Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Messin' Around with the Saints...

I am reprinting John Robison's recent blog entry here...(I pray he doesn't mind as I haven't asked permission.) Hopefully our mutual Portsmouth connection will put him in a forgiving mood for this liberty on my part. His comments about the proposed "Holy Women, Holy Men," coming before General Convention is a must read before this is considered...Please take time to read it all....

Blessed feasts of blessed martyrs,
holy women, holy men,
with affection’s recollections
greet we your return again.
Worthy deeds they wrought, and wonders,
worthy of the Name they bore;
we, with meetest praise and sweetest,
honor them for evermore.

12th-century Latin text,translated John Mason Neale
#238, The Hymnal 1982

The 2006 General Convention, meeting in Columbus, voted to approve an "A" resolution from the Standing Commission for Liturgy and Music (SCLM) to substantially revise the Lesser Feats and Fasts book, the "sanctoral" or "Book of Saints" the Episcopal Church uses for it's, well Lesser Feasts. They then produced (as one member put it a tad condescendingly put it) what "General Convention wanted." They have proposed a massive reorganization of the Book, complete with a new name "Holy Women, Holy Men," based off of the lyric quoted above. It is comprised of 112 additions, several adjustments, but no subtractions. I was surprised by and then a bit turned off by the size of the change, but decided to focus my thoughts into one or two spots. I also kept many of my reflections to myself as I watched the discussion unfold on the blogosphere and the HoB/D list.

The response has been mixed. The Establishment Left of TEC has received this, predictably, with open arms. The Conservatives were equally predictable in their rejection. Apparently, "Let your yes be yes and your no be no" has been amended to end with "in a predictably automatic way according to camp." The rest of us, many of whom you will note over at the side of your screen, were mixed in our reactions. I had several little things that stuck in my craw, some of that will be below. Other people had other issues. So, after a while, I went through and I googled a few of the names I was unfamiliar with. I was underwhelmed by most but one or two stood out as particularly good and others as bad. What kept coming to me was the question of why so many, and why some of the people chosen. Rather than indulge in to overly wrought a discursive essay, I'll simply list and briefly explain some of my problems.

1. Saint John of the Cross: This is the most complicated of my objections, so I list it first. I'll start with my general queasy feeling towards "San Juan de la Cruz" being listed in the book. If we were to take the time to list any other saint by their native name it wouldn't bother me as much. As it is, it is just a precious little addition to make the whole mess more "multi-cultural." Second, the date, November 24th, given on the Calendar for John is unexplained. Admittedly, back in the mists of time that was the date for John's commemoration. His death date is December 14th, that is his commemoration in the Roman Catholic and other Western Churches. In the 19th century his day interfered with the octave of the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, and so was moved to the day that he joined the Carmelites as John of St Mathias. In the 1950's Rome saw that as silly and moved him back to his first date of commemoration. Why then do we put him there? Even the Church of England commemorates him in December. I would guess that this date matches Ye Olde Kalendar in the Anglican Breviary, one of the many Anglo-Catholic books which has enshrined the 19th Century as the epitome of the Churchs' life and history. No doubt that was one of the reasons, but I'll not lay money on it. Now, there is a perfectly good person in HWHM, Henry Budd, one of the first Anglican Religious in the US, if not the Communion. My question would be though, why not commemorate him on a date of "event" and not put John in his place with the rest of the Church? This isn't just a question of being picky for it's own sake, but rather for the sake of continuity, or dare I say, Catholicity. (I'll also add that I think the collect is trite and precious.)

2. John Muir: He was an agnostic if not an atheist. To be more exact he was raised in the Church of Scotland then in one of the Cambelite sects because his father didn't think that the CoS was keeping it real enough. Later in life he would reject the concept of God all together "as purely a manufactured article as any puppet of a half-penney theater." How is he an example to the Faithful? He is rammed rather uncomfortably in with Archdeacon Hudson Stuck who was an old time social reformer type and outdoors-man. He helped climb Mount McKinley and was active in passing labor laws and teaching discipleship as caring for one another. I haven't found much that identifies the good Archdeacon as an Environmentalist, but my research is incomplete. What I find objectionable is that a faithful Christian is given second billing to a man who had no such faith, no matter how admirable he may be otherwise.

3. Charles, King and Martyr: This is a reverse objection to the one above, but they are connected. Why, after all this time, do we not include him on our calendar? He is present as a feast on the calendars of many of the other Anglican Churches in the World, and he was a Christian faithful to the catholic faith he had received. He died, in no small part, because he refused to compromise on the good order of the Church and was executed by the Puritans because of it. That there is no room on our calendar for him, but there is for Muir is I indicative of part of the trouble. You see Muir is popular with the "cool kids" of the Establishment in TEC, but Charles II is not.

4. The Amazingly Elastic Standards: Here are the standards of inclusion on the Calendar as outlined in 2006. Here they are for the new book. Now, using the standards as given there why would, say Muir, a Cambelite Agnostic/Atheist get recognized when Charles II isn't? I'm being deadly serious here. Are we to assume that the Sierra Club is now a devotional society of TEC? Are we to discount the Anglican credentials of Charles and the fact that he has a devoted society that has lobbied for him, as well as a well defined devotion dedicated to his memory? This is just one example of the "cool kids" making a decision and roling with it. I could list Barth, Fannie Crosby, or Kierkegarrd as example of other faithful Christians who seem to not fill in all the criteria for the calendar but are there and people like Laud, Church, Charlotte Young, or Auber are not.

5. Those Who Have Left Us: HWHM adds three names that stood up and slapped me when I saw them. John Henry Newman, GK Chesterton, and Elizabeth Anne Seaton all left the Anglican faith for "greener pastures" in the Bark of Peter. I am deeply ambivalent about this, in particular with Chesterton who could be very sardonic about Anglicanism. Newman requires his own post.

A bit later I'll expand upon what I mean by "The Cool Kids" and my feelings about the elitism that runs around in our Church.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Making noise for freedom...

For all of our talk about freedom, Americans are fairly restrained when it comes to interrupting our politicians on the stump. I don't think this would ever happen in the US, but then again we have no idea what this poor folks have gone through. Watch this, and then say a prayer for the people of Zimbabwe.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

All Saints' Sister leave TEC

This news makes me sad....

After an intensive, years-long period of prayer and discernment, the order of All Saints Sisters of the Poor will be received into the Roman Catholic Church by the Archbishop of Baltimore on Sept. 3.

“We are very sorry for any pain that this move might cause our friends,” said the Rev. Mother Christina, superior of the order, told The Living Church. “But everyone must try to follow where they feel God is leading them.

The All Saints Sisters of the Poor are the American Branch of a society founded in England, according to information on a website maintained by the order. They were invited to Baltimore in 1872 by the rector of Mount Calvary Church, Baltimore, a congregation which has continued to maintain strong ties to the sisters. The Rev. Jason Catania, rector of Mount Calvary, said he was aware of the impending move, and that the congregation would “continue to consider them part of the extended church family.”

“We tried to be faithful in The Episcopal Church as we understand scriptures, but we seem to be drifting farther and farther apart,” she said. “For the past two years in particular we felt as if we were no longer making a difference in this church. We felt as if we no longer belong.”

I know the sisters are being very prayerful in this decision and I wish them all the best. But for me, this is another example of how the modern cultural tendency of viewing relationships in a consumerist way (i.e. if relationships are not meeting my needs they are disposable) has co-opted the church in matters of settling internal conflicts. We are becoming too comfortable with the habit of walking away when we disagree...and worse yet viewing fellow Christians with suspicion if they are not exactly in agreement with us. My conservative friends will call me naive for this, countering that docrtinal purity is one of the most important concerns of the modern Church. Oh well. In the end, I think God will judge us just as much on how we conduct ourselves when we disagree as He will on what doctrine we hold.

Read the whole story here.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Standing committees fail to give consent

A majority of diocesan standing committees have failed to give consent to the Rev'd Kevin Thew-Forrester to be the next Bishop of Northern Michigan. It is unclear at this time what this will mean for the diocese. To understand better why this has been the first consent to fail since the 1930's I am including the explanation that the SC from the Diocese of Bethlehem Pa. has given for their vote...

At the June 4th meeting of the Standing Committee of the Diocese of Bethlehem, the Committee unanimously voted not to consent to the election of the Rev. Kevin Thew-Forrester as Bishop of the Diocese of Northern Michigan. As with our decision in December 2006 not to consent to the election of a bishop, we believe it is important to explain our decision to the diocese.

The Diocese of Northern Michigan elected the Rev. Kevin-Thew Forrester, Rector/Ministry Developer of St. Paul's Church in Marquette and St. John's Church in Negaunee, on February 21, 2009. He was the sole candidate on the ballot at the electing convention. He was to succeed the late Bishop Jim Kelsey, who was killed in a car wreck in June, 2007.

Our decision not to consent was not made lightly. We first met to discuss the question in April. We decided to table the issue until our June meeting so all the members could thoroughly read, think and pray over the issue before making a final vote.

Our final vote was a solemn and sad moment, but one that we believe is correct for our Church. Initially the main concern expressed by members was about the process of Thew-Forrester’s election. But in the end, the decision came down to the bishop-elect espousing a theology that does not uphold the doctrine, discipline and worship of the Episcopal Church.

The well-publicized question of Thew-Forrester’s personal meditation practice was not an issue for us, although we are cognizant that the initial flap over this was the catalyst to further analyze the candidate’s beliefs and teachings. The issues that caused the most concern for our members fell into two categories: the selection process and the ability of the candidate to uphold and articulate the Christian faith.

For some members of the Standing Committee, the process of selection was an issue because the diocese was asked to accept only one candidate. Furthermore, some found troubling the underlying assumptions of how the diocese plans to structure itself after their next bishop is chosen. The Diocese of Northern Michigan has chosen to recast the role of the Bishop into a Bishop/Mission Developer who would work alongside a committee called the Episcopal Support Team. The Episcopal Support Team would carry out many of the functions usually reserved by custom and canon to the Bishop, while the Bishop would carry out those duties specifically reserved to the Bishop (such as liturgical functions and the attendance at meetings) and was to work with the Episcopal Support Team in developing, articulating and carrying out the vision of the diocese. This is an attempt to apply on a diocesan level a model of ministry which the diocese has used in their parishes for twenty years. 1

The team tasked with the search for the bishop recommended to the diocesan convention this model with the stipulation that one and only one candidate would be presented to the diocese. The Episcopal Ministry Discernment Team said to the diocese:

“Our intention is to present one name based on prayerful consideration that is the very best fit for the ministry in this unique diocese. It is our hope that because of the careful, prayerful discernment of the team, one person will become the obvious choice. This one person will be presented to the diocese as the team’s best recommendation.” 2

In addition, while names were solicited from the diocese and the whole church, the group decided not to look outside the borders of the diocese for their next bishop. The insider-nature of the process was highlighted for us by the presence of the candidate as a consultant-facilitator in some of the early meetings of the nominating committee.3

Traditional conventions and Episcopal elections are not perfect, but we note that the conventions in San Joaquin, Quincy, Pittsburgh and Fort Worth that voted for the illegal removal of their dioceses from the Episcopal Church were also led by closed groups who in closed groups discerned what was best and convinced their conventions to ratify their decisions. We hope that in going back to find a new candidate, the search process in Northern Michigan will be more open to the wisdom of the whole church.

The issue that posed the largest concern for the most of us was the ability of the candidate to articulate the Christian faith and to uphold the doctrine, discipline and worship of the Episcopal Church. It is clear to us Thew-Forrester is a deeply spiritual man who is passionate and articulate about his approach to faith. However, it is apparent from his writing, preaching and the liturgies he has written that he has difficulty with the most basic teachings of the Christian faith about the person and work of Jesus Christ, the nature of the Trinity, the nature of sin and the atonement.

His teaching is illustrated in his own adaptation of the Baptismal liturgy found in the document called “Baptism: Season after Pentecost” used at his parish, St. Paul’s in Marquette, MI, part of which reads:4

Presider: Do you seek to awaken to the eternal presence of God, who is your very heart and soul?
Parents and Godparents: I do.
Presider: God forever invites you to let go of self deceit to dwell in the house of honesty, where eternal Hope reigns. Will you accept this invitation?
Parents and Godparents: I will, with God’s help.
Presider: God forever invites you to let go of all fear to dwell in the house of courage, where eternal Faith reigns. Will you accept this invitation?
Parents and Godparents: I will, with God’s help.
Presider: God forever invites you to let go of all anger to dwell in the house of serenity, where Love reigns. Will you accept this invitation?
Parents and Godparents: I will, with God’s help.
Presider: Do you turn to Jesus Christ and accept him as the way of Life and Hope?
Parents and Godparents: I do.
Presider: Do you put your whole trust in Christ’s grace and love?
Parents and Godparents: I do.
Presider: Do you promise to follow Christ as the way of life?
Parents and Godparents: I do.

This revision is problematic from the start as it is not up to an individual to radically change the core sacramental rites as laid out in the Book of Common Prayer. We have a process for liturgical revision in our church. Furthermore this revision removes both a basic understanding of sin at the heart of the human condition, and the need for the baptized to renounce anything. He assumes that the person being baptized already has within her or himself the capacity to live faithfully if only they will follow an enlightened, and general, “way of life and hope.”

Thew-Forester frequently uses the phrase “at-one-ment” to describe what he understands as the significance of the incarnation: that in Jesus, we find that we are already at one with God and we only need to follow his way to know God. By reducing the life of Christ to a matter of simple awareness, he minimizes the reality of evil while at the same time suggesting that enlightenment does not require choice, change or challenge.

His teaching about the Trinity is troubling as he does not speak of the person of God the Father, the person of Jesus Christ, and the person of the Holy Spirit, but instead uses a kind of Trinitarian language that implies all religions are essentially the same: "That’s what I’m driving at this morning. We make the Trinity much too complex. The Trinitarian structure of life is this: is that everything that is comes from the source. And you can name the source what you want to name the source. And our response to that is with hearts of gratitude and thanksgiving, to return everything back to that source, and there’s a spirit who enables that return. Everything comes from God. We give it back to God. And the spirit gives us the heart of gratitude. That is the Trinitarian nature of life. And you can be a Buddhist, you can be a Muslim, you can be a Jew, and that makes sense." 5

On April 26, 2009, the Diocese of Northern Michigan released a paper written by Thew-Forrester which was an attempt to answer the concerns that were already voiced about his teaching, preaching and liturgical theologizing. In many ways, this paper was useful but perhaps not in the way that the writer intended because it showed many of us that some of our concerns were in fact well founded. In particular, he elevates the incarnation, transfiguration and resurrection while ignoring the witness of the Gospel and epistles and reduces the cross to nothing more than excessive medieval piety. To make his case he uses orthodox and early church writings in ways that would probably be unrecognizable to the writers.6

We are a diocese that respects and encourages diversity. Within our diocese we find views that span the whole range of conservative to liberal on a host of issues. We understand that our life together is bound up in Christ and also that our faith has content that both teaches and challenges us.

While there is plenty of room within our membership for ambiguity and a variety of opinions and practices, a Bishop of our church is after all a bishop of the Episcopal Church. Like every other deacon and priest, Thew-Forester’s ordination vows bind him to "solemnly engage to conform to the doctrine, discipline and worship of the Episcopal Church."

If he finds that his faith life has led him to an understanding of Christianity that compels him to move beyond the teaching of the Episcopal Church, our Baptismal Covenant, and our understanding of the Trinity that is certainly discernment that he must consider. But if he cannot uphold our core beliefs, he cannot in good faith fulfill the ordination vows of a Bishop in our Church, and we cannot in good faith consent to his election.

1. Diocese of Northern Michigan. “Announcing the discernment results for the Episcopal Ministry Support Team & Bishop / Ministry Developer” available from http://www.upepiscopal.org/DiscernmentAnnouncement.pdf

2. Diocese of Northern Michigan, “Frequently Asked Questions: The Episcopal Ministry Discernment Process in the Diocese of Northern Michigan” available from http://www.upepiscopal.org/Discern.FAQ.pdf.

3. Diocese of Northern Michigan. “An Update from the Ministry Discernment Team May 13, 2008” available from http://www.stpmqt.org/051308discernmentupdate.pdf.

4. St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Marquette, MI. “Baptism Season After Pentecost” available from http://www.stpmqt.org/Baptism%20v%202.pdf

5. The Rev. Dr. Kevin Thew-Forester, St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Marquette, MI. “Sermon for Trinity Sunday, 2008” available on http://anglicancentrist.blogspot.com/2009/03/forrester-sermon.html and on http://www.standfirminfaith.com/media/TrinitySunday.mp3 (The original text was taken down from the parish website http://www.stpmqt.org/sermons)

6. Diocese of Northern Michigan. “Approaching the Heart of Faith” available on http://www.upepiscopal.org/Approaching_the_Heart