Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Bishop Marshall Comments On Tanzania

Like many of you, I find that I have a lot to digest and understand as I look back at the last week or so in our history as a church. We have had, for the last half-century or so, pretty close ties with other national churches of roughly similar descent, a.k.a., The Anglican Communion, about which most of us knew little or nothing but a few years ago. The impetus for the forming of those ties came from North America in the mid-1800s, and we may well gaze with something like amazement at the path that has been trod between then and now.

Some of you have written me privately asking when I would have an interpretive word to say about the meeting in Tanzania and our relationship to others who share our heritage.

Although I am a man of few unpublished thoughts (a category recently described to me as "the idiots") I am not ready to do that in any extended sense because it will take time to appreciate all the nuances of the documents themselves, which occasionally speak of "some of us," and do not indicate the exact range of sentiment in the primatial group, much less indicate what is unanimous or what is binding and why it should ever be binding. At our clergy retreat next week and at a full day's work on Mar 9 with invited consultants, I will try to understand what is being said and what there is, if anything, that is to be done at our level. I will go the following week to the House of Bishops, where the proposed "Covenant" will be explained to us by one of the designers, and will report back to you. It is my assumption that the Presiding Bishop will be as candid in her report of the experience and process of the primates' meeting as was her predecessor in reporting on the Dromantine meeting.

The three documents we need to understand are the communique of the primates, their "schedule" of pastoral plans to be imposed on TEC, and the Covenant itself. Canon Lewellis has posted links to them, and I invite you all to study them and to discuss them as you have opportunity. Galatians 5.1 might also be a subject for prolonged meditation.

I have just a few interim remarks to make, and reserve the right to retract the last 2 through 6, but not the first or last, should I become better informed:

  1. Most importantly, no member of this diocese is expendable. We will not even entertain the idea of a fast from observing the baptismal covenant's promises about respecting the worth of all persons. We will not fast from actively seeking peace and justice for all. This baptismal promise is about action, not sentiment. The promise about recognizing worth includes especially the person with whom you or I may most disagree at present, and just as it specially means those whom we might be prepared to sacrifice to relieve our own anxiety, tension, or fear. Because it is the Lord's table, and because the sacrament is about the objective presence of Christ, not how I am feeling about you, we will not entertain the idea of excluding or avoiding anyone of the baptized who kneels before Christ present in the Holy Eucharist. It seems to me utter narcissism to make the sacrament about ourselves.
  2. The primates apparently continue to misunderstand how our church works. We indeed have bishops, but they do not rule autocratically as they do (or nearly do) in a number of places in the Communion. Commitments of the kind the communique asks for cannot and should not be made by our House of Bishops acting unilaterally. Lay people and the rest of the clergy of our church have a complete voice and must agree to commitments made about our common path in discipleship. It is highly instructive that the proposed "Covenant" gets around to acknowledgig the existence of lay people in a single sentence, very near its end. While we are used to this distressing lapse in recent Communion-wide documents, it is always painful to behold. The proposed covenant is entirely devoid of what the US and Canada have come to understand as a baptismal ecclesiology (in significant part thanks to Bishop Eastman, once rector of Mediator, Allentown), and it is perhaps here, more than in the areas so hotly disputed since 2003, that we may have to make our clearest witness. Furthermore, perhaps we ourselves have requirements that need to be met in maintaining relationships with other independent churches. (I do understand that the fashion is to say interdependent, but I have yet to see that concept work except as a weapon.) We might say, let the rest of the Communion demonstrate to us that all the baptized, especially women and children, are in practice honored in the life of Christ's body. My (rebuttable) presumption going into the HOB meeting in March is that by law and by conscience we have no right to cut the other half of our system of governance out of a share in (and responsibility for!) decisions that will shape our destiny for generations.
  3. The Archbishop of Canterbury is at the very least badly mistaken in his repeated pronouncement that twenty-five per cent of the bishops and dioceses of this church need "protection" provided by himself or the heads of the other churches. Per contra, the facts are that seven out of 111 dioceses have requested not to be under the primatial care of Bishop Katharine. Some of them cannot recognize any woman as a cleric; others have specifically "Windsor" concerns. Others of us, bringing the total to perhaps 21 by the Archbishop's number, have in some way voluntarily agreed to live with the requests (not requirements) of the Windsor Report as modified by the primates and ACC. We speak for ourselves, not our diocesan conventions, and in my case I do this as an act of hope not bondage. All we are saying is give peace a chance--we are not seeking protection from any foreign prelate, and in other circumstances one might hope that this serious error would be publicly corrected.
  4. A lot less happened at the meeting than some feared and others sought. Father Gerns has explained this at some length a little upstream from these remarks.
  5. Although our prayer book in no place suggests prayers by name for any church leader outside of The Episcopal Church, I think it well that we exert ourselves to include the gentle primate of Canada (Andrew) by name in all our public prayers, because our northern neighbors are, so to speak, "next" under scrutiny as they formulate their response to the issues. The Canadians are the one country I know of that obtained their independence by asking nicely, and perhaps with similar genius they will be led to speak some word that will bring more understanding among the leaders of the Communion.
  6. Stewardship of energy: if how others view us becomes our consuming concern, our mission will suffer or die. Our diocesan mission statement (Live God's Love: Tell What You Have Seen and Heard) requires us to be witnesses. If our witness in word and deed is being drowned in fears about what our cousins may be thinking about us, the question of idolatry will need to be explored. Is the Compass Rose ever a golden calf? How much energy is appropriate to the present constellation of issues is a question we must all ask deep within ourselves. In a carefully limited sense I would say, let us be less concerned with possibly triumphalist "dreams of communion" and more concerned with doing concrete good in a world in great danger, a world largely ignorant of that risen Jesus who has been appointed Lord of All. In his body surely no one can say "I don't need you," and equally, no one dare say "I do not belong to the body," but no one dare be consumed by such questions when we are called to be of some earthly use to God.
  7. Our relationship with the Episcopal Church in Sudan remains strong and committed in both directions. Our work with the church in Kajo-Keji is energizes and unites us, and we will stay focused on our mission despite trying moments.


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