Thursday, March 29, 2007

The Abomination Brought Out Into the Light

For all the light of spring, for all the extra illumination of earlier Daylight Savings Time, it is a dark time. I am surrounded by abomination – the abomination. Its sight appalls me. Its odor offends me. And after being hidden, invisible for so long, now it is everywhere I turn.

I am speaking of that awful, mis-dendritic product of human manipulation, the Bradford pear. Developers and landscapers have planted them widely in my part of the world, decorating corners and lining avenues. After a long almost eleven months without their dreadful appearance, after six months without having to think of them much at all, now they are exploding in bloom. It sickens me. And I don’t say that because I’m allergic. I’ve had sinus trouble all my life, but I don’t have allergies. (There’s actually a medical diagnosis for that, but I won’t bore you.)

Let me explain all those things that so appall me about the Bradford pear.

  • First, it is a pear that bears no meaningful fruit. Now, my standards for that aren’t picky. I’ve been known to cook with the small, bitter fruits of an ornamental crabapple (good cobbler, but a lot of work). But the Bradford pear produces something that looks like a small, cracked wooden sphere. It’s useless as fruit; and when a quantity builds up on the sidewalk, it can be like stepping on ball bearings.
  • Second, its bloom is overwhelming in profusion, and not in a good way. It blooms explosively before it leafs out; and so where there were bare, dark boughs, there is suddenly a cloud of white. Unfortunately, it is an ugly white, flat and empty, like a shroud. I grew up in the southern mountains, where the white dogwood is tinged with green and brown, and the magnolia is the color of cream, sometimes highlighted with pink. Even the whitebud, cousin to the redbud, highlights its small, distinct blossoms against the darkness of its bark. But the bloom of the Bradford pear blots all else out, with innumerable tiny blossoms the color of cheap, recycled copy paper. On gray days the trees seem blotches of thin cotton. On sunny days they manage to seem blinding and dead, all at the same time. (You’ll have to look for a picture elsewhere. Even if I had figured out how to add a picture to the post, I haven’t the stomach for it.)
  • Third, its odor is unpleasant. It smells like stale, flat water from an untended birdbath. With the exorbitant extravagance of its bloom, it fills the air with its stench. It carries on the breeze, and where city planners in their perversity have used it to line a street, it produces its own airborne irritant attach. My sense of smell is not that acute, victim of years of sinus trouble; and in its season even I can smell it everywhere.
  • Fourth, the tree produces branches that are spreading and spindly. Thus, it is among the worst damaged in any major storm. Like St. Bernard’s, when small they’re cute in their way. When grown, they are blown apart by summer thunderstorms and torn asunder by winter snow and ice. Perversely, many who lose them to such destruction simply replace them with another. Perhaps the flat whiteness has stunned them, or the awful odor has dazed them. I can’t imagine they’d do so otherwise.
  • Finally, enough fools have done otherwise that the tree is now considered an invasive species in many parts of the country. Like kudzu and water hyacinth, what was brought to decorate a controlled garden has escaped to spread its foulness across the land. In fact, it is worse: kudzu at least provides animal fodder, and a starch that's an important thickening agent in Japenese cooking. This miserable tree produces nothing (but, then, I've already said that).

Blessedly, the white season will be short. Within a couple of weeks, the flowers will be gone and the trees will be hidden behind a decent green. The little balls won’t trouble us until fall; although once fallen they will trouble us underfoot until scrapped away with the first decent snowfall (perhaps with some of their branches). For much of the year, they are an annoyance, but only for the knowledge of their existence. But during their spring explosion, they surround me with their profusion. I would cry out to God against them, but their presence is the result of human perversion and not God’s creation at all. God created them in Asia; people brought them here.

So, for a time I must suffer its presence, thrust aggressively in my unwilling face. I must see, unbidden and unwanted, this unnatural thing with its misbegotten characteristics. I am surrounded by this abomination. The fallenness of creation confronts me. These are indeed dark days!

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Where Have All the Scholars Gone 2: The Anglican Communion Listening Process

Yesterday the Anglican Communion Office has released “A Study Guide For use at the Lambeth Conference 2008 on: The Process of Listening to Gay and Lesbian people and Mutual Listening on Human Sexuality.” You can read it here (and thanks to Thinking Anglicans for sharing this).

The “Study Guide” is actually a framework and set of guidelines for those interested to contribute to the development of “a Study Guide to assist the bishops at the 2008 Lambeth Conference.” One aspect of this is very important. On the first web page is the note, “All are encouraged to participate.” A detailed reading of the following pages reiterates and expands on that concise statement, emphasizing that anyone can contribute, that personal experiences are as important as academic treatises, that all contributions will be part of the process (although not necessarily quoted in publications), and that efforts will be made to make the process a “safe space” for all contributors.

I would certainly encourage anyone and everyone to participate. However, I have also written of the importance in the Anglican Tradition of listening to our scholars. With that in mind, I have sent the following email to the Dean of the seminary from which I graduated some 27 years ago. If this seems a good idea to you, I hope you will write a similar letter to the seminary dean of your choice.

The Very Rev. Dr. William S. Stafford
Dean of the School of Theology
University of the South

I am writing as an Alumnus of the School of Theology, and as a priest of the Episcopal Church concerned about the current controversies in the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion. I had the pleasure of speaking with you this past summer at the General Convention. I appreciated your willingness to hear the thoughts and suggestions of a graduate. I appreciate your time in reading this now.

I am sure you are aware that the Anglican Communion Office has released “A Study Guide For use at the Lambeth Conference 2008 on: The Process of Listening to Gay and Lesbian people and Mutual Listening on Human Sexuality.” I consider this to be an invaluable opportunity for all across the Communion to contribute to the Listening Process, and to the efforts throughout the Communion to maintain our unity in a way that expresses the Gospel promises of welcome and justice for all God’s people.

One characteristic of the Anglican tradition that I remember well from my hours with Don Armentrout and Robert Hughes is our willingness to listen to our scholars. From Henry’s consultation with Thomas Cranmer, through the shaping of the tradition by John Jewel and Richard Hooker, and the work of the translators of the King James Bible, we have looked to our best academic and scholarly minds to shape and guide our considerations of Scripture, Tradition, and Reason.

In that vein, as an alumnus I would hope that every member of the faculty of the School of Theology would make some meaningful submission to the development of the Study Guide. Each member, writing in her or his area of expertise and interest, would be offering an important contribution to the work of the Communion, and to the growth of the Listening Process at home and abroad.

I would also hope the School of Theology would publish those contributions, in print, electronically, or both. I believe that entirely too much of the “discussion” of issues of ecclesiology, scriptural hermeneutics, theological anthropology and human sexuality, and liturgical theology and marriage have been driven far too often by emotion, and not by the Reason that we so greatly value. (As a blogger, I must accept my own share of the guilt for that fact.) Materials from one of the seminaries of the Episcopal Church would offer important and more rational voices to our Church’s conversations.

I appreciate your consideration of my hope. I have been proud of the foundation I gained at the School of Theology for my vocation. After 27 years I remain a priest committed to and enthusiastic about my vocation. I continue to be proud of my seminary. I think I would only be more proud to know that my seminary had so contributed to the best thought and the best work of the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion.

Marshall Scott, M.Div, BCC
Theology, ‘80

Monday, March 26, 2007

To Become an Episcopal Chaplain

Periodically, someone comes to me looking for information on becoming a hospital chaplain within the Episcopal Church. Usually it’s a phone call, or an email from the web site of the Assembly of Episcopal Healthcare Chaplains (AEHC). Sometimes I infer the question from the search string that brought them to the blog. However, just a few days ago one person emailed me to ask about it. Having laid out my thoughts on the matter to him, I thought I would share them here.

First, let me lay out a broad outline. If you’re exploring a call to chaplaincy, I think you should keep in mind the standards of the professional chaplaincy certifying bodies. There are two in the United States who certify chaplains for clinical practice (as opposed to being educators): the Association of Professional Chaplains (APC) and the College of Pastoral Supervision and Psychotherapy (CPSP). While there are some small differences, the basic prerequisites for certification are the same: a Bachelor’s degree and a Masters of Divinity (MDiv) or equivalent, both from accredited schools; and four units of Clinical Pastoral Education (which I’ll come back to). They also include “ecclesiastical endorsement” (which I’ll also come back to).

About seminary: the specific Bachelor’s degree isn’t critical. The MDiv is; and unless you already have some significant theological study under your belt, I would concentrate on that and not worry about equivalency. The “equivalent” is essentially the same courses with the same number of hours, but accomplished in a context that didn’t result in a degree. If you haven’t started, it’s easier, really, just to get the degree.

Any good seminary program can provide a good foundation, because good basic training in ministry is the foundation for good chaplaincy. At the same time, there are some things you might think about that might contribute. One is a school in a major metropolitan area. That would allow more opportunity to integrate some CPE and some other types of clinical experience in to your seminary program, and perhaps allow for some one-on-one mentoring.

Within the Episcopal Church, the Episcopal Theological Seminary of the Southwest in Austin has an extension Masters in Pastoral Care that is oriented in training lay people for chaplaincy. While it would not be the equivalent of an MDiv (not enough hours), you might be able to integrate the classes into an MDiv program. ETSSW has a long history of connections with CPE programs in Austin. I believe the School of Theology of the University of the South at Sewanee also has a CPE program connected with the seminary.

I get asked whether an Episcopal seminary makes a difference. There is always some advantage to attending a Episcopal seminary or a recognized program – for example, the Anglican programs at Perkins School of Theology in Dallas (at SMU) or Candler School of Theology in Atlanta (at Emory). Seminary is as much about formation and acculturation as it is about academic learning. You’ll need to pursue education that will be supported in your discernment process.

About CPE: are some CPE programs better than others? Are there any CPE programs that jump out as being especially good? Sure; but there are some other things you need to think about. First, understand the importance of CPE in training for chaplaincy. Yes, it is usually done in a hospital setting, and so allows form some hands-on experience. However, it’s more important as the opportunity to learn about yourself as a minister, about the gifts God has given you for ministry, and about how you use those gifts and might use them better. In that process the relationship with the individual supervisor is very important, and that need to be a part of your own assessment of interviews in any CPE center. So, in a real sense “good” or “better” has a lot to do with what’s good or better for you.

There are three organizations that accredit CPE centers: the Association for Clinical Pastoral Education (ACPE); the National Association of Catholic Chaplains (NACC); and CPSP, already noted above. While there are some “cultural differences,” as far as I’m aware all three are using the same model and the same basic tools for CPE. All use the same measure of a “unit,” 400 contact hours, including both clinical time and academic time. So, the “four units” I mentioned above comes to 1600 contact hours.

Episcopal seminaries require or recommend one unit of CPE, and may give some course credit toward the degree. Many people do that in a summer unit, a full time program for 11 to 12 weeks. Most folks think beyond that of completing another three or four units in a year-long, full time program, usually referred to as a “residency.” Many of these residencies to offer a stipend. While the try to be competitive with other programs in the area, few of them pay well enough to support a family. Few centers offer much in the way of support or resources for a Summer unit; but you can always ask.

Some CPE centers also offer an “Extended unit:” the same 400 contact hours spread out over more time – anywhere from 19 to 30 weeks. These don’t pay a stipend, but many folks negotiate flexibility in their work schedule to make the CPE time possible, and so do them while maintaining their regular job. Now, for the certifying bodies, four units is four units; and it doesn’t matter whether you do them four units in one year, or one unit per year for four years. And you don’t need to wait until you’re through seminary to begin the process. Many people take one unit of CPE to explore a vocation to chaplaincy in particular, or even to ministry in general. I would suggest you wait until you finished seminary for most of your clinical training; but you don’t need to wait until you’re through, or even in, seminary to take a first unit.

The certifying bodies also require, as I said, “ecclesiastical endorsement:” some official confirmation that you have “religious competence” within a faith community – in this case, within the Episcopal Church. To seek endorsement for healthcare chaplaincy in the Episcopal Church, you make application to the Office of the Bishop Suffragan for Chaplaincies at Episcopal Church Center in New York. The decision for endorsement is based on conversation with and a recommendation from your diocesan bishop.

So, it’s important that you know your bishop, and that your bishop knows you and your sense of vocation. Be aware that some bishops are only interested in preparing folks for parish work and not in anything else. They do not admit a person to discernment specifically for healthcare chaplaincy. Since the bishop will be central to your discernment and formation process, you need to begin that conversation as early as possible. Like seminary, the discernment process is as much about formation and acculturation as it is about “jumping through hoops.”

By the way, some bishops believe that endorsement for healthcare chaplaincy requires ordination to the priesthood. That isn’t so. They sometimes confuse this with the requirements for endorsement for military and federal chaplaincies, which do require ordination. The Episcopal Church will endorse lay chaplains, but there is expectation of a public service of commissioning specifically for health care ministry. Again, you can get the best information from the Office of the Bishop Suffragan for Chaplaincies.

If you have some background of exposure to health care, it can be valuable. I would also encourage you to think broadly about your vocation. The availability of healthcare chaplain positions can vary a lot, although being willing to search and move nationally helps. Hospital positions have been pretty stable for some time, while the number of hospice positions has been growing. Think broadly about health care ministry (hospice, long term care, pastoral counseling) and don’t narrow your vision to just one setting.

That said, I trust that God will take you where God wants you to be, and provide the opportunities you need. If you’re just starting the process, I wouldn’t worry about what is and isn’t available; because it will certainly be different before you’re done. Moreover, everything you’ll learn, including CPE, is transferable to other ministry settings. Nothing will be wasted. So, pray hard and listen intently for where God is calling you; and trust God to take care of the results.

Sounds Positively Lutheran to Me

The story, which is not especially new, is about theology and beer. This is how the story appeared in my Sunday paper. This is a more thorough story at Religion and Spirituality.com.

The gist of the story is of a congregation in the St. Louis area, part of the "emergent church" movement, that holds theological discussions in, among other places, a brewery. They don't encourage drinking the product, but they don't actively discourage it, either. They are, after all, demonstrating an interest in meeting the unchurched where and as they are.

However, they are affiliated with the Missouri Baptist Convention, itself affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention. So, as you might guess, some concerns have been expressed.

Why, oh why couldn't they have come to us first?

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Family Feud

Some years ago I had an angry argument with my mother. The issues have long been resolved, and the specifics are not important. What was important at the time was a recognition that struck me in the midst of the turmoil: I suddenly had the realization that, as I thought at the time, there was no room in her world for my world. From her perspective, my perspective simply had no meaning.

What brought that to mind is the repeated concern that “the Primates do not understand our polity.” I have come to question just how accurate that statement is. I have come to believe that many, and certainly those who most want to separate from us, do indeed understand our polity. Unfortunately, some disapprove, and some simply don’t care. That doesn’t mean they don’t understand.

At the same time, I’m pretty sure we do not understand their polity, their institutional structures. We in America are parochial on many subjects, and I fear this is one of them. I wonder if we are even aware of the wide variety of institutional structures in this family of churches called Anglican.

For example, how many Episcopalians have a clue that the General Synod of the Anglican Church of Canada meets every three years, as does our General Convention, while the General Synod of the Church of England meets three times a year? How many know that Canada and England vote in three houses (rather than our two), while the Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand, and Polynesia has three different, and apparently nonterritorial, “tikanga” (analogous perhaps to the nine provinces within the Episcopal Church) organized on “cultural streams” more than on territories?

We take pride in the republican structure of the Episcopal Church, with elections at various levels from parish meetings up to a bicameral General Convention. We note how like the government of the United States it is (although arguably we had it first; I sometimes say the Episcopal Church was the pilot project of American Constitutional democracy). That’s not really all that strange in this cultural environment, and most American Protestant bodies reflect that political/cultural heritage to a greater or lesser extent.

But how well do we understand how the various political and cultural heritages found within the Communion have affected the institutional practices of other Anglicans? What does it mean in the Church of Nigeria – Anglican to be a “Knight of the Church?” What does it mean in a South African context to be King of the Zulu or of the Xhosa, titles that certainly have meaning in South African politics; and how has that political/cultural heritage shaped the practices of the Church in Southern Africa? Rwanda has delegated examination and trial of some genocide cases to GACACA courts, the traditional (pre-European models) community courts. How does that cultural heritage, blended with Belgian models (certainly different from the English Common Law tradition familiar to us) shape their lives, and their lives in the Church?

I’m not an expert on these things. I am perhaps somewhat better read than most Episcopalians. It’s not that there’s so much I do know. I simply have a better sense of how many things I don’t know. But that’s my point. We are concerned that they don’t know us. We need to consider how little we know them.

Indeed, they certainly have some sense of us, or at least of the political and cultural environment in which we live. It’s coming at them constantly, and at high speed. I don’t know that that really results in understanding; but it can’t but help a perception. It used to be a commonplace of American civil rights discussions that “a black man understands white culture better than a white man understands black culture, because the black man has to!” The rest of the world seems to feel they need to “understand” our culture, because they have to. And it’s really not helpful to argue that the Episcopal Church doesn’t reflect that culture. We may be more critical of it than we get credit for; but it is absolutely the culture within which we find our life and our ministry, and it has shaped how we do things.

And these differences may well be very important. When the House of Bishops speak in their statement of "a family of Churches, all of whom share a common mother in the Church of England," how sensitive are they to the wide differences in models of "family" across our varied cultures? And yet those differences certainly shape different expectations as to how families are structured, and how family members treat one another.

Does this mean the cultural differences are too great for us to remain in koinonia or even in conversation? To follow Paul, “By no means!” It does mean that we would do well to seek to understand these other institutional structures and practices, even as we want them to understand ours. Nor does it justify those outside the Episcopal Church pronouncing judgment without hearing from us. A perception of American culture is not the same thing as an understanding of how the Episcopal Church seeks to proclaim the faith within it.

Perhaps, then, we need an additional Communion-wide initiative. In the Tanzania Communiqué the Primates agreed to a Communion-wide study of Biblical hermeneutics, the various ways in which we interpret and use Scripture. Perhaps we need a parallel initiative on the various institutional structures and practices of the Communion, and the differences in ecclesiology that they represent. Prior to any decisions of who’s in and who’s out of the Communion, and prior to any reception of a Covenant, that would seem an important study. Certainly, those committed to reception of a Covenant would want to understand the procedures by which that reception would actually take place.

Sure, that would take time. But if we are truly interested in reconciliation, it would be time well spent. For after all, if I do not love my Anglican sibling who I can see and touch, how shall I love God whom I have never touched? And if I am to love my Anglican siblings in all their variety, it’s worth my time to learn more about the varieties of their lives and cultures, especially if I want them to take the time to learn about mine.

Friday, March 16, 2007

New Events and New Brainstorms

I mentioned that other events were happening, and that other events could affect the process of brainstorming. New information and new events can create new possibilities.

I think one of those happened today. The Archbishop of Canterbury’s Panel of Reference for the Anglican Communion has today issued its report and recommendations regarding differences between the Diocese of Florida and the Church of the Redeemer in Jacksonville. I encourage it be read in full. (Thanks to dailyepiscopalian for this.)

I think the most important aspect of this report is the set of recommendations in paragraphs 35 through 37. In all essentials, the recommendations accept the plan of Designated Episcopal Pastoral Oversight (DEPO) as described by the House of Bishops in its March 2004 report "Caring for all the Churches." This plan was subsequently endorsed in the Windsor Report. The Panel’s report calls for a “neighbour” bishop, one who lives “in reasonable geographic proximity.” Communication would be reestablished between diocese and congregation, including reinstatement of clergy. The clergy and congregation would be expected to participate in the life of the diocese, including participation in the diocesan convention, and contributing financially to support of diocesan programs (taking advantage of an option already provided by the diocese that no money from the congregation go to national programs of the Episcopal Church). The authority of the bishop of Florida is established, and the “neighbour” bishop “would have an oversight extended to him or her from the diocesan bishop, which would include effective and necessary sharing of decisions with regard to clergy appointments for the parish and ordination process.” On the other hand, “participation of the ‘neighbour’ bishop in ordination process and clergy appointments for the Parish would be such that decisions relating to these would require the signature of the ‘neighbour’ bishop together with that of the diocesan bishop.” Finally, the oversight of the Madi/West Nile Diocese of the Province of Uganda would end.

From this outcome has come another idea for the brainstorming process. I have suggested already that House of Bishops of the Episcopal Church could establish a “primatial vicar” model for oversight on its own. They could even, I think, do so immediately, at least provisionally, with plans to seek confirmation by General Convention in 2009.

Having prepared a model, the House of Bishops of the Episcopal Church, or Bishop Katherine Jefferts Schori as Presiding Bishop, could present an appeal to the Panel of Reference. The appeal could certainly be prepared well before the September deadline in the Tanzania Communique. The appeal could emphasize the Episcopal Church’s “primatial vicar” plan as an extension of DEPO, already recognized by the Windsor Report and by the Panel of Reference. The appeal could embrace those dioceses that have requested “alternative” oversight. I think this would have some interesting advantages.

  • The Panel of Reference has established a history of recognizing the institutional, provincial integrity of the Episcopal Church.
  • The DEPO program has the institutional imprimatur now of recognition both in the Windsor Report and by the Panel. Presenting a “primatial vicar” plan, established and executed solely on American initiative, as an extension of this framework extends that imprimatur.
  • The Panel has established a pattern, in what few results we have from them, of preferring a return to established institutional boundaries while efforts at reconciliation are pursued. This pattern, expressed explicitly in this report, would strongly encourage maintaining within the Episcopal Church those dioceses and congregations that have sought to leave, at least until the Panel responds.
  • The Panel has also established a pattern of withholding consideration while issues are being pursued in civil courts. With their preference for maintenance of the status quo ante, this would maintain real property within institutions of the Episcopal Church, again at least until recommendations were received. Both dioceses and congregations would save a lot of money in the meantime. Once recommendations were received, both dioceses and congregations would have some better guidance on how to negotiate reconciliation or separation.
  • As the Panel is a creature of the Archbishop of Canterbury, he could hardly ignore the Panel’s recommendations. Neither, I think, could he issue any sort of “peremptory judgment” while the Panel consideration was in process (including excluding American bishops from Lambeth).


All in all, this seems to have a lot to say for it.

We can all be appreciative of the Panel of Reference. They make efforts to be thorough in their process and equitable in their considerations. In light of all the heat generated by passionate statements, I think we might meaningfully try ourselves working with folks who seem to pursue a reasonable process.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Call for the Chaplain

I do sometimes remember that I am a chaplain.

I can’t watch medical dramas on television. It’s not a matter of how well or how poorly they’re written. “ER” and “House” and others are fine shows; and I can’t watch them.

I can’t watch them for any period of time – more than about ten minutes – without grumbling (or yelling), “It wouldn’t happen that way!” There are lots of details that stimulate that. However, the most important one is when someone – patient, family member, staff member – is wracked with grief and the physician, staff or resident, takes the time to offer grief support. I know from years of experience that that doesn’t happen. I don’t mean to imply that physicians don’t care, or that they wouldn’t stay if they could. However, most physicians in my experience don’t have the training to provide the emotional support they might want to. Indeed, most physicians, and especially resident physicians, don’t have the time to offer support, much as they might like to.

That got triggered again by an article in the February 21 edition of the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA). The article, by physicians Paul Maciejewski, Baohui Zhang, Susan Block, and Holly Prigerson, is titled, “An Empirical Examination of the Stage Theory of Grief.” (You can access the article on line here.) To summarize, they found that the stage theory of Elizabeth Kübler-Ross (at least as it has come to be used in much of health care) doesn’t stand up in their study. That is, people don’t progress through grief in clear and distinct stages, and they may come to some measure of “acceptance” much faster than has been commonly assumed.

Now, this principle doesn’t bother me a bit. I’ve been teaching that for years. Indeed, chaplains have been saying form some time that grief doesn’t happen in stages, and doesn’t happen in sequence. There are a number of concerns to raise about Kübler-Ross, and this is only one of them.

What does bother me is that in their literature review there is no reference to the pastoral literature on grief. Indeed, there is no reference to nursing or social work literature, either; but the literature I know best is the pastoral literature.

It’s not that there’s nothing out there. The authors write, “To date, no study has explicitly tested whether the normal course of adjustment to a natural death progresses through stages of disbelief, yearning, anger, depression, and acceptance.” That may well be true. However, there is a great deal of literature on how people grieve, and it includes both empirical quantitative studies and studies of individual cases. For example, in the Journal of Pastoral Care there are five such studies in the past ten years. I haven’t had time to ask my hospital library to do a literature search to include the nursing and social work literature; but my guess is that there is much more out there in those disciplines. After all, we pastoral folks are late (and sometimes lame) in developing our body of research.

I’m not really surprised. One of my chief complaints over the years is that we professionals in health care don’t read each other’s literature. I fear that’s even worse when physicians are the researchers. We comment in health care that you need to get a doctor to talk to a doctor if you want to be heard. These physicians certainly looked at reputable journals and found relevant articles. However, I don’t see any reference to pastoral, nursing, or social work literature; not in their citations, nor even in an offhand reference in the text.

And that’s a shame. When I was primary investigator for a study of nurses’ attitudes about pastoral care (a long time ago now) I discovered there was a wealth of literature from other disciplines – literature that was certainly relevant to my study. I was delighted to discover those resources from colleagues in other disciplines.

So, I’m sorry that these investigators failed to note those resources, even if they didn’t find them useful. I fear they didn’t find them at all, and perhaps because it never occurred to them to look. While doctors do care about grieving families, most of the time they don’t provide the care. The greatest providers of immediate care are nurses and chaplains; and the most common providers of long term aftercare are clergy. It would have made sense, even if professional respect never occurred to them, to at least acknowledge that. And, you know, the professional respect would have been nice, too.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

What Now? Even More Brainstorming

Okay, back to brainstorming again. The previous entries are here and here.

My first suggestion reflects a story that many of us have heard. Some will know the story of the frog and the scorpion. I grew up hearing “The Snake” by Al Wilson. (Conveniently enough, I chanced up on a blog that has both posted.) The point of both stories has come into my vocabulary as a saying: “you can trust a snake – to be a snake.” I don’t mean this as a specific comment about a specific person these days. I simply mean to suggest that people will behave according to their nature, and you can’t expect a significant change in behavior to happen suddenly, or without a great deal of work.

With that in mind, it seems to me that the House of Bishops, and individual bishops as members of it, can trust one another without overthinking or tedious parsing. Look at what folks have said and trust that they meant it as they said it. We should then hold them to what they have said.

For example, we have two statements of the intent of the Windsor Bishops: the letter from the first meeting of “Windsor bishops,” and the presentation of Bishop MacPherson to the Primates’ Meeting. While both acknowledge the demand of a few for some “alternative oversight,” both also commit to work with the Bishops of the Episcopal Church. Their willingness to maintain relationships and share in the pursuit of reconciliation should thus be how the bishops as a body, and how we outside, should assess their participation.

Conversely, statements from AMiA and from Bishop Duncan of Pittsburgh, in his role as Moderator of the Network, state clearly that they believe they are not called by the Communiqué (or, really, by anything else) to seek reconciliation and/or (re)integration into the Episcopal Church. The House of Bishops should trust them on that point and act accordingly.

We are currently watching this dynamic working itself out in events. In light of the fact that as of Friday the bishop-elect of South Carolina had not received sufficient consents from Standing Committees, he has issued a statement that quite unambiguously commits to serve in, stay in, and conform to the “doctrine, discipline, and worship of” the Episcopal Church. Indeed, he says that he had actually said this in his earlier statement. If sufficient consents to arrive, then this should be the standard for assessing his behavior, and his leadership in that diocese.

We should look at the differences in interpretation of the Communiqué between Bishop Katherine Jefferts Schori and Archbishops Akinola and Orombi. There is a significant difference between a commitment “not to authorize rites” to bless same-sex couples and to “prohibit” such blessings. There is a significant difference between expectation that the Episcopal Church will “fast for a season” from confirming the election of a GLBT person in a relationship and a commitment “NOT to consent” period. We need to trust that those are the standards, and the minimal standards, that will impress those African prelates, and make our choices accordingly. We should trust that they aren’t about to stop their cross-provincial interventions short of that, and have appropriate expectations.

In sum, we should trust that folks have said what they mean to say (including those Episcopal bishops who have stated unequivocally “not one step back!” Check here.). We should not be surprised or shocked if they do as they say.

By the same token, our bishops must say what they mean. For example, we quibble over whether Lambeth resolution 1998-1.10 is “the standard of teaching” for the Communion. Like our arguments after the 2003 General Convention over the word “recognize,” we need to simply get explicit. We might say, for example, “If by standard you mean what we can normally and normatively expect to hear if we attend an educational event in most provinces of the Communion, then yes, perhaps we can call this a ‘standard.’ If, on the other hand, you mean a doctrine, an official teaching authorized by the appropriate council of the Church, we can’t agree; for neither the Lambeth Conference nor any other council of the Communion has ever claimed such authority to establish a ‘doctrine.” Moreover, a majority opinion is not the same as a consensus; and so we can’t agree to those definitions of ‘a standard.’”

The bishops might get explicit about how we view the Instruments of Communion and their authority. We have heard expectations from the Primates’ Meetings, and arguably from the Archbishop of Canterbury. The bishops might clarify their expectation to also receive guidance from the Anglican Consultative Council and the Lambeth Conference before deciding on next steps in responding to the Windsor Report. (Of course, that could raise an interesting question. Could we recognize – could anyone really recognize – the Lambeth Conference as an “Instrument of Communion” if a significant viewpoint, much less a significant portion of the bishops, isn’t invited to participate in communion?) If, as the Windsor Report holds, there is no meaningful priority between the Primates’ Meeting, the Anglican Consultative Council, and the Lambeth Conference (save perhaps in history), how can the Episcopal Church make a meaningful response without hearing from and participating in all three?

Finally, the bishops might take the initiative in seeking reconciliation within our own province. Certainly, that was envisioned by Bishop MacPherson in his presentation to the Primates. Thus, our bishops could support the Presiding Bishop and help her develop the role of a Primatial Vicar. They could even choose with her one of the Windsor Bishops for the role – perhaps Bishop Howard of Florida, elected for his conservative views, and still beset by clergy and congregations for whom he wasn’t conservative enough. Surely he is in a position to see both sides. Or perhaps Bishop Jenkins of Louisiana, or Bishop Wimberly himself. If the Windsor Bishops are committed to working within the Episcopal Church and to work with those who feel estranged; if the Communiqué endorses their interest in helping with reconciliation; and if the Communiqué has endorsed the model of a Primatial Vicar with authority and responsibilities delegated by the Presiding Bishop, why do we need to wait for a Primatial Pastoral Council? We can show our commitment to those who feel estranged in earnest, making the first move without being formally coerced – and making it on our own terms, within our own structures. No outside council, not English bishops sent as questionable emissaries: just Episcopal bishops working together to show that the goal is acceptance of both all our GLBT siblings and all our dissatisfied siblings.

Now isn’t that a thought? We’d have done as best we can what Bishop Katherine originally suggested, using the resources endorsed by the Primates’ Communiqué, and we’d have done it without waiting for outside direction. Now, how could folks disagree with that?

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

What a Windsor Bishop Looks Like

Let’s take a brief break from brainstorming and consider what’s going on around us. Changing dynamics might change some of the ideas we have to offer.

Today the presentation by Bruce MacPherson, Bishop of Western Louisiana, President of Province IV of the Episcopal Church (most the Southeastern United States) and President of the Presiding Bishop’s Council of Advice, to the Primates’ Meeting in Tanzania became available on the web. (Acknowledgement to dailyepiscopalian and to Stand Firm.) It is an interesting document, and deserves close reading. And after close reading, these are some interesting points that stand out to me.

First, Bishop MacPherson cites the Windsor Report with some frequency as authoritative. He does not cite any subsequent documents. Notably, he does not cite the Communique from the Primates’ Meeting in Dromantine. Considering the level of authority that some frequently attribute to the Dromantine statement, this is interesting.

Second, Bishop MacPherson describes his constituency (the “Windsor Bishops”) as “about twenty-four other diocesan bishops who share a common support and commitment to the process in which the Windsor Reports invites the Church to share in a journey leading to the development of a "common Anglican Covenant." [WR117.p48]” These bishops “desire to remain a part of The Episcopal Church, but in full communion with you and the Archbishop of Canterbury.” So, presumably these bishops are not interested in the first instance in leaving the Episcopal Church. Notably, “the majority of those identified as [Windsor bishops], support the ordination of women as deacons, presbyters and bishops.”

Third, “We have declared ourselves "Windsor Bishops" because we continue to believe that the Windsor Report contains a proper outline of our common faith and the basis for the healing of our common life.” This is, I think, an understanding of the Windsor Report that I have not heard anywhere else. While many appreciate what it says about interpretation of Scripture and about the Anglican tradition, I have not heard anyone else speak of it as a confessional statement in its own right.

Fourth, these bishops also “share a deep concern that should the General Convention of the Church elect to not participate in the Covenant process, and therefore "choose to walk apart," then we pray there will be a structure that will permit those who desire to remain "a constituent member of the Anglican Communion and in communion with the See of Canterbury," to be a part of this process.” Thus, it is the Covenant Process that they see as the best way forward.

Fifth, they are “deeply concerned with the substantial loss of many lifelong faithful Episcopalians, and the increasing number of congregations that are seeking the leadership and oversight of bishops in other Provinces of the Communion.” Specifically, he notes that the Windsor Report “calls for "a moratorium on any further interventions." [WR 155.p59]” To that end, “we are committed to working with the bishops of The Episcopal Church, and in those cases where a congregation has placed itself under a bishop of another province, to make provision for the present needs of the congregation.” In no small part, this is to find a solution within the Episcopal Church, without requiring outside intervention: “We must provide care for our own, and endeavour to find solutions to some of our problems.”

Sixth, there is one mention of Lambeth Resolution 1998-1.10, but with a particular emphasis:

To live into this, we are committed to the acceptance and support of the 1998 Lambeth Resolution 1.10, and the call for an ongoing process of listening and discernment. In each of our respective settings, we have endeavoured to ensure a place for gays and lesbians to worship and be nurtured in their faith journey, and our concern for them as members of the Body of Christ is sought to be a fulfillment of our Baptismal Covenant.


In the context of this presentation to this audience, emphasizing the listening process and inclusion instead of the notorious “standard of teaching” is striking.

So, Bishop MacPherson has seemed to describe a group of bishops on the conservative side of moderate. They’re not interested in leaving the Episcopal Church, and to keep others from leaving the Episcopal Church to seek foreign intervention, they are willing to offer themselves to provide pastoral oversight. While they “are concerned” about actions of General Convention, they have commitments to listening to GLBT Episcopalians and responding to them within the terms of the Baptismal Covenant. They place great importance on the Windsor Report (and perhaps not on the Dromantine Communique), and believe the future will be best established through development of an Anglican Covenant. Participating in the Covenant process, as opposed to permanent moratoria on consents or on same-sex blessings, is for them the critical criterion to measure whether the Episcopal Church is choosing to “walk apart.”

This is an interesting description indeed. We do not know, of course, to what extent the other “Windsor Bishops” would explicitly agree with this description. I certainly don’t know what to make of the description of the Windsor Report as “a proper outline of our common faith.” At the same time, it is a position that appears different than that of those bishops who have already spoken of “alternative primatial oversight,” as well as from the majority of the House of Bishops. It deserve careful attention to see how this is lived out in the meeting of the House of Bishops. And if these bishops are to express a “loyal opposition” within the Episcopal Church, there is much in this statement by which we might measure their commitment.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

More Brainstorming

Let us return again to the brainstorming session. After all, in the midst of the (great) reaction and the (rare) reflection, it might bring some new thoughts. (And you can find my earlier brainstorming here.)

And the reaction and reflection process certainly goes on. The Executive Council of the Episcopal Church met this past week in Portland, Oregon. They issued a statement about their meeting that attempted to speak of reconciliation and full inclusion. And the Archbishop of Canterbury has circulated a pastoral letter to his colleague Primates. The content is largely a review of the results of the Primates Meeting in Tanzania. There are some interesting nuances – a nod, if a faint one, to the polity and structures of the Episcopal Church; a clear statement that the goal he sees for the Episcopal Church is reconciliation, some way to keep unhappy conservatives within the Episcopal Church – but little else that is new. Both of these publications will be bashed, trashed, and rehashed by the usual suspects, and I commend you to them for that.

But as for our brainstorming session: let’s return again to considering how the House of Bishops of the Episcopal Church might respond to the Communique from Tanzania.

One possible response would simply be to agree, to make statements that for the time being they will not consent to the election of a GLBT bishop-elect who is in a committed relationship, and they will not give permission for blessings of the unions of same-sex couples within their dioceses. (Remember, now, that we’re brainstorming, and every suggestion goes on the board, however unacceptable it might be.) Contrary to many statements, I fear that such a decision is within their capacity, at least for a period of time. They can simply make a gentleperson’s agreement as to how they will act as individuals. After all, that’s how the moratorium on consenting to any episcopal election for a period prior to the 2006 General Convention happened. They agreed; and as long as a majority followed through, any election was bound to fail the consent process. (The pastoral from Canterbury made reference to this room, albeit it limited, for independent function. Who says he doesn’t understand our structures?) They could certainly commit to one another (and whatever satisfaction it might give some and heartache it might give others, it would only be their commitment to one another) not to consent; and as long as 51% were dependable, the issue would be moot.

The actions regarding blessing of same-sex couples would be a bit more difficult. There is no consensus among the Primates as to whether we’ve been asked to not approve rites; to not approve public ceremonies; or to actively discourage any such blessings (presumably punishing any violation). There is hardly likely to be consensus among Episcopal bishops, without even addressing those bishops who are prepared to act anyway. I fear those distinctions are ultimately the point on which this will fall apart. There enough of those in the Communion of the third opinion who will be utterly dissatisfied with those of the first opinion; and so such a response would once again be “inadequate.” However, some effort might be made to craft a statement covering the first opinion, and possibly the second. It would be much harder to enforce. The practical result might even be to move local option in practical terms from the diocesan to the congregational level. In any case, it is within the capacity of the House of Bishops to try to craft such gentleperson’s agreements.

Conversely, the House of Bishops could simply say, “No, we’re not interested.” They could say it politely (“Thank you so much for your concern, and we’re so sorry, but we can’t comply.”); bluntly (“We don’t recognize your authority, and we’re not interested in acceding.”); theologically (“When we consider that phrase of the Quadrilateral, ‘the episcopate as locally adapted,’ it’s clear that you don’t appreciate what it means to be a bishop in this locality.”); or prophetically (“We believe profoundly that this is where God in his Holy Spirit is calling us.”). The gist would be the same, and the consequences would be the same. To respond so directly would be to accept the resulting responses, some mourning and some fiery, that relations with some Anglican provinces were clearly ended. It would be to accept resulting conflict within the Episcopal Church. I think it unlikely; but it is within the capacity of the House of Bishops.

The House could once again say that the critical response must come from the General Convention, and that any steps they took were once again interim until time certain. They could once again commit not to consent to any episcopal ordinations for a set period of time. (Someone close to me suggested they might not participate in any ordinations.) Such a decision would at least suggest a “fast” that was not focused on GLBT Episcopalians.

The House, at least for its first meeting, might take a different tack. The Bishops might decide that they need more information, at least between the meetings in March and September. They might, for example, ask to have the same report on the listening process that the Primates heard. That report would be some indication of just how other provinces expressed their own compliance with that part of the Windsor Report. Since so much emphasis has been placed on restoring trust, the report on the listening process might engender greater trust on the part of the Episcopal bishops that others are also taking steps.

And in the interest of reestablishing trust, the House might offer its own schedule. The current “invitation” seems to be all or nothing. The House might suggest interim steps it might take – say, a commitment until time certain not to consent to the election of a GLBT person in a relationship – and a response from outside that the House might consider appropriate – say, an instruction from the Bishop Lyons to those congregations under his oversight to forego property and negotiate a civil separation (in both senses of the term) from the dioceses that they left. If this is not an ultimatum (don’t say it; I know what you’re thinking) but instead steps between colleague provinces to reestablish trust, it would seem appropriate that both sides move in concert.

So there are my next thoughts. What are yours? And think quickly. Not only do the Bishops meet soon, but other events continue. That’s all the more reason for us to help our Bishops think about unexpected possibilities.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Not Worthy, Not Willing, but Faithful: a Sermon for the Second Sunday of Lent

I’m preaching tomorrow (Second Lent) at a local church, supplying for a colleague who has a chance to be away. He called me earlier this week, asking me about the Gospel lesson. Specifically, he asked me whether I wanted the long version or the short version. This congregation is still using the Prayer Book lectionary, and in that lectionary there is an optional extension.

The required lesson is Luke 13:31-35:

Some Pharisees came and said to Jesus, "Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you." He said to them, "Go and tell that fox for me, 'Listen, I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I finish my work. Yet today, tomorrow, and the next day I must be on my way, because it is impossible for a prophet to be killed outside of Jerusalem.' Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! See, your house is left to you. And I tell you, you will not see me until the time comes when you say, 'Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.'"


Now, there is plenty in that to preach on, I suppose. However, some of you may have figured out by now that my sermons are only completed at the end of the week (sometimes in the shower Sunday morning; sometimes later). So, when he asked me whether I wanted the extended Gospel, I had to say that yes, I did. Since I didn’t know what I would preach on, I didn’t know whether there would be something in the extension that I would find compelling.

The extension is Luke 13:22-30:

"Jesus went through one town and village after another, teaching as he made his way to Jerusalem. Someone asked him, "Lord, will only a few be saved?" He said to them, "Strive to enter through the narrow door; for many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able. When once the owner of the house has got up and shut the door, and you begin to stand outside and to knock at the door, saying, 'Lord, open to us,' then in reply he will say to you, 'I do not know where you come from.' Then you will begin to say, 'We ate and drank with you, and you taught in our streets.' But he will say, 'I do not know where you come from; go away from me, all you evildoers!' There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, and you yourselves thrown out. Then people will come from east and west, from north and south, and will eat in the kingdom of God. Indeed, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last."


Perhaps I shouldn’t have asked for the extension. Those verses might be particularly loaded these days. Much of the argument among Christians these days, including much of the argument among Episcopalians and Anglicans, centers on the “narrow door.” Just now narrow? Just how tall? Just what key? Conditioned perhaps by generations of reading Alice in Wonderland or seeing it on screen, we have this image of a large person at best struggling through, and at worst staring through, a door that appears normal save that it is entirely too small.

At the same time, while I could choose not to preach on it, I can’t choose not to think about it. If I believe Holy Scripture is the “Word of God,” and “contains all things necessary to salvation,” I can’t discard out of hand even those passages that I find difficult.

It isn’t made easier by Paul’s statement from Philippians. He calls on his readers to imitate him and those who follow his example, and warns about “enemies of the cross of Christ:” “Their end is destruction; their god is the belly; and their glory is in their shame; their minds are set on earthly things.” It is an image distinctly unattractive and distinctly challenging.

Perhaps, though, the analysis we need is in the lessons we have. You see, the challenge and the call is to trust this to God’s standards. That’s not easy. We want to impose our own. We want to guard the narrow door, and manage who comes and goes. Now, I’m not speaking specifically to current issues, and I’m certainly not trying to say anyone is “right.” I think this is a normal human failing; and I think in this case we’re all “wrong.”

There is that famous jest of Groucho Marx that he wouldn’t be a member of any club that would have him. In a sense, that’s our problem, too. That plays two ways. Sometimes we’re concerned that we’re not worthy, that our behavior hasn’t measured up. Sometimes like Groucho we’re all too ready to say, “I can’t come, Lord. I’m not worthy.”

On the other hand, sometimes we try to justify ourselves by finding someone else to point out, someone else whose sins we want to consider somehow worse than ours. We’re all too ready to say, “If that person doesn’t change, doesn’t turn around, that person won’t be worthy.”

But, once again, our call is to trust God, and let God operate the door to God’s standards. Look what Jesus said about this. He said, “How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings.” Well and good; we want to be wanted, to be gathered by Jesus. But Jesus is clear: being gathered is about his desire, God’s desire to gather us, not about our worthiness or willingness to be gathered. We need context here. Jesus said, “How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!” Not willing! And he says it to “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it!” Hardly worthy! And yet still Jesus would have gathered them.

And this is hardly a new standard for God. Remember Jesus’ comment about the “narrow door:” “There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, and you yourselves thrown out.” Now, I imagine this might have confused those who were listening. After all, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were the Patriarchs, the first heroes of belief in one God. At the same time, they weren’t heroes because of their moral rectitude. Both Abraham and Isaac offered their wives to other men, as if they were not wives but sisters, to secure their own safety. Indeed, Abraham did it twice! And Jacob – well, he stole his brother’s birthright by fraud and he stole his father-in-law’s flocks by sorcery, and he sent his wives and children ahead to meet Esau first, lest Esau still be bent revenge. The Patriarchs were hardly heroic in a moral sense.

What they were heroic about was trusting in God’s plan for them. In today’s Old Testament lesson we have a covenant ceremony between God and Abram, not yet renamed Abraham. The covenant is a striking ceremony, with animal sacrifice and powerful visions. But we get there because God willed it, and because Abram believed: “And he believed the LORD; and the LORD reckoned it to him as righteousness.” Abram believed the Lord even though the promise seemed preposterous, and God’s performance to that point seemed inadequate. Still, Abram believed; and for God that was righteousness enough.

Now, we may still fret. We are concerned with what is at best just, or at least fair. We know our sins all too well; and whether we choose to mourn them or to try to make someone else’s look worse, we know deep down that we’re not worthy and perhaps not willing. How can God take us in? How can we get through the narrow door?

Paul answers that question for us. He certainly talks about “enemies of the cross of Christ” in terms that sometimes apply even to us. But he also calls us to trust Christ’s desire and determination to gather us. “He will transform the body of our humiliation that it may be conformed to the body of his glory, by the power that also enables him to make all things subject to himself.” We can trust even our worthiness to Christ. He will fit us to the narrow door, if only we will believe and will trust him to do it.

So during this season of Lent, remember why we fast. Remember for whom we prepare. We don’t do it to make ourselves worthy. We can’t make ourselves worthy. We fast and prepare to call us again to faith in God in Christ. We fast and prepare to embrace and express our faith in his promise and his desire for us. He is prepared to gather us, to embrace and protect us like a mother hen, even though we’re not worthy, even though we’re not even willing. We are called to trust in God, to trust in what God has done for us in Christ; and if we will only trust, for God that will be the righteousness enough.

Friday, March 02, 2007

A Musical Interlude

As we worry through communiqués, reports, interviews, articles, and learned papers, and all the parsing and speculation that we apply to them (and I am no less guilty than others), periodically there are calls for “clarity.” And clarity can be hard to find. Those who sign communiqués together express separately interpretations so different as to seem irreconcilable. And statements made today may seem contrary to statements made only a few years ago. For good or ill (for good and ill) we are all conscious of our circumstances and our audiences; and we are all responsive to them, to a greater or lesser extent.

Which brings me to the song I’ve posted below. The title is "The Vicar of Bray." I heard it as a child on a record (real 33 1/3 vinyl!) of English folk songs (I seem to remember that the singer was Theodore Bikel; but I may not be correct). Long before I understood the theological niceties to which the song refers, I recognized the political implications. This version I found at Lesley Nelson’s Folk Music site, where you can also hear the tune. There is a Wikipedia article with annotations, and an older version of the lyrics; but the one below is more like what I remember from my childhood. I offer it for the fun of it. After all, in all of this we need to stop and laugh now and again.

In good King Charles's golden time
When loyalty no harm meant
A zealous high churchman was I
And so I gained preferment
To teach my flock I never missed
Kings are by God appointed
And damned are those who dare resist
Or touch the Lord's annointed.

Chorus:
And this is law that I'll maintain
Until my dying day, Sir.
That whatsoever king may reign

Still I'll be the Vicar of Bray, Sir!


When Royal James possessed the crown
And popery came in fashion
The Penal Laws I hooted down
And read the Declaration
The Church of Rome I found did fit
Full well my constitution
And I had been a Jesuit
But for the Revolution.

Chorus

When William was our King declared
To ease the nation's grievance
With this new wind about I steered
And swore to him allegiance
Old principles I did revoke
Set conscience at a distance
Passive obedience was a joke
A jest was non-resistance.

Chorus

When Royal Anne became our Queen
The Church of England's Glory
Another face of things was seen
And I became a Tory
Occasional conformists base
I blamed their moderation
And thought the Church in danger was
By such prevarication.

Chorus

When George in pudding time came o'er
And moderate men looked big, Sir.
My principles I changed once more
And so became a Whig, Sir.
And thus preferment I procured
From our new faith's defender.
And almost every day abjured
The Pope and the Pretender.

Chorus

The illustrious house of Hanover
And Protestant succession
To these I do allegiance swear
While they can keep possession
For in my faith and loyalty
I never more will falter
And George my lawful king shall be
Until the times do alter.

Chorus:
And this is law that I'll maintain
Until my dying day, Sir.
That whatsoever king may reign

Still I'll be the Vicar of Bray, Sir!

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Brainstorming for Bishops

As will surprise no regular reader, I have been following all the discussion regarding the Communique of the Primates’ Meeting in Tanzania, with its attached Schedule and draft Covenant. There is, as always, a great deal of argument (most of it civil, most of it thoughtful) about the meaning and import of the documents, and of specific passages of them. If you want to see the breadth of opinion, I commend you to all the usual suspects.

There is, however, one thing on which everyone agrees. By the end of September of this year the House of Bishops of the Episcopal Church is expected to respond, based on its corporate interpretation. That response is expected to include steps for action.

And with that in mind, and with the short time before the March meeting of the House of Bishops, perhaps we need to be involved less in abstract interpretation, and more in recommendations. After all, time is passing, and thoughtful decision making takes time in and of itself. We outside the House (and I imagine those inside the House) will not come to consensus of the “best” interpretation, but they inside the House will come to some functional interpretation. And everyone expects that functional interpretation to be made incarnate in action steps.

Tobias Haller of In a Godward Direction has offered his suggestions. It’s thoughtful and pretty thorough. I often think the inside of his head is better organized than mine, and this is suggestive of that.

On the other hand, I think there is plenty of room for other, less fully organized, reflections (and I’m sure he would, too). After all, in many settings the first step in decision making is brainstorming, laying out all possibilities, even if farfetched. Certainly, some ideas are ultimately rejected as impossible (which might mean literally beyond capacity, and might mean simply too painful to carry out); but some may seen as possible, and even as useful, that hadn’t been imagined before.

In that light, I would like to make two suggestions.

First, the House of Bishops can propose its own draft for an Anglican Covenant. It would not be the first, as I have noted elsewhere; and while the model proposed in Tanzania has some cachet because of its source, it is currently a model, circulated for study. The House of Bishops could gather its own Committee and suggest an alternative. That could only be seen as active interest and participation in the Covenant process, without seeing any previous model as privileged. It could describe the House’s understanding of how autonomy and responsibility are balanced in “interdependence.” It might express an opinion on the relative authority of statements of Primates meetings and of actions of the Anglican Consultative Council. It could conceivably be available for the June meeting of the General Synod of the Anglican Church of Canada and the July meeting of the General Synod of the Church of England. While acceding to this or any model of a Covenant would require action of General Convention, this is certainly within the capacity and authority of the House of Bishops.

Second, the House of Bishops might call for more meetings of the Anglican Consultative Council. Within our polity in the Episcopal Church we believe that the priesthood of all believers and the movement of the Spirit within each baptized person require all orders of ministry to be represented in any binding decision. We could call for the same incarnational action on the part of the Communion, lived out in more frequent meetings of the ACC. I believe the Primates Meetings have taken on the image of being more important than the ACC in no small part simply because the Primates meet more often and so issue more public statements. Since we might be called upon to spend more money to make it happen, we should express willingness to do so.

Third, the House of Bishops might decide as a body that American bishops will voluntarily withdraw from the next Lambeth Conference, just as we voluntarily withdrew from the last meeting of the Anglican Consultative Council. This should be balanced with a decision not to withdraw from the next or future meetings of the ACC or from meetings of the Primates. I think this would have value for a number of reasons.

  • It would define our withdrawal in terms of our interest in mission and peace, and not in someone else’s terms of “discipline.” It would include our understanding that this was not rejection of the Communion, that we were choosing to “fast for a season,” and not to “walk apart.”
  • It would get the Archbishop of Canterbury off the hook well ahead of a crisis, without requiring him to refuse to invite any or all of our bishops. While it is unclear just how much Archbishop Williams agrees with actions of General Convention, allowing others to continue to pressure him does not serve us. While he might or might not be grateful (at least publically), that’s not the point. It shows respect for his office and our own emotional security by refusing to participate in a tug of war for paternal recognition.
  • It would pressure possibly schismatic bishops within the Episcopal Church to declare themselves. If the House has expressed its mind that no Episcopal bishop will attend Lambeth, any bishop who participates demonstrates decision to leave the House. Those who are committed to reconciliation, to remaining the loyal opposition within the House, will be willing to share in this fast for that purpose.
  • It will save a lot of money. I’m not suggesting we shouldn’t contribute to supporting the Lambeth Conference, paying for all those other bishops to attend. I think we should. Our dioceses will still save a lot of money for mission in not paying the expenses of our bishops. Paying for others while not attending ourselves follows the Gospel model of going the extra mile. It may also “heap coals of fire....”
  • While there is risk that Lambeth without our bishops will make statements and take positions that we cannot accept, no one will be able to claim our bishops were complicit. Indeed, it will be hard to declare any position as “the standard of teaching for the Communion” if such a large segment of the bishops of the Communion do not participate. Considering that our bishops are a minority at Lambeth, such statements may be expected if we do attend. This would at least undermine the air of dignity and authority of such statements.
  • Declaring early that this is under consideration will give others in the Communion to express their feelings about our participation in Lambeth. Some bishops in the Global South have expressed willingness to see us excluded, however that willingness might be qualified. It would be interesting to hear whether others had a commitment to seeing us included.

Those are some of my suggestions. Anybody else have anything to toss up?