Bishop Miller’s letter to the Diocese of Milwaukee

the full text is available here.

A portion of it is quoted here:

As was to be expected the issue that received the most attention in the press was the adoption of Resolution A049 which authorized for provisional use a liturgy and other materials related to the blessing of same-sex unions. l voted against the resolution in accordance with the position paper published on my blog site
milwaukeebishopwordpress.com. This paper was sent to the bishops of the Church and many forwarded it on to their dìocese’s deputations. Still the resolution passed and the rites may be used beginning on the first Sunday of Advent with permission ofthe diocesan bishop.

Prior to General Convention wrote and shared with you that “I have learned, in my almost nine years as bishop, that there will be plenty of opportunity to discern how best to respond and follow through on the decisions of General Convention following General Convention, for it is only after convention that we would know what has been approved ond mandated.”

We are now in that time of discernment. To that end I invite the clergy of the diocese to meet with me to begin this discernment. These meetings will again follow the indaba format we used when we gathered before General Convention to discuss this resolution. The first of these sessions will be heid at Good Shepherd, Sun Prairie on July 31st and at St. Bari:’s in Pewaukee on August Elm from 3 to 5 pm. on both dates. I realize that vacation plans may keep some from attending these first sessions. Additional sessions will be scheduled in the near future. It is my hope that every priest of the diocese will be involved in these discussions over the next few months. I also look forward to hearing from other members of our diocese in the months ahead.

In conclusion, 1 would like to remind you of these words from my earlier letter, “As your bishop, I am confident that we will go forward together regardless of what is or is not decided at General Convention. This ability to go forward together may in fact be our most important witness to a world which is more and more divided along economic and ideological lines. Remaining in community with each other is a crucial witness of our understanding of what it means to be the Body of Christ, even when (or maybe especially when) we disagree an certain issues.

Same-Sex Blessings and Marriage: Bishop Miller’s statement

Last week, Bishop Miller sent clergy in the Diocese of Milwaukee a draft letter in which he laid out his thinking on the proposed liturgies for the Blessing of Same Gender Unions, and the evolving understanding of marriage. A week ago today, he met with diocesan clergy to talk about the letter, our perspectives on it, as well as about our pastoral and theological concerns leading up to General Convention and how we might respond to decisions made at General Convention.

It was a very powerful afternoon. Clergy spoke from their hearts, from a wide variety of theological perspectives, and asked hard questions of Bishop Miller and of each other.

Today, Bishop Miller has released a position paper in which he lays out his views and how he expects to vote on the pertinent resolutions. It’s an important document, available here on his blog.

The key elements of his proposal are this:

  • I am wondering if they best way forward would be the proposal and adoption of a substitute to Resolution A049 calling for the amendment of the Book of Common Prayer and the Constitution and Canons to allow for marriage between two persons regardless of sex while at the same time requiring that both parties be baptized, and removing any role of the civil authority. Those who wished to be civilly married could do so if they considered a civil marriage to be most advantageous for them but the Church would have no part of it.  This proposal provided the additional advantage that those who could not be civilly married because state law forbade it or it would cause economic hardship could be married in the Church. As I stated earlier in this letter I propose this because, “it is my opinion that the blessing rite falls short of our call as Christians.”
  • I realize that this means the authorization of a blessing rite would be delayed and that those who have waited for this Church to do so will be told again to wait. However, the provision for generous pastoral response from Resolution C056 would still be in effect, a provision which has allowed for some bishops whose dioceses are in states that have approved same-sex marriage in the civil realm to permit clergy in their diocese to officiate at these marriages and others to allow blessings.

My earlier blog post was in part a response to Bishop Miller’s earlier draft and to the clergy conversation. I repost the pertinent parts:

A theological rationale for same sex marriage has to begin with the nature of God and with human nature. God created us in God’s image, to be in relationship, just as God in Godself is in relationship, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Life-giving, holy relationships are based in mutuality, love, and commitment, and some people can only experience such relationships with people of the same gender. Our fallen human nature and our society make any committed relationship difficult, almost impossible, and any couple needs the support of a loving community and the grace of a loving God to thrive. The church should do all in its power to help such relationships flourish. To forbid the sacrament of marriage to a group of people who need it to thrive and flourish is an offense to God who created us in God’s image, and who created us to be in relationship with others.

The proposed liturgy for same-gender blessings is inadequate. I find it lacking precisely because it fails to locate the basis of human relationship in the imago dei. Instead, it speaks of covenant and blessing (I find it ironic that the same people who praise the liturgy and its theological rationale based in covenant are for the most part opposed to the Anglican Covenant). Frankly, I think the theological rationale for the liturgy is deeply flawed. The liturgy itself is adequate although confusing, but there is a question at its heart, namely why blessing? Why not marriage? On the other hand, the SCLM was specifically charged with developing proposed blessings for same sex unions, not a marriage rite

Given the cultural climate, with many of those who most vigorously oppose same-sex marriage having themselves made a mockery of the sacrament by their own lives (Rush Limbaugh and Newt Gingrich come to mind). Would not a more sacramental, a holy witness be of a couple living out a life-long commitment? Would the church’s blessing of such relationships be a witness and symbol of what marriage might be in this world, instead of the dominant cultural models of short-lived relationships like the recent ones of whichever Kardashian it was, or Brittany Spears? In other words, is there a sense in which two living out a committed relationship for a lifetime, are a sacramental witness to the Christian virtues of love and fidelity, and a symbol of Christ’s love for the church to the whole world?

The question facing General Convention 2012 and the Episcopal Church is how to work with what’s facing us. On the one hand, we have this proposed liturgy for Same Sex Blessings. On the other, there is a continuing push to move toward marriage, and another resolution urging an examination of our theology of marriage. This is work that urgently needs doing. It may be that the outcome of that examination is a revision of our marriage rite, and perhaps our canons. I would like to see us freed from the obligation of serving as agents of the state. I would like to see marriage only as a sacramental rite, which might help us offer an alternative to the contemporary marriage business.

Reforming the structures–what about Diocesan conventions?

So I was sitting in the room today, paying attention to the day’s business and I started reflecting on what we were doing in the context of the larger issues facing the church both nationally and locally. Such issues and the need for change were acknowledged–in Bishop Miller’s sermon last night and address to the convention today, and in Assistant for Congregational Development Peggy Bean’s report as well. Still, that need for change and for thinking about change was not reflected in the business of the day. We elected people to Executive Committee and Standing Committee (as well as other offices), debated resolutions, and passed the budget. It was very much like conventions I had attended in the previous two years in the Diocese of Milwaukee, and before that, in the Diocese of Upper South Carolina.

Two things struck me more than anything else. First of all, the age of those in attendance at the Eucharist yesterday evening. We were old, probably 90% of us over 50. Second, our Eucharist was celebrated in a church that was perhaps a symbol of the church that existed in the 19th and 20th century–a huge edifice, the nave constructed in 1866, capable of seating 400 or 500 people, in a downtown filled with boarded up buildings or, surprisingly, a lively nightlife, if the streets I drove through late in the evening were any indication. In other words, it was a building constructed in a different era, culture, and for a different church. They’re doing something remarkable and new, however, having begun a hospitality center for the homeless this past spring that has seen remarkable growth in the numbers of those involved both in volunteering and those seeking help.

Our conventions–the very notion of them–are a product of a different era, different culture, and different church. They are constructed on a legislative model, necessary of course, but are they capable of being the places in which creative thinking about ministry and mission might occur? We elect officers, debate resolutions and budgets, all the while the hard questions of what it might mean to be the Episcopal Church in the twenty-first century are not being discussed.

What would it look like if instead of debating minimum compensation packages, health insurance, and concealed carry, we had discussions about the future ministry and mission of the Episcopal Church in Madison, Racine, Richland Center, and the Diocese of Milwaukee?

For info on what we did today, here’s the website for Diocesan Convention.

Previous posts on the need for structural change in the Episcopal Church here, here, and here.

The St. Francis house brouhaha

I’ve had several inquiries from parishioners about what’s happening with St. Francis House, the Episcopal Chaplaincy at UW Madison, and decided it was time to offer my perspective. I’ve been a member of the board since early 2010. When I joined, discussions about the future of the chaplaincy were well underway. The chaplaincy had been funded by an endowment that over the last decade or more has been depleted in order to meet expenses. The building itself is in need of several hundred thousand dollars of deferred maintenance. Clearly, we were approaching a crisis.

At the end of its visioning process, the board concluded that the chaplaincy’s physical presence on UW’s campus was of vital importance and that we should do whatever we could to ensure that presence. We are also convinced of the importance of college chaplaincy to the future of the Episcopal Church. Such programs have served as the incubator for the church’s future leadership, and St. Francis House is no exception. We believe Anglicanism is a unique and powerful witness to the Christian faith that resonates with young people in an academic setting.

The chaplaincy’s greatest asset is its property, located on the heart of UW Madison’s campus. A number of options for moving forward were considered, including some sort of joint-venture development with our Lutheran neighbors. After exploring the possibility of an outright sale of the property, the board decided to move forward with a public/private partnership with a private developer. The plan is to demolish the 1964 chapel, move the historic building to the corner of the lot, and build an L-shaped student apartment complex on the remainder of the property. This portion of the property would return to the property tax rolls, and income from the project would place the Episcopal Chaplaincy on firm financial ground.

There has been lively debate on the board about the importance of having a physical presence on campus; in the end, the option to sell the property seemed shortsighted. It is also the case that an outright sale would not generate enough income to pay for the sort of chaplaincy envisioned by the board.

Bishop Miller wrote a letter on May 15 that captures the board’s reasoning and also speaks eloquently to the importance of campus ministry. He wrote:

Strengthening Campus ministry and the funding for it has been one of my priorities as bishop because it was through the Episcopal Ministry at Michigan State University I discovered The Episcopal Church and found a spiritual home. Over the last few years I have worked with our chaplains, the St. Francis House Board, and our diocesan convention to strengthen and restore this ministry. Each week a faithful community gathers for prayer, fellowship, and study at our home at 1001 University Avenue. Over the past eight years the ministry at St. Francis House has produced some great future leaders of our church including one candidate for ordination, and two others who are now exploring the possibility of ordained ministry while serving as missioner of the Episcopal Service Corps.

The full letter is here: bishopsletter.

The City Planning Commission rejected the proposal at its meeting this week. There has been vocal opposition from our neighbors at Luther Memorial Church. It is unfortunate that this conflict has arisen. Bishop Miller, the board, and the developers have worked hard to assuage any concerns our neighbors might have. In the end, however, our primary obligation is  to strengthen the mission and ministry of the Episcopal Chaplaincy at UW.

Who knows what will happen next but the board remains committed to this project and the promise it holds for empowering Episcopal campus ministry in the coming decades.

For background reading here are relevant articles from the Madison State Journal

On the Visitation of a Bishop

One of the fun things for me about having a doctorate in the History of Christianity and being an Episcopal priest is musing over the historical background of particular customs or even canons. Bishop Miller’s visit to Grace has been the occasion for some not-so-serious reflection on the history of Episcopal visitations.

The visitation was introduced in the late middle ages as an effort at reform. First targeting monastic houses, reform-minded bishops and church organizations began visitations of parishes as well. One of the early, and most famous, visitations was that of Electoral Saxony (Luther’s home) in 1528. Eventually, the requirement for regular visitations was enshrined for Roman Catholics at the Council of Trent. When I was working on my doctorate, visitation records were all the rage. Visitors (not bishops, but state or church bureaucrats) would go to all of the parishes and inquire about the religious life and faith of the community, asking as well about the priest or minister. From these records, we gain insight into the level of religious commitment, religious practice, and other things like magic, witchcraft, heresy, and clerical malfeasance. The visitors often had a set of very detailed questions to ask, and they also demanded that people do things like say the 10 Commandments or creed.

In the Episcopal Church, the Bishop’s visit is usually the occasion for confirmation. Such was the case for us, but unlike visitors of yore, Bishop Miller did not query confirmands on their catechism (good thing!). After confirmation, as is the custom in many places, we had a reception. Here are some photos:

Thy table now is spread

The Bishop and the Senior Warden analyzing the situation

There was music as well:

From the children:

And from Los Soles:

In addition to celebrating the confirmands and all of our mothers, we belatedly celebrated the Rev. Pat Size’s ministry among us. She retired at the end of 2010.

Mary Ray Worley gives Pat a scrapbook of her ministry with the Hispanic community

Participants or Spectators? Consumers or producers?

Bishop Miller made his biennial visitation to Grace Church yesterday. In his sermon, he referred to a college course he once took on the history of sport in America. The professor’s thesis was that Americans’ involvement in sports was the movement from participation to being fans. He compared that to the church and proclaimed that Christianity is not a spectator sport.

I found a connection between his sermon and a blog entry that asked whether worshipers are consumers or producers. The author began with music–the difference between consuming (turning on the radio, listening to one’s ipod) and producing, whether as a musician or as a songwriter. She then turns to worship, asking whether we perceive worship leaders (clergy, choir, professionals) as producers, and those who sit in the pew as consumers of worship. She concludes that to some degree the notion of the lay consumer of worship is an accurate representation:

It’s true that we consume the Word which is given to us, something we did not produce ourselves.  But as we chew and swallow and ponder what we freely receive, we do go out to produce, to create, to produce fruit, to create community, to do justice and to love kindness.

One could have deepened the comparison by pointing out that people’s “consumption” of music has changed since the nineteenth century, with the selling of sheet music giving way to the selling of recordings, and the important value that educated, cultured persons could play an instrument, or that popular entertainment for many among the poorer classes, was self-created. In these cases, music also created community.

The problem with the consumer/producer model is not just that tends towards passivity; it also tends towards isolation. I think that’s true of much of worship as well, even in the Anglican tradition.

Opening our Doors: An update

As we have for the past two weeks, Grace Church will continue to open its doors this week for all who seek a place of prayer, warmth, and respite on Capitol Square. Thanks to parishioners who have agreed to serve as hosts on Monday and Tuesday. If you’re in the square drop by Grace to warm up and say hello. We’d love to meet you.

We’ve been struggling throughout the last two weeks to keep up with events and most of the time we’ve been reacting; dealing with situations after they’ve already begun to develop. We don’t know what’s going to happen this week, but we’ve been overwhelmed by the positive response to our efforts to extend our hospitality.

We know how difficult a time this is for many people. It’s been difficult for us, as well. Addressing the situation on the ground while we are also trying to go about the regular work of the church–finalizing budgets, preparing service bulletins, trying to get everything organized for Shrove Tuesday, Ash Wednesday, and Lent. Well, we’ve been overwhelmed.

I’m grateful to our staff who have been gracious in their flexibility; grateful to to parishioners who didn’t say anything about the dirty floors of the nave today, and have been supportive of our efforts to reach out in these past weeks.

I’m also deeply appreciative to the leadership of Bishop Steven Miller and my clergy colleagues who have offered their support and prayers.

Keep praying for us, for all of us in Madison’s Capitol Square, across the country and the world who are seeking to speak out for justice in the name of God.