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In a piece supporting communion without baptism at the Episcopal Cafe, after providing a litany of people who might wander into our churches, (including “the 8-year-old who comes to church with her best friend after a sleepover, the grandchildren who are only here twice a year when they are visiting their grandparents, the 11-year-old who often comes with his grandmother and has been leaving love notes to Jesus on the altar since he was first old enough to write, but whose parents won’t allow him to be baptized until he turns 18, the teen who is clearly uncomfortable being here, but wants to be with her boyfriend, the anti-church spouse, the Muslim grandmother from another country who is here for her grandson’s baptism, the Jewish son-in-law who comes with the family on Christmas, the ‘spiritual but not religious’ 20-something who has moved back in with his parents after college, and only comes to church on Easter to keep the family peace, the homeless person who wanders in off the street, those who come to share with and honor their loved ones at weddings and funerals”) the author says,

I think God has cherished and adored all these persons since before they were born. Has been in relationship with them, all along. And is longing to be closer to them, speaking to them through our worship, even if they only once step through our doors.

The point the author is making is that because she believes God loves these people, we should offer them the Eucharist.  This is a hot topic in the Episcopal Church lately, and will be coming up for a vote at this summer’s General Convention

Haligweorc responds:

I absolutely believe this [that God loves them]; she’s spot on.

However—what does this have to do with the Eucharist? The author never makes the connection but seems to assume that there is a clear and easy one to be made.

The Eucharist is the food of the covenant community who confess Jesus as Lord. We enter the covenant community by making our own covenant with Christ in the midst of the community: it’s Baptism. The Eucharist assists us in keeping our Baptismal Covenant and helps us to continue to grow into a life of discipleship through it’s nourishment.

This basic Eucharistic theology is found nowhere here. Instead, there seems to be a simple assumption that the Eucharist means that God loves you and wants to be in a relationship with you and that if anyone can’t have the Eucharist at any time it’s the church’s way of saying that God doesn’t love them. That’s not what is going on at all.

Granted—some people may perceive it like that, but this perception does not constitute the church’s theology. We do need to do a better job about teaching the basics of Eucharistic theology—so that both our visitors and our members can grasp what it is that the church both intends and does.

This raises the interesting point of how doctrine, dogma, and theology might not cause problems, but actually solve them!  Many of the struggles we face right now are not caused by too much doctrine, but not enough.  I have heard Dr. Stanley Hauerwas frame the problem roughly this way: If someone studying to be a doctor told their professors that they weren’t  interested in anatomy and physiology, but would rather spend their time studying psychology and human development the professors would tell them, “Tough.  To be a good doctor you need to know anatomy and physiology.”  However, we often have people studying to be priests who say things like, “I don’t think doctrine, theology, and Biblical studies are very important.  I’d rather study spiritual direction and centering prayer.”  Those types of aspirants are very likely hear, “That is fine.  Follow your heart and do what you think God is calling you to do.”  Why is this?  It is because, Hauerwas says, we think doctors can harm people if they aren’t properly trained, but we don’t think a priest can really do much for a person for good or for ill, otherwise we would demand they be properly trained.

The root of many of the difficulties the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion are facing go right to this issue: theological literacy among clergy.  If indeed we depend on priests, and most importantly bishops, to fulfill their ordination vows to be pastors and teachers and to ” to guard the faith, unity, and discipline of the Church,”  and to (in the words of St. Paul in Ephesians) “equip the saints for the work of ministry,” what will become of a church whose priests and bishops don’t know, don’t agree with, or don’t teach the Catholic, Biblical, and Apostolic Faith?

John Milbank, commenting on many of the problems in the Church of England says:

Perhaps most decisive is the collapse of theological literacy among the clergy – again, this is partly a legacy of the 1960s and 70s (made all the worst by the illusion that this was a time of enlightening by sophisticated German Protestant influence), but it has now been compounded by the ever-easier admission of people to the priesthood with but minimal theological education, and often one in which doctrine is regarded almost as an optional extra.

Milbank’s offers, in turn, a solution:

The Anglican Church needs to increase the effectiveness of its teaching office, since this is an essential aspect of priesthood and episcopacy. While the operation of the [Roman] Catholic magisterium is still (whether fairly or unfairly) regarded as too draconian by many Anglicans, there is little doubt that Anglicanism has gone way too far in the other direction, and offers its members pitifully little guidance and only partial and sporadic leads on doctrine and practice.

Dr. Derek Olsen concludes his piece at Haligworc by saying, “I think it’s time for a back-to-basics primer on what the prayer book teaches on the Eucharist to provide a real starting point for any discussions going forward.”  I couldn’t agree more… and perhaps that should start in our seminaries.

For one of the more robust but short accounts of Baptism and Eucharist floating around recently, you can’t do much better than The Curate’s Desk’s recent article Responding…to Communion Regardless of Baptism

The Eucharist has been the central act of worship for large parts of Christianity since Christ said “Take, eat, this is my Body.” Somehow, over 2000 years, this has not been a source of tension.  This was the pattern in lean times of persecution and in the bloated years of full-blown Christendom and in every era in between.   Wax or wane Christianity has held, at its core, Baptism as entry into the life of Christ…

Do you believe the Holy Spirit descends upon a person and transforms their very being in Baptism so that they are united with Christ?  Do you believe that Christ is truly present in the Body and Blood we receive at the Altar?  Are the Sacraments God’s action or ours?  I have heard far too many talking of Baptism as an entry rite rather than as transformation just as I have heard too many speak of Communion as a “meal” alone rather than the very Presence of Christ among us…

The Sacraments exist for the sanctification of humanity because we are not just fine on our own.  We need the life-giving encounter with Christ to be fully alive as creatures of God.

This is the crux of the dilemma, in many ways.  Why baptize?  If people are fine as they are and not to be challenged to the life of transformed living in Christ, then the Sacraments are, indeed, irrelevant and can be toyed with to suit the perceived needs of the day.  The Catechism reads, “From the beginning, human beings have misused their freedom and made wrong choices” and we are rescued from that misused freedom (which includes walking apart from Christ) in Baptism.

We must, indeed, understand our relationship to God.  It is a relationship that is defined in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  If we do not see Christ as decisive in the salvation of the human family then our Sacraments do not really matter.  They are an indifferent thing if redemption is an indifferent matter…

A Church that wants to transform society cannot be shy about asking its members to be transformed.  A Church that wants to impart the strength to challenge the systems of oppression and violence better offer more than enlightened self-interest to feed its people.  Sacraments that don’t matter enough to wait, to ponder, to make a loving commitment to receive are not Sacraments that can fuel the Body…

Amen.  Now let’s teach this to our aspiring clergy, and hold them accountable to their ordination vows.  If you don’t like anatomy, you should not be a doctor.  If you do not find theology & Holy Scripture to be nourishing and life-giving, you should not be ordained.

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The Bishop of London recently gave us some wonderful words on the 350th anniversary of the Book of Common Prayer.  A few of the brief remarks he gave were, to my mind, axiomatic for a good understanding of the Book of Common Prayer and its place in our little part of the Church:

 It was an audacious attempt to re-shape the culture of England by collapsing the distinction between private personal devotion and public liturgical worship in order to create a godly community in which all and not just the clergy had access to the “pure milk of the gospel”.

The BCP was an attempt to make a heavily Benedictine influenced spirituality of prayer and Eucharist available to all people.  I have heard it called “the monasticism of all believers,” but in the very least in was taking ascetical spiritual practices  from the monastery and putting them right in the bedrooms, kitchens, and parish churches of lay people.

But one of the functions of a liturgy is to preserve words and the possibility of an approach to God which is hard or impossible to express in the language of the street.

It much of contemporary western Christianity, we have forgotten the place of “liturgical language.”  We feel much more comfortable with t-shirts that proclaim, “Jesus is my homeboy,” than we do with fear and awe and reverence.  The Book of Common Prayer was and is a healthy corrective to this leisurely and  “Hey there buddy” approach to God which is so common these days, but would be difficult to find in the Holy Scriptures.

Cranmer distilled his liturgy from his studies of the Christian past and especially of the patristic period – the first five centuries; the springtime of the Church.

In the Preface to the First Book of Common Prayer, of 1549, he appeals to the authority of the “auncient fathers” as a guide in liturgical matters. Queen Elizabeth I, in her letter to the Roman Catholic Princes of Europe, amplified the point “that there was no new faith propagated in England, no new religion set up but that which was commanded by Our Saviour, practised by the Primitive Church and approved by the Fathers of the best antiquity”.

Some might say that what Cranmer did was not so much “write” the BCP, but to compile, edit, and translate it.  Cranmer was not trying to do anything new, per se.  He was trying to make sure that Biblical, Patristic Christianity was meaningfully and vitally practiced throughout England.

This next paragraph was so striking that I couldn’t help but include it here:

In a book published in 1662, Simon Patrick comments on the rites and ceremonies of divine worship and approves “that virtuous mediocrity which our church observes between the meretricious gaudiness of the Church of Rome and the squalid sluttery of fanatic conventicles.” Of course we would be too polite to say such things now but the Prayer Book offers a simple and moderate system for a whole life from baptism to last rites and seeks in its rubrics and ceremonies to embrace the whole person and not merely the cerebellum.

+London concludes with one of the finest single paragraphs about the BCP that I have ever read:

The Book of Common Prayer which immerses us in the whole symphony of scripture; which takes us through the Psalms every month; which makes available in a digestible but noble way the treasury of ancient Christian devotion has a beauty which is ancient but also fresh. If our civilisation is to have a future the roots must be irrigated and the texts which we choose to pass on to our children have the power to create a community which does not merely dwell in the flatlands of getting and spending but which sees visions with prophets, pursues wisdom with Solomon and lives with the generosity of the God who so loved the world that he was generous and gave himself to us in the person of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

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Daily Offices Part I with Bishop Anthony Burton

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From ENS:

It’s Sunday afternoon at the farthest reach of the Diocese of West Texas. Under cotton puff clouds floating lazily in a sparkling blue sky, a handful of parishioners arrive for services at St. James Episcopal Church.

You wonder where they’re coming from. Except for the stone footprint of an old frontier fort, the horizon is unencumbered by any signs of human habitation. The scene is virtually unchanged from what the first ranchers, settlers and soldiers saw 150 years ago.

But arrive they do at their small rock church with a white cross on top, from isolated pockets across the empty landscape, in vans, SUVs and pickup trucks, some caked in caliche dust. There are no sedans or small imports.

The vicar, the Rev. Christopher Roque, arrives with wife Tish and their two children, Matthew and Ethan. They chat briefly with church members congregating at the front door before heading inside for the 3 p.m. Communion service.

He’s wearing a white straw Stetson, leather vest, Levis cinched up with a big silver belt buckle with a Texas star in the middle, tall leather boots, a beautiful silver crucifix and a clerical collar. From a tooled leather briefcase he dispenses today’s scripture readings.

There is no procession or music. Roque walks to the front of the church and starts Rite II.  With his sermon, the entire service is over in 45 minutes.

St. James sits in the crossroads town of Fort McKavett, population 4, some 170 miles west of San Antonio. Besides St. James, the tiny hamlet consists of a post office, fire station and the Fort McKavett State Historical Site.  It’s so remote that you have to drive to Sonora, 41 miles south, for a loaf of bread or tank of gasoline.

On Sundays, “Father Chris” as he’s affectionately known to his parishioners, conducts services at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Sonora in the morning, and then treks up to Fort McKavett twice a month for the 3 p.m. Communion at St. James.

“If called to Sonora as rector, it’s conditional that you are vicar at St. James,” Roque said.  “The diocese kind of yokes the two churches together.”

St. James probably would never have existed if it hadn’t been for the presence of Fort McKavett, a prominent cavalry and infantry base active in the mid-19th century.

When the fort closed in 1883, the chaplains left, the services at the base ended and the area was left without a church or Episcopal minister. So “the local residents demanded that the bishop give them their own priest,” Roque said. They founded St. James as a mission in 1884 and formally organized the church in 1889.

A decade later they built their first church, a wooden structure that was so damaged by a twister that the bishop eventually condemned it and ordered all the furnishings removed for safekeeping. The present rock building was constructed in 1941.

“Many prayers have bounced off these walls,” said Bishop’s Warden Jimmy Martin.

St. James was served by supply priests until the minister at St. John’s in Sonora began going up to St. James, leading to the tradition of yoking the two parishes together under the same minister. Roque has served at St. James and St. John’s since 2008.

Smallness does have its virtue, Martin believes. When he’s visited larger churches, he wonders “how many of those people does that priest know personally?”

“We love each other, we share with each other, we know each other very well,” Martin said. “Father Chris knows us very well.  We know everything about each other.”

Martin paused. “For better or for worse.”

“Now we also have a priest,” he said.  “If we need him, we can call him.”

Roque has taken to the area’s rich ranching culture and probably has the distinction of being the only priest in the diocese who helps his parishioners round up cattle.  “It also gives him a chance to meditate and pray…”

“St. James is a staunchly independent and self-reliant church,” Roque said.  If the diocese asks “if there is anything we can do for you, our members will say we’ve been around for over a hundred years.  Just give us a priest and we’ll be all right.”

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I am currently reading  A History of the Church in England by JRH Moorman, and had I known it would be this enriching and illuminating I would have read it much sooner.  If I had my druthers, it would be mandatory reading for all confirmands and inquirers.  One of the most helpful sections comes in the chapter dealing with the Elizabethan settlement during the English reformation.  Specifically, it deals with the unique way that the English reformers approached the reform of the church in their country.  From page 212:

In the eyes of those who were shaping the destiny of the Church in England there was no sense of separation from the rest of the catholic church.  The Church in England was, as the title-page to the first Prayer Book had implied, a part of the catholic church, even though it had repudiated papal jurisdiction.  It was catholic, but it was also reformed.  Its roots ran back to the primitive church, but certain customs and ideas which had clung to it during the Middle Ages had now been cut away.  The fundamental doctrines and constitution of the Church remained the same, but a number of genuine reforms had been carried out, such as the vernacular liturgy, the administration of the Sacrament in both kinds and permission for the clergy to marry.

The key point for me here is that they were in no way trying to be anything other than catholic Christians, and the inheritors of the Holy Traditions of the church as they had been received in England.  They certainly believed there had been some medieval missteps that needed to be put right, but on the whole English “Protestantism” was less about being good protestants and more about being good catholics.  This is markedly different than the way the reformation proceeded on the continent (of Europe).

After the brief, but violent interlude of the Puritan commonwealth, the Caroline divines carried forward the torch of reforming the catholic church in England.  Their work was, again, not about creating a new church, but about being faithful as the Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church.  From page 234:

The point of view… may be summed up in the dying words of Thomas Ken…, ‘I die,’ he said, ‘in the Holy, Catholic, and Apostolick Faith, professed by the whole Church before the disunion of East and West.  More particularly I dye in the Communion of the Church of England as it stands distinguished from all Papall and Puritan Innovations, and as it adheres to the doctrine of the Cross’…

Theirs was an atempt to get back to the early Church before the accretions of the middle Ages which the reformers had been so anxious to get rid of.  The Anglicans stood between two great religious systems.  On the one side was Rome, active and aggressive under the impetus of the Counter-Reformation, trying to rebuild a Christendom shattered by the cataclysms of the sixteenth century.  But to the Anglicans there could be no return to Rome since the faith which she taught was, in their eyes, impure — corrupted by the ‘innovations’ which were no part of the Holy Catholic and Apostolick Faith’ as taugh by the Primitive Chuch. As Laud said, they could not return to Rome ‘until she is other than she is.’  On the other side were the Calvinists and Lutherans, who had separated from catholic tradition and had magnified certain doctrines out of all proportion.  The Anglicans were equally clear that they could not fall into line with them since they had abandoned things which the Early Church thought essential.  The Caroline Divines, therefore aimed at a Via Media between two extremes; but the Via Media which they sought was not a compromise, a ‘lowest common denominator’; it was a real attempt to recover the simplicity and purity of primitive Christianity. (Bolding mine)

And here we have that famous phrase: Via Media.  It has been bandied about much in contemporary Anglican debates as a way of encouraging compromise, tolerance, and broad mindedness.  However, what we find in the minds and work of the Anglican reformers is no watered-down compromise.  It is a full-throated declaration and a full bodied working out of the Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic faith as understood and passed down by the undivided church.  Now that is what I call, “change we can believe in.”  That is an Anglicanism we can believe in

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St. Benedict has influenced the practice of Christianity in Anglicanism as much as any one saint, thinker, or writer that I know of.  In honor of that tremendous contribution, I offer this St. Benedict roundup:

(c. 480 AD – 543 AD) was born at Nursia (Norcia) Italy to a wealthy Roman family, making him liberiori genere, ‘of good birth.’ Tradition gives him a twin sister, Scholastica.

Benedict’s Italy was an unstable province of a collapsing Roman Empire, and throughout the fifth century, waves of invaders weakened the peninsula. First Goth warriors marched along the Via Flaminia and into Rome, sacking it in 410. Others soon followed. Into this fragile, violent world, Benedict (or ‘Bennet’) was born among the Apennine valleys and mountains of central Italy. St. Benedict was married to a young woman, her name is not available, but she had dark brown hair and black eyes with white skin. St. Benedict was not supposed to be married but was any way in 522.

Benedict founded twelve monasteries, the best known of which was his first monastery at Monte Cassino in the mountains of southern Italy. The monastery at Monte Cassino was the first Benedictine monastery (most monasteries of the Middle Ages were of the Benedictine Order). Benedict wrote a set of rules governing his monks, the Rule of Saint Benedict, which was heavily influenced by the writings of John Cassian. The Benedictine Rule, one of the more influential documents in Western Civilization, was adopted by most monasteries founded throughout the Middle Ages. Because of this, Benedict is often called “the founder of western Christian monasticism.” Benedict was canonized a saint in 1220.

The Collect:

ALMIGHTY and everlasting God, we give thee thanks for the purity and strength with which thou didst endow thy servant Benedict; and we pray that by thy grace we may have a like power to hallow and conform our souls and bodies to the purpose of thy most holy will; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

From Catholicity and Covenant, St. Benedict and the renewal of European Civilazation:

On the feast of St Benedict, +Rowan on Benedict of Nursia, patron of Europe, echoing the conclusion to MacIntyre’s After Virtue:

The Benedictine Rule did not set out to ‘save civilisation’; what it did was to define in itself the components of a certain kind of civilisation. You may recall Thomas Merton’s exclamation on his first visit to the abbey of Gethsemani, that he had discovered the only real city in America. The way in which the Benedictine contribution to Europe has sometimes been discussed is in terms of a kind of withdrawal into enclaves where the memory of civilisation was preserved, not always fully understood – a sort of archive of cultural treasures. But, while this is not completely wrong, it misses out the positive contribution of Benedictinism as a model of active Christian life in itself; Benedict’s monks were creators of community before they were librarians, and the vision of human possibility and dignity contained in Benedictine witness was at least as important as the conservation of classical letters – or rather, it gave to the heritage of classical letters a clear and practical application, animated by faith. If the Rule is to be one of the sources for the conservation and renewal of European civilisation in the centuries to come – granted that these centuries may be every bit as brutally anti-humanist as the so-called Dark Ages – it will be because of this sketch of political virtue, not because of any merely conservatory role.

From a previous post on this blog, Benedict’s influence on the BCP:

…like the Regula [The Rule of St. Benedict], the Book of Common Prayer is not a list of Church services but an ascetical system for Christian living in all of is minutiae…the Prayer Book [is] not a shiny volume to be borrowed from a church shelf on entering and carefully replaced on leaving.  It [is] a beloved and battered personal possession, a life-long companion and guide, to be carried from church to kitchen, to parlor, to bedside table; equally adaptable for liturgy, personal devotion, and family prayer: the symbol of a domestic spirituality — fully homely divinity

— Martin Thornton in The Anglican Tradition, 1984, pp 87

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