Archive for February, 2007

Coming Together Around the Word

February 27, 2007

On February 26, as part of a Governing Board meeting of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA, the NCC celebrated at “re-launch” in publication of the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible. Often more known (and sometimes reviled) as the premier ecumenical council in the United States, emphasizing social justice as well as faith and order concerns, the NCC is also the owner of both the Revised Standard and New Revised Standard Versions of the Bible.

The NRSV is widely recognized as the world’s most trusted, most accepted, and most accurate translation of the Scriptures available in English. Both the RSV and NRSV have incorporated much new scholarship derived since the 20th century discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls and other archeological finds. The RSV was the first serious, scholarly effort to translate the Bible from the original texts since the 1611 Authorized Version, also known as the King James Bible.

Under a new publishing agreement with HarperCollins, attractive new editions will soon be available at outlets like Borders, Barnes and Noble, and even Walmart in addition to the more academic religious book stores.  I share this, not as a commercial, but to witness to the fact that the NCC, and its partner Church World Service, make many ecumenical contributions quietly and faithfully which most people never hear about.

And “all scripture is inspired by God and us useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:16-17)

Who Shall Be Saved?

February 25, 2007

In the face of all the divisions we face in the Church, and as Christians, St. Paul reminds us — on this first Sunday of Lent — that “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” (Romans 10:13).

Who is “everyone?” Well, “if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”

Who does that? Who makes that confession and shares that belief?

Pope Benedict, the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew; Archbishop Rowan Williams; Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori; Archbishop Peter Akinola; Bishop Gene Robinson; Bishop Robert Duncan; members of Forward in Faith; members of Integrity; lay persons, bishops, priests, deacons from around the world.

So…are we really so divided? Do we not really acknowledge one Lord, one Faith, one Baptism, one God and Father of us all? Shame on us for not standing together around that message. Shame on us for letting secondary issues cloud that witness. Please, God, help us resolve our petty differences…

That We All May Be One!

Anglican Primates’ Meeting II

February 23, 2007

When I left the “pre meeting” of the Anglican Primates in Tanzania, I was encouraged because the Joint Standing Committee had deemed the Episcopal Church’s General Convention response to the Windsor Report adequate — the one exception being a lack of clarity on the status of the blessing of same-sex unions. General Convention has not authorized such blessings, but they are being done in some dioceses.

I also felt that the four of us from the Episcopal Church — Bishops MacPherson, Duncan, Jefferts Schori and I — had done a reasonable job of laying out before the Primates the breadth of opinion in the Episcopal Church on the matter of homosexuality and whether it should, or should not, be a church-dividing issue among us. When I learned that the Primates’ meeting had moved on to talk about theological education in the Communion, the Millenium Development Goals, and a “hermeneutics project” (studying the various methods of interpreting Scripture), I was encouraged that we might finally be getting on with the mission of the Church, for a change!

However, it now seems clear to me that the Global South Primates (and this is a recognizable and self-identified group, not some generic term to include everyone who lives south of the equator!) had come with their own bottom-line and were simply waiting until the formulation of the final Communique to hold the rest of the Primates hostage to their agenda.

So we now have a proposal for a “Pastoral Council” (the majority of which would be appointed by Primates outside the Episcopal Church) to work with disaffected congregations and dioceses in cooperation with the Presiding Bishop and the Episcopal Church.   And we have a request for the House of Bishops to “make an unequivocal common covenant that the bishops will not authorize any Rite of Blessing for same-sex unions in their dioceses or through General Convention” and “confirm that Resolution B033 of the 75th General Convention means that a candidate for episcopal orders living in a same-sex union shall not receive the necessary consents.”

We will now take those requests under advisement, at least initially, I assume, at our Executive Council meeting next week and at the House of Bishops meeting in March. I hope we will take the requests seriously and find a way forward, but I have to say they are hugely problemmatic! To give such authority to a Pastoral Council which is a totally extra-canonical body made up of those not subject to the Doctrine, Discipline and Worship of the Episcopal Church seems very dangerous to me.

And, while I would hope the House of Bishops could agree to a covenant not to authorize the blessing of same-sex unions until a broader consensus emerges (while preserving the right of pastoral provisions to minister to gay and lesbian people as the Windsor Report itself allows), I would guess there will be bishops and dioceses who will not agree to this. Therefore, we are set up for some kind of vote which will divide and not unite us. Once again.

I also believe it is unnecessary, and unhelpful,  for the House of Bishops to begin “confirming” or re-affirming actions of General Convention. We have passed B033. All that remains is for us to live up to its provisions. So far, we have.

It seems to me that the development of an Anglican Covenant is still the best way for us to define the Communion for the future and stay together. We are committed to that process, but it will take time to develop and to get the necessary buy-in across the Communion. In my view, the Primates are trying to function as though that Covenant was already in place and its provisions agreed to. 

Join me in this Lenten season of “prayer, fasting, and self-denial” for the gifts of wisdom and discernment across our Church in the days and months ahead.

Anglican Primates’ Meeting I

February 22, 2007

I’ll take two posts to share some reflections on the recently completed meeting of Anglican Primates in Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania, a “pre meeting” of which I attended and described briefly in an earlier post. The first document Bishops MacPherson, Duncan and I received was the report of the Joint Standing Committee of the Anglican Consultative Council and the Primates. Its topic was an analysis of just how the Episcopal Church’s General Convention had done in responding to the requests in the Windsor Report. Much to Bishop Duncan’s chagrin, it was largely positive!

They said we had made an adequate response to the request for a ‘moratorium’ on the consecration of openly gay bishops. Since our canonical polity does not permit such a moratorium, the General Convention’s request for bishops and Standing Committees to withhold consent to the election of any bishop whose manner of life would cause additional strains within the Anglican Communion seemed to the Joint Standing Committee to be appropriate and adequate.

Since General Convention has never authorized liturgical rites for the blessing of same sex unions, there was no need for Convention to speak on that request from Windsor. However, there is confusion in the Communion because we have acknowedged that such blessings occur in some places “within the bounds of our common life” and therefore they request greater clarification here.

The Episcopal Church’s expression of “regret” for the pain, consternation, and general disruption of the Anglican Communion’s life in the wake of General Convention 2003’s decisions was also deemed satisfactory by the Joint Standing Committee. Obviously, all this is predicated on the Episcopal Church honoring what it has said it will do — withhold consents and not authorize same sex blessings (acknowledging that in the US, as in a number of other parts of the Communion, “pastoral provisions” are made for such unions — something recognized in the Windsor Report itself).  

We were also given a look at a Draft Covenant for the Anglican Communion and proposals from both the Global South Bishops and the “Camp Allen Bishops” (Archbishop Rowan Williams is clearly not happy with the designation “Windsor Bishops” for this group!) concerning alternative episcopal oversight. In my opinion, the draft covenant is a vast improvement over the one contained in the Windsor Report itself. It will undoubtedly go through a number of iterations before reaching a final form — a votable document — but it is a fair attempt and a reasonable place to start.

The Camp Allen Bishops seem to propose that they function as a kind of “panel” of bishops to operate with the Presiding Bishop and with the approval of the appropriate diocesan bishop to provide Delegated Episcopal Pastoral Oversight to congregations out of sympathy with their bishops on these matters. The Global South Bishops obviously intend to continue their extra-canonical interventions until they are assured that such congregations and dioceses receive the kind of “protection” they feel they need within the Episcopal Church.

Again, in my opinion, the Camp Allen Bishops’ proposal — seen in the light of the already-used Delegated Episcopal Pastoral Oversight and Bishop Jefferts Schori’s offer of a “Primatial Vicar” in some cases — may well be something we can work with. Continual intervention by overseas bishops is completely unhelpful and complicates our ability as the Episcopal Church to resolve these issues domestically.

So, I left Dar Es Salaam somewhat encouraged. That was before the Primates’ actual meeting…and certainly before “the Communique.” More on that anon! 

From Ashes To Easter

February 21, 2007

Ash Wednesday 2007. One of the hallmarks of the Episcopal Church – and Anglicanism in general – is the emphasis we place on the public reading of Scripture in the context of corporate and liturgical prayer. Some traditions have put more emphasis on the personal reading of Scripture. Others stress Bible study done in small groups. And we’re certainly not opposed to such use of the Bible! In fact, we could probably use a lot more of those things. And in fact one of things we’re invited to do in Lent is to engage in “reading and meditating on God’s holy Word.”

But our strong suit has been on the daily public reading of Scripture in community. So this (chapel/parish) and in many other congregations and cathedrals and seminaries and monastic communities we schedule Daily Morning and Evening Prayer to be prayed in church, in community, day in and day out. By our observance of the church seasons and the major and minor feast days, we read yet more Scripture in the context of the Holy Eucharist. And it’s in this rich interplay between prayer and the Bible that we believe we most effectively can “hear what the Spirit is saying to God’s people.”

The Liturgy for Ash Wednesday gives us an excellent example of this interplay between prayer and the Bible, between the liturgy and the Scriptures. The Lenten Invitation, which I will extend to you in a few minutes, tells us “what to do” to observe this Holy Season. Today’s Gospel tells us “how to do it.”

After a brief summary of the history of Lent, the invitation is extended: “I invite you, therefore, in the name of the Church, to the observance of a holy Lent, by self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting and self-denial; and by reading and meditating on God’s holy Word.

So, our first Lenten discipline is “self examination and repentance.” This is a season to spend some time looking into our own hearts and souls and minds. And, when we discover things there which may wound the heart of God, to repent – to turn around and go in a new direction, to start over again. But Jesus, in the Gospel according to St. Matthew, cautions us, “Beware of practicing your piety before others, in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven.”

In other words, our self examination and repentance is to be done privately, in the silence of our own hearts – not publicly, to impress others. The Church encourages us – especially in Lent — to take advantage of the sacrament of reconciliation or confession, but even there we unburden our souls to God in the presence of a priest…but quietly and anonymously, not in order to impress someone else.

Secondly, we’re to observe the season of Lent by giving renewed attention to prayer. But Jesus says, “…whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”

That doesn’t mean we should never come to church or engage in liturgical prayer, but it does mean that our deepest and most intense periods of communion with God in prayer may well come in the silence and solitude of our own “monastic cells” wherever they may be… our own prayer corners or places of solitude. And again the caution is never to make a show of our worship or our prayers to impress others.

Next, fasting. That means simplifying our lives by giving up something in solidarity perhaps with the poor of this world who have so very much less than we do. But “…whenever you fast,” Jesus reminds us, “do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting. Truly I tell you they have received their reward. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that your fasting may be seen not by others but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”

This has little or nothing to do with our custom of marking our foreheads with a cross of ashes on this day, but the self-serving, prideful posture of the pharisees among us who want everyone to know just how strict they are…and how hard they are trying to please God! I’ve often said that, if you think you will wear the cross of ashes with a sense of pride, you should wash your face before you ever leave the church. If you are just a bit embarrassed to be marked with the sign of Christ’s cross in this way, you should most certainly wear them all day long – and maybe even to bed, as a spiritual discipline!

Finally, the Church invites us to self-denial. This is not some masochistic, self flagellation but a discipline of knowing how to say “No” to yourself in some little things so that you will have the strength to say “No” to yourself when it really matters! A way to link fasting and self-denial is to estimate the amount of money you save by your fast and give the money to the poor.

And again, Jesus says, “…whenever you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do…so that they maybe praised by others. Truly I tell you they have received their reward. But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your alms may be done in secret, and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”

So, these are our marching orders for Lent, dear friends – “what we are to do.”   Let’s just be sure that we pay equal attention to “how” we carry them out. In the final analysis…that’s all Jesus really cares about anyway! 

Anglican Primates’ “Pre Meeting”

February 20, 2007

Bishop Bruce MacPherson of Western Louisiana and president of the Episcopal Church Presiding Bishop’s Council of Advice; Bishop Robert Duncan of Pittsburgh and head of the Anglican Communion Network; Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, Primate of the Episcopal Church; and I were asked to address some 38 Primates (heads of the various worldwide Provinces of the Anglican Communion) at the start of their meeting in Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania, last week.

Our task was to share our various perspectives on the Episcopal Church’s response to the “Windsor process” and our hopes for the Anglican Communion in the face of deep disagreements on homosexuality, the ordination gay and lesbian persons and the blessing of their committed unions. After lunch with Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams and his assistant, The Rev. Andrew Norman, to clarify our roles and tasks and to review the report of the Joint Standing Committee Report on its persective as to how the Episcopal Church’s General Convention responded to the requests of the Windsor Report, we engaged the Primates in conversation.

Bishop MacPherson expressed the concern of perhaps one-quarter of the Episcopal Church’s House of Bishops that the General Convention’s response had not been adequate and offered, on their behalf, these bishops’ services to provide oversight for congregations out of sympathy with their own bishops over these matters. Bishop Duncan asked for a “wall of separation” and protection (from church discipline and legal action) for such clergy and congregations.

I spoke of the concern of our ecumenical partners, certainly over the issue of homosexuality, but also that the Anglican Communion (the third largest Christian body in the world)  find a way forward together and not “deconstruct” over the disagreements. Finally, Presiding Bishop Jefferts Schori spoke of the forty-year journey the Episcopal Church has been on over these matters and her perspective that outside “invasions” of overseas bishops into the internal life of the Episcopal Church only exacerbated the problem and made it more difficult for us to find solutions as a national church.

After our brief presentations, we engaged the Primates in forty minutes or so of respectful and honest conversation on the issues. Images of a leaking ship, the need for some to rest on the “bosom of the deep” confident of God’s grace, and of others throwing life lines to those who feel like they are drowning all found their way into our discussion! Presiding Bishop Jefferts Schori shared her concern about the violence of some of the images being invoked — drowning, violation, building separation walls, “lobbing grenades at one another.”

In his summation, Archbishop Williams shared his conviction that “building walls” is hardly what Christians are to be all about, according to Ephesians 2. He also spoke of his discomfort with the idea that the Episcopal Church has created a “new faith” (suggested by both Bishop MacPherson and Bishop Duncan). He spoke of his affection for the Episcopal Church and shared a memory of his experience at Trinity Church, Wall Street, just across from the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001.

“For all we knew, ” he said, “those of us huddled in that room were about to die. Someone said, ‘I could peacefully face death in this company of people.’ I thought then — as now — ‘that’s not a bad definition of the Church,'” Rowan said. No indeed.

After a break tomorrow to share some reflections on Ash Wednesday and the begnning of Lent, I shall return to reflection on the Primates’ meeting.



The Ecubishop is back!

February 17, 2007

In case anybody is still reading this little blog, please forgive my absence for a few days. I was asked to represent the Episcopal Church at a “pre meeting” with the Primates of the Anglican Communion in Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania, and e-mail access was very limited.

The other members of our delegation and I were asked not to comment on our participation until after the Primates’ meeting concludes on Monday Feb. 19th and their final press release is made public. I will, of course, honor that here as well.

After that, I will have some things to say about the meeting as it relates to the unity of the Church. Stay tuned!  

The Scandal of Poverty

February 11, 2007

Another interesting outcome of the recent gathering of “Christian Churches Together in the USA” (see earlier posts) was the coming together around a statement of concern on dometic poverty. This might seem to be a “no brainer” (We’re all against poverty!) but the very breadth of churches involved — Roman Catholic, Orthodox, Historic Protestant, Racial/Ethnic, Evangelical/Pentecostal — meant that there were a variety of approaches to the problem.

Some churches are comfortable with advocacy; others prefer to provide direct services (soup kitchens, housing, clothing, etc.) for the poor. Many do both. Some churches in this mix emphasize personal responsibility in working one’s way out of poverty; others focus on society’s corporate responsibility for the plight of the poor and call on government and local communities to act together to address the problem. Some acknowledge both.

However, after months of hard work, an agreed statement (which will soon be released) was crafted, finding consensus in this broad group of Christian leaders. Equally significant, CCT-USA has agreed to hold its next annual meeting in Washington, DC, in 2008 in the run-up to Presidential elections. There will be public events to engage the candidates for the Presidency as to what they intend to do to place the “scandal of poverty” high on their agendas and on the agenda of the nation.     

Despite all our differences as Christians in this country, there is real unity in our awareness of God’s concern for the poor and the responsibility of God’s people to stand with them and to work for the alleviation of those conditions which, even in this wealthiest nation in the world, cause so many (especially women and children) to live in the depths of despair and hopelessness that arise from a life of poverty.

This unity too — especially from so broad a coalition of American churches — is “good news!” 

Ecumenical Evangelism

February 9, 2007

As the five church “families” of Christian Churches Together in the USA met in Pasadena over these last days, we heard very well-done presentations of how each approaches the task of evangelism. Most moving to me was the vulnerability shown by each family in the presence of the others.

I noted that sometimes our very strengths, as Christian communions, also point to our weaknesses. The openness and tolerance of many historic Protestant denominations today, along with their belief in the ultimate sovereignty of God (“God will do what God will do…God will save whomever God pleases…who are we to judge?) may make us timid and tentative in our witness to the Gospel.

The very confidence of the evangelical and pentecostal families in the centrality and necessity of a personal commitment to Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior (“no one come to the Father except by me”) and the exclusive claims that only Christians will be saved may lead to a kind of judgmentalism and narrowness that shuts down rather than opens up the conversation and personal relationships which can mature over time into evangelistic “success.”

The historic reliance of Roman Catholics and the Orthodox in raising their children in the faith, having them grow in grace and understanding over time may be challenged in a culture where fewer people are raising their children in the Faith and where many have never even heard the basic message of the Gospel. How to “present the basic Gospel message” to such people? Churches defined primarily by their racial/ethnic identity may find it difficult truly to welcome in those of other backgrounds — even as the members of these churches have found it difficult, if not impossible, to be welcomed into other churches.      

But these very differences point to the necessity and importance of such ecumenical conversations! By learning from each other and perhaps even finding ways to cooperate in the evangelistic enterprise, maybe we can all find a way to articulate a more coherent expression of the Christian message to a world and society which desperately needs to hear it!  

Living Together In Unity

February 8, 2007

“How very good and pleasant it is when kindred live together in unity!” (Psalm 33)  

Last night, hundreds of people gathered at Pasadena Presbyterian Church to witness leaders of more than 30 Christian communions and organizations sign a “covenant” marking the official launch of the broadest Christian partnership in our nation’s history — Roman Catholics, Orthodox, Historic Protestants, Racial/Ethnic churches, Evangelicals and Pentecostals. It may be instructive just to see the breadth of the fellowship:

AMEN (Alanza de Ministerios Evangelicos Nacionales); American Baptist Churches in the USA, Antiochian Orthodox, Bread for the World, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), Christian Reformed Church, Church of God (Anderson), Church of God of Prophecy, Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, Coptic Orthodox Church, Diocese of the Armenian Orthodox Church in America, the Episcopal Church,

Evangelical Covenant Church, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Evangelicals for Social Action, Free Methodist Church of North America, Friends United Meeting, Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, International Council of Community Churches, Korean Presbyterian Church, Moravian Church in America, National Association of Congregational Christian Churches, National Baptist Convention of America, Inc.

National Baptist Convention, USA, Inc., Open Bible Churches, Orthodox Church in America, Presbyterian Church (USA), Reformed Church in America, the Roman Catholic Church (US Conference of Catholic Bishops), Reformed Church in America, the Salvation Army, Sojourners/Call to Renewal, Syrian Orthodox Church of Antioch, United Church of Christ, United Methodist Church, World Vision.

Though the press may “little note nor long remember” this occasion — since we are getting along and not fighting — it is an historic one. In the next couple of days, I’ll try to share some of what we’ve learned from each other about evangelism…and about how to stand together in the alleviation of poverty.