Saturday, November 8, 2014

Note on the "Reconciliation" notice at General Theological Seminary.

This is an upgraded form of the Note that I left at the website GTS.EDU on what was called the "Reconciliation."  As usual, I look for your comments.  Perren

Note on the "Reconciliation" notice at General Theological Seminary.

This comes from a devoted alumnus of GTS in 1955.  So far, everything I have read seems to take a “side” in this polygonal problem.  While this is a clarifying “must,” it cannot be a “resolving” matter – only the expression of relief that students are being educated, and some sort of life continues on the Close.  Prayers and tears and hope (as yet unfulfilled) have marked my reactions to the anger, both outright and covered carefully with chosen words.  Now that “education” has (re)commenced, perhaps an orderly life can be restored.

While there is much to be said, I believe, on all sides, everything I have read or heard, comes from the same point and leads back to this same point.  My own ministry during the years 1973 through 1995 was “contributed” to congregations.  I “earned” my own “keep” in ways that gave me much insight into Christian life.  While I consider myself a “liberal” in politics and Biblical criticism, an Anglo-catholic in liturgy, a Jesuit in prayer life, Freud-leaning in psychology and language, a follower of Peter Druker and W. Edmonds Demming in economics, and Winfred Douglas in music, my approach is fundamentally classical, beginning with the period near 1000 BCE.

I strongly believe that our very first issue is the theology of the Church.  Why do we need Seminary education in the first place?  What is the purpose of the Church? What is the purpose of Religion? What is the purpose of a parish? Why do we need clergy? How are the clergy related to the Church? The Diocese? The Parish? The Baptized? The Unbaptized majority?  These are the questions that are fundamental to what has happened at General. And all groups/sides need to understand this as a fact.

In 1919 the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America became the first “denomination” to require the clergy to retire – at the chosen age of 72. At the same time, the General Convention directed the church, at every level to follow the “generally accepted” methods and practices of “modern” business.  This, therefore, fundamentally altered the relationship between a parish and its priest (and added-on non-clergy parish personnel);  so also the relationship of the priest to the Bishop/diocese; so also the (newly created) Office of the Presiding Bishop.  This kind of fundamental change takes a looooong time to be implemented fully.

The Church Pension Fund seems to have considered that the “time has come” to implement to the fullest, this dictum of 1919.   Now spread out as a full scale Human Services/financial system The Church Pension GROUP administers insurance, annuities, and health care for the retired clergy - and others! It has become a full-scale Human Services institution - without a corresponding “corporation” shaping its actions.  The CP Group now assists in “developing” a “path” for the newly ordained (and somewhat younger than recently) clergy.  As family needs develop, so income must be increased – and there is college for the kids!  Sort of each 5 - 7 years the clerics must change the location of  ministry – and of course, the income. These (and many others) are significant issues that MUST be dealt with – while “we must be in the world, but not of it” we still need to provide for family and, “promotion” details.

When I and several other priests tried to follow the French (especially) “Worker Priest” movement, I and they were either too far in front of where the Episcopal Church was/is, or it just won’t work in the USA, at this time.  Or, anyway, it has not done so.  And again, the experience developed by the few of us who tried this has not been sought – and now very few of us still survive in this model.

NEVERTHELESS, the CP Group has adopted the full Human Resources issues needed in corporate understanding for corporate personnel.  The CP Group seems to have made this its outlook since the middle 1980s.  In so doing, we have become transfixed on each parish as its own branch office, serving its own purpose.  Small parishes will care for “beginning clergy,” as they continue to learn the system of making each parish a “successful” example of its place in the diocesan structure.

I could go on and on about this but this Human Resources approach is the beginning of the “full flower” (for the Church) of the clerical person as primarily an administrator of a successful sub-office of the Diocese.  Keep the people happy, care for some needy local issues (either well-known, or sublimated under the general adjective “care for the needy.”)

The concept of the church as the living Body of Christ is sublimated into local concerns, in preaching, music and programs.  BUT THE CONCEPT OF THE CHURCH AS THE MOTIVATING FORCE TO CHANGE THE DIRECTION OF THE NATION/WORLD TO THE GOSPEL MESSAGE HAS VANISHED.  Being a priest is being a preacher/teacher for the  Baptized so that they can bring the Gospel to work with them (preferably with little or no fanfare) so that the so-called “secular” world can be transformed –  that is gone.  Worship often becomes an attraction in and of itself – but NOT a self-offering of life lived in Jesus.

Yes, the Dean is correct (and so is the Board) that there must be changes; but so also is the Faculty correct that the eco-social ethos of modern American Business cannot be the model.

A great personal sadness for me has been that the 1979 Book of Common Prayer – even though it was commissioned to be a MISSIONARY ACTION – has become an institution that looks back to a glorious past and tries to rebuild it.  I am grateful that THAT cannot happen.  (We are simply too poor to try, and too inefficient to succeed.  We need to evolve into a newer way of – in fact – becoming The Shape of the Liturgy of the first three centuries.  This was/is the manifest presented to the Commission that produced the 1979. Book of Common Prayer.

That means remembering that when income for the church is simply part of one’s personal generosity, on the par with PBS, that then God is not fully involved in this.  For us Christians, all we are and all we have is the result of what we have done with the way God made us.  Our pledge is NOT how much we shall “find” to give the church this year– our pledge is how much we need to retain for personal use for family needs and charities, and retirement purposes, and additional education.  It MUST be preached regularly that WE (individual and group) ARE LIVING THE FORGIVEN LIFE ASSURED BY THE DEATH AND RESURRECTION AND ASCENSION OF JESUS-SON-OF-MARY.  Our life is NOT continuous self-examination and “general confession;” our life is one-glorious-full-participation in the very life of Jesus.  Joy, equality, justice, peace and sharing are our true life.  We do our best as we are able – and the needed strength comes as we feed on the Body and Blood of Jesus – together – with each other.  

God must be at the center of that operation – we have used what God has made us to be because we KNOW the great Creator God whom we worship and adore because that God became one of us to show us how to live; how to bring the creation to its fulfillment – justice, equality, sharing, love.  Redemption, Reconciliation and Forgiveness bring joy to each and all of us each day – and we therefore “DO THIS” wherever we are; however we can; with joy and peace; as fully as we are able.

For this to happen, we need a disciplined, regular “three-year retreat.”  It needs an administration (Dean, Faculty, Students, Administration) that knows that the “past” never leaves us – it lives and grows with us as we continue to evolve into the “holiness” that IS the Resurrection of Jesus the “oneness” that the Creator God provides for us as the “Big Bang” moves toward the glorious conclusion known only to the Creator of the first “positive” and “negative” charges that commenced the continuing act of Creation.

The Dean, Trustees, Faculty, Students, Administration and ALL of US need to stop being concerned about “jot and tittle” issues of power and DO THIS – live the Baptismal Covenant.  Each of us has promised to do that.  Together is the only way we can do it.

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