A collect for our times

On Sunday morning in Episcopal Churches around the world, celebrants, on behalf of their congregations, will ask God “the author and giver of all good things” to, of all things, “increase in us true religion.”


Religion is a rather unpopular word these days.  According to the good folks at Pew Research, “The phrase “spiritual but not religious” [SBNR] has become widely used in recent years by some Americans who are trying to describe their religious identity. While Pew Research Center does not categorize survey respondents in such a way, our surveys do find that the U.S. public overall appears to be growing a bit less religious – but also somewhat more spiritual.”  If this really is the case, then why would we pray such an outdated prayer?

Marion Hatchett tells us that this Collect is first found in the Gelasian sacramentary from roughly 750.  During the English Reformation, it took on new life when Thomas Cranmer edited it to ask God not merely for an increase in religion, but an increase in true religion (Commentary, 191). This made all sorts of sense in the 1540s and 50s as the English Continent was at war because of the perceived flaws in the religious practices of the Bishop of Rome as opposed to the true religion of the Reformers.  As years went by, however, the tendency to associate religion with action waned, and as Diana Butler Bass notes in her Christianity After Religion, by the 17th century, religion was more about a system of ideas and beliefs about God, such that by “modern times, religion became indistinguishable from systematizing ideas about God, religious institutions, and human beings; it categorized, organized, objectified, and divided people into exclusive worlds of right versus wrong, true versus false, “us” versus “them” (97).  If this really is the case, then why would we pray such an outdated prayer?

Continuing with Butler Bass, I would like to suggest that this prayer is, in fact, not outdated, but rather a perfect collect for our times as we redefine what it means to be religious away from a  system of beliefs, but a way of living one’s life in devotion to God.  Drawing on the work of Wilfred Cantwell Smith in his 1962 Book The Meaning and End of Relgion, Butler Bass suggests that in contrast to the modern understanding of religion, the Latin root, religio, actually refers to “faith – living, subjective experience including love, veneration, devotion, awe, worship, transcendence, trust, a way of life, an attitude toward the divine or nature, or… a particular way of seeing and feeling the world.”  If, on Sunday morning, we are praying not for our particular set of ideas to be better than the ideas of the Baptists or the Lutherans, but instead for an increase in awe, worship, and trust in God who calls us to a particular way of seeing and feeling the world, then sign me up.  In fact, I’d bet we could get a lot of SBNRs to join us in that prayer.  It is, I would argue, the perfect collect for our times.


DMin Thesis Proposal

Today I officially became a Candidate for the Doctor of Ministry Degree at the School of Theology at The University of the South.  For the two people who might be interested in my full thesis topic, I’m posting the proposal here.

“William Reed Huntington Meets Brian McLaren and The Episcopal Moment”

            In 1870, The Rev. Dr. William Reed Huntington published a series of essays explicated his vision for the unity of the Church in America entitled The Church-Idea.  That text began with these words, “Dissatisfaction is the one word that best expresses the state of mind in which Christendom finds itself to-day.  There is a wide-spread misgiving that we are on the eve of a momentous change.”[1]  It does not require a great deal of understanding about the state of the Church in 2014 to realize that Father Huntington’s word continue to echo loudly through the decaying buildings of American Christianity.  Huntington saw the possibility of momentous change as an opportunity and spent his life and ministry attempting the change the future of Protestantism in American.  Nearly 140 years later, non-denominational pastor, leading voice of the Great Emergence, theologian, and author, Brian McLaren, stood before the 76th General Convention and declared the opening of The Episcopal Moment saying, “I believe this moment of Episcopal crisis is also a moment of Episcopal opportunity.”[2]  The argument of this thesis is that both William Reed Huntington and Brian McLaren are correct in their assertions that The Episcopal Church is uniquely poised to meet the religious and spiritual needs of a changing world.

My essay will be approximately one hundred pages, fulfilling the requirements for a six credit hour project.  It will begin with two chapters laying out the religious climates in which Huntington and McLaren find themselves.  The chapter on Huntington’s era will be based on his writings, General Convention Reports, and a few other historical resources.  Scholarship on the current era is prolific, however, I plan to focus my attention on the works of McLaren and his contemporaries: Diana Butler Bass, Phyllis Tickle, Karen Ward, and because McLaren first posited the idea of the Episcopal Moment while in England, the home of Fresh Expressions, some attention will be given to the work of Bishop Graham Cray.  Having established the similarities and differences between the American Church post-Civil War and post-modernity, I will turn my attention to what each of these men had to say about the future of the Church.  The third chapter will focus on Huntington’s Church-Idea and his subsequent work to bring forth a pan-Protestant American Catholic Church under the umbrella of what would become The Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral, including a brief look at Huntington’s work to revise the 1789 Book of Common Prayer.  Chapter four will focus on McLaren’s speeches beginning with his presentation to the Lambeth Conference in 2008, through his General Convention sermon in 2009 and the subsequent tour of Diocesan Convention and Commencement addresses, culminating, hopefully, with a one-on-one interview of his current thoughts on the matter.  The final chapter would then be a proposal of the way forward, utilizing the work of both great thinkers to suggest a way in which The Episcopal Church might seize this Episcopal Moment with the aid of Huntington’s Church-Idea and become a Church for the 21st century.

There are, of course, many preconceived notions within my thesis, as there are within the theses of Huntington and McLaren.  There will not be the time in the essay to engage in a full sociological study of religion’s place within the larger cultural shifts of our time, although some review of the basics will certainly be in order.  Additionally, the basic premise of the essay is that it is addressed to a church willing to change.  This is a very large assumption, and I fully understand that; however having been one of the eight hundred plus deputies who voted with unanimity on Resolution C095[3], Structural Reform, at the 77th General Convention, I firmly believe that the Spirit is at work in The Episcopal Church, calling us forward to preach the Good News in the 21st century.  One final limiting factor will be the availability of documents pertaining to McLaren’s Episcopal Moment idea.  Several Diocesan Journals are lacking the text of his presentations as is his personal website; however it is my intention to spend at least four weeks in the Northern Virginia area in the summer of 2015, with the hope of meeting Mr. McLaren face-to-face at some point.

My primary areas of interest during my doctoral studies at The School of Theology have been Church History and Liturgics.  I stumbled upon this topic of study during the summer of 2012 when The Rev. Dr. Mark Chapman gave two lectures entitled, “American Catholicity and the National Church.”  As I listened to Dr. Chapman’s presentation of the passionate work of Dr. Huntington, I realized that I had heard similar ideas in a class at Virginia Seminary in 2005 taught by Dr. Diana Butler Bass.  As I have studied the past, it has become clear that it offers innumerable insights into the future.  I hope to build on my understanding of the history and liturgical flexibility of The Episcopal Church to suggest that the future for The Episcopal Church and Mainline Christianity in general is much less dire than some would suggest.  It is my sincere belief that if the leadership of The Episcopal Church, most notably the General Convention, specifically the House of Bishops, takes heed of the advice of Huntington and McLaren, we can capture The Episcopal Moment.  I offer this paper to the wider church in the hopes of producing new wine to pour into the new wineskins of the 21st century.


Tentative Bibliography

The Book Annexed to the Report of the Joint Committee of the Book of Common Prayer. New York: E. & J.B. Young & Co., 1885.

Butler Bass, Diana. Christianity after Religion: The End of Church and the Birth of a New Spiritual Awakening. Kindle Edition, New York: HarperColins, 2012.

Chapman, Mark. “American Catholicity and the National Church.” Lectures to The School of Theology at The University of the South. Sewanee Theological Review Easter 2013 Volume 56:2. P. 111-148.

Cooke, Mary Huntington. A Few Memories of William Reed Huntington. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Riverside Press, 1910.

Cray, Graham. mission-shaped church. London: Church House Publishing, 2004

Cray, Graham and Ian Mobsby, eds. Fresh Expressions and the Kingdom of God. London: Press Norwich, 2012.

Croft, Steven and Ian Mobsby, eds. Ancient Faith, Future Mission: Fresh Expressions in the Sacramental Tradition. Norwich, England: Canterbury Press, 2009.

“Emerging church leader Brian McLaren on Lambeth, mission and reconciliation.” An interview with Christian Today on July 26, 2008. (http://www.christiantoday.com/article/emerging.church.leader.brian.mclaren.on.lambeth.mission.and.reconciliation/20926.htm) accessed February 11, 2014.

House of Deputies Committee on the State of the Church. “Report of the State of the Church.” The Report to the 76th General Convention. 2009.

House of Deputies Committee on the State of the Church. “Report of the State of the Church.” The Report to the 77th General Convention. 2012.

Huntington, William Reed. “American Catholicity.” Sermon, Trinity Church, Boston, MA, May 16, 1865. Transcribed by Wayne Kempton, Archivist and Historiographer of the Dicoese of New York.  Accessed August 15, 2013. http://anglicanhistory.org/usa/wrh/american_catholicity1865.html.

Huntington, William Reed. A National Church. New York: Scribner’s, 1898.

Huntington, William Reed. A Short History of the Book of Common Prayer; Together with Certain Papers Illustrative of Liturgical Revision. New York: Thomas Whittaker, 1893.

Huntington, William Reed. The Book Annexed: Its Critics and Its Prospects. New York, 1886.

Huntington, William Reed. The Church Idea: essays toward unity. New York: EP Dutton and Company, 1870.

Huntington, William Reed. The Four Theories of Visible Church Unity: An Address delivered at The Boston Session of the Church Congress, Friday, May 14, 1909. Transcribed by Wayne Kempton, Archivist and Historiographer of the Diocese of New York, 2010.

Huntington, William Reed. The Peace of the Church. New York: Scribner’s, 1891.

Huntington, William Reed. The Permanent and the Variable Characteristics of the Prayer Book. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: Henry B. Ashmead, 1878.

Huntington, William Reed. Popular Misconceptions of the Episcopal Church. New York: Thomas Whittaker, 1891.

Huntington, William Reed. The Swift Ships. New York: A.G. Sherwood, 1901.

Huntington, William Reed. The Talisman of Unity. Thomas New York: Thomas Whittaker, 1899.

Huntington, William Reed. The Theocratic Republic: a sermon preached before the Twenty-Fifth National Conference of Charities and Correction in Grace Church, New York, Sunday, May 22, 1898.

Huntington, William Reed. Watch Words: “Brave Words and True”. New York: Knickerbokcer Press, 1909.

Huntington, William Reed. Whole Church: a Plea for the Four Temperments. New York: James Pott & Co., 1895.

The Journals of the General Convention 1870-1909.

McLaren, Brian. “Address to the 187th Commencement of the Protestant Episcopal Seminary in Virginia.” Sermon, Virginia Theological Seminary, Alexandria, VA, May 21, 2010.  Accessed June 21, 2013. http://www.brianmclaren.net/archives/blog/commencement-address.html.

McLaren, Brian. “Address to the Diocese of Washington.” Sermon, The Cathedral Church of Saint Peter and Saint Paul, Washington, DC, January 31, 2009.  Talty, Ann V., ed., Journal of the One Hundred Fourteenth Annual Meeting of the Convention of the Diocese of Washington (2009): 164-168.

McLaren, Brian D. A Generous Or+hodoxy: Why I am a missional, evangelical, post/Protestant, liberal/conservative, mystic/poetic, biblical, charismatic/contemplative, Fundamentalist/Calvinist, Anabaptist/Anglican, Methodist, Catholic, Green, incarnational, depressed-yet-hopeful, emergent, unfinished Christian. El Cajon, California: Emergent YS, 2004.

McLaren, Brian D. Finding our Way Again: the Return of the Ancient Practices. Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson, 2008.

McLaren, Brian. “Changing Contexts: Breaking Open Our Models for Evangelism.” Lecture Notes and PowerPoint Slides, The 2008 Lambeth Conference, London, England, July 22, 2008.  Accessed August 14, 2013. http://brianmclaren.net/archives/resources/downloads/lambeth.html.

McLaren, Brian. “Foreword” to “Seizing the Episcopal Moment: A Manifesto of Hope for the Episcopal Church.” Karen Ward on Anglimergent (May 10, 2009 blog). Accessed August 14, 2013. http://anglimergent.ning.com/profiles/blogs/seize-the-episcopal-moment-an.

McLaren, Brian. “We Live in a Strange Time in Relation to the E-Word.” Sermon, The 76th General Convention, Anaheim, CA, July 16, 2009. Accessed August 14, 2013. http://www.brianmclaren.net/archives/blog/home-from-laanaheim-texts-of-tal.html.

Memories of William Reed Huntington, Doctor of Divinity. Hartford, Connecticut: Church Mission Publishers, 1929.

Northup, Lesley Armstrong. The “1892 Revision” of the Book of Common Prayer of the Episcopal Church. Ph. D. Dissertation at Catholic Univeval, 1991.

Pagitt, Doug and Tony Jones, eds. An Emergent Manifesto of Hope. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books, 2008.

Prichard, Robert. A History of the Episcopal Church, Revised Edition. Harrisburg, PA: Morehouse Publishing, 1999.

Sydnor, William. The Prayer Book Through the Ages: A Revised Edition of the Story of the Real Prayer Book. Harrisburg, Pennsylvania: Morehouse Publishing, 1978.

Schell, Donald and Karen Ward. “Seizing the Episcopal Moment: A Manifesto of Hope for the Episcopal Church.” Karen Ward on Anglimergent (May 10, 2009 blog). Accessed August 14, 2013. http://anglimergent.ning.com/profiles/blogs/seize-the-episcopal-moment-an.

Suter, John Wallace. Life and Letters of William Reed Huntington. New York: The Century Co., 1925.

Tickle, Phyllis. Emergence Christianity: What it is, Where it is Going and Why it Matters. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books, 2012.

Tickle, Phyllis. The Great Emergence: How Christianity is Changing and Why. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books, 2008.

Woolverton, John Frederick. Willaim Reed Huntington and Church Unity: The Historical and Theological Background of the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral Ph. D. Dissertation at Columbia University, 1963.

[1] Huntington, The Church-Idea, 9.

[2] McLaren, “We Live in a Strange Time.”

[3] The full text of 2012-C095 is available here http://www.generalconvention.org/resolutions/download/269-1342046451 (accessed February 11, 2014).

teaching human precepts as doctrine

My favorite word these days continues to be “adiaphora,”  a Greek word that means, “things indifferent.”  It was a favorite term of the early reformers, and held a big place in one of Anglicanism’s great “-isms”, Latitudinarianism.

For me, there are a lot of “things indifferent” in the Church.  I got a few lashes several weeks ago when I posted this on Facebook.

Sorry Facebook, I think you’ve misunderstood my shtick. I like Jesus, not perpetuating the institution of the Church.

The feedback I got was mostly stuff like, “so Jesus signs your paycheck,” and “these aren’t mutually exclusive.”  I get that, but then I read our Gospel lesson for Sunday whereJesus quotes Isaiah in calling the Pharisees and Scribes to the carpet for exactly what the Church has spent years fighting over.  “This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching human precepts as doctrines.”  Over the course of the last, Oh, two-thousand or so years, the Church has done a lot to makes sure that human precepts became doctrine so that the Church as an institution, represented here as a big fancy steeple, can keep going.  The Great Schism might have been a theological argument over the filioque clause, but it was just as much about the power of competing bishops and the prestige of rival cities in constantly fighting empires.  Every split of the Church thereafter has been the result of adiaphora stuff taking the place of the things that really matter.

This Sunday, when we pray that God might “increase in us true religion,” let’s think about what that really means.  Let’s get away from the adiaphora and get back to basics, back to religio as Diana Butler Bass argues in her most recent book, Christianity after Religion.

“Unlike religion as system of belief, religio meant faith— living, subjective experience including love, veneration, devotion, awe, worship, transcendence, trust, a way of life, an attitude toward the divine or nature, or, as Smith describes, a ‘particular way of seeing and feeling the world.’ Accordingly, ‘the archaic meaning of religio [w]as that awe that men felt in the presence of an uncanny and dreadful power of the unknown…. That religio is something within men’s hearts.’

Bass, Diana Butler (2012-03-13). Christianity After Religion: The End of Church and the Birth of a New Spiritual Awakening (p. 97). Harper Collins, Inc.. Kindle Edition.

Death, Resurrection, Acts 8, and #GC77

I didn’t have a chance to blog yesterday for several reasons, not least of which was that yesterday I handed in the final paper of my first summer as a Doctor of Ministry student at The School of Theology at The University of the South.  The assignment for this paper in Dr. Chapman’s “Types of Anglican Theology” course was to “put the insights of one of the historical figures or movements we have studied into conversation with a contemporary concern.”  If the topic is approved, my DMin thesis will be a study of William Augustus Muhlenberg and William Reed Huntington as an historical starting place for the ongoing conversations around an emerging Christianity for the 21st century (see Brian McLaren, Diana Butler Bass and Tony Jones, among many others).

I decided to write a micro thesis for this paper, taking Huntington’s 1870 book of essays, The Church-Idea, and comparing it to Diana Butler Bass’ most recent book, Christianity after Religion, looking at the theme of death and resurrection, especially as it played out around The 77th General Convention.  What struck me in my study was that even the most faithful Christians fear death.  We hold tightly onto dying bodies for as long as physically possible, instead of embracing the model of our Savior who dead and was raised.

“I tell you for certain that a grain of wheat that falls on the ground will never be more than one grain unless it dies. But if it dies, it will produce lots of wheat. If you love your life, you will lose it. If you give it up in this world, you will be given eternal life.” (John 12:24-25, CEV)

The paper is available for download, here, but if you aren’t into 12 pages of block quotes, I’ll give you the conclusion.

As we have seen, when the Church finds herself in the throes of death, her leaders are often called to find the first principles. In the eighth chapter of Acts, the fleeing disciples preached the word. In 1870, William Reed Huntington sought to create A Quadrilateral. In 2012, Diana Butler Bass wrote of practicing the art of imitating Jesus. At the 77th General Convention, a group of leaders gathered to say, in this moment of perceived death, we will seek resurrection. We will not let fear motivate us, but rather will seek the Spirit. We will not be ashamed of the Gospel, but rather will seek the share the Word of God with a world desperate to be loved.

The eighth chapter of Acts gives us the example of Philip who, in the hostile environment of Samria, under fear of persecution “told the people about he Messiah.i” He performed miracles, cast out demons, and healed the lame. “There was great joy in that city,ii” Luke tells us, and this author hopes that you are convinced that even in our time of great hardship, of fear, of transition, and, in some ways, of death, here too, through the power of the Risen Lord, with humility and elasticity, with practice and a sense of humor, there can once again be great joy in The Episcopal Church. Our hope finds all its meaning in the resurrection and is based “in the certainty that ‘neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.’iii

iActs 8:5 (NRSV)

iiActs 8:8 (NRSV)

iiiThe Book of Common Prayer (1979), p. 507.

When, not if

I missed you, dear reader, while I was at clergy conference yesterday.  It was a pleasure to have as our guest, Dr. Diana Butler Bass, and her presentation was spectacular.  I can’t wait to read her new book, Christianity after Religion when I can get my head above water.  I’m not preaching this week, so I’m not as far behind as I could be this week, but I can still feel the tide rising.  I ask your prayers for the busyness of the coming weeks and months.

As I ponder Diana’s presentation alongside the three books I have to pre-read for my Dmin, the book I’m reading for Draughting Theology on Ice, the regular work that I do in my parish all while trying to balance family (with SBC due in 3 weeks), I’m particularly excited that this Sunday is Good Shepherd Sunday.  I kind of need this Jesus

for the next 4 months.  I think my need to be carried is why I’m so drawn to the Collect for Sunday, especially the middle phrase, “Grant that when we hear his voice we may know him who calls us each by name, and follow where he leads…”  Did you catch that?  When we hear his voice.  Not if, but when.  You will hear the voice of Jesus.  I will hear the voice of Jesus.  We will hear the voice of Jesus.  What an amazing promise!

Sometimes that voice will be the still, small voice of 1 Kings.  Sometimes it will be the burning bush of Exodus.  Sometimes it will be the choir of angels of Luke, and sometimes it will be like Joseph’s dream.  No matter how we hear the voice of God, we will hear it.  I find that comforting as I settle back into the routine today.

Now, to figure out how to know and follow.  Maybe tomorrow.