Staying in Communion

So, today I had my meeting with one of our bishops, and generally things went well. Her advice was--should I make it through our commission on ministry--to start seminary in Canada at VST. Should I decide to stay there after a year or two, it would be a possibility to speak with the bishop in Vancouver about transferring in as a postulant (technical term for someone who's been sent to seminary by their diocese to prepare for ordination), which is generally less trouble than transferring in as someone midway through the discernment process. I'd finish my seminary there, and be ordained through the Canadian Church (and thus not tainting my resume with America). Otherwise, should Angel and I decide not to stay in Canada, I would have to do at least a year of seminary in the ECUSA--San Francisco, NY, etc. Seems pretty sensible to me :). A kind and gentle experience with the heirarchy, and it looks like a set-up that Angel and I can work with. Big ups, Bishop Nedi.

Looking back towards our previous days' discussion on discernment/ordination/the establishment, the fact is that I value the community aspect of Anglicanism too much to break off into a non-denominational group. While I think that there is value and need in the church for independents, it just doesn't work that well for me. I believe in the universality of the body of Christ--there is no right church or wrong church. Under that philosophy, I would ultimately stay "in communion" no matter where I go. However, there's something important to me in the symbolism of being a recognized part of a "catholic" church. It communicates something of the all embracing, historically connected, eternally existing nature of the church that I think I'd be in danger of losing should I go it alone. It's a big part of what drew me here, and I'm not ready to leave it yet.

I mentioned something yesterday as well about how I feel that Anglicanism works a little more smoothly in communally oriented cultures than it does in individualistically oriented ones, like the US. The point, I think, is that the Anglican system relies inherently on human trust for the community: you put yourself in the community's hands in the expectation that it's only through the community that we connect with God. When we all take that attitude, it works--people value the community at all levels, and thus look out for one another, practice neighborly love, etc. The shepherds take care of the flock, and the flock looks out for the shepherds. In some cultures, that sense that "we're all in this together" is stronger than in others. In the US it's weak, and the sense is that you have to take care of yourself because nobody else is going to do so. (That's why, Kiwis and Canadians, Hell will freeze over before we have a fully universal healthcare system here--if I can figure out a way to pay for insurance, why can't they?) Anglicanism here is essentially the same as it is elsewhere, in that it teaches a communal ethic and praxis. However, it often doesn't function naturally within our culture, because it's constantly struggling against the cultural push to take care of yourself, and to distrust your neighbors and leaders. (That sort of attitude creates a lot of unnecessary anxiety, by the way.) Not a universal sentiment here, but it's widespread enough to be noticeable on a daily basis if you're tuned in (especially if you're tuned in to Fox News). Particularly as we're getting a big infusion of (inherently individualistic) post-evangelicals (including myself), there's a significant struggle between individualism and communalism, which I think is creating ripples in lots of places. And that's a piece of why I want to move to Canada.


Mike Croghan said…
Hi Tim,

I'm glad to hear you had a good conversation with your bishop, and that you're getting some clarity - it sounds like you're coming up with a plan that will work for you and Angel, which is good to hear! Blessings as you continue your discernment and journey.

Regarding your thoughts on "community-oriented" vs. "individualistic" - I agree whole-heartedly with your observations about US culture, and I lament with you. God, I wish we as a society could remove our head from our posterior regarding universal public health care, for example.

However, I'd like to suggest some nuance to your breakdown - I don't think the landscape is quite as simple as an axis with "individualistic" at one and and "community-oriented" at the other. In particular, I think it's possible to be very averse to vertical, hierarchical community structures - which can have a tendency to create harder boundaries around community (if I'm a member of TEC, by definition I'm not a member of AMiA, CANA, ELCA, PCA, or UCC) and can be oriented toward top-down authority and control - while being deeply concerned with strong community ties in a horizontal, peer-to-peer network structure. This, IMHO, doesn't equate to individualism. If you're interested in some more thoughts on those two contrasting community structures (which I admit is a false dichotomy - everything's a continuum), you can find some here.

I'm not disagreeing with your take on who you are or the type of community you're looking for - I hear what you're saying about wanting those ties to a catholic tradition - just noting that there are different types of communities (both local communities and wider organizations connecting those local communities), and an aversion to a particular type of structure doesn't necessarily equate to an orientation away from community and toward individualism.

Anonymous said…
i didnt read everything yet, but i'm glad to hear about your progress with the authorities. you have some nice options now.

i'm going to an interview panel of higher ups today to determine my future progress as well. a panel interview...sounds like the inquisition if you ask me.
Unknown said…
Hi Mike,

I agree with you that my initial comments were without nuance--however, I tend to think that an aversion to hierarchical community structures do tend to be a reflection of the characteristic individualism of the American ethos. That is, they're a reflection of the sense that I/my church doesn't need anyone to tell us what to do, because I/we are just as qualified to make decisions as you are. Thus, we're happy with horizontal relationships, but please don't try to exert any control over us. Granted, that's not necessarily an absolute individualism, but it is an assertion of individual/local autonomy against perceived untrustworthy authority structures. (Granted, as well, I'm not sure that that impulse is necessarily incorrect. I really do believe, for instance, that one of the big reasons that Americans don't trust gov't is that in America, the gov't isn't generally trustworthy.)

The American ethos, when applied to church, tends to create lots of small independent bodies, each with their own small hierarchies of power. The pastor and his pulpit become the highest authority, rather than the Pope and his mitre. Still, someone's telling someone else what to do. In very few cases do you see real egalitarianism, and perhaps maybe other than a few Quaker congregations with a lot of integrity, I can't think of an institution that doesn't a clearly identifiable (albeit small-scale) hierarchical organization. Some people need to lead, and some people need to follow for both spiritual and pragmatic reasons. It's a quality of human nature that can sometimes get us into trouble, and other times can allow us to maximize our potential.

My belief is that complex and largescale hierarchical structures in Church and Gov't--while sometimes problematic--aren't necessarily any more inherently corrupt than vertical structures, and are generally necessary and inevitable, at least to some degree. That is, I guess, one reason that I've gravitated towards an institutional church, despite it's frustrations.

As you said, I'm not necessarily disagreeing with the type of community you're drawn to--other than in the sense that it's not what I'm drawn to, and in the sense that in gov't I think it's generally unable to work as efficiently as vertical hierarchical structures. Church structure really is a different issue for me that political structure though, and I'm not nearly as quick to argue against an emphasis on horizontal structures in church as I am in political gov't. In principle, I believe strongly in equality/the priesthood of all believers/postmodern uncertainty, and so I end up with a strong attraction to the horizontal in church (which is an attraction fed quite strongly by the sense of community one feels as part of a diocese and part of a communion).

In political gov't, however, I'm a complete pragmatist, and I believe in the need for an equality of outcome. Society should be organized in such a way that resources will be shared as equally as possible, and happiness and health will be distributed as evenly as possible. My belief is that you can't achieve an equal outcome for all in a society simply by making all "free"--that is, by giving everyone an equal opportunity. Some groups will inherently be at a disadvantage for cultural reasons (i.e. the tyranny of the masses), and thus a strong central gov't is necessary in order to check that, and provide regulations to level the playing field (Affirmative Action, for example).

The problem, as we all know, is that strong central gov'ts can use their power for bad as easily as for good, so you can end up with Nazi Germany or utopian Norway under philosophy of government like the one I espouse. For the record, in a country as large and complex as the US, I'm not sure that the answer lies at organization at a federal level. We're probably too big for a central gov't to manage effectively. I think our best hope is in the strengthening of state gov'ts, and transitioning the federal gov't primarily into a sort of income distributor (and perhaps defense organizer?). That way, states like poor Louisiana don't end up getting the financial shaft, but states like California also aren't restricted from making progressive social decisions (i.e. universal healthcare) should their populations want them.

Now that I've solved all of our ecclesiastical and political problems quickly and easily, I'm going to have some dinner.
Unknown said…
Hi Wes,

What kind of tribunal did you have to face? A jury of your peers?

Mike Croghan said…
Wow Tim - thanks for solving all that! Now I can sleep a lot better tonight. ;-)

Seriously, I think our points of view are pretty close - I largely agree with your analysis of authority - but I still think that the rejection of hierarchical authority has more to do with the postmodern cultural shift than it does with American individualism. American culture was pretty darn individualistic throughout the 20th century, during most of which the need for hierarchical, top-down control was unquestioned in nearly every part of society. Also, a lot of the key people theorizing about (and practicing) the new horizontal, non-hierarchical community structures in a Christian context are Canadian! FWIW.

Also, as for an example of an organization where nobody's really in an ongoing, fixed/hierarchical position of telling anyone else what to do, I can give you two examples other than the Quakers: Emergent Village on a large scale, and the little church I'm a part of on a small scale. Both of these have leaders, of course, but the "longer-term" leaders don't have actual authority (i.e., the ability to enFORCE anything) over anyone else, and leadership of any specific effort can be (and is) done by anyone in the organization - not just the recognized, longer-term leaders.

You can call any organization with leaders a "hierarchy", but that's a matter of definition - I certainly believe that organizations need leaders, but I think there's a big difference between leaders who have the power to enforce top-down control, and those who must rely on trust, mutual humility, and others' willingness to follow them. And yes, I certainly am aware that both models can become dangerous! Both types of communities can become prey for a charismatic egomaniac, which is one reason why I'm also a big believer in plural leadership. (My church, for example, is led by a co-equal leadership team of three - and by everybody else in the community, too.) :-)
Unknown said…
Hi Mike,

I consider myself thoroughly postmodern, in a self-conscious, trying too hard, undergrad philosophy, emerging church kind of way, so what you're saying is resonating in a lot of ways.

I think part of what I'm realizing is that post-modernism is impacting everything in Western culture, and that includes traditional hierarchical forms of leadership, so that they don't necessarily function as they did under modernist assumptions. What I mean to say is, I generally experience the Anglican/Episcopalian structure of my present church in a non-authoritarian way, although historically there has been a sort of authoritarian philosophy guiding the structure. (you know, traditionally, at the diocesan level, what the bishop says, goes, and at the parish level, what the priest says goes--though interestingly in the Episcopal model, the Vestry's always been the priest's boss as far as I know.) That's not really how things generally function anymore in my neck of the woods, thankfully.

The theology of ministry espoused by the priests and bishops that I have known well (or at least those that I associate with willingly) is very much a communal approach--the ordained are raised up by the church, and are responsible to them. Any authority they have is conditional, based on what's given by the community, and their calling is a calling to leadership from the community. It's not an "enforcement" thing generally, although you will certainly find some traces of that, and I have. They have, of course, been given enFORCING power by the community, as you phrased it, but not many see that as "God's will"--most see it as pragmatically necessary. In a couple specific cases in recent years, I've seen that when that enforcing power is abused (and when a leader acts as if they have a divine right to make whatever decision they choose), the community is quick to show them the door.

So, as I remain in the institution, I do so in the expectation that this transition away from a top-down model of control will continue, but don't necessarily expect that we'll have to undergo a major structural reorganization in order for that to happen--at least not a quick one.

With that in mind, and bearing in mind that I live in a city with a very visible, ostensibly "postmodern", but actually authoritarian dictatorship of an independent, non-institutional church, my impression is that modernist authority structures can pop up in independent, "networked" churches as easily as they can in hierarchically organized ones. Vice versa is also true--hierarchically organized churches can function according to a postmodern/community-centered view of authority just as clearly as can non-affiliated churches. It just looks a little different.
Mike Croghan said…
Hmm - really good points, Tim. Though I'm not sure I believe that the authoritarian gent in your town whom you mentioned is at all interested in any kind of accountability - horizontal or vertical. Kind of like people like a certain Nigerian archbiship in the "vertical" world. As you say - there's no sure thing, and the landscape is a heckuva lot more varied than we tend to think - and also: changing. For all of us. I think that's good, or at least that it has potential.