Monthly Archives: March 2012

The Episcopal Church in Cracow?


Tomorrow I am getting on an airplane bound for Cracow. Although I have always wanted to visit my ancestral homeland, I never imagined I would be going to Poland as a church planter. But that looks like what is happening. You see, I have received a generous grant from the Evangelical Education Society to help lead a workshop on starting an Episcopal Church congregation in Cracow. My partners in this are Jarek Kubacki and Lukasz Liniewicz who run a bilingual Polish/English blog Don’t Shoot the Prophet.

When Jarek and Lukasz began the blog in 2009, their purpose was to portray the Episcopal Church in a positive light to Poles who only ever heard about the church in the context of controversy and schism.  But the interest generated by the blog has developed so that they began to receive inquiries about how an Episcopal Church community could start in Poland. And with that has grown the workshop this weekend. At it I will speak on Anglicanism and the Episcopal Church as expressions of reformed catholicity expressed locally. Jarek and Lukasz will lay out how they envision an indigenous Polish expression of the Anglicanism rooted in the life of the Episcopal Church. And Bishop Pierre Whalon will speak on how the Convocation of Episcopal Churches in Europe understands itself and can assist in developing a church in Cracow.

In the next days I will write more about why the Episcopal Church might be well suited for Poland. I will also provide updates about the workshop itself.

Until then, please pray that the events on Saturday unfold in ways that are Spirit-led and infused with a desire to continue Christ’s reconciling mission in the world.


Filed under Cracow, Episcopal Church and Anglicanism

Children at the Table and Open Communion, or, the Agape Restaurant

One of the unexpected elements of moving from worshipping in the context of the Episcopal Church to the Church of England is a different approach to the Eucharist.  This has been more a difference of emphasis than of importance, but I think it points up divergent ecclesiologies between the two churches.

This experience of difference is felt most strongly for me at the local parish church my family attends. Two things stand out for me (keeping in mind that I came to the Episcopal Church about 15 years after the introduction of the 1979 BCP). First, the Eucharist is not celebrated as the primary service every week. Rather, once a week there is a type of Morning Prayer that is labelled ‘All Ages Worship’ and includes ‘family’ oriented songs and prayers. In practice, this is geared for those ten and under. That there could be a primary service without Eucharist reveals the broader approach to worship in the Church of England where there is more need to encompass a wider set of worship practices than one finds in the Episcopal Church.

But why no Eucharist at the All Ages Worship?  Because it is not normal practice in the Church of England to communicate children. The norm is for children only to receive communion after confirmation. In 2006 regulations were introduced to permit diocesan bishops to allow parishes to communicate baptized prior to confirmation. Now about 15% of parishes do this as a regular practice.

This practice brought up short my children, especially my 5 year-old son. Both of our children were communicated for the first time the day they were baptized. I realize now that our assumption (and that of our priests and parish) that this was acceptable is in part due to our location. I mean this in two ways. One reason is that the Episcopal Church has taken it that Eucharist is the central act of Christian worship and ideally is done as the principle Sunday service (I realize there are still some Morning Prayer churches kicking around out there). A strong piece alongside this is the baptismal ecclesiology of the Episcopal Church which holds that once one is baptized, one is brought fully into the life of the church. In this ecclesiology, communicating baptized infants makes sense.

The second reason is that our children were baptized in two different parishes in the East Bay in California. Of course the seminary where I teach, Church Divinity School of the Pacific, is also located there in Berkeley. And at CDSP, there have been important professors of liturgy who have championed this very idea of baptismal ecclesiology. One of them was Massey Shepherd who had a great hand in writing the 1979 BCP and was a clear articulator of its baptismal ecclesiology. The second figure was Louis Weil, who was oversaw the writing of the Baptismal Covenant of the 1979 BCP. More importantly for this post, he was a clear proponent of communicating children prior to confirmation and incorporating children into the worship of the congregation. This did not mean dumbing down the liturgy but making sure children were actively involved in it. Indeed I was honoured to have Louis preach at my son’s baptism at St. Mark’s Berkeley in 2007.

What all this means is that my children have a highly developed awareness of the Eucharist. Between attending weekly community Eucharist at CDSP during the school year and attending most Sundays at our current parish, All Souls in Berkeley, I would guess my son has received communion about 300 times and my two year-old daughter about 130 times. My son especially is very serious about receiving the Eucharist.

So when we got to our parish church here in England, we were surprised to find that children leave the service soon after the opening hymn for children’s church and are not brought back for communion. In fact, they never return to church but parents get them afterwards during fellowship time. This really distressed my son in particular though my daughter noticed it as well. After some asking around, I found out that a child from another province of the Anglican Communion who has regularly received communion in that province may also receive communion in the Church of England prior to confirmation.  With that knowledge, we worked it out with our vicar to ensure both our kids could regularly receive communion and this has worked out very well.

All of this throws the current debate in the Episcopal Church about open communion or communion without baptism into sharper relief for me.  You can follow some of that debate in a recent thread on the Episcopal Cafe here.

The first observation is that the current set of assumptions about the role of the Eucharist and who has access to it varies greatly between the Episcopal Church and the Church of England. I cannot speak for other provinces of the Anglican Communion on this front, but I suspect more are closer to the CofE than to TEC.

The second is that these differences stem from different interpretations about the meaning of the sacrament of Baptism. Baptism and Eucharist are inextricably linked, but how that linkage matters is different in the two churches. If Baptism means that you are commissioned for ministry, which is at the core of the Episcopal Church’s baptismal ecclesiology, it makes sense to give communion to anyone baptized. In the Church of England there is a more traditional ecclesiology, shared with Roman Catholicism, for example, in which the mission of the church is identified with ordained ministry. Flowing from this come the differing views on communicating children.

The third observation is that if there are such obvious differences between communicating children in the two churches, then one can only imagine the amazing gap that would open if the Episcopal Church were to endorse communion without baptism (as proposed by the Diocese of Eastern Oregon) at the General Convention this summer. I am not sure it would deepen the divisions that currently exist in the Anglican Communion as a whole, but it would be a notable departure.

Finally, I would argue that welcoming baptized children at the table is not the same as explicitly  inviting those who are not baptized. First, the baptized child has had promises made by godparents, parents, and indeed the entire congregation to ensure this child is raised in the faith of Christ. My wife and I have powerfully experienced this at our parish. Our children receive communion in the context of those promises.  This sort of act of making promises and acting them out as a body of believes is a clear expression of baptismal ecclesiology.

But no one in the congregation stands up and makes promises that they will lead those unbaptized people who come up for communion into a deeper faith in Christ. We don’t because it would not make sense in the context of our baptismal ecclesiology. I fully believe that the desire to practice open communion comes from a place of good intentions. But it lacks the Anglican virtue of coherence in which a practice or belief reasonably coheres with the fullness of scriptural witness and apostolic tradition. In essence, it contradicts our proclamation that full participation in the Body of Christ begins from baptism. How then could one receive the Body of Christ before baptism into Christ’s death and resurrection?

This takes me to a possible solution: get serious about sharing meals on Sundays.

One of the themes in the debate around open communion is whether it is about replicating Jesus’ table fellowship or the institution of the Eucharist at the Last Supper. I hold that Eucharist is directly linked to the Last Supper and less obviously linked to other gospel accounts about table fellowship. A reading of early church literature also bears this out. However, proponents of open communion are absolutely correct in arguing that Jesus’ practice of radically open table fellowship is a necessary element of Christian witness.

Curiously, an atheist intellectual has pointed the way on this. Alain de Boton, in his new book Religion for Atheists, has argued that the agape meals practiced by early Christians can provide a model for how to overcome the modern problem of alienation. Boton envisions creating secular ‘Agape Restaurants’ where strangers become friends. He describes it this way:

Such a restaurant would have an open door, a modest entrance fee and an attractively designed interior. In its seating arrangement, the groups and ethnicities into which we commonly segregate ourselves would be broken up; family members and couples would be spaced apart. Everyone would be safe to approach and address, without fear of rebuff or reproach. By simple virtue of being in the space, guests would be signalling—as in a church—their allegiance to a spirit of community and friendship.

What strikes me about this is that Boton identifies what can be best about church – that it makes strangers friends – but rarely is manifested. But I argue it can.  I live in foodie heaven. My parish is two blocks from Berkeley’s so-called ‘Gourmet Ghetto.’ When I moved here I was struck about how food oriented coffee hour is here. Back in Boston, coffee hour was just that – coffee, and usually bad. Here there are delicious spreads of cheese, sweets, and desserts often from the fruit tree in someone’s backyard. It is never elaborate, but it takes works. And it also creates a space where people linger and connect.

Now, imagine if instead of a coffee hour, the time after church involved a full blown meal. Every week.  And imagine if at communion, the priest said that all baptized Christians were welcome to receive and that afterwards everyone was invited for a full meal that would continue the feast begun at the altar. Such an invitation would show seekers that here was a church that both took its worship of God seriously but also truly invited all to explore the way of Jesus.  I also argue this would create a deeper sense of fellowship in Christ among congregation members. A weekly agape meal would require greater commitment for all, since clearly all members of the congregation would be expected to pitch in. But it would be a tangible piece of discipleship and deeply countercultural in our overscheduled world. And it is already working in its own way at places like St. Lydia’s.

In short, what would it look like if every time we celebrated the foretaste of the banquet of the Lamb we actually had a banquet? Kids and seekers welcome.


Filed under Church Divinity School of the Pacific, Church of England, Ecclesiology, Episcopal Church and Anglicanism

Archbishop of Canterbury to be Master of Magdalene College, Cambridge

Archbishop of Canterbury to be Master of Magdalene College, Cambridge.

Apparently Rowan Williams decided to announce his resignation now before the Anglican Covenant went down in defeat in the diocesan synods of the Church of England. This really is huge news for the Anglican Communion.

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Filed under Anglican Covenant, Church of England

A Lateral Move

Wednesday nights are the occasion for a community Eucharist at Ripon College Cuddesdon (a bit like Community Night at CDSP). Tonight I had the pleasure of hearing Tim Naish (Dean of the Oxford Ministry Course and Lecturer in Missiology) preach. It was a very fine Lenten sermon. Tim unpacked the readings — the act of covenant making between God and Israel in Deuteronomy and Jesus’ declaration that he had come not abolish but fulfill the Law. The core theme was the ways in which people are drawn into the life of God and the transformations that unfold from that.

What might have been an offhand illustration in the middle of the sermon struck me. Speaking of invitations to a deeper life, Tim asked how should church leaders respond when parishioners, after being moved by formation programs like Alpha, ask what is next for them to do in that community.  The implication was that, generally, church leadership is not always equipped to take people deeper.

In my mind flashed all the amazing things that parishioners can do if they are empowered to. And not just inside church walls or doing explicitly “churchy” things like helping with the parish soup kitchen. I got to thinking of Martin Luther’s conviction that all Christians have a vocation to minister and that their occupation is where they are called to live out that ministry.  When a parishioner asks what is next, perhaps the best thing to do is to ask, “What is God calling you to where you are already?”

This is a different way of envisioning being church.  It makes being church less vertical. Parishioners are not only receiving things from church. It makes church more lateral.  Parishioners are being church. Not just on Sunday, but every day. They bring the church into the world. What can you imagine empowered parishioners doing? Reading the letter of resignation from a Goldman Sachs employee, I can envision brave stands for corporate ethics, a move away from decisions made solely on dividends and market share, a fair distribution of executive and worker pay.

Of course, what I am describing depends on the baptismal ecclesiology embedded in the existing life of the Episcopal Church and expressed in the 1979 Book of Common Prayer. I have written about this elsewhere with my colleague Ruth Meyers on the subject of sanctity. At its core, the baptismal ecclesiology of the Episcopal Church holds, much as Luther did, that all Christians by virtue of their baptism are commissioned as ministers of Christ’s reconciling love. This love has practical expressions in acts of compassion, charity, and justice. Ministry in this forms does not require ordination. Ministry in this form can be lateral.

To emphasize the lateral dimensions of ministry, that all Christians are called to it, might be a way of moving the Episcopal Church out of its current structural crisis.  If, as has been argued by the Crusty Old Dean (aka Tom Ferguson), the era of centralizing denominational systems is over, if the vertical alone won’t cut it anymore, then it is time to make a lateral move. When we speak of the riches of the Episcopal Church we name our sacraments, our historic episcopate, our tradition, our appeal to a reasoned interpretation of the Scriptures. But we also have a gift in our baptismal ecclesiology. We still need funding sources form the national church. We still need offices and centers that can help people coordinate ministry and offer resources, best practices, and sites for making common cause. But we do also need a new way of expressing our core ministries of worship and mission. If Episcopalians really mean it the Baptismal Covenant when they vow to seek and serve Christ in all persons, they can find ways to fulfill it in lateral forms of ministry

What would it look like if parishes and dioceses set to work to ensure that the Christian life carried over from Sunday to Monday by explicitly linking the worship and teaching in church to the rest of life? To be sure there are many places that strive for this, but many that falter. And regardless, there are still more to be reached with the message of God’s transforming grace. And there are more corners of our culture that need the witness of Christ’s love and desire for justice. All levels of the church (Episcopal and otherwise) need to awaken to the need to nurture disciples of Christ who will take Sunday to Monday. Discipleship breeds mission. It is time to pick up the pace and to spread our mission out of the vertical structures and make lateral moves that educate, equip, and empower all Christians to be ambassadors of Christ’s reconciling love and desire for justice.

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Filed under Discipleship, Ecclesiology, Episcopal Church and Anglicanism

Crusty Old Dean: Stop the Navel Gazing: It’s Not Just Us

Crusty Old Dean: Stop the Navel Gazing: It’s Not Just Us.

This post by Tom Ferguson (aka Crusty Old Dean) is a must read for Episcopalians and other American Protestants wondering what is next for the institutional church.  How do you envision a post-institutional church?

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Filed under Episcopal Church and Anglicanism

Whitterings: The Anglican Covenant and the Experience of The Scottish Episcopal Church: Rewriting History for Expediency’s Sake.

Whitterings: The Anglican Covenant and the Experience of The Scottish Episcopal Church: Rewriting History for Expediency’s Sake..

This post is a few months old but worth reading for those interested in other models of Anglican ecclesiology outside the orbit of the Church of England. It also raises important questions for claims made in the historical section of the proposed Anglican Covenant.

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Filed under Anglican Covenant, Ecclesiology

Being Part of the “Larger” Church « Building the Continuum

Being Part of the “Larger” Church « Building the Continuum.

This post is worth reading. If the Episcopal Church is changing, if its structures need rethinking, what do we need to fund?  My answer lies with efforts like faith formation prior to increasing funding in things like lobbying in Washington, DC. Contact your General Convention deputies if you share similar priorities regarding the budget to be voted on at General Convention.


Filed under Episcopal Church and Anglicanism

Disestablishment and Discipleship

One of the biggest benefits of being a professor is the opportunity to have a sabbatical. Since mid-January I have been on sabbatical from my church history position at Church Divinity School of the Pacific. I have been living with my family in Oxfordshire and enjoying my position as a visiting scholar at Ripon College Cuddesdon, a theological college preparing people for ministry in the Church of England and elsewhere.

Over the past few years I have found myself increasingly drawn to questions of ecclesiology.  So it has been a great pleasure for me to be at Cuddesdon (as they call it) and to spend time listening to and talking with Mark Chapman, an important voice in Anglican ecclesiology. Mark Chapman has been teaching at Cuddesdon for 20 years and last weekend there was a symposium held in his honor.

I was only able to attend his lecture (a family outing to see Thomas the Tank Engine at the Didcot Railway Centre held precedence for most of the day). In his talk, Mark Chapman spoke of the decline in the established Church of England. He quuickly laid out the statistics showing decline in the Church of England in terms of active membership (about one million), current baptism rates (about 20% of the population), and current confirmation rates (about 12%). But he refused to bemoan these statistics. Chapman argued instead that it is in keeping with the gospel vision that Christianity should be a minority religion. When a church becomes established, becomes normative, it loses it vitality and sense of mission. But a small church is one in which all members are called to do the work of the church and engage in a life of active discipleship. When an established church devolves to the work of being a local church it can overcome the stultifying effects of bureaucracy. People are called upon to act for themselves to achieve the gospel vision of a community of love, justice, and peace. As I interpret these words, when a church begins to conceive of itself in local terms, and not in established terms, it also begins to conceive of itself as a community of disciples, not a community of consumers.

All of this got me thinking about the difficult situation the Episcopal Church has found itself in. There has been a signficant decline in membership over the past decade. Currently  there has been much outcry about the new budget for the Episcopal Church. Behind those budget cuts is the story of the decline of this denomination. For a long time, the Episcopal Church has acted like a quasi-established church in the United States. It has assumed that it held a place of cultural prestige because of its wealth, its association with American elites, its aesthetically pleasing liturgy.  But none of those assumptions have held.

Amidst the tumbling down of assumptions, Chapman’s words are useful.  It is at the moment of decline and of crumbling assumptions that we can best hear the call to discipleship.  Perhaps now is the best time to abandon Henry Hobart’s dream that the Episcopal Church will become the national church of the United States. Now is the time to stop assuming that if we just show how we worship in the right way, people will be drawn to us. Now is the time to stop assuming that because we once were influential we still are. Now is the time to take up the opportunity to reimagine how best to be a church called to discipleship.  If the Church of England needs to own up to these questions, so do we.


Filed under Church Divinity School of the Pacific, Church of England, Discipleship, Ecclesiology, Episcopal Church and Anglicanism, Ripon College Cuddesdon