Part 1 in a Series: Salmon Invites Schori to Preach at Nashotah House
On August 1, 2001, I became Dean and President of Nashotah House Theological Seminary. I had spent the previous fifteen years as a faculty member at Trinity Episcopal School for Ministry, where I had directed the library, been an associate dean in three different capacities, and gone from assistant, to associate, to full professor in Systematic Theology. Trinity had been formed in 1976 because a growing number of both Evangelical Episcopalians and those who had been involved in the Charismatic movement were convinced that none of the existing Episcopal seminaries could ever be reclaimed from the heterodoxy into which they had fallen or produce biblically faithful clergy who were capable of leading congregations in spiritual renewal.
From the beginning, people associated with Trinity realized that, if they were to be part of a spiritual renewal in the Episcopal Church, they would necessarily have to be somewhat counter-cultural to it. One could not seek to be part of renewing the Episcopal Church while buying into the status quo. Although I never heard it explicitly articulated, I think there was an implicit understanding on the part of some that, if the Episcopal Church could not be spiritually renewed and returned to biblical orthodoxy, an alternative would have to be found--or created. This explains why so many Trinity alumni were among the early members of the Anglican Mission in America (AMiA), and John Rodgers, the Dean/President under whom I first served at Trinity (and one of the wisest and godliest men I have ever known), became one of the first two bishops consecrated for the AMiA.
During my years at Trinity, I happened to meet the professor who was then teaching Systematic Theology at Nashotah House (around 1994). We were discussing which textbooks we used for teaching theology, and he remarked that he used John Macquarrie's Principles of Systematic Theology. I gulped, and explained that, at Trinity, we treated Macquarrie in a separate course on Contemporary Theology where we did apologetics against him. (I should add that this theology professor left Nashotah House before I began as Dean, and I had the opportunity to select his successor, who is thoroughly orthodox.)
Macquarrie was originally a Scottish Presbyterian who eventually became Lady Margaret Professor of Divinity at Oxford (from 1970 to 1986), but who, in 1965, had become an Episcopal priest in the United States while teaching at Union Theological Seminary. Timothy Bradshaw, writing in the Handbook of Anglican Theologians, described Macquarrie as "unquestionably Anglicanism's most distinguished systematic theologian in the second half of the twentieth century."
After I moved to Nashotah House I discovered that the House had made Macquarrie an honorary Doctor of Canon Law in 1986. But the fact is that Macquarrie's understanding of God is best understood as panentheism, "
Both prior to joining the faculty at Trinity and throughout my tenure there, at various times I studied with and had good collegial ties with a number of faculty in other Episcopal seminaries, some of them legends from whom I learned a great deal. But these professors, all of whom are now retired or deceased, were the exceptions, and the Episcopal Church isn't likely to see their kind again. If I may be excused a bit of hyperbole, theological education in Episcopal seminaries for most of the past 50 years has been like the Curate's Egg--excellent in spots, but, on the whole, rotten. To be more precise, Episcopal seminary education has concentrated on preparing men and women for a career in the Episcopal Church (note my choice of words) but has been utterly incapable of equipping them for biblically-faithful, Gospel-centered, Spirit-empowered ministry. In short, I experienced first-hand, through my own studies and relationships, the precise reason why the founding of Trinity School for Ministry was necessary.
So, when I became Dean and President of Nashotah House, I had the same perspective. It was not enough to prepare people for careers in the Episcopal Church. It was vital to prepare them to be faithful to Holy Scripture and the Catholic faith and order of the Church, and to enable them to minister in the power of the Holy Spirit. Though I make no pretense to Solomonic wisdom, upon becoming Dean and President at Nashotah House, I did pray Solomon's prayer:
Give your servant therefore an understanding mind to govern your people, that I may discern between good and evil, for who is able to govern this your great people?” (2 Kings 3:9)To understand much of what happened during my time at Nashotah House, it is necessary to look at trends that have occurred in the Episcopal Church in recent decades and to understand some trends--what futurists such as John Naisbitt call "megatrends" that are having an inevitable impact on the Episcopal Church in the US and the larger Anglican Communion.
There have been two competing (and irreconcilable) trends in the Episcopal Church for the past fifty years: A growing spiritual renewal and a growing theological heterodoxy.
Most observers generally agree that the Charismatic movement in the Episcopal Church began with the Rev. Dennis Bennett's experience of the Holy Spirit while he was rector of St. Mark's Church in Van Nuys, California, in 1960. The next thirty years saw a remarkable spiritual renewal that included leaders such as the Rev. Terry Fullam, from St. Paul's Church, Darien, Connecticut, and a list of other leaders and parishes that is much too long to list here.
Alongside that Charismatic renewal, Evangelicals in the Episcopal Church, which had long been a small and beleaguered minority, began to find new life and strength, and a sense of their own identity. They were aided in their self-discovery by Evangelicals from the UK, Australia, and elsewhere. There were organizations dedicated to promoting renewal in the Episcopal Church, but there were numerous, seemingly spontaneous examples of spiritual renewal popping up all over the Church as well. Several entire dioceses began to take on the character of the renewal movement. Those who had been touched by the Charismatic renewal and the Evangelical resurgence came to grips with the realization that no existing Episcopal seminary was capable of training biblically faithful, Spirit-filled clergy to serve and lead parishes. This realization led to the founding of Trinity Episcopal School for Ministry.
Increasingly, those affected by spiritual renewal and those being led in the direction of theological heterodoxy began to diverge. In large part, this divergence occurred as theological liberals in the Episcopal Church became even more radical and began to act in ways contrary to the biblical and historic faith and order of the Church. The Rt. Rev. Thad Barnum chronicles the liberal trajectory of the Episcopal Church and the orthodox response in his marvelous book, Never Silent.
During the 1990's and 2000's, I was a Deputy to the General Convention five times and observed this trajectory first hand--a growing rejection of biblical authority, a growing acceptance of departures from historic Christian norms in faith and morality, and a complete unwillingness to discipline those church leaders who departed from these norms. In addition, I witnessed the growing marginalization and persecution of orthodox Christians in the Episcopal Church. In the space of a few years, it seemed as though the Episcopal Church had become an environment that was toxic for an orthodox Christian. The formation of the Anglican Mission in America (in 2000) and the Anglican Church in North America (in 2009) were the inevitable result.
In 2008-2009 two things happened that affected Nashotah House: (1) The Great Recession; and, more significantly, (2) the departure from the Episcopal Church of four of Nashotah House's most supportive dioceses: Fort Worth, Quincy, Pittsburgh, and San Joaquin. They would later be joined by another diocese that sent a considerable number of students to the House: South Carolina.
During my time as Dean and President, I tried to make Nashotah House a place where Anglicans of whatever stripe could prepare for ministries in the Church. Students from TEC, AMiA, ACNA, continuing Anglican churches and other jurisdictions worshiped and studied side-by-side. Jurisdictions didn't matter; students were there to become the best clergy and lay leaders they could be and to prepare to serve wherever God called them. The House was a wholesome and peaceful place. It was a time one faithful Bishop referred to as the "Pax Nashotah." But it was not to last.
In 2010, in response to a growing number of Episcopalians in the Milwaukee area who were feeling alienated from their parishes, I led Nashotah House to begin holding Sunday morning worship services that were open to anyone (as were all of Nashotah House's daily services). Several parishes in our area had been decimated in the years following the consecration of Gene Robinson as a bishop in TEC. One local parish went from an Average Sunday Attendance of nearly 300 to only 100 in the space of a few years. The parish my family and I attended had gone from nearly 150 ASA to 35 in the same period. Another local parish went from 160 ASA to 60. The Diocese of Milwaukee didn't seem to care where these departing Episcopalians were going; they were just upset that a portion of them started worshiping at Nashotah House.
The Sunday morning congregation, which took the name St. Michael's (after the historic bell tower on Nashotah's campus) did not start out to be an ACNA parish. Despite rumors to the contrary, it was never my intention for it to be an ACNA parish. As with students who came to Nashotah House, I was not concerned about jurisdictions, I was merely concerned to create places for faithful worship and teaching; and I thought that a congregation that was, to some degree, integrated into the life of a seminary could be beneficial for both students and congregants. In fact, members of the Sunday morning congregation did not become an ACNA parish until after I stepped down as Dean and left St. Michael's to work with another congregation in the Milwaukee area. It was only then that St. Michael's formally organized as a parish separate from Nashotah House, called another priest to be their rector, and affiliated with the ACNA Diocese of Pittsburgh.
The opposition to my remaining as Dean was driven ostensibly by Bishop Ed Salmon's contention that I was getting Nashotah House in trouble by being too closely allied with those who were outside of TEC. The reason I use the word "ostensibly" is that it should have been apparent to all concerned (and should be doubly apparent in retrospect) that Bishop Salmon was using his position as Chairman of the Nashotah House Board of Trustees to undermine my position as Dean and President and to take the job for himself.
Bishop Salmon could point to the fact that in the period 2009-2011 we saw a downturn in enrollment and contributions. In answer to this, it should be obvious that four of our most supportive dioceses in terms of students and contributions had left the Episcopal Church, experienced a reduction or even a freeze on new postulants for holy orders, had their parish and diocesan funds frozen by the courts, and were having much of their current income consumed by litigation costs. In addition, the US was experiencing the worst economic recession since the Great Depression.
In my last year as Dean and the year following, a majority of the student body at Nashotah House came from ACNA dioceses. The downturn we were experiencing was a temporary one as the ACNA found its legs and began to take off. The House could have weathered this period and emerged as a seminary that, while continuing to train any students from TEC who wanted an orthodox seminary education, was free from TEC's unwholesome influence. As proof of this one only has to look at Trinity School for Ministry, which took Episcopal out of its name and the Episcopal shield out of its logo. In recent years, Trinity has had no students from TEC in their incoming classes. Yet, they have not only survived, they are thriving.
My experience at both Trinity and Nashotah House has led me to conclude:
1. You can be an Anglican seminary outside the control of the Episcopal Church and still survive.
2. You cannot be a seminary in the Episcopal Church and remain orthodox.
In witness to that, I point to the following news I received today: Bishop Iker Resigns in Protest From Nashotah House Board (because Bp. Salmon has invited Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori to preach in Nashotah House's Chapel), an event that is shocking and tragic to many alumni.
Just as my "getting the House in Trouble" by reaching out to the AMiA and the ACNA and starting a congregation in the seminary chapel may have been the low point (as some would reckon it) of my deanship, the scandal of inviting Katharine Jefferts Schori to preach in the seminary chapel will probably go down as the low point of Bp. Salmon's deanship. I can only say that I would put the low point of my deanship up against the low point of Bp. Salmon's deanship any day. (I would also gladly compare the high points of my deanship with the high points of his.)
In Bp. Salmon's first interview as Dean and President, Doug LeBlanc reported:
Salmon said he plans to strengthen relationships, both among seminary faculty and staff and between the seminary and bishops of the Episcopal Church. (Emphasis added.)Well, now we see where that has led, don't we? Salmon is further quoted as saying,
"The name of leadership is relationships - people connecting with each other and working together," he said. "Our broken relationships in the Church are a testimony against the Gospel."No, Bishop, the heterodoxy of the Episcopal Church, in general, and of Katharine Jefferts Schori, in particular, is a testimony against the Gospel. We are called to separate ourselves from false teachers; and a shepherd, whether of a diocese, a parish, or a seminary, is called to protect his flock from wolves. In the words of the ordination vows Bishop Salmon took: “Are you ready, with all faithful diligence, to banish and drive away all erroneous and strange doctrine contrary to God’s Word; and both privately and openly to call upon and encourage others to do the same?” To lead a seminary like Nashotah House in these days, and to fail to keep that ordination vow, is to see your seminary turn into another Seabury-Western, or General, or worse.
In conclusion, let me point to three overarching conclusions:
1. There is no movement today in the Episcopal Church capable of sustaining orthodox Christians or fostering the growth of orthodox congregations.
2. In the absence of any movement designed to promote repentance, renewal, resurgence, and revival among orthodox Christians in the Episcopal Church, those Christians who remain in TEC are fighting a holding action and will ultimately lose through attrition.
Which leads to a third conclusion (which I say with great sadness):
3. You can have orthodoxy or you can have the Episcopal Church, but you can't have both.
"Wait," some will say, "I am still in the Episcopal Church and I am orthodox, so I have both." If that is true, then you are part of the remnant that is involved in fighting a holding action (whether you realize it or not). So while your present situation may be safe for the moment, apart from divine intervention, the faith you hold, and the parish or diocese to which you belong (if they are still orthodox) will be lost in the next generation, if not in your lifetime.
There are some, like Bishop Salmon, for whom relationships are more important than orthodoxy; and, in their cases, my words will fall on deaf ears. History and the Righteous Judge before whom we both will stand will have the final say. But, if I had it to do all over again, I would gladly, proudly, do the same.
[Postscript: I originally wrote the autobiographical part of the material in this post months ago but did not publish it because I was determined not to criticize my successor. I wrote it mainly for my own journaling and reflection. It is only this latest news of Bishop Salmon's decision to invite Katharine Jefferts Schori to preach at the House that has caused me to change my resolve.]