Episcopal News and Current Events -- News About T.E.C. and ECUSA: March 2007 Episcopal News and Current Events -- News About T.E.C. and ECUSA: March 2007
Today's Quote

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A Prayer For This Web Site
Almighty God, you proclaim your truth in every age by many voices; Direct, in our time, we pray, those who speak where many listen and write what many read; that they may do their part in making the heart of this people wise, its mind sound, and its will righteous; to the honor of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
"For those who Influence Public Opinion,"
Book of Common Prayer, page 827

(For other old messages not in this blog, please go to epiphanychurch135.blogspot.com)

In our church, neither a person's gender nor their sexual orientation matter; what does matter is how they serve Jesus Christ as Lord.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

A New Episcopal Web Site ... Take a Look!

A new, church maintained web site of interest went on line in the past couple days: It is called Episcopal Life Online and I hope you will check it out soon and see what you think!

And don't forget, try to get to church over this weekend. Here in our town, we not only worship on Sunday morning, of course but during Lent we also have Sunday evening services in cooperation with other churches (of our basic beliefs) here as well. Over the six weeks of Lent this year, we have variously had services at 7 PM on Sunday evening at the Disciples of Christ Church, our own Epiphany Episcopal Church of course, St. Andrews Roman Catholic Church, the United Methodist Church and (tonight) at the Presbyterian Church. And next week, being Palm Sunday we are going to have a community Palm Sunday evening service at Riverside Park here in Independence. These well attended Sunday evening services are an excellent opportunity for fellowship as well, with refreshments served afterword.

At tonight's service at the Presbyterian Church, our guest preacher will be from St. Andrew's Catholic Church, and the music will be provided by own Epiphany Choir. So, if you see this in time, please get over and join us! 5th and Maple Streets at the Presbyterian Church, 7 PM.

Speaking of ecumenical community events each week, I have been working with six or eight churches in town (the ones mentioned above, and a couple of others each week on our Thursday evening free community suppers. Every Thursday night (with a very few exceptions) we have a dinner -- Christians United in Feeding Friends -- (CUFF) for anyone who wishes to attend. The dinner is always in the fellowship hall at our Church of the Epiphany, Episcopal and although we will NOT have a dinner on Maundy Thursday, we have it almost every other week. Just show up, get a plate of food and a beverage, sit down and talk to friends, etc. Typically we have 60-80 visitors for dinner and we might as well put a plate on for you as well. 6 PM to 7 PM ... at 400 East Maple Street (4th and Maple just west of the church building itself.) Look for the old guy standing in front welcoming the visitors each week; that's me!


Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Newton and Wilberforce; Two Forces to Reckon With

The Germans have a wonderful word: Ohrwurm — literally, ear-worm — for a tune you cannot get out of your head. Recently, my Ohrwurm has been “Amazing Grace”: “I once was lost, but now am found, Was blind, but now I see.” My family is sick of me singing it at top volume.

“Amazing Grace” was written by John Newton, along with other hymns, such as “Glorious things of thee are spoken” and “How sweet the name of Jesus sounds”. As we shall often hear in this abolition-anniversary year, Newton was a slave-trader who had a conversion to Evangelical Christianity during a sea storm in 1748, and eventually set about arguing for the emancipation of slaves. “Amazing Grace” has been one of the anthems of Christian defiance ever since.

Yet what is gob-smacking about Newton is what a nasty piece of work he once was. The idea that the author of “Amazing Grace” raped his slaves has been a conceptual Ohrwurm for me ever since I found it out. Indeed, Newton’s conversion might have stopped him from swearing and drinking, but he continued to trade in slaves for six more years.

As Stephen Tomkins puts it in his new biography of Wilberforce, who was inspired by Newton, he “would read the Bible and pray for an hour or two, leading services for the crew, while his human cargo lay or sat hunched and chained under their feet”. It is astonishing to us, but the truth is that many Christians supported slavery because it was there in the plain meaning of scripture.

In fact, one of the biggest proponents of slavery in the 1800's was the Protestant Episcopal Church. Remind me to tell you about the Epiphany Church in Philadelphia in the 1850's -- if you have not already read the story in a much earlier blog entry here. Dudley Tyng, their rector was a fierce abolishonist who fought frequently with members of his vestry about the 'slavery question' in the 1850's. He and several members of his congregation removed themselves at a Sunday "Evening Prayer" meeting at the church, and voted to start the "Church of the Ascension" as they walked out and stood on the front steps at Epiphany.

Slavery was given foundational justification in the book of Genesis, the curse of Ham condemning Ham’s descendants to perpetual captivity. It would have been seen as what contemporary Evangelicals call “a creation ordinance”.

The New Testament enthusiastically takes up this theme, for example in Paul’s first letter to Timothy: “Let as many slaves as are under the yoke count their own master worthy of all honour, that the name of God and his doctrine be not blasphemed. And they that have believing masters, let them not despise them, but rather do them service.”

What was deeply courageous about the Newtons and Wilberforces of the 18th century is that they fought their society’s prejudice, as well as the uncritical biblical theology that reflected it.

The idea that we might bask in the memory of these campaigners, without reflecting that there may be similar challenges for contemporary Christians, is to be radical 200 years too late. No: the spirit of “I was blind, but now I see” has a new challenge. And there are arguments within the life of the church today where we need to apply it.

NB: My mention of Epiphany Church above is simply used as an illustration, as I am not permitted by the vestry to speak nor write about Church of the Epiphany in Independence, Kansas.


Thursday, March 15, 2007

Exactly Which Traditions to You Want to Follow?

Let's be honest: This is about sex

So what did you do in your bedroom last night?

For all the wrong reasons, that question seems to be at the heart of the disputes that are threatening to tear apart not just the Episcopal Church of the United States, but also the worldwide Anglican Communion, of which the Episcopal Church is a part.

Anglican leaders from around the world met last month in Tanzania, and their final communique signals a huge, continuing fight over, yes, sadly, what people are doing in their bedrooms.

Of course, the communique certainly doesn't ask that question, in just those words; that would be quite rude! Its focus is on power and authority and who can tell whom what and, most confusing of all, claims about respecting traditions and defending orthodoxy.

Many of us in the Communion are confused, and we want to ask two questions of our leaders:

Exactly WHICH tradition are you defending?

Exactly WHICH orthodoxy do you wish to uphold?

The more conservative Anglican leaders claim that homosexuality is sinful, specifically anathemized in the Bible, and that anyone who engages in homosexual activity is a sinner of such great import that he or she can not be either a priest or a bishop of the Church. This, these leaders say, is so important that it is worth breaking up the centuries-old Anglican Communion.

But which doctrine, which principle that forms the basis of our belief in and understanding of God, is challenged by sexual orientation? The Church has no doctrine on sexuality because we do not know God through God's sexual orientation or God's sexual activity. We have no idea if God is gay or whatever, although I personally feel God is far above and beyond all that. So to make sexuality a primary reason for breaking up the Episcopal Church in this country, or the worldwide Communion, makes no sense to many of us; for us, sexuality is NOT a doctrinal issue, it is a CULTURAL issue. And if sexuality is not a doctrinal issue, it cannot represent orthodoxy, so what is being defended?

Some congregations and dioceses in the United States have said that the argument over sexuality is so important that they no longer wish to be under the authority of bishops in this country with whom they disagree on this issue. Those congregations and dioceses have asked for, and in some cases received, different leadership from outside the United States.

Those actions also are confusing. It has been the recognized tradition throughout Christianity since the 4th century that bishops are limited by their own geographical boundaries. This limit was so important in the early Church that bishops at first the Council of Nicea (325 AD) and then the Council of Constantinople (381 AD) said that "bishops are not to go beyond their diocese to churches lying outside their bounds, nor bring confusion on the churches; ... and let not bishops go beyond their diocese for ordination or any other ecclesiastical ministrations, unless they be invited." That last part, about invitation, is important, because it has been understood since those two Councils that the invitations could come ONLY from the area bishop, and not from any other leaders.

Again, many of us are confused: If the communique truly represents tradition and orthodoxy, how is it that both tradition and orthodoxy can be overturned so easily? Respect for geographic boundaries is one of the oldest tenets of the Church; overturning it now seems arbitrary at best.

Then there is the issue of communion, of the Lord's Supper, which Anglicans call Eucharist, meaning "thanksgiving."

One-fifth of the primates, the provincial leaders, present at the Tanzania meetings refused to share in the Eucharist with American Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, claiming that to do so "would be a violation of Scriptural teaching and the traditional Anglican understanding." Even at the last minute -- as Eucharist was in progress -- these gentlemen were individually approached, almost begged, as it were, "Will you please come to the table and share with the others of us present?" ... But they would have none of it.

In refusing to share the bread and wine together in the service, those seven primates actually BROKE traditional Anglican understanding, which says that the efficacy, the effectiveness, of the sacrament does not depend on either the person administering it or the person receiving it. That understanding began with Augustine of Hippo in the 4th century and was refined by Thomas Aquinas in the 13th century. The former wrote that the sacrament does not depend on the righteousness of the person distributing it. The latter wrote that the sacrament "is not wrought by the righteousness of either the celebrant or the recipient, but by the power of God."

Which is why so many of us are confused. By refusing to take communion together, the primates overturned centuries of tradition as well as doctrine.

Leaving many of us to ask, again: What is being defended here?

And finally, many in the American church are wondering about the ultimatum that has been issued by the primates, an ultimatum that basically orders American bishops to reject gays and lesbians, as well as orders congregations and dioceses in dispute over property issues to end all litigation. Where is our sister Katherine going to lead us? Will she stand up for, and defend all of us in the church?

The confusion here has nothing to do with the sexuality dispute. Our confusion is over those geographic boundaries, the ones that have been so important to the historic Church for 16 centuries (well preceding the founding of the Anglican Communion). When bishops from other dioceses and provinces tell bishops here that the latter must do what the former says, it breaks all traditions, all doctrines and all orthodoxy.

The ultimatum also presents the American Church with a huge problem: By demanding that American bishops make these decisions, the primates ignore the fact that the American Church is governed NOT by the bishops but by the General Convention, which is made up of laity, deacons, priests AND bishops. The latter cannot decide unilaterally for the rest of the Church. For the primates to ignore this fact is to ignore, once again, the Councils of Nicea and Constantinople, which proclaimed that "it is evident that the synod of every province will administer the affairs of that particular province."

This is why so many of us are confused: Everything we have been taught over the centuries about tradition and orthodoxy and doctrine is being overturned by this worldwide dispute. We no longer know WHICH tradition to follow, WHICH orthodoxy to defend, WHICH doctrine to believe. Our international leaders are offering us conflicting instructions, and we in the pews are left to figure it out on our own.

That this dispute within the Anglican Communion is huge and of great importance is obvious. The issue of sexuality looms large over all that we do, and there is severe disagreement on what God wants us to do, because sexuality, with all its permutations, goes to the very heart of who we are as human beings.

But if we are going to argue over it, could we at least be honest and admit that the real question here is not about the orthodoxy of the faith, it is not about the tradition of the faith, it is not about the doctrines of the faith?

Could we at least admit that this is, indeed, a cultural dispute? This is about some people who believe there is nothing wrong with homosexuality, and some who believe that it is a sin. This is about who will lead a Communion that for centuries was dominated by Westerners, who tend to be seen as liberal, and non-Westerners, who tend to be seen as conservative. This is about territory, history, culture and personal beliefs.

It is not, in the eyes of many of us, both in the United States and overseas, a dispute about God or our faith.

When spiritual leaders get together and focus almost exclusively on issues of sexuality, practically ignoring the needs of the millions in this world who are starving spiritually, physically and emotionally, it is obvious to the rest of us that our leaders really only have one question in mind:

What exactly did you do in your bedroom last night?

Saturday, March 03, 2007

A Conversation Between the Church and Our Presiding Bishop

From Trinity Church Wall Street a message from our Presiding Bishop Katherine discusses her response to the Primates at the African meeting during February. This webcast and future messages from Trinity-Wall Street come to us through a very generous grant from Trinity Church's webcasting department. This is a one hour question and answer session with our Presiding Bishop. I urge everyone -- gay or straight -- to watch this telecast, as I believe it will influence our church for many years to come.

Please watch it

We are told this is but the first in a series of 'Conversations With the Church' and our Presiding Bishop. I hope there will be many more to come. This conversation, which included emails from church members and telephone calls was very interesting!

Thank you Trinity, for making it available to all!