Tag Archives: The Episcopal Church

TLC: Denial and how to kill a denomination

The Living Church published this piece from Canon Neal Michell about the culture of denial that characterizes the institutional structure of the Episcopal Church.  I long ago became convinced that TEC as an institution was floundering (quite apart from conflicts over moral and social issues) and intent on falling on its own institutional sword.  This is just one example of the inertia drawing it that direction:

Killing the Messenger

During the previous triennium the State of the Church Committee told the truth about the condition of our church. It did an excellent job of reporting the difficulties of an aging, financially challenged denomination. It acknowledged further losses due to conflict in our churches, particularly over sexuality issues that have exacerbated the decline in attendance and membership. The committee made recommendations for addressing these challenges.

Were their recommendations heeded? No. Our General Convention had no real strategy in its decisions. The cuts in the triennial budget were hailed as “fair” and “across the board.” But they weren’t strategic. Seemingly strategic staff positions of three years ago and even one year ago were eliminated with little dissent. The convention passed all evangelism-related resolutions while at the same time eliminating the church’s evangelism officer.

So many of our dioceses are in financial difficulties. Some of the financial shortfall in diocesan income is due to the recent recession. But remember, giving to the Episcopal Church by the dioceses is based upon previous years’ income. The most recent financial shortfall for the Episcopal Church is attributable, not to the recent recession, but to decreased income to our collective dioceses in the past three years.

With ever-increasing decline in attendance and giving and ever-increasing costs of doing business at the congregational level, assessments paid to the Episcopal Church by our dioceses will likely decrease even more within the next six years. In other words, this current financial shortfall was a long time in the making, and it will likewise be a long time in the remedying.

As a denomination, we need transformational change, not incremental change. Incremental change represents business as usual. Incremental change represents “just trying a little harder.” If we continue doing things as we have done, we will continue our decline, continue bleeding off the endowments of previous generations, continue to congratulate ourselves on the pockets of vitality while we become a church pastored primarily by retired and part-time clergy. One recommendation of the previous

State of the Church Committee was that some members be reappointed to provide for some continuity with the previous committee. Was that advice heeded? No. Not one member of the 2006-09 State of the Church Committee was reappointed for 2009-12.

{Read it all}

To be clear, this sort of thing frustrates me, but does not cause me to loose sleep at night.  I don’t actually thing TEC is unique, nor do I think the failure of an institution means the efforts one puts in in parish ministry are pointless.  Institutions rise and fall, but that does not mean that congregations cannot experience health and vitality as this occurs.  Likewise, if a congregation fails after a pastor puts their efforts into it, so be it.  What matters most (in my opinion) is the impact one has on individual lives while being faithful, and the cumulative effect of that.

A Word from William Porcher DuBose

William Porcher DuBose
William Porcher DuBose

I’m in the process of transcribing (slowly) several books from my collection that are out of print and copyright.  One of them is William Porcher DuBose’s High Priesthood and Sacrifice.  For those who aren’t aware, DuBose was one of the early founders and deans of the School of Theology at the University of the South.  He is often referred to as the greatest theologian the Episcopal Church has ever produced, though he has been more well known aborad than in the US, in part because of his role as a chaplain in the Confederate Army during the Civil War.

At any rate, I was struck this evening by how applicable much of what DuBose writes is–not only his writing about scripture, but the cultural struggles that his writing makes clear.  Truly there is nothing new under the sun:

All science of life is now a science of beginnings and growth, or of evolution.  The New Testament as absolutely transcends the Old as it fulfills it; but on the other hand, it is as actually the culmination and completion of the Old Testament as it transcends it.  The thought, the language, the life of Christianity are from the very beginning Hebrew, transformed and as far as possible universalized by transition through Greek thought and speech.  All this history has its meaning, and enters largely into the meaning and form of Christianity as we have it.  But it brings with it also its embarassments.  the most immediate consequence comes to us in the manifest face that we are attempting to address the world to-day, in the matter of its profoundest interest, in terms of the world two thousand years ago.  We have first to know what those terms meant then, and to prove that all they meant they mean now, and mean for all men in all time.  Are our Bible and our Creeds to be recognized by us as antiquated?  Are the Hebrew phrases and terms of priesthood and sacrifice, and the Greek or Gentile application of them to the Cross of Christ, waxed old, then we must take measures to preserve them, and the only way to preserve them is to make them as living to-day, as much a part of our thought and our speech and our life now, as they were two thousand years ago.

{Read it all–well, what there is of it}

FIRST THINGS: On the Square>>Anglican, or Episcopalian?

By Jordan Hylden

“Are you Anglican, or Episcopalian?” As an Episcopalian interloper studying at a Methodist seminary, I get the question a lot from my puzzled friends. Each time I’m asked, part of me wants to launch into a mini-primer on Anglican ecclesiology–to wit, that Episcopalians are Anglicans, since the Episcopal church is just the American province of the global Anglican communion. Which means that, technically, the question shouldn’t even make sense–it’s sort of like asking, “Are you American, or Texan?” But, of course, I know just what the question means; it does make sense, because it reflects the sad divisions that have roiled the church over the past five years. Quite simply and sensibly, my Methodist friends want to know whether I’m a member of the liberal Episcopal church, or one of the conservative Anglican groups that broke off. And as saddening as it is to admit, I’ve come to think that their common-sense perception is more accurate than my attempts at ecclesiological theory. Their question can only be asked, and answered, because of the reality on the ground in the United States: Episcopalians are one thing, and Anglicans are another.

Popular understanding is usually much wiser than theoretical wishful-thinking, and nowhere more so than here. The divisions in the church have led the American public to attach the meanings to the words Episcopalian and Anglican that they actually bear in their usage–namely, that to be an Episcopalian means to be a member of an pro-gay, autonomous American denomination, more liturgical than most churches but firmly within the theological orbit of liberal Protestantism. To be an Anglican, by contrast, means to be part of a conservative evangelical church with bishops, connected somehow with Africa and opposed to homosexuality. The definitions have by now become quite distinct and firmly fixed in the national lexicon–ask almost any church-going American what the words mean, and you will get an answer something like the above.

Some Episcopalians and Anglicans (myself included) strongly dislike these characterizations…

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Unintended consequences: Bishop Nolbert Kunonga & Robert Mugabe

More developments from Zimbabwe.  For those of you who don’t know, Bishop Kunonga has been removed by the province of Central Africa because of his unflinching support for Robert Mugabe.  His replacement is Bishop Sebastian Bakare.  However, Bishop Kunonga has refused to recognize the judgement of his province and has instead formed a break-away group loyal to president Robert Mugabe while using the Anglican Communion‘s sexuality debates as a convenient cover, and one that fits nicely with the regime’s anti-western propaganda.

This is a good illustration of something that Americans are mostly clueless about, i.e. the unintended consequences of our actions on our brothers and sisters around the world.  All one has to do is talk to Archbishop Mouneer Anis of Egypt to learn how Anglicans were treated by Muslims and even other Christians–many of whom openly called Archbishop Anis and his flock heretics because of the actions of The Episcopal Church in the USA (whcih of course had been trumpeted as an example of western decadence in Muslim newspapers).  On the other hand, conservatives have set the stage for movements such as Bishop Kunonga’s.  All of this demonstrates why Archbishop Williams’ warning that if the Anglican Communion were to break up it wouldn’t merely break into two factions, instead it would fracture into inumberable fragments of varying degrees of legitimacy.  The ramifications of such a fragmentation would obviously be more keenly felt in the developing world.  Something for American Episcopalians/Anglicans whether liberal or conservative to consider as we sit self-rightiously in the  midst of our comfortable opression.

THE Anglican Province of Zimbabwe yesterday ordained 33 bishops and deacons to serve in its dioceses.

The province is made up of dioceses that broke from the Church of the Province of Central Africa early this year following disagreements over homosexuality.

Of those ordained, 23 were serving deacons with the remainder being new office-bearers.

Archbishop Nolbert Kunonga said the deacons and bishops should truthfully serve the province and not tolerate homosexuality within the church.

“This is confirmation that we are going ahead with the building of the new province after breaking away from the Province of Central Africa.

“As the Anglican Province of Zimbabwe, we stand guided by the scriptures and will not sympathise with homosexuals.

“I am happy that sanity is returning to the province. This has also seen more people joining the new province upon realising the reasons for us breaking ties with the Anglican Province of Central Africa,” he said.

{Read it all}

Philip Turner: The Subversion of the Constitution and Canons of the Episcopal Church: A Response to my Critics | Covenant

I am pleased that my article “The Subversion of the Constitution and Canons of the Episcopal Church” has generated the discussion it has.  A number of the responses simply display the toxic atmosphere that sadly prevents the blogs from realizing their potential for furthering genuine debate.  There have, however, been a number that are serious in their intent and deserve a measured response.

I would particularly like to thank those who, like Bishop Pierre Whalon, recognize that the very survival of both The Episcopal Church (TEC) and the Anglican Communion is at issue in the crisis brought on by the Gene Robinson affair.  Meaningful debate on the issues both TEC and the Communion now face is of vital importance if either or both are to emerge from the present conflicts as coherent expressions of Catholic Christianity.

Unfortunately, meaningful debate receives little support from the current atmosphere in the church—an atmosphere that does little to encourage either a careful and informed reading of TEC’s history or of its Constitution and Canons.  It is also an atmosphere that produces unrealistic assessments of our present circumstances, often accompanied by wishful thinking and uninformed speculation about possible future states.

As much as I appreciate the tone of Bishop Whalon’s response to my paper, I am forced to say that it evidences both wishful thinking and uninformed speculation.  Having said that, however, I wish to add that, in an odd way, his comments both tend to support my basic conclusions, and (even more oddly) indicate that there is more common ground between us than one might initially think.

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A Word in Time: An Open Letter to the Anglican Communion | Covenant

A number of the authors at Covenant have been working on an open letter in recent days.  The following is the final version which has been posted over at Covenant.  Please read it all.

August 25, 2008

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

We the undersigned contributors to Covenant-Communion.com believe that “a word in time” is now needed in order to assist the Communion to move forward in a constructive manner following the Lambeth Conference. We would like to speak such a word by specifically addressing the points Bishop Bob Duncan raises in his email to Bishop Gary Lillibridge, which has now been made public with Bp. Duncan’s permission. Our reflections are offered with all due respect for Bishop Duncan as a dear friend to some of us, and one whom those of us who know him personally admire as a stalwart in the faith. Bishop Duncan’s words are quoted in italics with our reflections following.

A Word in Time: An Open Letter to the Anglican Communion | Covenant

Proxy Wars and A Missionary’s Perspective on Lambeth

I just ran across the following blog post from an Episcopal Missionary in Tanzania regarding the recently concluded Lambeth Conference.  In this section we see just one of the many possible ways the debates in the West regarding human sexuality are already affecting life throughout the Communion.  Is there any doubt that, should division continue, such situations with increase and worsen?

As many of you know I am serving as a missionary in the Diocese of Central Tanganyika, which is a very large diocese in the Anglican Church of Tanzania. Now as a missionary I am here at the invitation and under the authority of the diocesan bishop here. This bishop is moderate and believes in dialogue and communicating with the Episcopal Church USA (ECUSA) and so he is willing to invite missionaries from there. The former Archbishop of the Anglican Church of Tanzania was strongly opposed to the actions of the Episcopal Church USA and he refused to accept money or aide from that Church.

This clear difference between the views of the former Archbishop of the Anglican Church of Tanzania (ACT) and the bishop of the Diocese of Central Tanganyika (DCT) has played out in a very ugly way. A few years ago, very conservative Anglican Americans (formerly Episcopalian) decided to establish an Anglican university in Dodoma. They put together a great deal of money and sent it over here to create and fund a university who would be headed by the former archbishop of ACT who condemned ECUSA as ignoring scripture and being sodomites. One of the main functions of this university was to train leaders for the Anglican Church, but ignores one major fact. In the 1960s DCT established Msalato Bible College (now Msalato Theological College) to train leaders for the Church. Msalato has been raising up and educating leaders for decades in the same place that American Anglicans established this new university, which is called St. John’s. The people who established St. John’s hoped to supplant Msalato forbade cooperation between the two institutions. The backers of St. John’s established huge scholarship funds and were able to successfully lure away all but one of Msalato’s first class of degree students with promises of free education. At the same time many churches and some diocese in the Episcopal Church have increased their support for Msalato and DCT.

Historians would call this a proxy war. One in which two larger powers use local leaders to wage a war against each other without risking any of their own people. Proxy wars were very common during the Cold War and were fought throughout the developing war. This is a sad and tragic development. A perversion of the Church and a bastardization of mission theology. The Church should not look to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, the conflict between the Contras and Sandinistas, or the Bay of Pigs invasion to find tactics or ethical support.

Day’s Daze in Dodoma » Blog Archive » A Missionary’s Perspective on Lambeth.

The Anglican Communion Institute, Inc. – TEC's Theological Agenda and TEC's Strategy for the Lambeth Conference of Bishops

Shortly before the opening of the Lambeth Conference (now in progress) the Rt. Rev. Clayton Matthews of the office of TEC’s Presiding Bishops circulated a memo to all TEC bishops planning to attend. The memo is entitled “Lambeth Talking Points” and is intended to guide and shape the comments of TEC’s bishops in their discussions with other bishops from other parts of the Anglican Communion. The memo is revealing for several reasons. (1) It is an obvious attempt to give uniform shape and content to the contribution TEC’s bishops have to make; (2) it reveals what TEC’s leadership intends the outcome of the conference to be; and (3) displays what the theology is that lies behind the uniform position TEC’s leadership hopes to establish as that of the Communion as a whole.

It is revealing that the introduction to the memo states that a method of communication is being proposed that “will provide the media with no more “than they want or can use.” It is manifestly also a method designed to keep a large group of people “on message” so that TEC’s bishops will remain on the same page. It is manifest also that the memo signals a hardened position on the part of TEC’s Episcopal leadership that runs counter to the spirit the Archbishop of Canterbury has asked to guide the bishops in their deliberations—a spirit of mutual subjection in Christ that is open to correction.

The Anglican Communion Institute, Inc. – TEC’s Theological Agenda and TEC’s Strategy for the Lambeth Conference of Bishops
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The Living Church Foundation | Sudanese Bishop Explains Release of Letters

The Church of Sudan has shaken things up a bit at Lambeth over the past few days with their call for Gene Robinson to resign his post as Bishop of New Hampshire.  These statements have been reported as coming as a surprise to The delegation from The Episcopal Church because Sudan, unlike other African provinces, has maintained relationships even with more revisionist Dioceses in the US.  I’m especially interested in this development because of the relationship the Church of Sudan has with the Diocese of Tennessee through the wonderful ministry of the Sudanese congregation at St. Bartholomew’s Church.  In fact, I believe Archbishop Bul was in our Diocese not long ago.

As more news comes out about this, the more it seems to me to be a strong Christian stance.  The fact that the Sudanese has continued to meet with the Americans, yet are strong in their statement, and even the wording of their admonition bespeaks Christian charity and concern.

Members of the House of Bishops of The Church of the Sudan knew that The Episcopal Church would attempt to make the exclusion of Bishop V. Gene Robinson of New Hampshire an issue at the Lambeth Conference, and so they prepared the two letters released yesterday before they departed for the England.

“This was our unanimous position that we agreed to,” said the Rt. Rev. Benjamin Mangar Mamur, Bishop of Yirol. As to the timing of their release, he said the Sudanese bishops left that decision to their primate, Archbishop Daniel Deng Bul.

Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams acknowledged receiving the letters before they were released, but they came as a surprise to a number of other African bishops. Bishop Mangar said the letters, especially the one on human sexuality, were not meant to be hurtful. Instead they were intended as a plea to come back to the fold from one group of Christians to another.

{Read It all}