Getting the rite right

trinity-iconLast Sunday, the Rev. Susan Slaughter was ordained to the priesthood in The Episcopal Church. This is newsworthy because her ordination took place in Ft. Worth. This is where things get a bit tricky. There are two groups purporting to be the Episcopal Diocese of Ft. Worth. That’s because most Episcopalians there left The Episcopal Church just about one year ago. Here’s how the Dallas Morning News put it at the time:

The Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth officially broke from the Episcopal Church on Saturday, becoming the fourth U.S. diocese to withdraw since late last year.

Fort Worth Bishop Jack Iker championed the move, arguing that the national church has strayed from orthodox Christian faith in various ways, including ordaining female priests, allowing the blessing of same-sex unions and having an openly gay bishop.

“The Episcopal Church we once knew no longer exists. It’s been hijacked,” Bishop Iker said.

By about an overwhelming margin, clergy and lay delegates to the diocese’s annual convention approved seceding from the Episcopal Church and realigning with a conservative, Argentina-based province of the Anglican Communion.

You can find that Episcopal Diocese of Forth Worth at The Episcopal Church maintains a presence there and you can find that Episcopal Diocese of Forth Worth When three-quarters of the members of the diocese realigned, property was divvied up so that those that remained with The Episcopal Church kept their property and those that realigned with other Anglicans kept their property. But the national church body sued for all of the property and that case is going through the courts now.

So there’s this ordination and Jim Jones wrote it up for the Star-Telegram. It’s a nice write-up that explains how excited those in The Episcopal Church are about the ordination. Here’s a bit about why:

The Fort Worth Diocese, under the leadership of Iker and other bishops, was one of the few to refuse the ordination of women, though the national church has supported it since 1976.

At a high point of the ordination, Gulick, joined by other priests, laid their hands on Slaughter’s head, and the bishop said, “Give your holy spirit to Susan; fill her with grace and power, and make her a priest in your church.”

Much of the subtext of the article is about the fact that Ft. Worth chose not to change its practice on the ordination of women when the national church body changed its teaching on the matter 30 years ago, but there’s very little discussion of that debate or an explanation as to why church bodies do or don’t ordain women.

But check out that last paragraph. The “high point” of the ordination is the consecration. Here’s how it looks in the Book of Common Prayer:

Here the Bishop lays hands upon the head of the ordinand, the Priests who are present also laying on their hands. At the same time the Bishop prays

Therefore, Father, through Jesus Christ your Son, give your Holy Spirit to N.; fill him with grace and power, and make him a priest in your Church.

Now, unless the Ft. Worth Diocese has undergone a radical theological revolution, I’m pretty sure that the formula the bishop used was Trinitarian. It’s not that Star-Telegram completely misquoted the bishop, but you can no more write up this consecration formula this way than you can say that a new Christian was baptized in the name of “the Holy Spirit.”

These words mean a lot to Episcopalians and the precise wording of the formula is extremely important. It’s not coincidental that this Trinitarian blessing is a “high point” of the ordination. To make it into a blessing that doesn’t mention Jesus Christ and only mentions the Father via implication doesn’t do the rite justice. Oh, and the Holy Spirit has, in terms of Associated Press style, been downgraded to the “holy spirit,” as well. Tmatt will love that.

Now, the reporter Jim Jones is an old Godbeat professional, so I wonder if the quote wasn’t mangled by a copy editor or someone else in the process. I also note that this story says that Jones wrote it as a “special” to the Star-Telegram. I don’t keep up with these things as well as I should but I wonder where, exactly, Jones is now. He’s one of the religion reporters who goes way back to the era when religion coverage meant a lot of stories about mainline Protestants. He covered the beat well at the Star-Telegram — and for many years. He also wrote a column for a while.

For those interested in the story, there’s a real friendly profile of Slaughter — also by Jones — that preceded her ordination here.

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  • michael

    Quick! Somebody get Fr. Thomas Resse on the phone and find out what he thinks!

  • SjB

    I had to read this twice to try to understand the point of your story and I felt it needed more context.

    First, I do not think it is particularly newsworthy since it was the ECUSA that ordained Ms. Slaughter (who do freely ordain women and gays) and not Bishop of Iker and his diocese (who do not ordain women or gays). They are two distinctly different groups theologically – which is why the majority of the diocese separated from the ECUSA.

    Second, it is possible that the Trinitarian language was mangled by editing or it may be an accurate reporting if the ECUSA Bishop is sloppy and/or one of the typical scriptural miscreants common in the ECUSA. I would suggest the later is probable, but I tend to think the worst of the ECUSA.

  • David W. Cardona

    As the beloved Fr. Joseph Hunt, may he rest in peace, was fond of saying in response to the heterodox statements often made by pretentious seminarians, “Well, you can believe that if you want to….” His meaning was obvious to all present. In other words, just because I believe it, does not make it so. In the case of the TEC newly constituted so-called Diocese of Fort Worth, Bishop Gulick et al, they have no more ordained Susan Slaughter to the sacred order of priests, than I have ordained ….

    (Comment edited due to complete irrelevance to the actual journalistic topic of the post. Come on, folks.)

  • Martha

    It may indeed be mangling by the newspaper.

    Or it may be that they dropped “Father” and “your Son” because this is the kind of uninclusive, patriarchal language that alienates women from the church, and it would be particularly inappropriate when ordaining a female woman of the opposite sex for the first time ever in that diocese :-)

  • Bull

    a female woman of the opposite sex?

    Really, as opposed to the one of those male women? Heh, I get it. ;-)

  • Peggy

    I was really hoping that you would pick up on this story.

    But you may have missed one of the local TV stations and their reporting. I think it was WFAA.

    They reported it as something historic. The diocese’s first woman priest and made absolutely no mention of the split. The result made it seem as though the TEC rump diocese was the only Episcopal diocese in Ft Worth, that it is one and the same as the dio established in 1983 and that this diocese had changed its long-standing policy towards the ordination of women.

    I was just amazed at the sloppiness that I had just witnessed. Surely they might have slipped in a mention of the context, dontcha think?

  • Will

    At least he did not say “We ask you through your child Jesus…”

  • Bill in Ottawa

    Your block quote from the Book of Common Prayer is accurate, but when text in a spoken part is italicized, the rubrics enjoin the officiant to change that word to the appropriate one. In this case, “him” changes to “her”. I would not read too much into the default gender being male. In a group baptism for instance, “him” becomes “them”.

    That said, I agree with your initial premised that the theological distinctions between the two groups are not well explained. They are not aided in their clarity by having the two different groups claiming the same name. (I support Bishop Iker’s claim BTW)

  • Martha

    Bull, mon ami, I am sorry to say that your consciousness is insufficiently elevated.

    Gender roles are constructed by society and are much more fluid and complex than merely the expression of XX and XY chromosomes. A somatic male may indeed self-identify as female; a somatic female may self-identify as male. Or both. Or neither.

    I refer you to Resolution DO32 from the Episcopal Church’s General Convention of 2009:

    “Resolved, the House of Deputies concurring, That the 76th General Convention commit The Episcopal Church not to discriminate in employment of lay employees based on race, color, sex, national origin, age, familial status, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression.”

    Gender identity and gender expression are not tied to physical characteristics, dear Bull, which is why I was so careful to clarify that the person in question was both self-identified with her original gender and expressed that gender of origin in relation to the binary morphemes of conventional discourse ;-)

  • Stoo

    I completely can’t work out how much of the above Martha acknowledges as realities of people’s lives and how much is her pouring scorn.

  • Martha

    Stoo, no scorn. Maybe bad attempt at humour, but no scorn. People who have genuine medical problems are not for mockery.

    Nice, comfortable middle-class people who are looking for trendy causes to make themselves feel good, on the other hand…

  • Stoo

    You’ll have to forgive me, it seemed to be in the same sarcastic tones as when you say stuff like “uninclusive, patriarchal language”.

  • Will

    I can only recall what Honest Abe said:

    Q:How many legs does a dog have, if you call a tail a leg?
    A:Four. Calling a tail a leg doesn’t make it one.

    The same for people who reject the social construction of species to “identify as” elves, dragons or vampires. (Search for “otherkin”.)

  • Dana

    Noted above from the Book of Common Prayer:

    Therefore, Father, through Jesus Christ your Son, give your Holy Spirit to N.; fill him with grace and power, and make him a priest in your Church.

    In English, when the gender of the person specified is unknown, the masculine pronouns subsume the feminine in singular usage. Since the name of the ordinand is unknown in advance, the use of the masculine pronouns in the rite does not specify that the ordinand must be male. That the rite specifically allows substitution of the ordinand’s name indicates that proper substitution can be allowed. It would be completely appropriate to substitute the feminine pronouns when the ordinand is female, at least as far as language is concerned. Whether it is appropriate for the ordinand to be female in the first place, well, that’s a pronoun of a different color.

    One could argue, of course, that the substitution of generic masculine pronouns for the specific feminine ones when the ordinand is female would also require the substitution of the gender specific priestess for priest. :)