Thursday, January 01, 2009

On The Occasion of St. Edmund’s, Elk Grove Departing TEC

I read on David Virtue's web site this morning that the vestry and others in St. Edmunds, Elk Grove, Diocese of Milwaukee had officially left the Episcopal Church – and in a gracious spirit well known in that diocese, they left behind all claim to real and personal property. When I was serving at St. Francis House, Madison a few decades ago, an old friend, Bill Ohlenhausen, drawn by the mysteries of an offshoot of the Orthodox Churches, renounced his Episcopal Church ordination and left with some parishioners to explore their spiritual journey outside the Episcopal Church.

There are a few other parishes in my old Diocese of Milwaukee that, in essence, left the Doctrine if not the Discipline of the Episcopal Church long ago. Being a Christian in the far North dominated by conservative Roman Catholics and even more conservative Lutherans (though with many mainline Lutherans) is not an easy task. There were times when it seemed like it would be easier working among Muslims! However, now, with the false promise that they will remain Anglican if they leave TEC, some are declaring what they experienced long ago.

I do not see this as a judgment against The Episcopal Church: quite the opposite. This is not about the authority of Scripture, but about whether the resurgence of a Selective Biblical Fundamentalism Bordering on Biblical Inerrancy (SBFBBI) is the true and sole legacy of the early church.

Apparently none of the clergy at St. Edmunds bothered to tell the drafters of their statement that there are at least three different notions (later doctrines) of the Atonement in the New Testament (St. E's statement seems to claim there is only one). They have also failed to inform those voting to leave that claims to be following "the faith once delivered to the saints" is, upon even cursory examination, false and even bogus.

I'm sure that in the Diocese of Milwaukee, as in other dioceses where the Selective Biblical Fundamentalists Bordering on Inerrancy have left TEC, there will be genuine compassion and care for those leaving -- but a sigh of relief that this bogus approach to the Christian faith is no longer competing with the real heirs of the apostolic faith.

What a great history the Diocese of Milwaukee has had! While pretty fiercely Anglo-Catholic for most of its history, there has always been a tolerance and an embrace of other expressions of the Christian faith. When I served as Episcopal Chaplain to the University of Wisconsin in Madison, my predecessors included Alden Kelley (the great champion of the Ministry of the Laity when the notion was just beginning to take root in the wider church), Gordon Gillette, a pacifist priest run off the campus by the full weight of the United States Navy, Dan Corrigan, later Suffragan Bishop of Colorado, a great Anglo-Catholic and later ordaining bishop of the Philadelphia 11, Carroll Simcox, one of the early influences leading to the spitting off of the right wing of TEC, Charles Boynton, later Suffragan Bishop of New York and leading Anglo-Catholic, and Arthur Lloyd, a powerful leader of the Christian Socialist movement in the American Church.

During my tenure at St. Francis House, we were the first Episcopal congregation to serve as a Sanctuary church for political refugees from El Salvador and Guatemala (with great affirmation from Bishop Wm. Wantland!). We served as a shelter for the homeless men, women and families who came our way and operated a food cooperative where homeless and down on their luck neighbors would join our students for a great evening meal when they needed it. The Integrity Chapter founded there in 1978 is still thriving – and serving men and women not only in Madison but around the State. We served a large contingent of international students, including many from Nigeria and the former Zambian Ambassador to Russia, Martin Kaunda (none of whom had the slightest qualms about the work of the Integrity Chapter in their midst). At the heart of our ministry to the university, the city and, in many instances, the State of Wisconsin, were Biblical fundamentalist, Christian socialists, ordinary lay people and non-stipendiary priests, higher ups in the Tommy Thompson administration and on and on. ANY THOUGHT THAT A THEOLOGICAL FUNDAMENTALISM WOULD DRIVE US APART WOULD HAVE PRODUCED LAUGHTER AND DERISION.

That is the Episcopal Church I love – and, like those reading this, have labored for – over years, decades and generations. How we have tolerated those who, in the name of a narrowness not known before in our spiritual heritage as Anglicans, have driven us apart is a truth that has so far eluded me.

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