Friday, July 13, 2012

Catholic societies missing from General Convention

I popped up to General Convention on Monday, to browse the exhibition hall with its hundreds of exhibitors, to run into old friends and colleagues, and to stick my nose into the proceedings of the Houses of Bishops and of Deputies.

I noticed, and found it curious, that the Catholic societies were missing from the exhibitors. No sign of the Guild of All Souls, the Society of Mary, the Confraternity of the Blessed Sacrament, or the Society of King Charles the Martyr. No sign of the Society of the Holy Cross, nor of the Society of Catholic Priests, of which I'm a member. Perhaps next General Convention...

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Anglican Covenant Resolutions Compared

Lionel Deimel offers a comparison of the seven General Convention resolutions that treat of the proposed Anglican Covenant. (Mark Harris did a similar thing 2 months ago, when there were only three resolutions).

In other Covenant news, the Scottish Episcopal Church has just rejected the proposed Covenant.

I tend to favor the concept of a Covenant, but then I'm fairly clear that I'm Episcopalian because I'm first an Anglican. I believe that we do need some actual structures around our fellowship, because we're all heading in opposite directions too quickly for "we'll just have to agree to disagree" to keep up. I'm pretty sure the proposed Covenant is already dead in the water, which fills me neither with joy nor sadness. It's like the horses have already left the barn, and then one realizes that there isn't actually a fence around the pasture.

Friday, June 8, 2012

The Spirituality of the Prayer Book

The Book of Common Prayer stands at the center of the Anglican world-view. It is arguably our great contribution to Christianity (arguably, because some is bound to say that it's the King James Bible). Of course, there are many different Books of Common Prayer, but within the diversity of cultural (con)texts, there is a core that is shared by all the BCPs around the world.
Books of Common Prayer are a system of spirituality. They are not merely a collection of prayers or prayer services. They are not a grab bag of elements from which enterprising clergy cobble together worship. The Prayer Book is a tool-chest filled with all the components needed to draw the Christian into deeper and deeper fellowship with God.
Derek Olsen has written about this at his blog. A couple of key points leap out to me. First, Derek reminds me of the importance of the Kalendar as a framework of the spiritual life. It does matter that we revolve within the same wheel of the year, moving through liturgical seasons, feasts of Our Lord and Our Lady, and commemorations of the saints. There is perhaps no greater way to measure progress in the spiritual life than to return to the same place (in space, or in time) and to observe how you are different. 
Second, the Sunday eucharist and the Daily offices complement, enhance, support, and reinforce each other. They approach and nurture slightly different aspects of our spiritual life. Working in concert, the kalendar, the offices, and the mass become a sort of tripod with a stable and wide base, which allows us to clamber to the top to see God.
My favorite quote:
The Mass, then, as it rolls through the seasons, offers us not only a weekly or more frequent experience of the grace of God but allows us to hear and experience the Good News in several major modes: expectation, joy, enlightenment, penitence, celebration—the principle Christian affections. If the Office is primarily catechetical, the Mass is primarily mystagogical. That is, it leads us by experiences of grace into the mystery of God and the relationship that God is calling us into with him and with the entire created order through him.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

I'm famous.

My post about infant baptism (or, really, the consequences of our changing disciplines of initiation) was picked up at The Episcopal Cafe.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

The Visitation

I imagine it was like this

From the 2006 film The Nativity Story. Starring Keisha Castle-Hughes as Mary and Shohreh Aghdashloo as Elizabeth

The collect for the feast of the Visitation:
Father in heaven, by whose grace the virgin mother of thy incarnate Son was blessed in bearing him, but still more blessed in keeping thy word: Grant us who honor the exaltation of her lowliness to follow the example of her devotion to thy will; through the same Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Shared Governance: The Polity of the Episcopal Church

From Fr Tobias Haller, BSG:

Shared Governance: The Polity of the Episcopal Church is now available from Church Publishing and Google Books (with preview) and is making its way into the hands of Deputies to the upcoming General Convention.

The collection is intended specifically as an educational and reflection tool for Deputies to the General Convention, and offers a number of insights particularly geared to their work; however, any Episcopalian wanting to be better informed about how and why our church came to function in the way it does will find the essays helpful. Throughout the collection, effort has been made to provide an accurate perspective for the reader, and to dispel or correct some of the prevailing mythology concerning the origins and practice of our shared governance.

Time to retire infant baptism?

There are a number of resolutions before General Convention that touch upon our rites of initiation and identity. These resolutions are not explicitly linked, and we must be careful not to mix up our fears and concerns (as Scott Gunn graciously reminded me). The resolutions about which I'm thinking are resolutions that are being discussed here and elsewhere in the blog world - Resolution C040 [these links are to PDF files of the resolution text] proposed by Eastern Oregon which would remove the canon stipulating that one must be a baptized Christian to receive Holy Communion, and resolutions A041, A042, A043, and A044 (discussed here yesterday) which would collectively remove the requirement that lay leaders (and, possibly, ordained leaders) should be confirmed.

The resolutions about confirmation have stimulated some wonderful conversation about the sacramental requirements for church leadership, the meaning of confirmation, the sufficiency of baptism for church membership. There has been more chat on facebook (of course). It's clear that we're as uncertain about confirmation as we have been for centuries. It's clear that we're changing our views about baptism over the past few decades. The whole thing got me thinking:

Perhaps it's time to consider scrapping infant baptism? 

In the Episcopal Church, we claim that baptism is "full initiation by water and the Holy Spirit into Christ's Body the Church." But given the current trajectory of our sacramental and ritual theology, for what reason should babies be given this initiation? If we only baptize people who are old enough to ask for it, then we don't actually need what confirmation has become: "mature public affirmation of their faith and commitment to the responsibilities of their Baptism." (The language of the prayer book actually says that even those baptized as adults ought to receive the laying-on of hands from the bishop, but this doesn't in any way complete or fix or finish the work of baptism). We won't need to be concerned with whether lay leaders have demonstrated commitment and fidelity to the church they are leading. And perhaps, actually, dropping the confirmation requirement for leadership in the church based on the notion that baptism is all-sufficient is a way to open the door to Sydney-style Lay Presidency.

If we no longer require a person to be baptized before receiving communion, then our toddlers can come to the altar rail with no impediment. I suspect that many or most Episcopalians tend towards universalism, and certainly a comparison of the baptismal rites from 1928 and 1979 prayer books will reveal that we have stopped thinking of baptism as "fire insurance" or as a way to protect the infant from the fires of hell.

Tim Sean, on facebook, brought his Baptist roots to bear on the implications. He wrote
Having come for the Baptist denomination "adult" baptism isn't really the answer either. You end up shaping your whole ethos and community practice to ensure that children (and eventually young adults) voluntarily seek baptism, which then raises the entire conundrum of what is the minimal amount of understanding one needs before (an eight year old some, a twelve year old more, a seventeen year old, etc...)
It's a good point. I don't know that it would be such a bad thing to orient the church around helping people (of any age) towards and through the font. But what is the minimum necessary understanding of the faith required for baptism? Presiding Bishop Katherine encouraged us to be more quick to baptize, to provide "on-call baptism". And if we're going to offer communion to people regardless of baptism (and regardless of a minimum level of understanding), then there shouldn't be any intellectual barrier to the sacrments, surely? If they ask for the waters, they get the waters.

Now, to be absolutely clear, I personally don't think we should do this. I am too catholic in my religion to do away with a practice that is as old, at least, as St. Augustine. I am one of those Episcopalians who thinks that something does happen, both in confirmation and baptism. But neither is this post tongue-in-cheek. If our theology and practice are heading this direction, adapting and modifying our sacramental theology in such radical ways, then isn't this a logical next step?