2/04/2008

Bishop Lawrence on Bishop Brent

It's always good to give credit where credit is due.

Bishop Mark Lawrence, newly ordained in South Carolina, gave a talk at the Mere Anglicanism Conference. It was a lecture on one of the really interesting bishops of the Episcopal Church - Bishop Brent. I encourage you to read it HERE and HERE. (It takes two postings on T19 to get it all posted.)

Bishop Lawrence is particularly helpful in walking us through Bishop Brent's understanding of Christian leadership. I am not at all sure I agree with Bishop Lawrence, but I find it very helpful for him to be raising concerns about just what constitutes an "outline" of attributes of a christian leader. As he says early on, "Leadership has been described as the Abominable Snowman of the social sciences..." Trying to get to the core of leadership attributes is a bit of a slog. Still, Lawrence works hard at it and Bishop Brent is a fine example of someone who exercised leadership with Christian determination and with flare.

Bishop Lawrence also is given to the temptation to trounce existing leadership in mainline churches, including of coure the Episcopal Church. He said,

"Certainly we have no lack of leaders who want to blaze a new path in regard to issues of morality, or newly dressed ancient heresy, but for creative leadership in the “flat world of the 21st Century” or for imaginative models for mission and ministry in an ever changing a secularist world we almost pine in spiritual inertia.

Maintenance models of ministry abound. And from far too many national church offices (TEC is not alone in this) comes a dreadful proliferation of pragmatic blueprints, acronyms, moralizing guilt-laden guidance and ever new buzzwords that would deaden the moral sensibilities of the best among us.

While the church in the Southern Globe makes bold initiatives, and Evangelical and Pentecostal churches in our own country continue to develop vision and leadership for evangelism and ministry that seek to win the world for Christ and inspire our often most devoted youth and young adults, we rehearse in treadmill fashion the issues of social justice which rarely produce a more just society nor a more diverse or truly inclusive church.

While our House of Bishops and Executive Council take steps to hinder adaptations of our polity that may well have enabled us to negotiate the Scylla and Charbidys near which we sail as a province, and thwart in the councils of the church any movement that may enable Anglicanism to craft an ecclesiology for this new millennium into which we have entered, this age of globalism, we as a national church continue our numerical decline and societal insignificance. We seem laden with those in leadership position who mirror managers, who write and interpret rules, who protect the institutional status quo despite their anti-establishment rhetoric or ethos."

Well, at least we know where this newly minted Bishop stands! There is at least something to his critique. It is indeed too easy for the management of the church's programs to be modeled on managerial visions in the secular world. It is too easy to say the right things about justice issues and go about doing business as usual.

The problem with his critique, however, is that it neither addresses the issue of what good management in the Church would look like nor provides a clue as to how a Christian leader like Bishop Brent is to be empowered save by a management system that provides funding on the one hand and requires accountability on the other.

As the mission agent of the Episcopal Church, the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society exists precisely to empower agents such as Bishop Brent to do the work he was called to do by the House of Bishops when they elected him to the Philippines. And the Constitution and Canons of the Episcopal Church provided both the structure in which Bishop Brent's license to minister and the areas of his accountability to the Episcopal Church.

But that temptation aside - the temptation to dump on the Church and its structures - Bishop Lawrence cannot help but return to the fascinating subject of his essay - Bishop Brent. There he is much more to the point, more eloquent and himself more interesting.

I am hopeful that Kendall Harmon and his helpful crew will format the text for easier reading (the paragraph markers are all missing). As it stands it is a bit of a visual struggle to get through it, but even now I suggest it is worth it.

Some of us might spell out the details of what constitutes the various elements of Christian leadership in a different way and some might find some of Bishop Brent's actual use of those skills subject to some criticism concerning his being a reflection of his particular time, but the subject itself - Bishop Brent - is very much worth the effort.

The church that Bishop Brent went to build up is now an independent Province of the Anglican Communion, one whose long connection to the Episcopal Church has issued in both ecclesastical and now financial autonomy. The ECP (Episcopal Church in the Philippines) has carried forward Bishop Brent's many hopes for the church and continues to work to be a church of the whole nation, resting in the ecumenical framework given in part by Bishop Brent. Two months ago the leadership of the National Council of Churches of the Philippines was passed to a priest of the ECP, Fr. Rex Reyes. The ecumenical challenges of this day will continue to be met by people whose first vision of Christian leadership was given by Bishop Brent.

Bishop Lawrence has done us a great service in bringing forward an important part of Bishop Brent's legacy. I hope it gets a wide read in spite of its somewhat grumpy beginnings. He of course is not alone in such grumpy mutterings. It is a common sin... I have occasionally had a touch of it myself. But that's another story.

6 comments:

  1. I have to confess that I have not yet read the entire address, yet the quote you included from Bishop Lawrence echoes what I hear more and more from our younger clergy and parishioners - even such people as young gay clergy who are partnered and living in rectories.

    You know, Mark, I think this is more than just normal generational differences or the idealism of youth - the younger Church is demanding proof that the direction the present leadership has taken the Church over the last 30 years has really been a good direction to go. Most, with obvious exceptions, seem to agree with a statement from a young, black former seminarian friend of mine who says, "I can't wait until the present generation leaves leadership so that we can get back to being the Church!" He is not a "reasserting conservative," by the way. This isn't a simplistic "conservative" vs. "liberal" consideration. This is more than a new generation chomping-at-the-bit to change everything. As the infamous Betty Butterfield pleads, “I just want to do it the normal way!”

    Bishop Lawrence, from the quote you've included, has touched on an important consideration. Whether one agrees with his theology or not, he touches on a problem that I find too many in current leadership will not adequately address (or perhaps will not/cannot understand). IMHO - OCICBW

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  2. For all his insight on leadership, +Lawrence still has his blinders on as he continues to speak about the "national" church and ignoring the overseas dioceses where really innovative things and growth are going on. Ignoring such an exciting part of the life of TEC is, in itself, the lack of leadership that he criticizes.

    Thomas+

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  3. I received some comments about Bishop Brent from a Filipino friend on Facebook who pointed out a major flaw in the generous missionary policy of Bishop Brent -- by not missionizing the Roman Catholics, but going exclusively to the pagan tribes & the Muslims, he made the Philippine Episcopal Church a gathering of tribal peoples which does not welcome converts from the RC Church (admittedly, this is second hand information, but it makes sense in the iron law of unintended consequences).

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  4. Well, to put it myself, since the good Prior mentioned my comments:

    Bishop Brent was against the colonial American Protestant policy of "re-Christianizing" the majority Catholic population of the Philippines. This was one great ecumenical achievement; he felt that Christianity had already reached the Philippines thanks to the Spanish Catholics and that he could only go to where the Gospel had not been preached.

    I think this achievement, as mentioned to Prior Aelred, has had the unintended effect of turning the Episcopal Church in the Philippines into a haven for people of certain ethnicities, which I think cannot be reconciled as such with the idea of a catholic vision of the Church. I think that the witness of the ECP to a different kind of catholicity has been weakened by this tendency.

    But it has been changing, I think, and this is a point Prior Aelred and all readers deserve to know. One parish in Metro Manila now has a vestry that represents two of the major ethnic groups who are part of the ECP, not to mention expatriates and the lowlanders, a group hitherto silent in the ECP. Also, those dioceses which have significant cosmopolitan urban centers are struggling, literally, to reach out to groups that have never heard not only of the Gospel, but of the Anglican Way of being Christian. Finally, and I am sure Fr. Mark might be interested in this, efforts are being made to introduce the Episcopal tradition to the wider Roman Catholic community through one of its most prominent theological centers. This is something in which I will be involved.

    I am glad that Fr. Mark has drawn attention to Bishop Brent twice already in this year alone; we need to hear again from the wisdom of this turn-of-the-century visionary who touched people's lives for Christ in my native land.

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  5. Wonderful post. I was lucky to find it today on Brent's feast day!

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  6. Bishop Lawrence's sddress is really very well put together. Here in Buffalo, NY we have a small Brent Society that meets weekly to discuss the life and works of Bishop Brent followed by ccompline. We have also found his work remarkably fresh and meaningful at the individual level. A constant theme with Brent is individual transformation. He was more the mystic than the theologian. The spiritual leader today that is most like Brent is the Dali Lama. Its a rare mystic indeed that can make such an impact on the world stage.

    -Kevin

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