Saturday, June 30, 2007

On Anglican Bishops and Light Bulbs

There have been announcements of yet more Americans elected or received to serve as bishops for American congregations under the jurisdiction of Anglican provinces in Africa. The Rev. Bill Murdoch has been elected by the Province of Kenya to work with the Bishop-elect Bill Atwood in caring for American congregations. (One has to wonder how this will affect his current position as a parish rector in the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts.) In addition, the Rt. Rev. Andrew Fairfield, retired bishop of North Dakota, has resigned from the Episcopal House of Bishops and has been received into the House of Bishops of the Church of the Province of Uganda. (Again, one hopes that, like Bishop Bena when he retired from Albany and was translated to Nigeria for CANA, Bishop Fairfield will ask for an appropriate letter dimissory.) Both events have been noted on Thinking Anglicans.

The same post also cites a post at Anglican Mainstream. The text is short, consisting primarily of the names of American men elected and/or received to serve ministries of various African provinces. The post notes that the number is now eleven, and closes with the statement, “The Province of Wales has six bishops, the Scottish Episcopal Church has seven.”

The import of the statement is pretty clear: if we have more bishops than either of these Provinces, shouldn’t we be our own province? Just how many bishops does it take to make a province?

Not that many, really. There are a number of Anglican provinces with many fewer bishops than the large Houses of the Church of England or the Episcopal Church or the Church of Nigeria (Anglican). Bangladesh has three. Burundi has six, as does South East Asia. Papua New Guinea has seven. Indeed, Rwanda has only fourteen, and that’s including the five bishops of AMiA. (Numbers gleaned from the Anglican Communion web site.) Clearly, organizing as a Province of the Anglican Communion is not about numbers of dioceses or of bishops.

Nor, strictly speaking, is it about geography, although the Episcopal Church with its jurisdictions literally around the world is the exception and not the rule. On the other hand, jurisdictions of four different provinces coincide in Europe (the English Diocese in Europe, the American Churches in Europe of the Episcopal Church, the Lusitanian (Portuguese) Church, and the Reformed Episcopal Church of Spain).

Nor is it about commonality of culture or language. At this point the Episcopal Church may appear exceptional once again; and yet I’m not so sure. Are North Americans and Micronesians and Ecuadorians more varied than the various peoples of South East Asia or of West Africa? I won’t pretend I’m an expert, but I think the various communities of the Episcopal Church in Jerusalem and the Middle East represent distinctly different cultures.

And neither is it roots directly in the Church of England. While that’s true of many provinces, Mexico, Central America, and the Philippines at least have their roots in the Episcopal Church

No, while I think all these characteristics may play some role in the formation of a Province, the critical issue is recognition. These other factors may aid in receiving recognition, and especially historical roots in another Anglican province. However, the critical piece is recognition – critically by Canterbury, and then also by other Provinces of the Communion.

Now, with all that there is something attention-getting about the numbers. For those who would wish to see the Episcopal Church displaced by a new “orthodox Anglican” province within the United States, eleven bishops is perhaps a good start. Add in another twenty-odd from the Common Cause partners (setting aside for the moment that these are relationships that have yet to be defined), and you’ve got quite a collection.

But at heart this is not about numbers – not numbers of bishops, nor numbers of parishioners. It’s about “being right,” and “being recognized as right” (in quotations because, of course, anyone still actively involved in the argument is convicted of the rightness of his or her position, and of the arguments he or she uses to support it). This has been, all too often, been about “Daddy (or Family), I love you. Show me you love me best.” It has been about Canterbury, and whom Canterbury would recognize; and now that Rwanda has interpreted Canterbury’s invitations to Episcopal bishops as Canterbury “taking sides,” they see little reason to wait on, much less work with, “Daddy” any longer. Of course, they haven’t put it quite that way. But Lambeth is Daddy’s – excuse me, Canterbury’s – biggest party, and not unlike the older brother of the Prodigal Son, they don’t want a party held.

And so some, including by implication posters for Anglican Mainstream, are ready to argue for a new province, justified by theological position, but somehow critically strengthened by “more bishops than thou.” “If Daddy won’t recognize us (and un-recognize those others), we’ll look for a new family.” Many of us thought this was coming. I guess now they feel they have enough bishops to turn on the light.


Mark Harris of Preludium lists "thirteen or so," and has pictures. Read his post and the comments.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Another Voice of a (Former) Chaplain (Now) in Health Care

I’ve found another report on NPR of a healthcare chaplain. Well, that’s not exactly correct: better to say this is a chaplain who found his way into health care, serving a particularly vulnerable population.

Yesterday All Things Considered reported on efforts to support returning veterans, and especially to help them find necessary mental health services. The story included a profile of Mike Colson. Chaplain Mike Colson, USN, served in country in both Afghanistan and Iraq. He came home suffering Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Now Dr. Mike Colson, PhD, serves with Military Chaplains Associated Services and the Seattle Vet Center. He provides counseling for returning vets suffering PTSD, and speaks widely to encourage those who haven’t yet to seek help. You can learn about him at his own web site and on the MCAS web site.

As a military chaplain, Colson would have had some responsibility for health care ministry, but it would not likely have been the primary focus of his career. Now that his military service is complete, he has moved into a healthcare ministry (he might not see that as the best way to describe his work, but I’m certainly convinced). His story gives him access and respectability with a patient population whose condition and experiences are noted for causing distrust and anxiety.

As a healthcare chaplain, I know how many patients and families I have served for whom trauma and pain have disrupted reality. Mike Colson seeks to serve, and to truly bring home, those for whom reality has been not simply disrupted but distorted. This chaplain’s voice is one from which all of us can benefit, and which some among us need desperately.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Who's Calling the Game?

So, one may well ask the question whether Lambeth is falling apart. Rwanda has announced that Rwandan bishops are not coming if the American Episcopalians do (oh, and the bishops of AmiA, supported by Rwanda, should be there). Uganda had earlier expressed much the same sentiment. Sydney leadership has recommended Sydney bishops not come if the Church of England in South Africa isn’t (although there is an interesting clause beginning with “without” that would appear to offer some wiggle room). Nigeria had also threatened not to come. And the Rwandan, Ugandan, and Nigerian statements all refer to the document, “The Road to Lambeth,” prepared for the Council of Anglican Provinces in Africa (CAPA), and received at the Kigali meeting of CAPA Primates in 2006, which states,:

The current situation is a twofold crisis for the Anglican Communion: a crisis of doctrine and a crisis of leadership, in which the failure of the “Instruments” of the Communion to exercise discipline has called into question the viability of the Anglican Communion as a united Christian body under a common foundation of faith, as is supposed by the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral. Due to this breakdown of discipline, we are not sure that we can in good conscience continue to spend our time, our money and our prayers on behalf of a body that proclaims two Gospels, the Gospel of Christ and the Gospel of Sexuality….

In light of the above, we have concluded that we must receive assurances from the Primates and the Archbishop of Canterbury that this crisis will be resolved before a Lambeth Conference is convened. There is no point, in our view, in meeting and meeting and not resolving the fundamental crisis of Anglican identity. We will definitely not attend any Lambeth Conference to which the violators of the Lambeth Resolution are also invited as participants or observers. (Emphases in the original)

While we know that to be received by a meeting of the Global South Primates is not the same as expressing commitments of all the Global South Primates, this raises the possibility that more African Provinces might follow suit.

I’ve suggested in several venues that Archbishop Williams is committed to the Communion, but is practicing brinksmanship by stalling until we all see who loses patience and leaves the table. I have described this in places as an ecclesial game of “Let’s You and Him Fight,” a “game,” or unhealthy pattern of behavior, described in Transactional Analysis.

Now, in light of the current announcements of departure (and, yes, I know that announcements are not yet actual departures), I’ve decided a different game describes it better. The game is Bull Poker, a novelty event that is a part of some American rodeos. A table is set in the middle of the rodeo arena, and participants take their places at the table. Sometimes they even play actual poker. While they sit, a fighting bull is released into the arena, with the expectation it will charge the table and the players. There is a cash prize, and it’s won by the last person brave enough (or perhaps stupid enough) to sit at the table. You can hear a participant describe the game, and watch a video of it here.

Now, my point is not to analyze the metaphor too closely. I haven’t decided whether the bull is the conflict incarnate, or the issues of the conflict (which certainly won’t go away), or some individual. I do think it is a reasonable metaphor for the current news. And I am sure of two things: no one will come away from the table unscathed; and Canterbury still establishes the game.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Days of Future Past

Well, I've always been more a fan of the Moody Blues than of those Michael J. Fox movies.

So, even as I’ve been watching the speculation about the various provinces of the Anglican Communion that have decided to take responsibility for congregations in the United States (and soon, I expect, in Canada), and speculation about whether the North American “Common Cause” partners will be able to turn their common dissatisfaction with the Episcopal Church into actual unity, I stopped to think about the last movement of groups to set themselves up in opposition to the Episcopal Church. I have been thinking back to the early days of my ministry, when ordaining women was new and the 1979 Prayer Book still had “Proposed” printed in the first page.

When I think about this, I turn to the “Not in Communion” page at Anglicans Online. It’s an interesting list of churches and other organizations who consider themselves “Anglican” and/or “Episcopal,” even if not recognized in Canterbury or New York (or other places; it’s truly an international list). Most of them are more conservative than the Episcopal Church on a whole variety of issues; a few are more liberal. Several years ago most went into great detail as to the historic succession of their bishops, but more recent revisions seem to show that many of these organizations aren’t as anxious to prove themselves as they used to be.

I find two of these bodies particularly interesting, in light of current events. The first group is the Anglican Church in America (ACA). Its roots are in the American Episcopal Church, one of the first groups to depart over revision of the 1928 Book of Common Prayer. The ACA represents some 86 congregations in the United States.

The ACA is interesting because it is part of a worldwide fellowship, the Traditional Anglican Church (TAC). TAC reports fourteen provinces on five continents. Looking as an outsider at the concordat that formed TAC, they seem structured much the way some would like for the Anglican Communion: authority is vested in bishops in council, but with greater mutual accountability (there are, for example, explicit grounds for inclusion and excommunication). TAC has also been exploring “recognition” by the Vatican. It’s unclear to me whether that implies some sort of “uniate” status, but it doesn’t appear to mean being incorporated into the Roman church.

The ACA and TAC also have an interesting intersection with the Episcopal Church, centered in one individual. That person is David Moyer. In ACA and TAC he is the Rt. Rev. David Moyer, SSC, Bishop of the Armed Forces and Vice-president of the ACA House of Bishops. He is also listed as Rector on the web site of the Church of the Good Shepherd, Rosemont, a parish of the Diocese of Pennsylvania (although to be certain the parish web site has a great deal of information on ACA, and none on the Episcopal Church). While there was some notice in the Anglican news world when Moyer was elected a bishop in ACA, interest in that particular issue has been superseded by subsequent events.

The second body I have found particularly interesting is the Anglican Province of America (APA). APA is also rooted in the AEC, and is in fact a group split from the ACA. The APA formed in opposition to revision of the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer. They now represent some 66 congregations, widely scattered across the United States.

The APA is interesting for three reasons. The first is that in 2001 they agreed with the Reformed Episcopal Church (REC) to a joint affirmation called, “Anglican Belief and Practice.” The REC began with Episcopalians who left the Episcopal Church more than 130 years ago, and represents 137 congregations. This is an interesting connection, in that the APA has been largely Anglo-catholic in tradition, while the REC has been decidedly Evangelical. (Indeed, there is now a dissenting group within REC, concerned that in joining with APA the REC will lose its Evangelical focus.) So, the younger body of the APA has joined with the REC, the oldest body formed by dissenting Episcopalians.

The second is that in fact there have been ecumenical meetings between the APA and REC and the Episcopal Church. The discussions actually began with the REC in 1988, but the APA was also represented at a meeting of bishops in 2003.

The third reason that APA is interesting is that, with REC, APA is a “Common Cause” partner with the Anglican Communion Network. In addition, according to the APA web site, “On November 12, 2005 the Anglican Province of America, the Reformed Episcopal Church, and the Church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion) entered into a Covenant Union with one another.” It's not a surprise that they should be a part of "Common Cause." Indeed, in light of their history the real surprise is that they would consider discussions with the Episcopal Church.

These two separate bodies have much in common. Certainly, both claim a place in the Anglican tradition, reflected in historic Books of Common Prayer. Both affirm the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral. Both hold to the Affirmation of St. Louis, an important document in the Continuing Anglican movement. Both are members of the Federation of Anglican Churches in the Americas (FACA). And both certainly continue to observe and comment on events in the Episcopal Church (you can look for some examples here).

However, I am also interested in what the continued existence of these and other Continuing Anglican bodies might suggest about our future. What might this suggest for the Episcopal Church another generation down the line?

First, I think these bodies, and any new bodies formed in light of the current crisis, will still be with us thirty years from now. These groups, and others like them, went through multiple episodes of merger and separation; but they did not simply dry up and blow away. I think the same will be true for any new bodies that come out of the “Common Cause” conversations. Of course, neither have we in the Episcopal Church dried up and blown away in the interim, and nor will we over the next generation (rhetoric to the contrary notwithstanding); and I don’t expect they will grow in the next generation faster than they have in the last. But we can expect to be living around these bodies for the foreseeable future.

Second, while these Continuing Anglican bodies still observe and comment on events in the Episcopal Church, no longer are all their efforts at evangelism focused on nibbling at the edges of the Episcopal Church. They observe and comment in their effort to claim their place in the Anglican tradition. On the other hand, as near as I can tell their efforts at evangelism are focused on the communities around them and not on dissatisfied Episcopalians. After a few years of shifting, I think any new bodies will have absorbed all the Episcopalians that will choose to join them, and will turn from necessity to wider efforts at evangelism.

There are certainly some differences. These bodies struggled in the early years to claim Anglican identity when only a few acknowledged Anglican bishops (Episcopal or otherwise) would recognize them. The interest of a handful of Global South Anglican primates will make possible a stronger claim of Anglican identity (although not exclusive Anglican identity) for new bodies. However, precisely because those claims will not be exclusive I don’t think that will make much of a difference. The fact that they may proclaim that we are not Anglican in the Episcopal Church will not in and of itself lead us to accept that identification ourselves.

At the same time, neither of these bodies is a significant challenge to the Episcopal Church. They are simply other churches, both at national and local levels. We might encounter them, but we rarely worry about them. Perhaps someday, as with Lutherans and Methodists, we’ll find we can find some ministries in common; but today they’re neither objects of interest nor concern.

Now, I grant you that it is always hazardous to make predictions, especially before events. However, I do find myself looking at the histories of these and other Continuing Anglican churches, and the very limited way in which they have affected the Episcopal Church, and thinking how events might play out from our current difficulties. I have hope for the Episcopal Church, and some expectation for dissenters new and old, that we will all still be around. We will in our various ways still be working to proclaim the Gospel and serve the world, without worrying too much about each other. And God will by grace be making the most of all of our ministries.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

The Voice of a Chaplain: Responding to Tragedy

Yesterday, as a part of reporting on the tragic fire in Charleston, South Carolina, in which nine fire fighters died, NPR's Michelle Norris interviewed the Rev. Robert Dewey, founder and Chief Chaplain of Coastal Crisis Chaplaincy. Coastal Crisis Chaplaincy focuses on “first responder” chaplaincy, offering pastoral care to police officers, fire fighters, and other “first responders,” to their families, and to the victims they serve.

Rob is an Episcopal priest and chaplain. In addition to his work in Charleston, he has been very involved since the attacks on September 11, 2001 in the work of Bishop Packard, Suffragan Bishop for Chaplaincies for the Episcopal Church, in developing the Episcopal Church’s strategies for disaster response.

Rob has been a valued colleague since he and I served different congregations in Memphis, many years ago. I know I have appreciated what he has done for the larger Church in the past six years. I encourage you to take a little time and listen to his report of the needs he has found in serving in Charleston in this tragedy, and of the compassionate care he and his chaplains have offered.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Balkanization in the Anglican Tradition

I’ve been watching the excitement for the past couple of days in the Anglican/Episcopal blogosphere. There’s been ever so much excitement.

Of particular note, the Primate of the Anglican Church of Kenya announced that an American, formerly an Episcopal priest, would be ordained a bishop with responsibility for a new diocese of that province formed in the United States. This will take place soon, and reportedly more than one Primate will participate. Letters of support have been received from Nigeria, Uganda, and the Southern Cone. You can read it all at all the usual suspects.

Not surprisingly, this has caused a great deal of speculation and anxiety. Those criticizing the action have decried it as a new violation of Anglican provincial boundaries; but they have also suggested that it is evidence that these Global South efforts to invade Episcopal space are “fragmenting.” Those supporting the action have seen it as additional evidence of the commitment of virtuous Global South primates to the care of beleaguered conservative evangelical Episcopalians and ex-Episcopalians. The letters of support suggest that the various efforts, including this latest, are in fact coordinated.

Wednesday I made this comment in responding to the reports on Thinking Anglicans:

The association of separated congregations in the United States with the Province of Kenya is not new, if it has for some time been under the radar. According to an Anglican Mainstream news release, they have 25 congregations - all associated quietly while CANA has gotten all the press.

Much of the difference is because many if not most of these congregations have never been part of the Episcopal Church, although many of the clergy and parishioners have. I'm not aware of significant fights over property, for example. Another difference is that this has taken place in what many in the media consider "flyover" country - away from the major news centers of either American coast. The formative meetings have been taking place in Memphis, Tennessee, and these are small congregations scattered over the American Midsouth. Finally, they have not previously been centralized under one bishop. Instead, a number of Kenyan diocesans have accepted oversight of a few churches each.

Some time ago, Archbishop Williams spoke sadly of the Orthodox experience, with Greek, Russian, Serbian, and other traditions in communion with Constantinople having overlapping territories in the United States and elsewhere. He did not want that to happen in the Anglican Communion. In the United States, I fear it's a little late. Rwanda has long overseen AMiA. Nigeria has a bishop for Nigerian churches, and Kenya will soon have one for churches associated with various dioceses. Will Uganda be far behind?

Nor do I think of this as "splintering." For all the media attention of Archbishop Akinola, Archbishops Orombi, Mzimbi, and Kolini have not been idle. They may be quite happy for a while with a structure more like the Orthodox - not so unlike the Anglican Communion, but with a greater sense of common beliefs - and overlapping, mutually respectful jurisdictions within the "mission field" of the United States. I don't think we on the progressive side should expect them to fall to infighting too quickly, as long as they continue to have a "common enemy" (the Episcopal Church) and a belief that we have left this "mission field" open.

But in the face of this, what are we to do, we in the Episcopal Church? That’s been a question that’s been asked for some time, really. From the creation of AMiA in the Singapore ordinations to confirmations in Ohio to the “Hope and a Future Conference” to the ordination of Bishop Minns, someone has said, “Why doesn’t (Williams or Griswold or Jefferts Schori) prevent (Akinola or Orombi or Lyon from coming; or Duncan or Iker or Schofield from changing canons; or – well, you get the picture)?

But in fact there are real limits to what we can do. We may be annoyed and offended that foreign bishops might come to the United States to interfere in our churches, but we can do little to prevent them. After all, we don’t determine who gets a visa, or who makes it through Customs. In practical terms, there’s no more we can do to prevent Akinola visiting America to visit like-minded members of the Episcopal Church than if he were simply coming on vacation. Archbishop Williams could express an opinion. Indeed, he has, as have Bishops Griswold and Jefferts Schori, and all have been at best ignored and at worst ridiculed. And none of them has juridical authority to stop it. We value our Episcopal perspective on autonomy in the Anglican Communion, but there are times it cuts both ways. So, there’s little that can be done that way. Violating and attempting to displace the Episcopal Church may be bad ecclesiology, but it’s not unlawful in a way the folks in Immigration and Customs Enforcement will notice.

More might have been done to challenge and inhibit (in both general and technical senses) the Episcopal clergy who facilitated and participated in these events. But even that has its limits. If the cleric is involved is prepared to walk away from the Episcopal Church, there’s little for a bishop or diocese to do. Our most severe punishment is “deposition” – the loss of the job and of the status as cleric within the Episcopal Church. We don’t claim to remove the “indelible mark” received in ordination; and if some new community is prepared to acknowledge it and to license the bearer, loss of our license seems to be a small issue. In a way, that’s highlighted by the new Kenyan diocese in America, and by the longer efforts of AMiA. Most of those congregations have never been Episcopal per se, even if most of their clergy and parishioners once were. “Individuals can leave the Church, but congregations and dioceses can’t.” True as it is, it doesn’t prevent those individuals who have left from reforming as new entities and making new ecclesial connections. That’s what we witnessed in the 1970’s and 1980’s over the related concerns of the ordination of women and Prayer Book revision. It’s what we’re witnessing now over concerns of authority, interpretation of scripture, and participation of GLBT persons in the life of the Episcopal Church. We can decry it. We can point out to the current folks how little the previous schismatics accomplished. But we can’t just put a stop to it.

On this I think the statement from the Executive Council is right: what we have to offer is who we are, as we are. As much as some might wish it, both within and without the Episcopal Church, we have made a stand that we value both our international Anglican relations and our internal commitment to a welcome so profound as to result in inclusion for all God’s children in this Church. We have said we will support what we can, pursue what we can; but that we will not be driven and we will not be panicked. We will work with those who will work with us, and will pray that those who won’t might change their mind. Bishop Jefferts Schori has suggested the Episcopal Church has a special vocation within the Anglican tradition, to model living together in the midst of difference. Several of us in the blogosphere have made similar suggestions, if in different images. We will continue to pursue our special vocation, and see what the fruits are.

And in the meantime, I fear we will have to live with this “balkanization” of the Anglican tradition in North America, and perhaps elsewhere. Today on Episcopal CafĂ© I commented again, saying in part,

I do think the Primates involved (Akinola, Mzimbi, and Kolini so far; and can Orombi be far behind?) have given up on a Canterbury-centered, much less Canterbury-mediated, result. I also think they're less anxious about the sort of "balkanization" we see among various Christian Orthodox traditions in the United States. In my metropolitan area we have Greek, Serbian, Antiochian, and Russian congregations (including both OCA and ROCOR). They don't do much together, but they don't bad-mouth each other, either, or at least not in public. We also have AMiA, Anglican Rite Catholic, Ugandan, and Anglican Church in America/TAC congregations. Along the same line, they don't seem to do anything together, but neither do they bad-mouth each other. For all Archbishop Williams' decrying of it, that sort of "Orthodox-style" overlapping of jurisdictions is already functional here. The Primates involved are, I think, less anxious about that, as long as there are enough disaffected Episcopalians to start a congregation and then to reach out into what they clearly see as an open mission field. They're praying hard for laborers to go out and harvest; and they've discounted us from being coworkers in the field to being at best wheat to be saved, and at worst tares to be burned.

Perhaps it’s time to accept the facts before us, and commit ourselves to being who we are, living out our vocation. Perhaps in time we will be able to relate to these new entities from the Anglican tradition, and they to us, politely, if not too often, recognizing in one another a common faith growing from common roots.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

That the Left Hand Might Know What the Right Hand is Doing: Reflections on Propers 6

I’ve been looking at Propers 6, the collect and lessons for this Third Sunday after Pentecost. Two sentences caught my attention.

From the Collect for Proper 6: “Keep, O Lord, your household the Church in your steadfast faith and love, that through your grace we may proclaim your truth with boldness, and minister your justice with compassion;…”

Throughout the Episcopal Church this Sunday we will be asserting that there is an integral relationship between bold proclamation of the truth and compassionate justice, and that both are linked expressions of the steadfast faith and love of God. In these days, this is an important reflection. So much of the rhetoric around us for the past few years has assumed that the two are not so integrally linked. On the one hand are those who assert a commitment to truth and its bold proclamation, with that truth as the standard for determining justice. On the other hand are those who assert a commitment to justice that reflects compassion, with that justice as the measure of truth.

And yet this Sunday we will be making a claim that is subtly but significantly different. We will be claiming that the steadfast faith and love from God, reflected by grace in steadfast faith and love for God, are expressed in true justice, defined by compassion, boldly proclaimed. We will be praying to be kept by God in that sort of steadfast faith and love, to be empowered to express them in word (bold proclamation) and deed (ministering justice).

Jesus said not to let the left hand know what the right hand was doing as an image of humility in charity. He did not intend it as an image for our entire Christian practice. And yet we sometimes argue as if these two hands of one body, of our one Christian practice, were separable not only in behavior but also in authority. We can all too easily slip into emphasizing one to the detriment, if not the outright exclusion, of the other; but this Sunday we will claim and proclaim that they are as linked to one another as two hands.

From the Gospel: Luke 7:47: “Therefore, I tell you, her sins, which were many, have been forgiven; hence she has shown great love. But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little.”

Perhaps we could remember more clearly that bold proclamation of the truth of compassionate justice is one ministry if we more powerfully appreciated this Gospel passage. We know we need to identify with the woman; and yet we aren’t so ready to identify our sins with hers.

When I was in seminary I had a classmate who was a priest from Nigeria (goodness, how things have changed!). One day after class, he observed to the New Testament professor, “The problem with Americans is that they are not sufficiently conscious of their sins.” My response was, “No, that’s not true. We’re quite conscious of our sins. We have favorites!”

We do indeed have favorite sins, identified as those in our own lives that we are most ready to accept as forgiven. That doesn’t necessarily mean that they are the sins we are most likely to forgive in others, although that’s common. They are the sins that we think we and God have dealt with, and we’re sure they’re forgiven. Perhaps we think they’re behind us, so that we won’t fail again. Perhaps we think they’ve been forgiven before, and we trust they’ll be forgiven again. In any case, they are sins that we think are less important, more forgivable, than sins – even the same sins – in someone else.

I can’t imagine the Pharisee in the story was ignorant of his sins as he saw them. He was, after all, committed to following the Law in all its detail. We can also presume that he dealt with his sins as the Law required, making as best he could all the appointed sacrifices. His problem was not that he was not conscious of his own sins. It was just that he was more concerned about someone else’s; in this case, the sinful woman. He almost certainly had his favorite sins, and had procedures in place for dealing with them. That, I think, was why he felt the latitude to worry about the woman’s sins.

In confronting him, Jesus doesn’t challenge at first glance the Pharisee’s self-assessment. He doesn’t even challenge the Pharisee’s assessment of the sinful woman. Rather, he proclaims that God’s justice reflects God’s compassion. Her sins are forgiven, and she, who is also conscious of her sins, is grateful in proportion to just how much she knows she has to forgive. She has no assumption that her sins are “dealt with;” she needs the forgiveness she receives. The Pharisee, having dealt with his sins, having obtained through sacrifice the forgiveness promised and filed away those sins in process for the next opportunity to repent, does perhaps have little to be forgiven. But he moves from that position to discount those sins he does have, and to respond to the woman’s sins with more concern for a juridical than a compassionate sense of justice. He has his favorite sins, and his favorite ways for dealing with them. He has only contempt for hers. She is so concerned with her own sins that she thinks only of the forgiveness Jesus offers. She has no concern for the Pharisee’s sins at all.

The medieval spiritual tradition has shaped my own spiritual path. I continue to feel the effects of reading Hilton’s Ladder of Perfection. I continue to read regularly Benedict’s Rule, and Brother Lawrence’s Practicing the Presence of God. It shouldn’t surprise anyone, then, that I am never far from the Kyrie Pantokrator, the canticle “A Song of Penitence” in the 1979 Book of Common Prayer. I cannot go too far from the verse, “I have sinned, O Lord, I have sinned, and I know my wickedness only too well.” I have discovered over the years that reflecting on my own sins leaves me little time to reflect on those of others. I’m not claiming nobility here. I, too, continue to have my favorite sins, and my favorite ways of dealing with them. I do know my sins, and sometimes weep over them. Thinking of my own sins leaves me little time to worry about anyone else’s. Giving thanks for my own forgiveness leaves me little room to begrudge forgiveness to anyone else.

It seems to me quite important that steadfast faith in and love of God will lead us to proclaim boldly the truth of God’s compassionate justice. It seems to me sad, if all too human, when out of our own favorite sins we seem to divorce lives of compassionate justice from bold proclamation. It seems to me that if we concentrate on our own sins and our need for them to be forgiven – even those favorite sins closest to us – we will not have time to worry about others’ sins or to begrudge them forgiveness; but we will have a more powerful sense of God’s compassionate justice and greater authority out of which to proclaim that truth.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

The Words We Use: From Pastoral to Spiritual

A few weeks ago, David Fleenor sent me an email. David Fleenor has himself been a blogger, although it’s been almost a year since his last post – but, then, he’s been busy: graduating from seminary, being ordained deacon and then priest, entering into a clinical pastoral education program with the intent to pursue certification as a Supervisor (a clinical educator – that’s certainly enough). The central point of his email was this:

I have been giving some thought lately to the trend our profession of moving away from the terms "pastoral care" toward the term "spiritual care." I wonder what your thoughts are on the topic.

My own thinking at present is that the movement away from pastoral care to spiritual care may be a secularization of the former. At it's best I think it is an attempt to be inclusive of people of all faiths and no faith. At it's worst, however, I am afraid that it denies the chaplain's primary role as minister and seeks to conceive of us as areligious meaning-making practitioners, which is only one aspect of the work a chaplain may do. I have more thoughts on the topic but I will leave it at that and look forward to hearing from you on the matter.

I certainly think he’s accurate in identifying the trend, and not just in health care chaplaincy. Over the past generation or so the traditional words for talking about one’s spiritual life have changed. The most visible evidence is the common statement, “I’m not religious, but I’m spiritual.” Now, that may mean many things – “I think a lot about the meaning of life, but no one religious community seems to fit;” or, “I like to think I’m a seeker, but I’m afraid any specific religious commitments will be too restrictive;” or, “I don’t want to seem shallow or unconcerned about life, the universe, and everything, and as long as I can claim something that somehow sounds appropriate I can pretend I’m not shallow, and I don’t have to feel guilty about it, and you can’t make me!” - but one way or another it represents a departure from the tradition language of established traditions, and especially of the predominant Christian traditions.

That said, my experience of my own professional community is in part in line with David’s understanding of the trend “at its best.” It does certainly represent an effort to be inclusive. After all, we serve all those patients who come to us, and not simply those of our own tradition. The Code of Professional Ethics of the Association of Professional Chaplains (APC) includes these statements:

Members shall serve all persons without discrimination regardless of religion, faith group, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender, age, or disability.

Members shall affirm the religious and spiritual freedom of all persons and refrain from imposing doctrinal positions or spiritual practices on persons whom they encounter in their professional role as chaplain.

Those categories end up including many folks for whom the traditional Christian language of ministry is inappropriate; and many more, those inactive Christians, for whom they describe a professional relationship they don’t have

And as important as it is to be inclusive in our respect for those we serve, it is also important to be respectful of those with whom we serve. Certainly, most Chaplains in North America are Christian, as are most religious believers, simply by the numbers. At the same time, the community of professionals providing spiritual care in health care settings is not simply Christian; and the numbers of chaplains coming from Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, and Hinduism are growing. Within their own traditions they would not be called “pastor;’ nor would most of their traditions identify spiritual and emotional support for the sick and suffering as “pastoral.”

In a broader sense, that is a dynamic of the term “pastoral” in pastoral care that we can’t ignore: the term is so distinctly, almost exclusively Christian. While we could, I suppose, in theory say that it hearkens predominantly to the solicitous care of a shepherd for livestock out to pasture, it would be a bit of an academic stretch. In this culture so permeated with Christian influence we could hardly speak of the solicitous shepherd and not recall the Good Shepherd. In my roots in religious studies, I recall some few references to God as Shepherd in the Jewish Scriptures, but with little of the connotation of individual care and support (Psalm 23 [or 22] notwithstanding). I am certainly open to correction, but I don’t recall the image at all in my reading of translations of the Q'uran or of Buddhist or Hindu texts. While my colleagues in other traditions may well appreciate a “pastoral” metaphor, they could reasonably prefer imagery from their own scriptures that speaks to the “cure [as in care, responsibility] of souls.” There’s just no separating the label of “pastoral” from the title of “Pastor,” much less from the ultimate Christian Pastor, the Good Shepherd.

That dynamic is also relevant in communicating what we do to the health care team. That context is ever more pluralistic, reflecting and to some extent concentrating our ever more pluralistic society. For our colleagues in other professions the word “pastoral” is not necessarily meaningful. All of the professions in health care are oriented toward providing care; but each has to clarify what type and how. It may well communicate more clearly to speak of spiritual care – of care for spirits, to complement the care of bodies by physicians, nurses, and others; and the care of minds psychologists, social workers, patient advocates and others (and yes, I know I’m oversimplifying those categories) – than to speak of pastoral care to folks who have limited and often ambivalent impressions of pastors, and no impressions of pastures at all.

I think that is also an issue we need to acknowledge: that those we serve and serve with may well have ambivalent, and even suspicious feelings from their images of “pastors,” and Christian clergy in general. Even those of us who are Christian chaplains feel some need to distinguish ourselves from the more judgmental and negative images of congregational clergy. Certainly, we’re not in the business of proselytizing; but neither are we simply in the business of providing Christian support for Christian patients. There is an old joke about the Christian minister who is asked about the weather, and responds, “You’ll have to take that to the Boss; I’m just in Sales.” My corollary is that I’m in Maintenance. I’m in the business of supporting spirits that feel broken, and helping them find the resources within themselves and their own backgrounds to re-knit and renew and restore. I’ve seen enough of that brokenness caused or exacerbated by Christian clergy to be wary of too much association, even if I don’t myself shy away from the title “Pastor.” My own perspective is that this is how God in Christ has called me to be a Pastor.

Now, I am an Episcopal priest in this practice of spiritual care, and not simply some “areligious meaning-making practitioner.” While I don’t trumpet it, neither to do I hide it. I choose to work in clericals every day, preferring to embrace a known image of a spiritual practitioner and deal with the ambivalence and hostility as I encounter them. At the same time, I certainly think we need to recognize “the chaplain’s primary role as minister” within a much wider context of ministry. I have said elsewhere that we are advanced practice ministers specializing in health care settings, even as we are adjunct health professionals specializing in spiritual care. In our pluralistic environment, there may be many models of ministry, some of which might fit well with “pastoral,” and some which might not. On the other hand, all are in some sense in pursuit of “the cure of souls” – support and care for human spirits in crisis and stress. In that context, “spiritual care” may be more recognizable, more translatable, than “pastoral care:” and so may communicate more clearly to those we serve, and those we serve with, the service we are called to provide. After all, many of them, perhaps most, don’t have a pastor; but each of them has a spirit, worthy of our respect and our care.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Some Scholars Respond

In a post in March I published a letter to the Dean of the School of Theology of the University of the South, of which I am an alumnus. I asked that the faculty speak to the Draft Covenant and make their response public.

In bouncing around the blogosphere tonight, I found out that they had - indeed, were when I was publishing my post. You can link here to the statement of some members of the faculty of the School of Theology. (Thanks to The Confessing Tiger for posting it, and to titusonenine for pointing to it.)

I will admit I'm somewhat disappointed with the statement. It's accurate, and its points are well made. Perhaps it could have taken on the relations among the Instruments of Unity and the accession of power to the Primates. Perhaps it could have done some analysis of the various scriptural references. Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps....

However, I asked for a response, and they were responding even as I wrote. Credit where due.

Blogging the CPE Experience

Now that summer is here, lots of seminarians are going through clinical pastoral education (CPE). As I sometimes look at seminarian blogs, I thought I would spend some time looking at blogs writing this summer about CPE. Below are some folks writing about that experience. If you're one of them, link through here, and offer one another some support. If you've been through CPE, listen to these voices and remember your own experiences. We can offer them some support, and some hope.


I Will Sing

little sacredspace

Wild Goose Chased (The Further Adventures of Melissa)

Wags' Cyber Seminary Experience

There may be others out there. If you bring them to my attention, I'll be happy to add them. In meantime, blessings on these CPE summer students.

Updated Tuesday, June 12:

Alan Abrams over at abayye is blogging about his own experience. He is a CPE Supervisory Resident, and is experiencing his first unit co-supervising - a big step when one is pursuing the role of an educator in CPE.

Friday, June 01, 2007

Responding to the Study Guide: Questions 13 and 14

This is the last piece on the Study Guide. I will be sending off the opinions I have written, and trust the thoughts of others who have answered more thoroughly than I have.

(13) Having read the Draft Covenant as a whole do you agree with the CDG’s assertion that “nothing which is commended in the draft text of the Covenant can be said to be ‘new’”? Why or why not?

(14) In general, what is your response to the Draft Covenant taken as a whole? What is helpful in the draft? What is not-helpful? What is missing? Additional comments?

Since both Questions 13 and 14 address the Draft Covenant as a whole, I will address them together.

There are clearly “new things” in this Draft Covenant.

  • First, there is the clear sense of urgency underlying the entire Covenant effort. It fixes the effort in a specific historical context – this historical context – and so undermines any effort to establish a relationship open to the future.
  • Second, the Draft Covenant would establish the “Instruments of Communion” as structures of the Communion. To this point, the “Instruments” have been forums for maintenance of relationship and cooperation in mission. The Covenant in this Draft would establish them as agencies – as structures having in themselves moral and juridical agency – for the Communion.
  • Third, within those the Covenant would establish the Primates’ Meeting as the “gatekeeper” to determine what issues might call for consideration by the other Instruments of Communion, and what positions might express “a common mind.”

In assessing the Draft Covenant as a whole, I do not believe it will help us. While much of the language is attractive, the essence of the document is an effort, driven by a sense of urgency, to establish structures that will centralize authority for decisions and reception for the Communion at the expense of the autonomy of individual Provinces. Driven by the perception of urgency, I fear such a Covenant might be embraced in haste, but would certainly be repented at leisure. It will not add to our capacities in individual Provinces to respond to our unique cultural circumstances.

From the lessons for Trinity Sunday: “Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God.” (Romans 5:1-2) I could have chosen other lessons to make the point, but this is apropos both in content and in timing. This is a clear statement of how, by God’s grace in Christ, we are in communion with God in Christ and so with one another. If this is not sufficient basis for Anglicans to be in communion, no covenant we negotiate will result in meaningful communion, much less cooperation in the ministry that God has given us.

Responding to the Study Guide: Question 10

Continuing to respond to the Study Guide....

(10) What does the phrase “a common mind about matters of essential concern. . .” mean to you?

This question relates to the commitment in this section “to seek with other members, through the Church’s shared councils, a common mind about matters of essential concern, consistent with the Scriptures, common standards of faith, and the canon law of our churches.” It is an attractive image, and one we could imagine when we might be one as Jesus and the Father are one.

That said, I fear that “a common mind about matters of essential concern” may be as much an eschatological hope as true unity with God in Christ. In our current difficulties we are not of a common mind about what matters are of essential concern. We can hardly expect to come to a common mind about the matters themselves.

To speak of “a common mind” seems to me to speak to a process of consensus and reception. Thus, to determine what matters are “of essential concern,” and then work toward “a common mind” would require a process of shared discussion and shared experience. Indeed, I can imagine “a common mind on matters of essential concern” would require communion, rather than being a requirement for it. If reached at all, it would only be reached in time and in lived relationships.

That would preclude, then, calling a decision reached by majority vote “a common mind.” That is, if there are grounds to publish a separate “minority report,” the mind can hardly be called “common.”

Perhaps that seems too high a standard. After all, many decisions are reached by majority vote, and we commonly consider those decisions reached by majority vote as more “valid” than those imposed by a small contingent. This is the case, for example, of actions of General Convention. At the same time, we do not assert that actions of General Convention are “the mind of the Communion,” or that all such actions deal with “matters of essential concern.” Indeed, as we value within our own midst diversity of opinion, we are quite limited and specific in describing the various actions of General Convention. In my own use, I say, “General Convention has said…” rather than, “The Episcopal Church teaches….” The second statement I reserve for those actions that affect the content of the Book of Common Prayer, and to a lesser extent of the Hymnal and of services for trial use.

We continue to be led, we believe, by God’s living and active Spirit. At the same time, we do not believe any of us is perfectly able to hear or to follow the leading of the Spirit. Differences among us arise literally in good faith, in honest efforts to follow God in Christ. If we are to reach a “common mind,” it will be by the power of the Spirit, in and through the communion we share, however imperfectly. We cannot hurry that process by our own will, any more than we can by our own will add a cubit to our height. Until so led by the Spirit, we can struggle to recognize matters of essential concern, to wrestle with them together, and to reach decisions; but in those circumstances we must recognize that our decisions are incomplete, and our “mind” rarely “common.”