Scripture’s role in Anglicanism

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Religion

Scripture’s role in Anglicanism

The question of how Anglicans (Episcopalians) use the bible has come up a couple of times this week in various conversations. And as luck would have it, I’m working my way through a book by Paul Avis on what we mean when we speak about an Anglican Church, and in my reading this morning, I came across this quote:

This faith is said to be ‘uniquely revealed’ in the Holy Scriptures. Here the Scriptures are accorded the status of the vehicle of revelation. But neither here nor in the Articles is there any theory of revelation or of biblical inspiration. The Articles state that ‘Holy Scripture containeth all things necesary to salvation’ and this is echoed in the Chicago—Lambeth Quadrilateral (1886–88) which upholds the Scriptures as ‘the rule and ultimate standard of faith’. Anglican formularies do not recognize the Scriptures as a source of binding precepts and precedents which should determine the worship or polity of the Church. Reason and tradition also have their part to play.

Avis, P. (2008). The Identity of Anglicanism: Essentials of Anglican Ecclesiology (p. 11). London; New Delhi; New York; Sydney: Bloomsbury.

I’m grateful for the way Avis puts this. We use Scripture as the rule and ultimate standard, but it, in of itself, is not the source of “binding precepts”. It’s in Scripture’s conversation with Reason and the Tradition of the Church that we comprehend the Truth.

(This allows space for the Creeds and the Liturgy as well as our own engagement with both and Holy Scripture as the vehicles the Holy Spirit uses to reveal God’s truth to us.)

Just an early morning thought today.

Creating a Center for Reconciliation in Rhode Island

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Religion / Rhode Island

There’s been a great deal of interest in the last few days in a decision we made at our diocesan convention regarding the future of our Cathedral in Providence. Convention voted overwhelmingly to start working to create a Center for Reconciliation at St. John’s and to begin working toward telling the truth about our own denomination’s participation in the slave trade as part of our own reconciliation work.

Header logoWe’ve been guided by the work of the Traces Center, founded by people with deep Rhode Island roots, who created the “Traces of the Trade”. And we’ve been inspired by the reactions that Episcopalians in Rhode Island have had to learning their own history.

On the Tracing Center website blog there’s a wonderful account of the process that has brought us to this moment:

“Also in 2006, Katrina was invited to preach at St. Michael’s Church in Bristol, R.I., where many of the slave-trading DeWolf family were practicing Episcopalians in the late 1700s and early 1800s. The Rev. David Dobbins and the Ven. Janice Grinnell of St. Michael’s were moved by the sermon Katrina gave during the filming to initiate a spontaneous healing ritual during the service. This became the final scene in the film. Over the years, David and Jan have remained conscious of the need to continue to implement the process outlined in the 2006 resolutions within the Diocese of Rhode Island. Jan became the diocese’s archdeacon in 2013, and when Bishop Knisely issued a call for ideas to reimagine the cathedral, she and David conceived the idea for a museum and reconciliation center. They convened a diverse group of Rhode Islanders to explore the concept, which has grown and flourished from that beginning.

In Rhode Island, the Episcopal Church’s complicity in slavery and its economic benefits were especially stark. As Bishop Knisely notes:
  The ship building and shipping industry in Rhode Island were major players in the slave trade and much of Rhode Island’s economy was built with the profits of that trade. Many … of those businesses were owned and operated by Episcopalians. So we feel we have both an obligation and an opportunity to speak the truth about the church’s role in the slave trade.

Of course, the Episcopal Church is not unique in having historic ties to slavery, nor in having wealthy benefactors who made fortunes in slavery or the slave trade. In Providence, Brown University embarked several years ago on its own process of discernment and atonement for its historic dependence on the slave trade, a process which culminated in, among other concrete steps, the establishment of a new Center for the Study of Slavery and Justice, which, along with the Tracing Center, is a partner in the cathedral project. Nor is this institutional complicity limited to Rhode Island: other religious denominations in the U.S. have been exploring their historic ties to slavery in recent years, as have other colleges and universities. For a scholarly analysis of the latter history, see Craig Steven Wilder, Ebony & Ivy: Race, Slavery, and the Troubled History of America’s Universities (New York: Bloomsbury Press, 2013).”

More here. Please go and read the whole account.

Please pray for what we are hoping to accomplish here. We will need your help.

Building a truly modern personal biblical library

Religion / Web/Tech

Many years ago, my brother the pastor and professor, talked me into spending more money than I wanted to on a computer bible system. It was one of the first ones that was published and he had found it a real help in his sermon preparation. He and I serve in different faith transitions, his being more traditionally evangelical than my Anglicanism. But I am always willing to learn from others and started trying to use the software in my own ministry.

I didn’t have much luck. The software back then was designed to support close study of the Bible in a verse by verse sort of way. Anglicans tend to read the Bible in literary chunks (like psalms, stories, letters, etc.) rather than by verse. And that’s certainly the way our use of the weekly and daily lectionary undergirds our use of the Bible in our preaching. So while I could use the software to gather a great deal of information about a single verse (including translation issues, text variants, etc.), the package just wasn’t very helpful for what I was trying to do as a preacher.

But things have changed. First of all, the software, published by Logos, has been through a number of revisions, has moved to a truly cross-platform structure and is much easier to use. And even more exciting to me is that it now has a wealth of Anglican sources including commonly used commentaries, theological resources and liturgical resources. This package has been endorsed by people at Lambeth palace (the Archbishop of Canterbury’s office), the Anglican Communion office, and American Church’s Presiding Bishop’s office. And the new tools and resources make it incredibly helpful for the average jobbing Sunday lectionary based preacher to quickly pull together a wealth of information to use for sermon preparation. You can even download powerpoint templates and professionally designed slides for presentations (and sermons).

It’s not inexpensive. Actually, it’s pretty expensive, at least if you try to buy the whole thing at once. But you don’t have to buy it all at once. (I haven’t.) Buy one of the starter packages and then over the years, upgrade and purchase separately the resources you think you’ll need for the way you want to use the system. A student or biblical scholar’s needs are different than a parish priest’s, or a deacon, or a chaplain, or a Christian Ed. director, or a musician, or a Sunday School teacher, or…

New Office

I find that it’s best to think of this thing as a library platform, like Kindle or iBook, that makes modern, professional and popular theological and biblical resources available in electronic format. By the time I had graduated from seminary I had spent thousands of dollars on books and had built a decent, medium sized, theological library. (That turns out to be a real bear to move from office to office by the way.) Logos, and its competitors, are a more modern way to gather and use a personal theological library.

And, if you want to try the system out, you can do that for free with a surprisingly powerful package that FaithLife, the new corporate name for the Logos people, are giving away to the first million people who download it. The Faithlife Study Bible comes with a free modern translation of the Bible, but for $10 more or so, you can add the NRSV, the most commonly used text in the Episcopal Church. And then you’ll have a full study bible, bible dictionary, and single volume bible encyclopedia on your laptop, smartphone or tablet. Perfect for parish bible studies, or for using to read the bible in a year…

You can find the free package here along with more information about what is available and how to use it.

Anglicanism and Evolution; “show, don’t tell”

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Religion / Science / SOSc

With all the talk the last few weeks about Pope Francis’ speech regarding the compatibility of Faith and Evolution, I’ve found myself having to remind numerous people, including media folks, that this is not a new development. What Pope Francis has done, albeit particularly effectively apparently, is reiterate the existing relationship between science and faith, at least from a non-American evangelical viewpoint.

But a number people asked me if Anglicans had anything to say on the matter, and other than a few essays here and there, a book or two, and of course the Catechism of Creation that a group of us are continuing to work on, there hasn’t been much that was accessible to non-specialists.

Logo

But that’s changing! A Manchester based group in the UK has a new site up called “God and the Big Bang” that is meant to provide all sorts of resources for secondary education students, and students in post-secondary (college) schools and even professional scientists at the beginning of their career.

The programs (and there are different lectures and events designed for different sorts of audiences) intend to inspire curiosity and encourage young people to think this sort of thing through for themselves:

God and the Big Bang allows young people to ask some of the big questions they usually struggle to find answers to, and hear responses from leading scientists with a wealth of knowledge about, and passion for, both science and theology. With fascinating questions and deeply insightful, respectful and honest answers, this panel session prompts a high level of discussion around science and faith, providing pupils with the opportunity to grapple with current ideas surrounding science and faith, in an inspiring, eye-opening way that helps make the event one that will be remembered by students and teachers alike.

Rather than telling people what to think about the relationship between science and religion, the programs demonstrate how various scientists think about such questions. It’s not a matter of telling, it’s a matter of showing (show, don’t tell” is one of my favorite teaching philosophies).

Keep an eye on the page.

What do Anglicans believe about evolution and the relationship between science and faith? That it’s a fantastically interesting conversation with lots for both parties to learn.

Sermon for the Feast of Willibrord

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Sermons and audio

St. John’s, Barrington Rhode Island; 2014 Diocesan Convention Evensong

Saint Willibrord

This evening we are celebrating the memory of Willibrord – the Apostle to the Frisians.

(I had to look up the location of Frisia – it’s essentially the lands that border the Eastern part of the English Channel and the southern portion of the North Sea.)

He was a celtic missionary of the same movement that brought us Columba, Alcuin, Bede and others. They were of Irish decent, though Willibrord was actually a North Umbrian, trained for ministry in the northern part of England and in Ireland and then sent south to the continent. These were the scholars who taught the court of Charlemagne to value reading and literature. They were the scholar monks who essentially re-Christianized all of Northern Europe after the Roman Legions withdrew from the Western part of the Empire and moved to the East.

Willibrord in particular was a man noted for his humility, his love of routine and common-place, and his desire to succeed in being the best sort of religious person he might be. Leading a delegation to Rome on behalf of the young religious community being planted in what is today the Netherlands, he was selected (and reluctantly agreed apparently) to serve as the Archbishop of the Frisians. (This is about a century or so after Augustine of Canterbury has arrived in Canterbury to convert the already Christian English people to Christianity.) Upon his return from Rome he chose Utrecht to serve as the center of his missionary efforts, and became the first Archbishop of Utrecht as a result. You might recognize the significance of that City for us as Anglicans. In the latter part of the 19th Century the Roman Catholic bishops of that region could not recognize the claims made about the office of the Pope in the First Vatican Council and broke away from Rome and became the “Old Catholic” Church, a denomination with which Anglicans have been in full communion for almost a century. (The society which promotes relationships between the Old Catholic and the Anglican Communion is called the Willibrord Society.)

All of that is interesting and important. But for life of me, I can’t easily see the connections between the lessons appointed by the lectionary and the saint whose life we’re commemorating. The most fulsome accounts of the life of blessed Willebrord talk about how he spent 50 years serving in his ministry, essentially loved and respected by all and died quietly in his bed. Why we are hearing of the lament of Jesus over Jerusalem somewhat escapes me. Unless it is because the lesson is meant to recall to us our long standing ecumenical relationship with our sister denomination and is a lament that we have not moved further toward a more visible ecclesiastical unity with other denominations in subsequent years. (I’m afraid that the Old Testament lesson from Ecclesiastes isn’t much help either, it is a recounting of the restoration of the Temple and regular worship of God in that place. Perhaps it is a reference to the re-Christianization of Europe after the Legions departed and the so-called Dark Ages began.)

But all need be lost due to my lack of understanding the original intent of the lectionary compliers. Looking more closely at the Gospel, which makes sense to me, as we are all called to preach the Gospel whenever possible, perhaps there’s a way to understand the chosen image not as reference to our failed ecumenical work, but in a different light, one which has meaning today, a light that is best seen by remembering the backdrop of what was happening in Northern Europe during Willibrord’s lifetime. I mentioned that his ministry took place during the period of time that led up to the rise of Charlemagne as the first Holy Roman Emperor. I didn’t mention that one of the reasons that Willibrord choose Utrecht as his base of operations was not just that it is situated along a major waterway, but also that it was possessed of a fine castle, a fortress, that allowed the person who controlled that city to control much of the economic life of the region. Willibrord went to the center of power and began a complicated relationship with earthly power as he spread the news of the Gospel to so many. And he made use of that close relationship with power, even allowing the Gospel to be used as an excuse to forcibly subdue neighboring tribes so that they could be saved.

In the Gospel Jesus describes Herod as a Fox and himself as a hen who wishes to gather her chicks under her wing. There’s an implied contrast between Herod the King, the Greek man who is claiming a suspect right to inherit the political power and armed might of Israel, albeit as a vassal king of the Emperor Caesar and Caesar’s legions. Jesus makes the distinction particularly sharp as he describes Herod as a crafty fox and himself as a mother hen. A crafty fox makes sense when describing a man who was essentially a courtier to a great foreign power. But why a hen as an image for the Messiah?

I’m afraid that our separation from the rural culture of the middle east has made understanding this particular metaphor harder than it ought to be for us.

Cal Bombay writing in “God’s Protection” makes at least one meaning of the odd image explicit, especially for those of us who grew up around farms here in the US:

…Across the prairies of the west it’s not uncommon for fires to sweep with great speed and intense heat. They are, obviously, a terrifying experience and often lives are lost. One of the areas of life that suffers most is the small animal kingdom. But the prairie chicken has an astonishing way of handling a prairie fire. At the first hint of trouble, the hen calls out to her chicks, who rush under her wings; she ruffles her feathers and squats down protectively on them. As the fire sweeps by, the mother hen simply dies in the heat, but more often than not, the chicks survive the quickly passing fire. It’s remarkable that a hen will be so devoted, even to death, for her chicks. (Cal Bombay, “God’s protection,” Crossroads Web Site, Crossroads.ca/calcom. Retrieved October 17, 2003.)

Barbara Brown Taylor was the one who helped me understand what Jesus is describing when he paints himself as a Hen to Herod’s Fox in the context of Jerusalem where Jesus will later be crucified.

Taylor writes,

Jesus won’t be king of the jungle in this or any other story. What he will be is a mother hen who stands between the chicks and those who mean to do them harm. She has no fangs, no claws, no rippling muscles. All she has is her willingness to shield her babies with her own body. If the fox wants them, he will have to kill her first.

Which he does, as it turns out. He slides up on her one night in the yard while all the babies are asleep. When her cry wakens them, they scatter. She dies the next day where both foxes and chickens can see her – wings spread, breast exposed – without a single chick beneath her feathers. It breaks her heart, but it does not change a thing. If you mean what you say, then this is how you stand.

You see the point that Jesus is making. Herod protects the flock by sending others to die. Jesus protects the flock by giving up his own life on their behalf.

Now, is there a connection we can make between this lesson and Blessed Willibrord?

It’s helpful to remember that our mother Church, the Church of England, is the established Church of England and Wales. That means it is more than partner to the ruling authority in those lands, it is an integral part of the government. That gives the Church in that part of the world a great deal of access and privilege; over which I’ll admit to have having the occasional twinge of jealously. But it also means that Church is frequently in danger of participating in the sort of morally questionable actions that expediency and political reality often require of those who govern.

For instance, while the Church of England eventually came to take an important role in the process of abolishing slavery in the British Empire (following the lead of the Quakers, a sect that the Church of England pushed to have banned and actively persecuted), for a significant portion of the 18th century the Church managed to not only keep silent about the slave economy, it managed to turn a significant profit at the expense of the human souls that were being torn from home and condemned to live the remainder of their lives in brutal conditions. And of course, the Church of England in New England, particularly in Rhode Island has had its own complicated and on occasion disappointing history with the slavery industry here as well.

The Church, our Church, was at the table when such decisions were being made, when this country was being built partly on the backs of the enslaved brought here in chains on boats built and owned in Rhode Island. And we did not act with honor in that day.

I wonder how things might have been different for the Church and for our Country if we had committed ourselves to using our privilege, our place at the table, to stand up and be the voice for those who were denied their place at the table? I wonder what would have happened if we had been more like the Mother Hen that Jesus is for us, and less like the Fox that Herod chose to be?

Of course there’s no way to answer that question, and I suppose to be fair, we shouldn’t spend too much time trying to project our own 21st century outrage at the institution of slavery and the Church’s participation in it onto the people of that day who made their decisions according to the light given to them in that moment. But still I can wonder. Still I think we should wonder.

Who knows what led Willibrord and his contemporaries to entwine their ministries so closely with the earthly powers of those days. Perhaps it was what was normal to them. Perhaps it grew out of desire to return to the days when the Church’s establishment in the Roman Empire meant that they could compel people to believe they way the Church authorities thought they should. Perhaps it was the least bad choice the Church had in that moment. But there’s little of the Hen in all of it, and a bit too much of the fox.

More to the point will be the decisions we make in our own day for the Church we serve and together lead. What will guide our decisions and our choices in our day? The craftiness of the fox? Or the dream(?) of the Hen?

It is my prayer that we will hear the wings beats of the Holy Spirit as we arrive at the moments in which we are confronted with such choices.

Divine Uncertainty: “Jonathan Edwards in a New Light”

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SOSc

When I was a student at Yale Divinity School, I was part of group that tended to eat our lunch at a table in the refectory that was under the portrait of Jonathan Edwards, a former faculty member who later departed to be the President of Princeton. We knew him as a man of heroic faith, who had died as result of offering himself to be a test subject for a smallpox vaccine. And we talked in hushed tones about his famous sermon “Sinners in the hands of an Angry God”. But sadly we never discussed the details of his thought or of his philosophical inquiries.

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Which turns out to be a real shame because Edwards much like Bishop Barclay, a contemporary, were both significant philsophers whose work has been neglected as western thought has made the shift from modernity to post-modernity. And that’s surprising because both Edwards and Barclay have much to say about a reality in which absolutes exist but are likely unknowable in any complete sort of way.

This afternoon I stumbled across an essay written by Marilynne Robinson and posted on the National Endowment for the Humanities website which looks more closely at Edward’s work, particularly focusing on his writings as “new light Calvinist” (a group that held that ongoing revival was an important part of Christian Life).

I was particularly struck by this quote that details the ways in which Edwards used natural theological revelation as a source for his understanding of God and God’s nature:

“Never departing from strict reason, Edwards sanctified the unknowable. I experienced a quiet, cerebral awakening of my own, as much secular as religious, as much scientific as theological, though these categories are not so clear-cut as they are often made to seem. Edwards intended from his earliest work to create an all-unifying metaphysics and, though he did not achieve this, his thought feels shaped by the intention to keep the possibility implicit. It accommodates Locke and Newton, the best philosophy and science of his period. His thought asserted a great influence on the intellectual/activist movement that arose out of the Second Great Awakening that created many educational institutions across the country, among them Grinnell and Oberlin, and that pressed for the containment and abolition of slavery. Lyman Beecher, his sons Edward and Henry Ward Beecher, his daughter Harriet Beecher Stowe and the large circle associated with them accepted the need for the kind of conversion experience Edwards famously described, and adhered as well to the model of intellectual rigor he presented.

Edwards’s metaphysics is first of all an esthetics. His statements about fundamental reality are based on the nature of light, not as metaphor but as model for all aspects of being, from time to consciousness and selfhood, to love, to the experience of the sacred, to ontology, to God Himself. In Edwards’s understanding, these things participate in one another so deeply that their radical likeness is a kind of identity. Light for him is a virtual synonym for beauty, and the given world is saturated with it. Natural light is an analog or a metaphor for ‘supernatural light,’ an important phrase that makes an important distinction, though his exploitation of the character of ordinary light is essential to his argument.”

Lots more here.

I’m particularly taken with the last thought in the essay:

“Edwards as a Christian theologian begins with belief in a creator, whose role in existence and experience no doubt elaborated itself in his understanding as he pondered the imponderable problem he had posed to himself. The intuition is sound in any case. It places humankind in any moment on the farthest edge of existence, where the utter mystery of emergent being makes a mystery of every present moment even as it slides into the mysterious past. This by itself elevates experience above the plodding positivisms that lock us in chains of causality, conceptions of reality that are at best far too simple to begin to describe a human place in the universe. Edwards’s metaphysics does not give us a spatial locus, as the old cosmology is said to have done, but instead proposes an ontology that answers to consciousness and perception and feels akin to thought. I have heard it said a thousand times that people seek out religion in order to escape complexity and uncertainty. I was moved and instructed precisely by the vast theater Edwards’s vision proposes for complexity and uncertainty, for a universe that is orderly without being mechanical, that is open to and participates in possibility, indeterminacy, and even providence. It taught me to think in terms that finally did some justice to the complexity of things.”

Fossil Sitting In Sun Light

It’s a view of the Universe that seems much more in tune with the sort of writings you come across in modern theology than one would otherwise expect. As a follower of Popper’s post-positivism myself, I rather taken by what happens in Edward’s schema as he takes the experience of reality as seriously as I think Barth does in his writing. It gives you room for the mystery of the divine in a way that non-experiential thought doesn’t seem to do.

Canterbury on dealing with ISIS and jihadism

Current Affairs / Religion

Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury has released a tightly reasoned essay on the necessity of a thoughtful and coordinated response to the threat posed by ISIS and the extremist so-called “jihadists” around the world.

The essay very carefully refuses to find a reductionist explanation, a simple way to understand what is, at its heart, a multi-faceted response to a number of local issues. The Archbishop writes in particular:

“Every conflict is individual, and a global narrative by itself does not address the particularity of each region or country. However, the reality of jihadist terror, and the related elements common to conflicts, have become more global since the second invasion of Iraq in 2003. Strategy must be holistic. This conflict embraces a whole range of complex causes, demonstrated in the huge number of Muslim deaths, often forgotten in the west. Nor is it restricted to the Middle East. The Central African Republic has descended into utter barbarism, with a religious edge, seen by many Muslims as religious cleansing of their followers. Somalia is chaos, Libya is in meltdown.

This struggle is not simply a religious conflict, but a terrible mix of ethnicity, economics, social unrest, injustice between rich and poor, limited access to resources, historic hatreds, post-colonial conflict and more. It is impossible to simplify accurately. We cannot tolerate the complexities and so we seek to hang the whole confusion on the hook of religious conflict. And because even to do that on a global scale is complicated, we focus on one area, at present Iraq and Syria, while others—Sudan, Nigeria and most recently Israel and Gaza—are forgotten. Or, equally dangerously, we deny it is religious, in the illusion that religion makes it unfixable.”

More here.

I can not stress how important I believe the addition of this voice, and what he says, is to the debate about a Western response to ISIS. Please, if you are a person of faith, take a moment to read the whole essay.

What is irreducible in the Gospel? How do we give freedom to the hearers to synthesize?

Uncategorized

Yesterday, as three groups of the House of Bishops went to visit churches, museums and cultural centers around Taiwan, I found myself thinking about the challenges of proclaiming the eternal Gospel to people whose thinking is organized in radically different ways than that of the West.

It’s not a new problem. The early missionaries of the Church struggled with explaining the Hebrew roots of Christianity to people of the Hellenistic culture. Missionaries who traveled East long ago learned to share the good news in ways that were intelligible back then. And now that we, who are formed in Western thought are trying to travel West to share the same Gospel, we are having to revisit that missionary challenge once again.

On Friday, when we had a presentation from the principle of the Theological School in Hong Kong, we talked about the difficulty in explaining the formal relationships of the third person of the Trinity to the first and second persons, in a culture that understands Spirit in a totally different manner. What they’ve discovered in Hong Kong is that, to be effective in educating clergy for the East, they have had to move away from the classical Western Augustinian models of sin and redemption toward a paradigm of companionship and discipleship. Once that happened, there was a rapid change in the ability of the students to synthesize the material they were learning and express it in ways that both surprised and taught their instructors.

On Saturday I had the chance to have lunch with a retired Taiwanese Episcopal priest, who had been trained as a Western philosopher (and had taught at St. John’s University for part of his ministry). We talked at length of the challenges of teaching Western ideas in a completely different semiotic context. As one of the translators of the Book of Common Prayer into Mandarin, he was particularly aware of the challenge of communicating nuance to the reader so that the reader would be able to understand and synthesize a deeper understanding in the way that students in Hong Kong recently have managed.

The two conversations have driven home for me the need for all of us who are trying to do missionary work (even among the scientific sorts) to think long and hard about the irreducible minimum concepts that we are trying to express. And how we can do so in a way that allows the hearers in the new and different culture the ability to respond in ways that teach us something about the nature of God. Since it does stand to reason that God is somehow present in their midst and has been whispering the Gospel in their ears all along (in a Rahnerian fashion I guess).

Anyone who has learned from the African, Native American and Latino Christians will know what I mean. Anyone who has learned something of God from the laboratory or the equation will as well I hope.

No answers – perhaps not for a long time, perhaps never. But it’s something to ponder while I wander the streets of a city in a country of a very different culture.

The mission of education in Taiwan

Travel / World Mission

Today, my first full day in Taiwan as part of the House of Bishop’s meeting, was spent taking a tour of St. John’s University. The university was originally planted in Shanghai by the then bishop of Shanghai – The Rt. Rev. Samuel Isaac Joseph Schereschewsky, one of my favorite heroes on our Episcopal Church’s calendar of saints.

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I found this plaque in English describing the work of Bishop Schereschewsky and his role in founding the University. We learned while we were there that the alumni have been quite famous over the years, presidents of Taiwan, representatives to the United Nations and even the famous architect IM Pei.

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We began with a presentation by the chaplain to the University, a former Math Professor who is also an Episcopal priest. He introduced the student faith community leaders (all Episcopalians) and they described their evangelism efforts and how they try to share the gospel on campus. It was moving and exciting to see how committed they were to telling the Good News in a place where Christianity is a small minority religion.

The rest of the visit involved meeting the University President – one of the few woman presidents in Asia, who is a Electrical Engineer who did her graduate training at Cornell. She talked about the history of the University and expressed her gratitude for the ongoing financial support of the Episcopal Church to its programs and continued growth. We asked about the possibility of forming a theological college to train clergy at the University and what might be needed for that to happen. (It’s needed she tells us.)

But I was most taken by the story of the university’s founding by one of our Episcopal Church’s missionary bishops. Schereschewsky, who also translated the Bible in Cantonese to aid evangelism efforts, founded the school as part of his work to create a new understanding of the role of learning in society, and a dream of having the Christian community in China take a major role in shaping the modernization process that was then underway. The university motto is “Light and Truth” – you would probably recognize it latin; Lux et Veritas. But I was taken too by the school slogan -

Talent serves Virtue; Learning serves Society.

A more Anglican understanding of the work of education would be hard to find.

The president of the University shared her need of Anglican and Episcopal teachers to come to live at St. John’s for a year or two. They would have the opportunity to learn Mandarin by immersion, and they would be incredibly helpful in the work of the Applied English department in training students to achieve functional

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(image of the altar of the Church of the Advent – the parish church on campus that also serves as the college chapel.)

Fall 2014 House of Bishops meeting

General Convention / Travel / World Mission

Tomorrow we will begin this year’s Fall House of Bishops meeting for the Episcopal Church. We’re meeting this year in Taipei, in the Diocese of Taiwan, a diocese of the Episcopal Church. As I mentioned this to people in Rhode Island, there was some surprise that Taiwan was part of our Church – but over the years, as our mission work in the Episcopal Church in the US
took us further and further afield, we have helped to plant a number of church communities in parts of the world beyond the US borders.

One of the hallmarks of Bishop Katherine’s leadership during her time as Presiding Bishop these past nine years has been strengthening of our interconnectedness with the missionary work that is happening around the world in the Anglican Communion and particularly in the Episcopal Church (which is still mostly based in the USA). Relationships have to be attended to intentionally to flourish, and visiting one another is a major part of that work. I’m still new to the House of Bishops, but over the past years, I’m told we have tried to visit a non-USA diocese at least once in each triennium.

I’m looking forward to this visit. There’s much to learn. As I write this, I’m sitting in the airport in San Francisco surrounded by people from countries all around the Pacific. It feels very different that it does sitting in the airport in New York City or in Boston, where you tend to be surrounded with people from nations that border the Atlantic. There’s a westward focus here on the West Coast that reflects America’s role as a Pacific Rim nation, just as there’s an Eastern focus on the East Coast, reflecting our role as a nation state on the North Atlantic. The food in hotel this morning reflected that – salmon, congee and rice along side the typical bacon, eggs and potatoes. (Just as breakfasts in the hotels on the East Coast will often have grilled tomatoes, backed beans – or just crisp breads, cheese and fruit.

Doing the work of telling the Good News requires the teller to be aware of the culture in which one is speaking. Learning to listen to and speak with the people of Asia may well be the great mission field of the Church in the next century. This trip we are taking is a chance for us to get started with that learning. I’ve never been to Asia – I’m excited to learn from the Taiwanese, and hoping to share something of what we are doing in Rhode Island as well. It looks like the schedule of presentations will include briefings on the work and challenges of the Church in Korea, in Pakistan and other parts of Asia as well.

Much to learn! Here’s hoping that there will be time to write and share regularly as well.