Thursday, June 25, 2009

Bedford is no St. Louis

Today, the Anglican Church in North America concluded their 4-day “Inaugural Assembly” to ratify their canons and enthrone their new archbishop. Somewhere in there was a lot of time for celebration and a pep rally, as the men and women in Bedford, Texas — many of them veterans of property fights against a vindictive bishop and/or PB — celebrate their unity and institutional success.

I haven’t and can’t follow it all. The official party line can be found at; for a more neutral view, see the list of postings by Kendall Harmon or browse for live reports and commentary at BabyBlue or VirtueOnline.

Certainly the event has been well-organized and orchestrated, a PR triumph. Supporters and critics note that ACNA has managed to get national visibility and recognition for the idea that this newborn group is the Anglican alternative to TEC. (I think they have also created some good news for battered N.A. Anglicans.) It was a masterstroke to get Rick Warren (no matter what his theology) the same year he preached for the Presidential Inaugural. Attracting Metropolitan Jonah was more substantive, particularly since he promised ecumenical ties with ACNA and cut his province's ties with TEC at the same time.

I have some friends who participated in Bedford, and many others who have eagerly joined ACNA, whether as part of Western Anglicans or its fledgling Bay Area counterpart. People I have known for years have nothing but the greatest respect for the three Anglo-Catholic bishops — Ackerman, Iker and Schofield — who led their dioceses to (or through) their departure from TEC to help form ACNA, and who are now standing alongside Abp. Duncan.

I also see ACNA as the only possibility for a near-term theologically traditional update to the BCP or Hymnal 1940, to replace the 1979 alternative service book and Hymnal 1982.

Despite this good news, I have a sense of foreboding, bothered by what my coworker used to call a “spidey sense.” There are a few small indications that ACNA 40 years from now will be no more devout than TEC in 1995. Call it a hunch, but on a hunch I recognized John Chane for what he is long before he was appointed First Apostate of the National Cathedral.

Exhibit A was the nature of the centralized authority in the canons of ACNA.

Exhibit B is women’s ordination. Although personally I’m an agnostic on women’s ordination (perhaps a subject of another posting), I am troubled by Rt. Rev. Duncan’s attitudes on the subject. After Anglo-Catholics have claimed that women’s ordination will not be imposed upon traditionalists, this seems dubious in light of the December 2008 press conference (on YouTube) by the then archbishop-apparent:
Reporter: Bishop, what does scripture say about women priests?

Bp. Duncan: Scripture is unclear - that is to say, scripture gives women roles of leadership throughout the old and new testaments. Often women emerge as leaders over Israel and in the church....

It's also the case that women had an apostolic function in much of the new testament story. After all, it is women who first tell of the resurrection of Jesus.

Whereas some issues are quite clear in Scripture, other have a complexity. Or, as one lay person said to me … “It’s a Technicolor® picture; it’s not black & white.”
This is troubling on many levels. Being a Christian witness is not the same as being a preacher or priest. Despite what Bp. Duncan said, many clergy see it as black & white, and it’s hard to see how this issue will be resolved properly with the primate’s thumb on the scale. Worse yet, this “nuanced” view of Scripture is consistent with the sort of TEC revisionism that got us into this mess.

Finally, among the dozens of Continuing Anglican blogger postings this week about the convention, the open letter to Bp. Duncan from Bp. Millsaps of the tiny Episcopal Missionary Church caught my eye. I recommend the entire posting (and the comments), but here is a relevant excerpt:
How can those who think, as I do, that only men can be presbyters (the very word means old men) process with priests who are female? You yourself have left no doubt as to where you stand, as you have ordained more and more women, even in recent months.

Then there is the problem of multi-married male clergy. The ranks of the new body are filled with them. The late Dr. Peter Toon wrote time and time again about this issue. There are tragic situations where abandonment of married men and contested divorces have taken place, but could there be as many as seems the case with clergy members of the bodies coming together as the "ACNA"?

Has the ACNA in formation taken a stand on Abortion? I know individuals have done so, but is there a public stand?

Perhaps you have read the Affirmation of St. Louis. The Episcopal Missionary Church did not come into being until 1992, but has affirmed the Affirmation and asked our friends in the Reformed Episcopal Church to do so only to be told there were things in it which they could not affirm.
This posting really brought my concerns into focus. If Dan Quayle was no Jack Kennedy, then Bedford is no Congress of St. Louis.

The 1977 gathering and its Affirmation were about sharply defining doctrine, with continuity both back to the origins of the Church of England, and setting a precedent for decades if not centuries to come. This week’s gathering was about fuzzing theological differences between Evangelicals and Anglo-Catholics, while reassuring both parties that the ACNA is no TEC.

It’s possible that more truth, clarity and courage will be forthcoming, but right now I don’t have reason to be optimistic. If he wants to connect to those American Christians who believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church, Metropolitan Jonah still has a few dozen Schism I bishops yet to meet. Perhaps it’s time for the Congress of St. Louis/Schism I crowd to convene their own media event. If the Metropolitan isn’t available, they could invite Cardinal Kasper.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

I still haven't found what I'm looking for

As an Anglo-Catholic with a strong desire for traditional liturgy and theology, living in one of the bluest of blue states at a time when traditionalists have almost entirely left ECUSA, it’s hard to find an appropriate Anglican parish of the sort that was quite common in the 1960s or 1970s.

It somewhat reminds me of a familiar (and moving) song by Christian singer Paul David Hewson:
I have climbed the highest mountains
I have run through the fields
I have run, I have crawled
I have scaled these city walls
But I still haven't found
What I'm looking for.
But I still haven't found
What I'm looking for.
Although this song is oriented towards a seeker mentality, it does hint at a deeper spirtual longing faced by almost anyone at some point in their life.

Still, it’s not a song I would think to play on a Sunday morning in a church sanctuary. But then, I’m not a liturgical innovator commissioned by the Archbishop of Canterbury:
The ideas for alternative-style worship are part of an initiative launched by Dr Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, to appeal to the younger generation.

They are set out in a new book compiled by the Church's Fresh Expressions programme, which aims to boost church attendance with more relevant and exciting services. However, traditionalists have criticised the unorthodox services as "pointless" and "shallow", and have warned that experimenting with Church tradition would do more harm than good.

Among the alternative services explored in the book, which is co-edited by the Rt Rev Steven Croft, the new Bishop of Sheffield, are so-called "U2charists", services in which the congregation receives communion but sings the songs of the Irish rock band U2 instead of traditional hymns.

The services, which include such songs as "Mysterious Ways", "One", and "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For", have been pioneered at St Swithin's church in Lincoln.
Thanks to the Telegraph to find a clergyman to provide an appropriate rebuttal:
However, the Rev David Houlding, prebendary at St Paul's Cathedral, bemoaned the Church's attempt to widen its appeal.

"All this is tosh. It's just a passing fad, irrelevant, shallow and pointless," he said.

"There's no depth to it and it's embarrassing because it'll make people think that we're eccentric and silly."
It sounds like the Diocese of London has a sound and wizened prebendary (senior canon), even if its famed Christopher Wren-designed cathedral has recently acquired a theologically loose canon.