A recent archbishop passed through and he too warned about clericalism (ironic, isn't it?) and strongly encouraged the laity to remain diligent in leadership and not to switch off, as it were.
One of the terms that I have heard used by folks on both sides of the aisle - usually in a derogatory way - is the word "congregationalist." But what that word really means is "anti-clerical." What ever side we might find ourselves on, I think we may find some friends among us (and this doesn't necessarily mean one has a collar or not - some of the worst clerics are lay people) in the most unusual places. We may totally disagree on social policies and moral behaviors inside the church, to the point of separation, but we might find some kinship the role of the laity in the church. And that may be where we find reconciliation - a vibrant and biblically educated laity who holds the purse would cause even the most rabid clerics to pause, as many are finding out. But we must be paying attention.
So when we come across this post by a liberal friend in San Diego (and BabyBlue went to Junior High School in San Diego and converted to Christianity in San Diego so we love San Diego) who holds the views embraced by the Episcopal Church, but it still alarmed by a recent letter published by this person's bishop. The courage shown by the willingness to openly examine the letter causes all at my table tonight to raise their glasses in a salute. But even more than challenging the juridical ecclesiology of the bishop, we resonated in this person's comments about clericalism.
While we appreciate beyond measure the role that clergy and bishops play in the life of the Church (if we did not, we would not be Anglican - when it works, it really works, as we saw yesterday morning), we also recognize that if the Church is going to grow and be healthy it means building up the priesthood of all believers - the laity. The role of the clergy and bishops is to raise up the laity to do the work of ministry (not the other way around). This is not just in particular parts of church life, but in all parts. That is why the House of Bishops meeting this coming week is so important, will the TEC bishops do what they are charged to do or will they not? But who will hold them to it? The clergy work for them, they cannot just stand up there and take them on. But the laity can, if the laity are paying attention.
Our Friend in San Diego and totally understands. Here's an excerpt from a recent post. First is the quote (in italics) from the bishop's letter followed by pointed commentary:
In each and every case, it is my intention to rebuild vibrant, Christ-centered ministries in congregations that have been seriously affected…Please read the whole thing here.
Following current events in the secular world, I’m not so sure about that. Mission accomplished is quick and easy—you can beat up bad guys and level an entire country in three weeks of shock and awe. Rebuilding is quite another thing and I’m not sure how the bishop plans to accomplish this task in those seriously affected congregations.
This bishop’s letter is very light on specifics and on figures. Once conservative dissidents have been forced out of their churches, how big will the righteous remnant in each church be? 100? 50? 10? I rather doubt that there will be a sufficient number to maintain the property. The bishop however seems to believe that once ethnic cleansing is complete local residents who, presumably, had been scared off by the bigots and homophobes occupying the facility would flood into the church to establish vibrant, Christ-centered ministries.
This also seems highly unlikely and I doubt that the bishop or anyone else really believes it. We can make an educated guess about what will happen. The diocese will install part-time, retired or non-stipendiary clergy in these parishes and operate them as missions for a few years, making a show of working to establish vibrant, Christ-centered ministries and then, when they’re sure no one is looking, sell them off. San Diego county real estate still fetches a good price and the Diocese should be able to extract a pretty penny from creative entrepreneurs looking to turn the buildings into church-themed restaurants or nightclubs or to developers who will tear them down to build condos.
I do not know whether the bishop agrees with my predictions or not, that is, whether he is a hypocrite or a self-deceiver, however he clearly disagrees with my description of the proceedings. He is under the impression that, leaving aside issues of civil and canon law, even from the moral point of view the church buildings and property these congregations financed and maintained never really belonged to them in the first place.
While clearly we hope every parish will be financially self-sustaining through the stewardship of parishioners, it is far from precise to assume that all assets of a parish are the result of parishioner giving. In many cases, the Diocese invested significantly at the front end when the parishes were missions.
Again, the figures are missing. How much did the diocese kick in upfront when these churches were fledgling missions? And how much did they return to the diocese in the mission share they kicked back over the years or decades when they were self-supporting parishes? Of course, money isn’t everything. They also paid the diocese in kind, feeding the sheep and providing services that would otherwise have to be financed from the diocesan coffers. Whatever the law says, this is a moral issue—and ethics trumps civil and even canon law.
The bishop however believes that he has an independent moral argument. It’s a matter of honoring the donors’ intentions:
More importantly, these congregations were begun as Episcopal communities. Every gift given would rightly be assumed to have been given to an Episcopal congregation. As far as our canons are concerned, they do indeed assume a trust relationship—that is, that the property is held in trust for the ministry of the Episcopal Church. That is why the diocese deeds the property to a newly established parish, because it can rightly assume a perpetual relationship of trust…
But what did donors intend? Did they intend to provide support to a congregation that was Episcopal regardless of what remarkable theological novelties the Episcopal Church would, in the future, adopt? One suspects that they intended to buy a coach—not a coach that would turn into a pumpkin.
Most importantly, these disputes over property are the presenting issue where we defend our ordered church with Episcopal authority, preventing an unintended slide towards congregationalism…
Well, that sent chills up my spine. I certainly wouldn’t want to belong to the Congregationalist Church—a non-liturgical church with dull talky services and communion is shot glasses, at the theologically dilute end of Calvinism. But what I don’t like in Congregationalism is the non-liturgical, non-sacramental character of the worship and the theology, not the polity—not congregationalism as such. A little more lower-case congregationalism might be a good thing in the Episcopal Church ...
Reading the post reminds me where we once were in the Diocese of Virginia before 815 intervened and started suing the laity and their clergy. Bishop Lee had said that we were trying to find a way to have the closest communion possible. That would be the goal. The protocol permitted separation, but at the heart was the hope that someday we would be reunited. When I read posts such as this one from our friend in San Diego - and I'm not sure who actually wrote it - this is the sort of view that we could see separation for now, but also offer hope that one day we would find reconciliation. The position taken by 815 and those who follow 815's line does more to damage those possibilities then the position taken by this person who holds, as the blog says, an "Unrepentantly Liberal Perspective."
I would say that this person, whom ever it may be, is a true liberal in every sense of the word. God bless you.
One more thought, I've written a lot about the amazing reconciliation that continues among Anglo Catholics and Evangelicals in the Episcopal Church. There is a misnomer that that those who hold strong "cleric" views would be Anglo Catholics, but what I have found is that is often not the case. Many Anglo Catholics hold a very strong view that the role of the pastor is to be a shepherd for his people, caring for them and protecting them and sending them out. It is not about power. At the heart of clericalism is the thirst for power - and that transcends not only ideology but theology. No one is immune from its ability to grab hold when one is least expecting it. One can be Evangelical or Anglo Catholic and succumb to its grasp. The clue is how the laity are being prepared - do they know their scripture, are they able to share their faith, can they "go forth into the world rejoicing in the power of the Spirit," or does it all end at the church door? It is the laity who decides whether we want to read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest the scriptures or just show up on Sunday and clock in. It took us a long time to figure out how General Convention was betraying the laity, by taking the Church into directions we could not believe or understand and by the time it all went down, it was too late. The damage was done and continues to be done, even in the name of General Convention. However, some of the most vibrant lay leaders I know of are in the Diocese of Ft. Worth - so make no mistake about it, the raising up of the laity can be from Anglo Catholics or Evangelicals. That is the miracle we see every day in these most interesting times.