Monday, November 28, 2011

SC Bishop Lawrence-- I am reminded of President James Buchanan

Here's a bishop who makes it easy for parishes to secede from the Episcopal Church WITH their property. He says he can do nothing, but claims he has done nothing to abandon the Episcopal Church. And there's no disciple that can be applied? Reporter Mary Frances Sjonberg writes in the Episcopal New Service:
The Episcopal Church's Disciplinary Board for Bishops Nov. 28 said it cannot certify that Diocese of South Carolina Bishop Mark Lawrence has abandoned the communion of the church.

"Based on the information before it, the board was unable to make the conclusions essential to a certification that Bishop Lawrence had abandoned the communion of the church," the Rt. Rev. Dorsey F. Henderson Jr., board president, said in a statement e-mailed to Lawrence and reporters. (Henderson said he informed Lawrence of the board's conclusion by telephone as well.)

The board met Nov. 22 via conference call to consider information given it by a group of communicants in the diocese.

Under Title IV, Canon 16, a bishop is deemed to have abandoned the communion of the Episcopal Church by an open renunciation of the doctrine, discipline or worship of the church; by formal admission into any religious body not in communion with the church; or by exercising episcopal acts in and for a religious body other than the church or another church in communion with the church.

"Applied strictly to the information under study, none of these three provisions was deemed applicable by a majority of the board," Henderson said in his statement.

In the Nov. 28 statement, Henderson said that the disciplinary board faced what he called a "basic question" of "whether actions by conventions of the Diocese of South Carolina, though they seem -- I repeat, seem -- to be pointing toward abandonment of the church and its discipline by the diocese, and even though supported by the bishop, constitute abandonment by the bishop."

"A majority of the members of the board was unable to conclude that they do," Henderson said.

Henderson, the retired bishop of Upper South Carolina, noted that it is "significant that Bishop Lawrence has repeatedly stated that he does not intend to lead the diocese out of the Episcopal Church -- that he only seeks a safe place within the church to live the Christian faith as that diocese perceives it."

"I speak for myself only at this point, that I presently take the bishop at his word, and hope that the safety he seeks for the apparent majority in his diocese within the larger church will become the model for safety -- a "safe place" -- for those under his episcopal care who do not agree with the actions of South Carolina's convention and/or his position on some of the issues of the church."

Lawrence told the diocese Oct. 5 that he was being investigated for abandonment. Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori and the House of Bishops were not involved in making the claims, Henderson said at the time via a "fact sheet."

The package of documents alleging his abandonment of the church that Lawrence said he received Sept. 29 from Henderson, is posted here on the diocese's website. The documents contained 12 allegations of when Lawrence's "actions and inactions" sought to abandon the doctrine, discipline and worship of the Episcopal Church.

Those allegations cited five specific diocesan convention resolutions that Lawrence supported. In addition, the allegations also claimed that Lawrence has removed all references to the Episcopal Church from the diocesan website and noted that half of the congregations with working website have done the same or offer links to breakaway Anglican organizations.

"The bishop appears to have done nothing to stop other parishes which are outwardly moving in the direction of withdrawal" from the Episcopal Church, including parishes that have sought or obtained legal advice on those moves, allegation seven said.

Three allegations referenced comments made by Lawrence about what he calls the Episcopal Church's "false gospel of indiscriminate inclusivity" and his description of the church as a "comatose patient" that has slowed down Anglicanism in the 21st century.

It is also alleged that missions are being planted in the diocese but Lawrence has not recognized "a congregation of loyal Episcopalians" as a parish or mission.

The 12th allegation surrounded the circumstances of the ordination of Lawrence's son.

The diocesan leadership has engaged in a series of moves to distance itself from the Episcopal Church, ultimately stemming from disagreements over human sexuality issues and theological interpretation. In October 2009 the diocese authorized Lawrence and the Standing Committee to begin withdrawing from churchwide bodies that assent to "actions deemed contrary to Holy Scripture, the doctrine, discipline and worship of Christ as this church has received them, the resolutions of the Lambeth Conference which have expressed the mind of the communion, the Book of Common Prayer and our Constitution and Canons, until such bodies show a willingness to repent of such actions."

That authorization came in response to two General Convention resolutions passed two months earlier that focused on human sexuality and reaffirmed the Episcopal Church's commitment to the Anglican Communion. Resolution D025 affirms "that God has called and may call" gay and lesbian people "to any ordained ministry in the Episcopal Church." Resolution C056 calls for the collection and development of theological resources for the blessing of same-gender blessings and allows bishops to provide "a generous pastoral response to meet the needs of members of this church."

In his Nov. 23 interview with the Living Church Lawrence said that provision gave permission to bishops to act contrary to the Episcopal Church's canons, its prayer book, church history and the church's historic teaching on marriage.

In October 2010, the South Carolina convention approved six resolutions in response to General Convention's 2009 passage of revised Title IV canons on clergy discipline, according to an explanation posted on the diocese's homepage before the convention. The convention met again in February 2011 and passed two of those resolutions again as required, amending the diocesan constitution to remove the accession clause to the canons of the Episcopal Church and to enable the convention to meet more frequently than annually. The diocesan said at the time that the resolutions were meant to "protect the diocese from any attempt at un-constitutional intrusions in our corporate life in South Carolina."

At Lawrence's direction, Diocesan Chancellor Wade Logan Nov. 16 sent a quitclaim deed to every parish in the diocese. A quitclaim deed generally transfers ownership of the property from the party issuing the deed to the recipient.

"For 190 years (1789-1979) there had never been any idea that somehow the parishes did not completely and fully own their property," Logan said in his letter posted here. He said the diocese could issue quitclaim deeds because the state Supreme Court has said that the 1979 passage by the General Convention of the so-called Dennis Canon was not binding on the parish of All Saints, Pawley's Island, South Carolina.

The "Dennis Canon" (Canon 1.7.4) states that a parish holds its property in trust for the diocese and the Episcopal Church.

Logan said in his Nov. 16 letter to parishes that removing the accession clause was part of the "continued pursuit of our historic unity based on common vision rather than legal coercion."

The quitclaim action was not included in the original material submitted to the board.

Lawrence told the Living Church on Nov. 23 that he issued the quitclaim deed in part because "the threat of property disputes" should not be "the only thing that holds us together."

"Jesus gave Peter the keys to the kingdom, not the keys to the building," he said.

Lawrence said that when he awoke the day after having decided to issue the deeds he felt that "for the first time, I am the bishop of this diocese."

The disciplinary board's investigation of Lawrence appears to be among the first it has conducted. The board was created under the revised Title IV canons on ecclesiastical discipline which went into effect on July 1. The board is made up of 10 bishops elected at any regularly scheduled meeting of the House of Bishops, and four priests or deacons and four lay persons initially appointed by the president of the House of Deputies with the Executive Council and thereafter elected by the House of Deputies. Henderson noted in his fact sheet that the board "operates confidentially."

James Buchanan was president at the time of the election of Abraham Lincoln. Although a Pennsylvanian, he took no action when states seceded from the Union, claiming that he was powerless and thus encouraging that behavior. This story is truly troubling.

Meditation on Advent with Dietrich Bonhoeffer

I just bought God is in the Manger, a collection of reflections by Dietrich Bonhoeffer about Advent and Christmas taken from his writings while he was imprisoned by the Nazis from 1943-1945 and prior to his execution on April 8, 1945.

What is fascinating is how Bonhoeffer compared the situation of being imprisoned and the enforced waiting of one in prison to Advent.

"[Jesus] comes in the form of a beggar, of the dissolute human child in ragged clothes, asking for help. He confronts you in every person that you meet. As long as there are people, Christ will walk the Earth as your neighbor, as the one through whom God calls you, speaks to you, makes demands on you. This is the great seriousness and great blessedness of the Advent message."

This builds so beautifully upon what I have been thinking about since Christ the King Sunday.

We are told during Advent to be awake, be watchful. But, as Pastor Bonhoeffer notes, we are also called to action. It is not enough to note that there are those who are poor, who are suffering, who thirst for knowledge. We are called to act upon this. In my life, I have felt that part of my particular ministry is teaching. We teach by our words, and by our example, and through our willingness not just to talk but to listen. I am constantly hoping to do better in my work with my students. We have to see the face of Christ in all those who need our help. Would we deny Jesus anything if we knew it was he who asked?

This book is meant to be read as a series of daily devotions, so I will be thinking more about what Pastor Bonhoeffer has to say during the season.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

First Sunday in Advent, year B

 ‘From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates. Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.

 ‘But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come. It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his slaves in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch. Therefore, keep awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn, or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly. And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.’ -- Mark 13: 28-37

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Reflection on Christ the King Sunday

This last Sunday, November 20, was Christ the King Sunday. It was the last Sunday of Year A, and as such, the final statement of the lectionary year before we rotate into Year B and Advent. The question of Christ as King coming right before Advent is incredibly relevant. In four short weeks we will be singing, “Hark! the herald angels sing! Glory to the newborn king!”

I once heard a sermon comparing Christ the King to Burger King—this wasn’t the whole thrust, but it was part of the thrust, and I have to admit I was bemused and wondered at how far afield we get when we contemplate Christ as the King. I think this may be because we are uncomfortable with the idea of a person wielding that kind of power in our lives. We Americans are deeply suspicious of kings and monarchies. A few Anglophiles, of which I admit I am one, dote upon the idea of the British monarchy, partly because the British monarch seems a monarch tamed by modernity. She and her family play polo or chivvy foxes about the countryside or breed corgis; they cut ribbons at the opening of shopping malls or factories; and every now and then the heir to the throne opens his mouth and says something ridiculous or one of their princes gets caught smoking pot and we laugh, thinking that they are just like us—only billionaires. This vision of a monarch is small, and not exactly relevant to our lives, a quaint little anachronism in a modern era, and even though she is technically the secular head of the Church of England, even we Episcopalians don’t get too worked up about her. Too often she is a symbol to us rather than a flesh and blood person. She doesn’t seem to wield too much power, and so we are basically unconcerned with her. Because she doesn’t seem to wield much power, she doesn’t seem to be very “queenly.”

If we contemplate kings at all in a more serious way, we often think of despots throughout history—those who HAVE wielded power, usually in the name of injustice. The Shah of Iran, for instance. Few shed a tear when he was deposed, although the regime that followed afterwards certainly did no better in responding to the needs of the Iranian people. Then there are those who have not arrogated the title “king” to themselves but behaved as one with absolute power over their people, and this list is long: Idi Amin in Uganda, Papa Doc Duvalier in Haiti, Josef Stalin behind the Iron Curtain, Nikolai Ceausescu in Romania, Adolf Hitler in World War II, Augusto Pinochet of Chile, Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe, Than Shwe in Burma, Omar al-Bashir in what is now northern Sudan. And the list rolls on. These men were or are all about power, absolute use and abuse of power.

So then we are faced with the idea of Christ the King, and we don’t seem to know how to talk about it at all. But we aren't really Christian at all UNLESS we give Jesus that kind of power in our lives.

Perhaps this is because even Jesus himself often seemed to dodge the question when asked directly about it. In all four gospels, Jesus is questioned by Pilate if he is the king of the Jews (Matthew 27, Mark 15, Luke 23, and John 18). Even the translators of the original texts cannot agree on how Jesus answers. Some translations have Jesus answering, “Yes, it is as you have said,” while others translated Jesus saying basically, “So YOU have said.” But Jesus makes it clear that he is not a king of a kingdom on Earth. Jesus is king in the kingdom of God, which Luke 17: 20-21 makes clear is within all of us who follow Jesus.

The gospel reading chosen for Christ the King Sunday in Year A is Matthew 25: 31-46. In the narrative of Matthew, this conversation occurs between Jesus and his disciples before he is questioned by Pilate. The text we saw this last Sunday was in the context of describing the “kingdom of heaven”—a phrase which is only used in Matthew’s gospel, although it is used repeatedly—31 times, in fact. Chapter 25 of Matthew focuses on the kingdom of heaven, and indeed for the last three Sundays concluding with Christ the King Sunday we have been hearing Jesus describe the kingdom of heaven. First we heard that the kingdom of heaven was like the parable of the ten bridesmaids (Matthew 25: 1- 13) and like the parable of the talents (Matthew 25: 14- 30) and then Christ the King Sunday focuses on the Judgment of the Nations in the gospel reading. At first, Jesus certainly describes a king filled with worldly power: that king will sit on a throne of glory and of judgment and he will sort out the sheep and the goats. Sheep are those that follow the shepherd and they inspire care and concern in the shepherd. Goats, however, are stubborn and willful. They do not follow easily. They are independent. They go their own way. Our society definitely seems to admire the qualities of the goat over the qualities of the sheep.

Now, to our modern city-raised ears, we have some misconceptions about sheep. We think they’re dumb; we think they are foolish. We think of sheepdogs –like the ones many of us own as pets-- nipping at their heels and herding them through the use of fear and intimidation. But this is not the image that Jesus is calling to mind. Instead, in Jesus’ time, sheep were wealth. They provided everything for life: wool for clothing to keep one warm in sickness and in health, milk to care for the thirsty, and meat for the hungry. Jesus does not herd us through fear and intimidation. Jesus calls to us through love and in love and as love, as the Old Testament reading in Ezekiel 34 confirms. Ezekiel also describes goats as being disgusting and stupid: they trample the good grass under their feet and foul the water which they will drink, which is not only shortsighted but foolish. This verse made me think of the way many of us treat the environment with the justification that we have been given it to do with it what we will.

But in the kingdom of heaven, we want to be the sheep. We want to obey the shepherd. We want to follow the will of the king in order to be admitted into the kingdom. But where and what is this kingdom? Throughout the gospels Jesus makes it clear that the kingdom of God is within us, and bringing it into fruition is our responsibility. And indeed, the gospel reading for the Sunday of Christ the King tells us the same thing: we created the kingdom when we fed the hungry and gave a drink to the thirsty, when we clothed those who were cold and naked, when we comforted the sick or the imprisoned.

Notice the parallels to what sheep really provide to their human counterparts and what Jesus expects us to do as the subjects of the king. They are very much the same things.

It is also clear: the geography of this kingdom lies upon and within our hearts. The kingdom over which Jesus reigns is not in a place or in a time just as God does not exist within the boundaries of space or time. Jesus is God’s physical presence within space and time, within our understanding of the universe. Jesus’ power as king does not come from compulsion, or force, or power as earthly kings wield, but through the power of love and through example. Jesus’ power as king over our lives is not the power of demand but the power of love. We follow Christ and obey Christ through the choice of our will, which is what the root of the word, “voluntarily,” means.

The kingdom of heaven is also not centered upon our own personal salvation. Making Christ our king means letting love and caritas rule our hearts. Once we accept Jesus as our Lord and king, we are not done. Making a choice to save ourselves is easy. That is why true salvation lies in what we do for others rather than what we do for ourselves by clinging to Jesus like a lifeline. As we are reminded, if we want to save our lives, we must be willing to look beyond ourselves. Proclaiming Jesus’ name will not bring about the kingdom of heaven—living out Jesus’ love among our fellow beings will bring about the kingdom of heaven and show that Jesus is our king. We acknowledge our king not by words but through deeds.

The kingdom of heaven is one in which those who serve others are the ones who do God’s will. To acknowledge Jesus as our king is to give him the authority to help us behave to bring the kingdom of heaven to fruition right here, right now, for we ARE mortals living through time and space. As Christians, we are to act in specific love for those around us by the command of Jesus, our king, the bridge between this world and God. Oh, that all those who proclaim their faith in Jesus would act upon his saving grace to reach out to save others. That is what the kingdom of heaven is, and we have to overcome our republican preferences in this one. The Prince of Peace and Lord of Love is Our King. Amen.

Be Thou My Vision

One of my favorite hymns, sung to the tune of Slane:

Here are the lyrics  from the 1982 Hymnal of the Episcopal Church, slightly different from those in the video:

Be Thou my vision, O Lord of my heart;
all else be nought to me, save that thou art--
Thou my best thought, by day or by night,
waking or sleeping, thy presence my light.

Be thou my wisdom, and thou my true word;
I ever with thee, and thou with me Lord,
thou my great Father; thine own may I be;
thou in me dwelling, and I one with thee.

High King of Heaven, when victory is won,
may I reach heaven's joys, bright heaven's Sun!
Heart of my heart, whatever befall,
still be my vision, O Ruler of All!

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Deconsecrating a sacred space

I was just reading on the Episcopal News Service about the ongoing consequences from the devastating earthquake that struck Christchurch, New Zealand on February 21, 2011: the cathedral for the Dicoese of Christchurch was so badly damaged that it had to be deconsecrated on November 9. It seems that the Diocese is currently without a cathedral. The original cathedral had been in use for 130 years:
The 130-year-old spiritual centerpiece of Christchurch on Nov. 9 was reduced to an ordinary ruin. And all in the space of half an hour.

Up to 350 people gathered in Cathedral Square for the service of deconsecration, the culmination of several months of safety assessments after a 6.3-magnitude earthquake in February reduced the cathedral's spire to rubble and a June 13 jolt caused further damage.

The deconsecration service, led by Diocese of ChristChurch Bishop Victoria Matthews, was attended primarily by members of the cathedral congregation, but a scattering of civic representatives included earthquake minister Gerry Brownlee.

Facing the broken entrance – albeit at a safe distance – the congregation gave thanks for the extraordinary life and ministry of the place since the original consecration by Bishop Henry Harper in November 1881.

"We did not treat this space as we would ordinary space, but as we would treat the very presence of God," they intoned in the litany. "Today we return this space to the common, and return this place to the earth."

In his mihi of welcome, Cathedral Dean Peter Beck noted that "this is a sad day, and yet another step in the recovery and rebuilding of our city."

He paid tribute to the many "living stones" which had held the spirit of Christchurch for so many years, and concluded with a prayer from former U.N. Secretary General Dag Hammarskjold: "For all that has been, thanks. For all that will be, yes!"

In her homily, Matthews acknowledged the prevailing sorrow but focused on the hope of resurrection.

"In homelessness, God's love is still with us," she said. "This is not a time to lose hope. We need to move on, knowing that what God has in store for us is more magnificent … We are a work in progress…

"Even as we deconsecrate, as we shed our tears, let us be full of hope because we go forward in the mission of Christ. It is the mission that matters … Let us be a pilgrim people – people of the resurrection."

Moving to the formal deconsecration, Matthews said: "I do remit this building, and all objects remaining in it, for any lawful and reputable use, according to the laws of this land.

"This building, having now been deconsecrated and secularized, I declare to be no longer subject to my canonical jurisdiction."

The next step in the cathedral saga is to make safe what remains of the building and to assess what may give rise to a new centerpiece.

Meanwhile, the search continues for land on which to erect a transitional cathedral.

I love the call to be a pilgrim people by the Bishop of Christchurch. I know that this may seem like yet one more blow after the loss of life and the destruction of the center of the city. If you recall, it had been originally feared that there may have been as many as 20 people in the spire, which collapsed, but luckily no one was found in the rubble.

I continue to keep the people of Christchurch in my prayers. Having lived through the Good Friday tornado here, I know that it takes many months to restore what is destroyed in natural disasters, if indeed recovery can ever be complete.

May God bless those who were affected by this disaster.