Friday, December 7, 2012

Ghosts of Commissions Past: Thoughts on the Structure Commission

Christmas came early for Crusty:  the Presiding Bishop and President of the House of Deputies recently announced members of the Structure Task Force; see a list with short bios here.  And for the record, Crusty declined when several people asked if they could nominate him.  For one thing, he is under no illusion he would ever be appointed; for another, he wants to keep a critical distance from the Commission's work in order to hold them accountable.

To remind people (this is America, after all, we forget stuff that happened a week ago), this Task Force was set up by resolution C095 of the 2012 General Convention.  The Task Force's mandate is to present the 78th General Convention with a plan for reforming the Church’s structures, governance, and administration.  

It will "be accountable directly to the General Convention, and independent of other governing structures."  Accountable how, exactly, Crusty is unsure -- on the one hand he has presumed, since this is nowhere defined, that is a sop to people who fear peasants storming some kind of General Convention castle; on the other hand, he wonders how to balance the requirement of accountability with the emphasis on independence to be given to the Task Force.

It is to have  "as many as 24 members, appointed jointly by the Presiding Bishop and the President of the House of Deputies by September 30, include some persons with critical distance from the Church’s institutional leadership."  Crusty assumes they were appointed by then but not released until now. 

It is to "gather information and ideas from congregations, dioceses and provinces, and other interested individuals and organizations, including those not often heard from" and "convene a special gathering to receive responses to the proposed recommendations to be brought forward to the 78th General convention, and shall invite to this gathering from each diocese at least a bishop, a lay deputy, a clerical deputy, and one person under the age of 35."  So all of you who didn't get appointed -- don't despair!  You can still be part of the process and feel like an insider!  Also, Crusty wonders what their definition of "critical distance" is, when a number of these individuals are members of the very governing structure (bishops and deputies) they are supposed to have critical distance from.

And, lastly, it "shall report to the whole Church frequently, and shall make its final report and recommendations to the Church by November 2014, along with the resolutions necessary to implement them, including proposed amendments to the Constitution and Canons of the Church."  Crusty is delighted to know he won't have to think up ideas for blog posts in the fall of 2014.  Christmas will come early again in two years!!

OK, with that review over, let's look at the Task Force itself.  Much comment in the blogosphere and its even baser counterpart, the commentosophere of the blogosphere, has focused on the makeup and structure of the Task Force.  Some have marveled at the fact that women make up only about 30% of the Task Force.  Others have noted there is only one deacon.  COD hears some of this criticism, but is loath to join in at this point.  Yes, I know you all just dropped your lattes upon hearing COD loath to criticize; it does happen occasionally.  Fact is,

1)  this is part of the problem of our entire appointment system; despite our continual paeans to our glorious democratic process,  two people, the PHOD and PB, appoint an overwhelming number of people to many of our interim governing bodies.  If we have a system like this, we have to trust those in charge; if, not, then change the system; and

2)  appointing people is a hard process, Crusty had to recruit people for nearly a dozen different committees and commissions as ecumenical officer.  You try to balance geography, gender, age, theology, sexual orientation, and so on -- and then you are limited by those willing to accept the appointment.  For all we know, the PHOD and PB's dream list was 65% female and they just weren't able to get the people they want; further,

3)  when you don't have a quota system, you also have to be willing to take what you get.  People tried to write strict representation aspects into the Task Force makeup, only to have it shot down in committee.  COD is on record as having supported specific slotting of spots, for the simple reason that it if we value things like diversity COD has no problem legislating it; he believes in it for affirmative action and doesn't see why it's not OK for the church.  He suspects the reason many people are against it is because we live in a fantasy that somehow we are above all of this, when in fact our church actually represents the race, gender, and class stratifications of society and we just don't want to do the really hard work to change that other than reassure ourselves that of course we're not racist or sexist or ageist.

There is one thing that made Crusty's jaw drop:  the clerical nature of the task force.  14 of the 24 members are clergy, or about 60 percent.  He finds this astounding given the reorganization of many the Standing Commissions of General Convention to a uniform number of 12, enshrining the principle of a 50-50 clergy-lay split.  Standing Commissions uniformly consist of six lay persons, three priests/deacons, and three bishops.  For a church that takes representation of laity in the life of its governance seriously, and has it enshrined in its canons, he felt for sure the Task Force would have a 50-50, 12-12 clergy-lay split, and frankly is disappointed that it does not.  It would have been an important symbol about the importance of honoring that aspect of our polity.

Otherwise, COD isn't too worked up, the makeup of the Task Force is fine by Crusty, he thinks they probably did about as well as they could.  

What say you, spirit?  Being a bishop or elected multiple times as deputy counts as "critical distance"?
Crusty would like to make one other comment.  Since this is Christmas season, with its interminable revivals of A Christmas Carol, Crusty finds himself haunted by Ghosts of Commissions Past.

After all, this isn't the only time the Episcopal Church has dealt with an urgent matter through some kind of special commission, committee, or task force.  While not exactly parallel under polity (this is a task force being formed under the Joint Rules of Order), the church has, in its past, formed special committees to deal with certain issues.

It's good that the church, as a whole, has reached a place in its change cycle where it understands that there is a need for a change.  There doesn't seem to be a whole lot of denial or people thinking things are just fine.  But you know what?  Institutions at this stage in a change cycle -- realizing that contexts have changed -- are in a very precarious and interesting place.  Put simply, there's no guarantee they will do what it takes to meet the challenges brought about by changes.  Some institutions have, and will, choose to die rather than change.  So while it's nice the Episcopal Church, through this resolution being passed unanimously, has come to place of recognition of the reality of profound changes in the church and society (sample some of Crusty's other posts for more detail), we shouldn't presume it will actually *do* anything.  It might, Crusty hopes it will, but the historical record doesn't necessarily mean it will.

Pass my memorial or else.
Let's take an example of one of the first of these special committees, the committee appointed to deal with the so-called Muhlenberg Memorial.  William Augustus Muhlenberg presented a memorial signed a number of clergy to the General Convention of 1853.  In it, he lamented a number of things: the church had fallen behind in its missionary strategy, having been outstripped by Methodists, Baptists, and worst of all, Catholics; that it had an critical shortage of clergy; and desperately needed to adapt to massive changes in American society and American Christianity (that last one sound familiar?).  Episcopalians had gone from being about 15% of the American population at the Revolution to shrinking to barely 15,000 by the 1790s.  It was experiencing slowgrowth in the decades since but as lagging almost laughably behind other denominations.  Methodists, for instance, exploded from a few thousand to over 800,000 and became largest denomination in the country by 1860.  The church lagged in domestic missions, being an  urban and Eastern phenomenon.  It was short of clergy, given the high bar for educational requirements (early on ordinands were required to present an account of their faith in the Latin tongue to their bishop; yeah, you can see a gentleman William and Mary grad fluent in Latin serving a mission station in Ohio, right?).

So Muhleneberg drafted a memorial to Convention laying out these concerns, and also making some concrete suggestions.  One was for greater liturgical flexibility, including consideration of Prayer Book Revision; another was extending ordination by Episcopal bishops to non-Episcopal clergy, as part of an effort to lay the foundations for what would be a pan-Protestant, national American church.  Convention received the Memorial and the House of Bishops appointed a committee to address the concerns raised, and to report back to the next Convention.

In 1856 it dutifully issued its report.  It acknowledged many of Muhlenberg's concerns as valid.  Its sweeping recommendation for changes needed?  It gave permission for parishes not to have to follow the pattern of Morning Prater, Litany, and Ante-Communion (liturgy of the Word) for Sunday mornings.  Parishes could do just MP, or do the Communion service.

The Commission, put simply, quailed.  It offered no substantive reforms in the face of the Memorial's clear laying out of the issues.  While there was modest and substantive expansion and missionary work, in some ways nothing changed.  The church was still chronically short of clergy:  it wasn't until the 20th century that ordained clergy outnumbered lay readers.  It was still an Eastern phenomenon: By 1900, 90 percent of members still lived East of the Mississippi River.  To this day, only 12% of Episcopal churches were founded after 1968 (given massive shifts of population to the West and Southwest, further showing Episcopalians are not where the people are at).

So just because we set up a Commission, and acknowledged some of the reasoning behind its formation, doesn't mean

a)  it will do anything, and
b)  even if it does, the church will adopt anything it suggests

Lesslie Newbigin, one of Crusty's heroes.
This is where we, as a church, need to be involved and hold this group, and our church, accountable.  This is not change for change's sake; rather, we are looking at a profoundly changed missional environment and dynamic and we need to recapture the sense of the church as a missionary organization and movement.  Lesslie Newbigin pointed this out in 1984, for Christ's sake!

Because we all have a place in the Commission's work, even if not appointed.

It is to gather information from the church: be heard!

It is to convene a special gathering to receive and consider its recommendations:  let your bishop and deputies know what you think!  Put forward people under 35 to attend this gathering!

COD wishes them well and will be praying for them, but you also better believe Crusty will be watching them.  Dear readers, hopefully you know by now not to frak with COD.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Breaker 1-9: Get Off My Cyber-Lawn With Your Twitbook!

CODD (Crusty Old Dean's Dad) was an interesting guy.  He had an incredible mind for spatial thinking.  When he joined the Marines, he took the standard battery of tests.  One of them was to look at designs, and be asked to draw them in different contexts -- for instance, stuff like "take these lines, assemble them into a shape, rotate it 90 degrees, and draw what it would look like."  He did so well they thought he cheated, gave him another version of the test again while being watched, and he did even better.  He was assigned to ordnance, and fused atomic bombs.  That's the kind of brain you want putting triggers into explosives.  Later, he owned a printing factory and was a veritable savant with machines:  he could look at them and see things others didn't, fix them using duct tape and rubber bands, attach them together to make assembly lines more efficient, and so on.

It's no myth.  Rock stars did look like this in the 1980s.
But he met his match in the 1980s:  he just could not understand that computers were not like, say, a carburetor.    Let me give you an example:  Dad bought an Apple II in the early 1980s, later bought a dot matrix printer, the kind that you feed those long rolls of paper with holes on the edges into, that had a ribbon kind of like a typewriter (Millennials, bear with Crusty -- as an Gen Xer, I'm caught between two worlds and forced to be bilingual in Boomer and Millennial).  Even later in the 1980s, he upgraded, this time to a PC.  I was home from college on vacation, and he hollered at me to come downstairs and help him.

He had the dot matrix printer and his new PC on the kitchen table.  "What are you doing?" I asked.  "I'm going to hook this printer up to this computer."  "You can't do that," I said.  He looked up, seemingly offended.  "Why not?" he asked indignantly.  "Because you can't."  I held up the cable for the printer.  "This is the end you plug into the computer," I said.  "Now look at where you plug it into the computer."  They were differently configured SCSI connections.  They physically could not connect to one another, any more than you could connect a firehose to a stethoscope.  He looked absolutely befuddled, and I half expected him to reach for rubber hands and a hammer.  "You mean there's nothing we can do?" he asked. "Well, you could buy a new printer," I said.  "Why would I do that, this one works perfectly fine!" he half-shouted in frustration.

Some hot male on male SCSI action, circa 1989.
I sometimes wonder if we are at a similar crossroads with understanding social media.  And I mean this as something that goes beyond my grandmother not being able to know how to set the digital clock we bought her (she would just unplug it and plug it back it at midnight whenever the power went out or daylight savings came or went).  Something akin to my dad's dilemma:  it wasn't a question of just not knowing about different SCSI configurations.  The whole paradigm had shifted, and while a computer was, in one way, a machine, it was, in so many other ways, something so much more varied: transforming how we think, communicate, organize, and know the world around us.

Let me give a different example.  Crusty, along with a whole host of research on the millennial generation and Gen Z (the ones after the millennials; what we name the next generation will be interesting now that we've reached Z, Crusty is pushing for Generation Captain Hammer) is convinced that social media has already profoundly transformed key elements and aspects of our interactions.  How do we understand community?  Or friendship?  Friends are no longer just people you accidentally stumble across; I met one of my best friends of the past twenty-five years by the sheer random chance that he was assigned the room next to me in college.  Years later, I was at a party in the 1990s and was standing in line for the bathroom -- this was a house party, with 100 people crammed into a 1000 sq foot house with one bathroom, so yeah, there was a line.  I'm a closet music geek, and my roommate at the time was the same guy I had become friends with mainly because we were randomly assigned room next to one another and found we liked a lot of the same things.  At that time, he and I were into obscure girl groups from the 1950s and early 1960s -- the Poni-Tails, Bob B. Sox and the Blue Jeans, and so on.  In a pre-Spotify world, we scoured old records stores in the African American parts of the city to buy vintage R&B 45s, since a lot of this stuff was out of print, and when we found them,  we would then put on cassette tapes.  There were songs we knew were out there from reading old Lester Bangs, Dave Marsh, and Robert Christgau articles but just hadn't found yet.  Anyway I was humming something while waiting for the bathroom and the guy behind me asked, "Are you humming 'Angel Baby' by Rosie and the Originals?'"  As we started talking, he thought he was the only person into obscure girl groups from 1955-1964.  I dashed out of line, even though I had to pee, grabbed my roommate, and said, quoting Yoda from Return of the Jedi (before we called it Episode VI), "There is another Skywalker."  I dragged him into the other room, but by the time we fought our way back through the crowd, the guy was gone.  I began to wonder if he had even existed, and my roommate and I were back to being the only people who knew Darlene Love first sang in The Blossoms.

On almost every level, that story simply doesn't make sense anymore, from the 45s to cassette tapes to me not being able to text my friend to come over and meet this new guy to reading about music in print newsletters to not being able to find people into the same stuff as you to being able to afford to live in that section of town anymore.  Really, the only part still true is having to wait in lie to pee at house parties.  Relationships are now based perhaps as much on common interests as sheer accident, and we able to connect and form relationships through means inconceivable even five years ago.

What does it mean for us who got our first computer at age 50?  Or age 30?  Or 5?  And to be clear, again, this isn't like grandma and her digital clock:  this is not about proficiency or facility with technology.  People will always have these differences, there will be young Luddites and older people who are tech savvy.  I regularly get emails from an 84 year old alumnus of the seminary where I teach, and when I was a college chaplain I knew young adults who refused to be on Facebook or get a smartphone (granted, not many, but they exist).  Crusty is talking on a macro scale:  what does it mean to have no experience of anything but a post-9/11 world shaped by the internet and social media?  Just as in pre-Civil Rights movement days people were shaped by and lived within the boundaries of as segregated world, whether they were black or white, racist or not; just like geopolitics was shaped by the USA-Soviet dualistic Cold War whether you lived in Poland, Peoria, or Papua New Guinea, we are all shaped by this new world.

What's important for us in the church is that these changes have staggering implications for so many things: how we understand institutions being one of them.  Crusty's a historian by trade, and a simple fact is this: when society changes, the church changes.  When Constantine converted to Christianity, and it eventually became the only legal established religion, the church ended up looking different in the year 400 than it did in 300.   The North American context of the USA and Canada has profoundly altered the transplanted traditions from European contexts; one of the pre-eminent works in American religious history is 'Old Religion in a New World,' and breaks down in detail those dynamics.  The world has been transformed again in the past 30 years with a confluence of changes -- personal computers, the internet, globalization, social media, among others.  Thus the church is going to change, because the society has already changed.

This matters for the church, because we organize ourselves in institutions (denominations, physical churches) and try to create community.  Well, social media has transformed notions of community and institution.  Think on it.  A certain kind of person would join certain kind of institutions -- Catholic men of a certain age and social class would join Knights of Columbus, Protestants the Masons or Elks, women of a certain age or social class would join the Junior League or DAR or whatever.  Churches, more often that not, functioned in a not dissimilar way: they were at times as much markers of class and social identity; as Niebuhr pointed out in his "Social Sources of American Denominationalism," American denominationalism reproduced the caste systems of American society.  It was over FIFTY YEARS ago that Gibson's seminal work "Suburban Captivity of the Churches" was published.  Paradigms based on churches as membership-based organizations are untenable in the age of social media.  We can roll our eyes and say, "C'mon, the DAR and Elks are not us."  Will people in 50 years look at a congregation in a building with a congregation across the street that believes 90% of the same stuff and roll their eyes and say, "Can you believe people filled out pledged cards and sat on endless committees?"  Who are we to presume our current incarnation of the church in its externals is normative?  Will institutions become extensions of people, and shape them as much as being shaped by them?

Let me give another example:  Crusty was giving a talk to an organization which he will not name, trying to get across the need for institutional change and transformation:  you can't simply lament young people are not joining your committees, I told them.  You've got to find out what they want to do, and let them reshape this organization with you.  Otherwise you'll simply die out when this generation dies out; shaking your fist and wondering why people don't just join one of your organization's committees and wait five years before any of their ideas will be considered is not a growth model.  I then shared the story about two young people who fell into a drain (I heard it on Wait Wait Don't Tell Me).  The first thing they did?  Update their Facebook status.  This elicited howls of laughter when I told it; it did when it was discussed on Wait Wait.  Scattered comments in that room about those whacky kids and their Facebook.  Once the laughter subsided I then asked this group, straightfaced (I had not been laughing, I think this is an important example). Why did they do it?  Silence, a stray comment about how kids aren't connected to reality, more silence.  I then said, "No, they did it so their friends would know where they were and not be worried.  It was the quickest, easiest, most efficient way to do so.  Then they called 9-1-1."

Where are we?  Like my Dad with the dot matrix printer and the slightly less ancient new computer?

I sometimes see disconnects in the church, centered around the realization that social media is here, but not an understanding of how best to use it, or an inkling of how profoundly it has already reshaped understandings of institutions and community.  To give but one example, the odd attempts to ban tweeting at public meetings in the Episcopal Church.  At the House of Bishops last summer, for instance, the bishops were forbidden to tweet.  Now I could understand this in private, closed session, and would certainly expect people to understand and respect the need for confidentiality, and then end up leaking things the old fashioned way after the meeting is over.  But in public session?  At one point the PB solemnly intoned into the microphone, with several hundred people including  media present, "I believe the Bishop of X is tweeting, and ask him to stop."  Crusty thought this was amusing because, of course, to notice this, one had to be on social media.  COD thought it would have been more appropriate for someone to tweet the bishop to stop tweeting.  At one point, an usher was walking around, trying to stop people in the gallery, in a public meeting, from tweeting.  COD honestly can't comprehend the absurdity of forbidding people from tweeting from open and public meetings.

And besides, wouldn't you want people to know more about your organization and what it does?

This week, there has been a gathering of the Committees, Commissions, Agencies, and Boards of the Episcopal Church (CCABs).  Following it on Twitter, it seemed like General Convention, Part 2: an uneasy coexistence of old communication and new communication (which isn't that new anymore).  Lots of buzz about a tweet-up, as if this was something new and extraordinary -- one tweet actually asked, "It would be nice to have tweets about what is happening rather than a tweet up is happening."  Crusty nearly dropped his phone he laughed so hard reading that one, since in many ways it perfectly encapsulating this dynamic.  Have we really considered how it reflects the ends of our transformed reality, or is social media still a means to something we haven't figured out?

To give another example, Crusty was struck by a posting on Episcopal Cafe.  The cafe posted a long list of tweets from the CCAB gathering.  It looked so odd to scroll through this long list of tweets, because tweets flow from one another and immediately from the events that they are responding to.  The reason you live tweet a sermon is because you are there communicating it to people who are not; otherwise, after the fact, you might as well ask the person who preached it to post their text somewhere.  Tweets are inherently occasional and contextualized.  I don't mean this in any way as a criticism of the Cafe folks; they are some of the most media savvy people I've come across.  Rather, this is just what struck me scrolling through this seemingly endless list of tweets:  the way you participate in a tweet up by participating in a tweet up, not reading about it.  I can't imagine anyone being able to understand what Twitter is from the Cafe posting who doesn't know what Twitter is already.   To be presented in this format struck Crusty almost like someone so excited about learning Spanish they travel to Montreal to speak it.   Or once you find out how a computer works you throw up the binary code onto your blog for others to see.  Spanish is a language but the context is important, only people who speak Spanish understand it.  Computers do work on code, but the code presented to people who don't understand how computers work doesn't do much.

What would it truly mean to let our committee and organization structure be shaped by social media?  As it now stands, our denominational governance is, in essence, an oligarchy.  I don't mean that pejoratively, it's literally true: a small group of people govern the church.  A small group of people who have the luxury to take two weeks off in the middle of the summer make up General Convention deputies.  In between Conventions, legislative and program work is channeled through a smaller group of people, the aforemenionted CCABs, which have enormous influence in shaping the agenda for the next General Convention.   These CCAB members are, in turn, appointed (with some exceptions, like the Executive Council -- read your canons!) by precisely two people, the President of the House of Deputies (who, in turn, is only elected by clergy and lay deputies from the floor and from among their number) and the Presiding Bishop (who, in turn, is only elected by bishops, but at least confirmed by deputies and nominated by a committee which includes clergy, bishops, and lay persons).

Let's take a specific example of what it might mean actually to let ourselves be shaped by these understandings of networks and community.  The Nominating Committee for the next Presiding Bishop is one of these CCABs.  This is a committee which is elected at each General Convention, even when there is no election planned in the upcoming triennium, in order to act in case of vacancy (remember since it became an elected position, more than one died in office and one resigned before a term was up).  This obviously takes more importance in a year like 2012.  Since an election of Presiding Bishop will be held in 2015, considerably more attention gets paid to this group.  Questions abound.  What are they looking for in a Presiding Bishop?  What do we think the church needs in a Presiding Bishop? What's the timeline for their work?  Do any of us know this?  Will there be any communication, or will the nominees just appear, as they have in the past?

What if they crowdsourced some of these questions -- what do people think we need in a PB for the church at this place and time?  What would it mean to utilize social media not just as a tool, to throw up a Facebook page, but to engage constituencies, offer transparency, create buy-in and consensus, maybe even learn something or show the world who we are and how we operate?

Odder still when many in the Episcopal Church can't see the way in which we are a pyramidical, hierarchical structure, yet consistently paint ourselves as one of the purest models of democratic governance.  If I hear one more time the General Convention is perhaps the largest democratically elected governing body in the world, I'll puke; it's not true (the ELCA Churchwide Assembly and United Methodist General Conference are bigger), it's not representative (it does not reflect the society as a whole, let alone the church as whole, since it is overwhelmingly old and white), and at times it is as much hierarchical and centralized as democratic (aforementioned oligarchy).

Crusty noted this in a lot of recent discussion about the appointment of the new Archbishop of Canterbury.  For instance, while at diocesan convention last weekend, at the bar, several people asked Crusty how an Archbishop of Canterbury gets chosen.  For the full details, go here; Crusty broke it down for this group of 8-10 clergy and lay people.  It was kind of like telling that story about the kids who fell down the drain:  lots of rolling of eyes and finally one of the clergypersons said, "Thank God we don't have that secretive, closed process."  To which I said, "How much do you know about how the Presiding Bishop is nominated, and how much of a say do you have in that process?"

So what does it all mean?  It means in part we're in a profound generational shift in the church.  I don't mean that one generation is better than another or one needs to get out and let others take over, though Crusty is sure that's how some people will read all of this.  Boomers, Xers, Millennials, Gen Z and Gen Captain Hammer need to co-create something together, not presume there is one, single, paradigm that is normative anymore -- because guess what, there's another generation coming along that we haven't named yet after Generation Captain Hammer!   No generation is the "future" or the "past": we all ARE the church, right here, right now.   CODW (Crusty Old Dean's Wife) is passionate, committed, and articulate about youth and young adult ministry and Christian Formation.  She is often told, more or less, "That's great, children are the future of the church."  CODW always find a way to correct that to "No, children and young adults are the church, and, further, all of us, no matter our age, needs formation and discipleship."

Crusty at Thanksgiving dinner (warning: not actual photo).
So it's not about one generation over and against one another.  Since we are the church, we need to BE the church together.  Millennials need to understand how institutions are helpful in furthering goals -- you can put up all the online petitions you want, but more substantive organization is essential to effect change.  Boomers need to get just how different things are, this isn't like not knowing how to work a DVR or which input button lets you watch DVDs on TV.  Because it's not a matter of choice (you can always choose not to watch a DVD but read a book), because social media has ALREADY transformed so many things that impact the church, perhaps most important being understandings of community.   Xers, I think, can serve an important bridge function in how we straddle the divide between Boomers and Millennials -- I said to a colleague once I felt my whole ministry might be like the Steward of Gondor from Lord of the Rings (well, without the homicidal mental illness): striving to preserve something until the King (the Millenials and Gen Z) comes to claim and transform it.   How much of the church can we preserve, how can we let what we have and know and are, be resources to the Millennials and Generation Z?  The church has looked very, very different from age to age:  from house churches in Dura Europos in the third century to a Gothic Cathedral in the 13th to Methodist circuit riders in the 19th, and so on.  The 21st century church will look very, very different from the 20th century church.

And I say, God help us.  Will we leave rubble, or will we leave a foundation?  The next decade, and the way we can embrace these transformations, will determine much of that.  We don't have five years to figure out if the Twitbook is the CB radio of the 2010s.

Friday, November 9, 2012

A-B-C: It's the Welbennium!

It's here and we like it?  The Welbennium!
Interesting juxtaposition this week for those of us who consider ourselves Americans and Anglicans:  two important choices were made.  Barack Obama was reelected president of the United States, and the Crown Nominations Commission  has forwarded the name of the Rt Rev Justin Welby, Bishop of Durham, to be nominated as the next Archbishop of Canterbury.  Bishop Welby's announcement was made official on Friday, November 9.  COD, of course, greeted this with a big yawn, since  he called it back in September:  "COD doesn't need to handicap the field because it will either be Justin Welby or Christopher Cocksworth, unless it's someone else (all predictions guaranteed or your money back!)."  To bask in COD's powers of prognostication, as well as find out what happens next in how an ABC appointment works, here's a link to that post in full.

All that's left are the formalities -- the monarch confirming the appointment and issuing a conge d'elire (right to elect) to the cathedral chapter of Canterbury, authorizing them to elect the person who has been appointed.  After all these months, apparently, it's all over but the shouting.

But the shouting is sometimes important.

There are many, surely, wondering what to make of new Archbishop of Canterbury.  As usual, COD has a few thoughts.

But naturally COD will insert a story, as he is wont to do.  While he is on Twitter, COD prefers longform.

A flashback and comparison to Archbishop Rowan Williams' appointment is probably appropriate.  Crusty Old Dean was in Moscow when that happened, having just arrived as part of an Episcopal Church delegation to renew contacts with the Russian Orthodox Church (remember, Crusty speaks Russian and has a degree from an Orthodox seminary).  Though jetlagged and bleary-eyed, COD's philosophy is to fight through the time change and try to go to bed the first night in a new place close to your normal bedtime.  Even though I'd only had about four hours sleep in the past thirty hours, Crusty was sitting in the hotel restaurant when he saw a discarded copy of that day's International Herald Tribune, which, back in the pre-internet days, was how Americans in Europe found out who was leading the American League in batting average.  It had news of Archbishop Williams' appointment (yes, Crusty called him Archbishop Williams -- remember, he was Archbishop before becoming Archbishop).

COD chalked this up to his healthy concern about believing what you read while in Russia.  As an undergraduate student, I spent two different tours of duty studying abroad in Russia.   I had read about the freeing of Nelson Mandela and Nancy Reagan consulting an astrologer and the death of Jim Henson and Buster Douglas defeating Mike Tyson in Soviet newspapers.   There's an old Russian joke, based on the name of the two leading newspapers of the Soviet era.  Pravda means "truth," and Izvestia means "news".  Given Soviet control of the media, the joke goes (when truth and news are capitalized, they refer to the newspaper): "Hey, what's your favorite newspaper?"  Response: "Doesn't matter, there's no truth in the News and no news in the Truth."

So Crusty was at first cautious about reading about something in a newspaper while within the boundaries of Russia -- had an initial, "C'mon, is this true?" moment.  That night, watching the BBC on the hotel TV, it was confirmed.

COD would gather that Archbishop Williams' appointment ten years ago was probably one of the first to be followed closely by the Communion as a whole, particularly by the Episcopal Church.  He would further suggest that if you went back further, and asked most Episcopalians in 1990 the name of the current Archbishop of Canterbury, you would have gotten a fair share of befuddlement.  This is due to a number of reasons, but mainly because of the sense that we were heading towards a showdown on questions of human sexuality and the whole concept of the Anglican Communion was more connected, present, and real due to globalization, the influence of bishops from the developing world, and the explosion of information in a digital age.  There was considerable anger in some quarters that the previous Archbishop, George Carey, in essence turned the 1998 Lambeth Conference into a legislative body, with reports and resolutions -- anger that he manipulated what had been a forum for discussion into a process to punish the Episcopal Church, with the Conference passing a resolution against same sex blessings and ordination of gay and lesbian persons.   Archbishop Williams' appointment was greeted with enthusiasm bordering on elation in some circles: here was someone who was considered friendly to LBGT issues, who had spent some time in the USA while teaching for a year at Yale, who had been in New York City on September 11th.  Correspondingly, there was disappointment and anger in some conservative circles; persons who had hoped for Michael Nazr-Ali, the other name submitted to Prime Minister Tony Blair.  As one conservative friend glumly told COD at the time, "Michael Nazr-Ali was the only hope of keeping the Communion together."

Archbishop Williams can now record that "MacArthur Park" Cover
As we consider what to make of this 106th Archbishop of Canterbury, it's helpful to think back on reactions to the appointment of the 105th -- and how things change.  Many persons who were elated at Archbishop Williams' appointment eventually became disappointed, disillusioned, discouraged, and downright hostile at times -- feeling that he had given up his principles on inclusion in the church for the sake of compromise with conservatives who weren't really interested in compromise.  Likewise, conservative despair and gloom in some ways deepened, feeling that Archbishop Williams did not take steps necessary in their eyes, with some faulting him for not recognizing the Anglican Church in North America, inviting Episcopal bishops to Lambeth, and so on.

Personally, Crusty was torn.  At times he was in the camp that was disillusioned with the Archbishop's leadership; however, in noticing that everyone seemed pissed off at him, COD had the sinking feeling that maybe he was on to something  After all, sometimes making everyone unhappy is a sign you're doing something right but unpopular.  As a historian, COD is holding off on assessing Archbishop Williams' legacy right now, feeling that we need to see, in the passage of time, whether his efforts to strike a middle ground only postponed something inevitable, Neville Chamberlain-style, or whether it was able to prevent anything drastic from happening while a new consensus and middle ground coalesced.

So:  what to make of the new Archbishop?  A couple of things to keep in mind.

For one, this may be hard for those of us in the USA who think the world revolves around us, but here it is: this appointment wasn't about us.  The Archbishop of Canterbury a diocesan bishop, metropolitan, Primate of All England, and first among equals in the communion.  3/4ths of his job description has to do with the Church of England.  The Crown Appointments Commission selected the person they thought would be the best primate for the Church of England.   We can see some of this reflected in Bishop Welby's comments at the press conference.  He spoke of "the church", referring to the Church of England and its network of parishes and schools.  It seems clear they wanted someone with practical administrative experience (his previous career in the oil business), and extensive pastoral experience (time spent as parish priest and cathedral dean) to run the Church of England, which is actually what the Archbishop spends most of his time doing, BTW.

For another, don't immediately fear the evangelical.  It has been tradition, but not law, to alternate between evangelicals and those of a high church bent.  Many American Episcopalians recoil at the word "evangelical," in part because we have not maintained a substantive evangelical party in the church, unlike many other provinces. The Episcopal Church's evangelical wing, large and influential in the 1800s, more or less died out in the 20th century before being revived in the late 20th century as kind of frankenevangelicalism, one part American Protestant evangelicalism, one part charismatic renewal, one part connection and influence from other Anglican provinces.  Crusty has already heard some friends roll their eyes and recoil at an "evangelical" as Archbishop of Canterbury.  Yet the reality is in this appointment, the choice has been made to select a centrist, pragmatic evangelical.  Bishop Welby has stated his opposition to same sex blessings, but also his support of women bishops.  Let's see how this develops; the consensus last time was the Archbishop Williams was going to liberalize the church's positions on LBGT persons, and that didn't happen.

And lastly: perhaps we should be wondering how much this even matters at all?  After all, despite all of the freight laid at his feet by conservatives and liberals, Archbishop Williams couldn't really "do" much.  To be sure, we could argue things could have been handled differently and different decisions been made (Jeffrey Johns; removal of Episcopalians from certain Anglican Communion commissions), but, in the end, he couldn't order Anglicans opposed to ordination of LBGT persons to accept it, and he couldn't kick the Episcopal Church out of the Communion even if he wanted to.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Stuck Inside of Charleston With the Title IV Blues Again

"Sooner or later, one of us must know
That you just did what you were supposed to do."

Would you want Bob to sing the Sursum Corda?
Crusty Old Dean had a long drive to and from Louisville, KY, the past few 24 hours.  Since it's public radio pledge time in Columbus and Louisville, he relied heavily on Spotify to get him through the trip.  Spotify allows you to stream almost anything you want, and at times Crusty started free-associating, as one song would make him think of another, and so on.  Anyway, Crusty got into a mini-Dylan phase during the trip.  During his foray into born-again evangelicalism in 1979, Bob did not join the Episcopal Church, but COD did find the words above from "One of Us Must Know" come to him as he pondered the current situation with the diocese of South Carolina, and the recent certification by the Presiding Bishop of charges of abandonment of communion by Bishop Mark Lawrence.

First, the canon itself.  Keep in mind that canons are living documents, a good number of which arise from specific circumstances that have arisen in the life of the church.  Thus, much like soylent green, canons are, in a sense, people.

The first version of the canon on abandonment of communion was passed in 1853, to deal with the case of Bishop Levi Silliman Ives of North Carolina (like assassins, apparently apostates warrant the full three name treatment).  While on a trip to Europe, Bishop Ives wrote from Rome to his diocese announcing he had been received into the Roman Catholic Church (and by the Pope himself, to boot).  There was no real category to deal with such an action.  Resignation of a bishop -- yes, that had been accounted for.  But a bishop who joins another church?  Thus the first version of "abandonment of communion" came about.  It was short, sweet, frontier justice - if any bishop openly renounced the doctrine of this church or was received into another body "such bishop...shall be held, ipso facto, as deposed." (Canon 1, 1853).  No trial, no chance to retract -- the act itself automatically conferred deposition.  This was passed rather quickly to deal with the Ives matter, and was revised in 1859, with several additions made.  First, someone had to determine that the actions had actually taken place -- and here "certify" first appears.  In the 1859 canon, it is the diocesan standing committee which is to "make certificate of the fact" that what was done actually happened and warranted abandonment.  Second, there's an opportunity to deny the charges; the bishop has six months to make a response (yeah, six months seems a long time, but remember, Twitter hadn't been invented yet).  Third, there's an actual process of deposition: the action of abandonment itself no longer automatically confers deposition,  a majority vote of the House of Bishops is required to depose a bishop.

The 1859 revisions, more or less, provided the general overall structure of the canon from then until  the present. There are  a) definitions what constitutes abandonment; b) some entity has to certify the actions actually took place and rise to the level of abandonment; c)  there's an opportunity for a response from the accused; and d) the House of Bishops votes on any possible deposition.

Not the only one to have an "oops" moment.
Now, within this overall framework the  canon has been been amended several times. For instance, in 1874, when again something occurred nobody had planned for.  Bishop George Cummins, assistant bishop (1800s-speak for what we would now call coadjutor) of Kentucky, announced his intentions to leave the Episcopal Church and "transfer my work and office," eventually forming what would become the Reformed Episcopal Church.  Bishop Benjamin Smith, the senior bishop (and Cummins' diocesan bishop in addition to Senior Bishop -- AWKWARD!) duly informed Cummins he had six months to respond to the accusation of abandonment (which, recall, was the very letter Cummins sent to Smith announcing he was going to be transferring his ministry elsewhere, so the evidence was pretty ironclad).  Cummins then proceeded to hold an organizing conference for the Reformed Episcopal Church and consecrate another bishop.  In response to this "Oops!  Who woulda thought a bishop could go rogue?" the canon was amended to allow for a suspension of a bishop accused of abandonment of communion, by the Senior Bishop (1800s-speak for Presiding Bishop) with the consent of the three senior bishops by date of consecration.  It also was amended to allow for a special meeting of the House of Bishops to vote on the deposition.  All this was needed because Cummins was still a bishop in good standing in the Episcopal Church when he started the Reformed Episcopal Church and consecrated a new bishop on his own authority.  There needed to be a mechanism to suspend bishops while allowing them time to respond, and to allow for a way to vote on deposing them, since the House of Bishops at that time only met once every three years.

There was one more case of bishops behaving badly that warranted a revision.  Two changes were made to the canon at the 1979 General Convention.  One removed the certifying agent from the Standing Committee of the diocese to the Advisory Committee of the Presiding Bishop.  (This was no council of cronies or card-playing friends of the PB; the Advisory Committee at that time consisted of presidents and vice-presidents of provinces, and the presiding officer was not a bishop.)  Again, this was due to something which was not foreseen:  what to do about a retired bishop, who did not relate to a Standing Committee?  Which leads to the second change:  an additional cause for abandonment was added: "exercising episcopal acts in and for a religious body other than this church, so as to extend to such body Holy Orders as this Church holds the same, or to administer on behalf of such religious body Confirmation..."  This change was made due to the participation in 1978 by Bishop Albert Chambers, retired bishop of the diocese of Springfield, in the consecration of bishops for a proposed Anglican Church in North America (no, that's not a typo, it should sound familiar).  A group of clergy and lay leaders who objected to the ordination of women held a service in Denver in 1978 in which Bishop Chambers, assisted by Philippine Independent Bishop gone rogue Francisco Pagtakhan and a letter from Bishop Mark Pae of Korea supporting the consecration of Dale Doren, consecrated  Doren to the episcopate (Crusty Old Dean is unsure whether the letter was laid on along with Chambers' and Pagtakhan's hands).  The newly-consecrated Doren then joined Chambers and Pagtakhan in consecrating two additional bishops (whether the letter from Bishop Pae, after participating in the consecration, later concelebrated the eucharist has not been determined).

This was, more or less, how the canon stood through the 1990s and 2000s, with the only substantive change being the body that certified abandonment, along with the eventual removal of the option for a trial.  The canon would be amended to reflect  changes  the disciplinary process, so that the same body which examined charges made against bishops became the one which also certified charges of abandonment.

A couple of changes were made in 2009.  One is that the consent of the three senior bishops is no longer required to inhibit a bishop for whom the charge has been certified.  Restriction (formerly inhibition, formerly suspension) is now solely at the discretion of the Presiding Bishop, presumably because certification by the Disciplinary Board is determinative that the action meets the standard of abandonment.  Second, the certifying body was changed again to reflect the revisions in the disciplinary processes - it is now the Disciplinary Board for Bishops which certifies that the actions constituting abandonment have taken place.  The question of voting on depositions was not changed, despite some grumbling about the ambiguity there.  The "majority of the whole number of bishops entitled to vote"  has been required to depose a bishop for abandonment.  In some deposition votes taken in recent years, questions were raised as to what "majority of the whole number of bishops entitled to vote" meant.  Does it mean a majority of all bishops (including retired bishops, who can vote?).  Thus (for argument's sake, numbers are not exact) if there are 200 diocesan, assisting, suffragan, and retired bishops who are alive at any given time (and thus capable of voting), are 101 votes needed to depose a bishop?  Or, if the House of Bishops meet and 140 bishops show up for the vote, are only 71 votes needed?  In the case of the deposition of Bishop Duncan of Pittsburgh, the ruling was that this meant a majority of those present, if a quorum had been determined.

OK, everything is crystal clear, right?

Raj for Presiding Bishop!
So, to quote Rerun, what's happening now?

In 2011, charges were made against Bishop Mark Lawrence that he had abandoned the communion of the Episcopal Church.  The Disciplinary Board for Bishops dismissed those charges in November of 2011 - in part because many on the Board saw those as actions of the diocese, not the bishop; thus a majority could not be reached as required (as explained in a letter by Bishop Dorsey Henderson).  However, at a September, 2012 meeting of the Disciplinary Board, these previous dismissed charges went forward, apparently implicating Bishop Lawrence this time around due to his failure to rule the actions of the diocese (which can be construed as abandonment of communion) out of order or speak against them.  Additional charges were also certified, including one pertaining to the issuing of "quitclaim" deeds by the diocese to parishes.  This action was widely seen as a prelude to out-maneuver any future actions to claim parish property -- by relinquishing claims and transferring ownership to parishes, it would make it theoretically more difficult for the denomination to try to gain ownership or control of the properties.  The Presiding Bishop has communicated the actions of the Disciplinary Board to Bishop Lawrence, along with a notice of restriction of his ministry.  Bishop Lawrence has said that confidentiality is no longer possible, given automatic actions put in place by the diocese which are now set into motion (see below).

So what's next?  Crusty is planning a second, longer post on some of the eccesiological issues here, such as notions of whether dioceses are sovereign and the relationship between the General Convention and dioceses.  There's lots to be said on that front, in this posting COD will keep channeling Raj, Dwayne, Rerun, and the gang and focus on what's happening now.

By canon, Bishop Lawrence has 60 days to respond.  However, we may not need to wait that long because, apparently, the diocese of South Carolina, sort of like in the movie Dr Strangelove, can trigger a doomsday device automatically.  Because disciplinary action was taken against Bishop Lawrence, two resolutions passed by the diocese previously automatically are activated: one disaffiliates the diocese and withdraws from the Episcopal Church; the other calls for a special diocesan convention, which will be held November 17, 2012.  One does not need COD's significant powers of prognostication to guess what might happen in Charleston in November.  Whether he responds or not, it looks as though deposition of Bishop Lawrence, reorganization of the diocese with a new Standing Committee and provisional bishop, and legal action to claim title to property and funds will follow.  Like a good Dylan song, the deposition song now has multiple verses (and BTW the denomination overall has prevailed thus far in litigation, though not every case has been litigated to conclusion).

Driving through the beautiful fall colors of northern Kentucky and southern Ohio, COD thought of the long, cumulative, chain of events that brought us to this place.  Bishop Lawrence's election was not without controversy; questions were raised at the time as to whether he would or would not seek to lead the diocese out of the Episcopal Church.  He was elected twice; the first time, the election was ruled "null and void" because a majority of consents from Standing Committees were not received, due to Standing Committees declining to give consent and some Standing Committees not providing the proper canonical form for their consents.  Bishop Lawrence was re-elected at a second diocesan convention where he was the only candidate, and consents received that time around.  The diocese has distanced itself from the Episcopal Church,  and disavowed actions of the Episcopal Church, before now formally withdrawing its accession to the Constitution and Canons.

As he drove back from Louisville this morning, COD was reminded of a time when he was about 12 years old. CODD (Crusty Old Dean's Dad) owned a printing factory back in the day when printing was messy and loud and involved lots of big, clanking machines.  COD used to work at the factory in the summer, and smelting lead to make pig ingots for linotype machines was one of his jobs (yes, CODD let COD handle 600 degree molten metal; and not just any liquid metal, lead; and yes, very few people alive probably know what the previous sentence means).  Anyway, COD was taking a break, sitting on top a big, five-foot-high roll of paper.  COD used to like to sit up on the rolls of paper  because you could see most of the factory floor.  About forty feet away from me, COD noticed that one of the paper cutting machines had a jam; you hooked one of these five-foot rolls onto it, and you adusted a huge blade to cut the paper into the size pieces needed for a given job.  It had stopped running, and COD noticed the operator leaning in to clear a jam.  With horror, COD noted that the rather portly operator's ample waistline was about to come into contact with the lever that paused the machine -- when the lever was pushed back into place, it would start up again, possibly with the hand in the machine.  COD could see the whole thing happening, almost in slow-motion, and helpless to do anything.  It was too loud to shout: dozens of machines were pounding away, nobody would have heard me shout.  The paper cutter was too far away for me to run over.  I thought about throwing the plastic Coke bottle in my hand to cause a distraction.

But it was too late.  The operator's belly hit the lever, the machine started up, and the blade came down.  Luckily, because of where it hit, there was lots of blood but nothing a lot of stitches couldn't solve; if it had struck a few inches in one direction, it could've taken off a finger or two.

COD thought of this story, at first wondering why, but then it came to me:  it was another time I felt like I was watching something unfold, in slow motion, with nothing I could do.  When Bishop Lawrence was elected, Crusty figured there was about a 75 percent chance South Carolina and Bishop Lawrence would go down the same path as Quincy, Fort Worth, San Joaquin, and Pittsburgh.  After Bishop Lawrence's first year in office, COD upped that to about 95 percent.  Crusty even tried to do something, albeit inadvertently.  He crashed the Nashotah House Seminary Reception at the 2009 General Convention, and found himself unexpectedly spending about 45 minutes in conversation with Bishop Lawrence and Bishop Ed Salmon, bishop of South Carolina once removed talking about ways to stay in dialogue and relationship despite real and obvious differences.  Crusty figured Nashotah would have the best liquor of the seminary receptions and had gone there with really only that intention.

Yet what many expected would unfold unfolded, and in the end everyone did what we expected them to do.  The diocese withdrew, abandonment charges were brought, Bishop Lawrence will be deposed, and the litigation will begin.

Sooner or later, one of us must know, that you just did what you were supposed to do.   Perhaps it's fitting,  but nonetheless still disheartening, that Bob's song is a post-mortem to a relationship that was already over.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

California Bishops: A Classic He-Said, He-Said

You'll be seated shortly, Bishop Andrus.
Crusty Old Dean found himself pondering the situation in San Francisco over the supposed seating or non-seating of the Episcopal Bishop of California, Marc Andrus, at the installation of new Roman Catholic Archbishop of San Francisco, Luca Brasi -- I mean Salvator Cordileone. (OK, I know the whole Italian-American stereotype is a cheap shot -- but come on, doesn't that sound like someone who got started in the olive oil business with Vito?)   

Before getting COD's take on things, let's allow those involved to tell their versions of what happened.

From Bishop Andrus' blog:  "I was dropped off at the cathedral at 1:30PM by my assistant...I was in the lower level area to which I was directed by 1:40. The instructions the Archdiocese had given my assistant were that I should be at St. Mary's by 1:45. The service was scheduled to begin at 2.

"I identified myself to an assistant to the archbishop, who spoke to someone through a headset, saying, 'Bishop Andrus is here.' An archdiocesan employee attempted to escort me upstairs with the Greek Orthodox group, but was stopped from doing so by the employee to whom I had first identified myself. This person, who appeared to be in a superior role, instructed another employee to stand with me.

"At this point no other guests remained in the downstairs area. The employee and I chatted while waiting. I began to wonder about the time holdup. I checked my phone; it was 1:50PM. I asked the employee standing with me if the service indeed started at 2, which she affirmed.

"At 2PM, when the service was to begin, I said to the employee, 'I think I understand, and feel I should leave.' Her response was, 'Thank you for being understanding.' I quietly walked out the door. No one attempted to stop me. No attempt was ever made to explain the delay or any process for seating. I arrived early, before the time given my assistant, and waited to leave until after the service had begun."

From the Facebook page of the archdiocese of California:
"First, we apologize to Bishop Andrus, and meant no disrespect to him or the Episcopal Church. He was an invited guest to the Installation, and we regret any misunderstandings that occurred. Bishop Andrus was part of the Interfaith Procession, which had been seated as one of the first groups invited to the Installation near the front of Cathedral. He was brought into a waiting area, and the Cathedral staff 
were waiting for the best moment to usher him into his assigned seating without disrupting the proceedings. However when the staff returned to bring Bishop Andrus to his seat, as indicated in his blog, the Bishop had already left. Again we sincerely offer our apology to Bishop Andrus for this unfortunate incident, and look forward to working him, and with the rest of the ecumenical interfaith community in helping to re-build and restore the House of God."

Crusty Old Dean is not really interested in determining who is correct in this He-Said, He-Said issue.   Like many things, he suspects both are right to some degree but the reality of the situation is more complex and somewhere in the middle. Rather, he would like to begin with a story, then make two reflections.

In 2003, COD was ADPBEIR (Associate Deputy for the Presiding Bishop for Ecumenical and Interreligious Relations; I know, it doesn't pop! like COD does as an acronym, so he will only use ADPBEIR to set the stage), sitting in Minneapolis, MN, while the House of Deputies voted on whether to give its consent to the election of V. Gene Robinson as bishop of New Hampshire, the first openly gay man to be elected a bishop in the Anglican Communion.  FYI, he was not the first gay bishop by a longshot, nor the first openly gay bishop -- Otis Charles had come out over a decade earlier, after retiring as bishop of Utah.  But COD digresses, as he often does.
Future COD was sitting next to a prior archbishop of San Francisco, Archbishop William Levada.  At that time, Archbishop Levada was co-chair of ARCUSA (the Anglican-Roman Catholic Dialogue in the USA -- and that's a real acronym, not one of my made-up ones!) and an invited guest.  COD was explaining to him the intricacies of Episcopal Church polity: telling the Archbishop that if the secretary of the House stood up and began to read the results and only announced "no" votes in the vote by orders, it doesn't mean it was unanimous against, it means it passed, consent was given. (Because if a vote by orders doesn't pass or fail by a certain threshold, rather than reading all the votes, they only read the smaller number.  Thus if they announce a "no" vote, it means the measure passed.)  At the first "no" Archbishop Levada looked at COD and I said to him, "Archbishop, this still needs to go to the House of Bishops for consent.  If they also give consent, in some ways this changes nothing -- the Episcopal Church has openly gay clergy, and this election took place perfectly within the bound of our polity. I also am not pollyannish [yes:  COD did use this word to Levada] enough not to realize in some ways this changes a lot."  Levada said, "We will need to prepare a statement, which we will release if the House of Bishops also gives consent.  Can you come with me to the hotel?"  So COD walked out of the Convention Center, down the block, and the Archbishop asked me to wait while he went up, called the chair of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, and discussed a statement.  It wouldn't take long, he said, they already had a couple of rough drafts.

They paved paradise, put up a parking lot.
While waiting, COD took the advice of one of his heroes:  Bill Lee started Game 7 of the 1975 World Series for the Red Sox (COD has met him twice and has two autographs from him) .  He was asked what he was going to do if the Sox won.  He replied, "Win or lose, I'm going to the Eliot Lounge."  (COD actually got to go just before it closed in 1996; what a magical place.)  No matter what statement was brought down, COD was going to the hotel bar for some Scotch.

Archbishop Levada came down with the statement, COD invited him for a drink while COD read through it.  It wasn't long; it said the Catholic Church was committed to dialogue while restating the Catholic understanding on homosexuality.  I thanked him for it.  He then said, "This consecration will have implications for how our churches understand morality and sexual ethics.  We have some serious concerns about what the Episcopal Church's understandings of moral theology and sexual ethics are in light of this action."  I replied, as calmly as I could, "Archbishop, I also hope you understand many Episcopalians have concerns about the Roman Catholic Church's ethics and morality, in light of recent events."  I was, of course, referring to the scandal that exploded in 2002, and still reverberates across the Catholic Church, over handling priests who committed sexual misconduct.  He looked momentarily surprised; I don't think he expected any push back.  Then I said, "I am going to walk this over to the Presiding Bishop."  He nodded, we shook hands, and I left.

Several years later Archbishop Levada was appointed Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the highest ranking American in the Vatican and watchdog of Catholic doctrine and practice.

I thought of this story as I read through events of the past days.  Why is that? It's not that Episcopalians and Catholics don't have real similarities and profound differences.  We do.  It's how we discuss them, not the differences or similarities, which matter. Archbishop Levada had some hard words for me.  I had some hard words for him:  I was not about to be lectured about ethics and morality by an institution that spent the better part of a generation covering up widespread sexual misconduct.  [And, before anyone gets too sanctimonious, the Episcopal Church is guilty of its own myriad of sins in this regard.  As recently as the mid-1990s, Presiding Bishop Browning knowingly covered up the sexual misconduct allegations against Bishop Donald Davis, retired bishop of Northwest Pennsylvania. The authorities were not contacted. Nothing was made public. Bishop Davis was asked to "resign" from the House of Bishops, seek counseling, and refrain from episcopal actions. This sexual abuse apparently involved abuse of minors. Yet none of this seems to dim the lionization and ceaseless praise heaped upon Bishop Browning.  Talk to any Episcopalian in a position of diocesan or national authority in the 1970s and 1980s, and they could tell you stories, whether they choose to or not, that will may your hair curl about coverups in the Episcopal Church.]

We had hard words for one another, but we said them to one another, in private.  Later, we did so in the context of our formal discussions: ARCUSA chose specifically to take on the topic of human sexuality and address these questions head-on.  

All of this came to COD after reading this set of exchanges.  COD would like to make two points:

1)  Is this He-Said, He-Said a reflection of our social media age?  Look at how this situation is being discussed: on a blog and a Facebook posting. Back in 2003, what I eventually walked over to the Presiding Bishop was a signed copy of a fax sent to Archbishop Levada by the President of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops.  Seems almost quaint, and from another world, what Archbishop Levada and COD did all those years ago.  A fax and a drink in the bar.

COD is not some dinosaur; he thinks social media is a fantastic thing which is connecting people in new ways, and reshaping our understanding of community with profound and long-lasting implications.  However, it is simply inadequate for some things.  These exchanges reveals its inadequacies, as both sides have used social media solely to present their side of events.

2)  And, in doing so, reveals another unfortunate aspect:  Neither side took the opportunity to take the high road.  Had Gene Robinson been elected in 2012 instead of 2003, it's quite likely that the concerns which Archbishop Levada and I shared with one another privately would have been bellowed from social media: with people in the Episcopal Church pre-emptively saying we won't be lectured by those Roman Catholics, and Roman Catholics accusing Episcopalians of blessing an abomination.

Neither side took the high road here.  Bishop Andrus could have expressed his deep and profound disappointment and reaffirmed his commitment to conversation and dialogue.   Instead, if his version is absolutely correct, in his zeal to ensure his victimhood Bishop Andrus quite possibly put a low-ranking female employee of the archdiocese in a very difficult position with his blog post, since it is this person who confirms the intentional exclusion.  

On the other hand, the archdiocese could simply have apologized for what was an oversight and misunderstanding.  Instead, the archdiocese's facebook posting reads like a back-handed apology to someone they portray as a diva who arrived late and stormed out.

Perhaps this is a parable for the limits of social media, which, instead of bridging gaps, can often serve as an echo chamber for what we want to be true, and create as many boundaries as it seeks to overcome.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Try the Sorting Hat? Choosing the New Archbishop

Hermione for Archbishop!  Oh wait she's a girl.
This week the Crown Nominations Committee met to consider whom to present to the Prime Minister and Monarch for appointment as the next Archbishop of Canterbury.  Here, before beginning to break any of this down, Crusty Old Dean feels the need to do two things:

1)  explain how the Committee actually works.  Each diocese  in the Church of England has a "vacancy in see committee," which includes any other bishops in the diocese (suffragan), the dean of the Cathedral, the representatives to General Synod (kind of like having the General Convention deputation be on it), a couple of archdeacons (which are more like heads of deaneries, in some US dioceses archdeacons coordinate the community of deacons), and representatives from the diocesan House of Clergy and Laity (kind of like having reps from diocesan Convention).  When it's time to choose a new bishop, it is this group that more or less draws up a job description, which it sends to the Crown Nominations Committee (hereafter CNC).

The CNC itself consists (with slight variations depending on whether a bishop or Archbishop is being nominated) of a chair (who must be lay person), six members of the local vacancy in see committee, the Archbishops of Canterbury and York,  three lay and three clerical members of the General Synod, as well as someone from the Prime Minister's office, as well as advisory nonvoting members (in this case the Secretary General of the Anglican Communion and the appointments secretaries of the PM and the Archbishop of Canterbury, who provide advice and assistance).  For the first time ever, the CNC in this case includes someone from outside the Church of England, though not very far outside:  Archbishop Barry Morgan of the Church in Wales (elected by the Standing Committee of the Anglican Communion, which includes representation from the Anglican Consultative Council and Primates) .  Thus, in Episcopal Church terms, the diocesan convention, house of deputies, and house of bishops, and all orders of ministry, are represented on the CNC.  The CNC has followed this pattern for a successor to Archbishop Williams, with one wrinkle -- Archbishop Sentamu of York resigned from the Commission (and the House of Bishops chose a successor), in essence indicating he was running for the office because the CNC cannot consider one of its members for an appointment.  In order to be nominated, a candidate must receive 2/3rds of the votes (or 11 out of 16).  Once a first choice has been made, a second choice will be made, also by a 2/3rds vote.  The CNC supplies two names to the Prime Minister.  In the olden days, the Prime Minister could choose either of the names to forward to the monarch or send them back to the CNC and request different ones -- and something like this happened under Margaret Thatcher.  However the process was reformed slightly under PM Gordon Brown and now the Prime Minister sends the first name to the monarch, the only way the second person can get appointed is if for some reason the nomination of the first name on the list cannot proceed (say, the person suddenly is revealed to be a woman).  The monarch confirms the appointment, and then, in Crusty Old Dean's favorite part, the Canons of Canterbury Cathedral (who remember, have the right to elect their bishop) are instructed whom to elect, which they dutifully file in and so do.  Yet even this action must in turn be confirmed by other diocesan bishops.

OK, that's one thing COD needed to get say at the outset.  There's one other thing COD needs to do:

2)  provide a translation from English to American of an important word: appointment.  Now, in American English, this usually has the connotation of someone selecting a person for something.  COD would rarely imagine it is used in a collective or elective sense.  You would say, "The President appointed a new Secretary of State," or "The principal of the school appointed a new crossing guard," or "the seminary dean appointed a new chair of the committee."

In English English, the connotation is very different:  appointment, especially in the ecclesial sphere, means the process by which someone enters into a position.  This can be by a person appointing someone, as in its American sense, or it can be by election by a committee, or by a number of different processes.  It can also be a multi-stage process, with different levels having different yet still substantial roles in the appointment.

That word "appointment" does not mean what I think you think it means.
You can see this in the news coverage and documents produced in in 2003 and 2004 surrounding Gene Robinson's election as Bishop of New Hampshire.  The Windsor Report, the document produced in 2004 and which addressed the question, referred to the "appointment" of Bishop Robinson, whereas Americans almost entirely referred to the "election" of Gene Robinson.  Often those who noted the word "appointment" in the Windsor Report and other documentation would howl that such persons did not understand the polity of the Episcopal Church: it was inconceivable! that they could understand the Episcopal Church's process.  While that may be the case in other matters, probably not in this case -- in its English sense, and especially an ecclesial sense, the word in the Windsor Report was perfectly appropriate; in that understanding, one can be appointed by a process of election.

On the whole question of choosing bishops, a brief background on the medieval church is important here.  While we may often myopically think that the Pope has appointed bishops in the church since just after the Last Supper, the reality is the manner by which persons became bishops is a complex and often convoluted process in the Middle Ages.

COD often begins a course in medieval history with the so-called "Investiture Controversy", a struggle over who had the right and authority to invest bishops with the signs of their office in the early medieval period.  As part of this discussion, first-year seminarians are often horrified if not contemptuous that lords and kings appointed most bishops in their domains, and see the investiture controversy as some kind of proto-church state separation debate.  COD always asks the question:  what's wrong with the Lord appointing a bishop in the year 1027?  Students usually look at COD like he had just farted in class when he asks this question -- Good God, what could possibly be good about a nobleman appointing a bishop?  Look at it from the Lord's point of view: often the Lord knew who the best qualified person would be, not some bishop somewhere else or some pope.  Given the fact clergy were often the only literate people and the church the only body that kept any kind of records, high ranking clergy often had to serve important roles in managing local affairs, and so it was important they would be someone the local lord knew.  Further, how could you ask a society which had no understanding of representative decision making, no institutional capacity, to elect a bishop?  It was as good a system as any at the time.

The processes got more complicated in the later medieval period.  Without going into terrific detail, by the late medieval period, most offices in the church, from bishop to chaplain of the weaver's guild, had a right of appointment.  Somebody or someone or some group was responsible for choosing someone to fill that office.  It could be the entity that created the office:  the weaver's guild would choose its own chaplain.  It could be the local Lord; while foreign to us moderns, to them it would have been ridiculous that the Lord who paid for, built, and kept up the chapel in the village adjoining his castle should not have the right to appoint the priest.  Some cathedral chapters had the right to elect their bishop.  Where it gets complicated is that these rights of appointment could be bought or sold -- let's say Lord Swithin finds himself down on his luck, he could sell the right of appointment to the church that his grandfather built for some quick cash -- maybe even the church could raise the money, buy the right of appointment themselves, and thus be able to choose their own priest.  Likewise, as nation states formed, monarchs would often negotiate treaties governing rights of appointment of bishops.  The king and queen of Spain, for instance, gained control over the Church there, including appointing bishops and church officials, that was in many ways akin to Henry VIII's in England, and didn't split with Rome to get it.

This is complicated during the English Reformation when the monarch is first proclaimed Supreme Head, later Supreme Governor, of the Church of England.

Which brings us to the current situation: this week the Crown Nominations Committee met to consider nominees for the next Archbishop of Canterbury.  COD will not go into the shortlisting debates or try to handicap the field, because he doesn't need to.  Just like he picked 109 "yes" votes for approval of same sex blessings in the House of Bishops (111 was the actual) and just like he called Gay Jennings for President of the House of Deputies seconds after Bonnie Anderson announced her retirement, COD doesn't need to handicap the field because it will either be Justin Welby or Christopher Cocksworth, unless it's someone else (all predictions guaranteed or your money back!).  And COD will not get too worked up over no name coming out of this meeting -- by all means let them take their time.  Instead, COD wants to comment on something else.  He finds it rather odd that many Americans seem to view the processes other provinces of the Communion use to choose their bishops with disdain or contempt -- that somehow we are the only democratic entity in the entirety of the Communion, and that anti-democratic and hierarchical systems choose bishops elsewhere.  This is nonsense, and nonsense for several reasons.

1)  Many provinces do have representative bodies elect bishops that include lay persons and representatives from the diocese in question.  It's not that the Episcopal Church is the only entity that has representation of all orders of ministry, nor that it is the only province that elects bishops.

2)  The Crown Nominations Committee is fairly representative:  it contains members from the diocese which has a vacancy, episcopal members, and members chosen from the General Synod of the Church of England --  in a sense, it is a representative microcosm, combining the local and national in a kind of selection and confirmation process all in one.  It's not our system, no, but it's also not one person somewhere choosing a bishop.  Who are we to somehow deem our definition of representative is the only one that's valid?

3)  It's also nonsense because what makes our system so great that we should sneer at that of others?  The national canons, after all, provide no directions for how dioceses should choose a bishop, since the 1789 Constitution which established the Episcopal Church this has been solely up to the dioceses.  Dioceses could draw lots.  Throw darts at a dartboard.  We could use the Sorting Hat.  Our process developed over time, was not handed down from on high, and, frankly, probably does not do a better job than drawing lots in determining who should be a bishop.  Our process can takes years.  It relies on people self-consciously to "run" for bishop while at the same time acting like they're not because we want some ambition but not too much.  It involves a lot of people in at fairly compressed time frame (when the candidates actually meet their electors) to have to make a choice on individuals they may barely know. Is there any wonder some dioceses have been in dysfunctional or codependent messes with their bishop?  Do we ever ask why our system does such a terrible job electing women and people of color?  There are people who become bishops in other provinces, through their systems of appointment, who quite likely would never make it through our system of election -- do you think an American version of N.T. Wright would ever run or get elected anywhere?

So blessings on the CNC as it continues its important work; it's not the system COD would have devised, but it's got it's plusses and minuses like any system.   COD will later opine on the absurdity of choosing somebody for a global communion who must be a subject of the monarch of one of the 44 members churches, but that's another post for another time.