Letters: Episcopal Life Monthly November 2008

November 5, 2008

Episcopal Life welcomes letters, especially those with pictures, and will give preference to those in response to stories. Letters should be no longer than 250 words and must include the writer's name, address and phone number for verification. Send to Letters, Episcopal Life, 815 Second Ave., New York, NY 10017; or email to letters@episcopal-life.org. All letters will be edited for brevity and clarity.

I have seldom been as angered by the pontification of one of our "bureaucrats in shovel hats" as I have by Rowan Williams' statement in your Lambeth issue that Bishop Gene Robinson of New Hampshire was excluded by the Lambeth Conference "because his participation was 'questionable.'"

Why "questionable?" Robinson was ordained priest, elected bishop, approved by a majority of American bishops and standing committees and properly consecrated. To call into question the legitimacy of the Episcopal Church's processes, which is what Williams really was doing, is a gratuitous insult to this branch of the Anglican Communion, and the Presiding Bishop and House of Bishops should have confronted him on it. Instead, they wimped out.

That Williams, just back from a visit to Rome to be lectured by Pope Benedict on the policies the Anglican Communion should follow, should use the word "questionable" regarding a properly consecrated bishop is prima facie evidence that he is unfit for the office he occupies. Somebody should tell him that in the eyes of Rome his ordination as priest and his consecration as bishop and archbishop are worse than "questionable;" they are invalid. What hypocrisy!

I never thought I'd agree with the archbishop of Uganda, but he is right that Williams' office still has too much of a whiff of "British colonialism" about it – not just regarding Africa, but also the former English colonies in America.

Williams should resign his office, close down the Anglican Communion office and confine his activity to his own archdiocese, with occasional trips to Rome for further instruction.

William A. Koelsch
San Diego

Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams' statement at the close of the Lambeth Conference reads: "If the North American churches don't accept the need for a moratorium to consecrate another gay bishop, it will mean that the Anglican Communion will be in grave peril."

This causes several questions to fill my mind: Should we have waited to form the Protestant Episcopal Church of the United States of America until the Archbishop of Canterbury approved of us doing so?

Should we have waited until the Archbishop of Canterbury approved of our sending Samuel Seabury to Scotland to be consecrated a bishop before doing so?

Should some Episcopalians have waited to free their slaves until all Episcopalians agreed to do so?

Should Bishop [William] White of Pennsylvania have waited to ordain Absalom Jones the first black priest until all bishops approved of him doing so?

Should we have waited until all Episcopal bishops agreed to ordain women before doing so?

This list could go on and on.

If the answer to these questions is "No," then why should we wait until everyone agrees to ordain practicing homosexuals to the episcopate?

If we waited until there was total agreement on everything, nothing good or just would ever happen.

The Rev. Roger B. Rollins
Dayton, Ohio

If we are to be egotistical, self-centered, unprincipled and undisciplined secular relativists, why not simply throw in with the unitarians (small "u" intended)? That way we don't have to believe in anything much and [can] be content just to follow current cultural fads. With no need to profess out beliefs in the creed, nor to accept the implications of the Eucharist, we can simply have some wine and cookies at the local bar with bystanders and not have need to drive to some unnecessary building to share consistent traditions and unchanging beliefs.

Recently I watched again the movie A Man for All Seasons (1966) and again was struck by the wonderful principled steadfastness of Thomas More. Henry VIII certainly set us on a path to a present-day haughty American church and the fiasco of the seemingly leaderless Lambeth Conference. Henry has several obvious cohorts today. So sad we have become, and so quickly.

David D. Truitt
Havre de Grace, Maryland

The vote to depose Bishop [Robert] Duncan was illegal, uncalled for, un-Christian and just plain mean. There is no way for me to express the sadness that I feel for what we have been reduced to.

I have loved and served God as an Episcopalian for all my life. My ordination 25 years ago was the proudest moment in my life. Now I can barely comprehend what we have become.

It's not about church politics or sexuality or doctrine. It's about sin. It's about pride and power and ego and who's right and who's wrong and who wins and who loses.

So much for oneness. So much for loving our neighbor, much less our enemy. Shame on us.

The Rev. Jaime Flowers
Bossier City, Louisiana

I am dismayed and astonished by the Rev. R. W. Cromey's mean-spirited attack (Letters: September 2008) on the Sermons That Work resource. His point of view seems arrogant and elitist.

I am one of those poor lay people he is so sure tunes out because we have such "minimal biblical knowledge."

I wonder where he gets that idea. There is a good possibility that there are many lay people better versed in biblical knowledge than the Rev. Cromey.

As a licensed lay minister, I make weekly use of Sermons That Work, since I conduct a Morning Prayer service each Sunday. By canon, lay people only may deliver sermons composed by people licensed or ordained to do so. Utilization by lay people is one of the main purposes for this resource. Therefore, "compelling, prophetic and relevant to our life and times" preaching is better left to ordained clergy who deliver their own sermons.

As for my congregation, as I look out to them while delivering these sermons, I never have had anyone fall asleep or look so perplexed that I thought they couldn't understand. I've heard the comment that they like the diversity of the authors as well as other positive comments. This is an invaluable resource to lay-led congregations, and we appreciate it very much.

M. H. Scoggins
Heavener, Oklahoma

I always enjoy Anne McConney's column, "Pilgrim Songs," in Episcopal Life. She writes with warmth and clarity, which touches the spirit that moves us all.

I believe it was Goethe who said, "All the great ideas have already been revealed. The challenge is to discover them again."
Anne McConney helps us Episcopalians on this road of discovery with her words every month.

Paul Hessemer
Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania

Thanks for the complete Lambeth coverage. In the midst of serious stories on social issues, I looked forward to the hats story. And, as a reader, [I] was a bit disappointed. The story sorely lacked description.

To your credit, the photo of Atlantan Suzanne Whitmore in her black-and-white, wide, stiff-brimmed, feathered hat coordinated with her white jacket and black top and red poppy flower matching her scarlet lipstick was fabulous.

My visits to Atlanta have shown me the women of that city take great feminine pride in their clothes every day, so I am not surprised that both women featured in the photos were from there.

While dressing up for church is no longer the tyrant tradition it once was, what a treat to see people looking so, as Donna Scarfe of Iowa said, "elegant."

Dedria Humphries Barke
East Lansing, Michigan

Why? Why? Why?

Fifteen or so years ago, I attended a business meeting in Milwaukee, desiring to view and experience a newly renovated Catholic church. I attended with a good Catholic friend but was denied, by him, the Communion experience that day. I would have, if alone, participated in the joy of community and fellowship with believers, brand x y, or z. I forgive him, even though he may not know my feelings.

My wound still festers. I do not want to be a party to the erection of any fences that deny the opportunity to partake in the greater community of the followers of Jesus.

Must we set artificial barriers, such as secret handshakes, memory verses, sprinkling sacred water or other preconditions to anyone's effort to reach out to join a community of committed seekers? I particularly feel blessed after Communion to have a trained lay person pray for me, after asking for permission to lay hands on my forehead, while expressing thoughts and words that I may not be able to think or say at that time.

Eben Sales
Easton, Pennsylvania

Judy Massey complains (Letters, October) that the creed completely excludes the life and ministry of Jesus, which we receive in other parts of the liturgy. In this, she reveals her ignorance of the purpose of the creed, which was composed at a time of controversy over whether Jesus, the incarnate Second Person of the Trinity, was co-eternal with God or was a creature of God (there was a time when he was not), as the Arians asserted.

On the contrary to what she asserts, the creed is about Jesus. Read it. It was composed to clarify the church's beliefs about him and his ministry.

The creed (our version dates from AD 381) was not originally intended for liturgical use. Use liturgically begins in the late fifth century and becomes general as a symbol of the faith. The church in Rome did not use it in the liturgy until 1014. In these days, it often is omitted from the celebration of Mass in the Roman rite. But we should not confuse omission from the liturgy with the purpose of its composition, which is about Jesus. The Nag Hammadi writings come from fringe groups. These writings post-date the documents in the New Testament, which was essentially as we know it by the mid-second century.

The essentials of our faith were already in place before these fringe groups appeared. We don't need to include their Twilight Zone ramblings. With rare exception, they have little use except as historical curiosities. If you want to know why the church rejected them, read them. They are weird.

The Rev. Edward Franks

The report on Lambeth's day on Christian evangelism had both hopeful and distressing notes. On the hopeful side were many comments seeing evangelism as both doing and telling. Caring for and advocacy for the needs of migrants and refugees went hand-in-hand with proclaiming the gospel.

On the distressing side were notes that many still seem to see evangelism as telling only. Deed and word together are needed in both Piccadilly and Delhi. We might begin to do better evangelism if we saw it as calling people to share in Jesus' mission. To respond to his call, "Follow me," calls us into lives of deed and word together.

A. Wayne Schwab
Plattsburgh, New York

Concerning the recent submission by the Rev. Cromey (Letters: September 2008), I agree that the quality of sermons in the Episcopal Church is rather low. Not every cleric can be a gifted preacher like Phillips Brooks reputedly was.

All they must do though is preach the gospel! That is all. They must relate God's word to a congregation who is not particularly biblically literate, and they must do it right. That is the trick. There should be no personal issues and nothing other than the gospel. Anything else should not be preached. If a text is selected then, that's it, nothing else.

Sometimes the gift comes naturally by the power of the Holy Spirit; sometimes it comes from very proper training. Whichever way it comes, it must be done.

Martin Newkom
Yuba City, California

In the September issue's "Since you asked" column about why some Episcopal Church parishes say only people who are baptized may receive Holy Communion and others say anyone may, the Rev. Clayton Morris took 15 inches of space to restate the question and to imply that flouting canon law is a good and legitimate way of debating the theological issues of the church.

We have laws to protect us from our neighbors and from ourselves. Those who invite everyone to receive Holy Communion are in violation of canon law (Canon 1, 17. 7, Constitution and Canons, 2006, page 55). If there are those who wish to challenge
the theological and canonical position of the church, there are appropriate ways of doing so. The method of violating the canons to challenge the canons is destructive to the community of faith. It denies the possibility of open conversation about the theological and pastoral implications of the present position taken by the church.

Morris says, "In time, the church will decide." The church has decided, and some refuse to accept the decision.

Their subversive action undermines the life and integrity of the faith community and is not an acceptable way to engage in theological debate or discussion.

The Rev. Roderic D. Wiltse
Webster Groves, Missouri

The Rev. Clayton Morris' answer to the question about inviting the unbaptized to Holy Communion, although admirably impartial, is problematic in several respects. The issue is not that of choosing between a blind adherence to canons and a warm-hearted hospitality, but of two different understandings of the nature of the sacraments and their relation to each other or lack thereof. One understanding is reflected in canon law but would exist even if the canon did not. The analogy of Jesus' table fellowship is misleading, since he was not criticized, much less executed, for eating with gentiles. He was criticized for eating with Jews who were sinners, and in these cases he was the invited guest, not the inviting host.

There is also an essential difference between a Jewish ritual meal and the Christian Eucharist. I was honored to share in the Passover meal of a Jewish congregation, but it would not have been appropriate for me to invite them to come and receive Holy Communion in return. The analogy of women's ordination is also misleading, since it continues the misunderstanding that the extra-canonical ordinations of 1974 caused the canonical change of 1976. This is an example of the logical fallacy post hoc, ergo propter hoc; the reality was more complex. (See my article, "What Happened in Philadelphia?" Anglican and Episcopal History, December 2007.)

The Rev. Lawrence N. Crumb
Eugene, Oregon

The Rev. Dr. Clay Morris has given an excellent "fair and balanced" response to this question. I well remember asking Dean Alan Jones to attend a Standing Committee and explain to us why Grace Cathedral printed an invitation to all to receive Communion there. The "hospitality" justification made great sense in San Francisco. So, ever the person who likes to abide by the rules, I asked the dean why he didn't arrange for a resolution to General Convention to modify the canon. His honest reply: "Because it would fail, and we might have to change our practice." We had no further comment to that unassailable logic!

Nigel Renton
Berkeley, California

I am grateful for Clayton Morris' thoughtful remarks about open Communion. They accurately reflect the eucharistic hospitality many congregations in the Episcopal Church. Now we just have to modify the canons to reflect our church's commitment to the radical hospitality of Jesus as embodied in his teaching and practice.

The Rev. Tracey Lind