Future News: Episcopal Edition

Tony Sig

Wednesday, June 5th 2028

Today the Episcopal General Convention discussed a recent blog post from 2013 stating that young people are leaving Facebook at a startlingly high rate. Several Boomer priests concerned about the continued loss of financial benefactors, or ‘parishoners’, proposed that a committee be formed to study if young people are indeed leaving Facebook. The Committee to Maintain Cultural Relevance Among Young People or C2MCRAP would release their findings via group email one month before the next General Convention in 2031, along with some suggestions on what The Episcopal Church should do about it.

Debate was fierce on the floor. Fr. Jim Jefferson, well known for his blog ThinkingProgressivelyBetterThanOtherAnglicansEspeciallyTwoThirdsWorldOnes.com, was fired up, saying that young people are leaving Facebook and TEC because of tired old stale orthodoxies that just don’t make sense in a 2020’s world. “Why are we saying that Jesus rose from the dead? Twitter is 22 years old. Get with the program!”

Fr. Jeff Jimmerson, himself famous for StandingFirmLikeAStickInYourAss.com, decried the conversation, saying that the reason young people are leaving Facebook and TEC is because the church abandoned the 1979 Book of Common Prayer. “None of this would ever have happened if we had stuck with Eucharistic Prayer C.” When it was pointed out that Fr. Jimmerson wasn’t even in TEC anymore but in a random splinter-cell that used a mixture of the 1549, 1928, 1979 BCPs and the Roman Missal, he started screaming something incoherent about apostolic succession until escorted out by security.

Shortly after that the Super Ultra Very Right Rev Dr Feff Fifferson told a very moving story about a young person in his diocese which, while sentimental, had almost nothing to do with the topic at hand, though somehow everyone felt moved to “be more missional” after his speech.

As debate rose to a fever pitch eyes turned to the young Rev. Sarah Evans, aged 42, as everyone demanded to know why young people like her weren’t coming to church anymore. When she said she’d love to stay and chat but had to go pick up her 15 year old daughter from school, murmurs of “kids these days” filled the arena.

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Mission, Discipleship, and the Daily Office II

Tony Sig

In my previous post on this topic I addressed how, in our post-Christian context, the Office can serve to renew the catechumenate and foster discipleship. In this one I want to point out how this can relate to the issue — rather obsessively pushed by some in TEC in recent times — of Communion Regardless of Faith and Baptism. I use this phrase because it gets beyond the spin we get talking only of “Open Communion.” Open Communion appears to mean not simply “pastoral” generosity in not “policing the table” — to use the phrase — but hostility to the very idea that discipleship is an essential part of life in Christ, a life we receive primarily in the Eucharist.

Part of the reason that this has become an issue, it seems to me, is because we don’t want to appear “inhospitable” to guests who visit a parish. We are told that this is “Christ’s table, not the Church’s table” and “Christ was inclusive” or whatever. It’s not my intention to comment substantively on “when” people ought to share in the Eucharist. There are many resources available on that and the bishops of TEC were rather strong in their rejection of the current mood and stood by the tradition on this. (Though I ought to point to the helpful resources of Fr. Matthew Gunter, especially here and here) Rather I wanted to suggest that a parish or mission that utilized the Daily Office as a tool for evangelism in some capacity can escape the pressure toward an uncritical “hospitality” because it is not necessary for participation in the Office to be a baptized Christian.

The Office, to be sure, arose from within the Church, being passed on from Judaism, and serves the spiritual needs of the Church. I don’t believe I’m talking about a functionalist reduction of the Office to a mere tool to get more bodies in the Church. At the same time, as TEC prays the Office, it is participating in the prayer of Jesus, it is incorporated into his life, and evangelism is nothing less than exposure to Christ’s life, and a call to share in it. (cf. Rowan Williams in multiple places, including here and here and here) Prayer, then, and mission, are intertwined and ought not to be separated. Prayer is a fitting and appropriate way share the Gospel, yet one which “preserves the symbolic integrity” of the Eucharist, operating as it does in a different field than the celebration of the Eucharist on the Lord’s Day.

Mission, Discipleship, and the Daily Office

Tony Sig

One of the great achievements of the liturgical revisions of the last century for Anglicans lies in making the Eucharist the central act of worship for the church. Yet one of the attendant misfortunes, which seems to have happened almost by accident, and which scholar and blogger Derek Olsen has repeatedly lamented and sought to change, is how the Daily Office slowly yet systematically began to be neglected in the public worship of parishes.

There was a time, as readers of this blog surely know, when it was in fact the Office which was the central liturgical act for Anglicans. And while I am glad that the Eucharist has taken its proper place, I would like to suggest there is still some heavy duty lifting the Office can do in the current missional situation in which we find ourselves.

There are at least four ways, I believe, that the Office can function as a tool for mission that addresses some pressing contemporary issues facing TEC:

1) In the post-Christian situation it can serve to renew the catechumenate and foster discipleship;
2) Which aids in thinking through the pressure for Communion Regardless of Faith and Baptism;
3) Yet which is sympathetic (in a way) toward those who clearly crave “spirituality” but who have an abiding distrust of “organized religion.”
4) Much of the main work in this scheme can be done by lay people and deacons. Given our financial situation, this is something at least to consider.

I will address each of these in their own post.

While it is true that in America religion is still a focus of public attention in a way that it’s not in other Western countries, yet, at least in my own experience, it’s rather common to meet people who have never darkened the doors of a Church, or at least who haven’t since they were kids; and even those who perhaps had been involved in a youth group or who have had some other connection to the Church do not necessarily know even basic Bible stories or central Christian teachings (being fed on the fluff of motivational moralistic therapeutic deism). On a purely pragmatic level, given the rapid shrinking of our own church, the option is either to engage in mission and evangelism or fade further. That notwithstanding, it’s the world we’re called into to make disciples.

Traditionally, church plants are oriented toward Sunday morning worship, but this has an inbuilt problematic: If the Eucharist is the central act of worship for the baptized faithful, then we’re asking people new to the Church to come and witness only and not participate in worship. Moreover they lack the education necessary to “make sense” of what’s going on.

In no small part through the sizable influence of Stanley Hauerwas, we’re all being reminded that discipleship is notably absent in most of our churches. We’re running on the steam of a cultural Christianity that no longer exists and that was mostly ineffective anyway. This is both to be lamented and celebrated because while it’s unfortunate that we’re failing to form Christians in holiness, we’ve got a new opportunity with people who don’t already “know” what the Church is about, for whom the message and practices are new.

And this is where the Office comes in. In the Office, people can come to know many of the basics of the faith and even participate in its performance without needing to come under the discipline of the Church and be baptized. It’s, to use the phrase, “inclusive,” but it’s still in keeping with the baptismal ecclesiology of the Prayer Book. On Sundays, the core group of the plant would meet to celebrate the Eucharist if they had a priest or receive the reserve elements from a deacon, it being understood that catechesis and baptism is necessary to participate.

What I’m suggesting is that church plants and parishes ought to consider the Office, maybe a sung Evensong or Compline, as a fitting way to expose fresh faces to Christ. From there, emphasize the necessity of catechesis and baptism as a way to come to know Christ and the fellowship of the Church most fully. It might mean, as it used to in the early Church, that people “sit at the edges” of the Church for years — I’m not saying this is a church-growth strategy! — but it also means that we would be making disciples. And what’s not to like about that?

On the Need for a New Prayer Book

Tony SigI do hope I’ve aroused some attention with the title. No I do not mean an actual new BCP. What I do mean is a new edition of the one we’ve got. I don’t know about you but sometimes I still don’t even know what year of the daily lectionary we’re on and I have to look it up, and I’ve been at this whole office thing a while.

I still recall when I first became Episcopalian and I asked my first rector, bless his heart, how to use the darn thing and he said “Well all the instructions are in there, it’s really quite simple.” Indeed.

There are two new prayer books that are well worth considering as models for how to do this. There is, on the one hand, Phyllis Tickle’s praiseworthy three volume edition of The Divine Hours, and the new Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals. Their absolute key strength on a practical level is their ease of use. Both include for each day everything you need to perform the office with absolutely no page turning, save that the scripture readings in Common Prayer must be read from a Bible — nevertheless the actual lectionary is printed clearly into each day. There simply is altogether too much page turning and calendar-deciphering for any average layperson to use the BCP in any effortless way.

One thing, it must be allowed, that this single page use has cost Common Prayer is that it goes by the secular calendar rather than by Church calendar, and Tickle’s follows the Church year but the books are split according to natural seasons. Yet this can be solved simply by splitting into the years A and B, in either two our four volumes, accordingly. The then small amount of “getting used to it” that it takes to adjust to the Church calendar is minimized and the, I believe, necessary formative effects of using the liturgical structure remain undimmed.

Common Prayer also has a clear and concise introduction on how to use the blessed thing, periodic notes throughout the volume for filling out the details, and biographical notes for saints introduced. (It strangely enough lacks a baptismal liturgy).

Interestingly both of these new works are distinctly Roman in character. I didn’t realize how much until I started looking into them. The BCP really is much more Scripture-heavy. No judgement is implied there, I merely found it interesting and unexpected.

What we need, I propose, is a multi-volume edition of the BCP Daily Office with clear instructions, one-stop praying, and a single beautiful ribbon – All that should be necessary for its use. Tickle’s books are quite nice actually and there is a clean and plain beauty about them (Common Prayer in this regard is a bit busy and the book itself slightly less sturdy). Tickle’s are also exceedingly reasonably priced at around $15 each. Optional elements in the BCP like the Great Litany could be made an appendice at the back with suggestions within the text of when to utilize it and other such BCP “bonus features.”

Common Prayer also has a small and wonderful hymnal at the back. I think this would be a great thing to consider for these and even for an edition of the BCP. We do of course have the combo BCP/Hymnal but I mean something much simpler, smaller, more focused. This should also be only for the use of the Office. The Eucharist and other services, the Psalter as separate section, and such things, should all be done with in a volume dedicated solely to daily prayer.

Oh, and make sure the thing is pretty.

Stuff I’ve Written Elsewhere

Tony Sig

First Post From the Richard Hooker Blog: Book I. Ch. i

It’s not my plan to continue to cross post, but I wanted you to know that we’ve begun.

 -Tony

I started and read through several books of the Laws a year or so back, so I am already somewhat familiar with some basics that Hooker is about to get to in this book. Yet how much difference a couple years makes! My ability to understand and to weigh a work seems to grow by the year such that I almost always get more out of a piece that I’ve read before than I did when I first read it. This applies no less to the opening chapter of the Laws.

Lest I be accused of some tiresome trope, I do not come to this work impartially. On the one hand, I am committed to becoming a confessional Anglican theologian; While by no means do I think with that school that used to imagine Anglicanism some divinely ordained group meant to unite all Christians through her blessed Via Media and her leading role in ecumenism, I am thoroughly committed to dwelling in the Anglican church, to serving her and breathing her air, learning her language. Hooker is a fundamental person to work with in order to accomplish this goal.

In addition, I have been schooled by that group of antifoundationalist theologians that eschew Natural Law in favor of a hermeneutics of faith. Even Reason is done through a context by which it is in large part, indeed in invisible parts, constituted. Reasoning cannot be separated from the form of reasoning and the traditions to which one is committed or to which one reacts. Nevertheless, I have persisting questions about this precisely because it seems that something akin to “natural law” can and even must come precisely from that position of faith in Jesus as the Word of God by and through whom all things were made and from whom we receive our very being. I can’t hold to a voluntarist ethics. Hooker, I am told, is not naïve about the fact that Reason very often is fallen and clouded. I look forward to learning how he coordinates sin and reason and faith and feel it’s important to how we conceive justice and law.

Which brings me to a final note: This antifoundationalism also tends to breed a healthy pseudo-anarchist political bent in me. By pseudo-anarchism I mean that while I have faith in institutions and regulations, these must be able to be disrupted by gestures toward justice even where said justice cannot be properly reasoned at the time. Which is only, I suppose, a politics of semper reformanda. This has also lead to an ecclesial critique of the state. This is, it must be noted, not merely some new thing “Radical Orthodoxy” thought up, but it goes at the least back to the Oxford Movement and its resistance to a church controlled by the state. This led soon to a lively tradition of anglo-catholic socialism that is meet to be revived in my opinion lest anglo-catholicism continue to hemorage as a pathetic movement interested mostly in liturgical fancies rather than a robust doctrine of the Church, which is what I take catholicism to be most about.

Then, without further ado, let us examine the first chapter and a give money quote:

“He that goeth about to persuade a multitude, that they are not so well governed as they ought to be, shall never want attentive and favourable hearers.”

Hooker is not at all oblivious to the charges against the Church of England nor to the government. (btw, whenever I say “government” or “state” I am not trying necessarily to talk about “Government” or “State” as an abstract universal. I shall try to be clear when I want to wax meta). This instantly sets him apart, imo, from those who are un-self-aware in supporting a status quo. He understands that he will be seen as one who either “hold[s] or seek[s] preferment.”[1] He is setting out, then, not to simply have a go at demolishing the arguments of people much dumber than he is, since most people are dumb compared to someone of his learning, but to show how certain policies in fact help to make for justice. “We are accused as men that will not have Christ Jesus to rule over them, but have wilfully cast his statues behind their backs, hating to be reformed and made subject unto the sceptre of his discipline.”[3]  This obviously doesn’t mean that everything he says will then simply be right, but it means that he takes the risk of understanding the critiques of his puritan opponents and opening up the laws and himself to be examined, lest they fail the test. “for better examination of [the laws’] quality it behoveth the very foundation and root, the highest well-spring and fountain of them to be discovered.” [2]

The Laws model what +Rowan Williams is rather well known for, then: Any kind of political engagement that would seek genuinely to aim at the well being of all a nation’s neighbors must be one that is open to dialogue and challenge. This is manifestly not simply a liberal toleration and public contestation of competing will and claims; Hooker’s very stark non-liberalism comes out at many key junctures (like, for instance, Bk. V); it is, rather, an engagement that takes ones sparring partners seriously and the good of all seriously. At the same time, easy answers and cheap shots will not yield genuinely fruitful results. “there will come a time when three words uttered with charity shall receive a far more blessed reward than three thousand volumes written with disdainful sharpness of wit.” For Hooker, in order to accomplish this discussion it will take the hard work of patient and exacting thinking.

“Albeit therefore much of that we are to speak in this present cause may seem to a number perhaps tedious, perhaps obscure, dark, and intricate; (for many talk of the truth which never sounded the depth from whence it springeth; and therefore when they are led thereunto they are soon weary, as men drawn from those beaten paths wherewith they have been inured;) yet this may not so far prevail as to cut off that which the matter itself requireth, howsoever the nice humour of some be therewith pleased or no.”[2]

I think Hooker would be sympathetic to Milbank here:

“If, like an enthusiastic undergraduate, I had trotted out phrases such as “we need a new theology on the side of victims,” I would no doubt have been commended for making a “contribution” to the fate of the poor, the environment, etc.. But eschewing such rhetorical regurgitation, I was seeking indirectly to tackle our seeming inability to discover any theoretical or practical grounds for opposing the new global sway of neocapitalism, which is the source of the hunger of the poor, the poisoning of nature, obliteration of sexual difference and equality, the lapse of beauty, the loss of historical memory, and so forth.- “On Theological Transgression,” p171 in The Future of Love

Likewise Hooker doesn’t use Puritan rhetoric about “the Bible” or about “obedience,” nor does he trot out pious language simply to add strength to an otherwise weak argument, because such rhetoric is empty if it doesn’t actually point to concrete ways of enacting laws that make for the good of a citizenship.

Announcement of a New Side Project

Tony Sig

“Nothing that can claim to be truly of the Church need shrink from the sober light of “scholasticism.” … Fear of Scholasticism is the mark of a false prophet”  Karl Barth  I. 1 § 1-7 (pg. 274)

One of the first things you hear as you become an Anglican is that “Anglicanism doesn’t have a confession like Lutheranism or Calvinism, neither does it have a Pope, but we do have a prayer book.” (I think this attitude tends to look past the history and place of the Creeds and Articles of Religion but whatev) True as that is in certain respects one is also quickly told that Richard Hooker is a capstone of Anglican theology.

This being, then, the case, it seems obligatory for any of us who would be fashioned a theologian to pass through the fires of “our” Scholastic par excellence. Appropriately famous for sermons such as ‘A Learned Discourse of Justification‘ and ‘Of the Certainty and Perpetuity of Faith in the Elect,’ it is for his Of The Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity that he is most highly honored. The fact that historically it is in irregular dogmatics that Anglicans have excelled, not to mention the length and depth of this work, and also because Hooker is often assumed to be merely a lesser son of greater sires, means that he receives praise but the Laws go largely unread, or at least do not continue to wield sustained influence.

But Anglican theology is experiencing a renaissance and thanks to Barth, as well as the continental turn to religion, dogmatics has been loosed from the trap of 18th and 19th century apologetics. It’s hip and cool to bring older authors into conversation with newer ones. It’s a perfect time, then, to look to the learned and judicious divine.

And so a friend of mine, Robb Beck, and I, are setting about the task of blogging through some Richard Hooker. We’ve set up a new site here.  We will be starting to post sometime soon after Easter. Our plan is to blog initially only books I and V but are open to doing more should we actually succeed in the initial task. The pace is purposely slow: The primary reason being that we already are quite busy and don’t want to overcommit, but the second is that we hope this more relaxed pace will give readers an chance to read and discuss alongside. I plan to use this as an opportunity to challenge myself to think harder and more clearly and I hope that at least a few of you will join me there. Theophiliacs will continue to be where I blog more diverse subjects.