Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The Pope and TEC

Many of you have by now read or heard accounts of the offer last week from Pope Benedict to receive members of the Anglican Communion and the Episcopal Church into the Roman Catholic Church. The reports were a bit confusing and misleading. Here are some Q & A’s on this.

What was offered?

The Pope offered to receive members of the Anglican Church (and the Episcopal Church) into the Roman Church. Clergy could remain married and churches could use the Episcopal or Anglican Prayer Book services.

Was this new?

Yes and No: Anglican clergy have been allowed to join the Roman Church. For example, there is a former Episcopalian serving one of our nearby Roman Parishes. Such clergy are “re-ordained” and allowed to be married. There are also at least seven “Anglican Rite” Roman Churches in the U.S. These parishes have been given approval to use extensive parts of the Prayer Book in Liturgy and many elements of Anglo-catholic worship. However, there were two additions in this announcement. First, it was made public by the Pope in a high profile news release. These issues have been handled more quietly in the past to respect on-going ecumenical talks. It is clear that no one, including the Archbishop of Canterbury knew this was to be announced.

Second, the offer was to parishes and even dioceses and not just individuals. However, the clergy will still need to be ordained in the Roman Church and no married clergy would be allowed to serve as a Bishop. So, of the U.S. dioceses that have left TEC like Ft. Worth, only one of the Bishops would even qualify for consideration.

Will this affect many Episcopalians?

Probably not. It might affect some of the already spin off groups of churches. For example, the Anglican Church in North America has churches that are very Anglo-catholic and apposed to women’s ordination and at the same time has evangelical parishes. This could draw off churches from that group, but still, we are probably talking about less than 100 clergy. This could have some effect in the English Church where there is some current tension and division over the question of women bishops, however, this is very hard to determine. Only time can tell.

Will lay people be involved?

They might if they are in congregations that have left the Episcopal Church, however, lay people have always been free to move membership to Rome if they wished. Consequently, we are not talking about very many people.

If this affects few people, why did it make such news?

There are three reasons for this. First, the Pope, by making the announcement, stepped over previous protocols on how such matters are handled. Second, the on-going conflict in the Episcopal Church, The Canadian Church and even the Church of England made this seem newsworthy. Lastly, most reporters had little understanding of the current church issues and thought this was new, innovative and an open raid on the Anglican Church by the Roman Church. They were misinformed.

Does this affect either the Cathedral or the Diocese of Dallas?

No, not at all. We continue to carry out our mission and ministry as we believe God is leading us.

Thursday, September 24, 2009


I have over 300 “friends” on Facebook. There are over 200 families at the Cathedral, and I have over 300 “contacts” in Outlook on my computer. So, why at times, do I feel so lonely?

It may have to do primarily with my being an only child. I have over the years wondered if being an only child leaves one feeling like we are special and unique with its consequential down side of feeling alone. It could be.

Another answer to this question comes from a recent article in Leadership Magazine. The author refers to “The Loneliness of the Senior Pastor.” The point of the article is that a Senior Pastor, read Dean of the Cathedral, lives with a strange paradox. We have hundreds of relationships with our members, can even enter one of their homes by just knocking on the door, yet most of our members tend to see us in a utilitarian manner. We are like their doctor, their lawyer, their shop clerk. If you think about it, you would notice that most of these folks are not friends no matter how often you see them. Indeed, we often need to hold folks like our doctor at a bit of a distance. The less we know of his or her humanity, the better off we feel. The same could be said of one’s pastor.

I think, however, a better explanation came from a presentation on media communication during our Diocesan Body Building Day. The speaker made this observation about loneliness in today’s world. “We make the mistake of thinking that because we have all these instant contacts through email, Facebook, and Twitter that we are in actually in relationship to these people.” To this he added, “Being connected does not mean that you are relating with these people.” What a profound insight.

This explains my recent withdrawal from participation in the House of Deputies listserv. I found myself becoming more and more frustrated with the level of communication. What I could not articulate was that I was sharing a lot, but connecting almost none at all.

I’ve known for some time that email is a poor form for many kinds of communications. Since you can not nuance someone’s intonation or voice, there is a tendency to take all email as literal communication. So, “John is an idiot” without a wink and smile attached communicates that you think that John (who has a PhD from Harvard) is actually an idiot. And don’t even move in the direction of irony. I tried an ironic statement on the House of Deputies listserv and brought down the wrath of many an accepting, inclusive, and well-meaning deputy, liberal in their interpretation of Scripture and fundamentalists in their reading of email!

So, could it be that at times I feel lonely because I am confusing all this connectedness with actually relating to someone? This doesn’t mean that being an only child or a Dean isn’t part of the formula, just that they are not the only issues in this.

So what do I plan on doing? I am taking friendship more seriously and doing it in person. How about you? Are you confusing “connectedness” with “being in relationship?”

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Travels with Garmina

Last Christmas my wife Sharon gave me a wonderful gift.  It was a Garmin GPS system to use in my car.  All I had to do was type in an address and the Garmin would direct me to the quickest route.  Of course, my wife was never expecting that I would use the Garmin when she was in the car because it has been our long tradition that she navigates. 

I knew we were in for some tension when Sharon headed to the American Automobile Association for maps and books for our planned trip to North Carolina.  “We can use the Garmin,” I suggested.  This generated a terse, “Why?  I’ll be in the car.” 

To make matters worse, the Garmin gives directions with a feminine voice, “turn right in 2 miles and continue 15 miles to destination.”  The day of our trip, I placed the Garmin on my wife’s dash board.  To her suspicious looks, I reassured, “You will be surprised how helpful it is.”  By Texarkana, I had to mute the voice because Sharon found it annoying. 

A break though of sorts occurred just outside Memphis as we searched in vain for an agreeable restaurant.  “Let me show you this,” I said as I went to points of interest and found a very acceptable place to eat.  Later Sharon allowed, “I can see where that might be helpful.”  And indeed it proved helpful finding gas, lodging and other things the next day.  By the end of the second day, Sharon volunteered, “Well, I can see why you like Garima so much.”  From that time onward, Garmina became a kind of consultant as my wife would consider suggested routes and either agree or direct me to “a short cut that Garmina doesn’t seem to understand.” 

On our last night driving home, Sharon had planned on us stopping in Shreveport because it would be late getting home.  Garmina indicated that our arrival time would be 7:04 pm and we agreed to drive on home and sleep in our own bed.  Of course, Garima’s arrival time did not take in consideration a rest break at the Texas Information Center, a gas stop, numerous red lights in the Dallas area, and so by 8:30 my wife was obviously annoyed with how Garmina had “misled us.” 

Last week, I forgot and left Garmina in my car. Although generally out of sight on the floorboard, someone broke my window and stole the GPS.  I was late for an appointment when I found it missing and Sharon was kind enough to do the report to the police and see to the window repair. 

That night, as I was sitting eating dinner in a somber mood, Sharon said in a kind voice, “I am sorry that you lost Garmina.”  “Thanks, I responded,” but I couldn’t help but notice that she seemed to have a slight smile as she said it.  “Maybe we can replace it someday,” she offered.  Then she added, “If we do, we can call it Garminette.”

“Thanks,” I mumbled again, but in my heart I understood.      

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

How Did I Ever Get to Be a Conservative?

This is a question that I have been asking myself a lot these past few weeks. I know that I am one because people tell me that I am. Recently, in an email exchange with one of the progressive leaders of the Church, she said to me in passing, “this is important because you are a known conservative. . .” The ironic thing is that I do not think of myself as a conservative and never use the word regarding myself.

I remember the very day that I was first called this. It was at the annual convention for the Diocese of Olympia in 1987. There had been an active debate on the floor that morning on a resolution dealing with some civil war in Central America. I do not remember the details, but I do remember that the floor debate was made difficult because the resolution was very poorly written. Having attended many conventions and heard too many resolutions, I went to the microphone and pointed out that the poor wording made it almost impossible to understand the purpose of the resolution. To my surprise, the Bishop asked me what I would suggest. I suggested that we postpone the resolution and allow the author and one other person to take a moment and rewrite the resolution saying in short declarative sentences what they really wanted us to do. The Bishop thought this a wise recommendation and adjourned for a break while the combatants were sent off to do the re-wording work. I went to find a cup of coffee. That is when it happened.

I was standing in the line when the author approached me with a re-written draft. “What do you think? he asked me. I read it over and responded that I thought it much better worded and that this would allow people to act more decisively. “Good,” he nodded, “So, as a leader of the conservatives, do you think this is a good compromise?” “Leader of the conservatives?” I laughed, and he went off shaking his head. I stood there a long time pondering what I had just heard.

There I stood, the Rector of St. Luke’s Parish in Seattle, a church known for its leadership in Charismatic Renewal. There I was, a person despised by many traditionalists for daring to bring “aerobics worship” into the Episcopal Church, contemporary music, and lay folks doing all kinds of things that used to be reserved for clergy like anointing sick people for healing. I thought of myself as an innovator who had spent over 10 years serving at the margins of the Church.

In addition, I considered myself a moderate to progressive on most church issues especially having been a strong advocate for women’s ordination. Yes, my own personal renewal experience had brought me into a deeper engagement with scripture, a more committed devotional life, and a deeper appreciation for the theology and heritage that my Anglo-catholic upbringing in the Diocese of Dallas had given me, but I never saw this as inconsistent with social action. Further, one of my heroes of the faith, John Wesley, had proven himself a dedicated abolitionist and social reformer, and this all out of his passionate spirituality. How could anyone call me a conservative?

What I did not understand, and still have trouble understanding, is how far the Episcopal Church had moved from the time I was ordained until that moment and even further now. For me, conservatives were folks who loved Elizabethan language and the Rite I liturgy. They were Anglophiles who spoke with slight English accents to congregations that found this assuring. They opposed women’s ordination. They lectured me on how “that” music was pandering to low brow and pop fads of the day.
As I stood in the crowed parish hall of St. Mark’s Cathedral, I looked around the room and began to realize that all those folks were retired or gone. Now, because I at least believed the Creeds and affirmed the biblical authority of the Church, and believed in a basic Christology, I was now numbered among the conservatives.

While I grew to understand my new label, I have never worn it well and never used it in reference to myself. The chief reasons for this are two-fold. First, I am not a conservative regarding social issues and politically. I remain a social moderate and a political independent. Second, I find the very bad behavior of many who call themselves conservative divisive, mean-spirited, often arrogant, and too self-righteous.

Who am I then? I am an Episcopalian who found my heart strangely warmed, do know that I am forgiven and loved by Christ and want to whole world to know of this love. I am a catholic in my love of the Church and her sacraments, an evangelical in my devotion to the God’s Word, and a progressive in my view of the reform of society and the gospel work in our world. In my mind, I am an Episcopalian.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Gregory the Great

In her book “The Great Emergence,” Phyllis Tickle mentions as one of the great turning points in the history of the Church the leadership of Gregory the Great. March 12th is his feast day, and in the liturgy, we catch three glimpses of his contributions.

The first comes form the Old Testament reading in Chronicles when we hear of musicians being set aside for the worship in Israel. Gregory was known for his reformation of the Western Church’s liturgy.

Second, in the gospel reading, we hear the lesson on servant leadership from Mark. Gregory served the Church as a leader and left it in much better shape than when he took over as a leader.

Third, we Episcopalians hear reference in the collect of his sending missionaries to England. Of course, these missionaries found the Church already present thanks to the work of the Celtic Christians, but we honor Gregory for re-connecting the Celtic Church to the wider community.

I am writing about the second of these, Gregory’s reforms. The Apostolic era had long faded, and one of its greatest victories, becoming the official religion of Rome, had played itself out in corruption and decay. Gregory set out with vigor to recapture the Church’s initial Apostolic zeal and holiness. His methods did not move the Church backward but forward, and this is one of Tickle’s major points.

In order to do this, Gregory reached out to the margins of Christianity to the emerging monastic movements and brought them into the center of the Church’s life. In doing this, he set the tone and character of the Church for the next 500 years. He made major improvements in the education of clergy. He reformed the hierarchy while standardizing the liturgy, and recapturing the missionary zeal of the early Church. He is rightfully called “the Great,” and he established the See of Rome as the dominant force in the Western Church.

Tickle goes on to suggest in her work that we are at precisely one of those emerging moments in the history of Christianity when the Church must be transformed into a renewed community. If she is right, and I believe she is, let us pray that God will raise up other servant leaders to guide us through this new transformation. What better day to pray this than on the day we remember one leader who did.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Invitation to Lent

“I invite you, therefore, in the name of the Church, to the observance of a holy Lent.”

I have taken these words directly from the Ash Wednesday service on page 264 of the Prayer Book. This is the church’s annual invitation to her members to “move more deeply in and more intimately into” our relationship to Christ as his followers and disciples. Note that we speak of the Easter season as glorious and the Christmas season as joyous, but the Lenten season is called holy. This is because the theme of the season is holiness both individually for her members and corporately for the community.

I hope all of you will give some thought this week as to how you will intentionally keep this season. Of course, the first invitation is into more prayer. These forty days are a good time to add quiet time and devotions or extended them. Prayer basically is talking to God. It involves bringing before God all our cares and concerns. It also means focusing on our relationship with God through praise and adoration. It also means laying before God the truth about ourselves through self-examination and confession.

You may also want to take on some special study or devotional reading. I am continuing the Cathedral Core Curriculum with our second one on Christian Believing. You can attend on Sundays or sign up for the notes and materials through emails by just hitting reply and asking for them.

I would also like to invite you to consider adding Evening Prayer one night a week at the Cathedral. We have a regular service at 6pm Monday through Thursdays. This makes a great way to end a busy day. We continue to offer weekday Eucharist Monday and Wednesday at 10am and Thursday at 7:15am.

Some of you may wish to seriously consider fasting during this season. Such actions as giving up sweets or other self-indulgences fall under this category. If you need or want the assistance of our clergy, we stand ready to give you spiritual direction and guidance during this special season of spiritual growth.

Make a beginning by joining in our Ash Wednesday services. They are at 7:15, 10:00, 12 noon (Bishop Lambert presiding), 6pm and 7:30pm (in Spanish.)

“Almighty and everlasting god, you hate nothing you have made and forgive the sins of all who are penitent: Create and make in us new and contrite hearts, that we, worthily lamenting our sins and acknowledging our wretchedness, may obtain of you, the God of all mercy, perfect remission and forgiveness; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen”

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Is the Episcopal Church a Denomination?

This evocative question was put forward in a discussion among a group of the authors on the Covenant site. This is an interesting question, and it gives me a moment to reflect on some interesting developments of the Episcopal community.
The first thing that I would say is practical. From the perspective of a congregational development person and an organizational consultant, the question is largely irrelevant. Groups act like groups and organizations act sociologically and functionally as groups of people. So, congregations of 300 Episcopalians functions very much like a congregation of 300 Lutherans. I am not saying the differences are not significant, but what I am saying is that the differences have more to do with the organizations identity, stated values and common practices than how they function, organize, grow or decline. Thus, we can say from the start that this question is largely one of identity.

Of course, this question already betrays a catholic (small c”) bias and particularly that part of Anglicanism that believes that we have been and are THE church, or at least a part of the one, holy and apostolic one. This is so deeply engrained that most Episcopal leaders do not think of us as just another of the many denominations that occupy the landscape of American Christianity. Just ask any clergy person in TEC if we think we are Protestants and watch us react. I wish to add that this part of our identity or self-understanding is one of the most important contributions and successes of the Oxford Movement within TEC. This is clearly revealed in the Lambeth Quadrilateral where we state our willingness to go anywhere and work with anyone, willing to sacrifice all incidentals, to work for the day that the Church may once again be united both Catholic and Apostolic.

On the other hand, there has always been a strong strain of TEC that saw itself as Protestant and in America one of the “mainline” churches. This broad church stream fits more comprehensively into Tickle’s (The Great Emergence) idea of the social justice group of Churches. However, I would contend that even this group has much of the DNA of the more catholic view. When I have published items in the wider church where I point out the abysmal decline of our community in the past 50 years, some defender of the present progressive wing will always shoot back with something like, “I believe that the Church will do just fine and that somehow we will muddle through all the crisis we face, just as we have in the past.” This reflects denial, but it also reflects the sense that the “true church” will be upheld and sustained by God.

I believe two strong dynamics are at work, however, to change this historic view and consequently or self identity. First, is the tendency of the current majority, the progressive wing, to claim that we have always been a progressive Church. Ridiculous as this claim would appear to a 17th century separatist or an 18th century Methodist, it keeps being repeated and has become an increasing part of our identity. The drive for full inclusion of gay and lesbian persons into the life of TEC along with the desire to become a more diverse, multi-cultural, and multi-ethnic community has contributed to the repositioning of our community in the rainbow of denominations toward being a paradoxical Universalist liturgical community. I do not want you to think that by saying this that I am opposed to the efforts to keep and make TEC an open community welcoming of all people. I am just contending that the way in which our leaders, particularly our clergy, are pursuing this, is ending up looking a lot like the United Church of Christ with kneelers, a prayer book and a common chalice. Whether there is a need for such a positioned denomination may be suspect especially given the increasing decline in our membership and attendance. Perhaps we just need to wait for the thousands of new members that will flood into our denomination because of our full inclusion of all genders as has been predicted by numerous progressive leaders. Another common response by progressives is that “all mainline churches are declining.” With this, they acknowledge without realizing it that we are a denomination, or at least becoming more and more like one.

The second powerful dynamic working toward redefining us as a denomination is the state of ecumenical activities and our participation in them. Here is what I mean. The great ecumenical awakening of the 50’s and 60’s led to many attempts at organic mergers of communities. Some of the results, like the United Methodist Church and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America were, and remain, relatively successful attempts. Some like the Anglican/Roman Catholic and Anglican/Lutheran dialogues have not gone very far towards union. The move toward organic and organization unity has given way steadily toward the idea of mutual recognition and “shared communion.” This is clearly a path of lesser resistance. It is also true that in our post-denominational culture even Episcopal clergy have begun to realize that our lay folks do not mind sharing communion most anywhere they go. It seems we have become a victim of our own generosity in admitting that none of us, at least mainline folks, are really the true Church and that we are willing to share.

How does this dynamic add to our re-thinking our identity more toward becoming merely a denomination? Simply put, this accommodation to others works as an abandonment of the view of the more catholic desire to actually BE one. Of course, in the long run this could reverse as decreasing mainline churches are further thrown together out of survival and necessity, but for right now this has moved us far from the spirit of the Lambeth Quadrilateral. One might even point out that the splintering and fracturing of Anglicanism in North America really points to the exact opposite of the catholic view. Put all this together and the church that once envisioned ourselves as the bridge between Catholic and Protestant is now at a mid point between Unitarian Universalist and Methodists. Things have changed.

Where the rubber will really meet the road on this comes down to our willingness to abide by the restrains requested by our brothers and sisters in the world wide Anglican Communion. There is already a tendency among Episcopalians to refer to the other Communion Churches as though they are merely forms or expressions of Anglican denominations in other countries instead of full member of the one church of which we thought we were once members.

General Convention in 2009 may give us two moments in which we will further decide that our identity rests in denominationalism more than in unity. These will be our reaction to the Anglican Covenant, and any decision to move toward the writing of same-sex liturgies, both of which I believe have a strong chance of coming about. Another way this could be done is with the election of another gay or lesbian person living in a same sex union to the Episcopate. I believe the first two highly probable and the last one largely inevitable. In any case, I will remain because there is not another denomination that attracts me, and few that retain the vision of our Lord in his priestly prayer when he bid that we would be one. A glimmer of this idea remains among us, and burns much brighter in other parts of our Communion. Let us pray that a time will come when this vision is re-kindled among us.