Wednesday, October 30, 2013

The Legacy of Vatican II: Another Scholarly Contribution

With sincerest thanks to my fellow editors, Chris and Mary Beth, and to all our contributors, I am pleased to announce that Fordham University Press have released Empowering the People of God: Catholic Action Before and After Vatican II. You can purchase it at the FUP website or on Amazon.

Update: 26 November 2013.

Fordham University Press Booth, American Academy of Religion, November 2013

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Heading North

 A view of the facade of Abbey House. The uniform appearance of this facade is mis-leading, as the remains of older buildings on the site have been incorporated into its construction.
Department of Theology and Religion (Abbey House)
University of Durham

I am pleased to announce that, as of October 1, 2013, I will begin an eleven-month term as as the Michael Ramsey Postdoctoral Fellow in Anglican Studies at the University of Durham. I will be working under the direction of the Van Mildert Canon Professor of Divinity, Mark McIntosh, devoting half of my time to assisting in the development both of the postgraduate and the postdoctoral elements of Anglican Studies and half to my own research.

As part of the terms of this appointment, it has been agreed that, during my tenure as fellow, my public involvement in controversial matters in the Anglican world will be in a personal capacity and will not be considered to reflect the views of Durham University, Durham Cathedral, the Department of Theology and Religion or the Michael Ramsey Programme in Anglican Studies. Any involvement in ongoing legal proceedings will be undertaken in a private capacity, in my own time, and will not involve use of Durham University or Durham Cathedral’s name or resources.

That said, it is my hope that the next year will provide many opportunities for developing a research framework for the program that devotes attention to all aspects of the Anglican world, High, Low and Broad, Global North and Global South. After all, the Twenty-First Century looks likely to be as interesting (in the Chinese sense) an era for Anglicans as was the Seventeenth.

Finally, and on a personal note, it will be a truly blessed opportunity to be working just a short walk from where my father lies buried, although I will not be working in Abbey House, where he had a room overlooking the Nine Altars (the east end of Durham Cathedral), but in 16 South Bailey, which was formerly the home of Michael Ramsey and his wife. Two generations in the same department. It has a nice ring.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Neutral Principles Rule!

There is no provision in TEC's Constitution or Canons which require prior approval of a diocesan constitution or its canons. There is no express prohibition against withdrawal of a diocese. In sum, reviewing the governing documents from a secular perspective, there is no explicit or clearly delineated expression of TEC's claim that the General Convention is the ultimate authority or judicatory of the Church. 

Tuesday, August 06, 2013

Crumbling Edifice: The Church Commissioners and the Decline of the Anglican Establishment

Review: Andrew Chandler, The Church of England in the Twentieth Century: The Church Commissioners and the Politics of Reform, 1948-1998 (Woodbridge, Suffolk: The Boydell Press, 2006).

On January 15, 1991, First Church Estates Commissioner Douglas Lovelock brought disturbing news to the bishops of the Church of England. After more than a decade of property speculation that had significantly increased the value of the investments of the Church Commissioners, the economic bubble had finally burst and the Church of England faced a need for drastic economic retrenchment. Almost overnight, a cacophony of protest erupted as Anglicans in the pews (and episcopal palaces) denounced the hubris of the Church Commissioners in so believing in their financial expertise as to squander long-term security for short-term gain.

Andrew Chandler's weighty tome on the fortunes the Church Commissioners represents a most valuable contribution to scholarship, with still relevant insights concerning the way in which ecclesiastical assets can and should be managed. Much of the value of The Church of England in the Twentieth Century derives from its reliance on the internal papers of the Church Commissioners, providing a window into the mindset of the relatively small group of men (and occasionally women) who set postwar fiscal policies that allowed the Church of England to establish adequate pay scales for its clergy and maintain church buildings that would otherwise have fallen into disrepair. Their correspondence throws an equally revealing light on the activities of Anglicans in the pews in the years following the Second World War. 

Formed in 1948 from the merger of the Ecclesiastical Commissioners (a corporation established by Parliament in 1836 to manage church estates and revenues) and Queen Anne's Bounty (a charity organized in 1704 to provide grants to poor benefices and loans for the repair of clergy houses), the Church Commissioners were one of the fruits of the twentieth century managerial revolution, and enjoyed the active support of Geoffrey Fisher, perhaps the last archbishop of Canterbury to take much interest in the institutional church. Chandler demonstrates the increasing detachment of future archbishops from the work of the Commissioners, typified in the lament of Archbishop Michael Ramsey to the then bishop of London in 1967. "One of the more godly laymen on the Board of Church Commissioners," he wrote, "has asked why the meetings do not begin with prayer. When I became Chairman I was informed that it was not their custom to have prayer and I followed the existing pattern. I must confess that at the time I sometimes used to feel the proceedings were so ungodly that the custom was just as well, but there is really no reason why this should be the only ecclesiastical body which does not pray at its meetings." (Michael Ramsey to Robert Stopford, 19 May, 1967, quoted on 150-151).

Ramsey's comments reflect the unease with which many churchmen contemplated (and still contemplate) the world of finance. The general lack of clerical experience in that arena (the present archbishop of Canterbury notwithstanding) coupled with the perception that markets were not renowned for respecting the dignity of the individual only accentuated the gulf between the guardians of the Church's purse and the shepherds of its souls. That said, the history of the Church Commissioners is in great measure a history of the postwar Church of England. Despite the relative autonomy granted by the Church of England Assembly (Powers) Act of 1919, the half century that followed attested to the enduring supremacy of Parliament (characterized most notably by the parliamentary rejection of a proposed revision of the Book of Common Prayer in 1928). The Church of England remained a national church, its clergy vested with responsibility for all within their pastoral cure, not merely those who identified as practising Anglicans, and its assets were intended to benefit the nation.

The early Commissioners, insists Chandler, bore the stamp of the era in which they were formed, "a pragmatic liberal bureaucracy; a brisk but humane enterprise set in motion by experienced and committed executors who understood their tasks sensibly, rationally, without the show of politics." (24) They were typified by Malcolm Trustram Eve, Third Estates Commissioner from 1952 to 1954 and First Estates Commissioner from 1954 to 1969. A seasoned industrialist (with interests in cement), Eve sustained and developed the policies adopted by the Church Commissioners in the late 1940s, that included an embrace of Stock Market transactions at the expense of the Church's earlier reliance on the purchase of government bonds, investment in commercial property and the reorganization and consolidation of the scattered agricultural holdings of the Church of England.

Such policies brought about a sea change in the relationship between the Church and those who continued to be its tenants, whether London householders or rural farmers. Particularly after the lifting of rent controls in London in the early 1950s, the Commissioners began to emphasize the income potential of their properties in the London districts of Maida Vale and Hyde Park (although they conceded the importance of affordable housing for their tenants in Paddington). Similar concerns reshaped relations with their farmer tenants, particularly after the suppression of the glebe as a mechanism binding the income from a specific piece of land to a particular incumbency. Agricultural land that failed to provide an assured source of revenue was now as likely to be sold as retained.

The transformations of the 1950s, though striking, were as nothing compared to the revolution of the era that followed. The success of investment in London commercial property during the 1960s and 1970s, encouraged the Commissioners to pursue more risky schemes a decade later. The lifting of exchange controls led to extensive investment in foreign property, both in the United States (especially California and Texas) and Japan, and by the early 1980s property accounted for two-thirds of their portfolio. The Commissioners also embarked upon a series of what Chandler terms economic "dreadnoughts," most notably shopping centres such as St. Enoch's in Glasgow and the Metrocentre in Gateshead. Sizable commercial loans (often without fixed interest rates) were secured from the high street banks, including a staggering £250 million line of credit from National Westminster Bank. With the hindsight of the past decade, the inevitability of a crash seems inescapable.

There was, however, another side to the story, one for which Archbishop Ramsey's earlier comment is revealing. Both the Church Assembly and its successor the General Synod responded to the Commissioners' early successes with requests for ever increasing levels of expenditure on clerical stipends, pensions and investment in bricks and mortar. The results of this collaboration between the Commissioners, the Church Assembly/General Synod, and the Dioceses were frequently beneficial but they were also costly. Few of the beneficiaries, whether parishes, clergy or bishops, seemed conscious that with increased costs come increased liabilities. The long drive to raise clerical stipends that culminated in the establishment of Central Stipends Authority in 1973 was accompanied by an unseemly degree of inter-diocesan strife over funding priorities. When the widening gap between assets and obligations toward clerical pensions became evident during the 1970s, the unwillingness of the General Synod to embrace a measure of fiscal restraint arguably set the Commissioners on the road to the speculative plunge of the 1980s. Dioceses and parishes were always quick to identify uses for new income but slow to propose sacrifices that might keep the budget in balance.

Chandler's narrative is replete with illuminating insights into the mind of the postwar Church that range from the debates surrounding the closing and consolidation of rural parishes to the bitter struggle over divestment from South Africa. Bishops, dioceses and cathedrals all receive attention, as do the financial ramifications of such intra-church matters as Faith in the City and the ordination of women. For an institutional history, the number of vignettes of local situations (the evoling of the debate over the sale of redundant churches first to Roman Catholics in 1950s and subsequently to Muslims and Sikhs in the 1970s and 1980s is particularly fascinating) is extensive. One will search in vain, however, for references to Honest to God or the "Durham Affair," there is little discussion of church-state relations prior to the cataclysm of 1991, and the wider Anglican Communion is conspicuous by its absence. Perhaps the most misleading feature of the book is its title, which might lead the casual reviewer to assume a comprehensiveness which is absent, but as a revelation of the workings of the institutional church, Chandler has provided something of enduring value. Anthony Trollope's Archdeacon Grantley would have understood the mindset of the Church Commissioners all too well, which perhaps adds poignancy to Chandler's ultimate conclusion:

The historian of the last fifty years is left only to wonder what the next fifty years will bring. Unless the societal patterns which have gathered such force in the later twentieth century are superseded by new ones which combine to benefit the cause of corporate Christianity, at some point decline must bite through the sinews of the body and into the structures, the very bones, which give it solid form and movement. Arguably it was the achievement of the Church Commissioners between 1948 and 1998 to maintain, by a steady, ongoing reform of particulars, the contours of an order and a method which might well have decayed and even collapsed in some areas without their efforts. Perhaps a future age will observe that their legacy was simply to hold back for a period of time a decline which was altogether too formidable to be halted by the Churches. (481-482)

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Beyond Concupiscence: A Funeral Homily

A Sermon on 2 Corinthians 4.16-5.4 and John 6.37-41 
by the Rev Dr Anthony Bash 
given at St Cuthbert’s Church, Durham, 10 June 2013 

I first met Gerald about seven years ago. Our meeting, characteristically, was at an 8am service of Holy Communion from the Book of Common Prayer, a service which Gerald loved and cherished.

Each year, the word ‘concupiscence’ comes up in one of the lectionary readings for that service of Holy Communion.

Once a clergyman read the lesson in which the word ‘concupiscence’ occurs. Gerald was serving, as usual. In the vestry after the service, the clergyman admitted to Gerald that he did not know the meaning of the word ‘concupiscence’. Gerald offered the clergyman a learned definition, setting it in its context in the thought of St Augustine. The clergyman went away the wiser. Later that same day, Gerald gave the clergyman a book and an article (both of which Gerald had written) that touched on St Augustine’s views about concupiscence.

I am that clergyman, in this very church, formerly ignorant of the meaning of the word ‘concupiscence’, and now much, much wiser for Gerald’s explanation.

For those of you who do not know what ‘concupiscence’ means, it is this. ‘Concupiscence’ refers to powerful feelings of physical desire, especially when set against the longings of the Spirit. Gerald himself wrote that, in St Augustine’s thought, ‘concupiscence’ means ‘general moral weakness’.

Given Gerald’s scholarly interests and his Christian faith, it is not surprising that today’s carefully chosen readings also point us to the Christian view of the human body, the flesh and blood which we inhabit. They also point us to the Christian view of the body’s weakness, of the body’s frailty and of the body’s tendency to compromise with what it knows it should do and be. Indeed, our first reading implicitly points to our tendency to concupiscence. This tendency is inevitable, because we are in the body, and so made of flesh and blood that are frail and tend to sin.

In our first reading, St Paul says we inhabit a ‘tent’ as our earthly home. In the tent, St Paul says we groan and are burdened. He mixes metaphors: the tent, he says, is ‘wasting away’ and ‘transient’. To use modern jargon that Gerald would eschew, that tent – our bodies – is time-limited and has built-in obsolescence. This is why we groan: our bodies are mortal. They will decay and fail. So we long, says St Paul, to be away from the body, not so that we can exist ‘naked’, as bodiless spirits, but (also as St Paul says) so that we may be ‘a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens’.

Gerald is now out of his earthly tent, in which he groaned and of which he was tired. St Paul would have us celebrate the guarantee of the new body that will be Gerald’s – and the new bodies that in due time will be ours too.

How do we know that a new body is not mere aspiration but both promised and guaranteed?

We know and can be sure, St Paul tells us, because, as God raised Jesus from the dead, so he will raise with him all those who by faith are his, that is, ‘in Christ’ and not ‘in Adam’. The events of the first Easter Sunday morning are the ground of our confidence that we will have resurrected bodies, and that we will live resurrected lives – with no groaning, no sighing, no obsolescence ... and no concupiscence.

Our second reading, from the Gospel of St John, also takes us to the human body. St John tells us that the resurrected body is eternal and it will be raised on the ‘last day’, which in the Gospel of St John is the Day of Judgment.

What is the resurrection body like? Is it a cleaned up version of the last vestiges of our human form? Will it be an old body that, like a car, has had a service and MOT, for example?

To keep the metaphor of a car, it will not be a reconditioned body. For, though we have continuity of identity in the life to come, there is discontinuity of form. St Paul in I Corinthians 15 puts it this way: the resurrected body was formerly sown as a perishable, physical body but it is raised, transformed, as a spiritual body. It is sown in weakness – with concupiscence! – but raised in glory.

This means that we will not be in heaven with our physical blemishes. Rather, though our identity remains the same and though we remain physical, our form will be radically discontinuous from what it is now.

St John tells us in the second reading that the ground of our certainty that these things are so lies in the will of God, undertaken and completed by Jesus through the Spirit. Everyone who believes in the Son – the Son who came from heaven to do the Father’s will – is kept safe for God and will be raised up with a new body on the Day of Judgment.

This is what we celebrate today. Not principally the life of a husband, father, grandfather and scholar. (After all, he left strict instructions that there should not be a eulogy or encomium at his funeral.) Rather, we celebrate the loving Father in whom he believed. We celebrate the Son who gave his life for all humanity. We celebrate the Spirit whose life and being are the essence of our resurrected bodies. Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

As we sang earlier, ‘God is Three, and God is One’. The Three and the One are our celebration today. They are our vision and hope, as they were Gerald’s, and as we sing in the last hymn. Thanks be to God.

Saturday, June 08, 2013

Gerald Bonner: A Life Well Lived

Gerald wrote in his will: I desire that I be buried according to the rites of the Book of Common Prayer of 1662 . . . with a celebration of the Holy Communion and without any eulogy or encomium though I ask for the prayers of my friends. His family wanted to do as he wished, but funerals are also for the living, and we want to celebrate all Gerald was and did, so we have put together this necessarily incomplete tribute.


He made you feel honored when he spoke to you, even when you felt you weren’t really deserving of such honour. The verdict of the last clergyman to minister to his spiritual needs embodies the life of Gerald Bonner, a life that transported him from the pre-World War II London borough of Haringey to a distinguished visiting professorship at the Catholic University of America in Washington DC.

The child of an ex-Indian Army officer and a London County Council primary schoolteacher, Gerald was called upon to take up responsibilities at an early age following the premature death of his father. His dedication to repaying the sacrifices of the mother who raised him and to caring for his younger brother Nigel stayed with him throughout his life and he held in high regard the person of Father Damien, the Roman Catholic priest who gave his life for the lepers of Molokai.

A scholarship boy at the Stationers School, he joined the Army in 1944 and saw postwar service with the King’s Dragoon Guards in Palestine. In 2011, when the uprising against Colonel Gadaffi was in its formative stages, he recalled how the troopship carrying him home had docked at a “one-camel hamlet” called Misuratah. After demobilization, he went up to Oxford for three years of study at Wadham College (1949-1952), which he often remarked would have been impossible without the university grant for ex-servicemen.

From Oxford, he entered into service at the British Museum, where he would serve as a keeper of manuscripts for over a decade. During these years he demonstrated a zeal for independent scholarship that led to the publication of his seminal study of St. Augustine of Hippo in 1963. He was also an enthusiastic participant in the work of the Fellowship of St. Alban and St. Sergius, building connections with prominent Anglican and Orthodox churchmen. He spoke regularly at the Fellowship’s annual conference, and was an irrepressible teller of anecdotes at the Entertainment on the final evening.

In the mid-1960s, at the instigation of Professor Hugh Turner, Gerald was invited to Durham to join the Theology Department, where he served as the resident historian among a group of theologians. For many years he carried the burden of teaching church history from the patristic era to the present day. He started courses on Augustine of Hippo, and also on St. Cuthbert and St. Bede, as he felt it wrong that, at that time, nobody in the Theology or History Departments was working academically on the two northern saints whose mortal remains lay in the Cathedral.

Gerald organised a conference on Bede in 1973, attended by around ninety scholars from many countries, and later edited the proceedings under the title Famulus Christi. Bede was also the subject of Gerald’s 1966 Jarrow Lecture, and of his Cathedral Lecture in 1970; more recently, he suggested, at the request of Canon Jones, the text to be put above Bede’s tomb. The guides tell us that this text is an inspiration to visitors and pilgrims at the Cathedral, some even making return visits to pay their devotion. In 1986, David Rollason, Clare Stancliffe and Gerald collaborated in organizing a conference on Cuthbert, and although Gerald felt that his own contribution to this was small, David has written very appreciatively of the help he gave.

Retiring early in order to guarantee that a successor would be appointed, he was granted a new lease of academic life with his selection as Distinguished Visiting Professor of Early Christian Studies at the Catholic University of America (1990-1994). Here he found a community that valued his gifts and students who represented an academic crème de la crème. CUA knew his calibre and set an appropriate value on it. Five years later, Villanova University (a Catholic institution near Philadelphia, where he had delivered an Augustinian lecture in 1970) offered him a semester’s teaching that proved equally rewarding.

He taught several summer schools at Nashotah House Seminary in Wisconsin, following in the footsteps of Michael Ramsey; and was an invited lecturer at academic institutions from Vancouver to Rome, with many places in between. His reputation as an international authority on Augustine was further demonstrated by requests to contribute so many articles to the mammoth Augustinus Lexikon, though he remarked that he was unlikely to be around when the article on Zosimus was needed!

Gerald’s book on Augustine has since been reprinted in paperback; and some of his many articles on Augustine, Bede, Cuthbert, and early church controversies, have been published as collected volumes. A further volume was planned, but his deteriorating health prevented this. He was very touched to be honoured with a Festschrift edited by Augustinian friends in Rome.

As well as his writing, Gerald was always generous with help and encouragement to students, colleagues and friends. A young Austrian scholar who was attempting to catalogue all the Augustinian manuscripts in English libraries found the task taking longer than expected. Gerald responded by spending several days in Salisbury Cathedral library that summer, and several at Holkham Hall in the depths of a very cold winter, to help out in the cataloguing. He welcomed all comers, and was only too glad to share information and insights; he was ‘given to hospitality,’ whether in welcoming new members of staff, entertaining visiting colleagues, or simply bringing old and new friends together for the pleasure of their company. Some will remember him enthusiastically stoking the bonfire and letting off fireworks at our annual bonfire party, whose participants ranged in age from ten weeks to their early nineties.

Gerald eschewed the combative enthusiasm of many Anglican conservatives, but he never allowed that to impede his deeply held convictions. He was deeply committed to upholding the sanctity of life, speaking and writing to that effect in the public arena. In 1994, after the narrow vote by the General Synod in favor of the ordination of women, he long agonised about his decision not to take up his seat in General Synod in order to accept an American professorship. Convinced of the unwisdom of a decision which might impede the reunification of Catholic Christendom, he had trouble accepting that his presence would not have changed the outcome.

He remained a devoted Anglican, being a regular worshipper both at the Cathedral and here at his parish church, where he was a Server at the early morning communion services until infirmity made this impossible. He was always ready to help in any way he could, and one year, when the then vicar was particularly overstretched, Gerald took the weekly service at the Low Newton Remand Centre, doing everything himself, taking the service, giving an address and playing the piano for the hymns.

Gerald was a man of deep learning and powerful convictions, who made it a point never to neglect contact with those he knew. He kept up a regular correspondence with family and friends and his letters were by turns entertaining and profound. In many ways a pessimist (a preoccupation with Augustine’s theology could hardly have made him anything else) and with a private side that even those closest to him could not touch, he nevertheless loved his wife, his children and grandchildren, and the many friends he made over a lifetime that saw his world change out of all recognition. If his loss is grievous to us all for a little while, those whose lives he touched have but to follow the example that he set for them.

He used to say that the Dies Irae, with its emphasis on sin and judgement, was the only suitable hymn for a funeral: but he touched many lives for good, and we pray that his sins may be forgiven and his love and kindness remembered. May he rest in peace, and may light perpetual shine upon him.


We would like to say how grateful we are to all the staff at Melbury Court, where Gerald spent the last five months of his life. They cared for him so well, and with such kindness and consideration, and gave such support to us as well. He couldn’t have been better looked after, and we are so grateful for all they did.


There have been so many loving tributes to him in the letters that we have received that we wish there was space to give them all: 

Gerald was always a gallant gentleman among academics, a link with a world that has passed I think, a world of high principle, courageous views, and scholarship untainted by the modern grab-every-opportunity-you-can. 

It is [Gerald’s] capacity for forgiveness and reconciliation that is above all etched on my mind whenever I think of him . . . [He] was a great-hearted man; just to think of him puts me in fuller touch with the sense of the love of God that is the foundation of life itself. 

I had many conversations with Gerald over the years, mostly on the road to and from St. Cuthbert’s, and invariably found him engaging company . . . I shall remember him as he was, with his good-humoured and ironic acceptance of the odd ways of the world. 

He was always such a good raconteur. We shall remember him as a lively and knowledgeable teacher who brought fun to the lecture room. 

Gerald was a great man and a great scholar. For me, he was a humbling inspiration to whom I owe more than I can say. 

Even though I was never a great fan of Augustine of Hippo, I received from Gerald warmth and encouragement for which I am ever grateful. I will look back fondly on his contribution to my life, a contribution that extended well beyond any immediate academic involvement. He was a wonderful scholar and a true mentor. 

[Gerald] was always so kind and encouraging to me in my academic work; and a good friend who will be much missed. 

Gerald was an enormously faithful friend over the years since Oxford days. There must be many, many people whom his friendship and goodness have touched. 

His life goes on through his immense scholarly achievement and the inspiration and care he gave to his students and postgraduates. I remember with special gratitude and affection his genial kindness to a very half-baked young librarian, when I first came to Durham, and his ready help with any enquiry. 

[He] took an interest in and had a kind word for “new hands” . . . What impresses me is not only Gerald’s own learning but also his humility and humanity – the work of a truly great scholar, to which his many publications bear eloquent testimony. 

One of my earliest memories, as a very small child, was Gerald giving me a model Rolls Royce, powered by batteries - an inspired gift that few would have made for a little girl in the 1950s. I went on to make model ships, build Bayco houses, and eventually drive a tank! I still have the atlas Gerald gave me on my twelfth birthday and although many countries have changed their names and boundaries, it is a much loved book and I use it frequently. 

He was a lovely man and will be dearly missed.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

In Memoriam: Gerald Bonner, 18 June 1926-22 May 2013

Thou Hast Made Us For Thyself And Our Heart Is Restless Until We Rest In Thee
(St. Augustine of Hippo, The Confessions, Book 1)

Yesterday, in his eighty-seventh year, my father Gerald Bonner passed to his heavenly reward surrounded by his loving family and in the City of Durham that had been his home for so many years. Funeral arrangements are pending.

Husband, Father, Friend and Scholar, he has touched the lives of many, both in Europe and North America.

His earthly journey has ended but his reception among the Redeemed (while observing all the Anglican proprieties) will be a joyful one.

Requiescat In Pace    

I Have Fought The Good Fight, I Have Finished The Race, I Have Kept The Faith
(St. Paul, Second Epistle to Timothy, 4:7)

Friday, May 17, 2013

The Office: The Moral Subtext

The Office ended yesterday and while there were wonderful moments throughout "No Place like the Office," the closing sequence was surprisingly moving, from Andy's lament: I wish there was a way to know you're in the "good old days" before you've actually left them, to Creed's philosophic: No matter how you get there or where you end up, human beings have this miraculous gift to make their place home.

The best, however, was saved for last and (appropriately) for Pam: There's a lot of beauty in ordinary things. Isn't that kind of the point? Could this be the reason why The Office struck such a chord in a decade so racked by political polarization and anomie? Far from being larger than life, the characters of The Office were all too human. For all their foibles and flaws, ordinary people living humdrum lives showed a degree of loyalty and commitment to fellow members of their community that compared favorably with the world at large.

The undoubted humor of The Office frequently obscured its moral subtext, yet in "No Place like the Office" the viewer was reminded of its importance.

Well worth watching in its entirety, the final sequence appears below.

NBC no longer provides a link, but there is a Youtube version here.

Thursday, May 09, 2013

Observations of the Quincy Trial, April 2013

Now that proceedings are concluded, I wish to share such portions of the transcript as are currently available. Reading what I actually said is a salutary reminder of how new the adversarial process is to me; it's far removed even from a stormy academic debate.

First we have Allan Haley's attempt - on behalf of the Diocese of Quincy (ACNA) - to set the history of TEC in a broad context on April 9:

Then we have Mary Kostel's cross-examination on behalf of TEC on April 10:

Finally we have a most intriguing report by Mike Romkey of my academic counterpart, Dr. Robert Bruce Mullin, on the stand on April 30:

Chatting during recess, Father Stone remarked that Mullin was a formidable witness he would not want to take on in court. As Runyan began his cross-examination of Mullin, it became evident that it would be equally uncomfortable to be in the witness chair with the South Carolina lawyer asking questions.

Runyan wore a black suit with a red power tie. He looked directly at the witness and often smiled as he asked detailed questions that tended to present lots of detailed information before asking Mullin whether he agreed or disagreed, or whether in his estimation a statement was true or false. His questioning tended to work around the edges of issues, gradually accumulating information that would lead to an overall conclusion. He worked to bring the witness along with him, following Mullin's answers by remarking, "All right," or "OK then," before going on with his next question. Runyan started off quizzing Mullin on how much money TEC had paid him for expert testimony. Was accurate, Runyan asked, to say that TEC had paid Mullin nearly $900,000 for testimony going back to 2007. Mullin said it was. Mullin said he has an arrangement to be paid $15,000 per month to even out the payments.

Runyan asked Mullin about his practice of annotating bills to keep track of on what he had spent research time. Runyan then put up a slide showing Mullin's billing for his research into the matter of Episcopal Church hierarchy. The billing was concentrated in two years after Mullin became TEC's expert witness. Runyan asked if the slide showing when Mullin's researched focused on hierarchy was accurate. Mullin told Runyan the slide looked about right.

Had Mullin published any peer-reviewed papers on Episcopal Church hierarchy?

Mullin told Runyan nothing he has written on the subject has been published yet.

Runyan asked if the audience for Mullin's research and writings on church hierarchy had been mainly lawyers and judges?

Mullin said yes, that was case.

Runyan knew Mullin's testimony and affidavit in detail, and in the course of Runyan's questioning, Mullin corrected, amended or qualified several points.

Runyan put up slides quoting constitutions from the Roman Catholic and a protestant church, each containing language explicitly stating those churches' hierarchal natures. He asked Mullin why such language wasn't in the Episcopal constitution.

Mullin said such language wasn't present because it was the accepted sense of things.

Runyan asked Mullin about the word "accession" and what it means.

Mullin said that when individual dioceses acceded to the greater Episcopal Church, they ceded the power to later decide to be independent. The dioceses had the power to act independently while forming a union, but once that association was made, it was permanent.

Runyon asked Mullin what TEC acceding to an international Anglican communion organization implied. It was a different kind of accession, Mullin said, one that did not imply TEC surrendering authority.

Runyan recounted Mullin testimony saying that his survey of 19th century commentary provided "an unequivocal and unanimous view of the hierarchical nature of the church and a lack of independence of its dioceses." With a smile, Runyan said that kind of statement was like waving a red flag in front of a lawyer. He then presented a series of slides from 19th century Episcopal sources that seemed to contradict Mullin.

"Furthermore, each diocese is absolutely independent," one said. Another from 1883 said "certain limited powers" were given to the national church, "leaving the respective dioceses independent as to all matters which concern dioceses only."

Mullin took issue with each statement for a variety of reasons, saying one didn't qualify as commentary, and that others were exaggerations or misrepresentations of what the author intended to say.

Testimony was expected to continue through the week with the possibility things will be prolonged for written and oral arguments over the discovery issues that came up Tuesday. After that, it will be up to Judge Ortbal to sift through evidence and write a decision. It does not appear it will be an easy case to call. The two sides are diametrically opposed in their positions, and each time the one side introduces an opinion represented to be factual, true and probative, the other side introduces evidence to contradict it or throw it into doubt.

As Judge Ortbal said at one point with certain resignation while ruling on an objection, "This trial has been nothing but opinions."

Read the whole thing at Virtueonline.

Monday, April 29, 2013

A Thought to Ponder

I’m not your average pew sitter—which is what makes up the vast majority of those in congregations: people who have a few unfirm opinions, aren’t all that active, certainly aren’t pushing their beliefs one way or the other, and are fairly non-committal and passive.  Most people haven’t thought a whole lot about a lot of things, haven’t troubled to inform themselves, and don’t particularly care.

In short—the way “most human beings” are about most things. That’s not a “bad” thing either—it’s just the way human beings are.

Once, however, you’ve studied, experienced, thought, formed groups, and generally made some very firm decisions—and acted upon them consistently over the years and decades—you’re in a new and very different category—that of the activist.

Those people—and again, I include me in that group—are very very solidified in their beliefs.  Their lifestyles, values, actions, thoughts, emotions, beliefs, world views, are all aligned and in congruence.  They’re not “fly by night” and you’re not going to read them a verse in Scripture or quote something from Augustine that will make them slap their foreheads and say “goodness, I never thought of that!”  Further, since they don’t share the same most basic of definitions of key theological concepts, you’re not even actually “communicating” when you *do* share a verse in Scripture or a passage from Augustine.  We really are not even playing the same game, much less on the same playing field.

Once someone has reached that point about certain issues, and even more about fundamental and foundational world views, it will take far far far more than rhetoric to change one’s mind or heart.  It will take something akin to a large bundle of dynamite—in short, an “act of conversion.” 

Over the years I've frequently disagreed with Sarah Hey (for it is she), but her comment appended to a post orginally authored by her on Stand Firm does wonderfully illustrate the notion of liberal Protestantism's "different Gospel," which conservative Anglicans have been endeavoring to critique since the 1990s (if not before). My first thought, however, is whether the average pew-sitter in ACNA is any more of an activist than his or her counterpart in TEC, and if not, why not?       

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Anglicanism Future: Church of the Incarnation, Pittsburgh

Last week, I was on the stand in Quincy, Illinois, testifying to the condition of Anglicanism past; on April 13, I listened enthralled to Bishop FitzSimons Allison (a sprightly eighty-nine year old retired bishop of South Carolina) on the Scylla and Charybdis of Anglicanism present; and on April 14, I observed the state of Anglicanism future, as manifested at Pittsburgh’s Church of the Incarnation. While my focus here is on Church of the Incarnation, Bishop Allison’s remarks threw Sunday’s worship experience into sharp relief.


In 2011, when Trinity Cathedral withdrew from its earlier commitment to dual membership in both the TEC and ACNA dioceses, a significant section of the congregation felt unable to remain. Initially meeting as a house church, Incarnation’s founders – foremost among them, Fathers Paul Johnston and H. Lawrence “Laurie” Thompson and their wives Sharon and Mary – worked to assemble the necessary mission structures even as they searched for a suitable building for Sunday worship. Initially, the mission explored possible sites in the Johnstons’ neighborhood of Squirrel Hill and Pittsburgh’s downtown community (known as the Golden Triangle), but without success. Instead, there came an entirely unexpected offer from the owners of Bar Marco, an upscale wine bar located in a former firehouse in Pittsburgh’s Strip District. The upper level of the firehouse, then used for art exhibitions, would be available on Sundays after 3:00 PM (when Bar Marco closes for the day). To Incarnation’s leaders, it seemed an answer to a prayer.

To see this former firehouse for the first time dramatically alters one’s perspective on the nature of liturgical space. As with most missions, the weekly need to set out congregational seating and vest a table (purchased from IKEA) to serve as an altar helps emphasize the priority of the Body of Christ over the church building as sacred space set apart from the world (while there may be a spiritual downside to this, it is the nature of this community). The room itself is long and rectangular approached by two rear staircases one rising from the bar and the other from the rear kitchen. Above the congregation looms an impressive cast tin roof installed in a less utilitarian age when form mattered as much as function (even for the emergency services). At the west end (the liturgist may deplore it, but Church of the Incarnation celebrates the Eucharist at the West End) are three large glass windows looking out onto the Strip. In a reminder that worldly and sacred space intersect at Incarnation, the art on exhibition remains in place (except for one painting temporarily taken down to accommodate the Cross), but Incarnation also proudly celebrates its own individually crafted Paschal Candle (the work of Suzanne Trenney).

Incarnation is a church of artists and musicians, actors and dance professionals, and even an architect who is presently working on developing movable screens to make best use of the temporary space. Many of Father Johnston's students (he teaches music at Carnegie Mellon University) have blessed Incarnation with their professional skills (last Sunday’s worship, for example, featured a euphonium quartet) and the congregation boasts a portable keyboard – acquired by Father Johnston – with a musical character much closer to an organ than one might expect. It is also privileged to have two seminary professors – Laurie Thompson and John Macdonald of Trinity School for Ministry in Ambridge – and a professor emerita of English literature at Geneva College – Ann Paton – providing pastoral support. Such personnel advantages are, however, no substitute for congregational participation and in that Incarnation is well supplied, from the choral team to the altar guild and hospitality ministry. Other ministry teams are already being planned, since the possibility of burnout increases exponentially with a congregation that has no institutional footprint.

For a congregation whose average Sunday attendance has been steadily rising in the past year (more than sixty were in attendance on Sunday) the setting presents a truly different perspective on evangelism. If it is not Anglo-Catholic, neither is it the archetypical Evangelical mission. Tradition, in its broadest sense, and the confluence of spirituality and the arts both matter. The world is literally just a staircase away. The communicant approaching the altar is greeted not by stained glass windows that shield the Body of Christ from the World, but clear glass opening onto the somewhat grubby reality of an urban commercial district. That reality is also the mission field and those receiving the Sacrament also receive an emphatic reminder of the end to which the Eucharist is intended.

No mission – like no human being – will ever get everything right, but it’s hard to fault Incarnation on the essentials. Much remains to be done, not least the manner in which the congregation will actively relate to its secular neighbors, but to be present is to see twenty-first century Anglicanism in action. If you live in Pittsburgh, pay them a visit. I can guarantee you won’t be disappointed.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Public Opinion Nailed Me to the Cross

Don Camillo threw out his arms impatiently."Lord, I'm only telling you what I hear. People . . ." "'People?' What does that mean? 'People' as a whole are never going to get into Heaven. God judges 'people' individually and not in the mass. There are no 'group' sins, but only personal ones, and there is no collective soul. Each man's birth and death is a personal affair, and God gives each one of us separate consideration. It's all wrong for a man to let his personal concience be swallowed up by collective responsibility." Don Camillo lowered his head. "But, Lord, public opinion has some value . . ." "I know that, Don Camillo. Public opinion nailed Me to the Cross."
Giovanni Guareschi, Don Camillo's Dilemma (1954), 156-157

Saturday, March 09, 2013

Is TitusOneNine Changing?

June 12, 2013: I no longer appear to have a problem posting, but since this incident did occur, I intend to keep this entry public. I never heard directly from Kendall (whose daily e-mail count is probably off the charts) or the Elves (which I'm less inclined to overlook), but there you are. 

A frequent charge of conservative Anglicans (and conservatives generally) is that their views are silenced in the mainstream media and on liberal blogs through forms of moderation that edit out dissident voices. Such a charge almost certainly has a degree of truth. At the same time, conservatives insist that their own blogosphere is open to all, although that does not mean that liberal comments will not be challenged vigorously.

It therefore has come as something of a shock to me to discover something of that selective moderation at work on one of the most respected of conservative Anglican blogging sites, TitusOneNine (T19), which is operated by Canon Kendall Harmon of the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina. For almost a decade, Harmon has maintained one of the most frequented sites in the Anglican blogosphere, with an interesting mix of religious and secular news items. Two features of the blog stand out: there is very little commentary (and, indeed, very little material from the host himself) and the commentators hail from across the political and theological spectrum.

Since 2006, I have been a frequent reader of T19 and have posted many comments (1,112 at last count). For an independent scholar without day-to-day interaction with colleagues, joining such discussions has been a great solace. I have also had the privilege of several links to my own blog, particularly my reports for Pittsburgh's diocesan conventions from 2006 to 2011, which has certainly given my jottings a profile they would otherwise not have enjoyed. The general approach to commenting has been that comments were not pre-screened, except in certain cases where Canon Harmon deemed passions would run high.

To assist what had become a major operation, Canon Harmon recruited a number of assistants (dubbed Elves) to manage the system, monitor comments and occasionally delete those that had strayed off-topic or become needlessly personal. From time to time, an Elf has posted an article on their own account, but the lion's share of selections were Canon Harmon's and his alone. Recently, Canon Harmon elected for family reasons to reduce his presence on the blog, turning over more responsibility to the Elves. It is under these circumstances that I experienced what I feel is a change in tenor at T19.

In an entry on February 7, the Elves provided a link to the "Statement on the conclusion of the meeting of the [English] House of Bishops," which they headlined CofE: House of Bishops ignores General Synod. I added a comment pointing out, as Canon Harmon was wont to do on such occasions, that the T19 headline was not the one in the original and that using it conveyed a misleading impression of what the report actually said. I don't think the House of Bishops covered themselves with glory on this occasion, but I did feel that the former standard of T19 should not be sacrificed. As you will observe, my comment was deleted without explanation. I wrote an email both to the Elves and Canon Harmon on February 8 as follows:

I have to say that I consider the failure to offer an explanation for my deleted comment (and then to delete a follow-up comment) a profound discourtesy. I have been a participant (and a linked contributor) on these boards for some years and have always endeavored to uphold the standards that Kendall+ seeks to maintain.

The Elves have frequently failed to police comments that were much less charitable, perhaps because they reflected their own ecclesio-political biases. I'm unclear why, simply because I call into question an Elf's choice of headline, that should be grounds for removal.

Kendall+, Ultimately it's your blog, but I must say I expected better. 

Answer came there none.

On March 8, the Elves posted a link entitled TEC Witness Intimidation Process Concluded. The link was to the report on the "conciliation process" for those TEC bishops who signed the amicus curiae briefs in Quincy and Fort Worth. This particular saga is one that none of us can feel happy about, but again I thought it inappropriate not at least to reference Cheryl Wetzel's original headline. This time my comment was not deleted because it never appeared. When I posted, I was informed that my comment was being moderated. Unlike Canon Harmon, who always stated that he would take comments by e-mail when he moderated a post, the system is now set up to do it automatically. Just for me, for taking liberties with Elvish prerogatives, or for everyone? I've no idea, but I can guess.

I therefore wrote another e-mail as follows:

My comment on "TEC Witness Intimidation Process Concluded" received notification that it was being moderated for approval. Is this a new policy for all posts on T19 or just ones posted by the Elves? I ask because up to now moderation has been retroactive.

The last time I was moderated it was simply for pointing out that the partisan headline that the Elves employed was not the original one (something that Kendall invariably did when he modified a headline). To me this is important because the whole value of T19 is that, despite its conservative credentials, it tends to post news items without partisan commentary, except where a specific theological issue has to be clarified.

If the Elves start to post material in the manner of Stand Firm, T19 will cease to be read critically across the spectrum, which to my mind, as a historian, would be a loss.

No one ever responded when I asked about my last moderation, which I thought unusually discourteous. If somebody could take the time to respond to this, I would be grateful.

Is comment moderation now the norm and, if so, what criteria are being used to exclude comments and is Kendall aware of this approach? If it's peculiar to me, why is simply pointing out a fact judged so heinous as to merit exclusion? While I certainly wouldn't claim to be the most learned poster, I think my views are not wholly irrelevant to the matters under discussion. After all, several of my blog posts have been made publicly available by Kendall over the years. 

No answer as yet, but several new comments on that post since I was moderated, all employing the same kind of partisan language. I hate to think that T19 is moving away from its former commitment to being an open forum but it's hard not to view such an experience in this light. There's a place for blogs like Stand Firm, which make no secret of their position (and have never moderated me for my dissent), but T19 is, or was, different. If what I wrote is all it takes to get one proscribed today, then T19 will cease to be the resource it once was. And that will be a loss both to the Diocese of South Carolina and the Anglican Communion.

Update, March 10: Comment moderation is still in place. I wait with anticipation to see if the Elves will post my comment on Edward King, Bishop of Lincoln, here. Further Update, March 10: It looks like I'm banned, since I can't really see why a link to historical documents at Project Canterbury shouldn't be posted. I remain bemused by it all and will miss being part of the conversation.

Update, March 11: The link to Bishop King has now appeared; perhaps an oversight on somebody's part. I hope so. I also hope that automatic moderation has been lifted, as losing the discursive element of T19 would be a sad loss. Though sadly one doesn't see the same extent of in-depth discussion as was once the case.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

The Hinge of History: Henry Tandey and Adolf Hitler

Not exactly a religious story, but one of those haunting moments that illustrate the possible consequences of human foreknowledge:

Tandey was haunted the remainder of his life by his good deed, the simple squeeze of a trigger would have spared the world a catastrophe which cost tens of millions of lives.  He was living in Coventry when the Luftwaffe destroyed the city in 1940, sheltered in a doorway as the building he was in crumbled and city burned like a scene from Dante's Inferno. He was also in London during the Blitz and experienced that atrocity first hand, he told a journalist in 1940, "if only I had known what he would turn out to be.  When I saw all the people, woman and children he had killed and wounded I was sorry to God I let him go".

As Kendall Harmon would say, read it all.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

From Glittering Images to Absolute Truths: Susan Howatch's Starbridge Sextet

Lent seems the perfect time to reflect upon the ecclesiastical novel.

Church-centred fiction frequently has difficulty resolving the Christian dilemma of being "in the world and yet not of it." If an ecclesiastical novel confines itself to the life of the Church, it risks alienating the reader unfamiliar with—or even antipathetic to—matters considered "churchy." If, on the other hand, it engages excessively with the Church in the world, it risks creating a narrative in which all consideration of the transcendent is sacrificed and the ecclesiastical environment becomes merely a setting for characters shorn of heavenly aspiration. Fortunately, there are novelists capable of transcending such conflicts and Susan Howatch is certainly among their number.

Howatch's Starbridge Sextet was published over a period of seven years, the last—and arguably the finest—Absolute Truths, appearing in 1994. Like Anthony Trollope, her setting is a Cathedral community in southern England (Howatch wrote in the shadow of Salisbury Cathedral). As with Trollope, the conflict between the Bishop and the Dean of the Cathedral forms the central dynamic of the final three novels, but unlike Trollope, the reader is never presented with a cast in which hero and villain are easily identifiable (there are no Obadiah Slopes or Francis Arabins). Indeed, Howatch's twin preoccupations are human fallibility and the necessity of a life transformed by divine grace. Furthermore, although these are novels that focus upon the lives of men engaged in the business of the Church, they are set in the context of a turbulent Great Britain passing from the horrors of economic depression and global conflict of the late 1930s to the cultural unravelling of the late 1960s, when crisis theology or the "new morality" still had meaning beyond the portals of the seminary. In an age when the observations of most bishops of the Church of England evoke little interest even among church-going Anglicans (never mind the wider public), it is well to be reminded of an age when the pronouncements of a George Bell or a John Robinson had the capacity to excite public interest.

Another ingenious feature of the sextet is that while it follows a chronological progression, it also reflects a re-telling of a common story from different angles, most notably those of the three principal characters, Charles Ashworth (Cambridge don and later Bishop of Starbridge), narrator of Glittering Images (1987) and Absolute Truths (1994); Jon Darrow (a member of an Anglican religious order released from his vows to function as a laicized spiritual director), narrator of Glamorous Powers (1988); and Neville Aysgarth (Archdeacon of Starbridge and later Dean of Starbridge Cathedral), narrator of Ultimate Prizes (1989). Outside perspectives are also provided by Aysgath's erstwhile lover Venetia Flaxton, narrator of Scandalous Risks (1990) and Darrow's son Nicholas, narrator of Mystical Paths (1992), though neither novel has, in my opinion, quite the power of the other four.

Howatch's three principal characters—while unquestionably individuals—also serve as theological "types." At one extreme we find Jon Darrow, representative of the Anglo Catholic party at its zenith but also of a mystical tradition that is, as the character acknowledges at one point, beyond parties. At the other pole is the liberal Protestant modernist, Neville Aysgarth, whose disdain for the trappings of ritualism is never far from the surface. Between the two, we find Charles Ashworth, a Prayer Book high churchman increasingly dedicated to resisting the tides of modernity sweeping through the Church of England. Such single sentence summaries do less than justice to the complexity of the characters involved, however, for Howatch displays an enviable skill in exploring both their strengths and their weaknesses. Such a narrative, rendered all the more effective by the fact that it is generally the character that testifies against himself, articulates with resounding force the messages of Sin and Redemption, Incarnation and Atonement, Good Friday and Easter that amplify the limitations of the human condition.

Subsequent posts will explore the principal features of each novel in detail and will be linked to this introduction. It might seem strange to propose such literature for Lenten reading, yet I would personally recommend Absolute Truths (although it is the final part of the sextet, and the penultimate chronologically, it is not necessary to have read the others to appreciate it) as an example of the depths from which a Christian can recover and a reminder that "failure" is as much a part of the human condition for the clerical order as for that of the laity.

Monday, February 11, 2013

The Papal Resignation

It seems only fitting to note today's indication by Pope Benedict XVI of his intention to retire on February 28. The last such resignation was by Gregory XII in 1415, in an effort to end the Western Schism, while the resignation most comparable with today's announcement is that of Celestine V in 1294. While no one expected the current primacy to match that of John Paul II, it's still a remarkable occurrence and the prospect of a Pope who hails from the Global South must now surely increase, though whether from Africa or Asia remains to be seen.

Wednesday, January 09, 2013

New Orleans Panel on Catholic Action

Our panel at the American Catholic Historical Association in New Orleans, January 2013.

L to R: Patrick Hayes (Archivist, Redemptorist Fathers, Baltimore Province), Elizabeth Duclos-Orsello (Salem State University), Christopher Denny (St. John's University), Mary Beth Fraser Connolly (Lily Fellows Program, Valparaiso University), Leslie Tentler (Catholic University of America), Mary Elizabeth Brown (Archivist, Marymount Manhattan College)