A lesson from history for South Carolina

When was this man’s predecessor consecrated? And why does it matter?

Last autumn, the diocese of South Carolina left the Episcopal Church. A primary justification for this departure was that South Carolina was created as a diocese in 1785, before it acceded to the constitution and canons of the Episcopal Church in 1790. The departure, therefore, was a mere return to its pre-accession status. The implicit claim here is that a diocese only needs itself to be a church—with a bishop, the sacraments, the Bible, and the creeds, they’ve got all they need. Mark Lawrence, the bishop of the diocese, has pointed to the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral as evidence of this claim.

I have an article in the current edition of The Living Church that challenges this line of thinking. And I challenge that line of thinking by pointing to an historical fact: the first bishop of South Carolina, Robert Smith, was not consecrated until 1795—and at a General Convention. In other words, for nearly ten years, including the five before it acceded to the Episcopal Church’s constitution, South Carolina was without a bishop. By the standards its current leaders are now using to justify their departure, that makes it at best a proto-diocese.

(We should note that in the early years of the Episcopal Church—despite the name—several dioceses went long stretches without bishops, for a variety of reasons. South Carolina was not unique in this regard.)

This historical fact is the grounds for the larger claim of the article, namely that provinces—groupings of dioceses—matter to Anglicanism: we need them so that we can ensure our bishops are properly chosen and consecrated. The fact that Bishop Smith was consecrated at a General Convention demonstrates this. Moreover, I argue that this larger sense of belonging is actually part of the good news of the church. But read the article for the rest of the argument.

The Living Church editors also solicited two responses to my piece, which take different views. You can read one here. (UPDATE: The second response essay has also been posted.)

History matters, if only as a corrective to the self-justifying arguments that are so common in the church today. Would that we had more people in the church studying it.

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Patiently living with difference

Rowan Williams is no longer archbishop of Canterbury but that doesn’t mean we can’t still write about him! I was struck by the conjunction of two things: that Williams was a theologian whose work always emphasized ecclesiology and that he served as archbishop in the middle of what might be called an ecclesiological crisis. That interest gave rise to the recent article published in Ecclesiology titled, “Patiently Living with Difference: Rowan Williams’ Archiepiscopal Ecclesiology and the Proposed Anglican Covenant”:

“…we have reviewed Williams’ goal of mature, trust-full relationships in which people recognize that they must receive from those who are different to them even as they acknowledge their inability to do so. This is a compelling vision for the world of the twenty-first century, and a deeply prophetic one that deserves to be preached and made the basis of the church’s existence. The way to do so is not, I think, to insist upon adoption of a particular document and limited set of principles. Rather, the solution seems to be to articulate this vision while patiently honoring its process, a Williamsian solution if there ever was one. This will not please all Anglicans nor will it necessarily diminish the damaging rhetoric that abounds on all sides. But Williams’ own words seem pertinent here: ‘Even in local and prosaic settings, how very tempting it is to say that we want our results now, before the end of the year. We have to justify what we’re doing in the shortest of short terms and that is a curse for churches, universities, charities, community regeneration projects, all sorts of things in our society. And we need deep breaths and long views again.’ Ultimately, perhaps, as the covenant dies, the Communion can take a few deep breaths and return to the long view embodied most compellingly in Williams’ own work.

Separately, I reviewed the new book, Rowan Williams: His Legacy for The Living Church. That review is also online:

Williams’s tenure was marked by an inability to say “I have no need of you” — even and especially when so many others were demanding that he do precisely that. This deeply biblical position is surely at the root of any legacy Williams leaves and is, moreover, the place to begin building a church that is “more truly itself.”

There’s no shortage of writing by and about Williams, and for that I am grateful—even when I contribute to that list!

“Honest, reflective journal…”

John Bowen reviewed my book, Grace at the Garbage Dump, in a recent issue of The Living Church. You have to subscribe to read the whole thing, but here’s a tiny excerpt.

Grace at the Garbage Dump is the honest, reflective journal of one young American, seeking to make a difference for Christ in the world, and learning basic lessons of discipleship—humility, servanthood, risk-taking, patience, love, and the value of small things.

Don’t subscribe to The Living Church? You should. It’s a great place to read about the ideas and debates that are shaping contemporary Anglicanism.

And—completely unbeknownst to me—the same issue of The Living Church carried my review of two recent books by the Presiding Bishop—and questioned what Nike’s “Just Do It” slogan has to say to The Episcopal Church.

Backpacking Through the Anglican Communion: A Search for Unity

Exciting news! It’s time to raise the curtain on Book #2!

IMG_1594My next book, Backpacking Through the Anglican Communion: A Search for Unity, draws on the tens of thousands of miles I’ve travelled in recent years to show what Anglican life is like at the grassroots level around the world—in places as diverse as Nigeria, Ecuador, England, and China. Some of those travels first appeared in partial form on this blog; many of them did not.

More than a simple travelogue, the book also challenges the dominant narrative of disunity that so colours debates about the future of global Anglicanism. I show how the loudest voices in the Anglican Communion are rarely as representative as they think. In fact, when conversations about divisive issues—sexuality, Biblical interpretation, authority—are undertaken in a spirit of mutuality and vulnerability, they deepen—and not fracture—relationship.

IMG_3661IMG_2946Finally, the book is an argument that unity actually matters and that in our globalizing and fracturing world, Anglicans have an incredible opportunity to witness to the world—an opportunity we are singularly failing to grasp at this moment in time.

Backpacking Through the Anglican Communion: look for it in early 2014 from the Church Publishing family. And if you live outside the U.S. and want it published where you live, let me know so we can start talking about it now. Contact details are here.

Episcopal Journal review of Grace at the Garbage Dump

Episcopal Journal has a two-page spread in its September issue about my book, Grace at the Garbage Dump: Making Sense of Mission in the Twenty-First Century.

Since EJ is first and foremost a print publication, it can be hard to read its excellent articles online. But I’ve got permission to post the two pages dealing with Grace. You can read them by clicking on these links. (You’ll get .pdf files when you do.)

“God’s grace can be discovered in unexpected places,” Episcopal Journal, September 2012, p. 13

Episcopal Journal, September 2012, p. 14

Do you subscribe to Episcopal Journal? It’s a wonderful publication and an important example of the kind of thing we need in the church if we’re ever going to understand one another a bit better.

International travel and seminary education

Yale Divinity School asked me to write a short article on how my international travel experience affected my education.

It is a fact of the twenty-first century that the church is growing most rapidly outside its historic heartlands of Europe and North America. As future leaders of that church, it’s our job to learn about—and learn with—our sisters and brothers around the world. Only then, I am convinced, can we truly know “the whole gospel.”

You can read the whole thing here. How has international travel changed your views on the church, your faith, or the Gospel?

One article, two great books!

Yale Divinity School’s monthly newsletter has an article that features not only my book, but that of my friend and fellow writer, Stephen Register:

In the spring of 2011, Stephen Register ’11 M. Div. and Jesse Zink ’12 M.Div. had only an academic course in common. Now they share more than a line on their transcripts: both turned writing projects that they started in Lauren Winner’s Institute of Sacred Music workshop “Spiritual Autobiography” into published books.

“The class,” Register said, “was essential for bringing my voice to a place where I finally felt comfortable writing.” Before the seminar, Register said that as a writer he was “like a young filly, who just hadn’t found [her] legs.”

Zink echoed that description, calling the workshop “one of the most memorable courses I took at Yale.”…

The support they felt as students continued as authors when both returned to New Haven in April for a lunchtime reading and book signing that emptied the shelves of the Student Book Supply.

“It was surreal,” Register said, “Coming back and having folks turn up meant the world, but it wasn’t much of a surprise: the same friends and teachers that had been faithful to me during school were right there for me as a writer.”

Have you seen Stephen’s book yet? It’s available for (a surprisingly inexpensive) download on Amazon.

All the ordering information about Grace at the Garbage Dump is right here on this web site.

On display

My post about seeing my book on display in Toronto prompted a friend to send this picture. Grace at the Garbage Dump on display in the library of the University of New Brunswick, St. John. There it is, right there in the middle of things.Is Grace at the Garbage Dump in your library? You can check WorldCat to see what libraries have it (quite a few—including one in New Zealand!—already do). If not, why not request your library order a copy?

Back by popular demand…

We had so much fun signing copies of my new book, Grace at the Garbage Dump, on Sunday that we’re doing it again today.

It’s the last day the exhibit hall is open at General Convention. So if you’re in Indianapolis, swing by the Global Episcopal Mission Network booth—#629, it fronts on the food area—and pick up a copy.

You can also learn all about the new study guide for the book and ways in which you can take all the rhetoric of mission that is swirling around Convention and turn it into reality in your local congregation and diocese.

Candidate for President of House of Deputies Martha Alexander took a break from campaigning to stop by on Sunday. You should too!

Check out some of the great reviews of Grace at the Garbage Dump or read the first chapter for free on Amazon. You’ll realize what an asset this book can be as you head back home from Convention.