Archive for July, 2009

Canterbury: Thoughtful, Measured, Pastoral

July 30, 2009

Most of the reactions to the Archbishop of Canterbury’s recent reflections on the state of the Anglican Communion have been pretty predictable,.  Liberals think he’s “scolding” The Episcopal Church and conservatives don’t think he’s gone far enough in writing us off.

I actually think his remarks were thoughtful, measured, and generally pastoral. He seems to have read the actual legislation passed by General Convention carefully, and to have taken seriously the commentary on them produced by the Presiding Bishop and President of the House of Deputies.  I entirely concur with their analysis of what we did, and did not, do.

I am more sanguine about those decisions than Rowan Williams, but that is not the point. He has taken the time to understand them and  has attributed the best possible motives behind them, even while disagreeing with some of the actions we have taken.  I certainly do not believe he is pushing, or desires, a “two tiered” or even a “two track” solution to our Communion’s future. Nor do I.

However, it makes perfect sense to look at options for the future, particularly in a “less than apocalyptic,” cataclysmic way.  I hope we will still be able to find a way to sign on to an eventual Anglican Covenant and that those commitments will provide guidance for our future actions, and the actions of other Provinces around the Communion.

However, if it proves politically impossible to get The Episcopal Church (or other Provinces) to adopt an eventual Covenant, we need to find realistic, workable possibilities for a Anglican future which has the best chance of making a relatively uniited witness to the world and encourage missional cooperation whenever, and wherever, possible.  

I appreciate, and am grateful for, the Archbishop’s perspective and contribution to this ongoing discussion which will, no doubt, occupy much of our attention in the months and years ahead.

Being Rooted and Grounded in Love

July 27, 2009

Proper 12B (2 Samuel 11:1-15; Psalm 14; Ephesians 3:14-21; John 6:1-21)

 A couple of months ago when I was with you, we had a Gospel reading from Mark about Jesus in the boat with his disciples during a storm, and calming everything by saying, ‘Peace, Be still.”  I said then that the Church is often like that little boat, buffeted and tossed about by the storms of life – but that Jesus can always bring peace if we keep him at the center of the boat!

 Now, today again, after the Gospel reading about the Feeding of the 5,000, we have a similar story, as recounted by St. John, of Jesus calming his disciples during a rough sea by saying, “It is I; do not be afraid…and immediately the boat reached the land toward which they were going.” It’s almost as if God is speaking to us about the need to find peace in the midst of our storms; storms you are still experiencing here at St. Paul’s, and storms The Episcopal Church continues to go through in the wake of our recently- completed General Convention!

 I don’t know what reports you may have heard about the Convention in Anaheim from which Susanne and I just returned last week. As usual, the press got most of it wrong in that we really did very little different with respect to the controversial issues around human sexuality and other things which continue to bring stress and strain on our church and on the whole Anglican Communion.

 The big, largely unreported news really was that we reaffirmed our commitment to addressing global poverty through the Millennium Development Goals, and launched some new initiatives on domestic poverty even while having to slash our own budget because of a $24 million deficit caused by the economic meltdown in this country and around the world. We’ll have to lay off 37 of our 150 staff people at the Church Center in New York, including my own Associate for ecumenical relations, and lose about 24% of our program budget in the process! 

 These are not easy times for any of us, but the Church should not expect to be spared from the kind of hard decisions businesses and other institutions are being asked to make.

The difference is – as I tried to say in one of my last sermons to you – is that we have Jesus in this boat with us…to bring peace, even in the midst of the storm.

 But we need to be in touch with that Jesus. We need to access the kind of power and grace he can give us if we expect to draw upon his strength and guidance in tough times like these. That’s why I’ve always loved these lines from Ephesians which we had as our Second Lesson today. It’s really a blueprint…or an outline…of what we need to do, and be aware of, to draw upon the grace of God we find in Jesus.

 The author begins by saying, “I bow my knees before the Father…” Well, of course, that’s just a descriptive way of saying that he is praying! And prayer is the key. We must be, in these times and always, a people of prayer! But what do we pray about? Well, the Lesson continues, “I pray that, according to the riches of his glory, he may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love.”

 Well, there’s a lot there! We need to pray for each other that we may be strengthened by the Holy Spirit and that Christ may dwell within us. And what do we need to make that happen? We need to be “rooted and grounded in love.” As we pray for one another in this church – for those we agree with and those we disagree with, we need to love them! That’s the essential quality of life for Christians. We need to love on another!

 The next thing the author prays for is that we “may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that we may be filled with all the fullness of God.”

 That means, in the midst of our struggles, we need to see the big picture (the breadth and length and height and depth) of the Church’s mission. We have to keep “the main thing, the main thing,” keep our eye on the prize – which is to know the love of Christ and be filled with all the fullness of God.

 Our mission is to know Christ better, and to make Him known, in this little church, in this community, and in the Church and world beyond. That’s why we need to pray every day, to read the Scriptures every day, to come to church every Sunday and invite others to come with us, and not to be afraid to witness for Jesus Christ whenever and wherever we can.   

 We had a great Collect, or prayer, for this Sunday. “O God, the protector of all who trust in you, without whom nothing is strong, nothing is holy: Increase and multiply upon us your mercy; that, with you as our ruler and guide, we may so pass through things temporal, that we lose not the things eternal.”

 That just means that, since God alone gives us strength and wholeness, if we trust that God, we will be protected (no matter what!)…and that even while we confront temporal, “earthly” things like budget deficits and church fights and small numbers, we’ll be able to pass through them (and triumph over them) in such a way that we don’t lose the important things – like healing…and love…and forgiveness…and eventual reconciliation. And, finally, the gift of eternal life!

 That life abundant Jesus promised us. That life abundant that only he can give; and only he can take away. I close with the final line from Ephesians this morning which sums it up better than I ever could:

 “Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.”

“Most Trusted Man in America,” an Episcopalian

July 24, 2009

In our typical “best kept secret” form of evangelism, virtually none of the scores of stories about Walter Cronkite’s funeral being at “St. Bartholomew’s Church in midtown Manhatten bother to mention that this is St. Bartholomew’s EPISCOPAL Church.

And that “the most trusted man in American” was a committed Episcopalian whose family had worshipped at St. Bart’s for many decades.

Much more fun for the press to talk about how our church is falling apart than to acknowledge that it has formed, and will continue to form, faithful Christian men and women whose contributions — unlike Cronkites’ — are often unknown and unnamed, but whose devout lives make this world a better place. 

Well done, good and faithful servant(s)!

General Convention Concludes

July 18, 2009

As I see it, the 76th General Convention of The Episcopal Church:

1. Worked hard to try and stay focused on mission – to the poor and to our overseas dioceses and beyond – even while continuing to struggle with internal issues which tend to divide us.

2. Reaffirmed that the canons of this church make it clear that access to the ordination process (though not ordination itself necessarily — there is no “right” to ordination) is open to all the baptized.

3. Did not repeal B033 (last Convention’s resolution which asks bishops and standing committees to exercize “restraint” in consenting to the election of any bishop whose “manner of life” would cause additional strains on the Anglican Communion.)

4. Welcomed and enagaged scores of Anglican, ecumenical, and interfaith guests to participate in the Convention, including the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Secretary General of the Anglican Communion. 

5. Authorized the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music to work on designing rites for the blessing of same gender unions which would need to be brought back to the next General Convention for possible authorization in “trial use.”

6. Did not authorize any “public rites” for such blessings at the present time. The point of working on these for the future is so that we can get our theology right on these to know what we are actually doing as a church. This is crucial because the society is moving so quickly toward “gay marriage” and the church needs to be clear about what we think we are going when, and if, we bless such civil unions.

7. Passed a drastically reduced budget, due primarily to the global and national economic meltdown, in which 37 staff members will lose their jobs and program dollars will be reduced by approximately 25%. This was very painful, but probably inevitable.

8. Celebrated together in daily Eucharists, led by a rich diversity of all the ministers of the church — lay persons, bishops, deacons, and priests. The music was stunning!

9. Passed a full communion proposal for the Moravian Church (they must vote on it in 2010), a modest missional proposal with the Presbyterian Church, USA, commended ongoing dialogue with the United Methodist Church and encouraged involving the three historic Black Methodist churches in that, authorized opening a dialogue with the Church of Sweden, and accepted a theological statement/rationale for interreligious dialogue.

10. Got all its business done for the first time in many, many years. No resolutions died because there was not time to get to them. This was, in part, due to the skill of our two Presiding offiicers, Katharine Jefferts Schori and Bonnie Anderson.

It’s time to go home!

Blessings and Budgets

July 16, 2009

An emotionally exhausting day here at General Convention yesterday. The House of Bishops approved study of liturgical rites for same sex blessings to be presented at the 2012 General Convention in Indianapolis. We also encouraged a generous pastoral response to those gay and lesbian couples especially in states where legal marriage is now possible for them.

This stops short of authorizing official rites of blessing and, in my opinion, remains within the Windsor guidelines of “pastoral responses” to such persons.

Hard decsions were made with respect to the $24 million triennial budget deficit due to the economic meltdown in this country and around the world. Some 30 of the 180 Church Center staff (including my Associate) will be let go, and program dollars have been cut by about 25%.

We did not expect to be spared the kind of financial impacts felt by other churches and the society at large. Nonetheless, yesterday was a painful day, and we grieve over the loss of our colleagues and the curtailment of such important work.  

One bit of good news in all of this is that we maintained much of our commitment to the poor and to mission, both domestic and foreign. By and large we denied ourselves, but tried to keep faith with those so much less fortunate. For that good faith effort, I give thanks.

An Oasis of Prayer

July 15, 2009

An absolutely amazing ecumenical/interfaith day at our General Convention on Tuesday. In the morning about 25 guests from many Christian communions and many world religions were greeted, and brought greetings, to the 800-plus member House of Deputies.

After being introduced personally, a Jewish rabbi, Muslim imam, and Episcopal priest chanted the Abrhamic blessing (“The Lord bless you and keep you, the Lord make his face to shine upon you…” etc.) over the House. They began by individually singing the blessing and then blended their voices chanting together. It was positively riveting and no one seemed to even be breathing in that large body!

An informal luncheon was then held for the guests after which they repeated their “performance” (so much more than a performance!) in the House of Bishops. As in the larger House, their time was concluded by the local Lutheran bishop bringing greetings on behalf of the entire, multi-religious population of the Los Angeles area where we are meeting.

The day concluded with a two-hour reception attended by all the guests, the Presiding Bishop, members of the ecumenical legislative committee, and some Church Center staff. A brief presentation was then made on “Standing Together”, a Chrisian-Muslim study program of the Diocese of Los Angeles.

In an otherwise, exhausting and draining day, working with controversial resolutions and strangled budgets, this was truly a prayerful oasis and was deeply appreciated by this Convention.

DO25 Does Not Overturn B033

July 14, 2009

The Episcopal Church’s  House of Bishops’ passage of resolution D025 does not overturn last General Convention’s call for care and “restraint.” That last resolution (B033) was never a “moratorium” on the ordination and consecration of gay and lesbian persons. It counseled care in approving any bishops whose “manner of life” would cause additional strain on the Anglican Communion.

Quite apart from the press’s  (including Episcopal News Service) usual misunderstanding of  such things, D025 simply re-asserts what has always been true — the ordination process in The Episcopal Church is governed by the Constitution and Canons of this church.

It would be perfectly possible for a bishop to have voted for D025 and still withhold consent for the election of any bishop-elect.

Access to the ordination process (though not guaranteed ordination!) is open to all. That’s part of what it means to be baptized — not that you are necessarily called to ordained ministry, but that your call may be tested by the Church.

Ed and Patti Browning

July 12, 2009

What a joy it was to attend The Episcopal Peace Fellowships reception honoring Ed and Patti Browning last night! Not only did the then Presiding Bishop Edmond Browning ordain me as Bishop of Iowa in 1988, but I served under his leadership on Executive Council for six years during some very difficult times at the Church Center and in the Church at large.

Ed and Pam Chinnis, then the President of the House of Deputies, used to give fairly formal addresses at the beginning of each Executive Council meeting. I always looked forward to them and came away, particularly from Ed’s, more inspired and more committed to this church and to our common mission to spread the Gospel and work for justice and peace in the world.

Patti and Ed are known most in EPF circles for their work for peace in the Middle East and their passionate commitment to the Palestinian Christians in the Holy Land, many if not most of which are Anglicans. But Ed worked for peace in the Church as well as in the world and was always willing to listen, and take seriously, those persons and opinions different from his and to seek to make a place at the table for all people.

His biography is being completed, not quite ready for publication at this Convention. It will be entitled “The Heart of a Pastor.” As his old comrade, Canon Brian Grieves said last night, “It could equally have been called ‘The Heart of a Prophet’ but Ed’s prophetic perspectives always originated out of his deep compassion and from his pastor’s heart.”

I could not agree more, and was so happy to be able to join in honoring the Brownings at this 76th General Convention!


July 11, 2009

Wonderful day for ecumenism yesterday! The House of Bishops of the 76th General Convention of the Episcopal Churh passed “Finding Our Delight In The Lord,” a full communion proposal with the Northern and Southern Provinces of the Moravian Church. The House of Deputies now must rule on this.

This has been in the works for nearly a decade and builds both on local dialogue in North Carolina (where Moravians are strong) and theological dialogue on the national level. This 15th century “pre Reformation” reformed community is a liturgical church with a three-fold ministry, once described by the Church of England as “an ancient Protestant episcopal church.”

They are a gentle, spiritual people whose faith is as informed by their beautiful hymnody as ours is by the Prayer Book. They are missionally minded and ecumenically committed, already in full communion with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

There had been some opposition voiced, particularly by the way their bishops function (pastorally and sacramentally, but not much administratively) and by the fact that their transitional deacons can preside at the Eucharist (the dialogue team solved that one by deciding that, sadly, deacons will not be interchangeable under this agreement).

However, we must have been able to answer the objections because the House of Bishops passed it without a dissenting vote!

Earlier in the day, Moravian Bishop Hopeton Clennon of the Moravian Theological Seminary co-presided at the Eucharist with Bishop Steven Miller of Milwaukee (who is co-chair of the Moravian dialogue). This was done under the terms of our interim Eucharistic sharing arrangement with the Moravians on the way to full communion.

We have much to learn from each other and, yesterday, one small step was taking on the road to Christian unity.


July 10, 2009

Preliminary indications are that the House of Deputies at the General Convention will vote overwhelmingly to repeal B033, the resolution from the 2006 Convention asking bishops and standing committees to basically to withhold consent to the election of any bishop whose “manner of life” would prove divisive in the wider Anglican Communion.

This has been widely interpreted as applying mainly to gay and lesbian persons (although they are not specifically referenced) and therefore singling them out for unfair treatment. (The likely withholding of consent for Kevin Thew Forrester in the Diocese of Northern Michigan for other reasons challenges this notion, but nonetheless, it is widespread).

It will be interesting, eventually, to see if the House of Bishops will refuse to concur with the Deputies likely vote because, however many of us are sympathetic to the plight of gay and lesbian persons and the unfair burden they are being asked to carry, our role is all about unity — within the Communion and ecumenically — and this brings a different perspective.

There are diversities of gifts but the same Spirit in the Church…and in this Convention. We need all perspectives and the balance of the two Houses sometimes provides this.

We shall see.