Sunday, January 31, 2010

Leading voice of the Global South resigns from the Standing Committee of the Anglican Communion citing his voice as a "useless cry in the wilderness"

This is significant, friends.

Mouneer Anis has been a leading voice for Rowan Williams valiant - and yes, they have been valiant - efforts to reach out to the Global South and keep them at the Anglican Communion table. For the Primate of the Middle East (which includes Egypt and the Holy Land) to write that "I have come to realize that my presence in the current SCAC has no value whatsoever and my voice is like a useless cry in the wilderness" is extraordinarily sad.

Bishop Anis goes on later to write, "I have come to the sad realization that there is no desire within the ACC and the SCAC to follow through on the recommendations that have been taken by the other Instruments of Communion to sort out the problems which face the Anglican Communion and which are tearing its fabric apart."

Read the whole thing at SF here. Yes, Houston, we have a problem.

UPDATE: Jim Naughton, former Communications Director for the Episcopal Diocese of Washington, provides a choice quote for 815's PR Office and illustrates better than any commentary the attitude that has caused Bishop Anis to come to what Rowan Williams now describes as a regretful decision:
"Anyone who watched Archbishop Anis be led around by British and American handlers at the Lambeth Conference, saw him read statements they had prepared for them, and watched them prompt him when he forgot his lines, knows that he does nothing without coordinating with the Western right. So what we've got here is a concerted effort to undermine not just the covenant process, but the quasi-governing structures of the Anglican Communion by a right-wing party that has begun to fear that the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada will never be punished for treating gay and lesbian Christians like human beings."
Nothing else needs to be said. That just about sums it all up and illustrates well exactly what Bishop Anis has been the brunt of from the current TEC leadership - what say you, Church of England?

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Report from The Episcopal Diocese of Virginia: Council cut short, mercifully ...

Just in from Intrepid:
The Diocesan Council of Virginia was cut short yesterday due to the storm warnings for heavy snowfall on Saturday. As one of the Diocesan Staff announced, Council would come to an end late Friday night due to Richmond's adopted emergency plan for snow removal, which he called, "Melting."

For those with an interest in theology the end of a long day was a merciful thing, ending a day long buffet of theological confusion. Those attending the investiture of Bishop Shannon Johnston were given one taste of theology (or perhaps two, the message was far from clear) and we received very different readings from the Bishop of Virginia and the Bishop providing meditations, the Bishop of Panama. We were treated to a dizzying display of Pelagianism, modern liberal theology and a throw back to old catholic sacramental theology of a kind with which even I was not comfortable. And that's going a bit as I was sitting reading Aquinas during the breaks.

We began the day with the Presiding Bishop preaching on a familiar passage, Isaiah 55. The reference to coming to the table and eating for free lead to a discussion of how well we are doing at feeding the poor, in Haiti and in downtown Richmond. They need to come to the table, we need to provide. It was hard to see how this fit with God's invitation to come find him, or that he provides, but let's call it preacher's license. Then we went into a personal story of going to the dentist, a man who had been born in a Jewish slum in a far off land, was brought up in a Roman Catholic School until later when he finished his schooling in an Islamic High School. When he graduated his father told him he could choose to be whatever he wanted to become. This then set the tone for the end of the message ... and it seemed we really had moved a long way from God's provision of food without price, invitation to come to the party, and command to seek him while he wills to be found. Instead I found we were talking about choosing to become who we could be and doing more to help others. I doubt Isaiah would have been able to follow the path from where we started to where we ended up. Nor do I imagine, would he have wanted to ...

The Bishop of Virgina gave a corporate pep talk with a repeated line that seemed to have been recycled from the most recent presidential campaign. He kept saying something like, "And don't think we can't do it" or something like that. We can do it all ... especially if we stop talking about what separates us and get busy with the mission of the church. This was a winning line of argument at my table of 8 ... where before things got underway the same thing could be heard by delegates:

"Did you see the resolutions? Some of them seem fairly controversial."
"I wish we could get over this. I'm tired of talking about these things."
"Yes let's get on with the mission. I fully support them anyway. Let's just get on with it."

As there are very few of us left to disagree with this approach, and it's doubtful our voices can be heard over the whistles and wheels turning as the train leaves the station, the strategy seems to be working. Let's not argue about what separates us. Let's just roll up our sleeves and work side by side. It seems to have been said enough to have taken root in the minds of delegates throughout the diocese, even among folk who do not support the most liberal of resolutions. The tired factor has finally won out. "It's the mission, stupid" bumper stickers might be a hot selling item for future conventions. Of course that begs the question of whose mission. Ours or God's? However, at the theological buffet it's best to taste a little of everything and not worry about details.

Then we had meditations from an animated and well spoken bishop from Panama. He stressed another line of theological thought that was present at many levels of the Council, that we are bound together by our Baptismal Covenant.

(There was an exceedingly tortured opening prayer by a priest of the Diocese who worked in again and again the way we are bound together in unity by our diversity or in our diversity we find unity or some such thing. I had to get a chuckle though throughout this prayer that while the Baptismal liturgy is pretty clear about baptizing people in the name of Father, Son and Holy Spirit, the priest could not bring himself to mention God as Father, but more of source of this or creating force or something else equally inane. Go figure. Or not.)

The Bishop of Panama served up a great deal of older theology, speaking about how we receive the Holy Spirit at Baptism, become in Christ, and saved. The emphasis was certainly on receiving the Holy Spirit ... that there are not two baptisms ... that people should never be rebaptized ... that baptism does not have to do with "feeling" the Spirit come ... that we have an ontological change in baptism, it changes us no matter what. While he did not say anything terribly wrong, the emphasis was certainly away from any sense of "If you confess with your lips and believe in your heart" sort of thing. The sacramental theology (and believe me I love sacramental theology) was almost mechanical. It certainly was uncomfortable except of course in that it played nicely into the continuing story line that what binds us together is our baptismal covenants.

You know, who came up with that one? Where is the theological basis for this? Or a Biblical basis. You kind of figure there were no Baptismal Covenants in the time of the Book of Acts. The first Christians felt themselves bound together by something else, dare we say, something stronger? Like being one in Christ. The more I hear talk about the unity and diversity we have binding us together as one in our Baptismal Covenants the more I sense an attempt to control things. We've entered a religious Matrix. The institution and the liturgy (properly "performed" I suppose) are what hold us together. Bishop Johnston, God bless him, spoke about the need for evangelism and even, dare we say it, planting new churches. He acknowledged that most of the old church plants up and left leaving people gun shy of ever planting anything ever again and angry at those planters who took the diocesan money and ran away. But the Bishop's call to evangelism was an institutional one, talking about how we need better PR about what our church has to offer so more people will come and see, and join. Not really a clarion call to seek out the lost, broken folk and help them find Jesus or enter eternal life.

With the institutionalization of evangelism, baptism, unity ... we have kicked Jesus out of the equation. He was inconvenient you know, since he might call us to repentance and obedience. We can't have that. It would mean we might have to stop doing what we see as best, stop interpreting what God said in more modern (sensitive) ways. We would have to stop sinning and stop redefining sin as living up to our potential as expressed in our Baptismal Covenant ("Hey Lord, you can't judge, me I've got a Covenant!"). You know we might have to stop trying to be in charge of the banquet, and instead, seek the one who is, and who makes it available to us freely. I know it is possible to do this, but whether or not it is possible for the Diocese of Virginia to do it, or likely without the second coming of our Lord, is unknown.

With all due respect Bishop Johnston, I am one who does not think we can do it.

Note: The Diocese will reconvene at a later date to finish its business and pass resolutions. The date will be determined by the Bishop, possibly a Saturday in Lent, "Because," as the Bishop sternly reminded us from the chair, "there will not be any weddings during Lent."

It was the only moment I have seen the Bishop show his authority as the Ordinary of the Diocese, the official voice of what will or will not happen liturgically in the churches under his jurisdiction. Now if he could only remember that he has that same authority to allow or prohibit liturgical acts when it comes to authorizing SSB's, we wouldn't need annual resolutions about them, just his resolution to "Just say No."

But then that's for another day.
Intrepid is a member the council of The Diocese of Virginia.

Thanks to the friend who sent the cell phone photo of Bishop Schori yesterday at the Richmond Marriott.

UPDATE: Julia at the Washington Times has her reflections up as well. She also notes the same aversion - or as Bishop Johnston's described it as "gun shy" that Intrepid noted to "church planting" - oh, where have all the planters gone?
Virginia Episcopal Bishop Shannon S. Johnston, in his first diocesan convention speech as leader of the nation's largest Episcopal diocese, made a few surprising remarks today. One of them was that weekly church attendance in the Old Dominion is embarrassingly low.

Speaking at a diocesan council meeting at the Richmond Marriott - which was cut short due to a pending snow storm headed toward southern Virginia - he first talked about an informal poll he recently conducted through a series of town meetings around the diocese. As he talked with Episcopalians about their priorities for church life, he found one thing missing: a lack of desire to start new churches. This did not completely surprise him, he said, considering that the 15 conservative churches and mission congregations that left the diocese from late 2005 to early 2007 (over theological differences and gay bishops) were known for their success in church planting.

In his words: "The context here is a sharp contrast with the priority from some years ago of establishing new congregations. Given our recent experience with many of our new congregations leaving the diocese (having received tremendous spiritual, personal and financial support), it is obvious that many of us across the diocese feel a deep sense of loss, grief and, yes, betrayal and thus are quite “gun-shy” about new congregations. It should be no surprise, therefore, that church planting ranked last on all but one tally, where it was next-to-last. The sense is that with resources being spread very thinly the resources could be used for more stable and proven ministry, such as for our already established congregations. I certainly do understand this, but can you truly affirm our diocese abandoning any vision for starting new churches? I don’t think so. I know I can’t."

Now someone help me here: Is it possible that the diocese has not planted one new church since the Great Exodus that ended three years ago this month? The bulk of the churches that left now form a group called the Anglican Diocese of Virginia and they are planting churches like crazy all over the northern part of the state. Every time I turn around it seems like I am getting a press release about another clump of new churches in places like Alexandria, Arlington and Vienna. I just heard of an even newer effort to move across state lines into Montgomery County ...

... The bishop went on to say his diocese will put more effort into youth ministry, especially 20-somethings. Note to bishop: Don't just look at the Gen Y types. The Washington area - along with Boston - has the largest singles demographic in the country. Reach out to singles, not just to an age group. Singles are the biggest unchurched population of all.

But that's another column.

Lastly, the bishop revealed the diocese's ASA (average Sunday attendance) figures has dropped by 19 percent over 20 years. Again in his words:

"Since 1990, although the number of our communicants in good standing has grown from 53,000 to 64,000 (nearly 21 percent), our average Sunday attendance (the most telling statistic in the Church’s ongoing life) has actually decreased by 19 percent. In other words, we’re growing with people who support the church but fewer and fewer people are actually attending worship with regularity. With a current Sunday attendance average of 24,200 and a “good-standing” communicant strength of 63,900, we show a discouraging 37 percent of our people at worship on the Lord’s Day. "

I believe the ADV folks made a point of saying, when they left three years ago, that *their* ASA stats were quite high. So, again, the bulk of the frequent attenders are out the door.

You can read the bishop's speech here. And if you want to see a different set of numbers, look at this press release from the Herndon-based Convocation of Anglicans in North America, a sister group to the ADV. They only got going three years ago and they're now at 90 congregations across the country.

It's not rocket science to figure out where all those church planters went.
Read it all here. Bishop Johnston's speech is here.

And as the snow falls ...

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The iPad

Watch the video explaining it here. We're thinking that Steve has stolen Barry's thunder - unless the President brings one tonight to the State of the Union.

By Request: Bishop Johnston addresses The Episcopal House of Bishops at General Convention

Here is the final resolution passed by the 2009 Episcopal General Convention in Anaheim:

Resolved, the House of Bishops concurring, That the 76th General Convention reaffirm the continued participation of The Episcopal Church as a constituent member of the Anglican Communion; give thanks for the work of the bishops at the Lambeth Conference of 2008; reaffirm the abiding commitment of The Episcopal Church to the fellowship of churches that constitute the Anglican Communion and seek to live into the highest degree of communion possible; and be it further

Resolved, That the 76th General Convention encourage dioceses, congregations, and members of The Episcopal Church to participate to the fullest extent possible in the many instruments, networks and relationships of the Anglican Communion; and be it further

Resolved, That the 76th General Convention reaffirm its financial commitment to the Anglican Communion and pledge to participate fully in the Inter-Anglican Budget; and be it further

Resolved, That the 76th General Convention affirm the value of "listening to the experience of homosexual persons," as called for by the Lambeth Conferences of 1978, 1988, and 1998, and acknowledge that through our own listening the General Convention has come to recognize that the baptized membership of The Episcopal Church includes same-sex couples living in lifelong committed relationships "characterized by fidelity, monogamy, mutual affection and respect, careful, honest communication, and the holy love which enables those in such relationships to see in each other the image of God" (2000-D039); and be it further

Resolved, That the 76th General Convention recognize that gay and lesbian persons who are part of such relationships have responded to God's call and have exercised various ministries in and on behalf of God's One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church and are currently doing so in our midst; and be it further

Resolved, That the 76th General Convention affirm that God has called and may call such individuals, to any ordained ministry in The Episcopal Church, and that God's call to the ordained ministry in The Episcopal Church is a mystery which the Church attempts to discern for all people through our discernment processes acting in accordance with the Constitution and Canons of The Episcopal Church; and be it further

Resolved, That the 76th General Convention acknowledge that members of The Episcopal Church as of the Anglican Communion, based on careful study of the Holy Scriptures, and in light of tradition and reason, are not of one mind, and Christians of good conscience disagree about some of these matters.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Diocese of Virginia posts proposed resolutions

Katharine Jefferts Schori will be in Richmond this coming weekend to kick off this year's Annual Council for the Diocese of Virginia (nice timing, as the briefs from the CANA congregations are filed with the Supreme Court of the Commonwealth of Virginia the same weekend). The Diocese of Virginia has also posted the proposed resolutions before Council and there are some humdingers. Check them out here.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

As Pooh once said, "You never can tell with bees."

"Hooray!" you shouted.
"Isn't that fine?" shouted Winnie-the-Pooh down to you.
"What do I look like?"
"You look like a Bear holding on to a balloon," you said.
"Not-" said Pooh anxiously, "- not like a small black cloud in a blue sky?"
"Not very much."
"Ah well, perhaps from up here it looks different. And, as I say, you never can tell with bees."
There was no wind to blow him nearer to the tree, so there he stayed. He could see the honey, he could smell the honey, but he couldn't quite reach the honey. After a little while he called down to you.
"Christopher Robin!" he said in a loud whisper.

"I think the bees suspect something!"
"What sort of thing?"
" I don't know. But something tells me that they're suspicious!"
"Perhaps they think that you're after their honey."
"It may be that. You never can tell with bees."

Late Night at the Cafe: Somewhere

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Radner makes a Proposal

BB NOTE: Ephraim Radner acknowledges that it's "unrealistic," this proposal of his. But oh, to live in a world where such a proposal would be taken seriously. That being said, Radner's so-called "unrealistic" proposal hearkens to other past proposals deemed unrealistic, does it not? Proposals, say, well, like this one:

How unattainable Reagan's vision seemed at the time - but oh, how it sparked hope. In the wake of one of the most horrific events within the borders of The Episcopal Church, would that we could take Radner's proposal seriously. The Diocese of Haiti, as we were told back in 2006, "is the largest diocese of the Episcopal Church. It has more than 100,000 baptized members in 109 congregations." Imagine that - and they are utterly destroyed.

As we now gaze on the
Wall of Litigation that divides us, a voice cries out - Bishop Schori, let us rebuild the Diocese of Haiti together. Bishop Schori - tear down this wall.

The Living Church:
In the face of the tragedy in Haiti, I want to make a proposal. It’s not a realistic proposal, I grant; but it is a serious one. My proposal is this: that all those Anglicans involved in litigation amongst one another in North America — both in the Episcopal Church and those outside of TEC; in the Anglican Church of Canada, and those outside — herewith cease all court battles over property. And, having done this, they do two further things:

a. devote the forecast amount they were planning to spend on such litigation to the rebuilding of the Episcopal Church and its people in Haiti; and

b. sit down with one another, prayerfully and for however long it takes, and with whatever mediating and facilitating presence they accept, and agree to a mutually agreed process for dealing with contested property.

Before addressing the “unrealistic” character of this proposal, let’s be clear about the money that may be involved. As I read TEC’s national budget, for instance, over $4 million has been spent already on “Title IV” and litigation matters in the dioceses, and over $4 million more is budgeted for the next triennium. Let’s assume that some comparable amount is being spent by the opposing parties — maybe not as much, but still a lot. I don’t know … $3 million over the past three years and $3 million more over the next? Maybe less. Then there are the dioceses alone that are spending their own money. I know that Colorado has spent upwards of $3 million in these matters, and its opponents again, perhaps less again but certainly a sizable amount. I really don’t know what we’re talking about here — maybe $20 million already spent, maybe more? And certainly another $10 million in the pipeline.

Isn’t this rather crazy? Isn’t this in fact unfaithful? Isn’t this, indeed, perverse and even blasphemous?

And it is certainly so in the face of the needs we have just been witnessing in Port-au-Prince, needs which, it must be said, have been around us all the time these past years, but here have come into a blinding and heart-rending focus.

In this case, however, we are also facing something rather concrete with respect to Anglicans: a large and active and vibrant Anglican church in Haiti now overturned in so many ways: church buildings in rubble, schools destroyed, nutritional projects undercut, training programs gone, a seminary in ruins, hospitals and clinics collapsed, irreplaceable religious artwork gone forever, the means of supporting priest, teacher, doctor, nurse, evangelist, worker dissolved. American Episcopalians have been extraordinarily generous in Haiti, through individual parish outreaches and other programs. But this is now beyond anything anyone could have dreamed. TEC, through various national funds (none of them, as far as I can tell, detailed in public budgets), has also, over the years, helped to support the work in Haiti, but again, in ways that pale in comparison with the sudden void now placed in the midst of the church’s life there.

And in ways that pale in comparison with money spent in interchurch litigation! From what I can see, only 25 percent of the amount budgeted for suing each other is currently budgeted for Haiti!

Who cries for justice?

Read it all here. And Ephrain Radner, God bless you.

Monday, January 18, 2010

All the World's a Stage: Street Politics 101

"All the world's a stage,

And all the men and women merely players."
-As You Like It, Act II, Scene 7
An interesting tidbit came across the desk this morning, illustrating once again that we are approaching an important milestone in the life of the worldwide Anglican Communion. Normally, for all of its historical significance, the meetings of the Church of England Synod seem to come and go without the wailing and gnashing of teeth as the Episcopal Church General Convention has experienced over the past thirty years.

What the English Church has going for it is, well, that it's English. And properly so. So there are ground rules that are understood about how one must conduct oneself when engaging in disagreeable but necessary church polity. Basically the ground rules are that if you don't them, you shouldn't be there.

This may come in handy as the Synod gathers next month. But as they gather and as the ground rules may suddenly shift, it might be prudent to consider a basic tenet in American Street Politics 101.

It's very very simple - where there is an action, there is a reaction. So one must script the reaction and gain the upper hand. One must never be surprised by reaction, but script the reaction and win the day.

This iconic photo of classic street politics in action is an illustration of this principle.

We've long since left the street, but the strategic lessons remain active and effective.

Once this concept is clear (and of course, it's clear to all of us) then it's very helpful in understanding how that concept is used in what I term street politics.

Street politics is what has run the Episcopal Church for the last generation. The leadership - the effective leadership (and there are some mighty effective leaders, make no mistake about it) learned their craft in street politics, that is the politics of activism.

Marching under the banner of social justice, those who got their teeth cut on the street learned some mighty lessons which they applied to moving the Episcopal Church into becoming a political activist organization.

It is clear that no one is yet sleeping at the helm and this became abundantly clear at the publication of an article today by the London Telegraph. On the surface, it's about a resolution before the Synod of the Church of England to grant "greater rights for partners of gay clergy." Makes sense, doesn't it?

Only, it's not really about granting greater rights for partners of gay clergy because the Church of England is not about granting rights - that's an Episcopal Church view. So there is a clue in the very framing of the resolution that we have entered into Street Politics 101.

This resolution is not about gay clergy or their partners. It is a counter to another resolution before the Church of England. This resolution is the "reaction" to this other resolution and as the other resolution moves forward, this resolution will be its antithesis.

This style of political activism has been used over and over and over again by Episcopal activists. It's very effective! It works! That's why it's used over and over again.

When Gene Robinson was elected bishop of New Hampshire and there was a great outcry from all parts of the Anglican Communion, we saw this strategy engage. Suddenly there was a "bill" (not a law, but a bill) before the Nigerian legislature that was the antithesis to Gene Robinson. What happened to that bill - it poofed. It wasn't about the bill - it was about generating an antithesis to the reaction to Gene Robinson's election. Even today, Peter Akinola is scarred with that campaign, even though he had nothing to do with it.

Case #2. We see it again in the recent election of another gay-partnered bishop in the Episcopal Church as a suffragan for the Diocese of Los Angeles. In anticipation to her election, we suddenly find another bill (not a law, but a bill). Another bill has suddenly appeared in the where - the United States? In New Zealand? In Haiti? In England? No - activists are up in arms over a bill (and God knows how many bills come before the United States Congress that are completely whacked - want to make a list?) in Uganda! But of course - Akinola is basically retired. Who's left on the landscape but the leader of the province of Uganda (who actually sits on what will now be the Standing Committee of the Anglican Communion) and who has offered, rather inconveniently, spiritual haven to the "schismatics" of The Episcopal Church.

It's brilliant! When the LA partnered-gay bishop was elected, the vast majority of media articles walked right into the strategy. They'd write about the bishop-elect, about the reaction, and oh, by the way - have we mentioned this Kill Bill in Uganda?

What makes it brilliant is that people play the roles and their parts very well. We've got our scripts. That's what makes it effective. It appears the same sort of strategy will be underway as the Church of England Synod takes up the plight of thousands of former Episcopalians who want to remain members in good standing with the Church of England but with the belligerent actions of the Episcopal Church cannot in their conscience remain within that structure (read more here). One can't have that action, without a counter reaction - only let's script it now and watch the play unfold. Caveat emptor.

Rowan Williams appears to have been anticipating this (or his new finely retooled media personnel do) by effectively concentrating his public persona as a compassionate man who cares about the poor and the lost and the least. He has been a target by American activists and it is wise for him to take this kinder, gentler approach of a man who cares about the plight of the least among us.

Tom Wright has written of his opposition to street politics in church life as a method of how we exercise our polity. Rowan Williams has also spoken rather bluntly that these important issues that face the church are not about social justice, but the theology of marriage.

What will be interesting to observe as the Church of England synod meets next month is whether the body will take a theological approach to the important issues that face them, will they take a street politics approach to the important issue that face them, or will they pass.

The Synod is being placed in the crucible, for a severe test. If it passes on the gay-partnered issue, it runs the risk of being considered a socially-irrelevant body that lacks compassion for its own. If it passes on the ACNA resolution, then it runs the risk of passing public judgement upon thousands and thousands of Anglicans who wish to be a member of the family - and again lacks compassion for its own.

Heroes are made by those who refuse to follow the crafted script presented to them. But it's mighty costly since so often the play's the thing.

And so we imagine the Archbishop of Canterbury, in his black cape, walking the streets of London, somewhere between a rock and a hard place. What he may ask, and what members of Synod may ask is why take the script and play the parts designed by thirty years of Episcopal Church practice?

Is there, even now, a better way?

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

In the bleak mid-winter, the church land and building wars heat up across the United States

From Christianity Today:

Ross "Buddy" Lindsay III receives phone calls every day from pastors who want his help wresting their church property from denominational control. As chancellor of All Saints Church in Pawleys Island, South Carolina, Lindsay has spent a decade immersed in church property disputes. He is one of only four Americans with a master's degree in canon law from Cardiff University in Wales.

In September, the South Carolina State Supreme Court ruled 5-0 in favor of All Saints, allowing the 800-member congregation to keep its 50 acres worth $20 million. Before leaving the Episcopal Church (TEC) in 2004, the church amended its charter, declaring that it no longer accedes to the national constitution. The court ruled the national church did not retain clear ownership of the local church property.

"The All Saints case is a roadmap for other congregations to secure their property before leaving their denomination," Lindsay says. All Saints is emblematic of passionate struggles that pit scores of breakaway congregations and entire dioceses against mainline denominations, primarily TEC and the Presbyterian Church (USA). In court papers, denominations paint local churches as secessionists, while local congregations see themselves as defenders of the faith set against an apostate national church.

Each side believes the turf wars could impact the future of church-state relations, since the U.S. Supreme Court may get involved. Lindsay says, "If the Supreme Court rules for All Saints, it could largely be the death of Episcopalian, Presbyterian, and Methodist churches."

Some conservative congregations in the PC(USA) contend that when their denomination has made no financial investment in a local church, it should not stand to gain when a church attempts to leave. "The denomination didn't put a dime into these local church properties," says Parker Williamson, editor emeritus of The Presbyterian Layman, a conservative North Carolina-based journal.

So far, only a handful of parishes have prevailed against denominations. "It's relatively easy for religious organizations that have good legal advice to protect the property from a breakaway faction," says Sarah Barringer Gordon, an Episcopalian and constitutional law professor at the University of Pennsylvania Law School. "Even if the majority wants to leave, the denomination has documentation on its side."
Historic Precedence

In 1871, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Watson v. Jones that local congregations that had agreed to abide by the bylaws of denominations with hierarchal structures were bound by a "compulsory deference rule." In property matters, the final decision was left to the national office.

Then in 1979, the Supreme Court ruled in Jones v. Wolf that a state may adopt "neutral principles" of law by examininglegal documents to resolve church prop-erty disputes. The South Carolina Supreme Court used the neutral principles approach in its All Saints ruling. After leaving TEC, the church affiliated with the Anglican Mission in the Americas, a Rwandan mission effort with which many former TEC churches have affiliated.

In the wake of Jones v. Wolf, many mainline Protestant denominations have changed their constitutions to declare that real estate, personal property, and endowments are held in trust by the denomination, so that regardless of whose name is on the deed, local churches accede to the national body.

Lindsay says that All Saints is the only local church to confront the accession issue head-on and win. "If accession language remains in the congregation's charter, it is deadly in a church property suit," he says. Episcopal officials believe All Saints' case is an aberration. The church was founded in 1767, before the founding of the national church.

The outcomes of property dispute cases often depend on the state in which the conflict occurs. In California, courts tend to focus on national church hierarchy. In October, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear the high-stakes case of St. James Parish v. Diocese of Los Angeles. St. James lost in pre-trial motions at both the appellate court and state supreme court levels. In 2004, St. James aligned with the Anglican Church in North America, a network comprising former TEC churches.

Richard Crocker, rector of the 350 member St. James in Newport Beach, says he remains hopeful the case will go to trial because of a written promise by the denomination in 1991 that it would never lay claim to the property. In the meantime, he says, "I am trying to keep the mission of the congregation focused on the gospel of Jesus Christ, the only Savior."
Not Just Property

More cases are percolating up to higher courts. This spring, attorney Steffen N. Johnson of Alexandria, Virginia, will represent half a dozen breakaway TEC churches that have sued the denomination to keep property. In 2008, the Fairfax County Circuit Court ruled in favor of the local congregations. The consolidated case is before the Virginia Supreme Court. More than $5 million has already been spent by both sides.

"When there is division within a denomination, a congregation can vote to determine which branch of the divided body it wants to join," says Johnson. In the Virginia case, the parishes realigned with the Convocation of Anglicans in North America, associated with the Anglican Church of Nigeria.

Although the U.S. Supreme Court has made it clear that judges should not rule on doctrinal disputes, civil courts can determine whether the local parish or the denomination is the rightful owner, though this can be difficult to do.

George Washington Law School professor Robert W. Tuttle says that some jurisdictions have been sympathetic to local congregations that never accepted unilateral denominational impositions to control all property in trust.

Other jurisdictions have determined that if a congregation remains in a denomination for decades after implementation of such rules, accession is implicit. Consequently, a checkerboard pattern of court decisions has developed.

"In most of these fights there is at least some remnant that wants to remain, so the fights are really about who is the true congregation," Tuttle says.

"It's not just about property," says L. Martin Nussbaum, a Colorado Springs attorney who defends religious organizations. "It's also about who are the lawful ecclesiastical officers. Typically a majority faction leaves and tries to claim the property on the way out."

From a legal standpoint, the lawsuits are about the land, the buildings, and all improvements made to the real estate. But because real property includes endowments, wealthy churches may have multimillion-dollar investment portfolios at stake.

University of Missouri School of Law professor Carl H. Esbeck says the disputes are about more than local congregants finding another place to worship. "For some people, these are buildings where they were married, where their children were baptized, where their parents are buried in the churchyard. There are ties and memories to the site that can't be replaced by pulling up stakes."

Read it all here.

Prayers for the people of Haiti

I cried out to God for help;
I cried out to God to hear me.

When I was in distress, I sought the Lord;
at night I stretched out untiring hands
and my soul refused to be comforted.

I remembered you, O God, and I groaned;
I mused, and my spirit grew faint.

You kept my eyes from closing;
I was too troubled to speak.

I thought about the former days,
the years of long ago;

I remembered my songs in the night.
My heart mused and my spirit inquired:

"Will the Lord reject forever?
Will he never show his favor again?

Has his unfailing love vanished forever?
Has his promise failed for all time?

Has God forgotten to be merciful?
Has he in anger withheld his compassion?"

Then I thought, "To this I will appeal:
the years of the right hand of the Most High."

I will remember the deeds of the LORD;
yes, I will remember your miracles of long ago.

I will meditate on all your works
and consider all your mighty deeds.

Your ways, O God, are holy.
What god is so great as our God?

You are the God who performs miracles;
you display your power among the peoples.

With your mighty arm you redeemed your people,
the descendants of Jacob and Joseph.

The waters saw you, O God,
the waters saw you and writhed;
the very depths were convulsed.

The clouds poured down water,
the skies resounded with thunder;
your arrows flashed back and forth.

Your thunder was heard in the whirlwind,
your lightning lit up the world;
the earth trembled and quaked.

Your path led through the sea,
your way through the mighty waters,
though your footprints were not seen.
You led your people like a flock
by the hand of Moses and Aaron.

Psalm 77

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Rowan Williams set to return to the States

Via e-mail:

Archbishop of Canterbury to deliver Schmemann Lecture and receive honorary doctorate at St. Vladimir's Seminary

[ Yonkers, NY] On Saturday afternoon, January 30, 2010, The Most Rev. and Rt. Honorable Rowan Williams, archbishop of Canterbury and senior bishop of the worldwide Anglican communion, will deliver the annual Father Alexander Schmemann Memorial Lecture at St. Vladimir's Orthodox Theological Seminary. The archbishop will speak on the topic "Theology and the Contemplative Calling: The Image of Humility in the Philokalia."

St. Vladimir's Seminary will also confer upon the archbishop a Doctorate of Divinity honoris causa, in recognition of his contribution to the academic study of Eastern Orthodox theology and spirituality. The Very Rev. Dr. John Behr, dean of St. Vladimir's, was examined for his own doctoral degree at Oxford University by the archbishop, then a professor of theology there.

"Many Orthodox Christians may be unaware of Rowan William's research and contribution to the field of Orthodox theology," said Father John. "But he was a pioneer in this field, with outstanding breadth and depth. The subject of his own doctoral thesis, for instance, was the work of the great Orthodox theologian Vladimir Lossky, the first academic study of the emigre theologians. He has also written beautifully on the icons of the Theotokos and the Transfiguration, and, most recently, has published a highly regarded volume titled Dostoevsky: Language, Faith and Fiction. In recognition of his outstanding work and contribution to the study of Eastern Christianity, we are very pleased that he has accepted to deliver the 2010 annual Schmemann lecture."

The Very Rev. Dr. Chad Hatfield, chancellor and CEO of the seminary, likewise noted the import of the archbishop's upcoming visit to the campus. "The archbishop is a patron of The Fellowship of Ss. Alban and Sergius, a society of Eastern and Western Christians that held a major conference on our campus in 2008," said Father Chad. "And we welcome his presence as a person who supports the continued dialogue of the society's members."

The lecture is scheduled to begin at 12:30 p.m. and is free to the public. It will be podcast by Ancient Faith Radio

The Seminary is located at 575 Scarsdale Road, in Yonkers, NY. Please visit or call the seminary events coordinator at 914-961-8313 ext. 351 for further information.

Friday, January 08, 2010

The Living Church: 60,000 people gone

The stats are in. From here:
So, where is our sense of urgency in the Episcopal Church? Consider this: in 2007-08 our average Sunday attendance declined by 60,000 people. Ponder that reality: 60,000 people who were worshiping in Episcopal churches in 2006 were no longer there two years later. That represents losing the combined dioceses of Atlanta, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Upper South Carolina.

Or, to place those losses in the Western part of the United States, those losses represent the combined attendance of the dioceses of Alaska, Arizona, California, Eastern Oregon, El Camino Real, Hawaii, Idaho, Navajoland Area Mission, Nevada, Olympia, Oregon, and Spokane.

Gone. Buildings might remain, but no real churches. Imagine all those people, the equivalent of eleven whole dioceses, walking out of church one day and not returning. That is what has happened in the Episcopal Church in the space of two years.

Several of our dioceses face questions concerning their future viability as independent, self-sustaining dioceses. Of course, we know that the dioceses of Ft. Worth, Pittsburgh, Quincy and San Joaquin need financial support as a result of departures from the Episcopal Church of the majority of their churches and leadership. In addition, the dioceses of Eau Claire and Fond du Lac have discussed merging; the Diocese of North Dakota is lending its bishop to the Diocese of Louisiana as an assisting bishop for one week per month to help pay his salary; and the Bishop of Western Kansas has resigned and returned to parish ministry partly because of the financial strain that a full-time bishop’s salary places on that diocese. These dioceses represent a warning to us that more consolidations and mergers are on the way.
Anglican Curmudgeon also has some thoughts on the recent financials. Can we stop the litigation now?

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

The Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams reflects on the New Year

He's getting more sophisticated in his videos. I like the idea of Rowan Williams wandering about the streets of London in his long black cape, pondering injustices of the world. A sort of Anglican Batman.

By Request.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

2010 - and it's not a movie

It's hard to believe we are now in a year called "2010" and it's not a sci-fi film. It's the real deal and it's now arrived. Columnists and pundits are publishing their top tens of the old year and their predictions for the new one. It seems natural that this is a time to take stock, to review, to reconsider, reflect, to dream.

This will be a big year in my life, no matter what else happens. The Virginia Supreme Court is now receiving the legal briefs as it considers the appeal of The Episcopal Church regarding the overwhelming ruling in circuit court of the vote where thousands voted to separate from The Episcopal Church according to the Virginia Protocol and the laws of the Commonwealth of Virginia.

What will happen? Who can say? The Supreme Court is located in Richmond, home base of The Diocese of Virginia. As we've been reminded all ready, this court is in their part of town.

The churches that voted to separate in Virginia have now celebrated Christmas and New Years are now moving on to their winter schedules. My parish will be running an Alpha Course starting this month in a pub in the City of Fairfax on Sunday afternoons. Each week hundreds of homeless people enjoy a freshly cooked lunch and a time of worship and prayer in what will soon be a newly renovated Undercroft. People are getting married and getting buried and if you drive by on Main Street you may never know that down in Richmond the future of our parish is at stake.

But I am reminded over and over again that "the parish" ultimately are the people. The buildings serve the people, not the other way around. They are dedicated not to a church, but to the Lord. They serve His mission and His vision and it's our job to carry out that mission and vision, with love and humility. It's not always easy to do under the thundercloud of litigation - who can say what the future will hold? But one thing we do know is that He holds the future, our future - and not just some of us, but all of us.

My prayer for this year continues to be for reconciliation. I have often described myself as an Episcopalian in exile and I think that still holds. In this past year I have had the extraordinary experience of developing friendships with Episcopalians that I never would have thought possible - and in a way I never would have dreamed. Because of this experience, I may read the Anglican Covenant in perhaps a different way than I might have in the past. It is possible to see redemption in our midst, or as C.S. Lewis once described, to be "surprised by joy." The worst thing in the world, even as justices assemble in Richmond, is to give up hope. Redemption has a way of slipping into the corners unaware, like Lazarus on the 4th day, to burst out of the tomb at the call of a God who makes all things new - from the inside out.

To dare to trust and then to do it, to step out onto the edge and open one's arms and embrace hope, indeed to embrace the One is our hope - there is simply no other way to grow the church. We cannot curse our brother on one hand, and praise the Lord on the other. And litigation brings a lot of cursing.

And so I pray for reconciliation, for the ministry of reconciliation - that it's not something we do, it's who we are, repairing the bridges that have been wreaked by war, to hold out a hand and say, "Please, forgive me."

Sunday, January 03, 2010

He just felt like taking a walk ...

Guess who makes a Top Ten List of Stories at the Jersey Shore.

Like a complete unknown?

On July 23, Bob Dylan learned how it did feel when two young police officers approached him on a Long Branch street. Police responded to a complaint about a suspicious character peering into a vacant house that was for sale. The officers did not believe that Dylan, who wore a hooded jacket in the pouring rain, was indeed Dylan, until he was able to secure some ID and some people at the nearby Ocean Place Resort & Spa, where he was lodging, to vouch for him.

Dylan was at the Shore for a gig at Blue Claws Stadium in Lakewood. He told police he just felt like taking a walk.
If only he had his American Express. Read more about it here.

Blast from the Past

Friday, January 01, 2010

Symposium: The Inventions of Bob Dylan

Check it out here. Here's the write-up:

In consideration of Bob Dylan's 2009 releases, Together Through Life and Christmas in the Heart, this discussion brings together two scholars with multidisciplinary perspectives on Bob Dylan.

In his book Dylan's Visions of Sin, preeminent poetry critic Christopher Ricks gives Dylan's work and words their most sustained reading to date, and reveals him as an inheritor and interpreter of the Anglo-American poetic tradition.

Sean Wilentz, a Princeton professor and Historian-in-Residence at, situates Dylan in the cultural and historical contexts that thrust him into the core of 20th century American iconography.

Moderated by Matthew von Unwerth, this roundtable will explore Dylan's work as an ongoing conversation with tradition—literary, musical, historical, cultural—as opposed to and in productive tension with his works' innovations, and their erstwhile reputation as new, groundbreaking, and prophetic.

Panelists will address Dylan's borrowings—from scripture, Chaucer, Civil War poet Henry Timrod, vaudeville—as well as his prolific non-musical output, including his stint as host of Theme Time Radio Hour, interpreting his work through the prisms of their respective expertise.

Christopher Ricks is Warren Professor of the Humanities at Boston University. He was President of the Association of Literary Scholars, Critics and Writers from 2007 to 2008, and Professor of Poetry at Oxford from 2004 to 2009. In 2004, he published Dylan's Visions of Sin.

Matthew von Unwerth is the author of Freud's Requiem: Memory, Mourning and the Invisible History of a Summer Walk. He is Director of the A.A. Brill Library of The New York Psychoanalytic Institute and Coordinator of the Film Program at the Philoctetes Center. He is a candidate in psychoanalytic training in New York.

Sean Wilentz is Sidney and Ruth Lapidus Professor in the American Revolutionary Era at Princeton University. A recipient of the Bancroft and Beveridge Prizes in American history, he is also Historian-in-Residence at Bob Dylan's official website, His new book, Bob Dylan in America, will be published by Doubleday in 2010.

This program is supported, in part, by public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, in partnership with the City Council.

Watch it here.

Happy New Year to all our Cafe Friends!