Saturday, June 29, 2013

What Dream Has God Given You

In the beginning God had a Dream of what He wanted the heavens and earth to look like—and He proceeded to create them according to that Dream.  There are over 125 references to dreams and dreamers in the Bible – evidence that God is sharing His Dream with us in our dreams and visions.      
           “Dream” in Hebrew means to “bind strongly or firmly.”  A dream from God becomes bound up in the heart of the person receiving the dream.      When God gives you a dream or vision—it is a very spiritual experience – not easily forgotten or set aside – it becomes a part of your heart and mind.

Two quick footnotes:  (1) the only difference between a dream and a vision is if you are awake, and, (2) not all dreams and visions are from God.  Nevertheless, dreams are often called God’s secret weapon or the sleep language of God.
            God gives each of us a Dream. Today, June 29th ,  I celebrate the 50th  Anniversary of Ordination.  I am a cradle Episcopalian and was 10 years old (1948) when God put into my mind and heart that I should be a priest.  That dream was a part of my reality in grade school, high school and college – the Dream was always with me.  Friends and class-mates pondered what they would do when they grew up – that was never a question for me – I was going to be ordained and be a part of God’s Dream for this world.
Following Seminary, God’s Dream found me Vicar of two large Native-American congregations on the White Earth Reservation in Minnesota – in case you were not aware – we are the largest church among Indian people in Minnesota, the Dakotas and Alaska.
            God’s Dream for me also included serving as Parish Rector, Cathedral Dean and activity duty in the USAF as Chief of Chaplains for the Air National Guard – following Military retirement, the Dream lead to Interim Ministry.  First, in a suburban Washington, DC Parish and then as Interim Rector for 3 years in our largest African-American Parish in Washington, DC.  Next came a call to an avant-garde Baltimore Parish and then the Dream lead to Kansas City and three wonderful Interim Rectorships.
            Each of you readers also has a story about your part of God’s Dream – was it about education, career, family, fine arts, athletics?  Was it about loving, serving, worshiping?   I pray that someone knows your story and that you will keep sharing it with others.
            This is in no way to suggest that God’s Dream always brings joy and happiness, sometimes quite the opposite. 
            Nor is it to suggest that all that happens in the Episcopal Church is actually God’s Dream, some may well be Satan’s nightmare. 
            Nevertheless, it has been a grand 50 years being part of the Dream!!!

Saturday, June 22, 2013

The Essential Gift of the Episcopal Church--Hope

I have come to realize that my central vocation of retirement has much the same venue as the priesthood job itself: it is practice. What I mean is that playing a superior game in and on any vocational and professional court of endeavor requires massive, daily practice, perfecting each minor detail and maneuver toward greater perfection.  In the active ordained ministry the practice is, of course, about the aspects of priesthood required by  ordination itself: liturgy, pastoral care and administrative management, adjudicatory participation, community involvement and so on. In retirement the practice is about reviewing the entire field of personal history and doing so both privately and, when available, with the privilege of reflecting with colleagues who are both active and retired. The purpose for me of this rehearsal of the past is to access the endgame meaning of my life and, where possible, our life together as colleagues.

I feel extremely blessed to have a great group of clergy I see every week for two to four hours as we share breakfast and conversation about the whole gamut of our lives. I truly respect and care for each and every one of them. As well, I have an extended cadre of highly skilled lay folk with whom to reflect, the most important one being Catherine, my spouse. As well, the unique relationship I have is with Bob Shahan, my dear friend, cousin and colleague.  Catherine, whose whole life has been as an Episcopalian, provides the constant home based conversation that enlivens our days.  She has the added achievements of being an EFM graduate and member of some rather enlightened ecumenical study and prayer groups. Bob and I share a very strong family connection that only increases as we reflect on  oral stories, articles, photos and family memorabilia that have helped each of us understand those launching Reed ancestors whose history we can trace back rather fully for at least two hundred years.  This endeavor has importance to us as we both believe that family systems affect many multiples of generations. Even more importantly, we share a professional history that is similar and complementary going back into the 1960’s.  Altogether the  amount of time  I know I put into the spiritual and conversational practice of personal, collegial  and vocational review involves no less than sixty hours of my life a month.  This practice bears a slow but meaningful result because I now have one basic vocational question:  What can I really, really say about the place of the Episcopal Church in my life? After over one half a century of formal life in the Episcopal Church what difference has it made?  What difference does it make now?

I have spent much of my academic and professional life reading, analyzing, reflecting and trying to find some tentative conclusions in the studies of political, social, church, scientific and psychological readings in historic analysis. I started the search in the library of Fr. Ross Wellwood, the first Rector of St. James in Oklahoma City, where I met Kierkegaard, Thomas Aquinas  and Jaroslav Pelikan.  I was trying to find out how to counter my school mates at Southeast High School who were condemning most of the people of the earth to hell because they had not heard of Jesus Christ. I found answers in that library that Fr. Wellwood let me use, and in those wise and kind words of my academic and historic mentors, I found hope and comfort.

I intend to expand my answers with more blog essays in the future. But I know for sure that the broad brush conclusion is that because and only because of the Episcopal Church in its people, clergy, scholars and truth tellers in my teen years I was truly saved: saved from much teen anxiety and given a platform of hope and the comfort which passeth all understanding. It made my high school life full of adventure because I was anchored in the  environment of hope given to me by the Holy Spirit at St. James Episcopal Church.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Rectors (Pastors): How to Reduce the Diocesan Assessment

If there were fewer bishops and their administrative costs, a diocesan convention could choose to reduce the assessment, which would give local congregations more resources to support their clergy and conduct local mission opportunities.  It is therefore useful to discuss a merging diocesan church that would take the heat off of congregations which are facing reduced membership and financial support.  Let's face it, as resources decline it is harder to pay the diocesan asking.  While it may be true that assessments have leveled off for some, simply leveling off doesn't cut it.  What needs to be cut is the assessment itself.

How might we do this?  Perhaps we can learn from the merging of the dioceses of Quincy and Chicago.  Sure, it is true that Quincy needed to merge by default because after the split in the diocese they didn't have enough congregations to remain autonomous.  This is the code word for having enough money to support themselves.  In addition, add the diocese of Springfield to Chicago.  They have 36 congregations, 5229 baptized members and an average Sunday attendance of 1045.  In this scenario one bishop would serve the state of Illinois instead of the three they have now.  Think about the financial savings in bishop's salaries and administrative expenses.  One bishop could make 50% more money than he does now and money is still saved.  Then there could be a reduction in parish assessments.

The ELCA bishop of the Central States Synod covers the entire states of Kansas and Missouri.  Having served as an interim in one ELCA congregation, I know for a fact that congregational giving to the synod is far less than Episcopal congregations in that same geographical area.  The reason for this is that we support four bishops and their staffs in four dioceses in the two states.

Therefore, consider the merging of Western Kansas, Kansas, West Missouri and Missouri.  Western Kansas has 30 congregations, 1680 baptized members and an ASA of 731.  Kansas has 46 congregations, 11,469 baptized members and an ASA of 4057.  West Missouri has 50 congregations, 11,105 baptized members and an ASA of 3811.  Missouri has 44 congregations, 12053 baptized members and an ASA of 4160.  Think of the overhead saved if these four dioceses merged.  Think of the thousands of dollars that would be saved that could be applied to priest's salaries and local mission. This "merged" diocese would then be about the same size as Chicago. This could happen throughout the church.

Bishops might complain that they can't get around to every congregation each year for confirmation.  The answer to this dilemma is simple.  General Convention could vote to give priests the authority to confirm.

On occasion this blog has called for a reduction in the House of Bishops.  If we take a look at the rest of the 2011 Episcopal Church Statistics, we can find good reason to support the notion of diocesan mergers throughout the church.  We are simply too small to support as many bishops and their staffs that we have now.  Rectors and Pastors, just think about what you could do for local mission in your community if we didn't have to support as many purple shirts and their staffs.  And you might have enough left over so that the vestry could give you a healthy raise.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

The Bishop Speaks of The New Day

The Bishop Speaks of The New Day

The notion of being more spiritual and less religious has a great appeal for some people. On occasion I am one of those people. This is that occasion.

If you want to move gently into the world of words, and engage the word “religion,' you will find a mess. The word, religio, will lead you more deeply into mess and opinion.

This is great! The only way out it to select your favorite and move on. It is somewhat like engaging the “The Trinity” on Trinity Sunday. Sometimes it is just better to select the version you like best and move on.

That having been said. The word, religion, comes from the Latin root, religio, from which we take words such as “ruler.” It signifies the notion of measurement and the holding of a standard by which one is measured.

One of the things which can happen when we are organized around religio is that it becomes easy to be righteous. Some people seem to believe there is a righteousness scale from which we accumulate points which lead us to good feelings about ourselves and perhaps bad feelings about others.

I believe the church is not called to be more righteous. I believe the church is called to be more holy. Righteous and self-righteousness are rather like roommates. Holiness, on the other hand, is our call into relationship with God. It is knowingly being in that relationship which sends us forth into the world.

It is time for the church to stop being so weary and to perhaps lighten up about some of the things which seem to concern or preoccupy us at times; the things which make us so certain of who we are in our being.

It is a new day and we must declare it from this moment on. It is a new day. Our call is to be the church reborn. We are called to be the church which has recaptured the Spirit which set it on fire in the beginning.

Let those, who can hear these words, be different from the rest of the church. Let us be different from the world of politics and intrigue . . . . I have a sense if we are willing to take the first steps on the journey in this manner, the right action will open up for us. We will discover our true nature in the reflecting pool.

How would such a church look? How would it worship? Would it cherish silence, respect, would it tell the same story over and over, would it have a building, would it meet every week, would it encourage people to do more than behave and be present? And on and on.

Our commission is to make disciples for the living God, and there is only one way to do it. (Incidentally, it does not have much to do with changing the way people think.) We are called to be something which, others can see, which is good and holy and sometimes even a little righteous.

I have great hope for the church because I have faith in you. I know that out of all of the broken hearts and stumbles along the trail, there still exists within you that spark which waits quietly to be rekindled.

We are the church. Live that way. We are in this together even if we do not know one another. We Are One!

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Why I Am a Liberal       A. William McVey

            I begin by explaining that I am not really a liberal in the usual sense of the word in present day Episcopal culture. As a matter of fact, the purpose of this blog is to reconstruct the meaning of liberalism. I find it important to achieve this purpose because I wish to make it clear that I am not a conservative. In point of fact, I was inspired to write this blog after reading an article by my favorite economist Friedrich A. Hayek, “Why I Am Not a Conservative.”
            After some Hayekian reflection upon theological and ecclesiastical discourse, I have come to the conclusion that present day church liberals and conservatives share a similar authoritative dogmatic and morally coercive attitude. Therefore, if there is a possible journey of hope in a postmodern missionary culture, I recommend a rediscovery of a 17 century Anglican latitudinarian culture.
            The Anglican latitudinarians of the 17th century, especially the members of the Cambridge circle, were scholarly Anglicans, but they held that matters of doctrine, liturgical practice and ecclesiastical organization were of very little importance. Richard Hooker was really a liberal personalist who had a pastoral concern for the care of the individual soul and was indifferent about things like church leadership.  Is it not interesting that church leadership and polity are such big topics today? The Cambridge Latitudinarians would feel at home in the postmodern culture, and I suggest would be extremely confused by the conservative/liberal ideological division of Anglicanism.
            Eventually, the liberalism of the 17 c. that moved into the 18th and 19th centuries was changed by neo-liberal Anglo-Catholic theologians like Frederick Denison Maurice who wrote, “I seriously believe that Christianity is the only foundation of Socialism and a true Socialism is the necessary result of a sound Christianity.” Contemporary theologians, bishops and clergy to avoid being called socialist then began to call themselves liberals or progressive liberals. Consequently, we have redefined liberalism.
            These new progressive church liberals and the church conservatives, however, are rather similar in their demand for authority. Both schools hold that dogmatic and moral views are proper objects of coercion. It is primarily this aspect that distinguishes a classical liberal, or neo-latitudinarian, from a conservative or a liberal. The progressive liberal and conservative church persons hold for a body of persons who have a set of beliefs and morals that must be enforced on others through institutional policy. The classical liberal believes that there are higher beliefs and values that are shared in dialogue and spiritual transformation, but they are never enforced by coercive polity.
Let me offer a more via media Anglican diagram. It is a triangle with the conservatives occupying one corner, the progressive liberals pulling toward the second and the classic liberals (neo latitudinarians) toward the third. It is the conservative and the liberals who keep fighting the authoritative battles, and the classic liberals just keep seeing it as more and more irrelevant. I have a strong hunch that the best of our laity are neo latitudinarian liberals.