Well, that’s all right then

Apparently, the GTS faculty will return to work.

We accept your offer of reinstatement to our positions, and the salaries and benefits outlined in our contracts in effect prior to September 25, 2014. We look forward to being able to do this as soon as possible. Like any member of the Seminary’s faculty we agree to abide by the terms of the Seminary Constitution, Bylaws and policies. Given some of the confusion that has arisen about these texts in recent weeks, we will need you to provide us with copies of them: this would help us as we seek together to work within them. We are pleased to see that during the “cooling off period” all of the parties’ respective legal arguments and positions will be reserved.

A letter from the Rt. Rev’d Clifford Daniel 3d, a member of the Board of Trustees, may shed additional light

. I am hopeful that the Executive Committee and Board’s invitation to the Faculty to a return to the prior status through the remainder of this academic year will be received in a positive way and that the faculty assume their prior positions. I am encouraged by the decision of the Executive Committee to engage a skilled, qualified Christian mediator who will call the Dean, the Board, the Faculty, Students (and perhaps representatives of the Alumni/ae Association) together to engage in a prayerful, structured and disciplined process of mediation and reconciliation. Following graduation in May 2015, we as a community can come together to determine where we are and where we need to go. Part of the process must be mutual conversation, confession and repentance as necessary steps toward reconciliation.

The Presiding Bishop will stand down

Katharine Jefforts Schori, Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, has announced she will not seek reelection in 2015. Elected in 2006, PB Jefforts Schori is eligible for reelection according to the rather complicated rules laid out in the canons, and there had been considerable speculation that she might do so.

She writes:

I believe I can best serve this Church by opening the door for other bishops to more freely discern their own vocation to this ministry.  I also believe that I can offer this Church stronger and clearer leadership in the coming year as we move toward that election and a whole-hearted engagement with necessary structural reforms.  I will continue to engage us in becoming a more fully diverse Church, spreading the gospel among all sorts and conditions of people, and wholeheartedly devoted to God’s vision of a healed and restored Creation.

Previously, the Joint Nominating Committee for the Election of the Presiding Bishop had issued three essays laying out the nominating and election process, the current roles and responsibilities of the office, and how the office has changed over the centuries. Those essays are worth reading and available here:

Meanwhile, the Task Force on Reimagining the Church (TREC) has issued its own vision for changing the structure and governance of the Church. It envisions a vastly expanded set of powers for the Presiding Bishop while streamlining various governing bodies. That document has received criticism for reducing the participation of laity and democratic process.

Conversations about Marriage: It’s not just about couples (gay or straight); It’s about community!

On July 31, in response to the request by the Task Force on Marriage, a group of 22 clergy and laity from Madison’s Episcopal parishes gathered to work through the discussion materials prepared by the Task Force. We talked for approximately two hours. We didn’t reach any conclusions but our conversation did raise up several interesting issues. What follows is my summary of the main topics that we discussed, based on notes taken by Andy Jones.

One of the issues we discussed at length was the role of clergy and church in the state sanctioning of marriage. There were clergy present who expressed considerable displeasure at serving as “agents of the state” in the signing of marriage licenses. Other clergy and some laypeople reminded us of the emotional attachment many have to precisely that activity. In some parishes the license signing takes place on the altar.

We talked about our complicity in the “marriage-industrial complex.” In Dane County where Madison is located, the average cost of a wedding is $27000 (according to one of those present at our discussion). To the extent that we host weddings for people who are only nominally involved in the lives of our parishes, our churches and clergy participate in and enable such economic excess. Attempting to teach a spiritual meaning within marriage through pre-marital counseling or in the ceremony itself is rendered more difficult because of the alternative message being sent by everything else associated with weddings in twenty-first century America.

There are competing claims around the legal, sacramental, and cultural significance of marriage and we need help negotiating these claims. The conflicts around the ceremony itself are one thing; the role the ceremony plays in the relationship of the two people who are united in matrimony, the long-term success of that relationship, and the role the community of faith plays in couples’ lives also need further clarification. In spite of the fact that many weddings take place in churches and many more are officiated by clergy, congregations tend not to play important roles in the lives of many of the couples that are married in their churches. Strengthening that bond is important because the ultimate success of the marriage depends on the prayers and support of a religious community.

We also spent a lot of time talking about other relationships and other ways of being in community. We agreed that any discussion of marriage has to take place in the context of a larger discussion about the nature of Christian community itself and how to strengthen ties within such communities. A few quotations from that portion of the conversation:

“This is too narrow a conversation. If the church is going to have a role in marriage it should also have a role in other kinds of relationships and community building.”

 

“For the church to remain relevant in our lives it has to continue to build community – that is what makes us holy, different from the state”

 

“The church’s role in marriage lies in the exclusivity of the relationship. I will commit to loving ‘you’ for the rest of my life. It derives from Jesus’ words, ‘where love is, I am…’ This is what the church is recognizing when it witnesses and blesses a marriage.”

 

“The church has a big role or part in ‘community.’”

 

Just a couple of notes about the process itself and the materials provided by the task force. People who attended wanted to talk about marriage and want the church’s help in building life-giving and sustaining relationships. They appreciated hearing from others about their experiences.

I found some of the materials unhelpful as I thought about facilitating a conversation. We used the materials prepared for the ninety-minute session and reading through the handouts I couldn’t always figure out how someone coming to the session with no background or context could use them to generate their own thoughts. In fact, I found the handout on the historical background so unhelpful that I prepared my own for the group.

Some other essays on marriage:

Emma Green reflects on the precipitous decline in the number of Roman Catholic weddings (and it’s wider significance):

So while it’s simplistic to say that American Millennials are totally abandoning their churches, at least in Catholicism, the trend away church weddings might be an indication of how young people tend to see their religious institutions. As Gray said, it’s entirely possible that today’s young non-church-goers might return to the pews in a few years, just as their hippy parents did before them. But it’s also possible that beach weddings are an early sign of a generational shift among religious Americans, with more and more people finding meaning beyond the walls and words of a church.

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Nathan Chase writes in response to Green:

. For this reason, the answer to the question “Are Church weddings a thing of the past?” is much deeper than it might appear at first glance. It cuts to the heart of modern humanity, and it should force us to reflect on ourselves, the Church, and the modern world. If we begin down that road we might not like what we see; however, we must have faith that no matter our brokenness God, who can do all things, can heal the wounds of the world.

Conversations about marriage

Marriage is highly contested in our culture in the twenty-first century. We fight about marriage equality and worry about changing marriage patterns. With a divorce rate around 45%, increasing rates of couples living together, and close connections between poverty and children born to unwed mothers, the challenges presented by changing marriage patterns have important social consequences. Some of the dramatic changes in marriage practice in the last half century include:

  • In 1960, 2/3 of all adults in their twenties were married; in 2008, only 26% were
  • 65% of all couples live together before getting married
  • marriage is much more common among college-educated and economically stable people than among the less-educated and less-affluent
  • 90% of young adults think they need to be completely financially independent before marriage

All data from material provided by the Task Force on Marriage. More info here.

In the Episcopal Church, our General Convention 2012 called for a Task Force to study the theology of marriage. As part of its work, it has invited dioceses, parishes, and interested individuals to engage in conversations about marriage. We will be holding such a conversation on July 31 at St. Luke’s here in Madison.

The impetus for the task force came in part from the discussion about same-sex blessings and the trial rite that uses language of blessing, stops short of calling it marriage, yet is being used in many places where gay marriage is legal.

The Celebration and Blessing of a Marriage in the 1979 Book of Common Prayer is the product of its age and shows some signs of its historical context. With the use of two different rites in the church, and the oft-repeated statement made that the trial rite would be appropriate for use with heterosexual couples, there is a great deal of uncertainty surrounding marriage in the church.

For myself, one of the most important issues around marriage is my role as officiant. I am increasingly uncomfortable serving as an agent of the state and as an enabler of the marriage-industrial complex. What might an Episcopal rite, theology, and practice of marriage look like if neither of those factors were involved? It seems to me that the marriage rite is increasingly “divorced” from the practice of marriage. As a church we’re not very successful at doing “all in our power to uphold these two persons in their marriage” as we promise during the rite, and we’re even less successful in help couples who are struggling with their relationships.

A recent study explores the relationship between religious involvement and marriage among young adults:

Nominally religious young adults are in a vulnerable position: they are religious enough to be pushed into early marriage, for instance, but, lacking the social support mediated by an in-the-flesh religious congregation, they don’t reap the benefits of involvement in a religious community. Instead, religion may become a source of conflict.

More here

More court decisions, but in Wisconsin, Episcopalians still wonder..

In Indiana, a federal judge struck down that state’s ban on gay marriage. A Federal Appeals court yesterday overturned Utah’s ban, putting it on the fast track for appeal to the Supreme Court. In Louisiana, a suit to force the state to recognize out-of-state same sex marriages was expanded to include the state’s ban. As the Indiana judge wrote:

In less than a year, every federal district court to consider the issue has reached the same conclusion in thoughtful and thorough opinions – laws prohibiting the celebration and recognition of same-sex marriages are unconstitutional. It is clear that the fundamental right to marry shall not be deprived to some individuals based solely on the person they choose to love. In time, Americans will look at the marriage of couples such as Plaintiffs, and refer to it simply as a marriage – not a same-sex marriage. These couples, when gender and sexual orientation are taken away, are in all respects like the family down the street. The Constitution demands that we treat them as such.

The Episcopal Cafe asks: Should the Episcopal Church embrace marriage equality?

The article links to two other pieces, one a report on the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music’s recent meeting where they discussed the provisional rite for the blessing of same sex couples. The other is a study guide on marriage produced by the Task Force on Marriage.

Meanwhile Christian Piatt offers Five Reasons why Churches need to “come out” on LGBTQ rights.

The first one is this:

Much of the pain, and therefore, suspicion and resentment, lies at the institutional level. It’s one thing for a person who identifies as a Christian to take the risk of putting themselves out there to say they support or affirm someone’s God-given orientation or identity. It’s entirely another when a church body does so. As long as the efforts to reconcile the brokenness between the Christian community and the LGBTQ community remain at the individual level, the history of marginalization and judgment lingers like an ever-present shadow. – See more at: http://www.redletterchristians.org/five-reasons-churches-need-come-lgbtq-rights/#sthash.D2F23x5y.dpufgm
Much of the pain, and therefore, suspicion and resentment, lies at the institutional level. It’s one thing for a person who identifies as a Christian to take the risk of putting themselves out there to say they support or affirm someone’s God-given orientation or identity. It’s entirely another when a church body does so. As long as the efforts to reconcile the brokenness between the Christian community and the LGBTQ community remain at the individual level, the history of marginalization and judgment lingers like an ever-present shadow. – See more at: http://www.redletterchristians.org/five-reasons-churches-need-come-lgbtq-rights/#sthash.D2F23x5y.dpuf

Much of the pain, and therefore, suspicion and resentment, lies at the institutional level. It’s one thing for a person who identifies as a Christian to take the risk of putting themselves out there to say they support or affirm someone’s God-given orientation or identity. It’s entirely another when a church body does so. As long as the efforts to reconcile the brokenness between the Christian community and the LGBTQ community remain at the individual level, the history of marginalization and judgment lingers like an ever-present shadow.

Much of the pain, and therefore, suspicion and resentment, lies at the institutional level. It’s one thing for a person who identifies as a Christian to take the risk of putting themselves out there to say they support or affirm someone’s God-given orientation or identity. It’s entirely another when a church body does so. As long as the efforts to reconcile the brokenness between the Christian community and the LGBTQ community remain at the individual level, the history of marginalization and judgment lingers like an ever-present shadow. – See more at: http://www.redletterchristians.org/five-reasons-churches-need-come-lgbtq-rights/#sthash.D2F23x5y.dpuf
Much of the pain, and therefore, suspicion and resentment, lies at the institutional level. It’s one thing for a person who identifies as a Christian to take the risk of putting themselves out there to say they support or affirm someone’s God-given orientation or identity. It’s entirely another when a church body does so. As long as the efforts to reconcile the brokenness between the Christian community and the LGBTQ community remain at the individual level, the history of marginalization and judgment lingers like an ever-present shadow. – See more at: http://www.redletterchristians.org/five-reasons-churches-need-come-lgbtq-rights/#sthash.D2F23x5y.dpuf
Much of the pain, and therefore, suspicion and resentment, lies at the institutional level. It’s one thing for a person who identifies as a Christian to take the risk of putting themselves out there to say they support or affirm someone’s God-given orientation or identity. It’s entirely another when a church body does so. As long as the efforts to reconcile the brokenness between the Christian community and the LGBTQ community remain at the individual level, the history of marginalization and judgment lingers like an ever-present shadow. – See more at: http://www.redletterchristians.org/five-reasons-churches-need-come-lgbtq-rights/#sthash.D2F23x5y.dpuf
Much of the pain, and therefore, suspicion and resentment, lies at the institutional level. It’s one thing for a person who identifies as a Christian to take the risk of putting themselves out there to say they support or affirm someone’s God-given orientation or identity. It’s entirely another when a church body does so. As long as the efforts to reconcile the brokenness between the Christian community and the LGBTQ community remain at the individual level, the history of marginalization and judgment lingers like an ever-present shadow. – See more at: http://www.redletterchristians.org/five-reasons-churches-need-come-lgbtq-rights/#sthash.D2F23x5y.dpuf

In Wisconsin, Episcopalians dither while #lovewins

We knew it was coming. After last summer’s Supreme Court decision and the series of decisions throughout the country throwing out state bans on gay marriage, it was bound to happen in Wisconsin as well. And it did yesterday afternoon.

I’ve documented the conversations at Grace Church and in the Diocese of Milwaukee regarding same sex blessings on this blog. Grace’s public statement of full inclusion is available here: LGBTstatement_revised_01292014. But those conversations occurred with little reference to the larger legal context. We submitted our responses to the Standing Committee’s survey in December and are waiting to hear what other congregations and clergy throughout the diocese had to say.

More telling, perhaps, is the almost total silence around our collective response when gay marriage became a legal reality. In my recollection, I had only one conversation with fellow clergy in the last months about how Episcopalians might proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ’s love when marriage equality became a reality in the state of Wisconsin. My colleague Miranda Hassett and her family went down to the City-County Building last night to be present among the celebrations:

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I’m grateful to her for that.

As Episcopal clergy and as a church, we have painted ourselves into a very small corner. It’s going to be increasingly difficult for our congregations to claim to be open and welcoming to LGBT Christians when we refuse to extend the sacrament of marriage to them. As clergy, we are no longer going to be able to use the excuse that same sex marriage is forbidden in the state constitution when couples approach us to solemnize their vows. In retrospect, it would have been helpful to have had frank conversations about this in the past months. Instead, we dithered and kept our mouths shut.

And don’t get me wrong. I’m not pointing the finger anywhere except myself. I dithered, kept my mouth shut, and didn’t raise questions when opportunities presented themselves.

 

More Episcopal Bishops speak out on Marriage Equality

Bishop Marc Andrus (Diocese of California):

Far as we have come, the gap between the poor and the rich has become greater, not less.

Far as we have come, the Earth groans, the particular light of beautiful species goes out day after day, drought and desert spread, and violent storms increase.

So what are we going to do?

Keep on proclaiming, keep on shining, for we are people of hope and faith.

And here at Grace Cathedral and in the Diocese of California we will be joyfully uniting, again, couples in marriage whose only qualification is love of each other and the desire to be married before God and in the face of our communities of faith.

Today we have seen hope fulfilled, and we have faith in a living God to keep on shining, keep on proclaiming until the Earth is filled with the knowledge of the glory of Lord, as the waters, those shining, clear waters, cover the sea.

Bishop Gibbs, Diocese of Michigan

Bishop Robert Wright, Diocese of Atlanta

Bishop Andrew Dietsche, Diocese of New York:

I am proud that in various ways this diocese has made its witness that such equality is truly of God, and speak for our whole community in offering our thanks today to the United States Supreme Court, and to those who have tirelessly pressed the case before that court, and we offer our congratulations and best wishes to all those whose lives will be enlarged and blessed by the events of this day.

Bishop Thomas Shaw, Diocese of Massachusetts:

We here in Massachusetts, the first state to allow same-sex marriage, have long experienced the contributions that gay and lesbian married couples and their families make to our society and to our church, and so the day that makes it possible for all married couples to be eligible for federal benefits, with equal status and without stigma, is a day for which to be grateful.  With the court’s disappointing decision yesterday to invalidate part of the Voting Rights Act, which seems a real setback for civil rights, it is also a day to recommit ourselves to the struggle for full equality for all God’s people.

Bishop Todd Ousley (Diocese of Eastern Michigan):

Bishop Miller’s letter on the Blessing of Same Sex Unions

On Thursday, Bishop Miller met with diocesan clergy to discuss General Convention Resolution A49 that provides for the blessing of same sex unions. He published a letter yesterday outlining his position. Here are some key paragraphs:
Therefore, I am not authorizing the rite from A049 for use in the Diocese of Milwaukee at this time. However, I have arranged with Bishop Jeffrey Lee of the Diocese of Chicago, for clergy and couples from congregations within the Diocese of Milwaukee to go to the Diocese of Chicago to celebrate the rite, as long as they obtain Bishop Lee’s consent to such an action to take place within the bounds of that diocese. Doing so will result in no punitive or negative response whatsoever from me.
Furthermore, I stated my belief that the right to a civil marriage should be available to all people, regardless of sexual orientation and that I would support those seeking to overturn the ban on same-gender marriage in Wisconsin. I also shared that I have begun to permit partnered gay clergy to preside with the diocese, and that I am open to the potential call of any Episcopal cleric in good standing to a position here.
I am also aware that many of our clergy feel the need to offer a generous pastoral liturgical response to gay and lesbian couples. I have agreed to the formation of a task force within this diocese, comprised of people from across the spectrum on this issue, including openly gay and lesbian people living in monogamous relationships, to consider, and propose the same. At the end of the process, however, as the one given canonical authority to order the liturgical life of the diocese, the decision about the authorization of such a rite rests with me. In our polity, there can be no other way.
The entire document is available: Bishop Miller’s letter
I will have more to say about this anon.

Preparing for the future by studying the past: Jackson Kemper, the last Beguine, and the future of Christianity

In an earlier life, I was a historian and although I am reluctant to enter any battles about the inherent virtues of studying the humanities nor inclined to argue for the study of history on instrumental grounds, there are times when even a brief foray into history can provide useful perspective from which to study current problems.

So it was this week. I was trying to write about the shape of the future church, to help clarify some work we’d done in strategic planning on the diocesan level. At various points in that process, we had alluded to Jackson Kemper and the missionary impulse that founded the Diocese of Milwaukee. As I prepared to write, I turned to a history of the Episcopal Church and to a history of the diocese. A superficial read of relevant chapters of both works was eye-opening. Typical church histories of the mid-twentieth century are largely stories of institutions–the formation of dioceses, the founding of parishes and other institutions, the inevitable personality struggles between competing egos and competing visions, and the biographies of the “great men.” In the stories I was reading, I learned about failures–failed missions, failed schools, failed ministries. I read of heroic efforts by clergy and laity preparing the ground and planting seeds that bore fruit decades later.

I wondered what readers fifty years ago would have made of those histories. How would they have interpreted them? No doubt there would have been some sense of failures and missed opportunities, but from the perspective of a thriving church and diocese in mid-century, the end of the story was clear–thriving institutions and vital ministries that reflected the bustle of the post-war boom in America.

Fifty years later, I had a very different reaction. Not just because of the different way history is written today (I’m more curious about those lay people, and especially lay women, than the bishops and priests; I’m more interested in the lived religion than in the bricks and mortar, more interested in the edges, the boundaries between insiders and outsiders, the interplay of religion and social forces).

As we stand at the edge of a frontier as vast and unknown as the one Jackson Kemper entered in the 1830s and 1840s, I’m interested in the forms that ministry and mission will take on that frontier. Kemper and others of his generation had a clear sense of what the church should look like. When they established a parish or school, they built edifices that reflected those ideas–solid, sacred buildings of wood, brick, and stone. They built institutions that were meant to serve those churches and schools and were meant to convey a sense of the sacred, of dignity, and of permanence.

The institutional histories tell the stories of those buildings, the ministries and people that inhabited them. But often the most interesting stories are of those institutions that failed, efforts that came to nothing or transformed into something quite different than the original intent, like the quasi-monastic community that founded Nashotah House and moved on to Minnesota.

I was reminded of this narrative of success and failure again this morning when I read an article about the death of the last Beguine. A relic of the Middle Ages, at one time communities of Beguines thrived in the towns of what is now Belgium, the Netherlands, and the Rhine area. They weren’t quite nuns; they didn’t take vows but lived in community, praying, working, passing in and out of their houses. Some of the great spiritual writing of Medieval Christianity are products of the Beguines.  The Church frowned on them, worried about them, and over the centuries sought to force them into more traditional and typical forms of monastic life. They survived through the centuries, a relic of an earlier age and probably not particularly relevant to either the religious lives or the cultures of the communities in which they lived, certainly not after the seventeenth century.

The story of the last Beguine, those episcopal histories I read, were all stories of institutions, stories of success and failure, growth and decline. They teach us important lessons about adapting to cultural contexts and the willingness to experiment. They also teach us about the problems of institutions, the inherent tendency to try to preserve them when they may no longer be needed or wanted.

I would draw two lessons from these stories. 1) the importance of adaptability. The decline of the beguines was only in part due to official resistance. In the long run, changes in society made their very creative response to a particular set of cultural crises basically irrelevant. 2) the impermanence of institutions. Our solid buildings are deceptive and stifle our creativity and the Spirit’s creativity.

Where is the spirit blowing today? Will we have the courage to let it lead us into the future, or will we stay behind the walls of our dying institutions and become the last Episcopalians?

 

 

 

I dream of a church… Reflections on yesterday’s events at General Convention

There was the opening Eucharist complete with sermon from the Presiding Bishop

There were lengthy discussions on structure and various other matters. But perhaps the most important event of the day was the Acts 8 Moment meeting which I’ve blogged about before.

It seems to me that this is precisely the direction the church should move. During the “I dream of a church that…” section, one bishop said, “I dream of a church that makes its decisions in meetings like this,” in the context of prayer and bible study. The question about the future of the church is an important one. The question about restructuring the church is important, but it’s easy to get lost in the details. To begin with mission and vision, to begin with what might be, rather than with what is or what was, is to begin by imagining possibilities.

The Diocese of Maine captured the “I dream of a church” on video:

From Andy Jones

From Steve Pankey:

It was a powerful time of sharing, of hoping for the future, and of mourning for the way things are.  As we prepared to end our time, ready to regather on the 11th, several people stood up and said, “Wait!  We need to actually do something.”  And so, with and empowering word from Andy Doyle, Bishop of Texas, five affinity groups were formed: one to propose candidates for HoD offices, one to draft legislation, one on dream sharing, one on local contexts, and one to pray for the whole thing.

You can add your own “I dream of a church …” on Facebook here: