A Response to Josh

This post started out as a response to the comment that Josh left on the previous post but ballooned beyond the size of a proper comment…

The Church is not about “winning” or “losing” (your language, not mine). I fully believe in the Episcopal Church as a big-tent movement and am committed to it remaining so. One part of that big-tent, though, covers those of us who believe in the creeds without any finger-crossing, and that voice needs to be heard and taken into account.

Yes, the broader church will often ignore what we say because the Anglo-Catholic side has historically been guilty of oppressing and suppressing women and those not in the closet. And the irony of that position is that there were more closeted gay priests in the Anglo-Catholic movement than probably anywhere else in the Episcopal Church put together. The points that I’m making here are these: 1) those of us who do identify as catholic within today’s Episcopal Church need to commit ourselves to fully including LGBT folk, women, and children. I bring this up because I’m addressing an issue I see in my own community. (You may not be seeing it, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.) In my experience, there are gay-friendly churches who still limit and suppress the legitimate ministries of women and children. 2) It’s not enough for us to act in these ways, we also need to communicate it broadly so that we can no longer be dismissed because of the sins of our fathers 50 years ago that we have since put behind us. 3) Welcoming women to the altar (as with St Paul’s K Street) is a strong visible step forward, but is not sufficient to say that women—and children—have been fully included.

You haven’t seen these things? I’m not surprised. You’re not an Anglo-Catholic father of two daughters married to a female priest. This situation gives me a very useful perspective from which to observe and comment upon my own community (which is what I’m doing…). I never understood sexism in the church until I was married to M and heard, saw, and experienced the sexism that she did and continues to encounter; I never reflected thoughtfully from an informed perspective on the place of children in church until I had my own.

Is the issue of children in church an issue throughout the church? Most certainly. But an important difference between my community and others is our understanding of the Eucharist. If Communion is just a time to think pleasant thoughts about Jesus while we have a snack together, than kids may well be better served somewhere else coloring pictures of Bible stories. In my theology, though, the Eucharist is the rite through which the whole gathered community most fully embodies myriad and multiple aspects of the Body of Christ as we bring together the mystical, social, eschatological, and sacramental Bodies of Christ into one shared experience. If the children are not there they miss something important; if they’re not there, we miss something important too: the Body of Christ is visibly diminished at the point where we are attempting to enact it most fully.

That deals with the points that I was raising in my previous post. Now, I do need to address a piece of baggage that you felt the need to insert (that I neither said nor intended) and which perfectly illustrates the kind of projection that hapens when an Anglo-Catholic speaks up.

You wrote in your comment:

Maybe if Anglo-Catholics stopped holding themselves out as practicing a superior version of the faith, they’d face less discrimination; I don’t know. . . . Instead, what I see denomination-wide is that the Catholic movement has won (but thinks they haven’t), thanks by and large to the rubric in the ’79 Prayer Book mandating the Eucharist as the principal Sunday service. . . . Meanwhile the “evangelical wing” has been thoroughly routed and/or has walked out. We are all catholic now, we are all evangelical, and thanks be to God. . . . It’s true that Derek and I disagree about the usefulness of pious add-ons (my term) to the liturgy, and that TEC as a whole will never adopt them for general use *unless they appear in the Prayer Book.* But as I survey all the changes in this Church in the last 40 years, in which Protestors have moved almost entirely to the Catholic side, I’m astonished at the persistence of these distinctions, as if the Catholic movement cannot rest until every pious add-on has been adopted by every last one of us. . . . Can Catholics never simply declare victory and throw a party? Apparently not; it really is about all those pious add-ons now, isn’t it. Anything to continue dividing us.

So—I post about making sure that my community is including children in worship and suddenly it becomes “Derek wants to make Josh say prayers to Mary.” Really? What a fascinating reaction…

First off, weekly communion is not a “Catholic” thing, it’s an “Anglican” thing. The celebration of the Eucharist on Sundays and Holy Days was the pattern laid down by both the English 1549 BCP and the English 1662 which has since formed a template for most of the rest of the Anglican Communion. Whether these patterns were actually followed is another thing entirely, but to call them “Catholic” rather than “Anglican” is to misrepresent our Anglican origins.

Therefore, and second, the fact of a weekly Communion does not mean “the Catholic movement has won” as you put it. The Disciples of Christ (some background here) have weekly communion; are they therefore “Catholic”?  You have fallen into a conventional mistake of confusing ritual with theology. Just because a church does a certain thing does not establish what they believe about it. I would suggest that since the convergence of the Ecumenical Movement and the Liturgical Renewal Movement the broad middle portion of the Episcopal church has adopted a number of practices that were seen a century ago as “Catholic”—but that does not mean that the beliefs of these Episcopalians have changed or that they hold to the catholic theologically grounded logic of why some things are done and not others. Indeed, this is a key to our big-tent system: we can participate in the same liturgies yet understand them and what we do in them in some very different ways.

Third, I care not one whit whether you or anyone else uses “pious add-ons.” I use some of them because they feed me spiritual. I have no interest in imposing them on anyone else. You’ll note that they are entirely optional in my edition of the Offices. I’ll even go out on a limb and wager that the catholic movement as a whole doesn’t care if you use them or not. Your knee-jerk assumption about my agenda says more about you than me.

What do I care about? Resurgent Arianism in the church really bothers me; approval and promotion of teachers who suggest that Jesus was just an enlightened revolutionary teacher rather than God Incarnate bothers me. Casual modalism bothers me. Indeed, causual modalism implying that Jesus has no role as Creator or Sanctifier further reinforces Arian tendencies. Insidious Gnosticism and the notion that the faith is about an individual’s intellectual assent to a set of ideas rather than the communal living of embodied beliefs bothers me. Disconnecting the sacraments from a life of discipleship bothers me. The Eucharist is a sacrificial meal of reconciliation that draws us deeper into our baptismal vows and commitments. It is a sign of and for the baptized community and those who wish to receive it should be invited into the community through the font. Concerns about Christology have real, practical, pastoral implications; sacramental theology matters in how we see God at work in the world around us. This isn’t a “superior version of the faith”—it’s the faith as we’ve been taught it. I have a duty to teach it to my children and, by extension, to have confidence that the other members of the church who are teaching my children hold it too.

13 Replies to “A Response to Josh”

  1. Derek, your final paragraph was very helpful for me. I was just filling out a questionnaire for a CREDO conference and it asked me what goal I had for my leadership in worship. I said I wanted to raise the Christology of my parish without becoming more catholic in our ritual.

    The “catholic” word choice was shorthand, and since the answers were for me to use later, I knew what I meant. But your final paragraph is a better and more fleshed-out description of what I’m talking about. So thanks for that!

  2. Derek, I think the truth is that many or most Episcopalians really don’t have any reference points to connect the church together with the things you’re talking about here. Perhaps this is true of current-day Christians across the board and not particular to our church, though; I’m not sure. That’s why you’re being misunderstood so completely by so many different kinds of people in so many different ways; you simply aren’t talking about the same things because you have no references in common. You’re a bit of a throwback – in a good way, I mean, but that’s the reality, I think.

    I run into this a lot when talking about faith/religion with secularists; they understand the world in a completely different way, and can’t at all relate to what I’m talking about. So we end up talking completely past one another – about totally different things. We have no common language – and, of course, many are trying to “win” an argument with me, too.

    Another problem is, as you’ve noted, that people are so used to “taking sides in disputes” that they assume everybody’s coming from some particular advocacy-group position – and that if they don’t agree with what (they think) you’re saying, you must be on the wrong side.

    All of this means the problem is much deeper than I’ve been thinking it was. It means that nobody in the past 40 years or so has been able to explain why these things are important – or, perhaps, even what they mean. It seems like a big problem.

    Greg, I used to attend a parish that was mostly broad-church in ritual, but with very high Christology. It can be done!

  3. I’ve been very interested in both of these posts, Derek. I read the first one as you probably intended it, as a useful call to the Anglo-Catholic community to make strides on the issues of women and gays in church leadership, and children in church. Because you addressed that post to Anglo-Catholics, I was pretty sure it didn’t apply to my church, since we don’t use incense in worship, nor engage in other such high-church practices (though we have traditional worship). However, reading this post makes me think that your definition of “Anglo-Catholic” is not about ritual practices at all, but about theology. I share the theology of your last paragraph, and the frustrations with others who don’t follow these historic doctrines of the church. Does that make me an Anglo-Catholic, by your definition? Perhaps the disagreements expressed here relate to the fact that different people use the term “Anglo-Catholic” to mean very different things. I would be glad to join the “Anglo-Catholic” club if it simply means I can say the Nicene Creed without crossing my fingers. And by the way, I am very distressed to learn that other members of the SCLM tended to dismiss your suggestions because you come from the Anglo-Catholic perspective (whatever you mean by the term). Thank you for carrying the torch of traditional catholic doctrine, and for all the work you have put into our liturgy.

  4. It is my experience, and perhaps because of the place and people that formed me as a priest, that “Anglo-Catholic” is primarily a way of approaching, thinking about, and engaging the enduring Faith and has very little to do with the “add ons.” To me, it means simply the practice of the Catholic faith as experienced in the English (Anglo) tradition. Incense, etc., is a part, but certainly not what defines our spirituality as we adhere to and worship our Saviour. Plus, for all the younger people who now call our parish home, they have no reference concerning the stereotypes and those old ways of warring against one another because of “churchmanship” – it is simply a new way of experiencing the Faith.

    The parish in which I service, as long as I’ve been here (12-years now and for much longer than I’ve been here), the negative stereotypes have not applied, but we are most certainly a “Catholic-minded” parish within the storied history of the “Anglo-Catholic” way of the Faith.

  5. When I first started attending an Anglo-Catholic parish, it was because of the Christ-centered preaching. The incense and icons were icing on the cake. Thanks for saying this better than I could express.

  6. I proudly call myself a “Protestant Episcopalian”. I would describe my attitude twoard worship as “high church but not AC”. I enjoy chasubles and incense, but ultimately I am happy to attend any parish with a weekly (or more often) Eucharist from an authorized prayer book, even if they celebrate at the north end of the Lord’s Table in cassock, surplice, and stole. I am equally opposed to unauthorized missals and the importation of the Presbyterian hymn sandwitch into Anglicanism. I agree very strongly with you about Creedal orthodoxy and about sacramental discipline. I don’t see those things as AC party concerns, they’re concerns for every serious Christian in TEC, Catholic, orthodox Broad Church, or Evangelical.

  7. Derek, thank you for this. I share you concerns about Christology, and about Gnosticism. Our parish hosts many AA meetlings weekly (as do many churches) and I have a good relationship with the leadership of these groups. Some AA memeers have found their way into worship here, and some of or parishioners have found sobriety through AA. So I was deeply troubled (and furious) when an AA member glowingly reported to me about the meeting she had just left was led by N. (a clergy colleague of mine) who told the group that “Religion was for people who were afraid of going to hell; spirituality is for people who have already been there.” Now, I recognize that many people in AA have been burned by their religious tradition; I also understand that AA can not espouse or embrace any particular faith. But to have a Christian priest continue to reinforce such bad theology (which might well have the effect of keeping those who heard him from seeking out any faith community) is beyond irresponsible. That’s an example (IMHO) of Gnosticism.And what’s even sadder about it is that Sam Shoemaker, the Episcopal priest who was the “god-father” of AA, suggested the language to Bill W. about “God, as we understand him” so that dogmatic arguments about the nature and identity of God would not become a stumbling block in the work of sobriety. Shoemaker himself would have been very clear about the identity and nature of the Triune God. All I can say is: keep on keeping on. It in now Maundy Thirsday afternoon. What we will do tonight in Word, Sacrament,silence and symbol continues to give voice to the reality of God’s kingdom and purpose. It makes a difference. Thanks.

  8. I’ve given up. I’m eccentric and idiosyncratic no doubt but all within the breadth of catholicity of which expression can be found in the Anglican tradition. Catholicity in Anglicanism is complicated. We cannot count other out. Afterall even the oft-vilified Cranmer had catholic concerns for the divine initiative and mediatorship of Christ, hallmarks of the Reformation. The Caroline Divines neither fit Roman tendendies of the Oxford Movement, not Calvinist interlocutors. Our own Episcopal Church had a catholic movement prior to Oxford. FD Mayrice now claimed for catholic Anglicans was not of the same party as those of Oxford in his time. Indeed his work through Luther deeply influenced us today through our 79 BCP. Complicated is our catholicity. Count no one out. Even Spong drives other to deepen once they enter the door.

  9. What’s amazing about that, Vicki, is that the “business end” of A.A. – the 12 Steps – derive explicitly from religious practices, a fact the writers of the book “Twelve Steps and Traditions” were never shy about mentioning. They explicitly credit religion for what it had been able to accomplish in peoples’ lives via those practices – and, BTW, they explicitly chastise alcoholics (whether drinking or sober) who look down on religious believers; that’s in the the chapter on Step 2. Your priest hasn’t really absorbed either of these ideas.

    If it helps, though, that phrase has been around for a long time; I heard it when I first joined A.A. over thirty years ago. It’s not original to your priest. That’s no excuse, of course. When I first went to A.A. there was a Catholic priest in one of my groups (who heard hundreds of confessions in the form of the Fifth Step!) and I can’t imagine him ever saying something like that either….

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