Saturday, April 29, 2006

Big House Syndrome

Over at Entangled States we have some discussion of the overview of the Faith COmmunities Today study of Episcopal congregations.

Now, there are many, many statistical boobytraps in this study, and one of them has to do with parish size and growth. Now, from the report, we have these figures:
The median seating capacity in parish worship facilities is 175 persons. Only 16% of Episcopal congregations have facilities that seat more than 300 people, while one in four seats 100 or fewer.
And our commentator goes on to observe that these figures place an upper limit on possibilities for church growth.

Well, not exactly. First, there's the solution brought up by another: more services. But more fundamental are two other issues. First, let's look at a few more numbers. The report identifies 16% of parishes as rural/small town, and another 45% in communities of between 2,500 and 50,000. It's a little hard to decipher what that 45% means, but that's not all that important. What is important is that the 16% of small town/rural parishes significantly skew the numbers. It's a very safe bet that most of those parishes are on the small side, both in ASA and seats. So the median of seats of churches that have some expectation of growth is prabably rather higher than 175.

Or maybe not, because in my experience the biggest determinant of church growth, other things being equal, is what the community is doing. Huge spikes of growth around here (semi-rural/outer-suburban Maryland) are associated with established churches that get surrounded by development.

But the other side of the "too small to live" theory is that all of this presupposes expansion of parishes without increasing cleric staff and without doing any building. A building in the hand is a considerable asset, and something like Fr. Knisely's church is essentially irreplaceable. But even when the building is abandoned and the parish moves into school cafeterias and other rented spaces, the real savings comes from paying for one priest for 500 people instead of the more usual two.

Al of this is moot if there isn't any real pressure for expansion. I suspect that parishes (again all other things being equal) which do not feel pressure to expand will in fact experience significant contractions if the abandon their buildings. Expansion requires keeping the parish on the upper side of that magic 2/3s number. Also, in terms of programs, I wonder about the assumption that they belong to the parishes and not to the diocese.

Anyway, the point in the end is that this more complicated than just buildings that are too small.

Friday, April 28, 2006

Following the Money - The Wrong Way

In the continuing campaign to discredit the conservative opposition, we have a new entry from the Diocese of Washington, in the form of an expose of the funding of the American Anglican Council and other opposition organizations and of the connections between these groups and the Institute on Religion and Democracy. The timing of this missive, late in a Friday afternoon with very little trace on the diocesan website to show that it is even there, suggests a maneuver to get this in the Saturday papers (especially the Washington Post religion section) while largely denying the AAC the opportunity to present an effective reply. But perhaps my cynicism is misplaced.

About a third the way down the first page, the name "Howard F. Ahmanson Jr." is presented in big, not-so-friendly letters. This profile from Salon seems to give a better sense of what Ahmanson is about, but eventually even the diocesan article gets around to the inconvenient fact that Mr. Ahmanson is an Episcopalian, albeit in a dissident parish. It's not unreasonable, therefore, for him to direct his resources in the current crisis. Both the Salon profile and the diocesan expose take some pains to outline his connections with the (IMHO a bit cracked) R.J. Rushdoony, who is notorious as the father of Christian Reconstructionism. Reconstructionism is pretty far afield of any Anglican perspective, but the Salon profile seems to indicate some sort of break after Rushdoony's death, and it's unclear that Ahmanson's present positions owe much to reconstructionist thought per se. In any case, Ahmanson has a dog in this hunt.

The two articles both lean on Ahmanson's reclusiveness, though again, there reason is right there in the articles. If I were wealthy, and were held to be influential, and I suffered under Tourette's Syndrome, I'd be media-shy too.

So from there we pass on to the American Anglican Council. I wish the AAC website would 'fess up as to who its current officers are. Let's go back in time quite a ways, though, to an AAC chapter organizing meeting at St. Francis Potomac. (I should say at this point that I am not and never have been a member of the AAC.) The featured speaker? Mary Haines. Yep, the bishop of Washington's wife was there to denounce him. I mention this because the Diocese of Washington articles imply that the AAC was essentially bought by its funders without really producing much in the way of evidence. The reality out here in the parishes is that the conservatives do not need to be directed to find issues to object to in their dioceses. For instance, if I recall correctly the organizing meeting was not that long after the Haines/Dixon campaign of forcing Dixon on the parishes which continued to deny her sacraments.

And from thence we go back to Lambeth 1998, which the diocesan article passes over in a single sentence. I followed this fairly closely, unfortunately having to rely on the paired opposing weak reeds of Louie Crew and David Virtue, neither of whom could be accused of working from a neutral viewpoint. Lambeth was crucial to the current crisis, because it showed that if the conservatives could throw off the direction of their Anglo-American handlers, they had the numbers to dictate the future of the communion. The conference was therefore marked by a succession of such crises of control, and enlivened by some impressive displays of arrogance on both sides. Perhaps the most telling of these, for the present controversy, were the "chicken dinner" remarks. I don't for a minute think that the Africans and Asians needed to be bribed to vote against the Americans, and those who made these accusations in pbulic revealed a blistering condescension and contempt for third world bishops. The whole notion was conspicuously delusional.

Which brings us back to the present. Against the accusations which the article makes about AAC et al. external management of Dromontane runs the principle long observed about Anglican communion councils: "The Africans pray, the Americans pay, and the British write the resolutions." But recently the British resolution writing has not been that congenial to the American establishment, and none more so than in the person of Rowan Williams. There was great expectation at his appointment, on all sides, that as a card-carrying liberal he would be a mouthpiece and would marshall the communion in favor of liberal causes. This was met with dismay on one side and triumph on the other, but what very few foresaw (and if I may be immodest, I say it earlier than most did) was that Williams would foreswear advocacy of any position on the crucial matters, and would act strictly as a custodian of the expressed will of the communion. So when Dromontane came around, the conservatives were prepared, and liberals, as at Lambeth, lost the initiative.

And so we're faced with the following situation: two gay and one lesbian candidates for the Bishop of California, and a standing threat by the majority of the communion to excommunicate us if one of them is consecrated. And somehow, it is wrong for the conservatives to resist this-- not because of the moral argument, but because of some notion of fair play.

Those who've been paying attention will notice I've not mentioned the author of the expose. I've avoided doing so to point out something: this is not the advocacy of a private individual. It is the statement of the diocese itself, and thus is itself a poitical maneuver within the field of conflict. It's hard to say what the house of bishops will do, and it seems to me, ironically, that the most craven response would also be the most damaging to the conservative cause. If Chane and the other vanguard bishops get their way and get a gay or lesbian candidate with the necessary consents, they will end up in control of ECUSA as a whole, and probably almost all of the dioceses should they be hard-nosed about it. The reason is obvious: retaining power over the national church means retaining power over the dioceses, and retaining power over the dioceses means being able to impose their doctrines on the parishes. For again, we are back to the church as a locus of power, and a power which is presently delivered into the hands of the vanguard. And it's a power which draws its funds from many not entirely willing sources.

My parents are presbyterians, and my father was at one point clerk of the session at their church. It's sort of like being senior warden, except that the session delegates the housekeeping functions to the deacons (who are laypeople) and reserves all of the congregational governance to itself. Well. Over the same period as the parallel ECUSA problems, there has been a repetitive pattern of the national presbyterian church taking liberties with church prestige and influence, and with the reaction of being pulled back into line. Since they have no bishops, accountability is potentially complete. Episcopal accountability, by contrast, is almost nonexistent, and accountability of national church and diocesan offices is very low. So in both ECUSA and PCUSA people find their donations being directed to causes which they find morally (and often theologically) objectionable.

It's not hard, therefore, to deconstruct the whole thing in a different direction. I tend to suspect that a major part of the outrage which Ahmanson's funding is supposed to provoke finds its origin in the realization that the conservatives now have a source of support which the liberals cannot co-opt to their own ends.

A Right-Wing Conspiracy, Of Course

So, here we have Fr. Jake and his cheering section talking about Daniel J. Webster's review in The Witness of Hard Ball on Holy Ground by Stephen Swecker. The thesis in all of this? Let's go to Webster:
"In the end, the IRD is not a program grounded in faith but, rather, in fear -- both fear of change in general and fear of loss by those who benefit most from the status quo, i.e., the wealthy and the powerful," writes Swecker in his closing article.

In other words the IRD has little to do with religion, except for control and contempt of it, and everything to do with democracy and demagoguery.
OK, let's deconstruct this for a bit. Webster, is actually Fr. Webster, "most recently the director of communications for the Episcopal Diocese of Utah". He's a member of the church establishment, a person accustomed to the use of ecclessial power and resources.

And that seems to be a running theme in all of this. The whole point of IRD's supposed campaign to seize control of ECUSA and other churches (and thus return us, I presume, to being "the Republican Party at prayer") presupposes that ECUSA is a locus of power. And of course, it is-- far more powerful than IRD could hope to be on its own. And Frs. Jake and Webster are officers at different levels within this structure, so right away they are subject to the suspicion that their ox is being gored.

So let's go back to Fr. Webster's earlier article on the subject. At that time, he said:
But this article started with power and control. Liberation theology, feminist theology, inclusivity of all whether they be homosexuals, people of color, the poor, have all threatened the "power holders" throughout church history.
I shall be blunt: this is all so much bullshit. Liberation theology has been accused, in my opinion with utter justification, of being upper middle class dabbling in leftist politics. Feminist theology is likewise an upper middle movement, straight out of the academy, which is ensconced in the power structures of ECUSA in the form of the Office of Women's Ministry: an organization seemingly impregnable in spite of numerous incidents of dabbling in non- and anti-Christian religion. Homosexuals in the church are not, by and large, powerless people. Black bishops in ECUSA are commonplace and unremarkable, reflecting their ascent into the gentry decades ago. Black bishops in the communion are of course the norm now-- but that seems to have become a problem. All in all, the liberals are borrowing the grievances of the downtrodden, but without the actuality of oppression or poverty.

The "power holders" are people like Webster, people like the Rt. Rev. Gene Robinson, people like the Rev. Margaret Rose, people like the Rt. Rev. Otis Charles, people like the Rt. Rev. Jane Dixon.... I could go on. These people are the establishment, and a lot of them always were even before they were ordained. And now, they speak for Jesus, just as did their supposedly Republican forefathers. When Jimmy Carter, former Chief Power Holder of the United States of America, complains about this, I can only conclude that there is a sense of entitlement to power, of being accustomed to power, and of annoyance that this sense of privilege and authority is being challenged.

Given the actuality of strictly religious arguments about sexuality and femininity (race having, in practice, passed entirely out of the discussion in these latter days) I must conclude that the Real Agenda of the Wealthy Right Wingers is to protect their position and their pocketbooks. I've already discussed how they and the liberal powerful share position, so let's move on to money. To a great degree, they share that too. Oh, the lawyer's wives (and ex-lawyers) may not be living on trust funds, but the Ordination Process that prevails in the big, urban, liberal dioceses largely guarantees that only the comfortably well-off can afford to pursue ordination. It's already clear that the powerful in ECUSA are not going to give up their bishop's palaces and their beautiful old rectories and their handsome faux-gothic churches. They will not move into apartments and walk-ups and storefronts, but they expect the opposition to do so.

IRD's supposed conduit as a vehicle for control of the Africans is reminscent of the shameful "chicken dinner" remarks made by some of those powerful bishops in their fancy digs at the last Lambeth conference. But even then, the desire for control need not translate into actual control, and especially not when it comes to the church. Clerics are legendary as biters of the hands that feed them. I suspect that the backers of IRD are no more likely to get what they want out of the deal than Henry II was when he had Becket appointed to Canterbury's throne.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Fundies and Bullies

Here we go again, with another rant against those "fundamentalist" African "bullies", this time from The Rev. Dr. James Bradley, Rector of St. John’s, Waterbury, CT. For example:
Now the Fundamentalists of the third world who call themselves “Anglican” want to destroy the ethos and genius of Anglicanism by making us a church based on doctrine and hierarchy rather than worship and equality.

The whole posture of this is so very much bull hockey. Let's get back to reality for a minute:

First, the self-image of the liberal vanguard as anti-establishment crusaders is an utter fraud. In ECUSA, these people are the Establishment. Literally.

Second, all Akinola and his fellow Africans can do is talk. He cannot deprive American priests and laity of their positions and parishes, as American bishops have been doing with regularity. (Special attention should be directed to the acts of Dr. Bradley's own bishop.) He cannot change the canons of churches and dioceses.

Third, the essential argument is whether the Anglican "big tent" is so unlimited as to encompass essentially any difference. When it comes down to it, this degree of latitudinarism fails. Bradley plainly wants the Africans out of the tent, after all.

Fourth, the snobbery is obvious. Dr. Bradley all but says that Anglicanism belongs to an Anglo-American elite: the right-thinking establishment of the American church and their allies.

Dr. Bradley says:
Anglicanism is not a doctrine, creed or confession—it is a Book of Common Prayer and a remarkable dose of “common sense”.

The question, apparently, is not whether Anglicans are defined by doctrines, creeds, or confessions. Actually, I take that back; that very Book of Common Prayer has us all standing up every Sunday to profess the ancient Creed, so I will say that Yes, we are all bound by that. But in any case, the real issue is not binding to some theology. It is that Bradley and his partners in crime abuse the freedom they claim to find in Anglicanism to bind us to their doctrines of sexuality. Surely the time will come, if nothing were to intervene, when the establishment which Dr. Bradley represents will in fact move on to keep dissenters on this issue from ordination, and then will turn to rewriting the BCP to have it express their doctrines.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

The Future Part V

The folks at The Anglican Communion Institute have played the "what if?" game and have worked through a scenario which they describe as a "thought experiment". It begins as follows:

  1. The Diocese of California (CA) elects a ‘Gay/Lesbian’ Bishop; consents process at General Convention reveals 45% in favor of approval in the HOB; consent denied in HOB;

  2. CA consecrates said ‘Gay/Lesbian’ Bishop anyway[.]

and goes on to a four-way division of ECUSA whose various conflicts are expected to prove to be seriously debilitating to each sept.

It's a scenario which I hadn't considered, since I have expected up to now that the House of Bishops (the "HOB" referred to in the scenario) will give California its consents. But it seems to me that there is a flaw in the presentation of the scenario.

California cannot consecrate a new bishop on its own; they will need a set of bishops to do so. Perhaps they will be able to collect together a set of retired bishops and suffragans to protect the diocesan bishops from involvement (as Righter was used to protect Spong from the immediate consequences of the Robert Williams ordination). In that case it will be easy for the HOB to denounce the consecrators and for the scenario to play out along the lines of the ACI scenario. But I expect that some diocesan bishops will choose to participate, in which case the consecration will create a de facto schism from the start. And since we all know that "schism is worst than heresy", I don't think the moderates will be able-- and maybe not even inclined-- to attempt bridge-building.

Of course, it is all speculation. It is even possible that California will heed Griswold's warning in the Guardian, though I doubt that. Righteous indignation at being denied a homosexual bishop is running very high, from what I see on the net.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Yet ANOTHER New Gospel

Catholic World News reports:

"Gospel of Skip and Muffy" Discovered

(courtesy GetReligion)

I guess we'll just have to revise our faith again....

Friday, April 07, 2006

Yet Another Gospel

A day or so ago I saw the headline roll up in CNN about a "new gospel discovery". I don't think everyone simply republished the same story, but in every newpaper report I've seen, the reporter doesn't get around to the word "gnostic" until near the end, and never really manages to convey how gnosticism relates to either orthodox Christianity or the general religious milieu of the era. We all know that the media doesn't "get" religion, and it's easy to see how underinformed reporters and newswriters were seduced into reporting this (and in all fairness, the headlines from the National Geographic are similarly misleading, though the timeline they supply is essentially sound).

It can be hard to keep a historical perspective on gnosticism because it is so caught these days in theological anti-establishmentarianism. It's terribly ironic, because figures like Elaine Pagels are undeniably establishment. So I was pleased to see that Al Kimel has recommended a book of conventional historical analysis which addresses the issue. Its conclusion:
Despite all the recent discoveries, the traditional model of Christian history has a great deal more to recommend it than the revisionist accounts.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Here We Go Again With the Pagans

Once again, another notable Episcopalian has been caught out moonlighting as a neopagan. At least this time the culprit isn't an Episcopal priest; no, his (legal) name is Maury Johnston, but after an article appeared on Louie Crews's site and was referenced in titusonenine, his name rang some alarms for one "Liz", and she did some investigating. Among other incriminating bits was the following passage from a coven's website:
While judges in Fairfax and James City counties have questioned the validity of Wicca, Maury Johnston said Henrico County is a more Wicca-friendly system.

Johnston, known in the Wiccan community as Shadwynn, has performed nine legal marriages for his order since 1988, when Henrico granted his license. He said he has noticed some shift in public opinion toward Wiccans over the past decade.

Richmond Times-Dispatch, June 23, 1999

The article on Dr. Crews's site is of course already gone. One wonders how much other damage control is forthcoming (that was an unfortunate choice of words). This blew all over the Anglican Blogosphere in a matter of days if not hours. The only reason I missed it is that I've pretty much stopped reading these analysis articles. I only found it when I visited the Stand Firm site to look at its list of blogs.

WIll this make as big a splash as "Oakwise"? I doubt it. The circumstances aren't quite as embarrassing, and it's unlike the interim rector at Holy Comforter, Richmond is going to excommunicate this guy. Who knows? Maybe he's a pagan too. These days, you never can tell.


Fatehr Jake has seized the occaision to engage in a rant about witchhunts. Outside its intemperance, his posting plays a little loose with the facts. I personally don't know "Liz", but it was she who first turned up the connection, and not Greg Griffith nor Brad Drell, who merely followed up. Nor does she come across as an "extreme conservative"-- though frankly, it would take aome effort to match the extremity of Fr. Jake's vituperation.

Somewhere along the line he seems to assert that Mr. Johnston has given up his pagan past-- perhaps some time ago. But then there is this message, dated January 13, 2006, in which one Shadwynn says, "Having been a Wiccan priest for 18 years[...]". It appears to be the same person as this Mr. Johnston. His repentance, if it has happened at all, is recent. The various suspicions are not without merit.

And if Drell and Griffith are overly gleeful about turning up another, it isn't as though there isn't a track record here of far too great a length. Let us recall the last pagan flap, with the Melnyks. That round did not begin with an attack upon them personally. The Office of Women's Ministry, as it has been wont to do in the past, went too far afield in its search for novel liturgical material, and got caught at it. Posting a liturgy which used elements specifically denounced by OT prophets was unwise, but leaving a trail all over the internet was probably unavoidable and led to the Melnyks' downfall. The sense of outrage at the OWM was utterly merited.

Monday, April 03, 2006

The Bible Meme

I'm doing this from memory, so it's likely I've forgetten a few.

1. How many Bibles are in your home?

Not sure of the exact number-- we have thousands of books! (Counting below I get twelve "full" bibles, one OT, and two NTs.)

2. What rooms are they in?

Books tend to wander from room to room, but there are large caches in the living room and the sunroom (which has most of the theology). There is also at least one in my bedroom, one on the Six Foot Shelf, and a stray or two in the family room.

3. What translations do you have?

(deep breath)

King James (at least three copies, including two of the Washburn College Bible (pulpit bible as art object)) plus Apocrypha in a separate volume
New English Bible with Apocrypha
Revised Standard Version (RSV common bible and at least one 1960s standard prot. version)
New Revised Standard Version with Apocrypha
Jerusalem Bible (reader's edition)
New American Bible
JPS Tanakh
New International Version
Today's English (I think-- might just be the NT)
Goodspeed NT
New World Translation
Nestle-Aland NT

4. Do you have a preference??

I normally use the RSV for liturgy and the KJV for music. The Washburn College bible is useful for crushing passing demons.

5. Nominate an interesting verse:

Saul was a child of one year when he began to reign, and he reigned two years over Israel. (1 Samuel 13:1 in the Douay-Rheims)

Our bible acquisition has dropped to nothing since so many online bibles became available. They are of course of limited use for study (no critical apparatus) but for comparison of trasnlations they'll do.