Requiem for a seminary? Requiem for a church

Once again, Crusty Old Dean tells the hard truth:

Requiem for a seminary? Requiem for a church which calls white black and black white, and calls things resignations which are not resignations. Shall we be a church where petty oligarchies can run roughshod, whether in seminaries, or dioceses, or parishes, divorced from their constituencies?

Making Sense of the Mess at General Seminary

I’ve got no wisdom on this awful, heartbreaking, embarrassing situation, knowing almost nothing about GTS except being acquainted with several alums. But I’ve been asked about it by some folks, so I thought it might help to point people to pieces that have helped me understand something of the situation. The first, most important, and perhaps only necessary thing to read is Crusty Old Dean’s ruminations.

Crusty reminds us of several important facts: 1) That even in the seemingly stable and everlasting Episcopal Church, institutions come and go, including seminaries. It may be that General is simply not going to survive. 2) That this conflict comes at the nexus of two significant transformations in our society–the changing role of religion, especially mainline Christianity and the transformation of higher education. Seminaries are caught up in both of these larger cultural forces.

3) (Although Crusty doesn’t explicitly say this)That this conflict, and the quick escalation to “firings” or “resignations” reflects the corporatization of the church and the academy (see the discussion of the Task Force on Reimagining the Episcopal Church for more of the former). In the place of conversation, prayer, and discernment, we have lawyers (on both sides).

I agree with Crusty’s assessment that General may not survive this and that there will be repercussions throughout US theological education for years to come.

Derek Olsen discusses the significance of the changes in corporate worship and daily prayer for the overall life of the seminary and the formation of the students.

The faculty have put up a website that offers some of their perspective.

And The New York Times has an article providing background, including the news that the Seminary Board of Trustees will meet with the faculty.

Oh, and by the way, according to the GTS website, Bishop Miller of the Diocese of Milwaukee is a member of the Board of Trustees.

No King, No Bishop: Some reflections on “The Primer on Ecclesiology”

The House of Bishops Theology Committee released to the public its “Primer on Ecclesiology” last week, just in time for Thanksgiving and Black Friday. An earlier version of the document was presented at the Fall House of Bishops Meeting and I offered some comment on what we learned then here.

Crusty Old Dean provides a thorough reading of the document in his inimitably crusty style. He asks a number of pertinent questions and points out various places where the document is less than accurate historically. These misrepresentations are problematic because as the document states in its introduction,

The study of the Church begins with history and governance: how it came to be and how it makes decisions. To understand how and why The Episcopal Church functions the way it does today, we must start with its origins in the Church of England.

A lack of adequate historical understanding results in inadequate ecclesiology. I will leave aside a discussion of developments in America. What concerns me are certain misrepresentations of the History of Christianity in Early Modern England, matters about which I actually know something.

The first major problem I want to highlight has to do with the sixteenth century. It is quite true to see Henry VIII’s efforts to gain control over the Church in England in light of similar efforts by his contemporary European rulers. Kings did it; even the city councils of Imperial cities in the Holy Roman Empire used the Reformation to gain power to control the clergy in their territories. But to say that the matter was “purely a matter of governance and political power” and that Henry had no religious, theological, or ecclesiastical motives is a serious misunderstanding of the mindset of early modern rulers. Kings believed that not only would they be answerable for their own sins on the Day of Judgment but also that they would be held responsible for the Christian faith and morality of their subjects. It’s impossible to separate the motives of sixteenth-century people into distinct categories of religious and non-religious.

The primer’s discussion of developments after Henry is even more confused and confusing. It seems the authors are attempting, as they did in Henry’s case, to distinguish cleanly and completely between religious and non-religious spheres. So, for example, a sentence like this:

After his death, the first Book of Common Prayer was published in 1549, and a second Book in 1552, while Henry’s son Edward was king, reflecting the growing importance of doctrinal concerns to the Church.

There had been lively, passionate, divisive, even fatal debates over doctrine in England since the 1520s. Henry had executed both Evangelicals and Catholics who refused to toe the theological line. At times, reformers seemed to hold sway; other times the conservative Catholic party seemed in charge. Under Edward, it becomes clear that the Evangelical party (to call them “Protestant” is misleading; it doesn’t fit the English scene in the Tudor period) was setting policy.

Crusty points out the enormous problems in the brief treatment of Elizabeth. The Elizabethan Settlement is usually dated to 1559-1560, with the publication of the 1559 Book of Common Prayer and the Act of Supremacy. Elizabeth’s excommunication by Pius V only acknowledged the reality on the ground. The document overlooks one very important issue in the development of the settlement and the need to distinguish between the roles and competencies of Crown and Church. Elizabeth was a woman. A great deal of Henry’s desire to have a son was general uncertainty about the fitness of women to rule kingdoms and to have a woman as head of the church was an affront to many churchmen and reformers. John Knox fired off “blasts of the trumpet against this monstrous regiment of women” in which he voiced his opposition to Elizabeth’s reign. The attempt to distinguish “the Archbishop of Canterbury as spiritual head and the Crown as the governor of the church’s temporal existence” was in part an attempt to remove the possibility that Elizabeth, a woman, was “head” of the Church of England.

Crusty’s takedown of the paragraph on the seventeenth century is worth repeating:

The historical narrative here is confusing and problematic.  Cromwell and the Commonwealth are called the “zenith of Presbyterian experiment in the church of England.”  This is simply inaccurate.  Cromwell was an Independent (what we could call a Congregationalist) and actually introduced religious toleration.

He also alludes to the primer’s consistent and misleading of the terms “spiritual” and “temporal” to distinguish the roles of clergy and laity (or church and crown). The ultimate example of this confusion comes somewhat later in the document where it distinguishes between the clergy’s responsibility for worship, “the Church’s principal act” and the laity’s responsibility for finances.

Looking at the discussion of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries in light of this distinction between spiritual and temporal, it becomes clear to me that the document is attempting to do something quite interesting. Its construction of the Elizabethan Settlement is an attempt to make a connection between the Church of England’s structure and governance with that of the Episcopal Church, each being adapted to the local context. Thus:

While the present monarch, Queen Elizabeth II, has only a formal role in governing her Church, she symbolizes the considerable power that the laity exercise across England. This original balance of her great ancestor’s Settlement has been a key element of Anglican provinces around the world, including the Episcopal Church, the first Anglican Church outside the British Isles.

In other words, the Elizabethan Settlement, with the Crown as “governor of the church’s temporal existence” and the Archbishop of Canterbury as spiritual head become the foundation for both the Episcopal Church’s hierarchical structure and for the existence of General Convention with its lay representation.

This is deeply problematic in at least two ways. First, it attempts to map onto the sixteenth century our categories of religious and secular (although using the terms “spiritual” and “temporal”). “Spiritual” in the sixteenth century did not mean what it means today. The English Bishops were lords “spiritual;” that is to say, they sat in the House of Lords by virtue of their appointment as bishops, yet exercised vast political power both in Parliament and in their own dioceses. “Spirituality” in the sixteenth century referred not to some nebulous, internal, religious state or mode of being; it referred to the clergy as an order, with unique political rights . The term “spirituality” used in our contemporary sense first appeared in France in the 17th century. To give just one obvious example of the Crown’s involvement in “spiritual” affairs in the 16th century: forced conformity to the Church of England. Elizabeth famously said there were “no windows into men’s souls” but she certainly demanded that everyone in her realm outwardly conform to the Church of England doctrine, discipline, and worship.

This raises the other difficulty I have with the document as a whole. As I read through it, I kept thinking of James I’s statement at the Hampton Court Conference, “no king, no bishop.” To tie the structure and governance of the Episcopal Church to historical developments in sixteenth and seventeenth century England ties the Episcopal Church to the English monarchy and to the Church of England’s establishment; in other words, “no king, no bishop.”

Of course, the Elizabethan Settlement is part of our history as Episcopalians, but the decision in the 18th century to bring the historic episcopacy to the United States was a theological decision, a creative response to the new political reality that emerged after the Revolution, born from the product of almost two centuries of the inculturation and adaption of Anglicanism to a new environment. That decision is clear evidence that the episcopacy is not dependent on monarchy for its existence,nor is the English monarchy’s involvement in the Church of England a determining factor for the laity’s involvement in the Episcopal Church. A primer on ecclesiology in the Episcopal Church should make that clear.

Reforming the Curia (of the Episcopal Church)

I know we don’t really have one but I’ve been interested by the ways in which our own debate about restructuring has its parallels in the Roman Catholic Church. In my previous post, I linked to various commentators inside and outside of the church who are calling for reform of the papal bureaucracy. The Vatileaks scandal exposed the deep resistance to change on the part of much of the Vatican bureaucracy.

History makes clear that reform is difficult. In the Roman Catholic church, true reform has rarely occurred before the crises grew so profound that the future of the Church itself was in jeopardy (the great reform councils of Lateran IV, Constance, and Trent come to mind). In some respects, we may be at a similar place. Certainly American Christianity would seem to be facing an existential crisis. But it’s not clear to me that ecclesial bureacracies perceive us to be at such a point.

In the Episcopal Church, calls for restructuring have gotten louder. At General Convention 2013, a task force was empowered to look at restructuring. It had its first meeting a couple of weeks ago. Here’s the press release. George Clifford, who has written insightfully on the matter of restructuring in the past has a two-part examination of the issue as well (Part I, Part II). He lists ten principles that he thinks should guide the restructuring process:


1. Preserve the four historic orders of ministry
2. TEC’s structure should emphasize both community and mission
3. Preserve governance premised on discerning God’s leading through representative democratic processes
4. Practice subsidiarity
5. Adopt a minimalist approach, reserving all specifically unidentified powers and responsibilities to individuals, congregations, or dioceses
6. Aim for simplicity of structure
7. Form should follow function
8. Incorporate a structural system of checks and balances
9. TEC’s structure should exhibit transparency and accountability
10. Take advantage of the opportunities for new forms of community and structure that technology has made possible, while seeking to avoid or minimize any adverse consequences

General Convention also passed a resolution that the Episcopal Church move its headquarters from 815 2nd Avenue. During the meeting of the Executive Council last week, representatives of the staff who work there presented arguments against that move. More about that here. Again, George Clifford addresses the issue. And in his inimitable way, Crusty Old Dean has this to say:

It really doesn’t matter where our denominational headquarters is unless we are committed to a holistic rethinking of the kind of denominational structure we need.  Moving it for the sake of moving it, without concurrent discussion about the nature, scope, and purpose of a denominational structure, is pointless.  Likewise, keeping it in place without a holistic appraisal is likewise pointless. …  So who the hell cares where a denominational HQ is if we can’t rethink how we need to do mission in radically changed contexts and think through how this relates to dioceses, congregations, ecumenical partners, and other networks and organizations?

Once created, bureaucracies tend to fight for survival. I had to read Robert Michels Political Parties back in college. That’s the book in which he articulates “the iron law of oligarchy” which is this: “Who says organization, says oligarchy.” I was reminded of this as I noted the hubris of church staff refusing to submit to the will of General Convention. This points to one of the central problems facing any restructuring, on every level of the church–the intransigence of those involved.

We can say all we want about the need to restructure, the necessity of change, everything that I and others have written about over the last several years, including the statistics cited by Diana Butler Bass that I refer to in an earlier post. The reality is that there will be profound and absolute resistance to restructuring, that it will come from all sectors and corners of the church, including the top, and that the battles will be long, bloody, and destructive. Too many people have too much invested, at every level of the church, to expect that change will come easily. All we can hope is that whatever change comes doesn’t require total war to achieve it.

On the other hand, it may be that some new form of shared ministry across what is now the Episcopal Church can only emerge and thrive when the old structures have been completely eradicated. Who knows? We shall see–and it behooves us to pay close attention to the fate of restructuring in other denominations, including the Roman Catholic Church.





The Best of today from General Convention

a few of the things I read that are worth passing along:

The Rev. Chuck Treadwell (deputy, Diocese of Texas) on the relationship between pastoral theology and doctrine when thinking about something like “communion without baptism:”

Any priest who has been a priest for very long knows, however, that pastoral theology often falls outside normative teaching and practice. Therefore, we occasionally respond pastorally in ways that bend the norms.
I am reminded of what I was taught by the Rev. Dr. Marion Hatchett: “never break a rubric unintentionally”. I think most priest have given communion to an unbaptized person. Hospitality and compassion may require it. But the doctrine of Baptism remains.

There’s a proposal to sell the Episcopal Church’s property at 815 Second Ave in NY. It’s expensive, underutilized, and a relic of a former age. Crusty Old Dean weighs in:

We can’t stop at selling 815 and think we have slain Constantine.  COD is enthusiastically supportive of this resolution (I thought we should move most everything to the ELCA building in Chicago) with two caveats.

1)  We will need to be OK with the transition needed.  Staff, including support staff as well as program staff, will be needed to be treated fairly.

2)  We must also think broader and more holistically, and not rush to details and obsess over things like where the new denominational building might be.  We must also have conversations about what function our staff should have and how they will connect to all levels of the church.

If we don’t begin to think in this way, it won’t matter where the denomination gets its mail.


The proposed C001 resolution on restructuring (Thanks to David Sibley)

And finally, and most importantly, Bishop Curry’s sermon from this morning’s Eucharist–check it out, he can preach!

I dream of a church, continued

Crusty Old Dean reflects on the Acts 8 meeting.

Part of my dream is that those who came to Acts 8 might be the beginning of a network that can continue this conversation about restructuring and reform, should the institutional structures seek to take control of future reform discussions.  I hope and pray that a thoughtful and deliberate proposal will come out of this Convention to shape conversations in the next triennium; but if it doesn’t, then my dream is to gather those who want to have those conversations.

Matthew Ciszek.

Reports on Day 1 of General Convention

Andy Jones’ take on yesterday is here.

The main news was the opening remarks by the Presiding Bishop (Katharine Jefforts Schori) and the President of the House of Deputies (Bonnie Anderson). Crusty Old Dean comments on the latter here.

She has this to say:

Worse yet, in recent months, it’s even become fashionable in some circles to celebrate the exclusive nature of the church in the name of efficiency — to treat our governance as a lifeboat in which there is precious little room for laypeople and clergy, to question the value of our shared authority to the future of The Episcopal Church, to assert that the diversity of voices in our governance is just much, too loud, too messy, too expensive, and way too big.

Frankly, I don’t understand what Ms. Anderson was getting at (well, I do, but her understanding of what the Episcopal Church is, and mine, are radically different). As COD points out, she seems to think there are three orders–lay people, clergy, and bishops. As far as I know, bishops are clergy, too.

This week in Budget and Dysfunction news

So the Presiding Bishop released her own version of a budget for the 2012-2015 Triennium. The story (with link to the budget) is here. It’s received praise from Scott Gunn, Crusty Old Dean, and Susan B. Snook.

From the comments on their blog posts, and the comment threads on the Episcopal Cafe (read them here), it seems there remains deep levels of distrust toward the Presiding Bishop and the Chief Operating Officer. We’ve seen this distrust again and again in the last months, perhaps beginning with Bishop Sauls’ restructuring proposals last fall. As an outsider and observer, I’ve had a hard time understanding where it came from and what fuels it. There seem to be several sources: anticlericalism, knee-jerk resistance to episcopal authority, tension between the House of Bishops and the House of Deputies, personal animosity between several of the major players, tension between staff at the Episcopal Church Center and General Convention. No doubt I’m missing some of the dynamics involved.

As an outsider, I must say that it seems all a bit petty, a waste of time and energy. Above all, it is a distraction from the very real problems that face the Church.

And then I read this from Susan Russell: She provides context, going back to General Convention 2006. I wanted to cry, scream, and bang my head against the wall. With everything confronting the church, let’s reopen old wounds, fight old battles, rehearse old resentments.

God help us all!

More on the budget

Yesterday afternoon, borrowing a tactic from politicians in Washington to release bad news late on a Friday, TEC produced a line-by-line commentary on the budget for the 2012-2015 triennium. There’s additional material here, including a foreword from the Presiding Bishop and  description of the process that led to the budget itself. The entire document is here:


That story is quite revealing about the dysfunction that led to disaster. Budgeting was put in the hands of a small group. Instead of involving staff, the budget was placed in the hands of the “Executive Council Executive Committee.” There was a survey of select individuals across the church, and from that survey, budget priorities were developed. Then, in advance of the eight-member ECEC meeting, five of the members had a conference call, unknown to the others, where further matters were discussed. I’m not going to say more. You must read Crusty Old Dean’s commentary on the commentary to understand the depths of the dysfunction.  I’ll quote him on the relationship between the Presiding Bishop and the President of the House of Deputies:

Unreal.  The puerile bickering between the PB and the PHOD was bad enough when it was eye-roll worthy; who thought it would be at the core of the struggle to reshape our churchwide structures outside of any democratic process?

He also makes several proposals about what to do:

1)  Adopt something like this budget, and accept that we have dismantled our entire churchwide organization based on not much more than fight between a handful of people over the vision for our churchwide organization, and wind up with Potemkin village for a churchwide organization, where administration and governance are protected by those with a vested interest in them, run by a Politburo in defiance of democratic process.
2)  DEMAND that a TRANSITIONAL BUDGET be adopted for the 2013-2015 to fund more or less our current structures with equal across-the-board cuts.  During this transition budget, allow for a churchwide discussion and consultation.  Find ways to make it happen!  Eliminate the across the Board 3% raises for the triennium.  Postpone the $1 million in additional staff proposed. Make it work somehow.
If not, then walk out and prevent a quorum necessary to pass this.  In the end, if we stand by and do nothing to try to prevent this injustice from moving forward, we forfeit our rightful place as the DFMS and instead accept this dysfunction as normative.  As Leviticus 19 tells us, if we see injustice, “you shall reprove your neighbor, or you will incur guilt yourself.”
People ask me if I’m going to convention. It’s wonderful, they say. I’m not sure Madison is far enough away from Indianapolis to escape infection from the poison that seems to have infested our church.