April 24, 2015

Duty and Death...

... for Genocide Remembrance 

for KMY

Somewhere a child is crying.
Lord, help me find him
that I may do my duty to my King.
Led by what dark star
to the outskirts of the capital,
as a man under orders,
commanded, I go.

All of them, he said,
up to the age of two.
I passed one by a while back,
perhaps small for his age;
the soldier behind me thought otherwise.

Soldier. Is this soldiers’ work?
Up to the age of two, he said.
The King is a hard man.
It’s no disloyalty to acknowledge it.
You don’t build a kingdom being soft.
He cuts a broad swath, our King.
All of them, he said,
up to the age of two.

It’s quieter now the screaming’s over.
The cobblestones are slippery
and it’s too dark now
to see with what.
But somewhere up ahead
a child is crying.
Lord, help me find him
that I may do my duty to my King.

— Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

A mirrorwise reflection between Matthew 2.16 and John 16.2



This poem was first published in The Witness online, December 2003; the image is from my series of Aaronic Blessings.

April 23, 2015

Another Perspective

How petty our theological arguments
must seem to those in bliss.
I do not imagine that the angels spend much time
arguing about how many theologians
can dance on the head of a pin.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG
a thought from 1983, but still true

April 22, 2015

The Authority for Worship Forms

My earlier ruminations (in blog post and comment thread) on the subject of how liturgies of the church apart from those in the Book of Common Prayer are approved, and my critique of the allegations by ACI authors “The Reverend Canon Professor Christopher Seitz and Mark McCall, Esq.” that such liturgies are “unconstitutional” has drawn their attention. As with much of their argumentation, the bulk takes the form of mere dismissal or contradictory, “Yes, it is!” so I will do a bit more in terms of a response than a simple, “No, it isn’t.”

Let me first acknowledge that they were correct in finding me mistaken concerning their ignorance of the history involved. However, the reality is much worse than that: it is not that they are ignorant of the history, but that they do not accept the importance of the historical record for the matter under discussion.

Seitz and McCall make a very serious charge: that the General Convention has been acting unconstitutionally for many years by authorizing non-BCP liturgical texts apart from the mechanism laid out in the Constitution Article X. The problem with this line of argument is that the mechanism laid out in the Constitution doesn’t concern such texts. It only applies to the BCP and its revision in whole or in part, not to the various offices and rites that General Convention has been authorizing for centuries. These go back to the beginning with the first Book of Offices from the turn of the 18th century, containing the Ordinal and the form for the consecration of churches; these rites were later included in the BCP itself (as has often happened with such extravagant or occasional liturgies.) The Book of Offices went through many revisions and expansions, the first modern version being put together by the House of Bishops in 1917, later amended in 1937, 1940 and 1949. (I was received into the Episcopal Church using the rite from one of these books provided for Reception, which was lacking in the 1928 BCP). The Book of Offices was superseded by the Book of Occasional Services in 1979, since amended several times. Backing up a bit, 1964 saw a period of trial use for a book of Lesser Feasts and Fasts, also later amended and expanded, including such iterations as Holy Women, Holy Men. Dare I also mention the Hymnal, a cornerstone of our worship, nowhere mentioned in the Constitution. In addition, in more recent times we have seen five volumes in a series called Enriching Our Worship, and most recently a provisional rite for the blessing of a same-gender couple. Obviously the latter may be seen as the last straw, which has drawn the fire and ire of those eager to brand the whole lot of them “unconstitutional.”

It is of course quite true that the Constitution makes no mention of any of these liturgies or resources. That in itself does not make them unconstitutional, unless they violate some constitutional principle.

Seitz and McCall raise two objections to my arguments in favor of such authority.

First, that my argument that continued practice of the church indicates the General Convention believes itself to hold such a power is “naive” — they argue that long misuse does not constitute a norm or render something legal if it isn’t. They dismiss the argument from silence as not convincing.

Second, they challenge that if what they refer to as “purported authorizations” were legitimate people would not keep trying (as in the current A066 proposal) to amend the Constitution to cover these liturgies.

Their first objection begs the question, in that it assumes the action constitutes a violation, and its repetition cannot legitimize it. This objection is only correct if the action does constitute a violation, which is the question. The "unpersuasive" argument from silence is another matter, and I will turn to it below.

A response to the second challenge is twofold.

First, the desire to have a set process put in place need not stem from a realization that the current practice is illegal (though the Explanation for A066 wrongly implies that, which I have noted to the SCLM as well). In earlier motions for change (for example 2006.A078) the explanation was given that a more orderly process needed to be set into place — not that the current practice was illegal, but that it was not systematic. (My response would be to suggest that such nuts and bolts policies and practices belong in Title II of the Canons, not the Constitution, if they need to be set in place; just as the detailed process for “trial use” is currently so enshrined.)

Second, and more importantly, the same General Convention sessions that refused to amend the Constitution to “allow” for such provisional rites were perfectly happy to authorize them for use. So General Convention clearly believed itself to be competent to do that which the ACI claims requires the constitutional support that it lacks, while doing nothing to supply that lack -- something they were and are fully competent to do.

And this brings me to the real issue for ACI: they do not believe that the General Convention is the head of hierarchical authority in the Episcopal Church. McCall in particular has written and testified on the subject, noting the absence of such words as “supremacy” and “hierarchy” from the Constitution. He has failed, however, to note the significance of the word “General” and its implications in an ecclesiastical context. “General church” is a term of art in many legal cases (including SCOTUS) concerning local churches that are part of a hierarchical church, of which The Episcopal Church is one — though the hierarchy is embedded in corporate entities rather than individual persons, much as the English constitution developed the notion of “King in Parliament” so too the Episcopal Church is commonly governed by “the Rector, Vestry and Wardens,” “the Bishop and Standing Committee,” and the General Convention with its House of Bishops and House of Lay and Clerical Deputies.

(Seitz and McCall find it difficult not to ride this their favorite hobbyhorse even in this instance, bringing in another matter on which the Constitution is silent: the departure of a diocese from the Episcopal Church. Employing their own argument from silence, in this case they hold that silence implies consent, but again ignore the historical context and the intent of the founders to form a national church, which provides key to understanding the Constitutional issues at play, in much the same way the silence of the Constitution of the US on the departure of states from the Union was never spelled out as it was deemed unthinkable. History can be very informative. They claim not to rest their case on this "silence" but it is they who bring it up. Their "careful analysis" of the polity of The Episcopal Church has been convincing to a few, but not to most. But this really is a separate matter, and I only cite it here because the ACI folk appear to think it relevant.)

Most Episcopalians understand the General Convention to be the highest legislature in our church, and its governing authority. After all, the General Convention has been authorizing the liturgies of the church from the very beginning: starting in 1785 (prior to the final Constitution) when the first Convention in Philadelphia adopted a “General Ecclesiastical Constitution” Article IV of which declared,

“The Book of Common Prayer... of the Church of England,” shall be continued to be used by this Church, as the same is altered by this Convention...
There was a bit of back and forth with England concerning some doctrinal changes the English (and some Americans) thought went too far, but in 1789 the General Convention adopted a Book of Common Payer and a Constitution which read (Article 8),

A Book of Common Prayer... when established by this or a future General Convention, shall be used in the Protestant Episcopal Church in those states, which shall have adopted this Constitution.
So it is clear that the primary liturgy of the Episcopal Church is established by and in the keeping of the General Convention, and subject to amendment by it (in two consecutive sessions).

My argument on the silence of the Constitution on supplemental, occasional, and provisional rites, and the authority of General Convention to authorize them, is an argument a fortiori — if the General Convention can establish and amend the Book of Common Prayer, how much more ought it be able to authorize secondary and provisional texts, even though this authority is not spelled out in the Constitution?

Moreover, our texts are not in fact "silent" on the matter. This authority is spelled out in the Book of Common Prayer itself, which states on page 13,

In addition to [the Holy Eucharist and Daily Morning and Evening Prayer] and the other rites contained in this Book, other forms set forth by authority within this Church may be used. Also, subject to the direction of the bishop, special devotions taken from this Book, or from Holy Scripture, may be used when the needs of the congregation so require.
The latter clause concerning the bishop is referred to in the Constitution as follows:

Nothing in this Article [X] shall be construed as restricting the authority of Bishops of the Church to take such order as may be permitted by the Rubrics of the Book of Common Prayer or by the Canons of the General Convention for the use of special forms of worship.
But what about the first clause, which I italicized above? To what other “authority within this Church” can the rubric possibly refer apart from the one that has exercised it from the foundation, the General Convention, since the role of the bishop is addressed separately? This is plainly the case, as the history of General Convention action testifies. A more eloquent, and authoritative, testimony than either I or Seitz and McCall can muster lies in the official commentary on the Constitution and Canons from White and Dykman (1982), which notes, concerning the Book of Occasional Services:

Under the rubric of the 1979 Prayer Book (page 13, rubric 2)... the permission of the bishop is not required for the use of forms and services such as these, which are set forth by authority of General Convention. (page 462, emphasis mine)
Now, it cannot be said that Seitz and McCall are ignorant of this rubric. Seitz, in particular, is fond of alleging a “Constitutional” authority to the BCP — a point I deny in terms of law but recognize in terms of practicality, as its rubrics are governing of those matters they address. He and his colleague simply refuse to recognize that it is the General Convention to which this “authority” refers. They want at all points to shift authority to the local bishop, and even object to provisional rites where that regulatory authority is explicitly granted, and raise the specious charge of “unconstitutionality.”

As I say, Seitz and McCall are not ignorant of the rubric. In fact, in their response to me about the failed attempts to amend the Constitution (which they take to be a sign it needs amending) they quote from the 2006 report of the SCLM concerning the subject and their proposal for review. Or, I should say, they misquote from the report. It is a subtle misquotation, as it involves a failure to Romanize the word “and” linking a pair of phrases that in their version appear to bring the diocesan bishop into the “authority” to set forth other forms, as opposed to a bishop’s direction concerning special devotions. I have quoted the rubric above. Here is the version at Seitz and McCall’s ACI blog (as a graphic clipped, lest anyone suggest I’ve tinkered with their text; click to enlarge).




I do not know if their failure to return the word “and” in the fourth line to Roman font (as it appears in the 2006 Blue Book, page 222) is deliberate or an error. Clearly everyone makes errors, as the SCLM did itself in this very text, shortening “within” to “with.” But the incorrect text appears to support the ACI’s larger argument of episcopal limits on General Convention, and when errors tend that way I have to suspend judgment as to the cause of the error.

In summary, my case is that the General Convention has the authority to authorize provisional or supplemental rites, as this is provided for in the Book of Common Prayer itself. The fact that no constitutional procedure for this authorization exists does not render such acts unconstitutional.

And in the end, what if it actually were unconstitutional, not just filling a gap but actually violating some principle? Who is to make that judgment? Everyone is entitled to an opinion, including the ACI and its authors, and as am I, and as are White and Dykman.

But it is well established that the polity of the Episcopal Church lacks any tribunal for the formal judgment of such matters — except the General Convention itself. And that body has shown, by its actions in authorizing liturgical texts for over two hundred years, and refusing to amend the Constitution to make explicit provision for such authorization, to believe itself to possess this power and authority as a native element of its character as the superior synod and government of this church, custodian of its laws and author of its liturgies.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

April 21, 2015

Dept of Canonical Redundancy Dept

A further note on my earlier comments about liturgical revision and its process, in which I chided both those calling for and those panicking over a possible amendment to the Constitution of The Episcopal Church, Article X, I want to add to what I noted earlier about the longstanding practice of the Episcopal Church in authorizing liturgical texts in addition to the Book of Common Prayer. The proposed resolution A066 to amend the Constitution is seen by its proposers as needed to allow or regularize such authorizations. That is not the case.

Let me first reiterate that Article X is primarily concerned with the BCP and the process of its amendment. It also contains a clause about the authority of a diocesan bishop to authorize additional liturgical material -- an authority which by extension belongs to the whole House of Bishops (and which they exercised in that manner as long ago as 1907).

However, for those who crave the source of the written authority for the development and use of other liturgical texts, one can find it in the BCP itself. The permission stands among the very first modern words of the book (page 13, following on the historical Preface of 1789, which also noted that variety is the spice of liturgy). The BCP affirms that in addition to the Holy Eucharist and Daily Office "and the other rites contained in this Book, other forms set forth by authority within this Church may be used."

There were similar provisions in the BCP 1892 and 1928, which led to the work on the Book of Offices beginning in 1907, revised in 1917, 1940 and 1949; Lesser Feasts and Fasts, approved for "trial use" (even though not an addition to or revision of the BCP except in the Calendar) in 1964, and its later editions, including Holy Women Holy Men; the Book of Occasional Services (1979, since revised several times); and Enriching Our Worship volumes 1-5, last authorized for provisional use in 2012.

If one is anxious about "authority" in this case, it is abundantly clear that the authoritative body for the liturgy of the whole church is the General Convention. This is the body that authorizes the BCP itself (in two successive regular sessions) with no other approval necessary. (Proposed changes are referred to the dioceses in the time between sessions for reference, not approval). This is the body that has been authorizing additional and supplemental liturgical texts for just under a century.

Given the amount of material that has been authorized under the current procedures, it hardly seems necessary to burden the Constitution with a clause for a purpose already addressed in the BCP itself -- or to charge the General Convention with having to debate it. I urge the relevant legislative committee to mark it as redundant and "already addressed" and let the session get on to other work,

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

April 20, 2015

The (Mis)Shape of the Liturgy

On the topic of liturgical change, be it dubbed "renewal" or "experimentation" I am on record as being conservative. I'm perfectly happy with liturgy that maintains a specific shape, and even specific texts or a small set of texts. Others prefer a cornucopia or cafeteria of seemingly endless options to be mixed and matched like one of those childhood flip-books that pieces together four different parts of clowns, firefighters, nurses, bricklayers and fashion models to produce comical chimeras. Amusing, but not edifying, to my mind, but clearly otherwise to other minds.

I was conversing with the deacon who serves in my parish, and it struck me this may be a personality trait. I am very familiar with it from my years in the theater. Some actors (such as myself) were and are perfectly happy playing the same role night after night, and finding the "new" in each iteration without changing the text beyond perhaps a different inflection, but being present in the moment, moment by moment, as the fiction slowly emerges into reality -- or as real as the stage can be. (As a side note, that is certainly my experience of reading the Scriptures in the Daily Office for over 40 years. Every reading brings a new insight, but the text hasn't changed; I have.)

But back to personality: some other actors grow bored and start "playing" and making changes either to the text or the blocking, only rarely to good effect. At worse they being to violate the reality of the play and commune with the audience in sly contempt for it. Zero Mostel was a classic example of the downside, and I had the sad experience of seeing him perform in one of his last runs as Tevye; it was deeply embarrassing, and all the more so as he knew it. I saw him after the performance and spoke with him briefly. I was with a company performing The Tempest in the National Parks around Washington DC. Mostel sighed deeply, "I wish I could do that." He was desperately wanting to be able to do that sort of work, but imprisoned by his own need for constant self-amusement at the expense of the other actors and the play -- brilliant on opening night but an embarrassment as the run went on. He walked away a shrunken man, sadness brimming in his eyes, a prisoner in his own self-constructed cell.

I think some clergy and some liturgists are the same -- they can only find excitement in change, not in iteration. The same may be true of congregations. But it seems that imposing variety on those who want constancy and regularity is not a good course. In our hectic, revolving world, the church may be best at offering a still point.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

April 19, 2015

Those who are ignorant of history...

...are doomed not to know what they are talking about.

The folks at the Anglican Communion Institute are all in a dither about Resolution A066 coming to General Convention this summer. It is an amendment to the Constitution to spell out a process by which supplemental liturgical texts might be authorized. Neither the ACI nor the proposers of this resolution appear to recognize that it is neither a horrible novelty hatched as part of a "twenty-five year effort" (as ACI says) nor a strict necessity (as the proposers seem to think.)

The fact is that nothing in the Constitution or Canons forbids General Convention authorizing rites supplemental to the Book of Common Prayer. The Constitution does lay out the process for amendment of the BCP itself by revision or addition, and requires that the BCP be used throughout the church, but nowhere suggests that no other liturgical rite can be authorized.

On the contrary, the General Convention has been authorizing supplements to the BCP since the 1940s (starting with The Book of Offices, which later became the Book of Occasional Services, and Lesser Feasts and Fasts). The House of Bishops (on their own) had authorized earlier versions of the Book of Offices going back to 1916!

The ACI seems to think that the House of Bishops (and Deputies) cannot do as a body what any individual bishop can do in her own diocese (authorize a liturgy for a special occasion or for circumstance not provided for in the BCP) -- a notion that reflects their peculiar ecclesiology in which the diocesan bishop is at the apex of all rule.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

UPDATE: See a more detailed response to the allegations of unconstitutionality, and the accuracy of my assessment.

April 17, 2015

Let the Children...

When I'm asked about the role of children in marriage, I respond that in my parochial experience they are usually old enough to serve as ring-bearers or flower-girls.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

April 16, 2015

Provisional Provision

A few folks in the more conservative wing of The Episcopal Church have expressed concerns about General Convention's provision of provisional liturgies to be used at the discretion of the diocesan bishop. There is at present no explicit constitutional clause describing such liturgies. Instead, the Constitution speaks of "trial use" of liturgies supplementing or revising either portions or the whole of the Book of Common Prayer -- which liturgies, unlike their provisional cousins, are not to be gainsaid by individual bishops who do not care for them.

There is a move afoot to amend the Constitution to spell out the practice of provisional use (Resolution A066), and while likely a good thing in terms of dotting and crossing the relevant vowels and consonants, it is not strictly necessary, and at this point in time may raise more hackles than it calms. While such provisional or occasional use is not at present explicit in the Constitution, it is implicit in the present Constitution's allowance (Article X) for individual Bishops, acting in accord with the governing rubric of the BCP (page 13), to provide for liturgies for occasions for which no extant liturgy suffices. If an individual bishop can do this within her own diocese, then surely the General Convention, which includes the whole House of Bishops, can by a majority vote make such a provision, subject always to the local bishop's approval for use within her diocese. The House of Bishops first did this just after the turn of the previous century, authorizing a Book of Offices for occasional use. This reached a settled form in 1917, and was amended in 1949 and 1949; and it led to the Book of Occasional Services in 1979, which has itself gone through several revisions. So if the church has been acting in contravention of the Constitution in this regard, it has been doing so for a century; and the text of the Constitution is silent on the matter, so it may well be taken to be settled as permitted. (Article X is about the BCP and its amendment, not all liturgy. For that, see Title II of the Canons.)

I say this as one who does not favor a proliferation of liturgies, but that is an opinion not all share. But opinions aside, I think the General Convention has acted well within the spirit of the law in its past approval of provisional liturgies whose use is contingent on the approval of the diocesan.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

April 15, 2015

On Church Growth: A Thought

The problem is not that the church isn't counter-cultural enough. The problem is that the church is thoroughly encultured to a culture of fifty to a hundred years ago. Relating to people in their cultural present, out of the depths of eternal truths, seems a better course, but it is one to which the institutional body seems hard-pressed to bend.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

April 13, 2015

Do the Math

For those who want to place procreation at the head or heart of marriage, it is good to recall that the prevailing description of marriage is the means by which two become one, not how two become three or more.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

April 12, 2015

Allowance is not Mandate: A Thought on Marriage

I have heard it said by some that the Episcopal Church cannot amend its Canons to allow for marriage equality because the Book of Common Prayer's marriage liturgy makes no such provision, and furthermore "defines" marriage as only between one man and one woman. I will simply note in response that the Canons provide at present for marriage by a party to someone other than their living former spouse, after divorce, a situation which is nowhere deemed possible in the Book of Common Prayer's marriage liturgy, which "defines" marriage as requiring life-long fidelity in no uncertain terms.

Canonical allowance does not require full congruity with liturgical practice. Nor does permission need to rise to the level of mandate. The present proposed amendment to the Canons would allow for the celebration of same-sex marriage (should the church authorize liturgies with that in mind), but would no more require them than the present canon on remarriage after divorce requires bishops to approve, or clergy to celebrate, such marriages.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

April 2, 2015

Meditations on the Way of the Cross



This is a combination of a Symphonic Poem (#1) I wrote back in 1982 with images from the Way of the Cross that I wrote last year for my parish. The musical portion is based on some of the traditional Passion music, including a closing chorale the looks beyond the Way of the Cross to Easter....

Peace and all good, and blessed Good Friday,
Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG