9/14/2019

The Episcopal Church in Haiti: Stretching towards a new future.


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The 2018 statistical reports for the Episcopal Church are out. There is considerable wringing of hands and some very enlightening commentary around. Among the most challenging is the commentary by Crusty OldDean, Tom Furgerson.  His conclusions present one sort of challenge for TEC, namely to get off the high horse of acting like a corporation. I hope the General Convention will listen to him. Unfortunately, the track record on critical rethinking by TEC is not good. The last round of efforts to deal with the structural problems of TEC fell decidedly flat.

Hidden in the weeds of the Statistical Reports are interesting bits of information regarding the resilience of at least one diocese in TEC. On the basis of the records received from the dioceses, it would appear that the Episcopal Church in Haiti, with 89,717 baptized members, is the largest diocese in TEC. And, looking at ASA (Average Sunday Attendance) figures, it ranks among the top 10 dioceses. It is among only 8 dioceses that have recorded an increase over the last 10 years, and this in spite of the terrible earthquake of 2010.  It has more members than Province 6 or 9. About one in 20 baptized members of TEC is Haitian.

The Episcopal Church in Haiti is remarkably resilient. Even with the horrendous earthquake, governmental and economic uncertainty and accusations and counter-accusations within the leadership of the church, the church has continued in its ministry and is growing.

It is within this context that The Venerable Fritz Bazin has challenged the Episcopal Diocese in Haiti and The Episcopal Church to a conversation about the future for a more autonomous Church in Haiti. 

Archdeacon Bazin is an honorary canon of the Episcopal Church in Haiti and in the Diocese of South East Florida he is Archdeacon for Immigration and Social Justice.

On July 30, 2019, Archdeacon Bazin wrote the following to church leaders in Haiti and officers of The Episcopal Church:

“On July 19th the Anglican Communion News Service posted a photo of Archbishop Fred Hiltz of Canada, anointing the leader of Canada’s National Indigenous Anglican Church.  This gesture clearly points to a courageous action of the Canadian Church to grant a certain autonomy to this indigenous Anglican expression.

Bishop Mark McDonald, now Archbishop of this Indigenous church said “people often misinterpret what we’re doing as an attempt at independence away from the church.  We really wish to become an indigenous expression of the church and we are only asking for freedom and dignity that other Anglicans already enjoy.

Although there are various reasons that often cause misunderstanding between the mother church and her former “missions” now Dioceses, what took place in Canada invites us all to look at the need for greater autonomy of the churches in countries of marked cultural differences.

In 2001, the late Canon Jacques Bossiere published a study in French entitled “L’ame de Anglicanisme” in which he points to the need to “deanglicise” the Anglican communion, meaning that Anglicans in Africa, Latin America or the Caribbean do not need to resemble the church in Great Britain, in Ecclesiology, Liturgy and Theology as long as they preserve the basic tenants of Anglicanism.

Our Episcopal Church today is an international structure, yet it is still in the image of the church in the United States of America.  The Canons of the Church in Haiti, The Dominican Republic or Honduras reflect the American form of governance, liturgical practices and theological positions in almost every area of the faith.

Exploring the possibility of granting the greatest possible autonomy to our overseas churches would offer a more powerful testimony of the spirit of Anglicanism.   

I am inviting the church in Haiti and the general leadership of the Episcopal Church to prayerfully initiate dialogue towards a special autonomy of the Haitian Church within the structures of the Episcopal Church.”

As TEC prepares for the work of the 2021 General Convention, the Church is challenged to consider the possibility of “a special autonomy of the Haitian Church within the structures of the Episcopal Church.”

My sense is that among the concerns that need to be part of that dialogue on special autonomy we will find the following:
(i)             There have been wide-ranging discussions in Haiti of dividing the current single diocese into 4 dioceses, with appropriate changes in expectations of and provisions for the episcopate – “locally adapted in the methods of its administration” to the Haitian context. (see the Lambeth Quadrilateral.) This concerns the church being self-propagating.
(ii)            A change in expectations of engagement in the life of TEC so that the burdens of TEC engagement do not put a strain on the resources of The Episcopal Church in Haiti. (ECH).  (This concerns changing the representation of ECH at General Convention, representation in the House of Bishops, and provision for canonical differences reflecting the Haitian context.) This concerns the church being self-governing.
(iii)          There will have to be a clear understanding of the extent to which the ECH is financially dependent or independent of TEC support, and a greater sense of its ability to be self-sustaining.

That is, the ECH and TEC are being challenged to a dialogue concerning the Henry Venn’s marks of indigenous churches: that they be self-governing, self-propagating, and self-sustaining.  At the same time, ECH and TEC need also to take the Canadian model seriously: that autonomy does not mean the dissolution of unity with others, but rather greater regard for the uniqueness of ministries within the body of the Church. Autonomy can be enjoyed in mutual responsibility and interdependence.

The stretch for a new future for the Episcopal Church in Haiti is a reality. We in TEC need to stretch too to meet the Church in Haiti at a place of dialogue where such a future can be celebrated by the whole body of the Church.

7/07/2019

Preaching then and now... and standing with and for captive refugees.

(A sermon preached at St. Peter’s Church, Lewes, Delaware, July 7, 2019.... Preaching then and now and standing with and for captive refugees.)

Let us pray: 

Grant, O Lord, we beseech thee, that the course of this world may be s peaceably ordered by thy governance, that thy Church may joyfully serve thee in all godly quietness; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.  (Collect 5th Sunday After Trinity, Book of Common Prayer 1662)

July 4, 1776 was a Thursday, just as it is this year. The priest of St. Peter’s, Lewes, probably used the collect we just prayed in services that day.  The news of the July 2nd resolution of the Continental Congress, “Resolved, that these United Colonies are and of right ought to be, free and independent States, that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain is, and ought to be, totally dissolved,” had no doubt reached Lewes. The Declaration itself had probably not, but the news of the fact of the Declaration probably had reached Lewes. The collect, calling for quietness and peaceful order would have been quite timely.

The Declaration advertised itself to be, “The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America.” But of course, as far as the whole people go,  it was not unanimous at all.  The Declaration was of a hope, not a reality. The difference between these brave statements and the reality of a new governing entity called “The United States of America” rested on a successful war and a twice organized government. The difference was years of blood, sweat and tears, and a time of very sharp disagreements.

There were plenty of people in the colonies, now declaring themselves to be states, who were against this happening. The conflict of strong opinion was universal and local both, and the birth of the new nation torn from British control was accompanied by  great violence.

I have often wondered how at that time the priest of this parish dealt with the variety of opinions in the congregation about independence, revolution, and the looming war. What was preached? How? 

In 776 the priest of St. Peter’s, Lewes, was The Rev. Samuel Tingley. We know about him from the  “Brief Annotated History of St. Peter’s Episcopal Church,” which is part of the packet of materials for the Open Door Campaign. You can get a copy from the office, along with a pledge card for the Campaign. The Campaign, as you know, is about continued growth of this church.  Mr. Tingley was a prime cause for our being a strong parish now.  

An ardent Tory supporter of King George III.” His time in Lewes was probably made easier by the fact that Sussex County was mostly Tory. But the Committee of Correspondence in Delaware was having none of that sort of talk. The propaganda effort in support of Independence required forceful action against detractors of independence.  Overt support to the King could lead to very violent response from those supporting the revolution.

Somehow Mr. Tingley survived as priest here until shortly after the war ended. He left in 1783. He survived in part by changing the prayer for the King to a prayer for “those whom Thou has made it our special duty to pray for” and by not “claiming overt allegiance to the King.” He appeared, in other words, to have exhibited considerable caution in expressing his political views. To his credit, Mr. Tingley did the other really important thing: he was faithful to his congregation. He stayed and ministered. He was one of the few clergy in all of Delaware who remained through the war. When it was over St. Peter’s remained a viable parish in a Diocese that was otherwise close to collapse.

Like then, these are times of disunity, fracture, and astounding differences of political and social opinion. In such times, then and now, clergy who preach are under considerable duress. The possibility of being pilloried or tarred and feathered (or their modern social media equivalents) are real. The vultures of various causes are sometimes ready to pounce.  It’s a great time for preaching, but not so much for the preacher.

Some of us preachers have been here before. I cut my preaching teeth during the Vietnam war. Not an easy time! Over the years I have come to understand the duty as preacher this way:

Clergy who preach in the Episcopal Church derive their commission from three sources: (i) prophetic call that comes to everyone born of the spirit to attend the workings of the Spirit within and proclaim what is called forth from them by God, (ii) Ordination to proclaim and preach the Word of God, i.e.  to preach Christ crucified, and (iii) license to preach in a particular Diocese and congregation.  

That three-fold commission comes only to a few of us. I preach and most of you don’t.  Which gives me, as preacher an amazing ONE UP position. The full weight of authority – God’s spirit, call and the churches license – are with the preacher. So, as a general rule, the Preacher preaches and the congregation listens. 
 Of course the congregation can get their opinions into the larger societal mix by making life difficult for a preacher they do not want to hear more from, but that generally outside the service – in the vestry, in the coffee hour, in the parking lot, by the grapevine, now on social media of the internet, and in the larger body politic. 

But not in the moment. In the moment of the sermon it is hard for anyone to get in much more that an a positive AMEN or an negative grunt or stony stare and the occasional walk out. (And don’t think we preachers are not aware of such commentary.)  Why do you think I am reading this carefully, rather than walking about as I usually do?

As a result of this strange dynamic, where I get to speak and you do not, I believe the preacher needs to be careful not to misuse this position. She or he should not opine in sermon or homily on political preference for this or that person in authority, on specifically who people should vote for, or on the support of or resistance to specific court judgements or legislative actions by government. Instead the preacher should appeal to and direct us to God’s Spirit present in us, believing that there are sufficient pointers and guides in Scripture, the faith we have received, and our ability to reason, that would lead us to right action for the good of all.  That is, here, in the Church, in the context of the Word of God and the Sacramental presence of Christ, “we preach Christ crucified.” (I. Cor 1:23).  

Or, in the context of today’s lessons, we preach healing, not as magic, but as the product of simple and humble trust, we preach that God is not mocked, and that all our boasting is nothing and the New Creation is everything. We preach Jesus, who said,” Whenever you enter a town and its people welcome you, eat what is set before you; cure the sick who are there, and say to them, `The kingdom of God has come near to you.' But whenever you enter a town and they do not welcome you, go out into its streets and say, `Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet, we wipe off in protest against you. Yet know this: the kingdom of God has come near.' "

As Preacher I do not believe I am here to cure political and social ills, now matter how you or I might perceive them. If I want to do take on dealing with those ills, I do so in the body politic.  Many of you know I do that “out there” already.

Here, in the Church, I am commissioned to bring the Good News of God’s healing  presence, grace and love. There is no place for bombast and great show, no place for personal opinion, no place for mocking God, no place for cruelty. We are here to  repeat Paul’s plea, ““Let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest-time, if we do not give up. So then, whenever we have an opportunity, let us work for the good of all, and especially for those of the family of faith.” 

So, how does this work out in practice?  

Well, we preach all the time that we ought to care for the widow and the orphan, for the weak and the lame, for the foreigner and outsider among us, not because it is politic but because it is God’s spirit speaking through us, informing us that God has a preference for the poor and poor in spirit. And we preach noting that  “nothing matters but the New Creation.” 

So today I believe I am compelled to proclaim that we need to stand with and for those who are held in detention at our borders in hard conditions. It is the Word working in us that calls us to this. And I believe we must stand with and for them because we are called, as Paul admonishes us this morning, “whenever we have an opportunity, (to) work for the good of all, and especially for those of the family of faith.“ 

When you hear the Word, however it is presented to you, you will know what to do.  And when you know, you will also be given grace to know how to do it. Mr. Tingley go it right, praying for the King is one thing, but better to “pray for those whom Thou has made it our special duty to pray for.”  So let us now pray for, and work for the release of all those who are bound in captivity, especially those “whom Thou has made it our special duty to pray for.” That would be particularly the children.  And may our prayers be echoed in actions. 

I believe strongly in the power of Christ, working through the Spirit, to bring us all to that New Creation, and that that power will be sufficient for God’s good pleasure, for God’s justice and mercy both. 

AMEN.


5/09/2019

Why I am not giving to the"Bless, 2019 Annual Appeal."



On Holy Saturday I received, as did many of us Episcopalians, I suppose, “Bless, 2019 Annual Appeal” from the Episcopal Church Center. I am only now able to get around to responding to this.

I have decided not to respond by supporting this fund. Here is why:

According to the Presiding Bishop’s Cover Letter (on the inside of the front cover of the Appeal booklet), “The General Convention of our Church gave us a goal of raising $1 million over the 2019-2021 triennium, with every dollar going to support the collective ministries of a Church…”

The booklet then features seven individuals whose work blesses and is a blessing. These are people engaged in the “collective ministries” of the Church. I know several of them personally, and they are wonderful people doing really good and important work. They are indeed a blessing and blessed.

Still there are problems with this appeal.

(i) Nothing indicates what the relation is between the funds given and any of these ministries. A number of these are paid employees of the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society. At least one is a Diocesan staff officer. Several serve in federal chaplaincies and are (I assume) paid by the government.

My sense is this funding request is unrelated to the specific stories being told, rather the funding is to augment the general budget. That is both good and bad. Good, because I would hate to think that these specific ministries were on the line if the funding did not come in. Bad because there is a disconnect between the asking and the stories.

(ii) The general budget of the Episcopal Church is underwritten primarily by diocesan support, investment income, and services rendered. This million-dollar goal, over a three-year period, is primarily meant to offer individuals a way to personally give to the work of TEC. In some ways that is commendable and there are some individuals who will want to do this. But the literature does not point out the fact that we already give by way of our pledges to the church, in that some portion of our parish income goes to the diocese, and the diocese pays into the work of the whole church. That is, the literature for this million-dollar fund does not connect it to the funding we already give. The answer to the question, “did you give to the Episcopal Church” is already yes. But many Episcopalians don’t know it. A teaching moment passed.

(iii) My sense is we would be better advised to relate these ministries described in the funding plea to the reason for contributing to your parish, so that parishioners can see the direct relation between their offerings and the work of the whole church.

(iv) If this funding program is meant to reach people who do not otherwise give to the church, fine, but if so, say so. Make this fund an opportunity for thanksgiving by those who do not already give by way of their pledge or offering through the parish.

Unfortunately, this request comes with only a vague connection to the realities of either the breadth of ministries in the church or the budgetary needs to support them. A rather large portion of the TEC budget concerns administration costs, which have little funding appeal. So it is indeed much more interesting to highlight ministries of blessing. But it does seem to me that unless we can see meetings of various committees, costs of support staff, funding of mission by dioceses, as blessings as well, we are not making a compelling case for funding through this project. This funding proposal is for the general budget of the church, not just the work of easily identified blessings.

I believe the funding of the church is the funding of an instrument of blessing and that the accountability for that funding is not by way of highlighting the “easy” avenues of blessing, but by highlighting the blessing that is the whole thing. Meetings of ecumenical committees, committees studying prayer book issues, coordination of particular sorts of ministries (campus ministry, hospital chaplaincies, etc), investment committees, etc. all need to be brought into the ring of blessings.

So, thanks but no thanks. I already give to the work of TEC, and I pay attention to that giving. And, indeed, I see that as supporting a blessing that blesses.

This project needs more work.