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Wednesday, April 15, 2009

A letter from Carl Gerdau concerning the Bishop-Elect of Northern Michigan

The following letter to the Editor of The Living Church appears in this week's print issue of that weekly magazine. I am grateful to the Rev'd Canon Carl Gerdau for giving me permission to reproduce it here.

For those of you who may not know, Carl served as Canon to Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold as well as Canon to Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori during the transition between Presiding Bishops.

March 23, 2009

To the editor of “The Living Church”:

I must take exception to the March 22nd coverage of the Bishop-elect of Northern Michigan. I admit to begin with what Reinhold Neibuhr called “an ideological prejudice”. The Diocese of Northern Michigan is one of my two homes. I was ordained there in 1959, served there for twenty years at various times nine of the congregations, and represented the diocese at five General Conventions and one Special Convention.

Since ceasing to serve Northern Michigan, I have kept up with it through regular visits and personal contacts and watched with interest as it has evolved, changed, and developed. I don’t buy everything that goes on—for example, I don’ think that the model of mutual ministry fits all; I think there is a place in the Church for cardinal rectors. But I can attest that all is done with the utmost integrity.

Let me set the record straight on several insinuations and accusations in your magazine. First the Bishop-elect was not “for all intents and purpose, Chair of the Search Committee”. He was never part of the Search Committee, but at the request of the Standing Committee, he attended the first two meetings to train them in team-building.

Granted that he was the only candidate presented by the committee, but the committee made great effort to find and contact other candidates. Yes, he has used liturgical experimentation, has used gender-neutral language, and has used the New Zealand prayer book, but he is not the only person to do so in the Episcopal Church.

In my background, I was a member of St. Mary’s the Virgin in New York City while in boarding school and college, and we did not know what the prayer book was, had non-communicating masses, and the strangest liturgical practices on Good Friday [i.e. crawling to kiss the Cross] which are now part of Good Friday in many places. Open experimentation is how change comes about. The fact that not everyone followed the rubrics of 1928 is how the 1979 prayer book came into being.

The accusation that there is something wrong because St. Paul’s Church Marquette uses liberal Roman Catholic documents borders on the absurd. Many of us have read and been influenced by Hans K√ľng. Or how many are there like me who are partly formed by the writings of Thomas Merton who started as a pre-Tridentine Catholic and moved to the extreme liberal side of the Roman Church. Are we under indictment by “The Living Church”?

The suggestion that the bishop-elect should not be confirmed because of the model of episcopacy in the diocese “could bring about an unsettling precedent” is dubious. The model is a concept that is based on the premise that a bishop cannot do everything or have all the talents necessary but needs a supportive community.

To suggest that somehow what Northern Michigan is doing violates the model of episcopacy forgets that episcopacy in the life of the Church has been everything from the prince-bishop of the Middle Ages to a bishop in the Irish Church who was under the abbot of the monastery.

Finally to fault the Bishop-elect because he practices Buddhist meditation is to not understand who he is. He has made it absolutely plain that he is an “absolute Christian” but that Buddhist practices have helped him to understand the suffering of the world.

Unlike you I think Kevin Thew Forrester should be confirmed by bishops and Standing Committees. His willingness to explore the wide dimensions of spirituality and northern Michigan’s willingness to explore new models of ministry are needed by the House of Bishops and the Church at large.

The Rev. Canon Carlson Gerdau


June Butler said...

Elizabeth, as I said at OCICBW, having a single candidate and the practice of Buddhism are non-issues for me.

I understand that change comes through experimentation, and I took that into consideration. That's why I said I was "pretty sure" that I'd vote to withhold comsent.

I don't know how many in the parish objected to the experimentation. It seems to me that when one chooses to do something new and different in the liturgy, that the group in which to use the new practices should be carefully chosen and that the practices not be forced upon the unwilling. That there is such a ruckus over the election of Hugh Forrester, indicates to me that there were quite a few who objected to their use.

That I also give great weight to the vote of the members of the diocese is another reason that I said "pretty sure".

I came late to the Episcopal Church and fell in love with the BCP. I'm quite sure that affects my opinion on this matter, but there it is.

Frair John said...

How nice of them to redefine the job of the Episcopacy for the rest of us. Gosh it must be so hard and an entire team to do it would be so much easier ....

The condecention in that paragraph dismissing the model of Episcopacy rates right up there with Kimsey+'s hysteria in his letter. Again, the cry of "How DARE you question us!" rears it's head.

Anybody else care to guess which prominent theologian, Church Father, Mystic or Heretic will be drug into this next?

Arius? Tertullian (two for the price of one, there)? Athanasius? Mary of Egypt? Hildaguard? Edith Stein? Hooker? Anna de San Agustine? Tillich? Barth?

David@Montreal said...

Thank-you Canon Carlson Gordau
Thank-you Lord for Canon Carlson Gordau
Thank-you Elizabeth for sharing this


G said...

Would this be the Rev. Canon Carlson Gerdau who is Superior of the Oratory of the Good Shepherd?

Jim said...

A number of years ago, three Benedictine monastics noticed that they young people in their community were not coming to the monastery, they were going down the road to that Buddhist monastery. Curios about why, they through on some civies and went to the Buddhist monastery to see what the excitement was about.

After they went there and saw what the monks were teaching they had a sort of epiphany moment. (OK, it was more like a 'well darn!' moment.) They recognized that the 'mediation spirituality' the Buddhists were teaching was available to Christians who have historically called it 'contemplation,' 'contemplative prayer' or 'the rosary.'

From that recognition moment came the "centering prayer" books from Frs. Keating and Hosmer and the resulting lay contemplative movements in both Roman and Anglican circles. They both knew and admired another Benedictine who had taken similar paths, Fr. Thomas Merton.

Merton's Seven Story Mountainis clearly influenced by Buddhist paths, and so are his other works. In fact, he never claimed anything else.

So here we are, with another person who practices 'contemplative prayer' to use the Western name and like John of the Cross, he is being hauled before the inquisition. Who knew that institution had moved to New York?

{sighs, picks up his prayer beads, OOOPS I mean rosary, and goes back to centering, OOPS, I mean praying. Really Mr. Inquisitor, I did not mean anything Zen!}


Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Geoff, I don't have an answer to your question. I'm afraid I don't know. Sorry.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Friar John, can you help me understand? I'm not quite sure I understand what you are saying. When you write: "How nice of them to redefine the Episcopacy for the rest of us". . . by 'them' do you mean the Mutual Ministry team of the Diocese of N. Michigan? I'm confused by that and your claim of condescention . . . perhaps it is because I know Carl and I know he's not being condescending results in the fact that I 'hear' that paragraph differently from you, but I'm trying to hear what you are saying. Can you help me out?

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Mimi - I'm confused again (I must still not be fully resurrected after Holy Week and Easter). I thought you've been saying that you're "pretty sure" that you'd vote to consent? Or, am I incorrect?

According to their website, and I quote directly: "Thew Forrester was elected on the first ballot and satisfying the Diocesan Constitution and canons, received 88% of the delegate votes and 91% of the congregational votes."

One last point with regard to the use of the BCP: I love it, too, and I am faithful to what Dom Gregory Dix called 'the shape of the liturgy'. The BCP is faithful to 'the shape' of its RC heritage which is faithful to 'the shape' of the Jewish book of prayer.

I regularly experiment with the liturgy - however, mostly NOT at the principle Sunday Eucharistic service, and when I do, it is always with the prior participation of my staff and some members of the church as well as prior authorization of the bishop.

On other occasions, say, for example, the Good Friday liturgy, the stations of the cross (which I wrote and posted here) and the Great Vigil of Easter which I took down from 9 readings to 3 and not in the same order as in the BCP, I take into account the needs of the community I serve and the congregation I know will be present, as well as the architecture of the building which constitutes the 'sacred space' in which and with which I have to work.

I'm sure there's not a great deal of 'liturgical experimentation' or 'innovation' in your diocese, but I can assure you that in many, many parts of TEC, it is more the norm than a 'straight up' BCP service.

So, I would not expect someone who has experimented with liturgy to be elected bishop in the Diocese of Louisiana, but neither would I expect a person from your diocese who would never vary from the rubrics to be elected bishop in the Diocese of Newark - or Northern Michigan - or Maine - or (fill in the blank).

It's really all a matter of perspective, in the end, isn't it?

Which is why the consent process is really not about whether or not a bishop has or has not experimented liturgically or his leadership style or if he's an SOB or a 'control freak' or whether or not he would make a good bishop in your diocese.

The consent process is very clear: It is consenting to the fact that

(1) the diocese has done due diligence in selecting a person who, according to the criteria stipulated in the canons, is qualified for the position and

(2) the canons for the election of the bishop have been carried out and fulfilled.

That's it. That's what SC and Bishops with jurisdiction are 'consenting' to.

Everything else is absolutely irrelevant.

Now, that may sound "arrogant" or "condescending" but that's really all Canon Gerdau is saying in his letter.

I hope that's helpful.

June Butler said...

Elizabeth, I said that I was "pretty sure" that I would withhold consent, except I made a typo and spelled it "comsent". I meant "pretty sure" to withhold consent in the second statement, too.

Actually, we do, on occasion have small changes in the liturgy, but surely not the liturgy for Baptism. Yes, your diocese is different from mine.

I came from the Roman Catholic Church, and I believe that their liturgy for Mass is not very good, so I saw the prayers for the celebration of the Eucharist in the BCP as having great beauty.

I don't have a vote, so what I think or how I'd vote doesn't matter a fig. It's just my opinion. And this is probably the last I'll say about the matter. I'm not campaigning. Whatever will be, will be, and I will accept the outcome.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Thanks, Mimi. Just FYI - If you were on a SC, I would assume that your bishop and the President of the SC made sure that you read the canons so that you would understand what you were consenting to. Whether or not you approve or disapprove of his liturgical or leadership style is immaterial. The only two things your are consenting to are as I stipulated above.

(1) the diocese has done due diligence in selecting a person who, according to the criteria stipulated in the canons, is qualified for the position and

(2) the canons for the election of the bishop have been carried out and fulfilled.

That's it. That's what SC and Bishops with jurisdiction are 'consenting' to.

Everything else is absolutely irrelevant.

I'm not campaigning for the man. I just can not sit still while the man is personally attacked by folks who don't understand what the consent process is all about.

If this shameful personal attack by people who don't understand the consent process results in a lack of required consents for Forrester, and it is another two years before an other bishop can be elected - at great expense to an already financially strapped diocese - well, I hope those who find this "a fascinating time" can also sleep well at night knowing that, at some point in the Great Hereafter, they will have to meet Jesus face to face.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Oh, Mimi, and on the question of liturgics, I knew that I had read it somewhere, but over at Episcopal Cafe a few weeks ago, there was this article by Louis Weil, the preeminent liturgist (he literally 'wrote the book' on liturgy in TEC), wrote this article:

In which he reports what he thinks of Thew Forrester's liturgical innovation after a careful review of them. For those of you who have any concern about that . . .

June Butler said...

Elizabeth, my concern is with the willingness or unwillingness of the people with whom Fr Forrester practices his liturgical experimentation to participate.

May God's will be done in the matter of consents.

Frair John said...

The suggestion that the bishop-elect should not be confirmed because of the model of episcopacy in the diocese “could bring about an unsettling precedent” is dubious. The model is a concept that is based on the premise that a bishop cannot do everything or have all the talents necessary but needs a supportive community.This is the part that struck me, in particular, as condecending. There is an air of "I know more than you do, fool, and your objections are contemptable." It is, at best, pedantic. He side steps that they have added and altered the Episcopacy with this unprecedented, unwarented Team. If, as all reports seem to indicate, that this is a tiny, dying diocies I wonder just how overwhelming the work can be. How dose it relate to the Standing COmmitee? How dose this exercise in group Episcopacy relate to questions of obedience, discipline and the other functions of a Bishop. Do we have to watch as a committee makes decisions that the Cannons place in the lap of a bishop and a bishop alone? From the sounds of it the Diocies of NMI has decided to adopt a Presbyterian model of exercising authority at all levels. I left the PC(USA) for several reasons reason, its polity being one of them.

As for the cannonical process, I can't see where the argument that the Standing committees and Bishop of TEC are simply certifying that the cannons were followed comes from. The testimony given in the Cannons (II.11.4(b)) says that there are "no impedements" to the Ordenation going forward. Thats a pretty wide statment. There are no reaons or outline given for the Bishops.

The thing that is behind all of this is the unanswered questions concerning what "Core Doctrine" is and is not. Do we have theological standards, or don't we? If we do, what are they? If we don't, exactly what are we to proclaim, if not a thin broth of rationalism or vauge notions ment to make us feel good?

The dismissal of objections and questions with accusations of inquisitorial practices or by assigning alterior and dishonest motives (such as some sort of partity) are not only not helping, but add to the frustrations of those of us with them. There is a arrogance in the dismissals which says "Shut up and go along, take what is handed to you graciously." We all sahre in an overly agressive attitiude, and the unfair accusations and time spent painting with an all encompassing brush is not helping.

Edw: vic. gen. et archid. Quebec said...

Yes, Canon Gerdau is the current Father Superior of the Oratory of the Good Shepherd.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Anonymous - Sign your name to your comments and I'll consider printing them.