Showing posts with label Introduction to the Episcopal Church. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Introduction to the Episcopal Church. Show all posts

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Session 1 Introduction to the Episcopal Church


Introduction to the Episcopal Church

Session

Starting where we are:
We are St. John the Divine, in Morgan Hill, in the Episcopal Diocese of El Camino Real, which is a diocese of The Episcopal Church.  The Episcopal Church is a member of the Anglican Communion whose titular head is the Archbishop of Canterbury, who is first among equals in a leadership role in the Anglican Communion.

But let us start personally.  Our Episcopal faith is not really about jumping through hoops for the church.  It is about your and my relationship with God and each other.  We are in a relationship with God whose reality and definition is clarified for us in the person of Jesus Christ.  And since the historical person Jesus is no longer accessible to us, we believe that words of his life and teaching have been left to give us an adequate way to know that God loves and cares for us.  People who were directly influenced by the life of Jesus have left us records of his words and life.  But they passed the Spirit of Christ to a next generation of believers and this Spirit of Christ has been passed on in each generation since the first century to engage us now in our Christian lives.

We can believe in a creator God as Father or Founder in the sense that it is rather obvious that we came into a world of Plenitude with a history and prehistory that is unknowable to us.  So we confess the great Mystery from where we have come.  In a vast world, there is not a human mind that can comprehend the Whole.  So how can we even trust whether the human mind can speak on behalf of the greater than human Being, God?   We assume that God is enough like human beings to accept the superlative attributes of human beings as being an adequate place to begin to confess One who is more than human.  The presence of Jesus in history and our belief that he was divinized, means that the confession of God as Son or Child of God is the acceptance of human experience as a valid way to come to a revelation or understanding about the existence of God as the One who is always on the horizon of human becoming.

Since it seems obvious to us that we are not alone in this world; we can experience each other and other creatures and things, we ask ourselves “What is it that allows us to have mutual experience of other sentient beings and non-sentient creation?”  We confess an ever-present Essence that is able to conduct mutual experience.   We confess the third member of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit is our confession that God’s creative Life is always with this world and is expressed as Freedom.  And this Freedom is shared in real ways by all creation that is less than God.  And so we know that the Freedom of God can be manifest in lesser freedoms in the created order and these results in the good and ills and competition of systems that account for our experience of good, bad, and evil.

Exercise:
Review your own history of how you have understood God in your life?  How have you understood God, as Father, Son and Holy Spirit?  Be honest about the doubts that you may have.  Doubt is an honest response because we can’t possibly know everything.  Doubt can be honest humility.


Father Phil

Session 2 Introduction to the Episcopal Church


Introduction to the Episcopal Church


Session 2 

Who are we?  How did we get to be who we are? 
Our Name: The Episcopal Church

We have other names: The Episcopal Church in the USA.  The Protestant Episcopal in the USA and we have a legal name: Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America.

Are we Catholic?  Are we Protestant?

The common street language use of the word Catholic really means Roman Catholic.  But we are catholic in the sense that we use the Creed of the undivided church, the Nicene Creed and we say, “We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church.”  The word catholic comes from the Greek words “kata holos” meaning “on the whole.”  In the Apostles Creed (an ancient creed and used at baptism) we say, “I believe in the holy catholic church.”  So we believe in one church even though we know that in historical disagreements we have come to meet in separate churches or communions.


We are Protestant in the sense that we are not Roman Catholic.  The Reformation had its own unique pattern when Roman Catholic Christians in England in various ways expressed their disagreements with certain practices that arose in the Roman Catholic Church.  English Roman Catholics were influenced by Reformation movements that included the use of native language for the prayers instead of Latin.  Mutual disagreement and mutual reaction and retaliation between the Papacy and the English Crown along with a body of clergy in England who were influenced by the Reformation led to the gradual separation between the Church of England and the Roman Catholic Church, but the separation was not fully finalized until 1896 when a Papal document declared that Anglican ordinations were not valid (canonically proper according to how the papacy defined validity).  We are Protestant in that we embraced a tradition that affirmed a greater role for the Bible, we believe prayer should be in the common language of the people who gather to pray, we allow clergy to marry and we believe that the Pope could serve as a “first among equals of all bishops” but not as an infallible spokesperson for the entire church.  As we shall see, we believe that God’s Spirit is active in our age too and can lead us to see the wisdom to change some ancient practices that seem to be unreasonable and promote ancient bias against people who dearly love God and want to follow Christ and have the full rights of all of the Church’s sacraments.


The Episcopal Church: What does our name tell us about ourselves?

Episcopal comes from the Greek word episkopos   ἐπίσκοπος.   It literally means “over seer” and from Latin we have the word supervisor(not a word that we use in the church).  The English word for episkopos is bishop.  So Episcopal means, “having bishops.”  This tells us something about our polity or church structures.  Other churches have bishops too:  the Roman Catholics, the Methodists, the Lutherans, the various Orthodox churches and there are similarities and differences in how bishops are appointed/elected/function and are defined in the various Christian bodies.
In the Episcopal Church in the United States we have a bishop in each diocese.  A diocese is a geographical area where a bishop has over sight.  The State of California has six Episcopal Dioceses and St. John the Divine is located in the Diocese of El Camino Real.  And our bishop is The Right Reverend Mary Gray-Reeves.

Exercise:
Ponder the difference stated above between catholic and Roman Catholic.  Is it scandalous that people who follow Christ are divided into so many different “churches” even while we say there is “one holy catholic church?”    Could we also understand the division into different churches as having diversity so that we can appeal to many more people?  If we had a “one size fits all” approach, would not lots of people feel left out and not part of the body of Christ?  Diversity allows us checks and balances since structural unity can be like a heavy handed “Empire.”  Diversity helps us to expand our hearts to appreciate differences.


Father Phil

Session 3 Introduction to the Episcopal Church


Introduction to the Episcopal Church


Session 3 

The Episcopal Church:   Who are we?     

We are a particular Christian family among other Christian families.  Since our family identity has come from Roman Catholic, Protestant and “pre-Roman Catholic” church traditions some of our theologians have called us the via media, meaning the Middle Way.  In some ways our identity is “mongrel” in that we have incorporated aspects of so many eras of church traditions into our identity.


Since we do not view ourselves in a chauvinistic way as the best or as an exclusive Christian family, we often find that we are a church where compromise is experienced.  A Protestant marries a Roman Catholic and the couple might find The Episcopal Church to be a place where something of both traditions can be experienced.  People who eschew non-democratic Roman Catholic hierarchy find the Episcopal Church more graceful in combining connection with ancient tradition and liturgy with more modern values in assessing the meaning of person-hood and participation in church governance.  Persons who have experienced narrow fundamentalism in Protestant churches find The Episcopal Church a welcome relief because of our willingness to embrace modern science and rigorous thinking into our faith life. 

The above characteristics can be also a liability.  Since we are accepting of other people’s faith, we don’t tend to be active evangelists about our own faith community.  We assume that most highly educated people want to be their own agents of faith community choice without being button holed by someone who is pushing one’s own faith community.  We are welcoming of others who want to be with us but we perhaps rely upon the serendipity of situations for people to find us.  The Anglican Church and the Episcopal Church in our past have been very active colonial missionary churches and we do have active evangelism in our church history. It does remain that Episcopal parishes today tend to be the place where already convinced followers of Christ meet rather than places where people find out about Jesus Christ for the first time in their lives.


Exercise:
How did you come into the Episcopal Church?  Did you have a relationship with Christ before you came to the Episcopal Church?   How does the above description of the Episcopal fit your own description of your participation in The Episcopal Church?  If the above is true how can we promote “serendipity” of situations for other people who perhaps need to find us as their faith community of support?


 

Father Phil

Session 4 Introduction to the Episcopal Church


 Introduction to the Episcopal Church


Session 4 

The Episcopal Church:   Our chief heirloom     

We said that The Episcopal Church is a Christian family among other Christian families.  Along with a name, a family has features that provide unique identity.  The Roman Catholic Church has canon law, the papacy, and a theological architect like St. Thomas Aquinas as part of their heritage.  The Lutherans have Martin Luther’s prolific theological writings and the Presbyterians have the writings of John Calvin as chief heirlooms of their community identity.  What do Episcopalians have?  If we have a theological architect, it is Richard Hooker, but he does not have the exact corresponding stature in the Anglican tradition as do Aquinas, Luther and Calvin for their respective traditions.  So, what is our chief heirloom?  We would have to say it is The Book of Common Prayer.
In the mid-16th century the Enlightenment was happening, feudal structures disappearing as well as the following: the rise of nation-state identities, spreading education/literacy, the printing press and the rediscovery of the “individual.”  Before this the individual was hidden in paternalistic structures and feudal figure heads decided for everyone in society.  In the church clergy decided or mediated in Latin prayers on behalf of lay people.  The Reformation was as much due to social changes in Europe and England as to any religious movement.  The social changes provide the conditions for the religious Reformation to take place.  The Enlightenment required that individuals become more active with their intellect in their faith and worship practices.  If a spectator laity watched the clergy perform the worship on their behalf in Latin, an uncommon language how could lay people fully participate in their faith except as dependent children?

Growing nationalism, King Henry VIII’s conflict with the Pope over an annulment and meddling in international affairs, a body of clergy influenced by the Reformation on the Continent, all gave rise to the conditions that brought into being the Book of Common Prayer.  When King Henry VIII, declared himself as one who would reform the Church in England as a non-papal catholic Church, he appointed Thomas Cranmer as the Archbishop of Canterbury.  Cranmer had been influenced by Reformers on the Continent.

A way to challenge papal authority on the Continent was to translate Scripture into the vernacular languages and not rely on St. Jerome’s Vulgate Latin version.  So what was the “common” language of the English people?  English, of course.  Cranmer penned the first Book of Common Prayer and brought the liturgy out of the exclusive grip of the clergy, the educated and the religious monastic and he made it accessible to the hearing of the average person in England.  Cranmer used various existing liturgies, reform liturgies in the Roman and Reformation traditions to create in his Tudor English what became a standard for English style. In the time of Henry VIII the Coverdale Bible in English had been placed in parish churches to be read by literate lay persons.

Cranmer collapsed the seven monastic prayer offices into Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer and this was an effort to end the division between two kinds of Christians, ordained/monastic and lay Christians.

The Book of Common Prayer, consistent with its origin of being in the common language of the people who pray, has undergone various revisions and has been translated into languages other than English.  The Episcopal Church has used five versions of The Book of Common Prayer; the pre-American Revolution church used the 1662 version before gaining their own American version in 1789.  There have been three subsequent revisions, 1892, 1928 and 1979 as well as trial and supplemental liturgies approved for use.

The Book of Common Prayer is indeed the chief heirloom of the Episcopal Church, even while we with all Christians acknowledge the Bible as the “official text book” of the church.

Exercise:

Compare your own experience of public worship.  Some other Protestant Churches have Orders of Service but give much more flexibility in choice to their clergy.  Other churches have much more “extemporaneous” prayers rather than shared “common” prayer in a textual form.  In our corporate prayer, we are all equal; no one “prays better” than another, since we are offering the prayers together.  Take a look sometime at the entire Book of Common Prayer. 

Father Phil

Session 5 Introduction to the Episcopal Church


Introduction to the Episcopal Church



Session 5 

Understanding the Book of Common Prayer (BCP)

With just a cursory glance at the index in the Book of Common Prayer (BCP) one can note a unifying theme, the theme of Time.  One can find a calendar of seasons and days and reference to time of day, e.g. morning noon, and evening.  The Psalmist wrote, “Our time is in God’s hand.”  The BCP is a prayer strategy for us to remember that our time is in God’s hand.  The BCP can and is used both for corporate prayer and private devotions.  It belongs to everyone and even when we pray the prayers in private we are expressing our corporate agreement.  Some people object to the reading of “written prayers” as not being spontaneously heartfelt and therefore “vain repetition.”  It is not up to anyone to judge anyone about how our hearts are engaged with the prayers that we share together.  A prayer such as the “Our Father” could be judged as vain repetition by the same criterion.  Use of the BCP is not intended to discourage extemporaneous and privately composed prayer.  The BCP provides an order for people to join together to pray.

First, the BCP is a companion to the Bible.  In fact one could say that the BCP is the words of the Bible rearranged into an organized prayer format.  Since the BCP includes a lectionary (appointed lessons from the Bible), the use of the BCP requires a commitment to reading the Bible.

The BCP is a prayer strategy to invoke the presence of God on the times of our lives.  A way to understand the prayer strategy of the BCP is to see how the prayers therein conform to the different ways in which human beings experience time.  There is the experience of cyclical time with light and darkness being the most evident sign of a natural clock.  The daily offices of the BCP, such as Morning and Evening Prayer conform to this notion of cyclical time.  Changes in weather and length of daylight mark the seasons of our calendar of months.  The BCP includes a calendar of seasons, special feast days, holy days and fast days.  Each day is the same for having a morning and a night, but every child knows that some days like birthdays and Christmas are tinged with such social and cultural meaning as to create an entirely different experience and mood of time.  I would call this the experience of "special time."  There is still a further experience of time that I would call crisis time, or “rite of passage time” or “eventful time” using the Greek notion of time referred to as kairos.  The BCP has the prayer forms for what we call the sacraments which conform to this other human experience or mood of time.

In the next sessions we are going to look at these human experiences of time and how the BCP provides a mode of prayer to conform to these human experiences of time.  
My contention will be this:  These prayers not designed to force us into conformity church rules; they are gifts to help us be honest in becoming fully human in very practical and anthropologically sound ways.

Exercise:

Look at the index in the BCP. ( Book of Common Prayer online)  Notice all of the references to time.  Reflect upon your own experience of time.  Why does time seem to go slow when one is young and fast when one is old?  Why the phrase “time flies when you’re having fun?”  What is it that causes the experience of time to seem fast or slow, or boring, or timeless, or déjà vu or sublime?

Father Phil

Session 6 Introduction to the Episcopal Church


Introduction to the Episcopal Church

Session 6 

Understanding the Book of Common Prayer (BCP)
Part 2

The Book of Common Prayer is a strategy of prayer to invoke God upon the times of our life.  Prayer is not so much to “convince” God to be involved in our lives as much as it is a practice to attune ourselves to live in the state being aware of how God is always already involved in our lives.  The BCP provides a strategy for praying at regular intervals as a habit.  One of the results of the Reformation was to bring an end between two “kinds” of Christians, the ordained and monastic “heroic” Christians who were called to a higher calling of poverty, chastity and obedience, and “regular” Christians, the laity who were called to keep the Ten Commandments.  Reformation Christianity was a call for everyone to be “equally Christian” in their practice.  So in the Church of England, poverty, chastity and obedience became the call of fewer people as the call to pray in one’s own language was made the requirement of all baptized persons.  To do this the strategy of prayer had to be made accessible to all baptized persons.  The monastic communities had a daily habit of prayer, spiritual reading and work.  Following the Psalmist’s promise, “Seven times a day, I will praise thee…O Lord,” the monastic community had the habit of seven prayer hours during the day.  Of course, non-monastic lay people could not drop everything seven times a day to pray.  Archbishop Cranmer, who wrote the first  Book of Common Pryaer, collapsed the pre-noon prayer hours into one Morning Prayer and the post-noon prayer hours into one Evening Prayer in the Book of Common Prayer.  This was a call to all baptized persons to elevate their lives of prayer as there was to be an end to these two classes of Christians.  All Christians were called to the vocation of prayer as the regular and ordinary habit of life.   The prayers were no longer locked in the monastery in a Latin breviary for the “professional people of prayer who used Latin.”  The Book of Common Prayer was in fact a kind of democratization of Christian citizenry by requiring all Christians to be involved in the official prayers of the Church.  Since prayer was in the common language of the people it could be done with understanding by all English speakers.  Morning and Evening Prayer in the parish church at the center of the village was to be the new norm for prayer even as monastic institutions were closing down.


As we see now in America our life style leaves us long distances from the parish church and secular life does not cater to a “stop everything and pray” habit.  One of the ways that we can incorporate Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer into our habit of life is through the online Morning and Evening Prayer sites.  These sites include the appointed lessons from the Bible for Morning and Evening Prayer.  If one does this one is praying through the Psalms on a regular basis as well as reading a majority of the Bible in a two year cycle.  Two such sites are: http://www.missionstclare.com/english/  and http://dailyoffice.org/ .  For your convenience, the St. John the Divine Facebook page links these two site each morning along with the popular Daily Meditation from Forward Day by Day. http://www.facebook.com/pages/St-John-the-Divine-Episcopal-Church-Morgan-Hill-CA/147286963103    Obviously where there is community of people who can join for prayer, it is preferable to join others in prayer for Morning and Evening Prayer but these online sites provide “virtual” prayer together.  Online Prayer is really another manifestation of the “commonization”  that began with the Book of Common Prayer.  


The philosophy of the Book of Common Prayer is that prayer should be common or accessible for people to pray.  The church will always be looking for ways to make prayer common or accessible to people to encourage prayer as the regular strategy of life.


Exercise:

Look in the Prayer Book at the Daily Prayers.  You can find them at this site online: http://justus.anglican.org/resources/bcp/bcp.htm Morning Prayer, Evening Prayer, Noonday Prayer. Compline.  Daily Devotions for Individuals and Families.  Order of Worship for Evening.  You will notice that there is Rite One which is the older English style, and Rite Two which is the less ornate modern English style.  Try the Daily Devotions Prayers with your children or at dinner time.  Go to one of the online sites and acquire the daily habit of Morning and Evening Prayer.  No excuse: It is very accessible, which is the true meaning of common.  No fumbling through the Bible looking for readings.


Father Phil

Session 7 Introduction to the Episcopal Church

Introduction to the Episcopal Church

Session 7 

Understanding the Book of Common Prayer (BCP)
Part 3

The Book of Common Prayer is a strategy of prayer to invoke God upon the times of our life.  It provides for the experience of what can be called “special time.”   Special time is how a community celebrates its identity through the remembrance of an initiating event.  Unique events don’t recur; they happen and they make an impact and the memory coupled with the imagination is exerted to retain something of the impact and power of the event.  Too theoretical?  What about celebration of birthdays, anniversaries or commemoration of telling events?  Why do we do it?  We can’t make a birth happen again a year later, or we don’t get remarried on our anniversaries but how is it that the memorial traces of an event are retained within a community of celebrants?  Why does it happen?  Why do we want to do it?  Special time happens within the life of a community.  Special time happened in the originating events and persons of the community that we call the church and in those events and persons we are given our community identity and story.  We are imprinted with the story and we become co-celebrants of the events of the story.

The BCP  is a prayer record, a perpetuation of prayer, a book to teach prayer based the values of our community that arose in the originating persons and events of our Christian identity.  We mark special time broadly with seasons that frame the broad curriculum of our annual cycle to inculcate the values of our faith community.  The seasons give us teaching topics that receive their value from the events in the life of Jesus Christ and the community. Events on the calendar derived from the life of Jesus, the Holy Spirit and events in the lives of the saints of the church.   The Book of Common Prayer provides a format for us to anchor our identity upon the originating events of our community.

The BCP deals with special time by providing prayer texts and ceremonial prescriptions/suggestions for Church Seasons, Major Feast Days of our Lord, Holy Days, Fast Days, Holy Days, Days of remembering heroes who became remembered because of exemplary living.

In our lives time gets differentiated in how it is valued or remembered.  I do not commemorate brushing my teeth at 10:30 p.m. on July 12, 1980, but on September 11, my memory can be jolted by the fact of the event that is forever associated with that day in our country.  Special time is about differentiated time marked by liturgy and by the power of remembrance.  Even though we may believe that God is omnipresent, somehow that presence becomes more memorial in the unique occasions when God’s presence became a happening that changed life in a way that gave birth to new community meaning.  The BCP through the liturgies of Special Time express our hope to access the power of these originating people and events.


Exercise:

Think about why as a child your birthday or Christmas was different.  Why was there such anticipation for the day and a sort of pinch myself with excitement over these special days?  How is it that your family and community were able to create such powerful awe-struck events for you?  Now think about the originating events of the church.  How is it that the liturgy of the church is both a result of those events but also a means of propelling the memory of the event into the future?  One can be cynical about all manner of sentimentality but one must acknowledge the rather profound power of the memory and its durability as we use the BCP as a sort of musical score to experience something of the mind of the composer of the great events of our faith.

Father Phil

Session 8 Introduction to the Episcopal Church


Introduction to the Episcopal Church

Session 8 

Understanding the Book of Common Prayer (BCP)

Part 4: The Sacraments

The Book of Common Prayer is a strategy of prayer to invoke God upon the times of our life.  Another human experience of time might be what is called eventful time or life crisis time or “rite of passage” time.  I believe that the BCP provides a prayer format to deal with this nuance or mood in our experience of time.  Arnold van Gennep developed a theory of a rite of passage.  For so many years developmental psychology limited a majority of its effort to child psychological development until scholars began to acknowledge that psychological development occurs over one’s lifetime.  A rite of passage involves the way in which a culture facilitates or initiates members into distinct status change as a person gets older.  The BCP in its presentation of how time is experienced presents a corresponding liturgical format for rite of passage time, eventful time or crisis time.  In short, the presentation of the liturgy in the BCP of the seven sacraments represents the church’s efforts to invoke God’s presence in our lives as we age.  The sacraments are an honest confession that we age together within a community.  I believe most people and some clergy treat the sacraments as compartmentalized religious acts that one does to “obey” the church.  My contention is that the sacraments are the honest attempt of the church to be “inter-generationally” supportive of one another as we age in community and as we invoke God’s presence within the life experiences that come to us at various ages.

I have tried and probably failed to teach the anthropological soundness of the sacraments.  Meanwhile outside of the church, first word, first step, first day at school, driver’s license, graduation from high school, graduation from college, first major job in a career, marriage, birth of a child, empty nest, male pattern baldness, gray hair, menopause, retirement, assisted living, skilled nursing; these rites seem to be the telling rites of passage and the church has failed, I have failed, to show how the sacraments are so interwoven with our lives as to be unavoidable.  And if we live sacramentally, we live our lives as if God and the community of faith care about our lives and we prayerfully alone and together invoke the presence of God as we live into authentic tasks and crises that define the human adventure.

What I will endeavor to show in the next sessions is how the sacraments provide a structure of support and initiation in living with authenticity into the crises that confront us in life.  Sacraments are not magical ceremonies that end after the ceremonies; the ceremony is but the gateway into the duration of the life crisis that is expressed in the sacramental liturgy.  The sacraments have undergone changes in the history of how the church has prayed together because the effort to care for the people who come to pray has influenced our church to have the sacraments be a pastoral support for those who are aging together in different ways in the church.

Exercise:

Think about your secular rites of passage.  Think about your experience of the sacraments in the church.  Baptism.  Eucharist.  Confirmation.  Reconciliation. Prayer for the Sick.  Holy Matrimony.  Ordination.  How have you availed yourself of the sacraments?  Have the sacraments been a support for your life of faith within the church and outside of the church?  Are we embarrassed to make a confession or ask for a prayer when we are sick?  Ordination, does that mean the clergy do all of the “real” ministry of the church?

Father Phil

Session 9 Introduction to the Episcopal Church


Introduction to the Episcopal Church

Session 9 

Understanding the Book of Common Prayer (BCP)

Part 5: The Sacraments: Baptism, Confirmation and Ordination

The Book of Common Prayer is a strategy of prayer to invoke God upon the times of our life.   Sacraments are the prayers that pertain to the crises in our life that confront us as we grow up within a community.  Sacraments, like baptism, confirmation and ordination may be a one-time rite but the rite does not exhaust the meaning of what is being celebrated in the rites.

Our common conceptions of these sacraments may include the following.  Baptism is done with water; the Baptists a lot of water and Catholics and Episcopalians a little water.  Baptism is for our salvation to save us from going to hell.  Baptism is like a birth ritual that all families do because that is what our parents and grandparents want us to do to our babies. 

Many people come to the church to ask to have their babies baptized without having any intention at all of ever bringing their children to church.   It is sort of like, “just in case there is something to all of that hocus pocus, I want to have my children covered.”  What people don’t realize is that if they do get their children baptized and respond to all of the baptismal vows and then do not follow up with honoring the vows, they have in fact begun their children’s life by lying to God and to themselves or they may just be ignorant about what is involved in the meaning of baptism.  People need to know that Jesus said the kingdom of God belongs to children and he said that about children who were not necessarily baptized.  So there should be no pressure to get children baptized if one does not commit to baptismal living.

What is the crisis that we live into in our baptism?  The crisis involves setting the values to define and express the meaning and worth of our lives.  How do I come to know who I am and my value?  This is the major crisis of our entire life at every age and baptism is a particular way of determining and setting value in our lives.  For adults who are baptized (and remember that even though infant baptism may be a more common practice, the words of the baptismal rite assume adult maturity) they have come to discover that the value of their lives has received significant definition because of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ as it has been received and practiced within Christian tradition.  To be baptized is to come to understand that one is loved by God, one is forgiven by God, one is perfectible (always able to be better through educative repentance) and that one is gifted by God for purposeful worth and value to other people in the community. 

Living in an imperfect world with imperfect people means that we can take on unenlightened self-value and value of others.  In baptism we commit to a willingness always to be on the path toward more excellent values in knowing who we are and what we are to do with our lives as it pertains to loving God, loving our neighbors and loving ourselves.  Each person is constituted by the way in which he or she has taken on the words of their lives.  Our lives get scripted by our learning environments even as we exercise some freedom of choice for the discovery of new values through the ways in which we take conscious steps in learning.

For parents and adults in a community of baptized infants and children, we become the ones who express the prevenient grace of God to the young ones whom we have promised to mentor with the example of our lives.  As adults we are to give the word framework for our children to value their lives in the very best possible way.  We want to constitute the word lives of our children with the following values: they are loved by God, they are forgiven even as they are encouraged to understand their perfectibility, they are gifted for their own self care and for their value to their community.  In a community that practices infant and child baptism, the adults need to embrace their ministry to “be God’s prevenient grace” to our children.  Prevenient grace simply means that grace and love is expressed towards us before we ever fully understand the significance of that grace and love.  With the word environment that we give to our children we are in effect setting the context for how they come to understand their value.  And this is real and active grace.

In the next sessions, we are going to look at baptism, confirmation and ordination.  Confirmation historically became a maturation rite when infant baptism became the prevalent practice.  Baptism involves the proclamation of the gifts of the baptized.  Gifts pertained to our value to our community and so ultimately baptismal grace is articulated in what we do in our lives because of our gifts.  This will be the tie in that we will make with confirmation and ordination.

Exercise:

Ponder the meanings of baptism in your experience and in the experience of the culture in which you have lived.  How have you understood baptism?  Reflect upon different baptismal practices.  Jewish proselyte baptism.  The baptism of John the Baptist.  Why did Jesus get baptized by John the Baptist, if his baptism was a baptism for the remission of sins?  Is there infant baptism in the New Testament writings?  Who were the Anabaptists?  Why do some churches require that you get re-baptized as an adult?  What is the relationship between salvation and baptism?  Why do some churches say that baptism is not related to salvation, only a public witness after one has been “saved or asked Jesus into one’s heart?”

Hope you’re having a blessed Lent and don’t be afraid of doubt or questions.

Father Phil

Session 10 February 25, 2013


Lenten Journey 2013 to Renew our Vows

Session 10: February 25, 2013

Understanding the Book of Common Prayer (BCP)

Part 6: The Sacraments: Baptism, Confirmation and Ordination

The Book of Common Prayer is a strategy of prayer to invoke God upon the times of our life.   Sacraments are the prayers that pertain to the crises in our life that confront us as we grow up within a community.  The sacrament of baptism is like a practical passport event to the Christian community.  However, God’s grace is always towards us before and after baptism.  If we believe in God as our creator then we believe that everyone is a son and daughter of God even when they do not choose to know themselves as such.  Baptism is the particular way within the Church that we celebrate our membership in God’s family and how God’s family has been particularized through the life of Jesus Christ.  The practice of the sacraments of baptism, confirmation and ordination have a diverse history and practice in the history of Christians churches that derived from the early Christ communities that arose in various locations after the event known as the resurrection of Christ.

Sacrament as a word is not in the New Testament; it is from the Latin word which is a translation of the Greek word mysterion.  So the sacraments are a program of “mystagogy” or a strategy/teaching of orientation into the mystery of how Christ is in us.

Baptism and confirmation are one and the same if an adult is baptized by a bishop in the Episcopal Church.  Confirmation arose as a subsequent supplemental maturation rite for an adult to confirm the vows that were made on one’s behalf by one’s parents and sponsors at an infant baptism.  In the Episcopal Church a Bishop confirms a person as an expression of their family connection in a diocese where the bishop resides as the chief pastor of the diocesan community.  A bishop whose office signifies the church’s connection with past and in the present with other dioceses welcomes a person at confirmation into the universal church of history and to the world geographical church now.  A practical expression of this is to receive communion at Westminster Abbey when you are in London and feel welcome and at home in so doing.

Baptism is also one’s ordination into the lay ministry of the church.  Holy Baptism for infant or Archbishop is the great equalizer in Christianity.  Everyone gets all of God’s grace at baptism; the shape and the articulation of God grace varies in the diversity of ministries.  Let no one deceive about “quantitative grace;” the grace of a baby at baptism is the same as the grace of a Pope, priest or saint.  Indeed we can vary in how we avail ourselves of grace and how we let it be expressed in our ministries, but let it not be said that God is cheap or partial in grace with anyone.

At baptism the one who baptizes invokes a prayer for the gifts of the Holy Spirit upon the baptized person.  In receiving those gifts one receives one’s ordination in ministry even though those gifts have to be developed and ratified in the actual reception and practice of the church.

Baptism, Confirmation and Ordination are public proclamations that God gives us gifts and ministries.  The gifts and ministries are equal in coming from the One Spirit but different in how they are practiced and in how our gifts unfold within the communities of our lives.  An old quantitative notion of grace used to be perpetuated: one gets a little grace at baptism, more at confirmation, more when one is ordained a deacon, even more for the priesthood and more for the varying kinds of bishops.  While it may logically seem that greater responsibility requires a greater quantity of grace it really has more to do with the individual gift or charisma that pertains to the responsibility of a particular ministry.

Remember that Baptism, Confirmation and Ordination belong to the entire church; they are not “owned” by a particular person in a specific ministry.  In ministry there are two facets, Office and Charism.  The Office of a ministry is the way in which the church administrates ministry for church order, consistency, comprehensiveness and coherence.  It is standardization for the profession of ministry.  Charism, is the grace or the charisma whereby a person exercise the grace or winsomeness in sharing the good news of the Gospel within a community.  Just as a doctor can be a good technical doctor without winsome bedside manner, so too a minister can have the Office of ministry without having found or expressed one's “charisma” of ministry.  The two need to go hand in hand for ministry to be experienced as both valid and effective.

The fourfold orders of ministry in the Episcopal Church are: lay persons, deacons, priests and bishops.  In reading the New Testament, particularly in the Pauline churches one finds different lists of ministries including speaking in tongues, healing, administration, teaching, prophecy, faith and others.  With the success of Christianity it became impossible and impractical to ordain every possible gift of ministry as an official office of the church-at-large.  It became practical to reductively funnel all of the ministries into the four fold pattern.  On the local level there is always the possibility for all manner of individual ministry to be fostered and supported, because of the one baptismal grace.

Why do we have bishops?  Because the Gospel was passed from the apostles to succeeding generations and because Christ wants us to practice unity now in the church.  Bishops symbolize in their office and person, connection with the church in history (at their ordinations at least three other bishops have to lay hands on them signifying this connection with the past).  They also signify our connection with other parishes in our diocesan family but also with the worldwide Communion.  We have bishops because the nature of the church is to be bishoply (I do like to coin new words).  All of us as baptized Christians are called to be bishoply by sharing the Gospel with others to the next generation of Christians and by practicing Christian unity now with each other.  Do you see how a bishop cannot do all bishoply work required and so all baptized persons share in bishoply ministry?

So too with the priesthood.  Christ is the Priest of God to the Church.  In being like Christ, the very nature of the church is priestly, and we have ordained priest to remind us that the very nature of the church is priestly.  Lay people make priests and bishops since these ordained ministries arise from baptism.  Lay people are priestly in their prayers as they intercede for the people of the world.  The office of priesthood does not exhaust the priestliness of the church, it only remind us that the nature of the church is priestly and this priestliness is shared by all baptized person.

A deacon is a ministry of service within the church.  A deacon is called to make the church aware of needs of people and call us to obey Christ to help those who are vulnerable and needy in our world.  Jesus said that when we have ministered to   those in need we have minister to Him.  The presence of Christ is found in the needy.  That is the awesome reality that deacons are to remind the church about.  A deacon also is under the oversight of a bishop and has liturgical leadership in Reading/Proclaiming the Gospel, altar preparation for Communion, Prayers of the People and administration of the chalice.  But again, the office of Deacon is to remind the entire church of our service to those in need.  The entire nature of the church is expressed in being servants for Christ’s sake.

I have tried to give new language and voice for us to understand the sacraments of baptism, confirmation and ordination.  I hope that I have opened new questions for all of us to ponder in our service to Christ in the church.



Exercise:

Think about your own formative idea of ministry.  Have you put deacons and priests and bishops on a pedestal as somehow being more “super” Christians?  What do you think about the leveling effect of baptism as presented above?  What do you think about being equal in the grace of baptism, but different in how we let that baptismal grace flow through us in what we do in our lives?  Can you begin to see your life work as a vocation from God that is equally valid “ordained” ministry as that of a bishop, priest or deacon?

I salute you in your baptismal ministry!

Father Phil

Session 11 Introduction to the Episcopal Church


Introduction to the Episcopal Church

Session 11 

Understanding the Book of Common Prayer (BCP)

Part 7:  Holy Eucharist

A major crisis in life is the social of crisis of the maintenance of community.  How do communities stay together?  How do they attain viability so that they achieve an identity as a social group that in turns provides identity and story for membership to achieve the value structures for their lives?  What happens when family, tribe or village or city does not provide a social group to help persons negotiate their identity and purpose within the larger society?  People cannot live as simply detached from community and people need communities that perform a mediating function in their lives with their communities at large.

In a family life there is something very formative about the family meal.  A family meal sustains the life of a family in a very practical way: the provision of food.  The family meal necessitates a gathering and provides the occasion for human fellowship, the sharing of story and identity.  The Holy Eucharist is the Christian family meal and when people gather for the Holy Eucharist one can find the most concrete social expression of the reality of what we call the church.

The Holy Eucharist arose out of the meal traditions that were received from ancient Hebrew religion and forms of Judaism that developed in subsequent history, particularly during the times of exile when the community lost a temple based religion.

In the tradition of Christianity, one can find that the early Christ communities practiced meal gatherings that also  included prayer and commentary and preaching on Scripture.  As they tried to reconstruct the origins of their religious meals traditions they used an oral tradition that we call the Last Supper.  This meal tradition that was explained in various ways including using the “manna” or bread from heaven tradition in Hebrew Scripture became the basis for how worship was constituted on the first day of the week.  The arising of the practice of Eucharist occurred in communities that understood that Jesus was indeed the Messiah.  The Christ communities practiced in their lives the experiential return of Christ as the reality of his resurrection in what was known to be the presence of the Holy Spirit. Christ was known to have a particular presence in the effervescence of the gathered worshipers.  The intentional gathering and the repeating of the words of Christ over bread and the wine was known to be an experience of being constituted or mystified as the body of Christ and so they practiced a presence of Christ in the bread and the wine.  This meal at certain times was connected with real eating for hunger needs too and so the community was given a public gathering to eat together and to make sure that everyone in the community had something to eat.  It was truly a spiritual, social and physical life giving event.

As the Christ communities became comprised by more Gentile members  and as worshipers received and  provided food in other “non-communitarian” gatherings, the Eucharist became more of a highly stylized meal where the bread and wine stood alone apart from other food in having spiritual meaning for the community.  This does not mean that Eucharist cannot and should not still have vital connection with actually feeding people who are in need of food.

We continue to practice today this ancient Eucharistic tradition.  Some traditions have almost made the bread and wine into separate and individual objects of veneration and divorced from the gathered church while other traditions have minimized the importance and the frequency of the Eucharist.

In the Episcopal Church, we have continued this ancient pattern of regarding the Eucharist to be the constituting gathering of the church on Sunday.  Along with the ceremonial that pertains to the bread and wine, we have the accompanying context of the words through the reading of Scripture, the prayers, the confession, the proclamation of forgiveness, the Peace of making ourselves reconciled with each other before receiving communion, and the sermon as a way of teaching and applying the Scripture, tradition and reason to our everyday lives.  Perhaps the most important part of the Eucharist ironically is the dismissal to go into our everyday lives carrying with us the Eucharistic values that we have practiced in our gathering.  The Eucharist arises from our lives, and is a particular and intense invocation of God’s Spirit upon us and the ministry of our lives and it is a sending of us into the world to live as a Eucharistic people in the world.  


Exercise:

Do you remember your first communion?  Why is communion special to you?  How do you understand or appropriate the Presence of Christ in the bread and the wine?  Do you ever associate the Eucharist with people in the world having enough to eat?  Do you understand the connection of the Holy Eucharist with your everyday life and the importance of the dismissal at the Eucharist?  Do you understand how people gathered at Eucharist are the most concrete expression of the social nature of the church?  Have you ever had some special experiences at Communion?

Remember one of the Baptismal vow questions:  Will you be faithful in the apostles teaching, the breaking of the break and in the prayers?
We will with God’s help!

Father Phil

Session 12 Introduction to the Episcopal Church


Introduction to the Episcopal Church

Session 12 

Understanding the Book of Common Prayer (BCP)

Part 8:  The Reconciliation of a Penitent, also known as Confession or Private Confession

 A major crisis in the life of a person and a community has to do with the experience of what is known as sin.  In our social lives we know of legal traditions that define legal wrongs and juridical procedures for assigning/declaring guilt and authorizing and adjudicating penalties or remedies to people for committing acts deemed injurious to their communities.  Acts which are criminal may be sinful acts; all sinful acts may not be criminal acts.  Sin becomes a factor for people who are given a vision of what excellence means in their lives.  To fail at excellence is to know the experience of sin.

The practice of the Sacrament of Reconciliation or Private Confession is not widespread in the Episcopal Church and varies to local parish or the piety of clergy in parishes who are persuasive about its usefulness.  The sacrament suffers from the memories of Roman Catholics who practiced it as obligatory prelude to receiving communion and in the frequency of its requirement there was a diminished sense of its practical purpose except something that was being done because it was a requirement of the church.  From our Reformation and Enlightenment perspectives Episcopalians have had a healthy suspicion of the power of clergy expressed as condescending paternalism and the complete baring of one’s soul to another person in an age when there is not such a wide educational gap between lay person and priest.  This is different from the age when the clergy served as the most omni-compentent local psychologist and educated person in the community. Episcopal priests do not want to live on any such omni-competent pedestal.

What can The Reconciliation of a Penitent mean for us as Episcopalians in practice?  Its very existence as an expression of our liturgical tradition is an indication that sin is something that is a crisis in the life of each person and in the life of the community.  That we are sinners and why we are sinners has been the topic of long discussions in all religions and in our Judeo-Christian traditions.  It used to satisfy people to say that a literal first persons, Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit and their one act made everyone after them to be born in sin and therefore sinful.

The Greek word for sin comes from an archery term and it means literally “missing the mark.”  The arrow is shot with intention to hit the target but the arrow misses.  In life we become aware of our failure to live up to standards of conduct in how we live towards others and in our willful delays to progress in excellence.  Sins often have open consequences within a community and if there are not strategies of interdiction there can arise harmful revenge and retaliation or divisions and separations within a community.  Christian bodies have lived in various relationships with legal procedure practiced outside of the church.  So sometimes a fault or moral failure has complication inside and outside of the church community.  The church has a commandment against stealing but so do the civil and criminal courts.  There can be an overlap between sin in the sense of lack of moral excellence and the legal consequences of harmful social behaviors.

I think the best way to understand Reconciliation is to see the notions of sin and repentance as positive features of our being on the baptismal path toward excellence.  We know that we are not perfect but we know that we are made perfectible, in that we know that we can make amendment and improvement.    Jesus encourged the continual work of education or repentance and this is the positive goal of every Christian.

The sacrament of Reconciliation grew in the tradition of the apostles who were told by Jesus that they had the power to forgive or retain sins.  The church has come to practice this as a ministerial act of the priestly office, but I think this ministerial act is more symbolic of what is psychologically and sociologically healthy for a community, namely, the forgiving of sins.  In practice if a family or community retains “or remembers” sins, then that community cannot survive.  Survival of the community depends on forgiveness occurring within a community of people who are all on a baptismal path of trying to become better.  At any point, none of us is as good as we need to be and at any point we understand that God’s forgiving grace is given to us to tolerate our not yet perfect selves.  Priests and bishops are to declare this in God’s name in the general absolution and private absolution of sin.

On the practical level, reconciliation is the honesty of a person saying “I am not an island and my life affects others and so no sin is personal or individual, it always has community dimensions.”  To say, what I do does not hurt anyone is to ignore the good that one could do instead of the so-called “private sin.”  When a priest declares absolution the priest has heard the confession on behalf of the community, “forgets it under the seal of confession,” and declares absolution on behalf of the community.  The absolution has nothing to do with the personal power or saintliness of the priest.  In fact, if you look at the last words of the priest in the rite of Reconciliation, they are, “Go in peace and pray for me, a sinner.”

Reconciliation may also be in a phase when a person cannot confess or make amends to a person who has been harmed by a deed. Sometimes we do not come to amendment of life until people are no longer in our lives and the path of reparation is impossible.   Reconciliation often occurs for persons in 12-Steps programs where in the 4th and 5th steps a moral inventory is made and admission to God, self and another person is made.    Reconciliation accompanies spiritual direction as one commits to an intentional path of spiritual excellence and seeks help of directors and confessors.  When one is in a crisis or life change, a life confession with a confessor may be an extended period of examination with the help of someone to assist in doing a general evaluation of one’s life so as to become open for some new insights for new directions in one’s spiritual path.

The practice of Reconciliation can be an indication of a healthy spiritual life just as therapy can be a sign of good psychological health.  The Sacrament of Reconciliation of a Penitent needs to be understood and practiced as a sound habit of spiritual health.

Exercise:

Think about the times you have made a confession.  Was it in another church?  Have you had some “natural” non-clergy confessors in your life?  Those with whom you could bare your soul?  Do you think that Reconciliation could ever be a part of your own spiritual rule of life?  What do you think about the Anglican position on Private Confession?  All may, no one must and some should!

Father Phil