The Problem with the Neo-Anglicans

Evensong, Forward-in-Faith/North America.  

15 July 2015.  Fort Worth, Texas  (copyright retained by the author)

Psalm cxxii, verse 3 – Jerusalem is built as a city that is at unity in itself.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.  Amen.

I was trained to believe that sermons are not meant primarily to prove or to instruct, much less to argue.  Rather sermons are primarily meant to proclaim:  to proclaim the Incarnation, the Cross, and the Resurrection of our Lord.  I hope this idea animates my Sunday Mass sermons.  But Evensong or Evensong and Benediction are somewhat different from Sunday morning.  We read in a delightful miscellany on the Church and clergy by A.N. Wilson of a priest who for forty years ‘preached on a variety of themes at his morning Mass, but thought it inappropriate, at…Benediction, to preach on any subject other than the Empress Josephine.’ (A.N. Wilson, ed., 1992, p. 240)   I don’t plan to be quite that bad.  But when Bishop Ackerman invited me last year to this event I told him that I would have to address what seems to me the central problem with most of the efforts of Forward-in-Faith and its precursors and now also with the Anglican Church of North America (ACNA).  I was invited nonetheless, so here is something with a bit of polemic in it, as promised.  I will not say with Trevor Huddleston that I have naught for your comfort.  But neither will I speak smooth things.

The central problem of which I just spoke is a lack of theological clarity and consistency and, to be blunt, catholicity.  That is a rather provocative assertion.  Let me offer an initial qualification, if not apology.  I know that the religious world is filled with huge problems which are of much greater apparent importance than the intramural fusses of soi-disant Anglo-Catholics.  In a world of resurgent and violent Islam and a secularizing America, our intramural differences may seem minor.  I do not wish to indulge in the sadism of small differences.  But then I happen to think that Anglicanism is central to the fate of the West, and that the near collapse of orthodox Anglicanism since the mid-20th century is at least indirectly tied to our wider troubles.  So, back to the question of theological clarity, which I do not think is in fact a minor problem.

The Anglican alternative to the paths taken by Forward-in-Faith and ACNA is Continuing Anglicanism.  Despite all of our checkered history and with all our failures, I think we Continuers have theological integrity.  That integrity is not a subjective or personal matter, but rests on an objective theological base, expressed clearly in the Affirmation of Saint Louis.  This foundation situates us irrevocably within the central Tradition of Catholic Christendom.  All Anglican formularies are seen by the Affirmation through the lens of the central Tradition.  Anglican formularies are not a kind of Occam’s razor to limit what is acceptable in Catholic tradition for Anglicans.  Rather the Catholic consensus and central Tradition are the lens through which we read and appropriate our Anglicanism.  This central Tradition is found in the Fathers and the Seven Councils and in the consensus of East and West, ancient and modern and living still.  For us, the central problem of the Episcopal Church and of the Anglican Communion is not Gene Robinson or an error concerning any particular person or issue.  Rather the fundamental problem was an implicit assertion, decades ago, that the central Tradition of Christendom is at the disposal of Episcopalian Conventions or Anglican Synods or Lambeth Conferences.  It is not.  The Affirmation and my own Church’s formularies firmly, decisively, and forever reject doctrinal ambiguity, comprehensiveness, or the attempt to make our peculiarities decisive and determinative.  We are not Anglicans first and Catholics second.  We are members of the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church first, and Anglicans second.  We will vigorously pursue unity with all others who share this central belief.  No unity, at least no full or Eucharistic communion, is possible or desirable with those who do not share this starting point.

I congratulate the ACNA for leaving the Episcopal Church and Anglican Church of Canada.  Every one of you who made that change did a good thing and one, I hope, that you do not regret.  But that departure can only be a good first step.  For ACNA is really not a Church but a coalition of dioceses.  The coalition is for some purposes only, and the communion of the dioceses is impaired and imperfect.  The ACNA has retained the central flaw of the recent Lambeth Communion because it permits member dioceses to ordain women to the three-fold ministry, and therefore implicitly claims that the central Tradition is not decisive and may be set aside.  ACNA is not a return to orthodox Anglicanism, but only a return to the impaired state of the Lambeth Communion that began in 1975 and 1976.

Continued ambiguity or confusion about the central tradition and women’s ordination is very dangerous.  It is very dangerous because it encourages Catholic churchmen to compromise themselves in a variety of ways.  Perhaps just as bad, fine, bright, and consistent Catholics will perceive that there is no certain trumpet, no clear ecclesiology, and no real future in a world of such compromises – and so you will continue to suffer the death by a thousand cuts, as people go to Rome or Orthodoxy or the Continuing Church or just stay home.

There are excellent reasons to be both Catholic and Anglican.  Anglo-Catholics enjoy the great strengths of the Anglican patrimony.  We have the Authorized Version of the Bible and the classical Book of Common Prayer.  Together these are not only compelling literary and cultural monuments, but also provide us with a well-balanced spirituality.  In some Christian bodies the Bible is loosed from tradition and from the praying Church.  Of these bodies Richard Hooker wrote:

When they and their Bibles were alone together, what strange fantastical opinion soever at any time entered into their heads, their use was to think the Spirit taught it them.  (Laws, Preface, VIII.7)

The Prayer Book tradition in contrast provides an anchor, an objective interpretative lens, and a prayerful setting for traditional and orthodox interpretation of Scripture.  In other Christian bodies the sacraments have been loosed from Scripture and its constant fertilizing influence.  Scripture is neglected and the jewel of the Eucharist is pried loose from its golden setting in a round of offices centered on the systematic reading of Psalms and Scripture.  But for Anglican Catholics the sacraments are truly Scripture so prayed and read and presented as to be a large part of the very sacramental forms through which God pours forth his grace into our hearts.  In short, our tradition has an almost perfect balance of Bible and sacrament.  We begin with the Bible as presented in and with Common Prayer, but then add our Anglican patrimony of architecture, music, literature, spirituality, and theological method.  Those are formidable strengths.  How sad that so many neo-Anglicans have jettisoned the bulk of this patrimony by abandoning the classical Anglican liturgical tradition.

Dear friends, if you compromise with the ordination of women, and if you abandon the largest part of our Anglican patrimony by adopting modernist liturgy rooted in the Novus Ordo or, worse, in the Anglo-Baptist ideas of Sydney, there is little to hold people.  Then you can only trust in a kind of slightly more decorous imitation of Charles Stanley or the already-fading mega-churches.  You’ve given up both your Anglican past and also any future that can be meaningfully described as Anglican.

We must abandon all sectarian, provincial ideas that separate us from the central consensus of the Tradition of the great Churches.  We must take this duty seriously by systematically rooting our doctrine and practice in Catholic agreement.  Seven Councils, seven sacraments, invocation of the saints, objective sacramental efficacy, the Real Eucharistic Presence, clear moral teaching, male episcopate and priesthood and diaconate:  those are all matters of Catholic consensus.  That is what we must believe if we take seriously Archbishop Fisher’s assertion that we have no faith of our own.

The Catholic Movement in the Church of England began as an attempt to call all Anglicans back to the fullness of the Catholic Faith.  The goal was nothing less than the wholesale conversion of the entire Church to the fullness of the Faith.  The partial success of the Movement may have been its downfall.  When Anglo-Catholics became too successful to ignore or suppress, and were invited to the table to enjoy a share of the spoils – a percentage of the mitres and deaneries and professorships and plum parishes – Anglo-Catholics too often lowered their sights and quieted their voices.  From the conversion of the whole, we became satisfied with a slice of the pie, with a comfortable status as a recognized party.  But half-Catholic is as unreal as half-virgin.

If you still are in the Episcopal Church:  get out.  Get out today.  Anything else threatens your soul’s state.  Dear friends in ACNA:  you must present a clear and unmistakable demand.  The ordination of women must end, soon and completely, for it is directly contrary to Catholic doctrine.  No grand-fathering – or grand-mothering is possible – because such compromise leaves intact the central, revolutionary, and false implication that the deposit of the faith is negotiable and at our disposal.

Until there is such clarity, there will be no unity among those of us who like to think of ourselves as Catholic and Anglican Churchmen.  There will be no unity because you cannot be a pure cup of water in a dirty puddle.  That is the simple, basic message of the Continuing Church to the neo-Anglicans.  You have gone a very long way down a very wrong path, and that is true even if all the time you were avoiding a still worse path.  You have a journey home to make, things to unlearn and to remember and recover.  We want to welcome you at home.  But there can be no restored communion with us without hard decisions and firm actions from you.

Glory be to the Undivided Trinity.  Glory be to Jesus Christ on his throne of glory in heaven and in the Most Blessed Sacrament of the Altar.  All honor to the glorious and ever-Virgin Mother of our Lord.  Peace be to the Holy Churches of God.  May God forgive us our sins, which are many and great.  May God give us wisdom to discern a safe path forward.  May God grant us true humility and unshakable fidelity and great love.  May God bring our Church to glorious days and may he bring us to unity with all his holy people, so that Jerusalem may be as a city that is at unity in itself.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.  Amen.

Trinity VII sermon

Trinity VII.  July 30, 2017.  St. Stephen’s, Athens.  (Father Athanaelos’s 18th anniversary of ordination)

St. Mark viii, verse 3 – …if I send them away fasting to their own houses, they will faint by the way….

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.  Amen.

Today as always we read the lessons the Church assigns to this particular Sunday, but in addition, of our own choice as it were, we are observing the rector’s anniversary of ordination to the priesthood.  Several of us were there years ago in New Bern, North Carolina, and it was a happy day.  If you are a visitor here today, you have stumbled upon a local celebration.  Welcome and enjoy.  You need not go away fasting to your own house in danger of fainting on the way:  you may instead go to Dearing Street and have lunch with an exceptionally pleasant group of people.  In any case, the coincidence of today’s gospel lesson and the observance of an ordination anniversary is fortunate.  The two fit unusually well, as I was happy to discover when Father Athanaelos asked me to preach today.  I do not have to stretch at all to connect the fixed lesson with the happenstance of the anniversary.  Our gospel lesson is Saint Mark’s account of the multiplication of bread to feed four thousand disciples in the wilderness.  If you think that should be five thousand, you’re half right:  Mark and Matthew both tell us about our Lord feeding five thousand men on one occasion and four thousand on another.  My text today sets the scene for this miraculous feeding.  Our Lord has ‘compassion on the multitude’ that have listened to his teaching for three days (viii.2).  He says, ‘[I]f I send them away fasting to their own houses, they will faint by the way:  for divers of them came from far.’ (3)

It is impossible for us to read this lesson without seeing in it a foreshadowing and anticipation of the Eucharist and Holy Communion.  By God’s compassionate will Christ gives bread to his disciples to feed his people in the wilderness.  The continuation of this work of feeding is, of course, the distinctive and chief act of priests.  Priests do many things.  Priests preach – but so do deacons and even so may learned and licensed lay people.  Priests counsel – but so do psychiatrists and lawyers and wise friends and older relatives.  Priests care for the sick, but so do doctors and nurses and the parents of sniffly children.  Priests visit the shut-in, but so do social workers and friends and kind neighbors.  Priests do many, many things, but the one thing they do that no one except a priest may or can do is celebrate the Eucharist to feed the people of God with the bread from heaven in the wilderness of this world.  Or to put it in four words:  only priests say Mass.  And this we do to extend the compassion of Christ to all places and to all generations.  Much of what priests do can be done by others.  This thing only priests do.

Compassion is perhaps the greatest attribute of our Lord in the gospels.  He sees two blind men by the way, who cry out, ‘Have mercy on us, O Lord, thou son of David….So Jesus had compassion on them, and touched their eyes’, and healed them (Matthew xx.30f., 34).  A few chapters earlier in Mark, when he heals a man possessed by a demon he says, ‘Go home to thy friends, and tell them how great things the Lord hath done for thee, and hath had compassion on thee….’ (Mark v.19)  When he heals a leper in the first chapter of Mark, he was ‘moved with compassion’ (i.41).  Saint Luke tells us that the Good Samaritan and the father of the Prodigal Son, who are symbols for Christ, both ‘had compassion’ (x.33, xv.20).  In Matthew when our Lord ‘saw the multitude, he was moved with compassion on them, because they fainted, and were scattered abroad, as sheep having no shepherd.’ (ix.36)   And compassion is the central reason for our Lord’s Incarnation:  he came down from heaven for us men and for our salvation because of his compassion for us, ‘poor banished children of Eve, mourning and weeping in this vale of tears.’ (Salve, Regina)

In today’s lesson our Lord’s compassion is manifested by the gift of miraculous bread.  When we read this lesson, we are reading about ourselves and what we are doing at this very moment.  Our Lord feeds us with the bread of his Body, the Bread of his great compassion and love, and he does so lest we faint by the way, for divers of us come from far.  We come from here and there, from scattered lives, from a multitude of sorrows and difficulties, from a variety of sins and temptations, many of us only having found our way to this place by very roundabout paths.  We are not very strong; we are sore pressed.  We are quite capable of fainting by the way with all that life throws at us and all that we bring upon ourselves by our folly and by our neglect of the call of our compassionate Lord.

But all of that is comparatively unimportant.  God knows you well:  better than you know yourself.  Unto him all hearts are open, all desires known, and from him no secrets are hid.  He knows us as we kneel before his altar, the table of his Banquet.  He knows the way we have come and the hunger we have.  And he would not have us walk on our pilgrimage through this world ‘having nothing to eat’.  Rather he says, ‘I have compassion on the multitude, because they have now been with me,…and have nothing to eat’.  We have nothing but what he gives us, so he must give us more or we will have nothing more and will starve.

This Eucharistic feeding is the work of Christ, but it continues among us because of the ministry of our priests.  Somebody else can do all the rest, but nobody else can do this.  By what our priests do today at the altar, in obedience and remembrance – by this the Kingdom of God comes among us, even here and now in this world, even if obscurely and in a manner that the world does not see; even if half the time in a manner that we ourselves hardly see.  By the word and hand of the priest eternity breaks into time, and Christ our God to earth descendeth from the realms of endless day.  He whom heaven and earth cannot contain is by the priest circumscribed and accommodated to our world and is given to you and me in a little whiteness and in a little sweet wine.

All this mystery is God’s work for you, that you might not faint by the way, though you come from far and have far to go.  In the words of Charles Wesley’s great Eucharistic hymn, ‘Victim Divine, thy grace we claim’:

We need not now go up to heaven

To bring the long-sought Saviour down;

Thou art to all already given,

Thou dost e’en now thy banquet crown:

To every faithful soul appear,

And show thy real Presence here.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.  Amen.

The Transfiguration


Saint Luke ix, verse 29 – And as he prayed, the fashion of his countenance was altered, and his raiment was white and glistering.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.  Amen.

Throughout the Old Testament the appearances of God to mankind have a double and seemingly contradictory character.  God appears in shining light, in brightness, in lightening, in fire.  To Abraham he appears as a flaming torch passing through the night in an uncanny vision.  To Moses he appears in a burning bush.  To the children of Israel he appears on Sinai in flashing lightening.  To Isaiah he sends the glowing coals of a censer.  And yet God also in the Old Testament is a hidden God, who manifests himself in clouds and smoke and veils and darkness.  He leads Israel by night with fire, but by day with smoke.  On Sinai Moses disappears to speak with God in an thick cloud.  Isaiah’s vision in the temple is of a place so filled with incense that it becomes an impenetrable smoke.

And I think this doubled character is also true of our own experience of God.  Sometimes we have flashes of insight, sudden understanding and clarity, impulses of faith that seem firmly rooted in our clear experience.  The light of God can break in on us because of some moral experience.  Perhaps we experience a tremendous goodness from another person which opens up a bright window through which we see God’s nature as love.  Or perhaps we have an aesthetic experience – some piece of music or some natural beauty that shows us the hand of the Creator.  But much of the time is it not the case that God seems hidden?  We may have some inkling of what God is doing, but his purposes are obscure.  He moves, as the cliché goes, in mysterious ways.  He writes straight, but with crooked lines which can only be finally read with a perspective that we usually do not enjoy.  God is above, and we below, and clouds and veils separate us.

In today’s gospel we see both of these signs of God’s presence.  At the Transfiguration our Lord’s divinity, his infinite splendor and glory, are revealed by his apparent and dazzling transformation.  But the sign of God in the story is two-fold.  First, there is this brightness and light: ‘his countenance was altered, and his raiment was white and glistering….And…they saw his glory’.  Saint Peter in the epistle speaks of this brightness as ‘the excellent glory’.  But secondly, there is the veil: ‘there came a cloud, and overshadowed them: and they feared as they entered the cloud’.  Our Lord’s divinity is revealed by his Transfiguration into dazzling brightness.  But his Father is present in the cloud and is perceived not as a sight but as a withdrawal of sight.

There are two paths to God, the way of affirmation and the way of negation.  The way of affirmation takes the good things of this world and transforms and transfigures them into a path to God.  We enjoy beauty, and praise its Creator for it.  We use our resources to serve God’s children in the world.  We set aside particular places where we will praise God and put aside the cares of the world.  We enjoy, like Saint John of the Cross, a dish of asparagus.  We encounter God in bread and wine and water.  The concrete things of earth are a ladder that leads up to heaven.

But there also is the way of negation.  We must remember that the things of this world are not God.  We enjoy our asparagus in Easter, but we fast in Lent lest we become chained down by food.  We love the beauty of the world, but we remember that it all is passing by very quickly and will end, as will we, in death.  And because all flesh goes down to the grave, we must detach ourselves from too much love for this dying world and all that is therein.  Life is for enjoyment.  But life also is for detachment, renunciation, partings, and loss.  We serve God through these negative experiences as much as through the positive.

The classic image for this double character of life is pilgrimage.  We are passing through the world to our true home, which is not here.  God expects us to be good travellers.  We are not to mess up the path; we should be kind to our fellow pilgrims; we should very much enjoy the sights and sounds of the journey and the food and drink we enjoy along the way.  But we are going somewhere else, and if we forget our destination we are liable to get lost, to wander off the path.  The way of affirmation reminds us that there is a definite path and that we should enjoy the journey.  The way of negation tells us that the path is not the same as the destination.

The feast of the Transfiguration is very much a positive, affirmative day.  The lessons and propers are full of joyful words and light:  ‘majesty’, ‘honour and glory’, ‘white and glistering’, ‘brightness’, ‘everlasting light’, ‘riches and plenteousness’.  The collect, which is one of the very few modern compositions in our Prayer Book, strikes the note of positive enjoyment:  that we ‘may be permitted to behold the King in his beauty’.  But even today, on this joyful feast, we enter the cloud and find that God is present in darkness as well as light.  Even in the context of the Transfiguration and the amazement of Christ’s healing power, even then the shadow is present.  Moses and Elijah appear to show that Christ fulfils the Law and Prophets, which they represent.  But they also appear ‘and spake of his decease which he should accomplish at Jerusalem’ (ix.31). Again, just after the Transfiguration in Saint Luke our Lord heals a demon-possessed child, and we are told that

,,,they were all amazed at the mighty power of God.  But while they wondered every one at all things which Jesus did, he said unto his disciples, Let these sayings sink down into your ears: for the Son of man shall be delivered into the hands of men.  (ix.43f.)

Lest his disciples forget the negative way and the need to enter the cloud, our Lord brings to their mind his cross and his coming Passion.  Easter saves everything, but it does not abolish the cross or Good Friday.  The Transfiguration transforms everything, but in this life cloud and darkness never are fully banished.  So God comes to us in darkness too.  The great Anglican physician and poet, Henry Vaughan, wrote of this long ago:

There is in God, some say,

A deep but dazzling darkness, as men here

Say it is late and dusky, because they

See not all clear;

Oh, for that night, where I in him

Might live invisible and dim!                              (‘The night’)

The Transfiguration invites us to enjoy the light, but also to find God in the ‘dazzling darkness’.  So let us enjoy this feast and the ‘King in his beauty’.  But let us not forget that the most beautiful thing about our Lord is the love that he showed us in the dazzling darkness of his Passion and death.  The cross goes with the crown.  The cloud accompanies the light.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.  Amen.

The Wests

[The feast of S. Dominic, August 4th, was Bob West’s Year’s Mind.  Here are a few memories of Bob, Conn, and Susan West.]

The Wests

Robert and Conn West and their daughter, Susan West, were friends of many people at Saint Stephen’s.  From the beginning Bob and Conn visited the parish periodically, and I visited them at home, but they retained their membership in the local Episcopal parish, where they frequented the more traditional 8 a.m. service.  Susan was more militant and joined the local Anglican Catholic parish in Nashville, where she lived, as soon as it formed.  The Nashville parish did not flourish, but near the end of her life a good parish priest reconnected with her and helped her final days very much.

Dr. West was a Milton scholar and long-time chairman of the English Department.  He was from Mississippi and, if memory serves, the son of a former head of the American Medical Association.  Conn was from Nashville, where the family had owned since the 1850s a grand home in what later was, from the concentration of Nashville stars in the area, called ‘Hillbilly Hollywood’.  Susan lived in the old home place and ran dairy cows there and on another farm that she owned further in the country.  The grand house, on the Franklin Road, was next door to a Roman Catholic high school.  The Roman bishop of Nashville took Susan to lunch periodically to suggest that she might want to donate the property to the diocese.  She didn’t, but kept accepting the free lunch.

I endeared myself to Susan shortly after we first met, because we shared a common professor at Duke, George Williams from the English Department.  Susan had him near the beginning of his career.  I near the end of his career audited a class with him on the Metaphysical poets, read Lancelot Andrewes’s sermons with him as my tutor, and eventually had him on my dissertation committee.  Susan and I had the same experience with Mr. Williams:  we both thought we were fairly good writers until our first paper for him came back bloody with red ink.  Since Susan knew that after classes with George Williams I could take criticism, she felt very free to offer it.  One year my Christmas card from her came with this beginning:

‘Dear Mark,

‘Merry Christmas!


Following the ‘but’ was some well-reasoned assault on a newsletter piece or sermon from me.

Years before I knew Susan more than slightly, I had gotten to know her parents moderately and then her mother very well.

Dr. West was much in the mold of English professors familiar to me from my undergraduate career at Kenyon College and then from George Williams.  Dr. West, however, was certainly a very well rounded man with many interests beyond his academic pursuits.  He was a husband and father, a churchman, a volunteer assistant tennis coach at the University of Georgia under Dan Magill, an author of Western novels, and an automobile racer.  Stories abounded.

One summer Dr. West and his pal from the Notre Dame English Department, Tommy Stricht, raced cars in the Midwest.  After a race near Chicago they spent the night with Tommy’s uncle, the Cardinal Archbishop of Chicago.  In the morning Cardinal Stricht had an early Mass, then joined the younger men for breakfast.  The English profs had a race later in the day in Milwaukee and asked the cardinal for directions.  He replied that he had a driver and didn’t pay attention to directions; however, he knew where to get them.  He had an assistant bring a telephone to the breakfast table and they called the Archbishop of Milwaukee, also at his breakfast.  Evidently a mere archbishop was more attuned to such worldly matters, and directions were obtained.  I told this story years later to Archbishop Lewis, and his comment was, ‘Well, it’s not that difficult.  Head towards Lake Michigan, turn left on Lake Shore Drive, and keep going until you hit Milwaukee.’  Perhaps that was what the Archbishop of Milwaukee said.

Dr. West and Susan kept their interest in tennis all their lives.  When Dr. West died his pallbearers were members and former members of the university’s tennis team.  When one of them asked Coach Magill what they should wear to the funeral he had a one word answer:  ‘Shoes.’

After Dr. West’s death Conn joined Saint Stephen’s outright as a member.  At that point she was shut-in, and I took her communion monthly.  She combined a deep pessimism about national and world affairs with a Christian cheerfulness about ultimate things.  Her world by then was rather restricted, but she enjoyed Susan’s periodic visits from Nashville (especially in football and tennis season), her faithful helper, Annette, and her books and friends.

Conn was a graduate of Radcliffe College, to which she deliberately did not contribute.  While at Radcliffe she was a friend of Marion Schlesinger, who later still was grandmother to a young parishioner, Hugh Schlesinger, and friend of Hugh’s mother, Betty Alice Fowler.  Conn also was a connoisseur of Persian art, exceptionally well-read, and a longtime friend of many at Saint Stephen’s.  Marion and Dot Montgomery were favorites.  When Marion presented a 400 page master’s thesis to his advisor, Dr. West, he was told to trim it by 100 pages.  The next draft was 500 pages long.  At that point Dr. West gave up.  My late friend, Bill Provost, was Dr. West’s last English department hire from his time as chairman.  Conn was friends with a number of older ladies in the parish such as Susan Tate, Hart Smith Shiver, and Chick Hodgson.  It was from Mrs. West as well as Mrs. Tate that I learned of Julian Miller’s mother, Miss Mary, of whom it was said that in her vehicular presence pedestrians were divided into two categories, the quick and the dead.

I was on a post-Christmas holiday when Mrs. West died.  The curate, Father Parsons, conducted a rather bleak funeral in strict accord with Mrs. West’s instructions, namely without any music, sermon, or additions to the Book of Common Prayer Burial Office.  I then flew from Ohio to Nashville to inter her body, which was done in a tremendous downpour.  When Susan drove me to the house afterwards as the sun came out I admired the apparently new metal roof.  I asked her when the roof went on.  She said, ‘1858 [or thereabouts].’  So much for my keen powers of observation.

As noted above, Susan was a careful and critical reader of the parish newsletter.  At one point the parish decided to acknowledge in the newsletter and later on a plaque gifts above a stated level for the installation of a pipe organ.  Susan objected vehemently to such vulgar publicity.  I told her that such stratagems increased donations.  She assured me that that was true, and that when Duke alumni publications included lists of donors she always read them carefully and avidly sought out information concerning what her former classmates and acquaintances had given.  Nonetheless, she said, if we included her name on a plaque she would personally come to the church and remove the pipes which her money paid for.

A couple of years later I returned to the Nashville house, which Susan had largely restored.  After that visit I told Bobby Gibson, the family lawyer in Athens, how pleased Conn would have been to know what Susan had done.  I said, ‘Conn always said Susan couldn’t afford to fix the house.  A couple of custom-made shutters alone would cost $10,000.’  At that Bobby made a face, snorted, and said, ‘Susan can afford to do anything Susan wants to do.’  In any case, at her death, Susan left a nice bequests to Saint Stephen’s.  Another generous bequest went to Annette, who had cared so well for her parents as she would later care for our parish friend, Charles Beaumont, another English department member.  Susan left one of her farms to a favorite cousin and the Nashville house was left to the public on condition that its trees not be chopped down.  The house sat on the largest undeveloped piece of private land within the city limits of Nashville.  The large residue of her estate went to animals:  one-third to the Clarke County humane society, one-third to a charity working to preserve African elephant habitat, and one-third to a Tennessee home for aged circus and zoo elephants.  Susan loved elephants, along with the Georgia Bulldogs, dairy cows, tennis, and the Book of Common Prayer.

Some directions on the parochial recitation of the Daily Offices

Normally the psalms should be read that are assigned in the Prayer Book’s division of the psalter into 60 section sections, one for each morning and one for each evening in the month.

The psalms may be sung to Anglican or Plainsong chant.  If they are said, they may be said in unison or said antiphonally, alternating between the officiant and the congregation or between sides of the church or choir.  The two halves of the Gloria Patri are treated as any two other verses of the psalm.  There is a slight pause at the asterisk in each verse in the psalms and in the canticles, but other punctuation is ignored.

‘Thanks be to God’ is not said at the end of lessons in the Daily Offices in the Prayer Book tradition.


The rubrics are quite clear about how lessons are announced and ended, and the rubrics should be observed.  The name of the Biblical books is that given to the books in the King James, or Authorized, Version.   So, for example:

‘Here beginneth the ____ verse of the ____ chapter of the Second Book of the Kings, Commonly Called the Fourth Book of the Kings.’

If the lesson begins with the first verse of a chapter, ‘Here beginneth the ____ chapter of the Second Book of the Kings, Commonly Called the Fourth Book of the Kings.’

‘Here beginneth the ____ verse of the ____ chapter of the Second Epistle of Paul the Apostle to Timothy.

Here beginneth the ____ verse of the ____ chapter of Ecclesiastes, or the Preacher.

Here beginneth the ____ verse of the ____ chapter of the Gospel According to Saint Matthew.


Likewise, the rubrics direct the way in which lessons are ended:

‘Here endeth the First [or Second] Lesson.’


The Gloria Patri is said at the end of each Psalm or, in the case of Psalm 119, portion of the psalms.  The Gloria Patri also is said at the end of each canticle, except for the Te Deum, which is itself a Trinitarian hymn and requires no Christianization by the addition of the doxology.  The rubric in the 1928 American Prayer Book on p. 9 lists the canticles to which the doxology is added, and clearly omits the Te Deum from the list.

Normally the Te Deum is said at Morning Prayer on days when the Gloria in excelsis is said at Mass.  The Gloria and the Te Deum are companion pieces, as it were.  The Te Deum is not said on Sundays in Advent, the Gesimas, and Lent, or on weekdays that are not feast days.  It is said on weekdays in Paschaltide.

Local custom dictate the use of the General Confession and the prayers after the third collect.  In general when clergy say the office privately, they tend to omit these additional elements.

Spiritual Direction

The following is a ‘guest’ piece by Father Jonah Bruce.  This was a banquet address he gave in 2015.  It is prefaced by my introduction of the speaker….

Father Gerald Wells Jonah Bruce is a native of Louisiana.  He received his bachelor’s degree at the University of Arkansas, then an M.A. in English, concentrating on Anglo-Saxon, at Louisiana State University.  He joined the ACC while a law student at the University of Georgia.  His legal career has included a judicial clerkship, solo practice in civil and criminal law, work as an assistant district attorney and city attorney, service as a Special Assistant Attorney General, and a term as a juvenile court judge.  He now to his great joy has escaped the practice of law and works as a consultant for clients including the Office of the State Judicial Branch, the state Office of the Child Advocate, and Emory University in matters relating to juvenile justice and child welfare.

I prepared and presented the young law student for confirmation by the late Archbishop Lewis.  Being anxious as law school ended to marry a nice young woman and therefore, as I pointed out to him, needing first to meet nice young women, he adopted the rather unorthodox method of taking undergraduate German.  To my surprise, his plan worked.  He began dating one of the teaching assistants, Michele Thompson, whom in due course, also at Saint Stephen’s, he married.  Father Bruce and Michele are the parents of Mary Margaret and Isabella Claire Bruce, who were two of the trio of girls who sang for us last night.  The Bruce family were active in the founding of Saint Francis’ Church, Gainesville, GA, when Father Bruce was still a layman.  He was ordained priest just over three years ago.  Father Bruce now is the locum tenens at S. Francis’.  He has served our Church in past years even prior to ordination as Clerk of the College of Bishops and President and Ponens of the Diocesan Marriage Tribunal.  In his copious spare time he is a triathlete and a good friend.

I have not the slightest idea what Father Bruce will have to say to us this evening, but I am all ears.  The floor, Jerry, is yours.


Banquet Address, ACC Provincial Synod

Athens, Georgia  October 29th, 2015

By J. Bruce, priest-in-charge, St. Francis of Assisi ACC, Gainesville, Ga.


Your Grace, Right Reverend, Very Reverend, Venerable and Reverend Fathers, brothers and sisters in Christ –

I’ve never been a banquet speaker before – I’ve been at banquets, and I’ve spoken, usually while the banquet speaker is speaking.  But usually I leave when the speaker begins, or I check my email or play one of those really absorbing games that are now available for the phone.  So I’m not sure about what’s proper at such an occasion.  St. Paul tells us to be imitators of him, but I’m fairly sure he did not mean that we were to talk so long (as St. Paul did on one occasion) that members of the audience fall asleep and then fall to their deaths.  So I’ll try to avoid that, but I do feel an unfortunate obligation to speak about something that I believe to be important.

I will try, however, to do, if not no harm, then very little harm, and anyway I can always hope that everyone is well-fed and well-drunk enough that no one will notice if I do.  I always find myself to be much a much more interesting person after a few drinks (not to mention better looking, smarter, and a master of manual dexterity); perhaps you will, too.  So drink up.  In the meantime, if you need to blame someone, please blame the Archbishop.

The story is told that St. Athanasius (in one of those intervals where he wasn’t banished or on the run) went about his diocese, and that everywhere he went, he asked the question, “How do you pray?”.  Now, I don’t know if you’ve ever been asked a question like that, but I can tell you from personal experience that it’s not always a welcome question.  And I gather from talking with laymen and clergymen that it’s a question which many Christians have never had to answer.  Maybe that’s not your experience, and maybe your parish is a haven of competent spiritual direction.  If so, you can always check your email for the next few minutes, but I don’t really think it’s the rule in our Church.

Secularization means that we really cannot assume that people who come to us, or even those who’ve been around a while, know how to pray.  But it’s not just secularization that’s to blame:  I remember the Archbishop saying that when he was growing up in the Episcopal Church, no one ever told him he needed to have a personal relationship with Christ.  I grew up as a Southern Baptist, and I heard quite a lot about having a personal relationship with Christ, and I was told that prayer was an important aspect of that relationship, but it was assumed that the life of prayer was something that proceeded more or less automatically, and though on my way to the Catholic Faith I spent time in the non-denominational Bible-Church movement, in PCUSA and PCA Presbyterianism, and in so-called parachurch organizations, I never heard anything about how to go about the life of prayer.  I came to the Catholic Church not knowing how to pray.

Of course, I talked to God a lot – quite a lot, really. But I spent most of my time telling God what He needed to do, how things needed to work out, and pointing out things that I was sure He’d overlooked.  Then I heard Archbishop John-Charles say, “Prayer is not an easy way of getting what I want, but the only way of becoming what God wants me to be”.

And I soon discovered that while what Brother John-Charles said was entirely true, the first phrases of each part of the sentence are true in themselves:  “Prayer is not an easy way… Prayer is the only way…”.  Prayer, however easy it may seem in its vocal and formal components, is not an easy way.  It requires direction and advice, because we are none of us the best judges of our own spiritual condition, and that includes our life of prayer.  And it’s this aspect of prayer – its development in an environment of spiritual direction – that I want to address.  I know enough about banquet speeches to know I can’t do justice to the topic of spiritual direction without you all falling asleep and possibly injuring yourselves.  But I can give a general starting-point for further discussion.  Let me use a true story as an analogy.

When I was in college I decided to start exercising.  I’d been a competitive swimmer for a while some years before, so I thought I’d go back to that.  So one day I showed up at the campus natatorium, confident that the technique I’d acquired years before would naturally carry me through. After all, I’d been swimming since I was a very small child.  It seemed to come naturally.  So there I was at the natatorium.

Now there is one thing that is of overwhelming significance in the life of most undergraduate males, and that is undergraduate females.  It happened that on the day I stepped out onto the deck of a pool for the first time in years, confident in my innate abilities, the girls’ swim team was there.  They weren’t just in the pool, minding their own business; they were all sitting in a line against the wall, looking out over the pool, waiting for their coach to come and address them.  There was no one else for miles around.  The pool was empty.  Other than the girls’ fairly quiet chatter, the place was still.

I leapt fairly nonchalantly into the pool, which to my mind created a sound like an explosion and which seemed to draw the attention of the girls’ swim team.  I was mindful of the eighteen or so pairs of eyes on me as I broke the surface and clung uncertainly to the side.  I stayed there for a minute or two, and then stuck boldly out down the lane, trying my best to remember what it was like to swim freestyle.

After what seemed like a long time in the water, and with my chest bursting and my arms feeling like spaghetti, I decided it was safe to stop and catch my breath.  I hadn’t quite made it one length of the pool.  I got to the wall and discovered in a flash of insight that pretending to adjust your goggles can buy you a lot of time and cover a multitude of sins.  After studiously fiddling with my goggles, I pushed off back in the direction of the girls’ swim team who were still seated implacably at poolside.  I managed to get back down the lane, doing a good deal of damage to the water along the way, and spent some more time adjusting my goggles.

By some miracle of sheer determination, I swam for about ten minutes, not including lots of goggle adjustments, and figured I’d made a good show of it.  But that’s when the real problem arose.  I was on the wall in the deep end of the pool.  I realized that I really couldn’t lift my arms anymore.  I was afraid that this might be dangerous in a swimming pool, so I clung to the side where I’d stopped.  This was the deep end of the pool.  I figured that the thing to do would be to adjust my goggles for a bit.

After a couple of unsuccessful attempts to leap gracefully out of the pool, I found myself with one arm and one leg out, and one arm and one leg in.  My arms were too shaky to pull myself all the way out.  So I hung there for a bit, and that’s when I first heard the sound of girls laughing.  This added a keen sense of urgency.  I was able to get out and get away, but it wasn’t pretty.  That was 1985.  I didn’t swim a lap again until 2010, and when I did, I asked for some advice.  I had someone watch me swim and give me pointers.  It seemed like an obvious thing to do.  I could swim, but wanted to learn to swim well. With help, I learned to swim long distances in preparation for triathlons, and I continually seek advice on how to run, bicycle, and swim so that I can compete more effectively.

If training and coaching make sense in other areas of life, they make more sense in the life of prayer.  The more important the task, the more important it is to seek advice and help along the way.  Of course, we talk about prayer in general ways, and everyone who learns his prayers in childhood and who worships at the Eucharist has an entry into the life of prayer.  We may even outline for folks the normal stages of prayer.  But do we tell our people what advancing prayer looks like?  What pitfalls to avoid?  Which experiences are healthy and salutary? Which experiences to ignore or reject?  Of course, these questions can’t be answered without a good deal of knowledge about concrete circumstances – without, in fact, a pastoral relationship.

People often think that the pastoral office of the clergy consists chiefly in helping people to deal with grief, suffering, perplexity, anxiety, and fear.  And of course, it does deal with these things, but not chiefly.  The pastoral office consists chiefly in the cure of souls – both corporately in worship, in preaching, and in teaching, and individually in leading persons one by one into the ways of deepening prayer.  Without this, answering theological questions and addressing the concerns of life in a world of suffering and anxiety is of limited use.  When my parishioners ask me about their marriages or other relationships, we talk chiefly about the life of prayer.  We talk about other things germane to their issues, but mostly we talk about prayer, in its corporate and personal aspects.  When they ask about personal issues, worries, and concerns, we talk mostly about prayer.  I’m not a marriage counselor, or a psychologist, or a therapist of any kind, but even if I were, my worldly expertise would be of limited use.  Prayer is the heart of the matter.

But what if your clergyman isn’t a Saint? Should you look elsewhere?  And if you’re a clergyman and have no experience of advancing prayer, should you avoid offering direction?  St. Theresa of Avila is certainly of the opinion that no direction at all is better than bad direction, but there is no reason for any clergyman to be a bad spiritual director.  For one thing, you can learn from books – and especially from the lives and writings of the Saints, and from talking to folks you know who seem to you to pray well.  Martin Thornton was of the opinion that, at least in the beginning, study is more important in a good director than is experience.  For one thing, sanctity in itself doesn’t guarantee an ability to communicate effectively.  And intensive, prayerful study itself tends to create conditions for a growth in experience.

But advancing prayer isn’t the exclusive province of the Saints – every one of us is called to a deepening and advancing life of prayer.  Ultimately, prayer is designed to move from being something we do to something God does in us.  This is what the ascetical writers call “contemplative prayer”, or more properly, “infused prayer”.  There are many stages and pitfalls along this road, but it is the only road:  Prayer is not an easy way; but prayer is the only way.

The lives of the Saints demonstrate to us amply that the normal way in which prayer grows and deepens is in the relationship of spiritual direction.  And there are great benefits to be had, benefits which the Anglican Catholic Church and all churches need.

First, learning to pray within the context of spiritual direction prevents us from being atomized individuals who just happen to belong to the same civic organization – the Church as Rotary club.  Once, in a class I was teaching, someone objected to the idea of spiritual direction by saying, “God is my spiritual director”.  I pointed out that God is the health of body, but that probably didn’t prevent this person seeking medical care. The Lord is our shepherd and guide, but that didn’t prevent this person from using maps.  For reasons which are ultimately mysterious to us, God normally works in us through the agency of created beings.   This is the foundation of sacramental theology, after all.  Our relationship with God is personal, but never private.  We live and are saved in communion with others.

Second, learning prayer with a spiritual director protects against delusion.  As great a saint as Theresa of Avila subjected her every spiritual experience to her director and confessor.  St. Theresa had astounding and miraculous experiences; her director didn’t have these things, but he did have the office of ministry in the Church, and the gift of the Spirit to exercise this ministry, and St. Theresa knew that subjective experience should always bow to the objective ministry of the Church.  And there’s a consensus in the Saints that those who think they’re praying very well are often not, while those who don’t think they’re praying is worth anything may well be praying very effectively.  This requires an objective view.

Third – the relationship of spiritual direction is the best way for the discernment of spiritual gifts.  We will find – have already found – laymen and women who are also gifted in spiritual direction and who can assist in this work.  We will make the best use of our spiritual resources and help our parishioners to find their own vocations within the Body of Christ

Fourth – A deepening life of prayer is the real key to the growth of the Church.  Evangelism is natural and highly convincing when it comes from a heart which is growing in prayer, and that heart cannot help but speak of the things it has seen and heard.  If we want to encourage evangelism, then we must encourage disciplined, growing prayer.

Finally – as I said before, the lives of the Saints demonstrate that this path of prayer creates the best conditions for the growth in sanctity – it is the garden-bed of sanctity.  And sanctity is our calling, our destiny, and the path to true personhood.

So I pray that our clergy will speak to people about their life of prayer in the context of a relationship of spiritual guidance and direction, encouraging its growth and development along the lines demarcated in the central tradition of the Catholic Faith.  I pray that the laity of our Church will be open and receptive to this direction, and will speak to one another about the life of prayer.  Like it or not, the experience of the Church shows that, absent competent direction, the life of prayer tends not to develop.  This pastoral relationship, along with the worship of the Church in the Eucharist, is the true way to the cure of souls.

After all, we mustn’t forget that the way of prayer is the way of joy, and the way of life – the way of our return to God.  People will not get out of bed on Sunday morning to come to a museum of the Prayer Book.  They may get out of bed for a while to go to a coffee-bar and rock-n-roll congregation, but they won’t get out of bed every Sunday for the rest of their lives for that.  But they will get out of bed for love, for joy, for life.  Picture for a moment a group of people living the life of prayer as it has been revealed in the Catholic Faith, the Faith once delivered to the Saints, gathered with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven around a tabernacle and an altar where the Lord of Life, the King of Joy, the Lover of men’s souls, is really present.  Picture a place where the life within these people and the communion they share is quickened and strengthened by partaking of the Lord’s Body and Blood, and where the prayer of the hearts of these lovers of God ascends like incense to heaven.  Who could keep quiet about such a place, and who could stay away?

Thank you, and God bless you.



‘He Sent Leanness’

From August 2004

I have a very clever little book by David Head from 1959 called, He Sent Leanness:  a book of prayers for the natural man.  This book could be written now, I suppose, but it would not now find a publisher, nor would it be bought if it did.  People just wouldn’t get it.  The book depends too much on knowledge of the rhetoric of the Prayer Book and on a theological understanding which, while hardly scholarly, still is beyond most of our secularized peers.  Much of its cleverness comes from contrasting extremes.  Consider, if you will, the contrasting forms for A General Confession.  One version runs in part,

Benevolent and easy-going Father:  we have occasionally been guilty of errors of judgement.  We have lived under the deprivations of heredity and the disadvantages of environment.  We have sometimes failed to act in accordance with common sense….Do thou, O Lord, deal lightly with our infrequent lapses…that we may hereafter continue to live a harmless and happy life and keep our self-respect.

The other version addresses the Calvinist God:

Almighty Judge:  we have lived far from thy ways like wild goats.  We have on all occasions rebelliously followed our own inclinations.  We have deliberately and shamelessly broken thy holy laws.  We have never done anything we ought to have done; And we have done everything we ought not to have done; And we are utterly depraved….

The notion that Anglicanism is the via media, the middle path of moderate sweet religious reason, has been shamelessly abused in the last century, and in any case always had its problems.  But it is nonetheless pleasant to position oneself as standing in the moderate middle, and so I offer the following contrasts for your contemplation:

‘Orthodox Anglican’ = ‘one who maintains traditional views on sexual morality, especially homosexuality’. (Comment:  a bit of silliness that makes Osama bin Laden and Fidel Castro orthodox Anglicans, no doubt to their great surprise.)

‘Ayotollah’ or ‘Fundamentalist’ = ‘one who maintains traditional views on sexual morality’. (The contrasting silliness.)

‘Why won’t God give me X?’

‘How could a loving God allow such things to happen?’

‘The Church must change or die.’  (Paraphrase of John Shelby Spong, who managed to reduce his diocese by a very large percentage, but is glad to speak and write as if he were a raging success who is entitled to prescribe for us all.)

‘That’s not the way Bishop Haverland did it.’  (A phrase my successor is liable to become heartily sick of hearing.)

‘Everyone like us is We, and everyone else is They.’ (Kipling)

‘Diversity’. (The usual suspects, and their corporate sponsors.)

‘I believe in Science.’ (= ‘You should turn off your mind and accept my opinion.’)

‘You have to have Faith.’ (= ‘You should turn off your mind and accept my opinion.’)

‘Think!’ (= ‘You should turn off your mind and accept my opinion.’)

‘Bishop, take care of your health.’  (Said to me at the funeral of a colleague out of state.)

‘Can you come and do confirmations for us?’  (The next words of the speaker, also from out of state.)

‘You never tell us anything!’ (- a parishioner to a rector at an annual meeting)

‘What don’t I tell you?’ (- the rector’s unanswerable reply.)

Familiar hymns’ (= the hymns John knows.)

Familiar hymns’ (= other hymns, which Jim knows.)

‘People don’t understand me.’  (Genius)

‘Genius doesn’t understand us.’  (People)

That’s your opinion.’  (‘And not mine.’)

That’s just my opinion.’  (‘And should be yours.’)


I’m not as clever as David Head, but you get the idea.  It’s a kind of parlor game which anyone can play.  I hereby offer a bottle of good sherry to the best at least vaguely contrasting pair of at least vaguely religious or churchly ideas.  Multiple submissions are allowed.  Contest ends September 15th.  Results announced in the October newsletter.

Commentary from 2017. 

On the easy-going confession, and to show that we are largely beyond parody now, consider this actual, self-described ‘Christian Confession’ from an ecumenical service attended, alas, by me some years ago.  The ecclesial body which hosted the service, by the way, in the heading of the bulletin called itself a ‘Community’, with the ‘C’ in ‘Community’ being a smiley-face.  (I still have the document to silence the skeptics.)  In any case, here’s the ‘Christian Confession’:

Minister and People:  We are the People of God, The Body of Christ.  God loves us and has chosen us for His own.  Therefore we must put on compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience.  We are to be helpful to one another, and to forgive one another.  Whenever any of us has a complaint against someone, we must forgive each other in the same way that our Lord has forgiven us.  And to all of this we need to add love, which binds all things together in perfect unity.  The peace that Christ gives us is to be judge in our hearts, for to this peace God has called us together in one body.  We must be a thankful people.  Christ’s message, in all its richness, must live in our hearts.  We must teach and instruct one another with all wisdom.  We must sing psalms, hymns, and sacred songs with thanksgiving in our hearts.  Everything we do or say, then should be done in the name of our Lord Jesus as we give thanks through Him to God our Father. 

This hortatory paraphrase of part of Colossians 3 is mostly unobjectionable, but it contains not a single bit of confession.  At most it envisions the possibility that confession (or complaint, at any rate) might be needed on occasion, when presumably the easy-going peace of Christ ‘in our hearts’ will absolve us readily.

In due course my proposed contest did have many entrants.  The curate of the day, Canon Cotterell, proposed this pair:

  1. The best rector is the one who has just left the parish.
  2. The best rector is the one who has not yet arrived.

I gave Father Cotterell high marks.  I pointed out, however, that as the parish at that point in its history had only had one rector, the first element of the contrasting pair could not be fully appreciated.

Chris Davis proposed:

  1. Some folks do anything for the Church.
  2. Some folks will do anything and call it the Church.

Second place went to a young lawyer whom we now know as Father Jonah Bruce:

  1. ‘The doors! The doors!’  (The Eastern Orthodox liturgy, originally to signal the need to bar the pagans and catechumens)
  2. ‘Open hearts. Open minds. Open doors.’ (Motto, at the time, of the United Methodist Church)

First place went to Bonnie Marie Thomas, for a paragraph of ‘furious opposites’ (G.K. Chesterton):

The first shall be last.  Find your life by losing it.  God’s Kingdom has come but not fully.  Enter the Kingdom of heaven like a child.  He who serves is greatest.  Where sin abounded, grace abounds.  We are saved by grace alone, but faith without works is dead.  I am but dust; for my sake the world was created.  ‘You did not choose me, I chose you.’  Pray, give, forgive, love – and this is a light yoke!  I think it is all paradox.