Free Republic
Browse · Search
Topics · Post Article

Skip to comments.

As Eye See It -- Realignment and the Episcopal Church
VirtueOnline-News ^ | 3/28/2004 | The Very Rev. Dr. theol. Paul F. M. Zahl

Posted on 03/28/2005 7:50:45 AM PST by sionnsar



"It was a dark and stormy night." And so it is these days, for traditional and orthodox Episcopalians in North America, and in many other places, for that matter.

A few years ago, I quoted from the you've-got-to-see-it-to-believe-it first scene of the 1968 English kitsch classic The Lost Continent, in which the captain on deck asks himself, "How did we get here? How did this happen to us?" We were all trying to understand, before Gene Robinson was elected bishop of New Hampshire, how our Church had arrived at this "pretty mess, this howdy-do" (Gilbert and Sullivan). I think we sensed then what was coming.

Then it happened. "What I had feared has come upon me." (Job 3:25)

On August 5, 2003, the long march of the Episcopal Church's apparent cultural captivity reached its mark. A practicing gay bishop was elected and approved, then consecrated and installed. At that point, a storm did indeed break out, a world-wide storm. We can now, sadly, compare it to a tsunami.

The Primates met in emergency fashion in October 2003, the Eames Commission was established, and their report, the Windsor Report, was duly released on October 16, 2004. Now the Primates of the Anglican Communion have met in Northern Ireland, and they have responded to The Windsor Report. Their communiqué is dated 24 February 2005.

It has been for a great many of us, including most of the family of Trinity Episcopal School for Ministry, a dark and stormy night.

So much has been at stake. Our whole lives, our lives before God and the Gospel of Christ as we have received it and understand it, our ministries: all these have been on the line. Many good people have lost their ministries or have migrated into "continuing churches" or have taken an early retirement or have gone to Rome or have just retreated into mud-holes or, truth to tell, morphed. (Sometimes if you can't lick 'em, you can still join 'em.)

Our ministries have been, forever, for this life, affected. Property disputes have broken out, lawyers have been retained, countless e-mails have been sent (and regretted later), mighty statements have been made (and also regretted later), websites have become world-wide news organs, the national and international media have been hugely interested, and interview after interview after interview has been given.

I feel sure I can say that many people who have served in the church for a long time never, ever expected it would ever come to this. Charges and counter-charges, dear men and women being inhibited and deposed from their ordained ministries, even families separated and embittered over sides-taking on this devilish battle-ground: what a bitter harvest from the Fifth of August 2003.

I write as a traditional and orthodox seminary dean. I can honestly say that my wife Mary and I never thought, over thirty-two years of service, that it would get this bad. That it would have come to this, we just never thought. Yet, like General Jackson, we hope it will be said of Trinity Episcopal School for Ministry, "There they are, standing like a stone wall".

What does it mean, to say we're still standing? Standing where? For whom? Towards what aim or end? Even, why? Why are we still standing, at least why are we still standing here, and not there? And what is here, and what is there?


The purpose of this short paper is to try to answer two questions: What are we now to think, about all that has happened, especially since 8.5.2003? And, where are we to go? Or better, where does God want us to go?


There are two possible strategies in dealing with our problem. The first is the "outside strategy". This means leaving ECUSA and setting up our own alternative church or structure. The second is the "inside strategy". This means hanging in there and working for positive change from within.

There is precedent in our history for both strategies. The Protestant Reformation ended up, in most regions, with an outside strategy. It was never the Reformers' founding idea to separate from the old church. But politics and also resistance on the part of the old church meant that it worked out that way. The Methodists, similarly, started with an inside strategy, to renew the Church of England from the inside out. But again, resistance from the Established Church, coupled with the needs of the American frontier, created a situation from which only an outside strategy could finally prosper.

In our own history, there is the case of the Reformed Episcopal Church, which broke away in 1874 over significant theological concerns, and drew with it most of the younger "Low Churchmen" of that period. This schism had huge consequences as it created an amnesia on the part of future ECUSA leaders concerning the Evangelical tradition of Anglicanism. Many will remember that when they were converted to Christ, as Episcopalians, they had never heard of nor seen an "evangelical" Episcopalian. We had to find our mentors and models overseas, or among the non-Episcopal "free churches".

The inside strategy sounds good. And it basically is good. It takes the more apparently humble path in seeking not to supplant or lecture the old church, but rather to listen to it, and walk with it in a more patient and gentle way. None of us would probably wish to protest at this point. It was always one of the attractive features of the Roman Catholic charismatic renewal that their prayer groups seemed to embody a humble spirit in relation to the church at large. These people were content to meet in church basements and in home groups clustered around renewed local churches, and not draw down upon themselves the criticism of self-righteousness or a "holier than thou" attitude which renewal groups in the Protestant denominations usually encounter.

The problem with the inside strategy is that in the American context, which is culturally confrontative and often "my-way-or-the-highway", we tend to get hounded out. Evangelical personal religion can prove mightily threatening to traditional Episcopalian ways of doing things. It is partly cultural baggage, for evangelicals and charismatics have been labeled as crypto-Baptists and the like. Many convinced Episcopalians pin their whole religious identity on not being "baptist-y".

So the inside strategy is problematic for us. We want to do it. We want to work within the old church. We love a great many things about the old church. We love, for example, the Prayer Book tradition and its vertical worship. We love the beauty of our ancient parishes - ancient, at least, by USA standards. We love good music. We value the continuity with the past that the old church can represent.

The question is, Will the old church let us be ourselves? That is the question. Will we actually be allowed, within ECUSA, to develop an acceptable inside strategy? Will bishops who oppose our emphases give us the space to live them out?

What has happened in a great many cases is that the bishops have proven themselves to be uncomfortable with us. Whether we are Anglo-Catholic traditionalists, Evangelical believers in Scripture's "Old, Old Story", or neo-pentecostal people, many bishops, perhaps even most bishops, have seen us as slightly less than "Anglican". I remember when a former Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church was asked what he thought of Dr. Carey, the 103rd Archbishop of Canterbury. He remarked, "Well, he doesn't seem very Anglican to me". What a thing to say. What a thing to think!

The point is, I will bet that almost all orthodox believers within the Episcopal Church, and also those who have recently departed from ECUSA, would say, if you woke them up in the middle of the night, yes, I prefer the inside strategy. That is the way it should be. The question for us now, is: Will our bishops let us pursue such a way forward? So far, the news, in the main, has not been reassuring.


Everything is tentative in times like these - except the message of God's Grace in Christ to the desperate world. Concrete plans and strategies are necessarily tentative. "Who knows what tomorrow will bring?" (Traffic 1968)

What we do know is that the Primates acted in our favor on February 24, 2005. Despite the media "spin", which implied that there was something for everyone in the Primates' communiqué, it was in fact a clear victory for the orthodox side. ECUSA and the Anglican Church of Canada were barred from the Anglican Consultative Council until the Lambeth Conference of 2008. A "panel of reference" appointed by the Archbishop of Canterbury to provide recourse and relief for orthodox parishes and dioceses was set in motion, as opposed to the Eames Report's prior endorsement of ECUSA's proposal for such relief. The Lambeth 1998 resolution on human sexuality was re-iterated "in its entirety". And a moratorium was called for on same-sex blessings and any further consecrations of active homosexual clergy to the episcopate.

On any reading, this was a win for the conservatives.

What can we now say about our hope of an inward strategy?

First, an inside strategy in relation to ECUSA:

I think we should stay in ECUSA for as long as we possibly can. If we continue to be pushed out - and quite a few clergy and congregations have felt and been pushed out, and that is the only word for it - then we have to go. But in a lot of cases, we could stay, provided we are not "harried out of the land". On the day that Harvard College celebrated its 350th anniversary, Peter Gomes, Minister in the Memorial Church, introduced the then Archbishop of Canterbury, Robert Runcie, to give a solemn benediction at the close of the long official proceedings. The Archbishop said, with much twinkle, "Had it not been for my predecessor (i.e., William Laud), none of you would be here!" Everyone guffawed.

In present context, however, it is not quite so funny. Archbishop Laud literally forced the non-conforming Puritans to flee England. The fact that they were central to the founding of our country does not take away from the fact that Laud forced them to leave. He used to put them in jail and sometimes slit their noses or cut off their ears. He thought he was defending the unity of the Church. Was he? The results were baleful for Britain yet good for us in hindsight. But is this any way to run an airline?

The point is, I think we should stay as an organic part of ECUSA just as long as we possibly can. The Primates have now given us further incentive to do this. This means keeping lines of communication open and maintaining bridges where possible.

Personally, I am asking bishops who are in the "center" or even "center-left" to consider their attitude to Trinity Episcopal School for Ministry. So many bishops have simply refused, as a matter of policy and for years now, to allow their postulants and candidates for the ministry to consider coming to us. This has never helped. It has not helped any of us. It reinforces the walls of dis-affection, as opposed to playing on our famous Anglican "bonds of affection".

Barring men and women from attending Trinity has been a symbol of our... marginalization. It has not served us, needless to say. But nor has it served the non-sending bishops. The policy of excluding Trinity, as well as Nashotah House in many quarters, and even, at times, Episcopal Divinity School, has built walls of offense and decades of resentment. There is nothing good to be gained from embargoing legitimate expressions of Christian believing in the Christian Church. Yet this is what we have faced, for many years now, at least at Trinity.

I am arguing for a much more permeable relationship between a distanced minority - the losers in the Gene Robinson affair and its aftermath - and the majority, the leadership who OK'd this policy switch, but who have proven to be "poor winners".

Could we not say to the ascendant group within ECUSA, and especially to the bishops, Reach out to us, give us some ground, give us a little rope, some Spielraum as the German language puts it? We want to keep the lines of communication open.

I, for one, still consider myself to be an Episcopalian in good standing. And the Primates have just backed us. But to carry on, within ECUSA, it will depend, at this point in the crisis, on the "winners" giving us some help. As the Chicago bluesman Charlie Musslewhite sang it, "You gotta help me. I just can't do it for myself..."

Second, concerning the Network (i.e., The Network of Anglican Communion Parishes and Dioceses).

The Network is a creature of necessity. It is an organization of common cause and godly defense to which we need to listen and to which we should all be receptive. It was not somebody's bright idea. It is not somebody's conceit of a whole new church. Not at all! It was enlisted upon us, especially in sectors of the church where theological traditionalists felt isolated and specifically put out by ecclesiastical power.

At Trinity, we serve gladly in The Diocese of Pittsburgh. We rejoice in the missional vision of Bishop Robert Duncan, Bishop Henry Scriven, and the clergy and people of the area. Why should not Christian people look to other like-minded Christian people for support and a refuge? England in the early 17th century - under excellent Archbishop Abbot that is, not Archbishop Laud - became the haven for thousands of dispossessed Protestant people who had been driven off from their homelands on the continent of Europe. Later, the American Colonies became a place of refuge, and proudly so, for all our sakes. And not just for dispossessed Protestants, but also for dispossessed Roman Catholics (I mean Maryland).

Is there something wrong with offering a safe haven for consecrated church people who are being treated as if they have no freedom and no sovereignty to do what they believe they have been given? Will you agree with me that in principle the Network is a protection, like Lady Liberty, for "your poor, your tired, and your huddled masses yearning to breathe free"?

I fail to see what the "threat" of the Network really consists in, and especially after the Primates have spoken so clearly concerning ECUSA. Again, the Network would not have to exist if thousands of us had not simply had to give up a safe place at the table in dioceses across this country. Therefore, while we continue to keep the bridges safe, or as safe as possible, between ECUSA and our minority of orthodox laity and clergy, can we not affirm the Network for giving us the hope of "a safe lodging, and a holy rest and peace at the last" (Cardinal Newman)?


At Trinity we welcome students from the Anglican Mission in America. (How could we not, considering that our beloved John Rodgers is also a bishop with the AMiA?) I repeat, we welcome AMiA students and do not un-church them.

Personally, I have experienced a little distance from some of my old friends who have left ECUSA for the Anglican Mission. I never quite understand this, although comments from The Rev. Heman Dyer, who was part of the Reformed Episcopal crisis of the 1870's but decided to remain within (P)ECUSA, may shed some light. As late as 1886 Dyer noted the same mood from his former brethren who had left the old church for the REC: they did not seem to wish to continue close contact with him and other colleagues who had "stayed in". Dyer thought it might have something to do with the psychology of "leaving".

Whatever the roots of such a mood, Trinity does not wish this. I do not wish it. We would be extremely happy to provide formation and training for any and all AMiA ministerial students as well as laity. And I think we can. Theology is not the problem, nor "issues", nor churchmanship. So our "our mouth is open to you; our heart is wide" (II Corinthians 6:11).

The same is true of students in the Forward in Faith tradition, which we affirm warmly, as well as students from the so-called "continuing churches". If you want a rigorous and biblical education for ministry, come to us, talk to us, tell us how we can help you in your context. This is an invitation and it is sincere.


A major part of our strategy is our connection with orthodox Anglicans in the so-called "Two-Thirds World". We are not out on a limb, in other words, although it has felt that way at home. Not only do we have the long tendency of Anglican history with us - and by that I mean most especially the Prayer Book in its Cranmerian form, the Thirty-Nine Articles (1561), and the famous Homilies of the Church of England - but we have the majority, the large numerical majority with us, of Anglicans world-wide. They hold the same views as we do, regarding the death of Christ, His Resurrection, His pentecostal presence with us now, and His stamp of confirmation on the written Bible.

I think of that deceptive Steven Sondheim musical entitled "Into the Woods", which pulled and turned around several classic children's fairy tales. Did you ever hear the climactic and supposedly uplifting song at the end: "No one is alone"? Come to find out, the song insists that we are not alone simply because we can talk to ourselves. Kind of a conversation between me, myself, and I! I have never felt so let down by a Broadway show.

It is different with Christians, and certainly with Anglican Christians. We are not alone because we are not alone. I do not just mean God - on Whom we are truly counting - but I mean millions and millions of traditional Christians who call themselves Anglican and live in Nigeria, Rwanda, Egypt, Singapore, Barbados, Portadown, Bolivia and the Falklands. Orthodox Anglicans in ECUSA and in Canada are in fact not alone!

Now, yes, sometimes the Christians in the rest of the world resist a little our "leaning" so purposefully on them. They chide us for calling on them when we need them, but what about involving ourselves with AIDS there and "Third World debt" and a host of other presenting difficulties they face? Are we as interested in what they have to say about American economic policy as we seem to be in what they say about homosexuality? Good question.

Nevertheless, we are not alone. This is a fact. Every time I talk to a Ugandan Anglican Christian or a Bolivian Anglican Christian or you name it, I am strengthened, and encouraged. Why do they think, as it were, as I do? Because they love the Biblical Jesus and are crowding around His atoning Cross. They "wade in the water" (Ramsey Lewis), with all the other sinners. They "won't get fooled again" (The Who), mainly because they read the Bible.

The point is, we are with the tide. We are shoulder to shoulder. The regnant leaders of our American Episcopal Church do not actually speak for the people who are Anglican. It can be proved plainly that we are arguing from strength. And now, too, the Primates have spoken.


At this point, it is time to talk about conflict, Grace, martyrdom, and how we can think positively theologically about the situation we are in. I wish to reflect briefly concerning the theology of being a minority within an inside strategy.

When there is conflict in the church, a few important values come to the fore. The first and most important value which comes to the fore is Grace.

What I see utterly missing among most, but not all, of the "winners" in this sad confrontation, is Grace. These people have not been good winners. The hounding of Network clergy and vestries, the appeals to episcopal prerogative and authority, the inhibitions and depositions of sincere life-long committed parish priests: these have been entirely at odds with the Christian profession. This is not to say that sin has not been on both sides of the divide. Stentorian and self-righteous talk is everywhere. But in this case, in the case of what has happened since August 5, 2003, the winners, in particular, have conceded very little to the losers.

Grace on the part of winners always means concession. It always means making space. It means giving that takes place from the top down. It means the kind of gesture that Abraham Lincoln made after the defeat of General Lee's army, when he let the soldiers of the Confederacy take their rifles home with them and when he asked that 'Dixie' be played after the stillness at Appomattox. If only Lincoln had lived!

Grace means the kind of gesture that was made by John Bruton, president of the Republic of Ireland, when he called on the victorious Roman Catholic "residents' association" in Portadown, Northern Ireland to let the Protestant Orangemen have their annual church parade along the Garvaghy Road.

Victory is baptized into the Christian faith when it issues in gift and concession. Read Philippians, chapter two. That text is the Christian charter for winners. Christ "emptied himself, taking the form of a servant and not counting equality with God a thing to be grasped". The view of God and life represented by St. Paul's unique voice of Christian Grace in his Letter to the Philippians is exactly what the "winners" in ECUSA do not seem to be reading or yearning to become.

For "losers" - and I write as a loser, in ECUSA terms - Grace means the willingness to be martyred. This is dramatic language, to be sure, and we are not talking Darfur, or Christians in Pakistan or northern Nigeria. But we are talking a certain passive resistance (to coin a phrase!). Passive resistance bows as the hammer falls.

Do you remember what the Levites did when the Roman general Pompey entered the precincts of the Temple? They offered their necks to his soldiers. The ancient historian Josephus made much of that. His countrymen did the same on one occasion when Pontius Pilate used force at Jerusalem. They offered their necks to the Praetorian Guard.

A Ugandan scholar at Duke University is writing a dissertation on the life of Archbishop Janani Luwum, who was martyred by Idi Amin 25 years ago. What served Luwum so powerfully, I asked this man, that he could be nerved to go uncomplainingly to his death, as a Christian? The Ugandan scholar's answer was powerful: "Luwum was converted very dramatically as a teenager, so overwhelmingly that he remembered speaking in tongues at the moment he was mastered by Christ. This was in the East African revival, decades before the 'charismatic renewal' in North America." What I took away from this is that Luwum died to himself, when he was converted. He blisteringly felt his old life taken away, a new life conferred. This exchange, of life to death and then death to Christ's life within him, made a tidal-wave difference.

Now we, you and I, have to be ready to be martyred. This is to say, we, as the losers, probably have to be prepared to give it all away. We have to be prepared to give away our love affair with things English, with Gothic stone churches (peaceful, tranquil!), with needlepoint kneelers and cherry wood pews and altar pieces, with robed pomp and even Healey Willan. I don't wish for this. You probably don't either. But we may be being forced, or demanded, by the God who governs all events, to get prepared to give it all away. I hope not, for sure, but the preparedness is our vocation for now.

Even with the inside strategy, which I am commending here, it is still likely that we will be saying, in a few years time, what Dr. Seuss said as the title for one of his late books: "Oh the places you will go!" Unless, of course, the ECUSA bishops heed our pleas, and listen to the Primates.

So it is martyrdom, of a sort, for the losers; and concession, to clear degree, for the winners. In Christianity, if the winners were to give way, and the losers to present their necks, you know what the result would be? It would be reconciliation. It would be a fresh and new future. It would be the open door to a whole new broadened way. That is empirically true. It seldom happens.

Grace means exactly this: giving way from the victor's side and preparedness for self-offered death from the loser's.


There is a final note which this short paper concerning what we should think and where we should go needs to sound. It is the note of eschatology. (Whuh?)

Eschatology, which means the doctrine of the last or final things, teaches that it is all going to be all right one day. First Corinthians chapter 15 tells us this. The Lord Jesus Christ told us this, several times. We are not ultimately seeing "through a glass darkly" (I Cor. 13:12). This is because the kingdom of this world will one day be the Kingdom of our God.

It is not just Herr Moltmann who taught me this. Moltmann felt it when he was in a freezing cold prison camp, far, far from home and so very young. The Huguenots taught the world this when they had to get on ships and sail for the Carolina 'Low Country' in the late 1600s. It was no "travel destination" then! This Hope kept the Apostle Paul going, as he tried, tirelessly, to get to Spain, and met impasses every step of the way. (He never got to Spain.) This Hope kept Bernadette from giving up when no one believed her beautiful vision at Lourdes. The Hope kept David Trimble, the Ulster Unionist politician, from giving up when nobody, absolutely nobody, thought the Good Friday Agreement would ever pass.

This is the clincher. On that great and glorious Day, the kingdoms of this world will become the Kingdom of our God. Not only will we find out to what percentage we all were wrong about everything, but we shall also be "satisfied". I invoke the Beatitudes. We will have hungered back then. We shall be satisfied now. We will have mourned back then, we shall laugh the laugh of embraced comfort now. We will have been poor, and bereft, and martyred - back then - and will now see that "ours was the Kingdom of God", even back then.

Do you remember Carly Simon? No matter. But do you remember her song, "These are the good old days"? When we come finally to look back on all this, I do sincerely believe that we will see the hand of God. We will see His Hand in our dependence, in our repentance, in our confession both positively (we kept the Faith) and negatively (we did a lot of things badly, on both sides even), in our weakness most especially, in our abject reduction - being reduced to so little, I mean - in our defeat. But the Vox Christianismi ipsississimi, the most distilled voice of our religion, is this and no other: I can do all things through Christ, who strengtheneth me. For when I am weak, He is strong.

The Very Rev. Dr. theol. Paul F. M. Zahl is Dean and President, Trinity Episcopal School for Ministry.

TOPICS: Mainline Protestant
KEYWORDS: angpost1; ecusa; nashotah; seminary; trinity; zahl

1 posted on 03/28/2005 7:50:55 AM PST by sionnsar
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | View Replies]

To: ahadams2; Saint Reagan; Marauder; stan_sipple; SuzyQue; LifeofRiley; TheDean; pharmamom; ...
Traditional Anglican ping, continued in memory of its founder Arlin Adams.

FReepmail sionnsar if you want on or off this moderately high-volume ping list (typically 3-7 pings/day).
This list is pinged by sionnsar and newheart.

Resource for Traditional Anglicans:

Speak the truth in love. Eph 4:15

2 posted on 03/28/2005 7:51:29 AM PST by sionnsar (†† || Iran Azadi || Where are we going, and why are we in this handbasket?)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: sionnsar

Very inspiring...Blessed are the peacemakers, what?

The question that burns in my heart, however, is why should we desire to remain in the company of those who do not love us & with whom we have so little in common? What end is accomplished by remaining under the Shepherds & within a family who denounces Christ's divinity, or demotes Holy Scripture to the status of a flawed historical document, or discards the ages-old doctrines of the Church in order to make a MINISCULE number of sinners appear justified in their sin? What is our role to be in that dysfunctional "family?" As the "losers," are we to humble ourselves into silence while a false doctrine is preached to our children & grandchildren? Do we wait silently until apathy overtakes us & we are "assimilated by the Borg?" Shall we stand idly by while innocents in search of God are invited into the church & told such lies as, "I believe Jesus is just a rotting bag of bones somewhere in Jerusalem?" (A quote from a seminary professor, believe it or not)

For all of the fine talk about humility, reconciliation, & grace, I've not heard a single compelling reason for the orthodox & the revisionists to remain yoked to one another. Those two oxen will forever be pulling in opposite directions & accomplishing nothing. I don't know about anyone else, but I have enough crosses to bear in this lifetime & my Church shouldn't be one of them.

3 posted on 03/28/2005 7:12:27 PM PST by torqemada ("Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition!")
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 2 | View Replies]

To: sionnsar

I see Paul Zahn hasn't heard of PCK either. Or, if he has, given the Anglo-Catholicism involved, perhaps we're not really worthy of being seriously discussed. But, if he really wants back in ECUSA, then fine, away he can go. Personally, I'm really surprised his seminary is being shunned by ECUSA. Given he sounds eminently Protestant and just barely this side of Zwinglism, that should give all the leeway needed to produce clergy competent to make up any story they think works.

I'm sorry but I don't see the conservatism in VR Zahn.

4 posted on 03/29/2005 12:55:59 PM PST by BelegStrongbow (Having a human friend is no bed of roses-but hobbits? That's very different. :))
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 2 | View Replies]

Disclaimer: Opinions posted on Free Republic are those of the individual posters and do not necessarily represent the opinion of Free Republic or its management. All materials posted herein are protected by copyright law and the exemption for fair use of copyrighted works.

Free Republic
Browse · Search
Topics · Post Article

FreeRepublic, LLC, PO BOX 9771, FRESNO, CA 93794 is powered by software copyright 2000-2008 John Robinson