Monday, November 07, 2011

A word of thanks to an Amazon reviewer

I never thought that I would earn an Amazon review, since my publications could hardly be described as popular literature, yet back in April I apparently did. Since I have no other means of thanking him/her, I would like publicly to express my appreciation to D. Schweitzer of Okarche, Oklahoma, for taking the time to do a review.

Sunday, November 06, 2011

Discerning the Promised Land: Anglican Diocese of Pittsburgh Convention, November 5, 2011

“We are not in it to be right, to justify ourselves, or to look down on others.” With such words did Bishop Neil Lebhar of the Gulf Atlantic Diocese conclude his final teaching of Pittsburgh’s diocesan convention meeting on the grounds of St. Vincent’s College (a Benedictine foundation) in Latrobe, Pennsylvania. The warm welcome offered by St. Vincent’s Benedictine prior and the Roman Catholic Bishop of Greensburg, was only reinforced by tales of parishes that had surrendered their buildings only to receive encouragement and aid from sympathetic congregations of other denominations.

For Lebhar – whose Florida congregation was among the first to leave its church building – a willingness to surrender material security for reliance on God to provide should be part of the character of ACNA and he must have welcomed such testimony as that provided by members of All Saints, Rosedale, now happily worshiping in a local Methodist church. Or Paul Cooper of New Life in Mars, whose congregation meets in the local Catholic Church and whose 83-year old churchwarden has a list of eight congregations to be planted before he dies! Or Doug Sherman of St. James in Penn Hills, who reported that all but one congregant had joined the exodus, that the parish was doing much better financially and that “it’s awesome to have [the decision to leave] behind you.” All that was needed to underscore such accounts was the announcement by Chancellor Robert Devlin that this was the first convention that he had attended when the Anglican Diocese was not in litigation. As of the Pennsylvania supreme court decision, parishes whose deeds were in the name of the Board of Trustees no longer owned their property and that decision would not be appealed.

Much of the business of the day, however, was devoted not to existing congregations but to those in embryo, including two new parishes (St. Michael’s, Nashotah, WI, and Trinity, Yuba City, CA); eight mission fellowships (six in Illinois and one each in Iowa and Minnesota); and ten mission fellowships-in-formation (two in Pittsburgh, four in California and five in Illinois). Amid the inevitable presentation of Steelers towels to the out-of-town visitors, mission representatives spoke to the importance of the link with Pittsburgh, however fleeting it might ultimately be. From Sanctuary, Lawrenceville, came words of praise for the Archbishop’s flexibility in the models of mission that he is permitting. The priest at Holy Spirit, Folsom, CA (the town not the prison, as he hastened to add), described a congregation that began in a restaurant and moved to a funeral home chapel. His fears about the cost were allayed when, unprompted, the proprietor observed that “when you get to 100 people we may have to start charging for wear and tear.” Among the most inspiring, the reports from the Chicago greenhouse movement, among them two missions serving Spanish-speaking populations; Church of All Nations, deliberately planted in a low income neighborhood; and Heritage, whose mission is to multiply congregations in nursing homes!

Canon Missioner Mary Hays, in welcoming the new congregations, spoke to her personal experience of serious injury, which had obliged her to slow down and had led her to “hear” better what people were trying to tell her about spiritual and physical burnout. She spoke of a class she had taught at Trinity School for Ministry where even African clergymen had confessed to being “too busy” to pray. Space needs to be created in which God can act, in individual lives and in congregations. Jenni Bartling – celebrating her tenth anniversary as Congregational Developer for New Churches (more like a paid hobby than a job) noted how far the Diocese had come since Archbishop Duncan pledged in 2000 to plant ten congregations in the next decade. Today there was increasing emphasis on local mission; renewal of displaced congregations who, though not new, were now doing something new; and an increasing number of experienced church planters coming forward (as opposed to those embracing church planting because it was “cool.” Other snippets of news about the condition of the Diocese trickled out as the day wore on.

1. Our now customary ballot for diocesan offices with only enough candidates to fill the slots (which led the Archbishop to plead that “the purpose is not Soviet-style voting,” and to encourage anyone wishing to propose names from the floor).

2. The adoption of a resolution to base parish representation on Average Sunday Attendance rather than Communicant Numbers, since ACNA does not collect data on communicant membership.

3. A report that our financial situation has greatly improved since last year, with a small surplus. Particularly noteworthy is the fact that of the $920,000 to be raised from the Godly Share (the voluntary tithe that is now the standard for parish giving), $50,000 comes from parishes outside the territorial diocese.

4. The Anglican Relief and Development Fund has provided $4.9 million for 106 projects around the world.

5. A speaker from Christ Church, Plano, spoke on behalf of Anglican 1000, which, he stressed, is not the church-planting arm of ACNA – only bishops, clergy and lay leaders have the authority to do that. In the time between summer and fall of 2011, the number of church plants known to Anglican 1000 jumped from 130 to 180 (including ten from Cuba). Few dioceses though have the church-planting resources available in Pittsburgh and they should be utilized to the full. When Archbishop Duncan pledged in 2009 to plant 1,000 churches in five years, there was astonishment yet the present auguries are propitious as a new foundation for “biblical, missionary Anglicanism” is laid.

The teachings by Bishop Lebhar and his wife Marcia represented one of the high points of the convention. Conflict in churches, he told the assembly, is “a major problem for American Christians. We go shopping for non-conflict churches – good luck!” We are generally viewed as failures if we’re involved in conflict, and yet sometimes conflict is a necessary part of our spiritual growth. Often the problem is not so much with the information that we gather on a problem but how we interpret it, and it is in the white heat of interpretation that conflict flourishes. In a conflict situation, the default position for those who are afraid is to cling to the familiar rather than to trust in God’s power to preserve us from even the worst of situations. God’s purpose in difficult times is both to humble and to test. Often our preference is to relieve pressures rather than have the inner workings of our hearts revealed. Members of his Diocese were all obliged to go through a process of coming to terms with their lack of control and of learning to forgive their detractors.

Marcia Lebhar later took up the theme of trust with a reflection on the reality of the paucity of water in Canaan as compared with the Israelites’ experience in Egypt. The heart of idolatry is the insistence on a “Plan B” and God has prepared a new Anglican for ACNA that its members must expect on God’s terms. Finally, and at the close of proceedings Bishop Lebhar, introduced the imagery of the challenge posed to Judaism posed by the Romanized culture of Herod the Great’s Caesarea and the warning to the infant Christian Church given by the Epistle of Jude, namely of cultural surrender. “Many Americans,” said, “have become co-dependent on the culture.” His greatest fear for ACNA is that today’s vitality will weaken and acculturation make its way in, for if we acquiesce to the prevailing culture we cannot save those now imprisoned by it.

One curious postscript, a letter from former Bishop Alden Hathaway expressing his love and continuing prayers for Pittsburgh and seeking letter dimissory to the Diocese of South Carolina. Curious because the request was to the ACNA Bishop of Pittsburgh but in respect of the TEC Diocese of South Carolina, albeit in many ways a Diocese of one. Make of it what you will.

I’ve given up predicting when I will finally leave Pittsburgh, as perhaps my devoted readers have now realized. As long as I’m here I will keep the record, for whatever it may be worth.

I've noticed that dear David Wilson and Tara Jernigan have stolen a march on me this year, but I think I make up for it in quantity if not quality.

Friday, November 04, 2011

Faithful Division: Episcopalians and the Crisis of Postmodern Anglicanism

Review: Nancy James, The Developing Schism Within the Episcopal Church. Lewiston, NY: Edwin Mellen Press, 2010.

In the introduction to her recently published history of North American Anglican conflict, Nancy James observes:

Every action and decision entrusted to a bishop reveals the working of his or her mind. In the complex relationship between a bishop and his diocese, or a bishop active in the House of Bishops, or a Bishop in the Anglican Communion, certain theological values are seen in realized action. A lived theology, a bishop acting in history, emphasizes that God moves within human history. The specific task of a bishop is to over-see the church from a theological perspective. To state that this is a controversy about homosexuality might attract journalistic and press attention, but this radical simplification of the controversy misses the heart of why many have poured their hearts into the struggle. (4-5)
James is to be commended for the admirably neutral manner in which she delves into the spiritual journey pursued by the Episcopal Church (TEC) over the past eight years and the ultimate emergence of a new contender on the American denominational scene, the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA). Sadly, this reviewer is unable to accord The Developing Schism an unqualified seal of approval, for its most frustrating feature is not the line that it takes, but the fact that it too often leaves the reader uncertain as to the conclusions its author intends to draw.

Reflective of James’s approach is her opening chapter, which provides background on Virginia Theological Seminary (VTS) theologian Charles Price (whose image graces the book’s cover). Price’s life and writings could well have served as a template for the dissolution of relationships within TEC, but instead he flits in and out of the narrative in a somewhat ghostly fashion. Little effort is made to demonstrate either his impact on Broad Church Anglicanism in North America or his relationship with conservative students at VTS and when the principle authority cited in support of his theological importance is a volume of essays written in his honor, the reader can be forgiven for wondering how vital a role he actually played.

James is correct to suggest that a comprehensive account of all groups and movements involved in Anglican realignment would be a monumental task (v-vi), and yet there are significant omissions that leave her argument considerably weakened. As the author of a study of Anglican renewal in Pittsburgh I must confess partiality, but I do feel that confining discussion of Pittsburgh to its bishop (now archbishop) alone is to neglect an important diocesan relationship that preceded Robert Duncan’s arrival in southwestern Pennsylvania and which helped nurture the leading conservative Anglican seminary – Trinity School for Ministry – and foster ties with Anglican provinces in the Global South. Indeed, a section of The Developing Schism entitled “The Formation of Trinity Episcopal School” is noteworthy for the sparseness of references to the seminary in question. (116-119)

If anything, The Developing Schism gives undue prominence to the charismatic elements of the renewal movement, to the detriment of both the Anglo-Catholic and non-charismatic Evangelical contributions. Coupled with the lack of discussion of the establishment of the Anglican Communion Network, the reader is left with the impression that there was no intermediate step between Gene Robinson’s consecration and the departure of the parishes that formed the Convocation of Anglicans in North America (CANA) in 2006 and it accords an exaggerated significance to CANA at the expense of, for example, Christ Church, Plano (formerly in the Diocese of Dallas).

Similarly, while James stresses that the beginning of the national schism can be traced to VTS and the Diocese of Virginia (iv), her discussion of the history of the the CANA congregations is patchy. It is not until the reader is more than half way through the book that Truro Episcopal Church is mentioned, and only then in the context of a sermon delivered by Dr. Price in 1987. (119) The construction of the networks of evangelical association that began at Truro during the 1970s is not addressed (nor the role of the now retiring Bishop of Central Florida, John Howe, then an outspoken Evangelical priest at Truro). The influence of the future CANA congregations in the governance of the Diocese of Virginia and the generous financial support they provided in the 1980s and 1990s is also undocumented. Without such context, the casual reader is abruptly thrown into a discussion of the breakdown of relations with Bishop Peter Lee, the drafting of the now notorious Protocol and the celebrated votes of disassociation in 2006 and subsequent lawsuits that seems to emerge from thin air. (149-153, 159-160, 163-167, and 175-179) Equally curious is the abrupt incursion into the narrative of a reference to Pope Benedict XVI that moves unevenly from Benedict’s support for Anglican conservatives to the sex abuse scandal within the Catholic Church. (181-183) Both topics might have been profitably addressed by James, but here they seem to have no connection to the wider narrative.

At the heart of James’s account are eighteen interviews with prominent figures in the controversy, including two African archbishops, Peter Akinola and Henry Orombi; American conservatives Robert Duncan, John Guernsey, and Martyn Minns; and American progressives Peter Lee, Gene Robinson, John Chane and Louie Crew. Notable by their absence are the present and former Presiding Bishops, Katharine Jefferts Schori and Frank Griswold. While it would have been very effective to use those interviews as the basis for a study of the “mind of the church,” which James does on occasion, the switching back and forth between narrative and personality ultimately works to the detriment of both. Both Peter Lee and John Chane receive considerable attention from James, but ultimately her stream of consciousness mode of description leaves the reader grappling adequately to summarize the theological views of her subjects. It is not that there are no insights, merely that they require great effort on the part of even the informed reader to discern them.

One of the strengths of The Developing Schism, it must be said, is that it does identify a strain of what James terms “remnant theology” that existed in both reappraising and reasserting – to use Kendall Harmon’s terminology – Episcopal groups during the 1970s and 1980s. (28-29) That the former would have largely won the debate within the wider Church by the mid-1990s was by no means assured in the mid-1970s, the acceptance of the ordination of women notwithstanding. If John Allin (who goes unmentioned by James) could be elected Presiding Bishop in 1973 in succession to John Hines, one cannot conclude that TEC’s present course was at that time inevitable. The failure of the center to hold in the late 1980s and early 1990s is one of those questions that historians still struggle to explain definitively. The Developing Schism does not really offer a clear explanation, but the author does document the importance of liberal organizations – particularly members of Integrity – both in lobbying and securing election to policy-making structures within the Church. Indeed, it was a supporter of Integrity – Edmond Browning – who was elected as Allin’s successor as Presiding Bishop in 1985. (51-52)

Some will decry James’s assumption that both sides are seeking out the transcendent, either in “realized justice” or in “religious laws” that “allow the free action of the Holy Spirit,” (40), yet it seems a not unreasonable proposition. Louie Crew’s invoking of the language of “new life of the Spirit” in support of gay identity (48-49) will perplex (or anger) many, but to dismiss it as inauthentic is as unwise as to presume that a traditionalist concern with social morality is mere window-dressing for covert racism and misogyny. James’s chapter on African Anglican identity undoubtedly provides valuable context for what it means to be practitioners of a persecuted faith, whether it be the Ugandan Christian martyrdoms of the Amin era or Peter Akinola’s more personal experience of the darker aspect of Nigerian indigenous religion (67-94).

Towards the close of her story, James identifies a profound truth about spiritual jurisdiction:
The schism raises questions about whether a postmodern diocese is an ontological state rather than a geographical unit . . . Though living on different continents, the Orthodox Anglicans bear resemblance to their charismatic counterparts in Africa . . . Possibly the idea of the sanctity of [the] geographical diocese is an Enlightenment idea whose time is past. (205)
James here enunciates the future Anglican reality – a “postmodern” North American traditionalism that downplays those hierarchical structures that are part of the warp and woof of the churches of their Global South brethren. Here in the Anglican Diocese of Pittsburgh, the decision to explicitly vest all parish property in the parish corporation, while partly a reaction to perceived abuses in TEC, also reflects a new practical congregationalism. Moreover, the Anglican Diocese of Pittsburgh has been receiving extra-diocesan parishes into its ranks from California to North Carolina and from Wisconsin to Texas since its inception. Such trends may be explained as part of the reality of the mission-centered church, but they also foreshadow new ways of embodying Anglicanism in the twenty-first century.

“Maybe some will regret thoughts they have expressed or deeds they have done,” James concludes, “but in the early twenty-first century, we have witnessed some honest, fallible seekers after God” (227). With such a conclusion, this reviewer wholeheartedly concurs.