General Convention 2009 was exhausting. I've been to every General Convention since the Special Convention in 1969, with the exception of 1973 which was just too depressing to even think about. (At that convention Bishop John Allin was elected Presiding Bishop and the ordination of women to the priesthood was rejected.) They have each been involving and exhausting, but this one more than most. Until the mid nineties I was at Convention as a lobbyist or staff person. Since then I have been there as a Deputy. Being a Deputy is more exhausting.
Now some weeks later and spending some time on our boat (see picture of said boat on the right) I realize that the exhaustion was more than physical, it was emotional.
In General Convention 2009 The Episcopal Church's governing body did important work and I am proud to have been part of the deliberations that led to passage of D025, C056 and D020 (on election of bishops, gathering materials on same sex blessings, studying and using the Anglican Covenant.) There was a great deal of effort to maintain our connections with other parts of the Anglican Communion, to further the missionary work of the Episcopal Church both within this Church and world-wide, and to address the economic and social realities of this time.
It was a difficult Convention in some respects, but over all I believe it was a Convention of things done decently and in good order. It was also a Convention that began to find a voice as a Church committed to quite discriminate inclusivity. Contrary to Bishop Mark Lawrence's comment that The Episcopal Church is wedded to "The false Gospel of an Indiscriminate Inclusivity," the General Convention carefully, discriminately and with profound regard for the implications of its actions, released its members, and particularly its bishops, to exercise their theological, moral and pastoral duties in ways that can be true to the everlasting Good News and true to the experiences of people in the nations and peoples this church is called to serve.
There is no question in my mind that unless we can argue for an understanding of the Gospel in which discriminate inclusivity is always in order we will indeed be charged with holding to a "false Gospel of an Indiscriminate Inclusivity" or a false Gospel of the closed fist. Unless we can speak to inclusion as inclusion in something that itself is quite discriminate, The Episcopal Church will be marginalized in the Anglican Communion and be excluded from several of its decision making bodies. I think we worked at that at General Convention and I believe Bishop Lawrence is flat out wrong in his assessment of the work of The Episcopal Church.
Part of my exhaustion is due, I suppose, to the intensity of my hopes that The Episcopal Church would precisely begin to find its way to express its sense of vocation in the particular context of post modernity, the end of Christendom and the emergence of a virtual (via communications) global village. Given that what we become "post" modernity is unclear, given that the end of Christendom goes unrecognized by the great imperial powers of Christendom, and given that a global electronic village is not a citizens community, there being no city but only a village, this is a lot to expect.Of course those hopes were only partially realized at Convention.
It has been a month since the end of General Convention. The Archbishop of Canterbury has written from afar about the actions we took and the actions he believes the Anglican Communion might take. Otherwise there has been the usual bangs and thumps from various bloggers and then in the past two weeks an odd falling off of comments and even much news.
What is going on?
These are, of course, the dog days of Summer. According to Wikipidia, "Dog Days were popularly believed to be an evil time "when the seas boiled, wine turned sour, dogs grew mad, and all creatures became languid, causing to man burning fevers, hysterics, and phrensies" according to Brady’s Clavis Calendarium, 1813." According to The Book of Common Prayer (1552), the "Dog Daies" begin on July 6 and end on August 17. (See HERE.)
Well, we are getting near the end of those days and perhaps the time of dogs growing mad, creatures becoming languid, men "burning with fevers, hysterics, and phrensies" is coming to an end. Perhaps we in Anglican Land have become languid, burning with fevers and not with a Gospel call. Nobody is stirring much, not even the mice. Part of my exhaustion is with the whole busyness of it all. The Dog Daies have indeed come. The One who has come into the world is known, but we are busy parsing His words rather than celebrating his presence or living in holy fear anticipating his coming again.
It also feels to me like the ninth hour, the 3 PM time when it seems, well, finished. It feels somehow as if The Episcopal Church is experiencing that strange time when the curtain of the Temple is torn, when the death comes, and when all things new are not yet known because not yet experienced. It is quiet in Episcopal and Anglican Land perhaps because we all know that The Anglican Communion of our particular expectations is done, finished, dead. What the Anglican Communion might become is another matter. Whether or not any of us would particularly like to be part of that is as well.
Additionally I have listened these past weeks to the arguments one way or another about just why salvation is found only in Jesus Christ, and I have wondered, sitting on the boat, if perhaps we Christians have about used up the right to claim that salvation is possible only through Jesus Christ. The thing is, Jesus Christ turns out to be defined by those of us who make the claim to particular and unique salvation through him. It is a very tightly circular argument and while suitable to the dog days of Summer, when dogs go mad and people are overcome with fevers, hysterias and frenzies. The claim has run its course because the followers of Jesus Christ, all of us, turn out not to know just what we are talking about.
Maybe its just the moment, or the boat, or the hour, but it seems to me just now that our salvation is hidden in God. Through Jesus we who follow him have the assurance of that saving grace. And we may sing of the glory of it: that Salvation is of Christ the Lord. But that's it. But we don't get to demand that people take seriously that it is only through specific belief in Jesus Christ (as we define that) that salvation comes. Jesus may be getting it together to save people who think the Jesus advertised by Christians is a sham. Maybe for them God, in Jesus Christ, is hidden in the form of a twelve year old girl who plays a mean fiddle. Who knows?
These are the dog days, the ninth hour, the time to be just a bit dumbfounded by it all.
Preludium has been an instrument (not a very good one I am afraid) for several things: at first for thoughts about what was emerging in the Anglican Communion and The Episcopal Church, then for thoughts about what to do as the Anglican Communion began to morph into some new as yet unclear possibility, and now for the Episcopal Church in its vocation to be a church among the Anglican churches. Essays and analysis here has been directed towards understanding just what the Anglican Communion is about these days and what part we need to play in it. It is time to make an assessment.
I have come to several conclusions - if not for ever, at least for the time being:
(i) Regarding "prophecy and exceptionalism." There is talk that The Episcopal Church is engaged in "prophecy or exceptionalism" in its decisions and actions through successive General Conventions. (See Tony Clavier's very interesting essay on this charge HERE. ) I think that is nuts. Many of us in The Episcopal Church are engaged with The Word, meaning by that, trying to live by The Word of God which as we know is not the words on the pages of Scripture alone, but by the informing presence of the Logos who has given these words flesh and blood. We are engaged in The World, meaning by that in the whole of Creation and humankind finally as something to be engaged with joy.
We may act sometimes with a certainty that we are being prophetic, but as we all know the prophecy game is not for the faint of heart. We ought not go down that road too much. God has surprises in store for us all and woe to the prophet who thought some action of General Convention was prophecy.
As for exceptionalism - the notion that we are some how set apart by vocation as an exception - that God may be using The Episcopal Church as a test or special case and therefore lifting the restrictions otherwise incumbent upon us all - it is difficult to see this as our vocation as a church when we, in General Convention, have been clear that we know that what we do has consequences, that we are not exempt from criticism and even censure. What we claim is not exceptionalism, but rather the claim that we are responding as we believe our faith requires us to respond.
(ii) Regarding "Indiscriminate Inclusivity."
Bishop Lawrence supposes that The Episcopal Church is involved in promoting "The false Gospel of an Indiscriminate Inclusivity." Nuts to this as well. I believe The Episcopal Church is involved in quite the opposite, a discriminate inclusivity that will, as it plays out, be a means of true witness. As to his long list of grievances and his recipes for solution, we ought to be watchful.
The grievances are all about the business of indiscriminate inclusivity. The recipes for the solution are all about binding together the orthodox into a solid effort "to undertake an intrepid resistance to the tyranny of the majority over judicious authority." The protest movement Bishop Lawrence is proposing includes most of the agenda of the Communion Partners.
He writes, "We need to find a place not only to survive, but to thrive, and that this needs to be faithful, relational and structural. But this is not merely for our sake, but for others. I have been in conversation with bishops of other dioceses in TEC which find themselves in similar positions of isolation. We have discussed the possibility of developing gatherings of bishops, clergy, and laity for the express purpose of encouragement, education and mission." That effort will also include a project to, "support conservative parishes and missions in dioceses where there is isolation or worse."
The bishop is on target to suggest that the so called "orthodox" who are not leaving need to get more organized. Go for it. But the little addendum about "supporting conservative parishes and missions in dioceses where there is isolation or worse" opens again the whole mess of jurisdiction and permission. Sitting on the boat, let me say the whole thing does not interest me very much, except that it is an opportunity to practice watchfulness.
(iii) Regarding the Archbishop's assessment of General Convention and the Two Track solution:
The Archbishop of Canterbury has made it clear: as far as he is concerned our actions as a Church have been insufficient as signs of restraint. OK. So that means what? At some point in the future the wrecking ball will come swinging down and the fragile thing called the Anglican Communion will tumble. And on that wrecking ball will be inscribed, "The Covenant divides before it unites."
The notion of a "two track" Communion, or of an inner circle part of the full deliberations of the Anglican Communion and a second outer circle that involves partial fellow travelers, is no Communion at all.
All the muttering about being a Communion rather than a Federation is meaningless. Federation is one way of organizing a lump of entities like states or dioceses, but it is that - an organizing principle. Communion is something we do together - it is not a way of organizing, it is the reason to organize. We ought to work together and share resources and people and clergy and whatall because we share in the Body and Blood of the Lord Jesus. THAT is communion.
Federation, confederation, imperial, princely or other forms of government of the Church is quite another thing. So I am less and less interested in organizational solutions to the issue of communion. Organization has little or nothing to do with why I find myself concerned for Anglican communities elsewhere in the world. I hope the same is true towards The Episcopal Church as well.
(iv) Regarding the Anglican Covenant:
The Anglican Covenant, the text we have with some few changes, will be passed around the Communion for signatures. I believe it is irrelevant.
The powers that be in the Anglican Communion "Instruments of Communion" already have in had the necessary powers to exclude and include who they wish. So including them in the Covenant is a mere convenience, or perhaps a statement of the obvious.
The covenant to work always in tandem with the whole Communion so that nothing done in one place is seen as an impediment to common life in the Communion is a promise that cannot in reality be enforced. The various Churches of the Communion will do as they finally feel called to do. And yet the desire to act in accord, and the willingness to share concerns and challenges, is there, has been there and is a great conserving force.
So again, the Covenant can name the reality of the desire for sufficient unity but it cannot force such unity when there is urgent need in this or that Church for action. As for the rest of the Covenant, it provides a reasonable summation of the variety of core beliefs and values held by the various Churches. But signing it will not make Communion when there was none before, and not signing it will not break Communion where there was before.
Communion is much tougher than organizational fabric. The fabric of Communion has not been torn at all, contrary to Archbishop Gomez and friends. The fabric of Communion is not ours to tear. It is whole and entire and is a matter of the Spirit.
So my sense is that the Covenant is irrelevant to the unity we seek. If it will serve to provide a better basis for belonging to this or that organization (whose unity is radically incomplete given the mess that is Christ's church organized) so be it.
(v) Concerning the Life and Death of the Anglican Communion:
I have for some years held that the Anglican Communion as a organizing function, is an organic thing: it grows, changes, develops, and in the end it will die, as all organisms do. What we must hope for is that in the future, beyond its death, there are Christians who will look back and give thanks for our witness, peculiar as it is. I take comfort in this belief.
(vi) Finally, I a quite aware that I have little tolerance for people who want to dismiss The Episcopal Church, its leaders, or in a much more minor way, me as being heretical, exceptionalist, indiscriminate, un-orthodox, un-Christian, etc. Otherwise, the report is the Dog Days are coming to a close. Cooler air is predicted by the end of the week. There is family here and all over, a youth group to work with, time for the joys of community here in the village by the bay and the big water, and a boat on the water.