Tuesday, September 29, 2015

An Apology of Anglican Catholicity

The new Chicago Chapter of the Society of Catholic Priests
While Philadelphia (and the world) waited with great anticipation for Pope Francis to open the World Meeting of Families last Saturday, my friends and I were preparing for an event of our own here in Chicago. After two and a half years of discussion, discernment, and preparation, we gathered at Grace Episcopal Church in the city's South Loop for a mass to inaugurate the Chicago Chapter of the Society of Catholic Priests. It did not involve barricading downtown streets or ticker-tape parades. None of us drove through adoring crowds in a Pope-mobile. Just bread and wine, hymns and holy smoke, and champagne at the end.

The frenzy of activity and interest in the Pope's visit demonstrates the power that the notion of
Pope Francis greets admirers in Philadelphia
catholicity still has over people generally, and Anglicans, specifically. My Facebook feed filled with commentaries about Francis's statement on same-sex marriage and the ordination of women, the moral example he was setting by snubbing an invitation from congressional leaders to eat with the homeless, and even how his presence would likely influence the upcoming presidential election. In a way, it makes me sad that many Anglicans feel they have to piggyback onto the Roman bandwagon to satisfy their fascination for and experience of the universal Church.

It speaks to the fact that Anglicanism, including the Episcopal Church, is timid about claiming its catholicity. When we do it, it's in a half-hearted and qualified way, as if we're either embarrassed or not quite convinced of it. Maybe we feel insecure that we're so much smaller or that we're a more recent creation. Like the rural cousin that arrives to the fancy gala in her simple homespun dress, we feel we just don't measure up. After all, it's hard to compete with the sheer scale of the Roman Church's presence and of Pope Francis's popularity. But if Francis has taught us anything, it's that the Church is not about riches or pomp or who's got the tallest mitre.

John Jewel
I think about the many great theologians in our tradition that have crafted sophisticated apologies of the Church of England, how they too wrestled with the concept of catholicity. Whether it was an attempt to recapture the purity of the ancient Church, reconnect with the roots of pre-Reformation Sarum, or enter into a more expansive understanding of catholicity, they all had to make sense of the unique place of the ecclesia anglicana in the universal Church. Jewel and Hooker, Newman and Keble, Ramsey and Williams have thought and debated in just the same way we are thinking and debating within the Society of Catholic Priests. As I looked around Grace's sanctuary on Saturday morning, I remarked on the diversity of our members' priestly ministry, the variety of contexts in which we serve at the altar. We are urban and suburban, in mostly white congregations and mostly black, in small parishes and large, in broad churches and Anglo-Catholic churches, in affluent communities and in poor communities. If this doesn't represent the universality of the Church, then I don't know what does.

Abundant blessings,
Fr. Ethan+

Monday, September 21, 2015

#TractSwarm Four: The Heart of Anglican Catholicity

Justin Welby, 105th Abp of Canterbury
The Archbishop of Canterbury announced a proposal last week to deal with the schism within Anglicanism by dismantling the Anglican Communion and replacing it with a looser network of provinces connected to the See of Canterbury. The big change would be that, while these provinces would remain in communion with Canterbury, they would not necessarily remain in communion with each other. I considered this distressing news in light of the most recent Society of Catholic Priests TractSwarm on the heart of catholicity for the 21st century Anglican. To what extent can Anglicanism claim catholicity when it proposes to pursue schism for short-term relief, rather than to hold out for long-term unity?

It is probably clear from the way I framed this question that I do not think this is a wise approach to our current difficulties. But it's not because I disagree with the Lord Archbishop of Canterbury about the impossibility of bringing progressives and conservatives to consensus on human sexuality, the consecration of women bishops, or other controversial issues. It's not because I have a solution he and his predecessors haven't yet thought of. And it's not because I don't think folks just haven't tried hard enough. There is a deeper reason. It is because the decision we make now has repercussions for generations that come after us. We cannot simply make decisions for ourselves, but must take the long view of the implications of walking away from each other. Diplomacy and patience over time--perhaps even several lifetimes--is the only answer.

Michael Cerularius
Imagine if the rigid and hotheaded Papal Legate, Humbert of Silva Candida, and the Patriarch of Constantinople, Michael Cerularius, hadn't succumbed to anger and namecalling and anathematized each other in 1054. Might the Great Schism have happened anyway? Perhaps. But perhaps if everyone had known how irreversible and devastating this exchange of tempers would be for all of Christendom, they would have taken one more deep breath, gone away to cool off, or just agreed to disagree for the time being. Or maybe the Pope would have sent a more irenic and levelheaded representative than Humbert to Constantinople to speak on his behalf. Once the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church was shattered, like Humpty Dumpty, there was no putting the pieces back together again.

Later in the week, after the Welby proposal had aired, I was re-reading a passage in William Sydnor's  The Prayer Book Through the Ages, about the first General Convention of the Episcopal Church in 1789, where there were serious divisions over the draft of the first American Book of Common Prayer and the consecration of Samuel Seabury. Sydnor observes, 

In that company the tensions were great. In addition, those in positions of power were difficult to deal with, and some of them could not get along with certain others. The possibility that this band of apparent irreconcilables might reach any consensus looked dim. But the seemingly impossible was brought about by the patience and statesmanship of those in key positions, principally William White and William Smith. Moreover, it was accomplished without breaking off communion with the Church of England (Sydnor, 61, emphasis mine).

Bishop William White
There are consequences of both giving in to impatience and frustration and of practicing patience and diplomacy. It is heartening to remember how the efforts of the Episcopal Church's first Presiding Bishop, William White--not to mention many others--enabled the American Church to be born and to remain in communion with the See of Canterbury. The heart of Anglican Catholicism for me, then, is the recognition that we need each other when we don't agree with each other, or even when we dislike each other. But instead of slapping a bull of excommunication on the high altar of Hagia Sophia like Humbert, we should accept the fact that unity is out of reach for the present, and yet not walk away. We should realize that unity is not an entitlement, something that should come easily, but something that is hard-won after generations of labor and faithfulness.

In the early Church, schism was one of the worst sins a Christian could commit, and it's not hard to see why, the effects are devastating to the Body of Christ. In the polemics and politics of the Anglican Communion, we should set aside our expectations of immediate gratification and take the long view, the one that Jesus offered us in the Sermon on the Mount: "Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you." Our time is not God's time. We cannot predict when the unity of the Church will become apparent and we will be able to enjoy the fruits of that unity.

Abundant Blessings,
Fr. Ethan+

Monday, September 7, 2015

Why Episcopal Identity Matters: Part II

Last week's blog offered five reasons why Episcopal identity and practice are still relevant in a pluralistic, post-denominational, and postmodern society. This week, I offer the final five on my list.

St. Augustine of Canterbury
6. A rich theological heritage. The Book of Common Prayer provides a basic framework for Episcopal belief and practice, but Anglicanism boasts a much richer corpus of theological resources. Anglican thought traces its origins back beyond the Reformation to the era of Celtic Christianity and St. Augustine's mission to the English in the late 6th century. The Anglican heritage claims medieval greats, such as the Venerable Bede and Julian of Norwich. It is grounded in the work of major Reformation theologians like Thomas Cranmer and Richard Hooker and the sublime poetry of John Donne and George Herbert, both priests in the Church of England. Anglicanism nurtured the Oxford Fathers who led the Catholic Revival of the mid-19th century, which revitalized Anglican liturgy, hymnody, and architecture. It shaped the Christian Socialism movement later in the century. In this generation, Anglicanism has produced first-rate intellectuals and academicians, such Sarah Coakley, Katherine Tanner, Rowan Williams, and of course, Desmond Tutu.

7. Contemplation and mysticism. Anglicans are not just thinking folk. They are also people open to the deep, internal experience of God. The contemplative life ranges from walking the labyrinth or participating in a centering prayer group to joining one of the professed religious communities of the Anglican Communion, such as the Society of St. John the Evangelist, the Order of Julian of Norwich, or the Brotherhood of St. Gregory.

Chanting the Exsultet at the Easter Vigil.
8. Beautiful music. One of Anglicanism's principal contributions to Christianity is a strong musical repertoire. The Anglican tradition excels in both choral and congregational singing. At an Easter Vigil, you might hear a deacon chant the Exsultet, one of the most ancient and revered pieces of sacred music, followed by a choir performing Anglican chant and plainsong. During the week, you might participate in a Taize service or Choral Evensong with a contemporary setting of the Magnificat. On an average Sunday, you will likely join a congregation in singing hymns written by legendary figures, such as Isaac Watts, John and Charles Wesley, and John Mason Neale.

Map of the Anglican Communion.
9. A global context of belonging. The Episcopal Church is a member of the Anglican Communion, a worldwide fellowship of 38 national and regional provinces in communion with the Archbishop of Canterbury. The Anglican Communion is the third largest body of Christians in the world, after the Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox churches. It consists of about 80 million people in 165 countries. Although sharing a common heritage in the Church of England and the Book of Common Prayer, each of these national churches lives out its Anglican identity differently, according to its unique cultural and social context. Some Anglican provinces are more catholic in their worship, while others are more evangelical or charismatic. Some are more socially and theologically liberal, while others are more conservative. The Episcopal Church engages with these other Anglican provinces through a variety of organizations and partnerships, including Episcopal Relief and Development, which offers support during natural disasters, epidemics, and other emergencies, as well as providing resources for long-term development.

10. An anchor in a turbulent world. Recent research from the Pew Research Center for Religion and Public Life and other thinktanks have demonstrated a resurgence of interest in traditional and liturgical forms of Christianity, such as the Episcopal Church. In a world when everything else is constantly changing, postmodern people are learning to value the spiritual grounding that the ancient traditions of Christianity have to offer.

This list is, of course, neither objective nor exhaustive; it is only my perspective on what the Episcopal Church and Anglicanism contribute to the spiritual life. Are there other reasons? Please respond back with your own suggestions and perspectives and add to this discussion.

Abundant blessings,
Fr. Ethan+