It is time to pray that the Holy Spirit does indeed beat wings of wind into the cavernous halls of General Convention. General Convention is moving into high gear but driving we know not where.
Our discipline at Convention consists of getting up early and going to legislative committee meetings, the Eucharist, morning and afternoon legislative sessions of both houses with a break for lunch, post session receptions for this or that group, and evening legislative sessions and late even caucus meetings. Tuesday was the first full flower of the days ahead, and if it was any indication of things to come we will need constant infusion of the Spirit’s refreshment to make it through in once piece.
The Bishops and Deputies have both heard a message delivered by the Archbishop of York from the Archbishop of Canterbury, whose words carried both praise and caution. The Deputies, however, heard more. We heard from the Archbishop of York himself, who was both charming and encouraging. It seems almost impossible, even with the best of intentions, for the Church of England not to present itself as the wiser older brother, who is both proud of the feisty ways of the younger brother, but who at the same time carries the disciplining rod of the father suitably disguised as a shepherds crook. I hope we hear more from the Archbishop of York, without messages from on high and with messages from within.
Notice of impending hearings on the resolution responses to the Windsor Report has overshadowed the central importance of the work of Program, Budget and Finance, whose budgetary work shapes so much of what we really do or intend about various concerns. And interestingly, the Millennium Goals, related to the work for the alleviation of poverty and for development is becoming a mission priority rather than a civic one, thereby putting in jeopardy the incarnational missionary tasks of the Church. It is in other words a muddle, with lots of funding at stake.
Wednesday will see us into the middle of the muddle. It is a muddle of three parts:
- The resolutions on the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion are being shaped more by the realignment crowd, with the muddle of liberal guilt following after, and almost without a remnant of progressive voice. Even the resolution on being part of a conversation about an Anglican Covenant is running into trouble from those who mistrust the general Anglican ecclesial tendency to make an idol out of things written, be they reports, proposals to study or even suggestions put in writing. Once it is written, the suspicion is, the fat is in the fire. Of course, that critique cuts both ways. Those who argue that we should not produce a “study document” version of a blessing rite do so in part from the fear that once made real, it is here to stay. Idolatry is our constant ghostly possibility.
- This leads of course to the second muddle: corporate work has a tendency to incarnate the body of death and not the body of life. The Windsor Report has become a larger than life sort of thing. It will hang over General Convention like a messenger of something (we are not sure what). But the Windsor Report is not now a very life giving document. The Archbishop of Canterbury’s words do not help: “I hope that the theological vision there set out in the (Windsor) Report of the ground and character of our communion in Christ will be clearly before you. We cannot survive as a Communion of churches without some common convictions about what it is to live and to make decisions as the Body of Christ; Windsor is not the end of the story, but it sets out a positive picture of what that might imply as together we strive to serve the mission of God.” I am not as hopeful as I was yesterday that we are going to find a way forward without great pain. The life is being sucked out of this Church, making it hard indeed to do a new thing, or to celebrate the occasional acts of prophetic insight that we do experience.
- The third muddle is this: Interdependence in Christ is coming more and more to look like it involves the widening of the difference between service in the Lord and oversight in the Lord, that is, between the people of God and the Princes of the Church. Interdependence, the idea that each of us is dependent on all the others, is a profoundly important idea. If we are all part of the body, we all have need of one another, need the love, the concern, and sometimes the criticism of one another, and mostly need the compassion of one another. But there is nothing compassionate about interdependence when it is exercised primarily as restraint from on high. I am thinking of the work of the Primates Meetings in particular. That group has acquired to itself the beginnings of assumed power. That is not interdependence: that is the ecclesiastical magistrate at work. So one of the difficulties of these days is that General Convention is muddling along towards a renunciation of the sort of independence and autonomy that promotes the dignity of every human being and drifting towards the peculiar dignity of those in high office. Be warned, if we want the Anglican Communion to be a church like other churches, we will get it – with patriarchs, curia, taxes, inhibitions and the like. It will not be pretty. Things may run better, but they won’t taste better.
So we come to the work of the day with three muddles: the drift to idolatry, the subtle workings of death, and the drift to the renunciation of dignity.
What is needed is the clean clear beating of wings, the blowing wind of the Spirit, to sweep house.
It is a time to pray for heaven and work like hell.
Then again, maybe tomorrow things will turn. That’s the way it is in the Spirit. We live in Hope.