Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Know What You Believe, and Why

Published in the September 2016 Carolina Compass section of the Charleston Mercury

 by Charles A. Collins, Jr.
     As I write this it is late in the evening on August 17. On this date thirteen years ago I knelt and had the late Bishop James West and Bishop C. FitzSimons Allison and a number of presbyters lay hands upon my unworthy head and ordain me a priest. On or about the anniversary of that date I have taken the advice of John Charles Ryle, the first Bishop of Liverpool, and read through the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion, the statement of belief of the Church of England and those churches historically descending from it (in other words, all Anglican churches). While I have occasion to refer to the Articles throughout the year, I make a point of marking this date with reading through all of them in one sitting (most of them are brief, but profound, and with 39 of them it takes less than an hour).
     I have found it to be a profitable exercise. While the Articles are subordinate to Scripture, they are a summary of its teachings and determine the boundaries within which I, as an Anglican priest, am to live and teach. They, and other confessional statements, provide a system with which to understand Scripture (hence the term “systematic theology,” which I will confess to being one of my favorite subjects in seminary). Actually the Articles played a not inconsiderable role in my becoming an Anglican – while it was the beauty of the Liturgy that drew me in that was aided considerably when I, as a young Presbyterian seminarian, took in the Reformed Catholicism of the Articles and found it understandable (not surprising as the Thirty-nine Articles formed the basis for Archbishop Ussher's Irish Articles of Religion which in turned formed the basis for the Westminster Standards of the Presbyterian Church).
     Some may think that confessions such as the Articles are dry as dust reading. That that opinion is common may be borne out by visiting most Christian bookstores (or the religion section of most secular ones) and comparing the amount of shelf space given to devotional works to that given to dogmatic ones – the difference will be profound in almost all cases. My own experience has been similar to that described by C.S. Lewis in his classic Introduction to St. Athanasius' On the Incarnation (an essay that I would recommend reading even if one is not going to read Athanasis's work at that moment and which I'm glad I was given as a seminary-bound undergraduate long ago):

     For my own part I tend to find the doctrinal books often more helpful in devotion
     than the devotional books, and I rather suspect that the same experience may
     await many others. I believe that many who find that “nothing happens” when
     they sit down, or kneel down, to a book of devotion, would find that the heart
     sings unbidden while they are working their way through a tough bit of theology                 with a pipe in their teeth and a pencil in their hand.

And I would, for the record, recommend reading On the Incarnation.

     Regardless of whether they share the Calvinist outlook of the Heidelberg Catechism, 

how could any Christian's heart not be warmed when they read the answer to the first 

question therein?

     Question 1. What is thy only comfort in life and death?

     Answer: That I with body and soul, both in life and death, am not my own, but belong            unto my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ; who, with his precious blood, has fully satisfied for      all my sins, and delivered me from all the power of the devil; and so preserves me that          without the will of my heavenly Father, not a hair can fall from my head; yea, that all              things must be subservient to my salvation, and therefore, by his Holy Spirit, He also            assures me of eternal life, and makes me sincerely willing and ready, henceforth, to live        unto him.

By the way, if you're an auditory learner and even if you're not, visit http://www.rcus.org/audio-heidelberg-catechism/http://www.rcus.org/audio-heidelberg-catechism/ to hear my friend the Rev'd George Syms, who has one of the best preaching voices ever, read that work – you'll be blessed.
      I've spent a lot of time extolling the Anglican Articles of Religion but I'm aware that most of my readers, even around Charleston, aren't Anglicans or Episcopalians. I'd still encourage those who've not done so to read their church's confessional statements. Presbyterians, check out the Westminster Standards, Lutherans, dust off your Concord Books, Methodists, read over your own Articles (lightly edited by Wesley to soften the Calvinism found in the Church of England's Articles), Baptists, review your copies of the Faith and Message and the London Confession of Faith, Roman Catholics, read your Catechism. The Church as a whole has done a poor job of Catechesis and Christians of all stripes need to ground themselves in the teaching of their churches to combat at least two forces: secularism and modernism.
      We live, as we are often reminded, in a post-Christian age. The veneer of respect that was accorded the Church in previous generations is rapidly dissipating and a Christian who doesn't know what they believe or why they believe it is and easy target for those who would seek to minimize the impact of Christianity upon society. Doctrinal statements help to provide just that kind of knowledge.
     There are, sadly, also those forces within the Church who would subvert the historical teaching of the same. While traveling under the brand of historic churches, there are those who teach anything but and are often in staunch opposition to the church's teaching. When clergy and others who teach are familiar with their confessional statements then they can check themselves to be sure that they are teaching people the faith; when laity are conversant in them they can be sure that they are getting that historic faith.
     Delve deep into the knowledge of God – it is effort that will be richly rewarded as you learn more of Him who knows us intimately and loves us profoundly.

     The Rev'd Charles A. Collins, Jr., currently serves as the Vicar of The Church of the Atonement, a Reformed Episcopal parish of the Anglican Church in North America in Mount Pleasant. He may be contacted at: drew.collins (at) gmail.com and more information about the parish may be found at: https://www.facebook.com/atonementrec/

Friday, May 13, 2016

Remembering Father James Parker

If one listens to the recordings of the 1977 Congress of St. Louis, that gathering of concerned more than 2000 Canadian Anglicans and American Episcopalians concerned about the direction of their Church that saw the birth of the Continuing Anglican movement, one will hear Father James Parker, then-Rector of St. Mark's Episcopal Church, Albany, Georgia, offer a prayer and then the following observation: 

We live, as  we all are aware, in a tragic moment in the life and the history of the Episcopal Church. I've always felt that we ought to look for some good even in the greatest difficulties, and I have to say that coming from Georgia as I do...  the kind of encouragement and consolation I find is the realization that a lot of you are beginning to learn what the word "secession" means.
For those who knew him, the remark was classic Parker, both in its appreciation for the South and for its quick wit.

Born Luther Wood Parker, Jr., in Charleston in 1930, he was graduated from Porter Military Academy, the University of South Carolina (A.B.), Virginia Theological Seminary (M.Div), and Rosary College (M.A.L.S.), he married a lovely lady named Mary Alma Cole who bore him two daughters and served tirelessly alongside him. After his ordination to the priesthood in the Diocese of South Carolina on 25  July 2957, the Feast of St. James, he adopted the name of his patron -- James -- and served parishes in South Carolina, Indiana, Illinois, and Georgia and also served as a librarian in Tennessee. Of Anglo-Catholic convictions and High Church inclination, he was made Master of the Province of the Americas of the Society of the Holy Cross (SSC) in 1977. 

All of the preceeding would've constituted a distinguished career for an Episcopal priest of his day but, as he noted in his St. Louis remarks, the era around the 1970s were turbulent times in the history of the Episcopal Church (something that has not changed). Clergy and laity who found that they could no longer in good conscience remain in the old church went a number of places. Some went to the Continuing Church that came out of the St. Louis Congress and then sadly fragmented, a few into the Reformed Episcopal Church, which had departed in 1873, others left Anglicanism or the church altogether. Through the years there had been Anglicans who "swam the Tiber" and became Roman Catholic, most notably among them John Henry Newman in 1845 but Newman, who reentered Holy Orders, wasn't married and clerical celibacy had meant that those married Anglican clergy wishing to go to Rome would do so as laymen. Until, as it were, Father James Parker.

Shortly after the St. Louis Congress Father Parker, who remained in the Episcopal Church, inquired of the Holy See whether or not he and other married priest might be able to be ordained as Roman Catholic priests. After a lapse of two papacies in 1978 following the death of Pope Paul VI and the 33 day reign of Pope John Paul I, approval came from Pope John Paul II. Father Parker resigned from St. Mark's Church and the Episcopal ministry in 1981 and was, with his beloved Mary Alma at his side, ordained a Roman Catholic priest on 29 June 1982, the first married western rite priest in nearly 1000 years. Father Parker was in his early 50s at the time and he continued in active ministry, serving as Pastor of several congregations, most notably Holy Spirit Church on John's Island, South Carolina, where he led a substantial building campaign. He and Mary Alma also served as mentors to clergy and their wives who were serving under Pastoral Provision.

I first met Father Parker in the mid-2000s, although I really can't remember where. We shared a love of our heritage and it may well have been at a meeting of one of the heritage societies to which we jointly belonged. Despite the fact that I am happily and committedly an Anglican, in the words of Bishop Cosin "Protestant and Reformed according to the principles of the ancient Catholic Church," Father Parker and I struck up a friendship through which I was blessed and I hope that he was as well.

Because much of my ministry has taken place in the context of hospice chaplaincy, he was a useful contact. One patient's daughter, sure that her mother would want her funeral mass said "the old fashioned way" asked me if I could call Father Parker to see if he could say it; I laughed and told her that I would because, "If you want a Roman Catholic mass said the old fashioned way, get a guy who used to be an Episcopal priest" -- the lady, who remains a friend, saw the irony (unfortunately trouble with his knees prevented him from fulfilling the request). On another occasion, I called upon him when a Roman Catholic patient who was near death and needed sacramental ministry that I, as an Anglican, couldn't provide; he was very helpful. 

I saw him at Mary Alma's funeral and it was clear that the loss of his longtime wife and helpmeet had taken its toll on him. Learning of his death yesterday was bittersweet; I will mourn his passing but give thanks that I had the privilege of counting him a friend and, most of all, that he rests in the Lord.