Thursday, June 29, 2006


(With apologies to Aretha)

Jim Naughton, who seems to have signed up to be the Episcopal Diocese of Washington's Canon Spinmeister, tries his hand at Rowan Williams's "Reflection" on the Anglican communion:
As I read the archbishop, he, like many others, is suggesting that the struggle in the Anglican Communion is not about homosexuality but about how we make decisions in concert. To me that is similar to saying that the American Civil War was not about slavery but about states' rights. Both arguments allow you to ignore sins against humanity while you debate the nature of polity.
Well, perhaps Naughton ought to reflect a minute as to who the despot is in "Maryland, My Maryland". Casting John Chane as Abraham Lincoln might work within the diocese-- after all, look at how things went under Jane Dixon-- but in the communion as a whole, it isn't going to fly.

But perhaps Cantuar is supposed to stand in for the Tyrant Lincoln. Well, then perhaps the War of Northern Agression, the War Between the States, the War to Free the Slaves might then be a better analogue-- but for one fact. Cantuar is actually capable of no tyranny over PECUSA. He can expel us from the club, but he cannot do more than that.

And it is more than a little disingenious to suggest that homosexuality is the only issue presented by PECUSA. After thirty years, ordination of women is not universally accepted in the communion. What with the "Mother Jesus" sermon (which, coupled with Jefferts Schori's address to the deputies, gave us the repugnant image of Jesus giving birth to a montrous PECUSA), we have the next crisis: first sacraments, then morality, and next the language of theology itself. Williams's reflection fairly hammers on this point: that the succession of American adventures is in its essence a repudiation of conciliarity, and that therefore it's not at all unreasonable to deny the Americans a place at council.

There are in fact two struggles going on. At the moment, statements from Canterbury are but rumors of war. The bigger problem for the bishop of Washington is that his erstwhile liberal allies have (perhaps) reneged, and are choosing conciliarity over conscience. That's the real purpose of Naughton's statement: to pressure (say) the Bishop of Maryland to give consent if and when the Diocese of Newark or some other diocese elects the next homosexual bishop. If we are casting roles in the Late Unpleasantness, it's as easy to cast Chane as Leonidas Polk, especially considering the language of rebellion I hear from his corner. Over on Fr. Jake the war of choice is that of 1776, with Williams as, well, the British; I guess they prefer to cast GC as the Continental Congress. So-- has anyone seen Richard Henry Lee recently? Or would the troops of Chane's diocese rather fire on Ft. Pitt-- er, Ft. Sumner?

Monday, June 19, 2006

Electing Schori

Let me say that I don't have any chromosomal issues with the Rt. Rev. Katherine Jefferts Schori. She's not whom I would pick for the job, male or female, and if I were to pick a woman, it would probably be the Rev. Fleming Rutledge, who is probably the female cleric in PECUSA who is least acceptable to those who voted for Schori (or practically anyone else, for that matter). I mean, how many priests of either sex in the country appear in Geneva bands?

I don't doubt that Bp. Schori brings some considerable gifts to her new position. But she also brings considerable symbolism. At least one of those symbols is positive by anyone's standards: no longer need I suffer self-indulgent hand-wringing about the need for further empowerment of women in the church. I suppose I can sigh with the flounder and the fisherman when this turns out not be enough, and it must be that the Archbishop of Canterbury, and then the Pope, and the God in His/Her/Its/Their heaven must be a woman, but I personally think Presiding Bishop is enough of an aspiration for any Episcopalian.

The problem end is epitomized by this spin from Jim Naughton:
I don't know how the politics of this is going to shake out in the Anglican Communion yet. On the one hand, this is another "first" from the Episcopal Church, and maybe that won't be well received. On the other hand, the hand I favor, it now becomes clear that attacking the Church that deals fairly with gays and lesbians also means attacking the Church that deals fairly with women. The cause of the small, vulnerable gay population is now linked to the large and much less vulnerable female population.

That's one way to put it. But here's a better one: Schori's election is very much about rubbing it in the rest of the communion's faces that the leaders of PECUSA are going to do what they want, and to hell with everyone else. PECUSA is already the church whose female bishops represent a problem for the rest of the communion, and a problem which somehow has managed to remain dormant through the last Lambeth conference. Now, in the midst of a severe strain over the one issue, the other issue has been raised again.

Naughton has it exactly backwards. In the current context, Schori's election has linked the women to homosexuality, and not the other direction. The position of women in the communion has been weakened, not strengthened, because the coupling of the two issues has given conservative, moderates, and even some liberals a very strong reason to chuck us out of the communion. The message is that we are willful and don't care about the consequenceds for anyone else, and are in general impossible to live with. Everything that Rowan Williams and his emmissaries have said over the past few months indicates an increasing frustration with PECUSA. And on the other hand, I'm hearing increasing resentment from the liberal vanguard that Cantuar dares even to express an opinion, however veiled. Meanwhile, there are rumblings from the center, with Bp. Peter "Schism is worse than heresy" Lee of Virginia propsing a moratorium on such extreme terms that I can only read this as realization that (a) the current course is going to get us thrown out of the communion, and that (b) he values communion unity higher than PECUSA unity.

That last evaluation will destroy the denomination, or at the very least cleave it in two. Fudge is becoming increasingly difficult to make; and for that, too, perhaps we can thank Schori's electors.

My prayers for you, Bp. Schori. You are going to need all the Divine Help you can get.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Past My "Pray By" Date

I've tried not to afflict anyone who still bothers to read this with too much about the Sausage Factory-- er, the PECUSA General Convention now underway. But then I read (courtesy of T19) this ENS story about resolution D061 "Pastoral Plan to Revise the Book of Common Prayer".

The resolution itself seems almost innocuous:
Resolved, the House of _____ concurring, That the 75th General Convention direct the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music to present to the 76th General Convention a pastoral plan for the future revision of the Book of Common Prayer.

That sounds like good idea, you might say. Well, here's the real message of the resolution:
“Our prayer book is already outdated and it is hard for my generation to relate to everything in it,” said a youth, identified only as Hannah, from Northern California.

The Rev. Stephanie Speller, 34, of Boston, also testified at the Friday hearing that she uses alternative resources for her diverse congregation. Our diversity “is a miracle of God’s grace, but…where people enter church on Sunday morning they may see a multicultural congregation but what they hear is all European American,” said Speller, whose congregation at St. Paul’s Cathedral includes African Caribbean, African, African American, Chinese, Latino and Anglo parishioners.

Speller added, “After awhile you begin to feel like the marginal voices are only found in the marginal text; at what point do those voices come to the center?”

Really? Thirty years of folk masses and clown masses and hip-hop masses and rave masses, and it's only now we've discovered that the prayer book is getting in the way?

I wish I could say that it was astonishing to hear this stuff, but it seems that the downfall of the Episcopal Church is going lie not in sex, but in the overwhelming urge to demolish the one thing that gave us any unity: the Book of Common Prayer. Thus it was drearily unsurprising that convention liturgies read anything but "it is right to give him thanks and praise"; some sullen, hidden vein of traditionalism in me want to say that it is their own damn fault for getting rid of the certified patriarchy-free response used from 1549 to 1928.

But let's go back to that word:


I have to join with those who question the judgement of young adults who WANT to go to church conventions. Young people who would rather inflict all that bloviation on themselves, when they could be out copulating or tipping cows or doing almost anything else, surely need to reexamine their priorities. That dreary work should be left to their tired and jaded elders, who have already put decades of office work and parenting under their belts. But they point to what seems to be a very common belief: that church must be made juvenile in order for it to survive.

That's the real message of all the clown/rave/hip-hop/folk masses. And while I am not a Rite I partisan, there are times when Rite II retreats from a clean, modern language into childishness. But the problem with this is that (duh) people grow up. I did so prematurely, I suppose. I went to an Episcopal boarding school with a very high (in the church sense) standard of ritual, so all the "relevant" mid-week services we were sentenced to produce seemed impossibly dated once I set foot in college. (Indeed, the whole "hold hands around the altar" communion schtick of the chaplaincy seemed, in 1978, to be an embarrassing hangover of the '60s. And it's still with us.)

And here it is, thirty years later, and in a year I'll have a son in high school. And I think of those young women at general convention, and I wonder whether a service for their teenage children will be keeping them in church when I'm a white-haired elder. And my thirteen year old son, sitting next to me, informs me that he does not think that the BCP is hard to understand. Of course, his throwback of a father has already corrupted him.

Rev. Speller's words fly in the face of decades of Anglican practice. The BCP liturgy, unbowdlerized and even unmodernized, has proven adaptable to services from church camp eucharists to evensong of the highest music standard.

The last thing the church needs is to even think of revising the prayer book. There are certainly changes which ought to be made, but now is not the time.