Sunday, December 30, 2007

The Church for Everyone

Fr. Tony Clavier is the interim priest of a parish in West Virgina.

I commend one of his recent posts, Grumpy Thoughts Before the New Year, for his interesting take on how both "sides" in the current "crisis" are failing to represent an authentic Anglicanism.

Where I am, there used to be eleven Anglican parishes in town - five of them "north of the tracks." Today, there are seven, and only the parish where I serve as interim priest remains "north of the tracks." In the rural parts of our diocese, congregations close and rural parishes become geographically larger.

These trends aren't new. When my bishop introduced me to Dr. Runcie during his visit to Canada in the early '80s, it was noted that my parish was geographically larger than either province of the Church of England.

How do we be the Church for everyone?

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Searching for the Christ Child

The title isn't quite so allegorical as you think. We actually spent about ten minutes before the Christmas Eve service desperately seeking the Baby Jesus for the main creche at the parish where I serve as interim priest.

It is actually a very interesting creche, set up inside the altar itself. A simple wooden chevron suggests the stable, while the remaining figures stand on black satin.

It was already in place on Sunday last. Actually in the Sunday before last as we compromised the calendar in the interest of the children's pageant. But Sunday last the creche had only its minimalist roof, one ox and one ass. Mary and Joseph were not far away - standing on the altar pavement - but they hadn't arrived yet. The shepherds weren't there yet either, out tending their sheep on the edge of the pulpit. And the magi were in the middle of the aisle at the back of the church, still some ways away.

Tonight, Mary and Joseph, and after some panicked moments, the Baby Jesus, were all installed in their places. The shepherds were "summoned to his stable" during the gradual hymn. And the magi were now half way up the aisle - accompanied by a helpful "Mind the Camels" sign prepared by my good wife.

It was a good celebration in a community which seems increasingly hopeful and future oriented. And generally united. There is no parish on earth that doesn't have some divisions and tensions. But this little parish seem quite determined to be a family together.

I contrast this with reports out of St. Nicholas Church in Atwater, California. This is a mission in the Diocese of San Joaquin - a mission where priest and people seem determined to remain part of the Episcopal Church. Perhaps they are geographical fundamentalists like me, and refuse to believe that their part of California is now in South America. In any event, what happened there on Sunday morning is beyond sad - and parts of it beyond bizarre. I'll let you read it for yourself. The link provides further links to several different eye witness accounts.

We found Jesus tonight at St. James - literally, allegorically and eucharistically. We all came to the same table, together. That is where we belong in worship - at the same table, together.

Monday, December 17, 2007

+Rowan Overreaches

The Archbishop of Canterbury has released an Advent Letter to the Primates. As noted at Anglicans Online, "[n]one of our diplomas, certificates and degrees included training in Cantuarese, so we are not ourselves completely certain what they mean."

+Rowan is not always noted for his clarity - not an uncommon problem for those who are a) highly intellectual and b) attempting to be very precise and highly nuanced.

Overall, I think his grace does a reasonable job of laying out what the current situation is in the Anglican Communion. He suggests that the North Americans may have strayed too far, but declines to call us apostates. He is pretty clear that the Global South creation of episcopi vagantes has been inappropriate and generally writes off their extra-provincial incursions.

Overall, he manages to offend all sides a little - which may not be a bad thing.

But one bit quite gets my back up. Referring to the invitations which have been issued for the Lambeth Conference next summer, +Rowan says:

". . . acceptance of the invitation must be taken as implying willingness to work with those aspects of the Conference's agenda that relate to implementing the recommendations of Windsor, including the development of a Covenant. " [Italics as per the original.]

I beg your pardon?

The Windsor Report PROPOSED an Anglican Covenant as a possible way forward. Many and sundry people have objected to the initial draft coming out of the hopelessly compromised Covenant Design Group. (The chair of that group, far from seeking to be fair or impartial, has taken a leading role in the ecclesiastical incursions which +Rowan expressly rejects in this letter.)

It seems that +Rowan now believes that the matter of whether there should be a covenant or not is no longer a fit subject for discussion. "Support the creation of a Covenant or you will not be allowed to attend," he appears to be saying.

With all due respect, your grace, there are a number of Anglicans - this simple massing priest included - who see no benefit to a Covenant. Indeed, I consider it nothing more than a bit of well-intentioned stupidity.

As noted in a post below, Anglicans meet together. If we are prepared to meet, no Covenant is required. If we refuse to meet, no Covenant will help.

Historically, the test for admission to Lambeth has been that one must be an Anglican bishop with jurisdiction. The only exception I am aware of was regarding certain Rwandan bishops who were deemed to have abandoned their sees after the genocide.

+Rowan had already added another condition - that one not be controversial. This allowed him to ignore the duly elected, consecrated and installed Bishop of New Hampshire, as well as the more odious Bishop of Harare.

Now he has begun to add political tests. Does one support this particular policy proposal.

The extremists want a Covenant that will allow them to expel dissenters and will ascribe curial authority to the Primates. I cannot believe that any authentic Anglican wants that sort of Covenant.

This Anglican is not persuaded that the case has been made for any Covenant at all.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

My God is Big Enough

As part of preparing for a radio appearance on Monday, I went to see the new movie, The Golden Compass. The movie, and the fantasy series on which it is based, have become controversial among some Christians. The author, Philip Pullman, is an atheist, you see. His critics claim his books are an attempt to lead children away from Christianity.

The movie is set in an alternate world where worldly authority is exercised by the Magisterium, who do not appear to be very nice at all. Given that the Roman Catholic Church refers to the Church's teaching office as "the magistetrium," it is hard to deny that there is some dig at the world's largest Christian denomination. Likewise the depiction of the Magisterium's headquarters in a northern city - clearly a Church with recognizable icons on the outside walls.

Well, Philip Pullman is, by his own admission, an atheist. The sometimes to heavy imagery of his story certainly seems to be a criticism of the authoritarianism of religion - and possibly of the Roman Catholic Church in particular. And, in what might be his greatest sin in the eyes of many conservative Christians, he says he doesn't much like the C.S. Lewis Narnia books.

But is there some sort of threat to religion in Pullman's popular series, or in this movie?

Seems to me the story, while entertaining, is hardly new. A few freedom loving individuals engage in a struggle against a dark, oppressive authoritarian cabal. It could be Narnia. It could be Lord of the Rings. It could be Harry Potter. It could be Star Wars. It could be any one of several dozen expressions of this same meta-narrative.

Mrs. Coulter (the villainess so subtly played by Nicole Kidman) is a rough parallel of Narnia's Winter Queen, of Saruman, of Lucius Malfoy, of Darth Vader. She is not the supreme evil, but she is its principle visible agent. Lyra, by logical turn, parallels Luke Skywalker, Harry Potter, Frodo Baggins, or the children who stumble through the wardrobe. She is the child or child-like hero who brings about the final salvific event.

Yes, Pullman's symbolism is sometimes heavy-handed. Mind you, so was Jack Lewis's. Heavy-handedness is not the worst sin in a storyteller.

But is the message of this film a threat to religion?

Does it threaten faith to say, with Lord Acton, that power corrupts?

As a Christian, I believe in a God who, having become a human being, found himself in constant conflict with the religious authorities of his day. To the point that they conspired with the secular authorities to have him killed. Those who have gone before me in this faith include innumerable first and second century Christians who were executed on the charge of atheism because they were in conflict with the religious establishment of their day.

Institutions become oppressive out of fear. Fear of losing their power. Fear that their authority is a lie and that any challenge will cause it all to unravel. The religious and secular authorities of Jesus's day were afraid of him. The religious and secular authorities were afraid of the first generations of Christians. The medieval church was afraid of Martin Luther. The Winter Queen was afraid of Aslan. Sauron was afraid of the band of hobbits. Voldemort was afraid of Harry. The Emperor was afraid of Luke Skywalker.

But, somehow, I cannot bring myself to believe that my God is afraid of Philip Pullman.

If your faith is threatened by The Golden Compass, I urge you pray for a stronger faith.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Arbitrary Geography

One of two things happened in Fresno today.

If you are a "conservative," then Fresno, California and the surrounding five counties became, canonically, part of the southernest bit of South America.

If you are not a "conservative" (for example, if you are a mainstream conservative - see below my explanation about the quotation marks), then the Episcopal Bishop of San Joaquin has abandoned the ministry of the Episcopal Church, taking a majority of the diocesan clergy and some not insignificant number of lay people of the diocese with him.

I'm a bit of a geographical fundamentalist. Fresno, California and the surrounding five counties are in (oddly enough) in California. They are manifestly not in Chile, Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay or Peru.

Therefore, I believe the second option.

Some "conservatives" will view today's events as a victory.

I fail to see how any authentic Christian - even an authentically conservative Christian - can view them as anything but a tragedy.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Conservatives and "Conservatives"

I've explained by usage elsewhere, but I should probably explain it here.

I make a distinction between conservatives (sans quotation marks) and "conservatives" (avec quotation marks).

In the former grouping, I include people like the recently decamped Bishop of Rio Grande, whose departure from the Episcopal Church to the gentle embrace of Rome was done quickly, cleanly and with every effort to minimize the disruption to the Episcopal Church and the Diocese of Rio Grande. I include the Bishop of Central Florida, who, while deeply distressed and constantly opposed to matters within the common life of his Church which he believes to be contrary to the Gospel, has publicly indicated that, until such time as he may choose to leave the Episcopal Church, he will defend the institutional integrity of the denomination in accordance with the vows that he has made - and that should he choose personally to depart, he will not purport to be taking his diocese with him.

In the latter, I would include those who, it seems to me, have been using the present (and largely manufactured) crisis to advance their own aggrandizement. I would include an assortment of Global South Primates who pick and choose which bits of the Windsor Report or of Lambeth resolutions are authoritative, demanding that all others comply to the bits they like while feeling no compunction about ignoring the bits they don't. I would likewise include those whose claim against the Episcopal Church (and more recently the Anglican Church of Canada) have been little more than broad brush slanders against anyone who disagrees with them, with accusations of assorted heresies randomly tossed about based on no evidence whatsoever.

In short, my distinction between conservatives and "conservatives" broadly mirrors a distinction made among those on "that side" of the argument between "Communion conservatives" (those who will express their conservatism in the context of existing structures) and "Realignment conservatives" (who seek to overthrow the structures willy-nilly, rebuilding them to their own liking).

From where I sit, the former position has integrity. The latter has none.

Notionally, I would posit the same distinction between liberals and "liberals," but I don't find I need to make that one all that often.

And apart from all that, I don't really find the terms liberal and conservative all that accurate in describing the positions anyway - except that everyone knows, broadly, who we mean. But as one who grew up in a CCF household in Saskatchewan when Ross Thatcher was Premier, I find it distinctly uncomfortable to label myself as a liberal, with or without quotation marks.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

+Gregory Argentina and All Canada

Over the past few days, we've seen further schismatical actions and pronouncements from the "conservative" presiding bishop of the Southern Come of America, who now apparently fancies himself the Primate of All Canada as well.

My Lord of Argentina has issued a pastoral letter including a series of specific responses to the real Primate of All Canada and the real Metropolitans of the several Canadian ecclesiastical provinces. An astounding degree of revisionism, really.

The pastoral letter is just the same old angry cant. It includes a few real howlers. For example:
Christianity is specific, definable and unchanging. We are not at liberty to deconstruct or rewrite it.
Curiously, My Lord of Argentina assumes that the only authentic understanding of Christianity is one which is, in every detail, precisely the same as his. The prospect that his human perception may be less than exact is not to be considered.

The fact that the Church, over the preceding two millenia, has reinterpreted her understanding of slavery, of usury, of divorce, of any number of issues is irrelevant to the English Prelate in Buenos Aries.

The simple reality that some number of Anglicans in Canada disagree with him on one issue is justification for what is clearly and unequivocally an act of schism.
[I]t is not schism.
Of course, in the Orwellian language of the "conservatives," nothing they do could possibly be wrong. They are justified in any outrage because they claim to be right. Just as the Puritans were right when they beheaded Archbishop Laud, no doubt.

The pseudo-Argentine prelate himself offers us a reasonable definition of schism:

Schism is a sinful parting over secondary issues.
Yet somehow the sleeping arrangements at the episcopal residence in New Hampshire have become the primary issue in a Christendom. This issue, on which our Lord said precisely nothing, on which there are only a handful of references in scripture, all of them ambiguous, is suddenly the core issue over which Anglican Christianity must be rent asunder.

Ah, but the revisionism (or, to use the proper theological term, lies) continue.

If Jesus was the Son of God yesterday then so He is today and will be forever.
Problem is, Greg old pal, that the Canadian Church has never denied this. You and your schismatical allies repeat this canard over and over and over again. That does not make it true. It makes you liars.
One of the ironies of it all is that the closing comments from Venables purport to write off the considered and moderate pastoral letter from the Primate and Metropolitans of Canada.

This pastoral letter is a much different thing. For one, it doesn't tell lies about what other people believe.

But it is interesting to consider who these five signatories are.

  • Two of them (Primate Hiltz, Lawrence of Moosonee and Ontario) are generally seen as moderate liberals on "the" issue.
  • One of them (Stavert of Quebec and Canada) participated in the controversial consecration of Gene Robinson as Bishop of New Hampshire, which I guess would make him a liberal.
  • One of them (Clarke of Athabasca and Rupert's Land) is generally seen as a moderate conservative.
  • One of them (Buckle of Yukon and British Columbia and Yukon) is seen as a hard line conservative, and indeed was part of the controversy early on when he offered to take on pastoral oversight of dissenting congregations in the diocese of New Westminster.
Inevitably the schismatical foreign prelates will lie, as they always have. They will pretend that the Canadian Church is a monochromatic juggernaut of heresy from which "conservatives" must be protected. This is the same lie they tell about the United States. This is merely an expansion of the same hate-fueled strategy. The US and Canada. Doubtless the Church of England is next.

Conservatives in the Canadian Church are just fine, without any dubious "help" from ambitious foreign prelates from the Southern Cone or elsewhere. Otherwise, why would the conservative Metropolitan of Rupert's Land and the very conservative Metropolitan of British Columbia and Yukon have happily signed off on a letter telling Venables et al to mind their own business?

Thursday, November 29, 2007

The Irish Draft

Some members of the Church of Ireland have drafted an alternative to the proposed Anglican Covenant. Not only is it shorter, it is also clearer. It is more honest about Anglican tradition (ie, it doesn't pretend that the Instruments of Unity have juridical authority). All in all, a much better piece.

Personally, I think an Anglican Covenant is a waste of time. The "conservatives" like my Lord of Abuja will pay no more mind to an Anglican Covenant than they have paid to the clear words of the Windsor Report, Lambeth Conference resolutions or the Canons of the Council of Nicaea. They will continue to pretend that the Gospel empowers them to engage in any sort of ecclesiastical bullying so long as it is motivated by the hatred of homosexuals.

Michael Peers, who confirmed me and ordained me successively deacon and priest, once said that what defines Anglicans is that they meet. When asked if that wasn't a rather weak unity, he said, "But what if someone chose not to meet?"


If the Provinces are willing to meet together as members of the Body of Christ, then no Covenant is necessary. If they are not, then no Covenant can force them.

All that said, the Irish Draft is a damn site better than the horrible and hypocritical propaganda pamphlet produced by the agenda-ridden Primate of the West Indies.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Faith and Order

My old classmate, the Rev'd Canon Dr. John Saint Helier Gibaut, has been named to head the World Council of Churches Commission on Faith and Order.

It has been years and years since I've spoken to John. Good on him.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Intercontinental Ballistic Prelates

"Bishops are not intercontinental ballistic missiles, manufactured on one continent and fired into another as an act of aggression." - The Most Rev'd Michael Peers, sometime Primate of All Canada

A few years ago, arising out of certain political and religious circumstances, the Christian Church in the southern part of the island of Great Britain declared that it was independent of the jurisdiction of a certain bishop in central Italy. Indeed, as part of the process, a series of pronouncements was promulgated with the authority of both Church and State. These pronouncements, 39 in all, included the rather straighforward declaration that: "The Bishop of Rome hath no jurisdiction in this realm of England."

The English Reformation was more complicated than that, of course. But one of it's critical points was to limit the authority of foreign prelates.

I rather wish that the Primate of Nigeria wold familiarize himself with the 39 Articles. Likewise the Primate of Kenya, the Primate of Uganda, the Primate of Rwanda and the Presiding Bishop of the Southern Cone of America.

As of the past week, the Presiding Bishop of the Southern Cone of America (not the Archbishop or the Primate, please note) has two Canadian bishops who purport to be working for him. The two are both retired diocesans - Donald Harvey, formerly of Eastern Newfoundland and Labrador and Malcolm Harding, formerly of Brandon. I don't know that I've ever met the former. I met the latter at the ordination of our present bishop.

It is a wonderfully farcical assertion to claim that one is canonically resident in the Southern Cone of America (ie, Chile, Argentina, Paraguay, Uruguay, Bolivia and Peru) while one is permanently living in Canada and when one may never have even been to visit any of the countries in the Southern Cone. It is the modern ecclesiastical equivalent of taking one's bat and ball and going . . . well, not home exactly.

The current schismatical activities in the Anglican Communion have been heavily financed by arch right wing groups and individuals in the United States - many of the principals not even Anglican. It is part of an ongoing effort to destabilize any and all Christian denominations which do not preach the narrow triumphalism of the so-called religious right.

Their weapon of choice in the current Anglican coup attempt is the vagante or wandering bishop.

Note the quotation above by the former Primate of the Anglican Church of Canada.

Bishops should be shepherds, not weapons. How hard is that to grasp?