Sunday, January 11, 2004

Thoughts on Plano East. [This has been "revised and extended," see below.]

It went very well. My only disappointment was that there were two people I was really hoping to meet, but didn't. The group was large (well, for a conference like this): just over 3,000.

Here's the link to the WaPo's article. It's not bad -- although, it's evident the reporter clearly missed the purpose of the meeting (we "gathered in Northern Virginia this weekend to express their outrage over the consecration of a gay bishop" No, not at all). [The WaPo wasn't the only one to get it wrong -- the headline in the WaTimes categorized the group as "angry.")

Revised and Extended

The first thing I would like to tell you, if you weren't there, is that it was a truly wonderful experience. The service of Holy Eucharist on Friday evening was like a preview of heaven. It started with a time of praise music and then, after a very brief introduction, there was a processional consisting of two hymns and a ton of ministers processing. The first hymn was a sentimental favorite of ours -- Praise to the Lord the Almighty -- was a hymn we sand at our wedding.

Speaking of which, we ran into a bridesmaid from our wedding there which was a huge surprise -- it had been about 6 years since I last saw her and I wasn't aware she had begun going to an Episcopal church. She lives about 4 hours away from us now -- we were all friends in college and had been in the same small group. How wonderful it was to see her and so many other old friends that we hadn't seen in ages. Some folks we just saw in passing, but yet just seeing a glimpse of them was wonderful.

In some ways, this compensated for the new friends I missed seeing, although that was still a disappointment. I had been trying to get in touch with Robert Bauer, but I arrived at the meeting place about 10 minutes too late. (In sort of a weird coincidence, we were having dinner with Jean Gruhn, who seemed to be the only lay participant attending quoted in the WaPo article.)

But back to the Eucharist -- part of the reason for it being like a foretaste of heaven, was that I was able to be with fellow believers, worshiping our Lord, without an agenda, yet with a common purpose. You see, for those of us there, the words we pray, sing, and affirm actually mean something. We don't have to "translat[e] them into [our] own language" (i.e. mutilate them beyond comprehension).

But that was just a small reason for being a small sample of heaven. There was the blend of styles -- "low" pentecostal and "high" catholic.

There was the old friends and new friends and as yet undiscovered friends.

There was power and glory. Yet not the kind of power wielded by the ECUSA establishment or the kind of glory misappropriated by Gene Robinson and his followers. The power was akin to the power of the Holy Spirit on the first Pentecost (and notice too, the paralel numbers between those present at P-E and those baptised on Pentecost.

Rev. Guernsey welcomed us. The NYT had this quote:
"We're not simply against something," Mr. Guernsey said. "We're not a bunch of cranky reactionaries. But we reject the idea that acceptance means we need to approve of every behavior."

Bishop Duncan had a wonderful and challeging sermon, which Kendall Harmon posted on-line.

At the end of the evening, we collected our kids, who were on fire about the kids events -- they were just bubbling over with excitement. Well the number one daughter wasn't, but part of that was because they had the high-school aged kids outside in a tent and the outdoor temperature was 22F -- so it was freezing in the tent. (BTW, she had a wonderful time asking me if I'd met any of my "Idiot" friends. To which I reminded her, she is the "idiot" daughter.) [Also, I want to note for my own record of this, that the temperature the next morning was 8 and windy -- I think the high that day was in the upper teens. Maybe this is what I get for having teased Cap'n Yip last week about the cold.]

Saturday morning began with Morning Prayer and an address by John Yates. I lost count of the number of times my wife turned to me during his address saying "He's wonderful." Yes, he is. I wish his talk was on-line -- I don't see it. In brief, it was a clear explanation as to why Scripture matters. The WaTi had this quote:
"If it's our claim to submit to Christ, we must submit to scriptural authority as well," he said. "We dare not say, as one of our bishops said, 'Well, we wrote them, we can rewrite them.' Or, as another bishop said, 'We need a new Christianity for a new world.' "

Next was Kendall Harmon. Awesome. His address is here not posted yet. It is very similar to the one he delivered at the first Plano conference, here.

Then came the panels and the first up was Rev. Thomas Logan, [text] of Calvary Episcopal Church in DC. He began by singing "Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so." We all joined in. He then noted the paucity of "Afro-Americans"* robed and processing the night before. There were just three. Whose fault was this -- he didn't dwell on finger-pointing, but noted that the supporters of sexually active gay ordination had sought to piggyback their efforts on the civil rights struggles and in doing so had abandoned what the Bible tells us [is] so. It is not "inclusiveness" that will save us, but Jesus who will save us. "How do we know this? we know this because," he pauses and holds up his Bible and the crowd yells back: "The Bible tells us so." The Word of God which contains the message of hope has gotten the Afro-Americans through the darkest days. He acknowledges that he has not dwelt on these issues because he has been looking after the immediate safety of the folks on the block surrounding Calvary; this stuff all seemed like it was for the white churches. But how can he say to the kids (and even the married) to not engage in extra-marital sex when the Episcopal church has a Bishop doing just that? He proceeded to preach in a manner which elicits our response: How do I know there is a healing power in Jesus? because "The Bible tells me so." and he continues from there -- I was not taking notes, I was rocking as he was preaching. His fiery (but too short) homily concluded by noting that we need to let the light of the Word of God, the light of Jesus, shine in our lives, in our neighborhoods, in our churches in our diocese, in 815, in Lambeth Palace. He concludes in song: "This Little Light of Mine."

Kendall came back again, as the next panelist and was asked to distinguish between the Robinson ordination and the ordination of women. Kendall began by indicating this was a little difficult for him and I began to wonder if he is opposed to women's ordination as well. [text] In any event, he noted the fact that women's ordination was poorly handled in the US (a woman about 15 rows in front of me yelled out a loud Amen) as opposed to the way it has been handled in England. [If you have read anything I've written, you know I am a strong supporter of women's ordination, but I agree with Kendall on this. Phillip Turner had a good piece in First Things last November, that explained the problems in passing.] He then distinguished, in brief, the fact that homosexual practices in the Bible have been consistently condemned as sinful, whereas the record on the ordination of women is mixed (that is there is sufficient textual evidence for women's ordination and sufficient on which to oppose it). [I am trying and failing to be brief -- sorry.]

Diane Knippers was next, speaking as President of the Institute of Religion and Democracy. She addressed the Three Myths which were spread in Minneapolis and elsewhere regarding the issues surrounding the Robinson ordination and "blessings" proposals: (1) This is the Future. On the contrary, this thinking is "so 20th Century." [okay, that's not how she put it, but that's the effect.] This is something that arose 40 years or more ago, has been tried and found wanting. On the contrary, it is the timeless standards of Scriptures that matters. (2) Second myth is that "We're doing this for the Poor and Oppressed ?" Again, thel victims of the 20th Century sexual revolution are racial minorities, the poor, and our children. (3) The third myth is that [whine on]"You're undermining Christian Unity" [whine off]. The truth is that General Convention dealt a terrible blow to Christian unity. Relations with the wider Anglican Communion, the Orthodox Churches, Roman Catholics, evangelicals, charismatic, and so on, were broken; shattered. "Denominational lines do not mark the boundaries of Christendom." The big lie is that one must choose between truth and unity. They are the different sides of the same coin, she said. She closed with this wonderful quote, repeated slowly twice so as to be recalled: "Genuine truth defines our unity, genuine unity protects the Truth."


Next was Martyn Minns, rector of Truro Church, speaking on "The Network" Since his talk is on-line, here, I'd direct you to read it in it's entirety. It is important. My only comment would be on the name: Network of Confessing Dioceses and Parishes. I prefer the Confessing Anglican Network of America ("CANA") -- as in the place where our Lord took stagnant water and turned it into wine.

Senior attorney, ?minence grise, Hugo Blankingship, former chancellor of the Diocese of Virginia, current chancellor of the AAC, and an incredibly well respected attorney spoke next. (Address online here.) He pointed out that most of the law suits have been filed by "liberal" dioceses against the moderate and conservative parishes. His aim and hope is to resolve these differences peacefully and without resort to litigation. Like all good lawyers, he sees that litigation only profits the lawyers. [I recall a divorce case I reviewed over 15 years ago that was like the War of the Roses -- both parties consumed over a million dollars on attorneys fees and came out impoverished.]

Here we were running over and broke for lunch. I picked up the kids (well, some of them -- Debbie got Emilie) and they were so enthusiastic about the kids programs. I must emphasize that these were wonderful (a thousand thank yous to all those who worked so hard on this for the kids!).

We headed over to Amy's (the bridesmaid, mentioned above) parents house for lunch. It was good to catch up on old times, briefly with her parents, and we got to meet some other friends -- I spoke with an attorney from Coinjock, NC.

After lunch the focus was on missions (I was back late, after dropping off kids). Reversing the "...Jerusalem, ... Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth" formula, it went from broad to narrow, beginning with the international frontier.

What was stressed was that the new network wanted to make missions it first priority, and therefore was doing this to make it part of the organizational DNA.

Rev Tad de Bordenave, Director of Anglican Frontier Missions stressed that missions must remain a priority. We should be known as the missionary church. We do the work of the Great Commission well, but we need to focus as well on the word "all" in the great commission. The goal of AFM is to reach out to "the ends of the earth, the areas of the world where the church has not yet been established."

Jim Oakes spoke for Five Talents. Now here, I must confess -- I had a long week and, well, I had my Eutychus moment. Thankfully, I was not sitting in a third story window.

The next thing I knew, Edwina Thomas of Sharing of Ministries Abroad ("SOMA") was speaking. According to my wife, she told a powerful story of a church that was built in the heart of a town in Pakistan; a Muslim stronghold. She was taken up to the top of the building and was shown some bullet holes. It seems that when the church building was finished the time came for them to place the cross on top. The congregation gathered and one went up to place the cross. As he put it into place, he was shot, and fell to his death. After some time another went up to place the cross and he too was shot. This was repeated, as Ms. Thomas could see by the holes. Finally, the Muslims stopped shooting; they realized that the Christians wouldn't stop, they would keep at it, keep raising the cross. She said the cross is still there to this day. And the bullet holes bearing witness to those who gave their life for the spread of the gospel.

We then broke into small groups for intercessory prayer and prayers of repentance.

After this, the meeting turned to the local and personal levels of mission.

First up was Alpha, developed by Nicky Gumbel, this was presented by Jenny Noyes. Alpha is simple and honest, and effective. It is "friendship-based evangelism" meeting over a period of weeks presenting the Gospel in a non-threatening and very open manner. It allows all questions, from the simple to the complex and works with you where you are.

Bob Ragan spoke from his heart (indeed, as did all) with respect to how God's love changes people. Bob is the head of Regeneration and has been with Exodus International reaching out to persons trapped in a life of sexual sin. He spoke of truth and lies. It is a lie that sexuality is genetically determined, he said, science has not proven the existence of a "gay gene." He cited studies of identical twins; persons who have the exact same DNA, yet one may be "gay" the other straight." Moreover, the studies which lay claim to a "gay gene" are not repeatable. What found interesting is when he said that he does not speak of "healing" which you might think of as the healing of a paper cut. The reality is more like being hit by a Mack truck going a hundred miles and hour and having to put the pieces of the person back together (Here, like for most of this, I'm paraphrasing -- he may have said an 18 wheeler instead of Mack truck, but you get the idea). Instead of "healing" he speaks of "sanctification." Amen, I think, as this idea hits me and sinks in. It is a process that we are all undergoing ("work out your salvation in fear and trembling" Paul writes in Phil. 2:12). How do we determine success for those who are broken? We all go through the sanctification; we all go through death-styles that Jesus brought us out of in His redemption. There is no overnight change.

He said that he constantly gets asked two questions, one being something like, "do you still struggle? are you still tempted" He said he is posessed by temptation, but he must maintain his physical and spiritual health, daily readings and prayer; if he doesn't he becomes vulnerable. It's not just sexual, it's emotional and it's that way for all of us who are tempted and vulnerable. (I really wish his talk were posted on-line, I'm afraid, I'm not doing it justice.) When he concluded, he received a standing ovation.

Steve Schlossberg, the director of the Lamb Center, an outreach to the homeless near Fairfax Circle spoke last in this group. steve spoke, as he always does with elegance and grace, although in many respects it's not there on the surface. He's a big man, with a chisled chin and curly black hair. He speaks with a New York accent and always from his heart. He told us there was a problem in our church [referring to Truro]: strangers came to the church with needs and left as strangers. Strangers don't come to the Episcopal Church. So, the Lamb Center was created and run by a number of churches in the Fairfax City area. There is a table where people are met, food is shared, coffee is poured, the Bible is read, people receive prayer. People come in as strangers to one another, to county services, to the church and to themselves - people are met. needs and all. Then he told us what we needed to hear: we need these people who enter the Lamb Center. They may be strangers, but they are our neighbors and while they need what the Lamb Center provides, that's only half of it. Actually, he said, maybe sixty percent of it is that we need them. We will perish without them. "They are broken, and they know it; we are broken and we forget it."

Stop -- hear that: "They are broken, and they know it; we are broken and we forget it." This is why God calls us to care for the poor - we need to know our own poverty.

He continued: when we meet those who know poverty; we are going to be changed; carried to the foot of the cross by the people we came to save.

When we meet people on the street we think they are very good at surviving. It is impossible to not admire how they survive. But it's impossible to keep that admiration up because they are not surviving, they are not living; they are dying. Steve concluded saying that they show us that one temptation is to go into survival mode and not really live. We were admonished not to do that.

Last on this panel was Rev. Tom Herrick, the Vicar of Christ the Redeemer, speaking on Church Planting. [No notes now, I'm going on way too long.]

We broke again for a time of prayer, then turned to the next generation. The speakers were David Young, Youth Leader from Christ the Redeemer; Ashley Barker. a student at William & Mary and member of All Saints Episcopal Church; and Christopher Douglas a sophmore at West Springfield High School and member of Church of the Apostles. ("Awake O sleeper").

This session was concluded with worship and prayer for those under the age of 22.

The closing address was by Martyn Minns, and may be found on-line here.

Bishop Gerard Mpango the Diocese of Western Tanganyika, Tanzania gave the final blessing. First, he reminded us that "there are 45 million Anglicans standing with you and praying for you." Wow. What an event. Praise God!

* I found it interesting he used the phrase "Afro-Americans" instead of the more prevalent "African-American." This was the usuage favored by Justice Thurgood Marshall (see this dissent, for example) and seems to be more accurate, if you are going to use such terminology.

Still More. See this report, which contains a lot that I left out (and there is still more both of us left out!)

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