Friday, October 28, 2011

Election postponed

After a year of hard work on the part of so many, particularly the committee whose task it was to present nominees to the diocesan convention, that convention has been postponed until November 19 because of a big snowstorm headed our way. What a frustration to everyone concerned! I have planned for a long time to spend a month's vacation with a dear friend in Europe beginning Nov. 10, so it looks like not only will I not be the convention chaplain, I won't even vote!

I arrived in NYC around 4pm to stay at the House of the Redeemer, and had planned to have dinner with Carl Sword, OHC. Looks like dinner and a late train back tonight.

There must be an appropriate scriptural passage for this sort of thing. If it occurs to me, I'll log back in and add it. Something about the best laid plans going a'glay, or however the Scots spell it. They're all good Calvinists steeped in scripture, so even if it isn't in the Book it probably should be.

Adalbert de Vogüé OSB

"The Abbey of Pierre qui Vire announces the painful and enigmatic death of P. Adalbert de Vogüé OSB, 86. His body was found 2 km from the monastery after a search of eight days. He probably died Friday, 14 October 2011. The publication of Community and Abbot in the Rule of Saint Benedict (1960) began a distinguished career of research and publication concerning the Rule of Saint Benedict and early monastic literature. He served frequently on the faculty of the Pontifical Athanæum of Saint Anselm in Rome before taking up the hermit's life in 1974 near his monastery. The monks will celebrate the Mass of Christian Burial, Wednesday, 26 October, 11 a.m. Donne-lui, Seigneur, le repos éternel."

With these words the Abbey of La Pierre qui Vire announced the death of the greatest scholar of monastic texts in the world. Adalbert de Vogüé was born in 1924 in Paris to a wealthy and aristocratic family. His father was son of the Marquis de Vogüé and the princess Louise-Marie d'Arenberg, and was a principal officer in the Crédit Lyonnais. His mother was from an equally distinguished and even more prosperous family. Adalbert joined the Abbey of La Pierre qui Vire in 1944. His parents both decided to follow him into the cloister, and amid great publicity in 1955 his father entered La Pierre qui Vire and his mother entered Abbaye Saint-Louis-du-Temple de Vauhallan at Limon.

In 1960 de Vogüé published his first major book, translated into English as Community and Abbot in the Rule of St. Benedict. His scholarly work concentrated on the Benedictine monastic tradition. His editions and commentaries of the Rule and of Gregory the Great's Dialogues, Book II of which contains virtually all we know about Benedict as a person, are standard. He published hundreds of other books and articles, but his crowning work is the 12 volume Histoire littéraire du mouvement monastique dans l'antiquité, a magisterial survey of every written monastic source in Latin from the beginnings to the Carolingian Benedict of Aniane.

De Vogüé was a complicated man. He received a fine education in Paris and Rome and taught many terms at San Anselmo, the Benedictine college in Rome. He lectured widely and participated in the intellectual and academic life of his patristic and monastic specialties. He also traveled. I had the great honor of meeting him when he was a guest at the Monastery of St. Paul in the Desert in Palm Desert in the 80's. He was also devoted to the most austere forms of monastic life, and spent many years living in semi-seclusion at a hermitage near his monastery. He wrote occasionally on the ascetic life, of which he was a powerful proponent, and not of the school of amelioration for the purposes of making such a life relevant to modern people. His was the full-throated cry of the completely committed, and his passion can best be seen, perhaps, in his little book To Love Fasting.

He was just as full-throated in his interactions with scholars with whom he disagreed. Not a few revisionists of monastic history experienced his sharp disagreements. And with all that, De Vogüé was the greatest scholar in the Benedictine world for fifty years. It is not too much to say that he is in great part responsible for the brilliant flowering of interest in Benedictine monasticism, having laid a solid foundation for the rest of us to build on.

I can't help thinking both how fitting and how ironic his death was -- lost to others in the forests several kilometers from the monastery, his death hidden from the world he both embraced and fled.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Electing a Bishop

On Saturday, Oct. 29, the Diocese of New York will gather in convention to elect a coadjutor bishop. Bishop Sisk has asked me to be the the Chaplain to the Convention. Seven have been nominated, five officially and two by petition. One has withdrawn. The slate was announced at the end of August, and on Tuesday afternoon, Oct. 11, a process of interviewing the candidates began at Christ Church, Poughkeepsie, and continued through the week in six or so other venues.

It was an interesting process. It helped clarify my own thoughts about the candidates to some extent. It is helpful to meet and listen to and observe people in the flesh as well as in their carefully prepared statements and videos and other self-presentations. But more importantly, it helped me to solidify my own thoughts about what the next Bishop of New York might be and do. I share those thoughts here, with the understanding that as I write about them, none of them are criticisms of our current Bishop. No one person can have every gift, and the gifts for which a bishop is elected at one point may not be the same needed a decade or more down the road.

So what do I think is most important in our next bishop?

First, I think that the Bishop should be a clear voice proclaiming Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. That sounds trite, I know, so let me explain. I believe the Church exists to call people to a new reality. The scriptural name for that reality is the Kingdom of God. It goes by other names, even in Scripture: the Kingdom of Heaven in Matthew, everlasting life in John, salvation in its many forms in Paul. This is not a simple matter, because it involves scriptural interpretation and sound, contemporary theology as well as participation in the modes of understanding with which our culture describes reality. But that proclamation is at core quite clear: There is a new reality to which the Church calls the world, and that reality has its point of origin and its summation in the person of Jesus Christ. So our new bishop needs to be someone who can proclaim that reality publicly, persuasively, consistently and effectively, not only from the pulpit, but in the many different roles he or she will be called to fill institutionally and in the wider community. The Bishop should be one who makes clear that the Church is impelled by this new reality to begin working for it here and now, and that our many works for the poor, for the education of the young and for social advancement flow from this one source: We believe the Kingdom can begin here and now.

Second, I think that the Bishop needs to love, effectively represent and skillfully promote the kind of Christianity the Episcopal Church stands for. We are catholic and we are reformed. Which is to say, we stand for the full practice of the sacramental, liturgical, theological and ecclesial reality of the historic western Church, and we also stand for the freedom of conscience of each believing person within the fellowship of Christ, and all that follows from that in the full participation of all members in the Church's life, witness and governance. The Bishop needs to be a person who can lead us into the challenges to our form of Christianity in the contemporary moment. These are clear to everyone, but the way forward is not so clear. The Bishop needs to be a skillful institutional leader, one who can envision and implement appropriate new or changed forms of congregational and diocesan ministry. The challenges we face include an aggressively materialist culture which is in many ways opposed to the Christian message, a psycho-social environment which does not value Christian belief commitment very highly, and a financial environment in which there is less money for church structures. The Bishop should be a person who faces our future with optimism because he or she believes in the Anglican way of being Christian, believes that our way is essential for the completeness of the universal Church, and believes that the Anglican way is given by God as one proclamation of the Gospel in our society.

Third, I think that the Bishop needs to be a person who loves holiness: a person of personal prayer and reflection breaking into attitudes of generosity and good discernment toward others, of course, but also a person who wants to promote holiness though the Church. The Episcopal Church has chosen the path of radical inclusiveness, not just in areas of sexuality and gender, but in many other areas as well. How are people transformed by their life in Christ within the Episcopal fellowship? How can the Church build up the Kingdom of God by including people who have been excluded, from the Church altogether in some cases, or from our church in particular in others, as they are drawn into fellowship with those who are already members? The Bishop should be a person who in his or her own personal life is known to be living the life of the Kingdom, but also a person who can call everyone to the challenging work of refashioning their lives, no matter when they entered the vineyard (see Matthew 20:1-16). This is all the more urgent in a time when the traditional educational and economic prospects for young people no longer hold their old promise, when the moral and social conventions of the past, built on socially agreed foundations, no longer hold as firmly as they once did. People need to look to us as a church which calls its members with some success to the struggle to be what God intends us to be, which is not and should not be easy. Thoughtful people find themselves drawn to effective disciplines of holiness. The Church, led by its bishop, should be a place where they can find them.

This is a lot. I am pretty sure no one person has all the qualities needed. But whoever we elect should have these as ideals, as goals, for the episcopal ministry. It is trite to say that the Church is at a turning point. The Church has always been at a turning point, because to be alive in any present moment is to have to choose, to turn toward what is coming. Nevertheless, I believe this is such a moment. I pray that our new Bishop will be a person who can represent the values we carry with us from our tradition and do so with cheerful confidence that the challenges that face us are opportunities, and energize us in the Spirit.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

The Joy of Old Friends

Practically the only people I know in Austin are Bill and Molly Bennett. We met years ago at CDSP, where Bill was in charge (I think) of development in 1976 when I started studying for my M.Div. there. I remember well doing my work/study thing as a janitor and being told by Bill how important it was to empty the wastepaper baskets. As it surely is. At any rate, we became friends then.

Bill went on in the mid-80's to become the Provost at the Episcopal Seminary of the Southwest in Austin, working together with Durstan MacDonald as Dean. It was a good partnership and the seminary flourished under their leadership. Eleven years later or so Bill became the rector of St. Mark's Episcopal Church in Austin, and retired some years ago. Molly worked for years as a Director of Christian Education in Austin Episcopal churches and was responsible for establishing the certification program in Christian Ed at ETS-SW. Both have had distinguished careers.

I had e-mailed in advance, and when I got to Austin I called them up and plans were made. We went for dinner last night at a wonderful place called the Eastside Cafe. The food was delicious. I had mushroom crepes and squash and we all had a scrumptious cherry cobbler for dessert. But of course the nicest part was the conversation. We talked and talked about old friends and the Church, and then they took me on driving tour of downtown Austin. I was a bit taken aback when Bill told me about the Temple of the Holy Spirit which had either six or nine (I'm not sure I remember the number correctly) gatherings a year when more than 100,000 people attend worship. Then I looked up and lo and behold, the U. of Texas stadium. I told Bill I was acquainted with that form of worship, having attended Michigan State in The Good Old Days when Duffy Dougherty was coach.

What a wonderful thing old friends are!

Monday, October 17, 2011

At the Archives

I'm in Austin, TX, until Friday to work on OHC's archival holdings on deposit at the national Episcopal Church archives, which are located on the campus of The Seminary of the Southwest (SSW) (which used to be prefixed with Episcopal Theological, as in ETS-SW). There was no room in the inn there, so I am staying at the Austin Presbyterian Seminary, in very nice digs called the Presidential Condo. It's a one-bedroom condo on the third floor of a married student housing building north of the seminary, very close to SSW and the Archives.

The flight down took me from Stewart-Newburgh to Detroit and Atlanta and then on to Austin. No problems at all. You would never know Detroit is collapsing from its airport, which is quite spiffy, as is Atlanta. The less said about Stewart the better, but the planes leave on time and occasionally arrive on time as well. The TSA people at Newburgh are not at all like the caricatures of those folks. They were pleasant, efficient and friendly. But we still had to take our shoes off.

The Order has had the bulk of our archives in Austin since 1976, and it is a lot of stuff. I'm mostly confirming and improving the descriptions of our holdings and will do a bit of scanning as well.

Austin being in Texas and all, I'm going to go out for a steak tonight. Last night I had a pretty good burger at a little place just down the street, but tonight I'm up for the real thing. People have recommended the Austin Land and Cattle Company (not to be confused, I was urged, with the Texas Land and Cattle Company). Apparently the Austin version has the more authentic down home Austin feel to it, and perhaps more reasonable prices as well.

I visited Austin and the Archives in the mid-80s when I did research there for the history of OHC. The Archives then was run by Nell Bellamy, of very blessed memory, a great woman, a great Christian and something of a saint, at least in my book. Today I had the opportunity for a good conversation with her successor, Mark Duffy, and he is, as they say, Worthy.

Austin is pretty much as I remember it, at least this part of it. I was struck then and continue to be by the casual approach to sidewalks and curbs here. Not at all like southern California, where they approach fetishism. There was some rain a couple of weekends ago, so things are not totally parched, but the drought is still very much on.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

One of life's little signposts

Well, I suppose it had to happen sometime. I'll be turning 65 in December, so I made my appointment to apply for Medicare and had the interview today. I know you can do it online, but somehow I felt I'd rather talk to a human being about this little milestone in the journey. So I got myself up to the Social Security office in Kingston, which is on the second floor of a nice but somehow sterile and forlorn office building out in Lake Katrine, north of the big box shopping district, near nothing at all.

The man who interviewed me was very nice, very helpful. I was glad I had taken along all the documents. The birth certificate in particular. He tried to get me to retire on the spot, but I think I'll wait a while. The full retirement for my age cohort is 66, and the monthly haul increases a bit each month you wait to retire after that.

Coming down the stairs I could have sworn my knees were complaining.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

The marriage feast

After more than a month taking services at St. George's, Newburgh, I preached at Holy Cross Monastery this morning. St. George's prefers an informal preaching style, but this morning's offering was written. It is posted on the sermon blog for Holy Cross Monastery and can be reached there.