Monday, January 30, 2012

The PB, the PHOD, and The Bard

Crusty Old Dean has noticed with interest some of the folderol surrounding who, apparently, may speak to whom in what capacity. This week has seen dueling emails from the Office of Communications of the Church Center, claiming that the President and Secretary of the House of Deputies declined to forward a request from the Presiding Bishop to send a link of a video message from her to their email list. This was followed, in succession, with the President of the House of Deputies expressing dismay that her action would be interpreted in such a way, further pondering precedent for the Presiding Bishop addressing clerical and lay deputies.

This was set against the backdrop of dueling budgetary and financial proposals: one, endorsed by the Presiding Bishop, calling for 19 percent in diocesan asking and budgetary cuts roughly equivalent to 9 staff positions – and another, endorsed by the PHOD, calling for 15 percent diocesan asking and resulting in perhaps 36 staff cuts.

As COD continually notes, (trust me, Crusty Old Dean’s Wife wearies of his pedantic repetition) it bears repeating that we are not only dealing with individuals and current circumstances, but systemic issues. The House of Bishops and House of Deputies have oft treated one another like vampires, to be kept at bay and not permitted entrance unless specifically invited and permitted so to do. COD spent several General Conventions as wrangler for ecumenical guests, everyone from Buddhist monks to Mar Thoma bishops. At one convention, a Roman Catholic bishop saw a former Episcopal priest colleague at a nearby deputation and made to walk from the ecumenical visitors section to say hello. A green-smocked page and COD pounced on the bishop at the same time and COD said, “No one who is not an accredited deputy can enter the floor of the House of Deputies without authorization.” Indeed, the ecumenical duck walk at each Convention had to be authorized in both Houses by adoption of a special order of the day. Joint sessions of the Houses must be adopted by both parties, as must a member of one House to address another. Parliamentary protocol, to be sure, but also part of the DNA of a church one might argue begrudgingly accepted bishops in the 1780s (Crusty Old Dean is up to his elbows in writing a book on the history of the Episcopal Church from 1782-1811; if you need to know why those dates are chosen, read a book on Episcopal Church history) – willing to accept episcopacy, albeit a certain understanding of episcopacy. A novel, daring, and revolutionary understanding of episcopacy and one COD supports wholeheartedly, always exercised in concert with clerical and lay authority. It is our genius and our gift to the church catholic, but its Jungian dark side is a suspicion of episcopal authority, at times clerical authority, that has bubbled here and there in the undercurrent of the Episcopal Church.

But back to the narrative of the past week. Is this what we have come to? Are the parameters of the debate to be defined by some real, purported, or imagined kerfuffle between the PHOD and PB? COD laments that his Irish grandmother’s phrase, “Don’t get your knickers in a twist,” would be deemed sexist given the gender of both presiding officers because yea verily, knickers are twisted all over.

Is this what we shall discuss at the expense of other, more pressing, and more existential, concerns?

Let us list the problems: a denominational health plan causing great anxiety; 23% reduction in average Sunday attendance in a decade; 58% parishes eliminating or reducing a clergy position, not to mention the overwhelmingly white and elderly demographic of our church against a country that is increasingly religiously and culturally pluralistic. Note: sadly, list is not meant to be exhaustive or inclusive. Faced with another kairos moment similar to that of the 1780s-1820s, when the very existence of our expression of Christianity is in doubt, is this really what we are discussing? What Bonnie and Katharine are saying or not saying to one another?

Disclaimer: Crusty Old Dean has met the PHOD and PB on numerous occasions. COD finds them both to be fine and faithful Episcopalians, truly remarkable persons. It should be clear from COD’s tag line “Let the dead bury their own dead” that COD does not take well to taking sides and rather calls on the church to abandon our pointless partisanship so that we may always be in service of the Gospel. COD is not taking one side or another. Both are at fault, and both need to be part of any way forward.

Crusty Old Dean’s former boss, Frank Griswold, once spoke to beware of “Elijah moments.” He was referring to the time that Elijah fled and sought God face to face. God asked, “Elijah, what are you doing here?” Elijah replied Ahab andJezebel sought his life, all had fallen away, and he, only he, was faithful. God asked again, Elijah, what are you doing here? Elijah once more noted his own faithfulness over and against the faithlessness of others. God sternly commanded Elijah to return to do the work he has been charged with, further noting that there were seven thousands others who had not bent the knee to the false God Ba’al. The rebuke here is clear: You are not the only faithful one. Get back and do what I told you to do.

Bishop Griswold spoke of these “Elijah moments” as something we should always be on guard against, seeing them as an opportunity to reflect on our own state of being. We always need to be on guard against thinking that we alone have things right. Instead we should focus not on our own assuredness in our being right, but rather always on what God is calling us to do.

At times COD wonders if we are not at an Elijah moment as a church. Are we going to focus solely on our own individual perceived righteousness and rightness, or that of our particular clique, at the expense of the broader systemic changes that are buffeting us?

Because, like Elijah, the reality is we are all at fault. Despite her dismay that the PB might address deputies, President Anderson has indeed communicated directly to the House of Bishops; giving but one example, an open letter calling on them to discipline one of their own, Charles Bennison – a matter of the House of Bishops on the fact of our polity but one which she felt called, as a President of the House of Deputies, to speak directly to another House. And while it is true in terms of polity that only bishops may call Special Conventions, was it not at best impolitic or at worse denigrating to our baptismal ecclesiology and conferential polity to have the House of Bishops be the first body publicly to discuss a Special General Convention? Could there not have been a way to honor polity but also broaden the discussion?

Our Houses shall rise and fall together, Deputies and Bishops. Groundless or self-serving suspicion, enmity, and characterization of one another from within our Elijah caves on our own Mt Horebs, at the expense of a world so in need of the Gospel that we preach, saddens me to the core. (And you know how serious COD is when he drops his third person snark for first person.)

We risk moving from the Bible to the Bard, as COD is tempted to cry out, at best, like Mercutio,

“A plague a’ both your houses! I am sped. Is he gone and hath nothing?”

or, at worst, letting Oswald from King Lear provide the Episcopal Church’s epitaph:

"O untimely death!"

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Money and Mission: Let's Have the Real Conversation

In the 1989 Batman movie, Jack Nicholson, playing the Joker, responds to the death threat of his former mob boss by cackling, "I've been dead once -- I find it liberating."

In 2009, I stood on the floor of the General Convention was we passed a budget cutting 30% of my colleagues on the denominational staff. To be honest, I was not all that concerned about my own position. I was young, ordained, had a PhD and a lot of good friends throughout the church. I'd get a job somewhere. Plus I knew it was coming; I may have gotten a C+ in high school calculus, but it was plain to me that the impact of the stock market collapse of 2008 on an organization dependent on investment income was going to be considerable, let alone the trickle-up effect on parishes to dioceses to denominational agencies. I had known friends and family members who had lost their jobs, some who were worrying about their jobs the day I lost mine. Who were we in the church to be any less effected by the Great Recession than everyone else?

So I was not concerned about me. Actually, I found it liberating not to have this spectre in my life, shadowing me and my colleagues as it had for months. I was, however, concerned about my church. I was concerned about the way that our polity had constrained our ability to address what was a crisis years in the making. We flew dozens of staff people out to Anaheim to have them watch as the budget was passed eliminating their positions. We found out who, specifically, would lose their jobs about ten minutes before the session to pass the budget was to begin.

To repeat, I don't blame any one person for the utterly disastrous way this situation was handled. I blame the way our polity has created an inability to address larger systemic problems we need to be addressing. I blame the kabuki theater that is our budgeting process, the farce we are all asked to walk through.

--In the months leading up to Convention, the Executive Council drafts a budget which everyone knows will change. The budgets prepared by Council are a waste of time whose purpose is to telegraph to the larger church what our overall financial shape is.

--The Program, Budget, and Finance Committee (PB&F) then meets after Council to draft the real budget. This is a committee of the General Convention and what it produces actually will get voted on.

--Though, of course, the draft PB&F budget must, in turn, be scrutinized by PB&F at the Convention itself. So there is no "real" budget until the meeting of General Convention itself. Thus in 2009 staff traipsed merrily out there knowing anywhere from 10%-40% of us will be let go.

--Then PB&F presents the budget to a Joint Session of both Houses meeting together, where they are told, more or less, to take it. There is no "or leave it" option. The two Houses then break to meet separately, grumble, and then pass the budget as presented to them by PB&F. Amendments are not really possible because
a) the budget has to be balanced
b) PB&F are the only ones who tell us what income will be
c) thus any increases in one place have to be offset by cuts in another place and
d) all of this has to be done before the conclusion of Convention

So, despite our belief in our democratic polity, a small group of folks prepared a budget and more or less tell the representative bodies to accept it. Further, there was no debate or discussion anywhere, in Convention or Executive Council or even internally among staff, about what our priorities were with regards to staff. The list of people to be let go was decided by an even smaller group of people; to this date, Crusty Old Dean still doesn't know who got to decide who stayed and who goes and on what criteria this was decided.

Christianity in North America has been going through profound shifts in the past 30 years which many are just waking up to right now. There's demographics (mainline Protestant denominations are have fewer children per family), multiculturalism (mainline Protestant denominations are shockingly and overwhelmingly white in a country becoming more and more diverse; one of our more multicultural dioceses has elected three consecutive white bishops, in two cases when equally qualified Hispanic and African Americans were also nominated), profound differences between Boomers, Gen Xers, and millennials (to give just one, the increasing rise of persons who have absolutely no connection to a religious tradition and churches we don't have the skills to reach out to them, only to duplicate models based on attracting folks who have some sense of what "church" is). And so on, and so on. And this is not just a liberal, Protestant phenomenon. The Southern Baptist Convention has lost members for several years in a row, and the Roman Catholic Church grew by less than 1%. The Pew Research Forum, Barna Group, internal denominational statistics analysis folks, Faith Communities Today survey work -- there is a wide and considerable body out there which confirms but also confounds some of the perceived conventional wisdom about what is happening.

Yet all of this is only tangential to the paroxysms of restructuring effecting not only the Episcopal Church but the United Methodist Church (voting on a massive restructuring plan in April of this year; how many Episcopalians know a thing about that?), Presbyterians and Lutherans (underwent major restructuring in the past several years).

Tangential because where is the conversation that needs to be had: What are our priorities? What do we need to live in to those priorities? How can structure be in the service of mission, ministry, evangelism and formation? And I do mean "all" structure; Crusty Old Dean found it laughable sometimes to watch bishops in the House of Bishops excoriate the national church and its shortcomings who run their dioceses inefficiently, haphazardly, dysfunctionally, and unprofessionally. COD also scratches his head about those opining how mission is always done better at the local level, having known many parishes that are so completely blind to the needs of their community, including one spending thousands of dollars on new mahogany doors for the church while cutting its budget for youth ministries. Of course there are dioceses that are run well and parishes which are doing incredible things: but we need to step away from generalizations and really look at how all levels of structure need to be part of a revitalization of the church instead of bland generalities by which we characterize these different levels.

We can talk, of course, about marks of mission and various emphases we have stated in the past. But that is all meaningless unless we can have bigger conversations about what needs to be done adequately to live into those emphases.

Put even more bluntly: the decisions made in 2009 were made without any conversation along the lines of, "OK, it's going to be bad; what are our main priorities and how do we need to restructure to meet them?" Rhetoric was cast around about having mission done closer to the grassroots -- well and good. But many of the networks that do mission outside of the denominational structure were not equipped to pick up the baton at a moment's notice. Take ecumenism, for instance: were we now going to say overnight to local and state networks: "Ok, have fun doing stuff we used to coordinate at the denominational level." These groups could do this -- I don't mean to denigrate them, there are hundreds if not thousands of clergy and lay persons doing fantastic and outstanding ecumenical and interreligious work at state, regional, and local levels -- but it would take lead time, training, planning, and coordination, not simply dumping responsibility.

I bring this up now for two reasons.

1) Because it's happening all over again. The recent Executive Council is having two budget proposals on its plate, one reducing expenses by $6 million for the 2013-2015 triennium, another reducing expenses by $21 million for the 2013-2015 triennium. The first would reduce maybe 8 positions, the second 36. COD wonders if there are 36 people left to be cut. We will spend time once again immersed in our own internal squabbles between the Presiding Bishop and President of the House of Deputies? This is, after all, why we have two budgets -- the PB advocating a 19 percent diocesan giving and the PHOD advocating the 15 percent giving. Will we continue bickering more about how we should go about a process of shaping a discussion of reforming the church in a system that takes 6 years to change anything if you're lucky than actually reforming anything. Or will we spend inordinate amounts of time at Convention debating things nobody will remember three years later and give short shrift to the budgetary process again? After all, consider how we fundamentally altered the world wasting everyone's time debating a resolution promoting the teaching of evolution in 2006. Crusty Old Dean, after being laid off in 2009, had drinks with his former boss and said, "If we turn inward instead of outward over the next 20 years, we are done. But just think of how righteous we could feel about doing so."

2) I bring this up because it's going to be worse. Our membership has dipped to about 1.9 million. COD believes this is going to get much, much more worse and we will shrink to about 1 million and close about 40% of our parishes in the next 20 years. It took us 40 years to get to this point and it involves many factors beyond our control. We need to stop bemoaning the loss and stop wondering how to turn the ship around. We need to be thinking about how we will rebound and adapt and be a smaller, leaner church more focused on mission, ministry, formation, and the Gospel - which may in turn mean we would be poised to grow not in 5 years but 25 years.

The decisions we make in the next 5-10 years will help determine whether that happens, or whether in 50 years we are nothing more than Amish with incense, a quaint relic.

And it infuriates COD because we have the ability to rebound. Anglicanism was given up for dead by many in the 1790s and early 1800s; the first Bishop of New York resigned his see and become a gentleman farmer and amateur botanist because he figured Anglicanism would die out with the last of the colonial families. However the Episcopal Church went through rapid and profound changes from 1800-1830, and benefited from demographic trends, and was reborn. We can do it. We've been given up for dead before.

I set before you today death and life, Moses once said. My fear is we will unwittingly choose death through lack of vision and turning inward.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Sentamu and Williams: Playing with Fire?

Well, it's time for the party that never seems to end: the Church of England General Synod. You may have noticed, from time to time, that Crusty Old Dean has at times looked to the General Synod as a possible model for reforming some elements of Episcopal Church polity -- particularly the way that all three orders sit and debate together, voting separately as needed.

One thing COD certainly does not wish to model is the abominable frequency that this body meets. Every other week, it seems -- in reality twice, sometimes three times, PER YEAR. Thus it appears that Synod is either in session, doing a post-mortem of its previous session, or preparing for the next session.

Anyway, General Synod will be debating, in part, how it should relate to the Anglican Church in North America (which is actually not a church, but an umbrella group of various organizations, dioceses, and parishes, including denominations which have kept much of their own autonomy intact - but that's another post for another time).

Previously, Synod had passed the this resolution:

That this Synod, aware of the distress cause by recent divisions within the Anglican churches of the United States of America and Canada,

(a) recognise and affirm the desire of those who have formed the Anglican Church in North America to remain within the Anglican family;

(b) acknowledge that this aspiration, in respect both of relations with the Church of England and membership of the Anglican Communion, raises issues which the relevant authorities of each need to explore further; and

(c) invite the Archbishops to report further to the Synod in 2011.

As part of its discussions in 2011, Synod took no formal action, though there was some discussion about what it meant to be "in communion" and under what conditions clergy from other Anglican Churches could serve in the Church of England.

For its upcoming Synod meeting, the reports have now been published, and ACNA is mentioned again:

18. We would, therefore, encourage an open-ended engagement with ACNA on
the part of the Church of England and the Communion, while recognising that
the outcome is unlikely to be clear for some time yet, especially given the
strong feelings on all sides of the debate in North America.

19. The Church of England remains fully committed to the Anglican Communion
and to being in communion both with the Anglican Church of Canada and the
Episcopal Church (TEC). In addition, the Synod motion has given Church of
England affirmation to the desire of ACNA to remain in some sense within the
Anglican family.

Everyone relax. This is actually good news -- spectacularly good news, in fact. COD was concerned that somehow the General Synod or Archbishops would act without thinking through the implications of their actions. York and Canterbury have consistently underestimated the intention and resolve of conservative groups within the communion to be willing to fundamentally reshape the Anglican Communion along their own lines. The leadership of the Communion has consistently thought if they could "contain" the American contagion, everyone could go back to pretending that all gay clergy were celibate, and have been proven wrong every time. GAFCON, Lambeth 2008, other provinces ordaining clergy to serve in England itself. Similarly with the Covenant, which conservative provinces want to be exactly the enforcement mechanism ++Rowan claims it isn't. See, for instance, the Province of Southeast Asia's endorsement of the Covenant. They endorsed it, and further appended a claim saying the Covenant reaffirmed the Kuala Lumpur statement on sexuality and that Lambeth Resolution 1.10 from 1998 was the binding interpretation of human sexuality on the Communion as a whole.

COD was terrified that General Synod would publish some vague resolution which would be seen as paving the way for formal membership of ACNA in the Communion -- thus, COD believes, ending the Communion.

Sidebar: COD actually would have no problem admitting ACNA to membership in the Communion, with an important proviso. Often the model of the Lutheran World Federation is cast about glibly as what a federation would look like (ignoring the fact that the LWF also calls itself a "communion of churches"). The argument is, "Well, the Lutherans allow for multiple expressions in one country." Yes: IMPORTANT PROVISO that all members of the LWF have pulpit and altar fellowship -- intercommunion and recognition of ministries -- with other LWF members. This is why the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod is not a member and has formed its own global Lutheran body (98% of all worldwide Lutherans are LWF members). COD would welcome a discussion on broadening an understanding of Anglicanism IF all members would be willing to acknowledge the ministries of one another and be in communion with one another. There are strong elements within ACNA and the Anglican Communion that want to replace the Episcopal Church, provinces that openly state they are not in communion with the Episcopal Church and do not recognize certain ordinations.

In a previous life Crusty Old Dean worked on an ecumenical dialogue with the Reformed Episcopal Church and Anglican Province in America, willing to have conversations on mutual recognition -- unless they recognized Gene Robinson's orders -- recognize, not necessarily invite him to do confirmations in their dioceses -- we could not recognize theirs. The reality is we have an imperfect system of interchangeability of clergy: priests ordained by women bishops, for instance, may not serve in the Church of England. But the Communion is based on the recognition of the ministries of one another and being in communion with one another.

This report is good news. Translated from Church of England speak, it basically means, "Nothing's gonna happen with ACNA for a long, long time. This is what "open ended" engagement means.

It also clearly affirms being in Communion with the Anglican Church of Canada and Church of England, given that many conservative blogs have been spinning the 2010 resolution that the C of E is in communion with ACNA and recognises it -- and thus by the unitary nature of Communion ecclesiology (one valid expression per country), meaning the Episcopal Church is on its way out of the Communion.

It then returns to delightfully ambiguous language by speaking of ACNA "in some sense" remaining "in the Anglican family."

Thus, good news. Clear affirmation of being in Communion with the Anglican Church of Canada and The Episcopal Church; abstruse and recondite Rowanspeak when referring to ACNA.

So the main concern now should be conservative provinces seeking to hijack the Covenant, like Southeast Asia, rather than the Church of England going rogue and complicating matters by recognizing ACNA. This is why COD thinks the Episcopal Church needs to adopt the Covenant, with reservations clearly stated, and remain part of the conversation. We showed how disastrous removing ourselves from the process can be when the Anglican Consultative Council adopted the Windsor Report by one vote, because we chose to abstain.

Of course, anything can happen on the floor of Synod, but, as they have with appointment of openly gay bishops and in the women bishops debate, Sentamu and Williams have shown they are willing to play hardball and exploit the route of backroom machinations to manipulate the processes of the C of E to get their way.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Blogging the GOEs: Question 7: the GOEs Get Hip

Crusty Old Dean apologizes for the delay in finishing out my GOE blogging – he had some non-Deanly matters to attend to (COD does have a life outside being Crusty, after all) and so has gotten a little behind. But no worries! I still have much spleen to vent and look forward to the world continuing to provide opportunities in 2012 upon which to snark.

Faster than one can say, “Oh, snap!” the GOE got hip. Yes, friends, the same exam that unveiled a thousand-word-long question on theosis (oddly enough, as a graduate of an Orthodox seminary, COD was delighted by this question while at the same time imagining the terror it conjured in many students’ minds, since it is not a topic oft discussed in the Episcopal Church) a couple of years ago is now throwing down the tweets.

Without further introduction, this year’s question on the Theory and Practice of Ministry:

Set 7: Theory and Practice of Ministry

Saturday, January 7, 2012, 9:00 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.


You are the new rector of a program-sized parish with many young people. Youve noticed that much communicating is done among the youth, youth leaders, and others using Facebook, tweets, e-mails, and other social media.

Having just completed the Safe Church training, you are concerned about the use of social media among young people as well as between younger and older church people in your parish. You want to insure that the use of media promotes healthy communication and adequate security for all.

1. Write a clear official policy of about 500 words that includes at least three guidelines for the use of social media in parish communications.

2. In an essay of not more than 1,000 words, explain the information, authority, and expertise that contributed to your formation of this policy, identifying the people and the other resources that you have consulted.

Wonderful, excellent question – especially linking it to the theory and practice of ministry.

However, COD finds it hilarious this is written from the perspective of a rector wondering what those whacky kids are up to with the Bookface and Tweeter and whatever it’s called. Social media is NOT just something only people under 25 do. I know many older clergy who blog, COD is friends with several bishops on Facebook (and ones who actually use their Facebook accounts!), COD has followed several Episcopal elections through twitter updates. COD would rather have had the question framed about acknowledging the prevalence of social media, rather than the rector noticing those punk kids treading on the cyber lawn.

That said, it is still a good thing the GOEs are addressing the question of social media and its pastoral implications. Crusty Old Dean is convinced by the work of the Pew Research Forum that social media and the internet are fundamentally reshaping not only how we communicate but also how we understand community and personal relationships. Bitching about these changes is fulfilling in an empty sort of way – however failing to account for them is not only suicide for the church (we must attract the millenials if the church is not to shrink even more; see previous posts) but also has implications for pastoral practice.

Put another way: my son turns 7 this year. On a lark, years ago when he was 2 and wanted some incredibly elaborate Nerf automatic weapon, COD and CODW said “When you’re seven,” thinking, “By the time he’s seven he’ll have moved on.” Misdirection and bait-and-switch are tried and true parenting techniques. Now that he’s seven, my son has proclaimed his desire for even more elaborate weaponry. CODW was initially concerned, and COD thought, “I’d rather give him any toy gun he wants than let him use an IPad with an internet connection unsupervised.” Negotiating this world of cyber communication and relationships is going to be an increasingly important element of how the church adapts its ethics and pastoral theology.

An excellent question, and excellent ending to the GOEs. COD is mortified to say it: WELL DONE General Board of Examining Chaplains! An excellent set of GOE questions, except for the bizarre 40-yr-old essay that was the centerpiece of an otherwise fine question on care for the environment.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Blogging the GOEs, Question 5: Wisdom from the Buddha

There's a famous Buddhist koan where a monk is tending the garden. He looks up to see his master standing looking at him. He goes back to work and a brick comes whistling right by his head. He looks up again and his master is standing with one foot in the air. "Master!" he said. "You almost hit me with that brick! You could have warned me!" His master replies, "But I stood with one foot in the air." And immediately the monk was enlightened.

Message: we must break ourselves of linear patterns of cause and effect if we are truly to understand the dharma of the Buddha.

Message: perhaps it's similar with the GOEs. In the church history question from earlier in the week, Crusty OId Dean wondered they didn't go whole hog with a "church" and "state" question, and, more specifically, why they chose the question of how the religious organizations dealt with slavery as opposed to, say, something like church-state separation and the impact of religious disestablishment and the Bill of Rights, or even our current context and debates over the role of religious organizations in society.

Luckily, Question 5 was the brick hurled at COD's head. COD is enlightened now: they had ANOTHER "church" and "state" question up their collective General Board of Examining Chaplains sleeves. COD is liberated from the linear causation of numbering questions 1 through 7. Here is Question 5:

Set 5: Contemporary Society


The role of Christianity in civil life and of religion in general, has undergone substantive changes through the centuries. For example, the Anglican Church was the official church in several American colonies prior to the Revolutionary War, only to see its status diminished shortly afterward. In our own age, as another example, the tax-exempt status of the real estate of religious institutions is being questioned by a more secular and pluralistic society. At the same time, some politicians are calling for a greater role for religion in society (sometimes for a greater specifically Christian role).

In such a context and as rector of a local parish, you have accepted an invitation to pray at the inauguration of the town’s mayor.

  1. In an essay of approximately 750 words, address the changing relationship that the church has with a society that questions the privileged place historically given to religious entities. How has this changing place of privilege both supported and hindered the church’s mission “to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ”? (BCP, 855)
  2. Compose a prayer of approximately 75 words that you will use at the inauguration.
  3. In light of your analysis in Part 1, in an essay of 750 woreds explain:
  1. Why you accepted the invitation to pray at this civic event, and
  2. The reasons why you have composed this particular prayer in light of both the church’s mission and the currently perceived role of religion in civic life.
The GOE writers are on a roll: in an election year, when religion and politics are going to be everywhere, they have come up with two questions asking people to reflect on the relationship between civil government and religious organizations. Well done: this is something which religious leaders have to deal with in one way or another, in a variety of different contexts. Crusty Old Dean was once accused of preaching "politics" when he replied, "I was preaching the gospel and never mentioned any political party or political issue." You can tackle issues while trying to avoid the partisan manipulation of them by our dysfunctional political process -- an incredibly tricky thing, but what else are pulpits for? When preaching on immigration issues, COD was handed a gift that Scripture says, more or less, "And if anyone who sees these injustices done and does not speak out, they are under judgment as well." Similarly, COD asked his wife, when she was getting a presidential candidate bumper sticker, to get one of those magnetic ones. COD was serving part-time at church, and needed to remove it before going in to the office -- because COD ministered to Obama and McCain supporters equally. Religious leaders walk a political minefield, and this question is a good effort to force the test takers to reflect on these issues.

COD notes those devious GOE writers are as devilish as ever: notice how they do not give one the option to decline or make an excuse to get out of the inaugural prayer. COD must admit the one time he has been asked to do something similar to this, he found an excuse to get out of it without saying no. The GOE writers don't give you that option: sorry, suckers, there's no ducking this one.

Section 1 is a good way to ask people to approach the question: all too often people can tend to get worked up on their particular "take" on the role of religion in contemporary society without being forced to face some of the uncomfortable implications. Christian conservatives can demand that prayer be allowed at public events, but some would probably change their tune if Muslims and Hindus were asked (COD has seen several Christian leaders admit publicly they would be opposed to public prayer if non-Christians gave them) -- sorry, fellas, you can't have it both ways. Can't demand religion has a place in public sphere and then decide which religions are acceptable to you. Likewise penning a tirade here against any role for religion in society can lead to uncomfortable questions: OK, then why do you preside at weddings and accept a housing allowance and are you ready to pay property taxes on church property?

We all have been served a s**t sandwich of thorny intermingling of religion and civic society, and rather than going overboard on either end we need to try to articulate broad principles for how to navigate our this reality, while at the same time acknowledging positive and negative aspects. Precisely what Part 1 tries to do.

COD also notes how even more difficult the question is: the test takers are asked to write a prayer! And this is a no external resources question! Episcopalians can't pray without a book in front of them! 75 words is, more or less, about the length of the average collect (COD just word-countered 3 collect at random and they clocked in from the high 60s to high 70s, so 75 seems like a nice median). Plus, throw in the "O Lord" and a couple of "Let Us" (COD, at times sitting through tedious extemporaneous prayer by evangelicals, refers to such prayers as "salad prayers" because of the excessive let us) and you don't have much to say about church state relations. An excellent twist to this question. While COD has no patience for salad prayers, being asked to prayer extemporaneously and often unexpectedly is something which clergy are often called to do, and you better be able to do it and not sound like a bumbling moron.

But that's OK -- because in Part 3, you get 750 more words to explain all the things you really wanted to say in that prayer. Limiting the prayer to 75 words forces you to get to the point (how many times has COD heard Prayers of the People that were longer than the sermon! Crusty Old Dean's alcoholic, chain-smoking clergy mentor once growled, "Ferguson, just remember -- every Eucharist should only have one damned sermon, don't make the announcements or the prayers or the dismissal into another goddamned sermon.") but section 3 allows you to unpack that prayer.

Crusty Old Dean is holding the GOE writers in increasing awe. Truly, in his interactions in the church, feeling such an emotion this is a rare occurrence. Two relevant church-state question! COD is glad he told the students in GOE prep to beware of a church state question!

On the other hand, COD does not feel any different after having received enlightenment, and is off to consult spoke more Ch'an Buddhist koans for inspiration.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Blogging the GOEs, Question 6: GOEs Go Fiddler on the Roof

Well, the GOEs are finally over. Crusty Old Dean is getting caught up on blogging the questions, throwing up some blog posts over the next few days. In today's installment, the GOE makes like Tevye's Fiddler on the Roof and throws down with "Tradition!" For once, COD will not put the question at the end.

But before we get the question, the context of the examination always helps: the GOEs are not papers. They are questions which ask for responses, designed to be integrative, and for people who are presumably in the ordination track. So in a Scriptural question they won't be asking for detailed exegesis (unlike the ordination exams in some other Christian traditions, for instance, which do ask for a level of demonstrable exegetical skill). The GOE is intended to be integrative in nature and be for people preparing by and large for pastoral ministry. So, Scriptural questions needs to come from an angle different from, say, "Compare the use of the horatory subjunctive in the Pauline and deutero-Pauline epistles." The Scripture questions usually reference fairly well-known Scriptural passages and ask for students to make broad links between them.

So, on to the question:

Set 6: The Holy Scriptures

LIMITED RESOURCES: A printed one-volume annotated Bible and a printed 1979 Book of Common Prayer but no electronic or Internet resources.

Throughout history, communities have maintained their identity by passing on their traditions (stories, laws, songs, prayers, etc.) from one generation to the next. One of the tasks of a priest specified in the ordination rite is to be a teacher, and educator who passes on and interprets the tradition. The following texts are from the propers for education in the BCP (931):

Deuteronomy 6: 4-9, 20-25
2 Timothy 3:14-4:5

1. In no more than 750 words, taking into account the historical, literary, and theological background of each passage, briefly identify the important highlights of the tradition - the community's "story" - to be passed on to the following generations of the community to which the passage is addressed. (NOTE: Your answer should demonstrate an understanding of the historical, literary, and theological contexts of these passages. It should not include a detailed exegesis of the texts.)

2. In no more than 750 words, briefly summarize at least two biblical traditions that you consider most important to be passed on to the next generation in The Episcopal Church, drawing on the material you have presented in Part I and any other relevant biblical texts. Provide a rationale for each of your choices, including an example of a situation in the contemporary church where this tradition would be especially pertinent and useful.

OK, some interesting choices here -- for one, picking up the language in the Examination in the ordination rites, where one of the vocations of the priest is to be a "teacher", though there is an interesting gloss here, defining teacher as an "educator who passes on and interprets the tradition." COD has some issues with this, and not just because he is a priest who is also a teacher in his day job. He wonder if they aren't protesting too much in this linking of priest to teacher to interpreter progression -- why not just leave it at teacher instead of forcing the question to be linked to the understanding of tradition? Besides, linking "teacher" with "interpret" complicates things. On the one hand, pairing the call for the priest to be teacher with the propers for Education (when was the last time any clergy colleagues used those? anyone? Bueller? Something -doo economics?) is a necessary move in this context. Because, even though the ordination rite speaks of the priest as teacher, there is very little else in the ordination rite to back this up - so fleshing out the priest as "educator" necessitates stepping out of the ordination rite to look for some Scriptural readings.

On the other hand (COD hoping he does not run out of hands like Tevye did) one of the few elements of the ordination rite which can be seen as a reflection of this interpretive function of the ordained ministry is the reading from Ecclesiasticus (again -- anyone ever heard this at an ordination??) which speaks of the scribe as someone who reflects on Scripture and interprets it to the world -- "He will show the wisdom of what he has learned." However, this is part of the ordination of a deacon, not a priest, because of the differing ways deacons and priests are to reflect on Scripture. The Ecclesiasticus reading reflects the particularly diaconal call to "study the Holy Scriptures, to seek nourishment from them, and to model your life upon them" as part of the deacon's main charge to "make Christ and his redemptive love known, by your word and example, to those among whom you live, and work, and worship. You are to interpret to the Church the needs, concerns, and hopes of the world." Deacons later promise to "be faithful in prayer, and in the reading and study of the Holy Scriptures."

Priests, on the other hand, are to preach the Scriptures. They are to be "be diligent in the reading and study of the Holy Scriptures, and in seeking the knowledge of such things as may make you a stronger and more able minister of Christ" The Scriptures are for priests something they proclaim, something they use to make them better and more able ministers. Deacons draw strength from reflecting on the Scriptures as part of their call to interpret the church to the world, hence the Ecclesiasticus reading. Almost none of the other readings at ordination rites reference a teaching or interpretive charism.

Thus if you want to link the teaching function of the priest to the carrying on of tradition in the church, you have to look elsewhere than the ordination rites -- so we get the propers for Education. Nothing too out of the ordinary here, two better known Scriptural passages. The first is the "shema yisrael": hear, o Israel, the Lord your God is one. Something almost any half-observant Jewish person has learned, something Crusty Old Dean learned to memorize in Hebrew class. From 2 Timothy, continuing to teach what we have learned, especially when people get those itching ears. All well and good, given the premise of the question -- if it is going to be about how communities pass along traditions, these are the two passages to pick. Exodus 12 also comes to mind, but that's perhaps slightly more obvious than these two. Section 1 looks fairly straightforward; students aren't being asked to exegete but basically show they have read these passages before and didn't sleep through all of their introduction to OT and NT classes. If you can't answer Part 1, you shouldn't have gotten this far.

Section 2 is where it gets funky, and where some of the categories here become a little unwieldy. Having placed tradition and passing on of tradition at the center of this question -- indeed, it has defined as being central to the role of priest! -- it never really has defined what it means by a tradition. Tradition is a complex word. There are big traditions (the Eucharist) and small traditions (bowing at the name of Jesus) which both have biblical mandate. There are good traditions (caring for the poor and widow) and bad traditions (cursing people who wear clothing from two different fabrics; blaming the Jews for Jesus' death) both of which have biblical mandate.

Section 2 asks for two biblical traditions to be passed on to the next generation. COD would be really fascinated to hear what some of those biblical traditions GOE takers cited. Being Episcopalians, one could always go liturgical: the Eucharist? What about social justice, the command to care for the least, something pervades the OT and NT? So many rich ways to go, and to be required only to pick two (hopefully not in a Three Stooges like fashion).

Again, a good question. Crusty Old Dean is started to get worried there is not a WTF question on this GOE.

My only real concern here is the way in which priesthood is rather clumsily linked to the tradition premise of the question, by making the priest an interpreter of tradition. Linking teacher with someone who interprets muddies the water; you could make a very strong case that it is just as proper, if not more proper, for deacons to answer this question (COD is NOT going into the transitional diaconate morass right now). This is part of much larger issues about the teaching charism and the ordained ministry, at least for presbyters, deacons, and lay persons, being more clearly defined in its relation to the episcopate since the 2nd century or so. The first understanding of apostolic succession and the episcopacy had nothing whatsoever to do with who ordained who: it was based on teaching authority. Irenaeus, for instance, never trumpets the fact he was ordained by Polycarp who was ordained by John who was ordained by Jesus. He says he was taught by Polycarp who was taught by John who was taught by Jesus. Ever since sacramental presidency became normative for the presbyterate its teaching function has seen an erosion; it was not uncommon in the 3rd century to ordain persons as presbyter to exercise primarily a teaching function (Origen being one of the great examples). See Chapter 1 of Crusty Old Dean's book "The Past is Prologue: the Revolution of Nicene Historiography" to get a fuller treatment of this.

COD thinks the teaching function of the priesthood is about the passing on of tradition, but not just that; it is about making sense of that tradition in a variety of different realities and contexts (all packed into "interprets" in the question). And it is part of the priestly charism that is often woefully ignored, as the ordination rite itself demonstrates, with hardly any reference in the rite as to how that teaching function is to be understood -- and that the interpretative function of the deacon is more clearly defined and linked with Scripture, albeit a Scriptural reading hardly ever used in diaconal ordinations.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Bloggingthe GOEs: Question 4

Diligent readers may notice that COD has skipped question 3 from the GOEs. The topic of this question was Ethics and Moral Theology; please do not presume skipping the question means that COD is promoting unethical or amoral behavior, or holds the noble disciplines in any kind of disdain. Rather, the question included a 1750 extract from an essay as part of the question, and COD did not feel like including that in its entirety -- you needed the essay to get the question, and, frankly, COD didn't feel like wasting that much ink. Short summary of Set 3: The question was a good one (on stewardship of the environment), making a 40-year-old essay the centerpiece was a head-scratcher.

Similarly diligent readers may notice that COD did not blog yesterday -- it was the day off from GOEs (two on, two off, break in the middle) and COD honored the GOE sabbath. Plus COD spent most of the afternoon at the Apple Store, listen to a fusillade of gibberish at the Genius Bar before finally interrupting, "So what you're saying is a I need a new phone." Armed with a 3 1/2 year old 8gb 3G that has been sitting in a drawer since I upgraded to a 3GS, COD is back on the case. It's like having one's own time machine, remembering those halcyon days of the fall of 2008. We were all a bit more innocent then, a time before Birds were so Angry.

As they say in the great state of Wisconsin, Forward? (punctuation supplied; state motto has no punctuation)

Question 4 follows at the end of this post, if you need to read it before reading COD's gloss.

Almost every GOE has a WTF question (COD hopes his readers know what that acronym stands for). Initially, COD hoped that Question 4 was the WTF question for this exam -- unfortunately, however, upon reading the question a second time COD feels the students still have their WTF awaiting them. Initially COD thought, "These two initial components of the question make no sense."

An Anglican understanding of the Holy Spirit? What do Anglicans have that we have not received from the broader Christian tradition of the first 1500 years? Three specifically Anglican/Episcopal resources? Prayer Book and Hymnal immediately come to mind...does the Oxford Bible count as an Anglican resource since Oxford is a university where Anglicanism is the established church? You mean we have to come up with a theologian?

And the second part of the first question - What are the marks of the Holy Spirit? Again, very interesting -- in a classical or modern understanding? On the church as a whole or in the life of the individual Christian?

If that was not enough, there is part 2 of the question, which is the really difficult part: coming up with how the Holy Spirit informs and energizes the work of the Episcopal Church today. Normally Episcopalians expend tremendous amount of energy working to stifle the Holy Spirit.

Once again, the context of the question is important: this is an open printed resources, but no internet or electronic resources question. Which speaks to COD's real issues with the GOEs, which he will get to at the end after blogging the individual questions -- COD is not opposed to some kind of standard ordination exam, but has some real issues with the process of the GOEs, not the concept of the GOEs. This question reveals just one problem: open printed resources. Here at Bexley Hall we have four people taking the exam who live over 2 hours away. They couldn't pack up their whole libraries and drive down here to take the exam. The GOE still seems to work on the model that students in their dormitories on campus can have access to their entire set of books from their courses sitting in their room or apartment, or even run over to the seminary library which is just a quick walk away for any printed resources. What about people with mobility issues who can't sprint somewhere and back? What about a commuter who can't lug their entire library for a week to some dingy dorm room?

So open printed resources sets up a very different playing field for different people, which means not everyone is taking the exam in the same way. Any examination which has something like this built into it is inherently flawed.

But back to the question. At first blush, COD thought this was an odd question, but on second reading it is an excellent one. It asks students to integrate what Anglicanism has received as part of its heritage of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church -- but also look at some particular Anglican developments. The Wesleys, after all, were Anglican priests. Charles and John's hymns as resources? The Holy Spirit plays an important role in Richard Hooker's work. For some Anglicans, the evangelical revival is important; even Anglo-Catholics could opine about regeneration by the Spirit in the sacraments. The Catechism in the Prayer Book would be a good resource. Crusty Old Dean presided at the Eucharist this morning on the feast of Epiphany and found himself thinking, "You know, Prayer D has a pretty good definition of the Spirit's work."

Of course, having received a Master of Theology degree from a Greek Orthodox Seminary, COD would have had to resist the urge to pen a 1,500 word philippic against the heresy of the filioque, but, then again, this is probably why COD was given "inadequate" in church history and theology on his own GOEs 18 years ago. Oddly enough, the readers and graders of this exam don't like it when people use their answers to argue. They actually want the question answered!

Further, the second part of the question is equally important to the first. It forms an important integrative function -- how is the Holy Spirit functioning in the church today -- and also even hints at theory and practice of ministry, allowing students the opportunity to note where in their ministries to this point they have seen the Spirit operative.

COD hopes the GOE readers still have some of their mojo left. As one student said at the mid-GOE cocktail hour Wednesday night, "I don't know why everyone complains about the GOE, it's been pretty fair so far."

Kids these days. Crusty Old Dean walked uphill in the snow to take the GOEs! Come on, General Board of Examining Chaplains, please let me know there's a WTF question among the remaining three!

Set 4

Set 4: Christian Theology and Missiology

Wednesday, January 4, 2012, 1:30 p.m. to 5:00 p.m.


In an essay of not more than 1,500 words:

1. What is the Episcopal/Anglican theological understanding of the Holy Spirit? For your answer, draw broadly on appropriate sources from the Christian tradition, including (but not limited to) three specifically Episcopal/Anglican sources. What are the marks of the work of the Holy Spirit?

2. Making use of your response in Part 1, choose three examples to show how the Holy Spirit's work informs, shapes, energizes and directs the life and work of The Episcopal Church today.

Blogging the GOEs: Question 2, Church History

Crusty Old Dean managed to survive his first day as administrator of the General Ordination Examinations -- though not without incident(s).

For hoary old curmudgeons like COD who took the GOEs when the ink of the Elizabethan settlement was still drying on the parchment, it may behoove my handful of readers to get a refresher in how the kids these days take the exam. Each candidate is given a log-on with password, they go the GOE website, click on "exam" and at 9 am (or 12:30pm for afternoon session) the Exam question magically appears. They type their question on their computer, then upload it to the website when finished.

Sidebar: when COD took the GOEs, you had to physically go to the exam site, pick up the hard copy of your question, and return to your hovel to write. The clock, however, started at 9 am. Thus if you live 10 minutes away like COD did in his squalid off-campus apartment, too bad. You lost 10 minutes walking back to it and 10 minutes you needed to leave early to physically hand in your question. Plus, COD had to walk uphill to get his question. And it snowed every single day. Thus, it is true, for once COD is not exaggerating: COD walked uphill in the snow to take the GOEs. In a major advance soon after COD took the exam, students taking the exam off site were permitted to use owls to receive and submit their exam.

Yesterday morning, as COD prepared to settle in for quiet morning of reading White & Dykman (the 1954 edition), he received 3 cell phone calls within 50 seconds of one another, followed by footsteps in the hallway. None of the students taking the exam at Bexley could "see" the question on the website. COD emailed the question (COD has them all, in sealed envelopes, much like Oscar winners before the ceremony) to the students and disaster averted. After a call to the General Board of Examining Chaplains (7WD, COD will explain later why we have so many "General" things) the problem was solved. Apparently, the General Board thought that Bexley Hall was in the Central Time Zone. COD wanted to assure them that Bexley Hall had been in the Eastern Time Zone for 93 years, since the Standard Time Act enshrined them in 1918, and has occupied what would be the Eastern Time Zone for 94 years prior to that, for a grand total of 187 years in this time Zone. But COD had an exam to administer.

In a previous post, you can see Question 1, which dealt with liturgy, and which was the occasion of a truly rare event: COD had nothing to add, nothing snarky to say, and really nothing to bitch about. For a list of the half dozen times this has happened, consult CODW (Crusty Old Dean's Wife). Question 2 follows below.

COD finds this one very interesting. The fact it is "no external resources" shapes the way in which the question is asked -- one must necessarily work with broader themes rather than particulars if examinees are not permitted to consult any external resources, with only their noggin to which to resort.

COD warned the students in GOE prep to keep their eyes open for something which might have to do with church and state -- it's an election year, and church-state issues are precisely the kind of broad themes a no resources question can work with. Plus, as an issue which the church has dealt with at all times and in all places, it is suitable to comparing and contrasting different eras and contexts.

COD does have some thoughts on this question. For one thing, the question represents the difficulty in addressing church-state issues. It uses the dreaded inverted commas -- for "Christian" society, and for "church" and "state". Putting things in quotes is academic shorthand for, "we know these terms suck but can't find a better equivalent." One way to avoid this is to avoid the terms. In his dissertation, COD used "heresy" in the introduction but not thereafter, instead talking about "non-Nicene" Christianity. Why not just use different phrases? For instance, for the purposes of this question the definition of "church" put forth is OK (Christian leaders, institutions, movements) but not one COD would use in a class on ecclesiology. Why not come up with better terms than "church" and "state" after introducing them?

Which leads to a second thought: COD is not thrilled with the "civil government" and "state" categories here. One of the biggest problems COD deals with as someone teaching church history is getting students to realize that "church" and "state" have operated in contexts completely different than 20th century America. It gets down to what COD likes to refer to as the "Princess Bride Conundrum", for when the Spaniard says to the Sicilian, after the Sicilian's use of "Inconceivable!" repeatedly: "That word you keep using, it does not mean what I think you think it means." "Church" and "state" do not mean what they mean in our context, no matter how many times we use them. Not just the concepts, but the very words themselves, have meant different things in different historical and cultural contexts, and not only in the past but the present. Ask someone in Saudi Arabia, or Greece, or France, or Canada, Japan, or even in our own country what "church" and "state" mean -- let alone their relationship! -- and you will get some interesting answers.

For instance, there is no concept of "civil" government in the first two examples mentioned below, no boundary between religious expression and temporal authority -- and in the third example there is a very different interplay between religious expression and temporal authority (see, COD is avoiding the definitions in the questions, it's not that hard, and yes, COD knows his definitions are really no better than the ones used -- but I am not perpetuating the Princess Bride Conundrum).

That said, it's an excellent question: the relationship of political/temporal authority and Christianity is something that Christians in all times and in all places have and will continue to struggle with; it's firmly rooted in the New Testament; and also something which Christians inherited from their Jewish context. The examples chosen are excellent ones; COD also thinks asking about the way Anglicanism in the colonial period had to adapt to the changes brought about by the Constitution of 1789 and Bill of Rights would also have been a good one to add.

Part 2 is just as important -- it fulfills that most important function of history, namely, reminding us that almost all of what we struggle with now are things that others struggle with, and that we can learn from those previous encounters, as well as current struggles in different contexts from our own. Especially for students of theological education, integrating church history into interpretation of our current context is simply essential, otherwise we will be dominated by the normal shallow discourse that echoes shrilly in the church -- to give a few examples:

"The sky is falling!" (no, it hasn't, Christians have been saying for 2000 years the sky is falling)

"We've lost our way from the INSERT ERA 20 YEARS PREVIOUS WHEN EVERYTHING WAS PERFECT!" Christians have always looked back to a golden age which didn't exist, when, in fact, even the quickest perusal of any primary sources from that Golden Age shows most people were bitching about how much everyone was arguing and how we needed to go back to the previous Golden get the drift. After all, the government in England banned (well, technically, the monarch went prorogue on them) the clergy Convocations of York and Canterbury from meeting from 1717 to 1852 (Canterbury; 1861, York) because all the clergy ever did when they got together was fight and complain.

"How will we deal with question we haven't had to face before!" There's nothing that the church hasn't had to face before, albeit in slightly different contexts. Newsflash: the period from 1-200 was a period of upheaval, tremendous religious and cultural diversity, political polarization, and advance in communication, trade, and transportation which lead to a kind of globalization. And guess what: Christianity flourished.

Kudos to the GBEC for another good question, which should have been submitted with the necessary glosses from COD above. Question 2 follows. Enjoy!

General Ordination Examination 2012

Set 2: Church History


Throughout the history of Christianity, both civil governments and religious forces have played active roles in shaping the character of “Christian” society. In a 1,500 word essay:

  1. Choose two of the following historical examples. Explain the social and political issues that lay behind each of them and the respective roles played by “church” (Christian leaders, institutions, movements) and “state” (the civil government) in the resolution of each.

a. Constantine and the Council of Nicaea (325 CE)

b. The Elizabethan Settlement (England, late 16th century)

c. The abolition of slavery in the United States (mid-19th century)

2. How do the issue of the relative roles of “church” and “state” raised by the examples chosen in Part I continue to play out today in the United States or in another country where The Episcopal Church is present?