Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Reflections on the Anglican Covenant Process

I've been thinking about this whole "covenant" thing. This has, of course, been triggered by the announcement that the Covenant Development Committee has prepared a draft covenant to present to the Primates Meeting in Tanzania. To see what other folks have written about that announcement, you can check out all the usual suspects.

This proposed draft is not the only one out there. A model for a covenant was appended to the Windsor Report. The Joint Standing Committee of the Anglican Consultative Council and the Primates’ Meeting issued “Towards an Anglican Covenant: A Consultation Paper on the Covenant Proposal of the Windsor Report.” A group from the Global South Primates’ Steering Committee prepared a report called "The Road to Lambeth," that spoke of the covenant process. And while it wasn't directed at the Communion as a whole, a document called "A Covenant for the Church of England" was circulated by a group of evangelicals in the Church of England.

There has also been general discussion of "a covenant process" as part of the "Windsor Process," and of what a covenant for the Communion might include. The 2006 General Convention expressed interest in covenant development while reserving judgment on any final product.

There are also those who say we don't need a covenant and shouldn’t be pursuing one. Some say the only covenant that should matter is the new covenant in Christ. Others point to the Baptismal Covenant, used for all baptisms in The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada and for adult baptisms in some other provinces. The Baptismal Covenant, they say, should be a statement of Christian faith and life sufficient for all of us to embrace. Anything more, they say, risks the provincial autonomy that has characterized the Anglican Communion. That's especially true if the covenant is focused more on theological conformity than on means and norms of relating.

Finally, there are those that insist we must have a covenant. They quote Amos 3:3 : "Do two walk together unless they have agreed?" and feel that communion requires clarity of what has been agreed. They feel that interdependence that tempers autonomy is also characteristic of the Anglican Communion.

With all that (and more) as part of the context, I’ve had my own reflections.

First, I think we need to dispense with the word “covenant.” The Biblical background is that covenants, or at least the important ones, are established by God. Now, in Scripture covenants are not imposed: God offers, and invites the people, into covenants. At the same time, neither are covenants mutual. There is always a senior partner – established most clearly in covenants from God – who offers the covenant as an expression of grace. The junior partner might be theoretically free to decline, but is always and clearly junior.

So, perhaps we need another word. Some would like a “constitution,” but many of us are not interested in establishing a new institution. A “contract” would be entirely too binary. “Concordat” is a possibility, with an established ecclesial history of its own. Various provinces of the Communion have concordats with other Christian communities. They don’t establish conformity, although they celebrate those things that are shared. They focus on how the communities will relate and work together, without undermining the integrity of those communities. They focus on communion.

Second, we need to recognize that some of those with whom we seek to be in communion want the clarity of a document. I have sometimes said that we get into trouble as Anglicans when we try to define things too closely (so, for example, we reject the specificity of transubstantiation to embrace the generality of consubstantiation). At the same time, we might think through what clarity we can accept so as to embrace those who want more clarity. Thus, the question becomes how far we are willing to participate in establishing clarity we don’t need to relate to those who do. One could argue with Amos 3:3, saying that two might indeed walk together by coincidence, or having agreed to nothing more than to walk. On the other hand, we are seeking some expression of agreement sufficient to maintain communion.

That, thirdly, raises the question of what we can be clear about. “Towards an Anglican Covenant” speaks of three types of covenant: relational, educational, and institutional. Each of those speaks to a different sort of content. What sort of content might we be willing to address? Are we wise to eschew any content for fear that the result will be the wrong content? Are there not things we can embrace and propose for the Communion?

I think, fourth, that perhaps we need to be less passive in any concordat process than has been suggested so far, and especially by General Convention. If we can discern not simply what we can’t accept, but also what we might accept, perhaps we should bring a proposal to the table. Within the Anglican tradition there might be several sources for this. Meetings of scholars could develop a model. The house of bishops of one or more provinces might suggest one. We need not, and I think we should not, passively watch and wait while others do the talking.

Finally, I think we need to embrace a process for developing a concordat without fear. For the moment I speak as an Episcopalian, but I think this would apply to others. Whatever the result of the process, it cannot be imposed within our polity. Some things might be. Canterbury might decide not to invite The Episcopal Church to Lambeth. The Anglican Consultative Council might by a sufficient supermajority dismiss us. Those things would be sad and would break valuable relationships; but they would not impose on us positions we could not support. The application of any concordat to The Episcopal Church, its members, and clergy, would only come by reception, and then only by reception in General Convention. We might choose together to embrace a concordat, and we can appreciate that there would be consequences if we chose not to; but as long as we understand and are prepared to accept the consequences (a sentiment I frequently hear directed toward those who wish to leave The Episcopal Church in these times) a concordat could not be imposed on us.

So, let’s not panic. Let’s in fact move beyond watching and waiting. Let’s not simply wait for others to work, to decide at the end whether we will accept or decline. Let’s watch closely and offer what we can. We have nothing to fear, and perhaps much to save.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

I Love to Tell the Story: Thoughts on Being an Anglican

Mark Harris, whose blog “Preludium” I read regularly, recently posted briefly to point to two other posts, one from Dan Martins and one from Sarah Dylan Breuer. Both deal with what it means to them to be Anglican, and for The Episcopal Church to continue in the Anglican Communion.

This, of course, got me to thinking about what it means to me to be an Anglican and for The Episcopal Church to continue to be part of the Anglican Communion. Now, to answer this fully would, I think, require a memoir and possibly a detailed autobiography to address thoroughly. At the same time, I do have some thoughts to share after pondering for a few days.

As a preliminary note, let me say I must speak of being an Episcopalian before I speak of being Anglican. I am institutionally an Anglican because I am a member of The Episcopal Church. The Anglican tradition was mediated to me through The Episcopal Church. Since I didn’t learn it somewhere else (much less receive it through divine revelation), I can’t speak of one without the other. A corollary of that is that I can’t speak from some sort of “global Anglican perspective.” While I may be better educated about the Anglican tradition and the Anglican Communion than most Episcopalians (hey, I’m a priest; it’s part of my responsibility), I know I can’t speak for Anglicans half a world a way except in the most qualified terms.

So, to the task at hand:

I often say I “grew up breathing Southern Baptist air.” I grew up in the Southern Appalachians in the United States, and that religious culture pervaded the civil culture I knew. It also pervaded my family in one way or another. Most of my relatives were active members of congregations in the Southern Baptist Convention, or, where Southern Baptist congregations were unknown, in congregations of denominations of similar culture. My parents had left Southern Baptist congregations over issues of intellectual freedom, first to the United Presbyterian Church (called the old “Northern” church) and then to the Episcopal Church. So, whether in acceptance or in rejection, that evangelical and frequently fundamentalist culture (theological differences not so integrated then as today) shaped my experience.

One thing that I did carry away with me was the concept of “story.” I also often say I grew up in a “story telling culture,” and for virtually any point to be made there is a story to illustrate either application or antecedents. That was reflected in civil culture in any number of ways, from a powerful sense of history and one’s place in it (two of my great-grandmothers shot and killed Confederate soldiers) to a clear understanding that one was recipient of both a civil and familial tradition that made you who you were. In religious culture it was reflected most clearly, if not always most fully, by that wonderful hymn,
“I Love to Tell the Story:”

I love to tell the story of unseen things above,
Of Jesus and His glory, of Jesus and His love.
I love to tell the story, because I know 'tis true;
It satisfies my longings as nothing else can do.

I love to tell the story, 'twill be my theme in glory,
To tell the old, old story of Jesus and His love.

What I find powerful about The Episcopal Church is that we tell and have told that “old, old story” in so many ways. We tell it first in the centrality of Holy Scripture in our life. I won’t say that I’ve never met an Episcopalian, clergy or lay, who didn’t understand Scripture was central and critical to our faith, but they’ve been so rare as to give the lie to those these days who claim Episcopalians are “unscriptural.” It is certainly central to our corporate life, reflected in worship that includes four explicit readings from Scripture in our worship together (three on those occasions when it’s appropriate) and includes biblical language and cadence in almost every liturgical paragraph. (Now, there’s an idea for an interesting study by someone with more time and scholarship than I have: a concordance clause by clause of the scriptural underpinnings of the 1979 Book of Common Prayer, published in parallel.) As an Associate of the Order of the Holy Cross, working at maintaining a daily ritual of two Offices each day, I have reread Scripture even more.

Scripture is fundamental, then, in what it means to me to be an Episcopalian and an Anglican. I continue to believe, as I did when I signed the statement at both ordinations, that Scripture “is the Word of God and contains all things necessary to salvation.” At the same time, I certainly don’t understand that as was common in the “Southern Baptist air” of my childhood. It is the Word of God and contains all things necessary to salvation because it tells the old, old story of how God’s Word has been revealed among poor, struggling, limited, stiff-necked people. Being poor, struggling, limited, and stiff-necked, they didn’t hear it clearly. The story tells us how they grew generation by generation in their understanding of God’s Word, and how, when it still wasn’t enough, God’s Word came to us incarnate in God’s Son. God’s Son is the clearest expression of God’s Word, and continues to be among us in his Body, through his Spirit. So, God’s Word written is always derivative of God’s Word Incarnate. And we, still poor, struggling, limited, and stiff-necked, still can’t hear perfectly.

So, we still tell the story. We don’t tell it uncritically. We look at God’s Word written, and especially those things written before the Incarnation, through the prism of God’s Word Incarnate and still Present. We seek to discern those “things necessary to salvation” among all the difficulties that come with poor, struggling, limited, stiff-necked people trying to get down into words their experience of the life of faith. We acknowledge those other perspectives on history that might help us understand better what our siblings in faith, now long gone, experienced in their own times. But we continue to hold Scripture as fundamental and formative because it is how we first heard the old, old story.

We also understand that the story doesn’t end with the Pastoral Epistles while we wait for the fullness of God’s plan foreshadowed in the Prophets and the Apocalypse of John. We tell the story of how God’s Word Incarnate has continued to work among God’s people since the end of the Apostolic Age. We continue to proclaim that the Ecumenical Councils (at least four, and perhaps seven) and the writings of Church Fathers (and Mothers, where we can recover them) are also formative for us. We tell particularly of how faith in Christ arrived in the British Isles quite early, and how our forebears were able to reconcile differences of practice so as to better share in telling the story. We tell of how those who told the story in the Isles interacted with others who told the story elsewhere (within the limits they faced, generation by generation, on communication and travel). Sometimes differences were reconciled, sometimes there were agreements to disagree, and sometimes reconciliation wasn’t accomplished (after all, they were still poor, struggling, limited, and stiff-necked).

But through it all, we found that they were continuing to tell the story. Emphases differed from time to time, from a focus on personal piety (as Benedict’s Rule has so often been used) to one of social responsibility (whether the Evangelical opposition to the slave trade or the Anglo-catholic commitment to the poor of London). Both had foundations in Scripture and expression in the ongoing life of Christians seeking to live in God’s Word Incarnate. As such, both were important parts of the ongoing old, old story.

Moreover, returning to our worship, we continue to live that part of the story. We worship in forms and words reflecting those forebears, as well as Scripture. We reflect the way the story has been made incarnate, tangible, in how we have worshipped together. Practices of the Celtic, Roman, Lutheran, Reformed, and distinctively Anglican churches have shaped Sarum and Canterbury and Prayer Book after Prayer Book. They have shaped how we have experienced the story.

Those different emphases and antecedents and arguments (in the best sense of the term) also illustrated our participation in a living Body of God’s Word Incarnate – living and growing. Some of the members of that Body were particularly good at theological reflection and writing, translating in each generation the faith received into new verbal and cultural languages. We recognized that each of us, each “member of the Body,” as Paul wrote, had a place in the story, a place that each of us had to discover “with fear and trembling.” That required us to take responsibility in thinking through the story as we had received it and how we could best live it in our own times. That old epigram that The Episcopal Church was one church where “you don’t have to leave your brain at the door with your hat,” expressed that call for each of us to take responsibility, using the capacity to reason that is part of “the image and likeness” of God, to seek those “things necessary to salvation” in the story of God’s Word Incarnate, both in God’s Word written and in the continuing story of God’s people. That capacity to reason has its limits (remember, we’re still poor, etc.), but it has also helped us to better understand the experiences and understandings of our Christian forebears, and to better understand the language and culture into which we are called to translate the faith received. It has helped us better understand the story that we have received, and better prepare to tell that story to new generations.

So, for me what it means to be an Episcopalian is to be part of telling that story, conveying those things of God’s Word Incarnate that are “”necessary to salvation,” as we have seen them in those who lived the story before us. Their experience of the story is conveyed to us in Scripture and Tradition, and appropriated by us through Reason for ourselves and for those who will follow us. Despite being poor, struggling, limited, and stiff-necked, we love as best we can to hear the story and to tell it again. By God’s grace, made manifest by the presence of God’s Word Incarnate in his Spirit, we will continue to tell the story until God brings us to its end.

Now, a postscript: I have said that I am an Episcopalian and so an Anglican. When I was taught the Anglican tradition within The Episcopal Church, I was taught that all that I have said applied across the Anglican Communion. We might see differences of opinion, and different emphases, from place to place and time to time; but we all shared in the commitment to tell the story, to learn it together, to reflect on it together, and to share it together. If, God forbid, communion should be suspended between The Episcopal Church, and the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Anglican Consultative Council (which would also mean, then, participation in Lambeth and the Primate’s Meetings), I will mourn. If, as seems sadly likely, communion should be suspended among enough Provinces that the Anglican Communion must be significantly reshaped, I will mourn. After all, we can know the story better together, and tell the story better together, than we can separately. I will not call myself an Anglican in the same way, not except in the most qualified terms. I will, however, continue in the Anglican tradition as I have received it. It will still be the Anglican variation that shapes the way I tell the story. I will not claim an Anglican Communion that does not claim The Episcopal Church. I will still embrace the Anglican tradition within which I heard and from which I will “tell the old, old story of Jesus and his love.”

Sunday, January 21, 2007

In Uniform

The picture I use for this blog was taken at work. Thus, in the picture I’m in clericals. When I work in the hospital I always wear clericals. There is a story (there is always a story!).

During my time in seminary in the late ‘70’s, a priest came to the seminary community from Uganda. He was a refugee, one who had escaped with wife and family from the government of Idi Amin. In a sermon in the seminary chapel, he told this story.

A group of ladies at a parish of the Church of England had a successful fund raiser, and had several hundred pounds sterling to share. Knowing of the difficulties experienced by the Church of Uganda under the Amin regime, they wrote to a Ugandan bishop of their desire to help. “What can we send that would help you most? Would you like altar ware or linens? Prayer Books or Bibles or vestments? What would help you most?”

He answered, “Beloved ladies, sisters in Christ, bless you for your generosity. We need all those things you mention; but more than these, we need clergy shirts and collars. You see, when our people are being rounded up by the police, not knowing whether they will live to see the dawn, they want to know that their clergy are there with them.”

Since my ordination I have always worn clericals when working, reflecting on this story. That has been particularly true of my work in hospitals. The fears at the bedside are not of bullets and crocodiles; but they are real enough nonetheless. When I walk the floors, and especially in the midst of crisis, I want it clear that someone is there to reflect the love and concern of God in that trouble. Sometimes the symbol isn’t recognized. Sometimes it is recognized, but represents for those present challenge rather than comfort. I have to deal with those feelings, certainly. As I often say, if God is The Boss and my colleagues in congregations are in Sales, then I’m in Maintenance; and dealing with those feelings is also part of my ministry.

Now, am I a priest without my clericals? Of course. And I don’t wear them to sleep or to mow the lawn. But if I’m in the hospital to work, I have clericals on. There, while threats are different and the outcomes much more hopeful, the fears of death and loss remain. In the midst of those crises, I want patients, families, and staff to know that someone is with them whose purpose is to reflect the presence and compassion of God whatever may come.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

With Health Care and Coverage For All

I no more have to take some time away, and suddenly news of insuring the uninsured is popping up all over. The governors of California and Pennsylvania have both released basic information about new plans. Both involve pulling together some state and federal resources with resources from employers and from the private insurance industry to expand coverage until all citizens are covered.

In addition, a new plan has been announced by an organization called Health Coverage Coalition for the Uninsured (not to be confused with the Coalition for Affordable Health Coverage, although there is some overlap in membership). This coalition includes a variety of constituencies, most notable of which is AARP, with it’s significant political clout (retired folks vote!), as well as America’s Health Insurance Plans (AHIP), the American Medical Association and the American Hospital Association (read the full list here).

I have written before of the Massachusetts experiment, and of a framework offered by AHIP, for covering more and more people. I have noted that the General Convention is on record as supporting universal access to health care. While it’s too soon to tell how well and what parts of these various plans will be enacted, we can support efforts to make sure more folks are covered.

At the same time, all of these plans are efforts to make more effective tools that are already in place. They still depend on government support only for those who can’t get insurance through employers (children, the unemployable, and those employed by the smallest businesses) or those who have retired from employment; and insurance through employers for most of us. They depend on the market to provide basic (read: minimal) insurance that may therefore be “affordable.”

What they don’t seem to do is to rethink completely how we provide and pay for health care. They don’t consider whether health care should be a civil right. They don’t address the limitations of the market, much less “the market” in health care (and, trust me: it doesn’t work as simply or as straightforwardly in health care as those college macroeconomics courses would suggest). They don’t reorient our delivery system toward prevention rather than pathology. They don’t address parity of reimbursement between mental health and physical health expenses. I have noted the Oregon Health Plan, and the proposal from Senator Wyden of Oregon for a national plan; but these stand out as significant exceptions. In general, these plans are about tweaking what we have rather than trying something new.

Back in 1992 or so, when we were discussing health care for the uninsured before, I was at a meeting of chaplains to listen to a health care economist. He spoke about the Clinton discussions on health care, and about all the difficulties it faced. Mostly, it faced difficulties because so many participants had such different interests. (In the ensuing fifteen years many of them have apparently seen that they had more in common than they then believed.) It also faced some difficulty because it was unclear how to connect universal coverage (anyone who needs health care gets it, and gets it paid for) with universal participation (everyone except perhaps the very poorest makes some financial contribution to the costs of health care), while managing rising costs. I asked a question: “Accepting that providers may only be reimbursed 70% of what they believe are their actual costs, what would be the effect on the health care economy of universal coverage? That is, what would be the effect of receiving only 70%, but knowing you’d receive it for every patient?” The economist answered, “No one knows. The numbers are just too great.” (Over the next couple of years, by the way, I had the opportunity to ask that question of several other economists. They all had basically the same answer.)

All these efforts to improve what we have without rethinking the basic framework suggests to me that the numbers are still too great. The variables of really rethinking the system are too frightening for many. At the same time, there are issues that simply won’t be addressed by tweaking the system we have. This is one more case on a grand scale of working to redress after the problem rather than working to prevent the problem in the first place. I have written before of one such suggestion as a “big Band-Aid.” There is certainly value in offering ever-bigger Band-Aids. At the same time, bigger Band-Aids will not really provide a solution.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Away for A While

Siblings, I will be out of commission for a while. Tomorrow morning I'm having arthroscopy on my right knee. Since it's down and up stairs to and from my computer, I expect it will be a few days before I post anything new. In the meantime, I'll be grateful for prayers.

I'll be back before long. Thanks for your support for my blog and for kind comments on my posts.

Best Contemporary Theology Meme

I’ve been tagged! Jason over at "Gower Street" has tagged me for a meme: specifically, the Best Contemporary Works of Theology meme started by Patrik at "God in a Shrinking Universe." It’s my first meme, believe it or not. However, it’s certainly an interesting exercise.

It’s also been something of a difficult one. First, I’m something of a classicist: I don’t know whether I’m ready for the new stuff if I’m not sure I’ve really appreciated the classic stuff. I reread The Rule of St. Benedict regularly - sometimes with commentary, and sometimes without. My current bedside reading is Law’s A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life – hardly contemporary.

Second, my reading has been so specific to my practice of pastoral care that I’m not always up on the latest explorations of systematics. I get there to some extent, but usually from that practical theological perspective.

Finally, I simply have obscure tastes, or so I’m told. I once tried to develop an education theory out of Eco’s descriptions of “cretins, fools, morons, and lunatics” (from Foucault’s Pendulum; you can find the passage here). I think there’s an article to be written about Monty Python’s Flying Circus as Anglican theologians (now, wouldn’t that disturb the Global South!).

Anyway, when I thought of three books, I had to reflect that these were three books that had been important to me; and in fact I came up with more than three, but I had to establish my perspective first.

Most moving, at least in recent years has been Exclusion and Embrace: A Theological Exploration of Identity, Otherness, and Reconciliation by Miroslav Volf. This is an exploration of reconciliation that recognizes the pain entailed, the cost that all must embrace for true reconciliation, and our human frailty in pursuing it. Would in these tumultuous days that more folks had taken it to heart.

Most moving several years ago was Touching Our Strength: The Erotic As Power and the Love of God by Carter Heyward. This was an exploration of the dynamics of power in human relationships, and of the possibility of “power-with” instead of “power-over.” I could not agree with all of her extrapolations, but the principle seemed worthwhile.

Moving in an entirely different way has been Original Blessing: A Primer in Creation Spirituality Presented in Four Paths, Twenty-Six Themes, and Two Questions by Matthew Fox. Not only did this over a different perspective on the Christian tradition – one that I believe is orthodox to the core, notwithstanding it’s openness – but offered it in a way that allowed one to embrace and internalize it.

Finally, and on a very different wavelength, I would suggest a fourth: When Bad Things Happen to Good People by Harold Kushner. It offered an exploration of the problem of pain that was personal and painful enough not to seem pat and doctrinaire. It was certainly popular; but it was also quite profound.

Those are my suggestions. In another week or so, I might think of others; but these seem right to me right now.

Saturday, January 13, 2007


On one of my networks for professional networking and support, the subject of Clinical Pastoral Education, or CPE, has been getting kicked about. Most chaplains have some. Some chaplains have more than is good for a soul (and that’s my category). Many clergy who are not chaplains have some, whether required for seminary graduation or for ordination, or pursued for personal growth.

CPE tends to be a hot topic among clergy. First and foremost, it’s an uncomfortable experience under the best of circumstances. For most of us, it includes sleepless nights and theological challenges. It also includes, always, exploration of personal issues in the context of group and personal supervision. For many, it’s that exposure of feelings and fears to others, even to the limited others of a small learning group, that is hardest. We feel challenged not only for what we do and how we do it, but for who we are and how we show it. It’s emotional in a way that few other learning processes ever is.

Perhaps we need to think first about what CPE is about. It began as the opportunity for seminary students to get experience in pastoral practice in a setting that also integrated what were at the time new learning in psychology and social work (two streams that started in two different places, really, but became complementary). The goal was to improve the capacity of parish clergy to do sensitive pastoral work in a time when seminary training was pretty much as academic as any other professional training. Early on, with the integration of information from behavioral sciences, a valuable theme came to the fore: “the first tool God gave me for my ministry, and the more I can learn about myself, and especially about myself when functioning in pastoral care, the better I can use that tool, and so be the better pastor.” (The point is to be better than I would be otherwise, not automatically better than someone else.)

Now, seminaries provide more clinical or contextual or experiential learning than they used to (choose your title); but few provide it with the concentration of CPE They can still be awfully academic, even in teaching pastoral care; and so for many of us seminaries required or recommended CPE, again, so that we might be better pastors.

There are two things to be said about this. First, there are those who don't need CPE to learn these things about themselves. There are a variety of settings in which we can learn these things, or at least some of them. Therapy can help, although few therapeutic relationships explore specifically the pastoral work of the client. Spiritual Direction can help, but isn’t set up per se to help us reflect on how we relate as professionals. The “School of Hard Knocks” can do it, too; but it you think about it, you might agree with me that few really learn about themselves in that unstructured program. CPE, reflecting theological education that is sensitive to behavioral sciences and to spiritual growth, combined with its own hard knocks, provides a structured learning program that helps most of us learn about ourselves.

Second, there are those who don't learn these things even in CPE. One can be sufficiently determined not to engage in the process, intellectually, emotionally, or practically, that one goes through virtually unchanged, and only angrier for the experience. Pastors who haven’t learned from their own pain, whether in CPE or otherwise, are, in my opinion, useless.

Those who can learn about themselves without CPE make fine pastors and chaplains, but don't always get the chance. Those who don’t learn, whether from CPE or one of the alternatives, get the chance, and can turn out to be poor pastors and chaplains. I meet those folks when they’re patients, and have to deal with the anger they’ve engendered, and sometimes the spiritual harm they’ve done. It’s why my response to the parish pastor who said, “Take that issue to God; I’m only in Sales,” is, “I’m in Maintenance.”

Now, the professional certifying bodies for chaplains have settled on CPE as a credential for certification, because in the broad spectrum of clergy there are many who don't learn about themselves as pastors at all. Those who have four units of CPE are more likely to have learned something, and are more likely to have learned how to learn in the process of their practice. At the same time, it's not the only credential, and is no guarantee of being certified.

Being a good pastor also has something to do with gifts and vocation. I’ve written about the work of volunteers in chaplaincy, and I remain convinced that there are many who provide good care using the personalities and personal strengths that God gave them. CPE can sharpen gifts for those who have them. It can’t provide much to those who don’t.

Considering how wide are the requirements for professional religious practice in these United States (from only sufficient spiritual call to what is virtually the equivalent of an earned doctorate), having a tool for many to learn to be better pastors seems worthwhile. I have long thought of it as raising the mean of pastoral care across the spectrum of religious practice by raising the bottom. It isn't always a good experience, and not everyone needs it. Still, for many of us, it has helped us be more sensitive, respectful, supportive pastors than we might otherwise have been, learning more quickly than we might otherwise have learned.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Patience Through the Pain of Waiting

I’ve been reading over the past couple of days posts from Jim Naughton at Daily Episcopalian and from Lionel Deimel on his blog. The more I have seen of events discussed in these comments, and the more I've thought, the more I'm convinced of the ultimate sectioning of the Anglican Communion. "They" won't want to stay with "us;" and if we manage to avoid that in Dar es Salaam, it will only to be delaying the inevitable. In one sense, it doesn't matter who "walks apart." Someone will walk, and if even one province does so (and it hardly seems likely that the divisions will involve only one province on either side) the Anglican Communion will not be the same.

How and when will this happen? It may happen at any of a number of junctures. There will be participation in Tanzania or there will not. There will be invitations to Lambeth to all Episcopal bishops or there will not. All of those invited to Lambeth will come or some will not. A Covenant will be acceptable to all, or, more likely, will not. At one of those points - probably at several of those points – statements of “we cannot sit at table with” or “we cannot receive communion with” will be affirmed and/or reaffirmed, and folks will simply stop coming to the meetings. If, as Archbishop Tutu has said, what holds the Communion together is that “we meet,” when folks stop coming to meetings the Communion will change.

We have, I believe, already had a foretaste of that in the meetings that have happened to which folks have been disinvited. The meeting of Global South Primates is of this sort. I was even more convinced when the Province of Brazil was disinvited to the Cairo meeting. That was a point where a gathering of provinces to address like needs was changed to a gathering of provinces to reflect like minds. Of itself this was not a critical break. After all, there is good reason for folks with like needs to meet and share, and we who do not have the same needs have good reason to support such meetings. But the change of a meeting for like needs to a meeting of like minds seems to me a foretaste of what will happen to the Anglican Communion.

Brothers Naughton and Deimel have been reflecting on whether we need the Anglican Communion. I think that’s a reasonable question; but since the Communion seems pointed toward inevitable change, I think there’s a prior question. Deimel looks toward that question by thinking through how we benefit from the Anglican Communion. My question is not whether the need the Anglican Communion, but whether we need international communion among Anglicans. I think Deimel’s arguments speak to the value of international communion among Anglicans, whether this Anglican Communion stands or not.

We do have other ecumenical relations to attend to and nourish. Our communion with Lutherans, both at home and abroad, is important. Our continuing and growing relationships with Methodists and Moravians, both at home and abroad, are important. Our participation in the National Council of Churches and in the World Council of Churches are important. They are all ways that we as Christians can meet with other Christians to pursue together God’s Kingdom.

At the same time, our Lutheran siblings meet internationally with their Lutheran siblings. The Methodists do the same. We share an Anglican tradition with other provinces in the current Anglican Communion, and specifically a shared understanding of what that tradition really looks like. While some provinces have said and will say, “We do not recognize the Anglican tradition in you,” others will certainly say, “We do.” We should maintain or build those structures that will allow us to continue to meet with those who will meet with us. Whether is will be called the Anglican Communion remains to be seen, and is to come extent out of our hands. In no small part, that depends on what Canterbury decides (and sooner or later Canterbury will have to make a decision). Whatever it is called, I still think it is worth supporting.

It seems to me that communion among Anglicans is not unlike the episcopate. Among the breadth of Christians we have debated whether bishops are necessary for the Church (esse), or are a benefit to the Church (bene esse), or reflect the fullness of the Church (pleni esse). I fall into the latter category. To say the first is to suggest that my Presbyterian and Congregational siblings are not Christians, and I can’t see that. To say the second is to ignore our tradition of bishops as visible centers of the continuing apostolic ministry. Bishops help us look toward our eschatological hope of a church unified laterally in this moment and historically with all moments.

The same is true of international communion with others in the Anglican Tradition. It is, I think, of the pleni esse of this Church – meaning both The Episcopal Church and also those provinces of the existing Anglican Communion that share our understanding of the Anglican tradition. It looks toward our eschatological hope of the Body of Christ truly one, and gives us the opportunity to work toward that in our own time. It doesn’t deny the Christianity of those who disagree with us, but it calls us beyond simply appreciating the good feelings we have when we do talk to one another. It reminds us that the Body is Christ’s, in which we participate; and not ours, as if Christ’s Body were simply the sum of its parts.

What do we do in the meantime? Naughton has even questioned whether we should provide financial support to the Anglican Consultative Council and the Anglican Communion Office, when the ACO seems powerless to, or disinterested in, our place in the Anglican Communion. Personally, I think we continue in the Anglican Communion as it is until abandoned or cast out by others. We have said again and again that we’re committed to continue in “the highest level of communion possible” with those who will continue in communion. Toward that end, we need also to show our support for and participation in existing structures. To this point, while perhaps they have not satisfied us, neither have they failed us. Many if not most of these events are as much beyond their control as they are beyond ours. I pray we will not become so angry and so venal that we will take our financial ball and go home while there’s still someone on the field willing to play. Certainly, we need not fund those who leave; and we cannot be expected to fund those who might cast us out. But we haven’t gotten there yet; and so I can’t agree to that action.

Years ago, when my first wife left me, the bishop for whom I then worked demonstrated clearly his pastoral ineptitude and his institutional conservatism. But, the Church did not fail me. Brothers and sisters in Christ, both lay and ordained, cared for me and supported me, even in the face of some difficult and perhaps ill-advised choices. And many prayed for me, whether they expressed a personal interest or not. That bishop failed me, but God and the Church did not.

Some provinces of the Anglican Communion have failed us, and others may – almost certainly will. But not all have, and not all will; and whatever happens to this Anglican Communion, some international communion among Anglicans is worth pursuing, maintaining, and paying for. It will bring us together with those of (sufficiently) like mind and of different need. It will call us to reach beyond ourselves, even our admittedly international selves, to meet and work with others beyond our bounds. Most important, it will call us again toward seeking for the future, and modeling as best we can now, our commitment to the fullness of the Body of Christ and our participation in it.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Fighting the Last War?

I was struck by a story that appeared in the Faith section of Saturday’s Kansas City Star. Titled “The New Missionaries,” it is about a mission conference recently held in St. Louis, and about the young people who attended. Sponsored by InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, the Urbana 06 conference provided as clear a focus on the social gospel as on preaching as important aspects of mission work.

It was also a stark motivator for a new generation to change the face and attitude of missions by finally tackling social crises that the suburban evangelical church has long been accused of neglecting: namely, the global AIDS pandemic, hunger and urban poverty.

What sets this globalized, “YouTube” generation apart, say evangelical leaders, is that their traditional message of “personal salvation” in Jesus more readily engages his gospel of social justice.

“You are the reformation generation — whatever it takes,” challenged Rick Warren, the iconic megachurch pastor from Southern California and author of the best-selling Purpose Driven Life.

Known for courting rock stars and foreign leaders in the fight against AIDS, Warren headlined a bevy of international speakers advocating an end to Westernized, “paternalistic” missions overseas, and even a backyard “reverse missiology” focused on America’s own cities.

The full article is well worth reading. It suggests that may young Christians are prepared to bring their evangelical fervor to such important social issues as AIDS and hunger, and to do so both at home and abroad, in a way that their parents’ generation has had difficulty with. Conservative evangelicals criticize the progressives for commitment to “the social gospel” as if that were incompatible knowing one’s need for God and being saved by grace through faith. Progressives criticize conservative evangelicals for having faith without works, and “being so heavenly minded as to be no earthly good.” In fact all of us know that both are necessary, but we can get so caught up in the arguments that we don’t get anything else done. These young people are willing to dispense with the arguments and get on with the work.

It was particularly interesting to see this article shortly after seeing this article from the Episcopal News Service. It reports on information from the Faith Communities Today 2005 Survey from Hartford Seminary. It’s an extensive study, but a good summary is available on line, and is well worth reviewing, too. Here are some of the results from the ENS report that struck me.

  • Conservative Episcopal congregations were much more likely to have experienced very serious conflict during the last five years than moderate or liberal congregations (a similar, but weaker relationship was also discovered in the FACT 2000 study).
  • [Among Episcopal churches] Predominantly liberal and somewhat liberal congregations are somewhat more likely to have experienced growth during the last five years than more conservative congregations.
  • Congregations that change worship format and style are more likely to grow. More than half the congregations that use contemporary styles of worship have experienced substantial growth since 2000. Frequency is important as well: The more worship services a congregation holds, the more likely it is to have grown. Over half of the congregations that use drums and or electric guitars often or always in their worship services have experienced "substantial growth" from 2000 to 2005, the report says. "The relationship is fairly strong in the overall set of congregations, but considerably stronger among evangelical churches and weakest among mainline churches," according to the report.
  • Congregations that have experienced major conflict are quite likely to have declined in attendance. The strongest correlate of growth is the absence of serious conflict.
  • More important than theological orientation is the religious character of the congregation and clarity of mission and purpose. Growing churches are clear about why they exist and about what they are to be doing.

So, contrary to much of the rhetoric, and to the truism of the past generation that evangelical churches were growing specifically because of their evangelical theology, in fact in many churches, and especially among Episcopal churches in this study, it was the clarity of vision and mission that made the difference, and not one pole or the other in the theological debate.

Which brings me to ask this question: are we fighting the last war? In our political discourse, and especially when we have a true fighting war in progress, we often worry about “fighting the last war:” facing new situations with poor preparation because it was based on the last, inevitably different, conflict rather than on the facts in front of the troops. So, we worry about whether difficulties in Iraq have been caused by trying to revisit the jungles of Viet Nam or the political ideologies Cold War in the heat and drought of the Iraqi desert.

So in our current difficulties in the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion: are we fighting the last war? Are we defending positions of high church vs. low church, of Evangelical vs. Anglo-catholic, of biblical faith vs. social gospel, when the real action has largely left those considerations behind? I have often seen it stated in discussions of social and political opinions that many folks younger than me are not particularly concerned about who one loves or how. We might take our positions and argue about whether that is progressive or regressive; but have we appreciated that it is simply fact? And have we considered that young and enthusiastic Christians are prepared to accept and share the faith that is in them without investing in our arguments?

I think it’s important for us to think about in the midst of those things that trouble us. We take our positions and defend them. We choose our champions who will defend them for us. We seek those champions among our known leaders, peers and seniors who have established themselves in these arguments in the past. Perhaps we need once again to look for leadership in a new direction. After all, it was God’s word, and not our own, that “a little child shall lead them.”

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Coincidence and Vocation

Susan Palwick, who is kind enough to read my blog with some frequency, included this sentence in a comment on my last post: “I often find these experiences more scary than reassuring, but at the same time, they're evidence that God doesn't consider me too cracked a clay pot to use.”

This reminded me of a conviction I’ve had for some time. All of us are called to serve God. Some are called to serve God directly in prayer and contemplation. Some are called to serve God indirectly in serving neighbor. Some are called to serve by providing God some comic relief.

I have one consistent experience over the years with this analysis. Everyone I have ever suggested this to (myself included) has immediately responded that he or she was in the third category.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007


Sunday morning I was called into the hospital. A patient had died in the Emergency Room, and I was needed. I was needed primarily to address issues of tissue donation, because the patient was apparently eligible to donate. Unfortunately, by the time I arrived it had been determined that in fact he wasn’t. Staff were apologizing to me for calling me in, and trying to figure out who had miscued.

In fact it wasn’t a bad call. In the first place, the family’s needs were sufficient for a chaplain call, even though they didn’t request it. There were family issues that would complicate the grief. I was glad to be there to help

(Let me say that as a chaplain in a one-person department, for the sake of self-care and the care of the volunteers who support me we do not respond to every death. We encourage staff to ask whether the family wants clergy called, and if they don’t, whether they want a chaplain called. The staff also have autonomy to make a referral based on their sense of need.)

And the surprise – more of serendipity, perhaps – was the voice rising from a gurney as it passed me: “Hi, Marshall.” It was the voice of a colleague, the rector of a local Episcopal parish. Now, it’s never really a good thing to meet a colleague when he’s a patient. But, for a priest to be in the Emergency Room on a Sunday morning has a special sense of need. Many of us are perhaps fools; but many of us would do all we could to ride out the Sunday services and then get help. Fortunately, my colleague has a wife who is not a fool. She called 911 and he became a patient.

We spoke about the events leading to his admission. He certainly realized he needed to be there, although at the moment he was feeling a little antsy while he waited to learn the results of the tests he’d had, and what tests still awaited him. Then I asked him about his late service. He had two capable deacons preparing, as he said, “to do something,” and they had the sermon he had written in preparation for the morning. I said, “Would you like me to take the service?” The grieving family had taken their leave, and I didn’t have another engagement. He was grateful, and I left to celebrate his second service.

So, from a call that hadn’t quite happened as it was supposed to, I had the opportunity to give care to a family, to a colleague, and to a congregation. It was a remarkable coincidence.

Of course, we have all heard someone respond to that word saying, “I don’t believe in coincidences. I believe in God-incidences.” And while I haven’t dismissed the possibility of coincidence (and I don’t believe God micromanages), I have had enough of these experiences to appreciate them when they come. I get called when I shouldn’t, or when there’s nothing for me to do in the primary case (the family didn’t really want a chaplain, or leaves as soon as the patient dies, or the patient and family aren’t Christian and are sensitive about it). And almost inevitably when that happens I am led to another opportunity, one that is important and immediate. As I said, I haven’t dismissed coincidence as a concept; but those certainly seem like “God-incidences” to me. And I’ll take’em when they come.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

On Life After GOE's

There have been several references in the Episcopal blogosphere today of the beginning of the GOE’s. Perhaps the best comment I’ve seen so far has been over at the blog Gower Street. There Jason has listed “Father Jason’s Tips for Taking the GOE’s (redux-redux).” It’s an excellent post.

I was struck particularly by tip #7: “Don’t pad.” It took me back to my own canonical exams, almost twenty-six years ago now.

Note that I say “canonical exams:” I didn’t do as well on GOE’s as I had hoped. Indeed, I was considered deficient in Scripture, Theology, and Ethics (notwithstanding that in the objective multiple-choice section of the GOE’s I scored well above the mean in all areas). Now, my bishop and canon to the ordinary were supportive, pastoral, and encouraging. (I remember my bishop, then a member himself of the Board of Examining Chaplains, saying, “We tell them not to be snide!”) Both told me that my answers were fine, and my readers inadequate.

That did soothe me somewhat, but it didn’t change the fact that the deficiencies had to be addressed. In my diocese at that time, that meant taking written canonical exams, prepared and evaluated by the diocesan examining chaplains, in May. Some complained that this was a “double jeopardy” arrangement. It was presented to me, and I really embraced it as “double opportunity.”

There were, of course, other events going on in my life. The most important was a decision, supported by my bishop, to undertake my first CPE residency, beginning the fall after my graduation from seminary. There were some things I needed to learn that I felt could best be learned in that environment. My bishop was sufficiently supportive as to continue the small but important diocesan contribution to my expenses while I was taking this additional year of training.

There was, however, one consequence of this decision on my canonical exams. The canonical exams took place during a retreat for new ordinands. It was also during that retreat that new deacons-in-training would meet their new rectors and learn about their new jobs. Since I wasn’t going that route, there would be no one to meet.

So, in due time we came to the evening in question. It was midweek, and was, in fact, Wednesday. The bishops (Ordinary and Suffragan) were both coming, along with my colleagues’ new bosses. I had completed my exams in Theology and Ethics, and had nothing to do for the evening. So, at the cocktail hour (such things used to be more common at clergy meetings) I had an extra drink. And at dinner that night (steak, in recognition of the bishops) I had an extra glass of wine. (Yes, the mathematically inclined will recognize that indicates at least two of each.)

I was just beginning to savor that extra glass of wine when the Canon to the Ordinary spoke up. He was to my left, sitting with the Canonical Examiner in Scripture. “Mr. Scott!”

Now, this was unusual address. The Canon and I were on a first-name basis, and had been for some time. I was immediately aware that what was coming was a matter of some solemnity. “Yes, Reverend Canon?”

“Mr. Scott, the Examiner in Scripture and I have been discussing your circumstances this week. As you are not meeting a new rector, you have nothing scheduled after you complete your exam in Scripture, and a subsequent oral exam with all the examining chaplains. You are scheduled to take your exam in Scripture tomorrow morning with the candidates for the diaconate. However, if you will commit to us not to reveal any of the contents of the exam, the Examiner says he will allow you to take the exam tonight. He will grade it tonight, and we can schedule your oral exam for tomorrow morning. Once that is over you will be done. Mr. Scott, would you like to take your exam tonight?”

I paused for a moment, and stared at that one extra glass of wine. I wasn’t usually particularly foolhardy. I could feel my cheekbones tingling. However, in that moment I wanted badly to get one with things. I said, “Yes, Reverend Canon, I would like that very much.” Then I began to knock back cups of coffee.

One thing I had learned well before that night was that whether or not there was truth in wine (“in vino veritas”), I knew there was no BS in wine. That is, I knew I couldn’t pad when I’d been drinking, whether to dazzle with brilliance or to baffle with bull, as the saying goes. What I did feel confident of, however, was my ability to get the important facts down, if in a straightforward, declarative style that would overwhelm a newspaper editor. It probably wouldn’t be elegant, but it probably would do the job.

And so at 8:00 p.m. I was handed the test, a set of twelve questions, I think, of which I was expected to answer eight. I was told I have two and a half hours to complete my work, and sent off to the room where I had already set up my typewriter and paper. I did take with me one extra cup of coffee.

I sat down at the typewriter (an archaic device, children, with no screen, and no convenient way to correct mistakes), put in a piece of paper and looked at the first question. I had something to say about it, and so I began. I don’t remember too much about the test. I remember one question was, “Discuss the Synoptic Problem,” for which my answer began, “The Synoptic Problem is that the Synoptics don’t agree.” That wasn’t all I wrote, of course; but that was the style with which I wrote that night.

I wrote on enough questions. On those questions I wrote what I thought needed to be said, and not a word more. I had no more in me to write, although by the time I was done I was more tired but less tipsy. I looked at my watch when I felt done: I had written for an hour and a half. I knew I had another hour, but I didn’t feel another word in me. So, I tidied up and took my paper to the Examining Chaplain. He thanked me and promised to return it to me before Morning Prayer the following morning. I then went and found my Examiners in Theology and Ethics, both of whom had very good news for me, and a couple of extra drinks.

The next morning I was up and ready, waiting outside the chapel at 7:15 a.m., to meet the Examiner before 7:30 Morning Prayer. He was, as always, punctual. He said, “Good morning, Mr. Scott,” picking up again the formality of the previous evening.

“Good morning, Reverend Sir.” I waited, hardly breathing.

“Mr. Scott, I have completed grading your exam. I will allow you to see it, but I must have it back.” He handed it to me. At the top was the grade: A-. He went on to say, "I want to have it back because I want to show it to those who will take the exam this morning. I want them to see that the test can be answered adequately, and even well, and still be concise. You did very well. I only found one thing I had to count you off on. Although we know that the Holy Spirit does not have gender, it is still traditional to speak of the Holy Spirit as 'he,' and not as 'it.' " I handed him back the paper, and together we went into Morning Prayer.

Now, I don’t recommend this to anyone taking any exam. It is certainly not a strategy that I ever used otherwise. At the same time, it assured me of two things. First, there are opportunities even after such setbacks as bad GOE’s. For all the anxiety we had put into them, and for all the anxiety I had felt when I received my results, I had been able to use the grace of my diocese and come back. It was one of many experiences of grace in those early days of my ministry.

And second, I can claim to know more about Scripture drunk than most people know sober.