25 September 2007

Afternoon sundries

While we're waiting for actual news from the HoB, I thought I'd cover a few bits of miscellany. In no particular order...
  • At T19, there's a posting titled "The Episcopal Church Plays and Loses the Numbers Game." I continue to be puzzled about the conservatives' desire to talk about the numbers game. Some of their own dioceses (have a look at Quincy, or even Fort Worth) are not exactly bastions of evangelism, judging from only the numbers. I'll say it again, if you want big numbers, follow Steenson right on over to Rome. If you want big growth, follow folks to Mecca or Salt Lake City. I don't mind talking about numbers, but it's not healthy to be fixated on them.
  • Which brings me to my next point. Folks on the right seem boggled by the Presiding Bishop's statement that "The conflict that you read about in the headlines is not reality for 95 percent" of the church. That seems about right to me. This is a really big deal to a bunch of people on the right and a few people on the left. This is an annoying distraction to many, many more people, who would like to just come to church and give thanks and offer prayers. And it's utterly perplexing to lots of others. I live in a diocese with one parish that has left, and two more that receive varying provisions for DEPO (my bishop of +Geralyn Wolf). That said, our diocese spends less than 5% of our energy on this, and within the parish I serve this just doesn't come up. And, by the way, we're not all of one mind. As a diocese, and as a parish, we're diverse in our views. It's just that the "conflict," as in active bickering, simply isn't present. This is, as I keep saying, a big deal in places where the clergy have made it a big deal. 95% conflict-free? Seems about right.
  • This segues into my next point. Right after clergy, this "crisis" is driven by media. You can't easily write a compelling newspaper story about another person finding God or the way a church took care of one of its members or a generous outreach program. It's much easier to write about impending doom and rampant schism, even if it isn't quite true. Take, for example, my favorite poster child for misguided reporter, Ruth Gledhill. Offering this gem today, she writes about "an Episcopal Church in disarray, led no longer by a 'house' but by a 'community' of bishops, with a songbook of praise to Mother Earth, Sister Moon and Brother Sun. Thank you BabyBlue for finding out what the bishops are singing in New Orleans and thus reminding us that this whole affair actually has very little to do with homosexuality." OK, on the "community" thing you have a point. "House of Bishops" is the canonical language, so let's use it. But what's her beef with Mother Earth, Sister Moon? I guess she thinks her readers won't know the ancient -- very orthodox origins of this phrase, and she'll whoop up a good dose of outrage? Apparently, she thinks her readers don't get to the end of her pieces, or else a fact-checker did some work after she finished. Turns out that even Ruth Gledhill's piece says that this comes from words of St. Francis. But it's not exciting enough to write that "Bishops sing ancient hymn by St. Francis" so she titles this thing, "Goodbye Father Jeffrey. Hello, Sister Moon." Nice.
  • Oh, one more about Ruth Gledhill. In the same piece (see previous bullet), she ends with this: "What puzzles me is, given the small numbers still attending The Episcopal Church, why are we giving them all this attention?" See the first bullet for her numbers comment. As for the question about attention, I think you might look in a mirror. Why are you writing about us all the time?
  • The Standing Committee in Forth Worth has announced its intention to abandon the communion of the Episcopal Church. I do wish them well in their new spiritual home, but I also hope the clergy on the Standing Committee will resign quickly and honorably. As these folks are leaving, they need to learn to leave gracefully (taking lessons from Bishop Steenson) and not to be surprised if there are canonical charges if they fail to resign while simultaneously embracing some other church.
  • On the opposite side of the ideological divide, The Consultation has issued a statement today. It says, in part: "We have in mind the language of the Baptismal Covenant which calls us to respect the dignity of every human being... We believe that all the baptized are called to share in the governance and mission of the Church at all levels. We see the increase of power claimed by the episcopate as imbalance in The Body... The sacred vows of The Baptismal Covenant and the tradition and heritage of the participatory governance of The Episcopal Church must not be squandered for a single Lambeth conference." Well, this is all true as far as it goes. I agree with the aims and the destination of The Consultation, but I'm not sure about the path they advocate. Bishops do, in my view, have a different vocation from lay people or the three orders of the church. Their particular vocation is to guard the unity of the church, and I'd expect them to see things differently from, say, a convocation of deacons. We must also remember the beginning of the Baptismal Covenant, to "continue in the apostles' teaching and fellowship." I believe that our present direction on human sexuality is consonant with these ancient understandings, but we need to start there, not with rights. I hope we progressives can ensure that we're placing Gospel before polity, and grace before governance. When the bishops (HoB or primates) exceed their grasp, we should tell them. But we should not tell them not to lead. I'm unclear what The Consultation is asking, exactly. I hope it's something other than "don't argue with the Executive Council" or "You cannot lead, only General Convention can do that."
  • Finally, make sure you read Mark Harris for his take on the process of crafting statements. Very helpful, indeed. Maybe not before dinner though.

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