Thursday, October 18, 2018

Jesus Calls Us to This: An Argument in Favor of the Methodist-Episcopal Full Communion Proposal, "A Gift to the World"

In October an updated version of the United Methodist and Episcopal Church Full Communion proposal was published, entitled, A Gift to the World: Co-Laborers for the Healing of Brokenness. You can read the proposal itself online here.

As I suspected, there has been much hand-wringing by several of my colleagues who are distressed by a move to full communion with the United Methodist Church and who believe that this proposal is  theologically flawed.

On Facebook, when I bemoaned that once again I seem to be in favor of something many of my friends seem to hate, one person asked me to share why I support this movement and, specifically, the proposal for full communion which now exists. I started writing a comment, but that quickly got too long. Instead, I want to offer this reflection.

Prolegomena—In Favor of Ecumenism
The first thing to say is that I am a strong advocate of ecumenism. I spent six years representing The Episcopal Church on the Faith & Order Commission of the National Council of Churches. That work remains some of my favorite work I have yet done as a priest. I withdrew from that appointment when the National Council of Churches reorganized because it seemed the Faith & Order work that would be done going forward wasn't the best fit for me. At the same time, I still believe the NCC and other ecumenical bodies are doing important work.

I believe this for two reasons.

First, division in the body of Christ is a sin for which we must all repent. Even though the great Archbishop of Canterbury, Michael Ramsey, was not always a full-throated supporter of the ecumenical movement, he insisted that division and schism were not the Christian way and that work needed to be done to heal that division. He was not a supporter of women's ordination when the question came to the Anglican Consultative Council, but after it became a part of The Episcopal Church he knew of an American priest who left the church and joined a dissident movement over they issue. Ramsey was massively opposed to this entrance into schism and told his friend just that.

While the church remains in a divided state, no one part of the church can claim a full and true catholicity.

Second, I have seen in my own ministry the fruits of ecumenical work. I have seen congregations from the Lutheran and Episcopal churches who have come together and been able to discover vibrant and faithful ministry. In my own parish, I have been tremendously enriched by our Priest Associate, a Lutheran pastor who has helped me grow in my first decade of priestly ministry. The coming together of our churches, the interchange of our ministries, through the Full Communion agreement we have with the ELCA has been a tremendous gift to us as a church.

I also believe that the way in which ecumenism takes place, we can never merely ask one church to adopt another practices or beliefs. Rather, the riches of the ecumenical movement has been the discovered convergence through difficult theological wrestling. The primacy of baptism in the 1979 BCP is a great example of the way in which ecumenical conversations surrounding baptism led to a refining of our own understanding and practice in the Episcopal Church.

To return to Ramsey, we have to remember that the church is not yet fully and perfectly that which God is calling it to be. As Ramsey wrote in The Charismatic Christ,  “So the sacramental order of the Church witnesses to its historical givenness and witnesses also to its growth to-ward a future plenitude when, partly within history and partly beyond history, the Church will become perfectly what it is already.”  This idea of combining the historical givenness of the church with its future growth toward plenitude was not Ramsey’s own creation. Here he notes his debt to the work of Yves Congar who had envisioned Christian unity not as a process of “returning to Mother Church,” but rather “as the converging of all Christians upon a goal which will be a Church different from any now visible yet in continuity with the Church as once founded.”

So, I believe in ecumenism and I believe good ecumenism will not only enable each tradition to bring the riches of its history to other communions, but it will also result in the growth, change, and movement towards greater faithfulness in those traditions.

Now, to the proposal itself, and my own reasons for supporting it.

We Share Core Doctrine
One of the fundamental questions with which anyone must approach questions of full communion relationships is whether or not you believe the differences between two churches are church-dividing issues. That is, is the difference of perspective so significant that it warrants us living in continued schism. Over the course of bilateral ecumenical conversations, those leading both of these conversations have come to the conclusion that our difference are indeed not church-dividing issues. That does not mean our difference are not important or that we don't need to have further conversation. Rather, it says that these differences do not rise to the level that we should live in division from each other.

This is undergirded by the theological statement Sharing in the Apostolic Communion, issued over twenty years ago as the result of international dialogue between the World Methodist Council and the Anglican Communion. At that time, the document noted that we share the core doctrine of the Christian faith and do not need further doctrinal assurances from one another.

Some people have strangely claimed that the United Methodist Church doesn't affirm the Nicene Creed. This claim is based upon a movement to have it formally added to the Book of Discipline, a moment which died in committee for reasons no one can articulate. However, we should remember not only the point above (where we have already said we agree on core doctrine), but we should also remember that the United Methodist Book of Discipline gives its own requirements for full communion, one of which is "a mutual affirmation of one another’s membership in the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church 'described in the Holy Scriptures and confessed in the church’s historic creeds'" (¶431.1).

We Share in the Historic Episcopate, locally adapted
This has been one of the major sticking points of those outside the conversation. There are some Episcopalians who continue to insist that the historic episcopate must, by definition, include the manual transmission of apostolic authority through the laying on of hands through the centuries. I would commend to those who hold such an understanding (one that I believe to be anemic and theologically and historically deficient, by the way) John Burkhard's excellent book Apostolicity Then and Now.

Burkhard is a Roman Catholic theologian and his book did tremendous work in articulating a nuanced understanding of apostolicity that is based upon the best of Scripture, theology, and church history. He cites authorities no less impressive than Joseph Ratzinger to advocate for an understanding of apostolicity that is more than the strict historical apostolic succession. Apostolicity must be seen within the context of the apostolicity of the whole church, including origin, doctrine, and life—historic succession can be one aspect of that apostolicity and it is far from a guarantee of that apostolicity.

Furthermore, those who insist that the historic episcopate must include apostolic succession have no argument upon which to base their claim. The phrase itself is notably absent from the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral. Indeed, its absent from the Book of Common Prayer itself! It was virtually unknown in Anglican circles before the Oxford Movement of the nineteenth century—and even then, was never broadly shared or affirmed officially in any way. Our church has never made apostolic succession the basics of any of our ecumenical dialogues. And lest Anglicans get too high on their horses with this question, let's remember that it was a strict understanding of this question that led Rome to call our own orders invalid because of the loss of strict manual succession in the Edwardian times.

Furthermore, this document does not eliminate the role that historic succession plays as a part of the historic episcopate. All future episcopal consecrations will include at least one Episcopal bishop, along with a Morvaian and ELCA bishop. Thus, over time, the Methodist church will also now share once more in the historic succession—even as they already currently share in the historic episcopate, adapted for their own churches needs and ministry.

I would also note that Tom Ferguson has rather strongly argued that the insistence upon apostolic succession is not only problematic historically and theologically, it has tremendously unfortunate sexist and racist overtones that need to be acknowledged.

We Affirm the Ministry of Four Orders
Once again, there is a strange claim by some that Methodists to not affirm the three-fold ministry of bishop, priest, and deacon. I find it unsurprising that those who make this claim ignore that our prayer book is clear that there are four orders of ministry, and that the ministry of the baptized is the first order in the Outline of Faith.

Both TEC and the UMC have worked through a revival of the ministry of deacons. I find any criticism of the UMC revival to be a significant amount of pointing out specks of dust and ignoring the plank in your own eye. In our own church we are still struggling through this revival, evident in the massively different expectations, formation processes, and practices surrounding the diaconate. It was not until I was the Chair of the Commission on Ministry that I fully realized how very little the average Episcopalian—including the average priest!—truly understands about the history and theology of the diaconate.

The UMC has not held onto the practice of the transitional diaconate (that is, one is ordained a deacon before being ordained a priest). But, once more, we need to be clear that this was not the practice in the church for centuries. There are theological and practical reasons both for it and against it, but it cannot be seen as a church-dividing issue unless we plan to divide ourselves from the early church! (And, furthermore, the UMC official statement on this question states clearly that Christ is present in the elements.)

The UMC has chosen to use the word "elder," that is the translation of Presbyter/Priest, in its own articulation of the one who is ordained to the ministry of Word and Sacrament. However, it is clear that the office itself is the same. Sure, most UMC elders probably don't have the same understanding of the presence of Christ in the Eucharist as I do—but I know a lot of Episcopal clergy who don't as well. Once more, since the Elizabethan settlement Anglicanism has allowed for room for disagreement on this question. We cannot reject their elders as inauthentic without also rejecting the orders of many of our own colleagues and entering into a quasi-Donatist world where the validity of sacraments becomes a question of each person's personal views.

The way in which the episcopate has been historically adapted (one of the specific allowances of the Quadilaterial) in Methodism is instructive. Here I will quote from the document itself,
Following the American Revolution, The Episcopal Church adapted the office of bishop to its new missional context: bishops were elected by representative bodies (Diocesan Conventions) and exercised oversight in conjunction with clergy and laypersons. After the American Revolution, Methodists also adapted the episcopal office to the missional needs of their ministerial circumstances and settings. Early Methodism adapted the office of bishop as an itinerant general superintendency, and the name of the largest Methodist body incorporated the word: Methodist Episcopal Church, reflecting this choice of episcopal governance. The United Methodist Church includes among its antecedent denominations the Methodist Protestant Church resulting from a merger in 1939. The Methodist Protestant Church incorporated the Methodist episcopacy at that time as it did not have the office of bishop in its structure. In 1968, The United Methodist Church was created through the merger of the Methodist Church with the Evangelical United Brethren Church, which also had bishops, at which time the churches’ episcopacies were brought together into a unified whole. 
In The Episcopal Church and The United Methodist Church, bishops are consecrated by other bishops and ordain presbyters/elders and deacons. They exercise oversight in a specific geographic area—the diocese or annual conference—and in conjunction with clergy and lay persons.
Sure, there is also an apology on the Episcopal side for the ways that some in our church have claimed that Methodists don't have valid orders. But that seems like a pretty good thing to apologize for, given the ecumenical consensuses that have been reached at this point in our life.

Some have very oddly claimed that there is a big problem because the UMC do not understand the ministry of bishop and presbyter to be distinct ministries.

Well shit. I suppose this person never read a lick of early church history, wherein the terms episkopos and presbyter are used interchangeably in Scripture and the monepiscopate (as we know it) gradually developed as the primary presbyter in the area, with the added authority to ordain other presbyters.

In our own church, bishops and priests are not entirely distinct ministries. After all, the prayer book is clear that the bishop functions as the primary presbyter at celebrations of Eucharist and Baptism. The ministry of a bishop is inextricably bound up with the ministry of the priest. They aren't distinct in our own church.

What Really Hangs People Up
You know what all this leaves us with? Grape juice or wine.


Methodists use grape juice and Episcopalians use wine. Each do this for important theological and historical reasons. However, let's also be clear, lots of Episcopalians actually use port—a fortified type of wine that wouldn't have existed in the first century. There are also Episcopal churches that do use grape juice—a nonalcoholic fruit of the vine that did not exist in the first century. An extreme condemnation of any of these modern variations of fruit of the vine is historically anachronistic and delves into the odd Roman insistence upon technical specificity (very out of step for our Anglican tradition), which goes so far as to articulate what percentage of wheat must be in bread for it to be called bread.

Do I prefer the use of wine? Absolutely. In fact, in our parish we use actual red wine—you know, that tastes like the sort of wine you might drink at dinner.

But to return to the refrain of this entire essay, is this a church dividing issue? God, I hope not.

Sure, this full communion proposal will have problems. We'll have things we will need to work out. Most significantly, the UMC is currently wrestling with the place of LGBTQ Christians in their body. I hope we'll all join in praying for our brothers and sisters in this struggle—knowing that we didn't do all of that wrestling perfectly or well in our own church.

But I sure hope this thing passes. Because Christ prayed passionately for his followers to be one. And as for me, I see it to be my call as a disciple of Christ to work toward that end, not against it.

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Questions for Huizenga and answers from Davidson

Today's column in the Grand Haven Tribune, reprinted below.

It has now been over one year since the citizens in Michigan’s Second Congressional District have had an opportunity to meet with their representative in a public forum.

There may be a significant reason why Rep. Bill Huizenga, R-Zeeland, is so hesitant to show up in a public forum in his own district.

After all, it was at a town hall in February of last year that the citizens of our district were introduced to the person who is now running as his opponent, Dr. Rob Davidson. For a good 15 minutes, Davidson and Huizenga debated on the question of health care.

After that experience, many who were in attendance encouraged Davidson to run against Huizenga for Congress. And that’s what Rob has been doing.

He has been out meeting people and knocking on doors. The sheer number of public events he has held has been unheard of in our district. On Aug. 27, Davidson challenged Huizenga to a series of seven debates, one in each county which makes up our district. It was all crickets from the Huizenga office, but Davidson plowed ahead — eager to engage with the citizens of our area. On Sept. 10, instead of the hoped-for debate with Huizenga, Davidson hosted a town hall meeting to a standing-room only crowd in Holland. He held a second town hall on Sept. 29 in Kentwood.

Rep. Huizenga has had ample time during congressional recesses to meet with his constituents. However, in the absence of a public forum, he appears to spend his time primarily cultivating his donor base. He has not given us, the citizens in the Second District, the opportunity to ask him questions in public about the choices he has made while supposedly representing us in Congress.

If I had the opportunity to ask Rep. Huizenga some questions, I would have a few that immediately come to mind. Why does he talk so much about how it is Congress who makes laws for immigration and then fail to actually do anything productive to solve our broken system and protect families? Why did it take him weeks to speak out against the policy of forced family separation? Why did he support the president’s original ban on refugees and citizens from seven Muslim-majority countries? Why is it that he has accepted over $1 million in corporate dollars, including a significant amount from banks that are not even in our district? How is he ensuring we don’t lose the regulations put in place after the Great Recession to protect our country from risky decisions in the financial sector? Why hasn’t Huizenga worked for common-sense bipartisan gun reform, advocating for policies that enjoy broad support across the political spectrum, including universal background checks and red flag laws that keep firearms away from domestic abusers?

And the question I have that hits particularly to home is what exactly is he doing to fix our struggling health care system? Sure, he sought to repeal the Affordable Care Act, but when the American Health Care Act replacement failed, it seems he has not done much else. While Congress has been in a state of inaction, health care premiums continue to rise. West Michigan Christians who serve on church boards have seen first-hand how the continued increase in health care premiums for clergy and lay employees has continued to make it harder to devote a congregation’s financial resources to the important ministry to which we are called. As a committed Christian himself, I’m curious how Huizenga is working to alleviate this burden which every congregation, church board and pastor feels.

It has been reported that Rep. Huizenga has finally accepted Dr. Davidson’s invitation to debate. Our own Grand Haven Tribune secured this agreement, with a debate planned for Oct. 30 — one week before the General Election. Another debate is planned earlier, on Oct. 15 in Newaygo County. I suppose there is nothing like waiting to the last minute.

No matter what political views you hold, if you are able to attend one of these debates, I would encourage you to do so. If not, try to find a way to engage them online. Listen to what each candidate says. Ask yourself who will better represent all the residents of our district.

And Rep. Huizenga, if you’re reading this, maybe try holding at least one public town hall before the election so that your constituents can ask you the questions that will be on their hearts and minds when they go to the polls Nov. 6.

Friday, September 7, 2018

Anthems, protests and honoring sacrifices

Today's column in the Grand Haven Tribune, reprinted below.

The debate over whether or not people should be forced to stand during the national anthem has come up over and over again in the past 100 years since the anthem has held an official place in our country’s life. The most recent debate was sparked when then-San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick sat during the anthem during a preseason game in 2016. His action was motivated by the deaths of African-Americans by police or while in police custody.

Afterward, Kaepernick had some careful conversations with another teammate, Eric Reid, about what would be the best thing to do. The two of them even sat down with Nate Boyer, a retired Green Beret and a former NFL player. After these conversations, they decided they would not sit down because this could convey an attitude of disrespect. Instead, they would kneel during the anthem.

As Reid explained it, “We chose to kneel because it's a respectful gesture. I remember thinking our posture was like a flag flown at half-mast to mark a tragedy.”

However, during 2017, various conservatives began sharply criticizing those players who decided to kneel. Never one to seek to bring calm to a controversy, on Sept. 24, President Donald Trump said that anyone who didn’t stand should be fired. In response, more than 200 players knelt or sat in an even stronger protest.

The anger of those who felt anything other than kneeling during the anthem was disrespectful only grew, leading to calls in several conservative outlets to boycott the NFL. Other players began joining Kaepernick in the protests, choosing to raise a fist during the anthem or to stand with their arms locked instead of with their hand over their chest.

During the preseason, a new league rule as approved by the commissioner and the NFL owners will require all players either to stand or to remain in the locker room. The players union was not consulted. Then, last month, Kaepernick won a legal battle, gaining the ability to enter into arbitration with the league about his claim that owners are colluding to keep from hiring him due to his affiliation with this protest.

All of this was ignited further by an advertising campaign by Nike which includes Kaepernick. The ad features many people who have overcome numerous challenges and have gone on to do great things. Near the end of the ad, there is a shot of Kaepernick while the voiceover (who we find out has been Kaepernick all along) says, “Believe in something, even if it means sacrificing everything.” The ad ends with Kaepernick saying, “Don’t ask if your dreams are crazy, ask if they are crazy enough.”

And, of course, the anger on the right flashed white hot again as people burned their Nike apparel or cut the iconic swoosh off of it in protest. Some conservatives even started replacing images of Kaepernick with NFL star Pat Tillman. You may remember that Tillman turned down the chance to make millions and instead enlisted after the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, going on to serve bravely and die in combat.

Tillman’s widow immediately spoke out angrily, asking people not to use her husband’s sacrifice as a way to attack Kaepernick. Tillman’s biographer, Jon Krakauer, spoke out, as well, insisting that, “I have no doubt if he was in the NFL today, he would be the first to kneel. So there is irony about what is going on.”

Of course, despite the claims of President Trump and many on the right, Kaepernick’s protests and the protests of his fellow players is not disrespecting the flag, those currently serving in the armed forces or our military veterans. Rather, they are kneeling in protest of the fact that our country still has not dealt with the continued killing of unarmed African-Americans by our police. And, as Tillman’s own widow said in a statement, “The very action of self-expression and the freedom to speak from one’s heart — no matter those views — is what Pat and so many other Americans have given their lives for.”

The best response to this controversy that I have seen came from Beto O’Rourke, the Democratic nominee in the 2018 Texas Senate race. Someone in the crowd asked Beto about the NFL protests and Beto said two very important things. First, he said, “Reasonable people can disagree on this issue and it makes them no less American to come down on a different conclusion.” As someone who supports the protests of the players, I also strongly agree with O’Rourke on this related point. We need to get back to a place in our society where we do not attack those who hold different views than we do on important issues. Particularly, because these are issues that need to be engaged, not dismissed by an angry meme or a knee-jerk refusal to listen to the other.

O’Rourke then went on to highlight the powerful history of civil rights protest for equal rights, those who sacrificed so much for those rights, who were killed and attacked for insisting that our society must change. He argued that taking a knee in a football game is a part of our country’s strong tradition of peaceful nonviolent protest. He insisted that their protest that unarmed black men, black teenagers and black children “are being killed at a frightening level right now, including by members of law enforcement, without accountability and justice.” He argued that the players are frustrated that those in power have not resolved this tragic problem and he insisted that he “could think nothing more American than to peacefully stand up or take a knee for your rights.”

I’m tremendously disappointed in the tone of those who disagree with these protests. I’m disappointed with their refusal to respect an opposing viewpoint (notice that no one significant is saying you are not American if you remain standing and chose not to protest). And, most importantly, by angrily insisting that everyone had better stand for the anthem, those on the right are making it abundantly clear why this protest is important: because standing for an anthem is more important to them than the bodies of African-Americans which continue to fall on the streets of our country.

Stop getting angry about the decision to peacefully kneel in protest. Stop burning Nike apparel because you don’t agree with their decision to affirm Kaepernick’s work. Stop insisting that anyone who doesn’t agree with you isn’t a real American.

Instead, take a breath and listen to the grief and anger pouring over from those who are experiencing violence and oppression in our country. Get angry about black bodies being killed with no consequences.

Honor the veterans who have fought for this country to ensure all people have the right of freedom of speech, freedom of protest. Honor them by working to ensure all people in our society truly do have access to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

To the House of Bishops: Thoughts on Prayer Book Revision from a Millennial, Anglo-Catholic, Convert Priest doing Latino Ministry & Church Planting

Hi Bishops,

It was an interesting experience, watching your debate on Resolution A068, the plan to begin the process of prayer book revision. I'm sure you are spending tonight resting and have many things on your plate in the morning, but if you have a moment, I hope you will read this blog post to hear some more fulsome responses to the questions raised in the debate.

First, let me be honest about my perspective on this question. I am a millennial, anglo-catholic (really, more accurately, a prayer-book catholic) priest who converted to the Episcopal Church while I was in seminary as an evangelical. Though I'm approaching ten years of ordained ministry, I'm only 36 and so thankful still get to claim the title of a young priest. I'm also honored to be leading one of the church plant grants you funded as a part of General Convention in 2015. The ministry at my congregation is the El Corazón Latino Ministry Initiative, and we have been working for nearly three years now to cultivate a Latino worshipping community at the heart (el corazón) as opposed to the edges of our predominantly Anglo worshipping community.

But, after telling you my perspective, I need to let you know something else. I don't speak for any of the groups I just listed, groups I am honored to identify myself with. Honestly, one of the most frustrating parts of the debate this afternoon was hearing people talk about what young people want, about what the next generation needs, in the Book of Common Prayer. It was frustrating, first off, because I was sitting right there along with several of my colleagues. But even more than that, it was frustrating because it assumes that we are a monolith. Some bishops talked about their experience of young people as a reason for revision and some spoke about their experience of young people as a reason not to do revision.

I do believe my own generation, including my generation of clergy, is divided on this question. Likely just as divided as you are as bishops.

But we are looking to you. We are looking to you to lead and shepherd us at this moment in the life of our church.

One more thing: when I first looked at this concept, I was opposed to Prayer Book revision. But the more I studied the approaches in the Blue Book and the more I listened to testimony in committee hearings, my mind changed on this question.

Let me give you a few reasons why that has happened, as you consider how best to lead us as the Episcopal branch of the Jesus Movement in this moment.

Revision or Deepening Study
I know you are all very busy, and you probably haven't had a chance to read through the entire proposal put forth by the SCLM (often referred to as the Option One of Revision and Option Two of Deepening Study). If you would allow me, let me give you the Cliff's Notes on the two options: they are largely the same in actual process. You'll notice that if you skip down to the budget session (you can also read my essay I wrote as a summary on the whole report online here).

Both assume revision in the future, but the deepening study one assumes it will take at least another triennium (or several!) to get there. Do you know the big difference between the two? The amount of listening that will happen. In A068 (Option One of Revision), there will be listening sessions in every diocese—not just in some parts of our church. In A068, there will also be a "Grounded Theory" Research Project that seeks to study the question of revision without preconceived notions of what it might look like.

So, if I may be so bold, I would invite you please to consider spending this next triennium in a time of listening. Listen to the broader church to figure out what revision might look like to be faithful. Truly listening isn't cheap. The SCLM has created an amazing process that would bring all voices of our church to the table. But isn't that worth the investment?

Inexpensive Surgical Revision
Rather than engaging in prayer book revision, another idea being proposed is that we instead engage in a relatively inexpensive process of "surgical" or "incremental" revision to the prayer book. We make the Eucharistic prayers of Rite II gender-neutral with a light touch. Maybe we also pass a first reading revising the marriage rites. But we don't spend $2million on a study because probably any one of us could sit down and do that on our own in an afternoon with Microsoft Word.

This is a bad idea.

The reason I was told it was a bad idea was because if we are going to revise the prayer book, it should not be done "piece-meal." Rather, it should be done in a comprehensive and studied manner. This is also the argument made by the SCLM in their report on same-sex marriage liturgies, by the way. They argued that the BCP shouldn't be revised just to put those liturgies in, but that those liturgies should be considered in the context of full prayer book revision.

But that's not why I think surgical revision is a bad idea.

Surgical revision is a bad idea because it is contrary to what I have heard so many of you say. Over and over again you tell us about the importance of grass-roots ministry. You tell us that it is important to listen to and be attentive to our flocks. But for those gathered at General Convention to, on their own, without any time listening to the broader church, simply revise the prayer book... this would be an elitist act.

Surgical revision might solve what many of would say are some of the most glaring problems but it won't do what we really need: bring all the rich voices of our church to bear on what our common prayer should look like.

I bet you were all rectors at one point, with a building issue that someone knew how to quick really fix for not a lot of money. My guess is that you've all seen how that generally works out.

But What About Evangelism & Racial Reconciliation?
Once more, you've all been priests at one point who heard someone say we shouldn't do one thing because something else is important. You all have experienced the presentation of that false choice.

Let me be clear: this is a false choice.

We can engage in a triennium of robustly funded study and listening when it comes to our prayer book and at the same time engage in a triennium that is boldly devoted to continuing the work of evangelism and racial reconciliation.

In fact, my guess is that we'd do it better.

What could be more evangelistic than removing unnecessary barriers to worship in our church that exist in a prayer book that nearly forty years old? Almost as soon as the 1979 BCP was published, people in our church recognized that the language remained very masculine—even in places the original language of the liturgy didn't include masculine language! We added it in! Don't you think that getting rid of that barrier might be an aid in evangelism?

Every time a new family joins our church, so thrilled to finally find a form of Christianity that truly welcomes all people—including our LGBTQ sisters and brothers—I have to give a caveat, warning them that the prayer book doesn't reflect the actual practice of our church on this question. I normally wind up doing this after I gave them a prayer book to take home, telling them this is who we are.

Well, most of this is who we are.

Yes, this is not compelling evangelism.

But even more importantly, the current prayer book is the product of white, western-european culture.  Imagine with me, dream with me bishops. Imagine a revision process that invited the rich and amazing diversity of the Episcopal Church to contribute to the creation of a shared book of truly common prayer. Imagine the gift we would receive from translating indigenous prayers and Spanish-language worship and customs into English and spreading them broadly in our church. Imagine the gift we would receive from drawing deeply from the often ignored but rich heritage of African-American Episcopalians, letting their heritage shape the book we all use.

And imagine, if you will, the way that a new marriage rite—one that drew honestly and humbly from the many things the same-sex marriages in our church have taught us, the way these marriages have shown us more clearly what God's true design for marriage actually is—imagine what that rite could do for reconciliation and evangelism in our church.

Like I said above, for the past three years I have been leading a Latino ministry church plant in the midst of our Anglo congregation. Our Latinx sisters and brothers have brought SO MUCH to the rest of their congregation (and I'm not just talking about the food, though that has been pretty stellar). They have shared their cultural heritage with us. They have shared their prayers and customs, the way they see and talk about and pray to God. And we are so much better for that.

Rather than simply translate the current book for them into better Spanish (something that would still be an improvement on the current translation), I would love to invite them and all our Latinx members to contribute to a new book, one where they are actually shaping our common prayer.

A prayer book revision process that put racial reconciliation and evangelism as top priorities in the process could produce a book that is far superior to the 1979 BCP.

And let's not forget why so many people in our church are passionate about racial reconciliation... because the revisions of the 1979 prayer book—particularly the baptismal covenant—invited us to see our calling as Christians differently. What might a new revision invite us into?

But Isn't This Turning Us Inward When We Should Look Out
It could. This could be a futile exercise in inward naval-gazing.

But it doesn't have to be. This process of listening and revision could spin us outward even more. We could engage with those who have converted to our church and ask them what brought them in and what, if anything, made them hesitant? That would probably tell us a lot about how our liturgy can better enable us to be more evangelistic.

We could even engage in a process of deep listening with those who are not churched. We could find out where they already see God in their lives... and then find how we could revise our prayer book to name that divine presence.

We could do this with an outward view... we just have to chose to do it that way.

We Should Do This for Theology, Not Sociology and Demographics
I have to be honest, every time I have heard this argument against revision put forth I have winced.

First off, theology for Episcopalians is first and foremost about how we pray. So anytime we talk about changing how we pray we are talking about the theology we hold as a church.

Even more importantly, when women in our church tell us that our masculine language has obscured their ability to experience God... we are talking about theology. We all know, as Prayer D says, that our God is one who dwells in light ineffable. We know that God is not a bearded white guy in the sky... so why don't our prayers better reflect that.

And this is theological. Because all of humanity was carried into the divine through the Ascension—not just Jesus' maleness, but the totality of humanity. As St. Gregory Nazianzen reminds us, "What has not been assumed has not been healed." We believe that all of humanity—male, female, cisgender and transgender—all has been assumed into God through Christ... shouldn't our prayers reflect that.

And in the age of #MeToo, after just a few nights ago we all heard the powerful testimony of the experience of the victims of sexual misconduct in our church, particularly that of women, isn't it theological to ask if our worship has in some ways enabled the continuing exploitation and oppression of women? It sounds like theology, like God-talk, to me.

Furthermore, by ensuring our prayer book pays more careful attention to the richness of who we are as a church (as I noted above in the section on racial reconciliation), we are making a theological argument: one St. Paul himself made. We are insisting that every part of the body is important to us. Every part of the body has value. And every part of the body should be included in determining what exactly common prayer looks like.

It's Too Much Money
Yes, I will admit. $1.9 million dollars for this triennium is a lot of money. $8 million over the whole course of the project is a lot of money.

But do you know how much it is in relation to the rest of the budget of The Episcopal Church?

Less than 2%.

Don't you think everything I've charted above, all the opportunities in front of us as we face the prospect of revision... don't you think all of this is worth 2% of our budget?

Isn't bringing our prayer book in line with who we are as the Episcopal Church today worth 2% of our budget?

I think it is.

Oh, But We Don't Know What Church Will Look Like in Twelve Years
You do know, I hope, that this argument could be used never to engage in prayer book revision. We will never know what the church will look like at the end of a prayer book revision process. That will always be impossible.

But we do know who we are today. We know what our prayer book needs.

In fact, I have yet to find a single person—lay, priest, deacon, or bishop—who is opposed to prayer book revision but doesn't, when asked, have a list of revisions that they would like to see happened.

And furthermore, if you are really worried about this, here is an idea: ensure that the SCLM that shapes the next prayer book has a wide variety in its composition, including young people who may indeed think very differently about what is important in revision than you do!

Who Needs a Book?
Our church needs a book. Sure, we may not need a hardcover bound book—but we do need, as so many bishops pointed out, a gold standard for our liturgy. We need something we can all look to, something that unites us as a church even as it draws from our rich diversity.

My guess is that a new BCP will still be published (e-book sales have largely plateaued, if you look at the data). Even if we use full bulletins, we still need a common source those bulletins are drawn from, whether that source is digital or analog.

And there are parts of our church that do need regular books because they cannot afford to print full bulletins. Here I'm thinking of the testimony of the bishop from Honduras, about how the 1979 BCP is used in his diocese and throughout Province IX.

If we came up with a new book, one that finally included the voices of Province IX in its creation... wouldn't be awesome if someone did a Kickstarter campaign to provide books free of charge to every parish in Province IX. I have a feeling we'd raise a lot of money for that very quickly.

Trust Our Church
All of this leads me to the most depressing view I heard in the course of your debate: the idea that some of you simply don't trust the church or the process to create a good prayer book.

You do know that you are the House of Bishops, right? You do know that you exist at the highest echelons of authority and power in The Episcopal Church. Sure, I know that some days as you struggle to midwife growth in your diocese and as you struggle with issues of conflict and asset allocation... you may not feel like you have authority.

But you do.

You are the ones in charge. And if the ones in charge don't trust the ones in charge... well, then we have some larger issues to deal with.

Let's talk in specifics with this one. You don't know who the SCLM is that would guide this process. That's scary.

Sure, I get it. (It actually scares me a little, too!) I'm a prayer-book catholic, deeply devoted to the Anglican expression Christianity in all its ancient richness, grounded in the creeds, and centered in the practices of daily prayer and regular Eucharist. I want to be sure all of the richness of our heritage, all the great parts of the 1979 BCP, that all of that is deepened in a new revision... so, yeah, it's a little scary to offer my beloved prayer book up to the wider church.

But do you know this guy named Michael Curry? He's pretty awesome. Do you know this woman named Gay Jennings? She's pretty awesome too. You do know that they are the ones who will appoint the SCLM for this process, right?

Can you trust them?

And, even more importantly, can you commit to talking to them, honestly and clearly, about the voices you want to be a part of this drafting process? You know they will listen, right?

I believe they will. They want this to work just as much as everyone else.

Don't Be Afraid
All of this brings me to my final encouragement: don't be afraid. One of my favorite things to tell my congregation is that, no matter what, we should never be afraid. God is always doing something and if we are feeling afraid that usually just means we haven't yet figured out just what in the world that is.

Don't be afraid. Open our church—and yourselves—to this first triennium of listening. See what comes back after the first phase of this process is complete. See what you hear from the church about our prayer book when we all spend the time truly to listen carefully to one another about it.

God is doing something in this. Over the course of this week, I watched the winds of the Holy Spirit blow through Committee 13. I saw as the minds of their members were changed through prayer and testimony. As I sat in the House of Deputies, I saw the same thing. I saw the minds of Deputies changed as the Spirit moved in their hearts.

And I saw a rustle of that Spirit in your House today. Let go of any anxiety and fear you have and open yourself to that gentle breath. I have a hunch God is bringing us somewhere very new... and very good.

No matter what, know this: you are all very much in our prayers.

Please, as one of your number said, take this as an opportunity to stop being a hospice bishop and start being a midwife bishop.

Let's work together, all of us, to bring a new prayer book into our common life.

Your Brother in Christ,

Saturday, July 7, 2018

The Unfinished Business of Prayer Book Revision, or, in Favor of A068

Ever since Committee 13 decided to send to the 79th General Convention of The Episcopal Church (TEC) a proposal for initiating the process of comprehensive revision of The Book of Common Prayer, I have been surprised by the many claims that this process is based upon feelings and not upon theology and liturgical scholarship. 

Most significantly, I am dismayed that so many priests apparently do not believe the feelings of baptized Christians as they engage the core of our worship materials in the BCP are.... unfit for consideration. 

But beyond that, though I hold tremendous love and affection for the 1979 Book of Common Prayer (79BCP), there are several places where I believe revision could create a stronger book, one that would more effectively enable us to pray together, in "common," as Episcopalians.

For this reason, I submit this brief reflection for your consideration. 

In 1997, it seemed likely that we were approaching revision of the 79BCP. Morehouse Press published the book Leaps and Boundaries: The Prayer Book in the 21st Century. The opening essay to that book was entitled "Unfinished Business in Prayer Book Revision," and was written by Marion Hatchett, liturgical scholar and author of the definitive commentary on the 1979 BCP.

This matters to me because ten years after that essay was published, I sat in a classroom at Sewanee, pursuing an STM in Anglican Studies. Liturgy professor at Sewanee Jim Turrell was on sabbatical and so Marion came out of retirement to teach senior liturgics for his last time before he entered into the glory of his God. When I open my notes on that first class of the semester, there were two subjects covered. First, we covered the rubrics. Then, we covered "Unfinished Business in Prayer Book Revision."

Marion was clear in that lecture, in a way that surprised me as a relative newcomer to TEC, that the framers of the 79BCP did not consider it a final and complete document. They knew they were leaving some aspects of the book to the next generation to be further revised. Top of the list, even then, were questions of inclusive language, the confusions surrounding confirmation, and the need for revision of language in new compositions like Eucharistic Prayer C. 

And though I would in no means compare the suggestions I am about to offer to the erudite work of Marion, my beloved teacher and friend. I think there are several pretty clear reasons for our church to enter into a new process of prayer book revision. 

Here they are, in no particular order,
  • The '79 BCP reflects the fruits of Vatican II and the liturgical renewal movement. And yet, liturgical scholarship has developed since then. There is now an acknowledgement among liturgical scholars that the early church should not always get a trump card on liturgy and so more recent revisions have restored some prayers once considered "catholic" or "medieval" by the framers of the 1979 BCP. 
  • The framing of confirmation in the 1979 BCP reflects a continued confusion about this sacrament in the life of our church. With baptism as full initiation, confirmation (as many have noted) is a sacrament in search of a home. Historically, Anglicanism resisted the Romanizing emphasis on confirmation. (For more on this, I would commend to you my doctoral paper on the development of Rites of Initiation in English Christianity, online here
  • The 1979 BCP has a habit of unnecessarily adding masculine genders into our liturgy. For example, as I'm sure you know, the final response of the People in the Sursum Corda, in Latin, is "dignum et justum est." There is no masculine pronoun. And yet, we say, "It is right to give HIM thanks and praise." Even the current Roman Rite is better, "It is good and just." An unnecessary proliferation of masculine pronouns should be eliminated.
  • In addition, both Scripture and tradition contain a variety of images of God, including feminine images. In my own parish, our midweek Eucharist often uses a "Song of St. Anselm," which includes the phrase, "in sickness you nurse us, and with pure milk you feed us." Ever since my wife gave birth to our daughter and I have witnessed the holy mystery of a mother nursing her child, this feminine and mothering image of Christ has become increasingly powerful. Our BCP is bereft without it. 
  • Our church has changed its understanding of the sacrament of marriage. The language in our prayer book should reflect that change. It should now say "two people" which gives room for conservatives who believe those two people should be of the opposite sex and for progressives who believe the sex is not essential to the rite. This is not in any way a change that cuts off a conservative view. Rather, this is in the best tradition of the Elizabethan settlement. Just like the 1662 BCP used language that could be understood in both Catholic and Protestant tones, saying "two people" is a multi-valent approach that enables both progressives and conservatives to use the same book. 
  • There have been far better, more poetic, and more accurate translations of the psalter produced since the mid 1970s. They should be consulted in the creation of a new psalter that better represents the beautiful lilt of Hebrew poetry and does not import English masculinity where they are absent in the Hebrew text. 
  • Eucharistic Prayer C need serious attention in its form, structure, and prose. 
  • Finally (and in my view, perhaps most importantly in the long-run), our current BCP is reflective of the liturgical and theological heritage of white, northern-europeans western Christianity. It is high time that we draw prayers from our indigenous members, Latino members, and other groups who pray differently and yet with eloquence and beauty. Those prayers should be translated into English so the minority communities can be a part of a new BCP.
I am sure others will come up with more places where there is room for revision in the 79BCP. I'm also sure there are others who will prove that the reasons I have noted above are unnecessary
or insufficient. 

This is precisely why it is time. It is time to engage a process of revision that is careful, one that engages in a study of what our liturgists have learned, what our members yearn for, and what our church needs at this moment. It will be a long process, one that likely will end sometime in the final decade of my own ordained ministry. But I do believe, with all my heart, that it is time to begin.

Don't be afraid, church. God's love will flow through us in this if we open our hearts and open our minds. 

And who knows? We might even find new forms and shapes of common prayer that will pour God's grace anew into our congregations and our hearts. 

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Trying to Hear the Spirit in BCP Revision

It's hard. Dammit is it hard.

I became an Episcopalian over a decade ago initially because of one key theological shift: the understanding that I needed to submit to something larger than myself and my reading of the Bible. The Bible itself is a product of the church. Jesus told us that there were more things to teach us and the Spirit would lead us. I chose the Episcopal Church because it was the catholic tradition that seemed most willing to still listen. It didn't want to cut the development of the church off at any point in history.

Always catholic. Always reforming.

And I still believe in it. I still believe the Holy Spirit moves through the institution of the church. I still believe that the Spirit guides call processes, and the election of bishops, and the discernment of vestries on budgets and ministry.

And I believe the Holy Spirit moves through General Convention.

Sure, sometimes we get it wrong. Sometimes the Powers of this world—on the left and on the right (powers that divide us from one another hold no political allegiance—sometimes those Powers succeed in disrupting the work of the Spirit.

So we are called to discern. To be willing to say, "I may be wrong and I'm willing to have my mind changed." We are called to weigh directions and movements carefully, seeing if they are indeed within the Summary of the Law that Our Lord taught us: love of God and love of neighbor. Are they advancing that aim?

Today General Convention began the discussion on BCP revision in earnest. I sat though around 45 minutes or so of open testimony on the subject of revision itself along with the subject of expansive language. I heard person after person get up and talk about their experience with our prayer book. I heard two trans priests talk about how painful it is to have "he" used in such an exclusive way, how it makes it harder for them to get others come who don't believe God is a "he."

That's not my experience, I'll be honest. And I know there are LGBTQ Christians out there—many of whom are my friends!—who don't have that experience at all but who find rest and comfort in the more traditional language of the BCP.

But I listened. And my heart wrenched.

Is saying "it is right to give HIM thanks and praise" instead of "it is right to give OUR thanks and praise" really worth that pain? Is it?

I don't think it is.

And so I found myself getting up and testifying. I shared my appreciation for the pastoral need of more expansive language. I shared my own experience as a priest, telling people to look at the BCP for what we believe but then having to give a big caveat when it comes to marriage. Yes, this is a real evangelistic obstacle. I urged the committee to pursue BCP revision in some form because the time is now.

So many of those opposed to revision seem to be afraid. And, as I always tell my parish and vestry, "As Christians, we should never be afraid. God is always doing something, our job is just to figure out what it is right now."

And I do think what God is doing is calling us to what Marion Hatchett (#MarionofBlessedMemory, my dear friend and teacher) called "the unfinished business of BCP revision."

The question before #GC79 at this point is which way. I see two paths.

First, we could approve some form of Resolution A068, beginning comprehensive prayer book revision. It would include some form of the following (at a cost of between $475K or $2million depending on how many of these tasks are included in the actual process):
  • Full SCLM Meetings to oversee process along with a paid project manager.
  • Bulletin Collection Project to look at what is actually going on in our churches and see what we can learn through data analysis about how the current BCP is actually used.
  • Consultation with Anglican Provinces and participation in the Inter Anglican Liturgical Commission (IALC) to ensure our process is in conversation with the wisdom of other provinces who recently walked this road.
  • Focus Group Conversations that would reach out in some form (whether to every diocese or region or online grouping or all of the above) to find out what is important to our actual membership (not just those in power or those elected to GC or the SCLM). 
  • Academic Conferences and Papers to bring the voice and training of our liturgists to bear on what the next BCP should include. 
  • A "Grounded Theory" research project to do careful research, without preconceptions, of who we are as a church and what we would want to see in a revised BCP.  
Then, in the next triennium, with what we learned we would create drafting subcommittees to do the work and hire an editor to ensure consistency across the proposed book. It would be presented to GC for a first reading and trial use. There would be feedback and then it would either be changed again and sent out to trial once more or it would be approved on second reading at the next GC.

Second, we could instead begin the revision of the BCP now, without a time of listening and study first. This could go two different ways.
  1. The current GC could approve a form of A085 (trial liturgies for same-sex marriage, along with other marriage related material) and a form of what Mtr. Laurie Brock is proposing for bringing more expansive/inclusive language to Rite II of the Holy Eucharist. If this happens, I hope we also get a third resolution that presents a wholesale psalter revision based upon at least one of the excellent inclusive psalters already out there. If this is what happens, all these items get a first reading now and could then be approved at a second reading in 2021, creating the 2021 Book of Common Prayer and ending prayer book revision for the near future. 
  2. The current GC could approve a form of what Bishop Wayne Smith is proposing: giving clear direction to the SCLM for an immediate revision (likely along the lines of what is above) and having the SCLM come up with the draft of a new BCP for a first reading in 2021. A second reading could then occur in 2024, giving us the 2024 Book of Common Prayer.
The question before the 79th General Convention is, "Which of these options is more in line with the calling of the Holy Spirit to our church today, now, in 2018?" 

And I'm torn. 

On one side, I think the best option would be some form of Comprehensive Revision. This ensures we spend time listening before we draft. We ensure we learn what our congregations are doing and what our members want. It doesn't have to be the whole $2million. The Grounded Theory research project would cost a half a million dollars and (to be honest) seems a bit much. That cuts 25% of the cost right there. If you also do the scaled back listening (more the sort of listening that was proposed in option two), you get another half a million cut off. Then your down to a $1million dollar project for this triennium—but it is one that will ensure the next BCP is responsive to the whole church, not just those who show up at General Convention. 

On the other side, there is the question of whether all that study would actually produce anything significantly different than the proposals just to revise the BCP now. Is our church really interested in a new BCP or would just fixing some of the most glaring issues with the current BCP be... enough? There is also a political reality at play in that comprehensive revision would be harder to pass in the House of Bishops. However, one of the two forms of immediate revision (either drafted now at GC or drafted in the next triennium by the SCLM) would have a better chance of passing. To wit, is the most pressing revisions actually happening more important than the gamble of shooting for a comprehensive revision.

I don't know, to be honest. I'm still not sure what exactly the Spirit is doing.

But I'm going to keep showing up. I'm going to keep listening. I'm going to keep trying to be open to approaches that are outside my perspective and comfort zone because you never know what the Spirit is inviting you into. And I'm not going to be afraid. I refuse to do that. 

Furthermore, no matter what, at this point in General Convention I do believe one thing for certain.  I believe that the Spirit is calling this General Convention to take some substantive action to revise our Book of Common Prayer. Will we have the courage to step forward and do what needs to be done?

Saturday, June 30, 2018

Care with the Blue: Standing Commission on Structure, Governance, Constitution & Canons

As I shoot for my third report of the day, let's dive into the report from the Standing Commission on Structure, Governance, Constitution & Canons.

Summary of the Report
This is a Committee that wound up with a rather big task in this triennium as it absorbed the work of two previous Standing Commissions (the Standing Commission on the Structure of the Church and the Standing Commission on Constitution and Canons). Given the size of the report, I will offer my own reactions to each area as I go.

Canonical Changes
In the area of canonical changes, they reviewed fifteen areas of canonical concern:
  1. Changing One's Name on Records — The 78th GC asked them to review how church records might be amended so that a member's legal name and their name on the church record matched. They have created "Resolution A088: Proposed Guidelines for Amending Church Records," which urges adoption of a policy in this regard. The underlying concern is a need for pastoral awareness "noting that in many instances name changes offer an opportunity for a restoration of dignity after trauma." Though on the forefront of many people's minds would be the realities faced by transgender people, the report notes that this actually touches as well on "adoptees, parents and guardians of minors with name and gender changes, divorcees, family members, ordained clergy in parishes and other administrative personnel." This is an excellent and important policy and I hope it will be adopted.
  2. The Term "Full-Communion" — It has been noted that our current Constitution and Canons are not consistent with regard to the phrase "in communion" or "in full communion" and that this discrepancy can be a cause for confusion. Thus, they are recommending almost all instances of "in communion" to be replaced with "in full communion," so that the nature of the relationship is made clear. They have thus created "Resolution A089: Amend Articles VI and VIII of the Constitution regarding Full Communion" and "Resolution A090: Canonical Amendments regarding Full Communion." I support this resolution because it make sense theologically, but it will be important, if this passes, to pay careful attention. For example, missionary dioceses may not be established in places where the ELCA already has jurisdiction. It also names the theological truth that it is not normative that we currently do have overlapping jurisdictions with ELCA and TEC bishops, that overlap only being allowed because of the Called to Common Mission agreement. 
  3. Canonical Status for Alternative Liturgies — The Commission notes that they worked with and support the resolution the SCLM has put forward on this topic (this would be Resolution A062 and A063). 
  4. Consent for Secular Employment — Given the rise in bivocational clergy, they noted that this work remains important but that they did not have the time to give it the attention it deserves.
  5. Equity in Clergy Compensation — As the Commission sought to respond to the significant variance in compensation between male and female ordained clergy, they created "Resolution A091: Amend Canon III.9 Equity in Clergy Hiring and Appointment Practices." The problem here is a real one, as they note in the first paragraph of the explanation: 
    Only twenty-two (22) percent of senior clergy leadership roles across The Episcopal Church are filled by women…Forty (40) percent of priests are women, twenty (20) percent Head-of-Staff clergy are women, less than ten (<10) percent of bishops are women. In the south, Head-of-Staff male clergy are paid an average of $25,000 per year more than Head-of-Staff female clergy. Forty-three (43) percent of female clergy have applied for rector/vicar positions but never been chosen whereas only eighteen (18) percent of male clergy have applied for rector/vicar positions but never been chosen. 
    That said, there would be significant consequence to using non-discriminatory canonical language to address this inequity. Most specifically, if I'm reading this canon correctly, a congregation which had a theological objection to the ordination of women or the ordination of LGBTQ clergy would not be able to use that objection as a reason not to call that priest or deacon. While I am a full-throated advocate for my female colleagues and my LGBTQ colleagues, I do believe it is important that our church continue to have a place for those congregations that hold more conservative views on these questions. Furthermore, I sincerely doubt this canon will do anything to solve the injustices surrounding pay equity or actually encourage more parishes to hire women into head-of-staff positions. Instead, it will simply be seen as a heavy-handed attack upon conservative congregations. This should not be passed and should be sent back to the Commission to come up with a better solution. Either that or the the committee that receives this resolution should edit it to insert a conscience clause for those with theological objections.  For example, to request an exemption to this canon on theological grounds, the parish could be required to state their theological objection in writing to the bishop, for the bishop to decide whether to approve it, and then for the parish to be required post that noted theological objection in any search materials.

  6. Restoring the Episcopal Church in Cuba to The Episcopal Church — Here the Commission supports the work being done by the Task Force on this question.
  7. Reception of Clergy from Churches in Historic Succession — Related to the earlier canonical changes with regard to "in communion" or "in full communion," this seeks to bring more consistency to the process for receiving clergy who are in historic succession but not in full communion with our church (often, in practice, Roman Catholic priests). As I am currently guiding a former Roman Catholic priest through this process, I find the changes all tremendously helpful and I hope they will pass. 
  8. Regarding Fiscal Years — Schools and other institutions have requested flexibility when it comes to determining the fiscal year (our current canons require it to be the same as the calendar year). While I don't have significant views on this question, the CPG raised an ominous eyebrow and the Commission backed away slowly...
  9. Deacons called to the Priesthood — This resolution (A093) is a clarification of process for when someone who is ordained a deacon later discerns a calling to priestly ministry. It's a good clarification and should pass.
  10. Clarity regarding the Bishop of the Armed Forces —In another area of needed clarity, this changes the canons so that it is now clear that the Bishop over our military chaplaincies is only over those of the United States. 
  11. Correcting Conjunction in Canon IV.4.1 — This is a typo that needed that will be fixed by Resolution A095—and its a typo that deals with misconduct, so it's a pretty important one!
  12. Convocation of Episcopal Churches in Europe — Resolution A096 is yet another clarification of canonical language. 
  13. Clarity Regarding the Process of Return to Ministry After Release and Removal – Here Resolution A097 clarifies that for someone to return to ministry in TEC, their letters of support must be by clergy in good standing. 
  14. Timelines and Pastoral Response in Mediation — In an attempt to help parishes and bishops who are in a state of disagreement, Resolution A098 clarifies an expected time-line for mediation and ensures pastoral care is provided for all involved.
  15. Interim Meetings of the House of Deputies —This is another big one. Resolution A099 empowers the President of the House of Deputies to call together the house at times other than General Convention. Given the immense cost of calling together the House of Deputies, I think this is a rather expensive solution to the stated desire for "an opportunity for more collegiality across the Church, making virtual meetings more effective, and providing an opportunity to discuss budget initiatives." Furthermore, this feels like it is modeled on the regular meetings the House of Bishops undertake—but it doesn't pay attention to the fact that the House of Bishops is fundamentally different than the House of Deputies, has very different needs for gathering, and also includes people who are paid to attend. Any increase in the meetings of the House of Deputies would only further preclude the participation of lay people who have full-time jobs and diocese that cannot afford further Deputation travel. After all, when a Deputation travels it is eight people (at least, it's ten when first alternates attend as well) and when a bishop travels its just the bishop. 
When it comes to General Convention and Church Structure, they reviewed another fifteen different areas of concern:
  1. Restructure Standing Commissions and Interim Bodies of General Convention — No action was taken because this was already melded by the  Archives.
  2. Schedule Length of the 79th General Convention — This is a VERY difficult question and one that this Commission did not feel they were equipped to change.  Wise move on their part, I believe. 
  3. Clarify Secretary of Convention versus Secretary of House of Deputies — Resolution A100 clarifies prior confusion about the difference between these two roles. 
  4. Annotated Constitution and Canons Review and Update — They are continuing work on annotating previous versions of the constitutions and canons.
  5. Review DFMS By-Laws — Given the fact that the Vice-President of the House of Deputies needs to be able to step in and serve on the President's behalf if needed, they recommend changing the bylaws so the VP is given seat and voice (though not vote) in Executive Council. This is a change that makes sense to me.
  6. Review Consistency in Canons Regarding Officers —At the start of this triennium, the House of Bishops apparently elected two vice-presidents. The Commission noted that there needs to be clarity in the Rules of Order as to who would actually take the responsibilities of Presiding Bishop if needed. Rather than take that question on themselves, they have referred it to the Committee on Rules of Order for the House of Bishops.
  7. Filing Deadlines —This is a bit of a perennial issue, particularly when it comes to the issue of resolutions which have funding implications coming up after the budget is already approved. However, it's thorny enough that the Commission didn't have any real solutions at this time and seeks to punt the question to the Budget Task Force for the next triennium. 
  8. Budget Process — Speaking of, the Commission recommends, through Resolution A102, that a Budget Task Force be created! The goal would be to reshape our process so that it is more in tune with the technological advances of today and ensures as broad of participation as possible. It would also seek to create a more manageable time-line, overall, for this process, as well as a clearer understanding of who holds which responsibilities. This is a much-needed task force and I hope the resolution passes 
  9. Joint Nominating Process — At issue here is the question of who needs to have a background check in order to do their job. The commission has decided on four officers: President of the House of Deputies (PHOD), Vice-President of the House of Deputies (VPHOD), Secretary of the General Convention, and Treasurer of General Convention. Resolution A103 responds to this need by creating clear language about the practice of background checks and who should have them. Some of this would involve significant changes—for example, candidates for PHOD and VPHOD would now have to submit their names three months in advance so that background checks can be completed. However, I agree that these extra steps are necessary given the importance of these offices. At the same time, the commission acknowledges there is unfinished work surrounding this question and I am hopeful some of that work will be done by the commission in the next triennium.
  10. Presiding Bishop Nominations from the Floor —Similar to the previous section, the Commission acknowledges the problem with the fact that candidates for Presiding Bishop (PB) can currently be nominated by the floor—even though that precludes the extensive background checks other candidates go through. They forwarded this issue to the Task Force to Review the Presiding Bishop Election and Transition Process who is aware of and working on the issue. 
  11. Corporate Structure — In addition to monitoring "the integrity of our corporate structure and By-Laws," the Commission notes their joy at welcoming the new Chief Legal Office to his role and how that will be an asset to their own work.
  12. Canonical Changes to provide for a Joint Session — One of the biggest changes proposed by TREC in 2015 was the possibility of a unicameral General Convention. One resolution was referred to this Commission and the other two were discharged. TREC's report argued that "that a unicameral legislature would make Convention 'a more truly deliberative body, and will more closely share governance across all orders of ministry,' while shifting the nature of Convention to 'evolve to become a Church-wide mission convocation'". (Full disclosure, I advocated for and whole-heartedly support this change and the reasoning behind it). The Commission agreed with the hesitance expressed in a 1975 report (because surely decisions made in 1975 should guide us.... sigh), but thankfully recognized that there are occasions when this might be helpful. Thus, they created Resolution A106 which enables a "Committee of the Whole." The proposal does not allow substantive voting to take place when the Houses are meeting together, but would enable shared discussion and debate. I strongly hope this resolution passes and that the experience of meeting together continues to grow so that the two Houses of GC may become more united. 
  13. Ecumenical Engagement — The Joint Standing Committee on World Mission had requested that the Standing Commission on Ecumenical and Interreligious Relations be restored, a need that became apparent as that Committee sought to respond to the full communion proposal from the United Methodist Church and the 2013 Statement from the World Council of Churches. Oddly enough, the Commission did not agree with that request, noting that the United Methodist Episcopal Committee could do the work of the former and our ecumenical staff could do the work of the latter. I strongly disagree with that decision as I believe that this sort of ecumenical work is central to the life of our church both at the highest levels and the grass-roots and there needs to be a Standing Committee to respond to these questions when they get to the point of wanting an official response from TEC
  14. Review of Canon III.11.2: Election of Bishops — This is another important change, clarifying "that an election could be called earlier than six (6) months before the resignation of a Diocesan Bishop but said election should not be held earlier than six (6) months before the effective date of the resignation." 
  15. Addressing Harassment and Sexual Misconduct — This is yet another tremendously important area, particularly given the significant variance in policies across our church. And the problem is real. As the report notes, "An informal survey taken of a group of female Episcopal clergy under age forty- five (45) revealed that of the seventy-six (76) women who responded to the question, all of them reported harassment of some kind." Yes, you read that right. All of them. This is not OK. So, through Resolution A108, the commission is proposing a series of canonical changes to make clear the need for training with this issue. They are also calling, through Resolution A109, for a Task Force to undertake a review of current policies and come up with best practices. This is an important resolution to pass. 
In the section for Provinces, Bishops, & Diocesan Vitality, the commission reviewed four different areas:

  1. In Support of Diocesan Vitality and Mergers — The commission referred the portions of this work that related to the efficacy of provinces to the Task Force to Study Provinces.
  2. Create a Single Court of Review — One of the various structuring proposals presented at the last GC was to move to one single Court of Review for the entire Episcopal Church instead of the current nine provincial courts of review. The Commission considered input from Chancellors and Bishops and decided to propose Resolution A110, which would indeed create one single court of review. This is a good decision and, given how rarely a court of review is called, it certainly makes sense to have one that is churchwide. 
  3. Diocesan Vitality — The Commission is sending forward the second reading of a constitutional amendment (Resolution A111: Amend Article V of the Constitution) that changes the previous language for diocesan mergers from a decision based upon the bishop to one based upon the Ecclesial Authority. This enables the Standing Committee to oversee this process after an episcopal resignation or retirement—a smart move that gives greater freedom and flexibility to dioceses considering merging. Through Resolution A112 the commission is also calling for a Task Force on Diocesan Vitality. In Resolution A113, the commission also recommends a change in the language to another constitutional amendment to better clarify the intended process. This will mean this particular resolution, if approved, will have to be read and approved again in 2021. Finally, in Resolution A114, the canons are changed to create a simpler process for diocesan union and brings equality to the field by no longer giving precedence to whichever is the "senior" diocese. All of these are excellent resolutions and should be approved. 
  4. Authority of Bishops, Canonical Residence, serving after age seventy-two (72), Defining Disabled and Absent — These areas of concern were either shared with the Task Force on the Episcopacy or were forwarded on for consideration by the commission in the next triennium.
Next, the commission took up concerns related to Title IV issues—a whopping eighteen in total. Every single one of them is important to be adopted.:
  1. Adopt and Implement Charter for Safety — The "Charter for Safety" was sent to our church following the 2012 meeting of the Anglican Consultative Council. This commission reviewed it to ensure consistency with the canons and also sent it to the Task Force to Update Sexual Misconduct Policies. They believe it should be adopted and are sending Resolution A115 to that effect. In particular, they are including a funding request to ensure training materials can be created for Province IX. 
  2. Develop Title IV Training materials — All candidates for ordination in our church are required to go through Title IV training—but what actually makes up that training varies significantly. The group worked to create an interactive website to accomplish this training. They are also proposing Resolution A116 so that ongoing monitoring and providing for this training will remain under the authority of this commission. The creation of these materials solves a gap in many ordained person's formation and hopefully placing it under the authority of this commission will ensure it continues to be kept up to date. 
  3. Enable an Appeal of a Decision not to take Action— The current canons did not provide a mechanism for a complainant in a Title IV case to appeal if the reference panel decided not to take action. Resolution A117 creates a mechanism for that appeal to take place, ensuring there is a fair hearing. 
  4. Clarify Rules for Publishing of Materials — In Resolution A118 the commission clarifies what part of a Title IV investigation should be published, when it should be published, and under what circumstances. This is a helpful addition. 
  5. Clarify Process for a Court of Review — Through Resolution A119, the commission seeks to clarify what makes up the process for a Court of Review. However, they used the term "provincial" court of review—even though Resolution A110 eliminated the provincial court of review in favor of a single court of review. Hopefully this will be addressed in the committee work.
  6. Create a Title IV Database — A significant issue in the current Title IV canons has been that information about the proceedings sometimes are not well communicated to other dioceses or parishes considering a call. Resolution A120 calls for the creation of a database that will record information and ensure there is consistency in the application of the canons. This database would also help the background check practices already in place. 
  7. Remove definition of Procedural Officer — The inclusion of this definition in the recent Title IV revisions was an error, so Resolution A121 corrects that mistake. 
  8. Ability of Conference Panel to hire independent mediator —The commission determined that no action on their part was needed to create this ability.
  9. Amend Article IX to change Removal to Admonition — This is another oversight from the Title IV revisions which needs to be corrected through Resolution A122, this time in the Constitution. 
  10. Address misrepresentations in Ordination process and clarify sexual misconduct in Title IV — In the first resolution (A123) an addition is made to Title IV canons for circumstances were a candidate for ordination to the diaconate, priesthood, or episcopacy knowingly misrepresents a material fact regarding their life. In the second resolution (A124), there is a clarification of what constitutes sexual misconduct as well as a an acknowledgement that there may be relationships which would not be misconduct—but that these would need to be approved in writing by the bishop. 
  11. Decline to Advance Proceedings in Title IV — Through Resolution A125, a way is created for the proceedings in Title IV to stop if the Church Attorney requests this to happen. It includes articulation of a specific situation when that was needed but not possible in the current canons. 
  12. Repeal Canon IV.19.31 — This was a canon from the old form of Title IV that was inadvertently kept in the new Title IV canons. Resolution A126 now repeals that canon. 
  13. Clarify Term on Disciplinary Board for Bishops — Given the tremendous work involved in this board when an issue arises, Resolution A127 increases the number of clergy and lay people who will serve on the board and also clarifies that terms continue if a case is in process
  14. Membership of Conference Panel — Through Resolution A128, the commission proposes in adding to the number of persons who serve on the Conference Panel to ensure both a lay person and a clergy person can be included.
  15. Retention of Title IV Records — This clarifies that the same rules for the retention of records applies regardless of the order of the clergy person who is going through a Title IV process.
  16. Correcting for Uniformity regarding Release and Removal — Resolution A130 is another one that is correcting language and also is removing a rogue comma. At this point in slogging through this material, I think the rogue comma should go through Title IV proceedings... but I digress.
  17. There were several further resolutions (A131, A132, A133, A134) that sought to clarify processes in some areas and bring greater justice to other issues (for example, ensuring there are time-lines in the process so that complainants are treated fairly). 
  18. Title IV across the diversity of civil jurisdictions in The Episcopal Church— Finally, through Resolution A135, the commission calls for a study of Title IV across the various civil jurisdictions of our church as well as the assumed cultural homogeneity of the canons. This resolution arose out of the struggle Province IX had in fully implementing these canons. 

If you weren't exhausted yet (remind me never to get myself appointed to this commission), they also worked on issues that arose out of a review of Committees, Commissions, Agencies, Boards, & Other Interim Bodies:

  1. The commission recommended the continuance of all Boards of the church. They did note their reservations about the General Ordination Exams since they are no longer used throughout the church and did call for a review of the relevancy of those exams. They also recommended a continuation of all Covenant Committees—though they noted there was a lack of information published about their work.
  2. In contrast, many of Task Forces and Interim Bodies, along with several Advisory Committees, were recommended to be discontinued because they had completed their mandate, including: 
    • The Committee to Study the Relationship of General Theological Seminary,
    • The Task Force for Leadership Formation of Clergy in Small Congregations, 
    • The Task Force on Leveraging Social Media for Evangelism, 
    • The Task Force on the Episcopacy
    • Task Force to Study Leadership and Compensation
    • Task Force on Provinces
    • Bishop for the Office of Pastoral Development Search Committee 
    • Chief Legal Officer Nomination Advisory Committee
    • Chief Operating Officer Nomination Advisory Committee
    • Legal Review Committee
The commission also recommended the creation of a new Standing Commission, one on Formation and Ministry Development. They recommended this because of the amount of work that fell to their own commission along with the importance of this ongoing work for our church, particularly in the area of pay disparity between genders. (I would reiterate, here, that I strongly disagree with them not following the request of the Standing Commission on World Mission to reinstate the Ecumenical and Inter-religious Commission as well.)

Finally, the commission gave themselves seventeen (!) priorities for the coming triennium, all of which are important—so it's unlikely that their next report will be any shorter. 

Summary of Reactions
I want to stress how exhausted I am just reading this report. I cannot imagine the amount of work that went on behind the scenes to produce it. Almost everything they have proposed is excellent and should be approved. Just to reiterate, there are, however, a handful of areas where I would urge a different approach:

  • Resolution A091 (Amend Canon III.9 Equity in Clergy Hiring and Appointment Practices) is, in my view, a poorly conceived canon that will not assist female and minority clergy but will, instead, penalize theologically conservative congregations. Either a conscience clause needs to be created or the whole thing scrapped in favor of a different mechanism that will address the pressing issues of pay and position disparity in our church. 
  • Resolution A099 (Call Meeting of House of Deputies) should absolutely be rejected if for no other reason than the significant expense this would cost dioceses and the extra amount of time it would ask of lay deputies who are not employed by the church. 
  • I hope that someone puts forth a resolution to reinstate the Standing Commission on Ecumenical and Interreligious Relations as I disagree with the decision not to honor the request of World Mission that it be reinstated. 

Note: You can click here for a list of all Blue Book Reports & Resolutions that have thus far been reviewed.