"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

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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.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

++ Venables is Coming to Fort Worth and will preach at St. Vincent's Cathedral!

To the clergy and 2008 convention delegates:

Archbishop Gregory Venables, Presiding Bishop and Primate of the Anglican Province of the Southern Cone, has accepted an invitation from Bishop Iker to make a pastoral visit to the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth during the first weekend of May. He will be accompanied by his wife, Sylvia.

On Friday, May 2, Archbishop Venables will meet with all the clergy of the Diocese at the Church of the Holy Apostles, and then on Saturday, May 3, he will address a specially-called Convocation of the 2008 convention delegates at St. Vincent’s Cathedral. The purpose of the convocation is to provide information: Archbishop Venables will answer questions from the delegates, but no legislation will be considered. On Sunday, May 4, Archbishop Venables will preach in the morning at the Cathedral, and on Sunday evening at St. Andrew’s Church in downtown Fort Worth. Question-and-answer forums will follow the services at both churches.

Archbishop Venables was born in England and grew up near Canterbury. After he and Sylvia were married in 1970, the two felt called to serve as lay missionaries in Paraguay, where they moved to in 1978, sponsored by the South American Mission Society (SAMS.) According to a biographical sketch in a recent issue of the San Joaquin Star, it was while serving in Paraguay that Archbishop Venables felt called to the ordained ministry, and he was ordained a priest in 1984. He was consecrated to serve as Auxiliary Bishop to Peru and Bolivia in 1993 and elected Presiding Bishop of the Province in 2001. He has also served as the Diocesan Bishop of Argentina since 2002, and he and Sylvia reside in Buenos Aires. They have a son, two daughters and two sons-in-law, all of whom are serving in ministry within South America.

The Diocese of Fort Worth is considering aligning with the Province of the Southern Cone, and this visit will help clarify the practicalities, benefits, and possible drawbacks of such a move.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

"Do you love me?" by M.B. Hwang

The following is a piece written by a dear friend of mine, M.B. Hwang. Ms. Hwang is a graduate student in the Divinity School of the University of Chicago. She and I often discuss how our visions of God's love for the human race and for us as individuals differ. Recently she wrote this beautiful piece about her understanding of those relationships. I post it here in hopes of stimulating thought among my readers, and I thank her for her permission to do so.

"Do you love me?", by M.B. Hwang

Tibi dixit cor meum, quaesivi vultum tuum, vultum tuum Domine requiram: ne avertas faciem tuam a me. Ps. Dominus illuminatio mea, et salus mea: quem timebo? - Introit for the second Sunday in Lent, Psalm 27

I was once counseled by a compassionate middle school teacher to ask God, "do you love me?" I have been asking ever since, and the question surfaced suddenly and repetitively in my mind as I sat in a theology class last week, listening to a lecture on Luther. Do you love me? I cannot say that I have ever gotten a direct answer.

People have come to me as go-betweens and told me that God wants me to know that He loves me. But God will not say the words to my face. The answer I get is not the unambiguous, total, warm conviction that I crave so much. The answer is never on my terms. The answer I get is the Cross. "For God so loved the world," He says, "that He gave his only-begotten Son..."

How loving indeed. But the Cross is also so awfully problematic when one stops to fill in the blanks about what happened to that only-begotten Son, and why.

Recently I had to read a book in one of my classes, Douglas John Hall's The Cross in Our Context. It is a sort of modern reinterpretation and application of Luther's "theology of the cross." I happen to disagree, often vehmently, with most of this book, and I do not like the author's treatment of history. For example, I took issue with his rather negative assessment of Anselm's Cur Deus Homo. But what really fascinates me about this is that without going into the details of Anselm's soteriology, Hall's reaction to it seems emblematic of the trenchant unsettling potential of the Cross. What usually irritates me seems in Hall's book seems at times to make a kind of ironic sense. Is it not telling that even a historically compelling understanding of the Cross, like Anselm's, seems to inevitably cause some of us to wonder whether God sometimes seems unloving in it?

Another of Hall's centerpieces has to do with Luther's concept of the "theology of the cross." Once again, I quibble with Hall's treatment of it. But this also was a powerful reminder. In that other theology class, the professor had lectured on this "theology of the cross." It spoke of those mysterious aspects of God in which He often chooses to express Himself in the most seemingly incompatible, paradoxical, even grossly disturbing ways, so that on the surface, we perceive the very opposite of what God actually is. Surely, the Cross must be the supreme example, although it is so very easy for me to forget that it is. No matter how one looks at it, there is an element of something seemingly hateful here, a sense that could be intentionally inevitable. If God gives His Son, then where is the Father's love for the Son? If the Son offers Himself, then why a sacrifice necessary in the first place? What is this place of unified contradiction, and where am I in all of this? Even if we focus on Christ's overcoming death and sin, or even, as some do, on the example of Christ's life and death - there remains the question of why gloriously perfect love is revealed in a scandal of torturous agony and cruel death.

Add to this those words of Jesus, "take up your cross and follow Me," or statements like one in Galatians, "I have been crucified with Christ," and I feel a kind of terror inside. This is not quite like saying "I love you" by sending flowers or giving a hug. It's more frightening than saying "I love you" by being selfless. This is like saying "I love you" by making me watch an awful train wreck - and then I realize that it was because of me, and that it was for me, and I find myself almost imperceptibly drawn towards it. And if Jesus should ask me, as He asked Peter, "do you love me," I, too, could only answer with a cross. And I want to be horrified and be far, far away. If the Cross is the only answer to "do you love me," it does not always seem to say that "Yes" that the desperate heart is thirsting for.

I believe, as many have, that this apparent reluctance and ambiguity ultimately serves to convey and communicate a "yes, you know that I love you" more substantial than could possibly be conveyed to fallen human beings. But this is possible for me only when I look upon revelation with the eyes of faith. I know many people who know the love of God almost naturally, people who amaze me by the comfort they find in the Cross, people who are possibly innocent of the dread and foreboding that I struggle with. Sometimes I think there must be something horribly wrong me me, that I tremble so much. Yet, if God has not abandoned me to blindness, then I must at least wonder whether it is not God who chooses to reveal this Cross to me in this manner, and if this is true, there must be a vocation in this, somehow.

The Gospel of John suggests that God has always loved His disciples differently. Perhaps some of us are like John, confidently knowing himself as the "beloved disciple," standing with Mary at the foot of the Cross; and some of us like Peter, maybe at least a little envious of the fate of John, but unable to ignore a somewhat stern "follow me" that leads to that same Cross. Our Lord commended Mary to the care of John, and after His Resurrection, enjoined Peter to feed his sheep. Different, but parallel, images? It gives me hope to reflect that it is as if, allegorically, both are being commissioned with the care of the same Church.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Sunday, February 17, 2008

A Sermon for the Second Sunday of Lent

Recently I visited the Kimbell Art Museum’s magnificent travelling exhibition, “Picturing the Bible: The Earliest Christian Art.” It was, for me, an overwhelming experience. I gazed in awe at a two-foot high, gem-studded, golden cross from seventh-century from Constantinople that even now contains a fragment of the True Cross of Christ, a gift from the Byzantine emperor, Justin II, to a bishop of Rome. I marveled at a silver chalice-and-paten once used for celebrations of the Holy Eucharist in fourth-century Britain. There were magnificent early Christian sarcophagi from Rome, featuring some of the earliest known artistic representations of the Passion of our Savior. And some of the finest early Bibles in existence lay open for inspection. My mind boggled, my heart raced, and chills ran up and down my spine.

But for all the glories of this astonishing exhibition, the piece that has captivated my imagination in the days since my visit is a simple marble slab from northern Italy, a fragment of an early Christian tombstone that was carved around 400 A.D. The gleaming white stone features a sketch of a young girl in the garden of Paradise. She stands naked in a tub as a river of living water flows down upon her from a heavenly orb. Within this orb we glimpse the unmistakable form of a descending dove, the Holy Spirit coming down from heaven in the midst of a starry host. To the girl’s right stands the haloed figure of Christ with His hand raised in blessing, while to her left a shepherd—most likely her bishop—lays hands upon her head. And carved around the scene we find a Latin inscription: “For an innocent spirit, whom the Lord elected, who rests in peace, a believer, on the tenth day before the calends of September.” Unfortunately, the girl’s name does not survive on the fragment we possess today. But her family’s confident hope that our young sister now rests in the arms of our Lord still echoes across sixteen centuries. It seemed as if the modern museum fell away from me as I peered at this flat white stone in the Plexiglas case. For a moment I was at a graveside in ancient Italy. I could almost hear their sobs and their prayers as they commended their little one into Christ’s care.

And as I stood before that ancient Christian tombstone the words of our Gospel lesson this morning came to mind: “’Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.” Undoubtedly the early Christian family that placed this stone over the grave of their loved one 1600 years ago knew this passage well, and the image reflects it. For the water of baptism pouring down upon the young girl in that drawing looks as if it has become a virtual highway leading into the Kingdom of God. And the Holy Spirit who descended upon her with that Living Water has brought this daughter of Eve back to the Garden where she will now walk and talk with her Lord, the Christ who greets her in blessing even as the sacrament is performed.

You will seldom see a more powerful testimony to the power of holy Baptism than this ancient Christian memorial. Yet the inscription proves the faithful family that placed the grave marker did not consider baptism a kind of magical portal into heaven. Instead, they emphasized that the young girl they entrusted to Christ’s arms was a believer. God elected her for eternal life and she had responded to His call with faith.

From the beginning God has chosen His people for special relationship with Him, calling them to leave behind their old lives and trust in His gracious care. Abram heard that call while living in Mesopotamia two thousand years before in the Incarnation of our Savior. And Abram left his home and his family and travelled to Canaan in response to that divine call and the promise that accompanied it: “I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you … and by you all the families of the earth shall bless themselves." And as Saint Paul points out today, Abram—now renamed Abraham by his Lord--" believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness." Abraham stepped out in faith, trusting in the God who called him to a new life and who promised that the world would be blessed by Abraham’s “offspring.” This blessing from God, and the righteousness that was reckoned to “the father of many” on account of his faith, were purely the gracious gift of a loving God, unearned and unmerited. Abraham had been “elected” by God to receive them, and by faith they had become his own.

Of course, in the fullness of time the one, true God fulfilled the grandest of His promises to Abraham. The Father of all things sent His Son to be born of the Virgin Mary by the power of the Holy Spirit, so that by the divine Offspring of a daughter of Abraham all the nations of the earth may in truth “bless themselves” through faith in His Name. And the blessing the world receives through faith in Christ is nothing less than eternal life in “the presence of the God in whom [Abraham] believed, [the God] who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist.” “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”

The young fourth-century Christian girl whose tombstone sits today in the Kimbell Museum now truly rests in the peace that passes all understanding, a joyful recipient of the Father’s gracious election and heir to eternal life with her Savior, born anew by the Holy Spirit and the Living Water come down from heaven, washed in the Blood of the Lamb and blessed by the hand that hurls the worlds. And the same inheritance and blessing awaits each one of us if we place our trust in the One who came “into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through Him.”

Indeed, the judgment we must face begins within ourselves. Every day you and I are confronted by the same questions the apostles pondered at Caesarea Philippi and Pontius Pilate considered from his judgment seat, “Who to do you say that I am?”… “Truth, what is truth?” It is our own hearts and souls and minds that will judge us by our response. The Answer to those questions, of course, stands beside us this day, just as He did at the side of our young sister in the faith so long ago. Christ extends his nail-scarred hands to us in blessing, offering us rebirth through the power of the Spirit, slaking our thirsts with the Living Water we first tasted in Holy Baptism, if we will only repent and return to Him. The One who was lifted up on the cross to draw all men to His salvation will sustain us with His own precious Body and Blood, if we but turn from our sin and take hold of Him by faith. New and unending life in Christ is a gift God freely offers us if only our hearts and minds will receive it. He has come to give Life to the dead, if we will but choose to believe and live. Then God’s saving grace will transform our hearts of stone into wellsprings of divine Life and Love, welling up in us to eternal life and overflowing as a blessing to all those around us. “Let thy steadfast love, O LORD, be upon us, even as we hope in thee.” Amen.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Liturgical Extracts from "Ivan the Terrible," Parts 1 & 2

No one does it like the Orthodox!

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Bishop and Standing Committee Endorses Southern Cone Documents

The Bishop and Standing Committee of the diocese of Fort Worth yesterday released the following statement about their analysis of the Constitution and Canons of the Anglican Province of the Southern Cone of America.

The letter reads in full (boldfaced highlights added by RWF+):

In this second report from the Bishop and Standing Committee on the possibility of re-aligning with the Province of the Southern Cone, we would like to offer a brief analysis of some of the basic differences between the Constitution and Canons of The Episcopal Church as compared with those of the Province of the Southern Cone (PSC). An English translation of the Constitution and Canons of the PSC can be found elsewhere on this Web site.

In our Preliminary Report of January 9, 2008, we arrived at the following conclusion:
Based on our review, we have concluded that the structure and polity of the Province of the Southern Cone would afford our diocese greater self-determination than we currently have under the General Convention of The Episcopal Church. This autonomy would be evident most specifically in the areas of property ownership, liturgy, holy orders, and missionary focus.

One fundamental principle underlying the Constitution and Canons of the PSC is that “the Dioceses are at liberty to provide necessary selection and training of clergy, liturgical use, finances and possessions, and other affairs related to the local situation, provided they are not in conflict with other Anglican norms and this Constitution.” (See item 3, Rules, on page 2) Specifically, we note the following:

Ordination Standards: Each local diocese has the responsibility for the ordination process and makes its own determination as to the eligibility and the qualifications for ordination to Holy Orders. There are no requirements imposed upon dioceses by the Province regarding gender or sexual orientation.

Liturgy: Each diocesan bishop determines matters of worship and Prayer Book usage in his diocese. The section on Liturgy (Canon 9) notes that “it is the responsibility of the Bishops to keep guard that the forms used in Public Worship and the Administration of the Sacraments be in accordance with Anglican Faith and Order and that nothing be established that is contrary to the Word of God as revealed in the Holy Scriptures.” Membership in the Southern Cone would not necessitate a change in our liturgical practices or Prayer Book. It would also protect us from experimental liturgies already authorized or under consideration by the General Convention of TEC which advocate the use of expansive language for God, the elimination of male pronouns for God, or the blessing of same-sex unions.

Property: Canon 10 states that the Province’s possessions “shall consist of the economic contributions of its Member Dioceses.” The PSC does not lay claim to any buildings, real estate or investments of its member dioceses. Thus, title to all our churches, property, and funds would remain in the Diocese of Fort Worth. TEC makes the claim that all local church property is held in trust for TEC.

Provincial Polity: Instead of having a cumbersome General Convention that meets every three years for three weeks at great expense, with four clergy and four lay deputies from each diocese in the House of Deputies and all bishops in the House of Bishops, as in The Episcopal Church, there is a Provincial Synod (Canon 5) of the Southern Cone that meets every three years for three days. It is comprised of the Bishop and one clergy and one lay delegate from each diocese in the Province. This would be a much smaller legislative body on the provincial level, producing considerable cost savings and a council of far more manageable size for conducting business. Also, as a member diocese we would have a seat on the Provincial Executive Council (Canon 6), helping to direct program and budget. Our Bishop would have the right of voice at Council meetings, even if we were already represented on the Council by a priest or lay person.

Presiding Bishop/Primate: The Presiding Bishop of the Southern Cone, also referred to as the Primate or Archbishop, is not a separate, full-time, salaried position, as in TEC. Instead, the Bishop elected as Primate continues to serve as a diocesan bishop, like all the other bishops of the Province. There are no “national church offices” staffed with a bureaucracy of paid church employees. This makes for a much smaller structure and budget and keeps the emphasis for mission and ministry on the local diocesan level.

Provincial Budget: The budget of the General Convention of TEC was set at just under $50 million for 2008. Most of this funding comes from an “asking” from each diocese, in the amount of 21% of its annual income. The remainder comes from investment income and other sources. The annual budget of the Province of the Southern Cone totals less than $100,000 and is funded by the member dioceses on a proportionate basis, with contributions ranging between $2,000 and $6,000. Additional support comes from overseas partners. The funds are used mostly for basic costs of administration and communications. This minimal provincial cost keeps the focus and funding for ministry in the local dioceses.

We encourage you to read the PSC Constitution and Canons for yourselves. If you have further questions or matters that require clarification, please feel free to write the Standing Committee at the Diocesan Center for Ministry. Additional concerns will be addressed in our next report.

The Bishop and Standing Committee of the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth
Feb. 12, 2008

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