More Episcopal Bishops speak out on Marriage Equality

Bishop Marc Andrus (Diocese of California):

Far as we have come, the gap between the poor and the rich has become greater, not less.

Far as we have come, the Earth groans, the particular light of beautiful species goes out day after day, drought and desert spread, and violent storms increase.

So what are we going to do?

Keep on proclaiming, keep on shining, for we are people of hope and faith.

And here at Grace Cathedral and in the Diocese of California we will be joyfully uniting, again, couples in marriage whose only qualification is love of each other and the desire to be married before God and in the face of our communities of faith.

Today we have seen hope fulfilled, and we have faith in a living God to keep on shining, keep on proclaiming until the Earth is filled with the knowledge of the glory of Lord, as the waters, those shining, clear waters, cover the sea.

Bishop Gibbs, Diocese of Michigan

Bishop Robert Wright, Diocese of Atlanta

Bishop Andrew Dietsche, Diocese of New York:

I am proud that in various ways this diocese has made its witness that such equality is truly of God, and speak for our whole community in offering our thanks today to the United States Supreme Court, and to those who have tirelessly pressed the case before that court, and we offer our congratulations and best wishes to all those whose lives will be enlarged and blessed by the events of this day.

Bishop Thomas Shaw, Diocese of Massachusetts:

We here in Massachusetts, the first state to allow same-sex marriage, have long experienced the contributions that gay and lesbian married couples and their families make to our society and to our church, and so the day that makes it possible for all married couples to be eligible for federal benefits, with equal status and without stigma, is a day for which to be grateful.  With the court’s disappointing decision yesterday to invalidate part of the Voting Rights Act, which seems a real setback for civil rights, it is also a day to recommit ourselves to the struggle for full equality for all God’s people.

Bishop Todd Ousley (Diocese of Eastern Michigan):

Bishop Miller’s letter on the Blessing of Same Sex Unions

On Thursday, Bishop Miller met with diocesan clergy to discuss General Convention Resolution A49 that provides for the blessing of same sex unions. He published a letter yesterday outlining his position. Here are some key paragraphs:
Therefore, I am not authorizing the rite from A049 for use in the Diocese of Milwaukee at this time. However, I have arranged with Bishop Jeffrey Lee of the Diocese of Chicago, for clergy and couples from congregations within the Diocese of Milwaukee to go to the Diocese of Chicago to celebrate the rite, as long as they obtain Bishop Lee’s consent to such an action to take place within the bounds of that diocese. Doing so will result in no punitive or negative response whatsoever from me.
Furthermore, I stated my belief that the right to a civil marriage should be available to all people, regardless of sexual orientation and that I would support those seeking to overturn the ban on same-gender marriage in Wisconsin. I also shared that I have begun to permit partnered gay clergy to preside with the diocese, and that I am open to the potential call of any Episcopal cleric in good standing to a position here.
I am also aware that many of our clergy feel the need to offer a generous pastoral liturgical response to gay and lesbian couples. I have agreed to the formation of a task force within this diocese, comprised of people from across the spectrum on this issue, including openly gay and lesbian people living in monogamous relationships, to consider, and propose the same. At the end of the process, however, as the one given canonical authority to order the liturgical life of the diocese, the decision about the authorization of such a rite rests with me. In our polity, there can be no other way.
The entire document is available: Bishop Miller’s letter
I will have more to say about this anon.

Preparing for the future by studying the past: Jackson Kemper, the last Beguine, and the future of Christianity

In an earlier life, I was a historian and although I am reluctant to enter any battles about the inherent virtues of studying the humanities nor inclined to argue for the study of history on instrumental grounds, there are times when even a brief foray into history can provide useful perspective from which to study current problems.

So it was this week. I was trying to write about the shape of the future church, to help clarify some work we’d done in strategic planning on the diocesan level. At various points in that process, we had alluded to Jackson Kemper and the missionary impulse that founded the Diocese of Milwaukee. As I prepared to write, I turned to a history of the Episcopal Church and to a history of the diocese. A superficial read of relevant chapters of both works was eye-opening. Typical church histories of the mid-twentieth century are largely stories of institutions–the formation of dioceses, the founding of parishes and other institutions, the inevitable personality struggles between competing egos and competing visions, and the biographies of the “great men.” In the stories I was reading, I learned about failures–failed missions, failed schools, failed ministries. I read of heroic efforts by clergy and laity preparing the ground and planting seeds that bore fruit decades later.

I wondered what readers fifty years ago would have made of those histories. How would they have interpreted them? No doubt there would have been some sense of failures and missed opportunities, but from the perspective of a thriving church and diocese in mid-century, the end of the story was clear–thriving institutions and vital ministries that reflected the bustle of the post-war boom in America.

Fifty years later, I had a very different reaction. Not just because of the different way history is written today (I’m more curious about those lay people, and especially lay women, than the bishops and priests; I’m more interested in the lived religion than in the bricks and mortar, more interested in the edges, the boundaries between insiders and outsiders, the interplay of religion and social forces).

As we stand at the edge of a frontier as vast and unknown as the one Jackson Kemper entered in the 1830s and 1840s, I’m interested in the forms that ministry and mission will take on that frontier. Kemper and others of his generation had a clear sense of what the church should look like. When they established a parish or school, they built edifices that reflected those ideas–solid, sacred buildings of wood, brick, and stone. They built institutions that were meant to serve those churches and schools and were meant to convey a sense of the sacred, of dignity, and of permanence.

The institutional histories tell the stories of those buildings, the ministries and people that inhabited them. But often the most interesting stories are of those institutions that failed, efforts that came to nothing or transformed into something quite different than the original intent, like the quasi-monastic community that founded Nashotah House and moved on to Minnesota.

I was reminded of this narrative of success and failure again this morning when I read an article about the death of the last Beguine. A relic of the Middle Ages, at one time communities of Beguines thrived in the towns of what is now Belgium, the Netherlands, and the Rhine area. They weren’t quite nuns; they didn’t take vows but lived in community, praying, working, passing in and out of their houses. Some of the great spiritual writing of Medieval Christianity are products of the Beguines.  The Church frowned on them, worried about them, and over the centuries sought to force them into more traditional and typical forms of monastic life. They survived through the centuries, a relic of an earlier age and probably not particularly relevant to either the religious lives or the cultures of the communities in which they lived, certainly not after the seventeenth century.

The story of the last Beguine, those episcopal histories I read, were all stories of institutions, stories of success and failure, growth and decline. They teach us important lessons about adapting to cultural contexts and the willingness to experiment. They also teach us about the problems of institutions, the inherent tendency to try to preserve them when they may no longer be needed or wanted.

I would draw two lessons from these stories. 1) the importance of adaptability. The decline of the beguines was only in part due to official resistance. In the long run, changes in society made their very creative response to a particular set of cultural crises basically irrelevant. 2) the impermanence of institutions. Our solid buildings are deceptive and stifle our creativity and the Spirit’s creativity.

Where is the spirit blowing today? Will we have the courage to let it lead us into the future, or will we stay behind the walls of our dying institutions and become the last Episcopalians?




I dream of a church… Reflections on yesterday’s events at General Convention

There was the opening Eucharist complete with sermon from the Presiding Bishop

There were lengthy discussions on structure and various other matters. But perhaps the most important event of the day was the Acts 8 Moment meeting which I’ve blogged about before.

It seems to me that this is precisely the direction the church should move. During the “I dream of a church that…” section, one bishop said, “I dream of a church that makes its decisions in meetings like this,” in the context of prayer and bible study. The question about the future of the church is an important one. The question about restructuring the church is important, but it’s easy to get lost in the details. To begin with mission and vision, to begin with what might be, rather than with what is or what was, is to begin by imagining possibilities.

The Diocese of Maine captured the “I dream of a church” on video:

From Andy Jones

From Steve Pankey:

It was a powerful time of sharing, of hoping for the future, and of mourning for the way things are.  As we prepared to end our time, ready to regather on the 11th, several people stood up and said, “Wait!  We need to actually do something.”  And so, with and empowering word from Andy Doyle, Bishop of Texas, five affinity groups were formed: one to propose candidates for HoD offices, one to draft legislation, one on dream sharing, one on local contexts, and one to pray for the whole thing.

You can add your own “I dream of a church …” on Facebook here:


Reports on Day 1 of General Convention

Andy Jones’ take on yesterday is here.

The main news was the opening remarks by the Presiding Bishop (Katharine Jefforts Schori) and the President of the House of Deputies (Bonnie Anderson). Crusty Old Dean comments on the latter here.

She has this to say:

Worse yet, in recent months, it’s even become fashionable in some circles to celebrate the exclusive nature of the church in the name of efficiency — to treat our governance as a lifeboat in which there is precious little room for laypeople and clergy, to question the value of our shared authority to the future of The Episcopal Church, to assert that the diversity of voices in our governance is just much, too loud, too messy, too expensive, and way too big.

Frankly, I don’t understand what Ms. Anderson was getting at (well, I do, but her understanding of what the Episcopal Church is, and mine, are radically different). As COD points out, she seems to think there are three orders–lay people, clergy, and bishops. As far as I know, bishops are clergy, too.

General Convention Update: What’s happening with the Budget

A committee hearing is taking place with PB&F (I’m assuming Program, Budget, and Finance, but I’m not going to check). Apparently, after all the back and forth, sturm and drang, anguish across the Church, PB&F is using the Presiding Bishop’s proposed budget as its template. Earlier discussions of it on this blog are here and here. Background here.

Jim Naughton had this to say today before the hearing began. He makes several interesting suggestions:

  1. to reduce the diocesan “asking” from  19% to 15% this triennium
  2. to base the budget on the PB’s proposal
  3. to view it as “transitional” and therefore to remove some of the spending on new programs (up to $5 million) that she proposes.

If you’re interested in the Twitter play by play, follow #GC77

Why bother with General Convention anyway? The future of denominational identity

A couple of blog posts to help put GC 2012 in context.

First from David Lose: Five reasons denominations are passé.

3) Inordinate amounts of funding are spent on maintaining denominational structures and bureaucracies, money that could be spent on mission. Even though every denomination I know has in recent years cut way back on spending, eliminated various divisions or boards, or extended the times between major assemblies or conventions, denominations are still expending vast sums of money to prop up dated denominational bureaucracies. Would it not make sense to conserve resources by efficiently combining structures? Are seven or eight struggling denominational publishing houses better than one robust one? Where there are three beleaguered denominational seminaries in a single region, might not one healthy pan-denominational school suffice? (And we haven’t even started on congregations!) Think of what might happen if the savings were channeled to funding creative media campaigns that didn’t extol the virtues of one denomination but taught the Christian faith.

His other reasons include denominational identity is confusing, even meaningless in a post-Christian world; differences among denominations are relatively minor; and often denominational identity depends more on ethnic and cultural loyalties over theological conviction.

He concludes:

Bottom line: while I love my denominational heritage and am all for a robust theological identity and spirited theological conversation, I’d give up denominational identity and structure in a heartbeat if it meant a more unified, comprehensible, and compelling witness to the Gospel. How do we move in this direction? To tell you the truth, I haven’t the foggiest idea. (I know that I don’t think non-denominational churches are the answer, as they’ve essentially become denominations minus any sense of organization.) Do I even think it’s possible, given how much we have invested in our denominations and the good work they still accomplish? Again, you’ve got me. But I do know it’s time to raise these questions and initiate a conversation about mutual collaboration and mission that runs far beyond anything our parents or grandparents would have dreamed possible.

There’s a great deal to ponder here, although I wonder if there aren’t significant incarnational aspects of theology, liturgy, and polity that are expressed via the traditional denominations, aspects that can be lost if one adopts “generic” Christianity. People respond to and experience God differently and the denominations may be in part an adaptive response to those very real differences.

Meanwhile, Laura Everett ponders the disappearance of denominational identity on facebook:

A scan of my peers on Facebook turns up more personalization; I invite you to do the same. Many of my clergy friends are not using their singular denominational labels instead preferring labels like: “Christian Unitarian Universalist Witchy Trancescendentalist Jungian” (a UUA pastor), “Open Minded Evangelical Protestant Christian” (an Evangelical Covenant Church pastor), “Critical Thinking Faith, with a dose of common sense realism” (a dually ordained American and National Baptist minister), “Cake or Death?” (an Episcopal priest), and my favorite “Don’t make me jump a pew” (a United Methodist pastor).

Everett is Executive Director of the Massachusetts Council of Churches and wonders about the implications of shifting denominational identity for the ecumenical movement.

Whatever her concerns, I think Lose is right to locate a central problem for the future in bloated denominational structures and organization. There is news today that a group of bishops has proposed a resolution to reduce TEC’s asking from the dioceses from 19% to 15%. That’s the percentage of diocesan budgets that is supposed to go to the Episcopal Church. That’s the amount of money that can’t be spent on local projects, on outreach in local communities, congregational development, church planting, Christian formation.

But Lose points to something else, as well. The energy we spend on denominational matters is energy taken away from local efforts, including local ecumenical efforts. One of the questions I’ve asked repeatedly is how Madison’s downtown churches can work together effectively on issues that matter to us and to the city. We don’t work at all together, or very little, and often efforts to come together are thwarted by the realities of life, by busy schedules and the like.

Late Developments in the lead-up to General Convention 2012

General Convention 2012 begins on Tuesday, so bishops, deputies, and everyone else who will be attending are making their final preparations for the trip. That means things are rather quiet on the web after a very intense couple of weeks.

Several commentators have offered their final thoughts. Nick Knisely, head of the deputation from the Diocese of Arizona (and recently elected Bishop of Rhode Island, offers his reflections here. He writes:

The issues confronting this Convention are different in my experience than the ones we’ve been facing. For the last two decades, the primary energy of General Convention has been focused on issues of marriage equality and inclusion. Those questions have been settled for a significant majority of the Episcopal Church, and I don’t think they will occupy much of our time next month, though there will be some important votes taken regarding them. What I think will occupy our time is our response to a broad recognition in mainline churches that our existing governance structures no longer serve the needs of the 21st century church. The Diocese of Arizona joined more than 30 other dioceses in calling for a special General Convention to deal with the issue. I know we will deal with the question somehow, but I couldn’t predict at the moment what we will end up doing. There are many different voices and ideas right now, but there’s no sense of consensus. Given that most of our work as Convention for the past decades has been centered on balancing the desire to speak prophetically and minimize the attendant conflict, arriving at consensus on matters of financial and structural reform is unfamiliar territory for most of the deputies. We know something needs to be done. But we’re not sure, as a body, what that ought to be yet.

Finally, there’s an ongoing broad change in the leadership of the Episcopal Church. The President of the House of Deputies has announced that she will not seek reelection, we don’t have a Vice President at the moment, and many among the rest of the leadership are beginning to retire and step-down. As the House of Deputies considers the election of its next president and vice president, it will be making decisions about leadership style, the nature of the relationship between itself and the House of Bishops, and how the next generation of leaders will be formed. If you’re planning on following the news out of General Convention, that group of decisions seems to me to be the most important ones to track.

Crusty Old Dean prognosticates here.

He also reports on one new development. Along with Susan B. Snook and Scott Gunn, COD will be hosting a meeting, called The Acts 8 Moment:

Together, the three of us would like to invite anyone who is interested to come together in Indianapolis at 9:30 p.m. on July 5 (location TBA – like us on Facebook or follow the Acts 8 Moment on Twitter for details).  We want to start the process by gathering, praying, reading the Bible, and talking together about the church we dream of seeing.  Let’s listen for where the Holy Spirit is calling us to go!  Let’s hear each other’s prayers and dreams!  Let’s enter into our own Acts 8 Moment.

If I were at GC, I would be there. I will be there in spirit, and via twitter.

To keep up with General Convention, the official website has everything you could want to know about the proceedings. Andy Jones has assembled some resources here. He will be blogging as will Bishop Miller.

Other blogs to follow are:

And of course I will be offering my own commentary from afar.

Same-Sex Blessings and Marriage: Bishop Miller’s statement

Last week, Bishop Miller sent clergy in the Diocese of Milwaukee a draft letter in which he laid out his thinking on the proposed liturgies for the Blessing of Same Gender Unions, and the evolving understanding of marriage. A week ago today, he met with diocesan clergy to talk about the letter, our perspectives on it, as well as about our pastoral and theological concerns leading up to General Convention and how we might respond to decisions made at General Convention.

It was a very powerful afternoon. Clergy spoke from their hearts, from a wide variety of theological perspectives, and asked hard questions of Bishop Miller and of each other.

Today, Bishop Miller has released a position paper in which he lays out his views and how he expects to vote on the pertinent resolutions. It’s an important document, available here on his blog.

The key elements of his proposal are this:

  • I am wondering if they best way forward would be the proposal and adoption of a substitute to Resolution A049 calling for the amendment of the Book of Common Prayer and the Constitution and Canons to allow for marriage between two persons regardless of sex while at the same time requiring that both parties be baptized, and removing any role of the civil authority. Those who wished to be civilly married could do so if they considered a civil marriage to be most advantageous for them but the Church would have no part of it.  This proposal provided the additional advantage that those who could not be civilly married because state law forbade it or it would cause economic hardship could be married in the Church. As I stated earlier in this letter I propose this because, “it is my opinion that the blessing rite falls short of our call as Christians.”
  • I realize that this means the authorization of a blessing rite would be delayed and that those who have waited for this Church to do so will be told again to wait. However, the provision for generous pastoral response from Resolution C056 would still be in effect, a provision which has allowed for some bishops whose dioceses are in states that have approved same-sex marriage in the civil realm to permit clergy in their diocese to officiate at these marriages and others to allow blessings.

My earlier blog post was in part a response to Bishop Miller’s earlier draft and to the clergy conversation. I repost the pertinent parts:

A theological rationale for same sex marriage has to begin with the nature of God and with human nature. God created us in God’s image, to be in relationship, just as God in Godself is in relationship, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Life-giving, holy relationships are based in mutuality, love, and commitment, and some people can only experience such relationships with people of the same gender. Our fallen human nature and our society make any committed relationship difficult, almost impossible, and any couple needs the support of a loving community and the grace of a loving God to thrive. The church should do all in its power to help such relationships flourish. To forbid the sacrament of marriage to a group of people who need it to thrive and flourish is an offense to God who created us in God’s image, and who created us to be in relationship with others.

The proposed liturgy for same-gender blessings is inadequate. I find it lacking precisely because it fails to locate the basis of human relationship in the imago dei. Instead, it speaks of covenant and blessing (I find it ironic that the same people who praise the liturgy and its theological rationale based in covenant are for the most part opposed to the Anglican Covenant). Frankly, I think the theological rationale for the liturgy is deeply flawed. The liturgy itself is adequate although confusing, but there is a question at its heart, namely why blessing? Why not marriage? On the other hand, the SCLM was specifically charged with developing proposed blessings for same sex unions, not a marriage rite

Given the cultural climate, with many of those who most vigorously oppose same-sex marriage having themselves made a mockery of the sacrament by their own lives (Rush Limbaugh and Newt Gingrich come to mind). Would not a more sacramental, a holy witness be of a couple living out a life-long commitment? Would the church’s blessing of such relationships be a witness and symbol of what marriage might be in this world, instead of the dominant cultural models of short-lived relationships like the recent ones of whichever Kardashian it was, or Brittany Spears? In other words, is there a sense in which two living out a committed relationship for a lifetime, are a sacramental witness to the Christian virtues of love and fidelity, and a symbol of Christ’s love for the church to the whole world?

The question facing General Convention 2012 and the Episcopal Church is how to work with what’s facing us. On the one hand, we have this proposed liturgy for Same Sex Blessings. On the other, there is a continuing push to move toward marriage, and another resolution urging an examination of our theology of marriage. This is work that urgently needs doing. It may be that the outcome of that examination is a revision of our marriage rite, and perhaps our canons. I would like to see us freed from the obligation of serving as agents of the state. I would like to see marriage only as a sacramental rite, which might help us offer an alternative to the contemporary marriage business.