An odd couple, part II

Pope Francis must be reading this blog.

Two years ago, I suggested that the Pope should meet with Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori at the Vatican. It sounds odd, I know, but no odder than when Paul VI first met Archbishop of Canterbury Michael Ramsey at the Vatican more than fifty years ago.

Today, Pope Francis met with the Archbishop of Sweden at the Vatican—and she’s a woman! There are some great pictures Antje Jackelén and Francis.

(There are some other great pictures on Archbishop Jackelén’s Facebook page. I’m grateful to a Twitter follower for pointing me in this direction.)

While he is at it, Pope Francis could—given his obvious enthusiasm for Lutherans—make it a North American trifecta and invite ELCA Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton and ELCiC National Bishop Susan Johnson to talk about ecumenical relations with two communions of churches that have made some progress on that front.

Or, given his key role in the recent thaw in relations between Cuba and the United States, he could invite Bishop Katharine and the Episcopal bishop of Cuba, Griselda Delgado. The possibilities are endless.

As Michael Ramsey and Paul VI showed, great things can happen when people look beyond differences—no matter how profoundly, honestly, and deeply held—and, for a brief, short moment, come together to pray, discuss, and reflect. In doing so, for the briefest of moments, they show forth something of the coming kingdom of God in our midst. That’s what I see in these pictures from the Vatican today.

UPDATE: Some commenters have helpfully pointed out that Bishop Cate Waynick met Pope Francis as part of a meeting at the Anglican Centre in Rome last November.


This is terrific and I’m grateful to read about this. But I’d still thinking about a personal tête-à-tête, a la Paul VI and Michael Ramsey.

An odd couple: Pope Francis and Katharine Jefferts Schori

Pope Francis and Justin Welby hung out at the Vatican today. It’s easy to miss the significance of this. Less than 50 years ago, then pope Paul VI and then-Archbishop of Canterbury Michael Ramsey met in Rome. It was practically a revolution that the meeting should take place. Paul VI couldn’t really recognize Ramsey as a bishop—what with Apostolicae Curae declaring Anglican orders “absolutely null and utterly void”—but he did famously give Ramsey his ring, a de facto acknowledgement of Ramsey’s position.

Really, Paul VI gave him the ring because he had dared Ramsey to wear the most ridiculous piece of headgear he could find.

Today, Welby wore that ring and Francis kept calling Welby “your grace,” a different way of acknowledging Welby’s position. No one is surprised by this anymore. Of course, the pope and the archbishop of Canterbury would get on. It’s just how it goes.

I’m as happy as anyone else that the two of them spent some time together and I hope there is more to come. But it doesn’t seem like enough anymore. Since that Paul-Ramsey meeting, there’s been a major change in Anglicanism—we ordain women on a regular basis, and some women are now bishops. As I’ve argued before, Anglicans should not see women’s ordination as an obstacle to unity, but as a gift to the relationship.

Just waiting for that invitation, Francis

So the pictures of Pope Francis and Justin Welby are great, but here’s the picture I want to see: Pope Francis and Katharine Jefferts Schori praying together, him in his white and her in a purple cassock. It would be as significant a moment as Paul VI giving Ramsey his ring. (I’d settle for any other woman bishop out there, actually. If Francis wanted to stay in the British Isles, he could go with Jana Jeruma Grinberga, whom Welby highlighted at his enthronement.)

You bet! It’s in the mail.

What Paul VI seemed to understand is that sometimes the rules and regulations are a bit outdated. You might not be able to change them, but you can, you know, circumvent them to acknowledge a present reality. I wonder if Pope Francis can see the same thing about women’s ordination.

Obviously, I’m not holding my breath on this one, but this pope has been full of surprises. Maybe he has one more up his sleeve…

Picking a pope…or an Archbishop

The impending resignation of Pope Benedict XVI means that in the span of a few months, there will be a new Archbishop of Canterbury, a new pope of the Coptic Church, and a new Bishop of Rome, aka the Holy Father.

There are lots of reasons why this overlap might be interesting but I’ve been thinking about the various selection processes. The Copts had a blindfolded boy pick a name out of a bowl. The Roman Catholic cardinals will get together, do who knows what, and then send up white smoke.

And the Anglicans? Well, the Anglicans appointed a representative committee of lay people and priests, took resumes, had candidates answer questions, got together for a meeting, had some more meetings, and finally the Prime Minister tweeted who the next Archbishop would be, but only after the committee had leaked the name and some members tried to cash in on their inside knowledge by betting on the outcome.

So who comes out best? By all accounts, Justin Welby, the new archbishop of Canterbury, is a fine selection. But I wonder if these comparative processes don’t tell us something about the state of our church these days.

“Managerialism” seems to be taking over the church. In seminary, the comparisons between church and business seem to be growing. It is said the church needs priests who are “entrepreneurial,” for instance. Candidates with past business experience are looked upon favourably. There are probably good reasons for this—the church does need managers. In this context, it’s no wonder that the Crown Nominations Commission—the body that chose Welby—would ask candidates to submit answers to questions, compare resumes, and debate the merits of each candidate, just like any other hiring committee in the business world would.

And that’s fine. Except… I don’t know. Something about just seems so anti-septic, professional, and like it’s trying to control the Holy Spirit’s work. “If only we can get the right process,” you can hear people saying, “then we’ll get the right candidate.” And who knows. The cardinals may ask these very same questions. But I can’t help but think that in trying to create a church in the image we know best, we’re missing the point of how God works.

I don’t have any answers or conclusions. Managerialism is too entrenched in the church to go anywhere anytime soon. But the conjunction of three new religious leaders can’t but provoke thought.

Praying before arguing, Or, a modest proposal for General Convention

Not long ago, I expressed the hope that the Episcopal Church’s conversation on the relationship between communion and baptism could be an example to the world of how the church argues with itself. I asked what would happen if opponents on this issue got together for prayer (first) instead of debate. These questions, I hope it is clear, apply to all kinds of issues facing the church at the moment, including church structure.

Now, there’s a very thoughtful post mortem from the United Methodist General Conference that is chock full of wisdom:

As I watched General Conference (thankfully not a delegate), I was keenly aware of both sides of most positions. I could see the value in both sides (and often the theological basis for both sides). What I couldn’t see very often was the willingness of the “poles”—or those who argued most vehemently for a position—to listen and, perhaps, even change their minds. Or at the very least, nuance their position.

…Our church, as it currently exists, seems unwilling to compromise, to listen, to track the Spirit’s movement. We are in a rowboat on a turbulent sea, and find ourselves unwilling to row together toward a distant horizon. So we go in circles. Or drift backwards. Hopefully, Jesus is in prayer on the shore and will soon come walking toward us on these same waters.

…We do have worship at General Conference, sometimes very meaningful worship. I wonder what might happen, though, if we spent the first 24 hours gathered in prayer, silent prayer especially, and listening for God? No politicking or maneuvering allowed! Can we expect holy conferencing to be holy if we haven’t quieted ourselves to listen for God?

Read the whole thing.

The author’s proposal, for a period of sustained prayer and reflection before the proceedings begin, echoes the structure of the 2008 Lambeth Conference, which had a multi-day retreat before the actual conference began. It’s much too late to suggest this, of course, but I’d like to heartily endorse the author’s proposal for a period of prayer and retreat before this summer’s General Convention of the Episcopal Church. At a time when the church is only shaving days from its meetings to save dollars, it is unlikely, of course, that the idea will ever take off.

But I did find myself wondering: will this summer’s General Convention give rise to similar feelings as this author identifies? Are people already composing similar post mortem articles? One hopes not, but given the fever pitch which has already taken over, it seems, sadly, more likely than not.

More than leading worship

I mentioned that Yale’s favourite son, Mark Miller, would be involved in the worship at the ongoing United Methodist General Conference this week and next. It turns out he’s doing more than that.

You can read about Mark’s point of personal privilege last night or watch the whole thing here: Mark begins at 51:24 and goes for about three minutes. It’s well worth watching.

I know that Robert’s Rules must be followed but it is interesting that the General Conference will give Mark a microphone all he wants, so long as he is singing or leading music, but when he wants to actually talk about something, especially something this important, he’s asked to stop.

I’ve sung under Mark’s direction in the Gospel Choir these last few years and deeply admire, respect, and like him. What I am reminded of in listening to him speak is a) the deep difficulty in holding honest conversations across lines of difference and b) the deep importance of doing so nonetheless. These conversations don’t get easier but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t keep trying to have them—in a way that is loving and truthful and opens a space for all voices to be heard in a safe place.

Lessons from our Methodist Siblings

I’m no expert on the United Methodist Church but I do know the UMC’s General Conference is happening in Tampa this week and next so I spent some time on its web site this morning learning about what is going on. Given that we share an interim ecumenical agreement with the UMC and we’re both mainline denominations in the United States, I figure Episcopalians have something to learn from what is going on.

As I understand it—and my advance apologies for being a neophyte on much of this—some of the following issues are under discussion:

  • There’s a proposal to make the head of the UMC Council of Bishops a full-time position, much like (it seems to me) the Episcopal Presiding Bishop gives up her previous jurisdiction to take the role. The bishops just approved that idea. It’s unclear what the Conference will do. At least some Episcopalians are, I’ve read recently, urging a return to our old model, in which our Presiding Bishop kept a local jurisdiction in addition to the larger responsibilities. Meanwhile, the Council of Bishops has agreed it will only be meeting once a year. Some Episcopalians have suggested something similar for our own House of Bishops.
  • Bishops have a much different role in UMC governance than in The Episcopal Church (as the name of our church alone should tell us). I love this line from an article about a speech by the outgoing president of the bishops: “Bishops do not get a vote at General Conference, and they cannot address the assembly on legislative matters without special permission. Goodpaster acknowledged the bishops’ common lament that they often have nothing to do at General Conference ‘but sit around like wilting potted plants.'” Can you imagine that being said at a General Convention? Me neither.
  • Meanwhile, there are “huge” proposals for restructuring on the table. We Episcopalians have been doing restructuring by emergency budget for the last several years, cutting programs left and right because there’s no money to fund them. The UMC, it seems, has taken a more systematic approach to the topic and will be voting on those proposals at this General Conference. (You can read about the original proposal from this article from 18-months ago. The recent letter from the UMC bishops is also helpful.)
  • The UMC is looking at how it trains its future clergy, including doing away with the promise of job for all ordained clergy. I get the sense that many Episcopal dioceses around the country are having significant conversations about the future of ordained ministry. This doesn’t seem to have risen to the national level, however.
  • And, of course, issues related to homosexuality in church are on the agenda, attracting some of the most attention outside the church.

Any other issues you see as being significant and relevant to Episcopalians that Methodists will be considering at this conference?

One interesting note is the global nature of the UMC and the way jurisdictions in other parts of the world are equal members of the church. This is a conversation for another time but it’s a contrast to our Anglican practice of raising up autocephalous churches.

Also, the General Conference web site is much better than that of General Convention. They’ve got podcasts and everything! If you tune into the live stream at the right time, you just might get to see Yale’s favourite Methodist musician, Mark Miller, leading worship.

UPDATE: Mark is doing more than leading worship.