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TEXAS: Hope for a New Church still can Prevail says leading U.S. Rector

Hope for a New Church still can Prevail says leading U.S. Rector

By David C. Roseberry

The following lecture was delivered at St. John the Divine Church

August 28, 2004

I am thankful to be with you today and have the opportunity to speak to you directly about the issues and the struggles we face. We know that this main subject of the church is taking a great deal of time and energy. The events of last fall have caused significant disruption in our life…and we will continue to struggle until some kind of resolution is achieved.

For my part, I offer a snapshot of why and what is happening and what might be hoped for. As you know, no one can predict what may come of this crisis…but no one can doubt at this time that it is a crisis.

So allow me to summarize where we are today:

1. “The Vote” at the General Convention in Minneapolis in August 2003 has rocked the church to its core. The Primate’s have met in emergency session and dispatched the “Lambeth Commission”, commonly called “Eames Commission” (named for it’s chairman, Robin Eames, archbishop of Ireland) to help find a way forward. Three “Plano-style” conferences have been held around the country. The Anglican Communion Network has been formed and has developed a theological charter. The House of Bishops have met and presented an oversight plan called “Delegated Episcopal Pastoral Oversight”. Nearly every diocese and/or congregation has had special meetings, resolutions, votes, and or discussions on these significant issues.

2. It is hard to measure the impact of this year, but it is clear that most dioceses and parishes have put these issues at center stage. It is the flash point for our culture and it forces every Christian and every church to answer a fundamental question: who or what is the source of my authority for making decisions and choices in the world today? The Episcopal Church, once priding itself on being the “roomiest church” in Christianity, now finds itself hopelessly split from within. On the one side are the modernists who believe that new information about human sexuality along with new academic thinking about authority and Scripture should bring the church to new conclusions about lifestyle decisions. On the other hand, those who hold a traditional point of view believe that there are no new decisions to be made. The church should uphold and defend the traditional doctrine of marriage and morality.

At a societal level, it is an issue of authority. Can anyone or anything make me do what I don’t want to do…or tell me not to do what I want and feel inclined and desirous to do? The Western pop culture is crazed with self-fulfillment, sexual pleasure, youth, materialism, and self-rule. This is the perfect environment for a ‘morals-free’ lifestyle choice that many people make.

At a personal level, the issues have to do with a new understand of the self. In the modern view, the self cannot be suppressed. It cannot be changed. We are born with certain instincts and attitudes…or they are developed over time. Either way, we cannot suppress them. They must be expressed and celebrated to by wholly and fully human. Set against this view of the person, is the biblical and traditional Christian perspective that we should not express every feature of our desire. Human beings are fallen creatures capable of gross violations of the Creator’s intention. We should not follow our appetites and impulses. Rather, we should channel them into only two styles of life that are defined as God’s will (God’s best) for us: monogamous heterosexual marriage or celibate singleness.

With the decision to consecrate a man in an active gay relationship and permit the blessing of same-sex unions, the roomiest church in the faith just got really small. There is no middle ground on these issues. Either you believe that sexual practice is a matter of the human nature and right, or you believe that God has revealed his will for us finally and completely in the Scriptures. Where is the middle ground?

This is where we are today. Some are still looking for middle ground. Some are looking for a way of holding the two sides in conversation and dialogue. Some call for church unity while, at the same time, developing and authorizing the use of same sex blessing liturgies. For others, myself among them, the violation of Scripture is clear enough. It is important to emphasize that the Primates have said about this issued what they have said about no other issue: that it will tear the fabric of our common life. It is a communion breaker! Church unity is superficial if it is not unity in the truth of the Gospel and the teaching of the apostles.

3. Another aspect of the crisis concerns the catholic order. We are a hierarchical church with a pattern of governance and accountability that is two millennia old. The catholic order has been violated. The teaching of the apostles has been ignored. Dialogue with our ecumenical partners around the world is in disarray and some have been suspended. The General Convention has not only violated the clear teaching of Scripture, it has also ignored the opinions and decisions of many other Christian brothers and sisters around the world. Witness to this was the letter to the first Plano conference from Cardinal Ratzinger of the Vatican sharing with us the deep concern of the Pope.

4. One clear casualty of the last year was the last and best hope of growth and revitalization of the Episcopal Church: the 20/20 Vision. You may remember that the 20/20 Vision was a program or movement by the Episcopal Church to energize and invigorate every aspect of the church toward mission and growth. Hundreds of thousands of dollars were spent, as were thousands and thousands of hours in meetings and meetings. Great promises were made, dozens of resolutions passed, and committees and task forces were charged. It was very important…and it is over. Done. There is no evidence (one year later) that any efforts of the movement are carrying on. I recently went to the Episcopal Church’s new website…no mention whatsoever of the effort to double the size of the church by the year 2020.

Church shrinkage is more what is in store. Numbers are hard to get hold of today, but nearly every congregation is affected by the actions of the General Convention and the ensuing conflict. Why would people join a church in conflict? Why will people stay in a church in crisis? What compelling cause are we about beside a church fight about sex? The paltry attendance of our church by members and visitors, now barely over 800,000 each week, seems likely to slip more and more. Simple math indicates that the average size Sunday School in the Episcopal Church is a shameful 37 pupils. Where is our future?

5. One huge potential loss for ECUSA is a connection with the worldwide Anglican Communion. Upwards of 20 plus different provinces have announced impaired or broken communion with our small but wealthy province. Once the Eames Commission gives a report, the status of the strained relationships may actually fracture. The growing and lively branch of the Anglican Communion, the Global South, is very clear on matters of human sexuality and biblical morality. The fuzzy nuances of Western-minded theologians do not exist. The Bible teaches chastity: faithfulness in marriage and abstinence in singleness. Any other innovation is unbiblical and will lead their people to spiritual confusion and possible eternal death.

6. Many of us feel that a connection with the Anglican Communion is the source of new life and hope for Anglicanism in North America. Without them, we become a small sect-sized church, a boutique style church specializing in fine liturgy, modern theology, and nice music. But with them, we maintain a missionary drive to reach our culture with the saving love of Jesus Christ. This desire for connection with the rest of the Anglican Communion is what drives the Network of Anglican Communion Diocese and Parishes (The Network). Chartered only eight months ago, the purpose of the Network is to maintain and grow Anglicanism in North America. Its goals are to create a community of churches and dioceses that are unified (among all Anglican groups, ECUSA and beyond), orthodox, and missionary. The Network has achieved remarkable status in only eight months. Nine dioceses have ratified its charter and two more are set to do so within months. These dioceses represent nearly 800 parishes and missions and close to 200,000 souls. In addition, 148 congregations and clergy have joined the Network from non-Network dioceses, with 54 pending. Add to this the 68 Forward in Faith congregations, and the Network is already larger that 13 provinces in
the Anglican Communion. The Network is strong enough, and representative enough of the orthodox and conservative movement, that when the Eames Commission wanted to hear from members of the Episcopal Church USA at their recent meeting in Kanuga, they asked to hear from Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold and Network Moderator Bob Duncan.

The Network has assigned retired bishops to each of the convocations to provide pastoral care for church and clergy that request it. There is an ordination track for seminarians who are unable to get through the ECUSA process that may be overseen by several primates of the global church.

At the first Plano conference, much was said about a coming re-alignment…a shift of key relationships within the constellation of the Anglican Communion that would in essence, by-pass the American Church. This is it. The Network is a by-pass around the erroneous and damaging teaching and leadership core of ECUSA. This is why it is being vilified and acted upon with hostility by US bishops. (Some bishops have issued godly admonitions and other threats to keep their clergy from joining the Network.) However, as important as the Network is to maintaining relationships and communion with the wider Anglican Communion, the Network still (and must) operate within the constitution and canons of the Episcopal Church.

How can we think of it? Think of the Network as an “order” within a “structure”. The structure defines the legal and canonical relationships and the enforceable constitutional governance. An “order” defines the spiritual and theological and moral life of a ministry and a mission. The structure is concerned with property…the order is concerned with mission. One is a shell…and the other is a seed. This is the way we will maintain our spiritual integrity and still function as priests with a structure. This is the new alignment.

7. There has been substantial fall out from the vote with regard to the missionary and relief enterprises in the Episcopal Church. To that end, several new ministries of the Network are in place. The Anglican Relief and Development fund will have over a million dollars for dispersal by the end of
September. Why so much? Because money that had come from 815 Second Ave. is either being refused by global south primates are redirected by Episcopal agencies. The same is true of the Anglican Global Mission Partners. Part of the their charter is to help find funding for missionaries that have been supported by the Episcopal Church.

A positive development in the Network has also been the establishment of the Common Cause…an understanding that dispersed Anglican groups can and should come together for reunion. To date, the Reformed Episcopal Church, Anglican Province in America, Anglican Mission in America, Forward in Faith North American, American Anglican Council, and the Network are now working together for orthodox Anglicanism in North America.

After the Eames report and any additional fallout from around the Anglican Communion, the Network may be the only entity that many non-Western Anglicans recognize and accept. And after the Eames report, the Network will be our principal means of connection to the rest of the Anglican Communion.

8. The Eames Report is what is next in line. It is to be published in mid October of this year. What it will say and how it will read is anyone’s guess. However, most observers feel that if it issues a strong rebuke of the American Church, it will be ignored by the ECUSA. If it issues a mild acceptance of each province’s right to decide their individual practices, it will be embraced by ECUSA. This latter position might well trigger a complete meltdown of the Anglican Communion across the globe. If each is left to decide what is right in their own eyes, then all that is left of ECUSA will be property disputes.

There is an all-Africa bishops meeting scheduled at the end of October in Lagos, Nigeria. The unprecedented gathering of over 300 bishops from the global south (1/3 of the Anglican Communion at least) might well preempt the regularly scheduled Primates meeting in February where they are set to consider the findings of the Eames Commission.

It should be noted that the Eames Commission will not consider sexuality issues…only communion issues. The Primates (in October of 2003) have endorsed and reaffirmed the Lambeth 1998 statement that homosexuality is incompatible with the teaching of Holy Scripture. The Eames Commission will consider only how and to what degree communion can be maintained when individual provinces act on the own accord against the common teaching.

Rumors abound as to what the Eames Commission will recommend and any real speculation is pointless at this time. However, it is important to note that, once the Eames Commission has rendered their opinion and it has been received and digested by the Archbishop of Canterbury, there are no more structural solutions to the crisis. The first Plano conference was held to rally the support and send a clear message to the Primates of the Anglican Communion: “Help us…come and intervene in our life.” The statement of the primates in October was a substantial intervention, if not also opaque. The Eames Commission is working on behalf of the Primates and the Archbishop. Once the ‘verdict is in’, all the cards will be on the table.

9. Where we go from here…what will we do? While speculation is pointless, planning is critical. The strength of the Network is growing. Scores of young men and women are coming forward for ordained ministry. Clergy are finding their voice. Lay people are realizing the gravity of the situation and are demanding action…and taking action themselves. While we are waiting of the Eames Commission to give their report, we cannot rely on the Eames Commission to solve our problems. They can only validate what is known to all of us: the fabric of our common life is horribly and irreparable torn, to paraphrase the primate’s warning.

We need to realize that we are at a great moment in history. Something very significant is taking place in our lifetime…and we get to be part of it. We can define the problem quite easily: authority, Biblical integrity, catholicity, and obedience. But also, by the Grace of our God, we can take part in defining the outcome…the shaping and building of a new and renewed future church. Many of us grieve for what has been lost…and yet at the same time there is hope. There is hope for a new church that is free and unashamed of the gospel we are charged to proclaim and good news we are empowered to declare. There is hope for an Anglicanism that is once again deeply rooted in the Scriptures and deeply connected to worldwide brothers and sisters who share our passion and our mission in Christ. Imagine this kind of church! We get to be the builders of what God is doing anew in Anglicanism all around the world…and in North America.

–The Rev. David Roseberry is rector, Christ Church, Plano Texas

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