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Hoosier Musings on the Road to Emmaus

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Episcopal consents, "orthodoxy" and praxis

The election of Fr. Thew Forrester as bishop of Northern Michigan is causing a stir. Now, I imagine that outside the august circles of the Episcopal Church, this has not (yet) been more than a blip on the radar; however, it has become noteworthy inside the Episcopal corner of the Kingdom for several reasons. The unusual (some would say irregular) process used in his election, his extensive use of Buddhist meditation as a spiritual discipline, his use and promotion of liturgical prayers that deviate significantly from the forms and uses of the Book of Common Prayer and alternatives approved by General Convention, not to mention the theology expressed by his sermons and writings, have all resulted in a buzz of reaction.

The reaction hinges on a facet of our ecclesiology: a bishop, while elected by a local diocese, is not only a bishop of that diocese. One is ordained as a bishop of and for the whole church, and recognized as such-- indeed, throughout the whole Anglican Communion (except for those Provinces Not Playing Well With Others; but that is a discussion for another day). Because of this, a bishop's election must be approved by the other dioceses in the Episcopal Church-- a majority of our diocesan bishops and Standing Committees must formally consent to the election before said bishop may be ordained.

Because of concerns about the above list, there are an increasing number of bishops & SCs who are declining to give consent. Among those is my ordaining bishop, +Ed Little, from Northern Indiana. He posted a lengthy and gracious explanation for his decision to withhold consent; you can find it here. Whether or not one agrees, one cannot help but appreciate the manner in which he addresses the issue. "Respecting the dignity of every human being" and "seeking and serving Christ in all persons" are things that Ed does very, very well, and part of why I am proud and grateful to consider him both mentor and friend.

I noticed this morning that some folks on T19 have reacted with their usual sarcastic aplomb. Even a bishop who acts in what they believe is the "proper" manner by withholding consent, is not immune from snarky criticism if his explanation is not sufficiently condemnatory.

Fr. Richard Kew observed that too often "...for those who claim orthodoxy there is little place for generosity or grace. Orthodoxy is not just about believing rightly, it is about doing rightly as a consequence of that belief, but it seems that for some this excludes grace, generosity, or merely civility."

The lack that Fr. Kew notes is the reason I usually do not read comments over there (and will not visit some other so-called "conservative" blogs at all). It is also why comment moderation is enabled on my blog-- and further, why I will not use the "O" word in reference to spewers of the venomous, self-righteous proclamations that often spring forth when discussing anything or anyone they think less than pure by their stringent standards. Orthodox is as orthodox does-- not out some sort of works righteousness, but as the fruit of "a true and lively faith"-- and the doing is not limited to acts of charity, but ideally encompasses all of one's actions and interactions. One can disagree without being disagreeable, and offer faithful opinion without denigration, insult or ad hominem attack.

Added later: Thankfully, Fr. Kew's comment seems to have been a reality check for the commenters on that particular post. Let those who have ears, continue to hear.


Blogger Unknown said...

I have been keeping up with this one and I'm really surprised they went through the expense of trying to have him approved.

April 14, 2009 3:13 PM  

Anonymous Mark J said...

I haven't heard much of his theology (and my present limited access to the Internet isn't allowing me to do a search) and hadn't realized the deviation from the BCP. The latter is more disturbing to me than the comments about Buddhism. Even though I haven't always been a literal reader of rubrics, I have never been a radical liturgist--at least not without the knowledge and consent of my local bishop. We have a BCP for many reasons, unity among them. Plus that IS a part of our vows!

I am still a bit puzzled about the Bushiam thing. From the early news of his election I thought he encorporated spiritual practices of Buddhism in his Christianity, not that he was claiming to be a Buddhist AND a Christian. Am I wrong?

April 15, 2009 7:22 AM  

Blogger Jane Ellen+ said...

Fr. John: I'm guessing that either folks did not do their homework on this (perhaps because he was a diocesan priest, and "well-known?"), or the teaching there has been such that the issues were not seen as issues. In that case, I am reminded (thank you, AKMA) of the Epistle of James-- the judgment for those errors lies with the teachers, rather than those who were mis-taught.

Mark: You are correct, so far as I understand: Fr. Forrester is a practitioner of Buddhist spiritual practices, but not truly a Buddhist. On the other hand, his writings and sermons do stray from traditionally held trinitarian theology-- to the point that the bishop of Arkansas points out he has used a modified form of the baptismal liturgy which "removes any mention of Satan and adds New-Age style language."

And so I could not vote for his consent, either. But neither do we need to be snarky and mean in that criticism. That accomplishes no good for anyone-- not me, not him, nor any of the Kingdom of God.

April 15, 2009 8:36 AM  

Blogger Crimson Rambler said...

so very well put, Jane Ellen, thank you for this...and for the links!

April 15, 2009 11:51 AM  

Anonymous Mark J. said...

John+ - thanks for the info, that's helpful. I've not been home for long from an internet absence but will dig deeper. "Straying from trinitarian" anything would be enough for me to raise both eyebrows and a bunch of objections!

April 15, 2009 7:34 PM  

Blogger Young fogey emeritus said...

Things we can agree upon include: Buddhism isn't necessarily a religion so adopting some things from it isn't necessarily apostasy (not necessarily the same as Ann Holmes-Redding's conversion to Islam), that said, Kevin Thew Forrester obviously shouldn't be a bishop in a Christian church, Bishop Little obviously was trying to be nice as Richard Kew said, and some conservative sites aren't very nice but T1:9 is one of the best of the bunch (in your blogroll along with a Catholic one that's been non-clobbering since 2006).

Also that Geralyn Wolf's handling of the Holmes-Redding problem was well done: her main motive wasn't to punish but to minimise the damage to the faithful in Washington state by getting Holmes-Redding out of active ministry straightaway, then being extremely kind to the offender, offering a year off to think about it and hopefully come back. As we know Holmes-Redding decided otherwise.

Bishop Little's statement seems in the spirit of that kind approach.

Thew Forrester's big theological problems aside, this made me smile:

...his use and promotion of liturgical prayers that deviate significantly from the forms and uses of the Book of Common Prayer and alternatives approved by General Convention...As you probably know some of my favourite people and places past and even present do that. The consecration prayer at Mass at the 'shrine' parish where I've been a happy part-timer for six years:

Te igitur, clementissime Pater...(When the then-dean of the cathedral came to celebrate and preach on the feast of SS. Peter and Paul a few years ago, he followed the parish's custom and did this.)

Granted, 'On whose authority?' is a Catholic essential. (Here the bishop at least knows.)

Fun fact related to your home diocese: I understand in the beginning St Gregory's Priory (spun off from now-gone Nashdom Abbey in England) was in it, back when the Anglican Benedictines did the Roman Mass at the time, just like that. I imagine they had the bishop's permission, and I understand Bishop Little is St Gregory's Abbey's episcopal visitor to this day because of that old tie.

April 16, 2009 2:55 PM  

Blogger Jane Ellen+ said...

YF: "On whose authority" is indeed the key. There are, sometimes, historically faithful and/or pastoral reasons for allowing an alternative form.

In addition to the sort of mass you mention, I know of at least one Episcopal diocesan bishop who permits a church to continue to use the 1928 BCP in worship (the home parish of some of my "summer people" here). I've also celebrated a Eucharist here out of the 1892 BCP, for the centennial celebration of one of my churches.

However, I believe there is a significant distinction between a) garnering permission for the use of an older form of worship, be it a previous edition of the Book of Common Prayer, the Sarum Rite, or other liturgy; and b) independently and without oversight writing and revising to suit one's own personal theological views, which are then proclaimed from pulpit or altar as the teaching of the wider Church. It is this latter behavior which I find troubling.

If one wants to be a congregational pastor, one is free to do so; and I will be the first to say that sometimes marvelous prayers and worship do come from such. However, the Episcopal Church is not a congregational tradition, and if one takes ordination vows to "uphold the doctrine, discipline and worship of the Episcopal Church," I don't think it is unreasonable to expect that one's liturgical service will be governed by those vows.

April 16, 2009 5:11 PM  

Blogger Young fogey emeritus said...

"On whose authority" is indeed the key. I believe there is a significant distinction between a) garnering permission for the use of an older form of worship... and b) independently and without oversight writing and revising to suit one's own personal theological views, which are then proclaimed from pulpit or altar as the teaching of the wider Church.Oh, yes, of course that's the difference. The Catholic using a rite of 'the larger church' (why many/most English Anglo-Catholics are Roman Rite) says he's not following his opinions but the great tradition, of which ACs believe the English (Episcopal) Church is or again ought to be a part. (Also mostly why RC traditionalists kept the traditional Mass going all these years until Pope Benedict liberated it.) Not the same as bunging together different rites in one service or making things up as one fancies.

(The English bishops gave up on enforcing the BCP; American ACs always were less papal and more Prayer Booky so there was the American Missal for example; one can say without lying that it's US 1928. Probably the altar standard in Northern Indiana back in the day.)

That said an Achilles' heel of ACism outside 'London, Brighton and the South Coast' and the old biretta belt was... it became 'ritualist congregationalism' which theologically, and often practically in the long run, doesn't work.

(Thanks to Episcopalians' semi-presbyterian polity - a parish in a different tradition to the diocese has a lot of autonomy and can survive - it can work for a while as it has done for the old-Roman Rite 'shrine' parish here.)

The 'ritual rascality' of St Gregory of Nyssa in San Francisco for example (AFAIK done with the bishop's permission - every few years somebody e-mails me the link to the parish site) in spite of all the massive differences seems... rather familiar. (I'm not surprised an AC, Bishop Myers, first signed off on it 35 years ago.)

April 16, 2009 6:55 PM  

Blogger 1-4 Grace said...

So happy I will get to meet you in May!
Anybody that likes Monty Python AND the SOund of music is cool in my book

April 23, 2009 4:31 PM  

Blogger Jane Ellen+ said...

1-4 Grace: Thanks! I'm SO looking forward to that-- I love the whole blogger meet-up thing; and combined with awesome preaching... I can't wait!

April 23, 2009 9:06 PM  

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