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?

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Blue Book: On Confirmation and Leadership

Scott Gunn has been working his way through the Blue Book over at Seven Whole Days. In yesterday's post, he considers the resolutions concerning life-long Christian formation and education.

Several of the resolutions presented by the Standing Commission on Lifelong Christian Formation and Education would alter the requirements and expectations for positions of church leadership. There are four resolutions which are, I think, working in concert to achieve a single shift. The resolutions are A041, A042, A043, and A044.

The shift is this:

  • Currently, a lay person must have received the sacrament of Confirmation in order to fill certain leadership roles. A lay person who seeks ordination as a deacon or priest must likewise be confirmed.
  • If the resolutions A042A043, and A044 are adopted, this requirement will be removed from both the Constitution and Canons, and lay leaders and those seeking ordination will simply need to be adult communicants.
  • If resolution A041 passes, lay people in positions of authority and leadership would need to receive some sort of training in the "history, structure, and governance" of the Episcopal Church, as well as specific instruction about the office they will assume.
My response to this is mixed. The resolutions make clear that the motivation for this change is that Baptism is full and complete initiation into the Body of Christ, and so it is Baptism, not Confirmation, that ought to be required of leaders. Father Gunn supports these resolutions for this reason. I agree that Baptism is full and complete initiation into the church, that a Baptized Christian is a complete Christian. But it is one thing to be a Christian and another thing to be a Christian leader. Resolution 042 states that "that the baptismal theology of the Book of Common Prayer understands Baptism and not Confirmation to be the sacramental prerequisite for leadership in The Episcopal Church." I'm not sure it does. Our baptismal theology does claim that baptism is the sacramental prerequisite for membership in the church, but I'm not sure that it rules out a higher standard for leadership. 

Confirmation is an opportunity for those baptized as infant "to make a mature public affirmation of their faith and commitment to the responsibilities of their Baptism". Is it strange to expect a person who is called to be a leader in the church to demonstrate this mature public affirmation of faith and commitment? As a reminder, the canons we're discussing cover every ministry from Eucharistic Minister and parish Vestry-member all the way up to Executive Council and Chancellor of The Episcopal Church. While Baptism may be the basic sacramental requirement for membership in the Christian church, is it wrong to expect a higher standard of commitment from leadership? Twisting the Ethiopian eunuch's (rhetorical) question to Philip, what is to stop them from being confirmed?

This question doesn't come from a desire to find a reason for Confirmation to exist. It has been called "a sacrament in search of a theology" (by whom, by the way? I can't remember) and we're not quite sure if it's a "completion" of baptism or a kind of Christian bat/bar mitzvah. Our theology of confirmation is unsettled, and yet it is clear that it's an opportunity for a person of mature mind to stand up in public and claim her Christian faith. That shouldn't be a weird thing to expect in our leaders, should it?

Resolution A041, though, does a good thing in theory. It is clear that our leaders need to be trained and educated leaders. We must know our context and our history and our structures if we are to function within those things. This resolution would, effectively, mandate training and education for lay leaders in the "history, structure, and governance" of the church. These resolutions, taken together, would replace the (perceived) sacramental requirement with an educational requirement. In principle, I think it's a fine idea. In practice, it's bound to be tricky. Who will come up with that curriculum? How will the future candidate for Chancellor prove to us that she or he has taken this training? Will I, as a parish priest, need to sit down with the people who are running for Vestry to make sure that they're qualified before the election happens? 

Perhaps I'm sensitive to this because we are also seeing an effort to remove the requirement that one be Baptized before making one's communion with Christ in the sacrament (Creedal Christian is the latest to write about this), and I'm seeing an across-the-board devaluing of our rites of commitment. Maybe that's not what's happening here, but we are replacing a rite that ought to be encouraged in all Christians with a bureaucratic requirement that, while worthy, will be difficult to implement.  

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Sustainable Future?

Crusty Old Dean has written a pretty blunt piece about the state of change in the Episcopal Church. It's excellent, as are all of his postings, and the takeaway is that we will do ourselves no favors by ignoring the possibility that we are edging towards collapse as a church. First, Anglican identity in North America has pretty much always struggled, except for a "golden age" in the mid-20th century. That golden age is going now. Second, Christianity as "Christendom" has run its course, and we are pretty much at the end of the privileged position for the church in our culture. Yes, yes, there are plenty of Christians left, and plenty of places in America where Christianity is expected and assumed, but Christendom is in retreat in those areas where is not already defunct.

So COD raises the question of sustainability. Our numbers are shrinking and continuing to shrink. Fewer parishes are in a position to support a rector. So, perhaps it's time to ask for what purpose does the Episcopal Church exist? Would it not at some point be more reasonable to merge or be absorbed into another part of the Christian family?

Theology? Our theology is, overall, progressive, but perhaps not as progressive as the UCC. Would theological progressives who wish to advance that cause feel more at home there?

Liturgy? Our liturgy, particularly our prayer book, matter to us, but then again we're seeing an explosion of liturgical forms and diversity in worship, from Enriching our Worship to Hip-hop Masses to the regular use of the New Zealand Prayer Book, so at what point are we still a church bound together around a common prayer? The Liturgical Movement has done much to equalize our rites. Those for whom liturgy is very important will be able to carve out a ministry for themselves in Methodist or Lutheran or Presbyterian congregations.

Anglican Communion? Our membership in the worldwide fellowship of Anglicans is important, but not so important that we're willing to forego changes in doctrine and practice. At what point does "Anglican heritage and identity" drop by the wayside?

I keep hearing about how the institutional church needs to change in order to serve our core functions: mission and ministry. Would these be better served if we joined forces and made common cause with the ELCA or with the UCC? Why, in a nutshell, are we remaining Episcopalian? Is it nostalgia? Do we do something or other "better" than other churches? If we can answer this, we might be on the way towards discovering what we have to offer the culture around us.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Communion Without Baptism

The Diocese of Eastern Oregon will present a resolution at the 2012 General Convention calling for a change to the canon law of the church to permit something called Communion Without Baptism (CWOB). This  resolution, if it passes, will change Canon 1.17.7 which currently states that "No unbaptized person shall be eligible to receive Holy Communion in this Church." (A pdf of Title 1 of the Constitution and Canons is available here). A document, written by my seminary classmate the Rev'd Michelle Meech, supporting the resolution can be found on her website as a pdf.

The practice of extending Communion to those who are not Baptized has been much discussed in the past few years. I agree with Derek Olsen that this is the next big controversy in the church, now that same-sex blessings seem to be a done deal (according to the Presiding Bishop). I should say here that I am generally a conservative when it comes to this issue, meaning that I tend to wish to conserve the status quo, that the reception of communion is ordinarily restricted to those who are baptized.

We ought to be clear about what we are talking about when we talk about CWOB. We are not referring to the ecumenical sense of "Open Table". Classically, "open table" has meant a policy of sharing Holy Communion with Christians of another doctrinal community, e.g., Methodists and Roman Catholics being invited to Communion at Episcopal Church masses. CWOB is instead the practice of explicitly inviting anyone to receive Holy Communion, regardless of whether they have been baptized. We are also not referring to casual or accidental reception. Nobody on the side that opposes CWOB has called for "checking baptismal certificates at the altar rail", although this is a straw man that seems to show up in every comment thread on every blog post on this topic. CWOB instead deals with a stated policy that invites or even encourages people to come to the Altar Rail for communion even if they haven't been baptized.

This is in fact already the practice in some parishes. The Diocese of Northern California (the diocese that sponsored my ordination) did a survey in 2004-2005 (8 years ago!) to find out how widespread the practice was. The practice is apparently not unknown in Canada; the Canadian bishops issued a statement rejecting CWOB last April.

Matt Gunter has compiled a list of blogbits that discuss this topic, and I've shamelessly ripped it off to post here.

Additionally, Anglican Theological Review carried a splendid conversation between James Farwell and Katherine Tanner on this topic back in 2004, which can be read on the ATR website.

So many good people have written, and the primary purpose of this blog post is to try to put all the resources into one place so I don't lose them, as well as to encourage both of my readers to become familiar with the discussion. I do have two or three ideas beginning to take shape, however, but they are far from complete. 

First, when talking about CWOB, pro or con, we tend to focus on the reception of Holy Communion. The central action under consideration is the act of a person getting up from their pew, and walking to the Altar Rail, receiving and eating the Bread, and receiving and drinking the Wine. What is often missing from these conversations is whether or how a non-baptized person can participate at all in the eucharistic celebration. I'm not advocating that we return to the old discipline of escorting people out after the sermon (from this, the Orthodox liturgy retains the cry "The doors! The doors!", i.e., they were to be closed and locked to prevent the un-initiated from experiencing the rest...) but I'm considering the Eucharist as a single grace-filled action between Christ and his church. In other words I'm keen to see this in light of participation, not just of reception. 

In some ways, this is a far bigger deal than same-sex blessings. This issue plunges right into the heart of our worship and our sacramental theology, both Baptism and Eucharist. It has huge implications for our understanding of the structure of the church and the meaning of Christian identity. It has huge implications for our ecumenical and Communion relationships.