Archive for September, 2008

Twenty Years Ago

September 28, 2008

Providentially, I was able to spend the 20th anniversary of my ordination to the episcopate at the Convent of the Transfiguration in Cincinnati, the community I am priveleged to serve as Bishop Visitor. They surprised me with the kind of simple celebration they do for their own Sisters’ Profession anniversaries — an “anniversary” cake and ice cream after dinner and serenading me with a specially-written “hymn” (“Twenty Years He’s Been a Bishop” sung to the tune of “Lo, my tongue the mystery telling!”). Very sweet!

More solemnly, I was able to celebrate the daily Eucharist this morning, using the same Eucharistic Prayer (D) that we used twenty years ago today at my consecration. The only other gesture I chose to make was closing the Prayers of the People with a prayer bishops offer hundreds of times during their episcopate at ordinations and during Holy Week. Perhaps more than any other, this prayer has guided my decisions and actions as a bishop (and, I believe) those of many other bishops of our church:

“O God of unchangeable power and eternal light: Look favorably on your whole Church, that wonderful and sacred mystery; by the effectual working of your providence, carry out in tranquillity the plan of salvation; let the whole world see and know that things which were cast down are being raised up, and things which had grown old are being made new, and that all things are being brought to their perfection by him through whom all things were made, your Son Jesus Christ our Lord; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.”

May it be so. In our church…and in our world.

A Sad, But Necessary, Decision…

September 20, 2008

Last Thursday, the House of Bishops of The Episcopal Church called for the deposition of The Rt. Rev. Robert Duncan from the ordained ministry. It was a sad, but necessary decision, in my opinion because of the following facts.

In Dec. 2007 the Title IV Review Committee of our church certified that Bishop Duncan had “abandoned the communion of this church.” The Canon Law of The Episcopal Church define abandonment as “an open renunciation of the Doctrine, Discipline, or Worship of this Church.” In this case, what Bishop Duncan had renounced was the church’s discipline.

He has actively worked to remove the Diocese of Pittsburgh from the authority of The Episcopal Church in clear violation of Canon Law. He sought affiliation with the Province of the Southern Cone also in violation of his ordination vow to “conform to the doctrine, discipline, and worship of The Episcopal Church.” He used assets of the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh to accomplish these goals.

Contrary to what many may believe, and have stated, this was not about Bishop Duncan’s theological positions. Many loyal bishops, clergy and lay people of The Episcopal Church hold similar views and yet remain faithful members of our church. This was about our church’s polity and the consequences of violating that polity by one who has sworn to uphold it.

At first glance, it’s hard to see how this action serves the goal “that we all may be one.” However, accountability is critical to preserving community life. We have seen the consequences of a lack of accountability on the “left” as well as on the “right” in this church for many years. Perhaps we are finally achieving the kind of maturity which will allow us to hold one another accountable…for the sake of the community…and for the sake of the common witness to the Gospel we hope to make in The Episcopal Church.

Our Sacrifice of Praise and Thanksgiving

September 14, 2008

 Sacrifice is nothing new for Christians. It is a topic worth thinking about on this Feast of the Holy Cross. Today’s Collect, our Prayer for this Sunday, sums it up pretty well: “Almighty God, whose Son our Savior Jesus Christ was lifted high upon the cross that he might draw the whole world unto himself: mercifully grant that we, who glory in the mystery of our redemption, may have grace to take up our cross and follow him…” It was Jesus’ willingness to “give up himself for us” that brought us our salvation and the gift of new life!

 We see it preeminently on the Cross, of course, in Jesus’ willingness to die for what he believed in and for us. And that’s not some morbid thing as certain theories of the atonement might suggest. It is a beautiful thing! When Jesus said, “I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” (John 12:32), he was suggesting that he was about to make the same kind of heroic self-sacrifice we see when a soldier throws himself on a grenade to save the lives of his comrades, when a mother gives the last of her meager food supply to her children so that they might live instead of her, or when 4th century Christians like Saint Agnes and St. Alban gave up their lives rather than deny their Christian faith!

 Jesus, the Son of God, was prepared to do the same kind of thing – The Living God, Incarnate in Jesus, was prepared to do that for us! But Jesus had been preparing for it all his life! He gave up the comfort of a fairly middle class existence in order to live a life of poverty. He gave up the security of home and family for the life of an itinerant preacher and prophet. And he gave up a protected life of silence and complicity to challenge the religious establishment of his day and the brutality of an occupying Roman government which oppressed his people. The Cross was only the last, most significant “sacrifice” that Jesus offered on our behalf. But it was a monumental sacrifice nonetheless…because he risked, and offered, his very life!

 God loves us so much that not even death could destroy his solidarity with us! God in Christ was willing to die…rather than leave us alone. So, the question becomes: if God was willing to do that for us, what are willing to do for God? St. Paul attempts an answer this morning in his Letter to the Philippians: “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness.  And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death – even death on a cross.” (Philippians 2:5-8)

 Did you hear those first twelve words? Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus! If Jesus lived a life of sacrifice – not only on the Cross but throughout his whole life – and if that sacrifice was for us, what are we willing to sacrifice for him? Are we willing to sacrifice a little of our time to worship God every week and to take advantage of educational and ministry opportunities offered through this parish?

 Are we willing to sacrifice, make an offering of, some of our talents and gifts and abilities in the service of others (volunteer at a soup kitchen or as a tutor or as a Big Brother or Big Sister, visit the sick or the elderly or the lonely)? Are we willing to sacrifice some of our material wealth and comfort to help out people less fortunate than ourselves at home and abroad? Would it really be so hard to “live more simply; so that others might simply live?”   

 Well, I think that’s what “letting the same mind that was in Christ Jesus be in us” means. I think it’s what the line in our Collect (which originally came from Jesus) about “taking up our cross and following him” really means. It means that we should be so grateful for the sacrifice Jesus offered for us, that we are willing to sacrifice for him. And the way we do that is to make sacrifices for others since “inasmuch as we have done it unto the least of these…we have done it unto him!”

 I hope you’ll think a little bit about sacrifice this week. Again, not in a morbid, grudging way, but as an act of gratitude, of thanksgiving to the One who gave you everything…and gave up everything for you? What sacrifice can you make for your family? What sacrifice can you make for your church, for your diocese? What sacrifice can you make for your community? What sacrifice can you make for your country? What sacrifice can you make for the world?

 Well, let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus…and you’ll know!

 Because “the light is with you for a little longer,” he once said, “Walk while you have the light, so that the darkness may not overtake you. If you walk in the darkness, you do not know where you are going. While you have the light, believe in the light, so that you may become children of light.” (John 21:35-36)





Nine Eleven

September 11, 2008

Like so many, today’s seventh anniversary of the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001 brings back so many memories. As I join in the “moments of silence” today, I remember someone interrupting Morning Prayer in the Chapel of Christ the Lord at the Episcopal Church Center with the news that “a plane had apparantly hit the World Trade Center.”

After prayers, watching the news from our coffee break room with other staff…trying to get through to my fiancee who was in a meeting at General Seminary…being told to stay in the building…watching hordes of people, eventually, in the streets of New York…the incomprehensibility that this really could have happened…

Days later, standing in Grand Central Station, like some scene out of a WWII war movie, trying to get my wife-to-be on a train back to the Midwest since all the flights were cancelled…participating in a still-convened House of Bishops meeting where we pled for a thoughtful and studied response to this tragedy and to avoid retribution… 

Much later, serving as chaplains through St. Paul’s Chapel near Ground Zero…conducting two funeral services for the son of an Iowa priest and his wife who had been in the building… grieving at, not only the loss of life, but at the squandered “opportunity” for this country to stand in solidarity (for a change) with the world’s suffering, to accept the goodwill which came from all around the planet, and to turn this gut-wrenching sorrow into joy. 

Would it have been possible for this awful day to have been transformed into actions leading more closely to a world where “we all may be one?”

I guess we’ll never know…

But, it would have been good to have tried…

Extending Hospitality To Strangers

September 1, 2008

It was not an easy decision for me, some eight years ago, when the then Presiding Bishop, Frank Griswold, asked me to consider leaving this diocese and working for him on the national level in the area of ecumenical and interfaith relations. But, then as now, I felt a special vocation around Jesus’ prayer in John’s Gospel that we all might be one as he and the Father are one…so that the world might believe! (John 17:23)


In a world divided in so many ways, the Church has a special message to deliver about unity. But sadly, our message lacks credibility when the world looks at us and sees how divided we are as Christians! So the task begins…with us! Us, meaning Episcopalians and Anglicans in the first instance.


It’s been less than a month since we bishops returned from the Lambeth Conference of Bishops in England where we worked pretty hard to strengthen our own unity as a global family of churches. We felt there a bit like Jesus’ first disciples in this morning’s Gospel, hearing our Lord say to us, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.  For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.” (Matthew 16:24-25)


All the churches of the Anglican Communion were asked to make sacrifices, at Lambeth, for the sake of our unity in witness and service around the world. We made some progress, I think. Certainly it was a vast improvement over my first Lambeth in 1998, but we will be living into this hard work of unity for months and years to come. Unity is hard work. But it is work well worth engaging in…for the sake of the Gospel!


This morning’s Epistle from St. Paul’s letter to the Romans is probably my favorite in all his writings and, in it, Paul tells us what kind of lives we have to live if we expect to grow in love and charity, in “unity” with our sisters and brothers. Listen again to these wonderful words:


“Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another is showing honor.  Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord.  Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer.  Contribute to the needs of the saints, extend hospitality to strangers.” (Romans 12:9-13).


When I became the Presiding Bishop’s Deputy for Ecumenical and Interreligious Relations, my counterpart in the Church of England – Dr. Mary Tanner – said, “Christopher, we have the best job in the Church. They pay us to make friends!” And there’s some truth in that! Ecumenical relations — our dialogue and cooperation with other churches — is all about “hospitality.” Extending hospitality to strangers!


It’s all about “blessing those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are. Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” (Romans 12:14-18)


More words from St. Paul this morning and they are words I try to live by as I oversee our relationship with Roman Catholics, the Orthodox, Lutherans and Methodists and Presbyterians and all other Christians with whom we are in dialogue and in mutual ministry. They are words I would commend to you in your relationship with sister and brother Christians in this community and in your daily lives.


But I’ve come to believe that our Lord’s call to unity extends even far beyond our fellow Christians. Roman Catholic theologian, Hans Kung, has written that there will be no peace in the world without peace among the world’s religions, there will be no peace among the world’s religions without dialogue between the world’s religions, and there will be no dialogue among the world’s religions without an understanding of one another’s histories and foundations.


The goal of interfaith dialogue, of course, is different than ecumenical dialogue. In ecumenical dialogue we are seeking the full visible unity of the Church eventually. We’re not trying to create one world religion in interfaith work, but simply to move beyond tolerance to mutual understanding and respect and even honoring one another, as Professor Kung suggests.


We used to talk a lot about “the mission of the Church.” But it was Jim Ryan, who used to direct Ecumenical Ministries of Iowa, who I first heard say, “God’s Church doesn’t have a mission…God’s mission has a Church!” (Repeat Slowly) And today missiologists of all our churches are talking about the “missio Dei”…the mission of God!


The mission of God is to reconcile the whole world, indeed the whole Creation, to himself. To reconcile us to one another and all of us to God. It’s called the “ministry of reconciliation” and the Church is to cooperate with all people of good will, of whatever religion and none, who are working for that same end.


When Moses stood before that burning bush we heard about in our First Lesson today from Exodus, he heard a voice proclaiming “I AM WHO I AM…Tell them I AM has sent you to them” (Exodus 3:14). That Divine Name – so holy that it was not even to be pronounced out loud by the people of Israel – gives us some inkling of just how a big a deal all this really is!


The great theologian, Paul Tillich once wrote that, “the name of infinite and inexhaustible depth and ground of our being is God.  That depth is what the word God means. And if (the word God) has not much meaning for you, translate it, and speak of the depths of your life, the source of your being, of your ultimate concern…For if you know that God means depth, you know much about (God).” (The Shaking of the Foundations)

Christianity is not the only religion which knows such deep truths. I have discovered them in conversations with Jews and Muslims, Sikhs and Buddhists. I have come to know that God through my Savior and Lord, Jesus Christ. But it is the same God others have glimpsed through their traditions. And I must respect and honor that, even as I bear witness to my own journey, to my own faith.


So, dear friends, I invite you to continue with me along that path to unity with God and with one another. It’s one way for us to take up our cross and follow Jesus who was all about such unity. It’s a way of extending hospitality to strangers and living in harmony with one another as in the words of St. Paul this morning. And it’s a way of standing before the great “I AM” in the burning bush – the Ground of our Being…and the depth of our souls.


Let us pray:


Lord of all power and might, the author and giver of all good things: Graft in our hearts the love of your Name; increase in us true religion; nourish us with all goodness; and bring forth in us the fruit of good works; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.