the penultimate WORD

Series 2006 - November
Tradition refuses to submit...


The Irvine Tartan  My monthly column in The New Brunswick Anglican




Cathedral of St Peter and St Paul, Washington, D.C.





Tradition refuses to submit to the small and arrogant oligarchy of those who merely happen to be walking about.”

G. K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy



Words have a fascination for me. But more than the words themselves, I am intrigued by the use we make of them. In conversation and print we secure our comfort level. We use words in such a way so as to defend our position against all assault.

I have demonstrated this human trait; and I know I am not alone in this wry predilection. You may recognize it in yourself, if you look.

We define words in such a way so as to limit their application and affect. In the church, we have made light-weight words such as Stewardship, and Evangelism, and Mission. To a person, we are content with the level of our giving while we dare say “and of Thine own have we given Thee”! Our diocesan standard is not seen as an encouragement but a threat. As biblically based our standard may be, the authority of holy writ has its limits.

For an entire decade we developed a strategy of Evangelism that explained it away. Malcontents moving from one parish to another allowed some constituencies to take pride in growth, and others suffer from the resulting financial exigency. Statistically pews were polished by parishioners who disappeared, one by one, through attrition. No one moved perceptibly; others were expected to produce results.

Mission is perhaps the word that has suffered greatest as a casualty of our apologia.

The term mission had become a pejorative term to identify struggling parishes that depended on the largess of self sufficient parishes. For lack of regular employment or the lack of sufficient numbers of employed, these constituencies relied on support beyond themselves. Their need of our charity, our love as St. Paul phrased it, was our closest mission field. Beyond them we supported the church in the northern reaches of this vast land, dioceses that are far flung and distant from us. Beyond that our dollars enabled the work of evangelism to be done in darker continents.

Mission at home was predicated more on the recipient than on the enabler. We no longer have mission parishes. In their stead we have allowed part-time ministries to become the vogue, with priests paid a part-time stipend. Many remain empty. We enable a part-time ministry of Word and Sacrament to the people of God entrusted to us. St. Paul phrased them, and us, corporately as the Body of Christ.

Earlier this month Katharine, Bishop by the Grace of God, was installed as the 26th Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church of the United States of America. As a diocesan bishop, she was the shepherd of the Diocese of Nevada. Under her episcopate that diocese underwent a significant paradigm change. Every parish in that jurisdiction, including the Cathedral, was designated a Mission Parish. Parishes that were well established and secure as well as parishes freshly planted and going through birth pangs and growing pains were all designated in this radical way. Mission was no longer something that distinguished one parish from another in a negative way. No longer was a parish designated a mission parish seen as anything less than was the Cathedral itself. Mission became something every parish was called to, and every baptized person in them.

What a wonderfully transforming vision Katharine was able to encourage, support and promote among the People of God entrusted to her stewardship. Even the city of Las Vegas enjoys two new Mission Parishes beyond those that were already established in that urban mission field. In that city, a city not known for much more than its showgirls and C.S.I., mission has become a verb and has ceased being an adjective.

Katharine Jefferts Schori has inaugurated a mission at the Cathedral Church of St. Peter and St. Paul in Washington, D.C. in the tradition grounded in scripture. As a Bishop in the Church of God she will use words that will impact on the baptized and those of us who are in Holy Orders. Those words will be heard around the Communion, by some enthusiastically, by others indifferently and by still others with hostility.

But tradition, G.K. Chesterton is quick to remind us, “refuses to submit to the small and arrogant oligarchy of those who merely happen to be walking about.”

Andrew, who we commemorate later this month might have expected a similar response when he rushed to tell Simon Peter about Jesus. It seems like such an inefficient way for God’s Kingdom to go from strength to strength. After all, Simon Peter might well have mistaken Andrew’s witness.

Copyright © 2006 James T. Irvine

Series 2006

Investiture Sermon - The Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori