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Discernment

A post below, on the resignation of his office by Episcopal Bishop Jeffrey Steenson, elicited a long and fascinating thread.

Now Bishop Steenson has addressed the House of Bishops and given some of the personal and theological reasons for his choice.

He said:

Our spring meeting this year at Camp Allen was a profoundly disturbing experience for me. I was more than a little surprised when such a substantial majority declared the polity of the Episcopal Church to be primarily that of an autonomous and independent local church relating to the wider Anglican Communion by voluntary association. This is not the Anglicanism in which I was formed, inspired by the Oxford movement and the Catholic Revival in the Church of England. Perhaps something was defective in my education for ministry in the Episcopal Church, but, honestly, I did not recognize the church that this House described on that occasion.

This sent me to reflect further on that crucial text from Vatican IIs Lumen Gentium: Many elements of sanctification and of truth can be found outside the Church's visible structure. These elements, however, as gifts properly belonging to the Church of Christ, possess an inner dynamic toward Catholic unity." If this is true, then what we say and do as Anglicans ought to be directed toward the goal of reunification with the Catholic Church. The Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission strove valiantly to bring this about, and it once seemed that Anglicanism might offer itself, even sacrificially, for the sake of authentic Christian unity. It is much to be regretted that its 1998 report, The Gift of Authority, has been largely forgotten in our present conflicts, especially its call for the re-reception of the historic ministry of Peter within Anglican life.

He goes on:

From time to time it seems necessary for some to embark on these personal journeys as a reminder that the churches of the Reformation were not intended to carry on indefinitely separated from their historical and theological mooring in the Church of Rome. I believe that the Lord now calls me in this direction. It amazes me, after all of these years, what a radical journey of faith this must necessarily be. To some it seems foolish; to others disloyal; to others an abandonment. I once thought that it would be a simple matter of considering the theological evidence and then drawing a rational conclusion that surely would be self-evident to reasonable people. But faith is also a mystery and a gift, and this ultimately becomes a journey of the heart.

Towards the end he says:

My old teacher, Dr. Mark Noll, writes in Is the Reformation Over? of his surprise at reading the Catechism of the Catholic Church and finding himself stopping to pray. That is exactly it, the experience of giving your heart to Jesus Christ again because you have encountered his words anew, now embodied in his ecclesial Body at its source. I do want to assure you that I have tried to follow the Ignatian principle of discernment, to make no important decision while in a place of spiritual desolation. I have especially sought to give no place to that anger which darkens understanding and clouds judgment.

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I think his appeal to "The Gift of Authority," an Agreed Statement of the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission (ARCIC) has particular relevance, with its call for a "re-reception" of the Petrine Ministry.

The full text of Bishop Steenson's Statement is here.

Comments

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Many thanks for that post. I find myself very moved by what Bishop Steenson has written, and at how closely (and how more articulately) he has expressed the thoughts of many of us who have moved to Rome.My only hope is that as the reunification with Rome, for which I pray daily, will enrich the Roman Church rather than eradicate what is uniquely Anglican.Sadly, I have encountered many Catholics who see Anglicanism as simply "Catholic Lite," a watered down, version of Catholicism. At a prayer retreat I was stunned to meet a woman who told me how lucky I was to have escaped the Episcopalians with their "fake" eucharist and their "fake" priests.Catholicism is still, in my experience, a relatively cold, cerebral place. Anglicanism is more "homely," to use one of our common St. Julian of Norwich's expressions. I would hope that the coming home of Anglicans--and the eventual reunification--will warm things up a bit.

Frankly, I'm surprised by the bishop's contention that the churches of the Reformation were not intended to remain indefinitely separated from Rome. Perhaps I'm wrong here, but I believe many of our fellow Christians centuries ago left the Church of Rome precisely because of the abuses they witnessed in liturgy, sacraments, exercise of ecclesial authority, etc. Why in God's name would anyone so convinced want to return to such an institution???During and after Vatican II, I recall many times hearing the phrase "Unity without uniformity" as an acknowledgement of the diversity in the larger Christian body. Since JPII, however, we have seen Rome reining in what it has regarded as "dissident" beliefs and practices. Autocratic rule was a mainstay under the late pontiff, and Ratzinger was his Rottweiler. I see no change in goals under the new pope, just a change in face: a much kinder, benevolent dictator.Steenson wants to be receptive to the papacy, so to speak. All I can say is "Be careful what you ask for! You just might get it!"Jean, your third paragraph is "right on." I can only hope that "a word of warning to the wise will be sufficient." I'm not at all optimistic.

To be honest, i'm not sure what to think of Bp. Steenson's reasoning in desiring communion with the See of Rome. I do understand the desire to leave the Episcopal Church (we are a muddled bunch that sway in the theological breeze between clarity and nonsense). For some of us, Rusty Reno's departure (and his writings that followed) struck a nerve. Are we really sustaining an "idea" of church that really has become a pile of ruins? I think in our quiet moments, some might say, yes . . with qualifications. Bp. Steenson has obviously identified the ruins and through appeals to the agency of the Spirit, has discerned a better future for himself. Others will follow (as others have already led), and i wish them well. I just hope that one day soon our muddled ecclesial life will embrace the kind patience and humility that our forms of worship ask of us.

Jean, such comments from your prayer retreat partner would be laughable if they weren't so hurtful, and too often a reflection--albeit delivered with less aplomb--of actual Catholic teaching. I guess I see the Anglican Communion as nearly as diverse as Catholicism. I have often told Catholics that if they want a decent liturgy they need to go to the Anglo-Catholic Episcopal church around here. Or even non-Anglo-Catholic. Music and the rest is always much better. (The trust funds help, of course.) As for chilliness, perhaps I have a wider experience of Catholicism, or a different expereince of Episcopalians. Catholic parishes, esp ethnic & immigrant & "minority" churches, can rock. And there are lots of "frozen chosen" Episcopal churches. I think the Anglican Communion has much to teach us, and there but for the grace of God, you know...It's often said that the Episcopal Church/Anglican Communion is a generation ahead (or behind, depending on one's point of view) the Catholic Church in many issues. We may be where they are at some point soon, since they are wrestling honestly with issues that we have been able to finesse largely thanks to our culture and power structure (as differentiated from our teaching on authority). Though we haven't escaped completely. Look at the Trad schismatics in the Roman Church. A few years ago I was talking to a VOTF chapter in northern New Jersey, where Archbishop Myers has barred them from Catholic property as "anti-Catholic." So they were meeting in an Episcopal Church. During the Q&A they were lamenting their fate, and the ban, and the terrible situation they faced as Catholics. I was sympathetic, but at a certain point I had to point out that the way things were going in the C of E there could be a group of angry Episcopalians meeting that same evening at the local Catholic parish. Everyone is embroiled in the debates over sex and authority (and the more sex, and more different kinds of sex). Which came first is a good question, and an underlying theme of these recent threads.

I love David Gibson's wry observation that "the way things were going in the C of E there could be a group of angry Episcopalians meeting that same evening at the local Catholic parish." I once kidded an unhappy Southern Baptist friend that a lot of people might be happier if Southern Baptist moderates could trade place with conservative Episcopalians.Bishop Steenson's decision is very unusual among bishops of the Episcopal Church. The occasional Episcopal bishop swims the Tiber after retirement (Clarence Pope, or may retire earlier than required (Daniel Herzog, who grew up in Catholicism) and then swim the Tiber.Bishop Steenson is only 55, and was consecrated in 2005. His decision is a painful loss for me as an Episcopalian who has long respected his vision and his compassion. I'm confident he will find a warm welcome and a rewarding vocation in Catholicism.

David, I misspoke. I wasn't talking about "coldness" within individual Catholics and Episcopalians or the general tenor of parishes. Episcopalians (nor Unitarians, my childhood denomination) are not a particularly warm and fuzzy group. But, then, neither am I.I'm talking more about the sense of belonging-ness. In my experience (and it IS ONLY my limited experience), Catholics tend to take a more "here's the church; are you good enough to be in it?" approach.Episcopalians--at least when I sought baptism--take a more "here's the church; it's for you because you're not good enough to belong" stance.Of course, one could argue that the fact that I have to ask myself every day whether I'm good enough to be a Catholic has led to changes in my behavior.Whether these changes are improvements, of course, we'll have to wait to see ...

Doug--Good to hear from you on this blog, and thanks for the references. Do send word if you do something with Steenson. Jean, my bad for not recognizing the "ism" of your words, talking about the churches in general rather than in the trenches. Though they are connected. Your parsing reminds me of the famous "Sh-t Happens" guide to religions. Catholicism, I believe, is "If sh-t happens, you deserve it."

Hmmm. Maybe that's why God called me to become a Catholic ... I deserved it.

Bishop Steenson expresses his reasons for swimming the Tiber chiefly in terms of ecclesial unity, which is surely an admirable goal. I would hope, though, that as he enters the RCC, (and doubtless he will be offered ordination shortly after--if not with--confirmation, so also as he enters ministry in the Roman Church,) that he might keep in mind those he's left behind, especially his colleagues in ministry in the ECUSA. Will he remember the women who exercise leadership in all forms in the ECUSA, but whose priestly gifts would be regarded with suspicion and even derision in many circles in the RCC?Will he remember the (other ?) married clergy who exercise leadership in the ECUSA, while in the RCC people of similar gifts are forced to choose between a vocation to marriage and a priestly vocation?Will he remember gay and lesbian Epsicopalians as he enters a Church that declares them to be objectively disordered and regards even celibate gay men as ineligible for ordination (or at least regards them as risky candidates?)Tiber-swimmers go in both directions, and those swimming counter-current to Steenson are often seeking a Church in which they are welcome to respond to God's call to them as women and married men called to leadership in the Church and as gay and lesbian people who may not be called to celibate life. Steenson's motive is Church unity. Therefore, I look forward to his speaking powerfully in in the RCC for those refugees from Rome who felt driven from their eccleisal home. He knew them and worked with them in the ECUSA, and doubltess he met more on the swim over. His concern for unity would demand that he speak up.

Lisa: you have said it all!I would LOVE to see valid, comparable stats on the various ordained folk who have crossed the Tiber AWAY from Rome. And, of course, those from Canterbury to Rome as well.Any sources that anyone know about?

I agree with David that TEC has much to teach us. The clear lesson is that TEC gives us the pastoral end that many Progressivist RC seek in our holy Church and that end leads to ecclesial suicide. I think Joseph misinterprets the Council. Joseph said:"During and after Vatican II, I recall many times hearing the phrase "Unity without uniformity" as an acknowledgement of the diversity in the larger Christian body."Of course "hearing a phrase" does not mean the phrase has any significance but the Eastern rites are evidence of this "unity without uniformity" in the one Church as is the Anglican usage of the Roman rite and our own extraordinary usage. Jimmy - they got Matthew Fox and we got Bishop Steenson and other bishops. Something like 500 Anglican priests left that Church with the ordination of women many years ago. Note that when they leave before retirement they give up their pension.I can't help but sense a certain disappointment here at this and other bishops from TEC coming home to Rome on this blog. I think it may be because TEC has implemented every ecclesial policy advocated by the progressive project in the RCC. That being the case TEC's spiral into numerical irrelevancy and the internal discord in the communion to the point of fracture must be painful to watch because it reveals the fruitless work that the progressive Catholic may have been pursuing for years.And to think that TEC was once significant enough to be the official tax supported denomination in some of our states. Why so many progressivists want to imitate her unsuccessful pastoral (and doctrinal) decisions is amazing to me. What did Freud say about someone doing the same thing over and over again while expecting a different result each time?