RSS Feed

Tag Archives: Politics

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.

Canons, Take Three: New Reality TV ideas, and Confusing Sacraments

Welkommen, bienvenue, welcome…
to the third and final part of Megan’s Fun-Filled Romp through the Proposed Canonical Changes in 2012!

As I said before, I’m just hitting the highlights, so I’m going to breeze right on past the resolutions cleaning up language, and asking for revisions of Title IV (they are legion).

So we come to:

A106:Hey, Remember that time we gave you that money?
Proposed by: Standing Committee on the Structure of the Church

This resolution requires each province to give the Executive Council a detailed report of activities it does each year, and alsowhat it does with the money allotted to it by Convention. Right now, Provinces are not required to report back on their activities or spending.

I’m going to go out on a limb here, and advocate for this resolution. It is a good idea that if we give someone money, they can tell us how they spend it.

And now, before I dwell too deeply on what the heck was happening for all the years before no one was reporting on the money they were getting at the provincial level, let’s look at:

A119:Let’s fire the GCO head, too
Proposed by:Executive Council

So, evidently we’re on somewhat of a “let’s make sure we can fire people” kick. And that’s the main reason I point out this resolution.
There exists an entire office to run the triennial behemoth that is General Convention, and its executive officer is selected jointly by the Presiding Bishop and the President of the HoD.

This resolution would give Executive Council confirmatory powers of that selection, and give them firing power as well. It is an interesting move. I am fine with someone being able to remove the GChead, but why make it someone different than the folks who hired you?

A041:Everyone Should Learn Things!
Proposed by: Standing Commission on Lifelong Christian Formation and Education

If the standing committees and commissions were locked in some variety of cage match,* Hunger Games-style, these guys would win. I have no doubt about it. They are smart, they are well networked, and they are very intense about their jobs. Never mess with Christian educators.

They’ve got a couple resolutions up, and this one calls for every congregation in The Episcopal Church to offer instruction in the “history, structure, and governance of this church”, and also makes completing this instruction a prerequisite for holding any sort of leadership position.

This is a great idea. I really like this idea, because it will cut down on the number of people who try to tell me that Jesus was a Christian, Episcopalians believe in sola scriptura, etc. This is a wonderful idea.

This is also going to be hell on wheels to achieve, much less enforce.

Because what qualifies as enough education? What qualifies as passing? Who’s going to check and make sure? Theoretically, this has already happened– confirmation classes should cover this. But everyone knows that few among us retain that information for very long. And the content and quality of confirmation preparation varies widely.

So there are some practical issues to iron out.

And speaking of that:

A042: Whoops, Turns out Baptism and Being 16 Were Enough After All
Proposed by: Standing Commission on Lifetime Christian Formation and Education

This is an omnibus resolution which changes the canons from requiring confirmation for lay leadership in the church to: being an adult.
(In the eyes of the church, ‘adult’ is defined as ’16 years old and older’.)
In other words, you no longer have to be confirmed to run for the vestry, or run for GC deputy; you just have to be 16 or older.

Clearly, these two resolutions are meant to be taken together– the thinking is that baptism, plus education, qualifies you for wider service in the church. (Their report is very good, and is worth reading in its entirety.)

Awesome. No objection from me. That’s good baptismal theology. (Though, also clearly: we have got to nail down what on earth happens at confirmation. Ignoring it won’t make it go away. It’s a sacrament, not a houseplant.)

I am a little uneasy about the separation of the two ideas though. If either one gets shot down, the other doesn’t look so great. Suddenly, you have people (at any age) with no education in the Episcopal Church trying to run things, or, you have dioceses scrambling to maintain compliance when they are already stretched thin.

These should probably rise or fall together.

The last thing to cover has to do with the (in)famous Anglican Covenant, but that gets its very own post later this week. Stay tuned!

*Which would be awesome provided there was no actual death, blood, or violence. Think of the ratings/marketing/evangelism potential! Budget deficit? What budget deficit? General Convention:Survivor Edition! Tonight at 8pm on Fox!

When we can’t all get along: Canons, Part the Second

We continue our series of Proposed Canonical Changes: Highlights! with the next Blue Book report.

Resolution A065: 100 Ways to Leave Your Bishop
Proposed by the Standing Committee for Ministry Development
Might I pause here and express my love for the Standing Committee for Ministry Development?
Seriously. I love you guys. You guys are wonderful. I would like to line you all up and give you hit- fives. This proposed resolution adds an entire canon which lays out a process by which troubled dioceses can end their relationships with their bishops, and avoid ecclesiastical court.
I like this concept.
NOT (let the record reflect) because I would like to fire my bishop. He is very nice, and pays me twice a month.
But because there needs to be a way to end the episcopal relationship in general,in cases where it has past the point of no return. Occasionally, this happens. Reconciliation should always be the goal, but sometimes, reconciliation can only occur in hindsight, and at a safe distance. And in the meantime, the diocese has entirely shut down.
I’ve watched two dioceses now deal with troubled bishops, both to the point where ministry and mission ceased to happen. In both cases, it reached a point where it didn’t matter who was actually right, and who was actually wrong; the conflict had dragged out so long and become so contentious that until something external happened to end it, no ministry was going to get done. But the bishops held on. Because they were bishops, and who was going to tell them otherwise?

As a final note: the idea for this resolution, the committee would like you to know, originated from the House of Bishops. So, this is not a GOB Bluth-style-power-grab. From the other side of things, I can imagine that extricating yourself from a diocese that hates you has to be excruciating, as well.

Resolution A066:100 Ways to Fix your Crazy Rector
Proposed by the Standing Committee for Ministry Development, who are on fire this triennium

Told you these guys were awesome. Now that they’ve covered what to do when your bishop goes round the bend, they’ve turned to what to do when your rector loses it.
This resolution also adds a canon which would allow the bishop to ask an active clergy person to undergo an evaluation, or treatment, if in the bishop’s judgement, the clergy person is compromised. It also allows the bishop to follow up with said clergy until such time that the problem is resolved, or, in consultation with the vestry and standing committee, the pastoral relationship is dissolved.

Part of me loves this resolution to bits. Or, rather, I love the idea of this resolution to bits.
We need a mechanism in place by which someone can intervene in situations where the clergy have diminished capacity, and can’t admit it, whether by reason of addiction, or mental issues.

Our clergy are aging rapidly. I’ve dealt with several situations now where this has cropped up, and it is a serious issue. The fact that Fr. Whoever can’t remember red lights from green lights is cute in the abstract; it ceases to be cute when he insists on driving for pastoral care visits, and he totals 2 cars in a week. And more often than not, the parish leadership has had such a long, emotionally involved relationship with the clergy that they are unable to set limits, or see clearly what is happening. The boundaries need to come from outside the system.

But my concerns have to do with specifics. This canon rests almost entirely on the bishop’s judgement, at least in the initial stages. We established in the previous section that bishops are human. Bishops can be wrong. And who is going to stop the bishop if s/he decides that a certain priest is behaving erratically, and is damaging the church? There’s a small, but concerning, possibility for witch-hunts here.

Also, there are no provisions made for whistleblowers in this canon. (Again, experience here.) The bishop isn’t omnipresent, especially in 2012. Most of what the bishop knows of what’s happening is coming from contact with parish leadership, staff, and other clergy. What happens to the administrative assistant who calls the bishop to tell her/him that her boss is drinking at work? The junior warden? Right now, in our canons, outside of a Title IV complaint, people like this have no protection, or guarantee of confidentiality, outside of (I hope) common pastoral sense.

I don’t know that these concerns are enough to derail what, I think, is a good idea. They might be grounds for later revisions, especially the whistleblower idea.

And now for something entirely different!!

Resolution A072: Teach Everyone Community Organizing!
Proposed by Standing Committee for Mission and Evangelism

There are times I forget why I love my church. Then, there are resolutions like this one.

It basically does what it says on the tin: require that everyone being prepared for parish leadership in the church: priests, deacons, and lay leaders certified for ‘total ministry’ sites be trained in “1) understanding differences in cultural contexts, 2) storytelling as a practice for evangelism and community-building, 3) growing and facilitating the leadership of all God’s people, 4) building teams of lay leaders, 5) identifying leaders and their passions and calling forth gifts, 6) building capacity in nonprofit organizations, and 7) engaging God’s mission in the local community and in the world.”

None of this is bad. I learned some community organizing in seminary , which is essentially what this is. (Now we’ve lost the flyover states.) I’ve learned more since. It’s just very specific. And so it leaves me wondering if we’re going to look at this in 10 years and wish it weren’t so dated. Right now, storytelling is awesome, and the thing to do. In 5 years, it will probably be something else.

There’s another thing too, which sort of creeps in the background of a lot of these “grow the church!” conversations. We convention-type people have these conversations CONSTANTLY with each other. Lay leadership! Storytelling! Different styles of church! We come up with some bold new ideas, and it’s great.

Know who we forget to inform of all of this? The 65 year old retiree who sits in the 4th pew at church. He has no idea about any of this, and so when he goes to write the parish profile for the next rector, and to do the interviews, he will not hire anyone who uses such big scary words.

So we can train all the new leaders in this new stuff. The leaders aren’t the problem. We need to train everyone else. It’s the everyone else who are the problem. Until that 65 yr old retiree sees the value and the excitement in telling the new Spanish -speaking family who just moved to town about how great his church is, and how they should come, we’re going to go round in circles.

Next time: Structure! And we actually attempt to teach the 65yr old retiree some things.

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.

Living with Ghosts


Arizona has been a state for 100 years this month.  And it seems that the state legislature is attempting to set some sort of record in their centennial year.

Earlier this year, the state passed a law (HB 2281) that cuts off up to 10% of the school district’s funding if the school provides any class that ‘promotes the overthrow of the US government, promotes resentment toward a race or class of people, is designed primarily for pupils of one ethnic group, or advocates ethnic solidarity.’ (a quote from the law.)
Shockingly, the one school district in the state that offers classes like this is the Tucson school district, which had a Mexican-American Studies program, integrating Latino history into its curriculum.  They also have a majority Latino student population.
And now that’s gone.  Under threat of losing $15 million dollars of funding from the state, the Tucson school board ended the ethnic studies program on February 1, and boxed up the offending books.  These included The Tempest, by William Shakespeare.  (Nothing gives kids ideas of revolution like ye olde English.)
All this, because the state decided children should not be exposed to any history other than the generic old-dead-white-guy variety. (Also, they really dislike Shakespeare.)
I went to a meeting in Flagstaff last week, about how best to show our support for the beleaguered, book-deprived students of Tucson.  It was heartening to see so many people so fired up.  And I knew going in about the issue, I knew about the legislature, I knew about the books, and the ethnic studies.
But nothing had prepared me for reading down the list of banned books, and seeing so many of the books I had read, and related to, as a teenager.  Two books by Sandra Cisneros, a book by James Baldwin, a book by bell hooks.  (I suppose it’s a small comfort that they appear to be equal-opportunity in their disdain?)
One of the fallacies about ethnic studies programs, or multicultural studies programs, is that, like the bluntly-written law suggests, they break people into ethnic groups.  That they only address people of minority status.  Teaching about Black History Month is only of interest to Black kids.  Teaching Women’s History is only important to girls.  Mexican-American literature is only valuable to Hispanic kids.
Which is ridiculous.
Teaching everyone’s history, everyone’s art, just insures that everyone gets to be a voiced part of the larger story.
I grew up in southeastern Virginia, in a neighborhood with a plantation marker at the end of my block.  History, of all sorts, was under my feet.  The story of the owners and the slaves, the story of the rebels and the Tories, the story of the native peoples and the colonists.  Everyone was already there.  The question was, who was going to get a voice, and who would remain silent.
The more stories that got told, the more stories I learned, the more I realized that I owed a debt to all of these people.  Not just the ones who looked like me, thought like me, or spoke like me.  My life, my world had been affected in some way by all of these diverse people: the ones who left powerful legacies, and the ones who died nameless.  All the little histories that get stuck in the margins were really bound up in the big, ‘master narrative’ of American history we like to tell.  You can’t tell one without the others.  They’re inter-dependent.
On Ash Wednesday, we pray the Litany for Penitence, which makes a point of talking about our interdependence, both on creation, and on other people.  We ask forgiveness for our abuse of creation, our prejudice toward others, and our exploitation of other people.  (Actually, read the litany sometime in the BCP.  It’s virtually all about what we’ve done to other people.)  As a rule, we tend to really hate dwelling on that part, because we like to believe that we are Individuals! (Complete with nifty Boot-Strap Lifting action!) We are all John Wayne all over here, rugged and needing no one, only casually strolling in to save the day*.
But this is not the case.  We’re social creatures, bound one to another.  We’re stuck together, all of us.  Your story is my story, and vice versa.  And to silence either one of us is to disfigure the story beyond telling.
So, for the next while, I’ll be working on the (unofficially-dubbed) “Flagstaff <3s Tucson” project, bringing attention and support to the banned ethnic studies programs in Arizona.  Call it a Lenten side-project.  I shall keep the blog updated as things progress.
In the meantime, I ask your prayers/thoughts for the kids down in Tucson and for all of us in Arizona.
* and building an airport, putting our name on it, not having any feelings….I’ll stop now.