3/26/2009

Professor Weil supports Bishop-elect Forrester's work.

The Rev. Keven Forrester has been elected bishop in Northern Michigan. Bishops and Standing Committees throughout the church are now determining to consent or not to that election. The Living Church continues to insist (although with quotes) that this is about the "Consents Process Underway for ‘Buddhist Bishop.’" That headline is unfortunate in that it labels Fr. Forrester without owning the fact. He is not a "Buddhist bishop." Period. It appears that he is a person who meditates using methods derived from Buddhist practice. He has made clear statements of his faith and obedience to Christ. But TLC can't let go. Good headlines sell papers.

Meanwhile, the other arguments brought against Fr. Forrester have to do with his use of experimental liturgies and the context in which he is being elected - namely, to an ordained role within a larger group providing diocesan vision and guidance. These are both addressed in significant ways by the following letter from Professor Louis Weil. As usual Professor Weil has both supported Kevin and used this as a teaching moment for us all. I hope bishops and Standing Committees will see in this letter the support for the bishop as one who stretches as well as conserves and that they will give consent to his election.

Here is the letter:

25 March 2009

THE REVEREND DOCTOR LOUIS WEIL
JAMES F. HODGES AND HAROLD AND RITA HAYNES PROFESSOR OF LITURGICS
THE CHURCH DIVINITY SCHOOL OF THE PACIFIC

Dear Kevin,

Thank you very much for sending me a copy of your experimental rite for Baptism. I
read it with great interest, thinking of the various debates we had on several issues back
in the ‘70s when I served on the sub-committee for the Standing Liturgical Commission
charged with preparing the new rite for Baptism — which, of course, was eventually
incorporated into the 1979 BCP. Some of the points which this rite raises echo in my
mind with discussions at the time, but also reminded me that liturgical developments are
always “progressive.” The Church is always dealing with its immediate situation, but
even as we do so the horizon is expanding and new issues continue (and always will
continue) to come along, new issues for which former responses are not adequate. I want
to share with you a couple of perspectives from that earlier experience.

With regard to the question of liturgical language which is raised at points in this
experimental rite: during my first term on the Standing Liturgical Commission (in the
1980s), we were charged with the development of rites based upon MP, EP, and the Rite
II Eucharist of the 1979 BCP, rites which would address the need for inclusive language.
Our primary task had to do with inclusive language of the worshiping community, but
hiding in the shadows, of course, were the then-emerging questions regarding inclusive
language in reference to God. One of my memories from our work on this task is the
frustration shared by the members of the Commission when we realized that the
substitution of plural (i.e. Inclusive) pronouns for singular (masculine) pronouns simply
would not work. What we ended up with was simply poor English forms which still
echoed the forms in the BCP. We realized that what was required to address this issue
appropriately would be the development of new texts which would be conceived and
generated out of a context in which inclusive language was a given factor from the start.
With regard to our tentative steps toward inclusive language about God, I remember
well my discovery, particularly in texts by St. Ephrem the Syrian, the incredibly diverse
images used in language about God or in address to God which characterize numerous
texts from the early fathers. I realized that in the unfolding of the Church’s life, that rich
array of images had gradually been pruned down to a primary focus on male and
monarchical images. A very useful book by Daniel Stevick which was published at about
that time confirmed (as the fruit of his research) that in his wider survey of the evolution
of liturgical language, an abundance of images about God had fallen into disuse. This
insight became an important tool for us on the Commission for trying to open up the
range of images about God which might find a legitimate place in the evolution of our
liturgical rites.

I have looked at the experimental rite for Baptism from the Diocese of Northern
Michigan with this past experience in mind. I am, of course, aware that for members of
our Church, this question can raise a high level of anxiety. I really have a lot of
sympathy for that, and that is why I would want to emphasize that what I think at this
time, and what I pleaded for to the Commission shortly before I ended my second term, is
that it is very important for the Episcopal Church NOT to move toward complete Prayer
Book revision at this time, but rather to address the need for the development of a range
of experimental rites which will enable us to address the larger issues of inclusion
without being under the gun to produce a complete book. We need a process of local
development, critical evaluation, and appropriate revision so that, in due course, the
cream will rise to the top and the poor experiments, having been tested and found
wanting, may drop off our plate.

I have read the baptismal rite carefully and it seems to me that as an experiment it
models the type of process which we need, local testing, critical reflection, and,
eventually, appropriate revision. In saying this, I am taking for granted that our situation
(and really for the past twenty-five years) has been very different in this regard to the
long adherence to prayer book conformity which preceded it. I tend to understand our
current situation as ‘fluid’: this is not true only for Episcopalians, but in our Communion
generally, and in the other liturgical churches. Both the liturgical and ecumenical
movements have had enormous impact upon our current pastoral reality. My concern is
not with experimentation guided by responsible oversight, but rather what I see here on
the west coast (and which I am told of in other parts of the country) of a new kind of
clericalism in which whatever liturgical whim the rector wants to impose on a
congregation, often apparently with inadequate theological and liturgical knowledge,
becomes the liturgy of the hour. I am frequently sent examples of these liturgies (--NOT
by the rectors themselves!), and the problems both theological and liturgical are often
very serious. Liturgical development requires appropriate leadership and a willingness to
test and criticize; the first idea that pops into one’s head is not necessarily good liturgy.
One further comment. You mention that the question has been raised about the
distinction between the ministries of bishops and those or priests, with bishops being
understood as “guardians of the faith.” Speaking historically, certainly this has been an
important dimension of the episcopal ministry. But for me, I must bring to this question
the work of the late Raymond Brown on this question. Probably some thirty years ago he
published a very important little book titled Priest and Bishop. In it, and on the basis of
his substantial work on the books of the New Testament, Brown proposed a missionary
model for the episcopate. He calls for the bishop to exercise the radical ministry implied
in the ancient title pontifex — bridge builder. In this model, the bishop is the one who is
reaching out into the expanding edges of the community, and who then interprets the
various voices in the Church to each other in order to build up the unity of the Body
which transcends such differences as progressive and conservative. The priests, on the
other hand, Brown sees as the resident pastors, those charged with the building up and
nourishment of the local communities, and in that sense the conservators of the tradition.
For the episcopate, I would hope that, given the needs of the church in our own post Christian world, Brown’s interpretation of the episcopate might be given fuller
expression.

I know that this has gone on too long, but I hope that perhaps some of my comments
may be useful to you. I do want personally to confirm my joy at your election to the
episcopate for the Diocese of Northern Bishop. The past several bishops have been
personal friends, and I would rejoice to see that continue. As a small diocese, it seems to
me that the kind of corporate reflection on liturgical developments which I think we need
might be embodied more immediately than in large dioceses in which inter-parochial
communication is often so difficult, and I believe that you could foster that very
effectively.

For now, my warm greetings to you and Rise.

Yours ever in Christ,


Louis

25 comments:

  1. Mark,

    Most of the time I agree with you, but not on this matter. The process in Northern Michigan was not transparent. Forrester was on their version of a nominating committee that came up with him as the only candidate for election. If our conservative brothers and sisters tried to do this in a diocese we'd be ranting about it. We have to be consistent in our expectations, especially when we apply them to ourselves.

    Sorry, but I think you're off base on this.

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  2. Good. Now Professor, how about that Easter Eucharistic Prayer. Especially the Joseph & Mary part. Seems to this mere layman that it challenges the Church's teaching about the incarnation.

    Peace,
    - miserable sinner

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  3. This is a refreshing response the the concerns raised by certain Episcopal magazines which shall not be named here. We used to call it "The Dying Sect" and I'm wondering if that should be restarted. Professor Weil represents sound and solid theological analysis and deserves wide circulation. Thank you for posting it. Ron

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  4. Mark,
    Thanks for posting the letter.
    I posted a comment about the TLC headline on its site, but it hasn't made it past the moderator. Maybe it never will. So far, no comments have appeared.

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  5. Bp Greg Rickles, hardly a paragon of orthodoxy, has indicated that he voted to not consent. This might be related to the fact that he has publicly stated he agrees with the inhibition of the Ms Redding the Muslim-Episcopalian. One can hardly condemn one and condone the other.

    Thew Forrester trying to deny his Buddhist beliefs at this stage is a more than a little disingenuous. It is being reported that he was signing his name "Kevin G. Thew Forrester". I looked it up on the clergy finder, and his middle name is "Lee." So the "G." obviously refers to his Buddhist name "Genpo." Who starts signing his Buddhist name if he is merely practicing Zen Buddhist techniques? No one.

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  6. Uh, isn't Forester an ordained Buddhist minister?

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  7. RR- +Greg's theology is quite orthodox. The fact that he isn't a Donatist, for example, shows that out. Just because a narrow theological language doesn't quite line up with another language doesn't make either wrong, pre se.
    What is interesting is that we have another one of the other side of the Church from TLC being a tad negative towards this process, and the outcome.
    Questions remain about what it is the TEC is being asked to ordain/bless/commission here and how it relates tot he Catholic order we have inherited.

    That said, this Buddhist thing is really getting wearing. Then again, it's an easy board to saw for TLC, anything else would require more nuance than they seem ready to present.

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  8. BTW- where can one find a copy of this baptismal rite?

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  9. Mark, I think you are seriously misjudging the depths of concern that many people, both clergy and lay alike, have about Fr. Forrester's election, and that concern is not just coming from the traditionalists. Despite the way this issue is being framed, this is not a liberal vs. conservative debate. I would be considered a "revisionist" by our traditionalist friends, and based on both my reading of Fr. Forrester's original Eucharistic prayers and Collects, and having the opportunity to hear him preach and give presentations, and given the lack of transparency in he election process, I have reluctantly concluded that consecrating Kevin Thew Forrester to the episcopate would be a serious error, and I was one of a number of clergy who have written our bishop to express our objections.

    Dr. Weil was my liturgics professor and I love him dearly, but I believe that in his desire to see one of his former students advance in ministry he has chosen to ignore some troubling issues.

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  10. Holy Cow. . . I think there are very legitimate concerns floating around out there - but the misinformation that is floating with it is very disconcerting.

    No, Kevin was NOT on the search committee. As an integral part of a very small diocese, he was part of the group that helped craft the process. A very different process than TEC typically uses. If someone wants to make a comment on their process, or Kevin's role in the very beginning of their discernment - that's fine. But, don't spread misinformation that he was on the search committee.

    He's also not a 'Buddhist Minister.' There's a lot of tilting at windmills over exactly what 'lay ordination' means and doesn't. I really don't know. But, he's not a 'Buddhist' nor is he an official of that religion. He practices Zen meditation as part of his Christian faith. If you want to take issue with THAT, that's fine.

    Let's not set up a straw man to then knock down. This is serious business, and we need to take it seriously. Kevin, his family, and the people of the Diocese of Northern Michigan need our prayers and the discernment of those charged with the giving or withholding of consents.

    The Church doesn't need a smear campaign or people spreading falsities.

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  11. The process in Northern Michigan was not transparent.

    Fr. Jeff, links to credible sources to back this statement please, or your are merely participating in gossip which is spreading smears and lies.

    Thew Forrester trying to deny his Buddhist beliefs at this stage is a more than a little disingenuous.

    No matter how you choose to couch it here, in simple English RR, you are saying that the man is a liar.

    It is being reported that he was signing his name "Kevin G. Thew Forrester".

    Links please to credible sources RR, or you are nothing more than a gossip spreading smears and lies.

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  12. Mark,

    Inasmuch as I would like to think Forrester is legit, the fact that +Neil Alexander of Atlanta (former professor of Liturgics and Homiletics at General and Sewanee) and +Thom Breidenthal of Southern Ohio (former Ethics professor at General) on the basis of Forrester's theology, makes me think his nomination is toast. Moreover, his THEOLOGY gives me great pause.

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  13. Dah-veed writes, "Links please to credible sources RR, or you are nothing more than a gossip spreading smears and lies."

    Here is the link to the facebook page of "Kevin G. Thew Forrester".

    This was pointed out by the Bible Belt Blogger who also quotes a TF essay taken from a Northern Michigan diocesan newsletter where TF explains the events leading up to his taking up the name of "Genpo".

    Dah-veed also writes,
    No matter how you choose to couch it here, in simple English RR, you are saying that the man is a liar.


    Please don't put ugly words into my mouth. I don't sling that ugly accusation around like some bitter souls who frequent this site. A single straying from the truth does not a liar make. From everything I have read about Thew Forrester, he is a kind and caring man. Unfortunately, kindness and caring are not the only prerequisites of a bishop.

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  14. Inasmuch as I would like to think Forrester is legit, the fact that +Neil Alexander of Atlanta (former professor of Liturgics and Homiletics at General and Sewanee) and +Thom Breidenthal of Southern Ohio (former Ethics professor at General) on the basis of Forrester's theology, makes me think his nomination is toast.

    Sean, I'm not sure that was a complete thought.

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  15. David-

    References to his using his "Budhist name" are based on Kevin's+ Facebook and Plaxo accounts, not to mention at least one official publication of his parish.

    The fact that this process has bothered so many Left, Right and Center in TEC might indicate that maybe, there are issues to be had.

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  16. The Rev. Dr. Weil's letter is about the experimental liturgy for Baptism, not about the process in Northern Michigan, nor about Buddhist meditation or whether Bishop-elect Forrester signs his name Genpo. It seems that the work Professor Weil is supporting is Bishop-elect Forrester's work in developing new liturgies.

    Shouldn't that be the subject on which we are commenting?

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  17. The fact that this process has bothered so many Left, Right and Center in TEC might indicate that maybe, there are issues to be had.

    I 100% agree Friar John. I just want to see the links to the evidence, and not just the phrase "It's been reported."

    Gossip, innuendo and out right smears do not serve us or the propagators of such sin.

    Thank you RR and FJ for the links.

    I think that folks are making much of little. Many folks who are involved in myriads of ways with other groups and cultures, receive names from their new friends and are honored to use them. In Mexico we serve a year of service which is associated with receiving our degree. I worked my final university year with an indigenous group in my home state of Hidalgo. I too was given a sacred name. In this instance it is only to be used within the tribe. To this day, whenever I visit, it is how I am called.

    As a religious solitary who has practiced Zen Meditation for years, I found a keen affiliation in the linked essay. Please notice that throughout the essay in which he speaks of his deeply held Christianity, and how it is further enriched by his Buddhist studies, he says a number of times "as a Christian" and never once says "as a Buddhist."

    BTW RR, no one has put words in your mouth -
    disingenuous adjective
    insincere, dishonest, untruthful, false, deceitful, duplicitous, lying, mendacious; hypocritical.

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  18. Help me out here. He is not a Buddhist minister, but he has received lay ordination in the Buddhist tradition? Doesn't ordination make one a minister? I'm serious here -- I'm not trying to set up a straw man or anything like that. I'm not an Anglican, and I've only recently become aware of this whole issue within TEC. Perhaps somebody could educate me on what "lay ordination" means within the context of Rev. Forrester's ministry?

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  19. I'm done commenting on (+)Forrester: I'll abide w/ the confirmation/non-confirmation that the Standing Committees decide.

    However, I want to comment on this:

    I would want to emphasize that what I think at this
    time, and what I pleaded for to the Commission shortly before I ended my second term, is
    that it is very important for the Episcopal Church NOT to move toward complete Prayer
    Book revision at this time


    How long a period is that (after his second term), for Professor Weil to STILL insist "it's too soon"?

    Anyone who recalls (or even still observes!) the fetishization of the 1928 Prayerbook, does NOT want to see that happen again w/ the '79!

    It's in the nature of base human conservatism, to ALWAYS say "Too Soon..."

    ...whereas it's the GLORY OF GOD, to say "Move Already! Set My People Free! Cross the Red Sea! Proclaim Liberty! Do Justice, Love Mercy! Take, Eat! Feed My Sheep! Go Unto All Nations! GET GOING!!!"

    If not now, when???

    *Begin* BCP revision, ASAP! [Starting by inclusifying the Marriage Rite. :-D]

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  20. There are any number of valid and substantive reasons that reasonable people might oppose the confirmation of Bishop-elect Forrester's nomination.

    * The process (even if he was less directly involved than earlier information suggested) is still highly irregular.

    * There are legitimate questions to be asked about the nature and place of his liturgical experimentation.

    * there are potentially valid questions about some aspects of his theology.

    Yet what drum do the far right choose to beat?

    The completely false and demonstrably dishonest charge that Forrester is a Buddhist.

    Let us be clear - ugly word or no, George Conger lied - and certain far right agitators here choose to repeat the lie ad nauseum.

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  21. Mark in Spokane, Forrester has described that he went through a welcoming ceremony as he was admitted into instruction to meditation practice with a group of Buddhists in the area where he serves as an Episcopal priest. He stated that he made no oaths.

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  22. JCF, having been a recent student of Dr. Weil's I think I can shed a little light on his position regarding a revision of the Book of Common Prayer.

    Unless he's changed his mind on this, Dr. Weil believes that the best way to introduce new material into the rites is to make new supplements available, have them vetted by the Standing Committee for Liturgy and Music, and have them authorized for use by General Convention. This was the procedure used for the introduction of Enriching our Worship, which is now widely used but is not technically in the BCP.

    If my memory serves me correctly, Dr. Weil favors the use of liturgical supplements to the BCP for several reasons:

    1. It avoids the "Prayer Book wars" like the kind we had last time over the introduction of the '79. With authorized supplements,clergy and congregation are free to use them or not.

    2. Supplements encourage the creation of a wider variety of materials and encourages creativity.

    3. Supplements discourage rote liturgies and calcification. Once something gets in between the covers of a book, creativity is discouraged, clergy get lazy, and badly needed updates don't happen, so we're stuck with outdated language for a long time.

    Hope that helps.

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  23. Padre Mickey,

    I would love to comment on the Liturgies, but I'm unable to do so since all there are out in the either are several excerpts. I'm not willing to pass to strong a judgement on them until I get to see them in their entirety.

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  24. I'm not accusing Prof. Weil of bad faith, Karen.

    I just think his analysis is faulty.

    I've been a member of 6 Episcopal parishes (across the USA), since the '79 was authorized. I've used supplemental liturgy in precisely *one* of those parishes (and that was back in the 80s!).

    I don't think my experience is unusual. Those supplemental liturgies aren't used, and thus what the liturgies are designed to prevent ("calcification" "outdated language") is PRECISELY what happens (and the longer we put BCP revision off, the worse the "Prayer Book Wars" will get!!!)

    It's when new language is "canonized" in the BCP, that people come to use it: not the other way 'round.

    Will there be a fight? "Preserve the '79!"? OF COURSE there will (to a degree, that struggle is actually healthy).

    But let's get it over with. There were 30 years between the 1898 BCP, and the 1928. While I understand there were fights over the '28's "Prayers for the Dead" (Horror to Calvinists, Oh No!), that still seems to me to be about the right amount of time between revisions.

    1898 to 1928.

    1979 to [Do the math---and I'm just proposing we get started].

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  25. As a Canadian Anglican, I may have a particular insight on the scheduling of liturgical revision.

    The Canadian Church first developed a distinctly Canadian BCP in 1918. Before the ink was dry, there came a flowering of liturgical scholarship which led to the 1928 American BCP, the "Deposited" BCP in England (that was never approved by Parliament) and new BCPs in several other provinces.

    Canada finally caught up to the 1920s revisions with the BCP of 1959 / 62. And again, before the ink was dry . . .

    My own take is that the finalization of a Canadian BCP is the cue for another flowering of liturgical scholarship.

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