Monday, December 24, 2007

In the night Love settled among the throngs of us all.
Whether in hay of country stall
or on the concrete streets of loveless cities,
It mattered not.

Touched by Divinity, humanity is wakened
to possibility never known.
And the Holy One, sparked by humanity takes in
common emotions of mortal life.

Divine and mortal intertwined in marvel of the other.
Hodie Cristus natus est.

Merry Christmas, Everyone.

Monday, December 3, 2007

The Sermon I Wished I had Preached

There are some Mondays when I realize that I really didn’t like what I said in the Sunday sermon and wish that I could revise or edit after the fact. It wasn’t anything that I said, that I regret. It is all the things that I didn’t say about Advent.

The first Sunday of Advent is about being prepared, it is about waking up to the fact that Christ is coming into our lives at any moment and are we prepared for his coming? Bach’s Wachet Auf , “Sleeper’s Wake” is the cantata for the first week of Advent. It reminds us that the Christian’s life is not one that can be lived in a stupefied state. The Christian life must be lived in anticipation of Christ’s appearance at each moment.

Now, Monday is my day to sleep in. It is a day that I would like to forget that there is a world out there. But faith reminds me that I may be able to sleep in but I am never allowed to forget that God has created a world in which I live, move and have my being. I have an obligation to God to live in that world with responsibility. Advent reminds me of this obligation.

In his little book Jewish Spirituality for the Christian, Harold Kushner tells of the Jewish understanding of spiritual responsibility. He says that God made the world good. If it gets messed up by human sin, it is our responsibility to clean it up. It is a different look at what salvation means from the Christian’s sense that Christ has done all the cleaning up after us. It isn’t quite Pelagian but it does put the responsibility on humanity to clean up after ourselves. I like it. It seems much more consistent with good mental health than the kind of paternalistic salvation that has been articulated by some since the 4th century.

God has given humanity all that it needs to exist. I have been given all that I need: intellect, responsibility and will to be about not only providing for myself, but providing for others. My salvation is not dependant upon it, but it is my responsibility to interact with God’s creation. I may not be a hermit. (This does not negate the call of one to be a hermit; it just means that “I” may not be a hermit for the sake of the kingdom.) Few of us are called to that ministry.

The world needs my attention. It needs my being awake to those around me and to my God for the health of society. It has needed the sounds I have made to remind people of their obligation to one another, the Church and God. It is the Watchman’s obligation to call out alarm to the community when danger approaches. This is not the ministry of just those who see themselves as prophet. It is the call of all who are called to the ordained ministry.

The schism that is facing the Episcopal Church may just be the call from God that says that danger is near. It may be the Watchman who stands at the gate to wake us to a kind of clerical solemnence that says that we can move on without recognizing our sinfulness in how we have dealt with colleagues. We as clergy have also ignored the needs of the laity of our churches because we would rather be asleep to their needs. We have often been willing to snooze while fellow clergy are swept away rather than help colleagues with problems in their parishes. Clergy have been deaf to the cries of those having to deal with the failure of modernity simply because it is easier to teach quaint myths rather than expand on the abiding truths of our faith.

If there is a failure in the Episcopal Church it has been with the well-educated clergy being unwilling to address the historical-critical method of biblical scholarship with their flock, or even with themselves, so that their faith can address the post-modern era. If anything, we as clergy are being considered irrelevant simply because we are not willing to help folks adjust their faith from that of believing in facts to having a relationship with the God who provides all that is needed.

Advent is the time to Wake Up. It used to be a time of penitence. The purple colors in our churches called for a fast. But whatever our practice for the Advent season, it is time to repent from our mistakes and a call to right our wrong-doing for the sake of the Kingdom. Now is the time, the night is far spent. Wake Up, Church.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Our Jewish Heritage

I have been reading Jewish Spirituality for the Christian by Harold Kushner. I picked it up on the book table at Convention. I have always appreciated his books. He writes of a spirituality that is simple and integrated as most Jewish theology does. He seems to take argument in faith as a given. It is almost as if instead of “where there are two or more of you…there is always a fifth” which Episcopalians often say, it is “where there are two or more of you, there is always an argument” for Jews. It is not something that scandalizes; argument is of the nature of Judaism. I guess that is why there are so many “Jewish lawyer” jokes. It is because arguing is part of the development of their faith.

Such debate is healthy. As Episcopalians we have always debated in my experience. I always was interested in the debates of conventions. They made me think. Sometimes they were a little uncomfortable, but when ideas are challenged, it does take us out of our comfort zones.

But of late arguments have not been debates. The present difficulties in our Church have been ruined by those who do not debate but who harangue. Mudslinging seems to be the order of the day by many in the Blogosphere. I keep marveling at why we are concerned with Stand Firm in Faith when their writers have already made it known that they have left the Church. I have been saying for almost 6 years now that those who refuse to live by the Constitution and Canons of the Church should find a church where they can be at home. Being ordained under the Canons of the Episcopal Church when one cannot support them is disingenuous at best and a base lie at worst. But what this world-wide fight over who has power has done to faith is by far sadder. We have become unable to debate, unable to discuss the merits of legislation. It has become a matter of win/lose, not a matter of discussion and our witness to Christ is diminished because of it.

What I saw at Diocesan Convention this weekend is a church that cannot tolerate argument. It has come to understand debate as a bad thing. Rather than discuss the significant issues that face the Church we would rather be hyped up by games and forms of “prayer?” that are neither part of our tradition or satisfying to those who have spent time and money to be inspired by the commonality that is called Church. It is as if we have become afraid to allow anything that does not exalt episcopal leadership to be discussed. And even sadder it was a display of a younger group of clergy who do not understand the basic premises of our Episcopal Constitution and Canons.

The diocese is not a safe place for clergy these days. If one does not toe the party line, one can be called into the bishop’s office and warned that you are under suspicion of all kinds of things. They don’t even have to be true. I have had such a warning and have refused to buckle under it. It is also the reason why I am not working in the Episcopal Church these days. I miss my denomination dearly. And while I work in other churches, I will not abandon my faith simply because a young bishop or young clergy who have not fought the fight for women’s ordination or for African-Americans to vote, or for gay folk to live boldly in the Church do not understand the nature of a debated faith. I am trying very hard to not let priests run members out of a parish, or a bishop run me out of the diocese that called me to ordained ministry.

I noticed few retired clergy attended this Convention. I wonder if I too will fall to that temptation. I commented that there were few retired or senior clergy attend Clergy Conference earlier on this blog. I did notice that there were many retired clergy who came to the August Clergy Day which was supposed to be about the issues facing the church. That meeting ended in a major argument simply because the Bishop cannot or will not engage the issues addressed to him by the senior clergy.

Should I retire to obscurity until some future generation understands how to respect their elders and wants to report on what it was like ‘back when’? I don’t think so. I will continue to bring the issues that are facing our church to the forefront. It is a lonely existence but I have faith in a God that taught his people to argue. The time will come when we will once again be able to challenge one another in the Church to address the truth—a truth that goes beyond one opinion or another and embraces all in all.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Diocean Convention: A Contact Sport

I have always enjoyed going to diocesan conventions. It is the time when all the clergy and laity of an area gather to claim our common heritage, catch up on long-lost relationships, hear new concepts and work for the common good in the diocese. In some ways Diocesan Convention is like a large family reunion, but it does more than just play soft ball.

Since General Convention 2003 it has been difficult to attend our diocesan convention. The family is separated by the same feud that is affecting the whole of the Church. The paucity of leadership creates a need for the gathering into factions to find safety. Friendships are strained by political issues. Faith is stretched almost to tearing. For many the ministry is only satisfying in our congregations. Attachment to a diocese is pro forma at best. Convention is like going to a family reunion when the soft-ball game becomes a way of working out the family feud.

I expect this Diocesan Convention to be no different. I have yet to see the resolutions that are being presented. I know the ones I am presenting. I also know the changes I have suggested to the Canons. They are difficult ones, to be sure. But if we treat them as the soft-ball game, they will never do what they are intended to do.

I have proposed a couple of canonical changes: One to help the failure we have had had in the diocese with regards to the search process for new rectors. I have commented a couple of times on this blog and are available if one scrolls down.

There is one change in the diocesan canons calling for the reinstatement of all who are considered “priests in good standing.” This means that a priest member of the diocese who was not under any disciplinary charge could be considered for a parish, as supply clergy, or interim (if they were so trained). This status of “priest in good standing” was an important one when I graduated from seminary. It allowed parishes to call clergy to serve in their parishes without interference from the bishop. It allowed parishes the freedom to develop their own directions, maintaining that balance between being diocesan and being congregational which has so characterized the Episcopal Church in CNY.

Being a “priest in good standing” meant that bishops had to respect their clergy as being somewhat free agents and adult contributors to the mission and ministry of the diocese. Bishops could not reign by fiat and neither could clergy. It required the best of all to work together for the benefit of the entire diocese.

Nowadays, the status of being a “priest in good standing” means nothing because the bishop has ways of excluding a “priest in good standing” from the work of the church without due process. Technically this should be against the canons of the church. But at some point in the revision of Title IV, the term “priest in good standing” has been lost. Consequently the bishops may do as they please with the clergy that are listed in their dioceses. They can prohibit a priest from working in their home diocese by fiat rather than by any kind of legal process. It makes the priest, not a prophet but a pawn. It conflicts with every concept of the balance of powers in the Episcopal Church. It is also demeans the position of clergy and especially that of rector.

In the canon I have proposed, I have merely asked for the reinstatement of the position of priest in good standing.

I have also offered a resolution asking for the publication of the Shaffer Report. The Shaffer Report is the document produced by the investigator into the entering of a priest’s retirement fund, and the changing of his pass code by diocesan personnel. It was a report that figured significantly in an ecclesiastical trial in which the bishop refused to make the report available. Since the Diocese paid for the investigation, it is appropriate for the Convention to direct the bishop to make this report public.

Will this report show misconduct by diocesan officials? I don’t know. That is not the point. But when a bishop is willing to allow this document to undermine the whole of his case against Fr. David Bollinger, and waste $187,000 of the diocesan budget, it is time for us as a diocese to call him to account. The lack of trust of bishop AND of clergy by the bishop needs to be addressed. It needs to start being addressed by the Convention. Bishops, clergy and laity must be accountable to the Convention and it is time to call for it.

The sad thing is that our family soft-ball game has turned into tackle football in the diocese. The penchant for maiming one another professionally and spiritually is great. We must take back the dignity of our Diocesan Convention and remind ourselves we have a sacred trust to run the Episcopal Church in the Diocese of Central NY.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Faith and Belief

In a post on the House of Bishop and Deputies’ website, the Rt. Rev. Walter Righter reminded us that there is a difference between faith and belief. It was good to hear that distinction made again.

Faith is what is given to us. It is a gift from God. It comes very early in life and everyone gets it whether we identify it as such or not. But faith must be developed for it to be operative, for it to serve us well. Faith is how we can accept something without having proof. We suspend our need to have all the facts before us to recognize the value of putting our trust in something. It is the water upon which we float. It is the air upon which we fly. We cannot see it or at times cannot feel it, but it is how people grow into knowing that they do not have to have all knowledge but can affirm that something is present to us without our sensate powers confirm it. Faith is a capacity, not a body of knowledge. It stems from acquaintance with the truth of the person, object, or community in which the person has faith. It is more a matter of a relationship rather than doctrine

Belief, says +Righter, is that body of knowledge or agreed upon tenets which a group claims best describes their relationship with God, or non-god. Belief can be in a body of hypotheses of science but it does not denote a relationship with the object of faith. This distinction is an important one for those of us who claim faith in Jesus Christ. Belief in Church doctrine does not mean we have faith. Assenting to a body of doctrine is no more faithful than believing in the theorems of geometry. Faith requires that we must enter into a relationship with the one in whom we have faith.

When I was a Roman Catholic it was clear that Roman Catholicism did not make much distinction between faith and belief. The Church IS the Faith, not the bearer of faith for Roman Catholics. I knew many Christians who had deep and abiding relationships with Christ, Mary, God the Father, etc. I never wish to disparage the faith of those who find faith as a member of the Roman Catholic Church. But for the average pew sitter, their Faith is what the Church taught. When I became an Episcopalian, I moved into clearer understanding of faith.

Often we Church folk often disparage those who are not churched as being without faith. T’ain’t necessarily so! Just because people do not find the conjunction between the Church and faith does not mean that a person is without faith. However we are likely to think that if a person is an Episcopalian he or she believes what the Episcopal Church teaches, or a Lutheran is a person who believes—subscribes to the body of doctrine that Lutherans profess.

Therein lies the problem. We, as Episcopalians are people who have given a wide berth to doctrine. We profess creeds in our liturgy, but we don’t sign our lives away to be doctrinally sound. We see doctrine as something that is fluid and developing like faith. It is the reason we are having the problems we are having in the Episcopal Church at present. We HAVE been fuzzy about what we believe. And I for one love that fuzziness. Those who need more structure to their belief systems find the Episcopal Church lacking. The neo-evangelicals who thump their Bibles like Baptists want the black and white of the printed page of the Bible to articulate their belief. The Roman Catholic wannabes demand a magisterium to articulate their belief structures. The interesting thing is that the Anglican Communion has been lacking in those belief structures from our inception. And as the US-based arm of that Communion, we have consistently sought not to be doctrinal.

Bishop Righter is spot on when he names Bishop Spong as one who makes us think. No, I do not believe in everything that Spong says is correct. For that matter I do not believe that the Bible is always correct. (I do believe and assent that the Bible contains all things necessary for salvation! But then again, salvation is a gift from God, not something that I need to know or assent to.) We have plenty of instances where the Bible contains errors. And the Bible if taken at face value has stories that are beyond belief. But this does not lessen my faith in God, because my faith is not IN the Bible. My faith is IN God—in that relationship that happens when I trust and step out into the unknown with only God to guide me.

I do not understand those who need belief structures to have faith. I love the stories of faith. I relish the wonderful one-upmanship of Jesus when he catches the Pharisees or the Sadducees when they are trying to set a trap for him. I find the on-going faith of Hebrew Scriptures give me insights into how God effected the lives of my spiritual forbearers. But I do try to keep those stories in their setting, not bending their meaning beyond belief. Jesus told those stories to encourage faith. If anything, Jesus’ mission was to tear down the barriers that had been erected by temple authorities that kept “the unworthy” from knowing God.

I do not deny that belief structures often are what help the neophyte to come to faith. But we cannot profess a mature faith in belief structures, because ultimately creeds, covenants, doctrine are all made by us—mere mortals. Faith is what is given by God.

Friday, November 2, 2007

The Beloved and ++Katharine Jefferts-Shori

My friend Elizabeth Kaeton, Chair of the Standing Committee of Newark and rector of St. Paul’s, Chatham, NJ writes of the Presiding Bishop’s visit to their clergy conference. I am so taken with this report of ++Katharine that I have included Elizabeth’s description here. You can read the whole thing at ( I never have gotten that link thingy down.)

Bishop Katharine made a brilliant connection with the story of Genesis 1 and the baptism of Jesus. God said, "This is my beloved, with him I am well pleased," which is an echo, she reminded us, of God saying at creation, "It is very good."

Further, she connected the story in The Garden with the Temptation of Jesus in the Wilderness, reminding us that Jesus was able to resist Satan because he had just been baptized and had a very clear sense of his identity and the fact that he was 'beloved' of God.

I absolutely resonated with her point that our understanding of our identity frames the way in which we view the world and the language we employ in our conversations about God and religion and the human enterprise.

If we believe ourselves to be wretched and fallen human beings, that sin came into us in the Garden by the temptation of Satan in the guise of a snake, we have a very different understanding of ourselves and the world than if we believe ourselves beloved of God - sons and daughters who claim our inheritance of eternal life through Christ Jesus because we, like the rest of creation, are worthy and, indeed, "very good."

The Evangelical, more Calvinist position begins with the wretchedness of humankind, and pretty much stays there, being eternally if not daily thankful for the salvation and redemption of the human condition by the suffering (emphasis on suffering) and death of Christ Jesus.

The traditional Anglican position has been to hold all three chapters of the Genesis account in tension - the fact that we are beloved of God and the fact that sin is in the world.

The idea of free will celebrates the gift of our God-given gifts of intelligence and reason, but does not negate the presence of evil in the world, nor our capacity to make wrong decisions and choices. But, neither does the capacity to make bad choices negate the inherent goodness of our humanity.

The truth is that God is a mystery, and we do well to understand that the best evangelism is one that invites others into a deeper experience of this mystery - not the certainty of answers set in cement tablets.

Bishop Katharine then did just that and had us meditate on the image of God coming to us and saying, "YOU are my beloved, with YOU I am well pleased."

After a time of silence, she invited us to share our insights. It was so much easier for many of us to concentrate on how others were beloved of God and how God might be pleased with someone else. Anyone but us.

Bishop Katharine asked us to consider how our conversations with each other might change if we began in a place of affirmation rather than a place of harsh judgement.

Comment: I have always had problems with the Protestant concept of the “Total Depravity of Man”. This is more of a Calvinist understanding but I find plenty of that theology in Luther’s writing too. What if Augustine was wrong about Original Sin? Pelagius thought so.The whole of the Medieval theology would have been turned on its ear.

The Protestant theology of the 16th century came out of a post-plague era convinced that that pestilance had been punishment for immorality rather than the results of the failure of social contracts and social structures that had been so neglected because of war and squander that basic health and hygene had been neglected.

The response to the humanism of the Renaissance that was spreading over southern Europe was to solidify this idea of the total depravity of humanity and find salvation in the free grace of God. It was an important idea for its time. But this sense of the depravity of humanity will be the death of our own era if we do not confron it. I am grateful to ++Katharine taking it on in her wonderful non-judgmental manner. I have not ever seen a bishop who is so self-differentiated as she.

What if all the ‘stuff and bother’ that has confronted the Church since General Convention 2003 was precisely what needs to happen to the Church, the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion? What if what needs to happen for the Episcopal Church is to be small enough and singular enough to become the leaven for a society that would like to be selfish and self-agrandizing. Only the Episcopal Church has the contacts in society at present to really address the domination sinfulness of our present generation. What if the call of the Episcopal Church is not to be the Church of the Socially Accomodating but to become the small Church of the Niggeling Conscience? It won’t make us popular but it will allow us to live out our Christianity with integrity.

Bishop Jefferts-Schori begins her theology not with our ‘falleness’ but with our ‘belovedness.’ I must admit that I have not felt ‘beloved’ in the Episcopal Church of late. I have received a message of my ‘falleness’, my sinfulness, my error for being gay even though I know that this is not of my making. It is hard to stay present to God who is telling me of my ‘belovedness’ when those I have respected in my Church are telling me different. I do not disagree that I am fallen and sinful but it is from my own sins, not those of previous generations, or Eve or for some unknown reason that I attracted to members of my own sex. The grace I know is because God has loved me even at my most unloveable. It is there that my loving must begin. It must be willing to love those who are the most unloveable—ARG! It is so difficult yet so necessary.

I must admit I am an old fan of Matt Fox’s Original Blessing. I have not followed his work since he left Rome and became an Episcopalian, but I did appreciate how his work addressed the loss of basic worth that Original Sin has engendered within Christendom and how it has subjected people. Even how we have come to regard others as sinful before regarding them as “good” gives fertile ground for the negativity that is so present in today’s culture.

Such terms as Last Judgement, Justification, Redemption, even the word Salvation have taken on meanings which were never envisioned when they were first coined. Today I believe we must be willing to explore new ways of discovering our ‘blessedness’ so that we can hear the ‘blessedness’ in others. We are going to have to find new ways of discussing our faith. We need to find new ways of articulating the relationship between God and humanity and the realtionships that we have with one another. The language of psycology helps better that the language of law upon which most of our traditional language of theology is based. But the language of mysticism—that constant trying to verbalize the ineffable, is what is going to be the most important.

We are not well schooled in the language of mysticism. Clouds of Unknowing, Interior Castles, Original Blessings are hard to unpack and are fraught with imprecision. But what else is the description of God and God’s actions. No more scholasticism in theology. We need to start with everyone’s “belovedness”

Monday, October 29, 2007



It has been interesting to preach on Reformation Sunday this year. I am well aware of the Reformation, that extension of the Renaissance that developed in Northern Europe. It was a time that breathed new life throughout Europe in the 16th century. Now I know that Episcopalians still consider themselves catholic and do not celebrate Reformation Sunday with the Lutherans and the Reformed churches. But perhaps it might be something that could be observed.

The Renaissance came about when the trade from the East allowed a merchant class to evolve in Italy in the latter 15th century after the devastating plagues that had rampaged all over Europe and Asia. This new merchant class also thirsted for education and was willing to find it among the Muslims and Jews as well as from the Church. Centers of learning developed all over Europe, and the merchant class became the educated people, not just the nobility and church leaders.

Meanwhile, the Church was in a deep decline. Ancient truths were being overturned by new-found wisdom. Local nobles had wealth only through wise dealing with mercantile efforts, but they began to have more power than the Church who had for a time centered in Southern France. The popes no longer had the power to tax so they began to sell indulgences to raise funds for the re-building campaigns when they returned to Rome. They used the kind of authority they thought they had—over the gates of heaven.

Martin Luther, a 34 year old scholar-monk in northern Germany challenged the seller of the pope’s indulgences to a debate. Luther’s theology was not especially new or electrifying. But it was the first time that anyone had really challenged the papacy—and challenged it where it hurt the most—in the pocketbook.

What happened afterward was the real change of the Reformation. The nobles of the various states in Germany began to say No to papal authority because of the abuse of the popes. The papacy and the clergy throughout Europe had been wracked with scandal for years. It allowed the well-deserved criticism of the Church to stand and thrive by protecting those who began to follow Luther’s lead. Eventually the criticism began to spread all over Europe. Ultra-montaine leaders of both state and religion began to throw off the ancient authority of the popes. It was only this that gave Henry VIII the temerity to oppose Rome.

Luther’s theology did not stop with indulgences. It took on much of what was wrong with the superstitions that had developed in the age of anxiety during the Middle Ages. He attacked the paternalism that had evolved in the Church calling Christians to be responsible for their own faith.

Being responsible for our faith is the call to every Christian, Catholic or Protestant. It requires that all Christians live their lives in ways that emulate Christ and follow his way. We, who follow him, are to love the Lord our God and our neighbor as ourselves. We are to resist the temptation to buckle under the imperialism of our age. We are to provide a community, in which we can learn of one another, not exclude another because they think or act differently from the majority. Today Christianity cannot look to the majority as their paradigm. We cannot look to our political leaders for this kind of direction. We must be willing to find it in the way of Jesus.

In many ways today is somewhat like the 16th century. The laity has become the educated people in the face of fumbling clergy. The clergy are not trained to bring the message of Christ to a people who no longer understand the meaning of religious myth in their lives. Their myths involve sport’s heroes and get-rich-quick personages, not the stories of those who value truth, equality, integrity, and justice. The American myth no longer has to do with honor; it has to do with wealth. And clergy, who do not preach that God wants us to be wealthy, are likely seen by a great majority of society as irrelevant.

In this post-Christendom era when Christianity must be the leaven and not the loaf, we Christians must be willing to be drastically different from the majority of the world’s society. Christianity, if it is going to survive, is going to have to suffer the rejection of the majority in order to be true to the one who gave all that we might know faith. Honesty, integrity, truth, love, equality, perseverance, and humility, are all qualities that Jesus taught. The stories and parables he told remind us of the need for such virtue in our personal lives and in the social contract of those with whom we live. For that message, the message that a relationship with the God who is more than we can ask or imagine, is possible for those who are Christians look to Jesus. It is our gospel. It is our joy. If others want to know of that joy, we need to be willing to share it with them, not worrying about who can come to communion and who cannot.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Building on Sand

One of the things that I noticed about Clergy Conference this year is that there were so few senior clergy present. That was what I always looked forward to at clergy conference when I was a young priest. I appreciated the presence of the senior and retired clergy. They always carried the history of the diocese and the continuance of the ministry in the diocese that made much of the present issues clear. It was what gave balance and meaning to what was going on in my parish and kept me from being isolated.

Without Thornfield and having to pay for conference space now makes it difficult for the retired clergy to come. White Eagle Conference Center is also not accommodating for those who have difficulty with stairs, walking long distance, need easy access to bathrooms, etc. The cost of clergy conference is now becoming prohibitive for those living solely on their retirement or don’t have wealthy parishes that can pay for the privilege of comfy rooms. Oh, yes, they can ASK for assistance. But that is like asking Lazarus to beg outside of Dives door. For those who have served this diocese, it is demeaning. Perhaps we need to hold the clergy conference at a place where all of us can come and those in parishes pay for the retired clergy as well as their own attendance, like American dioceses pay for the impoverished African dioceses to send their bishops to Lambeth.

The continued strife in the diocese also makes it difficult for senior clergy to come. For those of us who have experienced the leadership of bishops who had a clear notion of what to do in difficult times, it is tiresome to attend clergy conferences which have no clear objective. This year’s conference had no stated goal. There was no speaker to bring us new issues to focus on. There was nothing to do but raise the same issues that have been confronting the college of clergy for the past 5 years. And when they were raised, they were shouted down as being too individualistic (read: not what the bishop wanted to hear) to be considered. What has happened is that there can be nothing addressed that is uncomfortable for the bishop.

Into this void of the senior leadership has come the young clergy appointed to their parishes by the bishop. The divide is palpable. “We are moving on”, the young say, “we cannot wait around and deal with OLD problems.” And they think that they CAN move on without the senior clergy—those who have been a part of the diocese for over 20 years ---those who hold the stories of the ministry of this diocese. Not only is their naiveté amusing, it is also saddening to think that we have raised up a group of young clergy that cannot listen to those who have sustained this diocese. They cannot listen to those who have experience in other dioceses either because their vision is limited to CNY.

The unwillingness of the bishop and the diocese to address major issues such as the expenditure of over $187K on a trial that the diocese could not even prosecute, the largess of newsprint yet still no action from diocesan leadership after 6 years and a calling process that is in total shambles should draw the attention of every Episcopalian in the diocese to note that something is NOT happening, and that is leadership.

What is also not happening is the continuing education of clergy. Not only was there no new material for us to talk over at our breaks, it is clear from the questions on the final day of clergy conference that the new clergy to the diocese have not had the kinds of education or preparation that is necessary for them to do ministy in their parishes. The mentor program, for those clergy that have been educated through ‘reading for orders’, seems not to be working. If the younger clergy had had the direction of the elders of the diocese, and if the idea that “we choose to move on” wasn’t indelibly imprinted on their minds, the division between experienced and inexperienced in the diocese would not be so marked. Granted, it is easier to control those who are inexperienced because leadership can make up the rules as it goes along. But that is not the kind of leadership who can approach the experienced, those who have known what good leadership is.

I have always understood Clergy Conference to be a time when mutual sharing of the ministry went on. It was a time when colleagues could sit down and discuss the issues that are facing the Church over a drink with the kind of laughter that salves the divisions and heals old wounds. That kind of discussion was conspicuously absent this year. “Moving on” is adolescent at best. It is dangerous at its worst. It means that we are trying to build on sand, the sand which does not carry the truth of the history of the diocese.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

The Balance of Powers and the Calling Process: Repris

Earlier I wrote concerning a process for calling rectors to parishes in the Diocese of Central NY proposing for a new way of implementing the canons regarding the calling of rectors. I was told this week that “we have a calling process in the Diocese that is geared for each parish.”

One of the charisms of the Episcopal Church has been the balance of power that has been held in tension among the laity, clergy and bishops. It is a necessary tension which holds any one order from becoming too powerful and oppressing any of the other. One of the important areas in which this tension is played out is in the calling of a rector. In the past positions would be posted with the Clergy Deployment Office [CDO] at National Church Center and clergy would apply for the parish. The profile, or position description would be posted and clergy would call or write the Director of Deployment in the diocese to apply for a parish. Sometimes, a parish could ask that their parish’s profile be “run” and then clergy whose profile would match the parish’s profile would be contacted to see if they were interested. The task of the Diocesan Deployment Officer was to teach parishes how to prepare their profile, assist the parishes in developing their lists of desires and needs and help them be aware of the demographics in their area. In the past it was not uncommon for a full-time parish with a healthy financial status to attract between 30 and 100 clerics. These days are gone. But this does not mean that there are not clergy in the Church who are interested to moving to our diocese if the right parish came along.

One of the important pieces of the tension between parish, clergy and laity has always been the calling of clergy that are right for the parish. Traditionally the vetting of applications has been done by the parish. The process which each parish went about was a bit different but in each case, but the parish needed to be a part of engaging the priest, walking the journey in discernment and finally calling a priest with whom they thought they could work. The process was alike for all congregations and we could follow the process of a parish in the calling process because it was published in the monthly newsletter. Always that process culminated in the approval of the bishop after the parish had done the lion's share of the work. Sometimes a parish would get a lemon, and sometimes the cleric would get a lemon. But there was always a chance to make lemonade.

These days, clergy must have background checks done; “the red flag” check must be done, so says Canon Lewis. But what is happening is that clergy may be excluded from a search, no matter if their profile is right on target for the parish, simply at a whim. The criteria of these “red flag tests” are not published. Clergy can be black balled at a mere whim of a bishop or diocesan staff member.

This process reminds me of the “good ole boy system” that the CDO process was designed to do away with. It also means that the Bishop has far too much control of the process at the beginning of the search. It means that the walk of discernment does not take place among the priest and the parish, but between the Bishop and the priest. What is happening in the diocese is that far too many self-supporting parishes are allowing themselves to be treated like missions. Allowing the bishop to appoint a vicar of his choice to be approved as rector at some later date is now common. It means that the parish has little say so in the calling process and consequently abolishing the power assigned to the laity by the Constitution and Canons.

I agree whole-heartedly with the canons that call for the approval of the Bishop of every rector in the diocese. But the process as it is lived-out in the diocese is one which is being controlled by the bishop. The process as it stands now is paternalistic and deprives the parish, the laity who call these clergy into their lives, of appropriate ways to evaluate those who apply for the position of rector. It means that all too often the discernment of the Holy Spirit is done only by the bishop.

With no published formula by which to call clergy, the process to call a rector falls into the realm of whim and hoop jumping rather than good process which is fair and clear to all. All too often in our diocese the rules and criteria for each stage to be met are manipulated by diocesan officials. I know of one instance in which the rules for calling a new priest were changed from one meeting with the parish to the next. Rules for calling a new rector become Byzantine when the process is different for each parish. It smacks of manipulation rather than healthy process.

We once had a system that when a priest was made rector, that priest had tenure—that priest could not be fired or removed without the agreement of bishop, priest and the Vestry. This is still the canonically approved system. This tenure allowed the priest to preach the Gospel to the parish when often the parish did not want to hear the Gospel. Yes, it did mean conflict. But it is only in conflict that we really understand the need to change. But also, this tenure allowed the rector to preach the Gospel to the Bishop.

These days it is dangerous for even a tenured rector to try to preach the Gospel to the Bishop. Partially this is due to the individual who sits in that office; partially it is because we are tired of having to take care of ourselves in the midst of conflict. Granted, we have had those who have “preached their gospel” which have led them to leave the Church. However, in the aftermath of the “Great Shakedown” we cannot allow the basic freedoms that have served to make this Church great, be subverted. We must be willing to guard our liberties in the Church from those who would usurp them just to make life “easy.”

It would be all too easy for us to end up with the kind of marionette clergy that the Roman Catholic Church has if we do not guard this complex but oh so rich Episcopal Church polity that we have. We need to call upon our Diocesan Convention to reassert our stance that this Church has a polity that demands that parishes be independent in the calling process so that the appropriate checks and balances are maintained.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

The Lies We All Tell
By Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite

When Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad declared at Columbia University that “In Iran, we don’t have homosexuals, like in your country”, most everyone in the U.S. knew he was lying. What he meant to say is that he is doing his best to commit genocide against homosexuals in Iran and/or so terrorize them that they will deny their own identities as gay people.
This, of course, is not the only lie that Mr. Ahmadinejad tells, smirking as he does so. He lies about the Holocaust, he lies about the real lives of women in Iran, he lies about persecuting journalists and intellectuals, and he lies about his country’s nuclear program. He is helping to make Iran a liar society.
It is easy to see this pattern of being a liar society when it’s somebody else doing it. It’s also easier to see when the lies are such a bunch of big whoppers like Ahmadinejad tells. But a little deception is also bad and the thing about deception is that it tends to lead to more and more distortion so it’s hard to tell where the lies end and where the truth begins.
I’m sorry that some Episcopal Bishops are apparently yielding to world-wide and national pressure from conservatives and backing off of their courageous stance on the full equality of homosexuals in the Episcopal Church. The “compromise” position that strengthened the 2006 resolution on “restraint” in consecrating gay bishops and that explained that the Episcopal Church has no official liturgy for same sex blessing is a gentler form of deception. I have to agree with the Episcopal conservatives here (though of course for different reasons) who called this a “legal fiction.” It is fiction and it is unfortunately a step back from the truth that some Episcopalians are gay, but that all are equal in the sight of God. It also is a step back from the truth that some gay or lesbian Episcopalians have the spiritual gifts needed to be a Bishop. Bishop Gene Robinson is one of them. If you know Gene, and I do, you will quickly realize he is one of the most spiritually luminous people you will ever meet. Any church that refuses to recognize spiritual gifts for leadership is, frankly, lying to itself and no good ever comes from that.
What happens when people and societies lie about important things like the diversity of human gender preference? Well, one of the things that may happen is that some people so deny their own sexual orientation that they end up playing footsie in a Minneapolis bathroom instead of leading a healthy, self-aware life.
At the end of the day, being a liar society is fundamentally corrupting to individuals and the whole nation. There is simply no better teacher on the multiple and degrading effects of lying than Mr. Ahmadinejad.

"On Faith" panelist Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite is president of Chicago Theological Seminary. She has been a Professor of Theology at the seminary for 20 years and director of its graduate degree center for five years. Her area of expertise is contextual theologies of liberation, specializing in issues of violence and violation.

CommentWhen I read this article linked on Susan Russell’s blog I took exception to it. While I am not happy with the House of Bishop’s (HOB) statement about GLBT folk and our place in the Church, I wasn’t going to claim that their statement was lying. I don’t know if I was just “defending the family” or whether I have allowed myself to believe the rhetoric of the HOB. I just saw the HOB statement as just the usual political tiptoeing through the minefield of Episcopal/Anglican polity.

I do believe that the majority of the bishops of the Episcopal Church (TEC) do support GLBT folks. But it only goes so far. It only goes far enough to be respectable. And extreme stances for justice or any other cause just isn’t “Episcopalian, doncha know?"

But Susan has it right. When we allow our leaders to speak lies in our names, we become complicit in their degrading of our lives together we call society, Church, or whatever.

I am concerned with this generation—those who are in power in both Church and State in North America and Europe—who believe that if you tell people a fiction long enough they will believe it. I have heard that the HOB is supportive of GLBT persons in the Church. I know and am one of those gay clergy who has served the church. But when push comes to shove, when we need folks to step out and support us, I have seen few who are willing to lose anything to stand for justice. When justice pinches ---when it means a Lambeth without TEC presence, those principles get a bit clear.

Does the Bishops’ statement mean that they are lying? I don’t want to say that… I really don’t. But if it walks like a duck…

We, in the Church cannot hold with dishonesty in any form, from ourselves before God, from our congregants, from our leaders, without losing too much integrity in a national climate that eschews traditional religion because the Church does not keep faith with itself. If the Church is going to have any impact upon the majority culture today, we must be impeccable in our honesty. We must be transparent about our decisions, our finances, and our deliberations. To do less, confirms the suspicions of those who call us hypocrites. We cannot tell the world that LGBT folks are to be supported and then step back from that to maintain a tenuous unity. We cannot say that LGBT folks are full members of our churches when our relationships cannot be affirmed and celebrated the same as heterosexuals.

Susan is right! The HOB lied--either in saying that they are supportive of LGBT people or in the reality of our acceptance in the Church. And no unity is worth that. And what will happen? Nothing. No bishop will be charged with violating his ordination vows. No condemnation will come from the larger House. No one will hold the HOB accountable because like politicians in secular government, we have become inured to the actions of church politicians shuffling papers and dodging the real issue—how are they going to play the power hand they have been dealt.

It is hard to be part of the Church today. But Christ calls us to be faithful to God, not to the Church, not to the HOB, not to the shuffling of papers. We are called to be faithful to the Truth of Jesus Christ in our midst. It may not look loyal in the Church, but it is faithful.

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.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Airing Linen

I have always been uncomfortable with the idea of secrecy. My experience of Christ is one of liberation and openness. Relationship is predicated upon the Light of Christ finding its way into every nook and cranny of my being. It requires not only honesty with one’s self; relationship with God requires an honesty with others that is also one of transparency.

As clergy, I have been required to maintain confidentialities of those who come to me as a part of pastoral concern. Sometimes I know things, especially in the parish, that cannot be shared because the individual who confided in me should be the person to speak of their particular concern. But here lies a sociological conundrum. How do I keep from triangling in relationships?

Triangling is getting someone else to do your work for you without you having to reveal your motives. Person A goes to Person B and tells them that C needs to do something so that B will put pressure on C to do it. It is a dishonest transaction; A should speak to C him/her self. Clergy often end up being the Person B in congregations simply because we are the person everyone comes to. The real clue is that as a pastor, I cannot go to C. I have to encourage A to go to C to provide healthy relationships in the parish.

When there is conflict I feel that the more information I have about an issue the better informed I am to resolve a conflict. It means that I have to be deadly honest with myself and with others if goodness and healing is going to result. I believe sincerely in the healing powers of the Light of Christ. “The truth shall set you free” is not merely an axiom in my spiritual journey; it works. It not only works in my personal life. It works in my corporate life.

When so many Roman Catholic prelates were being exposed for having obscured the sexual abuse of children by clerics in their charge, I understood both the plight of parents who demanded openness from the hierarchy. I also understood the charge to protect the Church by the bishops. After all, I had known Cardinal Law when he was a young bishop in Springfield, MO. I knew that he had been a man of compassion and honesty. But as the story began to unfold about the obfuscation that so deeply permeated the Archdiocese of Massachusetts, I began to see such triangling that led to sinfulness because of the basic dishonesty of the transactions. Protection began to be avoidance, and avoidance began to be arrogance in the face of abuse. Lives were being ruined simply to keep up appearances.

Today, I would rather err on the side of transparency than be a party to obfuscation in the Church. I do not wish to be a party to continued abuse of those who have been victims. However, after many years of working with the victims of abuse, I know it is in the airing of the abuse that most victims leave behind the role of victim and move into the role of survivor and then to healing. When those who have come forward begin to throw off the shame of abuse the Church needs to affirm that action by confirming transparency rather than further obscuring the facts. It is a delicate task but we need to find ways to do it.
What drives me nutz however, is the way some fall back on confidentiality to avoid taking responsibility for one’s own personal agenda. For Person A to go to Person B and expect Person B to tell Person C to change and then for Person B to refer to Person A but not by name is dishonest. When leadership falls back on an unidentified accuser as the underpinnings for punishment of a member of the group, it flies in the face of basic civil justice. The accused must be able to address his/her accusers. The Church may not be cavalier in the way it addresses information. As a leader of the Church I may not base my evaluation of another on innuendo or gossip, but only in the light of honest interaction. For leadership the task is not in telling Person C of their sins, it to bring Person A and Person C together to talk about differences. The airing of differences often leads to healing.

What confidentiality cannot be in the Church is a repository of ill will. I cannot simply allow issues to plod along without addressing them in the name of holding things in confidence and paralyzing Persons A and C from ever coming to grips with the issues they have between them. Nor may I use these differences as a way to hold the group hostage as the only bearer of the whole story. As a Christian I am required by faith to believe that Christ’s light can heal. It is in airing this kind of linen that allows issues to be addressed by all concerned rather than to be hidden allowed to fester. But this must be done in an atmosphere of trust.

The sad part of all of this is that there seems to be so little trust in the Church at present. It would be easier for me to give up on the healing in the Church because there is little trust its system. But my hope is in God, not in leadership or ecclesial systems. The Church has often shot itself in the foot. The Church is only as perfect as I am and that isn’t very. I cannot delude myself into believing that Church is going to be better than I am willing to be. But I also need to trust that God perfects God’s Church by calling us to new and better ways of airing our differences for the good of the whole. It is a difficult task, but I believe essential if we are to survive in the face of post-modern cynicism. The transparency I can model today may mean healing for tomorrow.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Signs of the Times

St. John’s, Ithaca
August 19, 2007

This morning as I was driving here, I saw several deer, some fawns with their spots along side their mothers. I saw a flock of wild turkey, a skunk which I carfully avoided, a raccoon and some trees with the ever so lightly tinged with yellow and orange. The coolness of the morning tells us that fall is just around the corner and summer is almost gone. It is a bittersweet morning for those of us who live in upstate NY. We know that the summer that we wait 9 long months for each year is fading and we know that winter will be with us before long. It is that same kind of feeling that I believe that Jesus was reminding the people in today's reading.

For the last 2 weeks I have complained that the readings are those that the compilers of the lectionary put in August because preachers go on vacation in August and stick the visiting priest with these lessons. And today’s readings take the cake! In a world that would proclaim “Jesus loves you” from t-shirt to bumper sticker, and saccharine sweet images of the Divine dog our every move, this passage sounds remarkably harsh.
“I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! I have a baptism with which to be baptized, and what stress I am under until it is completed! Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division!

Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem. He journeys there to address the misconduct of the religious leadership. He goes to Jerusalem because he is speaking truth to power. He goes there to call the people to repentance. The fire he enjoins upon the people is a cleansing flame—a refiner’s fire. The division he promises is not battle, but the kind of pruning that is necessary for a plant to grow.

This is not the Jesus of our childhood. This is the Christ that calls us to discipleship. This is not Sweet Jesus, meek and mild; this is the Christ who invites us to renewal and change. This is not something we want to hear on a hot August morning.

But there is no time like the present to address this passage. Jesus calls his people to recognize in the crisis of his day the call to change. And I would suggest that it remains the same for us too. If we are to understand the signs of our times and how to meet them in a Christ-like fashion, we must understand what is going on in our world.

Last week I said that I was beginning to see some slight moving toward a sense of compromise in the Episcopal Church in the light of the schism that has been tearing at us for the past 4 years. And that may be true. But I have not dealt with the whole of the issue. I could probably speak for a month on what has happened in various places in the Anglican Communion. But mostly it is an issue that began in the US over the inclusion of gay folk in the Church and in the ordained ministry.

It would be easy to blame us gays for all of this. In fact, that is what many of those who set themselves apart say that this whole crisis is about. But I daresay that if it had not been the election of a gay bishop who was in an open and affirming relationship, there would have been some other kind of crisis conjured by those who are leading the schism. This schism is not about human sexuality! It is about power and authority and who has the right to determine the path that we as Church may go. It has been nothing less than a junta, an attempt to overthrow the basic government of the Episcopal Church by a minority who cannot get their way through normal elective processes.

Underlying this attempt at take over are theologies galore which are alien to the Episcopal ethos: Biblical inerrancy, covenantal professions, fourth-century orthodoxy have all been trotted out to show how wrong the Episcopal Church is and how righteous their segment of the Church is. They are the TRUE Church—the TRUE Anglican Church in the United States, and we are apostate, we are told. But now that the Archbishop of York, the primate of England, protests their “Anglicanicity”, those who would divide the Episcopal Church are now saying that they are holier than the Anglicans and they don’t need the Anglicans either.

In all of this mudslinging, though, there is good that is coming out. And I believe it is this that Jesus is referring to in today’s readings. We as Episcopalians and Anglicans are being forced to differintiate who we are in ways that we have not had to for as long as I have been in the Church. We are being forced to say that we are a denomination of Christianity that is going to be welcoming and open to a wide variety of people. We are saying that we are a place where there is much latitude in faith and that people with widely diverging ideas can meet, discuss their faith, and form community without having to be homogenized. We are not saying that those who disagree must leave. On the contrary we invite them to be with us, to commune with us, to celebrate Christ’s Church in ways that further the broadness of our communion.

It is in this crisis that we as Episcopalians have had to declare who we are, and whose we are. And this is not a bad thing today when the title ‘Christian’ is becoming a word that has been appropriated by right-wing political ideology to mean something remarkably anti-intellectual and strident. For the Episcopal Church, the epitome of what once was described as the “Republican Party at Prayer” is now called upon to articulate itself, without its ideological trappings, without its regard to status. We are having to claim ourselves as open to conservatives AND liberal, open to catholics and evangelicals, and open to those who have often been excluded simply because of who they are. We are being forced not just to SAY we include, we are having to LIVE this out in radical ways that are uncomfortable and perhaps even somewhat embarrassing. We are having to put our money where our mouths are. We are having to live out an inclusivity that we would rather give lip service to, but the crisis now says we must step up to the plate.

Forty-two years ago this past week a young Episcopal seminarian by the name of Jonathan Myreck Daniels forced the Episcopal Church to deal with the inclusion of people of color. The Church had paid lip service to integration, the plurality of membership. But throughout the South, Blacks couldn’t attend a white Episcopal Church. Jonathan Daniels and Judy Upham, now a priest of our diocese who serves St. Mark’s in Candor, went to Selma to stand as witness to white brutality in the Black sections of that city. Their presence brought the inhumanity of racial segregation to the crisis point. Jonathan was gunned down on the streets of a small Alabama town on August 20, 1965 because he was trying to register Black folks for the vote. Last summer Judy and I returned to Selma to participate in the memorial to the Alabama martyrs. Judy carried a picture of Jon while we retraced the journey that Jon and others made that fateful day. They had no understanding then that the crisis that unfolded was to open the Episcopal Church to an acceptance of what we know as a Christian truth: that all are created equal in the sight of the Lord.

The strife in the Episcopal Church today is a crisis from which we are all going to learn. It has been painful; it will continue to be painful. But I do believe that we as Church are going to come away from this schismatic attempt by some, a better and healthier Church. The purpose of the Church is to preach and teach the love of God. And I see the Episcopal Church doing that. Our bishops have made it clear that they will not step back from the ordaining gay folk in open relationships. Our General Convention has shown that it supports the legislation that is open and welcoming. And over this summer I have heard the clearest and most open discussions of who we are as Church and what we proclaim. It is a Church that I can support whole heartedly because it has taken Jesus at his word. It has not shrunk from Jesus’ fire or sword. It has been willing to stand the test. And yes, there has been division. There has not been peace. But there have been good things that have come from this.

Jesus chastises the people of his day for not understanding the signs of the times. In Luke, we hear him say that we can tell when it is going to rain, why can’t we interpret the signs of the coming of the Messiah? I do believe that the “present unpleasantness” as some would call the past four years in the Church, is a sign of God’s work. I do believe that the crisis that we have seen will bring about the kind of change that will allow us to meet the challenges of a new era. I do believe the Christianity is alive and well and not bound by anti-intellectual tomfoolery. And I believe that the Episcopal Church will continue to be a place where all will be welcome no matter what our theological stance. And I believe that what will unite us is what has kept us together for 2000 years—the Eucharist of the Altar.

If we cut ourselves off from that, then we will lose our focus on Jesus and devolve into some kind of group of nay-sayers that provide no substance or sustenance for the people of God. I hurt for those who have separated themselves from us. I hurt for us in losing them. But I will not step back from the place of inclusion to which Christ has led us. For Church is not about how many enter the doors. It is about being faithful to a Christ that would take such crises and bring growth from them. We must be willing to experience the fire. We must be willing to endure the battle. We must be willing to read the signs of our times. We must be willing to recognize Christ’s hand at work among us and rejoice. AMEN

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Betrayal of Innocence

Word has come this week of the suspension of another colleague for sexual misconduct with minors. It is a terrible blow. I have known the priest for many years and considered him a respected colleague. He has accepted the decision of the bishop to suspend his orders for 20 years which will effectively remove him from the priesthood for the rest of his life. And I agree most heartily with the actions of the bishop. But I am still left grieving for the young people who were molested, for the priest who has fallen so far from the grace of God and for the Church who has been besmirched by his actions.

The adolescences that were betrayed, I hope, are being tended to by professionals who can help them regain an unsullied image of themselves. There will be no way for them to regain their innocence about life, themselves or the Church. They will forever question themselves about their own involvement because that is the nature of sexual abuse. That betrayal of innocence will mark them the whole of their lives. And that is why this sin is so abhorred by all.

I do not understand the need for adults to find sexual gratification from young people. I can understand the temptation to find sexual gratification from others. I can understand the extreme loneliness that often comes in the way of life that is called the priesthood. I also can understand the loss of control that leads one into temptation. But I do not understand the desire to destroy the innocence of young people or children nor the naiveté that perpetrators often delude themselves with when they ignore it. But understanding the motivations or the temptations are not necessary. I just know of the evil of it. And the anger that image surfaces is a temptation toward sin in and of itself.

What do I do with the feelings I have for the colleague who has violated those boundaries? Do I hate him or her? No! I am unwilling to be facile about ‘loving the sinner and hate the sin.’ I must be willing to stand in that very uncomfortable place between the sinner and the sin and invite the sinner to return to faith. That is what is called of the Christian.

It would be easier to just hate the sinner and remove him/her from my acquaintance. But as a Christian I am called to accept the judgment of God, that all are deserving of Divine mercy. And perhaps that is what is so difficult about this particular issue in the Church. For us to know the mercy of God means that we must be willing to forgive. There is part of me that would like to stay angry at my colleague; there is so much energy in righteous indignation. But that would pull me into his sinfulness. I cannot go there for the sake of my own soul.

Over the past 15 years or so, we as Church have had to address this problem of the misconduct of clergy in a much more up-front way than it was dealt with in the past. We cannot shove things under the rug as did the Roman Catholics in Boston. We must be willing to look dispassionately at the failure of fellow clergy. We must be willing to offer the mercy of God and not shun those who fail, but we may not ignore it. We must be willing to stand in that space of discomfort between the sinner and the sin, between the image and the reality of a Church that is heavenly inspired but lived-out in the muck of temptation and sin.

We, as Church, can no longer live in a naïveté that the organization is holy without our vigilance. We cannot know our churches as being safe if we are not diligent in making them so. We cannot expect our clergy to be impervious to sin in positions where there is little collegial support, no ecclesial support and damned little support of our parishioners. We must be willing to understand “there but for the grace of God, go I.” We all are capable of such sin save for the grace of God. And consequently the Church may not maintain a veneer of innocence. We are all sinners in need of redemption.

And so I stand today, chastened by my friend’s sin, yet with my hand open to him inviting him/her to the mercy of God. I stand loving my Church knowing that she will never be the same, and yet knowing that she is the fount of blessing for me as always.

Saturday, August 4, 2007


I am not sure where the compilers of the Lectionary get their readings for August. I am sure, however, they were all Rectors who took their vacations during August and left such readings for the supply clergy to have to deal with.

In the Gospel reading we find Jesus being asked to settle a dispute between two brothers. Jesus responds in a harsh way that to us is surprising. He says “who set me to be a judge or arbitrator over you?” Jesus will not be drawn into a dispute over things.

The role of a rabbi in the first century was often to be the arbiter of such squabbles in a community. Rabbis knew the Law, and could render judgments that were binding. But Jesus did not want to enter into this kind of legal fracas. He wanted to deal with the issue for what it was—a fight over money. At the center of the feud was not fairness, not justice, but greed. Jesus’ response is harsh. He will not be pulled into a fight over things.

All too often we fight over ‘things.’ We even get to the place where the things are made into principles, principles that become some how holy and righteous in the process. But in this instance, Jesus, stops the discussion and tells the parable about the rich man who tears down his barns to build even bigger ones for all the things he has. ‘You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’

Jesus cuts through all the pious ‘fairness’ stuff and gets to the heart of the man’s request. It is GREED.
There is no greater sin in the Bible than idolatry. It is the sin that God punishes unmercifully in Hebrew Scripture. The Old Testament is filled with stories of the Hebrew people betraying their covenant and losing their inheritance. Idolatry, the going after other gods, is the fundamental distrust in the God who has given everything to the believer. In today’s epistle reading from Colossians, the writer equates greed with idolatry—placing things above the place of God. Anytime believers put more trust in their possessions than God, they commit the sin of idolatry. And I would suggest that the greatest sin that tempts us today is not sexual profligacy. I would suggest that in a consumer economy the greatest temptation to sin is greed.

Everywhere we turn we are bombarded with the temptation to put things before God and others. Our media is lousy with ads that badger us to buy this or that so that we will be prettier, stronger, brighter, and more with-it than the next guy. And ultimately we are to be so self-sufficient that we no longer need God. Once we have all the things that we want, we must be willing to protect those things. We build bigger barns, move to a larger house, buy more insurance, and put up higher fences. We cannot leave our things any longer to visit other places or cultures to broaden our perspectives about life. We must find ways to guard our property. We become prisoners of our possessions.

Judy and I have so many books that it has become too expensive to move. The cost of moving all those books is prohibitive. Will we reread all those books? Not in a lifetime! Now, I know that none of you have this problem. But over the years we have inherited things like our mother’s china, or been given all kinds of ‘valuable’ things for which we have no earthly use, but because they are ‘heirlooms’ we feel some responsibility for. These have become albatrosses hung about our collective necks. I remember when we moved Mom to a retirement center; I found my high school prom dress, which she had painstakingly made, still in the closet. I had a hard time sending that to Salvation Army. I guess I could have sold it as an antique on EBay but…. We become overwhelmed with things.

Now, I often divide the world up into “Keepers” and “Neatnicks.” For those of us who are packrats, we must be willing to see our penchant for nostalgia may be rooted in the sin of putting our trust in things. For those of us who can throw things away easily, we must guard against consuming more than our share of the world’s commodity. In either case, the glorious age of consumerism that is gripping the world is a time when we must guard against the sin that would have us believe that we deserve or are entitled to whatever simply because we can afford it, or more importantly, even when we can’t. The sin of greed is insidious. It makes us think we are invulnerable. It can make us foolish thinking that somehow we may ignore God’s command to love others as ourselves. We can merely send our money rather than screw up enough compassion to care about people in dire situations.

Greed is an embarrassing sin. At some level we know that the quality of life that we have in the US impinges upon the rest of the world. We make all kinds of excuses---we give so much to other nations, or we are basically good people, or we WORK for our things, or we deserve it because we have made ourselves great. “God helps those who help themselves” we say. (By the way, that does not come from the Bible. It is found in Benjamin Franklin’s Poor Richard’s Almanac, but it is not from Scripture.)

But the Christian life is not about what we deserve. If we follow Protestant theology, we are nothing and deserving of nothing except by the grace of God. There is one thing that working among the Lutherans for the past couple of years has done is reacquaint me with the concept of sin. Lutherans don’t believe they have been to church if they have not been made aware of their sins and then told that God has forgiven them. We, Episcopalians on the other hand, are likely to say, “Sin, do we still talk about that?”

But we must be willing to recognize that we are being tempted by an economic-political sphere that would have us believe that we can fiscally control the world. The adage “he who dies with the most toys, wins” is not only NOT true; it is remarkably leading many of us away from trusting in God. We are creating false gods to follow. At some point we are going to have to hear: ‘You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’

There is a story going around that I heard at Luther leadership camp a week ago. A wealthy man was dying, and he made arrangements with the local funeral home for his burial. He asked that a specific picture of his family that hung over his mantle be buried with him. The family all gathered around the man when he died. At the funeral home, the director could not get the picture and its frame into the coffin so he took the picture out of the frame. Out of the frame fell $160,000. The family was so angry that they refused to go to the funeral! Taking it with us is not an option.

It was this kind of fight over money that Jesus refused to get involved in. He chose instead to bring the focus of the man back upon his own greed. It is a difficult task, to look upon our sinfulness. But unless we do, we can never repent. We can never come to know the real joy that comes from knowing the benevolence of God’s grace. And we can never choose to be better and happier trusting in God’s grace to save us from want.

I invite us all this week to look at the places where greed has seeped into our lives. Allow yourself to acknowledge the sin of trusting in things rather than God’s loving- mercy by changing your consumer habits. And let us rejoice, unlike the Lutherans who don’t rejoice much, that we are saved by the grace of a loving God. AMEN.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Halleluia! It is Finished!

The whole saga of the trial of the Rev. David Bollinger was finished today. The ecclesiastical court dismissed the case.

Since 2005 this case of alleged fiduciary misconduct against Fr. Bollinger has hung in the wind. Bollinger a veteran priest of 24 years and almost 20 years at St. Paul’s, Owego has served as a district dean, and on the Diocesan trial court.

This began when allegations of sexual abuse of minors by a previous rector began to surface in the congregation. Fr. Bollinger went to the bishop and asked for an investigation of these allegations. At the same time an auditor found irregularities in the parish accounting system. Bishop Gladstone, “Skip” Adams, ordinary of the Diocese of Central NY refused to deal with the abuse and focused the attention on the financial irregularities on Fr. Bollinger. He called for a forensic audit of the Discretionary accounts of the parish at the cost of $30,000 to the diocese . In 2005 the Standing Committee brought charges against Fr. Bollinger and then turned the case over to the State’s Attorney for prosecution of alleged crime. Fr. Bollinger was inhibited, removed from his parish and the parish declared vacant without a trial. He was disallowed contact with members of the clergy, those who had reported their abuse to him and denied access to the parish buildings. No civil or criminal charge has ever been brought against Fr. Bollinger by state or federal authorities.

From the beginning Fr. Bollinger has denied the accusations leveled against him. Members of his parish have been mystified by the bishop’s actions. All the questioned expenditures by Fr. Bollinger had been allowed by the parish Vestry (lay council). But these explanations by the Vestry and Wardens of the parish were ignored by the Diocese.

For three years Fr. Bollinger was not allowed to work at his chosen profession, denied health care at a time when a member of the family was battling cancer and left without pastoral care or concern. He was basically shunned by the diocese in which Fr. Bollinger had grown up.

He was denied hearings that were required by the canons before the Standing Committee. He was denied legal assistance when the diocese could have provided it when it was shown that he did not have sufficient funds to provide counsel for himself. Fr. Bollinger suffered a heart attack in the ensuing years and is now on disability retirement.

Today, some three years following the inhibition, the case against Fr. Bollinger was dismissed for lack of evidence.

The court in its judgment said that the Diocese had not made its case. Several times in the two-day trial, the court reminded the Diocese that it had made clear the deadlines for providing materials in the discovery portion of the deliberations. The Diocese had not provided the court with a list of witnesses or a description of the evidence that they intended to present in a timely fashion. Fr. Bollinger had met those criteria in all of those occasions.

In June Bishop Adams asked the Standing Committee for a change of venue to another diocese. The Standing Committee voted unanimously to deny that change. The Court said that it took umbrage at the cavalier attitude that the Diocese took regarding the discovery period deadlines. They summarily dismissed all evidence and witnesses of the Diocese saying that it was trying to “even the playing field” so that the process of the trial would be fair.

When the Court judged that the Diocese had not proved their case, some sharp criticism by the Chair of the Court, Carter Strickland, Esq. and member of Trinity Parish, Fayetteville, said that they had strived to make sure that any trial procedures were done in a way that both the Diocese and Fr. Bollinger were treated fairly and with equal access to the legal system.

The Court was made up of the Rev. Jennifer Montgomery, the Rev. William Lutz, the Rev. John Rafter, Ms. Mary Lou Crowley, Esq. and Mr. Carter Strickland, Esq.

Comments: There has been considerable anxiety in the diocese regarding this trial. Many clergy of the diocese watched anxiously to see if the rights of the priest were going to be upheld. Since the changes in Title IV, the disciplinary canons, have been revised, there have been many questions about whether the check and balances that were once in effect would safe guard the rights of the cleric. In this case, it is gratifying to note that the Court upheld the fairness of the legal system. The Court is to be congratulated for the bravery to address their bishop’s or his lawyers’ flagrant disregard for the rules of the Court. It is sad to see the Diocese either resort to such tactics or ignore the dictates of the Court that was elected by the Diocese in Convention when the case is being watched by so many in TEC.

As a result, there will most likely be several resolutions or attempts to change the canons of the Diocese to provide for better handling of matters in which the accused is provided with appropriate counsel and access to pastoral care when there is a presentment is made.

In this case, most likely the irregularities in the financial structures of the parish would have been found to stem from the priest that had crossed the boundaries of conduct with children in his diocese. It is well-known that financial misconduct often is seen when there is also sexual misconduct. It is sad that the jump to accuse the present rector for another’s deeds has led to such pain for the Diocese and for Fr. Bollinger and his family. We as a diocese need to be willing to hold the proper authorities accountable for this affair.