Sunday, February 24, 2008

Is it time to realign?

Last November, the Diocese of Fort Worth voted to amend the diocesan constitution, removing reference to the Episcopal Church, to allow itself to realign with another province of the Anglican Communion. The Anglican Province of the Southern Cone (in South America) has extended an invitation to dioceses in the United States and Canada to seek safe harbor under its jurisdiction. These constitutional changes will need to be ratified at the next annual convention to take effect.
Now that we are in the midst of this year of discernment, our Rector has invited guests to speak at St Alban's to help us better understand some of the issues involved. Fr Fred Barber of Trinity Episcopal Church in Fort Worth spoke at our first forum on 17 February in favor of remaining with the Episcopal Church. Canon Charles Hough, Fr Thomas Hightower, and diocesan vice-chancellor Rickey Brantley spoke at our second forum on 24 February in favor of realignment. Click here to listen to part one of this forum with Canon Hough. Click here to listen to part two of this forum with Fr Hightower, Rickey Brantley, and a brief question-and-answer session with the speakers.
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A number of handouts were available at this presentation. Among them were Canon Heidt's response to Fr Woodward in the essay "Religions in Collision", available here. Also available was the responses to questions from a forum at St Stephen's in Hurst, available here. A handout of a timeline of changes in teaching and practice called "The Path of the Episcopal Church" was available, and that has been printed below.

Also, Canon Hough mentioned two other essays from "the other side" which are available on the internet and worth reading. One was the four-part essay "Undermining the Episcopal Church" by Fr Thomas B. Woodward. You can read it here: Part 1: Who is Drifting from Biblical Truth, Part 2: Blasting Away at the Bedrock, Part 3: A Case of Spiritual Adultery, and Part 4: Replacing Christ with a Code. The other essay was "Changing the Church" by Dr Louie Crew. You can find it here.

The Path of the Episcopal Church
Here are chronicled the events and their dates leading up to the "Walking Apart" of the US branch of the Anglican Communion from the main body of both the Communion and the "one, holy, catholic and apostolic church".

The Timeline

1965-1966 Heresy charges brought against Bishop James Pike, who had declared that "the Church's classical way of stating what is represented by the doctrine of the Trinity is... not essential to the Christian faith"; Bishop Pike was censured, but there was no trial for heresy because the Church believed such a trial would give it an "oppressive image".

1967 Weakening position on abortion appears to begin with 1967 General Convention Statement on Abortion.

1968 Membership in the Episcopal Church peaks; by 2005 there is a net loss of around one million members.

1974 Irregular ordination of women to the priesthood, "The Philadelphia Eleven".

1976 General Convention of ECUSA approved Resolutions A068 and B101 calling for study/dialog on sexuality and ordination of homosexuals.

1976 John Spong ordained Bishop of Newark, despite his denial of essential Christian doctrines.

1979 General Convention of ECUSA approved Resolution A053, reaffirming traditional teaching on sexuality and morality, stating, "we believe it is not appropriate for this Church to ordain a practicing homosexual, or any person who is engaged in heterosexual relations outside of marriage." This has never been overturned by subsequent General Conventions.

1979 Twenty bishops issued "Statement of Conscience," rejecting A053.

1987 Panel of bishops dismisses heresy charges against Bishop Spong.

1988 General Convention of ECUSA approves Resolution D102 calling for the continuation of consultation/dialog regarding human sexuality.

1989 Panel of bishops dismisses heresy charges against Bishop Spong.

1989 Bishop John Spong, Diocese of Newark, publicly ordains first non-celibate, openly-partnered, homosexual.

1990 Bishop Walter Righter, assisting in the Diocese of Newark, ordains a non-celibate homosexual deacon.

1991 Bishop Ronald Haines, Diocese of Washington (D.C.), ordains a non-celibate homosexual priest.

1991 During General Convention, the House of Bishops rejects efforts to censure Bishop Righter and Bishop Haines for the ordinations they performed.

1994 General Convention of ECUSA approved Resolution C042 calling for preparation of a report considering rites for blessings of same-sex unions.

1994 Bishop Spong drafted the "Koinonia Statement" defining homosexuality as morally neutral and affirming support for the ordination of homosexuals in faithful sexual relationships (signed by 90 bishops and 144 deputies). See also Spong's 12 Theses.

1996 Both counts of heresy against Bishop Righter dismissed in an ecclesiastical court, which said there was "no clear doctrine" regarding the ordination a non-celibate gay man.

1997 The Kuala Lumpur Statement is released by the Second Anglican Encounter in the South, upholding traditional theology on human sexuality. At General Convention, Resolution B032 to endorse the Kuala Lumpur Statement was defeated in the House of Bishops 94 to 42.

1998 Lambeth Conference upholds Scriptural and traditional teaching on marriage and human sexuality in resolution 1.10. Showing their dissent for resolution 1.10, 65 ECUSA bishops sign a pastoral statement to lesbian and gay Anglicans.

March 2000 Primates' meeting in Oporto, Portugal, issued pastoral letter upholding the authority of Scripture.

July 2000 General Convention of ECUSA approved Resolution D039 acknowledging relationships other than marriage and existence of disagreement on the Church's teaching.

March 2001 Primates' meeting in Kanuga, N.C., issued pastoral letter acknowledging estrangement in Church due to changes in theology and practice regarding human sexuality, and calling Communion to avoid actions that might damage "credibility of mission."

April 2002 Primates' meeting at Canterbury issued a report recognizing the responsibility for all bishops to be able to articulate the fundamentals of faith so as to maintain the Church in truth.

September 2002 Anglican Consultative Council Meeting in Hong Kong approved motion urging dioceses and bishops to refrain from unilateral actions/policies that would strain communion.

March 2003 The Theology Committee of the House of Bishops concluded that: "Because at this time we are nowhere near consensus in the Church regarding the blessing of homosexual relationships, we cannot recommend authorizing the development of new rites for such blessings. For these reasons, we urge the greatest caution as the Church continues to seek the mind of Christ in these matters."

May 2003 Primates' meeting in Brazil issued pastoral letter stating "The Archbishop of Canterbury spoke for us all when he said that it is through liturgy that we express what we believe, and that there is no theological consensus about same sex unions. Therefore, we as a body cannot support the authorization of such rites."

July 2003 In a letter to the Primates, the Archbishop of Canterbury warns that "certain decisions" on human sexuality could have "the effect of deepening the divide between Provinces."

July 2003 A gathering of over 60 worldwide Anglican leaders warns the General Convention of the Episcopal Church of the USA that, "should the Convention decide to confirm the election of Canon Gene Robinson as bishop or approve the blessing of same-sex unions or both, then we will convene within three months to confirm our view that ECUSA has thereby placed itself outside the boundaries of the Anglican Communion and that appropriate action will follow."

August 2003 The General Convention of the Episcopal Church defeated Resolution B001, which sought to affirm the authority of Scripture.

August 2003 The General Convention of the Episcopal Church voted to confirm Gene Robinson, a non-celibate, partnered homosexual man, as bishop of New Hampshire. The Archbishop of Canterbury responds, saying, "It is my hope that the church in America and the rest of the Anglican Communion will have the opportunity to consider this development before significant and irrevocable decisions are made in response," and calls for an extraordinary meeting of the primates in London during October.

August 2003 The General Convention of the Episcopal Church approved Resolution C051 recognizing blessings of same-sex unions as "within bounds of our common life."

October 2003 Nearly 3,000 orthodox Episcopalians met in Dallas at A Place to Stand, hosted by Christ Church, Plano TX and received message of support from Cardinal Ratzinger (soon to be Pope Benedict XVI).

October 2003 The statement released by the Primates of the Anglican Communion at the conclusion of their extraordinary meeting in Lambeth Palace states, in part, "If his consecration proceeds, we recognize that we have reached a crucial and critical point in the life of the Anglican Communion and we have had to conclude that the future of the Communion itself will be put in jeopardy. In this case, the ministry of this one bishop will not be recognized by most of the Anglican world, and many provinces are likely to consider themselves to be out of Communion with the Episcopal Church (USA). This will tear the fabric of our Communion at its deepest level, and may lead to further division on this and further issues as provinces have to decide in consequence whether they can remain in communion with provinces that choose not to break communion with the Episcopal Church "

November 2003 V. Gene Robinson is consecrated Bishop of New Hampshire. Presiding Bishop Griswold (who signed the primates' statement in London) is chief consecrator. The Archbishop of Canterbury issues a statement.

January 2004 The Anglican Communion Network is launched.

March 2004 Diocese of Washington begins to develop rites for blessing same-sex unions.

April 2004 Retired Bishop Otis Charles "marries" his homosexual partner in Pasadena, Calif. (The two have five previous marriages between them.)

May 2004 Bishop of Los Angeles, J. Jon Bruno, performs blessing of same-sex union.

June 2004 Bishop of Washington, D.C., John Chane, performs blessing of same-sex union for priest and his partner.

June 2004 Diocese of Vermont issues proposed rites for blessings of same-sex unions.

The Windsor Report and beyond

October 2004 Lambeth Commission releases the Windsor Report, reaffirming Lambeth Conference resolution 1.10 and the authority of Scripture as central to Anglican common life, and calls for moratoria on public rites of same-sex blessings as well as on the election and consent of any candidate to the episcopacy living in a same-sex union.

February 2005 Primates meet in Dromantine, Ireland, to collectively examine the Windsor Report and produce a Communique calling on ECUSA and Canada to "voluntarily withdraw" their representatives from the Anglican Consultative Council (ACC) until Lambeth 2008. Additionally the Primates requested a hearing at the June 2005 ACC meeting in which the two suspended churches (US & Canada) are to set out their thinking behind their recent actions.

March 2005 ECUSA House of Bishops meeting at Camp Allen, Texas, responding to the Windsor Report request for a moratorium on election and consent to the episcopacy of persons living in same-sex unions, instead "pledge(s) to withhold consent to the consecration of any person elected to the episcopate after the date hereof until the General Convention of 2006." (In other words, "If I can't play my way, I'm not going to play at all, so there!").

June 2005 At the Anglican Consultative Council meeting in Nottingham, England, ECUSA makes a presentation, "To Set Our Hope on Christ," defending what amounts to a new gospel that is wholly incompatible with Scripture, thereby justifying rather than repenting of their actions. The ACC meeting also upholds Lambeth 1.10 teaching on human sexuality and endorses the Primates' request for ECUSA and Canada to withdraw their representatives from the ACC until the next Lambeth Conference.

October 2005 In its communique The Third Anglican South-to-South Encounter in Egypt issued a harsh indictment of ECUSA and Canada and called for a common "Anglican Covenant" among churches remaining true to Biblical Christianity and historic Anglicanism.

February 2006 Global South Primates Steering Committee issues a communique reemphasizing the seriousness of the crisis within the Communion and the need for ECUSA to repent and comply with the Windsor Report.

June 2006 The General Convention of the Episcopal Church met in Columbus, Ohio. The GC response to the Windsor Report amounts to rejection and repudiation; it also elects a Presiding Bishop that is fully committed to the path chosen by the Episcopal Church on issues of sex and morality. Eight dioceses request some form of alternative primatial relationship.

Beyond General Convention 2006

September 2006 The Global South Primates meeting at Kilgali, Rwanda, issue a communique that laments, "We deeply regret that, at its most recent General Convention, The Episcopal Church gave no clear embrace of the minimal recommendations of the Windsor Report." but "We are, however, greatly encouraged by the continued faithfulness of the Network Dioceses and all of the other congregations and communities of faithful Anglicans in North America." and "We are convinced that the time has now come to take initial steps towards the formation of what will be recognized as a separate ecclesiastical structure of the Anglican Communion in the USA."

October 2006 The Presiding Bishop's chancellor, David Beers, writes letters threatening legal action against the dioceses of Fort Worth and Quincy.

November 2006 In an escalating environment of threats and persecution, Bishop Schofield of San Joaquin, pulls no punches in his response to the new Presiding Bishop, saying, in part, "The Episcopal Church, as an institution, is walking a path of apostasy and those faithful to God's Word are forced to make painful choices."

December 2006 Nine Virginia congregations, including Truro and the Falls Church (two largest in the Diocese) vote to leave the Episcopal Church. This brings the total number of congregations that have left the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia to 15.

January 2007 Diocese of Virginia press release announces lawsuits against 11 of the 15 departing congregations, continuing the scorched earth policy against dissidents apparently being orchestrated by the national church's New York headquarters.

February 2007 At the Primates Meeting in Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania, 14-19 February, a communique was released from the primates of the Anglican Communion. The thrust of the communique is that it provides a short deadline, till September 30,2007, for The Episcopal Church's House of Bishops confirm back to the Primates, that "the bishops will not authorize any Rite of Blessing for same-sex unions in their dioceses or through General Convention," and "that the passing of Resolution 803 3 of the 75th General Convention means that a candidate for episcopal orders living in a same-sex union shall not receive the necessary consent. "If the reassurances requested of the House of Bishops cannot in good conscience be given, the relationship between The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion as a whole remains damaged at best, and this has consequences for the full participation of the Church in the life of the Communion. Also, to "respond pastorally and provide for those groups alienated by recent developments in the Episcopal Church, the Primates will establish a Pastoral Council to act on behalf of the Primates in consultation with The Episcopal Church. This Council shall consist of up to five members: two nominated by the Primates, two by the Presiding Bishop, and a Primate of a Province of the Anglican Communion nominated by the Archbishop of Canterbury to chair the Council."

March 2007 The House of Bishops of The Episcopal Church reject the Dar es Salaam communique - request urgent meeting with the Archbishop of Canterbury/Primates Standing Committee. Meeting at Camp Allen, Navasota, Texas, March 16-21, at the end of their deliberations on March 20, the House of Bishops issued strong rejections of the requests contained in the communique in a Mind of the House Resolution addressed to the Executive Council, a Letter to the Archbishop of Canterbury and members of the Primates Standing Committee, and a Public Statement from the House of Bishops.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Why am I a Catholic?

This is a great little inspirational video from YouTube, equally applicable to us Episcopalians.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Audio Notes: the Wisdom of Solomon

Click here to listen to my audio notes on the book of Wisdom from the Old Testament Apocrypha.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Audio Notes: Esther

Click here to listen to my audio notes on the book of Esther from the Old Testament Apocrypha.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Remaining Episcopalians?

Last November, the Diocese of Fort Worth voted to amend the diocesan constitution, removing reference to the Episcopal Church, to allow itself to realign with another province of the Anglican Communion. The Anglican Province of the Southern Cone (in South America) has extended an invitation to dioceses in the United States and Canada to seek safe harbor under its jurisdiction. These constitutional changes will need to be ratified at the next annual convention to take effect.

Now that we are in the midst of this year of discernment, our Rector has invited guests to speak at St Alban's to help us better understand some of the issues involved. Fr Fred Barber of Trinity Episcopal Church in Fort Worth spoke at our first forum on 17 February in favor of remaining with the Episcopal Church. You may click here to listen. Canon Charles Hough and Fr Thomas Hightower will speak at our forum next week in favor of realignment.

Fr Barber made a number of handouts available at his presentation. Two of them not available online are printed below: "Remain and Witness" and a "Presentation on Vestry." Copies of his parish newsletter article "The Way to the Father: The Word" were also available. You can read that article here. I have a commentary on it here. Fr Barber also made reference to Bishop Iker's speech to the Forward in Faith assembly last year in London. You can listen here or read the text here. Fr Barber also has a response to questions from St Stephen's available online here.

Remain and Witness
I was invited by the president of the standing committee to write a response to the slide show presented at the May 16, 2002 meeting of the Executive Council. This paper attempts to present some of the reasons for our diocese to remain within the Episcopal Church. I believe one option that was not mentioned in the slide show presentation was "remain and witness".

1. A Conservative Pole
The model for most protestant churches in their proclamation of the gospel is to search for the most perfect expression of the gospel, and to reject all others. This leads to a model of the church that has historically been expressed as the "rule or way of the saints." You search for truth, and you reject those who disagree with your understanding of that truth. From its beginnings the Anglican Church adapted another model. In the Elizabethan compromise, Queen Elizabeth I aimed for a broad church that would include as many of her subjects as possible. On the one side were the Presbyterian puritans, and on the other side were the high church Anglicans. Gospel truth was not something to be pinpointed, but something that was found in the church as a whole. Agreement on all subjects was not required.

It was not a perfect system, but it worked in the Anglican family of Churches. While other church families split and divided, the Anglican Church remained united. Even with the breakup of the British Empire, the flexible model of the broad church that did not agree on everything, but was united in their commitment to the gospel, helped the Anglican Church to remain united.

Over the past several hundred years the church has disagreed about church government, the power of Primatial oversight, slavery, segregation, and women's ordination (to name only a few). In the tradition of the Anglican Church we have not forced a solution, but we have lived with ambiguity until we reached some agreement or accommodation. The broad church model worked.

Today we are faced with some new and vexing problems. Should practicing gay persons who intend to remain in that lifestyle be ordained as bishops? Should the church change its understanding of marriage and allow same sex marriages? And the issue of the validity of women as priests is still questioned in some parts of the church (including our diocese).

The diocese of Fort Worth takes a conservative and traditional stand on each of the questions mentioned in the preceding paragraph. It affirms that gay people who continue a gay lifestyle are not fit candidates for the Episcopacy (or the priesthood). It affirms that marriage is a sacrament where God blesses the partnership of a man and a woman. It affirms that the priesthood and episcopacy is reserved for males.

In the current debate in our diocese, other bishops and authorities in the larger Episcopal Church are quoted making extremely liberal statements on these subjects. These quotes were part of the May 16th slide show. No doubt those quotes are accurate. There is a left wing in our church that sees these subjects not so much as theological issues, but as human rights issues. These voices echo the current political arguments that no one should be denied any office because of their gender or sexual orientation. They seem to forget that we are an institution that derives its laws and teachings from God, and not from a political state.

But the fact is, that these extreme examples do not represent the mind or the thought of the broader Episcopal Church. The vast majority of the people of the Episcopal Church have their thoughts and beliefs somewhere between the Diocese of Fort Worth and the Diocese of New Hampshire. Looking to the past, Elizabeth I knew that most of her people were neither Puritans not Anglo-Catholic high churchmen. She also knew that it was important to try and maintain both extreme poles, so that the vast middle could learn, choose, and flourish.

Our diocese seems to be heading for a separation from the Episcopal Church. We want to remove ourselves as part of the conservative pole of the Episcopal Church. It seems to me that this is an unwise move. If we pull out seeking to be a church that wants "pure truth" in these issues, then we will cause an imbalance in the Episcopal Church that we leave. The liberal wing will become more powerful, and it will be increasingly difficult for moderates and conservatives to remain in the Episcopal Church. The reader may say "so what", or "it serves them right". I would remind you that these people are your brothers and sisters in Christ. You have a responsibility toward them and toward their spiritual health. Sometimes we are called to an uncomfortable witness. Sometimes we are called to be a "burr in the saddle" making the larger church uncomfortable by our presence and our witness. I believe we have a responsibility to ask ourselves, why has God put us in this uncomfortable position with the national church. Is it his will for us to break off and run away to people who it seems we would be more comfortable? Or, is it his will for us to bear the "slings and arrows" and witness to what we see as the gospel truth. It has been my experience that God rarely calls us to be more comfortable, but often calls us to be uncomfortable witnesses.

2. Where are we going?
It seems inviting to leave the Episcopal Church and join a group of churches that seem to share our beliefs. It is true that they do share our beliefs about the ordination of homosexual persons who continue to follow the gay lifestyle, and the necessity of marriage being between a man and a woman. But there are other things that are necessary if people are to live together over the longer term.

We are part of the Episcopal Church in the United States of America, and our form of Anglican government is rather unique. We began in rebellion, and many of the ideas of individualism remain strong. For example, as the Bishop of the Diocese of Dallas pointed out when he withdrew his request for alternate Episcopal oversight, there is really no such thing in the American Church. We do not have an Archbishop whose power arches over those of diocesan bishops. Rather we have a presiding bishop whose limited power comes from being the presiding officer of the house of bishops. Our PB has no power to order. The National Church has power to request, but rarely to insist. I think we are assuming that any new alliance would be like our old one. Would that be the case? If we submit to an Archbishop, would we not have to understand that we have put ourselves under another form of the Anglican Church? In the past years we have ignored the financial asking of the National Church. We have given the Network less than what they requested. We have simply turned a cold shoulder to the presiding bishop. We have withdrawn from the province. Our American polity gives us the power to do these things. Will the polity of some other Anglican body with which we ally give us such freedom? Personally, I doubt it.

We should realize that our form of Anglican government is greatly influenced by our social history. We are a nation where states have individual power, and we created a church where individual dioceses have great power. If, for example, we ally ourselves with the Archbishop of Nigeria, then we should understand that we will be allying ourselves with a church that has been greatly influenced by a tribal understanding of society. The chief and his clan have great power over other clans and other people. I think it especially unlikely that we would enjoy the same freedom as a diocese under a church centered in Africa. Let me say that this is not to say that our form of Anglican Church government is good, and theirs is bad. It is simply to say that they are different, and we ought to be aware of those differences before we make new alliances.

3. Precedence
If we withdraw from the Episcopal Church, we will not only be taking an action, we will be setting precedent. In the American church experience one of the most common ways to solve a problem is for a church body to split. If a church conies to a difference of opinion about a matter of doctrine, a matter of church government, or a matter of worship, it is a common practice in the American Church experience for a congregation or a whole denomination to split and go their separate ways. This has not been the Anglican way in America. We have remained united though we had great disagreements about worship, theology, and social causes.

I would argue, that when a church solves a problem by dividing, then it sets a precedent that comes back to haunt them. If one past problem was effectively solved by schism, then why not use this to solve the problem that seems so important for us today? We divide today from the Episcopal Church to solve our disagreements over sexuality, in ten years other problems that we have put on the back burner will come back to the fore. None of the proposed future alliances involve agreement on the ordination of women. There is much disagreement about the use of the 1979 Book of Common Prayer. All the questions about sexuality have not been addressed. How will we face these problems in our new Anglican setting? Will these problems, when they are faced, block a union? Will such disagreements lead to the eventual demise of our new union when groups exercise the set precedent of division and withdrawal to solve a disagreement.

4. How comfortable will we be in our new Anglican setting?
We are uncomfortable in the Episcopal Church; it is too liberal. But as I proposed, perhaps God is calling us to be uncomfortable and witness where we are.

How comfortable will we be in our new setting? Bishop Duncan advocates a church centered in Africa, probably Nigeria, and probably under the leadership of the Archbishop Akinola. He is an evangelical; we are largely Anglo-Catholics. He works with what most people would consider a dictator; we enjoy the blessings of a republic. We believe in the separation of religion and State; that is not a concept that is generally understood in Nigeria. He is a man used to exercising power over his bishops, we are a church that is not used to having our bishops ordered around. His ideas concerning sexuality and the right of gay people go far beyond the stand we want to take regarding gay marriage and ordination.

Are we really going to be comfortable in this relationship that is advocated by Bishop Duncan? Is this an Anglican marriage that is going to work? Will we find ourselves in the midst of another separation in ten years? Would we be able to separate, or would we be trapped in a bad marriage?

This past year, after hearing Bishop Duncan at Camp Crucis, I decided that I would remain a priest in the Episcopal Church. I am not happy with the liberal bent that the church has taken over the last years, but I believe I can be a small piece of leaven; I believe I can be a witness for the more traditional side. I believe that other traditional dioceses like Texas (and probably Dallas) will make the choice that I have made. There will be a conservative wing in the Episcopal Church. Many Episcopalians will regard us as a "burr in the saddle"; we will see ourselves more positively as "leaven in the dough". I believe the diocese of Fort Worth should consider remaining a part of the Episcopal Church and adding her voice to the Traditional dioceses who will also remain.

Presentation on Vestry
First, I feel that you should know that I am by no means an expert on Canon Law, and my observations about vestries and their prerogatives come more from my experience than my the study of Canons. On the other hand, I have been a rector for the past 30 years in small, medium, and medium-large parishes.

First a bit of background in our Church: The Anglican Church first came to these shores in Virginia. The colonial period of our church marked a time when Vestries were very much in the dominance. Clergy were often hired without tenure, and there was no Bishop in the American Colonial Church.

After the Revolution, the American Church began to organize in Philadelphia. The constitution of the American Church was written at about the same time as the federal constitution, and with some of the same men and ideas behind it. Perhaps foremost among these ideas was the concept of "checks and balances". The early Episcopal Churchmen were leery about a bishop (even an American one) having too much power. Likewise, the powers of the incumbent Rector in a parish were to be weighed off by a lay authority. In the diocese this check to the bishop was the Standing Committee, in the local parish the check to the Rector was the vestry. Each of these committees was given specific powers, and the clergy were also given specific powers. It was the hope of the founders of the church that these powers would hold each other in check. The object was not paralysis, but a growth and prosperity that came through cooperation.

There have been times in our church when clergy were in the ascendancy, and there have been times of lay dominance. However, in each of these times there was always a way back to balance by remembering the constitutional nature of our church towards checks and balances.

Now let me be more specific and try to share with you some of my own experiences. There have been situations in my ministry, when things were calm both on the diocesan and parish level. At such times, the vestry election attracts little attention. As a matter of fact, it is often difficult to find five people who will stand for election. I can remember years in my ministry when the vestry nominating committee would report out a slate, and they would be elected in the first few minutes of the annual meeting.

We do not live in such times today. There is an election to the vestry for a reason: It is the way that the congregation chooses their leaders. In times of great controversy, such as we live in today, it is a bad practice for there not to be an election. I know that elections make the annual meeting much more difficult, but each congregation ought to have the opportunity to make an honest choice among the membership to lead the congregation. Trinity has had contested elections for the past four years. We have had persons that are known to be liberal, and persons known to be conservative. The congregation has chosen. Who can argue with that? Some may say that this will cause strife and difficulty in the congregation. I do not think so. On the contrary, I think you will have more strife and loose more people if you are seen as a church that will not tolerate discussion and opposition. Our church has taken a pro-national church stand over the past several years, but we have not lost several members who are staunchly in the Network corner. Why? Because they value the fact that they are not only welcomed, but asked to take part in the ongoing life of the church in all its parts . . . spiritual, social, and political.

So the first thing that I would hold out as important is the parish vestry election. If you feel that your congregation should be going in another direction, then stand for vestry. Write a letter to your Rector, Wardens and vestry and ask to be nominated. If that doesn't happen, have your name put forward from the floor. If you win, be ready to not only state your beliefs, but also be willing to listen to the beliefs of others with an open mind. Remember, you could be wrong. If you are not elected, give thanks that you are part of a church that allows dissent, and work to support that congregation. Churches: be courageous enough to make the election open. In the long run, it will be a binding force for your church, not a divisive one.

We are not a church where the clergy can ignore the wishes and directives of the vestry. The vestry holds the purse, and "the vestry shall be agents and legal representatives of the Parish in all matters concerning its corporate property and the relations of the Parish to its clergy." Canon law is designed to encourage the rector and the vestry to work together. The only way they can get things done is to combine their powers. Sometimes however, a vestry will completely dominate a clergyman and put pressure on him to do the will of the vestry. At other times the clergy will have their own people on the vestry and run the church as a dictator. Neither of these is the way our church is designed to work. When one side becomes too powerful, the church becomes twisted. In vestry domination the spiritual side may neglect for business sake, on the other hand the dominant clergy often turns the church into his private fiefdom.

Clergy need to stimulate and bring forth gifted, thinking laypeople who will assume roles of leadership. They should not work to simply produce lay version of themselves. Vestries need to encourage their clergy to work in new ministries and give honest and vital leadership. When either of these sides fail to nourish the other, then the neglected side must begin to nourish itself. There have been many times in the past when gifted laypersons rose up out of the congregation much as the judges of old rose up out of the people of Israel. It should be regarded as no less a gift from God. Remember that God can raise up and call lay leaders, just as he calls clergy.

At the Annual meeting of my parish this past January, I told the congregation that it was my intention to remain a priest in the Episcopal Church. I also made it clear that this was a personal decision, and that I had no right . . . and no intention . . . of making that same decision for the parish. That must be their choice, as reflected through the vestry.

The vestry, of its own accord, has stood up as a voice for unity with both the Episcopal Church and the diocese of Fort Worth. They have expressed on several occasions their hope to remain under the care of both the presiding Bishop, Katharine Jefferts Schori, and the bishop of our diocese, Jack Leo Iker. When I have written to the bishop about the vestry's action, I have been careful to point out that this is the decision and action of the vestry. There have been times when I have been in disagreement with some actions of the vestry. These are not personal defeats on my part. These are simply times when the vestry part of the church, and the clergy part of the church were not in full agreement. It happens between the branches of our federal government, it happens in marriages. It is human. The clergy and the Vestry do not always have to be in agreement for there to be a beneficial and spirited mutual ministry.

It is not wrong for the vestry to disagree with me, or for me to disagree with the vestry. It is wrong when we stop listening to one another.

When there is strong clergy leadership, and strong leadership from the Vestry, when the vestry is ready to listen to the clergy, and the clergy to the vestry, when neither side is working to completely dominate the other . . . then there is the possibility of real harmony and a good working relationship.

Dominated people loose their drive and don't share their ideas. Dominated clergy don't offer the best of pastoral care or spiritual insight. Dominating people (vestry or clergy) can easily become egotistical, and listen to no one. This is not the way to harmony and a good working relationship.
One of the great gifts that we have in the American Church is this idea of working together . . . checks and balances . . . each side encouraging the growth and development of the other side. It is not so in many other parts of the Anglican Communion. Here lay people and their opinions are valued. Laypersons are often given jobs of responsibility that would be given only to clergy in other cultures. We should remember that is not the Episcopal Way to either dominate, or be dominated. It is the Episcopal way to cooperate . . . lay and clergy; priest and deacon, bishop with both his clergy and laypeople.

"You must be born again"

Click here to listen to my sermon for the Second Sunday of Lent.

Night-time is a special time. So many interesting things happen under the cover of darkness. Jesus was born at night, the gospels tell us. Many of you were probably born at night.(Probably all of us were conceived at night.) When I did an internship as a hospital chaplain, I was surprised to see how many people died at night. It almost seemed as if no one ever died during the day.

People do some reading at night, deep thinking at night, praying at night. They gaze up at the stars and ponder the big picture and talk to God. It seems like all the best conversations take place at night. In today’s Gospel, a Jewish leader named Nicodemus has a troubled conscience, and he seeks out the Lord Jesus for some late-night counsel. Part of it is likely that he wants to avoid political trouble that may come from being seen talking with Jesus. But I think there is also something more. He comes with what we might call “night-time questions.”

Nicodemus is very aware of who Jesus is and what he has been up to. He knows about Jesus’ miracles, what John calls “signs” of Jesus’ Messiahship. Nicodemus has listened to Jesus’ teaching and knows him to be wise. Nicodemus begins by stating his confidence in Jesus’ word: “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher from God, for no one can work these signs apart from God.” Nicodemus is in a unique position to listen to what our Lord has to say.

We are not given the whole conversation, but it seems that Nicodemus is exploring the possibility of supporting Jesus openly, of becoming a disciple, but he is unsure. What Jesus first says to Nicodemus seems like an ultimatum. He is nudging Nicodemus toward making a decision. He says, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.”

Nicodemus either doesn’t quite understand, or (and I think this more likely) he is afraid to face the implications of Jesus’ statement. So our Lord pushes him further. “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of heaven without being born of water and the Spirit.”

There is a word in that first statement that is a little difficult to translate. The Greek word anothen can mean “from the beginning”, “again” or “from above” as in a different source. The common meaning is about making a radical change and gaining a fresh start as God intended. This is not about self-help, gaining wisdom, trying harder, or making a few improvements here and there. Make no mistake about it, “you must be born again.”

Now the whole phrase, “born again” Christian is unfortunate. It has turned into a label, often a derogatory one at that. Back in the 80s, there was a poster that said, “The Episcopal Church welcomes you . . . regardless of race, color, creed, or the number of times you’ve been born.”

If someone is talking about a “born again” Christian, they’re talking about you. It’s a redundant description anyway. There is no such thing as a Christian who has not been “born again.” To be born again is to become a citizen of God’s kingdom and a member of Christ’s mystical Body—the Catholic Church. The process by which that happens is, as Jesus says, by “water and the Spirit.”

Some people mistakenly think that Jesus is contrasting the physical and spiritual. That, first we’re born physically, then we’re born spiritually. But Jesus is talking about starting over—not half of you, but all of you. The way by which we are born again is the sacrament of Holy Baptism.
In baptism, we find an end to the old life and the beginning of a new one. It is a new birth, “by water and the Spirit.” It is, as Paul would write in his letter to Titus (3:5) “a washing of regeneration and renewal.”

St Peter told his flock that in Baptism, we are “born anew to a living hope” (1 Peter 1:3). Yet even though we are baptized only once, in a very real way, we can have an infinite number of new beginnings. Praise God for that. Because some problems just can’t be fixed. Sometimes you just have to start over and begin again.

Lent is a time for new beginnings. It is a time to go back to the first things—to the Bible, prayer, fasting, good works. It is a time for going back to the font for fresh grace. We do that in sacramental confession. Like Nicodemus with his troubled conscience, we go to Christ in the priest, to open ourselves up to God and share our burdens that we cannot bear and problems we cannot fix. In the absolution, we receive a new washing, a new cleansing, fresh grace and mercy poured out like a river.

Jesus entrusted this unique authority and power to his ministers so that we would always have a way to begin again. Before he ascended into heaven, the risen Christ breathed on the apostles, saying, “Receive the Holy Spirit: If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld” (John 20:22-23).

The ways of God often don’t match our expectations. Some of the Jewish establishment were turned off because they saw the “wrong kind of people” becoming disciples of Jesus. Jesus tells Nicodemus not to be discouraged or confused. “The spirit blows where it wills. Don’t be surprised when I say that even someone like you, Nicodemus, a teacher of Israel, needs to begin again.”

If we had known the ways of God, we never would have expected to see the cross. But God’s ways are better than our ways. God is always driven by love. “God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have eternal life. For the Son of Man came into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.”

And Jesus sets up that statement with a very interesting comparison. In Numbers 21:4-9, we read that a number of the Israelites were struck by deadly serpents. Moses turned to God to heal the people from the poison and was told to raise up a bronze serpents on a pole (the sign of their sickness and judgment) so that all who looked to it with faith would be healed. By the way, this is the origin of the medical insignia and it is why Orthodox bishops have serpents on their pastoral staffs.
Jesus said, “Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up (talking about the crucifixion) that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.”

We are not told what Nicodemus’ reaction was to this late night counsel, the Gospel narrative simply moves on to talk about John the Baptist. But it seems that Nicodemus took Jesus’ words and pondered them, for he shows up again in chapter 7, where he speaks up for Jesus in the Sanhedrin, saying he ought to be given a fair hearing.

Nicodemus turns up again at the crucifixion. Two Jewish leaders who are secret disciples, Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus, come to prepare Jesus’ whipped, crucified, and broken body for burial. It was a return of thanks and love to the Lord who had once offered him (and all of us) an opportunity to begin again. The question for us remains: will we take advantage of our opportunity?

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Friday, February 08, 2008

Audio Notes: Judith

Click here to listen to my audio notes on the book of Judith from the Old Testament apocrypha.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

A Latin Mass in the Church of England?

I was thumbing through the canons of the Church of England and came across this one, which I thought was interesting:

B 42 Of the language of divine service
1. (1) Subject to the following provisions of this Canon, authorized
forms of services shall be said or sung in English.
(2) In the provinces of Canterbury and York outside England
authorized forms of service may be said or sung in the vernacular.
2. Authorized forms of service may be said or sung in Latin in the
following places –
Provincial Convocations
Chapels and other public places in university colleges and halls
University churches
The colleges of Westminster, Winchester and Eton
Such other places of religious and sound learning as custom allows or the bishop or other the Ordinary may permit

Except for musical arrangements of canticles and eucharistic propers and such, I wonder if this has ever been done. Has it been a common practice? Was it once upon a time, when Latin was more common at the university? I know it is still a technical requirement for ordination in England and Canada, according to the Prayer Book, that they be "learned in the Latin tongue." I know they used to recite the table blessing at Nashotah in Latin and I assume that was common in England around the same era.

Anyone know details about Latin liturgies from the Prayer Book in actual practice?

Ash Wednesday . . . Old School

Here is the service for Ash Wednesday from the 1662 English Prayer Book.

A Commination, or Denouncing of God's Anger and Judgements against Sinners

With certain Prayers, to be used on the first Day of Lent, and at other times, as the Ordinary shall appoint.

After Morning Prayer, the Litany ended according to the accustomed manner, the Priest shall, in the reading Pew or Pulpit, say,
BRETHREN, in the Primitive Church there was a godly discipline, that, at the beginning of Lent, such persons as stood convicted of notorious sin were put to open penance, and punished in this world, that their souls might be saved in the day of the Lord; and that others, admonished by their example, might be the more afraid to offend.

Instead whereof, until the said discipline may be restored again, (which is much to be wished,) it is thought good, that at this time (in the presence of you all) should be read the general sentences of God's cursing against impenitent sinners, gathered out of the seven and twentieth Chapter of Deuteronomy, and other places of Scripture; and that ye should answer to every Sentence, Amen: To the intent that, being admonished of the great indignation of God against sinners, ye may the rather be moved to earnest and true repentance; and may walk more warily in these dangerous days; fleeing from such vices, for which ye affirm with your own mouths the curse of God to be due.

CURSED is the man that maketh any carved or molten image, to worship it.
And the people shall answer and say, Amen.

Minister. Cursed is he that curseth his father or mother.
Answer. Amen.
Minister. Cursed is he that removeth his neighbour's landmark.
Answer. Amen.
Minister. Cursed is he that maketh the blind to go out of his way.
Answer. Amen.
Minister. Cursed is he that perverteth the judgement of the stranger, the fatherless, and widow.
Answer. Amen.
Minister. Cursed is he that smiteth his neighbour secretly.
Answer. Amen.
Minister. Cursed is he that lieth with his neighbour's wife.
Answer. Amen.
Minister. Cursed is he that taketh reward to slay the innocent.
Answer. Amen.
Minister. Cursed is he that putteth his trust in man, and taketh man for his defence, and in his heart goeth from the Lord.
Answer. Amen.
Minister. Cursed are the unmerciful, fornicators, and adulterers, covetous persons, idolaters, slanderers, drunkards, and extortioners.
Answer. Amen.

Minister. NOW seeing that all they are accursed (as the prophet David beareth witness) who do err and go astray from the commandments of God; let us (remembering the dreadful judgement hanging over our heads, and always ready to fall upon us) return unto our Lord God, with all contrition and meekness of heart; bewailing and lamenting our sinful life, acknowledging and confessing our offences, and seeking to bring forth worthy fruits of penance. For now is the axe put unto the root of the trees, so that every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God: he shall pour down rain upon the sinners, snares, fire and brimstone, storm and tempest; this shall be their portion to drink. For lo, the Lord is come out of his place to visit the wickedness of such as dwell upon the earth. But who may abide the day of his coming? Who shall be able to endure when he appeareth? His fan is in his hand, and he will purge his floor, and gather his wheat into the barn; but he will burn the chaff with unquenchable fire. The day of the Lord cometh as a thief in the night: and when men shall say, Peace, and all things are safe, then shall sudden destruction come upon them, as sorrow cometh upon a woman travailing with child, and they shall not escape. Then shall appear the wrath of God in the day of vengeance, which obstinate sinners, through the stubbornness of their heart, have heaped unto them, selves; which despised the goodness, patience, and long, sufferance of God, when he calleth them continually to repentance. Then shall they call upon me, (saith the Lord,) but I will not hear; they shall seek me early, but they shall not find me; and that, because they hated knowledge, and received not the fear of the Lord, but abhorred my counsel, and despised my correction. Then shall it be too late to knock when the door shall be shut; and too late to cry for mercy when it is the time of justice. O terrible voice of most just judgement, which shall be pronounced upon them, when it shall be said unto them, Go, ye cursed, into the fire everlasting, which is prepared for the devil and his angels. Therefore, brethren, take we heed betime, while the day of salvation lasteth; for the night cometh, when none can work. But let us, while we have the light, believe in the light, and walk as children of the light; that we be not cast into utter darkness, where is weeping and gnashing of teeth. Let us not abuse the goodness of God, who calleth us mercifully to amendment, and of his endless pity promiseth us forgiveness of that which is past, if with a perfect and true heart we return unto him. For though our sins be as red as scarlet, they shall be made white as snow; and though they be like purple, yet they shall be made white as wool. Turn ye (saith the Lord) from all your wickedness, and your sin shall not be your destruction: Cast away from you all your ungodliness that ye have done: Make you new hearts, and a new spirit: Wherefore will ye die, O ye house of Israel, seeing that I have no pleasure in the death of him that dieth, saith the Lord God? Turn ye then, and ye shall live. Although we have sinned, yet have we an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and he is the propitiation for our sins. For he was wounded for our offences, and smitten for our wickedness. Let us therefore return unto him, who is the merciful receiver of all true penitent sinners; assuring ourselves that he is ready to receive us, and most willing to pardon us, if we come unto him with faithful repentance; if we submit ourselves unto him, and from henceforth walk in his ways; if we will take his easy yoke, and light burden upon us, to follow him in lowliness, patience, and charity, and be ordered by the governance of his Holy Spirit; seeking always his glory, and serving him duly in our vocation with thanksgiving: This if we do, Christ will deliver us from the curse of the law, and from the extreme malediction which shall light upon them that shall be set on the left hand; and he will set us on his right hand, and give us the gracious benediction of his Father, commanding us to take possession of his glorious kingdom: Unto which he vouchsafe to bring us all, for his infinite mercy. Amen.

Then shall they all kneel upon their knees, and the Priest and Clerks kneeling (in the place where they are accustomed to say the Litany) shall say this Psalm.

Miserere mei, deus. Psalm 51
HAVE mercy upon me, O God, after thy great goodness: according to the multitude of thy mercies do away mine offences.
Wash me thoroughly from my wickedness: and cleanse me from my sin.
For I acknowledge my faults: and my sin is ever before me.
Against thee only have I sinned, and done this evil in thy sight: that thou mightest be justified in thy saying, and clear when thou art judged.
Behold, I was shapen in wickedness: and in sin hath my mother conceived me.
But lo, thou requirest truth in the inward parts: and shalt make me to understand wisdom secretly.
Thou shalt purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean: thou shalt wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
Thou shalt make me hear of joy and gladness: that the bones which thou hast broken may rejoice.
Turn thy face away from my sins: and put out all my misdeeds.
Make me a clean heart, O God: and renew a right spirit within me.
Cast me not away from thy presence: and take not thy Holy Spirit from me.
O give me the comfort of thy help again: and stablish me with thy free Spirit.
Then shall I teach thy ways unto the wicked: and sinners shall be converted unto thee.
Deliver me from blood guiltiness, O God, thou that art the God of my health: and my tongue shall sing of thy righteousness.
Thou shalt open my lips, O Lord: and my mouth shall shew thy praise.
For thou desirest no sacrifice, else would I give it thee: but thou delightest not in burnt-offerings.
The sacrifice of God is a troubled spirit: a broken and contrite heart, O God, shalt thou not despise.
O be favourable and gracious unto Sion: build thou the walls of Jerusalem.
Then shalt thou be pleased with the sacrifice of righteousness, with the burnt-offerings and ablations: then shall they offer young bullocks upon thine attar.

V. Glory be to the Father, and to the Son: and to the Holy Ghost;
R. As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be: world without end. Amen.

Lord, have mercy upon us.
Christ, have mercy upon us.
Lord, have mercy upon us.

OUR Father, which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy Name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our trespasses, As we forgive them that trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation; But deliver us from evil. Amen.

Minister. O Lord, save thy servants;
Answer. That put their trust in thee.
Minister. Send unto them help from above.
Answer. And evermore mightily defend them.
Minister. Help us, O God our Saviour.
Answer. And for the glory of thy Name deliver us; be merciful to us sinners, for thy Name's sake.
Minister. O Lord, hear our prayer.
Answer. And let our cry come unto thee.

Minister. Let us pray.
O LORD, we beseech thee, mercifully hear our prayers, and spare all those who confess their sins unto thee; that they, whose consciences by sin are accused, by thy merciful pardon may be absolved; through Christ our Lord. Amen.

O MOST mighty God, and merciful Father, who hast compassion upon all men, and hatest nothing that thou hast made; who wouldest not the death of a sinner, but that he should rather turn from his sin, and be saved: Mercifully forgive us our trespasses; receive and comfort us, who are grieved and wearied with the burden of our sins. Thy property is always to have mercy; to thee only it appertaineth to forgive sins. Spare us therefore, good Lord, spare thy people, whom thou hast redeemed; enter not into judgement with thy servants, who are vile earth, and miserable sinners; but so turn thine anger from us, who meekly acknowledge our vileness, and truly repent us of our faults, and so make haste to help us in this world, that we may ever live with thee in the world to come; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Then shall the people say this that followeth, after the Minister.
TURN thou us, O good Lord, and so shall we be turned. Be favourable, O Lord, Be favourable to thy people, Who turn to thee in weeping, fasting, and praying. For thou art a merciful God, Full of compassion. Longsuffering, and of great pity. Thou sparest when we deserve punishment, And in thy wrath thinkest upon mercy. Spare thy people, good Lord, spare them, And let not thine heritage be brought to confusion. Hear us, O Lord, for thy mercy is great, And after the multitude of thy mercies look upon us; Through the merits and mediation of thy blessed Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Then the Minister alone shall say,
THE Lord bless us, and keep us; the Lord lift up the light of his countenance upon us, and give us peace, now and for evermore. Amen.

A chamber of horrors

“It’s not as scary as it seems. It’s just blood and mucus,” Khoury said, referring to the fetus remains in the device. She added, “You’ll be able to see arms and stuff, but still just miniscule.”

Evans and Khoury also explained the finer points of abortion-clinic etiquette, including some potentially sensitive terminology. Khoury said physicians performing abortions generally refer to the aborted fetus remains as “POC,” an acronym for “product of conception,” and refer to fetus’ hearts as “FH.”

Read the whole thing here at the Bovina Bloviator.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Ash Wednesday Podcast

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Click here to listen to my podcast.

Phat Tuesday in the parish


Apocrypha Notes: Tobit

Did you miss a session of Sunday School? Do you just want a review? Click here to listen to my audio notes for the book of Tobit.

Monday, February 04, 2008

Climbing the Mountain

The Last Sunday after the Epiphany focuses on the manifestation of Christ in the fullness of his divine glory when he is transfigured on Mount Tabor. This close encounter with the divine glory strengthens us to bear our own crosses and follow Jesus as faithful disciples. Click here to listen to my sermon from February 3rd.