7/30/2014

It was forty years ago, yesterday, and God calls - always.

Front Page of Ordination Service
It was 40 years ago, yesterday, that women were first ordained to the priesthood in The Episcopal Church. This was an important moment, both for The Episcopal Church, and for the wider Christian community. It wasn't the first such ordination, nor was it an ordination recognized either by all Episcopalians or any other catholic body (Romans or Orthodox).  But it was a big thing. I was fortunate enough to be able to be there and I took part in the laying on of hands. The service leaflet was very simple.  I've kept a copy all these years.

Bishop Pierre Whalon has written a fine piece on this over on the Huntington Post. Go read it. It sets the event in context very well.

Elizabeth Keaton has written on her blog, "The Call." Again a fine piece of writing, and a great thanksgiving for a powerful community of women. Go read it HERE.

In the middle of his article Bishop Whalon writes, 

"God calls, or does not call. All of the acts of God take place in the pure freedom that characterizes the life of the Holy Trinity. Every baptized person has a share in the resurrected Body of Christ, and is given individual gifts for the ministry of that Body on earth (see I Corinthians 12). This ministry or service is also in the image of Jesus Christ, who came not to be served, but to serve by giving his life that we might have life (Mark 10:45, among many verses). Each of us is called to play a unique role in our time and place. A few are called to minister to the Church."

We remember, don't we, times very recent (40 years ago yesterday) when it was apparent to most Episcopalians that God did not call women to minister to the Church as priests. But all that changed because of what happened that day.
Page listing Ordinands

It turns out that God's call to eleven women was to something more than ordination, it was to incarnation. These eleven were called to BE the reality of the idea, that in the priesthood women had place, standing. Prior to 40 years ago yesterday the notion of women priests in the Episcopal Church was an IDEA. 40 years ago yesterday the idea became a reality. God called these women to be the reality of the idea. 

Whalon uses the phrase, "God calls, or does not call" several times in his essay. On one level he is exactly right. About any direction that we might like to take, God may or may not call us to that. And, as I ought to know from wide personal experience, God uses a variety of voices to indicate divine direction. And God's direction is quite often not the one we might have wanted to choose.   

"God calls, or does not call," sounds about right on one level. But on another level, I am convinced that God calls, period. 

We, as faithful people, are all constantly driven forward by the conviction that God is working in us a purpose and that we are guided in purpose by God's call, which is not to this or that choice or desire, but is in fact independent of any ambitions, hopes, imaginations or dreams we may individually have regarding our place or position in church or society. 

That is, "God calls, or does not call," is true for any given direction about which we may express preference. But in the "pure freedom that characterizes the life of the Holy Trinity" God always calls us forward into that freedom. 

Every response to that service which is perfect freedom is a response to God's call. God always calls, it is we who sometimes believe we were not called because we expected particular outcomes. We sometimes wish one thing, but get another. Our discipleship, our giving way to God's call, and even our willingness to deal with what God seems to dish out as a path, is often costly.

Over the years I have often thought on the cost of that discipleship for the Philadelphia Eleven and the women who were first ordained.  In addition to being called to the priesthood, they were called to a most peculiar ministry of incarnating an idea. But the cost was high. For by being the incarnation of an idea they were targets for all who could not bear the reality they represented. The cost was very high indeed.

So I believe God calls... always. God sometimes calls us to tasks we did not know would be ours and to ministries unlike any we had imagined. But God calls. Always.

I once received a post card from a good friend (Jim may you live forever). On the front was a stand of trees in the snow, the trees were all marked by snow on one side, the side that faced the wind. The caption was, "Shhh! It comes, it goes."

We stand (baptism being our standing place) and the wind of God blows, and we are marked in some way, called to stand as witness to that Spirit now in (or on) us. 

40 years ago, yesterday, the wind blew... "Shhh! It comes and goes."  And it left its mark, and we are all blessed by the idea made real. 


7/08/2014

What part of the ordination vows did Mark Lawrence not understand?

The trial in South Carolina concerning the ownership of properties of the churches in the jurisdiction of the Diocese of South Carolina, as defined by the Episcopal Church, (being the residue of the Diocese for the whole of the State of South Carolina prior to its division into two dioceses) begins today.  It is a complex mess, due in large part to the premeditated efforts of Lawrence and other diocesan leaders, contrary to the canons of The Episcopal Church, to remove all properties from any connection to the Episcopal Church prior to the decision taken by the leaders and Lawrence to leave the Episcopal Church, .  How much of this will be seen and understood by the court remains to be seen.

Mark Lawrence has written his community about the trial. You can read the full letter HERE.

In it he says, "The path that has brought us as a diocese to this hour has been long and winding. Yet through it all we have been guided by a desire to be faithful to the doctrine, discipline and worship of Christ as we have received it ever striving to be mindful that we have been entrusted with this Truth, this Good News and rich heritage, in order to share it with those who have yet to come into the reach of Christ’s saving embrace."  (underlining mine)

Now when Bishop Lawrence was made bishop he was (at least as the Ordinal directs) asked to make the following promise:

"In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, I, NN, chosen Bishop of the Church in N., solemnly declare that I do believe the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments to be the Word of God, and to contain all things necessary to salvation; and I do solemnly engage to conform to the doctrine, discipline, and worship of the [Protestant] Episcopal Church [in the United States of America].  He then signs this declaration.  

I presume Bishop Lawrence did so.

But he states, "we have been guided by a desire to be faithful to the doctrine, discipline and worship of Christ as we have received it..."   Those are fine words, and I would hope we are all guided by The Lord Jesus Christ, who is, after all the true Good Shepherd of our souls.  However,  the "doctrine, discipline and worship" to which he was pledged as bishop had to do with Church.  The connector here is that "the Church" is also understood as "the body of Christ."  So perhaps Lawrence was simply making a shortcut... from Church to Christ. But I don't think so.

Mark Lawrence apparently does not understand that his promises had distinctly to do with the church - in his case specifically with The Episcopal Church. He promised to engage to conform to the doctrine, discipline, and worship" of the Episcopal Church.  He has broken that promise.  

If he had to choose between "the Church" and Christ I would hope he would choose Christ. But he would do so as a Christian outside his vows as bishop, which are to the church as incarnating (in some way or another) the body of Christ.  

His choice is that which every Christian at one time or another confronts, given the often messy and fallen state of Church life.  It does, however, change his relationship to the Church. He is acting not as a bishop, bound by vows to the Church, but as a believer freed from those vows.  

Mark Lawrence has made a radical Christian response to a church he feels has lost its way.  It is unclear when  he believed that he needed to make such a decision, but many of us now believe it was prior to his being ordained bishop, in which case he was ordained with his fingers crossed. He really did not mean "conforming" to ... of the Episcopal Church (or any particular Church for that matter). He meant conforming to Christ directly and without connection with the church at all.  Still, it is his decision - but not as a bishop. Having made the decision for personal conscience he is acting personally, not as bishop.

He is leader of a group of congregations floating freely now in the rarefied world of vagrant church bodies. It is hard to see how this group is a diocese (since they are not part of a larger synod - a province) and how he is a bishop (deposed in the Episcopal Church and not incorporated into the governance of any other provincial or national church.) But there it is.

The trial will be what it will be. And when it is over it will not lead to any great satisfaction for either side. The continuing Diocese will be part of The Episcopal Church, a constituent member of the Anglican Communion, and the Lawrence led group will be looking for a larger church home where it may or may not be part of anything having to do with the Anglican Communion. The property will belong to someone and hopefully those someones will us it for the good of the Church on some level and the glory of Christ. 

 We will see.

As to Mark Lawrence... what part of the ordination vows did he not understand?

7/07/2014

The Joint Nominating Committee for the Election of the Presiding Bishop and controlling the process.

The Joint Nominating Committee for the Election of the Presiding Bishop has written a short essay on the nomination process. This committee has undertaken its work somewhat differently than the last (on which I sat).  Remember that each General Convention elects a new Committee and the canons under which it operates gives it a great deal of room for variation in developing the nomination process.

The essay is clear enough about the process it will use. And it appears that his Committee will be playing it close to the chest and will attempt to exercise considerable control of the final candidates list.  

The Committee writes:


  • The JNCPB will announce its nominees in early May 2015.
  • For two weeks after the May announcement of the JNCPB’s nominees, any deputy to the 78th General Convention or bishop may indicate their intent to nominate other bishops from the floor at the 2015 General Convention in accordance with a process that the JNCPB will announce.  In the spring of 2015 the JNCPB will provide further information on the process by which bishops and deputies can nominate additional bishops. (Underlining mine)
  • The identity of the additional nominees will be made available to the Church in early June 2015.

The first thing to note is that there may be no chance for the House of Bishops in their spring meeting of 2015 to have meetings with the named candidates prior to the time of election, something they did last time around. 

Secondly, the Committee seems to believe that the JNCPB will determine the process by which bishops and deputies can nominate additional bishops. 

Their first stab at this is to suggest that bishops and deputies are to indicate their intent to nominate PRIOR to the actual occasion in the calendar of Convention for doing so.   They then suggest that there will be "further information on the process by which bishops and deputies can nominate additional bishops."  But the canons clearly indicate what that process is. 

"At the Joint Session to which the Joint Nominating Committee shall report, any Bishop or Deputy may nominate any other member of the House of Bishops for the consideration of the two Houses in the choice of a Presiding Bishop, and there may be discussion of all nominees." (Canon I.2.1(f))

That means, as I read it, that whatever the JNCPB may otherwise do, any Bishop or Deputy may nominate from the floor of the Joint Session, without any other rules modifying that.

The JNCPB then writes about the election process:


The Election Process
  • On the day before the first legislative day of General Convention, the JNCPB will present both its nominees and those of other bishops and deputies to a joint meeting of the House of Deputies and House of Bishops.  At that meeting the JNCPB will facilitate conversation and questions and answers with the nominees.
Note that the JNCPB seems to assume that all nominations worth their salt are in place before the meeting of the Joint Session.
  • Early in General Convention there will be a Joint Session of both Houses at which the names of the nominees of the JNCPB and any others by bishops or deputies will be officially entered into nomination.(underling mine)
Note here that the JNCPB again avoids actually mentioning the possibility of nominations from the floor. Instead its speaks of names of those proposed "by bishops or deputies will be officially entered into nomination."  

The essay by the Joint Committee thus avoids dealing with the clear intent of the Canons, namely that bishops may be nominated from the floor directly and on the spot at the Joint Session set aside for consideration of nominations for PB.

There are all sorts of reasons for delaying the release of the nominations from the Joint Committee and there are I suppose some reasons for wishing that there would be no last minute nominations, and no doubt the Committee is trying to do its work well. Still, in not having the Committee's names early enough for the House of Bishops to have some time with the Committees nominees and by not clearly stating that bishops and deputies by canon can on the floor nominate others it feels as if the JCNPB is exercising control tactics that ought to be challenged.

Why might the Committee be concerned to control the process in this way?  

Well, there are several quirky things about this election - (i) there is always the possibility that the current PB will think to run again, (ii) TREC (the Taskforce on Reimaging the Episcopal Church) will be giving its report and that might influence the final list the JCNPB puts together, (iii) the Blue Book, which will include recommendations from Liturgy and Music about marriage rites will be out and the next round of liberal / conservative muttering will be in full swing. Any one of these, and I am sure other, possibilities might make it very tempting to hold off on names until the last moment and at the same time pull back from the possibilities of surprise from the floor.


7/04/2014

The Fourth of July, the dance of indepenence and union.

It's the Fourth of July, and good friends have better things to say than I can about all that.  

Jim Friedrich over on his blog, "The Religious Imagineer" writes wonderfully about the hope for new images in word, song and dance, for the celebration of the independence and union that makes for the whole, the America yet to come, but already here somehow in our hopes alive now.  Go read Fourth of July. At the end Jim quotes from Robert Coles, The Spiritual Life of Children:  It is a dream of an 8 year old Hopi girl:
All the people are sitting in a circle, and they are brothers and sisters, everyone! That’s when all the spirits will dance and dance, and the stars will dance, and the sun and moon will dance and the birds will swoop down and they’ll dance, and all the people, everywhere, will stand up and dance, and then they’ll sit down again in a big circle, so huge you can’t see where it goes, or how far, if you’re standing on the mesa and looking into the horizon, and everyone is happy. No more fights. Fights are a sign that we have gotten lost, and forgotten our ancestors, and are in the worst trouble. When the day comes that we’re all holding hands in the big circle – no, not just us Hopis, everyone – then that’s what the word ‘good’ means…and the whole world will be good when we’re all in our big, big circle. We’re going around and around until we all get to be there!

Margaret Watson, over on "Leave it where Jesus flang it" in her wonderfully imaginative way reflects on bread for the whole world, and on the incarnation as a "festivity of rejoicing of the cosmic union of heaven and earth" and how we might take that in as a healing.  She writes, "God willing, today we will gather in a circle in the powwow grounds, say our prayers, remember we are what we eat, a priestly people, and then we will dance, joining The Lord of the Dance in the still center, decked out in our wedding garments. All of us."

I have been silent on this blog, and indeed in most social media, for some weeks now. Much of this is due to the extraordinary experiences of a week of Holy Walk followed by two weeks of small children walking, dancing, crying, laughing, exploring. I am enjoying the moment, and still living in wonder at it all.

For some reason my good friends and these children have lifted me from this silence to say several things:

(i) Jim and Margaret are right: in the end the vision is clear - life is meant to be shared, and shared as one body.  The rose and the fire are one. Heaven and earth are one, and even (William B. are you listening?) Heaven and Hell.

(ii) Since it is the Fourth of July, we might remember that any life that does not join independence and interdependence together (independence and union both) misses the mark. 

And when government in its form or function fail to provide for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, we have every business replacing it with a better way, a better means, to that end.  

No one should read the Declaration of Independence as a document solely related to past glories.  It is a present tense declaration, and tyrants of every stripe know it for what it is - a radically simple call to life together for the good of all.  And yes, I know what this means for religious institutions as well. That is why I am an Anglican, stressing independence and interdependence both. It is a profoundly dangerous document. I read it regularly.

(iii) Religion and patriotism are great dangers to any hope for this vision - for religion (rule following behavior in respect to the control and organization of spiritual expression) and patriotism (a secular religion) confuse the vision for the realities of this or that system.  Spiritual expression and love for the notion of a whole people, "out of many one" is never captured by flag or banner. The spiritual promise of life and that abundantly is not delivered by religious organization, no matter how orthodox or ancient.

(iv) And, remembering that it is a time for high and great hopes for life made full and abundant, let us acknowledge that the Fourth of July is in some ways a festival of turning over, turning around - of redemption and release, and does not finally belong to us in the US alone, but to all who hope.

So let us wave small flags, and sing lusty songs of life together, and toot and hoot, light off rockets celebrate new life, and generally carry-on with dance and joy.  For in every way and at every time we need the reminder that we are still walking, yes indeed.  Walking to the land promised in our earliest visions and our latest hopes.

Not pilgrimage, but Holy Walk,  not vision of completion, but incarnation of effort. We will, as W.H. Auden suggests, "see rare beasts and have unique adventures."





5/30/2014

Anglican Bishops in Dialogue agree with Preludium's 2006 statement.

Nice to see that eight years after Preludium posted "Not a Worldwide Church, but a Fellowship", Anglican Bishops in Dialogue issued a "testimony" concerning their journey toward reconciliation, agreeing.

The Dialogue Testimony included this statement:

"We are family. The Anglican Communion is a family of churches. It is not a Church itself. There is much we have in common as Anglicans, which is evidenced in mutuality in mission, but we remain independent and diverse provinces."

On March 8, 2006, I wrote,

"Perhaps we have missed the abundance of God’s grace to us… that we are not a worldwide church at all, but rather a fellowship. This is abundance because we are not one thing but many things, held together not because we are one in ourselves, but because we are one in the Lord Jesus Christ."

I wrote that in the context of arguing that of the two notions - that the Anglican Communion is a "world wide church" and that the Anglican Communion is a fellowship (or family) I go for the second.

Here in the small junky office of Preludium I sometimes wonder if anything written here has value, so it is good to see that occasionally the highly placed agree with something I wrote earlier, even if they got the idea elsewhere or simply because they too can read the tea leaves of past history.

Of course the idea that we are not a worldwide church but a family of churches, a fellowship of churches, etc., is not new at all. It is old news, as old as the spirit that gave rise to the first Lambeth Conference. But in the intervening years the gentle lusts for status has made Anglicans want to be worldwide churches "like" the Roman and Orthodox Churches. As I said in 1998 in "The Challenge of Change," we don't need another worldwide patriarchy, this time of Canterbury.

And for the moment, it appears we have been allowed to pass up this cup.