Sunday, September 16, 2007

A Friend in San Diego tells it like it is ...

One of the things that has come up in recent days is the rise of clericalism (on both sides of the aisle). Clericalism and Episcopalianism or Anglicanism seem to go hand and hand - but do they really? Historically and until recently, clericalism in Virginia was a big no-no. Clergy in Virginia are almost always called by their first names - no Father, no Mother, not even a Mister or Ms. First names. Bishops are still called "Bishop" - but since he's only seen once a year by the vast majority of the laity, it's no big deal. But he never wears his mitre or cope - at least in these parts. From the very beginning of the diocese - and most especially before the diocese - it was the laity who administered the churches, not the clergy. The clergy came and went, almost like Methodist circuit riders, but the laity remained, they built the churches, administered the churches, and turned off the lights at the end of the day. Even from the early days, the laity would read Morning Prayer and administrated the consecrated sacraments to shut-ins and those in hospital. The laity would preach and teach and lead worship. The clergy's job was train us to do so.

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…

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 ...
Please read the whole thing here.

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.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

When "Anglo-Catholic" retains its theology and so, remains something more than "I so like to wear vestments and swing incense," there is a strong bond between it and the evangelical wing of the church. William Augustus Muhlenberg (born, like me, on Sept 16) saw his work in reneweing the church based on bringing these two elements together. He wrote his own blog back in the mid 1800's called the Evangelical Catholic. His work and his writings are something we would do well to recapture today. An innovator who looked back and stayed in touch with the catholic faith even as he tirelessly worked to reach more people for Christ.

At least that's what I wish we could be about, instead of defending imaginary constitutions from revolutionary attacks.

As a card-carrying member of the Anglo-Catholic movement, I continually point people away from the outward pretensions of liturgy to their power in our lives. The theological basis of both a lively liturgical expoerience and an evangelical mission can be found in incarnational theology. It's that incarnational focus that spurs on both a high sense of sacraments (including ordination) and a high value on individual souls. The Willow Creek mantra in the seeker-targetted church worldview is that if a soul matters so much to God than it should matter to me as well. That same theology stands behind the Oxford Movement's concern for working with the urban poor, of reaching out to all people and not jusdt those who looked like they belonged in Anglican churches, and Muhlenberg's expression that we need to "open wide the doors of the church" to all people. If they mattered to us, we would not stop from working to bring them to Christ, and to experience the grace offered by God in the sacraments.

As for clericalism, the A-C movement certainly has drifted into that at times, especially when the focus left Jesus and went back to the vestments. I can retain the Tractarian sense of ordination as a change in being, not just status, without thereby forgetting that my being is one of a servant, not the boss of the universe. Oh but there are the oddities of the A-C movement. One A-C church in which I served had four bathrooms ... including two that were segregated for the use of the priests only. When I let a pregnant woman use one of them on a Sunday morning because she was in dire need, both she and I were scolded by the Altar Guild. "That bathroom is only for the priests!" Then there was the older A-C priest, a predecessor of mine, who scolded the young priest in the church down the street for picking up some trash outside the front doors of the urban church where he served. He ordered the young fellow to stop with the words, "That's what laypeople are for." Silly I know. Because being made a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek has nothing to do with being in charge, but in being called by God to serve.

And so the irony of today's situation is that the Bishops can threaten to defrock me, without a trial, for abandoning a church I no longer recognize, because it has a theology that no longer matches the catholic faith I chose to serve, or the God I love. So ... God may recognize me as a priest forever, but forever may be a much shorter time in the Commonwealth of Virginia than anywhere else. And all from serving the God who came among us as a servant.

Can someone remind me of the part in the Anglicanm Constitution that makes all this clear?