Thursday, May 14, 2015

Memorialize This: Calling for Resurrection

Crusty again takes a break from being on deadline for his church history book (stayed tuned for more!) to bring everyone's attention in Crustyland to a Memorial that he helped to craft.  You can find a link to it here:

This memorial was drafted several weeks ago, and we had always planned to release it on Ascension Day (not Ascension Thursday, since Ascension is always on a Thursday, that's a department of
Always love the images of them staring at his feet.
redudancy department situation).  Yet Crusty finds it timely that it is released this week, when some of the flutter in the twitterblogofacesphere has been on a new report from the Pew Research Forum, which can be found here:

For anyone who's been following the work of sociologists of North American religion, there shouldn't be anything new in the latest Pew report.  The percentage of people affiliating with Christianity is declining, and it declining even more rapidly among younger Americans.  Crusty has opined on this situation several times before in this blog, and for once [I know, I'm always scared when I'm actually being sincere] is being sincere when he says we need to see how God is speaking to the church to be present in our new realities.  A theme of this blog, and an organizing theme in my upcoming book on church history, is that when society and the culture goes through massive change, the church does as
Emperor presiding instead of persecuting.
well.  As much as we like to lament that the church doesn't change, we also need to realize it does, and often does so rapidly.  Bishops showed up at the Council of Nicaea in 325, paid for by an emperor who had legalized and openly favored Christianity, showing the scars of a brutal persecution they had lived through.  Bishops who had been exiled to the salt mines in the 310s were now guests of the emperor in the 320s.  Anglican clergy in the 1770s in Virginia enjoyed a church supported by taxation and by the 1780s had seen the church disestablished, huge tracts of church land taken away, and the church beginning to dwindle almost to irrelevance.  We could go on.

We are in a similar process, probably have been for decades.  When students sometimes wonder what it must have been like to live through the Reformation in the 1500s, or be an Anglican during the turbulent 1770s and 1780s, I respond: You don't have to.  You're living through your own version of that.  Christians in 2200 will say, Gosh, I wonder what it must have been like to be a Christian in 2000.  Theologians, sociologists, historians, bishops, pastors, faithful lay people, and many more can testify to all the things that are part of our change: post-Christendom; globalization; the digital revolution; the demographic shift in Christianity towards Africa and Asia; and so on.  There's lots of levels of change we are going through, and some aspects of Christianity will look very different in 2200, while some will not.

The Memorial is an effort to call the church to that task of Resurrection.  This is why COD was not a fan of the Task Force for Reimagining the Episcopal Church (TREC) initially using Lazarus as an image in one of its reports.  Jesus' work with Lazarus was resuscitating something that will die again.  Resurrection is transformation into a new way of being.

We need to keep in mind Resurrection means some things will die.  When Crusty attended the TREC gathering last fall at the Cathedral in Washington, DC, this was at the core of the question he asked.  COD asked what we are considering letting go, letting die, so that new things might be birthed.  Change in the church has always involved leaving some things behind so that we might be transformed by embracing others.

The Memorial calls us to several things as part of this process:

  • Engage creatively, openly, and prayerfully in reading the signs of the times and discerning the particular ways God is speaking to the Episcopal Church now;
  • Pray, read the scriptures, and listen deeply for the Holy Spirit’s guidance in electing a new Presiding Bishop and other leaders, in entering into creative initiatives for the spread of the kingdom, and in restructuring the church for mission;
  • Fund evangelism initiatives extravagantly: training laborers to go into the harvest to revitalize existing congregations and plant new ones; forming networks and educational offerings to train and deploy church planters and revitalizers who will follow Jesus into all kinds of neighborhoods; and creating training opportunities for bilingual and bi-cultural ministry;
  • Release our hold on buildings, structures, comfortable habits, egos, and conflicts that do not serve the church well;
  • Remove obstacles embedded in current structures, however formerly useful or well-meaning, that hinder new and creative mission and evangelism initiatives;
  • Refocus our energies from building up a large, centralized, expensive, hierarchical church-wide structure, to networking and supporting mission at the local level, where we all may learn how to follow Jesus into all of our neighborhoods.
The group that met and drafted the Memorial also drafted some suggested resolution to begin the conversation around how we might live into this call of Resurrection.  COD didn't sign on or endorse any of the draft resolutions, in part because he's not a Deputy, and in part because the conversation is so much broader than what Convention may say or do.  There are some things Crusty believes we are called to do that Convention can do nothing about; there are, however, some places where our governance can make a difference, and COD will trust in the Holy Spirit guiding the church.

As a historian, too, Crusty must admit he is chary of memorials, in part because they often have not accomplished much.  The most well known, perhaps, is the Muhleneberg Memorial.  Its primary drafter was William Augustus Muhleneberg (GPE, greatest presbyter ever) who did insane things like
C'mon, would you disagree with this guy?
put flowers on the altar and didn't rent pews but thought church should be, you know, free.  He also thought the Episcopal Church was missing out on the opportunities for mission and evangelism in a rapidly expanding and rapidly urbanizing United States, at a time when the Episcopal Church had a clergy shortage for even the congregations it already had, let alone finding people wanting to go on the frontier or into inner cities.  He presented Memorial, signed by others, to the 1853 General Convention, asking the church to consider ways to better adapt to the new mission context in which the church found itself.

And the church did nothing.  The Memorial was referred to a committee, whose main suggestion (by and large) was not to require that Litany, Morning Prayer, and the Communion service be said sequentially, but to allow for churches to use either Morning Prayer or the Communion service.  That's it, in response to Muhleneberg's call for massive change, the Convention made a couple of tweaks to the liturgy. 

So on the one hand, history has taught Crusty that memorials don't always change the world.  On the other hand, history has also taught Crusty that change has come from people gathering together.  The Oxford Movement began as a bunch of disgruntled Oxford professors getting together and deciding to publish some pamphlets, and it eventually transformed global Anglicanism.  The American episcopate was born by some ticked off Connecticut clergy electing one of the unlikeliest people to take on a seeming impossible mission -- and it worked. May we be faithful, as generations of Christians have, to discern how God is speaking to us in our time and place.  Rather than be ruled by memory and consumed by fear, we can embrace this crisis, trusting that the Lord of Life will give us everything we need to spread the Gospel, proclaim the kingdom, and share the love of God. May God grant great joy in every city and neighborhood into which we go.

Friday, May 1, 2015

EpiscoNerd Oscars: The PB Nominees Revealed

Well, it’s Episconerd Oscar Day:  the Joint Nominating Committee for the presiding Bishop (JNCPB) released its slate of nominees for the XXVIIth Presiding Bishop.  And, just like the real Oscars, Twitter melted down with talk about slights, longshots, and favorites – well, a very small, tiny,
If only an orchestra started playing if bishops talked too long...
insignificant portion of Twitter that cares about the Episcopal Church melted down.

First, let’s review Crusty’s prediction from last year.  COD released his General Convention preview back in June of 2014, a full year in advance of Convention, and predicted a group that would be in the shortlist as follows:

“Crusty prognosticates that some combination of the following persons will be on the list of four nominees presented by committee:  Mary-Gray Reeves (El Camino Real), Eugene Sutton (Maryland), Dean Wolfe (Kansas), Ian Douglas (Connecticut), Daniel Martins (Springfield), Andy Doyle (Texas), and Ed Konieczny (Oklahoma). Right now Crusty is predicting either Ian Douglas or Gene Sutton as PB.”

Now, unforeseen events impacted these predictions – for instance the tragic situation in the diocese of Maryland (no way Bishop Sutton could possibly consider a PB nomination and walk away from the tremendous work of reconciliation needed in that diocese).  But overall, not a bad list of predictions.  Dabney Smith fits COD's Konieczny/Martins role, a centrist/right-of-center candidate, so COD sees Smith's inclusion a vindication of his prediction for that slot.

COD picked Ian Douglas not only as a finalist, but someone he thought would seriously contend for PB.  And Crusty still believes that.  He also thought Bishop Curry would be a strong candidate, and did not list him as a finalist in last year’s preview not because he didn’t think Curry would be nominated, but because Crusty thought Curry would not be interested/willing in letting his name go forward.   Once COD heard later in 2014 that Curry would be willing, he thought, “There goes that prediction.”  COD knew Curry would be a finalist and a strong candidate should he be willing to pursue discernment for nomination.

So, some initial thoughts on the nominees.

--Crusty is surprised they are all East Coast.  To be sure, the nominees have ties to various parts of the country and the church, including the West (Bishop Breidenthal went to CDSP and has Oregon roots) but the fact is, all four are bishops of dioceses East of the Mississippi.

--COD is not surprised -- though is bitterly disappointed -- that they are all men.  Crusty has said on this blog that we are actually taking some steps backwards in women in the episcopate – we had more female diocesans over 10 years ago than we do now – and this is yet another sign of that.  There are women who would have been fine candidates – Mary Gray Reeves and Mariann Budde, for instance.  COD has to think the committee would have given them serious consideration, and the fact neither is here must have to do with them not being willing to pursue the process.  My disappointment is not in the slate being all male, but that we continue to lag behind in having an episcopate that reflects the diversity of the church and our society but seem unable or incapable of doing anything to create a better process of discernment and election, and thus don't have a deeper bench of female bishops.  [Note: there are those who might think Bishop Budde is ineligible, since she was elected in 2011, and one needs to be a bishop for five years.  Article II, Section 8 of the Constitution says you need to be a bishop for five years before being elected elsewhere.  COD has decreed people who think this are wrong, in COD's mind, because Article II, Section 8, specifically refers to a bishop who may be "elected as Bishop..of another diocese."  The PB is not bishop of a diocese, so COD therefore decrees this Article is not in effect.]

We need more pork pie hats and ironic facial hair in the episcopate.
--Crusty is surprised none of the group that he refers to as the “hipster bishops” have been   the bishops on the younger side who have shown themselves open to looking at new models of mission and ministry.  This groups includes Greg Rickel, Jeffrey Lee, Sean Rowe, and Andy Doyle, among others.  Keep watching to see if any of these emerge during the petition phase....speaking of which,

--COD also thinks we need to keep our powder dry on prognostication because we still have the petition process, and it will be very interesting to see who emerges from that.  The petition process can indicate whether some likely candidates were weeded out by the JCNPB and are still interested, or have changed their minds, like Charles Jenkins did in 2006, first withdrawing his name from consideration, changing his mind, and being nominated by petition.

That said, we all know people read this blog to read Crusty’s crazy prognostications.  So here we go:

--at least one strong candidate will emerge by petition.  Crusty simply can’t predict who because of the nature of the process, but there is someone out there who was weeded out by the JCNPB or who changed his/her mind, and will be a strong candidate, finishing in  the top 4.

--when thinking about prognostications, remember: as one bishop friend told Crusty, only the House of Bishops actually votes, they often know candidates in ways the broader public does not, and part of their consideration is how they think the candidates will run the House of Bishops.   So Crusty predicts:

1.  Michael Curry
2.  Ian Douglas
3.  Strong petition candidate
The rest.

With an election on the 4th ballot. And BTW, we will know this, the PB election results must be released to the House of Deputies according to Title I, Canon 2, Section 1 (f) -- all results on all ballots.

--This ordering is in no way a comment on the worthiness of any of the candidates: they’re all fine bishops, smart, passionate, and committed.  Just looking at the process and who gets to vote, this is how COD thinks the numbers will break down.

As always, all predictions guaranteed or your money back.