Saturday, September 29, 2007

At Our Doorstep: Reflections on Luke 16:19-31

Have you ever known anybody rich? I mean, really rich? I’ve known a few. For all our demurring about those stereotypes of the Episcopal Church, you can’t spend time in more than a few Episcopal congregations without meeting someone. And between the number of dioceses in which I’ve served, and the number of supply services I’ve done over the years, I’ve met a few – maybe more than a few.

At the same time, I’ve never met anyone that rich, at least if you talk to them. That’s because almost every rich person I’ve ever known has known or known of someone who was richer – to hear them tell it, much richer – than them. Every local real estate magnate can compare himself with the regional banking family; who can compare themselves with Hearsts or Annenbergs; who can compare themselves with Buffets or Gates. I don’t know where Warren Buffets or Bill Gates go from there; but for almost anyone below them, there’s someone to compare to, someone who has more.

Jesus told a story of a rich man. In one sense, it doesn’t really matter how rich he was. The point was that he had enough and more – everything he needed, and perhaps all he could want. On his doorstep was a poor beggar, one Lazarus. He was poor and sick and suffering, unable to protect himself from even the petty assaults of stray dogs. And, as will we all unless the Kingdom comes first – as will we all, they died. The rich man, said Jesus, found himself in the fires of Hell. And yet somehow in the midst of his torment he was able to see into Paradise, and to see there Lazarus resting in peace in the bosom of Abraham. And when he called to Abraham for mercy, he learned that it was too late. And he learned that for all his concern for his brothers, they were responsible for themselves. They had their consciences, if they would pay attention; and they had the demands of Torah, if they would pay attention. And, said Abraham, if they wouldn’t pay attention to those, they weren’t terribly likely to pay attention, even if to someone who came back from the dead.

Now, we could talk about just how rich we are – but you’ve heard that sermon before. We know we’re rich, by the world standards. As Finion said to his daughter in the musical, “Finion’s Rainbow,” America has “the best ill-fed and the best ill-clad and the best ill-housed in all the world.” And yet we all know someone who’s richer.

So, I don’t think that’s the point, really. Rather, I think we need to pay attention to the fact that Lazarus was literally on the rich man’s doorstep. He longed for the scraps from the rich man’s sumptuous table – scraps he apparently didn’t get. The rich man could hardly have left his house without stepping over him, and yet it seems he never saw him. Right there on his doorstep; and he never showed mercy, never showed generosity, never showed kindness. Right there on his doorstep, and he never even saw him.

And so the question for me is, who’s on my doorstep? Now, I have to be careful before I answer. I have to stop and think where my doorstep ends. I have a blog – a web site where I post opinions and reflections literally for all the world to see. I also subscribe to an internet service that allows me to see where people are when they’re reading my blog. I find that an interesting service to use. It’s fun to see where my readers are. I can even pull up a map that shows where the last 10 or 20 readers read from. I can’t see who they are, but I can see the names of their internet services, and the cities they’re in.

Doing that, I’ve discovered I have some regular readers. I have couple, for example, in Berkeley, California. I have a couple in various places in Canada. But the ones that I find really intriguing are farther afield. I have a couple of readers in Australia. I even have a halfway regular reader in Yemen.

Now, that’s lots of fun; but it also brings me back to my question: where does my doorstep in? I have folks who read what I write, and sometimes answer back, around the world. Where does my doorstep end? And if, as it seems, my doorstep goes that far, it really expands who may be there, waiting for me to notice, waiting for me to care.

And if that’s true of me, let me ask that question of all of us, in terms of our daily lives.

  • Politicians in Washington are arguing about health insurance for kids whose parents earn too much for Medicaid, but not enough to afford health insurance. Some of those kids are right here in Missouri. Where does our doorstep end?
  • Our supermarkets have spinach from California, and strawberries from Mexico, and plums and grapes from Chile. Where does our doorstep end?
  • The clothes we wear and the toys we give our children are made in China. Where does our doorstep end?
  • American soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines are serving in Iraq and Afghanistan and a host of other places. Where does our doorstep end?

It seems our doorstep stretches pretty far. And if it stretches that far, how many are there on our doorstep, waiting of us to notice and to respond?

Now, my guess is all of us are already responding in some way; and my point is not to disregard or discredit that. On the other hand, we can get complacent. Indeed, we can make our responses and still not see the people we might help. We can give in an abstract understanding that it’s better to give than to receive, and still not really notice the people we might give to. It’s not just about generosity for its own sake: it’s also about looking at our doorstep and actually paying attention to who’s there.

That’s the reason, really, that the General Convention on our behalf has embraced the Millennium Development Goals. It’s a recognition for our doorstep stretches literally around the world, and a way for us to show that we notice and we care. And if someone wants to complain that the Millennium Development Goals aren’t Biblical, aren’t Christian, remind him of this story, and ask where his doorstep ends.

Now, I don’t want to sell short generosity for its own sake, as it were. I don’t even want to sell short generosity just for the sake of avoiding hell. If that’s what moves you, and it actually moves you to action, well and good. I think God will bless our moral performance, even though he would prefer we do things for the right reason.

But it is important to know the right reason: concern and love for the person at our doorstep. We are those who know that God saw us on the doorstep, as it were, and came to show care – came to us in Christ, in a person we could hear and touch and love. So we are called to come in love to those at our doorstep, to show mercy and generosity certainly, but first of all to care.

The rich man had Lazarus at his doorstep, and as near as we can tell he never noticed. We are called to notice, to notice and to care as God in Christ has cared for us. We’re called to see those at our doorstep, to see their need, and to respond in love. So, where does your doorstep end?

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Another Chaplain Fired; But....

Well, “what’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander,” I suppose. It seems Chaplain Kay Myers has been fired from her position with Peninsula Regional Medical Center for not participating in a hospital’s program to allow members of the Gideons to provide copies of the New Testament and Psalms for patient rooms. It was reported on this blog, which has a helpful link to this news story.

Having noted the case of Chaplain Danny Harvey who lost his position because of complaints and concerns that he wasn’t sufficiently sensitive to non-Christians, I had to note the case of Chaplain Myers as well. Her experience is that she was fired for being too concerned about non-Christians. She was concerned that providing unrestricted access of Gideons to rooms to place these New Testaments represented favoring Christians. She also raised concerns about patient privacy under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), and about infection control.

In the Episcopal hospital and health care system in which I function, we provide a Bible (both Testaments, but without Apocrypha) in each room. On the other hand, this is a religious hospital, a difference which would, for Chaplain Myers, make a difference. My infection control officer has never raised an issue with their placement.

However, our Bibles are purchased, and not provided by the Gideons. That is in part to have a version of Scripture that the Gideons to not provide. It is also in part to maintain control of access to patients. Gideons are not permitted unlimited access to patients (or, for that matter, to staff) any more than any other ministers, lay or ordained. Gideons, bless them, are explicitly focused on evangelism, if through the indirect, largely non-confrontational method of providing Bibles in places where people might have time on their hands. But even that indirect method expresses an intent that we can’t support here; so we purchase the Bibles we provide to patients.

Chaplain Myers’ suggestion that materials be retained in the Chaplain’s office, and only provided at request, has its merits, and especially in a non-religious community hospital setting. In our system we have some materials that are available by request, simply because they represent tiny constituencies within our patient population. We have the materials, and will get materials, because those patients are important, but don’t try to provide them house-wide.

The response to Chaplain Harvey’s firing was a protest march. Response to Chaplain Myers’ firing has been largely verbal, and as near as I can tell on blogs of non-Christians. They highlight the story because their concern is precisely the fear of being subject to proselytizing. For them, this is about the protection they want, the protection and privacy that Chaplain Myers wanted to insure.

This is, I suppose, an expression that there is some balance in our culture. At the same time, it’s disturbing to me that Chaplain Myers received no clear response to her HIPAA and infection concerns. I think the administration might have had reasonable responses; but they were never made. In the meantime, I wonder how often this happens: how often someone loses for not being evangelical Christian enough. The evangelical Christian press and bloggers insure that when an evangelical Christian minister is affected by our pluralist culture we hear about it. How often does it happen the other way? And how would we know?

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

On Wordsmithing and Clarity

In all the reaction to the statement from the meeting of the Episcopal House of Bishops in New Orleans, I was struck particularly by this quote in the Boston Globe’s report:

"What we were looking for was clarity, and what we got is an exercise in wordsmithing," said Robert Lundy, spokesman for the American Anglican Council, an alliance of conservatives. "Overall, we feel disappointment."
On any day, and especially on this feast of Lancelot Andrewes, it seems odd and a bit sad to criticize “wordsmithing.”

I appreciate that Mr. Lundy and many who agree with him are disappointed; although I hardly imagine they are surprised. They did not hear stated what they wanted to hear – what they wanted to hear in blunt and unambiguous terms.

However, the contrast here is not really between “clarity” and “wordsmithing.” In fact clarity in this case, as in many cases, requires wordsmithing. Certainly, accuracy does. The bishops are not of identical minds, even if they are largely in agreement. They recognize that the parishioners they serve are not of identical minds. They also recognize that those who are listening are not of identical minds, and so wish to hear not the simplest statement from the bishops, but the statement that describes with most precision the minds of the bishops and the dynamics of the Episcopal Church; and precision requires careful, thoughtful choices of terms – wordsmithing.

Indeed, the most important positions taken through the history of the Church have been exercises in wordsmithing. I referred to blessed Lancelot Andrewes, he whose talents with poetry and prose so enriched our Biblical heritage and our homiletical treasure. But he was only one in a long line. The final statements of the Ecumenical Councils were all careful exercises in wordsmithing. The struggles over an iota, between homoousios and homoiousios, could legitimately be described as wordsmithing – wordsmithing that was necessary for us to state accurately our understanding of the Incarnation.

Each generation of the Book of Common Prayer from 1549 forward has been an exercise in wordsmithing. Our prayers and praises were carefully worded to express clearly, but not over-simply, how we saw God working in the Church, and how God expected us to respond. We continue as heirs of that tradition, even as we engage in wordsmithing in our own times to express our praises well in the dialect of each new generation.

And certainly we expect wordsmithing of our preachers. We appreciate that careful choice of words, that turn of phrase, that enlightens us to the Gospel and sets the Word anew in our memories. That’s not a matter of piling word on word most of the time. Preaching that is simple can be elegant. But we know those sermons that come out as a muddle, with poor preparation and poorer presentation. We know that they need careful work, careful wordsmithing.

In the case in point, in fact the statement from the House of Bishops appears to me to be wordsmithing to bring clarity, rather than to hide it. They worked to say precisely what they intended: they did not make promises they did not feel they could keep, and they affirmed all that they felt they needed to affirm. It was a statement that left many unsatisfied at both poles of the argument; but it was hardly unclear. Indeed, the details provide precision, while providing a statement on which almost all could agree.

So, yes, it was wordsmithing; but wordsmithing for the sake of clarity and precision and unity, and not of obfuscation. You see, not all differences are simple; certainly, this one isn’t. And when simple answers are provided to complex questions, they are almost certainly wrong.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Where Brainstorming Might Take You

What an interesting thought! Today Kendall Harmon has suggested that Bishops of the Episcopal Church might voluntarily choose not to participate in the next Lambeth Conference. Father Jake has suggested that this might be worth considering.

I think so, too. That's why I suggested it back when March I started brainstorming for the bishops. In that post, I suggested withdrawing with these reasons:

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.

I still think it's worth at least talking about. I think some measure of this is the different perspectives that thought of it. This is one of those ideas that different individuals have come up with independently - one of those moments when interested minds (I won't claim "great" for myself) thought alike (certainly, I have enough respect for Kendall Harmon that if he'd known of my work he'd have given credit). The different points of view involved, and the somewhat different contexts in which the idea arose, suggest that at least it's worth turning over. Now, as to whether there's time for the Bishops to actually work with something like this at this meeting - I don't know. On the other hand, one advantage to Kendall having this thought is that he has more connections through which to share such a thought. We'll see what happens.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Who's Calling the Game? Part 2; or More Cowboy Poker

I’m not inclined to give any summary of where the House of Bishops or the Anglican Communion is today. I think we’re entirely too inclined to overinterpret individual and preliminary opinions, and to overreact. That said, there have been some quotes today that have gotten my attention.

First, from the address to the House of Bishops of the Rt. Rev. Mouneer Anis, Bishop of Egypt and Presiding Bishop of the Anglican Province of Jerusalem and the Middle East (with thanks to BabyBlue):

“With respect, I have to say that those who would prefer to speak of laws and procedures, constitutions and canons, committees and process: you are missing the point! It is our mutual loyalty and fellowship, submitting to one another in the common cause of Jesus Christ that makes us of one Church on faith and one Lord.”

But, then, what of those who would make laws of Lambeth Resolutions; or procedures of the Windsor Report; or canons of Primates’ Communiques? We are wary of “submission,” having found our distinction from the Church of England in a political rejection of “submission;” but isn’t the same true of almost every Province in the Anglican Communion? And how shall we respond when we are asked specifically to submit to cultural norms outside our province when we have not asked any to submit to the cultural norms of ours?

Sitting around the table requires humility from all of us. One church cannot say to the rest of the churches "I know the whole truth, you don't". Sitting around one table requires that each one should have a clear stance before the discussion starts. It also requires true openness and willingness to accept the mind of the whole.

Sitting around the table does indeed require humility; and so the Episcopal Church has been at pains to distinguish accepting us and participating with us in the Communion from emulating us. Sitting around the Lord’s Table need not require a clear stance; for who of us truly understands the mystery of the Lord’s presence among us, incarnate as a man or in the elements of bread and wine? Rather, what it requires is a willingness to share, trusting that it is the Lord, and not us, who makes things right, It might even require willingness to accept the mind of the whole; but no mind of the whole has been reached on these issues, in the Episcopal Church, much less in the whole Communion.

And sitting around the table requires time. A thorough process of open and respectful listening can’t be rushed. Full sharing among all provinces, and among all orders of ministry, resulting in some “mind of the whole.” and received through the constitutional processes of the various provinces of the Communion can’t be accomplished in one year, or two, or even three. We are deceived these days by how rapidly we can communicate text into imagining that meaningful consensus can be achieved in one news cycle or perhaps two. We must not fall prey to cries of haste and urgency from those who fear any “mind of the whole” other than what they already project.

From General Convention Resolution 1991-B020:

Resolved. That the Office of the Presiding Bishop now be directed to propose to all provinces of the Anglican Communion and all churches with whom we are in ecumenical dialogue that a broad process of consultation be initiated on an official pan-Anglican and ecumenical level as a bold step forward in the consideration of these potentially divisive issues which should not be resolved by the Episcopal Church on its own.

Perhaps it seems anachronistic to include this in quotes of the day. However, this resolution was cited in two resolutions proposed for consideration by the House of Bishops at this meeting: one by Bishop Jenkins of Louisiana, with an accompanying letter with his and seven other bishops’ signatures; and another remarkably similar resolution from four bishops. (Bishop Geralyn Wolf was the one person apparently involved in both resolutions.)

If we have been committed to consultation on “an official and pan-Anglican and ecumenical level” since 1991, what happened? If Lambeth Resolution 1998- 1.10 called for listening, and the Windsor Report called for a listening process, what happened? I wonder if we’ve been trying to consult for years, only to be met with disinterest by those who assumed (or hoped) it would never really come up.

Excerpts from a phone interview with Archbishop Peter Akinola by Ruth Gledhill:

[Archbishop Akinola] said he had received an unofficial response to his and his bishops' request that the Archbishop of Canterbury postpone the Lambeth Conference. 'He has not written officially. But all the indications are that Rowan Williams has firmly anchored his hope in the Lambeth Conference. He seems to believe firmly that the Lambeth Conference is the solution.

'We believe very differently. We have told him quite clearly that there is no point in coming together in a climate of fear and distrust when bishops cannot be in communion with each other. We felt we should first have healing and then rejoice together at Lambeth. Apparently, he thinks differently. We have done quite a lot to save the communion. But if it does not want us, we will stay away. We do not believe it is appropriate for us to come together with other bishops when we are in broken communion.'

He said the 'revisionists' [his word, not mine!] would all meet at Lambeth. 'There are many people in the UK and from America who are of the same mind as us. They will then be forced to think what to do. We keep on praying that Dr Rowan, who we love very much and keep on praying for every day for God's guidance and God's wisdom, we still believe that somehow he will resume with us and do what we ask him. Should he refuse to the end, we might have to call our meeting.'

What meeting would this be? It would be the successor to the first, second and third 'Trumpets' of the Global South, the last in Egypt in 2005. Dr Akinola said: 'We might just call a meeting to blow the Fourth Trumpet about the future of the Anglican Communion.' Would this be in 2008, in July, by any chance? He could not confirm this. He will be consulting with colleagues.

So, Archbishop Akinola will have a meeting to suit his ecclesiological temper; and if it won’t be at Lambeth it will be at a place chosen by him and those who agree with him. It would certainly not include the Episcopal Church, at least not without significant changes in tenor of the House of Bishops and the Executive Council (although I suspect Archbishop Akinola simply disdains the latter). It would probably not include the Anglican Church of Canada, or the Episcopal Church of Scotland, or the Province of Wales, and perhaps others. And what of the Church of England?

And the final word is from the Archbishop of Canterbury:

From his prepared statement as he ended his visit with the House of Bishops:

Despite what has been claimed there is no “ultimatum” involved. The Primates asked for a response by 30 September simply because we were aware that this was the meeting of the House likely to be formulating such a response. The ACC and Primates Joint Standing Committee will be reading and digesting what the Bishops have to say, and shall let me know their thoughts on it early next week. After this I shall be sharing what they say, along with my own assessments, with the Primates and others, inviting their advice in the next couple of weeks. I hope these days will result in a constructive and fresh way forward for all of us.

From the question and answer period:

[David] Virtue: You have been asked to postpone the Lambeth Conference, in particular by the Archbishop of Nigeria. What do you say to this suggestion?

ABC: It is not only from their quarter, others have asked the same. I am not persuaded. I am not sure that we could ever define what an adequate “cooling off period” could look like. I do not want the next years spent in anxiety about when and whether Lambeth will occur.

New York Times: Archbishop. The address that +Anis gave the HOB today states in clear terms what some primates expect. I wanted to ask how reflective that message is of what came out of DES. Do you sense any room for compromise on the Communion side?

ABC: The primates said the DES is the place to start. Some would give a more robust interpretation some less. That is the nature of a communiqué with common language. It has been represented sadly as a set of demands and deadlines. It was not that way. We are inevitably in a position of compromise. It would be a mistake to see DES as questions that must be answered without room for maneuver.

So, the Communique from Dar es Salaam did not include an ultimatum, despite the “more robust” interpretation of some (on both sides, whether from eagerness or fear), nor a “set of demands.” Rather, they were, as he at least has said all along, steps on the process of listening and discernment.

And Lambeth is the same. It is a part of the process, a time for all to come together, rather than the arena for accomplishing, or celebrating, the “resolution” that Archbishop Akinola longs for.

I have elsewhere described Archbishop Williams’ actions in the past few years as “cowboy poker.” He agrees, as do all of us, with Bishop Anis that this is about “sitting together at the table.” He appreciates, however, and more than many, that it is his table. (And let’s not get distracted about statements about “the Lord’s Table.” The Lord’s Table is not limited to the Anglican Communion, but is also in Rome and Constantinople and Alexandria and Armenia – and Geneva, too, for that matter. We are talking now about internal Anglican matters.) It is Canterbury’s table, and it is his presence that establishes it. He is determined not to leave the table, whatever betide; and he’s waiting to see who has the patience and determination to stay at the table with him, difficulties and differences and all. His game is to see how long folks will stay with him at the table, even if the discussion is long, and long unclear; and those will lose who lose patience and walk away.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Toward Reconciliation: "Episcopal Visitors"

There was a rumor prior to this meeting of the House of Bishops that Presiding Bishop Katherine Jefferts Schori would offer again a Primatial Vicar plan. Assumptions were that it would be something like that offered by Bishop Jefferts Schori and her predecessor, Bishop Frank Griswold, and rejected as insufficient by several bishops of the Anglican Communion Network.

Now we know what that plan will look like. News stories report that eight bishops have agreed to serve as “episcopal visitors” on her behalf. According to Episcopal Life Online,

Jefferts Schori's invitation to the eight bishops seeks to delegate the first of three primary canonical duties of the Presiding Bishop, that of visiting each of the Episcopal Church's 110 dioceses during each Presiding Bishop's nine-year term. The Presiding Bishop's other two principal canonical roles are to "take order" for ordaining and consecrating bishops, and to oversee certain disciplinary actions as needed.

Presumably, the other two “primary canonical duties” could be delegated on a case by case basis.

These are the bishops who have agreed to this role:

The eight are active diocesan bishops Frank Brookhart of Montana, Dorsey Henderson of Upper South Carolina (based in Columbia, S.C.), John Howe of Central Florida (based in Orlando), Gary Lillibridge of West Texas (based in San Antonio), Michael Smith of North Dakota, James Stanton of Dallas, and Geralyn Wolf of Rhode Island, together with retired Connecticut Bishop Clarence Coleridge.

There will, I’m sure, be intense discussion about these bishops. Two names stand out to me. The first is Bishop Geralyn Wolf of Rhode Island. She has participated in the meetings of the “Windsor Bishops” in Texas, and so would have credentials for some. At the same time, some of those bishops most vocal about a need for alternative oversight are also those who do not believe a woman ought to be ordained in any order.

Second, and perhaps more surprising, is the name of Bishop Stanton of Dallas. He has been a Network bishops from the beginning. At the same time, he has not moved in lockstep with other Network actions. Most critically, he has distanced himself from the requests for “alternative pastoral oversight.” Rather, he requested a “direct pastoral relationship” with Canterbury. In his address to the 2006 diocesan convention, he said,

“"Separation is not a strategy.... Those who are thinking about departing from the church are fulfilling, not Christ's call, but the world's expectations about the church — that we really cannot get along, even with each other."

His agreement to serve as an “episcopal visitor” would seem to bear that out in concrete terms.

Finally, we can note that this is in line with Designated Episcopal Pastoral Oversight (DEPO). DEPO has been approved by the House in the past, and has been recognized – arguably, endorsed – in the Windsor Report. So far it appears to have worked where both parties were willing to accept it. Providing a more formal structure for that might make it more attractive to those with some lingering concerns.

There will be a lot to talk about over the next few days, some things newsworthy, and some not. This is an interesting note on which to start.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

And Another New Article: Healing Spirit

Another new article has become available on line today: one not by me but about me. (As a colleague says periodically, "He who doth not toot his own horn, the same shall not hath his horn tooted;" or something like that.)

Healing Spirit is a publication of the Association of Professional Chaplains. It is, as described on the APC web site, "a bi-annual publication with a circulation of 20,000 that illustrates through captivating stories how the lives and faiths of individuals, families and staff in specialized settings are strengthened through spiritual care offered by professional chaplains." The audience includes chaplains, but also administrators, leaders in faith communities, and others who support the work and mission of chaplains.

You can reach the article by linking here. Open the link for "Fall, 2007," and then scroll through the .pdf file to page 13 to see the article on this blogging chaplain. Then, take some time and review the other articles in this issue, and articles in previous issues (you can find those by scrolling down the page above). They will offer you interesting stories and images of healthcare chaplains and the work we do.

Episcopal Cafe Post

My newest post is up at Episcopal Cafe. I hope you enjoy it.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Praying as a Chaplain in a Changing World

This past week the case of Chaplain Danny Harvey was brought to my attention. The Rev. Danny Harvey was a chaplain at Leesburg Regional Medical Center in Leesburg, Florida. And “was” is the operant word because Chaplain Harvey was fired. Specifically, he was fired for praying in the name of Jesus.

Now, there have been a number of news reports on this. Many of them, from publications and web sites with a notable Evangelical Christian perspective (for example, here), emphasized that the dismissal was for a Christian chaplain praying as a Christian might (or, as they would say, must), in Jesus’ name. The firing was obviously a matter of religious discrimination – specifically, of anti-Christian discrimination.

However, there was other pertinent information. For example, this story, focused on the coincidental decision of the CEO of Leesburg Regional to leave his position, included this: “Also in August, LRMC fired chaplain Danny Harvey after he refused to stop praying "in the name of Jesus" to non-Christian patients.” There is more information in this story, also from the Orlando Sentinel, that discusses the case in greater detail. This story speaks of a ‘ "a long history of noncompliance" with doctrines of pastoral care.’ Specifically, “the hospital follows guidelines of the Association of Clinical Pastoral Education, which preaches respect for all religions.”

[The hospital spokesperson] said hospital officials had previously counseled Harvey about patient complaints

"But it seemed the complaints were escalating," she said.

Harvey said he never forced Jesus on anyone at the hospital.

He said he tried to help connect patients with their own faith, but when he was asked to pray, he refused to deny his own.

"I'd say, 'I'm a believer in Jesus Christ and I pray in Jesus' name,' " Harvey said. "I try to be clear. I'm not praying to you, the patient. . . . I'm praying to God."

Now, this is no small issue for us as chaplains. We are, after all, all coming from some faith tradition. There is really no “generic faith,” Christian or otherwise. We all come from within a specific tradition. Our professional organizations, including the ACPE, want assurance that we are rooted and competent in the pastoral care beliefs and practices of our particular traditions. That is the meaning of the requirement for “ecclesiastical endorsement.”

What, then, are meaningful expectations on our parts as individuals, on the parts of the institutions within which we work, and on the parts of the patients we serve of how much explicitness is to be expected of us in our work? To put it more personally, and in better parallel with the Rev. Harvey: how and how often must I express specifically my Christian faith and tradition to balance my own integrity as a Christian and the patient’s integrity in the patient’s (possibly different) faith tradition?

One dynamic in this concern is that some folks seem to feel that any variation from past practice is a challenge, that any accommodation is too much. They see their expression of faith as vulnerable, under attack in a culture that is hostile to their values. They are quick to note events they see as assaults, and to acknowledge their martyrs. In this case, local clergy and congregations collaborated in a protest march on the hospital in support of Mr. Harvey. (For a reflection on a corollary issue responding to this same sense of threat, you can read this article; and thanks to titusonenine for pointing to it.)

If a person with that concern is a hospital chaplain, I could well imagine that the concern might be focused, if not intensified. While there is more and more support for doctors and nurses to be aware of and sensitive to patients' spiritual resources and concerns, the history of tension lingers between "scientific medicine" and religious practice. Institutions are concerned about "cultural competency," attending especially to new religious and cultural minorities and their needs. Institutions are also conscious that patients are vulnerable and frightened themselves, and so are vigilant to protect them, including from any possibility of proselytizing. Requirements of accrediting bodies, like JCAHO, for diversity in the workplace can add to those concerns.

Working with chaplains trained in and/or certified by the major pastoral care organizations might not help. All those organizations have also embraced cultural competency and sensitivity. For example, the Common Standards embraced by six of the largest organizations include this language:

From Common Standards for Professional Chaplaincy:
"Function pastorally in a manner that respects the physical, emotional, and spiritual boundaries of others."
"Provide pastoral care that respects diversity and differences including, but not limited to culture, gender, sexual orientation and spiritual/religious practices."

From the Common Code of Ethics:
"Spiritual Care Professionals:
Demonstrate respect for the cultural and religious values of those they serve and refrain from imposing their our own values and beliefs on those served.

Are mindful of the imbalance of power in the professional/client relationship and refrain from exploitation of that imbalance."

While not all the major pastoral care organizations participate in these Common Standards, those who do not have comparable standards for members. Add to this the fact that some find a place in chaplaincy in some part because it is at the margin of faith traditions they love but find too rigid, and a chaplain feeling defensive about the integrity of his or her faith might see little support among colleagues in the institution.

I can appreciate the concerns. At the same time, I have not found this to be a problem for me. In my own practice, I regularly pray for mixed groups - folks of various faiths and of no faith at all. I find enough Biblical images of God to work with that I don’t feel it a betrayal of my Christian faith if in some circumstances I choose not to pray in the name of Jesus. I have enough trust in my own faith, and in God’s capacity to love and bless those not of my faith, that I don’t feel my integrity is on the line. I am sufficiently convicted of the vulnerability of patients and families, and of my responsibility to think first of their needs and not of my own, that I work for sensitivity, even to the point of restraining myself (which I do not interpret as denying myself or my faith).

That said, I certainly acknowledge that the world has changed. We celebrate diversity and plural cultures in our society (if not always pluralism), forgetting just now recent a development that is. Into the mid 1960’s conformity was the social norm, and those who were different – pretty much all, however they were different – were marginalized, closeted, invisible. We have gone, in religious terms, from seeing this as a Christian nation by default to realizing that, if a majority of our citizens say they believe something, a minority actual lives that out in regular practice and worship, and that includes all traditions. We have discovered that the world we once thought safely across the seas, with all its messy variety, wonderfully exotic in its (distant) place, is now living on our block and shopping in our stores and participating in our politics. There is hope and promise in these changes, I think; but I know there is also loss. And in that loss, while the grieving continues, there will be some who will see their world and themselves in it as fragile, brittle; and in their fear some will even project that on God.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Nutrition and Hydration and the Catholic Church

The Vatican has issued an opinion on care for patients in a persistent vegetative state. Specifically, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has reaffirmed statements made in 2005 in the contexts of the deaths of both Terry Schiavo and Pope John Paul II. The opinion affirms that it is the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church that providing nourishment and fluids is “ordinary care” rather than “extraordinary” or “heroic care,” even when the nourishment and fluids are provided through tubes in mouth or nose or belly instead of by eating and drinking and swallowing. There are news reports here and here.

The text of the statement is brief enough I can include it in full:


First question: Is the administration of food and water (whether by natural or artificial means) to a patient in a “vegetative state” morally obligatory except when they cannot be assimilated by the patient’s body or cannot be administered to the patient without causing significant physical discomfort?

Response: Yes. The administration of food and water even by artificial means is, in principle, an ordinary and proportionate means of preserving life. It is therefore obligatory to the extent to which, and for as long as, it is shown to accomplish its proper finality, which is the hydration and nourishment of the patient. In this way suffering and death by starvation and dehydration are prevented.

Second question: When nutrition and hydration are being supplied by artificial means to a patient in a “permanent vegetative state”, may they be discontinued when competent physicians judge with moral certainty that the patient will never recover consciousness?

Response: No. A patient in a “permanent vegetative state” is a person with fundamental human dignity and must, therefore, receive ordinary and proportionate care which includes, in principle, the administration of water and food even by artificial means.

There are some interesting points for exploration in this brief statement. First, the “proper finality” (that is, the appropriate end or purpose) of nutrition and hydration is that “suffering and death by starvation and dehydration are prevented.” Unfortunately, there is evidence that for some patients keeping the stomach functioning can in fact cause pain and suffering. At the same time, one must raise the question of just what “suffering” a patient in a persistent vegetative state can experience. Across the broad spectrum of patients who lack cognitive capacity (medicated, comatose, persistent vegetative state or the relatively new category of minimally conscious state), it would seem pertinent to consider the specific capacities and responses of the patient. It is worth noting, though, that the Roman Catholic Church has not denied the concept of brain death in this statement, nor in any other of which I am aware.

More interesting is the second statement: “A patient in a “permanent vegetative state” is a person with fundamental human dignity and must, therefore, receive ordinary and proportionate care which includes, in principle, the administration of water and food even by artificial means.” This is an important expression of the Vatican’s understanding of personhood. “Fundamental human dignity” is not dependent on cognitive capacity, relational ability, or expectation of survival.

This expresses, I think, the principle that our “fundamental human dignity” is not inherent in us. Rather, we have human dignity because God dignifies us. We are God’s creatures, created in his love, with capacity for relationship with him, and thus in God’s “image and likeness.” God dignified us in willingness to become one of us, and to die that we might live. God continues to dignify us in accepting us into Christ’s Body, and dwelling in us in the Holy Spirit. Since our human dignity is God’s grace, and not our own possession, we are called to act carefully and thoughtfully in making decisions at the end of life.

This, however, does not make “extraordinary” care obligatory. And that is one point where this is commonly discussed. We all appreciate eating and drinking and swallowing are ordinary; but just how ordinary is passing liquid foods through a tube through the abdominal wall, much less passing chemicals through a needle into a vein? In principle, nourishing and hydrating ourselves is ordinary. Just how far from that can the method stray and still be “ordinary?” We also breathe normally; and yet maintaining a patient on a mechanical ventilator is “extraordinary” care. At what point do means, and our lack of capacity to control means, inform the principle?

Too, how absolute are our understandings of “fundamental human dignity?” More to the point, when do we cease to be meaningfully “human?” Our dignity may be a reflection of God’s grace; but surely we would not want to say that there is no ending of that. We trust God’s grace is still somehow relevant to the “Church Expectant,” those who have died before us; but we would not, I think, say that their dignity was not changed by their death. Certainly, the Roman Catholic Church has not said that. There is within the Roman Catholic culture for health care a concept of “extraordinary care” that is not obligatory. The concept of brain death is accepted, as is the concept of donation of one’s organs and tissues.

And if we do associate God’s “image and likeness” in us with the capacity to relate and to love, how does that change when we can no longer relate in love to one another? In one sense, perhaps it doesn’t; for, again, we accept that somehow God’s love and grace are still relevant to the “Church Expectant.” At the same time, we do not think of the dead as human in the same way, whatever their history in life or the promise of resurrection in their future. We distinguish between brain death, and irreversible brain injury just short of that, and persistent vegetative state, not in whether the patient will die, but in how soon.

Clearly, the Roman Catholic Church has drawn a somewhat arbitrary line. That in and of itself does not bother me. After all, choosing any point between “any life is life, and anything we might do to keep organic function going is obligatory;” and “let’s not waste precious resources on those who aren’t going to get better, even if right now they’re not getting any worse” is somewhat arbitrary. We will all have our arguments for our position, but sooner or later we make a decision of what we will live with and what arguments we find compelling (for, after all, at some point “it’s turtles all the way down.”)

At the same time, I an acutely aware of how this will impact Roman Catholic patients and families, and Roman Catholic providers, both individual and institutional. They function, as we all do, in a culture that seems to struggle between a concept of “fundamental human dignity” and a sense that human dignity is based on function, whether in relationship or in occupation or in social recognition. They will be stressed sometimes in determining “the right thing to do.” And in some cases I and the folks I work with will be involved in helping them make that decision.

Friday, September 14, 2007

On the Feast of the Holy Cross

Some 26 years ago, in my first Clinical Pastoral Education residency, one of my periodic responsibilities was orientation of new nurses to working with chaplains. It was usually a straightforward process – some description of the work, of policies and practices, and how to access us, followed by a few questions, and then a pleasant farewell until we met on the floors.

One, though, stood out as different. In the discussion one new nurse spoke of a recent event when a chaplain had been requested and had not arrived. That was embarrassing enough; but was made worse when, reviewing the date and time, I discovered the errant chaplain was me! I made my apologies, discussed how we might improve the system, and finished the orientation. A couple of the other new nurses paused before leaving and whispered that the complaining nurse was “weird,” and had been “difficult” in other meetings, as if to apologize. However, the woman herself hung back, waiting with more to say.

She began with, “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to embarrass you; but there was a problem.” I simply agreed, and acknowledged that it was a legitimate concern. Then, she said, “I have something to show you.” She reached into her blouse and pulled out a pendant: a small cross with a piece of crystal embedded in it; and in the crystal, a small dark sliver. It was a reliquary! She said, “In the crystal is a piece of the true Cross on which Jesus died. It’s been in my family for 400 years!”

I will admit that the first thought to cross my mind was to recall a statement one actor or another had put into the mouth of Henry VIII in his monastery-busting phase; something to the effect that there were “enough pieces of the true Cross in Christendom to rebuild St. John’s in Lateran.” This, of course, I managed not to say to her. What I said to her was, “Wonderful! or “Amazing!” or something similar. When she offered, I held the reliquary gently. I showed proper respect for the small piece and thanked her when she promised to pray for me; and she went off to her next meeting, happy she had shared her holy secret.

It’s late tonight. The Feast of the Holy Cross is coming to a close; and if, as a Christian, this is not just another day to me, so even more as an Associate of the Order of the Holy Cross, an Anglican Benedictine order for men, this is a day I note.

And like virtually everyone else, I wrestle with exactly what to do with this day. Most of the major feasts of the Church recall or refer to events, usually events in the life of Christ or of the early Church. Christmas, Palm Sunday, Easter, Pentecost, just to hit the high points – all of these are events.

Most of the other “red letter days” of the Church recall persons. There are days for the twelve Apostles, for the four Evangelists, for Mary Magdalene, “Apostle to the Apostles.” and of course Mary the Blessed Mother (the August date; arguably, although she’s intimately involved, the Annunciation and the Visitation, to take two examples, are more important as events in the life of Christ).

But the Feast of the Holy Cross is the only major feast of the Church referring us to an object. I grant you, it’s not just any object; it’s the instrument of the death of Christ. Still, it’s neither an event nor a person. Just what are we to do with it?

MadPriest has posted a sermon for the Feast of the Holy Cross over at Of Course I Could Be Wrong....” He argues that it is the crucifix that demonstrates the Cross in its full meaning – that the Cross empty of Christ is empty of meaning as well. But in this instance, I think he is wrong, as good as the sermon is. I think it is the cross itself, whether as crucifix, or Christ Triumphant, or simply bare, that hold our imagination.

I think that is indeed because it was the instrument of Christ’s death. But more to the point, as I think about it tonight I think it did make a difference what that instrument was. It did make a difference how Christ died.

It’s not that crucifixion was the only way the Romans could accomplish a slow, agonizing, public death. Read the stories of the early Christian martyrs and you’ll discover that Imperial Romans could be quite creative in making death lingering and painful. Throwing onto a heated pan or roasting on a grate were apparently common. Being thrown to savage animals in the public games, “breaking on the wheel,” and flogging were also popular. Jesus might have suffered a public and shameful death in any of those ways. And what then might our symbol have been? Various of the saints have included in their iconography, at least in the West, instruments of their deaths. We might have had fire, or the lion, or the wheel. We might have revered one of those, if only that were how Christ died.

But there is a significant difference, it seems to me, between the Cross and those other means of death. It is that the Cross itself is so very passive. Fire and lion and bull had already been chosen as religious symbols by various other traditions precisely because they so demonstrate power and strength. They are active, moving, with power to tear and break and consume. They were chosen because the made tangible strength and destructive power.

But it is not so with the Cross. It does not in itself break or consume. It stands, hard enough, strong enough, but it does nothing on its own. It is the weakness of the Cross that highlights the weakness of Christ, the weakness through which Christ was victorious of us and for our salvation.

After all, it wasn’t really the Cross that killed. What killed was gravity, and the very frailness of the human body in gravity’s grip. The Cross simply stood there. Certainly, its height was part of what made the tool attractive as a way of utilizing gravity. It was also significant in fulfilling Scripture that the Messiah should be “lifted up.” But the Cross itself was passive, immobile, weak in its own way. That was how it came to be the ideal setting for God to demonstrate the weakness he was prepared to embrace for us, with us. For it was in weakness that was found the strength to release God’s love into the world, and to begin the world’s re-creation.

That’s why, I think, the Cross, even the bare, empty Cross, still speaks to us of the all-giving love of God. Even the instrument of Christ’s death was one of weakness, of apparent impotence. Not only did Christ choose weakness instead of power; he chose to show it on an instrument of weakness instead of power.

These days, and in all days as near as I can tell, it is tempting to reach to power. All our arguments seem to fall into that, however we may pay lip service to service or to victimhood. That’s why I think it important that Christ died on a Cross, and that the Cross became the symbol for this faith, the faith in the One who in weakness managed to overturn the universe. Whether we see Christ on the Cross or not, the Cross itself still reminds us that it is through weakness that God has chosen to bring salvation: the weakness of a God who would love us enough to choose our death to bring us life; and the weakness of the passive, immobile, impotent object on which it occurred.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Praying Instead of Brainstorming

As I began this post, I was at clergy conference. I sat at dinner with my bishop. I reminded him, as I do each time I see him, "I'm still praying for you - for you and for all the bishops." He answered, as he does each time I tell him this, "Thank you. Keep praying!"

I do pray for my bishop daily, and for all Episcopal and Anglican bishops. I don't pray for most of them by name - my own bishop, and Katherine, and Rowan, and these days for Trevor - but I intend that all be included. I intend all "Anglican" bishops. And what of all the new bodies that take shape, and take off, leaving the Episcopal Church? In a positive counterpoint to the old movie line, I pray for them all, and let God sort it out.

And our bishops need prayer. The bishops of the Episcopal Church - or at least those with any intent to remain bishops of the Episcopal Church - are preparing to gather in New Orleans. They will, please God, work hard together, both manually in reconstruction work, and theologically and intellectually and spiritually in figuring out how to appropriately respond in these troublous times.

Before their Spring meeting I indulged in some brainstorming for the bishops. I haven't done that for this meeting, although others have. I did share one thought with my bishop over lunch, to wit that the Presiding Bishop on her own authority (that is, without consultation of foreign prelates) ask Bishop Mwamba of Botswana to serve as Primatial Vicar for dissenting parishes and dioceses. In light of recent events, I thought it perhaps ironic. My bishop seemed to consider it something of a grim jest. He gave a bleak smile (or was that a grimace?) and just said, "That's a dead issue."

It remains to be seen what other possibilities are "dead issues." The question was raised in my hearing as to whether there is a "loyal opposition" (as opposed to the clearly disloyal opposition), and it seems likely there is; but how that will be made manifest remains to be seen, not only in New Orleans, but also in subsequent other meetings at home and abroad.

Many and great expectations have been raised for this meeting of the Episcopal House of Bishops. Great expectations regularly result in great disappointment; and this time, too, I expect there will be more than enough to go around. And in the meantime - and I know I'm not alone in this - I will keep praying; I will keep praying....


After my own bishop's comments on a Primatial Vicar designated by Presiding Bishop Katherine Jefferts Schori, there is this item from The Living Church that speaks specifically to that issue. Very interesting....

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Madeleine L'Engle and Me

I know that others have said more, but I wanted to raise my own personal tribute to Madeleine L’Engle. I believe she was an evangelist of no mean merit. The Episcopal Life Online article is here.

Most articles have referred to her book, A Wrinkle in Time. That was, in fact, the first of a trilogy, completed with the books, A Wind in the Door and A Swiftly Tilting Planet. These were books of fantasy, perhaps; but they were books in which struggling with and living into the Christian faith were real and meaningful. I somehow missed Lewis’ Narnia books – too old, perhaps, or perhaps just between surges of popularity. But my youthful interest in science fiction brought me to A Wrinkle in Time; and L’Engle’s writing brought me to the other books.

I have long appreciated science fiction that takes seriously the Christian faith, and of faith in general. I thought much of Clarke’s “The Star” and “The Nine Billion Names of God.” On the other hand, as an adolescent who so wanted to figure out how to be a Christian in my own time and culture, the Wrinkle in Time trilogy simply brought me more. I found Lewis’ Perelandra trilogy interesting (Out of the Silent Planet; Perelandra; That Hideous Strength), but they were in a sense too fantastic, too far out there for me to see their applicability. L’Engle, on the other hand, was right there with me. Certainly, the fact that the central characters were themselves adolescents meant something. But it was also, I think, that the faith was explicit in the stories. In the struggles I experienced in my life, that was important to me.

I know she meant much to many. This is what her work meant to me.

Rest eternal grant her, O God; and let perpetual light shine upon her.
May her soul, with the souls of all the faithful departed, by the blood of the everlasting covenant rest in peace.

Friday, September 07, 2007

The More Things Change...: History and Ecumenical Discussions in Nigeria

I was intrigued by a news item noted today by Episcope. They linked to a UPI story about ecumenical dialog between the Church of Nigeria [Anglican Communion] (CN-A) and a Nigerian body called the African Church. There is a brief press release on the conversations on the CN-A web site, but there was more detailed information in the UPI story. (I would note, however that the UPI headline is misleading: the story is about introductory ecumenical discussions, with no stated goal of union between the two bodies.)

Intrigued, I dug a little and found more information on the web site of the Dictionary of African Christian Biography (DACB). Specifically, I found a biography by the Reverend Dr. Elijah Olu Akinwumi, of Jacob Kehinde Coker, a founder of the African Church of Nigeria. It lays out the early history of the African Church and its separation from the Church of England, expressed in the ministries of the Church Missionary Society (CMS).

The specifics of J. K. Coker’s life are interesting, and I can recommend reading this concise biography in full. However, I was struck by the issues over which J. K. Coker led a group out of the authority of CMS, and some interesting parallels with current Anglican struggles.

First, this was a movement that rose in reaction to the largely English leadership of the colonial church. Dr. Akinwumi writes of lack of respect for African clergy and lay leaders who were often better educated than their white colleagues and leaders. This reflected, as will not surprise, the racist conviction that no African could be as intelligent or able as a European, whatever his education; and that, therefore, ministry could not be left in African hands. (The paper includes some striking, and damning, quotations.)

The controversy came in the context of Muslim evangelism in the country. According to Dr. Akinwumi, there was some connection between CMS leadership and racism and the success of Muslim expansion:

“As stated earlier, the European missionaries quickly detected the brilliance of Africans and feared that they would be ousted if care was not taken. A series of repressive measures were therefore taken to discourage African workers. Stringent rules and regulations were introduced into the church regarding polygamy, baptism, confirmation and marriage which kept many traditionalists from coming forward for baptism. Islam spread more quickly in areas such as Abeokuta, Ijebu, Lagos and Ibadan where Europeans stayed for many years, as opposed to areas like Ilesa, Ondo, Ekiti, Niger and the Delta region where Africans pioneered the work….”

Circumstances like this opened the eyes of African Christians to the contemptuous attitudes of the European missionaries towards them and therefore paved the way for movements of autonomy.”

Where Africans led, and especially where Africans were able to make some accommodation to African cultures and practices, the Church grew. The CMS, on the other hand was not willing to make such accommodation.

And in that controversy, as Dr. Akinwumi notes, a significant issue was sexual mores, and specifically, polygamous marriage. As noted, the CMS took a hard line against participation in the Church by polygamist men (although the cause might just as well have been European racism and cultural imperialism, and not specifically to repress better-educated African colleagues). The new African Church, led by Mr. Coker, made more accommodation for polygamist men in the laity, although not, ultimately, in the clergy.

The critical moment in the formation of the African Church and its separation from the Church of England came on October 13, 1901. Mr. Coker seems to have been caught up in a difference between the English bishop, one Bishop Tugwell, and his African assisting bishop, Bishop James Johnson. Coker was People's Warden of St. Paul's Church, Breadfruit, in the area of Lagos. Bishop Tugwell thought Mr. Coker not sufficiently supportive of Bishop Tugwell's authority, apparently because Mr. Coker had relayed to the bishop concerns of some parishioners about a newly appointed priest. Mr. Coker thought himself bound by his position to forward these concerns to the bishop. From his subsequent actions, it appears Mr. Coker may have agreed with those concerns, although he may have simply disagreed with the authoritarian approach of Bishop Tugwell. In any case, on October 12 Mr. Coker resigned as Warden, and on October 13 a group of parishioners voted and decided to leave the St. Paul's and form their own congregation.

Dr. Akinwumi's description of the actions of departing parisioners is itself interesting:

Those who had any money belonging to the church paid whatever they had collected. They then went into the church to remove their personal belongings including the cushions they had on their seats. They abandoned the idea of sending a telegraph to London to inform the home church about what was going on because it would constitute a delay. In their opinion, they had moved out of Breadfruit and had formed a new church on the 13th of October, 1901 though they had no idea where they would meet.

Clearly, they distinguished between property of the Church of England and their personal property, and took only the latter.

Dr. Akinwumi reports that the division left Bishop Johnson publicly in tears, and that there were those voices of moderation, seeking some delay from Bishop Tugwell so as to provide time for those moderates to perhaps persuade dissenters to stay. However, despite pleas from those moderates, and from “all the priests in Lagos,” Bishop Tugwell refused. Even as he installed the new priest, the dissenters were meeting to form their new body.

Once established, the African Church under Coker’s leadership began to reach out to other independent Nigerian Churches. Coker advocated intercommunion among African churches, even though they differed over whether it was acceptable for clergy to be polygamous. Coker felt there was enough in common for them to worship together. However, others in African Church leadership disagreed, and ultimately most of these discussions were unsuccessful. However, the African Church did continue, and does continue so as to enter now into ecumenical conversations with CN-A.

As I read this history, I couldn't help but be struck by the resonance with current Anglican arguments, once again being expressed in Nigeria. The conflict between European/Western and local African cultures in the Church, and issues of colonies, imperialism, and racism; the expression of those differences in issues related to marriage; the concerns of competition with Islam; the differences between international and local Church leadership; decisions over Church property; and efforts to unite local, like-minded Christian bodies are all markedly parallel. In truth, "everything old is new again;" or, as the Preacher said, "There in nothing new under the sun."

Is there anything to learn from this? I don't really know. Certainly, it is worth attention, but there are also arguably differences. But perhaps there is one thing to learn, or at least to hope for. It's been 106 years since that first group left the Anglican Communion to form their own. It's taken that long for two bodies of Nigerian Christians with a common heritage to enter ecumenical discussions. Now we're concerned about the Anglican Communion as we have come to know it. Provinces of the Communion are highlighting differences and taking stands, with Nigeria notable among them. Changes at this point seem inevitable; separations and realignments seem certain. We can all pray that it won't take us 100 years and more to start talking again.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

What General Convention Has Done: Mental Health

There's a good post by George Clifford, a colleague over at Episcopal Cafe, with a good reflection on a Christian understanding of mental illness, and how we might respond to it. I commend it to your attention.

As we watch the rising political conversation on access to healthcare in the United States, let's pay attention to this issue. For some time there has been controversy and struggle over "parity:" insurance coverage for mental health treatment on par with coverage for physical health treatment. With higher co-pays and lower lifetime spending limits, few insurance programs offer mental health and addiction coverage that is adequate, much less on par with coverage for physical illnesses and injuries. Because mental illnesses are often chronic rather than acute, coverage limitations throw victims and their families into the public health system - if there are any resources for them even there - or, as George notes, into the penal system.

General Convention has spoken to this. In 1991, Resolution D088 called on "members of the Episcopal Church... to become knowledgeable about mental illness in order to reduce stigma and stereotypes which are prevalent within the Church body and the Community-at-large;" and "to reach out, welcome, include and support persons with a mental illness, particularly those who have a prolonged, serious mental illness, and the families of those persons, and recognize the abilities and celebrate the gifts of those who have a mental illness...." It also called for programs to care for the mentally ill, both in the community and in institutions, and to prepare clergy to provide appropriate care. Finally, it called for all of us to "become advocates for public policy and adequate funding to provide comprehensive community-based services, hospital care and research into the causes and treatment of mental illness...."

As we prepare to vote next year, and to include health care provisions in our considerations, remember the needs of those suffering mental, behavioral, and addictive disorders, and those who care for them. We need to become part of "those who care for them." As George notes, it's a good Christian thing to do.