God Seeks Sinners, not Saints: A Sermon for Proper 19, Year C

The Rev. Thomas Ferguson, Dean of Bexley Seabury, an Episcopal educational center in the Midwest, preached this morning at Grace Church. Here’s what he said.

It’s a pleasure to be back in the great city of Madison, which my wife and I called home for five wonderful years.  My wife Shannon served as director of Christian formation for the diocese of Milwaukee, including running summer camps at camp webb, and I was interim chaplain for a time at St Francis House, the chaplaincy at UW Madison. Continue reading

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:

 

Mission, Ministry, Restructuring, and Budgets–The disfunctional Episcopal Church

We’ve been debating restructuring in the Episcopal Church for some time now. As General Convention approaches, things are livening up. Yesterday, the proposed budget for the 2012-215 triennium was released. It’s shocking because of the priorities it sets, the lack of transparency, and the lack of conversation about where the church should focus its energies. Information about the budget is here. Tom Ferguson’s passionate, thoughtful, and provocative take is here.

I don’t have the expertise, time, or inclination to read the budget as carefully as Tom has, but I’m not sure it isn’t a deliberate in-your-face to all those of us who have been advocating a thorough restructuring. There’s more money for the Presiding Bishop’s office, more money for the General Convention office, more money for the Chief Operating Officer’s office. Meanwhile, funding for formation, youth, and young adults, is slashed. These things, the budget documents say, can better be done on the diocesan, provincial, or local levels. Perhaps. As Tom points out, if the national church can do anything, it can provide resources that are of use throughout the church, rather than forcing us on the diocesan or even parish level to come up with our own.

The misguided nature of the budgeters’ thinking is even more obvious in other places. There will be no funding for General Ordination Exams. This, too, the budget suggests can be better done on a local level. This is absurd. I suspect we will have one or two candidates for ordination in the Diocese of Milwaukee. How much time and energy, how many hours will be taken up in 1) trying to figure out how to assess candidates’ competencies in the canonical areas, and 2) actually doing the assessing? How much time and energy, therefore will be diverted away from ministry and mission on the local level in order to do the assessment that will have to be done in every other diocese across the church? It’s nonsensical!

But let’s increase funding for the Washington office so the Episcopal Church can do more advocacy. Why isn’t it more appropriate for such activities to take place on the local level? Or for our interests to be expressed by our ecumenical partners? Does every denomination need a Washington office?

Can we have a conversation about where the national church should focus its efforts, which efforts are more appropriate for dioceses or parishes (spare me the whole idea of provinces), and yes, about restructuring? Why don’t the central offices–Presiding Bishop, General Convention, COO, begin by decreasing their budgets by the percentage decrease in total income. Let’s talk about mission and ministry priorities only after they’ve done that.

 

“It’s like the Roman Catholics have declared war on the Episcopal Church!”

I had started a post about the Ordinariate a few days ago, but didn’t finish it because I’m never quite sure how many people are really interested in matters Anglican and Episcopalian. Then a parishioner caught me at coffee hour, asked me about the Ordinariate, and said, “It’s like the Roman Catholics have declared war on the Episcopal Church!”

He had read the article in The New York Times and wanted my take on it. Unfortunately, about the time I got wound up in my response I was asked about something else by someone else and couldn’t complete my brilliant ad lib response.

The article he mentioned can be read here. The Washington Post also covered the story, quoting friend Tom Ferguson, who offered thoughts about this development on his blog, Crusty Old Dean. Ferguson offers background, including the significance of the change from the “Pastoral Provision” which allowed for conversions of priests and whole congregations on a case-by-case basis, and the Ordinariate, which is a nation-wide structure.

Ferguson also addresses the “spin” being put on this development by some as “the fruit of decades of Roman Catholic/Anglican dialogue. In fact, it is nothing of the sort. Ferguson points out two issues–1) it is not ecumenical at all, in the sense that it was a one-sided declaration with no dialogue among the parties; and 2) that the Roman Catholic Church assumes ecumenism is incorporation into the Roman Catholic Church. Ferguson writes passionately from the perspective of a decade-long involvement in ecumenical relations.

But there is also the reality on the ground, and a pastoral response in particular situations. Several bishops have commented about the Ordinariate.

Bishop Andrew Doyle of the Diocese of Texas has some useful things to say about this. Most important, perhaps is this:

I have no anxiety and I hope that the Ordinariate will be a place where some who feel spiritually homeless may find a dwelling place; and a place where others may come to a better understanding of their own Anglican heritage.

Here’s the Bishop of the Rio Grande, Michael Vono’s take. He is the successor of Jeffrey Steenson, who resigned as Episcopal Bishop to become Roman Catholic and has been named to lead the new Ordinariate.

Is it a declaration of war? I’m not so sure. To provide a place for those who no longer feel welcome or part of the Episcopal Church seems to me a generous act. To do it without consultation with the Episcopal Church (as the Ordinariate in England was announced without notifying the Archbishop of Canterbury) seems churlish. Most commentators agree that the overwhelming number of congregations and clergy that will enter the ordinariate are not part of the Episcopal Church, but rather belong to one or another of the splinter groups that have broken off since the 1960s.

Furthermore, as the recent experience of the AMiA bears out, many of these latter groups may be led by men who would prefer being big fish in small ponds, and chafe at coming under the control of other authorities. We will see how all of this develops.

The other thing to point out is that it is impossible to determine how many people are moving the other way, from the Roman Catholic church to the Episcopal Church. Priests move that way regularly, and lay people do as well, although in many cases, the latter have been estranged from the Roman church for years or even decades.

In sum, another sordid episode in the history of ecumenical relations.