisters of Holy Myrrhbearers Monastery in Oswego, New York, whose catalogue is well worth an inspection.