Thursday, March 12, 2009

Bishop Katharine on Morningside Heights

This past Monday evening, Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori gave the Episcopal Lecture at Columbia University. The event was jointly sponsored by the Canterbury Club and the Episcopal Chaplaincy at Columbia.

After some brief introductory remarks, Bishop Katharine fielded questions from the audience. I made a few notes on her remarks – these are not verbatim quotes and represent only what I took away from the evening-- they are the equivalent of a few sound bites.

“The Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society”
I have interspersed some comments of my own in [brackets.]
The corporate name of The Episcopal Church lifts up the missionary calling of our church. Bishop Katharine describes it as working towards God’s reign – by feeding the hungry, striving to end poverty, healing the sick, working for peace, for justice, for environmentally responsible actions.

The word “Society” in our corporate name highlights our interconnectedness – that we are interdependent. Churches in the Anglican tradition place a good deal of emphasis on the incarnation. As a consequence we take bodies seriously. As Christians, we say that the church is the body of Christ. [It should be obvious that this is a metaphor.] Theologian Sally McFague talks about all of creation as being the body of God. [Another metaphor.] When one part of the body suffers, the whole body suffers. [“God hath created nothing simply for itself: but each thing in all things and of everything each part in other hath such interest that in the whole world nothing is found whereunto anything created can say, I need thee not.”– Richard Hooker: Learned Sermon on Pride. Compare specifically 1 Corinthians 12:21, Romans 12:4-5 and Ephesians 4:15-16, and more generally, 1 Corinthians 12: 12-31; Romans 12: 3-8;Ephesians 4: 11-16.]
On Sexuality
Taking the Incarnation seriously and taking bodies seriously means, in the Episcopal Church, that we take sexuality seriously.

Some of the tensions in the Anglican Communion over sexuality arise from the fact that in some cultures sexuality isn’t discussed at all and it is deeply embarrassing to have to discuss it.

Another characteristic of Anglicanism is lex orandi, lex credendi. We have very few systematic theologians – our theology is contained in our prayer books and our worship. The question of developing a liturgy for the blessing of same sex unions is fraught with tension, because the existence of such a liturgy would bring same sex unions right into the center of our life as a church – into our worship.
On Intra-Anglican Relations
Both the election and consecration of Gene Robinson as Bishop of New Hampshire and the election of Bishop Katharine as Presiding Bishop were seen in some parts of the world as just another example of American arrogance, alongside the arrogance of the Bush administration. The change in Washington, as well as the conversations in last summer’s Lambeth Conference, have helped ease things somewhat.

Americans who are bishops in African churches [Nigeria, Rwanda, and Uganda] do not attend synods in those countries. The local bishops do not like that and wish their primates (some of whom are near retirement) to correct the situation. This is a hopeful sign.
On Ministry
In our thirty year old “new prayer book” the Episcopal Church emphasizes the ministry of all the baptized. What used to be “Canon 9 priests” or priests ordained for a purely local ministry need to be viewed in the light of the ministry of al the baptized.
On Emerging Church
Because we take the incarnation seriously, we recognize that things don’t necessarily need to be the same everywhere.
On the proposed Anglican Covenant
In the latest draft, the first two parts seem ok. The objections are to the third part. The next draft is scheduled to be presented to the Anglican Consultative Council in May. We’ll have to wait and see what its contents are and what the ACC does with it.

The exercise itself may be the most important part of the process.
On the role of the Archbishop of Canterbury
We view him as first among equals. He has the authority to call people together for conversation.
All of the questions were friendly,but there were three questions that were somewhat challenging. First, there was a young man who asked Bishop Katanrine how she responded to those who challenge the validity of her ordination as a women -- after all, Jesus chose only men as the twelve.
Mary Magdelene was called "the apostle to the apostles." Women in leadership positions are referred to in Acts and in Paul's letters. We don't know very much about actual ordination in the early church. There's some evidence that the rules against ordaining women are post Constantinian.

[I'm reconstructing and perhaps making up this part.] Our incarnational theology of people and our baptismal theology of ministry both lead us to support the ministry of all persons.
Bishop Katharine was asked about the prophetic ministry of the Episcopal Church and mentioned two issues -- our stand against the death penalty and our stance for the right to abortion while we recognize that abortion is a moral tragedy. The same young man asked how we could support the right to an abortion while calling it a moral tragedy. In this case, my notes don't have Bishop Katharine's exact answer and I am not going to put words in her mouth.

The third challenging question was about a hypothetical ordinand who admitted that he no longer believed in the Resurrection -- the question was whether she would ordain him. Three things stick with me from her answer:
He seems on the face of it to be unusually honest.
She would want to have a long talk with him.
and finally,
God calls us to keep wrestling with our faith.
I have left out a good deal, but I hope I've given a flavor of what it was like to hear Bishop Katharine.

The audience included a dozen or so members of the Canterbury Club, other Columbia students, six or eight clergy unknown to me, and a group from Grace Church in Nyack, New York, including the Rev. Emily Sieracki, the assistant to the rector at Grace. Emily was sponsored for ordination by St. Mary's and the Columbia Episcopal Chaplaincy. Others there associated with St. Mary's, besides Liz and me, were Dean James Parks Morton and Pamela Morton, who are current members of the parish, and the Rev. Winnie Varghese, Episcopal Chaplain at Columbia and member of Executive Council, who was at St. Mary's while she was in seminary. And since our former rector Bob Castle ("Cousin Bobby") used to say to those who came to church at St. Mary's that they were now members of our parish, Bishop Katharine herself is now associated with St. Mary's.

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