Skip to comments.Stealing A Religion -- When the Faithful Become Trustees
Posted on 12/04/2006 4:59:52 PM PST by sionnsar
"All real and personal property held by or for the benefit of any Parish, Mission or Congregation is held in trust for this Church and the Diocese thereof in which such Parish, Mission or Congregation is located." National Church Canons and Constitutions.
"Your Declaration and Promise Canon 11.8 of the Diocese of Virginia requires that every person chosen a Vestry member qualify by subscribing to a declaration and promise in which the Vestry member states, among other things:...and I do yield my hearty assent and approbation to the doctrines, worship and discipline of The Episcopal Church..." (The Rt. Rev. Peter James Lee, December 1, 2006)
There's that unholy trinity again: the "doctrine, discipline, and worship" of the Episcopal Church".
Last week Bishop John-David Schofield (San Joaquin) was excoriated -- or "ex-Schoriated" -- by the new Presiding Bishop in condescending tones about his laxity in upholding the DDW's (doctrine, discipline, and worship) of the Episcopal Church. The tone was added to distract observers from the fact that the DDW's which Schofield had sworn to uphold were very different from the ones he was now accused of violating. It was a safe bet, from the PB's point of view, that no one would think to evaluate the actual doctrine, discipline, and worship that Bishop Schofield had vowed to uphold. She assumed most Episcopalians, when they think of "doctrine, discipline, and worship", think of the Faith delivered within the past 30 minutes -- like Domino's Pizza.
A few days ago Bishop Peter Lee (Virginia) issued a sobering, and slightly intimidating, letter to the rectors, wardens and vestries of parishes in the Diocese of Virginia that had recently elected to disaffiliate from the Diocese and from the Episcopal Church. He delineated their obligations as trustees of ecclesiastical property and their potential liability in attempting to depart from the institutional Church with their properties. And of course he referred once again to their pledge to uphold DDW's. Everything he said was accurately, clearly and fairly stated. As the diocesan chancellor put it in an accompanying statement, "We are concerned that these congregations may not fully understand the potential legal consequences of their actions. The decision to leave the Diocese should be a fully informed one."
How fair-minded and above board.
What neither the bishop nor his chancellor happened to mention was the one thing that is relevant from a religious point of view -- namely, that the Christian Religion as practiced in the Episcopal Church is not the same as it was when the parishes in question were incorporated, and for that reason the reference to "doctrine, discipline, and worship" is in fact meaningless, except perhaps as a means of intimidation.
Up until very recently "doctrine, discipline and worship" made up a single, relatively static category. "Discipline" -- the laws and customs of the Church or of local churches -- changed periodically, but always as the practical means for realizing the same "doctrine and worship" which constituted "the faith once delivered to the saints".
DDW's have recently gone the way of Hooker's Three Legged Stool. In the latter case Episcopalians typically refer to "scripture, tradition, and reason" when what they really mean is "reason alone" -- or rather, that honorary fourth-and-only stool, "experience alone". Similarly, "doctrine, discipline, and worship" has become a quaint expression meaning "discipline only", by which is meant canon law. As the laws naturally undergo periodic changes, we are to understand that the Faith does as well.
Thus today's ordinands, in presenting themselves before their bishops, put themselves in an awkward position. If the Faith they have "sworn" to uphold can change at any moment, the oath to uphold "the doctrine, discipline, and worship" of the Episcopal Church is a pompous charade. The ordination vow is simply an oath of fealty to the person of the bishop. As the occupant of the office changes, so does the object of the vow.
This is one of the ways that a faith is stolen: break the will of the faith's representatives, so that they no longer represent the faith, but a local institution or arrangement of institutions. To put it another way: make it so the one thing the minister represents is saving his own professional skin.
The second way is even more insidious and has to do with earthy stuff like bricks and mortar. It has to do with the manner in which a counterfeit faith is given substance through the legal title of church real estate.
What has transpired throughout the past thirty years in the Episcopal Church is nothing less than the theft of one religion and the covert setting up of another.
It reminds me of a sci-fi "B" movie I saw several years ago, where aliens invaded planet Earth. Their plan was to take over the world by gradually taking over the bodies of human beings, until more and more people were taken over. At the end all the bodies were intact, but the spirits in the bodies were different. The bodies survived, but the people didn't.
Since the property has come under the control of a different party of "believers", the ancient iconography of the Christian religion -- the stained glass, statuary, paintings, hymnody -- now "houses" a different legion of spirits. They tell a different story of the relationship between God and man. They proclaim "another gospel". As a new generation grows up in the new faith, a new spirit possesses the bodies of the faithful.
Churches that have made the decision to leave the Episcopal Church have discerned that to remain in communion with this Church is be in communion with other spirits. This they refuse to do. They will not drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons and pretend they can't tell the difference.
The argument raging in the Anglican Communion about the limits and nature of communion (koinonia) has not yet named this particular elephant in the room, because to do so would shatter the pretense that some worthy goal awaits our efforts at "reconciliation". Paul, who was fixated more on saving souls than on salvaging an institutional status quo, named it a long time ago in the form of a rhetorical question: "What koinonia has light with darkness?" (2 Cor. 6:15)
I don't believe today's bishops are willfully scheming to undermine the Faith. Their actions demonstrate more a dullness, or desensitizing, of spirit -- the kind that comes from mixing Christ and Belial in the same cup one too many times and telling themselves over and over that there's no real difference.
---The Rev. Gary L'Hommedieu is Canon in charge of Pastoral Care at St. Luke's Cathedral in Orlando, Florida. He is a columnist for Virtueonline.
I'm afraid that any brief statement of my opinion will be misunderstood, but anyway: If the Episcopal Church can, through a polity which is essentially that of a republic with a non-hereditary nobility, develop a new understanding of what appears to many to have been the 1,900 year (give or take) practice and teaching of the catholic (lower case 'c' intentional) Church with respect to what is fit matter for ordination to the priesthood and the episcopate, then it is saying that the Holy Spirit speaks reliably through all four orders and that if something like "due process" is followed and the church can produce something close to a consensus of the majority of all four orders (or, at least, Bishops, Priests and laypersons) then ou can take it to the bank.
As a priest in such a church, I can say, and did say, "I am not an authority, I am a man UNDER authority; when I abide by my commitment to the Doctrine, Discipline and Worship of the Episcopal Church, I am obedient to God Himself, at least in most cases." (and the "at least" clause comes from the article of religion which says that counsels can err and have erred, which implies that maybe Convention can err.)The alleged "genius" of the Episcopal Church and the Elizabethan settlement was, or included, an agreement to find PRACTICE which was sufficiently restricted as to avoid scandalizing anyone but sufficiently broad as to avoid requiring too much agreement in belief.
Consequently, a "high receptionist" and a "transubstantiationist" (if those are really words) could all live together under the same roof; the receptionist knowing that he was not going to be required to adore the Sacrament as though Christ were truly present therein, and the Transubstantiationist secure that he would not witness nor be required to take part in what he would consider a great desecration of the sacred species.
So any of the sacrament which remained after all had communicated was either to be reverently consumed or to be put in a special and decent place.
But, as I have said before, some priests could not contain themselves and had to display their views, by pouring what I hold to be the Precious Blood into the flower bed or by feeding the Sacred Body to dogs.
And, to be fair, other clerics could not contain themselves within the rubrics but by illicit ceremonial and ritual presented something that would be intolerable to their lower church brethren and sistren.
The fabled Anglican comprehensiveness was taken not as an incitement to charity in the midst of profound disagreement but as permission to ignore or traduce some rubrics or to add others to suit one's fancy.
And ceremonial is important, in that it implies doctrine. Cranmer went to his pyre over his notion of the Sacrament. People thought it was important enough to kill and to die for.
But in other matters also, from marriage when a former spouse was still living to the confidentiality of the confessional characerized in the rubrics in the most un-Anglican terms, videlicet: Morally absolute.
We can leave aside the ordinations of the women, which were done in blatant defiance of the same doctrine discipline and worship to which those who approved that ordination now appeal.
Okay. I'm verbose. It's abesetting sin.
But from the mid-seventies, when I was ordained, it was clear that the issue was au fond ecclesiology, and especially ecclesiology as it applies to the revelation of the divine will.
But did the leaders proceed with humility, fear, and trembling, as they sought the barely scrutable will of God and waited for the guidance of the Spirit?
No. They were triumphalist, manipulative, arrogant, intolerant, and deeply and notably lacking in charity. I was present at a dinner when a lady priest gratuitously tore into Presiding Bishop Allen in the context of a formal speech when we all had to sit and squirm as she ranted. Of course, her reason was that Bishop Allen had let it be known that he personally did not think that women could be ordained. But, obedient to the Church in which he was consecrated, he showed more charity than those who held themselves to be victors in the controversy.
Among the women agitating for ordination I heard several explain that the doctrine of the Trinity was outmoded and no longer applicable and that the Divine teaching of forbearance, "Turn the other cheek" was appropriate for a male dominated culture, but had no applicability to women who needed, rather, to be encouraged to be more aggressive.
So the school of those who wanted major changes was also the school of those who had a Humpty Dumpty view of what Fr. L'Hommedieu calls DDW. It was what they were currently saying it was, and nothing more or less.
Consequently, when Peter Lee, whom I knew and liked appeals to the DDW, or when The most Reverend Madame Schori does the same, I think this:
If one deliberately seeks to walk outside of God's will, one will find not that he has walked into his own will, but that he has walked out of the ability to will. When one seeks to have a way other than God's way, one ends up with nobody's way. When one seeks to think thoughts other than those which God teaches, one sooner or later loses the ability to think.
Just as Hugh Hefner has no notion of what committed marital love is or offers, so the leaders of the Episcopal Church have no real notion of thought or will because they prefer their own thought to God's and their own way to The Way.
When this seemed sure to me, as it did after the gang at 815 enthusiastically endorsed the violation of the rubric on the confidentiality of the confessional, I gave up MY life's dream and renounced my orders, and became a Catholic -- as you would say, a Roman Catholic. It was a wrenching choice. In a way, I will never get over it. But it was like cutting off a leg to escape from that orca that recently tried to pull his keeper under. I could have died whole, or lived without a leg.
What can I say, the music is usually lousy, the architecture often banal, but Life is good. Not fun, just good. I'll settle for that. (And, hey, sometimes it's fun ...)
I didn't knw that: when did this happen? (It must have been during the years I was paying no attention to ECUSA.)
A bishop of my personal acquaintance was called to testify in a law-suit because he had heard the confession of a priest who was sexually molesting young boys. The diocese was being sued. He said he could not violate the seal. The judge said that was contemptuous and would cost him $1k per day until he yielded -- but the clock wouldn't start running for a few days. Now the penitent had given his permission, but the rubric is "morally absolute", a wiggle-room-free turn of phrase.
The cleric called 815 and said,"HALP!" They said,"Break the seal." So he did. This was in the eighties - less than 2 decades after the new BCP was official and the rubric on private confession had passed two votes of both houses.
The bishop himself, not the sharpest knife in the drawer, pleaded that the young man in question had threatened suicide if the case was not resolved and things of that kind. I said in response,"morally absolute." I should have saved my breath.
I wrote 815 and got no answer. I called 815 and a priest (coincidentally of the female persuasion) said, "That's how we make theology in the Episcopal Church."
I spoke to my bishop, Peter Lee. He tried, bizarrely, to argue that since RC canons discourage an ordinary from hearing a confession of one of his clergy, therefore the confession was invalid. I pointed out that the canons go on to say that if the ordinary does hear such a confession he is still bound by confidentiality. Bp Lee in a subsequent conversation referred to the confession as "irregular". (When they want it to RC canon law holds sway over TEC. When they don't want it to, it doesn't. I have searched and failed ot find anything like that in explicit law or in precedent, but what do I know?) This is exactly why I am so bitter about Schori (is that the right spelling?) and Lee appealing to the DDW. For them the DDW is something to pull out only when it cuts their way.
I hope I am responsive to your question.
But more seriously, this sounds like it was late 80s which was indeed in the time I paid no attention to the goings-on in ECUSA. But still, the actions of 815... ugh.
It COULD have been very early '90's. I'm busily trying to forget, and my computer with all the requisite information died long ago.
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