Friday, January 02, 2009

Out of the Dusty Attic: General Convention as reported by Time Magazine in 1940 - "We need England."

From Time Magazine. A lot has changed in nearly seventy years, obviously, but even in this article one can see the seeds being sewn. In fact, much was sewn deeply at this General Convention, with war brewing from abroad.

Strangely similar to the problems of the U. S. itself were those which confronted the Protestant Episcopal Church of the U. S. when its bishops, clergy and laity met last week for its 53rd triennial General Convention in Kansas City. Like the U. S., Episcopalians have problems of foreign policy: how to cope with the Japanese, what to do about aid to Britain, how to protect their investments (missionary enterprise) abroad, how to cooperate with other churches. Like the U. S., they also have domestic problems: the financing of a crisis-upped budget, family relationships, youth problems, how to safeguard their conscientious objectors and support U. S. preparedness. Above these rises the crucial spiritual question of how Episcopalians, along with other churches, can make Christianity once again the cornerstone of the American life.

With organ and trumpeters pealing melody, a congregation of 12,000 joined in singing God of Our Fathers as a long, brilliant procession streamed into the Kansas City Municipal Auditorium's vast red, white & blue arena. In the army marched bishops from five continents, some in white rochets, some in crimson convocation robes; His Beatitude Eshai Mar Shimun XXIII, the bearded Patriarch of Assyria, wearing a gorgeous golden cope; Canada's Primate, the Most Rev. Derwyn Trevor Owen, Archbishop of Toronto; and at procession's end the U. S. Presiding Bishop, the Right Rev. Henry St. George Tucker of Virginia. Beside the high altar, in the shadow of its towering reredos, he was enthroned.

Lank, friendly, unpretentious Bishop Tucker spent too many years (24) preaching in Japanese to be a soul-stirring orator in English, but his opening sermon touched an anxious subject. Said he: "The only way to make America Christian is to make it interested in the welfare of the world that lies outside its borders. The great menace to world welfare today is that aggressive nationalism which leads a country to exploit all the rest of the world for its own benefits."

Pomp attended to, the Episcopalians got to business. The 130-odd members of the House of Bishops sat themselves down at workmanlike desks in the Auditorium's Little Theatre under the easygoing gavel of Bishop Tucker. (He asked his fellow prelates not to smoke during regular sessions: "I am not a fanatic against smoking but it does seem to me not altogether dignified.") The 500 clerical and lay delegates of the House of Deputies, under their president the Rev. ZeBarney Thorne Phillips of Washington (chaplain of the U. S. Senate), were more noisy, more informal.

Predominantly a gathering of oldsters, the General Convention had among its lay delegates many a banker, lawyer, substantial businessman. A straw vote of conventioneers gave Willkie 974 votes, Roosevelt 560, Norman Thomas six. But well attended were the meetings of the pinko Church League for Industrial Democracy. Among its speakers were C. I. O. President John L. Lewis, American Youth Congress Chairman Jack McMichael (a lusty young radical now preparing for the ministry at Manhattan's Union Theological Seminary), Director Roger Baldwin of the American Civil Liberties Union.

Such was the diverse group which last week tackled the problems of the Episcopal church:

> General Convention prepared to withdraw its 60 U. S. missionaries from unfriendly Japan, and to transfer $420,000 in endowment funds now held in the U. S. to the Church in Japan. As an indirect jibe at Japan, Episcopalians sent a message of encouragement to hard-pressed China.

> Although Episcopalians have been coy about joining the Federal Council of Churches (although giving it unofficial cooperation), the House of Deputies moved to abandon this "queer backdoor membership," voted 93¼-to-41¼ for full affiliation in order to strengthen Christianity's united front. Similar approval by the House of Bishops this week was almost certain, and the convention was expected to vote to join the World Council of Churches.

> The House of Bishops as its first official act adopted a resolution of sympathy to the British people, cabled it to the Archbishop of Canterbury. A proposed budget for the next three years of $7,300,000 (up 10%) allotted $117,500 to Anglican and other Protestant missions which have suffered cuts from home because of World War II, and Episcopalians hoped to make this figure at least $325,000 next year.

With their historic ties to the Church of England, Episcopalians were warm in their reception of their British colleagues. Canada's Archbishop Owen (who same day the convention opened learned that his nephew in the naval air service had been shot down and killed in Africa) was cordially applauded when he said that the U. S. and the British Empire "must draw near to each other in our great common cause. . . of preserving democratic and Christian principles."

Said stately, white-haired Dean Frederick Warren Beekman (who introduced himself at the convention as "dean of the church in Paris—Paris, Germany"): "It is no longer a question of the U. S. becoming involved in war. The war is coming at us so fast that we haven't any choice in the matter. . . . It isn't a question of England needing us; we need England."

Read what happened at this General Convention here. Read earlier deliberations on making the Presiding Bishop a full-time position (sans diocese) here. What is also interesting about this second article is the reporting on the voting itself for the Presiding Bishop, electing the Bishop of Virginia as Presiding Bishop. He would serve in both offices until taking on the Presiding Bishop's office full-time.

Also of interest is the speculation that the Presiding Bishop would become an Archbishop enthroned in the Canterbury-competing National Cathedral (kinda looks the part, doesn't it?). This would be a remarkable illustration of the relationship The Episcopal Church has had as as-close-as-possible "established church" in the United States. But today, the Diocese of Washington has a firm grip on the National Cathedral and it doesn't look like that's changing any time soon. Diocesans should be concerned at the elevation of the Presiding Bishop now to "Primate" - when in fact, she's no such thing, not really - there's been no action at General Convention to make her a primate. She's still officially a Presiding Bishop, based on the model formed in only 1940 (and that with a low-church Virginia bishop in the office who would have no pretense toward primatial aspirations). Those low-church Episcopalians that Bishop Lee has been so worried about, they would be spinning in their graves if they knew of these recent primatial developments, including Bishop Tucker himself.

Except that he's in heaven, God bless him.

No comments: