Archive for September, 2007

Bad News And Better News For The NCC

September 30, 2007

The National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA remains the premier ecumenical entity in this country, made up as it is of Protestant, Orthodox, Anglican, African American, and historic peace churches…among others. The NCC has struggled for years, however, financially, as member communions deal with their own tight budgets and much of the remaining “ecumenical energy” goes into dialogues, full communion relationships, and even interfaith encounters.

The previous General Secretary came to office with a mandate to turn the institution around financially and, in large part, he did so. The problem was it was done by securing grants for specific programs and not for core support of the Council. So, while fully supported grant programs continue unabated, the Governing Board had to slash the staff last week to about 19 in order to avoid busting the budget for this quadrennium…and the next!

In my opinion, the NCC needs to reclaim its vision as a “council of churches” and the denominations need to recommit to their “ownership” of the Council. That may well mean it will be a leaner organization (because we are limited, as communions, as to how much money we can afford) and we may need to do less, but do it better. Primarily, we must re-focus on the goal of church unity and not continue to function primarily as a social action agency, an NGO with ecclesiastical overtones, or a political action committee!

The NCC has a prophetic role to play in society and, historically, it has been on the “side of the angels” with respect to many pressing social problems. But primarily we are to be a visible expression of our yearning for the unity of the Church, working together from a theological and spiritual base. We do not need to have an opinion on everything, but we can and must speak out when we have broad consensus grounded in our common faith.

So, the bad news is the NCC is in trouble. The better news is that it may be a wake-up call to return to our roots, reclaim our original vision, and focus on what we can do well together.

The selection of a new General Secretary — about whom the Search Committee came to consensus last night — should help in this process.

Stay tuned for the announcement…!    

Our Desire To Please You Does In Fact Please You

September 28, 2007

Religious communities in our tradition usually have “Bishop Visitors.” These are bishops who agree to be advisors, encouragers, and friends of the Community. I serve in this capacity for the Community of Transfiguration in Cincinnati and am here to chair the Board of Trustees and Society meeting which occur annually.

It’s hardly a retreat since I am in meetings morning, noon and night and there are often major decisions to be made affecting the life and future of the Community. Yet, the regular round of Morning, Noon, Evening, and Night Prayers and the Daily Eucharist provide a framework which is in itself spiritually refreshing.

St. Benedict writes of days balanced between prayer, work and study and — while that is not easy to achieve even in a monastery — even the attempt to do so beats the hectic pace which consumes most of our daily lives. We closed our Chapter meeting tonight with this great prayer adapted from Thomas Merton:

Our Lord God, we have no idea where we are going.

We do not see the road ahead of us.

We cannot know for certain where it will end.

Nor do we really know ourselves, and the fact that we think we are following your will does not mean that we are actually doing so.

But we believe that our desire to please you does in fact please you.

And we hope that we have that desire in all that we are doing.

We hope that we will never do anything apart from that desire.

And we know that if we do this, you will lead us by the right road though we may know nothing about it.

Therefore will we trust in you always, though we may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death.

We will not fear, for you are ever with us,

and you will never leave us to face our perils alone.

(A great prayer for us as individuals…for our communities…and indeed for the Church at large!)  

House of Bishops – Wednesday Morning

September 26, 2007

In my last post I said something like “Now, over to the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Primates and the ACC.” And it’s a good thing we can take a deep breath and let other  prayerful and thoughtful people in our Communion consider what we have done.

For those who will do their theology by press release (rather than by prayerful thought) this will be a confusing exercise. A sample of today’s headlines:

NY Times: “Episcopal Bishops Reject Anglican Church’s Orders

LA Times: “Episcopal Bishops Provide Restraint”

Washington Post: “Episcopal  Leaders Try to Avoid Schism”

Boston Globe: “Episcopal Leaders Act to Avert A Schism”

The “world” has never understood Anglicanism “comprehensiveness for the sake of truth.” It is my hope and prayer that the “better angels” of Anglicanism’s nature will prevail, that we will all stay at the table for the sake of mission, and that — together — we will continue to be witnesses for Christ in a confusing and broken world.

(By the way, nearly lost in all this, are the statements we made — in support of the people of Louisiana and Mississippi — critical of the government’s response in the wake of Katrina and our continuing work to speak out against the kind of racism and classicism the storm’s fury revealed. Those statements can also be found on our web site

House of Bishops – Day Six – Tuesday

September 26, 2007

I am sometimes amazed by God’s grace.  Consensus was reached on our statement to the wider  Church. There was one negative vote — a liberal.

No one will be happy with all of it, but it is an accurate statement of  where we  are as a House of Bishops today.

Check it out on

Now…over to the Archbishop of Canterberry and the Primates!

House of Bishops – Day Five – Monday

September 25, 2007

A very long day Monday working on our statement to the wider Communion. There was a glitch in communications somehow and, even though our agenda had always said that we would not finish our work until the formal business session on Tuesday, the Joint Standing Committee of the Primates and ACC who are continuing to meet here separately for their regular meeting wanted something yesterday. I argued against changing our process because we do not do our best work under pressure, but the Presiding Bishop was able to give them a sense of where we are heading and I think they appreciated that.

We are now working on two statements — a short, pithy one to answer the specific questions we have been asked to address by the Primates and Joint Standing Committee, and a longer one to contextualize that response and speak to the rest of our experience here in New Orleans. Time is short to get all that done and the writing team has been working night and day with our input and suggested revisions/refinements to the text.

We have most of today (Tuesday) to get this done and I have hope that we will indeed complete our work. It’s a very difficult task, given the diversity of this House, but that very diversity is part of the richness of the Episcopal Church and, at least historically, Anglicanism.

Wish I had time to respond to the many responses (and challenges!) to my posting on Sunday. But, my primary responsibility is to be an active member of this House and not a full-time blogger so I’ll have to demure on that! I invite my readers and corresponders to continue their prayers for me, my colleagues, and our work.

House of Bishops – Day Four – Sunday

September 24, 2007

I presided at the Eucharist and preached at a small mission congregation in the Diocese of Louisiana this morning.  Before the liturgy, I led an adult forum with about 15 folks around a table in the parish hall. After an overview of the House of Bishops meeting and a little bit on our ecumenical relations, I opened the floor for their questions.

Lots of concern about the “September 30 deadline” (which, of course, is not a deadline but as the Archbishop of Canterbury has reminded us “perception is reality” in real life). I spoke of my hopes that we will find a way forward, and then said something like:

“Two things I hope you’ll hold in tension: I want you to be concerned about these larger issues, about the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion, and all the rest of it. But, bottom line, no matter what happens at this House of Bishops meeting, it doesn’t have to derail your local efforts. The cutting edge of our mission and ministry is the local congregation and you need to build a healthy and vital congregation!”

A 40-something big guy, with a red face and tears in his eyes said, “I disagree with you. What happens does affect our local congregation! I invite people but nobody in this part of the world wants to come to a church where, when you open the paper, is all about gay bishops and being thrown out of the world wide communion!”

I conceded that there are local consequences, but reminded him that I was only arguing for some balance in all this…that we shouldn’t be consumed by “the issues” but dedicate ourselves to mission. Then we went on to the predictable argument about “do we believe the Bible or not…why won’t the bishops defend the plain Scriptural truth…why is the Episcopal Church going against worldwide Christian opinion on these matters, etc., etc., etc.”

So, I did what bishops do every Sunday in the 50 minutes we are given in adult forums like this…trying to summarize decades of biblical scholarship, cultural differences, Anglican polity — things which parish clergy should have been doing for years in little places like this! In the end, I think I did OK. They trusted me enough to come to the liturgy, listen carefully to the sermon, receive the sacrament. All in all, it was a good day.

But, over a glass of wine at lunch with the rector and his wife,  I had to confess that I do not know if we can hold this fractious Church together. Where I live, in New York, we bishops will be pilloried if we make any concessions in a conservative direction. An 815 staff person walked out on Katharine Jefferts Schori after she reported on General Convention Resolution B033. It was too conservative.

Finally what we will have to do, over these next two days, is say our prayers…listen deeply to each other…come to a consensus decision which is faithful to what this church is and what this church desires to become…and offer it to the larger Church.

As we said in an earlier communication from this House: all we can offer you is who we are. Not who you might wish we were.

House of Bishops – Day Three – Unity, if only for a day…

September 23, 2007

A wonderful, tiring day in New Orleans.
Busses to a former Walgreen’s Drug Store which will become All Souls’ Episcopal Church in a new church start, post Katrina.

Vans to various worksites.

A FEMA trailor in the front yard. An elderly woman, living there alone. Waiting for her house to be rebuilt.

Four young adults (volunteers) as crew bosses, teaching twelve of us about hanging sheet rock.

Five hours of hot, sweaty, humid work. Masks because of the dust…and mold still remaining in this house.

Measure the space…measure the sheet rock…cut the panel…carry and mount it…secure it with screw guns.

Four and a half hours later…with the young “regulars” and us old one-day volunteers…two rooms completed…clean up.

Others of us in mobile medical units…intaking patients…taking blood pressures…doing diabetes testing…listening…

Vans back to the new church start…a block party, complete with fried chicken, red beans and rice, and a jazz band.

Speech from an African American city council woman, praising the Episcopal Church, the Diocese of Louisiana and (even)  the Archbishop of Canterbury.

Bus ride to the hotel…and a blessed shower…

Mission…however truncated and symbolic…
Unity…if only for a day…

House of Bishops – Day Two

September 22, 2007

Another difficult day. We listened to passionate testimonies from members of the Anglican Consultative Council and several Primates of  the Anglican Communion.  Clearly,  they want more from us than General Convention has said.  We will  certainly not — and cannot — usurp the prerogatives of our synodical form of government including bishops, priests, deacons, and the laity making decisions together.

On the other hand, there are — in our checks and balances system — specific responsibilities given to bishops, as well as to the other orders of ministry. We can give or withhold consent to episcopal ordinations. We can authorize, or refuse to authorize, specific liturgies in our dioceses. We can cooperate, or refuse to cooperate, with “delegated episcopal oversight” in our dioceses. These are among the decisions we will have to make.

After thanking the Archbishop of Canterbury and our other visitors on the floor of the House this morning, I also thanked the House of Bishops Planning Committee for the schedule. Today was not a day to craft a “Mind of the House Resolution” on these matters. Many of us were too angry.
But now we have the weekend to “take a deep breath.” We hang dry wall and paint houses tomorrow. We worship with the people of Louisiana and Mississippi on Sunday.

Monday, the harder work starts…

House of Bishops – Day One

September 21, 2007

Quite a roller coaster of a day yesterday. Our first time, as Episcopal bishops, to meet with the Archbishop of Canterbury to talk face-to-face about our ongoing issues in the Anglican Communion.

We began with a festive Eucharist in the hotel with a great sermon by our Presiding Bishop, Katharine Jefferts Schori and the lusty singing of hymns from “Holy, holy, holy” through “There’s a sweet, sweet Spirit in this place” (and, perhaps surprisingly, there is!) to “O Praise Ye the Lord!”

Then, we entered into table discussions and open plenaries sharing our Hopes and Concerns for this meeting. My hope was that we could find a way to assure the Communion that we will do what General Convention has asked us to do by exercising restraint in consenting to the election of  bishops whose manner of life will produce additional strains on the Communion. My concern is, that nothing we do will be enough for some — in our own House and in the Communion.

The afternoon continued with a brief address by Archbishop Rowan Williams and two questions to wrestle with: how far can we go in accommodating the request of the Primates’ Communique and what kind of “shared episcopal leadership” (within our own House) would we find  possible and helpful. Lots of pain and anguish from all sides in the open discussion which followed. But it was good for Rowan and the other Primates and visitors from across the Communion to see the kind of respectful and thoughtful conversation we can have together.

I learned nothing really new. No conversations we have not had before. But it was good for our overseas colleagues to engage with us. It would  have been helpful for the Archbishop to have done this three years ago.

Last night he preached a brilliant sermon at an ecumenical service at a Convention Center focusing on the plight of New Orleans and the role of Christians in bringing healing, reconciliation, and rebuilding to this city and to the Mississippi Gulf Coast. Each diocesan bishop filed up with an offering (some as large as $10,000) collected by the Bishops of Louisiana and  Mississippi to assist. Tomorrow we will get our hands dirty in some work projects in both dioceses.

It was moving to see the Bishop of Los Angeles and the Bishop of Quincy coming back down the aisle after each making their offering. Mission does indeed unite.

Today, we continue with Bible study led by the Archbishop. And more conversation. May the Word speak in and through the many words…

Unless You Come As A Child

September 17, 2007

In Chicago for (yet another) meeting, I slipped out of the hotel on Sunday morning and took the L train into the city to get to the Eucharist. The church is a famously “anglo catholic” parish known for its good music and full liturgy and I was not disappointed. The simple offertory anthem by Felix Mendelson sung by a solo tenor voice was almost worth the trip!

But, aside from a decent sermon and receiving the sacrament, I was most moved by an unselfconscious gesture  by the rector while distributing communion. There was a sizable group of young people, from toddlers to teenagers, who were ushed down the aisle by their Sunday School teachers to receive communion first.  Baptized children are allowed to receive communion in our church, but some parents still prefer that they wait until confirmation, or at least until first communion classes, so the children receive a blessing at the altar rail rather than the sacrament.

This is done by a simply laying on of a hand and/or marking their foreheads with the sign of the cross while pronouncing a prayer of blessing. What I liked in this case was that the priest lowered himself to one knee in front of each small child he was blessing to that they could see his face and be greeted “on their level.” A simple thing, but it spoke volumes to me about honoring everyone.

It was almost as though, in addition to the logistics of height and access, the priest was genuflecting before “the least of these” which the church values highly. “Suffer the little children to come unto me…”

“Unless you come as a child…”