Monday, December 31, 2007

Tour Bus or Roller Coaster?

I recently ran across this post on Irenic Thoughts, the blog of Prince of Peace Episcopal Church in Kingsland, Georgia. I'd run across it before somewhere, but it says something about how such a spiritually charged event often is presented and experienced as the same old thing, week after week.
Why do people in church seem like cheerful, brainless tourists on a packaged tour of the Absolute?...Does anyone have the foggiest idea what sort of power we blithely invoke? Or, as I suspect, does no one believe a word of it?

The churches are children playing on the floor with their chemistry sets, mixing up a batch of TNT to kill a Sunday morning. It is madness to wear ladies’ straw hats and velvet hats to church; we should all be wearing crash helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to our pews. For the sleeping god may wake someday and take offense, or the waking god may draw us to where we can never return.

Annie Dillard, (1945 - ) from her book Teaching a Stone to Talk: Expeditions and Encounters
Perhaps it is not God who is asleep but we who worship God, lulled into receiving God as a normal, regular, benign part of life who would not dare disrupt our carefully planned lives. I wonder what God could do with us if we woke up?

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Looking backward, Going forward

As I vacation with my immediate and extended families in California, I am struck anew by the flurry of cultural, economic, technological, and media retrospectives on 2007. As yet I have not found an Anglican/Episcopal retrospective, but I'm sure someone in the blogosphere will put one together soon (if you know of one, feel free to leave it in the comments section of this post). I am also less than two months away from turning 40 years old, always an occasion for both looking back and looking forward. As the Anglican/Episcopal world convulses and raises questions of identity, structure, and purpose, I've also been thinking about my own identity as an Episcopal priest and my own values for ministry on which I hope to focus a bit more purposefully in 2008. Those values are:
1) The transformational power of faith in Jesus Christ.

Perhaps it is my own grounding in the evangelical flavor of Christianity, but my own belief is that if the church is not standing up and proclaiming that being a disciple of Jesus Christ is not just a nice thing to do, a trendy (or counter-trendy) lifestyle, or even something that changes your world-view but something that fundamentally transforms one's life in both real and mysterious ways, I'm not sure what exactly we're here for. If you want to serve, there are plenty of service clubs around. If you want to learn, there are many blogs, podcasts, video courses, and even classroom-based opportunities for learning. If you want to socialize, there are likewise plenty of social clubs (including social networking web sites) in which you can join. Heck, even worship of God is something that one can do alone with an iPod, at least to some extent!

I am at once frustrated with my own tendency to 'put God on hold' amidst the pressures and demands of life and ministry and frustrated with the tendency of the church to be so self-absorbed with similar demands that there is little time given for exploring our relationship with God in Christ. So little, in fact, that many people in the pews have no idea what I'm talking about when I mention such a relationship! For 2008, I want to 'go deeper with God' and invite members of the congregation I serve to go there as well.

2) Being grounded in traditional Christianity and yet drawn to fresh expressions of the church through the emerging church and missional movements.

I'm an anomoly--a Generation Xer who grew up in a very traditional, middle-of-the-road Episcopal church in Silicon Valley with parents that are still together to this day. I didn't suffer from a broken home, a broken faith, or a broken church. We had major players from Silicon Valley companies in our congregation, but no one would have dared suggest that we incorporate the least bit of technology into our services. At the same time, the rest of my life was saturated with cutting-edge technology as well as cutting-edge ideas. I married that very traditional liturgical church upbringing with an evangelical fervor caught in high school and fanned into flame during my college years at InterVarsity Christian Fellowship at Humboldt State University. Even so, I am drawn to fresh expressions of being a disciple of Jesus Christ. These are often expressed in the emerging church and missional church movements.

All that is to say that while I'm grounded in traditional expressions of Christianity, I'm searching for ways to live out my calling as an Episcopal priest in the very exciting world of the emerging church without losing that traditional base and evangelical fervor. I suspect that exploration will continue in 2008, primarily through the addition of a new evening 'alternative service' to the very traditional service currently at the church I serve.

3) Love of technology as a tool for ministry.

I'll admit it--I love technology with a passion. Raised in Silicon Valley and in high school at the beginning of the technology wave, I'm as fully plugged in as my time and money allow. I obviously blog regularly, check my e-mail constantly, monitor a variety of blogs, and essentially live on the Internet, with only one exception--my ordained ministry. Sure, I use the Internet to get ideas, illustrations, and examples for sermons, but the church I serve has no real value for technology as a tool for ministry. This is not limited to my current congregation. There have been plenty of folks over the years who wonder why I'm on the computer 'so much' and exactly what I'm doing there. I will readily admit that occasionally the lure of technology overwhelms my call to on-the-ground ministry.

So, in 2008 I'm resolving to explore ways to unite my love of the church with my love of technology, all under the umbrella of being a more faithful disciple of Jesus Christ and a more effective priest of the church. Viewing technology as a tool for ministry rather than simply a toy for entertainment means being more focused in my use of technology and my learning about how best to integrate it into my ministry. It also means making sure that I do not neglect face-to-face ministry in favor of 'screen-to-screen' ministry.
We'll see how all of this goes. I'm mindful that most people break New Year's resolutions before the end of January. Hopefully by my birthday at the end of February, I'll still be plugging along!

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Paradox and Polarization

One of the great things about the blogosphere is that there is such a treasure trove of opinion and research from which to draw. After my own blog entry regarding bishops, I happened upon this excellently written post by Fr. Tony Clavier which discusses exactly the difficulty we get into when we relegate our bishops to a political role as members of simply one of two Houses of General Convention. It is very much worth a read. Coupled with that, the Episcopal Majority blog has an excellent article by The Rev. Matthew Dutton-Gillett on the struggle for the church to embrace paradox over exclusion, something he points out that we've never done well.

In my opinion, both of these articles point to a difficulty we face in this conflict. We face a cultural chasm in which most Western cultures have been in conversation regarding issues of sexuality for decades, while in some African and Asian countries such discussions cannot even begin due to cultural taboos. Even beyond that, the foundational point in the modernist/postmodernist divide--the conflict between the "either/or" way of seeing things and the "both/and" way of seeing things--means that the clash between the "one truth" aspect of thinking (i.e., the "plain truth of scripture") wars with what former Presiding Bishop Griswold has referred to as "pluriform truths." I also note that, at least in my experience in the Episcopal Church, such a tolerance for paradox is less likely to occur in the Baby Boomer generation than it is in postmodern generations (Generation X and Millennials).

Add to this conflict in both culture and ways of thinking the fact that, at least according to this article in Ekklesia, most of us have both very short memories and very little tolerance for long explanations. The author also makes a point related to my last post, that is that:
Hard work will be needed if the gulf which has opened up is to be bridged. Moves towards increasing the power of senior clergy, and their unaccountability to those they supposedly serve, will not help. Why should laypeople used to taking responsibility in other areas of life, and having to argue their case if they are to persuade others to take their views on board, passively accept the pronouncements of bishops who have not done their homework, especially if this undermines local mission and ministry?
In other words, while I would assert that bishops do have a charism and responsibility for teaching and for 'guarding the unity of the church," they also have an obligation to study and consult widely as they consider their positions. As well, we are well past the time when anyone can be said to have the final word on anything, much less an aspect of a two-thousand year old faith tradition.

I'm not sure just where this leaves us, except that we need to be in a lot less of a hurry to resolve the situation and a lot more willing to deeply consider possible solutions, including the possibility that this particular issue may remain unresolved for a long time to come. Perhaps we just need to live with that fact.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Bishops and Democracy

The long-awaited Archbishop of Canterbury's Advent Letter has been published and is worth a read. Folks with far more free time on their hands than I have dissected and parsed the text trying to read between the lines for what it really says (or what they would like to think it really says) and I will leave that to them. The question which is as yet unanswered is this: Can the members of the Anglican Communion agree to disagree regarding ordination of partnered homosexual persons and blessing of same-sex unions, or are the irreconcilable differences of opinion on this one issue such that schism is inevitable? It seems more and more that this is a cultural, rather than a biblical or theological, divide, but it is no less critical for that.

I'm also interested in +++Rowan's thoughts regarding bishops:
A somewhat complicating factor in the New Orleans statement has been the provision that any kind of moratorium is in place until General Convention provides otherwise. Since the matters at issue are those in which the bishops have a decisive voice as a House of Bishops in General Convention, puzzlement has been expressed as to why the House should apparently bind itself to future direction from the Convention. If that is indeed what this means, it is in itself a decision of some significance. It raises a major ecclesiological issue, not about some sort of autocratic episcopal privilege but about the understanding in The Episcopal Church of the distinctive charism of bishops as an order and their responsibility for sustaining doctrinal standards. Once again, there seems to be a gap between what some in The Episcopal Church understand about the ministry of bishops and what is held elsewhere in the Communion, and this needs to be addressed.
Having just had my own bishop call for the election of his successor, and having seen from afar some of the issues with which he has been forced to deal, the question of what we in the Episcopal Church think is, to use the Archbishop's words, the "distinctive charism of bishops as an order." Do we think of the episcopate, or even the priesthood and/or diaconate, as simply jobs or positions? Do we believe in the "Bishop as CEO, Priest as Caregiver, and Deacon as Social Worker" model or do we believe that there is, in fact, some special gift of the Spirit that is conveyed or recognized at ordination? What do we think God does when we ask God to "make" someone a bishop, priest, or deacon in God's church?

More than sexuality, it appears that here is where the real divide between the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion lies. We like to dress our bishops up like everyone else, parade them around, and have them make speeches and wax theological, but God help them if they actually exercise any power! Ever since the first colonists came over and established a settlement at Jamestown 400 years ago, we have been uncomfortable with the role of bishops. I would submit that we often have far more in common with the Lutherans, for whom I believe that bishop is a role or job, not an permanently ordained ministry, then we are truly catholic in our ecclesiology. I keep seeing other bloggers wondering why we should give the resolutions of the Lambeth Conference so much weight and seeing the most representative body, the Anglican Consultative Council, as having the only true and legitimate authority in the Communion. Don't even get them started on the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Primates! Why? Why do we see democracy as having the highest authority? I would say that says more about our culture than it says about out theology. While we certainly shouldn't give bishops more authority than they are due, it may well be a part of what Dan Martins refers to as our "impoverished ecclesiology" (though that blog entry was written before the Archbishop's letter and referring to the unpleasantness in the Diocese of San Joaquin) that we give them so little authority.

In any case, I would love to see a discussion on what we believe ordination is and what we believe the ministry of a bishop is. As the Archbishop says, "this needs to be addressed."

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Anxiety, Fear, and Expectation

As I contemplate Christ the King Sunday, Thanksgiving, this season of Advent, and the escalating unrest across the Episcopal Church and, to a lesser extent, the Anglican Communion, it strikes me afresh how much we are in an unsettled, Advent-like time in the church and in the world. We have had a spate of letters to various bishops from our Presiding Bishop warning against actions that could be seen as "abandoning the communion of the church" and, at least so far, seemingly not making a bit of difference in the subsequent actions of their respective Diocesan Conventions. It seems as if we are headed for uncharted territory in the Anglican Communion and the level of anxiety is as high as I've ever seen it.

As I've remarked before in this blog, anxiety is a difficult state from which to make good decisions. In such a state we tend to devolve to the "fight or flight" response to just about everything. I'm a lurker on the House of Deputies/Bishops email list and even (perhaps especially!) there, it seems that every comment, even a seemingly innocuous one, provokes a flurry of responses, many critical. It would be nice to simply declare a "time out" from all of this, take a deep breath (or several!) and simply wait for what God will do. In other words, what we apparently need is a season like...Advent!

I doubt the first "Advent" (weeks prior to the birth of Christ) was any less tense and anxiety-ridden as this current time. There were factions in the Temple, the country was occupied by a hostile foreign power, and God had not spoken to God's people in hundreds of years. Into this time comes Immanuel, God with us. God breaks in to an anxious world as the Prince of Peace. I hope and pray that these Advent weeks will be a time of deep breathing, expectation, and peaceful prayer as we wait not only for Jesus' coming again, but for all that God will do in, through, and sometimes in spite of the Episcopal Church.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

To everything there is a season

It has now been four days since I returned from the Convention of the Diocese of Oregon. At the opening Eucharist, following the Peace, our bishop said the following:
Thanksgiving for a Season of Ministry

As a people of God we are always called to new opportunities for discernment and invoke the presence of the Holy Spirit to guide us into new directions. Thanks to God, as a diocese, amid all the challenges of our time and circumstance, during these past years we have made considerable progress in charting a new future. Thanks to God, many of our congregations are getting healthier, stronger, and more financially secure, although the rising costs do not always keep pace with available income. By God’s grace, our spiritual and financial house is in relatively healthy order and we have made some difficult yet prudent decisions about how best to further our mission and ministry in the wake of competing demands on our limited resources. By the grace of Almighty God, I feel confident that we are doing fairly well, although in the Lord’s vineyard there is always much more work to do. In this regard, I personally feel thankful that the tasks to which I have been called to tend to have been realized in some significant ways. There is much more to be done, however, I think we are in very good place to discern how we as a diocese need to be moving forward.

All of our ministries are part of a much broader continuum of service in Christ’s One, Holy, Catholic, Apostolic Church. Each season of ministry has its own rewards, challenges, and opportunities. It has been a blessing to serve as your bishop and to preside over this fifth convention with you. The Lord has been faithful and good and I feel that we have laid the foundation for a new direction and focus in missional thinking, reflection, and ministry. After some time of prayerful discernment, in recognition of personal, professional, and family needs, I feel that now would be the appropriate time to share news of my desire to begin the important work of electing my successor, the tenth Bishop of Oregon. I have shared this news with the Standing Committee and some key persons within our diocese so we can together work on bringing about a smooth and grace-filled transition in the future. There are so many of you here and throughout the diocese with whom I would have wished to share this news personally, however, given time, distance, and other limitations, this would have been most difficult to accomplish. Hence, I am using this time to share some of these thoughts with you as members of our diocesan family. In the months to come I ask that we prayerfully begin to think about our future and the needs and demands of a different season of leadership. Early next year I will be inviting the Office of Pastoral Development of the House of Bishops, to come and speak with the officers and Standing Committee of the Diocese about a process of transition. The details of this process will be clearer later, however, I am sharing this news with all of you now out of deep love, respect, and thanksgiving for our witness together in this vineyard of our Lord Jesus Christ. The process to call my successor, as I remain your bishop, will take some time; however, I am simply sharing this news in advance so we will not be overly surprised or alarmed when the transition happens, but know that we will be working together to continue to strengthen the wonderful ministries that are offered in Christ’s name.
Though there had been rumors, I can say confidently that this call for the election of Bishop Itty's successor stunned the Convention, including the clergy with whom I sat during the service. In the days since then, I have been asked the big question: "Why?" I currently have no real answer to that question, and decline to speculate. It suffices to say that this particular transition comes at a pivotal point in the history of the Diocese of Oregon, where we have discerned a Strategic Plan and will begin its implementation in 2008. I personally will be sad to see Bishop Itty go and will miss his passionate call to mission. May God guide the Diocese of Oregon in the choosing of his successor.

Monday, November 05, 2007

On to Diocesan Convention

I've once again felt called to put fingers to keyboard as I consider the upcoming annual Convention of the Diocese of Oregon. Like other Episcopal dioceses, we meet in Convention once a year to do the work we have been given to do -- generally involving approving the budget for the following year, electing people to various decision-making bodies (including, this time, deputies to General Convention 2009), and debating a variety of resolutions that have varying effects on what happens at the diocesan level in the coming years. This year will debating a somewhat controversial radical restructuring of the Diocesan Program Assessment (what each congregation pays into the diocesan program fund). If approved, it would cut income to the program fund by about twenty-five percent, forcing some serious decision-making. Though it wouldn't take effect until January 1, 2009, it would mean that next year would be one of radical rethinking of the role of the diocesan personnel and structures in the life of the diocese.

As I think of these decisions and discussions, I am also conscious of having prayed last Sunday for the Diocese of Pittsburgh (where I was baptized and where my godfather still attends church) and the Diocese of Pennsylvania (where I was priested and spent the first two years of my ordained ministry). At their convention, the Diocese of Pittsburgh voted for a resolution that, if approved next year, would effectively sever ties between the diocese and the rest of the Episcopal Church. The diocese of Pennsylvania (Philadelphia area), on the other hand, was dealing with the recent inhibition of their bishop (elected and ordained just before I left the diocese). So, I continue to think about what it means to be part of a diocese.

Unlike laity, who belong to a congregation (parish or mission), clergy belong to (are "canonically resident" in) a diocese. The diocese is, in effect, our "congregation" with our bishop as our Pastor. Because of that, we live in a sort of in-between world in which (to misquote a scripture passage) we are "in the congregation but not of it." Our name never appears in the Parish Register as a communicant yet we are called to lead a portion of the members of the diocese who have congregated together as a church, sometimes decades prior to our arrival. For that reason, Diocesan Convention has a greater effect on me than I think it has on the lay delegates and certainly those who we leave back within our parishes. It is a much more immediate thing for me, composed of friends and colleagues and led by a bishop who I respect. For members of my congregation, I suspect, it is just another reason Fr. Tom has to be out of town.

As all of that swirls around my mind, I am always mindful of the drama being played out in the wider Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion. Bishop Pierre Whalon, Bishop in Charge of the Convocation of American Churches in Europe, wrote an essay for Anglicans Online in which he states, among other things, that:
There remains among Anglicans worldwide, however, a large area of agreement, and this is crucial: the basic doctrines (or dogmas) of Christianity are not in question. Anglicans all respect the so-called “Lambeth Quadrilateral” as essential to our identity everywhere: the Scriptures as God’s Word, “containing all things necessary for salvation,” as the formula goes; the Creeds as the foundational interpretation of the message of the Bible; the two sacraments of Baptism and Eucharist as essential to Christian living; and the “historic episcopate” of bishops, “locally adapted.”
His point, with which I agree, is that what we are really talking about is not theology (view of God) but ecclesiology (view of the church). More specifically, the pattern of all of the colonial churches running home to Mother Church (and Father Archbishop of Canterbury) no longer works in a post-colonial world where the vast majority of developing countries have native "locally adapted" expressions of the Anglican faith that sometimes bear little resemblance to the Church of England, much less one another. The challenge is not what to do about homosexuality, the challenge is what to do about any controversy that has international implications and who makes those decisions.

In any case, as I think about how we make decisions on a parish, diocesan, national, and international level, I am struck both by how tightly we are bound together and how sometimes that binding is a blessing and sometimes it chafes! Perhaps a little ecclesiastical baby powder in the tender spots...

Saturday, October 27, 2007

What's your theology?

Yes, I took one of those cute Internet quiz things. Guess you could call it "What's your theology?" Try not to read too much into it!

Eucharistic theology
created with
You scored as Orthodox

You are Orthodox, worshiping the mystery of the Holy Trinity in the great liturgy whereby Jesus is present through the Spirit in a real yet mysterious way, a meal that is also a sacrifice.













Saturday, October 13, 2007

All Shall Be Well

After two weeks without a blog entry, several things seem to compel me to put finger to keyboard today. Primarily I am aware that the Fall Pledge Campaign (or Fall Stewardship Season, if you wish) is currently either ramping up or in full swing in many congregations, including mine. When one puts money, discussions of money, and budgets that never seem to have enough money together with the general state of anxiety in the church at large, there is the recipe for a goodly amount of tension and anxiety.

Second, for my Church Development Institute program, I am reading How Your Church Family Works: Congregations as Emotional Systems, by Peter Steinke. He writes:
"Anxiety diminishes clarity and objectivity. It interferes with our capacity to think creatively. We cannot stand outside of the vague dread and observe it. We do not know what we are afraid of, what terrifies us. In contrast to fear, anxiety is undifferentiated. It has no definite focus."
To me, this sounds very much like what appears to be happening in many churches today. Even when sexuality is the focus, we are repeatedly told that it isn't "the issue." Perhaps the issue, rather than the authority of scripture, is simply anxiety that periodically finds a place within us or gravitates to hot-button issues and triggers our instinct to protect against what is different or not understood. I have often seen otherwise perfectly rational discussions degenerate when the topic of sexuality, money, or even evangelism arises--an almost instinctual reaction against dealing with the reality of what is going on in the world and the church in any way but defensively.

I join that thought with my continued consideration of the Gospel passage for this coming Sunday (tomorrow!) where Jesus says to the leper "your faith has made you well." I wonder, what made the lepers who did not return to thank Jesus well? Was it their faith also, or simply the unrecognized (or at least unacknowledged) power of God?

As I was walking back home from the park this afternoon, a perfect Fall day in the northwest, the famous words of St. Julian of Norwich came to mind:
"All shall be well
and all shall be well
and all manner of things shall be well."
It occurs to me that we do not need to have a disfiguring, incurable, or terminal illness to need healing and certainly do not need such a thing for us to need faith that "all manner of things shall be well." That sense of peace in the midst of anxiety is perhaps the greatest healing possible--the comfort of placing our lives (once again!) in God's hands, trusting that God is in control and that we need not pretend to be in control.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

More House of Bishops Summaries and Analysis

Well, the blog beat goes on in the wake of the recently-concluded House of Bishops meeting in New Orleans. An excellent, though somewhat tongue-in-cheek, summary of the meeting is posted by The Rev. Susan Fawcett on Episcopal Cafe.

There is an interesting time-line shaping up here. If the Anglican Consultative Council follows the pattern they have established of meeting every three years, then they will meet in 2008, the same year as the once-a-decade Lambeth Conference. One or more Primates Meetings, of course, may be held at any point in time. Following both of those meetings, the Episcopal Church will meet in General Convention in 2009. By that time, the overall direction of the Anglican Communion should be pretty clear, meaning that GC2009 will probably be dealing with the results of such meetings (possibly redrawing diocesan boundaries, etc...) rather than replying to yet another set of inquiries.

Keep praying...

Friday, September 28, 2007

Dancing Around the Center

As the initial flurry of responses and analysis of the statement from the House of Bishops has begun, I've attempted to keep up with some of the discussions that have ensued. As I remarked earlier, folks on both the conservative and liberal ends of the spectrum are unhappy with the statement. It is difficult to find a moderate take on the statement, but I happened to run across an article in the Church Times (London) that pretty much summarizes my opinion on the whole thing. Most especially, this observation:
By making this concessionary statement, allying themselves to the Windsor process, and inviting further debate, the Episcopalian Bishops have placed themselves firmly in the Anglican mainstream, however others prefer to define that word. There is nothing to stop the US conservatives’ continuing to combine with provinces in the Global South, but such moves will take them away from the centre.
I think that the author has it exactly right: the House of Bishops said what they could reasonably say, given the constraints of polity and power under which they operate. They served notice that they expect other provinces to actually engage in the "listening process" called for in Lambeth 1.10 (acknowledging how difficult that process might be in certain cultures), and staking out a middle ground that isolates the more conservative folks (who left early anyway) as they seek to cast an image of the Episcopal Church as radically liberal. I hope and pray that most provinces aren't buying it.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Sabbatical Re-Entry

Well, I'm back. Back in the office, back at the church, back doing the Vicar thing. On the positive side, nothing flared up during my absence. On the negative side, the same problems that were there before are still there. Sigh. In any case, the point of a Sabbatical is not necessarily to solve the problems, but to change the way the person taking the time away looks at them. I'm certainly at a much better place in my life and ministry now than I was three months ago.

Certainly many eyes are on the recently concluded meeting of the House of Bishops of the Episcopal Church. Their statement seems to at least move the conversation forward without giving up to much in the way of at least perceived progress. Everyone acknowledges that the issue of homosexuality is not going away any time soon. The fact that both folks on the conservative and liberal end of the spectrum seem to be less than enthusiastic about the statement seems to be to be a good indication that it strikes a moderate tone.

That's pretty much all I'm going to say on that. Others have written on their first impressions and the statement (and responses) will no doubt continue to be discussed. For me, things like our upcoming Fall Pledge Campaign, participation in the diocesan strategic planning process, and the myriad of housekeeping (churchkeeping?) items are more at the front of my mind these days.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

PERCEPTions in Southern California

As my Sabbatical winds down (ending this Saturday) I am currently in Southern California (Lake Forest, to be precise) taking a three-day course at the headquaters of The Percept Group, the demographics organization that generates reports about the shape of congregations and their surrounding communities. With one day down, I have learned much and look forward to making use of that information in both my congregation and the Episcopal Diocese of Oregon. Having begun with the Church Development Institute in Seattle focusing on development of my own congregation, it seems fitting that I end my Sabbatical with a focus on both the immediate surrounding community and the diocese as a whole. It will likely take me weeks, if not months, to process what I have learned and to get my brain up to speed with all of the things I've learned as well as all that needs doing at St. Alban's. Should be an interesting next several months, though.

I'm unlikely to post another blog entry before the end of my Sabbatical and my first Sunday back behind pulpit and altar, so consider this my closing Sabbatical blog! See you on the other side.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Nigerian bishop says gay people are "Not fit to live"?

UPDATE: Mark Harris reports that "...the reporter for the News Agency of Nigeria may have misquoted Bishop Orama of Nigeria, or worse deliberately done so. UPI has pulled the story pending further investigation." I'm happy to hear that, but the environment that spawns even the possibility of such statements continues to exist in far too many quarters and from far too many people, including clergy.

Normally I attempt to stay somewhat out of the current wrangling in the church regarding sexual ethics. As a centrist, I try to steer a balanced, middle course. However, every time I'm tempted to veer a little towards the conservative end of the spectrum, a conservative cleric comes along and gives me something that either causes me to veer the other way or, occasionally, just makes my jaw drop. Such was a quote by the Anglican Bishop of Uyo (in Nigeria). A recent article quoted him as follows:
"Homosexuality and lesbianism are inhuman. Those who practice them are insane, satanic and are not fit to live because they are rebels to God's purpose for man,'' the Bishop said."
I cannot believe that a man of God, someone who professes to be a Christian, would seriously say that anyone is "insane, satanic, and...not fit to live." Such rhetoric, far from being helpful, appears to indicate, at least to me, that the "listening process" mandated by the much-referred-to Lambeth resolution has had next to no effect in parts of the Anglican Communion.

In any case, as the September 30 "deadline" looms, it may be well to recall that some of the "orthodox" harbor the above view. Many do not, but there is a strain of folks in the seperatist movement who regard homosexuality as utterly evil and those who "practice" homosexuality as people who should be cast into the darkness or the fires of hell. Hard to see a via media (middle way) here...

Monday, September 03, 2007

Labor and Love

It is Labor Day here in the United States, a day on which we honor all who, as the saying goes, put in an honest day's work for an honest day's pay. I personally am in the process of counting down the last two weeks of my Sabbatical, beginning to stir my heart and mind and consider both the church development project I will be undertaking as part of my course of study from the Church Development Institute, but also what, in the longer term, God might have in mind for St. Alban's and for me in the months and years to come. The work of a priest is both job and relationship, both the challenges of running a nonprofit business (sort of, since the church is hardly just another charity) and the ups and downs of a relationship that is much like a marriage -- with all of the joys and difficulties that such a covenant relationship brings.

As I contemplate my own ministry, I ran across this article in Episcopal Cafe regarding Mother Teresa's ministry in the slums of Calcutta. I have blogged earlier about how troubling it is for me that she labored so hard and so long while in spiritual darkness. However, the article gives a rather different take on it from someone who has actually worked in that ministry. After reading the article, I've somewhat changed my mind about the things I wrote in my earlier blog post. While it is always best to serve out of a conviction of purpose and relationship, I think that there is something to be said for simply living what you believe, serving Christ even in the absence of reassurance. After all, what relationship is perfect? How many marriages end simply because one or both partners don't "feel the love" strongly enough for their own comfort? Certainly, in both marriage and ministry, sometimes one must simply put one foot in front of the other and walk the path that has been set before us and make the journey to which we have committed ourselves.

Interesting thoughts for a Labor Day. Sometimes, the labor of love is truly labor, even if done in love.

Friday, August 31, 2007

In Transition

Well, after a five hour flight (and three hour time-change) on Tuesday and a twelve hour drive (ride, actually, since my wife drove) on Wednesday I am back at home in Albany. Not too much to report -- the cat is alive, the house is still standing, and there are a ton of things to unpack and put away. The one really odd thing is that after two months away and six weeks in another person's house I don't immediately recall the location of some of the things in my kitchen!

So, two weeks and counting until the end of my Sabbatical. I'm already having pre-return anxiety about some of the issues at work when I left in June. I have to keep telling myself two things: First, that I really need to give the anxiety-producing stuff to God and let God handle it. Second, I am not back for two more weeks and I hardly need to return mentally before I've returned physically! So, I am looking forward to a week at home and then a week in Southern California attending Percept's VISTA training program and dropping in at Saddleback Church (of Pastor Rick Warren fame) the previous Sunday. Both should be instructive and will "spin up" my mind so that I can return to St. Alban's both fully rested and fully ready to step into the pulpit and behind the altar.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Service, Sacrifice, and Scars

Today I ran across an amazing article about Mother Teresa talking about a new book entitled Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light. It is a collection of previously unreleased correspondence between her and her confessors and superiors over 66 years. What it reveals is that one of the icons of Christian service, of service to thousands of "the least of these" in the slums of Calcutta, and a Nobel Peace Prize winner nevertheless endured a spiritual desert, no sense of the presence of God, for over fifty years. I can't do the article justice (and it is no doubt copyrighted anyway) so read the article for yourselves.

I have three initial reactions to the article.

First, I am struck by how much we rely on surface clues about a person's wellbeing and how tortured and spiritually lost even those we think of as godly, even holy, are. If that is the case, how many wounds does your average person-in-the-pew (or in the pulpit!) hide, gloss over, or simply ignore? I shudder to think how many walking wounded are in our midst including, if truth be told, myself. That sense of one being taken, blessed, broken, and given to the world as the bread of the Eucharist is, seems a more powerful metaphor than I previously grasped. Perhaps that is what Jesus knew when he commanded us to pray for our enemies: that they were broken and wounded and needed our prayers perhaps even more than our friends!

Second, with all of the correspondence with confessors and others in the church, why, literally for God's sake, didn't someone see this spiritual desolation and seek to help alleviate it? What an irony that a woman who brought hope to the world and to so many who were hopeless was herself spiritually adrift! I can't tell much from the article, but it appears that while some reassurances were given her, Mother Teresa worked tirelessly for a Savior whose touch she had not felt in her soul for over five decades while the church stood by watching. Was her work so valuable that piercing that veil of holiness and sacrificial love was deemed too great a cost? I ask myself, is she a saint because she persevered in service without a "sign" from God or is she an example of someone who gives themselves so much to others that she can't bear to receive consolation and solace from others? I don't know. What I do know is that God wrapped her in God's arms a decade ago and said "well done, good and faithful servant." Of that I am sure.

Finally, I am confronted with the stark reality that even someone like Mother Teresa, by all accounts a model of servant ministry if ever there was one, had neither an easy nor secure relationship with God. Oddly enough, it gives me some comfort that if others can serve God effectively with such impediments, my own humble attempts at a stable and fruitful spiritual life may at least suffice.

Be that as it may, as I count down the weeks remaining of my Sabbatical, I am struck anew by how much difference a strong spiritual foundation makes in one's ministry. More specifically, I am struck by how the strength of my own spiritual foundation relates directly to both my effectiveness and endurance in ministry. Making sure that foundation is strong and that my self-worth is rooted in God's love for me rather than the perceived day-to-day success or failure of my own efforts to faithfully shepherd the flock of St. Alban's will be a primary goal upon my return.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Theologically Orthodox and Socially Progressive

For many, many years now I have been making the assertion that it is quite possible to be both theologically orthodox and socially progressive. More specifically, it is possible to take Holy Scripture seriously, to see Jesus as the way to God, to hold mainstream views of the Incarnation, Resurrection, etc... and still believe in the blessing of same-sex unions and the ordination of homosexual persons. I happen to know several people, among them gays and lesbians, who nevertheless hold very traditional, orthodox views on core Christian doctrines.

Generally, when I make the above assertion to a conservative-leaning crowd, I am greeted with stares and responses of disbelief that such a thing is even possible. It seems that one's views on sexuality are the de facto litmus test on both one's orthodoxy and one's view of scripture as authoritative. I do not think that should be the case. Now, I have online proof that the orthodox theology and progressive views of sexuality can co-exist! Fr. Jake, in his blog, has a posting on Christians in a Pluralistic World which is well worth reading and pretty thoroughly orthodox, especially regarding evangelism and the unique revelation of God in Christ. Have a read, add to the more than 150 comments if you like, but note that Fr. Jake does in fact hold strong views of the uniqueness of Jesus Christ and the impetus for evangelism. He's revealing what he calls his "inner Baptist."

So it is possible. Given that, might we hypothesize that there are thousands, perhaps millions of people who can affirm the Nicene and Apostles Creeds without reservation, see scripture as "containing all things necessary to salvation," and yet still affirm same-sex blessings and homosexual ordination? If there are folks for whom that is true, then if the real issue is the authority of scripture, then let us dispense with questions of sexuality, affirm the creeds, core doctrines, and witness of scripture, and we're done! That just leaves those who have some particular axe to grind with the issue of same-sex blessings and homosexual ordination, but since that isn't the real issue, the rest of us in the Episcopal Church and Anglican Communion should be able to move on.

Gee, I solved the problem with more than a month to go before September 30! Hmmm....

Friday, August 17, 2007

The Christian Center

As the "d-day" of September 30 grows closer and voices (and bloggers) from both sides become ever more strident in their assurance of the rightness of their respective causes, there are many voices from the center who are being increasingly heard. Though I would not want to characterize the Primate of Ireland (he can do that for himself), his recent sermon is the subject of entries in several blogs, among them The Anglican Centrist and Fr. Jake Stops the World. While others have highlighted various parts of this sermon, the part that speaks most forcefully to me comes near the end. Archbishop Harper says:

I have yet to meet any “leader” who does not treat with the utmost respect and indeed reverence the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testament. I have heard no one in this crisis deny the fundamental tenets of the faith as Anglicans have received them. Yet I have heard believing Christians attack other Christians for not believing precisely as they themselves believe. Equally, I have heard believing Christians attack other Christians for not attaching the weight they themselves attach to this biblical text compared with that.

This is not the way of Christ; it is the way of fallen humanity. It is a boulder of our own creation and I do not know who will help us to roll it away.

So before either side continues to stack up blocks in walls to protect the church from either rampant heresy or homophobia, it might be wise to remember that the people of both sides (and the vast majority in the middle) are faithful, sincere, believing Christians, not raving lunatics or heretics bent on destroying the church.

Every time my commitment to remaining within the Episcopal Church wavers, generally because I'm simply tired of the fight, statements like those of Archbishop Harper shore up my resolve to do so. We are always better together than we are when we are apart, no matter who else is at the table. After all, the table isn't ours, it belongs to Jesus and Jesus can (and does) invite anyone and everyone!

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Theology, Ecclesiology, and Real Life

I'm an ardent fan of Fr. Jake's blog, though I suspect he and I would disagree on any number of theological questions. However, I return again and again to his blog because I find his comments sincere and thought-provoking. I ran across the following on his blog tonight:

Now one can argue theology (study of God) or ecclesiology (study of the church), debate and discuss what this or that bishop thinks about this or that theological concept, or a host of other items making the rounds of blogs across the church and newspapers around the world. I can spend long afternoons surfing from blog to blog in the nice comfy living room in the house of the person I'm house-sitting for in Hawaii. I have that luxury. The folks who sent the postcards above do not have that luxury. I suspect many of them stagger through life trying to put enough of the pieces together to get through each day. Many, if not most, have absolutely no idea that there even is a God, much less that God loves them and desires the closest of relationships with them. Some of the later postcards begin to express hope and a sense of being valued, even loved. Such transformation is what everyone, including those of us who pretend we have it all together, longs for.

In my decades of experience in the institutional church, I've rarely seen that sort of radical transformation, or even much in the way of minor transformation. I suspect that some of that is just that we are uncomfortable when speaking of God's action, and so such action in the lives of others remains hidden to most of us, whether clergy or laity. I think that we also are challenged in that we don't often expect God to work in even moderately miraculous ways, so either miss that action or are unavailable for God's blessings.

One example of the "lostness" that I mentioned above occurred even within the most luxurious of locations. We went down to the Hilton Hawaiian tonight for ice cream. My wife mentioned the rather sullen and bored teenager she noticed who was getting ice cream, alone, at 9:30 p.m., and charging it to her room. We wondered if her parents just told her "go find something to do." We were reminded that even those who can afford to spend a week or two at a fine luxury resort in Hawaii aren't necessarily doing so with the idea of spending "quality time" with their family. Perhaps we were reading more into that scene then was warranted, but with so much opulence (including the on-site wedding chapel) around us, it was hard not to look on that with a slightly jaundiced eye.

So the next time I get wrapped up in the trials and tribulations of the church, perhaps stepping outside my office and heading down to the local homeless shelter, or even to Starbucks or the local country club and doing a little people-watching might bring a little perspective. We are called to be the light of the world, for people sunk in darkness, not to fight about the light fixture...

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Iraq: How would Jesus leave?

In a brief diversion from ecclesiastical trials and tribulations, my mind had returned to a question I have often mulled over as the presidential campaigns of various Republicans and Democrats continues, with Iraq as the centerpiece. Let us assume that invading Iraq in the first place was a mistake, that our presence there is at best neutral (we're both provoking insurgency and also preventing it), and that we are headed for a pullout of our troops. Attempting, as with the ecclesiastical turmoil, to be both present and non-anxious, my question is: how might we leave in a way that both admits that, in a profound understatement, "mistakes were made" but also doesn't simply wash our hands of the troubles in Iraq? While I believe that we should leave Iraq, it hardly seems like anything but cowardice for us to simply say "Ooops, we made a mistake. Hope you can clean it up!" as we fly and float away, licking our wounds.

So, I'm wondering how, in the Christian sense, we might align our will with God's will and use this whole situation for good while not perpetuating the problem by remaining in Iraq one second longer than our presence is beneficial. I don't have the answer to that question, and probably don't have even a tenth of the information to even speculate, but I haven't heard the question posed by any of the candidates running for President. I would think that such a holistic departure plan, with or without a time-line, would seem prudent given the current political environment.

So, in other words, the question is: How would Jesus leave? How would Jesus have us leave?

Monday, August 13, 2007

More Reflections - Anglicanism and Christianity

I just ran across a blog post at Episcopal Cafe. The author says, in part, that when folks disagree with the Presiding Bishop or other official church teachings, they sometimes take the next step:
That step is to claim that since the Presiding Bishop has made a statement that the writer objects to, the millions of people who belong to the Episcopal Church are also therefore heretics and/or apostates who have materially repudiated Jesus.
Read the entire post here. The author, an Episcopal Priest for many years, makes an excellent point. Rather than assume that a handful of bishops, or even the Presiding Bishop, speaks for everyone in the Episcopal Church, might we assume a diversity of opinion on any given subject exists within the church? If that is so, then simply saying that The Episcopal Church is heretical, or apostate, makes little sense.

As I begin to wind down my Sabbatical (one month to go!), I am more and more attempting to cultivate that non-anxious presence that I blogged about earlier. This would seem to apply not only to parish life, but to diocesan, national, and international life as well. In a post-Christian society and a time of transition in the church, I see a huge amount of reactivity and tension in the church. Many people are reacting to it with statements and actions that may or may not be completely thought out or prayerfully considered. Discerning God's will takes time. In a world where we pace in front of the microwave, get our news in two or three minute segments, and are hyper-aware of thirty-second sound bytes, such discernment may seem to take a lifetime in comparison. Given that, perhaps a longer time-frame might be wise before making any final decisions.

Of course, it may be too late for the for some folks...but there is always repentance and restoration!

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Back on Oahu and Reflections on Current Events

Just got back from a week on Maui, capped off by a truly amazing performance of Ulalena at the Maui Theatre. Ulalena is a live-action theatrical presentation of the mythical creation story of Maui through the immigration of people from Tahiti, forced immigration of Chinese and Japanese people to work in the sugar cane fields, and the emergence of European influence on the islands. As I watched the show, I was reminded that the interaction of native people with European explorers, missionaries, and others has often had a less than positive result, to say the least. It is interesting to be a tourist and to see so much native culture on display, often at "touristy" events (luaus, etc...) On the plus side, the Hawaiian culture seems to have permeated the general culture of the Hawaiian islands much more than Native American culture has permeated the culture of the mainland. Unlike mainlanders, it is nearly impossible for residents of Hawaii to ignore native culture. The fact that such native culture is part and parcel of the tourist industry is perhaps a mixed blessing.

On a somewhat different topic, the "fun" continues with Fr. David Anderson reacting to the following quote from the Archbishop of York, Dr. John Sentamu:
…I haven’t found that in Ecusa (sic) or in Canada, where I was recently, they have any doubts in their understanding of God which is very different from anybody. What they have quarrelled about is the nature of sexual ethics.
Fr. Anderson's response is that Dr. Sentamu just hasn't been looking hard enough. Citing Bishops Jefferts Schori (Presiding), Spong (Newark, retired), Bruno (Los Angeles), Bennison (Pennsylvania), and Borsch (Los Angeles, retired) he says that the real battle is over core doctrines, not sexuality.

The Diocese of York published a response a couple of days later, which essentially says that such citations are from the fringe of the Episcopal Church, not its center, and restates the Archbishop of York's orthodox credentials.

I would certainly agree with Fr. Anderson that there are several instances in which The Episcopal Church (TEC) has refused to discipline those who actively refute core doctrines of the Christian faith (Bishop Spong) and that many, many congregations practice "open communion" in violation of the canons. However, the Diocese of York's response is good, particularly the following:
By using such a broad brush to attack the Episcopal Church as a whole, Canon Anderson conveniently whitewashes the testimony daily offered up by all those faithfully reciting the creeds and liturgy that bear evidence to those doctrines which he alleges have been abandoned. The orthodox voice of the multitude is drowned out and ignored in Anderson’s analysis in favour of selective quotation from the fringe.
I have several difficulties with this entire argument. The first is that we have not, to my knowledge, had a prolonged and exhaustive discussion of the core doctrines of Christianity, nor do I believe that there has been a wholesale abandonment of such doctrines by significant portions of the Episcopal Church. I simply haven't seen that. Second, as much as folks talk about how sexuality isn't the real issue, it appears to be the pressing issue of the day. Archbishop Akinola is not debating the doctrines of the Incarnation, Resurrection, etc... with Presiding Bishop Jefferts Schori or other bishops in the Episcopal Church, he is focusing on the issue of homosexuality. If that is not the issue, then why does it keep coming up? Last, why does Fr. Anderson simply quote a string of bishops? I know many, many priests and laity who are far more theologically grounded than many bishops (I was taught at Virginia Seminary by some of them). In simply rattling off a string of quotes from bishops, even prominent ones, Fr. Anderson seems to fall into the trap of thinking (or asking the wider Anglican Communion to think) that TEC is run and controlled exclusively by bishops.

As I look at the wrangling currently at work, I find myself reflecting on the Episcopal Church and our core Anglican identity and liturgy. My stint at the Church Development Institute in Seattle earlier in my Sabbatical has given me a new respect and appreciation for that identity and liturgy. As I also read Diana Butler Bass' book Christianity for the Rest of Us, I am struck by the rush to claim the Anglican moniker. As institutions and denominations matter less and less in many congregations, liturgical and theological heritage becomes increasingly more important. Perhaps rather than wrestling and wrangling about who gets to stick a shield or a compass-rose on their sign, we might more profitably go more deeply into what uniquely makes us Anglicans and do so on a congregation by congregation basis. Perhaps in knowing and valuing our own identity, we might more easily claim that identity.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Aloha from Maui

In the midst of our six-week Hawaiian odyssey, we are currently enjoying a week in Maui, courtesy of my mother-in-law. We head back to Oahu on Tuesday, and will spend the following three weeks there before returning to Oregon via California. While here, we have enjoyed the Old Lahaina Luau, gone underwater in a submarine, and relaxed by the pool at the aina nalu. Not too much more to say from here!

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Word and Sacrament, before and after

As I continue on my Sabbatical and troll the various blogs (left, right, and center) describing the current travails in the Episcopal Church and Anglican Communion, I just came across the following quote from Fr. Tony Clavier:
...the majority of parishioners, by far, are moderate people who hate the headlines and worship faithfully in their parish churches, don't much bother about the diocese, don't read Borg or Wright and distrust the National Church on principle, whether that principle is informed or not.
I'm very pleased that someone else is writing what I have been saying for what seems like years -- that, for good or ill, the average person-in-the-pew is primarily concerned about the goings on in his or her own parish, has perhaps a passing interest in the diocese (though there is often a "don't bother is, we won't bother you" sense), and care little or nothing for national church, much less international church (Anglican Communion) goings on.

I have repeatedly told the congregation I serve that regardless of General Convention resolutions, statements from various gatherings, press releases, or anything else we will still gather for worship on Sunday morning, hear Holy Scripture read and preached upon, and celebrate and receive the Eucharist. We will also continue to worry about money, gather for fellowship in coffee hour and at other times, and generally be the Body of Christ of the Episcopal flavor in Albany, Oregon. I say this not to minimize the challenges before the larger church, but to remind everyone (including me!) that the church has often been beset by controversies, disagreements, even schism. Yet, at our best, we are grounded in Word and Sacrament and it in the daily and weekly devotion in the local church that Christ is most directly encountered.

So we pray for the church, but hopefully don't allow ourselves to be caught up in the distractions of the larger body.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Investing in the Future of the World

In my continued Sabbatical (web) Surfing, I ran across a great organization through the web site of another great organization, Episcopalians for Global Reconciliation, for whom my friend The Reverend Mike Kinman works as Executive Director. What I found was Kiva, an organization that allows a person to not only make micro-loans to people in developing countries, but to choose a specific person to loan that money to! This is not charity, this is money that will used to make a permanent difference in the life of each person, their family, and perhaps their entire village.

With the stock market having just plunged over 500 points in two days, doesn't it make sense to make an investment where not only you get all the money back you loaned, but make a difference in someone's life? I think it does, and that's why I've become a lender. Care to join me? Just click on the link to the left.

Friday, July 27, 2007

An Anglican Non-Anxious Presence

My original plan for my Sabbatical was to take a break, or Sabbath rest, from news of the Episcopal Church. I unsubscribed from the Episcopal Life Online (ELO, which still makes me think of the group Electric Light Orchestra, but that's beside the point...) and vowed that I would avert my eyes from the news of the wider church in the interest of escaping from what seems the continual bad news emerging from various parts of the Anglican Communion.

That Sabbath lasted about a week.

There are two reasons that I decided to re-engage with the news events of the church. Initially it was because, frankly, I couldn't help myself. I hated being out of the information loop. However, in the wake of my experience at CDI-Seattle, my second reason (far better) was that simply running away, even for a time, from the conflicts raging around the church (or even the inevitable conflicts within my own congregation) increasingly seemed to be to be bowing to fear and a spirit of worry and anxiety. This is in sharp contrast to being what the late Edwin Freeman, in his book Generation to Generation, referred to as being a "non-anxious presence" in any given situation. As I see statements and counter-statements rage across blogs, church newspapers, and even the secular press, it strikes me that there is often precious little reason (the third leg of the Anglican three-legged stool) associated with them, and a substantial dose of either fear or anger. My newly-accepted challenge for my life and ministry is to remain present in the midst of national, diocesan, and congregational conflicts while not being overly anxious about those conflicts and discerning where God may be speaking through them.

In that spirit, I ran across the following blog entry on The Episcopal Majority blog. The author, The Reverend Matthew Dutton-Gillett, remarks on the recent essay by the Most Reverend Henry Luke Orambi, Archbishop of Uganda. on the topic "What is Anglicanism?" Fr. Dutton-Gilbert writes, in part,
"Debate about sexuality, or more precisely, homosexuality, is not really the issue; it is, rather, a very significant symptom. The real issue is this divide about how the Bible is to be interpreted and understood, and its place in the life of the church."
That is, in my opinion, indeed true. However, you rarely, if ever, see any sort of debate on that issue. Couple that with the current manifestation of the debate regarding homosexuality, with all the strong feelings and cultural issues that brings up, and you have a very challenging situation.

He also quotes what he takes to be Archbishop Orambi's central point:
"In the Church of Uganda, Anglicanism has been built on three pillars: martyrs, revival, and the historic episcopate. Yet each of these refers back to the Word of God, the ground on which all is built: The faith of the martyrs was maintained by the Word of God, the East African revival brought to the people the Word of God, and the historic ordering of ministry was designed to advance the Word of God."
Thus the entire Church of Uganda apparently stands or falls solely on scripture, and thus the "correct" interpretation of scripture. It is little wonder, therefore, that differing interpretations of scripture would have far more significance for them than for us in the Episcopal Church.

Contrast those pillars with the fourfold pillars of Scripture, Creed, Episcopate, and Sacraments in the Chicago/Lambeth Quadrilateral and you begin to see from whence the divide emerges. Arguably, we in the Episcopal Church have been marked by only one of the three "pillars of Anglicanism" at work in Uganda: the historic episcopate. Our martyrs are few and far between, revival has occasionally quickened the church but not often had a lasting impact, and we do not operate in nearly the sort of adversarial environment that the Church of Uganda does. Similarly, they do not operate in the sort of pluralistic, individual rights-based environment that we do. In the past, that was fine--without instant communication via the Internet, we could pretty much live out our faith in relative isolation. With the rise of globalization, that is no longer possible. So, how then do we live together?

For me, and I suspect for a great number of others, it comes down to what is essential to our Christian faith as opposed to what is important, but non-essential. Doctrines such as the Incarnation, Resurrection, and the Trinity as well as Holy Scripture as "the Word of God [containing] all things necessary to salvation" (Oath of Conformity, BCP, p. 526) seem like basic foundations on which most Anglicans and Episcopalians can agree. Even if that is not the case, all we can really do that is productive at this point is take a deep breath, pray, pray again, and then be as faithful to our own call from God as congregations and individuals as possible.

So, I will, with God's help, continue to be present to congregational, diocesan, and national church concerns, hopefully without giving in to the temptation to be anxious in the midst of inevitable conflict. After all, God is still in charge and it is God's church, not mine.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

My Harry Potter alter ego is...

Well, I saw this on a friend's blog and took the quiz myself, so....

You scored as Remus Lupin, You are a wise and caring wizard and a good,
loyal friend to boot. However sometimes in an effort to be liked by others
you can let things slide by, which ordinarily you would protest about.

Remus Lupin


Hermione Granger


Ron Weasley


Ginny Weasley


Albus Dumbledore


Severus Snape


Sirius Black


Draco Malfoy


Harry Potter


Lord Voldemort


Your Harry Potter Alter Ego Is...?
created with


Saturday, July 21, 2007

Tourism and Pilgrimage

It is Saturday evening, I'm in the process of making dinner, and I am also slowly working my way through Diana Butler Bass' latest book Christianity for the Rest of Us. (My wife is quickly working her way through Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, which gives you some idea of the diversity of literature in our household.) In her book, Diana Butler Bass writes about spiritual tourists verses spiritual pilgrims. As I contemplated the difference, it struck me that I am on a pilgrimage in a place awash with tourists! Most people come to Hawaii for a week or two and attempt to cram as much as possible into that time. Things like the "Top 10 Things to Do on Oahu", the Hawaii Vacation Travel Guide, or even the Oahu Visitor's Bureau website are offered for just this purpose. Their purpose is to help you to accumulate experiences of Hawaii of all kinds: cultural, gastronomic, geographic, etc... They are in sharp contrast to the Hawaii Newcomers Guide or Hawaii Moms, two publications that cater primarily to Hawaii residents, not vacationers. They are designed for people who intend to stay and live, not just visit.

Being here for almost seven weeks does not exactly make me a resident newcomer, but it certainly places me well beyond the time-frame of a typical tourist. For one thing, if I spent as much money per week as a tourist typically does, I'd be broke very soon! However, as someone on sabbatical rather than vacation, this trip helps me to contemplate what it is like to be a pilgrim, a wandering newcomer who is neither a seasoned resident living life day-to-day nor a pressed-for-time tourist trying to cram as much as possible into a short span of time.

As someone who has grown up in the church, I've always been a resident, rarely a pilgrim, and never a tourist. Experiencing what it is to be such a pilgrim may well alter how I do ministry, and certainly how I respond to those God brings to St. Alban's on their pilgrimage. Coupled with the renewed appreciation for the riches of the Anglican/Episcopal tradition gained from my time at CDI, I'm beginning to think about how the next chapter of my ordained ministry will unfold. I suspect one hallmark of my ministry will be a sense of peace and lack of hurry. After all, most pilgrims have plenty of time!

Monday, July 16, 2007

Aloha from Hawaii!

I have now been here in Honolulu for several days, gotten somewhat oriented, and am awaiting the arrival of my family before heading out to enjoy what Oahu has to offer. Both the congregation of St. George's, Honolulu and I have survived our first service together and it seemed to go well. It is also, frankly, wonderful not to have a huge "to-do" list in front of me like I often do at my own congregation. So, I'll sit back, relax, enjoy the islands, and store up as much relaxation as I can in preparation for Fall.


Saturday, July 14, 2007

An Agreement to Disagree (from Fr. Jake's Blog)

For many years I have been of the opinion that matters of sexuality should not be causes of schism or determinative of a person's orthodoxy in essential matters of faith. Now, Paul Stanley, a contributor to Fr. Jake's Blog, has come out with an An Agreement to Disagree. I welcome this succinct agreement which may well be the best summary and plan I have run across for dealing with current difficulties. As I have pointed out in my comment on the post, the "agreement" assumes the authorization of rites for the blessing of same-sex unions or the modification of the marriage canons to allow the marriage rite to be used with two people of the same sex. Whether that will happen or not at General Convention 2009 is an open question, at this point. There are many things that will no doubt happen between now and then.

One of the many reasons I like the above agreement is that it separates sexuality issues from the more core issues and doctrines like the Incarnation, Resurrection, Trinity, etc... which I think should be rigorously defended as they are core pieces of the Nicene and Apostles' creeds and therefore most definitely should be labeled "core doctrine."

See what you think, and comment as you wish.

P.S. Aloha from Hawaii!

Friday, July 06, 2007

The In-Between Time

Well, having left Seattle on Saturday, June 30 and made a brief stop in Albany, I've now been in California for several days visitng family and enjoying some time durng which I have virtually nothing to do. Having moved from life as an active VIcar of a Pastoral-sized parish, to two intensive weeks of the study of church development, I'm now into the relaxation/revival phase of my sabbatical. I leave for St. George's, Honolulu, Hawaii in less than a week where I will both serve as supply clergy occasionally (preach and lead worship) and also house-sit for the Vicar of St. George's, Fr. Mark Juchter. So, the next time you hear from me, it will probably be from Hawaii!

Friday, June 29, 2007

Exiting the Institute

I'll never forget a brief conversation I had with a couple of members of my parish when we were in the midst of planning a Celebration of New Ministry (or Institution, as some call it). They were talking about the fact that they were looking forward to my being institutionalized! While parish ministry can sometimes seem a little insane, I doubt I was that far gone then, nor now for that matter.

All of this is a long and sort of quirky way of saying that my first two weeks of the Church Development Institute in Seattle (CDI-Seattle) are completed. Now begins a year of study and work around church development, including readings and two church development projects. This year is essentially a time in which CDI-Seattle class members are committed deepening our learning as well as beginning to apply what we have learned in a parish context. My first project will likely be centered around Benedictine Spirituality and its three-fold disciplines of stability, obedience, and conversion of life. This is also the part of the Rule for the Order of the Ascension, a group affiliated with CDI and committed to church development. Most of us will return to Seattle at this time next year to complete our four-week course of study.

It has been a long, at times frustrating, but very worthwhile experience for me to be here. While I miss my family, I have gained many skills and much knowledge that will hopefully help me be a better parish priest. I anticipate that the learning will continue.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Culture and Congregations

I've spent the last week navigating my way through the first week of a four week program (two weeks per year for two years) of the Church Development Institute (CDI). After some time in which we were invited and encouraged to notice and analyze our interactions in a small group context, the latter part of the week has been taken up with visiting three different parishes: St. Mark's Cathedral, Trinity, and St. Paul's, our host parish. My own group was assigned to return to St. Paul's this morning to experience the worship and the other Sunday morning activities. Tomorrow, we will meet in teams to further discuss and analyze our experiences. The point of all this was to take note of the culture of each parish: the ways they work, the named things that are important in their life together, and underlying assumptions. All this, presumably, is in preparation for doing this work in our own parishes and/or in those with whom we consult.

I think my biggest learning from this week is summarized in the words of The Rev. Melissa Skelton, Rector of St. Paul's. When referring to several items in the parish's worship space, she talked about "loving it, and wanting more." As we talked in CDI about the fact that it is nearly impossible to change the culture of a parish, it became quite clear to me that whatever my Congregational Development Project is for St. Alban's, it will need to first involve loving what already is good about the parish, and only then wanting more. My enthusiasm often makes me want to push for immediate solutions or changes. I am learning that such solutions or changes, even if needed, take years rather than months.

A bonus to this weekend was that I was able to visit Church of the Apostles (COTA), an emergent church in Seattle led by Pastor Karen Ward, who I met many years ago. I attended the service with both some folks from my CDI program and some old and new friends in town for a college chaplains conference. Turns out it was one of COTA's "alt" services, an alternative service format that in this case focused around the theme of process or journey being more important than product or destination. The elements of the of the service were prayer, Eucharist, "open space" (where we were invited to visit several stations for prayer, walking the labyrinth taped on the floor or other creative efforts), songs, and stories. They were done in a completely random order which illustrated the process theme. I loved the songs, and enjoyed the experience, though it is not overall something that would regularly feed me spiritually.

Now, onto another week. We'll continue to debrief our parish visits analyze the cultures of the various parishes we visited, then go on to lay the groundwork for an eventual Congregational Development Project. It will be interesting to see how that dovetails with the Mission Plan that has already been put in place and is in the process of being implemented at St. Alban's.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Thomas Has Left The Building

Well, I'm officially on my sabbatical. It isn't quite as wild or far-ranging as my friend Malcolm Young's sabbatical--he went to Africa. I'm confining my travels to Seattle, Washington (at the Church Development Institute and visiting Church of the Apostles), Honolulu, Hawaii (at St. George's Episcopal Church), California with family, and Southern California (at the PERCEPT Group and visiting Saddleback Church). A little learning, a lot of relaxing, and hopefully a lot of recharging after more than eleven years of ordained ministry. This is my first sabbatical and, frankly, I'm not really sure what to expect. I spent Friday rushing around and, at 9 p.m., had my office relatively clean, my desk cleared, and walked out of the church building, not to return for three months. A very strange feeling indeed.

So, it is now Sunday morning, the service at the church I pastor has likely just ended, and folks are probably wandering around the social hall wondering how Fr. Tom is doing and what exactly I'm doing this morning. Well, oddly enough, I've been watching some of Fr. Matthew's YouTube creations, perhaps a 21st century twist on television evangelists! The place I'm staying has wireless Internet access, so I'm rejoicing in being set free from my normal dial-up existence. For today, I have some reading to do, a little exploring, and getting ready for my first real foray into the study of congregational development tomorrow.

While I won't promise daily blogs, I hope to post periodic reflections on my learnings during my sabbatical, if for no other reason than to remind myself what I actually learned when I'm back to the daily challenges of church life. Until the next entry, then...

Monday, May 28, 2007

Of Thresholds and Welcomes

Fr. Jake's blog always makes me think. A prime example is his latest post, discussing a book by Sara Miles entitled Take This Bread. While this is obviously yet one more book that I need to add to my "to read" stack (and actually get to reading it!), it also brings to mind a tension in my own life which challenges me. Sara's initial moment of conversion was when she received the Eucharist at St. Gregory of Nyssa Episcopal Church in San Francisco, California. Having grown up in the Diocese of California, I know St. Gregory's is a decidedly non-traditional Episcopal church. However, the non-traditional part of this story for me was that Sara was both offered and received the Eucharist prior to being baptized, which is both a rubrical and canonical no-no in the Episcopal Church. Not that it isn't done, it just isn't supposed to be done! Yet, this non-rubrical, non-canonical reception of the Eucharist was the occasion for a person's conversion.

Now I'm not planning on sparking a conversation about who should and should not receive the Eucharist (unless someone would like to do so). However, the tension this brings up in me is that I am, by personality, a rule-keeper. I don't generally break the rules and am acutely uncomfortable in the current ecclesiastical environment where some people and congregations seem to think they can do their own thing in a whole variety of areas (ecclesiastical, theological, liturgical, etc...) and yet remain part of the Body of Christ. On the other hand, I'm living, preaching, and pastoring in a church with many, many rules and lots of people who seem to like the letter of the law far better than the spirit of Christ. I guess the question for me is, how can we maintain some sort of identity, some sort of boundaries, and yet make those boundaries porous enough that they don't become high walls that close people out?

I want the church to be a place of conversation. I want the Eucharist to be an instrument of conversion. I also want Baptism to matter and the basic creeds and formularies of our faith to mean something and not just be window dressing or frosting on the cake. Perhaps I'm both too ancient and too future and uncomfortable with both!

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Ecclesiastical Wrangling and Time Away

It has been several weeks since I've posted, and the ecclesiastical wrangling in the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion continues on unabated. Invitations to the Lambeth Conference 2008 went out and neither The Rt. Rev. Gene Robinson nor the Rt. Rev. Martyn Minns were included on the guest list. This has evoked a plethora of reactions on both sides, with some calling for the entire House of Bishops to boycott the meeting if Bishop Robinson is not invited, and the Archbishop of Nigeria saying that if Bishop Minns is not invited, there is the strong possibility that the delegation from Nigeria will not attend.

Now, I'm not a child of divorced parents, but the above seems to mirror the experience of a vast majority of my generation--two parents, who are equally loved, wrangling about who gets the house (read: church buildings) and who gets the children (read: title of "true Anglican") while the aforementioned children simply watch their world disintegrate. I know I should be concerned about the state of gay rights in Nigeria. I know I should be concerned about Bishop Robinson not being invited to Lambeth 2008. I know I should be concerned about a lot of things. Right now, though, all I am is tired of the fight.

It has gotten so bad that I am routinely NOT visiting various blogs and informational web sites because I'm simply tired of seeing the same old people post the same old things and the same old reactions to them. I'm due to go on Sabbatical for three months less than a month from now. Though it will be difficult, I am going to try very hard to impose a "news sabbath" on myself and disconnect from news of the Episcopal Church and the wider Anglican Communion for the time I am away. I'm sure I'll miss many items of news. I'm also sure that my blood pressure and general state of mental and physical health will be the better for it. So, this will be the last post to reference such things. In the coming weeks I hope to post about Sabbatical preparations and then will post periodically about what I am learning and doing (or not doing) on my sabbatical time. Stay tuned!

Sunday, May 06, 2007

The Die Is Cast, at least for a few...

As those who have been tracking such things are aware, on Saturday, May 5 Archbishop Peter Akinola, Primate of the Anglican Church of Nigeria, Installed The Rt. Rev. Martyn Minns as a Missionary Bishop of the Convocation of Anglicans in North America (CANA). Numerous articles have been written and blog entries have been made (on PRELUDIUM, Episcopal Cafe, etc..), and no doubt the buzz will continue for some time to come.

My particular favorite quote of all of this is from Archbishop Akinola himself: "'The Church of Nigeria itself has almost nothing to offer,' he said, although the church is the largest in the global communion. 'We are doing this on behalf of the Communion. If we had not done this many of you would be lost to other churches, maybe to nothing at all.'" That would be well and good if not for the fact that the Archbishop of Canterbury, head of the aforementioned Anglican Communion "on behalf" of which this act was done, specifically told Archbishop Akinola not to do this. The word "lost," especially in regards to other churches sounds like a very fundamentalist, narrow, and decidedly un-Anglican version of Christianity. Heck, if people can find life in Christ in the Lutheran, Presbyterian, Roman Catholic, or other Christian church, more power to them! The point is life in Christ, not which color your jersey is!

Archbishop Akinola, in presuming to speak and act for the Anglican Communion, is setting himself up as an alternative to Archbishop Rowan Williams as head of the Communion. What, now are we going to have the Abuja Conference rather than the Lambeth Conference? In any case, it appears that the die is cast and that some disaffected members of The Episcopal Church will now move to the new "missionary diocese" and attempt to take their church buildings, documents, and names with them. Let the games begin (wait, they already have...)! Now I'm waiting for someone from the Episcopal Church to found a missionary diocese in Nigeria...

Seriously, folks, I need to remind myself constantly that all of this affects but a tiny percentage of churches, most of which are quietly, without fanfare, doing what God has called them to do, as our Presiding Bishop pointed out recently. I still plan to visit the homebound this week, preach on Sunday, and administer communion, regardless of convulsions of the wider church. Christ is STILL risen!