Beware the Rumors of a Quake When It Comes to Anglicans Flocking to the Ordinariate
by Martin E. Marty, special contributor
Archbishop Vincent Nichols ordains five priests for the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham in Westminster Cathedral on Friday, June 10, 2011. (photo: ©Mazur/catholicchurch.org.uk)
Hurricanes, earthquakes, droughts, famines, tsunamis, floods, volcanic eruptions, and many other natural disasters — supernatural disasters and signals to Glenn Beck and Pat Robertson — are prime global and local topics. They inspire prayer and practical responses, but they also provide metaphoric language for religion. Try this, from National Catholic Reporter: “NO EARTHQUAKE FROM OVERTURE TO ANGLICANS,” a story by John L. Allen, Jr. This week he could have communicated as well by writing “No Hurricane after overture to Anglicans.” “Earthquake” works better, so let it stand.
The overture in question is the new Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham, a two-year-old structure instituted by Pope Benedict XVI to make it possible for hosts of Anglican clergy — and, less-noticed, laity, into the Roman Catholic communion. Don’t know where and why Walsingham is? We don’t need to. Don’t know what an Ordinariate is? Neither did the authors of the Catholic dictionaries on my shelf, but you can figure it out, and may need to if this issue interests you. It made possible the group reception of clerics into Catholicism as opposed to one-at-the-time processing through “conversion.” By the way, Allen wrote on June 8 that the ordinariate numbered 900 laity and 60 clergy “including some newly minted Catholic priests who had already retired from Anglican ministry at 70.”
Some nervous Anglicans, Roman Catholics, and ecumenically-minded “others” had foreseen a surge — see how that metaphor creeps in? — of Anglican priests who oppose the ordination of women. Allen foresees some more ordinariateers when Anglicans welcome women into the priesthood. (By August 19 he revised the statistics to “1,000 laity and 64 clergy…” scattered across 27 different communities.)
Allen says “there’s scant evidence of a revolution,” so this earthquake has to be “downgraded” to near zero on Richter scales, since it represents “roughly .02 percent of the five million Catholics in England and Wales.” That number, he thinks, could go down, or a bit “up” if, as foreseen, Anglicans will begin ordaining women to the episcopate next year. By the way, Allen, when interviewing leaders, makes a point of describing them as “thoughtful” and not antic or frantic. Still, despite all the predictions: “No Earthquake.”
Such a judgment applies outside the U.K. as well. In 1952 when I was ordained, without the help of an ordinariate, we would hear on occasion of a minister in our communion or others who had “defected” from the Catholic priesthood and been “converted” to some Protestant group. Perhaps because the events were rare and the gulf between Catholics and Everyone Else then was cosmic, such pastors became celebrities. Like “apostates,” of whom Max Scheler wrote, they “spent their whole subsequent careers taking revenge on their own spiritual past.” The gulf between communions has now narrowed; the ecumenical spirit has taken the roughest edges off the old abrasions.
Now and then we hear of the move of a Protestant minister to the Catholic priesthood, news accompanied by predictions of a forthcoming surge of such moves. In some circles of the church these predictions create tremors. However, eased ecclesial relations, the sense that the vocation of others is sacred and not to be judged by uninformed people at a distance, and an awareness that even if the statistics rise to .03 percent, we must still say “No Earthquake.” The rumblings may even provide opportunities to listen and learn and not merely to yawn. Or quake.
Martin E. Marty is the Fairfax M. Cone Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus at The University of Chicago. He’s authored many books, including Pilgrims in Their Own Land and Modern American Religion.
This essay is reprinted with permission of Sightings from the Martin Marty Center at the University of Chicago Divinity School.
Royal Wedding Theology of an Archbishop
by Debra Dean Murphy, guest contributor
I didn’t get up at 4 a.m. today, but I do hope to catch a good bit of the wedding of William Windsor and Kate Middleton. I doubt I’ll have much trouble finding it replayed (and replayed and replayed) across the spectrum of cable and broadcast networks in the days and weeks to come.
Amid all the hype about the ceremony is a deep undercurrent of cynicism about these kinds of affairs, some of it rooted in the love/hate relationship Americans have always had with the British monarchy. We’re both drawn to and baffled by it — envious, perhaps, of its rich, centuries-long tradition, yet bewildered by the rigid and often humorless deference to protocol borne of that same tradition. (And then there are those who are downright hostile to the institution, extolling the American colonists who “fought a bloody war for the privilege to ignore the king of England”).
Many Americans will view the ceremony in Westminster Abbey with sensibilities shaped by a decade of reality TV’s take on matrimony: the bride as cutthroat competitor in a harem of beauties (The Bachelor), obscenely conspicuous consumption (Say Yes to the Dress), and “Wow, honey,” — as the veil is lifted — ”nice nose job!” (Bridalplasty).
Undergirding each of these “realities” is the notion of marriage as the culmination of a fairytale relationship — not the beginning, mind you, of a journey of discovery and friendship with its inevitable bumps in the road (more like sinkholes and craters) — but a consummate, bank-breaking spectacle staged primarily for the benefit of envious onlookers. No wonder we’re cynical.
But one thing that makes me more hopeful than cynical about this royal wedding is that the third person on the altar along with William and Kate, the one who married the nervous couple in view of the whole world, is the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams.
I have admired Williams since I first encountered his writings in seminary in the late 1980s when he was the Lady Margaret Professor of Divinity at Oxford University. The depth and breadth of his scholarship has always been staggeringly impressive. Whether writing on the Resurrection or Arianism or 9/11 or Dostoevsky, Williams — whose work is rooted in his vocation as priest — is an erudite, eloquent, humble, hopeful, generous communicator of the Christian gospel.
That he became the head of the worldwide Anglican communion in this age of soundbytes and short attention spans is lamentable — for him, perhaps, but especially for the rest of us. His careful, thoughtful way with words, the patience with which he engages his many and varied interlocutors, the long view he takes of the Church’s work in the world — none of this has endeared him to a skeptical, secular Britain nor to an Anglican Church ever on the edge of schism.
But Williams presses on with characteristic humility to illumine the issues that confront global Christianity. And with quiet authority he takes on matters of the human heart, human sexuality, and human community: fidelity in relationships, the risks of manipulation that attend all our relationships, and the grace necessary to sustain relationships like marriage for the long haul.
His writing is often at once mystical and deeply pragmatic, simultaneously acknowledging the mystery at the center of human sexuality and the mundane attentiveness required to persevere — and flourish — with another. In a sermon entitled “Is There a Christian Sexual Ethic?” Williams writes:
“The grace that is to be discovered in nakedness, in yielding, is released to be itself when we give up the self-protecting strategies of non-commitment, experiment, and gratification, and decide instead for the danger of promising to be there for another without a saving clause that would license us to abandon the enterprise as soon as the other declines to be possessed unilaterally by us, as soon as the other’s otherness gives us difficulty. In such a perspective, we have time for each other. A commitment without limits being set in advance says that we have (potentially) a lifetime to “create” each other together. By giving ourselves over to each other, we make something of each other.”
In a video prepared by Lambeth Palace in anticipation of the royal wedding, Williams talks about the “mystery” and “delight” at the heart of marriage, and that ”to be a witness [to a wedding] is to be more than a spectator.”
For cynics, this might seem like a slick media strategy designed to bring more attention to an event already wildly overhyped. But Williams locates this event (and every wedding) theologically as a “moment of hope and affirmation about people’s present and future” and he counts it a privilege to “wish [William and Kate] the courage and clarity to live out this big commitment.”
So, yes, there will be plenty of commercial excesses in today’s televised nuptials — lots of gossip about guests and gowns, lots of sarcasm and cynicism about the futures of the future king and queen. But maybe there will also be room for a moment of quiet gratitude for the gift of witnessing, with a few other billion people, the “commitments that are possible,” as Williams says, when two people take each other for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, until they are parted by death.
Debra Dean Murphy is an assistant professor of Religion and Christian Education at West Virginia Wesleyan College and serves on the board of The Ekklesia Project. She regularly blogs at Intersections: Thoughts on Religion, Culture, and Politics.
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What about having a new law that made all Cabinet members and leaders of political parties, editors of national papers and the hundred most successful financiers in the UK spend a couple of hours every year serving dinners in a primary school on a council estate, or cleaning bathrooms in a residential home?
On BBC Radio 4 Today program’s “Thought for the Day” segment, the leader of the Anglican Church, as The Telegraph reports, “called for a return to the medieval tradition when monarchs ritually washed the feet of the poor would serve to remind politicians and bankers what should be the purpose of their wealth and power.”
(photo: Steve Punter/Flickr, CC by 2.0)
by Trent Gilliss, senior editor
Wars on Two Fronts of the Same Page
by Trent Gilliss, senior editor
A striking adjacency on the front page of The Guardian: a photo of North Korea bombarding Yeonpyeong Island immediately followed by a report on the archbishop of Canterbury with the slug: “Rowan Williams tells warring factions to pull together for today’s crucial vote on church’s future.”