20 April 2009

Something old, something blue, something stolen, nothing new

Bright Week was a quiet week for the Anglican Communion. The schismatic primates met in London to recognize themselves but that was it.

What is interesting is that the world took little notice of the event or the press conference that announced the "new church" in North America. A scant handful of press attended. It must have been devastating to the Gafconners who believe the world is going to beat a path to their door.

The whole issue is like "Groundhog Day." I have the feeling I've heard all this and written about it before. Many times.

According to the Church Times, Duncan, who attended the Puritan Primates' second day of meeting, had
Given a progress report to the GAFCON Primates. His Church had 100,000 members in 700 congregations in 28 dioceses. On any given Sunday, there were about 80,000 worshippers, about ten per cent of the numbers in the Episcopal Church, “and growing all the time”.
Notice the new numbers. No longer are there 200,000 plus members as claimed just a few months go by Duncan or even 150,000 as prophesied by Schofield; now there are 100,00 members. In February Duncan's web page referred us to a report stating the average attendance as 81,311 people--exactly. Also gone are the 900+ congregations: the new figure is 700 congregations.

We must remember that these figures include several groups that left TEC long ago including the Reformed Episcopal Church formed when Southerners left the Episcopal Church officially in 1873 allegedly over "retaining low church evangelical theology" (read Calvinism") but the split had pro slavery roots going back to the 1830s.

It is most interesting that the schismatics are unable to stand on their own record or their theology. They continually resort to ad hominem attacks to validate their religion. and themselves True to form, Duncan, the misogynist, could not resist the opportunity to attack ++Katharine Jefferts-Schori Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church.
Bishop Duncan echoed the insistence of the Primates that theirs was not a breakaway movement. “I’m a cradle Anglican. My grandfather was a boy chorister. . . My theological views haven’t changed. The problem is that folks who have become the leadership of the Episcopal Church in the United States have pulled the rug out from under me. The person who is our Presiding Bishop, she didn’t begin as an Anglican. I did. She represents something very different. I don’t think I’m a breakaway. Emphasis added.
She is a convert! whereas Duncan's grand father sang in the choir with the old ladies which certainly qualfies Bob to be the new Luther. One must be born into TEC (and born male) to be a leader. Converts are inferior. Duncan's cradle status is just pure snobbery.

And of course Duncan and his group play the the injured-partiy-in-the-divorce card again:
I don’t believe I have divided the Church. I believe the innovators are the ones who are dividing the Church. I love them, and I want to behave in a godly way towards them, and I will do everything I can to convince them about the truth that’s been delivered; but my focus now has to be on those who don’t know Jesus.
Well, he has certainly tried to divide the TEC property and other assets. But the sad fact is that it is Duncan and his cohort who have pushed for the schism and done all he could to bring it to fruition. For him to say he has not been at least partially responsible for the division is a boldfaced lie. By the way, did you notice a personal pronoun was used eight times in one sentence?

Duncan went on to say
The creation of the ACNA had meant that the United States now had two parallel Anglican provinces, Bishop Duncan said, and this was “not altogether comfortable”, as the meeting of all the Primates in Alexandria had admitted. But the purpose of the GAFCON Primates had not been to create a second Church. “For the Communion as a whole, we have not talked about two parallel Churches. The majority of the Anglican Communion is saying that where the Communion has always been is where the Communion needs to be, and this group represents that view. We are the Communion. Who has the right to take the Communion from us?”
Well, of course it isn't altogether comfortable - they want the whole pie, not a slice of it. Greedy people are never satisfied unless they have it all. As for who has the right to "Anglican Communion," it is not the Gafconners who decide whi is or is not in the communion:,it is the ABC. What he will eventually do is any one's guess.

Of of these days the Gafconners will say something new, but I'm not going to hold my breath awaiting the day.

The really interesting write up is from The Guardian. Paul Handley writes
So, what traffic analogy should I apply? A common jibe at the Anglican Communion is that it's in the middle of slow car-crash. That sounds neat, but it's not strictly true. How about this one instead: the Anglican coach has drifted into the slow lane and is in danger of disappearing up a slip road [frontage road]. Along come the conservatives in their nippy little minibus, labelled GAFCON after the Global Anglican Future Conference at which they got organised last June, and they offer to take some of the passengers.

But maybe the Anglican coach is still on the motorway, and it's the minibus that is heading up the slip road. Or perhaps they are both on the motorway, but heading in opposite directions. Or they've both been held up in a jam. This is why these analogies are a bad idea: all they explain is one person's prejudices about a situation.
This sums it up well:
And so when Bob Duncan, leader of the new Church in North America, spoke of "two religions. . . One is classic Christianity. One is actually not Christianity," it was hardly surprising. The GAFCON leaders denied charges of being schismatics, or of breaking away from the Communion.. (They looked at me pityingly when I mentioned "breaking away" It was they who had been forced out, they said. They remained loyal to Anglican teaching; it was everybody else who had broken away. They wanted to restore Anglicanism to its original roots. They didn't appear worried that revolutionaries down the ages had used the same argument in all sorts of contexts. Or that there wasn't anybody there at the Renaissance Hotel to hear.

The upshot is that the GAFCON revolution, the minibus, what you will, will continue to progress with or without an audience of journalists. Conservative Christians don't, by and large, worry what other people might think.
An that is the truth - and they particularly don't worry what Jesus would say about their actions.

A certain H8 site has a different take on the lack of interest in the Gafconner press conference. He claims the lack of interest is because (paraphrase to avoid unpleasant exchanges)
The majority of the Anglican Communion doesn't care what The Episcopal Church is doing. As far as the Communion is concerned, TEC is a former Provence. TEC has money but that's about all
He is as wrong as Corrigan. There is only one province of the Communion in the United States and it is The Episcopal Church. The puritans can yowl until the cows come home, but that is the fact. The Duncannites are the odd man out, like it or not. But truth never interferes with the Gafcon crowd - truth just gets in the way of their imagination.

The lack of interest in the Gafconnite press conference says the 21st century is finished with the 15th century and its reenactors. They had their fifteen minutes in the spotlight; but the spot when dark and the house closed. All that remains are a few actors who continue to spout well rehearsed verse to an empty house.

The cartoon is by the ever brilliant Dave Walker from The Church Times Blog.

19 April 2009

Quasi Modo Geniti - Easter II

Quasi Modo Geniti
Easter II

Acts 4:32-35; Psalm 133; 1 John 1:1-2:2; John 20:19-31

    Introit: As newborn babes, alleluia, desire the rational milk without guile, alleluia, alleluia, alleluia. (Ps. 80. 2). Rejoice to God our Helper; sing aloud to the God of Jacob.
Poor Thomas!

We’re at that time of year again. Easter Day is past and once more we’re reading about Thomas, who evidently just can’t believe Jesus has been raised from the dead.

But don’t we love this story? We love Thomas.

We love to chuckle indulgently over his lack of faith, because we certainly don’t have trouble believing. We’ve even given him a nick-name: doubting Thomas. It’s become so much of a cliché that we can hardly believe Thomas is capable of anything except doubting.

This story seems so simple. Thomas wasn’t there when Jesus appeared to the apostles the first time – and when he heard about that, he simply found it hard to fathom. “I won’t believe until I see it for myself,” he says. And lo and behold, Jesus calls his bluff.

We could say, “End of story”; but of course, it’s not.

There’s a whole lot more to this reading than a simple story of doubting Thomas. To begin with, it isn’t all that simple – and yes, this story also says something about us. Like Thomas, we too are part of a community built on faith.

So, let’s take a look again at what this story is all about.

The apostles are gathered in a room on the first day of the week – the same as they had done when Jesus was with them. Jesus suddenly appears among them. He breathes on them, imparting to them the life of the Spirit. But for some reason, Thomas wasn’t there. He only hears about what happened, and he simply can’t believe.

The following week, the apostles, including Thomas this time, were in the room when Jesus again appeared among them. Jesus offered Thomas the chance to touch his hands and his side, but Thomas doesn’t seem to need to do that. Instead he offers Jesus his profession of faith: “My Lord and my God.”

The thing about this story that should be a lesson to us is that Jesus appears each time within the assembled community. Jesus doesn’t appear to Thomas alone. But he also doesn’t appear to Thomas in the group to embarrass him. Jesus appears to the group because it is within the group that they could continue learning about him, supporting each other, and being effective witnesses to the life of faith Jesus offers them.

In the final verses of today’s gospel passage, Jesus tells the disciples that many would come after them who would not have the same experience of him that they did. No one would again walk and talk with him as the disciples had; and yet, these others would also come to believe. Even the writer of this gospel says that the things about Jesus that were written in this gospel were written so that others may come to believe in Jesus as the Messiah and that through believing would have life in his name.

So, in one sense, Jesus was offering Thomas a chance to experience seeing him risen from the dead the same way the other disciples had. In doing that, Jesus also further strengthened the faith of that particular gathered community.

In another sense, Jesus is strengthening us all. We, too, are a gathered community – getting together at the beginning of the week in very much the same way the apostles did. They gathered to share their real life experience of knowing Jesus and working with him.

The apostles remembered him saying, “Do this in remembrance of me.” We gather to share in that story. For us, it is a remembrance of the story handed down to us, but unlike many of the family stories we tell, this is not just a remembrance – we continue to share in the presence of Jesus through the Eucharist. How that happens is a mystery, but in that mystery lies the powerful sense of belonging that draws us back here each week.

This image of the community gathered in prayer for strength and to keep the story alive is a very important one for all of us in the church today. On Easter, in churches all over the world, the paschal candle was held high and brought into dark churches. “The Light of Christ!” and then “Thanks be to God!” was sung by thousands of congregations of several different traditions.

Remembering how the time zones work, we realize that the Light of Christ was being proclaimed, was being brought into the darkness to give light to that darkness pretty consistently for about 24 hours. Imagine the Light traveling from the first dawn of Easter to the last. Imagine all those voices singing and shouting that Christ is alive! Imagine being a part of a whole world acting as one community sharing its faith with one another and with the world. That’s how our community has grown from that tiny group of twelve apostles and a band of followers. It doesn’t get any better than this.

And yet ... and yet ... today we also realize that the excitement of the Resurrection and the first sightings of Jesus didn’t make those early disciples perfect. It didn’t take away all doubt, all fear. The disciples were still hanging about the room, afraid of possible repercussions. Thomas wondered and was honest about it. Change from being the followers into being the ones responsible for doing what Jesus did was still a bit scary.

We see a lot of ourselves here. So, what do we do with this?

It’s a story about faith, remember. It took faith for those disciples to stick together after the crucifixion. It took faith for them to hang on when they couldn’t see Jesus anymore. It took faith for them to believe they could work out their new life together – to believe that the risen Jesus would always be there for them. That Light that filled our hearts with joy and exultation on Easter is the same Light that guides us now. It’s the same Light that will help us continue building community with all its ups and downs, confidence builders and doubts.

As Episcopalians, we do believe that we are loved by the God who made us. When in our humanness we give in to doubt, we are not cut off from the love or strength of God; we’re offered the same chance as Thomas to experience the reality of God’s love. Because in the community of faith, we are always accepted at God’s altar and in the company of our fellow believers or our fellow doubters. We’re all in this together.

So, maybe we should stop labeling Thomas as “doubting Thomas” and be grateful to him for showing us that it’s OK to question and that it’s perfectly normal to have doubts.

But we should also learn from his story that, as a community, we have the responsibility to share the story we’ve been told and to be a strength to each other and to those around us. We do this all week long, wherever we are, by living faithful lives.

We realize also that it’s in the Eucharist that we find the strength to do all this. As we live this out, we’ll see ourselves getting stronger and stronger. We’ll be a congregation that others will want to join, because they’ll see that this is a place where it’s OK to question as Thomas did; that this is a place where everyone’s gifts are appreciated; that this is a place where all are welcome.

Remember, Jesus says to all of us, “Blest are those who have not seen, but believe.”

-- The Rev. Dr. Susanna Metz is executive director of the Center for Ministry in Small Churches at the School of Theology, Sewanee, Tennessee, and assistant professor of Contextual Education. She is also publisher of Tuesday Morning, a quarterly journal of ministry and liturgical preaching.

For literary buffs, the "Hunchback of Notre Dame" was named Quasi Modo because he was found on the portal of the cathedral on the Sunday after Easter