Wednesday, November 25, 2009
The big kafuffle on HOB/D the last few days has been on the draconian measures that have been proposed by the Anglican Church of Uganda against LGBT folk. There has been a hue and cry raised demanding that the Presiding Bishop or the Executive Council make a statement condemning this attempt to criminalize or even execute LGBT people in that country. The PB was asked about this at the CNY diocesan convention just this weekend. She explained that the situation is much more volatile in Uganda than we understand in the US. She also recognizes that the legislation which is being presented there is being underwritten by ultra-conservative elements in the US. I have been impressed with the ability of members of HOB/D who have combed online places where the wider communion issues are being monitored. It is amazing that this issue has become such a hot topic all over the world, and how we see the underhandedness of it all.
All too often I separate church from state these days. Part of this comes from having taught in public school. We were well-trained to make hard lines between ‘politics’ and ‘church.’ I have even done so in the pulpit—being clear that my opinion would not endanger the 503c status of my parish. I like to think that the people in the pews have the sense to vote the way that they want to no matter what I say. I try to name Christian principles from the pulpit and let the people decide for themselves.
But I have seen over the past 10 years the kind of meddling in politics by folks in the name of ‘church’ that have made my skin crawl. This legislation in Uganda is being sponsored not just by the Church of Uganda, but with big money of super right-wing elements that are not Anglican or Episcopalian. It is being underwritten by groups with a Screwtape mentality who would disband American democracy for right-wing theocracy. It is the continued work of IRD and those who were the object of the Chapman Report that shows that this is one of the most diabolical efforts to undermine not only the love of Christ in the Church but also the basic governmental structures of our nation and other democratic nations of the world. These efforts are not by upstanding groups. They are fear-mongering groups that heighten anxiety and make the emotional strain so difficult that God-loving people give up rather than stand against this kind of perverse thinking.
I used to read the books of Robert Ludlum thinking that they were fiction. But the more that I see the effects of the scheming of these small groups of very wealthy people trying to manipulate my Church and my nation, I more I wonder if there is not some kind of cabal trying to take over our minds. I do not believe that this is just the mere paranoid feelings of someone in her sixties. Whatever it is, I am not one who is about to give in to them. +Jack Spong said that he remained an Episcopalian in the face of the neo-conservatives simply because he was unwilling to allow them to take over the Church. I’m with +Jack on this one. We need to expose these devious attempts of this cabal for what they are. I am really not willing to call them ‘conservative’. They are not just a matter of being on the right of a continuum on which I stand at the left. These groups are here to destroy, not just discuss another opinion. They are here to control, not merely offer a different way to skin the cat.
It is interesting that it has been LGBT issues that have flushed these “Controllers” out. That these groups come to the fore at the beginning of the fall of patriarchy doesn’t surprise me. Their anxiety began to be seen as women began to step into previously male-dominated positions in medicine/science, academia, politics and the Church. But the real clincher was when LGBT people began to take their rightful places in business, Church and politics. This is clearly not a liberal/conservative issue. It is a matter of POWER and not power that can be accessed by the democratic process. In many cases it is family power—large, extremely wealthy families that “know best” for the world’s society. They have taken on the veil of Christianity or Islam, or “Family Values” to legitimize their grasp for world power. And I think that such groups are not just factions who have different opinions. They are clearly those whose dogma is contrary to both Christianity and the rule of the people. I guess I am not going to retire after all.
(It is interesting that even the word "Cabal" has been taken over by the rightwingers -- just google image the word)
Monday, November 23, 2009
I was prepared to be impressed with The Most Reverend Katharine Jefferts-Schori, and I was. Her presence at the Central NY diocesan convention was marked by listening and sharing. She welcomed questions, but she also raised our eyes to what was going on even in our area. She gave credit to those who deserved it but also called from us the kind of ministry that we are all called to.
On Friday night she met with the clergy and their spouses for happy hour and dinner. She is a small woman who is going to have to deal with osteoporosis, I think, as she spends herself in the service of the Church. She said she hadn’t been home in two week and hadn’t seen her husband in three. That kind of job tears at one. I give thanks that she is willing to give of her self in service to us. She is incredibly frank but with a wonderful sense of quiet humor that marks the best of us. She has a gentleness that covers incredible strength that is rooted in God.
The first question she was asked by a spouse was if she was going to comment publicly on the situation in Uganda where there is legislation pending on the criminalization and even the death penalty for gays. Her explanation was measured and revealing. She has listened to the LGBT people of Uganda and refrained to do so because it would be pouring oil on the fire. Her comment on behalf of TEC would be seen as one more attempt at colonial censure. But she did say that she would be trying to address the monied interests in the US who fund the ultra-conservative efforts of the Mimms crowd and who are funding much of the anti LGBT element in Africa and the UK. She understands how communications in other places are grasped and is clearly informed about how to make her point. It is clear that she has good resources to call upon when she needs to make decisions.
Her non-anxious presence is amazing. More than the last two PB’s she can address and listen to those who are opposed to her without becoming defensive. She can be as welcoming to conservative or liberal alike. But she seemingly does not take a back step when addressing the tough issues. I must admit that I was not happy with her moratorium on LGBT consecrations in 2006. But her leadership in such places as San Joachin, Pittsburgh and Ft. Worth has been steadfast and tough. Her leadership in CNY was collaborative but not flashy. She is outwardly an exceedingly humble person. She knows she stands on the shoulders of the women who were ordained in ‘74 and ‘75. She knows that her experience of the episcopacy is predicated by +Barbara Harris and +Jane Dixon and others. But I think that she brings her own sense of spirituality to the position with a kind of flinty, no-nonsense womanhood that the House of Bishops has needed.
She has no aversion to calling the baptized of the diocese to a taking back of the ministry of the Church. She does not mince words or is she “nice” for the sake of being “nice”. She is filled with stories about how CNY is not unique in the Church because of our shrinking congregations or financial troubles. But she conveys the hope that we can, as has other places throughout the Church, be about the ministry of Jesus Christ despite our difficulties. She has, in one weekend, called the people of CNY to exercise their ministry, to live out Christ’s presence in our lives, and to not wait for approbation of clergy or diocesan leadership. But most of all ++Katharine made herself available to us. She is not in some ivory tower in NYC. She stood with a glass of wine in groups of us and chatted with us, entertained questions, told stories of those in other parts of TEC and was interested in how we were living out our lives in TEC. She has been in 90 of the 110 diocese of TEC in a mere 4 and that says something about her willingness to be present to us.
Both + Skip and +Ted Gulick have commented to me on the extraordinary sense of the Holy Spirit when ++Katharine was elected in 2006. I have heard others say the same thing online. I have always understood the presence of the Holy Spirit to underlie the workings of our conventions. And I feel God has given us in ++Katharine the kind of leadership that the HOB and TEC needs at this time. This does not mean that I think she has some kind of magical quality to rule. I believe that we have in her an extraordinary person who can and does access others and God to make decisions that serve the Church. She has gifts for inclusion that cannot be denied. It says to me that TEC is in good hands and that we can trust God to strengthen her for the next six years. But she also gives us an image of what Christian leadership can be in all orders. By her very presence she calls us to inclusion, to peaceful discussion, to educated and informed approaches to faith and to strength to proclaim a Gospel that is willing to explore new ways of living out the Christian message of hope.
Monday, November 16, 2009
The ordination of a sister priest is always a joyous event. But Susan Slaughter’s ordination in Ft. Worth was over the top. It was such a statement of rightness. A couple of weeks ago a I preached on the Hebrew word “tzedek”—the word that we often translate “righteous”. But one of the understandings of that word is harmony. Israelis use this word to describe when an engine is ‘in tune’ or musical instruments are keyed appropriately.
The ordination of the first woman in Ft. Worth was a commitment to harmony in a place which has been dissonant since the formation of the diocese in 1982. Susan’s ordination was not any more important or symbolic than the ordinations of thousands of other women since 1974, but this act speaks to the whole of the Church about the call to “rightness” or the sense of balance or harmony that we have failed at over the past 10-15 years in the Church. The reorganized Diocese of Ft. Worth has taken on the responsibility of righting itself. It is taking the seriously the call of servant ministry. It is taking seriously the call to living out one’s baptismal call to ministry in all orders. And it is fiercely saying to itself, ‘we will not allow ourselves to be duped into thinking that the bishop knows best’ when he/she has failed to listen to the needs of the people. It no longer is saying to the Church ‘we have no need of you’. It is saying that Christ is here and we want to live out that message that Christ is alive and well.
The future of the Diocese is still fraught with financial and legal battles that will be no fun. But now women will be part of the counsel of the clerical order. LGBT Christians are part of the visible Church now. African-American and Latino Episcopalians now are vocal and viable parts of the ministry of the diocese. There is no want of Christian clarity and strength in it. There is no loss of faithfulness in this bunch of North Texans who have endured all manner of discouragement for the sake of Jesus. And perhaps they will be able to witness to the rest of the Church what it means to claim the calling to ‘tzedek’ that we all need.
Friday, November 13, 2009
Word comes from the Diocese today that you can’t get into the Convention Eucharist without a ticket. And there are color coded tickets I am told—one color if you get in the room with the Presiding Bishop and one color for those who are cast into outer darkness in another room with closed-camera connections.
First of all the idea of tickets to attend the Eucharist is beyond belief. I wonder what Christ would have said to the 5,000? I think he DID say something to the disciples about that and it sure as heck wasn’t tickets!
I also wonder what would have happened if we had planned far enough ahead when asking the PB to have gotten larger accommodations? Would having the Convention Eucharist at another large church been a possibility? What about inviting the PB at another time when she could meet with the clergy and laity of the diocese? How about Clergy Conference like the Lutherans did? What about a gym somewhere? Or perhaps we could have invited her during the summer to an outdoor service at Thornfield—ah yes, we would have had to mow the grass!
So now we have Standing Room Only for a service in which we have invited the whole diocese by making sure that all the clergy are at convention….
Once again Piss-Pore-Planning seems to have overwhelmed us.
Wednesday, November 11, 2009
The Most Reverend Katharine Jefferts-Schori the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church is coming to Central NY for Diocesan Convention. I am anxious to hear her speak of the Church in person. I have, of course, heard snippets of her speeches on line and read her thoughts over the past three years. I am somewhat in awe of her because of how she has handled herself in the face of a badly broken and split church. The past three years have been some of the most difficult in the history of The Protestant Episcopal Church/TEC. At the same time I have not appreciated the moratorium on LGBT ordinations and consecrations from 2006-2009.
From various bishops I have heard the story of her election in 2006 that seemed to be a real movement of the Holy Spirit in the HOB. I look forward to hearing her express her hopes for the Church and most of all how she envision the evolving new Christianity that seems to be emerging at present. Certainly in this diocese we need to hear something other than the survivor mentality that seems occupy the thinking of the diocese or the exclusivity of some of the clergy of the diocese.
This welcoming of the PB is a chance for her to share with us in CNY what is going on not only in the whole of TEC, but also with what is facing us as a part of the Anglican Communion. I am hopeful to hear her reaction to the Anglican Covenant.
I am not sure that her purpose is to listen to us; diocesan convention is not the venue for that in this diocese. I am afraid her presence among us is going to be one of visiting dignitary rather than a fellow Christian on the same journey. Visiting dignitaries often serve to enthuse to a new vision. But in this diocese there is no vision, no goal, and no direction to enthuse to. What her presence may show is how vital the Church is in other places and heightens the paucity of that vitality here. Her presence may show how deeply lost we are in this diocese and how isolated we are becoming because the witness to Christ is so insipid here. I believe I will see clearly how poorly our diocese shapes up in comparison with other areas of the Church.
I am horrified by the lack of sensible expectations for the service that ++Katharine will be preaching. It seems that little thought was given to the logistics. I fear it will be a nightmare of who can access the PB and who may not. Once again the reality of the PB’s presence was not thought through. I do believe that many people will expect to be able to discuss the status of the Church with her since there is so little opportunity to do so in the diocese. That expectation will not be satisfied given the lack of room and lack of thought put into her visit.
Friday, November 6, 2009
Once again the diocesan office in Syracuse is trying to change diocesan structures without consulting with those who live and move and have their beings in the diocese. News comes that the council of Deans is looking to dissolve the Ithaca-Owego-Cortland District without a bye-your-leave to those who work or live in that District.
One might ask the rationale behind the development of deaneries or districts. Originally the district was a way of attending to the needs of an area of the diocese. Clergy and laity would meet with some regularity to support the ministry of Jesus Christ. Clergy met to support one another in their vocation. They were also ways of disseminating information from the diocesan office and national church. One hundred years ago these districts revolved around the main mode of transportation, mainly train lines so that clergy could be mobile. I know that St. Peter’s, Bainbridge and St. Ann’s, Afton were yoked in the 19th century simply because the train ran regularly between the two. Later as automobiles became the mode of travel, districts developed along the routes of highways. The districts were not developed as extension of the diocesan office, but as ways of gathering the clergy and laity in discrete areas together to extend the mission of Christ. The districts were to serve the laity and clergy of the diocese, not necessarily the bishop. And deans, until just recently were elected by the districts that they served.
It seems that today the diocesan office would realign districts simply because they can’t find like-minded clergy to be dean. Rather than have the districts be a listening post for the bishop, the diocesan office would rather the district be broken up than attend to the needs of the people of the district. Once more I hear the goal of “flattening the hierarchy” being trod upon by those who are appointed rather than elected to office. Once more it is for the diocesan office that changes are made, not the needs of those in the pews who pay the salaries of all of us. If there is one thing that serves to distance the laity from the diocese is for the diocese to make unilateral decisions affecting them.
It is probably an appropriate thing to review the boundaries of all the districts in the diocese. Travel patterns and communal patterns have change over the past 100 years. Perhaps Owego should be in the Binghamton district; however, the people of that parish should be the ones who make that decision rather than those in far-off Syracuse or deans from the North Country who have never driven the back roads of the Southern Tier. Perhaps Courtland and Ithaca and Whitney Point have more in common than Whitney Point has with Binghamton, but it should be the parish that should make that decision. To eliminate a district because of politics is an unworthy reason. To append such a place as Candor or Speedsville or even Ithaca to Elmira is nonsensical and Cortland doesn’t have much in common with either Binghamton or Syracuse and would work hardship on clergy and laity alike.
There are clergy in Ithaca-Cortland who are willing to be a part of the college of deans. There are clergy who are more than willing to work with the bishop in the Ithaca-Cortland District. They have their take on the needs of their parishes and area that is needed by the diocesan office. The district is quite capable of providing capable leadership to the district and the diocese. It is time to re-think these actions.