Some matters discussed at our vestry meeting last night:
Welcoming a new vestry member; renewing the website and the welcome sign outside the church; Christmas plans (including launching a lunch-time weekday carol service for local workers, and parents with children); the building of a new hall and the imminent granting of permission to demolish our current one, after many years of waiting; Anglican Communion matters; the church weekend-at-home/away in 2007/8; small groups. Many of these things are about our long term vision to reach out and grow disciples of Jesus.
On the whole, our vestry meetings are very good-humoured. In fact, we seem to laugh a lot together. The members are wonderful to work with.
“There will always be an England,” as the saying goes. That may well be true, but the eternal perseverance of its Church, unfortunately, is somewhat more in doubt. As nearly all interested observers know, the Anglican Communion has been tottering on the brink of implosion for quite some time now, and recent events have not necessarily been in its favor. Three meetings this month, however, will almost certainly lend clarity, and perhaps even hope, to a situation that heretofore has often been murkier than the London fog.
The first meeting is set for this week, September 11–13, here in New York, and was called at the behest of Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury. He will not attend in person, but Kenneth Kearon, his representative, will. The meeting will comprise twelve leading Episcopal bishops, running the gamut from the liberal establishment to the Network conservatives, with a number of Windsor Report–affirming moderates in between. On its face, the meeting is an attempt by Canterbury to make some sense of the recent request of seven bishops for something called “alternative primatial oversight.” At its root, the meeting is an effort, at long last, to do something about the increasingly sharp divisions that have riven the Episcopal Church. Given the magnitude of what has been asked, Canterbury has little other choice.
Alternative primatial oversight means, in effect, that seven dioceses do not in good conscience think they can be represented any longer by denominational leadership and, in some form, need representation of their own. It is quite difficult, and probably impossible, to see how their request for an alternate primate as such could be granted without a complete separation from the Episcopal Church. Hence, the meeting, and the hope that some compromise can be reached.
A week from now (September 19–22), the action will move to Camp Allen, Texas, to a meeting of diocesan bishops hosted by the Windsor-affirming moderate Don Wimberley. Here we have the beginnings of a substantive movement. Up to this point, the Anglican Communion Network (led by Bp. Robert Duncan) has been the most visible traditionalist group within ECUSA, but several otherwise conservative bishops have so far steered clear. The Camp Allen meeting, in contrast, appears to have a more widespread appeal, inclusive of the Network but reaching beyond it. There are reports that somewhere in the neighborhood of forty diocesan bishops will be in attendance, perhaps more. The meeting has Canterbury’s blessing and will be attended by two English bishops: Michael Scott-Joynt and the widely respected N.T. Wright, one of the authors of the Windsor Report. Influential theologians over at the Anglican Communion Institute, like Ephraim Radner, Philip Turner, and Christopher Seitz, are throwing their weight behind it as well. All in all, it is probably the last best hope of those who want to remain full members of the Anglican Communion while also (in one form or another) remaining part of the Episcopal Church.
The interesting thing about the Camp Allen meeting is that, while it is gaining the support of a large portion of the church, it cannot be attended by the current and future presiding bishops. In order to attend, bishops must first affirm their commitment to Lambeth 1.10 as the official teaching of the Communion (meaning, no homosexual ordination or blessing of same-sex unions), agree on the Windsor Report as the way forward, and acknowledge that the General Convention was an inadequate response to these goals. It is highly unlikely that either Frank Griswold or Katharine Jefferts Schori (or those who elected them) will commit to these points, and so in effect the die is cast. The division of the Episcopal Church, so long in coming, is finally beginning to take shape. The only real question left is: Will it be an amicable separation or an outright divorce?
It is by no means a sure thing that the proceedings, grim as they may seem, will end in recrimination, schism, and chaos. Although, to be sure, that is a distinct possibility. Very many Episcopalians do not want to leave their denomination but at the same time fully intend to remain in unimpeded communion with Canterbury. Their hand has been forced, or soon will be: In all likelihood, compliance with Windsor will be made requisite for fully Anglican status, as defined by the global primates. The Episcopal Church has not chosen this path, and consequently those dioceses and congregations who desire to remain with Canterbury must find some way to do so. The best-case scenario, from nearly all perspectives, would be for the New York and Camp Allen meetings to begin to set out an alternative structure within the Episcopal Church, allowing for such dioceses and congregations as they wish to remain with Canterbury and receive pastoral care by Windsor bishops at their request. Included in this would have to be allowance for formal representation at Lambeth and the Primates’ Meetings, as well as enough structural heft to provide for common action. This, indeed, is on the agenda at the Camp Allen meeting, and there is at least some hope that it will become a reality. One might describe this scenario as the “amicable separation,” wherein both parties recognize that, to a certain extent, they must go their separate ways but agree to live in the same neighborhood, keep the family name, and see each other frequently for the sake of the children—in hope that, one day, reconciliation may yet come.
Still, the chaos of divorce looms over the time ahead, especially in the responses of the national ECUSA leadership and Global South primates to the upcoming Camp Allen proposal. There are some in the Episcopal Church who seem rather determined to insist, like the Wizard of Oz, that the man behind the curtain should be ignored and that things will (of course!) go on just as they always have. At this point, that is either delusion or willful deception, and it will no longer wash. If continued, it will lead to further division, angry disputation, and hurtfully prolonged confusion.
An equally disastrous result may follow from the third Anglican meeting this month (September 18–22), of the Global South primates in Kigali, Rwanda. Rumblings there urge complete separation from the “cancerous lump” of the so-called liberals, which for some includes even the Archbishop of Canterbury and the entire Lambeth process. This fissiparousness, in the name of “orthodoxy,” will not simply lead to the division of global Anglicans into two camps, conservative and liberal. No, the logic is of atomization instead of division, and will eventually result in an alphabet soup of warring Anglican bodies, each one “orthodox” in its own judgment. That is not a necessary outcome, and there are many good and prayerful Anglicans worldwide who do not wish to see it happen. We may yet hope, and pray, that it will not.
“We must all hang together,” as the good Mr. Franklin once said, “or most assuredly we will all hang separately.” It cannot be emphasized enough that the decisions of the next few weeks and months are crucial, and are all interlocking. If the Episcopal Church does not allow the formation of an adequate alternative structure for Windsor-affirming dioceses and parishes, things will become very messy very quickly in this country, and the already-impatient Global South may well decide that a “new expression” of Anglicanism is required. The chaos of divorce hangs over the Anglican Communion, dark and thick like storm clouds. It seems almost cruel to counsel patience to those who, for years, have painfully watched their church turn into something they no longer recognize. But it is precisely now that patience is most required, and it is finally at this moment when that long-suffering patience may give way to hope. Admittedly, just now it is very dark, but it may be that this is the final and darkest moment before the dawn. Pushed to the brink of chaos, Anglicans may emerge from it for the first time truly as Communion and find their vocation as part of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church they have claimed to be all along.
Mmm, we had a very good weekend in Shropshire, with a friendly church group. I think Nehemiah hit the spot.
But I'm conscious that I missed touching base with my family, and this week is very busy with two sermons next Sunday, wall-to-wall meetings (every evening - this is a very bad thing), some urgent pastoral stuff going on, and a need to take a day or two off.
Some thoughts for a Monday morning:
Why doesn't God give pastors the gift of telepathy when things go wrong in peoples' lives? Instead, we are supposed to somehow 'know' about it. This is how it works - if we know about it, we can come, and if you ask us, we'll be there like a shot.
How can I be away for only 72 hours and the Paperwork Monster I live with has been on such a feeding frenzy that it has grown to gi-normous proportions? The Shredder of Doom is calling!
Now, I'm off to a lunch meeting about the church website, then to hospital for a pastoral visit.
I'll be driving to Shropshire today. I'm to speak at the weekend away of Christchurch, Kidderminster. We are staying near Oswestry at Quinta Christian Centre. Lorraine Darlow, Christian and Patience Okeke from St Silas' will be accompanying me to lead the youth work part of the weekend.
This is a new church, which has had a difficult birth, but they want to grow. We'll look to Nehemiah for some encouragement.
I'd heard a lot about the minister, Charles Raven, in the press. He was presented as being a wild-eyed radical and a somewhat unreasonable figure, who was constantly at odds with his bishop. However, when I met him at a conference last year, I encountered a mild-mannered and gentle person - not the image I had conjured up at all. The power of the press to shape our perceptions of people and issues, for good and for ill, is very great.
This was a reminder that, in the current controversies in the Anglican Communion, there is a tendency to demonise those with whom we disagree. It's better not to focus on individual personalities, but on the issues.
My O2 mobile phone broke two months ago. I returned it. The mobile phone network had no record of the return arriving. I sent proof of postage. They sent another phone. It didn't arrive. I called up. They promised to send another. Next day, they told me that they had none in stock. I waited. Two weeks later, there was still no sign of a replacement.
It was time for action. I sent three emails to complain, including one to the chairman of the company, Peter Erskine. Within hours, a replacement was sent. The courier tried to deliver it yesterday. This morning, Mark Robinson, acting on behalf of the chairman, called me to arrange the sending of yet another phone and in addition offered £100 as compensation for the line rental and hassle over the last two months.
The lessons? If you are in difficulty, don't give up, go straight to the top and be thankful! (James 5:13)
The Brownlee Centre cares for HIV positive patients, and the staff are very cheery and caring. I spoke to some of the other patients who visit the clinics there . They know the staff by their Christian names, and are well known faces. Some are obviously very unwell and struggling. My illness seems insignificant in comparison.
I thought that I'd get away with a quick, "I'm fine, doctor! Bye!" at the consultation, but after much deliberation, and further discussions with the senior doctors, the ever-thorough NHS decided to investigate further.
Three samples of blood were taken. I told the family, that I was most disturbed - the nurse, rather than using a needle, bared her fangs and sank them into my arm. But then, she did tell me that up until a year ago she was working for a high street store famous for sucking the blood out of its customers. In reality, she did the best job ever on my notoriously difficult-to-find veins.
Now all I have to do is provide three 'samples', from three different 'occasions' and return them to the hospital. Do you get my drift?
I have an appointment at the Brownlee Centre this afternoon, following my stomach hiatus in June and July.
I'm almost fine now. The whole thing thankfully settled down just before we went to France at the beginning of August. But I reckon I'd better keep the appointment, just to be on the safe side, even though I hate wasting medics' time and taking up a slot that someone else could have.
Add to that, the fact that I am from the West of Scotland, where males have to be taken kicking and screaming to the doctor.
Amongst many other things, we were dedicating Aaron (who was rather too big for me to follow custom with, and carry down the aisle, introducing him to the church- his dad got to do it, which was great), commissioning our small group leaders and encouraging the welcome team members in their vital role.
I had two cracking passages to preach on: 1 Peter 5 in the morning and Genesis 25 and 27 (Jacob and Esau) in the evening. How to be a good shepherd, and God's grace in choosing an apparent failure like Jacob were the focus.
The evening service culminated in a superbly led version of 'O happy day!'. It was a very busy day, but this song summed it all up.
I am so grateful for the vitality, commitment, and creativity of so many at St Silas'.
Further information on this story, published in the Sunday Herald, which, if true, shows how the media often only gives part of the story.
If the firefighters were being asked to actually join the march, that does seem a very different situation, that would present all sorts of difficulties. Maybe the Fire Service will clarify what exactly was going on? Who in the Fire Service was pushing for the firefighters to do thismarch, and why was it made it such an issue? I wonder if there is more going on here than we know?
Fire service wrong to order staff to gay march
- Archbishop Mario Conti
The Firemaster of Strathclyde is right. Firefighters must do all they can to save lives and protect property for all groups in society. There can be no acceptance of bias in their fulfilment of duty.
But I believe Strathclyde Fire and Rescue was wrong to require firefighters to take part in – support – a gay pride march earlier this summer. Why? Not because homosexual persons should not be given fire-safety advice. On the contrary they (like every other citizen) should be offered every assistance by the Fire Brigade in becoming more aware of issues relating to fire safety.
But the best way to deliver that essential advice is not by participating in a high-spirited, carnivalesque procession, when marchers – many in fancy dress – are distracted and exuberant.
I understand that when volunteers were sought to “support” the parade not one firefighter came forward. Is it any wonder? They all felt legitimately uncomfortable about going into that atmosphere wearing their uniforms, (some were aware of a “kiss-a-fireman” campaign planned for the event) knowing full well that they would be subjected to cat-calls, inappropriate comments and, for some of them, gross insults to their religious beliefs.
And for the record, it needs to be stated that the men handed out leaflets in the vicinity of the march. What they would not do was participate, which in their eyes would have amounted to an acceptance and indeed celebration of the message of the parade – certainly not a core duty of firefighters.
If the fire service was only interested in getting the fire-safety message across to homosexual people would it not have been more productive to arrange talks, leave leaflets, or conduct visits to the LGBT centre in Glasgow, gay bars or similar centres in the area?
A comparison can be illuminating: effective fire-safety advice for members of the Orange Order would not be best delivered in the rarified atmosphere of a July 12 parade.
No, it seems to me that the real reason for the order to participate was not to offer life-saving advice to the individuals present – it was to enable the brigade as an institution to be seen as tolerant, “embracing diversity” and politically correct. The firefighters were caught in the middle – ordered to support the march as a means of demonstrating their employer’s commitment to “tolerance”.
But isn’t it a little ironic that what started out as an attempt to show the service’s tolerant attitudes has ended up as a PR disaster with the brigade showing intolerance of their own employees’ consciences and sensitivities?