Tuesday, March 31, 2009

UPDATED: More bits & pieces on the South Dakota bishop nominees

John Tarrant

Positives
His church's Average Sunday Attendance (ASA) is up since his arrival in 2005, reversing several years of decline and going against the trend of decline in the Diocese and the Episcopal Church nationally.

Parish financial giving has rebounded dramatically on his watch.

Widely regarded as a decent and honest man - "what you see is what you get."

He's developed constructive ministry partnership between his city parish and Reservation Missions.

Question Marks
John came here from Massachusetts less than 5 years ago. He does not have family connections here in SD, and that is a two edged sword here. "Outsiders" are not easily trusted (this is true of the White small town culture, the Native emphasis on clan and the Episcopal Church's web of family ties in this small diocese) So his status might work against him with some. On the other hand, there is recognition that the diocese is in the grip of strong decline trends and a fresh perspective might be welcomed.

With the profile calling for improved communication in the diocese, it is a bit of a concern that his parish has no web site or on-line newsletter that I can find.

John Floberg

Positives
He's managed to maintain sincere, traditional faith while working closely and constructively with the national church, serving on several national Episcopal bodies (including Native American Ministries). This would be a plus for South Dakota, which relies on the national church for operating funds and must balance mid-American sensibilities with a very different national church leadership perspective.

He has a strong commitment to Reservation ministry, staying in that challenging field over the years with some good results, as evidenced at Standing Rock Mission's site.

He has served positively with Bishop Smith of ND, despite having backed a different candidate when Smith was elected.

Question Marks
Hard to find data on the impact of his ministry. As a Reservation missioner, statistics are elusive and he does not have a parish by which to measure ASA. North Dakota as a whole is a small and declining diocese. This creates concern about his ability to reverse the decline in South Dakota.

Doug Dunn

Positives
Leads a "program sized" parish, giving him experience with multiple staff and managing a variety of ministries.

Experience in supporting other congregations in rural areas of Colorado.

Born in Sioux Falls. Some here still remember his family and say that they were involved and effective in youth ministry, a pressing demand of the diocese today. Has sponsored youth mission trips to SD.

Question Marks
His parish (St. Luke's, Denver) suffered a terrible decline in ASA from 2002 (just over 300 people per Sunday) thru 2007 (down to around 180 per Sunday). With SD struggling to reverse membership and ASA decline, this creates a concern.

Peter Stebinger

Positives
Long, stable term as Rector (Christ Church, Bethany, CT).

His parish is in the minority of Episcopal Churches which have not been declining - in fact, his church had modest growth over the last 10 years, despite steady decline in the rest of the Diocese of Connecticut.

He's organized mission trips to SD.

Question Marks
He ran unsuccessfully for Bishop of North Dakota in 2004. On the one hand, it suggests his interest in this region, on the other, people who run for bishop more than once in a short span of time raise red flags about calling and motivation.

There is a strange South Dakota connection for this candidate. His daughter, Kate, was put through the ordination process here in South Dakota. Late in the process (which did not sit well with some) it was revealed that she is a lesbian. Then, despite the desperate need for clergy here, she went back to the Northeast to serve. Like I say, "question marks." There are connections that are not being placed on the table, at least at this point. The diocesan profile calls for better communications between bishop and people, so perceptions of back-room dealing can be damaging.



+++
The Diocese will be putting up more detailed information, including personal statements by the candidates, in the near future. This should fill in some of the blanks and answer some of the questions. The Diocesan web page is in my Useful Links to the right, and they have a Bishop Election tab on their homepage. Check in there from time to time.
Please keep us in your prayers as we approach the election on May 9th.

Monday, March 30, 2009

First Bishop of South Dakota might be added to the church's calendar of Holy People!

This is from the Blue Book of the upcoming General Convention of the Episcopal Church. It is a .pdf file, and you have to scroll around a bunch, but check out the proposed church calendar commemoration for May 17th - Bishop William Hobart Hare!

May his missionary Christian faith be rediscovered and reclaimed throughout the church.



Bishop Candidates for South Dakota - good initial impression

Here are my quick reactions. I will be doing some research and posting more in a few days. My older kid got four pins in his shoulder today so I won't be on this for a bit.

John Tarrant, Rector of Trinity, Pierre SD is a decent guy - one of a few who has been genuinely respectful and kind toward me in these times of conflict. He has helped his parish grow and is building some good joint ministry with Reservation congregations.

John Floberg has done some good bi-cultural mission building in North Dakota, including efforts to build fellowship among Native American men and grass roots efforts against alcohol abuse. He knows this part of the country and seems to enjoy it. Also a decent guy in my limited experience.

Douglas Dunn from Colorado serves a large parish and also provides mission leadership in a regional/rural setting. Don't know him personally. He is a native of SD.

Peter Stebinger is from Connecticut and I don't know much about him. I have heard that he has shown up as a nominee in other places - for a variety of reasons, that is a red flag.

But on the whole, it looks like the Nominating and Standing Committees sought out candidates who match the Diocesan profile and have credible (even fruitful) experience in settings like South Dakota.



Sunday, March 29, 2009

South Dakota Bishop Candidates - list is set

But it won't be public until later today or tomorrow. Rumors galore but I ain't trafficking. Look over to the right for the Diocesan link at my Twitter updates --->

More insanity defined

There seem to be two specific remedial actions in the Episcopal State of the Church report: more money for seminaries and addressing the financial needs of female clergy.

The stated problems of the denomination include congregational conflict over homosexual activism, financial decline, aging membership and shrinking congregations (you can see how these all dovetail).

How in the world are the two specific remedial actions responsive to the actual problems? Don't spend a lot of time on the question - they're not.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

The definition of insanity

From the Episcopal "State of the Church" report...

"...one of our church's goals should be the development of a more diverse clergy and lay leadership cadre that more nearly resembles the demographics of the populations of the unchurched it seeks to serve. If we design ministry, worship and programs of outreach that are truly oriented to people of all descriptions, The Episcopal Church may prosper and grow..."

The promise of consecrating a homosexual bishop was church growth. Gays, young people and all sorts of unchurched folks were supposed to swarm to our enlightened church.

Guess what. As the report itself documents, the approach failed. It conflicted and drove off existing members, and accelerated the number of congregations that are NOT attracting unchurched people.

This is a crazy failure to learn from experience. An organization does not grow and prosper by becoming like what it is not. A church does not grow and prosper by aping the unchurched, but by offering them an alternative way of thinking and living.

Real simple: the more we become like the unchurched, the more of our people move into the unchurched ranks. Why should I devote my time, talent and treasure to an organization that offers me nothing that I can't have without it?

Siggghhh...



The Episcopal Church Publishes Some Honest Data - But Will There Be Remedial Action?

In preparation for the denomination's General Convention this summer, The Episcopal Church's House of Deputies has published a major State of the Church report. I have complained as much as the next person in the pew about the obfuscation, denial and downright dishonesty coming out of denominational leaders, so the hard facts looked at in this report are welcome and worthwhile.

One section deals with "conflict in the church." Almost half (46.9%) of Episcopal churches report "serious conflict" over "Ordination of gay priests and bishops."

Another section shows Episcopalians are way older than the general population, and deaths outpace births by around 19,000 per year. The report notes that this is like losing an entire diocese annually.

With great honesty, the report notes that most congregations are not responding to these negative trends: "In view of losses due to the age structure and declining birthrate of The Episcopal Church, as well as losses associated with controversy, an emphasis on evangelism and recruitment of new members would seem a natural, almost inevitable consequence. Interestingly, the 2008 Faith Communities Today Survey revealed that under 20% of our congregations report active evangelism programs and less than 5% report that evangelization is a congregational specialty."

I am blessed to be part of a parish that is seeking to bring the Gospel to people and people to the Gospel. Good Shepherd, Sioux Falls, is one of a declining percentage of churches to have experienced greater than 10% growth in the last 5 years. The State of the Church report shows that in 2003, 28% of Episcopal Churches had 10%+ growth over 5 years, while 43% declined by 10% or more in the same period. By 2007, the "growth" group was down to 18%, and the decimated group swelled to 56% of Episcopal congregations.

In addition to these numbers (I was going to call them "sobering," but the capacity of Episcopal leaders to deny reality continues to amaze), there are challenging thoughts about the national leadership:

"In the process of our interviews, The Committee on the State of the Church heard from many different people that the structure of our organization above the level of diocese is not consonant with the church's mission and that it is not properly configured to serve the needs of its most important constituent elements, namely dioceses and individual congregations."

Will there be remedial action? Not at all clear. The report does note that the national church is moving some of its positions to "regional centers," but this does not guarantee that diocesan and in particular congregational ministry (where almost all evangelism takes place) will be served any better.

There is an "Encouraging Signs" section, but it is depressing. It mentions some wonderful relief efforts in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, but people of many backgrounds from all over the country took part in these and such efforts, however noble, have little to do with minimizing conflict and attrition in the denomination. The other high points were the usual "a meeting was held..." Given the stated problems of the denomination, there is no evidence of any systemic response.

In terms of "Recommendations," the report is well intentioned but basically keeps restating the problem. We are a divided church, now filled with factions with little in common. The report recommends that we all talk about that some more.

I'm going to stop here. I honor the painful honesty of the people who worked on this, but I just don't see that they "get it." They state the problem well, but they have no sense of how the church itself, through its national leadership, its seminaries and its clergy, has contributed to making a profound mess of the denomination.

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

GOOD STUFF:

As I mused a few weeks ago, not all of the church (or even the world) is mired in the kind of sickness I usually put up with in The Episcopal Church/Anglican Communion.

Since that inspiring Hospice gathering, I've met with a few Episcopal clergy of different perspectives, several of whom have really healthy, exciting parishes. There are capable leaders out there, they are just scattered and largely ignored by the "insiders" of the denomination.

But I do have some hope for the Bishop election here. Candidates will be announced next week and, if the profile produced by the people of the diocese is followed, we should be seeing nominees who share my passion for healthy, vital and growing congregations. The people of the diocese want some of this good stuff, and that is in and of itself welcome news.

Via small group Bible studies, my parishioners are finding deeper relationship with God and one another. Really exciting as we start to plan for the next round of groups.

Outside of the church, I was blessed to attend a "Day for Dads" workshop put on by some of the local agencies that help families with Special Needs kids. A refreshing, insightful day and some great guys from around the community filled the room (there was a wait list, even).

Throughout this week, the daily Bible readings have come from the middle chapters of Romans, emphasizing God's gracious love and help even in the midst of pain and struggle. Above all of the good stuff is the good God who gives it all.

BAD STUFF:

In contrast to various expressions of health and goodness I encounter, most of my interactions with my denomination are pretty bad.

More and more, I am hearing Episcopal clergy say, "I really don't care - I just want to get to retirement."

More and more, there is the dysfunctional habit of saying "It is all your/so-and-so's/their fault. I have no part in any of the problems in the church."

More and more, there is no responsibility at the leadership level. Many leaders are quoting the national studies showing declining church participation, but not all are drawing useful conclusions. Some are saying the equivalent of, "Our decline is a simple social trend, so just accept it. But have the people keep those checks coming while we're in charge."

The sum of the "bad stuff" is that the church seems stuck in a "one generation" mentality with no vision or plan for a future. No investment in maintaining relationships, no concern for keeping people together, but a hyper-concern for holding assets to subsidize insiders without regard to quality of ministry. Big concern for pension and retirement, little concern for what happens to the church after this generation of leaders steps down.

The daily readings have included Jeremiah's warnings about false priests and prophets who scatter and destroy God's people.

UGLY STUFF:

My own behaviors get ugly when facing the bad stuff in the church. It is easy to become isolated and passive-aggressive when letters, phone calls and emails go unanswered or are misrepresented; when clergy colleagues plant hostile rumors in my congregation; and when the church uses God's people and resources irresponsibly and destructively. As a blogger, it is profoundly easy to vent here on the web and get into the same toxic and petty antics that I dislike in others.

In today's Gospel lesson from John 6, many disciples give up on Jesus and stop following him. Even the loyal twelve who stay close have a traitor in their midst. I have to look at my own potential for ugly stuff. Even those of us who are called to Jesus' ministry can betray him.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Diocese of North Dakota Update on Flooding

News reports from around Fargo have the Red River rising to a record 41 feet. Teams of volunteers, National Guardsmen and public safety services are at a local sports stadium, filling mountains of sandbags.

There is a brief update from the Diocese of North Dakota's blog.

Please keep up the prayers.

Shameless Rector Crowing - My Senior Warden from Last Year Gets A Civic Award

Just got news that Stacey Lenker, Good Shepherd's Senior Warden in 2007 & '08, is getting a "YWCA Tribute to Women Award" next week.

Employees at Avera McKennan Medical Center put her name in, acclaiming her excellent professional leadership and healthy balance of family life, work and community service.

Stacey and her husband Bill have two kids. After two very fruitful years as Senior Warden, Stacey continues to enrich the parish by fostering the growth of small groups. She initiated the first round of home Bible study fellowships that are having a powerful impact on Good Shepherd.

Small churches fret about many things, but everything comes 'round to recognizing the gifts that God has provided in the people. They are always the starting place for the ministry that God envisions for a congregation. The seeds of the fruit God wants are right there, right now, in the people He's planted in a given place and time.

South Dakota Bishop Slate to be Finalized this Weekend - Possible Questions for Candidates

Please pray for the Nominating and Standing Committees of the Diocese. They will meet this weekend to review final background checks and the slate of candidates should be released early next week.

I have been talking with folks around the diocese. There is a real desire to see things get healthier here. This cuts across ideological lines to some extent.

From those discussions, I put together a list of questions and concerns that has been well received. I post it here as a resource:

A Few Possible Questions and Concerns for Our Bishop Candidates
Fr. Tim Fountain, working from our Diocesan Profile & input from other clergy and lay people in the diocese.

In what specific ways can a bishop have an impact on a diocese?

With what group in the church are you least comfortable, and how do you share ministry and be a pastor with those folks?

How will you care for clergy and spouses here if you are called to be our bishop?

Do you have experience in helping with congregational disputes? What do you see as important in resolving disputes between clergy and congregations?

The bishop is called to “take counsel” with the clergy of the diocese. How do you see yourself doing this?

Give an example of a time when you paid a price for keeping your word.

What do you see as the possibilities and also the limits of “Mutual Ministry”?

What do you see as key sources and foundations of Anglican belief and practice, and how would you apply these as bishop?

How do you hope to spend your time? What will be your calendar priorities as a bishop?

How do you inspire people?

How do you challenge people toward goals?

What makes you laugh?

What makes you cry?

Give us an example of a bi-cultural ministry success you’ve had.

Give us an example of a bi-cultural ministry failure you’ve experienced.

Tell us how you have brought young people into your church.

What can a bishop do to foster growth in local congregations?


Along with these questions, it is important to check the claims of the candidates. You can look up Episcopal Church statistics for their home diocese and recent congregations by going to:
The Congregational Development Site

(Use the drop-downs for diocese and congregation.)

A few other pointers:

Be careful of claims of growing “membership”. That figure is too easy to inflate with people who are not actually part of parish life (people who get married and never come back, for example). Always prefer the part of the chart showing “Average Sunday Attendance”.

If you look at the charts, do not be surprised to see the financial giving at all of the churches going up. This is going on all over the church, as the shrinking membership gives more and more just to keep the doors open. All candidates will look like great stewardship leaders – but make sure that their Sunday attendance is growing along with the dollars.

For candidates from within our diocese, we need to find a gracious way to ask, “How are you going to be a change from the current trends of decline?” As one priest wisely pointed out, we don’t want our decision to be a mere reaction to the current bishop. But we need to be aware that electing a diocesan “insider” could go against the diocesan profile, which calls for growth. The current insiders have not been able to achieve growth – in fact, they’ve had the opposite result.

Watch out for vague answers. Everybody is in favor of “inclusion.” Everybody wants “youth in church.” Ask questions that require specific answers that can be verified. We are going to hear a lot of shorthand and jargon – it is our responsibility to tease out real information.

PRAY A LOT. Many people I talk to (and I talk to myself, too) are saying, “We love our church. What can we do to help it get well?” This election is an opportunity to help the church, if we seek God’s guidance and work diligently and responsibly. God bless us all.

This is not an exhaustive or perfect list, just a place to start.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

President Declares North Dakota Flooding a Federal Disaster

Please pray for the folks in ND. Some of the news is here.

For those who are Old Testament fans, North Dakota is a flood plain much like ancient Mesopotamia (only colder). It is flat land, planed by a massive glacier way back when. After a late Winter snow fall (and they get big ones up there), Spring melts the massive drifts, and the rivers can't contain all the water.

Add to this that the Red River runs north so it doesn't empty into the Big Sioux/Missouri/Mississippi confluences. The Red River set a record the other day by rising 5 feet in 24 hours.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

You Tube: Early Season Blizzard Blasts South Dakota

Blizzard slams Black Hills, other areas

The Eastern half of SD, including Sioux Falls, is not taking the pounding. But "West River" is... check out some of the news here. Please pray.

March is the heaviest snow month for SD, as Winter and Spring flex in a tug o' war. Up next is tornado season.

Shiny Metallic Purple Armour

Anger, he smiles, towering in shiny metallic purple armour...
Bold as Love (Jimi Hendrix/lyrics John Mayer)
Over at Stand Firm, we have another Episcopalian Bishop whining that anybody who criticizes the Bishops is "angry" - by which he means "neurotic."
Christians are vulnerable to this sort of manipulation. We fear that anger is in and of itself a symptom of sin, and so we try to be meek and mild - to a fault.
Let me offer a few thoughts about Christians and anger, then a few more about why Christians in The Episcopal Church should be angry.
I. Christian anger
  • + We are made in the image of God. Anger is one of God's own attributes, so it is one of ours as well. Jesus, human and divine, manifests it.
  • + Because we are marred by sin, our anger can be evil. We must be very careful, because anger can be a mere outburst of our own selfish nature.
  • + But anger is not in and of itself "sin." One can be angry, yet not sin.
  • + It is right to be angry about obvious evil. Jesus and his followers show us this throughout the New Testament.

II. Why Episcopalians should be angry.

The Episcopal House of Bishops just issued an - dare I say? - angry Pastoral Letter about the economy. They rightly condemn "Unparalleled corporate greed and irresponsibility, predatory lending practices, and rampant consumerism..." (They might have included abdication of responsibility, profiteering and pork spending by government officials, but that bit of hypocrisy can be dealt with some other time).

But while our Bishops are quick to assemble and direct their anger at this or that group, they irresponsibly betray the trust of God's people.

I will give just one major example: Bishop Stacy Sauls of Lexington, Kentucky.

As I begin, I should note that Bp. Sauls was a seminary classmate, and once kindly offered me a position when he was a Priest in another diocese and I was looking for a place to serve.

Today, however, he is the poster child of why Episcopalians should be angry with their House of Bishops and other national leadership entities. His is just one of many awful leadership stories from around the church.

On his watch, the Diocese of Lexington is withering.

The diocese itself issued a report, warning among other things that Bishop Sauls has contributed to an "unhealthy" state of affairs there and that he spends too much time away from the Diocese.

Where is he spending his time and effort? Sauls is the major advocate for suing dissenting churches and clergy. He leads a "Bishops' Task Force on Property Disputes" which has, among other things,

  • - Exceeded its spending representations by more than 1,500%;
  • - Grabbed money from the Church budget through a bureaucratic committee rather than a public vote of the General Convention;
  • - Included in its membership Bishop Charles Bennison, later found by a church court to have covered up the sexual abuse of a teenage girl, and Bishop Mark Andrus, caught on film at a pornographic parade.

And what did Bishop Sauls get for damaging his own Diocese and working on a fiscally and morally corrupt "task force"?

HE WAS NOMINATED FOR PRESIDING BISHOP OF THE EPISCOPAL CHURCH.

So, still think anger is just neurosis? Or can it express the voice of God when holiness is betrayed - worst of all, betrayed by the church?

If you are angry, and you should be, there are sober actions which you can take. Certainly, gather and share information with other Christians you know. A good place to start is this Primer for Those in the Pews. It gives plenty of evidence and some good advice:

'What can individual parishioners do? Here are some practical suggestions:

1. Find out where your money is going. Ask your parish treasurer the amount that your church contributed to its diocese last year, and ask him or her to break it down into unrestricted funds, and funds designated for a specific purpose. Also, ask for an itemization of what your diocese contributes to the national Church, broken down in the same fashion.

2. Give no more money for lawsuits. Give your treasurer a letter specifying that no part of the funds you donate is to be used to support lawsuits at either the diocesan or national level. If the treasurer cannot guarantee they will not be so used, stop giving unrestricted funds to your church. Write a restriction on every check you give, such as “for parish salaries only”, “for Church utilities only”, and so forth.

3. Become involved at the local level. Get the word out, and get others behind the simple proposition that churches do not sue other churches, they mediate disputes as Christians. There are ways to share Church property and assets among differing groups that do not force a “winner-take-all” outcome.

4. Do not vote for convention deputies who want to see the lawsuits continue. This may be the most important thing you can do at the local level. Parishes elect deputies to diocesan conventions, and diocesan conventions elect deputies to General Convention. If those who elect the deputies insist that they commit to oppose any funding for lawsuits, then the Church will have to use other means to resolve its differences.

5. Become involved yourself, and get others to do likewise. It is your Church that is at stake here. Litigation is the last resort for most people, and it should not be the first resort for Christians—particularly against each other. Litigation is driven by emotions, not reason, and it is fueled by money. Withdraw the money, and refuse to legitimize the emotions, and the lawsuits can and will be settled. There is no other alternative, because the lawsuits will end up swallowing the Church as we know it.
Finally, spread the word! Get this information into the hands of as many of your fellow parishioners as possible. There are many links in this article to useful information."

Get a job

Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For it is on him that God the Father has set his seal. John 6:27, assigned reading for Tuesday in the fourth week of Lent.

How do we "work" for the Bread of Life, which we receive in the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist? This is what the Outline of the Faith in the Book of Common Prayer has to say:

Q. What is required of us when we come to the Eucharist?
A. It is required that we should examine our lives, repent of our sins, and be in love and charity with all people.


Not a bad day's work if we can be about it.


Saturday, March 21, 2009

A Reflection on this Sunday's New Testament Lesson

Ephesians 2:1-10

We need compassion.

I mean profoundly theological and spiritual compassion like that expressed to the Ephesians. “You, we, us, and them” all jumble together: “You were dead…we were by nature children of wrath, like everybody else…by grace you have been saved through faith…so that no one may boast.”

Kendall Harmon writes that we are a church under judgment. He notes that we’ve all contributed to the catastrophe through “things done and left undone.” At the same time, Ephesians says that “we are what God has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.” Compassion for those who seem dead and under wrath can lead to hope that they, so much like us, can be saved by grace through faith, and step into good works that Christ has waiting for all his people.

Compassion also brings tactical and strategic applications to Christian life.

A few decades ago, I took part in a major military exercise in the California desert. I was one of three guys with the training and security clearances needed to run our Battalion Tactical Operations Center radios. Then the Umpires of the exercise declared one of our threesome “killed” and another was captured by the opposing force. Young, strong and stupid, I stayed up running the radios for almost three days. Because we were able to maintain communications, we evaded an enemy effort to capture our command center.

Compassion is a tactic by which we evade capture. Satan wants to grab us for his accusation campaign against the people and their bunch of problems. But compassion keeps us in communication with Christ, who tells us that we have been in their place and gets us away from Satan’s trap.

And more than providing a defensive tactic, compassion can contribute to our offensive strategy. It positions us to connect with others, to expand God’s influence among people with a bunch of problems.

Might we upgrade our compassion training?

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

There's this radio ad here on KELO AM - and there's a creative application of it to church teaching

"Men eat too much red meat, too many processed foods. Ladies, have you ever had that bloated feeling?"

Check out the insight here. Sad but true.




Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Really perceptive comment about the Northern Michigan bishop process

From another priest, by email. I especially like the clarity of his point #2:

1.Forrester should have dropped off the committee when it was clear that he would be a candidate; and 2. Mutual Ministry assumes the person that you are looking for is already there. In the case of a Bishop, I think this is possibly not the case. Also, as that Diocese has had a large loss of membership, they might benefit from a fresh perspective on mutual ministry from the outside.

Pine Ridge Reservation Churches Incorporate New Entity

This is going to get really confusing in terms of who recognizes them. Fr. Two Bulls is an Episcopal Priest, while Fr. Montileaux is in CANA.

I'm not sure how to interpret this, so I will suggest you read the report in the Rapid City Journal.

Monday, March 16, 2009

OOH, ALMOST FORGOT - HAPPY IDES OF MARCH!


Bugs my poor wife to no end when I blast this song. Sometimes it gets into my head and won't get out.

From a Brit music perspective, just to give it a veneer of Anglican value.

Invocation for the Sioux Falls City Council

I was honored to offer the Invocation at tonight's Council meeting.

As it was the eve of St. Patrick's Day, God inspired me to sing a verse from "St. Patrick's Breastplate," with words most apt for community leaders:

I bind unto myself today
the power of God to hold and lead,
his eye to watch, his might to stay,
his ear to hearken, to my need;
the wisdom of my God to teach,
his hand to guide, his shield to ward;
the word of God to give me speech,
his heavenly host to be my guard. *

I followed that with an extemporaneous prayer, guided by the Spirit and in Jesus' Name, for all the people of Sioux Falls.

I give thanks for our life in Sioux Falls and pray God's blessing on this city.

*The rest of the words and the music are at the Oremus Hymnal. You can see/hear the Invocation at the Council's live stream site. Scroll down to the "March 16 Council Meeting" line and click "Video."

UPDATE - South Dakota Bishop Nominees Should Be Announced NEXT WEEK

The names should post at the election webpage, which also has the timeline for the election and consecration. There is a note up there, explaining that they are waiting on some background check material. This could imply that there have been late petition candidates, but there's nothing specific at the site.

Lest it sound like I'm just griping, remember that the search committee is composed of folks from all over this vast state, working in winter. Any dispatch of business in South Dakota faces some very real challenges, so a tip of the hat to the folks who have been putting in the miles and hours.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

(UPDATED WITH LETTER) Leadership struggles continue at Calvary Cathedral, Sioux Falls

Word is out that contract negotiations have fallen through with the Rev. Susan McCann, who had been called to serve as Dean at Calvary Cathedral.

This is the second such outcome in three years. A previous search ended in contract dispute after a new Dean had been announced .

An interim Dean had to step down for medical reasons in the same period.

Please pray for Calvary Cathedral, Sioux Falls.

Here's the official announcement from their site:


Search for the Cathedral's Dean

Search Committe Reopens Search Process

Dear Member of Calvary Cathedral:

It is with a great sense of disappointment that I write this letter to bring you up to date on the search for a Dean of the Cathedral.

As you will recall, after a thorough process by the Search Committee, and after prayerful consideration by the Vestry, the Reverend Susan McCann was selected for the position of Dean. She accepted the position and indicated that she would asume her duties on April 1st in time for Palm Sunday and Holy Week services.

During the past several weeks, Mo. McCann requested a number of changes and/or additions to the Ministry Agreement between her and the Cathedral. Of particular concern to her was the degree of authority she would have in the Dean's position relative to both the Vestry and the Bishop. Many of the issues asked for Bishop Robertson to assign to her much of the authority normally reserved to the Bishop, and he graciously agreed to her requests. However, as each issue was resolved, others seemed to surface.

In a phone call to Canon Wagner on Friday and confirmed by letter, March 11th, Mo. McCann withdrew her agreement to come to the Cathedral.In consultation with the Bishop and the Vestry, it has been decided to re-open the search process. The Search Committee will be reconstituted and will work with Fr. Hussey to identify other candidates. Several candidates previously considered will be asked to re-apply as well if they are still interested. In the meantime, Canon Wagner has agreed to assist us with liturgical and pastoral leadership as he had done previously. Dr. Larry Ort has agreed to reassume the leadership of teh Search Committee.

While we do not always understand the ways of God, we are confidant that the Holy Spirit is guiding us in this process. With our continued prayers, we will find the best person to lead us in our spiritual growth and make Calvary Cathedral a beacon of faith in Sioux Falls and the Diocese.

Sincerely,

Loyd R. Wagner, MD

Senior Warden




"Church is for worship, not entertainment"

A guest editorial by a Sioux Falls resident (not an Episcopalian) appears in last week's Argus Leader "voices" feature.

"I am a middle-aged Christian who has been a longtime church-goer until recently. I have not left the church, but the church has most certainly left me. In an effort to find one that doesn't use a worship team or praise singing (which, incidentally, has caused me to abandon the use of the word "awesome"), my husband and I have visited some churches.

Some who would advertise traditional worship style have nonetheless found that they need a PowerPoint screen to stay in sync with today's trends. Churches that never would allow a piano, organ, choir loft or even a pulpit in the altar spot have no problem prostituting that area with a TV screen, drum set or electronic equipment with brand names plastered across the front..."

Go to the link and read the whole thing. I remember attending a Fuller Institute church growth conference. During a break after the "worship" piece, which was all about scrapping every vestige of tradition, I asked Dr. John Maxwell (a Wesleyan) how an Episcopal Church could possibly do what the other speakers were suggesting.

"You can't," he replied. "You have to go back into your tradition and see what the founders were trying to achieve, then work at doing that well. There are a lot of great things in the Book of Common Prayer."


Saturday, March 14, 2009

The myth of "science without religion or politics"

President Obama's decision to allow Federal funding for embryonic stem cell research received "enthusiastic comments from research proponents: Science, it was said, should be isolated from politics, from ideology, from dogma, from religion." (Today's New York Times)

Without arguing the right or wrong of this specific policy, it is enough to point out just a few historical excesses to blow away the myth that morally unfettered science is desirable:

This U.S.Government funded study is held up as an example of "racism", but that is too narrow a condemnation. It is one of the most egregious examples of science "isolated from politics, from ideology, from dogma, from religion."

So was this scientific endeavor.

The "isolated science" rebuttal to these examples is to say, "Well those were extremists and your examples are things none of us would ever do." To which we might respond with this wisdom:

"Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You build tombs for the prophets and decorate the graves of the righteous. And you say, 'If we had lived in the days of our forefathers, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.' So you testify against yourselves that you are the descendants of those who murdered the prophets. Fill up, then, the measure of the sin of your forefathers!" Matthew 23:29-32

Those of us in religion have committed our share of ghastly things. Have the humility to learn from our failures, if you really are "scientific" in your approach. When any discipline goes about its agenda without insights and critiques from others, hypocrisy and evil are the unintended consequences.

A counter-intuitive moment

I linked to USA Today's "Religion in America" report a few days ago.

The report found what many folks already know - Americans are "do it yourself" religionists, down on churches but interested enough in spiritual matters to look into various religious and philosophical traditions.

Leaders of The Episcopal Church (TEC) respond with what sounds like common sense - "We must become more like them to reach them." The thought was expressed in January at the denomination's Executive Council meeting. Member Ted Mollegen said, "...we seem poised as a denomination to effectively reach the 'spiritual but not religious' in new ways, but it will require nimbleness to adapt to our rapidly changing social context."

In Northern Michigan, the denomination is working to appoint a bishop who "walks the paths of Christianity and Buddhism together." This would seem like a perfect icon of American cultural religion.

Intuition says, "Be more like them and they'll come." But intuition is wrong. "They" won't come for what they already have. What does a "Buddhist-Christian" offer that they can't concoct with a few clicks around the internet? And folks who are looking for "spirituality, not religion" are not going to be interested in Mr. Mollegen's "Executive Council" and its insatiable hunger for money to spend on business meetings and lawsuits.

This is where counter-intuition kicks in. Counter-intuition says, "Hmmm, maybe if we really apply the Christian message in our church, people who are exploring spirituality might get something to consider."

That's the approach at Redeemer Presbyterian Church, where Pastor and theological writer Tim Keller reaches young, "secular" New Yorkers in large numbers. He does this without gimmicks - the worship there lacks the "seeker sensitive" theatrics of the megachurch movement. It is just plain ol', mainstream Presbyterianism - what works so powerfully is that Keller sticks to the foundational Christian theology of his tradition and spends time in Q & A offering it for the concerns of those who check out the church. They don't all buy it, but many do. And all get a chance to hear the Gospel as they conduct their spiritual search.

This Sunday's Epistle cuts right to the heart of the matter: "The message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God." (I Corinthians 1:18) We need to be counter-intuitive, putting the foolish message out there. As an Episcopal Priest, I can tell you that the denomination is starved for leaders who can do just that. May God give us messengers of the cross.



Brad Drell phone home

Brad Drell ain't bloggin' much no more. His field of law is in high demand in these tough economic times, so he's chained to the office quite a bit.

But last year Brad began expressing thoughts based on his ministry to prison inmates. He rejoiced in the pure focus on Jesus and in the ability of Christians from different traditions to work in harmony for the Gospel. And he sometimes compared and contrasted this with the over-complicated and contentious antics of The Episcopal Church (of which he is an active member).

A few days ago, I was invited to offer a Biblical reflection for a group of local Hospice chaplains. This brought Brad's points to mind. Here was a group of men and women from some very different churches and perspectives, having a dynamic and fruitful time together in Christ.

What struck me most is how they find Christ and validation of Biblical truth in the "hard cases." My experience of Episcopalians is that we too often throw down the tough situations as trump cards to "disprove" this or that bit of Scripture or Christian belief.

The main testimony of the day came from a sexual abuse survivor. Her theme was "forgiveness" but there were none of the platitudes one might expect. Rather, she gave amazing insight into a "work in progress", with plenty of setbacks but also stupendous strides forward - all of them imbued with meaning through her relationship with Jesus Christ.

She quoted a friend who described "moving from victim, to survivor, to thriver," a very winsome expression of Cross, Empty Tomb and Pentecost IMO.

Her great insight was to give up on fantasies of a big, cathartic moment of forgiveness that makes all things better. We cannot grant the full absolution that belongs to Christ alone. "Only Jesus is in position to see the whole cost of forgiving - we can only forgive what we know in the here and now." My reflection had been on the long, sometimes ugly journey of Joseph and his brothers, so there were some of those wonderful common points that only God can write in.

OK, I am rambling and not sure how Brad fell out of this train of thought... oh, yeah, I was celebrating his insight into the value of putting Jesus first and working on Gospel imperatives instead of eccentric, factional agendas.

Hope he'll blog again soon 'cuz he says it better.





Friday, March 13, 2009

Turley Richards: I Heard the Voice of Jesus


A little music with which to prepare for Sunday. Make your heart ready!

h/t "The Snarkster"

Don't view if you are offended by the "A" word during Lent


DO YOU DARE GIVE A LISTEN?

h/t "$Mike" Cheever, a great church treasurer who knows the true treasure, too.

"Neurology Now" - the slippery slope in view (UPDATED)

The slippery slope argument can be a logical fallacy. "A" might often lead to "B" but not inevitably to "Z".

But the argument sometimes plays out. Witness the January/February issue of Neurology Now, in an article on "The State of Stem Cell Research".

It was written before President Obama reversed the ban on Federal funding for embryonic stem cell research. It begins,

Will the brain benefit if President Obama reverses the Bush administration's restrictions on embryonic stem cell research?

The writer, Tom Valeo, makes efforts to be fair, recognizing that there are viable research paths that do not use embryonic stem cells:

...the Bush ban has had one positive side effect: researchers have begun investigating the therapeutic potential of other types of human cells.

Then, in comments by Lorraine Iacovitti, Ph.D. of Thomas Jefferson University Medical College, we slip into a reasonable sounding argument - a short period of research on embryonic stem cells will make future use of embryonic cells unnecessary:

"I believe the embryonic stem cell lines are the gold standard because they're the only stem cells that reliably become dopamine neurons after they're transplanted into the brain," says Dr. Iacovitti. "But the ultimate goal is to make adult-derived tissue behave like embryonic stem cells. That will be the wave of the future because it will allow patients to provide their own replacement tissue."

Then, toward the end of the article, we get this horrific bit of news without fanfare:

Ping Wu, M.D., Ph.D., of the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston, is working on a way to use neural stem cells taken from human fetuses to replace damaged spinal cord motor neurons, thereby enabling paralyzed people to walk again.

"The brain needs help."

"There are viable ways to do this without taking embryonic stem cells."

"But if we just take a few embryonic stem cells, we might not have to in the future..."

"Hey, let's see what we can do with fetal cells."

Oh, and there's a box in the article that explains what stem cells are. Embryonic cells come from "a hollow ball of 50-100 cells known as a blastocyst." Sounds inert, not human. The box conveniently neglects to define the host from which fetal cells are taken.

Here's what Merriam-Webster has to say:

fe·tus
Pronunciation: \ˈfē-təs\
Function: noun
Etymology:
Middle English, from Latin, act of bearing young, offspring; akin to Latin fetus newly delivered, fruitful — more at feminine
Date: 14th century
: an unborn or unhatched vertebrate especially after attaining the basic structural plan of its kind ; specifically : a developing human from usually two months after conception to birth


UPDATE: reader Steve L. from Canada sends along more evidence of alternatives to embryonic stem cell research.





Prayer guidance from the Dean of Trinity School for Ministry

"Pray every day for those with whom you disagree. Pray for the leadership of The Episcopal Church, for great blessing to be upon them. Pray for the witness of the Church to a watching world. This is a time when we might easily be tempted to act in the flesh rather than in the Spirit. Our walk with the Lord is more vital. Let us heed the call to be constant in prayer.

At a time like this we have an opportunity to learn about living in the tension of a fallen world. May the Lord grant us abundant grace for these testing times."

Dean Justyn Terry, from a 2008 statement, reprinted in the March-April 2009 issue of "Seed & Harvest"

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Freedom in Fly-Over Country; The Original Rebel Colonies Bow to the Divine Right of Kings or Something

Yeah, we're the unsexy, uninformed, unregarded folks in places that big city school students can't find on maps. But guess what -

We gots FREEDOM.

Meanwhile...

In New York, social elitists and their publicists wage a stalking and intimidation campaign against a woman for exercising her right to free speech.

In Connecticut, politicians seek to undo the 1st Amendment by asserting government control of the membership of church boards.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

"Islamic Mortgages" in Minnesota - shame on the state, bigger shame on the church

The mortgages are an attempt to get observant Muslims, who are not allowed to borrow at interest, into the housing market. You can hear and read Minnesota Public Radio's report.

Shame on the state for its hypocrisy. This is a government-involved program. Can you imagine the liberal screech if something like this were set up for Christians? Are efforts like this made to appease Muslims, out of fear, or to advantage them, due to the cultural elitists' hatred of Christianity and zeal to help its rivals?

But more shame on the church. The situation exists because Muslims are observing God's own teachings against usury. Christians, meanwhile, have capitulated to this exploitative aspect of "the market". The church occasionally comes up with a Dave Ramsey type to give practical financial advice, but has lost all moral teaching about high interest lending. The church basically colludes with the lenders in a "let the buyer beware" message - while the Bible puts the onus on the usurers.



USA Today's religion report resonates with today's assigned Bible lessons

"More than ever before, people are just making up their own stories of who they are. They say, 'I'm everything. I'm nothing. I believe in myself,' " says Barry Kosmin, survey co-author.

This is from the recent USA Today feature on religion in America.

The article points up the problem of the Episcopal Church and other old "mainline" denominations. They served as a chaplaincy to a cultural consensus that no longer exists - and so suffer some of the worst declines in membership and participation today. "Organized religion" that is soft on doctrine and discipleship has little to attract a person that has already dispensed with doctrine and discipleship. In fact, such people have no need to surrender their time, talent and treasure to organizations that have already surrendered to individual autonomy.

Today's readings (Tuesday following the 2nd Sunday in Lent) speak to "do it yourself" spirituality and to religion that endorses it. The portrayal isn't flattering.

Through the Prophet Jeremiah, God told his chosen people,

Be appalled, O heavens, at this, be shocked, be utterly desolate, says the LORD, for my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns, that can hold no water.

People who become their own God become their own unreliable "source." Nominal Christians who stray from the sources of their revealed faith to mix, match and follow their feelings will be unable to carry the "living water" of Christ.

But the problem takes in the whole human race, not just wobbly church people. In his great Letter to the Romans, the Apostle Paul writes,

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and wickedness of men who by their wickedness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. Ever since the creation of the world his invisible nature, namely, his eternal power and deity, has been clearly perceived in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse; for although they knew God they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking and their senseless minds were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man or birds or animals or reptiles.

This is a picture of the American religious scene described by USA Today. The "glory of the immortal God" has been exchanged for a false image - that of the self as "everything and nothing", the holy and the mysterious, the object of faith.

The Episcopal Church ordains clergy and adopts resolutions that reject the revealed sources of Christian faith, and assert the "we're all holy just as we are" dogma of the culture. The denomination ages and dies. The Prophet Isaiah expresses the irony well:

You boast, "We have entered into a covenant with death, with the grave we have made an agreement. When an overwhelming scourge sweeps by, it cannot touch us, for we have made a lie our refuge and falsehood our hiding place." So this is what the Sovereign LORD says: "See, I lay a stone in Zion, a tested stone, a precious cornerstone for a sure foundation; the one who trusts will never be dismayed. I will make justice the measuring line and righteousness the plumb line; hail will sweep away your refuge, the lie, and water will overflow your hiding place. Your covenant with death will be annulled; your agreement with the grave will not stand. When the overwhelming scourge sweeps by, you will be beaten down by it.

The Episcopal Church and other denominations that have rejected God's justice and righteousness, the sure foundation stone of Christ as revealed in the Old and New Testaments of the Bible, find themselves crushed by that very stone, as Christ foretold.

Returning to the daily lessons, we see that holy power comes to those who believe the Word of God, are transformed, and bring the Word to others:


When he heard that Jesus had come from Judea to Galilee, he went and begged him to come down and heal his son, for he was at the point of death. Jesus therefore said to him, "Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe." The official said to him, "Sir, come down before my child dies."Jesus said to him, "Go; your son will live." The man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him and went his way. As he was going down, his servants met him and told him that his son was living. So he asked them the hour when he began to mend, and they said to him, "Yesterday at the seventh hour the fever left him." The father knew that was the hour when Jesus had said to him, "Your son will live"; and he himself believed, and all his household.


The dad in this passage must become the pattern for American Christians today.
  • +He sought Jesus and brought him the burden that was on his heart.
  • +When Jesus, in Rabbinic fashion, tested the man with a harsh reply, the man did not go off to dabble with other religious figures. He persisted in seeking a word from Jesus.
  • +He believed the word that Jesus spoke.
  • +He interpreted the events by looking to Jesus, recognizing "the hour when Jesus said to him, "Your son will live'."
  • +His testimony brought those around him to faith in Jesus.

To borrow Jeremiah's language, this dad went right to the one fountain of living water. To echo Paul, this dad honored the one God and received his glory. Christians and their churches in America, if they are to have life and give life, must do the same.



Sunday, March 8, 2009

"300" was OK, but here's a good review of "7,000"

Many faithful Christians are out from under the unfruitful and unfaithful national leadership of The Episcopal Church (TEC). A good number of these Christians are forming up as The Anglican Church in North America (ACNA). In fact, the Average Sunday Attendance (ASA) of this new coalition is over 10% of TEC's total ASA.

Meanwhile, there are many faithful Christian who remain in TEC for a variety of reasons.

The ACNA members and those within TEC have some points of cooperation, but also their share of sniping and griping at one another. There are disagreements about how best to respond to apostate leaders.

The New Bible Commentary has a sobering insight into I Kings 19:18, which is about a prophet dealing with apostate leaders. On the run from Baal- worshipping King Ahab and Queen Jezebel, the Prophet Elijah receives messages from God, including,

Yet I reserve seven thousand in Israel—all whose knees have not bowed down to Baal and all whose mouths have not kissed him.

The New Bible Commentary views this word, in part, as a correction:

Elijah had dismissed everyone's faith but his own and had failed to appreciate ways in which God was at work. This is an attitude which often leads to a divisive arrogance and even fanaticism among God's people today.

The Prophet was looking for a decisive divine knockout blow to the apostates. Elijah might well have styled himself as the divine fist, based on previous events. But God "speaks" instead through subtlety, unfolding events in other places, and a reminder that there are, after all, faithful folks still sprinkled all through the mess.

Elijah is given his part in the reform, but also the clear vision that it is not his to complete. Part of his work is to anoint his own successor to carry on the divine plan over time.

This is a take on Elijah that I'd missed over the years. It is worth considering by faithful Christians in ACNA and still in TEC. We have our parts in an unfolding plan, which belongs to our faithful God. Let's remember that none of us are the only agent of righteous change - there are "7,000." In Biblical symbolism, "7" is a number of completeness (as in "seven days of creation") and adding zeros means great abundance.

The loco weed masthead

Just in case you didn't see it before, here's the explanation.

Is the person in the pulpit ashamed of the Word?

Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels. Mark 8:38, assigned for Lent 2 in the Revised Common Lectionary

This is what the 1979 Book of Common Prayer says about the Scriptures:
Q. Why do we call the Holy Scriptures the Word of God?
A. We call them the Word of God because God inspired their human authors and because God still speaks to us through the Bible.


"Word" is capitalized to show that the whole Bible expresses Jesus Christ. He is the Word (Greek Logos, perfect self-expression) of God, as explained in John 1.

This is what your clergy vowed when they were ordained:
...I solemnly declare that I do believe the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments to be the Word of God, and to contain all things necessary to salvation...

Are you being encouraged to take the Bible seriously as the whole Word of God, or are you getting flaky sermons that tell you all about how to ignore it?

Are you getting sermons in which various parts of the Bible are played off against one another ("Paul is wrong," or "If you believe that the Bible is the Word of God, why don't you sacrifice goats?")?

Are you hearing about a "Christ" who has little to do with what the Bible says that Jesus said and did?

If your preacher can't connect the various parts of the Bible to Christ, bringing you a coherent message from the Word of God, you are being robbed, exploited and put in spiritual danger. If your preacher is ashamed of the Holy Bible, your preacher is ashamed of Jesus Christ. Go find a church that gets you ready to experience glory.

Friday, March 6, 2009

More liturgical dance resources... maybe at the offertory?

SURE, ELVIS AND WILLY NELSON ARE GREAT, BUT...

THIS VERSION IS MORE TEC-no (uggh, sorry.)

Since liturgical dance is all the rage, here's NPA's first hymn selection...

HE CAME TO TOWN LIKE A MIDWEST STORM

HE RODE THROUGH THE FIELDS SO HANDSOME AND STRONG

(watch out once this song is in your head!)

1928 Prayer Book-use witnesses will attend General Convention

The Episcopalians for Traditional Faith site is here. Click the "History" tab and read about their intentions for General Convention this summer.

Well, since Stand Firm and TitusOneNine will be down for a few hours, here's something to read... (or you can dance to it)

Comments about the revisionist ceremonies at St. Gregory of Nyssa in San Francisco (or the "Saint Gregory Company" or whatever) are flying all about. A number of folks are flummoxed by the liturgical dance part. Christopher Johnson has some blog fun with it.

Here's my understanding. St. Gregory of Nyssa's interior space features paintings of many saints, portrayed as if approaching the altar together in this kind of dance. Artistic renditions like this are not new. St. Vibiana's Roman Catholic Cathedral in Los Angeles has a similar motif, albeit involving a procession rather than a dance step. The point is the same - the congregation becomes one with the communion of saints as it approaches the altar.

I have two problems with the dance at St. Gregory's:
  1. Why bother acting out unity with the saints if we don't share what's really important - the apostolic faith? Holy Baptism in the 1979 Prayer Book begins with an affirmation of the New Testament's Letter to the Ephesians: "There is one hope in God's call to us; One Lord, one Faith, one Baptism." And the liturgical affirmation of the communion of saints is in the Apostle's Creed, the very statement of faith tossed out of the St. Gregory's ceremony.
  2. Are people required to do this step in order to receive the sacraments? The rite dares not require people to affirm the faith passed down to the church by the saints, but it requires people to learn an eccentric dance step to approach the altar. If the dance step is mandatory, I would argue that it places an unnecessary ritual requirement between the people and God.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Positive Response to our Open Letter on the Northern Michigan Situation

By email, from a Standing Committee member and past General Convention Deputy:
"Thank you for your letter regarding the approval of the election of the Bishop of Northern Michigan as I too am greatly troubled. Your letter reflects a careful and most accurate consideration of the theology and ordained ministry of the Episcopal Church and our place in the Anglican Communion.

We fought very hard at the last convention to adopt the resolution to abstain from approving the elections and consecrations of Bishops whose lifestyles would pose a problem to the rest of the church. I regard that as a major victory against the type of extremism that would tear the church from its traditional Biblical and Historical roots...

...I also share your objections to the process of Northern Michigan's election as it seems most irregular and suspicious in nature. Mutual Ministry should never be used as an excuse to do away with regularly ordained clergy to save money, or to ordain ill trained, ill equipped, or non-Christian individuals. A self professed practicing Zen Buddhist would most certainly be a direct challenge to the remainder of the Anglican Communion that they could not ignore. I too have read some materials by Thew Forrester and find them very questionable in that they plainly suggest that Jesus Christ is not the way to Salvation and as a result, I can not vote to approve his election as he can't really take the Oath of Conformity and falls into the same category as Anne Redding. I had a problem with the Consecration of the Bishop of Utah a few years ago as she was baptized in the Mormon Church which is not a Christian Church. In the same light, I went on record at the last General Convention as voting against the approval of the Bishop in California who had been married four times. All present a challenge to the church.

The process of Northern Michigan appears to have been "faulty" to say the least and I also question the integrity of anyone who would "engineer" the process to make himself the only candidate in an ordination process for Bishop while being on the nominating committee.

Thank you for your concern and support for the ministry, mission, and future of the Episcopal Church and be assured of my desire to have us remain as true and faithful members of the Anglican Communion, and obedient to the Doctrine and Discipline, of the Episcopal Church and its Worship as is directed in the Book of Common Prayer.

Let us keep the lines of Communication open regarding further developments of this and other issues so we as deputies may make the best decisions possible for the welfare of the church."

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Comparing this Sunday's New Testament Lesson, the Book of Common Prayer, and the stuff being peddled in some Episcopal Churches

I. The Biblical Message

From this Sunday's Epistle, as appointed by the Revised Common Lectionary and displayed on the Episcopal Church lectionary page:

Therefore (Abraham's) faith "was reckoned to him as righteousness." Now the words, "it was reckoned to him," were written not for his sake alone, but for ours also. It will be reckoned to us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead, who was handed over to death for our trespasses and was raised for our justification. (Romans 4)

Got it? Human "righteousness" is received by belief in God, who raised Jesus from the dead. And this Jesus died for our trespasses and it is his new life alone that justifies us before God.

II. Our Current Prayer Book

Even with some goofy additions here and there, the Baptismal rite of The Episcopal Church (1979 Book of Common Prayer) still affirms the Biblical message. Baptism is a sacrament - "an outward and visible sign of inward and spiritual grace, given by Christ as sure and certain means by which we receive that grace" (p. 857).

"The means of grace" in the Prayer Book rite include personal rejection of Satan and spiritual forces of wickedness, evil powers of this world and our own sinful desires (p. 302). The rite recognizes that we need to be "cleansed from sin" (p. 307). It understands that apart from Jesus Christ we remain in our trespasses against God.

The Prayer Book affirms that we are baptized into Christ's death (p. 306) and that in the sacrament we are buried with Christ in his death. Christ's death is the decisive offering to God, and in joining ourselves to it the stain of our trespasses is erased.

Cleansed by the atoning death of Jesus Christ on our behalf, and accepting him as our Savior (p. 302), we can hope to "live in the power of his resurrection" (p. 306) and "continue for ever in the risen life of Jesus Christ our Savior" (p. 307). We can stand "justified" before God, not based on a righteousness of our own but on Christ's death and resurrection, to which we are joined in the sacrament of baptism.

The rite admits that we will sin and need to repent and return to the Lord, even after baptism (p. 304).

III. A non-Prayer Book "baptism" now used in some Episcopal churches.

You can see it here. (h/t "martin5" )

It removes the word "sacrament" from the rite. It reduces baptism to an organizational membership ceremony of some kind.

It has NO renunciation of evil. It does not admit to the reality of Satan, spiritual evil, worldly corruption or our own sinful desires. It does not warn that this false Trinity of the world, the flesh and the devil can separate us from God - rather, it says that "new birth is a gift that none can take away." There is no expression of the need to continually "repent and return to the Lord." Baptism is a magical, immediate entitlement to eternal life. It claims to "bestow the forgiveness of sin" without ever really acknowledging our status as creatures who have trespassed in rebellion against our Creator.

It has a few holdover phrases from the '79 Prayer Book, but is completely detached from the Biblical message. In fact, it removes some of the most Biblically accurate statements from the '79 BCP. "... made members of your Church" (yes, big "C") displaces deliverance "from bondage to sin" in the Thanksgiving over the Water.

+++

The non-Prayer Book ceremony is a radical rejection of the radical reintroduction of The Great Vigil of Easter in the 1979 BCP. The Great Vigil begins with the reading of "Salvation History", detailing our rebellion against God and salvation through the waters of baptism. That this is a participation in the death and resurrection of Christ is made clear by the assignment of Romans 6:3-11, including

For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin—because anyone who has died has been freed from sin.

And the Collect for the Vigil Eucharist beautifully summarizes the Biblical message:

Almighty God, who for our redemption gave your only-begotten Son to the death of the cross, and by his glorious resurrection delivered us from the power of our enemy: Grant us so to die daily to sin, that we may evermore live with him in the joy of his resurrection; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

The differences between the '79 Book and the other rite suggest the choice between initiation into a club and baptism into Jesus Christ himself. They present the contrast of man-made religion with the revealed Gospel of the Savior... and I say this in full realization that the '79 rite has its own human innovations compared to prior BCPs. We are way down the slippery slope, and the denomination keeps rolling boulders down on us.