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Topics - J. Thomas Shelley

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Your Turn / Every day is Earth Day
« on: April 22, 2008, 10:34:47 PM »
 In some respects, in rural congregations it could be said that "every day is earth day". The more "old  fashioned" farmers (sadly, a dying breed) strongly believed that one should leave the land better than  one found it. Contour plowing, crop rotation, and natural fertilization (the honey wagon, if you know what I mean) were the techniques that any decent, God-fearing, Church going farmer used.

Entering into that world fairly deeply (for eight years it was a standard Friday evening fixture that my son and I would help a dairy farmer/parishioner feed and milk the cows) I became more and more aware of how our Eastertide liturgy connected us to the earth and all of creation.

I mean, first of all, the center of Sunday gathering is a MEAL---made of "bread from the earth" and the"fruit of the vine". How can every Sunday help but be an earth day when the means of our communion with the Risen Christ are dependent on seedtime and harvest?

And the Easter season itself begins at the beginning--after the new fire has been kindled, the Paschal candle blessed, the "flame divided but undimmed" all sit in a nave illuminated only by Paschal candle, two altar candles, and five candles surrounding a lectern from which is proclaimed "In the beginning God...." and the rest of the first creation account from Genesis. The waters of creation are then proclaimed the waters of liberation in Exodus 14-15, and then are commingled with the Word of God to become the waters of salvation in Holy Baptism---which is immediately preceded by that beautiful deuterocanonical canticle "the Song of the Three Young Men" invoking all of creation to "praise Him and magnify Him forever."

Easter/Earth Day doesn't end there--throughout the season we recite the Nicene Creed which affirms each person of the most Holy Trinity as a participant in the work of Creation (Jesus, "through him all things were made", and the Holy Spirit, "the giver of life.") Most years we prepare the holy table singing "let the vineyards be fruitful, Lord,and fill to brim our cup of blessing; gather a harvest from the seeds that were sown, that we may be fed with the Bread of Life." The Eucharistic preface joins
 our voices with "earth and sky and sea and all their creatures" as well as with "angels and archangels....". And after receiving the gifts of God the table is cleared while singing "Sing praise to the Lord, all the earth make music to praise his name, Alleluia!"

Probably one of the most meaningful Easter Vigils for me was one that happened nearly a decade ago, when that aforementioned farm family asked if I could possibly come over an extra night to help with the cows so their son could go to a Wedding Anniversary. After spending time with the "cattle, after their kind" , with just enough time to get cleaned up before sundown and the Liturgy, EVERY canticle took on richer meaning that night.

 Every (Lord's) day is earth day.  Praise Him and magnify Him forever!

From the BBC

The Vatican has brought up to date the traditional seven deadly sins by adding seven modern mortal sins it claims are becoming prevalent in what it calls an era of "unstoppable globalisation".

Those newly risking eternal punishment include drug pushers, the obscenely wealthy, and scientists who manipulate human genes. So "thou shalt not carry out morally dubious scientific experiments" or "thou shalt not pollute the earth" might one day be added to the Ten Commandments.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that "immediately after death the souls of those who die in a state of mortal sin descend into Hell".

The new mortal sins were listed by Archbishop Gianfranco Girotti at the end of a week-long training seminar in Rome for priests, aimed at encouraging a revival of the practice of confession - or the Sacrament of Penance in Church jargon.

According to a survey carried out here 10 years ago by the Catholic University, 60% of Italians have stopped going to confession altogether. The situation has certainly not improved during the past decade.

Catholics are supposed to confess their sins to a priest at least once a year. The priest absolves them in God's name.

Talking to course members at the end of the seminar organised by the Apostolic Penitentiary, the Vatican department in charge of fixing the punishments and indulgences handed down to sinners, Pope Benedict added his own personal voice of disquiet.

"We are losing the notion of sin," he said. "If people do not confess regularly, they risk slowing their spiritual rhythm," he added. The Pope confesses his sins regularly once a week.

Greatest sins of our times

In an interview with the Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano, Archbishop Girotti said he thought the most dangerous areas for committing new types of sins lay in the fields of bio-ethics and ecology.

He also named abortion and paedophilia as two of the greatest sins of our times. The archbishop brushed off cases of sexual violence against minors committed by priests as "exaggerations by the mass media aimed at discrediting the Church".

Father Gerald O'Collins, former professor of moral theology at the Papal University in Rome, and teacher of many of the Catholic Church's current top Cardinals and Bishops, welcomed the new catalogue of modern sins.

"I think the major point is that priests who are hearing confessions are not sufficiently attuned to some of the real evils in our world," he told the BBC News website. "They need to be more aware today of the social face of sin - the inequalities at the social level. They think of sin too much on an individual level.

"I think priests who hear confession should have a deeper sense of the violence and injustice of such problems - and the fact that people collaborate simply by doing nothing. One of the original deadly sins is sloth - disengagement and not getting involved," Father O'Collins said. The Jesuit professor now teaches at St Mary's University in Twickenham.

"It was interesting that these remarks came from the head of the Apostolic Penitentiary," he said. "I can't remember a time when it was so concerned about issues such as environmental pollution and social injustice. It's a new way of thinking."

+ + +

Environmental pollution
Genetic manipulation
Accumulating excessive wealth
Inflicting poverty
Drug trafficking and consumption
Morally debatable experiments
Violation of fundamental rights of human nature

Your Turn / Keeping Holy-day at Ascensiontide
« on: May 17, 2007, 11:27:24 PM »
One Ascension Day I was making final preparations for the Service in the upstairs workroom when I heard some fluent Pennsylvania Dutch coming from the Narthex.  Knowing that the few of our members who “speachen zie deutsch” were not likely to arrive so early, I supposed that the Dutch was being spoken by a stranger. My supposition proved correct, for there, in the Narthex, was an Amishman complete with straw hat and chinwhiskers along with an “English” companion--his driver, I presumed.  Steven Miller (an Amish convert) had returned to his family homestead and was showing his professor friend the churches of the area.

Steven was very impressed that we were about to have a worship service, for the Amish regard Ascension Day as a great Holy-day on which none but the most necessary of work should be done.  Perhaps this is motivated by fear, for the Ascension Gospel tells us that ‘this Jesus, who has been taken from you, will return in the same manner.” (Luke); which, when juxtaposed with the warning that “on that day two men will be working in the field, one will be taken, and one will be left?” (Matthew) could give rise to the notion that those working on Ascension Day were risking their own personal parousia.  Irrespective, it is faithful.

But Steven also had many questions about how we were worshiping that night, for, of course, the Nave was filled with helium balloons.   The questions were sincere and curious, not sarcastic and critical.  The questions were good because they caused me to reflect on ‘why we do what we do.”

The balloons, on one level, are simply a play on the word Ascension.    A balloon ascension is appropriate for Ascension Day.  The releasing of the balloons is all the more appropriate because the very action causes the worshiper to gaze into the heavens, until the balloon vanishes from sight’ becoming like the Eleven who stood watching their Lord ascend until He was no longer visible.

This is in contrast to the beginning of the Lent-Easter-Pentecost cycle, the Paschal journey, for, on Ash Wednesday, our eyes are cast down and our heads are bowed.  Forty days prior to Easter we are confronted by the dust of the earth--forty days after Easter we look with joy to the heavens.   Or, as expressed fourth century hymn by John of Damascus:

      From death to life eternal, from this world to the sky
      Our Lord has brought us over with songs of victory .

There is a progression from the solid state of ashes, through the liquid of Baptismal water at Easter, to the buoyant gas that propels the message-bearing balloons. 

Paradoxically, the Paschal journey begins with the substance of a chemical reaction:  Ashes are produced by the burning, or rapid oxidation, of plant material (mostly carbon--which chemistry students will know to be one of most reactive of elements..  The journey ends with balloons filled with a chemical that is “inert” and entirely non-reactive.

The fact that the balloons carry with them a message of Christian hope makes this custom all the more fitting, as the farewell words of Jesus are  that “repentance and forgiveness of sins {are} to be preached to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.’  (Another name for Jerusalem is Zion).  How wonderful then, that the prophecy of Isaiah finds a fulfillment by our gathering “the word of the Lord shall go forth from Zion” (Isaiah 2:2)

The message borne by the balloons is simply the blessed hope that is the Epistle for Ascension Day:

I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you... God put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come.

The message carried by the balloons has been found by persons as far away as Brooklyn, New York; Delaware; Chambersburg; the outer banks of North Carolina and Smithburg, Maryland.  The dispersion of the message calls to mind another couplet from the ancient hymn:

   The day of resurrection, earth tell it out abroad
   The Passover of gladness, the Passover of God.

The message has found persons who are gladdened and encouraged that at least one congregation still keeps Holy-day and remembers  her Lord’s Ascension.   Perhaps, in that way, we are not all that different from our Amish visitor.

May you be among those who keep Holy-day, giving thanks for the hope to which God has called you.

Your Turn / You'd never know that this week was Holy...A.D. 2007
« on: March 31, 2007, 11:11:39 PM »
One year ago I posted a similar lament in this forum, which disappeared during the great rapture of June ‘06.  With only minor revision and updating I post it again, with a heart even heavier than a year ago as little has changed for the better, and some for the worse:

When the tops of the bare and leafless trees surrounding my home turned deep red from the final rays of the setting sun Holy Week began; and I switched my computer desktop and preferences to a dark brownish red akin to old English Sarum Rite passiontide vestments.  The great week was off to a good start.

Then I made the mistake of looking for any sign or symbol of Holy Week on the home page of the ELCA. Predictably, there was none.  Instead, the most prominent portion of the page was a reminder that March 22 (over a week past) was “Clean Water Day”; above it, a blurb asking “How do you get ready for peacemaking/”

One would think that both causes could be thoroughly addressed by pointing one to the One who has made peace by the shedding of His blood upon the Cross; and to the purifying water and blood which flowed therefrom. 

My own Lower Susquehanna Synod was a trifle better.  A nice multicolor graphic in the upper left corner announced “Lent”; and similar graphics have appeared at each new season of the Church Year.

Were our ecumenical partners promoting the holiest week of western Christianity more effectively, I wondered?  The United Church of Christ  index page was a more cluttered version of the ELCA home page, multiple columns of  causes and news releases about causes...except the cause of Christ and His holy Passion.

The Episcopal Church USA home page had nothing about the season, or this pending Holy Week, but the first main link from that page (“Life and Work”) had the Lectionary readings for Palm Sunday prominently displayed.  Sadly, the Episcopal Diocese of Harrisburg had nothing.  Absolutely nothing.

A year ago, the home page Roman Catholic Diocese of Harrisburg was the only one to display a link to Holy Week, which in turn led to a link to a wonderfully informative pdf file explaining the history and customs of the week.  But this year the "Lady Irish" York Catholic High School Girls Basketball team winning the Pennsylvania state championship took the place of honor.

It is time for our Churchwide and judicatory leaders to reflect on the charge given to congregation leaders in the rite of Installation:  “You are to work together with the other members to see that the worship and work of Christ are done in this congregation, and that God’s will is done in this community, and in the whole world.”

Clearly, in terms of Internet presence, the emphasis has NOT been on the worship and work of Christ, but rather on what ever cause du jour is perceived to be  “God’s will ... in this community, and in the whole world”.  The cart of good works has been placed  before the horse of faith.

And thus, entering the holiest week of the Church Year, one would never know that there was anything other than political business as usual by viewing the home pages of major denominations and judicatories.

“Is it nothing to you, all who pass by?”

One year after my initial lamentation the answer appears unchanged.

Your Turn / The Eve of the Annunciation
« on: March 24, 2007, 11:33:15 AM »
The Eve of the Annunciation of Our Lord (March 24, AD 1996) was clear and  still.   This particular night was punctuated by a cosmic visitor, a denizen of the far ranges of the solar system briefly hurtling past the earth on its fleeting, slingshot-like spin around the Sun.

Comets are no rarity--thousands have been discovered through the centuries, their orbits tracked, their positions plotted.  But bright comets are scarce, and the forecasting of whether a particular comet will be bright enough to be seen unassisted by binoculars is a very inexact science.  Too often expectations exceed actualities, and the cosmic visitor remains hidden from view.

So for the Eve of the Annunciation to be graced by a bright comet--let alone one conveniently position close to one of the best known asterisms of the sky--the Big Dipper--was a once in a lifetime occurrence.

That this comet was unknown and undiscovered until detected by Japanese astronomer Yuji Hayakutake less than two months before made this cosmic visitor a most appropriately timed surprise from God, who on this festival declares that “all things are possible”.

Despite our high speed computers, sophisticated deep space eyes and ears, and even our orbiting space telescope, God still continues His work of Creation.  While Quoheleth, the preacher of Ecclesiastes, might lament that there is nothing new under the sun, the sudden appearance of comet Hayakutake confirms instead the prophesy of Isaiah, “Behold, I am about to do a new thing.”

The timing could not have been better.  For the Festival of the Annunciation concerns “a new thing”-- the sudden and unexpected arrival of a messenger--the angel Gabriel--to the maiden Mary of Nazareth.  Among the people of the ancient middle East, comets were thought to be messengers, bearers of news and portents of things to come.

But the message of the cometary visitor was never received with joy.  These wispy apparitions were believed to be the heralds of calamity:  of war, or famine, or pestilence.  Their appearance was thought to precede the death of kings and the downfall of nations.  Their news was anything but good.  Those privy to seeing the sign in the heavens were filled with fear for that which was soon to come.

How different, then, was the message of Gabriel.  It began simply “Fear not.”  Of course Mary would have been afraid.  Angels were not in the habit of visiting mortals.  And, like every devout Jew, Mary remembered every year--every spring of every year--one time when an angel visited mortals in Egypt.  That visitor was the Angel of Death.  Every Passover was a remembrance that the Angel of Death had passed over the houses of the Jews, while striking the Egyptians.  When the angel Gabriel appeared in the spring in Nazareth, Mary must have immediately feared that he was coming to take her life.  How could a springtime angel  be an angel of life?

Yet, for Mary, he was at once an angel of life--and yet one whose message would indeed take  and transform her life by joining her in the most intimate way with God her Creator.  The Word through whom the earth and sky and sea had been made; the one whom heaven and earth cannot contain, would become a single cell in her womb, and there grow to become the Son of the Most High, the Savior Christ the Lord.

Perhaps, in a perverse way, this angelic messenger brought doom like his cometary counterpart.  This child, who would be “great and Son of the Most High” and “given the throne of his Father David” would also be heralded as “the downfall of  nations and kingdoms,and a sign that will be spoken against”.  And, for Mary, there would be a personal pain and passion to be borne “for a sword will pierce your soul also”.

But Mary yielded her will to the will of God the Father, her mind to the mind of Jesus God the Son, and her body  to God the Holy Spirit.  She became, in a moment of time, uniquely linked to the Holy Trinity as daughter of the Father, Mother of the Son, and bride of the Spirit; the first repository of the Body of Christ, in very being, the first Christian.  Mary’s “yes” of obedience and faith undid the “yes” of her first mother and ours, the “yes” of Eve to rebellion and sin.  Truly, Mary is the Eve of the Annunciation.

The Eve of the Annunciation was indeed graced by a heavenly visitor, highly graced, highly favored.

With God all things were possible--even virgins in Nazareth  may conceive.  With God all things are possible--even unknown and unexpected comets may blaze across the springtime sky.    With God all things will be possible, for He who does many “a new thing” will one day “make all things new.”

Let us “ponder anew what the Almighty can do; if with His love He befriend thee.”

Your Turn / Gay Lutheran pastor removed over partner
« on: February 08, 2007, 03:53:22 PM »
Gay Lutheran pastor removed over partner
AP via Yahoo! ^ | 2/8/7 | DORIE TURNER

ATLANTA - The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America said Thursday it is removing from the clergy a gay minister who announced he has a partner.

The Rev. Bradley Schmeling, who has led Atlanta's oldest Lutheran church since 2000, will be removed from the roster effective Aug. 15, according to a report from the ELCA's disciplinary committee.

Schmeling, who was open about his sexuality when he took the job, announced last year he had found a lifelong companion. Bishop Ronald Warren asked the 44-year-old pastor to resign, but Schmeling refused.

Warren then began disciplinary proceedings last year against Schmeling for violating church rules barring sex outside of marriage.

Schmeling had told both the bishop and the congregation at St. John's about his sexual orientation before he was chosen as pastor. He didn't have a partner at the time.

Your Turn / Candlemass Day
« on: February 01, 2007, 10:53:50 AM »
Orginally published in my congregational newsletter a decade ago when Candlemass Day fell on a Sunday

The change has been slow, yet unrelenting.  Since the Winter Solstice, the sun’s setting has daily delayed, if even by one minute, so that journeys and chores once completed in darkness now are accompanied by brilliant twilight.

Yet, even as this change in evening’s day length has been progressing, mornings remain as dark and foreboding as they had a month before.   Morning journeys and chores are still completed in darkness. The morning darkness has been unrelenting and slow to change.

But as January ends the mornings too will brighten.  With increasing rapidity the sunrise will advance, first by five minutes each week, then nearly by ten.  The lengthening of the daylight at morning and night will become obvious.

Because the lengthening of the morning light first becomes obvious around the beginning of February, it is very probable that this helped inspire the tradition of candlelighting  that begins the festival of the Presentation of Our Lord on February 2.  Surely the brightening of the morning sky would  add cheer to the day when the faithful--like the Biblical Simeon-- hail Jesus as “the light of all nations and the glory of Israel”  (Luke 2:32).  As the great hymnwriter Charles Wesley has declared:

   Christ, whose glory fills the skies, Christ the true and only light,
   Sun of righteousness, arise, Triumph o’er the shades of night.
   Dayspring from on high, be near, Daystar, in my heart appear.

This annual return of morning light and lengthening of the daylight  in the Northern Hemisphere certainly influenced our forbearers in the faith as they developed the cycle of feasts and fasts that we know as the Church year.  Indeed, the season of preparation for the Paschal Feast of Easter--Lent--derives its name from lengthen,  a reference to the lengthening of the daylight.

There is a terrible irony that just as astronomical days grow longer we are very starkly and visibly reminded that our anatomical days grow shorter.  As the first buds begin to swell and the first hints of green plants appear our brows are smudged with the residue of lifeless plants and we are told that truth that we would like to deny and yet can never defy:  “Remember, you are dust, and to dust you will return.”   That change back to the dust of the earth from which we were made is also one that is slow, yet unrelenting.

It is this inevitability that gives Lent and its disciplines such urgency.  Knowing not when shall be our last day or hour, we hear all the more sharply the words of St. Paul addressed to the congregation at Corinth:

We entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.     For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin so that    in him we might become the righteousness of God.
   As we work together with him, we urge you not to       receive the grace of God in vain.  For he says,
   “At an acceptable time I have listened to you,
      and on a day of salvation I have helped you.”
See, now is the acceptable time;
see, now is the day of salvation!
            2 Corinthians 5:20b-6:2
            Epistle for Ash Wednesday

The Apostle pleads for his people not to delay in repenting of their sins or in redirecting their lives.  The day of salvation may be at hand at any time.

And when it is at hand, will we greet it with the joy and faith that inspired Simeon of old to take the forty-day old Christ child, the “light of nations” in his arms and bless God because now, as it had been promised to him, he could die in peace?

For we know that without Christ, the day of the Lord brings darkness and no light.  Again, to quote Wesley’s hymn:

         Dark and cheerless is the morn, Unaccompanied by thee,
         Joyless is the day’s return, Till thy mercy’s beams I see,
         Till they inward light impart, Glad my eyes, and warm my heart.

So it is then, that we should anticipate the lengthening of the daylight and the shortening of our days with the Lenten disciplines of fasting, prayer, and almsgiving to encourage that gift of heart-warming grace.  And so it is that we should greet the lengthening of the daylight and the shortening of our days  with the final verse of Wesley’s hymn:

         Visit then, this soul of mine.  Pierce the gloom of sin and grief;
         Fill me, radiancy divine, Scatter all my unbelief;
         More and more thyself display, Shining to the perfect day.

So may we pray.  So may we fast.  So may we give alms. 
So may we change slowly and unrelentingly .

Your Turn / The liberal church in meltdown
« on: December 20, 2006, 06:19:38 PM »
The liberal church in meltdown
Charlotte Allen

December 20, 2006 08:15 PM

This past Sunday several churches in Northern Virginia announced that their congregations had voted overwhelmingly to leave the Episcopal Church and affiliate themselves with Anglican dioceses in Nigeria and Uganda.

Their reasons were the same ones that have prompted Episcopal congregations and even entire dioceses across the country to sever their national ties in recent months: decades of liberalising trends in the Episcopal Church that have led to, among other things, the confirmation in 2003 of the openly gay V Gene Robinson as bishop of New Hampshire and the election in July 2006 of a presiding bishop, Katharine Jefferts Schori of the Diocese of Nevada, who is not only a woman (a contentious issue among conservative Episcopalians) but supports both Robinson's confirmation and church blessings for gay unions.

Jefferts Schori pooh-poohed the mass departure of the Virginians, declaring that they were a splinter collection of malcontents looking for a "quick fix" and that they had failed to embrace "diversity" and "tension," which she defined as the essence of Anglicanism.

She has her head in the sand. The Episcopal Church is in serious trouble only compounded by the current schism. It is a church in demographic free-fall, its numbers now standing at 2.2 million (by Jefferts Schori's own estimate), down from 3.4 million at its heyday in 1965. At the 2,700 Episcopalian parishes nationwide, the median Sunday worship attendance is 80 people, and the churches they attend would be crumbling ruins were it not for their substantial endowments left over from the 19th century, when most of them were founded.

Like other mainline Protestant groups in America - Methodists, Presbyterians, Lutherans, and the like - the Episcopal Church decided some 40 years ago that the future of Christianity lay in accommodating its theology and moral teachings to whatever was fashionable or politically correct in the secular culture. Militant feminism and blessings for gay sex were only part of the doctrinal upheaval. Avant-garde clerics and theologians throughout North America and Western Europe scoffed at the traditional Christian teachings that Jesus Christ had been born of a virgin, worked miracles, died for human sin, rose from the dead, and founded a church that was supposed to be the means of salvation.

All those liberal strands of Christianity are paying the price for their devil's bargain with secularism in vastly diminished numbers, as members figure out that when a religion lets them do whatever they want, one of the things they don't want to do is go to church on Sunday. The mainline denominations, which once represented 40% of US Protestants, now represent only 12%: 17 million out of 135 million.

To put it bluntly, liberal Christianity is in meltdown. The election of Jefferts Schori, a theological liberal who prayed to a female Jesus at last summer's bishops' convention, together with the bishops' vote not to endorse the bedrock Christian proposition that Jesus is Lord, proved to be the last straw for many Episcopalians who believe that the essence of their Anglican faith isn't "tension" but fidelity to the Bible and the Christian creeds.

In fact, those conservative Northern Virginia churches that split off on Sunday may be few in number, but they represent an island of vibrancy in an otherwise moribund denomination. They are large, prosperous, highly educated congregations in large, prosperous, highly-educated Washington, DC, suburbs: Fairfax, Falls Church, Sterling, Woodbridge.

They join four other Northern Virginia churches that have similarly severed their ties with the Episcopal Church, and two more churches are likely to schedule similar votes in January. These 14 churches, together with a 15th that had been expected to announce a vote on Sunday but did not, constitute only 7% of the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia's 197 parishes, but represent 11% of its baptised membership of about 90,000 and 18% of its average Sunday attendance of 32,000. Live people instead of dead people pay for their upkeep.

What happened in Virginia is a sign of growing awareness among conservative Christians that they are not - contrary to the way they have been painted by the liberal denominations and their sympathetic friends in the liberal media - a theologically backward, inevitably diminishing minority of dissenters from the enlightened Christian mainstream.

The recent petition by evangelical Anglican clerics in England to be freed from the supervision of liberal bishops is another sign of changing times - for their congregations represent a full 34% of the 900,000 English Anglicans who bother to go to church on Sunday. It has finally dawned on orthodox believers in the west that they may have the numbers on their side after all. The worldwide Anglican Communion has 77 million members, and in the Third World, where the Anglican Church is growing rapidly, conservative Anglicanism prevails.

For years the wealth, historic prestige, and trendy theology of the Episcopal Church have secured it outsize press attention that has obscured its marginal status in worldwide Anglicanism and American Protestantism. The election of Jefferts Schori as presiding bishop and the pomp surrounding her installation at the National Cathedral in Washington seemed designed as displays of liberal triumphalism.

Lately, however, the cracks in the façade have been showing. There is talk among liberal Episcopalians of "remnant" churches, and Jefforts Schori's assertion in a New York Times interview that Episcopalians are "better-educated and tend to reproduce at lower rates than some other denominations" amounted to a candid admission of numerical decline.

Jefferts Schori has also indicated that she will use the resources of the national church to fight to the teeth in court any efforts by churches in Virginia and elsewhere to keep their property after they secede. Perhaps she will succeed, and tiny groups of liberals will replace burgeoning conservative congregations. When and if that happens, however, it is likely that she and her church will be competing with a thriving branch of American Anglicanism that takes the traditional teachings of its faith very seriously.

This article, just published today by the Catholic News Service might be of interest to those who have been debating the proper translation of the Psalter, the appropriate address to God, and the language of liturgical music. 

By Nancy Frazier O'Brien
Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- To ensure that the hymns used at Mass are "doctrinally correct" and based on Scripture and liturgical texts, the U.S. bishops will debate and vote on a new directory for music and the liturgy at their Nov. 13-16 meeting in Baltimore.

Each bishops' conference around the world was directed to draw up such a directory within five years after the 2001 Vatican instruction "Liturgiam Authenticam" ("The Authentic Liturgy"). Within another three years, the bishops' Committee on the Liturgy is to propose a common repertoire of liturgical songs for all Latin-rite Masses celebrated in the United States.

The directory is intended to serve "not so much as a list of approved and unapproved songs as a process by which bishops might regulate the quality of the text of songs composed for use in the liturgy," said Bishop Donald W. Trautman of Erie, Pa., chairman of the bishops' Committee on the Liturgy, in an introduction to the document.

If approved by two-thirds of the bishops, the directory and norms would be sent to the Vatican for its assent.

The draft document says the U.S. church "has been greatly blessed both by a hymnody drawn from a number of great traditions and by the contributions of composers and lyricists of liturgical songs over the past 40 years of the liturgical reform."

"Composers are urged to continue to seek ways in which liturgical song can grow organically from the tradition that the voice of the church might sing the ancient hymn with new conviction in our own day and age," the directory adds.

But there have been "certain challenges" in the use of liturgical songs, the document says. "While works of poetic art should not be judged in the same way as catechetical texts, liturgical songs can benefit from certain doctrinal judgments."

A set of norms to be considered along with the directory says each diocesan bishop is responsible for approving liturgical songs in his diocese, assisted by the directory, the bishops' Secretariat for the Liturgy and a local review committee of theologians, liturgists and musicians.

Without naming any specific hymns, the directory cites several examples of "tendencies which may compromise an individual song's doctrinal integrity":

-- Any "statements about the faith which are untrue."

-- Compromising the doctrine of the Trinity by "consistent replacement of masculine pronominal references to the three divine persons."

-- Any "emphasis on the work of the members of the church" that fails to recognize "the doctrine of grace and our complete dependence on the grace of God to accomplish anything."

-- Efforts to eliminate "archaic language" that "alter the meaning and essential theological structure of a venerable liturgical song."

In addition, any repertoire of liturgical songs "should reflect a balanced approach to Catholic theological elements," the draft document says.

Citing "Liturgiam Authenticam," the directory also says that the number of songs available for use in Catholic worship "must be relatively fixed."

"The sheer number of such liturgical songs has militated against the establishment of a common repertoire," it says. "Cultural forces which prize novelty and innovation can sometimes drive a competitive commercial climate which seeks to satisfy a desire for constant change.

"While this dynamic has often benefited the church and her liturgy, it also seems desirable that a certain stable core of liturgical songs might well serve as an exemplary and stabilizing factor," the directory adds.

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