Friday, March 30, 2007

Tiber and Thames

The report of Bishop Herzog's abandonment of his orders makes me sad. I am not sad that someone has chosen to leave The Episcopal Church for Rome, but that a former Roman could not find enough of home in TEC to stay during the storms of our present age. As one who many years ago made that same swim of the Tiber, I find it difficult to understand why one would abandon one's chosen family to return to the one that he spurned in the midst of Vatican II, especially in the midst of crisis.

One of the things that the Roman Church demands of its communicants is obedience--a kind of blind obedience that often robs folks of their ability to think for themselves and take responsibility for their faith before God. But it is a place for those who do not want to bother with these matters, who prefer others making those decisions.

I have assisted many who have tried to make the switch from Rome to the Episcopal Church, but I have often suggested that some people stay in the Roman Church because they just aren't going to make good Episcopalians. They just cannot take on the responsibility of their soul before God. They are upset when the doctrine of the Episcopal Church does not completely define what they should believe.

Outwardly Episcopalians are so like our Roman Catholic brothers and sisters. The liturgy is the same; we have bishops; we have deacons and priests, etc. We even make allowances for the Blessed Mother more so than other denominations. But we are different--VERY different. But the boundaries are uncertain. And since Vatican II, those boundaries seem almost amorphous.

There is a phenomenon that is occurring in the Episcopal Church that is worth noting: The growing catholicization of things Episcopal has not stopped with the primacy of Eucharistic worship. The growing desire for "norms for Christian behavior", "doctrinal commonality", and "statements of confession" that are being touted by many smack of a kind of Romanization of Episcopalianism that has not been part of the Anglican tradition.

Granted, there has been a rich Anglo-Catholic heritage in the US since the mid 19th century, but that heritage was steeped in mission as well as colorful ritual. It was centered in a deeply lived out spirituality of faith in action that was signed by its liturgical haute-couture. It did not live and die by doctrinal likeness. One's catholicity was based more on medieval spirituality than Counter-Reformation conformity.

If there is one thing that the House of Bishops has said in the past few weeks is that Romish hierarchical formula for church order is not that of the Episcopal Church. It has said unequivocally that we are not a people of lock-step; we are a Church that not only proclaims its diversity, it is dead set on making sure that we ARE diverse. It has said this because it has seen that it is in that diversity that God can be readily be seen, recognized and celebrated.

Former Bishop Opts for Rome

Retired Episcopal bishop joins Catholics
Herzog's move comes after turmoil from gay bishop ordination

ALBANY -- Recently retired Albany Episcopal Bishop Daniel Herzog has rejoined the Roman Catholic Church, the Episcopal Diocese announced Thursday.
The news comes just weeks after Herzog's former assistant bishop, David Bena, revealed his plans to transfer from the U.S. Episcopal Church to the Church of Nigeria.

Herzog's move means the "resignation of his orders as bishop, priest and deacon," his successor, Bishop William Love, explained in a letter posted on the diocese's Web site Thursday.
"As such, he will not be able to function in an ordained capacity within the diocese or larger Anglican Communion," Love wrote.

The Episcopal Church, the American wing of the worldwide Anglican Communion, has plunged into turmoil since the consecration in 2003 of V. Gene Robinson as its first openly gay bishop.
Herzog, an outspoken national opponent of ordaining gay clergy, alluded to that strife in a letter to Love explaining his jump to the Catholic Church. He described the move as the result of three and a half years of prayer and study.

Herzog did much to reshape the Albany Episcopal Diocese during his tenure as bishop, which began in 1998 and ended with his retirement earlier this year.
"There is a sense of joyful contentment in being in union with the office of Peter and the universal church," Herzog wrote. "There is also an element of sadness at losing a special connection with the devoted clergy and outstanding lay leaders serving Christ in the Episcopal Diocese of Albany."

Former Albany Episcopal Bishop David Ball, reached at home before midnight, said Herzog was a Roman Catholic until about 35 years ago. Herzog graduated from St. Bonaventure University, a Catholic school, in 1964.

Ball described the move as "extremely rare" and could not recall a similar situation.
"It's going to hit the people of the diocese hard," Ball said. But he expressed confidence that after the initial shock, "we'll get on."

Under Herzog, the 19-county Albany diocese of about 20,000 baptized members began selling church real estate worth millions of dollars to raise money for a Washington County spiritual retreat called Christ the King Spiritual life Center.
Bishop Love wrote in his letter that Herzog's "decision to return to Rome was not and should not be seen as an attack or lack of love or concern for the Diocese of Albany."

Monday, March 26, 2007

It's about POWER!

In her sermon for Lent 5 Elizabeth Kaeton made some superb comments on the state of the church in the light of Sunday's gospel reading:

"It wasn't about money. It wasn't about sexuality. It wasn't about ministry.

Depending on your source of information, you may have also read or heard that The Episcopal Church is about to be ‘kicked off the Anglican island.’Five days ago, our bishops took a bold stand to the demands and ultimatums made by a majority of Global South Primates last month in Dar es Salaam in Tanzania, East Africa. They issued a lengthy statement that was bold and centered smack-dab in the middle of the Gospel.In that statement they said, in part,

We proclaim the Gospel of what God has done and is doing in Christ, of the dignity of every human being, and of justice, compassion, and peace.
We proclaim the Gospel that in Christ there is no Jew or Greek, no male or female, no slave or free.
We proclaim the Gospel that in Christ all God's children, including women, are full and equal participants in the life of Christ's Church.
We proclaim the Gospel that in Christ all God's children, including gay and lesbian persons, are full and equal participants in the life of Christ's Church.
We proclaim the Gospel that stands against any violence, including violence done to women and children as well as those who are persecuted because of their differences, often in the name of God.

"The Dar es Salaam Communiqué is distressingly silent on this subject. And, contrary to the way the Anglican Communion Network and the American Anglican Council have represented us, we proclaim a Gospel that welcomes diversity of thought and encourages free and open theological debate as a way of seeking God's truth. If that means that others reject us and communion with us, as some have already done, we must with great regret and sorrow accept their decision.

You know what? I personally don’t think it's going to happen, but if the bishop's statement is what gets us ‘kicked off the Anglican Island’, I'm quite sure Jesus will be right there to welcome us with open arms. Of this, I have absolutely no doubt.

No, it's not about money. It's not about sexuality. It's not about ministry. Here's something else: it's not about scriptural interpretation, either, or for that matter, theological principles or the doctrines of the church. Neither is it about cultural differences or post colonialism or the Enlightenment verses post modernism. The problem we see in the church today is the same problem we see in that embryonic image of the church in this morning’s gospel. It’s the same problem which has been with us since the beginning.

It is this: power."

Elizabeth+ has nailed it on its head. It is interesting that it took the House of Bishops all this time to recognize that since the 2003 General Convention this has been about POWER-- who has it, who doesn't, who can be manipulated or marginalized by that power.

One thing that power inevitably does is create systems of domination. cf. Walter Wink's The Powers That Be) The Primates demanded things of The Episcopal Church (TEC) that it cannot supply--foreign domination. The aversion to foreign domination is so much a piece of the fabric of the American Anglican experience that if we allowed it in the cloth, the Church would unravel. The House of Bishops(HOB) made it clear who TEC is: A group of Orders who work in faith and equality to provide a witness to Christ together.

The HOB said we are in this together--progressive and conservative, orthodox, liberal, revisionists and neo-puritan alike. We all have access to the same power structure. This is what the Episcopal Church has always been--an unreserved democracy. If the minority opinion cannot get the changes it wants in the Church, then they have to be willing to work within the structure to make it viable rather than try to tear it down from the outside.

One of the things that being a minority can do, however, is make one into a victim. And that is one of the things that I have seen the minority voice in our area do. It has allowed itself to be come a victim to the power of the majority because all too often the power of the majority becomes unwilling to understand the passion of the minority. As a victim it is easy to be whiny and demand attention, or play the abused soul. This is true whether it is on conservative or progressive issues.

Power, even that which is wielded by an elected majority, can be wielded with a hand that makes it oppressive. It is easy to recognize the elected majority as Divine power in the face of our Episcopal polity. But even in our wonderfully democratic society, the abuse of power by those who feel that they are mandated, fails to recognize the corruptible power of even democratic power.

Elizabeth+ quotes Carolyn Myss from her book The Judas Experiment:
The lesson of a Judas experience is that putting faith in human justice is an error and that we must shift our faith from human to Divine authority. It is to trust that our life is governed with “Divine justice,” even though we cannot see it. We must strive not to become bitter or cling to victimhood when we are betrayed or cannot attain what we want. We need to trust that we have not been victimized at all and that this painful experience is challenging us to evaluate where we have placed our faith.”

It is inappropriate for those of us who are minorities to allow ourselves to be come victims of power. The role of victim in power situations is seductive, however. We can become victims if we see ourselves as powerless to change situations. It also misdirects our understanding of what power we are submitting ourselves to. Minorities must always be willing to recognize that in faith that we are claiming a participation in the power of God, not just the human authority of those who hold temporal power.

The important point for any minority is to refuse to be a victim of power. It is one of the most difficult aspects of faith. Jesus, during the Passion accepted neither Rome's authority, nor the Sanhedrin's power. Power used in any form, whether absolute or democratic can be, and tends toward abuse. It is up to minorities of any ilk to be willing to recognize that it is Divine authority that calls us to remind the whole of society or the Church of the needs of the minority.

The minority will never get everything that it wants, but it needs to be heard with respect. I will never get everything I want in the Church or society. It is the nature of being a minority. But if I allow myself to become a victim to the powers that be, I have lost my faith in the One who has called me to speak for the minority. Powers that silence minorities in the Church, as the Primates have tried to do to TEC, because they speak that which upsets them, have become abusive, have lost their sense of democracy, and have lost their faith in the God who calls the minority voice to speak.

The HOB has given us an image of what it means to be a Stone of Witness, well-defined, clear and self-differentiated. Starkly reminding us all that the power we have is not our own, but that of God

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

A Farewell

The call for Good Shepherd, Binghamton and St. Andrew's, Vestal to leave the Episcopal Church for CANA or some other form of the alphabet soup that the present strife has brought us should help us realize that the ultra-right wing of the Southern Tier has never anticipated any kind of reconciliation with The Episcopal Church (TEC). This should have been done 4 years ago. The absenting of themselves from diocesan meetings, communion and conventions for several years running should have told us. But yesterday's article in the Binghamton Press-Sun finalizes it.

If these congregations are as noble as they would tell us, they would move from their church buildings that were built and paid for by others who supported the Episcopal Church. But in the article there was no suggestion that they would.

It should be said that the clergy leadership of both of these congregations have been at odds with TEC since they were ordained. In fact there is some evidence that the vow to "solemnly engage to conform to the doctrine, discipline and worship of the Episcopal Church" was never answered with any truth by these clergy at their ordination. It is questionable if many members of either of the congregations have ever allowed themselves to be truly Episcopalian, but subscribe to some 'high church' fundamentalist tradition that has no connection with TEC.

Do I mourn their leaving? No, not really. I say "Go with God. Thank you for finally getting honest that you are not Episcopalians and will never be happy among us." We are trying to prepare the Church for the future, not get mired in the legalism of the past. We are trying to teach a kind of faith that welcomes all in the name of Christ, not relive some arcane dictates that has never been Episcopalian or even Anglican.

No, we are not kicking you out. No, we have not become "apostate" (as you would call us,) and you are not holier than we are. It is just that we are different and have been for some time. You have just awakened to that fact. Those who thought you were Episcopalian, it may be painful for you not to think of yourselves as Episcopalians, a church that went the way of democracy following the American Revolution. It hurts when you recognize that you are not part of the majority.

I have never really been in the majority of the Church either. But I have never expected that the Church to cater to my needs except when it has said that it will. I chose the Episcopal Church because TEC made conscious statements that welcomed women as clergy and the LGBT persons as equal members of the communion. Because it has said that I am welcome, I expect TEC to live up to what they say.

It is not easy to stay focused on the issues of justice and democracy in a time when so many would erode both in the name of safety and security. But I do believe that I can trust the Church to live out what they have promised if I do my part to call them to that. That means I must be willing to stay active, attend clergy meetings, conventions and the like and stand as a stone of witness to the vows that my Church has made to me and other LGBT members to be an institution that lives out Christ's justice in the world.

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

The Corporate Art of Listening

Bishop Adam’s response to the Primates’ Communique is the kind of document that I would expect from a Bishop of Central NY. He vows support for the LGBT community, raises the conflict in polity that the Communique represents, supports ++ Katharine without critique, affirms the place of diverse positions in the Diocese and even admits that leaving the Anglican Communion may be an alternative for a season. This response certainly would be welcome by a great majority of Central NY Episcopalians and certainly from its tenor would be in the traditions of previous bishops in conjunction with their Diocesan Conventions..

What is disturbing about the response is that there does not seem to be anything in the diocesan program to support the promises he has made.

++First, there is no committee or commission set up in the diocese to continue the practice of “listening” to the voice of LGBT members of the diocese which has been part of the Lambeth consideration for the last 9 years. The only committee that has addressed ministry to and with LGBT Christians was the Human Sexuality Committee that came to such a dismal conclusion because LGBT members had to endure the constant harangue of those who were determined that LGBT people were not to be accepted.
++Any committee which invites LGBT persons must provide safety for them so they do not have to endure savaging of ideas and personhood in order to be heard.
++The “overwhelming majority” that the Bishop alludes to in his boast of inclusivity is a bit confusing when the resolution was so “underwhelming” in content. It was characterized on the floor as being “a motherhood and apple-pie” resolution with no teeth that would require disagreeing persons to subscribe to certain behaviors that would allow them to feel safe in discussion on either side of the spectrum. Again the vehicle that could be of support to inclusivity is marred by a lack of even-handed leadership which might offer welcome that goes beyond “The Episcopal Church Welcomes You.”
++ I would recommend that a similar committee be set up for those who disagree with the actions of GC2003 so that there can be discussions where those concerns can be heard, rather than throwing LGBT persons and those who support them into the same committee with those who disagree. It seems that this would be one way to address the intransigency with which we are presently faced.
++The Bishop offers a time to address the issues of the Primates meeting after returning from the House of Bishops Meeting in mid March for the clergy. But he does not listen to his clergy or his diocese BEFORE he goes. Granted, there was little time for a meeting but with the immediacy of email, such contact could have been made at least to the clergy. This seems to infer what is more important is what is“received” from the bishops than what is received from the clergy and lay members of the diocese. The issue of listening which the Presiding Bishop (PB) has recommended to the whole church seems to have fallen on ears that may have difficulty hearing. To me this follows the pattern that the Primates have modeled rather than the respected Episcopal polity that has always characterized the Diocese of CNY. This is especially disturbing in the light of much of the conversation on the various national blogs about the Primates not understanding the American Church’s polity. But like another CNY native, Gay Clark Jennings+, I believe that the Primates do understand the polity of the American Church, they just don’t like it and don’t trust it. Could this underlie the Bishop’s reticence to listen to the advice of the whole church before gathering with his fellow bishops in TX?
++I am glad to see that +Skip has been willing to entertain the possibility of separating from the Anglican Communion for a season if necessary. He has not chosen to sacrifice the ministry and lives of LGBT Christians to the illusion of unity that the Communique promises and this is to be commended. But walking apart for a season is much easier than listening to the pain that we do not want to hear. Should there be a move to “walk apart” there should also be a deadline for rapprochement and reconciliation. Reconciliation is not a matter of accusing the other of sinful action, confession and absolution. It is the agreeing that both have sinned and that there is forgiveness on both sides waiting.

The future of the Diocese of CNY is not going to be much addressed by this response by Bishop Adams unless there is an attempt to develop vehicles for listening, honoring the divergent attitudes that abound in the diocese, and providing for reconciliation rather than recrimination. So far I have not seen efforts that can help support the diversity that has characterized the Diocese of CNY for over 50 years. It is hoped that such efforts can be instituted in the future before walking apart is more of a characteristic than savoring a type of unity that honors all persons.

Bishop Adam's response to Primate's communique

Dear Clergy of Central New York,
You are aware of the recent Communique from the Primates of the Anglican Communion. During this last week I have prayed and pondered over its contents, not wanting to be merely reactive. Furthermore, I leave for the House of Bishops meeting on March 14th when I will be able to hear more from our Presiding Bishop and be in discussion with the rest of the bishops about a possible way forward in response to the Communique.
As I am sure is true for you, the Communique has some things in it which I find encouraging as well as things which cause me great concern. As I share a few thoughts with you I am not going to make a point-by-point response. I am also offering a time for the clergy to come together to discuss the Communique and how it effects us as a Diocese after the March House of Bishops meeting. This meeting will be held from 9:00 a.m. to 12:00 Noon on Wednesday, April 18th at St. David’s, Dewitt. A reminder will be sent out closer to that date.
I would alert you to my expectation that this March meeting will almost certainly not produce a specific response from the House of Bishops to the Primates. What I believe will happen is the opportunity will be given for a broad consideration of the Communique, the seeking of clarification of its expectations, and an encouragement to take the conversation back to each diocese in order to inform the subsequent September House of Bishops meeting.
I am encouraged that the Primates did, in fact, stay in conversation with one another and no one absented themselves from the meeting as some seemed to fear. Seven primates of the thirty-eight did choose not to participate in the Sunday Eucharist. This saddens me on many levels, but it was only seven. Apparently great respect was afforded our Presiding Bishop Katharine and she was elected to be a member of the Joint Standing Committee of the Primates. We can rejoice in this. In addition, the Communique did not call for or affirm another tier of Anglican presence along side the Episcopal Church. In addition, considerable time was given to the Millennium Development Goals and other issues of Christian mission around the world, the very issues I believe ought to be occupying the majority of our time as manifestations of what it means to be a people of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Clearly one of the matters that will have to be decided is whether the requests of the Primates, by their very form, would call upon us to violate the polity of the Episcopal Church. We must remain clear that our Church, in an admittedly sometimes cumbersome process, makes decisions which include representation of all the baptized people of God in General Convention. Too often this seems to be misunderstood across the Anglican Communion. The House of Bishops could make some interim decisions which involve the specific responsibilities of the bishops, but a full response which would effect all the Episcopal Church would need to come from the General Convention of 2009. I would not be in favor of a special General Convention as I believe it would bad stewardship of resources and time. The problem, of course, is that the Communique has given what feels to many an ultimatum, specifically that the House of Bishops respond to the requests by September 30, 2007. It may well be that the House of Bishops may have to say something like, “Thank you. We respect your request and desire, but the polity of the Episcopal Church will not allow us to make a response until the summer of 2009.”
It is important to me that we remain a part of the Anglican Communion. I also realize that in difficult conversations and in seeking compromise, not everyone gets all that they want. But let me be clear. As bishop of this Diocese I will not sacrifice GLBT people for the sake of an unjust unity. Indeed, I cannot morally sacrifice anyone else, only myself. To use an image from the civil rights movement, I will not ask gay and lesbian people to go the back of the bus for a time. The gifts of God’s GLBT people will continue to be welcome in this Diocese in all areas of ministry. They are we, and we are who we are because of the gifts of all of God’s people in this Diocese. The wind of the Holy Spirit blows where it will and I will not seek to quench the Spirit’s movement among us. Our recent Diocesan Convention overwhelmingly passed a resolution calling on us to be a people of God which exhibits inclusion at all levels of the Diocese in our seeking to be God’s holy people. I am committed to that value.
Our Presiding Bishop mentions the charism of the Episcopal Church in this time. One of the gifts we bring to the Church is a witness of the welcome and inclusion of GLBT people as we seek to welcome and build the reign of God among us and in witness to the saving grace of Jesus the Christ. I believe that another charism of this Church is to image for all God’s people that it is possible to hold diverse theological perspectives in love and worship. I would even go so far as to say that one way to speak of the opposite of sin is worship. I also refuse to allow any one group or perspective to claim the title “biblical.” The positions to which I have come are formed precisely because of the biblical witness. I do call upon all of us to be more deeply literate in the Scriptures and encourage deeply informed, and yes, even nuanced theological conversation.
Is it possible that parts of the Church will have to walk apart for a time? As much as that would grieve me I believe that is a possible outcome. What I also believe is that a Church focused on judgment and the seeking of so-called correct dogmatic formulas is a Church that will not have much to say to the broken and hurting world in which we live. It will keep us from being a faithful Church of the 21st Century. If we must walk apart for a time in our official capacities, we will not be isolationists. Global mission will continue to be a part of the Episcopal Church and this Diocese. Our diocesan relationships with Anglicans in El Salvador, the Sudan and Liberia will continue. I have had conversations with bishops in those places and know this to be true.
As your bishop I will continue to do what I can to work in the councils of the Church. I desire to be supportive of our Presiding Bishop Katharine and believe that she is the right leader for this time in our history. I remain committed to this Diocese being a safe place where all theological positions on significant matters can be respected and the people who hold them are respected and valued as a part of the Body of Christ. I will seek to remain a part of the Anglican Communion and I will continue to hold up the faithful witness of GLBT people. That may necessitate some hard decisions down the road if those values are in conflict. Even more, however, we must not allow these issues to divert us from the work we are called to do as the Diocese of Central New York. “Glory to God whose power, working in us, can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine. Glory to him from generation to generation in the Church, and in Christ Jesus forever and forever.” Ephesians 3:20,21
In a separate e-mail, I am sending you a copy of the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Presidential Address at General Synod. Please communicate it as you see fit.
In Christ,
The Rt. Rev. Gladstone B. Adams III
Diocese of Central New York