Jan 182012

I cannot for the life of me understand why those bishops of The Episcopal Church who by litigation obtain the right to control parish churches for which they have, by and large, paid nothing, cannot find the generosity of heart of then sell the property to the congregations who have cherished and maintained them for many years.  The diocese is unlikely to be able to fill the church, after all.  And the departing congregation and TEC are by and large not in any business sense, rivals.  A mystery, that is.

This story came to my attention because my wife grew up near Bay Village and if we should visit her hometown again it would be at Christ Church that we would worship.  The Bishop of Cleveland felt moved to say (and I don’t know why they do these things.  It seems to be reflexive and automatic)

there is a range of understanding as to whether Jesus is the only way to salvation.

In our belief that God is generous . . . many of us suspect that in striving for intimacy with all human beings, God can achieve it through varying faith experiences and traditions.

This has caused a certain amount of merriment, often along the lines of ‘of course they want to get away from you, you impecunious post modernist.’  The comment itself and those like it should probably replace the Creeds in the next version of TEC’s Book of Common Prayer.  Just for fun, and as a sort of exercise, let’s look at the layers of content in this 46 words.

First off, a lay person does not need to hear a bishop provide reasons not to be a Christian.  We can come up with those on our own.  You are a Christian Bishop, and part of your job is to come up with good reasons to be Christian.

Second, avoiding the whole “I am the way, the truth, and the life” thing plays into the hands of those who like to portray Christians, especially anything like traditional Christians, as chuckleheads whose stock in trade is repression, dictatorial dogma, and narrow-mindedness.  It’s always a mistake to address the straw men.

Going a little deeper, you really have to ask “what do you mean, salvation?  Salvation from what, and why?  And, now that I think of it, ‘Who do you say Jesus is?’ ” If you believe that Jesus is fully man and fully God, in whom the Second Person of the Most Holy Trinity became incarnate in the world for the sake of all humankind, then it might be wise not to be so hasty to minimize His mission.  If you do not believe that, well, then say so.  And get honest work.

On the third or fourth hand (I’m losing track), it’s quite sufficient to say that the salvation of those who are not Christians is in God’s hands, but that it is clear from the Gospel that judgment occurs.  It’s the business of Christians and their churches to be witnesses to the saving actions of Jesus, rather than minimizing their importance. And the slight, common, personalization of it all by saying, “God can achieve it (intimacy with all human beings) through varying faith experiences,” makes salvation (whatever Bishop Hollingsworth means by that) more a matter of what one feels from moment to moment rather than something done by God.  And then there’s the icky drippiness of “intimacy with all human beings.”  That sounds more like something coming out of Playboy Mansion West rather than from a bishop of the line of John Jewel, Thomas Cranmer, and Lancelot Andrewes.

And that is the whole sad story in a nutshell.

Jan 122012

Valuable reports from the Winter Conference of the Anglican Mission, here.

I have no trouble seeing The Episcopal Church as essentially bankrupt in the important ways. Or that there is much mission work, in the sense of Gospel-proclaiming, Christian-forming, Worshiping, to be done in North America

I have no trouble seeing that there is need for similar work, by someone, throughout Western Europe.

I have no trouble seeing the Anglican Communion as currently rudderless and dismasted, though I think this is a bit of Our Lord’s creative destruction.

But I cannot for the life of me see a need for an independent, global, Anglican missionary society whose leadership has already shown a tendency to be heedless of the authority.  This is heading for toe-stomping territory.  There are Anglican provinces throughout the world, some lively, some less so (the greater TEC’s influence, the more moribund).  In some places, let us say, China, missionary work must be done with care and circumspection; in others, in South America for example, there are already Anglican missionary efforts.  In places like Egypt, Anglican efforts are real but delicately balanced.  A new, global, independent, and unaccountable missionary society makes little sense to me.

Maybe I am hopelessly parochial.  I wait to be persuaded.

Jan 112012

Sad but not surprising news from Virginia, where the Official Diocese of Virginia, a constituent but subordinate part of the hierarchal-without-any-congregational-taint-whatsoever Episcopal Church™ has won the right to turn several large, thriving congregations out of their customary churches.  The fate of properties acquired by the local-and-very-definitely-subordinate-not-at-all-independent-dioceses is has often been unpleasant to consider.  How the Official Diocese of Virginia will resist the opportunity to realize their newly acquired assets  into resorts, conference centers, casinos, nightclubs, and possibly mosques will be an interesting sight. The stewardship of buildings is arguably a less important Christian duty, but it is hard to work out how that minor duty is fulfilled by turning a Christian church into a nightclub, or a mosque.  Both have happened.

Having control of your own space is certainly an asset to a Christian community.  You can just plain do more – more worship, more formation, more outreach. My own community has access to its rented space for only a few hours a week, and that certainly restricts our activity.  But it does seem that God is asking those of us in North American to experience a degree of lessened resource, and I think this will in turn force us to look more carefully at our fundamental commitments and at how we interact with each other.  Anglicans are infamously squabblesome, and it may be that a leaner church will force us towards better care of one another.

I’ve been slowly coming ‘round to the notion that we are given reformations so that we might shrug off cultural accretions. We are, maybe, being asked to think carefully what we are up to, pray continually for clarity about today’s step, and wait patiently upon God.  Without oodles of resources, maybe we won’t run off towards every idea that strikes someone’s fancy.

The Exiles of Virginia (and there’s a neat moniker to go by) will need to keep fresh in their minds that their real communities are intact, and that all will be well.

Jan 032012

The Anglican Mission (in America) began as a bold and imaginative response to the increasingly bizarre Episcopal Church.  By going to an overseas jurisdiction, the Mission was able to circumvent the problems of bizarre bishops, co-opted committees, and General Convention Happy Parties that were killing TEC.  But I think that the Mission also suffered from some of TEC’s problems of identity.  What is Anglicanism outside of the Church of England?  What is it here, in America?  The controversies that have detonated within the Mission lately seem to me to be mostly due to an ad hoc quality to governance and worship.  If the TEC expression of Anglican Christianity was confused and contradictory (and, really, once it jettisoned the 1928 Book of Common Prayer, what could you accurately was unique about it?), it was probable that the Mission would have some of the same problems.

So the problems now arising should not be unexpected.  Perhaps part of our task over decades is to rediscover what Anglican Christianity might be.