Reformation of PECUSA


A common word heard a generation or two ago was, “The pew cannot rise higher than the pulpit.” The idea that the herald of the gospel must be soaked in a regular regimen of study and prayer in order to present the congregation mature in the sight of God is easily lost in the weekly pressures of parish ministry. Just as preparing a balanced, nutritious sermon takes forethought and space for the word to work first on the preacher’s heart and then be able to be conveyed with authenticity, so the spiritual life of leaders is not like the turning on or off of a light switch, but is something rather to be cultivated.

Author Ruth Haley Barton is a practitioner of wisdom and spiritual discernment. Several years ago her book Pursuing God’s Will Together: A Discernment Practice for Leadership Groups caught my attention. I was feeling a sense that our parish leadership wasn’t going into the depths. I lamented that I couldn’t address this very well out of my own reservoir, shallow as it so often was. But, just as Jesus summoned the early disciples to put out into the deep, it felt that we were much too content with fishing the shallows. And I was with them, although I knew that deeper water summoned.

The question was: were we content with our vestry being a board of directors or, in some fashion, were we being called to a place of spiritual eldership? In our case, we had already committed to becoming a learning community. That is to say, we would take the first forty-five minutes of our monthly meetings to discuss an article or a chapter from a book that we were reading together and apply it to our church, Saint Gabriel’s. These discussions were often fruitful, and I would take the ideas back to the staff or work on them in my mind over the coming month. And yet, it also seemed as if this, too, was artificial and that we could either take it or leave it. In other words, there wasn’t yet a collective conviction that we were operating as a Spirit-led community with certain non-negotiable assumptions about being spiritual elders.

Barton asks whether our approach to decision making is different in the church from secular models. Is there more to becoming a church with a biblical eldership than “the perfunctory prayers that bookend the meeting”? Does our community life mean something, does it have its own integrity, independent of the financial statements, ministry reports, and “arguing over the cost of sharpening the lawnmower blades,” as one my clergy colleagues memorably put it?  If so, how do we become that kind of community?

One thing we know is that becoming a community of spiritual discernment differs dramatically from throwing on a light switch. Further, we also know that corporate leadership discernment around God’s will presumes that each person who is called to be a spiritual elder carries the potential—and responsibility—in his or her individual life to cultivate a receptivity to the Spirit of the Lord.

In other words, if corporate leadership is “the capacity to recognize and respond to the presence and activity of God as a leadership group relative to the issues we are facing,“ (italics, Barton original) it is what happens in the in-between time, the ordinary time, in individual hearts that make up the corporate body, that allows discernment to be, truly, corporate. The practices, the rules of life, the habits of the heart—the prayer, daily office, sustained Bible study, times of meditation or centering prayer—these practices till the soil of the individual in such a way that when we come together, we can practice corporate leadership discernment and fulfill our calling as spiritual elders for our congregation.
At Saint Gabriel’s we are novice step-takers, to be sure. We do not always hold up well, necessarily, as a model. But now we have the conviction that unless we do this as a body of leaders, the pew cannot rise higher than the board room. If we rest content with the shallows, the potential of Christ’s calling in us will remain just that, potential.

“One thing have I asked of the Lord; one thing I seek; that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life.”—Psalm 27:5

Christopher Ditzenberger, Rector, Saint Gabriel the Archangel Episcopal Church
Cherry Hills Village, Colorado

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The recent conference called ‘Evangelion II’ (see posts below) was a great success. Fifteen TEC dioceses were represented, as well as observers from Canada, and everyone seemed encouraged. The plenary speakers, Justyn Terry, David Collum and Justin Holcomb, were all filmed, and the results should be online in about three weeks. Watch this space for more information. I look forward to seeing them—when you’re one of the organisers, you only catch bits here and there, but those who were able to attend to them whole spoke highly of them.

What I was able to participate in fully were the discussions, ‘How We Got Here’ and ‘Where Do We Go From Here’, which weren’t filmed, so I’ll say a bit about them in this and the next post respectively.

After an outline of the history of the evangelical movement in TEC since the founding of Trinity Seminary, we began to talk about what we could learn from this history. The main themes were that the switch from being a teaching ministry for the Episcopal Church to being a political party within the Church had been wholly negative, and that the movement had been too clericalist. During the 1980s and early 1990s, several evangelical parishes had highly successful teaching ministries, sending out sermon and teaching tapes across the country by the hundred, but in the mid 1990s this seemed suddenly to be abandoned in favor of a political approach centered on General Convention rather than the diocese. There was much speculation about how different the history might have been had we stuck to the teaching.

A comment about the emphasis on recruiting evangelical clergy rather than building up evangelical laity sparked an enthusiastic response by the lay people present, expressed in terms which came as a shock to some of the clergy present. But when people have been under-appreciated for too long, it’s natural to vent a bit when the opportunity to do so finally comes. It was agreed by all that there was room for improvement, and I personally look forward to seeing improvement as future work is discussed and planned.

These were by no means the only subjects discussed under the heading of learning from our past, but this is enough for one post. I hope the discussion can continue here—just click on the link at the top of this post and type your heart out!

The recent statement by the Anglican Primates is slightly more than I hoped for, and if the statements by Episcopal dignitaries and the comments on Episcopal blogs are worse than I feared, more fool me, I suppose. The Primates confirmed that ‘the traditional doctrine of the church in view of the teaching of Scripture’ (is it my imagination or there a faint tinge of regret discernible in the wording there?) ‘upholds marriage as between a man and a woman in faithful, lifelong union.’ Since that is the teaching of Scripture, albeit not in those words, Evangelicals will be pleased that these leading churchmen are willing to say so, and would apologise on behalf of the Episcopal Church for all the vitriolic comments being directed their way.

The statement also asks the Episcopal Church to limit its participation in some aspects of the Anglican Communion, and hopes for the appointment of a Task Group ‘to maintain conversation among ourselves [the Primates, presumably] with the intention of restoration of relationship’ etc. Restoration of relationships with the rest of the Communion presumably depends on a return to the Biblical view of marriage, and unlikely as that it is to happen, Evangelicals in the Episcopal Church must assume that God expects us to lift up our voices in support of that return.

Perhaps this is the place to begin discussing how we might do that, and how to be faithful in a church that seems less tolerant of us than ever. Perhaps there will be some time at the Evangelion II conference scheduled for May 28–30 in Ambridge, PA for further discussion.

I could certainly use a little encouragement…

 

At the recent conference of Evangelicals in the Episcopal Church, Tom Isham brought a wonderful message from the leader of the evangelical wing of the 19th century House of Bishops (believe it or not, Evangelicals and Revisionists were pretty evenly matched in those days): no matter how few of you there may be, keep a high view of Scripture, a warm spirituality, a sound and well defined theology, an informed conscience, and the courage of your convictions. Check it out here:

St John's New HavenGeorge Kovoor, General Secretary of EFAC and rector of St John’s Episcopal Church, New Haven, has invited evangelical clergy in the Episcopal Church to meet in New Haven on Thursday May 1st. The purpose of the gathering will be to affirm our common roots in the Judeo Christian heritage, the historic Anglican evangelical instincts for Biblical truth, discipleship, evangelism, church planting and mission, and to strategise for the future.

The meeting will begin at 9.30 am and end at 5.30 pm, and suggested business includes:

  1. Worship, using proposed propers for the commemoration of the 19th century evangelical bishop of Ohio, Charles Pettit McIlvaine
  2. Bible Study
  3. Sharing our stories
  4. Brain storming and dreaming
  5. Appointing a steering group

Interested clergy are asked to register by comment on this post, or by e-mail to pw35 [at] kentforlife [dot] net. All readers are urged to pass the information on to any clergy who may be interested, and ask them to register in the same way. More details will be sent out by e-mail or snail mail within the next couple of weeks.

 

KOVOOR, George (2012) (300)The Revd Canon George Kovoor, General Secretary of EFAC, has been elected rector of St John’s Episcopal Church, New Haven. St John’s acquired a reputation as an evangelical parish under the long tenure of Peter Rodgers. Kovoor was President of one of the Church of England’s theological colleges (seminaries), Trinity College, Bristol, from 2005 to April 2013.

EFAC is the international body supported by the organisations that represent the Evangelicals in each of the various Anglican churches throughout the world. EFAC-USA, formerly the Fellowship of Witness, was the organisation representing Evangelicals in the Episcopal Church. EFAC-USA ceased to function when its chairman left the Episcopal Church, and has yet to be reorganised. There is a history of EFAC-USA, written by Cook Kimball, and a copy of the EFAC Statement of Faith, on our ‘Resources’ page.

Kovoor hopes to contribute to a reorganisation of EFAC-USA and the renewal of the Episcopal Church: “I am hoping that my arrival to the USA and to St John’s Episcopal Church will be an encouragement to the evangelicals in the USA… I hope I can organise all those who share a common commitment to Christ, the Bible, to Mission and Evangelism. I believe God called me to serve here as a rallying point to faithful evangelicals. I have experienced the presence and the power of the Living God in my life and ministry and am sure that the Lord has brought me here for a purpose.”

George Abbot's statue, Guildford, cropped“In the course of the Reformation, Luther’s driving purpose was to restore preaching to its proper place in Christian worship. Referring to the incident between Mary and Martha in Luke 10, Luther reminded his congregation and students that Jesus Christ declared that “only one thing is necessary,” the preaching of the word (Luke 10:42). Therefore, Luther’s central concern was to reform worship in the churches by re-establishing there the centrality of the reading and preaching of the word.

“That same reformation is needed in American evangelicalism today. Expository preaching must once again be central to the life of the church and central to Christian worship. In the end, the church will not be judged by its Lord for the quality of its music but for the faithfulness of its preaching.”

Read the whole thing here–thanks to Bruce Robison for drawing our attention to it

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