"The Preachers chiefly shall take heed that they teach nothing in their preaching, which they would have the people religiously to observe and believe, but that which is agreeable to the Doctrine of the Old Testament and the New, and that which the Catholick Fathers and Ancient Bishops have gathered out of that Doctrine." A proposed canon of Elizabeth I, 1571

My Photo
Location: Bedford, Texas, United States

I am a presbyter in the diocese of Fort Worth, Texas (Anglican Church in North America). I serve as Chaplain at St. Vincent's School and as a canon of St. Vincent's Cathedral Church in Bedford, Texas. In addition to my parish duties and teaching Religion classes in the school I am also the Middle School Social Studies teacher.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Wicca and Paganism Growing

Zenit has an interesting report on the growing influence of Wicca in Europe and America. If Ms. Sanders' conclusions are correct, the Church is largely to blame for this growth. We are failing to take the Good News to teens and young adults effectively, especially when it comes to young women. Anglo-Catholics will note with particular interest her conclusion that "Modern church culture ... has reduced the importance of religious rituals and solemn celebrations, leading people to look for alternatives that offer more tangible supernatural experiences." The report makes for sobering reading. It notes, for example:

The practice of witchcraft is attracting ever-growing numbers, particularly among young women. A recent attempt to understand its appeal is the book "Wicca's Charm," published in September by Shaw Books. Authored by journalist Catherine Edwards Sanders, the book stemmed from a magazine article she was commissioned to do. Initially dismissive of Wicca, during her subsequent research Sanders came to appreciate that a genuine spiritual hunger was leading people into neo-pagan practices.

Sanders, a self-professed Christian, defines Wicca as a "polytheistic neo-pagan nature religion inspired by various pre-Christian Western European beliefs, which has as its central deity the Mother Goddess and which includes the use of herbal magic." The book, which is limited to examining the situation in the United States, admits it is difficult to estimate the number of Wicca adherents. Sanders cites an estimate from one group, the Covenant of the Goddess, which claims around 800,000 Wiccans and pagans in America. A sociologist, Helen Berger, in 1999 put the estimate at 150,000 to 200,000 pagans.

Wicca is made up of many diverse elements, yet Sanders identifies some common beliefs among its followers. They are: All living things are of equal value and humans have no special place, and are not made in God's image; Wiccans believe that they possess divine power within themselves and that they are gods or goddesses; their own personal power is unlimited by any deity; and consciousness can and should be altered through the practice of rite and ritual. What is important to Wiccans, Sanders explains, is the experience of a spiritual reality, and not truth or a body of knowledge. There is no orthodoxy, defined text, or core beliefs. And, while it has ancient roots, Sanders notes it is attractive to modernity since it can be freely molded to fit the spiritual consumer's desires.

Spell-making is another key element of Wicca. But Sanders notes that of all the Wiccans she spoke to, none entered it in order to use spells to harm people. Most choose Wicca because they are dissatisfied with churches and organized religion and are looking for a spiritual experience they are unable to find elsewhere.


Another common trait in Wicca is environmentalism. Modern life has lost its connection to the land, Sanders argues, and Wicca, with its emphasis on nature, seasonal calendars, and the celebrations linked to the changing of the seasons, is both a way to recover this connection and also to spiritualize the relationship with the earth. Many Wiccans also reject the materialistic (but not spiritual) consumer culture. Pagan and Wiccan groups, in fact, have been present at some of the anti-globalization protests in recent years. Sanders describes some the ceremonies she witnessed in 2002 during the World Economic Forum meeting in New York. They drew attention to such matters as environmental damage, animal welfare and preserving the purity of the water supply.

The ecological aspect of Wicca draws inspiration in part from the so-called Gaia spirituality. Gaia was the earth goddess of the ancient Greeks and in neo-pagan circles she is now transformed into the idea of the earth being one living organism, also called Gaia.

Feminism is another important element attracting people to Wicca. Sanders observes that Wiccan women feel as if Christian churches treat them like second-class citizens, limited to teaching Sunday school. Sanders estimates that around two-thirds of neo-pagans in the United States are female. Many of them practice a form of goddess worship, commonly in the form of a mother goddess who is a metaphor for the earth. The Wiccan rituals also emphasize the concept of empowerment, and the female biological functions are accorded a respected role. Added to this is the belief that what today's goddess worshippers are doing is reclaiming the heritage of a primitive world in which a peaceful matriarchal society dominated. This "matriarchal myth" is short on any historical evidence, notes Sanders, but is nonetheless an affirmation that is commonly repeated.

In fact, Sanders devotes a section of the book explaining how the Wiccan rituals and spells have no roots prior to 1900, and are the result of inventions and adaptations by a group of men, notably Aleister Crowley and Gerald Gardner. Far from being a revival of some ancient paganism or matriarchal society, Wicca is a modern, male invention.

Spiritual hunger

The desire to experience spirituality in a more direct and intense way is another factor attracting people to Wicca. Some teen-age girls, Sanders notes, are unsatisfied with the superficial teen culture and are looking for something to give a deeper meaning to their lives. But, instead of turning to traditional religion to satisfy this need, an increasing number experiment with Wicca. Sanders argues that in part this is the fault of some churches, which have lost sight of the unseen world and the reality of a relationship with Christ and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, reducing their activities to just a social exercise.

Other churches provide little in the way of serious nourishment for inquiring teen-age minds, particularly females ones. Another factor leading adolescents to Wicca instead of Christianity is a desire for rituals and ceremonies. Modern church culture, observes Sanders, has reduced the importance of religious rituals and solemn celebrations, leading people to look for alternatives that offer more tangible supernatural experiences.

Monday, November 21, 2005

My First Meeting with the COM

Well, the next stage of my discernment process toward possible ordination is underway. I had my first meeting with the diocesan Commission on Ministry this morning. It was a cordial session on the whole, lasting only 25 minutes. I think it went reasonably well. Today's meeting was the first of three plenary sessions I will have to attend in the next few months before I find out my fate. Next I have to arrange individual interviews with four of the Commission's members, which will mean (among other locations) a trip to Wichita Falls in the next two or three weeks. On the whole, it was an encouraging start.

The photo was taken this morning at the diocesan offices of the diocese of Fort Worth (and that's me on the steps wearing the last of my lawyerly attire!).

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Canon Heidt on the Mystical Body of Christ

The Rev. Dr John Heidt, canon theologian of the diocese of Fort Worth, has just published a reflection on ecclesiology on his blog, Transfiguration. After dismissing the nineteenth century "Branch Theory" of the Church, he moves to a discussion of the Church as Christ's mystical Body. He concludes with a discussion of what this alternative understanding of the universal Church might mean in our present Anglican circumstances (with an emphasis on its ecumenical implications). I confess that I am not sure I understand exactly what Canon Heidt is arguing for, and I fear this vision of the Church has some troubling implications. I can imagine, for example, Fr. Heidt's argument being used to endorse an atomized church order with no higher level of organization than thousands of "free lance" apostolic bishops with oversight over whomever choses to recognize their authority--clearly geography is no longer a decisive factor in determining who has oversight over whom. Still, I do find Fr Heidt's suggestion interesting. It could prove useful in imagining what any future Anglican province in North America might look like, with bishops overseeing congregations based on affinity rather than geography (e.g., evangelicals paired with like-minded bishops, Anglo-Catholics likewise). I encourage you to read his entire essay here, but I pass along this highlight to whet your appetite:

I am not suggesting that adherence to scripture, valid sacraments, or the apostolic succession are only additional options for those who like that sort of thing. Without them there would be no church. But we need not worry. Look all around you. There are still people proclaiming the whole gospel of Christ, still gathering to pray and worship one Lord, still sacrificing priests offering the Holy Sacrifice, still apostolic bishops. We cannot get rid of any of them even if we tried, but we need no longer limit their activity to any particular denomination nor even to any particular place or time. As members of an apostolic college, most of whose members are already in the church triumphant or expectant, local bishops and their priests have the pastoral care of all who accept their ministry in whatever denomination or geographical area they happen to find themselves - diocesan boundaries not withstanding. In our world of international corporations, geography has become history.

Does the church need evangelists and healers? Yes, and it has them. Does the church need all seven sacraments and apostolic bishops? Yes, and it has them as well. And yes, the church of course needs scripture and the apostolic tradition. And it also has them. But will anyone go to Hell just because he or she doesn’t have them. No, of course not. When baptized folk gather together to study the bible that is good. When they gather together for prayer and praise, not leaving the bible behind, that is better. When they celebrate the Holy Eucharist that is good. When they celebrate the Holy Eucharist ministered by priests in apostolic succession that is better still. When they stand to proclaim the creeds then too they are acting as the visible Body of Christ on earth, and, when they believe in their hearts what they proclaim, this Body of Christ becomes visible to the world.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Bishop Iker's Sermon--Diocesan Convention Eucharist

"Leadership cannot be based on popularity polls – nor can the truth, nor can the discernment of the will of God. The ways of the world are not the ways of the Kingdom of God. The Church must resist the temptation to compromise the Truth in order to attract more members or to be more acceptable to contemporary society. As Dean Inge of St. Paul’s Cathedral in London once said: "He who marries the spirit of the age will find himself a widower in the next."

All of this is especially difficult for Americans, who want to be on the cutting edge of things and tend to see everything in democratic terms. "The majority voted for it and that settles it." And this view creeps into the religious realm as well. But the Church is not a democracy; it is a Kingdom. God is not elected, and He is not swayed by opinion polls. The Ten Commandments are not up for a vote or subject to revision. Divine revelation, the authority of the Scriptures, and the historic doctrines of the Church are not a matter of opinion polls or even convention votes. Sometimes the truth may be very unpopular, indeed. As Isaiah the prophet reminds us: "My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor your ways my ways, says the Lord." (Isaiah 55:8)"

The entire address may be found here.

Hollywood and Christianity

I commend for your reading pleasure an interview with Barbara Nicolosi, a Christian screenwriter, in Godspy on-line magazine. The companion piece "Why do heathens make the best Christian films?" is also worthy of consideration. Here is one highlight from Nicolosi on contemporary American Christianity's poor aesthetic sensibility :

That's ironic, isn't it, when you consider much beauty in art, music, and architecture Christianity has inspired over two thousand years?

Yeah. Just imagine some horrible, untalented Renaissance artist going around Rome painting angels all over the place. They would've considered it just bad graffiti. Now-a- days, we would let the guy paint on our cathedrals and drone a communal Gather Us In to celebrate the desecration! When I visited the new Cathedral here in Los Angeles, I was struck by the lack of aesthetic quality evident in the sculpture of the Blessed Virgin that looms over the entrance. The artist apparently wanted it to reflect "all people" so it has the racial characteristics of several races, plus a man's arms on a woman's body. I pointed out to the tour guide who explained all this, "Yes, but it is really very ugly." She sniffed at me in disdain, "We aren't about that kind of thing in the Church any more." Oh really. Somebody, quick call the Vatican to lock up the Pieta. We have lost the value and understanding of aesthetics in the Church.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Campaign for the High School

Last weekend the parish of St. Vincent's Cathedral Church officially launched its capital campaign to assist our school with its efforts to complete the Upper School building this year. We will be adding a ninth grade next year, part of our plan to offer a complete pre-kindergarten to 12th grade education at SVCS by 2010. The parish and school have made the responsible decision not to take on any further debt in order to finish the high school facility. When money is raised, we will build. The image above is the second floor of the Upper School building, where the high school grades will be taught (Middle School is taught on the ground floor of the building and its facility is complete--and very nice). The high school level is essentially an empty shell right now, though the plumbing is already in place. In the photo Dean Ryan Reed is greeting the guests at a wine-and-cheese open house on the second floor. Enthusiasm for the future at St. Vincent's Cathedral School is high!

Pittsburgh Meeting News

From CBS News' website, an AP report:

An international panel of Anglican archbishops called upon a gathering of their conservative American counterparts Friday to split from the rest of the U.S. Episcopal Church."Yes, we will stand with you as long as you remain faithful, biblical, evangelical and orthodox," said Bishop Datuk Yong Ping Chung, who represents South East Asia.

The seven archbishops from Africa, the West Indies, and Asia spoke at the Hope and a Future Conference organized by the Anglican Communion Network.The network is headed by Pittsburgh's Episcopal Bishop Robert W. Duncan. He helped form the group in 2003 after the Episcopal Church in the United States consecrated an openly gay priest, Gene Robinson, as bishop of New Hampshire and gave tacit approval to blessing services for same-sex couples.

Nigerian Archbishop Peter Akinola said bishops from Duncan's group and others attending the conference must be clear about their allegiance."Many of you have one leg in ECUSA and one leg in the network. You must let us know exactly where you stand: are you ECUSA or are you network?" Akinola said, prompting a loud standing ovation.

Read the entire story here.

As an aside, I note that Rome Report has begun an "immature, but fun" campaign to have as many links to the Presiding Heresiarch Frank Griswold's page on ECUSA's website posted to as many blogs as possible. This is my contribution to their "retirement gift" to +Griswold.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

+VGR and "Pope Ratzinger"

The Rt. Rev. Vicky Gene Robinson, ECUSA bishop of New Hampshire, recently made a speech at London's Church of St. Martin-in-the-Fields, where he was highly critical of the Roman Catholic Church (referring to Pope Benedict XVI as "Pope Ratzinger"). According to the BBC report:

Bishop Robinson said: "We are seeing so many Roman Catholics joining the church. Pope Ratzinger may be the best thing that ever happened to the Episcopal Church."
He continued: "I find it so vile that they think they are going to end the child abuse scandal by throwing out homosexuals from seminaries. It is an act of violence that needs to be confronted." His speech at St-Martin-in-the-Fields, in Trafalgar Square, was part of the 10th anniversary of the gay rights group Changing Attitude.

Bishop Chartres of London did not permit Bishop Robinson to function sacramentally at the church or to preach. Instead, Robinson spoke after the service from the chancel rather than the pulpit.

Its Happening More Frequently

From the AP in Cleveland:

Four northeast Ohio congregations upset over the consecration of an openly gay bishop have split from Episcopal Church USA and have affiliated with a diocese in South America. St. Luke's in Fairlawn, Holy Spirit in Akron, St. Barnabas in Bay Village and St. Anne's in the Fields of Madison voted Sunday to break with the Episcopal Church USA and affiliate with the Diocese of Bolivia led by Bishop Frank Lyon.

The church has been rocked for consecrating Bishop V. Gene Robinson. In 2003 the Episcopal General Convention confirmed his election as bishop of New Hampshire.

John Niehaus, a Cleveland attorney who represents the congregations, said the vote means the parishes are no longer part of the Diocese of Ohio based in Cleveland or the national church. On Monday, clergy leaders of the churches met with diocese Bishop Mark Hollingsworth Jr. Niehaus said there was no specific discussion about church property and assets. Hollingsworth said in a letter sent to people of the diocese that he was committed "to working collaboratively with these congregations toward a faithful and just resolution."

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Sermon for All Saints' Sunday, Nov. 6th

The little Greek island of Patmos is not very impressive compared with the more famous tourist destinations of the Greek isles. Patmos features a pleasant little town of about 2000 souls, a medieval monastery on top of its only mountain, and—perched above a steep cliff—an Orthodox Christian seminary with a few dozen students. And yet many thousands of people make their way to Patmos by boat every year. It is not scenic beauty that draws them. It is sacred mystery. You see, behind that seminary on the cliff is a set of very steep steps that leads you to a remarkable cave. Ancient Church tradition tells us that it was in that extraordinary little cave that the Revelation to St. John occurred: “the revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show his servants what must soon take place, and he made it known by sending his angel to his servant John, who bore witness to the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ, even to all that he saw.”

The elderly St. John settled in that cave during his lonely exile near the end of the first century A.D., and it was there that he was overcome by the Holy Spirit on the Lord’s Day. He saw astonishing things in a series of visions: curious signs and fantastical symbols, confusing things--and yes—sometimes horrifying things. But St. John also received visions too beautiful and too glorious for the human mind to grasp: the awesome throne of the Living God, the victorious Lamb of our redemption, the worship of the angels, a sea of glass and streets of gold, a place where tears will never be known again, where the glory of God provides the light and the river of life flows bright as crystal. And John looked and saw “a great multitude, which no man could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes with palm branches in their hands, crying out in a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits upon the throne, and to the Lamb!”

These white-robed myriads are, of course, the Church triumphant—the saints who have gone before us into glory, who even now bow down in worship in the presence of the living God. “There are some of them who have left a name, so that men declare their praise,” in the words of Ecclesiasticus: Peter and Paul, Laurence and Vincent, Augustine of Hippo and Catherine of Siena, Francis of Assisi and Julian of Norwich—apostles and martyrs, theologians and mystics whose names will resound in memory until our Lord Jesus returns in glory. But there are others gathered in worship before the throne “who have no memorial, who have perished as though they had not lived.” These, too, were men and women of mercy, “whose righteous deeds have not been forgotten” by their Savior. The distinctions of this world mean nothing to them now, bathed as they are in God’s radiant love. They “have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” Their shepherd is the Lamb who lives even though He was slain. He guides them to springs of living water. God has washed the tears from their eyes, and they now see clearly who He truly is and who they truly are—the beloved elect of God, sealed upon their foreheads with His mark of ownership, conformed to the image of Christ by His never-failing love. They are the blessed who are comforted, the blessed who have obtained mercy, the blessed who see God.

The vision of the saints departed we discover in the Revelation to St. John is indeed glorious. And yet as we go about our daily lives the New Jerusalem can seem a very distant place. We don’t have much time to reflect on the praise choruses of Heaven while we are studying for exams, buying groceries, fixing a flat tire, or tending a sick child. And if you are grieving at the graveside of a loved one, it can seem as if an unfathomable chasm stands between Heaven and this fallen world we inhabit. And yet it is at times like these that we should turn to St. John’s visions more than ever. For they remind us that the supposed barrier between the Church militant in this world and the Church triumphant in Heaven is in fact tissue-paper thin.

In the Revelation to John the saints in glory cry out against the wrongs inflicted by the spiritual forces of darkness upon their brothers and sisters who remain in this world. The same clarity of heavenly vision that allows these saints to see God as He truly is, face to face, allows them to see you and me as we are now. And when they look at us they see family. At this very moment the saints in glory are lifting up holy hands in the throne room of Heaven on our behalf, for we are their loved ones. As St. Paul reminds us in his letter to the Galatians,as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” A unity based in the risen life of Christ cannot be broken by physical death. It would never be allowed to endure separation. You and I, like the greatest of the saints who have gone before us, bear the indelible sign of God's ownership upon our brows, sealed by the Holy Spirit in baptism and marked as Christ's own, destined for an eternal life where we shall know God and enjoy Him forever.

The chasm that sometimes appears to separate Heaven and earth has in fact already been bridged by the wood of Christ’s cross and the nails that pierced His precious flesh. The curtains of sin and death that would block our vision of God have already been ripped asunder, as surely as the veil of the temple was torn in two as our Savior breathed His last on Calvary. The blood and water that flowed from the pierced side of Jesus on Good Friday even now flows into the font of Holy Baptism and the chalice of the Blessed Sacrifice of the Mass. The water in that little stainless steel bowl at the back of the church is in truth a few ounces of the river of life that flows through the New Jerusalem. The consecrated host that soon will rest upon our tongues is in reality a leaf from the tree of life, the food of new and unending life in Christ, given for the healing of the nations. So I ask you, friends, how can there possibly be a barrier between Heaven and earth? This very day, in this sacred place, you and I are already in the midst of heavenly things. And as we lift up our voices in the Sanctus a few minutes from now, angels and archangels and all the company of heaven—all the saints, both famous and unknown—will join their voices with ours to remind us of that fact. “Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of Host, Heaven and earth are full of thy glory. Hosanna in the highest!”

Now eight young people are about to join the ranks of those whose citizenship is in Heaven. They or their sponsors will make promises and we shall pray for them. Then Father Moore will pour blessed water on their heads in the name of the Holy Trinity and anoint them with a cross of consecrated oil. And they will be changed forever, their names written in the Lamb’s book of life. They will become new creations, adopted brothers and sisters of the King of the Universe, servants of the living God. They will share in Christ’s own life. For these children this is the day the Universe changes, transformed from a place of darkness and death to one of Light and Life. And there is joy in Heaven at this news.

Parents and sponsors, I charge you today: as you help these young people grow in the knowledge and love of God and the fellowship of Christ’s Church, never let them forget to whom they belong. They were bought with the price of Christ’s own blood. They are children of the promise, and they are of incalculable worth. Katie, you are old enough to remember these words yourself, but I hope that others will frequently remind you of them: "You are sealed by the Holy Spirit in baptism and marked as Christ’s own forever."

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Pittsburgh Resolutions of November 4th

The diocese of Pittsburgh has passed an interesting resolution at its diocesan convention. The most significant portion indicates:

"should the 76th General Convention determine to continue its 'walk apart' from the Anglican Communion – by its failure to accept unreservedly the Windsor Report and its corollary documents or to commit to a church life consonant with them – the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh will stand with all Anglican Churches, Dioceses and Provinces that hold and maintain the ‘Historic Faith, Doctrine, Sacrament and Discipline of the one Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church’ whatever the costs or actions required to do so"

The vote was by orders. For the clergy order, 85 voted in favor, 12 against, and nine abstained. For the lay order, 118 voted in favor, 45 against, and six abstained. Hat tip to TitusOneNine.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

St. Vincent's School Student Honored

There is a story about one of my talented middle school students in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram today:

Colleyville's mayor Tuesday wore a pleated skirt, white knee socks and braces. But don't call her a kid. After all, she is 13.

Kathryn Cotton -- an eighth-grader at St. Vincent's Cathedral School in Bedford -- won the city's essay contest and was named mayor for an entire day.

Read the entire story here.

View My Stats