Monday, September 24, 2007

A Letter from the Dean

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

I would like to suggest the following way forward out of this impasse.

1. That we learn from the Eastern Orthodox and the uniate Rites within the Roman Catholic Church.
2. That we give up the notion of one bishop for one geographical area.
3. That Anglicanism have within it various Rites in the meaning above, e.g., the U.S. Rite, the Nigerian Rite, etc. which cross geographical boundaries.
4. That there may be significant variations within these rites so long as there is agreement on the points of the Lambeth Quadrilateral.
5. That all Bishops within these rites are in full Communion with the See of Canterbury and the Anglican Communion, thus both Bishops Mims and Robinson and other Bishops ordained for ministry in the United States by other Provinces are Bishops of the Anglican Communion and full participants in Lambeth.
6. That the U. S. Rite allows for the blessing of same sex relationships and the ordination of people to all orders who are in partnered relationships of the same sex.
7. That The Episcopal Church allow Primates and Bishops from other jurisdictions to exercise juridical authority within the United States, and that other Provinces allow the Primate and Bishops from The Episcopal Church to exercise juridical authority within all other geographical Provinces of the Anglican Communion.
8. That all real and personal property of The Episcopal Church and its dioceses belongs to The Episcopal Church, but that in those cases where a Diocese or Parish desires to join another Province such property may be purchased at fair market value for use by fellow Anglicans, and that those Dioceses or Parishes who wish to be part of The Episcopal Church in other countries be allowed to do the same.

Yours in Christ,
The Very Reverend G. Thomas Luck

Comment: I saw this letter from Dean Tom Luck from our cathedral on the House of Bishops/Deputies list serve. He is to be commended for his willingness to wade in on a very difficult understanding of ecclesiology, of how the Episcopal Church understands itself. It says something about his bravery to post on that website simply because it is a good way to have your ideas fairly well dissected by everyone in the Church. It is also the first I have heard from anyone in the Diocese of CNY who has been willing to say ANYTHING about the current struggle in the Anglican Communion save in the ‘confidential’ settings of clergy conference and the blogs from the militant Right.

The intrepid Dean has an interesting proposal, and in the end, may be the way things shake out given the way that things happen in the Church, more because of NOT taking a stance. It may be the way that the Anglican Communion ends up rather than by coming to any new pro-active understanding of what is happening in the communion.

But the problems of ecclesiology that rise in Tom’s proposal are multitudinous.

From the last proposal, I have to go with the courts: The property belongs to The Episcopal Church (TEC) Full Stop! It may not be bought and sold or held hostage by those who want to go to Nigeria. Property is held in trust for all those who have gone before and for all those who will come after. Sorry. This is non-negotiable.

Proposal 7
poses some interesting concepts. This means that not only can Akinola continue to appoint priests and bishops in this country; it would allow any other province to do the same in his. Would the Californian bishops be happy if ++Carlos Touche sent priests to minister to the folks in east LA? Would the priests of the US like to minister to the ex-pats in Nigeria? This would cause the continued factionalizing along racial and ethnic lines like the Roman Catholic Church experienced in the 20th century and which is causing continued difficulties in the cities of the NE to this day. One of the important jobs of Church is the aid to the socialization of immigrants into any society or culture.
Proposal 6 I cannot complain about. It is an important ministry of TEC to the whole of Christian society in this country and abroad. In various ages, the dominant culture of an age has had to bring to the rest of the world an understanding of justice and fairness. It was England in the 18th century that raised the issue that slavery was immoral. It took America many years and a civil war to catch up. It may take that method of change to bring the issue of gay and lesbian civil and religious rights to other parts of the world. But it cannot stop us from declaring ordination and consecration of gays and lesbians is the right thing to do.
Proposals 1,4,5 uses another Roman Catholic model or even a Eastern model for unity. I am most uncomfortable with Roman Catholic models for anything in TEC because we don’t do Roman Catholic well! Anglo-Catholics who ape all things RC end up looking foolish and miss the point of what Anglican catholicity means. In TEC our penchant for election beats the appointment model on almost a visceral level. Episcopalians do not take well to ‘appointment’ of any kind. We want to have our say. And it is deeply rooted in our Episcopal Constitution and Canons that we are a church that holds all orders in equal respect and honor. I feel that Luck’s penchant for catholicity cannot out weigh the ingrained call for our church to be one of equality. This has been a tension—a healthy tension in TEC since it’s inception. We meddle with the balance of powers to our peril.

The uniate model really doesn’t work in this country for Roman Catholics or uniate Catholics—the issues of married clergy, and individual church order are run rough shod over by the Italian Church. Such a model in the Anglican Communion would be not only messy, given the behavior of the bishops who have been invading TEC, there would be no order. Also having different rites in which culture and language is the paramount difference, is quite different from matters in which the concept of faith and morals are at the center of the discontinuity.

At present we all do “agree to Lambeth Quadrilateral”. The problem is that there are some who simply refuse to abide by it. And that is the problem with Tom's proposals. We cannot call out the police if a bishop does not conform to the principle of unity. The only thing that we can do is say "you are not part of me." Which Scripture does seem to condemn.

Basically these proposals are a call for a “freeze frame” approach to what is going on now --a desire for everyone to agree to allow what is going on to continue. And I don’t think that addresses the problem.

What we have seen over the past 4 years is a minority assaulting the Church structure for their own advantage. It is has been no less a junta than what goes on in Latin America or Africa. And because we are a people who believe in the rule of equality, because TEC has bent over backward to listen to those who would undo our constitution and canons and who would undo the Anglican Communion in the process, we have allowed the tyranny by a minority. I am sorry, but I cannot agree to make peace with those who would use their bully-boy tactics. If they want to convince the majority of the Church they are where the Holy Spirit is going,and work within the context of our polity, then that is fair. What is not fair, what is not just, what is not Christian, is bringing in other nations into what was a cultural justice issue in our own Church that needed to be addressed. The issue will be an issue for Nigeria, Kenya and Uganda in the future and they can deal with it when it is right for their culture to do so. But for those in TEC, the so-called network folks need to know that doing an end run around the democratic principles of TEC will not be tolerated.

But more than any one thing that has set my teeth on edge is the disrespect for Christ that has been dramatized by those who would break communion. For bishops to refuse communion because they believe themselves to be holier than others smacks of a kind of disrespect for all that any Anglican holds dear—the Body and Blood of our Lord. That we who have been in the Church for the past 30 years to put up with the antics of +Ft. Worth, +San Joachin, +Quincy, +Fond du lac says that we have been willing to accommodate the unworthy at communion because we believe Christ makes all worthy to commune. For those who would separate themselves, I would say “Go with God. You have not been a member of TEC for ages. Go to Africa, Brazil, or where ever and be happy.!” But leave the keys on your way out. Yes, take your pensions, you worked hard for them. But go and minister in Christ in the Church you have chosen.”

No Tom, we cannot just say “let bygones be bygones”. Too much damage has been done to our Church’s structure as it is by the bishops of the Network or what other alphabet soup they choose to go by.

What the Episcopal Church did in the early 19th century when they chose to be a church not based upon the” Lord Bishop’s” concept of government, was to devise a new formula for Church than what was practiced in England, Italy or Constantinople. We have lived by this form of ecclesiology for 200 years because our bishops knew that they were elected by the people and were accountable to the clergy and laity of their dioceses. We have been unwilling to allow the meddling in each other’s ministries all over the globe. If we let go of that principle, we will never have any order.

Should we walk apart? No. We should not choose to break Communion with anyone. If they force us to go, then the blood shall be upon their heads. It will be TEC that will survive simply because the old 'Lord Bishop' type of church is dying and one in which clergy and laity must work together will be the one that survives.

Thanks, Tom+. It has gotten the conversation going.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Balance of Power and the Calling Process

Part of what makes the government of the Episcopal Church work is its balance of powers. Just as in the American Constitution the executive, legislative and judicial branches of government balance each other, the Constitution and Canons of the Episcopal Church are to hold in tension the powers of bishops, clergy and laity.

Over the past few years one aspect of these powers, the calling of a Rector in the Diocese of Central New York, has been eroded by the appointment of clergy to specific parishes as vicars and then after a year, their appointment as Rector. This has been done by the bishop rather than through a clear calling process in which the parish takes the responsibility for calling its Rector with the bishop’s approval. This practice flies in the face of the traditions of not only the diocese but the Episcopal Church as a whole.

The present practice which is provided because either the diocese cannot get qualified clergy to make application to the parishes, or because the present system is too unwieldy for the congregations means that the clergy are then beholden, not to their congregations where their ministry should be centered, but to the bishop. This makes the power structures in the diocese uneven and unbalanced. It means that the calling of clergy by parishes is now completely in the hands of clerics instead of a walking together of clergy and lay. It also gives the bishop an inordinate amount of power in the diocese when that power should be balanced with clergy and laity.

Granted, many of our churches are now part-time cures. That in and of itself, makes it difficult to get clergy to come to CNY. But there are other dioceses where the decline of membership has called for different styles of leadership in parishes. Various kinds of cluster ministries, yoked situations have often cobbled together congregations so that they can support clerics, all to various degrees of success. Nothing beats the one parish/one cleric model of ministry. But not all of our parishes have that luxury in the present age.

All kinds of ministerial efforts are being considered. We have raised up indigenous clergy, members of a parish who become the “parson” or “person” in the old English sense. These congregations should be commended. But there are still parishes that have chosen to select their clergy from outside of the Diocese to help keep the diocese from stagnating with local clergy and opening the diocese to the wider Church.

My experience with a diocese that tried to control who came into it was the Diocese of Ft. Worth who only allowed clergy with like minds with the bishop to be allowed to be submitted to the parishes of the diocese. This diocese in its 20 some years of existence has never been part of the mainstream of the Episcopal Church. The clergy are fearful of saying anything that does not conform to the bishop’s ideology. And it fosters fear and dishonesty among the clergy because the power of the bishop is not held in balance among the orders of the Church. And no self-respecting Episcopal cleric will apply to churches in that diocese. This diocese is one of the ones now threatening to leave the Episcopal Church. And I would suggest that it is because the basic balance of powers has never been exercised in that diocese that this problem exists.

In CNY we are faced with the loss of parishes taking responsibility for the calling of their clergy. With fewer and fewer congregations going through the rather dense process to call clergy, and a process which is becoming incrementally more complex because of the lack of clear expectations from the Diocese, what is happening is that clergy and congregations are becoming less bonded to the ministry together. Clergy who are missioned by the bishop do not have the same connections with their parishes. And a common ideology of the ministry of the bishop is beginning to grow within the diocese that looks more Roman Catholic than Episcopalian. It erodes the pact between clergy and lay members. It makes the laity dependant upon the bishop rather than as discreet powers unto themselves that the Constitution and Canons hold as important for the good order of the Church.

What is needed is a process of calling a Rector that is clear and unbounded by the powers of the bishop. By canon it is always the bishop’s right to vet the clergy coming into the diocese and that responsibility should always be available to the bishop of a diocese. But the process of calling a new rector should not be clouded with Byzantine requirements and ever-changing remedies so that the bishop can control who might be considered by a parish.

Many dioceses help their parishes develop a profile for the Church Deployment Office (CDO) and then let them cull and interview those who submit their resumes. Then when the parish has pared the list down to a manageable number, ask the bishop to vet the names that have presented themselves to the congregation. In this way the major work is being done by the parish and for the parish. And the bishop still has a way to have some say but not an ordinate amount. This form of calling is used in many dioceses and could easily be used in the Diocese of Central NY if approved by convention vote. We have the right to order ourselves by convention and we should move to reclaim the rights of the laity with such an effort. Comments are welcomed.