Come in! Come in!

"If you are a dreamer, come in. If you are a dreamer, a wisher, a liar, a Hope-er, a Pray-er, a Magic Bean buyer; if you're a pretender, come sit by my fire. For we have some flax-golden tales to spin. Come in! Come in!" -- Shel Silverstein

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

A Minority Opinion . . . .

. . . is still an important opinion.

I recently received this note from a member of the Episcopal Diocese of Northern Michigan, one Thomas J M Davis. His is a clear voice of dissent in the process to elect their next bishop.

While I disagree with many points of his position, I find his perspective reasoned and thoughtful. I asked Mr. Davis if I might post it here and on HOB/D for wider consideration. He has graciously allowed me to do that.

I post this here for your consideration and reasoned, thoughtful comments.


If you will entertain a voice from the other side of the aisle, I am in the diocese of N. Michigan and indeed do object both the process and the outcome of the "episcopal ministry discernment." I would ask the moderator to publish this in its entirety (it will be a bit long) or not at all. So that we are clear, I wrote to the discernment team a year ago, with my concerns- so what I have to say here should not take them by surprise. I have been given to know that my letter was discussed, however, I never received a response from the diocese or the discernment team, although I did receive a response from one of the local clergy. I am telling you this so you will understand I am not "blindsiding" anyone.

It is fairly clear that you and other posters here hold a substantially more progressive theology than I do. It is not my intent to engage in an argument over what I believe, nor to throw a verbal hand grenade. Certainly, I do not intend any remark I make to be interpreted as a personal attack against the Rev. Forrester, the late +Jim Kelsey, or anyone else in the diocese. I do, however, think it necessary to pose questions on whether the current leadership of the diocese is acting in the best interests of the Church, whether its theology is consistent with the requirements of clergy to adhere to the doctrine and worship of the Episcopal Church, and whether the process and its outcome are indeed "episcopal."

I do find it intriguing that you are approaching this from the perspective of diversity. I am not sure of your own background in science or statistics, but I would think that if one were to ask Dr. Jefferts Schori for her opinion as a scientist, she would react much like I would - most closed systems, whether biological, ecological or sociological will tend to have less diversity over time than open systems. Especially in cases where the original population or sample is small. The population is more likely to be diverse if occasional individuals are introduced from the outside. What we currently see in N. Michigan is that anyone with an ecclesiology outside the model that has been adopted has been excluded from consideration.

In the process itself, with a number of the members of the "discernment team" selected due to their non-elective positions, it is arguable that the team was not as representative of the diocese as it should have been. Certainly, one theological and ecclesial philosophy dominated from the beginning. It is also useful to remember that the discernment team was not only a "search committee" but indeed took it upon itself to redefine the meaning and structure of the episcopate, invent a governing committee outside the usual Episcopal Church bishop-standing committee model, which also inherently redefines the role of the standing committee. To date, if any canon has been adopted by the diocese to support these changes, it has not been published on the website or otherwise been made generally available.

Now, from my own position, and I will here confess to some of your readers that I am an old fashioned Anglo Catholic, son of a priest, and you can argue until you are blue in the face and the probability that you will change my mind on issues of sacramental theology is virtually nil. My own basic argument with the diocesan leadership in general and Rev. Forrester in particular, are over the denials of basic Nicene and Trinitarian positions as held by the Church catholic for the last 1700 years, over such sacramental innovations as communion of non-baptized persons, and over the violations of the rubrics of the BCP, both in dropping the Nicene Creed from the liturgy and the practice of non-authorized Eucharist liturgies. If you go to the diocesan website ( ) you will find examples of what I am talking about in the statements on Dar es Salaam and the St. Andrews draft of the Covenant, as well as in past issues of the diocesan newsletter. You may accuse me of being an old fogey if you want to, but statements that each of us is "an only begotten child of God", "incarnation of God", "incarnation of the Trinity", or "God is our redeemer....Do we believe this literally, of course not." are not acceptable within the doctrine even of most progressives I know. The Rev. Forrester is a signatory to, and a principal author of, each of those statements.

As stated earlier, in addition to nominating a candidate, the episcopal ministry discernment team redefined the office of bishop to that of an "episcopal ministry team". Which is to say that the office of bishop will actually be administered by a group of people. Since there is no real precedent for this in the Episcopal Church (that I am aware of), this is not so much a question of whether this is a good idea if one were building a church from scratch, but whether this is consistent with the polity of TEC. How does this change the role of the Standing Committee (which, canons of TEC aside, has NOT been the functional authority in the diocese since +Jim Kelsey's death, that role having been assumed by Rev. Forrester and the non-canonical "Core Team"), and is the change of the role of the standing committee consistent with the canons of TEC?

Prudence would seem to indicate that the GC might want to weigh in on these matters before the confirmation of a bishop elected under these circumstances, and have the opportunity for deputies and bishops to debate the finer points of this. Much of the reaction I have seen so far has unfortunately been along the lines of "if the candidate is progressive, I will support this" (or not) versus "this method is consistent with Canon X, Y and Z." (or not) The next diocese to adopt such a process might be completely different, and then you are stuck with a precedent allowing perpetuation of a particular theological position to become the "bar" by which all candidates will be judged, and only internal candidates considered. And, indeed, where dioceses will risk becoming "inbred."

I believe I have been sufficiently long winded. I would encourage any bishop or standing committee to thoroughly investigate the methods and circumstances of this election before giving consent to the candidate. And to ask themselves whether the theology and ecclesiology of both the nominee and the "episcopal ministry team" are indeed consistent with the doctrine, discipline and worship of the Church, and whether an "episcopal ministry team" can indeed serve as a "bishop of the whole Church."

May the Lord be with you all,

Thomas J M Davis


Frair John said...

I'll confess that i never much cared for the Mutual Minestry model. It's always been to loose for my taste in that there is no one who is accountable, rather there is a set of illdefined "teams" made up of people who's training and/or actual grasp of their roles seems to be open to definition. They also make parishes closed systems. It seems that this system has now grown into a big bear and has short circuted the Diocies. If I were to serve on a Dio Standing committee I would probably vote against consent since it seems to me that the entire process was warped by a system that is covered (as I understand) by a fig leaf of cannonical justification.
I am concerened over the reducution of the Episcopacy to a "minestry coordiator" and the creation of one of these specious teams. The implication that The actual system of governing the diocies has been disrupted by these "teams" is also worrying.

I may be old fasioned, but I do expect the creeds are normative for a candidate for Bishop. I should also say that the undermining of the catholic order of TEC by MM is now fairly obvious by this event.

(The verification thingy is gateside)

Muthah+ said...

What makes the acts of this process of electing a bishop much different than the change in canons precipitated by Pitt, FTW or SJ?

To change the method by which a diocese elects a bishop without the consent of the GC is not following the Canons. If I were on the Standing Committee, I could not consent to the election of a bishop elected by such a process.

While I am much more progressive in my theology than this letter writer, the theology is not the issue in question. It is the elective process. He is right about accountabliity. As it stands now, bishops have engineered less accountablity into their positions and more power. This is not a democratic process.

Joan R. Gundersen said...

As a member of Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh, I am very puzzled by the comment by "Muthah+" on supposed changes in Pittsburgh's canons. Pittsburgh has not yet elected even a provisional bishop. We have an assisting bishop who was chosen by our standing committee, as provided for by the TEC and diocesan canons. Because some members of every diocesan governing body remained in TEC, we have had unbroken governance since October when many leaders of the diocese left TEC. At our convention in December we DID rule that supposed changes to our accession clause had never been properly passed because it was beyond the authority of the diocesan convention to try to change these. While Bishop Duncan and those who left violated numerous canons before they left, since October 4, the diocese has been trying very hard to live by the constitution and canons.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

You know, I read Mr. Davis' note three times before I posted it and I must say, if this is the strongest opposition to the process and/or the candidate, I don't think the opposition, such as it is, has much of a case. I mean, I appreciate the careful, measured tone, and I understand the objections of a 'traditional Anglo-Catholic', but I think the man will be elected and approved by SC and bisops with jurisdiction.

Thanks for dropping by, Dr. Gundersen. I hope Muthah+ explains her comment.

Muthah+ said...

I stand corrected about Pitt. I am more familiar with the dio of FTW where there were changes in the canons passed by the dio convention.

JCF said...

I confess, I simply don't know enough about this process to cogently comment about it.

However, in general, I agree w/ you, Lisbet: if Thomas J M Davis and the (tragically typical reasserter) gaggle of non-contextual quotes by Rev. Forrester is the BEST case against his consecration, then I can't see him having much difficulty in being confirmed.

In the ('79 BCP) service of episcopal ordination, there's a promise the bishop-elect makes (p. 513), and then there's The Examination (pp. 517-520). Reasserters, I beg of you: unless you can tell us that you KNOW a bishop-elect is going to refuse to make this public profession, PLEASE don't waste our time w/ your paranoid allegations of heresy? [We're not Popoids: we don't TEST peoples' writing, to infallibly pronounce "Error!"]

Paul Powers said...

When Muthah+ spoke of changes in the canons in Pitt, FW and SJ, I wonder whether she was referring to canonical (and constiutional) amendments made at the last diocesan conventions presided over by +Duncan, +Iker and +Schofield, respectively.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Dear Elizabeth+ would you please forward this to Thomas...and comment if you wish, I would much enjoy...and Betsy, forward to bishops and deputies....oh, you may comment also! This controversy so depressed me yesterday I had to turn to scripture and work on my homily on healing for Sunday...God put me back on track...I think...e.

Esteemed Thomas,
I write in response to your post on the Rev. Elizabeth Kaeton's blog, which I trust is being read on bishops and least I very strongly hope it will be widely read. I had myself posted on that site through my partner Betsy Hess who is an alternate deputy(as well as on the Standing Committee, Diocesan Council, anti-racism, prison concerns and Senior Warden of my old parish!) from our diocese of NH. The only response I received was from Bishop +Pierre Whalon who underscored that this matter raised in the diocese of N. Michigan, must not be discussed simply in terms of 'process', for it involves fundamental questions about our shared Anglican understanding of Holy Orders and in particular the Office of Bishop.
I have nothing to say about the fitness of the particular priest offered as candidate for that office in N. Michigan, for I am not a member of the Standing Committee and therefore have no right to that judgment. However, as I read from my downloads from N. Michigan with respect to standards for the ordination to the Priesthood, and what I have read on the Bishops and Deputies posts forwarded to me, there seems to be a common reduction of Orders to functions, rather than understanding the four-fold Orders of the laos, deacon, priest and bishop in particular, as participants in the death and resurrection of Our Lord, His Royal Priesthood, his self-emptying Servanthood, in oneness with the Apostles as Teacher, Defender of the Faith, Chief Pastor, participant in the councils of the Church and recipient--and our BCP still says this--"of your princely Spirit, bestowed upon Jesus Christ and the apostles, by whom your Church is built up in every place..." BCP, 521. In other words, this Office is quite unlike the functionalist offices of our American economic or bureaucratic institutions, but is rather a mystical participation in the Body of Christ, the Church, "that wonderful and sacred mystery" . Holiness and a total rootedness in prayer are the marks of such participation--being more than doing. Now I know that ontology is very out of favor in secular philosophical circles, when looking upon human offices, but I do believe, that this is our Tradition as Anglicans, reflecting our participation in the "one holy, catholic and apostolic Church we affirm in the historic Creeds, Sunday after Sunday.
Furthermore, my fifteen years as professor of Church History at the Andover-Newton Theological School, a "school of the church" sponsored by the American Baptists and the United Church of Christ, that in those bodies of the Church which have abandoned a sacramental understanding of the ordained ministries, and indeed, perhaps also of baptism...the results are a cooption by American pragmatism and functionalism and ultimately the 'bottom line' of untrammeled market capitalism. Hence the baptized are not taught that their sealing as "Christ's own forever" means that they do not belong to the "American Way" of Main Street or Wall Street, and the ordained, as well, fall easily into the pragmatic habits of the CEO, of "power over", of efficiency, or perfectionism, ...ultimately the sins of the ordained are treated as the illnesses of "burn out".
Therefore, I fear that I see in come understandings of "Mutual Ministry" , or as in this case, the sharing in a committee, of the various ministries of the Bishop as analagous to something like Henry Ford's grand invention of the "assembly line". It saved money, it enabled the 'acknowledgement and exercise of each worker's skills, it produced a serviceable and affordable vehicle...the American "car for the people--a measurable and usable product. Furthermore, each individual 'cog in the wheel' of the assembly line gets to be quite perfect at his/her own widget...hardly an opportunity to discover that we are all sinners, less than whole, and depend ultimately upon God alone to "finish us" and to save us, not our skill or the economy of effort of the 'line'. No, I must not let this analogy run away with me. At ANTS, despite all the 'liberal theology'...the guys who ran their churches were ultimately CEO's...with the surprising exceptions for which only the Holy Spirit is responsible...thanks be to God, (I think of my very holy neighbor, the Rev. Avery Post) and not to 'nonconformist' polity! if we want to save money, and be effficient, and fit in to the American Way, and lose any chance for a prophetic voice that leads yes, to martyrdom of various sorts, and that modeling of sacrificial living that does not deal with "time cards"...if we want to abandon the "Treasures new and old" of our Church, we can go with the flow and abandon the sacramental understanding, the symbolic being, the "archaic" mystical participation of our Baptized being, and that of those in Holy Orders, in the Mystery of the Incarnate One.
But that is not the Church in which I was baptized and raised, nor the priesthood which I experienced...when, as my grandmother who with Grandpa had raised me from infancy, lay dying in my 15 year old arms, and I called my parish priest (not the doctor!!), he came in the middle of the night and read the prayers for the Dying over my then dead Grandma, ...and took me home and put me in his bed with his wife...and they added me to their already five kids...a crazed and needy teenager....very inefficient, I ate a lot unrecompensed wonderful food, , I demanded emotional energy big time...Years later I observed to my 'mom', Ann, I would have loved to have been a fly on the wall when that decision was discussed. "Discussed, " she said...Russell (Dewart) never discussed anything...your becoming part of the family was a done deal ...there was a need and it was met! So that's how I began to learn about what a priest and a priest's family is not about enabling those with particular charisms, or committees or whatever. Sacrifice. Like as seen on the Cross..
Well, yes, I read myself into Catholic Anglicanism in my Dad's library, and eventually, going to Boston to buy an Easter hat, I discovered the Church of the Advent and St. Anne's Convent...but I was raised in St. Peter's Beverly, very much Massachusetts broad churchmanship...I treasure my Wareham Guild surplice and cassock...the surplice for which my English ancestors fought against the Puritan iconoclasts ...though as soon as I was confirmed, attended the Holy Communion weekly and then sang in the choir at MP.
So thank you Thomas-- you and I may differ over adiophora, such as the fact that I am gay and in a committed life with my Betsy for 18 years...but on the Essentials, let us take to the parapets together! "Though in a scornful wonder, men see her sore distressed, by schisms rent assunder, by heresies distrest...yet Saints their watch are keeping, their cry goes up how long, until the night of weeping, shall be the dawn of song! ..(I didn't check this with the Hymnal...I know a lot of hymns by heart.
Keep on singing, Thomas...
(the Rev.) Eleanor McLaughlin+ Ph.D.

J. Michael Povey said...

Well, Ellie McLaughlin is a Catholic Radical.

She is Catholic in the very best sense.

She is Radical (not Liberal) in her deep and wise sense of scripture, tradition, and reason.

Please listen to Ellie!

And I admire the gracious words of Thomas.

I think that both he and Ellie are on to something important.

And again I long to see a Church in which Jesus' "I have come that they may have life" is normative.

Thomas J M Davis said...

As it appears that our internet-era attention span has passed this thread by, I will sign off, with thanks for your gracious consideration of a dissident opinion. Thanks also to all those who engaged in a serious, and polite, manner with the issues I raised.
And special thanks also to Dr. McLaughlin, for metaphorically "reaching across the aisle" with the Pax, and for posting her remarks to the listserve. In so many places, it is not the "presenting issue" which is dividing Episcopalians, but more basic things, like whether we hold to the Creeds, believe the Gospel to be the Word of God, or believe that there is one, and only one, Savior, who is Christ our Lord.
And an aside, no, this is not the strongest case to be made, this was just a comment on a blog written in the hope (which I believe has been fulfilled) that it might raise some questions for the people who will be engaged in determining whether this candidate gains consent. If it has inspired people to read Rev. Forrester's treatises and question them, if it brings anyone to question a process that nominated a member of the nominating committee, who indeed was the designer of the process, and the information officer for the diocese, it has fulfilled its intent. Perhaps someone will be inspired to look into the fate of the only woman "missioner" in the diocese, or just to call clergy and friends in the diocese for their opinion (remembering that the candidate writes 75% of the articles for the diocesan newsletter, of which his wife is editor). I could write the equivalent of a thesis or legal brief, and in all likelihood it would be dismissed (perhaps not here, but in many places) because I am seen as a conservative. The election in N. Michigan will have little impact on conservatives. Most conservatives left this diocese 20 years ago, most of those who remained left over the last 2 years. There are not enough conservative bishops left to block a deposition, where would they ever find the votes to block consent? No, it is up to the progressives of TEC to determine whether Rev. Forrester is a "bishop for the whole church." So I leave it to you.
Again, my thanks Elizabeth+. With your kind permission, I may visit again from time to time.