6/12/2009

Mark Engle on Forrester.

Over on Facebook Mark Engle wrote me something on Keven Forrester, bishop-elect but in all likelihood without sufficient consents. I thought it really fine and asked him for permission to include it here. I have tried to stress (with only some success) that the questions we are raising are not about the right of people to withhold consents, or the various specifics sited as reasons, but rather about an increasingly self-limiting sense of what sort of theological manner of life is permissible, or about being "orthodox." Just so we don't have to go through this again: this is not about telling those who voted not to confirm that they did something wrong, or evil, or cruel. Rather it is about reminding ourselves that the field has narrowed and we need to be careful.

Mark Engle writes:


Some thoughts while mowing the lawn. . .

The apparent failure of the Diocese of Northern Michigan to secure consents to its Bishop Elect, Kevin Thew Forrester has elicited a spirited, if superficial, response. While I have written publicly on the matter before I wanted to reflect on something of the meaning of the failure. So here goes.

It seems to me that the key question revolves around the tension between orthodoxy and innovation. At a time when the unthinkable is happening to us as a nation: Our largest corporation is bankrupt and evaporating; banks and brokers are falling; medical care is increasingly inaccessible; we continue to fight in far away lands with a bare grasp of the significance of some of these wars; the list is long. One needs to ask, how will the church respond? Shall we take a sectarian approach, circle the wagons and end the discussion? Shall we utter the last words of a dying church, "We never did it that way before?" (A perception that is entirely manufactured, by the way. Nothing Kevin proposes has not been done before.) I think that is what Kevin's repudiation represents. Now that comes at a cost, one that our future generations will bear. We already see what happens when congregations are divided and embrace the status quo option. I hope that this is not the first whisper of a church following the way of General Motors.

It is clear to me that if we are to be the church in the coming decades we will do so as we are able to build bridges to innovation. We will face the hard questions around a calcified system of authorization, a shrinking from R and D in congregational life and the near loss of mission focus. Northern Michigan has been on the forefront of each. Time and again, in human relations, prison ministry, environmental leadership, canonical reform, ministry development, this little community has produced astonishing results. Elsewhere, the church displays an dismaying lack of vigor.

By the withholding of consents, we will effectively bar a strong voice from the table in the House of Bishops. . . a seat which Jim Kelsey held with distinction. When we are entering into a corporate and congregational environment, the likes of which we have not seen in my lifetime, retreat into the answers of the past will not do. Some exploration will be required. If Kevin's modest innovations set folks hair afire, I cannot see how we will muster the umph to look our problems squarely in the eye.

For now, we seem to have set our course in the matter. I am distressed that we are leaving ourselves so vulnerable to coming events that are as inevitable as they will be crushing. I so wish we would not dig up the shoots of new life, naming them as weeds.

10 comments:

  1. For one thing, I would say that we're not losing Forrester's voice. His voice is still there in the church, just not within the House of Bishops. Are we perhaps lifting up the bishops a little too high by (maybe unconsciously) implying that they're the ones who really make change happen. What if the role of bishops is indeed NOT to lead innovation but to play a (slightly) more conservative role in the church's discernment about that innovation, sorting out the good from the bad? If that's the case, then perhaps Forrester's call really is not to the episcopate. Rather, what gifts he brings are much better used in other areas of the church's life and would be wasted in the House of Bishops.

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  2. Fr. Harris,

    What would help me understand your views better would be your thoughts on some of the questions Doxy asked on the previous thread in her comment.

    "When is an Episcopalian no longer an Episcopalian?"

    And- to paraphrase- what responsibilities do bishops, priests, and laypeople have to following the book of "COMMON" (her caps) prayer, and what happens if everyone decides to go away from BCP and we have thousands of different forms in use?

    And -to paraphase again- if we are a liturgical and hierarchical church, what would be a sign that we are moving away from that if this consent were not such a sign?

    You have stated your concerns multiple times about the process by which lack of consent has developed, but I do not have a sense of why it is your view that the result is somehow harmful to the wider church as it relates to the theological issues underpinning the lack of consent.

    Because- as Northern California and Bethlehem have joined those declining consent, it is clearly not about any of the hot-button issues that are easy to deflect. It is clear that consent is being denied because of KTF's wanderings outside the BCP. Any suggestion otherwise should henceforth be reserved for talk radio.

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  3. Mark and Mark,

    The emergent community speaks of an ancient future faith, and part of how I see that at least is an adherence to the core of the ancient faith while considering new ways and modes of being and structures. The most ardent criticism about Forrester, whether justified or not, is that his theology left little if any room for sin. While our Prayer Book, a product of the liturgical movement, recovers an understanding of sin that steps away from the vast overemphasis upon sin that the high middle ages brought to the church, no one would argue that the ancient church had no place for sin. One needs only to look at a newspaper to see the sin of greed being played out in our midst. Instead, I think the problem with Forrester's theology is removing the parts of faith that he doesn't like (which we likely all bear some guilt in) instead of seeking to redeem our vocabulary of faith. (I think Kathleen Norris does a fine job of redeeming the old words.).

    The 79 Prayer Book revision points the way for me... We stepped forward and made progress through our scholarship of the ancient church's liturgy and approach. If we are to innovate, let us re-member what is already ours.

    Sean+

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  4. I think we need to be clear about where we are able to be innovative and where we must remain conservative. I am all for trying new things in new fields in new ways, and good on the Diocese of Northern Michigan for developing new models of ministry and other things that Mark Engle applauds. But we do not have a license for changing the apostolic doctrine that come to us from Scripture about the nature of God, or the the person and work of Christ for example. Changing the fundamentals of the Christian faith is not what the world needs, otherwise the church will simply become a mirror image of whatever culture it lives in, the message of salvation will be lost and the unity of the church across various cultures will be totally destroyed. The world needs salvation from God's condemnation because of its rejection of God, and that is only possible through a clear articulation of the gospel of Jesus Christ as given to us by the apostles. That cannot be changed. From what I've read of Thew Forrester's theology he was toying with innovations in areas Christians do not have freedom to be innovative. His sermon on the Trinity published on the internet for example was fluff and nonsense, and would not have been recognised by any of the early church fathers or councils as authentically Christian. It's a pity that a few other bishops were not similarly refused consent earlier in their ecclesiastical careers. The means of communicating that gospel and ways of "doing" church are where we have flexiblity.

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  5. There is nothing sectarian or narrow about orthodoxy. I think that getting serious about orthodoxy would give us more prophetic edge, not less. None of the young adults I know are attracted by this kind of experimentation. It is Baby Boomers who want a creedless Church without doctrinal boundaries.

    But even if, contrary to all the evidence, screwing around with the liturgy and doctrinal standards of this Church, would produce a tidal wave of new converts, would that be faithful?

    1979 allows for a great deal of innovation. But innovation within the framework of Common Prayer. The liturgical movement was in many ways deeply conservative. Like Anglicanism generally, it looked back to the undivided church. What I think we are seeing is a new generation that takes the lex orandi more seriously than some of our parents and grandparents.

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  6. My theoretical position was that if the bishop elect changed the baptismal liturgy because he disagreed with the teachings of The Episcopal Church, he should not be given the consents -- I did not believe that was the case -- until I read what he had done with the liturgy -- I believe that the correct decision was reached (OCICBW)

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  7. What Bill Carroll said. Please say that elsewhere, loudly.

    Pax,
    Scott+

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  8. Changing the fundamentals of the Christian faith is not what the world needs, otherwise the church will simply become a mirror image of whatever culture it lives in..."

    Brian, I think the church has always changed and as a reflection of society. The Reformation is a good example! And of course, any student of Christian history can give you many earlier examples, too.

    Although we disagree on many things, I am truly writing this with a gentle spirit. We can't pretend that human understanding of God hasn't changed over 2000+ years, nor can we quickly see which changes are correct.

    Or perhaps I'll put it in a different way. The Bible truly does contain all things necessary for salvation - but we all those things quite yet. I hope we never do. God reveals on His schedule, based on human understanding. It's what has kept Christianity alive.And that's a wonderful thing.

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  9. Mark Engle13/6/09 9:29 AM

    What a treat it is to hear what is brewing "out there" around the KTF election. While I appreciate the variety of points of view, I am driven back on my initial observation that the bulk of criticism of the election is quite thin, indeed.

    The fact is that a diocese has undertaken to make a serious proposal to the rest of the church. Nobody is more surprised by the reaction than the faithful in No. Mi., I can assure you. They know that over a year of intensive discernment, examination of a variety of candidates and the election of one who would best move forward the ministry and mission of the Church in that place was solemn business. These are faithful Episcopalians pursuing the mission of the Church in remarkable ways.

    I am quite certain that the discernment process produced the best candidate for that diocese and, I might add, for the wider church. It is a difficult thing to watch us exclude a voice that has something important (and deeply constructive) to say in the Councils of the Church.

    While I can understand that No. Michigan's choice is not one that would fit many, if not most dioceses, I am dismayed. Yet, the conversation has yet to address the realities of collaborative ministry as they are lived out there.

    This is a serious proposal that demands a serious response. When one abandons the "wedge issues," one sees a diocese's proposal of new leadership that can address the needs of this mission focused church. Call that what you want, the issue remains untouched.

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  10. Mark

    After 50 years in the Diocese of Northern Michigan I can't help wondering if you are describing the same Diocese I just left.

    Like you there are people who have remained a part of the diocese who think it has made great strides in the past 25 years or so. If we then describe the Diocese as a thriving christian community why have more than half of its membership left in the past 25 years? There are a claimed 27 congregations, not one has a full time priest save St.Paul's in Marquette where Thew Forrester serves, That position is partially funded by the Diocese. With an average claimed ASA of less than 700 across the entire Diocese one can not accurately describe the Diocese as thriving.


    Northern Michigan has been been in difficulties for years now. The introduction of what is called Mutual Ministry has produced some 40 priests, plus deacons, preachers, ect., roughly two complete sets for each congregation if we eliminate the 5 summer stations, St. Paul's and Trinity in Houghton which is now without clergy.

    While some might describe objections to Thew Forrester as rather superficial consider the following points.

    Thew Forrester was a part of the team charged with bringing forth nominees for Bishop.

    The other committee members were all supporters of Thew Forrester.

    No other nominations were permitted from the floor

    Roughly 90% of delegates to the convention were Thew Forrester supporters. Some congregations did not attend as it was well known the result was a foregone conclusion.

    Thew Forrester's Buddhist experiences were largely unknown within the Diocese. It was not until objections to the election process arose that that part of his background became known, not only within the Diocese but nationally as well.

    Assuming Thew Forrester does not obtain the necessary consents a most worrisome problem arises. The convention also voted in another group of which Thew Forrester is the nominal head. This group is in addition to the Standing Committee and Diocesan Council.

    Who then will "run" the Diocese?

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