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.

A Prayer for the New Archbishop of Canterbury

God our Father, Lord of all the world,
through your Son you have called us into the fellowship
of your universal Church:
hear our prayer for your faithful people
that in their vocation and ministry
each may be an instrument of your love,
and give to your servant  Justin
the needful gifts of grace;
through our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. from the Church of England.

It’s Justin Welby. Lots of coverage at Thinking Anglicans. Thinking Anglicans has also links to pieces about him. From Andrew Brown, some of the issues facing him, including this on the Anglican Communion:

The Anglican communion is a failure and a delusion since none of its constituent churches are prepared to give it any real power over themselves, no matter how keen they are that it should have power over the other parts. But at a parish or diocesan level the Church of England has numerous and close links abroad, which it needs to nourish. The new archbishop will have to manage a graceful retreat from the pretentious fantasy that the Anglican communion is something like the Roman Catholic church, only nicer and cosier.

He will certainly need our prayers.

It’s not official, but…

The English press is calling it for Justin Welby, Bishop of Durham, who is expected to be named Archbishop of Canterbury to succeed Rowan Williams.

Some background info on his family here. His father was a bootlegger in Prohibition Era America; friend of the Kennedys, dated Vanessa Redgrave, and married Churchill’s secretary.

After a career in business as an oil executive, Welby studied theology at Durham and became a priest, ultimately rising to Dean of Liverpool Cathedral before becoming Bishop of Durham last year. The English press talk about his “meteoric” rise, but I doubt it’s that out of sync with some second-career clergy in the Episcopal Church (the Presiding Bishop, for example).

Rowan Williams quoted Barth in his advice to the next ABC–“preach with a bible in one hand and a newspaper in the other.” So twentieth-century, don’t you think? In fact, Bishop Welby is on twitter: @Bishopofdurham

I’m sure we’ll get lots of commentary tomorrow. My twitter feed suggests progressive Episcopalians may have considerable angst about what this might bode for the Anglican Communion. Gasp! He’s an Evangelical! (and they’ve just been celebrating four more years of Obama!). I remember the jubilation when Williams’ appointment was announced, and look how that turned out.

Meanwhile, news in the election that really matters

Announcement of the new Archbishop of Canterbury today?

On 6 November 2012, the British bookmaking firm Ladbrokes announced they would no longer be taking bets on the selection of the next Archbishop of Canterbury.  In a twitter comment released at 10:33 in the US and at 15:33 in the UK, @ladpolitics announced “Ladbrokes suspend betting on next Archbishop of Canterbury. Money suggests that @Bishopofdurham has got the job.”

I guess they’re the English equivalent of Nate Silver. More here.


The Archbishop of Canterbury–Retrospectives and Prospects

Theo Hobson places Rowan Williams in the larger context of twentieth-century Anglican theology:

In the 1980s, Williams mastered this new intellectual idiom. He presented Christianity as a cultural tradition, the place where a very specific form of meaning is made, shared, passed on; where supreme authority belongs to the “central symbol” of cross and resurrection, which the church performs in the eucharist. When many, such as his Cambridge colleague Don Cupitt, were arguing against traditional metaphysical belief, or defending it in rather dated terms, he changed the subject. The question of what we believe is secondary to the question of what we do, what forms of symbolic communication we participate in, what cultural language we speak. We must rethink our tradition in these semiotic terms. Jesus was “a sign-maker of a disturbingly revolutionary kind”, he writes in an essay of 1987. And Christian culture echoes his sign-making. This communal sign-making is, for Christians, the most authentically basic bit of culture. Is it just another bit of human culture? Yes and no: for here, we believe, the true myth is performed, the fullest meaning is made.

Andrew Brown writes on Anglicanism in the English countryside:

The least glamorous parts of the Church of England are the rural dioceses – Lincoln, Truro, Carlisle, and Hereford. Their problems were exhaustively analysed by a statistically trained vicar in Lincolnshire. Unlike more central or pleasant places, they don’t attract priests from the outside, even to retire. Oxford, for example, has more than 500 retired clergy on its books, almost all of whom are available for minimally paid work.

In the deep countryside, congregations are shrinking and ageing. The other Christian denominations have all already disappeared from rural England. The Anglican vicar who is left will have as many as 20 churches to look after, and if they are not careful they will spend all their time driving frantically between them. The congregations are elderly. They have watched all their lives as fresh initiatives came from London to bring people back to church – and they have seen their children and grandchildren move elsewhere anyway.

And this:

Yet for all this gloom on the ground, the church still seems more important in rural areas than in the cities or suburbs. Lowson says he was surprised to discover, when he moved to Lincoln, that the local press wanted his opinions on all sorts of stories. “In the countryside, the bishop is still a local leader, expected to comment on things, in a way which is no longer true in the cities. Church is still a real part, beyond its own church life, in congregations.”

In some respects, the situation in England is not unlike that which we face in the small towns of the Diocese of Milwaukee. Aging congregations, aging buildings, not enough money to pay full-time clergy. The difference may be the continued central role of the parish church in rural England, because of the Church of England’s history and establishment.

Hobson writes in part to elucidate one of the great problems facing the next Archbishop of Canterbury, the un-churching of England, and especially of the countryside. Whoever will be chosen faces enormous challenges.

John Milbank offered his prescription for a revised Anglicanism in late September. I keep meaning to engage more fully with it but lack the time. The full article is here but its gist is an Anglicanism that looks like Roman Catholicism, with something like a Cardinalate and an enhanced teaching office (ie, Magisterium). And in fact, Milbank’s goal is unity with Rome under Roman primacy.

There is speculation that the Crown Nominations Commission will soon announce its choice for Williams’ successor. It should be interesting.

Pray for the selection of the new Archbishop of Canterbury

The Crown Nominations Commission, the group choosing the next Archbishop of Canterbury, is meeting today and tomorrow to select the next head of the Church of England and of the Anglican Communion.

The Church of England has offered this prayer for our use:

Almighty God,
you have given your Holy Spirit to the Church
to lead us into all truth:
bless with the Spirit’s grace and presence
the members of the Crown Nominations Commission.
Keep them steadfast in faith and united in love,
that they may seek your will, manifest your glory
and prepare the way of your kingdom;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord.

The press release is here.

The meeting brings increasingly speculation on who will be chosen. Adrian Hilton offers his perspective here (he advocates Justin Welby of Durham). John Martin in The Living Church guesses Richard Chartres, Bishop of London. Andrew Brown wrote last week in The Guardian about the alternatives.

From this side of the pond, the whole thing looks rather odd and quaint. In the first place, because of establishment, some members including the chair, are appointed by the Prime Minister. Second, in spite of representation from both bishops and lay people, it’s all quite undemocratic, in a way even less democratic than the Roman Catholic process for electing a pope. Although the ABC is the head of the Anglican Communion, only one member of the commission comes from a church other than the Church of England (Barry Morgan, Archbishop of Wales). Then there’s the fact that one can place bets (currently Richard Dawkins is running 200/1).

But the selection is significant for the Church of England, the worldwide Anglican Communion, and the Episcopal Church. Whoever is chosen will continue to have to deal with issues confronting the CoE–women bishops, same sex marriage, and will have to also deal with the widening rift in the Anglican Communion.

The decision will be announced next week.

An Anglican Pope?

Well, not quite.

The Telegraph has an interview with Rowan Williams, the outgoing Archbishop of Canterbury, in which he says something like this:

The outgoing leader of the world’s 77 million Anglicans suggested a form of job share after admitting that he had failed to do enough to prevent a split over homosexuality.

Dr Williams said a new role should be created to oversee the day to day running of the global Anglican communion, leaving future Archbishops of Canterbury free to focus on spiritual leadership and leading the Church of England.

Denials came quickly, beginning with Kenneth Kearon, Secretary General of the Anglican Communion Office.

I doubt very much that such an office is under consideration or would ever be instituted. After all, the relatively minor effort to strengthen the power at the top evidenced by the Anglican Covenant demonstrates how little interest there is in such power grabs. Still, the very fact that such an office could be proposed reflects something of the overall tendency toward centralization and increasing hierarchy that seems to dominate thinking about the Anglican Communion in many quarters.

Thinking Anglicans links to the Telegraph’s articles and the audio interview.