Thursday, November 02, 2006

Installing the Lady Primate: Reflections upon the Liturgy as printed in the service booklet

God-willing, on Saturday November 4, 2006 The Episcopal Church will have a new Presiding Bishop and Primate, a married woman called Katherine Jefferts Schori. She will become the first ever female Presiding Bishop and Primate in the Anglican global family of churches. For The Episcopal Church she will be its twenty-sixth Presiding Bishop.

I attended the installation of her predecessor, Frank Griswold, and in my report of the Service at the National Cathedral in Washington I noted amongst other novelties the use of “The Baptismal Covenant” as the focal point of the first half of the service (the second half being Eucharistic) together with the emphatic claim by Bp Frank that he was entering into a new phase of his baptismal ministry. Thus I was most interested to note that Bp. Katherine is taking the same position as did Frank. That is, she is claiming that she is entering into a new phase, howbeit a continuing phase, of her baptismal ministry which began the moment she was baptized, fifty or so years ago. In the service there is (a) the giving to her of water as “the symbol of Baptism and of the ministry of evangelism shared by all the baptized”; (b) the public use of “The Baptismal Covenant” from the 1979 Prayer Book and involving everyone; and (c) the use of bishops and deacons in “Baptismal Sprinkling” of water over the whole cathedral congregation.

I raise two topics for my readers to ponder, who may download the booklet at

First, what kind of connection is there between “the baptismal covenant” and the office of Presiding Bishop [PB]? Obviously the office and ministry of the PB is of the same basic nature as that of diocesan and suffragan bishops except that the PB has a larger pastoral care -- of all the Bishops and the whole Church with all its dioceses. Further, as this office is only open to a Bishop, then what would have been more appropriate—if renewing “covenants” is the right way to go—would have been for her, alone, publicly to renew the commitments she made when consecrated a bishop and indicate that they were now extended in various ways. After all, it is her installation not the re-dedication of everybody who got a ticket for the service or sees it on a web-cast. However, so central has “The Baptismal Covenant” become in Episcopal Church practical theology and ethics that it is brought in nearly everywhere and connected with virtually everything.

The general idea of it appears to be that everyone baptized enters into a covenant with God which requires various duties by him/her, and that, in turn, requires God to make promises to the baptized and place him/her in “the risen life of Christ” to achieve them. What God gives in Baptism, it is held, includes the seed or the embryo of all possible forms of ministry, lay and ordained, that exist within the Church. So as the baptized person grows, he/she and the church discern which ministries are for him/her at succeeding stages of his/her pilgrimage. So whether one serves as a lay vestry member or as a priest then that ministry is the working out of one’s baptismal ministry, even also it is if one moves on to be a lay member of the General Convention or a bishop of the Church.

This notion that all possible ministries are given in seed or embryo at baptism is really a modern novelty. Baptism has a sufficient rich supply of meaning in terms of (a) relation to the Father through the Son and by the Holy Spirit, (b) membership of the Body of Christ and (c) the commitment to fight in Christ’s army against all forms of evil and sin, without adding to it this dimension of including all ministries. The general tradition of the Church has been that to be called to ordained Ministry is a special call into a special Order and that this call is only specifically related to one’s baptism in that God only calls baptized believers into this Ministry and Order. The calling is NOT present as a seed from baptism; rather it is the action of the exalted Lord Christ as Head of the Church. Of course, one reason why Bp Frank and Bp Katherine hold this novel doctrine so firmly is that it requires the church to admit into all forms of ministry, lay and ordained, those who in the classic tradition were not admitted into certain ministries through history—e.g., women and homosexually active persons into ordained priesthood.

But, by normal standards, to claim that the office and work of the Presiding Bishop is a baptismal ministry is to confuse the priesthood of all the baptized with the Ministerial Priesthood of those called from above by the Lord of the Church.

The second topic is the claim made several times in this Service and assumed generally in The Episcopal Church that “baptism is into the risen life of Christ.” And this “life” is usually explained in terms of “a life of an inclusive love” where Jesus receives people, especially those on the fringes of respectable society and its outcasts—“just as they are.” What he did and does we are to do likewise.

What strikes me as I read the presentation of St Paul in Romans 6 about the symbolism of Baptism is this. He is absolutely clear that we have been baptized into the death of Christ and have been buried with him. But the way he talks about our relation with the Risen Christ has a slightly different emphasis to it. He does not claim that “we have been already raised with him” for that is not true yet; for it will only be true at the resurrection of the dead at the end of the age. The truth is that the life of the age to come, the life of heaven and of Christ, is present in the Church—it is already here and we receive it in the Spirit—but it is not yet here in fullness, for this glorious state will only be present after the full redemption of our bodies. So while we are wholly identified with Christ in his death to sin and are to put away sin absolutely, we cannot yet be fully within the risen life of Christ, for that is only possible when we are given a glorious resurrection body like unto his.

Thus what I find missing in the great attachment to the theme of Baptism in the practical theology of The Episcopal Church and of this Service is (a) the baptismal emphasis in Scripture on dying to sin, or sin being as it were buried with Christ in the grave—that is the forsaking of and mortifying of sin in our souls and bodies; and (b) that the partaking in “the risen life” is real but partial and that its primary aspect is communion with God and seeking to be holy as he is holy. The avoidance of the “sin” part of the meaning of baptism and the emphasis on the “new life” part allows celebration of life as it is, that is life as it is without the full sanctification of it by the Holy Spirit. Zeitgeist is the Spirit here so often.

In conclusion, I have to say that in comparison with what is often encountered as “Eucharist” in the progressive liberal Episcopal Church, the Eucharistic second half of the service is (for this Church) “traditional.” One real problem with it, however, is that for the majority of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church it will not be a valid Eucharist since the “Presider,” whatever titles she holds by courtesy of The Episcopal Church, is not really and truly in the Ministerial Priesthood of the Catholic Church (since only men called by Christ can be so!). November 1, 2006

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