2/18/2015

Strong Priest Woman, Strong Writing: Really big question about Mission, with a not nice answer: Listen.

(Out there in Episcopal / Anglican blogland I check in regularly on several sites written by women and men who are constant guides to my own mutterings here in Preludium-ville.  So hold on to your hats! We are in for a ride on the wind of the Spirit.  This is one of my longer posts, but I hope you read it from one end to the other.)

Vineyard Stomping Truth Tellers 

Today (February 17th)  a strong woman friend has posted yet another piece that cut a path of truth telling, tramping down a bit of the vineyards where the grapes of wrath are stored.

Now it is well known that vineyard stompers have to drink a bit of the wrath grapes themselves, so not surprising that they are sometimes decidedly not nice.

The amazing Margaret Watson, priest and pastor in Lakota land posted today a meditation titled, "Liberals have no enemies."  The meditation mostly concerns the many to many deaths in the community in which she is priest, too many funerals, too many bodies, and too little support for this remnant of mission in Episcopal land.  
 
At the end she recalls the Psalm for the morning, Psalm 28.  I quote less of it than she did:

"O LORD, I call to you;
my Rock, do not be deaf to my cry; *
lest, if you do not hear me,
I become like those who go down to the Pit.
Hear the voice of my prayer when I cry out to you, *
when I lift up my hand to your holy of holies.

Do not snatch me away with the wicked or with the evildoers, *
who speak peaceably with their neighbors,
while strife is in their hearts.
Repay them according to their deeds, *
and according to the wickedness of their actions.
According to the work of their hands repay them, *
and give them their just deserts.
O LORD, they have no understanding of your doings,
nor of the works of your hands; *
therefore you will break them down and not build them up.
"


Yow! The great smack down indeed! 

Margaret writes, 

" I  know --I'm supposed to love my enemies... not wish them a righteous smack-down. But this morning...

...at least you can tell I'm not a liberal... because liberals try to get along with everybody... they have no 'enemies' --right?!"


Margaret prays the smack-down. There are enemies out there, mostly people who have just looked the other way at the suffering and its causes, at the paucity of our compassion, and who are in need of "just deserts."  She is, of course, talking about most of us (by which I mean me and my kind.)

Margaret is, I suspect, an enemy of liberals, who as she says "try to get along with everybody."  So liberals do have enemies.  Is Margaret my enemy? No..far from it, unless I hate conscience snapping at my heels and heart.

But she is raising an anger which I believe will become clearer and greater as the months go by and which will be heard even in the high places and the tall cotton vistas of General Convention in Episcopal-land. 

I want you to read the progress of Priest Margaret's voice. It will take a few moments, but READ!

Priest Margaret Speaks:

Some weeks ago Margaret voiced a concern about the General Convention budget and the monies for work with indigenous peoples and domestic mission. 

On February 7th she wrote:

Next week, folks from church headquarters will come for a visit... it has been proposed that monies that have gone to support the Reservation clergy be slowly eliminated --that the churches here become "self-sufficient." The are coming to see....

In speaking with my Bishop this week, I said that so much of the work here is 'Presence' --yes. But it is presence at the foot of the Cross. The cross the church itself helped create as a tool of the government. The cross our government created in our names in the cause of nation-building.

And now the church itself wants to go be Pilate and wash its hands... in the Name of the Bottom Line, in the Name of Self-Sufficiency, in the Name of the Budget."


The people did not come, weather problems I think,  but the issue continued:

She wrote on the 11th: "sigh"

"I have the story all wrong... I'm sorry....

It's not that the monies for this place will be slowly eliminated... it's that the Church will give a grant so that the People here can figure out how to become self-sustainable, because the current model for mission is not sustainable.... And, in the meantime, what money is in the General Convention Church budget will be frozen at the same level as was given three years ago.

That's not "eliminated."

Besides, don't you know, it might be spiritually degrading to be on the receiving end of such "mission" --it might create unhealthy dependency....

I don't care how it's spun... who can't read between the lines? Who can't understand the intent?

I have to admit my absolute electric shock to be on the receiving end of the words 'spiritually degrading' and 'unhealthy dependency...'. It was good for me.

I hope I said something to the effect of --the church helped make these circumstances... it can't just wash its hands and walk away.

But, I think that is exactly what the church will do. It will do all it can to protect the survival of the institution first.

It's an interesting time to be an Episcopalian, heh?"



Then she wrote several days ago, on February 13, with this title: how might we be a prophetic voice in dead-end situations?"

"So-- what is needed? How do I best say what needs to be done?

I was unprepared in so many ways to say what really needed to be said. I was knocked off my feet by the assumption that the way forward --of cutting funding-- was already a done deal --that it is necessary for the sake of the whole church to work on eliminating the work done on Reservations in South Dakota from the budget.

All I could do was yell.... mostly about my own neck... which is not the most important nor most pressing part....

So, what is needed?

A business plan? (I wonder what St. Paul would have said...)

--sigh--

  • What is needed is consistency of presence. Long-term consistent presence.
  • Opportunities for children to experience, participate in and express worship, learning and fellowship.
  • Engaging, culturally relevant liturgy and learning for all ages.
  • Accessible (in every way) education for locally trained/ordained clergy.
  • Low-cost sustainable, off-grid places to gather, baptize, share bread and wine, celebrate, pray, and bury.

--In these circumstances:

--in the places of the lowest income in the US. The two counties that comprise the Cheyenne River Reservation are ranked 4th and 11th. Of the first ten lowest income places, South Dakota is listed five times... all of them on Reservations.

--in a place where genocide --cultural and physical-- have been perpetrated....

--in a place where the promises have been broken, again, and again, and again, and again....

--in a place where the Church has been a player in all this....

As I said in a note to my Bishop this morning:


--in order to build a culture of understanding all Christian life and ministry, especially ordained ministry (it's taken the greater church at least a generation to begin to fully accept and embrace some of the theological implications of our prayer book revisions --and those implications are largely un-taught here, or run counter-culture).
--to build the programmatic infra-structure of education and training for all ages

--to find ways to 'house' worship and programs in low-cost, off grid, durable structures.

To do such would require more trained clergy right now, on every Reservation, and a unified push, a consistent presence.... because what we are doing now is, indeed, not sustainable. Through previous budget cuts, we have been forced in to unsustainable patterns of ministry that do not build, but are on a dead-end path.
So, the first action the Church must take is to support (at least) South Dakota's first asking of the Budget Committee --an increase.

And why should the greater Church support this ministry?

--as my Bishop said, for the sake of its own soul...

If the whole Church cannot support such ministry as a sign of repentance, reconciliation and restoration, then it has already lost the Gospel, and has nothing to say --to any one.

What the heck does it mean to repudiate the Doctrine of Discovery if we then do nothing to repent of it --true, sacrificial repentance....
"




And thinking ahead to Ash Wednesday she wrote on February 17th:
 
"Ash Wednesday. But no one I serve needs to be reminded of their mortality. No one I serve needs to hear that they are dust. Not really. As the talks of more cuts to social services and food stamps fill the air, the silences are filled with the present remembrance of children having beer cans and beer thrown at them at the game. The authorities call for patience.

Patience is what happens while promises and treaties are broken, and another generation suffers.(and) Awakens to the stories, now made real. In their flesh and blood."



Priest Margaret Speaks, and The Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society needs to listen.

Listen, because she is right. Broken bodies and promises are proof, and liberal (or even conservative) niceness cannot hide the fact, that we are losing our collective soul as we lose the willingness to be and support compassionate witness in the hard places and hard times.  

This is not about a business plan for self sufficiency. This is about presence and love greater than estrangement and the great witness of a people and a place totally marginalized by damn near everybody including the Church and the churches.  We believe that Christ is there. Should we not go out and meet the Christ there? 

We need to take a careful look at the General Convention budget. What portion of the whole is in fact for domestic and foreign mission?  What in support of that mission? And in what does that mission consist?  If the monies are kept at their current level, what does that really say?

I have been part of the missionary work of The Episcopal Church for most of my ministry- as appointed missionary, as university chaplain, as staff officer of the church center in higher education and world mission, as executive for a small mission agency (GEM), as a member of the board of the DFMS / Executive Council and most recently an adviser to the Bishop of Haiti. 

What Mark, priest, has learned:

(i)  Everybody talks incarnation, but everybody is suspicious of those who try it.  Presence is no where near as containable as is Program.  And funding or not funding a program is about encouraging or killing off a project sort of thing.... its not personal. Funding a presence... well if you stop, you are killing off a persons engagement.

So the myth is built that mission as presence breeds dependence, that such missionaries are unrealistic and unbusinesslike, that presence is no substitute for program.

Right....tell that to Jesus, his companions, or for that matter tell that to the presence of God's love in those who are supposedly the "clients."  Tell that to the wise woman story teller who carries her people in her words, whose presence is Christ present (if we read the matter rightly).

(ii) Mission activity requires that we give ourselves and what we have away so that others might live.  It is always a loosing financial and personnel proposition.  

The proposition that we are sustaining the current level of support is a fiction. $100,000 three years ago is not $100,000 now.  And as to the emotional support, no recognition that this is in fact a reduction in support is a blow. 

The proposition that we recruit fewer church workers - clergy and lay persons - as part of a strategy to force self-sustaining ministry is at the very least misguided, at the most a missionary sham. To get a flood of ministry from within a community will require a flood of ministry with that community. Have we not heard, (Mark 4:25) "Whoever has will be given more; whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them."


(iii) The greater love is not the program that works and the buildings paid off and the liturgy that is fine and refined. The greater love is to give one's life for one's friends.  The missionary task is to love greatly, incarnationally, presently... to love one's friends, which requires that we make friends, that we have friends, and that they trust us when we say we are there for them.  


Of course we have programs, of course we attempt to measure and get better at what we do. But the object, dear friends, is to live, be, and die for and with friends.  So I am not persuaded that success in domestic and / or foreign mission is a product of programs, but rather a product of community.

A proposal that will not satisfy, but might begin a remedy:
 
As the DFMS gets better at its work the percentage of the total budget for operations and support of institutional life ought to fall and the total for domestic and foreign mission ought to rise. And the whole, given the bend toward greater mission, ought to rise as well.

The proposed 2016-2018 budget for The Episcopal Church predicts income of some 73,865,000 from Dioceses and $45,646,000 from other sources (investments, rentals, etc). On the expenses side, abut 70,000,000 is designated for mission and 49,000,000 for governance and administration. Remember, these figures are for a three year period.

Could we challenge the budget to reflect the following: that all contributions from dioceses go to mission funding (domestic and foreign mission) and that governance and administration be completely paid for by "other incomes"?

This would immediately push roughly $4,000,000 (total for the three years) into the mission designation.  

Then, if we also made great efforts (Task Force on Re-imaging TEC) to cut back on Governance and Administration costs, we might actually put some new funds into mission.

And, (hope springs eternal) if we could show the dioceses that all the funds they contribute go directly to domestic and foreign mission activity, might that not encourage dioceses to contribute, rather than not?

The end result might be a General Convention budget that reflects a bending towards mission engagement.

Returning to Margaret, priest and voice.

Margaret writes from the fields of the Lord... you know, the place where people live and die with broken promises and yet so often with full hearts. It is not a place primarily of program and disposable income. Everything is immediate and precious, even in its pain. Her meditations are  powerful voice for rethinking the way the Church uses its resources, and more importantly how the Church encourages those who are present, there, here, and everwhere. Or not.
 

 

 

  

Let us not make Lent this Lent a dark and dreary trudge...find some solitude and work from there.


Christina Brennan Lee says over at People's Prayers,

"Let's not make this Lent a dark and dreary trudge through the wilderness of gloom and doom. Life is a gift of God, a treasure, a miracle. While we must take the time to examine our sins and acknowledge the everyday idols that lead us astray, let us also do as Fr. Richard Rohr suggests - learn what our sins can teach us about ourselves. We go through much of life unconsciously and we can't get rid of something we don't know we have. Lent is a time to look closely and discover what we've been hiding in the basement of our souls. Just like Spring cleaning - or Fall if you're in the southern hemisphere - it's time to awaken to the best of ourselves, re-discover what it means to commit our lives to Christ, and throw the sin out with the trash. Let us repent with eagerness, with attention and intention, let us turn toward the Light and thrive."

Got it! Read the whole thing HERE. Its short and meditative and just right.

And as to where we might go to do the looking, to do the reawakening, try the hermits cell, or the quiet of the forest, or the solitude of the wilderness. Jim Friedrich, the Religious Imagioneer, begins a series of meditations on solitude. Read the first one HERE.

He begins with several quotes from seekers of solitude, one was Patrick Leigh Fermor.

"in the seclusion of a cell… the troubled waters of the mind grow still and clear, and much that is hidden away and all that clouds it floats to the surface and can be skimmed away; and after a time one reaches a state of peace that is unthought of in the ordinary world."

Jim writes,

"We don’t know the names of the first hermits, or exactly what drove them to flee their social world for the solitude of wilderness. Not every reason was spiritual, nor did every hermit aspire to higher consciousness. The woods and wastelands have seen their share of outlaws and misanthropes. But for many whose names we revere (such as Moses, Buddha and Jesus), as well as for countless saints who have successfully achieved anonymity, the desert, the mountaintop, the island and the forest primeval have been crucial habitats for the work of the soul.

You go to the wilderness both to lose and to gain. You lose habitual patterns and social roles, along with addictive comforts, clocks, calendars, distractions, noise, news, and the various stresses of public and personal life. You gain time, silence, solitude, freedom, wild nature, and the occasional attention of both angels and demons. If you don’t leave too soon, you may also discover a voice which has kept you company since the day of your birth, a voice which has waited patiently until your inner silence grew deep enough to hear it."

Read the whole thing HERE. And go back to read the followup essays!

So, dear friends, don't take Lenten life too seriously, sit lightly with the time, but find silence and solitude. Somewhere deep within the noise of the busy world there is your cell, and there is the beginning of happiness, not gloom.


2/16/2015

On the matter of discretion re marriage: Radner's question



I follow the ongoing discussions about marriage in Episcopal land with great interest.I have been married now for some 48 years, have officiated at a great many weddings, and have been actively engaged in the movement for the marriage of persons of the same sex, both on a civil and a religious level. So it is with some interest that I note that The Task Force on Marriage has published its report. You can read the Task Force Report HERE.

Now, of course, the cards and letters are coming in.

Ephraim Radner, over on the Anglican Communion Insititute, has written a paper reprinted in part by The Living Church. Unlike Bishop Dan Martins, I don't think Radner's response to the Task Force on Marriage is all that good, bu still, read Radner's article in its full - HERE.

I'm somewhat amused by the name, Anglican Communion Institute, which leads me to imagine it being some sort of recognized Anglican Communion entity. I imagine it with impressive buildings and research facilities with ivy covered walls and so forth. It is not. It is mostly four Anglican scholars working from wherever they are located and an advisory committee of pretty heavy lifting conservative Episcopal / Anglican worthies. But amusement is just that, amusement. The content of what these folk write has stand - alone worth, sometimes quite valuable, sometimes not so much.

Radner raises many issues about the several sections of the first resolution proposed by the Task Force, but one stands out for me as an issue that need to be addressed.

The matter of discretion to decline.

This concerns the clause in both the existing and proposed marriage canon, (with an addition by the Task Force indicated by underlining):

"Sec. 4 (renumbered as Sec. 6.) It shall be within the discretion of any Member of the Clergy of this Church to decline to solemnize or bless any marriage."

Radner writes,

"given that one conscience clause allowing priests to refuse to marry a couple on the basis of their individual views of the matter is left in “tension” with another existing canon that forbids discrimination on the basis of sexuality, the canonical change also opens the door to disciplinary and perhaps legal challenge to individual clergy who maintain classical views about Christian marriage. "

Well, first, it is not a canonical change so much as a repositioning of an existing subsection to the marriage canon. So the criticism is not only about the revised canon, but the existing one. It is the change in the rest of the canon that brings the issue to the fore.

Neither the original nor the revised reading makes any reference to refusing "to marry a couple on the basis of their individual views of the matter," the "their" being clergy and "the matter" one supposes that the couple are both of the same sex. The canon only mentions "discretion..to decline." The proposed canon does include "to bless" as well as to "solemnize" which is an indication that the writers wanted to extend the discretion to include blessing separated from the solemnizing that is involved with legal marriage.

But given that, Radner's point still remains. A member of the clergy can decline to solemnize or bless, supposedly without giving reason to anyone. But suppose I were to consistently decline to solemnize or bless persons who had been married before, no matter the circumstances, or declined always when the couple was of different races (however defined),or because one was of one nationality and the other of a second? I believe we would consider this discrimination, prohibited by canon.

What about declining when the two persons were both men, or both women? Is this, if done on a consistent basis, discrimination or not?

As Radner points out there is a canon that forbids discrimination on the basis of sexuality. He is referencing, I believe, Canon I 17:5 -

"No one shall be denied rights, status or access to an equal place in the life, worship, and governance of this Church because of race, color, ethnic origin, national origin, marital status, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, disabilities or age, except as otherwise specified by Canons."

The question is, does the marriage canon, in its current or revised form provide a specific exception to Canon I 17:5?

There is no indication in the revised canon of such an exception.

Is there a "tension" between the two canons, made all the more evident by the "matter" of marriage of two persons of the same sex? Are those holding "classical" views subject to possible canonical or legal challenge?

I think the answer is, "yes."

From the standpoint of Canon I 17:5 discrimination against a class of people, by virtue of the class alone, is prohibited. Clergy can refuse case by case as a matter of discretion. But to refuse all of a class over time would be indication of prohibited discrimination. There is no indication in the marriage canon that discretion can be applied to a class of persons, as a matter of general principle.

So what is a "classically" informed clergy person (by that Radner means a clergy person who believes that marriage is only possible, as far as the church is concerned, between a man and a woman) to do? Refusing either by announcement or actual practice to solemnize or bless any same sex marriages is prohibited discrimination against a class of persons. At the same time the "classically" informed clergy person would supposedly hold that solemnizing or blessing any such marriage is a against conscience, and therefore prohibited by conscience.

Such clergy persons are indeed in a tense situation.

I believe these worthies must then either decline to officiate at any marriage, believing that any other course places them in danger charges of specific discrimination or in personal moral jeopardy, or act as conscience dictates, and live in the tension arising from such action, or leave this Church and finding another context for ministry.

Of these possibilities I would hope such clergy would decline to officiate at any marriage, or act as conscience dictates, living in the tension of that fact. I fear that some clergy might indeed take the third option, feeling that the church is no longer a safe place. What might make it be a safe place? Or barring that, what would make it at least a place where there was clarity?

Safety is hard to come by. But I believe we need to be clearer in what the canonical change will mean, by clarifying the extent to which a clergy person can decline to solemnize or bless a marriage as a matter of general principle.

In all candor, I think the real problem is not on the level of the individual clergy exercise of discretion. It is much more important on a diocesan level. If a bishop refuses to allow his clergy to officiate at such services the bishop has clearly made a judgment concerning the exercise of "clergy discretion" that is about a class, not about a particular case. That, it seems to me, would be grounds for a charge of discrimination.

The question for me in the proposed canon is this: If there is to be an exemption clause for those who in good conscience will not marry persons of the same sex, what will it look like, and if there will not be an exemption clause, how will we relate to, work with, support or even argue with those who are thereby exposed to possible charges of conflict with the non-discrimination canon?

There are various times when the church is not "safe" for some of its own clergy. Over the years I have had close friends loose position and even orders because of their actions. Some have been people whose actions I agreed with, some not. Some have involved matters of conscience, some not. It turns out that safety is not one of the guarantees that comes with ordination.

It is helpful to friends we agree with and those we don't to at least be as clear as we can. So, what does the canon mean, can a clergy person be charged with discrimination for consistently refusing to marry persons of the same sex or not? As long as we are changing the canon at all, why not be clear about its application?

2/09/2015

The historic episcopate, locally adapted...

The Episcopal Church of Haiti is gearing up for the future, and in doing so will have to challenge the assumptions of what it means to be a bishop, assumptions based on their experience as a jurisdiction of the Episcopal Church (AKA The Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America). 

The challenge is faced always in overseas dioceses of The Episcopal Church, most of them being in "nations or peoples" significantly different from this nation - The United States of America.

That rethinking is going on everwhere.

There has been considerable chatter in Episcopal land about whether or not bishops ought to be able to be both bishop and hold other church positions, say as rector of a parish or chaplain at a university. The Diocese of Western Kansas has just concluded a period where its Bishop was also rector.

In England there is an effort to seek out clergy with particular talents and put them forward as bishop material. For many years the bishop of the church in Portugal was also an executive in the business world. And of course in our own past in TEC we have had diocesan bishops who were also parish clergy.

The reality is, I suppose, that over the centuries many strategies for sustaining an episcopate have been tried. The backfire seems to have come with problems of divided loyalties, difficulties in accountability, and of course in "double-dipping," a bit of that good ol' sin of greed. What is important to note is that the value placed on the episcopate is ancient and strong, strong enough to lead the church in various circumstances to make adjustments in its understanding of the role of bishop and the way in which it works out in practice.

A hint of that willingness to make adjustments is found in the Lambeth Quadrilateral, the only Anglican Communion document to make it into the Prayer Book. 

The fourth article of the Lambeth Quadrilateral states that one of the matters essential to unity in the Church is "the Historic Episcopate, locally adapted to the methods of its administration to the varying needs of the nations and peoples called of God into the unity of His Church."

The Episcopal Church, the source of the Lambeth Quadrilateral, knew whereof it was speaking. It's bishops were unlike the bishops in its mother church. The episcopate in the US came without the patina that establishment brought in England. They were not Lords, they did not organize under an Archbishop nor under the protection of the State. Indeed so far were they from the bishop image of their parent church that it was sometimes suggested that The Episcopal Church was a congregational church, with bishops. 

On a positive side American bishops more often saw themselves primarily as missionaries, a useful self image in a land that was decidedly un-CofE, and increasingly un-English. The American Church adapted the methods of episcopal administration to the varying needs of this new Republic. 

Of course then was then and now is now. The Book of Common Prayer for The Episcopal Church now has this ordination prayer for making a bishop: 

"Therefore, Father, make N. a bishop in your Church. Pour out upon him the power of your princely Spirit, whom you bestowed upon your beloved Son Jesus Christ, with whom he endowed the apostles, and by whom your Church is built up in every place, to the glory and unceasing praise of your Name."

"The power of your princely Spirit" is a telling phrase. We must hope that it is a metaphor for some characteristic of God having to do with rule, but what exactly is unclear.

Unfortunately what has too often happened is that the bishop being ordained has concluded that he or she is possesses "princely powers," spiritual or otherwise, of the sort bestowed on Jesus, and the apostles, etc. The operant word here is "prince."   The modern 21st Century American episcopate is by all signs a "princely" role. The way they are treated and the expectations that are had of them is decidedly princely! 

And, truth be told, we pay for what we get. Vestments supposedly have many purposes, but among them is that they set apart the celebrants, priests, deacons, sub-deacons, acolytes, lay readers, and BISHOPS from the regular paid up members of the congregations. And they do so in increasingly pomp filled ways. Why should we be surprised then to discover that difference and separation is seen by many as silly, pompous, irrelevant or arrogant?

We do pomp well, but at a cost. Pomp - miters, copes, rings, chasubles and the like - are signs of princely power - not I might add as befits the Lord of our life, Jesus Christ, but as befits princes of this world. So if we want princely bishops we get them. No wonder then that they get paid more, live in the better house, have the greater honor, etc. And not to pick on bishops alone, no wonder we get clergy who believe (sometimes not too quietly) that they are princely heads of their respective families of believers.

Overseas jurisdictions are reconsidering the role and perks of bishops. I think we need to be about that too. It is time to rethink the symbols of princely power attached to the episcopate in TEC. 

The question, of course, is whether or not any of those accrudaments have any relevance to the role of bishop in the church.  And if it is relevant in one place, what makes any of us think it is relevant in another?  Why should the expectations we have in the US of the ranking of episcopal office have any relevance to the place of episcopal office in other societies or cultures?  

In the decisions to strengthen the episcopate in growing churches that are overseas jurisdictions of The Episcopal Church, we need to attend to the possibilities that our expectations of the rights and priviledges of the office may not be relevant to those settings, and support new visions for how that office is exercised, both there and here.  

 

General Convention 2015 and the Anglican Covenant

In the work up to General Convention 2015 we might note that the matter of the Anglican Covenant will again appear on the docket. How much attention it will get is questionable, particularly given the big prize items – New Presiding Bishop, Task Force on Restructure, and various remedies for the decline in numbers, monies in the budget, and so forth.

Still, there was this part of GC 2012: B055, On the Anglican Covenant:

“Resolved, that the General Convention ask the Presiding Officers to appoint a task force of Executive Council (Blue Book, 637) to continue to monitor the ongoing developments with respect to the Anglican Covenant and how this church might continue its participation; and be it further

Resolved, that the Executive Council task force on the Anglican Covenant report its findings and recommendations to the 78th General Convention.”

The task force will have to make some report to the next Convention, which opens the door to resolutions concerning the Anglican Covenant.

The task force has met twice by phone and the record of their meetings can be found online. In their last meeting by telephone, in August 2014, Bishop Ian Douglas offered the following as a draft resolution to go forward to General Convention in 2015. (This of course is subject to change prior to inclusion in the Blue Book.)

“Resolved the House of _______ concurring that the 78th General Convention of The Episcopal Church affirms our common identity and membership in the Anglican Communion as expressed in the preamble and first three sections of the Anglican Communion Covenant; and be it further

Resolved that the Convention direct The Episcopal Church's Members of the Anglican Consultative Council to express our appreciation to the 16th meeting of the Anglican Consultative Council (ACC16, Lusaka 2016) for the gift of inter-Anglican conversation and mutuality in God's mission engendered by the Anglican Communion Covenant process.”

This working draft expresses the willingness of some to say the preamble and the first three sections of the Anglican Covenant are acceptable as a means of describing what it means to be Anglican, even if the fourth section is defective and unacceptable. The draft also suggests that the Anglican Communion Covenant process (whatever that is) has been a source of “dialogue and mutuality.”

As usual Bishop Douglas has crafted a carefully worded resolution that neither affirms or denies the Anglican Covenant – that is it does not answer the question “do you vote yes or no?” It lets matters rest without a vote for or against.

Still, I think it goes too far. I believe the preamble to the Covenant is a strange sort of document. It is clearly labeled as not part of the Anglican Covenant but it is always to be included with it. Either it should be made part of the package, or dropped. (Dropping it is my choice.)

Many of us have offered analysis of the first three sections of the Covenant and have pointed out that section three in particular establishes the basis for binding commitment to limited autonomy, for which section four provides detailed “consequences.” It is not necessary here to do more than point out that there is not wide agreement among ourselves as to the benign character of the first three sections.

Lionel Deimel on his blog has written a reflection on the status of the Anglican Covenant in the light of post Convention 2012. You can read it HERE. Lionel is of the opinion that GC2012 “passed a timid resolution (B005) asserting that Episcopalians were too divided on the question of Covenant adoption to make a decision at that time.” “This,” he opined, “was a farce.” I believe it was neither timid nor a farce. Then again I am prejudiced, having been a prime mover in its crafting and adoption.

It certainly did not seem a timid notion at the time. To say that just because we were asked to say “yes” or “no” did not mean that we had to do as told and say either “yes” or “no” seemed appropriate at the time. It was a refusal to play the “Anglican Covenant” game.

The reason for the refusal was clear at least to some of us: the internal battles in the Episcopal Church expressed at that General Convention were so costly that additional win-loose propositions might well lead to overload. When I stood to support this resolution on the floor of the House of Deputies I did so knowing that some would consider this timid or a farce. It is far from it. I believe it was necessary and honest. We did not need to do what we were asked to do. We could refuse to play the Anglican Covenant game.

But, as usual, Lionel (who I believe got that wrong) gets it right on many other levels. In his blog essay “The Anglican Covenant yet again” he opines,

“Welby, I suggest, has figured out that what the Communion really needs is not engagement, but disengagement, exactly the opposite of what the Covenant strives to achieve. Let the churches do mission as they understand it and refrain from trying to correct the perceived errors of one another. The Covenant is not so much about how Communion churches can get along as it is about how they should fight. Why fight to begin with?”

Indeed, “Why fight to begin with?” 


Lionel suggests that we fess up this time (General Convention 2015), and vote NO on the Covenant. He believes that the Anglican Covenant idea will creep into the room by a slow process and become the default position for Anglican Communion life. His analysis of what it might have been if the Church of England had signed on to the Anglican Covenant and then tried to introduce the ordination of women to the episcopate is good reading. The stumbling block would have been (Bishop Douglas please note) in section three.

“According to Paragraph 3.2.3 of the Covenant, action by a church that will be controversial, new, or otherwise problematic should be “tested by shared discernment in the life of the Church,” and (according to Paragraph 3.2.4) the church should “seek a shared mind with other Churches, through the Communion’s councils, about matters of common concern.” The Covenant goes on to say that “[e]ach Church will undertake wide consultation with the other Churches of the Anglican Communion and with the Instruments and Commissions of the Communion.” In Paragraph 3.2.5, churches pledge “to act with diligence, care and caution in respect of any action which may provoke controversy,” and in Paragraph 3.2.6, churches are required “in situations of conflict, to participate in mediated conversations, which involve face to face meetings, agreed parameters and a willingness to see such processes through.

The Church of England did none of this before authorizing women to be consecrated bishops.”

And, had they done so Lionel points out, we would not likely have women bishops in England, now or in the near future.

Lionel writes,

“We need a 2015 resolution rejecting the Covenant less to protect The Episcopal Church, the church that, along with the Anglican Church of Canada, the militant traditionalists in the Communion love to hate, than to send the message that the Covenant project is destined to fail. If The Episcopal Church decisively rejects the Covenant in 2015, Canada will like follow suit when its General Synod meets in 2016. At that point, the Covenant will be useless, which is much better than malevolent, which it now has the potential to become.”

I am attracted to this proposal, but wonder. Lionel earlier asks, “Why fight to begin with?” At this point might we, in our own way, like the Church of England, determine that there is insufficient energy to bring the matter to a vote in our general synod? And might that not be an effective “no”? 


(Lionel has just written a piece on just which Churches have signed on, rejected or otherwise considered the Covenant. He seems clear that the CofE action is more a rejection than not.)

Again I have to ask, why are we obliged to act on this measure? Just because the previous Archbishop of Canterbury or the Anglican Communion Office asks member churches to consider and sign on to the Anglican Covenant does not mean we must.

If it develops that there is a resolution specifically for or against the Covenant, I believe we need to vote NO. I see no canonical or ecclesial context in which we can be bound to such a covenant in ways that will effectively inhibit our need to act as a synod as we see fit. And barring such a binding, I see no reason for the Covenant itself.

And, if quite conversation with the Anglican Church of Canada suggests our “no” would be helpful for them as well, then lets say “No.” I am not sure that is the case, but we might ask.

However, barring any resolution requiring a “yes” or “no” answer, and keeping in mind Lionel’s concern about creeping Covenant-itus , there may well be an argument for a “continuing” very loose engagement with the Covenant process. At this point in the Communion’s life it seems to me we need to keep as many doors open to conversation as possible.

So my sense is that we might take on the Douglas proposal, with several revisions.

An alternative to the Douglas proposed text might be:

“Resolved the House of _______ concurring that the 78th General Convention of The Episcopal Church affirms our common identity and membership in the Anglican Communion as expressed in the preamble and first three sections of the Anglican Communion Covenant; and be it further

Resolved that the Convention direct The Episcopal Church's Members of the Anglican Consultative Council to express our appreciation to the 16th meeting of the Anglican Consultative Council (ACC16, Lusaka 2016) for the gift of inter-Anglican conversation and mutuality in God's mission engendered by the Anglican Communion Covenant process that has accompanied the several churches consideration of the Anglican Communion Covenant.”

This resolution makes no reference to the content of the Anglican Communion Covenant, does not say “yes” or “no” to the Covenant, affirms our identity and membership in the Anglican Communion and acknowledges with appreciation the deeper conversations that have grown from consideration of the Covenant.

Frankly, I agree with Lionel’s sense that with the Church of England unwilling to bring the matter to its own synod and therefore essentially saying “no” to the Covenant, the matter of “signing on” will be of less and less importance. It will become a document for useful study among Anglican geeks perhaps, but not the beginnings of a world wide church constitution. And that, in my mind is just fine. We do not need an Anglican Communion that is another world wide Church. We already have too many of those!