March 31, 2014

An Interesting Argument against Creationism

Neil deGrasse Tyson, host of Fox’s new series Cosmos, made a very interesting point in yesterday’s episode. It should not, of course, be necessary to argue against the ignorant, anti-scientific (yet pseudo-scientific) notion of “creationism.” Alas, it is, and this program has taken several opportunities to attack religious nonsense without being too explicit about it.

Episode 4 made a point I had never thought of, namely, that were the universe only 6,600 years old—I think I have the number mentioned right—we could see stars only 6,600 light years away. Yet we can see stars billions of light years away. In other words, one only has to look at the sky to realize that creationist theories are wrong.

What Cosmos failed to do in episode 4 and has failed to do in earlier episodes is to justify some of the scientific facts that it promulgates. This would be difficult in some cases, to be sure, but often a credible case can be made for a scientific idea without offering an absolutely convincing proof. That may not be true in quantum mechanics, but it is certainly true for, say, the speed of light.

We have gone to the moon and therefore have fairly direct evidence of how far away it is. Moreover, we have bounced laser light off a mirror on the moon, and we know how long that took. There may be simpler ways of measuring the speed of light, but the average viewer ought to be able to appreciate such a measurement and, assuming some honesty among scientists, that that speed is what it is represented to be. I’m not sure what is the easiest way of establishing that many stars are very far away—I suspect that an argument involving trigonometry would work—but I cannot imagine that such an argument would be too difficult to construct.

Whereas I find the argument from the nature of what we see in the sky quite convincing, I have no doubt that a creationist could devise some cockamamie alternative explanation. (Creationists have never heard of Occam’s razor, apparently.) In any case, I appreciate the ideas presented in Cosmos, but I wish that the series would go at least a little deeper into its subjects.

March 30, 2014


I attended a conference at Allegheny College, in Meadville, Pennsylvania, Friday and Saturday. It was the first time I had spent time on campus since I gave up my teaching position in the computer science department more than 25 years ago and joined the Software Engineering Institute at Carnegie Mellon University. I was impressed by the changes I saw, which included new and renovated buildings, as well as updated landscaping.

I had to smile when I encountered an unfamiliar piece of outdoor sculpture near the entrance to the student center. I meant to take a number of pictures of the campus, but rain intervened, and the only photos I took were of the alligator sculpture (below). It is, as you can see, amazingly lifelike. (Click on the image for a larger view.)

Alligator sculpture

Allegheny College sports teams are the Gators. Paradoxically, there are no alligators in the chilly climate of northwestern Pennsylvania. The alliteration of “Allegheny Alligators,” along with the reputation of the American alligator as a ferocious carnivore, no doubt lead to the selection of school mascot. “Go, Gators,” I suppose, works better as a cheer than “Go, Alligators.”

March 24, 2014

Evaluating the TREC Study Paper on Networks

TREC logo
The Task Force for Reimagining the Episcopal Church (TREC) released its first “study paper” for public comment last momth. (It has now released a second paper. See my post “Some Initial Thoughts on the TREC Study Paper on Governance and Administration.”) Here, I want to offer my own thoughts on “Study Paper on Episcopal Networks.”


TREC was mandated by Resolution C095, enacted by the 2012 General Convention. Its main provision is the following:
Resolved, That this General Convention establish a Task Force under the Joint Rules of Order, whose purpose shall be to present the 78th General Convention with a plan for reforming the Church’s structures, governance, and administration;
The stated rationale for C095 is this:
The administrative and governance structures of The Episcopal Church have grown over the years so that they now comprise approximately 47% of the churchwide budget and sometimes hinder rather than further this Church’s engagement in God’s mission. Reform is urgently needed to facilitate this Church’s strategic engagement in mission and allow it to more fully live into its identity as the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society in a world that has changed dramatically over the years but that also presents extraordinary missional opportunity.
In truth, General Convention deputies were not simply alarmed at the cost of running the general church; there was a sense, among many deputies, that Episcopalians were not getting their money’s worth. In particular, the budgeting process in the past two triennia was seen to be opaque, unresponsive, and maladroit. No doubt, there were other reasons behind support for C095, some more justified than others. I suspect that some people are alarmed at our shrinking membership and are looking for any changes, wherever they might be found, that might possibly reverse the trends.

Whatever the motivation, C095 commanded nearly universal support from deputies. The church was perceived to be in trouble, and C095 was seen as a way of doing something about it.

The Study Papers

In releasing “Study Paper on Episcopal Networks” (SPEN), TREC promised that additional papers would follow “over the next few months … to stimulate conversation and seek input from the larger church.” The papers are described by TREC this way:
We call these documents Study Papers, because they study an issue or offer a new approach to a particular dimension of the structure, governance or administration of the church. As such, we hope they are constructive and thought provoking.
The task force has requested comments, corrections, relevant stories, and other varieties of feedback. The suggested feedback mechanisms are diverse to the point of raising the question as to whether the task force will even be aware of all the comments being made. (A March 18, 2014, report to the church is encouraging, however, as it reports on task force members “reviewing feedback that we have received thus far from throughout the church, including from the engagement kit, blogs, website postings, direct conversation, and a variety of other sources.”) Curiously, the task force suggests that one might “email a TREC member privately,” but addresses for TREC members have not been posted. I suppose the idea is that you might prefer to communicate with a TREC member you actually know, rather than sending a comment to the task force’s general address,

I noticed that the study papers thus far released do not carry any indication of authorship. Knowing their provenance could be helpful. SPEN indicates that it was produced by the “sub-group on networks.” We are not told, however, who is in this sub-group or how many people are in it. Is SPEN the exclusive product of the sub-group on networks, or was it vetted or approved by a larger group?

Until very recently, the organization of TREC and the way it has chosen to divide its task has not been obvious. The agenda for its March 13–15 meeting suggests that TREC operates as four groups:
  1. Constitution and Canons team
  2. Networks sub-committee
  3. Leadership and Centers for Excellence Sub-Committee
  4. Engagement sub-committee
 (I have listed the groups exactly as they appear on the agenda. I assume the apparent inconsistency in naming is inconsequential.) I have inferred, but am by no means certain, that the four groups are disjoint. Clearly, the last group is concerned with collecting responses from the church at large, so it appears that TREC has partitioned its remit into the areas of governance, networks, and leadership.

It is not obvious that the topics of governance, networks, and leadership cover the waterfront of structural issues facing The Episcopal Church. George Clifford wrote a series of essays for Episcopal Café (here, here, and here) called “Be Bold: restructuring the TEC.” He identified a number of worrisome trends, at least some of which seem worthy of consideration by TREC. Clifford notes, for example, that our church has “a legacy of many small congregations in the wrong geographic locales” and that this circumstance represents a serious drain on church resources. He also observed that “increasing numbers of Christians prefer to attend a large rather than a small congregation.” To these concerns, I would add the observation that small dioceses may also be a drain on church resources. Also, in light of the organized (and ongoing) defections and thefts experienced by The Episcopal Church in recent years, some consideration should be given to preventing such depredations in the future. These issues seem not to have been identified as significant by TREC.

Of course, it is difficult not to agree with Bishop of Springfield Daniel Martins, who wrote, in response to a presentation to Episcopal bishops by the task force, “They [TREC] are only 24 people, the scope of their task is impossible to comprehend, and their work is seriously underfunded.” What Bishop Martins did not say is that the members of the task force are unpaid volunteers. We owe them our gratitude for taking on such a daunting task, though the usefulness of their efforts ultimately will rest on what they are able to produce.

Consistent with the apparent organization of TREC, a recent Episcopal News Service story  mentioned only one additional paper that we should expect to see from TREC prior to its final report, namely, one on leadership development. Revised versions of the two papers issued so far (and perhaps a revision of the future leadership paper) are also scheduled to appear.

With that background, I now want to take a close look at SPEN.

Study Paper on Episcopal Networks

I found SPEN worrisome. To begin with, networks, however construed, hardly seems like the first topic to be addressed if one is interested in reimagining The Episcopal Church. Perhaps the network group was simply quick out of the starting gate. In any case, SPEN is vague and often incoherent. TREC’s second effort has been a bit more encouraging, but even it is long on recommendations and short on analysis.

I was surprised that SPEN contains no footnotes to the literature on organizational structure or organizational behavior. In fact, I have seen no evidence of the task force’s having consulted experts in the areas about which they have written. No doubt, the volunteer nature of TREC and an inadequate budget, which I suspect will largely be expended on travel support, are responsible for its relying largely on its own resources. Doing so, however, necessarily limits what TREC can be expected to accomplish.

SPEN begins with this abstract:
In the Network Study Paper, we observe that TEC has several kinds of networks operating in it (4 types, across network v.1.0 and v.2.0). Some are adapted for the challenges ahead of us, some of these networks are not. TEC has operated under a corporate network for the last 50 years and that model appears to be dying. New life is struggling to come about, and we sketch some possibilities.
Actually, the above paragraph appears in the PDF version of the paper—see link above—but is omitted from the HTML version. It is odd in many respects. What, for example, are “network v.1.0 and v.2.0”? I have heard our church described as having a “corporate” structure, though I have never heard of The Episcopal Church (or any American corporation, for that matter) as “operating under a corporate network.” (Corporations have corporate networks, but that’s something else entirely.) And I don’t know what to make of the anthropomorphism of “[N]ew life … struggling to come about.”

The abstract prepares us to learn about various Episcopal Church networks and how some are equipped for a twenty-first century church and some are not. Alas, such an expectation goes unrealized.


The careful reader might reasonably expect the authors of SPEN to (1) provide a rigorous definition of what they understand by the term “network” and (2) justify the importance of the topic to the task assigned to them. It might also be expected that the nature of relevant networks would be investigated in some detail. SPEN does none of this.

The closest the paper comes to defining the term “network” is in this phrase:
that intermix of human connections, bolstered by technology, and focused on some purposeful outcomes
This text is set off by dashes, and it is unclear whether it is intended to refer to networks generally or to “networks for ministry,” the words that precede the “definition.” As a working definition—if indeed that is what this phrase is intended to be—is a hopeless muddle. It seems both too broad and too narrow. By this definition, a football team is a network, but a group of clergy getting together every week for coffee and conversation may not be. (The technology isn’t apparent, and neither are the purposeful outcomes in this latter example.) A good definition serves the purpose of allowing one to determine, without too much ambiguity, what is in the class being defined and what is not. What SPEN has offered does not qualify as a good definition. I suspect that it was not even meant to be, the reader being expected to use his own intuitive sense of what a network is. This lapse is not a small one.

The SPEN authors clearly believe that networks (or suitably enhanced networks) are the solution to a church problem. It is not clear what that problem is. The closest we get to a statement of the problem is this: “how the Episcopal Church (TEC) may best position itself for the future in order to participate faithfully in God’s mission of reconciliation, renewal and restoration.” That is too general to be useful. We get some hint of what problem (or problems) that networks might be solving later on, but the exposition in SPEN is hardly compelling.

Assumptions: Central/Local Tensions

The first major section of SPEN is “Assumptions: Central/Local Tensions.” Acknowledging assumptions is a useful preliminary step in such a paper, but this section, too, is disappointing.

The section begins
We believe that in the cultural West, in which TEC operates for the most part, Christian institutional forms have diminished in both impact and visibility. A consequence of this diminishment is that the corporate model of doing work/ministry is no longer sustainable: the classic central (up)/local (down) relationship is changing, or has changed. The center for example, is no longer the source of strategy and programming, nor the networking hub. It simply does not have the resources or the knowledge to do so in a church community that is diverse, spanning geographies and theological perspectives, and experiencing all manner of challenges and opportunities.
Most would agree without much argument that mainline Protestant churches have lost members and influence in recent years. I’m not sure what “Christian institutional forms” actually refers to, however, or just what the impact and visibility of Christian institutional forms might be. Certainly, evangelical Christians have gained influence and visibility as mainstream Protestants have lost it. It does not follow logically that “the corporate model of doing work/ministry” is no longer viable. Why is this so? What is “the corporate model”? If the implication is that all Christian denominations have a similar “corporate” structure, SPEN is simply wrong. If the authors only mean to refer to mainline Protestant churches, the assertion is only somewhat less wrong. In any case, there is a good deal of hand waving and not much thoughtful exposition going on here. “The center” presumably refers to the Episcopal Church Center (ECC). It is true that it is not the center of strategy, programming, or communication within the church. Was it ever? It certainly has not been for as long as I have been an Episcopalian.

The next paragraph asserts, without citing any evidence, that Americans in general, and Episcopalians in particular, have lost faith in central authorities. The clear implication is that, in large measure, we need to do away with ECC, even if it is or can perform legitimate functions. This seems a defeatist approach. Trends are simply trends; they may be bad or they may be good. Sometimes bad trends need to be resisted.

I must offer an aside here. In the next paragraph, ECC is identified by the parenthetical “dubbed by some as ‘815’, and by itself as Missionary Society.” Bishop Stacey Sauls seems to have invented this “Missionary Society” name to re-brand the central office of The Episcopal Church, which SPEN asserts has lost credibility. Well, Congress has lost credibility, but no one is suggesting we rename it. Moreover, Missionary Society makes no sense as a moniker for ECC, as it suggests exactly the kind of privileged role that SPEN argues is not viable. Moreover, the (legally) corporate church is formally the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society—“Missionary Society” apparently comes from this name—and all Episcopalians are its members, not simply church office-holders and hired hands at 815 Second Avenue. (See my previous rants about this foolishness here and here.)

SPEN goes on to ask if the church needs “a central-anything,” and suggests an affirmative answer “if only because people abhor a vacuum.” What kind of argument is this? Is this really the best logic we can get from 24 people chosen from across the entire church? Did anyone read this paper seriously before it was thrown over the transom?

As the paper asserts, there is a tension between the local and the central (actually, non-local) in The Episcopal Church and, really, in any large organization. This tension is complicated, however, which SPEN does not acknowledge. Many would like to see ECC do less. As one who has lived through a diocesan schism, however, my regret is that the general church was unable or unwilling to do more. Pittsburgh Episcopalians were aware of the coming schism years before it occurred; only when it was imminent did we receive substantial help. That help was too little and too late to head off the painful split.

Anyway, in the final paragraph of this section, the authors get a bit smug and gratuitously dismissive. The paper refers to “our tradition of shared governance—which sometimes seems like a sacralization of division of powers.” What is the implication here? Are we to turn over control of the church to the clergy, thereby letting the inmates run the asylum? Our participatory governance is an appropriate way for Americans to adapt the historic episcopate “in the methods of its administration to the … needs” of our nation. Perhaps some changes are needed, but shared governance must remain.

In summary, the message of the Assumptions section seems to be that Episcopalians are hostile to central authority. If so, we need to investigate why that might be so and consider what could be done about it. Apparently, too many see the general church as meddling in local affairs and too few see it as the servant of the local church. Perhaps we need to change attitudes, not restructure the church to pander to what are, in many cases, ignorant prejudices

Uncertainty and the Future: Sin and Metanoia

Two things become clear in this next section. First—this point is expressed only obliquely—networks are seen as an alternative to more hierarchical structures. They are possibly less formal, yet more effective. Second, there are far too many members of the clergy on the task force. Nearly 60% of its members are ordained, and I would hazard a guess that, as a group, they know a good deal more about theology than about organizational development or organizational theory. And how is a task force that is mostly populated by clergy representative of the church at large?

This rather over-long section asserts that our efforts at structural change must take sin into account. We are invited to change our hearts and minds, to experience metanoia.

The reality is that people in organizations exhibit a variety of behaviors for a variety of reasons. Actions viewed as undesirable or destructive may arise from misunderstanding, valid disagreement as to goals and strategies, differing assessment of particular situations, as well as from fear, personal ambition, resentment, and the like. In other words, in whatever organization they operate, people behave like humans. To label “bad” behavior sinful is manipulative, mean-spirited, and unhelpful name-calling. To introduce a word like metanoia into a conversation about organizational restructuring is clerical pedantry.

That this entire section is largely irrelevant to whatever point this paper is trying to make is indicated by the fact that “sin” occurs nowhere in SPEN other than in this section. Rather than condemning sin and calling for repentance and a change of heart, it would have been more helpful had the authors identified particular attitudes and behaviors they view as dysfunction in the past and in our possible futures. My own sense is that our church is less threatened by personal ambition and insensitivity than it is by a pervading ethic of Anglican niceness, an unwillingness to rock the boat because someone somewhere—possibly even someone not in our church and on another continent—may not like what we do or say. Saying what we really think is more useful (and healthy) than branding as a sinner anyone who thinks differently.

Legislation and Bonds of Affection

In this section, it is clear that networks are somehow seen as TREC’s great white hope for saving The Episcopal Church, a notion that SPEN has thus far failed to establish (and, overall in this paper, fails to establish). The section begins with this assertion:
TREC’s output is expected to be a set of legislation for the General Convention to consider, including perhaps legislation for how to go about building (central doing), or encouraging (central helping local) networks.
I should point out that Resolution C095 did not ask the task force to produce “a set of legislation for the General Convention to consider.” It asked instead, as I quoted at the beginning of this essay, for “a plan for reforming the Church’s structures, governance, and administration.”

Anyway, SPEN proceeds to dismiss legislation as a mechanism for establishing effective networks. At this point, however, SPEN becomes increasing incoherent and poorly written. The second paragraph begins with
But this, is not legislation or a thing. This, at least when it comes to networks, is always a person.
It took me a while to figure out what is being said here, in part, because the comma after “this” makes no sense. I looked in vain for an antecedent for “this.” I finally realized that “this” did not need an antecedent but should have been enclosed in quotation marks or italicized. It refers to the final sentence of the preceding paragraph, which was intended to disparage legislation:
Everything becomes, “do you support this or oppose this?”
In any case, what does it even mean to say, as the authors do next, that “[t]his, at least when it comes to networks, is always a person”? This writing is gobbledygook.

The section goes on to say that Episcopal networks must be based on love, on “bonds of affection.” This notion is fundamentally wrong. SPEN rightly observes that recent history may make readers skeptical of talk of “bonds of affection.” (Damn right!) As in the Anglican Communion globally, bonds of affection may, in some abstract sense, hold us together, but only common objectives lead to effective common action. (This is another instance of clerical nonsense getting in the way of useful analysis.)

A Framework to Think about Networks

This section serves up muddled thinking in the guise of rigorous scholarship. The paper identifies four types of networks (personal, issue/lobby/political, project/missional, and knowledge sharing or co-learning). No theory is cited for these hypothesized network types, and the authors give neither useful definitions nor examples. The rather cumbersome names attached to these network types is evidence of the fuzzy thinking behind this section. More abstraction and exposition is needed here. Is this list of four network types intended to be exhaustive? Are they mutually exclusive? Who knows? The discussion is devoid of intellectual rigor.

We are told that the four networks are cross-cut by degrees of depth, breadth, and diversity, by which it is apparently meant that networks have properties (among others) indicating degrees of depth, breadth, and diversity (or heterogeneity). One might have wished for a description based on mathematics, rather than carpentry.

Anyway, the reader next is confronted by this perplexing chart:

1.            Personal and Social

Cosmopolitan, mixed identity
2.            Political
4.            Knowledge and Learning
Episcopalian focused
(organized by Diocese or 815)
Ecumenical (part
Interfaith (more
Eclectic (emergent, self-organized)

The reader is left to infer what this table represents. The vertical axis is clear enough; it represents the hypothesized network types. The horizontal axis is less clear. That the body of the chart contains four columns is misleading. There is not, for example, a type of political network having the right-facing arrow property. In this oddly constructed display, one seemingly moves from examples of abstractly simple networks at the left to examples of abstractly complicated networks on the right. The table is especially confusing, as the entries within the body do not all seem to be of the same class. What, for example, is a “Race/Gender/Class”? Is “City” a missional network? (Can it be said that a city is “focused on some purposeful outcomes”? If so, in what sense?) What is “Anglican”? Is it the Anglican Communion? Is it meant to include every church with “Anglican” in its name? (Is the Anglican Church in North America included in this cell?)

Returning to the horizontal axis, it appears that networks are being characterized by properties of complexity, locality, heterogeneity, and some ill-defined organizational principle. What happened to the three-way classification suggested in the proceeding paragraph (depth, breadth, and heterogeneity)? Who knows? Because the variability represented on the horizontal axis refers to a constellation of at least four components, the apparent simplicity of the chart is quite misleading. The two-dimensional table is a simplified representation of a classification that is at least five-dimensional.

SPEN proceeds to argue, incoherently, I contend, that certain networks are somehow better than others. We need to imagine “how #1 and #2 are harnessed to serve #3 and #4.” This sounds like dialogue from a bad science fiction movie. What does it even mean? Next, we are told about “network version 1.0” and “network 2.0.” (Nomenclature isn’t even parallel here.) We are told that network version 1.0—a class of network types or subtypes—is shown in blue on the chart. The chart contains cells in two colors of blue, however, as well as white cells. What do the light blue cells and the white cells represent? Why are some cells empty? The reader isn’t told. (Presumably, this is a holy mystery.)

This section continues, but further analysis of transparent nonsense is a waste of time.

Our Understanding of Change

There isn’t much substance in this section. There are some useful insights, though they are not clearly connected to the rest of the paper. SPEN notes that
  1. We cannot simply ignore current Episcopalians, who have a high median age, and rebuild our church for a younger generation. (As an elderly Episcopalian, albeit a technically savvy one, this acknowledgement was reassuring.)
  2. Is is increasingly difficult to find younger church members willing to assume responsibility for functions currently being performed by older Episcopalians.


Our areas of research in the next 2-3 months

This section ought to say something like the following:
We will forget we ever wrote this paper and will begin doing some serious, scholarly thinking. In preparation, we will interview leaders of other Christian churches facing challenges analogous to our own, and we will consult with academic experts whose lives are devoted to the study of organizations.
Instead, the plan is to move forward with TREC’s incoherent network model and to
  1. examine bodies established under the 1.0 paradigm, and ask: how can they be improved for better networking?
  2. identify functioning 2.0 networks and ask them to tell their stories.
From the foregoing sections of the paper, it is not clear to me—and, I suspect, not clear to most readers—how version 2.0 networks differ from version 1.0 networks or, for that matter, why the former are intrinsically “better” the the latter. (Are there, by the way, version 1.5 networks? Is this even a meaningful question in the TREC model? Is the “.0” just an attempt to make the text seem more “scientific”?) It is not, therefore, obvious that the identified activities are going to be useful other than to keep the network group busy.

I want to make a few isolated observations about the proposed activities outlined in this section, rather than analyze the section as a whole.

The authors want to know the degree to which bodies (House of Bishops, House of Deputies, and Executive Council) “go beyond their prescribed roles and positions, to act spontaneously in the service of missional networking (#3) and co-learning (#4).” With respect to Executive Council in particular, are the authors suggesting that it would be a good thing if members acted beyond their authority? Are they endorsing the abuse of power? I surely hope not.

The paper acknowledges that Episcopal seminaries are in trouble. It is not intuitively obvious, however, that networking of some sort will be the mechanism that saves our seminaries.

TREC plans to consider the role of ECC with regard to networking. The paper makes some assertions about the history of the general church, and it would have been helpful had SPEN discussed that history. Again, the paper exhibits a degree of resignation regarding the need to change for the sake of change, which may be counterproductive:
We note that the skepticism directed towards church-wide structures appears to be deep, and while not complete, affects a sizeable portion of TEC’s membership such that even if a majority were to agree to forms of centrally sponsored networks, the vigor and focus will inevitably be deficient—in other words, unloved and hence illegitimate.
What happened to metanoia?

Some Final Thoughts

It is telling, I think, that this first TREC paper has received significantly less commentary in the Anglican blogosphere and elsewhere. The paper is simply incoherent and poorly written. It should never have been allowed to see the light of day. Further, SPEN makes no effective recommendations to evaluate. Basically, it says that we should move from version 1.0 networks to version 2.0 networks, but it neither makes clear what that means nor provides a viable mechanism to make such transitions.

TREC has a November 2014 deadline for offering its recommendations to the 2015 General Convention. If its work is to be at all useful to the church, the quality of that work will have to improve substantially over what is evident in SPEN. Even the latest paper on governance and administration is long on recommendations but painfully short on any rationale for implementing them. Moreover, one looks in vain for any evidence of the task force’s musings on networks in “Study Paper on Governance and Administration.” Apparently, TREC needs a heavy does of version 2.0 networking itself, as one hand does not seem to know what the other hand is doing.

Barring some miraculous improvement in the performance of TREC, it is obvious that either the recommendations of the task force will be deemed useless to the 2015 General Convention or that ill-conceived recommendations will be enacted as a kind of hail-Mary play by a frightened General Convention. Neither outcome will serve our church. We should expect that reasonable reform requiring General Convention sanction cannot be undertaken before 2018.

March 17, 2014

Line Breaks in the BCP’s Rendering of the Nicene Creed

Chanting the psalms at St. Paul’s, Mt. Lebanon, has made me sensitive to when it is appropriate or inappropriate to pause. (Everyone in the choir needs to be doing the same thing, though we don’t clue the congregation in on what we do, even though, at least in principle, they are singing with us.) This, in turn, has caused me to pay close attention to how the congregation reads parts of the liturgy.

Consider, for example, the Nicene Creed. In the Book of Common Prayer, it is formatted as follows on pages 358 and 359:
We believe in one God,
    the Father, the Almighty,
    maker of heaven and earth,
    of all that is, seen and unseen.

We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ,
    the only Son of God,
    eternally begotten of the Father,
    God from God, Light from Light,
    true God from true God,
    begotten, not made,
    of one Being with the Father.
    Through him all things were made.
    For us and for our salvation
        he came down from heaven:
    by the power of the Holy Spirit
        he became incarnate from the Virgin Mary,
        and was made man.
    For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate;
        he suffered death and was buried.
        On the third day he rose again
            in accordance with the Scriptures;
        he ascended into heaven
            and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
    He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead,
        and his kingdom will have no end.

We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life,
    who proceeds from the Father and the Son.
    With the Father and the Son he is worshiped and glorified.
    He has spoken through the Prophets.
    We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church.
    We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.
    We look for the resurrection of the dead,
        and the life of the world to come. Amen.
I don’t know how this is read in your church, but, at St. Paul’s, the congregation pauses at the end of each line. Does this, I asked myself, make sense? As it happens, this is not an easy question to answer.

An obvious place to begin analysis is to try to understand the indentation of the creed. Three lines begin at the left margin. This clearly is intended to show that the creed consists of three paragraphs (about God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit), each of which is indicated by a hanging indent.

So far, so good, but some lines are indented further. In general, such indentation seems not to be indicating subordination, and the preceding line breaks are not intended merely to give the congregation an opportunity to take a collective breath. That this is true becomes clear when we see that most lines fully express a single concept. We see this in the lines about God the Father:
We believe in one God,
    the Father, the Almighty,
    maker of heaven and earth,
    of all that is, seen and unseen.
On the other hand, the line
    For us and for our salvation
is clearly not a complete thought. Although worshipers at St. Paul’s—and, probably, at most Episcopal churches—pause at the end of this line, the thought is only completed in the next line. That line is further indented, as one might see in a poem in which a single line cannot fit within the available margins. In other words, we should read the two lines as though they were written as
    For us and for our salvation he came down from heaven:
A bit of an aside is necessary here. The above line would actually not extend to the right margin of page 358. (The first line on page 359 is a bit longer.) I suspect that the line was split so as to not put the lines
    He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead,
        and his kingdom will have no end.
on facing pages, which would also have increased the already generous white space at the bottom of page 359.

Arguably, the next three lines represent a single idea. Conceptionaly, they should be shown on a single line, but such a line would be too long to fit between the margins. They more or less have to occupy at least two lines, and they are not unreasonable rendered as three.

The next six lines are curious:
    For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate;
        he suffered death and was buried.
        On the third day he rose again
            in accordance with the Scriptures;
        he ascended into heaven
            and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
These lines contain two semicolons, which appear nowhere else in the creed. One can probably justify the semicolons, but periods would be more easily defended and would be more consistent with punctuation elsewhere in the creed. Likewise, the colon after “he came down from heaven” four lines earlier could reasonably be replaced by a semicolon or (preferably) a period. The editors of the prayer book seem to have been too clever by half.

Returning to the six lines referred to above, I find it impossible to understand the indentation. Are the second through sixth lines intended to be a continuation of the first? The indentation of the fourth and sixth lines clearly are intended as extensions of the third and fifth lines, but why have those lines been indented relative to the first? The formatting simply makes no sense.

The remainder of the creed is consistent with the pattern noted earlier, however: indentation identifies one of the three major paragraphs, and further indentation indicates continuation of a thought.

So how might we better read the creed? Clearly, the congregation should pause at the end of lines, except where one line is continued on the next. As for the six problematic lines discussed above, the second through sixth lines should be treated as though they were rendered with one fewer level of indentation. The lines
    He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead,
        and his kingdom will have no end.
will necessarily require a bit of a pause between them, though perhaps less than is customary. The result would sound something like the following:

Finally, as readers might have inferred above, I think the creed is unhelpfully punctuated. Indentation aside, there are commas missing in some places and extraneous commas in others. (I am a big fan of commas, particularly if text is to be read aloud.) For consistency, I would put commas after introductory phrases and eliminate commas serving no obvious purpose. (Compound predicates need no  separating commas; compound sentences do.) I would replace colons and semicolons with periods, and I would make a few additional changes. Without undue concern for prayer book pagination, the result would be something like this:
We believe in one God,
    the Father, the Almighty,
    maker of heaven and earth,
    of all that is, seen and unseen.

We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ,
    the only Son of God,
    eternally begotten of the Father,
    God from God, Light from Light,
    true God from true God,
    begotten, not made,
    of one Being with the Father.
    Through him, all things were made.
    For us and for our salvation, he came down from heaven.
    By the power of the Holy Spirit,
        he became incarnate from the Virgin Mary and was made man.
    For our sake, he was crucified under Pontius Pilate.
    He suffered death and was buried.
    On the third day, he rose again, in accordance with the Scriptures.
    He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
    He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead,
        and his kingdom will have no end.

We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life,
    who proceeds from the Father and the Son.
    With the Father and the Son, he is worshiped and glorified.
    He has spoken through the Prophets.
    We believe in one holy, catholic, and apostolic Church.
    We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.
    We look for the resurrection of the dead
        and the life of the world to come. Amen.
Permit me to close with a theological question that occurred to me as I was writing this essay. What is one to make of  “he rose again”? When did the Son of God rise the first time? Presumably, the phrase means something like “became a living being again,” but the phrase is peculiar.

March 15, 2014

A Tale of Two Litigants

Monday, the Supreme Court of the United States denied certiorari in the case of Falls Church v. Protestant Episcopal Church. The effect is to make the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia, not the breakaway congregation of The Falls Church Anglican, the owner of the substantial property of The Falls Church in Falls Church, Virginia.

The Falls Church
The Falls Chuch
As might be expected, litigants on both sides issued statements offering commentary on the Supreme Court’s action.

The diocese first issued a brief statement acknowledging the decision of the Supreme Court. It was titled “Supreme Court of the United States Denies CANA Congregation’s Petition for Appeal”:
Today, over seven years after congregations of the Convocation of Anglicans in North America entered into litigation with the Diocese of Virginia, the Supreme Court of the United States ended the final lawsuit by denying The Falls Church CANA’s petition for certiorari. The decision, in effect, affirms the Supreme Court of Virginia’s ruling in favor of the Diocese in June 2013. The CANA congregation had filed a petition on Oct. 9, 2013, appealing the state court decision to the U.S. Supreme Court.

“We are most gratified by the Supreme Court’s ruling,” said the Rt. Rev. Shannon S. Johnston, bishop of Virginia.“We look forward to the possibilities that the months ahead will bring, and continue to keep those affected by the litigation in our prayers.”

“Although it breaks my heart to think of where all that money and energy could have gone, today’s news is uplifting for our congregation,” said the Rev. John Ohmer, rector of The Falls Church Episcopal.“My hope and prayer is that all sides can now continue to grow their communities of worship, ministries and outreach in our church homes.”
Bishop Johnston followed up with a letter to the “diocesan family”:
Today is an important day for our Diocese. We finally can say, with great thankfulness, that the Diocese of Virginia no longer is involved in property litigation. The U.S. Supreme Court has denied the Falls Church CANA’s petition. That means The Falls Church Episcopal is free to continue to worship and grow in its home church buildings.

Although today marks an official and much anticipated end to the litigation, it also marks a beginning. We will now be able to focus fully our attentions on the many truly exciting ministries all over our Diocese. I pray that those in the CANA congregations will join us in turning this fresh page.

It is most appropriate that this decision comes at this time, following January’s Annual Council, where we gathered under the theme, “Awake, My Soul, Stretch Every Nerve.” In the spirit of renewal I have felt all over the Diocese, I invite you to join me and your brothers and sisters in 182 congregations as we explore new ways to awake our collective souls; as we take a fresh look at our shared ministries; as we stretch every nerve, beyond our comfort zones; and as we breathe new life into the mission we do together in the name of Jesus Christ.

Our Dayspring team already has been making great headway in identifying sources of renewed energy and vision involving those properties that have been returned to us as a result of the litigation. I have no doubt that this spirit of renewal will be enhanced by today’s decision. Please join us on this missional journey that will stretch and inspire us as we find new ways to connect our faith community to the needs of the world.

On this special day, I would like to recognize the clergy and lay leaders of The Falls Church Episcopal, a congregation that has continued to grow in love throughout this prolonged legal process. As always, our prayers remain with all of those affected by the litigation—brothers and sisters who now have the precious opportunity for a new beginning.
The rector of The Falls Church Anglican, the Rev. John Yates, and the senior and junior wardens sent this letter to church members via Constant Contact:
We received word today that the United States Supreme Court has denied our church’s petition for certiorari and declined to hear our case. This means that the long legal process in which our church has been involved since we were sued by The Episcopal Church and the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia in 2007 has come to its end.

We have pursued this legal process out of the conviction that it is one of the ministries that God has entrusted to our church and out of our desire to be faithful to God’s calling to see it through to the end.  We are grateful that our nation’s civil justice system allows us this recourse and we thank the Supreme Court for its consideration of our petition.

We will keep praying for the many churches and dioceses that remain embroiled in lawsuits over their property with The Episcopal Church or other denominations. We will continue to pray for clarification of this area of law, which has become increasing convoluted and confusing for the lower courts since the Supreme Court last addressed it in 1979.

Although we hoped and prayed for a different outcome, we know that God is good, loving, and faithful. We have seen this on vibrant display in so many ways in our life together during these years, and we will continue to trust that He has even better things for us. The legal process may be finished, but in the end only God’s judgment is final and only God’s judgment matters. Our prayer has always been that God would be pleased with us for fighting the good fight, finishing the race, and keeping the faith. (2 Tim. 4:7)

We move forward into this next season in our life together with great excitement and anticipation-and without regret. By God’s grace and fully relying on His good providence, we’ll energetically pursue all of the other ministries that God has entrusted to our church:

  • We will continue to faithfully preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ, crucified and risen again, “the power of God and the wisdom of God.” (1 Cor. 1:23-25)
  • We will continue to share God’s love with our community and with the world.
  • We will continue to plant daughter churches in our communities and beyond.
  • We will continue with our ministries of worship, outreach, discipleship, youth ministry, healing prayer, and so many others.
  • We will re-double our efforts to pray and pursue a new church home, trusting that God’s good plans for us are exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think.
May God be glorified in all these efforts.
What we see in common in these two personal communications is an intention to get on with the work of the Church, given that the season of litigation has run its course. The tone of the two letters is quite different, however, and not simply because one side one and one side lost.

Surely Bishop Johnston must believe that justice was served, but he doesn’t gloat over the outcome, credit the diocese for its steadfastness, or claim that God either approved of or mandated the final result. At least obliquely, he acknowledges concern for those on the other side. Most of his letter. however, is about moving on.

By contrast, only at the very end of their letter do the leaders of The Falls Church Anglican address the future of the congregation, and they exhibit no concern for the Episcopalian brothers and sisters they left behind. Of course, such a letter needs to acknowledge the final reversal and offer some explanation for the pursuit of a different outcome. One might have expected some elaboration on this basic message:
The United States Supreme Court today denied certiorari in our appeal to reverse the decision of the Virginia Supreme Court in favor of the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia. We pursued legal remedies as tenaciously as we did because we believed our cause to be just and our prospects of success good, or at least reasonable. Our legal efforts to retain our parish property have come to naught, however, and it is time to move on.
Additionally, an apology for expending so much money and effort in pursuit of a losing cause might have been expected. Instead, the Rev. John Yates and his wardens insist that their quixotic legal odyssey was a God-given mission. Despite recent events, they declare their belief that God would be pleased by their “fighting the good fight” and that God has “better things for us.” They bear responsibility only for obeying the will of God.

Most remarkably, the parish leaders announce that they “will keep praying for the many churches and dioceses that remain embroiled in lawsuits over their property with The Episcopal Church or other denominations.” This, of course, is a clear indication that they have learned nothing from their own experience or that of the myriad disgruntled conservative Christians who repeated have been rebuffed by courts across the country.

Perhaps God has sent a message to The Falls Church Anglican. If not God, then surely the legal system of the United States has. Alas, the rector and wardens of The Falls Church Anglican are not listening.

March 8, 2014

History by the Side of the Road

Traveling around the country, I often encounter historical markers by the side of the road. These are usually brass plaques, painted to increase legibility, commemorating an event or explaining area history. These markers can be quite interesting, but they are impossible to read while speeding by in a car. Many of them stand by the side of highways with no parking area or sidewalk nearby. Who is expected to read these markers and how?
Historical marker
A typical Pennsylvania historical marker

What has me thinking about historical markers is one particular sign I pass often but which I have never fully read. I have been able to make out its title and a line or two as I pass by, but there are probably 10 or so lines of text on the plaque. I have no hope of ever learning what the marker is intended to communicate.

Historical markers are often the product of extended lobbying by interested groups that believe that some event, activity, person, or people should be memorialized. The erection of a plaque seemingly is the consummation of such a campaign. Ironically, the resulting marker may almost never be read after its installation ceremony simply because it is poorly located.

Burma-Shave sign set
Typical Burma-Shave sign set. The final sign always
said “Burma-Shave.”
Along highways where it is impossible to create a place where cars can pull off the road to read a marker, there may be another way to communicate information to passing vehicles. Why not chop up the text of a marker into small pieces and place them like Burma-Shave signs by the side of the road. (Readers who are too young to have encountered instances of the iconic Burma-Shave signs should read the Wikipedia article on Burma-Shave.) The standard brass plate could be preceded by a series of signs providing the full text of the historical marker.

To illustrate this idea, consider the Pennsylvania historical marker illustrated above. A set of signs could be created that could be read in sequence as the actual marker is approached:


That’s 10 signs, of course, and many markers would require even more signs. That may seem cumbersome, but this scheme could make accessible information that is now hidden in plain sight.

March 6, 2014

Is the Primate of the Church of Uganda Threatening the Church of England?

Three days ago, several news stories appeared indicating that the Church of Uganda’s Archbishop Stanley Ntangali (or Ntagali, by most accounts) had threatened that his church would somehow distance itself from the Church of England (or perhaps even the Anglican Communion) if its condemnatory attitude toward homosexuality was not respected. Kampala’s Daily Monitor led a story provocatively titled “Church ready to split from England on homosexuals” with this:
The Archbishop of Church of Uganda (CoU) has responded to the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, saying Uganda is ready to break away from the Church of England if its views on homosexuality are not respected.
Archbishop Stanley Ntagali
Archbishop Stanley Ntagali
The same day, The Telegraph ran an Agence France-Presse story with the headline “Uganda church warns of Anglican split over gay law” and the subhead “The Anglican Church of Uganda said Monday it may consider breaking away from their mother church in England if it puts Uganda under pressure over a tough new anti-homosexuality law.” That story began with a direct quote, but one less pointed than suggested by the headlines:
“The issue here is respect for our views on homosexuality, same sex marriage as a country and church. If they are not willing to listen to us. We shall consider being on our own,” Uganda's top Anglican, Archbishop Stanley Ntagali, told AFP.
Since the Church of Uganda has already broken communion with The Episcopal Church and declared itself to be in full communion with the Anglican Church in North America, a non-member of the Anglican Communion, a threat to break communion with the Church of England is certainly credible. Effecting such a break would be quite serious, however, as it could be construed as a withdrawal from the Anglican Communion. (It would be a particularly embarrassing affront the the Archbishop of York, who is from Uganda.)

Yesterday, a “clarification” to the Daily Monitor story was posted to the Church of Uganda Web site. “Clarification on the COU’s Relationship with the Church of England” began as follows:
Archbishop Stanley issued a very important clarification today about the erroneous information printed in the Monday, 3rd March 2014, edition of the Daily Monitor about the Church of Uganda’s relationship with the Church of England. He said,

“The Church of Uganda has had no discussions about breaking away from the Church of England or the Anglican Communion. …”
Ntagali repeats the mantra that “the fabric of the Anglican Communion was torn at its deepest level” by the consecration of Gene Robinson, and he asserts “that the Church of England seems to be drifting rapidly in the same direction” as The Episcopal Church. The statement ends with
“We can read and interpret the Bible for ourselves, and we know what it says about sexual behaviour belonging between one man and one woman in holy matrimony.”
I don’t know how much of a “clarification” Ntagali’s statement really is. I suspect he wanted to tone down his threat a bit, and he may even have had second thoughts about the consequences of resigning from the Anglican Communion or, more likely, about the wisdom of telegraphing such a move. In fact, Ntagali has not actually denied the possibility of his church’s walking away from its relationship with Canterbury. He did not say with whom there have been no discussions. Has a break not been discussed within the Church of Uganda? This seems rather unlikely, as I’m sure it has been discussed at least informally and perhaps over an extended period. My first impression was that he was referring to discussions between the Church of Uganda and the Church of England, which would be unsurprising.

In any case, the press interpretation of whatever Ntagali said earlier this week is consistent with his comments of January 30, particularly with regard to this paragraph:
It was the Episcopal Church USA (TEC) and the Anglican Church of Canada’s violations of Lambeth 1.10 which caused the Church of Uganda to break communion with those Provinces more than ten years ago. We sincerely hope the Archbishops and governing bodies of the Church of England will step back from the path they have set themselves on so the Church of Uganda will be able to maintain communion with our own Mother Church.
That certainly sounds like a threat, and one for which the good archbishop has offered no “clarification.”