Letters: Episcopal Life Monthly October 2008

October 3, 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.

The Rev. John Beverley Butcher ("Creeds are lacking") is not alone in sensing the creed's complete exclusion of Jesus' life and ministry, mentioning only his birth and death and nothing in between. In the flow of the liturgy, Scripture, passing the peace, prayers of the people, the sermon and the Eucharist, Jesus Christ's ministry and gospel are present. The creed, instituted by Roman decree more than three centuries after the Resurrection, leaves out both entirely. The Council of Nicea's purpose was to institutionalize Roman power and authority.

We are Episcopalians and have been open to the Holy Spirit to help us in the evolution of our worship from the beginning. In the Nag Hammadi discoveries, we are now fortunate to have the gospels of Thomas, Philip and Mary Magdalene to read. None of the four original Gospels nor these new findings contain the creed.

Women also have sensed the irony of referring to the Holy Spirit as "he" when it is a feminine word in both Hebrew and Greek and would best be translated as "she." Patriarchal language is problematic in a church with a woman presiding bishop.

Judy Massey
Sedona, Arizona

Grateful thanks to the Rev. John B. Butcher's ("Creeds Are Lacking" comments. The creeds are metaphysical abstract statements, probably relevant in the fourth century to philosophical arguing, but not understandable for Christian living or to anything Jesus lived and taught. What really does any of that speculative conjecture loved by theologians mean to the average person, those to whom Jesus ministered then and now?

If the creeds are sacrosanct and cannot be replaced, could an alternative be given as an option? Jesus' summary of the law to love God and love your neighbor is mentioned several times in Scripture, the Old and New Testaments. Why isn't that our creed, easily understood and a guide for living? It also seems to me to be truly the Great Commission from Jesus, not Matthew 28:19, which is mentioned only once and never was called the great commission by Jesus; that probably was the label put on by some Bible scholar when the Bible was able to be printed.

As a life-long Episcopalian, I am heartened by the Rev. Butcher's letters the past two issues and appreciate his bravery in speaking out.

Isabel Ross Ogden
Santa Fe, New Mexico

I appreciate the line: "The God I can understand is not God." But I don't have to understand him; I am commanded to love him.

My question is, "How can I stand here in the midst of plague, pestilence, famine, earthquake, fire and flood, and love their creator?" I'm trying, but it is a losing battle.

Gordon T. Charlton
Irvington, Virginia

I, too, would like to respond to the Rev. [John] Butcher's letter about the creed interrupting the flow of the liturgy. I think that such an "interruption" is entirely appropriate. That is exactly what Jesus does in our lives. He is always interrupting the way we think life should go with his own plans for us.

The liturgy is far more than a lovely, aesthetic experience. It challenges at every turn and makes us evaluate our lives in the light of the truths of the faith. It regularly calls us to adjust our lives to the faith, not the faith to our lives.

Sherry Mondragon
Lawton, Oklahoma

After reading "Get Off the Sidelines" (August), I remembered that, at the end of the last decade's Lambeth Conference, I received a set of prayer outlines for the Decade of Evangelism, which I used daily until the middle of this latest conference. It pointed out in more than one place that this would mean spiritual warfare. And so, obviously, it has.

Can our shattering communion be the result of a lack of prayer against spiritual warfare? And can it be rectified by prayer to end spiritual warfare now?

I hope we will join ranks to pray. And meanwhile, may I remind the groups affected by this warfare that we can leave judgment to God? Let the "wheat" and the "tares" grow together. Then, at the harvest, the servants of the Lord will deal with each according to the Lord's will. Be still – he is in charge.

Anne Beveri
Monterey, California

The office of presiding bishop needs to be replaced by eight archbishops, one for each domestic province of the church.

The reasons why I am calling for a group of archbishops to replace the single presiding bishop are:

1. The presiding bishop is overburdened. By the canon law of our church, he (or, in the present case, she) is obliged to visit every domestic diocese of the church during his/her term of nine years. This amounts to visiting, approximately, one new diocese a month. The presiding bishop accordingly will probably never be able to afford visiting the same diocese twice. But with eight archbishops, each would need to visit only the dioceses within his/her own province. This would average out to about 12 or 13 dioceses per province, and each archbishop could afford to visit the same diocese as many as 15 or 20 times during an active archiepiscopate.
2. With eight archbishops, one for each domestic province, we will make it possible for eight different people to consecrate new bishops.
3. Since 1944, it has been the practice for the presiding bishop to resign his/her see upon becoming presiding bishop. This means that for 64 years our church has been governed by a bishop who has no see. This makes no sense and is not consistent with the historical practice of the ancient undivided church.
4. To my knowledge, no other branch of the Anglican Communion is totally devoid of archbishops. Therefore, we are behind the times.

There should still be time to get this proposal for archbishops submitted to the General Convention due to meet next year.

Charles F. Roden
Fincastle, Virginia

Is there a latent type of politicism in the Episcopal Church? The first paragraph of "A sense of perspective" (September) has a question: "Why is the church involved with a leadership based in England? After all, didn't we 'dissolve the political bands' as the phrase is in the Declaration of Independence?"

I understand that some delegates to the General Convention voted for the ordination of the bishop of New Hampshire based on states' rights! Also, the Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul in Washington, D.C., is the National Cathedral as if it were a Westminster Abbey of an established church!

But I do have some agreement with the person who asked the question in "A sense of perspective," especially when the titular head of the Anglican Communion, the Archbishop of Canterbury, is appointed by the British prime minister on advice of the queen, or is it vice versa? The last head of the Roman Catholic Church was Polish, and the current head is a German. A bit of disestablishment of the Church of England seems in order so that the titular head of the Anglican Communion can be decided somehow by the vote of the whole Anglican episcopate.

The Rev. Harry Brant
Bordentown, New Jersey

Upon reading the article "Not so alien" (September), I thought that it might be worthwhile for me to share my experience of visiting the headquarters of our church in Manhattan.

First, when I arrived in front of the entrance, I did not notice either the Episcopal flag or emblem anywhere outside the building. Given the propensity of New Yorkers to be "in your face," I am wondering if it is not being unduly modest. I am proud of being Episcopalian and would have smiled had I seen the shield or flag that represents something so dear to my heart.

When I entered, I was confronted with two persons at a table to the right of the entrance. They were obviously there to screen people who want access to the building. It was all very businesslike.

Silly as I am, I had imagined that someone would be in the lobby to greet me (a wandering soul) and tell me "estas en tu casa," as the Latinos would say (i.e., "welcome to your home"). Obviously, it would not be efficient to have someone there just to greet people and make them feel at home; however, that building is where our Presiding Bishop spends much of her time, and you would think that we would not want to miss an occasion to demonstrate that Episcopalians welcome all who approach us.

It was, all in all, a very disappointing experience. Perhaps my comments will help make our headquarters a little more in tune with the tradition of hospitality. Small gestures such as welcoming strangers do indeed often have far greater impact than could be rationally expected.

Bertrand J. Delanney
Milford, Pennsylvania

I am truly sorry that [several letter writers] objected so vociferously to the Easter issue of Episcopal Life showing hundreds of men and women in our Armed Forces attending the Holy Eucharist on the Feast of the Resurrection. They were to receive the body and blood of the one who laid down his life for our sins – as these "trained killers" (their words) are willing to do so we can enjoy the freedom we have in this nation.

Freedom isn't free! We have this privilege that millions of men, women and children in other countries don't have. We live in the land of the free because of the brave.

The Rev. E.A. Thompson
Pahrump, Nevada

I am trying to empathize, if not sympathize, with Bishop Robert Duncan's view that "there's a particular truth claim about Jesus, and therefore all are not welcome," especially gay Christians who will not repent or live celibate lives.

What happens when the beloved son or daughter of conservative Anglicans says: "Mom, Dad, I have something to tell you. I am gay"? When Jesus spoke of the way, the truth and the life, wasn't his truth the higher "way," the loving life that accepts all? Then who is not welcome in our church?

Roberta Nobleman
Dumon, New Jersey

I would like to comment on Bishop [Robert] Duncan's remarks about "invocation of something other than the God we know" in response to use of a Buddhist chant in Canterbury Cathedral. I, personally, know the "unceasing force of creativity in the universe," represented from the beginning by the Tetragrammaton, YHWH, the unnamable, unspeakable, indescribable force of all creation. The Hebrew Scriptures journey us through many notions of God. One condemns child sacrifice but condones war and genocide, destroying people and their animals. Another takes over lands and throws out all the inhabitants with triumphalism or exceptionalism, plaguing us to this day as a nation, sacrificing our children to senseless war, fiscal irresponsibility and degradation
of the planet. The anthropomorphism evolves again when prophets talk about oppression and injustice (against our own kind only), hypocrisy and false temple-building.

The red letters of the Gospel are clear about treating questionable people. These notions bring us to our world today: an end of slavery, equal rights for women in certain fortunate places and many other great advances. I fear that Bishop Duncan's notion of God is one of the outdated ones taken from the pages before Jesus' true vision for the future. With his divinity degrees and their peer review, there is no reason for Duncan to think a new thought in response to a changing world or the wisdom or inspiration of a new generation of believers. I would like to tell Bishop Duncan that I cannot be counted in his "we."

Brett Barndt
New York, formerly of Pittsburgh