Episcopal Dioceses and rising geographical inequality

October 13 was the date of the Episcopal Diocese of Milwaukee’s annual convention. It’s not an event I look forward to each year and the longer I serve in my current cure, the less I tend to focus my energies on larger Episcopal entities, whether dioceses or General Convention. Still, it’s an opportunity to connect with other clergy and laity and to hear a bit about what’s happening in other corners of the diocese.

Like so much of the US, Southern Wisconsin is seeing growing inequities among regions and races. Dane County, home of Madison, is in the midst of an economic boom and is home to a growing population. Other parts of the region are struggling economically and losing population. The economic boom affects races quite differently especially in Wisconsin, where racial inequities are among the worst in the nation.

Those inequities are not limited to the secular sphere. We see them in the Church as well. The Diocese of Milwaukee is neither large nor wealthy. Grace Church, with an average Sunday attendance of around 170 and an operating budget of approximately 550,000 is the second largest congregation in the Diocese. Many of our congregations are quite small and are served by part-time clergy. A number of congregations, both urban and small-town, have closed over the last years.

It was with this in mind that I read Richard Florida’s piece on City Lab entitled “America’s Worsening Geographic Inequality.” Drawing on a number of recent studies, Florida points out the disturbing trends:

  • the decline of middle-class neighborhoods and the separation of America into “areas of concentrated advantage juxtaposed with areas of concentrated disadvantage”
  • change in prosperity of neighborhoods (1980-2016); suburban neighborhoods most stable; among urban neighborhoods, more upwardly mobile than downwardly mobile; rural neighborhoods the most volatile
  • up to 1980, geographical inequities declined; since 1980; they have grown
  • Today, median household income for the top 20 percent of America’s counties is more than twice as high as the median household income of the bottom 20 percent, while poverty rates are roughly three times greater in the poorest 20 percent of counties, compared to the most affluent 20 percent.
  • America is not only economically unequal: Its inequality cuts sharply across geographic lines. We are becoming a country of have and have-nots that turns on where we were born or where we are able to live. And this worsening winner-take-all geography is bound up with, and reflects, our long running divides of race and class.  Increasingly, our neighborhood, and our zip code, is our economic destiny.

One sees evidence of such growing geographical inequality in the life of our diocese. It’s not just that a relatively small number of congregations account for much of diocesan revenue, it’s that the diocese in turn offers aid to a significant number of parishes. So, in a sense, there’s a redistribution of wealth taking place among parishes.

It seems to me that we don’t take these larger geographical inequalities into account when we think about our common life as a diocese. I doubt very much whether many dioceses do. We are accustomed to think in terms of racial inequality and regional (North and South; the coasts and flyover country) differences. But geographical inequality is also present within dioceses. Many of our struggling churches are in neighborhoods that are struggling as well. This is true of urban as well as rural or small-town communities.

The Episcopal Church with its geographically-shaped structure may be uniquely situated to address geographical inequities like those cited by Florida. To a degree, we already do this with our funding mechanisms. But I suspect we need to go further and nurture the bonds that tie us together as Episcopalians across the divides that separate us, whether those divisions be class, race, gender, or geography.

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General Convention 79: The view from Madison’s Capitol Square

My twitter and facebook feeds are full of posts from real and social media friends who are traveling to Austin, TX for the Episcopal Church General Convention. I’m not among those who will be attending. In fact, I’ve never attended General Convention. As this one approaches, by my calculations the ninth since I joined the Episcopal Church, I am fascinated by how my engagement with this triennial event has changed over time.

Early on, I’m not sure I even knew what it was or cared very much about it. It wasn’t until I entered the ordination process and began getting involved on the diocesan level that I began attention. Coincidentally, that was right around 2003, when the decade-long conflict that began with the election of Gene Robinson as Bishop of New Hampshire, broke out. As that conflict continued and as the debate over same-sex marriage also exploded, I paid close attention to events at General Convention and the discussions and jockeying that occurred in the months leading up to the meetings.

This year feels quite different. It’s not that there are no controversial issues on the table: prayer book revision, several resolutions about marriage rites, and addressing sexual harassment in the Church are all important and likely to gain attention outside the confines of The Episcopal Church.

I know there are many who are passionate about General Convention. It is an important aspect of our Church’s governance and for many it is an opportunity to connect with old friends and make new ones. I’m grateful for both aspects of this gathering, for the work that takes place and for the relationships it nurtures.

At the same time, I find myself less interested in what will take place there. I think there are a couple of reasons for this lack of interest. First, I have been in my current position for nine years. The longer I stay here, the more focused my ministry becomes on my local context. Madison is confronting a number of serious issues: homelessness, of course, which because of the presence of the Men’s Drop-In Shelter here at Grace is always at the top of the church’s and my list of priorities. In addition, Madison, Dane County, and the State of Wisconsin have among the most significant racial inequities of any state in the nation and closely related to that is mass incarceration which affects us through the presence nearby of the Dane County Jail.

In addition, since 2011, we have been at the epicenter of political conflict in our state and by extension the nation. Since the protests that erupted around Governor Walker’s plans to transform the State of Wisconsin into a laboratory for conservative policies, hardly a month goes by without rallies on the streets and sidewalks outside our doors. Just last week, as we were celebrating and blessing a marriage, outside our doors thousands were rallying as part of the nationwide Keep Families Together effort. I have participated in more such rallies in my nine years of ministry here than I did in the previous five decades of my life.

Finally, as I continue to work in Madison, my relationships with clergy of other denominations and my ecumenical engagement have become as important, if not more so, than my relationships with Episcopal clergy and the larger church. I have participated on commissions of the Wisconsin Council of Churches for most of the time I have been here and have been nurtured by relationships formed with clergy colleagues there and in Madison. As denominational structures continue to transform in the wake of the demographic and cultural decline of mainline Christianity, such relationships and ecumenical partnerships may become more important.

 

I suppose what I’m saying is that context matters. As my tenure at Grace lengthens, the relationships I have built with parishioners and the wider community come to matter much more. The problems and challenges of our city take center stage, and my capacity to engage creatively and effectively with those challenges and opportunities grows. It’s not that the denomination as a whole, nor indeed the worldwide Anglican Communion, no longer matter to me, but rather, I experience those larger entities through a perspective increasingly shaped by my local context.

I am looking at General Convention from the corner of N. Carroll St. and W. Washington Ave., in Madison. So even as the work of General Convention goes on, I will also be doing the work of ministry, administration, and advocacy in this place, grateful for that work and calling, and grateful for all of those others called to do the work of the larger church. My prayers are with and for them.

Some resources for the Daily Office, Bible Study, and the Daily Examen

I led an adult forum at Grace last Sunday during which I offered brief introductions to the Daily Office and the Daily Examen from the Ignatian tradition. I’ve collected some of those resources here, as well as links to the Bible and the lectionary.

The Book of Common Prayer online: https://www.bcponline.org 

The Daily Office (Morning and Evening Prayer, Daily Devotions)

Morning Prayer Rite I BCP 37

Morning Prayer Rite II BCP 75

Evening Prayer Rite I BCP 61

Evening Prayer Rite II BCP 115

Compline BCP 127

Daily Devotions for Families BCP 136

Daily Office online:

http://www.missionstclare.com/english/index.html

This site includes the psalms, readings, and canticles for each office, so you don’t need to look through the lectionary, or have a bible. Daily office app available on itunes or android.

The Daily Office podcast: https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/audio-daily-office-the-trinity-mission/id604914110?mt=2

The Bible

For many years, I have used this site: http://bible.oremus.org. It offers a number of different versions, but defaults to the New Revised Standard Version (with British spelling), which is the version we use in worship.

The Lectionary.

If you want to know the readings for Sunday in advance, they are all available at The Lectionary Page: http://www.lectionarypage.net

A great resource for exploring each week’s Sunday readings is Textweek.com.

The Daily Examen

An alternative to the Daily Office is the daily examen. From the Jesuit tradition, meant to offer you an opportunity at the end of the day to look back over your day for signs of God’s presence and grace.

A brief overview:

  1. Become aware of God’s presence.
    2.Review the day with gratitude.
    3. Pay attention to your emotions.
    4. Choose one feature of the day and pray from it.
    5. Look toward tomorrow.

From Ashes to Glory (the daily examen for Lent):

https://www.ignatianspirituality.com/ignatian-prayer/the-examen/from-ashes-to-glory

Thinking outside the book: Re-imagining Common Prayer in the 21st Century

There’s a great deal of discussion among Episcopalians about the possibility of prayer book revision. I’ve been thinking about the English Reformation, Anglicanism, and contemporary Christianity in light of the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, and it occurred to me that the Book of Common Prayer is very much a product of the print culture that emerged in the 16th century and to talk about “prayer book revision” is rather odd in a context dominated by the internet, smart phones, and digital media. So here are some reflections about thinking “outside the book.”

A few weeks ago, I noticed that a visitor was holding her personal Book of Common Prayer as she greeted me after the Sunday service. I tried to think back to the last time I had seen someone with their own BCP. There’s a man his mid sixties who comes occasionally who brings with him a leather-bound 1928 BCP. I remember a few people at my former parishes in the South who did. There, I assumed it was partly an identity marker—Baptists always carried their bibles with them to church; so it would be natural for Episcopalians to distinguish themselves from other Christians by carrying their BCPs.

That got me thinking about the Book of Common Prayer as a book, and about the already much debated idea of “prayer book revision.” My primary experience of the Book of Common Prayer is no longer as a “book,” and I assume the same holds true for most Episcopalians. I use an app for the Daily Office; when I preside at worship, I either use the printed or electronic service bulletin, or an electronic book of common prayer on my ipad. My prayer book hymnal combination is used primarily as a hymnal, although I do take it with me on pastoral visits, I suspect largely because of its symbolic power both for myself and for the one I am visiting.

My copy was given me by the parish in which I became a Postulant for Holy Orders. It is well-worn, the binding is now ripped. I have worshiped with it nearly every Sunday for almost twenty years. I have prayed from it at bedsides and at gravesides. Its feel in my hands is etched in my memory. It is an old friend but also a frustrating annoyance. Liturgical forms that I use regularly but not included in the Book of Common Prayer are taped in the endpapers and constantly fall out. The post-its and tabs I’ve added to help me find my place go missing and I end up leafing through to find what I’m looking for. It is impossible for me to read the text or hymns in less than ideal lighting. For all of those reasons I have come to rely on digital versions for private devotion and presiding.

The Book of Common Prayer is a product of print culture. From the beginning, it was a particularly adaptation of the liturgy to print culture. Both in its use of the vernacular and in its emphasis on “common” prayer, i.e. that the same text was used by clergy and laity, and it was used throughout England, it helped to unify the English Church and shape Anglican piety.

The unifying power of the Book of Common Prayer both in fact and symbolically, may partially explain why prayer book revision has always been a challenging project. I wonder now whether, in the twenty-first century the call for prayer book revision holds symbolic power precisely because of the lingering appeal of the symbolic power of a Book of Common Prayer. Advocates for revision point to its lack of inclusive language, the dominance of the theology of substitutionary atonement, the need for a new marriage rite, among its many other shortcomings. I agree with all of this.

But to conceive of liturgical reform and renewal as “prayer book revision” seems to me to be remarkably shortsighted when we are in the midst of a technological revolution that seems to be transforming the way human beings interact with each other, with authorities of all sorts (including textual authority) and with meaning-making.

Print culture establishes an authoritative text and tends toward uniformity and conformity. The Book of Common Prayer is appealing in part because of the appeal of a shared liturgy across space and time. In the Roman Catholic Church, the Tridentine Mass suppressed local traditions just as the Elizabethan Book of Common Prayer shaped the Church of England.

By their very nature, books, being bound, create distinctions between what is included and what is excluded. If a text exists primarily in electronic form, there is a sense in which it is ephemeral, it cannot be fixed or authoritative and it invites a more organic relationship between reader and text. It also creates a different kind of community—one that is not limited geographically.

In some ways, the internet makes possible a relationship between text and reader (or in the case of liturgy, text and participant) that is rather more like the relationship of text and reader in the age of manuscripts—when a copyist could include his own notes in the margin, or change the text entirely, and a later copyist might not know that those changes had occurred, and make changes of her own.

We make such liturgical changes already. We introduce inclusive language in responses or use forms from Enriching Our Worship that are less troublesome theologically. But what might it look like to invite creative engagement with liturgical forms in an age of smartphones and interconnectivity?

Envisioning liturgical reform in a digital age seems to me to invite innovation and engagement. It encourages us to rethink our relationship to liturgical texts, and to rethink the human relationships that are created and nurtured in worshiping communities.

My fear is that “prayer book revision” will focus entirely on getting the text right and not reimagining the ways communities and human beings are created and sustained through the liturgies enacted by the texts.

The burden of history and the possibilities of space

I spent the last week with an amazing group of Episcopal clergy who impressed me with their deep faith, their commitment to their ministries and communities, and their passion. Among the matters we discussed at some length, even though it wasn’t a theme of our meetings, was the future of the church in the midst of structural decline, demographic transformation, and a changing cultural context.

As I thought about those conversations, my own context, and my time in Richmond, I was struck by the burdens of history that we carry with us. For most of the clergy gathered together, a common experience was the histories of their parishes. Sometimes the burden of history plays itself out in patterns of conflict that recur over decades and generations. Sometimes the burden of history is the fading memories of a glorious past. Sometimes the burden of history is the sheer weight of a building that was constructed in and for a different time and context that demands enormous financial resources and limits our creativity and flexibility.

We’ve inherited a church that was designed for and adapted to the second half of the twentieth century and while that church served us well, it is singularly unfit for the present moment. Of course, I am speaking about our organizational structures, but the same thing could be said of our physical spaces. They were designed to serve a certain vision of church and to create certain kinds of community. We’ve tried to adapt our spaces at Grace to connect more effectively with our neighborhood and wider community. But our commitments to the integrity of the building and our traditional worship style prevented us from going further to reimagine our worship space for the twenty-first century.

For us at Grace, the burden of history can narrow our vision and our physical space can limit our imagination. But as I walked the streets of Richmond and visited St. Paul’s, I experienced the burden of history on a completely different level. I’m speaking of course of the legacies of slavery, the Confederacy and Civil War, and the Lost Cause.

St. Paul’s used to be called the “Cathedral of the Confederacy.” Jefferson Davis was worshiping there when he received word that Lee was withdrawing from Petersburg, leaving Richmond exposed to the Union Army. Davis left quietly and began his flight across the Confederacy. In the decades after the end of the war, St. Paul’s fabric was decorated with images of the Confederate battle flag and stained glass windows are said to have the faces of Jefferson Davis and Robert E. Lee in images of Moses and St. Paul.

Recently, St. Paul’s has been engaging with its history and with the Confederate imagery displayed throughout its building. A story on that conversation, including the decision to remove images of the battle flag is here. St. Paul’s presentation of its history can be seen here.

A similar debate is occurring at the National Cathedral. Having removed images of the Confederate battle flag from stained glass windows, attention has now turned to the images of Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson. The windows honoring the two generals were installed in 1953 with the support of the United Daughters of the Confederacy.

But even if images are removed from all churches, the heavy burden of the past would continue to weigh down Christian churches. So, for example, the imposing statue of General Jeb Stuart on Richmond’s Monument Ave is surrounded by churches: UCC, Lutheran, and Presbyterian, which reminds of nothing so much as the ancient Christian practice of constructing churches and worshiping in the vicinity of martyrs’ graves.

Episcopalians in other parts of the country may breathe a sigh of relief that we don’t have to address directly the legacy of the Confederacy and slavery. Our historical burdens may be less obvious but they exist if we bother to explore our past in depth. The wealth accumulated from slavery was widely distributed, north and south. Our close identification with the nation and with the American aristocracy has implicated us in Colonialism, the destruction of Native American culture and communities, and has created barriers to our full embrace of our nation’s diversity.

For us to thrive in the twenty-first century, we must not only engage with the sins of our past. We must also be willing to allow our sclerotic institutional structures to die, adapt ourselves to the present and future, and make our spaces places of invitation and welcome to all. A question at the forefront of all our conversations should be how is our space experienced by visitors and newcomers? What do they see and feel when they enter?

 

The Collect for Palm Sunday

Almighty and everliving God, in your tender love for the human race you sent your Son our Savior Jesus Christ to take upon him our nature, and to suffer death upon the cross, giving us the example of his great humility: Mercifully grant that we may walk in the way of his suffering, and also share in his resurrection; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Presiding Bishop Curry (and all the bishops) speak out

There’s an interview in the New York Times with Presiding Bishop Michael Curry of the Episcopal Church:

Q. Do you, as a church leader, as an African-American, feel compelled to say anything about the presidential primaries in which the Republican front-runner hesitated to disavow the support of the former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke?

A. It’s not appropriate, and I’m not sure it’s even legal, to make a partisan pronouncement on any candidates. But to articulate the values on which we stand. Love, at least as Jesus articulated it, has to do with seeking the good and the welfare of others before one’s own enlightened self-interest. Our politics must reflect that.

Also, the House of Bishops released a joint statement this week on the political climate in our nation:

“We reject the idolatrous notion that we can ensure the safety of some by sacrificing the hopes of others.”

On Good Friday the ruling political forces of the day tortured and executed an innocent man. They sacrificed the weak and the blameless to protect their own status and power. On the third day Jesus was raised from the dead, revealing not only their injustice but also unmasking the lie that might makes right.