3/26/2020

Christian Eucharist in Community without Temple or Priest

 Christian Eucharist  in Community without Temple or Priest.

For a while most Christians in the US will not be gathering for worship. For eucharistically centered Christians this has presented a problem.  The Eucharist seems to require (i) the sacramental elements of bread and wine, (ii) a community of at least two or three, (iii) a priest or bishop as celebrant.  It thus involves the notion of priest-in-community.  When in lock-down and quarantine these things are separated.

There are a variety of solutions being offered: Suspension of the celebration of the Eucharist, spiritual communion with on line broadcast, broadcasts offering formal morning or evening prayers, and even “drive by” communion or services where everyone is separated by the personal space of their own cars. 

I have less often heard of clear instruction to our congregations about how to conduct formal Sunday or daily worship at home, where a smaller congregation without a priest can exist, even in times of quarantine.  While the daily offices and the simpler forms of daily prayer can be conducted by an individual or small group, there has been very little instruction on how to do so. That is odd, given that those services do not require some artificial community with a worship leader present by web broadcast. The Daily Office does not require priestly presence, and arguably does not require community. It certainly does not require the Church/ Temple.  I think we need to have a teaching webinar on conducting the daily offices.

But about the Eucharist the problem of priest and common space making a temple or “tent of meeting” remain. Many of us live in households of two or more people, many of us can find bread and wine to offer up, but not many of us live with priests and thus are able to form a temple or tent of meeting.  All the solutions to this problem in a time of quarantine are “work-arounds.”  

I have been thinking of another way to engage the issue. It has the problem of unraveling some of the basic norms of church life, but here it is:

I propose that we revisit the spiritual connection between the Eucharist, the Passover Seder, and  the Shabbat Seder, perhaps drawing something from those sensibilities for a reach back into a family community and for a new grasp of common prayer and thanksgiving. 

Might it be possible to instruct communities even as small as two or three, gathered together, to share a meal that celebrates the union of that small cosmos to the great cosmos of all people, in which the holy texts are recited, thanksgiving and prayers offered, forgiveness sought, and peace shared. Of course. WE can do that even now under the rubrics.  But then could those present to offer all those things, with bread and wine, to be a reflection of the Great Thanksgiving, which is the offering of God in Jesus Christ.  Could this small community lift that offering and then breaking the bread, pouring out the wine, and sharing it together share a Holy Eucharist?  That is, might we instruct people in how to be a Eucharistic Community within their own family or small community structures? 

If we break down the requirement to have all four – elements, community, priest and temple (common space that includes both priest and lay people as well as bread and wine) – we can work a way to share communion even while we are quarantined.  And in modified quarantine, where we are limited in the numbers who can gather and while we need to practice social distancing, we might still gather for communion even while there is no priest in the same space with us.

Is the Church willing to forgo all things of its own – including its requirement that the priest and people together in once place are necessary if the eucharist is to be celebrated?  This is not about instituting “lay-presidency” of the eucharist. It is about instituting a localized presidency in times of need.

I don’t recall the reference, but I do remember that during the Second World War someone from England who was in a prisoner of war camp wrote the Archbishop of Canterbury and asked if they might celebrate Holy Communion in the camp without a priest. I believe the Archbishop said yes. 

We may not be separated from the blessing of priest-in-community Iife for long, but as time goes on if we might think of the Eucharist not as the grand ritual of even our smallest  parish eucharist, but rather as an extension of our gathering at our own tables for possibly the high point of our life together as community. Could a household Holy Eucharist be our Shabbat Seder?   I believe we could.

And, we could still retain the priest-in-community as a reflection of family or small community. When we come together (as we I believe we would want to do) for community larger than the small separated out community of family or quarantined group, the priest would serve as the “parson,” as the master or mistress of the house, and preside. More, the priest would offer (hopefully orthodox) teaching and preaching to accompany the larger gathering. I don’t see family or small group eucharist without the priest as in any way an abdication of the priestly ministry in the church. Rather I see family or small group eucharist as a natural extension of the Shabbat Seder / Last Supper/ Communion origins for the larger gatherings we call church assembly.



3/24/2020

I will not willingly die for the economy

A little personal clarity. I’m 80 years old this year, provided I make it to May 21st. 

1. If I am in hospital and the medical folk make a decision that others, younger than I, need to be treated first, or me not at all, I get it. Triage is a sometimes miserable ethical fact. Got it.Perhaps in some way my death could be a noble or valuable or even holy contribution to the life of the world. 

2. If I am out there in the world (but of course social distancing) and the bumbling system of supply and manufacture of needed medical gear fail, and I end up in the hospital and am triaged out of care, I get it. But I won’t forget that the “greatest country in the world” screwed up. There is no reason for these shortages except poor planning and bad use of resources. I will die of systemic governmental and business failure. There it is. But it will not be noble, or valuable or holy that I died.  It will be stupid.

3. If I am out there in the world and the President or the government, or whatever the powers that be,  decide  that social distancing and its value to the health and safety of the world is less important than the economic safety of corporations and business enterprises, I will die because someone decided that the triage decision is really about whether my life was worth attending to rather than the life of money making entities.  So when I get the virus, end up in hospital, find myself triaged there and die, I will die because Boing and some damn cruse ship company would otherwise loose money, place, or even go under. Not because of too many people in hospital. Not because of lack of equipment. Because of the economy. I got it. I will die for the almighty dollar.  They will say,  no no,  you will die because the wellbeing of so many relies on our keeping the economy going. You die so that others may live. But I know. I will have died for reasons of greed, not reasons of need. It will be evil.

If this third possibility takes place, I will hold those who made the decision to go for the economy and not for the health of the society accountable.  If alive I will scream in your faces unmercifully. If dead, I will plea to return to haunt you, ruining your sleep, your digestion, and your health. I will be pissed beyond imagination. 

Be warned.  Old may be just a thing to you. Old is what I have.  I use old creatively, and to mostly good ends.  The years I have left promise to be some of my best, in terms of action for justice, truth and beauty.  But if it ends for the “economic good” I say, screw it. I know about this reasoning. It is the reasoning that was used to weed out the gypsies, the Jews, the queer, the gay, and anyone else who stood in way of the State’s grasp for economic power.  

I accuse: The proposition that death as necessary to the well being of the economy is a lie. More, it is evil.  

Ask what I will give for the country, but don’t assume you can ask what I will give for the economy.  That’s mine to give, not yours to take.

Mark Harris,  who understands the difference between the cross and the dollar.

3/21/2020

Spiritual Communion for Incarnational People

Spiritual Communion for Incarnational People:

A meditation by Mark Harris.

For at least 67 years I have been a regular communicant and participant in the Eucharist. It would have been longer but remember that we were all late bloomers then, the sacrament not being available until confirmation. I was taught then, and people are taught now, that a sacrament  is “an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace.” (BCP, p.857).  As such sacraments are, like Jesus Christ, incarnational. That is, they are the presence in the here-and-now of a grace that is not bound by time and space. 

Thus baptism IS washing, even if it is with a small dash of water, and the Holy Communion IS eating, even if the bread and wine was insufficient even to feed a bird. And both the major sacraments are meant to be communal, involving as they do the “great cloud of witnesses” that include the church present in its congregations, as well as all those who will gather from all times and places at the end.

So what do we do when, as now, we are separated from one another, and where sharing common bread and wine is impossible? 

Some have chosen to move to disciplined prayer which can be done without incarnational tools (bread and wine), and therefore quite easily can be a shared action of worship across distances where connection is by way of telephone, radio, television, or streaming on the internet on a computer or smart phone. Others have suggested that the Eucharist be celebrated and broadcast in the same way and that viewers or listeners participate in the prayers, knowing that they cannot receive because not present to do so. Most of the local options in this time of social distancing have been one or the other of these two choices.

Some, however (me among them) believe that the “outward and visible sign” need not be determinate for either baptism or Eucharistic communion. 

In times of great social stress we know the church has held that there are those who are baptized by the spirit, but have not been physically baptized.  We know that some of the unbaptized  (and perhaps all of them, God being a God of justice and mercy both) possess the “inward and spiritual grace” to suffer a death like Christ so that they might also share in Christ’s glory. Baptism by fire, baptism by the Spirit, is the sacrament without the outward and visible sign associated with it.

I believe the same is true of communion. “Mystic sweet communion” is possible not only “with those whose rest is won” (The Hymn, “The Church’s One Foundation”) but with those who are separated from us. Communion is an inward and spiritual grace, for which the bread and wind are the outward and visible signs. But Communion is not a product of sharing consecrated elements, but rather of sharing a mystical, spiritual communion with God, the people of God, past present and future, and indeed with all creation. 

We are simple creatures, we incarnational people: We seem to work best at matters of faith when there are concrete connections between matters of fact and matters of grace.  That is why I am so committed to incarnational living – to the expression in THIS world of matters that pertain to the life of inward and spiritual grace.  When at all possible I want the Water to flow, the Bread to be broken, the Wine poured out.  Those actions and the act of thanksgiving out of which they arise are central to my life as a Christian. 

But when they are absent, I still believe (and maybe with greater faith) that the inward and spiritual grace is there, is real, and continues. For me my faith in the incarnation in Christ and the real presence of Christ in the sacramental elements are both a product of a spiritual reality. My faith is in the inward and spiritual grace of relationship with the One who both anoints and makes substantial the Divine presence in human form and in bread and wine. The outward signs are wonderful gifts of grace, but the grace prevails and is there always and everywhere.

So I believe that it is possible to participate fully in the Great Thanksgiving, in which we lift up, break, pour out and share the Gift of God’s presence in Christ, without being physically present in the community (ie. In the church) and even when not receiving the bread and wine as physical elements.  I believe we need to practice such participation, hoping always that soon we will have it ‘easy’ again, by being together and holding the bread and cup. 

At a time of separation we need to practice participation in the inward and spiritual grace without the gift of the outward and visible signs. 

But how?

Some suggestions:

When we join the Eucharist broadcast on the web, rather than passively watching, we might enter into the prayers, imagining the presence of others with us – parish friends, loved ones who are absent or who have died, or even total strangers. In our imagination we might call forward the community of saints. It’s surprising who might show up! (Oddly, my father did last week, just for a short time.) We might make our prayers an occasion to invite others into our spiritual presence.

We are all, with the preacher, carriers of the Word.We are the sacramental (outward visible) sign of the inward spiritual grace that makes the sermon complete. So during the sermon we ought to invite the preacher into our hearts, and the preacher’s words into our prayerful presence. 

In the prayer of the people, the silences if purposely held open (in spite of the norm not to have “dead” air space), and in the silence we can pray, being particularly conscious of that which links us to others from whom we are separated and isolated.  The Prayers of the People gives us a real opportunity to be joined with people throughout the world in a profoundly spiritual unity. In the current situation, the prayers of the people are essential. 

The Consecration Prayer, the Great Thanksgiving, gives us a unique opportunity to enter into an inward and spiritual grace even as the bread and wine are consecrated in the context of a very small community gathered around the outward and visible sign. 

I believe the place of contact between the “real” and the spiritual lies in our sense that the Sacrament of Holy Communion focuses on the bread and wine, as signs of the Body and Blood of Jesus, and that it is Jesus who offered himself as a means of uniting all humankind and creation. If we are encouraged to unite ourselves to all others in an inward and spiritual way to that offering, taking into ourselves the self-giving of Jesus, we will indeed be participants in the Eucharist no matter our physical presence.  During the offering of the consecration prayer, the Great Thanksgiving, we might encourage people to join in reciting the full prayer, absorbing the full force of the meaning,

During the time for reception of communion, we might recall the reality of being one with the world of believers, with them taking in the gift of Christ’s sacrifice and making it our own.

My sense is full participation in the Eucharist is possible no matter being present physically or not. To believe otherwise would destroy my faith that Jesus is present with us in the Thanksgiving, and in the consecrated elements, even while he is also returned to the Creator.  Christ is present in the Sacrament, but more, Christ is present in our hearts, in our inward spiritual lives. 

I know something of this, having been unable to attend services or even swallow enough to take the bread or wine for several months, but nothing separated me from the Sacrament. 

So it seems to me we need not find ourselves quarantined from the Sacrament by our quarantine from one another in a time of medical emergency. Indeed, our current situation can help us know even better that “nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.”(Romans 8:39)

9/14/2019

The Episcopal Church in Haiti: Stretching towards a new future.


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The 2018 statistical reports for the Episcopal Church are out. There is considerable wringing of hands and some very enlightening commentary around. Among the most challenging is the commentary by Crusty OldDean, Tom Furgerson.  His conclusions present one sort of challenge for TEC, namely to get off the high horse of acting like a corporation. I hope the General Convention will listen to him. Unfortunately, the track record on critical rethinking by TEC is not good. The last round of efforts to deal with the structural problems of TEC fell decidedly flat.

Hidden in the weeds of the Statistical Reports are interesting bits of information regarding the resilience of at least one diocese in TEC. On the basis of the records received from the dioceses, it would appear that the Episcopal Church in Haiti, with 89,717 baptized members, is the largest diocese in TEC. And, looking at ASA (Average Sunday Attendance) figures, it ranks among the top 10 dioceses. It is among only 8 dioceses that have recorded an increase over the last 10 years, and this in spite of the terrible earthquake of 2010.  It has more members than Province 6 or 9. About one in 20 baptized members of TEC is Haitian.

The Episcopal Church in Haiti is remarkably resilient. Even with the horrendous earthquake, governmental and economic uncertainty and accusations and counter-accusations within the leadership of the church, the church has continued in its ministry and is growing.

It is within this context that The Venerable Fritz Bazin has challenged the Episcopal Diocese in Haiti and The Episcopal Church to a conversation about the future for a more autonomous Church in Haiti. 

Archdeacon Bazin is an honorary canon of the Episcopal Church in Haiti and in the Diocese of South East Florida he is Archdeacon for Immigration and Social Justice.

On July 30, 2019, Archdeacon Bazin wrote the following to church leaders in Haiti and officers of The Episcopal Church:

“On July 19th the Anglican Communion News Service posted a photo of Archbishop Fred Hiltz of Canada, anointing the leader of Canada’s National Indigenous Anglican Church.  This gesture clearly points to a courageous action of the Canadian Church to grant a certain autonomy to this indigenous Anglican expression.

Bishop Mark McDonald, now Archbishop of this Indigenous church said “people often misinterpret what we’re doing as an attempt at independence away from the church.  We really wish to become an indigenous expression of the church and we are only asking for freedom and dignity that other Anglicans already enjoy.

Although there are various reasons that often cause misunderstanding between the mother church and her former “missions” now Dioceses, what took place in Canada invites us all to look at the need for greater autonomy of the churches in countries of marked cultural differences.

In 2001, the late Canon Jacques Bossiere published a study in French entitled “L’ame de Anglicanisme” in which he points to the need to “deanglicise” the Anglican communion, meaning that Anglicans in Africa, Latin America or the Caribbean do not need to resemble the church in Great Britain, in Ecclesiology, Liturgy and Theology as long as they preserve the basic tenants of Anglicanism.

Our Episcopal Church today is an international structure, yet it is still in the image of the church in the United States of America.  The Canons of the Church in Haiti, The Dominican Republic or Honduras reflect the American form of governance, liturgical practices and theological positions in almost every area of the faith.

Exploring the possibility of granting the greatest possible autonomy to our overseas churches would offer a more powerful testimony of the spirit of Anglicanism.   

I am inviting the church in Haiti and the general leadership of the Episcopal Church to prayerfully initiate dialogue towards a special autonomy of the Haitian Church within the structures of the Episcopal Church.”

As TEC prepares for the work of the 2021 General Convention, the Church is challenged to consider the possibility of “a special autonomy of the Haitian Church within the structures of the Episcopal Church.”

My sense is that among the concerns that need to be part of that dialogue on special autonomy we will find the following:
(i)             There have been wide-ranging discussions in Haiti of dividing the current single diocese into 4 dioceses, with appropriate changes in expectations of and provisions for the episcopate – “locally adapted in the methods of its administration” to the Haitian context. (see the Lambeth Quadrilateral.) This concerns the church being self-propagating.
(ii)            A change in expectations of engagement in the life of TEC so that the burdens of TEC engagement do not put a strain on the resources of The Episcopal Church in Haiti. (ECH).  (This concerns changing the representation of ECH at General Convention, representation in the House of Bishops, and provision for canonical differences reflecting the Haitian context.) This concerns the church being self-governing.
(iii)          There will have to be a clear understanding of the extent to which the ECH is financially dependent or independent of TEC support, and a greater sense of its ability to be self-sustaining.

That is, the ECH and TEC are being challenged to a dialogue concerning the Henry Venn’s marks of indigenous churches: that they be self-governing, self-propagating, and self-sustaining.  At the same time, ECH and TEC need also to take the Canadian model seriously: that autonomy does not mean the dissolution of unity with others, but rather greater regard for the uniqueness of ministries within the body of the Church. Autonomy can be enjoyed in mutual responsibility and interdependence.

The stretch for a new future for the Episcopal Church in Haiti is a reality. We in TEC need to stretch too to meet the Church in Haiti at a place of dialogue where such a future can be celebrated by the whole body of the Church.

7/07/2019

Preaching then and now... and standing with and for captive refugees.

(A sermon preached at St. Peter’s Church, Lewes, Delaware, July 7, 2019.... Preaching then and now and standing with and for captive refugees.)

Let us pray: 

Grant, O Lord, we beseech thee, that the course of this world may be s peaceably ordered by thy governance, that thy Church may joyfully serve thee in all godly quietness; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.  (Collect 5th Sunday After Trinity, Book of Common Prayer 1662)

July 4, 1776 was a Thursday, just as it is this year. The priest of St. Peter’s, Lewes, probably used the collect we just prayed in services that day.  The news of the July 2nd resolution of the Continental Congress, “Resolved, that these United Colonies are and of right ought to be, free and independent States, that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain is, and ought to be, totally dissolved,” had no doubt reached Lewes. The Declaration itself had probably not, but the news of the fact of the Declaration probably had reached Lewes. The collect, calling for quietness and peaceful order would have been quite timely.

The Declaration advertised itself to be, “The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America.” But of course, as far as the whole people go,  it was not unanimous at all.  The Declaration was of a hope, not a reality. The difference between these brave statements and the reality of a new governing entity called “The United States of America” rested on a successful war and a twice organized government. The difference was years of blood, sweat and tears, and a time of very sharp disagreements.

There were plenty of people in the colonies, now declaring themselves to be states, who were against this happening. The conflict of strong opinion was universal and local both, and the birth of the new nation torn from British control was accompanied by  great violence.

I have often wondered how at that time the priest of this parish dealt with the variety of opinions in the congregation about independence, revolution, and the looming war. What was preached? How? 

In 776 the priest of St. Peter’s, Lewes, was The Rev. Samuel Tingley. We know about him from the  “Brief Annotated History of St. Peter’s Episcopal Church,” which is part of the packet of materials for the Open Door Campaign. You can get a copy from the office, along with a pledge card for the Campaign. The Campaign, as you know, is about continued growth of this church.  Mr. Tingley was a prime cause for our being a strong parish now.  

An ardent Tory supporter of King George III.” His time in Lewes was probably made easier by the fact that Sussex County was mostly Tory. But the Committee of Correspondence in Delaware was having none of that sort of talk. The propaganda effort in support of Independence required forceful action against detractors of independence.  Overt support to the King could lead to very violent response from those supporting the revolution.

Somehow Mr. Tingley survived as priest here until shortly after the war ended. He left in 1783. He survived in part by changing the prayer for the King to a prayer for “those whom Thou has made it our special duty to pray for” and by not “claiming overt allegiance to the King.” He appeared, in other words, to have exhibited considerable caution in expressing his political views. To his credit, Mr. Tingley did the other really important thing: he was faithful to his congregation. He stayed and ministered. He was one of the few clergy in all of Delaware who remained through the war. When it was over St. Peter’s remained a viable parish in a Diocese that was otherwise close to collapse.

Like then, these are times of disunity, fracture, and astounding differences of political and social opinion. In such times, then and now, clergy who preach are under considerable duress. The possibility of being pilloried or tarred and feathered (or their modern social media equivalents) are real. The vultures of various causes are sometimes ready to pounce.  It’s a great time for preaching, but not so much for the preacher.

Some of us preachers have been here before. I cut my preaching teeth during the Vietnam war. Not an easy time! Over the years I have come to understand the duty as preacher this way:

Clergy who preach in the Episcopal Church derive their commission from three sources: (i) prophetic call that comes to everyone born of the spirit to attend the workings of the Spirit within and proclaim what is called forth from them by God, (ii) Ordination to proclaim and preach the Word of God, i.e.  to preach Christ crucified, and (iii) license to preach in a particular Diocese and congregation.  

That three-fold commission comes only to a few of us. I preach and most of you don’t.  Which gives me, as preacher an amazing ONE UP position. The full weight of authority – God’s spirit, call and the churches license – are with the preacher. So, as a general rule, the Preacher preaches and the congregation listens. 
 Of course the congregation can get their opinions into the larger societal mix by making life difficult for a preacher they do not want to hear more from, but that generally outside the service – in the vestry, in the coffee hour, in the parking lot, by the grapevine, now on social media of the internet, and in the larger body politic. 

But not in the moment. In the moment of the sermon it is hard for anyone to get in much more that an a positive AMEN or an negative grunt or stony stare and the occasional walk out. (And don’t think we preachers are not aware of such commentary.)  Why do you think I am reading this carefully, rather than walking about as I usually do?

As a result of this strange dynamic, where I get to speak and you do not, I believe the preacher needs to be careful not to misuse this position. She or he should not opine in sermon or homily on political preference for this or that person in authority, on specifically who people should vote for, or on the support of or resistance to specific court judgements or legislative actions by government. Instead the preacher should appeal to and direct us to God’s Spirit present in us, believing that there are sufficient pointers and guides in Scripture, the faith we have received, and our ability to reason, that would lead us to right action for the good of all.  That is, here, in the Church, in the context of the Word of God and the Sacramental presence of Christ, “we preach Christ crucified.” (I. Cor 1:23).  

Or, in the context of today’s lessons, we preach healing, not as magic, but as the product of simple and humble trust, we preach that God is not mocked, and that all our boasting is nothing and the New Creation is everything. We preach Jesus, who said,” Whenever you enter a town and its people welcome you, eat what is set before you; cure the sick who are there, and say to them, `The kingdom of God has come near to you.' But whenever you enter a town and they do not welcome you, go out into its streets and say, `Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet, we wipe off in protest against you. Yet know this: the kingdom of God has come near.' "

As Preacher I do not believe I am here to cure political and social ills, now matter how you or I might perceive them. If I want to do take on dealing with those ills, I do so in the body politic.  Many of you know I do that “out there” already.

Here, in the Church, I am commissioned to bring the Good News of God’s healing  presence, grace and love. There is no place for bombast and great show, no place for personal opinion, no place for mocking God, no place for cruelty. We are here to  repeat Paul’s plea, ““Let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest-time, if we do not give up. So then, whenever we have an opportunity, let us work for the good of all, and especially for those of the family of faith.” 

So, how does this work out in practice?  

Well, we preach all the time that we ought to care for the widow and the orphan, for the weak and the lame, for the foreigner and outsider among us, not because it is politic but because it is God’s spirit speaking through us, informing us that God has a preference for the poor and poor in spirit. And we preach noting that  “nothing matters but the New Creation.” 

So today I believe I am compelled to proclaim that we need to stand with and for those who are held in detention at our borders in hard conditions. It is the Word working in us that calls us to this. And I believe we must stand with and for them because we are called, as Paul admonishes us this morning, “whenever we have an opportunity, (to) work for the good of all, and especially for those of the family of faith.“ 

When you hear the Word, however it is presented to you, you will know what to do.  And when you know, you will also be given grace to know how to do it. Mr. Tingley go it right, praying for the King is one thing, but better to “pray for those whom Thou has made it our special duty to pray for.”  So let us now pray for, and work for the release of all those who are bound in captivity, especially those “whom Thou has made it our special duty to pray for.” That would be particularly the children.  And may our prayers be echoed in actions. 

I believe strongly in the power of Christ, working through the Spirit, to bring us all to that New Creation, and that that power will be sufficient for God’s good pleasure, for God’s justice and mercy both. 

AMEN.