"then wilt thou not be loath to leave this Paradise, but shalt possess a paradise within thee, happier far. Let us descend now therefore from this top of speculation; for the hour precise exacts our parting hence" Paradise Lost, Book XII, lines585-590

Saturday, March 23, 2013

missing the mark

St Paul talks about the multiplicity of gifts/abilities expressed individually by members of the assembly which, together, express the reality of Christ present within the Church.  His vision for the christian community, the Church, seems to be just this joining together of the many into one "body."  But, at the same time, Paul is very clearly the one in charge, and he seems to be appointing people (eg; Timothy) to exercise his authority vicariously and to guide and develop the nascent christian assemblies he has formed.  So, the community exist, seemingly, as both egalitarian/inclusive and hierarchical/exclusive.  It's authority and power, what's right and who decides.  I have a thesis that this intersection of authority and power is at the heart of the struggles of the people of God, but without getting into that too much I am interested in a particular expression of that conflict

In my tradition (Anglican) we have ordained persons who provide spiritual leadership.  These people are "called" or identified within particular congregations, but then confirmed and tested by the hierarchical leadership beyond the specific congregation where their specific gifts were first recognized.  Ideally, it is a nice balance between the inclusive and exclusive push/pull of the Church.  In reality, it can be a difficult and wearying experience almost wholly at the whim and mercy of the hierarchy.  There seems little willingness to trust in the discernment of gifts by the congregation.  I suspect this is a hard-learned lesson involving situations where people weren't willing to be truly honest with one another.  I generally assume good intentions of others, but let's be honest; anyone who spends some time in church knows that its full of difficult people (including clergy) or perhaps worse, people who don't know that church isn't reserved to the good and gracious.

I've met enough bad clergy persons that I can appreciate the hierarchical concerns regarding quality of candidates presented by congregations.  At the same time, I've known good people who've become good clergy not because of hierarchical support but in spite of it.  I don't have any solutions really, except this.  Gifts and call and the action of the Holy Spirit is a crazy, a-rational thing that probably cannot be neatly fit into a "process."  Identifying, discerning and preparing people for vocational ministry isn't like making widgets with a known raw material, a measurable process and an expected outcome.  God can't be pinned in like that.  I think it is far more like art, sculpting perhaps - which is more a process of stripping away the unneeded to find the true figure previously hidden within the stone.

Friday, March 1, 2013

the tie that binds

For the amusement of serious Episcopal Church geeks only!

At General Convention last year, a resolution was passed that directed, more or less, the sale of our Church HQ building in New York City, fondly known as 815 (because that's its address).  Somewhat surprisingly (or not) the people who work there submitted a report to the Executive Council that said, "thanks, but no" and then gave some self-serving reasons why they thought General Convention didn't really mean what it said and everything should stay just like it is.

I have to be honest here and say, I'm not really sure what benefits, if any, come to my parish because of the work of the 815 staff.  I don't doubt they exist, but I don't know what they are.  I know what Episcopal Relief and Development does.  I know what the Church Pension Fund does (and thank you!!!!).  I even know what the Episcopal Church Foundation does and the National Association of Episcopal Schools do as well.  I can clearly articulate their mission and how it affects me, but 815.... nothing.  And so my question is this - what do they do and how does it help me spread the Gospel in southern West Virginia?

And since I love to make grand suggestions for change, allow me to indulge my fancy for a moment.  Let's get rid of it, just to see what happens.  Let's try to just hang together based on the Prayer book, General Convention, and support of those groups and networks (and those like them) mentioned above.  To draw on the analogy of my family, we remain so based on a shared history, some physical resemblance, and mutuality of relationship and frankly not spending too much time in each other's business.  I'm all for hanging together as a church on the thinnest of threads because if Jesus is in it, it will all work out and if he isn't... its just as well it goes away.