Admiral of Morality: October 2007

Monday, October 29, 2007

My time in York

Don Taylor, the Vicar Bishop of New York, recently returned from sabbatical at York, in the north of England. He reported about his time there for the Diocese in the recent issue of the diocesan magazine, which you can find here.

Bishop Taylor has served various parishes around the Church as deacon, assistant, rector, and bishop. He was born and raised in Jamaica, where he was greatly influenced by his paternal grandmother, Adina Taylor, and his headmaster, the Right Reverend Percival William Gibson, who later became Lord Bishop of Jamaica and ordained him to the Diaconate and to the Priesthood.

Bishop Taylor has always had a keen interest in evangelism. At his first posting, at St. Mary's in Kingston, Jamaica,the Parish grew from a tiny mission of about 50 souls to a large and flourishing Parish of over 2,000.

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I last took a sabbatical 19 years ago. Then the Bishop of the Virgin Islands, I spent a month at home reading and reflecting on the direction of my ministry. My wife was struggling with cancer at the time, and I needed to be close to her. Four years later, after my wife’s death, I was again planning a sabbatical when I was called to be the Vicar Bishop for New York City. It was suggested I defer sabbatical for a year; 13 years later, my time came. It was well worth the wait.

I spent June and July in “Old” York with the permission of the new Archbishop of York, His Grace, the Most Rev. and Rt. Hon. John M. Sentamu, an immigrant from Uganda. The Dean of York, the Very Rev. Keith Jones, and his wife, Viola, provided me housing in the deanery. The archbishop’s chaplain and the clergy of York Minster were generous with their time and advice.

The bishops and deans of the Northern Province opened doors for me and provided otherwise impossible insights. In two months, I also visited the dioceses of Blackburn, Bradford, Liverpool, Carlisle and Manchester.

“Evangelism in the Anglican Tradition,” is a passion of my ministry. For me, it involves proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ; leading people to accept the claims of the Gospel; and leading such persons to use the gifts given them by the Hold Spirit to become full, active participants in the Christian community.

My zeal for evangelism has grown during my tenure in New York; its importance sharpened by the challenge of reaching immigrants from all over world. I focused my sabbatical on gaining a better understanding of this challenge. The way evangelism plays out may vary from one location to another, but each community of faith offers a unique perspective.

Many of the dioceses of the Northern Province are working hard to teach the Gospel in constantly changing communities, and in places where immigrants are unfamiliar with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. York, where the Gospel has been proclaimed faithfully for more than a thousand years to a wide range of people, presented a good place for me to look, listen and learn. In many ways the challenges we face in New York are very much the same as they face in York; therefore we have much to share.

(I was fortunate to be in York when the General Synod of the Church of England met. As a visitor, seated in the gallery, I was able to see firsthand how the Church of England conducts business.)

How will this exposure enrich my ministry in New York? We face similar challenges.

New York and “Old” York are challenged to present the Gospel in a world that no longer places God at the center of its life; where non-Christian faiths compete with Christianity for people’s minds and souls, especially the young. Aware of this challenge, the Church of England implements a variety of programs–social service, education and advocacy–to expose people to Jesus’ love.

The Diocese of Bradford, which straddles a large Islamic community, presents a particular challenge. Here, interfaith dialogue has advanced an understanding of the fundamental tenets of Christian faith on many levels. I attended a Christian/Islamic relations seminar that opened my mind to important aspects of Islamic faith and culture.

I also made discoveries in mission and ministry. In rural areas, much the same as in New York, the Province of York cannot sustain one priest per parish. I met a priest who oversaw 11 small, rural congregations, but who was happy and fulfilled in his ministry. In many cases the yoking of congregations did not destroy the identity or the structure of the individual congregation. And the use lay ministers, non-stipendiary and retired clergy provided an added resource, further enriching the blend. In one instance, several small congregations shared a youth leader to provide otherwise absent Christian education and catechetical instruction.

Maintaining shared ministry necessitates a centralized structure, but I didn’t get the sense that it stifled or curtailed local, spontaneous initiative; rather it sparked conversation and removed the sense of isolation small congregations often feel. A central structure allows small congregations to focus on the mission of Jesus Christ, whereas strain diverts their energy from mission.

Lastly, I was deeply touched by the warm and generous affection the Church of England holds for The Episcopal Church, USA. Everywhere I went clergy and lay people went out of their way to show me that they love and cherish the TEC as part of the Anglican Communion.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

The evangelical crackup

The backlash against the incestuous relationship between many evangelical theologians and the Republican Party, and the U.S. wars in the Middle East, has begun to expose the faultlines amongst evangelicals, The New York Times magazine reports.

Their article notes that some previously circumspect evangelical leaders have begun to openly criticize the leadership of the Christian conservative political movement, practically impossible even a year ago.

“The quickness to arms, the quickness to invade [Iraq], I think that caused a kind of desertion of what has been known as the Christian right,” says Bill Hybels , whose Willow Creek Association now includes 12,000 churches. "People who might be called progressive evangelicals or centrist evangelicals are one stirring away from a real awakening.”

Many evangelicals see themselves moving closer to traditionally mainline positions on social issues. They often find themselves becoming more comfortable with the idea of transformative social engagement and justice, as a Biblical imperative, and as a vehicle for spiritual formation.

The New York Times Magazine has the full story.

Friday, October 26, 2007

First Dumbledore, then Rowan Williams. What's next?

If bad anagrams come in threes, please Lord, take me now

The Potter-verse was thrown for a loop when author J.K. Rowling announced she had always imagined one of the main characters in the "Harry Potter" series -- Albus Dumbledore -- to be gay.

Even the most diligent "Harry Potter" scholars found themselves caught unaware. But could anyone have seen this coming? Did Rowling leave any clues in the book?

Yes, and for those versed in Biblical numerology and alphabetology, it was an open secret for years that Dumbledore is gay, because his name is in fact an anagram for "Male bods rule, bud."

As if this week hasn't seen enough shocking Rowan Williams revelations, now comes word (sic) of what has been suspected in some parts, that Williams has a "silli maw" and may in fact be an "ill swami."

Do the math....

I like your Christ; your Christians, not so much

I believe it was Gandhi that once said, "I like your Christ. I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ."

I've always thought about those words and what they meant to me in my own experiences with other Christians.

Then when I read a survey by the Barna Group, a Christian research organization, my worst suspicions were confirmed.

The survey was about how young people view Christianity, and it showed that among 16-29-year-olds, young people have never been more critical and skeptical of Christianity.

When asked to choose their perceptions of Christians from a list of 10 positive and 10 negative, nine out of the top 12 perceptions were negative.

The survey cited feelings of disengagement and disillusionment among young people as a primary reason for this.

Whereas a decade ago, the majority of non-Christians had a favorable view of Christians, that rate now sits at 16 percent.

Which group draws most of the ire from non-Christians?

Well, if you are the average Baylor student, you need only look in the mirror -- only 3 percent of people expressed positive views of evangelicals.

But don't use this as an excuse to get all high and mighty and cry about how our society is hostile toward Christianity, and that increased persecution is a sign of the end times and that if prayer would not have ever been taken out of schools and blah blah blah... .

Just consider this: Half of young Christians themselves echoed the same sentiments -- that they "perceive Christianity to be judgmental, hypocritical and too political."

I often find myself within this camp.

Simply put, I think the church as an institution, our leaders -- perhaps even some of our parents -- have failed us.

Over the past few decades, while mainline Protestantism was growing out of touch with modernity, evangelicals became too radicalized and began to turn many people off. Suddenly, seeking people were forced to choose. Well, many young people have chosen now, and they choose neither.

Respondents to this poll gave deeply intimate stories of experiences that have turned them off to Christianity -- not broad, sweeping generalizations. Finally, there is statistical evidence for what we have already known all along but were just afraid to admit to ourselves.

This shouldn't be too surprising. Yes, we live in a post-modern society, and it shouldn't be a shock that young people are so detached.

But supposing you are a Christian, the fact of the matter is that what's being done in our name (particularly by the Christian far right) is killing Christianity. Since they are often the people who hijack the dialogue and speak loudest, they are the ones the public most often sees.

Consider this a plea to those so-called Christians. The next time you malevolently condemn homosexuals, try to get creationism into classrooms or join the cries for war, just remember: The rest of us are watching.

For the rest of us, we should make it a fundamental aspect of our faith to oppose these markedly un-Christian actions that turn people off to Christianity.

It's good to know the observations of someone outside the faith. We must always be looking for the plank in our own eye, before we look for the splinter in others.

It helps us to take inventory of ourselves and learn what we can be doing better to let the world know what we are really about.

Gandhi also said that what passes as Christianity these days is a negation of the Sermon on the Mount.

I think he was right.

Brad Briggs is a senior at Baylor University in Texas. He wrote this for the student paper there, The Lariat Online.

Friday, October 12, 2007

To till it and keep it: Al Gore wins Nobel Prize

Former Vice President Al Gore won the Nobel Peace Prize for his work on global warming, capping a remarkable year where he also won an Academy Award for his global warming documentary, "An Inconvenient Truth."

In its citation announcing the prize, the Nobel Committee in Stockholm said that the former VP "has for a long time been one of the world's leading environmentalist politicians. He became aware at an early stage of the climatic challenges the world is facing. His strong commitment, reflected in political activity, lectures, films and books, has strengthened the struggle against climate change. He is probably the single individual who has done most to create greater worldwide understanding of the measures that need to be adopted."

The New York Times has the story.

The Nobel Committee has the announcement.

The Holy Bible has the instruction:

Genesis 2:1-15: "In the day that the Lord God made the earth and the heavens, when no plant of the field was yet in the earth and no herb of the field had yet sprung up—for the Lord God had not caused it to rain upon the earth, and there was no one to till the ground; but a stream would rise from the earth, and water the whole face of the ground— then the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being. And the Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east; and there he put the man whom he had formed. Out of the ground the Lord God made to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food, the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil....The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it."

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Duly Noted

The Primates of Porvoo

Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams was among the Primates of the Porvoo Communion meeting Tuesday at Church House in Dublin, Ireland, as part of a regular series of discussions and gatherings of the Porvoo Communion. The Primates of the Porvoo Communion meet every two years for prayer and reflection and to discuss matters of common interest.

The Porvoo Communion is a communion of Anglican churches in Europe and several Evangelical Lutheran Churches in the Nordic and Baltic countries. Named after the Porvoo Agreement, signed in Porvoo Cathedral, Finland, the churches are in full communion with each other and recognise each others ministry and sacraments.

Amongst the Church leaders present were the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Revd Dr Rowan Williams; the Archbishop of Armagh, the Most Revd Alan Harper OBE; the Archbishop of Dublin, the Most Revd Dr John Neill; and the Archbishop of Turku (Finland) the Most Revd Jukka Paarma, who is the senior Bishop from the Nordic and Baltic regions. Bishops representing the other Anglican churches in Britain and Europe and the Lutheran Churches in Scandinavia and the Baltic countries, were also present.

Here is the homepage of the Porvoo Communion, with information about the signatory churches, historical documents, and other information.

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New Archbishop for South Africa, by those who know him

With the reputation of a quietly spoken priest dedicated to the upliftment of the marginalised, Thabo Makgoba, the newly elected Archbishop of Cape Town and Metropolitan of the Anglican Church of Southern Africa, is expected to be as effective, but much less high-profile, than his predecessors, says the Guardian and Mail of South Africa.

Makgoba, 47, will become the youngest archbishop of South Africa when he is installed at the end of this year. He grew up under apartheid in the notoriously poor Johannesburg townships of Soweto and Alexandra, where opposition to apartheid crystallized in the 1980s. He is known for his commitment to social justice, for closing the gaps between rich and poor, and for calling for a "spiritual reconstruction" of his nation. He is currently on sabbatical at Harvard.

Makgoba has spoken often about his support for the Millennium Development Goals and for urging governments to do more to end poverty and illiteracy, and protect human rights. Earlier this year, he signed a "Call for a more Pastoral Response to Gay Christian Partnerships of Faithful Commitment from the Anglican Church of South Africa."

The call comes in the wake of South Africa's recently promulgated Civil Unions Act, and highlighted the "need to avoid the assumption of dogmatic certainty, and [to] leave room for the diversity of convictions on these matters", that "homosexual orientation is not regarded as somehow sinful" and that "gays need not change their sexuality (even if that were possible)" to be Anglicans.

Friday, October 05, 2007

The Mail

Admiral: I read with some interest (not much to be honest, since your site does not agree with me) your recent comments regarding the bishops meeting in New Orleans. Sadly I must conclude that the bishops missed a great opportunity to retreat from their path and join the rest of us Christians. As for me and my family we no longer are Episcopalians because the harm is too great. Please enjoy eternal damnation. Signed, Mr. DB Hosking
Sir: Thank you for the note. I welcome, as I am sure many do, your continued interest in the Episcopal Church in the United States of America and our House of Bishops. Since as you say, you no longer attend one of our churches, but have perhaps found a new home, I wish you well on your journey. If as you say, I am destined for the pit, I place my hope in Christ, to save me, and you, from such a fate, as I no doubt expect you do as well. Yours, The AoM

Admiral: I take it your (sic) sitting just fine with the pass you got in New Orleans. It's a complete joke. Signed, Anonymous
Sir: The deliberations and resolutions out of New Orleans have come with great effort, cost, and pain to many people. I do not consider the work of many people of good will, nor their prayerful deliberation, to be a joke. Instead I see in this a clear signal that our church, which in Philadelphia in 1789 immediately after constituting itself, committed itself to being in close contact and service with the See of Canterbury, from whose sphere it had sprung, remains so committed; and from that See and its affiliated bodies, likewise, an ongoing willingness and need to remain in close contact and service with us. Now no doubt there are some who like you, consider these relations wasted, illogical, wrong, impossible, terrible, and a host of any other things. But in fact, and God willing, this work will continue, as it has for many centuries, because this work of cooperation, discussion, and gathering worship and prayer, is essential to the lives of those who undertake it. It is also essential to those who might see in these relations, however faint they might be, some echoes of the Lord's vineyard. Yours, The AoM

Admiral: By now I'm sure you've seen all the articles in the papers and blogs and everywhere else about the new fall season. Any thoughts? Signed, Miss B. Walker
Miss: The reception at sea is generally acceptable but since it has so often been spotty I have not kept up much for some time, with anything. However. If I were to watch something in the new lineup, I might be tempted to take a look at "Torchwood." Yours, The AoM

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Anglican Communion committee sends out report

The committee of Primates and Anglican Consultative Council members, has sent out its report on the recent House of Bishops meeting. The committee was in New Orleans at the invitation of the Diocese of Louisiana and ++Katharine.

The Archbishop of Canterbury asked the committee to reflect on the bishops' statements, and he is now in receipt of their report. He has forwarded it to all the Primates and to all members of the Anglican Consultative Council and asked them to consult in their Provinces on the report, and to respond to him by the end of October.

The full report in pdf is held here at the Anglican Communion Office.

It's a 20-odd page document divided into two sections, the first looking at the response to the questions asked of the bishops, and the second, focusing on pastoral responses to gays and lesbians, and theological minorities.

Here are some of the relevant findings:

• "The Episcopal Church has clarified all outstanding questions relating to their response to the questions directed explicitly to them in the Windsor Report, and on which clarifications were sought by 30th September 2007, and given the necessary assurances sought of them."

• At the Dar Es Salaam meeting last February, the Communion sub-group appointed by the Archbishop to determine if The Episcopal Church had met the requests of the Windsor Report, found that it had. The joint committee confirms this finding, stating that the Church by its actions has "clearly affirmed that the Communion Sub-Group were correct in interpreting Resolution B033 as meeting the request of the Windsor Report."

• All the Instruments of Communion must be consulted and must participate in Communion-wide matters and the Archbishop should assign his "Panel of Reference" to facilitate this.

• The "episcopal visitor" plan proposed by ++Katharine "has opened a way forward"; dissenting parishes and dioceses should use this framework and find resolutions "within the structures of The Episcopal Church"

• Interventions by other bishops, including consecrations, destabilize the Anglican Communion and must be halted. The interventions have taken place "either without consultation with or even against the counsel of the Archbishop of Canterbury."

• Halting interventions is a key recommendation of the Windsor Report. "We do not see how certain primates can in good conscience call upon The Episcopal Church to meet the recommendations of the Windsor Report while they find reasons to exempt themselves from paying regard to them. We recommend that the Archbishop remind them of their own words and undertakings."

• Local episcopal jurisdiction is fundamental to Episcopal/Anglican identity. "The House of Bishops of The Episcopal Church is reminding all Anglicans that we are committed to upholding the principle of local jurisdiction. Not only do the ancient councils of the Church command our respect on this question, but the principle was clearly articulated and defended at the time when the very architecture of the Anglican Communion was forged in the early Lambeth Conferences, as well as being clearly re-iterated and stated in more recent times as tensions have escalated."

• The Episcopal Church has called attention to the role of gays and lesbians in our churches; the listening process must be intensified.

• The life of the Anglican Communion must move forward. "With the response of the House of Bishops of the Episcopal Church in September 2007, the Communion should move towards closure on these matters, at least for the time being. The Communion seems to be converging around a position which says that while it is inappropriate to proceed to public Rites of Blessing of same-sex unions and to the consecration of bishops who are living in sexual relationships outside of Christian marriage, we need to take seriously our ministry to gay and lesbian people inside the Church and the ending of discrimination, persecution and violence against them. Here, The Episcopal Church and the Instruments of Communion speak with one voice. The process of mutual listening and conversation needs to be intensified. It is only by living in communion that we can live out our vocation to be Communion."

That old time religion: the Christian heritage and inconvenience

"At one time, church leaders had a lot to say about justice, but now there tends to be an emphasis on the virtues of unity and refusal to assert oneself. If some people feel contaminated by the presence of other ‘types’, especially if those trying to maintain ‘purity’ can quote verses from the Bible to rationalise this, should not those who it is feared might ‘pollute’ the church keep a low profile for the time being? Sooner or later, change will of course occur; cannot those already on the inside who feel unsettled by the presence of the ‘other’ be gently persuaded to rethink, rather than pressured? It can be tempting to go to great lengths to avoid offence to those whose privilege is threatened.

Patience is of course needed, and the wisdom to choose when to move slowly and when to move fast. Yet there are serious risks in accepting the human-made barriers and hierarchies which keep people apart. Apart from the harm done to those who are excluded, the spiritual harm people do to themselves when they marginalise or stereotype others should be considered, given the close connection between love of God and love of neighbour."

Read the rest of Savitri Hensman's piece at Ekklesia.