Thursday, July 29, 2010

Where Were You on July 29, 1974?

A question has arisen on HOB/D as to where people were on the day of the first ordinations of women. It is interesting that some posting there were not even born yet. Most of my Episcopal friends can remember the event, but after all I am 60+. Like the day when JFK was shot, or MLK was shot, those ordained women of a certain age remember this day as a milestone in their journey. Our lives have not been the same because of that day.

I remember not the day itself but I remember the day after when the Philadelphia ordinations were reported in the news paper. I was a novice in a Roman Catholic convent outside of St. Louis. You can imagine what the conversation in the community room was that Sunday afternoon! Needless to say the opinions ranged from total rejection to total and unequivocal support. But it was the discussion of what the priesthood was that continued for months following that was important. And I believe that it is that conversation that still continues in Roman Catholicism, TEC and all churches because of July 29, 1974.

What was interesting was that one of our community had been interviewed by the local newspaper revealing that she felt called to the priesthood. Some of the sisters considered it “bad form” to speak of such things when it was not possible in the RCC. They did not question her vocation, they just thought being visible was wrong. For others in the group, it made us challenge our own vocations. What did it mean to be a religious? What did it mean to serve the Church? What did it mean to serve God? What did it mean for women to think of themselves as having parity with men? What was the priesthood anyway? What did it mean to be a sacramental presence in the community of the faithful? These women, most of the professed, had served as teachers or principals of schools in parishes where they had had to work with male priests. They knew these men were not holier than they. They knew they were better educated than most parish priests. And most of them had far better teaching, administrative and pastoral skills and left the priests in their parishes in the dust. But I never saw disrespect for the clergy. And like wives of men who are not especially talented, they mostly functioned as helpmeets to them.

Those were heady days. I know that the Philadelphia ordinations began me thinking of what my vocation really was. I knew I was called by God, but all the baptized were called by God. My vocation was not a calling to teach or even be a missionary: the first understanding of my vocation. But each time I attended Eucharist, I knew that my life centered on that act. I would watch each action; meditate on each word spoken at the altar. It was there my day began and in the darkness of the chapel each day it ended in the single flame of the altar light.

I left the convent in 1975. I loved the community and still do. I loved the women who belonged to it. But I did not belong there. The regimen was not difficult; the rules were not abusive. I loved being a part of the liturgical movement of life that religious life portrayed. But religious life is a sub-culture and I did not belong to it. I belonged to parish life. I belonged to the altar that stood among the lives of people who came from their daily lives each week thirsting for a touch with the Holy.

The Philadelphia Ordinations began a process in which the Church opened the door to ask “What is a priest?” Vatican II had done some of that in the early 1960’s, but the ’74 ordinations didn’t ask questions. They made real what had been mere speculation. There was to be no more study, they said. Those who accepted that women were equal to men accepted it. Those who could not, didn’t.

A female colleague recently said that she wished that the Philadelphia group hadn’t done what they did because it makes it impossible to say to current dissadents "well, we obeyed the canons so now you must too". I know that is a wonderful “what if.” But I truly believe that the ’77 ordinations would not have happened without the “clerical disobedience” that happened 36 years ago. Like the LGBT issues that have been debated for 40 years or more, I believe we would never have adopted women’s ordination at GC1976. And without Women’s Ordination, the LGBT issues would never have been addressed. Law never really addresses changes until there is revolution. The consecrations of +Gene Robinson and +Mary Glasspool are to be seen in that light.

What does surprise me is the fear of someone of the caliber of the Archbishop of Canterbury of women bishops. The loss of the adamant those who cannot abide the authority of women in the C of E is not a loss any more than the loss of the Ikerites, Schofieldites, or Duncanites. Men who are incapable of dreaming of a Church in which there is no ‘slave or free, male or female, Greek or Jew’ (and might I add, ‘queer or straight’) cannot serve the Church of the Third Millennium. Inequality cannot be a sign of God’s Good News.

But one thing continues to worry me. What is to be the future image of ordained ministry in the Church? One of the concerns I have is that many who present themselves for ordained ministry to the Church continue to image the priesthood as the leader of large congregations. They have come to understand the priesthood as a privileged class of leaders rather than servants of the Church. They have taken on the trappings of a “profession” rather than a ministry. Granted, even when I attended seminary, the image of the “professional” was paramount —the professional counselor, the academic and scholar, the corporate and capable administrator was what everyone strove for. The thorough grounding in the liturgy was offered but did not always create the community that Christianity offers. Consequently many of the baby-boomers who now run our Church have no idea of the kind of Christian community that they are called to serve and create. We often make the role of bishop the kind of climb to the top analogous of CEO’s rather than a unique ministry of the Church to foster collegiality and Christian community.

If the emerging church or what is going to serve humanity as the locus for its quest for the Holy, we must be willing to look clearly at what the role of the priesthood is. If we do not, we will continue to try to provide leaders for those who do not wish to be led. We will need to figure out what we believe it means to have God Incarnate in our midst and how we are going to sign that presence for ourselves and for others. This kind of discussion must be in our vestry meetings and in our living rooms, over our GnT’s or our Martinis, at coffee hour and in Sunday school classes. And MOST of all, in our confirmation classes.

 I give thanks to all those women who served the Church for the sake of us all--those who formulated and acted on the question that is still with us.  So where were you on July 29th, 1974 and how has it changed your life?  And what does it mean for the future?

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

What is becoming of the priesthood?

*This week's announcement by the Roman Catholic Church that the act of

ordaining a woman is a sin equivalent to child sexual about is perhaps the

most appalling and fatuous thing it has done in the entire sorry and

pathetic failure to honesty deal with the paedo-ephebo-philiac clerical

culture it allowed to develop, lived in denial of, shuffled around to avoid

its exposure, blamed the victims for, created false scapegoats to blame and

obstructed the civil authorities seeking criminal remedies.*

Michael Russell has commented on the Vatican’s latest attempt to rid itself from the Tar Baby of pederasty. I can’t reach his blog, but you can get the gist of his article from his opening sentence. My old English teacher-self admires it even if it is a run-on sentence. But from my viewpoint, it is not surprising that the Vatican is comparing pederasty and women’s ordination. It must feel the same to those who have since the fourth century seen women as a threat to their faith and their vocation. Those feelings have always been there among many RC clerics. Smoke screens abound when responsibility for one’s actions are lain at the feet of others.

Years ago when the politics of Roman Catholicism were beginning to dismantle the Spirit-led changes of Vatican II, this fear of women, this fear of the feminine or might I say the “the non-macho” was reprised by the counter-reformative response to the fresh air that John XXIII’s Council engendered. Counter-reformations are always reactive and eventually mean-spirited. We need but watch the use of the inquisition as it responded to the Reformation in 16th century and how the monarchs of Europe used the Church to control their subjects. It should not surprise us then, such compilations of apples and broomsticks in the present Vatican offering. The sad thing is that the Vatican still thinks that it speaks for the faithful, for people who find in Christ the model of their faith in all that is Holy and who try to live their lives according to the Gospel.

As a former Roman Catholic who used to listen to the pronouncements from Rome as a guide for my life in Christ, I know all too many people who allow the Vatican to define their faith because they choose not to think for themselves. But the majority of those Roman Catholics who love their Church and who try to live lives worthy of their calling, know that the moral compass that one once expected from the Vatican is no longer there. Much of the loss of faith in western culture and the “anti-religionism” that has gathered strength in the last 25 years can be laid at the feet of the Vatican. By this I do NOT mean Roman Catholics. I mean that the sheer inanity of some of the statements that have come from high-ranking clerics of Roman Catholicism in their defensive postures—whether it was the final declaration that Galileo was right in the ‘90’s or the stupidity of the latest comment about women’s ordination have made all religion a laughing stock.

Except for John Cockrell’s portrayal on the final episode of “In Plain Sight” I have not seen a positive imaging of clergy in the media, print or video in years. We are always portrayed as na├»ve idiots, self-serving bigots or downright evil. No longer are we seen as self-sacrificing persons who stand as the plumb line, the sign of God’s goodness in a community. No longer is the wisdom of one trained in pastoral care, theology and Scripture wanted by those in the faith to help guide the Church. I must admit that the likes of Jimmy Swaggert, Pat Robertson and Fred Phelps on Free Church side do not help matters either. And even our pontificating Archbishop of Canterbury has stepped into the role of trying to bring us back into an ecclesiastical image of the 1950’s rather than open himself to the reality of a world that is no longer wowed by academic hair-splitting or enthused by covenant-inspired colonialism.

At the center of much of the transformational church or the Total Ministry efforts I find a type of anti-clericalism. I find no fault in the raising up of local people to provide ministry to congregations who cannot afford a seminary –trained priest. But I would then ask the question why can’t a small congregation afford a seminary-trained priest? Why have the costs of seminaries become so great that our candidates must enslave themselves to debt that can never be recouped in their careers? I have no problem with locally-trained clergy IF they are going to be really trained. But some of what I see in the Total Ministry concepts is a thinly veiled bishop-concentrated control or a type of congregationalism that I do not believe that serves the Episcopal Church in the long-run.

From what I read in the Christian Scripture and what I have studied of the history of the last 2 millennia, what has helped Christianity to survive is the continued revelation of the message of love and respect that is exemplified in Christ Jesus. The Church (whether it was the Orthodox, the Roman Catholic, the various Protestant developments, or the individual congregations in small villages throughout the world) has been a vacillating organization that has been both the epitome of evil and power-mongering AND the place where that Gospel of God’s goodness can be manifested, often at the same time. The Counter-Reformation of the 16th century gave us the abuse of the Spanish Inquisition and St. Teresa of Avila at the same time. Martin Luther’s Theses in Germany fostered both the elegance of salvation theology based in grace and the horror of the Peasant Revolt at the same time.

So what the present age tells me is that the Church is going to remain, perhaps not in the particular guise as those of us who are seminary-trained clerics have known, but it will survive because it is needed to provide a locus for that image of goodness, beauty and truth as St. Benedict understood as the manifestation of God. There will always be a need for those who have dedicated their lives to the furthering of that goodness in the ordained life. There will always be a need for those who will stand as plumb lines in the Church. There will always be those who will be supported by the faithful to remind them of their need for repentance, for solace when the evil of the world (or Church) seems to overwhelm, or when the Gospel is confusing. There will always be those who are called by God and confirmed by the Church to serve rather than be served, to be trusted by the community of faith to be about God’s work with them and to speak God’s truth despite current opinion. I just hope that the image of priest can be reclaimed in the Church. It is a vocation worthy of the sacrifice.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Sittin' in the pew in Ft. Worth

I am not preaching this week. I am going to sit in the pew and listen to a sermon and find out what it means to be retired. I am not sure if I am overjoyed at this or fearing it. It has been a long time since I have sat in the pew regularly with nothing to do. For me, church has always meant community—the gathering of the community in which I live and move and have my being. It has always been the place where I share in Christ’s ministry with others. Seldom have I had a hard time getting up and going to church. Going to meet Christ in my fellow Christians has always been something I looked forward to. It is the community of the faithful who make Christ present for me.

The bishop has asked us to attend churches throughout the diocese so we are trying to get to as many as we can. So far we have visited three different churches in this ‘recovering ‘diocese. Women clergy have been scarce in this diocese and many of the parishioners have limited experience of women with collars. Also, this diocese has been woefully clericalized—all ministries had to be moderated by the clergy and especially the bishop. The provisional bishop wants to help the laity to take back their churches and learn how to do things for themselves. So we go and visit with wonderfully welcoming people but cannot set down roots in a community yet. We are an advertisement that the Episcopal Church Welcomes You. We tell them of our ministry throughout the Church, how life has been for the past 30 years with women priests working alongside our ordained brothers in harmony and joy.

Some of these churches are continuing in their own buildings with called rectors who chose not to leave with the schismatics. Some are constituted by many who have experienced the Episcopal Church in other places and refused to cast their allegiance with the Southern Cone. These churches are meeting in various places. One is meeting in a community theater. One is meeting in a Wedding Chapel; another was meeting in someone’s home until they became too large. Now they gather in one of the churches that did not leave while they decide what to in the time before they get their building back. Some of the displaced parishes have found that they may not want to return to the albatross buildings that suck the life and finances from them. Some want to replicate that “churchiness’ that they once had. And no matter how long the emphasis on lock-step thinking has exercised authority in this diocese; good ole Anglican diversity rears its head. It is just not in us Anglicans to be romish in the way we gather. This may be attributed to just good ole Texas ‘ornriness’, but it is going to serve the diocese well for the future.

The spirit among these folk is really quite affirming and the diversity of theology is AMAZING. There is everything here from 1928 BCP to Borg and Crossens. And though they claim themselves as Anglo-Catholic , the liturgy I have experienced here has been solidly broad-church. I am sure that they bring out the incense on high holidays but not in July.

We had lunch with a gathering of the “Collared Ladies”--A wonderful group of women priests and deacons who work here. There is also a clergy bible-study that the bishop comes to if he is in town. Collegiality is growing here after 30 years of “divide and conquer” leadership. The previous leadership set priests against one another by encouraging tattling and the invasion of family boundaries. The bishop dictated everything in a priest’s life down to what clothes he was allowed to wear and the proper attitudes of one’s spouse. If the clergy ever recover from the kind of abuse of leadership in this diocese it is going to be because of those of us from other dioceses sharing our experiences of healthy ministry and healthily-lived priesthoods in other places.

But most of all we hear a gospel of joy here. The folk here, both clergy and lay, feel like they have just been liberated. I see in them the kind of bewilderment that the Children of Israel must have felt when Cyrus liberated them in Babylonia. Some want to return to Jerusalem and some do not. But together they are going to make a new church here, one that proclaims the liberation and the freedom that comes in living the Christ life. I like this bunch of Texans who can say “Yes, we can” in a climate of naysayers. They are well on their way to imaging the kind of diversity that has always characterized TEC for me. It still is a place where there is hard work to be done and perhaps we will be able to contribute to it. But for this Sabbath we go to another parish and share with them the joy of what it means to be alive in Christ.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Preaching the Word

Woe be unto the preacher who does not tell the truth about the gospel in his/her life! Woe be unto the preacher who asks the congregation to take the risk of believing or living the gospel when there is no tangible evidence that the preacher really believes and really lives the gospel s/he preaches.

The congregation will sniff out that lie in a heartbeat. As Tennessee Williams wrote in his play, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof: "There ain't nothin' more powerful than the odor of mendacity . . .You can smell it. It smells like death." Elizabeth Kaeton.

My friend and fellow truth-teller, Elizabeth, published a wonderful commentary on preaching today. Elizabeth and I met when she came to seminary to determine whether she was going to attend my seminary or another. She did come to EDS and it changed her life as indeed, it changed mine. She “got it” as we say in the faith business. She understood or at least opened herself to be challenged by God’s TRUTH—that internal ringing of crystalline rightness or balance that comes when we come to know God.

Now that I am retired, I sit in the pew as much as I stand in the pulpit. It is a good practice. I am not as well-versed in listening to sermons as I am in giving them. Also preaching has changed since I started preaching. Sermons used to be essays that hung together with some interesting doctrinal point to them because many of the people knew those doctrinal facts and wanted to be able have a type of faith that they could proclaim or perhaps argue with others. But today sermons are less well-developed. We are told that the crafting of sermons is not to be well-reasoned arguments as they need to be stories that people can grasp.

The well-published authors of sermons are those who can spin a story—a short one that has a moral or a point that illustrates that crystalline rightness that . Story-telling is a lost art in today’s society. No longer do we sit and listen to the story-tellers of society. We get our messages of the important things from TV, or various forms of visual media. We still are drawn to the comedian who can tickle our funny bones with stories, but we find sermons—especially long-drawn out ones eye-glazing.

I remember being fascinated by the sermons of Lancelot Andrews when I was in seminary. He was one of the translators of the King James Version of the Bible and the Bishop of Winchester. His prose was from the same era as Shakespeare and their compositions helped shape the English language. Reading one of those sermons would take me several hours and I wondered how he kept his audience with the intricate crafting of his sermons. He would weave Latin, Hebrew, Greek and Aramaic into his sermons. Word-plays were as important to his sermons as were the word-plays of Hebrew Scripture. His sermons were preached for King James I of England and his family and addressed the issues that faced a head of state and the affairs of his day. There were no “feel-good” sermons to remind the listener of how generous God was and how just the listener was. The sermons were calls to righteousness, calls to changing people’s lives. They rang with an understanding of the God who was portrayed in both the Hebrew and Greek Scripture so that the 16th century could embrace a God who loved creation. Andrews never understood Scripture as inerrant or infallible. He understood that the process of translation was an attempt by humanity to express what had been written in other languages was always an approximation of what was originally written. But it was his attempt to express the TRUTH of God’s presence that made the KJV’s so enduring.

One time I listened to a bishop preach, and somewhere in the relating of his story, I realized that the tale he was expounding was not the Truth. It was a story that I believed that he wanted to be true. It was one of those examples of faith that you wanted to be true. It was a moral story. But there was something that I knew deep in the center of my experience of the Holy that his story was a lie. That ‘crystalline ring of TRUTH’ was not only not there, it rang with a shattering dissonance. I felt betrayed by his willingness to tell a story that was not rooted in reality.

The preaching of the Gospel must resound with God’s truth and that is what makes it such a difficult vocation. When my friend, Elizabeth, writes that it takes a life-time to write a sermon, she is so right. It takes a life lived in a relationship with God to preach a sermon. It is not just a matter of the getting the words right, or the various points to converge or for it to be doctrinally orthodox. And it is not just a matter of telling our own experiences of God. It is a matter of telling whatever story so it is through our transparency that Christ can be seen, so that the unequivocal truth of God’s love is known.

There are always going to be those will betray the high calling to preach the story of God and serve themselves rather than those which serve principles of shalom, righteousness and holiness. But for those who know the power of God’s love, they will ignore those sermons. The problem with those who are ordained to preach but who are unwilling to open their lives enough to preach with integrity harm the Gospel. Those who know God, and are delivered sermons that are not rooted in God’s truth, walk.

The styles of preaching have changed over the centuries. Not too many people can spend the time listening to the 3 hour sermons of Lancelot Andrews. Now, sound bites speak louder than intricately woven treatises or even the spell-binding stories of grace. But whatever forms our communication of the Gospel for the future takes, it will still need to communicate that vision of the Incarnation in its Truth. The message of God will always need to be rooted in the reality of our experience of God. And sharing the story of Jesus will always need to be rooted, not in the historical facts of 2000 years ago, but in the continuing relationship of God with us.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Friday Five: I want to be a part of a church that....

Sally from the UK and one of my Revgal pals has given us a really fine set of questions today.
This has been a good week for British Methodism, The Annual Conference has discussed and debated many things and not shied away from some difficult stuff. New Ministers have been Ordained and received into Full Connexion. Add to that the fact that two amazing ladies; Alison Tomlin and Eunice Attwood have taken up their posts as President and Vice-President for 2010/2011- and that they have both inspired us in their speeches and preaching , and you begin to get the picture.

In the Vice- Presidents Address Eunice gave an inspiring account of the type of church she wants to be a part of, almost poetic she said:

I want to be part of a church that is prayer-filled -
A church that is resourced and sustained by the Bible,
A church that can offer hope even in a credit crunch,
A church that can live well with difference and diversity.

I want to be part of a church that welcomes the wealthy, those who have power and influence -
A church that knows how to party and celebrate life,
A church that acknowledges death and speaks boldly of resurrection,
A church that doesn’t pretend to have all the answers but encourages all the questions.

I want to be part of a church that throws parties for prostitutes -
A church that welcomes those who seek asylum,
A church that longs and yearns for justice,
A church that listens to those no-one else wants to listen to.

I want to be part of a church that believes in transformation not preservation -
A church where all who are lost can be found,
A church where people can discover friendship,
A church where every person takes responsibility in sharing the good news.

I want to be part of a church whose hope is placed securely and confidently in the transforming love of God -
A church that engages faith in its communities,
A church that makes and nurtures disciples of Jesus.

A church where the story of God’s love is at the centre.
I want to be part of a church that offers outrageous grace, reckless generosity, transforming love and engaging faith.
This is God’s story Transforming Love: Engaging Faith.

My prayer is that by the power of the Spirit of God at work amongst us, it will increasingly be our story.

I want to be part of that church to, and at the danger of trying to add to such a wonderful litany of dreams/ visions and prayers I wonder which five things would you echo from or add to this. What kind of church do you want to be a part of in the 21st Century?
Simply list the five, and as an added bonus is there a hymn of a Bible passage that you would make your inspiration?

Sally from the UK and a Revgals has given me a wonderful Friday Five to play. It is always great fun to respond to the Revgal Friday questions. It helps me think outside just what comes to MY mind.

1. I dream of a church that puts Christ first rather than politics.
2. I dream of a church in which elder ideas and young ideas are held with the same esteem.
3. I dream of a church where I can find the same excitement about what God is doing in my life that I have.
4. I dream of a church that can sing and liturgically replay the mysteries of faith in both ancient and modern styles.
5. I dream of a church that can listen.