Episcopal Church

Seeking God's will: Inside the complex soul of the real Gen. Robert E. Lee

Seeking God's will: Inside the complex soul of the real Gen. Robert E. Lee

Soon after the Army of Northern Virginia surrendered to Union forces, Gen. Robert E. Lee wrote to one of his spiritual advisers while wrestling with the pain of this great defeat, but also with a lesson that he had learned.

"God has thought fit to afflict us most deeply. … How great must be our sins & how unrelenting our obduracy," wrote Lee, to the Rev. William Platt, an Episcopal priest. "We have only to submit to his gracious will & pray for his healing mercy."

The key, Lee argued, is that the South's defeat represented the judgment of God. Now it was time to seek true unity, not "a forced and hollow truce. … To this end all good men should labour."

This was not random talk. Lee leaned on his faith because that's who he was, according to the Rev. R. David Cox, author of "The Religious Life of Robert E. Lee." Cox teaches history at Southern Virginia University, which is near the Episcopal parish in Lexington that he led from 1987-2000 -- then known as R.E. Lee Memorial Church.

This past fall, the church's vestry made news when -- after riots in Charlottesville -- it voted to return to the name "Grace Church," the church's name when Lee was on the vestry. Cox said he is convinced that the Lee revealed in his letters and private journals would have had no problem with that decision.

"I don't think Lee would have wanted the Confederate flag flown. … He would have opposed people putting up statues in an attempt to preserve the memory of a great 'lost cause' -- words that he never used," he said, during an interview in Lexington. "Lee would not have wanted to see a church named after him. He was too humble for that."

The problem, Cox explained, is that when people argue about "Robert E. Lee," they are actually arguing about two historic misconceptions of Lee.

Tricky interfaith details: Muslim preacher in an Episcopal pulpit and at the altar

Tricky interfaith details: Muslim preacher in an Episcopal pulpit and at the altar

Soumaya Khalifah's sermon fell in the usual place in the Holy Week rite in which Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta clergy renewed their vows -- after a Gospel passage and before the consecration of bread and wine as Holy Communion.

In this Mass, the Liturgy of the Word also included a Quran reading, including: "God, there is no god but He, the Living, the Self-Subsisting. Neither slumber overtakes Him nor sleep. Unto Him belongs whatsoever is in the heavens and whatsoever is on the earth. Who is there who may intercede with Him save by His leave?"

Khalifah asked leaders from the region's 96 Episcopal parishes an obvious question: Was this an historic moment, with a Muslim woman preaching in a liturgy for an entire Christian diocese?

"I truly believe that interfaith works is the Civil Rights Movement for the 21st century," said Khalifah, head of the Islamic Speakers Bureau of Atlanta. "Faith is used to divide us and we need to make intentional efforts to bring ourselves together. Normally we worship, associate and have friends from our own faith tradition, our own race. …

"When I look at the beautiful creations of God and how they worship, I see my Christian brothers and sisters. I think of their love for Jesus -- peace be upon him -- and their trying to live by his specific example of loving his enemies."

After her sermon, Atlanta Bishop Robert C. Wright invited Khalifah to join clergy and others at the altar for the Eucharistic prayers consecrating the bread and wine. As the worshippers stepped forward to receive Holy Communion, the bishop said Khalifah took part.

"She held out her hand to receive the Host and it is not my practice to refuse people," said Wright, reached by telephone. He noted that "open Communion" is common across his diocese, especially with visitors. Khalifah returned to her seat without receiving the consecrated wine, the bishop said.

A (liberal) church-growth strategy to save the Episcopal Church

Once upon a time, the Anglican bishops at the global Lambeth Conference boldly declared the 1990s the "Decade of Evangelism." 

 This effort was supposed to spur church growth and it did, in the already booming Anglican churches of Africa, Asia and across the "Global South." But in the lovely, historic sanctuaries of England and North America? Not so much.

 "There was some lip service given to evangelism at that time," said Ted Mollegen, a businessman with decades of national Episcopal Church leadership experience. Membership totals continued to spiral down and the Decade of Evangelism "basically faded away without much success ... because of a lack of effort and institutional commitment."

 The Episcopal Church then created a "20/20 Vision" task force committed to doubling baptized membership by 2020. The goal was a renewed evangelism emphasis, along with programs for spiritual development, emerging leaders, church planting and improved work with children, teens and college students. Mollegen was the task force's secretary and a founding member of the Episcopal Network for Evangelism.

Episcopalians, however, promptly entered yet another period of doctrinal warfare and schism, symbolized by the departure of many large evangelical parishes following the 2003 election of a noncelibate gay priest as bishop of New Hampshire. Mollegen served on the national church's executive council from 2003-2009.

Anglicans swimming the Tiber, a one-year report

It's natural for any employee to want to know just how committed the big boss is to the company's future and, especially, to the expansion project that includes his job. So, even though Pope Benedict XVI didn't make it to America in person, Father Jason Catania still appreciated the message he sent to the former Episcopal priests and others who swam the Tiber to Rome after the pontiff's controversial "Anglicanorum Coetibus ("groups of Anglicans") pronouncement in 2009.

"We didn't just wake up one morning last year and said, 'Why don't we join the Catholic Church?' Many of us have made personal and financial sacrifices over the years to do this," said Catania, who leads Mount Calvary Church in Baltimore. This was the first American parish that voted to enter one of the new "personal ordinariates" -- the equivalent of nationwide dioceses -- that would allow Anglicans to retain key elements of their liturgy, music, art and other traditions, such as married priests.

"We were very intentional and took many steps toward Rome on this journey," he said. "Now we're starting to see the results of the Vatican's strategic step toward us."

Clergy and supporters of the Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter gathered at its home base in Houston last week to mark the first anniversary of this outreach effort in America. Archbishop Gerhard Ludwig Muller, the new leader of the Vatican's powerful Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, offered his share of theological commentary on this project, but made it clear that his main message was personal.

"For most of you, this has been a journey into the unknown. ... I want you to know that the Holy Father is following with great interest the establishment and development of the ordinariate," he said, in his prepared Feb. 2 text. It is common knowledge in Rome, he added, that this is "very much the 'pope's project.' I have come to understand how true that is. You are very much in his thoughts and prayers."

So far, Benedict XVI has approved two other bodies for Anglicans and those loyal to Anglican traditions and worship -- the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham in England and the new Ordinariate of Our Lady of the Southern Cross in Australia. British critics greeted these efforts with a skepticism, if not scorn, symbolized by this headline in The Times: "Rome has parked its tanks on the Archbishop of Canterbury's lawn."

In addition to the Anglican doubters and all those who accused the pope of being "an ecumenical poacher," the special arrangements built into these ordinariates have caused skepticism among some Catholics, Muller admitted. However, there is no easy way to begin the work of closing a schism that has lasted for centuries. Only displays of true unity and slow, careful growth will bring healing, he said.

"Anglicans will be interested in what kind of reception you receive and how well you are able to make a home in the Catholic Church that is more than just assimilation," he said. "Catholics will want to know that you are here to stay, strengthening our ecclesial cohesion rather than setting yourselves apart as another divisive grouping within the Church. It is safe to say that all eyes are now on you and your parish communities. ...

"Your decision to 'put out into the deep' in favor of the unity of Christ's Church must be developed and extended in the promotion of a culture of communion of which you are the architects."

During the first year of its work -- while leaders wrestled with thickets of legal and liturgical questions -- the North American ordinariate ordained or accepted 30 new priests, all former Anglicans, and took in 1,600 members from 36 parish communities. It is now expanding into Canada, preparing for a second wave of incoming clergy and making plans for its own chancery facilities in Houston.

The Vatican's goal has been to "build a safe haven for orthodox people who don't mind saying that they're loyal to the Holy Father and to the church," said Catania, who attended the Houston meetings.

"Our goal was to show that we're not just a bunch of Episcopalians who wanted to get out of that church. ... We always thought of ourselves as Catholics, but now our Catholic identity is clear to everyone. We made it all the way home."

Orthodox bridge to evangelical world

As point man for Russian Orthodox relations with other faith groups, Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev is used to talking shop with Catholics, Anglicans, leaders in older brands of Protestantism and other world religions. These duties have long been part of his job description. Meeting with leaders from the world's booming evangelical and Pentecostal flocks?

Not so much.

However, recent ecumenical contacts by this high-profile representative of the Moscow Patriarchate is evidence that times are changing. Time after time, during meetings with evangelical leaders and others here in America, Hilarion has stressed that it is time for Orthodox leaders to cooperate with traditional Catholics, evangelical Protestants and others who are trying to defend ancient moral truths in the public square.

"I am here in order to find friends and in order to find allies in our common combat to defend Christian values," said the 44-year-old archbishop, who became a monk after serving in the Soviet army. He also speaks six languages, holds an Oxford University doctorate in philosophy and is an internationally known composer of classical music.

For too long, Orthodox leaders have remained silent. The goal now, he said, is to find ways to cooperate with other religious groups that want to "keep the traditional lines of Christian moral teaching, who care about the family, who care about such notions as marital fidelity, as giving birth to and bringing up children and in the value of human life from conception until natural death."

On this occasion earlier in the year, Hilarion was preaching from the pulpit of the 5,000-member Highland Park Presbyterian Church in Dallas, a conservative congregation that remains part of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), which recently approved the ordination of noncelibate gays, lesbians and bisexuals.

While in Dallas, Metropolitan Hilarion's public schedule included meetings at Dallas Theological Seminary, a prominent institution among many of America's most conservative evangelical leaders. He has also, during the first half of the year, met with nationally known evangelical leaders in New York, Washington, D.C., and at Princeton University.

In a recent interview with Christianity Today, one of evangelicalism's flagship publications, the archbishop said it is crucial for all churches -- including Eastern Orthodox churches -- to expand their work into public life, even if this creates controversy in some quarters.

"Very often nowadays our church will publicly express positions on what's happening in the country," he said. "Some people ask, 'Why does the church interfere? It's not their business.' We believe that the church can express its opinion on all aspects of human life. We do not impose our opinions on the people, but we should be free to express them. And people will have to choose whether to follow or not to follow, whether to listen to what we say or to ignore it."

The archbishop's statements were especially significant and timely because of a related conflict now raging in the Orthodox Church in America, which has Russian roots.

A major cause of the controversy was the decision by the church's leader, Metropolitan Jonah Paffhausen, to privately endorse The Manhattan Declaration, a document produced by a coalition of conservative Christians that focuses on abortion, euthanasia, sexual morality and religious liberty issues. Numerous Catholic bishops and several other Orthodox leaders have also signed as private citizens, not in their roles as church officials.

At the very least, this bitter dispute has demonstrated that some OCA leaders are opposed to public stands on hot-button political issues, especially any that proclaim the church's teachings on sexuality. Some prefer isolation and silence.

However, Metropolitan Hilarion, in his taped sermon in Dallas, said it is shocking to see churches divided by "what hitherto seemed unthinkable -- namely marked differences among Christians in their understanding of moral law. ... There has surfaced a desire to revise, or to be more precise, to adjust, the unambiguous commandments of God to any manifestation of human fancy, a trend that has spread out with the speed of a cancer. ...

"Maybe this is one of the reasons why so many families break, why so many marriages end up with divorce, why so many children are raised without a father or a mother and why the birthrates in many countries have become so low. ... Family is no longer a primary value to many young people. This is a tragedy of our times and this is a challenge that we can face together."

A word from Canterbury, finally

Thousands of Episcopalians believe the Sacrament of Marriage should be modernized to include same-sex unions.

Thousands of others across America disagree.

Many regional dioceses have become battlegrounds, with liberal parishes clashing with conservative parishes. At the national level, some bishops have tried, with little success, to convince their church hierarchy to repent after its 2003 consecration of the openly gay Bishop V. Gene Robinson of New Hampshire. This war has rocked the 70-million-member Anglican Communion, where traditionalists hold a majority among the world's bishops.

So everyone has been waiting for a sign from the throne of St. Augustine. Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams has been pulled in both directions, although his progressive views on sexuality are well known.

"What is the current tension in the Anglican Communion actually about? Plenty of people are confident that they know the answer," wrote Williams, in a letter this week to the Anglican primates. "It's about gay bishops, or possibly women bishops. The American Church is in favor and others are against -- and the Church of England is not sure (as usual)."

But this is a conflict inside a global, sacramental communion, he stressed. It cannot be debated in political terms.

Anglicans can even appreciate the role homosexuals have played in church life, he said, yet believe that this "doesn't settle the question of whether the Christian Church has the freedom, on the basis of the Bible, and its historic teachings, to bless homosexual partnerships as a clear expression of God's will. That is disputed among Christians, and, as a bare matter of fact, only a small minority would answer yes to the question."

Thus, Williams believes it's time for Anglicans to write a covenant that would bind the communion together on crucial points of ancient Christian doctrine and practice. Liberal churches that declined to sign would become "associate" members of the communion and remain linked by bonds of history and friendship -- but not "constituent" members at the legal and sacramental levels.

Anglicanism would split, along lines defined by the global majority.

"Some actions -- and sacramental actions in particular -- just do have the effect of putting a Church outside or even across the central stream of the life they have shared with other Churches," wrote Williams. "It isn't a question of throwing people into outer darkness, but of recognizing that actions have consequences -- and that actions believed in good faith to be 'prophetic' in their radicalism are likely to have costly consequences."

What would this look like in practice? The relationship, said the archbishop, would not be "unlike that between the Church of England and the Methodist Church," which broke away from Anglicanism in 1791.

The Episcopal Church posted the Williams letter on its website, without initial comment. However, activists on both sides quickly linked Canterbury's sobering epistle with the decision during their recent General Convention to change the church's name from the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America to the Episcopal Church -- period. This underlined the fact that it already includes small jurisdictions in the Caribbean, Latin America and Europe. Might it soon include Canada, New Zealand, Scotland other churches that reject a doctrinal covenant?

Money will be an issue as Anglican leaders write their covenant.

The older, richer churches control massive endowments, pensions, seminaries, properties and the ecclesiastical structures in their lands. They control the resources of the past and will use them to defend what they believe is the theology of the future.

However, traditionalists in the Third World and in some giant American parishes are thriving in the here and now. They believe they can use the resources of the present to defend the theology of the past.

It's crucial that Williams repeatedly stressed that changes are coming no matter what, said Father David Roseberry, rector of the 4,500-member Christ Church in Plano, Texas. This week, the parish announced that it would leave the Episcopal Church, while striving to remain in the Anglican Communion.

"I'm impressed that Rowan Williams is not willing to sacrifice the doctrine, discipline and worship of Anglicanism in order to accept the doctrine, discipline and worship of the modern Episcopal Church," said Roseberry. "In fact, it appears that he is sacrificing his own personal views in order to preserve the unity of the church. This is exactly what we believe a bishop should do."

Year 17 -- Episcopagans in the News

Our story begins with a liturgy entitled "A Women's Eucharist: A Celebration of the Divine Feminine," posted among the online offerings of the Episcopal Church Office of Women's Ministries.

Digital sleuths easily connected this rite to Tuatha de Brighid, a "Clan of modern Druids." Then before insiders could say "Episcopagans," critics found links between its use of milk, honey and raisin cakes and Asherah, Astarte and rituals banned in the biblical book of Hosea.

As a rule, rites connected to Baal are frowned on in Christian churches.

The Internet trail led to the Rev. William Melnyk and his wife, the Rev. Glyn Ruppe-Melnyk, in the Diocese of Pennsylvania. In Druid circles, he is "Oakwyse" and she is "Glispa." Soon, Pennsylvania Bishop Charles E. Bennison, Jr., agreed to discipline the Melnyks -- who publicly repented.

It was crucial to avoid a "where there's smoke, there's fire" response, the bishop told the media. "I will not allow this situation to turn into a witch-hunt of any sort."

A bishop does not, after all, have to hunt witches when he has already found his druids.

However, the priest previously known as "Oakwyse" is now the druid formerly known as a priest. In a recent online post, Melnyk has withdrawn his letter of repentance and resigned from the priesthood. Those seeking Druidic rites and weddings may visit www.oakwyse.org for details.

For the life of me, I cannot understand why some people think religion news is boring. Year after year, I mark this column's anniversary -- this is No. 17 -- by rounding up strange bits and pieces that didn't fit anywhere else during the previous 12 months.

Believe me, I would never dare to make this stuff up.

* Alabama radio preacher Paul Morehead is pushing the WWJD (What Would Jesus Do) condom. Thus, this quotation: "When a young man and a young woman give in to Satan, when they strip down like animals in the wild and prepare themselves for a lusty round of heavy petting and full-blown sex, what better reminder for them to buck up than a WWJD condom with the image of our Lord and Savior right there on the package?"

* The most amazing faith quote of the 2004 White House race was on the left, when Sen. John Edwards said: "If we can do the work that we can do in this country -- the work we will do when John Kerry is president -- people like Christopher Reeve are going to walk. Get up out of that wheelchair and walk again."

* Charleston, S.C., church sign: "Stop, Drop and Roll Does Not Work in Hell."

* In the year of the "values voters," I am amazed that no one chased the religion angle in the ABC News poll that said 56 percent of Republicans were "very satisfied" with their sex lives, compared with 47 percent of Democrats. Who has worn "something sexy" to bed? That would be Republicans, 72 percent, and Democrats, 62 percent.

* Someone at Time magazine needs a dictionary. Its recent list of the 25 most influential Evangelical Protestants in America included Father Richard John Neuhaus and Sen. Rick Santorum -- who are Roman Catholics.

* How tough is life on the Jewish dating scene? It seems that MarryBlaire.com is still in business.

* Here's evidence that there is a God: Microsoft's Bill Gates receives 4 million pieces of e-mail per day -- most of it spam.

* Amen! Four Catholic parishes in Monterrey, Mexico, have installed Israeli-made electronic devices that jam cell telephones.

* Note to President Bush: You know that pro-Texas "hook 'em, 'horns" gesture you do by raising the pinky and index fingers on your right hand? Apparently that has another meaning in Norway -- it's a salute to Satan.

* I thought this was an urban legend, but wire service reports indicate that the Rev. Jack Arnold, 69, really did collapse and die at a suburban Orlando Presbyterian church, immediately after saying the words, "And when I go to heaven. ..."

* During CNN's coverage before the pope's death, Monsignor Lorenzo Albacete said that he told Pope John Paul II that he had agreed to speak to the network about the pontiff when he died. The pope replied: "How do they know I'm going first?"