Monday, October 29, 2012

On the Shores of Melita

As I write this, the rains of Hurricane Sandy have been falling on us for about fourteen hours, and the main band of rain is just to our east. Our roof is sound, courtesy of some hurried work from the contractor fixing the damage from the derecho, when one of our maple trees fell. Fortunately our house was built to withstand a nuclear blast (literally: we also have a bomb shelter), so the damage was comparatively minor. But the from roof over the carport had to be rebuilt. Unfortunately, there wasn't time to replace the front gutter, so at the moment we don't have one. And we know from previous experience that if too much water fall around the from door, we'll get water in the basement. I've taken some steps, but we are still vulnerable.

Meanwhile, the Delmarva and New Jersey shores await a direct hit from the worst storm they've ever seen in modern times, while New York City awaits a storm surge which could flood the subway system. Keep us all in your prayers.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Keep Trying Until You Fry Him

In the ongoing campaign to find a griddle for bishop Lawrence, the most conspicuous problem is the process. Here it would seem that Bishop Martins of Springfield and I are in agreement: the charge of abandonment is utterly preposterous, and I would go further and say that it should be disregarded as a fraud intended to avoid the unpleasant task of putting Lawrence through a trial in order to oust him.

But there's another element to the history of this which didn't occur to me until I saw this analysis by A. S. Haley. If one looks at what happened the last time, you will see that the accusations were put forth around the beginning of October last year, and that Lawrence was exonerated at the very end of November. OK, so we take a look at the certification this time around, and we can see that every act used as a basis for the charge happened before the last verdict was delivered. It would appear that this is nothing more than a repeat of the previous investigation.

So what gives? Well, as Haley spells out, we have a different set of people on the disciplinary board, with three of the eighteen members being replaced after General Convention. One pretty much has to assume that some members were persuaded to change their votes, or that members who voted against deposing Lawrence were replaced by new members who voted for it. This would tend to imply that it was a relatively close vote the first time around, unless there were a lot of changed votes. But it also shows, as Haley also points out, a big double jeopardy issue. Basically, at whomever's instigation, they got to keep rendering judgements against the bishop until they got the one they wanted. And it's obvious that the they includes the presiding bishop and a lot of other liberal clergy.

I do not feel moved to opine as to the merits of charging Lawrence with canonical violations. The current action, however, is such a gross violation of process that any Christina should condemn it. And of course, the likelihood of this backfiring is very high; given the previously expressed opinions of the SC supreme court, the departing diocese could very well leave with all but a couple of parishes, free and clear; the national church could end up with naught but a slightly better majority towards the revisionists, a pile of legal bills which we already cannot afford, and a mountain of ill-will.

UPDATE: Now that the identity of the accusers has been revealed, we can see the same old Episcopal Forum/St. Mark's Chapel gang at work. The latter group, in particular, have been trying to force a new parish on the diocese, for whatever reason; I'm given to understand that it's a group of dissidents from one of the major conservative parishes. So are they going to get to be the cathedral of the soon-to-be-formed rump diocese?

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Looking for Golden Eggs?

Word has come down that the national church is going to depose Bishop Lawrence of South Carolina for abandonment. If you want to look, you can see the papers here. The form of the action looks, to my admittedly non-legalist eye, utterly invalid: the charges are a list of canonical violations, and therefore he by right must be tried for these violations in order to depose him. It's a nice shortcut not to actually take testimony from him or hold proceedings out in public or any of those other niceties, but Bishop Lawrence obviously hasn't gone off to join a different church or otherwise quit his post, and therefore the charge of abandonment looks fraudulent as all get out.

One gathers that the point of this is to set off the diocesan convention recently put into that diocese's canons. At that point the genuine legal machinery can kick into gear so that KJS can attempt to seize all the property and change all the locks.

On one level this is supremely stupid. SC is not a huge diocese, and surely not everyone is going to leave, but they have about 1% of membership and 1.8% of attendance, so booting them is going to hurt. SC is also pretty much the only diocese with a strong record of growth. Also, nothing that Lawrence is supposed to have done wrong, it seems to me, was going to have adverse consequences unless the national church pulled a stunt like, well, this. I have to think that it is going to increase friction in the House of Bishops yet again, because there are surely a lot of bishops who do not agree that this act is legitimate, much less that it is well-conceived. In the public relations department, it gives the appearance that the national church cannot let pass any insult to its dignity.

The joker in the pack is that SC case law may favor the diocese and not the national church. Their courts have already given indication that they do not have to accept the ex post facto rewrites from above of the diocesan corporate charter. Thus the national church may well be left with nothing.

It is really is long past time for this sort of destructive act to be set aside. Litigation is costing the national church a pile, and even if they get the real estate, they aren't going to get the people. The atmosphere of hostility is palpable, and we cannot afford it.

The Numbers: 2011

I didn't do a "numbers" post last year; I don't know why, but it's possible that they were snuck out because they were so bad. This year they are being announced with quite a bit of fanfare, because, for the first time in years, domestic dioceses other than South Carolina are showing gains.

Let's go to the fast facts first, because it is here that the most edifying numbers appear. Last year's numbers were terrible: all the gross numbers declined, including Plate & Pledge; this year Average Sunday Attendance bumped up very slightly, for the first time in many years, and P&P resumed its climb. That, however, is about the extent of the good news in the large. Membership and number of parishes both fell, at the same steady rate of 3%/year for the former and 1%/year for the latter. The 5 and 10 year trend numbers are essentially unchanged across the board, with the percentage of churches reporting over 10% loss of ASA in five years still staying well above 50%. The membership and ASA loss over ten years continues to worsen. The median parish continues to shrink, showing a loss of 10% in both membership and ASA in the past five years. P&P continues to fail to keep pace with inflation, even considering the decline in parishes.

The diocesan and provincial statistics present a slightly rosier picture. Membership rose in many dioceses, including almost all those in Provinces 7 (lower midwest) and 9 (Latin America). A lot of these gains, however, were infinitesimal, and only Province 7 among the domestics didn't show a net loss. And membership numbers are less accurate due to the infrequency with which many parishes clean their rolls. ASA increased in most provinces, though the increase in Province 2 can be attributed entirely to the Diocese of Haiti; Province 9 showed a substantial loss due to a large drop in Honduras and a smaller but still large loss in Colombia.

And then comes the other asterisk: this was a "Christmas bump" year, because Christmas Day fell on a Monday, and therefore Christmas Eve attendance counted towards ASA. It's reasonable to expect, given the consistent long term losses, that next year is going to record another set of across the board losses.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Enheresying Our Worship

So I was trapped into participating in what I can only assume was a rite more or less from Enriching Our Worship. I mean, I haven't seen a physical copy of the current round of revision, but, for the sake of argument, I'm going to assume that this has some vaguely canonical source, rather than being something that someone just made up. And it seems largely consonant with the faults of the proposed same-sex blessing rites. But taking that as a given, let us count the deviations and heresies.

And we can start with the first sentence, because while there is nothing obviously heretical about saying "Blessed be the one, holy, and living God," it isn't what the BCP prescribes for ordinary time, or any other season. Why not? Well, the next change shows that quite plainly. For whatever reason we got a mashup of two different rites, one of which was baptism without a baptism. Therefore we started with the series of versicles and responses which opens the 1979 baptismal rite, but with a change: the response to "One Lord, one faith, one baptism" was not "one God and Father of all," but was instead "One God, Creator of all". OK, the opening sentence is not necessarily an issue, but this change is, because the passage is a direct quotation of scripture. This V&R exchange is taken from Ephesians 4:5-6, and every version I can find quickly translates it exactly, word for word, as it appears in the 1979 BCP. And if you can puzzle out Greek at all, you can see that "εις θεος και πατηρ παντων" can hardly be translated any other way. What's the problem? Well, the F-word, obviously: "Father".

We also seem to have some degree of trouble saying "Lord", if not to the same degree: the lectors were made to say "Hear what the Spirit is saying to the Church" rather than "The Word of the Lord". I would disagree that scripture is intended to speak only to the church, but I also note that the new version is, rhetorically, less punchy. The 1979 book, at its strongest, either simply updates the older language, or speaks boldly and concisely. We seem incapable of that any longer, and every new rite is plagued with a puffy, precious style.

And it gets a lot worse. We were subjected to a litany which I didn't recognize, and which began as follows:

Holy God, in whom all things in heaven and earth have their being,
Have mercy on us.

Jesus the Christ, through whom the world is reconciled to the Father,
Have mercy on us.

Holy Spirit, source of both unity and diversity,
Have mercy on us.

Athanasius would have had a fit; Nicholas would have been moved to pugilism. Can we not begin with a straightforward and orthodox trinitarian formula?

We then moved on to "Eucharistic Prayer 2 from Enriching Our Worship 1". I'm so used to the mucking with the Sursum Corda that I hardly notice anymore what they've substituted for "him" in the third response, and since we sang the Sanctus, it was impossible to make the alteration prescribed, so at least that went off according to the BCP. At any rate, since "the one who comes in the name of the Lord" is Jesus, the aversion to "he" is hard to justify.

But then it is all hard to justify, except perhaps the attempt to fix Prayer C, which this prayer does not do convincingly. However, I have not come to talk about the (lacking) poetry of the text, but to complain about its errors. And here, in the institution narrative, we hit another. Now, I see no reason to deviate at all from the 1979 text on this, but I can see a certain wiggle room given that this is a scriptural composite. But there's no justification for misquoting Jesus! These people have inflicted upon us the old "pro omnis" error of the now-rejected RC novus ordo translation, saying:

This is my Blood of the new Covenant, which is poured out for you and for all for the forgiveness of sins.
OK, folks, the second clause of this is taken from Matthew and Mark, and they both say "poured out for many". Universalism may be very nice, very cozy, but it isn't what Jesus is recorded as having said.

And that's the running theme here. It isn't just that we have what seems to me to be an unnecessary and badly written addition to an already fat prayer book, but that they specifically are making changes that the church fathers would loudly and justly condemn. Our liturgists can't stick to the Nicene formulas; they edit scripture to suit their theological taste. And furthermore, the setting of this was, in my opinion, extremely questionable. This was a unified, special occasion service for the entire parish at once. We already have a guitars-vs.-organ problem in doing one of these to begin with, but to use such an occasion as an opportunity to push theological novelties on the congregation is unfair. I took communion with qualms, only because I couldn't see how not to make a scene; at least one other person told me they abstained. If you want unity, you use what is common, not what is novel; you use the BCP text, Rite II straight up, and with no emendations to fit your personal theological quirks.

As I've said before, I'm not utterly opposed to revision. It would be really nice to fix up Prayer C, and it would nice to make the ordinal less, well, wimpy. What I oppose is the theological revisionism. Scripture is what it is, and there is no license for altering it. The Nicene formulas are, well, were, the one unifying principle of Protestants, Catholics, and the Orthodox; they are not up for unilateral modification. I'm not inclined to ever take communion under these rites again, and if they start showing up regularly at my parish, I guess I'll have to work out some permanent means of avoidance.