Category Archives: Church Divinity School of the Pacific

Sermon on the Commemoration of Hugh Latimer and Nicholas Ridley

Zephaniah 3:1-5

Psalm 142

1 Corinthians 3:9-14

John 15:20-16:1


All Saints Chapel

Church Divinity School of the Pacific

October 16, 2012

Dr. Daniel Joslyn-Siemiatkoski


“For we are God’s servants, working together; you are God’s field, God’s building.” (1 Cor 3:9)


On October 6, 1555 the former bishops of Worcester and London, Hugh Latimer and Nicholas Ridley, were executed by burning at the stake in Oxford.

Latimer and Ridley were tireless advocates of the Protestant Reformation as it unfolded in England.

They had worked diligently in advancing it during the reigns of both Henry VIII and Edward VI.

They stood for the great Reformation principles of Scripture, preaching, and worship in the language of the people.

And they died as staunch defenders of Protestantism, defying Queen Mary’s efforts to re-establish Roman Catholicism in England.


In Oxford there stands the Martyr’s Memorial to commemorate Latimer, Ridley, and Thomas Cranmer.

The history of this monument matters.

In the 1850s, this monument was erected by those opposed to the rise of Anglo-Catholicism.

Opponents of the so-called Oxford Movement, like the priest Charles Golightly, envisioned this monument to Protestant bishops martyred at the hands of a disgraced Catholic queen as a rebuke to the followers of John Henry Newman, Edward Pusey, John Keble, and the like.

The inscription on this monument reads in part:

“To the Glory of God, and in grateful commemoration of His servants, Thomas Cranmer, Nicholas Ridley, Hugh Latimer, Prelates of the Church of England, who near this spot yielded their bodies to be burned, bearing witness to the sacred truths which they had affirmed and maintained against the errors of the Church of Rome, and rejoicing that to them it was given not only to believe in Christ, but also to suffer for His sake”

But around this monument there stand other structures, symbols of the Catholic revival in the Church of England.

The Martyr’s Memorial is just next to St. Mary Magdalene’s which became an Anglo-Catholic bastion in the 20th century.

Just up the road from the Martyr’s Memorial is Pusey House and its chapel, a historically important center for advancing the Anglo-Catholic movement.


One can look at the ecclesiastical geography of Oxford as a story of the on-going divisions within the Church of England concerning reform, catholicity, authority, and piety.

And we must remember that there were martyrs on all sides of the Protestant-Catholic divide in England and throughout Europe.

While there is something awe-inspiring in the willingness of a martyr to die for the sake of Christ, there is something horrifying when the executioner is another Christian.

Martyrs die out of the conviction that one is a member of a Church that rests upon the true foundation of Jesus Christ.

The death of a Christian at the hands of another undermines confidence in the nature of that very Church.

The execution of Latimer and Ridley under Mary, or Jesuits like Edmund Campion under Elizabeth, or even the divisions between Evangelicals and Catholics in later Anglicanism, show cracks in the edifice of God’s Church.


Paul addressed the problem of fissures threatening to bring down the Church in his first letter to the Corinthians.

Paul reminds us that amidst our awful divisions, we must acknowledge that no one party or faction can claim the Church for themselves.

 “Each builder must choose with care how to build on it. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one that has been laid; that foundation is Jesus Christ.” (1 Cor 3:10-11)

There is no doubting the deep faith of Latimer or Ridley or any other Protestant or Catholic martyrs from this era.

But the showdown of competing edifices in Oxford – a  Martyr’s Memorial here, an Anglo-Catholic chapel there – in a spirit of striving or rivalry must give us pause.

Paul urges not to let our differences define us but to look to Christ as the only and true foundation.


We must not enshrine our differences.

And we should look to our words and actions.

We should look closely at our assumptions and our certainties about our take on the Church.

Do we speak about other Christians disparagingly?

Have we broken ourselves up in factions?

Do we give off subtle messages of superiority if we set ourselves apart by our piety or our speech about other Christians?

Do we introduce divisions when we should seek unity?

Paul warns the Corinthians, he warns us, he warned Christians in the the sixteenth century, that builders and buildings are tested by fire while in this world.

We do not build Churches for ourselves.

We are all alike laboring in service to God’s plans laid down for the Church.

And that plan is to worship God and to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ.

Let us work together as one body, equally serving God, so together we can pass through the fire to be God’s Church together for the sake of the Gospel and for the sake of the world.

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Sermon for Thursday of Proper 19

Thursday of Proper 19
1 Cor. 15:1-11
Psalm 118:14-29
Luke 7:36-50

Prof. Dan Joslyn-Siemiatkoski
All Saints Chapel
Church Divinity School of the Pacific

September 20, 2012

When she came in did you see her?

You are lying around the banquet table with the others.

Perhaps you missed her when you rearrange the pillow you are resting on.

Or you are listening closely to what Jesus and Simon are talking about.

You are riveted by their conversation.

It’s not surprising that you don’t notice her at first.

After all, Simon has put on a public feast for Jesus.

At these kinds of things all sorts of people crowd in along the walls to hear the conversation flowing around the table.

And the people in town really want to hear Jesus.

He had preached in the synagogue earlier and now Simon has put on this banquet for him.

People want to hear more.

Some think he is even a prophet.

Simon himself wonders if this might be true.

That’s why he has hosted this banquet in the first place.

So you are there with the invited guests lying around the table.

And then there are the other men and women along the walls.

You really don’t know if she has been there all along or if she came in later.

But then while Jesus is talking, she kneels down by his feet.

You see it all happen because you are just across the table from him.

At first you think she is going to rub the ointment in her little jar on Jesus’s feet.

You and others at the table saw how Simon had forgotten to offer Jesus water for his feet.

Simon had been so busy getting ready that it just didn’t happen.

You think at first that maybe Simon had sent this woman to clean Jesus’s dusty feet.

But then she bursts into tears.

Jesus doesn’t know she is behind him and he is startled.

But he lets her weep.

He does not move.

Soon the tears bathe his feet.

Then she surprises you even more.

She undoes her head wrap and uses her hair to wipe his feet.

And then, even more surprising, she kisses his feet over and over.

Only after that does she do what she came to do and rubs ointment on his feet.

Of course you know her.

Everybody does.

Simon sure does.

You can see it on his face.

And everyone looks around.

Doesn’t Jesus know who she is?

Isn’t that the sort of thing a prophet knows?

And now you remember that you had seen her earlier today.

She was there when Jesus taught this morning.

That was when he had spoken of God’s forgiveness

She was in the crowd around him afterwards.

And now Jesus turns gently to Simon.

He can tell what Simon is thinking and he tells a story.

He is explaining that this woman has been forgiven.

Her sins have been forgiven and Jesus has done it.

He forgave her of her sins after his talk today.

She wanted to show her gratitude with the ointment but burst into tears before she had a chance.

Is that all it took for her to weep so much?

“Give thanks to the Lord for he is good; his mercy endures forever.” (Psalm 118:29)

And you see the face of Simon – how it changed from annoyance to tenderness.

“Give thanks to the Lord for he is good; his mercy endures forever.” (Psalm 118:29)

And you wonder, can you be forgiven too?

What would it take for you to weep like her?

“Open to me the gates of righteousness, that I may enter through them and give thanks to the Lord. “ (Psalm 118:19)

You are moved by it all so much that you get up and leave the table.

People are talking to their neighbors so you think no one notices.

But Jesus follows you outside.

You turn to him.

“Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared to me.” (1 Cor. 15:8)

He looks at you.

And it all comes tumbling out of you, out of your mouth, from your heart.

All of it – everything you have kept hidden.

Everything you thought nobody but God knew.

All of it – every last bit of anger and pettiness and jealousy and greed.

And now you hear his words.

He tells you that you have been forgiven.

He assures you of God’s love.

And he tells you to sin no more.

Your heart is ablaze.

“But by the grace of God, I am what I am.” (1 Cor. 15:10)

And then he goes back into Simon’s house.

And you return to the banqueting table.

“This is the gate of the Lord; the righteous shall enter through it.” (Psalm 118:20)

You are at the table.

The woman is on one side of you.

Simon is on the other.

And from across the table, Jesus looks into your eyes as he hands you the bread.

You take it and you eat it and you pass it.

The banquet goes on.

Your heart is ablaze.

And you weep.

“Give thanks to the Lord for he is good; his mercy endures forever.” (Psalm 118:29)

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Reading Richard Hooker

At CDSP I have led the Richard Hooker Reading Group since the fall semester of 2009. The purpose of this group is simple: to read through Hooker’s Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity from beginning to end. If you have ever tried reading this work, you know this is a massive task. In the critical edition, this is a three-volume work full of challenging late Elizabethan prose. To make this task manageable, I decided that reading Hooker would involve people sitting together and simply reading his words out loud for about an hour.

The process is simple. One person reads until they get to the end of the sentence. Then the next person reads. Then the next. I offer explanations as we are reading, either drawn from my own learning or by utilizing the commentary from the Folger Library critical edition.

This semester at CDSP we have finally gotten to Book V of the Laws. For Anglican this is probably the most famous part of the Laws due to his detailed defense of the worship of the Church of England and his articulation of sacramental theology and participation in Christ via the sacraments.

When this reading group first began, I kept a weekly blog summarizing the weekly discussion. Unfortunately, after the first year I fell out of practice with this. I am hoping, however, to blog through Book V as there is more general interest in this portion of Hooker’s work.

With that in mind, this past week we read the first chapter of Book V. In it, Hooker seeks to rebuff Puritan critiques of the worship of the Church of England. As he did at the beginning of the Laws, Hooker starts with first principles. Specifically, he argues that any well ordered society contains within it a form of religion that guides citizens towards the common good. Hooker allows that all religions serve this purpose, even imperfect ones, such as Roman religion in his example. His overarching point is that Puritans must be very careful in critiquing the worship of the Church of England. This worship has been designed to ensure that the entire commonwealth of England is oriented towards the highest good. In Hooker’s mind, the worship of the Church of England is ideally suited for an English context due to the royal supremacy over the church. Trying to impose a more reformed, Genevan style of worship, as is the Puritan’s desire, would ill fit the English context.

The overarching lesson rests in recognizing how for Hooker worship and good ordering of the English commonwealth is meant to go hand in hand. I would venture that this notion is far from most theological perspectives of contemporary Episcopalians.


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Questions about “The Gospel of Jesus’s Wife”

As I imagine most of you now have heard, Dr. Karen King of Harvard Divinity School yesterday announced the discovery of a papyrus fragment which appears to make reference to the wife of Jesus.  I urge any who are interested to go to this page and read the report on it and the draft essay by King available in PDF format. It is worth the read.
Yesterday and today there has been an active discussion on my Facebook wall between myself, Dr. Scott Carroll, and Dr. Rebecca Lyman. Carroll was my first ancient history professor when I was a student at Gordon College and the man who taught me Coptic. Lyman was my predecessor in church history at CDSP and the GTU. Both are outstanding scholars in the field of early Christianity.

I offer below a transcription of their conversation we have had. It raises questions about the origins and purpose of this papyrus and the complexity of early Christian movements. As the conversation unfolds, you will see that question of use, readership, and the usefulness of categories like orthodoxy and heresy emerge.  The Rev. Craig Uffman posted an earlier transcript on his blog.  This transcript extends the conversation.  I hope you find it useful.



Dan JoslynSiemiatkoski  Regarding the second century fragment on the wife of Jesus, I quote Karen King, the scholar who brought this all to light: “It does not, however, provide evidence that the historical Jesus was married, given the late date of the fragment and the probable date of original composition only in the second half of the second century. Nevertheless, if the second century date of composition is correct, the fragment does provide direct evidence that claims about Jesus’s marital status first arose over a century after the death of Jesus in the context of intra-Christian controversies over sexuality, marriage, and discipleship.”


My first ancient history prof and the man who taught me Coptic, Scott Carroll, posts the following observations about the “Jesus’ Wife Papyrus.” I think we could debate about how to weight the various observations he makes, but they are worth putting out there: “1. It dates between 400-450 (hardly a reliable sole witness)

2. The writing and format of the text is extremely suspect and odd resembling an amulet (sorry more explanation and space is needed)

3. The Sahidic Coptic word for wife is misspelled–may be dialectical making it even more marginal or another word

4. Coincides with the earliest Mary Magdalene traditions

5. Likely Gnostic (heretical)

6. The church was heavily influenced by asceticism at this time making it highly unlikely to be an orthodox composition

7. If orthodox then the reference to wife meant the church or the biblical ‘bride of Christ'”


Scott Carroll So . . . let’s debate! I am really most concerned about the issues surrounding the paleography and textual evidence.


Dan JoslynSiemiatkoski Could you clarify point 6 and what you mean about the relationship or distinction between asceticism and orthodoxy?


Scott Carroll Yes–Peter Brown etc–the church was on an ascetic trajectory as illustrated with the popular rise of monasticism (clearly not the only impetus). The point being in that context and especially given that this was likely written in the shadow of a monastic context–such an anti-ascetic notion of Jesus would be repudiated.


Dan JoslynSiemiatkoski Ah, I see your point. So thus you argue the most likely interpretation is a spiritualized one. Yes?


Scott Carroll Unless he lived married and celibate–the ultimate test of valor–but the text does not allow such a reading.


Scott Carroll Sure, given the tensions it is either spiritual or a gnostic position (who while being superciliously ascetic you still have accounts–if trustworthy–by Epiphanius of the likes of the Phiibionites and at least one Nag Hammadi tractate The Great Thunder that elevates licentious living). Something to think about


Dan JoslynSiemiatkoski So, could you say more about the paleography and textual evidence and your questions about them?


Scott Carroll DAN: Approached by a major magazine on this and a TV producer so it may provide objectivity. While King is a competent professor she has a big axe to grind. As for the paleographical and codicological issues: 1. not much text is preserved 2. based on the orthography–shape of the letters–it clearly dates to the first half of the 5c 3. the hand is what is called sub-literary as if it was a composition not a copy–but this category can be trivialized and it is tricky 4. the composition is a small format and only written on one side–comparable to amuletic and magical texts perhaps for a woman??? 5. the nub of the stylus is blunt and the ink uneaven–it is odd no no wonder that they thought long and hard whether this is real or a forgery (my life is surrounded by such things so I am VERY familiar with such things) 6. Whille folks run around and call into question 2c papyri of the NT over issues relating to provenance–where is the complaint here?? Not satisfied that it came from a private owner not wanting to be hounded–did it come out of Egypt after 1970?? if so it is illegally on the market–and anyhow what are the specifics about its purchase and origins–I am not satisfied with promoting something like this and shrouding it in mystery–away with the facade. The point is that the text it screams private and marginal. unimportant? No. Historical significant? No.


Rebecca Lyman  Well, considering how much stuff was lost, we don’t need to rush to put it into categories, but could think what else it may tell us. I am not quite ready to move to 5-7. Spiritual exegesis and language of the soul can be creative, and not break easily into heretical or orthodox or necessarily church as bride. With the late dating I agree we are not talking about first century fact, but I am willing to let it breathe a bit.


Rebecca Lyman  Agreed that King has an axe to grind–not clear to me yet why this a gospel. Re ascetics remember Julian of Ecalnum the Pelagian bishop arguing with Augustine c. 430 was married and accused him of importing Manichee ideas re sex. Jerome and Jovian also argued about marriage/celibacy, so it is not a done deal even in mainstream circles. I resist an orderly, binary, one way history—texts and ideas circulate, teachers and exegetes invent. Odd scraps can appear which fit no categories.


Scott Carroll DAN: Furthermore–I don’t think King at Harvard works with private collections–so who came to her and knowing what? It is a very easy text to read with conveniently Jesus (IC) and wife? (Teime–sic) right in the middle??!!! Stranger things have happened. If this is legitimate–you have a text written on one side–the scroll no longer used–so a very short text indeed and certainly, although it sounds like it, not a literary text. Other issue is thaat if this represents a tradition it shows how overwhelmingly popular the notion that Jesus had no wife was because this NEVER got traction–as for those who might say the idea was suppressed–it is preposterous because history shows suppressed texts and ideas are popularly disseminated.


Scott Carroll Thanks all–of course we know very little. I am working with colleagues at Oxford on the analysis of the chemical components in ink on papyri–a new way of verifying provenance–this would be an interesting papyrus to test. As for the scroll–more technically a sheet or leaf which had a limited height–point being we could calculate how much text was there–I suspect it could have been multiple sheets but this is an odd format for something that we might be led to believe was CANONICAL in the community’s memory. The book or codex would soon be associated with the Gospels as a visual construct of authority yet this text does not follow that tradition. I have seen similar texts, if this is authentic and the hand seems to be,incorporate snippets seemingly taken out of context–usually from the Gospels and used for amuletic or apotropaic purposes. Best to you!


Scott Carroll A bit more to think about: It is common for many scholars working with later texts, particularly in Coptic, to claim that they come from a ‘now lost 2c Greek original’ so as to convey unimpeachable historicity and significance–as if a 5c Coptic text is not important in its own right and context but to make it speak to the 2c and in Greek. Such claims must be established which is obviously complicated. The similarities with the Gospel of Thomas and Mary are interesting but not more than that at this point. It also raises questions of Coptic texts translated from Greek generally and demand for Greek literature in Coptic among others.


Rebecca Lyman  Agreed–second century original needn’t be the case for fourth century scrap nor the assumption it is for private reading–this is about “authority” and “heresy” which seem to be less skillfully applied than paleography in these discussions.


Scott Carroll You have raised the issue of the intended purpose of this–for private reading a few times. It is a valid observation. The hand would indicate such a use (and I reject King’s assertion that this indicates a lack of education, an impoverished church and Christianity subject to the harsh lash of the persecutor–after the 5c??). The format itself obviously indicates it was for private reading (or use not reading–simply to have a printed text evoked power from ancient times in Egypt–which would mean that it was produced for amuletic or apotropaic purposes–and would be interesting if the rectangular cut shape was intentional for that purpose so a once literary text was used in a 2ndary context for other purposes which I have seen many times not for what it said but that it was writing). That said, typically I would assume that literary texts that enjoyed private distribution were already popular.


Rebecca Lyman What do you make about the argument that it is not folded, so not for amulet use? I agree that the shape seems to indicate that it was for apotropaic purposes–a very interesting question about use of texts in 4/5th centuries and which texts one wanted etc as opposed to the old gender or canon arguments. The public/private thing has been overused rhetorically re “heresy”, when we know so little about ancient communities, is why I picked it up.


Scott Carroll I agree. As for the ‘not folded’ observation–papyrus is extremely resilient. It is clear to me that the scholar(s) who worked with this in the German? collection relaxed this papyrus–carefully hydrated and blotted it, flattened it under glass (the glass you see in the photo, no doubt (I would be very surprised if this was done by the present professors working with it). The fibers have been carefully straightened which can be seen. The point being–it would be difficult to know if it was rolled or folded without close inspection–some texts used for such purposes were simply cut and kept flat, too. The shape is very symmetrical.


Rebecca Lyman I finally read the full article this morning–I think one needs to take seriously how much is going on religiously beneath the textbook or ecclesiastical radar, not illegitmately, just the mess of history and forcing things into categories too soon reveals our needs rather than historical reality. As David Brakke argues in recent book “The Gnostics” the categories are blurred. So, these sorts of gender/image arguments range across the boundaries we impose–Hippolytus defending prayer after intercourse, Irenaeus on Adam/Eve typologies, or the infinite stuff about the soul and Christ in spiritual progress with sexual/marriage analogies.

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Meditation on the Feast of the Holy Cross

This meditation was delivered today in All Saints Chapel at Church Divinity School of the Pacific in Berkeley, CA.



You have in front of you something called a carmina figurata.

In English, this phrase would mean something like a “picture poem.”

It was a form of writing and meditation popular in the 8th and 9th centuries in the theological circles of the court of Charlemagne.

This poem is by the great theologian Rabanus Maurus, abbot of the monastery at Fulda. It was composed sometime in the 820s.

This carmina figurata is titled In honorem sanctae cruces, or, In Praise of the Holy Cross.

We have here an image of Jesus as a stiff body with open eyes.

This is sometimes called the Christus Rex – Christ as an unvanquished King.

We have here Christ hanging on the cross but also defeating the cross, showing forth his immortality and defeat of the cross.

Indeed the cross has entirely disappeared.

It has been replaced by words praising Christ and proclaiming his victory as the fully human and fully divine King of kings and Lord of lords.

Those are the words we read around his nimbus, his halo – King of Kings, Lord of Lords.

This poem hails Jesus Christ as the author of the cosmos, the one who is of the same substance with the Father.

He has conquered death and conquered it so thoroughly that we now use the cross as a sign of victory.

Rabanus intended his viewers to meditate on this picture poem.

He wanted his viewers to not only to look at the images but to sense their spiritual reality.

I invite to spend some time meditating on this image with these words from the Gospel of John in mind:

“And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.’ (John 12:32)

Christ has been lifted up from the earth upon the cross.

He draws all to himself and as he does the cross disappears and the embrace of his arms remain.

I invite you into meditation.


For more on Rabanus Maurus and this poem, I recommend: Celia Chazelle, The Crucified God in the Carolingian Era (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001)

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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

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