Anglican Church of Our Saviour
Florence, South Carolina
+ + +
Services conform to the 1928 Book of Common Prayer
by Robert C. Harvey
The Canterbury Guild
COPYRIGHT 1973 BY
Robert C. Harvey
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
Printed in the United
States of America
uploaded to the www with the author's
permission by Joe Sallenger,
Gofer-In-Chief for Church of Our Saviour Anglican Catholic Church in Florence, South Carolina.
The Holy Slice is a remarkable book which so engrossed me when I picked it up that I found it difficult to lay it down until I had finished it. You have to be an Episcopalian, I suppose, and one who is vitally concerned about his church, to appreciate this book. If you are such an Episcopalian, you will find it absorbing. In brief, it is about a fictitious bishop who ought to be "for real"! This bishop in the story believes that the Book of Common Prayer is not just a manual of liturgy but a program for Christian living, and Christian being, as the Church of God. And as you read this exciting story about him you realize that what he believes about the Prayer Book (when people actually believe it and actually use it) is wonderfully true. This is not only an exciting story, it is a testimony of hope.
Carroll E. Simcox
Table of Contents:
Foreword by Carroll
I The Holy Slice
II Of Tyros and Politicos
III The Choosing of a Bishop [Danger: Men at Work]
IV The Shepherds' Trust
V Unwonted Change for Clergy
VI Lay Lib and Clerical Rebellion
VII Program for a Ministering Church
VIII Of Ghettos, Charts and Men
IX The Following of a Prayer Book
X Temptation to Be a Celebrity
XI The Touch of Pain and Death
XII A Renewal of Life
I. The Holy Slice
When a signal for recess was finally given, the delegates leapt from their seats like schoolboys. Anxiety and concern, held in check by their own timidity and Robert's rules, had turned many of them into quivering bundles of nerves. They welcomed the break. Now they could take a more active -- if indirect -- part in the proceedings. They poured out onto the sidewalk and promptly went into huddles.
To many of the delegates it was more than the choice of a bishop that lay in the next few minutes' balance. It was the fate of a diocese, and perhaps, for a generation or more, of the Church itself. Therefore this was the time to rip away the rhetoric and come to grips with honest truth and logic. Now was the time to find the real meaning of the Body. With many talking and few listening, the recessed convention was in an uproar.
Only two of those present seemed to prefer to be alone. Starting from different points on the sidewalk, each walked up the flight of steps that overlooked the avenue and took stock of the scene. Eventually they drew together. The younger man introduced himself with body English. He rolled up his eyes in mock horror and at the same time shrugged his shoulders. The other answered with a wry smile.
"If two bishops hadn't stumbled into each other at the zoo," observed the second, "this might never have happened. Right now you could be out on the golf course. I could be at home writing a letter to a friend."
"Really? What do you mean?" The younger moved closer and bent an ear.
"This diocese got its shape back in the fifties when the Bishop of New York accidentally ran into the Bishop of Connecticut at the Bronx Zoo. They met in the lion house, and both were tired from walking, so they sat on a bench outside while their daughters and grandchildren went off to the primate house to see how the baboons were running their church."
"What happened?" The younger man wasn't sure he liked the other's flippancy, but at least he seemed to be at ease. His light touch was a welcome contrast with the proceedings, which for two days had been marked by shameless politicking, with time out for congratulatory prayers to the Holy Spirit.
"What happened?" the older man echoed the question. "At the time they met both men were under pressure to divide their dioceses. Bishop McClure's was a real pressure. Connecticut was the biggest diocese in the Church, and it was more than he could handle. Bishop Stratton's pressure, I think, was more inside himself. He was miffed because Connecticut had more communicants than he did, and he was having a running battle with some of his suburban parishes -- especially along the Long Island Sound. So the strategy in that meeting was mostly Bishop Stratton's. He got McClure to split his diocese in half, and he gave up only ten percent. A few parishes in East Bronx that were too poor to pay much attention to, and a few in East Westchester that were so strong they were a pain in the neck. In that meeting Stratton got rid of an albatross and put himself back in top spot. With a little gerrymandering, New York was the biggest diocese once more. With the biggest cathedral."
While the older man was saying this, a brief frown had appeared on the other's face, "I kind of shudder to hear bishops talked about that way. You make them sound like hucksters dealing with so many sacks of grain."
The older man continued in a gentler tone. "I'm sorry. I guess I am too tough on them -- especially now that they can't defend themselves. The fact is that they were saints compared to the men we've had running our church affairs in the last few years. My trouble is that I knew them too well."
The two looked down on the sidewalk scene. The delegates, who at first had clustered into small groups, were changing their arrangements. Instead of unloading themselves on their nearest neighbors, as people do at cocktail parties, they were forming into larger groups, where some could hold forth, and where everyone could feel free to come and go. Having gotten their bearings once more, the psychic compass had swung from subject to object. The electioneering process was again in full swing.
The eyes of both were caught by several young girls who had come out of the auditorium. All were dressed alike -- in black miniskirts and white blouses -- in an obvious parody of the cassocks and cottas they had once undoubtedly worn. The youngsters were on hand with a vote of their own, and had been recruited as monitors and tellers. They moved deftly from one group to another, "Recess is about to end. Please be in your seats in five minutes."
A picking of brains
The older man took a pipe from his pocket and prepared to fill it. Since he seemed to be in no haste, the younger inquired, "Are you in a hurry to go back in?" "No." "Do you mind if I pick your brains a bit?" "Not at all."
"What's really going on in this diocese? I mean, what's the infighting all about? I'm fairly new here, and I'm afraid that's why my rector asked me to be a delegate. He's very good about it, but he makes it clear how he hopes I'll vote. I don't like the idea of being a rubber stamp, especially since I think many of the people in the parish might be against the man the rector's for. My name's Jim Bridgman, by the way, and I'm from St. Matthew's in Salem Center."
"I'm John Stratton, Jim, and I live just around the corner." The two shook hands, and as the young man's eyes framed the obvious question, the older continued. "Yes, Bishop Stratton was my older brother. When the new diocese was formed I became its chancellor and held that job for a number of years. I know my brother hoped to keep his finger in the pie through my connection, but it never worked out. I found myself becoming a stranger in the church I'd grown up in, and when it became apparent to me that in my official capacity I was serving someone other than God, I gave up every office and became a plain communicant. I'm not even a delegate here," he added. "I just came as an observer."
By now the people below had all but disappeared. A few were taking a last drag on their cigarettes and stamping them out as they returned to the hall. Jim Bridgman took advantage of a moment's silence to bring his new acquaintance back to the question. "Tell me what the real issues are, and why the diocese is in such a turmoil. And tell me what connection there is between all this and the meeting at the zoo." The questions tumbled out in a cascade, and as he said this he waved his hand toward the auditorium where the delegates had reconvened.
The hijacking of a diocese
"I'll tackle the last one first, if you don't mind, because it gives me a good place to begin. I only mentioned the meeting because it was there that the two bishops actually made their decisions to establish a new diocese. But as soon as it was created the whole thing was hijacked by a group of men in the national headquarters who'd been pushing for a new diocese all along. They designed the diocesan structure. They outlined the programs it would follow. They got their own man in as bishop. And they actually recruited his staff. In fact," he added, "some of those men are on that staff right now. When the recent shakeup was about to take place, it began to look like the ax might fall on some of them. None of them got it because all were too smart; they dreamed up a new project and three got themselves transferred to the diocesan staff. And in the process they added to the tensions that have built up here between the lay people and the clergy."
"Is that what we're really facing? A division between clergy and laity? Is that what the issue is?" Bridgman had the look of a man who is on the brink of a discovery.
"No, not really," came the response. "There's a big difference in viewpoint today between the laity and the clergy, and this is an important issue if it's personalities that you're concerned with. But the real issues are more basic than that. There's the question of function and purpose in the orders of the ministry. There's the question of what the Church is supposed to be and what its mission is. Behind them all, I think, is the question of authority."
The younger man searched the other's face, trying to frame a question whose answer would be neither so profound nor so abstract that he might fail to grasp its meaning. At length he hit on one.
"Tell me, sir, what the plan was that the men at headquarters cooked up. And tell me why the people in the diocese were not alert to the dangers that might be hidden in it."
"I can give you an answer to the first, at least. The men on the national staff had a plan that was clear and persuasive -- and as secular as they were themselves. They were one-worlders in their mental outlook. They were socialists in their political and economic outlook. And like liberals in every field, they had no understanding of what St. Paul called "diversities of operations" -- that is, of the importance of differences in form and function. Being typical staff men, they had only contempt for the laity and for clergy who were pastors, so they hustled this plan for all they were worth. They used the usual jargon about dialogue and consensus and participatory democracy, and they paraded their captive laymen under banners of love, but these things were just tools to achieve their ends. When they got their way, people soon saw how phony the whole thing was. That's the cause of the tension, Jim. Not issues. Issues are important, but most people are only vaguely aware of them. The thing that hurt was the way the radicals used their power to dominate the Church. They changed it into something most people don't want it to be. And what's more important, into something that God may not want it to be."
A reason to stay on board
"I'm surprised you haven't walked out, Mr. Stratton. Or transferred to a church in another diocese. You could easily do that, living where you do."
"I've never considered that, Jim, and for two reasons. One is that there's a real Church behind the play church these fellows have built. The other is that I know what's wrong. Most people who have walked out in discouragement have known that something was wrong, but they didn't know what it was -- and that's the thing that bothered them most. All they knew was that the Church, as it was getting through to them, no longer came up to their highest expectations. I know what's wrong, and because I do, I think I can help God by staying on board and trying to put things to rights.
"Now, Jim," he continued, "let me get back to your earlier question. What the planners wanted was to create a new diocese by carving up several of the older ones. That way they'd have complete control; there'd be no past history on the local level that all the parishes would have in common. Another thing they wanted was a diocese that included two or more states. They were hipped on the idea of regionalism, and they wanted to link up Church and State in such a way that the Church could throw its weight around in the political and social areas. They felt -- as I do -- that much of our urban troubles come from outdated arrangements for political authority. But they felt -- as I do not -- that the Church's main task is to transform the world -- and not its members."
At this point the younger man felt able to make an observation of his own, "What you're telling me, Mr. Stratton, is that the meeting at the zoo wasn't really vital at all. Those two bishops didn't have much to do with what happened after that, did they?"
"Quite right. They were the finger that pushed the button, and the machine did all the rest. And believe me, they'd turn over in their graves if they could see what was happening now.
"There was only one thing they did that day that the staff men hadn't planned. It was to map out the actual boundaries of the diocese. That was because when the bishops came up with their plan, it fitted right in with what the others had been pushing. They knew they couldn't get the whole metropolitan area in one regional diocese, so they settled for what they called 'a metropolitical slice.' My brother and McClure couldn't buy that idea, though, and they gave the diocese a nickname of their own -- the Holy Slice."
Plotting the metropolitical slice
Here the older man chuckled, "It was comical the way they carved it out. Arthur used to tell it this way, 'Connecticut turned to me and said, "Okay, New York," -- they used to call each other Connecticut and New York -- "You tell me how you'd map out this diocese, and see if I don't go along with you."' So they got McClure's auto maps and spread them out on the hood of his car, and pencilled the boundaries. They ran along what's now the
Cross Bronx Expressway to the Bronx River, then up to the city line, then over to the Hutchinson River, then up the parkway to Saxon Woods, then in a line some fifty miles to South Kent, then along an arc down to the Quinnipiac River and the Sound just beyond New Haven. And that was it. My brother gave me the map and I still have it on the wall of my study. It shows the exact bounds of the present diocese -- all except for one thing."
"What was that?"
"I discovered it just recently, and it made me realize that the fellows downtown had gotten in the last word after all. The way the bishops arranged it, the focal point of the arc was the cathedral on Morningside Heights. This was because the cathedral was supposed to serve both dioceses. But when I realized there'd been a change, I plotted the focus, and guess where I found it?"
"I couldn't. Where was it?"
"The United Nations. How d'ya like that?"
The other was silent.
Straiten concluded their discourse. "I've never figured out whether the focal point was intended to be the General Assembly or the Think Room where they have that little altar with nothing on it. It would make a difference, you know."
Just then several people emerged from the auditorium. One, seeing Stratton on the landing above, called up, "Gosh, I'm glad that's over."
"One of the speakers threw a fit while he was talking in the microphone. The next one started cussing and a man slapped him in the face. Everybody's tied up in knots, and I think the chairman must be a basket case. Anyway, the convention is adjourned until a month from today. "
II. Of Tyros and Politicos
That evening the phone rang in an apartment near the cathedral. The occupant was an arm's length away, "Judge Stratton speaking."
"This is Jim Bridgman, Judge Stratton. Are you the man I met today at the diocesan convention?"
"Yes, I am, Jim. What can I do for you?"
"Well, as I was driving home it occurred to me that you could be of help to a lot of the delegates at that convention. I'll bet that half of them don't have any more idea than I do of what's at stake. And I'll bet that there are a lot who are uncomfortable at the possibility that they're being used as pawns. I'm wondering whether you'd be willing to speak with as many as I could get together -- to tell us what the issues are and to explain the different factions that are jockeying for power. It seems to me that most of this is being kept under cover, and that in all honesty we ought to bring it out into the open."
"I certainly agree with you, Jim. That's the way it ought to be if the Church is really a household of faith."
"What I had in mind was two or three sessions to be held in different parts of the diocese. I'm not thinking of a discussion group but rather of a listening group, where people can hear what you have to say and can ask questions of you. I would simply want to have better informed delegates, and to have us get our information from someone we could hope to trust."
"I'd be glad to do that, Jim, although I'd prefer not to have any part in organizing it. It should be your idea -- not mine. There's one thing that I would insist on, however, for myself and everyone else. It is that this should not be a forum for discussing candidates or pushing their cause. Our concern should be the issues and problems that the diocese and the Church are confronted with."
"That's exactly what I had in mind, judge. I thought I'd draft a letter to the delegates and get your approval. Then, tomorrow, I can have my secretary send it off."
"Have you given any thought to where you're going to get their names? I doubt if you could get them from the diocese or from the secretary of convention."
"I was hoping you could give me some suggestions on that."
"I can. I have here a copy of last year's convention journal. It has the names and addresses of the wardens of every parish. If you wrote to them and told them what you propose to do, I think they might be glad to pass your invitations along to their delegates."
A course in "where it's at"
The following day Bridgman sent a letter with an announcement of Judge Stratton's talks to every warden in the diocese. The result was gratifying, and nearly a hundred people indicated their intent to be present at the talks. The Stratton name was well known, and it seemed appropriate that a brother of an earlier bishop, himself a judge and former chancellor of the diocese, should give the delegates the benefit of his knowledge of the Church and its affairs.
There was at least one man who was offended with the idea. At the first meeting, held at St. Bede's in the Bronx, a young priest arose. Interrupting Jim Bridgman as he was calling the meeting to order, he said, "Mr. Bridgman, I'm new in this diocese, as you are, and I appreciate your desire that we all know what we're doing. But there are two things I dislike about the method you are using, and I decided that, even though the clergy weren't invited, I'd better come with my delegates. The first is that you went around me to get at the delegates who are representing my parish. The second is that you didn't even clear this with the diocese." As Bridgman began to reply, the cleric finished hastily, "I know you haven't cleared these meetings, because I called the diocesan office and asked. They had heard nothing at all about them, and I can tell you they were plenty upset."
Bridgman took some seconds in replying, "Well, I'll tell you, Mr. . . . er, I'm sorry, I don't even know your name." "Father Smith-Jones," the other filled in, "of St. Peter's on the Parkway, in the Bronx." "Father Jones, as you say, I didn't call the diocese. The fact is I didn't even think about it. If you want an excuse, I was rushed. There was a very short time to arrange and announce these meetings. But besides that, I'm a layman, and I was taking advantage of what I suppose you might call layman's privilege. I don't know what the rules may be that govern you clergy and the diocese. But I never think of my relations with other lay people as being governed by rules, and I didn't think there might be any reason why delegates shouldn't get together. . . . There's nothing secret about these meetings." This last was added as Fr. Smith-Jones drew himself up to reply.
"Could I speak to this question, Mr. Bridgman?" All heads turned to Judge Stratton, who had not yet been introduced. "I think I know what Fr. Smith-Jones is referring to, and I'd like to discuss it -- but not for long, because we could spend all evening at it, and that's not what we're here for." Both Bridgman and the priest deferred to the judge, and he continued.
For one, obedience; for another, freedom
"I think Fr. Smith-Jones is referring to the canonical rule that puts a priest in charge, not only of a parish's spiritual direction, but of its administration. He certainly had the right to know about these meetings, and I owe you both an apology for not having suggested that the matter be cleared all around. But," and he turned to face Smith-Jones, "there's a distinction between your order and Mr. Bridgman's that you may not have given thought to. When you were ordained you took a vow of obedience -- among other things, to your bishop. When Mr. Bridgman was confirmed, he undertook no such vow. He simply promised to follow Jesus Christ as his Lord and Saviour."
Judge Stratton spoke briefly on the peculiarity of Anglican order, which puts its clergy in a nearly-Roman frame of order and obedience, while giving a distinctly Calvinist freedom to its laity -- enabling them to pursue their ministry quite free from churchly domination. He closed by quoting Bishop Gore -- like Fr. Smith-Jones, a high churchman -- to the effect that the difference between clergy and laity was not one of status, but merely one of function. With this out of the way, the meeting got down to the business at hand. The judge gave a lively and lucid review of the diocese' history, and of the problems that attended its birth.
The following week, at Norwalk, the judge talked at length of the new directions the Church was taking in the modern world, and of the issues and viewpoints that divided it. The contrast between his own knowledge and his hearers' was so great that few questions were asked. Yet at the meeting's close the men and women who were there seemed grateful for what they had learned.
It was not until the close of the final meeting, held in a parish in Bridgeport, that the judge was asked what kind of leadership and what kind of program he himself would like to see in the diocese. "I was hoping someone would ask me that question," he beamed. "Yet I'm not sure it would be proper for me to answer. What do you think?" Looking around the room, and receiving nods and murmurs of approval, he began to answer the question.
The judge's hope for the diocese
"My own feeling is that for a good many years the Church has been giving its main attention to matters that, worthwhile though they may be, are tangential to its mission. Our church press and our programs have been full of concern over freedom marches, college protest, new morality, the war in Vietnam, and we've neglected two things that seem to be insignificant, but that are the most important of all. Those two things are the Christian home and the parish. Both have been greatly weakened in the past generation, and I think we do harm to the divine economy if we put other things first in our priorities."
These words were met with vigorous signs of approval by several of his hearers, and Jim Bridgman noted that some who had heretofore seemed tense and withdrawn had suddenly relaxed. Now that the judge had doffed the academic role, they were finding that he shared their concerns.
Feeling this encouragement, the judge came more directly to his point of view. "Over the past fifteen or twenty years the Church has worked out a number of programs and -- officially, at least -- has given most of its thought and energy to their fulfillment. Unfortunately, all of these programs have dealt with the kinds of thing that catch the headlines -- the things that people talk about, and that are of political and social importance. None of them have had to do with the root things of our society -- the home and the local congregation and the development of the Christian individual. And because our Church leaders have neglected these basic things, their programs have never succeeded, and both they and their laity have been filled with resentment and anxiety."
Stratton paused for a moment, to let this viewpoint take shape in his hearers' minds, then continued, "What I would like to see at this point is the election of a bishop who will concentrate on the one program that never fails, and who will try to bring his clergy to attend to it. That program is the Book of Common Prayer."
Here the delegates, who had been listening with brightening faces, seemed puzzled. Bridgman addressed the judge, with the feeling that he was speaking for more than himself. "I wonder if you'd explain that, judge. I felt I was with you up to this point, but what connection can there be between the Prayer Book and a program of the Church?"
The BCP as a program for the Church
Straiten backtracked. "I'm sorry if I have bewildered you. I don't mean to imply that the Prayer Book is the kind of program you can turn on or off, or decide to use next year. Those are the kinds of program that Church staffs and conventions are always getting off the ground -- and that usually die a natural death. This is the kind of program you can hardly be against, because, like motherhood and the home, it gives the impression that God Himself has programmed it as a way of meeting human needs."
Pausing for this to sink in, he continued, "The Prayer Book is like any other program in the sense that men have put it together -- and, indeed, can take it apart. But it is divine in the sense that it is a means -- and it is the best means I have ever heard of -- by which men can daily come to Christ and share his presence, by which they can find his will and enter into his life. It is the means by which their lives are transformed, and it's the best means I know of for them to be strengthened to the arduous task of transforming the world."
Looking intently from one hearer to another, the judge remarked, "There's nothing new in what I'm telling you. But a thing that troubles me is that many of our clergy, if they ever were aware of this, have decided it's no longer relevant. They also have forgotten that the transformation of the world is the task of the laity, and that the transformation of the laity is the task of the clergy, and that this can only happen when the clergy give a great deal of time to God each day in prayer and Bible study and in worship and meditation -- all following the Book of Common Prayer.
The need to have a father in God
"Quite frankly, I would like to see the Holy Spirit give our diocese a bishop who would concentrate upon his flock, and not upon the world. I would like to have a father in God who would be a shepherd to his priests -- not one who was concerned with headlines or headline affairs. I would like to see one who would be willing to give up staff work altogether in order to attend to the personal needs of his people. I would like a bishop who would insist that his salaried clergy be out on the firing line, where they can do what Christ has called them to do, rather than attending to paperwork, programs and property. I would like us to be given a bishop who will be so sure of the Gospel, that he will be willing to operate with whatever his people provide, and who will delegate the temporalities to other, more practical men."
The judge stopped to take stock of what he had said. To anyone steeped in the ways of the Church, his words would seem to be those of a young man, rather than an old, and of an idealistic amateur rather than a professional. He decided to mention this, and let his hearers deal with it as they would.
"As some of you know, I was chancellor of this diocese for several years. I am not only a doctor of jurisprudence, but also of canon law. Yet I can apply to the canons the same description that Henry Ford did to the past when he said, 'History is bunk.' Lay people are hardly aware that there are such things as canons, and clergy use them either to get around the stark requirements of the Bible or to bully their lay people into letting them do what they want. If we would accept the authority of the Bible, and not of the Canons, we would recognize that bishops are intended to be servants and not presidents, and that rectors are supposed to minister to those in their care, and not exploit them to build up an institutional Church. The building and exploiting is Christ's job, and there'd be no end to the Church's growth or to the transformation of its members if the clergy would be faithful in living the Prayer Book life and in obedience to their vows. There would be such a massive outpouring of love and devotion from the clergy that the lay people could not help doing their part. They would respond with the same kind of love, and would carry it all over the world."
With these words the meetings came to a close. The get-togethers had accomplished what Bridgman had hoped, and everyone felt better prepared for the task of choosing a bishop. Judge Stratton had given them a thorough briefing without partiality for candidates, although he had expressed his wish for the Church.
A dark horse in the wings
A few days later the ninety-odd delegates who had attended the series received a letter from a woman who had been at the meetings. She began with an apology for what she was about to do -- suggest a candidate whose hopes for the diocese seemed remarkably like those of Judge Stratton. He was a parish priest who had given an address two years before to the diocesan churchwomen on the functions and strategy of the Church. It was one that had impressed many of the women who had heard it. Yet it had been offensive to the bishop, and had led to his being, ever since, the bete noir of the staff. A copy of the talk was enclosed, with the suggestion that this man might be a dark horse candidate for bishop.
On the same day a similar letter went out to a very different group. It was a coincidence that might have been of the divine providence, but at least was of no human devising. The group was the Laymen's League of the New York and Connecticut Shore -- an outgrowth of a Westchester group that in earlier years had been Bishop Stratton's bane. The league was made up of wealthy and forceful men who combined devotion to the Church with a dislike of liberalism in the clergy and in the Church's social programs. Being accustomed to the direct and open uses of power, they had only disdain for those who sought to achieve their goals by behind-the-scenes manipulation. They had no thought of influencing church policy through the canonical process of the vote. They used the power tool they were most familiar with -- money. Had any of them been questioned about this, they would have opined that their stand was more truly that of the Church as a whole than that of unrepresentative conventions by which church policy was determined. In this they might have been right.
One week before the convention was to resume, this letter went out to members of the League: "Gentlemen: The enclosed talk was given two years ago to a diocesan assembly of churchwomen. It got the speaker in hot water with the then bishop, and has kept him out of favor with the present standby administration. If you will read it, however, you will find that his proposals are closer to the objectives of this league than anything we could hope to find in another candidate. The Rev. Frank Roberts not only would reduce the diocesan staff. He would eliminate it. He would not only cut out the bureaucracy that hampers the Church in its mission. He would end the system of quotas and budgets that make it possible for bureaucrats and their half-baked programs to flourish.
"We must admit that we know very little about Roberts. But this document speaks for itself. It's likely that, if they took him seriously, many clergy would oppose his candidacy for bishop. But it's our understanding that Roberts is very well liked, even by those who regard him as an idealist and a babe in the ecclesiastical woods.
"One thing we do know. In the years before he entered the ministry, Roberts had a successful business of his own. In the relatively few years he has been in the Church, he has been a popular rector and an effective administrator. We are hoping you will make judicious use of these copies of his talk to advance Mr. Roberts' candidacy.
"We have tried unsuccessfully to get Mr. Roberts to speak at our meeting on the night before convention. He says that he is not a candidate and that, in any event, his evenings are booked. We like him, though, and think you will too. We suggest you attend his church on Sunday. Services are at 7:30, 9:15 and 11 a.m. It's Christ Church, Stamford, at the corner of Forest and Main."
III. The Choosing of a Bishop [Danger: Men at Work]
By the time the fourth ballot had been declared inconclusive, the delegates were as tense as they had been in the previous month's aborted session. There were eight men on the slate, and no change had occurred in voting balance since the first ballots of the earlier session. The jaunty air that had marked the opening of the day's business (and that had been described by the chairman as evidence of the Spirit's presence) had been replaced by one of apathy and fatigue.
Part of the trouble lay in the fact that the clergy and laity continued to go their separate ways. No nominee had captured a majority of either order, and those who had done well with one order had done poorly with the other. There seemed to be no hope of reconciling either the laity and clergy or the various factions within the diocese. The convention was at a stalemate.
It was at this point that Frank Roberts was brought into the running. A number of delegates who had no attachment to a faction had succeeded in passing a motion to reopen the nominations. They hoped that by loading the slate, the votes of the weaker candidates might be split, so that two or three strong candidates could emerge. Only one additional name was placed in nomination, however. It was the rector of Christ Church, Stamford.
As the diocesan politicos described it later, the nomination was a sleeper, and it came down on them like a ton of bricks. While fewer than half of the lay delegates were familiar with Father Roberts' name, many had given thought to his candidacy, and none had reason to be against it. Not many clergy were interested in him, but -- as it turned out -- many were willing to vote for him out of expediency. None of Roberts' fellow clergy disliked him, but none could identify him with their interests. He could not even be described with any consistency. Despite his radical stance on ecclesiastical function, he was regarded as more conservative than need be on matters of parish life. He was quite satisfied with the Prayer Book, and had never expressed the need to search for new forms of religious expression. His explanation was not satisfactory to everyone: his church was full every Sunday anyway, and he had more pastoral concerns than he could handle.
The clergy's candidates
Until Roberts' nomination, there had been four candidates who had been especially preferred by the clergy. They were: Canon Gildersleeve of St. Botulph's Chapel at Yale, Bishop Howell of Nashville, Gayle Stamper of television fame, and Father Inman of St. James, Greenwich.
Ralph Gildersleeve was the idol of intellectuals, both in and out of the Church. He was already a legend at New Haven, and had held professorships in the schools of law, drama, and medicine. A towering man who exuded charm, his handicap lay in his remoteness from ordinary people. He was admired, rather than liked.
Leonidas Polk Howell was the candidate of those who wanted efficiency as well as relevancy in the management of the Church. A descendent and namesake of the great Confederate bishop and general, he had been a unanimous choice, some years before, to be Suffragan Bishop of Nashville. Too many years on the national staff, however, had emptied him of pastoral concern, and too many years in the north had blunted the independent and traditional cast of the Tennesseean mind. When it dawned on him that a movement for a coadjutor was a way of shelving him, he began to negotiate for the berth he knew was opening in the New York and Connecticut Shore. He wanted to be back in the suburbs. He wanted to sink his teeth into the metropolitical slice.
Gavie Stamper was the darling of the younger clergy -- and because of their numbers was well ahead in the voting. Stamper was a new man, not only as a priest but as a Christian. He had been a lecturer at Columbia when he was baptized and confirmed. He promptly went to seminary, where he began his whirlwind career. Within months of his ordination, and while still a curate at the cathedral, he had emerged as an expert on communications. He was a prolific author of off-beat poetry, and an apologist for New Left causes. His afternoon program was always good for big names, novelty and frank talk on once-forbidden subjects.
Christopher Inman's coterie was made up of those whose lives had been altered by group dynamics. For the first five years of the diocese' life he had been the Executive Director of Education and Leadership Training. While at that task he had reshaped the minds of many clergy and of a number of lay people -- first with parish life conferences and then with group life labs and leadership training. The participants in these programs had been imbued with a new idea of Church and ministry, and in fact with a new sense of self. They had a whole new vocabulary, and respect for the new virtues of awareness and sensitivity. For this they were grateful to the director. They were the in-group of the diocese and Father Inman was the in-man of them all.
The lay people's candidates
The four candidates who were preferred by the laity were very different men. None was of more than local reputation. If any had gifts that might have won him fame, he discreetly kept them hid. None was ambitious in the sense of wanting a dramatic ministry that would give him fame or lead to the furtherance of a career. In order of their voting strength, they were:
Archdeacon Snodgrass of Trinity Church in Norwalk, Father McGrath of St. Mary's Church in Bridgeport, and the Messrs. Westerveldt and McCannon of Poughkeepsie and Ansonia, respectively.
In Joseph Ward Snodgrass the diocese had a loving and beloved pastor, a middle-of-the-road churchman, and a practical man of affairs. He had been President of the Standing Committee, Vice President of the Diocesan Council, and long-time head of the Department of Stewardship and Evangelism. Both in the new diocese and the old he had been many times a delegate to General Convention. By now, however, he was regarded by many as too old and too conservative. He had nearly won the election seven years before, but the younger clergy thought him passe.
Jerome McGrath was the acknowledged leader of what both he and its detractors called the Biretta Brigade. A man of warm compassion and lively wit, it was generally agreed that he would have had an enviable career in the Church had he played his politics right. But he insisted on being an Anglo-Catholic -- and in a liberal, broad church diocese at that.
William Westerveldt and James McCannon were men whose views on Church and change were very like those of Snodgrass. They persisted in remaining on the slate, however, because of what seemed to be the Archdeacon's indifference to spiritual wickedness in high places. In their view, he was insufficiently militant. They also shared the distrust that people in smaller cities and towns have for those who live in the suburbs. McCannon had been an Army chaplain, and had left the service to go to a parish in Ansonia. His militancy was of an America first variety. He looked for a communist behind every cassock. Westerveldt's militancy, by contrast, came from personal hurt. He had been rector of a large parish in Danbury, but had gone to an adjacent diocese when his bishop proved to be, not a father in God, but a cruel and devious competitor.
The strategists' mistake
Because Father Roberts' nomination came at a moment of irresolution, and because his potential opponents failed to see it as the work of the Laymen's League, no effort was made to handle his candidacy. It was rightly supposed that he would have no appeal for the clergy. But it was wrongly supposed that he would have so little appeal for the laity that his name would be quickly stricken from the slate. The strategists' mistake was that they failed to listen to what the nominators were saying, and they failed to notice the impression they made.
The young man who nominated Father Roberts was a vestryman of his parish. He was no older than many of the curates present, btu he spoke with a conviction that curates seldom convey. He was unself-conscious and his attire was plain. His speech was entirely free from jargon. He did not even try to tell the kind of Bishop Father Roberts might turn out to be. Instead he described his rector's ministry. As he described it, Christ Church was a parish much given to prayer and searching the scriptures. It had a profound sense of the worship of God, and a wonderful love and affection stirred among its members. The parish had done remarkable things in the community, yet these came of grace; there was no conscious effort to be "involved." The finances were handled smoothly and without stewardly stunts; the devotion that Father Roberts engendered among his people had enabled them to be lavish with their gifts. As the young man talked about his rector, his face glowed with admiration. He felt privileged to nominate Father Roberts -- even if it meant giving him up to a more highly-thought-of ministry in the Church.
By contrast, the woman who seconded the nomination told of the kind of bishop Father Roberts might make. She told of the views he had expressed in the past, and of the opposition they had aroused. She described his patience in allowing the waves of suspicion to break over him, and of his faithfulness to his job in the midst of clerical tension. She was no parishioner, but rather a former president of the diocesan churchwomen. She was known to every priest and to most of the women present.
The seconding speech came to many delegates as manna in the wilderness. Having no commitment to any of the factions, they nevertheless had a commitment to the Church. They were troubled by the tensions that had enveloped the diocese while dark Whitcomb was the bishop, and that continued to mount after his abrupt departure. They were troubled about church members' lack of enthusiasm, not only for budgets and programs, but even for parish life. Mostly they were troubled by a wholesale withdrawal of lay people that seemed to stem from disappointment with their clergy.
A deadlock broken
When the delegates filed before the tellers for the fifth ballot of the day, there was a very evident change of mood. The atmosphere was charged with excitement, and with it a kind of militancy. This mood did not register when the clerical vote was announced. Dr. Stamper was now in second place, perhaps because some of the younger clergy feared a backlash. But their vote had gone to Bishop Howell, showing a continued preference for the Establishment. Father Roberts, the newcomer, stood in sixth place out of nine. In the clerical vote he had topped only Gildersleeve, Westerveldt and McCannon.
When the lay vote was announced, there was a stunning surprise. Seven of the original eight candidates had lost ground. Canon Gildersleeve had lost nearly half of his vote. Father Inman had lost more than half, and Archdeacon Snodgrass' percentage had dropped from thirty to twelve. All of their losses had gone to Father Frank Roberts. There was an audible gasp when it was announced that he had been given forty percent of the lay vote.
The delegates' decorum turned into pandemonium. Everybody talked but nobody moved. Even before the hubbub had calmed, three names were withdrawn from the slate. The Messrs. Westerveldt and McCannon made the request for themselves. Canon Gildersleeve, in absentia, gave his withdrawal through his nominator.
A twisting of arms
During the recess between the fifth and sixth ballots, the Laymen's League played its trump. As the sidewalk huddles began to break up, fifty clergy were accosted by delegates whom they did not know, but who addressed them by name and in an offhand manner, "Father (or Mister) Soandso, I hope you're not going to vote for Howell (or Stamper or Inman). If you do, I'm afraid this will happen all over again in another year or two." The electioneering was done, not by the League's members, but by bookkeepers and clerks and pensioners. Some were from hard pressed small town churches. Some were from inner city parishes, and explained that they were trying to keep, not blacks, but the wolf, away from the door. Some were persuasive, while others were full of dire predictions. In every case they were urging a vote against an Establishment man, and in no case was Father Roberts so much as named.
As it turned out, even the most urbane cleric was open to the fears of the moment. Only one faction seemed able to weather the hopes and fears expressed in the electoral give and take. These were the Anglo-Catholics, who knew what they believed, and who saw the relevance of their faith to the present event, and who were under no psychic pressure to be on a winning side.
When the sixth vote was counted, Frank Roberts had been elected. He had received a majority of both orders' votes. The lay vote in his behalf had gone from forty to seventy percent. The clerical vote had leaped from nine to fifty-two. Even more than previously, the convention was in a turmoil. A few were beside themselves. Many were relieved. Most, however, were too perplexed to feel any joy over the election's end. They did not know by sight the man they had voted for. One of the most troubled of all was the chairman, who was presiding in the absence of a bishop. Canon Weatherbee was known to be partial to the election of Bishop Howell.
As the chairman turned to consult with others on the rostrum, a spontaneous cry came from the floor, directed towards the balcony, where Father Roberts was seated with his delegates. It was a cry to go to the fore. Roberts threaded his way through the stairways and aisles until he reached the platform where the chairman was seated. After a brief consultation with Canon Weatherbee, he turned and was introduced by the chairman. There was a brief applause and a long silence.
An office unsought -- and unwon?
Roberts looked about the hall as if searching for some sign of recognition, searching for something to say. He was pensive and unsmiling -- hardly giving the impression of one who has won a victory, or upon whom an honor has been bestowed. "My friends, members of the convention," be began haltingly, "I'm overwhelmed by this. You're asking me to take an office that we all give a lot of thought to, but that no one should ever seek. And you've chosen me in a way that astonishes me more than it has astonished you." Here he paused to collect his thoughts, "I'm not so much concerned as to whether I should accept the election as to the propriety of the election itself. It has been so sudden. There have been so many emotional forces at work, and rational forces as well. There have been a lot of pressure groups, and, as you know, some pretty bitter in-fighting. I don't know who or what is in back of my nomination, but if I should accept your offer, and should want your support for more than a day or a week, it should never look like this election was rigged. Therefore I should like to speak to you for a few minutes about how I look upon the office of a bishop and how I see our needs. Then, if it's all right with the chairman," and here he looked at Canon Weatherbee, who nodded his approval, "I'd like to give you a half hour's recess and then have the ballot cast once more.
"I know that in the election of a bishop it's customary to have a final ballot, which is supposed to be unanimous. I'm not thinking about that kind of ballot. I'm simply asking you to think once again whether you would like to have me for your bishop, and I'd like you to have the feeling you're not being stampeded. If you repeat your offer, I think I should accept. But if I am turned down by either order I shall take it as a sign that I should withdraw from the ballot."
Father Roberts then went on to tell of his life and his background, of his ministry in the Church, and of his outlook on the episcopacy and the diocese' current needs. After a few minutes he concluded. The convention was given a recess, and Father Roberts found himself in the center of a large number of delegates. Some came to offer their congratulations, but a larger number came to hear him further and to ask him questions. They were taking him at his word.
When the final ballot was cast, the delegates showed a calm that had been missing up 'til now. The sentiment seemed to be that the die was cast, and that Father Roberts was both acceptable and accepted. The results were as expected, and yet his approval was far from unanimous. The lay delegations voted in Roberts' favor by ninety-two percent. The clerical order was more conservative. His fellow priests gave him sixty-two percent of their vote.
A sense of wonder still possessed the convention's members as they filed out of the auditorium and into the cathedral for prayers. Father Roberts' own prayers included the hope that he and his clergy could be one. As he told of the election to his thrilled and disbelieving family that night, it would be some time before it could be seen whether this was the work of man, or whether the Holy Spirit had really been at work. The representative process had been followed, at least. If neither the people of the diocese nor the clergy had really chosen him, perhaps in time to come they might act with one accord. If the election was dubious, perhaps the Spirit of God might help him grow up to the office.
IV. The Shepherds' Trust
It did not take Bishop Roberts long to decide that there was practically no evidence that his election was the work of the Holy Spirit. God's part in the affair, if any, was beyond human scrutability. There was plenty of evidence, however, that the election was the work of man, and -- if you took the bishop's word for his existence -- the work of Satan as well.
It was not long before the rumor mills that form, more than do conventions, the mind of the Church, discovered a connection between the Laymen's League and Frank Roberts' election. (To be sure, the mills ground chiefly for clergy, since it was they alone to whom diocesan affairs were a matter of daily concern.) The judgment was based upon a hundred little discoveries that were shared and passed around. In some cases the clergy who had switched their votes took the trouble to identify those who had influenced them and to find what their connections were. In other cases they got some feedback from neighboring clergy, in whom their lay delegates had been more than ready to confide. In most of these cases the facts were quite real and the inferences quite valid. The Laymen's League had indeed done a clever job of influencing the election without revealing its hand. But even when the facts corroborated one another they did not add up to truth. Bishop Roberts was not a pawn of the Laymen's League, nor did that body ever try to capitalize on its stratagem. The effect of clerical gossip was merely an increase of suspicion and disunity.
His first mistake, Bishop Roberts conceded, was in asking for a more conclusive ballot. He had wanted to be magnanimous, and to allow the delegates a chance to be more concerned with their interests than with their emotions. But he had failed to appreciate that such a ballot should come a month -- and not a half hour -- later. If he had even been conventional enough to go along with the "unanimous" ballot, the delegates could have been let off the hook. They would have engaged in the harmless celebration of a myth, and would have gone back to their partisanship with little sense of loss. As it was, Frank Roberts had made the clergy believe that, on that final ballot, they were participating in something real. And when the result proved inconclusive, they were filled with recrimination. Those who had voted against the new bishop -- and they were a third of the total -- were against him still. Those who had switched their votes felt even worse. They had surrendered cheaply to their desire to end the tensions in the diocese. And they had given in to fatigue in wanting to get the election over with.
To be -- or not to be -- a bishop
Less than a month after his consecration, Bishop Roberts began a series of meetings with his clergy. As he expressed it, he was supposed to be a shepherd of shepherds, and this was an impossibility if he did not have the respect and trust of his clergy. It was also an impossibility if he gave priority to matters that came across his desk. He realized that his clergy might not want a pastor, and that they might prefer a bishop whose interest was "larger than parish" affairs. But this would have to come out in the wash; it was not in the cards right now. The bishop felt strongly that he must know his clergy and they must know him. They must be given the chance to bring their concerns out into the open, where they could be dealt with honestly and reasonably. Their private concerns would have to wait until they could see whether he would share their common concerns -- or whether he would even listen.
The first meeting was held at Orange, and included the fifteen clergy of New Haven archdeaconry. It seemed good to start in New Haven because this was the most self-contained of all the archdeaconries, and because the New Haven people both valued and resented their remoteness from the rest of the diocese. Some of these clergy were vigorous intellectuals, and the bishop hoped this meeting might set a tone for those that would follow, both in New Haven and elsewhere.
If any discussion had taken place among the clergy before the bishop's arrival, it was discreetly hid. After the bishop had described his purposes in initiating the meetings, he asked for suggestions for an agenda. There was an awkward silence, which was broken by the Orange rector, who was playing the host. His question seemed to have been framed by a committee, rather than by an individual. The bishop wondered about the agenda, but knew he must deal with this first.
"I'm not sure what you're driving at, Sam. Are you asking about my views on the matter of diocesan staffs, or what I think is likely to happen?"
Expression of distrust or concern?
"Well, bishop, it's both. We have this concern for the men who are on your staff. What do you propose to do with them? How will they make their living? And we're also concerned for the work your staff has been doing. How will it be continued, or will it? What will become of the programs that all of us have been so deeply involved in? Will we be able to keep on showing our concern for the world around us, or will we not? And what about the image we've built up in our various communities? Will we continue to be known as an outreaching, loving, caring Church? Or will we be seen as retreating to a comfortable pew?"
It occurred to Bishop Roberts that this might be more an expression of resentment and distrust than a question demanding answers. And it could not be the expression of one man alone; Sam Lessing undoubtedly spoke for many others when he used the editorial we. He was giving the bishop a preview of an apprehension that might be found among the clergy for a long time to come.
"Sam," the bishop began, "I hope that nothing I've said will be interpreted as a lack of concern for the poor and the powerless. That concern is one of the great motifs of both the Law and the Gospel. And I hope that you will not take my opposition to having priests do staff work as a sign that the Church should not be concerned with social problems. I simply believe that a man who has been called and ordained by Christ as a priest should have the pastoral care of souls. And I believe that the Church's involvement with the world is chiefly a function of the laity. It is something that can easily be done -- and I think should be done -- without bringing the Church into the arena as an intervening body, where it has to throw its weight around and where it can only pretend to be of one mind."
Here he realized he was skating on thin ice. He might be surrendering whatever foothold he had in his hearers' esteem, but he thought it worth risking, that his clergy might know his mind. "I'm going to get away from your question for a minute, Sam, but if I should fail to answer it to your satisfaction I hope you'll bring me back to it later.
"When I was in college I had an art professor who had been one of the Bauhaus school in postwar Germany. Their slogan for architecture was one that I have since realized has been used by God Himself everywhere in His creation. It was the idea that form follows function. It's what made it possible for architects to break away from pretty facades and make buildings that were organic extensions of the earth on which they were built and of the people who lived and worked in them.
Form and function in the Church
"It's a curious thing that modern art should rediscover something that the Church has always known. Form follows function. It always does, and if you've forgotten what the function is take a look at the form. In all the essentials the Church has only a twofold form, and so has the ministry. We have one form in relation to our members and another in relation to the world. We have one type of minister who belongs chiefly to the Body and another who belongs to the world. The Church has the form of a Body mainly when it is worshiping God and when it's dealing with the things that are eternal. The clergy's function is ministering in the Body and caring for their members' spiritual needs. At this point the laity are dependent upon the clergy in the sense that the clergy are channels for knowledge and power. But the ministry of the Church to the world is something else again. Here the laity are not dependent upon the clergy and are not answerable to the Church. The Church can speak with one mind when it is 'in the Body' because it is dealing with the eternal verities. But it cannot speak with one mind about the world. And that is not only because the world is full of ambiguities. It is also because the ministry of the laity -- which is the ministry to the world -- requires the Church to speak with as many minds as it has members."
Bishop Roberts said these things as simply and as honestly as he knew how, yet as he said them he had the feeling that he was not getting across to more than one or two. He was not listening as he was supposed to; he was lecturing his clergy. He acknowledged this, adding that he had only one more thing to say, "You know, this dedication to 'involvement' that's found among the clergy really belongs to the laity -- and it disappoints us if we can't see it. But I think we do our lay people an injustice if we conclude that because we can't see their involvement, it isn't really there. Lay people are not obligated to give us an accounting of their good works, you know. And while we might like to tell them how to run their business, our function is to mediate Christ."
Here the bishop cut himself short, apologizing for the lecture. When the clergy sensed the bishop was determined to talk no more and was eager to listen, they began to open up. His relaxed manner and his readiness to hear made it obvious that he was willing to accept his clergy as they were, and that nothing they might say would be used against them. Over coffee and across the luncheon table the conversation ranged from baseball to Vietnam to film censorship, and the clergy found the bishop as one of themselves. He showed no conceits and seemed to care only that his clergy knew his opinions on the tasks and functions of the ministry.
A prelate out of date
Once they had found that their bishop had no "side," the clergy were ready to get back to discussions of the ministry. They did want to know his mind, and they wanted to know where he might lead them -- provided, of course, that they were willing to accept him as their bishop. George Briggs, who was curate in a slum church, remarked, "You know, bishop, if you had come to seminary and said these things, you'd have gotten nowhere at all. The students would have crossed you off as hopelessly outdated, and the faculty wouldn't have bothered to ask you back."
The other clergy held their breath, looking first at George and then the bishop. The latter snorted in amusement, and Briggs continued, "What I mean is, nobody seems to buy this bit about form and function any more. It might apply to architecture, but does it apply to living? The way I hear it is that those things belong to an outmoded view of life, and that the things that count today are similarities -- not differences."
Nobody spoke, so Briggs went on, "It seems to me that it's undemocratic for things to differ, and the idea of function makes them differ. It also seems undemocratic for one function to be subordinate to another. Why, for example, can't my wife be as good a priest as I?"
When Bishop Roberts responded, he seemed to be speaking only to the curate and to be unaware that the others were listening. "George, I think I follow you but I don't think you understand me in this matter of form and function. But would you agree with me that we are ordained as channels for God's love and healing power?" Briggs nodded his assent, and the bishop continued. "If you do, you must agree that even channels have to have boundaries. Rivers have to have banks. Pipes and power lines have to contain what they carry, and the current has to have direction. Right? Then do you also agree that if we are to be channels or intermediaries what we do is significant only if it's done in a way that God has determined?" Briggs looked a bit mystified, but continued to nod. "And, George, you must agree with me that if one function in the Church seems to carry more prestige than another, it's something man has given it -- and not God?" Here the curate nodded vigorously. "Then if differences in status are caused by seeming differences in the importance of function, might we not do well to get rid of the idea of prestige -- instead of the idea of function?"
Here the bishop realized he was overshooting the mark, and he stopped talking. His eagerness kept betraying him, for he would prefer to have silence -- rather than words -- speak for him. The talk turned to small and diverse things, and only after some time did the host rector return to what had been on his mind at the beginning.
"Bishop Roberts, I wonder if we could get back now to the question I asked you at the beginning. The one about the clergy on your staff."
"I don't know how to answer that, Sam. Partly because I don't know the answer and partly because if I tried to give you one it would neither express what I mean nor what you wanted to hear. Why don't you try putting an answer in my mouth?" Father Lessing looked startled, so the bishop added some encouragement, "I know this is a matter that concerns you greatly, so tell me how you'd resolve it. If you were I," he added.
Samuel Lessing hesitated. He was not sympathetic to what he knew of the bishop's ideas, and was not sure how he could project an answer in the other's mouth. "Well, ah ... I was thinking, ah ..." He found he could not play the role, so he blurted out what was in his mind, "Bishop, I'm just concerned for the priests who are on your staff, and I'm concerned about what would happen to staff people and to programs all over the country if your ideas should take hold in other parts of the Church. The laity are not very sympathetic to these programs, you know, and it would be all too easy for ideas like yours to spread. This is why I'm concerned. What would you have these staff priests do? Where would you have them go? The Church already has more clergy than it needs, and we've got to have something for them. You can't just take a man who's been working at a thing for years, and dump him out in the cold, saying to him, 'The thing you've been doing no longer has any value.' "
Make-work fallacy creeps into the Church
When the bishop answered, he did so very gently, "I have no intention of firing anyone, and if the diocese buys my ideas -- which it very well may not -- I have no intention of bringing their work to an end. I just don't happen to believe that a man who has been called by Christ and ordained to the priesthood should be ministering to programs or paperwork -- or even to an institution. Our Lord has called us to a personal ministry, and when we get the kind of concerns that showed up in the sixth chapter of the Acts of the Apostles, we should do what the Church did then. We should delegate it to someone else, and not allow our ministry of sacred things to be swallowed by the mundane."
"I don't think any of us can be in disagreement with you on this. Bishop Roberts, but let's get down to specifics. What can these men do? There are no jobs available to them, and as you say, they were called and ordained by Christ."
The bishop looked up, first at Father Lessing and then at the others. "Sam, I'm going to ask you -- and all of you -- to make the same leap of faith you made when you accepted your vocation. You committed yourselves to God without any other assurance than that of faith that he would take care of you -- and by take care of I mean employ. Is this not so?" The bishop looked about and the clergy nodded their assent. Then if you have made this leap of faith for yourselves, why not do the same for other clergy, and for the ministry as a whole?" His point was well made, for by their expressions some of his hearers had never thought of this before.
The pertinence of vocation
The bishop continued, "Don't take me for a lightweight. I know how serious the situation is. We simply have more clergy than we have jobs for, and it's a situation that was caused largely by the military draft. But there's an answer, and I think we may find it in the idea of vocation. A number of our priests are men who went to seminary to avoid conscription, and it must be obvious that some of them were never called. It seems to me that the men who have a genuine sense of vocation will persist through the present difficulty and will come out on the other side. On the other hand, those who were not called and who nevertheless are exercising a ministry will discover their want of vocation. (Either they will find it for themselves or someone else will point it out to them.) Those people will gradually leave the ministry and will go into the other professions where ambition is a recognized qualification. Then things will settle down to normal and we shall once again have a ministry of men who have actually been called by Christ.
"What I am leading up to is this: I don't think we can rightly employ clergy in jobs to which no one was ever called. It is my hope to put all our priests in a ministry of service to people -- either as pastors to the laity or as teachers to the clergy. If we do this -- and if these men are industrious and obedient to their vows -- the problem will disappear. You can't have a devoted and faithful clergy without having a growing laity. When the shepherds begin behaving like shepherds, the Church will end its stagnation and will begin to grow by leaps and bounds. It will no longer spend time worrying about its image, but will begin to be concerned for its members. The change doesn't begin with the Church, or with the laity either. It begins with you and me. We have only one set of marching orders, and it comes from Christ Himself, 'Feed my sheep.' "
As he left the meeting, Bishop Roberts had the feeling that a few, at least, had given respect to his words. Even some of the young ones, like George Briggs. He wondered if it was because he could have spoken to them as an authority figure. If so, it could not have been because of any sense of authority in himself, but because he insisted on pointing at an authority beyond themselves that depended upon no one for definition.
Stopping at a filling station for a tank of gas, the bishop picked up a copy that someone had given him of The Imitation of Christ. The frontispiece was a painting of Jesus that he had never seen before. Was it a Rembrandt? He doubted it, it was not that somber. Was it one of the Flemish painters? Perhaps. Whoever had done it had showed Christ as he ought to be seen today. It was a manly face, but showed the power and glory of God. It seemed to manifest the divine love, yet without doing an injustice to justice. In it the bishop saw a new face of one be had loved from boyhood. He breathed a silent prayer of homage, "Glory be to thee, 0 Lord."
V. Unwonted Change for Clergy
The remainder of the first round of clergy meetings were in much the same vein. As the bishop talked with archdeaconry groups in Bridgeport, Norwalk, Stamford, Danbury, Westchester and the Bronx, he felt a sense of apprehension among his clergy. It seemed to be directed toward him, and to lie in a fear that the man they had helped to elect might become for them the agent of unwonted change.
The bishop's ideas of change, however, did not lie in innovation or experiment. Rather, they lay in a return to basics, both as the Church had always known them and as the majority of lay people seemed to prefer them. It had been the bishop's hope that he might guide clerical discussion to what seemed to him -- as to traditionalists everywhere -- the easily discernible separation of task and function in the ministry. He was quickly disabused of such an idea. Especially among the younger clergy, and among those in high-powered suburban parishes, there seemed to be no understanding of functional differentiation. Even the ideas of order and authority seemed to have disappeared, excepting as fluid things that depended upon the consensus of particular groups at particular times. Faced with this fact, the bishop decided to speak about roles instead of functions. He knew that for many of his men ought was a threatening word, and that vows were regarded as mythical, rather than something real. The idea of function was disliked because it suggested something from which one could not take a vacation. On the other hand, the idea of roles -- which could be put on or cast aside at convenience -- was an appealing one.
By the time he got to the Bronx, Bishop Roberts could sum up the approaches that had worked best in earlier meetings. He supposed his ideas would appeal to these particular clergy, for they were -- outwardly, at least -- the most ordinary men he had. Unlike the more ambitious and aggressive suburban clergy, these priests were matter of fact, down to earth -- very like the people to whom they were ministering. The bishop kept this in mind as he spoke to them.
Conflict between ministering and administering
"I should like to give attention," he began, "to something that lies behind the tensions that exist between lay people and their clergy. It's an ambivalence that exists within the ministry itself. When a man is placed in charge of a church he is given two roles that are in conflict with one another. As a pastor, he is charged with the care and support of persons. He must treat them as ends in themselves, requiring nothing of them and helping them to see themselves as objects of God's redeeming love. As rector he must act as a ruler and exploiter of persons, using them as means -- and not as ends. In one sense this exploitation is constructive, and is required by Christ Himself, when He commands us to carry the Gospel throughout the world. In another sense it is destructive, as when we manipulate our lay people to serve our own ends, and to aggrandize an institutional Church.
"Regardless of how we make demands of our members, however, we must face the fact that not every Christian has the psychic strength to be exploited. Many of those in our care are not only spiritual, but emotional, babes. They've got to be on the receiving end of a lot of ministering before they can be strong enough to minister to others. They've got to have a lot of confidence in Christ before they can discover that when they give themselves to others in His name they are not taking anything away from themselves.
"This conflict of roles is something that Our Lord has dealt with in His parables. He tells us that the good shepherd knows his sheep and calls them all by name. The good shepherd risks his life daily for his sheep. The hireling, by contrast, cares nothing for the sheep. His job is just a way to fill his stomach.
Shepherds who drive, shepherds who lead
"I've learned something recently that highlights these teachings of Our Lord. There was a striking difference in ancient times between the ways that Jews and gentiles handled their sheep. The gentiles always drove them -- and I mean that literally. Down in the fertile crescent, when they took their sheep from one pasture to another, they herded them with goads and with dogs they had trained to direct and harry the sheep. By contrast with the gentiles, the Hebrews didn't drive their sheep at all. They led them, and because the sheep needed and trusted their shepherds, they followed of their own wills.
"What makes this analogy more impressive is that the Hebrews' pastures were mountainous and the paths precipitous. The shepherds led the way, and if it proved safe the sheep followed. If the sheep chose not to follow, they got left behind, only to get lost or into danger. But they could count on it that when the other sheep were safe in the fold, the shepherd would come and find them. He was responsible for his sheep, but he respected them enough to let them go off on their own.
"If I can apply this analogy to our ministry -- and Jesus' parable demands this -- it is that our primary duty is shepherding, and not exploiting. We are charged with building up the Church as a community of faith, but we must do it by paying attention to the sheep as individuals, and not by thinking of them as a flock. If this seems to give value to the individual at the expense of the Church, perhaps we can see that it is best if Christ exploits the members of His Body -- rather than if we do. After all, it is He who can decide which ones are strong enough to give themselves to a ministry to others, and it is the Holy Spirit who guides and directs their way. This is why I feel that the time we spend in planning activities and in organizing our work and that of others is at best play-acting. We see ourselves in creative roles, and are in reality only building a play church. We are substituting towers of Babel -- albeit churchly towers -- for the wonderful works of God.
Constant function vs. transient role
"If I can venture an opinion on all this, it is that we have become so saturated with group dynamics that we've allowed ourselves to think of everything we do as being nothing more than roles. There is nothing that binds us -- nothing that commits us whether we like it or not. When we get tired of one role we put on another. This allows us to be priests one minute, public affairs experts another minute, and fund raisers in a third. It's not, I think, what God means us to be, and what is meant when we vow to lay aside the study of the world and the flesh. Priesthood, by its very nature, has to be one of the permanent things, like motherhood. Once you're in it there's no relief from its duties this side of the grave. There can be great joy in it, however, and a great sense of fulfillment, if it's accepted as a function given and empowered by Christ. It does more than anything but motherhood to bring God's will to bear in the lives and affairs of men."
By the time the second round of archdeaconry meetings had been completed, Bishop Roberts had begun to feel that he was getting his point across. If he had not yet touched his clergy's hearts, he had begun to touch their heads. They were beginning to acknowledge that the first obligation of their calling was the spiritual nurture of those committed to their care. They were moving from the pagan philosophy of total involvement (which, the bishop pointed out, was the basis for totalitarianism) to a dynamic that included detachment. A priest had to be detached from the world in order to be creatively involved with it. His detachment was a spiritual and psychological, as well as a social, need. The priest needed, in his time of detachment, to identify himself with the things of God, so that in the time of his involvement he could minister those things to a world that has no other way of getting them.
VI. Lay Lib and Clerical Rebellion
The most significant thing that happened in the years before and after Frank Roberts' consecration was a spontaneous movement among the laity. It was felt throughout the diocese, and manifested itself as a deep concern for the Church and the ministry. It was not "spirit filled" -- that is, it had none of the marks of pentecostal excitement. Yet it may indeed have been a thing of the Spirit, for it had no leadership, structure, or other marks of human institution. Its activity was quite random, and it was so unself-conscious that for a long time no one took any note of it. It was a kind of conservative ground swell, and seemed to come to life in part through reaction and in part through response. The reaction was against the previous bishop, his staff, and the clergy he had introduced to the diocese. These men were a secular lot, whose thinking -- despite their goal of "relevance" -- was so much at odds with that of the laity that people who had spent their lives in the Church no longer felt at home. The element of response was directed towards the person of Bishop Roberts, with whom the laity found speedy rapport.
There was nothing contrived between the bishop and those church folk who formed what later was called the Lay Liberation. They simply knew that the bishop had respect for their independence and common sense. When rector at Stamford, he had never manipulated his parish organizations to achieve his ends, nor had he kept his counsel from them. Even as a clergyman, he was a layman with a collar. The formative years of his working life had been spent in the business world, so that in thought and language he was close to his people. No gulf had come between him and them because of inexperience or lack of imagination.
A detection of fraudulence
Most of those who were caught up in the movement had been active in their parishes for many years, and had accepted their clergy's suggestions as to how they could be meaningfully used. Some had found that activism in itself does not enrich one's life with a sense of the presence of God. Others had discovered that the parish family is a clerical myth; their parish centers were more like command posts -- safety away from the front lines, where the rector, like a general, could be in charge of communication and decision. In every case these lay people were uneasy that their lives in the Church had been spent, not in being equipped to serve Christ in the world, but in serving the institution that was supposed to serve them. They had allowed themselves to be as isolated from the world as were their clergy.
Whatever the experience of those who were participants in the movement, their mark was a wholesome respect for the way the Spirit had led the Church in the past, disappointment in the way things were now going, and determination to do their part as an order in the Church to put things to rights. Their new confidence and their new assertiveness were in reality a maturing of a church order that had all too long been divided by its own concept of membership -- and, as a result, dominated by the clergy.
Temptations for bishop and clergy
An unfortunate aspect of this maturing of the laity was a corresponding defensiveness by the clergy. This attitude was only heightened when the clergy began to see how the lay people were taking their new bishop to their bosom. As he became known to them, his values and his personality seemed to meet their needs. The relationship began to be, for them, a people and their bishop, rather than a cluster of parish families devoted to their priests. This not only increased the clergy's apprehension, it placed the bishop under a temptation to see himself as a monarchical bishop. It tempted him to see his clergy as extensions of himself, rather than as men who had received the same calling as himself, and whose functions required a very similar kind of responsibility and initiative.
The pleasure that Bishop Roberts felt in this self-fulfillment of the laity, and the confidence that he felt in their support, led him to take a step that was to worsen his relations with his clergy and to confirm their misgivings. A few weeks before the annual convention, and with the approval of his Standing Committee, he sent the following letter to all of the communicants of the diocese. In doing so, he had to use the mailing list of the diocesan magazine, for there was no official roster of members.
The bishop's letter to the diocese
My dear brethren,
When you elected me as your bishop, I gathered that most of you were desirous of a change in the Church's administration, and that my election was a mandate for that change. Looking forward to the diocesan convention on May 17th, I wish to offer some proposals as to how we might begin.
First, I am proposing a streamlining of the diocesan staff, and of the programs we are now administering. I would terminate the contracts of staff clergy as soon as they can be relocated in the pastoral work to which they were called. I would terminate the programs that seem to belong to an independent ministry of the laity. And in any event, I would have "program" handled by volunteers, rather than by salaried personnel. I would have policy posts filled by clergy or lay people -- all part time volunteers -- chosen for their experience and ability. And I would have administrative posts filled by salaried people who are trained for the work they are doing.
Secondly, recognizing the ambivalence that exists between the functions of ministering and administering, I would propose that these functions be performed by different orders in the Church -- and as far as possible, by different men. The presbyters would engage in the essential ministry of the pastoral care of souls. The business of administering the Church would be handed over to deacons and to laymen and women who are equipped for this work. At least, this would be so in the missions, where my authority permits it, and I would hope that parishes might find this significant enough to want to follow suit.
If this separation of function should meet your approval, I would restructure the diocesan organization as follows. The present archdeaconries would be retitled presbyteries. Their heads would be archpriests instead of archdeacons. Their purpose would, as now, be pastoral, and the archpriests would perform some of the functions that, in a larger diocese, are filled by suffragans.
By contrast, the archdeacons would be members of the diocesan staff. As I now visualize it, there would be three. Two of these would also be priests -- the Archdeacon for Missions and the personal assistant to the bishop. The third, who would be in charge of administering the "temporalities," would be a deacon with a background in business administration.
Thirdly, I am proposing a restructuring of diocesan finances. I believe we ought to abolish the present structure of quotas and assessments, and replace it with one of voluntary pledges. In doing this, I would base each year's budget upon what has been pledged in advance, so that there is no coercion or even "promotion." This would scrap the idea of the tithe or tax, and allow our peoples' gifts to be genuine free will offerings.
Fourthly, I would end the use of The Sentinel as the official publication of the Diocese. While I am not dissatisfied with The Sentinel as such, I believe that such a medium should be independently run and financed. An official publication tends, by its very nature, to be a house organ, and to sweep controversy under the rug. It tends to entrench officialdom, and to take our attention away from vital and pressing duties.
Fifth, I would propose a two years' study -- to be conducted throughout the diocese and without salaried expense -- of the ministry itself. The study's purpose would not be to ascertain what the ministry is, for that is one of the givens of Christian tradition. The purpose would be to discover what barriers there may be to the ministry's fulfillment. The study would touch every form of the ministry, both in the lay and clerical orders, with the hope of improving the quality of our performance.
All of these things -- and more -- will be on our minds as we approach our annual convention. I pray that the breath of God will sweep through us as we come to that occasion -- either personally or through our delegates. May the Holy Spirit invigorate our minds, warm our hearts and sanctify our souls -- making us one family in Christ.
Faithfully, your bishop,
+ Frank Roberts
Even as he sent this letter out, the bishop guessed what the results would be. It went to forty-three thousand communicants, but no more than a handful would give it serious thought. Many of his communicants would not even know him by name and would pay little heed to what he had to say. Some would not even open the letter. The envelopes had been stamped with the Sentinel's addressograph plates, so that for them it would not even be first class mail.
Approval and distaste
As it turned out, there were many lay people who read the letter with thanks and a sense of relief. These were the folk who were in the ground swell of Lay Liberation. Many of them used the letter, as the bishop hoped they would, as a basis for parish planning and for decision at the convention. Others -- and, in fact, several parishes -- used it to bring people back to the Church who had already canceled their pledges and withdrawn from the scene.
Among the clergy, by contrast, there was little approval. They saw value in much of what the bishop was saying, but were troubled about what he left unsaid. The letter was too abrupt. It seemed to play up to the lay people, and to take sides against the clergy. It was obviously the product of one man's mind, and not the fruit of collaboration with associates. It was also written in haste, and left a lot of loose ends untied. For example, nothing was said about the lay people who were working on what the bishop called "program." What about finding jobs for them? They were innocent victims of the tensions that were sweeping the Church, and many of them, out of devotion for the Church, had worked for years at relatively low paid jobs.
There was hardly more agreement over the bishop's other proposals. The one touching The Sentinel left many of the clergy with a feeling of embarrassment. They had been working as much as two days a week on their own parish newsletters. How could they justify this sort of activity if its importance were discounted on the diocesan level?
The matter of delegating parish administration also touched a sensitive spot. As soon became apparent, not one rector wanted to delegate the responsibilities that gave him his only real control over his parish and its organizations. He wanted to be a servant to the servants of God, but he also enjoyed the sense of power that came from sitting in the driver's seat.
The most unpopular of Bishop Roberts' proposals, however, was the one asking for a study of the ministry. The younger clergy especially were annoyed with the conservatism that was implicit in it. The bishop was not even considering the possibility of new forms of ministry -- the thing that interested them most. Rather, he seemed bent on exposing their failure or their unwillingness to live up to the ministry they already had.
A radical view of service
Behind the bishop's conservatism, however, there was a radicalism that disturbed his clergy deeply. It was something that even the liberals did not share, and it bothered the older clergy as well as the young. In his archdeaconry meetings, Bishop Roberts had expressed dissatisfaction with many of the customs that had given ease to the clerical lot all through the Church's history. One was the matter of tenure. As the bishop saw it, this no longer guaranteed a prophetic voice in the pulpit -- if, in fact, it ever had. Rather, it gave the activists among the clergy the seeming right to neglect the souls committed to their care, and to identify with all sorts of worldly causes. It gave the lazy ones the privilege of a lifetime sinecure -- free from the obligation to work as long as they behaved themselves.
Another pet peeve was the upper hand given to clergy in the matter of voting power. No matter how distinguished a layman, his vote at convention had to be expressed in the single vote given his parish -- and that was something his rector could hijack easily by handpicking his delegates and by telling them how to vote. By contrast, every cleric had a vote, even if Christ had never called him to the office he was filling. (And, as the bishop had opined, much of the clergy surplus had been caused by ordaining men who had not been called -- in violation of St. Paul's injunction to "lay hands suddenly on no man.")
Bishop Roberts' concern about the clerical vote even extended to his fellows in the episcopate. He had declared that the American bishops had unduly influenced the entire Anglican Communion by an unconscious bit of gerrymandering. The American predilection for administration had created over a hundred dioceses in an area which, in any other part of the Anglican Communion, would have been limited to thirty-five. As a result, when the American bishops went to Lambeth, they carried a quarter of the voting strength of that body -- even though they represented only eight percent of the Anglicans in the world.
A touch of barnyard humor
Finally, the bishop seemed to have scorn for clerical associations and pressure groups. Although he carefully avoided giving directions in this area, he had made his opinions plain. For spiritual strengthening, for fellowship, for the sharpening of pastoral skills, such gatherings had his approval. However, he had no sympathy with movements that were concerned with the hustling of clerical careers or the promotion of worldly causes. He emphasized his point at one archdeaconry meeting with a bit of barnyard humor, "I was talking once with a disrespectful old farmer, who never went to church, and who had no liking for the clergy in his town. When I told him I was a preacher, he said, 'Yew ministers are like the manure in my barn. Ye spread it around the field, where it kin work with the seed and the soil and the sun, and it's the best thing in the world fer makin' things grow. But bring it together in a heap, and ye kin smell it a mile away.' "
Reaction from a clerical union
Not long after the receipt of the bishop's letter, there was a special meeting of the Clerical Union of the New York and Connecticut Shore, The union was teamed up with similar bodies in other dioceses, and had in a short time enrolled two thirds of the clergy in the diocese. It sought both higher salaries and equality of salaries for all clergy in the diocese, and more comprehensive benefits as well. It sought a five day, forty hour work week, with contractual agreements between clergy and vestries on matters of jurisdiction and duty. It sought to open to the ministry a new field of consultative work, in which clergy might team up with doctors and psychiatrists to minister to the body, mind and spirit of man. Finally, it sought increased dignity and respect for the clergy, commensurate with that of other learned professions.
Some sixty members were present at the meeting --
nearly all of those enrolled in the diocese. It did not take them long
to decide that the bishop's proposals offered a threat, not only to
their own concept of the ministry, but to the gains they had made for
themselves and the gains the profession had made in the past. As a
result of the meeting, this letter was sent to all of the clergy in the
diocese, and to candidates for holy order as well. As a matter of
courtesy, a copy was sent to the bishop.
To clergy and candidates, the Diocese of the New York and Connecticut Shore:
At a special meeting of the Clerical Union of the diocese on April 12, 1970, and with the approval of forty-eight of sixty members present, the following resolution was passed:
WHEREAS our bishop, the Right Reverend Frank Roberts, has, in his letter to communicants dated April 4, 1970, made proposals that would supplant the diocese' present goals and methods with radically new ones, and
WHEREAS the diocese' present obligations, both to itself and to the Church at large, seem hardly attainable, should these proposals be approved by convention, and
WHEREAS said proposals have been made by the bishop with the scantiest consultation with his clergy, and
WHEREAS we are commanded by St. Paul to "let all things be done decently and in order," therefore
BE IT RESOLVED that we cannot support our bishop in the furtherance of these proposals, and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that we express our considered opinion that aforesaid proposals, even if approved by convention, can only divide the Church further in this diocese and further weaken its mission, and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that we respectfully call upon our bishop to withdraw the aforesaid proposals, and to consult with his clergy and with representative lay people about what new policies may seem to be required in the diocese' "mandate for a change."
If you are a member of the Clerical Union, and were not present at the meeting, we ask that you study this, and see if we have not wisely spoken your mind. If you are not a member, we make bold to ask the same.
So that this matter may be dealt with openly, and in hopes that our clergy and lay people may be of one mind by the time of the May 17 convention, we are pleased to inform you of a number of public meetings, to be held as per the schedule on the attached sheet. These meetings, it might be added, are being arranged and presided over by members of the laity. (We do not think it either appropriate or in good taste to sponsor the meetings ourselves.) You are welcome to participate in these meetings, and to bring or send as many of your lay people as you will.
Faithfully yours in His name,
John McIntyre Smith, Secretary
The Clerical Union
The clerical pressure group was never quite able to mount its guns. In a letter to its secretary, Bishop Roberts thanked the Clerical Union for keeping him informed of its actions. He quite understood its members' feelings, but could hardly deal with the matter formally, since the union had no official connection with the Church.
By the time the convention came around, the union had all but conceded defeat. For one thing, the delegates had long since been elected by the various churches. They would not be easy to influence if it were a matter of the rector against the bishop. More importantly, it was conceded that, at best, parish delegates were window dressing anyway. Those who had the greatest influence in parish matters seldom offered themselves as delegates, and they were the last people the Clerical Union would ever be able to reach.
Collapse of the Clergy Rebellion
There was little doubt about it, the clergy could not greatly influence the laity without the support of their bishops. And this was not because behind the bishop there lay the authority of God. It was because behind the bishop there lay also the authority of the people. Both in parish and diocese, it had always been evident that the ultimate power in anything involving money is the power of those who control the spigot. And unless that wealth were the bequests of the dead, the spigot was seldom in clerical hands. Unlike endowments, offerings do not belong to the clergy. And unlike taxes, they cannot be commanded. Offerings can be elicited -- by sermons on stewardship, or on the need for thankfulness, or even on the need of the giver to give. But this is as far as the Church can go. In a land where everyone can read and write, even episcopal polity is finally congregational. The lay people not only foot the bills for the Church's work, they have to be satisfied in their own minds as to whether that work is relevant. And so it comes out that the real test of relevance is God's test, and to a degree the people's test -- but not the clergy's. The knowledge of this was probably why the Clerical Union, by common consent, chose to call it quits.
When the convention was over, it was clear that the bishop had received all the support he wanted. The budget had been streamlined along the lines he wished, and in future would be made up after the pledges of local congregations had been received. To allow greater flexibility -- and now that long range planning was no longer necessary -- the date of convention was changed from the third Saturday in May to the fourth Saturday in January. The local churches would have completed their canvasses by that time, and would be able to make their commitments.
Spinning off The Sentinel
There was only one of the bishop's proposals that was not carried out in full. The Sentinel was such an old and harmless institution that people were unwilling to drop it altogether. Instead, the convention spun it off as an independent publication. The chancellor was directed to form a new corporation, and the bishop to appoint its initial board of directors. It was doubtful, however, whether The Sentinel would survive. It has been subsidized by the diocese to the extent of $20,000 a year, and there seemed little likelihood either that it could show a profit or that lay people could be found who would be willing to pick up the tab.
Once the bishop's proposals had been adopted, it was not hard to carry them out. For example, the bishop arranged for new jobs for the secretaries who had been displaced by the termination of "program." They were competent women, if no longer young or striking. Once they had made the change, most found their lives improved. They were delighted with the higher pay they were getting, and they no longer had to indulge in the smug self-pity of those who are making sacrifices in behalf of the Church. They also found their new employers more considerate than the old. As institutions, at least, these employers were more efficient, and that in itself is a large part of consideration.
The first thing the bishop did after convention was to call together the staff clergy whose work was being phased out of the budget. There were seven of them. Five of them were department heads -- the executive secretaries of the Departments of Program and Structure, Education and Leadership Training, Communications, Stewardship, and Social Relations. Two others were in charge of divisions of the Department of Social Relations. The divisions were Urban Work and Community Services.
As the seven priests entered silently, the bishop was stricken with a sense of remorse. None of the seven was looking at him, and none seemed to indicate any personal feeling at all. Rather, there was a sense of dejection, of bowing to the inevitable. They were competent, lively and ambitious men, and they were feeling the bitterness of those who have been swimming without success against an inexorable tide.
A proposal for the staff
Knowing how out of place his sympathy would be, the bishop began matter-of-factly, "We have some new things to tackle in the diocese as a result of the convention, and I think that one thing we can do is to put some vitality into some of our smaller and less active missions. We have a lot of good priests working in these churches. But for the most part, they're simple men of God, and they're ministering to simple people. Not many of them are the kind of men you are -- men who can dream dreams and create teams and see their ideas take hold. I'm wondering if the talents you have can't be put to work in the mission churches -- and help those churches to grow. I'm wondering if you can not only help the missions to grow, but to become real factors in their communities."
The seven priests looked at their bishop, taking their attention away from fingernails and ash trays. "Good Lord, bishop." This was Stanley Wilson, who was leaving Program and Structure, "Are you proposing to send us out as slum priests?'' Father Wilson looked about at the others, and their expressions seemed to say he was expressing their thoughts. He continued, "I think we'd all love to get that kind of ministry under our belt. But we have wives and children, and they're used to suburban life. I doubt whether any of our families could hold up in the inner city."
The bishop was quick to reply, "I wasn't thinking of the slum churches, Stan. In fact, I have something entirely different in mind for them. What I was thinking about was the little churches in out of the way places, the churches that have no wealthy members and few natural leaders, the ones whose members are never challenged to try something out of the ordinary."
The bishop paused for a moment, and then continued. "You priests are probably the most competent men in the diocese when it comes to knowing what can be done and how to do it. You could probably help, more than anyone else, to get the lagging missions off dead center in the matter of life and growth. What I have in mind, however, is not to ask you to be priests in charge of missions but to be administrators of clusters of mission churches."
"Clusters, administrators, what in the world do you mean?" Three questions in a row from as many people.
The administry of a cluster
"Here's what I have in mind," the bishop said. "The missions will grow if the vicars are allowed to concentrate on a ministry to their people. No one walks out on a man of God, especially if he feeds his people's minds and souls and doesn't violate their feelings. What I'm proposing is that you -- or clergy who have gifts like yours -- will organize and train and direct the teams that these missions need. This is the work that vicars have the most difficulty with. Not many of their people are leaders, and they don't want to be made into leaders. At the same time they don't want to be pushed around. They get enough of that in the plant or the store or out at the loading dock.
"To be more specific, I'd like you to be the churches' leaders and directors. Take charge of buildings and grounds, of communications and records, of every member canvasses, of recruiting Sunday School teachers, of interesting parishioners in projects for social action. These are things that bring both frustration and success, but that are done at the expense of the vicars' ministry to their people. If you can take these burdens off the vicars' shoulders, I'm betting that their undivided ministry will do wonders for their people. And I'm betting that your undivided ministry will do wonders for the Church."
Here the bishop hesitated. His hearers' faces seemed to be registering incredulity. As an afterthought, he said, "If I can guess your thoughts, you're saying to yourselves, 'The bishop wants us to be deacons, not priests. And he wants us to be curates to vicars, at that. How much lower on the ladder can a minister get?' I want to say, that if this is what you think, you're wrong. What I'm asking is whether you'd consider being deacons to clusters of churches. Maybe two or three, maybe five. This wouldn't put you under anyone -- excepting the Archdeacon for Missions and myself. And it would put you alongside as many vicars as you were serving missions. They would, as a group, be the opposite numbers to your one."
The men shifted in their chairs and seemed to come to life. Marvin Remick, who was director of Stewardship, spoke first. "I think I'd like that kind of assignment. But what would it involve? I mean, what about the pay, the housing, the dividing of responsibilities?"
Before the bishop could answer, Vaughn Edwards of Community Services added another question, "What kind of office arrangements would you visualize?"
"You're a little ahead of me," the bishop replied. "I think this is something we'll have to think through together. But I am serious about the proposal. And I could hardly think of cutting your salaries if I thought your new assignment would be more important than your old. As for your housing arrangements, it's possible we could leave them as they are right now. After all, you'd have several churches, not one. And unlike the pastors, who have -- by the nature of their job -- to live on the spot, you could live wherever was most convenient. After all, an administrator can choose his hours, and there's no reason why he can't commute."
Retaining the functions of priesthood
"Bishop," this was George Wingerter venturing to ask a question. "If you want us to work in these diaconal roles, how do you think we might exercise our priesthood?"
Bishop Roberts began to reply, then checked himself. How odd, he thought, that it should be George Wingerter who should ask that question. George was in charge of Education and Leadership Training, and his stock uniform was sport shirts and loud jackets. The bishop had never yet seen him wearing a clerical collar. It was interesting also that George had called him bishop. Up until now the bishop had been kept in his place with the old familiar "Frank."
The bishop measured his reply. "I'm glad you asked that question, George, because it seems to me to be the key to everything else. A lot of people would say the work you'd be doing would be a layman's work. But few laymen could bring to this kind of task the experience and the finesse that you could. And if you're true to your priesthood, you'll bring the power of God as well.
"I hope you'll forgive the little sermon. I had to get it in. What I meant was that with lay people in this particular spot, you could hardly be a deacon unless you were not also a priest. You see, in your particular function, you can keep the ambivalence I've talked about. You're concentrating on making churches into teams. But you can preach and celebrate the Eucharist and change off with the vicars. As long as they are free to be one hundred percent pastors, the results will be good. And don't worry, if your priesthood means a lot to you, you'll have plenty of chance to exercise it."
"What about the funds, bishop, for what you're proposing?" This was the first that Lee Jones had spoken. He was the director of Social Relations, and with his associates in Community Services and Urban Work, had found shelter in the diocese only two years before when the ax had fallen at the national headquarters.
"We can find the funds, Lee. For a year or two at the very least. It'll have to come from funds at my disposal, because I doubt if many missions could foot the bill for an extra quarter or third of a priest. Certainly most would not volunteer to take on any extra clergy, and I have no intention of asking them."
"What about the funds when the 'year or two' is up?" Considering what Lee had been through, it was a proper and prudent question.
"I think the answer to that, Lee, will be that by the time we have been at this for a year or two, the results will be so salutary that the missions will be able to pay your salaries and will want to do so. Unless I miss my guess, the missions will grow in numbers because the pastors will be taking real care of their flocks. And the power that you bring in with your teamwork and training will give people who are feeling their oats something constructive to do. I wouldn't be surprised if, within a year or two, you men presented several missions to become parishes."
Old wine in new bottles
As his staff settled back in their chairs, the bishop realized that he had done the right thing. He had made clear to them that he had no intention of letting them go, or of changing their status and mode of life. The staff's ideas of Church and ministry differed quite sharply from his own, but he was offering them a chance to act on their ministry in their way. And it seemed to be a way that would benefit the Church in terms that he, too, could understand.
In the next few minutes a number of questions and comments were offered. Some of the conversation was merely that, and served to lighten the load of the meeting. Nothing was decided, however, and strangely because it seemed that everything was decided. The men would be making their own arrangements, but the consensus was already there.
After the staff had left, and the door to the hall was closed, the bishop looked out the window for some time. He watched a flock of pigeons on the cornice of the courthouse at the other end of the block. He looked at a window washer at his work, and giving less heed than his viewer to the thin strap that held him safe. And he studied the bright clouds that mindlessly swept across the bit of sky his window framed. He looked down at the street, and watched how people, giving heed or not as they wished, to the conventions of traffic lights and flow, seemed to get to their separate destinations.
The bishop stood transfixed at the window. How did all of these things add up in the dispensation of God? A burst of laughter in the hall told him that, for his staff as well as for himself, the meeting was not yet over. It made his heart glad, and he thanked God for it. It was the first laughter he had heard in the diocesan office since the day he checked in on the job.
VIII. Of Ghettos, Charts and Men
While his staff were terminating their old work and preparing to begin their new Bishop Roberts was commencing an undertaking of his own. He and his wife, Maisie, had agreed that she and the youngsters should spend the summer at her parents' home in Wisconsin while he got the feel of the slums. The bishop felt that the twenty-three slum churches in his diocese were more in need of attention than the sixty churches in more prosperous neighborhoods. And he knew that those slum neighborhoods were in desperate need of the professions that outside the slums were in a pitiful over-supply. (The military draft had caused a surplus not only of clergy, but of teachers and social workers as well.) He wanted to see if he could find a combination of skills and experience with Christian motivation that would minister to the secular needs of ghetto folk. And he wanted to see whether that combination could be related to the Church. He decided that he would spend the summer getting to know the ghetto people. And having done this, he would spend a day or two with each of the vicars of the slum churches.
One morning, while the bishop was puzzling over a map of the Bronx, there came a knock at his door. It was Lee Jones and Vaughn Edwards. "Bishop," said Lee, "I understand you're making a study of the ghettos and the urban churches."
"That's right. Come in."
"Could we be of any help? We've got all kinds of studies and reports that you might like to look over."
"What kind of studies are they, Lee?"
"Well, you know, the kind of thing that will help you to get a look at the broad picture. Charts on population distribution, family structure, church attendance and all that. We've got studies on urban redevelopment, housing, school sites, manpower, vocational training, relocation of industry. You know, that kind of thing. Then we have studies and projections of the neighborhoods around our churches, and of the incidence of crime, and of gang patterns, and things like that. The things you need to get an overall picture of the requirements of the inner city. Studies like this can suggest to you how we ought to channel the energies of the Church."
An amateur's way to learn
"Well, Lee, I'd thought I'd ask for your help in making this study. But I thought I'd wait until I've formed some impressions of my own. What I'm going to do is to spend the whole summer in the ghetto just to get the feel of the place. Get to know some of the people there and find out what they're thinking about. I also want to know how they think. I don't even want to connect this with the Church or with any planning until I've spent a couple of completely footloose months."
The two staff men looked incredulous. Obviously they were thinking the bishop was a rank amateur, and would be investing a lot of time on something that would probably have no value at all. Besides, it could be dangerous and it seemed like a lot of personal risk for the little that could be gained. The bishop stuck to his guns, however, so they had to wish him well. It was agreed that at the end of the summer he would consult with them on what was to be done.
As soon as school had ended, and Maisie and the children were gone, the bishop moved into the vicarage of St. Alphege's Church in the South Bronx This arrangement suited both bishop and vicar, for the latter's wife had been ill, and it gave the couple an extended vacation. St. Alphege's was in a populous neighborhood, but the poorest in the diocese. It was hidden under the Bruckner Expressway, at the point where Mott Haven becomes Fort Morris. It was an empty, abused church, locked tight against theft and vandalism. Behind its doors and barricaded windows it was almost as grimy as the streets outside.
For the first two weeks at St. Alphege's, Frank Roberts did nothing but walk the streets. He took in the sights and sounds of the slums, but there was no one to talk to -- no one who gave him more than a glance. He was a stranger in his own diocese. In the evenings, as he returned to the vicarage behind the iron gate, he was lonely and depressed. He had not yet one clue as to what he should do, and he was becoming a stranger to himself. The voice that had been silent all day sounded suddenly frail as he stood alone in the choir and chanted the evening office. When evensong had ended however, he felt renewed to the task. God had recalled him to the Word of life, and he had given God his lonesome prayer and praise.
During those first days in the ghetto, it seemed to the bishop that the only thing that made it possible for him to stick to his task was his daily meditation and the morning and evening office. He could not even do the Eucharist, for that required a we-Thou, rather than an I-Thou, act of worship. Yet even his worship could not make life easy; it could only make it more bearable. The squalor and the filth and the futility of the city covered more than his churches could hope to reach. It applied as far as he could see and go. In block after block, despite the thronging populace, more than half the houses were bombed out and empty. Their shells were beyond salvage. Windows were smashed, sills ripped away. Everywhere lay the rubble of glass and splintered wood, paper and garbage. And no one seemed to care or even to notice.
Life in the midst of decay
Yet there were other constants in the ghetto besides the sky above and the worn cobblestones underfoot. There was always the presence of people. There were great numbers of them, and their lives were not as aimless as might seem to an outsider. Children ran and played and laughed and learned. Men spent hours making repairs on broken down cars. Women, as elsewhere, devoted themselves to meeting their children's needs.
As the days went on, Bishop Roberts began to feel at home in the ghetto.
People began to recognize him and to make him feel he belonged there. But it was more than that. It was a quality in his neighbors that he found and admired. Poor and idle though these people were, they had not lost the ability to be personal. They knew how to express their feelings and to respond to one another. And although their surroundings were depressed, they themselves were not. In fact -- as the bishop reflected on it -- he found less personal depression here than he ever had outside the ghetto. For this the bishop thanked the Lord. He thanked Him for what these people -- and especially the blacks -- were teaching him about the vitality of the human spirit.
Some virtues of the poor
And then the bishop began to learn some things he could not otherwise have known. He began to appreciate how adaptable these people were, and to learn some things about their values. (It did not come with talking -- simply by making observations.) The bishop had wondered why it was that, while trash collection seemed to be the most visible activity in the city, the streets were never clean. How was it that people kept the trash collectors busy with the enormous numbers of plastic bags they put out on the sidewalk? Finally it came to him. They were taking care to keep their own places clean. If the halls and stairs and sidewalks were littered, and if youngsters kicked trash out of the bags into the gutters, that was something beyond their control and therefore beyond their concern. They did not have much sense of their own influence, and they had little sense of community values. But what they could control they did, and they handled it very well. They showed a wonderfully basic sense of law and order and justice.
There was another thing the bishop admired about the people among whom he had come to live. It was their patience. They spent hours each week lined up before bank tellers' windows and at supermarket counters. And despite this seeming waste of time, they never complained. This was the way their life had been made to be, and they accepted it with dignity and patience. For this too the bishop thanked the Lord.
One morning, as the bishop was leaving the church, he noticed a moving van drawn up on the sidewalk before a house up the street. It was the trimmest house on the block, and he had marked the family in his mind as industrious and well behaved. Why were they leaving, he wondered? Surely they were not being dispossessed. He decided they were trying to better their lot. Perhaps they were moving up to Mount Vernon, where there were single family houses available to blacks, and where there were lots of trees. He walked across the street and offered the father a hand.
Later that day, when the bishop returned from his walk, he was shocked to see that the vacated house had been almost completely vandalized. The windows were broken and the doors wrenched off. Two young men were carrying off a toilet tank and bowl, and a third had a coil of copper tubing on one shoulder and a coil of electrical wiring on the other. The bishop reflected wryly that if this were theft, it might also illustrate an economic law of the ghetto that things be put to use.
A hint of "middle class morality"
By now Bishop Roberts had begun to respect his neighbors as he found them, so that he did not judge them unduly in terms of "white man's" values.
It did his heart good, however, when from time to time he found these neighbors had the same aspirations and values as did he. Only three blocks from the vicarage was an alley that was like an oasis in the desert. It was a mini-block where porches were painted and flower pots were set out, and where there seemed to be an air of prosperity and of joy in possession. The first time he went through this alley, a man was painting the face of his house. It was a brick house, the bishop reflected, and didn't really need paint. Yet the painting of it was a way the owner could decorate his home, and he obviously was enjoying it. The man's wife was busy too. She had set out boxes and pots of flowers, and was now scrubbing the steps. As the bishop gazed admiringly, he decided that she had also cleaned up the empty house next door. At least, someone had. The bishop hoped the house was not beyond repair, for someone would surely find good neighbors. Across the alley was another freshly painted house, and several others down the block. One had an American flag in the front window, and underneath it an embroidered sign, "Welcome home from Vietnam, son."
By the time his family returned, the bishop knew what he must do. The four weeks of September were devoted to the churches in the slums. They were extended all the way up the Sound -- the Bronx, Pelham, Greenwich, Stamford, Bridgeport, West Haven, New Haven. There was also one in Ansonia. The bishop spent a day with each of their vicars, and talked at length with them and their wives. By the month's end, he felt his observations were confirmed. With all their selflessness and devotion, these people were going about things in the wrong way. There was not a sufficient sense of community with their members and with people in the neighborhood, so that they could have the love and attention they needed. And their worship was too abstracted from the lives they were leading. Because of this, both they and the Church were getting nowhere. For the most part, these vicars and their wives were acting as caretakers for piles of wood and stone until the cities could be rebuilt about them and Christ could come again. Until this happened, they would be lonely and they would have little sense of reward. And the worst of it was, they would have no part in making it happen.
The three day conference with the vicars and with the outgoing staff did not accomplish much. At least, it did not do so in the first two days. There was none of the vitality that Bishop Roberts had come to love in the ghetto, and there was no consensus as to what needed to be done. The tone of the conference was more sociological than religious, and it seemed to call for careful planning, rather than for opening the slum churches to the grace and power of God.
A way to relevancy and power
When all of the clergy's ideas and opinions had gone in and out of the hopper, the bishop introduced his own. They did not support the others', but at the same time they were not really opposed. They were simply different, and because they were, they commanded the others' attention. Out of his experiences, the bishop had evolved a plan, and he had talked with many people about it who had nothing to do with the Church. He had talked about it with poor people and with their leaders, and with people in business and in education and in private and public welfare. As he explained it to his clergy, they began to see its relevance. Finally, they decided to use it, and they did so not only because the bishop was the rector of their twenty-three missions, but because it was something that made a great deal of sense. It was a way to combine their Christian motivation and commitment with their various skills and experiences. And it was a way for lay people to do the same thing who were working at secular jobs in the ghettos. It called for a self-denial that had been all but forgotten in the Church.
The next twelve months were occupied with a crash program in the diocese. It was known as Project Urban Commune. It was a program in the sense that many other programs had been, and yet it differed in two respects. It cost the diocese no money to run, and most of the decision was done at the local level, with no pressure for conformity to an overall plan. Each of the slum churches was assigned a cluster of two or three nearby churches whose congregations might help it to form its own church-and-neighborhood commune. The supporting parishes would provide furnishings for one or more houses adjacent to the slum church, and would help to recruit ghetto workers who would live in the commune. In addition, the parishes' members would be encouraged to participate in the neighborhood programs the communes might organize and run.
A new tool for social action
As it turned out, the commune was a new tool for social action in the ministry of the laity. By 1970 many Protestant churches had alienated members by their preoccupation with social change. They had moved from the social gospel to the black power movement to the idea of reparations from white, "racist" churches. Their members had responded by closing their purses or by walking out, and their programs had ground to a halt. Now those programs could be started up once more, and in a more dependable way. The value of Bishop Roberts' plan was that it achieved those goals through the ministry of an independent laity, and that it used the forms of community and of worship and ministry that had been so successful in the past. It did not depend upon the money or authority of a centralized Church, and it did not depend upon program.
The success of Project Urban Commune was only partly due to its theology. In part it was due to its timing. In 1970 there were a great many teaching jobs available in ghetto schools, and they were jobs that had been unfilled for years. At the same time there was beginning to be a disturbing surplus of teachers. Project Urban Commune brought together two segments of society who needed one another, and it filled the needs of both. Ghetto dwellers were helped by the presence of more professional people than had ever been among them before. And the professions were helped by being able to give fuller employment to their members, and to give employment in new and creative ways. This was true not only of teachers, but of the social workers who, along with the teachers, made up the communes' initial membership.
By Christmas of 1970 there were communes in fourteen of the urban churches, and housing from three to six members apiece. Most of the houses were church property, so that there was no rent to pay. And their members were able to walk to work, so that they could be identified as not only working, but living, among those they served. They were available around the clock to their pupils and to their welfare clients -- a fact which enormously increased their confidence and trust. And, as had been hoped, the communes' chaplains were the vicars themselves. The new arrangement gave the vicars and their wives a community with whom they could worship, and through whom they could better relate to their neighborhoods.
All through the winter and spring the communes were drawing clergy. They came, not only from the diocese, but from beyond the diocese as well. Unlike the teachers and social workers, the clergy had to find jobs outside their profession. But they did so because they felt a deep sense of obligation to the poor, and because they could use their spare time in a ministry to their neighbors. Most of these men were young and all were unmarried. Even outside the formal ministry they felt "fulfilled," however, and the harshness of their new life prompted them, without a murmur, to give more time to the worship of God than they ever had before.
By the summer of '71 the communes were well enough established to open summer houses for students. Most were graduate students working at summer jobs, but all were able to give hours every day to the programs the communes had begun. By now there were programs in the parish houses that ran through most of the day and far into the night. There were temporary child care centers, breakfasts for children in summer school programs, classes in English, cooking, nutrition, household repairs and budgeting. There were station wagon schedules to and from hospitals, clinics, night schools and welfare offices. There was tutoring for high school equivalency tests. There was help with job interviews. One commune even set up an evening job clinic, which brought interviewers into the ghetto, thus making it unnecessary to force upon poorly dressed men the embarrassment of applying for jobs on unfamiliar turf. By the time the twelvemonth ended, Project Urban Commune was ready to be phased out. The cluster plan had worked well, and the communes seemed likely to be self-perpetuating. Although a few members had had problems of their own, most were healthy enough to give their main attention to others. They had given the needed shot in the arm to the neighborhoods and had kept themselves free from scandal. The neighborhoods were beginning to show the difference.
An experiment brought under grace
At the end of the summer Father Ian Smith-Jones of St. Peter's in the Bronx brought a deputation to see Bishop Roberts. The leader seemed to be a young lawyer named Lou Matthiessen, who had been running a legal-aid clinic three nights a week, and who was employed by the school district in the Clason's Point section of the Bronx.
"Bishop Roberts," Matthiessen began, "a number of us would like to form a sort of monastic order that would be an inner core for the life of the communes. We think it would mean a lot if some of our members, at least, could devote themselves to a life of poverty and self-sacrifice in behalf of the neighbors. It's the sort of thing that would give a little more order to our own lives, and it would make our work more effective. And we all agree that it would open our lives more surely to the grace of God. I mean, not only those who were dedicated to the life of poverty, but everybody in our communes."
"Does this mean that you would take some sort of vow," the bishop asked, "and be under obedience?"
"Well, we weren't thinking so much of obedience as we were of poverty. You see, we all have jobs, which require a kind of obedience in itself. And besides that, our skills are so diverse that no one could plan how we ought to use them. In what we do, we'd be pretty much in an economy of laissez faire. But we think there'd be great value in obedience to a rule of life, and in surrendering our lives to Jesus through a kind of poverty that gives away both our time and our money."
"Time and money, eh?" the bishop remarked. "That comes about as close as one can get to the idea of responsible involvement. But how many people do you think would do this? How long would they be willing to commit themselves?"
"Well, bishop, we don't think many people today want to commit themselves for more than a year or two. What we have in mind is the kind of short term vows that some people are talking about for marriage. But it would require total self-giving while it lasted. And we thought we'd make our vows for a year at a time."
The bishop was so fascinated with the idea of a temporary monasticism taken for strictly secular work that he hardly slept a wink that night. What had started out as a simple expedient was growing into something he had not even dreamed of. And best of all, it was the result of an already-successful program. How creative and how contemporary! thought the bishop. A short term vow in a time when almost no one wants to take a vow for life. And a vow of poverty, at least, in a time when chastity and obedience seem to have gone down the drain. Despite appearances, he thought, self-denial is not altogether a thing of the past. There are still people who can respond to the call to take up the cross and follow Christ. Praise the Lord, thought the bishop, for His inscrutable providence. And praise Him for these young people, who -- even if they pretend to set no store by the holy and even if they pretend to reject the idea of self-denial -- are willing to look for the face of Christ in the faces of the poor.
IX.The Following of a Prayer Book
One of the first things Bishop Roberts had tried to do, after his consecration in the winter of '69, was to bring his clergy into a more faithful conformity to the Prayer Book. This was not easy to do; the Prayer Book had, for a generation and more, been honored in the breach, rather than in the observance. Like everybody else, the clergy resisted other people's attempts to hold them to a certain standard of fidelity. They resented the reminder that the Prayer Book's obligation was a measurable thing, and that faithfulness to it was a part of their ordination promises and vows. They tended more and more to regard the Prayer Book as a sacred relic of the past, instead of a means of spiritual vitality for every time and place.
Existentialism's problem with conformity
The impasse between the bishop and his clergy on this matter turned out to be a more touchy one than the issue of function in the ministry. The one had to do merely with a mind-set, while the other had to do with a commitment that that particular mind-set deemed outrageous. In an inverse bearing to their years, his clergy seemed unable to grasp the idea of anything having merit in itself, and this was why they resented having to take an oath of conformity to the Prayer Book. In their existential way of thinking, the Prayer Book could only be measured by its value for them, and if it had no value for them it could not be allowed to make any demands of them. This troubled the bishop, not only because it cast into disrepute the traditional authority of Bible and Church, but because it seemed to deny the possibility of objective thought. Ultimately it put authority in the one place where it cannot reside. It was a polytheistic mind-set that made gods of individual men, while the real God seemed to stand benignly by.
Fortunately for himself and his clergy, the bishop had not pressed the matter of Prayer Book conformity to the point where anyone felt it necessary either to denounce him or to denounce the commitment they had made. The bishop wanted to respect both their integrity and their privacy, and so he left them in what seemed to be a never-never land they had made for themselves. Like children who believe in both Santa Claus and science, they were able to think of their marriage vows as being real and measurable, and of their ordination vows as having the substance of myth. They were wed objectively to their wives, but they were only subjectively wed to the Church.
Fortunately for the bishop, he had a friend whose wisdom and tact were to supply his own want at a time when these things were needed. Not long after his election, he and his wife had been introduced to the Honorable John Stratton, the diocese' former chancellor. The two men were drawn to each other at once, and it was not long before Judge Stratton was a regular visitor in the Roberts' home. The judge was a widower, for whom the Church had taken the place of wife and companion. It was his avocation and his life, and his knowledge of its customs was both fascinating and profound. Not only did he have a remarkable memory, he had the gifted teacher's ability to choose a bit of arcane and forgotten lore, and to make it suddenly come alive with dramatic relevancy. By contrast, the bishop had only the ordinary man's willingness to believe that the present can be measured in terms of the past, and that the treasures of history provide the answers to many of the problems of the day.
The Prayer Book a help in time of need
One evening, before the fire, the bishop sounded Judge Stratton out on the matter of conformity to the Book of Common Prayer. The two were having after-dinner coffee as Maisie and the girls were doing the dishes. "I'm troubled, Judge, by the Church's neglect of the Prayer Book, and I wonder if I could use you as a sounding board -- or maybe as a shoulder."
The judge gave him a sympathetic glance, but remained silent, so the bishop continued, "It seems to me that in a time of great confusion, the Church has the only real answers there are. But it also seems to me that this confusion is reaching into our midst, and that we are being rendered impotent by intellectual sterility. The upshot is that a Church that is desperately needed by the world, and that has a marvelous opportunity, is singularly graceless." He hesitated, thinking how graceless his own words were, and then continued, "And the world sees this gracelessness and turns its back."
The judge had lighted his pipe, and was studying him through a cloud of smoke. "I'm glad you checked yourself, bishop. I thought for a moment I was going to have to defend the faith against the defender of the faith." Now it was the bishop's turn to be silent, and so the judge went on, "My rector's favorite hymn, I think, is the one with the heretical third verse, 'Rise up, 0 men of God.' He seems to think we need a shot in the arm, so we sing it once a month. I developed a violent dislike for that verse, and when the choir and congregation would sing, 'Her strength unequal to the task, Rise up and make her great,' I would try to sing them down with a line of my own, 'Her strength made equal to the task.' Then I realized that was a bit of bravado, so I began to sing, 'Rise up, 0 God of men,' and now it seems to come out all right."
The bishop chuckled, "You're right, absolutely right." He gazed into the fire, wondering whether he were not too eager to have the Church be great, and wondering whether his zeal were not impeding the Lord's own grace.
"You were speaking about the Prayer Book," reminded the judge.
"Yes, I was, but what I'm really concerned about is my clergy. The Prayer Book has the answer for their needs and for the needs of our people, but not many of them seem to appreciate this, and I don't know how to go about convincing them."
The Prayer Book a way of life
"When you say use the Prayer Book, I presume you mean follow the rule it seems to suggest, rather than merely make selections from the services in it?"
"Yes, yes, that's it. We ought to be following the rule of life it sets down for us. The schedule it requires seems to me to be the most adequate way imaginable of living biblically, and if we honor our vows we ought to be using the Prayer Book as our guide."
The bishop reflected for a moment on what he had said, and then started anew. "When I've mentioned this in clergy gatherings, some of them come back at me with the suggestion that I'm asking them to make an offering of dead works. Of course, that's nonsense, but I can't very well tell them that I think they're rationalizing their own lack of love for God and their inability to render obedience. What I would like to get across is my own conviction that the Prayer Book rule is not a work at all, but simply the response of a Church in its relationship with the living God. The Prayer Book is the Word of God set into worship, and what else can we do but use it. It's the outward and visible way of enabling the Bible to sink into our minds and hearts, so that as whole men we can give honor and glory to God."
Problems with authority and order
The bishop realized that his enthusiasm was carrying him away. He was telling the judge nothing that was new. "My difficulty is that I feel like Hamlet. I'm caught on dead center, and can't seem to get started in the strength of the Lord. I'm a sinner, and yet I have a charge to be a certain kind of shepherd. And I find that many of the shepherds who are in my charge are setting ground rules for themselves that neither my vows nor my understanding allow me to accept. And my terrible plight is that while I'm utterly opposed to driving the sheep, I have a terrible temptation to drive the shepherds."
"I know, Frank, I know." The judge was not given to familiarity; he had used the bishop's first name without thinking. "But if you're going to be a shepherd after Christ's example, you've got to have equal love for shepherds and sheep, and you've got to let them both have the freedom to make mistakes. That's what the Cross tells us. The word that means suffer also means let or allow."
This was not only wise advice, the bishop decided, but it was the only truly Christian course. If his clergy had a vocation from the Lord, it could not be less real than his was, and he knew only too well that many of them had virtues he lacked in himself -- patience, charitableness, sweetness of disposition, a desire to avoid controversy. He decided that this was the point where he would heed the Lord's words, "Be not anxious," and trust in His grace to give unity where there was no uniformity. He would follow the Prayer Book rule for himself, and suggest it only to those who sought his guidance. Meanwhile, if he devoted himself to the worship of God it could not fail to show -- both in himself and in his people.
After a year or so, the bishop decided this stance was too passive. After all, he was the bishop, and spiritual direction was supposed to be a bishop's forte. He had no intention of being the big businessman that it is all too easy for bishops to be. Yet this was the role that his clergy seemed to be casting him in. Only his staff had any kind of spiritual unity with him. They joined with him in daily matins and vespers in the tiny chapel at Church House, and they participated in the Church's feasts and fasts, and in intercessions and devotions. To be sure, the chapel congregation was larger than this; it included other employees and visitors at Church House. But on a wider scale, the clergy's rule and practice was strictly their own. Few ever consulted their bishop about their own spiritual lives or the spiritual direction of their congregations. Unlike the old days at Christ Church, none ever asked him to hear their confessions.
A Lenten letter on the spiritual life
By early '71, Bishop Roberts had the feeling that it was time to play a more active part in his clergy's spiritual leadership. While he still did not feel up to it, it was an important part of his job. He was the visible bond of their unity, and he had the obligation to see that a part of that unity was observance of the Book of Common Prayer. During Epiphanytide, the bishop sent the following letter to his clergy,
My dear brethren,
Until now I have not quite had the temerity to write to you about our common life in the Spirit. One reason is that the devotional life is, at least in part, a very private thing. Another reason is that I have been new at the job, and there have been housekeeping chores that have fallen upon my shoulders alone. These things are behind us now, and I would hope to devote the remainder of my episcopacy to the strengthening of our ties in the Spirit, in the following of Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
It is well known that the genius of Anglicanism is the setting it provides for putting faith into practice -- through the use of the Book of Common Prayer. We offer our members the opportunity of combining the only three forms of worship that have found broad acceptance in the Church. These are the Eucharist, which is the gift of God the Son, and the Office, which is the gift of the Father, and the prayer meeting or devotion, which marks the gift of the Holy Spirit to the Church.
At the same time, the Anglican ethos has found harmony in the three forms of revelation and authority which come out of the Christian tradition. One is the Holy Bible, which is rooted in God's earliest revelations of Himself. Another is the Holy Church, which is rooted in Our Lord's incarnate life. The third is Holy Reason, which operates wherever the Spirit touches.
I mention these things because in our time there has been a crumbling of all authority and an attempt to replace real authority with make-believe. Yet since God is always God -- and since these are the only forms of authority He has given -- we, as Christ's men, need not be in doubt. Even so, it is beyond question that the divine authority has, for men, been gravely shaken. Anyone who has watched Rome can see what has happened to the idea of Holy Church. And it is doubtful today how far Reason can go without reference to the past. Science is not Holy Reason, and cannot even begin to measure the dimensions of the spirit. And even the "pentecostal winds of the Spirit" must be subject to doubt and to proof.
Consequently, I am going to ask you if, during the coming Lent, you will join me in a particular emphasis upon the Daily Office, said in choir. The Bible is an unchanging instrument, and in a time such as ours it may well prove to be, for us, the one sure rock of revelation and authority in which to put our trust.
In addition to this, the Bible is a form of authority that has a unique ability to set the individual free from the Group. This is so whether the Group be the organic tribe of the Catholic Church or the mechanical tribe of the totalitarian state. It is a form of authority that a man can interpret for himself, and combined with the Office, it sets up a cult that needs no priest. Its beauty is that it makes possible an I-Thou as well as a We-Thou relationship.
During my years at Christ Church, I used the Daily Office regularly, in the way that Cranmer provided it. It gave me a frame for my day's work, and it gave the same to all who joined me in it. (And, as I recall, there were thirty who came with some regularity, and never less than three or four.) Our people knew that without fail the weekday offices were said in the church at 8 a.m. and at 5:30 p.m.; when I could not be there myself the lay people were more than glad to read it. In this way my people and I were enabled to learn the Bible far better than we could otherwise have done, and we learned it in a context of worship. The Office also turned out to be a marvelous vehicle for the innumerable intercessions that would baffle or bore an occasional congregation, but which are the heart of a remnant's work.
I might say that the Office did a great deal for me myself. It gave me an inner core of faithful parishioners, so that I seldom felt lonely or neglected. It gave me a number of people who were looking to me daily for spiritual direction, so that I could not get far off the track. And it gave me a way of bringing troubled souls to God, whom otherwise I would have been tempted to regard as merely objects for counsel. I was thus relieved of the temptation to be either a psychologist or all too significant a "means of grace."
There are two suggestions I might make out of my own experience with the Office. Always say it aloud, even if you are alone in the church. Unlike the devotion, which can be addressed silently to the Spirit within, the Office is addressed chiefly to a transcendent Father. Such a form of worship makes its own ceremonial demands. You speak aloud, as you would to any other person at a distance.
In addition, I would recommend that, whenever convenient, the Office be sung, rather than said. The sung Office has a grace that is unsurpassed, and is never better than in an unaccompanied plainsong, with the lightest possible tone.
As you know, the Office evolved during the Exile, when the Jews were separated from the Temple and its sacrifices. I can only venture a guess why it is so important to the Anglican tradition. In the Celtic Church of the second and third centuries, there are said to have been three great cors, or choir colleges, made up of what would have been the first monks in the Church. One was at Llantwit, near what is now Cardiff. The second was at Glastonbury, where Christianity came to Britain. The third was near Stonehenge, at a place called Amesbury. Each cor was made up of twenty-four hundred "saints," who made the Office their primary work. The cor was divided into watches, going 'round the clock, so that the Office was a continual act of worship. The monks had their studies and other work, and they took part in the Eucharist and in the devotions. But the choir itself never ceased to sing the praise of the Almighty God of heaven. The continuous Office was their way of joining the eternal worship of the angels.
I hope that not only during this Lent, but in the months and years to come, we can join one another in this admirable instrument for the worship of God. I feel sure you will find it, as Cranmer intended, the discipline upon which our duty and devotion is based. I think you will find it, as I have, the ideal vehicle for the hundreds of intercessions we can never quite gather together for our offering at the Eucharist. Using it, I know you can go to sleep at night, trusting God to care for those for whom you have prayed, but haven't had time to reach.
Needless to say, the Office is only one part of the edifice the Prayer Book creates for the Church's spiritual life. But we can only take one step at a time, and I hope that we can all take this step together. May God be with you through this coming Lent. May He use it to help us better serve our people.
Faithfully yours in Our Lord,
+ Frank Roberts
By the second anniversary of his ordination, it seemed evident that Frank Roberts' choices were sound ones, and that his policies were bearing fruit. Four decisions stood out above the rest -- his determination that clergy work at tasks relating to their vocation, his dividing of clergy according to function, his delegation of social action to the ministry of the laity, and his leadership in restoring the Prayer Book rule.
The laity seemed to be pleased with all these policies. They had been waiting all along for their clergy to give them once more an example of purity of purpose and simplicity of life. They liked the idea of a lay order's being able to take its place as second-among-equals in the running of the Church, and as first-among-equals in the reordering of the world. They liked efficiency in church affairs, rather than the deliberate inefficiency that involves people for the sake of involvement. They approved of a Prayer Book observance that provides a rule of law, rather than subservience to the whims of hierarchs and men.
Easing of tensions in Church and world
There was no way, of course, of knowing what the real spiritual state of the diocese might be. The policies of any leader, or of the Church itself, could hardly reflect more than the best of human wisdom. Nevertheless, there was a satisfaction and contentment among the people of the diocese, and it reflected their opinion that there had been a change for the better. Where clergy had heeded the bishop's pleas to give heed to their life in the Spirit and to become more involved with their people, there was a marked improvement in confidence and trust. Even where this was not so, things seemed to be a little better. People were beginning to come to church who had not done so for years, and pledges and receipts were beginning to show it.
To be sure, there was at the same time a semblance of improvement in the outside world. Things were going better in Vietnam, the drug scene was no longer so great a threat, and the campus revolution had already petered out. Then too, the racial confrontations were not so violent as they had been in the sixties, and the guilt that intellectuals felt for public failures was no longer such a burden. This lessening of anxiety was reflected in what was being said from the pulpit, and church people began to get once more the kinds of sermons they liked to hear.
The unheeding of grave new problems
Even now, however, there were grave issues that were beginning to compete for the churches' attention. Unfortunately, people were so preoccupied with the waning issues that they failed to take heed to the burgeoning issues, and society dealt with them hastily, without consulting the churches' conscience. Most of these had to do with the new morality, and, in their haste to keep up with the times, legislators and jurists took for granted a set of assumptions that statesmen had never made before. Thus, while people were straining at the waning gnat of Vietnam and civil rights, they swallowed the waxing camel of sexual freedom, gay liberation, abolition of censorship, trial marriage and abortion upon demand. By the time the churches got 'round to considering these new threats to the human spirit, they were already a fait accompli. The upshot was that the Church itself came under pressure to admit the new ethic and the new concept of freedom and justice. It was under an internal pressure to sweep aside its traditions and to lay itself open to new possibilities, not only of worship and discipline, but also of doctrine and order.
A few days after the '71 diocesan convention. Bishop Roberts called at the apartment of his friend and mentor. Judge Stratton was recovering from an attack of the flu, and had not been able to get to the convention. He asked how it had gone.
"Oh, well enough," the bishop replied, "People seem to have confidence in the way things are being handled, and the churches' pledges for the year are high enough so that we can take up the slack in clergy employment and provide for all of the diocesan institutions. And we have enough to meet our commitment to the national Church."
"I must say, you don't seem to be very happy about it."
"I'm not, judge, and I can't tell you why."
"Maybe it all went too easily. Maybe there was something that you wanted to happen that didn't."
"I think you've put your finger on it. You know I'm a fighter at heart and not a chairman of convention. I'm tired of games and subterfuge, and I'm even more tired of prophets who keep looking backwards and beating dead dogs. I tried to deal in my convention address with some of the issues that seem ready to break around us, but I didn't get the sense that anyone heard what I was saying."
The morality of abortion
"I understand you surrendered the chair and spoke against the resolution on abortion."
"Yes, I did. I had the deadly fear that the public mood was no longer whether abortion should be allowed for the victims of rape or incest. It now seems to be that abortion is an intrinsic right that every woman has. I wanted to say that the question of the Catholic Church vs. the legislature was not a matter of making compassionate exceptions to a general rule, but a historic Christian stance against a pagan one."
"Was that all?"
"No, I got down to more specifics than that. I said that we have no way of knowing when God puts a soul in an unborn child, but that our knowledge of genetics tells us that the entire pattern for an individual is stamped out at the moment of conception. Since this is so, we can't escape the possibility that in allowing abortion we may be allowing premeditated murder."
"Those are pretty strong words."
"More than that, it's the murder of the innocent as against the murder of the guilty. And it's the murder of our own, rather than the killing of strangers. I said that if we were compliant in the new legislation we might well have more guilt than we would in a dozen Vietnams."
"I guess you realize that wasn't a very chairmanlike thing to do, but I'm glad you spoke out that way. I'm very much bothered, as a jurist, by the claim that a woman has a right to do as she wishes with her own body. The truth is that from the moment of conception a fetus is a foreign body with rights of its own -- and rights which may well be in conflict with the mother's. These rights have to be defended by someone, and if society won't do it, it has to be the Church."
A few weeks later Bishop Roberts was approached by Dr. Gayle Stamper with an invitation to appear on a nationwide television show on the Sunday after Easter. It was to deal with the issues presented by the new morality, and would feature a round table of leaders in the churches. Two men would represent the liberal wing of the churches, and two would take the traditional point of view. Besides Bishop Roberts there would be Thomas Arundel, the Roman Catholic Bishop of Charleston, and Andrew Ball, the dynamic Presbyterian who had moved from an East Harlem mission to a key post in the National Council of Churches. The fourth panelist, it was hoped, would be Ian Matthews, the Bishop of Leeds, who would be on a lecture tour of American colleges. Bishop Roberts was surprised to be invited. He cringed at the thought of exposure in such company, but thought it ungracious to refuse.
Whether by coincidence or by design, the bishop was approached in the following week by two of his clergy, who asked for an appointment at his earliest convenience, so that they might bring in two candidates for the priesthood. The two hours they asked for seemed an unusually long interview until they began to describe their candidates. Both of them were women.
On the morning of the interview. Bishop Roberts took stock of the matter. He realized with chagrin that he had given almost no study to the ordination of women, because he had not taken it seriously. He regretted it the moment his visitors walked in the door. The clergy were both bright and informed, and their candidates were obviously women of intellect and poise -- all prepared for a weighty discussion. Father Inman's candidate was Hilda Smith, a widow who was a member of his church at Greenwich. Walter Bush's was Marjorie Heathgate, a young instructor at the Yale School of Drama, whose vocation he claimed to have uncovered as a chaplain at the University.
The bishop sat for more than an hour as his visitors made known their hopes and expectations. He asked a few questions, but ventured nothing, preferring to soak up all the ideas and impressions he could. As the discussion unfolded, he found himself glad, in a way, that he had not done his homework, for the arguments in behalf of women's ordination were being presented with a forceful cogency, and with reference to sources he could hardly have assembled for himself. Nevertheless, before the arguments were completed he knew what he should do. He knew also that it would be less than edifying to go into a lengthy explanation of the reasons for his decisions. He thought he must be hearing the finest kind of human rationality, but in responding he would have to rely upon the simple things of God. This would include his obligation as episkopos to be a defender of the undivided faith.
His visitors' presentation finally ended, and they waited for an indication of what the bishop's response might be.
"Do you ladies think you are truly called by Christ to the ministry of this Church?" Yes, they replied, they believed they were.
"And by this ministry do you mean the sacred priesthood?" Yes, they did.
"Have either of you had any kinds of signs from God that might be called objective? Have you had any visions or have you been called by voices, or have you had an angelic visitation? Has it been revealed supernaturally to anyone else that God is calling you to this office?" No, they had had no such signs, nor had anyone else. Both had a strong sense of being called by God, but it was entirely a matter of inner conviction. They deemed it a prompting of the Spirit, and desired to offer themselves for the service of the Church.
"Tell me, are you sure that what you have experienced is not an aspiration to the monastic life, rather than a calling to the priesthood? Is it not even a calling you would prefer not to respond to, but feel you must because it is objectively from God?"
Both women appeared to be nonplussed at the line the bishop was taking. He seemed to have a view of special vocation that no one had brought to their attention before. Miss Heathgate made a gesture, and the bishop waited for her to speak.
"May I ask, Bishop Roberts, whether it is common for men to have a supernatural calling as a part of their vocation. Did you, for example, have an angelic visitation when you were called to the priestly life?"
The bishop shook his head. "No, I didn't, and I think it may be a fault in our order that we have not been more insistent on something like this. I'm sure there are many men who are in the priesthood because they desired it, rather than because they were called to it. Nevertheless, this seems especially pertinent when it comes to the priesting of women. If Christ has ever called one woman, then the door is open all the way. But I would think that such a call would be attended by the kind of manifestation and the kind of confirming signs that St. Paul had when he was called to be the thirteenth apostle, and that St. Peter had when the Gentiles were being admitted to the Church. In both cases God gave a supernatural, but objectively real, direction -- a new direction -- and it was witnessed and attested to by several other people."
Authenticity the crux
As this Father Bush spoke up, "Then, bishop, does this mean that you will not accept Mrs. Smith or Miss Heathgate as postulants for the ministry"'"
"That's right, father. I feel I cannot do so at the moment, and I must wait until there are clearer signs of Christ's call to the ministry -- either in the case of these ladies or in someone else's case."
As he said this, the bishop studied his visitors' faces for some clues as to how they felt. The men's faces were passive, and even indifferent. It was as though they were testing him -- seeking to find a fault they could expose and turn against him. The women, however, were obviously undone, and he hastened to show his compassion with some further appeal to reason.
"You know, Mrs. Smith and Miss Heathgate, the world's way of looking at things has changed so much in recent years that the Church is under tremendous pressure to go the way of the world. Yet a bishop is one who, above all others, is under a burden to hold fast to the apostolic faith. One of the precepts of that faith is that worship and discipline are subject to change, but that faith and order are not. We can experiment with the liturgy, for example, but we cannot change the fact of the Incarnation or the interpretation that the fact requires. We can change our rules for fasting, but we cannot change the order that has depended entirely upon Christ's command. We have followed these doctrines and this order for two thousand years, and I have no authority to change these things even for what appear to be the best of human reasons. But when it has been made perfectly clear to me and the rest of the Church that Christ has authentically called women to the ministry, then I have no course but to obey His command. At the moment, I feel there is only one clear course. The arguments in behalf of women's ordination may be weighty, but the signs that would confirm them are simply not there."
Although he regretted his seeming intransigence, and even more the women's disappointment, the bishop was glad he had been put to the test. He had no assurance that his clergy had acted out of good motives, but he was satisfied that the women had come to him with the best of motives and intent. He had made his own decision in the matter, and he felt his reasoning and motives might satisfy the Lord when his own stewardship were brought to judgment. He also felt more ready to take part in Gayle Stamper's program and to face the reactions that were bound to come. As it happened, the papers had carried a rather full account of his remarks at the convention. And oddly enough they were to report the decision he made in camera with the two women aspirants to the sacred priesthood.
The experts air their views
When, on Low Sunday, Gayle Stamper gave instructions to his panel, it was a simple and open arrangement. Each of his four guests would be given two or three minutes to give his philosophy of the Church's ministry and the times. Then, after two more minutes of questions from the moderator, the panel would be open to questions and comments from all. Bishop Roberts led off the four, and it was quite evident, in interviewing him, that Gayle Stamper had studied his panelist.
"Bishop Roberts, you have achieved a kind of fame in the Church as being a champion of freedom and a friend of the little man. Yet at the same time, you have achieved a different kind of fame by insisting that the Church's responsibilities must be fulfilled within a circumscribed order. This makes you quite different from a traditionalist like Bishop Arundel in that you seek a simply structured Church. But you still value structure, and your clergy tell me that you are quite resistant to the mood of the times in that respect. In a society that prefers undifferentiated structures, you insist on function and differentiation. And in a Church that is in a mood for a relaxed relationship with God, you seem bent on keeping Him at a distance." Gayle Stamper looked intently at the bishop, in anticipation of an answer.
"That's right, Dr. Stamper, you seem to have me in the proper pigeonhole. Yet while I know it's old fashioned, I think the Church is more true to its Lord when its mood is contrary to the world's than when it's in agreement. This is one of the reasons I have opposed any direct intervention by the Church in the field of poverty and civil rights. If there's anything the Church is not called to be, its the ecclesiastical arm of the welfare state."
"I suppose you are thinking of Sweden."
"Exactly. And the same thing applies in my desire to emphasize the transcendence, as against the immanence, of God. God is both transcendent and immanent, as we know, but we do ourselves a great deal of harm when we exaggerate the one and underdo the other. One of the biggest shortcomings in the Church today is our insistence on being buddies with God. We're so much a cult of familiarity with one another that we miss out on the mystery and the awe and the majesty and the glory of the divine personality. We've almost lost the idea of holiness, and it's no wonder our children are looking for transcendence in drugs and sex and yoga and Zen. They are proving in their own lives what Arnold Toynbee meant when he said that familiarity is the opiate of the imagination."
"That's very interesting, bishop, and I'm sure we'll get back to that later. Now tell about your ideas on structure, and why you oppose the breaking down of historic functions."
"Again I must ask your indulgence for being a traditionalist. I simply feel it's necessary to point out that some forms are simply there, at a time when it's popular to make every person and every thing equal to every other. That is to say, there are some forms that simply can't be destroyed.
"You know, one of Toynbee's key ideas is that a disintegrating culture is a leveling one. The sagging culture wipes out all the things that have distinguished individuals at a time when the culture was strong. It does not have the psychic power to accept differentiation, and it regards it as an injustice. Toynbee cites as a parable the story of Penelope from the Odyssey. Every day, as she is weaving at her loom, she creates a different and beautiful pattern. But at night, when she unravels her work, it's pure monotony. There's only one way to undo her work."
"That also is an interesting point. You think we are in a period of decline and you would like to resist the tide. But does one really resist a tide by sticking to forms that seem to have no meaning?"
"No, not if they really have no meaning. But as I see it, and as many other people see it, these forms have a great deal of meaning. And I feel further that when we throw away the forms that are most compatible to our use, we intensify the decline. To use an example, there was a great deal of sense in the Englishman's wearing a dinner jacket in the midst of the tropical jungle. It was only when he was willing to be different from those around him that his presence was really relevant. Not only Toynbee says this. Teilhard de Chardin says it too. One of his most exciting ideas is that the thrust of upward evolution is always marked by complexity and differentiation. He joins with Toynbee, I think, in saying that only when we have lost our conviction and our zest for life do we allow things to lose their distinction."
"Is this what lies behind your decision on the ordination of women? I understand that you have recently turned down a couple who have applied for holy orders."
"Only partly, Dr. Stamper. There's a simpler reason, and I'd rather stick to that reason as long as it makes sense. As you may know, we have a considerable surplus of men in the ministry. This has been a problem for several years, and it will trouble the Church for some time to come. With this in mind, I find it hard to take seriously the ordaining of women. I simply can't believe that Christ would call women to the priesthood when He has more men than He needs."
As Bishop Roberts said this, the other panelists' eyebrows shot up and a gasp of laughter burst from the studio audience. Such a simple idea and yet profound! Yet while he felt he had won a point, the bishop was instantly stricken with remorse. He had, for a moment, confounded those he felt were set against the traditional path, but he knew he had also embarrassed them. He was unusually silent through the rest of the show, and at the end was not sure he had made any significant contribution.
Regret for putting on an act
As he drove to his home in Connecticut, Bishop Roberts was still kicking himself. He felt he had won a telling point, but it was too pat, too glib. Yet he felt it was true. There was indeed a law of divine parsimony, and since God Himself observed it, it ought to be observed by man. He felt sure that, coming at the time when it did, the call for ordination of women was an imperative of the secular mind-set, rather than a calling of God. There was another reason for regret. Although he had used theological terms he had neglected both Theos and Logos. Instead he had bowed to the intellectuals' gods in referring to Toynbee and Teilhard. He kicked himself once more. Why refer to the wise men when it's sufficient to speak of Christ alone? In his eagerness to impress his intellectual opponents, Frank Roberts had nearly betrayed the best friend he had. It was Jesus Christ, whose Lordship was unimaginably transcendent, and yet who was as close as a friend could be and as intimate as his breath.
XI. The Touch of Pain and Death
His brief flirtation with the press and television proved to be one of the best things that happened to the bishop. He had few of the things that create an arresting personality -- especially for a public career. He had neither looks nor charm nor wit, nor any of the artifices that are used to capture and hold attention. Aside from being bishop of a metropolitical slice, his chief claim to fame was his willingness to be himself. Having this kind of outlook, he could hardly keep up a courtship with the media. So he decided to concentrate on worship and pastoral care, and to attend to the vineyard the Lord had given him. He told himself that his motto must be the one that John the Baptist had applied in his relationship to Christ, "He must increase but I must decrease."
It turned out to be the wisest decision Frank Roberts made in the course of his episcopate, even though no one knew about it but himself. From that point on he tried carefully not to do anything for effect. He studiously avoided any attention to a public image, either for the ministry or for the Church. It would only make him self-conscious, and it was a dreadful waste of time. Besides this, he was trying to build neither an organization nor a career. He was only charged with being a pastor to some thousands of Christians, and to keep the Cross implanted on a particular bit of soil.
It did not take the clergy long to sense the change. The bishop's larger awareness of his limitations brought a bit of humility, and for the first time it seemed possible that he was a bishop to all his clergy. He gave more time than ever before to his daily meditations and to an examination of the motives for what he thought and did. He tried to look unjudgingly at others and see them simply as people who, like himself, were in need of Jesus Christ.
Church and bishop meet the Spirit
In the spring and summer of '72 some remarkable things happened within the diocese. In the space of a few weeks, there were five occasions when the Spirit manifested Himself. Two of these manifestations took place during healing services. Two of them happened at an ecumenical preaching mission in one particular town. One manifestation took place in a congregation at evensong at one of the communes. No one had any idea as to how it had happened or when it might happen again, but the response to the Spirit was the same in every case. Those who were touched by Him were filled with Him, and were given a joy and a thankfulness they could not and would not contain. Like the disciples of old they went into the streets proclaiming the wonderful works of God.
On the feast of the Transfiguration, Bishop Roberts stopped in at that particular commune. He had heard of the Spirit's epiphany, and he wanted to see for himself. It was late in the afternoon, after a noonday service at the cathedral and visits with two of his priests. The clock was tolling six as the bishop climbed the steps of St. Matthew's Church, hoping he had the right hour.
Inside, the vicar was gathered with his congregation, and the service had already begun. Rather than interrupt it, the bishop took his place in the back of the nave. The office was done without accompaniment, and the versicles and responses were so sweetly rendered to the glory of God that the bishop felt like the publican in the back of the temple. He thanked the Lord for the young people who had thus chosen to give their lives, and who in this service came for the living water that would enrich their ministry to the poor. When the collects were over, the vicar continued with the intercessions, and the bishop could not contain his tears at their prayer, "Send down upon our Bishops and other Clergy, and especially upon thy servant Frank . . . the healthful Spirit of thy grace; and, that they may truly please thee, pour upon them the continual dew of thy blessing." Frank Roberts felt himself swept up into the love of God while perceiving that not only he, but all creation, was gathered in that love. When the office ended and the choir came out to meet him, they found their bishop in an ecstasy of the spirit, praising the Lord with a new tongue and in words that were holy beyond all meaning.
At Embertide, Bishop Roberts returned to St. Matthew's to attend the ordination of a young man he had met there, and accompanied by his wife. Juan Valdez was an Ecuadorean, and it was largely through his energetic participation and that of his family that the commune had been a success. The ordination took place in a nearby Roman Catholic church, followed by a reception in St. Matthew's parish hall.
Late in the evening, as the bishop and his wife were driving home, they talked about the event to which they had been. They talked of the prospects for the Latin people they had met, and wondered how God might be using the communes for the incoming of His Kingdom. Returning to the Latin-Americans, Maisie remarked, "Those young people are so thoughtful and polite, especially the Spanish-speaking ones. Why do you suppose that is, Frank? Do they get better training in their homes?"
A brush with disaster
The bishop did not get a chance to reply. Weeks of dry weather had ended with a brief downpour, and the road was slick and high crowned. Just as they reached the curve at Hardcastle Hill, a car roared toward them from out of sight and struck them. It was only a glancing blow, for the bishop had swerved when he saw the car approaching in the wrong lane. But the Roberts' car was thrown over the bank while the other swept past without stopping. They rolled and fell some forty yards, and came to rest in the creek bed below.
It was not until daylight that searchers found the bishop and his wife. The agonies they had suffered had been relieved by long periods of unconsciousness, and they were thankful to be found alive. The bishop had suffered multiple fractures -- of both legs, the pelvis and his right upper arm. Maisie had broken her back.
During the first few hours in the hospital there were grave doubts, not only for the mobility, but for the life of husband and wife. However, these were soon put to rest. Maisie bad suffered little, if any, damage to the nerve tissue in the spine, and the bishop rallied from the state of shock in which he had been found. It would be months before they would be completely recovered -- months that would require hospital care and nursing homes. Fortunately, after a couple of weeks in private rooms, they were granted a privilege that hospitals seldom allow -- a room where they could be together.
During the weeks the followed, the Robertses found it to be true that a well loved clergy couple are never allowed to be alone. They had visits or cards from friends they hadn't heard from for years. They received gifts to the point of embarrassment. Every morning, on a rota, a different one of the clergy brought them the Sacrament and prayed for them, giving them an anointing or the laying on of hands. And happily, the children were able to visit with them, and spend a part of the evening. At first it had seemed that Marian, the oldest, would have to take a year off from college to take care of the others. But that was settled when Maisie's parents shuttered up their house and moved back east for the year.
Two or three times a week John Stratton came to visit, and when the bishop was finally limber enough, they talked on for hours. Maisie, who was never comfortable in analyzing her religion, would use the time for sleep. But finally she got caught up in their discussions -- although not without protest. Her husband Frank, she firmly believed, was a spiritual descendent of the gnostics. He was like a small boy, who after dissecting watches must do the same to frogs, to find what makes them tick. The second time Maisie expressed this opinion. Judge Stratton rose to his friend's defense.
"But Maisie, I hope you'll note one difference between your husband and the gnostics. Two, as a matter of fact. One is that he doesn't reduce God's revelation to the dimensions of his own mind. Marcion, for example, was so hipped on the idea of love as against Law, that he and his followers threw out all of the Bible excepting some of St. Paul's epistles and an expurgated version of St. Luke. I know Frank Roberts well enough to know that he accepts God's authority wherever it can be found."
"All right, judge, I'll accept that," said Maisie, with a sidelong look at her husband. "What's the other difference?"
"The other is that the gnostics substituted systems of thought for the faith and even for the facts of the Gospel. Your husband doesn't do that at all. He accepts, thank God, the facts of revelation, and he accepts the interpretations the Church has given them. What he does do -- and this is what you seem to dislike -- is to try to analyze the systems of thought that are set up against the Gospel or against the Catholic tradition, and to reconstruct those systems so that they can be turned to the support of the things the Church has always believed."
Maisie's impatience suggested to the judge that she had known this all along, "All right, but isn't that gnostic? Our Lord was willing to allow people to condemn themselves with their own judgment. Why can't Frank Roberts?" Both men were silent at this bit of feminine intuition, until the bishop made the lame excuse that he was still a fighter and still a salesman. Like St. Paul, he had to be all things to all men, in order to help save a few. He had to help men to see how flimsy their mental constructs were, so that they would abandon these things and reach out for God in Christ. Maisie was not satisfied with this. To her the whole idea of rationale was foolishness and a waste of time.
The weeks in the hospital extended themselves longer than had at first been thought necessary. Maisie was having a good deal of pain, and instead of being released before her husband, it seemed possible that her healing might be even longer. With the bishop the delay was simply the complication of multiple fractures. Once his recovery had become a matter of manipulative therapy, he could be moved to a convalescent home.
Recovery of desire
Being unable either to read or to write, but feeling progressively stronger, the bishop spent hours each day thinking and talking about the tensions that were tearing at the Church. He talked with Maisie when she was awake, and with his frequent visitors, the clergy. Sometimes he would have one of them read to him -- history, sociology, commentary on the current scene -- it made no difference what. Frank Roberts was looking for some answers, but he wanted even more to find what the questions were. Every afternoon, however, ended with the evening office, and with an explication of the Bible passages from husband or wife, and with silent common prayer.
Once, when the judge had come for a visit, the bishop fired a question. The judge was startled, for they had hardly exchanged a word of greeting, and he had not yet sat down. But even as the bishop repeated it, the judge realized why. Maisie was asleep, it was near the visiting hour, and Frank Roberts was eager to put to good use the few minutes they would have to themselves.
"What do you see as the issues that lie behind the problems the Church is facing?" The bishop had repeated his question. "I have a particular reason for asking you this, and I hope you can give me an answer before anyone comes in the room."
The judge sat with his eyes closed for some time. To his credit, the bishop didn't try to rush him. Instead, he joined the judge in a bit of parallel thought.
The issue of authority
"As I see it, bishop, there are several issues, although I'm having a bit of difficulty in separating the issues from the problems. One is the matter of revelation and authority; I've spoken about that one so much that what I say is pretty cut and dried. But it may give you a direction for thought.
"To begin with, there are only three sources of divine revelation. I've mentioned them to you before -- Bible, Church and Reason. These are the ways God has revealed or is now revealing Himself, and to the degree they are authentic revelations they can only be our ultimate authority. Two of these forms of authority, you will note, refer to the past, and those who accept their authority are what we call traditionalists. These people may interpret that authority for the present, but the authority itself is a revelation that God made in the past.
"On the other hand, Holy Reason is a faculty that is given men in the present. It is God revealing Himself right now. It's a form of authority that has to be associated with the Holy Spirit, since both Father and Son are associated with past revelation, and since neither can be considered as immanent. (The Father is in heaven and the Son is seated at His right hand.)
"The difficulty for me is that Reason is the most corruptible of the three forms of authority, and that there is a disposition today to make reasoning man, rather than God, the measure of all things. The idea behind situation ethics, for example, is that man is the measure of right and wrong.
"If I can refer to two schools of Christians who look chiefly to the Holy Spirit and His revelation, I will cite the pentecostals and the liberals. There's a great difference between the two. Your liberals refer to Reason as only that. They see nothing supernatural about the revelation of God the Spirit. Their way of defining His revelation, I think, is chiefly consensus among themselves. (Again, man as the measure of things, but this time it's men imputing their unity to God.) By contrast, the pentecostals see the Spirit's present revelation in purely supernatural terms. They look to tongues, miracles, prophecy, interpretation of tongues, and they measure these things by the past revelation of the Bible. In other words, while they are experiencing God in the present, they are still traditionalists, and they look to God as the measure of things.
"There's one thing I feel strongly about in making these distinctions. I myself am a traditionalist. Even accepting the fallibility of the Church and the Bible, it's not possible to be a Christian and to discount their authority or their relevancy very far. They must always be a revelation of God's person and of His actions. God is not only Three, but One, and if we deny the authority or the relevancy of the past we are, in effect, making the Spirit deny the Father and the Son. If I know God-or even if I really know man-I have got to presume that the Spirit is not telling us something new about God, but is Himself witnessing anew to the Father and the Son."
"I like that, judge," the bishop replied. "I'm not sure I can see, from what you've said, what the issues are, but you give a very good description of the situation. And it seems to me you're saying that even as we hold God to be Three in One, we've got to accept the sources of revelation and authority as being one in three."
"Exactly, and one of the weaknesses in the Church for the past thousand years has been that we've had great segments of the Church that have taken one for three. The Catholics have hewed to Holy Church and the Protestants have hewed to Holy Bible and now the liberals of both sides are hewing to Holy Reason. It's like the three blind men who could only measure the elephant by what they could sense-the trunk and the leg and the tail."
The consequents of schism
Here the bishop began to speak, but deferred as the judge rounded out an idea. "This is a situation that would be comical or odd if it were not something that had cost man so dearly. We feel bad today about disunity in the Church, and we are knocking ourselves out trying to create a man of straw that says the Church is one. But the real casualty in the situation has been man himself-not the Church. Man has grown up in the distorted image of God because he was only able to see and feel one person in the Godhead." The judge paused for a moment as his hearer pondered the point, and then resumed, "You can see this in our own church; there have been three entirely different sets of Anglicans for as far back as the Reformation-the high church and the low church and the broad church. The high churchmen put their trust in Holy Church, the low churchmen put their trust in Holy Bible, and the broad churchmen put their trust in Holy Reason. All these forms of authority pointed to one God, but the churchmen were so unlike one another it's a wonder they stayed together."
The judge had ended his chain of thought, so the bishop spoke up, "I wish I had a tape recording of what you've just said, because it's exactly the thing I'd like to have you deal with at next spring's clergy conference. You know me, I'm strong for defining the issues, hoping that when we can see them we can see that each point of view is a part of the whole. My feeling is that when we can see that, we'll be willing to look at the whole. Or, if we can't orient our minds that way, we can at least say to ourselves, 'The whole is greater than the part, and is the sum of the parts, and we just happen to like this part better than the other parts.' "
The judge remained silent, so the bishop continued in another vein, "I wish I could see things clearly enough to be sure of what I was going to say, but I must confess that in what you've said I think I see the picture. But what about the issue? Have you been talking about the issue of authority, or the projection of personal properties, or the nature of God himself?"
The judge gave a self-effacing laugh, "I don't know, bishop. If my mind were a little clearer, perhaps I could tell you. I think the issue I've been dealing with is that of authority, but the way I've always thought of it, an issue gives you two sets of options and here I've given you three."
The bishop twisted his body to get into a more comfortable position, and looked apprehensively at his sleeping wife as she gave a little moan. When he was sure she was still asleep, he resumed, in a lower voice.
"One thing you've confined yourself to is the nature of authority as it emanates from God and as it touches the Church. What do you think of the traditionalist-modernist tension as it touches our social and political problems?"
The judge was so deep in thought that he appeared not to have heard the question, so the bishop took advantage of the silence. "The reason I've asked, as I mentioned, is that I was hoping you could be the key speaker at our three-day conference. I thought you could define the issues, and that we could then discuss them. But maybe it would be more meaningful to the clergy if you gave the kind of picture you've just given me-one that I think is remarkable in having clarity in details and comprehensiveness in the whole picture-and then leave it up to the clergy to sort out and define the issues. That sort of thing, I think, would be more in keeping with the way things are being done. You could give two or three talks along the lines of what you have done, and then the clergy could break up into discussion groups, with a charge to isolate the issues and to put them back together in a pattern."
"That's fine, fine." The judge was speaking absent-mindedly, and the bishop realized he was ahead of himself. "I'm sorry, judge, I asked you a question and then choked off the answer."
The judge looked up gratefully, "I'm ready with an answer. Would you like to hear it?"
"Yes." Both men were smiling at this point, at themselves and at each other.
Liberal vs. traditional view of man
"All right. Let me give the setting of the two-way stretch between liberals and traditionalists, as I see it in the political and social scene. The difference, I think, is one of points of view about the reality of sin and the purpose of institutions. The liberal -- both in the political and in the religious sense -- thinks of man as essentially good. He does not think of man or of creation as made imperfect by sin. Therefore he thinks that left to his own devices, man will gradually improve. Your traditionalist, by contrast, sees human nature as frail, and he sees all human thought and activity as corrupted by sin, so that only by the grace of God can man even be himself."
The judge interrupted himself, and reverted for a moment to the pedagogue he had once been, "Now keep this in mind, here are two different ways of looking at man. The one says that left alone, man can be himself. The other says that left alone, everything will go wrong, and that God must step in and help. Having these differing views, the two have a very different idea of the nature and use of institutions. Like the Church, for example. The traditionalist says that the Church has the task of helping man to correct his faults, so that he can become a perfect man. The liberal says that the Church can only do harm to man if it tries to correct him, so that it must therefore correct his society. And here's where the tension lies today. The liberals are in the driver's seat -- among the clergy, at least. They see no point in the Church's mediating grace to man, so they try to use it to mediate grace to the society. And the traditionalists are put in a precarious spot. High churchmen and low churchmen find themselves, for the first time, thrown together in a common cause, and while they haven't learned how to respect the other's forms of worship or authority, they distrust the liberals even more. And both are outraged because the liberals are not only in command, but because they have seemingly chucked out the whole possibility of supernatural reality. Whatever they can't see or explain they've decided is only myth."
At this point, Maisie stirred and woke. She greeted the judge, and the two men inquired how she felt. "Fine," she said. Her response was as automatic as a child's, and they knew she couldn't mean it. After a few moments the judge excused himself and left.
The facing of death
A few minutes later, two physicians entered the room and stood at the foot of Maisie's bed. One was Maisie's doctor and the other was unknown to both. "Bishop and Mrs. Roberts," Dr. McCausland said, "this is Dr. Cuthbertson, who is the hospital's pathologist." The two waved a greeting to the latter, who bowed in return. "Dr. Cuthbertson has some bad news for us. Maisie, the tests show you have a carcinoma that's enveloped both vertebrae." He stopped and turned to the pathologist, as if to seek his help, "It's developed so quickly we think it must have been there when you had your accident."
The bishop and his wife were stunned, shrinking within themselves. Maisie was the first to speak, "Are you sure? Is there any chance you might be wrong?"
Dr. Cuthbertson shook his head. "None at all. We checked the tests several times, and there's no doubt at all."
The Robertses were speechless, and each stared, wide eyed but impassive, into space. Dr. McCausland added, "I must also tell you that it's inoperable. That doesn't mean it's hopeless, but it means we're limited to radiation and chemical therapy."
"But that amounts almost to a death sentence, doesn't it, doctor?"
"No, not really, Mrs. Roberts, but it's very serious, and we'll have to begin our treatment as soon as we can. There's one thing you can do -- hope and pray."
The two patients looked at him mutely, nodding their heads. The doctor felt his way, "I'm no expert on this, but I know you two believe in the power of prayer. This is a good time, I guess, to put your belief to work."
The two nodded. Their faces were drawn.
"I'll have the nurse give you a shot, Mrs. Roberts, and Bishop, maybe you'd let me give you a sleeping pill. I'll be in with some of my associates the first thing in the morning."
The two physicians left silently. The Robertses looked at one another in an agony of fear and suspense. At length, Maisie's face began to work, and she burst into sobs. The bishop reached out to take her hand but could not find it. She had covered her face with both of her hands.
When the nurse had administered their medicines and had given Maisie a shot for pain, Frank turned again to his wife. She was silent and remote. How ironic, he thought, I have prayed for others in this spot a hundred times, and now I feel unable to pray. It's not that I don't believe. It's just that I have to see my way through a fear I've never known before. "Lord, help me," he prayed. "Give healing to Maisie and help me to be a priest to her."
The bishop glanced at his wife, to see if she were asleep. She was looking at him, and spoke as he turned, "Frank, the doctor was right. We've got to pray as we've never prayed before, but I think we've also got to relax a little and depend on the prayers of our friends."
XII. A Renewal of Life
Frank Roberts was not able to leave the hospital until after Thanksgiving. It was well past Christmas when he finally left the rehabilitation center and went home. During that fall and winter he had found, in his agony of spirit, that for the first time since childhood he had to be consciously dependent upon others. Although he had always been a "catholic minded" man, his personal creed had been the puritan one of self-sufficiency. This was by no means a lonely one, nor did it reduce his helpfulness to others. But it had reflected his desire to have a sufficient community with God, and suddenly he had found himself unable to sustain that faith. He needed the sympathy and the strength of his friends, and he found himself asking for their prayers. Curiously, this came about without any change of heart. He simply had had a spiritual enlargement. He could see that Maisie had been right all along when she insisted there are times when it's better for a Christian to receive than to give.
As he packed his bag for the clergy conference, the bishop reflected that Maisie had been more a priest to him than he ever had to her. Ever a woman, and ever under an obligation to put family ahead of church, she had been to him an alter-Christus -- a rock upon whom he could depend. If he had any common sense at all, it was because of this salty Christian with whom he had shared his lot. She came to the door to kiss him goodbye and to greet Judge Stratton, who had come to pick him up. Never, he thought, had he seen her more radiant. She too had touched the garment's hem and was filled with the Spirit -- manifesting in herself the wonderful works of God.
As the bishop had hoped. Judge Stratton proved to be a great hit at the clergy conference. For one thing, the setting was right. The place was an old hill farm on the Taconic range, newly converted to a diocesan center. There was sparkling June weather, and the clergy were glad to see their bishop again and to be with one another. After a year of shepherding their flocks, and with little activity in the diocese excepting prayers for him and for Maisie, they were eager to renew their personal ties and to enjoy one another's company.
Fruits of prayer and respect
Gratifyingly enough, the bishop's insistence upon historical and objective standards had had a pronounced effect upon his clergy. They had begun to realize their need for a leader who could be a rock at a time when so many others bent with every wind that blew. The clergy, of course, did not agree with him in many points at issue, nor did they agree with one another. But they knew where he stood and they respected him for his devotion and singleness of purpose. They respected him for the fact that he took pains to be a bishop to those who were mentally in opposition. As a result, they were willing to look at Church and world in broad terms, instead of being preoccupied with the fads of the moment, which happened to be liturgical reform and the priesting of women. They were ready for the perspectives that could be drawn by a man like Judge Stratton.
In his keynote talks, the judge spoke of some studies he had never made before. Until that winter, he had never tied in what he knew of history and theology with the possibilities of a Christian sociology. As a result of reading and reflection, and as a result of long discussions with the bishop, he had found new insights upon which he based his talks. In describing his theme, the judge stressed the need for a long term view of church and society, and at the same time a willingness to live from day to day. There was need for the kind of trust in God that is given by members of Alcoholics Anonymous, where men cannot dare to be concerned for the future. And there was need for a suprahistorical understanding that can offer divine perspectives to a world whose cultures are ever open to destruction and decay.
Before beginning, the judge warned that his talks would be closely reasoned and involved. His hearers would have to pay careful attention, and it would be some time before they could see the light at the other end of the tunnel. If they could bear with his method and follow his reasoning, however, he hoped to give them some new perspectives on the current social process and some insights into the trouble brewing in the churches. He hoped also to give some insights into the social and psychological basis for liturgical reform.
Involvement in a historic cycle
In his Thursday night address, Judge Stratton described the social-historical cycle that had, for three thousand years, affected the western world. In that time man's view of self had moved from a tribal to an individual to a universal identity, and in the process the West had experienced a double dose of rise and decline. The Greek and Roman cultures had barely begun when trade and travel brought a sufficient complexity of relationships for the individual to see himself as different from others and therefore as quite unique. The knowledge of that individuality and the experience of his new-found freedom was what had fostered the artistic explosion of the Golden Age.
At length, however, an overdose of complexity had led to cultural confusion. This had caused the individual to decline in power, and it led to the homogenizing of what earlier had distinguished one man from another. In the process, man lost the power to control himself and to have any significant influence on his world. The democracy that had begun to develop when the tribal chief was replaced by the king had finally petered out to the point where the constitutional leader had to be replaced by the tyrant.
Twice this kind of thing had happened in the West. The Greco-Roman culture had blossomed when an individual view of man had replaced a tribal view some eight centuries before Christ. It had already lost much of its spiritual and psychic power by the time that Christ was born. The stern morality and the individuality of the earlier times had been lost, and men had surrendered both character and livelihood to the imperatives of a unifying but totalitarian culture. Because of technical competence, the Empire had had more brute power than the Republic that had preceded it. But men had lost their individual power, and the group could not make up the difference. The culture had to decline.
With the modern world, Judge Stratton explained, it was the same thing, although the perspectives of the moment could not give a sure clue as to where we stood in the way of cultural decline. But the historical picture was the same. The West had been reborn because the Church had been willing to disengage from a dying world and to carry within it the seeds of life. When circumstances allowed, man's individuality had once again been born out of tribalism, and once again there had been a flowering of art, literature and invention. As complexity had turned to confusion, however, the West had gone into a tailspin once more. Like the Greeks and Romans before him, western man had gone through an identity crisis that was manifested in the dismal -- in art, manners and dress, and in a century of insensate wars. Because he no longer had the power to stand alone, western man was also surrendering to a universal tribalism that could no more fill the spiritual vacuum than the Roman Empire had.
Faith and practice affected by the worldly mold
Up to this point, Judge Stratton's hearers were polite, but somewhat bored. He had only told them what they already knew, even if they had not linked the past and the present together in such a way as this. It was not until his talks on Friday that they began to see how his perspectives involved the Church. As the judge described it, the era of individualism was not one of rampant self-interest, but rather was one in which man's ultimate properties -- freedom and responsibility -- had belonged to the individual instead of being reserved to the tribe. The Reformation had sanctified a private relationship with God, and it seemed to make it possible for man to be free and accountable in himself. But it was not until Judge Stratton showed how the era of individualism had preceded the Reformation by several hundred years, that the clergy realized that he was offering them something new. (Up until now, all the sociologists and psychologists they had been reading had described individualism as a undesirable phenomenon that had resulted from the Reformation.) Judge Stratton was making his hearers appreciate that Western man had not only been shaped by the Church; he had created churches that took the form of the shapes he had acquired.
It was very clear that the Roman Church had -- until Vatican II, at least -- held a tribal view of man. With Rome, authority was both a traditional and an objective thing, and it was something, therefore, that the individual could not bend to his own interpretation. Both of these things belonged to the cult, and so the individual never quite developed the capacity to make a break with the tribe. Rome's tribalism, moreover, was sustained not only by its authority and its doctrine, but also by its worship. The Mass was a rite that both showed and created togetherness.
Against the tribal view that was held by the medieval Church was a view that began to develop when the Crusades reopened the West to trade and travel. The Renaissance was its expression, but the real Golden Age for modern man was the thirteenth century, when so much of man's new psychic power was thrown into the building of cathedrals and churches to the glory of God. Citing Erich Fromm's thesis that individualism was an outgrowth of Protestant doctrine, and citing Marshall McLuhan's belief that it came from the invention of printing, Judge Stratton showed how these things had only intensified an individualism that man had already had for some hundreds of years. When Luther had faced the tribe by himself at the Diet of Worms, the judge contended, he was standing on an individualism that was already well advanced. John Calvin was sanctifying what already was when he enunciated his doctrine of predestination. In Calvin's view, the individual could well be allowed to go free from the tribe because he was not really free, and so could be depended on to keep his shape. By contrast, Rome had always put severe limits on the individual's freedom because it was all too aware of how free he really was.
Reformers' uses of authority and worship
A further development of John Stratton's thought was the way the reformers had used the Christian faith and practice to develop the individual man. Replacing the authority of the Church with that of the Bible meant that the man who had the capacity for faith need no longer hold a cultic or a tribal view of himself. His family Bible and his own ability to read and interpret it were sufficient for his needs. At the same time, the substitution of the Office for the Mass intensified the renaissance of the individual man. The Mass emphasized the fact that man was a member rather than an entity in himself. It had also to be celebrated by a priest; therefore the Catholic could not get away from the tribe. By contrast, the Office could be said within the family or it could be said alone, performed by lay people. The one service made the laity an inferior order, because it made them dependent upon the clergy. The other service required no such dependency, and so it made them equal.
This was an eye-opener for the clergy of the Holy Slice; it made them aware for the first time of what really might be happening within the present. Because history had been discounted for them, both Church and Bible had lost a great deal of their authority. And because they had already been in the process of developing a universal and neo-tribal view of man, they might be under a compulsion to seize those forms of authority and worship that would accent their new identity -- regardless of the value it had. It seemed quite evident that the authority for such an identity-form had to be Holy Reason. Nothing else would do. Moreover, it had to be Holy Reason as it was understood and described by the liberals -- and not by the pentecostals.
Prayer Book reform a psychic compulsion
When on Friday evening Judge Stratton began to show the unconscious impulse for liturgical reform, all the pieces began to fit together. Modern man was hell-bent for changing the shapes of his liturgy, not so much because the liturgy needed changing, as because it was something he simply had to do. He had to do it in order to express his freedom from the past, and he had to do it in order to force traditionalists into his shape. For the latter, liturgical reform became a simple kind of brainwashing, and if contemporary churchmen could, by political manipulation, get both liturgies and doctrine changed, the entire body of the Church would quickly adapt to the universal shape of identity.
From this point Judge Stratton's talks became a cautionary theme. Both the historical and the social perspectives had been brought down to the present. It was now not a matter of describing the historical process, but of showing the lessons it had for man in his current choices. The judge not only showed how hazardous was the leap from a tribal to a neo-tribal view. He showed how the latter required the suppression of the individual as well as of the ethnic tribe. The Little Pink Book that the Church had been using for several years seemed to have the effect of suppressing both of the earlier forms of life. The new liturgies, regardless of their details, encouraged a total(itarian) togetherness. The ministers at the altar were already making certain that everyone present received the Bread of Life. And so intent were they in making their communication a moment of "personal interaction" that the Bread was only incidental to the exchange. The Loaf and the Crumbs were, more and more, being left on the altar to be thrown out by the cleaning detail.
The Little Pink Book's suppression of an individual shape was no less a danger, said Judge Stratton. The Office had been emasculated, to a degree it could hardly leave any distinct imprint upon the Christian worshipper. Certainly it could have no effect comparable to its use in Babylon or Geneva. The chief fault in the Little Pink Book was that it omitted a lectionary. There was now no ordered frame for the reading of the Bible. The devotee was now quite free to pick and choose, and the Bible could hardly speak objectively to him, or ever really become his daily fare. So the individual, like the tribal Christian, was to go down the drain, and to be replaced with an amorphous believer who would all too easily walk in lock-step with the parade of civilization's decline.
Apologizing for the fears that might appear to some as fantasies, Judge Stratton made the last point in his talks. It was now Saturday morning, and the conference would end at the close of the afternoon. The judge expressed the view that if modernists in the Church were to be true to the Spirit of Change, they would try to express themselves by using the same form of worship as the pentecostals did -- and not put the Eucharist to a use for which it was never intended and for which it can be dangerous. He proposed that the liberal wing of the Church use the pentecostals' prayer meeting as the basis for their experimentation. Like Holy Reason, it is quite spontaneous, and unlike the Eucharist and the Office, it is utterly formless.
The clergy were intrigued with Judge Stratton's ideas. He had shed new light on almost all they believed and on almost all they were doing. What he had made clear in his scholarly way was that liturgical change could not be justified on grounds that liturgies were outdated, but that it was a matter of psychic compulsion for those who cannot identify with the past. Perceiving this, his hearers were able to deal honestly with the matter for the first time, as a part of the cultural process. The contest was no longer one between "progressives" and "reactionaries," but between people with different sets of identity-patterns -- each under a compulsion to preserve that pattern. This meant that the clergy's chief concern must not be the content of liturgical change, but rather the protection of those who were caught in the cross fire. First of all, their concern had to be pastoral.
In closing, Judge Stratton told of an ancient Welsh triad, which was said to have been written for second century Celtic Christians. There were three things, it said, that required the unanimous vote of the nation. One was the dethroning of the sovereign. One was the suspension of law. The third was the introduction of novelties into religion. This was an interesting viewpoint, said the judge, in light of the wider catholic principle that doctrine and order were unchangeable, but that discipline and worship were variables. It suggested the practical understanding that it is all too hard to tell where one of these things leaves off and where the other begins. In the triad, the Celts were showing an intuition that, for all the sweet talk, changes in worship can only have the effect of changing the people themselves -- and not necessarily in the direction of holiness. This was where common sense came in. Traditionalists didn't want to be brainwashed -- not even in the subtlest fashion. Socially, at least, they wanted to remain themselves.
The bishop's addendum
When Bishop Roberts stood before his clergy in the closing session on Saturday afternoon, he gave his thanks to Judge Stratton and his thanks to God for all that had gone on. He was on as the closing speaker, but he had only a few thoughts of his own.
"It has been my intent to let you get away without anything more than a word of thanks and a blessing. Judge Stratton has a scholarship and a lucidity that I can never have. But some wonderful things have happened to me in the past few months, and both then and now I have had a few insights that tie some things together. At least, they do so for me, and perhaps they will for you.
"As you must know, my wife Maisie received a wonderful miracle of healing during the past winter. We were at the point where we were wondering whether we should not surrender her to God without any further claim upon Him for healing. Some of my friends urged this on me, but I just couldn't do it. I knew that Maisie wanted to get well, and I couldn't abandon her to pray for this alone. So we kept on, and asked our friends to pray for healing.
"Just at this point Father McGrath came to me, and brought a layman who had discovered in himself a marvelous gift of healing. It was Jim Bridgman of Salem Center, whom I had met before and whom some of you may know. Father McGrath had never been to a healing service in his life, but he believed in miracles, and he wanted to bring together some people of faith. When the two came in and prayed with us I felt a great weight fall from my shoulders, and I knew that God was with us. On her part, Maisie knew from the moment they laid hands upon her that she would be healed. In fact, she believed that she was healed. It took all that two nurses could do to keep her from getting dressed and going home. But in two weeks she was well. Absolutely healed, praise God, and she's been in perfect health ever since. She's happier and more filled with life than she's ever been before.
"Now to get down to what we've been discussing, I can't help feeling that the experience my wife and I went through has something to say to this moment. Judge Stratton has been talking on the subject of authority, and how the relation of its forms to the past or the present has tended to split the Church. What I thought I would do would be to speak of something that has nothing to do with the past or the present, but rather, the different kinds of reality that exist in the seen and the unseen world. I have found a lot of people who are thrilled with my wife's healing, and by and large they are the people who believe in miracles, and who are overjoyed when they can have that belief authenticated. On the other hand, there were a lot of people who were puzzled and mystified by Maisie's healing. Some were even offended. They thought we were pulling some kind of magic, or they thought Maisie's healing ought to be attributed to what the doctors were doing
"If you want to, you can separate these two groups of people into those who have and those who have not faith. But it's not quite as easy as that. Some of those who were most unwilling to believe in Maisie's healing were clergy and lay people whom I know to have a great deal of faith. I think the difference between the two is that one group accepts the larger reality of an unseen world, while the other accepts only what they can observe and measure. If you want to, you can call the one kind traditional man and you can call the other technological man. The one finds meaning in myths and miracles and in the whole panoply of a reality that's outside this world. The other limits reality to what can be experienced by anyone, and to what can be measured and verified and duplicated.
"If you will, this is the same tension as the one that exists between the traditionalist and the liberal. To some degree, it even includes the same people. But it is a distinction that doesn't make an issue of time, but rather of space. I myself have to accept the reality of the larger world. I have to accept that this world is a mere shadow of the things to come. My wife has been healed where nothing but the power of God could make her be healed, and I know that every miracle of the Bible can be repeated in you and me.
"That's all I wanted to say, really. The experience that I've been through has made me so confident of the power and life and purpose of God that I wanted to tell you about it. Knowing that there is a reality that far transcends the one that technological man would limit us to, we need never put on blinders, and we need never fear lest he alone might be speaking the truth. Knowing and believing what we do, I don't see how our Gospel can ever be less than relevant."
The conference had come to an end. The bishop's heart was filled with joy. He had no idea whether his little message had gotten across, but it didn't really matter. What did matter was that he and his clergy had been given a new lease on life and a faith that surmounts obstacles. No longer did the bishop worry about his clergy or about the congregations committed to their charge. They all knew he loved them, and they all knew that he trusted in divine grace to make up any deficiencies. With their differences they made up the whole spectrum of views within the Church, and in spite of their differences they were as much one in heart and soul as the members of any family.
While his clergy entered the little chapel, the bishop began to vest for the Eucharist. From it they would all go forth to the world and they would all go back to their people. Carefully and attentively he put on the prophet's alb and the priestly robe and the towel of the servant. As he said the preparation his heart began to sing. He could almost feel that maniple being exchanged for a princely crown. Thank God, his spirit cried out, for the sacrifice by which he and his people could join their lives with the Cross of Jesus Christ. He went before the altar and began the Collect for Purity, full of the joy of knowing that he spoke for every man in the house.
Comments from readers of The Holy Slice by Robert C. Harvey
The Most Rev. Arthur Michael Ramsey, the Archbishop of Canterbury:
". . . interests me very much."
The Rt. Rev. James W. Montgomery, the Bishop of Chicago:
". . . holds up a high standard for the way a Chief Pastor should function with his clergy and laity. . . has some fine things to say about priorities in the Church's mission."
The Rev. Canon Albert J. DuBois, Editor of the American Church News:
"I ... found this very difficult to put down. I kept saying 'hurrah' over and over again as (it) dealt so deftly with every one of the major problems confronting the Church at the moment ... It is a penetrating comment on what is going on in the Church in our day with, happily, positive suggestions for improving the situation."
The Rev. Dr. Carroll E. Simcox, Editor, The Living Church:
"This is not only an exciting story, it is a testimony of hope."
The author is an Episcopal priest and is founder and chaplain of the Company of the Paraclete.
The Canterbury Guild
P.O. Box 17395
Philadelphia, Pa. 19105
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any errors in transcription -- Thanks!
Joe Sallenger, Gofer-In-Chief for Church of Our Saviour Anglican Catholic Church in Florence, South Carolina.