Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Retrospect of 2005, Prospect for 2006

I was driving home yesterday afternoon through the bleak December countryside having made a pastoral call, and as I drove my mind was turning over 2005 as it tried to find some way of assessing it. Certainly, in our family it was a red-letter year with the birth of our first grandchild, the marriage of our younger daughter, and Rosemary and I each turning sixty. But all this happened against the backdrop of uncertainty that is North American Anglicanism, and the joys of family were somewhat blunted by the discomforts we face in the church.

It has been a fearfully busy year for me, with much time given to the episcopal election process here in Tennessee, while continuing ministry in a struggling congregation. It is more than twenty years since I last played a part in selecting candidates for the episcopate, and not only are there more factors that now need to be taken into account, but the consequences of an episcopal election are more momentous than a generation ago. This week we will be announcing our slate of nominees, which means that from hereon out everything in the Diocese of Tennessee is going to be seen in terms of the episcopal election that will take place on March 18th -- and succeeding Saturdays, if we don't get a 2/3 majority in both orders the first time around.

What has encouraged me from our work on the Episcopate Committee is the sheer ability and the rich godliness of some of the people we talked to. We still have people of significant ability and grace in the Episcopal Church who have proven gifts of leadership.

But I guess the undercurrent of 2005 has been what the future of Anglicanism is going to be in the United States. There is then a trickle down effect from this which influences the life of a diocese and then the congregations of that diocese. It has certainly not been easy continuing to pick up and move forward a young and fragile congregation,when the noises and actions coming out of the denomination seem set on a course to undermine all that you are trying to do on a local level.

What is most frustrating about this is that those who are undermining our ministry seem to be in denial that they are doing any damage at all, despite the statistical and demographic evidence to the contrary. Then there is a particular vindictiveness that for some goes with their opposition of those of us who sit in the historic mainstream.

One of the most painful things in the last few months has been the disgraceful manner in which the Diocese of Rochester declared my former parish, now All Saints' Anglican Church, Rochester, extinct by twisting the diocesan canons to their purpose. Did the parish handle itself wisely? I don't think so, but the pastoral insensitivity of the bishop and the haughty arrogance of the diocesan convention demonstrated to me that there are those on the left who have an unhealthy hatred of what has historically been the Christian faith, and really don't understand the Gospel.

During 2005 I have finally accepted the reality that the Episcopal Church of the USA as presently configured will not continue to exist for much longer, and that our responsibility is to start building constructively for the future. I don't really know what Anglican Communion Christianity is going to look like in North America in the years to come, but I suspect it will include many of us who are part of
ECUSA, many of the more sensible separated jurisdictions both new and old, and I suspect a scad of those in the emergent churches who are exploring Anglicanism from the outside but would happily leap in if there was something acceptable for them to leap into.

I suspect what emerges on the faithful end of the spectrum will be pretty loosy-goosy for a few years, but that some order will evolve from a tangle of networks, structured ecclesial organizations, and floating affiliations. I suspect, also, that at some point, although millions of dollars will have been thrown in the direction of attorneys before it happens, we will see some means emerge for faithful Anglicans to graduate out of ECUSA without the persecution that goes with it right now.

Just as I look back to General Convention 2003 with horror, I look forward to General Convention 2006 with dread. It seems that we are just about able to restore some kind of stability when another one of these sickening events takes place. Conventions do not really seem to represent the thoughtful breadth of the denomination. I suspect that GC2006 will fudge on the Windsor Report because, quite honestly, conventions are events that are totally dominated, and their agenda is shaped by those whose understanding of the Christian faith is on a rapid trajectory away from biblical revelation.

The fudging that will take place on Windsor will probably be the nail in the coffin of ECUSA's relationship with the wider Anglican Communion, and the lid is likely to be put on that coffin in 2008 when the Lambeth Conference meets. Goodness only knows who will be elected Presiding Bishop in Columbus, Ohio, but whoever it is will, I expect, be every bit as disappointing as the present incumbent. I suspect, also, that the new Presiding Bishop is likely to continue the litany of denial that comes from New York that ECUSA is in trouble.

What really has been happening in 2005 is that clarity has emerged between those who affirm a faith, which they consider to be prophetic, and that in essence still thinks it possible to negotiate with and shape the believing in tandem with the prevailing culture, and those who believe that the faith is by its very nature counter-cultural. One of the things that those of us who are biblical and orthodox have yet to grasp, I think, is that the values we hold are so in-your-face to the culture that is emerging, that while we might be mainstream Christians we are no longer in any way mainstream Americans or Westerners. The 'left' in the church seem incapable of seeing this.

For me 2005 was a year when I had options that would have taken me out of the Episcopal Church of the USA, and I confess that there was a strong attraction, however the worst nightmare of those on the 'left' is that I (and many like me) have no intention of leaving. We are the remaining voices of sanity amidst so much insanity.

I believe that we are on the front line of the Christian conflict for this decaying culture. My mantra is that the issues of sexuality are merely presenting symptoms of far deeper challenges about the very nature of our humanity that will engross us as the century proceeds. I was pleased to see that Benedict XVI agrees with me in his most recent pronouncements!

Our task is to be missional -- that is to affirm by our words and actions the great truth that Jesus Christ is the one Way to the Father, and to keep lifting high the Cross as the means of healing the broken, soothing the hurting, and finding forgiveness of sin. We fail in our response to error when we allow church politics to take precedence over faithful proclamation. Thus, my commitment is to keep on building up this congregation that has been committed to my charge -- and using
creativity and imagination as I do so.

Our task is also to be fervent in our determination to discover and live within the context of the truth. Much of what passes for orthodox Christianity has about as much grasp of God's revelation in Holy Scripture, as what passes for Islam understands the content of the Muslim holy book.

Jon Meacham, managing editor of Newsweek, and the stepson of one of our clergy in Tennessee, wrote a wonderful review in the Christmas Day New York Times Book Review in which he displayed the very best of Anglicanism and its weakness. In the process of the review I applauded his affirmation that Christianity should engage our intellect and imagination, something that is woefully missing in a lot of what passes
for the faith in our culture.

However, in the same review he blinks and gives away the distinctive uniqueness of the Christian faith in an attempt to be pluralistic and multicultural. His instincts were right, but his theology was sloppy. While he is correctly reacting against the assertiveness of the religious right, his response demonstrates the inadequacy of American Anglicanism when it comes to understanding the fullness of the work of
Jesus Christ. It is against such a backdrop that we are called to be agents of the truth, for indeed, it truly is the Truth that will set us free.

So I come to the beginning of this New Year with both fears and great expectations. I am cautiously optimistic for the Diocese of Tennessee, I am hopeful for the Church of the Apostles, and I am committed to the revealed faith that is affirmed by the Communion. As far as ECUSA is concerned, I will continue to be part of it, but not with great enthusiasm. It has been decaying for a long time, and even at this late
stage miracles might be possible, but I am not holding my breath. To use Old Testament imagery, I think I am one of the 7,000 who has yet to bow the knee; I am part of a faithful remnant. This is not an easy ministry, but then whoever said witness would be a breeze in the hard places.


James the Thickheaded said...

"...in 2005..clarity has emerged between those who affirm a faith, which they consider to be prophetic, and that in essence still thinks it possible to negotiate with and shape the believing in tandem with the prevailing culture, and those who believe that the faith is by its very nature counter-cultural. One of the things that those of us who are biblical and orthodox have yet to grasp, I think, is that the values we hold are so in-your-face to the culture that is emerging, that while we might be mainstream Christians we are no longer in any way mainstream Americans or Westerners. The 'left' in the church seem incapable of seeing this."

Well put. Over the past few days I've read and heard plenty of Christmas lessons and sermons. Yet to me the simplest is perhaps the best: our faith, our ORTHODOX faith is perhaps as fragile and vulnerable as the babe once laid in a manger. That the Almighty should continually leave things hanging by a thread in this way to the last moment....seems incongruous. And yet I think this is the way it has always been...from the moment Abraham first dangled the knife over his son.

Today the world is perhaps now only openly anti-christian...and maybe not for the first time....but no longer afraid to wear its nominalist views. For those on the sidelines, these events matter more than might be otherwise apparent simply because currently Christians increasingly ARE the first persecutions of today's secular world...and disliked because of that for which they stand or considered to stand by those who know them not. In some deep dark place we all know this...even those of us anglo-catholics who can't help feel the need to distance ourselves from those "unwashed" Evangelicals. (We are all guilty here!!) Again, this isn't new....just more visible, and personal.

But consider that today it is also easier for the rest of us to see that this is the real challenge of age now more so than ever before. So counter cultural orthodoxy? Absolutely! It is what makes it so appealing, energizing, and alive.

Without the ties and responsibilities of a cleric, my departure from ECUSA for one of its "discredited" off-spring (the APCK) has been delightful. Instead of fighting battles beyond my understanding as to what I think God should be, I am continually pleasantly surprised to learn more about God as he truly is, and instead of challenging my faith, I am blessed to have teachings that deepend my faith and enrich its practice, worship, and offer opportunities for service.

So thank you for letting me know where you stand. This is where I stand: among the weak, without pride of place, without pride of numbers, without pride in a rich endowment or structure, without fancy titles, but with a poverty of riches measured only in the spirit of believers who would unashamedly follow those who have gone on before them over the centuries. We have no cursed pride in some sort of worldly "acceptance"...but only the faith once delivered. While many of us would now be branded outcasts by the Episcopal Church....instead of being cast into the outter darkness, we have found the sheer amount of light here one of the most pleasant surprises known. The Episcopal church is less and less something we have left, but more and more something we remember fondly as the dayspring of a newer and fuller life beyond. Should one day ECUSA recover...and I may be among the minority that believe it will....I think it fair to say most of us will rejoice in its renewal. Yet for now, that day is far beyond my lifespan.

So I admire your willingness to stand within it in a way I could not and I wish you much success. I thank you for your courage and your heart. I think I even understand your purpose and rationale. I pray that it may prove successful and strengthen you and your faithful congregation.

Consider that there are others of us who have simply gone ahead...to a place we otherwise might not have...that we might prepare a place for you. Yet in the end without you, if you never come, if you never call, we will be here...and yet nowhere special....only that in some ways, we may be where you intend to lead your people. In the meantime, do not despair, buck up your courage and fight on as charitably and imaginatively as you can for I think it is only through charity and perhaps even mercy (I dare not suggest pity) that perhaps the walls of the Establishment can be breeched.

Best to you for the new year!

Anonymous said...

Rev. Kew, I have heard wonderful things about you from former members of All Saints who now attend Holy Cross Anglican. I myself am also a FORMER member of All Saints. I must inform you that is NOT the same parish you left. The members and identy are much different and have caused many people to leave. There were several who counseled restraint but were overridden. This parish is not interested in true orthodoxy but are too focused on the gay issue. Questions about other revisions in the American Church were dismissed. Many of the most influential members are not life long Anglicans but converts from other demoninations with their own agenda. Their knowledge of the history and traditions of the Episcopal and Anglican church are non existent. As is their interest in learning these traditions I might add. You sir are remembered with great respect and affection. I wish I could have met you.

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