Musings of an Anglican/Episcopal Priest

Tag: Diocese of Tennessee

What rock in the Wilderness…

[Note: I’ve held onto this for a few days, hoping to smooth it out in places or expand on some of what I’ve written, anticipating some of the questions my musings might bring…but honestly I don’t have any more time to put into it right now. We’ll see about the future, though with Lent coming up, I somehow doubt I can sustain a long and extremely in-depth conversation. Oh well… maybe it will inspire some thoughts.]

Many questions have been raised recently about the motivations of clergy and laity who decide to depart from or remain within the Episcopal Church. Since I am a priest of the Episcopal Diocese of Tennessee and two priests and congregations with whom I have close relationships with have decided to affiliate with other Anglican bodies, several people have asked me why I have remained. Sometimes the comments have not been so much questioning as accusatory. (I do want to say, that no one actually associated with these two congregations has acted negatively toward me-we know and love each other too well for that I believe). I want to caveat my comments by saying that, in this moment in time, because of the stage and degree of conflict the Episcopal Church is experiencing, it is wrong for people to cast aspersions on those who come to different conclusions than they do. This is a sketch of my personal reasons for remaining where I am, and no one else should assume this is a demand that they agree or come to the same conclusion.

At times I am tempted to classify myself as an “ecclesiastical cynic.” What prevents me is that such a terminology might indicate that I do not have hope for the Church, which of course I do as a follower of Christ. But what I believe is expressed in that joking moniker is the fact that I don’t expect very much of the Church as an institution because I don’t expect very much of people in general. There are times I have been disappointed, certainly, but whenever I feel that way (or worse, feel as though someone has done something negative to me personally) I try to take a breath, think about it and remember they are sinful people just like me. Perhaps because such an experience of equality in sin and brokenness lies at the heart of my call, I strive to recognize the great capacity for the good and the bad within all of us and by extension the institutions we inhabit. But because I don’t expect very much of the Church, I suppose many of the failures of the Episcopal Church have struck me somewhat less deeply than some of my friends and acquaintances—especially those who grew up in the Episcopal Church and can remember the “good old days” before heresy and…for lack of a better descriptor, silliness, became the rule of the day.

I can understand the desire of my friends to disaffiliate from TEC and move on to a better place. Where I believe I part company with them is that I’m not sure such a place truly exists. Oh, I’m sure that they don’t waste their time fighting some of the battles that are now being fought within the Episcopal Church, but I’m confident they will find other things to argue over eventually. I’ve seen it happen already in a few congregations, if not on a broader scale yet. And while I may personally prefer some of the possible disagreements within some of the newer Anglican formations in North America, God has not placed me there. I am where I am, and to not deal with that unless and until I am called out would, as I see it, be unfaithful.

But what, some might ask are my underlying assumptions that would enable me to have a clear conscience while being an orthodox priest in what appears to be an increasingly heterodox body? The list below is a summary which I will expand on in greater detail and explain their interrelation:

  1. We have unity with all baptized Christians, and share communion with them based upon their word.
  2. Leaving the Episcopal Church doesn’t separate us from our errant brothers and sisters, remove the stain of guilt from us or lessen our responsibility to call them back to faithfulness.
  3. I have not been hindered in preaching the Gospel and don’t feel a practical need to depart.
  4. The only other reason I would have to leave at the moment is bad press.
  5. That may border on idolatry. It’s part of an economy of Icons where people gain worth from something other than their identity in Christ and as people made in the image of God.

I. We have a unity with all Baptized Christians (whether we want to or not.)

Within Anglicanism—particularly the Episcopal Church—we practice what in the 19th century was termed “open communion.” That’s not the same as the contemporary discussion of whether or not to commune the unbaptized, rather it refers to the practice of allowing all Baptized Christians to receive, regardless of denomination. This Eucharistic sharing is rejected by some denominations because, in their understanding it portrays a unity that doesn’t exist. The flip side of the argument, which is the basis for open communion among Christians, is that there is already a unity that cannot be denied.

On a related note, the only real form of discipline available to Anglicans is Eucharistic discipline. This is why I do not think it wrong for orthodox to refuse to commune with those with whom they are not in love and charity or vice versa. At the same time however, the only way this can be discipline is if we recognize we are part of the same body. Otherwise it is simply personal piety and has no real effect, just as it wouldn’t really have an effect if a Roman Catholic chose not to commune at an Episcopal Church–it simply serves as a testimony to what is.

II. Leaving the Episcopal Church doesn’t separate us from our errant brothers and sisters, remove the stain of guilt from us or lessen our responsibility to call them back to faithfulness.

Someone left the following comment on my website recently:

“Wasted time, wasted breath, wasted money. Goodbye Episcopal Church.”

I suppose one could say that about any denomination if the denomination where what one was concerned about. The question really is what makes any alternative a true alternative? I believe the whole Church (or at least the greater part of it in the west) is under judgment at the moment—we’re in a wilderness as Christians—and a failure to recognize that simply leads one to exchange one set of problems for another in most cases when one changes institutions. What we need to recognize is that no human allegiance can give the security of allegiance to Christ. Another way to look at it is whether the sacraments can be rightly administered and the Word proclaimed faithfully anywhere within the Episcopal Church. At the moment I think the answer to that is yes, though the number of places it is becoming more difficult has increased. What has also increased is the level of mental and spiritual anguish on the part of those of us who can’t support the false teachings of some in our national leadership. But the reality of the unity of the Church is that I should be equally offended by their false teachings and statements regardless of whether I am an Episcopalian, Baptist, Methodist etc… to say nothing of a fellow Anglican, whether we share an institutional framework or not. The question of institutional affiliation should really only come up when such falsehoods prevent or hinder our ministries. At the moment I cannot see how my ministry would be any different in a body other than the Episcopal Church. My sermons would be the same, my counsel to my congregation wouldn’t change, and indeed I would have the same set of worries that I do now.

I used to be very concerned that in bringing people into the Episcopal Church and preaching the Gospel to them I was perhaps “setting them up” to move on later on and be taken in by some wacky theology at another Episcopal Church. What I realized is that most people no longer have the same “brand loyalty” that clergy have. My experience has been that the most faithful Christians I’ve met in the Episcopal Church don’t really care so much about the denominational accretions as they do about the Eucharist and being part of a believing community. Many share my conviction that the three-fold ministry is the most faithful way of forming the church and have a deep affection and love for the prayerbook tradition, but as far as “the Episcopal Church…” that’s just the name on the letterhead. They want a place where they can worship and receive the sacraments.

At the same time, while in prayer about this issue I had the realization that my primary concerns would be the same if I were in an independent Bible Church or a Baptist Church or what have you. I come from a Southern Baptist background, and I know there is theology there that is at least as bad as some that comes out of corners of the Episcopal Church (though obviously with different tendencies). So in any case, my responsibility to my people is to preach the Gospel faithfully and give them the tools to recognize crap whenever and wherever they hear it, whether it comes from someone in a pointy-hat or a televangelist etc…

III. I have not been hindered in preaching the Gospel and don’t feel a practical need to depart.

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Bishop Bauerschmidt's response to the House of Bishop's meeting

Diocese of Tennessee shieldBishop Bauerschmidt’s response to the House of Bishop’s meeting in New Orleans has now been posted as a PDF on the Diocesan website. You can access it all here.

Here’s a selection:

The House of Bishops has now given its response, one that went much further than I thought possible for the House to provide the clarifications requested by the Primates’ Meeting. The clarifications concern the requested assurances on the blessing of same-sex unions and on the consecration to the episcopate of persons living in a partnered same-sex union sought by the 2004 Windsor Report. The issue before the Episcopal Church is to provide the assurances requested by the Report that will allow the common life of the Anglican Communion to continue. I believe that the principal question is no longer just whether the Episcopal Church desires to continue to walk with the Communion, but whether the Communion itself has the will to continue together. There is much here at stake that goes beyond the Episcopal Church.

{read it all}

The space we need…

Since the House of Bishop’s meeting in New Orleans is now over, I’ve posted the revised text of St. Francis Church’s consensus response to several questions presented to the Diocese by Bishop Bauerschmidt. During the revision process this post was password protected, but I’ve removed that feature now because I think some of what we said is applicable now in the days after the House of Bishop’s meeting. In particular, I wanted to point out this section:

Each of the requests mentioned above (the requests of the primates) have been made of the Episcopal Church by the Primates of the Anglican Communion in order to accomplish one very important goal: to achieve the space necessary to mend the broken relationships of trust and mutual affection upon which our communion has been built.

The first step in this process of reconciliation is that the offending party—in this case the Episcopal Church—must come not only to a place of realization and repentance, but also a place where real action can be taken to right previous grievances. It is not just that the Episcopal Church pursued a direction that the majority of the Anglican Communion has indicated it cannot follow; it is that this direction has been pursued despite repeated requests, pleadings and warnings not to do so.

{read it all}

I believe this meeting of the House of Bishops was a crucial point in providing the sort of space needed for healing and a relief from the psychic stress which many in our congregations find themselves under. I recall that the Bishops heard a presentation on how unhealthy it is for clergy to minister in such ambiguous circumstances, but it’s not just or even primarily clergy that suffer from the fissures and stresses in our common life. So, at the end of the day, how well did the House of Bishops, at least from what we’ve seen so far, address this need?

For myself, I’d say they’ve provided slight relief if any. At the moment it looks like this was an affirmation of the status quo, though the coming days may reveal that to be an incorrect assessment. The statement at least seems to clarify what was meant by B033, and indicates that it’s reach extends to any candidate for ordination to the episcopate who is a non-celibate homosexual. At the same time, the statement relies on the direction of General Convention in the future, and rests upon the limited distinction between authorized public rites of same sex blessings vs. blessings that are conducted as pastoral acts. In other words, in those places where they are already going on, they will continue, no rite will be approved, but even blessings that are technically “public” will be considered private because they don’t have an authorized public rite to use. We shall see.

Discipline and the Church

[Update: Bishop Howe of Central Florida has proposed a resolution that is similar to Ephraim Radner’s. The only problem is that reappraisers in the church are already poo pooing it because they think it forces the liberal Bishops to make an admission of some wrong-doing, or that it is simply unfair to ask them to absent themselves from the councils of the Communion without the reasserters doing the same.]

I have been following the developments at the House of Bishop’s meeting with some interest over the past several days, as have many within the Anglican/Episcopal fold. I have been encouraged to a small degree by a letter released by the “Windsor Bishops”that might serve as the basis for a resolution for our current conflicts. I say I’ve been encouraged only to a small degree because, while I appreciated the statement and seeing that both our current and retired Bishops of Tennessee had signed it, I haven’t seen anything to indicated that this proposal or anything substantive has really been taken up by the Bishops in their meeting. Every press conference I’ve seen has been discouraging–more ambiguity, more unease, more discouragement for people struggling to stay within the Episcopal Church as it currently exists.

That’s not to say that absolutely nothing is happening. There have been several proposals presented for possible ways forward. The most notable are those presented by the Rev. Dr. Kendall Harmon, Canon Theologian of the Diocese of South Carolina, and the Rev. Dr. Ephraim Radner, a member of the Anglican Communion Institute and a member of the Covenant Design group.

Both Harmon and Radner suggest that there may be a way forward for the Anglican Communion if Bishops of the Episcopal church voluntarily absent themselves from the deliberations of the communion. (you can see a note of comparison between the suggestions by Matt Kennedy on Stand Firm).

In Harmon’s scenario, the entire House of Bishops would voluntarily exclude themselves from the deliberations of the Anglican Communion, thereby representing our corporate responsibility for the current conflict and resulting loss of trust (this is not an us/them issue). This suggestion has much to commend it, and I think it bears a similar motivation to the reflection/thought experiment I wrote entitled “A Proposal for Repentance: what would it look like?” where I was, at least in part, inspired by Dr. Harmon’s statement at Plano, that we are all under judgment and in need of repentance. Here’s what “Bishop Theophilus Fictitious” suggested then (March of 2006), particularly relating to how repentance might be given liturgical and sacramental expression:

And so, friends, what is it that we must do. I have spoken of repentance, but what would it look like for us, for our church, to repent in these latter days where repentance has all but been forgotten, within the church as without?

I reiterate that this is a repentance of the whole church, not just of those who voted to approve the titular Bishop of New Hampshire. Nor is it only for those who have consented to or actively went forward with either same sex unions or the ordination of sexually active homosexuals. This is a time of repentance for us all, for our failures, for our neglect of Christ and his message, for our failure to serve Christ, to serve others, to set our face and stay the course.

As such, I want to suggest that, from a period determined (either Advent or Lent, depending on the time of year), we as the House of Bishops of the Episcopal Church USA, determine and state that we will hereby abstain from either partaking in or celebrating ALL sacraments, particularly the Eucharist, except in cases of extreme illness or imminent death.

We do this recognizing that the Eucharist is not a gift of grace only, but a gift of judgment and discernment for the people of God. Just as the Lord warned the Israelites while in the wilderness to maintain the appropriate boundaries lest he “break out against them,” so too does the Eucharist have boundaries, established by our Lord, evidenced in the fate of Judas, explained by St. Paul, that those who eat and drink unworthily eat and drink judgment or damnation upon themselves. Not only will we as Bishops abstain from the sacraments, but we heartily encourage all our Priests to abstain as well (except in those cases where pastoral necessity may require. i.e. baptism, marriage, moments of death and funerals), and to explain such abstention, its reasons and symbolism to their parishioners. We will compel no one outside the house of Bishops to maintain this abstention, but we recommend that it be a sign of repentance for the whole Episcopal Church.

We will maintain this abstention from communion as a sign of our unworthiness and repentance and as a sign of the communion which has been shattered with our fellow Christians around the world. At the designated time (Appropriately Easter or The Nativity of our Lord), a select foreign Bishop appointed either by ballot at the Primates meeting or selected by the Archbishop of Canterbury, will admit one designated Bishop of the Episcopal Church back into the Communion through a Eucharistic service of repentance and reconciliation.

That Episcopal Bishop will then, the following Sunday or major feast, admit another ECUSA Bishop back into communion, the order (beyond the first who will be picked by the primates) having been designated by ballot in the House of Bishops. Each Sunday or major feast following, those Bishops who have been readmitted to communion will do the same for another ECUSA Bishop, the number growing exponentially.

{read it all}

Kendall’s suggestion, which I think is a good one, is this:

“For myself, I will consider those in New Orleans serious when they consider offering the Anglican Communion something like this statement:

We realize we have caused huge damage to the whole Anglican Communion and therefore, we, as a body, voluntarily withdraw from coming to Lambeth 2008.

Now please note this means ALL the TEC Bishops. No exceptions. It would allow Dr. Williams to get nearly all (perhaps actually all?) the rest of the Communion to Lambeth, and it would show a sense of corporate responsibility for the wrong.

Yes, I know it is not perfect. I also know that it would only be PART of a solution and that there are many other questions which would have to be addressed. I also know it would only happen by divine intervention.

But only things LIKE THIS will really get us anywhere given the degree of damage, alienation, confusion and struggle.”

{HT Stand firm, T1:9}

In comparison, Dr, Radner suggests that only those Bishops who are unwilling or unready to accede to the requests of the Communion should voluntarily withdraw from the life of the communion, while those Bishop’s and Dioceses that are so commited would continue to participate:

My own hope, in light of this limited sense of the Archbishop’s desires, would be this: that the “Windsor Bishops” resolution be voted upon, and that, following that vote, there be an agreement worked out by which those who cannot, in good conscience (and here Abp. Anis’ plea provides a concrete possibility of direciton), abide by the acknowledged teaching and discipline of the Communion, by which they will temporarily withdraw from the Communion’s formal councils for an undetermined time (5 to 10 years was the suggestion of Prof. Grieb at the last House of Bishops’ meeting, a suggestion greeted with much appreciation); and during this time, those dioceses committed to the Communion’s teaching and discipline will move forward with the Communion’s life, and those congregations and clergy in dissenting TEC dioceses will be put under the oversight of Communion dioceses. When this is done, a formal request will be made to the Primates that those providing extra-geogrphaical oversight give up that role, and fold their congregations back into the Communion-linked dioceses and oversight of American bishops. TEC will not cease to exist (though, as with the Communion, not all will participate in its formal life); it will, rather, exist in a state of partition.

Like Matt Kennedy, I find much to commend in both of these ideas. I would be ecstatic to see either one put into place, though I think Radner’s may be less confusing to many orthodox who may not quite understand why their fellowship with the global communion should be so limited.

For myself, I would not only be encouraged to see such a step taken because I think it would provide the best way for the Anglican Communion to not only survive, but thrive, but I would also be encouraged because it would in effect, be a sort of self-imposed discipline that would allow time and space not only for the Communion to heal, but for TEC to re-learn what it means to be Church. What do I mean by that? Lately I’ve been thinking about discipline in the Church; the following is a summary of some of my thoughts. I hope they may be valuable as a starting point for discussion.

Where there is no discipline, there is no Church.

That may be a shocking statement to some, but it is a true one nonetheless. Consider first what discipline means. We think of discipline primarily in terms of punishment, and perhaps that betrays another example of the impoverishment of our language and thought. Consider: to be termed a “disciplinarian” is tantamount to being accused of being totalitarian or abusive. But discipline is not primarily about punishment, though punishment may be one of the acceptable tools to enforce discipline. “Discipline,” like the term “disciple” comes from the Latin word for “instruction,” and a person who lives a “disciplined” life is one who strives to set the bounds of their conduct by a particular teaching–their “discipline.” There is no getting away from discipline in the Church because there is no getting away from discipleship. Our Lord gave us the Great Commission saying, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit…”(Matt. 28:19). As Christians we can no more reject discipline and discipleship than we can reject baptism–they require each other, and we are bound to them both by the Word of God, incarnate and written.

The question then, is whether the Anglican Communion in general and the Episcopal Church in particular can truly claim to be part of the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church when we find it impossible to exercise even the most basic discipline in our common life, save that “discipline” which protects the letter of the law with not even a nod to its spirit. The truth, as hard as it is to stomach, is that if the Anglican Communion cannot find a way to discipline itself, if TEC continues on it’s way without any check, then the Anglican Communion will in effect, as a body, give up any claim to be a functional Church–instead, we will simply be playing dress up, and pretending–“having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power” (2 Tim. 3:5). In fact, I think it’s safe to say that TEC has already taken that step–we rejected any notion that we are fully or truly a part of the Church by affirming not just “local option” for the blessing of same-sex unions, but “local option” in the ordaining of non-celibate homosexuals to the priesthood. This point was made quite forcefully in another context, by theologians of the ELCA, our sister church, who stated in regard to their own denomination’s (since affirmed) drift toward local option:

By using the language of “this approach” (8) instead of “this change in policy” the Task Force advocates that the ELCA should “trust congregations, synods, candidacy committees, and bishops to discern the Holy Spirit’s gifts for ministry among the baptized and make judgments appropriate to each situation” (8). In the New Testament, however, the criterion for the discernment of the gifts of the Holy Spirit is a broadly based, ecclesial determination and not an individual, local preference. If the Report before us were to be implemented, the ELCA, as a national church body, would abdicate its theological and moral constitutional responsibility by relegating the decisions for which it alone is responsible to regional and local components. Far beyond transforming the polity of the ELCA into a congregational one, such an action would so fatally extend the boundaries of diversity in matters of doctrinal and ethical substance that this church would no longer be an effective collaborator either in the communio of the Lutheran World Federation or in the multiple dimensions of ecumenical dialogue. The proposed shift of matters of such enormous import from the national to the local levels will have two adverse consequences: 1. structural dissolution of the ELCA as it currently exists, and; 2. creation of intense division and disunity at the local level, thus effectively undermining “ways to live together faithfully in the midst of our disagreements” (5).

{read it all}

In effect, the allowance of local option means that TEC (and now the ELCA) have ceased to be churches in the fullest sense of the word, and have in fact–though in most cases without understanding the ramifications–taken the first practical steps toward dissolution of their ecclesial bodies. Such “solutions” to the disagreements we are experiencing do nothing but provide for further alienation and mistrust and put into practical and theological form the ideological dissonance that has existed for sometime between the various factions within these institutions. The fragmentation that we have seen over the past several years in The Episcopal Church has brought home the reality of this theological bomb.

The ambiguity and anxiety that people feel within the Episcopal Church is the result of the fact that they are actually paying attention to what is going on. People feel a distinct lack of direction and leadership because the institution that our forbears created to further the cause of the Gospel within the bounds of the Anglican tradition is breaking down and nothing new has yet emerged to take it’s place.

Is this necessarily a bad thing?

While this transition is certainly painful and is causing more stress now than any ecclesial conflict in recent memory, I don’t believe that makes it a “bad” thing. In fact, I believe it is the nature of human institutions to pass away–they, like the individuals who organize and support them–are dust and ashes. As an Anglican, I do not believe the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church is co-terminus with any man made institution–institutions are created to further the cause of the Gospel–when they cease to do that in any meaningful way they need to be renewed or, when the spiritual gangrene is widespread, they simply need to die and be replaced.

Does this mean I am in favor of starting a new Church? Well–frankly, I don’t know that such is even a possible option. Either one is part of the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church or one is not. I don’t agree with the logic that says “because you (or your congregation) exists within he Episcopal Church and the institution of which you are a part is dying, you must ‘come out’ in order to be part of the Church.” If faithful Christians are part of the Body of Christ, and it’s into the whole Church that we’re incorporated in baptism, then there’s no reason to say that because the brick and morter institution, the money-sharing once-was-missional-denomination is dying, that the gatherings of the faithful associated with it are also dying (though certainly many are). That is not to say that there aren’t practical reasons that congregations have encountered which have led them to exit the institutional structures of TEC in order to fulfill their ministries in as faithful a way as they can.

If not death, then what is the alternative for those gatherings of the faithful that find themselves in stagnant or dying denominations?

As I consider the landscape of our current conflicts I have to wonder how much of them are shaped by a form of “American exceptionalism.” Sectarianism is, along with various forms of gnosticism, a besetting heresy in American Christianity. How often have faithful Christians sought to create holy communities by coming out of sick denominations only to succumb to the same sickness themselves in a generation or two–if not less. Such a view of the struggles of Churches fails to consider the fact that there have been moments of spiritual renewal as well as malaise in many denominations.

Indeed, there is something to be said for the faithfulness that stands and speaks truth to power rather than that which drives us to excise ourselves from the ailing institution in order to create one wherein “we” are the power. I have many friends who have left the Episcopal Church and either they or their congregations have sought some form of alternative Anglican oversight. I don’t begrudge them their decision in most cases. Indeed, there are many places in our nation where I would doubtless have been forced to make similar decisions. But that has not happened in the Diocese of Tennessee. What has happened is that those of us who feel strongly that we must maintain our communion at the international level, that we must be faithful to scripture and traditional Christian moral teaching–have become more and more irrelevant on the national scene. Thankfully, of course, it is not relevance we seek, but truth. And the truth is that discipline, if it is to mean anything must be imposed with some degree of broad agreement if not unanimity by the instruments that our Communion possesses, and others which it may form. If this does not or cannot happen, then fragmentation will occur as different bodies that can enforce discipline within themselves emerge, and the Anglican Communion will cease to exist in any meaningful way.

What this means is that calls for leaving the dead to bury their dead in the Episcopal Church are actually not serving the cause of discipline. They may be serving the cause of creating new ecclesiastical entities that can support discipline within themselves–but they are not actually calling anyone who declines to join them to repentance, nor do they seem to be serving the cause of discipline within the broader Anglican Communion. Indeed, the level of fracturing within the American Episcopal Church serves as a testimony not only to the fact that there are orthodox Christians who are seeking to remain faithful members of the Anglican Communion outside the bounds of The Episcopal Church, but also to the lack of ability the Anglican Communion has demonstrated to enact any sort of discipline. In an ironic twist, by departing the Episcopal Church for greener pastures in which they seek to remain part of the larger Communion, folks may simply be bearing witness to the fact that the Anglican Communion itself is unable to function fully as the Church.

The Discipline we can preserve

And yet, these questions of discipline do not make up the whole of the subject. To speak of calling to repentance and institutional correction is to talk about a limited form of discipline within the Church. There is another form of discipline that can be preserved even within an institution that has begun to cast off the designation of Church. This is the form of discipline represented by our worship, the sacraments and our practices of prayer.

Article XIX of the Articles of Religion states that “The visible Church of Christ is a congregation of faithful men, in which the pure Word of God is preached, and the Sacraments be duly ministered according to Christ’s ordinance, in all those things that of necessity are requisite to the same.

The visible Church of Christ is to be found then, in any congregation where the Word of God is preached and the sacraments are “duly ministered.” This says nothing of jurisdiction, affiliation or the like. And why should it? Anglicans have never claimed to be the entire church, alone. There has always been a recognition that the bounds of the Church and the bounds of the institution were not one and the same. This is something for us to be particularly thankful for, because, as Anglicanism has never claimed to be the entire Church, sufficient unto itself, it has also never claimed that the sacraments belong solely to her. Instead, the sacraments and sacramental acts are God’s gift to the world through the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church which Christ instituted, and which the Holy Spirit preserves and in which all faithful people and congregations may claim membership.

The first Bishop of North Carolina, John Stark Ravenscroft once preached a sermon on the subject of the Church in which he said:

We cannot help it, my brethren, if persons whose conduct is a scandal to all Christian profession, will call themselves Episcopalians: the discipline of the Church can be applied only to those who are known and received as communicants…1

I would go further than the good Bishop and say that we cannot control the beliefs or conduct of anyone who calls themselves by the name of Christ–and yet, as Christians we bear the repercussions of it, regardless of denomination. At the same time, we also bear a responsibility, not only to give glory to Christ, but to offer support and correction to those who claim to be part of the body.

In order to do this, however, we must “continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers,” because this is the primary discipline of the Church, and it is only in this form of discipline that any other can find its grounding.

What say you?

  1. The Works of the Rt. Rev. John Stark Ravenscroft: his sermons and controversial tracts, p 101 []

First Impressions: Fr. James Burns

This post is a continuation of my “first impressions” post relating to Fr. John Bauerschmidt. As I mentioned there, I will attempt to go through the state of candidates and write up my “first impressions” from the notes that I took as I read their responses to the search committee questions.

Fr. James L. Burns:
This first thing I notice about Fr. Burns’ response to the Episcopate committee questions is the length: he wrote three pages (really more like two and a paragraph) where the other two remaining candidates wrote 7 and 10–as a result I felt there to be much less detail and depth in his response as compared to Frs. Bauerschmidt and Paden and in all honesty, he came out the worse for it.
Fr. Burns begins by discussing his experience of call in terms of his early “determined flight from it” during which time he sought to serve people, as he believed his vocation to be, just not in the context of ministry in the Church. Of his decision to enter the discernment process, and the subsequent sense that his calling was affirmed by those both within and without the Church, he quotes Frederic Buechner’s definition of vocation as “the place where one’s deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”
In reflecting upon his relationship with Jesus Christ, Fr. Burns states that his relationship with the Lord has grown over his 24 years of ordained ministry. As admirable as this is, I’m left with some questions regarding what he says next, that his relationship has grown:

not so much in my certainty about what His will is for all things, but in my trust in Him and my dependence on His love and guidance in my life. I find that I sometimes understand Him less while wanting to know Him more. When I attend to my relationship with Jesus and offer myself in His service then occasions for that service arise along with a better understanding of what He would have me do.

I’m simply curious as to how this reflection plays out in his life. I think I know what he means, but I’m unsure, as it almost sounds contradictory. I wonder if this statement is a fertile soil for relativity, i.e. I know what Jesus says for me, but I have no clue what his message is for you. While there definitely needs to be a great deal of humility when talking about God’s will in order to avoid acting out of hubris and self-righteousness, yet I would prefer more clarity of speech. Additionally,
Fr. Burns neglects to even mention the Windsor Report in his responses, and he doesn’t seem to show real familiarity to the current conflicts within the Episcopal Church, let alone the Anglican Communion.

Considering the Late Unpleasantness:

His answer to question III seems to be the least informative and leaves a great deal unsaid and many questions lingering. While the focus on covenant and the comparison of the relations within the Church to a marriage relationship, is helpful, Burns misses the opportunity to explain what exactly he believes this covenant to consist of, i.e. what is its purpose and goal. It seems as though Burns is saying that one is to continue in “covenant” for the sake of the covenant if for the sake of nothing else. While
there is certainly some truth in this, it lacks the depth of conviction–one could say this simply for the sake of the institution and for nothing else. It would be helpful to hear some clarification about what exactly Fr. Burns feels goes into covenant, and where the marriage covenant is similar to our calling as Christians. While I certainly have my own opinions about why the analogy itself is a good one, I’m not certain he and I would come at this from the same direction and one would’ve appreciated
more depth in this section of the response given the wide variety of feelings on the subjects involved. A large portion of the question also related to the hopes the respondent has for the Church and the Diocese. Again, Burns misses the opportunity to provide more clarity for those reading and explain what his hopes entail and instead finds it sufficient to say “My hope for the Church is that it can actually be a witness to the power of covenant.” which I for one found to be very
unhelpful–perhaps it would have meant more if he had clarified beforehand what his understanding of covenant is, and how it specifically applies not only to the Church at all times, put in particular in our time.
Reflection on the Office of Bishop
Again, there’s not a lot of information here, in a part of the questionnaire which one would hope to see a great deal more reflection upon what it actually means to be called to the office of Bishop. What follows is the entirety of Fr. Burns’ response to the question: “What are the most important attributes in one who is called to be a bishop and why?”
I believe that the most important attributes for one called to the office of bishop are: Proclamation – one who can articulate and proclaim the Good News of God in Christ in the context of the world in which we are now living. Pastor – one who cares for those in his or her charge, especially the clergy and lay leadership of the Diocese. Presence – one who is willing to be the face and voice of the Church in his or her community.
First things first: Burns doesn’t fully answer the question–if this were a graded exam he’d start out in a hole on this question regardless of anything else he said. But he does say a few things…but leaves many more unanswered questions. For instance, one appreciates where he begins, i.e. in saying that the most important attribute of the Bishop is to “articulate and proclaim the Good News of God in Christ in the context of the world in which we are now living.” It would have
been more helpful if Fr. Burns had taken his own advice and taken the time to articulate what that Good News is, or to offer any elaboration on how this might be achieved in our context. Again, I understand that it is very hard to provide any specifics about what one might do as a new Bishop in a Diocese with which one is largely unfamiliar (granted Fr. Burns came out of the Diocese of TN, but it has been many years since he has been here), but some elaboration would seem necessary…from
what I’ve heard there hasn’t been a whole lot, though I will say that after meeting Fr. Burns last Wednesday, he is a very nice man who does indeed seem to be pastoral and a people person. I will also say that I appreciated his understanding that a Bishop (as to an extent is any priest, and indeed, any Christian) is the recognizable face and voice of the Church in a given community.
So there you have it…my first impressions… my notes on Fr. Paden are coming right up…

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First Impressions: Fr. John Bauerschmidt

Diocese of Tennessee shieldThe following are my first impressions of the slate of Bishop candidates based upon their answers submitted to the search committee of the diocese. I will add some reflections later based upon the outside materials they may have written which I could find. After I have written my first impressions I will also mention some of the questions I have about each
candidate as well as their positions and/or their theology.

Fr. John Bauerschmidt:

Upon a first cursory reading of the candidates responses, Fr. Bauerschmidt’s struck me in the most positive way–this may be because the early experience he describes, sans an Episcopalian background, is similar to my own. On the whole I felt like he was presenting a moderately conservative view of the ecclesial situation in the Anglican Communion. I appreciated the care his writing seemed to demonstrate as well as the deference he showed to the international church as a communion of faithful Christians of which
we are, and wish to remain, a part. Additionally, I thought his writing demonstrated a healthy theological perspective and seemed to convey the virtue of patience.

There were several particular sections of his response that stood out to me in a positive way, including his discussion of the shaping of his early faith through the reading of Mere Christianity, in particular his discussion of the appreciation of the Christian Tradition, which he terms “the whole world of classical
Christian conviction.” The resonance with the text as conveying “nothing manipulative, but instead a deep appreciation of the past, a reasonable appeal to the conscience, and a steady love of beauty and order that moved both heart and mind,” was one that mirrored my own experience, as was his return to the Episcopal Church as a teenager “a time when many..peers were ceasing to be active in the Church” (I became an Episcopalian at age 19, joining the church after being an effectively “unchurched” Baptist for many

Bauerschmidt seems to see leadership primarily in terms of casting a vision–in his case a vision based on ideas–and in discerning the gifts of others while equipping them to do ministry. The leader, he says “makes sure that the procession remains a procession, purposeful and ordered and not a chaotic clash of individuals to every point of the compass, but the way to do this is to lead from the front.

What about the late unpleasantness?

Certainly one of the most interesting sections of any candidate’s response will be how they answer question number III, which states: “Given the tenor of the Episcopal Church today, the hope of reconciliation and healing is on the hearts and minds of many. What is your hope as it relates to a diocese and the wider Church? Fr. Bauerschmidt’s response in this area is in large part what makes me think he may be an acceptable Bishop for the orthodox. Bauerschmidt begins
by stating that his hope is that the Episcopal Church will “both find a way to stay together and to remain a part of the Anglican Communion,” and that he is willing to work for this. He states that he realizes this will be a difficult task requiring the Episcopal Church to “operate differently in a number of ways.” The difference seems to hinge upon our obligations as Christians who recite the creeds as a standard of faith. Indicating that we cannot walk away from our responsibilities in this regard, Bauerschmidt
seems to indicate where he places our international unity on the scale of importance. This recognition of the global nature of the Anglican Communion is again expressed in the statement that:

We can hardly argue for unity on the diocesan or national level while disregarding the unity of the Church throughout the world. In comparison with the unity of the world-wide Communion, other considerations pale in importance. Our mutual forbearance and love are called for, a powerful witness to the world..

Following this statement about the value of the worldwide communion, Bauerschmidt gives an honest assessment, stating that the “temptation to disintegration has its own power,” that is, there is a sort of inertia that is built up as disintegration (churches leaving left and right) begins… it naturally spreads. In order to prevent this from spreading throughout the Communion, Bauerschmidt maintains, Anglicanism “is not going to have the luxury of continuing with ‘business as usual’.” Recognizing that change
is difficult and will take time, Bauerschmidt is clear in his belief that the only way forward for the Communion is a process like the one outlined in the Windsor report.

In reflecting on the way that Bauerschmidt addressed the questions of the most important attributes of one who is called to be a Bishop I note that he places pastoral care in the context of formation: “The Christian pastor is a mentor to the community, helping people to grow spiritually and to become leaders themselves.” As part of this he mentions the desire to point people toward Scripture and to encourage them in their relationship with God. Additionally, in looking at the role of the Episcopacy, Bauerschmidt
indicated that he believes “above all, [a bishop should be] a person of prayer, a theologian, and teacher.” At this point in the life of the Episcopal Church, I could think of only one quality needed–not necessarily “more” but in addition to these… and that is clear leadership and vision–there’s no doubt AT ALL that we need theologians in the Episcopacy as what passes for theology in the House of Bishops is often a joke (and a bad one at that).

lastly for the section discussing his view of the episcopacy, Bauerschmidt says a few things that I find interesting, though (as with some other things) I would like more clarification: in explaining the statement that a Bishop must be missionary minded, Bauerschmidt states that “The bishop is going to have to re-deploy his or her own time away from maintenance and toward mission.” Additionally he states that “The days of episcopacy as a distant “hierarchy” insulated from the realities of the Church’s mission
have already passed away. Change is afoot, and so we need to get moving.” While I like this language and find myself agreeing with what I believe the premises are, I would like some clarification about what this actually means in more concrete terms.

In considering Bauerschmidt’s theological statement, I would say it was very solid and well-grounded. Beginning with the Parish as the heart of ministry, he focuses on several key areas that are foundational to his theology: first comes prayer–as he states the theologian is the one who prays. As with all prayer and worship there must be an object of prayer and devotion–in this case the Person of Jesus Christ whom Bauerschmidt highlights as central to his theology. Not only is Christ central, but he says that
“faith is rooted in relationship with Jesus Christ: God in flesh, a Person embodying both divine and human natures…” Continuing on to discuss the ways in which Love/relationship/the community of faith as well as the Scriptures and sacraments are central to his theology Bauerschmidt segues into a clear discussion of the cross, “the chief expression of both love and relationship…the cross is about sacrificial, redemptive love. Personally, I would like some discussion of the transformative nature
of the Christian faith as well as its redemptive character, but perhaps that will come out later.

I find Bauerschmidt’s writing style good and demonstrative of a range of knowledge. I appreciate many of the points he makes, though I would like more information or clarification on some. The questions that I have regarding him as Bishop would relate primarily to his leadership and his commitments, both theological and practical, i.e. is he solidly orthodox or is he willing to compromise on some things which should not be compromised on? Additionally I wonder if he’s able to lead, and if so if he would be able
to further the tradition of mission and church-planting which has been established and is one of the healthiest parts of the Diocese of Tennessee. That’s my first impression summary of Bauerschmidt.

More to come on the other candidates, as well as a consideration of other writings outside the search committee questionnaire.

And They're Off!

Diocese of Tennessee shieldThe names of the nominees for the 11th Bishop of Tennessee have been released. You can read more about them on the Bishop search web site. There are five nominees this go-round:

With joy and enthusiasm the Episcopate Committee of the Diocese of Tennessee presents the following persons as nominees for election as our 11th Bishop: The Rev. John C Bauerschmidt from The Diocese of Louisiana; The Rev. James L. Burns from The Diocese of New York; The Rev. Thack H. Dyson from The
Diocese of the Central Gulf Coast; The Rev. Dr. Russell Jones Levenson, Jr. from The Diocese of the Central Gulf Coast; and The Rev. Carter N Paden from The Diocese of East Tennessee.

I thought I would provide some initial thoughts as I read their biographies and responses to questions. Keep in mind that these are initial impressions and a thorough examination of each of the candidates and the gifts they bring will require more time and (hopefully) some interaction. I will be posting more thoughts as I have time over the next few days. I’m looking forward to meeting these men, and hope that we can put some of the past behind us. I, of all people, want a strong Bishop and felt I had an understanding
of who out of the last slate of candidates that would’ve been… but it was not to be. So, the question is, how can we be open to the guidance of the Spirit in a time like this, with the Episcopal Church in the situation it is in now. Can one of these candidates manage to be both a strong leader and a reconciler? Can they be clear and demonstrate their convictions, lead a self-defined “Windsor Diocese” that has a depth of division among its clergy and to a much lesser extent, its laity?
I’ll be up front about my bias: I became an Episcopalian so that I could be Anglican… I have no interest in being part of a small American sect, one among a plethora of ever-expanding protestant groups. My hope and prayer for the next Bishop of Tennessee is that they will first and foremost be godly–and by that I mean committed, heart and soul, to Jesus Christ and to the saving message of the gospel. I pray they will be pious and a person of prayer. I pray that the next Bishop will be a person of conviction,
and will not be afraid to state those convictions in the councils of the church. I pray they will be humble, willing to listen, but bold in action when they discern it to be of God. I pray they will be committed to the Anglican Communion, to maintaining the relationship between the world-wide Anglican family and this Diocese. I pray that our next bishop will be a leader–for that is what we truly need. I pray that whomever the next Bishop is, they will continue the commitment to church planting so emphasized
during Bishop Herlong’s episcopate. I also long for someone who will emphasize and cast a compelling vision for youth, college and young adult ministry, without neglecting the strengths we already have as a Diocese. Finally, my prayer is that the next bishop be a capable and thoughtful theologian who can clearly articulate a theological vision in the midst of the theological confusion and muddle that is today’s Episcopal Church.
Can any of these nominees do that? I pray so… now, the question is (since this is my blog) which ones strike me as possibilities?
Dwight Yoakam:Intentional Heartache:Blame the Vain[4:23]

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