Frank Griswold: Maybe this is the desert time
Take the Washington Cathedral.
It’s the icon of a certain self-assurance in an earlier time, when many people in government were Episcopalians, and Episcopalians were at the top of the main banks, and J.P. Morgan was building the St. Paul’s School chapel. Here’s this great monument to Episcopal ego, you might say, though it is a church for all, and now here it is suffering $25 million worth of damage in an earthquake.
What might be the symbolic significance of this in terms of mainline ego being shattered and dislodged by events? I’m not happy that the Washington Cathedral is damaged, but is it a bad thing to be in some way forced into exile and becoming a remnant?
To use an image from the Old Testament, maybe this is the desert time.
The desert was a period of purification and self-knowledge in order that they were prepared to enter the promised land. All the things that happened in the wilderness, the struggle and the suffering, were part of being shaped and formed and being made ready to enter the promised land, especially where they could receive it as gift rather than acquisition.
If we are in fact the body of Christ, limbs of Christ’s risen body, we’re OK.
Maybe we’re obese. Maybe it’s ecclesial obesity, and we have to go through a training program or a weight-loss program. These things are painful but necessary.
Q: What’s on the other side of the wilderness? What will church look like in the future?
I think it’s going to be much more flexible in its institutional manifestations. There’s going to be a greater parity between clergy and laity. I find laity hungry for theological literacy. The Episcopal Church’s Education for Ministry program, for example, is a real commitment. It’s a four-year course of study, and I’m amazed how many people do it.
We’re shifting in our understanding of the church, how it’s constituted as clergy and laity. Many of our clergy go through seminary and they never really appropriate the theology they learned. In some instances, the seminaries don’t make that happen.
It’s academic: “Here’s the doctrine of the Trinity, and you need to understand it; and there’s going to be a General Ordination Exam, and you need to pass that in order to be ordained.” But there isn’t an effort to take the theological learnings and integrate them into one’s person. Many clergy are unable to translate theology into something lived.
Q: What do you mean?
For some clergy, professionalism is their way of compensating for a sense of being an anachronism as a cleric. So skills in parish administration -- skills in this, skills in that -- are all part of “I matter because I have these skills,” as opposed to “I have internalized the theology I’ve been taught in such a way that it gives me a ground to stand on and a sense of self that I can confidently act out of as a priest.”
It’s the professionalization of ministry at the cost of theology.
That may be harsh, but that kind of integration is essential -- making those connections so that you are formed as a theological person and not just possessing some theological information that you can’t translate because it doesn’t meet you at some deep place.
People are hungry for meaning. Meaning making is a primary function of a religious leader, and it comes out of how they’ve appropriated their tradition and connected it with what is going on in the world.
Q: What’s the future of theological education?
The future is ecumenical, and that’s a good thing, because we can become awfully insular in our several traditions. Being stretched by other takes on theology, on other ways of articulating liturgy and church life, can be life-giving. It helps us to appropriate our own tradition at a deeper level, because we have to be able to explicate it.
“Why do you all do this?” Well, if you’re in an Episcopal seminary, we do this because we’re Episcopalians. But if you’re in an ecumenical context, then you’ve got to be more developed in how you perceive your tradition.
Ecumenical theological education can offer a useful critique, and it can help you see where your singularity really isn’t that singular. Anglicans talk about Scripture, reason and tradition. Well, so do the Lutherans. Being in an ecumenical setting helps overcome the egotistical dimensions of denominationalism.
Q: You touched on this earlier, but did you have particular spiritual practices you drew upon as a bishop?
Well, the discernment of spirits, which is part of the ancient tradition, part of Ignatius of Loyola’s spiritual exercises -- the notion that we are set upon by certain moods, particularly consolation and desolation. In the time of consolation, you feel united with Christ and ready to do God’s work. In desolation, you feel listless, isolated, self-pitying and judgmental.
Ignatius says these moods have nothing to do with whether you’re good or bad. They happen to all of us, but the choices you make when these overtake you are terribly important.
Ignatius would say that in a time of desolation, you’re not to change a decision you made in a time of consolation, because chances are you’re going to make the wrong decision. At a time of desolation, the negative often will become the entire picture and you’ll forget that it was ever a different picture, and you’ll be tempted to do the wrong thing. So this is about being aware of how the spirits move within us and being mindful.
When you’re in ministry, particularly a ministry with symbolic leadership to it, where people hate you and adore you and all sorts of things, being aware of how consolation and desolation play out and how you respond to them is important.
Q: There must have been moments of desolation in your time as presiding bishop.
Sure. Absolutely. The most painful thing is betrayal. When someone you’ve trusted has maligned you or turned against you in a way that you know is not grounded in reality. When someone you trust puts out some rumor that they know is not true and you know is not true, and the painfulness of that. ...
I think Judas, to Jesus, must’ve been the most painful element of the passion. That’s the most painful cross in leadership, the possibility or the reality of betrayal by people you’ve trusted.
Q: What other spiritual practices did you engage in as presiding bishop?
At church headquarters in New York, we had daily morning prayer and daily Eucharist. No matter what was going on, I would say, “We’re stopping at 12. You can do what you want. I go to the Eucharist at 12:10, and I will not eat lunch on the run, so we will resume at 1:30, and you can join me or choose not to.”
The discipline of doing that and hearing Scripture and the homily -- there was something there that pierced me. Eucharist was a way that the day was broken into by Scripture and sacrament. It often reframed whatever was going on. I suddenly saw whatever was on my mind differently.
Also, I had a small group of people I trusted who were not sycophantic but appropriately critical and helpful. I met with them from time to time to ask, “What do you see going on here? What do you perceive I need to be doing or not doing?”
Q: Tell us about retirement and the transition from leadership. How’s that been?
I remember crying a little bit as I handed Katharine [Jefferts Schori] the primatial staff. It caught me by surprise. There was a sadness in giving up the office. For nine years I had built various relationships across seemingly impossible divides, and I thought, “All this stops now.” There’s a mutual affection even though there’s an incredible discrepancy between stated points of view.
Someone asked me recently what I was doing now, and I said, “Well, I’m retired.” He said, “No, you’re pensioned; you’re not retired.” That’s exactly it. So when people ask me if I’m retired, I say I’m pensioned. I am very active and very busy. I’m not sitting on a porch. There’s a real blessing in not being the political figure.
Q: Any other thoughts?
I think the struggles of the Anglican Communion are a gift, because they’ve really raised the question, “What does it mean to be in communion? What does it mean to be limbs and members of Christ’s risen body?”
Paul says clearly that if all the body parts were the same, there’d be no coherence to the body -- “the eye cannot say of the hand, ‘I have no need of you.’” Distinction is part of the mystery of the body of Christ. How do we live with those distinctions gracefully?