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All your bases are belong to Lambeth!: The Anglican Covenant

And then, there was the Covenant.

Oh, Anglican Covenant!  You seemed like such a pressing issue only a few months ago.  (We were so young and naive then….) Then England staged its own small uprising, and now, no one can figure out if you are still an issue for us or not.  But to that in a second.
For the purposes of us here at home, the Anglican Covenant is a brief little document that can be found here:
This is the fourth and final draft, and it has been sent to General Convention for our acceptance, or refusal.  (Or our kicking the can down the road, which is always an option.  The Anglican Covenant: it IS a houseplant!)  This came out of the Windsor Report–that document that came from the wider Anglican Communion after we consecrated +Gene Robinson in 2003.
All that aside, there are some structural problems with the Covenant.  Setting aside the moral, ecclesiastical, and postcolonial problems that are all in this document and its assumed worldview, there are also some structural problems in there.  Just to round it out.
The Standing Committee on Constitution and Canons did an excellent report regarding these problems, and it is to this that I now turn.
They said, for starters, that the beginning is not great.  Specifically, the preface possibly conflates our communion with Christ, and our accession to the ordering of Anglican Communion.  Whoops.  This is not encouraging–at no time in our history as Anglicans have we taken a “no church= no salvation” stand, and it seems odd that we’ve chosen this point in time to start.
It’s one thing if we strive to make our common life mirror the communion we already have with Christ.  It’s another thing if we insist that our relationship with God depends entirely upon the status of our earthly relationships.  Here there be dragons.  Here, madness lies.
Specifically, saith the SCCC, our TEC Constitution does not mention the Anglican Communion,  (other than the fact it exists) or Lambeth, or anything other than The Episcopal Church, and, y’know, Jesus Christ.  Mainly because that was all we were concerned with at the time. (Revolution, y’all.)
Same with our Canons.  We don’t require accession to the Anglican Communion at ordination; we require adherence to the “doctrine, discipline and worship as this church has received them.” (emphasis mine) Right off the bat, in the Preface and Introduction even!, the Anglican Covenant suggests that it would like to change all that.  So there’s a Constitutional change we’d have to make, right off the bat.  (Keep in mind, that would take at least 9 years.)
Which brings us to: Section 4!  Such a mess, Section 4!
This section is the one that draws the most fire. It’s the disciplinary section: the part that lays out what happens if the fellowship that’s set up so nicely in Sections 1-3 falls apart.  In other words, it’s the Section of Consequences.
We already talked about the issue of autonomy;  are we bound in the Anglican Communion by love and friendship, despite our distinct differences at times, or are we bound by our agreeing on things?  It’s entirely unclear.
Amusingly, the Covenant itself seems to want it both ways.  In Section 4.1, the text says that nothing in the Covenant will override the autonomy of individual provinces, or let one province direct or guide another.
Then, it proceeds to lay out procedures by which both of those things can happen.  According to the report, the Anglican Communion at large would have to weigh in on …anything.   From changes in our Prayer Book to ordinations of bishops.  Also, we would need someone to make sure that we were toeing the official Anglican Communion line here in the States, and that person would suddenly be the Presiding Bishop.  So that canonical job description would need to be entirely rewritten.
Basically, as it currently stands, to accept the Covenant would mean placing the Anglican Communion, and its Instruments of Communion, including the Archbishop of Canterbury, above our General Convention in our hierarchy.  And it would mean a vast rewrite of our Constitution and Canons.
But!  There is, as aforementioned, a wrinkle.
For those not keeping score at home, not enough individual dioceses in the Church of England voted in favor of the Covenant to let it go to their General Synod for confirmation.  They can try again, but not before 2015 at least.
Despite the protestations of the Anglican Communion Secretary General to the contrary, this would seem to throw a major wrench in the works worldwide.
The Rev. Canon Kenneth Kearon, in his statement immediately after the vote in England, said that basically, everything was fine, we are not concerned over a minor setback, the parrot was just pining for the fjords of Norway, and anyway, you naysayers, seven other provinces (out of 38) like the Covenant just fine.   So there!
What he glossed over in his frantic, nothing-to-see-here attempt was that the Covenant hands a lot of power to the Archbishop of Canterbury; not just the primates, and the Anglican Consultative Council.  The Archbishop of Canterbury is an archbishop with jurisdiction in the Church of England; not just a random dude in a funny outfit sauntering vaguely about Europe.  So if the Church of England has decided (as they just did) not to partake in this whole structure, it’s rather bad form to stick their bishop in charge of the rest of the Communion.
We once fought a revolution over the likes of this.
So now, it’s anyone’s guess what will happen.  Reject it? Ignore it and hope it goes away?  Pass it, and try to conquer the known Anglican world, just to bother +Peter Akinola?
We’ll find out, come July.

Sing the canons!

That sound you’ve been hearing for the past few weeks has been the sound of many eager deputies, flipping electronic pages in their PDF copies of the Blue Book*

The Blue Book is the 759 page tome of reports from committees, boards, and agencies to the 2012 General Convention, and it’s required, and somewhat gripping, reading.   (Did you know there was a guy who is the Custodian to the Standard Book of Common Prayer?  Did you know he writes a report?  Doesn’t that conjure images in your head of the one, true, perfect BCP  held in a vault of 815 Second Ave, NYC with Frodo and Sam guarding it?)

I am going to Convention this summer, and am on the legislative committee for Canons.  While both of these facts mean that I have suddenly become way less fun at parties (“Want me to explain Title IV charges to you?”), they also mean that I get to highlight my PDF within an inch of its life.  And that I get to learn all about ALL OF THE RULES.

Canons are nothing more than how we intentionally order our common life.  Our ground rules.  And as such, our attempts to set them are fascinating.

My former diocese had this practice of reciting our diocesan norms at every gathering.  We would promise each other not to yell, not to name call, not to “impune the spiritual maturity of those who disagreed with us.”  To watch newcomers’ eyes widen as they recited these was great.  What trauma had befallen these poor people, that they set these rules?!

Rules, or our attempts at them, are thus instructive.  Learn the rules, learn yourself.

It is in this spirit, that I will now attempt to bring you an overview, over the next few days, of the proposed canonical changes at GC2012.  I’ll just hit the highlights, not include every grammar fix and language-clean up.

Resolution A030: Renunciation language

Proposed by the Standing Committee on Constitution and Canons

This resolution proposes to alter language in the canons around clergy who voluntarily renounce their orders.  Apparently, certain sections of the church find the current ‘renunciation’ language to be too negative.  This canon replaces this language with ‘release and remove’ which, I suppose, sounds better?
The gist of the whole thing is that people who no longer want to be clergy shouldn’t feel so bad about it, and we should find better language.

This resolution also includes an alteration to give bishops, who have been charged with abandonment of the church, the option to be released from their vows.  Given our current situation, with bishops trying to abscond with dioceses and parishes and whatnot, I’d say that offering someone that option of voluntary renunciation (or release) is a good move.  And saves on legal fees.

Resolution A033: Fixing Title IV

Proposed by the Standing Committee on Constitutions and Canons

Looking ahead to the B,C, and D resolutions, there are several requests afoot to revise Title IV, and right after we succeeded in getting the darn thing written, too.  This set of revisions, among other things, provides a process to file a complaint, provides for the complainant to have an advocate without having to hire a lawyer, and specifies bounds for confidentiality.

Whether this will succeed in satisfying people’s problems with Title IV remains to be seen.

Resolution A061: Bibles!  

Proposed by the Standing Committee on Liturgy and Music

The biblical translations read from during church services is decided by the canons.  SCLM wants to add the Common English Bible and The Message to the approved translations.

While nothing says you can’t use whatever Bible you want to in your daily life, this suggestion has caused great controversy in the various listservs and Twitterspheres of the church.  Apparently, The Message inspires controversy not seen since the advent of the Folk Mass.  I will point out, however, that just because a Bible is approved, does not mean you have to use it.

The Good News Bible (1976) is already approved.  That ship of “preserving formal equivalence” has sailed.

Resolution A062: Getting a Spanish BCP that Spanish-Speakers won’t mock us for

Speaking of formal equivalence!  Know what preserves it?  Our prayer book translations!  They tend to be literal, clunky and awkward for native speakers, or anyone with more than a ‘liturgical’ knowledge of the language.  This is not helpful when we’re trying to do ministry in growing non-English speaking populations.

Therefore, the SCLM wants to free up the translators to use idiomatic language and cultural context in their translations.  Since one of the strengths of Anglicanism is our ability to adapt to various cultures, this makes a lot of sense.

Also, the report of the Custodian of the Standard Book of Common Prayer was all about how we should pass this resolution.  So there’s that.

I’ll leave it there for now.

Next time, we’ll look at the proposals from the Standing Committee on Ministry Development: Many New Ways of Firing Someone!


*Which isn’t Blue.  Rather, it’s salmon-colored, according to the Preface.  Or would be, if it were actually made of paper, and had a cover.  Instead, it’s electronic.  This is a very meta book, you understand.  The coen of its blueness/non-blueness helps us to contemplate the unknowableness of divinity.

Going to the Beach for Jesus, Part 2: FIX. IT.

Going to the Beach for Jesus, Part 2: FIX. IT.

I have now returned from Hawaii, and I understand now why everyone’s nuts about tropical islands.  (I had never been to one before.  I had been to San Matteo in Belize, but that’s an island largely constructed like Mt. Trashmore in Virginia Beach, plus gated resorts, and desperate poverty mixed in.  The ambiance is odd, is what I’m saying.)

But seriously!  Tropical islands!  Quite amazing!

View from Pali Lookout

This would be why people like Hawaii. This would also be why King Kamehameha conquered the islands and defeated the first wave of English explorers: Pali Lookout (History!)

But all was not going to the beach, drinking boba tea, and quoting ‘Arrested Development’.

Each year, Prov conference is a powerful experience for me.  Each year, when we do our closing group discussion, at least a couple students say something along the lines of “This is the first time I’ve been in church with people my own age.”  “This is the first time I can talk to people my own age about my faith.”  “Campus ministry is the first time I’ve felt welcomed and accepted by the church.”  Every.  Year.

This year, however, it took on a different cast.  Because this year, we also had to talk about what we were facing as the province west of the Rockies.

So there was the possibility that this would be the last Prov conference, as it is incarnated currently.  We’ve promised ourselves that this won’t be the case, but we’ve already lost all of our provincial funding, due to budget cuts there.  (And remember folks, this is the local level that’s supposed to be picking up the slack of the church wide budget cuts.)  And for ministry budgets already strained to the breaking point, more-expensive conferences are going to be difficult to swallow.

But we will make it happen.  Because that’s what we do.

So after a fairly heartening weekend of earnest, dedicated college students, worshipping, learning, and planning together, I was less than thrilled to receive this memo from the heads of PB&F regarding the draft budget.

::deep breath::

On the one hand, hooray, this is much of what Susan Snook+ has been saying for the past few weeks, and now someone with budgetary power has admitted it.

On the other hand….

Look, Executive Council, I understand that this was a new process, but can we all now get around the fact that this process failed?  This is not a process that we can trust.  Because the end result of said process is a budget that contains such grievous errors that it doesn’t balance in several places  and accidentally defunded almost the entirety of Christian formation across the Episcopal Church.  


Aside from my basic questions (did no one have a calculator!?) which, I realize, are not the helpful at this point, what strikes me is the assertion in the memo that the de-funding was a mistake, but no one remembers quite how much they wanted to put there, and besides, to re-fund Formation would take equal cuts elsewhere.

So while this appears to be an accident, it still amounts to de-funding Christian Formation.   Unless PB&F can magically produce the money.

Some of the questions that constantly get asked of me, and others in ministry with young adults, are “What do young adults want from the church?  How can we do more/better young adult ministry?  How do we get young adults in church?”  It happened in Hawaii as well.  The dean of the cathedral in Honolulu asked that we hold the Dean’s Forum on this very topic.

There are many ways to answer this question.  Many different visions.

I can tell you where to start though.



It is a powerful kind of disheartening when you attempt to do ministry, and over and over again, you are told it is the most important ministry in the church, and yet….the budget gets slashed again and again.

And here, it’s worse.  The budget (evidently) didn’t get slashed because they agonized over it, faced a revenue shortfall, and triaged what mission items were most important.  They slashed our budget because no one was paying close enough attention.  It wasn’t a low priority; it wasn’t even on the radar.  They passed a budget that, for whatever reason, hadn’t been checked.

So, here we go, Church.  Here’s what I need, as a certified Young Person.  (I’m 28 years old–I count, despite being a priest.)

Here is what I need from you, My Church. Here’s the answer to that question you keep asking me.

You need to say that you are sorry, that you realize this budget thing didn’t go well this year.  You need to say you’re sorry that you overlooked the crucial part of administration that is budgeting. Part of the leadership you were elected to is owning up when things fall apart, and they just did.  You need to admit it.

And then, you need to Fix It.

Write a letter to PB&F (which looks like it’s happening), outline a better budget that takes into account the actual mission priorities this Church has espoused, and FIX. IT.

And, look, I’ll help you.  I will sit in meetings, I will voice my opinion, I will help write budgets, I will help pass them.  I will even explain the point of Twitter for the ten thousandth time.  I will pull my own weight and then some.  I will help you come up with a better way to make budgets, since this one fell flat.  I fell in love with this church when I was a kid, and I’m not going anywhere.  We’ll work together; it will be great.

But you need to fix this.

Because the secret to getting young people in the church (or anyone into church) is that you actually have to care about them.  Not in a lip-service way, or in a non-committal way, but in a dedicated, flesh in the game, asking what they think and feel, sort of way.   You actually have to honestly care about them.  (Jesus said something along these lines, I do believe.  Smart guy, that Jesus.)

So help me believe that the Church actually cares enough about young people to give us money, and not just lots of anxiety.  Help me convince my students that the Church wants them for their voices and opinions, and not just their life expectancy and wallets.

Please, Fix It.

Hawaii Double Rainbow

Now, to make us feel better, a double rainbow from Honolulu.

Behold, I am tweeting a new thing!

As an elected deputy to General Convention 2012, I get to partake in an interesting exercise in in-box management known as the HoB/D listserv.  It’s an email listserv open to all deputies, bishops, and diocesan and Church Center staff (I think).

Thus, many, many people are on this email list.  Collectively, General Convention is the second-largest democratic body in the world.  (India’s parliament is no.1.  We’re no. 2.  T-shirts are on order.)
The conversations are great to read, but like many things in these here interwebz, people who read only, and do not post, greatly outnumber those who do post.  So most conversations get skewed pretty fast, in my opinion, towards the same few voices who protest.
This week, news broke into general consciousness that several people had been live-tweeting the recent Executive Council meeting.  This wasn’t news to those of us on Twitter.  But evidently, it’s news to people who aren’t on Twitter, and someone on Exec Council raised a (similarly public) objection.
So for the past two days now, a heated conversation has been flowing forth on the HoB/D listserv on the appropriateness of Twitter in meetings.
I should like to point out the following things:
1.) TWO DAYS.  This has been a conversation for TWO DAYS.  If the argument is that Twitter distracts from the business at hand, then I doubt you’re making that argument any more cogent by continuing to press it for TWO WHOLE DAYS.
 2.) I’m unclear on how tweeting reports of what’s happening is more distracting than taking private notes.  And I’m extremely hesitant to launch a blanket accusation of inattention against all committee secretaries.  Who would like to go there?  Line up, please.
But most importantly!
3.)  The argument I keep hearing repeated against Twitter as a source of information is that of bias.  Which is entirely true.  Twitter reports are biased.  It’s one person, or one group of people expressing their take on things.
Right.  And now I’d like to introduce you to Rupert Murdoch.
The thing is, this is not at all different from the New York Times, or the Wall Street Journal or the Washington Times or Fox News.  Or the biases involved in books out of Intervarsity Press or Zondervan. All media is biased.  There is no such thing as non-biased media.  (Just like there’s no such thing as a impartial narrator. The Great Gatsby should have taught us that.)
The difference is that with Twitter, as with the new social media, there’s a little picture beside the words, with the person’s name, so that you know exactly who’s perspective you’re getting.  And with one click, you can get as many different perspectives on the same topic as you want. Presto!  Instant variety, instant perspective shift–if you want it.
Of course, that means that no one person/thing has control over the flow of information.  Which can be tricky. Information flowing all over the place means that leaders have to justify themselves and their decisions, and explain things so convincingly that people consciously support them.  Power suddenly becomes diffuse.
It’s worth pointing out that it wasn’t until the development of Guttenberg’s printing press that the Vatican invented the imprimatur: an official blessing that allowed the book to be printed and read.  In 2010, imprimaturs started being applied to iPhone apps as well.
There are ways around this new, diffuse power structure we’re moving into.  But they aren’t good ways.  And they aren’t Episcopal ways.  One of our strengths has been our giant, colorfully democratic method of governance.  Now is not the time to sacrifice that.


Thus far, I’ve refrained from commenting much on what’s happened in the Church of England over the past few weeks.  And by ‘refrained’, I’m excluding a Facebook status, and a ranting session to my friend in Montana.

If you’d like, Episcopal Cafe has done a very good job covering everything as it unfolded here.

Basically, if you’ll recall, in the summer of 2003, as The Episcopal Church here was getting excited over the election of V.Gene Robinson, the Church of England leaked the news that someone had nominated Jeffery John, a celibate gay man in a long-standing partnership, to be bishop of Southwark.  Chaos ensued, and finally, the +Archbishop of Canterbury stepped in and asked that he withdraw his name from consideration, “for the unity of the church,” which is what happened.  Anger was expressed at the time over the leak, because unlike in the American church, English bishops are appointed in absolute secrecy, or, at least, they are supposed to be.

Now, the late dean of Southwark cathedral’s family has released a memo detailing his take on what happened that summer.  And it reads like a 21st century version of Anthony Trollope.  You can read the memo for yourself at the link above, and I won’t repeat it here, but suffice it to say, no one comes out looking particularly pleasant, ++Rowan least of all.  Suddenly, his motivation shifts from church unity to looking like something much more upsetting.

In today’s Episcopal Cafe, Jim Naughton has an excellent piece meditating on the differences between what appears to have happened in Southwark and what’s currently happening in the walkabouts in Washington DC’s bishop election.  It raises several things that I’ve been pondering, now that I’ve gotten over my initial impulse to stage a cleansing re-enactment of the Battle of Yorktown.

So messiness will ensue whenever broken humanity is involved.  The question is, do you want to acknowledge this openly?  Or do you want to try to deny this and wait until it festers and breaks out in some horrific, even worse form?

Our Episcopal method of electing bishops might be political, but it is overtly political.  Everyone has a voice, and everyone gets to raise their voice to the rafters and make their case, even if (and I cop to this willingly) I heartily disagree with many of these voices and many of these arguments.  At no point, do we, as a church, expect the Holy Spirit to squeeze herself into a tiny back room filled with cigar smoke.  That’s a pretty tall order, and I, for one, don’t like to order around any portion of the Trinity.

So we argue and wrestle with stuff.  It’s unseemly, you might say.  But it’s also a sign of trust.  Trust in each other, trust in the Spirit, and trust that we will be led into the truth eventually, because God is still with us.  We don’t have to have all the answers right now.  (Herein the difference between a living faith and a stoic one, perhaps?)

If Jesus wrote fortune cookies, one of the better one-liners would have been “There is nothing hidden that won’t be revealed.  There is nothing secret that won’t be shouted from the rooftops.”  And man, he wasn’t kidding.  Generally, I’ve heard this interpreted to be something about how, at the Day of Judgement, everything we’ve ever done will be revealed to God.  Which, ok, that works.  But let’s give the 1st century rabbi some credit–this is also pretty pragmatic advice.

If you’re living an inauthentic life, it’s going to come up, at some point.  It’s going to wreak some havoc.  It just will. ::Insert pointed look at politician of your choice here::  Hypocrisy doesn’t work in the long run for humanity.  It hurts our brains.  We get bent into weird shapes and we get confused.  And humans are nothing if not easily confused.  We dearly love consistency.  Saying one thing and doing another is just hard to keep up for decades on end.  It has to come to an end at some point.  Someone is going to call you on it.  Whether it’s a single person being hypocritical, or an entire institution.  Or an entire planet.

Eventually, someone points it out.

And blessed are those people.  For, though they frequently get shouted down, cursed at, and run out of town on rails, they are doing the work of the Spirit.