Archive for October, 2007

Responding to the Draft Anglican Covenant

October 31, 2007

At its recent meeting, the Executive Council of The Episcopal Church received and approved its writing team’s response to the Draft Anglican Covenant the development of which is suggested by the Windsor process. The full text is at 

I am actually quite pleased with most of it! Not least, I suppose, because it incorporates most of what I submitted to the committee as my personal response and concerns!   See my input below:                

 Responding to the Draft Anglican Covenant   Question:  

 (1) Do you think an Anglican Covenant is necessary and/or will help to strengthen the

interdependent life of the Anglican Communion? Why or why not?

 Depending on the form and substance of such a Covenant, I believe it could be helpful. Just as we have entered into simple covenants ecumenically (the Bonn Agreement, Called to Common Mission, etc.) we should be able to craft one for the Anglican Communion.  

“An Introduction to a Draft Text for an Anglican Covenant”

This part of the report presents an initial theological introduction to the Draft Covenant

which is to follow immediately afterwards. Its focus is on the nature of communion that

we Anglicans share.

(2) How closely does this view of communion accord with your understanding of the

development and vocation of the Anglican Communion?

 The third paragraph of “An Introduction to a Draft Text for an Anglican Covenant” makes adequate reference to Scripture and Tradition but, once again, omits any inclusion of the third leg of the famous Anglican triad – Reason. The Windsor Report was similarly deficient.  

“An Anglican Covenant Draft”

1. Preamble

Section one is the Preamble and sets out the rationale for an Anglican Covenant.

(3) Is this a sufficient rationale for entering into a Covenant? Why or why not?

 I think so and particularly the phrase maintaining “the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”  

2. The Life we Share

Section two seeks to articulate aspects of the faith and order shared by all of the churches

of the Anglican Communion. Note that Items 2-3, affirm the first three points of the

Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral, specifically: the Holy Scriptures, the creeds, and the

sacraments of baptism and Eucharist.

(4) Do these six affirmations adequately describe The Episcopal Church’s understanding

of “common catholicity, apostolicity, and confession of faith”? Why or why not?

 Why not simply use the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral in its entirety for this section?  

(5) The Thirty-nine Articles of Religion and the 1662 Book of Common Prayer (of the

Church of England) are not currently authoritative documents for The Episcopal Church.

Do you think they should be? Why or why not?

 No. Both the 39 Articles and the 1662 BCP reflect perspectives and battles of the 16th century Reformation and, as such, are not timeless documents. The Articles are in the right place in our Prayer Book: Historical Documents. The drafters may think this is covered by the phrase “…led by the Holy Spirit, it has borne witness to…” but I think this is not clear.  

The Covenant could simply say, “…Christian truth in its historic formularies, the Book of Common Prayer, and the various Ordinals.”

3. Our Commitment to Confession of Faith

Section three posits five specific commitments of each Church in the Anglican

Communion based upon the faith and order described in part 2.

(6) Is each of these commitments clear and understandable with respect to what is being

asked of the member churches and are they consistent with statements and actions made

by the Episcopal Church in the General Convention? Why or why not?

 No, Number 1 is very problematic with developments in our understanding of divorce and remarriage, homosexuality, perhaps even the ordination of women.Number 2 is OK.Number 3 is OK in that includes bishops and synods and “building on our best scholarship”Numbers 4 and 5 are OK. 

4. The Life we Share with Others

Section four outlines some common elements of the Anglican Communion as we seek to

work together in service to God’s mission in the world. Note the vision articulated here

is consistent with that offered by the Inter-Anglican Standing Commission on Mission

and Evangelism in their report to ACC XIII “A Communion in Mission” and underscores

the “Five Marks of Mission”5 articulated by the Anglican Consultative Council at their

meetings of 1984 and 1990.

 (7) Is the mission vision offered here helpful in advancing a common life of the Anglican

Communion and does this need to be a part of the Draft Covenant? Why or why not?

Yes, I actually think this is very important section on mission. It is the best part of the entire Draft Covenant in my estimation. 

5. Our Unity and Common Life

Section five describes some of the structural aspects of an emerging polity (the

organizing of our common life) of the Anglican Communion. Note the first affirmation

picks up the fourth point of the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral – the historic episcopate.

The second affirmation, involving paragraphs 2-6 of this section, concerns the “mutual

loyalty and service” to which the several churches of the Communion are called and thus

lays out an understanding of the role of four “Instruments of Communion” (the

Archbishop of Canterbury, the Lambeth Conference, the Anglican Consultative Council,

and the Primates Meeting).

(8) Does this section adequately describe your understanding of the history and

respective roles of the “Four Instruments of Communion”? Why or why not?

 No, it does not give attention to the recent development of these “Instruments.”They may be very good, or even essential, but they are still evolving and that needs to be acknowledged.  The description of the Archbishop of Canterbury is OK.The Lambeth Conference is a conference – not an instrument to “guard the faith and unity of the Communion.”The Primates’ Meeting is a meeting. Mutual support and counsel,  yes. Monitoring global developments, fine. But what does it mean to “work in full collaboration in doctrinal, moral and pastoral matters that have Communion-wide implications?” Too much power here in the hands of a few bishops/primates.The Anglican Consultative Council definition is too weak. If any instrument is to be strengthened it should be the ACC.    

6. Unity of the Communion

The churches of the Anglican Communion are mutually responsible and interdependent

but autonomous. To date there has not been an “executive” or “judicial” body for

resolving disagreements or disputes.

 The Draft Covenant proposes a new process by which the Instruments of Communion

can be both supported and utilized when areas of disagreement and/or difficulties

between churches in the Anglican Communion arise.

 Section six also refers to “a common mind about matters of essential concern. . .”

(9) Do you think there needs to be an executive or judicial body for resolving

disagreements or disputes in the Anglican Communion? If so, do you think it should be

the Primates Meeting as recommended by the Draft Covenant? Explain.

 No. There probably needs to be a point of reference outside the Provinces, but it should be the ACC, made up of lay persons, bishops, priests and deacons – not the Primates. 

(10) What does the phrase “a common mind about matters of essential concern. . .”

mean to you?

 Well, clearly, we all seek the mind of Christ. Corporate discernment takes time and we may need to learn the value of consensus before taking decisions that threaten to be communion-dividing.    

7. Our Declaration

The final section is a proposed signatory declaration by which each church of the

Anglican Communion would commit to this proposed Covenant.

(11) Can you affirm the “fundamental shape” of the Draft Covenant? Why or why not?

 Yes, with some major tweaking of language as indicated above. 

(12) What do you think are the consequences of signing such a Covenant as proposed in

the Draft?

 I think we will give up a certain amount of autonomy for the sake of interdependence. However, if we want to be taken seriously as a global communion, something like this will have to happen sooner or later. The devil is in the details and we have to be very careful and consult fully with our closest partners – Canada, New Zealand, Scotland, Ireland, Brazil, etc. However, I think the time has come for something like this.  

 Concluding Questions:

(13) Having read the Draft Covenant as a whole do you agree with the CDG’s assertion

that “nothing which is commended in the draft text of the Covenant can be said to be

‘new’”? Why or why not?

 I do not agree with that statement. There is much that is “new” here for Anglicanism. It may be evolution of the Communion and necessary, but it is new.  

(14) In general, what is your response to the Draft Covenant taken as a whole? What is

helpful in the draft? What is not-helpful? What is missing? Additional comments?

The Preamble is helpful.

  1. The Life We Share – should replace sections (2) and (3) with the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral in its entirety.  Section (5) should either be omitted or refer to “historic formularies such as the 39 Articles of Religion, the Book of Common Prayer, and the various Ordinals of the Provinces.”
  2. Our Commitment to Confession of the Faith is helpful.
  3. The Life We Share with Others is very helpful.
  4. Our Unity and Common Life is largely not helpful. Work needs to be done on this. The Primates are given too much authority; the ACC not enough.
  5. Unity of the Communion is not helpful. I would prefer to see “matters in serious dispute” be taken up by all 4 Instruments of Communion, as a kind of checks and balances system. Again, the ACC should have the central role here – since it is a somewhat representative body and could become more so in the future.
  6. Our Declaration is helpful.

  Additional comments: We should fully engage in this process, consult broadly, and make our contribution to the shaping of this Covenant. Then, if at all possible, we should sign it.     


Mission Covenants

October 28, 2007

“The Primates and provincial secretaries of Iglesia Anglicana de la Region Central de American (IARCA), La Iglesia Anglican de Mexico, Igreja Episcopal Anglicana do Brasil, and the Episcopal Church in the Philippines, along with Bishop Edward W. Neufville of the Episcopal Church of Liberia and Sandei Cooper, Liberian diocesan treasurer, addressed the council during its October 27 afternoon plenary session.”

The above line from Episcopal News Service summarizes what was a pretty amazing day at our Executive Council meeting in Detroit. I call this web log “That We All May Be One” and the topics usually revolve around the ecumenical movement for church unity or efforts to preserve the unity of our Anglican Communion.

What must never be forgotten, however, is the unity in mission we already enjoy with so many overseas partners. In addition to our dioceses in Central America and South America, Taiwan, and Europe who are full members of our House of Bishops and General Convention (therefore part of The Episcopal Church) the dioceses listed in the first paragraph above have special covenantal links with The Episcopal Church, receive some level of support from us, and enrich us in return by their faithfulness in mission.

The amazing stories of such mission in war-torn (now “post war”) Liberia were particularly moving, but the commitment and zeal of our covenant partners in Central America, Mexico, Brazil and the Philippines also inspired and encouraged us.

Whatever “Anglican Covenant” we may eventually come up with (and a special task force of Executive Council has written a very thoughtful response to that Covenant Process — about which more, soon),  let us pray that it can be mission-focused like the covenants we have with the churches listed above. Most of them are not so much interested in some kind of “confessional statement” which has the potential of defining some of us “in” and some of us “out” of the Anglican Communion.

Rather, they (and we) hope for a Covenant which can facilitate the mission to which we are called. God’s mission of reconciliation…in all the world! 


Diversity in Unity

October 23, 2007

On the Feast of St. James of Jerusalem we read a selection from Acts 15 in which he presides over what has come to be called the “Council of Jerusalem.” The issue, of course, is whether or how to accept Gentiles, alongside Jews, into the early Church.

We still use scriptural accounts like this to help us wrestle with contentious issues in the Church today. Let me share a brief selection from “To Set Our Hope On Christ” — the little book submitted as part of The Episcopal Church’s response to the Windor Report. Referring to Acts 15, the authors wrote:

“The point of these accounts in Acts is that a particular part of the Church (Peter and his friends) has an experience of the Spirit that prompts them to question and reinterpret what they would previously have seen as a clear commandment of Scripture, not to associate with a particular group of people who were considered unclean.  After careful deliberation and much discussion (Acts 10-15) the Church as a whole agrees.”

“Not everyone agrees, however. The New Testament itslef reflect a number of patterns of Christian life with varying degrees of openness to Gentiles — Paul and Mark reflect clear openness while Matthew and Revelation are more guarded. What seems to have convinced the rest of the Church is Peter’s  credibility as a witness (on behalf of Cornelius and the rest) that the gifts of the Holy Spirit were indeed present among [the Gentiles], that that they were living lives of holiness, understood differently, but holy lives nonetheless.  The Church as a whole gradually shifted its position, but only after careful reflection. In the meantime, there was room for a diversity of lifestyles, which were all understood as committed to seeking holiness in the Lord.”

“In summary, these reflections on the Scriptural witness to early Christian life highlight two crucial features of our tradition.  First, we have always believed that God opens hearts and minds to discover yet deeper dimensions of Christ’s saving power at work, far beyond our limited power to conceive it.”

“Second, tradition tells us that by God’s grace we ought not to let discouragement at disagreements jeopardize our common work for God’s misssion in the world. If God the Holy Spirit can hold the early followers of Jesus Christ together, even when they disagreed over so central a question as who might come within the reach of the Savior’s embrace, then surely we must not let Satan turn our differences into divisions.”

“May we hold [those differences] all the more humbly before Christ, that he may bless our proclamation of the Gospel in all the many and differing places and conditions of the whole human family.” (To Set Our Hope On Christ, pages 15-17)

May we indeed do that. Hold our differences humbly before Christ.  And let us pray for the leaders of the Church today that they may be granted the wisdom and abilities of St. James of Jerusalem, Brother of our Lord Jesus Christ, and Martyr!    

Real But Imperfect Communion

October 21, 2007

Sometimes Anglicans and Roman Catholics are described as experiencing a “real but imperfect communion” in their relationship because of the many things we share…and yet the many differences which have developed during the 400-plus years of our separation. That kind of communion is never more evident for me than when the Anglican – Roman Catholic dialogue in the United States (ARC-USA) gathers for its twice a year meetings.

We just completed the final meeting of this round in the Washington DC area. We began on Thursday October 18 with a public lecture at Georgetown University in which two longtime participants shared their perspectives on the contributions of the dialogue over some four decades. Dr. Ellen Wondra, Professor of Theology at Seabury-Western Theological Seminary in Evanston, Illinois, and Fr. Frank Sullivan, SJ, former Professor at the Gregorian Institute in Rome and later Boston College brought fascinating perspectives and hopefully those remarks will be published in the not-too-distant future.

The evening continued with a poignant Liturgy of the Hours and Office of the Dead offered in memory of Fr. George H. Tavard, A.A. — another longtime member of ARC-USA who died unexpectedly this year in a Paris airport. Bishop Ted Gulick of the Episcopal Diocese of Kentucky preached the homily and co-officiated with Bishop Edward Clark, Auxiliary Bishop of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles. We were all then hosted by Georgetown University with a lovely reception in the Hall of Cardinals (surrounded by — usually austere! — portraits of Jesuit cardinals staring down at us from the walls.)

Our meeting then shifted to the Virginia Theological Seminary where two days of hard work allowed us to complete a brief educational piece for Spanish-speaking Episcopal and Roman Catholic congregations, setting out the similarities and differences between our two churches and the fruits of our many years of ecumenical dialogue. Once translation is completed this brochure will receive wide distribution in both churches.

We were also able to complete a joint response to the relatively new text “Mary: Grace and Hope in Christ” crafted by the Anglican – Roman Catholic International Comission (ARCIC), our colleagues on the international level. Once again, this response along with MGHC itself and two fine commentaries (one Anglican, one Roman Catholic) will be available soon.

As always we participated morning and evening in the Daily Office of our two churches and celebrated the Eucharist together each day, alternating the Episcopal and Roman Catholic rites and respecting the disciplines of our two churches with respect to sharing the Sacrament. (We serve as lectors and intercessors at the other’s Mass and come forward for a blessing at the time of Communion; the Roman Catholics do the same for us). Painful…but honest as to where we are right now on the journey.

There were many tears this time as the new round of talks beginning in 2008 will bring on new participants and take on a fresh topic.  There was no doubt in anyone’s mind that we could each join in this prayer for each other — a prayer that was the primary reading at George Tavard’s service:

“We always give thanks to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, in our prayers for you because we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and the love you bear toward all the saints — moved as you are by the hope held in store for you in heaven.  You heard of this hope through the message of truth, the gospel, which has come to your, has borne fruit, and has continued to grow in your midst, as it has everywhere in the world.” (Colossians 1:3-6a)      

A Spotless Offering

October 17, 2007

We celebrate the Feast of St. Ignatius of Antioch today. He is really one of the genuine heroes of the early Church. The second bishop of Antioch in Syria, he was martyred in the year 115 and yet his primary teaching comes down to us in the form of seven letters he wrote while under arrest and journeying toward his own death. I think he wrote six of them to churches and a seventh to Polycarp, another martyr-bishop.

Ignatius fulfilled quite literally both our Lessons from Scripture today: St. Paul’s powerful words in Romans about nothing being able to separate us from the love of Christ – even “death nor life, nor angels, nor rulers…nor anything else.”  And Jesus’ image of the grain of wheat falling into the ground and dying…only later to bear much fruit. Surely Ignatius’ life and death are testimonies to that!


Some of his words sound a bit over the top to modern ears, even though we would still embrace the underlying theology: “You should all follow the bishop as Jesus Christ did the Father,” he says, “Follow, too, the presbyters as you would the apostles; and respect the deacons as you would God’s law.” We would probably want to add something about the laity in all that richness….something about the community of the baptized and the Body of Christ being made up of many members with a diversity of gifts but the same Spirit.

Yet some of Ignatius’ other comments have a strikingly contemporary ring. In speaking against a kind of mindless fundamentalism he writes: “When I hear some people say, if I don’t find it in the ancient documents, I don’t believe it…To my mind, it is Jesus Christ who is the ancient documents.” An early way of saying that, while the Bible is the Word of God derivatively, Jesus Christ is the Word of God incarnate – the Word made Flesh! 

And while today some biblical scholars may have a tendency to overemphasize the humanity of Jesus at the expense of his divinity, it was the other way around in some parts of the 2nd century Church. To the Gnostics, who were all about Jesus’ divine nature, Ignatius writes that Jesus was “…of David’s lineage, of Mary; who was really born, ate, and drank; was really persecuted under Pontius Pilate; was really crucified and died in the sight of heaven and earth and the underworld…” He wanted the Gnostics to know that this Jesus was both God and Man!

You and I may not be able to imagine bearing the kind of heroic witness to Christ that this man bore. But at this very moment, we are heeding one of Ignatius’ chief commands. “Try to gather more frequently,” he wrote to his people, “to celebrate God’s Eucharist and to praise him,” And so we do this, Sunday by Sunday, and day by day.

And – in doing so — we pray, in the words of today’s Collect, that God may “…Accept…the willing tribute of our lives and give us a share in the pure and spotless offering of your Son Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns…for ever and ever.” Amen.


A Kingdom Divided

October 14, 2007


Two very dark readings from Holy Scripture last Friday. The first, from the prophet Joel, which we usually read on Ash Wednesday, is a call to repentance and prayer, asking God to save his people from the day of destruction (Joel  1:13-15, 2:1-2).

 The Gospel reading from Luke is about people accusing Jesus of being an agent of Satan when he casts out demons (Luke 11:14-26)! These two Lessons are about as far removed from the “real world” that we live in as you can imagine!  Or are they? 

Thousands of Americans participated last Monday in an interfaith “fast for peace and an end to the war in Iraq.” The idea originated, I think, from Arthur Waskow – a progressive rabbi very involved in interfaith dialogue. It was picked up by the National Council of Churches and by Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus and people of no faith at all. In some communities the breaking of the fast was observed at Islamic centers with an “iftar” dinner on the “Night of Power,” holiest night in Ramadan.

I had to participate in it rather privately since I was at Kanuga for a small church conference. But then, Jesus says something about doing your prayer and fasting privately so as not to bring attention to yourself, so I felt OK about that. Fasting is an ancient spiritual discipline shared by many of the world’s religions. It seems to add “seriousness” (for lack of a better word) to our prayers and also allows us to experience (if only symbolically) the reality most people in this world live with every day – hunger and thirst.

So, Joel’s announcing of a fast does have contemporary relevance. But what about this strange story of Jesus and the demons?   Well, at its core, the story is about a man being so misunderstood and so misinterpreted by people consumed with fear that he is accused of evil when all he’s trying to do is good! These people were so frightened of the evil forces they felt within themselves and others that they could only assume Jesus’ power somehow came from his being in league with the Devil.

He points out the folly of that argument basically by saying that “any kingdom divided against itself cannot stand.” In other words, look at the results of what I’m doing! If the results are positive and you can begin to see glimpses of the Kingdom of God in my life and ministry, how can you say I’m being motivated by the Evil One?

In the final analysis, that’s all any of us can do. Even if people misunderstand you and ascribe motivations that are actually contrary to what you’re trying to do, you have to rely on the eventual outcome. If the fruit ultimately turns out to be good, then the tree is good. If not, then – and only then – can it be judged to be rotten.

While waiting for those fruits to emerge, we can be sustained by the words of the Psalmist: “…you have maintained my right and my cause; you sit upon your throne judging right…as for the enemy, they are finished, in perpetual ruin… But the Lord is enthroned for ever…It is he who rules the world with righteousness; he judges the people with equity.” (Psalm 9)



Deacons and Evangelists

October 11, 2007


Some of us have just returned from the Kanuga Conference Center in North Carolina where we participated in a gathering entitled “Creative Sacramental Leadership in the Small Congregation.” It was sponsored by our Office of Congregational Development with Suzanne Watson providing the primary leadership. It was well attended and brought together ministry developers and others from all over the country. Keynoters included a bishop from Canada, an area missioner from New England, an Archbishop from New Zealand, and our own Presiding Bishop.

The Chaplain for the conference – The Rev. Susan Snook – used our “saint for today” (St. Philip, Deacon and Evangelist) as a kind of guiding light for the daily meditations and reflections in our worship. And she focused on the various Scriptural references to  Philip – from his calling as one of “the Seven” chosen to assist the Apostles in feeding the neglected Greek-speaking widows of Jerusalem… all the way through his ministry to the Ethiopian eunuch recounted in our first reading from Acts today and beyond.

The Presiding Bishop preached on that text at the closing Eucharist for our conference and pointed out that deacons in the early Church were not simply “servants” as we sometimes want to define them today. Beginning with the “proto deacons” in Acts – people like Philip and Stephen – they preached, they baptized, they reached out to the poor, and they became administrators in the early church, working closely with the bishops.

And she pointed out the role of deacons is to be leaders in such “diaconal ministry” for all of us! Their primary work is not “in the Church” but in the world.” My wife, who is a deacon, often points out that the deacons’ ordination vows do not say that they are called to “interpret the needs of the world to the church and the church to the world” as is often claimed.  The vows are a one-way street: “You are to interpret to the Church the needs, concerns, and hopes of the world!” That’s why deacons – at their best – are often “irritants” to the institutional Church. They’re supposed to be! They’re always tugging at our sleeve saying, “What about them? Where are all the voices? Who’s not at the Table?”

Katharine pointed out that Philip didn’t wait around for the Ethiopian to find his way to church! He followed the Spirit’s leading and climbed into the chariot of this man who – while a God-fearing man – could never become fully accepted as a Jewish convert because he was considered a sexual deviant and as “less than whole” as a human being, really outside the Covenant.

Philip was able to say, “Well, I follow One who offers you a ‘new’ covenant — one of inclusion and grace.” And he “proclaimed to him the good news about Jesus” (Acts 8:35). Well, it must have sounded like good news to this Ethiopian because he asks for baptism immediately and Philip responds!  The text goes on to say that “When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord snatched Philip away; the eunuch saw him no more!”

So, I guess we have to hope that someone else followed up on that baptism, that someone was able to provide some “post-baptismal” catechesis. But it wasn’t to be Philip! That’s not the deacon’s role. He was probably off to find some other outcast to baptize. And that, Katharine concluded, is why the Church needs more deacons!    

Interfaith Fast For Peace

October 8, 2007

Some of us are fasting today in solidarity with an interfaith “fast for peace” and an end to the war in Iraq. It was suggested that we do so in the Ramadan-style of a sunup to sundown fast and join our efforts especially with our Jewish and Muslim brothers and sisters in this effort.

Fasting is, of course, an ancient spiritual discipline shared by many religions. It seems to add “intentionality” and “seriousness” (for lack of a better word) to our prayers. Some translations of the Gospels have Jesus saying that some particular demons only come out by “prayer and fasting!”

For myself, fasting has always been a way to be reminded to “pray without ceasing” (since I rarely forget my hunger when I am experiencing it!). And it has also been a way to experience a tiny dose of what most people in the world experience on a daily basis — hunger and/or thirst! That’s not a bad thing in and of itself.

So, may this small exercise join many of our hearts and minds together in prayer that this misguided war in Iraq be brought to an end as soon as it can “safely” be done — for our own troops and the Iraqi people. It is now such a mess that I do not believe it can be done quickly.

But it can, and must be done, with all deliberate speed. And may we learn from this fiasco that the best response to terrorism is not full scale war, but international relations which will address the root causes of terrorism and foster international law enforcement efforts to track down and apprehend the leaders of terrorism who capitalize on the anger and frustration of the young and the poor throughout the world.

Join me in prayers — with or without fasting, and regardless of your position on the war — for peace. Surely people of faith can be united in that!

Church Dividing Issues

October 5, 2007

I write this from the Maritime Center in the Baltimore-Washington Corridor where I am participating in a Coordinating Council meeting of Churches Uniting in Christ (CUIC). This group is the successor to the old Consultation on Church Union (COCU) and is made up of ten denominations representing some 20 million Christians:

The African Methodist Episcopal Church; the African American Episcopal Zion Church; The Christian Church (Disciples of Christ); the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church; The Episcopal Church; the International Council of Community Churches; the Moravian Church; the United Methodist Church;  the Presbyterian Church (USA);  and the United Church of Christ. The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America is a partner in mission and dialogue and the Roman Catholic Church are observers.

This conversation and relationship has been going on for more than 40 years — its twin goals being to forge a full communion relationship for joint mission including interchangeability of ministers and ministries and to stand together for racial justice in this country. Whenever The Episcopal Church would come close to pulling out of this difficult ecclesial arrangement, the argument would be that it was the only place we are able to dialogue, interact and cooperate with the Historically Black Methodist Churches — and this was seen as so important for us!

Now, even that is in jeopardy. Two of these Black churches — the AME and the AMEZ — have suspended their participation in CUIC. There are a variety of reasons too complex to go into here. But a core reason is that they have become frustrated that so much energy has gone into the “ministry task force” dealing with ecclesiological issues like ordination and sacraments and the historic episcopate and so little has gone into combatting racism — in the world, in the Church, and even within the CUIC family.

So, the Coordinating Council is working with two anti-racism consultants, taking a hard look at our common life, seeing whether or not this relationship is able to be salvaged, and if so how we might proceed. All this in preparation for a CUIC Plenary meeting to be held in January and attended by the ten Heads of Communion and seven delegates from each communion.

This is very hard work. And one of the great learnings (or reminders) in all this is that there are many “church dividing” issues out there today. We all know the ecclesial ones — like views of the papacy and bishops in historic succession, approaches to worship and especially the sacraments, interpretation and use of scripture, etc. Anglicans have learned that, whether it “should” be so or not, different understandings of human sexuality (and especially homosexuality) can be a church dividing issue.

But, particularly in the US context — where race relations have been so difficult over the centuries, complicated as it is by the horrifying history of slavery — personal and institutional racism is also a church dividing issue. If we cannot acknowledge and pay attention to that — perhaps by some kind of “truth and reconcilation commission” approach — not only will Churches Uniting in Christ prove to be a noble but failed experiement, but the entire ecumenical movement will be hampered.  

May we find a way to reclaim our original vision which states, among other things, that  “…we commit ourselves to the task of becoming a Beloved Community…(and to)…engage in a process of overcoming racism as we seek to demolish the institutional barriers which keep us from being a united Christian community that is truly catholic, truly reformed, and truly evangelical.”    

Never Look Back

October 3, 2007


I’m not sure there is any way to soften the shocking impact of Jesus’ challenge to his would-be followers in today’s Gospel! He was such a charismatic figure that, I suppose, he often heard rash promises like the one with which our passage begins: “I will follow you wherever you go,” (Luke 9:57) gushes perhaps a young person, filled with zeal and excitement!

“Be careful what you say,” Jesus seems to caution, “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but I have no where to lay my head!” And “neither will you” seems to be the implication.  That seems like a pastoral approach to this would-be disciple. No sense taking advantage of his zeal without first making clear the consequences!

But then Jesus actually extends an invitation to the next person! “Follow me,” he says. “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.” Seems like a reasonable request. To which Jesus makes a harsh reply, “Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God!”

And a similar scenario follows as another seeker says, “I will follow you, Lord, but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” “No one who puts hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.” Tough stuff.

N.T. scholar Tom Wright puts it this way: “…the summons was shocking: Jesus’ call overrode normal family obligations of the kind usually regarded as sacrosanct. ‘Leave the dead to bury their dead’; only someone conscious of an all-important task could have issued such a summons, and only someone who believed him could have obeyed it.”

“This definite call offered nothing except a wandering life: foxes have holes, birds have nests, but the son of man has nowhere to lay his head.  But the promised long-term reward, as one might expect from a leadership prophet, let alone one who was more than a prophet, was that one would share in the blessings of the great coming new age, the age of redemption.” (N.T. Wright, “Jesus and the Victory of God”, page 299)

I don’t know about you, but that kind of commitment, that kind of total self-offering makes my discipleship look pretty tepid. I guess I’ve made a few sacrifices in my life to follow Jesus. But they do not compare in the slightest to the sacrifices made by those original 12…or by the early Church saints…or by the martyrs down through the centuries…or by women seeking to find their place in the leadership of the Church…or by gay and lesbian Christians wondering how long “full inclusion” really will take…or by African bishops and primates who take their lives in their hands every time they speak out for religious freedom and tolerance in some Islamic republic. Yes, my discipleship is pretty tepid!

I guess I could spend my time feeling guilty about all that. Surely, I am guilty in lots of this. Or, I can spend my time being grateful. Grateful to my fellow Christians who have no where to lay their heads…who are actually willing to let the dead bury the dead…and who – having put their hand to the plow – never look back!