Cromey Online

The writings of author, therapist, and priest Robert Warren Cromey.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Anglicanism and the Episcopal Church

The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion are God’s gift to us. We spring from the will of God. Our hallmarks and characteristics are: room for doubt, an emphasis on reason, an atmosphere of beauty and holiness, a passion for justice and an emphasis on corporate worship.

Three important aspects of the Anglican Communion are tradition, reason and scripture.

Tradition: We Episcopalians come out of the Church of England. All churches in the Anglican Communion emerged from the Church of England. Anglican churches are in Europe, China, Japan, India, Africa and all over Asia. There are some 60 million of us.

In the 16th century at the time of Queen Elizabeth the First, Protestants and Catholics were killing each other right and left. Elizabeth put a stop to it in England by declaring the Church of England was the Via Media between Romanism and Protestantism: worship in the Church of England and believe what you want.

So today the Episcopal Church is both Protestant and Catholic. Ask our rector for more details on how that works out

Via media tradition is reflected in the fact that the male Clergy dress like mother and want to be called father.

The Book of Common Prayer is noted for its beautiful language, its careful and elegant and graceful liturgy. These are the roots of our traditions.

Tradition: How many Episcopalians does it take to change a light bulb? Forty. One to change the bulb and 39 to say, “I liked it the old way better.”

Bible: The Bible is a library of books that consist of mythology, poetry, history, wisdom and teaching texts, biography, propaganda – Gospels. We do not worship the Bible. We see it as a very important way in which human beings recounted their understanding of God and God’s relationship to us. Biblical literalists see the Bible as concerned about whether or not we are to be saved to heaven or condemned to hell.

Reason: Doubting Thomas should be the Anglican patron saint. He doubted the resurrection of Jesus. He changed his mind later when he had a vision of Jesus in person.

We are always to question authority. Our God-given reason and inquiring minds are brought to Scripture, creeds and sacraments.

Our beliefs are not made of concrete as we recite the creed, hear the Bible and the doctrines of the church. We are to think through the beliefs held by the church and deal with them as we see them. Trained clergy and lay people can help you wrestle with beliefs.

President Franklin Delano Roosevelt had a Book of Common Prayer on his bedside. He asked his wife Eleanor if she had any trouble with the beliefs of the church. She replied, “It is probably best if we don’t go into all that.”

We should go into all that.

Our beliefs are found in our worship. As we worship together in the manner of the Book of Common Prayer, we discover our faith. It is not a series of pronouncements to be ascribed to. In worship we participate in mystery, the unknown and the ineffable, in community, in our bodies and the body of Christ.

We eat bread and drink wine; a mystery. It is in participating in the eating, drinking, singing, listening to the words and looking at the people that God finds us.

At the root of our faith as Anglicans and Episcopalians is the incarnation, the idea that Jesus was truly God and truly man.

Incarnation: The purpose of the incarnate faith is to help us become truly human, not perfect, but human, sins and all. A human being is one who accepts all aspects of one’s self. We are to love our minds, bodies, sexuality, talents, our abilities, skills, humor, and ourselves.

Ours is a fleshy religion.

Our bodies: we are to love our bodies in a world where skinniness is next to Godliness, smooth skin is nirvana, and wrinkle free is the beatific vision.

Fat is beautiful too.

I spent time at Esalen Institute, Big Sur, California, in the hot baths. I never saw a body that was not beautiful. Obese, scarred, mastectomied women, skeletal men. All naked people looked beautiful. Our bodies are God’s gift to each human being on the planet.

We worship with fleshy things. Bread, wine, music, Episcopal calisthenics – stand, sit, kneel, stand again. Vestments, incense, color, windows and lots of food and drink. We worship in the beauty of holiness.

Some very fleshy people have been Episcopalians. Fred Astaire, Humphrey Bogart, Richard Burton, Queen Elizabeth, George Washington, Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt were all Anglican Episcopalians.

Basic tenets of the Anglican communion – The Old and New Testaments, the Nicene Creed, the sacraments of baptism and holy Communion and the historic Bishops. Wrestling with these aspects of the church is a focal point of our faith.

We are not creedal literalists anymore than we are Biblical literalists. We use our God-given brains to understand what God wants us to be and do.

For instance – Birth Control was regarded as sinful by the Conventions of the Episcopal Church up to the 1930’s. Then with science, reason and new looks at ethics, the Church changed and birth control became a way to behave responsibly to limit the reproduction of children that causes harm to families, women and children especially. Our church is willing to change its mind as new light and insight – the Holy Spirit – teaches us.

South Africa and Apartheid. Anglican layman Alan Paton’s Cry the Beloved Country, a novel about Apartheid, was one of the books that electrified the world about the racial segregation in South Africa. Trevor Huddleston, Anglican Bishop of Capetown, was a tireless fighter for freedom for blacks in South Africa. Desmond Tutu is an Anglican Bishop; black himself, who fought vigorously for change in that country. Our church inspired many to bring abut change in that land.

The Episcopal Church led the way in the Civil Rights Movement of the 60’s. In this Diocese in the 1960’s at the Diocesan Convention there were clergy and lay people opposed to our church’s endorsement of the civil rights movement. You can imagine what it was like in the 60’s in the Southern Episcopal churches. Ordination of women as priests 25 years ago, the ordination of openly gay deacons and priests pioneered in our church. Bishop Swing ordained more openly gay clergy than any other bishop in the church. Our church elected and consecrated the first openly gay man as Bishop in Gene Robinson.

In the 1950’s California’s Bishop Pike took on free speech issues when he publicly criticized a Roman Catholic Cardinal of New York who tried to stop the showing of a sexually tinged movie. In addition, Bishop Pike and others fought for the right of people to have access to birth control.

Our Episcopal Church will remain small and get smaller because we have stood for controversial and human and humane issues.

The recent and current emphases on spirituality, retreats, quiet days and labyrinths have drawn many clergy and lay people away from social and political concerns. Here at St. John the Evangelist there is a good balance.

Deep spirituality results in real social concern for justice, peace, and legal equality, a concern to make laws such that people are not hungry and homeless. Archbishop Tutu is a deeply devout Christian and he works for social justice. Martin Luther King, Jr. was a deep believer in the Bible and made civil rights a religious crusade. Our lord Jesus went to the wilderness to meditate, to the garden to pray and thus went to the cross because he challenged the social and religious order of his day.

Our faith is that his dying and rising to life again has given us new life, new freedom and new responsibility to love our neighbors – all of them. That is what it means to be an Anglican and an Episcopalian.

I am proud to be an Episcopalian. I hope you are too. We rejoice, give thanks and sing that we have been given the gift of the Anglican Communion and the Episcopal Church.

Church of St. John the Evangelist, San Francisco
April 19, 2009, The Second Sunday of Easter

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Easter Musings - Wednesday

1. Here we are in the middle of Holy Week. There are all these services going on and I am not motivated to go to any of them. I have not lost my faith just my patience in going to corporate worship. I don’t turn off my critic and find fault with much that goes on. Readings, prayers, sermons, chanting are tedious and don’t grip me any longer – not that they ever did. Sometimes music will bring a tear or a memory. Sometimes the sacrament of Holy Communion connects me to family or events and/or people in the congregation.

I am reading the propers in the 1662 BCP and find I do not want to read yet again about the passion of Jesus. My mind is clear about what it all means but I don’t want to go through the pain of reading the long narratives and brooding on the pain and suffering of Jesus. My old friend Hugh Magee puts it well when he writes:

"This is Palm Sunday, the celebration of victory and the acceptance of the truth. Let us not spend this holy week brooding on the crucifixion of God's Son, but happily in the celebration of his release. For Easter is the sign of peace, not pain. A slain Christ has no meaning."

I do look forward to Easter Day, the flowers, hymns, procession and the joyous upbeat service celebrating the resurrection of Jesus.

2. I do not know how to grow or enlarge the church at this time. I am glad I am not responsible for leading a congregation. The BCP liturgy is too precious and complex for seekers. It is not personal enough, it fails to grab one emotionally unless one is brought up in the faith and is trained in the liturgy. I also don’t find myself interested in developing liturgies to attract newcomers and visitors. It takes different music, prayers, and ways of consecrating and distributing bread and wine. Armand Kreft tries to attract people by gospel hymns and catholic worship with humor, fun and an upbeat personal style. That worked for him at Holy Innocents and we hope it will work in Buffalo where he works now.

3. The Easter Vigil is popular and chic now with endless readings, staying up most of the night and de-emphasizing the 11 AM Easer Day liturgy. Years ago I was invited to attend and preach at a sunrise service on Easter morning, I sniffed my refusal saying, “Jesus rose at 11 AM on a Easter morning and not a moment before.” Just old fashioned I guess. I used to love the services when I was in charge. Now that I am not I am impatient with what goes on. I am quite sure the church will go ahead without me. I am OK with my crusty view of religion and liturgy. My faith is whole; my expression of it is limited pretty much to social service and social action.

I never was much good at private prayer, meditation and the daily offices. I tried them out many times, dropped them, restarted them and basically pray on the go, while swimming and “ejaculatory” prayers, one of my favorite expressions of piety.