Baptism: Learning from the Royal Christening

One of the lovely and important aspects of the establishment of the Church of England is that the sacraments of the Church (marriage and baptism) can become teaching moments for a whole nation. We will be baptizing two babies at Grace on All Saints’ Sunday (November 3) and I was talking yesterday evening with one set of parents, I mentioned today’s baptism. I’m sharing these links because they help us reflect on what baptism means for us, and especially what it means in an increasingly secular society.

The Church of England created a lovely and thoughtful video in which the Archbishop articulates the meaning of the rite:

Cathleen Grossman writes about the decline in numbers of baptism across the US. The numbers of baptisms in the Southern Baptist Convention fell to about the same number as in 1948, when the total membership of the denomination was less than half what it is today. In 1970, about 20% of the babies born in the United States were baptized Roman Catholic; today, that has fallen to 8%.

The Guardian notes that the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge have selected seven of their friends to be Prince George’s godparents and have solicited stories from readers about what their experiences of the relationship.

And from the Church of England, prayers for the Royal Christening (actually, prayers for all baptisms):

Prayer for HRH Prince George

We thank almighty God for the gift of new life.
May God the Father, who has received you by baptism into his Church,
pour upon you the riches of his grace,
that within the company of Christ’s pilgrim people
you may daily be renewed by his anointing Spirit,
and come to the inheritance of the saints in glory.
Amen.

 

Prayer for the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge

Faithful and loving God,
bless those who care for this child
and grant them your gifts of love, wisdom and faith.
Pour upon them your healing and reconciling love,
and protect their home from all evil.
Fill them with the light of your presence
and establish them in the joy of your kingdom,
through Jesus Christ our Lord
Amen.

What’s Up in the Anglican Communion?

It’s been a while since I’ve blogged about world-wide Anglicanism and I’m only prompted to do this because several people asked me to lead an Adult Forum on relations between The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion. So as I prepare for Sunday, I’m writing some of my thoughts down in this blogpost.

Jesse Zink, whose book Backpacking through the Anglican Communion: A Search for Unity will be published in January, 2014, points out the limited perspective of much of the press surrounding the discourse of crisis. He observes that this discourse is driven largely by male English-speaking Bishops who are able to travel from their dioceses to conferences and meetings around the world. Zink himself has spent considerable time in South Sudan and his new book tells stories of deep relationships and close cooperation among Anglicans in specific local contexts.

Just such relationships are being developed between the Episcopal Diocese of Milwaukee and the Diocese of Newala in Tanzania. You can read about the recent trip Bishop Miller took with Rev. Paula Harris and Rev. Miranda Hassett via Rev. Miranda’s notes here.

In recent weeks, the Church of Wales, the Church of Ireland, and the Church of South India have all moved towards the consecration of women bishops. This is an issue on which there is disagreement in the worldwide Anglican communion and the Church of England continues to struggle to find a way forward.

However, there are more pressing problems for the Church of England in the decisions of the Church of Wales and Ireland. Priests ordained in those places do not need the formal permission of the Archbishops of Canterbury and York to exercise their ministry in England. Kelvin Holdsworth points out that there is no current bishop in the Episcopal Church of Scotland who hasn’t been involved in some way with the consecration of women bishops. Thus, “the theology of taint” which reactionaries worry about has completely infected the Scottish Church, and he wonders whether it is still in “full communion” with the Church of England.

Finally, the conservatives are gathering in Kenya at the end of the month. This conference, called GAFCON (Global Anglican Future Conference) brings together some of the most powerful primates and archbishops from the conservative wing of Anglicanism as well as conservatives from North America and elsewhere across the communion. Many of these same primates have distanced themselves from the “official” instruments of Communion. Some boycotted the Lambeth Conference in 2008 and it was at an earlier conference that an alternative Church in North America (The Anglican Church of North America) had its institutional origins.

Earlier this month, there was talk that Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby might attend the conference. He is traveling to Kenya to underscore his solidarity with the victims of the recent terrorist attack. In fact, he will videotape a greeting to the conference. You can read all about it here.

If one reflects on the history of the Anglican Communion, something interesting begins to emerge. It began with a series of ad hoc moves–the Episcopal Church in the US which came into existence because of the Revolutionary War, the Lambeth Conference, et al. There was an effort at building tighter structures in the second half of the twentieth century as part of the larger wave of institution-building. But the Anglican Communion remained rather amorphous, lacking clear lines of authority.

When conflict came in the 1990s, there were efforts to establish the Communion on firmer ground, to centralize it and to vest its central institutions with clear authority. At the same time, conflict caused fissures within and across churches. With the rise of the internet, increased travel, and communication, new relationships could easily be created that circumvented traditional institutions and the “instruments of communion.” There was even an effort to create a parallel body–GAFCON–that might seize from the old Anglican Communion the authority and prestige of being the “true” Anglicans.

Then came social media and other cultural developments.  GAFCON may indeed one day become a parallel body and jurisdiction to the Anglican Communion. But my guess is that informal, lateral relationships will become more important, more powerful, and more life-giving than either hierarchical entity. Relationships like the developing one between the Diocese of Milwaukee and the Diocese of Newala and many others across the world will bulid trust, community, and a shared sense of being the Body of Christ that might be able to bridge deep cultural and theological differences. Such relationships and the communion that emerges from them will be more organic and dynamic than the structures that bound the Anglican Communion together in the twentieth century.

Troubled over events in Syria?

I am, too.

Once more, the neo-cons, the media, the usual suspects, are beating the drums of war. Our president (remember the Nobel Peace Prize?) seems to be planning “surgical strikes” by way of retaliation and punishment. The consequences of our intervention and the long-term effects on Syria and the wider Middle East, seem not to be taken into consideration.

George Packer summarizes the debate and the futility of it all:

What are you saying?

I don’t know. I had it worked out in my head until we started talking. (Pause.) But we need to do something this time.

Not just to do something.

All right. Not just to do something. But could you do me a favor?

What’s that?

While you’re doing nothing, could you please be unhappy about it?

I am.

Where are the Christian voices speaking out against violence as a solution to violence?

Here’s one:

From Jim Wallis of Sojourners:

It’s natural to feel moral outrage, and there is no doubt that the Assad regime is responsible for more than 100,000 civilian deaths. But a moral compass must guide our moral outrage.

Christians, both who identify as pacifists and those who subscribe to a just war theory, can agree that rigorous criteria and conditions must be applied before there is any decision for military intervention. As part of that process, we must first ask if military strikes are a last resort. Have we exhausted peaceful, multilateral solutions to the conflict? Will military intervention have a reasonable chance of success, and how would we define that success? And does military intervention comply with international and U.S. law.

We also need to consider the unintended consequences of U.S. military action in Syria both at home and abroad. Our involvement could add fuel to the fires of violence that are already consuming the region. It could exacerbate anti-American hatred and produce new recruits for terror attacks against the United States and our allies. Military action could also increase refugee displacement, further risking regional destabilization.

From  Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby (speaking in Parliament today):

I feel that any intervention must be effective in terms of preventing any further use of chemical weapons. I’ve not yet heard that that has been adequately demonstrated as likely. That it must effectively deal with those who are promoting the use of chemical weapons. And it must have a third aim which is:  somewhere in the strategy, there must be more chance of a Syria and a Middle East in which there are not millions of refugees and these haunting pictures are not the stuff of our evening viewing.

The Archbishop was participating in something that doesn’t happen in Congress anymore: debate over military action. That debate has slowed down the rush to war but it probably hasn’t prevented it.

A piece by Maryann Cusimano Love examines the proposed action in light of Just War Theory.

Same Sex Blessings conversation continuing in the Diocese of Milwaukee

After a lengthy hiatus (since August, 2012), conversations among clergy in the Diocese of Milwaukee will begin again. My earlier reports on the conversations here and throughout the church are available here.

Two developments since our last conversation may affect how we talk together and what we say. First is the overwhelming acceptance of the provisional rite by Episcopal dioceses. Integrity USA is keeping tabs on that here. By my count, only 18 domestic dioceses have definitely said “no” (Integrity includes the Diocese of Milwaukee in that total). The status of another thirteen is unknown to Integrity.

The second important development is the sea-change in American attitudes toward gay marriage. With a majority of the population now favoring it, legislatures continuing to legalize it, and the Supreme Court’s decisions on Proposition 8 and DOMA this summer, there seems to be something of an inevitability about it.

Today the House of Lords in the UK Parliament were debating a gay marriage bill that is opposed by the Church of England. Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby spoke against the bill in this speech. Among his complaints:

It confuses marriage and weddings. It assumes that the rightful desire for equality – to which I’ve referred supportively – must mean uniformity, failing to understand that two things may be equal but different. And as a result it does not do what it sets out to do, my Lords. Schedule 4 distinguishes clearly between same gender and opposite gender marriage, thus not achieving true equality.

Anyone remember “Separate but equal?”

A new spirit blowing in the churches? Pope Francis and the Archbishop of Canterbury

It’s all quite disorienting. A new pope who seems reluctant to accept the trappings of his office and reaches out to ordinary people. For example, he is going to break with tradition by celebrating Maundy Thursday in a prison for youthful offenders, washing the feet of prisoners rather than those of retired clergy. A new Archbishop of Canterbury whose style is very different from Rowan Williams and who has in his early statements, tried to reach out to bridge some of the most difficult divisions in the Church of England. Perhaps more important still, the ecumenical gestures that have broken new ground–the presence of the Greek Orthodox patriarch in Rome on March 19, and the wonderful diversity in the enthronement service yesterday.

I’m tempted to see something of a new spirit beginning to blow throughout Christianity from the simple, yet powerful gestures of Pope Francis. No doubt there are rumblings of discontent in the back alleys and hidden corners of the Vatican, but the stultifying, rigid conservatism of the last decades has for a moment at least been sidelined by a spirit of humility, simplicity, and tenderness (the prominence of that word in the Pope’s homily noted by several commentators). That is not to say that the Pope is less conservative doctrinally than his predecessors, but by choosing to focus on other things, he is changing the tone and perception of the Roman Catholic Church in popular culture.

Both leaders face significant problems and it remains to be seen whether they will be any more skillful in negotiating those conflicts than their predecessors. Still, we can hope.

Some commentary on the enthronement of the Archbishop of Canterbury

A little background and summary of the event.

David Sinden links to photos, highlight videos, etc.

His Grace has this to say. An excerpt:

The moment the great oak doors of Canterbury Cathedral were flung open, the fanfare seemed to blow away an entire age of theological aloofness and stuffy ecclesiology. We had a new and vibrant liturgical dialogue, written by the Archbishop himself, explaining the whole meaning of the day to a nation that no longer knows or cares. The interrogation by the Christian child, Evangeline Kanagasooriam, was brief. But its illumination could not have been brighter.

“Who are you and why do you request entry?”

“I am Justin, a servant of Jesus Christ, and I come as one seeking the grace of God, to travel with you in his service together.”

An interview with the new Archbishop of Canterbury

Colin Coward reflects on another interview with the ABC:

The new Archbishop said: “You see gay relationships that are just stunning in the quality of the relationship.” He told the BBC he had “particular friends where I recognise that and am deeply challenged by it”. Justin Welby clearly has gay friends, partnered gay friends, and knows perfectly well that their relationships are equal in love and quality to those of his married friends and of his own marriage.

A new ecumenical spirit?

Pope Francis urges dialogue with Muslims.

His relationship with the Jewish community of Argentina.

His message of greetings to the new Archbishop of Canterbury.

Archbishop of Canterbury weighs in on gun control

Rowan Williams who is soon to leave office spoke out on a BBC radio program, “Thought for the Day. Here’s an excerpt:

And there is one thing often said by defenders of the American gun laws that ought to make us think about wider questions.  ‘It’s not guns that kill, it’s people.’  Well, yes, in a sense.  But it makes a difference to people what weapons are at hand for them to use – and, even more, what happens to people in a climate where fear is rampant and the default response to frightening or unsettling situations or personal tensions is violence and the threat of violence.  If all you have is a hammer, it’s sometimes said, everything looks like a nail.  If all you have is a gun, everything looks like a target.

People use guns.  But in a sense guns use people, too.  When we have the technology for violence easily to hand, our choices are skewed and we are more vulnerable to being manipulated into violent action.

Perhaps that’s why, in a passage often heard in church around this time of year, the Bible imagines a world where swords are beaten into ploughshares.  In the new world which the newborn child of Christmas brings into being, weapons are not left to hang on the wall, suggesting all the time that the right thing to do might after all be to use them.  They are decommissioned, knocked out of shape, put to work for something totally different.

You can listen to the program here; or read a transcript here.

I wonder how conservative American Episcopalians and Anglicans will respond, perhaps by telling him to butt out of our affairs?

Institutional Failure: The Church’s internal struggles and growing irrelevancy

Yesterday, there was the shocking news that the measure to allow women bishops in the Church of England went down to defeat. Last week came the next step in the dissolution of the Episcopal Church as we’ve known it with the secession of the Diocese of South Carolina.

Outside of Anglicanism, also last week the American Roman Catholic bishops met. They were licking their wounds after a resounding defeat at the ballot box. Having put financial resources and considerable pressure, their efforts to prevent the passage of same-sex marriage failed in four states. The presidential candidate favored by most was defeated, apparently by a majority of their flock. They met with a convicted felon in their midst but no mention was made of his presence or the systemic problem underlying his conviction.

The Protestant religious right, too, is now trying to figure out what went wrong, what God is telling them, and how to move forward. Fortunately, Franklin Graham provides insight for all of us, as he speculates that God intends a total economic collapse in the US in order for us to repent and amend our ways.

Many of us who are passionate about our faith, passionate about the Good News of Jesus Christ, and about building up the Body of Christ, are also deeply committed to and passionate about the institutional church. It has nurtured and shaped us. It is one of the means through which we experience God and the love of Jesus Christ. But the institutional church, like every human institution, is deeply flawed, oppressive as well as life-giving. It can diminish us as human beings as well as enable our flourishing.

It’s pretty clear by now that many (all?) of our institutions are in crisis. Our political system is broken; our economy falters; higher education, the military, you name it. The structures of the Church, the institution of the Church is not only meant to be the means through which we come to know and love God through Jesus Christ but it is also the Body of Christ. It makes Christ present to the world and unites us to Christ’s body throughout history and across the world.

There have been times throughout history when it is very difficult to see how the institutional church incarnates the body of Christ. This may be one of those times, a period when because of human fallibility and social upheaval the institutions of the churches no longer bear witness to the fullness of Christ but have fallen prey to narrow human interest. At such times, prophets and reformers have risen up to breathe new life into old institutions or to create new ways through which God can break in upon us. It may also be that in local settings, in new media and new ways that people come together, we are already seeing hints of the new creation that God is calling into being.

In the meantime, we have to wait patiently, mourn the ways in which the churches and we ourselves fall short of God’s call, and continue to seek God’s will in the present and future. The danger is that our local efforts are ignored while institutional credibility and relevance collapse on the national and global level.

Back to women bishops. The Archbishop of Canterbury has spoken publicly on the measure’s defeat. Thinking Anglicans provides full coverage of that as well as a press round up and reactions from various interest groups.

Reactions are beginning to come in. From Andrew Brown on Guardian: “I think I have just watched the Church of England commit suicide. It was a very long and very boring process.”

A view from Scotland (Kelvin Holdsworth):

Looking on at the passion of the Church of England from outside, one finds oneself trying hard to substitute compassion for pity.

There are many fine women priests and the cause for treating them equally in Canon Law is an easy one to make but one which has not been made often enough. Those female clergy deserved better than this measure. The whole church deserved better than this and now has the chance to try to find its way towards it.

The Church of England gets its chance to prove that it worships at something other than the altar of compromise.