Saturday, September 18, 2010

Reflections on Benedict XVI's visit to Britain

Cambridge, England,
September 20, 2010

I have spent the last few days watching the coverage of the visit of Pope Benedict XVI to Britain. The Pope has shown extraordinary stamina for an 83-year-old, and great fortitude in the face of the negativity toward him from some many quarters. I suspect that Britain's historic distrust of Catholicism still lurks beneath the surface.

By the end of the Saturday evening prayer vigil in Hyde Park, London, he looked utterly exhausted -- but happy, and happier still when he had beatified John Henry Newman in Birmingham on Sunday morning. Perhaps the most moving moment for me, however, was when he and the Archbishop of Canterbury stood side-by-side on the steps of the high altar in Westminster Abbey and together pronounced the blessing at the end of the beautiful prayer service held there.

There was tension hanging in the air when he arrived, but as the days passed there was a visible thawing toward Benedict, who handled himself with great grace and courtesy. To me there has been the deepening sense that while there are huge barriers that hold us apart from our brothers and sisters in Rome, there is very much more that we have in common, especially in the face of an assertive secularism.

Interestingly, there was a mingling of Anglican, Protestant, and Catholic hymnody at the gatherings, with John Newton's "Amazing Grace"being belted out in Birmingham, while the last hymn sung at the vigil in Hyde Park was "Tell out my soul..." by Timothy Dudley-Smith, an evangelical Anglican bishop trained at Ridley Hall, Cambridge. Following that the choir sung a well-known piece by John Rutter. It seems that not only are elements of our liturgies converging, but we praising God with many of the same songs. These may be little things, but they are evidence of two streams that want to run together despite all the difficulties.

The dark side of the Pope's visit to Britain has been the constant reminders of the Roman Church's child abuse scandals. The Pope constantly apologized, as indeed he should, but for his detractors that is not enough. While the activities of a tiny minority of sick priests is detestable in the extreme, these sins should be measured alongside the extraordinary ways in which Roman Catholics in Britain have served the poor and needy, provided education, and stood firm in times of need -- all in the midst of proclaiming the love of Christ. Indeed, my own granddaughter is being educated at a Roman Catholic elementary school not far from Newman's Oratory Church in Birmingham, an education that is enriched and tempered by the evangelical Anglican parish she attends on Sunday mornings!

Yet it is this dark side of the papal visit that has added ferocity to the response of the secular left and atheism toward all things Christian. While the media have generally covered things better than I had anticipated, these opponents have been allowed to get away with things that are scurrilous, tainted by anger and viciousness. For example, on the BBC World Service the other morning a question was asked of a sophisticate of a detractor; his throwaway response that he would not deign to answer a question about "a man who wears lace and red shoes" cried out for cross-examination, but he was allowed to get away with it. While it is clear that there are some wonderful people at the BBC who have treated this visit with great grace, there are others there and in the newspaper who have taken every opportunity to cast aspersions.

After having lived back here for three years I have little doubt that Europe has been disposing of its Christian heritage with a breathless rapidity. This sexual crisis in the Roman Catholic church has certainly not helped the cause of Christ, either within Catholicism or beyond for in one way or another we are all being tarred with the same brush. It is almost impossible for a holy man like Benedict to claim any high ground when members of the priesthood have behaved so badly and seem in certain cases to have gotten away with it. This is perceived as an inconsistent hypocrisy that Christians should not be allowed to get away with, barring their access to the high moral ground.

In my more pessimistic moments I find myself wondering how on earth the churches are going to recover from this horror. Cleaning house is necessary, but the memory will remain as a scar for generations to come. This is just one more strike against the faith. Nothing short of a new Reformation and Counter-Reformation is called for, and at the moment it is hard to see from where that might come.

There is a sense of wrestling not against flesh and blood, but against principalities and powers whose reach seems almost limitless. This is a continent that is assertively and with glee turning its back on its spiritual and intellectual heritage in favor of the empty puffery of materialism, and a purposeless listlessness coupled with self-indulgence. In a way this crisis could not have come at a worse moment, but in the timing there might be evidence of just a glimmering of the providence of God. Could it be that the old traditions that have shaped European Christianity for so many centuries now must be deconstructed and reconstructed -- but this time to enable mission and not governance/control? It is certainly the case that structures that had seemed solid and immovable just a few years ago are starting to totter.

Christianity is not dead in Europe, as can be seen by the multi-national crowds that turned out to honor the Pope, but it is certainly going through a very difficult time. Could it be that the structures with which we have lived since the Reformation are in their dying days and that not too far into the future we will see a 21st Century remaking of the churches in order that they might effectively proclaim Christ to pagans, Muslims, materialists, and secularists alike? Already many are exploring new ways, something that could well snowball.

I would like to think we are on the verge of a new beginning, but first it is from relationships like those being forged through Benedict's visit that residual distrust is given permission to edge toward a more cooperative fellowship. Europe is not lost to the Christian gospel, the wounds inflicted have not been moral, but there is much to be done and prayed over in this generation if the faith focused on Jesus Christ is to begin to assert itself again in this part of the world.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Now I am sixty-five... (with apologies to A.A.Milne)

My inspiration

Cambridge, England

After a week that included torrential rain this particular day dawned bright and fair. I knew it was coming, but had stuffed the idea to the back of my mind, paying little attention to it until two or three days before it actually occurred; now I found myself early that morning sitting with my bible, my journal, and feeling glum. All sorts of thoughts ran through my mind, some of them less than charitable. I had turned sixty-five and there was no way on earth that I could ever again pretend I was young. Having been raised and worked my whole life in a culture that glorifies youthfulness, it had been possible to kid myself, but the march of time had brought any lying to myself to a conclusion.

As the day progressed greetings started popping into my Facebook inbox, together with cards through the letterbox. Most were gracious, some were humorous, one or two were rude, and my former churchwarden deigned to call me an "old man," not that I felt that old. In fact, in some ways I feel younger now than I did ten or even fifteen years ago. My brain is still working pretty well (after a fashion), and my elder daughter following her mother's genetic line has more gray hair than I do! The body is working pretty well, too, and the crippling back pain that marked my middle years seems to moved on to make someone else's life misery. I admit that I tire more easily, and am now convinced that televisions have been designed to encourage an evening nap before going to bed.

But here I am at that age when most of us are supposed to collect our clock with a little plaque on it and ride off into the sunset. Sixty-five has been perceived for several generations as the age at which you graduate from being a useful member of society to one who is spending your children's inheritance, as the old bumper sticker goes. That is changing -- for example, I cannot receive my full US Social Security for another year, while people all around us here in Britain are hopping up and down with fury about a proposed hike in the retirement age, but it will take several generations for this particular birthday to lose its sense of hope for some, and stigma for others.

I thought when I was around 45-50 and gasping under the load of college bills that retirement looked an awfully attractive option, but as the years have passed since then I have been changing my mind. I have friend and peers who are rejoicing in their new-found status as retirees, but while I respect the decisions they have made, sometimes for very good reason, it is not something that I find myself attracted to.

There are all sorts of reasons for this, but first among them is that I am not ready to leave the pitcher's mound and disappear into the dugout. Friends have said as they move toward retirement that they feel pretty worn out, and a slower life beckons. I fully understand that, and on a cold wet English winter's day when it is dark until long after breakfast and barely teatime before the sun sets again, I find myself wondering as I back my car out of the driveway why I am doing this to myself. But most of the time I find myself looking forward to the day ahead and the opportunities that are awaiting me.

Being on the staff of a theological seminary means that I no longer have to be at the helm of something, for which I am truly grateful, but in a creaking economy it can be frightening to find myself in the midst of raising a huge sum of money to insure the college's future strength and vision. Yes, I do sometimes wake up at night worrying about the challenges that lie before me. I miss parish ministry, but at the same time I get regular opportunities to preach, pastor, baptize babies, marry young couples, and bury the dead -- and that is a huge privilege. But it does mean that what I once got paid for I now do as a hobby (there is a certain penuriousness about the Church of England when it comes to clergy fees and expenses if you are a non-parochial priest).

The challenge of our campaign at Ridley Hall, Cambridge, will keep me busy for several years yet, and meanwhile I am part of a congregation where I am able to make a significant contribution -- I might slow down a little but thiswill mean that my modus operandi is altering to be more that of the tortoise/turtle than the hare! I believe with all my heart that those of us who have been around for a while still have a huge contribution to make, even if it is not as part of the mainstream of our society or church.

I have been reading a book by several faculty from Duke Divinity School and one or two others entitled Growing Old in Christ, and have found myself appreciating their notion that growing old, becoming a elder, is not the problem that our culture wants to make it be, but a privilege that the church would do well to honor -- and we would do well to live into. My emotions like the idea, but I am still in the process of getting my mind around it.

The evidence suggests that my generation are likely to have a devil of a job adjusting to being old, senior, elders, golden-agers. Many have not saved for this chapter of their lives, some have ragged familial relationships, and others still are likely to find that the hedonism of their youth will not hold them into old age. This places a huge opportunity in front of the Christian churches, and it will be those of us who are in the final quarter of life who are best positioned to help them over the ultimate threshold that awaits us all.

Am I happy to be sixty-five? Not really, but it does seem that there is an awful lot waiting to be done. As Billy Graham once said when asked about retirement, "I don't read anything in my bible about the apostles retiring." I have been on a bit of a Robert Frost jag of late so let me leave the last words with him as he paused in the New Hampshire snows:

The woods are lovely dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Whatever happened to discussion and dialogue?

Whatever happened to dialogue and discussion? It seems that much that passes as interchange has disappeared, with the online world being the biggest killing field. Almost everywhere you go looking for intelligent input there is little or no thoughtful response to something that has been said or been posted. An honest and astute interplay of ideas is becoming rare because instead of responding rationally people seem determined to respond viscerally, ad hominen, and with raw emotions rather than enquiring mind.

Online forums (fora?) have become settings in which moderating or dissenting voices are literally drowned out by those who shout and pontificate. Each online setting develops its own peculiar brand of political correctness, and woe betide anyone who crosses a particular line in the sand. Often these correctnesses are contrary to the original intention of the owner of the site, and they will lean heavily in one direction or another. There is in many places what can be described as a Rush Limbaugh approach to conversation: not to listen to what another is saying but to shout the so-and-so down because he or she has no right to say such things in this setting, and besides, any fool knows that their position is wrong and not worthy of serious consideration.

The result of such a quarrelsome modus operandi is animosity so that those with helpful insights on a particular subject in that setting refuse to post there any longer because, honestly, life is too short to put up with that sort of wrangling. There is a particular site that I have visited for a long, long time and will probably continue to visit because it is helps me to stay up-to-date with things that are going on, but last week I wrote the owner to say that I will no longer be contributing because I just don't have the stomach for the bruisings I so often have been given. I am delighted to engage with people who read the materials and want to discuss them, but I am no longer willing to be treated as if I am weak in the head, apostate, someone who taken up arms against the western world.

Wherever I look, on either side of the Atlantic, there is animus being hurled around online as one adamant group takes on the other. Scurrilous things are said which people should not be allowed to get away with -- but because people like me have now opted out, they do. This only makes them bolder, less reflective, and more bombastic, so the whole sorry cycle is intensified. Whatever one's principles or presuppositions, some of the things that I have read about the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, the President of the United States, the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Newt Gingrich, James Dobson, and so on, and so on, should be challenged because they are a parody of the reality. If there is such a thing as freedom of speech, and I believe there is, then individuals should not be allowed to get away with some of the things they write or say.

In a sane and ordered setting this is possible, but in one where an unyielding pack mentality prevails, the pack's job is to pounce on anyone who strays into their little domain and questions what they hold to be precious and true. Anyone doing so reaches the point in the end where we find there is no longer any delight in banging our heads against this particular brick wall. Besides, no one is listening. The result is that creative debate does not take place, lines in the sand become concrete bunkers, and constructive dissent becomes impossible.

When I was in seminary and university in what is now the distant past we were rigorously schooled in the fundamentals of logic so that we might learn rationally to analyze an argument and respond to it in an informed and reasonable manner. It was some of the most valuable teaching I had, but in today's forums that rules of logic and principles of rhetoric have all but disappeared. We have delineated ourselves into what are essentially two armed camps slugging things out. Moderating voices are sidelined and so the answers now HAVE to be right or wrong, black or white, left or right, liberal or conservative, traditional or progressive, and so forth, and so forth.

I am not sure that discussion in most places on the Internet as they are presently configured can be redeemed, partly because I am not sure that those who shout and holler from atop their particular soap box want to hear any other position or view than their own. They are convinced that they are right, they have the truth, and others are so wrong that alternative voices do not deserve to be heard. To function this way is to stray into very dangerous territory that will have disasterous consequences in the long term.

When this happens among Christian people then we have to examine ourselves to see if this is how we learned Christ.

(Also posted on

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

The planned new facility at Ridley Hall

I was walking the dog across the fens as the sun was starting to set the other evening when Gordon Brown drove to Buckingham Palace and tendered his resignation to the Queen, by the time I was home the new Prime Minister was on his was to 10 Downing Street to take up the reins of office, as many have said, perhaps accepting a chalice poisoned by the ailing British economy.

At the back of my mind was anxiety about what the markets would make of all this -- we are certainly in for some roller-coasters and months of uncertainty as soon-to-be proposed debt-reduction measures are brought into play. Just yesterday the markets tumbled and the value of the euro plummeted. A layman has to be asking questions about what this means.

This last week has felt something like those days in November 2000 when the Florida election was twisting in the wind because of hanging chads. There was that sense of deep uncertainty, fear and hope mingling with one another at each turn in the road that finally delivered a Conservative/Liberal Democrat coalition. This was the first time Liberals have even sniffed power, with the exception of World War Two, since 1922.

What does seem to be clear is that while not wanting to give anyone a majority, the British people are getting ready to grit their teeth and accept that the finances are a mess, there are debts to be paid, so we had better hunker down and do something about it. That fiscal tightening will hurt us all as taxes rise, services diminish, and discomfort increases in all sorts of ways. The truth is that the British people have been spending too much, saving too little, manufacturing has shrivelled, and despite all the vitriol that has been thrown at the banks, it has been the huge financial sector that has done a lot of the economic heavy lifting for too long.

As someone whose job is to raise money this is just a tightening of the screw that will make my work just that little bit more difficult. Development work in Britain is not easy at the best of times, as there is just not the tradition of giving here that there is in the USA, but now we are being stretched that little bit further.

As we have moved forward with the major capital campaign on which we are working at Ridley Hall, Cambridge, we have been acutely aware of God's leading and guiding along the route that we have taken. If that leading is into a long wilderness journey, then so be it. Our task is to follow in hard times as well as good. This task we are involved in is of great importance for the future of Christian witness in a university city like Cambridge, and to the ends of the earth. So let us get on and do it, anticipating that God will open the windows of heaven in some way or another.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

I have been Kindled

I am now well and truly Kindled!

After I had been kicking the idea around for months, at Christmas my family bought me an Amazon Kindle and in one leap I entered the age of digital reading. My idea was that having a Kindle would be much more convenient than lugging round armfuls of books as my travel schedule on planes, trains, buses, and automobiles expanded, and then there was the fact that the Kindle could help conserve the limited bookshelf space that we have.

I didn't have great ambitions for my Kindle at the outset, it was more about convenience than anything. But to my surprise I have fallen in love with this approach to reading and at this precise moment there are fifty-eight items on this little piece of equipment with room for about 1200 more. It is possible to carrying around a veritable library, and the whole thing weighs less than a pound. These days wherever I go I am able to take with me the Bible, the Book of Common Prayer, the compete works of Shakespeare and Jane Austen, the whole of Sherlock Holmes, a whole scad of novels, some serious works of study and biography, and even PDF files that I need for my work. In there also is the American Oxford Dictionary, as well as the ability to switch on the wireless facility and download whatever I want from Amazon's library of about 450,000 electronic titles. I can even go online if I want to.

Several weeks ago I was reading in bed when reference was made to a title that I thought sounded interesting. I went exploring to see if by any chance Amazon had the book on its downloadable list -- they did, and so as I lay there under the covers I got it for myself to read and seconds later it was corralled on my Kindle and backed up both on my laptop and at Amazon's great cloud in the sky.

Since moving back to England I have been distinctly underwhelmed by the British press, but that problem has been solved by Kindle. I have always loved the International Herald Tribune, and each morning I turn my Kindle on a five o'clock when I get up and within seconds there is the daily paper, waiting to be read while I drink my first cup of tea of the day, and do my daily devotions.

Yesterday evening I came home from work, changed, and went out to the garage to pump my exercise bike. Kindle came with me. Before beginning to pedal I set up the text-to-speech capability and listened to pages of news from the paper as I looked after my body. I confess that I don't like the female voice that the Kindle has, it sounds too electronic and tinny, but apart from the occasional odd pronunciation the male voice is very listen-able to. I suspect that several generations of text-to-speech from now it will be difficult to tell that it is not a human voice that we're listening to, and we will probably be able to choose timbre and accent.

If I was into MP3s in a huge way I could store and play them on my Kindle, but I am a book person, and if I want to listen to music it will be classical on the radio or one of my nice CDs. I know that CDs are now considered old-fashioned, but I grew up in the day of vinyl records that galloped around the turntable at 78 rpm, so having it all on a disc makes me feel comfortable.

A fascinating title that I have on my Kindle is Publish Your Own Book on the Amazon Kindle. I haven't yet cracked it open, but it is enticing to think that it is entirely possible with a laptop and this Kindle technology to sidestep the publishers who might not be interested in a small niche market -- and do it myself.

Of course the Kindle has its shortcomings, and it is at present limited in ways that will not be the case as each new generation of the technology is launched. Already Amazon are strengthening their position for the future in this whole realm. I bought a hybrid car in December 2001, and although people thought I was nuts, we loved it. When I moved to England in September 2007 I bought the same model but six years on -- and the technology has moved on in leaps and bounds during that period of time. The e-reader will be the same. It probably won't be long before the Kindle produces huge pages in color as well as black-and-white, but for most of my reading a spectrum of shades is not necessary. I expect in due course it will get slimmer, lighter, swisher in its presentation of itself, but right now I am perfectly content with this approach to reading.

I would happily admit that the Kindle is probably not for everyone or for every type of literature. When I am working hard with what I will call a study book I go to and fro between the pages, underline, write comments in the margins, and so forth. While such a thing is possible with the Kindle it's a bit clunky. Also, because you can vary the size of the font so that page numbers don't work, distance into the book is measured by what it calls 'locations.' It took me a while to work out that these are the number of sentences. Page numbers really are an easier way of remembering where something is.

I suspect I am in the process of moving from a single approach to reading from books, magazines, etc., to a mixed economy of hard copy and my e-reader. Some things will work better in print, others on the nice little screen which doesn't glare at me, and to all intents and purposes looks like a page.

When I took my Kindle on its first transatlantic flight six or seven weeks ago I was afraid that the battery might give out on me. The fear was groundless. I could have gone around the world on one battery charge not just across three thousand miles of water or so. I reckon that the Kindle has about a 20-25 hour charge depending on how carefully you use it. I defy anyone to read for that long in one stretch!

So, as I say, I'm Kindled. I bought my first laptop (then called a portable computer) in 1988. It was a computer, yes, but not portable by today's standards, yet this technology in a few short years zipped forward and revolutionized the way we handle information. Today's Kindle is probably where the computing industry was with mobile computing in about 1990, and already there are other models and technologies nipping at Amazon's heels. We will have to see whether the reader by Plastic Logic or Apple's IPad are serious contenders, or whether the Kindle will stumble and give way to other software and hardware options in the future...

... but right now I would encourage you to think about Kindling yourself!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Apostolic Constitution Anglicanorum Coetibus is not all it seems

There is much about the Roman Catholic Church that I have come to appreciate over the years: Catholic colleagues whose fellowship has been the source of much blessing, occasional opportunities at Catholic worship that have enriched, and joint projects with Catholics that have been fruitful. Having grown up with a somewhat negative Protestant attitude toward the Church of Rome, I have come over the years to benefit from their particular graces and charisms.

Yet, alas, there seems to be almost an imperialism about the Catholic tradition that allows for little variance from their church's dogma.

Given the concerns Pope Benedict has about the secularism and godlessness of Europe (and so out into all the world), it seems that some kind of common front under the charmanship of the Bishop of Rome would be of great benefit to the churches. This, of course, would require a measure of acceptance of the differing emphases of other Christians by Catholics, especially those of us who are rooted and grounded in the historic creeds and statements of faith of the church. However, it is sad that Rome is not able to stretch that far.

The whole recent flap around the Pope's overtures to dissident Anglicans is an example of this. I understand very well that there are fellow-Anglicans who have lost confidence in the Anglican tradition, and if their own faith is more happily accommodated in the Roman setting, then so be it. But as we mull over the small print it seems to be more hard line than the gentle invitation of concerned fellow-Christians.

A genuine, fraternal invitation, for example, would at the very least turn the expectation of re-confirmation and re-ordination into conditional rites, but Rome seems unwilling to reconsider the 1896 declaration that Anglican orders are, in effect, no orders at all. This un-churching of Anglicans has a tang of dishonesty about it because on the ground in most settings Anglican and Catholic clergy work alongside one another, mutually accept one another's status as ministers of word and sacraments.

The Apostolic Constitution makes it quite clear that the Catechism of the Catholic Church is definitive theologically and doctrinally for all those who move along the path Rome is offering, which, in effect, obliterates theology that is distinctively Anglican and nullifies the richness of the Anglican tradition. You can come in, we are being told, but you have to leave what we perceive to be Protestant baggage at the door.

As I read the small print of the Apostolic Constitution Anglicanorum Coetibus, it is phrased in such a way as to suggest that only certain Anglican liturgical texts will be acceptable for use by those who want to make this transition, which would suggest that anything that does not dot the 'i's and cross the 't's of Roman Catholic eucharistic theology, etc., will be unacceptable. This would then probably declare out of court much of the historic Prayer Book tradition which has been the foundation of Anglican life for nearly half a millennium.

While I don't really wish to nitpick to death this document that codifies an invitation that some are likely to take up, the more I look at it the more I suspect the spirit in which this invitation has been made. It comes from a mindset that because it believes it is the one true expression of the Christian faith, it possesses the trump cards, and can demand rather than entering into conversation accepting the graces and charisms of another tradition.

Last week I cooperated with the most gracious Roman Catholic priest in the funeral Mass and burial of my nominally Roman Catholic brother-in-law. The priest was a prince among men, godly and caring, and the manner in which he presided over the Eucharist was both sensitive and genuinely moving. He was genuinely embarrassed that he could not invite to the Lord's table those Christians of other traditions, so there I sat behind the altar, with my faithful Anglican extended family sitting in the pews (together with a few family Baptists), while the handful of Catholics present took participated in the sacrament.

This to me was an acted parable of the situation in which we find ourselves as two Communions that maybe respect one another, but nevertheless talk past each other. By excluding Anglicans from their sacramental life they are treating us as non-Christians, while at the same time in the day-to-day elements of church life in local communities considering one another to be believers. The are plenty places in the world where Anglicans and Catholics even share the same buildings. If the Catholic priest had not thought me a Christian, would he have allowed me to preach in his church, and would he have accepted that committal by me according to the Book of Common Prayer was appropriate in any shape or form?

In the Apostolic Constitution the Roman Catholic Church is saying, "Well, if you jump through the hoops we think necessary then we will accept you," while all the time jumping through those hoops is a negating of what are already our convictions -- in which they may see inadequacies, but little fundamental heresy.

The challenge facing us is missional, and it gets more pressing as each day passes. While accepting that each church has its own ordering that should be respected and taken seriously, it would seem that the time has come for Rome to be willing to enter a conversation with the same generosity as is expected of Anglican Christians.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Reflections on the 20/20 Report of 2001

A couple of weeks ago, while looking for something else, I ran across a copy of the Report of the 20/20 Task Force of the Episcopal Church, produced in 2000-2001 at the request of the General Convention. For a few minutes I thumbed through its pages, remembering the rising sense of excitement experienced by those of us who were part of that Task Force, and drew up the report. Now the Report was far from perfect, but looking back over the work we had done I realized afresh that our prognosis and prescription, if applied, could have done a significant amount positively for the Episcopal Church.

The 20/20 Initiative was deceptively simple: it was to do all that we can to double the size of the Episcopal Church between 2000 and 2020. Such notions have visionary potential, and we felt that as we did our work, this was more about launching a movement rather than becoming mired in a program. Perhaps those of us who were part of the 20/20 Task Force were naive, but we were cautiously optimistic that our recommendations would be taken seriously, and if that happened that they would bring a fresh evangelistic fervor to the church. Doubling the size may have been a little optimistic, but we believed that the Episcopal Church was capable of a good crack at that sort of challenge.

A few days after I had reacquainted myself with the 20/20 Report the 2008 Episcopal Church statistics were published. They do not make happy reading. While numbers may not be everything, they are a record of just about wholesale retreat on every front. Rather than being twice the size it was by 2020, things will be going well if it is only half the size. And like a patient ignoring the doctor's warning after a full physical comes up with some disturbing outcomes, the denomination continues to deny the realities.

We had worked hard during 2000 and 2001 to come up with this Report, which we then took to the Executive Committee in October 2001. It was hardly a fortuitous moment for the nation was still reeling from the shock of 9/11, so grief and anxiety were never far from the surface. But we made the best of the opportunity.

The Executive Council was meeting at a pleasant hotel on the Jacksonville Beaches in Florida, but even before we made our presentation I sensed a degree of hostility toward what we were all about. Our potential agenda was passe, another was brewing and would eventually prevail. We would, no doubt, be indulged, it was highly likely that the product we presented would be watered down to the point of being neutralized, with the institution pulling its teeth and domesticating it. That is precisely what happened.

The agenda which prevailed, and which would start having its most significant impact around the General Convention of 2003, was already gathering momentum. Since that time the church has been divided, financial resources have been dwindling, and the shrinkage has been nothing short of disasterous. Congregations, clergy, bishops, dioceses, have headed for the exits, with litigation being used as never before in the history of the Episcopal Church. Church planting, which was an encouraging component of church life in 2000, is virtually at a standstill, and heads are buried deep in the sand whenever anyone attempts to make honest sense of the truly appalling statistics that get dished up now each year. What is bizarrely fascinating is that no one seems to have the heart to ask the very difficult questions of this distressing reality, or act constructively upon them.

For me, the final chance of an exciting future for the Episcopal Church was nailed into the coffin not during General Convention 2003, but at that meeting of the Executive Council in a comfortable hotel by the beach in Florida in 2001, when the 20/20 Report was received with phony smiles and blue-penciled to death. I think that was when the Episcopal Church broke my heart, what followed from that time was merely a further trampling of it into the dust. That was when I retreated, burying myself back in parish ministry and avoiding the national scene.

It was, however, while I was at that hotel in Jacksonville Beach that I had the worst nocturnal experience of my life. Not long after switching off the light one night, and when I wasn't sure whether I was asleep or partially awake, I found myself face-to-face with a kind of gray featureless creature which was doing its level best to suffocate me. I was in terror, and truly thought I was dead and was being dragged down to hell. My body thrashed as I fumbled for the light switch. When eventually I managed to illuminate the room I was alone, drenched in sweat, heart pounding like a sledgehammer, and frightened out of my wits. It was a long time before I was calm enough to face the darkness again, and try to get back to sleep.

I have spent eight years attempting to make sense of that episode, whose reality is as intense and frightening today as when it happened. Did it emanate from somewhere inside me? Was it something to do with the room in which I was staying? Did it have something to do with the recent events at Ground Zero and the Pentagon? Or, perhaps, was it related in some way to the spiritual conflict related to the Executive Council meeting? I cannot answer these questions with any sense of certainty, which would be presumptuous. It may have been due to none of the above, or all of them may have somehow contributed to this particularly unpleasant situation.

What I do know is that imperfect as the proposals of the 20/20 Report might have been, the Episcopal Church would have been a very different place today if the strategy suggested had been pursued. If a red-blooded 20/20 had happened perhaps there would not have been the agonizing parting of friends, perhaps the financial dilemmas would be ameliorated, and perhaps the challenge would have continued to be planting new congregations, while training to recruit and train the sort of leaders who could nurture these little green shoots and turn them into something significant.

During these last years there have been many casualties, and perhaps I am one of them. I remain a priest in good standing of the Episcopal Church, but my ministry is now an ocean away. I find what I am doing fulfilling, satisfying, and (I hope) making a constructive contribution to the advance of God's Kingdom. However, the temperature of my passions starts to rise when I think of the extraordinary adventure 20/20 would have been as a movement in the hands of the Holy Spirit.