Friday, April 27, 2007

Good for the Goose....

The response of the House of Bishops (HoB) to the Primates was a wonderful statement of definition and standing their ground. It said that we are the Episcopal Church of 14 different nations and we are governed by a different polity than many of the churches of the Anglican Communion. The resolutions of the HoB made clear that those who are beyond accountability may not speak for the Episcopal Church or set its mission. It is an especially important statement of self-differentiation rather than a reaction to a fairly abusive Communique from the Primates.

This comes as a healthy sign after the erosion of the basic rights of parishes and clergy over the past 10-12 years both in practice and canonically. It will be interesting to see if the bishops can be as egalitarian and as self-differentiated if there is a move by clergy and laity to regain some of the authority that has been lost.

Much of the equilibrium of the polity of the Episcopal Church in the past was because laity and clergy took seriously their responsibility in their ministry of the Church. These days, it seems to be a common experience for bishops to appoint a rector in small parishes as if they were missions. We are told that “it is not easy to find clergy to come to a parish as small as yours,” when it is more of an issue of trying to find clergy who will fit with the bishop’s ideology, or a desire to control issues in the diocese. The nation-wide crisis of the deployment system (cf. Episcopal Life, last month) leaves both clergy searching for a call and congregations looking for clergy jammed up in diocesan offices rather than in a fair market.

With such appointments, the clergy are no longer beholden to a call from the parish and are more beholden to the personality of the bishop. This undermines the basic construction of a diocese as an ongoing ministry of the Church which may be influenced by the ministry of the bishop but not dominated by the ministry of a bishop. It also undermines the movement of the Holy Spirit for both parish and diocese. In the past, part of the general understanding of the role of the parish was to call into it clergy who would stand for the rights of the laity in the parish and support the ministry of the Bishop. Nowadays clergy are often placed in parishes because they support the Bishop.

Secondly this undermines the ministry of the laity in parishes. Parishes have been able to call clergy to fulfill their needs and to fit with the basic ministry of their parishes for over 200 years. The parochial centralization of the polity has maintained the voice of the laity in the governance of the Church. The over involvement of bishops or bishop’s personnel in the call of a rector muddies the clear call of a parish’s mission that is part of the call of the diocese, not the other way around. All too often the mission of the diocese becomes central focus, not the mission of the parish.

If the bishops have found it necessary to claim the character of the Episcopal Church as being one which is founded soundly on the equality of Lay, Clerical and Episcopal orders, then the diocese must be willing to stand as a microcosm of that larger model. The ministry of the laity in calling their rectors must be upheld as part of the fabric of that mutuality. The deployment officers of a diocese need to be aware of the needs of the parish rather than vacancies becoming a place where a bishop wants to “stick” a favored priest.

The formation of the CDO (Clergy Deployment Office) process of the national Church was developed in part to give clergy from all over the country a chance to be viewed by parishes throughout the Church. This CDO process has been dismantled by many dioceses in favor of “the old boy’s network” which is what CDO was developed to discourage.

If we are going to regain the sense of polity that works well when all three orders are self-differentiated, we will need to call our dioceses to clear and open calling procedures. This means that yes; good background checks need to be made, but that the process is open to all clergy who wish to apply,

This also means that the laity must be willing to pick up the responsibility for their clergy. Many of the difficulties between clergy and laity that have resulted in church fights have been because there is not a sense of mutual responsibility between clergy and laity in the parish. Clergy need to be willing to negotiate a meaningful payment package and be responsible for their work. And the Laity needs to be willing to be responsible to their clergy when it comes time for benefits and remuneration. Accountability is absolutely essential in the parish ministry. But the accountability lies between the parish and the cleric, not the cleric and the bishop.

If the Episcopal Church is going to gain from the self-differentiation of the HoB, we need to be willing to do that in all orders. It is the only way that our polity works—if laity and clergy as well as bishops are self-differentiated and strong. We need to be willing to step up to the ministry to which we are called in order for the Church to regain its strength.

Friday, April 6, 2007

God's Friday

So keep fightin' for freedom and justice, beloveds, but don't you forget to have fun doin' it. Lord, let your laughter ring forth. Be outrageous, ridicule the fraidy-cats, rejoice in all the oddities that freedom can produce. And when you get through kickin' ass and celebratin' the sheer joy of a good fight, be sure to tell those who come after how much fun it was.
Molly Ivins 1944-2007

I found this quote over at MadPriest. I have always been a follower of Molly Ivins. She was a columnist on the Ft. Worth-StarTelegram so I have always claimed her as part of my heritage. Her insight into things political always gave me hope.

It seems appropriate to post this quote from her on Good Friday. On the day of the most solemn observance of the Christian Calendar it seem appropriate to talk about fighting for justice. There is no doubt that is what Jesus did on the cross. This is the reason that Good is often used for this day. It is God's work, good work that is done this day. And in some way we can hear the laughter of God as God overcomes death, over comes the grave, overcomes sin. The laughter is at the fear. The laughter is at the all the attempts Power tries to corrupt the lovely. The laughter is from all of us who understand how revolutionary the cross is.

We need not be solemn on Good Friday. At some level we need to be laughing our heads off, because Love triumphs over the pain, the torture, the hatred, and the desires to control. God's Friday is a day of remembering the Joy of looking at death and laughing.

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

What ARE we teaching in the Episcopal Church?

Elizabeth Kaeton, Rector of St. Paul's, Chatham, Chair of the Women's Caucus, and Chair of the Diocese of Newark's Standing Committee was quoted by + Jack Spong recently. I post this here in hopes that it will begin some serious discussion about what IS being taught as Christianity in our diocese.

For over 30 years the Episcopal Church has taught that LGBT Christians were as much a part of the Church as anyone else. This means that the clergy who have been ordained in the past 30 years have said that they beleive that LGBT Christians are as much a part of the Church as anyone else. And yet we have those who have been ordained in the past 30 years who would teach otherwise. So we need to look at what is being taught to see if the "standard of teaching" of the diocese is inkeeping with the Constitution and Canons of the Church. LG

Primates who met at Windsor, Dromantine and Dar es Salaam continue to uphold the Lambeth resolution on human sexuality to be the "standard" of the church, which conservatives want "enforced" so that all are in "compliance."

They have apparently forgotten, these princes of the church and teachers and guardians of the faith, that words like "enforce" and "compliance" are absolutely antithetical to the long tradition of the gracious Anglican Spirit of Accommodation.

In her conversation with the staff at the National Church Center, our new Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts-Schiori points out the incremental progress of some Global South primates who can no longer claim not to have met lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and transgender people (LGBT).. She muses that it's simply a "matter of time" before the rest of the communion allows "reason" to take its place along side classical Anglicanism of scripture and tradition.

So here are my questions. There are three:

1. How long, exactly, does it take, for the church to correct its "standard" when the church's standard is at least significantly different from the experience of others in other parts of the world, not to mention that the scientific evidence in the West is significantly different from that of the church?

Stop me if you've heard this one before:

For centuries, the church's teaching about the shape of the world was that it was flat, in accordance with what was written in scripture, despite scientific evidence that it was not. People were excommunicated – not to mention tortured and tried and sent to jail and murdered for disagreeing with the official church "standard" of teaching.

For centuries, the church's teaching about seizure disorder was that it was demon possession, in accordance with what was written in scripture, despite scientific evidence that it was not. People were excommunicated – not to mention tortured and locked in asylums because the outward manifestation of their lives were contrary to the official church "standard" of teaching.

For centuries, the church's teaching about left handedness was that it was a sign of evil, in accordance with what was written in scripture, despite scientific evidence that it was not. People were excommunicated – not to mention tortured and shunned and exiled because the outward manifestation of their lives were contrary to the official church "standard" of teaching. (My beloved can tell you stories that will raise the hair on the back of your necks about the abuse she and others suffered in Roman Catholic elementary schools because of their left handedness).

2. If we agree that the colonialism and cultural imperialism perpetrated by the North and West on the global South were evils of which we repent, why are we now allowing the attempted ecclesiastical colonialism and imperialism of the Global South primates to be visited upon the churches of the North and the West? I never remember Jesus teaching that "two wrongs make a right." Then again, I don't have a King James Version of the Bible so I may be missing something.

3. Who will take responsibility for the emotional, psychological and spiritual damage done to the church and her people for perpetuating the evils of this deficient standard of teaching? And, let's be clear: it's not simply LGBT people who will suffer. As we have learned from the evils of slavery, racism, sexism and the ignorance which once taught that the world is flat, people who have seizure disorders are possessed of demons and left handed people are the scribes of Satan: when the dignity of any human being is compromised or insulted, a mortal wound is created in the Body of Christ.

I think our Baptismal Covenant has something to say about "the dignity of every human being," as does the Outline of Faith (commonly called the Catechism). Who will take responsibility for the damage that is done while a deficient standard is upheld and promulgated in the church? Knowing what we know about the irrationality of prejudice, who could claim innocence? Knowing what we know about LGBT people and social sciences and lived experience, why isn't the church's "standard of teaching" being challenged – if not absolutely rejected? And, what price are we willing to pay for the damage done to the Sacred Body of Christ while we wait?

If nothing else, these questions underscore what I see as the need for a Season of Discernment, Study and Prayer so that we are very, very clear what it is we are being asked to do.

(The Rev'd) Elizabeth Kaeton
The Episcopal Church of St. Paul's
200 Main Street
Chatham, NJ 07928

Sunday, April 1, 2007

Palm Sunday

It is hard to enter Holy Week first with Hosannas and then the Passion. It is almost too much for one service. But is that not what Jesus had to experience--being feted one moment and being crucified the next?

But none of this touches the mind. It hits much lower--the solar plexis perhaps. I have long grown used to the shouts of "Crucify him" from the congregation during the reading of the Passion. I hear my voice speak the words of forgiveness to rabble and yet this season they seem to hold a bit of sawdust. The bitterness of the struggle in the Episcopal Church is too much, too Byzantine. Even victory seems a waste of all that is holy.

The name calling, the wonderful cutting phrases that abound in the blogosphere seem more the words of the crowd than "crucify", the one-upmanship of bishops on this side of the Atlantic or the other call forth "father, forgive". And it makes the passion of Christ too much to stand at the cross. I cannot be like Peter and run away and cry. I can but stand at the cross and watch. But I do not hear the Centurion's call. I cannot find in any of this "This truly was the Son of God".

I know there is resurrection--I know it deep in my soul. But it is as if I am too weary to embrace the tomb. I wonder if there is too much bitterness in the Church to ever know resurrection. And will we arise like Christ or like Lazarus, wrapped in our sepulcral duds rather clothed in righteousness.

At the moment the Tomb is lutheran-like--a place to bide the transformation.