LETTER FROM AMERICA
God of Many Names
by David Mills
JUDGING FROM WHAT they have said, the organisers of General Convention believe that “God” will be present before anyone arrives, during all the proceedings and after all have packed up and gone. Further, when the eucharist is celebrated, the God of the Convention will become more available to those who are open to the Spirit and who are in touch with their religious feelings and sensibilities. At other times this “God” will be invisibly involved in the lobbying, speeches and the voting helping along all legislation and resolutions that promote human liberation, peace and justice.
The God of the Convention
The “God of the Philadelphia Convention” is a “God” who has no preferred names, but is always ready to be named by devotees, according to how they feel and what are their current concerns. In fact this “God” has no [grammatical] gender for any pronoun (“it” or “she” or “he”) will suffice for it/her/him. Therefore this “God of 1997” is for all people of all ages and of all races and of all sexual preferences. In fact there seems to be a general rejoicing that this Deity does not have a bias towards white male human beings.
The Deity, it is claimed, who was believed to favour men has long since ceased to pay even a courtesy visit to the General Convention of the Episcopal Church. This God of many names, tastes and values has already inspired the general strategy and proposals which have been published in the “Blue Book.” She/it/he has been present to illuminate the minds of those who in committees and in commissions have been discerning the spirit of the times and seeking to understand and follow where the divine movement for human liberation, peace and justice for all peoples is going.
The participants are here to make sure that what has been discerned as the moving of the spirit of deity will be made a part of the legal basis, agenda, and public face of the Episcopal Church.
Thus we can expect that doctrines and practices which can be traced to the influence of the former “God of Conventions” will be modified, changed, or made illegal. For example, the claimed right assumed by a few bishops not to ordain women will be taken away! This will be seen as a moral duty required by the will and commandments of the “God of the 1997 Convention.” Further, the prayers of the Church in the public liturgy will be adapted to reflect a full inclusivity, so that the “God of many names” and of no gender can be named by each according to her/his preferences.
To speak of and to address an all male God (as did former Conventions) will be seen as not merely intolerable but positively immoral! And speaking of morality, the spirit of the “God of the 1997 Convention” will be particularly active to ensure that the judgment of the Righter Court is not overturned and, more practically, that in one way or another there is no slowing down of the just cause of homosexual liberation - especially in ordination, marriage and economic justice.
Happily the “God of the modern ECUSA” is also the “God of the modern Evangelical Lutheran Church America” and thus he/she/it will be active in both camps this summer moving people towards full acceptance of the Concordat between the two denominations.
God of Many Names
All in all it would appear that the “God of many names” has got the situation under control. Even if there is opposition from the few devotees of the “God of former Conventions,” the pursuit of liberation, peace, and justice, will continue and the “baptismal covenant” (so beloved by the Presiding Bishop) will remain in place as the religious charter for the Episcopal Church at the end of the second millennium. It seems almost certain that the new Presiding Bishop to be elected on July 21st will continue to serve the “God” whom Bishop Browning adopted and thus take the cause forward past the year 2000.
Now a little theological reflection! In the last decade, the change in allegiance of the Episcopal Church from “the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” to the “God of many names” has become apparent for those with eyes to see and ears to hear. For a long time many Episcopalians have been dropping words such as “Father” and “Son” and “Lord” and “King” and “He.” The new liturgies before Convention for approval reflect this decisive trend to all-inclusive imagery and the rejection of biblical imagery. Attempts to make available for public worship the classic and traditional Prayer Book (BCP 1928), which uses the biblical imagery, will be rejected.
In the second place, many marriages of divorced persons and a growing number of “blessings” of homosexual couples in church illustrate the changes in sexuality, as do also such common expressions as “differing sexual orientation” and “faithful homosexual partnerships.” The “God of the 1997 Convention” certainly seems to support what used to be called “sin.”
The former “God of Conventions” (i.e., Yahweh who is the almighty Father together with His only-begotten Son, and with his Holy Spirit) was understood to be transcendent, apart from the world he has made and keeps in orbit. Yet at the same time he was held to be immanent, present in and unto his creation as the Holy Spirit, who made Jesus known to waiting souls. The Bible, as the Word of God written pointing to Jesus Christ the Word Incarnate, was seen as the place where his character, will and commandments were to be found and then obeyed. It is possible that this God, “the God of our fathers and mothers,” is actually alive and well and that He will take more than a passing interest in this Convention. He may become an uninvited and unexpected Visitor and His Visitation one of judgment and not mercy.
His devotees are certainly hoping and praying that He will show Himself and thereby reveal - at least to those who are open to know - that the “God of the 1997 Convention” is in no way superior to the high “gods” of Canaan or of the Greek and Roman Pantheons and that, in fact, she/it/he of many names is no real God at all"
Peter Toon is executive director of the Prayer Book Society, USA. This article first appeared as part of the Episcopal Synod of America's On-line coverage of the General Convention of the Episcopal Church, on Wednesday, July 18, 1998
on sex alone . . .”. Clergywomen Ask Defeat of Canon III.8.1 Denounce “sin of impatience,” argue that reception will take two generations The following statement, signed by 84 clergywomen, was read to the Ministry Committee on Sunday evening by the Rev. Mary Hays, associate professor of pastoral theology at Trinity Episcopal School for Ministry. WE, THE UNDERSIGNED, are clergywomen - priests and deacons - in the Episcopal Church who feel that it is now time to speak out against the proposed canonical change in Canon III.8.1 which mandates the ordination of women. It goes without saying that we obviously believe that the ordination of women is not contrary to orthodox, biblical faith. Thus, we disagree on biblical and theological grounds with those who do not approve of or permit the ordination of women. Each of us has had painful experiences of prejudice, discrimination, condescension, and even outright hostility because we are women in the ordained ministry of the church. None of us would be where we are today if it were not for other leaders in the church who affirmed God’s call in our lives and opened the door of ordained ministry through which we walked. Accordingly, we share the pain of those who are in parishes or dioceses which will not affirm the ministry of ordained women. Nevertheless, we believe the proposed change in Canon III.8.1 making such ordinations mandatory is not the right action to take at this time. 1. We believe the process of “reception” of such a sweeping change as the admission of women into the presbyterate and episcopate will take at least two generations. We have the privilege today of living between the time when the ordination of women has already been passed, but it has not yet been fully received by the universal church. This “already, but not yet” aspect of the reception of the ordination of women is part of the greater eschatological reality of the life of the church today. 2. Patience is described by St Paul in I Corinthians 13.4 as one of the characteristics of love. To adopt the proposed Canon III.8.1 would be to indulge in the sin of impatience toward those who clearly differ from us. We are called to love one another . . . and, even to love those who disagree with us theologically on the ordination of women. For us, this means that we are willing to be patient for full reception of our orders to take place. 3. We believe that the integrity of General Convention’s leadership is at stake in this vote, and that it is important to be faithful to the promises made at the time the ordination of women was passed, namely that during the process of reception the ordination of women would be permissive, not mandatory. We firmly believe that the approval of the ordination of women was the work of the Holy Spirit in the life of our Church and the General Convention. Furthermore, we believe that in the fullness of time, God will move the universal Church to wholeheartedly embrace the ordination of women. We see no need to act in a precipitous, coercive, or un-Anglican manner. Rather, we urge the defeat of the proposed changes to Canon III.8.1 and the adoption of mutual respect across our differences while the Holy Spirit brings to completion the work begun in passing the ordination of women. A New Way to Elect the Presiding Bishop? by Elijah White CHANGING the way future Presiding Bishops are elected may well change the criteria for selecting nominees for that office - “which would be a good thing,” according to Massachusetts Deputy Byron Rushing, who placed D-017 before Convention. Future Presiding Bishops would be chosen by a joint meeting of the bishops and the clerical and lay deputies, with a majority of the votes in each of the three orders needed to elect. Currently the House of Bishops keeps voting until it has elected a candidate, whose name is then presented to the House of Deputies to confirm or reject. “Knowing that the PB would have to receive majority support in all three orders will keep the Nominating Committee aware that they’re proposing a bishop for the whole Church,” veteran legislator Rushing told the Joint Committee on Miscellaneous Resolutions Tuesday morning. “They would have to bear in mind that whoever they suggested would have to be electable - there are many issues very important to lay people that many bishops have no clue about.” “This would deliberately not be a vote by orders,” he emphasized. “This will be much closer to the polity and practice already used in the elections of diocesan bishops, so people are familiar with it.” In the House of Deputies a vote by orders requires polling the clergy and the laity in each diocesan delegation separately, with deputations which split 2-2 counting as a no vote. The results of such ballots are counted by diocesan delegations. For example, the result might be 70-63 in one Order and 85-18 in the other. If the clergy and lay orders do not agree, the measure fails. Under the proposed D-017 clergy and laity would vote separately but as individuals, not by dioceses, so that a result might be 300-162 in one order and 232-230 in the other. Because this proposal would change the Constitution, it would have to pass two consecutive General Conventions without alteration or amendment. If passed by both, it would take effect on January 1, 2001. Hands Across the County Line Two Texas Bishops and Women’s Ordination Two Texas bishops of opposite convictions on the women’s ordination question told the ministry commission Tuesday of their ad hoc effort to address it effectively and compassionately. Bishop Jack L. Iker of Fort Worth is under fire, along with three other bishops, for continuing to insist that God calls only men as priests. Bishop James L. Stanton of Dallas has ordained women throughout his four-year episcopate. The two Bishops, who agree on practically all other theological questions, and whose diocesan offices are less than 50 miles apart, worked out two years ago an arrangement for helping Fort Worth women enter the priesthood. The arrangement could hardly be simpler: The women make themselves known to Iker. Iker refers them to Stanton, who tests their vocations and, if he sees fit, ordains them for service in his own diocese. The two bishops see their arrangement as a model of constructive cooperation, as well as a way forward for a church deeply riven by continuing disputes over women’s ordination. The agreement compasses a situation that so far has not arisen -- in which a Fort Worth parish seeks to call a woman as rector or assistant. Were this to happen, Iker would turn over to Stanton the right to license the priest in the Diocese of Dallas. The parish would remain in the Diocese of Fort Worth, but the woman could function only in that Fort Worth parish. In its loose, laid-back fashion, the Iker-Stanton pact resembles one in the Diocese of Pennsylvania whereby Bishop Allen Bartlett allows retired Quincy Bishop Donald Parsons to act as official “visitor” to ten traditional parishes that remain, nonetheless, in the Pennsylvania diocese. The Dallas-Fort Worth agreement builds on a historic relationship between the two dioceses -- until 1983 both formed a single diocese, called Dallas -- and on the friendship Iker and Stanton formed after the latter’s election and consecration. The agreement was forged in the spring of 1995 -- Stanton Tuesday couldn’t remember the exact month or date, a sign of the unwritten deal’s informal nature. Iker presented it to the national church committee considering ways of resolving the impasse over women’s ordination; however, the committee majority, impatient to implement women’s ordination throughout the church, showed little interest. Not so those Fort Worth who view themselves as called to the priesthood. One such woman, the Rev. Nancy Hood, has already been ordained by Stanton and installed as an assistant at St. James Church, a short distance from Stanton’s home. A second woman has been ordained deacon by Stanton, with her priesting to come in October, and a third is in the discernment process in Fort Worth. The ministry committee Tuesday, during testimony on Canon III.8.1, which would force acceptance of women’s ordination throughout the church, heard Iker describe the success of his and Stanton’s good neighbor policy. The Fort Worth bishop said it was far kinder to refer a woman to Dallas’ commission on ministry than to Fort Worth’s, where most members oppose women’s orders. “Not one woman who has come to me has refused that,” he said. ”...It’s worked, it is working, and we fully expect to continue working in that fashion.” Stanton said, “The issue is ministry,” not power. “Ministry or power: it seems to me that ministry is what we are talking about.” III.8.1 = One Big Mess THE Episcopal Church’s 72nd General Convention opens Wednesday amid renewed tensions over the acceptance of women priests in all dioceses. Battle lines grew taut at a five-hour hearing on two proposals that would mandate the acceptance of ordained women even in dioceses with strong theological objections to women’s ordination. Bishop Jack Iker of Fort Worth promised that attempts to implement such proposals would be met with “active resistance.’’ A Newark layman dismissed warnings that adoption of the proposals could split the Episcopal Church. “If four dioceses (not open to women priests) want to get out,’’ said George Heyman, “let ’em . . . The time has come that if you’re going to be an Episcopalian you’re going to have to accept the fact that women priests are here to stay and you are going to have to accept them regardless of what it does to your conscience.’’ Iker - who said he remains open to the possibility of changing his viewpoint on the subject - pleaded for the right “to deal with the ordination of women question in our own way, in our time, as God gives us strength to do it.’’ “Please do not put a gun to my head,’’ said the bishop, “and say, “Now, is the Holy Spirit speaking to you?’” The Rev. Ed Baker, rector of All Saints, Pasadena, CA, replied: “We’re not holding a gun to someone’s head; we’re holding a cross to someone’s heart.” At the ministry committee hearings Tuesday, which lasted five hours, 52 witnesses presented sharply contrasting viewpoints. Most supported the proposed Canon III.8.1, but women priests divided sharply. Eighty clergywomen Monday released an open letter urging the convention to draw back from acting “in a precipitous, coercive, or un-Anglican manner” by embracing the canon.” (See page three.) Canon proponents addressed themselves caustically to the letter. A sobbing Katie Sherrod, from Iker’s diocese, said she was “appalled that so many ordained women who have never had a pastoral relationship with us.” She challenged the letter signers to “come to Fort Worth and live with us and teach us patience by giving up your priestly ministry for 20 years or whatever it takes.” However, the Rev. Janet Echols of South Carolina, anticipating Iker’s prediction of resistance should the canon pass, declared that “The Great Commission is not the Great Litigation.” The Rev. Meg Phillips of Virginia said it would be “unconscionable for us to pull the rug” from beneath Episcopalians who believed the church had promised to make room for both proponents and opponents of women’s ordination. The Rev. Alison L. Barfoot of Virginia, principal author of the clergywomen’s letter, praised Iker for his two-year-old agreement with neighboring Bishop James M. Stanton of Dallas, whereby Dallas takes responsibility for Fort Worth women seeking ordination. Three such women have come under Stanton’s jurisdiction since the agreement went into effect. (See accompanying story.) “What a big step he has taken,” said Barfoot, ”...and it’s a step in the right direction.” Barfoot proposed that instead of mandating acceptance of women’s ordination General Convention should set up a process for its reception by the four dioceses that still exclude women priests. Another “ardent supporter of women priests,” Diane Knippers, president of the Institute for Religion and Democracy, called for “patience and gracious persuasion.” A subcommittee was to meet Tuesday night and craft a proposal for subsequent action by the full committee. Canon III.8.1 stems from a vote at General Convention, in 1994, for a process to protect the consciences both of opponents and supporters of women’s ordination. In 1995, the committee came down narrowly on the side of the supporters. The House of Bishops, in a straw vote that fall, voted overwhelmingly to support Canon III.8.1. However, since then, some supporters have drawn back, fearful of a major ruction in the church’s life. Bishop Stanton, of Dallas, told Episcopal Synod of America leaders he would introduce a canon authorizing “provincial Episcopal vicars” to serve parishes that differ from their bishops on women’s ordination. The resolution tracks the structure and provisions of a Church of England plan that addresses similar needs. In the English church, which voted in 1993 to begin ordaining women, a parish unable to accept women’s ordination is assigned the services of a so-called “flying bishop” of like convictions. If Canon III.8.1 is passed, the proposed Canon 34 would protect parishes nevertheless unwilling to accommodate the new order. The Episcopal vicar would be authorized, according to the official explanation of the resolution, to “assume exercise of the ordinary’s jurisdiction over that congregation on the ordinary’s behalf.” He would have the power to ordain in that diocese and to “serve as advisor to, and spokesman for, all those persons and bodies within the Province which do not accept the ordination of women.”
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