To start with I am very proud and honored: Yesterday Trinity University of Asia granted the degree of Doctor of Humanities, Honoris Causa, to Merrilyn (Lyn) Johnson and me. The service of Afternoon Prayer and Conferment of Degrees took place at the Cathedral of St. Mary and St. John, here in Quezon City. The choir of St. Andrew's Seminary and the Trinity University Band provided music. The Prime Bishop, Bishop Soliba presided. It was a powerful and splendid occasion. I was delighted.
We were honored primarily for being with the Episcopal Church in the Philippines (ECP) as they moved from ecclesial autonomy to financial autonomy over the last eighteen years. In looking back I realized that my first conversations concerning the ECP were at the Episcopal Church Center about twenty years ago. Beginning in 1990 I began visiting the Philippines and over the years have visited something like 10 times, sometimes for fellowship and celebration, sometimes in an educational context, and often for really difficult struggles to continue the relationship between the two churches when it was hard to see a way forward. Every time I come to the Philippines I am struck once again by how much there is to learn and how little I finally know. But most importantly I realize just how central it is to any sense of being Anglican that we continue relations far beyond those that are formed in the missionary "mother-daughter" relationship. We are entering a new phase in ECP and TEC relations. I look forward to the next chapter with great interest.
I wrote some remarks for the occasion, part of which was delivered to the gathering and the whole given to participants following the service. Here they are. They refer to the Partners Round Table, a gathering of partner church representatives on the occasion of the ECP celebration of financial autonomy. I was surprised today to learn that part of those remarks were discussed in the Executive Council of the ECP meeting this morning.
They are a bit long, but those who are interested in matters related to the development of a post colonial Anglicanism might find them interesting.
Address to the Conferral Ceremony, Cathedral of St. Mary and St. John, by The Rev. Dr. Mark Harris, Canon of the Cathedral of St. Mary and St. John.
We who have been honored today thank Prime Bishop Soliba of the Episcopal Church in the Philippines, the President, Faculty and Trustees of the Trinity University of Asia, bishops and members of Episcopal Church in the Philippines. We are grateful for the presence of representatives of the Round Table of Ecumenical and Anglican partner churches, and all our friends and companions. Thank you indeed. It is safe to say that the honors, great as they are, are derivative of the honor that has been ours in being allowed to take part in the life of the Episcopal Church in the Philippines and its many achievements.
When I asked Floyd Lalwet just what the Prime Bishop expected on this occasion, he graciously suggested only that my comments should be shorter than the Bishop's sermon. That is quite a task!
The degrees being conferred, being that of Doctor of Humanities, do not presume special access to knowledge or information, rather such degrees acknowledge (I would think) some sensibility or access to the human condition, and in particular the condition of those of us who engage across cultural and ethnic identity in an effort to reflect something about the power of the Body of Christ. So my remarks are not learned, in fact they may be wrong in this or that particular, but they arise from a continuing desire to see the matter through – to find relationship that transcends the moments of autonomy and otherness that sometimes engulfs every national church community. In that sense perhaps some of what I want to say hints at wider issues in the Anglican Communion – issues only poorly addressed in the current "unpleasantness" in the Communion.
This being both a religious and academic occasion, I want to take this opportunity to suggest several academic and religious issues that may warrant further study.
The first concerns colonialism: When the second Anglican Bishop with oversight for work in the Philippines, Bishop Brent, arrived he did so in conjunction with the US occupation of the Philippines. To his eternal credit Bishop Brent, in some ways as much a product of his times as we are of our own, quickly expanded the work of the Episcopal Church to those who were unlikely to have an investment in the American colonial presence in any form, any more than they had investment in the Spanish presence. The ensuing forty eight years of American colonial presence was turbulent enough. But it was mirrored by a longer more gradual, if also sometimes turbulent, exit of Episcopal Church ecclesial colonialism. US colonialism hung around for many years after formal independence, of course, but at least on paper it was an occupation of less than a half century.
It took ninety-two years for ecclesial independence to happen, and another eighteen for that to be fully expressed financially as well as ecclesiastically, all together more than a century. The close of that period is what we are in part celebrating today. Why did this take so long? Perhaps the move from colonial to post colonial takes a bit longer for institutions whose father figures are held in esteem for more than four years at a time.
Arun Jones, in "Christian Missions in the American Empire," spells out many of the ways in which the two colonialisms – in church and state – were related in the Philippines. He finds elements of hope in the way in which the Episcopal Church in the Philippines grew to find its own voice, holding in tension an ancient elemental fact of Christian mission. That fact is that all Christian mission is both transformative of and transformed by every culture it encounters. Every Christian community has in its past elements of at least ecclesial colonialism and ecclesial enculturation.
How this is working out in the Episcopal Church in the Philippines is the source of Jones' hope. He says, "Filipino members of the Protestant Episcopal Church found in Christianity many ways to deal with their double heritage of indigenous tradition and American modernity in the midst of rapid and radical changes …" Looking forward, we might hope that this will also be true - that Filipino members of the Episcopal Church in the Philippines will continue to find in Christianity ways to deal with their double heritage of indigenous tradition and global modernity. I believe this is a real possibility.
Of course this hope is not that of ECP Christians alone. It is an ecumenical hope of Christian mission (one I will return to in a moment). The missionary hope is that the people of every land will find in Christianity a way to be both incarnational in their own skin, as a people, and fully present in the world which is always demanding new ways to be the people they are and the Christians they have become.
For a moment I want us to consider this: There is a great deal of talk that the churches in the Anglican Communion are now working at being a post colonial Christian community. Post colonial Anglicanism is not as easy to come by as it seems.
We know a good bit about colonial Anglicanism. The major papers yesterday testified to some aspects of that history. Now, there is a lot of talk about a post colonial Anglican Communion. But will we ever wrestle with the content of "anti" colonialism in the experience of the ECP? One would think that if first there is colonialism, then there must be an anti-colonialism prior to life after colonialism. Where is the discussion of anti-colonialism in the ECP?
Many of us have lived through some of the end game of anti-colonialism as regards ecclesial life in the ECP. Many of us know that anti-colonialism in the wider social context. As regards "anti-colonial" expression, I have been personally struck by the quite remarkable graciousness of the people of the Episcopal Church in the Philippines. While there have been some rather pointed suggestions by our ECP friends that the American political empire is entirely out of hand and some more polite concerns in the ecclesial sphere about unrealized promises of the sometimes elite mother church, the prodding and questioning has never been accompanied by cursing but always by blessing. Perhaps others of the Partner church representatives can attest to the same graciousness.
Nonetheless, the anti-colonial phase needs to be examined, for it forms the way in which the post colonial realities emerge. It would be useful to have that conversation in the open. Yesterday's papers point in that direction.
It is in this context that I believe there needs to be more work on just how the tenacity of Filipino cultures and traditions push back so that what emerges in the ECP is genuinely Filipino and at the same time recognizable as Anglican and even "Episcopalian." That process does not look "anti" but it is. It is the push back against simply taking the colonial models and making them the whole of the witness of this distinctly Filipino church. Before the major players all pass from the scene I would hope there is a concerted effort to help us all remember just how the ECP became autonomous as a genuinely Filipino church.
The reason for this seemingly rather academic or historical exploration is simple: I believe, and my sense is most of us believe, that the ECP, a small religious community in the Philippines, has an important contribution to make to post colonial Christian mission strategy here and elsewhere in the Communion. To get clear about what it is that the ECP can witness to, it is important to get the story straight. So the first point is to hope that the ECP and its partners will spend some time looking at how the ECP moved from ecclesial colonialism through anti-colonialism to a post colonial expression of a Christian faith still somehow informed by Anglican identity. Such reflections are sorely needed by a Communion of churches very much wallowing about in confusion.
I would suggest this study might begin with the thesis that ECP anti-colonialism has been expressed by the ECP in its peace-making efforts. Without trying to spell it all out (and I am not sure I can) I have this sense that the indigenous efforts to make peace among local communities, the wider critique of the American bases and the economic shackles of the initial agreements that went with national independence, and the wide ranging efforts to bring peace between various liberation movements and the government, as well as the critique of the government itself on behalf of what has emerged as people power, were and are extensions of basic anti-colonial sensibilities. Peacemaking continues to be the best way to heap coals of fire on those who instigated the violence of colonialism.
Now let me turn for a moment to the matter of Ecumenism.
Again, Bishop Brent is the take off point. Among the many things he did was to institute a mission strategy that would not place altar against altar. We may look on that positively in that it can be understood as a profound statement of ecumenical respect. Alternately, in the civil colonial context it was good politics. The freedom of religion stance of the new US colonial masters was part of its "liberating" posture, but it had to be actually practiced. At the same time it was hoped the unwelcomed exchange of masters from Spain to the US would not be accompanied by a ruffling of religious feathers from the retained religious establishment of the old masters. Better not to have competition with another colonial power's religion. Better to work a different field.
I favor the first view – that of ecumenical respect. Bishop Brent seems to have understood that the Episcopal Church, and indeed Anglicanism in general, is not THE way, it is only a way to the Lord Jesus, who after all is the Way, the Truth and the Life entirely unencumbered by the religiousness of churches.
But over time and the movement of peoples in the Philippines and the natural missionary impulse of congregations and dioceses made the ECP present in more and more communities where altar could indeed be set over against altar. What then of that non-competitive ecumenical stance?
In the colonial period the Episcopal Church (TEC) was able to use the ethnic / tribal / community peculiarities of the ECP as a basis for limiting the character of the offspring church. The very ecumenically charged desire not to set altar against altar also made the effort to establish an Anglican Christian identity in the Philippines particularly difficult. The ECP is prone to being thought of as a successful failure. The church remained small in numbers, very strong where it was planted, but very weak elsewhere. In those moments, such as the present one, when we need to seek forgiveness from one another this is a particularly sensitive issue. The highly touted ecumenical stance limited the vision of American missionaries and Filipino Episcopalians both. Sometimes, regrettably, the notion of the ECP as a church of indigenous tribal communities has been a reason to either excuse actions or assign blame. But there it is. The ecumenical impulse served a variety of ends within the family.
In the process of autonomy the ECP grew rapidly from one Diocese to six, and as of this last week, the possibility of a seventh, a division of the EDSP. At the same time in its special Summit following the centenary celebrations, the ECP expressed the hope that it might become a church of the whole nation, and the growth in the number of dioceses are part of the expression of that hope. The continued expansion of missionary work by ECP to the whole nation will drastically change the ethos of the ECP and will serve the nation well.
In this regard I think ECP might look again at the ancient Anglican notion that, just as the Church of England , as the established Church, thought of itself as the Church OF England, so we might think of Anglican churches as churches FOR the Nations in which they are found. Without establishment as a base it becomes important to find a voice, spiritual, liturgical and social, in which the Church is a contributor to the whole society. But the object is to be a national church for all people, not a tribal church for some.
The history of the ECP is in the midst of making a turn – a turn away from the Brent principle to a much more difficult and promising principle of ecumenical life. Instead of the ECP being a "Startrek" church – going where no one had gone before – the ECP now must continue on a trajectory already underway. It now must live out its life as a church willing to go where everyone has gone before – willing, in other words, to go where everyone who is a Christian must go – to the dispossessed, the poor in fact and in spirit, the unconvinced and the un-convincible – and there none the less be Christ and find Christ. In an odd way it must do what Startrek crew members never did. It must be willing itself to spread everywhere in the body of the nation. This is spread of the faith not by colonization but by, let us say, infection (or perhaps enlightenment).
This future is BOTH firmly Anglican and firmly ecumenical, for it assumes that being Anglican is a contribution to the richness of faith and arises out of the peculiar heritage brought by colonialists to this place and deposited here by great heroes and sometimes unworthy messengers, but now shaken down and packed together with a growing rush of Filipino voices of all sorts, a full measure of devotion worthy of the name of Christ Jesus. But in the end, what matters is that ECP become what God will wish for it, and that of course is a greater story than this or any moment can tell.