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Anglicanism, ChurchNerd, Uncategorized

UnAnglican: How GAFCON’s Ecclesiology is Breaking the Communion.

It doesn’t surprise me when the mainstream media gets coverage of Anglican polity wrong. The Washington Post’s horrendous coverage of the 2016 Primate’s announcement has caused more consternation and than is necessary, and many in the Church are rightly pointing out just how wrong WaPo got it, and why we shouldn’t hail this as the end of TEC’s time in the Communion.

What I am seeing discussed in Church circles, by and large, are questions of Authority, How little or how much does this mean? What power do the Primates actually have?

The general consensus is; It hurts a lot, but doesn’t really mean much.

Bishop Curry has been wonderful in couching this in explicitly Biblical terms, and for the first time in my life as an Episcopalian I’ve been proud of the way we’ve borne the shocks of being called out on a worldwide stage.

I think that’s because we’ve stepped off the defensive. At this moment in our life together we are clearer than we’ve ever been about our vocation to extend the love of Christ unequivocally to all, and are articulating it in positive theological terms that speaks powerfully to the world around us. Suddenly we feel like a Church with a voice.

And we’re going to need to hold on to that voice, because I don’t think things are about to get easier for us, or for the Communion.

I sincerely encourage everyone interested in whats happening now to go back and read The Jerusalem Declaration issued by the GAFCON provinces in 2008. What it proposes is the clearest articulation of the ecclesiology that is being pushed by very vocal providences in the Global South, and we have done a very bad job of contending with it at all. To operate like there is at all a consensus about what Anglican ecclesiology does or should look like is to bury our head in the sand, and to ensure that what happened at this years Primate’s conference is something that keeps happening. 

Within the declaration, interspersed between benign language about the Lordship and saving work of Christ, are claims that need to be called out for what they are: Foreign to Anglicanism as it has existed as a historic Communion.

For example:

6.) We rejoice in our Anglican sacramental and liturgical heritage as an expression of the gospel, and we uphold the 1662 Book of Common Prayer as a true and authoritative standard of worship and prayer, to be translated and locally adapted for each culture.

This runs against the fundamental concept of subsidiarity, with individual provinces abilities to formulate liturgy independently of one another. It invalidates the Book of Common Prayer in; The United States (Every book since 1789), Scotland, New Zealand, Mexico, and Chile among others…

The ability of independent Provinces to revise their own liturgies substantially predates the publication of the 1662 BCP, and to set a Communion-wide standard is an innovation that runs against what has been true since the 17th century.

It can’t be disputed that the 1662 was the Book of the British empire, and holds a dear place in the GAFCON provinces, the desire to set a standardized BCP across provinces betrays an impulse for standardization that I doubt few American (or Scottish, for that matter) Anglicans share.

The statement about the Ordinal follows the same lines. While the American Ordinal is built around the 1662, the differences are enough as to be profound.

The statement that, “We believe the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments to be the Word of God written and to contain all things necessary for salvation. The Bible is to be translated, read, preached, taught and obeyed in its plain and canonical sense, respectful of the church’s historic and consensual reading.” Implies another assumed norm that simply doesn’t exist. When read as a statement pointed toward concerns over Sexuality it has a bit of a firmer foundation, but taken as a stand alone statement it borders on being disingenuous that the Church is at all (or ever has been) remotely uniform in its reading of Scripture.

I would like to believe that the GAFCON primates wouldn’t be so naive.

The Jerusalem Declaration is an affirmation of an Anglicanism that has never existed. It assumes authority that hasn’t been exercised sense before the American Revolution, and it sets it as the sine qua non for Communion.

It isn’t Anglican.

It isn’t, but it could be.

We’re going to need to watch this like a hawk. We have to be able to call out this innovative and destructive ecclesiology whenever and wherever we see it, because letting it creep into our common life together is to see what happened this year intensify in years to come.

This means we have to stay at the table. And we need to fight like hell to retain our vote while we’re there.

When the Archbishop of Uganda left the Primates conference he did so because he was disappointed that the Primates didn’t exercise an authority that they did not have. 

Foley Beach is calling for more sanctions, when the Primates are unclear about their ability to give real sanctions in the first place.

GAFCON has been telling us that this is what they’re after since 2008. It’s time to call their ecclesiological claims what they are: Unfounded in history. Ungrounded in our common heritage. UnAnglican.





Catholicity and Culture

Why The Filioque Doesn’t Suck, A Respectful Response.

I’m about to do something that may be highly inadvisable, and pick a fight with the Crusty Old Dean.

But like folks at my Alma Mater will most likely tell you, pushing back on Seminary faculty was a bit of a pastime, and I’m glad to get back into the swing of things.

I fully recognize that I’ve already lost this argument within the wider Anglican Communion, and when the BCP gets revised I’ll say whatever’s put in front of me to say. For the moment, however, I felt called to go to bat for what I feel is an important part of the Western Church’s life and doctrine.

On my wedding day a friend of the family gave me a cross-stitch from his time growing up in an Episcopal Church in the 50’s. It was triumphalist and imperialist and mostly wrong, but it was a keepsake and had been dear to him for years.

Now, this man is the most quintessentially Greek man I know. Growing up in Central Georgia wasn’t enough to take that sense of cultural and religious heritage away from him or his parents. Despite all this he was raised in an Episcopal Church because, at the time, Orthodox Christians who lived away from Orthodox communities were actively encouraged to attend Episcopal Parishes. Our polity bears a striking similarity. Our sense of Catholicity tends to jive well remarkably well together. Our Eucharistic theology is closer to the East than it is to Rome… all of this was enough for the leaders of the Orthodox Church to tell its members in the Diaspora that they could feel at ease among us.

We were the next best thing. Filioque and all.

And then we started ordaining women, and the Orthodox had a problem with that. (The Orthodox have also been expanding their presence in the U.S, making the lack of parishes increasingly less of an issue.)

If the Filioque is a stumbling block to our Eastern Brothers and sisters, it is one among so very many, and pretending like we’re going to get past 1976 (much less 2003) based on christological goodwill alone requires an optimism I don’t have. (The writers at Anglican News seem to have it in spades.)

It’s important to remember that since 1976 we’re no longer talking about full communion. The conversation we’re now having is one centered around “theological understanding and common witness.” It’s noble. It’s necessary. But the degree to which it places claims on our respective traditions is negligible.

All that isn’t to say that I’m against the dialogue, I’m simply against us thinking that its more than it is. So many times I feel like Anglicans in ecumenical dialogues are like the nerdy kid who freaks out after being acknowledged by the head cheerleader. We’re so excited that they talked to us that we lose sight of the fact that we don’t have a chance in hell of taking them out.

There’s another thread to this that concerns me a bit more than our preoccupation with ecumenical concerns, and it comes in two forms; Anti-Medievalism, and a misplaced trust in the state of our current Trinitarian theology.

The heart of the argument against the Filioque is that it was an early Medieval interpolation into the fruit of an ecumenical council, and that point itself can’t really be contested. The historical foundations of the Filioque aren’t up for debate. What we make of those foundations, however, needs to stay alive in our theological consciousness.

What we see in the life of the Filioque, is the persistence of context in the formation of liturgy. It was a good-faith attempt at keeping the Catholic faith alive in a region and at a time where Arians were in the majority, and in positions of power. Place that in tandem with the fact that Augustinian theology was the sine qua non for doctrinal development in the Western world (and largely ignored in the East) and you have the makings of a well-reasoned liturgical change rooted in the clear pastoral needs of the people. And lets be clear, the Creed has always been a principally liturgical document. It was born in the Councils, yes, but its life has been lived in the Mass.

The Filioque received its doctrinal place largely by acclamation. It was contested, suppressed, and contested again, over a period of well over two hundred years. Anselm’s defense of the Filioque pretty well put any theological concerns about the clause itself to bed. It is a product of Western circumstance that, while unorthodox in its implementation, was completely orthodox in its sentiment.

This is the same period of time, and the same general region that gave us the Creed of St. Athanasius which has avoided controversy while retaining a place as one of the 3 Ecumenical Creeds approved by the 39 Articles. It comes out swinging in favor of the Filioque, and is frequently lauded as one of the best articulations of Trinitarian theology we have at our disposal. (See: Saint Patrick’s Bad Analogies.) While it is in no way Athanasian, (It comes just shy of quoting De Trinitate verbatum) I fear that its Patristic namesake has kept it safe.

We are so slow to escape from the overwhelming cultural construct that nothing good happened between 500 and 1300CE. The fact is that Trinitarian heavy lifting that took place in the Middle Ages set the stage for the most formative period of Theological development in the Western Church since Augustine, who a decent cohort are more than willing to lump in with the “nothing good happened” lot. What the Filioque controversy shows, however, is a group of devoutly Orthodox Christians who were devoted to raising their people up in the Catholic faith, and were willing to do the theological heavy lifting that made the change possible.

We are doing precisely the same thing today in so many ways. To be Episcopalian and take a hard stand against pastoral need driving doctrinal development is to speak out of both sides of our mouths.

Which leads me to my second point. The usefulness of the Filioque in formation today can’t be understated. Yesterday Derek Olsen wrote a remarkably poignant description of the theological climate in which we currently live and move. His insight around the tenets of Therapeutic Monotheistic Deism are right on the mark, and the fact that TMD is a remarkably Arian movement needs to be pinned to the wall of every catechist in the Church.

My own Barthian predilections notwithstanding, we are at a juncture where the creative aspects of the eternal Logos need to be taught and preached with abandon. The Filioque and the Athanasian Creed are two tools that can’t stand to live without. Derek was right to note that any Prayer Book Revision has to take TMD into account, and if we’re serious about what that means it follows that we should be serious about retaining the Filioque.

Liturgy is formation. Its the heart of Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi. The Filioque was produced at a time where that was felt more acutely than ever, and the Western Church, Catholic and Protestant alike, has affirmed repeatedly until the Ecumenical wave of the last 50 years.

It seems to be that my lot as a young priest is to scream into the wind of movements I wasn’t around to play a part in, and this feels a lot like screaming into the wind. But with a Prayer Book Revision looming on the horizion, I reckon its something I’m going to need to get used to.


Death Had A Good Week: A Sermon for Proper 22.

Death had a good week this week.

10 killed and dozens injured in Oregon. An execution in Virginia and in Georgia, with another stayed at the last minute in Oklahoma.

Hundreds more unnamed, many in our own city have fallen victim to violence. Have fallen victim to a despair and to a spirit of darkness that runs through so much of the world that surrounds us. Death is common place.

Like our president said. Our response has become routine. Our debates have become scripted. Our positions have become more entrenched.

And just like the Pharisees in our Gospel today, we test each other. We ask the biting questions. The leading questions. The questions that affirm our own positions, that write our own points, that make perfectly clear, to any who are around us, exactly which side we are on.

The Pharisees asked Jesus is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife? Knowing full well what the Torah said. They set him up. They laid the trap.

Jesus knows the answer that they’re looking for. He knows he’s being played. He comes back with another question. “What did Moses teach you?”

They said, Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of dismissal and to divorce his wife. Moses allowed a man to write a certificate that, in the time of Jesus, would leave a woman stranded without support. That would put a women in the social position of a widow without the same structures and provisions that provided relief to widows. The law of Moses allowed a man to put a woman in a position where she was fighting for her life. Where she was cast out and cut off from the family that she relied on for her sustenance.

Is it lawful? Yes.

We hear a lot about that question these days. About what the boundaries of the law allows. About what our Rights are. About the right to bear arms. The right of the State to take vengeance upon itself on our behalf.

It is because of our hardness of heart. Because of our hardness of heart he wrote this commandment for us. It is because of our of your inability to see the depths of God’s creative love. It is because we are broken.

We became hard like Pharoah who could not hear the cries of the slaves. Who would not let go. Who cannot see the justice of God.

So frequently in the Gospel the Pharisees ask Jesus about what is lawful. And so frequently in the Gospel Jesus is not concerned with what is lawful.

Jesus is concerned with what is right.

The laws are a product of our brokenness, and Jesus is here to call us to more.

Christ gives us a gracious place to make our stand. Recognizing that some relationships are indeed too strained to be saved. That it is better for some to be apart, but it is never, never, our place to dismiss one another out of hand. To cast one another aside and out of love.

Christ pushes the boundaries of what the people surrounding him knew. And following in Jesus’ example begs us to ask the question, as we navigate a time where positions are so entrenched as to be immovable; What is it that Christ is calling us to?

If we don’t see it clearly now, we can give ourselves Grace. The disciples didn’t always get it either.

As Children are being brought to Jesus, as he takes them in his arms and blesses them, the disciples shoo them away. Knowing that the teacher who has already had so many demands placed on his time doesn’t need the distraction of those who are not able to care for themselves. Who don’t have resources. Who don’t have social capital. Who don’t have a voice.

Where the disciples see distraction, Jesus sees the opportunity to share love.

We live in a society that so often tells us, and others, that “You are not worth my time.” Jesus makes a stand and says, No, it is these to whom the Kingdom of Heaven belongs. Be. Like. Them.

We have to become very clear. Right now. About what we believe.

Kelly Gissendaner, a model of the power of God’s redeeming love, was killed by the State of Georgia on Tuesday. When she entered the execution chamber, she apologized for her role in the murder of her former husband and began to weep. As she was strapped to the gurney where she would be injected with pentobarbital until she died, she sang Amazing Grace until she couldn’t any longer.

Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me.

Amazing Grace, the hymn written by a Slave Ship captain, who after a slow, painstaking process of conversion, stopped working the Southwest passage, and became an Anglican Priest.

Amazing Grace, I once was lost, but now am found, was blind but now I see.

We sing it all the time. There isn’t a one of us who hasn’t heard it before and my question is now. For all of us. Do we believe it?

Do we believe that Christ’s redemptive work means that no one is beyond the bounds of our community. Even those who we would level a gun against. Even those who would level a gun against us.

Do we believe that the message of the risen Lord has anything to say to a City that has had one hundred gun-related homicides this Calendar year?

Do we believe that the Gospel has anything to offer to a country that has had 994 mass shootings since Sandy Hook?

Do we believe that the word of life can move in a country united by a Pope’s visit, who, the second he returns to Rome, schedules 6 executions?

Do we believe that Christ is calling us to care for Children in our midst in a country with the highest rate of Child poverty in the developed world.

The question the Church must ask itself now is… do we believe that Grace is Amazing?

That it has the power to reach into our relationships and mend them. No matter how broken they may seem?

Do we believe that Grace is Amazing?

Can it tell our children that they are more than what they lack, that they are more than happy little consumers. That they are loved. That they are cared for. So that maybe when they grow up they will never reach for a Gun in anger.

Do we believe that Grace is Amazing?

Will we let our hearts be softened enough to take those who hurt us, those who test us, those who would put us to death into our arms and bless them.

Do we believe that Grace is Amazing?

The world needs the Church, the world needs us, to say yes. Unabashedly. Unashamedly. Yes.

Grace is Amazing. Grace can change us. Grace is stronger than death. Grace is here.

Image Credit: Matthew Alderman. St. Cecilia with SS. Tiburtius and Valerian. Ink on Vellum, 2010, private collection, Washington, DC.

Note: I don’t intend to make a regular habit of posting my Sermons. There are other, better venues for that. I just needed to get this one out here.

Catholicity and Culture

Justin Welby, Bernie Sanders, and working toward Reconciliation.

The Most. Rev. Welby shook the Anglican world this week. Showing exactly how little it takes to shake the Anglican world.

I was more than a little surprised by the response. We’ve either been scoffing at the prospect of Covenant, or being (rightly) irate at the positions of Bishops on either side. The worst parts of our political culture are creeping their way into the way that the Church looks at itself. Diatribe over dialogue. Contrast over connection.

Don’t think I’m saying we can’t call each other out. We have to be able to stand up to Bishops in Central Africa who support laws that criminalize homosexuality. We have to be able to say that its wrong, and we have to mean it. But we also have to recognize the qualitative difference between those who would criminalize LGBT persons, and those who believe that ordaining LGBT people is wrong.

The Episcopal Church has seen the power of dialogue. General Convention this year was case in point. We’ve been able to come from the Schism of 2003 to the well-stated and generous response of the Communion Partners. In twelve years we’ve gone from an all out ecclesial brawl to “we respectfully disagree.” That means something. Its nothing less than a marked victory of the Catholic vision and we need to celebrate it. 

My news feed exploded this week with quotes of Bernie Sander’s speech at Liberty university, and rightfully so. We are living in a world where talking with the other side is a news-worthy event. It wasn’t only astonishing for its novelty, but for Sen. Sander’s approach. He stood up to speak, identified the points on which they disagreed, laid out the positions on which they did agree, and then pressed forward on common ground. He did something that the mainline Church needs to desperately learn from, he spoke sincerely with Evangelicals about the scriptural witness to justice. Not as a jab at their misplaced priorities. Not as an homage to his own moral superiority. He sincerely spoke to him about what a text that they both hold dear has to say about treating their neighbors.

Bernie knows something we can’t seem to grasp: When, not if, but when Evangelicals wake up to issues of Economic Justice, it will be a cataclysmic shift in the American political landscape. One which the Republican party, as it stands today, will not survive.

I’m not sure the Mainline will survive it either. We’ve made justice issues our sine qua non, at the expense of a comprehensive theological vision to back it up. When Evangelicals start to get on board they will do it better than we do, and no amount of liturgical Millenials will be enough to make us compelling.

What will make us compelling is the same thing that made ++Welby’s statement, and Sen. Sander’s speech compelling, reaching out in love to those with whom we vehemently disagree.

There’s an offertory sentence in the BCP that doesn’t get nearly enough play on Sunday mornings. Its from Matthew 5; “If you are offering your gift at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.” Sometimes we have to step away from communion for a bit in order that we can come back and more fully participate together. The Gospel does not abide us using our separation as a sign of inherent superiority. (See also: The Prayer of the Pharisee)

Much as I bristle anytime I see “The Episcopal Church welcomes you.” I’m starting to get my hackles up anytime I hear “It doesn’t matter how you believe, only how we pray.”

No. The Creed is a claim, not just of our belief, but of the truth of the reality of the Triune God, and the Church that serves that God. The central claim that we make is that God crossed the infinite gap between Godself and us, and became like us in order to save us.

That’s the God we serve. That’s the God we attempt to emulate. And that might mean sitting down at the Table with the GAFCON primates. That might mean calling Ugandan bishops to repentance. That might mean sitting down with Evangelicals for the sake of millions of people in this country who are crushed under the weight of working for poverty wages.

Reconciliation is at the heart of the mission of the Church. At a time when efforts at reconciliation are rare enough to be newsworthy, we would do well to live into it.

Catholicity and Culture

When they say they’re too tired, believe them.

I was one of the last generations of Southern children for whom “Where do y’all go to Church?” will be a ubiquitous question. It was one of those questions that led to a quick size-up. Denomination and place-of-worship could tell volumes in Southern towns where Parishes, much like people, had reputations.

I imagine that the question “What do you do?” will have a bit more staying power. Where we work, and what we do has come to define (for better or worse) a number of our social interactions. Being clergy, I can tell you first hand that a different tack is almost always taken when I let it slip that I’m a priest. (The double takes are something to behold when folks ask me while I’m in street clothes. Young, tattooed man that I am.)

The Church can fight, and I think it should, the common assumption that what we do is the defining characteristic of our social interactions, but what we can’t yet seem to grasp is just how deeply the current culture of American labor is seeping into our congregations. We treat work, we treat labor as a neutral medium, as a simple fact of life, and we do so at our peril.

More and more I’m convinced that the single greatest variable in the seemingly inevitable march toward church decline is the way in which labor has changed radically in the last 50 years. I’m aware that this is just one hypothesis among many, probably too many. But the way in which we keep relegating what we’re experiencing to the realm of personal opinion, that its simply a matter of public distaste with the content of the 21st century church, continues to ignore the fact that it is quantifiably more difficult to attend church now than it has been since the end of WWI.

The data around individual hours worked isn’t that telling, but it isn’t that well studied either. As best as we can tell a working individual is now working about 5 hours more a week than they were in 1950, but that says almost nothing about Household hours spent working. Given that we have double the number of women in the workforce now than in 1950 it is safe to say that household work hours, while likely not double what they were 50 years ago, are significantly higher.

We’ve seen the previously sacrosanct status of the weekend erode, in legislation, yes, but more pervasively in practice. The workweek is the week you get on the schedule that is posted sometimes only hours before the next week starts. When I was in the Service Industry scheduling anything more than a week or two out was iffy. Making expensive, involved plans was pretty well unheard of, as any money you put down or plans you made could be forfeited by a manager’s refusal to sign off on your time off. Which you might not receive until days before the fact.

We are bombarded with messaging about how the American worker is faced with a drastically shifting workplace, and, at the same time, that the Church is in decline.

Yet we refuse to connect the two.

It’s easier, in many ways, to think that falling church attendance is a symptom of a cultural malaise, or a failure of messaging. That it is young people reacting against the capriciousness of Culture-War Christianity. That’s easy. We can try to change our theology, or the style and content of our worship. We can re-brand and rethink, re-imagine and revive, but if folks are too pressed by the demands of their work life to give up valuable time on Sunday morning then we’re not going to get anywhere. (Its also easier to collect poll data on opinion, rather than how time is actually spent.)

It is hard to care about the state of the American worker. It is hard to say that the Church is falling victim to the same pressures that workers everywhere are facing. We want so desperately to be above the fray, even as our forebears in the Oxford movement are calling to us and saying that we can’t be. If we want to be a priority, then we need to prioritize our people. Our working, struggling people who are constantly having to revisit their calendars and make the decision about whether or not they can afford to give a few invaluable hours to an organization that is asking them to give even more of the little time they have.

Its time to get serious about labor. The Culture Wars are winding down. We won. What we’re seeing in places like Alabama and Kentucky are its death throes. What if we took on a fight that would actually give life to people? A fight that would reach out across boundaries and say that the real war on families, and on Christian values comes from the unbridled greed that treats humans as resources to be exploited and discarded. That has no concern for developing whole, healthy families and community-driven people.

It seems to be working for the Pope. It worked for his namesake. It worked for the Tractarians. I see no reason it wouldn’t work for us.

Perhaps the biggest change that will need to take place is that when our people tell us they’re too tired, or too busy to attend regularly we need to believe them. We need to stop acting like we have a free pass from the “cares of the world,” and drop the chip on our shoulder that tells us that we should be a priority when other priorities like home and car ownership are being displaced because of an economy that no longer makes them sensible. We need to stop clinging to Sunday morning as our locus of our outreach and the measure of our success. Because as long as our people are given the choice between coming to church on Sunday morning and making money on a Saturday night we’ll always lose out on that choice.

The basic tenet of Liberation Theology is that we can’t separate a person’s material conditions from their spiritual well-being. St. James’ epistle seems to tell us the same thing. The Epistle that troubled so many of the protestant reformers may be the key to our next reformation. One that is necessary when a corruption of the famed Protestant Work-Ethic is undoing Protestantism as we know it. Care for the working person has been one of the finer parts of the Catholic Anglican tradition, and it may be the part that saves us.

Photo: The Christian Workers’ League took part in the May Day Parade, Edinburgh, c.1947 (George Wilkie archive) Accessed at:


For us, there is only the trying.

I spent this Summer shadowing a Latino priest, doing my best to pick up what it means to operate in a Latino congregation. It meant a lot of stumbling with my Spanish. A lot of looking like an idiot. Of not knowing the words in a space where most of my job consists of being the guy who has the words. Of feeling mostly out of place and slightly useless.

It gave me so much life.

Admittedly, I’m weird for that.  It’s been a bit of a pattern in my life. When I was 11 I started learning to play guitar. I took lessons from the music minister at the Methodist parish i grew up in. After I learned all four of the chords necessary for praise music she told me that I would be playing 2 Sundays a month from there on out.

It was a freaky kind of genius. The only thing that was sure to get an 11 year old to practice was the fear of sucking in front of my friends. I practiced. I still sucked. I kept practicing until I sucked less. I learned to love to play. I even reached a point where it was generally acknowledged that I was good.

I would like to proffer that this is the process by which we all learn anything. It’s not pleasant. It involves screwing up a lot, but its the only way we get better.

To expect to get better at anything without practicing, making a fool of yourself, and then practicing again is ludicrous, yet it is precisely what we’re doing in the Episcopal Church. General Convention set an unprecedented tone (and budget) for evangelism and new ministry. But when we look at the number of actual practitioners out cutting new paths and planting new communities there are, in the words of Tobias Bluth, “Literally dozens of us.”

In my experience that’s not entirely for lack of will. Its a calling that’s not for everyone. And the Church doesn’t quite know what to do with people who feel so called. In my own discernment process I was questioned intensely about whether or not I was really called to the priesthood because of my energy for incorporating justice and mission work into my ministry in the church.

We don’t know how to listen to people who feel these calls. We don’t know how to train the people who want to do this work. At this moment in our institutional life anyone who steps out to take up the mantle of revival is in some form or fashion an outlier. The work gets tokened. The temptation is to let the professionals, the folks who are “good at it” do the work. We can’t let that happen. We can’t let +Curry be out in front while we sit hesitatingly in our institutions waiting to see whether or not this revival thing is for us.

We don’t have the time to feel good about piloting a few new things while the rest of our structures crumble. We can’t get complacent. We have to be courageous.

This is where our tradition as the “establishment Church” rears its ugly head. To be Episcopalian is to expect a certain degree of decorum in what we do. To do something new, genuinely new, is almost always messy. Decorum is hard to maintain when you’re shooting from the hip every time a new challenge pops up if only because the lode star of “this is the way we’ve always done it” doesn’t exist.

To be in mission means that sometimes you fail. Hard. Publicly. Painfully.

Our forebearers in the faith failed. Hard. Pubically. Painfully. The fact that we venerate people that died before their work was done is testament enough to the fact that we’re a resurrection people. Even when Jesus was sending out the seventy he prescribed a response to failure and rejection. “Wipe the dust from your feet.” Get it off. Keep moving.

Not being received is an inevitability, but it isn’t the end of the work. And it certainly isn’t excuse enough to not start the work in the first place.

We’ve reached a point where trying, where practicing, is all we can do. Our models are so scant that our only option is to make more models. The revival of the Episcopal Church will come from small networks of practitioners who are open about where they’ve fallen down. We need to be honest about the fact that we, as a Church are just starting to figure this out, and we’re an even longer way away from this being a major component of our ecclesial life together.

It is the time to try. To be unashamed of the fact that we as a Church aren’t good at this kind of thing, and unashamed of the fact that we have a God whose grace working in us is able to accomplish more than we can ask or imagine. Its the only faithful response to the moment in which we have been called by God to be church together. T.S. Eliot says it better than I ever could:

There is only the fight to recover what has been lost
And found and lost again and again: and now, under conditions
That seem unpropitious. But perhaps neither gain nor loss.
For us, there is only the trying. The rest is not our business.

-T.S. Eliot. East Coker.

(So try, Friends.)

General Convention, Parish Life

GC78, and things I wish we’d stop saying.

Since GC78 has ended I’ve been trying to piece together exactly what we have done and what we have left undone. I’m more and more convinced that it’s the second part of that line from the confession that’s going to be the burden we carry going into the 21st Century. But before I hop on that soapbox It’s important to celebrate what we accomplished.

  • We elected Michael Curry as the next Presiding Bishop.
  • We opened up the sacrament of Marriage to all people, regardless of orientation.
  • We trimmed down committee bloat at the national level.
  • We approved funding for digital evangelism.
  • We (finally) approved money for church planting and innovative ministries.

We did more, but that’s the stuff that really encourages me. This General Convention did worlds for our efforts to reach out to those who we are not currently. I may just be saying that because I relegated to the House of Twitter, and in comparing the Twitter feed with the livestream was an exercise in how social media can throw shade over the facts on the floor. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but It did leave me with a very clear sense that those of us on #GC78 were just as hungry for cultural change as we were for institutional change.

While some folks were ready to call out our snark, the snark is case in point. We’re snarky about processes. About cultural assumptions. About parliamentary process impeding real work getting done. Ad hominem attacks were few and far between and were usually wrought by trolls. (The fact that #GC78 got big enough to troll is Twitter’s way of saying we were kind of a big deal.)

The things that make us cynical about GC are the same things that make newcomers cynical about our parishes. Committee bloat. Process over product. Covering our institutional asses at the risk of losing out on real relationship. I see it all the time. Folks come into our churches looking for real encounter. Looking for something that is increasingly hard to find in an increasingly fragmented culture, and we give them institutional process. I really do get why they’re important to have, especially when you’re dealing with an international denominational body, but they have no place in our parishes. Even in the big ones.

The distinction between process and program is important to make here. Programming is good. Programming as a hoop to jump through for inclusion into the full life of the institution is bad.

We’re here to baptize people into the body of Christ, not inculcate them into our institutional norms. 

Now, a good many goodly Episcopalians are probably saying: “But we welcome everybody!”

Friends, that’s bullshit. And we need to stop saying it. Let’s check this right now. We are good at welcoming people who want to be more like us. And very few people want to be like us anymore.

Our bastion of White middle-class enlightened liberal reserve is not the cultural commodity that it once was, and yet t is still so ingrained in our institutional memory that we don’t realize the pressure we apply when we tell people about ourselves. We can go down the list:

  • We’re Inclusive! (If you fit a mold of what we think it means to be LGBT. Notice the lack of Q, and we’re iffy about B and T too…)
  • We welcome everyone! (But if you’re going to stay here are a list of cultural norms that you have to abide by, otherwise you can get right the hell out. We won’t tell you that, but we’ll sure as hell make you feel it.)
  • We’re progressive! (Except for when you challenge our notions about what it means to actually be progressive. This is especially true if you aren’t white.)
  • We elected a Black Bishop! (Who has told me that he spent the first few years of his Episcopacy in North Carolina having to prove over and over again that he was indeed “Episcopalian enough.”)

This is in our bones. We put it on t-shirts. On Mugs. It’s our flagship meme. The fact that we’re inclusive is good, but we’re increasingly living in a world where inclusivity is assumed. We are no longer weird for welcoming LGBT people. There are other denominations who are, in fact, ahead of us on this one.

In a lot of ways we have to become the anti-institution. Institutions crashed the economy and put me and my peers in boatloads of debt that we can never hope to discharge. Institutions sent my friends to the middle east to die, and didn’t take care of them when they came back. Institutions are keeping people away from receiving vital care because the price of entry is too high. There was a time where we wanted to emulate these institutions, but they’ve spent the last 30 years proving that they can’t be trusted and the whole time we’ve been trying to play nice with them.

We have the unique opportunity to not be that. But it means we’re going to have to give up a lot of what we think makes us who we are. If the millennials like me are going to have keep proving our value to the institutional life of the church then we’re going to keep staying out.

It’s been a fight for me and a lot of folks like me. Some of us have the patience, and we’re here because we love worshiping God in the Anglican way. But it ain’t been easy. The floor debates didn’t lead me to believe that its going to get easier anytime soon. Twitter did though. And for that I give thanks.