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...