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Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Public Rites and Pastoral Care: Reverend Elizabeth Explains It All

Okay, boys and girls. There appears to be some confusion - even from some bishops (God love 'em) about Public Rites and Pastoral Care.

Take out your Book of Common Prayer - that's the red book in your pews. (Yes, the one that says '1979'. I know. Grandfather refers to that as "THAT New Book." Yes, he does seem a bit angry, doesn't he? We'll have a talk about that later.)

Okay, now turn to page 13. The title on that page should read, "Concerning the Service of the Church."

Everybody got it? Matt? Jon? Greg? Jackie? Sarah? Brad? Oh, hello, little 'Anonymous'. That's become quite a popular name. There seem to be so many more of you signing in these days. Welcome.

(I know, Brad. You rarely pray with the BCP. It's hard to hold onto a book while your hands are in the air, isn't it? Or to read the words when you've been 'slain in the Spirit'. I know. Just try to pay attention and follow along. There's a good lad.)

Okay, everybody read aloud with me the third paragraph on that page. Ready? Okay, all together, here we go:

"For special days of fasting or thanksgiving, appointed by civil or Church authority, and for other special occasions for which no service or prayer has been provided in this Book, the bishop may set forth such forms as are fitting to the occasion."

This means that the bishop can authorize priests, and when appropriate, deacons and members of the laity, to develop and preside over liturgical rites that have not been authorized by the General Convention of The Episcopal Church which meet the pastoral needs of the people we are called to serve.

For example, 'The Blessing of the Animals' which we do out on the Great Lawn of The Church on the Feast of St. Francis is not a public rite which appears in either the Book of Common Prayer or the 'Book of Occasional Services'.

We do it, however, because there are many people who love their animals so much, they consider them members of their family. So, as matter of pastoral care, the bishop allows us to provide a public rite of blessing that suits the particular needs of the community the priest is called to serve.

Reverend Elizabeth did the same thing when the Smith's got that wonderful, shiny new Mercedes Benz convertible from their children and grandchildren on the occasion of their 50th Wedding Anniversary. You remember that Greg, don't you?

And, remember when Reverend Elizabeth blessed and commissioned the Youth Group on their Car Washing Fundraiser? I developed that whole public rite of blessing. Yes I did. Yes, it was pretty good. Thank you, Jackie.

I also like the blessing of the Day Care and Pre-school here at St. Paul's. Yes, I developed that one, too. Thank you, Sarah. I liked the blessing prayer for the Macaroni and Cheese, too. Yes, it did taste good.

And yes, I also developed a public rite of blessing for heterosexual couples. Why? Well, remember Steve and Mailin? Well, Mailin comes from China. She needed to have a marriage certificate for the deadline set by her immigration papers. So, with the bishop's permission, I did a "civil marriage" and then, 6 weeks later when we could get the families here, I did a public blessing of their marriage.

Yes, that was fun, wasn't it, Jon? Everybody got all dressed up and the bride looked beautiful in her wedding gown - even though she was already married.

That's just a few examples of a pastoral concern that turns into a public rite.

Understand now? I know, Greg. But, you don't have to like it. We're Episcopalians who are members of the Anglican Communion. Well, it's like this:

Who remembers the author of the book, "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe"? Good man, Jon. That's right! It was C.S. Lewis. Yes, Matty, he was a fairly conservative evangelical. Good remembering! So, you'll be glad to know that C.S. Lewis once said that of all the rooms in the household of God, the Anglican church was the 'roomiest' of all.

That means that there is room in our church for disagreement. We call it the 'Anglican Spirit of Gracious Accommodation'. Can you say that, boys and girls?

'Gracious Accommodation'. Good job! Please try to remember that in the future.

Oh, Little Anonymous, what's wrong? You've been pouting the whole time and now you are making quite a fuss. I know. It's hard to be one of the few who disagree. But, if you are going to behave in this way, you are going to have to leave the room.

Oh, I see. You are going to transfer to another school anyway? And, Matty, Sarah, Greg and Jackie are going with you? Well, okay. That makes me sad, and I'm sorry to see you leave, but one of the rules of this place is that it is safe to ask difficult questions and for all of us to disagree on the answers.

I know. That's a difficult thing to do. No, it's not "duplicity," Matty. It's a little something we call 'Spiritual Maturity.' It means that we can hold in tension two different thoughts, two truths, that seem quite opposed to one another. That's known as a 'paradox.'

We even tolerate things that are not always crystal clear. We call that 'ambiguity'. In the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion we have a high tolerance for paradox and ambiguity because we understand that God is a Great Mystery.

In order to do that, you have to develop something called 'Spiritual Maturity.' Can you say that boys and girls?

'Spiritual maturity'. Good job! Well done.

Now, Brad, you must stop singing, "Liar, liar, pants on fire! Your nose is longer than a telephone wire." That's not an example of 'spiritual maturity.' That is an example of 'bad behavior' and, as tolerant as we are, we do not allow bad behavior to go uncorrected.

I see. Well, if you want to go with Sarah and Greg and the rest of the other kids, you may. Yes, I know. Africa does seem to be very far away. Not to worry. I understand the African bishops are only as far away as a phone call or an email.

What's that? Is Africa farther away than heaven? I don't know for certain, but I have a hunch that it's no farther from America to heaven than it is from Africa to heaven. I've never been to heaven, but I have been to Africa, and I can tell you that it is a long, long way from America - in almost every way imaginable.

I do know this: as beautiful as both places are, we may not all get to go to Africa, but we're all going to heaven. Jesus promised us that.

Okay, class dismissed. Please put your Books of Common Prayer back in the pew where you found them. Neatly, please. Our theology may be messy, but we do like to keep some semblance of order in the house.

Thank you. Have a great day!


the cajun said...

You did it again!!! You made me spew my green tea. I really must be more careful when I visit here.

Craig Goodrich said...

OK, so when Daddy says, "you can take the car to the dance but don't drive it over 55 miles an hour", it's jes' fine to say later "well, sure I was going over 100, but it wasn't to the dance." Got it.

This is all very silly, Elizabeth. The Primates at Dar understood quite well the "pastoral loophole", and asked for a specific clarification. The least our bishops can do is state honestly what's going on -- since obviously they have the authority to forbid it if they wish -- if they intend to respond to Dar at all. This doublethink "I know it's going on but I haven't actually authorized it" is childish and unworthy of the bishops' leadership responsibility.

Bill said...

One of my favorites was the blessing of the motorcycles and riders at Grace Church Nutley. Everybody went out for a ride and came back in one piece. Proof positive that prayer works:)

RonF said...

This means that the bishop can authorize priests, and when appropriate, deacons and members of the laity, to develop and preside over liturgical rites that have not been authorized by the General Convention of The Episcopal Church which meet the pastoral needs of the people we are called to serve.

This is quite true. The Bishop can and should do such things. Our parish has had the Bishop bless our bell and even a fire ring that one of our Eagle Scouts built out back as part of his Eagle project.

But the question here isn't whether or not a Bishop can do this kind of thing, but whether he or she has a right to create such a rite for something that should not be blessed, but should be in fact condemned.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Craig - Please read again the section about tolerating ambiguity, paradox and "Spiritual Maturity".

From past experience of exchanges with you,Craig, you may also want to take a course in rhetoric or logic and/ perhaps, debating. Your analogies never hold water.

There is absolutely NOTHING duplicitous about allowing priests the pastoral right to develop public rites that provide pastoral care. No one is saying, as your argument suggests, that we're saying we're going to do one thing and then do quite another.

Ron F: Ah, now we're no longer talking about pastoral care and public rites, we're talking about interpretation of scripture.

Does your church bless animals on the Feast of St. Francis? Where in scripture does it say anything about blessing animals?

We certainly have ample evidence in Hebrew Scripture about the public ritual of sacrificing animals, but we don't do that today, do we?

If a bishop, "in good conscience" believes that God created everything - including LGBT people - and that ALL creation is good, then said bishop has a perfect RIGHT to allow RITES of blessing.

Nothing ambiguous (or silly, Craig) about that.

Bill said...

Ronf writes: "But the question here isn't whether or not a Bishop can do this kind of thing, but whether he or she has a right to create such a rite for something that should not be blessed, but should be in fact condemned."

Don't be shy come out and say what you're talking about. Being vague is within the perview of lawyers, not bloggers.

C.B. said...

Elizabeth - Once again a certain crowd is looking to catch people they don't approve of saying something they can exploit for their own means.

In this case Bishop Bruno - As I listen to the tape of what he said about ssbs - He says "Not in my diocese with my permission."

But you say that bishops "give permission" for "public rites." So, is he saying what exactly?

johnieb said...

Everybody (well, OK: Rev. Susan and Padre Micky) was saying "Go to to Telling Secrets for a really cool post."

Oh boy; right again.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

I don't know what Jon Bruno is saying. He's not my bishop and he hasn't given me instructions. I think Susan Russell has responded to the NY Times inquiry of that. Check it out with her, if you want an accurate response.

I'm saying that bishops CAN give permission to respond pastorally with a public rite.

This is what my bishop - and many like him - has done.

You know, with all the tension and drama in the ether today, it's really good to keep one's sense of humor.

Eileen said...

hee hee hee

Love it.

Craig Goodrich said...

Of course offering SSBs is not in itself duplicitous, and I would be the last to accuse you or RevSusan or FrJake or anyone else around here of duplicity on that point; clearly what you see is what you get. Fine.

But consider what the HoB and Bruno were saying -- no, certainly we don't authorize SSBs. Not at all. (We know they're going on in the diocese, and we've authorized wide latitude to our priests in pastoral approaches, but OF COURSE we don't authorize them.)

Dar specifically asked about pastoral latitude in this area. I hope the final response is at least honest and dignified.

Hiram said...

You say, "There is absolutely NOTHING duplicitous about allowing priests the pastoral right to develop public rites that provide pastoral care. No one is saying, as your argument suggests, that we're saying we're going to do one thing and then do quite another."

But it duplicitous when the Primates said, "We want you to assure us that blessings of same-sex relationships do not happen in your dioceses."

You also say, "If a bishop, "in good conscience" believes that God created everything - including LGBT people - and that ALL creation is good, then said bishop has a perfect RIGHT to allow RITES of blessing."

God said that all creation is good BEFORE Genesis 3, when humanity rebelled against God and fell into sin. Since the Fall, we are in rebellion, and we disobey God in many ways.

If you want to say, "Whatever is, is good," then what do you make of spina bifida, cystic fibrosis, and a host of other congenital conditions? If there was no Fall, then they are part of creation, are they not? What about people with a propensity to drink to much, to get angry easily, to get tell lies so often and easily that the person cannot even remember what he or she said, and on and on? Are these not also part of creation if there was no Fall?

If God said, clearly and without equivocation, that same-sex sexual activity is wrong, then to bless it is to bless sin.

While God's Word may be subject to ambiguity, even in areas where its message is clear and unequivocal, then why are the canons -- mere devices of fallible human beings so utter crystal clear and without room for mixed meanings, especially about property?

You often talk about putting on asbestos boots to visit Stand Firm -- I certainly needed mine (and an isolation suit) to visit your condescending posting.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Oh, Craig. There you go again. I was responding to Matt Kennedy's argument about Public Rites and Pastoral Care. You are talking about one bishop - let's say his name together - Jon J Bruno - and how he messed up. Big Time. Publicly.

Okay. You made your one, pathetic, tiny little point. The man served up some old fashioned, old boy Anglican fudge.

He's really no different than some of you old fasioned, old boys who love to serve up some old fashioned Evangelical tedium.

You just love nothing more than separating fly shit from pepper.

My essay - satirical as it is - is about the big issue of public rites and pastoral care.

I'm going to say it one last time, Craig, so pick up your head from the table, put down the magnifying glass and tweezers and listen up:

Bishops may, in compliance with the rubrics of the BCP, permit priests, deacons and laity "as is appropriate to "fulfill the functions proper to their respectivce orders, as set forth in the rubrical directions for each service" liturgical rites "as are fitting to the occasion."

This is sometimes called "the local option". This is what the previous Statements from the HOB, previous GC resolutions and progressive bloggers everywhere have said is the "present reality" in the church.

There are not, at this very read hot second, liturgical rites of blessings authorized in this diocese. And yet, they go on. Legally. Rubrically correct.

The Primates have asked the bishops to stop authorizing liturical rites. They MAY ask this, out of courtesy. They have NO authority to ask this. So far, the bishops have courteously declined the Primate's request. If this is the "deal breaker" and causes schism in the body, well, that's on the Primates' soul. We are doing nothing wrong - legally, rubrically, or canonically.

Morally? Well, that's the issue, isn't it. If the bishops thought it was immoral, they wouldn't be doing it, now would they?

Bishop Beckwith in Newark has convened a Task Force to develop liturgical rites of blessing for SS couples.

Some of the African bishops turn their heads and not only deny the existence of polygamy, female genital mutilation, the child sex trade and the existence of AIDS.

While he, and the world, is appalled at this, he isn't telling them what to do - except to put out the expectation "do the right thing."

He doesn't expect the Primates to tell us what to do - ecept to put out the expectation to "do the right thing."

He won't legislate to the Primates if they won't legislate here.

That's what's happening in my neck of the woods - and for several other people in several other diocese.

I'm done now, Craig. So, if you want this thread to continue, take it somewhere else, okay? I know where you stand. You kno where I stand.

We have nothing more to say to each other.

This conversation is officially over. You can go back to separating fly shit from pepper - some place else.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Hello, Hiram,

Been a while since you posted anything here. The boredom of waiting getting to you too, eh? Hell, I even posted a recipe for Peanut Soup.

You might want to read my post to Craig. The Primates have every right to ask us to stop doing SSB. But, we have no compunction to comply with their request.

It is not duplicitous to tell them what is our reality, nor to tell them that it is their intention to continue that reality.

And, sweetie, you may have experienced my satirical writing as offensive. I would be surprised if you didn't.

But, you don't need asbestos to wade through that which is offensive. Boots maybe.

But you'll find no torches throwing flames here the way there are, oh, I suspect even now, over at Viagra land.

Nope, not one.

Grandmère Mimi said...

Elizabeth, this is a very fine satirical essay which contains a good deal of truth.

We recently blessed our new (old) organ. I don't know if the rite was ad hoc for the occasion or not, but it was very nice.

muerk said...

I'm glad you have openly stated that you think +Bruno made a mistake. Whether you agree with same-sex blessings or not, it is important that bishops are open and transparent. It's a matter of trust.

The comment that really bothered me, watching the press conference on video at Stand Firm, was where +Bruno talked about looking into the same sex blessing that happened the day before.

Why would he need to "look into that" if he is aware it is part of the acceptable pastoral care of gays and lesbians in his diocese?

I personally think marriage is a man-woman thing. But it's not fair on gay and lesbian people to let them have public blessings and then seem to backtrack and claim they aren't authorized with his permission.

I have more respect for someone like Bishop Robinson, who is flat out honest and open. That's more Christian IMO. +Robinson lives what he believes. I don't agree with him, but I trust his honesty about where he stand in this debate.

If I were Anglican, I would rather have +Robinson as my bishop than +Bruno because of that trust and openness, despite theological differences.

Manny Publius said...

This was "rite" on and hilarious to boot! It would seem a waste of effort for bishops to micromanage the priests in their dioceses. Pastoral care originates where the church and the people come the parish level.