After seeing a tweet from Ruth Gledhill, I clicked through to this sobering article about Chichester bishop George Bell.
My first thought was, of course, “October 3rd, George Kennedy Allen Bell, Bishop of Chichester, and Ecumenist, 1958.“
Bell was one of the figures added into Holy Women, Holy Men in 2009 and brought from there into A Great Cloud of Witnesses. If you do the math, you’ll note that he was included 51 years after his death. Historically there has been a “waiting period” on including people in our calendar of commemorations; usually the criteria mention 2 generations and/or 50 years. On of the reasons for such a waiting period was to give sufficient time for scandals to air out. HWHM was significant for the number of recent entries who hadn’t fulfilled this waiting period. There is a certain grim irony, then, that Bell technically met the criteria even though not all of the facts were yet out in the plain light of day.
I don’t know what we’re going to do about Bell yet. GCW is not an official church document since it was only “made available.” Since it hasn’t been printed yet, I’ve sent a note to the powers that be indicating that we need to think through what ought to be done here. My vote is for removing Bell.
But—this raises bigger issues that still need to be addressed. Are there more revelations like this still yet to come from some of our 20th century inclusions? Are there skeletons like this in the closets of some of our earlier choices? One of the central differences between GCW and HWHM was that we explicitly altered GCW to say that it wasn’t a sanctoral calendar and therefore the issue of sanctity was formally off the table. But, as many argued at General Convention, it will likely be viewed as a sanctoral calendar informally.
What do we do here to address this issue and to address wider and deeper issues about grace, merit, sanctification, and models of the sacramental life?
I see no problem remembering particular heroes of the faith (e.g. ML King) who, while struggling with sin in their lives, managed to do great things with the help of God’s grace. But to exalt them to a place in the sanctoral calendar is definitely not on. The fact that people in leadership positions like the SCLM would like to do that suggests that we all need some solid teaching on sainthood, sanctity, and the courage to sacrifice one’s baser instincts and desires on the altar of the cross.
Not only that, but, quoting from the Bonhoffer entry in my “Stars in a A Dark World”:
“Turning down a parish post in Berlin, in 1934 he [Bonhoffer] accepted a call to be pastor of a German-speaking congregation in London (very possibly to avoid the German military draft). It was there that he developed one of his deepest life-long friendships – with Anglican Bishop George Bell of Chichester.
“In the spring of 1935 he considered traveling to India to be with Ghandi (to whom Bishop Bell had written an introductory letter) but he returned instead to Germany to teach at Finkenwalde, a Confessing Church seminary, and he found the Confessing Church under great pressure from the Gestapo.”
What does one do with a truly good man who is also a sinner?
I’m frankly pretty confused at this point. It appears to me that our sanctorial calendar has now reverted to Lessor Feasts and Fasts (LFF) since HWHM was not re-authorized and its “replacement” GCW was essentially demoted to an educational document. I’m all in favor of revising our sanctorial calendar from LFF, but we are now so awash in saints, pseudo-saints, and just nice people that I can’t tell who we should liturgically commemorate, who we should note, or who we should just say nice things about occasionally. Frankly, I’m not planning on buying GCW because the last thing I need is one more book that I won’t use.
Yes, the official Calendar of the Episcopal Church is Lesser Feasts & Fasts 2006.
As has always been the case, Lesser Feasts are obligatory on no one so you can choose to observe what is in LFF2006, observe what is in GCW, what is in the English Missal, or nothing at all.
Why don’t we bring back obits? That was a great way to commemorate the lives of good Christian leaders. Pre-Reformation, the obits were tied to elaborate Requiem-type services, but I’m not suggesting a return to that sort of thing. Rather, I think it would be nice to have a thoughtful list of Christians to be remembered at services without the stamp of sainthood. Over time, some of them might be elevated to the official calendar, but names should not be added to the list with that expectation. In other words, this would NOT be equivalent to beatification in the RC church.