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Oct 30, 2004


Chas Clifton

"And what is paganism? Is it worshipping nature? Or is it worshipping gods with long welsh names? Or do pagans also worship the old Gods, like Zeus?"

All of above, depending on whom you ask. Based on your remark about nature religion having a long history in the US, I might guess that you have been reading Catherine Albanese. Contemporary Paganism, chiefly a British development, has indeed been influenced by this American tendency to see Nature as a source of sacred value equivalent to Scripture for a Christian.

Dave C.

So why again is this no big deal? Is it because it is just an extreme view and exists at the periphery (it is wrong but represents such a tiny minority of Episcopalians we should not worry about it)? Or, is it o.k. because Jesus never said anthing specifically about it? Is it o.k. because it is not the exact worship practice that is specifically condemned in the O.T.? Is it o.k. because the end justifies the means (we are called to be stewards of the earth, so anything that promotes that end is good)? Is it o.k. because there is a long history of similar practices by nonChristians? Are these really the criteria you advocate for determing the appropriateness of an Episcopalian worship practice?

John Wilkins

For the record, I don't think it is OK. You can't be both a druid and a Christian. It trivializes both pagan and Christian beliefs.

That said, I don't think that Christians understand modern paganism, and I don't think modern paganism is the main problem our culture faces - rather, it's our own affluence.

And, again, I think how people have handled this does not represent proper Christian behavior.

But, as always, I like to complicate things.


As a matter of fact, the CT article makes quite a few incongruous leaps of logic.

For instance, the prayer is this:

"Mother God, our ancient sisters called you Queen of Heaven and baked these cakes in your honor in defiance of their brothers and husbands who would not see your feminine face. We offer you these cakes, made with our own hands; filled with the grain of life—scattered and gathered into one loaf, then broken and shared among many. We offer these cakes and enjoy them too. They are rich with the sweetness of fruit, fertile with the ripeness of grain, sweetened with the power of love. May we also be signs of your love and abundance."

But the CT article insists that what the prayer really means is this:

In other words, it wasn't their brothers and husbands that the women were defying: It was God.

But of course, that flies in the face of "the clear meaning of the text." So I guess "interpretation" of Biblical verses is OK, as long as you're using it in the service of a conservative agenda.

And then they go in for the kill:

And now Episcopal Church leaders want you to do the same. Defy God. Worship pagan deities. There is no other possible reading of this "Eucharistic" text.

Straw man alert! Straw man alert!

And all because of a gay bishop!


(Above, I meant "interpretation," but not of "Biblical verses," of course, since none were directly quoted in the original prayer. All that was tacked on by the CT writer, as he decided what the prayer really meant. As opposed to what it actually said.)

But I agree this can't be called a "Eucharist," since it has nothing to do with the Last Supper. Probably the women were using the word as it translates directly: Thanksgiving.


I believe CT (correctly) saw in this liturgy an allusion to the 45th chapter of Jeremiah, which refers to offering cakes to the "Queen of Heaven" in defiance to Yahweh. It is no doubt references such as this and elsewhere in prophetic literature that serves as one basis for this liturgy. Though the liturgy is not actually in defiance to God per se (since the Queen of Heaven is God in the liturgy), it certainly can be read as in defiance to the Judeo-Christian God, or at least to that concept of God.

You correctly see anger among the Anglican conservatives -- and it may be over-wrought. But behind that anger is a legitimate concern, concern which has now reached the level of alarm. Many conservative Anglicans (perhaps most Anglicans at this point), and many (probably most) Christians outside of Anglicanism even in this country will look at the recent developments in the Episcopal Church as a betrayal of Christian teaching and practice. (The Russian Orthodox Church declared it "profoundly anti-Christian and blasphemous.”) This liturgy on the Episcopal website reinforces the concern that the Episcopal Church is abandoning Christian teaching and practice, and the Episcopal Church has frankly done little to alleviate it.

It would be nice to think this kind of syncretism is unusual in the Episcopal Church. Truthfully, it's not that uncommon. But it's not unique either. The journalist Terry Mattingly writes about how he witnessed a bishop leading a pagan chant. I hear other stories of syncretism in our church from time to time. It is too often tolerated in the Episcopal Church.

I don't have any trouble with paganism; I believe in freedom of religion and all that. I have lots of trouble with paganism in my own church. I have insurmountable difficulties with a "Christian" Eucharist that has nothing to do with our redemption through Jesus Christ. Does our commitment to continue in the apostles' teaching and fellowship in the baptismal covenant really mean so little?

I have no interest in arguing whether or not the Episcopal Church has actually betrayed Christian teaching and practice or not. That is not my point. My point is that the perception is there, and it is widespread. The liberals (orthodox or otherwise) can ignore those with that perception, or mock them, if they choose, or call them homophobes, or racists, or mean-spirited, or whatever. They will thus succeed only in exacerbating the situation. And the situation is getting worse, not better.

I believe this is an accurate assessment of the situation from the conservative perspective, not the usual nonsense thrown around concerning loss of power for white males, etc. And until that perspective is taken seriously, all the talk about reconciliation from the Episcopal leadership will be just talk -- nothing more.

John wilkins

Syncretism is an interesting issue generally, which deserves more discussion.

John Wilkins

RB, I should say that I also have a problem with paganism. Unfortunately, I see it in most of the culture - not of the druidic sort - which isn't particularly dangerous to our church, I think - but the one propagated by hollywood: essentially, a form of self-worship. It's not that I disagree with the content of what the conservatives are saying. I do think it is a distraction, however, and a bit of a tempest in a teapot. I'm a bit surprised at Mattingly's article for Bishop Grein was pretty severe with some of the unorthodox priests - it doesn't fit his pattern. I do know that the Cathedral, however, has adopted a marginally Christian theology, one that serves NYC [perhaps babylon] rather than the Episcopal Church.


Well, I think a big problem is the intransigence of many of the "orthodox," who insist that their way is the only way, and that all other approaches are simply non-Christian. This naturally gives rise to an adolescent sort of rebellion, which is what this whole thing appears to be, to me.

But how will anything that's wrong ever change, or any new understanding come about, if nobody ever challenges it? It's true, for instance, that gay people have been regarded as persona non grata within the church (at best) over the years. We see this as a grave error, and how will it be rectified without challenge?

Perhaps the issue is that the Anglican Church doesn't emphasize religious scholarship, so instead we get these lame adolescent "acting-out" challenges to authority, instead of serious argument. That's a problem. (Here's an interesting article that may shed some light on this particular issue, from a former CoE priest (who indicts conservatives for many things as well).)

I have to point out that the Terry Mattingly piece is already almost 12 years old! If these two incidents are the best evidence that ECUSA is pagan as a whole, I really don't think it's a strong case. There are some flaky Episcopalians, without doubt, but for me that's part of the charm. And I hope this isn't a prelude to enforcement of strict conformity for the future, theological or otherwise. I think we have to be careful there.

However, again, I do agree that this "Eucharist" isn't one, and shouldn't have been called one.

John wilkins

Thank you BLS. Personally, I think the Anglican church can stand a little fraying at the edges. I prefer bishops to be familiar and comfortable in orthodox settings, but I think that our church gets its power from the gathering of people who understand God differently. I also think a freer church more accurately represents all religious institutions. People who think lockstep are... zombies or robots. As I've said before, what I really disliked was the way the orthodox handled it. Was there a need to inform the entire house of Bishops? First - confromt the priest. Then, the vestry. Perhaps the archdeacon or the canon to the ordinary of the diocese. But there is a process, and the process is what allows us to live in Christian community.


Actually, my beef isn't with the priests. If they want to do nutty things on their own time, I don't have any problem with it at all.

It's the Women's Ministry thing that irritated me, mainly because it was so poorly done. Even if the "lituryg" had been Christian, it just seems so 60s and silly to me, that's all. I'd like a little more erudition, maybe, something beautiful and worthwhile as literature. The Anglican tradition is so beautiful, and I'm afraid it's being lost in favor of silly things like this. It's true that women have been treated terribly in many times and places, but there must be a better way to dramatize it.

But I love Episcopal eccentricity. The more the better, IMO.


Fortunately, the priests involved have now issued a statement of repentance concerning their violation of the baptismal covenant (their own words). They seem to be aware that such actions are not simply "quaint" or "eccentric."

I would humbly suggest that to tell conservatives who suspect their church is betraying Christian faith and teaching to be less "intransigent" is akin to a wife suspecting her husband of adultery to be more flexible.

Rebellion is, of course, a matter of perspective. I suppose most of the Anglican Communion may view the ECUSA as in a state of "adolescent rebellion" against Scripture and Lambeth 1998, whereas the conservatives, by rejecting the Episcopal majority, are in fact living in submission to Scripture and Lambeth 1998. Both sides, of course, view their side as just -- one claiming the cause of justice, the other revealed truth. The problem seems to be that the two sides are not able at all to see through the eyes of the other. I don't see that changing.


I would humbly suggest that to tell conservatives who suspect their church is betraying Christian faith and teaching to be less "intransigent" is akin to a wife suspecting her husband of adultery to be more flexible.

Well, my suggestion was that rebellion resulted from "orthodoxy's" past intransigence, not the other way around.

The problem seems to be that the two sides are not able at all to see through the eyes of the other. I don't see that changing.

We can certainly see the argument through "orthodox" eyes. We're the minority, and that's all we've ever done; we've heard this our entire lives. Many of us have suffered over it for many years.

The problem is in the implementation. In order for us to "agree" with you - which I assume is what you expect, for us to "submit" to Scripture - we have to change our entire lives. Not so for you; it's all an abstract issue for those not involved, involving a few points of theology. No muss, no fuss. So it's not quite as simple as a mutual "exchange of ideas," really.


And BTW, I'm getting pretty angry now.

"Orthodox" churches have participated in some of the most vile events in human history: pogroms and Inquisitions against Jews, atheists, gay people, and others they deemed unworthy. They've burned human beings at the stake for their beliefs, bled them of their money, tortured them, denied them Communion, and fed them on superstition and bigotry. This is still going on today; gay people have actually been refused admittance to churches, and Christian churches have encouraged bogus psychological "cures" for homosexuality. The Pope refuses to meet with gay groups, who simply want to discuss the issue.

So to be perfectly honest, I don't really care very much what these churches have to say about ECUSA's stance on homosexuality. I'm tired beyond words of listening to the "orthodox" about this issue, when they have shown so little interest in listening to us. They've caused untold misery and devastation to gay lives over the millennia, and to other lives as well, and I'm simply uninterested in their pronouncements at this point.

So you'll forgive me if I find it a somewhat minor "offense" that a couple of priests have found a warmer welcome among so-called pagans. I'm frankly not very surprised. Perhaps if the Christian Church would actually act Christian from time to time, I'd be more outraged.


Sorry, RB. My anger was not meant to be directed at you personally. I'm very frustrated about everything these days.

I agree that if you're going to take Holy Orders in the Episcopal Church, you need to be true to those vows. I'm not quite sure how being a "Druid" violates them (I don't really know what this means), but I'll take John Wilkins' word, and yours, for it that it does. I still have no real problem with other forms of private flakiness, and hope to see more of it.

I agree that the "Women's Eucharist" shouldn't have been posted on the ECUSA website and am glad it's no longer there. It's not Christian and shouldn't be presented as Christian. I don't have a problem, again, with "experimentation" in liturgy, though; I think it's a good thing, in fact, although for myself I love saying standard Prayer Book liturgy because I like the "common" aspect of Common Prayer. I even, actually, these days, prefer Rite I. I love the beauty of Anglican worship. I love Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer and Compline; I go to mass several times a week. I hold fairly traditional Christian beliefs.

But I'm not "orthodox," and don't want to be. I'm not a member of the Russian Orthodox Church for a reason, and in any case I believe they are wrong on this issue. I'm "Via Media." If the "orthodox" want to be "orthodox," more power to you. In return I ask the same courtesy.

Apologies again. I blew my top last night.


And I'd like to point out, also, that much of our argument is based in Scripture. We don't think that what the Bible is talking about - in only about 6 verses, BTW, out of hundreds of thousands! - is homosexuality as we know it today. We think there are obvious errors in reading the Bible to condemn it, and we make our case on that basis.

I argue this way in order to uphold Scripture, not to depart from it.


(BTW, RB: I think you misunderstood me above. I meant that the "Women's Eucharist" was a sort of adolescent rebellion against authority, and perhaps also these priests' veering off towards Druidism falls into that category. Not that conservatives were rebelling against ECUSA.)

Star Smith

As a parishioner at Bill Melnyk's church, I would like to say that what people do in their free time is none of our business. Get a life. Take the log out of your own eye. The person who has never sinned may cast the first stone. Judge not, that you be not judged. Our beloved shepherd, who was completely orthodox in the sanctuary and one of the most Christlike people I know, is becoming the victim of a modern-day witch hunt.

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