Friday, November 11, 2011

Frank said it, I didn't

It's always interesting to read the internal commentary on an Anglican phenomenon such as TEC. I harbour suspicions that all is not well with TEC, but have been taken to task here so many times for raising them that I tend to keep quiet. But former Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold cannot be kept quiet (does he keep in touch with Lord Carey?). Here he is ruminating about TEC:

"Take the Washington Cathedral.

It’s the icon of a certain self-assurance in an earlier time, when many people in government were Episcopalians, and Episcopalians were at the top of the main banks, and J.P. Morgan was building the St. Paul’s School chapel. Here’s this great monument to Episcopal ego, you might say, though it is a church for all, and now here it is suffering $25 million worth of damage in an earthquake.

What might be the symbolic significance of this in terms of mainline ego being shattered and dislodged by events? I’m not happy that the Washington Cathedral is damaged, but is it a bad thing to be in some way forced into exile and becoming a remnant?

To use an image from the Old Testament, maybe this is the desert time.

The desert was a period of purification and self-knowledge in order that they were prepared to enter the promised land. All the things that happened in the wilderness, the struggle and the suffering, were part of being shaped and formed and being made ready to enter the promised land, especially where they could receive it as gift rather than acquisition."
Maybe this is the desert time. For TEC. Certainly this assessment makes sense when in recent days both pro and anti TEC sites have published comment on declining statistics (e.g., from the pro side, at The Lead).

++Frank's assessment is quite telling in several ways. Let me count them.

First, the opening up of TEC's theological agenda to broaden the understanding of the gospel in respect of inclusiveness has shown no signs yet of actually including more people as regular attenders at church.

Secondly, for church's such as my own, which has its own problems with decline (though harder to quantify as we do not keep statistics about our overall worship attendances), the way forward is challenging. In broad terms our leadership is sympathetic to the direction TEC is evolving in, that is, to co-operation with changes in Western society rather than to resistance, but dare we follow more fully where TEC is going. Into the desert?

Thirdly, while the desert may be a warm place, it is a chilling thought to think that the evolution of Communion life could mean that ACANZP's closest global fellowship companion will be TEC. Some commenters here joyfully espouse that prospect. I do not.

If ACANZP is heading towards the desert I would like to keep in touch with those for whom the grass is green, the garden is flourishing, the fruit is growing on the vine. Our Communion needs those places. ACANZP needs to be in vital links with growing Anglican churches even as it should not jettison those going through hard times.

That means, uncomfortable though the journey may be at times, that relationships with Australia (definitely including Sydney), with Uganda, with Nigeria, with Singapore, and the like need to be nurtured and not neutered.

We do not all need to be in the desert. There are benefits to be gained from living in fertile land.


Father Ron Smith said...

Having read the whole of Bishop Frank Griswold's interview, I was particularly struck by what he saw as the resource for empowerment of his ministry as P.B. of TEC.

On a daily basis at Headquarters, he would cease the business of the administration in order to pray and seek empowerment from the Sacrament that Jesus left - in the Eucharist. Included in those liturgical observances were the readings of the Scripture for the day.

That says volumes to me about his deep Christian spirituality.

Rosemary Behan said...

An interesting reflection from the previous head of the Episcopal church, especially in view of our own earthquake problems!! I too have thought that the Jewish celebration of the Feast of Tabernacles, spending ten days in tents or huts in their gardens, eating there as a family, kept them well aware of the impermanence of everything else, and that we Christians have forgotten that. We have a tendency as people to build edifices to the glory of God .. we want to do that to show Him how much we love Him .. but it’s not necessarily what He wants.

To your first point, that ‘broadening the understanding of the gospel in respect of inclusiveness has shown no signs yet of actually including more people as regular attenders at church.’ No it doesn’t, although that is sometimes the promise, it hasn’t here in New Zealand with regard to ordaining women, never mind practising homosexuals. I suspect it’s because we [that is leaders in our church] have made theology so boring when really it’s tremendously invigorating and challenging. The seemingly ‘natural’ justice of ordaining everyone is the top layer, easy to see, easy for the media to comment on, but the challenge of the theology of the cases is not as straightforward. The challenge that God DOES value women completely, that He created them to be ‘helper’ .. a word used only of God Himself, and how difficult that is and yet how challenging, what that requires of women .. well, despite the fact that many, many women want so badly to serve their church, they do not hear the ‘hard’ parts very often. Of course because the church is so bad at proclaiming that the road is narrow [hard] and few are they that are on it, we don’t hear that about anything really. We have so devalued the study of theology that it’s the ‘easy’ way that is promulgated all the time, instead of the challenge to Holy living.

Secondly, in this Diocese, I don’t think it’s a question of ‘following’ TEC into the desert, I think the Lord, in His mercy and kindness, has put us there, but we need to recognise that fact. Let us consider the subject of your recent posts, the cathedral. Many non Christians, seeing the beautiful edifices belonging to the church, have [erroneously] assumed that the church is rich in terms of money. There is much talk here of spending at least 12 million dollars to erect something [perhaps a cardboard cathedral] pro tem so that the members of the cathedral have somewhere to worship. What does that say to the man who walked down the street thinking the church is rich? What benefit is a cathedral to him? What does it show him about the Lord’s love for him? I challenge folk who read this blog to come up with creative ways to spend 12 million dollars, that would show God’s love to the people of Christchurch, especially the people of East Christchurch.

Thirdly, the desert has always been a cold place at night, so it’s very hot and very cold, is there a revelatory message there for us? The Lord doesn’t promise us ‘comfort’ .. but struggle. Perhaps in our struggles, we should seek His voice rather than the world’s so called ‘justice.’ Put our energies into gossiping the gospel and it’s tremendously hopeful good news, rather than concerning ourselves with the adiaphorous matters which have concerned us of late. Lets get back to making theology exciting because of it’s good news, and challenging because it’s not easy to ‘trust and obey’ .. but there’s no other way!!

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Ron
It was a very interesting interview in its whole, and it was striking the way the former PB kept his spiritual drawings from the well in constant daily supply.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Rosemary,
I am not going to disagree with you about making theology exciting or gossiping the gospel!

I am interested in your figure of $12m for the transitional cathedral. I have been working on the figure of $4m, but could be out of date. Either way it is possible that we have not been clear enough that this is insurance money which will be spent (that is, money that cannot be spent on another purpose [unless on the new permanent cathedral], and money which is not drawn away from funding for other purposes).

I shall ponder further the thought that far from following TEC into the desert we are already there!

Rosemary Behan said...

Oh dear, I cannot remember where I got the figure of 12 million, I should have checked. Of course I also didn't think of the insurance companies and their directives as to what such money should be used for. My bad .. I'm afraid I'm a bit one eyed when it comes to putting myself in the place of the thousands I know God loves, but who cannot see Him. So often it is our fault that they are unaware of what is on offer!

Peter Carrell said...

Fair enough, Rosemary. In the end there could be a financial question re the cathedral and where we would be best to expend funds. If the estimated cost of cathedrals (transitional and permanent) come to more money than insurance makes available, should we spend that extra money, or change the design and live with a less splendid/spacious/special building?

Rosemary Behan said...

Hmm, well you have been kind enough to ask for my thoughts, so I’ll give them. But as you see above, they’re often not well thought through because I’m an emotional creature I suppose, rather than necessarily practical!

I think WE are the church, not the buildings, and that God has been kind enough to remind us of that. I believe He is in charge, even of the earthquake. I believe too that He is ‘testing’ His people, that is His church and I think it behooves us to listen very carefully, and not in a rush, to what He is saying. I don’t think that I am hearing what He is saying and no one else is though. I also believe that He is testing His people in many places and in many ways. Sydney losing all that money for example, now they MUST depend on Him .. as we must here in the Christchurch Diocese. He is teaching us some hard lessons .. and doing so very gently in my opinion. It’s not just the cathedral is it, we’ve lost at least 23 church buildings, with I think two very precarious. I think of St. Stephens, a healthy congregation, but 42 families have had their houses red zoned, when they move, will they still need a church in that area? Will there be enough houses in that area, or should that parish be amalgamated with another. So it’s not just rebuilding is it, it’s re-thinking about the placement of church buildings to be used by His people. So amalgamation will be part of any discussions we have as a church, and to do that we will need to overcome the sense of parish boundaries that we have held as precious for so many years. Sigh .. it won’t be easy.

We DO need buildings that are ‘set apart’ for the use of God and His people, but we must also I believe, invest heavily in young people who are the future of that church. Not necessarily ordained young people, but hundreds of them to get alongside the people who are suffering, to help those people, to give them a different view of the church as people, and not as buildings. You cannot buy that sort of help, it’s very impressive. You only have to look at the work of the students after the quakes to see that.

Certainly we don’t need splendid buildings, the trouble is, we WANT to do that for God, as I said above, to show the world how important we think He is. Maybe we have a gifted architect who can do that without huge cost .. I don’t know. I’m certainly not keen on a temporary cardboard one, it seems to me that hurrying like that when there can be no hurry for the people who have no settled housing, does NOT paint a loving picture. We should be helping them first, helping them to see that God DOES care for them and their welfare, and that we can worship Him in the work of helping and caring for them.

Sorry, just some thoughts hurriedly cobbled together before I join the working bee .. I hope others will join in with their ideas and thoughts.

Peter Carrell said...

I hope others do comment, Rosemary, and extend the discussion because, in this instance at least of your comments here, I cannot find anything to disagree with (save that the 'need' for a temporary cathedral is complex and I am not voting 'agin it at this stage).

carl jacobs said...

So let's remember something important here. All this talk of a 'desert experience' and 'exile' and 'a remnant' is just Frank Griswald's convenient rationalization for why TEC and its six liberal sisters are hemorrhaging membership, and have been for years. TEC is an old church. It is chock full of aging boomers whose children have departed for more conservative churches or no church at all. Each year the average age of membership grows. Each year more parishes approach non-viability and slip into the abyss of closure. Each year brings yet another catastrophic drop in ASA. Each year and more dioceses creep closer to bankruptcy as capital is consumed to cover the yawning budget deficits.

The Seven Universalist Churches of a Non-specific and Perhaps Personal or Perhaps Non-personal Deity have to explain this outcome somehow, and 'exile' is much more palatable than 'cut off from the branch and ready to be thrown into the fire.' These churches spoke to modernity the powerful message "Me, too!" and hooked themselves to the modern world like a caboose to a train. Even now they do not realize that modernity has no need of a caboose. And so they sit on a side rail - abandoned and slowly decaying and pretending that one day they will become powerful engines. It's a foolish hope. The truth is that no one pays attention to these institutions anymore. The conservative world sees them as apostate. The liberal world considers them with a mixture of indifference and mild contempt. Where then are the people they hope to reach with a Religion of Questions but No Answers. Only a few people actually seek out a religion of nothing but angst and doubt. Most of the secular world rolls over and goes back to sleep. It doesn't need a church to re-affirm what it already believes.

The Boomer leading edge just hit the age of 65. It won't be but a decade or so before the steady losses in TEC accelerate and become catastrophic. People now in their 50's and 60's will soon be in the 70's and 80's. These are the people still carrying TEC forward. They will very soon be too old to maintain the effort, and there is no following generation to replace the inevitable attrition caused by death. TEC is simply dying in place. This is the wreckage that Griswald, et al have wrought on TEC. So I am not too surprised that he would ramble on about 'desert experiences.' It's much easier than saying 'Everything we taught and believed and preached was a lie.' I wouldn't worry too much about being in Communion with TEC 20 years hence. You will first have to find some existing fragment of TEC to be in Communion with, and that is going to be more difficult that anticipated.


Father Ron Smith said...

From some of the comments here, one cannot help feeling that people might be more happy with GAFCON and the isolationist theories of the Abp. of Kenya, who has been busy ordaining English dissident clergy to carry out his threat to invade the UK (and undermine the eirenic mission of the Church of England) with his A.M.i.C.

All I can suggest is that, if people are unhappy with ACANZP, they could always transfer - to Sydney, or one of several African countries that have Anglican Churches more suited to their taste.

Peter Carrell said...

I take the tenor of comments here, Ron, to point us to trust in God, faithful attendance to the reading and doing of Scripture, in a context of prayer seeking the power of God to transform our troubling situation, so that we may not be lost to God. I am not quite sure where your advice re Sydney or GAFCON applies to this particular thread!

Father Ron Smith said...

Only, Peter, that it would appear that your other 2 correspondents on this thread seem unhappy with ACANZP and its current embrace of inclusive membership of our Church. Rosemary seems to be concentrating on numbers and Carl on 'the wreckage' caused (sic) by former P.B. Frank Griswold.

While Carl, admittedly is talking about the problems of TEC, Rosemary seems to be talking about the failure of ACANZ to secure youth.

What I guess I'm hinting at here, is that both parties are grieving the attrition brought about by what they, respectively, see as local failure to address 'loss of youth', while they so obviously see those parts of the Communion gathering strength - in Africa & Sydney - as their ideal Anglican community.

What neither of them seem willing to admit, is that all Western Churches are suffering the same loss of young people - maybe the reason is that they see 'muscular' Christianity as no longer engaging - or relevant to their lives.

Even evangelical churches, which keep young people entertained for a while, with big band concerts and 'happy-clappy' liturgies, find that after a certain age, youth do disappear - perhaps, when maturity is gained, returning later as parents or grand-parents of other children.

Pageantmaster said...

Implicit in Bishop Griswold's analogy is that having been led into the desert, that TEC will be led out of it in due course after a period of testing and growth.

It is worth remembering that the generation who went into the desert were not those who came out into the promised land; it was their descendents who had had no association with the Golden Calf who were brought out of the desert.

Much later it is also worth remembering that those from the Northern Kingdom taken away into exile did not return but disappeared from the pages of history.

God does restore the faithful remnant, but one cannot assume that one is going on a journey through the desert, rather than a journey into oblivion.

I have been thinking about an article by Bishop Fitzsimmons Allison I read this morning:

Some of the issues facing TEC, and indeed all of us, are considerably wider than "inclusiveness" - they are to do with whether we as a church are fit for purpose. It is a question of how we answer the question Jesus asked Peter: "who do you say I am".

It is not rocket science.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Ron,
As I understand our church's situation many people on all parts of the spectrum of theology/liturgy are concerned about where we are heading. You could go to Bosco Peter's blog, for instance, to find concerns aired from time to time about the way we are doing worship. I do not think you will find support for GAFCON there! Thus Rosemary's concerns join with the concerns of many.

You also making a sweeping judgement about churches which hold the young for a time through an entertaining form of Christianity. I personally do not know any such churches. What I do know is that a number of churches (Anglican and non-Anglican) are trying desperately hard to connect with young people in a rapidly changing cultural milieu; and some are succeeding in capturing the vision of young people for a life of discipleship. They are not doing this through entertainment but through engagement in relevant ways. They are also not doing this through muscular Christianity but through sound exposition of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

I suggest the commitment of many senior and youth pastors/ministers/priests to reach the young people of our nation could receive a more generous appreciation from you than your dismissive comments here. The urgency of the situation facing all churches in our country requires us to work together not fire rhetorical bullets at each other.

Peter Carrell said...

Your point, Pageantmaster, is much appreciated here, as in NZ we can see signs of those churches which have been moving into the desert and looking like (save for a miracle) never returning.

I think your reminder from Israelite history that from the desert one generation emerged to enter the Promised Land and another did not is timely for Western Christian churches contemplating marry the spirit of the age.

Father Ron Smith said...

Yes, Peter, I do get your point. But have you heard of the mega-churches in the U.S. that have also faded with time - those who sought to disciple people on the 'Prosperity Gospel' seem not to last. Hard yakka is the only answer - with a little kenosis, and a closeness to the Person of Jesus, and contemplative Prayer.

John Sandeman said...


Here in Sydney diocese the younger age groups (teenagers, 20s 30s) do outnumber the older groups at church. Now the Sydney Anglican form of Christianity is very rarely described as entertaining! (And let me add the caveat that numbers do not prove we are right).
OTOH we do have megachurches in sydney, but they are not Anglican. I had a fascinating discussion with the head of the local pentecostal college in which he made the point that megachurches normally last for a generation or two only - it is a different form of christianity to the parish model. They have a natural lifecycle it seems. And there are good and bad megachurches - and some are liberal.

I agree with you that kenosis, hard yakka, prayer and closeness to Jesus is what we need.

John Sandeman said...

Here in Sydney diocese the younger age groups (teenagers, 20s 30s) do outnumber the older groups at church. Now the Sydney Anglican form of Christianity is very rarely described as entertaining! (And let me add the caveat that numbers do not prove we are right).
OTOH we do have megachurches in sydney, but they are not Anglican. I had a fascinating discussion with the head of the local pentecostal college in which he made the point that megachurches normally last for a generation or two only - it is a different form of christianity to the parish model. They have a natural lifecycle it seems. And there are good and bad megachurches - and some are liberal.

I agree with you that kenosis, hard yakka, prayer and closeness to Jesus is what we need.

Andrew Reid said...

Hi Peter,
Thanks for your link to this article. Desert experiences in the Bible tend to fall into three categories - a time for judgment and repentance (e.g. Israel's 40 years), a time of testing and refining (e.g. Jesus 40 days), and a place of refuge (e.g. Elijah). It takes discernment or a direct word from God to discern which of these we are experiencing. Not all faithful churches grow, not all unfaithful churches decline. But it is certainly the case that only those churches that are connected to the Lord Jesus can bear fruit, even if that includes a season of pruning.
I would respectfully suggest to Bishop Griswold and the current leadership of TEC to search the Scriptures and compare their current ministry directions to those commended in Scripture. Are their ministry priorities aligned to those of Jesus and the apostles, and does their ministry lead to people full of the fruit of the Spirit?

Father Ron Smith said...

Andrew, the questions you commend to be asked of TEC must surely relate to the outcome of every Christian Church. If the fruits of the Spirit are anything to go by, there are severe shortcomings in Churches of many provenances.

One instance, not TEC, is where a Church aligns itself with the State to criminalise, not only known homosexuals, but their families and all who assist them to be who they are naturally. Discrimination on the basis of gender and sexuality are not exactly 'fruits of The Spirit', and may become a barrier to the understanding of God's love at work in God's world.

Anonymous said...

Father Ron said: "All I can suggest is that, if people are unhappy with ACANZP, they could always transfer."

It seems to me a better option to reform ACANZP. The so-called "inclusive" wing is a minority created by the Liberal-Lefts highjacking of leadership and training positions in the church, but is not remotely representative of what most Anglicans in NZ actually believe.

Nor is the "inclusive" approach in fact inclusive. It is exclusive of those who take Scripture seriously, of those who view Scripture as much more than a "guide" which can be distorted and abused to make any liberal/modernists opinion acceptable.

I have come, recently, to a sense of strong love for the Anglican Church, because of what it can be, and because of its sense of tradition, tradition that is nevertheless under the rule of Scripture. This is what Anglicanism is at its best, truly "Reformed catholic".

Semper Reformanda.

Father Ron Smith said...

Shawn, might I suggest that - for those who have eyes to see - ACANZP is a somewhat reluctant activist in the process of Semper reformanda, and a valid part of that activism is to re-juvenate the understanding of the Anglican Church as a bringer of justice to the marginalised, to bring Good News to the Poor, which Jesus spent three years doing.

It is the steadfastly 'sola Scriptura' minority that is trying to hold back reform - forgetting that the Scriptures are open to a constant hermeneutical review under the guidance of the Holy Spirit - who did not withdraw at the publication of the KJV - nor at the institution of the 39 Articles, which were meant to bring outdated parameters of doctrine up to date at that particular time in history.

The Word is 'Alive and Active' not moribund and passive. So that we now listen to Scriptures in the context of the revelation that has been given to the world in the secular as well as the religious sphere: "God so LOVED the world.."

Anonymous said...

Father Ron,

"and a valid part of that activism is to re-juvenate the understanding of the Anglican Church as a bringer of justice to the marginalised"

Homosexuals are not marginalised. They are the wealthiest and most powerful political lobby in the West and are using the power of the Liberal state to crush dissent and force Christians to conform, regardless of their convictions. It is Biblical Christians and the advoctes of traditional morality who are marginalised.

The role of the Church is to advance the Kingdom. The Kingdom is of God, not of the world. The current secular west is not something we need to dialogue with, any more than we need to dialogue with Satan.

It is the Sola Scriptura majority that is advancing true Gospel reform, that is, reform which conforms to God's Word, and the political fashions of the day.

The Word written is alive, but that does not mean that is contradicts itself. If the "spirit" is telling us to ignore Scriptures clear teaching, then it is a false spirit.

Yes, we need to always practice discernment. Sometimes the Church gets it wrong, as I believe it was about the ordination of women (obviously:)).

But the goal of true reform is always to bring us back to the Word, written and incarnate.

If reform means moving further away from the Word in favour of secular-liberal political fashions, then that is not what the Reformers meant by Semper Reformanda.

Father Ron Smith said...

Shawn, may I submit that "The Word became flesh and dwelt among us" - from St. John's Gospel - describes, most eloquently, testimony to the fact that the Incarnation of Jesus already has brought a fulfilment of the Words of Scripture. In Him alone is 'all the fullness of God'. And in Jesus alone the teachings of Scripture have been, and are being, exemplified, perfectly.

God's Word is no longer confined to 'The Holy Book', but is alive and active through the unceasing and ongoing revelation of the Holy Spirit of Jesus in and to both the Church and the World.

Therefore, to say that all the fullness of God is confined to the Scriptures is actually redundant. This is why the Anglican Church, at it's inception, and through the understanding of Richard Hooker, moved on to the testimony of, not only the Scriptures, but also of Sacred Tradition and Reason.

The fact that Reason has been incorporated in the Anglican Way is to give room for further up-to-date discernment of 'what the Spirit is saying to the Church' - not just what the Spirit said to the Church at the Reformation, but what the Spirit, progressively, is still saying 'to the Church'. This enables 'Semper Reformanda'.