Archive for April, 2008

In Transition…

April 29, 2008

Well, “that we all may be one,” our Presiding Bishop is in the process of reorganizing the national church center staff — her staff, to be accurate. One part of this is putting the various offices and ministry units together into ministry “centers.” There are four of them — Evangelism and Congregational Life, Mission, Advocacy, and Partnerships.

Ecumenical and interfaith relations are in the Partnership Center along with part of Anglican and Global Relations, Diocesan Services, overseas Covenants, and the United Thank Offering. The idea in the centers is to encourage more collaboration and become ever more familiar with one another’s work. All the units in this Center are involved, in one way or another, in building “partnerships” for mission.

The second piece of the puzzle is the opening of a number of “regional offices” hoping to relate more directly to congregations and dioceses, learning from what’s happening “on the ground” and helping to interpret the national perspective to “the grass roots.” We’ve had a Washington office for years, of course, doing advocacy on Capitol Hill through the Office of Government Relations.

Now, we’ll add Los Angeles (communications and Hispanic ministry), Omaha (ecumenical relations, small churches, and “lay” ministry), Atlanta (African American ministry, some theological education), and Seattle (was to be immigration, but I understand that’s being re-visited).

Of course, whether all this works or not remains to be seen. But my wife and I are now happily ensconced in the home we have owned for years in Iowa and I will relate to the Midwestern office in Omaha as well as some back-and-forth to New York. The Diocese of Nebraska’s Trinity Cathedral has given us the use of three offices and seem quite excited to have some national church staff operating out of there.

Otherwise, my work will remain pretty much unchanged — lots of travel, continuing to relate to the WCC and NCC, staffing bilateral dialogues, and being engaged in interfaith work. I do hope to focus more on “reception” of ecumenical agreements…in other words, trying to help these agreements live and function on the local level.

Crafting ecumenical documents and agreements is important. But if ecumenism is not all about “mission,” it is little more than what Frank Griswold used to call “ecclesiastical joinery!”     


The Root Supports You

April 23, 2008

Surprising as it may be to you, the Church has never been free of controversy! Our First Lesson today from the Acts of the Apostles (15:1-6) sets up the first big hurdle the early Church had to overcome. It was, of course, the question of admitting Gentiles into the Christian fellowship without their having to become Jews first!


Peter was a bit slow in coming to that conviction. It took a vision from heaven to get his attention on the matter. St. Paul, on the other hand, had always believed (or rather, since his own conversion had believed) that Gentiles had been made fellow heirs with the Jews in relation to God. In fact, he “adapts” the branch and vine image that Jesus uses in today’s Gospel (John 15) to make his position clear to the Church in Rome:


“Now I am speaking to you Gentiles,” he writes in his Letter to the Romans, “Inasmuch then as I am an apostle to the Gentiles, I glorify my ministry in order to make my own people jealous, and thus save some of them.  For if their rejection is the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead…if the root is holy then the branches also are holy.”


“But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, a wild olive shoot, were grafted in their place to share the rich root of the olive tree, do not boast over the branches.  If you do boast, remember that it is not you that support the root, but the root than supports you.” (Romans 11)


When I was in the Holy Land in March with the Presiding Bishop, we prayed – with representatives of the diocese – on the Mount of Olives on Maundy Thursday evening. The tradition is that the roots of some of the olive trees there go back to the time of Jesus. Certainly, they are very ancient. And some of them look almost misshapen because the trunk and roots are so large and the upper branches are quite small because some of them have been grafted on to replace old branches perhaps damaged by cold weather over the years.


…Remember, Paul says to the boastful Roman Gentiles, it is not you that support the root, but the root that supports you! You see, by the time Paul wrote to the Romans, Gentiles had come full circle. After being marginalized in the first decade of the Church’s life and then accepted, now they were on the verge of marginalizing their Jewish forebears. But Paul won’t let them get away with that!  


It’s a sad part of human nature that too often the oppressed become the oppressor. Some of us think that’s part of what’s going on in the Holy Land right now! When the world turns and those on the bottom find themselves on top, it takes a Christ-like attitude to avoid retaliation and vengeance. Let us pray that such persons may always be guided by Jesus’ words in our Gospel today:


“Abide in me as I abide in you.  Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches.  Those who abide in me bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing…My Father in glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples,” (John 15:4-5,8).


May we always bear such Christ-like fruit in our lives – and be neither the oppressed nor the oppressor!





Reflections on the Papal Visit

April 21, 2008

All in all — from the Roman Catholic Church’s perspective — this must be seen as a very positive visit by the Pope to his American flock. A warmer persona than perhaps many expected, Benedict XVI attempted to reveal his pastoral, in addition to his scholarly, side on this trip.

From my perspective, I think he took an important step with respect to the sexual abuse crisis. It was largely symbolic but sought to convey steps that already have been take to correct the abuses and hinted at some future changes. I hope that will not entail tarring homosexual persons with the brush of pedophilia by specifically banning them from the ordination track. And, it was a little frustrating to hear this continually referred to as “a crisis in the American church.”

The only reason this has come to light in the US is that our society provides the freedom and protection for victims to come forward and have some assurance that they will be heard. There are countless victims, many of them women as well has children, of Catholic (and other) clergy around the world. I pray that their voices may one day be heard as well…and that the Vatican will pay attention.

I thought Pope Benedict did a brilliant job at the United Nations, naming the downside as well as upside of globalization, affirming that assuring human rights around the world lies at the center of the UN mission, and even venturing into the controversial topic of the “responsibility to protect” raising the ante for international forces, perhaps coordinated by the UN, to intervene in places like the Sudan where the government is unable to protect its most vulnerable people.

The visit to the historic synagogue on the East Side was appropriate and timely, seeking to assure the Jewish community of the Roman Church’s commitment to dialogue and understanding even in the face of the restoration of the Tridentine Mass and its problematic Good Friday prayer for the conversion of the Jews. The ecumenical service was less successful, although no other office in world could gather as diverse a crowd of Christian leaders as we were in St. Joseph’s (German) parish on Thursday night.

A veiled slap at, undoubtedly, The Episcopal Church as one of those taking “so-called prophetic actions” not based on Scripture and Tradition which by relying on “local option” marginalizes such churches was painful, but I suppose fair enough. Ecumenical partners are supposed to be open to mutual “admonition” as well as mutual “affirmation” from one another. We certainly have our critique of the Roman church!

The Mass at St. Patrick’s, the visit to Ground Zero, and the concluding liturgy at Yankee Stadium were carefully scripted and predictable, but no doubt meaningful for those in attendance and many who watched. I was amazed at the energy of this 81 year old Pontiff! And, not only in comparison with the sad physical decline of his predecessor in recent years due to Parkinson’s disease. By any standards, this guy is in good shape for his age!

As I say, all in all, a very successful pastoral visitation to the US by the head of the largest church in the world. Let us pray that it will have positive effects for the church here and around the world.

Praying “in Jesus’ Name”

April 19, 2008

Too long off “the blog” but a week at the National Workshop on Christian Unity in Chicago and a hasty return to New York for the Pope’s visit hasn’t left much “blogging time!”

The National Workshop on Christian Unity brings together between three and four hundred ecumenical officers and other ecumenists for an annual continuing education event where updates on the various dialogues and ecumenical activities are shared. The three largest groups of attendees are Roman Catholics, Episcopalians and Lutherans in that order, followed by Methodists, Presbyterians, Disciples, UCC and others.

This year we  participated in seminars on everything from  the new Anglican – Orthodox  agreed statement “Church of  the Triune God” to a presentation on “the Emerging Church.” Worship included an ecumenical vespers with a sermon by a Franciscan nun to a joint Lutheran – Episcopal – Methodist Eucharist presided over by the Episcopal Bishop of Chicago and a fine sermon by the United Methodist bishop who  is a convert from Buddhism.  I preached at a Churches Uniting in Christ Eucharist in a Baptist-UCC church in downtown Chicago which has hosted Abraham Lincoln, John F. Kennedy, and Dr Martin Luther King.

Our Bible studies were led by an archaeologist who has worked at Tantur Biblical Institute in the Holy Land, taught at Hebrew University, and now runs a study center in Georgia which recreates excavated biblical sites. He was fascinating as he explored  the conference theme “Pray  Without Ceasing” and pointed out that “praying in Jesus’  name” means more than tagging “in Jesus’  name” as a formula at the end of our prayers.

For example: “Strike them dead, O God, for I ask it in Jesus’ name. Amen” is NOT praying in the name of Jesus.

“Nevertheless not my will but thine be done. Amen” IS praying in Jesus name — with or without the formula!

An ecumenical insight worth remembering!

People of the Prayer Book…People of the Confessions…

April 12, 2008

My “opposite number” (as ecumenical officer for the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America) and I have just finished leading a wonderful conference for nearly 100 Lutheran and Episcopal clergy in Virginia. We each addressed “the nature of the unity we seek” as defined by our two communions and then sought to tease out what shapes Lutherans and Episcopalians theologically.

My presentation was entitled “The People of the Prayer Book and the Anglican Way.” My counterpart’s was “The Lutheran Confessions and Worship.” Our conclusions (admittedly much-abbreviated) were that Episcopalians are formed theologically primarily through liturgy while Lutherans are formed primarily through its confessional statements.

But the most amazing part of this conference was the relationships which have been built by living into our full communion agreement “Called to Common Mission” and the many instances of such common mission going on in this part of the church and world. I would say that the main reason for the success of CCM in this part of the world is the fact that:

1. Both Lutheran and Episcopal bishops and the leadership of their synods and dioceses are supportive and actively involved.

2. They have established a LOCAL Joint Coordinating Committee to dream, plan, and execute local expressions of our full communion agreement.

This was an enormously encouraging experience. Why can’t it be duplicated all around the country?  



A Table Grace

April 8, 2008




















Richard Euringer, Poet                   Mignon McMenamy, Translator

The Work of Unity

April 4, 2008
I often find myself moved by the dedication and commitment of lay people and clergy who give so much of themselves, their time and their energy to serving the church in order to advance her mission. This would entail serving on vestries and parish councils, diocesan committees and commissions, and national church bodies as well. These are often unglamorous and even tedious assignments, but the mission of the church would be severely hampered without them.
We have just completed the Spring meeting of our Standing Commission on Ecumenical and Interreligious Relations (SCEIR) in Los Angeles at the diocesan headquarters and conference center. We were hosted with kind hospitality joining the community for their daily Eucharist in the cathedral church as well as saying our own morning and evening prayers together.
Our discussions included: receiving a new proposal from the Episcopal-Presbyterian dialogue group for closer work together on the local level; approving the next draft of a theological statement for General Convention on why Episcopalians should be, and are, involved in interreligious dialogue; and struggling together over issues of racism in church and society and the impact of that particularly on recent development in Churches Uniting in Christ (CUIC).  This most appropriate on the anniversary of Dr. King’s assassination and, yesterday, of his “I have been to the mountaintop” speech.   
We also received updates on Anglican – Roman Catholic relations, our interim Eucharistic sharing arrangement with the United Methodists, and next steps toward a full communion proposal with the Moravian Church. I am so grateful for the work of these women and men, clergy and laity, young and older adults who assist in this work — “that we all may be one.”