Diversity at the Top

November 18th, 2019

Last week, I attended a luncheon where the speaker was the noted Vatican observer, Austen Ivereigh. Ivereigh has just published his second book on Pope Francis entitled, Wounded Shepherd: Pope Francis and His Struggle to Convert the Catholic Church.

One thing I have learned from the book is that the Pope has a habit of appointing his critics to senior positions in the Vatican. Although himself a liberal reformer, Francis apparently likes to hear arguments for traditionalist points of view. That may explain why turnover in the higher echelons of the church has recently been high–just today, for example, a senior financial official resigned.

Pope Francis’s practice of including diverse points of view at the senior level seems to me a good, if risky, strategy. I don’t see another way the polarized political camps can begin to work together. It would also seem to be a more tolerant and open way to run our own Episcopal Church hierarchies. —J. Douglas Ousley


Top Down

November 12th, 2019

At the annual convention of the Episcopal Diocese of New York last weekend, the Bishop of New York recommended two proposals, which were duly passed as resolutions of the whole convention.

The first resolution allocated $1,100,000 from the diocesan endowment as reparations for the sin of slavery. The money will go to assist African-Americans in ways yet to be determined. Reparations have been discussed in New York for years by a small group of Episcopalians. Now they are coming to fruition in the form of a grant equal to 2.5% of the diocesan endowment.

The Bishop also recommended a ten-year plan to reduce the carbon footprint of each parish by 30% by the year 2030–following a plan by Mayor Bill DiBlasio for many New York City buildings. Annual energy audits would have to be filed by every church as part of the parochial report.

These proposals will eventually impact the 200 or so parishes of the diocese. I won’t be here when Incarnation decides how to respond to these costly and left-of-center proposals, so I really don’t need to comment. I would just note that I can’t remember a Bishop of New York ever making this radical a challenge to his congregations. —J. Douglas Ousley


The Madison Square Garden Revival Tent

November 4th, 2019

Talk has been going around the Episcopal Church that the Presiding Bishop would like to hold a revival in New York City next year, just before the 2020 election. It would take place in some large venue like Madison Square Garden or Yankee Stadium; one hopes the Garden, given the uncertainties of autumn weather.

I can’t say that I am filled with enthusiasm for this idea. When I was a boy, I was touched by a visit to a Billy Graham crusade in Boston. But, today, the idea seems a bit simplistic, not to say old-fashioned. I find it hard to imagine a skeptic or a non-religious person taking the opportunity to spend an evening with a bunch of church people.

On the other hand, Bishop Michael Curry is an extraordinary preacher. While some of his diocesan revivals have had mixed results, there is no doubt that the Episcopal Church could use some new life–not to mention, new blood. And there is no doubt that our nation could use all the religious energy it could get before the 2020 election.

I guess we will have to see where the Spirit leads us. —J. Douglas Ousley


Unintended Consequences

October 28th, 2019

A new program of early voting launched in New York City last week. The mayor proclaimed this a great leap forward into the 21st century.

But the hastily-planned initiative wasn’t popular with everyone. One of the mothers in my congregation was horrified to see lines of voters traipsing through her sons’ school. Students were deprived of their lunchroom and had to eat in their classrooms instead. The risk to the children from a sudden and un-policed intrusion of strangers was obvious; parents quickly signed up to perform their own security force.

No doubt, this program will increase voter turnout in the end. But, in this case, the cost of change seems to have been poorly calculated.

As the Roman Catholic Church contemplates changing its policy about married priests, its leaders will want to weigh the consequences. The ending of the Latin Mass was followed by a steep and continuing decline in attendance.

The cause-and-effect relationship isn’t clear; many Christian churches without Latin have also seen their attendance decline in recent years. And my brother–who entered the Catholic church from the Episcopal Church under a special dispensation for married priests–flourishes in a parish outside Philadelphia. As a married Anglican priest myself, I could hardly condemn the practice!

Nevertheless, while the Spirit blows where it wills, we mortals have to be careful when we hoist our sails in the winds of change. —J. Douglas Ousley


Lost Our Middle Way?

October 21st, 2019

Yesterday, the priest in charge of our link parish in London, the Rev. Paul Kennedy reminded us of the original goal of the Church of England to be a “via media”–a middle way that would be able to unite the various factions within Christianity.

This is particularly true of the Broad Church, which in the past has strived to accept both Anglo-Catholic and Evangelical Anglicans into the one fold under the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Queen of England. In the nineteenth century, Incarnation was part of this progressive, non-partisan wing of the Episcopal Church in the U.S.

These days, the increasing divisiveness of the political arena seems to have affected the religious realm. Christian denominations are becoming more and more political, either toward the right, as with some evangelical churches, or toward the left, as most mainline Protestant churches. One result is more politics in the pulpit and in public prayer–a phenomenon that has often put off potential members of American churches and driven present members away.

Yet, as Fr. Kennedy noted, Anglicanism strives to present the subtleties of Christianity, which doesn’t lead to easy answers or hard doctrines, and therefore will often shy away from extreme political positions.

It’s not easy to be the via media. —J. Douglas Ousley


Hit in the Head

October 15th, 2019

Preaching on Sunday about the Healing of the Ten Lepers and the fact that only one leper came back to thank Jesus, I speculated that one reason New Yorkers have trouble being grateful is that they are so often overwhelmed by urban life.

They are assaulted with noise, they are aggravated by uncertain transportation, they feel hit in the head (sometimes literally) by the human congestion around them. No wonder we forget to thank God for all the good things in our lives.

That said, it is curious that religion isn’t more popular. Our form of Christianity, at least, presents relief from the stress of living. We offer worship and prayer, and that worship and prayer should bring comfort and healing.

As Christians proclaiming the Gospel in the world, we need to make people feel they won’t just be preached to. They will find a place of comfort and healing, a haven of blessing and of peace. —J. Douglas Ousley


A Beautiful Church

October 7th, 2019

Before and after the meeting of the Murray Hill Neighborhood Association meeting at Incarnation last Thursday, many people came up and said to me what a beautiful church we have. Similar comments were offered as we blessed pets in front of the church yesterday.

Incarnation members have heard this comment so frequently that we tend not to think much about them. Yet they are certainly true: we do have an spectacular collection of stained glass windows, sculptures, and wood carvings–all displayed in a neo-Gothic architectural gem.

We all appreciate our church, of course, and it is an amazing place to worship. Yet we should also remind ourselves how much the community around us also values one of the few landmark buildings in an increasingly developed area of the city.

It is perhaps not too much to say that Incarnation is a beacon of light and hope. Thanks be to God. —J. Douglas Ousley

 


Angels, Reconsidered

October 2nd, 2019

I was talking yesterday with a colleague in another city, and he was saying how pleased he was to be able to assist recently in the ordination of his mother, a former minister in the AME Church who has become an Episcopal priest.

My friend happened to mention that his mother now serves a parish named, “the Church of the Guardian Angel.” I had never heard that name for an Episcopal church and I liked it immediately.

Although we just celebrated the Feast of St. Michael and All Angels, and Incarnation’s windows are filled with angels, including some by the noted artists, Louis Comfort Tiffany, Edmund Burne-Jones, and William Morris, I don’t know that that the average Episcopalian thinks much about angels.

We might ask ourselves, why not? We believe that God watches over us–why couldn’t he give us each a spiritual protector?

We should be happy to trust in our guardian angels. Don’t we need all the help we can get? —J. Douglas Ousley


Nations United

September 23rd, 2019

We who live in Manhattan are thinking a lot this week about the United Nations–not least, because world leaders and delegates to the annual General Assembly are tying up traffic all over our island!

And concerned citizens around the world should be thinking about how the United Nations might become more effective in promoting world peace. The organization currently seems helpless is resolving conflicts like the war in Yemen or the worldwide flood of refugees.

The Anglican Communion has had a representative at the UN for many years, but in recent years, little has been heard from that office. Anglican women from around the world come to a UN conference every spring (at considerable expense), but it is unclear what effect that meeting has on the welfare of the world.

Still, if there were no United Nations, we would have to invent it! Let’s hope that in the very near future, it will reinvent itself into a respected and effective voice for a better world. —J. Douglas Ousley


Plus ca change…

September 17th, 2019

“Imagine, if you can, a person being now put to death for a speculative theological opinion. You feel at once that in the most bigoted country in the world such a thing has become impossible; and the impossibility is the measure of the alteration which we have all undergone.”

I recently read this passage in a book of essays by the Scottish historian James Anthony Froude. Froude was from a famous family of Anglican theologians and scholars. What is notable is that the quotation above was published more than a century ago, in 1901.

In our times, people are executed every day for expressing their theological opinions. Particularly in Muslim countries but also in Hindu parts of India and probably other countries we don’t know about. Despite what we might think has been the increasingly liberal atmosphere of modern times, religious intolerance has increased in recent years.

“Plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose.” That is French for, “The more things change, the more they remain the same.” All the more reason to hold fast to whatever gains in tolerance we can manage, and all the more reason never to take religious freedom for granted. —J. Douglas Ousley