Monday, December 31, 2007

Bishop of London left in dark over secret gay service

December 31st, 2007 Posted Dominic Kennedy

The Archbishop of Canterbury kept a special communion service for gays so secret that he failed to tell the Bishop of London it was happening in his diocese, The Times has learnt.

Dr Rowan Williams inflamed the row over homosexuality which is tearing apart the Anglican Church when it was reported that he had agreed to hold a eucharist for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender clergy.

But even his critics have been taken aback to learn that he did so by making an incursion on to the patch of the Bishop of London, the Right Rev Richard Chartres, without giving notice or seeking permission.

Dr Williams now risks being seen as, at best, discourteous and at worst, in breach of canon law, for sneaking into a church near the Tower of London under the Bishop’s nose. Canon law says that only a bishop can authorise services in his own diocese and infringements may result in an intruder being removed from office.

The gays’ venue of choice was drenched in symbolism. The stones and beams of the 7th century church of All Hallows by the Tower have borne witness to the persecution of misunderstood, but ultimately vindicated, Christians down the ages. The headless bodies of the martyr saints Sir Thomas More, John Fisher and William Laud were taken there after their executions at the Tower.

Lambeth Palace is justifying the sortie by relying on a rule designed to provide short-term stand-ins for sick or holidaying vicars. But a spokesman made no reply when The Times suggested that the Archbishop’s behaviour might be seen as rude.

The Bishop of London’s spokesman said: “The Bishop wasn’t aware it was taking place.” He described the event as a private function.

The spokesman was asked by The Times if he considered there had been a discourtesy. “I am not able to comment on that,” he replied.

Such security surrounded the communion service for priests, monks and nuns organised by the Clergy Consultation support group that the guestlist was shredded by Lambeth Palace.

The location was changed after the original venue, the liberal St Peter’s Church in Eaton Square, was “outed” on a hostile website.

Dr Williams’s covert methods are a gift to opponents threatening schism at next year’s Lambeth Conference.

The Times emailed the previous Archbishop of Canterbury, Lord Carey, a more conservative primate, to ask if such a thing would have happened in his day.

The 72-year-old replied promptly by Blackberry: “I am sure that Rowan was acting for the very best of reasons viz. to show that he cares for all and wishes to hold minorities in the church. What would I have done? I would not have agreed to a private Eucharist; after all, the Eucharist, by definition, is open to all Christians.

“I am surprised to hear that the Bishop of London’s permission was not sought. Check your facts. If that is so then it is a failure of courtesy but it could be a staff member’s fault! Happy Christmas”.

Lambeth Palace at first implied that it was acceptable to bypass the bishop because the invitation had come from an independent group rather than a parish.

Asked where canon law permits services without a bishop’s blessing, a spokesman pointed to Canon C8, paragraph 2 (a). This allows ministers to invite a “priest or deacon” to serve in their church for up to seven days without telling the bishop.

However, a canon lawyer said there was no wording in that rule which mentioned invitations to external bishops.

The Bishop of London now has the drastic option of reporting Dr Williams to the Archbishop of York who could order a tribunal hearing with ultimate powers of removal from office. Nobody is suggesting that the Bishop would exercise these rights but those familiar with him say he would be disappointed to have been kept in the dark.

The Rev Bertrand Olivier, vicar of All Hallows and a former convenor of Clergy Consultation, said: “It’s nothing to do with the Bishop. Why would the Bishop need to be told?”

The Rev Colin Coward, a gay priest at the gathering, said: “The consulation has always met in confidentiality of venue and time to preserve the safety of those who come.”

Traditionalists are dismayed that the Archbishop condoned practising gay clergy by choosing to give communion, instead of just listening to them. Canon Chris Sugden of Anglican Mainstream said: “Obviously they were wanting to communicate that this is acceptable behaviour for those who are at the table of the Lord.”

Saturday, December 29, 2007

The Conscience of an Anglican

The Conscience of an Anglican
A man under authority

by Alan Jacobs
Christianity Today

For some time now, people have been asking me why I haven't written anything on the current-or, depending on your point of view, everlasting-crisis in the Anglican world. After all, I have been an Anglican for nearly twenty-five years, virtually all of my adult life; indeed, my experiences in other denominations, before I discovered Anglicanism, were so brief and tentative that I don't even know how to be a Christian except as an Anglican. Nor do I wish to be a Christian in any other way. Surely I have some opinions on the mess the Anglican Communion is now in, on how it got this way, and how it might get out again?

Well, yes, I do have such opinions. But they are worthless. All such opinions amount to little more than the assignation of blame for past events and predictions of the future-the latter usually involving punishments to come for those blamed for the past-and neither of those activities interests me. There was a time when they did, but I have long since learned how futile such pursuits are, and (more important) how powerfully they distract from the core practices of the Christian life. This is the primary reason why, after too long a season scanning the Anglican blogs daily, I now check just one of them, and once a week, at most. This abstinence has calmed my spirit and removed, I think permanently, my taste for such things.

Moreover, I remind myself that the churches of the Anglican world are governed by bishops, and I am not a bishop. One of the chief reasons I have held firm to Anglicanism over the years is that I believe that the threefold order of ministry-bishop, priest, and deacon-is the model taught by the apostles, the governance particularly approved by God. In this model I, as a layman-even though I am also a member of the priesthood of all believers-have a highly circumscribed role. If my pastor asks me to teach, I teach; otherwise I shut up. In the unlikely (and unwelcome) event of a bishop of the Church asking for my thoughts I would share them; otherwise I keep them to myself, at least in public. The decisions that will shape the future of the Anglican Communion will be made by bishops, not by laypeople, nor even by priests; if I care about that Communion-and I do-I had best be praying for those bishops, and not repeating the error of Job in darkening counsel by words without knowledge.

Like the Roman centurion, then, I am a man under authority, and also like him, I have some responsibilities of my own. Chief among them is to raise my son Wesley in the faith of the Gospel. Around four years ago now I left the Episcopal Church because-thanks to various changes in our parish's life that followed the consecration of Gene Robinson as Bishop of New Hampshire-I knew that if we stayed my son would be taught doctrines which I do not hold, and, just as important, would not be taught doctrines which I hold and believe it important for all Christians to hold. People who encouraged me to stay reminded me that, as (relatively) theologically knowledgeable persons, my wife and I could correct any sins of omission or commission when we got home. But the idea that the family holds the full responsibility for forming children in the faith, with the church being nothing more than a place of worship, is one of the ideas that I don't want to teach my son. Another one is this: that bishops can ignore or repudiate significant portions of the doctrine and discipline of the Church-something the Bishop of Chicago did on a regular basis-and still be thought of as legitimate pastoral overseers for their people.

In leaving the Episcopal Church, then, I believe that I acted according to what Cardinal Newman long ago called "the supreme authority of Conscience ... the aboriginal Vicar of Christ." For Newman, conscience is anything but "private judgment": it is, rather, the testing of one's own private judgments, and sometimes those of others, against Scripture and against the long testimony of the whole church of Christ. And if we test those judgments so, and invoke our consciences, we enter perilous territory: as Newman reminds us, the fourth Lateran Council (1215) affirmed that Quidquid fit contra conscientiam, ├Ždificat ad gehennam-Whatever is done in opposition to conscience is conducive to damnation.

But there is no coercing the consciences of others, especially in what Rusty Reno has called "the ruins of the church." One acts according to conscience, but it takes a certain rashness to commend one's own precise course to others. My dear friend Charles Marsh published a book this year called Wayward Christian Soldiers, and while I disagree with much that he argues in it, one chapter of the book has has often come back to my mind in an especially powerful way. Its title is "Learning to be Quiet in a Noisy Nation (and in a Nation of Noisy Believers)." The historical moment Charles invokes, and encourages all Christians to consider, is that of the German church in the Nazi era. I am not, let me hasten to say, casting anyone in the role of Nazi or Nazi sympathizer; the point of comparison between Lutheranism in 1930s Germany and Anglicanism in North America today is simply that both churches are broken, ruined; both present their adherents (clergy and laypeople) with potent challenges to faithfulness. And in the midst of such challenges-so said Dietrich Bonhoeffer, consistently, from the time of the Nazi accession in 1933 to his execution in the spring of 1945-almost the first requirement of the Christian is, simply, silence. "The time of words is over," he said; sometimes words have to be forgone in order to save time and energy and focus for what is more essential than words: "prayer and righteous action."

Not because I am taking a general vow of silence, but for other reasons, I am now concluding this online column. Its title, as you can see, is "Rumors of Glory," from a Bruce Cockburn song I particularly admire. Those of us living in the ruins of Anglicanism might be especially inclined to say that we have nothing more to go on than rumors, a handful of slightly hopeful whispers fading into imperceptibility. This could be deeply worrisome for those, like me, who see in Anglicanism a beautiful and compelling vision, a church that draws together the Catholic and the Reformed strands of the Christian life and thereby brings both of them to their fullest realization. I do not enjoy the thought that the Anglican experiment may be over, since, as I have said, I don't know how to be a Christian any other way; but I do not believe that that experiment is over; in fact, I have hope-I hear certain rumors-that it may be only beginning.

But even if that experiment is drawing to a close, I am not worried-a little sad, maybe, but not worried. I could learn to be a Christian some other way, if I had to, because, after all, there is one Lord, one faith, one Baptism, one God and Father of all. Plus, I'm thinking about Christmas, which, among other things, teaches us that all those rumors are true: the Lord of All came once, in meekness and humility, in the form of a servant. And he will come again-but next time in glory.

---Alan Jacobs teaches English at Wheaton College in Illinois; his history of Original Sin will be published in Spring 2008 by HarperOne.
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Monday, November 26, 2007

TEC Has No Legal Claim To Church Properties

Canon Bishop Says National Church Has No Legal Claim To Church Properties

An exclusive interview with the Rt. Rev. William Wantland, the retired Bishop of Eau Claire. Bishop Wantland was bishop of the diocese from 1980 - 1999. He is a canon lawyer and lives with his wife in Oklahoma. He agreed to be interviewed by VirtueOnline about church property lawsuits, a number of which are making their way through various courts in the United States.

VOL: Bishop Wantland, because of the Dennis Canon there is the overwhelming belief, substantiated in a number of state courts, that all parish properties are held in trust for the local diocese. Is that true in all cases? If not why not?

WANTLAND: Generally speaking, there is a trust interest running from the parish to the diocese. In 1570, the British Parliament passed legislation restricting the disposal of parish property. This was carried over to New York law, where an early statute provided that the Bishop and Standing Committee would have a say in the disposition of parish property, but so would the New York Legislature. This (without reference to State bodies) was added to Title II (now Canon II. 6) shortly after the Civil War. In the 20th century, a similar Canon was enacted in Title I, adding all parish property to that requirement, not just church or chapel buildings. Most States in the U.S. follow Implied Trust principles of law, so in those States, the diocese would prevail. Several States follow Neutral Principles of Law, and in those States, the local parish might, under certain circumstances, prevail.

VOL: Recently in the State of California, the Court of Appeal reversed a lower court ruling placing three parishes at risk of losing their parishes. They reversed an Orange County Superior Court's prior ruling that three former Episcopal churches, which disaffiliated from the national denomination in 2004, did not forfeit their property. This division of the appellate court broke with nearly thirty years of California church property law, and instead ruled that hierarchical church denominations can take over local church property. Where is this going?

WANTLAND: It is going to the California Supreme Court, which has already agreed to hear the matter.

VOL: Attorney Eric C. Sohlgren said the decision puts one division of the appellate court in direct conflict with other California court of appeal decisions that for almost thirty years have rejected the idea that a court must automatically defer to a church denomination in church property disputes. He said that idea offends basic principles of fairness and property ownership. Do you agree?

WANTLAND: The latest Appellate Court decision certainly offends the previously settled law in California. However, nothing would prevent the California Supreme Court from rejecting the Neutral Principles idea, and moving to Implied Trust.

VOL: It is also alleged that all properties are also held in trust for the National Church. Is that automatically true if the diocese can also lay claim?

WANTLAND: What is the National Church? We commonly use that title, but the so-called National Church has no current machinery for holding title to property outside of New York. While the Canons in both Title I and II recognize an interest in parish property for the diocese, this only re-states law that has been a part of our Church for over 400 years. Further, a careful reading of the Dennis Canon does not grant any real interest in diocesan property to 815 2nd Avenue.

VOL: What exactly is the National Church? Is it an ecclesiastical body or strictly an administrative body?

WANTLAND: The so-called National Church is an administrative body with very limited authority. It has defined itself in a number of documents over the years as a confederation of dioceses. Neither General Convention nor Executive Council has any jurisdiction over dioceses granted in either the Church Constitution or Canons.

VOL: In the 'which came first, the chicken or the egg', is the national church a product of General Convention, or are the dioceses the product of the national church and General Convention?

WANTLAND: The Episcopal Church came into being in 1789. Dioceses preceded the existence of TEC by a number of years. For example, the Diocese of Connecticut not only existed for years before 1789, but elected a bishop and had him consecrated in Scotland in 1784. New York, Pennsylvania and Virginia also elected bishops and had them consecrated in England in 1787. Clearly, the dioceses came together to create the Episcopal Church by adopting a Constitution and Canons and a Book of Common Prayer. The dioceses created the Episcopal Church, and not the other way round.

VOL: If the national church or general convention is the product of dioceses and not the other way round, then what legal claim can the national church make in court for parish properties?

WANTLAND: The only way TEC could even claim a trust interest in parish property is to rely on the imprecise language of the so-called Dennis Canon. However, prior to 1979, the so-called National Church never claimed any trust interest in parish or diocesan property. A basic principle of trust law is that two people can agree to create a trust interest in property which one of the parties owns. However, a third party cannot then claim a trust interest in that property without the consent of the original parties. While it might be possible, I am not personally aware of any diocese which has recognized the interest of 815 2nd Avenue in any property. To the contrary, a number of dioceses have specifically rejected any claim of the so-called National Church to property within those dioceses. With the possible exception of the Diocese of California, I am not aware of any parishes voluntarily granting an interest in their property to 815. In the absence of such a granting of trust interest, I doubt any court would uphold it.

VOL: Does the Presiding Bishop have any canonical authority in a diocese, any diocese, either liberal or conservative?

WANTLAND: The authority and duties of the Presiding Bishop are set forth in Canon I. 2. 4. In regard to dioceses, the PB shall consult with the Ecclesiastical Authority of the diocese if there be a vacancy in the office of bishop, but the PB has no authority to act, only to consult. Further, the PB is to visit every diocese, and takes order for the consecration of bishops within a diocese. No other duties in regard to dioceses are delineated. All other duties apply to the administrative structure of the Episcopal Church.

VOL: Mrs. Jefferts Schori, while holding the title of Presiding Bishop, is in reality the bishop of nothing. She has no diocese, unlike the Archbishop of Canterbury who is both the titular head of the Anglican Communion and the Archbishop of Canterbury. In that case, does she have any legitimate (legal or ecclesiastical) authority over the leadership of a Diocese?

WANTLAND: The Presiding Bishop has no authority over the leadership of a diocese, except if charges are brought against a bishop. The PB does have certain responsibilities in regard to the charges, as set forth in Title IV of the Canons. However, there is absolutely NO authority in any instance over Standing Committees, Diocesan Councils, or other diocesan leadership.

VOL: Ft. Worth Bishop Jack Iker said to his diocese recently that "there is no such thing as "the national Church." We are a confederation of Dioceses, related to each other by our participation in General Convention. He went on to say that from the earliest days of the beginnings of the Episcopal Church in this country, including the formation of dioceses and eventually the creation of the General Convention itself, there has been a strong mistrust of centralized authority that is deeply rooted in our history as Episcopalians. We do not have an Archbishop in this Church, who has authority over other Bishops and their Dioceses. Instead, we have a Presiding Bishop, with very limited canonical responsibilities, mainly administrative in nature." Do you agree with him?

WANTLAND: Bishop Iker has stated precisely what I feel the situation to be.

VOL: Mrs. Schori has said she will allow the sale of properties back to the parishes, even to other religious groups, but not to another Anglican jurisdiction. In your mind is that legal? Can she in fact do that? Is she breaking some federal statute by saying that a property sale can be restricted because she says so?

WANTLAND: Federal law does not apply here. The law of the State rules. I would simply observe that the previous Presiding Bishop declared in Louisiana that the so-called National Church had no interest in property disputes between a parish and the diocese, and would not intervene unless asked to do so by the diocese. Therefore, if a diocese is negotiating with a parish to avoid a costly lawsuit, what right does a Presiding Bishop have to dictate terms? None whatsoever.

VOL: Recently the Diocese of Western Michigan sold their cathedral to an independent evangelical mega church without apparently a whimper from the national church or David Booth Beers, Mrs. Schori's attorney. But when the pro-cathedral in El Paso, Texas, under the ecclesiastical authority of then Bishop Jeffrey Steenson in the Diocese of the Rio Grande, wanted to leave the diocese and TEC, I was told by Steenson that Beers raised all hell. Steenson told me that he did not want to litigate and furthermore the parish gave the diocese $2 million as part of the deal! Why do you think Beers ignored one situation and yet weighed in on another?

WANTLAND: Because of prejudice against so-called conservatives.

VOL: David Booth Beers bills out his time at $600.00 an hour less 15% discount for TEC at a cool $510.00 an hour, so I have been told. Presumably he has a team working with him. He seems to be everywhere, - Virginia and Philadelphia (recently). I can't imagine that at the end of the day millions of dollars in legal fees are being given to him by the national church. Where, in your opinion, is the money coming from?

WANTLAND: The money, in all probability, is coming from the endowment funds of TEC, which funds are more than $200,000,000.00.

VOL: A number of bishops, including yourself, have asked Mrs. Jefferts Schori where the money is coming from for the present litigation, but she has not replied. Why is that?

WANTLAND: I was one of the bishops to raise this question. To date we have received no answer. My guess is that TEC doesn't want to start the precedent of providing full and complete information about anything. The name of the game is "spin".

VOL: Is it possible that litigation costs could, in the end, bankrupt the Episcopal Church?

WANTLAND: I doubt it. While the cost of litigation is ridiculous, I don't think it will deplete the endowment funds.

VOL: Can the Trust Funds be raided without accountability and financial responsibility to pay legal costs?

WANTLAND: Some of the trust funds are unrestricted, and can be used however 815 2nd Avenue sees fit. Others are restricted, and cannot be legally used for purposes other than stated in the establishment of those funds. In any instance, the matter of our Treasurer (Ellen Cooke) who went to jail for misuse of trust funds proves that there must be accountability.

VOL: In the end, if the National Church takes possession of dioceses that will be 90 per cent empty, is the victory anything more than pyrrhic?

WANTLAND: In the highly unlikely event this were to occur, it is not really a victory of anything. What do you do with property you can't use? History has shown that it gets sold at a great loss.

VOL: With empty or near empty churches which will have to be sold in the open market, what is the ultimate victory for the National Church?

WANTLAND: The only victory is for the forces of Satan and secular humanism.VOL: Thank you Bishop Wantland.

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Thursday, March 22, 2007

His Last Supper

The last week of the life of our Lord, the time that we refer to as Holy Week, was the most significant of his life. For three Sundays we will have been examining in some detail the events that occurred during that period. We will have looked at Sunday, the day of celebration, Monday, the day of emotion, and Tuesday, the day of questions. Here I would like to examine Wednesday, the day of transition, and Thursday, the day of fellowship.

Jesus’ final week can be divided into three phases. The first two days of the week find the masses in a mood of acceptance and praise. The middle of the week they began to question and challenge. By the end of the week their attitude had completely changed to rejection and crucifixion. Wednesday is the day in between. It is the day I like to refer to as the day of transition. Jesus knew this change was coming. So, on Wednesday he went apart from the crowd to be in meditation and communion with God. He needed to lay hold of the power of God that would enable him to turn defeat into victory.

This scene reminds us that we occasionally need to be free of the things and circumstances that clutter our lives. We need time to clear our heads and be in fellowship with the divine. David Stanley, the New York Times reporter who went to darkest Africa in search of Dr. Livingston, wrote a fascinating biography. He noted that for several days his safari made excellent time, but then, one morning, the porters refused to move at all. He asked the guide what the problem was. It is a native superstition, he replied. They feel that they must stop a day to give their souls a chance to catch up. We too need to stop and let our souls catch up.

Wednesday of Holy Week says to us that we must occasionally take time out of our busy schedules of daily life and have time for introspection. That is harder for some than others. For Type A personalities such as myself, it can be extremely difficult.

Most of us are Familiar with the story of Elijah the prophet. He was the one who took on the 450 prophets of Baal on the top of Mt. Carmel. He was totally successful in routing the godless enemy, but he was stunned to discover that even though he had won the battle, wicked Queen Jezebel was still on the throne. Not only that, she had put a contract out on him. So Elijah ran. And he ran and he ran until he was totally exhausted and he could run no more. He prayed to God: Take my life. You see, when we are exhausted we are not ourselves. We do things and say things that are not like us. It is at that point that God comes to Elijah and asks: What are you doing here, Elijah? Now, you see, that is what is known, as a rhetorical question. God knows the answer. He wants Elijah to say it so that he will have to hear himself. When we run from our responsibilities God asks us: What are you doing here?” Has God your attention: It is time that you stop, be silent, and know that I am God. No TV, no radios, no phones, no beepers.

There is another reason why we do not do that and it has nothing to do with schedules. It is because the thought of being alone with ourselves frightens us. It is safer to be busy.

What is so disturbing is that it is so easy to be religious yet still miss the Kingdom. It is so easy to be centered in ourselves that we cease growing. If we are not open to the indwelling of the Holy Spirit we can miss it all. On Wednesday, Jesus took time to be in communion with God.

If Wednesday was the day of transition and meditation, then Thursday was the day of fellowship. In the evening of that day, an admirer of Jesus, we do not know who, loaned the upper Floor of his house to the disciples and Jesus to come together to partake of the first Seder of the Passover.

In this ancient meal, Jews eat certain symbolic foods to remind them of their former bondage in Egypt. A bitter herb is eaten to remind them of the bitterness of the experience. Applesauce is eaten to remind them that they were required to make bricks without straw.It was at this point that Jesus took the matzo bread and broke it and spoke the ancient words of the Baruch: Blessed art thou O God, LORD of the universe, who brings forth fruit From the earth. Suddenly Jesus broke with tradition and began to speak in his native Aramaic: Take, eat, this is my: body broken for you. Jesus then took the cup and said: Take, drink, this is my bloodshed for you. Thus, to an ancient symbolic meal Jesus added the symbolism of his broken body and shed blood for us.

This marvelous mystery even today is misunderstood by many of today's modern world. How does one, except through complete faith explain the miraculous transformation that takes place in simple bread and wine. There is no adequate description of the oneness with God that is experienced by the communicant when we receive the Blessed Sacrament during communion.Anna Pavlova, a Russian ballerina, was once asked what she meant in a certain dance she had just performed. She replied: IF I could have said it, I would not have danced it. On Thursday of Holy Week, Jesus dramatized the mystery of faith. What God could not be conveyed in words alone he expressed in human flesh-—the body and blood of his own son.

In the same way fellowship within the church needs to be understood. We hear it and we think of a potluck meal where we share food and fellowship together. True fellowship is expressed in the words of John Wesley: if your heart is like my heart, then give me your hand and we walk together. We need to cherish our times of coming together-— as families, friends, and as the church.

The day was not yet over. Jesus went up to the Mt. Olivet and prayed and spoke to a crowd. It was here that Judas came up to him and gave him a kiss. I have often wondered why he did that. I mean, why did he not spit in his Face. Why did he not slap him? But he gave him a kiss. It’s a sobering reminder that even in the name of love we can sometimes still hurt those we love. When we do not give people room enough to let them grow, we can hurt in the name of love. When we love our ideas more than we love people, we can hurt in the name of love. We all love Christ, but we have all hurt Christ at one time or another. The kiss of Judas perhaps should remind us that we can end up hurting the ones that we love the most.

We are told that after the Lord’s Supper the disciples sung a hymn and departed, as we all do when we collective leave the Church following mass. Let it be a reminder of the importance of our fellowship. And let it connect all of us to our brother, friend and Saviour Jesus for whom on that Thursday night so long ago the clock was now ticking. Jesus’ date with destiny could now be measured in hours. Calvary awaits.