Archive for May, 2007

In Spirit and Truth

May 29, 2007


Today, we commemorate the first official use of the English Book of Common Prayer. It came into use on the Day of Pentecost 1549. And I think our two texts from Scripture today really are illuminating as to the way Anglicans understand the Prayer Book.

In the Gospel, Jesus is in dialogue with a Samaritan woman and the conversation gets around to worship, and to where and how proper worship ought to be conducted. Jesus concludes his observations like this: “God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” Now, he obviously wasn’t talking about the Book of Common Prayer (although there really are some similarities between it and the synagogue worship with which Jesus would have been familiar!)

No, he was talking about the need for piety, for devotion, for what we sometimes loosely call today “spirituality” in worship. But also the need for “truth” at the heart of worship. “Sincerity” or even “passion” in worship is not enough if you turn out to be worshipping the wrong thing! Our worship is of the true and living God, not just any old god! And yet worship which is absolutely, theologically-correct but has no fervency or passion can be just as absolutely deadly!

You and I have probably experienced both of those modes of worship, perhaps even in services using the Book of Common Prayer (!). But, at its best, the Prayer Book is intended to balance those things. Even though the 1549, or even 1662, Prayer Book would look to us pretty dry and very priest-centered (with much less congregational participation than we will experience today), in its time the Book of Common Prayer was pretty radical in putting the same book into the hands of the people as in the hands of the priest! And, in a language “understanded” of the people as they would have said in those days!

It was, and is, participatory in style and the written prayers beautifully crafted to lift our hearts to God. But it is also truth-full. It’s a theological document as well as a worship guide, and Anglicans have always looked to the Prayer Book almost as much as to Scripture to inform their theology. In fact, much of the Prayer Book is Scripture – verses and passages of Scripture, set forth as prayer.

Our First Lesson today, from Acts, concludes with this familiar line about worship: “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and the prayers.” We know that line from our Baptismal Covenant, but it originally described the activities of the earliest Christians. It is also a fair summary of Prayer Book Christianity! We appropriate apostolic teaching in this church as much by immersing ourselves in worship, listening to the Bible read and expounded upon, singing the hymns and chants, and joining in common prayer as we do in reading theological tomes or memorizing confessional statements.

We engage in fellowship…in communion…in koinonia by coming together Sunday by Sunday and day by day in corporate worship – not only by praying alone in our prayer closets or appreciating God in the beauty of nature.

We participate in the Breaking of Bread, using this Prayer Book. The Holy Eucharist is “the principle act of Christian worship on the Lord’s Day” and Prayer Books have always emphasized that, in one way or another, even when weekly celebrations were less frequent than they are today.

And, of course, the Prayer Book helps us pray! Written prayers are not intended to substitute for, or get in the way of, our personal, extemporaneous prayers. I think Episcopalians are actually a lot more comfortable with that kind of praying today than in the past. But beautiful, time-honored, theologically solid prayers like one finds in the Prayer Book can instruct us about prayer. And make even our personal prayers – if not as beautiful – just as well-grounded.   

So, as we continue to bask in the glow of Pentecost this week, let us give thanks on this day for our Prayer Book heritage. One of the ways we try to observe our Lord’s instruction to “worship in spirit and in truth!”      


Pentecost: How It Might Have Been

May 27, 2007

She always felt better when she could be with his friends.

True, all of them except the young one, John, had deserted him in the end. But she understood that.  She had been afraid too. And she wasn’t even in immediate danger from the Romans like they were. In any case, he had told her just before he died, “Behold your son.” And John, “Behold your mother.” So, clearly,  he wanted her to be part of them.

She really would have preferred to stay in Olivet which is at least a little distance from where it all happened. But, as they gathered there, it was clear that Jerusalem was where he had wanted to go, and Jerusalem was where they must re-assemble.  So, they crept in, over the course of a couple of days…individually, sometimes two by two…and began meeting every evening in that same upper room where they had celebrated Passover.

Now it was the Feast of Weeks, fifty days after the ceremony of the barley sheaf during Passover.  Anciently a harvest festival, marking the beginning of the offering of the first fruits. She had always loved its celebration as a child.  And so had Jesus.  She accepted their invitation to be together that morning.  There were other women there in addition to his brothers and, of course, the Twelve, their number being complete again since the addition of Matthias (who had in any case never been far from their assembly).

They had just begun to dance, and sing the Hallel:”Hallelujah! Give praise you servants of the Lord; praise the Name of the Lord.” (Psalm 113:1) when  the wind picked up.  It first whistled and then howled through the streets  of  the old city. And,  even though they had been careful to secure the door, suddenly the shutters rattled and blew open. Strangely, there was no rain or fog, as one might expect with the wind, but sunshine — bright glimpses of it, illuminating every face around the make-shift “altar-table.”

But they were too caught up in their praise to worry about the open windows now!   The volume of their singing only increased, “Let the Name of the Lord be blessed!  Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to your Name give glory!  How can I repay the Lord for all the good things he has done for me!  I will lift up the cup of salvation…Praise the Lord, all you nations; laud him all your peoples.” (Psalms 113-117, passim)

As was the custom for the Feast of Weeks (or “Pentecost”) the poor and the strangers as well as the priests and Levites were already beginning to gather for the eating of the communal meal which was the culmination of this great agricultural rite.  It was a way to recognize their solidarity as people of the Covenant, across all the natural divisions of life.  And so, people in the streets were from all over the Mediterranean world!

But their diversity was no barrier to understanding God’s praise that day!  She had no idea how it happened. But, no matter what language God’s praise was being spoken or sung, everyone heard it! And everyone understood it! All of them — from east to west, from the different traditions, ethnic Jews and converts.  And when the praises began to abate, Mary saw Peter slowly walk to the open window and, flanked by the other Eleven, he said, “People of Judea and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you…and listen to what I say…” (Acts 2:14)

Anglican – Orthodox

May 25, 2007

                  Agreed Anglican – Orthodox Statement Released

The International Commission for Anglican – Orthodox Theological Dialogue has released The Church of the Triune God, an ecclesiological statement registering considerable agreement over a wide range of issues on the nature and mission of the Church. The introduction to this 117 page document states that “the publication of this Cyprus Agreed Statement concludes the third phase of the Anglican – Orthodox international theological dialogue. It began in 1973…(and) the first phase of the dialogue was concluded by the publication of the Moscow Agreed Statement in 1976. The publication of the Dublin Agreed Statement in 1984 brought its second phase to a conclusion.”

Episcopal Bishop Mark Dyer and Greek Orthodox Metropolitan John (Zizioulas) of Pergamon have been co-chairs of Commission and write in their preface that this statement “is offered to the Anglican and Orthodox churches in the hope that, as it is studied and reflected upon, it will help Christians of both traditions to perceive anew the work of the Triune God in giving life to His Church, and draw us closer to that unity which is His will for all the faithful.”

Sections of the book are entitled The Trinity and the Church; Christ, the Spirit and the Church; Christ, Humanity and the Church; Episcope, Episcopos and Primacy, Priesthood, Christ and the Church; Women and Men, Ministries and the Church; Heresy, Schism and the Church; and Reception in Communion.

I think a lot of folks will be surprised at the level of agreement reached over the years between our two families of churches. There is much to reflect upon in this little book which will be helpful to us, not only ecumenically, but within our own Anglican Communion in these days.

Just so you’ll know: copies are available through the Anglican Communion Office in London or the Office of Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations, 815 Second Avenue, New York, NY 10017.

Praying for Each Other

May 19, 2007

One Sunday during the Easter season, my wife and I attended St. Peter’s Evangelical Lutheran Church in New York City.  It is a “catholic minded” Lutheran church with a good, clean liturgy;  enthusiastic singing; and fine preaching.  In my experience such ELCA parishes are hardly exceptional.

But what struck me most was the introduction to the Prayers of the People which went something like this: “We pray for Benedict, Bishop of Rome; and Bartholomew, the Ecumenical Patriarch; for our Presiding Bishop, Mark; and for Katharine, Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church; for our own  Bishop, Stephen; and for Mark, Bishop of the Diocese of New York.”

I wonder how many Episcopal churches across the country pray for the bishops of their full communion partner, the ELCA, or for neighboring Lutheran congregations; much less demonstrate liturgically an awareness that we are part of the larger Church, east and west, by remembering the leaders of the largest churches in the world?

Precious few, I’m afraid. But we could start.

Ascension: Absence or Presence

May 17, 2007

I’m always struck on Ascension Day by the thought of how confused the apostles must have been! Jesus had been present with them in his earthly ministry, absent (or so it must have seemed) from Good Friday until Easter, present during the forty days, absent again in the Ascension, yet promised to be present again when they were “clothed with power from on high.” (Luke 24:49)

Presence, absence, presence, absence, presence… No wonder they were “gazing up toward heaven…” (Acts 1:10) they had been on an emotional roller coaster!

We too experience such roller coasters along our spiritual journeys. Many of us have experienced the confusion and the fear which comes when we feel the absence of God from our lives. Yet often those “absences” are but preludes to a deeper experience of the “presence.”

Jesus did not ascend to leave us behind. Nor did he really ascend, it seems to me, (as in the older Collect for this day) “so we may in heart and mind there ascend and with him continually dwell.” (Book of Common Prayer, page 226)

 But rather, “Jesus Christ ascended far above all heavens that he might fill all things” (“newer” Collect, BCP, page 226).  Jesus “ascended” that he might no longer be bound by time and space, but present to his people at all times and in all places.

On this day, let us ask God to “give us faith to perceive that, according to his promise, he abides with his Church on earth, even to the end of the ages…” (ibid).        

Jesus and the Farm Bill

May 14, 2007

Jesus came from farming country in the northern part of Palestine. The land is fertile and crops grow well there. I remember sitting on a hillside once looking down on some farmland up in the Galilee, and thinking how much it looked like some parts of the Midwest! And, while we think Jesus grew up in a town, perhaps not far from the “big city” of Sepphoris, he would have been surrounded by farmers and farm land.

That undoubtedly accounts for the frequency of agricultural images he uses – such as those in today’s Gospel – about scattering seed (“broadcasting” as it is known) and about the mystery of life and growth which all good farmers understand. Farming is not all about technique and expertise. A lot of it depends on geography and on the cycles of weather – God’s grace…or
Providence…or good luck (depending on your theology!)

In any event, harvests are often unpredictable and a yield of abundant crops is always an occasion for gratitude and for celebration.  Farmers know something about such things. Which, I suppose, is why the Church sets aside the Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday before Ascension Day and calls them “Rogation Days.” Days on which we “ask” – ask for fruitful seasons, ask for a blessing on commerce and industry, and commit ourselves to be good stewards of creation.

It was a lot easier for me to get “into” the Rogations Days when I was the Bishop of Iowa! Every week I drove hundreds of miles through fields of corn and soybeans and watched the natural cycles of plowing and seedtime and harvest, and of letting some fields lie fallow for re-creation. Most of us in big cities are far removed from such considerations – and it is no joke than many of our children think that fruit and vegetables spring forth, full grown, from the grocery shelves at Gristedes!

But we can be involved in agriculture. Even here in the city. And we can make a difference. Our church is trying to make a difference. According to a recent ENS press release: “As Congress begins the work of reauthorizing the US farm bill, more than a dozen Churches and faith based organizations, including the Episcopal Church, have come together…to urge major changes in US agricultural policy aimed at reducing hunger and poverty, and promoting the livelihood of farmers and rural communities in the US and around the world.”

“The ‘Religious Working Group on the Farm Bill’ which includes Christian denominations, major faith based organizations and the National Council of Churches…has developed a statement of legislative principles for farm bill reform.” According to those principles, the 2007 farm bill should:

*Increase investments that combat rural poverty and strengthen rural communities

*Strengthen and expand programs that reduce hunger and improve nutrition in the US

*Strengthen and increase investment in policies that promote conservation and good stewardship of the land


*Provide transitions for farmers to alternative forms of support that are more equitable and do not distort trade in ways that fuel hunger and poverty


*Protect the health and safety of farmworkers


*Expand research related to alternative, clean and renewable forms of energy


*Improve and expand international food aid in ways that encourage local food security.”     (April 24, 2007)

It’s too soon to know how fully the new farm bill will incorporate these principles but, as the former bishop of a rural diocese, I’m grateful to our church for such efforts.

I invite your prayerful support of such principles. Maybe we can do that by offering once again the prayer for this Rogation Monday:

“Almighty God, Lord of heaven and earth: We humbly pray that your gracious providence may give and preserve to our use the harvests of the land and of the seas, and may prosper all who labor to gather them, that we, who are constantly receiving good things from your hand, may always give you thanks; through Jesus Christ our Lord…”

An Anglican Covenant

May 12, 2007

Some of us are working on initial responses to the Draft Covenant for the Anglican Communion.  This “covenant” is one of the ways forward proposed by the Primates of the Anglican Communion to hold our fragile worldwide family together. I am basically supportive of such a process — not because I want the Episcopal Church, or the Anglican Communion, to become a “confessional church” bound together by narrow statements of belief (other than the Creeds!) — but because I have seen how effective ecumenical “covenants,” concordats, and agreements can be in establishing full communion relationships.

I would cite, for example, the Bonn Agreement with the Old Catholics, the Concordat between the Episcopal Church and the Philippine Independent Church, or “Called To Common Mission” with the Evangelical Church in America. They are relatively brief; define common doctrine in broad, basic strokes; and open up the possibility for common mission in the name of Christ.

I do have some concerns. The name “covenant” seems a bit lofty for this effort. A covenant is something God initiates, not Primates. However, that train is already rolling down the track so the term “covenant” may just have to stand.

I think the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral should be named in its entirety in any such Covenant and — with its emphasis on  Scripture, the Creeds, the dominical Sacraments, and the historic episcopate — should be sufficient as doctrinal statements. If those things are adequate to establish full communion relationships with other Christian bodies, they should be sufficient for us to hold in communion.

Secondly, one of the geniuses of Anglicanism is that we are “episcopally led, but synodically governed.” That means, in this instance, that if any of the four so-called “instruments of unity”  (The Archbishop of Canterbury, the Lambeth Conference, the Anglican Consultative Council, and the Primates’ Meeting), it should be the ACC. That is because only the ACC, of all these bodies, is made up of lay persons, bishops, priests, and perhaps even a deacon or two.

The mind of Christ is to be discerned in the Body of Christ and the Body of Christ is made up of all the ministers of the Church not only bishops!
Finally, while a process of “mutual affirmation and admonition”  (terms found in certain ecumenical agreements) probably need to be part of this Covenant, steps for exclusion or marginalization need not be. We certainly need a clear process for vetting major decisions which will effect the whole Communion by the whole Communion and we need processes for feedback and dialogue. We do not, in my opinion, need “excommunication” as a tool for closing off debate.

Again, the genius of Anglicanism has been our ability to remain together in Word and Prayer and Sacrament…and in common mission…while allowing wide space for theological diversity, cultural adaptation, and freedom for the local church (read, “diocese”…and then “province”).

I believe that Anglican experiment is worth working for. We already have one branch of Western Catholicism with a top-down, infallible head. We know that it “works” (after a fashion!). Orthodoxy and Anglicanism have always offered another way.

Let’s not give up on it because it is messy!

Turning The Random Into The Real

May 9, 2007

This morning, in the beautiful Swiss countryside just outside Geneva, World Council of Churches’ ecumenical officers are meeting at the Ecumenical Institute at Bossey. Our topic is “ecumenical formation” and just how we intend to raise up a new generation of ecumenists.

And, we began our day with Morning Prayer in the little stone chapel at the center of this educational institute associated with the University of Geneva. Among the prayers were these:

L:  Before the world began, when everything was shapeless, You were there…

Hovering over chaos, planning the texture, the taste, the sight and the sound of things,

Balancing the opposites, weaving the rainbow,

Turning the random into the real.

A:  And for this we praise you.

L:  Before we began, when, in the womb, we were shapeless, you were there…

Calling us your own, planning our nature and the novelty in us,

Weaving our potentials, making us unique,

Turning the random into the real,

A:  And for this we praise you.

L:  And even now, Now when we dream dreams or puzzle over the future;

Now, when our ideals are challenged and the second best becomes attractive, you are there.

Upsetting our easiness, contradicting our compromises,

Replacing our narrow vision with the sight and sound and taste of a better life,

Picking up the loose stitches of our devotion,

Turning the random into the real.

A:  And for this we praise you.

L:  And it always will be so. For you did not say you were the answer, you said you were the way;

You did not ask us to succeed, you asked us to be faithful;

You did not promise us paradise tomorrow, you said you would be with us to the end of the world.

Turning the random into the real.

A:  And for all this we praise you, now and forever. Amen!    

Global Ecumenism

May 4, 2007

Tomorrow, I board a Swiss Air liner for Geneva and a meeting of ecumenical officers of the World Council of Churches. This historic Council, formed after World War II out of the same spirit as the United Nations in the belief that global cooperation was indeed possible, has had its ups and downs in recent years. However, there is no broader body of Orthodox and Protestant Christians in the world. And it is important for us to meet, learn from each other, and share what each of us is doing in our own nations and communions. 

The following recent statement from the General Secratary of the WCC should prove instructive:

Churches rediscovering the biblical call to unity and caring for life together is the World Council of Churches’ vision for re-invigorating ecumenism in the 21st century, according to Rev. Dr Samuel Kobia, the general secretary of the WCC.

Speaking to leaders of Churches Together in Britain and Ireland (CTBI) in Birmingham on 2 May, Kobia outlined his understanding of what faces the global ecumenical movement in the 21st century, and how the World Council of Churches intends to respond.

In the contemporary ecumenical landscape, it seems that the original “vigour, energy and commitment to ecumenism got lost,” Kobia observed. “The search for visible unity of the church is no longer a priority for churches and Christian World Communions who centre on their particular identities,” he said. Nevertheless, he argued, “We cannot compromise or hide our conviction that Christ himself wants the churches to be one so that the world may believe.”

Given this biblical call behind the churches’ search for unity, the WCC needs to assure those who have lost confidence and trust in ‘conciliar’ ecumenism in general and the World Council in particular that “we respect their needs and want to facilitate the best possible ways for them to discover and to develop the ecumenical dimension of Christian faith within their own communities and in fellowship with other churches”.

New programmes, activities

With that in mind, the WCC reshaped its work after its Ninth Assembly in 2006. Kobia noted that the WCC’s programmes now have three main foci:

Living out Christian unity more fully. WCC member churches are called to seek unity and to work and witness together. The Council’s activities for the years ahead are focused on working together for visible unity, new forms of mission, and providing space for deepening relationships and broader participation.

Being neighbours to all. This phrase in the Ninth Assembly’s message conveys the idea that, in the WCC, churches advocate for the good of all and, with their neighbours, address threats to the human ‘household’. Efforts will focus on working together to overcome threats that divide the human community, and on the pursuit of peace and the common good through living out shared values of justice and equality.

Taking greater care of creation. Churches in the WCC are committed to protecting the earth as well as its peoples. In this area, churches will work together to promote the culture and the practices of sustaining life.

These three foci are not the World Council’s organizational structure, Kobia said, but “a way of understanding all its programmes and projects.” He also stressed that “it is the participation of the churches and other partners that gives legitimacy” to the Council’s work and “makes it effective and powerful”.

In this regard, Kobia acknowledged “with thanks to God what has been already achieved” by the churches of the UK and Ireland. These churches “have made important contributions to the global ecumenical movement,” while their ecumenical instruments have “enriched the life of the churches and enabled them to engage with society more effectively,” he said.

Kobia encouraged CTBI member churches to participate in the preparation of an Ecumenical Declaration on Just Peace, to be issued in May 2011 at the International Ecumenical Peace Convocation which will mark the culmination of the Decade to Overcome Violence.

The WCC general secretary is nearing the end of a 24 April – 4 May visit to the UK and Ireland.

More information on Kobia’s visit to England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland, including a detailed schedule


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© 2007 World Council of Churches

Abraham’s Tent

May 2, 2007

What an amazing experience tonight! The Standing Commission on Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations, meeting at a conference center near Omaha, Nebraska, heard from a group of local interfaith partners with an astounding dream.

An 800 family Reformed Jewish temple needed to relocate from an older city building to the growing suburbs. A visionary president of the synagogue reached out to a growing Islamic center to see if they might be thinking about building a mosque in the same area. Both of them then contacted the Roman Catholic Church (the largest Christian communion in Omaha) who turned them down flat.

Their next stop was the Episcopal Diocese of Nebraska which was looking to start a new mission congregation in this burgeoning area. The interest was immediate and converations began in earnest!

They are now looking for property on which to build three worship sites and a “middle building” tentatively called “Abraham’s tent” which can be a gathering space, coffee shop, educational and outreach center for the larger community. They are clear that each community needs to tend to its own internal needs of formation, nurture, “life cycle” issues like births and marriages and funerals and more.

So there is “enlightened self interest” driving a common effort. But engaging in that common effort has forged bonds of friendship and even love between people of different, but vibrant, faiths. And “dialogue” has happened — not in the sterile environment of the classroom or conference center — but in the context of a shared dream and hard, painstaking work!

I believe this is a vision for the future which could be duplicated in countless communities across our land. We are told that Abraham kept all four sides of his tent wide open, the better to see and welcome the stranger. These courageous children of Abraham are his worthy descendents. Join me in praying that Abraham’s God and ours may richly bless their endeavors!

For the sake of the world!