Wednesday, June 30, 2010

The Anglican Covenant and other voices not my own

I have not commented a great deal, at least directly, on the proposed "Anglican Covenant" that would, if enacted, bring about a more formal structure to our very shaggy Anglican Communion. Part of my reluctance to comment is I've read the drafts and find them overly complicated, a lawyer's dream if you will.

Moreover, I am among those who are suspicious of creating a de-facto magisterium of archbishops and bishops. I have enough of an American independent streak to be wary of tying my local parish's fate too closely to the whims of committees and prelates far from our shores (see my posting from last week on this topic HERE).

Moreover, the direction the church should be going generally should be to flatten hierarchy and create more local autonomy. The creeds and the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral of 1888 are good enough for me.

And yet. . .

I also profess to be a priest whose orders are embedded in the historic Anglican Communion and the wider apostolic succession within the catholic (universal) faith. I am not just a local priest. My parish is not just a local non-profit organization. I am wary of selfish individualism and narcissistic autonomy. I am definitely not a congregationalist; I am suspicious of professions of redemption that are entirely focused on individual salvation. I believe our salvation depends entirely on the grace of God in Christ, and we are therefore all connected through God in Christ. We are people of the covenant, beginning with Abraham and Sarah, Jacob and Rebecca, Moses and Zipporah, and extending through to the "New Covenant" proclaimed by prophets and incarnated by Jesus Christ. We live free by covenanting to live within community by putting boundaries on our freedom. We come to the Promised Land together, not autonomously.

And yet. . .

I am much turned off by those voices for the "Anglican Covenant" who really seem to be looking for a way to gild their own bigotry against gays and lesbians and women in the priesthood, and justify a grab bag of other prejudices. They speak of covenant but their covenant seems only to exclude. They speak of sin but see not their own hateful ways and words. They weaponize the Bible much as an earlier generation used the Bible to justify slavery and segregation. They are part of an old shameful story; they are the Tea Party at prayer. My skin crawls when reading commentaries by David Anderson, a self-appointed bishop of the whacky right-wing American Anglican Council. My skin crawls when reading some of the snarky comments left on my own blog. I am mystified at the continuing appeasement by Archbishop Rowan Williams toward this crowd.

And yet. . .

I promised to bring you voices from around the Communion this summer from people I do not necessarily agree with. There are conservative voices who are not bigots, and people who are struggling to remain in communion with the rest of us. They are looking for how to include while staying included themselves. Some are worth hearing if only to test our own biases and to think more deeply about the issues we confront. The Rev. Dr. Ephraim Radner of Colorado is someone whose writing is worth careful study. He is one of the architects of the proposed Anglican Covenant and perhaps its chief proponent within the Episcopal Church. He sometimes sounds like a voice crying in the wilderness, but give him credit for trying. Radner has considerable influence within the larger Anglican Communion and is worth hearing on that level.

I have heard Radner speak at conferences, and read much of his writing. While I disagree with his Calvinistic anthropology of human nature, he is an articulate voice for why a covenant is needed. His views are challenging, his writing nuanced. Ironically, while Radner speaks of a covenanted relationship, he sounds estranged from all camps within the Anglican Communion, including his own Episcopal Church. That said, Radner is not willing to break relations with any camp, and that is probably why I find his voice honest:
Thinking through matters in this light and making such proposals is hardly a matter of either attempting to stage a coup or playing footsy with corrupt powers. Rather, I believe it to be a responsible path to follow in what we all know to be a longer, more challenging, and difficult journey in our Communion’s vocation. I do not reject the ACC or its members and leaders; I will question vigorously those of their actions I think are ill-advised; I will resist strongly actions that appear to be improper. But the ACC are not my enemies; they are a part of the church of which I am a part. I do not reject the Archbishop of Canterbury. He is in fact someone whose heart and mind I deeply respect in Christ. I will question vigorously, however, judgments he makes or actions he takes that I think are ill-advised; I will even resist those that appear to be improper, as I would any within the church. But he is someone, quite apart from my personal views, whose role I honor in my very office as an Anglican priest. I do not reject the leaders and members of FCA – among them are individuals I do indeed respect and, out of a similar bond of ecclesial affection and shared ministry, I honor. But I will resist vigorously judgments and actions that seem ill-advised; and I will resist ones that seem improper. I do not reject TEC itself, of which I am formally a member and in whose ordering my ministry is placed. But I do maintain the calling of honesty, necessary dissent, and active resistance where called for.
I am not endorsing Radner's views, but I do think those of us on the so-called "progressive" side need to hear him if only because our own views will atrophy and become in-grown if we are only listening to ourselves.

Radner wrote a somewhat dense commentary on what we should do next on the proposed Anglican Covenant, and you can read his full commentary by clicking HERE.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

One more photo from Heather Warren's ordination

I just found this in my email -- a photo of Danny Dean and Heather Warren at her ordination to the priesthood on Saturday. The photo was taken by Jane Rotch. Thanks Jane!

Photos of Heather Warren's ordination

Much is going on at St. Paul's -- no slowing down with us. Our own Heather Warren was ordained a priest on Saturday in her home diocese of North Carolina by Bishop Michael Curry.

Heather is a professor at the University of Virginia, and her path to becoming an Episcopal priest was long and with many twists. She will be serving at St. Paul's and exploring new avenues for ministry with us in the months ahead. I am very proud of Heather and very proud of St. Paul's support.

Here are some photos taken by Diane Wakat at Heather's ordination in North Carolina; and a photo of her as a priest the next day serving for the first time as celebrant at St. Paul's.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Meditation Garden groundbreaking

Sunday marked the ground breaking of our meditation garden at St. Paul's. The garden has been long in planning, and the funds for it were raised several years ago as a farewell gift in honor of The Rev. David Poist, my predecessor as Rector of St. Paul's.

Unfortunately, I was on the wrong coast Sunday, and the bulldozers are ready to move. So Associate Rector Ann Willms led the ground break ceremony, and David Poist took the first shovel-full of dirt. Here are a couple of photos taken by Diane Wakat.

We expect construction of the garden to take most of the summer, and we will have a great dedication ceremony in the fall when it is completed. Much thanks to Joan Albiston, Michael Wheelwright, Peter Dennison, Pat Punch and many others for their work in planning the garden and winning city approval.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Being like the little children

This came across my email the other day from Barbara Crafton in her Almost Daily eMo from

While I am somewhat unable to relate to her wardrobe difficulty, I was really taken aback (in a good way) by her comment on Jesus' telling us to become like little children.

Barbara hears a different twist than the usual. Have a read...

By the Rev. Barbara Crafton

The wrap dress: soft and comfortable but chic and understated. Guaranteed to look fabulous on any woman who wears it, regardless of her shape. Guaranteed by whom, I wondered. But I bought the dress.

I've worn it a few times, but this morning I found myself inexplicably confounded by its rather complex topology. You definitely need to get both waist ties to meet from opposite directions and join in the middle, but somehow they both kept ending up on the same side. There was a belt loop-- for sure, one of them is supposed to go through it. But then its direction is wrong. Why can I not do this today, when I've done it before?

I never did get it right. Feeling like a kindergartener who can't yet tie her shoes and ends up with an ugly knot instead, I found a way to tie it so that at least the dress won't fall off during the day. One hopes. Oy.

The frustration of being unable to master a task is bitter. It takes a brave person to persevere in the face of it. Toddlers are that brave -- they climb steps as high as their hips, struggle mightily to push a chair across the floor that weighs as much as they do. Their drive to learn is greater than their frustration, and it carries them.

I think about Jesus and the little children. Let them come, he said, don't shoo them away. You must become like them, in fact, to enter the household of God. We usually think of their innocence when we hear the story of this exchange, or their vulnerability. But those two are not the only facts of childhood: to those we must add children's endless curiosity, their boundless drive to know things they do not yet know, to try and try to do things they cannot yet do. They are ready to be empowered.

And empowerment never ends. We don't stop learning just because we grow up, unless we confuse God's radical acceptance of us just as we are with our own indolent desire not to grow and change. Just as I am, Christ welcomes me. And fires me, with every weakness I bring, with desire to become what I will be.
Art by Flor Larios

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Clouds, air, summer poems and paintings

Summer is now officially here, the season of outdoor cooking, rose´ wine, sparkling sunsets, and slowing down. The other evening, Lori and enjoyed dinner with old friends at their Craftsman-era home. And we got an additional treat: they showed us five original paintings by Chiura Obata that have never been in a museum or a catalog.

The paintings were inherited from our friend's mother, who studied under Obata at the University of California, Berkeley. Each of these wonderful paintings had lightness and a feeling of motion.

Two were traditional Japanese brush paintings, and three had the more familiar Obata style that makes me feel like I am floating on a cloud. Obata (1885-1975) you may recall is famous for his airy renderings of Yosemite.

The painting at right is of El Capitan at Yosemite; the painting below is of the Topaz Mountains (and not one of our friend's paintings -- we will leave reproduction of their paintings to them).

Here is a poem for summer by Mary Oliver:

Little Summer Poem Touching the Subject of Faith
By Mary Oliver

Every summer
I listen and look
under the sun's brass and even
into the moonlight, but I can't hear

anything, I can't see anything -
not the pale roots digging down, nor the green stalks muscling up,
nor the leaves
deepening their damp pleats,

nor the tassels making,
nor the shucks, nor the cobs.
And still,
every day,

the leafy fields
grow taller and thicker -
green gowns lofting up in the night,
showered with silk.

And so, every summer,
I fail as a witness, seeing nothing -
I am deaf too
to the tick of the leaves,

the tapping of downwardness from the banyan feet -
all of it
beyond any seeable proof, or hearable hum.

And, therefore, let the immeasurable come.
Let the unknowable touch the buckle of my spine.
Let the wind turn in the trees,
and the mystery hidden in the dirt

swing through the air.
How could I look at anything in this world
and tremble, and grip my hands over my heart?
What should I fear?

One morning
in the leafy green ocean
the honeycomb of the corn's beautiful body
is sure to be there.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

One wears her mitre, another told to remove it

Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori is not the only woman American Episcopal bishop who has been on an official visit in Britain in recent days. But the difference in hospitality could not be more stark.

Bishop Mary Grey-Reeves of the Diocese of El Camino Real (central California) is on a visit to the Diocese of Gloucester. Bishop Mary was not asked to remove her mitre, and indeed wore it. Nor was Bishop Mary (photo at right) asked to prove her ordination.

The dust-up over telling Presiding Bishop Katharine to remove hers is proving embarrassing to the host Brits (as it should). The only conclusion possible is that Bishop Katharine was subjected to petty harassment by Lambeth Palace, the headquarters of the Archbishop of Canterbury. What the denizens of Lambeth intended to accomplish other than showing their disdain for Bishop Katharine is beyond me.

Below are letters written by Bishop Mary followed by a letter from her host, Bishop Michael Perham, Bishop of Gloucester (photo at right):
Dear Friends,

Some of you may have heard that on a recent visit to England, +Katharine Jefferts-Schori was asked to verify her orders of ordination and asked not to wear her miter. As you know, I am here on a partnership visit in the Diocese of Gloucester. Attached is a greeting and explanation from Bishop Michael regarding our own correspondence with Lambeth Palace, hopefully clarifying a policy that has been in place but not enforced. The incident with +Katharine was of course exacerbated by +Rowan’s Pentecost letter and +Katharine’s response. I must say that I have not met anyone here that is happy with +Rowan’s letter and the actions that it announced; but are rather many are embarrassed and upset.

As you will see from an update that Celeste Ventura and Channing Smith will send shortly, we are having a wonderful time in Gloucester being treated very well and shown great hospitality. There are no major issues regarding the wearing of my miter or being a woman bishop, although of course there are those who do not approve of women’s ordination. It is a very live issue here and there are lots of feelings and emotions as the Church of England approaches another vote, hopefully towards women in the episcopate, in just a few weeks.

In the meanwhile, I send greetings from everyone participating on this triangular partnership and ask your continued prayers. I will send another update at the end of the week after my return late on Wednesday night.

With love and blessings,

A message from Michael Perham, Bishop of Gloucester

Dear Sisters and Brothers of the Diocese of El Camino Real

I greet you in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, rejoicing as always in our partnership, drawing together your diocese, the Diocese of Western Tanganyika and my own.

It has been a great joy to have Bishop Mary with us these last few days, sharing in our partnership meeting, speaking to our Diocesan Synod, preaching in the Cathedral and visiting parishes. It will be a particular joy when, on the last day of the partnership gathering, she presides at the Eucharist in the Lady Chapel of our Cathedral.

People here in the Diocese of Gloucester share my respect and affection for Bishop Mary. Once again having her here has been a delight and an encouragement to us all. Her graciousness is a wonderful gift to our partnership and companion relationship and I believe the partnership is a gift to our troubled Anglican Communion.

I am attaching a note I have written to try to explain some of the difficulties we have run into in England these last few days in relation to the ministry of visiting bishops. The difficulties have felt to be a long way away from the happy acceptance of one another here.


Background explaining the need for permission to her diocese

Under the Overseas and Other Clergy (Ministry and Ordination) Measure of 1967, which in my view needs urgent revision, but which is still in force and which must therefore be respected, clergy from abroad (Anglican or otherwise) need the permission of the Archbishop to officiate here. My understanding is that over the years, this rule has not been tightly followed in the case of those visiting partner dioceses for short periods of time, but only for those seeking to take up a ministerial post here. However, with all the present tensions in the Communion and with some people prepared to use legal processes to challenge bishops and others who do not follow the letter of the law, the Archbishop’s office has thought it best to ensure that the rule is strictly adhered to. Thus I have sought and obtained permission for Bishop Mary for preside at the Eucharist in Gloucester Cathedral.

(Bishop Gerard is also presiding at the Eucharist while here, but in his case in a private chapel where no such permission is required.)

The Measure makes no reference to what the bishop wears. As it happens, the simple weekday Eucharist at which Bishop Mary will preside is not one when either she or I would expect her to wear a mitre. However in the Cathedral on Sunday, when she stood at my side when I presided at the Eucharist and again when she preached at a Partnership Service later in the day, she did, like me and Bishop Gerard, wear her mitre.

The triangular partnership that draws the dioceses of Western Tanganyika, El Camino Real and Gloucester into a companion relationship emerged from the Lambeth Conference of Anglican Bishops. There has never been any doubt within our dioceses that the three bishops are equally bishops of the Anglican Communion and not for a moment would we have treated one bishop differently from the others. We recognise and honour the ministry of all.


Sunday, June 20, 2010

It began by crossing out the King from the Prayer Book; Our Anglican divisions and where we go from here

In his day, Jacob Duche´ was the rector of the most important church in America – Christ Church, Philadelphia, located across the square from what became known as Independence Hall. On the afternoon of Thursday July 4, 1776, Duche´ watched as the Continental Congress declared independence from Great Britain. Then Duche´ walked across the square to his church, and convened a special meeting of his Vestry.

With the Vestry’s concurrence, Duche´ opened his parish’s large Book of Common Prayer, and he began crossing out all references to the King of England. He replaced those references with the “United States of America.”

The American Episcopal Church was, in effect, born that day with his act of independence from the mother country and the mother church.

As author Bruce Feiler explains in his superb book, America’s Prophet: Moses and the American Society, Duche´ understood well that his editing of the Book of Common Prayer was an insurrectionary act. When the British seized Philadelphia, Duche´ was arrested and imprisoned. As the war dragged on, and the Americans lost battle after battle, Duche´ became despondent. He wrote a letter to George Washington urging him to give up the war. Washington termed the letter “ridiculous” and released it to Congress.

Duche´ was forced into exile in Britain, a man with no country; he returned to Philadelphia after the war, and he was a broken man. Jacob Duche´ who had been the most important cleric in America died forgotten, and was buried in an unmarked grave.

The experience of Duche´ is perhaps a metaphor for The Episcopal Church’s tense relationship with the Church of England and the wider Anglican Communion. In his book, Feiler quotes The Rev. Tim Safford, rector of Christ Church, Philadelphia, about the dilemma faced by his predecessor of two centuries ago: “[T]he life of a pastor is trying to hold very distant poles in some sort of tension with each other.” (p. 59)

Sometimes the center holds. Sometimes it doesn’t. We are living in one of those times when the center is not holding.

The root of our tension stems from the events of the American Revolution and our ambiguous relationship with the mother church. We claimed our independence from England long ago, and yet, for better or worse, we view our catholicity as somehow channeled through the historic see of Canterbury.

Our American relationship with the Church of England is usually just part of the wallpaper, and on any given Sunday, most of the time it doesn’t enter into our collective church conscience. So it is particularly jarring when the tensions of that relationship do burst into the open, as it did last week when the American Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori was asked to remove her mitre so as not to offend a contingent of the Church of England who will not accept women bishops (or, we suspect, women priests).

The slight has enraged many American Episcopalians who note that Archbishop of
Canterbury Rowan Williams and other British bishops are not asked to remove their emblems of ecclesiastical office when visiting the United States. Lambeth Palace, the headquarters of Rowan Williams, last week exhibited nothing but the airs of old-school British colonialism and the odor did not set well on this side of the Atlantic.

It has also been noted in recent days that Bishop Katharine was required to give proof of her ordinations before being allowed to preach and celebrate at Southwark Cathedral, London. Considering that she hosted Rowan Williams at last summer’s Episcopal General Convention in Anaheim, and did not ask him to produce seminary certificates or an ID card, the request to her came off as petty harassment.

More ominously, she was also asked to resign from an elected Anglican body, and she refused to resign. Other American Episcopalians were removed from various ecumenical commissions by the archbishop; all this in response to the Diocese of Los Angeles having the temerity to elect an openly lesbian assisting bishop, Mary Glasspool. As The Rev. Canon Kenneth Kearon, the general secretary of the Anglican Communion explained at a meeting of the Episcopal Executive Council last Friday, Archbishop Williams felt he had to do something.

On one level, all of this is rather silly – it is about a hat and a few petty insults. But the incidents last week go to the deeper rift between the two branches of Anglicanism – branches, after all, that at times have been rivals over the last two centuries. A number of excellent commentaries have been published on-line in recent days, among the best by Diana Butler Bass in the Huffington Post. You can read her commentary by clicking HERE.

Another frequent blogger, Father Jake Stops the World, suggests that Williams’ latest moves are designed to force The Episcopal Church to tie itself more closely to the English Church as part of an intricate legal strategy to regain church property in Virginia. You need to read Jake’s legal theory to understand what he is getting at by clicking HERE. I tend to think the Brits aren’t quite that strategic and are making this up as they go along.

Our tensions and knee-jerk responses on both sides, let me suggest, stem from a deeper cultural and historical divide. We are, after all, two peoples divided by a common language.

The Episcopal Church was, indeed, born in the crucible of the war for independence from Britain in 1776. Yet the Episcopal Church has never quite found a way to live completely independent from the mother church or the mother country. Other churches – Methodists, Presbyterians, Lutherans – went their separate ways from churches that birthed them, but not The Episcopal Church in the United States.

In the colonial era, no bishop lived in America. The Bishop of London was the bishop of colonial America. After the Revolution, the newly organized Protestant Episcopal Church of the United States of America sent Samuel Seabury across the Atlantic to be consecrated a bishop. The English bishops refused, and so he went to Scotland where the bishops there ordained him a bishop. The Americans never forgot the snub, and the American Episcopal Church remains close to this day to the Episcopal Church of Scotland. Bishop Katharine was welcomed enthusiastically there -- no ordination certificates required -- when she appeared there late last week.

Relations with English church counterparts remained sour for nearly 100 years after the American Revolution. The Episcopal Church developed within a vibrant American religious marketplace and a culture that respected the separation of church and state. The English church remained the established church of Britain, impervious to change, and its bishops appointed by the monarch and sitting in the House of Lords.

The modern Anglican Communion was born in the late 19th century after a series of meetings in Chicago and Lambeth that resulted in a succinct statement of what binds us, not what divides us. You can find it on pages 876-878 of the Book of Common Prayer. In a nutshell, the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral of 1888 sets four common points of communion:
1. Holy Scriptures are the ultimate standard of faith.
2. The Apostles Creed and Nicene Creed, though brief, are sufficient statements of Christianity.
3. Baptism and Eucharist are the two primary sacraments (the others being optional).
4. We are knit together by bishops through the long history of Christianity.
That is it. No lengthy covenant, no long “confession,” no tricky language with loopholes, no declaration of a “magesterium” like the Pope (or Archbishop of Canterbury), no dictation on
how church governance will be structured. Latitude is wide for how we live into those four points in our own local context.

The Anglican Communion began as an alliance (or peace treaty) between the American and English churches; it expanded to include other national Anglican churches as the British Empire contracted, much as the British Commonwealth of Nations filled the English psychic space left when the sun finally set on the Empire. Yet colonial attitudes die hard amongst the Brits.

In our own time, Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams and his Lambeth advisers consistently misunderstand and badly underestimate our differences in polity – and how those very different ideas of church governance and secular democracy influence our respective approaches to decision-making in the life of our respective branches of Anglicanism.

Williams and his entourage display little understanding or respect for American polity; their tone-deafness smacks of British colonialism, pure and simple. And Americans, for the most part, are unaware that Williams was chosen by a monarch upon the recommendation of a prime minister. It would be like having our Episcopal Presiding Bishop chosen by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and confirmed by President Obama and then seating her in the U.S. Senate.

Over the last century, the Anglican Communion has grown in size and complexity with ecumenical commissions, missionary boards, consultative bodies, observers at the United Nations and national primate meetings. Most of that structure involves primarily bishops, and while not exactly Roman Catholic, it is not surprising that this structure is viewed as parallel to the Roman Catholic world. The current Archbishop of Canterbury seems to edge in that direction, and he has attempted to use such structures as a weapon to punish the Episcopal Church for ordaining openly gay bishops.

“Everywhere I go,” Kearon said on Friday, “everyone wants him to act as a sort of an Anglican pope as long as he does what [they] want him to do."


Some Americans welcome the archbishop’s action. But do they really want an Anglican pope? Or to put it another way, do they really want to give up their American independence? And does Williams really want to be a pope?

It also seems a contradiction-in-terms to withdraw membership on an ecumenical commission as a means for enforcing a particular formulation of orthodoxy. Ecumenism by definition requires dialogue and soft boundaries around doctrine. Why bother talking about someone else’s faith if you don’t want to listen to what they have to say?

What then should our response be to all of this? Where do we go from here as Episcopalians living in a post-colonial world but with structures born out of British colonialism? Williams has proposed a complicated “Anglican Covenant” that places power with the national presiding bishops from the various national Anglican churches. His actions this week give us a glimpse of what life would be like under such a covenant with the Archbishop acting as a “magisterium.” The American Episcopal Church, along with the Canadians, Brazilians, South Africans and New Zealanders, are not likely to go along. In the name of unity, Williams is essentially threatening to split up the Anglican Communion. That well could be his legacy.

Or maybe after the pettiness and snubs of this past week, another course will be chosen by the clerics of Lambeth Palace. Perhaps Williams and his advisers will draw back from acting like the Vatican; perhaps this will be the low point of relations, and it will be uphill from here. Perhaps they will look again at the “indaba” listening process that Williams so brilliantly promoted at the Lambeth conference of bishops two summers ago. Perhaps. Lambeth Palace, with its British flair for obfuscation, is anything but transparent. We are left only to guess.

And what should we do in The Episcopal Church? I am inclined to agree with Diana Butler Bass: let us do as Jesus would do, walk the extra mile with those who would persecute us, carry their cloak – carry our hat in our hand – and listen for how the Holy Spirit is guiding us. Let the slights go. Walk the walk as disciples. As Bishop Katharine said in her sermon at St. Paul’s in January: “Be bold.”

Today's Collect for Sunday provides a perfect prayerful direction for all of us:
O Lord, make us have perpetual love and reverence for your
holy Name, for you never fail to help and govern those whom
you have set upon the sure foundation of your loving-kindness;
through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you
and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
We are called to serve as Christ’s hands and feet in the world, and we have much work to do. The Kingdom of God, which Jesus proclaims, is about inclusion and radical welcome of the outcast and the lowly, the sick and the lonely, prisoners and sinners, and those considered unworthy by the religious purists. Today’s epistle goes to the heart of the matter, and it is there where we should dwell:

“As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to the promise.”
Paul’s Letter to the Galatians 3:23-29

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Same-gender blessings task force meeting this morning; my summary

The Diocese of Virginia task force on same-gender blessings met this morning for two-and-a-half hours. This was our first meeting, and so the discussion was wide-ranging about how to approach our task. Please read in an earlier post from yesterday the resolution (R-14) that set up our task force.

This being the first meeting, no decisions were made, no recommendations arrived upon, no conclusions reached. But I was impressed with the respect everyone showed for each other, and the dedication shown to listening to each point of view. The task force includes both clergy and laity, and straight and gay people. There is an abundance of lawyers on the panel, which is probably a good thing because R-14 asks a series of legal and canonical questions. We also talked about how our work could dovetail with Bishop Shannon Johnston's proposed "townhall meetings" around the diocese later this year.

Mostly we talked about how to approach our work; we looked in detail at each of the points raised by R-14; we also examined national canons on marriage and looked at guidelines from the Diocese of Southern Ohio for same-gender blessings. There are several other diocesan guidelines available from around the country, but we started with this one from Ohio; we will look at others as our work progresses.

I think I can also safely say that it is the intention of everyone on the task force to conclude our work and make our recommendations by the November 1 deadline set forth by the diocesan resolution. It is also the intention of everyone to write our recommendations as clearly and forthrightly as possible.

I am reprinting below the guidelines from Southern Ohio for your study and comment. Again, this is a starting point; if you want to comment, please have the courage of your convictions by giving your name and church affiliation. I will not respond to anonymous comments -- and nasty, bigoted and hateful comments will be deleted. Be kind; this topic is not just abstract, but is crucial in the life of our church at this time, and it impacts real people in real relationships.

Here are the guidelines from Southern Ohio:
Policies and Procedures
for the Blessing of Same-Gender Unions in the
Diocese of Southern Ohio

1. The blessing of a Same-Gender Union (hereafter referred to as a “union”) requires written permission of the Bishop (or Ecclesiastical Authority of the Diocese in the absence of the Ordinary), hereafter together referred to as the “Bishop”).
(a) Permission must be sought in writing by a priest canonically resident in the
Diocese of Southern Ohio, or licensed to officiate in the Diocese of Southern
(b) Request for permission must be delivered to the Diocesan office for the Bishop’s
attention no later than sixty (60) days prior to the proposed date for a blessing.

2. For every proposed blessing, at least one of the two persons requesting the blessing must be a member in good standing of The Episcopal Church resident within the Diocese.

3. Prior to a priest’s officiating at the blessing, the couple must receive adequate counseling as determined by the priest. (Priests are encouraged to take advantage of the educational resources available on the Diocesan Website.)

4. Any priest intending to bless a union should inform the congregation in which the blessing will be recorded.

5. The priest-in-charge retains the right and responsibility to determine whether any union shall be blessed on church property or under the auspices of the congregation.

6. Blessings of unions shall be recorded in the congregation in which, or under whose auspices, the blessing takes place, and no blessing shall be performed without such record.

7. When presented with a union that is imperiled, a priest must act first to protect and promote the physical and emotional safety of the couple, and then to promote reconciliation.

8. Any member of this Church who seeks the dissolution of a union, or who seeks permission to enter into a subsequent union, may apply to the Bishop for a judgment. Such judgment may be a recognition of the nullity, or of the termination of the union; Provided, that no such judgment shall be construed as affecting in any way the legitimacy of children or the civil validity of the former relationship. Every judgment made under this provision shall be in writing and made a matter of permanent record in the archives of the diocese.

9. No priest of this Diocese shall bless the union of any person, except as hereinafter provided:
(a) The priest shall be satisfied by appropriate evidence that any prior marriage has been annulled or dissolved by a final judgment or decree of a civil court of competent jurisdiction, and that the same is true for any union that was evidenced by a formal civil proceeding.
(b) The priest shall have instructed the parties that continuing concern must be shown for the well-being of the former spouse or partner, and of any children of the prior marriage or union;
(c) The priest shall consult with and obtain the consent of the Bishop to officiate prior to, and shall report to the Bishop, the blessing; and
(d) If the proposed blessing is to be given in a jurisdiction other than the one in which the consent has been given, the consent shall be affirmed by the Bishop of that

10. It shall be within the discretion of any priest to decline to bless any union.

Same-gender blessings task force meets today in the Diocese of Virginia

Today I am participating in the "R-14 Task Force," the 11-member panel appointed by Bishop Shannon Johnston of the Diocese of Virginia to determine how/when/whether we can proceed with same-gender blessings. This will be the first meeting, and I will give a report in this space as best as I am able when we are done.

So that you are on the same page with me, I am reprinting below the "R-14" resolution approved by the Diocesan Council of Virginia that set up this task force, followed by "C056" approved by General Convention last summer that called for a "generous pastoral response" on same gender blessings. Please read these carefully.

I am mindful that the stakes are large for many people, and there are only 11 of us on this task force. So I invite your advice, your wisdom, your opinions and especially your prayers. Please feel free to post here on this blog under "comments." And please have the courage of your convictions by giving your name and church affiliation. I will not respond to anonymous comments -- they interest me not -- but I will consider all comments with all due respect. Hateful or bigoted comments will be deleted with no apologies.

Here are the resolutions, beginning with C056, the General Convention resolution, followed by R-14, the diocesan resolution:

C056 - approved by the General Convention of the Episcopal Church
Resolved, the House of Deputies concurring, That the 76th General Convention acknowledge the changing circumstances in the United States and in other nations, as legislation authorizing or forbidding marriage, civil unions or domestic partnerships for gay and lesbian persons is passed in various civil jurisdictions that call forth a renewed pastoral response from this Church, and for an open process for the consideration of theological and liturgical resources for the blessing of same gender relationships; and be it further
Resolved, That the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music, in consultation with the House of Bishops, collect and develop theological and liturgical resources, and report to the 77th General Convention; and be it further
Resolved, That the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music, in consultation with the House of Bishops, devise an open process for the conduct of its work inviting participation from provinces, dioceses, congregations, and individuals who are engaged in such theological work, and inviting theological reflection from throughout the Anglican Communion; and be it further
Resolved, That bishops, particularly those in dioceses within civil jurisdictions where same-gender marriage, civil unions, or domestic partnerships are legal, may provide generous pastoral response to meet the needs of members of this Church; and be it further
Resolved, That this Convention honor the theological diversity of this Church in regard to matters of human sexuality; and be it further
Resolved, That the members of this Church be encouraged to engage in this effort.
R-14 - approved by the Council (convention) of the Diocese of Virginia
Substitute for R-3 (Inclusiveness in Ordained Ministry), R-4 (Authorizing Rites of Blessing) and R-11 (Defining Sacramental and Civil Definitions of Marriage)
Adopted as substituted.
Whereas, the Rt. Rev. Shannon S. Johnston stated in his pastoral address to the 215th Annual Council of the Diocese of Virginia:
“I do regret that, in this address, some important matters in our common life will seem to be slighted while others are omitted, such as the several topics arising from the debate on sexuality. But I look for us to address these issues thoroughly in regional forums in 2010. It is unfortunate that some of the weightiest deliberations that come before us cannot be adequately and justly dealt with in the very short time allowed by Annual Council,” [verbatim transcript of the bishop’s pastoral address], and
Whereas, the necessary process will involve both the bishop’s regional forums, which will allow for broad individual contributions on these issues, and the drafting of proposed canons for the effective and consistent exercise of pastoral ministry should same-gender blessings be authorized; be it therefore
Resolved, the 215th Annual Council of the Diocese of Virginia recognizes that:
1. Our clergy and people remain divided over the wisdom and theology of blessing same gender relationships, as well as how much weight to give to the views of others in the Anglican Communion about these issues, particularly to views from those with whom we are in mission partnership;
2. The growing differences between Christian and Civil understanding of marriage and relationships create immediate pastoral issues for our clergy and congregations;
3. There are numerous same-gender couples in our diocese engaged in long-term monogamous relationships who have engaged in productive and vital ministries for the proclamation of the Gospel. Many of these couples strongly desire the church’s blessing of their relationships;
4. These issues deserve to be collectively addressed in an orderly, careful, and deliberate way assisted by appropriate legal and canonical experts; and
Recommends that:
1. Our Bishop is asked to empanel a group of clergy and lay people, including attorneys admitted to practice in Virginia and recognized experts on canon law, as well as knowledgeable clergy and lay representatives of a variety of theological perspectives on the issue of blessing same-gender relationships.
2. Such panel shall recommend consistent standards to be written into diocesan canons so that, if services of blessing same-gender unions are authorized, our clergy and people have a clearly understood and enforceable set of rules to guide the application of clergy discretion in providing pastoral care to same-gender couples seeking such blessings.
3. In formulating these recommendations, the following issues may be addressed (based in part on General Convention Canon I.1.18 and I.1.19):
(a) Whether individual members of the clergy have the right, as a matter of theological principle, to decline to conduct any such service, without adverse disciplinary consequences or personnel action;
(b) Whether individual members of the clergy have the right to decline to conduct such a service for a particular same gender couple, without adverse disciplinary consequences or personnel action, similar to the current rule for clergy asked to conduct weddings;
(c) The age, capacity and degree of kinship, if any, of the parties;
(d) The effect of prior marriages or unions blessed by a licensed clergy person or registered with civil authorities, the responsibility to any former spouse or partner in such union, and responsibility to minor children of any prior marriage or union;
(e) The appropriateness of advance medical screening, if any;
(f) The effect of any legal union or marriage entered into between the parties in another jurisdiction;
(g) The appropriate role of the Bishop for advanced review of any proposed blessing of a specific same-gender couple;
(h) Review of financial arrangements to protect the parties in the absence of state law presumptions governing married couples, presumptions intended to protect the weaker party from potential exploitation, oppression, or improvident action by the other party in the relationship;
(i) Other factors listed in the General Convention canons for marriage, Canons I.1.18 and I.1.19, including the baptismal status of the parties, the commitment to life-long union, the voluntariness of consent, the absence of coercion, fraud, mistake of identity of the other party;
(j) The minimum time line between notification of the clergy of a desire to obtain such a blessing and the performance of the ceremony;
(k) The number of witnesses and the record-keeping requirements for the clergy and any congregation involved;
(l) Any requirement for written affirmation by the couple that the commitment is to a life-long union;
(m) Any statement of the theological basis for the union to which the partners are to subscribe;
(n) Provision to address possible dissolution of a blessed same-gender relationship, including the considerations of factors enumerated in Canon I.1.19 to address marriages which are in distress or which have been terminated by a civil court, as well as the circumstances, if any, under which another same-gender relationship may be blessed where both partners to an earlier such relationship remain living;
(o) The restriction in the General Convention canon on marriage in the church to heterosexual couples;
(p) Whether any blessing service for same-gender union may be used in lieu of marriage for heterosexual couples under any circumstances, and if so, what those circumstances are;
(q) How these might apply to all members of the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Trans-gendered community;
(r) Any other factor deemed important by the panel.
3. If the Bishop appoints such a panel, the panel shall strive to deliver its report (including proposed canonical language) to the Executive Board by All Saints Day, 2010, in time for careful and orderly consideration of its recommendations by the 216th Annual Council of the Diocese. The panel is not to opine on whether the blessings of same-gender unions should be authorized, but it is to set forth its canonical recommendations to govern blessing such relationships if such services of blessing are authorized.
4. The consideration of any authorization for Virginia clergy to enter same gender unions should be deferred until after consideration of the preceding process.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Eating an artichoke, watching the clouds bloom, a perfect day

We have had entirely enough church politics for one week, and doubtless we will return next week to the troubled world of our dear old Anglican Communion. But it seems to me a poem should be the order of the day, and may this bit of verse open a sacred space for you in your busy day. This is a gift from our friend Karen in Tennessee:

On a Perfect Day
by Jane Gentry

... I eat an artichoke in front
of the Charles Street Laundromat
and watch the clouds bloom
into white flowers out of
the building across the way.
The bright air moves on my face
like the touch of someone who loves me.
Far overhead a dart-shaped plane softens
through membranes of vacancy. A ship,
riding the bright glissade of the Hudson , slips
past the end of the street. Colette's vagabond
says the sun belongs to the lizard
that warms in its light. I own these moments
when my skin like a drumhead stretches on the frame
of my bones, then swells, a bellows filled
with sacred breath seared by this flame,
this happiness.
Artichoke wallpaper from the 19th century by John Henry Dearle for Morris & Co.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

More on the missing mitre that matters

Episcopal News Service has checked in with a fuller story on how Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori was told by Lambeth Palace (i.e., the Archbishop of Canterbury) to not wear her mitre on Sunday while preaching and celebrating at Southwark Cathedral in London. The Dean of Southwark Cathedral, Colin Slee, was hugely embarrassed by Lambeth's slights.

Adding to the slights, Bishop Katharine was also told to prove each level of her ordinations before being allowed to come to Southwark Cathedral. I might note that when I was invited to vest and process at Canterbury Cathedral in 2003 no one asked me for proof of my ordinations. Hmm, double standard? Here is the story from ENS below:

Lambeth Palace tells presiding bishop not to wear symbol of office

Jefferts Schori carries mitre during recent visit to Southwark Cathedral

[Episcopal News Service -- Linthicum Heights, Maryland] When Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schoripreached and presided at a Eucharist June 13 at Southwark Cathedral in London, she carried her mitre, or bishop's hat, rather than wear it.

She did so in order to comply with a "statement" from Lambeth Palace, the London home of Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, that said "that I was not to wear a mitre at Southwark Cathedral," Jefferts Schori told the Executive Council June 16 on the first day of its three-day meeting here.

Jefferts Schori made her remarks to council during a "private conversation" session attended by council members and church center staff, and later told ENS it could report her remarks.

The Church of England ordains women to the diaconate and the priesthood, but does not allow women to be bishops. Its General Synod is due to consider legislation to change that policy.

In the week before her visit, the presiding bishop said, Lambeth pressured her office to provide evidence of her ordination to each order of ministry.

"This is apparently a requirement of one of their canons about the ministry of clergy from overseas," she said.

The presiding bishop said both the ordination and mitre issues put the Very Rev. Colin Slee, Southwark's dean, "in a very awkward position."

She called the requirements "nonsense" and said, "It is bizarre; it is beyond bizarre."

On the day Jefferts Schori was at Southwark, Slee later preached at the cathedral's Evensong and said that Jefferts Schori was one of a long line of bishops and archbishops who have preached and presided at the London cathedral. Slee said, "On evangelical and ecclesiastically conservative websites I have been denounced this week for being 'provocative' and 'discourteous to the Archbishop of Canterbury' for extending this invitation."

"There are several reasons for the fury," he said in his sermon. "The presiding bishop is a woman and some people hate the idea of women as bishops. The General Synod of the Church of England is about to debate the admission of women as bishops within the Church of England. The church in the United States has just consecrated an openly lesbian woman as a suffragan bishop in Los Angeles and so they are accused of breaking an embargo on such consecrations. It is not nearly so simple."

"We welcome Katharine Jefferts Schori to this pulpit because we love our sisters and brothers in the Episcopal Church of the United States; not because she is female, or a woman bishop ahead of us, or has permitted a practicing lesbian to become a bishop (as it happens, she couldn't have stopped it after all the legal and proper canonical electoral processes resulted in the election and nomination), we welcome her because she is our sister in Christ," Slee said.

He said that "some Anglicans will decide to walk a separate path," but said that he believed Southwark "will walk the same path" as the Episcopal Church. "Their actions in recent months have been entirely in accord with the Anglican ways of generosity and breadth," he said. "They have tried to ensure everyone is recognized as a child of God. They have behaved entirely in accord with their canon laws and their freedom as an independent province of the church, not imposing or interfering with others with whom they disagree but proceeding steadily and openly themselves."

The text of the gospel appointed for the day was Luke 7:36-50, in which a woman washed Jesus' feet with her tears and then let down her hair to dry them.

In her sermon, Jefferts Schori asked, "What makes us so afraid of the other?"

"There's something in our ancient genetic memory that ratchets up our state of arousal when we meet a stranger -- it's a survival mechanism that has kept our species alive for millennia by being wary about strangers," she said. "But there's also a piece of our makeup that we talk about in more theological terms -- the part that leaps to judgment about that person's sins. It's connected to knowing our own sinfulness, and our tendency toward competition -- well, she must be a worse sinner than I am -- thank God!"

The text of her sermon is here.

-- The Rev. Mary Frances Schjonberg is a national correspondent for the Episcopal News Service and editor of Episcopal News Monthly and Episcopal News Quarterly.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Where was her mitre?

Today I bring you a brief commentary from the U.K. Guardian about Presiding Bishop Katharine Jeffert Schori's appearance Sunday at Southwark Cathedral in London (you can read her sermon below). We now come to find out that she was asked to not to wear her mitre, and asked by none other than Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams. The Guardian termed the archbishop's request "petty," especially since her sermon was about God's love for all. Katharine complied with the request, but carried her mitre. Here's the commentary...


One step forwards, two steps backwards. The wonderful world of the Church of England

• If the US Episcopal Church – still part of the worldwide Anglican communion despite having the temerity to elect gay bishops – feels nervous about the warmth of its welcome from the mothership that is the Church of England, perhaps there are reasons. Katharine Jefferts Schori, the presiding bishop of the US church and the first woman ever to lead an Anglican province, preached at Southwark Cathedral last weekend despite muted hisses of disapproval by conservative evangelicals. But close observers would have seen there was something missing: no mitre on her head. Who could be responsible? Step forward, Rowan Williams, Archbish of Canterbury, birthday boy (60 yesterday), who couldn't stop her preaching but said she could not wear the symbol of her office, or carry a bishop's crosier. Something to do with women bishops not yet being allowed in the C of E. A bit petty, some say, as Jefferts Schori is indeed a bishop and head of her national church – but in any event, she carried the mitre. And the subject for her sermon: God welcomes everyone, regardless of dress or condition.

• And, with women clergy in the C of E looking forward to next month's vote in the general synod in York – which is expected finally to agree that women can become bishops here – word comes of a last-minute attempt to scupper the plans. And who is responsible for that? Step forward again, Williams, who with fellow archbishop John Sentamu is framing an amendment to put off yet again making any decision. Synod headed off their attempts to delay progress last year, but the archbishops are trying it on again. The world moves on but somehow time stands still. Welcome to the C of E.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Anglican divisions: A view from Australia

A few days ago I suggested we hear voices seldom heard in our North American cloisters, and I posted here a commentary from Brazil about our Anglican predicament. Here is another voice from the Communion worth hearing, from Andrew McGowen, the warden of Trinity College, Melbourne, Australia.

He is critical of both Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams and our American Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, but also suggests that much of the Anglican world is now turning to her for leadership. This is an interesting commentary, a bit dense with nuance, but well worth reading. McGowen's commentary is reprinted in full below:

The Anglican Babel: A view from AustraliaBy Andrew McGowen

Although historians will point to Gene Robinson’s consecration as a bishop in 2003 as the catalyst for the reconfiguration of global Anglicanism, Pentecost 2010 may turn out to have been a watershed of sorts too. The Archbishop of Canterbury’s Letter, Renewal in the Spirit, and the responses to it, particular that of Presiding Bishop ++Katharine Jefferts Schori of The Episcopal Church, have ushered in a new era not only of frank disagreement but of practical disengagement.

The Australian Church has not been central in these discussions. We have our own microcosm of Anglican diversity, which often makes us hesitant to wade into Anglican Communion wars, lest we further destabilize our own delicate or illusory balance. Where we are contributing to the broader conversation at all, it is in correspondingly contradictory ways.

Primate ++Phillip Aspinall plays a leading role in the Anglican Consultative Council, working to defend or create a centre for the global Communion; others have had significant roles in inter-Anglican bodies. Yet ++Peter Jensen and his colleagues in Sydney, our most numerous and powerful diocese, are deeply involved in the GAFCON/FCA movement, and in the self-described ‘Global South’ (one of many signs that a particular conservatism and material resources are as good a ticket in to that company as any real issue of human and political geography - ask the Brazilians, Filipinos and South Africans).

Our divisions locally are arguably as deep as those in TEC a few years ago, but we Australian Anglicans generally believe in the Church. And in case or where we do not, the Australian Anglican Church is a fairly loose confederation of autonomous dioceses (which allows our spectacular diversity) and unlike our TEC sisters and brothers we do not have a strong sense of ‘national’ Church as an important ecclesiological category.

++Rowan is also held in real affection here, even in some (not all) of the more evangelical corners of the Church. Australian Anglicans have not wanted to weaken his position, and we—even those who disagree with him more and more about the Anglican Communion and its politics—still look to him for theological leadership. After these events however, I suspect there will be an increasing number here who look to ++Katharine and others for that leadership, as well or instead. I do hope it will be ‘as well’, myself; I think ++Rowan is sometimes better at being wrong than ++Katharine is at being right. This may be another sign that they need each other, and that the rest of us need them both.

++Katharine is right, I believe, in her more expansive articulation of the Spirit’s work as ongoing and dynamic. She is also right to reject centralization as alien to our Anglican heritage and to the roots of our more modern attempts to create a Communion.

However ++Katharine’s language of colonialism and control (or the romanticized take on Celtic Christianity, pursued further in Diana Butler Bass’ comment piece) in her pastoral letter responding to ++Rowan's will be unconvincing to many outside the TEC Choir being preached to, however sympathetic some of us are to the issues involved. Excluding some from obscure inter-Anglican bodies can be depicted as more-in-sorrow-than-anger discipline by the perpetrators, or as grasp-for-power oppression by the objects, but the reality all amounts to far less.

Appeal to the specifics of the (impressive) ‘Baptismal Covenant’ of TEC as a basis for distinctive action does not cut much ice here either (granted that we were not the audience); we Australian Anglicans want to talk about the demands of our common baptism, rooted in Christ for 2000 years, and resort to what characterizes TEC in the last 30 is not reassuring. This is where our admiration for TEC’s courage and leadership pauses, recognizing an apparent self-sufficiency which we refuse to attribute to ourselves. This is both what we admire most and what we find frustrating in TEC. This is where we are not sure whether ++Katharine’s being right, or similar forms of being right, will be enough.

++Katharine is still right here, however, and ++Rowan wrong. He is wrong in a tragic way—seeking, doubtless at great personal cost, a unity in the terms that existing Anglican Communion structures assume or require, but which in fact has now escaped us.

++Rowan is wrong in identifying the TEC ‘Communion Partners’ or others ‘who disagree strongly with recent decisions’ as those who want to be aligned with the Communion’s general commitments. I believe the vast majority of the members of TEC, including its leaders, do want to be aligned with the Communion’s general commitments and are, with specific and well-known exceptions. I have no more desire than the Archbishop of Canterbury to brush past the difficulties those exceptions present; but when did attitudes to homosexuality, rather than to the Creeds or the Sacraments, come to define the ‘Communion’s general commitments’?

This is an ecclesiological as well as a theological mistake, in that it characterizes the Communion not by its vast common depth of faith and hope, framed in specific and diverse history, but by the conversations of the thin layer that constitutes the ‘instruments of unity’, whose success has of late been desultory, and future significance increasingly uncertain.

++Rowan is also wrong in equating the positions in Inter-Anglican bodies such as IASCUFO with representation of the Communion as a whole. This is precisely the sort of context where Anglicans need to have the breadth of visions and voices that might take us forward in faith and charity, even if it is to a place of mutual disagreement and realignment. The removal of a TEC member of IASCUFO makes it a weaker body in all respects.

The position is slightly different regarding exclusion of TEC from the ecumenical dialogue groups, but the result no more inspiring; our dialogue partners may indeed now have a better chance of knowing ‘who it is they are talking to’—they will know precisely that they are talking only to some of us.

And while numerous commentators have suggested there are power grabs or constitutional problems with the dis-invitations, few have noted that membership of such bodies has never before been seen as a question of delegation, or of representing national Churches; rather their members have been chosen for expertise, and with a necessary diversity that reflects our own (than you Bruce Kaye for this point).

Not all blame, even for these specific missteps, should be laid at the feet of the Archbishop of Canterbury or of the Anglican Communion Office. It is patronising to conservatives in the 'Global South' and elsewhere to absolve them of responsibility. But here is where the singling out of TEC, at least as it appears in Canon Kenneth Kearon’s subsequentletter, becomes inexplicable (nb., after a week or two of no clarification, maybe change ‘inexplicable’ to ‘outrageous’). Most groups who have disregarded the other moratorium, of cross-border interventions, have not been mentioned in the prescriptions for dis-inviting participation in international bodies.

This apparent inconsistency turns the events of recent weeks from depressing but inconsequential to depressing but deeply troubling. Not that it would have been much better, I hasten to add, for conservatives to be similarly sanctioned; we need these brothers and sisters no less than others, whether they know it or not. At present however many of them are seeking communion only among the superficially like-minded, and would hardly notice their or our exclusion from these structures.

From this southern vantage point, I cannot hear the events of Pentecost 2010 either as a new centralizing will-to-power or as a rallying-call to liberal or progressive indignation. Rather, in a perverse reversal of the original Pentecost, we see ourselves further reduced to Babel, scattered abroad and unable or unwilling to understand one another’s speech. If the Anglican Communion’s central instruments are bound by circumstance to provide us with less than they were intended to, Australian Anglicans will not abandon them; but we will not abandon sisters and brothers in TEC or elsewhere either, as we all begin the long slow work of finding common language by other means, in the Spirit’s power.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Presiding Bishop Katharine at Southwark Cathedral: "Love has saved you - be at peace."

In the next few days, I will post a number of views from around the Anglican Communion about the current condition of the Communion. Please see the earlier post with a commentary from Brazil.

Meanwhile, our own Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori preached Sunday at Southwark Cathedral in central London, and while she made no mention of the current unpleasantness with the Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, you are free to do your own exegesis.

Also note that she celebrated the Eucharist, and the Church of England still has not approved the ordination of women bishops. The photos are from the mass earlier today.

The gospel lesson that goes with it is Luke 7:36-8:3. Here is her sermon:

Sermon by The Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori
Southwark Cathedral, London, June 13, 2010
I come from a notorious place. Gambling and prostitution are legal in Nevada. Ministry there means that many congregations host 12-step programs not just for alcoholics and drug addicts, but for those addicted to gambling. There are a few groups for sex addicts, too. A story quietly circulated when I was there, about a priest who encouraged the local madams and their employees to visit the churches he served. One congregation made a warm enough welcome that the women of the night returned frequently. Other congregations acted more like Jesus’ fellow dinner guests – “who let her in here?” The women didn’t return to those dinner tables.
I don’t know what it’s like in the Church of England, but in some circles the Episcopal Church has the reputation for being a place where you have to dress correctly, and know how to act – i.e., you really should know all the responses by heart, and how to find your way around the several books we use in worship – or you shouldn’t even bother walking in the front door. Yes, I’ll admit that there are a few places like that, where the local pew-sitters are more afraid than their potential guests, but there are lots more communities where all comers are not just invited, but welcomed with open arms.
I have an old friend, a quirky priest who’s been a college chaplain for decades, who tells about the summer he traveled across the United States visiting different churches. He was camping, and didn’t get a bath every day, but he talked about what a different reception he’d get when he wore his collar, even when he was grubby. The Bishop of Rhode Island spent part of her last sabbatical learning what it’s like to live on the street. She tells about sleeping in homeless shelters in some of her own churches, and then going upstairs to church on Sunday morning. She was never recognized, but she learned a great deal about the welcome and unwelcome of different congregations.

It’s hard work to get to the point where you’re able and willing to see the Lord of love in the odorous street person next to you in the pew. It can be just as hard to find him in the unwelcoming host.

What makes us so afraid of the other? There’s something in our ancient genetic memory that ratchets up our state of arousal when we meet a stranger – it’s a survival mechanism that has kept our species alive for millennia by being wary about strangers. But there’s also a piece of our makeup that we talk about in more theological terms – the part that leaps to judgment about that person’s sins. It’s connected to knowing our own sinfulness, and our tendency toward competition – well, she must be a worse sinner than I am – thank God!

That woman who wanders into Simon’s house comes with her hair uncovered – “oh, scandal! She’s clearly a woman of the street!” And she starts to act in profoundly embarrassing ways, crying all over Jesus’ feet and cleaning up the tears with her hair. And, “oh Lord, now she’s covering him with perfume! We can’t have this in a proper house – what will people think? And I guess now we know just what sort of person this fellow is!”

The scorn that some are willing to heap on others because we think they’ve loved excessively or inappropriately is still pretty well known. Yet it is this woman’s loving response to Jesus that brings her pardon, and Jesus’ celebration of her right relationship with God. She doesn’t even have to ask. Jesus seems to say that evidence of her pardon has already been given – full measure, pressed down, and overflowing – just like her tears and hair and cask of nard.

It’s the same message Jesus offers over and over: “perfect love casts out fear” (1Jn 4:18). It’s actually our fear of the wretchedness within our own souls that pushes us away from our sisters and brothers. Fear is the only thing that keeps us from knowing God’s love – and we most often discover it in the people around us. Jesus wasn’t afraid to eat with sinners, either Simon or the other dinner guests, and he wasn’t afraid of what the woman of the city was going to do to his reputation.

The forgiven woman of the city is sister to the prodigal son. They are both our siblings. We can join that family if we’re willing to let go of that fearful veneer of righteousness. It covers our yearning to be fully known, because we don’t quite think we’re lovable. That veneer is the only thing between us and a whole-hearted “welcome home.” It’s risky to let that veneer be peeled away, but all we risk is love.

That’s what Paul is talking about in his letter to the Galatians. He knows that all his work at observing the fine points of the law is like piling up the layers in a piece of plywood. Those layers of veneer may make plywood strong, but in human beings they have to be peeled away, or maybe traded for transparent ones. The layers won’t right our relationship with God. Love will. Paul says, “if I build up again the very things that I once tore down, then I demonstrate that I am a sinner.” The veneered self simply can’t be vulnerable enough to receive the love that’s being offered. Can we see the human heart yearning for love in that person over there? Can we recall our own yearning, and find the connection? That’s what compassion is – opening ourselves to love.

Practicing compassion rather than judgment is one way the layers start to fly off. Think about all those dinner guests. The party’s going to be far more interesting if we can find something to love about the curmudgeonly host and his buddies. Rejecting them is going to shut down any real possibility of compassion. It’s risky, yes, but the only thing we risk is our own hearts, and the possibility they’ll overflow as readily as that woman’s tears. It’s a big risk to let the layers go, but the only thing we risk is discovering a brother or sister under the skin.

Jesus invites us all to his moveable feast. He leaves that dinner party with Simon and goes off to visit other places in need of prodigal love and prodigious forgiveness. His companions, literally his fellow tablemates, are the 12 and “some women who had been cured of evil spirits and infirmities.” Hmmm. Strong, healthy women, and three of them are actually named here: Mary Magdalene, Joanna, and Susanna. Together with many others they supported and fed the community – they became hosts of the banquet.

Those who know the deep acceptance and love that come with healing and forgiveness can lose the defensive veneer that wants to shut out other sinners. They discover that covering their hair or hiding their tears or hoarding their rich perfume isn’t the way that the beloved act, even if it makes others nervous. Eventually it may even cure the anxious of their own fear by drawing them toward a seat at that heavenly banquet. There’s room for us all at this table, there are tears of welcome and a kiss for the wanderer, and the sweet smell of home.

Want to join the feast? You are welcome here. Love has saved you – go in peace. Lean over and say the same to three strangers: you are welcome here. Love has saved you – be at peace.