Faith? Order?

As I continue talk about starting a new church (indeed, what else of import have I really done since I started this blog?) I’ll be throwing out a lot of concepts, some of which make liberals and polity-congregationalists uneasy. Some are just unfamilar, and these are ideas that can be summed up as “faith and order.”

There is a Faith and Order Commission of the World Council of Churches, and I like their study documents. Definitions, from their website:

FAITH: What churches teach about God, about Jesus Christ, about creation, about the Church, about the human person and salvation. Matters of faith both unite and divide us.

ORDER: How churches are structured; the roles and functions they ascribe to laypersons, ministers and overseers; their structures of accountability to themselves and each other. Matters of order both unite and divide us.

They have a number of documents, which themselves spawn lots of very interesting debate. There’s nothing quite like (say) a Romanian Orthodox and Canadian Mennonite response to the nature of the ministry of oversight.

You should read them too, especially the 1983 Baptism, Eucharist, and Ministry. It is so widely used and known that it is known more simply as the BEM, but don’t neglect the others.

Sad news from the other side of the world

Sad news about the six members of a religious order, the Melanesian Brotherhood, taken hostage in the Solomon Islands: a warlord confirms that all are dead. Please pray for the deceased.

A news story from Australia and this official obituary fill-in the story.

I first learned of the Melanesian Brotherhood when I found their liturgy, and discovered the news story when I wnet back to get more files.

But a word about their worship: formal, traditional, but remarkably less stuffy than Anglican liturgies elsewhere in the world. I’m sure it is because theirs is a missionary church, and I have found the material useful here.

Link: A Melanesian English Prayer Book

Heartbreak at a lost church

I cannot approve of what seems to be a last-minute derailment tactic by conservative Episcopalians in the nomination of Gene Robinson as bishop of New Hampshire.

And I also cannot pretend that the conservatives are not faithful people, and, if this vote passes, they will personally lose something.

Consider this excerpt from a presentation by a lay member of the Fort Worth diocese delegation, widely accepted as one of the most conservative places on the Episcopalian landscape, found in full here [dead link]:

I am a lifelong Episcopalian. I love this Church. But my Church is drifting away, and I am afraid that I am going to lose it forever.

I came to the Episcopal Church as a little girl. I walked down to our little neighborhood church and entered an amazing place of beauty and reverence. You could say that I have had the Episcopal Church in my blood since I can remember. . . .

But now, it’s our Church that is drifting away. If you vote to confirm Gene Robinson, I cannot go with you.

Compare that with any number of “if the UUA accepts God, I’m leaving” posts at the “Reclaiming a Vocabulary of Reverence Within Unitarian Universalism” discussion forum.

In each case, the individual needs and assumptions of the remontrant are treated as objective realities in need of a well-orchestrated defense, even though the Episcopalians, Unitarians, and Universalists each have histories and experiences broad enough to muster people who would have diametrically opposite experiences. I can repect the feelings of the Fort Worth delegate, and even those UU Humanists, but not enough to adopt the status quo.

Like it or not, in this kind of denomination-tearing fight, there usually are winners and losers, and, no, I don’t like it. Some action must be taken, even if it is only the action of recognition.

Unitarian and Universalist Christians have, until fairly recently, had to live with a continuing series of losses with the implied message that, as the “old guard,” we would have a diminishing stake within Unitarian Universalism. The assumption, both within and without the Christian cohort, is that eventually the “grandfathered” Christians would die out: terrible news from the inside, and one (apparently) blithfully ignored from the outside. I am no longer amazed that there are people who deny the existence of those who are both Christian and Universalist or Unitarian, or both. But neither will I accept this dismissive behavior, and that’s one of the reasons I write.

But not all was lost. Something happened in the Nineties — a change of leadership and generation, yes, but more accurately a change of attitude — that gave the Christian cohort a new sense of confidence and less of the defensiveness that had marked times past. We acted like God had an active plan and future for us, and, indeed, I believe God does.

Now it is the Humanist cohort that seems pained at a future of loss and (dare I say it?) dismission. But it seems to be that the Christian response is not to lord over the grief, and say “you had it coming” but be present and more than a little understanding. After all, we’ve been there, and there no guarantee we won’t know those feelings again. (If not institutionally, then certainly personally.)

Today, I hope the fighting factions of Episcopalians will experience enough grace to continue as one church, whatever the outcome of the Robinson election. After all, the world is watching and asking if there are Christians in that Convention. There are times I wonder if there are Christians anywhere: those living in knowledge of their redemption, identified by grace, and hopeful for unity with one another, the compass of creation, and with God.

Let there be peace in Minneapolis, and, I pray, next year in Long Beach.