Tuesday, September 22, 2009


If you know me, you know I self-identify with the Anglo-Catholic wing of the Church. But what does that mean? Here is a great essay by Derek Olson. And thanks to the folks at Episcopal Cafe for it's original post...

Thinking and arguing about Anglican identity is new territory for some. Not me. Every since I’ve become an Anglican almost a decade ago, the question of identity has been intertwined with my Anglicanism. And with good reason—I identify with the most fractious and tribal of the great Anglican traditions, Anglo-Catholicism.

Since the beginning of the Twentieth century, Anglicanism has been described as a threefold cord consisting of three distinct parties, the Evangelicals, the Broad-Church, and the Anglo-Catholics. As if negotiating these positions weren’t difficult enough, Anglo-Catholicism has been in a tough spot since the ‘60s. The theological and liturgical changes of Vatican II combined with the movement for women’s ordination were a one-two punch that rocked the movement. The emergence of women’s ordination brought the matter to a head in the early 70’s in the Episcopal Church, calving the movement into several major branches, some remaining within the Episcopal Church, others leaving for the Anglican Continuum consisting of other Anglican entities not in The Episcopal Church.

At the root of the problem is identity: what does it mean to be a catholic Anglican? For some outside the movement or on its fringes the answer seems simple, it’s about liturgical ceremonial. If you wear a chasuble, know what a cope is, swing around incense, and chant, you must be Anglo-Catholic.

Trust me, it’s not that simple.

As any Anglo-Catholic in good standing will tell you, it’s not about the externals. Or, rather, the externals are driven by the internals. As I’ve said before, we don’t do a solemn high mass or use incense because we like it (though we do, of course…) but because of what it communicates about who and what God is and who we are in light of that reality. It’s about theology. And our theological commitments come with liturgical implications. Defining that theology is what drives us crazy.

One simplistic definition is that catholic Anglicans hold the doctrine of the Undivided Church (those things that the Orthodox East and the Catholic West agree about) but hold different discipline. That is, our faith is the same but our principles of church order are different. But defining what is doctrine and what is discipline, and deciding who gets to be the final arbiter is what’s been giving us fits since the ‘60s.

I’ve said in jest that the true definition of an Anglo-Catholic is a person who knows three other people who think they’re catholic Anglicans but who aren’t because they’re either not “catholic” or not “Anglican” enough.

The most obvious and polarizing argument is over women’s ordination—is it doctrine or discipline? The major divisions in the party have been over this issue, but a host of others complicate even agreements on that point. Which way to lean in matters of faith and morals: towards the Orthodoxen or towards Rome? What liturgy to use: the ’28 BCP, the ’79 BCP, or the (Anglican or American or English) Missal? What ceremonial to use: pre- or post-Vatican II? And so I say, matters of Anglican identity have never been far from my mind lo these years.As I survey the current squabbling and bickering amongst the worldwide Anglican Communion and especially here in the Episcopal Church, I find myself in familiar territory. Out of that familiarity, I return to one of the positions that I’ve found the most helpful. It’s not strictly about doctrine or about discipline but about practice. The most succinct expression that I’ve found comes not from a committee or report, but a book on spirituality written by the English Anglo-Catholic Martin Thornton. In writing about the monastic father St. Benedict and his impact upon English spirituality he says...

The greatest Benedictine achievement (from this point of view) is the final consolidation of the threefold Rule of prayer which is absolutely fundamental to all Catholic spirituality: the common Office (opus dei) supporting private prayer (orationes peculiares) both of which are allied to, and consummated by, the Mass. . . . Here is the basic Rule of the Church which, varying in detail, is common to East and West, monastic and secular, to all the individual schools without exception, and which forms the over-all structure of the Book of Common Prayer. Amongst all the tests of Catholicity or orthodoxy, it is curious that this infallible and living test is so seldom applied. We write and argue endlessly about the apostolic tradition, about episcopacy, sacramentalism, creeds, doctrine, the Bible—all very important things—yet we fail to see that no group of Christians is true to orthodoxy if it fails to live by this Rule of trinity-in-unity: Mass-Office-devotion. (Martin Thornton, English Spirituality, 76)

It’s a position that certainly doesn’t answer all problems or arguments—and Thornton admits as much—but in this statement, I find the heart of the matter expressed more simply and clearly than in any bishops’ statement.

At the end of the day the question isn’t whether we are “authentic” Anglo-Catholics or Anglicans. The question is whether we are authentic Christians seeking to pattern our lives according to an Anglican shape that proceeds from catholic and orthodox roots. Yes, we do need to argue whether women are valid sacramental matter for the priesthood (and I argue they are); yes, we need to argue whether queer folk in relationships are appropriate leaders for our church communities (and I argue that it’s about the relationships not the folk and applies equally to us straight people…); yes, we need to argue about how to interpret and apply the Scriptures (and I argue without a formal or de facto magisterium). More fundamental than these, however, we need to agree and be united in a common Anglican way of life.

It used to be said—and I’ve heard it many times both before and after my move to the Episcopal Church—that rather than confessional documents we have the Book of Common Prayer. Despite the history and legacy of colonialism and its aftermath, the one thing that all Anglicans hold is a Book of Common Prayer—none identical across the provinces, but all rooted in common precedents, all embodying the fundamental principles of Eucharist, the Daily Office, and personal prayer.

Can we live up to, is there any point in, a new Anglican Covenant if we don’t bother to live up to or have regard for the more basic Anglican covenant that sits in our pews? On the other hand, it’s terrific to call ourselves Anglicans or Episcopalians, but do our daily and weekly habits reflect that reality—or display some other truth?

Yes, let’s navel-gaze. But more important, let’s pray. And let’s live our praying. Don’t just argue about being an Anglican; act like one.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Bishop reflects on life...

The following is from a recent Church Times article about the Rt. Rev'd. Dr. Kenneth Stevenson. He will retire this month after serving 14 years as Bishop of Portsmouth...

WHEN I went to my first meeting of the House of Bishops as a member in October 1995, I sat at the back (like a good Anglican) and watched.

This provoked me into playing two games. The first, an easy one, was to identify who were the prefects and who were the rogues. I soon came to the conclusion that the system — the Church — produced too many of the former, and too few of the latter.

The second game was to spot the defining job that someone held be­fore he became a bishop, and how this affected the way he was ap­proaching the discussion. Some bishops are manifestly former parish priests; others were theological teachers; some were involved in lay training; others worked a great deal with ordinands. Some ran cath­edrals, often giving them a convinc­ing civic awareness, while others were arch­deacons, who seemed to know the ropes better than the others.

The more I looked back on that meeting, and the persisting oddity of its being an all-male gathering, the more convinced I became that when people are made bishops, they need to be aware of those shaping min­istries.

This can help them to grow into their new role, and not remain what they once were. Otherwise, they will get in the way of colleagues per­forming those tasks — for example, the director of ordinands.

Bishops need to take the breadth of their diaconal and priestly ministries with them into their episcopate. But sooner or later they will encounter three aspects of the job, which may initially come across as limitations, but can, in the end, become real points of liberation.
THE FIRST is rootlessness. However welcome the bishop is in his cathed­ral (not all are, but I have been lucky to be one who is), and however wedded he may be to his chapel (and I certainly am), there is an inbuilt rootlessness about the job. It stems not just from being in a different church every Sunday, and all those confirmations and institution services, but from being regularly on the move, making con­tact with local authorities, schools, and commercial companies. That mobility is a very apostolic ministry, and is a sign that the bishop is a missioner, an evangelist for the Church.

The second aspect is isolation. Bishops have to learn to cope with making that final, difficult decision, and to learn to live with it, especially when there may well be a clamour of opinion to the contrary, complete with accusations of “not really listening”. It may be about a priest who has got into some kind of trouble, and is in denial about it. It may be about a dysfunctional parish, where relation­ships have broken down.

In my early years as a bishop, when I went to a naval dinner and found myself sitting opposite an admiral, the subject of the loneliness of com­mand came up. For me, this was timely, as rather more people were telling me my job than was good for them — or for me. I don’t remember exactly what was said, but I went back home after­wards aware of somehow having been sorted out. I realised that this isolation was about being a pastor for the whole Church.

The third aspect is about di­gestion. A bishop has to spend quite a proportion of his time immersed in focused church work. It may be a concentrated round of public litur­gies, all of which have to go well. It may be a pile of correspondence, most of it urgent rather than im­portant. Or it may be one of those intractable disputes with legal resonances, where process rather than justice is paramount.

There is a saying in my household: “Kenneth, you’re all churched out!” And this is a sign that diversionary action is needed. Hobbies help enorm­ously in refreshing the mind and body. Outside interests can help me return to base with a less narrowly ecclesiastical frame of reality. All of this can release a bishop to be a prophet for the Church.

IN ONE of John Mortimer’s Rum­pole stories, the Lord Chancellor has a red judge in for a good talking to, accusing him of “judge-itis”, the symptoms of which are “pomposity and self-regard”. These are certainly part of what Charles Wesley de­scribes as a “calling’s snare”, in a verse from “Forth in thy name, O Lord, I go” which is all too frequently omitted.

To be fair, from my recollections of some of those interminable General Synod speeches about nothing in particular, it is by no means confined to the episcopate. Yes, bishops have to learn to watch what they say (although preferably not all the time), and not shoot their mouths off publicly at every oppor­tunity. But there is a difference between being carefully prepared and believing that everything you say is going to be of earth-shattering importance.

“Bishop-itis” can get out of hand, and resemble what Clement Attlee once condemned in leaders as “the continual beating of the breast and airing of agonies in public”. This is what a fellow-bishop once described to me as “the high apophatic angst”, a dynamic that can ensure that discussions go round in circles, just in case a decision might be reached.

Bishops perhaps need to take themselves — and the Church — less seriously than they often do, because, in the end, it is God’s Church, not ours, and he is the one continually re-shaping it. Perhaps that is why bishoping is such a huge privilege, especially when assisted by good colleagues, as I have been.

For all the tight corners I have known in 14 years in post, I can still leave it profoundly thankful. A Bishop of Portsmouth can appro­priately sum all this up from the poem “Ulysses”, written by Alfred, Lord Tennyson, who lived on the Isle of Wight: “I am a part of all that I have met.”

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Another must read...

I really dislike the fact that I have taken so little time to tend to my blog as of late. I am also a little disappointed that this entry is another copying of the blogger from St. Clement's...but you need to read this...

The Anglican Communion is a myth.

When I was growing up in the Scottish Episcopal Church, we were taught very clearly that we were not the Church of England even though English immigration into Scotland had given us many English members, leading many Scots to refer to the Episcopal church as “The English Church” (or, more likely, “the English Kirk”). We Episcopalians knew that we were the old Catholic Church of Scotland, who had cast off Rome at the Reformation, but had retained Bishops and the Sacraments and a Catholic Liturgy. Our present small size was due to our faithfulness to the Jacobite cause, and when that cause was lost, the new Hanoverian succession established the Presbyterians in the ancient churches and Cathedrals and made them the national Church.

I begin with this summary because not only were we sure that we were not the Church of England, but we also knew that it was members of the Church of England, the Redcoat soldiers, who had enforced the penal laws against the Episcopal Church. It was this persecution which had left our Church what Sir Walter Scott called “The shadow of a shade”.

I also grew up, knowing that the Bishops of my little Church had actually defied the Church of England by consecrating Samuel Seabury in Aberdeen to be the first Bishop for Anglicans in America, since the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Bishop of London, who had jurisdiction in America, had refused to provide Bishops.

In all of this, I had never heard of the Anglican Communion. This is not surprising, since there was no such thing in the 18th century, when all these events were taking place. It was not until the British Empire had spread the Church of England all over the world and then seen national Churches grow up in the various nations of the Empire and declare their independence from the Church of England, that a nostalgic sentiment (or a sentimental nostalgia) caused Anglican Bishops to come together in the Lambeth Conference every ten years or so.

But today, the British Empire is no more than a weird collection of countries calling themselves “the Commonwealth” – though the one thing they do not have in common is “wealth”! And the mighty Church of England, which persecuted Protestants and Roman Catholics with fine impartiality for four hundred years, is reduced to one denomination among many in England. The so-called tolerance of the Church of England not only burned Roman Catholics but also discriminated against Protestants to such an extent that they invented the Methodist, Baptist, Congregationalist and many other Churches, not to mention the Quakers, Brethren, Salvation Army and other groups. And they all came to America seeking freedom from the Church of England.

The irony of the present situation is that some members of the American Episcopal Church are trying to reverse this by treating the Archbishop of Canterbury as a substitute Pope. They are allying themselves with those who say they want an “Anglican Covenant” which will define the beliefs of the Anglican Communion and will contain the legal means to expel any constituent Province which departs from these beliefs.

So out will go tolerance for a wide variety of beliefs within the one Church and we will be back in the good old days of expelling the Methodists for enthusiasm, expelling the Papists for clinging to the Western Patriarchate, expelling the Quakers for pacifism. And all this will be done by Bishop-centered bodies such as the Lambeth Conference and the Primates’ Council. No matter that the priests and laity of the Episcopal Church have embraced the same democracy as their country and have voted for developments which other Churches dislike.

I can live happily without an Anglican Communion and will happily see it disappear if it means that I can disown the Archbishop of Sydney who denounces the Mass as a blasphemous fable, or the Archbishop of Nigeria who says that homosexuals are lower than swine, and supports laws punishing them by imprisonment. Not to mention the hypocritical Bishops, clergy and laity of our own Episcopal Church who are divorced and remarried, but say that they oppose women priests and our one (honest) gay Bishop because such things are contrary to the Word of God – by which they mean the Bible, not the real Word of God who was made flesh and dwelt among us, Jesus Christ our Lord.

Read the original post here...

A little food for thought.