Saturday, December 24, 2011

Searching for the Christ Child

The traditional Simple Massing Priest Christmas Story.

The title isn't quite so allegorical as you think. We actually spent about ten minutes before the Christmas Eve service desperately seeking the Baby Jesus for the main creche at the parish where I serve as interim priest.  
It is actually a very interesting creche, set up inside the altar itself. A simple wooden chevron suggests the stable, while the remaining figures stand on black satin. It was already in place on Sunday last. Actually in the Sunday before last as we compromised the calendar in the interest of the children's pageant. But Sunday last the creche had only its minimalist roof, one ox and one ass.  
Mary and Joseph were not far away - standing on the altar pavement - but they hadn't arrived yet.  
The shepherds weren't there yet either, out tending their sheep on the edge of the pulpit. 
And the magi were in the middle of the aisle at the back of the church, still some ways away.  
Tonight, Mary and Joseph, and after some panicked moments, the Baby Jesus, were all installed in their places. The shepherds were "summoned to his stable" during the gradual hymn. And the magi were now half way up the aisle - accompanied by a helpful "Mind the Camels" sign prepared by my good wife.  
It was a good celebration in a community which seems increasingly hopeful and future oriented. And generally united. There is no parish on earth that doesn't have some divisions and tensions. But this little parish seem quite determined to be a family together.  
We found Jesus tonight at St. James - literally, allegorically and eucharistically. We all came to the same table, together. That is where we belong in worship - at the same table, together.

A poignant song for the season

Lest any of us foget that some will find it harder to be joyful this Christmas.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

An earlier - and far better - option for an Anglican Covenant

Tobias Haller, who blogs at In a Godward Direction, refers us to a far superior model for an Anglican Covenant - one which has the advantage of relative antiquity.

From the Encyclical Letter of the 1878 Lambeth Conference (Section 1.5)
There are certain principles of church order which, your Committee consider, ought to be distinctly recognised and set forth, as of great importance for the maintenance of union among the Churches of our Communion.
1. First, that the duly certified action of every national or particular Church, and of each ecclesiastical province (or diocese not included in a province), in the exercise of its own discipline, should be respected by all the other Churches, and by their individual members.
2. Secondly, that when a diocese, or territorial sphere of administration, has been constituted by the authority of any Church or province of this Communion within its own limits, no bishop or other clergyman of any other Church should exercise his functions within that diocese without the consent of the bishop thereof.
3. Thirdly, that no bishop should authorise to officiate in his diocese a clergyman coming from another Church or province, unless such clergyman present letters testimonial, countersigned by the bishop of the diocese from which he comes; such letters to be, as nearly as possible, in the form adopted by such Church or province in the case of the transfer of a clergyman from one diocese to another.

It's worth having a boo at Fr. Haller's further commentary.  I will simply note that attempts at creating a centralized and authoritarian Anglican Communion go back a fair ways.  Several Lambeth Conferences saw attempts to create an Anglican magisterium of one sort or another.  We used to have the good sense to say a loud and clear "no."

Friday, December 9, 2011

Saying "something must be done" does not prove that something must be done.

There have been a lot of developments about the Anglican Covenant since last I posted about it.  Conveniently, the No Anglican Covenant Coalition has just this week issued a news release summarizing recent events.
  • In the Church of England, four diocesan synods (Wakefield; St. Edmundsbury and Ipswich; Truro; Birmingham) have rejected the Covenant.  Four others (Lichfield; Durham; Europe; Bristol) have approved it.  In order to return to General Synod for final approval, the Covenant needs to be passed by 23 of the 44 dioceses - meaning that 22 rejections is enough to scuttle it in the Church of England.  The Covenanters need another 19 approvals to carry the day, while the Covenantsceptics only need another 18 to stop it.
  • In the Anglican Church of Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia, the Tikanga Maori rejected the Covenant at their biennial runanganui.  Several Paheka dioceses have also rejected it.  It is unlikely that the Covenant will be approved in New Zealand.
  • In the Episcopal Church of the Philippines, the House of Bishops have indicated an intention to reject the Covenant, making it virtually certain that it will not be approved.

One of the interesting snippets out of England is the emergence of a disturbing pattern.  Bishops and diocesan officials in several dioceses have refused to allow the distribution of material critical of the Anglican Covenant to synod members.  Of the eight dioceses  that have voted on the Covenant, four allowed the distribution of balanced material and four did not.  It will not take a rocket surgeon to figure out which four are which.  The Coalition's episcopal patrons, John Saxbee and Peter Selby are actively encouraging their former colleagues to povide for a fair and honest debate in every diocese.

In the midst of this, the Archbishop of Canterbury has published his Advent Letter to the Anglican Primates.  In an intellectual fiddle which should be an embarrassment to any current or former academic, the Archbishop's defence of his pet project makes less sense than Glenn Beck on acid.

His response to the concerns raised by the No Anglican Covenant Coalition and others is simply to declare:
"I do not see the Covenant in this light at all."

Seriously Rowan?  Who do you think you are?  John Cleese?

He eventually devolves to Margaret Thatcher's favourite justification for bad policies, the famous TINA - "There Is No Alternative."
"I continue to ask what alternatives there are if we want to agree on ways of limiting damage, managing conflict and facing with honesty the actual effects of greater disunity. In the absence of such alternatives, I must continue to commend the Covenant as strongly as I can to all who are considering its future."

TINA, of course, is predicated on the unasserted and unargued assumption that "something must be done."

There is tension within the Anglican Communion.  Some people are very angry.  Something must be done.


Well, let's consider another international Communion of churches to see how they have handled this very same presenting issue.

The Porvoo Communion recently had a consultation to discuss the theology and practice of marriage among the member churches.  Some of the Porvoo churches permit the ordination of partnered GLBTQTS and some do not.  Some of the Porvoo churches bless same-sex unions, some do not and a few actually solemnize same-sex marriages.  Technically, the range of practice in the Porvoo Communion is actually broader than in the Anglican Communion, where no member church has formally approved same-sex marriages.

So, how does the Porvoo Communion deal with this diversity of belief and practice?

Well, here's what they said in their communique at the end of their recent consultation:
"The consultation made clear that differences over the introduction of same-sex marriage remain unresolved.  It is clear that there are a variety of views and pastoral practices along a theological spectrum.  Some believe same-sex marriage to be a legitimate development in the Christian tradition, whilst others see the potential for a serious departure from the received tradition.  Nevertheless the consultation affirmed the benefits of 'belonging to one another'.  The value of honest encounter and strengthened friendship provides a platform of sustained communication in the face of issues which raise dificulties for us."

So Porvoo can manage to muddle through without mechanisms to expel the outliers.  No meaty Covenant need be introduced to discipline the dissenters.  Porvoo simply acknowledges the disagreement and affirms the commitment to continue together.

The irony, of course, is that the Porvoo Communion is nothing other than the fellowship of Anglican and Lutheran churches in northern Europe.

So the same Church of England, under the leadership of the same Rowan Williams, manages to hold two completely contradictory opinions at the same time.

Well, your Grace, if it's good enough for Porvoo, it's good enough for me.

You want an alternative to your punative and exclusionary covenant?  Well, here it is:
We, the member churches of the Anglican Communion, agree to meet together regularly and to engage each other in adult conversation.
We, the member churches of the Anglican Communion, acknowledge that we will not always agree. 
We, the member chuches of the Anglican Communion, commit oursleves, in the face of disagreements, to love each other anyway, just as Jesus calls us to do.